Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bigger Muffin, Bigger Breakfast

I should have shared these muffins with the world when I first made them. Sadly, I only had 18 muffins, and there is strong evidence that 18 muffins isn't enough to feed the world. It's not even enough muffins to last me through a month of breakfast.

These are probably the most flavorful muffins that I've made since I started this breakfast muffin fest. The blueberry muffins have so far had my favorite texture, but these rival them. The blueberry are fluffy and sort of sugary, but these combine the fluffiness of warm muffin, oatmeal, the crunchiness of nuts and apple, and the chewiness of dried fruit... I will most definitely be making these muffins again. Not right away, because I am out of craisins and have some cornbread I need to use up, but definitely within a few months.

It might be a little hard to tell from the picture, but...

I finally started making decently sized muffins. Notice how only one didn't puff up above the caking cups this time? With the muffin sizes I was making before I think I'd have no problem making this recipe make 24 muffins, but they'd be tiny little breakfasts. I'm trying to eat more at breakfast, since I've finally admitted that 200 calories is probably the minimum I should eat in the morning. (These are only 177. But I'm getting close!)

On a side note: I started PAM'ing the muffin cups before filling with batter, and they all just slip right out. I'm back to being happy that I bought these.

I don't think I am supposed to re-print this recipe, but if you want it, here is where you can find it: Apple Nut Oatmeal Muffins from Crepes of Wrath. (Makes 18 muffins, about $0.42 and 177 calories per muffin)

Today's lessons learned:
  • Grating apples makes a ton of juice, and not as much apple as I'd expect.
  • Adding chopped nuts does wonders for the texture of muffins.
  • Apple sauce in muffins? Smart.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wonton Crackers and Smoky Hummus

Mama Bird and I hosted a book club with some friends a few weeks ago. I say 'book club' loosely, as although we finally had an assigned book, I was the only one who read it. It's much more a collection of women who get together and drink wine and talk for the night. And play some games.

It's interesting for me, being the youngest member by far. The rest of the women have children, and more than one have grown children, so I guess I'm the generation gap-filler. But it's interesting to just sit and talk with them. The conversation flows fine, I don't feel intimidated, and it's just like talking with any other group of people. When did talking to 'adults' stop being scary? When did I start to count as an adult?

There weren't many of us last week, so we didn't go overboard. I made some crackers and hummus,
and tried to take an extra 20 seconds to plate it nicely. And for once I actually kind of like how it looked. Mind, I'm still a terrible photographer. But you can still probably see the improvement!

Everything was surprisingly easy to make, except the exploding tahini can. But I'll explain that once I get to talking about the hummus.

You start off by just cutting wonton wrappers. I used the new meat scissors Mama Bird bought. Was that bad? That didn't even occur to me until now. I guess they can be sharpened, so it can't be that big of a deal...

It's not terribly clear here, but the wrapper on the left has been brushed with a ton of the sweet and salty mixture of honey, soy sauce, and egg white. I ended up with a bit too much each time and so some crackers had a thicker layer on them. I don't think Boyfriend Bird was a fan of that, but I didn't mind.

I used poppy seeds for these. Why? We didn't have sesame and I was too lazy to go to the store. This does change the cost of the whole thing by a little, as I believe sesame is more expensive, and of course it changed the flavor. I was fine with them, but someday I'd love to try the sesame seeds instead.

I also didn't get a super even spread with the sugar/salt/seed mixture, as you might be able to tell. This makes part of it have a lot more of an intense flavor. Next time I may try to mix the dry mix in with the egg mixture and see if it spreads better. That was really my only complaint about these, honestly.

The first time I made these I followed Martha's directions and sprayed the wrappers so they wouldn't stick. The second, I didn't. The second time, they stuck to the paper. How shocking. Next time I will PAM the parchment paper, and hopefully that'll fix the problem.

Sigh. I miss them, now that I've eaten them all.

But now for the story of that hummus...

