14 February 2013

THE muffins

Dear Lissy,

You just rode off in Grammy's Volvo for a girls' afternoon out.  Shotgun.  You are getting big too fast!  I'm going to take a few minutes while you're busy with my momma to write out THE muffin recipe. It seems appropriate for my 200th letter.

I take peculiar delight in everyday recipes that exceed expectations.  The perfect crispy-juicy baked chicken.   A silky, creamy pan of mac and cheese with crunchy buttered crumbs.  These are my go-to muffins when I want to make something extra special.  They dome very high, and mushroom over their base with a crispy-crunchy sweet ring of muffin nirvana.  The inside is moist, sweet, and flavorful with a fine crumb.

They are, quite frankly, muffin perfection. There is a good reason for every ingredient, every step.  Don't substitute anything.   Follow directions perfectly.  If you're missing an ingredient, make a different muffin or take a trip to the market.  Not my usual instruction by a long shot, but any shortcuts or substitutions ruin the end product.
Just look at that crunchy ring of awesomeness around the top edge!
Bakery Muffins
from The Perfect Recipe
Makes 12 (1/2 cup) or 18 (1/3 cup) muffins -- check your pan size

Master recipe
Preheat oven to 375, place rack 1 slot above the middle.
Grease a 12 cup muffin tin with pan release (see recipe below).  Be sure to brush the top of the pan, too, so the domed portion of the muffin doesn't stick.  DO NOT USE MUFFIN PAPERS.  I haven't had good luck with pan spray, either, but if you have a teflon coated muffin tin, it might work.

Mix and set aside:
12.75 oz (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

In a separate large bowl, cream together until light and fluffy (3 minutes or more):
10 Tbsp room temperature butter 
1 cup sugar

Add one at a time, beating well after each addition:
2 large eggs

Measure out:
1-1/2 cups plain, lowfat yogurt.  

Beat in half of dry ingredients.  All of the flour needs to be well coated with fat to prevent too much gluten from forming and toughening up the muffins.

**This is not a regular muffin recipe.  The ingredients need to beaten, not folded in.  The muffins will not get tunneled or tough.

Now beat in 1/2 cup of the yogurt.

Beat in the remainder of the dry ingredients, alternating with the remaining 1 cup of yogurt.
Mocha chip muffin batter ready to go in the oven for Valentine's Day breakfast. 
Use a large cookie scoop to divvy up the batter into 12 cups.  You will have to scoop under the batter like you're scooping ice cream.  The scoops will be rounded, not level.  There should be a ball of dough in each muffin cup, and it will look like way too much batter in each cup.  That's OK.
And. . .drumroll. . . hot out of the oven.  Remember that warning
about not substituting?  One half whole wheat flour meant these
muffins didn't "dome" properly.
Bake until golden brown and pick tests clean, 20-25 minutes.  Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, and remove from pan.  Serve warm.

Pan release:  Beat together 1/2 cup Crisco and 1/2 cup flour until thoroughly incorporated.  Slowly add 1/2 cup vegetable oil with mixer running until mixture is light and fluffy.  Brush onto muffin, loaf, or cake tins with a pastry brush.  Store in airtight container at room temperature, stirring to recombine if needed.
Kitchen carnage!  
Lemon Blueberry:  Beat in 1 tsp lemon zest with butter and sugar.  Fold in 1-1/2 cup frozen or fresh wild blueberries tossed with 1 Tbsp. flour when batter is done.  While muffins are baking, heat 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves and forms a light syrup.  Brush warm syrup over muffins before serving.

Almond Poppyseed:  Cream in 2 Tbsp (1 oz) almond paste with butter and sugar.  Add 3 TBSP poppy seeds to dry ingredients before incorporating into batter.

Mocha Chip:  Dissolve 3 TBSP instant coffee granules into yogurt before adding to muffins.  Fold in 1 cup mini chocolate chips when batter is complete.  Sprinkle muffins with clear sugar crystals before baking.

Many, many more variation are in The Perfect Recipe by Pam Anderson.

Expensive and a nutritional bomb, these aren't our "everyday" muffins.  I make them when we have missionaries over, or a family is sitting in hospital with a loved one. I've often used this recipe for bake sales or just a little personal income since they sell well, too.  It makes me happy to think about you making these for your co-workers or family some day!

