Monday, April 27, 2009

Do you know the muffin man?

I'm not really obsessed with muffins right now. Really, I'm not. I mean, sure, they're really quick and easy to make. Sure, they're good to have on a road trip and my kid actually eats them. And you can adapt them to suit your taste in so many ways. And they're perfect portion control. And...

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Fine. I'm obsessed. But with good reason. Did you SEE that muffin?? These ones are particularly addictive. Not only because they taste so darned good, but because you know they're so healthy that there's no guilt involved for making them. I usually make a batch of these every week until we burn out, wait about a month, and start all over again. My friend Abby got it from a friend of a friend of a friend, who got it from some unknown cookbook. I hope you'll forgive my lack of proper citation, but I'm hoping that the recipe has changed enough by now that it wouldn't be an issue. I've certainly made plenty of my own adjustments to healthify these little gems without sacrificing on taste.

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The Friend-of-a-Friend Zucchini-Carrot Muffin
Don't let the long ingredient list scare you - it's mostly stuff you have lying around already. Makes 12-18 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 plain yogurt or sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
zest from 1 lemon
1 1/2 cup coarsely grated zucchini (about 1 large or 2 small zucchini)
1/2 cup grated carrot (about 1 large carrot)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a muffin tin with paper cups.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and whisk thoroughly. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the sugars with the eggs, then add oil, yogurt, vanilla, and lemon zest, mixing to combine thoroughly. Add zucchini and carrots to the liquid mixture and mix to combine. Add the dry mix to the liquid mix and stir until just combined (do not over-mix). Fold in chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly into prepared muffin cups. Bake until tops are browned and springy, about 20-25 minutes. Cool in pan set on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove muffin to rack to finish cooling.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bingeing on blueberries

I took Isaac to a pick-your-own blueberry farm this weekend. It was about an hour's drive out of Wellington, and it was gorgeous. We walked from a bushy hillside down to a grassy clearing where a small stream lazily babbled its way through the property. Birds were chirping, bees were humming - could this place be any more idyllic? In a word, no. It was so lovely there, in fact, that I've already planned to buy the farm from its current owner when I'm ready to retire. If she won't sell, I'm just going to have to plan a hostile takeover.

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Bucket full of delicious blueberries, I set off for home, my mind near the point of exploding with the possibilities of 2 1/2 pounds of blueberries. I normally can't stand cooked fruit, especially berries. I feel like they are such a precious commodity that to cook them only adulterates their pure flavor and texture. Then again, 2 1/2 pounds is a lot of blueberries. Blueberry pie was the most obvious way to use up so many yummy berries, but we're set to go out of town in a day, and pie doesn't travel well. Sadly. So, I'll just have to make blueberry muffins with some of them and eat the rest by hand.

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I love muffins. I love that my son eats them when he won't eat anything else. I love that they're excellent road food. And I love this recipe I found in Gourmet. It's tender, it's sweet but not too sweet, it looks gorgeous, and it's bursting with blueberries.

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Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Gourmet, Sept. 2003

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c. buttermilk (or whole milk)
1 whole egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries

3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

To make muffins: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line or grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter and buttermilk, then add eggs and vanilla, mixing thoroughly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Gently fold in blueberries. Divide batter evenly between 12 cups. Set aside.

To make topping: In a bowl, rub together the butter, flour, sugar, and cinnamon until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle topping evenly over batter in cups, pressing down gently to adhere.

Bake muffins until tops are golden, about 18-20 minutes. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove muffins from tin to finish cooling on rack.

Monday, April 20, 2009


It's really cold. And windy. And rainy. These are days for wearing oversized hoodies and fitted fuzzy slippers, keeping a near-constant pot of boiling water on the stove for hot tea and hot chocolate, and eating nothing but warm comfort food. Should you happen to find yourself stranded in the middle of a similarly cold, bleak day wherever you are, I think it would be wise for you to make this: Pasta with Caramelized Onion Sauce.

The way a large skillet full of onions can ever so slowly cook down to a magical sauce of burnished goodness is, in my book, amazing. Each onion simply melts on your tongue, releasing its sweetness and caramelized depth in stages. You just feel warm when you eat this. It's not a low-fat dish by a long stretch, but its warm, comforting embrace in your belly will have you forgiving that little detail pretty quickly. It's not a quick-cooking dish, either, but its simplicity and the sweet aroma that will fill your house will also have you acting more patient than you've likely been in a long time.