It doesn't look great that way, does it? Well, I sort of think it does. But the smell was what really impressed me right then. The mixing of cumin, curry powder, red pepper flakes, Sriracha, Frank's... it was wonderful.

I have no recipe for the hummus, because I just sort of played it by ear for part of it. I'll make it again and try to actually measure my ingredients, but I can tell you it was probably around a teaspoon of Sriracha or more, and a few teaspoons of Frank's Red Hot, with the spices, garbanzo beans, and tahini. The tahini was a nightmare to get out of the tin, an absolute nightmare. Unfortunately both grocery stores near me only carry one version, so I will have to find a better way to use it. The oil and paste completely separate, and I had a hell of a time trying to mix them together. If anyone has any ideas about that, I'd love to hear them.

The only problem I had with it? I think it's a little dry. If anyone recalls, I actually taste tested two hummus flavors: smoky and lemon. The lemon turned out far too watery, and I think I overcompensated. Sister Bird (and everyone else who's tried this hummus) enjoy it this way, but I think next time I'll had a teaspoons of oil to make it slightly less solid.

So there you have it. Easy hummus and chips you can make for a party. Or for yourself. These would make a great lunch for a healthy week. I should take my own advice here, I've been eating just apples and yogurt for lunch for weeks now. Maybe I'll make myself something more interesting.

Sesame Wonton Crackers from Martha Stewart
(Makes 5 servings, about $0.75 and 192 calories per 10 crackers)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 24 wonton wrappers, cut diagonally

    1. Preheat oven to 375.
    2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
    3. Beat together egg white, honey, and soy sauce.
    4. In separate bowl, mix together sugar, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds.
    5. Cut wonton wrappers and arrange on parchment paper in single layer.
    6. Using a pastry brush and holding the wrappers down, generously cover wrappers with egg mixture and sprinkle with seed mixture.
    7. Bake until golden, rotating in the middle, for 7-9 minutes.
    Today's lessons learned:
    • Hummus really is as easy as everyone says.
  • Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Four Pounds of Frozen Turkey, huh.

    I talked Mama Bird into cleaning out our huge freezer in the basement on Monday. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I'm crazy, or maybe I just like knowing what's going to waste in our house. The second is more likely this time. I've spent far too much money this month on things- mostly on myself, but on other people too! Sister Bird and I are going to go see Wicked, and I bought the tickets for that, I (finally) secured one of Boyfriend Bird's birthday presents (only a few months late, too), I got myself a tattoo, and somehow have spent 160 on groceries.

    Yes, we are gonna gloss right over that tattoo comment. But I'll post pictures of it someday.

    We found a lot of things in that freezer that I intend to use. Frozen cherries, for one, that will either be my next muffins or will become cobbler. We also found a ton of frozen meat, including four pounds of ground turkey, two or three of ground beef, and the holy grail of Omaha Steak purchases. So my cooking will be dedicated to cleaning out the cabinets for a little while instead of buying new things.

    Which is a shame because I have already picked out the recipes I need to make the lamb pita for mission: dodgy grub. Putting it off for longer is taking quite a toll on my patience. I also bought a kitchen scale for no apparent reason, but I can now measure portions even better than before.

    But the realization that I've let frugality escape me, and the purchase of this scale, has made me decide to try something new with the blog. I'm going to start calculating the cost of a meal when I post a recipe, so I can keep track of things I should make when I've gone overboard on buying again. The scale should also help me track portions better, so I will attempt to calculate how many servings and calories per serving are in each recipe. Who knows how accurate the measurements will be, but I'm sure it'll help me.

    With all that said, what did I do with those four pounds of turkey? One is still relaxing in the freezer, waiting for me to consume it. The other three pounds were relocated to .Hack and 80s Birds' apartment, where Boyfriend Bird and I made it into burgers. I was a little skeptical of it, because although I know turkey can be substituted for ground beef in pretty much any recipe, I thought I'd miss the flavor. I won't lie, you know these are turkey. But you don't miss the beef at all. They're juicy, flavorful, and you don't even feel guilty eating them. I came extremely close to eating two.

