Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rum Raisin Muffins

Just when I thought muffin mania had climaxed last week with snickers filled muffins, An goes and finds one with raisins and rum!  I knew it was a hit with the other bakers when I began seeing comments on twitter asking who was excited about this weeks muffins!

After examining the recipe, I assumed it was not of 'American' derivation based on the metric temps and caster sugar in the ingredients. Also, the sugar seemed kind of sparse in relation to the flour, in keeping with the preference for less sweetness across the pond. Yes, you get some sugar contribution from the rum and raisins, but I still began thinking of ways to make it more sweet tooth friendly.

A little rum flavored glaze was an obvious and simple choice, but the rum also reminded me of a favorite Butter Nut Rum Pound Cake I used to make in my bakery. These cakes were poured with a butter rum syrup when they came out of the oven, so I figured why not try it with some muffins? It worked out nice, and added a depth of rum flavor and some moistness to the muffins. If you like a little 'crust' on your muffins, however, pouring them with butter rum syrup may not be the choice for you. But, if you're in it for the rum, it's definitely the bomb :)

As expected, the muffins as given were delicious, but not real sweet. Ideal for an 'afternoon tea', but we like it sweeter for breakfast :).  A little glaze made them suitable for a Southern sweet tooth, and pouring them with butter rum syrup gave them a great rum kick!  Enjoy.

L-R: Plain, Glazed, Rum Syrup Soaked

Be sure to check out Baker Street and see what variations the other bakers came up with!

1 3/4 cups self rising flour
2 TBS caster sugar (extra fine granulated)
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown rum
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup of butter, melted

Add raisins to rum in a bowl and allow to soak several hours.
Preheat the oven to 390°F
Prepare 12 regular muffin tins by brushing the bases with oil.
Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, then make a well in the middle.
In another bowl mix the egg, milk, and butter. Stir in the raisins and rum that is left.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and fold lightly with a fork. Do not over mix.
Spoon into muffin tins, filling each one about two-thirds.
Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until just starting to brown  and a skewer or toothpick comes out clean.
Place muffins on a wire rack to cool

Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop in a quick line to join her on her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Food, Family, Friends. Enough Said.

I've always been a lover of food, family, and friends. They all make life more enjoyable and worth living to the fullest. If we're not careful, though, they're also very easy to take for granted. I'm a professional baker. Most of my days are centered around food; cooking, baking, dreaming of new things to cook and bake, and eating the results.  I've never known hunger, yet I have friends who are missionaries, and tell stories of children waiting at trash dumps, hoping the trucks will bring something to nourish them for another day. It saddens my heart. I give to help. I pray for change. Tomorrow comes. I cook, bake, eat...and forget.  Out of sight, out of mind, right? Tragic, saddening, deplorable? Yes!  It's so EASY to take our blessings for granted.

I have lost friends to death, and it was sorrowful and strange, but life went on and remaining friends were taken for granted. It's just easier to assume the ones we're close to will always be there.

I've also lost family, and the sting was much deeper and still lingers. I sat by my father's side with tears in my eyes as I watched him take his last breath.  I thought of fishing & hunting trips, woodworking in the shop, and long talks to solve the worlds problems.  I also thought of opportunities missed, meaningless disagreements, and desires postponed. We always talked of going to the annual boat show in Annapolis, but never made it. Time was taken for granted, and his (our) next year never came. He used to tell me; 'Don't get so busy making a living, that you forget to make a life.'  I agreed. Yep, next year I'm gonna start living by that advice. Surely, the lyrics to Harry Chapin's 'The Cat's In the Cradle' doesn't apply to us. right? How haunting the truth is when it hurts.

Truth, however, can also be comforting, liberating, and refreshing when it reveals the love of family, friends , and God.  Knowing that others love us and care for us, and that God will never leave us or forsake us, gives us strength to carry on.

Recently, as the result of a tragic loss, I've seen firsthand the love of friends displayed to one in need. I've only been a member of the food blogging community for a short while, but I've already experienced the love and camaraderie shared within it.  It's easy to say; "We're here for you!', but the proof, or truth, is in the actions.