This recipe originally calls for some Madeira instead of the stock and balsamic vinegar. We are a no-booze household, so it's sometimes challenging (and frankly, a little sad) to have to find adequate substitutes for it in recipes. Mine seemed to work pretty well in this case, though, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the flavors.

Pasta with Caramelized Onion Sauce
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted from James Beard

8 Tbsp. (4 oz., or 1 stick) unsalted butter
1 ½ lb. yellow onions, halved and sliced about ¼-inch thick
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
¾ lb. short pasta, cooked according to package
Grated Parmesan

In a large (12-inch) skillet, warm the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent. Stir in the sugar, reduce the heat to low or medium-low, and cook the onions very gently for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. (Do not cook them too quickly or over too high heat, or they will get dry and papery.) As they cook, they will become meltingly soft and juicy, and they should caramelize to a deep shade of amber. Stir in the stock and vinegar, cook for about 5 minutes for flavors to absorb, and then add the pasta to the pan. Toss pasta well with the sauce.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of salt and some grated cheese.

Yield: about 4 servings

Monday, April 13, 2009

Special treatment

When I think of luxury, I don't typically think of mansions, Bentleys, or formal balls. No sir, luxury in my mind is more like fluffy pillows, cozy slippers, and food. Good food. Warm food. Comfy food. I think of things like fresh-from-the-oven scones slathered with clotted cream and jam, eaten in one's pajamas on a chilly morning. The warmth, that delicate texture that crumbles lightly in your mouth. The way the whole house smells delicious for hours afterward. This is the stuff perfect, lazy mornings are made of. And what better a way to welcome my sister-in-law and her family than with a warm batch of cranberry-orange scones? Anyone willing to fly over 13 hours overnight with two layovers to visit us certainly deserves a little luxury, don't you think? Did I mention they're traveling with a toddler? Yep, luxury.

After hours of scouring various cook books, magazines, and websites trying to decipher exactly what constituted a scone (pronounced "skawn" by most of Great Britain) and what made it different from a biscuit served with gravy, I finally came up with my own recipe. It makes a very tender scone that isn't too sweet at all - perfect for all that jam I'm sure you'll be slathering on. Oh, and my favorite part? It's perfect for the freezer, both before and after baking! It's great for early morning breakfasts - just place the scones (unbaked) on the prepared pan the night before, pop them in the freezer, covered, and transfer to the oven straight from the freezer the following morning. Or later that week. Or month. Of the times I've made scones, the results are always best when I bake them from a frozen state.

Cranberry-Orange Scones
This recipe is incredibly versatile. I hear tangerine is also a lovely partner for cranberries. If you're not feeling citrusy, simply omit the orange components and increase the amount of buttermilk to compensate. Don't like cranberries? Use dried currants or cherries, or go entirely without. Love chocolate chips? Go for it! Get the point? Now get baking!
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • zest of one large orange (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 oz (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup chilled freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl, then mix in orange zest and whisk until evenly distributed. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. This is not the time to be OCD about uniformity - it's okay to have some larger chunks of butter (aim for pea-sized, more or less). Mix in dried cranberries.

Mix egg and buttermilk together, reserving about 2 tablespoons for the glaze. Stir in the orange juice. Gradually add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, tossing gently with a fork until moist clumps form.

Turn dough out onto lightly a floured work surface. Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns. Dough will likely be a little wet and sticky - just flour your hands and not the dough. Form dough into 1-inch-thick square. Cut into 9 equal squares (like a hash mark), then cut each square diagonally to form 2 smaller triangles (total of 18 scones). Or, if you can't be fussed, just pat the whole thing into a circular disk (1 inch thick) and slice it into 8-12 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. (Can be prepared up to this point and frozen, covered, on pan)

Brush tops with reserved egg wash. Bake until tops of scones are golden brown, about 10-20 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet 5 minutes. Serve scones warm or at room temperature. I recommend jam and clotted cream - lots of it!

