Donut Holes—Made Easy

Yes, donut holes with all of the taste, none of the frying, and cute enough to warrant packing one away in each cheek. The real secret to these light, cakelike bites is the coating of cinnamon-sugar that’s held firmly in place by a whisper of butter thinly brushed onto their exteriors while still warm.

Muffins are one of the easiest quick breads to bake, and actually benefit from the least amount of handling. Dust off a mini-muffin pan or two and bake up a batch in absolutely no time. As with any cake donut, we want the contrast of crispy exteriors and light interiors. Here are a few tips to get you there.

For even distribution and rising, sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Over stirring makes tough cone-topped donuts. Combine the liquid ingredients separately and add all at once to the dry ingredients in as few strokes as possible. A few lumps are fine. For consistent cup filling, use a small ½-ounce scoop; a tablespoon will also work.

Muffins are done when they are well-rounded with a light golden color and the centers spring back when pressed. For maximum crispiness do not cool in pan. Run a knife around edges to loosen and turn out onto cooling rack.

While warm lightly brush each donut hole all over with butter and roll in cinnamon-sugar.  Let rest 15 minutes to allow sugar coating to crystalize, and have at it!

Donut Hole Muffins

Ingredients
1½  cups all-purpose flour
2   tablespoons cornstarch
1½  teaspoons baking powder
½   teaspoon salt
½   teaspoon nutmeg
1   egg
⅓   cup vegetable oil
½   cup granulated sugar
¾   cup milk
Topping
¼   cup butter, melted
½   cup sugar
1   teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° and thoroughly coat mini muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add the salt and nutmeg and mix well.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and milk.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients just to combine.
  4. Using ½-ounce scoop or a tablespoon, fill the cups with batter and bake for 20 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed. Turn muffins out onto cooling rack.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small wide bowl. One at a time, lightly brush each muffin all over with melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar. Place on baking rack and repeat. Allow to set up about 15 minutes and serve.  Yield: 24-30 donut holes.
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Oatmeal Crisps: Addendum

Perhaps I didn’t fully elaborate on yesterday’s amazingly addictive Oatmeal Crisps.  I woke in the middle of the night thinking of my extended rant which failed to mention much of anything about their real virtues.

Oatmeal Crisps

Did I mention the lacy cookies that clock in at under two minutes baking time per batch are not only ethereal, crisp, and crunchy, but their rich and nutty flavor belies the fact that they have less than 20 calories each?   I didn’t think so.

Did I tell you that they have the added benefit of oatmeal’s nutritional value, fiber, and flavor?  That for the small number and volume of ingredients you receive so much?  I think not.

Did I mention that although these are prepared in the microwave, and there still seems to be some concern about its usage, the convenience and advantages of the microwave in cases such as this, are well worth considering?

Did I mention that their charm lends not only to copious snacking but also that they make a style statement when perched alongside or atop ice cream, sorbet, parfaits, mousse, or nearly anything else you can think of?  Not so much.

Did I mention that even though they take so little time to produce, they make an excellent and thoughtful gift when you would rather not show up empty handed on someone’s doorstep?

No, I didn’t think so.

All things Apple: Why the McIntosh is still the Gold Standard

Apple season is underway in the Willamette Valley, which makes it an apple lover’s paradise.  For those bent on exploring new horizons, the movement toward recovering long forgotten heritage varieties is reintroducing a new realm of excellent choices.  Like grape selection in wine making, apples have their own profiles and attributes. McIntosh Art Depending on your inclination, it seems there is a specific apple out there for every need.

After sampling a range of local apples recently, I came away with a far deeper appreciation for the nuances that make each variety unique.  Some are great for baking while others are delicious raw or out of hand.  Tart, crisp, juicy, doesn’t even begin to define their best qualities.

With all this activity, I’m caught up eating my share of different apples.  But when it came to considering a choice for a baked apple project recently, I went with the granddaddy of them all, the McIntosh. It has been a long time since I’ve played with them, and with my new perspective, I’ve gained an even deeper appreciation.

