Friday, March 18, 2016

Maple Lemon Muffins Made with Greek Yogurt

For a few years, I used to write baking recipes for a how-to website. I enjoyed doing that quite a bit until I didn't. The earnings were pretty nice for a while until they weren't. One day I simply quit and took a break from baking.......until this morning. I ended my two-year hiatus on the spur of the moment. Looking in my fridge and pantry, I thought to my barely awake self, "Why not bake some badass muffins today?" The baking powder might be more than two freaking years old, but it'd been kept tightly lidded in a cool and dry place. What could be the danger? It wasn't spoiled milk or rotten meat. At worst, my muffins just wouldn't rise. Death from food poisoning wouldn't be my fate (right?).

So I dug up one of my old muffin recipes, made a few tweaks and excitedly shoved my batter-filled silicone molds into the oven. The muffins did rise gracefully and come out not just edible but tasty. Very moist. Very scrumptious-smelling. Not very sweet, which I like. But I wish they were a bit more lemony. (Note to self: use more lemon zest next time.) Another good thing about these maple lemon muffins is that they're lower in fat and calories compared to regular muffins. But let's be real; they're still muffins. I'm not going to tout them as a healthy snack. I'd rather say they are less unhealthy. Yeah, that sounds more accurate.

Ingredients (for 6 muffins)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (Use the bleached version if you prefer; it won't make any difference in terms of taste and texture. I use unbleached flour just to shush the whiny health-conscious voice in my head.)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp poppy seeds (This ingredient is only optional. The poppy seeds lend the muffins a mild nutty flavor and some lovely freckles. That's about it. Absolutely omit them, though, if you're about to undergo a blood test for opiates. These tiny seeds won't get you high but they might cause a false positive. Remember that one episode of Seinfeld where Elaine repeatedly failed her drug tests?)
1 large egg
1 container (150 g) plain non-fat Chobani yogurt
1 container (150 g) maple Chobani yogurt
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsps vegetable oil

  • Preheat your oven to 400-degrees F. 
  • In a large bowl, use a whisk or a fork to mix all the dry ingredients (the first 6 ingredients) together. 
  • In another bowl, whisk together the other ingredients until well blended. 
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture. Use a spoon or a rubber spatula to fold the two mixtures together until the muffin batter is evenly moist. Don't over-beat or over-mix the batter; that will make your muffins come out on the dense side. 
  • Put the batter into silicone molds or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 - 30 minutes. Why such a wide range of baking times? Well, every oven is different. At 400 degrees, some ovens get only moderately hot whereas some others might be like Lucifer's fiery pit. My muffins took 26 minutes to bake, but I can't tell for sure how long yours will take. To avoid a muffin catastrophe, check your muffins after 20 minutes using the old-school toothpick method. If the inserted toothpick comes out clean, they're done. 

Nutrition Info (Calculated with MyFitnessPal Nutrition Calculator)

Serving size: 1 muffin
Calories: 213
Fat (g): 7
Cholesterol (mg): 35
Sodium (mg): 150
Carbs (g): 31
Sugar (g): 21
Protein (g): 8

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


What can we expect to find at South? Isn't the title pretty self-descriptive? Yes, they serve southern comfort food. Yes, fried green tomatoes and hush puppies are on the menu. And yes, they sure know how to deep-fry stuff. (But no, none of the staff talks with a southern twang.) Deep-frying might be deemed a lowbrow cooking method by some, but still, it requires mastery. I've eaten a few too many soggy, oily, dry, and even burnt deep-fried things in my lifetime. When I come across restaurants that not only steer clear of those mistakes but excel at turning simple ingredients into golden scrumptiousness, I am deeply grateful. South, no doubt, is one of those places.

The fried chicken (Oh, that fried chicken!) is beyond reproach. Tender, lightly battered and exquisitely crispy, it far surpasses its accompanying sides of unexceptional biscuit and kale greens. The shrimp Po'boy is another dish that validates their deep-fry expertise. Plump golden shrimp, fresh shredded cabbage, a good splash of spicy remoulade, all stuffed in a lovely bread roll--it's a gorgeous sandwich to look at and a satisfying one to devour. The Chef's Burger with leek-shallot jam and mustard-sauce slaw is pretty darn messy to eat. But is it worth it? Well, considering the succulent bacon confit, sweetish brioche bun, and that beautiful crust on the burger patty....yeah, it is. Just use lots of napkins or lick your fingers often or put on some gloves, and you'll be fine. The pulled pork and sausage gumbo is a hearty, meaty dish, mightily high in protein but deplorably low in sodium. Everything else is well seasoned, why so stingy on salt with this one? (I shall order it again sometime to find out whether it's a one-time mistake or a serial offense.) Once done with the savory, a slice of pecan pie is a great dessert to grab. Nothing's special about the crust, but the filling is quite divine. If my palate is correct, there is condensed milk in it rather than just basic corn syrup, which renders it doubly decadent.

Food aside, South is also a very welcoming spot. Tucked away in a quieter part of midtown Sacramento, parking here is usually convenient no matter what time of day. The abstract paintings make the decor casual and hip, while the bench seatings with accent pillows add a homey touch. Speaking of accent pillows at a place famous for fried chicken and po-boys, isn't that audacious? It's either that they have so much faith in their greasy-fingered customers or they don't mind adding pillow-case cleaning to their long list of daily tasks. Last time I was there, the pillows were spotlessly clean. And I conscientiously kept them that way throughout my meal. I don't know about the guy at a nearby table with BBQ sauce dripping down to his elbow, though. He seemed utterly oblivious to his own sloppiness and how it might affect his surroundings.

So yes, try South if you're enthused about deep-fried goodies. Have some fried chicken, drink some beer, enjoy some pie, and to be kind, keep your oily fingers off their pillows.