Sunday, May 20, 2012

"WHAT WENT WRONG?": Banana Split Muffins

So, I currently have the evidence of a baking failure (or "baking fail," as the kids these days like to say) sitting on my counter. Obviously, I'm not thrilled. But I want to learn from this mistake and figure out how to make this recipe for banana split muffins work.

And I need your help.

First, I'm going to give you the (failed) recipe, which was based on my research, experience and preferences, plus feedback from my friend Lisa, whose recent Facebook post about making similar muffins (but flying by the seat of her pants, so she didn't really have a recipe to share) got me obsessed with the idea.

Then, I'm going to tell you what I didn't like about how the muffins turned out.

And, finally, I'm going to brainstorm some possible fixes and ask for your feedback on the ideas.

Once I feel like we collectively have a handle on what went wrong, I'll try the recipe again and report back on the results. It takes a village to bake a dozen muffins! :)

So, first ... the recipe. It goes without saying that YOU SHOULD NOT USE THIS RECIPE. It didn't work. That's why we're here.


• 2 mashed ripe bananas
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup agave nectar
• 1/4 cup plain soy milk
• 1 Tbsp vanilla
• 1&1/2 Tbsp almond paste
• 1/2 cup crushed pineapple in juice (not drained, but not tons of liquid in it, either)
• 1&1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
• 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans
• 12 maraschino cherries, patted dry

• Preheat oven to 400F.
• Line muffin tin with paper liners.
• In a large bowl, mix bananas, oil, agave, soy milk, vanilla, almond paste and pineapple; set aside.
• Sift together flours, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
• Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until moistened. (I felt the batter was too dough-like at this point and poured in a bit of the remaining juice from the pineapple.)
• Fold in strawberries, pecans and chocolate chips.
• Fill paper liners with batter. Press a cherry into the top of each one.
• Bake for 22-24 minutes (until the tops begin to brown).

• Batter was too much like cookie dough -- needed to be looser.
• Related: Muffins were too dense.
• Not enough banana flavor.
• Related: Too much flour flavor.
• Not *quite* sweet enough.
• Bottom of muffins stuck to paper liners.
• Perhaps too much vanilla flavor.

• Batter was too much like cookie dough -- needed to be looser.
   - Add more liquid? (Perhaps add an entire 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple?)
   - Perhaps add more oil? And/or maybe use a different kind of oil altogether?

• Related: Muffins were too dense.

• Not enough banana flavor.
   - Use three bananas instead of two? Might that also help with the texture/density of the batter?

• Related: Too much flour flavor.

• Not *quite* sweet enough.
   - Use 3/8 or 1/2 cup agave instead of 1/4 cup?
   - Adding the full can of crushed pineapple may help with sweetness as well, so adding more agave may not be necessary if more pineapple is added.

• Bottom of muffins stuck to paper liners.
   - Might fixing the batter problem also fix this problem?
   - Might it be better to bake these without liners and instead just spray the pan? (I hate doing that!)

• Perhaps too much vanilla flavor.
   - Reduce vanilla to maybe 1/2 to 3/4 Tbsp.?

What combination of edits to this recipe do you think will yield a better product? I'm eager to get back into the kitchen and try this again (hopefully with better results!), but I need some feedback ...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Experiences!

My mom always told me that what you do on New Year's Eve sets the stage for how you will spend the coming year. So, the last couple of years I've gotten adventurous in the kitchen on New Year's Eve.

For dinner this year, I cooked a new pasta dish I'd found on Pinterest (but I wasn't as excited about it as I thought I'd be, as the sauce turned out a little loose and the arugula in the dish kind of dominated the flavor). It wasn't bad, but it wasn't blogworthy.

So I turned my attention to dessert. Before making dinner, I'd cooked up some barley in preparation to make another recipe I'd seen on Pinterest -- a rice pudding-style pudding that used barley instead of rice. But as I started to gather the other ingredients, I realized the recipe had some flaws that rendered it unusable. So I peeked around at some other recipes and created one that I thought would work ... and it did!

The end result reminded me a lot of rice pudding -- but with the added bonus of knowing it had the nutritional value of the pearled barley (8 g of dietary fiber and 5 g of protein per 1/4 cup of the Arrowhead Mills barley I used).