The McIntosh is referred to as a cultivar, which means that it has been used to create newer varieties like Golden and Red Delicious, the Jonathan, Cortland, and Empire. All of these have been a favorite of mine at one time or another.  No wonder the McIntosh is considered the gold standard.

McIntosh

McIntosh

When it comes to the gold standard, Apple Inc. liked the name so much for their personal computer line they misspelled it to Macintosh to not complete with another trademark at the time using the McIntosh name.

Just like Steve Jobs’ aesthetics for his Apple, visually the McIntosh is sexy.  Round and voluptuous, its color is often a deep vibrant red layered on bright, near chartreuse-green.  A bite into a McIntosh gives you plenty of crunch and juiciness, and there’s a well balanced sweet to tart ratio with no huge acid hit in the mouth, plus a delightful spiciness that I found intriguing. The flesh is creamy white―it’s a sexy piece of beauty.  Some would say the skin is thicker than most; but I certainly wouldn’t toss it.  There’s plenty of apple flavor (and nutrition) in the skin, plus it offers a lovely contrast to the flesh for an overall pleasant mouth feel.

Which makes the McIntosh perfect for baked apples.

Baked AppleAbout this time, I discovered Tall Clover Farm, a delightfully written blog/website by Tom Conway, who is also cultivating unique apple varieties on Vashon Island, off-shore Seattle. He offers an idea for baked apples, along similar lines as I was mulling over.

Rather than a sugar-and-spice filling, he uses a dialed-down mixture of toasted nuts, dried fruit, all bound together with a bit marmalade or other jam. A light dusting of cinnamon-sugar is sprinkled over the top to enhance the apple’s spiciness, along with a dab of butter and a quick drizzle of syrup for added moisture. A pastry round finishes it all, adding a jaunty touch of crunch and charm.  Brilliant, just enough to enhance the apple and not detract from its essential beauty.

For my little toppers, I made a small amount of pastry (half batch), using a standard method and added a bit of egg yolk and a dash of sugar for richness.  The rest of the yolk was combined with milk and brushed on top of the pastry before baking. Later, in my excitement I realized I forgot to vent the toppers to release unnecessary moisture ―as you would with a top pie crust.  Certainly not critical, but a nice touch.

Baked Apple with Pie Crust Topper

Inspired by Apple Dumplings with Pie Crust Caps, @ Tall Clover Farm by Tom Conway

Ingredients
4 McIntosh apples, core removed, skin peeled about half way down
Half recipe standard pie crust
Filling:
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp marmalade or jam of choice
Cinnamon-Sugar:
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp butter, divided
¼ cup honey, agave, maple syrup, divided

Method

  1. Prepare the pastry, divide in 4 small disks and let it chill.
  2. For filling, combine ingredients and set aside.  In a small bowl combine the cinnamon-sugar.
  3. For apple prep:  cut off the top of each evenly, core each apple, retaining the bottom of each.  Peel half way down; for clean edge, score the apple and remove ragged excess to that point.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Brush pie plate with butter and set aside.
  5. Distribute filling evenly in the centers of the 4 apples. Dot the filling lightly with butter and drizzle apples with honey or agave and sprinkle tops with half of the cinnamon-sugar.
  6. On floured work surface, roll out the pastry into 4 rounds and cut with fluted biscuit cutter. Make a decorative cut-out or cut slits in each for venting. Place one on top of each apple.
  7. Brush each with egg wash of a bit of egg yolk and milk or water.  Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar (optional).   Place apples in baking dish, add about ½ cup water along with the remainder of the butter and honey.
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, remove and baste apple flesh with baking liquid.  Return to oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes longer, basting 2 or 3 times more. Bake until crusts are golden brown and apples are tender when pierced.  Serve warm with ice cream or custard sauce Yield: 4.

Reason to Celebrate

We have a real glut of apples happening at my local market―a most certain nod that the winds of fall are fast approaching. Meanwhile, leaves begin to display golden shades and shadows stretch longer in the afternoon sun, it’s as if nature is taking one long breath.  I have mixed feelings about this change of seasons:  I’m both sad that summer is all but gone, yet excited for the approaching harvest.

