Saturday, May 30, 2009

Leftover Maven: Beef Carnitas



It was a catch as catch can night. I was tired from work, so I asked my girls to put together their own dinners.

Christina grabbed some rotisserie chicken and constructed a chicken and cheese quesadilla.

Lizzy made a grilled panini sandwich with some fresh sourdough bread and thin-sliced grilled beef brisket my husband and I had made on Saturday.

And I made a beef carnitas taco with shredded cheese, salsa, and lettuce.

To make the seasoned and shredded beef filling, I diced a large tomato, sauteed it with onions, chili powder, oregano, and cumin, and salt and pepper. I then added some leftover brisket and put enough water to cover the meat, covered the pot with a lid, and let it simmer until the meat was shreddable. Since I had made this the night before, all I needed to do was pull the beef out of the fridge and heat it up in the microwave.

For this exhausted girl, this quicknight meal came together in minutes.

To make this leftover makeover even easier, you could even just use some salsa and water to simmer the brisket in, along with the chili powder.

Leftover beef brisket (about 1 lb.), cut in big cubes
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, minced
1 large beefsteak tomato, diced, or 1 small can of tomato sauce, or salsa
1/2 piece of chipotle in adobo
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 oregano
Salt and pepper

Corn or flour tortillas

Hot sauce
Shredded cheese
Salsa
(also you can have cilantro, chopped jalapenos)

Heat a little oil in a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add onion and cook until transparent, about five minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute. Add spices and cook about 30 seconds with the garlic and onion. Add tomato or tomato sauce, beef, and salt and pepper. Add a little water if you need to cover the beef. Bring to a low boil, cover with a lid, and turn the heat down to low, so that it simmers. Cook an hour or more until the meat can be shredded with a fork.

When the meat is done, you can uncover the pot and bring to a lively simmer to reduce the liquid if you would like it to be more on the dry side.

Serve on a tortilla with your desired toppings.

Enjoy.

Beef Brisket on the Big Green Egg


Okay, I admit it.

I bought my husband a Big Green Egg for his birthday and then proceeded to cook on it a bunch of times before he got to use it.

It's not my fault he's had to travel so much for business, is it?

Today Mark came home from the grocery store with a beef brisket to try out on the Big Green Egg. My ten-year-old, Christina, showed him how to light the lumpwood charcoal and get it to a temperature of 250 degrees.

Meanwhile, I generously seasoned each side of the brisket with a BBQ spice rub, kosher salt, and pepper. You can let it sit overnight with seasoning or even brine it first and then season it.

But I didn't.

I just seasoned it and as soon as the grill was ready, we put it in to cook low and slow.

After about 5 hours, the brisket reached an internal temperature of 197, and we pulled it out and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

Boy, was this good. Moist and tender.

And we even forgot to throw some hickory chips in there to get some great smoky flavor. Next time.

I recommend checking out the blog, Bucky's BBQ and Bread -- Curt helped me out when I first got the Big Green Egg (oh I mean, when my husband got the Big Green Egg). His site is chock full of great BBQ and other delectable eats. Also, Another Pint Please has a brisket recipe using a brine and the site does a nice job of describing how to cook the brisket on a Weber kettle.

If you don't have a Big Green Egg, maybe now's the time to get one. It's da bomb.

1 Beef brisket
Penzey's BBQ 3000 or another spice rub
Kosher salt
Pepper

Score the fat side of the brisket with a cross hatch pattern. Generously season the brisket on both sides with BBQ seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Heat the grill to 225-250 degrees. Cook brisket 4-5 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees, turning it a couple times during the cooking process.

Take it off the grill, cover it with foil, and let rest about 15-20 minutes. Cut and serve with BBQ sauce.



Broccoli Raabe with Chicken Andouille Sausage


In the past 14 days, I've seen my husband for two of them. On a business trip in Asia for almost a week, Mark was only home two days before he had to unexpectedly turn around and go back again.

Happily, he got home last night, and our family is complete.

To welcome him home, I made a generous serving of broccoli raabe and served it with steamer clams steamed in garlic and white wine since my hubby does not eat carbs. I usually make this robust vegetable with italian sausage, but I used chicken andouille sausage this time around. Sausage and clams are fast friends, an unbeatable pair.

Steamer Clams Steamed in Garlic and White Wine

For the original recipe of broccoli raabe, please click here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Leftover Maven: Mung Bean Thread Noodle Soup



What to do with leftovers on a rainy Wednesday? Make Asian soup with mung bean thread noodles, also called cellophane noodles, in about ten minutes.

I used leftover pork spareribs, rotisserie chicken, and asparagus from the phyllo-wrapped asparagus I had made, but you can use assorted meats, seafod, and/or veggies that you happen to have in your fridge.

Cellophane noodles are best prepared by soaking them in warm to hot water for ten to fifteen minutes (see note below). You can also cut them with scissors to make the strands shorter and easier to eat. When the noodles are ready, their color will go from white to translucent, and when you taste a strand, it will be al dente. Continue with the rest of your recipe. In this case, add the noodles to chicken or vegetable broth flavored with soy sauce or fish sauce (patis), add your leftover meats and veggies, and you have a filling, low-calorie soup.

