Saturday, June 16, 2012

Green Pasta "Recipe"

The recipe of the title is in quotes because this is going to be a recipe in my mother's style: add some of this, do that, add some other stuff, and voilà.  That's how my mom rocks it, and that's how I'm going to rock it.

I'm calling this stuff "Green Pasta" because most of the ingredients were green and because I purchased most of them at the Farmer's Market.  Ever since finishing Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I've been feeling like a food slouch.  The book got me thinking a lot about how I've been eating and how changing what I eat can help to change the world.  And no, I really don't believe that's an exaggeration.

Before reading the book, I was already trying to make ethical food choices.  I'm a vegetarian; I try to buy local food when it's available; I shop at the Farmer's Market with some regularity.  However, Kingsolver made me see that I can be doing more, and one area in particular that I felt I could improve in was seasonal eating.  I would go to the grocery store and buy what suited me with little thought about where it came from and how far and how it was made to grow.  I picked organic when it wasn't cost-prohibitive, and beyond that, I didn't give it much thought.  Well, now I am.  

I want to make a serious effort to eat local, and by extension, that means eating seasonal.  What better way to know what's in season if you aren't a gardener than to cruise around the Farmers' Market and see what they have?  That's what I did.  I knew already that it was pea season, and fresh peas and I go way back.  Even as a kid, I was always eating peas raw right off the plant so much so that my mom complained she could never get enough for even one bowl of them.  Some people worry about rabbits munching their gardens; my mom had to worry about me.

Anyway, as a long time pea-lover, I figured I'd make that the centerpiece of a pasta dish.  I was thinking of using sunchokes, which I'd seen at the market the week before, just because I was curious.  I also figured on some lavender honey goat cheese, which I'd also seen the week before.  Well, there were no sunchokes because the stand that sells them wasn't there, so I needed a plan B.  It came in the form of a pea dish I'd tried--yep--the week before at the market.  It had mint, so I bought some of that.  I decided to get some spring garlic as well, and since there was a scape attached at the top, that went in to the recipe, too.  In lieu of the sunchokes, I decided I'd get zucchini.  While buying the zucchini, though, a woman fervently recommended the lita squash, so I grabbed some of that, too.  

In the true Shana style, a style I clearly inherited from my mom, I made up the "recipe" on a whim and eyeballed the whole thing and wrote down nothing as I did it.  Still, it was super tasty, so I figured I'd recount the whole process here.  I bought a lot of the ingredients from organic farm stands at the market, and obviously, that's best, but if you get whatever you can at the farmers' market, I think you can call it good enough.  I will say that it is fresher and tastier from the market, and you can feel good about supporting local farmers.  Plus, you may find some things you are addicted to and happy to spend your money on week after week.  I'm pretty sure I'll be plunking down $6 for the lavender honey goat cheese I bought whenever the opportunity presents itself.  It might be my new "drug" of choice.

Green Pasta
Ingredients

  • Whole wheat pasta or whatever sort makes you happy (I used whole wheat organic fusilli.)
  • Salted butter & olive oil enough to saute the veggies in and make you happy
  • Spring garlic, at least a whole head because spring garlic heads are small and the taste is delicate
  • 1 garlic scape (Use more if you've got them.  They were quite nice.  I bit into a raw piece, and it was really peppery and pungent.  It mellowed a lot when cooked.)
  • Sweet peas, preferably fresh and obviously shelled
  • Squash, sliced not too thin and cut into half moons or some other easily edible size (Mine was zucchini and lita.)
  • Mint
  • Salt & pepper if it suits you
  • Goat cheese (I was worried that the lavender honey stuff I got might be weird with the mint.  It so was not.  The slight sweetness of it was perfect.)

1.  Prepare your ingredients.  Shell the peas, chop the garlic and scapes, and slice the squash.  Go with whatever quantities you think will match the amount of pasta you intend to make.  I made it for two and used the whole head of spring garlic, so if you are making more pasta, add more of everything.  Also, unless you chop like a three-toed sloth, you can put the water for the pasta on to boil after you shell the peas.  

2.  Once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, and melt the butter in a skillet with some olive oil over medium-low heat.  First, add the garlic and give it a couple of minutes.  Next, throw in the scapes and the peas.  Give those a few minutes and add the squash.  Cook until you are happy with the doneness of  the squash.  I like mine barely cooked, which is why I slice it thicker than some people would.  It still needs to be something I have to bite into.  After the squash is done enough, add the salt & pepper and then the mint.  To be honest, I forgot salt & pepper.  It occurred to me afterward that I could've added a little, but I thought it was tasty as it was.  I'm a big fan of letting the veggie flavors shine.

