apples & cardamom

cardamom apple cider muffinsAfter nutmeg (can’t deny those Greek roots) my favourite fall spice is cardamom. I love its floral, peppery notes and how it brightens pretty much anything it touches; whether in the dozens of kardemummabullar (cardamom buns) we mainlined for Fika whilst traveling around Sweden, or stirred into some warmed pressed cider, or as a hidden note in tomato-based dishes, cardamom is equal parts magical and underrated.

Come fall, Austin and I sometimes trade our savoury breakfasts for something hearty and a bit sweet–most often slow-cooked oats, but we also like to keep on hand gently-sweet and breakfast-appropriate muffins for when the mood strikes. This becomes obvious if you know my kitchen and its parade of wholesome parcels: plum with oatmeal streusel muffins, apple-cranberry-pumpkin muffins, mom’s famous bran muffins, and my absolute favourite, winter harvest muffins.

Despite these muffin riches, our breakfast counter was missing one that highlighted three of my favourite flavours: apple, cardamom and maple, so I set out to develop a recipe. After a bit of refinement, it’s just right: a 100% whole-wheat breakfast muffin with a burnished top, gently sweetened with dark maple syrup and pressed apple cider, chockfull of tart Ontario apples and made bright and warm with cardamom and other fall spices.

It still feels like summer in these nascent days of Toronto autumn, but our kitchen is ready for the season, with muffins.

Whole Wheat Cardamom Maple Apple Cider Muffins

These are muffins in the truest sense, versus little cakes masquerading as breakfast food. Made without refined sugar and with 100% whole wheat flour, they provide a healthy hit of sustained energy minus the sugar crash. We’ve been cracking them open warm, slathered with salted butter, the cardamom enhanced by mugs of hot black coffee.

Makes one-dozen midsize muffins

Ingredients

  • 1-2/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • pinch fine sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg, rasped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup dark maple syrup
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1-1/4 cups pressed apple cider
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: demerara sugar, for dusting

For the apples

  • 2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped into 1 cm cubes
  • gentle dusting of cardamom, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg (same spices used above)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with parchment or liners, if desired. 

In a bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. 

In a large bowl, combine the egg, maple syrup, butter, cider and vanilla extract. 

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined. Fold in the apples, reserving a large handful for the muffin tops. 

Fill each cup 3/4 full. Top each with a few pieces of apple and sprinkle with demarara sugar (if desired). Bake for approximately 18 minutes on middle rack, until muffin centres spring back to the touch, and muffin tops are burnished. 

Cool on a wire rack. Serve immediately or wrap in saran and foil for lunches or to freeze for later snacking. 

Related

A full index of recipes featured on Some Infinite Thing

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farm share (CSA) service

#loveykitchen on Instagram

start here! bogotá, colombia

Bogota, Colombia travel guide | someinfinitething.comStart Here! guides are a new feature on Some Infinite Thing to collect in one place my favourite hotels, restaurants, sites and other notes for a city. These posts offer strictly the best to help guide your planning, instead of wading through the “everything is equal” or “top tourist sites” approach taken by many travel guides. 

Through the years, a handful of cities have won my heart from the second I stepped on their soil—Seoul, Seville, Marrakesh, Québec City and Jerusalem immediately come to mind. Bogotá was an instant addition to this list. Her vibe—street art, museums, lively plazas; her food—endless great restaurants, market culture, street eats; her people—hospitable, arms open, and wanting to share the city’s secret nooks…

From the time we began planning Austin’s 30th birthday trip to South America, Bogotá kept creeping to the forefront as a place to visit. With the option for an inexpensive regional hop at the end of our time in Peru, we’d be remiss if we didn’t see what she was all about. Here’s the very best of that trip in one spot!

Stay

Artisan Hotel DC Bogota ColombiaFratelli Cafe Bogota ColombiaLibertario Coffee, Bogota, Colombia(Pictured: Artisan D.C. Bogota Lobby | Fratelli courtyard | Libertario Coffee’s excellent empanada)

The Artisan D.C. Hotel: From friends who had recently visited, and our own research, the city centre came up as a safe, tourist-friendly neighbourhood. We had some Marriott points to use up from recent travel, so this was a great find by Austin (it’s part of the same Autograph Collection to which Portland, Maine’s incredible Press Hotel belongs). After a week of very outdoorsy pursuits in Peru, this was a soft landing.