Why wouldn't you skip the soaking step and just boil the cellophane noodles in the broth? You can do that, but you have to watch them. If they overcook, they will dissolve into a gelatinous mess. I prefer to soak them and then add them to the broth. While they're soaking, I add a couple dried shiitake mushrooms since they have to soak in hot water too as they are a great addition to the soup.

Here's a great description of what temperature water you soak the noodles in depending on the use from thaitable.com:
Soak in hot, warm or cold water (depending on what you are making) before cooking. The hotter the water, the more water the noodles soak up and the softer they become and the stickier the outside surface. This leads to some rules of thumb about what kind of dish takes what kind of soaking. For casserole type dishes (where the water in the noodles can get baked out) soak in hot water. For re-cooked dishes, like Thai spring rolls, use warm water. For stir fried noodles, soak in cold water otherwise the noodles will be overly sticky. The noodles are done soaking when they become opaque and are soft (like cooked spaghetti). After the noodles are cooked they will become clear. Quality noodles should not keep on expanding if soaked in water or soup for a long time.

Serves 1

1 small 40 gram packet of mung bean thread noodles (usually comes in a larger bag with multiple mini-packages of the noodles)
leftover rotisserie chicken, shredded
leftover pork spare ribs, shredded

leftover asparagus, cut in 1 inch pieces
shredded carrots
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until soft and thinly sliced
chicken broth
soy sauce or patis (fish sauce)
thinly sliced scallions
ginger, grated
sesame oil

sliced lemon
shichimi togarashi (Japanese red pepper mix)

Fill a bowl with hot water and add the cellophane noodles to soften.

Bring a couple cups of chicken broth in a small saucepan to a low boil. In the meantime, prepare the meat and veggies you want to add to the soup.

When the chicken broth is simmering, add shredded carrots so they can cook through (a few minutes). Add a little soy sauce or patis (fish sauce) and grated ginger to taste.

When the noodles are ready, add them and the rest of the veggies to warm through. Top with scallions, a little sesame oil, and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi if you like it a little spicy. Squeeze a little lemon on the noodles if you like that too.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Greek-Style Pork Tenderloin


I got a good thumping by a hulking piece of pork loin a couple weeks ago. I was determined to make a comeback.

The object of my defeat was a Jamaican-style pork loin with grilled pineapple for a potluck party. Sounds good, right? Well, I had never cooked this cut before, so I referenced different books and blogs to determine what temperature the pork should be when "done." I saw everything from 135 to 160 degrees.

I erred on the side of well done and cooked it to 158 degrees.

Big mistake.

While the meat was flavorful, it was dry and a little tough -- a little embarrassing since I'm supposed to know how to cook. It didn't help that most of the juice fled the platter during transport and ended up on my car mat.

So what do you do when you fail? You try again.

Since it was my mother-in-law's birthday, I had the perfect opportunity to go for Round 2, a Greek-style dinner with tzatziki (Greek cucumber sauce), orzo with tomatoes, feta and mint, and this pork tenderloin. Pork tenderloin is more petite than the pork loin, but it still needs to be cooked to the right temperature to be succulent and not a piece of shoe leather.

This time I cooked the pork tenderloin to 149 degrees. It was perfect if you don't like pink pork but you still want it juicy.



A few cooking tips:
1) I'm a dry rub person, but when I make marinades, I puree the garlic and onions in the blender with the other marinade ingredients. Their flavors permeate the meat more than just chopped garlic and onions.

2) Don't skip using at least a little oil in your marinades as many spices are oil-soluble and will not release their flavor compounds without it.

3) If I'm going to marinate meat more than a half hour, I don't add much acid to the marinade as it makes the meat mushy. After you cook the meat, you can add a little acid such as a squirt of lemon juice for its bright flavors.

4) I cooked the pork on the Big Green Egg, a grill that uses lumpwood charcoal, but you can easily sear this on the stovetop and cook it in the oven at 350 degrees or cook it on a gas grill at 350 degrees.

5) A thermometer is your friend and takes all the guess work out of cooking big pieces of meat.

6) Once the meat is cooked, let it rest for 20 minutes. If you tent a piece of foil over it, it will stay warm. It will cook another ten degrees from when you pulled it off the grill and the juices will redistribute themselves. If you cut it too early, the juices will leak out and the meat will be dry.

Greek-style Pork Tenderloin

1/2 onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbs. red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Penzey's Greek Seasoning or Oregano
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
2 pork tenderloins (about 2 1/2 lbs.)

In a blender, puree the onion, garlic, red wine viner, and olive oil to make a marinade. Add enough olive oil, so that the onion and garlic will puree. Set aside.

Generously season the pork tenderloins on all sides with the Greek seasoning or oregano, salt and pepper. Put the tenderloins in a Ziploc bag and add the marinade. Distribute the marinade so that it's covering the pork. Add more oil if you need it.

