Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Summer in Food

My summer has ended.  My Junior year of college has officially begun.

As opposed to sobbing uncontrollably and confining myself to my bed once I realized this, I started to look through the pictures I took this summer.  
99% of them concerned food, and it made me realize how much of my life is centered around the food I make, and how many of the places I visit are defined by the food I eat there.  
Once I saw the pictures of the food, it was amazing how clearly the memories came back to me.

So, without further ado, I would like to share my summer with you.

I know I said the majority of my pictures were of food, but this guy was just too cute to pass up.  I helped my friend move to Berkeley this summer, and on our way to lunch we walked past a house with about ten parrots in the front yard.

Isn't he a beautiful bird?

"Oh stop it, you're making me blush..."

And here is a Gregoire, a delicious little French-inspired eatery that changes its menu monthly.  

THESE. These...
These are potato puffs.  
I'm not sure if I've mentioned my adoration for mashed potatoes on my blog before, but I guess I'll just say it now...
If I had to choose one last meal, it would be mashed potatoes and gravy.  Easy.
These guys are fried bits of mashed potatoes, served with a Dijon mayo.  
So freaking delicious.

I also got their fried chicken sandwich (this is one of the only sandwiches that is consistently on the menu, so you know it's good...).  I mean, look at that bread. 

I am in love with this picture. 

I also made my friend's mother's Peanut butter blossoms (I'll be sharing this recipe soon).

So she and I feasted on these for breakfast...

And played cribbage.  Such happiness...

Yes, I am an old lady.  

My friend Caitlin (a fellow lover of food) came to my home and showed me how to make panna cotta.
My question did I ever live without it?

She also introduced me to Vanilla Bean Paste, which is divine and perfect.
It substitutes equally in recipes that call for vanilla extract, except it provides the flavor and look of vanilla beans without all the scraping...

I got distracted and took a picture of this clove of garlic because I thought he was cute.

Here's the finished product! So unbelievably good...I'm actually eating some right now. Mmmm.

I got a little obsessed with making pizzas this summer.  I love how they look before you bake them.

But they also look pretty darn good after they're done.  Tasty, too.

She came over the next week, and out of my oven came the most beautiful loaf of bread I've ever made...

So naturally we made it into french bread pizza.
I don't have a problem.

I visited my dear friend Jacqueline in San Diego for a week in July.  This is one of her favorite places to eat.

I have a feeling the cinnamon rolls the size of basketballs have something to do with it...

Those are only a few of the food memories I've made this summer.  It makes me realize how many mental pictures I took.  
Overall, my summer was phenomenal.  Not only that--it was lekker.

As we all head towards school and coats and holidays, I hope you take some time to reflect on the high points of your summer.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Blueberry Crumb Cake Muffins

I think it's kind of funny that behind this little guy, you can see his fallen brother behind him...

So, I've worked at this bookstore for a couple of years now.  It's not one of those tiny, quiet bookstores you see in small coastal towns.  It's one of those large corporate stores with candles, DVDs, and a Starbucks.  Oh and books.

I finally cross-trained in our cafe and I absolutely love it.  The baker in me loves following the drink recipes, and I get inspired by the baked goods we sell.

I most recently got some inspiration from the "Wild Blueberry Muffins."  What makes them so Wild? 
I'm aware of the fact that the word  "wild" describes the blueberries, but I would like to think  these muffins are called "wild" because of the delicious crumb topping and the fact that they're the size of a grapefruit.

So I went home after work one day and I experimented a little bit, and out of my oven came some of the most delicious blueberry muffins I've ever had. 
I'm not usually a fan of blueberry desserts--call me un-American, but Blueberry pie often sounds better than it tastes.  However, the crumb cake aspect of these muffins really sends them over the edge.  Before you pop them in the oven, you sprinkle on some crumb topping and some coarse sugar--the result is rampant deliciousness.  

So, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

I popped this poor guy in the microwave for about ten seconds to soften him up.