The rooms were thoughtfully designed, concierge excellent and common spaces impeccable—I love a well designed hotel bar, and the Cooper Lounge was just the spot for a pre-dinner drink. For breakfast, we enjoyed Fratelli, a cute espresso bar a few minutes’ walk away. Libertario Coffee, immediately behind the hotel, had a great aesthetic and excellent coffee, too.

Eat & Drink

La Puerta Falsa, Bogota, ColombiaBogotá Beer Company, ColombiaSalvo Patria, Bogota, ColombiaTabulá, Bogota, ColombiaIMG_6225Processed with VSCO with a6 preset(Pictured: entryway to La Puerta Falsa | Bogotá Beer Company | poster art at Salvo Patria | entryway to Tabulá | Andres Carne de Res)

We ate so much good food in Bogotá. This is a pared down list of just our favourites.

Leo Cocina y Cava: Ranked #16 on the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and #1 in Colombia, we celebrated Austin’s 30th here. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy many top-50 meals in our travels, but Leo was unique in its inventive progression, unfamiliar drink pairings and new-to-us ingredients. I usually leave a tasting menu figuring through how dishes are made and what I might replicate in my home kitchen. After this meal, I spent hours teasing out the unfamiliar tastes and reading about new-to-me produce from Colombia’s many micro-climates, food communities and historical traditions.

Leo is not-to-miss but not for the squeamish—ingredients like ant shells, fermented foods and other curiosities feature throughout the meal. Go for the non-alcoholic beverage pairing, which we preferred to the boozy offering for its striking juices, infusions and ferments.

La Puerta Falsa: If you have time for just one food stop on your Bogotá travels, make it this institution of the city’s food scene. Located just off Plaza de Bolivar, La Puerta Falsa has been serving Bogotanos traditional home cooking since 1816. It’s tiny and barely noticeable from the street, seating maybe all of 30 people over two cramped levels.

I’d recommend taking a seat and ordering a tamale—nothing like the Mexican-style tamale with which most North Americans are familiar—these are massive, rice-based, tinted yellow from curcumin, stuffed with chicken, peas and steamed within a thick banana leaf. Paired with an icy Coca-Cola, this was one of the most delicious, smoky, savoury bites of the trip. Also order a bowl of ajiaco, a thick, potato-based soup full of corn, chicken and a local herb called guascas, and garnished with avocado, rice, capers and heavy cream. The servings here are massive; as three people, we ordered for lunch one soup and two tamales with leftovers.

Bogotá Beer Company: As my husband wryly noted, BBC is the Sam Adams of Colombia. This is a “large” microbrewery chain with outposts throughout the city. We popped in one day to escape a passing rain shower, and my husband and brother-in-law returned another night. The standard, on-tap beers are solid but we especially liked their seasonally limited bottle brews.

Pastelería Florida: This legendary spot has been serving up daily santafereño (hot chocolate with fresh white cheese) since 1936. Grab a seat in the sweeping, old-style dining room and order a classic plate completo of hot chocolate, almojabana (semolina-cheese bread), soft cheese and butter. To make like a local, sink hunks of cheese into your hot chocolate to melt, then fish out the drippy, salty ribbons from the bottom of your cup with a spoon.

Salvo Patria: This charming restaurant came recommended to us several times. First, the branding is STUNNING—I wanted to take a menu home. The food and wine list also were spot on—we lucked out with a seat at the bar within a packed dining room of locals, without a reservation; the octopus and braised rabbit were standout. Don’t leave without the buffalo milk caramel for dessert; our favourite sweet of the trip.

Abasto: This is another restaurant that came up in many conversations during our planning. While we didn’t think we would get to visit, it’s where my husband’s colleague’s family took us for breakfast one morning. We dined at their Usaquén location on the upstairs patio and it was a dreamy little spot. If you go, order coffees and a sampling of the many regional arepas on menu; we especially loved the guajira and huevo versions.

