Archive for August, 2009

sour cream–maple muffins

August 16th, 2009

Before dinner Friday night, I wanted to squeeze in some baking time. Carter suggested making something “fast” like brownies: “I’ll just get out the brown brownie flour [aka brownie mix], and I can follow the recipe. It’s easy, Mommy.” So much for instilling in my child any preference for from-scratch over from-the-box brownies! But we were out of brownie mix anyway. (Note to self: add to Costco list.)

Our next choice—peanut-butter blondies from Real Food for Healthy Kids—got nixed for lack of brown sugar. (Note to self: go to grocery store!)

I don’t want to give the impessione we “settled” for sour cream–maple muffins, even though we chose this Williams Sonoma recipe partly because we had all the ingredients. They’re much too good for that. The maple syrup adds a subtle flavor that’s agreeable with kids, but sophisticated enough for adults, and the muffins themselves are rich yet light. Taste for yourself, and let us know what you think.

One of the satisfying things about baking with kids, in addition to the actual process, is seeing their pride of ownerships in the end result. The muffins were just out of the pan cooling as we were trying to get dinner on the table. Carter took it upon himself  to “serve one to everyone,” proudly placing a muffin on each of our plates, his own contribution to our family meal.

Sour Cream–Maple Muffins
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup sour cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter or coat standard-size muffin tins with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter until smooth, then slowly add the maple syrup, beating constantly. Beat in the sour cream and egg. Add the combined dry ingredients and stir until just blended (do not overmix).

Spoon into the prepared muffin tins (makes 12–16 muffins) and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15–18 minutes. Cool in tins for 5 minutes, then remove.

Adapted from  Muffins & Quick Breads (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library) by John Phillip Carroll

getting the scoop

August 14th, 2009

scooping flourWhen I was growing up, I never worried about—or even knew about—the niceties of scooping and leveling flour: using a spoon or scoop to put flour into a measuring cup, then scraping the back edge of a knife over the cup’s top edge to remove any excess flour. It wasn’t until I was an adult reading baking books in earnest that found out how important this technique can be to accurately measuring flour. (Of course, serious bakers go a step further and weigh the flour.) But enough about technique. What’s more important is that scooping and leveling is fun for kids to do. Plus it’s another one of those kitchen activities that helps develop a slew of skills: fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spacial awareness, to name a few of the usual candidates.

Carter has been scooping flour with a small metal kitchen scoop and leveling it with the back of a table knife since he was 3. In fact, that’s what we’re doing in the picture in this blog’s header, although these days I usually get brushed aside with an “I can do it myself, Mommy,” which, in the end, is the point.

neighborly take on banana bread

August 13th, 2009

You’re not supposed to eat before doing yoga. But when your neighbor brings you mini banana muffins with chocolate chips still warm from the oven, that’s a rule that’s meant to be broken. Right?

Well, last night, let’s just say I had three mini banana muffins before doing a YogaMazing podcast.

Carter devoured the last two mini banana muffins for breakfast (after he rejected my last attempt at banana muffins as “too chocolately”).

Speaking of rules, the funny thing is that Nandini breaks a bunch of baking ones, but still ends up with delicious results. For instance, because she likes to use just one bowl, she doesn’t bother to sift dry ingredients separately. For these muffins, she just creamed the butter and sugar, and then mixed in the rest of the ingredients.

Nandini’s Mini Banana Muffins
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup mashed bananas
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat over to 350F degrees. Coat a 24-cup mini muffin pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter. Mix in the egg and the banana. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt—can be sifted together first) and mix until just combined. Stir in milk. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into mini muffin pan. Bake until tops brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 15 minutes. Deliver warm to neighbors.

Adapted from Banana Bread V from

Simplest strawberries Romanoff

August 11th, 2009

IMG_2918In my new book club, we all take turns making dessert. Laurel has made Real Simple’s raspberry oatmeal bars, which are so sweet you’ll want to have just a small slice (even though you’ll crave more). I have made (big surprise) my favorite brownies. Friday night, Bat-Ami and her son, Lucas, who’s almost 11, made a super simple version of strawberries Romanoff, a nice, light treat. Could it be any easier—or prettier? 

Simplest Strawberry Romanoff

Layer in parfait dishes or kid-friendly clear plastic cups:

Bottom pink layer: Puréed strawberries and whipped cream (to taste, roughly 1 part strawberry to 2 parts cream)

Middle red layer: Puréed strawberries

Top white layer: Whipped cream

Decorations: Sliced strawberries (mint is another option)

Note: An adult should handle the purée step—Bat-Ami used a stick blender, but a blender or food processor would also work. For kids, it’s all about scooping, dividing, and layering—all of which help develop hand-eye coordination, math skills, and spatial relations.

Banana chocolate chip oatmeal muffins

August 10th, 2009

I was suffering from baking withdrawal, and two black bananas in the fridge have been staring at me. So before dashing off to a much-delayed Target run this evening, Carter and I made this recipe from a San Jose Mercury Home Plates column on “healthier” banana muffins that kids will eat. Not a hard-to-guess secret: The recipes feature chocolate chips—which also happens to be key to getting me to eat something. 

