January 29, 2015

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I love muffins – they’re probably my favorite thing to bake.  I love that they’re quick but easily adaptable (and very forgiving), pre-divided and easily transportable so they’re perfect for sharing, and the endless varieties out there.  Muffins are good for breakfast, as a mid-afternoon snack, or an after-dinner dessert.  They’re like cupcakes, but without the frosting, which is the least desirable part of a cupcake, IMO.  What’s not to love?!

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I’ve shared several muffin recipes on Bunsen Burner Bakery: chocolate chocolate chip muffins, chocolate zucchini bread (in muffin form), traditional blueberry muffins, and a denser, less-sweet blueberry muffin.  Now it’s time to expand this list with what is arguably the most popular of muffin ingredients: bananas.  Everyone seems to have too many ripe bananas, so banana breads and muffins are extremely popular for at-home baking.  I only like to eat under-ripe bananas (yellow bananas are too sweet for my tastes), so as soon as bananas start to ripen and develop a single dark spot, I save them for baking.  I usually let the bananas ripen considerably until mostly brown, and then store them in the freezer, peeled, in a freezer bag.  Whenever I’m in the mood to do some baking, I defrost the bag of frozen bananas in a bowl of warm water and I’m good to go!  While you could certainly use unfrozen bananas, I always find that freezing and defrosting the bananas results in a moister muffin or bread, so I highly recommend it.

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Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large bananas, frozen and defrosted, mashed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line muffin tins with 12 muffin liners.
  2. Using a mixer or by hand, combine mashed bananas, egg, vanilla, melted butter, and milk in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt until just combined – do not overmix.  Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until tops are pale gold and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Transfer to cooling racks immediately.

January 27, 2015

Baked Eggs in Spinach

I’m not a breakfast fan (I know, I know…).  I like bagels with whitefish salad, huevos rancheros with sunny side up eggs, poached eggs on crab cakes, and that’s basically it.  And now I can officially add these baked eggs in spinach to that list, because they are delicious.  My husband falls on the exact opposite side of the spectrum – he likes pancakes, waffles, danish, and all those sweet breakfast options.  I make him pancakes just about every weekend, but stick with my bowl of cottage cheese and berries.  As you might expect, he was less than enamored with a big pile of spinach for breakfast, so your mileage my vary with this one.  If you like savory breakfast/brunch options, and enjoy eating your vegetables, do not delay in making this.

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It comes together so quickly, and you can toss in whatever vegetables you have lying around.  The original recipe from Gourmet calls for just spinach and mushrooms, but I always add in some diced tomatoes as well.  I also double the recipe (the original uses 4 eggs) and thus bake it in a rectangular baking dish, rather than a skillet.  The baking time is easily adaptable based on how runny you prefer your eggs – if I’m making this for me, I like my yolks as runny as possible, but I always cater to the preferences of my guests.  Leftovers reheat beautifully, although the yolks do firm up a bit while baking the second time around.  I’ve made this the night before, baked until the yolks were just barely set, and popped it back into the oven for a few minutes the next morning before serving, which is perfect for mornings after parties when our guest rooms are occupied but I don’t want to wake up an hour before everyone else to start preparing breakfast.  This is vegetarian, gluten-free, and very filling – perfect for your brunch table (or breakfast-for-dinner!).

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(As apparent from the picture below, my spinach-loving dog was all about trying to sneak a taste of this – which is also why I always wind up photographing pictures of things after all our guests have left.  Half-consumed food may make for some less-than-lovely photographs, but I do promise if you come to my house, the food I serve you will not have been licked by the dog.  No such guarantee if you raid my fridge for leftovers, though!  See also: I need a taller table.  Or a shorter dog.)

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Baked Eggs in Spinach
Adapted from Gourmet

Ingredients:

  • 20 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 10 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained well
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 8 eggs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Bring 1/2 inch of water to boil in a large (10-12 inch) skillet.  Add half of the spinach and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted (about 30 seconds).  Add the rest of the spinach and wilt in the same manner.  Cook the spinach, covered, over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, until spinach is tender.  Remove spinach and drain in a colander, running under cold water until cool enough to handle.  Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop.
  3. Cook the onion and garlic in butter over low heat until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and diced tomatoes and increase the heat to moderate, stirring until the mushrooms are soft and have released their juices.  Stir in the cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and chopped spinach and bring the mixture to a simmer. 
  4. Transfer the spinach mixture to a 7x11-inch baking dish (I find this to be the most useful size pyrex baking dish I own and recommend that everyone has one, but if you don’t, use a 9x9-inch square).
  5. Using the back of a spoon, make 8 large indentations in the spinach mixture.  Crack an egg into each indentation and bake, uncovered, until the egg yolks are set to your personal preference – 8 to 10 minutes for runny yolks, 15 to 20 minutes for well-done yolks.

