Sunday, August 28, 2011

Foolproof Popovers

I have a confession. I am addicted to food blogs. One of my favorite fixes is looking at Deb's food on Smitten Kitchen. A few weeks ago she featured a corn, buttermilk, and chive popover recipe that looks awesome.

For those of you not familiar with popovers, they are the American version of a Yorkshire pudding, which is a sort of eggy roll that can be savory or sweet. Traditional Yorkshire puddings are usually made with the drippings from a roast, but drippings are not necessary for popovers (although I'm sure it would make them even more delicious).

I am a competent cook, but I have never made popovers before and was intimidated because apparently lots of people have trouble making them "pop". There are two schools of thought on making popovers. One says you should use preheated pans and turn the oven down part way through the cooking time and the other starts the popovers in a cold oven and uses a steady temperature. I looked for a basic recipe using method number two and here are the results:

Mmmm, popover perfection. (Okay, well, not quite perfection. They're a little dark in a couple spots because I started them in the toaster oven and then panicked because it heats too quickly for these and then switched them to the regular oven.)

The texture of these reminded me of the egg souffles Panera serves, which are mighty tasty. Next time I think I'll make a ham and cheese or sausage and cheese version for breakfast. 

Good news too: you only need four ingredients to make these! FOUR!

Anyway, the intimidation was for naught. These are easy and you can make them in a muffin tin, ramekins, or popover pan. Try them out!

Foolproof Popovers
(adapted from LAURIE's recipe)
(Yields about 7 popovers in a standard muffin tin.)


2 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Mix everything together. Batter can be slighly lumpy but make sure eggs are broken up and incorporated.

2. Thoroughly grease your pan and fill the tins ( or whatever you're using) 3/4 full of batter.

3.Put the tin in a COLD oven and set the temperature for 450 degrees. Cook for 30 minutes and do not open the oven. (In the last 5 minutes you can crack the oven an inch or two to check that they aren't overly browning). The popovers should be medium to dark brown. Best when warm from oven.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Banana Muffins with Pecan Crumb Topping

Today I made the last banana muffin recipe you will ever need. No really, if I had the metabolism of my marathon runner sister-in-law I would have promptly inhaled every one of these hot out of the oven. My husband would have wandered into the kitchen when the oven dinged to find my face covered in crumbs, a guilty, but blissful look on my face.

I've known for a long time that if I could choose a bizarre superpower it would be the ability to eat anything I want and still be healthy and not get fat. Given this power, I might crush the world's banana market just for this recipe. Have other people around to help you eat these or if you are Kimberly don't. You've been warned.

Banana Muffins with Pecan Crumb Topping
(adapted from MizzNezz's recipe) 
Yields 12 muffins

For the Batter:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ripe medium to large bananas, mashed with fork
1/3 cup butter (a little over 5 tbsp.), melted
1 egg beaten

For the Topping:

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon cold butter
1/4 -1/2 cup chopped pecans (I used 1/4 cup this time, but I could easily see doubling the amount)

1. For the batter, mix all the dry ingredients except the sugars together. In a separate bowl mix the sugars, bananas, melted butter and egg. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.

2. For the topping, mix the sugar, cinnamon, and flour together. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Add the pecans.

3. Fill 12 well-greased muffin tins with the batter. (Depending on the size of your bananas they'll be 3/4 or more full.) Sprinkle the topping over the top. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. These are super moist muffins so I would remove them from the tin and cool on a rack so they don't get soggy.

A Few Tips for Newbie Muffin Bakers
(These are things I wish someone had told me before I baked my first batch of muffins way back when.)

1. The secret to a fluffy, tender muffin is to not overdevelop the gluten in the flour. That's why wet and dry ingredients are always kept separate in muffin recipes until the last step. Your goal is to stir as little as possible to combine the wet and dry ingredients. The batter should stay pretty lumpy. Resist the urge to pummel it until smooth.

2. My first couple of attempts at crumb toppings failed miserably. I hacked at the mixture with a fork until I had a buttery paste. Don't do this! You want small balls of butter mixed with the dry ingredients. The easiest way to achieve this is with a pastry blender, a simple 5 dollar tool that will save you a load of work in many baking situations (I use mine for biscuits all the time). If you don't have one handy you can cut the butter into very small pieces and stir it with the dry ingredients.