• 2 rounded cups cooked pearled barley
• 2 cups low-fat milk (I used 1%; you probably could also use non-dairy milk)
3 Tbsp light agave nectar
• 1.5 oz. (snack size) box raisins -- about 1/4 cup (optional)
1/2 to 1 tsp cinnamon (I like lots of cinnamon, so I used 1 tsp; it was very cinnamony)
1 Tbsp butter or butter substitute
1/2 tsp vanilla

• Combine barley, milk and agave in a pan; cook over low heat, stirring frequently
• After 15 minutes, add raisins; continue stirring frequently
• 15 minutes later, add cinnamon; continue stirring frequently
• 10 minutes later, add butter; continue stirring frequently
• Depending on your desired consistency, the total cook time will be 40 to 50 minutes; when pudding looks like it is within five minutes of being done, add vanilla
• Let cool slightly; serve warm (I'll find out in the morning whether it's also good cold!)

1/1/12 ADDENDUM:
I actually think I like it better cold than warm ... so serve it either way, depending on your preference!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What's Cookin'? - 10/9/11 edition

I've decided to try something new here on the blog, taking a cue from my dear friend Lauren over at Seventeenth and Irving. Via Lauren's blog, I discovered the "Embed" feature on Pinterest, which makes it really easy to share things here on the blog.

So, what I'm going to do from time to time (probably mostly on Sundays, since Sunday tends to be my biggest day of cooking for the week) is share Pinterest pins to show you what's cooking in my kitchen.

Oh, and feel free to follow my boards on Pinterest if you're on there. I have a few boards, and I pin mostly food-related stuff (surprise!).

So, with that ... here's "What's Cookin'?" for October 9, 2011 ...

The first thing I did this morning in the kitchen was assemble the ingredients to make this Crock Pot Beer BBQ Chicken from How Sweet It Is to have on hand for dinners this week. It has about 4 hours left to cook, and it smells incredible!

Oh, and if you decide to use a Ziploc bag to shake the chicken and the seasonings together, make sure the bag is completely zipped closed. (DUH!) I had a bit of a kitchen fail due to not closing the bag all the way and not realizing it. What a mess!

But I digress ...

The smell of the chicken was briefly overpowered by the spicy, apple-y scent of these Apple Pie Muffins from My Baking Addiction as they baked. 11 of these bad boys (hey, I had to taste-test one!) are currently on a cooling rack in my kitchen. I will be both loved and hated come tomorrow morning as people walk into the kitchen at work and find them.

And later on, for dinner, I'll be cooking up a pair of recipes from one of the recent posts over at Iowa Girl Eats, which has quickly become one of my favorite food blogs. Kristin and I have very similar taste in food, so if you like the stuff I make, you should definitely check out her blog!

So ... back to dinner. It will consist of the "best tomato sauce ever" and garlic-roasted broccoli. And as excited as I am about trying this insanely simple sauce over my very favorite spaghetti, Barilla PLUS Thin Spaghetti (protein, fiber AND delicious flavor in pasta!) ... I also am excited about the Sicilian-style Italian sausage I bought at one of the local meat markets yesterday. I wish I'd written down the description of it so I could share it in full, but I remember that it included wine and parmesan cheese. Enough said, right?

That's what's cookin' in my kitchen today. How about yours?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

French Onion Soup

Soup season is officially back, if you ask me. In fact, tonight I made my second pot of soup in less than a week.

A simple Facebook status update about having just pulled a crock of French onion soup out of the oven led to a request for my recipe, so I figured I should post it on the blog. It's one of those things that people seem to order in restaurants all the time but never make at home. I have to assume that it's because they think it's more complicated than it really is.

The secret to this soup is in two of the ingredients. Without these two ingredients, you just have a bowl of beef broth and onions. Add bay leaves and red wine, and you have that familiar flavor you've come to love at restaurants.

And while some people swear by a particular kind of onion for this soup, I usually just go with what I have. I'm currently working my way through a 10 lb. bag of delicious candy sweet onions I bought at the local farmers' market, so that's what I used tonight.


• 4-5 medium onions
• 2-4 Tbsp. butter or butter substitute
• 2 cans (about 4 cups) fat-free, reduced-sodium beef broth
• 1/3 cup red wine (I use merlot)
• 2 bay leaves
• Pinch of dried thyme
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Croutons, garlic toasts or other dried bread pieces
• Swiss cheese slices

• In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.
• While butter is melting, cut onions. (Either cut off the ends and slice vertically into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch pieces OR slice onions into rounds that are 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick and then cut the rounds in half.)
• Add onions to pot. Cook for 30-45 minutes until onions are soft and may be just beginning to brown.
• Add broth, wine, thyme, bay leaves, and salt and pepper (I actually use Morton's Nature's Seasons instead of salt and pepper).
• Bring almost to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
• While soup is simmering, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• Remove bay leaves after simmering soup; discard.
• Place oven-safe, individual-serving bowls on a baking sheet.
• Place croutons or garlic toasts into each bowl.
• Ladle soup into bowls; top with 1 or 2 cheese slices.
• Place pan of bowls into the oven; bake until cheese melts. If bowls are broiler-safe and you want to bubble the cheese a bit, you can finish off the soup under the broiler.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mac & Cheese with Minimal Cheese? It's Possible!