When I heard that Jennifer Perillo had lost her husband, Mikey, to a sudden heart attack, I was grief stricken.  I have never met either of them, but it didn't matter.  People, my friends, were hurting, so I hurt too.  Mikey was way too young to go, and Jennifer is way to unprepared for such a blow. What about the kids, the commitments, the bills? Messages, well wishes, and condolences began to flow on twitter. I even sent my own, though we had never tweeted personally. I felt heavy hearted, but expected tomorrow to come, along with the cooking, eating, and forgetting.  What I didn't expect, to my shame, was the continued love and support that flowed from the food blogging community. Not just from neighbors, and immediate family, but friends from around the country and the world. Many, probably most, have never met her, but chose to love and care in a meaningful way. Not just in words, but in actions as well. After all, Love is not just a feeling, it's an active choice.

A whole day was dedicated to #apieformikey and a fund has been set up to benefit Jennifer and her family. You can give here.

Many people also began thinking of creative ways to raise money for this fund. Auctions, Donations, Cook Book sales, etc.  I thought, How Awesome! This is what friends and community are all about, caring. 

I want to help, too. So, in memory of time spent with my dad, and to help Jennifer and family, I'm auctioning off 2 hand turned wooden bowls.  Woodworking was something dad and I enjoyed together, and turning bowls on the lathe is my favorite.  These are turned from solid blocks of wood (1 black cherry, 1 zebra wood) and are finished with walnut oil, so are food safe.  They also make great props for food bloggers, hint, hint!

I will cover shipping in the U.S. and 100% of the winning bid will go to the fund for Jennifer. To bid, just leave a comment with your bid amount. Be sure your email is correct, so I can  contact the winning bidder.  The wood 'blanks' cost around $30 alone, so let's start the bidding at $50.  Thanks for helping with such a worthy cause!

As you go about your day, quit taking those you love for granted, and give them a big hug today... and everyday! :-)


Sunday, August 21, 2011

From Monday Blues To Monday Mania

If you like encouragement, and most people do, then you should hook up with An at Baker Street, and join us for Muffin Mondays.  This is my third week to participate, and my family already starts pestering me mid-week about what the newest muffin flavor is. It's great to see their excitement and know they appreciate the tasty treats. The downside, however, is that even the in-laws and out-laws want to drop in to see what's baking. Some I can handle, others make me so tense I could crack walnuts with my butt cheeks.

The fun thing about their excitement, or Monday Mania, is that I can tease and taunt them with the muffin details they so desperately desire!  Now, if you're thinking I have a twisted sense of humour, and would actually enjoy making them beg for details, you're right.

This  weeks torment was especially entertaining because the recipe calls for Snickers Bars; so, when they were seen on the counter and told not to eat them, the suspense over what they were for became unbearable. Ah, such fun. That's right, Snickers Bars in a muffin! I'm sure that makes you want to stop reading, skip straight to the ingredients, and start mixing, but bear with me.

When I first saw the recipe had peanut butter and Snickers Bars, I thought; 'Oh yeah! Gonna be awesome'. In actuality, though, these were not one of my favorite muffins.  They weren't real moist, but I slightly over baked them, so I overlooked that at first. The biggest disappointment was the lack of flavor depth that we expected from the peanut butter and candy bars. 'Sort of bland' seemed to be the universal sentiment. It was like having a gorgeous girl answer the door on a blind date, only to smile and have no front teeth. That's not to say they aren't worth making; after all, variety is the spice of life, right? I didn't get any requests to make a second batch, though, like I did with the donut muffins from last week. Much like not asking for a second date with Toofless Tonya.

After the initial 'blah' response, I used some leftover chocolate fudge icing from a cake project to jazz up the rest, which seemed to help broaden the smiles and whet the appetites.

