Monday, November 19, 2012

spiced banana cookies

On Thursday afternoon, I was watching out of a window with a cup of tea in my hands. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, a ray of sunlight flicking through the blinds and the trees just outside the window made it look like the light was dancing around the room. That moment right there, it was beautiful and peaceful.

Yet, I was sitting there out of tiredness. I was watching out of the window, hoping that the moment of stillness would help me to fight the weariness trying to take over me. I was truly tired, with that kind of tiredness that hadn't gone away with a good night's sleep and a 20-minute nap in the morning (and I  nap very rarely, so that was something).

The thing is, I felt bad about being tired. I honestly felt bad, even a little ashamed, that I would be so tired though I had slept well the night before. As I lifted the cup to my lips and sipped the hot tea, I watched out of the window. I watched, and saw beauty. The rays of sunshine pouring in through the windows. The branch of a tree waving with the wind, the sunshine behind it. The golden hue of the afternoon sun, lighting up the room.

And then, I realized.

It was okay to be tired.
It was okay to feel weary, even at the brink of exhaustion.
It was okay to not be at my best. It was okay.

Because there will always be days when you feel tired and weary. There will be days when you are feeling down, maybe even depressed. There will always be those days and that's nothing to be ashamed of. We all experience them and what matters is whether you get through them. How you get through them. For me, I find rest and comfort in the Lord. This may not be the case for you. But I do pray it would be.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Now, I suggest you go and make these cookies. Maybe you are feeling weary or down. Maybe you are feeling rested and happy. Maybe you have a sweet tooth that's acting up. Or maybe your day just needs some sugaring up. However you are feeling right now, if you happen to have a few browning bananas on your kitchen counter, I suggest you go and make these.

These cookies are fun, seriously. They are really cakey and soft, so much so that it's more like you are eating banana bread than cookies. (So if you have problems with portion control, here you go.) They are sweet but not overly so, and the spices come through beautifully. I absolutely love these with a cup of black tea, and have been enjoying these on many afternoons now.

Spiced Banana Cookies
adapted from Simply Recipes

115g butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 to 3 medium)
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups plain flour
3/4 tsp groung cinnamon
1/2 tsp groung nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
a good pinch of ground ginger
a pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 175C. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy. In a small bowl, stir together the mashed bananas and baking soda; set aside for 2 minutes. Stir the banana mixture into the wet ingredients.

In a bowl, combine the flour and spices. Stir into the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. Drop tablespoonfuls of batter on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake the cookies for 11 to 13 minutes, or until golden brown.

Friday, November 9, 2012

mexican-style ground beef soup

Somewhere along the years, we stopped eating dinner together as a family. Busy, irregular schedules did that. There would rarely be more than two to eat dinner at the same time, and usually at least one of those would be going to the gym or for a run, hence not eating dinner but later. And if it was me and my sister that were at home, dinner would often be eaten watching TV (together at least).

For a longer time now, Saturdays have been the only times we gather together as a family to eat dinner each week. And those times, I'm sure, we all cherish. The time spent together, sharing everything that is pressing in our lives. That Saturday dinner is always a time of laughter as my sister keeps us entertained with her jokes and funny stories of her life. As we leave the table - after an hour or an hour and a half, usually - the sense of a family has been restored.

So nowadays, if it happens that all of us - or at least most of us - happen to be at home for dinner during the week, it is always somehow special. The same kind of special as when you were a child and Dad would come home early one afternoon and you got to spend extra time with him. The same kind of special as when you visited Grandpa and he snuck you an ice cream. The same kind of special as when you got to help Mom in the kitchen.

Now, please don't get confused with the name. The only reason this is called Mexican-style soup is that it has corn and kidney beans in it. And it's tomato-based. Somehow, those ingredients make this soup Mexican to me. I don't even know. Please, someone tell me you also do this.

Nevertheless, this is a very easy and tasty soup. It is very hearty but also packs in a bunch of vegetables, which I love. I made this soup with a can of diced tomatoes with spicy red pepper and I loved the kick it brought. This is definitely a keeper for those chilly evenings that are already around the corner.