This blog has been sadly ignored for the past few months, and I apologize. Life happened. I've still been cooking and baking -- and taking pictures along the way so I can share the experiences with you.

Tonight I made something that elicited some curious tweets and Facebook comments when I posted a photo and brief description: macaroni and cheese with minimal cheese, thanks to a secret ingredient: pureed cauliflower! (Yes, really.)

I came across this recipe for "creamy cauliflower mac" from Mark Bittman in my Facebook news feed last weekend. It caught my eye because a friend of mine had just posted a funny Facebook status about adding pureed broccoli to pizza sauce to get her daughter to eat it.

When I clicked the link, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly short ingredient list that included things that mostly were already in my kitchen.

Last night, I pre-prepped the recipe up through the point Bittman recommended. Tonight, I baked it up and had it for dinner with part of a chicken breast. It was fragrant, creamy and quite tasty. But as with any new recipe, I immediately formed a "what I'd do differently next time" list in my head.

My trial-and-error tips:

· Actually use stock rather than broth. I only keep broth in the house and usually substitute it in recipes that call for stock. This was an example of a recipe that really would've benefited from the richer flavor of stock versus broth.

· Use a strongly flavored cheese. I used a three-cheese blend (cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack) that just didn't pack enough punch, I discovered when I tasted the puree. So I added a couple slices of Swiss that I had in the fridge. It helped, but I wish I'd chosen my cheese differently. Next time, I'll use Fontina (a personal favorite), Gruyere, Emmental or maybe even smoked Gouda. By the way, a half-cup of cheese for an entire dish of mac & cheese isn't much, so don't feel bad about adding in a little extra.

· Undercook the pasta just like the recipe says. If you don't, it will become too soft when you bake the dish. I'd say I may have boiled mine 1 to 2 minutes too long. I use Barilla PLUS pasta, which takes a little longer to cook under normal circumstances, so I adjusted the stovetop cook time accordingly. It was an error. I should've stuck with Bittman's recommended five minutes.

· Add garlic. It felt like something was missing. I'm convinced it was garlic. Next time I'll add a clove or two to the puree.

· Use frozen cauliflower florets to save time. Vegetables that are frozen fresh without any kind of sauce/butter added make recipes like this one easier and just as healthy. I used two 12 oz. bags of frozen cauliflower for this recipe. Kroger has its own large line of frozen veggies these days, and they often are on sale for around $1 per bag. It's a great deal, especially when you're shopping for recipe ingredients.

I love vegetables, so this was a great alternative to the standard mac and cheese. Between the high veggie content, the low cheese content and the healthy pasta, I didn't even have to feel guilty about having a hearty serving.

This recipe is definitely being filed away for future use!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flat Iron Steak Lettuce Wraps

As part of a blogger outreach program for National Nutrition Month, Certified Steak and Seafood provided me and and other food bloggers with complimentary CSS products and invited us to create recipes to be featured on the company's Facebook page.

Here's the first of my recipes!

(Yield: 8-12 wraps)

· 1 head of iceberg or butter lettuce (or other leafy lettuce that folds easily), washed and separated into full leaves
· 2 Certified Steak and Seafood 7 oz. flat iron steaks
· 1 Tbsp olive oil
· 1/2 cup diced onion
· 2 Tbsp minced garlic
· 8 oz. mushrooms (stems removed), diced small
· 1 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
· 8 oz. fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and dried
· 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
· 2 tsp chopped/ground fresh ginger
· 1 Tbsp rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar (NOT rice wine)
· 8 oz. can of water chestnuts, diced small
· 6 green onions, sliced
· 2 tsp sesame oil

· 24 hours in advance, if possible, pierce steaks with a knife and place in a zippable plastic bag with some reduced-sodium soy sauce to marinate. Be sure to squeeze all of the air out of the bag before sealing.
· One at a time, place steaks into a heavy plastic bag and pound it with the flat side of a meat tenderizer. (If you don’t have a tenderizer, the bottom of a heavy frying pan may work.) Pound steaks to a uniform thickness; do not pound them thin.
· Cut steaks across the grain into 1” wide strips.
· In a pan over 70% to 80% heat, cook the strips for about 2 minutes on each side, then reduce heat slightly and cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cooked strips from the pan and set them aside to rest.
· Remove any residue from the pan.
· Add olive oil to pan and set burner to 80% heat.
· When olive oil has heated for about a minute, add onion, garlic, mushrooms, bean sprouts, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, and rice vinegar.
· When mushrooms and onions are tender (3-5 minutes), add water chestnuts and green onions; mix well.
· Cut steak strips into 1/4" thick squares and add to pan.
· Remove pan from heat.
· Add sesame oil. If mixture is loose, add a bit of cornstarch to thicken.
· Scoop mixture into lettuce leaf cups; drizzle with sauce if desired.