Living closer to the land again, I’m regaining my awareness and connection with the natural life cycle. Peaches and nectarines replace summer berries now, while apple varieties like Jonathon, honey crisp, gala, and Fuji steadily gain prominence.  Absolutely nothing compares to eating produce at its peak. Freshly picked for consumption means it hasn’t been sitting in a cooler for months making its way to my grocery store.

Fuji apples

Fuji apples

I recently bought a few early Fuji apples to make a nice dessert for friends, and my favorite French Apple Torte came to mind.  I have been making it for so long that I have lost the original documentation. There’s nothing terribly unique about it―your normal baking staples and a few sweet, crisp apples wrapped in a moist custard-like batter. Just know that it is all about the apples.

The batter only requires a few stirs with a whisk or large spoon. The apples are added and it is unceremoniously dumped into a baking dish.  While in the oven, a simple topping is quickly put together and poured over the semi-baked torte. It continues to bake until fully set and the edges of the apples caramelize.Apple Torte

This little beauty hits all the right notes.  It’s bursting with bright nuances from fresh sweet apples and further enhanced by the rich egginess of the crazy-custard-like batter that binds it all together. The caramel topping’s buttery sweetness and texture becomes the perfect counterpoint to the clean apple flavors.

Apple Torte Slice (1)Elegant in taste and appearance, it is a dessert suitable for just about any occasion.  Consider it as the finish to a special dinner, an impromptu treat for drop-in company, or perhaps the best reason of all, to celebrate the apple harvest.  Do enjoy it warm from the oven with ice cream or a custard sauce.

French Apple Torte

Ingredients
1/2     cup all-purpose flour
1/3     cup sugar
1        Tbsp baking powder
1/8     tsp salt
1/2     tsp vanilla extract
2        eggs, lightly beaten
2        Tbsp olive oil
1/3     cup milk
4        baking apples such Braeburn, Rome, Fuji, etc, peel, core, thick slices (about 2 pounds)
Topping
3      Tbsp butter, melted
1/3   cup sugar
1       egg, lightly beaten
 
Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9″ springform pan or ovenproof quiche dish and set aside.
  2. In large bowl combine flour through salt and blend well.
  3. In small bowl combine vanilla through milk and blend well.  Add liquid to dry and stir until well blended.  Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat with batter.  Spoon into pan and bake until firm and golden, about 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile prepare topping by combining butter, sugar and egg in small bowl.  Stir to blend, and set aside.
  5. Remove torte from oven and pour the topping mixture over it.  Return to the oven and bake until top is deep golden brown and quite firm when pressed, about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove to rack and cool from 10 minutes.  Run knife around edge and remove sides or serve from dish at room temperature or warmed served with vanilla ice cream or custard sauce.  Serves 6 to 8.

About Bananas, Psychologically Speaking

I don’t know about you, but I seem to constantly struggle with too many over-ripe bananas. After all these years, you’d think I would have figured out how to realistically manage the inflow and outflow of bananas.  Maybe a life-cycle chart would help.  Or perhaps there’s an app that can tell me when to buy more bananas.

Try as I might, I can’t quite get the purchase and consumption of bananas to come out even.  There are times at the market when I will hover over them, remind self of the likely outcome, then staunchly throw my head back and move on―empty handed.

Just as often though, I will linger over the bananas a tad too long. I’ll pick up a bunch and feel the surge of tension―I have more at home but I’m buying them anyway.  I refuse to accept that there will be dark bananas days ahead.

I tell myself past-their-prime bananas are good.  I should be grateful.

Border-line Bananas

Border-line Bananas

They are sweeter and more nutritious than their younger, firmer predecessors, especially in smoothies and other juice drinks.  We know they are richer in potassium, which helps with high blood pressure, osteoporosis and stroke; they have increased vitamin B-6 which lessens rheumatoid arthritis, depression and heart disease; and they contain plenty of soluble and insoluble fibers, helpful in preventing obesity and hypertension.

