blueberry cornmeal mini-muffins (gluten-free)

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One year, one month, and seven days later — I’m back!

Predictably, work got the better of me last year, and this blog went the way of my social life (into dark and mournful hibernation, that is).  Now, at a new job in a new city — and, importantly, in a new kitchen — I’m back in the saddle.  At least for now.

As a girl of the frugal persuasion, I must applaud Amazon for its kind of obscenely good prices on specialty baking ingredients: Back home in Studio City, I’d pay $8 for a small bag of brown rice flour, but a pack of four bags only set me back $12 (on Prime, no less)!  It’s fantastic in that dangerous, can’t-sleep-so-I’ll-buy-some-stuff kind of way.  I’m certain that my fellow building residents are collaborating to plan a shopping intervention, their concern mounting with each Prime box left at the bottom of the stairs.

But why the specialty flours?  As is usually the impetus for my new culinary forays, the blueberry cornmeal mini-muffins (below, which look suspiciously like the regular blueberry mini-muffins in my header image) were inspired by a colleague with a gluten intolerance.  I can verify that this isn’t the Atkins-by-a-different-name, This is the End kind of gluten-free diet, for which I have little patience, so I was happy to accommodate and learn.

My past gluten-free baking attempts have resulted in tasty but slightly crunchy products: Brown rice flour, which is a common substitute for regular flour and the one I’ve used the most, just doesn’t lose its grainy texture as much as I’d like when cooked.  These muffins had the same hiccup, but I’d definitely rank them among the better gluten-free recipes I’ve made.  They were flavorful, rich, but still light, with a sturdy-but-still-fluffy texture in spite of the stubborn flour.  I think it also helps to bill them as semi-corn muffins, just to manage expectations!  The only change I’d make next time is to use lemon zest instead of the squirt of lemon juice I substituted to brighten them up a bit.

I don’t promise Jamie Lee Curtis regularity, but for now, it’s nice to see you again.  Recipe below.

xo
Alli

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Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins (gluten-free)
Pro tip: Coat your blueberries with flour before adding to the batter — it prevents them from sinking to the bottom.

1 1/4 cups milk (I used almond milk, since it’s what we had, with no adverse effects — though I’d stick to regular milk for your first time)
1 T vinegar
3/4 cups sugar (I used a mix of white and dark brown)
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 egg yolk (I used all whites…again, what we had on hand)
1 T lemon zest, optional
1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup blueberries (if using frozen, do not defrost)
1 tbsp brown or raw sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two 24-cup mini-muffin tins with paper or foil liners.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine milk and vinegar.  Set aside to sour (about 5 minutes).  You could probably use some combination of sour cream or yogurt and milk here, too.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, yolk, soured milk, and lemon zest.  Beat until combined.

Stir in rice flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt until just combined.  Gently fold in blueberries.

Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way up, then sprinkle with brown or raw sugar.  I used dark brown sugar, and I think this really made the muffins — it adds a great, almost caramel-y richness.  Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool before eating.

Original recipe here.

blue velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Apparently LA bakeries only offer blue velvet cake that’s flavored with blueberry, which — sorry, lovers of blueberry flavoring — sounds pretty gross to me. I, however, am way cooler than real bakeries and was completely unopposed to using up some of the six packages of blue, yellow, and green food coloring (red previously depleted by red velvet cakes) when a coworker’s sister requested blue (good taste)  for her graduation.

dolloped with cream cheese frosting

I used this recipe, replacing the red food coloring with blue and adding a few drops of yellow to the frosting.  These were jaunty and adorable — particularly bearing in mind my spectacular cupcake strikeouts of years past.

decked out in their little hats — courtesy of my burgeoning Amazon Prime addiction

And just for kicks, here’s a (bad quality iPhone) photo of the blondie Oreo concoction of the weekend — Oreos baked between two layers of blondie batter, another for the books of stoner food this non-stoner can’t seem to stop making.  Also great for breakups, drunk BBQs, hangovers, and late-night foraging.  Happy summer!

chai spice sugar cookies (vegan)

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What?  Oh, hi.  I’m still alive; I just have one too many Serious Grown Up Paying Jobs (not that I’m complaining) and this little blog of mine has drawn the short stick as a result.  But I’m taking advantage of this unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon and the fact that I’m a few clicks away from submitting my latest article to my editor to share these chai spice sugar cookies with you.

