August 16, 2016

Blueberry Muffin Bread

I'm pretty sure it's time for most people to go back to school. You know how I know? Hardly any of my friends are available to stuff our faces with Waffle House and there's a noisy school bus that likes to beep its way along my street at 6:45am. Aside from that I have it pretty good; my classes don't start for another three weeks but I still get to make yummy back to school recipes like blueberry muffin bread, which makes a great breakfast or lunchbox treat. I'm all for the convenience of individual blueberry muffins but sometimes I just want to slice of as big of a piece as I want without knowing just how many servings it is. My family also has a tendency to throw extra muffins in the freezer and forget about them, so having a big loaf sitting out on the counter is more incentive to actually eat it, though it tastes so good it won't be sitting out for long.

The main thing I like about this cake is that it's basically an excuse to eat cake for breakfast. Honestly, there's not much in here that makes it breakfast food vs dessert other than the fact that it's packed with berries. There's a stick and a half of butter in this thing, so this may not be the ideal breakfast for those using the start of the school year as a second attempt at New Year's resolutions. However, as I said before, it makes a great lunchbox surprise/after school snack/crying after too much homework pick-me-up.

I always start with the streusel. It's a little different than my basic streusel recipe, which you can find tucked into cinnababka streusel buns or sprinkled on top of peach crumb cake. It's a simple combination of butter, sugar, flour, and a pinch of cinnamon. My ratio results in a perfectly crumbly mixture with both big nuggets and crunchy sandy bits. In other recipes I'd add more cinnamon but I went easy on it here since I wanted the blueberries to be the star. You can always bump it up a bit, but with it being peak blueberry season I figured I'd take it down a notch.

The actual cake is almost as easy as the streusel. I start by beating butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. I then add an egg and a big splash of vanilla. Like any other cake, I alternate the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. This is far easier than trying to stir buttermilk into an overly stiff batter and avoids the inevitable lumps when mixing dry ingredients into a too-liquidy mixture. The final step is adding the blueberries. Since it's still summer, I like to use fresh berries, but I throw them in the freezer for at least an hour. This reduces the number of burst berries so you get distinct pockets of blueberries instead of a purple batter. Another trick to keeping the blueberries evenly scattered is to toss them in a spoonful of flour first. This keeps them from sinking to the bottom and gives you gorgeous slices all the way through.

When pouring the batter into the pan, you don't necessarily have to pile all the streusel on top. I prefer to do that so it gets nice and crunchy on top. However, you can double it and spread a layer in the middle for a sweet cinnamony surprise. You can also swirl it through the batter for a more interesting visual. All of this is under the assumption you don't eat all the streusel/batter/fresh blueberries before baking since knowing my family that's not entirely out of the question.

1 Stick Butter, Softened
2 T Butter, Melted
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 Egg
2 1/3 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp + Pinch Salt
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1/3 Cup Sour Cream
1 1/2 Cups Blueberries

Heat oven to 350F. Line a loaf pan with foil and grease.

Combine 1/3 cup flour, dark brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon. Add the melted butter and chill.

Beat the softened butter and sugar together. Add the egg and vanilla. Whisk the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and remaining salt together. Whisk the buttermilk and sour cream together. Add the flour mixture to the butter in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in two additions. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with the streusel. Bake for 1 hour or until cooked through.

Makes 1 Loaf
Recipe Adapted from Buns in My Oven

July 28, 2016

Blackberry Sorbet

Remember that nationwide heat wave last weekend? I do. I'm still sweating, and Omaha's about to get another one next week. To me, that means exclusively eating frozen foods. I'm also in the middle of wrapping up my internship, so I'm totally up for eating ice cream straight from the pint while sneaking in an episode or two of Parks and Rec on Netflix between practice runs of my presentation. Unfortunately, I'm an adult now, so I can't live on ice cream alone; I have to get my fruit in somehow. My solution? Lots and lots of sorbet. This blackberry sorbet uses tons of fresh seasonal berries with a touch (ok a pretty big amount) of sugar, and it's accidentally fat-free (basically the best surprise ever).

Before you get too excited let me warn you that you do need an ice cream maker for this bad boy. You're not going to get a smooth, perfectly aerated sorbet unless you have something to simultaneously freeze and stir it. Unless you want to wedge yourself in your freezer with a bowl of this stuff and stir it for a while, I'd recommend buying a cheap ice cream maker to have on hand for emergencies like this. I think I got mine for around $25 at Costco a few years ago and there are plenty of similarly cheap ones that will get the job done.