Nevertheless, those same youthful bananas continue to sit, gain spots, and grow black.  Likely as not, they will be relegated to the freezer, deferred for another day.  Recently, I was back in that same predicament: what to do with more sagging bananas. Here’s my latest solution for 2 (just) small very ripe bananas.  Good news: it continues to keep on giving for several days, long enough to stop buying bananas for a while.

This Banana Swirl Bread is inspired by Banana Cinnamon Bread at Goodeats.com.  It’s as close as you can get to easy banana-scented cinnamon rolls – but instead of the usual heavy dose of butter there’s only a dash of olive oil.

Banana Swirl BreadLike most yeast breads, there is the rising time to consider. The dough is so well constructed I didn’t even bother to pull out my mixer and opted to stir it up by hand.

Once it has risen the dough rolls out in a flash; it’s sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar and shaped into a loaf for another quick rise.

While the bread bakes, the air is filled with scents of tropical bananas and cinnamon―an unbeatable combination.  The hardest part is waiting for the bread to cool before cutting.  It slices beautifully revealing a gorgeous, pale yellow loaf etched throughout with a cinnamon-brown sugar spiral.

It is delicious sliced and eaten straight up, but there are those who will want to toast it and further glorify it with butter.  I suspect it would make amazing French toast, too. Stay tuned for Episode Two.

Banana Swirl Bread

Inspired by Donna Currie’s Bread Baking:  Banana Cinnamon Bread at  www.seriouseats.com

Ingredients

½ cup lukewarm water
1 packet quick rise yeast
½ cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 small)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt, Greek-style preferably
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3/4 cup bread flour or all purpose flour; divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
Cinnamon-sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon

Directions 

  1. In large mixing bowl, combine the warm water, the yeast, and a pinch of the sugar; let stand about 10 minutes to activate yeast and become bubbly.
  2. Meanwhile, mash the bananas and add to them the remaining sugar, yogurt, salt, vanilla and a heaping cup of the flour. Combine and add to the yeast mixture, stirring to incorporate.   Add another heaping cup of flour (reserving the rest for the kneading process) along with the olive oil and continue mixing until it forms a smooth mass.  If using a bread hook, continue to beat and incorporate most of the flour until it is smooth and elastic.
  3. If finishing by hand, turn dough out onto floured board, kneading briefly to incorporate remainder of the flour and the dough is silky and elastic.
  4. Place the dough in clean, well oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover, and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. Meanwhile spray a 9×5” or similar pan with oil. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  6. When dough is light, flour the board, turn it out, punch it down and knead it briefly to release air. Roll the dough out to 9”x15” rectangle.  Spread the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the dough, leaving a 3” unsugared edge on the far 9” end.
  7. Roll the dough up, jelly roll fashion, to form a 9” long log. Pinch the unsugared end and seal. Tuck the ends under if necessary and place seam-side down in prepared pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, rotating to brown evenly if necessary. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on rack before cutting.  Yield:  1 loaf.

Adult Mac ‘n Cheese

I’ve long been enchanted by the idea of cauliflower and cheese – such a lovely duo; they seem to be made for each other:  cauliflower’s earthy nuttiness mingling with the rich creaminess of cheese… despite this prolonged infatuation it has simply not been enough to move me to any great culinary action.

Recently, though, I came across an idea for penne combined with cauliflower and cheese that set me on fire!  How perfect!  An adult mac-and-cheese with just enough vegetable thrown in to rate full meal status.Penne and Cauliflower

But was this workable in my tiny kitchen?  Too ambitious?  Well, it was certainly worth an attempt, but I had better think about it…

grater

Two-sided grater

The following items would be needed for prep and cooking

  • 1 quart pan
  • Chef’s knife, small whisk and spatula
  • 3-quart prep bowl with microwaveable steamer/strainer insert
  • Small two-sided grater
  • 2 cup measure, 1 utility bowl
  • 6-cup baking dish for heating and storage

Consider 4 main steps in the prep phase

  1. Prepare the cheese sauce. It can be done well ahead, if time permits.
  2. Boil the pasta.  Cook the pasta, if space permits and add the cauliflower about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente.  If not cook the pasta, drain, rinse, and hold.
  3. Steam the cauliflower. If not boiling, steam the cauliflower in microwaveable bowl, cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until barely tender.
  4. Assemble the dish. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and cauliflower; stir gently to evenly distribute.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.  Bake, or if preparing ahead, cover and chill.

