Monday, April 25, 2016

Not Bluffin' with my Muffin

They really are the best muffins in the world
 Our next big holiday on the horizon is Mother's Day, so I'll say these muffins are perfect for a Mother's Day brunch.  They are also perfect for any special occasion brunch.  I first made these over Christmas last year and they instantly became a favorite.  Christmas was a little weird this year but ended up being one tube top short of a white trash rager.  It was a lot of fun.  In fact, I think those of us who imbibed would agree it was too much fun.  Christmas Eve dinner started around 7PM and ended around 3AM.  Around 12:30, I thought to myself uuuuhhh I should really go to bed as I'm having a brunch for 27 in 48 hours. I didn't listen to myself.  So while many of you good people were going to church or taking an invigorating Christmas morning walk, I was rapidly rehydrating and pleading with the horizon to stop shaking.  It's a good thing full moon Christmas Eves are rare.
Barbie protected the muffins from freeloading squirrels

Anyway, I got a very late start on my December 27 brunch prep.  I powered through and did manage to pretend I had my shit together and serve within an hour of arrival.  I panicked when one of my uncles arrived fifteen minutes early and I was vacuuming unshowered, but I just pretended I didn't see him and let him wait.  Allow me to amend my brunch rules and say if you're a guest, do not arrive early.  The hospitality is not switched on until the party starts and the MSDE are in full force.  I am always early to everything but I refuse to ring a doorbell a minute before invited.  Drive around the block and judge Christmas decorations or look in the neighbor's windows like a civilized person. 

One time saving measure I used was to combine banana bread and blueberry muffins into one.  It was about 2:30AM the morning of my brunch and I was still up prepping, nowhere from done (I had only started about 11PM which still included many Christmas Eve dish washing).  I made about 55 muffins and they were consumed rapidly.  They are seriously, seriously good.  I think I've had six or seven brunches since then and these have appeared at each one.  This recipe does make a lot of muffins, about 30, and that's because it's another muffin recipe thinned considerably by a generous banana mash and extra blueberries.  I'm sure you could cut it down if you wanted, but I haven't tried.  Steam is an important ingredient in this recipe as the batter is very wet.  So think of it like a pie crust: you want cold dough/batter to meet a hot oven and cause the butter to steam as it melts.  These muffins have a wonderful texture and are not the least bit dry, though the sugar topping does give them a crackled top.  Because the batter is very wet, muffins sticking to liners can be a problem.  I use these parchment liners and never have a problem.  They are on Amazon for about $4, but they are half the price at the grocery store.  So buy them there if you remember. I use these muffin pans and like them very much (cheaper on Amazon than at Kroger).

Banana Bread Blueberry Muffins
Makes a shitload of muffins.  About 33.
3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups blueberries
2 3/4 granulated sugar
6 very ripe bananas
1 cup buttermilk
1 8oz bar cream cheese
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1 egg + 2 egg yolks
1/4 cup whiskey
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Make banana mash.  In large bowl, mash peeled bananas gently (you want banana chunks to remain) with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup whiskey.  Set aside.

2. Make muffin batter base.  In electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter, cream cheese, and 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar until mixture is voluminous which is about three minutes.  Add egg and yolks, and mix another minute until fully incorporated.  Begin to add flour, cinnamon and nutmeg, salt, and baking powder.  Add dry mixture to mixing bowl in thirds, adding milk and vegetable oil between batches.  Start and end with dry ingredients.  Mix only until combined.  Be very careful not to overmix.  Set aside.

3. In medium bowl, mix blueberries, 1/4 cup flour, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.  Set aside. 

4. In largest bowl, containing banana mash, add muffin batter.  Fold in with flat spatula.  Once banana mash and muffin batter are combined, fold in blueberries with flat spatula quickly.  Fold judiciously as to not encourage the blueberries to bleed into the batter. 

5.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Sorry, yes, this is important. 

6. The next morning, preheat oven to 375 on convection bake if your oven has the option.

7. Make sugar topping.  In medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup dark brown sugar and 1/4 cup granulated sugar. 

