Banana Oatmeal Muffins – “I’m crazy about fiber”

Two years ago, I moved to Washington, DC to be closer to James.  I got a new job at a company that had a few similarities to my old, beloved position at the Walnut Street Theatre: a casual office with almost all young people my age.  And yet the Walnut had become my home – I knew everyone and felt comfortable being 100% myself, letting my freak flag fly, unleashing my passion for my work and my love of theatre.  The Walnut staff was truly my family.  So when I moved to this new job, I was completely terrified to be in a new place and didn’t find making friends easy.  There was a lot of talk about getting drunk at parties, which is not my thing, and… there was no theatre.  Theatre folk are a special breed of loud and gregarious people and I felt lost without the flamboyant, boisterous personalities.  I was feeling pretty lonely.

One morning, in the office kitchen making instant oatmeal, a very nice co-worker tried to chat up the shy new girl.  “Makin’ oatmeal, Bonnie?”, he asked.  “Wow. So many people in this office eat oatmeal.  I can’t remember the last time I ate oatmeal.”20140814_202533

Bolstered by his kindness to reach out to me, I replied with honesty.  “Oh yeah, man.  I’m crazy about fiber.”

Which lead this very nice chap, who I have had many good interactions with since, to laugh awkwardly… and leave the room.  Great way to make friends, Bon.

Despite this, I’ve never been one to shy away from the subject of fiber and its immense health benefits.  Yes, yes, fine, fiber affects your bowel movements.  In a good way!  Like Taro Gomi famously told us “Everybody poops” and fiber can fix lots of unpleasant digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation.

But beyond that, fiber is like magic.  It can help to prevent lots of diseases like cancer and heart disease and keeps you fuller than white grains, so you eat less and maintain a healthy weight.  But my favorite thing about a lot of fiber-rich foods?  It tastes great.  I’ve been subbing out pasta and white rice for whole grains like farro & barley and I’m so much happier for it.  They’re full of fiber and lend an interesting flavor and texture to my dishes.  Not that I don’t love some white food now and again, but if fiber-rich food actually tastes better – why go without?20140825_120441

The biggest problem I’ve found is with baking.  Baking is an exact science and experimenting with baked goods can be hazardous for the amateur cook – you can end up making something inedible and waste a lot of hours and ingredients in the process.  Replacing white flour in a recipe pretty much changes everything about the chemistry and I’m still learning about how exactly baked goods work in the first place.

However, I knew the internet would have my back.  I scoured the internet for a banana bread (because I had several frozen bananas in my freezer) with a whole grain flour to try.  The best recipe I found, with absolutely no white flour at all, was on Honest Fare and utilized lots of ingredients I had on hand: rolled oats, yogurt, low-fat milk.  I adore banana bread and I adore oatmeal – put together, they must be heavenly!20140825_120540

I tried the recipe exactly as Gabi describes (well, without the addition of walnuts or raisins) and it turned out pretty great – but the muffins weren’t as moist as I would have liked.  I still spread a little butter on them to reach the mouthfeel I wanted, which defeated the purpose of a baked good that I could enjoy AND feel good about eating.

So I thought a lot about the ingredients and considered increasing the yogurt or the milk but, in the end, decided to up the bananas in the recipe from 2 to 5.  Why 5?  Because I had a container of 5 smashed up bananas in the freezer.

The result was a little disconcerting because I needed to bake my muffins longer but was never able to insert a knife in the center of a muffin that came out clean.  Fortunately, this resulted in cooked-through but insanely moist muffins.  They did not seem to rise very much at all but the taste was delicious.  A baked good full of fiber that you can dig into for breakfast or a snack knowing you’re doing your body good: life is full of surprises.20140825_120504

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

  • Servings: 18 muffins
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Adapted from the recipe “Yogurt Banana Oat Muffins” on Honest Fare

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup plain, low fat yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used Turbinado sugar)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 5 bananas, mashed
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour (made from 1 and 1/2 cups ground rolled oats)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Combine all of your wet ingredients, including rolled oats and sugar.  Let the rolled oats soak in the wet ingredients as you prepare the dry ingredients.
  3. Pour 2 cups of rolled oats into your food processor and pulse until they’ve reached a flour-like consistency, about 25 pulses – takes 60 seconds!
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the oat flour and the rest of the dry ingredients.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and gently fold the mixture together to combine.
  6. Spray your muffin tins with nonstick spray (or similarly grease) and fill each muffin bowl 2/3 full with batter.
  7. Bake the muffins for 22 minutes.  At 11 minutes, rotate the trays 180° and switch the racks of the trays.  A toothpick will probably not come out dry when inserted into muffins – these puppies are moist!

