17 April 2014


The best part of playing in beginner band: hearing 50 hyper-active kids play Hot Cross Buns on their various noisemakers, badly and with the wrong notes.  That's what I still think of when I see these words in print. They are also a tasty little Easter-centric treat, particularly in the U.K. and its affiliates

This recipe is adapted from a very clever idea I saw on the excellent blog, The Kitchn, which uses Earl Grey tea to help flavor the dough. I skipped the piped icing and milk brushed on top; just toast them and have them with jam or butter if you need that in your lives.  I like to eat these and watch zombie movies.  Don't ask why.

Earl Grey Hot Cross Buns

Makes 12

2/3 cup water
3 Earl Grey tea bags
1 (1/4 ounce) packet of dried yeast
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
1/2 cup currants or raisins

Bring the water to a boil on the stovetop or in the microwave. Remove from heat and steep the tea bags in the water for 15 minutes. Remove the tea bags, squeezing as much liquid as possible out of them and discard. Let the tea cool until it is lukewarm.

In a small bowl, stir together the brewed tea, yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of the flour. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Heat the butter and milk together in a small saucepan over a low heat until the butter has just melted; remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Whisk in the egg.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the remaining flour, salt, spices, lemon zest, orange zest and currants. Pour the tea mixture and the milk mixture over top. Stir together until there are only a few floury patches remaining. Tip the contents of the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.

Clean the large mixing bowl and grease with some oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Divide the risen dough evenly into 12 pieces and roll them into balls. Place onto a parchment-lined baking tray spaced a few inches apart. Slash a cross into the top of each bun using a sharp knife or razor. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise for 30 minutes until doubled in size.

While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown all over. Cool completely then store in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month.

15 April 2014

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins with Chia Seeds

Hey, it's actually been a while since I posted a muffin recipe! I love the lightness of lemon and blueberry in baked goods--it always reminds me of spring--but don't love the thought of eating pure white flour and sugar in the morning.  I have tried to add a little more of the good stuff (in the form of whole grain flour and chia seeds, in this case) to this recipe without making these hockey-puck heavy, and of course, yogurt is always a great substitute for oil or butter.  See what you think, and get creative with alternative flours (rice, spelt, etc.) if you have them on hand.

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins

Makes 12

1/3 cup milk
8 oz. Greek honey yogurt
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.

Beat together all wet ingredients (milk through lemon juice) in a large mixing bowl. Add all dry ingredients and combine thoroughly, gently folding in the blueberries at the end.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups and bake 16-18 minutes or until golden on top. Cool 5 minutes or so before removing from pan.

And some other muffin recipes for your baking pleasure...
Basic Breakfast Muffin Batter
Chocolate-Rhubarb Muffins
Cranberry Sauce Muffins
Island Muffins
Lemon-Tahini Muffins
Smitten Kitchen's Pumpkin Muffins

11 April 2014

More treats from Nashville

I had a tight stop in Nashville after appearing at a festival in March and couldn't resist squeezing in a couple of meals.  OK, I totally pigged out.

When I first visited in March 2013, I had hosts to take me around and share their favorites, which were all amazing.  This time I did a little research of my own and came up with a decadent dinner and oh-so-charming breakfast on the way to the airport.

The Catbird Seat comes up again and again in searches for great food in Nashville. If I was ever a skeptic, my visit cured me.  It's a small place where diners sit around the chef and watch him cook your food. That's a little gimmicky/1980s Hibachi craze for me, and in extroverted Nashville, I will admit that I was definitely the wallflower in the group. But I did get to see everyone's food, and it all looked amazing. And you eat whatever he decides to make that day, but don't worry--you're in good hands. I rarely like duck (go ahead, hate me), but the duck with crispy skin and smoked pears was absolutely beautiful. Wagyu beef and bitter greens was melt-in-your mouth tender with a sharp little pop of mustard. And the sturgeon nigiri served over potato that looked like rice was brilliant, fluffy, and salty.  For dessert, we had honey ice cream with lemon curd and a buttermilk biscuit (above).  Delish.

You want to pick your own dinner like a grown-up?  OK, how about some chicken?  In a total about-face from the aforementioned chi-chi bistro, I like Prince's Hot Chicken Shack.  It's kind of a dump in a strip mall that serves beautifully crispy, non-greasy, and pleasingly spicy fried chicken.  Growing up in northern Illinois, my only glimpse into "Southern" fried chicken was Popeye's, which I always thought was fine.  But now I get it.  They stay open until 2am, so you can drop in for some protein served up with a side of Wonder Bread (we are in the South, after all) and pickles to sop up the alcohol poisoning that's going on inside.

