Monday, September 30, 2013

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I was in a baking mood the other day. Ok, I'm always in a baking mood. I also had some very ripe bananas sitting out, waiting to be used for something. I could have made my Vegan Banana Bread recipe, but that just didn't seem quite enough. I needed chocolate. So, I wandered around the baking aisle of the grocery store until I found something to make the perfect dorm/college friendly recipe. Martha White makes chocolate chip muffin mix in small enough to make only 6 muffins at a time. Of course, this recipe makes 12 because I added to it. Even so, that's a small amount of muffins when you're only cooking for yourself.

Martha White - Chocolate chip muffin mix
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup 1% milk

First, peel and mash the bananas in a medium sized mixing bowl. This part is really fun and a great way to relieve stress. Mash the heck out of them using whatever tools you have (a fork, a spatula, a slotted spoon, whatever).
Next, preheat the oven according to the packaging, most likely around 425 degrees.
While the oven preheats, mix the bananas with the muffin mix and milk.
Place 12 muffin tins (pre-made or dorm-made like this) in a muffin pan. Scoop approximately 2 Tablespoons of batter into each tin.
Bake for approximately 12-14 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean or with crumbs. Then, remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.

This recipe is great for college baking. It makes only 12 muffins, so you are able to share with a few friends and keep a few for yourself, without wasting any by allowing them to go stale. They're also great because they're relatively healthy compared to other muffins. Muffins made with recipe contain only 97 calories each (compared to 160 calories). Plus, they contain calcium, vitamin B, and vitamin B12 from the milk and mix and potassium and fiber from the bananas. And, as an added bonus, they actually taste good! Enjoy for breakfast with a side of fruit and a glass of milk to start your day right, as a healthy snack between classes, or as a post-exam treat.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Perfect Fall Dinner

After a very, very long and unusually warm summer, fall has finally arrived. And with it has come the rain. Soon, there will be mushy leaf puddles to stomp in as I venture from between home, classes, and teaching. I'm about to begin working my first real job as an after school program assistant, in addition to nannying, and working with 3rd graders, and choir, and orchestra, and harp lessons, oh and regular school. And though I am nervous about the busy schedule I know awaits me as soon as October begins, I am thrilled for fall to begin. I cannot wait to bike home after school and orchestra on crisp autumn nights, or to drink cider while watching scary movies. Yes, I think fall will be okay.

Yesterday, as it rained outside, I came to the sudden realization that fall was, indeed, here. The forecast no longer predicts any 80 degree days, and the probability of precipitation is nearing 100% each day. I already had Al Fresco sweet apple chicken sausage, which I picked up 5 for $3.99 at Fred Meyer a while ago and had defrosting in the fridge.


The sausage I bought was raw, which made for a bit of a challenge just because I was so worried about undercooking it and then making myself ill. But, I've done it twice and have lived to tell the tale!
It's actually pretty simple. I just fried them in a frying pan for about 20 to 25 minutes. The package said to turn it occaisionally, but I actually turned the sausage about once every minute because I was afraid of cooking it unevenly. I might have been a bit too worried about it, though. Anyway, it turned out ok. I liked it, at least. And really, apple sausage is the most underrated form of sausage. It's so good. Great for summer because it's sweet, but even better for fall because of the apple.

But what goes with apple sausage in the fall?

I went to the grocery store to figure this out (before I started cooking dinner, of course). That's when I noticed microwavable sweet potatoes in the veggie section. I LOVE sweet potatoes. They are my favorite thing at Thanksgiving dinner, but why wait until then?

Sweet Potato

The best part about these sweet potatoes, though, were the fact that they are so easy. They're wrapped in special plastic, so just pop them in the microwave for 5 to 8 minutes (until tender, as desired) and WAM! You've got yourself a steamed sweet potato. No work, no mess, no fuss. How dorm friendly is that?
You can enjoy your sweet potato plain, or add brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and/or whipped cream, as desired. I chose to add about half a Tablespoon of brown sugar (because you doesn't love brown sugar and sweet potatoes?) and such a small hint of Allspice that you almost didn't know it was there. And, of course, whipped cream because we already had some in the fridge so why not?