Marinate a few hours or overnight in the fridge, turning the bag over once in a while. When you're ready to grill, take the meat out of the Ziploc bags and let any excess marinade drip off the meat.

Heat the grill to 350 degrees. Cook the tenderloin until its internal temperature is 149 degrees, about 25 minutes, turning occasionally on the grill so it browns evenly.

Take off the grill and let rest twenty minutes. Place a piece of foil loosely over the meat, and this will help keep it warm. Slice and serve. If you like, you can squirt the meat with a little lemon juice. The lemon juice will mix with the drippings and brighten up the flavors.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Laura's Phyllo Asparagus Spears



Today I am featuring a recipe for Phyllo Asparagus Spears from Laura's Best Recipes. Interestingly enough, I found her blog by clicking on an ad Laura had placed on Facebook. I like her cooking, which is infused with California style.

This recipe is very easy, although it took me a little bit to figure out how much prosciutto to put with the asparagus. Mine had a tad too much at first (you can see in my picture up top that there's too much meat in the first roll but in the picture below, it's just right), making some of the spears a little salty. Once I learned to be more judicious in the use of the prosciutto, the rest were fine.

I brought them to my friends Jessica's and Peter's house as an appetizer before dinner, and they went great with the cheese tray. In particular, the Boursin cheese complemented the asparagus so well, that I will add the Boursin to the recipe next time.

These can be served warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!



Laura's Best Recipes Phyllo Asparagus Spears

24 asparagus spears, wood ends trimmed
6 sheets frozen phyllo, thawed
3-4 tablespoons melted butter (and/or Pam cooking spray)
12 thin slices prosciutto (about 6 ounces), cut in half crosswise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Steam asparagus in a steamer basket set over 1-inch of boiling water just until bright green, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a colander to cool. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on a work surface (cover the remaining phyllo with a damp clean towel). Brush lightly with butter. Cut into 4 rectangular pieces. Cut the asparagus spears down to 4 inch lengths.

Place 1 piece of prosciutto on each phyllo rectangle, lining up along 1 short edge. Arrange an asparagus spear over the prosciutto, letting the tip lay beyond the top edge of the phyllo. Sprinkle with Parmesan (I like it more than most). Roll up and secure the edge of the phyllo with butter, if necessary. When rolling, leave the asparagus tip unwrapped about one inch. Wrap foil around the exposed asparagus tip so it doesn’t burn. Arrange on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Bake until phyllo is golden brown, about 5 minutes.


Ninette's Notes:

1)I steamed the asparagus just one minute, which was enough, because I didn't want them to overcook in the oven. Next time, I think I will skip this step, turn the oven down to 375 degrees and let them just cook in the oven.

2) I used Pam to spray the phyllo initially and then I brushed them with a garlic-infused butter before I put them in the oven. To make the butter, I put one smashed garlic clove with the butter and I melted the butter in the microwave with the garlic in it.

Instead of cutting the asparagus into 4 inch pieces, I wrapped the whole spear with the parmesan, prosciutto and phyllo. After the asparagus were cooked and had cooled down a little, I cut the spears in half as shown in the picture.

3) Laura uses 1 piece of phyllo and cuts it into four pieces. I used one piece of phyllo and cut it in 2 pieces. I sprayed the phyllo with Pam, sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese and folded it over, and then I cut the folded piece in half and used the two halves to wrap two asparagus spears.

4) I didn't cover the asparagus tips with foil, and they didn't burn in my oven.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Orzo with Tomatoes, Feta, and Mint


To accompany a flavorful Greek-style pork tenderloin with tzatziki sauce, I put together this orzo with tomatoes, feta, and mint. Orzo is a very versatile pasta, delicious at all temperatures and a wonderful foil for other flavors such as the ones featured here.

I didn't use a recipe but added ingredients as I liked (or rather had in my kitchen). You can easily substitute and/or combine other ingredients like artichokes, olives, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumbers, roasted eggplant, red peppers or caramelized onions, use other cheeses, and try other fresh herbs like dill, basil, or tarragon.

Serves 2-3

1/2 box of orzo
Chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 package grape tomatoes, cut in 1/2
1/2 cup dry white wine like Chardonnay

Penzey's Mural of Flavor seasoning or other mixed seasoning (optional)
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint, oregano, and parsley, minced
Feta cheese

Cook 1/2 a box of orzo as directed on the package in chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water. I used a whole box of Pacific organic chicken broth, but if you just have a can of broth around, just add enough water to the broth for the orzo to cook.

While the orzo is cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add a couple tbs. of olive oil and saute onions until transparent, about 3-5 minutes. When the onions are almost cooked, add the minced garlic and saute for a minute. Add tomatoes and cook for a minute and then add about a 1/2 cup of wine and simmer together for about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat until the orzo is ready.

When the orzo is al dente, drain and reserve the cooking broth. Add orzo to the sauteed onions and tomato mixture. Mix together and add as much reserved chicken broth to make a sauce of sorts for the pasta (you can discard the rest of the chicken broth or use it for something else). Add as much crumbled feta and fresh herbs as you like. Taste and then add salt and pepper if necessary.