UPDATE: On January 23, 2016, I made these muffins again with 1/4 cup sugar and thought they tasted just as good.  The extra bananas add quite a bit of sugar to the original recipe I adapted.  Also, once I had processed the oat flour, I threw in the walnuts for a few pulses so that the pieces would be smaller for these small muffins.  Worked like a charm!

Pictures and random annotations:

Frozen Bananas: Let’s talk about these bananas, shall we?

When I first made this recipe, I used two frozen bananas, as described in the original, still in their skins.  What an experience!  Although the bananas were perfectly safe and delicious, this process was super gross.

I put the bananas in the refrigerator to defrost and thankfully on the bottom shelf – when I picked them up they were limp and had leaked a brown substance all over the bottom of the fridge.  Gross.20140814_204238 20140814_204358

I cut the tip of banana off and squeezed the fruit into the bowl to combine with the other wet ingredients, along with all of the gross brown liquid that came out of them.

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The bananas will be brown on top, but that familiar cream/yellow on the bottom. Everything is edible.

When I tried this the second time, I used a container of five mashed up bananas that I had frozen.  I similarly defrosted them in the refrigerator overnight, but they were much easier to work with and incorporate into the batter.  I recommend mashing the bananas before you freeze them, but probably best to freeze them in 1-2 banana portions.

Ground oats:

Some illustration to show you just how you’ll want those oats to look.  Also see video for how long you should pulse.

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Combining ingredients:

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Wet ingredients on the left, dry ingredients on the right
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Combined!

Filling tins:20140825_102053 20140825_101641

MOIST muffins – see how the knife was never quite clean when inserted and removed.
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Bonnie Mac and Cheese

The time has come.  It’s been years of pain, discomfort and embarrassment avoiding high fat food due to the 2 centimeter-sized gallstones in my belly.  But finally I can share with you all – I can eat cheese again!  Pain free!!!

It took about 6 weeks until I was finally ready to try cheese again.  The gallbladder surgery makes you feel funky and it takes a while for your body to figure out how it should digest again.  But at a rainy beach weekend with my girlfriends, I dared to say “No it’s okay – I’ll eat the pizza.”  They were terrified of what might happen to me (nothing that would be inconvenient for them, thank goodness), but we went ahead and ordered the pizza.  I went ahead and ate the pizza.  And then … NOTHING HAPPENED.  Which is the point!  No hot flash, no sweating, no cramping, no needing to lie down.  I could enjoy that pizza and that’s all.  Pure bliss!  (It was really good pizza with arugula and prosciutto, too, a fitting way to enter back into cheesedom.)

But enough about pizza I got in Rehoboth, let’s talk about cheese we can enjoy together.  If my title is any indication, as soon as I knew I could make cheese, I immediately bought some extra sharp cheddar and made the greatest cheese dish on earth: mac and cheese.  Cheese sauce.  Pasta.  Heaven.

One of my favorite things about cooking is watching ingredients turn into something else.  Which I know sounds “DUH”, but I don’t mean roasting a tomato, although that is amazing.  I mean taking cream and whipping it into fluffy clouds or beating together a batter that becomes cake (Reenie Cake, naturally.)  Well the Mac and Cheese recipe I’m about to share with you is another one of those – you take butter, flour and milk to create a thick, velvety sauce before your eyes that just needs cheese added to it. It’s amazing.

The recipe comes from my favorite cook book Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks by Linda Carucci.  I’ve given this book as gifts to many aspiring cooks because it is exactly what it promises – simple, easy-to-follow advice to make extremely stunning and impressive food.  Linda had me cooking risotto and cheese-stuffed chicken breasts very early into my cooking endeavors.  And she taught me so much about food and cooking that I’ve applied to many recipes of my own.  God bless you, Linda.

I make this recipe exactly (almost) as Linda describes and she turns fancy french cooking into something possible for this amateur here.  We’re going to make a roux, add milk to make a béchamel sauce and add cheese to make a Mornay Sauce.  Sound scary?  It’s not!  But it is weird

When you start to add the milk to the roux, the mixture seizes up into a big clump, so you need to add more milk quickly and keep stirring.  My only complaint is that Linda doesn’t describe what happens when you add milk to the roux.  She only says “Have faith and continue to add the milk.”  Rather ominous.

So in order to help you visualize this recipe, James, angel that he is, filmed the entire progression for you and helped me edit this video into true perfection.  This will allow you to see all the various stages so you, too, can achieve homemade mac and cheese glory.  I am here to serve. (THANK YOU, JAMES!!!)

This recipe asks you to be stirring almost constantly for about 15-minutes, which I really love.  It’s a simple recipe, but you’re really earning that creamy sauce, putting lots of love and effort into the dish.  You feel very accomplished when it’s done – and you SHOULD.  You just made homemade mac and cheese!  You’re the bomb.

Ready, Get Set – BONNIE MAC AND CHEESE!

