Saturday, August 11, 2012

The August of Muffins

There is something about August that makes me crazy. The first few days I am plunged into deep mourning over the loss of summer and wail for the rapidly looming beginning of a new school year.

piled up furniture is more fun than toys
Usually the kids snap me out of that very quickly by being pretty annoying for a couple hours; I find myself saying "thank goodness school is about to start" which kicks me in to major nesting mode hence the past two posts documenting a frenetic cleaning phase.

Although thank GOODNESS for my crazy cleaning last weekend; when the floor guys came they had to pull out the stove to use the more powerful outlet for their sander. They were able to do so without being attacked by mega dust-bunnies or crusted up kitchen grime.

This year add into the mix: having the majority of our main floor sanded and refinished. I'm thrilled with the almost-done result, but living in the remainder of the house, sleeping on an air mattress in the basement, adjusting to a chronic fume-induced sore throat is getting old.

Plus having to hang out around the house for the workers is making me a little sad; I had big plans this summer and we don't have many days left in which to do all the things. Such is life.

Underfill the muffin cups for easier freezing
I did, however, have a chance to try a few STUNNING muffin recipes from a free Muffin eBook. The peanut butter banana muffins were everything they promised to be, and more. A batch of blueberry muffins made me completely aware that I have been cheating myself by buying muffin mix. I made 2 batches, the first was a wash since I ran out of muffin papers so the poor things got stuck in the pan (don't worry, I scraped them out and we gobbled up the crumbs). I'm not even going to include the recipe here, because you owe it to humanity to download the eBook and begin making muffins like mad.

The second batch was perfect, and I slightly under-filled the cups so that I could freeze them for those rapidly approaching school year breakfasts.

For freezing: I let the muffins cool completely (I lost a few in the process thanks to the sneaking fingers of Little Frog and Mastermind), peeled off the papers and individually wrapped them in saran wrap. I flash froze them on a cookie sheet so that they wouldn't get smushed in a ziploc bag. After the flash-freeze I popped them all into the labeled ziploc bag. Because they're individually wrapped I'll be able to grab a few out of the freezer easily, toss them into the microwave or into a lunchbag. I'll probably pop one or two into Ox's snack bag straight from the freezer. They will be nice and thawed by the time he has afternoon snack.

Seriously, if you like muffins, make these muffins. Even uncooked you can tell the muffins are far superior by their ultra-silky batter and aura of hopefulness. I've realized muffins are a recklessly hopeful kind of food. Cranky people don't make muffins by scratch, and if they do, they will not be cranky by the time the muffins come out of the oven.

Well. The kids are off with Mastermind on a morning bike ride. I stayed behind to "clean the kitchen" which today means reading The Cat Who Lived High and writing this blog post. The floor guys might be by today to buff and put on the last coat of clear stuff. . . or they might be here on Monday. I don't know for sure.

Thankfully the kiddos have a date scheduled with their grandma, they need to get out of the house. . . I might make more muffins.

I leave you with the picture at right; Little Frog and Ox are once again reenacting the Judy Moody movie.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Oyster Crackers and the Minnesota Tease

August is funny in Minnesota, we woke up this morning to a very cool day. So cool we could open the windows. That's right, Autumn is in the air. It's a definite Minnesota Tease, but the first cool day of the end-of-the-summer means our days are numbered.

Or in this household, it means I had the nesting urge that comes with my last few days of summer break. So I scrubbed, and scrubbed, and pulled off the stove knobs and got the last bits of grime out from behind the butcher block. It was SO rewarding, that I cleaned my self-cleaning windows, and vacuumed Little Frog's room. . . after I took a few minutes to make one of our favorite snacks: oyster crackers.

I make these often throughout the year - they're super for a school snack, or while reading a good book (after the kids are in bed). I make them so often that I generally keep the ingredients on hand so all I have to do is pick up a couple bags of oyster crackers when feeling so inclined.

2 packages oyster crackers*
1/2 C vegetable oil (olive oil tastes the best)
3 Tbsp ranch dressing mix (or 1 package Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. lemon powder
1 tsp dill weed

Combine it all in a large bowl. You can attempt to mix it all in a gallon sized ziploc bag, but the crackers will just barely all fit in. It will seem oily at first, let it all sit together and dry out a bit. You'll end up with a snack that completely satisfies that salty craving.

*If you get the Nabisco brand of oyster crackers use 2 bags, there is another brand that I prefer, the crackers are much more of a distinct hexagon, and for those I use 3 bags. Target sells the Nabisco, Cub sells the hexagons.