Enjoy.


Amish Friendship Bread



One day my friend and colleague, Kate, gave me a Ziploc bag with a creamy looking mixture and a xeroxed copy of Amish Friendship Bread Cinnamon Loaf.

A quick glance and all I saw was "Mush the bag" and "NO METAL." Kate told me she had gotten her bag of yeast starter from another friend who got it from another friend and so on and so forth. Who knows how long this starter has been circulating, through whose hands it has passed, and how many mouths it has fed? It's kind of cool to think we are all connected.



Once you get your bag, you follow the instructions and ten days later, you make your own bread and four more bags of starter to keep or give to your friends. You can freeze the bags of starter to save for a later date. Just let the starter defrost and watch for the bubbles to start again before you proceed with the recipe.

It's important to leave the bag out at room temperature so that the yeast can do its work. If for some reason, something goes awry or you want to make the bread and have no friends who have given you a bag, I include the recipe for starting an original starter batch.

My daughter Lizzy loved this light, moist and sweet bread. Every time I went into the kitchen I noticed the loaf got magically smaller, until *poof*, it was gone.






Amish Friendship Bread Cinnamon Loaf Recipe (from the xeroxed piece of paper I received with the starter)

Do not use any type of metal spoon or bowl for mixing.
Do not refrigerate.
Batter will rise, bubble, and ferment ... burp as needed.

Day 1 - receive the starter and do nothing
Day 2 - Mush the bag.
Day 3 - Mush the bag.
Day 4 - Mush the bag.
Day 5 - Mush the bag.
Day 6 - Add to the bag 1 cup each flour, sugar and milk. Mush the bag.
Day 7 - Mush the bag.
Day 8 - Mush the bag.
Day 9 - Mush the bag.
Day 10 - Follow these instructions:

1. Pour the entire contents of the bag into a non-metal bowl.
2. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 1/2 cups milk. Stir.
3. Measure one cup batter into four 1-gallon Ziploc bags and give to friends along with a copy of the recipe.
4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
5. Add to the remaining batter:

3 eggs
1 cup oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
1 large box instant vanilla pudding (or any flavor)
1/2 tsp. salt

6. Grease 2 large loaf pans
7. In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Dust the greased pans with 1/2 of this mixture.
8. Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture over the top.
9. Bake 1 hour. Cool the bread until it loosens evenly from the pan (about 10 minutes). Serve warm or cold. YUMMY!

If you keep a starter for yourself, you will be baking every 10 days. The bread is very good and makes a great gift. Only the Amish know how to creat the starter, so if you give them all away, you will have to wait until someone gives you one back. ENJOY!!

NO METAL.

Here is an alternate bread recipe if you don't have instant pudding in the house, which I got from http://www.momswhothink.com/bread-recipes/amish-friendship-bread.html:

Remaining batter in the bowl (step #5 above)
2/3 cup oil
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Using a fork beat by hand until well blended. You can add 1 cup raisins and 1 cup nuts (optional).
Grease two loaf pans with butter, sprinkle with sugar instead of flour.

Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour (individual oven temperatures vary). Cool 10 minutes, remove from pans. Makes two loaves of Amish Friendship Bread.

Amish Friendship Bread Starter
This is the Amish Friendship Bread Starter Recipe that you’ll need to make the Amish Friendship Bread (above). It is very important to use plastic or wooden utensils and plastic or glass containers when making this. Do not use metal at all!

Ingredients:

1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110°F)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup warm milk (110°F)

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water for about 10 minutes. Stir well.
2. In a 2 quart glass or plastic container, combine 1 cup sifted flour and 1 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly or the flour will get lumpy when you add the milk.
3. Slowly stir in warm milk and dissolved yeast mixture. Loosely cover the mixture with a lid or plastic wrap. The mixture will get bubbly. Consider this Day 1 of the cycle, or the day you receive the starter.

For the next 10 days handle starter according to the instructions above for Amish Friendship Bread.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tzatziki (Greek cucumber sauce)



I had my first introduction to Greek food when I lived in New York City in my mid-20s. Friend Rob Gotti worked in the McGraw Hill building, and I worked a couple blocks away on 57th Street next to Carnegie Hall. We would meet for a cheap lunch, grabbing a souvlaki pork on pita from a street vendor, complete with tomatoes, onions, a slathering of tzatziki (cucumber sauce) and a couple shots of hot sauce.

I still order Greek food from a local place, and I also make Greek-style food at home. The tzatziki is easy to make and is a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats. All you need to do is mix yogurt, minced garlic, shredded and drained cucumber, olive oil, lemon or red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Fage Greek yogurt is now widely available in grocery stores now and is perfect to use for this sauce. If you still can't find it, you can use sour cream or a combination of sour cream and yogurt.

Most recently, I made the tzatziki to accompany a Greek-style pork tenderloin and orzo with tomatoes, feta, and mint. Delicious.