3. At this point, the pasta should be done.  For God's sake, don't over do it.  Al dente, people!  Also, since you'll be adding it to the skillet to cook a minute or two, it's okay if it is on the less done side of al dente.  Drain the pasta, and catch some of the water in case you need to add it to the skillet to prevent sticking and give it all a nice taste.  Add the pasta to the skillet, and toss it around or stir it up or whatever it is you do to mix the flavors.  Add pasta water as needed.  Cook a couple of minutes till everything has cozied up to one another and the flavors seem like they are mixing.  

4. Move the pasta to an appropriately-sized serving bowl, add a few big spoonfuls of goat cheese and stir.  The heat should get it melty, but you can always leave the quantity you plan to use on the counter to get it to room-ish temperature before you mix it in.

5. Eat and enjoy.  You can feel like you've done something healthy for you and your planet and bask in the knowledge that healthy can totally equal tasty as hell.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Easy Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

Soups, stews, and chilis are my favorite things about fall--well, aside from sweaters and scarves anyway.  I love eating steaming bowls full of veggie goodness that warm you from the inside.  There are very few things that give me more pleasure.  With that in mind, I've decided to share my vegetarian chili recipe.  It's adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook.  One thing that Mollie Katzen does right without fail is hot stuff like soups, stews, and chilis.  This one is a version of hers made even simpler by using canned beans and more flavorful by adding a few of my own touches, like using V-8 instead of plain old tomato juice.  Plus, the V-8 lets me ditch the celery because, to be honest, I'm not wild about the stuff.  I think it was all those forced grade-school snacks of celery and peanut butter.  Just thinking about it grosses me out.  This chili, though, is far from gross, especially if you serve it over whole wheat spaghetti and cover it in sharp cheddar cheese.  Yum!


Easy Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

  • 3 15-oz. cans of beans—1 each of kidney, black, & pinto
  • 1 cup V-8 (more can be added in step 4)—feel free to use Spicy V-8, the organic stuff from Knudsen, or just plain tomato juice
  • 1 cup uncooked bulger wheat
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 6 to 8 large cloves garlic, minced (ok to use garlic from a jar, ½ tsp.=1 clove)
  • 1 medium carrot (or more), diced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • 2 tsp. chili powder (more to taste)
  • 1 tsp. salt (more to taste)
  • black and cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 ½ bell pepper—use red, green, orange or, yellow in any combination
  • 1 14½-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbs. tomato paste (½ a small can)
  • grated cheese for the top—sharp cheddar is great
  1. Heat the V-8 to boiling.  Add it to the bulgur in a small bowl, cover, and let stand for at least 15 minutes .  (You can do this step before you begin chopping the onions.)
  2. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.  Add onion, carrot, seasonings, and half of the garlic.  Sauté over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, then add bell pepper, and sauté until the peppers are tender, about 5-7 minutes more.
  3. While the veggies are sautéing, use a colander to rinse the beans thoroughly under running water.  Keep rinsing until the water coming out of the colander is clear and the beans have ceased bubbling.
  4.  Once the peppers are tender (but not soft or mushy), add the tomatoes (au jus), tomato paste, bulger, and beans to the contents of the Dutch oven.  Gently stir until mixed.  (At this point, you can add more V-8 if you want to make the chili less thick.)
  5. Simmer over very low heat, stirring occasionally for approximately 30 minutes longer.  After 15 minutes, add the remaining garlic.  Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve hot with grated cheese, if you like.  For a yummy change, serve the chili over spaghetti.  If this appeals to you, I suggest using whole wheat spaghetti, which is healthier and just as delicious.  Even if whole wheat spaghetti isn’t usually your thing, the chili will cover any difference in flavor.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Buttermilk Pancakes

Generally speaking, I'm more of a French toast girl than a pancake girl.  Perhaps it is because French toast and grilled cheese are the first things I learned to cook back when I was about 5 years old.  In any case, living with roommate over the past year, I've gotten into the habit of making pancakes on the weekend.  I've tried a few recipes and have come to the conclusion buttermilk is a must.  Plain old pancakes are just blah.  Also blah are mixes.  I haven't used one of them in years.  Besides, it doesn't make sense to spend money on a mix when homemade pancakes can be made with ingredients I keep in the house anyway and taste so much better.

