A very good muffin.

muffin apple pecan 1

Sometimes we outgrow things.  Things like clothes, or favorite movies, or certain people.  We grow, we change, we move on.

Sometimes I outgrow cookbooks.  Every six months to a year I purge myself of books and clothes and other junk that I no longer need or use.  It usually happens out of necessity for bookshelf or closet space or the overwhelming feeling that I have too much stuff.  My Rachel Ray books went several years ago, and just recently I let go of my Ellie Krieger cookbooks.  They were purchased mostly out of a feeling of kinship with a fellow dietitian, but they weren’t often used.  I tried her stroganoff recipe once and was disappointed.  A smoothie recipe I enjoyed and quickly memorized, eliminating the need for the written recipe.

The one recipe of hers that I went back to over and over again was this muffin recipe.  To be honest, it’s probably the reason I held onto the books for as long as I did.  I sometimes double the recipe and freeze a bunch of them for later.  They are very good.

muffin apple pecan 2

 Apple-Pecan Muffins

(recipe adapted from So Easy by Ellie Krieger)

  • 3/4 c + 1 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/3 c chopped pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c plain yogurt
  • 1 sweet apple such as golden delicious, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1″ pieces

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Grease two muffin pans.

Make the streusel topping by mixing 2 tablespoons of brown sugar with the nuts, cinnamon, and ginger.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the brown sugar, oil, and eggs (one at a time).  Stir in the applesauce and vanilla.  Gently mix in the flour, half at a time, alternating with the yogurt.  Use long sweeping motions to stir up from the bottom of the bowl.  When the yogurt and flour are about 3/4 of the way incorporated, add the apple chunks and keep stirring until everything is just mixed.  Don’t over mix!

Scoop the batter into the greased pans making sure each muffin gets a couple of apple chunks.  Top with the streusel topping and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pans after 10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The original recipe states this makes 12 muffins, but I get about 18 muffins total.


A sick day soup.

Hello from the homeland!

butternut soup prep

I had a sort-of sick day recently.  Not the kind of sick day where you’re in bed sleeping (or watching I Love Lucy) all day; rather, the kind where you feel some sort of ickyness coming on and tell yourself it’s probably better to stay in and rest than push it and get really sick a day or two later (when you’re supposed to be flying home).

So because I was only sickish, I still had enough energy to make myself some warm, soothing, and slightly spicy soup.  This recipe plays around with some hearty spices which some say support healthy and immunity.  More importantly though, they’re delicious.  Also, this soup allowed me to use up the butternut squash that has been sitting in my pantry and causing me great guilt for the past few weeks.

Don’t worry if you’re not sickish.  You can still enjoy this soup.

butternut soup

 Spiced Butternut Soup

serves 3ish

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 c butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (about 1 medium squash)
  • 1 c vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric
  • 3/4 c apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon or so of kosher salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • yogurt or sour cream (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Sauté the shallots and garlic until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the cubed squash and stir to coat in the oil.  Season with a pinch of salt.  Add the broth and bring the pot to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the squash is cooked, about 20 minutes.

Once the squash is tender, puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender.  Add the cider as you puree.  Return the pureed soup to the pot over low heat to warm through.  Season with salt, and add cayenne pepper to taste.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if you like.


A successful failure.

mini cakes with cranberry 2

I am full of cake intentions.  I submit my “To Bake” collection over on Food52 as evidence.  I’ve been so into baking the past several months that we’ve started a semi-regular Sunday Cake tradition (aka søndagkake).  I may even be in the midst of Cake Wars (Kakekrig) with a Norwegian baking rival.

Then a week or so ago, this showed up on my radar.  Cranberry and ginger?  Yes!  I’d never cooked a cranberry in my life, and cranberry sauce wasn’t something anyone in my family ever cared about.  But this seemed like the perfect fall flavor combination (I’m so tired of seeing recipes for pumpkin everything).

I wasn’t feeling up to the task of making such an elaborate cake though, so I took a different cake recipe and turned it into mini cakes (or cupcakes if you must).  My intention was to create a cranberry ginger jam that would reside in the center of the mini cakes and be a little surprise when you cut into them.  What actually happened was that the jam sank to the bottom of the mini cake and fell out when I removed them from the muffin tin.

I had to improvise.  Using a serrated knife I removed the tops of the cakes, turned them upside down, and spooned the fallen jam back into the cake.  Not exactly the presentation I was going for, but the flavors were amazing and the cakes super moist.

mini cakes with cranberry

Olive Oil Mini Cakes with Cranberry Ginger Jam

Makes about 24 mini cakes

For the jam:

  • 1 1/2 c fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • zest of 1 small orange

Combine the cranberries, sugar, ginger, and zest in a small pot over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil and smash the berries with a wooden spoon or potato masher.  Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the mixture thickens – about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and stick in the fridge to cool completely.  This will make a bit more jam than you need for this recipe.

