March 30, 2014

Red Velvet Muffins

I got some big news earlier this week. I was accepted to Cornell, the school I've been dreaming about for years! I've been in shock since Thursday, but I felt like I should celebrate. I meant to do so earlier, but I had homework. I know. Anticlimactic, right? Well, it's finally the weekend (a three day weekend for me, which is even better), and I finally had a chance to cook again, so I decided to make some red velvet muffins. "Big Red" velvet muffins. You know, because Cornell is Big Red. I apologize for my terrible pun.

As you might have noticed, however, these muffins are unfortunately neither all that big nor all that red. I couldn't find my giant muffin tin, but I wanted to able to eat a bunch of these without feeling too bad. Also, if you compare these muffins to mini muffins, they are actually pretty big. So there's that.

As for the red, I tried. I really did. I'm probably going to suffer from a bunch of diseases and other medical problems because of all the red dye I added. You just can't tell because I may have gone a little overboard with the chocolate. I couldn't help it. I know red velvet is only supposed to have a little bit, but that's too bad. But don't worry; I scaled it down so hopefully yours are more red velvet than pure chocolate.

Now what makes these different than red velvet cupcakes? To be honest, I'm not particularly sure. But that just means you get to eat borderline cake for breakfast, which is totally fine with me. There isn't any vinegar, but you don't miss it that much. If you want to add a splash, go ahead, but it might mess with the chemistry a little bit because vinegar is relatively acidic. It is acetic acid and all. I also stir in some melted chocolate, which may be in some other red velvet cake recipes but not in mine, and some mini chocolate chips. Like I said, I went a little crazy with the chocolate. Then again, you are basically having cake for breakfast, so does a little extra chocolate hurt that much?

3 T Butter
1.5 oz Chocolate
2 Cups Flour
¼ Cup Cocoa
2 tsp Baking Powder
⅛ tsp Baking Soda
¼ tsp Salt
2 Eggs
⅔ Cup Sugar
⅔ Cup Buttermilk
½ tsp Vanilla
Red Dye
⅔ Cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 425ºF. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.

Microwave the butter and chocolate until melted, stirring often. Set aside to cool. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Whisk the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, and dye together. Stir the butter and chocolate mixture into the buttermilk mixture, and fold that into the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter into the prepared cups. Bake for 4 minutes, lower the temperature to 375ºF, and bake for 8-10 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 12
Recipe Adapted from Lemons for Lulu

March 23, 2014

Apple Scones

Scones are one of the most perfect breakfast foods ever. Carbs are always good, but scones can be sweet or savory and filled with anything you want. I've made gingerbread sconesvanilla bean sconeswhite chocolate peach scones, and even strawberry ricotta scones. You can make literally any flavor for any season and any occasion, but today I wanted something simple and sweet. Apples are always good, and they pair perfectly with cinnamon. It's a delicious taste of fall on a warm spring day, and it's the perfect way to start the morning.

When I first looked at this recipe, I was surprised by the lack of sugar. I was getting ready to improvise with brown sugar or maple syrup or something, but then I realized something. Honey is sweet, y'all.

Unfortunately, my honey was crystallized. If yours is, too, don't worry. I talked to my friend Noah who also happens to be a master beekeeper, and he said to put it in a water bath. Since mine was in a plastic jar, I scooped out what I needed, put it in a glass measuring cup, and stuck that in a pot of warm water until it was the proper consistency again. But whatever you do, don't microwave it. Seriously, don't. Apparently it kills all the microorganisms, which sounds like it would be a good thing but really isn't.

There's obviously ingredients besides apples, cinnamon, and honey. That sounds delicious, but you can't make scones with just that. I add flour and oats; you can use half whole wheat flour if you want to feel better about eating buttery carbs for breakfast. The wet ingredients are honey and buttermilk. You could use regular milk (just not skim--it's for being healthy for cereal but not so much for baking), but there's something magical about buttermilk. It just makes everything fluffier and softer and yummier. Other than that, it's mainly the apples. I prefer granny smith because they hold up during baking and adds a nice balance of tart and sweet, but any baking apple will do. You can even omit the apples altogether so you just have sweet cinnamony goodness. It's hard to make a bad scone, so you can experiment with different fruits and spices with the base, too. I know I'll be experimenting with maple syrup vs honey soon because you can really never have too much maple syrup.

2 Cups Flour
⅔ Cup + 2 T Oats
1 T Baking Powder
¼ tsp Baking Soda
1 ¼ tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Nutmeg
¼ tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 Granny Smith Apple
½ Cup + 1 T Buttermilk
¼ Cup Honey
2 T Brown Sugar

Heat oven to 400F. Line a cookie tray with parchment.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, ⅔ cup oats, baking powder, baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together. Add the butter and pulse until small lumps remain.

Peel, core, and dice the apple. Combine ½ cup buttermilk and honey. Stir the remaining oats, remaining cinnamon, and brown sugar together.

Transfer the flour mixture into a large bowl. Fold in the milk and honey, then add the apples.

Split the dough into three pieces. Shape each piece into a circle, and cut each circle into quarters. Brush with the remaining buttermilk and sprinkle with the streusel. Transfer the quarters onto the prepared tray and bake for 12 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Makes 12
Recipe Adapted from Jo Cooks

March 15, 2014

Beer-Braised Chicken

I know what you're thinking. I'm 18. I shouldn't be anywhere near beer (or any other type of alcohol for that matter). But it's St. Patrick's Day, the public demands beer and recipes involving beer, and the alcohol cooks out anyway. Plus, this chicken is so delicious you'll forget all about laws and suing me and that sort of thing.