The recipe I've come up with has the benefit of being small.  It probably makes 6 to 8 pancakes depending on the size.  The recipe makes enough food for my roommate and me with enough batter left over for me to have a second batch the next morning.  Also, because it is small, it doesn't take much in the way of ingredients, so even if you have only one egg in the fridge, you can make these.  This recipe isn't my best recipe, but it is good.  It's especially good if you add fruit.  I like to put the fruit right into the batter instead of just on top.  You can use fresh or frozen, but out of fear of having half-frozen berries in the middle of my cooked pancake, I defrost the frozen ones first.  When I'm in a hurry, I do this by putting the berries in a ziploc baggie and running warm water over them.  They don't have to be completely defrosted, just enough that the heat of the stove can do the rest.

Buttermilk Pancakes
  • 1 cup cake flour (You can use all-purpose, but the pancakes are more tender with cake flour.)
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar (I go with one, but I once used 2 by accident, and it was fine if you like them sweeter.)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp.baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp of melted butter or canola oil (I like to do 1 tbsp of each.)
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, but don't get too zealous or you'll end up with flour all over the place.  Add egg and buttermilk, and begin whisking together.  Once everything is wet and lumpy, add the butter/canola oil to smooth it out.  Mix until most of the lumps are gone.

2. Heat a skillet on medium for a few minutes until the pan is good and hot.  (By trial and error, I've come to know how hot this is, and it's probably best for you to figure it out yourself, too.)  Pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter into the skillet.  Let the pancake cook till bubbles begin to form and edges look dry.  Using a spatula, flip it over and cook until done. 

A final word to the wise: Do not turn up the heat so your pancakes will cook faster.  You'll end up with the outside cooked and the inside runny.  When I first started making pancakes in my teenage years, I often ended up with pancakes whose middles were uncooked.  Finally, my mom saw what I was doing, reached over, and turned down the stove.  I've never had that problem since.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is my recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  Actually, it is from The New York Times, but it has my notes because I'm practically incapable of following directions.  My notes are in italics.  If you want the original recipe along with the article, which is very informative and explains some of the whys for the recipe, go here.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres
Ingredients
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour (Can be done with all-purpose flour, I have, but cake flour is better.  It's makes the cookie more tender.)
  • 1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour (Non-negotiable.  You need the gluten proteins for binding or something like that.)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt (The big crystals are because you have to let it sit in the fridge a few days, but if you aren't going to do that, which would be a mistake, use smaller salt crystals or they won't be able to dissolve and you'll get salty bites.)
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter (Seriously.  Unsalted.)
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar (Not dark, which will have a different flavor.)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs (The fresher, the better.)
  • 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (I think the fèves are too big, but I use Ghiradelli chocolate chips which are bigger than Nestle and tastier, too.)
  • Sea salt (I have tried it with and without and find it unnecessary.  People I have made these for mostly liked it either way.)
1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside. (Do not try to sift coarse salt. It doesn’t work. It just gets stuck in the sifter.  Sift the rest and whisk in the salt afterward. Actually, if you don’t have a sifter, just whisk everything together really, really, really well.)

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. (Or, if like me, you don’t have a fancy mixer with a paddle attachment, just use your beaters, but make sure they have a good motor because this is thick.) Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. (It takes longer with beaters.) Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. (Do this with a rubber spatula unless you have the paddle attachment thingy.) Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. (This is super important.  Err on the side of 36 hours.)  Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. (I do not make my cookies quite this big. I go for a little smaller than golf balls. To give you a sense, I get about 20 to 22 cookies from one batch of dough.) Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (This is the part I skip. My apologies, Jacques.) and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. (Smaller cookies need less cooking time. Better to err on the side of undercooked than to overcook them.  I think I go with 16 to 18 minutes.) Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. (Cooling racks are another must in my view.  Really any old thing that will let air circulate all around will do the trick.  I have been known to improvise.)  Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cookbook Recommendations

I haven't yet mentioned this anywhere here on this blog, but I am a vegetarian, a fact which some people find very vexing and a fact I find vexing on the rare occasions I visit my family.  One time where my vegetarianism isn't vexing, though, is when it comes to finding cookbooks.  There are so many great vegetarian cookbooks out there these days, and so many great cookbooks in general.  Of course, a cookbook is usually an investment; they aren't cheap, right?  Also, a cookbook is no substitute for using your own head and figuring out what's best for you and your tastes.