For the cake:  I pretty much followed this olive oil cake recipe exactly.  I did sub extra orange juice for the Grand Marnier though.  In a greased muffin tin, fill each well halfway with cake batter.  Add a heaping teaspoon of the chilled cranberry jam in the center of each cake, and cover with more batter to about 2/3 full.  Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of a cake comes out clean.  Let cool

Once the cakes have cooled, remove them from the pan.  Using a serrated knife, cut the domed top off each muffin (save the scraps for a snack) and turn them upside down.  If any jam fell out of the cakes, spoon it back in.  Top the cakes with ginger whipped cream.

For the whipped cream:

  • 1/2 c chilled heavy cream
  • a few big pinches of powdered ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Mix the cream, ginger, and sugar in a medium bowl.  Beat with a hand mixer or whisk until you form soft peaks.


A work in progress.

biscuits 1 side

I follow a lot of food blogs these days.  They’re a great source of inspiration (for both cooking and photography), knowledge, and amusement.  But now that I’ve created this space of my own to share my food thoughts, I feel pressure (from nobody but myself) to create perfect, original recipes, because that’s what I see (or think I see) on other blogs.  “I should be creating and testing recipes and only posting those that I’ve honed to perfection”, I say to myself.

Well, I don’t have time for that.  Unfortunately.  So here is a story about a recipe that I screwed up.

I started making biscuits and gravy in college.  Back in the homeland, the dish a breakfast staple.  It’s delicious.  And when I say I started making biscuits and gravity in college, I mean I made a milk gravy with Jimmy Dean sausage and served it over Pillsbury biscuits.  My friends were always impressed.  But I’ve come so far since then…

Only recently has the flame of my biscuit love been reignited.  I wish I knew what set the spark, but I suppose it doesn’t matter.  So a couple of weeks ago I followed a recipe from my copy of West Coast Cooking by Greg Atkinson (a solid, unflashy kind of cookbook) for part whole-wheat yogurt biscuits.  And it yielded some really good biscuits — tender and flakey.

But then I saw this, and all of a sudden there was so much more I could be doing for my biscuits! (the comments are very good as well)  I followed the recipe, egg wash, flakey salt, and all, with the one modification of exchanging the buttermilk for yogurt.  I almost always have plain yogurt on hand (hardly ever buttermilk), and I’ve had so much success with this swap in other recipes.  But the dough didn’t have enough moisture to combine well enough to roll out.  With the addition of a little milk and some extra kneading, they came together.  The result was a beautiful, flavorful, perfectly salty biscuit that was far too dense and tough.  What a disappointment.

biscuits 1 front

More to come on biscuits (and gravy).


A study in Bitter.

risotto bitter pot


I used to have a cookbook buying problem.  I couldn’t go into and out of the orange room at Powell’s without a book in my hand and $20-40 less in my wallet.  Until, that is, I discovered what an immense selection of cookbooks are contained within my public library.

And now I have a cookbook rental problem.  At any given time I have 5-8 cookbooks from the library on my bookshelf and under my desk.  Which doesn’t really work, because I can’t study that many cookbooks at once.  But at least I’m saving money and making use of a wonderful public institution, right?  And the books I really like, I buy.  It’s like a test drive.

Some of the books, like Maida Heatter’s, no one else seems to want, so I just keep renewing… and not reading.  The more current, popular books I have to read fast, because I know I won’t be able to renew them when my three weeks are up.

The current focus of my attention is Bitter by Jennifer McLagan.  This is my kind of book.  She takes a topic that I wasn’t interested in (or hadn’t thought to be interested in) —in this case bitter foods— teaches me about them, and inspires me to change the way I cook.

While I’m not ready for some of the recipes (beer jelly) and some are a bit out of my reach (turnip ice cream — I’ve no ice cream maker), most of her recipes are totally accessible.  Like this recipe here.  The bitterness of the radicchio is balanced by the nutty sweetness of the squash and the creaminess of the risotto.  It makes a perfect fall dinner with a glass of wine alongside.

risotto bitter bowl

Radicchio and Squash Risotto

(adapted from Jennifer McLagan’s Bitter)

serves 2-3

  • 3 1/2 – 4 c vegetable broth
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 – 2 1/2 c Kabocha or Hubbard squash, cut in 1 inch cubes
  • 6 c radicchio leaves, rinsed
  • 3/4 c arborio rice
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth
  • kosher salt, fresh pepper
  • parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt half the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallot and cook for 3-4 minutes or until translucent.  Add the squash and stir.  Season with a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring a few times, for about 5 minutes or until the squash starts to soften slightly.

While the squash is going, cut the radicchio into large bite size pieces.

Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat them in butter.  Add the radicchio and continue stirring until the leaves start to wilt.  Add the wine or vermouth and stir until the liquid evaporates.  Add the fresh pepper.