Green Beans

I decided that since I was kind of cheating with my sweet potatoes, I would learn at least one new cooking method. Afterall, I'm in school, I'm supposed to learn things, right?
So, I learned how to cook fresh green beans. Not the kind in the can (though, I remembered once I got home that I had some of those already). The actual kind. Good old Wikihow taught me how to make these. Here's my preferred method:

Fresh green beans
Water in a medium sized pot
Salt (you can use pepper if you desire, too, but I hate pepper so I didn't)

Fill a medium sized pot with just enough water to cover all of your green beans. Boil the water, don't add in the green beans yet.
Clean the green beans. Then, snap them and pull off the stringy stem. Or, alternatively, just cut the ends, to speed up the process. You can cut one or both ends, but make sure there's no stem attached, that's the important part.
Once the water is boiling, add your green beans. Wait until the water returns to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low heat and let them simmer for about 4 minutes. I did 5 because I was distracted. Just make sure they are as tender as you'd like.
Then, drain your green beans. Return them to the pot and season as desired, with salt and/or pepper.

In the end this was really a fantastic dinner. It reminded me of some my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner, without all that yucky turkey. Of course, it was missing my Grandma's homemade rolls, but, it was as close as I could get. And, really, for a quick and easy dinner, I was pretty glad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Triple Berry Pie

Years ago, Martha Stuart was asked in an interview if she had ever used a frozen pie shell. Deeply offended, she denied it, saying it was too quick and easy to make a pie crust from scratch. My mother, upon hearing this, laughed at Martha.
For years, I thought my mom, who could make the perfect blackberry pie filling with her eyes closed, was just being lazy, or was using the wrong recipe, or was impatient, or something. I mean, there's no way Martha Stuart would lie, right?
Well, of course, we all know Martha Stuart is capable of telling a lie or two here and there.

Anyhow, my mom wanted a pie and I decided to take her on, proving once and for all how simple it must be to make a pie entirely from scratch. I poured through recipe after recipe, trying to find one that I could make with the ingredients already in our kitchen. I ended up finding a berry pie recipe from Instructables. Though I didn't end up using the recipe for the berry filling, I found the dough recipe and instructions to be incredibly helpful.

I'm not going to share the recipe with you, though. If you visit the website, you'll see what I mean. There is no way to make that dorm (or college student) friendly. Absolutely no way. It takes way too much time (read: energy) and ingredients (read: money) for a college student to be making this. If you really want to make a berry pie, just be like my mother and use a frozen pie shell. Nobody's going to judge you. You're a college student, after all. Plus, this berry filling recipe is so good, nobody will notice your pie shell.
But I digress. Here is a slightly altered, dorm/college student friendly version of this pie

1 package of frozen pie shell (contains two shells). Don't cheap out on this part.
4 cups of fresh and juicy berries (I used 2 cups blueberries, 1 cup blackberries, 1 cup raspberries). But, really, any combination of any berries would work. Avoid strawberries if possible, though, as they are more acidic and may alter the chemistry in the filling)
2/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice (from the bottle works great, or if you just want to squeeze half a lemon over the bowl, that will work too).
1 egg white mixed with 1 Tablespoon of milk OR 1-2 Tablespoons of butter (optional)