The cookbooks I own have either been gifts or were purchased at used bookstores or as remainders from places like the Strand or the Harvard Bookstore, two of my very favorite bookstores in the world.  Still, even if you can't find it for cheap, a good cookbook is a great thing.  It doesn't matter if you are like me and ignore all the parts of recipes that you disagree with or if you are the type to follow a recipe to the letter.  Below is a list of my very favorite cookbooks and why I love them.

The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook by Christopher Kimball--More than anything, I love this cookbook for the stories and the information.  I rarely follow Kimball's recipes to the letter (except the Rich Nutmeg Cinnamon Apple Cake, which is heaven), and often, I use this more for consultation than for actual cooking.  The charts in it as well as the how-to illustrations, though, are mind-bogglingly good.  I've yet to try too much from this cookbook, especially since it is filled with meaty, non-vegetarian creations, but what I have tried has been great, even if I did tweak the recipes a little to get them the way I wanted.

The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen--Katzen should write a book of just soups because her soup recipes are the best things in this cookbook.  Again, I don't follow what she says to the letter, but this was the first cookbook I ever bought, so it holds a special place in my heart.  If you know anything about vegetarianism, you know that this is a vegetarian cookbook, and when it sticks to vegetables, it cannot be beat.  I especially adore the recipe for zuccanoes, which are stuffed zucchini extraordinaire, but Katzen loves mushrooms, a problem for me since I hate them, which is also a big problem for a vegetarian, believe me.  Another problem with this cookbook is the desserts/baked goods.  I haven't tried many of them, but that is because I've been seriously disappointed with the ones I have tried.

Entertaining for a Veggie Planet by Didi Emmons--This is by far my favorite and the most used of my cookbooks.  I love it.  I can't get enough of it.  I don't think I've tried a recipe that I didn't think was good.  I may not have enjoyed the finished product in some cases, but it was always a question of taste not quality.  Furthermore, I have to thank Emmons for not only getting me to try but also getting me to love lots of foods I was skeptical about.  (Hello, sweet potato.  You are so much better than those pies and Thanksgiving marshmallow concoctions had led me to believe.)  To top it off, the cookbook is visually appealing and full of great stories, and the baked goods are out of this world.  Her Stowe Brownies have sent many people I know into fits of ecstasy as has her Blueberry Cardamom Cake, and if you look closely, you can find the base for one of my treasured secret recipes.  I just bought her first cookbook, Vegetarian Planet, on sale at Housing Works Bookstore (all cookbooks 30% off in November), and I cannot wait to try the recipes.  I met Emmons herself at a greenmarket behind my co-op when I lived in Cambridge, and she said that her second cookbook was much better than her first.  She may turn out to be right--the second is certainly prettier--but there's a lot in Vegetarian Planet to get excited about.

Mediterranean Harvest by Martha Rose Schulman--If you haven't yet, you must check out the Recipes for Health section of The New York Times.  Oh my god.  Schulman writes the recipes, and they are great.  Some of them, or versions of them, appear in this cookbook.  I swear, except for my pale, pale skin which can barely handle your average sunny day, I should have been born in a Mediterranean country.  I love all the fresh vegetables they put in their food.  It doesn't matter if it is France, Italy, Spain, Greece, or North Africa; Mediterraneans know vegetables, and so does Schulman.  The dishes I've tried have been astounding, but I've yet to make any baked goods from the cookbook.  Emmons and my own creations have my heart when it comes to baking right now.

These are it for my cookbooks.  I have one or two others, but they aren't good enough to mention.  I also have A Joy of Cooking CDROM, which is a pretty good resource.  Otherwise, when in doubt, I start at the Cook's Illustrated website for an overview, google what I'm looking for, and then make up my own recipe based on all the information I've gleaned.  I like to live dangerously, I guess.

Sexy Pink Potato Soup

(Note: This is reposted from another blog of mine, one that was supposed to be about reading, writing, and music but became about food.  I decided to move all the food stuff to this blog.  I orginally posted this 11.28.09.  I made this up as part of my Thanksgiving dinner last year.)

Seeing these pretty potatoes at the Farmer’s Market and hearing the farmer himself sing their praises—he had many other varieties but said he particularly liked these—I had to buy some. He suggested turning them into pink mashed potatoes, which would be great, but I was eating alone, so making a big pot of mashed potatoes seemed frivolous. Instead, I remembered the potato soup my mom made when I was kid. It was one of my favorites and had a white milk-based broth that I thought would look great with the pinkness of the potatoes.

