Saturday, September 17, 2005

Immoral Muffins & Decadent Salads

After 18 months of parenting, I find myself with a lot more time on my hands now than I am used to having. Saturdays have become Papa & Baby days, with Odd Toddler spending almost every second with The Carnivore, whether they are running errands together, doing yardwork, watching college football, or working on the house (which will never be done).

This is taking some getting used to. For so long, Odd Toddler had eyes for no one but me, and if I left the room his whole day was ruined. Now I barely get a backward glance on the weekend. Never one to waste free time, I am now spending entire Saturdays in the kitchen. Odd Toddler and The Carnivore come in frequently to lick batter out of bowls, or to taste whatever I'm working on, and then they're off again on another adventure together. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by love when I watch them together that I think my heart is going to explode.

I stayed in the kitchen today from breakfast through dinnertime, and I tackled an impressive list of menu items. By the time all was said and done, I had made French Onion Soup, Whole Wheat Bread, Banana Bread, Pecan Pie Muffins, a vinaigrette; and an incredible blue cheese, strawberry, orange & baby lettuce salad; and learned how to roast garlic. I'm exhausted but satisfied (and stuffed).

The whole wheat bread was a resounding disappointment. I spent hours waiting (unsucessfully) for the dough to rise and spent an inordinate amount of time scraping dough off of what seemed to be every surface in the kitchen, all for a spectacularly bland result. I used the recipe from the side of the package of whole wheat flour so I suppose I should try other recipes first before giving up on this particular goal. I have mouth-watering memories of my mother making whole wheat bread, but hers was far better than the brick-like flavorless lump I ended up with. Luckily, a little challenge is just what I need, so I'm looking forward to trying more bread recipes (maybe ciabatta next time).

The real standout of tonight's dinner was the Baby Blue Salad, a recipe from Franklin's Homewood Gourmet in Birmingham (clipped from the AJC Food Section during the "100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die" series). The Carnivore loves blue cheese, and I'm always on the lookout for good recipes which use this particular pungeant cheese. I tried once to make blue cheese salad dressing from scratch, but he wasn't impressed and I was devastated (and more than a little pissed off). This salad recipe is supposed to be enough for 4 servings, but The Carnivore and I ate all of it and could have eaten twice as much more. And I have now crossed one more item off of my to-do list: this vinaigrette is so good that I will no longer be buying bottled dressings at the supermarket.

  • 2 tsps granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 20 pecan halves
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tsps honey
  • 4 tsps Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsps roasted garlic, cooled (cut off the top of a head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in aluminum foil, and cook at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes; the garlic will squeeze out like a paste)
  • 1 1/2 tsps fresh shallots
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 oz baby lettuce mix
  • 4 Tbs blue cheese crumbles
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and quartered
  1. Mix 1 tsp sugar with 1 1/2 Tbs water. Mix remaining tsp sugar with chili powder. Soak pecans in sugar syrup, and then toss with chili powder mix to coat. Set on wax paper to dry.
  2. Whisk together the vinegar, honey, mustard, garlic and shallots until thick. Slowly add olive oil, whisking to incorporate and thicken. Add salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Toss lettuce mix with about 1/4 cup vinaigrette and the blue cheese. There should be enough dressing to lightly coat lettuce (add more if necessary). Place dressed lettuce in center of plate and decoratively arrange oranges and strawberries on the plate. Top with pecans.

I served the salad with the soup and bread, and it would have been a perfect meal if the bread had been able to hold its own, instead of putting my tastebuds to sleep with every bite.

The amazing disaster of the day was the Pecan Pie Muffin recipe. It is my turn to bring food to Sunday School tomorrow, a task I always enjoy. Naturally, I am practically incapable of just making one of my tried-and-true recipes and thus cutting down on any, shall we say, uncertainty. Since I have been sitting on a recipe for these muffins for a couple of weeks now, this seemed like the perfect time to try them (less than 24 hours before needing to have them in hand when I leave my house at the crack of dawn tomorrow).

Even more illogically, this recipe is one that I cut out from the Food Goddess column of the AJC Food Section, in which I have some extraordinarily vague memory of the recipe being printed because the writer had some question as to why the muffins did not rise and stuck to the pan like glue. As should be expected of me, instead of clipping the entire column, which would have included the answer to the question, I clipped only the recipe. And (for pity's sake), I didn't remember any of this until after I had baked the muffins.

It should be noted that these muffins tasted fabulous. It should also be noted that they didn't rise. And they stuck to the muffin cups like gorilla glue. To add insult to injury, I had made a double batch.

At first, I was aware only that the muffins were not rising. I found this alarming, and I squatted in front of the oven, peering in the little window for the last 10 minutes of cooking time, silently encouraging my little muffins to grow and to thrive. Alas, they were completely flat. And I was heartbroken. There was great weeping and gnashing of teeth, yet still the tiniest bit of hope. Sure, the muffins were topless, and who wants to take topless muffins to church? Topless muffins, after all, belong out at the bars, boozing it up, not at Sunday School with the nice ladies in their nice dresses. Regardless, I felt sure I could come up with some plausible story about my flat muffins, some tale in which I could haughtily explain that the hippest of gourmets were all serving flat muffins this season, and that it would surely catch on here in the South if everyone could just be a little more open-minded.

Then I tried to remove one of the muffins from its paper muffin cup prison. And failed. I tried another. And failed again. The Carnivore and I pulled desperately at the cups until they lay flat, and then we pried the muffin bits out with our teeth, and though we both thought they tasted really, really wonderful, I had no choice but to finally admit defeat.

And bake yet another batch of Banana Nut Bread.


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yolie said...

the topless muffins bit was hilarious! love, yolie