These are for a vegan (ahem, mostly vegan) friend who celebrated a birthday on Friday — I couldn’t make it to her shindig, so I offered baked goods in return.  I know people say this all the time, but folks, these DO NOT taste vegan.  I don’t know what vegan cookies are supposed to be like, but these taste just as unhealthy as the buttery, eggy ones that I might decide to make one day anyway.  If you want to go whole hog (no pun intended), I suggest subbing in a cup of real butter in place of the vegan stuff and one egg in place of the flax.

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I’m going to get to the recipe in a moment, but first, shameless promotion:  I’m a real life writer from time to time, and I’m lucky to be employed by one of my favorite websites, HowStuffWorks.com.  Check out my stuff here:

5 Mother-Daughter Shopping Tips

10 Great Ideas for Frugal Family Fun

10 Jaw-Dropping Hollywood Scandals

How Coffins Work

How Floor Buffers Work

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Most of these also have quizzes that go along with them, so search if you’re feeling smart.

Okay, enough of that.  Let’s talk cookies.  These were actually a little sweet for me (get back on your chair; I’ll wait) so I’m reducing the amount of sugar here a bit.  Feel free to increase if you’d like.  I used vegan margarine, but I’m sure you could do just as well with applesauce; just don’t yell at me if they come out weird.  Also, I know it’s weird and kind of ghetto to use actual tea, but I wasn’t going to spend $17 on spices for one recipe.  I’m sure dry tea is good for you.

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Vegan Chai Spice Sugar Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp baking soda

1/2 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt (optional; I omitted — I KNOW, what is going on with me?)

For cookies:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

4 bags’ worth chai spice tea

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

1 tbsp water

1 cup vegan margarine

For rolling mixture:

1/2 cup sugar

2 bags’ worth chai spice tea

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt (if using).  Set aside.  In a small bowl, stir together flaxseed and water.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar, spices, and margarine until light and creamy.  Add vanilla and flax mixture; beat until combined.

Slowly stir in flour mixture until dough is just mixed and rolls easily without sticking to your hands.  In a small bowl, combine sugar, tea, and spices.  Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls, then roll in sugar mixture.  Arrange 1 1/2 inches apart in rows on a cookie sheet.  Bake 8 minutes, or until just beginning to crack on top.  Cool completely on cooling rack.

brown sugar Reese’s cookies

cookies are completely unrelated to ensuing story, but still delicious

I may get stressed easily, but I really try to keep the anger to a minimum.   Tonight, though, I just about took my dad’s old hammer to the washer and dryer he so devotedly worked to install in my apartment (washer’s refusal to effectively enter its spin cycle notwithstanding).

There’s a big meeting at work tomorrow, one for which we’re (I’m) providing lunch, so I figured Subway was a quick and easy way to go.  I sent out a menu, and everyone placed their order; the guy at Subway told me they didn’t have an email address, but I could fax in my order.  Great!  I’m ready.  The order is faxed, with a request to call me to confirm receipt.

An hour later, no call, so I call them.  This is what happened next.

The first seven minutes of this call are spent going back and forth on variations of “Hi, I sent in a fax with an order for tomorrow and I wanted to make sure you received it.”  “You what?”  “I sent a fax.”  “Stacks?”  “No, a fax.  Like with a fax machine.”  “You bought a machine?” “I sent a FAX.  F-A-X. Like you have a phone number and a fax number?”  “You want a sax?”

This is starting to sound suspiciously like a comedy sketch.  I sigh.  “Sorry, but are you messing with me here?”  “No!  No, I’m just trying to understand what you want.”  “I sent an order in via fax.  I’d like to pick it up tomorrow at 11 a.m.”  “You already placed an order?”  “No, I’m trying to do that now.”  “Oh, what do you want?”  “I faxed the order.  Fax.  Like with a fax machine”  “You want to buy a stacking machine?”  (A STACKING MACHINE?)

