Tag Archives: baking

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)


  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.



Pear and Poppy-Seed Muffins

Sunday morning. I’d slept a kingly, dreamless sleep — the sort that, if assigned a color, would be a velvet navy — and woke early to the full spring sun. I had a tour set for the afternoon, but the morning was mine to spend as I liked. I considered lazing in bed; I hit snooze a few times before rolling my carcass into being. Motivated by the weather (gorgeous), my sweet tooth (persistent), and an open quart of buttermilk (soon-to-expire), I put my laziness on hold and baked muffins.Not long ago, as Alex and I wandered the late-evening aisles at Safeway, I picked up a jar of poppy seeds. I had no real plan for the them, but poppy seeds don’t require a predetermined course of action; they’re a good thing to have around. Aside from Mohnschnecken* and lemon poppy-seed muffins, I couldn’t think of a recipe that called on poppy seeds as a main ingredient. (OK, that’s a lie: I recalled a citrus poppy-seed vinaigrette my mom made when I was a wee one, but said vinaigrette is a condiment rather than a main or dessert so it was excluded from my mental list.)So I let my cravings dictate my direction. I’ve had pears on the brain for a stretch, and pear poppy-seed bread pervaded my thoughtstream. Google yielded some decent results for my search, and I found this recipe for Pear Poppy-Seed Loaf from Living Tastefully.

I baked a proper loaf last week, and it was good, not great. The flavors were solid — the bread wasn’t too sweet and was heavy on the seeds, per my preference — but the chunks of pear called for in the recipe sunk to the bottom of the pan, yielding a loaf with fruit on the bottom. Meh! 

This time around, I made a few mods:

  • Instead of using chunks, I mashed the pear. (Fortunately, I had one pear leftover from last week’s baking session, and the lit’l dude was plllllllllenty ripe/easy to mash.) I used the same amount (1 c.) called for in the original recipe and added the mush to the wet ingredients.
  • Rather than baking a loaf, I made muffins (doi). A few bonuses here: muffins eliminate the need to, you know, get out a cutting board and SLICE when you want a snack, and muffins also require only half the cooking time of a loaf. #score #timemanagement
  • I added about half a teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon. Couldn’t detect it in the final product, but I was comforted knowing it was there.

My verdict? Muffins all the way, baby. Using pear mash instead of chunks increased the lightness and moistness of the bread; true, the pear flavor was more diffuse, but the texture was loads better. In this instance, a mellower flavor was a trade I was willing to make for an airier crumb.

Yep: yesterday was a Total Baking Success. I’ve got muffins in the freezer, muffins in the fridge, muffins on my mind(!) If I can make it through this workday, I am going to eat the hell out of a buttered muffin served with some mint tea.


*My all-time favorite pastry, and one I  haven’t been able to locate in the U.S.

Weekend Treat: Rosemary Lavender Shortbread

Saturday was the coziest, happiest day. Alex made us brunch — scrambled eggs with gouda, Josey’s toast, and fresh blackberries — and afterward, properly fueled, I hit a thrift store that I’d never before visited but had always been curious about. So many finds! I picked up a rad, polka-dotted dress (totally 90s), an off-white capelet (totally 60s), and Supertramp’s Breakfast in America. I’m most stoked about the capelet, I think — I’m gonna have the warmest shoulders on the block.

Later, I continued my Massive Recipe Organization Project, which is one phase away from completion(!) When I needed a break, I headed kitchenward.

Last week, Brett Bara posted a recipe for Savory Rosemary Shortbread on her blog, and I experienced instant fascination. Only five ingredients, four of which I have in my cupboard? A guaranteed crowd-pleaser that can be made with the smallest bit of effort? Sign me the hell up, baby!

This was my inaugural foray into shortbread baking; consequently, I followed the recipe exactly, except for my substitution of lavender salt for regular. (The substitution seemed, to my palate, only natural, and the final product substantiates this impulse.) On the whole, I’m pleased with the end result, though next time I may add just the tiniest smidge more butter — or maybe I won’t. I much prefer the sandy texture of homemade shortbread to the chemical crispness of OTC varieties — the softness hints at the dessert’s sources, which themselves are soft and sandy.