Andres Carne de Res: This place is way out of our usual wheelhouse, but sometimes you leave the wheelhouse. We hemmed and hawed over whether we would visit, and ended up there for drinks one night. Seven sprawling floors of ridiculousness is how I’d describe Andres—a smoky, crowded, chaotic bar-restaurant-something-or-other. (Visit the website for a taste of what to expect.) The menu is an 80-page indexed graphic novella. The walls are gilded and bedazzled and horned. Servers walk around with glittering tongs hanging from their aprons. Drinks are served in all manner of skull and chalice and urn. You can escape Bogotá without a visit, but I’d recommend ordering a round of boozy beverages and saying you did. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Tabulá: We popped into Tabulá for Sunday lunch before visiting the National Museum immediately next door. The space is airy and gives the sensation that you’re dining within the courtyard of a Colonial home. Our family-style lunch of braised pork shoulder, melting yellow potatoes bathed in smoked butter (divine!), beef in tamarind sauce and a simple green salad was perfect. I couldn’t resist a charred cream Catalan for dessert.

See & Do

Paloquemao Market, Bogota, ColombiaIMG_5969IMG_5980IMG_6015IMG_6098IMG_6105(Pictured: Paloquemao Market | Bogota Flower Market)

Paloquemao Market: This market was a paradise—a labyrinthine network of produce that I never knew existed. My brother-and-law and I have a “try all the fruits you’ve never heard of” policy on holiday and we barely scratched the surface of the varieties available. Little stalls called tiendas serve up quick eats and drinks, and we knocked back delicious fruit-based shakes (pictured above) at a stall located just outside the market. The market closes at 4:30 PM on weekdays and 2:30 PM on weekends, but I’d advise getting there early to ensure you see the flower market in its full glory. Speaking of…

Bogota Flower Market: Located on Paloquemao Plaza, outside the market, this is heaven on earth for a flower fiend like me. Colombia’s second-biggest export is flowers, which means this market stocks the impossible dream of 20 long-stem roses for $3 US, and massive unusual bunches of flowers for mere dollars apiece. I surely embarrassed my company with the hundred photos I took, but I was helpless to this chaotic, beautiful, magical place. Arrive early in the morning to see the vendors in action.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetIMG_6302IMG_6223IMG_6107Gold Museum Bogota, ColombiaIMG_6055IMG_6045(Pictured: Catedral de Sal | artisan in the Usaquén neighbourhood | Museo Botero courtyard | dislplay at Museo del Oro | the city’s resplendent graffiti)

Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá: Hire a driver and make a half-day of visiting the Catedral de Sal (literally, Salt Cathedral) about 1.5 hours’ drive outside of Bogotá. Located 180 metres underground, the immense cathedral carved into a salt mine is like no other place I’ve visited, five continents later. Working with a guide helped us to get a full sense of the history and symbolism of place, and spend time at the various sacred markers on the path to the main cathedral. We worked with Henry from Bogota Henry Tours for a private visit and adored his enthusiasm, reverence for this place and memorable storytelling. Arrive upon opening for minimal crowds; even during Holy Week, we felt like we had solo room to explore.

Museo del Oro (and its excellent coffee shop, Cafe San Alberto): This is Bogotá’s most respected museum, and for good reason. It comprises over 55,000 items of gold and other materials from throughout pre-Hispanic Colombia. Three floors are organized thematically and the exhibits are described in both English and Spanish (English exhibits something we found rare in many South American museums and galleries). A free one-hour tour is offered at 11 AM and 4 PM daily (except Sundays).

During our visit, we had breakfast with the sister and brother-in-law of my husband’s colleague, who are born and raised Bogotanos. He’s a sound artist and created the soundscapes and sound installations for the museum, which was such a neat piece of trivia to have in hand!

Given its roaring export market, we were surprised by the lack of coffee culture in Colombia. The coffee shop in the museum’s lower level, Cafe San Alberto, served up excellent single origin coffee and a nice respite mid-afternoon.

Plaza de Bolivar: If you spend some time in Bogotá, you inevitably will pass through the pigeon-studded main square in her historic heart. As a local told us: “it’s also not what you saw in Narcos…” The four sides of the square feature important architectural features of the city: the Palace of Justice, the Parliament of Colombia, the mayoral offices and the Cathedral of Bogotá.

Bogotá Graffiti Tour: Sadly, we were rained out of our graffiti tour, but I would be remiss to leave it off the list. These local-led three-hour guides of the city’s graffiti culture are a staple of the city, run by artists and aficionados alike who want to spread their street art gospel.