What makes this sorbet so good is that it's perfectly smooth. I'm big on texture, so I throw the berries in a food processor with some water to loosen them and puree them until completely smooth. The seeds will never blend in and I don't want them getting stuck in my teeth while I eat the whole thing of sorbet, so I make sure to get a fine strainer and sift them all out. The pure berry puree gets mixed with sugar, lemon juice, and a splash of alcohol.

I recommend adding about a cup of sugar, but it depends on how sweet your berries are. I'd start with less and then keep adding as necessary. The lemon juice balances all that added sugar out, but you can swap it out for any other citrus. Blackberry-lime is always a good combination, and blackberry-orange is seriously underrated. The alcohol is a little trick to keep the sorbet from getting too hard in the freezer. Since alcohol has a lower freezing point than the rest of the sorbet, it keeps the mixture soft and scoopable without being melty. It's certainly not enough to get you drunk or even be noticeable flavor-wise, but it helps the texture immensely. I go for a flavorless vodka or a berry liquor, but feel free to experiment in that regard. You can also play around with different berry or fruit combinations since I know blackberries are only available for another few weeks. I know as soon as I get home next week my family will make me make a few batches of this before the berries are all gone.

3 Cups Fresh Berries
1 Cup Sugar (To Taste)
1 T Lemon Juice
1 T Vodka or Berry Liqueur

Puree the berries with ½ cup cold water. Strain to remove seeds. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and alcohol. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then chill until cold.

Churn in ice cream machine until frozen.

Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

July 11, 2016

Garlicky Shrimp Pomodoro

Despite spending 4 months traveling through Italy, I never got sick of Italian food. In fact, I probably make it even more now since I learned how to make pasta properly and keep recipes authentic. However, I have Americanized dishes a bit since returning home, usually to fit my tight schedule and adapt to the generally disappointing lack of rustic European farmers' markets. This recipe solves my weeknight dinner time crunch (I'm usually starving by the time I get home from my internship) and also takes advantage of the gorgeous fresh tomatoes at the local Omaha farmers' market. It's a win-win situation with an extra triple win since it's actually pretty healthy.

Pomodoro is just the Italian word for tomatoes but it sounds much fancier than just telling people you're having tomato sauce on pasta for dinner. It also helps when you throw in a handful of fresh herbs and top it with shrimp with a punch of garlic. I also have a slightly bad habit of drowning everything in cheese whenever possible, though this is probably the only time you'll catch me putting cheese on seafood. Parmesan and shrimp can be good together if you know what you're doing (and if you follow this recipe you will).

This sauce differs from my regular tomato sauce in that it uses a blend of fresh tomatoes and crushed tomatoes with a splash of chicken broth. The rainbow cherry tomatoes I found were just too pretty to pass up, but if they are hard to find or expensive you can easily substitute fresh diced tomatoes. Canned diced tomatoes will work in a pinch as well. I also use a can of crushed tomatoes so that there is more of a sauce as opposed to cooked tomatoes piled on top of pasta.

The shrimp couldn't be simpler. I load up a pan with some garlic, add the shrimp, and cook until they're done. It only takes a few minutes, so as soon as they turn opaque take them out of the pan. Overcooked shrimp will get rubbery, so if you want leftovers it's probably a good idea to make the shrimp the day you plan on serving it. It's easy to freeze the sauce or just keep it in your fridge for a couple of days if you make more than what you need, but freshly cooked shrimp will always be better.

You could also adapt this dish using other proteins. Scallops or swordfish would make wonderful seafood alternatives, and bites of chicken would be delicious as well. If you really feel like making things fancy, you can try making your own pasta, too. I'll publish a recipe on that at some point soon. For now, stick to long pastas whether they're homemade or store-bought. Italians are serious about matching their pastas to their sauces, and long noodles are better coated in thinner sauces. They also wrap around the larger pieces of tomatoes and shrimp. I could go on about egg pastas versus semolina pastas and all their shapes, but I'm about to go make my own dinner so comment if you have questions or tasty results!

1 1/4 lbs Shrimp, Peeled & Deveined
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Cups Cherry Tomatoes
1 10.5oz Can Crushed Tomatoes
1 Cup Chicken or Vegetable Broth
1 Sprig Rosemary
3 Sprigs Thyme
1/4 Cup Julienned Basil
12oz Spaghetti
Parmesan Cheese

Heat some oil in a large pot. Add 4 cloves of garlic and cook until fragrant about 1 minute. Stir in the fresh tomatoes and cook for an additional minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, broth, and herbs and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions until al dente.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the remaining garlic and shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque, stirring and turning occasionally.

Toss the pasta with the sauce and the shrimp and sprinkle with the Parmesan.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Pinch of Yum