Tzatziki
3-4 servings
1 6 oz. container of Fage yogurt
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 a cucumber, peeled, shredded and squeezed dry in paper towels
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
A shot of lemon or a little red wine vinegar

Mix together above ingredients. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes so the flavors can soften and meld together.


Clockwise from top left: Cucumber, peeled and seeded; shredded cucumber; squeezing cucumber dry with changes of paper towel (you can also use dish towels); tub of Fage yogurt with minced garlic, cucumber, a couple shots of lemon juice, a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. While not pictured, you can also add a little fresh dill.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Garlicky Shrimp



Dress it up, dress it down. This garlicky grilled shrimp is food's version of a little black dress.

I love to serve this versatile shrimp to crowds. It can be served alone as an appetizer or as a main entree with rice or on a flour tortilla with mango salsa, and crisp, shredded lettuce and cheese. The recipe and technique is adapted from Cook's Country magazine.

I cooked the shrimp inside on a non-stick grill tonight, but when I'm cooking for a lot of people, I skewer the shrimp and cook it on the grill.

Garlicky Shrimp

1 1/2 to 2 pounds extra large shrimp (21-25 shrimp per pound), deveined.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded
grated lime zest from one lime
5 tbs. lime (from approximately 3 limes)
6 garlic cloves (yes, I mean 6)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. cilantro
Sugar

Butterfly the shrimp by cutting the shrimp down the center, as pictured below, but not all the way through but about 2/3rds of the way through. This will help the marinade penetrate the shrimp.

If you're marinating shrimp for less than 30 minutes, put all the ingredients except the shrimp and sugar in the blender and blend. Set 2 tbs. aside and mix the shrimp with the rest of the marinade in a Ziploc bag and put in the fridge.

If you're marinating the shrimp for more than 30 minutes, mix everything together except the lime juice. Set aside 1 tbs. of the marinade and add 2 tbs. of lime juice to the reserved marinade. Mix the shrimp with the rest of the marinade in a Ziploc bag and put in the fridge. When you take out the shrimp to cook, add the remaining 3 tbs. lime juice to the Ziploc bag and distribute it throughout the shrimp. (Marinating shrimp more than 30 minutes in the lime marinade will make the shrimp mushy.)

When ready to cook the shrimp, thread shrimp tightly on the skewers, alternating the direction of the shrimp so that the side that has the head side of the shrimp is then followed by the tail end of the shrimp, etc. This is so it will cook evenly. Lay skewers on cooking sheet and when done, sprinkle the top side with sugar.

Cooking inside: If you're not using a grill but are cooking it on a skillet inside, there is no need to skewer the shrimp.

Turn the grill burners on high. Grill shrimp sugar side down with grill lid down for 3-4 minutes. Turn burners OFF. Flip skewers, close lid, and cook 1-2 minutes until opaque.

Cooking inside: Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, lay shrimp, sugar side down, down flat one by one, making sure to leave spaces between the shrimp and not overcrowd the pan (this will allow the shrimp to sear vs. steam). You'll probably have to cook the shrimp in several batches. Cook three-four minutes or until almost opaque and then flip over and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until opaque and pink all the way through.

Slide shrimp onto a dish and sprinkle with cilantro and the remaining reserved marinade. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Baked Chicken Taquitos



From a wonderful dinner that Julia served dockside from her sailboat's galley kitchen.

Adapted recipe from Whole Foods Market:
Serves 4

This baked version of taquitos is healthier and less mess in the kitchen than the traditional fried ones. The flavorful chicken filling makes great tacos as well. Serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. Leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken is perfect for the filling.

Ninette's Note: We made these taquitos using just canned salsa, leftover chicken, and cheese, and they were great. Just follow the directions for rolling and baking below.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil, more for brushing tortillas
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat
2 cups low-sodium, gluten-free chicken broth
12 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas
1 cup crumbled queso fresco or shredded Monterey jack or cheddar

Method

Preheat oven to 425°F and oil a baking sheet. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add onion and cook until starting to soften and turn translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, paprika and salt. Stir to combine and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, until fragrant. Take from heat and stir in cilantro and chicken. Set aside.

IF YOU'RE USING FLOUR TORTILLAS: Lay tortilla on a work surface and spread 2 or 3 tablespoons chicken mixture over bottom third. Top with a tablespoon of cheese and roll up. Place seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Spray or brush tortillas lightly with oil and bake until crisp and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

IF YOU'RE USING CORN TORTILLAS: If you're using corn tortillas, bring chicken broth to a simmer in a skillet or pot wide enough to hold tortillas. When broth simmers, dip tortillas briefly, one at a time, just to soften, 1 to 2 seconds. Lay tortilla on a work surface and spread 2 or 3 tablespoons chicken mixture over bottom third. Top with a tablespoon of cheese and roll up. Place seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Spray or brush tortillas lightly with oil and bake until crisp and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jumbo Honey Corn Muffins


From a wonderful dinner that Julia served dockside from her sailboat's galley kitchen.