When I finally got him to understand that it was a fax I was referring to, I got:  “Oh, no, we didn’t get a fax.  Let me call my manager at home.”  [minutes go by; I'm not put on hold]   “No, he didn’t get anything.”

Me: “No, I faxed it to the store.  I didn’t fax it to your manager’s house.”  “Oh!  So you’re not an employee?”  (What?  Employee?)  “NO.  I AM TRYING TO BE A CUSTOMER.  I NEED TO PLACE AN ORDER.”  “Oh, you didn’t place an order?”  “I TRIED TO WITH THE FAX.”  [he puts the phone down for a few minutes]

When he returns, I try to calm down.  “Can I place the order with you over the phone right now?  It’s a lot of sandwiches.”  “You want a long sandwich?”  “No, I have a lot of people who want sandwiches and I want to order them.  Can I do that with you?”  “Yeah, sure!  Wait, did a man or a woman place the order?”  “Why does it matter? It was a fax.”  “What?”  “Never mind.”

He gets ready to take my order.  Someone walks in and tells him something.  He hangs up on me.

Originally, this story ended here.  It was honestly like I had walked into the sandwich shop and asked for a used iPhone and a referral for a good car mechanic in the area.  I called my mom and vented, baked some coffee cake, and resigned myself to spending an hour at Subway at 10 a.m. ordering each sandwich individually.  Then my phone rang.

My friend was back!  “Hey, I’m ready to take your order now.  I’ll make your sandwiches right when I get off the phone.”  “Oh!  Um…okay, sure.  Wait, can you not make them now?  I need them at 11 tomorrow morning.  That’s kind of a while away.”  “Oh, sure.”  At least he’s got follow-through.  I start going through the order.  Each sandwich took five minutes to go through, but at least he was accurate.  Then the phone rings.  It’s his manager.  “Ask him if he got my fax!  Did he get my fax?”  “Oh, um…no, but you can email him the order.”  “Great!  What’s his email address?”  He relays it.  It has a V in it.  I repeat it back, adding “as in Victor” for clarity.  Him: “Ha, that’s funny!  My boss said ‘V as in Victor’ too!”  Bless his heart.  “My boss says email it to him twice in case the first one doesn’t go through.”  (In case the…?  Oh, forget it.)

I email, again with instructions to verify receipt.  I hear nothing.  I’m getting ready to call when the phone rings.  “Hey, um, do you know the address?”  “To the Subway you work at?”  “Yeah.”  “It’s the one on the website, right?”  “Yeah but let me give it to you anyway.”  Sure, buddy.  As long as I get my sandwiches.

He calls back with a question about a sandwich.  Apparently he’s making them now.  At this point, it’s been four hours and what seems like 20 years on the phone speaking what must be two completely different forms of English.  If sandwich freshness becomes an issue, I will be pleading the fifth.

(Completely Unrelated but Definitely Delicious) Brown Sugar Reese’s Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

12 ounces butter, softened

4 ounces shortening, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

1 1/2 cups chopped Reese’s Pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter, shortening, sugars, and vanilla extract until creamy.  Add eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating unti smooth.  Slowly stir in the dry ingredients, then the peanut butter cups.

Drop dough by neat tablespoonfuls on prepared cookie sheets, then sprinkle with Pieces.  Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden and centers are just set.  Cool 5 minutes on pan, then finish cooling on a cooling rack.  Throw at a Subway.

apple-filled honey challah

While I’ve always been more Jew-ish than Jewish, it could be argued pretty easily that I’ve hit an all-time low in tribe allegiance this year.  I quietly threw the notion of keeping kosher for Passover last spring, I didn’t fast for Yom Kippur, and I didn’t even take time off of work – much less set foot in synagogue – a few weeks ago for the High Holidays.  The last remaining vestiges of religion here clearly consist of guilt alone.

