Trouble With Toast

Recipe: The Best Blueberry Muffins Ever, Period, End of Story

January 26, 2010

Last weekend was my last truly lazy one for a long time – my triathlon training starts this coming Saturday, so most of my mornings from here on out will involve getting up early to ride and run with the team.  So, taking full advantage of my lack of responsibilities, I spent the past Saturday morning lounging in my jammies and watching cooking shows on public television.

It just so happened that America’s Test Kitchen was focusing on breakfast items – specifically, French omelets and blueberry muffins.  I was particularly interested in their discussion of blueberry muffins, since they never seem to meet my lofty expectations.  They rarely have enough blueberry flavor, but the ATK pros asserted that simply adding more berries doesn’t solve the problem (since that just weighs the muffins down by adding too much moisture).  Texture-wise, most blueberry breakfast treats are either too dense or too crumbly; the ATK cooks talked a lot about overmixing, and how the formation of too much gluten can really muck up a muffin.  So what were the proposed solutions?  For mega-blueberry flavor without extra moisture or weight, they made a concentrated jam with half of the recipe’s berries and then swirled it into the batter at the end.  To avoid textural problems, the folks at ATK swore up and down that a) beating the egg/sugar mixture at a moderate pace for 80 strokes was the perfect amount of mixing, and b) that folding the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients JUST until the dry ingredients were moistened would avoid any excess gluten.  I was skeptical that these nitpicky suggestions would yield any tangible (or, tasteable) results, but I was determined to give it a go.

The end product?  The best. Blueberry. Muffin. EVER.

I know I can be prone to hyperbole, but that statement is no exaggeration.  The flavor was incredible – very berry-y, and not cloyingly sweet (the citrus kick from the topping was a really nice touch).  The texture was spot-on, with just the right amount of moistness and a perfect ratio of crusty top portion.  I don’t know what else to say, other than that these muffins were the BOMB DIGGITY, and they really only required one or two extra steps.  I guarantee that the minimal additional work will be WELL worth it when you bite into these delicious pastries.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Lemon Sugar Topping

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Zest from one lemon (about 1 ½ teaspoons)


  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1 1/8 cups sugar, plus one teaspoon
  • 2 ½ cups AP flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Stir the sugar and zest together until combined; set aside.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick spray.  Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, mashing berries with a spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to ¼ cup, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer to bowl and cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl.  Whisk remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds (remember, 80 strokes).  Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined.  Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined.  Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened.  The batter will be very lumpy with spots of dry flour; do not overmix!

Use an ice cream scoop or large spoon to divide batter equally among muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly).  Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound, pushing it below the surface.  Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure eight motion.  Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, about 17-19 minutes, rotating muffin tin (front to back) halfway through cooking time.  Cool muffins in tin for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool 5 more minutes before serving.


Be Like the Bluebird

October 6, 2009

Many weekends, my hubby and I go out for breakfast.  Highland Bakery is always a favorite, as we can bring the pup and eat outdoors (and they have a very respectable eggs Benedict and some darn good home fries).  Gato Bizco is also a winner, with its yummy buttery biscuits and HUGE omelets.  During a recent weekend, however, Jason convinced me to try something new.  That’s how we found ourselves at Ria’s Bluebird on a sunny Sunday morning.

We got there around 11 AM, and there was a sizeable group waiting outside.  It was a beautiful day, though, so the 45-minute wait was much more pleasant than I anticipated.  As we were perusing the menu, I noticed that Ria’s claimed to have the “world’s best pancakes” (a claim that was further authenticated by the New York Times, apparently).  Anytime a restaurant (or any other business, for that matter) says that it has the best of something, I am immediately skeptical.  It is bold to claim to be superlative in ANY sense, so I’m always waiting for the letdown.  Hey, I can’t be an optimist ALL the time.

Once we were seated at the bar, we decided on a plan of attack.  Jason would order “today’s omelette” (which was filled with tomatoes and blue cheese) and I would order the breakfast burrito (with eggs, black beans, salsa verde, and sour cream), and then we would split a short stack of the pancakes with caramelized bananas.  Hey, don’t judge, waiting made us hungry.  Because of the blue cheese component, I wouldn’t touch Jason’s omelette, but he scarfed it down and said it was tasty.  The burrito was HUGE and quite good, with the beans being cooked nicely and the salsa having a very refreshing flavor (though it could have used a bit more kick for my liking).  Opinions were split on the accompanying biscuits–Jason really liked them, but they were definitely not my style (these were more like bread or cake than true biscuits).