Museo Botero: Botero is a… polarizing artist… but his art makes me laugh. Given the large collection of his works and proximity to the can’t-miss Museo del Oro, a stroll through this free museum is worthwhile.

UsaquénVisit the hip, beautiful Usaquén neighbourhood on Sunday, when its sprawling artisan market is in full swing. There tend to be lots of knockoff wares in Colombia’s craft markets, so being here among so many true artisans and their handiwork was a breath of fresh air. I walked away with a delicate hand-spun and -hammered silver pendant, and would have bought about a hundred more goods—purses, jewelry, leather, woven pieces—luggage space permitting.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

In the Know

Uber: One of the best tips we received in our planning was to take Uber everywhere, as a cheaper and safer alternative to cabs. They cost just a few dollars per trip, and were readily available. If you have to take a cab, don’t hail one down—have it ordered by your hotel or restaurant, for safety.

Sundays: Sundays are “free day” at Bogotá’s many museums and cultural sites. If you visit, prepare for crowds and lots of kids.

Carry a raincoat: Even in sunny weather, the sky sometimes opens up unexpectedly. I was grateful for a coat to get me through those fleeting showers.

The Canadian “entry fee”: We were surprised upon entry that I was ushered to a separate customs lane from my husband and brother-in-law (both American citizens) to pay a Canadian-specific reciprocity fee. Apparently, the Canadian government has started requesting biometric data of Colombians for Visa purposes, and this is the reciprocal charge. It set me back $90 CAD and was mostly just unexpected after all the reading I’d done in preparation for our trip. There are some exceptions based on your final destination in Colombia, but most Canadians will pay this fee.

Bogota Colombia graffitiOther Resources

Roads & Kingdoms: 18 Things to Know Before You Visit Bogota (2016)

The Coveteur’s Guide to Bogota (2015)

Bon Appetit: Where to Find the Best Food & Drink in Bogota Now (2015)

Conde Nast Traveler: Bogota’s Best New Restaurants (2013)

Step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary

How to pack a capsule suitcase

12 tested tips for a successful Airbnb booking

a sunken stone fruit cake

olive oil stone fruit almond cake recipe

For years, Marian Burros’ Original Plum Torte has been my go-to “hey plums are at the market and oops I just bought 10 pounds” recipe. I’ve made it a dozen times and there’s a reason for all her five-star reviews. It’s tasty and easy; a cross between a cake and clafoutis with an eggy crumb offset by pockets of sweet-sour fruit. It slices without fuss and concludes a dinner party for six without too much effort. It’s a reliable cake.

But it’s not a perfect plum cake, at least for me. It’s a tiny bit dry and shallow, and I want a cake that will eat well for days, as it sits in my fridge and I shave off slices. I want a cake to sit high on the plate so I can plunge my fork through with aplomb. I want a cake to use up a whole crate of stone fruit, with velvety pockets and layers in each bite. I want a cake that people groan over at the end of a dinner party.

What do you know, I’ve finally made that cake.

The inspiration came from the oil-based cakes of my childhood that Yia-Yia would bake. The oil and milk made the cake tender, even cold from the fridge, and a bit of almond meal ensured a finely textured crumb and further durability. She’d always grate in some lemon zest. Sometimes, she’d use olive oil instead of vegetable oil and it would scent the batter a peppery, floral dream. This, I imagined, would make an excellent base for plums and apricots and all the stone fruits I seem to lug home in July and August.

If that’s you, too, make this cake. Low fuss, high reward and a dinner party darling.

IMG_9517Olive oil almond cake with sunken stone fruit

Makes one 9-inch round cake

I serve this cake with a little sauce made of Greek yogurt, honey and almond extract. Totally optional, but an elegant finish.

Equipment

  • 9-inch round springform pan
  • parchment paper
  • citrus rasp
  • saucepan and metal bowl

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 cup whole milk (or 2%)
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus 2 Tbsp
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tsp real vanilla extract)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 plus 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal (finely ground almonds)
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine salt
  • 1/3 cup your best olive oil (I like a Greek or Portuguese oil with tons of green bitter notes)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 12 units small stone fruit, pitted and halved (I like a combination of apricots and plums)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 Tbsp Demerara sugar
  • icing sugar, to finish

For the sauce (optional), combine in a bowl: 

  • 1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • pinch salt

olive oil stone fruit almond cake recipeMethod

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prep your pan by lining the base with parchment and oiling the sides.