This is what "craggy dough" looks like.

Since I’ve never been a religious person, I’m sure my dwindling efforts to maintain what I (perhaps offensively) refer to as my “Jewy Jewy life” are generally more upsetting to my parents than they are to me, although the  half-Jewish boyfriend is 50% more Jew than I’ve ever brought home before, and I’m sure they’ve said a few b’rachas over that.

I do sort of miss the traditions, though, and although I’ve never gotten as much of a kick out of apples and honey at Rosh Hashana as a good Jewish girl should have (I preferred the chocolate Mom whipped out of her purse to break the Yom Kippur fast), when Deb posted a recipe that looked like a hybrid challah and apple cake, I knew this was the future of my “sweet new year” tradition.

Spread the apples over the dough.

I use “tradition” loosely, since Rosh Hashana was weeks ago and these loaves just went into the oven this afternoon, but I’m sure the folks at our weekly House/How I Met Your Mother night will appreciate it almost as much.  Other than braiding challah dough in preschool – which I loved, since let’s be honest, braiding was a hugely marketable skill back then, but which left me a little disappointed because no one had deemed it fitting to include me in the baking process – I’d never made it myself.  After talking shop with a fellow tribeswoman, it was time to make this happen.

Braided and ready for the oven.

This recipe is pretty standard, as egg breads go, except of course for the addition of chopped apples.  Deb has a great tutorial on round challah braids on her website; I’ve tried to duplicate some of that below as well.  One tip: When you’re forming your dough ropes, try to push the apples into the dough as far as possible, even re-appropriating some pieces from the doughier parts of the rope if you need to.  This will make the dough easier to roll.

One for work, one for home. You should never go anywhere without challah.

Apple and Honey Challah

Adapted from Deb

For the bread
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 standard 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (79 ml) plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose (530 grams) or bread flour (578 grams), plus more for your work surface

2 medium baking apples (I used Granny Smith and Fiji, since that’s what was in my fridge), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

One large egg

Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey, eggs, and yolk. Add flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until you get a craggy mass of uneven dough. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead it into a smooth, elastic dough, about 5 to 8 minutes.  I wasn’t at home when I made this, so I didn’t have my pretty Kitchenaid, but Deb has instructions to make this with a stand mixer as well.

Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape.  Spread 2/3 of apple chunks over 1/2 of the flattened dough. Fold the other half over the apple chunks and press the dough down around them, flattening dough as much as you can. Spread the remaining 1/3 apple chunks over half the folded dough. Fold the other half over the apples, pressing the dough down again.  Fold the corners under with the sides of your hands so the dough becomes a around. Upend your empty bowl over and set it aside for another 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope.  If any apple chunks fall out as you form the ropes or at any other time in the forming of the loaf or risings, just poke them back in with your finger.  Arrange two strands in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a plus sign. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet.  Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move them over the leg to their right, i.e. jumping it. Take those legs that were on the right and again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you had extra length to your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.

Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet. Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you’re using it. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.


playing catch-up

Whoooo’s a slacker?

Okay, that might not be true.  I might have gotten two new jobs, found an apartment,  moved my whole life thirty miles southish, and put out sundry fires associated with all of those things in the last month and a half.  Which is cool for me, but maybe not so cool for anyone who was actually expecting some kind of content from this blog.

Also, I’ve been feverish and hacking my lungs out on my boyfriend’s couch for the last week, and what a saint he is for not throwing me out on the street until my apartment opens up.  So there’s that.

Maple brown sugar pound cake

Since we last spoke, there have been Funfetti swirl cookies, a maple brown sugar pound cake, some actually kind of delicious macrobiotic vegan cookies, and a delicious two-layer brown sugar pound cake with dark chocolate ganache (which, unfortunately, was devoured before it could be photographed).