I called my mom for the recipe, and like most of my mom’s recipes, and a number of mine as well, it wasn’t so much a recipe as a list of steps and ingredients. She said to boil some water, add some onions, boil for a little while, add some potatoes, boil till the potatoes were cooked, dump out some liquid, and finally add evaporated milk, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices I wanted. I figured there must be a better way to go about it in order to create something truly flavorful, something that didn’t rely on the large quantities of butter as well celery, onion, and garlic powder we used to put in it when I was kid.

This is my first attempt at this recipe, and I’m sure I’ll add and change things next time around. I kept all of my mom’s basic ingredients, although I did seriously consider replacing the evaporated milk with cream and milk. My mom, however, was adamant that the evaporated milk was what made her soup special, and seeing as I had a can in the cabinet that was set to expire by the end of year, I decided to stick with her suggestion. I haven’t tried it with cream, but I am certain that the evaporated milk is the key to the taste I loved as a kid. I’m glad I kept it while managing to add more grown-up flavors as well.


Broth Ingredients
  • 2 handfuls baby carrots sliced in ¼ inch rounds
  • 2 stalks celery cut in 1 inch chunks
  • 1 sliced round of large onion
  • 1 sprig of organic rosemary
  • approximately 6 cups water
 
Soup Ingredients
  • 2 tblsp. butter
  • 1 tblsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup onion (I tend to use sweet onions always.)
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • approximately 5 cups broth
  • 1 ½-2 lbs. Adirondack Red potatoes (Obviously, use whatever kind makes you happy.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 can of evaporated milk

1. Put chopped carrots, celery, onion, and a sprig of rosemary in approximately 6 cups of water in a medium saucepan on high heat. Bring to a boil. Put a lid on the pan and lower the heat, making sure to maintain a simmer. I wouldn’t use a commercial broth as it will have too much salt and whatnot. Also, this isn’t really a proper broth so much as boiled veggie water, so feel free to add whatever you’ve got lying around.  You can use any spices in lieu of or in addition to the rosemary. Next time, I’m thinking of putting in some thyme. Simmer for at least half an hour, but I did it for the time I was scrubbing and chopping the potatoes and cutting the onions and garlic.  In the end, you'll have about 5 cups of broth.

2. Prepare and slice the potatoes. I scrubbed mine very well and left the skins on since that where a lot of the nutritional good stuff is, but if you don’t like skins, you can peel them. That’s what my mom does. After the potatoes are scrubbed or skinned, cut them into ¼ inch slices. If the slices are too wide, cut them in half. Next, chop up an onion until you have one cup. For me, that was less than half of a large onion. Remember you are going to be eating these, so make them a size you are comfortable chewing and swallowing. Finally, the garlic can be minced or put through a garlic press. I just got a new garlic press, which I used because I hate having fingers that smell like garlic for the rest of the day.

3. Over medium heat, melt the butter and add the olive oil. You can use more or less of either. Just make sure you have enough to sauté the onions and garlic. Add onions and cook for approximately 5 minutes, and then add the garlic. Cook for another two or three minutes.

4. While the garlic is cooking, strain the broth by placing a colander over a bowl. It is okay if some rosemary slips though, but make sure none of the veggies do. Once the broth has been strained, add it along with the potatoes, salt, pepper, and half of the rosemary to the onions and garlic. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to approximately medium and gently boil the potatoes. How long this takes with depend on the type of potatoes as well as how closely you stuck the ¼ inch slice guideline. Check after 10 or so minutes using a fork to see if they are done. They are done when a fork slides easily into a potato slice.

5. When the potatoes are done, remove at least 1 cup of broth from pot. I did this with a ladle. Reserve this broth to thin the soup later on if you think it has become too thick. Next add 1 can of evaporated milk to the soup along with the rest of the rosemary. Simmer gently for at least 10 more minutes, tasting to adjust salt and pepper levels. Once the spices are all good, eat and enjoy. It goes nicely with bread, and next time I have a bowl, I’m thinking of shredding a little gruyere over the top. Be creative and do something you like.

Master Muffin/Quick Bread Recipe (and that's master in every sense of the word!)

What I am going to share with you now is, well, one of my very favorite recipes for baked goods.  It is also one of my secrets, but I've decided to let the cat out of kitchen, so to speak.  (And for the record, I don't even have a cat, so there's never been a cat kitchen, which means no burnt paws and absolutely no cat hair in the food.)  I typed this up a few weeks ago for my baby sister, who, unwisely, elected to use another recipe.  Her mistake because this one is good. 