Dump in the sugar...

And cream the butter and sugar together until combined. 

And because you are a rebel, you can incorporate the baking powder, salt, and vanilla at this juncture in the recipe.  Or you can be normal and sift the salt and baking powder into the flour and incorporate it later.  Do whatever will help you sleep at night.

**I was supposed to add close to 3 teaspoons of baking powder to this recipe, but later I realized I actually used 3 half-teaspoons (1 1/2 tsp) due to the fact I couldn't find my teaspoon and am an airhead. You'd think as a baker I would have a reliable set of measuring instruments. You would also be wrong.  I seriously need to get my act together. 
It turned out great, though.  If you want your muffins to be more round on top, feel free to add up to 3 teaspoons, as opposed to the 1 1/2.  

Go ahead and whisk the milk and eggs together.

So at this point I incorporated a teeny-tiny amount of the milk/egg mixture into the butter/sugar mixture to soften it up.  Then add a small amount of the flour until it is fully combined.  Continue alternating the milk and flour until it forms a somewhat thick batter. 

It should look like this.  The process of incorporating the milk and flour might be kind of frustrating, but I promise that eventually it will all come together.  Just try your best not to over-mix it--it'll make the muffins dry.  

Then gently fold in the blueberries.  Frozen or fresh, it is no matter.  Just as long as they are blueberries.  

I don't care who you are, where you're from, don't care what you did as long as you looove me.  
Yes, those are lyrics to a Backstreet Boys song. Been stuck in my head all week.  I'm sorry.  

When you fold the blueberries into the batter gently, the batter won't turn out too purple/'ll look like this!

Now, to make the crumb topping, all you need to do is cube up some cold butter, toss it in a bowl, and then add sugar, flour and cinnamon.  
Ideally, you would use a pastry cutter to mix all the ingredients together, but because I realize even bakers do not possess pastry cutters (ahem), you can also use two knives to cut the other ingredients into the butter.  This is a very frustrating way of making a crumb topping, but it works...eventually.  
The final result will be a crumbly mixture and a chip on your shoulder.

It should look like this (aka Deliciousness). 

Fill a muffin tray with liners, or grease the tray and let the muffins go free and unrestrained into the world.  
I used a large ice cream scoop to portion out the dough...feel free to use a spoon, etc.  

Now you are going to make magic happen.  Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the muffins.  You will look at them and think "This is way too much crumb topping, this can't possibly be good."  This is flawed thinking. Put as much of the topping on as you possibly can.  
Sprinkle some coarse sugar over the top, and then put them in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Not the most wonderful picture, but you get the idea.  They were beautiful.

These were seriously delicious...

For some reason I thought you would enjoy seeing a picture of one of these torn in half.  Why?  I just don't know...


These are wonderfully lekker.  You have to make them if you love blueberries...even if you don't love blueberries.  Why buy one when you can make about nine?  It seems like a conflict of interest for me to say that, but these are just too good to miss out on.
Enjoy, guys!


Here's the recipe:

Blueberry Crumb Cake Muffins

For the batter:
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup frozen blueberries

For the crumb topping:
6 tbsp butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt

coarse sugar for sprinkling (such as raw or turbinado)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, if you please.
Cream the softened stick of butter with the 3/4 cup sugar.  Add the baking powder, salt, and vanilla and combine.  
Beat the eggs into the milk.  Pour a small amount in the butter/sugar mixture to moisten it a  small bit.  Alternate adding small bits of flour and small bits of the milk/ egg mixture until it's all incorporated and makes a thick batter.
In the mean time, cut the cold butter into chunks and put them in a bowl.  Add the other ingredients for the topping and cut them with either two knives or a pastry cutter until they resemble coarse crumbs.
Put liners into a muffin tin and scoop batter into them (should make about nine total).  Sprinkle great amounts of crumb topping onto the batter and then sprinkle with the coarse sugar.  
Bake for 20-25 minutes.