Honey Corn Muffins

2 packages of corn muffin mix
1 can cream style corn
¼ cup honey
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk

Mix all and pour into muffin tins (the larger Texas size muffin pans work best) and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until golden brown. Makes 6 large muffins or 12 regular size. Fee free to add in a can of green chilis or some chopped jalapeno for added flavor.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Galley Kitchen Cooking on the Boat with Julia

Chef Julia in her sailboat galley kitchen

Julia facebooked me this Saturday and gave me and the family an impromptu invite for dinner on her sailboat. Last summer when I invited myself over for drinks (hey, I'm not shy), I got a taste of boat living. Like the tide, people ebb and flow from boat to boat, sharing friendship and good food.

Julia's sailboat is fully equipped with sleeping quarters, bathrooms, and a galley kitchen equipped with a petite stove, oven, microwave, sink and countertop. You don't need a big kitchen and the fanciest equipment to turn out great food, as you'll see here. Without further ado, here is guest blogger, Julia ...

I wasn’t sure if it was the waves gently tossed off the early fishing boats that woke me or the cries of the gulls signaling a new day. No matter, I thought as I curled deeper under my blankets in our boat’s v-berth. I began to think about the day that lay ahead.

Glancing out toward the departing fishing boats, I realized that not even the strong coffee I had just brewed would cut the fog that settled over the harbor. Resigned that this may be a day at the marina rather than at sea, I realized it might be the perfect opportunity for an adventure in the galley.

What to make? The damp chill coming off the fog seemed to whisper a warm and hearty stew. And given the setting, it seemed an accompanying seafood dish was a given.

Slowly the image emerged: a steaming bowl of Santa Fe Chowder chock full of vegetables in a spiced broth laced with lime juice, along with honey corn bread for dipping.

Santa Fe Chowder (vegan)

Joining the chowder would be Fiesta Shrimp marinated in garlic, fresh ground pepper, tequila and cilantro picked from my planter on the dock.

Tequila and Lime Marinated Fiesta Shrimp (sauted on the stovetop)

And for the non fish eaters, chicken skewers marinated in salsa and lime juice.

Salsa Chicken (Baked)

And for the kids, baked taquitos filled with Monterey Jack Cheese.

Chicken Taquitos (baked)

Who to share in this adventure but my good friend, Ninette, who loves food as much as I do. I made the call and left the message; bring the kids, wine, and your camera.

As the afternoon slipped into evening, the aroma of the baking corn bread brought the dock kids around begging for a taste. The allure of the corn bread mingled with the chowder attracted more wandering friends.

Jumbo Honey Corn Muffins

Ninette arrived with the perfect opportunity to celebrate - her mother-in-law Joyce's birthday. Laughter, stories, and dear friends proceeded to fill the boat.

Happy Birthday, Joyce!

The flavors blended as one taste led to another. And whether it was the gentle rain on the hatches or the lingering flavors that kept people mingling, it seemed like we couldn’t end the evening more perfectly.

Ninette did, however with a finale that outdid it all. A gorgeous galette with a perfect flaky crust and filled with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Rustic Berry Tart

Later that evening as I settled back into the v-berth drowsy and full, I found myself grateful for good food, great friends, and even occasionally, the fog that keeps us dock bound.

Salsa Chicken Skewers


From a wonderful dinner that Julia served dockside from her sailboat's galley kitchen.

Salsa Chicken
6 chicken breasts
1 large jar of salsa
¼ cup lime juice

Mix salsa and lime juice and marinate chicken 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Cut chicken breast in half lengthwise, then cut each piece in half again lengthwise. Thread onto bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water. Bake in oven (350 degrees) for 20 minutes. Finish off on grill. Serves 6.

Tequila and Lime Marinated Fiesta Shrimp


From a wonderful dinner that Julia served dockside from her sailboat's galley kitchen.

Fiesta Shrimp
2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, tail left on
¼ cup tequila
Juice from 3 limes
Handful of chopped cilantro
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Combine all, marinate 2 hours. At this point either sauté shrimp in a large nonstick skillet or grill for 2 to 3 minutes until pink and fully cooked through.
Serves 6.

Santa Fe Chowder


From a wonderful dinner that Julia served dockside from her sailboat's galley kitchen.

Santa Fe Chowder

Cooking spray
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 cup peeled, diced carrots
4 cups (32 oz.) light vegetable broth
1 cup (8 oz.) canned chopped green chilies
1 15-oz. can pinto or white beans, drained
1 13-oz. can light coconut milk or other non-dairy milk
1 10-oz. package frozen corn, thawed
1 can fire roasted chopped tomatoes (Hunts or Muir Glen makes these)
1/3 cup Dry Sherry
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp dried cilantro
1/2 tsp cumin, to taste
dash of chili powder
dash of cinnamon
chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
1 lime cut in half

Lightly spray a heavy soup pot with non-stick cooking spray; heat on medium high heat, add the onion and stir till golden and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, potatoes, carrots, and vegetable broth. Cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are tender. Add the green chilies, beans, light coconut milk, corn, and canned tomatoes. Stir in the sherry, seasonings and the lime halves. Heat gently for 2 hours. Taste for seasoning adjustments.

