Rotten Banana Muffins

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I am back in Austin after a short trip with my family to Fort Davis, Texas. What’s left of the bananas we took on the trip turned black, so of course that means it’s time to bake some of “those rotten banana muffins,” as my husband likes to call them.

So here’s the thing about banana muffins (or bread) — it’s best made with bananas that look like this:

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Why? Overripe fruit is the sweetest. These bananas are too ripe to eat out of hand, but they are perfect for baking. Next time you have some bananas that have gone bad, don’t throw them out. Bake something with them. (Or peel them, cut them up, and freeze them for smoothies.)

Hell Yeah, Hellcats Cupcakes

Derby program

Sunday night I went to the roller derby for the first time in my life. My cousin skates for the Hellcats; this is her second season, but I have only recently learned about her new activity. She is 12 years younger than me and may be my new hero. Here she is with me (she’s on the left); isn’t she lovely? (But don’t be fooled by this beautiful exterior — she’s a badass blocker.)

Me & Sindra Dee

Here they are coming onto the track at the beginning.

Hellcats v Cowgirls start

I’ve wanted to go to the derby for years to feed my inner rollergirl fantasy, so imagine my delight when I learned that my cousin is an honest-to-God rollergirl. Roller derby is so the opposite of our family background — it’s awesome! 

The bout (that’s a derby term) had everything you look for in a sporting event — tight competition, speed, action, fighting. What better way to spend a Sunday evening? To top if off, the Hellcats won. I was so invigorated by the event that I decided to bake some Hellcat-inspired treats.

Hellcat cupcake tray

I baked Cocoa-Vanilla Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream. I took Martha Stewart’s white cupcake recipe from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook and replaced two tablespoons of flour with two tablespoons of cocoa powder. I also added 3/4 cup chocolate chips. I made some hot pink buttercream and sprinkled the finished cakes with chocolate crunch sprinkles. The idea being that the chips and sprinkles would mimic animal spots and the cocoa would make it seem more like the color of a leopard print. The hot pink frosting was for the hot pink that the team wears.

Hellcat cupcake

Thanks Sindra Dee for the inspiration!

(I really must get a better camera — sorry for the focusing issues!)

In Search of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

M&M Cookie batch

 

Friday night, I hosted the first meeting of a newly-formed book club. Our book was Water for Elephants, which about a travelling circus in the 1930s. I got an idea that it would be fun (and easy) to serve Mother’s Circus Cookies, and so a menu theme was born: circus food. Mother’s cookies are those iced animal cookies in the pink and purple bag that you could buy in just about every grocery store in town. Well, after visiting three stores on Thursday night and coming home empty-handed, I decided to search the internet in the hopes of finding a vendor in town who had them. Instead I found this article.

The cornerstone of my circus menu was gone:

Mini turkey burgers (sliders)

Herbed popcorn

Spicy peanuts

Carrot and celery sticks with blue cheese dip

Mother’s Circus Cookies

IBC sodas (BYOWine)

I had already bought groceries for all the other items, so I couldn’t change course at that point. But I was really having trouble coming up with a finger friendly, easy, circus-type dessert. Then I found half a bag of bright colored M&Ms in the pantry. I decided to continue my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, figuring the bright colors from the candy could look sort of circusy.

Some background: I had become quite unsatisfied with the chocolate chip cookie recipe that I have been using for years. It is from Martha Stewart Living, but is basically the Tollhouse recipe. My kids love it, but I do not. The cookies always spread too much and would disintegrate in to blobs of bent, stuck-together cookies after just a day or two in the cookie jar. Here is a recent batch of that recipe:

Flat chocolate chip cookies

This isn’t a good picture, but trust me when I say that these cookies are too flat and flimsy. I had followed a series of tips that included starting with cold butter, reducing the amount of chips, and cooking them longer. But none of these made a difference. I like my cookies to be soft and chewy, but I still need to feel like I have taken a bite out of something. These were so flimsy your teeth had nothing to grab onto.

I had read in one of the few cookbooks we have at work that a too cold oven can contribute to cookie spread. So I bought a new oven thermometer and low and behold my oven is about 20-25° colder than what it says it is. Now I adjust my oven setting. (Eventually I might even try to recallibrate the thermostat myself, but no time for that now.) I also had decided that perhaps there is too much butter in the recipe I’ve been using.