Mexican-style Ground Beef Soup
serves 6

Note: I used a can of diced tomatoes with spicy red pepper and loved the heat. However, if you are serving this to (small) children, I would recommend using plain diced tomatoes and adding a pinch of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper for heat. We ate this soup with a good dollop of sour cream, which is not only delicious in the soup but also takes the edge off the heat.

1 (400g) can diced tomatoes *(see note)
4 cups beef or vegetable stock
5 to 6 medium potatoes
2 to 3 medium carrots
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried thyme

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves
400g ground beef
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
150g frozen corn
100g frozen, chopped green beans

1 cup red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salt and ground black pepper, to taste

+ sour cream to serve

In a large pot, bring the diced tomatoes and stock with the basil and thyme to a boil. Meanwhile, peel the carrots and slice them. Put the carrots to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Put them to the pot with the carrots after the 10 minutes have passed.

Peel the onion and garlic cloves. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet and sauté the onion and garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the ground beef and brown on high heat until evenly cooked. Season with the cumin and coriander, then add the frozen corn and green beans. Lower the heat to medium-low and sauté until the vegetables have heated through. Add the ground beef mixture to the pot and simmer until the potatoes and carrots have softened, about 10 to 20 minutes.

Once all the vegetables are cooked through, turn off the heat and add the kidney beans to the soup to warm through. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve with a good dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Monday, November 5, 2012

chocolate chip espresso muffins

It feels as if I am baking purely for brain fuel nowadays. Because when you spend most of your free time writing, there comes times when all the words seem to be used, all the thoughts already written down, all the emotions poured out.

When it feels like I am stuck between thoughts, muffins are a good option. Muffins are easy to make and there are plenty of options as for the kinds of muffins you can bake. The act of baking always manages to relax me. I love baking just for that. There isn't much flexibility in baking; rather, the fixed ratios are very important if you want something edible as a result. Still, there is always something small that can be done to make the baked good more to your taste. Whether it is adding spices or chocolate, using different flours or sugars, making muffins instead of a cake. That's why I like baking so much. It takes time and trials to know what you like, and what you don't like. It takes time to know what goes well with what.

And while there is the excitement of trying something new when baking, you can also find comfort in baking those goods you have been baking for years now. In using those old recipes that are perfect just as they are. For those days when you are feeling adventurous, the internet is full of new recipes and ideas for you to try. And when comfort is needed, there is no judgement to be found in baking those brownies you have been making for the last 10 years without changing anything. If it's good, no explanations are needed. All will be received with a glad heart.

If there ever is a time when words fail me, chocolate and coffee usually help. When those two are combined in a muffin form with a delicious oat streusel topping, it seems as if words start to flow again. Thoughts start clearing up and taking a form.

As for these muffins, they pack flavour as the espresso and dark chocolate come together, but these aren't too sweet. Rather, they are hearty, full-bodied muffins with a sweet streusel topping, and I love them as they are. However, if you are looking for sweet muffins specifically, I'd recommend adding maybe 1/4 cup white sugar and a little more yoghurt if the mixture seems too dry. Another option is using milk chocolate, which would add some sweetness to the mix as well.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Muffins
adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
makes 12

115g butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp plain whole milk yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

11/3 cups plain flour
3/4 cup spelt flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp espresso (or finely ground coffee)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

100g dark chocolate, chopped

Streusel Topping:
30g cold, salted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 175C and grease a muffin pan or line with paper lines.

Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, and let it melt. Watch the butter as foam starts to form and when the butter starts to bubble, stir it with a spatula. When the foam starts to subside, watch for small brown flecks in the bottom of the saucepan. When you see the brown flecks, take the butter off the heat and set aside to cool. The butter should be light brown in colour.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and vanilla. When the butter has cooled, whisk it in as well.

In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, making sure there are no brown sugar lumps. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the chopped dark chocolate and mix until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. Divide the batter evenly into the prepared 12 muffin tins.

In a small bowl, rub the streusel topping ingredients with your fingers until the butter is evenly mixed into the oats and sugar. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly on top of the muffins.

Bake the muffins on the middle rack for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.