Shortbread represents my favorite type of baking project: one that is straightforward, relies on only a few ingredients, and yields a result that tastes far more complex than its components. Bonus: I hear that shortbread freezes well — a good thing, because it’s very rich. As many pieces as I’ll likely nibble today, it’s good to have a backup stash in case of dessert emergency.

If you have a free hour today or tomorrow, do yourself a favor and make this shortbread. Come teatime/snacktime/desserttime, you will thank yourselves (and maybe me, for the encouragement).

Sweet Potato Walnut Bread with Chocolate Chips

It’s been a slow cooking week in the Garkyverse. Lunches were salad, salad, salad, Trader Joe’s salad, and an egg sandwich. Dinners were spaghetti, Thai, sushi, Minestrone, and TBD. In short: I ate a lot of things that required minimal preparation or were already prepared (see also: homemade pasta sauce, Minestrone). Thanksgiving + the attendant cooking will do that to you.

Last night I got the baking itch. Said itch was precipitated by Chow’s recipe-of-the-day email, which featured Pecan and Sweet Potato Bread. My craving for dessert breads is always present, but this bread seemed especially lovely. Pumpkin and zucchini breads are pretty rad, but sweet potato bread? Its estimated radness exceeds that of all other loaf desserts.

I tested the recipe this evening, making, as always, a few modifications. First off, I used a red-skinned yam instead of a sweet potato. No, I wasn’t trying to be surly; Safeway’s sweet potatoes looked like they’d seen better days, so I opted for the closest alternative.

I also added a spice (ground ginger: 1/2 tsp.) and miniature chocolate chips (1/2 bag). Finally, I substituted walnuts for pecans. Aside from these modifications, I followed the directions exactly. (You can find the recipe here.)What’s the verdict? WIN. This bread is totally badass; lightly crisp on the bottom and gooey in the center, it has a texture similar to a brownie. (Unlike a brownie, however, it’s not too sweet — you won’t feel overwhelmed if you cut yourself a second slice.) I enjoyed mine with butter, but I hear it’s quite tasty in its unadorned state.

It is decided: Sweet Potato Walnut Bread, you are my new go-to dessert.

Rhubarb: What Is it Good For?

Answer: Cake.

(Aside: The answer is always cake.)

I haven’t done much cooking since I returned from MN — appointments and goings-out and In N’ Out burgers disrupted my schedule — so I made a plan to bake this weekend. Initially, I thought I’d make bread pudding, which I’ve been craving something fierce, but then I read a blog post about rhubarb compote and my thoughts turned to that stalked veggie.

But I didn’t want to make compote. Compote is the sort of thing I love to prepare — it’s easy, and it makes me feel accomplished* — but that I don’t eat. Every time I open the fridge, I see it there, moldering in its Tupperware, and I feel guilty about wasting perfectly good rhubarb (and sugar, and water. Let us not forget the water.).

Instead, I searched for cake and muffin recipes; I wanted to bake something that would hold up for a few days so I could bring leftovers into work. Imagine my bummed-ness when epicurious turned up dozens of variations on cobblers, compotes, and fools, but only a few cakes (and no muffins).

No matter: I found a solid-looking cake recipe and went with it. Not gonna lie — it’s a little compote-y, but not overwhelmingly so. More importantly, it’s hardcore delicious: I had some for dinner, and then I had another slice for dessert.**What impressed me most was the cake’s light crumb. I had my doubts as I slipped the pan into the oven — the batter was ueber-thick (almost sticky), and I envisioned the cake emerging as a dense little brick punctuated by rhubarb cubes. I further envisioned myself scraping the ruined dessert into the compost bin, getting huffy, and then eating some fro-yo as consolation. As usual, I needn’t have worried: the baking process transformed the gunky batter into awesomely light yellow cake, airy and oh-so-slightly cinnamony. Eff yeah! Thanks, transformative process of cooking!

Unrelated to cake (but noteworthy nonetheless): I tried trout this weekend — and liked it. Seafood Plan 2011 is progressing way better than I anticipated(!) It helps that said trout was super buttery and topped with delicate cloves of garlic, but I consider this seafood appreciation a win.



