Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The “Nelson County Muffins”


Written by the folks that ran the Kitchen of Krishna “in a little house in a small town in Virginia”, this book came into my hands at the Chicago Lit Fest in Printer's Row a few years ago. I couldn't resist, as it is full of character and was written by hand instead of using typefaces.

While I don’t exactly know where Nelson County is (somewhere in Virginia, most likely) I've grown attached to its muffin recipe. See the photo above for a helpful note in the recipe introduction, regarding the best approach to making them. Ahem.

These are not the biggest, sugariest, most impressive variety of muffin—rather, they are (at least somewhat) nutritious, humble, and can be grabbed in the morning while running out the door. The best part, I think, is that the recipe is extremely versatile and forgiving.

Note: While the original in the photo notes that it makes two dozen, it has yielded one dozen regular (not giant or mini) muffins for me.

2 cups flour (whole wheat is best, but white or a mix of both is ok...)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
1/2 cup sweetener (honey, brown sugar, raw sugar...)
Liquid (water, some kind of milk, fruit juice...)

Mix the first six ingredients together, and add liquid to make muffin-batter-like consistency. Grease muffin tin and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (or until done).

*As for the goodies, almost anything is possible. Keep in mind that the more goodies added in, the heavier they get. I don't measure these ingredients, but throw in a handful or so of whatever is around. The following combinations have worked well for me:
  • Chocolate chips, flaked coconut, walnut pieces
  • Shredded carrot, slivered almonds, dash of cinnamon
  • Raisins, substitute 1/4 cup quick oats for 1/4 of the flour
  • Berries (if frozen, thaw and drain first)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Szechuan Green Beans


This is one of my favorite ways to prepare (and of course, eat) green beans. We first met at Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago, and Szechuan Spice in Minneapolis has most recently filled that Chinatown void. I think they are traditionally deep fried; this version (adapted from here) calls for stir-frying them until they are brown and shriveled. They don't need to be solid brown or completely wrinkled up, just "browned" and "shriveled". You'll hopefully see what I mean if you try this dish... which you should!

1 to 1-1/2 lb fresh green beans
3 T oil (peanut oil works best, but others would be ok)

Sauce (combine the following in a small bowl)
I suggest you adapt this to your taste and heat preferences. Ingredients with a * next to them can be adjusted according to your needs.
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped*
1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated (or finely chopped)*
1/2 bunch green onions, chopped
1 T Sriracha or Asian chili sauce*
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes*
3 T soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Wash and trim the beans. Heat oil over medium heat in a wok (or large pan), add beans and stir-fry until they brown and shrivel. Using a splatter screen may be helpful. This can take a little while, from 5 to 15 minutes, so be patient. Sometimes adding a pinch or two of salt to them helps speed things up. As they brown (which most likely won't be all at the same time) remove from the pan and drain on paper towels to absorb excess oil. 

After all beans have been cooked, you'll want about a tablespoon of oil left in the wok/pan—pour away or add more as needed. Add sauce to the wok/pan and stir-fry a few seconds. Add beans, mix together, and serve over rice.