8.  Spoon muffin batter into lined muffin tins.  Top each scoop with sugar mixture and spread over top with fingers. 


9. Bake about 30-35 minutes.  Allow to cool.  Muffins may deflate in cooling, that's okay.  

My favorite whiskey is a Columbus, Ohio gem.  I prefer to bake with frozen
blueberries. 



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Springs Eternal


After work Monday morning and a little play date for Barbie, I opted to sacrifice my very good hair day, roll down my windows, open my sunroof, and drive around for a bit.  It was so gorgeous that it seemed necessary.
I wanted to take a photo of my favorite house in the world to send to Ellie.  I fell in love with this house when I was seventeen and it is still my dream house of all dream houses--and I have dreamed about many houses.  To the people inside, I am likely little more than a passing there's that weird guy with the big hair looking at our house again. Is it me or is he fatter than last month?, and yet the house is braided into my soul. 


I once drove by this house with a boyfriend and dreamily talked about how much I would love to live there with him.  He said I hope you never expect me to get that for you.  I took this to mean many more things than one.  I waited a week to dump him so it wouldn't be obvious that I chose my house fantasy over him.  He had some impressive physical qualities but none that could eclipse a lack of imagination. 



Maybe not this ambitious.  It's for sale...

I have a soft spot for squatty 1960s colonials. 
This beauty (who is not Barbie!) is up for adoptionJoan has so graciously shared 
Teddy's photo and story across her blog and
Instagram. He is included in her post along with American dogs
in need of a home. You can admire the cuteness and spread the word by going
here 

You may have seen Heather's recent post that Teddy's shelter will not
permit an international adoption...
I can't imagine living in a seasonless climate. Maybe no climate is actually seasonless.  Where I live, the changing seasons slap you in the face and wake you up.  It can be invigorating and daunting.  I think one of the most important Elliessons I've learned reading HSD is about ambition.  I have often tried to suppress and ignore many of my ambitions because for so long they seemed to do nothing but get me into trouble, dynamite in my hands.  Ellie, like spring, is ferociously ambitious. Proving to us time and time again that mental strength and stamina are forces stronger than doubt or circumstance, if you'll allow them to be.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Teddy

Did you see Heather's post? Ellie adopted Teddy awhile ago when she moved to Provence.  He had lived in the shelter for four years without being adopted.  He was not scared of Ellie's wheelchair or breathing equipment as many of the others were.  Unfortunately with Ellie approaching the end of her road, Teddy needs a new home.  He is in France.  Do you know people in France? I don't.  If you do, will you please reach out to them and ask them to share Heather's post?  Because I have a past life as a big whore who said stupid things, even stupider than now, I do not use social media. Oh and I'm super competitive.  Social media is simply not for me.   But if you do use it, I'd like to ask you to share Heather's post on your platforms.  
I'll be back soon with thoughts on fruit platters and the best muffin recipe in the world.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

My Arbitrary Brunch Rules


Brunch is undeniably my favorite meal.  I'm a morning person, so it's at just the right time.  I can still do my normal morning Tim Horton's and f-e-t-c-h routine without being completely starved for time to get ready.  Brunch is also, in my opinion, key to a successful group or family vacation.  What can make a group vacation most difficult are the many different schedules we all naturally operate on.  If A wakes up at 5, B wakes at 7:30, C & D rise at 8:30, E surfaces sometime between 9 and 10, F is rarely seen before 11, and G, well she might be medically labeled as in a coma, then getting everyone to meet for dinner at the same time is a bit like giving all the horses in the Kentucky Derby Quaaludes.  They'll stagger there eventually as there's nowhere else to go, but it won't be efficient.   Brunch puts everyone on the same schedule, mealwise.  It is a gracious dictator's greatest tool.  The early shift can have a little nibble with their coffee and wait.  I have plenty of time to go to the beach with Barbie, play f-e-t-c-h, give her a bath, shower, prep dinner, and run to the grocery for fruit.  The late and unconscious crowd have significant motivation to crawl to the table slightly early.  It gives everyone a chance to plan their separate and together activities without the combative questions at the door will you be home by 12:30? I need the car to get to yoga! -- There will be another car here! -- You know damn well I can't drive a stick! I could kill someone. You take that car. A good plan, eventually, but now someone is late to yoga which will likely lead to passive aggressive comments at dinner that are less than subtle after a generous pour at happy hour.  And you do not want to be the person who has the car I was planning to take to the grocery to get one pineapple for shrimp and pineapple crostini (I never buy pineapples more than twelve hours in advance, too unpredictable).  
Dawn