Remove lime halves and serve garnished with fresh chopped cilantro.

Serves 6.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rustic Free-Form Tart with Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries



My friend, Peter, approaches cooking like he approaches everything else -- with precision. Once he brought over a fruit tart for dinner which was absolute perfection, both in its presentation and taste. Even years later, I can remember its lovely lime curd, white chocolate covered crust, and the glazed berries that regally adorned its surface like crown jewels.

Me? I'm a little sloppy on the edges. I can orchestrate the most perfect event at work, but my office will look like a tornado blew through it. Same with my fruit tart. It's bursting with the flavor of fresh fruit and the crust is buttery and tender, but the edges are unfinished. No crimping or fancy fluting here.

Luckily, there is a name for these kinds of tarts: rustic tart (or galette). And making them is easy enough for a non-baker like myself. All you have to do is make the pastry dough, let it rest and roll it out. Throw some fruit mixed with sugar in the center and fold the dough edges over. Bake.

After a day of shopping, I ran home and quickly made this tart for a dockside boat party at my friend Julia's sailboat. She did the hard work of making salsa chicken, shrimp marinated in tequila and lime, a Sante Fe chowder, monterey jack cheese taquitos, and corn muffins. All I had to do was bring dessert.

This recipe is adapted from a Fine Cooking Magazine published several years ago. My tip is to roll the dough on a Silpat or parchment paper, because once the tart is formed, you can pick up the Silpat and put it on a baking sheet and into the oven. You can also use any combination of fresh or frozen fruit.

Julia's friend, Linda, loved it so much she was figuring out how much I could make if I sold these! It's definitely worth trying. Enjoy.

Rustic Tart

Crust
1 1/2 cups flour or 6 3/4 oz. flour
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
11 tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 egg yolk
3 tbs. whole milk

Fruit Filling
4 cups of fruit (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, and you can use frozen berries if you want)
1/4 cup sugar
Salt
Lemon or orange zest
3 tbs. flour or 3 tbs. quick-acting tapioca
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Egg Wash and Crust Topping
1 egg for the egg wash
Sugar in the raw or brown sugar to top the crust

In your Kitchenaid or other mixer, combine dry ingredients and mix them together. On low speed, add butter until the flour is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas.

Mix egg yolk and milk together and add to flour mixture until just combined (about 15 seconds).

Remove the mixture from the bowl and put on a flour surface. Knead quickly until it just comes together. The dough will be dotted with butter spots throughout, and this is what you want. Wrap in plastic wrap, stick in the fridge, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.

Turn on oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together ingredients for the fruit filling.

Take pastry disk out of the fridge and put on a floured surface or a floured Silpat. Place the plastic wrap on top of the disk and proceed to roll out until it's thin and about 12 inches across and 1/8 inch thick. Put filling in the middle, leaving a few inches of dough around the edges, and pull over the free edges on top of the fruit filling. Brush the dough edges with egg wash and top with sugar in the raw or brown sugar.

Cook for 55 minutes or until crust is browned and the fruit is bubbling.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Daring Cooks: Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi



Last month I joined Daring Bakers to help me improve my mediocre baking skills. While I was at it, I decided to be part of the flagship launch of the Daring Cooks.

The first challenge was ricotta gnocchi, chosen by Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice.

At the heart of this challenge is learning to make gnocchi out of ricotta and eggs, with only a dusting of flour to shape each gnocchi. The most important factor is the ricotta, which must be very dry. If your ricotta is not dry enough, your gnocchi run the risk of blowing up and disintegrating when you're cooking them.

To squeeze the moisture out, I took the ricotta, placed it on a splatterguard which I had above a platter, and put a heavy dutch oven on it as a weight. After this first press, I put the mixture in a colander set in a Pyrex measuring cup and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours, as directed in the recipe below. I then placed the disk of ricotta in paper towels and kept pressing them and changing the paper towels until I thought it was dry enough. Could it have used some more drying? Yes.

In the end, my gnocchi did hold together but it was not dry enough to make pretty oval shapes. They ended up being oblong and craggy shapes. Next time, I think I will use a bunch of cloth towels and the dutch oven again to squeeze out the moisture in the ricotta.

If you can, make a homemade ricotta to use in this recipe as it makes all the difference. I include a ricotta recipe that I got from a fellow DC-er, Audax Artifex, and also, in the instructions below, you'll find other suggestions for homemade ricotta recipes.

With fresh ricotta, the resulting gnocchi are delicate and full of dairy flavor. One bite and you'll be transported to the farm, the smell of fresh country air filling your lungs and a vista of grazing cows and rolling pastures spread out before you. It's that good.

As a sauce, I made a hearty ragu out of leftover roast pork loin which I simmered in tomato sauce, wine, and spices. Enjoy.