At first, Carter was going to “just watch” me bake, which is a new thing, but he never stays on the sidelines long. In addition to adding and mixing ingredients, today he measured the baking powder for the first time. Tip: The physics of the baking-powder container made it easier for him to scoop and level (using the peeled back foil in the container) five times using a 1/2 teaspoon, than to try to fill up a whole teaspoon. (Another day, I’ll sing the praises of baking’s built-in math lessons.) For the first couple of scoops, I stood behind him and guided his hands. Then I got the: “I can do it myself, Mommy.” And he could. Letting him spray the muffin tin with cooking spray wasn’t quite as tidy, but he had fun. 

Carter didn’t have time to try a muffin before bedtime. I took some down the street to our neighbors. Carter’s friends Paul and Sonia, who are also 4 but have a later bedtime, were making up my favorite brownie recipe with their mom. Considering that they each child polished off a muffin while I was there, I’d say this recipe gets the kids’ seal of approval. 


Banana chocolate-chip oatmeal muffins

1 3/4 all-purpose flour
3/4 oats, old-fashioned or quick-cooking
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 salt
1 cup mashed overripe bananas (about two medium)
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably canola
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Coat 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, stir flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt until well-mixed. In a small bowl, whisk banana, milk, egg, and oil until blended. Add all at once to flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Do not overmix! Fold in chocolate chips. Divide among muffin cups.

Bake 18 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Leave in pan five minutes, then cool on a wire rack. If a muffin sticks in pan, run a small knife (or thin spatula if using a nonstick muffin pan) around it and gently lift out.


Based on a recipe contributed by Tereasa Simpson to the June 4, 2009, San Jose Mercury News Home Plates column. The original recipe also contains 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup chopped nuts, and 1/4 cup miniature chocolate chips.

you crack me up

August 7th, 2009

I can’t say you’re never too young to start cracking eggs, because it does requires a certain amount of dexterity, but I will say that preschoolers can learn this often required baking skill. Carter started this year and has a blast doing it, so if you haven’t tried it yet with kids, you might want to give it a shot.

While you probably crack eggs without thinking too much about the mechanics, the trick to teaching a young baker is to deconstruct the steps:

1) Start by having your child just crack the shell. It’s tricky to master tapping just hard enough, but not too hard. Experiment with whether it’s easier to tap on the side of bowl that you stabilize or the counter. Plan for some messes and practice for as many baking sessions as needed.

2) Once that step is mastered, demonstrate how to insert both thumbs and pull the halves apart. My cracking motion has a bit of flip to it, so Carter’s does, too. Allow for more messes and lots of practice time.

Note: Always have your child use a separate small bowl for cracking eggs one at a time and then pouring each egg in with other ingredients.

I edit a lot of books that cover child development skills. Cracking eggs involves many: hand-eye coordination, tactile exploration, and fine motor skills to name a few. Plus it’s just fun.

Quick chicken recipe (really)

August 5th, 2009

Before we had Carter, I’m hard pressed to think of a time my husband and I actually planned a meal together. Post-child, that changed, and family dinner is an important part of our evening routine. I’m generally the one who gets the food on the table, and it’s hard after 10 hours of commuting and working. Jeff kindly calls me the “master chef,” mostly because I know more about cooking than he does. Truth be told, though, I’m not much of a cook. That’s why I’m thrilled to find a true quick-and-easy dish. (Are you, too, dismayed at what’s billed as “quick and easy” that’s neither?)

Tonight’s success is ironically inspired by a recipe in Beth Hensperger’s book Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two. Here’s my take on her Salsa Chicken with Cheese, which will take longer for me to write than it did to make!

Quick Chicken with Salsa and Cheese

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Olive oil
1/2 cup premade salsa (such as Newman’s Own Chunky Mild Salsa)
1/2 lime
2 slices Provolone cheese

Preheat overproof skillet over medium heat. Trim access fat from the chicken with a kitchen shears and place between two pieces of wax paper. Pound with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until the chicken is a consistent height, around 1/4 inch. Brush both sides with olive oil. Place chicken in skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes; turn and cook the other side until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Spoon salsa evenly over the top of the chicken. Squeeze lime juice onto salsa. Top each breast with a slice of cheese. Move skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Serve, pouring any juices from the pan over the top.

Kids’ cooking: Carter helped pound out the chicken—holding the meat tenderizer in both hands to prevent any errant blows on little fingers.

Side note: I showed Carter (and Jeff) how to snap off the end of an asparagus spear, so the woody part naturally breaks off, which is fun to do. (It didn’t inspire either of them to like asparagus—nor did the grated lemon zest and fresh squeezed lemon juice. Oh well, they both liked the chicken!)

Wasabi mayo

August 3rd, 2009

I have a feeling some of my tangental posts will be odes to Trader Joe’s, my de facto grocery store. Tonight’s topic: Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise. My friend Amy of Cooking with Amy turned me on to it years ago, and she’s a mayo snob who makes her own!

Me: Love it.

Jeff: Meh.

Carter: Ketchup, anyone?

Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

The big reveal

August 2nd, 2009

I’ve been writing posts for a couple of months now and have been telling people that I’m working on a blog. After I write this post, I’m going to start to tell people where to find this so-called blog by posting a link on Facebook, where the inspiration began.

As I say in my About section, the idea for a blog came from the realization that 95 percent of my Facebook posts were about baking with my son, Carter.

I usually spend my time editing other people’s writing, so it feels odd to share mine with anyone who comes here or stumbles upon it. Thanks for coming—please let me know what you think.