RECIPE: Whole Wheat "Chunky Monkey" Muffins

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These little guys were so cute and yummy. They were a great way to sneak in healthy protein, fruit and fiber into my daughter's breakfast routine and she did not know they were good for her. I mean, how can something with a ton of mini chocolate chips be good for you? I froze half of the batch for myself to take on the go for on the way to work. They seem like a nice breakfast treat with a little less guilt than the sugary deliciousness that taunts me at Starbucks.

You can make these less "earthy" by just cutting the whole wheat in half and adding regular flour for the rest, or just go all white flour if you can't bear the nutty flavor of whole wheat. You can also replace the buttermilk with low fat milk and they would be even better for you! But I think once in a while, a little butterfat in your life is a good thing.

Whole Wheat "Chunky Monkey" Muffins
makes 24 small muffins or 12-14 large ones

Ingredients:

Paper cupcake liners
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 low fat milk
3/4 cup mashed ripe bananas
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used no sugar added, natural)
1/3 cup applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup miniature chocolate chip muffins

Topping
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped nuts (any, cashews, dry roasted, almonds)
1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips


Directions:


Preheat oven to 350˚.
 


In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (so all the way the list, finishing at salt). Mix with a fork and set aside.


In a large bowl, mash the bananas and add the buttermilk, peanut butter, milk, egg, applesauce and vanilla. Whisk until combined and frothy.




Stir in the dry ingredients into the wet with a fork until combined. Mix the chocolate chips until evenly combined. Try not over mix (That is the key to tender muffins. The fork helps to not over mix it).



Place a liner in each cup in your muffin tin. Fill each with the batter until 2/3 full. In a small bowl mix the topping, and sprinkle a tablespoon or so on top of each filled cup. Bake for 13-15 minutes, turning pans halfway through. Bake until tops are lightly golden and the dough springs back to the touch, or toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes, then remove muffins to cool on a rack. Serve warm.



MOMMYHOOD: The "Write" Stuff for Test Taking, More proof that the handwritten word should not become a lost art.

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On the heels of many states making news these days by cutting cursive skills from class curriculum, I came across a short article in a spring issue of Family Circle on how writing before a test can help children calm their jitters and score better.

"In a University of Chicago study, ninth graders who jotted down their feelings about a test scored nearly a full grade point higher than those who didn't." Christine Mattheis, Family Circle

I was intrigued by this, and tore it out as a reminder to perhaps help my daughter this year tackle anxiety in the morning over a big test that day. I also pondered sending this to her homeroom teacher as a possibility for all her students to do better as well. An then it got me thinking about the process of writing in general, and the cathartic benefits it has had throughout my life growing up. And it saddened me a little. If public schools are starting to phase out handwriting all together in favor of the computer, not only will future generations lose an important skill that helps with motor and brain function, but also the creative and emotional outlet that writing on a piece of blank paper can bring.

I remember all through middle school that journal writing was a big part of our English curriculum. In hindsight, it was a brilliant ploy from teachers to keep close tabs on the kids and alert parents to any issues going on with the children. But for a very emotional, hormonal, anxiety-ridden tween, it was a wonderful outlet for me to write my thoughts and feelings down and share them with who I felt was a non-judgmental adult. Mrs. Brown, my teacher, would write silly comments or ask thoughtful questions back on return of our journals. We had to hand it in weekly, and it had to be neat and tidy. This stream of consciousness writing helped to open emotional barriers and creative thinking. This exercise also helped to get us into the habit of writing regularly, and to not be afraid of the "white sheet of paper " staring back at us.

Even in my adult years, I have kept a journal off and on to help with my emotional and creative well being. More importantly, I find that in times of emotional distress in my relationships, I write a letter to that person I am having issues with. If my emotions are really running high and I don't feel ready to address that person in a calm way so that our discussion would be productive, I write them a letter that never sees the light of day (OH, how many have I written my husband of 15 years!? LOL! It's probably how we have been able to stay together so long!). Writing gets my emotions and thoughts down and I can be as nonsensical and hot headed as I want. But once it all gets out, I can look at the issue with a clearer head, and I find I can talk things out a lot clearer with that person. Sometimes when emotions get in the way, some irreparable damage is done by things that should not have been said. So it is no wonder that children, worried and stressed about a big test, can get their emotions down and out, and can then focus on the task at hand with a clearer head.