I've come to it after a lot of mucking about in the kitchen and trying this or that recipe in search of the perfect recipe.  What it is really is the combination of my own likes and dislikes with the best ideas and tricks from other recipes, recipes which were good but not to my taste.  (A special shout out to The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook by Christopher Kimball from which I stole the idea of using liquid fat instead of solid.  Christopher Kimball is one of my cooking gods, though he and I see eye to eye on little.  However, he's a master of technique, helpful information, and interesting stories.  Cook's Illustrated, his magazine, rocks my world.  You should check it out, but most especially if you are a meat-eater.) 

This recipe may not achieve perfection, especially if your tastes are a bit different from mine, but it comes close.  At the very least, it is a great starting point for your own expressions of culinary genius.  Happy baking and, especially, happy eating!

a yummy zucchini muffin

Master Muffin/Quick Bread Recipe

Basic Ingredients
  • 2 cups + 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¾-1 cup sugar (¾ cup for banana muffins, 1 cup for the others)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Banana Variation
  • 2-3 tbsp. buttermilk
  • 4 to 5 medium-sized mashed very ripe bananas (around 1 ½ cups, I think)
  • ½ cup walnuts (optional)

Zucchini Variation
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ginger
  • ⅛ tsp. allspice
  • 2-3 tbsp. buttermilk
  • 1 to 1½ cups grated zucchini (1 small to medium zucchini)
  • ½ tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • ½ cup walnuts or almonds (optional)

Cranberry Orange Variation
(Note: Omit the extra 3 tbsp. of flour.)

  • 1 ½ medium navel oranges’ worth of rind
  • 1/3 cup orange juice (from 1 navel orange) + enough buttermilk to equal 1 cup
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease a standard loaf pan with butter or shortening or line muffin pan with muffin liners. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and any spices. If called for, add citrus rind you are using to the buttermilk. In a separate bowl, beat the butter, oil, sugar, and eggs for two minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed. Add the vanilla, and then add the wet ingredients from your chosen muffins and the buttermilk and mix for an additional 30 seconds.

2. Using a large rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture. Mix by hand until just combined. If using nuts or berries, add them now. Don’t overmix. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60+ minutes or pour into cupcakes liners and bake for 18 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning the bread or muffins out to cool completely on the wire rack.
Makes 1 loaf or 16 muffins.

Okay, a few last suggestions about modifications.  If you are watching your cholesterol, you can use only canola oil instead of the butter/canola oil mix I use.  Alternately, you can rock it like Christopher Kimball and use only butter.  Using only butter, though, seemed to lead to more browning, which I don't like so much, and a flavor I found--shockingly to me, a lover of butter--to be to buttery.  Instead, I prefer the butter/canola mix and then smearing my finished muffin or quick-bread slice with butter.
 
Another suggestion I have is making muffins instead of bread.  I personally don't like the very crisp, very brown outer shell you get with quick breads.  Because they are dense and wet, they take a long time to cook.  Recipes always say 50 to 60 minutes, but I have found that they generally need more than 60 minutes to cook.  If you make muffins, though, 18 minutes is fine, and they turn out way more light and fluffy than muffins usually do, almost more like cake.  If you want them more brown, they can stand hanging out in the oven up to 22 minutes until they start over-browning and drying out, though of course this totally depends on your oven.  Most of us, I suspect, don't have professionally-calibrated ovens, but if you are a frequent baker, you probably know your oven's particular quirks.
 
One last thing, and then you can get cooking.  Of the variations, the zucchini is probably the superstar.  All the spices add some complexity and make it yummy.  If you are looking to impress, that's the way to go (or to trick your kids into eating some green veggies), and if you want nuts, let me humbly suggest the almonds, a happy discovery that resulted from my not having any walnuts at home one day when I was baking for a person who insisted on having nuts in them.  Zucchini and almonds make great friends.  The banana variation is decidedly plain Jane, especially in comparison to the zucchini.  My mom made hers plain Jane, and that's how I make mine.  If you want to jazz it up, add nuts.  I hate nuts in banana bread, but it is your bread, so you can do what you want.  You can also add some cinnamon, too.  I had an ex who liked that.  As for the cranberry orange, it is a lot sweeter than you might think, but not in a bad way.  If you want it less sweet, use less sugar or see if you can find some unsweetened dried cranberries.  In my local supermarket, however, there were only sweetened ones.