I got ahead of myself!  You want to go out for drinks and hear some kick-ass music, right? There are so many choices for live music and booze in Music City, USA, but I hate country music, so that helped me narrow my choices quite a bit.  As a Chicago girl, I'll sample the local blues anytime. I went to Bourbon Street Blues and heard a great show.  The catfish sliders are nice, and they have a great selection of local whiskeys.  Ask for a whiskey ginger if you need some training wheels (I do).  It's just whiskey, ginger ale, and a lime, so no one will beat you up for ordering it. Then, back up and get chicken.

And now, after the potato-disguised-as-rice, whiskey, and fried chicken, you are woozy and have done terrible things to your stomach.  Before suffering through security at the Nashville airport (which seems like an odd collection of impatient, seasoned travelers and scared families from the sticks who have never been on a plane), get a little coffee and a nice, buttery pastry at CREMA.  Known for their frequent collaborations with Catbird Seat, they serve a beautiful cappuccino, and their pastries are fresh, fluffy, and all made locally. It has a quiet, slightly Pottery-Barn feel perfect for nursing your headache. But if you have the time and the stomach for it, you could also go to Frothy Monkey, which has equally terrific coffee and pastries along with comforting hot breakfast dishes in a funky, down-homey setting.

Bon voyage!

08 April 2014

Shirataki noodles, or, why I'm glad I'm not on a diet

I am admittedly slow to the party in the shirataki noodle revolution, but once my dumpy little ag town finally started carrying them, try I did.  They have been heralded as the saving grace of low-carb, low-cal diets everywhere, which is a bit of a red flag. They are not inedible, but there are some things you should know.

They are indeed zero fat, zero calories, as the package boasts. They are also zero anything else that you need in the way of nutrients, like fiber, calcium, protein, or any host of other essentials present in various forms of pasta deemed evil by dieters.  I mean, that's OK, but you'd better make sure you top them with some mad healthy vegetables (not a pile of cheese, as suggested by Hungry Girl) to make up for it.  And it's weird, wight?  How can you chew something that puts nothing in your body?

They might make you feel funny.  Because they're not actually made of nothing, your body may or may not like what you're digesting.  The combination of chick pea flour (not a traditional ingredient, but in the brand I tried) and Japanese yam flour left me feeling strangely full yet dissatisfied, and there was some moderate grumbling down below for about an hour after my dining experience.  I'm not talking about my stomach grumbling, folks.  Think lower.

They taste like absolutely nothing, but they smell like fish.  I mean, they really smell like fish.  When I opened the package, my cats went crazy.  I rinsed them very thoroughly according to package directions, and then they smelled slightly less fishy.  I used the microwave method listed on the package because I am lazy, so I nuked them for 2 minutes, and they were less slimy but still fishy.  They won't add any fish flavor to your dish, but you will smell it in every bite, making Italian-inspired recipes seem a little gross, I would think.  And speaking of slimy...

Phillip is ready to be served his shirataki noodles now please.

They are as wet and slippery as they look.  And so chewy. Holy cow they are chewy. It takes a lot of work to grind these babies up with your teeth!  Many of them just slipped down my throat in long pieces before I could catch them, because I had already thoroughly macerated the rest of what was in my mouth and had barely managed to dent the noodles.  There should be a choking hazard listed on the package.

Right.  So, they are slick, chewy, calorie- and nutrient-negative, and they smell a little bit like fish.  This is just my opinion, of course, but these seemed like such obvious truths as I was eating them that I couldn't believe I'd never heard this information out there in cyber space before.  I mean, they're OK, but there are some limiting factors here, and I think the best pairing with shirataki noodles is therefore a very healthy dose of vegetables (and maybe some lean protein, if you feel like it) and something that won't be ruined by fishy smell, like Asian food.  Here's what I came up with, which was pleasant enough, but I think next time I'll use rice noodles instead.

Quick Kimchi Stirfry with Noodles

Serves 3-4

8 oz. broad rice noodles
1 scant tablespoon peanut oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small yellow (or red or orange) bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger or lemongrass
½ teaspoon sugar
Dash soy sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons kimchi, more or less to taste (prepared is fine, or you can make your own with this delish recipe)
Crushed peanuts for garnish

Prepare noodles according to package directions.

Over medium-high heat, warm the oil in a large frying pan.  When it shimmers, add the onion, stirring constantly until it softens, about 5 minutes.  Add the bell pepper and ginger or lemongrass, and continue to cook, stirring constantly until pepper is crisp-tender.  Add the cabbage, lime juice, and sugar and continue to stir until cabbage wilts.  Season with a little soy sauce; the flavor should be fresh and light.  Stir in the kimchi and heat through.  Toss with the noodles in the pan and serve with crushed peanuts on top.