Over medium heat, whisk the milk, lemon zest, vanilla caviar and pods, and granulated sugar. Once the sugar dissolves completely, remove from heat and let the milk and infusions mingle while you prep the next steps.

In metal bowl, combine flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a whisk.

Remove the vanilla pods from the milk mixture. To the bowl of dry ingredients, add milk mixture, eggs and olive oil. Mix gently and combine to a very smooth batter. The batter will be surprisingly thin but worry not!

Transfer the batter to your prepared cake pan. Place the stone fruit “bums up” over the batter, evenly spaced. They will sink into the cake. Sprinkle Demerara sugar and almonds over top.

Bake on centre rack of oven, checking after 40 minutes by inserting a skewer in the centre of the cake (into batter not a fruit pocket). If the middle springs back gently and skewer comes out clean, your cake is done. If not, bake in additional 5-minute increments. Mine took about 45 minutes total to reach this state.

Cool cake in pan for one hour before rimming the edges with a knife and removing from the springform. Finish with sifted powdered sugar, like my Yia-Yia does.

To serve, slice and plate with a dollop of yogurt sauce, if desired.

This keeps like a dream in the fridge. I like it best cold for breakfast.

Related

A full index of recipes featured on Some Infinite Thing

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farm share (CSA) service

#loveykitchen on Instagram

 

brownie, cheesecake, sour cherry

sour cherry cheesecake browniesSpecifically, double chocolate chunk brownies with vanilla bean cheesecake and homemade sour cherry swirl… it’s a delicious mouthful.

Sour cherry season is one of the most fleeting—alongside garlic scapes and ramps and fiddle-heads—and for that, magical. Arriving each year for a couple weeks at most, I hoard them, freeze them, and seek ways to celebrate their unmatched sweet-sour-floral pop. They play well (very well) with buttery cakes and crusts, which is why you most often see them used as filling for pies and galettes (like this dreamy sour cherry galette recently shared by How Sweet Eats).

The last few years, I’ve taken to working sour cherries into a sauce for an over-the-top brownie cheesecake dream. The sourness of the cherries slices through the rich layers of cake and is nothing short of extraordinary. Having been asked for the recipe a dozen times now, I’m writing it down. It’s a simple combination: classic brownies, plus classic cheesecake, plus classic cherry jam (with a bit less sugar) that I dreamed up swirling tasty things into a pan one summer.

I have my go-to cheesecake and brownie recipes, but you should use those that work best for you. Both types of cake bake in a 325-350 degree F oven for just short of an hour, making this a forgiving, simple recipe for even a novice baker.

sour cherry cheesecake brownies

Double chocolate chunk brownies with vanilla bean cheesecake and homemade sour cherry swirl

Makes one 9×13 pan (20 small, rich slices)

The title is a mouthful and that’s part of the charm. The recipe seems complicated with multiple components, but because brownie and cheesecake batter are so speedy to make, the prep comes together in under an hour, even if you’re making the sour cherry sauce on the spot. The sauce can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the fridge; spoon leftovers on ice cream and stir into plain yogurt.

sour cherry cheesecake brownies

Ingredients

For the sour cherry sauce

  • 2 pints sour cherries, pitted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

For the brownies

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine’s Classic Fudge Brownies

  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chunks, to your preference

For the cheesecake

Recipe adapted from Philadelphia Cream Cheese back-of-the-box cheesecake recipe

  • 1 package full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup granulated or icing sugar (I prefer the latter as it dissolves effortlessly)
  • 1/2 whole vanilla bean, scraped insides (you can substitute vanilla extract, but a real bean takes this over the top)

Method

For the sour cherry sauce

In a small saucepan, combine cherries and sugar. Cook at a gently rolling boil until the cherries slump and some liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. There’s not enough sugar in this recipe to reach a jam consistency; it will be more like a mid-thick sauce. Set aside to cool.

For the brownies

In a metal bowl set over simmering water (i.e., a double boiler), melt chocolate with butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the melted chocolate and fold over until smooth and glossy. Stir in flour, salt and chocolate chunks. Do not over-mix! In practice, use no more than 50 strokes to combine the dry ingredients. Set batter aside.