 Love you my little muffin,

12 February 2013

Cheap Eats: British Toad-In-The-Hole

Dear Lissy,

Girls' night in -- woot, woot!  We grocery shopped this afternoon, and we're both tired after working our way through the crowds.  We need a super simple dinner that's fast and filling.  The boys are off to 'bots with Daddy, and the whole team is going to a pancake dinner fundraiser.  Sooo. . .we're going to whip up a proper little British Toad-In-The-Hole drizzled with maple syrup (which is not at all proper!!!).

British Toad-In-The-Hole
Serves 4-6

7 oz. package precooked sausage links (I like Jones' All-Natural Mild)*
4 eggs
2 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Place one rack low in oven, one in top third as if for muffins. 
  2. Place cut up sausages in bottom of 9 x 13 baking tin.  Place tin on lower shelf in preheated oven.  Cook until sausages are piping hot and crispy, and bottom of pan is coated in grease (lovely, eh?).  I usually shake the pan a couple of times during cooking.
  3. Whilst sausages are browning, sift flour and salt into mixing bowl.  Make a well in the top.
  4. Crack eggs into well in top of flour.   Slowly add milk, whisking well to insure there are no lumps.
  5. Remove pan of sausages from oven, and reduce heat to 350 F.  Immediately pour batter into piping hot pan.  Return to oven on top rack.
  6. Bake for about 35 minutes until pudding is puffed and golden brown.  Serve immediately with onion gravy, peas, and mashers (traditional) or maple syrup ('merican-style).
*A British cook would choose bangers, a large pork sausage in a casing, and add 1/2 tsp or so of mustard powder.  4-6  large sausages will fit in a baking dish.  My grammy and mom always used little breakfast sausage links or patties to keep this an economical meal.

Time for our movie, Luv.  Looking forward to a long snuggle with you tonight.

Ta ta!

09 February 2013

Spillin' The Family Beans

Dear Lissy,

Our family has lived in northern New England for generations.  Like most old time New England families, beans were and are a staple of our diet. This recipe originated with my Dad's grandmother, Nana Woodard.  My mom changed the recipe to reflect her family's traditions by using yellow eye beans in place of red kidney beans. I've replaced the hunk of salt pork originally called for with thick bacon, and changed the sweeteners to match Grammy Bea's Boston-style recipe. (For New Hampshire style beans, replace the molasses and brown sugar with 1-1/3 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger.)  I also slow bake my beans like Grammy Bea instead of pressure cooking them like my grammy and mom.
Nate's bowl o' beans. . . and yes, the cook earned a kiss tonight!  

Family Beans
Serves 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main course

 1# Yellow Eye, Navy, or Great Northern Beans
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 pound bacon, cut up
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

  1. Cover beans with water in a large pot and add baking soda.  Bring to a rolling boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook until the skins split when you pull out a spoonful and blow on them.  Cover and let stand 1 hour on very low heat, or place in a cool place and soak overnight.  
  2. Drain and rinse the beans.  Cover with fresh water and  bring to a boil.  Simmer covered for 90 minutes until beans are tender.  Drain, reserving liquor.
  3. Place the drained beans into a bean pot or slow-cooker insert along with the bacon and onion.  Mix 1 cup of the reserved liquor with the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire.  Pour over beans.  Cover tightly and bake at 275 F or high in slow cooker for 6-7 hours.  Stir and replenish liquid with reserved bean liquor as needed.  Test bean for doneness.  Bean should have creamy, not chalky texture.  ( If desired, beans can be baked at 225 or low in slow cooker for 12 hours.  Omit the second simmer in step 2, and add 3 cups liquor to the beanpot.)
  4. Serve with cornbread and apple cider for an authentic New England dinner, or with fried eggs and red flannel hash for breakfast.  Beans reheat well.

Love you lots, little bean,

Linked up at Homestead Barn Hop #98

08 February 2013

Lessons From the Throw-Up Bucket

Dear Lissy,

We're headed into a two day blizzard, and your brothers are sleeping in late because it's a Friday during robotics build season.  My head is swirling with ideas for letters.  The dangers of determinism in parenting? My baked bean recipe? A fun postcard on my fav pen, the Cello, only available at Big Lots or on e-bay?  Or how about the little hack I learned from Mrs. D that matches are a far better air freshener than anything available in a can or plug in?  (Mostly because guys will actually use matches, and they rarely remember to use the Lysol).

