Monday, February 27, 2012

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

See that cute little bird in the picture? A family of chickadees lives in an evergreen tree by my house. All puffed up in the winter snow, I can hear their bright chirps outside my window, cozy in their sheltered tree home. We recently had a good old-fashioned snow storm and I felt just like those happy little chickadees, ensconced in my warm home on a perfectly snowy day. I cranked up the oven and baked up homemade bread (three loaves: one to eat, one to store, and one to give away), a big batch of Sunbutter cookies, and these gorgeous little banana chocolate chip muffins.

I'm a cookbook-aholic. I read them like novels, take them to bed to read, mark pages, ogle pictures, write out out lists of ingredients so I can try out yet another dish, another flavor, another experience. Out of all the cookbooks I've browsed over the years, the Clinton St. Baking Cookbook has to be one of the best breakfast books in the bunch. Just check out those pancakes on the cover. *drool*

These are the Clinton St. Bakery banana chocolate chip muffins. The original recipe recommends chunks of Valrhona chocolate, of course, being a NYC bakery, but I used Hershey's chocolate chips instead and the world did not stop spinning. They are best the day they are made, warm out of the oven - I found they dried out a bit when I had one for breakfast the next day. But oh, that first bite of banana chocolate chip muffin on a cold snowy Sunday morning. Pure breakfast bliss with a mug of milky black tea for this chickadee.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 10 standard-sized muffins

Crumb Mix
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
Dash of cinnamon
2 Tbls. butter

4 Tbls. (1/2 stick) softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. sour cream
3//4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
2 ripe to overripe medium-sized bananas, cut into 1" chunks

First, make the crumb mix by mixing the dry ingredients with the butter by hand until the mixture is pea-sized. Set aside.

Grease muffin tins or line with paper muffin cups. In an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg and blend until combined.

Sift remaining dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Add half the sour cream to the butter mixture, then half the dry ingredients, mixing and repeating with remaining sour cream and then remaining dry ingredients until batter is combined.  Be sure to end with dry ingredients.  Do not overmix.

Fold in chocolate and banana. Spoon batter into muffin tins. Top each muffin with 1 Tbls. of the crumb mix. Bake for 25-33 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean. If not using paper liners, cool for 10 minutes before removing from tin.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sunbutter Love

When it comes to silent auctions, I'm not the aggressive type.  It's for a good cause!  It's just for fun!  Have some wine and scribble down a bid!  The prize is secondary!  

Then I spotted the Sunbutter gift basket.  GAME.  ON. 

For the unfamiliar, Sunbutter is a North Dakota product that is similar to peanut butter, but instead made out of sunflower seeds.  I love it, not only because it's local and supporting rural ND folks, but I like the taste. It's a little sweeter than peanut butter, definitely sunflower-y.  I also like to mix up foods in our diet, with the thought that maybe, just maybe, our heavy consumption of the same few foods (wheat, milk, peanut butter) is at least one reason we're seeing so many people develop sensitivities to them.  Maybe...  

I'll admit I was lingering by the table towards the last few minutes of the auction.  I noticed someone had upped my bid.  I scribbled my name down once again, and left the area, not wanting to commit some overly-obsessive silent auction faux pas but keeping my fingers crossed.

Winner!  And as you can see, as I brought the basket of goodies home, Ben found yet another reason to love the stuff.    

Want more info?  Check out

For the record, the Sunbutter people, bless their hearts, did not sponsor or endorse this blog post.  It's just good stuff - I'm a fan. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Praise of Coco Wheats

As a kid, my family had a Sunday morning breakfast ritual. Cinnamon rolls from the tube and hot cereal, either oatmeal or Coco Wheats. My brothers would battle for their favorite hot cereal, oatmeal vs. Coco Wheats, but I liked both, so I had no preference. And for the record, I always let one of my brothers have the crustless middle cinnamon roll. I was nice like that.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I realized that Coco Wheats are not ubiquitous. I thought everyone grew up with Coco Wheats, just like everyone watched Saved By The Bell and made up dances to NKOTB songs and wore B.U.M. Equipment t-shirts with their Girbaud jeans.  I mean, it just wasn't questioned.