All in all, if you like peanut butter and Snickers, you should make them. I would suggest, however, that you increase the peanut butter and maybe add a little more sugar.  Also, be sure to visit An's site here and check out the posts from other participants. You never know, others may have turned out awesome, meaning I possibly made a mistake. It happens :)

Snickers and Peanut Butter Muffins

Recipe:  Nigella Lawson

Yield:  12 muffins
1 2/3 cups flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
6 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
¾ cup milk
3 regular size Snickers bars, chopped
12-cup muffin pan with paper baking cups

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Add the peanut butter and  mix.  Add the melted butter and egg to the milk, and then stir this into the bowl.  Mix in the Snickers pieces and spoon into the muffin cups.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the muffins are fluffy and golden.  Let them cool on a wire rack.

Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop in a quick line to join her on her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.

If you usually have the Monday Blues, try signing up to bake with us, and see if Muffin Monday Mania takes over your house, too! :-)   What's YOUR favorite muffin?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kiss My Grits...And Pass The Shrimp

I think everyone, whether they admit it or not, has a 'must have' list. Kitchens must have good lighting, four wheelers must have mud grips, and a Southern chef must have good Shrimp & Grits. Having a culinary degree might make you special in some circles, but for Southerners, if your Shrimp & Grits aren't up to snuff, you're only qualified to pass out toothpicks to tourists.

Grits, you see, are one of the Big Three Southern dishes; BBQ, Fried Chicken, and Grits.  Admittedly, grits haven't caused generational family feuds and city riots like the former two, but they are just as foundational to Southern culture. Any Southern breakfast must have creamy grits to be authentic.

Many people think Southerner's don't like Northerner's because Yankees are rude, cocky, mean, and too high strung. Honestly, though, we're too laid back to give those things a second thought. The real reason Southerners have trouble socializing with Yankees, is because we find it hard stooping to the intellectual and cultural level of people who have yet to embrace grits and iced tea.  I remember the first time I flew into Maine and ordered tea in a restaurant. The waitress brought a coffee cup full of hot water and a tea bag. I just assumed she misunderstood, so I said, iced tea please. To my horror, she told me they didn't have any. I began to panic thinking my plane had flown threw a time warp, and landed me in the dark ages.  My only solace was that it was late, and I could look forward to some creamy grits with breakfast in a few hours. 

OK, quit laughing. Yes, you're right.  They were clueless about grits, too.  They seriously thought 'homefries' were an adequate side dish to eggs and bacon. And they call us 'backwards'!

Maybe it's because grits, on the surface, appear to be simple and unsophisticated; plain and unworthy of gastronomical praise. Properly prepared, however, grits are a delight to the palate; a worthy companion to the most respected of entrees, when other starches have lost their lustre.  Cheese grits with a Filet is heaven, and fried quail with yellow grits and gravy will make your tongue slap your brain. 

The key words are properly prepared.  The most fundamental axiom of grits making is: You MUST salt and butter grits WHILE they are cooking.  Restaurants who serve unsalted grits should have their retail permits revoked. It's impossible to add salt and butter at the table and achieve the same results. Trying to salt grits after they're cooked is like trying to make husbands pick up their socks, or wives lose weight, after they're married. Ain't gonna happen.  Also, for really creamy and delicious grits, use a course ground, slow cooking variety and replace about 1/3 of the water with milk.

My grits of choice, Carolina Plantation, are produced locally on the only Colonial Plantation still producing rice and grits. You can read more about them HERE.

In addition, for authentic, quality Shrimp & Grits, you must cook the shrimp properly and not over power them with fillers and cheap gravy.  Many eateries, in ignorance or an attempt to save money, use a cheap tasting gravy, mix in a few overcooked shrimp, then pile in  ham chunks as a filler to make customers feel like they got their moneys worth while completely overpowering the shrimp.  If that's the only Shrimp & Grits you've ever had, welcome to the real thing!