Sunrise

We wouldn't want our accessories to clash



Vacation brunch is about 11:30

Also, vacation wise, it keeps people out of your way when you're prepping dinner in the morning.  Left to their own devices, people will inevitably be stupid on vacation and use your chef's knife to slice a bagel and accidentally cut 75% of a fingertip off (yes, that happened in 2009.  I was more concerned about my cutting board being ruined, also I hated my friend K's boyfriend so I thought she might dump him if he only had 9.8 fingers. He recovered I think). 
I'm sure you already know the history of brunch, but basically it was invented by hungover Edwardians who couldn't sit up for breakfast until a later hour.  God bless them.  Some contest that theory but it's my favorite so I deem it true. 
Of course, brunch is not just for vacation.  It can be a wonderful way to celebrate a holiday or entertain.  As I tend to do, I have some rules for brunch that I think are matters of life and death.  Take them with a grain of fleur de sel and don't be afraid to disagree.  Just make sure my car is back on time. 
1. Choose a reasonable time to start.  Brunch should be fun and light, which will be impossible if you're fuming because your guests are a half hour late and yawning. 11, 12, and 1 are all acceptable or any half hour between.  If it starts at 10, it's breakfast and you're crazy. 
A most adorable brunch guest
Running out of steam
Brunch accommodates all schedules and can be finished before
 nap time. 

2. Do not cut your fruit the night before.  Buying pre-cut fruit is not okay. Ever.  If you're really terrified of cutting a pineapple or a mango, do all berries and grapes.  Think about fruit for a moment. What is it? Fruit is a rapidly decomposing vessel to perpetuate the species.  The more broken down a whole fruit is, the faster it will decompose and the sugars will turn to acid.  Air + sugar/carbohydrates + moisture=yeast.  You don't want your fruit platter to have a yeast infection, do you? Pineapple, mango, strawberries, and citrus taste much more acidic when cut and refrigerated overnight, almost pickled.  Versus sweet perfection when sliced fresh that morning.  Oranges and grapefruit are best bought the day before, kept at room temperature overnight, and sliced the next morning, and in tupperware at room temperature for 1-2 hours.  It does make more work for the morning of the brunch, but it's so worth it. 
I always serve fruit with Greek Yogurt mixed
with a little honey.  


If whole pomegranates are available, I love to sprinkle the seeds over the
platter. I don't buy the seeds outside of the fruit though.  They taste weird.  

My favorite in the summer: melon, cucumber, tomato salad is perfect for brunch.
In this case, you should douse with vinegar in addition to salt.

3. Do not have the coffee, toaster, or mimosas on the buffet.  Have them in a separate zone.  Multiple toasters are helpful if your group is larger than eight.  I always have something that can be toasted to make sandwiches.  Sometimes bagels, and sometimes buttermilk and cinnamon-raisin rolls (I base my rolls off this recipe, I use buttermilk instead of milk and add about 2T of butter.  For the CR rolls, I heat 1 cup buttermilk barely, and add in about 2T cinnamon and 1 1/2 cup raisins.  The warm buttermilk is infused with cinnamon and the raisins are plumped.  Budget triple rise time as cinnamon is a yeast inhibitor).  I often have the buffet, coffee and toaster, and mimosa station making a U around the table.  This way none of them feel like outposts, but can operate without any bottlenecking. 
Barbie and her esteemed guest, Arnie. Too polite to beg
for bacon but too canine to abandon hope some will fall.

