Presenting: the muffin you’ll need to get you through fall. Through the Halloween sugar hangover and the family visiting for Thanksgiving weekend. Through the lazy Sundays, and even through Christmas morning. With their jewel tones and sweet cinnamon spicing, these are an unforgettable staple, a simple meal that manages to have pizzazz.
There’s an actual method to muffins, a formula that’ll help make sense of the recipe you’ll see at the bottom of this post. Essentially, muffins are quick breads, baked goods that use a leavener like baking powder to rise (as opposed to bread, which could be known as “slow bread,” and takes its time when rising). Like zucchini and banana bread before them, cranberry-walnut muffins should be moist and just slightly chewy. At their best, they’ll melt in your mouth.
How do they get this way? Well, first you combine the dry ingredients. That means sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices–here, cinnamon.
In a second bowl, we combine the wet ingredients: eggs, oil, and orange juice.
When we combine the two, we do so with a light touch, pouring the wet ingredients over the dry and then folding together gently. This preserves a light crumb and that melt-in-your-mouth texture that makes people go back for seconds.
When the wet and dry ingredients are just barely combined–it’s far better to see a few streaks of flour, which will be absorbed during baking, than to overmix–we throw in the good stuff, cranberries and walnuts. The fall flavors of this pair are what elevate this muffin to its true height.
Baking is a cinch: scoop the batter into muffin tins and stick in a hot oven for around 20 minutes.
Once they are risen and golden, they’re ready to eat!
All muffins are best warm, still hot from the oven. These are instant gratification in muffin form, and fortunately for early birds, there’s not much need to let them cool.
Every month, Lori Yates from Foxes Love Lemons takes a lesson she learned in culinary school, while working with some of the country’s best chefs, and takes it into the home kitchen, where her tips will help make you a faster, better, and more confident cook. Welcome to her column, Home Chef.
In one of the final classes of my culinary school curriculum, we learned how to work the various stations in our student-run kitchen. Groups of three students would take their turns on the sauté, grill, and salad stations.
But one station was tucked away in the corner, with little contact to the outside world. The Soup Station. While other groups scurried to prep the 15 – 20 items needed for that day’s dish, this station had only one task: make a great pot of soup. Why did it take four hours for three students to make one pot of soup? Because it wasn’t about the soup. It was about the seasoning.
There’s a myth that the reason restaurant food tastes so good is because it’s so well salted. But there are many ways to season food other than just with salt. In fact, my chef instructors taught us that salt isn’t always the first thing to reach for. That’s great news for anyone looking for a way to make healthy dishes taste great without going overboard on sodium. Since hearty soups make for great food resolution eating, I thought I’d share these tips.
The culinary school’s Soup Station meant lots of one-one-one time with the chef instructors, tasting and re-tasting the soup of the day, and adjusting it until it was perfect. We were instructed to start with spice, then move on to salt, then finish with acid (wine, then vinegar, then lemon juice) We learned this technique using the blank canvas of basic broth soups, but of course they’ll apply to ramen or tortilla soup, too.
Let’s get started. Taste your almost-finished dish. Is it perfect? If so, you really lucked out. That never happens for me.
If you get the feeling that “something is missing,” start with spice. If your dish already includes some sort of spice (like cayenne, black or white pepper, paprika, etc.), it’s natural to add an extra dash of that to try to perk things up. Or, now might be the time to add some pepper for the first time, if it’s appropriate for the flavors of your meal. Take it slow, and add just a little bit at a time until you can taste a difference. You don’t want to make your dish spicy, you just want to jazz up the flavor a little bit. Sometimes, an extra dash is all you need.
If you’ve added a few more sprinkles of spice, and you’re still not totally loving it, the next step is salt. Salt is known as a flavorant – something that enhances the flavor of food, rather than contributing its own. Because salt is one of the five primary tastes the human tongue can detect, a dish without any trace of salt will almost always seem flat. The coarse texture of kosher salt makes it a cook’s best friend – it’s easy to grab a pinch to stir into your dish.
After you’ve gradually added a few pinches of salt, make sure you have a drink of water to cleanse your palate, and then re-taste. Would you describe your dish as bright and well-rounded? Does one bite make you want to keep eating ten more bites? If the answer is no, you still have work to do.
The final line of defense against a bland dinner is acid. Let’s start with wine, a mild acid. Because I don’t always want to open a whole bottle of wine for just a splash, I like to keep those little one-serving bottles of wine on hand – both dry red and dry white varieties. Think about the dish you’re making, and what type of wine you would like to drink with it – that’s the type of wine you’ll want to season with. For chicken noodle soup, I like to add a splash of white wine. Beef and barley soup would be complemented by red wine.
If you don’t keep wine on hand, or you added it and it didn’t quite cut it, move on to vinegar. Here too, I like to reach for red wine and white wine varieties of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is also very versatile. A little bit of vinegar goes a long way, so add a teaspoon of vinegar at a time, and taste after each spoonful. You should be able to taste your dish perking right up. The flavors of each ingredient will start to pop, and the brightness will make your dish have that “craveable” nature every cook strives for.