This is a one-pot meal; it literally cannot get any easier. Your protein and your side dish cook together, so you don't even have to cook anything else with it. Just cook some bacon, take it out, sear some chicken, take it out, saute some onions, add the chicken back to the pot, and cover it with braising liquid. Stir in the bacon and some potatoes a little later and you're done in less than 90 minutes. It is full of everything delicious: chicken, bacon, and potatoes. Beer, too, but not for me. Why wouldn't you want to make this dish? It is perfect for weeknights when you don't really want to cook, but it is also pretty impressive when you need it to be.

Braising is one of the most fancy-sounding cooking methods but is really one of the easiest to do. Basically, you sear the meat (I do so in bacon drippings), cover it with liquid, and cook in the oven at a low temperature until tender. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are perfect for this recipe because the skin crisps wonderfully when you sear it and the bone keeps the dark meat extremely moist and juicy. It's even better when it's cooked off in bacon fat (trust me on this one).

I also cook the onions in the bacon fat, which is mixed with chicken drippings at this point, too. Doing so absorbs some of the fat so the liquid isn't as greasy and perfumes the onions with that lovely rich flavor. As for the braising liquid, I combine beer, brown sugar, thyme, and a splash of worcestershire with some water so it isn't overly strong. The chicken and onions cook in the braising liquid for about 30 minutes, and then I stir in the bacon bits and the diced potatoes. You can add them at the beginning so you can forget about the dish for a while, but you risk overcooking the potatoes. An easy fix is just cutting them bigger, so you can really do whatever you please.

Potatoes are good however you cook them, and here they complement the chicken amazingly. The onions become tender and saturated with the delicious braising liquid, and of course the chicken is fantastic as well. This one-pot wonder is great for any occasion, especially St. Patrick's Day.

½ lb Bacon
2 T Oil
8 Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Thighs
⅓ Cup Flour
⅓ Cup Cornstarch
2 12 oz Bottles Brown Ale
1 Yellow Onion, Sliced
1 lb Red Potatoes, Diced
¼ Cup Brown Sugar
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 tsp Worcestershire

Place a large oven-safe stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside, leaving drippings in the pot. Crumble when cool.

Add the oil to the pot. Combine the flour and cornstarch; season with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and brown in the bacon fat mixture. Set aside. Cook the onions in the bacon fat until tender.

Heat oven to 325°F.

Combine the beer, brown sugar, worcestershire, and 2 cups water. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken back into the pot and pour the beer mixture over it to cover. Add the thyme sprigs. Braise in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the bacon and potatoes and cook for another 30 minutes or until tender.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

March 5, 2014

Quinoa Chili

I have a lot of vegan and vegetarian friends. Whenever I feel like cooking and bring the food into class, the vegans always question when they will finally be able to eat something. Well, I can't guarantee I'll be bringing a pot of chili in to AP Chemistry, but this is one of my recipes I refer to as "accidentally vegan." Just like my focacciasweet potato chili, and apple muffins, there are no animal products (like butter, eggs, meat, etc.), but it wasn't on purpose. I didn't set out making a vegan recipe. It just kind of happened.

I think people are afraid of the word "vegan," like it automatically means the dish has weird ingredients and tastes like a blend of health and condescending lectures. That's really not the case, especially in accidentally vegan recipes like this, where you don't miss the animal products because they weren't there anyway. Sure, you can throw some bacon or sausage in your chili, but there is plenty of flavor from the chiles and the vegetables and adequate protein from the quinoa. If you're into the whole stick a fried egg on everything trend (which I will never understand but you do you), I guess you could put one on here, but honestly there really isn't a need for eggs in chili. And while nothing will ever replace the goodness of butter (sorry vegans), oil is perfectly suitable for sauteeing the onions and peppers.

Clearly this recipe is full of vegetables. I start with a base of onions and bell peppers, which are cooked with some garlic, chiles, and spices. There's a fair amount of heat in the chili, primarily from the habaneros, roasted green chiles (which I found at Trader Joe's but I'm sure they have elsewhere), and the chiles from the canned tomatoes. If that sounds a little too spicy, you can reduce or remove any of the three, using plain diced tomatoes for some or all of the diced tomatoes with chiles. Other than that, there's two kinds of beans, some corn, a handful of scallions stirred in at the end, and of course the quinoa. I happened to have red and plain quinoa, so I used a mixture of both, but really any will work. It cooks in the juices from the vegetables, mainly the tomatoes, which can run a little low sometimes, so that's what the vegetable broth is for. I add it if there isn't enough liquid to cook the quinoa or if the chili just looks a little too thick. After all, it's packed with vegetables, making a delicious and hearty dinner for omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike.

1 Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Bell Peppers, Diced
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1-2 Habaneros, Minced
1 T Chili Powder
½ tsp Cayenne
1 4oz Can Roasted Diced Green Chiles
3 14.5 oz Cans Diced Tomatoes with Chiles
1 15 oz Can Black Beans, Rinsed & Drained
1 15 oz Can Red Kidney Beans, Rinsed & Drained
1 15 oz Can Corn, Rinsed & Drained
1 Cup Quinoa
½ Cup Vegetable Broth
4 Scallions, Chopped

Heat some oil over in a large pot. Add the onion and bell peppers and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and habaneros and cook until fragrant and the onions are tender, 3-4 minutes. Add the chili powder and cayenne and season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the green chiles, tomatoes, black beans, kidney beans, corn, and quinoa. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked through, adding vegetable broth as necessary. Remove from heat and stir in the scallions.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Kraft