Southern Shrimp and Grits

6 Slices bacon fried crisp. reserve bacon grease
1 lb Medium Wild Caught Shrimp (peeled & deveined)
1/2 Small onion chopped
1 Cup chopped mushrooms (more or less depending on preference)
1 TBS chopped garlic chives
2 TBS Sherry
Grits for 6 servings prepared according manufacturers directions

Fry the bacon until crisp and reserve the grease.
Prepare grits. (Add 11/2 tsp salt and half stick butter in the beginning and allow to cook with grits)
While grits simmer, sautee onions, 1/2 chives, and mushrooms in several TBS of bacon grease.
When mushrooms have reduced and onions are tender, add shrimp and sherry. Cook until Shrimp turn pink. (DO NOT not overcook shrimp)

Fill a serving bowl 2/3 full of grits, spoon on shrimp, and top with crumbled bacon and chives.
(A little shredded cheese is a nice addition. I like Parmesan)


Bubba's BBQ Shrimp & Grits:

Follow recipe above. Just before serving, add a good Carolina BBQ sauce to shrimp and mix thoroughly. Sauce will cook down very fast and burn, so be careful. Serve in smaller portions, add some paprika, and you have a wonderful appetizer!  I use a locally produced sauce that's been popular for years. (I'm into local, as you can tell)

Debutante Shrimp & Grits:

This is an 'uppidy' version for High Class Southerners (Those who have more than half their teeth and hang out at country clubs) and is suitable for High Teas and book club meetings.

Substitute Pancetta for common bacon
Add a little chopped red bell pepper
Add 1 TBS Sherry
Garnish with a lobster tail. (just kidding, use a lime or lemon wedge)

There you have it. If you're not a convert by now, then, in the words of Flo from Mel's Diner; 'Kiss My Grits!'  Then, pass me the shrimp ;-)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Easy Muffin For A Tough Day

Monday's are always the hardest day of the week.  I'm sure it was a Monday morning that inspired the bumper sticker I saw recently: 'There's got to be a better way to start the day than getting up in the morning!'  Monday's usually require an extra smack or two of the snooze button in order to ease into the day. Luckily,  I've got 'snooze radar'; no matter how deep I'm sleeping, or how I'm laying, I can instantly smack that snooze button before the first annoying beep is done.

Mondays have become a little easier, however, now that I know they'll be starting with fresh, tasty muffins. I was out of town last week and missed the fun, so I was excited to get this weeks recipe.  It's not only easy, but super tasty as well. In fact, the first batch was eaten before I took all my pictures, so I had to make a second. These are called 'Donut Mufffins', and having made tens of thousands of donuts in my time, I can assure you, these are the easiest donuts on earth to make!

The recipe calls for jam in the center, but it's fine to exclude it if you don't like 'Filled' donuts. Personally, I love the tasty surprise in the middle, so I decided on apricot jam for my little beauties. Firstly, because I had a wonderful vision of apricot filled, almond muffins with a white chocolate glaze, but mainly because grape muffins didn't sound very appetizing, and that was the only other jam in the house. As fate would have it, though, the stealthy almond monsters had already raided the pantry leaving me helpless in my quest for donut muffin utopia.

In the end, I followed the recipe as written and still used the apricot jam as a filling. The only alteration  was to top with a simple streusel instead of the cinnamon/sugar topping called for. My family loves the streusel topping and this time was no exception. In fact, we liked these muffins better than the 'coffee cake' muffins from 2 weeks ago.

I made a few jumbo muffins, but the jam ratio turned out much better in the smaller ones. In fact, we all thought they were better the next day. Very moist and delicious.  And, best of all, they're so easy to make, even an Alabama graduate can do it! 

The recipe has been adapted from tasteofhome
Donut Muffins:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
Jam {Optional}

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F
Grease or use muffin liners to line a 12 hole muffin pan
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
In a small bowl, combine sugar, oil, egg and milk; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.

Fill cups half full; place 1 teaspoon jam on top. Cover jam with enough batter to fill muffin cups three-fourths full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Place melted butter in a small bowl; combine sugar and cinnamon in another bowl.
Immediately after removing muffins from the oven, dip tops in butter, then in cinnamon-sugar. Serve warm.

Yields: 10 standard-size muffins.

Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop her a quick note to join her on her journey to make the world smile, and beat glum Monday mornings week after week. Click Here to find links to other Muffin Monday Posts!