The computer will continue to be a bigger part of life, but some things, like handwriting, I believe should still stick around. Even in my full time gig in advertising and marketing, the computer is a major part of what we do. But it is not where we start. What my peers and I do starts with ideas. And ideas are best found with a blank sheet of paper, your brain and a writing utensil. I urge my staff, especially my youngest ones right out of college, that before they touch a mouse in front of a blank screen, they need to think on a piece of paper. The best work has consistently come to fruition that way, and I will preach that until my dying breath.

RECIPE: Sunburst Peach Lattice Pie

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Oh peaches, you are so lovely and delicious right off the tree.
Sweet and juicy, (and a great color on me).
You're good in cobbler and pie,
Which eating, you'll make me sigh.
You make summer the best,
But to find you is a quest,
And for the life of me I don't know why.

OK. I won't subject you to poetry anymore.

WHAT? No fresh peaches at the grocery store chain you say? Please, do not get me started! It hurts my heart. I have to go to the farmer's market and pay exorbitant prices to get peaches from just over the border from Michigan. The chains ship them all the way from Georgia half ripe and tasting like a shoe! Explain to me why? Somebody? Anybody? Does that make any financial or green sense whatsoever?

Ok. I won't subject you to my soapbox, either.
BUT I will give you my amazing peach pie recipe.


Sunburst Peach Lattice Pie

Ingredients

Cream Cheese Crust (from the pie maven herself, Rose Beranbaum,)
8 Tbsp. butter
3 oz. cold cream cheese
1 1/3 plus 4 tsp. all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
2 -3 Tbsp. water with 2 ice cubes (you will not use all of it)
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Peach Filling
6 cups ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 plus 1 Tbsp. white sugar
1 Tbsp. orange juice
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
pinch of salt
4 well rounded tsp. corn starch
3/4 tsp. pure almond extract

Directions:

Make the crust:




Cut up your butter in tablespoon-size chunks, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes. In a Ziploc bag, add the flour and baking powder and freeze it as well for 30 minutes. In a food processor, pulse the flour a couple times.



Cut up the cream cheese in 3 chunks, and pulse into the flour until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of small peas.



Add the cider vinegar and pulse a few times. Add  1 1/2 Tbsp. water and pulse until the dough will come together when pressed with your finger (Do not over mix). If it doesn't, add a teaspoon more of kirsch and pulse a couple more times. Keep doing this until the dough comes together when pressed. It won't look like it will in the processor, and that's OK.




Pour 2/3rds of the crumbly mixture on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Using your hands, fold the edge of the plastic wrap under your knuckles and press the dough. Keep doing this motion, using the plastic wrap as your barrier and helper to form the dough quickly into a ball. Fold it over itself a couple of times, then flatten into a disc. Cover completely with the wrap, and shape in your hands into a flat, round disc, about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Take the remaining 1/3rd of the crumbly mixture and do the same thing. This disc will be smaller and will be the lattice for your pie. Take both discs and chill for at least1 hour. Take them out ten minutes before rolling to make your life a little easier.

To make the filling








Mix the peaches with the sugars, juices and salt. Let macerate for up to one hour. If you go longer, the peaches will begin to lose some of their shape and really disintegrate, depending on how ripe they are. (It won't ruin your pie unless you really let the maceration go for a long time. If that is the case and you have a soupy mess, cut up a few more peaches to your mixture, strain the juice off and continue the recipe. You will just have a lot more juice to reduce down, but the firmer slices will carry the texture.) SO after one hour (or two), strain off the juice and pour in a nonstick saucepan. Cook on medium high heat until the juice becomes caramelized and like a syrup. You should have about 1/3 cup of reduced peach syrup. Meanwhile, toss the cornstarch in with your reserved peaches and add the almond extract. Set aside. When you're juice gets to that desired 1/3 of a cup, add it to the "cornstarched" peaches and toss lightly.


Assembly and Baking



Assembly and Baking:
Take the larger disc out first and unwrap it. Layer a work surface with a large sheet of plastic wrap (about 12 inches all around. Lightly dust it with flour and place the disc at the center. Cover it with a similar sized sheet of plastic wrap. Roll the disc out to about 13 inches in diameter. Peel off the top layer of wrap, flip upside down and set on top of the pan. Press it gently in the pan, peeling off the wrap on this side as you go. Trim the edge, press it firmly into the pan some more. Use fork tines to break any bubbles in the dough. Recover pie with plastic wrap and let relax in the fridge for 30 minutes.