(I do require that you refer to the dish that way from now on.  In honor of my struggles.  I think I deserve it.)

The following video will show you the progression of the sauce.  Specific times for each step are indicated below.

Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: Possible to serve 6-8, depending on how willing you are to share...
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Adapted ever so slightly from the “Macaroni and Cheese Variation” written by Linda Carucci in Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. medium shell pasta
  • 6 TBL unsalted butter (I use salted butter and adjust the salt at the end)
  • 5 TBL flour
  • 3 cups milk (I have always used 1%, but I’m sure whole milk would be delightfully decadent)
  • 2 cups (.5 lb) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp kosher salt plus more for pasta water (with salted butter, I ended up using 1 tsp at the end)
  • A few shakes of hot sauce or 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper

Procedure:

  1. Boil water in a large pot, add salt and pasta and cook until al dente.
  2. Measure out all of your ingredients and grate your cheese.
  3. In a 3 qt. pot, melt your butter.
  4. Add your flour and whisk together roux for about 2 minutes. (0:23)
  5. Add the milk 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in between.  The mixture will change texture several times as you add. (0:42)
  6. Continue to add milk 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture turns smooth.  Add all remaining milk at this time. (2:45)
  7. When the milk is combined, switch to a slotted spoon and stir in a figure-8 motion (3:24) until you’ve reached the napé stage (when you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of the spoon and it stays in tact, without filling in.) (4:05)
  8. Add your cheese, about a 1/2 cup at a time, and stir to combine in between each addition. (4:15)
  9. Taste your sauce (careful, it’s hot!) and add salt and hot sauce as desired. (6:00)
  10. Pour your sauce over your cooked pasta and serve or store.

Procedure with Pictures and Anecdotes

  1. Boil water in a large pot, add salt and pasta and cook until al dente.

I cooked my pasta almost as soon as I came in the door from work, far before I was making the cheese sauce.  When the pasta was fully cooked, I drained and coated with the lightest coat of olive oil I could manage, to keep it from sticking.

This isn’t usually recommended, because the olive oil covers the natural starches brought to the surface of the pasta when cooked, which helps grab onto the sauce.  But as far as time management is concerned, I found this much easier.  I like to cook my pasta in my largest pot, which gives it room to move around in the water while cooking, but it also takes a long time for the water to boil – sometimes 15 – 20 minutes.

The pasta cooled to room temperature, but when the hot cheese sauce was poured on the pasta, the dish  was heated back up again.  I found this tactic much easier than cooking the pasta and making the sauce at the same time, because the sauce needs your full concentration.

I enjoy using Medium Shell pasta, because the sauce gets stuck in the shells like delightful little bowls of cheese sauce.  Mmmmm…

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2.  Measure out all of your ingredients and grate your cheese.

Mise en place (everything in its place) will be your friend.  Again, the sauce will take your full concentration for those 15 minutes.  Be prepared!

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You can use any cheese in this recipe, although cheddar is most traditional.  Just make sure to do a little research on which cheese is a good melting cheese.  Not all cheeses melt well and can become stringy or clumpy.  Here’s a good article with a couple suggestions – I really want to try smoky gouda next.

3.  In a 3 qt. pot, melt your butter.

You can use a larger pot, but I think that a 3 qt. pot should be your minimum.  You’re doing a lot of whisking and stirring and a smaller pot could cause sloshing of hot liquid onto your feet!  Not fun.

Cut your butter into tablespoon-sized pats first, for quicker melting.20140808_201456

See video for visual of steps 4 through 9.

4.  Add your flour and whisk together roux for about 2 minutes. (0:23)

This will cook the flour in the butter, for added flavor.

5.  Add the milk 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in between.  The mixture will change texture several times as you add.  (0:42)

6.  Continue to add milk 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture turns smooth.  Add all remaining milk at this time.  (2:45)  (This actually happens at 1.25 cups, but I read the recipe wrong – ha!  I added all the milk at when there was just 1 cup left.  Things still turned out fine.)

7.  When the milk is combined, switch to a slotted spoon and stir in a figure-8 motion (3:24) until you’ve reached the napé stage (when you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of the spoon and it stays intact, without filling in.) (4:05)

8.  Add your cheese, about a 1/2 cup at a time, and stir to combine in between each addition. (4:15)

9.  Taste your sauce (careful, it’s hot!) and add salt and hot sauce as desired.  (6:00)

I think the hot sauce is clutch in this recipe, but I didn’t add it when I made this video because the dish was made for two dear friends who are also new parents and hot sauce is not for everyone.  I, personally, add the hot sauce and  pour the hot sauce over the mac and cheese when it’s on my plate.  The hotness cuts through the rich cheese sauce with delightful contrast.

10.  Pour your sauce over your cooked pasta and serve or store.

20140808_20391020140808_20392320140808_204114Oh yeah, girl.