These muffins are so easy, I'm sure I'll be making them often. Maybe soon I'll fill some with custard and top with chocolate. After all, custard filled, chocolate iced donuts are my fave!  What's your favorite donut?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Do Celebrity Roasts And Granita Have In Common?

Everyone who loves to laugh, loves a good roast. Whether a celebrity, new groom, or long time friend celebrating a milestone birthday, we all enjoy a friendly ribbing about embarrassing moments and quirky idiosyncrasies.  If you're a foodie, you probably enjoy roasts of another nature as well. Oyster roasts, pig roasts, and pot roasts are among several Southern favorites. If you're a coffee lover, however, there is no roast more dear to your heart than the fresh, fragrant, richly delicious roast prepared by your local independent coffee roaster!

What? You don't have a personal coffee roaster? One who custom roasts the highest quality beans of your choice and packages them securely to seal in that freshness and flavor?  Well, allow me to introduce you to Coastal Coffee in Summerville, SC.

Brad & Holly selecting beans to be roasted

Recently, Holly Roberson, owner of GoCharlestonDeals, and I had the pleasure of touring a wonderful, fledgling business dedicated to first class customer service, sustainable practices, and family values.  It's the kind of business many people daydream about while toiling away endless hours at jobs they despise, but endure for the sake of 'making ends meet'. The kind that makes you feel good about family, friends, the environment, and life.

For owners Brad and Jacki Mallet, along with children Richard, Rachael, and Ryan (not the quarterback), that dream became a reality last year when they decided to leave corporate America, move South, invest their savings in a building near the coast, buy a coffee roaster, and focus on their passion: Great Coffee.

The shiny, new, made in America, roaster!

Here's a little background in their own words:

"We're a locally owned, family operated business that's dedicated to sourcing the best beans and roasting them fresh for our customers.

Coastal Coffee Roasters began as a simple idea...

That idea: to share our family's passion for fresh, sustainable coffees with the world. We use Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Bird Friendly and Swiss Water Process certifications and are always looking for the best practices We love the coast as much as we love our coffee, so we headed toward the South Carolina coast with our vision for transforming the best organically grown beans into the most amazing, freshly roasted coffee. We use a creative, locally roasted process to bring our passion for great coffee to life in every bag. We want our name to be synonymous with the best cup of coffee that you have ever tasted. Period.

Coastal Coffee Roasters is passionate about bringing the culture of coffee to your cup."

Brad and crew are constantly sourcing the highest quality beans, and are committed to providing the freshest coffee from the best coffee regions of the world, while combining it with the friendliest customer service possible. (If you visit, you can even shoot some hoops with 'em in the back of the warehouse!)

A portion of their wide selection of beans

Every batch is roasted fresh and carefully monitored to ensure the optimal flavor profile.

After a great visit, I left with several new friends and a sampling of some wonderful coffee that was roasted fresh before my eyes just minutes earlier!

If there was ever a small business worthy of support, Coastal Coffee Roasters is it! For more information, to order online, or just share some love, visit their website here.  Also, follow them on twitter here.

Now, for those of you thinking; "I thought this was a food blog. Where's the recipe?", don't get your panties in a wad! I'm including a recipe to ease your tension and show that coffee is for more than just a hot morning drink!

Simple, cool, and refreshing granita:

Coffee GranitaServes 2

1 cup brewed coffee
1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons simple syrup (or your preferred sweetener)

  1. Brew coffee as usual and mix with milk and sweetener.
  2. Place in small shallow pan and reserve in freezer. Every 15 minutes scrape ice crystals with fork. Do this until the entire liquid has frozen into small crystals.
  3. Serve in small glasses as a light dessert served with fresh berries or drizzled with dulce de leche.

Recipe and photos are courtesy of my friend Marnely Rodriguez of the blog Cooking With Books. Be sure to show here some love too!

So, what do celebrity roasts and granita have in common? Hmmm...if you make some fresh roasted Coastal Coffee for your neighbors, you'll be a neighborhood celebrity. And, if you're smart, you'll make 'em some coffee granita, too!  Enjoy ;)

p.s. For a coffee ice cream recipe, click here.