    Actually Delicious Turkey Burgers from All Recipes
    (Makes 12 burgers, about $0.93 and 175 calories per burger)
  • 3 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1. Mix everything together and form into 12 patties.
    2. Cook in a medium-heat skillet or on a grill.

    See? Extremely easy, cheap, and healthy. Don't forget to factor in the bun if you're counting calories, but your entire burger will probably only be about 300 calories. A little more if you're like me and add extra diced red onion and some smears of Sriracha.

    Today's lessons learned:
    • Ground turkey is not something to dread.
    • Boyfriend Bird is quite skilled at dicing things...
  • Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Birds Can Have Multiple Hobbies?

    Birds do a lot of things other than cook. Sometimes they sing (but only in their bird baths), play games, sample wines, or even do crafty things. It's difficult with talons, but birds can be quite creative. So in the interest of amusing myself, allow me to share the last crafty thing I've done.

    It should be a surprise to no one that Darth Bird is a huge Star Wars Fan. But in case you hadn't pieced that together, there it is.

    A group of my friends decided to do a semi-secret Santa around Christmas. I say semi-secret because Darth Bird organized it, and I told him in no uncertain terms that I knew exactly what I wanted to get him, and that I was claiming his name. He didn't really let me, but I was the first person to 'secretly' claim someone. I'm quite subtle.

    Truthfully, I had a few ideas for him, but I settled on his love for Star Wars, as I figured that he'd automatically love anything that had Darth Vader on it.

    Yes, I can see all the places I should have trimmed. There are a lot. Let's not dwell on them.

    My interest in cross-stitching started off strangely. I encountered an old, hardly started sampler of Mama Bird's in our laundry room, and I couldn't leave it unfinished. I don't know why, but knowing it was sitting incomplete bugged me. So I learned the basics, and completed the sampler.

    And isn't it lovely. Only I have no idea what to do with it, hence the wrinkles. It just lays around, moving from box to box. Someone I know needs to have a kid so they can hang it in their room. And until then, I'll just try not to lose it.

    Another 'hobby' I have gotten into is fitness. I don't go to the gym, since that would be impressive, but I work out and use the elliptical in our basement. I try to run intervals, and lift some weights. Originally I was doing it because I just wanted to lose weight, but I have accepted it's something I just need to do every day if I want any changes I'm trying to make to stick. It's partially how I started becoming more interested in cooking; realizing that I ate out far too often and that if I wanted to get healthy, I needed to eat healthier. Not being a huge fan of vegetables led me to despair, until Fleur Bird's girlfriend pointed me to tastespotting, telling me that they made everything look good and usually had the recipe. And over the months I have slowly gotten healthier, learning to enjoy vegetables as more than necessary evils.

    I'm in love with black beans now. I never really disliked them, but I would not have eaten a dish made mostly of black beans and vegetables with no meat. Now I am considering making more for myself, for a fourth time. I have learned.

    Realizing I was no longer dependent on meat, I decided to try a powerhouse.

    It looked great while I was making it. With freshly sliced cucumber, piles of baby spinach, spicy red pepper roasted hummus, thin wheat bread, what could really go wrong? I looked forward to diving into the ranks of vegetarians, at least for one meal. I brought it to work for lunch one day, and...

    And it was okay. The cucumber was too thick, and I didn't have bean sprouts. Lessons learned for the next time I attempt it. Because there will definitely be a next time.

    Today's lessons learned:
    • Slice things thinly for a sandwich, but not so thinly you lose texture.
    • Trim your cross-stitching better if you're going to post it online.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Pizza- cause birds don't like tomatoes.

    Mardi Gras completely snuck up on me. I've always wanted to make a King Cake, but this year will not be that year. Oh well.