If you’ve tried spice, salt, wine and vinegar, and your dish STILL tastes dull, that’s a rough day in the kitchen. Don’t despair – yet. Grab a lemon (or a lime, if the flavor works with your meal). Squeeze some juice into your dish and cross your fingers. I’m a firm believer that a little lemon juice can improve ANY dish. After all this hard work, you should be looking at a pretty great pot of soup now.
I know this process sounds like it takes about an hour. I promise it doesn’t. When you’re first getting started learning about seasoning, it can take about ten minutes at the end of your cooking time to make adjustments and get everything tasting great. But once you learn the basics, these rules become second nature, and can be done in less than a minute.
Always keep your seasonings nearby. That’s the sign of a true home chef.
Lori Yates is a Detroit-area food writer, photographer and recipe developer. She is the author of Foxes Love Lemons, where she posts special yet simple original recipes and restaurant reviews. Her mission is to encourage people to enjoy the act of cooking at home. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s soup season! Grab your tureens and your ladles, and let’s start stewing up pots of delicious, healthful, and vegetable-laden soups. While we’ve sent out a whole range of soups, from brothy chicken noodleto vegetarian tortilla soup to creamy chowder, today we wanted to share a few steps so that you can build up a pretty good soup no matter what ingredients you have on hand.
At their best, soups are a curated hodgepodge of ingredients, all intended to turn water into a nourishing meal. By sautéing meats and aromatics, using tasty chicken or vegetable brown, and adding in plenty of herbs and vegetables, you’ll brew your stew into the centerpiece of the meal.
It’s the one thing that will always make you a better cook, allowing you to pay attention into what’s in the pot, instead of frantically chopping squash while your onions unexpectedly burn.
2. Brown your meat.
Pick small amounts of tasty meat, preferably something that has a high fat content, so you start with a really tasty base. We like frying a few strips of bacon when we make lentil soup, and we love how spiced lamb sausage turns our butternut soup into something unique. If you’re making a vegetarian soup, obviously skip this step!
3. Add aromatics and hard vegetables.
Early on in the soup-making process, you’ll want to throw in a whole chopped onion, a decent amount of garlic, and perhaps some ginger if you’re making an Asian-inflected soup like udon.Sauté the vegetables in the fat leftover from the meat. As the vegetables soften, they’ll start to impart flavor to your growing pot of soup. We also add harder vegetables, like carrots, squash, and celery to the soup at this point.
4. Deglaze and simmer.
Once the vegetables have cooked for a few minutes, we pour in stock or water (stock will give your final soup more flavor). As the stock comes to a boil, we scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure to release all the sucs–the browned meat and vegetables stuck to the bottom, which add tons of flavor. Soups should usually simmer for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Add softer vegetables.
When the soup is more or less done – any veggies and grains are soft, and the whole soup is richly flavored, it’s time to add softer vegetables, like spinach or other greens, which cook really quickly. Simply plunge the vegetables into the soup and cook for a few more minutes, until wilted. Once those are cooked, you’ll want to taste for seasoning, adding more salt as necessary.
You’re ready to eat! But before you do, consider livening up your pot of stew with some fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of vinegar, some really good olive oil, or grated cheese (what you choose will depend on what kind of soup you made). Adding something fresh at the end helps give the earthy soup an extra layer of interest, texture, and flavor. Now, grab a spoon and dive in!
As you hopefully know by now, Blue Apron is now on video! Every week, we post a new film on our YouTube channeland over here on the blog.
Today we’re sharing one of our chef’s classic drinks: a homemade cup of chai. There are many different ways to brew the spiced, milky tea, but we want to show you what happens when we start at Chef Matthew Wadiak’s favorite New York City spice store, in the East Village, then head back to the test kitchen armed with spices and loose-leaf tea.
Ready to come along? Warning: you’ll be craving a cup of chai in no time!
HERE’S HOWis a series where we share the best useful tips from our cooking adventures. We’ll answer questions before you have them and illuminate food mysteries with a blend of science and legend. Today, we’re talking about winter squash, since we know you’ll be cooking with it a lot from now til February.
If you spend anytime on the foodie internet, you’ll notice that squash and pumpkin are absolutely everywhere. They’re beautiful to look at and delicious to eat, so today we wanted to discuss the bridge between those two steps: the cooking process.
Squash, sweet and tender when cooked, are notoriously tough to split and peel. Here are the best ways to get at the delicious and healthful vegetable within!
The first step is to split the squash open. This can be its own challenge, one we’ll talk more about next week when we’re making this pumpkin potage. Most of the time, you can use your sharpest, heaviest knife to split the pumpkin or squash, then cut it into even wedges, being careful of your knife sliding around on the sometimes slippery skin. Scoop out the seeds and slimy stuff from the center and discard. From here, the way forward diverges.
Bake the Squash. To wrestle least with your squash, simply cut it into wedges, rub them with oil, and placed them on a baking sheet. Bake for 35 minutes or more, until the squash is very tender. At this point you can either serve in wedges, perhaps with a sauce as in the Spaghetti Squash with Mustard Greens above, or you can scoop the flesh out and use it in stews, pastas, or gratins.
Peel, Chop, and Cook the Squash. Alternatively, you can peel the squash much as you would an apple and potato. Once peeled, cut the squash into bite-sized pieces, which you can then use in dishes like curries. Though the prep takes longer if you go this route, you’ll find that the squash cooks much more quickly–in under 10 minutes.