Add a ladle of hot broth to the pot.  Stir continuously until the broth is absorbed into the rice.  Add another ladle of broth, and keep stirring.  Repeat the process until the rice is cooked but al dente and the squash is tender.  You may not need all of the broth.  Turn off the heat and let the risotto sit for a couple of minutes.  Add the other half of the butter and stir to incorporate.  The risotto should be lovely and glossy.  Serve with fresh parmesan over the top and enjoy the subtle bitterness!



A day off.

bread molasses wholeA day off in the middle of the week is a funny thing.  An amazing, funny thing.  It’s not a sick day, thank goodness.  And it’s not a three-day weekend which seems to either involve an extension of the standard weekend’s social obligations or a lazy recovery from the two days prior.

A holiday in the middle of the week has so much potential.  There are so many things you could do.  Will you do spend half the day in a coffee shop looking cool and catching up on all the IwanttoreadthisbutIdon’thavetimerightnow articles and links and magazines that have piled up?  Will you check off some of those menial household chores from your to-do list?  Will you work on some of those food projects that you’re itching to try?  Or will you laze about on the couch and watch I Love Lucy all day?

These are the things I ask myself.

I settled on a combination of several of the options.  The highlight was the crisp, exceptionally windy, and unseasonably sunny morning.  I baked this warm, not too sweet, slightly smokey (from the molasses) bread/snack cake hybrid.  A friend joined me for bread, coffee, and a game of cards.  Perfect.

bread molasses matthew

Here is my version of this yogurt and molasses bread.  It’s my go-to quick bread in the fall and winter months.

 Molasses Bread with Dried Fruit

  • 1 1/2 c sifted whole wheat flour
  • 1 c sifted white flour
  • 1/2 c cornmeal (medium or course ground)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 2/3 c plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • 1/2 c molasses
  • 2/3 c chopped dried Turkish apricots
  • 1/2 c raisins

Preheat oven to 325° F.  Mix the sifted flours, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt and molasses and mix well.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry in two batches, mixing with long sweeping strokes.  When the flour is about two-thirds of the way incorporated, add the dried fruit and continue to mix with sweeping strokes until the mixture is just combined.  Do not over mix or the bread with be tough.  Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for an hour or until a sharp knife inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean.  Let cool completely before slicing (if you’re capable of such a thing).


  • You can use all whole wheat flour instead of the combination of flours if you like.  I didn’t have enough whole wheat flour today, so I used a combination.
  • Also, Turkish apricots have a wonderful spicy flavor that standard dried apricots don’t.  Use them if you can find them (try the bulk section of the grocery store) or substitute regular dried apricots.
  • This bread will keep, well wrapped, on the counter for a few days.  I recommend toasting your slices if the bread is more than a day old.

Happy Veterans Day!


A mushroom hunt victorious.


Last year I read Eugenia Bone’s Mycophilia.  She is a wonderful writer (I also recommend At Mesa’s Edge), and this is my favorite kind of food/cook book.  It’s the kind of book that takes you on a journey with the author as she explores a new topic or food.  I find this kind of book much more inspiring than those that simply present a collection of recipes from some revered chef with some cute anecdotes.  But I like those too.

Anyway, since reading Bone’s book I’ve cooked much more with mushrooms and experimented with new varieties I’ve found at the market.  I love them in place of meat in ragù and bolognese when I’m cooking for vegetarian friends or when I just feel like mushrooms. But it wasn’t until very recently that I summoned the courage to hunt them myself.  So I gathered a few friends, one of whom had some actual mushroom hunting experience, and we ventured forth into the Columbia River Gorge for a hunt.

We tromped, and searched, and muddied ourselves, and if you’ve ever been in the Pacific NW in October you know, we got wet.  And we were fairly successful.

It’s hard to describe the joy of finally spying the real thing after spotting so many other beautiful mushrooms that (as far as we knew) shouldn’t be eaten.  Finally your eyes zero in on what you’ve been searching for, partially buried in the dirt.  You dig it up.  Trumpet shape, check!  False gills, check!  Apricot scent, check!  And then, five feet away, another golden beige-y lump in the dirt.  And another a few feet from there.  More chanterelles!  You scurry to collect them all before one of your friends wanders close enough to realize your jackpot.  It’s thrilling.

This is most of what we gathered amongst the five of us.  We may have been a little late in the season, or in too popular an area (we saw several cars parked along the road we took).  Regardless, we were all proud.

That night I sautéed the chanterelles with shallots in butter.  Once the liquid from the mushrooms had reduced, I seasoned well with salt and pepper, stirred in some cream, and tossed with a short cut pasta.  They’re a mild flavor that seemed to call for a simple preparation.  I’d like to try them as a soup next time.  Preparation aside, the secret ingredient is definitely the pride of having hunted them yourself.