Remove pie shells from freezer.
Prepare berries by picking, hulling, and washing them. Be sure to dry them, as well. This is where a salad spinner comes in handy. But shaking a small amount in a pasta strainer will work well enough for our purposes.
In a large mixing bowl, toss together berries until they are mixed (if using multiple types of berries)
Next, slowly add sugar, flour, and lemon juice. Stir together with a wooden or plastic spoon (anything but metal, if at all possible). The sugary mixture should create a sort of paste that will thicken the berry filling. Be careful when stirring the filling, so as to avoid breaking the berries. It's ok if a few break, as they are fragile it's difficult to avoid, but be cautious not to overwork them.
Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
If desired, use a pastry brush to brush whisked egg yoke and milk mixture onto the bottom of 1 pie shell, or, alternatively, dot melted butter along the bottom of the shell. This will prevent it from getting soggy and messy once the filling has been added.
Next, spoon the filling into that pie shell. Use a spoon or a spatula to make the surface roughly even.
Then, take the other pie shell and place it on top of the 1st pie shell (the top one should be removed from the tin pan that comes with it in the package. If the shell breaks, use the pieces to create a design along the top in whatever artistic fashion you desire. You may always use a knife or a cookie cutter to create shapes to be on the top of your pie.
Now, place the pie in the oven. Bake for approximately 40 minutes to an hour (this all depends on your pie shell and your oven. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the pie shell, since that is the more likely to burn or become overdone than the filling itself. Remove when the pie shell has become golden brown.

Serve this pie while it's still warm, though it will taste good cold as well. Create Pie A La Mode by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. French vanilla ice cream pairs well with any pie that contains blackberries.

My mom was out of the house when I made this pie. And, of course, when she returned home she had in her hand a strawberry rhubarb pie. However, we did the taste comparison. And mine was better, hands down. Plus, mine was prettier. I mean, look at this thing! This is what all food should look like.

A Summer to Remember

This summer was incredible. There's really no other way to describe it. I visited 8 different countries in 6 weeks. But I'll make it brief. Here's the list of places we visited (in chronological order):
Newport, OR, USA
Portland, OR, USA
Denver, CO, USA
Reykjavik, Iceland
London, England
Lille, France
Bruge, Belgium
Lille, France (again)
Tournai, Belgium
Brussels, Belgium
Rumes, Belgium
Lille, France (once more)
Avignon, France
Montpelier, France
Avignon, France (again)
Port Bou, Spain
Barcelona, Spain
San Sebastian, Spain
Hendaye, France
San Sebastian, Spain (again)
Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France
San Sebastian, Spain (even more)
Hendaye, France (again)
Paris, France
Frankfurt, Germany
Tacoma, WA, USA
Seattle, WA, USA
Victoria, BC, Canada

So, basically, it was an exhausting summer, but oh so much fun. I will remember this summer for the rest of my life.

You haven't been to London until you've taken
a photo in a telephone booth. 

Eating a delicious meat and cheese stuffed waffle
in Brussels, Belgium. Nobody else enjoyed them.

Our lovely hosts in Lille, Cyrielle and Celine. 

Our beautiful host in San Sebastian, Irene.

The incredible beach in San Sebastian, Spain.
Can you imagine living here?

The Eiffel Tower and the Seine, in Paris, France

So, what does this have to do with food?
Well, other than the fact that this is my blog and I get to do whatever I want with it, there is an actual connection between this incredible trip and this awesome blog. You see, food is approached differently in different cultures. Everything tasted just slightly different in each location. And the types of food were different, too.
In London, for example, I enjoyed a British breakfast: toast, eggs, ham, sausage, beans, and stewed tomatoes (ok, I didn't eat the tomatoes, but I ate everything else). And on our first day in San Sebastian, our Spanish breakfasts included: churros, granola with chocolate pieces and unpasteurized milk, cookies, orange juice, and Nesquik. Meanwhile, in Paris, our French breakfast was a croissant and either a very small and very strong hot chocolate or an even smaller and stronger coffee with milk and sugar (not sugar cubes, but sugar rectangular prisms).
Other things were different, too. Meats were fresher, dinner flavors were savory instead of sweet, and desserts were made with actual sugar. Ice cream was fruit flavored, but didn't taste like sorbet. And sausages were actually flavorful.

I tried so many foods that inspired me to attempt to create, myself. And it's probably a good thing that I have an actual kitchen in an actual house this year.
Which reminds me! You may have noticed that the name of this blog has changed. As I am no longer in the dorms, my new blog title is "The College Food Blog". This means some of the recipes will be a bit more complicated than dorm food. However, I will be sure to clearly identify the differences and, whenever possible, post dorm-friendly alternatives for you to use yourself.