For the cheesecake

In a stand mixer, combine cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until mixture is glossy. Add the scraped vanilla bean until it evenly flecks the batter. Set aside.

Assembly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper for easy lifting.

Spread brownie batter evenly as first layer. Dollop cheesecake batter over brownie batter. Spoon tablespoonfuls of cherry sauce at random intervals, about 6 tablespoons total.

Using a thin butter knife, swirl the mixture, taking care to move some of the brownie batter to the surface. More swirling will mean a marbled effect, less swirling will leave distinct layers of brownie and cheesecake. I go somewhere in-between (the photos in this post are from two separate baking sessions; you’ll see I opted for a deeper swirl in the second version).

Bake on your oven’s middle rack, checking after about 40 minutes. The cheesecake should be just golden and springy to touch in the centre. Depending on your oven, the cake may bake for up to an hour.

Cool completely in the pan (ideally in the fridge overnight) before removing from the pan and slicing.

Related

A full index of recipes featured on Some Infinite Thing

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farm share (CSA) service

#loveykitchen on Instagram

radical enthusiasm, plus bran muffins

bran muffins

The kitchen counter at the Dougall Avenue house was long and narrow, a speckled beige Formica. The kitchen itself was typical of a late-eighties reno: the cream-and-brown up-and-down refrigerator (before they fell out of—then came back into—fashion) and glossy orange-cocoa tiles arranged in hopscotch pattern, which we would follow daily as we skipped the kitchen’s length, the tile left glossier by our socks.

I spent many years with a bum planted to that Formica. Mom was hands on with us girls. In the kitchen as her sous chefs. In the garden as her bean-snappers, one bean for the wicker basket, one bean for each hungry maw. In the bathtub, rendering soap crayons to nubs, two addicts with a pack-a-week habit who drew in technicolor on the tub’s porcelain surface (and each-other) the imaginings of childhood. In the basement, mom’s gallery installed with our art; caterpillars of egg cartons and origami swans and many a tempera paint masterpiece lining the walls. In the playroom, whose costume cupboard spilled with her distinctively patterned seventies wardrobe and highest heels; we’d become gypsies and fairies and mermaids as she ironed dad’s shirts.

Eleni and I were insulated within the castle walls of idyllic childhood because of mom; we didn’t see the bills to pay and the mouths to feed and the ‘round-the-clock terror of owning a small business, where so many livelihoods rested at the end of each tiny and momentous decision that came with being your own boss.

Mom’s quiet shelter. We were safe and we were loved and we made so many messes, messes that we cleaned up, because messes are for cleaning up. Mom instilled responsibility, even within her cocoon: a roster of rules and roles that we didn’t shirk. We made our beds. We wrote thank-you cards. We kissed dad goodbye every morning at 11 am, before bundling up for the walk to kindergarten, three abreast, hand-in-hand-in-hand. We ate dinner, whatever was put on the table, voraciously, as a family (no “kids’ meals” from this kitchen). We washed the dishes and toweled dry our messes.

I tend toward radical enthusiasm when it comes to the things and the people I love. “Everything is your favourite!” I’ve been chided, and it’s true. I have five dozen favourite dishes that I cooked with mom as a kid, each of them the best thing I ever ate, depending on the day and week and month and year. For a long time, this bothered me, that my best-ofs weren’t fewer, that those simple grade-school get-to-know-your-classmate surveys—favourite food, vacation, colour—would leave me white knuckled and in a heaving sweat. How could anyone possibly land on tacos, Disneyland, yellow? Maybe today, but ask me again tomorrow. I had a lot of not-sures and paragraph-long replies alike on those one-word answer questionnaires. Teachers urging me to pick a lane, already.

No matter. Being a radical enthusiast is a great way to be; everything is heightened and better for it. It’s fun to conjure delight and deep memory from tiny favourites that bring outsize joy. Favourite season? All of them. Favourite colour? The rainbow (plus black and white and grey and camel and ochre and the lift of the sky just after heavy, sudden rainfall, aglow as an opal). Favourite man in my life? My husband, and my dad, and my grandpa, and my other grandpa, and my best friend, and my nephew. Radically enthused about each and every and all.