Back to the circus menu cookies. After searching the Internet and various cookbooks from the shelf, I pulled out a recipe that a cook I worked with a few years ago gave me. It almost the same as the one I had been using, but with half the amount of butter and a higher oven temperature. The last time I made the cookies using this recipe I wasn’t pleased, but I don’t think I realized at the time how off my oven has been. Armed with my new knowledge and a new determination, I tried the recipe again.

Circus cookie batter

I used half M&Ms and half chocolate chips (I didn’t have enough M&Ms to make the full batch). I baked them for 10 minutes at 375° and voila!

M&M Choco Chip Cookie

I think I have finely found a recipe and method I’m happy with! Still a chewy cookie, but thick enough to actually give you something to bite into.

M&M Choco Chip Cookie inside

It’s now Sunday, and I’m happy to report that the cookies are holding up great in the cookie jar. I think I have completed my quest.

Happy 2009!

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Happy New Year, everyone! I baked corn muffins today to go with our New Year’s meal of black-eyed peas and greens (in this case spinach because there were no frozen collards at my HEB and I was not in the mood to bother with fresh).

It is traditional on New Year’s Day in Texas and the South to eat the peas for good luck and the greens for prosperity. When I was a kid, I hated black-eyed peas. My parents put so much pressure on me to eat them or risk bad luck all year long that I would swallow a few peas whole with milk, like taking a pill, just to get them to leave me alone. But now I like black-eyed peas, especially when there’s good cornbread and some kind of greens to go with them. I try to guard against putting pressure on my own kids to eat them, although I have taught them about the superstition.

Here is the corn muffin recipe I used, but I cut it in half. It is from one of my chef school textbooks.

Corn Muffins
Source: On Cooking
Recipe yield: 30 muffins

Ingredients:
12 oz yellow cornmeal
12 oz all-purpose flour
7 -1/2 oz sugar (optional – I DON’T use sugar in mine)
1 TB baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
24 fl oz (3 c) buttermilk
6 eggs
6 oz unsalted butter, melted

Procedure:
1.    Preheat oven to 375° F.
2.    Sift dry ingredients in large bowl.
3.    Beat eggs; combine in bowl with other wet ingredients.
4.    Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into dry; mix until just combined (overmixing will make the muffins tough).
5.    Portion into very well-greased muffin tin, filling about 2/3 full.
6.    Bake until done, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Atomic Christmas Cake

cooling-reds

My daughter is really into Red Velvet Cake, so this year I decided to make one for our Christmas  dessert. I used Paula Deen’s Grandmother Paul’s recipe, which called for 2 bottles of red food coloring, making “red” the operative word in this dessert. I made a cream cheese frosting and did a Blitzkrieg piping job. It was not my best work, but it was acceptable.

plain-iced-red

Everything was going just fine until I decided to try something I saw on YouTube…

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Aahh! Little red aliens have landed on my cake! On the Internet, I saw a demo of crumbling your cake scraps and putting them on the outside of the cake. My family said they liked the way it looked, but I think it was better plain.

It didn’t stop anyone from eating it, so I guess overall it was a success.

inside-red-velvet

Homemade applesauce

Simmering apples

I sense a theme emerging for this month. I made applesauce with the kids tonight because there were huge Jonagold apples on sale at HEB yesterday. And while making applesauce isn’t baking, it shares some similarities. I guess it’s almost the same as making a pie filling, and the kitchen is certainly filled with an apple pie aroma. When I used to make applesauce for my baby daughter (who is now eight years old), I just used apples and water. But tonight, I followed a recipe in the Joy of Cooking. Not only does it include sugar, but it calls for apple juice instead of water. The end result was definitely sweeter than my babyfood version, but not overly so, which was my fear. Joy’s recipe also called for a cinnamon stick, ground ginger and ground nutmeg, which gives it a very nice fall flavor.

The finished product (chunky style)

The finished product (chunky style)

Applesauce Cake

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I made applesauce cake this afternoon to finish off a very autumnal dinner menu of pork tenderloin and roasted root vegetables. It is a very simple and comforting dessert, perfect with a dollop of whipped cream. I got the recipe from the Martha Stewart Cookbook, which I don’t use very often because sometimes her baking recipes just don’t work for me, but this recipe was very easy and produced good results. The original recipe called for raisins and nuts, but I left those out because I prefer these types of cakes to have a smooth texture. The leftovers will be great as lunchbox treats for my kiddos.