**Don’t judge. This blog is a non-judgment zone.

Latke Delay and Chocolate Potato Cake

I am slowly growing fond of potatoes. For much of my life, I’ve held a strong dislike for the starchy vegetable, except when fried. What kid didn’t like mashed potatoes, you wonder? This one.

My long-established tater indifference is rooted in the fact that potatoes, improperly prepared, are bland. Insufferably bland. As in, only ungodly amounts of salt and butter will make the damn things edible, and at the point that you add that much salt/butter, you might as well just be eating french fries or a cake or, you know, bread with an ass-ton of butter on it. Beyond their flat flavor, mashed potatoes’ texture always grossed me out: I felt like I was eating wallpaper paste. Oven fries were often better seasoned than their smashed cousins, but they never achieved the perfect crispness of true fries. And boiled potatoes? I can’t think of a less inspired preparation of any food.*

Things turned around for me in high school when my parents first took me to Cecil’s, a Jewish deli in St. Paul. There, in addition to stacked sandwiches and chocolate pie rich enough to stand a fork in, I ate my first latke. Spread with applesauce, dotted with sour cream, the latke was a golden slice of heaven.** Thus began an experience I’d never had: potato cravings. I’d daydream about latkes, about piercing their crisp crusts with the side of my fork to reveal their pale, tender interiors. About ramekins of homemade applesauce, pink-hued and dusted in cinnamon. Imagine my joy at finally joining the tater-loving masses, and my subsequent sorrow when I failed to cajole my mother into making me latkes every weekend.

You probably thought this post was going to focus entirely on potato pancakes, didn’t you? It was, initially. Yesterday, some friends of ours were going to come over for potato pancakes and applesauce, but a sick cat prevented their leaving the house. I hadn’t yet created the latke batter — the recipe I was following advised that the potatoes not be shredded until just before the pancakes are to be cooked — but I had prepared the evening’s dessert: Chocolate Potato Cake. I know: I also thought it sounded strange until I read through the recipe.

Pinot noir + chocolate cake = total enjoyment.

Effectively a standard chocolate cake with a cup of mashed potatoes mixed in (for added moistness), the Chocolate Potato Cake is rich and light and splendid with a rugged schmear of buttercream frosting. It is not in any way dietetic, but that’s OK — neither are latkes. This dessert is a perfect way to use up leftover mashed potatoes and is delightful with a glass of pinot noir.

Lynn’s Chocolate Potato Cake (from The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash)


  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup buttermilk


Melt chocolate with vanilla; cool slightly. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs one by one. Add the chocolate and mashed potatoes. Beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Pour into a greased 13×9-inch pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes (or bake in two round 9-inch pans for 30-35 minutes). Cool before frosting. (Makes a 13×9-inch cake or two 9-inch layers.)

The only change I’d make to the recipe is to peel the potatoes. I used unpeeled, and though the tater skins weren’t terribly evident in the cake, I found one or two shreds (which I construed as having the consistency of shredded coconut). That said, the recipe is otherwise solid as printed.

There you go, potato fans. Now, to accompany your latkes, your twice-bakeds, your garlic mashed and kettle chips, you can have a slice of this decadent chocolate cake, which really doesn’t taste like potatoes at all. That’s potato purism in my favorite form: highly disguised.


*I probably could, but I’m not going to at this very second.

**If a belief in heaven is your bag.

Beyond City Limits

I am becoming a “City Person.” Some people claim I’ve already achieved City Person status, but this point is debatable. I have to say, it’s hard not to be a City Person when everything one needs is right around the corner (or no further than a twenty-minute bike ride, at least). High-end taxidermic goods? Step this way! Pain au Chocolate? Walk 50 yards and take a left. The biggest and best used CD selection I’ve ever had the fortune to witness? About a block from my house, beetches. Ah, yes: San Francisco is indeed the finest city in our fair land, so leaving it for any length of time can be difficult. On occasion, though, I brave the trip.

One such occasion was Saturday’s rooftop BBQ, hosted by my friends Melanie and Phil. After five happy years together, Melanie and Phil got engaged last week(!) and threw a barbecue to celebrate not only their upcoming nuptials but the gorgeous summer weather we’ve had in recent weeks. That, and their apartment building — blocks away from Lake Merritt and with an excellent view — has a badass and accommodating roof.