January 25, 2015

Aruba

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If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I spent the past week on the tropical paradise island that is Aruba.  If you saw my pictures while you were fending off below freezing tempratures and snow, I am so very sorry.  All is fair now: it’s snowed twice since I’ve been back, so I’ve been shoveling and trekking to work in the cold and wind just like the rest of you.  Our trip was not entirely all for fun – my husband attended a conference, albeit a pretty relaxed one which ended by noon everyday so he could enjoy some time on the beach as well.  Since it was work related, his practice paid for everything except my plane ticket.  If your work is paying for you to stay at the Ritz Carleton in Aruba, that’s officially a sign that you’ve made it in life, right?!

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I’ve been to Aruba several (4?) times before, so this trip was just about relaxing – no wandering around “downtown” or exploring the desert side of the island.  Every morning, I woke up and went for a long stroll down Palm Beach to a little smoothie hut and ordered an acai bowl for breakfast.  When my husband finished his session for the day, we’d head down to the beach, sit under an umbrella and read for several hours, take a stroll up and down the beach, and go for a swim.  Every night after dinner, we’d go get gelato.  Really, it was a rough week. ;)

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Since this is a food blog, let’s talk about a food.  Most of the top-rated restaurants in Aruba require reservations several months out, and since we didn’t book our trip until 11 weeks ahead of time, we were unable to secure reservations.  We did, however, have a few good dinners.  Simply Fish, located at the Mariott, serves (as the name suggests) simply prepared fish, but the view and location – barefoot dining on the beach – cannot be topped.  White Modern Cuisine was probably my favorite dinner of the trip, and also offers many gluten-free options.  Amuse Bistro serves French cuisine with Aruban influences, while Les Crustaces at the Ritz serves incredibly fresh, local seafood.  All are good options if you’re looking for somewhere to eat in Aruba… but definitely don’t miss Gelatissimo to end your meal!

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We had a wonderful, relaxing vacation – fingers crossed that Husband’s practice sends him back to the same conference next year (which will be held at the Ritz Grand Cayman)!  Count me in!

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January 23, 2015

Five on Friday

Way back in 2005, I started a blog that chronicled my adventures in graduate school.  I used it as an outlet to share funny stories from the lab: the time the lid fell into the centrifuge and we had to wrestle it off with a tire iron that a PI just happened to keep under his desk; the little old lady in the elevator who rapped me across the shins with her cane and told me I needed to spend more time “praying to Jesus” for the cure for cancer; the day my heel caught in the spongy mat in front of the ice machine and I tripped and landed face-first in my ice bucket.  Over time, grad school became less enjoyable for me, and by the end… I was just exhausted, mentally and physically.  Every morning, I dreaded getting up and going into work and I completely lost the ability to find the humor in anything.  I started posting more recipes and pictures, along with ranting about my far less-than-positive experience.  After a while, I started to subscribe to the “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” philosophy… and from that, this food blog was born.  A new place to share my kitchen experiments without hiding behind my prior pseudonym and the slow deterioration from new, happy graduate student into someone who felt like the will to live had been beaten out of me by my lab.

Over the past few months, I’ve started to miss sharing more personal stories – something more than just what’s coming out of my kitchen.  My current lab experience is vastly different than my graduate experience (that is to say, it has been an overall positive experience and I am generally quite happy with where I am) and sometimes there’s a funny story from the lab that I’d like to share.  I miss interacting with readers – I used to use my blog to crowdsource, whether it was for book recommendations or deciding which shoes to wear for my wedding.  As such, I’ve decided to participate in the “Five on Friday” trend that so many other bloggers do: a little chance to share a few personal things from my week.  Welcome to my first edition!

1) Vacation.
I tweeted about this one last night and it led to some interesting comments, so I thought I’d share it again on here.  One of my husband’s coworkers is leaving their current practice to move across the country.  Her new job comes with 17 weeks of vacation time (while still maintaining a 6-figure salary).  17 weeks.  I’d be thrilled with 17 days of vacation time each year.  A few people responded saying they have no idea how to use 17 weeks of vacation.  I’d start by never working another 5 day work week (hello, grocery shopping on a weekday morning and not waiting in an hour long line to check out!), followed by reading all the books and knitting all the things.  I’d also tackle the mile-long “to do” list around the house, which includes tasks like actually painting some of the rooms in our home, which we said we were going to do 2.5 years ago when we moved in.  Also, traveling, but that goes without saying.