But no.  My Coco Wheats-loving brother, while attending Oregon State (Go Beavers!), informed us that there are no Coco Wheats anywhere in or around Corvallis, OR.  Shocking.  My mother promptly purchased four boxes and FedExed them to her dear son, rebalancing the universe once again. Those boxes lasted him the rest of his college career, nursing him back to health after many late nights studying for physics exams partying. 

Coco Wheats look completely unappetizing and, to be honest, they are not really tasty. I don't know that I'd recommend them to anyone, as they taste terrible without any sweetener, and then are still a bit of an acquired taste after the obligatory dousing of honey or sugar.  But for me, it's pure comfort, a taste that will always remind me of pajamas and sticky cinnamon roll icing. I even find myself whipping up a bowl for little Ben on occasion. The tradition continues.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Giveaway Winner

Wow.  I knew I had great readers, but look at all the awesome things you're doing in your own households to infuse local foods into your lifestyle.  CSA shares, farmers markets, gardens, canning, co-ops, and yes, commitments to spend a few more days out in the fields hunting.  I'm inspired.

And the lovely Wendell Berry book!  Thanks to the random number generator at, counting posts both on the blog and Facebook, we have a giveaway winner!

Q: What are you planning to do this year to eat a little closer to the earth, to your community, and/or to support your local farmers?  

A from Heidi:  Creating a food co-op in Bismarck-Mandan to provide more local, organic, and natural food options to the community!

As Joel Salatin says in Food Inc, "now that's a noble goal!"  (Check out the clip around 1:45)

Way to go, Heidi!  I'll contact you to send the book your way.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cheddar Anadama Bread

Look at I found in the baking aisle this weekend!

Finally. North Dakota Mill's organic flour has made it to the shelves of my local grocer. I knew they had an organic product line, but I could never find it in my local stores. I actually met some of the ND Mill folks at one of the holiday Pride of Dakota events and asked them about it. They happily encouraged me to write to my grocer, petition them, beg them, maybe even bake them brownies to convince them that you would appreciate seeing their organic line on the shelf.

Excellent ideas. However, I did none of the above. I can be terribly lazy.

But another reason I was pleased with my new find: it was actually in the baking aisle with all the other flours, instead of the separate organic/natural foods section in a different corner of the store.  That's always bugged me. If I want to buy canned tomatoes, for example, I want to see all my canned tomato options in one spot. Why put the organic ones in a separate section?

Regardless, I happily put a 5 lb. bag of my new flour find in my cart, scooted home and made this beauty of a bread to accompany the pot of venison chili that was simmering on my stove all afternoon (and the bottle of shiraz I cracked open).  Perfect.

Cheddar Anadama Bread
From The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger, anadama bread is popular in New England and always contains cornmeal, which I love for both texture and flavor. This bread is a hearty white bread, slightly sweet from the honey, and although there is a good amount of cheese in the dough, it doesn't turn out cheesy or gooey; the cheese just adds a richness to the bread. In other words: just try it!

1/2 c. cornmeal
2 c. (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. honey
2 Tbls. butter
2/3 c. warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 Tbls. (1 package) active dry yeast
6 c. all-purpose flour or bread flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground paprika
2 Tbls. butter, melted, for brushing
Cornmeal, for sprinkling

In a saucepan, combine cornmeal with 1 and 1/2 c. water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until bubbly and thickened, about 3 min. Remove from heat, stir in cheese, honey and 2 Tbls. butter. Stir until butter is melted, set aside and let cool to warm.