I do have a favourite, where the humble muffin is concerned. Categorically and always, muffins are the best—personal-sized cakes, am I right?—and bran muffins are the best of all the muffins. From the time I was grasshopper-high seated on that speckled Formica, to the adult-onset Wednesday afternoons that sometimes bring with them an I-need-a-treat disposition. I trudge to the tuck shop for a Tim Horton’s bran muffin, always a smidgen dry and cardboard-like, housed in a rigid paper wrapper, delicious in spite of itself.

Mom loved making bran muffins with us girls; she still does with her grandson. A close third after lemon loaf and banana bread, bran muffins were the bronze medalist of baked goods in mom’s kitchen. She made hers from memory, so forgiving and tender like the lady who gently instructed. Into a bowl went bran, flour, eggs, oil, brown sugar, vanilla, buttermilk, golden raisins. Don’t over-mix. Fill the paper wrappers just level. Sit before the oven door like a puppy, face bathed in yellow light and with a watchful eye for those peaked, just burnished tops. Muffin tins with a patina painted by years of love, never quite clean enough despite a hot, soapy wash. Bran muffins, favourite to find in my paper sack lunch, tender and nutty and gently sweet, enhanced by pops of toothache-giving raisins.

I know these treats by heart and hand, but I’ve done my best to replicate them here in a recipe to follow. If you’re looking to radically enthuse about a muffin (or just take one quietly with your morning coffee), try these. They’re my favourite. I swear.

Lori’s Bran Muffins

As with any recipe, mom probably picked these up a long time ago in a church cookbook or from an aunt or some other happy kitchen, making them so often they eventually became muscle memory. Worry not, as the muffins are exceptionally forgiving if you need to substitute an ingredient—the sweetener or milk, for example. Use a sweet fruit (i.e., avoid sour fruit such as raw cranberries or rhubarb or plums) as the batter is barely sweet and benefits from pockets of sugar.

Makes 12 medium muffins; the recipe easily doubles or triples for batch baking

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ⅓ cups buttermilk (or regular milk spiked with 1 tsp of vinegar and set aside to thicken)
  • ⅓ cup neutral oil (I use canola)
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or other aromatic, e.g., almond extract, lemon zest)
  • 1 ½ cups wheat bran
  • 1 cup flour (either all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fine salt

Mix ins:

  • ½ cup chopped nuts (we like almonds or walnuts)
  • 1 cup fresh fruit, chopped OR ½ cup dried fruit (we like raspberries, blueberries, apple, dried apricot, golden raisins, peach; whatever is ripe and available given the season!)
  • coarse sugar, for sprinkling (if using fresh fruit)

Method

Prepare your 12-muffin tin by greasing it or adding parchment liners. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk: egg, buttermilk, oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract.

In a large bowl, whisk: wheat bran, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add wet ingredients to dry, folding gently and just barely to incorporate. The batter will seem really wet, but it sets up within a couple minutes as the bran absorbs the liquid. If using dried fruit and nuts, fold in now.

Into the prepared muffin tin, spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter in each hole. Top with a pile of chopped fruit (about 1 Tbsp) and sprinkle of coarse sugar (about 1/2 teaspoon). Cap with a bit more batter.

Bake on centre oven rack for about 15 minutes, testing for done-ness by inserting a toothpick in a non-fruit part of the muffin. If the toothpick comes out wet, bake in further two-minute increments until fully set but not dry.

Cool on a rack. These are great immediately, but also are well suited to tightly wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge or freezer for later.

Related

A full index of recipes featured on Some Infinite Thing

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farm share (CSA) service

#loveykitchen on Instagram

sesame miso banana bread

sesame miso banana bread

It’s safe to say most bakers have a favourite banana bread. For years, I did. The recipe, based on a beloved Jean Pare standard, made its way into our wedding cookbook so family and friends could make it, too. Through the years, that bread used up many a turned banana bunch on our kitchen counter.

You probably can tell where this is going.

Last year, Food & Wine published a recipe for Miso Banana Bread. I was so intrigued; mainly because I often buy massive containers of miso with great intention to scrape through the whole thing, only to throw it out a year later minus that heaping tablespoon used for soup, worried it’s turned. Ever consistent, I carted home a big tub of white miso on a recent trip to Tokyo and it’s been staring me down from the condiment shelf ever since.

