Archive for March, 2012

Asparagus in My Yard

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Talk abut unseasonably warm—I’ve already got 4 spears of asparagus coming up in my yard.  Which doesn’t sound like much, but considering that my asparagus patch consists of three plants and that last year I never had more than 5 or 6 spears at a time and considering also that it’s only March 21, it seems like a heck of a lot.  It seems more typical that we would still have snow on the ground than be wearing shorts and basking in 80 degree temperatures.  It just doesn’t seem natural.

One of my coworkers said it seems like the earth didn’t get enough of a chance to sleep, “and you know what happens when you don’t get enough rest—you wake up cranky.”

Crispy Roasted Potatoes

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

When done correctly, roasted potatoes are a fantastic treat: crispy, golden brown, and delicious.  When done poorly, they’re sort of insipid, soggy, and blah.  Here are a few quick tips to get great potatoes:

  1. Heat is your friend.  Turn the oven up to 450.  Make sure it gets fully hot.
  2. While the oven heats, cut the potatoes into about half-inch  to one inch chunks and toss them with canola oil, salt, and pepper.
  3. Put the pan (cookie sheet with a lip—I recommend a standard half sheet pan) in and let it get hot before adding the potatoes to it.
  4. Don’t worry the spuds once they go in.  If you’re constantly opening the oven to stir them, the temp goes down.  They don’t get the contact with the pan they need to caramelize and get golden.
  5. But don’t forget about them either.  Stir them after 15-20, then again after another 10-15.
  6. They should be ready after a total of 40-45.
  7. Yum!

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

This recipe is fairly easy to make, bakes much more quickly than pumpkin bread, and tastes delicious!

  • 2/3 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups mashed pumpkin (see note at end of recipe)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • dash nutmeg
  • 2 cups mixed raisins, golden raisins, and dried cherries
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugars.
  3. beat the eggs into the mix, one at a time
  4. Add in the pumpkin and the water—reduce the speed on the mixer as you add the water or else you’ll wind up splattering the watery mixture across your counter and onto the floor!
  5. Combine the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.  Beat this mix into the large bowl of liquid ingredients about 1 cup at a time.
  6. Mix the dried fruit into the batter.
  7. Spoon into muffin cups and bake for 25-28 minutes or until tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Yield: 32 muffins

Note on pumpkin: substitute any winter squash (except spaghetti squash) for pumpkin.  My preferred method for producing mashed pumpkin: peel the squash, cut in half and scoop out seeds.  Dice and toss with oil, small amount of salt, and mixed spices (pumpkin pie spice mix).  Roast at 375 on a baking sheet with a lip for about 30-45 minutes (depending on size of the dice) or until it is soft.  Makes a great side dish, or to prepare for baking purposes, run through meat grinder attachment of your Kitchen-Aid mixer.  Freeze in pint containers and use within 2 years.

Or, if you prefer, use a 15-oz can of pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!).

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

A lot of us are trying to eat more whole grains.  And why shouldn’t we?  They’re good for you—generally containing better nutritional content than the enriched white grain alternatives (since not all of the nutrition lost by removing the bran and the germ is added back in during the enrichment process).  And there’s a wide variety of store-bought options to choose from: pastas, baked goods, more grains than you can shake a stick at, even the sweetest of breakfast cereals proclaims itself to be a whole grain product.

Problem is, if you try to bake with whole wheat flour, very often you wind up with a product that is much denser than you really want.  I definitely recommend giving whole wheat pastry flour a shot.  It’s ground much more finely than regular whole wheat flour, and the result is that in most baked goods, it’s very tough to tell a difference in texture between something baked with whole wheat pastry flour vs. one baked with all purpose flour.

And, once the taste and texture deficiencies of a whole wheat product have been eliminated, the nutritional differences are that much easier to appreciate.  Here’s a great table that spells out the differences between nutrients.  With very few exceptions, you’ll note that whole wheat flour is the clear nutritional winner across the board.

Whole wheat pastry flour is easy to find, too—it is produced by many flour manufacturers and is in most grocery stores.  Give it a try next time you make muffins, pancakes, waffles, coffee cake, pie crust, or whatever else you would use all-purpose flour in.  You’ll be glad you did.