Then…there were the pancakes.  As skeptical as I was, and as much as I wanted to prove Ria’s menu (and the NYT) wrong, I have to eat crow and tell the truth.  These pancakes were absolutely, positively, without fail THE BEST I HAVE EVER HAD.  Period, end of story.  The pancakes themselves were delicately sweet but not too sugary, so the addition of maple syrup and caramelized bananas was decadent without being cloying.  The part that amazed me more, though, was the texture.  The pancakes were so light and so fluffy that I asked our server in amazement, “How do they MAKE them like that???”  Utterly fabulous, and worth every sinful calorie.

Service was fine, though it was very busy so there wasn’t as much checking in as I’d usually prefer.  Prices were in line with other breakfasts in the area.  The menu is somewhat small, but with those pancakes on the list of available items, I’m not sure you need a litany of other choices.  The wait was really the only downside, so I wonder if taking some pancakes to go would be a decent option if one was really starving.  Overall, I’d say our first trip to Ria’s was a sweet success, and I will continue to dream about those pancakes until I can plan a return trip.

Recipe: Strawberry Lemon Muffins

May 19, 2009

As many of you know (and those who don’t can educate themselves here), I am training for two triathlons this summer.  In addition to hard-core physical training, I’ve also been preparing for the events by focusing on proper nutrition.  It’s been even easier since my fiance decided to join a fitness boot camp and lose some of his extra poundage.  We’re concentrating on protein-to-carb ratios, good fats, fresh fruits and veggies, and eating 5-6 small meals per day instead of 2-3 big binges.

Any former or current “dieter” knows that eating healthy can sometimes be…well, BORING.  How many ways can you grill a chicken breast?  How exciting can a salad truly be when it’s the sixth day in a row you’ve eaten one?  Why do all protein shakes seem to taste like a mixture of sidewalk chalk and candy that you accidentally leave in your car on a hot summer day?  It is with these burning questions in mind that I present to you…

Eating for Athletes: A Trouble With Toast Special Event!!!

Over the next week or two, I will focus on healthy recipes that are–gasp–actually tasty!  They’ll also be relatively easy to prepare, since athletes, I’m finding (now that I technically am one), are always pressed for time.

To lead off the series, heeeeeeeeere’s breakfast!  It’s the most important meal of the day, kiddies, and these muffins will make it one of the yummiest, too.  I adapted this from a Cooking Light magazine recipe for strawberry-orange muffins, and I couldn’t be happier with my changes.  The strawberries, besides having great flavor, give the muffins a nice pinky hue and a punch of fiber.  The lemon brightens things up and cuts the sweetness.  As with most basic baked goods, you could certainly sub out Egg Beaters for the eggs and Splenda for Baking for the sugar.  Either way, these are good, good for you, and good with coffee!

  • 1 1/2  cups halved strawberries
  • 3  tablespoons butter or stick margarine, melted
  • 2  teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1 1/2  cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4  cups sugar
  • 1  teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 2  teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a blender, and process just until blended. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1 1/4 cups sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add strawberry mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pan immediately.

Nutrition (per muffin): Calories 184 (20% from fat), Fat 4g (sat 2.1g,mono 1.2g,poly 0.3g), Protein 2.8g, Carbohydrate 34.8g, Fiber 0.8g, Cholesterol 45mg, Iron 1mg, Sodium 179mg, Calcium 33mg.

Strawberry muffins

Recipe: Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

January 9, 2009

I don’t do too many shameless plugs on this site.  Okay, let me rephrase: I don’t do too many non-food-related shameless plugs on this site.  Happy now?  Sheesh.

Anyway, my plug is for Borders (yes, the bookstore).  Not only is their loyalty rewards program FREE (unlike another large bookstore chain I might mention), but they send me super duper coupons every month or so.  For example, right before Christmas, I got a coupon for 40% off any book in the store.  I knew I would be buying a nice hardback cookbook, since they’re the most expensive books I buy, and they never seem to go on sale.  Damn celebrity chefs and their royalties.

Long story short (too late, I know), I used my 40% off coupon at Borders to buy Ina Garten’s new cookbook, “Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.”  I even bought a copy for my mom, because I was so impressed with the helpful tips and the yummy-looking yet relatively easy recipes.  The only question that remained was which recipe I’d tackle first.