Roll out your smaller disc the same way. Make an oval shape, about 10 1/2" long by 8" wide. Unpeel your top layer of plastic wrap, and with a ruler, make tick marks across the width every 3/4". You should have ten strips. Cut off the rough edges on the sides, and cut evenly along the tick marks down lengthwise to get your strips. (you may need a ruler that you only use with food to make things straight. I am an art director by trade, and learned long ago by getting yelled at as an intern how to cut straight-so I can do a pretty good job by eye. Do what's comfortable.) Now, I find that chilling the dough again for a few minutes makes the lattice assembly easier. My dough for this pie was getting warm very fast because the kitchen on this June day was so hot. The strips broke up easily as I was pulling them up. So slip the cut dough, still on plastic wrap, on a cookie sheet. Cover loosely with wrap again and place in the fridge for ten minutes before full assembly.

Preheat oven to 425˚. Have a rack down at the lowest part of the oven. Set a non-insulated baking sheet on it layered with parchment to catch drippings (not aluminum foil because it will mess with your baking the bottom of your pie.) It is best to have the baking sheet heated at 425˚ for at least 20 minutes. This helps to sear the bottom of the pie and not get soggy.

Take your pie shell out, uncover it and fill it with the peach mixture.


Example of how to make a lattice crust



Take out your lattice strips. As you can see, I drew a diagram to help explain how to make a lattice top. Take half your strips, from the center to the short end, and lay them down on the pie in one direction. Use the longest one in the middle and work outward, with shorter ones towards the end. Let the ends overhang, you will deal with them later. Now, find your center point, and start about 3/4" above it, by folding back every other strip. Lay the longest strip from your tray over the strips that are still flat, perpendicular from the other strips. Unfold the strips that were bent back, so that they lie flat again, and bend back the alternate ones. Lay a second strip, perpendicular, across the ones that are now lying flat, and bend forward the ones you bent back. Keep doing this, working from the center out on both sides, until you have a basket weave affect. Trim your ends, tuck them into the edge, then by hand flute the edge of the entire pie, sealing it all happily together.

Sprinkle the top with granulated sugar. Place directly on the heated baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes. Check it at this time, you may need to foil the edges to protect them from over browning at this time. After that, cook for another 20-30 minutes (or until the crust is a light gold color and filling is nice an thoroughly bubbly.) Take out and cool. Let the pie sit and "settle" for a few hours before cutting into it. Serve with vanilla ice cream...oh baby!






NOTE* (Yes, you can use frozen, or prep fresh peaches and freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and store in a ziploc until ready to use.)

RECIPE: Enhancing Store Bought Italian Beef

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Being a first generation Italian and a lifelong Chicagoan, Italian beef for me is fact of life, like blizzards in winter or construction traffic...just as messy BUT WAY more yummy and enjoyable. If you are ever in my hometown, I urge you to partake in the MANY Italian beef stands across the city, and perhaps get involved in the national debate of which stand is better. The two contenders are often Al's and Mr. Beef. So far, Al's is in the lead at my workplace, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Mr. Beef. It is so dangerously close to our office, like, around the block. Dangerous.

But sometimes, you can't afford to cater from these places for a party, OR you don't live in the metropolis of all things MEAT like I do, and you have to go with a store bought Italian beef. Usually, these products are pretty good, some better than others. One of our favorites is Papa Charlie's and a local favorite, Vienna Beef, is a good product, too. However, sometimes I find that the juice provided in the container is more salt and water than flavor. I decided to take an extra step the day before my party and enhance my store bought beef with some home made flavor. It turned out to be a huge success, and I just brought leftovers into the office and everybody is raving about it. So I think it worked out pretty well. I think you can make this juice a few days ahead and just refrigerate before using it on the party day. This juice provided enhanced flavor for 2 5lb. containers of Italian beef (10 lbs. total). Refrigerating the juice will allow the fat solids to harden, and you can discard a lot of it before adding it to your beef when you are reheating it, keeping some of the fat content down. But let's face it, it's Italian beef. You are not eating it because it is healthy! You are eating it because it is DELICIOUS.