Funfetti swirl cookies

Today, we’ll kill two birds with one stone.  I’m going to direct you over to Peabody’s page for the Funfetti cookies pictured above – which were delicious as well as downright adorable – and write out this very simple vegan cookie recipe.  We have a self-proclaimed “level 12 vegan” in our offices who, in addition to following all of the regular vegan rules, doesn’t eat any processed sugars.  I based this recipe on one I found on Allrecipes, but I’ve printed it here to reflect the changes I made.

I know people turn up their noses at vegan desserts, but I’ll say one thing: they sure don’t get as pissed when you bring them in at breakfast time.

Ugly but rather tasty vegan cookies

Macrobiotic Vegan Cookies

1 cup almonds, toasted

1/2 cup oat flour

3/4 cups oats

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse almonds in a food processor until they reach desired consistency (coarse or fine meal).  In a large bowl, stir together almonds, oat flour, oats, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and salt until thoroughly combined.

Form mixture into 2-tablespoon-sized balls; flatten slightly.  Arrange on prepared baking sheets.  Bake 12-15 minutes, or until edges are brown.  Remove carefully and cool completely on racks.

chocolate chip oreo graham cracker brownie bars

I owe you an apology.

All I’ve done the last few weeks is load you down with everything that’s rich and chocolatey, right smack in the middle of the kind of 90-degree weather that makes our cats flop over on the carpet in fuzzy black mirror images of one another.  It’s high time I gave you a nice, light fruit dessert.

What did I give you?  Four cookies in one.  Yes.  Four.

Because as hot as it is outside (and inside, especially since I chose to make tomato sauce and these insane sugar bombs on the same day), I couldn’t resist these.  If one cookie is good, four are better, right?  So I suggest you brave the heat.  Will you have to cook in shorts and not much else?  Possibly.  But it’s a small sacrifice to make for something as beautifully white-trash as these.

 

Chocolate Chip Oreo Graham Cracker Brownie Bars

Adapted slightly from Peabody

For the cookie layer:

1 stick butter

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

For brownies:

6 ounces chocolate chips

1/2 stick butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

3/4 cup flour

Oreos and/or graham crackers

Line a 9-inch square pan baking pan with wax paper, then spray with cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350* Fahrenheit.

For cookie layer:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla.  Beat in eggs, then slowly stir in flour, salt, and baking soda.  Stir in chocolate chips, then pat dough into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Layer Oreos and/or graham crackers on top of cookie layer.  Set aside.

For brownie layer: Melt chocolate gently with butter.  Beat in egg.  Stir in salt, cocoa powder, and flour.  Spread evenly over Oreos or graham crackers.

Bake 30 minutes.  Remove from oven; cool completely before cutting.

oreo-stuffed cookies

Regardless of the shameless hand-wringing that some of you may have been subjected to over the last few weeks, REALLY SUPER AWESOME things are happening.  Day job drama aside, I received an offer to write for HowStuffWorks.com, a subsidiary of Discovery and the host site of some of my favorite podcasts.  That brings my grand total of writing gigs to four, and as an English major, honestly, I should just shut up about this other job stuff now.

As cool as that is and as thrilled as I am, uncertainty still sucks.  But you know what’s a great antidote?  That’s right.  Excess.

Honestly, this sort of absurd anxiety is the only thing that could have motivated me to foist a recipe this ridiculous upon you smack in the middle of bikini season.  If there’s one thing that’s constant right now, it’s that I have some pathetically reptilian cravings for stoner food, and I don’t know if you can get any more “stoner” than cookies wrapped in cookies.  Welcome to my downfall.

Oreo-Stuffed Cookies

Adapted from here and probably lots of other places

2 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 package Oreos

2 cups chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350* Fahrenheit.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla.  Beat in eggs, scraping down the bowl occasionally.  Gradually stir in dry ingredients, then chocolate chips, if using.  Chill dough 15 minutes.

Take about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough and flatten into a patty.  Wrap as much as you can around an Oreo.  Flatten another bit of dough and wrap around the other side, patching as needed.  Continue until both cookie sheets are filled, then chill wrapped Oreos for another 15 minutes.  Bake 9-10 minutes.  Cool completely on a rack.