I settled on this pound cake because a) I had all of the ingredients, and b) I had recently eaten the last piece of the Bailey’s bundt cake.  Not only was this cake simple to prepare, but it made my kitchen smell divine.  This is a great breakfast treat, but it also works well as a dessert.  So thank you, Ina and Borders, for keeping my sweet tooth satisfied.

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
    1 1/4 cups sugar
    4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
    2 tablespoons mild honey
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a standard loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light. Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup (but do NOT mix). With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add it very slowly to the butter and egg mixture until just combined. Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, turn out on a baking rack, and cool completely.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Irish Creme Pound Cake

January 7, 2009
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Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal.  Eggs, bacon, biscuits, sausage, hash browns–I am a fan of pretty much all of the savory A.M. treats.  And while I usually tend toward the salty end of the breakfast spectrum, I do occasionally crave something sweet in the morning.

Enter this great coffee cake recipe, complete with breakfast booze!  Don’t worry, the amount of Bailey’s is just enough to taste it without worrying about breathing on your boss.  This is a fairly straightforward recipe to follow, but do make sure you fully soften the butter and cream cheese–it will definitely affect the texture of the finished product.  If you’re not a sweet breakfast person, this cake also makes a wonderful dessert–try it heated with just a bit of vanilla frozen yogurt.  Yum!

  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate minichips
  • 1 teaspoon cake flour
  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour (about 11 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 10 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1  cup granulated sugar
  • 1  cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3  large eggs
  • 3/4 cup Irish cream liqueur
  • Baking spray with flour
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • Preheat oven to 325.

    Combine chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon flour in a small bowl; toss.

    Lightly spoon 2 3/4 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

    Place cream cheese and butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed to blend. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time; beat well after each addition. Beat on high speed 1 minute. With mixer on low, add flour mixture and liqueur alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into a 12-cup Bundt pan coated with baking spray. Bake at 325 for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over cake.

    * Sorry for the lack of a photograph.  My wonderful digital camera met its end this weekend, when I clumsily dropped it while taking a picture of my adorable dog.  I know, I’m pathetic.  Sue me.

    Special Pancakes

    December 18, 2008

    When I was a kid, breakfast was always a fun weekend tradition.  My dad was the omelette master, my grandmother made great home fries, and my mom…well, she made special pancakes.  The minute I smelled their sweetness wafting upstairs, I bolted out of bed and stood by the stove as she mixed batter and then formed thin, crepe-like cakes.  I loved that they developed delicious brown “craters” as they cooked through.  I loved trying to get away with putting just confectioners sugar inside the rolled treats (instead of the usual jams and jellies).  Most of all, I loved that the whole family spent time together in the kitchen while the pancakes were being flipped.

    As an adult, I realize that the recipe is as simple as they come.  All you do is combine 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cold milk, 3 eggs, and a pinch of salt, mix until smooth, and then pour the batter into a large nonstick skillet (swirling to spread) over low-medium heat.  When the edges curl up, flip and cook a few minutes more.  Place some fruit or preserves atop the finished pancake, roll, and top with sugar.

    As an adult, I also realize that the simplest gestures can convey the most complex feelings–like the love I shared with Jason when I made these special pancakes for him this past weekend, and the love my mother shared with me when she did the same throughout my childhood.


    Parish gets it right

    October 23, 2008

    The first time we visited Parish (another Concentrics restaurant), we didn’t eat.  I won’t get into the dirty details, but basically, their website was very misleading about their dog-friendliness, and the policy was communicated to us in such a way that we felt uncomfortable and unwelcome.  My fiance was so upset by the experience that he wrote an angry (but still polite) email to company management.

    Well, management was prompt in getting back to us, apologizing, and inviting us back for brunch on the house.  So, we went in on a Sunday afternoon, and we sat on the back patio by the market with our pup.  Chris was our server, and he made great recommendations (since it was our first time dining there) and was incredibly friendly.  Beignets came out right away, and while they weren’t as light and airy as some I’ve had in New Orleans, they were tasty and a decadent start to the meal.

    After we ordered a cup of the chicken and andouille gumbo (tangy, and served in cute little cast-iron pots), we let Chris bring us whatever he thought was best.  For Jason, he brought the crab sardou omelette, with crab, artichoke, spinach, hollandaise, and hashbrowns and fruit.  He loved it!  I got the chicken pontalba, which is a skin-on roasted chicken breast roll-up sort of thing with andouille hash and hollandaise.  Oh my gosh, it was so rich and delicious–and the chicken was cooked PERFECTLY.  We also split a half-order of pain perdu, which is basically Cajun-influenced French toast.  A nice sweet end to the meal.