H. and I arrived around 5:30 to find M. making final meal preparations. Earlier in the day, she and Phil had marinated rough-cut veggies, chicken, and beef for the creation of skewers: EVOO & herb-rubbed veggies, BBQ chicken, Greek chicken, and mustard beef. In addition, M. had whipped up vegan potato salad and a vegan chocolate cake, frosted with ganache and topped with fresh raspberries. To this bounteous feast, H. and I contributed a pumpkin pie, a batch of strawberry-buttermilk muffins, and a bowl of the two-bean salad I became so fond of in grad school. (Note: this batch of salad was gussied up with a few additional ingredients, namely finely-chopped radishes, fresh peas, and feta.) Oh, and a 12-pack of Tecate, whose contents were added to the foam cooler brimming with like beers and scant-spread ice.

M. put us to work creating veggie skewers while she and Phil took care of the meat. Slowly, guests arrived, spirits high and beers in tow. They settled on the couch, remarked on the spaciousness and beautiful light of M. & P.’s living room, which Hook described as “chalet-like” and another guest termed “Mock Tudor.” (Both, I think, were correct.) Finally, the food was prepped. We slipped on our coats, slung blankets over our arms, and trekked to the roof, taking the service elevator and a series of perilous staircases to get there.

The evening was already cool; I was glad for the coat M. had lent me. (True to form, I’d come underdressed in a 3/4-sleeve shirt and thin down vest. When will I ever learn to Layer Correctly? Oy!) We spread a blanket over the gravel-topped ground and P. lit the grill. We shivered in our chairs as the coals flamed, subsided, smoldered. On the lake, bordered by white lights strung high above the street, a few stragglers pushed rented gondolas. Gondolas? I thought, In Oakland? Yes. Just one more reason to get out of the city once in a while — you don’t know what you’ll see.

As Phil tended the skewers, we ate a first course of salads. M.’s potato salad was unbelievable — and I’m not a potato salad fan. Her secret? She uses four types of spuds, vegan mayonnaise, good mustard, and chopped cornichons. What I dislike about most other potato salads is their mayo-ness; I’ve never liked comercially-prepared mayonnaise, so it follows that I wouldn’t like salads constructed around that ingredient. M.’s salad had a bold flavor dominated by the mustard and pickles; I could scarcely taste the vegannaise at all. I’ll be getting the recipe from Mel, if she’s willing to part with it.

At long last, we had skewers! H. and I shared a number of veggie and beef kebabs, both of which were gorgeous: charred on the outside, hot and juicy within. The veggies were good; the beef were amazing. Allowed for hours to absorb the mustard’s flavor, the beef — just the slightest bit rare on the inside — was alternated with like-marinated pieces of apple and onion, making a simple, hearty, perfect autumn dish. And dessert? Oh, goodness. No true Midwesterners would host a BBQ without having several desserts, and M. & P. did not disappoint. M’s chocolate cake was dense and crumbly and the flavor of the bourbon she used in the frosting came through, slow and deep. Peter’s gluten-free fruit tartlets were decadent, the fruit fresh and the tart shells crisp and buttery, reminiscent of shortbread. (“I did use more butter to make up for the lack of wheat,” P admitted. YES.) And my pie? All I can say is that Peter, a native of Germany and heretofore a stranger to pumpkin pie, ate four slices. A lifelong pie fan, I ate only one. Before we settled in the living room for more beer and a rousing game of Cranium, the pie was gone, its tin scraped and sticky and knife-punctured.

Congrats, Melanie and Phil! As we Russians say, God grant you many years.


Mom’s Pumpkin Pie


3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs, blended with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 can (15 oz.) 100% pure pumpkin
12 oz. half & half

unbaked 9-inch pie crush (store bought is good; homemade is better)


1. Mix together dry ingredients and set aside. Beat together the eggs and vanilla and blend with the pumpkin; fold this into the dry mixture, then gradually add the half and half. Pour pumpkin batter into pie crust.

2. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

3. Cool on wire rack for 2-hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate, but never freeze! (Freezing will evidently cause the baked pie filling to separate from the crust. At any rate, I don’t know why you’d want to freeze a pie this good.) This pie is best served with fresh whipped cream and coffee.