(sauce can be made ahead of time, except the last two steps)

· 1/4 cup sugar
· 1/2 cup hot water
· 2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
· 2 Tbsp rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar (NOT rice wine)
· 2 Tbsp chili sauce (the kind you find in the ketchup aisle – NOT Asian chile sauce) or ketchup
· 1 Tbsp lemon juice
· 1/8 tsp sesame oil
· 2 tsp hot water
· 1 Tbsp Chinese hot mustard
· 1-2 tsp garlic and red chile paste

· Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup hot water.
· Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce, lemon juice and sesame oil; mix well.
· In a separate dish, combine 2 tsp hot water with hot mustard; mix well.
· Add mustard/water mixture and garlic and red chile paste to the rest of the mixture; mix well.

NOTE: Sauce recipe is a slightly modified version of a popular recipe found throughout the Internet.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Homemade Pizza Rolls: Forget the Frozen Food Aisle

So, I was recently introduced to a local store's electronic coupon program. As I sorted through the e-coupons and chose the ones I wanted, I noticed a coupon for frozen pizza rolls.

Ahh, pizza rolls. Comfort food extraordinaire. One of those things you sometimes crave uncontrollably as you stroll through the frozen food section. I won't lie; I've eaten a few pizza rolls in my day (especially in college).

Instead of downloading the e-coupon, I decided to try making my own pizza rolls. Have you figured out yet that I like a challenge?

Personally, I enjoy a loaded pizza roll -- sausage, pepperoni, onions and green peppers. So that's what I set out to make, looking for opportunities to cut calories in the process. I bought homemade bulk sausage (pork breakfast sausage) from a local meat market, which I drained and pressed after cooking to extract as much fat as possible. I also opted for turkey pepperoni, which has far less fat than regular pepperoni. And instead of pizza sauce, I selected a smooth, veggie-filled pasta sauce, new Prego Veggie Smart Smooth & Simple.

Assembling the pizza rolls is easy; the process is basically identical to putting together the Southwest Egg Rolls. However, I decided to try a new technique for baking the rolls: Coating them with a bit of olive oil on all exposed surfaces instead of using cooking spray, and reducing the temperature a bit as compared to the egg rolls. It worked like a charm and will be how I will bake my egg rolls or other "roll" recipes utilizing egg roll wrappers.

And of course, if these meats and veggies don't correspond with your family's taste, you can always adjust accordingly. Just make sure to chop/cut them up small. And if you decide to use mushrooms or other veggies that harbor water, be sure to saute them for a few minutes as I did with the bell pepper and onion.

(Yield: About 20 rolls)

8 oz. bulk pork sausage (breakfast sausage), cooked, crumbled and well-drained
3 oz. turkey pepperoni slices, quartered
1 small green bell pepper, diced small
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup pasta sauce (smooth, not chunky)
· Liquid egg whites (or the white of one large egg)
1 pkg. egg roll wrappers
Several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

· Preheat oven to 400°F.
· Spray a frying pan with butter-flavor nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium or medium-high heat.
· Add bell pepper and onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper; saute for 2-3 minutes -- just long enough to sweat any water out of them. Cool completely.
· Combine onion/pepper mixture, sausage, pepperoni, cheese and sauce; mix thoroughly.
· Place stack of egg roll wrappers on a flat surface in a diamond shape and cut 1 inch or less off the left and right corners.
· Scoop about 3 Tbsp. of filling into the center of a wrapper, then fold up the bottom point and fold in the trimmed edges. Moisten the top point with egg white and then finish rolling up the egg roll from the bottom up.
· Place completed egg roll seam side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil (preferably non-stick).
· Repeat until filling is gone.
· JUST before baking, coat your hands with olive oil; run your hands over all sides of each roll to coat, and then place it back on the foil-lined baking sheet. You will need to re-coat your hands frequently.
· Bake for 12-14 minutes or until pizza rolls are brown.

You might even end up with a very authentic pizza roll "blowout" ...