Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins... And lessons in perseverence.

The past couple weeks have been a bit of a struggle, hence the radio silence here on my blog.  I'm sure you've all heard the usual excuses ("So busy at work!" "None of my recipes turned out!" "The cat ate my desserts before I could take a picture!"), but in my case, the first two are actually pretty true.  Especially the second one.

Ugh. First, I tried to make some toffee blondies, using the basic recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and even though I've made them before, they just didn't turn out well.  After tasting them, I took a look at my toffee bits package and realized they were over two years expired, so perhaps that's to blame.  After that failure, I saw some comments on her blog where someone used mashed banana, walnuts, and chocolate chips to create a "chunky monkey" blondie.  Well, that idea took root in my brain, and I needed to make them the next day.  And, yet again, they were just "okay" and not worthy of sharing with you.  So by now, my kitchen was full of around 30 mediocre blondies, and I was running low on sugar, butter, and confidence.  Matt and I went apple picking, and I had so many fresh apples that I knew I wanted to make something with them.  Because I'm incredibly stubborn, I decided to make..... Blondies. I followed this recipe, which had so many positive comments that I was sure it would be awesome!  And they were.... just okay.  More of an apple cake, the flavors were great and it was a satisfying dessert.  But by the next morning, they were a soggy mess, and I knew I couldn't recommend anyone making them.  So then I decided to shift gears, and make a delicious pumpkin bread using fresh cranberries that I had just snagged from the farmer's market.  I found a delicious sounding recipe here and eagerly went to baking.  And yet again, the bread was mediocre at best.  A few health nut coworkers of mine loved it, but it definitely wasn't something I'd ever make again.

So I didn't bake anything last week and instead replenished my supplies and dignity.  Matt refused to eat any more subpar blondies, and I was sick of filling my kitchen with desserts that I didn't want to eat and was too ashamed of to pass out to coworkers and hungry grad students.  For my next post, I hope to be talking about a successful blondie baking adventure, but for now I realize that I just need to share a recipe.

That brings me to these lemon poppyseed muffins.  I woke up yesterday feeling a little under the weather.  I couldn't really even taste my lunch, but I was craving baked goods.  I realized what I needed was a fresh flavor, and I went to several coffee carts on campus looking for lemon bread/cake/muffins and didn't find any.  Then I remembered that I had just bought some poppyseeds and lemons for emergencies such as these, and I started looking for recipes.  I found one with almost all positive reviews and set to baking.  I did make some changes after reading the reviews- I switched out half of the butter for applesauce (both to make them a little healthier and to keep them moist) and used almond extract instead of vanilla (because I adore almond extract and thought it would work well with the lemon, and it did!).

And these are really, really good.  These muffins are so good that I can definitely share them without feeling ashamed, but I also don't really want to because I want to save them for myself.  Every bite is like a little burst of sunshine, and these muffins are surprisingly perfect for a cold fall day (and great after the pumpkin pancakes I posted last and just made for dinner last night! word to the wise- try topping them with caramel apple frosting. best decision ever.). They are a little time consuming, and dirty 3 bowls but are absolutely worth your effort.
Here's the recipe!

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, adapted from here.
Yield: Between 10-12 medium muffins (I got 11)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp poppy seeds
2 lemons, zest of, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk or 1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Coat muffin tin thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, applesauce, and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time.  Beat well after each.
In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients, poppy seeds, and lemon zest. 
With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, alternating two times with the buttermilk, then lemon juice, and then vanilla or almond extract.  Beat just until smooth.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gently fold egg whites into the muffin batter until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, about 3/4-full for nice medium sized muffins.
Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on wire rack (but make sure you eat at least one warm out of the oven!).
 Nutritional info per muffin based on my ingredients and 11 muffins: 167 calories, 25g carbs, 6g fat, 3g protein.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dessert for Dinner Breakfast Edition and an Introduction!

Hello! To my friends who know me personally, you already know why I decided to start this blog. But for everyone else, here's a little background:  I'm a 26 year old graduate student with a passion for baking and desserts.  My love for sugar and cream led to me gaining 20 pounds in the first two years of graduate school.  Finally, when my jeans just wouldn't button anymore and I was too poor to buy new ones, I realized that I needed to make a change.  I started going to the gym near my lab (literally across the street- I have zero excuses for not being active now) and started making some changes in my lifestyle. I found that I couldn't have a huge lunch, indulgent dinner, and an ice cream sundae for dessert anymore.  Instead, I started eating fruit for breakfast, light and healthy lunches, and reasonable dinners. And sometimes, yes, I eat dessert for dinner.  I believe that it is crucial to keep the things you love in your diet in order to feel satisfied and continue making healthy choices.  So I have dessert every single day.  Maybe dessert is a banana with fresh ground honey roasted peanut butter (probably my single favorite thing in my kitchen) or maybe it's a homemade baked good. Either way, I know that I need something sweet at night to feel satisfied.