Speaking of clotted cream, unless you live in Great Britain, it's probably a little hard to come by. Or, if you live in New Zealand, it's impossible to come by. Not to worry - clotted cream is easy to make! Just get some unpasteurized cream, let it sit out for 12 hours, heat it gently over low heat until it isn't quite boiling, then let it sit out again overnight. Piece of cake! If you don't happen to live on a farm where you have access to unpasteurized anything, you could do Alton Brown's method with a coffee filter. Or, if you're like me and you don't drink coffee (nor do you feel like buying a coffee filter for this express purpose), you can do this:

In a small saucepan, put 2 cups pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream on the lowest heat setting possible until a skin forms and the surface just begins to ripple on the edges (do not let it boil). Remove from heat and let it sit uncovered in a cool place (fridge works fine) overnight. In the morning, carefully skim the top part (the clotted cream) off the surface. Mix it up and add some liquid cream from the pot, mixing until everything is smooth and combined and has the consistency of very thick whipped cream. It may not taste too phenomenal on its own, but it will transform your scones into something magical when served with a bit of strawberry jam. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The best way to heat your home

I woke up this morning with popsicle toes. I could hardly stand to let Isaac wrap his frigid little fingers around my warm(ish) neck when I got him out of his crib. It was even colder downstairs. I thought this place was insulated! There’s only one thing to do in this kind of weather: BAKE SOMETHING!! And quickly!

Let’s see, what to make? I had some leftover Valrhona cocoa powder that I’ve been dying to use, and chocolate seemed like a good flavor for this kind of weather. A cake seemed to smack of time and effort, and the point of this exercise was to heat up the house now. It seemed a little blasphemous to mingle such high quality cocoa powder with such less-than-high-quality solid chocolate for brownies.

It looked like the criteria would have to be
a) quick prep time - we're talking near-instant gratification here;
b) easy to make (i.e. didn’t require a machine or pots);
c) didn’t require any ingredients to sit around to reach room temperature; and
d) used only cocoa powder as the flavoring. The solution was… THESE!

Chewy cocoa cookies with chocolate chips! In a word: I’veDiedAndGoneToHeavenIt’sSoGood.

I think these might be my new dream cookie. So quick and easy to put together, dirties very few dishes, mixed by hand, and most importantly, DELICIOUS! The crisp outer shell yields to a dense, chewy, oh-so-chocolatey interior. It’s moist, it’s got plenty of chocolate punch, it's moderately health-ish (yogurt's good for you, right?), and it’s not cloyingly sweet like too many chocolate goodies tend to be. The cinnamon served to deepen the chocolate flavor without making its presence a nuisance. Can anyone ask for more? My house is not only pleasantly toasty downstairs now, but the air is also spiked with the heady aroma of chocolate. Do yourself a favor and go make this. Right now.

Chewy Cocoa Cookies with Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted from Alice Medrich

These should keep for several days in an airtight container (though they haven't yet made it past the 2-day mark in this house, and that's when we try to exercise will power!). The amount of cocoa doesn't have to be too exact; just stay near the 1/2 cup mark. Also, don't be tempted to add more cinnamon - the idea is for you not to really taste it.

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. (2 oz or 50 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
scant 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup plain yogurt, not nonfat
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Melt butter in a medium bowl. Add the sugars and cocoa to the melted butter. (Sift cocoa if it is lumpy) Stir until mixture is blended and has the consistency of thick paste. Add the yogurt and vanilla and stir to mix thoroughly. Add the dry flour mixture and chocolate chips, and stir to just combine.

Drop dough by generous tablespoons 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies have crackled slightly and look set. Allow cookies to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer them to the rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Yields approx. 2 dozen

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

About The Gourmette

Maxine Parrish here. Welcome to my blog!

I'm wild about food. I'm also wild about my husband Collin and our son Isaac. Once upon a time I taught lots of children at a school in Los Angeles, California. Now I spend my days (and nights) teaching my one toddler in Wellington, New Zealand. I like to spend my free time planning, obsessing over, and creating meals and goodies. This is an outlet for those obsessive moments, as well as motivation to keep cooking. As free time is always scarce with a young child at home, my food tends to be quick and simple, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients - anything that can be prepared while your toddler uses your legs as a maypole.

Why The Gourmette? I think it's quite fitting. In French, the suffix -ette is used to denote a smaller version of the main word. While I do have a love of all things fine and yummy, I definitely wouldn't profess myself to be a full gourmet - yet. Hence, the more modest descriptor. I also think it's funny when people mispronounce gourmet. So there you go.

All pictures are taken by me on a Canon 450D, unless otherwise noted. I'll be flattered if you want to use any of my images, but please email first for permission (hi res copies available for most images).
You can contact me at: thegourmette [at] gmail [dot] com