February, 2009

Smart Raisin and Pear Muffins, or Pastry Chick on a Diet

Perhaps you can imagine my dilemna: I love eating and am on a diet. Here are the results from my latest attempt to turn a butter-rich muffin recipe into a more healthy treat. The original recipe for Apple-Pecan Buttermilk Muffins came from Bo Friberg‘s The Professional Pastry Chef.

I cut down the butter, increased the amount of liquid, substituted low-fat yogurt for buttermilk, and skim milk for half and half. I also got rid of the streusel topping. You might be thinking, “how are these muffins ever going to taste like anything if you take all the good stuff out??” But the muffins are chock-full of pears, raisins, nuts, spice, and ok, chocolate chips. If you want to reduce calories and fat even more, leave out the nuts and chocolate chips.

This is not a quick-and-easy recipe, in the sense that it uses two kinds of flours and you have to poach pears and measure honey. Speaking of which, I used Waiheke Island Manuka honey, great stuff that a bride from New Zealand who was staying at the B&B I used to run gave me as a thank you present. As with any muffin recipe, you don’t want to incorporate too much air or overmix. So beat the butter with a paddle just until smooth, mix the wet ingredients together well and whisk the dry ingredients together well before incorporating the two together. And remember, more acid = increased tenderness, so if your yogurt’s a little old, all the better.

Smart Raisin & Pear Muffins

6 oz. Butter, soft
8oz. Light brown sugar
1/2 cup Honey
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Baking Powder
2 tsp. Baking Soda
10 oz. Cake flour
1 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, ground
3 oz. Whole wheat flour
1 cup Low-fat yogurt
2/3 cup Skim milk
4 Pears, poached (or very ripe) & diced
1/2 cup Raisins
1/2 cup Chocolate chips/chunks
1/2 cup Nuts, chopped


1. Cream together butter, sugar & honey. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

3. In yet another bowl (thank god for dishwashers!), mix together the yogurt and milk.

4. Add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture in three alternating segments. Stir in pears, raisins & nuts.

5. Fill the cups of a buttered or paper-lined muffin tin 3/4 full and bake in a preheated 395° F oven for 20 minutes. For mini-muffins: 400° F oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool 2 minutes and turn on sides to finish cooling.

Yield: 14 muffins + 24 mini-muffins or 24 large muffins

50 Things

This tag game called “25 Random Things” has been going around facebook for a couple weeks now, and I thought I’d share my things here.  I’ve been tagged a bunch of times, so I have more than 25 things…

1.  After seeing the movie turner and hooch with my sister when I was little, I have to sleep with something to my back to escape being knived in just the perfect spot that kills you instantly.
2. have cold feet
3. hate gel toothpaste
4. I’m messy
5. I’m pretty sure I was an Indian maiden in a past life – like the kind that can walk in the forest without cracking a twig and can identify all sorts of random weeds.
6. Used to want to be an archaeologist
7. Don’t know how to put on makeup
8. Used to have a fish named Belthezar who is now buried in our front yard
9.  Love making forts (especially with snow and couch cushions)
10. Always wanted to dance
11. Things I have stolen on purpose: 5 cent purse from Lauren Amiss’ garage sale, pineapple buttons for a tropical shirt my mom made me when i was six (she made me bring them back), broken glass vase from a restaurant in Las Vegas, demitasse spoon from the Culinary Institute of America, a tupperware container and internet service from an ex-landlady (I replaced the tupperware), hotel towels.
12. I can 12 strand boondoggle
13. I’m a girl scout and proud of it.
14. Wrote a book with several friends in high school and then made it into an audio book.
15. Have a knack for making pinatas
16. One time the fire department was called in to break up a party that was held partially in my honor
17. Have driven cross country twice, once alone.
18. Would like to go back to college to take more courses with a favorite professor.
19. Have a bad habit of using toothpicks and leaving them by the phone.
20. Learned how to shave my legs on Conesius lake when i was 12 years old.
21. Wouldn’t mind being a mermaid or a Lady Knight
22. I like playing dress-up
23 I  cut up old tights to use as garden string
24. My only doll’s name was Zelda
25. I like dogs and REALLY REALLY REALLY want to get one.