In a large mixing bowl, pour in warm water, sprinkle yeast on water's surface and stir to dissolve. Let stand at room temp until foamy, about 10 min. Slowly mix in cornmeal-cheese mixture, 2 c. flour and the salt. Beat for 2 min. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms (you may need more/less flour).  Knead dough until is smooth and springs back when pressed (either by hand or with a dough hook attachment on your mixer). Place dough in deep greased container, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temp until doubled in bulk, about 1 and 1/2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough. Grease two 9x5" loaf pans and sprinkle with cornmeal. Divide dough into two equal portions. Pat each portion in a 9x5" rectangle of even thickness. Spread each rectangle evely with 1 Tbls of the remaining soft butter. Sprinkle each lightly with 1 tsp. ground paprika. Beginning with the short end, roll up the dough jelly-roll style. Pinch the ends and long seams to seal. Place the loaves seam-side down in the loaf pans. Brush the tops with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temp until doubled in bulk or 1" above the rims of the pans, about 45 mins.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F. Bake loafs 45-50 mins or until browned and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Take loaves out of the pans and transfer immediately to a cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Giveaway - Just Because

Because I just got back from vacation in Arizona - rested, relaxed, and a slightly darker shade of pale.

Because I somehow have 101 blog followers now - how in the world did THAT happen?  Thanks for stopping by!

Because I'm just about to order my garden seeds and sign up for my 2012 CSA share and can almost taste the start of spring.

Because I'm having too much fun meeting all these lovely food-minded folks on my Facebook page.

Because the eminent Wendell Berry was just named the 41st Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities.

Just because.  I want to give you a gift.

If you haven't met Wendell Berry yet, walk run to your local library and pick up Hannah Coulter...or anything else that catches your eye.  His prose reads like Willa Cather - simple, humble, with dirt-under-the-fingertips truths ringing throughout.  One cannot read his essays without gaining a greater reverence for our land, our food, our families, our humanity.  His poetry echoes the rhythms of nature, the drumming of a heartbeat, the beauty that envelopes our daily lives.

I guess you could say I'm a fan.  And I think you will be too, if you aren't already.

I'm giving you (well, just one reader, actually) a copy of Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food.  You can check it out on Amazon here.  To be entered in this little giveaway of mine, leave a comment answering the following:

What are you planning to do this year to eat a little closer to the earth, to your community, and/or to support your local farmers? 

Maybe you are planting a few pots of herbs.  Maybe you are committing to choosing more locally-owned restaurants on your Friday evenings out on the town.  Maybe you are buying a whole lamb from a local rancher (I have a great lamb guy, if you are interested!).  No one is expecting us to eat 100% local, 100% of the time.  But every little decision, every little purchase, every little bite helps.

On Tuesday evening, Feb. 21, I'll randomly select a winner and then contact the winner via email.  But even if you don't win, I hope you stop back to get some good ideas on connecting to your local food suppliers.

Just because.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Roasted Chestnuts

Pristine chestnuts, before the roast...

So I say my goodbyes to all the wonderful farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and all-around awesome people involved in the local foods movement in North Dakota at last weekend's conference in Fargo. I'm rejuvenated, inspired, ready to eat even closer to the land of this great state and support my agrarian brothers and sisters who make their living from the soil.  In a word, I am PUMPED.

But then, as I pulled out of the Holiday Inn parking lot, what was my first stop?  Fargo's Asian grocery store.

I can't help it.  The bulk bags of rice, the amazing array of curry sauces, the packages of I-don't-know-what-the-hell-this-is-but-I'm-buying-it-anyway.  I stock up on black bean sauce, sesame oil, ginger candy and Thai chiles.  I indulge in a bag of baby bok choy and some tamarind paste.  I think about the quail eggs and wonder what I could make with a can of coconut cream.  The core of our diet may come from our CSA veggies, backyard garden, and the meat we cull from the fields and lakes of North Dakota, but life's about balance.  Even the most die-hard local foodies probably indulge in a mango or banana now and then (except Joel Salatin, I'm guessing).

Mmmmmmm. Chestnut meat. 

When I found chestnuts at the Asian market, I basically bought the rest of their stock.  The only time I ever had roasted chestnuts was on the streets of a small town in Spain, December 2001.  I was window shopping for holiday gifts before returning home from my semester abroad.  I could smell those sweet chestnuts from the street vendor a block away.  I purchased some for a few pesetas (this was pre-Euro), served in a newspaper cone, the heat warming my chilled hands.  They were the most perfect food for that exact moment.  Now I had the chance to try to replicate it at home.