From a perspective of balance, the recipe just makes sense; we often use salt in sweet recipes for balance, and vice-versa. A deep, umami base of miso is just right to balance and add complexity against the cloying sweetness of banana, which sometimes can make a loaf taste one-note.

The recipe benefits from a full quarter-cup of miso and four mashed bananas, for heady banana overtones and tender crumb. I add a generous topping of crunchy sesame seeds for even more depth. Having now made the recipe twice, I can confirm I prefer it with the sesame addition, and a few other modifications: a second flour for depth, decreased sugar, no added salt and a shorter cooking time. The original recipe is excellent if you prefer a sweeter, denser, more cake-like loaf.

Sesame Miso Banana Bread

Modified from a July 2016 Food and Wine recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup white miso
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 medium-size overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp raw sesame seeds
  • 1 medium banana, sliced in half lengthwise

Method

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Prepare a standard metal loaf tin with parchment paper overhanging the sides.

Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and miso at medium speed until fluffy. Scrape down bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flours, baking soda and baking powder.

At low speed, add to the stand mixer buttermilk, then beat in 
the eggs. Beat in the mashed bananas (the batter will look curdled). Add the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle sesame seeds across the loaf, concentrating more in the middle. Arrange the banana slices over top as pictured.

Bake for about 75 minutes, until the top of the loaf is burnished and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack for 30 minutes before gently pulling from the pan and slicing.

Keep the bread, wrapped on the counter, for up to three days. It also freezes like a dream for later thawing and toasting.

Related

A full index of recipes featured on Some Infinite Thing

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farm share (CSA) service

The Lovey Kitchen on Flickr

#loveykitchen on Instagram

electric winter slaw

32320815972_02466ac392_oMost times, I’ll post a recipe here on a whim; when a dish has repeatedly turned out especially well, or has become a kitchen standard.

In the case of this salad shared to Instagram at the height of New Year’s resolution season, I have received so many emails and messages and requests for the recipe that I feel obliged to share.

The Electric Winter Slaw has three components: (1) shredded red cabbage dressed in tangy miso-soy-lime dressing; (2) spicy shredded citrus-nigella-ginger carrots; and (3) flash-marinated sesame-cilantro cucumber. It sounds like a lot of work and components, but is mostly just a bit of chopping and whisking to some good music and kitchen conversation.

Each element of the salad is great solo, but combined create a winter salad with a rainbow of flavours and satisfying crunch. Store the three components separately so they don’t bleed together, then plate for easy lunches and sides.

Electric winter slaw with sesame & miso

Austin and I joke that each year we get a deluge of one vegetable in our winter farmshare as a challenge. 2013/4—year of the rutabaga; 2014/5—celeriac; 2015/6—golden beets; and this year, purple cabbage. This slaw was originally conceived in an effort to get through the deluge. Make a double portion for a full head of cabbage and eat it for lunches all week long.

Makes 6 generous lunch portions

Ingredients

For the Miso-soy-lime cabbage slaw

  • 4 Tbsp neutral oil
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • 4 tsp white miso
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/2 large head red cabbage, shredded
  • 2 clementines, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

For the Shredded citrus-nigella-ginger carrots

  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds or black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • fine sea salt, to taste
  • 3 large carrots, finely grated or shredded

For the Sesame-cilantro cucumber

  • 1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp red peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 large English cucumber, very thinly sliced (with a knife or mandolin)

As garnish

  • additional sesame seeds
  • lime wedges

Method

For the Miso-soy-lime cabbage slaw: Combine all ingredients, except produce, in a large bowl and whisk until emulsified. Add the cabbage, onions and clementine. Toss to coat, and set aside to marinate.

For the Shredded citrus-nigella-ginger carrots: Combine all ingredients, except carrots, in a large bowl and whisk until incorporated. Add the carrots, toss to coat, and set aside to marinate.

For the Sesame-cilantro cucumber: Combine all ingredients, except cucumber, in a large bowl and whisk until incorporated. Add the sliced cucumber, toss to coat, and set aside to marinate.

To serve: On a large serving platter, heap piles of each salad. Sprinkle with more sesame seeds and serve with fat lime wedges.

Related

A full index of recipes featured on Some Infinite Thing

A guide to uncomplicated meal planning for two

Choosing and using a farm share (CSA) service

The Lovey Kitchen on Flickr

#loveykitchen on Instagram