    I made a pizza last week. Someone told me it didn't qualify as a pizza because it didn't have tomato sauce. This spawned a debate over whether or not white pizzas are actually pizza, which I think is totally ridiculous. What is the 'technical' definition of pizza? A lot of things can be considered pizza. Where do you draw the line?

    But, regardless of what my so-called friend says, this is definitely a pizza. And a delicious one at that. It actually motivates me to want to make it a third time-because I made it twice in one week!- with completely homemade dough, to see how much better it gets.

    But this time, I made it with store-bought dough. I bought whole-wheat from Harris Teeter, and it was quite good. I have already found a recipe for a knock-off, so I hope to recreate it at some point. I should probably wait a few weeks, though. The second time I made this, I had to use a pre-baked pizza round, because there was no dough and I didn't have time to make my own. That pizza didn't turn out nearly as well, but it wasn't the fault of the pizza crust.

    ...not entirely, anyway. I have learned a lot about what a difference fresh ingredients can make in a dish.

    Mama Bird is so much better at chopping onions than I am. She was not amused I was taking pictures instead of making the dinner I had promised her and Papa Bird. She also chopped the jalapeño for me, because I am so bad at knives.

    The 'sauce,' and what apparently disqualifies this from being a pizza, was delicious. It was a combination of sun-dried tomato pesto, basil, oregano, butter, olive oil, and garlic. Now, I am generally a big believer of 'there is no such thing as too much garlic,' but this recipe called for three tablespoons of garlic. Some googling is telling me that this should be about 5 or 6 cloves, but when I was mincing my garlic, 4 cloves was one tablespoon, and they weren't small cloves. So I added 6 or 7 and stopped. The garlic flavor was right about where I like it, although I am now curious what it would have tasted like if I had added all of the garlic.

    Next time I am definitely adding more onion. I was afraid to put too much on, forgetting it was a sweet onion. Next time, I won't hold back.

    I also used baby spinach because... well, honestly, I love baby spinach. I would eat it in just about anything.

    The jalapeño chunks were too small to really be seen here, but the feta on top of it was amazing. I haven't had a ton of experience with feta, so I wasn't really sure what it would taste like. I tried a few stray pieces, but couldn't decide how I thought it'd interact with all of the ingredients. So I slid it into the oven, and waited.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    The pizza dough took nearly half an hour to bake. If Mama Bird hadn't been in the kitchen guarding the oven, I would have probably eaten it half raw, because it smelled wonderful.

    But it was definitely worth the wait. This pizza turned out perfectly. I omitted the sliced tomato from the cast of ingredients, because I honestly don't like tomatoes. Yes, I eat ketchup, and I am fine with tomato sauce on pizza and pasta, but I like to go light on them. And I don't care for the texture of tomato. Birds don't eat tomato. The jalapeño also had no kick, probably because we destroyed the seeds.

    The second version of this pizza I made didn't turn out nearly as delicious, which disappointed me since my friends were excited for it given the description. The pre-made crust wasn't nearly as good, which was disappointing. But it was also a normal 8 inch pizza crust, as opposed to the vaguely-rectangular blob I served. It was the same amount of feta in a smaller area, and I think it was too much feta. I found it overpowering, and I don't think the guys were terribly impressed.

    They don't know what pure deliciousness they missed. But you can.

    Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Pizza from Reddit
    (Serves 3, approximately $5.60 per serving)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5-7 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 unbaked pizza crust
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, torn
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • 6 oz feta cheese, crumbled

  • Preheat oven according to dough directions.
  • In small bowl combine butter, olive oil, garlic, pesto, basil, oregano, and Parmesan.
  • Spread evenly on pizza crust.
  • Arrange spinach, onion, tomato, and jalapeno on pizza. Top with crumbled feta.
  • Bake according to package directions.

    Today's lessons learned:
    • Fresh ingredients are important
    • Feta is strong

    Tonight I am making baked wonton crackers and two flavors of hummus: lemon and spicy. I'll be serving them as appetizers at a mini-dinner party on Wednesday. We'll see how it all turns out.