Roasted chestnuts taste a little bit like a baked potato, but sweeter.  There is no magic to cooking them; just slash 'em (most people cut an X into them, but I'm clumsy, so just a quick slash did the trick for me), soak 'em, and then roast 'em until they are dark with some black spots.  We don't have an official chestnut roasting pan, so we used a bucket attached to an iron pole with some duct tape.  It ain't classy, but it worked.  (We also roasted some in the oven at 400 degrees, which worked fine too.)

Bucket + duct tape = roasting pan

I read somewhere that February is the end of the chestnut season, and to be honest, I don't think our chestnuts were very fresh.  They tasted similar to what I remembered so vividly, but were missing that fluffy full baked potato texture.  These ended up a little more chewy than fluffy.  Or maybe we didn't cook them long enough.  Or maybe my taste memory was exaggerated by the romance of holiday shopping in Spain on a chilly winter evening.  Regardless, I'm willing to try roasted chestnuts again someday - preferably on a European street corner, purchased for a few coins from a vendor on a chilly winter evening, Christmas lights twinkling all around.

In the meantime, I think I have some good 'ol North Dakota shredded zucchini in the freezer, just waiting for its opportunity to star in the next batch of chocolate zucchini cake...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Apple Sweets for Your Sweet

Why, hello there chocolate-caramel-toffee-crunch-apple-with-white-chocolate-drizzle.  What a pleasure to run into you today....

My friend Lindsay gave me one of these amazing homemade apple treats.  Lindsay and her husband are a young couple that just bought a beautiful homestead near Carrington with a dream of planting a fruit orchard on their 40 acres.  Maybe a big apple orchard.  Yes, maybe an apple orchard where people can come pick to their hearts content, and they can sell apples to the local wineries, and maybe Lindsay could become The Apple Lady flexing her domestic muscle with amazing apple butters, pies, sauces, and all else that is holy in this great Johnny Appleseed land of ours.

But a woman has got to start somewhere, so Lindsay's making and selling these for Valentine's Day, one sweet little step on the road to her own apple queendom.

If you want to procure some of this apple loveliness for your Valentine (or for yourself - I won't tell), get the details on Lindsay's blog here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dakota Grown

In Fargo.  Right now.  Right this minute.  The business center at the Holiday Inn, to be exact, as this little blogger forgot her netbook and is still living under a rock without a smartphone.  Boo. 

A wonderful woman named Kathy Pinke (she has a blog!  check it out here!) is shaking things up as the newest employee at the ND Dept of Agriculture by adding some extra social media muscle to their promotional toolkit.  Being the smart lady she is, she invited a few local bloggers to this weekend's Dakota Grown Conference, discussing local food initiatives.  And guess who snagged an invite...

So Ms. Dakota Pam (she has a blog too!  right here!) and I hopped in my little Nissan and cruised down I-94 this morning, passing the drive time with stories of potty training, blogging and commentary on how awesome it feels to be away from the kids and husband, if only for a quick 36-hour trip.

(Hi honey.  Miss you!) 

I've met some amazing people: the herb garden artist Holly from Gardendwellers; a man named Hero that has great ideas for moving the Bismarck Farmers Market out of its current undesirable location in a Kmart parking lot; the enthusiastic Sue, who is recording the kitchen stories and recipes of the elderly German folks in south-central ND, and in turn inspiring me to make goose lard in my kitchen; and the amazing Linda with the Great Plains Food Bank, an organization feeding thousands of North Dakotans with the food the rest of us consider as excess.  And even the folks from Sysco, the company that I viewed as an evil corporate food empire, meeting them and hearing them say they are here to meet local growers to incorporate more local produce into their supply chain...and how they actually wish their clients would cry out louder for locally produced food. 

There are plenty of food issues that need to be addressed in the state.  Production, distribution, and access to real, healthy, good good food for all North Dakotans is something we should all care about, and I'm tickled to be here and meet these great people who are working every day to solve these problems in their own little way. 

And maybe, somehow, in some tiny way, this little blog is part of the solution too.  Maybe we are all tiny parts to the solution, every time we cook up dinner at home using kale from our CSA, eggs from the farm down the highway, or venison we harvested in the Badlands.  Every little meal making a difference.  What a beautiful idea.