Here is the ricotta cheese recipe I used (makes about 500 grams of ricotta):

Home-Made Ricotta Cheese
3 cups of skim milk powder (equal 3 litres of milk)
1 cup of water
1 cup of cream
4 ½ tablespoons of lemon juice

Mix the skim milk powder, cream and water it will form a thick liquid. Heat until it is very hot add the lemon juice. Stir gently for 3 mins do not let the liquid boil. It should now be a mixture of curds and whey, let it cool 8 mins or so. Strain using a very fine sieve place the sieve over a bowl and place into the refrigerator overnight uncovered. Alternately, you can squeeze the curds in cheesecloth and paper towels and then put the ricotta in paper towels or cloth towels, changing the towels when they're wet until the towels don't soak up any more water. Since so little water is used the ricotta well be very dry when you want to use it. Push the cheese through a fine sieve when needed this adds lightness to the gnocchi mixture.





Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

Tips:
- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:


- Sieve- Cheesecloth or paper towels- Large mixing bowl- Rubber spatula- Tablespoon- Baking dish or baking sheet- Wax or parchment paper- Small pot- Large skillet- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)



Videos that might help:



- Judy Rodgers Gnocchi Demo



- Making fresh ricotta demo



- Making ricotta gnocchi



For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten



1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi):
Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.
Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavour them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Farfalle with Pine Nuts, Peas, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese


To celebrate a beautiful Spring day, it seemed fitting to make farfalle, which translates into English as "butterflies." Peas, proscuittos, and goat cheese made fine companions, and toasted pine nuts added a little crunch.

This is a flavorful and quick dish -- great for a weeknight dinner. You can also substitute different types of pasta and use asparagus instead of peas.

Serves 2

1/2 lb. Farfalle
3/4 cup peas
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tbs. grainy mustard
3 oz. or more goat cheese
Pasta water
3 slices prosciutto, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley

In a skillet over medium heat, add pine nuts and stir a few minutes until toasted (you'll be able to smell them when they're done). In the meantime, bring a pot of salted water to boil.

Cook farfalle according to its directions until al dente. When the pasta is done, drain it, making sure to reserve some pasta water (less than a cup), and transfer it to a skillet that is over low heat.

Add peas, goat cheese, and mustard, and mix together with the pasta. Add enough water to help everything come together and make a sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix in pine nuts and prosciutto. Enjoy.










Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cook's Illustrated Best Blueberry Muffins



In the past week, blueberry muffins have been circulating around my personal hemisphere like butterflies fluttering around the garden.

It started in the blogs I follow. For the Love of Cooking posted a recipe for Blueberry Surprise Muffins with Streusel Topping and Dinner for a Year and Beyond posted a recipe for Blueberry Crumb Muffins. Then I opened up the May/June 2009 issue of the Cook's Illustrated Magazine which arrived in the mail and there the muffins were again, under the name Best Blueberry Muffins.

Okay, Whoever is Up There Craving Blueberry Muffins, I get the hint.

Blueberries remind me fondly of summer. In July, we hike up to the scrubby top of a New Hampshire mountain to pick wild blueberries. The kids complain on their way up the steep inclines, but once they see all those clusters of blue studding the low bushes, big smiles cross their faces. They eagerly get to work as the birds grudgingly watch them stealing their secret stash.

In the Cook's Illustrated article, the author wanted to mirror the flavors of fresh-picked wild blueberries using blander supermarket blueberries. Her solution was to create a concentrated jam out of some of the blueberries and mix a teaspoonful of the jam into each muffin. To that, she added a sugar-lemon topping and a quickbread batter that would be hearty enough to hold up the fruit and heavy jam.

Are these "the best blueberry muffins," as advertised? I think it depends on what kind of muffin you like. I will admit that I have a preference for cakey, buttery muffins, but these were delicious too.

Cook's Illustrated Best Blueberry Muffins

The recipe can be found in the May/June 2009 issue of Cook's Illustrated, which can currently found on newsstands at the time of this posting, or at the Cook's Illustrated website. It is also available at Basically Baked, which got permission to post the recipe. Enjoy!



Clockwise from top left: Batter in which the wet and dry ingredients were brought together until just combined (do not overmix); swirling in the jam with a chopstick; muffins with their lemon-sugar topping before they go into the oven; muffins cooling on the countertop.

Ninette's Notes: 1) I just bought a silicone muffin pan to use when steaming Filipino puto, but I wanted to see how silicone performed when cooking regular muffins in the oven. Would silicone stand up to regular metal?

The muffins came out like a charm -- no greasing the pans or running a knife around the edges of the cooked muffins. The muffin tops browned nicely and the sides cooked but were not as browned as in regular muffin pans.

If you're thinking of using silicone pans, you have to decide whether it's worth losing a little bit of browned bottoms to not have to grease the pans and worry about them not coming out easily.

I don't think cleaning the pan was worse or better than cleaning a regular muffin tin.

2) When I make blueberry muffins, I mix the blueberries with a little flour before I add them to the batter. This way they don't sink to the bottom but stay suspended in the muffin.