3. Brown sugar and granulated sugar can be substituted for each other on a 1 to 1 basis, just make sure the brown sugar is tightly packed. Brown sugar also adds moisture and a molasses flavor, which I personally love.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Natural Hair Care

A little while back, I talked about natural sunscreens. Lately, I've been experimenting with my hair and body products. I'm also reading a few recipe books on how to make your own cosmetics. In Organic Body Care Recipes, Stephanie Tourles says that our skin can absorb up to 60% of the chemicals in our body products. As a result, I want to know exactly what I'm putting on myself and that it has a safe track record.

First up is hair care. First let me scare you a little. Your average shampoo can have things like DMDM hydantoin (a chemical that degrades into formaldehyde, which can cause things like cancer and reproductive issues), "fragrance" (a catch all term for hundreds of chemicals, many of which cause allergic reactions and worse), and parabens (a class of chemicals that are estrogen-mimickers and that cause all kinds of reproductive issues). In addition, many seemingly innocuous chemicals can be tainted by harmful ones because of the chemical process used to make them. And it's not just shampoo, almost all commercially available personal care products have hazardous chemicals in them and your skin is absorbing those chemicals. Freaked out yet?

You might be thinking: Surely the FDA reviews the safety of the chemicals used in cosmetics. They have to run chemical analyses and test for carcinogens and tainted products. Nope and nope. The FDA bans only a very small list of chemicals for use in cosmetics, but the vast majority haven't even been tested for safety. You can read about the myths surrounding the cosmetic industry here.

To me, what is scary is that personal care products seem harmless. No one drops dead after applying shampoo or moisturizer. Even with smoking, you are going to notice changes pretty quickly with your respiratory system. Cosmetics are sneakier. We use them to clean and beautify ourselves, so we have this positive association with them. The reality is they could be causing your asthma, allergies, rash, and much more serious issues.

So here is my new hair routine:

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Bar Soap as shampoo, a vinegar rinse (1.5 tsp vinegar in 1 cup water), and Coastal Classic Creations Leave-In Safe Harbor treatment on occasion if my hair is dry from styling with heat. That's it.

You might be wondering about conditioner. Most shampoos contain harsh detergents that strip your hair of its natural oils and then the conditioner coats the hair (concealing the damage). If you use a natural shampoo without these detergents, you don't need the conditioner. Dr.Bronner's is a castile soap, which will get your hair squeaky clean, but make it a bit tangly. The vinegar rinse restores your hair's PH and eliminates the tangles. Just pour over your hair and rinse out. If you have long hair you can double or triple the recipe and if you have really short hair you might not even need the vinegar rinse.

Added bonus, the Dr.Bronner's can be had for $5 or less (it's $2.07 at my local Publix) and vinegar (even an organic one) will only run you a few bucks or less. The Safe Harbor treatment is pricey ($25 for around an ounce), but you only need about 1/8 tsp for a treatment and you only really need it if you style with heat a lot. For a cheaper heat protection option, I've read good things about using unrefined coconut oil or jojoba oil directly on hair. If you would prefer to buy a liquid shampoo, you can get castile soap in liquid form or this site sells a great line of all natural organic products including liquid shampoo. 

I have yet to find any good natural styling products besides a little oil for frizz control. I've read a couple of recipes that make use of gelatin as a hair gel, but you'd have to keep it in the fridge. My hair is less frizzy and very shiny with this new routine, but a little flat volume wise. I think it's probably because all the synthetic junk that used to coat my hair was giving it more volume. My solution to this has been to blow dry my roots for more volume or skip the vinegar rinse. The castile soap on it's own makes my thick hair a little umanageable, but increases volume. The only answer is to experiment and see what works for you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kickstarter & Artist Ryan Nabulsi

So I just recently discovered Kickstarter, a really cool funding site that allows people to take in donations (often in exchange for some perk) to fund projects like movies, art exhibitions, albums, etc. It's a great way for people to get small businesses or projects rolling.

While checking out some of the Atlanta projects I came across Ryan Nabulsi, a local artist that makes camera-less images on polaroid film and then enlarges them.

Archival Pigment Print
M. Ryan Nabulsi

This is some of the coolest abstract work I've seen in ages. The colors remind me of microscope slides of algae or satellite pictures of the earth. Plus, I love that a lot of the images have a definite figure and ground so that they suggest things to your imagination, sort of like an arty Rorschach test. If money were no object, I would totally snap up one or four or five of these at full size (around 3.5 by 4 foot). He's offering one of the smaller sizes at a reduced price if you contribute to the show he's having at Poem88 in September. You can check out the project here.