Because of a perfect storm in my devotions (Luke 4), a book I'm re-reading (Shepherding A Child's Heart), and, um, current events on social media sites, I'm going to cover vomit.  Yup, upchuck, throw-up, nastiness.  Great letter, huh?

Vomit and diapers were the one prenuptial agreement your Dad and I had.  I didn't have to EVER clean up vomit if he was home, and he didn't have to change I diaper if I was.  Best deal I ever made.  You see, I can't stand regurgitated stomach contents.  If someone has even thrown up in the room in the last hour, I can't go in without my own stomach turning.  If I hear someone vomiting, I'm instantly nauseous.  I really and truly can't stand it.  Diaper blowout?  No prob.  Blood gushing?  Pass the gauze.  Mommy, my tummy doesn't feel good?  GO SEE YOUR FATHER!!!!!

But, oh, there were those times he wasn't home, or he was sick, too, and the cleanup became my responsibility.  It was only love that sustained me through those long hours.  Pulling soaked clothes off a tiny, quivering body and slipping my dear little one into a warm, bubbly bath.  Helping you sip Gatorade an ounce at a time and nibble on a cracker.  Running load after load of laundry and blazing through cans of Lysol. Cleaning out the cracks between floorboards or carpet (why was it never the linoleum????).  Love couldn't have left you sitting in filth for hours until I had help from Dad again.

My feelings on vomit are God's feelings on sin, just multiply them by a bazillion.
I don't hate you because you're covered in throwup.  But I am sure not cuddling you until you're completely cleaned up.

It is not o.k. if you have a little vomit on your jammies or your pillowcase.  It has to be ALL gone.

I don't care if it's -6 degrees outside, that window is open until the smell is gone. I'd rather pay to reheat the room than smell vomit.

Sin breaks fellowship between God and I (or God and you).  He can't stand even the tiniest bit or the lingering smell.  But just like your earthly Father, He's willing to clean you up completely to restore the relationship.

Think of temptation as spiritual nausea.
My goal was always, always to prevent the vomiting.

We stayed healthy and strong with good nutrition, sleep, and exercise.

We avoided social situations when the rotovirus was rampant.

We washed and sanitized our hands frequently during the winter.  I bleached doorknobs and faucets and cart handles.

If you started feeling woozy, I gave you ginger and peppermint and Pepto in an attempt to overcome the nausea.

When the inevitable stomach virus struck, we faithfully cleaned, and bleached, and Lysoled in an attempt to keep it from spreading within the family.

In the same way, I try to keep myself from situations that will put me in danger of sin.  When I am someplace I can't help but avoid it, I am extra vigilant -- "I hate the works of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave to me!"  When a particular sin becomes a problem for one family member, we help clean it up with the water of the Word.  We depend on the power of the Word and our God to keep the rest of us spiritually healthy.  All through Luke 4, it is Jesus' power and authority in doctrine that gives him power and authority over the devils.

Its almost impossible to clean up after yourself when you're sick.  My senior year of college I got violently sick, and vomited on the carpet of my dorm room.  My roomies were awesome, but I had to clean that bad boy up myself.  Which made me vomit all over again.  It was miserable.  Even now, Dad takes care of me when I'm sick.
When we're splattered or soaked in the vomit of sin, we need to run to Jesus for cleansing.  Only our older brother and Heavenly Father can completely wash away the stink of sin.  We just keep making ourselves sicker and sicker when we try.
There were countless times that one of you would come get me to tell me a brother or sister was ill.  I never, ever, ever expected you to help clean up another sibling's vomit.  Ugh.  But I did expect you to come get me rather than run away or ignore it. I often asked you to run a warm bath, fetch a clean set of clothes, or put warm, sweet sheets out of the dryer back onto the bed so I could get to work on cleaning up the person. God doesn't want us trying to clean up another brother or sister's sin, either.  That's His job.  But he does expect us to come get him or bring them the instant they're ill.   When we run away from, accept, or ignore another believer's sin, we're in BIG trouble.  He will often ask us to help with clean clothes or bedding that he's already prepared for them.  As we grow older and more mature in the Lord, we are able to help others more that have fallen into sin, but we can never remove that sin.  Only God has that power.

Everybody's up now, and the wind is blowing fierce.  Time to get to work!

Love and snuggles on this blustery day,