Thursday, May 29, 2008

For the Love of Words

I have always loved words.

I’ve been enamored by them, and this process of stringing them together into sentences, stories, and books, for as long as I can remember. If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, consider this: when I was about four years old, I was really irritated that I couldn’t spell. I wanted to write stories about dogs and peaches and toys (you know, things that interest four-year-olds), but I had no idea how to spell peach. I could say it just fine, but how was I supposed to write about peaches if I couldn’t spell p-e-a-c-h-e-s? Then I had a stroke of genius: I would just sound it out! Peach became peech (or something like that) until my mother intervened and told me I couldn’t get away with spelling things improperly. That’s one of the first times I ever remember being disciplined by her, and despite my four-year-old anger, that lesson has stuck with me. I follow the rules when it comes to spelling.

Luckily, my mother was more supportive than not when it came to my writing. Her love, and the love of a wondeful teacher, Mrs. Cheryl Patterson, gently guided me as I dreamed of being an author of fabulous literature. I loved inventing characters: picking out their names, imagining their appearance, trying to hear their voices. Unfortunately, I was far less interested in the actual plot of my novel, and as college loomed near, I started thinking seriously about science. I kept thinking seriously about science, all the way into my present-day graduate student career at Northwestern University. Today I’m a Ph.D. candidate, studying biological clocks in fruit flies. Science is a fickle mistress, continually testing the resolve of all who try to unlock her mysteries. She’s been good to me, but it hasn’t been an easy road. My pursuit of science has shaped my life in countless ways, but a year ago, I found myself longing to write again. But this time, I wouldn’t be inventing characters for plotless stories. This time, I’d be writing about food.

And hence, Life, Love, and Food was born.

I was so timid that first day that I sat down to say something here, in this cyberspace kitchen of mine. I had no idea what I wanted to say, but I had a kernel of faith that there were things I wanted to say, even if no one else was listening. So I started writing for me, and I didn’t worry about the audience. I assumed that there wouldn’t be one. But now I know that you, dear reader, are out there. I may or may not know who you are, or why you read my words, or if you take my recipes with you into the kitchen. That’s okay. Life, Love, and Food is as much about the words as it is about the food, and whether you enjoy one, the other, or both, I am happy that you choose to spend a moment with me. Your comments make my day! So whether you are a devoted reader or you just stop by occasionally to see what’s cooking, thank you. This blog, wordy and pictureless as it may be, means a lot to me and to have an audience, however small, makes the writing that much sweeter.

Mocha Ricotta Muffins
Adapted from the recipe for “Chocolate Ricotta Muffins” in Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café
Makes 12 large muffins

I wanted to bring you a really special recipe to celebrate Life, Love, and Food’s birthday. This muffin recipe has been floating around in my repertoire for a long time now, but I was stumped about what to say! Perhaps I’ll let the muffins speak for themselves: these babies are Delicious with a capital D. I’m enamored in general by the ricotta muffins that Mollie Katzen invented for her book, Sunlight Café, but these muffins, a tweaked version of the Chocolate Ricotta Muffins, are my absolute favorite. Rich, chocolatey, soft, and a little dense, these muffins are heavenly when they are still warm with the oven’s sweet breath. More often than not, though, I eat them for an afternoon snack at work, paired with a piece of fresh fruit and maybe a cup of tea. They freeze really well, so I can bake a dozen on a lazy Sunday and have a stash of snacks for the next week.

As though the taste alone weren’t reason enough to make these muffins, they actually have something to offer nutritionally! Whole-wheat pastry flour, ricotta cheese, and eggs provide hits of fiber and protein, and two forms of chocolate (cocoa powder and chocolate chips) lace antioxidants into the batter (which, by the way, is pretty darn tasty—and possibly addictive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!). Delicious and functional—these muffins know how to multi-task!

Cooking spray
1 c. whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour*
¾ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 c. brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ c. semi-sweet miniature chocolate morsels
1 c. ricotta cheese (I use lowfat ricotta, but Mollie recommends the full-fat whole-milk ricotta. It’s up to you and your tastebuds.)
2 large eggs
½ c. cold strongly brewed coffee
½ + 1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
4 tbsp. (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a standard 12-muffin-cup tin with cooking spray. My muffins overflow a little bit (in a good way), so I also spray the outer rim of each muffin cup for easier muffin removal after they are baked.
2) In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, and mini chocolate morsels.
3) In a medium mixing bowl, place the ricotta cheese. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the coffee, milk, and vanilla, mixing to combine thoroughly.
4) Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour the ricotta mixture and the melted butter into the well. Mix until the dry ingredients are moistened, making sure to stir from the bottom of the bowl. As with all muffins, try not to overmix; a few lumps are okay.
5) Scoop about ½ cup of batter into each prepared muffin cup. If you have any leftover batter, just distribute it equally among the dozen muffin cups. When I make these muffins, I end up filling each cup to the top.
6) Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the muffins to cool on a rack, still in their tin, for a few minutes.
7) Remove the muffins from the tin and cool on a rack. Mollie recommends that you wait at least 30 minutes before serving, but if you sample a muffin a few minutes early, your secret is safe with me.
About freezing: The muffins freeze beautifully. I usually thaw them for a few hours at room temperature and then eat.

*A word about the flours: I’ve made these muffins with straight all-purpose flour, straight whole-wheat flour, and a blend of whole-wheat pastry flour and refined all-purpose flour. The whole-wheat variety is a little heavier than its whiter counterpart. The combination of whole-wheat pastry and all-purpose flours is my favorite, but feel free to play with the whole-grain content of these muffins to suit your taste.


daphna said...

Happy Birthday!! :)

Nick said...

Happy Birthday Life, Love, and Food! These muffins sound fantastic. Definitely nutritious, I'm bookmarking them right now! Getting a little to hot to bake muffins...but then again, I love muffins.... If you threw some PB in or on them you could enter PBE #2!!!

Rosiecat said...

Thanks for the birthday wishes, guys! Nick, I thought you might especially like these muffins--the combination of great flavor and great nutrition is definitely your style. And as for PBE #2, I've got an ace up my sleeve and about two and a half hours before the contest closes...I can't just talk trash and then not deliver, right? ;-)