Between my love for sweet foods and love for breakfast, more often than not my dinner ends up being pancakes.  I never have time to make them in the morning, but I love them oh so much that I started making them for dinner.  Poor Matt (my fiance) usually fends for himself on these nights as he doesn't share my passion for breakfast foods after 6pm (crazy, I know).  So, I recently decided that I needed to find some single serving pancake recipes instead of freezing 12 extra pancakes and never really wanting a thawed pancake when fresh are so easy to make.  I found a recipe for pumpkin pancakes for one, and they blew me away.  I have since bumped up the spices a bit and played around with the recipe and wanted to share it with you.

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes, originally found Here.
Serves: 1 (Makes 2 medium-large pancakes)

1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour (All-purpose flour is fine too, or a mix of white and whole wheat)
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2    tsp sugar (I've used white and brown successfully)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup pumpkin
1 egg white
1/4 cup buttermilk
1    tsp instant coffee granules mixed into 1 tsp of hot water (optional)

Stir the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger together in a small bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg white, pumpkin, buttermilk, and instant coffee if using. (I usually just use the measuring cup I used for the buttermilk to dirty less dishes.)
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just enough to moisten everything (a few lumps are okay).
Heat a skillet over medium heat and spray with nonstick spray. Pour half of the batter (about 1/3 cup) into the preheated pan and cook until bubbles appear on the top and edges are set, around 3 minutes. Flip and cook an additional minute or two. Repeat with remaining batter, keep other pancake warm on plate under towel or in the oven at 200 degrees F.
Serve with maple syrup (I use sugar free) or cream cheese frosting.
Nutritional info for pancakes without toppings: 249 calories/serving, 47g carbs, 1g fat, 13g protein.

To continue with the breakfast theme of this post, I also wanted to share with you my favorite banana bread recipe.  As I mentioned previously, I love having bananas with peanut butter for dessert, so I buy a lot of bananas.  Of course, every so often a few bananas get overly ripe before I can eat them.  I started trying to find a lighter banana bread recipe that I could enjoy without feeling guilty about having a nice big slice, and I realized that traditional banana bread is just so filled with fat and sugar! I finally stumbled upon this recipe from Chiquita's website and knew it would be a winner (they must know their stuff when it comes to bananas, right??).  And yes, it is perfect and has totally become my go-to banana bread recipe.  I've made it with chocolate chips, blueberries, shredded coconut, and other mix-ins, and it hasn't failed me yet.  It definitely is great fresh out of the oven (but even better the next day!), and the serving size is HUGE.  Seriously, 8 slices from a large loaf pan is twice the size of "Cooking Light's Best Banana Bread" recipe, and their slices have almost as many calories (I honestly can't believe they suggest 16 slices from a standard loaf pan- I think the slices would be so thin you could see through them.).  I love so many Cooking Light recipes and will always be a fan, but they really do play tricks with their serving sizes in order to make things seem low calorie.  This recipe is made "light" by using applesauce instead of any oil or butter, but you don't miss those ingredients because it is still so moist.  I have made this recipe using non-fat yogurt (plain yogurt, not Greek for this one) instead of buttermilk, and it turned out great as well so feel free to use whatever you have on hand.

Without further ado, here's the recipe that I have fallen in love with.  You definitely need to try it out the next time you are craving banana bread without all of the calories!

Banana Bread with Blueberries, originally found Here. 
Yields 8 large slices

2    very ripe medium bananas (peels should have brown spots), roughly mashed 
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (one of the single serving containers is 1/2 a cup)
1    large egg, beaten 
1    cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1    tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
1/4 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
1/2 cup blueberries, tossed in 1-2 tbsp flour to prevent them from sinking (frozen is okay, but don't thaw them first)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour a loaf pan or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the bananas, applesauce, and egg.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
Add the dry mixture to the banana blend alternately with the buttermilk.
Gently fold in blueberries just until mixed.
Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes. Loaf is done when a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
When pan is cool enough to handle, remove loaf from the pan and cool on a baking rack. Slice when cool if you can wait that long. ;)
Nutritional info (mine differed from the Chiquita website even without the blueberries, so I'm not sure where the 5-10 calorie/serving difference is coming from) per slice: 206 calories, 48g carbs, 1g fat, 3g protein.