4. Have your buffet and table in front of an east-facing window, if possible.  Okay I know this is a stretch but lighting is important!  Just like you don't want brilliant, bright light for a dinner party, you do want the energy of early light for a brunch.  Brunch food is so appetizing with rays of sun on it.  Think about those glorious early episodes of Barefoot Contessa, what makes those episodes so beautiful?  The light.  The dinners are dark and moody and the brunches are bathed in sun. 
5. Bake your bacon.  In another nod to early Ina, I only bake bacon.  It is so much easier and you can make a lot at one time.  I line baking sheets with foil, spray with vegetable oil, and line the bacon on the sheets.  It's a bit crowded, but obviously the mass reduces.  I do this the night before and put them in the refrigerator uncovered.  The dry, cold air on the surface of the bacon is a good thing.  It makes it crisper.  When everyone arrives, I put it in a cold oven and set it for 350 on convection.  I let it bake for 20-22 minutes and turn the oven off.  Let it sit another ten minutes and it is perfect.  You may need to adjust based on your oven.  I always bake it in my KitchenAid oven, which heats very quickly.  On vacation, I have a Thermador and it takes about 2 minutes longer.  Use my recipe only as a guideline and keep a close eye on it the first time to see how it may differ in your oven.  Once done baking and resting,  remove and place on a plate with paper towels.  I generally do two layers of bacon and paper towels so all the grease is removed.  Also, did you know rolling a package of bacon inward like a jelly roll and then outward the same way makes the slices easier to separate? Save the bacon fat for thinly sliced roasted potatoes with rosemary that night. 
Could there be a brunchier combination than sunny roses
and blue glass? This was for my New Year's Day brunch

FF, do you like the way I handle my ham?
An All Clad fork works perfectly.
I glaze with the juice of two grapefruits, two limes,
a "just look the other way" shake of brown sugar,
1/4 cup ground mustard, and 2 Tablespoons onion powder.
I bake it in a covered dutch oven and only uncover to brown. 

Guest who cant eat pork? Do Huevos Rancheros.
I use this recipe.  If you can believe it, I use less than half
the cheese.  This recipe is perfect otherwise. Warning: the
ATK website is very annoying.  
6. Music is kind of hard for brunch. I think the easiest party music is '70s on 7 on Sirius XM.  However on Saturday and Sunday morning-afternoons, they replay old Kasey Kasem countdowns.  This is bad because people want to hear the anecdotes and stop talking.  So for a weekend brunch, I do a '60s and '70s mix of my own making. One of the best and most appropriate being this, to which my sister used to think the words were You and me and Leslie and that it was about a threesome! 
7.  Though I struggle to make really good coffee and am still mad I bought this coffee maker before knowing this was the best one like Dani did, I think you are better to go too strong with your coffee than weak.  I tend to have half & half and a coffeemate flavored cream.  My favorite is hazelnut.  I just put out real sugar in a china bowl because I think packets are ugly.  Luckily in the Midwest, I don't need to bother with tea.  In the summer or on vacation, I often have sun tea with lots of fresh mint.  Sugar on the side for that, too. 
The Blueberry Muffin recipe from Martha's Entertaining is
failsafe and makes the most beautiful muffins, it's the base
for my banana bread blueberry muffins.



8.  Do you know how to make a proper mimosa?  Often people do a 1:1 ratio of champagne (or prosecco at my house) and OJ.  Incorrect. It's always hard for me when I'm doing wedding hair and I have to watch the bridal party butcher my third favorite drink.  Some say 1 part OJ to 2 parts bubbles.  I say 1 part OJ to 3 parts bubbles. 
9.  I like a mix of silver and white platters with green and/or blue and white accents.  All silver can go a little too fussy, and I don't think fruit looks as pretty on silver as it does on white.  I will torture you all with another entire post dedicated to arranging a fruit platter. 
10. I rarely buy tomatoes outside of July-October when they are perfect at the farmers' market.  I do make an exception for brunch.  Sliced tomatoes are, for whatever reason, essential to brunch.  I have best luck with tomatoes from Mexico labeled as vine-ripened.  The Teets has a deal with the devil and has nice heirloom tomatoes all year.  Slice and salt liberally about 20 minutes before serving. No pepper or vinegar, this isn't a rave.   Bonus points for a tomato server.  Though a fork works almost as well. 

How I love a piece of specialty silver
What did I miss? Do you have any brunch tips to share?  Do you forsake the mimosa for the bellini?  Are you having a Mother's Day brunch?  I have the best muffin recipe that I promise to share before then.