Yes, I could pull this off.  I just had to remember to work my plan, clean up as I go along, and rinse/ re-use my prep and cookware, or this could potentially turn into a real mess…

And I wasn’t disappointed:  creamy, cheesy, with a slight bite from the cauliflower.  Penne, Caul and SaladThe crisp panko topping was the perfect foil with its extra crunch factor.  A simple green salad was all that was necessary to create a totally soul-satisfying meal.

Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese

Inspired by Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley

Ingredients
1 ½ cups whole wheat penne
3 cups cauliflower, sliced and broken up
Cheese Sauce
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup smoked Gouda cheese, grated
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 bay leaf
Breadcrumb Topping
1 tbsp butter
½ cup panko or traditional bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese
Directions

  1. Prepare the Cheese Sauce: In 1 quart pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook 2 minutes to soften.  Add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps.  Add the cheese, stirring to melt.  Add the salt, peppers, nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf.  Simmer briefly to blend flavors.  Set aside, can be made ahead.
  2. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and simmer until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. If adding the cauliflower, add it about 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked.  Drain and rinse to stop the cooking process.  The cauliflower can be boiled separately for 4 minutes or microwaved for about 2 minutes.
  3. Combine the pasta, cauliflower and the sauce and stir gently to distribute evenly. Spread it in buttered 6-cup baking dish.  For bread crumbs:  Melt the butter, add the panko and the Parmesan.  Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture.
  4. Bake at the 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Yield: 4 servings.

Cornbead: thinking out of the box

Cooking in a small kitchen requires ingenuity and resourcefulness: a small space has limited storage and requires tough choices:  like how much heirloom china do you really need?… and severely cutting back on pots, pans, and accessories. It means taking a close look at every day food choices and meal planning―to the point of rating what falls into the category of ‘food staples’.

Such was the case recently when I threw together a lovely le puy lentil soup, replete with carrot and Spanish chorizo. Yes, it was quick to make, but it was also ready and waiting because I had failed to considered what to serve along with the soup. An oops.

I spotted a kid’s size bag of Betty Crocker cornmeal muffin mix… what about that?   And then, there was the remnants of a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge; not a bad addition to counteract the questionable sweetness of the boxed mix… and while at it, I grabbed some plain yogurt for a little more tang and further lighten it. I quickly chopped up a handful of vegetables for color and crunch, added a few sliced olives, and finished it all with a dusting of grated cheddar cheese on top.  Into the oven it went for a quick bake.cornbread

Truth is, it’s hard to screw up these packaged mixes; they are very forgiving. But how do you elevate them beyond mundane? cornbread,lentils 1

The sauerkraut became an undetectable mystery ingredient that blended with the other vegetables, plus it served to ameliorate the mix’s inherent sweetness and create a little more interest and punch.

You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

Cornbread in a Jiffy

1 small box or package cornmeal muffin mix, Betty Crocker or Jiffy
2 tbsp cornmeal, if available
¼ c yogurt plus enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green onion, trimmed, chopped
1 med jalapeno pepper, seeded, trimmed, chopped
2 tbsp sauerkraut, heaping
12 green olives, sliced
1/3 c cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray or butter a 7″x5″ (approximate) baking pan or dish.
  2. In a 1 cup measure, place the yogurt and enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup and blend well; add the egg and olive oil, and combine well.
  3. Place the cornmeal muffin mix and additional cornmeal in a medium mixing bowl.  Gently stir in the yogurt mixture, sauerkraut, green onion, jalapeno pepper, and about 1/2 of the sliced olives, mixing only to moisten but not over blend.
  4. Spread the mixture evenly into prepared baking pan or dish. Top with remaining olive slices and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the top is set and cheese is melted.  Let cool briefly and cut into 6-8 servings.
  5. You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.