Enhancing Store Bought Italian Beef

Ingredients:

1 quart of hot, boiling water (4 cups)
1 1/2 Tbsp. beef base
3 cups hot water
2 large beef soup bones
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
3 bay leaves
3 2"  sprigs fresh oregano
1 rounded Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, torn up
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
pinch of nutmeg
3 garlic cloves, minced

2 5lb. container store bought Italian beef, thawed overnight

Directions:





Dissolve the beef base in the 4 cups of hot, boiling water. Add it to a large sauce pan with all other ingredients. Boil on medium high heat for 2-3 hours. Liquid will be reduced to about 3-4 cups. Remove from heat. Using a slotted ladle, pick out most of the large basil, oregano, soup bones and bay leaves and discard. (Can be refrigerated for a few days at this time).

Add beef and container juices and your home made juice to a slow cooker or large stock pot and heat according to package directions. Keep on warm while serving. Careful not to overcook, beef will get tough.

* note, juice might be even richer if you brown the soup bones with a little olive oil at first before adding all the other ingredients and cooking it down.

RECIPE: Brown Rice & Corn Fritters with Easy Black Bean Salsa

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Corn is all over the farm stands, and my family just loves to eat it right on the cob. I however, get kind of bored with it. (I know...I know, stifle the gasp) And when I was at the farmer's market this weekend, they had a great deal on corn. I wanted to save half for eating on the cob, but I wanted to make something yummy and different with the other half. I found what I was looking for on eatingwell.com, corn fritters. They looked interesting, and they used brown rice which is all we eat at our house lately. But the comments were lackluster. It seemed the fritters did not have much flavor and the black bean carried the dish. I worried that if my daughter scowled at the black beans, then she would be left with a bland fritter.

So, I kicked up the flavor adding cheese and cooking the rice in chicken broth. I also used whole grain rice in the rice cooker versus instant,  But you can certainly use instant if you wish. I just think the effort is just the same in a rice cooker and the nutrition is that much better. My patties held together just fine, versus some of the reviewer's. Maybe because I used real brown rice? I doubled the recipe too, because I thought these would freeze well and make for a great lunch at work during the week with a small salad. If you have left over rice and left over corn on the cob, this is a great way to use them up and clean your fridge. In fact, I had one lonely left over corn cob in the fridge for a few days and I was able to use it in here and not waste food. We are all doing what we can these days to make that grocery trip last longer!

Brown Rice and Corn Fritters with Easy Black Bean Salsa
Makes 14-16 fritters

Ingredients:

Rice:
1 cup brown rice
2 well rounded tsp. mined garlic
6-8 chives or scallions, finely chopped
2 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
fresh ground pepper

Fritter Mixture:
2 cups cooked brown rice
4 corn cobs, cooked in boiling water for 20 minutes and cooled to handle. Cut off kernels and discard cobs. Should yield about 2 cups of fresh corn
5 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese (cheddar or even spiced cheese would be nice)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups coarse corn meal
4-6 Tbsp. olive oil for frying (may need more as you go)
sour cream for garnish

Salsa:
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup tomatillo salsa
1/2 beefsteak tomato, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro

Directions:


In a rice cooker, add all the ingredients for the rice and mix. Turn on the cooker and cover. Cook until all liquid is gone and cooker clicks to warm. Add 1/4 cup of water, mix and cover. Turn off the heat and let sit. The rice will continue to absorb the water and soften more with the steam. This can be made hours ahead and just let sit, covered, on the counter top until ready for the recipe.

Cook the corn, cool, and cut the kernels off. Discard the cobs.

On a large baking sheet, sprinkle the cornmeal evenly in a layer. Set aside.


In a large bowl, mix the rice, corn, beaten eggs, cheese, breadcrumbs and seasonings. Mix with your fork, then with your hands until the mixture comes together into patties. Shape patties into 4" in diameter and lay on the cornmeal tray. Continue until all the mixture is used. Flip the patties over onto the cornmeal so that both sides are coated.


Heat 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add 4-5 patties into the oil and brown slowly over medium heat. Flip over and brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, taking all bits out so they don't burn. Add 2-3 Tbsp. more oil, heat and cook the rest of the patties. You may need to add more oil as you go both times. The rice absorbs a lot of the oil, but don't overdue it. You don't want oily patties. Keep the patties warm while you make the salsa. This part goes quick.


In a medium saucepan, add the tomatillo salsa and black beans and heat over medium heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the cilantro. Heat through for a few more minutes and serve with the corn cakes and a dollop of sour cream.
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