26. I spent two hours polishing silver this weekend and strangely enjoyed it. We only have three silver things in the whole house (so I’m not sure why it took me so long to polish them…): 2 candlesticks (that Luca’s friends gave him for his birthday three years ago, weird right?) and an etched tea pot with an antler handle. The teapot was totally transformed after polishing. I felt like I was rubbing the magic Genie in the lamp. All these objects are now prominently displayed in our kitchen.

27. My practically favorite genre of literature is semi-historical J-Fic fantasty. I know, “Juvenile Fiction?”, you’re asking. I love it. I read these few books over and over again and love them even more every time. Most are pretty straight-forward, which I don’t like, and use limited vocabulary, but there’s something special about the way authors storytell for a younger audience that’s missing in the adult fantasy I’ve read. Books in this genre that I’ll never get tired of reading: Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series.

28. I have a serious phobia of making phone calls and talking on the phone. Especially with people I don’t know. I dread phone calls. Even talking to relatives makes me uncomfortable most of the time. I’ll procrastinate and procrastinate making calls and that makes the whole thing worse, so I’m doing a therapy now where I force myself to make calls as soon as the idea comes into my head. I think it might be helping a little…

29. I’m NOT a big fan of most Caribbean islands.

30. I dream about having my own house someday that I can decorate any way I want and where I’ll live by myself with my dog.

31. Language freak. I love listening to foreign languages and often imagine I can understand what people are saying even when they’re speaking a language I don’t know. I speak Italian fluently now and besides 4 two hour lessons with a professor am entirely self-taught. I understand Piemonteis, the dialect that’s spoken by older generations in the part of Italy where I live, and am finally learning to speak that as well. Majored in English and Spanish in college and studied Latin and Spanish in high school.

32. Like most people, I like being part of a group. This is something that I’m missing in my life right now. The only group I’m a part of at the moment is the “immigrant” group. I’m an outsider here, a foreigner even though I have dual citizenship. I speak, act, look, dress, and am different from most people where I live. It’s not really at all enjoyable. In the States I prided myself on being a creative individual, in Italy I often find myself trying to stifle these differences.

33. I’ve had four meaningful long-distance relationships in my life. And one (and a half) meaningful local relationships.

34. I’m a homegirl. I really like being at home. May have a minor socializing phobia going on, but I’m hoping it’s just a cultural thing I’m going to get over soon…

35. Christmas and Halloween are my favorite holidays.

36. Love kids – being around them, teaching them, babysitting them, etc.

37. I organized and directed what I believe was the only serious Summer Recreation Talent Show LeRoy has ever had.

38. I prefer theme parties to non-theme parties and have given many of them.

(me, me me, is this list done yet?!)

39. I love pastry and am technically a qualified pastry chef – I have a degree from the Culinary Institute of America (the Greystone campus in Napa Valley) and worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas for a year, as well as at several other prominent restaurants.

40. I enjoy being one with nature. And in particular finding things in the wild and bringing them inside for use in interior decoration. Pretty sure I got this from my Mom, who my Dad now calls “The Weed Woman” because she’s always out scavaging for interesting looking weeds. He says every time he turns around in the house now he gets poked in the eye by a wayward branch of rosehip or stalk of Russian sage.

41. I suppose we all have a period of delinquency in our lives, mine was in college and involved making and wearing very small, glittery scarf-shirts, nitrous oxide, and school probation for making a large quantity of gourmet alcoholic jello-shots while underage. (ok, and the time I forged my Mom’s signature on a Math progress report in high school).

42. I enjoy learning about cheese and have a secret desire to become a cheesemonger when I retire.

43. I am crafty and especially enjoy making stationary with food-related products that still smell like the food (think stinky cheese wrappers, salami twine, chocolate wrappers).

44. I love board games. Recent addictions include a dice game called Bonz and Scrabble.

45. I believe in snail mail.

46. I love reading and spending time in libraries.

47. I have a wide variety of job experience, including: librarian, summer camp counselor, teacher, line cook, dishwasher, pastry chef, B&B manager, private tutor, computer programmer, translator, web designer, recipe editor, tour guide, hotel receptionist, waitress, sign maker, babysitter.

48. I enjoy gardening. In particular I enjoy planning what I’m going to plant and seeing the final product.

49. Favorite music: hip hop and classic rock.
50. Enjoy taking outdoor showers