Lemon powder is hard to find, I keep it on hand solely for this recipe and end up using it a lot more as a result. I have a thing for Penzey's spices, and my tastebuds tell me when I use Penzey's this stuff ends up much tastier. I'd call myself a Penzey's snob, but it's not any more expensive than any other spice, it's just tastier. So I'm not a snob, just healthily biased. Their lemon peel is fantastic! 

Have I mentioned how much I love baking soda? I use so much of it (and it's partner, vinegar) that we get it in huge, economy sized boxes. I wish I had known how easy it is to clean the nasty rings around my stove top burners with baking soda paste. It's completely non-abrasive and so easy I rub the grime off with my fingers.

The burner pans themselves are a different story, and require some tough stuff. Ammonia. Yech. I learned this trick and had to buy Ammonia for the first time to try it out. I scalded my sinuses for a few days, but my burner pans were bright and shiny.

<--Cleaning my burner pans Toss two burner pans into a zipper bag with a half-cup of ammonia. Zip tightly, and put on a cooking sheet in the garage or some other far away place for 24 hours. A quick scrub with hot water will remove any trace of grime from the pans. Hold your breath as much as possible, this stuff is nasty. 

Alright, time to put the kids to bed and curl up with some oyster crackers and my latest installment of the must-read series, The Cat Who Went Underground. . . I finished up the latest Sookie Stackhouse last night, it was fantastic!

So don't forget to clean your burner pans (is that even what they're called? I don't know, but mine are clean!).


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jammy Waffle Sticks (for the freezer)

So I bought a waffle maker. A waffle stick maker. Ox will eat 6 waffles for breakfast, no problem, and while we don't use syrup or butter, that is still not incredibly healthy (even if I opt for the Nutri Grain Eggos. . . they're still Eggo). I'm not hugely excited about finding storage for another appliance, but after my first waffle experiment I'm pretty sure this baby will be in frequent use. My goal is to make a double batch every weekend (or so) for easy, yummy breakfasts before school this year.

So here's the fantastic, delicious, super tasty recipe I found. It was, amazingly enough, one that came with the waffle stick machine. I was very, very impressed and it needed hardly any tweaking to fit our tastes.

4 Tbsp Jam*
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 C milk
3/4 C yogurt - or a 6 oz yogurt*
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 C flour
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder

*Think of the possibilities by combining different flavors of jam and yogurt. You could do strawberry jam + strawberry yogurt to make it very flavorful. I picked up some orange marmalade that I'm going to try out, too.

I used the homemade Jam that Mastermind makes, in this case a currant rhubarb. I also used Stonyfield Farm French Vanilla yogurt, because we always have it on hand and it's super yummy.

Combine jam and butter in a small bowl. Heat in microwave for 1 minute and stir. if the butter isn't melted yet, cut it up into smaller bits and heat for another 30 seconds or so. Stir, and set aside. 

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. 

In yet another bowl, combine liquid ingredients and (not hot, you don't want to cook the eggs yet) melted butter mixture. I'm thinking this is a lot of bowls and will do it differently next time. 

Pour liquid mixture into the dry. Whisk together until it is just mixed. Batter should be thick, but pourable. Add a little milk to thin it out if needed. When it sets a bit it gets kind of puffy. 

Pour 3/4 cup batter across the waffle plate

Then with a knife quickly spread it out to all the corners of the mold. This was really important, my first batch had some nice puffy waffle sticks from the middle of the waffle maker, and some flat ones from the edge. The picture shows what NOT to do (leaving those edges bare).

Bake for 4 minutes until the waffle sticks are golden brown. This batch turned out great! 

At this point, I flash froze the waffle sticks. Since they contain not a lot of liquid, I left them in the freezer for only about an hour before putting them in a labeled ziploc bag.

<--Waffle sticks getting ready to be flash frozen, along with Clabber Girl Baking Powder. I love Clabber Girl Baking Powder, it makes me happy, and reminds me of when Anne Shirley won the Rollings Reliable Baking Soda contest. 

To reheat, put desired amount of waffle sticks on a plate and microwave them for 30 seconds. Top with syrup or jam or eat them plain like we do. The jam and yogurt in the recipe make them flavorful enough that there is no need to cover them up.

Of course the fun part of waffle sticks is giving the kids a bit of melted jam or syrup in a cup and letting them dip away. . . Maybe a fun lunch this week? A waffle stick dip buffet!

These waffle sticks were so easy to make, despite all the bowls. I could have tripled the recipe to freeze a huge batch. I probably will have to do so in the future, considering the bag lasted all of 24 hours. They made a great snack later that day, and of course, breakfast the next morning. I'm looking forward to trying different combinations and I have a Orange Marmalade and Craisin recipe waiting to be tried.