    We had a great breakfast cocktail, a Napa Sunrise–grapefuit juice mixed with rose brut.  Like a mimosa, but more tangy than sweet.  Delicious and refreshing.

    We couldn’t eat another bite, so we didn’t have dessert–but Chris sent us home with a pear pastry that we heated up later, and it was quite good.  So, a MUCH better experience than our first one!  I’m sure there was special attention paid to us because we complained about our previous treatment, but it worked in turning our opinions around–and we’ll definitely be back!  Note to all restaurants: it is so simple (and relatively inexpensive) to turn a negative experience into a positive one for a guest.  Do yourselves a favor and invest in quality customer service!  Parish made things right, and it made us happy–and repeat–diners.

    Recipe: Tortilla with Chorizo

    October 15, 2008
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    NOTE: Before you attempt this recipe, make absolutely certain that you have an OVEN-SAFE 12-inch skillet.  Disaster will result and familial relations may be severely jeopardized if you do not heed this advice.

    Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But when I volunteered to make this breakfast while at my parents’ mountain vacation home last weekend, I assumed that I would have the proper tools to cook with.  And we all know what happens when you assume.

    After giving my mom a hard time and beating myself up a bit, I did manage to salvage the idea of this dish.  The flavors are all there, and it is incredibly hearty, but you really need to finish it in the oven to get that great frittata/tortilla browning while cooking the middle of the eggs and not burning the bottom.  I would also note, I cubed the potatoes pretty roughly, and I might suggest dicing them a little smaller.  Otherwise, as long as you’ve got a pan that can handle the heat, get in the kitchen and make this dish!

    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
    • 1 red pepper, roughly chopped
    • 1 (7-ounce) package pre-cooked chorizo, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 pound red potatoes, cubed, boiled until tender and drained
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1 pinch
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 12 eggs

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

    Heat canola oil in a 12-inch nonstick or cast iron saute pan over medium high heat. Add onions and peppers, cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add chorizo, potatoes, garlic, and cilantro stirring carefully as to not break up the potatoes, cook 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper.

    In a large bowl whisk eggs with a pinch of salt until well blended. Add eggs to the pan with the chorizo mixture. Stir gently with a heatproof spatula, allowing the bottom to cook, pulling away at the sides to allow the egg on top to run underneath as if cooking an omelet.

    When eggs are mostly set but still a little runny place pan in oven for about 5 minutes until set and slightly puffed and brown on top.

    Remove from oven. Cut into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    Recipe: Lamb Sausage

    September 29, 2008
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    I love breakfast.  It is, hands down, my favorite meal.  When I was living in the sorority house, seeing “breakfast for dinner” on the menu was nearly as exciting as when we scored a social with a hottie-filled frat (yes, my priorities were very different back then).

    I do also love bacon, but I think I would give sausage the edge as my breakfast meat of choice.  So, when I saw this recipe for homemade patties on Bon Appetit’s website, I knew I had to give it a go.  They were really tasty, though they reminded me more of mini-lamb burgers than of breakfast sausage.  The garlic really made the lamb pop, the feta added a nice salty note, and the mint rounded all the flavors out quite nicely.  Served with eggs and hash browns, it was such a hearty, delicious meal that I didn’t eat for the rest of the day!

    • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb shoulder
      2 large garlic cloves, pressed
      1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
      1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
      1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
      1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

    Place lamb in large bowl. Sprinkle garlic and salt over. Gently toss lamb to blend. Combine feta and mint in small bowl.

    Divide lamb into 12 equal mounds. Using damp hands, shape each into ball. Working with 1 ball at a time, poke thumb into center to make hole. Press 1 teaspoon feta-mint filling into hole. Pinch hole closed, then press ball between palms to flatten into 3/4-inch-thick disk. Repeat with remaining lamb and feta-mint filling.

    Preheat oven to 250°F. Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, cook lamb sausages until browned on both sides and cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Transfer sausages to rimmed baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Serve hot.

    Day off = breakfast deliciousness!

    February 21, 2008

    The best part about federal holidays?  The fact that neither my sweetie nor I have to work, which means that we can enjoy a tasty and leisurely breakfast.  This past Monday, it was blueberry pancakes (with bananas, for me), soy sausage links, and hot, fresh-brewed coffee.  It definitely gave us the stamina…to vigorously clean our apartment (you all have dirty minds, by the way)!  Yum…


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