2) Beach Trip.
It seems funny to already think about beach trips when it’s cold and snowy outside, but every fall we take a long weekend trip to the beach with a group of college friends.  People have already started putting in vacation requests for December at my husband’s practice (only two attendings can take off at a time, meaning that vacation gets pretty competitive) so I already sent an email to a few friends to see if we can pick a week/end for our annual beach trip sooner rather than later so Husband can request the time off.  We just returned from an amazing beach trip (work related, for him) and I’m glad to have another trip on the calendar – life is so much more tolerable when you have a vacation planned, even if it’s not for another 9 months!

3) Game of Thrones.
Yes, I am well aware that I am several years late to this, but I just read the first book (I have not watched any of the TV series yet).  I picked up a few of the books years ago, but I haven’t had the kind of free time to dedicate to reading that much all at once, and I was afraid if I tried to fit the book in with my normal life, it would take me so long to read it that I’d have a hard time keeping track of all the characters.  I brought Game of Thrones along to Aruba, and finished it in three days on the beach – I loved it!  Now the debate: should I watch the first season of the TV series now, or wait until I’ve read the next book?  I’ll probably start the second book soon, although I anticipate it will take me a whole lot longer than 3 days to finish it, seeing as how I won’t be sitting under a palm tree for 6 hour stretches anytime in the near future (sob).

4) Super Bowl Party.
Even though neither my husband nor I have a horse in the race anymore, and find the two teams left standing to be utterly boring, we’re going to host a Super Bowl party.  Last year, I posted a series of my favorite party recipes leading up to the big game (caramelized onion dip, chili bean dip, crockpot-friendly spinach and artichoke dip, also crockpot-friendly pulled pork, my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookies, and the best rolled sugar cookie recipe ever), but I’m on the lookout for something new an exciting.  What are you making this year/what are your favorite go-to crowd-pleasing party recipes?  Send ‘em my way!

5) Weekend.
My husband is on call all weekend, meaning I’ll be hanging solo with the dog.  I originally planned on taking a long, leisurely walk around the city on Saturday, but the impending snow/sleet/rain combo looks like it will put a stop to those plans.  Hopefully the weather will clear out by Sunday for our bi-weekly pack walk with a neighborhood pet store/dog training business, but it looks like we’ll be stuck inside on Saturday.  I have grand plans to do a thorough house cleaning and catch up on some podcasts, but otherwise – shaping up to be a pretty boring weekend (NOT complaining – a boring weekend at home is still 1,000,000x better than a weekend spent in the lab!).  It seems like a good opportunity to bake something – any suggestions?  Are there any recipes you’d like to see over here, perhaps a recipe that has been troubling you or something you’ve been trying to replicate?

January 22, 2015

Mediterranean Fish Stew

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Winter is in full force around here, evidenced by the fact that it’s currently snowing in my neck of the woods.   I’ve always loved snow and winter – something about the city is so much more magical with a light coating of snow.  (I’m well aware that my love affair with snow is because I walk to work, and would probably feel quite differently if I had to drive – this is also exactly why I loathe summer with every ounce of my being, while those of you who go from your air conditioned house straight into your air conditioned car and then walk a few yards into your air conditioned office don’t mind summer.)  This kind of weather is perfect for hearty soups and stews – something warm and filling after walking home from work in the cold, wet precipitation.  Plus, it’s a healthy option for dinner – even if you don’t have any food-related New Years resolutions, January is always the perfect time to reset and fall back into healthy habits after the gluttony of the holidays. 
Unlike many simmer-all-day style soups, this is ready in about half an hour, making it a perfect weeknight option.  I also usually have most of the ingredients for this on hand; it’s easy to substitute vegetables if you happen to have a handful of spinach but no fennel in your fridge.  I like to serve this with a loaf of fresh bread and a leafy salad for an easy dinner.
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Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4-5 tomatoes, diced (or a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound halibut or other white fish
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs (I like a combination of additional oregano, rosemary, basil, and chives)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
Directions:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven.  Sauté the onion until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté an additional minute.  Add in the fennel and red peppers, and continue to cook until just soft.
  2. Pour in the white wine and simmer for several minutes, until reduced by about half.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and add the fish.  Continue to simmer until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh herbs.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with fresh feta.
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