Making Muffins (aka Inspired and Missing my Kitchen)

I’ve been lucky to spend the past month traveling and spending lots of quality time with family and friends, many of whom I haven’t seen in years. Living a vagabond life has been fun but one thing I’m missing? My kitchen.

I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen to start cooking (and eating!) healthy food and this article in today’s Washington Post has me inspired: How to make a healthful muffin that doesn’t taste like one.

Making Muffins

I’ve eaten a lot of very unhealthy (though very tasty) muffins on this vacation and love the idea of a homemade recipe that is actually good for me. Better yet? One that my two and four year olds will both eat without complaining. If you have a healthy version of a pain au chocolat, send it my way…

From the Washington Post:

Whole-Grain Apple Crumb Muffins

12 to 15 servings

INGREDIENTS

For the topping

2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon canola oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the muffins

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup canola oil

2 large eggs

3/4 cup unsweetened plain applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 medium Golden Delicious apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch chunks

STEPS

For the topping: Whisk together the brown sugar, pecans, whole-wheat pastry flour, oil and cinnamon in a bowl.

For the muffins: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-well muffin pan with cooking oil spray.

Whisk together the whole-wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the brown sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl until well combined, then whisk in the applesauce and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture in two additions, alternating with the buttermilk, until just combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.

Divide the batter evenly among the wells of the muffin pan, then sprinkle with the topping mixture. (If you have batter left over, cover it and bake a second batch.) Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick or bamboo skewer inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Transfer the muffin pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then run a round-edged knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool them completely on the rack before serving or storing.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 15): 190 calories, 3 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar

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Living it Up in Luang Prabang: Part 3, Food

I’ve already set the scene and shared my favorite frolicking adventures, but now it’s time for my favorite: the food.

Having spent the past two years living in Southeast Asia, I’ve eaten a lot of good food, but I have to say, the food in Laos is some of my favorite. Hanoi has some good go-to food options (namely bún đậu and chả cá) but by and large food in Hanoi can be a bit lacking in punch. I’m a spicy kind of girl – I like my food to have a little kick. And after 18 million nem ran (spring rolls), I was ready for something different.

Enter Laos.

Best snack? The crispy, sesame coated Mekong River Weed. Frankly, I’d rather not think about the source of this delicious snack. But suffice it to say, it’s similar to a crispy seawood, lightly fried then sprinkled with sesame seeds and a dash of spicy goodness. And you can dip it in an array of tasty dips (jeow).

Best staple? Sticky rice. White or brown – both delicious. And cooked in beautiful handmade baskets – it’s like opening a little gift every time you sit down to a meal. Appropriate for early morning alms-giving to the monks and pairs great with just about everything. My husband’s favorite main accompaniment: lemongrass stuffed with seasoned pork or chicken.

Best drink? The awesome fruit shakes sold from the stands near the night market. And, of course, Lao Dark beer. Lots of Lao Dark Beer.

The local food is certainly a highlight but we found a few good international restaurants too. Here’s a summary of our favorite Luang Prabang restaurants:

Coconut Garden

Our first stop was a return trip to the Coconut Garden, sister restaurant of L’Elephant–a beautiful, tasty, but less kid-friendly spot. We’d eaten at Coconut Garden twice on our last trip and had loved the chill, outdoor garden vibe and mix of local and western food options.

Tamarind

This meal was the highlight of the trip. We got there early in order to avoid ruining others’ meals with our loud children. The TripAdvisor recommendations were great and highlights were the watermelon chilli granita aperitif, Laos sampler, stir-fried pumpkin, and lemongrass skewers. Bonus? Great gourmet Laos goodies to bring home, like coconut tamarind spread, ginger tea, and chilli salt.

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          The spread at Tamarind

Ock Pop Tok

Don’t miss this delightful oasis a few miles outside of town. On the banks of the Mekong, with freshly died silk blowing in the breeze, you can’t beat the vibe. I had the Living Land Salad – lettuce with beetroot, apple, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and a creamy balsamic dressing. It was delicious and definitely not something I’d find in Hanoi. The Lao Dark was delicious (as always), as was the post-meal cappuccino.

IMG_7609Enjoying a quiet moment on the banks of the Mekong

Indigo Cafe

My daughter and I stumbled across this gem of a cafe as we were trying to escape the heat. What a find! Cute cafe vibe with good coffees, smoothies, and an extensive menu that includes lots of veggie and vegan options. A good sandwich can be hard to come by in Southeast Asia and I was pleased to enjoy a veggie sandwich on good, fresh bread. The cafe is on the bottom floor of a hotel of the same name, and attached to an adorable store. I found a cute, reasonably priced locally made indigo pillow case and this awesome hat ($3!).

Pizza Phan Luang

Don’t miss this off-the-beaten path restaurant. And by off-the-beaten-path, I mean you have to cross the Nam Khan River via a creaky bamboo suspension bridge (see photos below).

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Once you cross the bridge and climb the steep staircase to the top of the river bank, walk about 1/4 mile and you’ll find Pizza Phan Luang on the left hand side, down a narrow corridor. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a quaint garden pizza cafe, complete with a wood fire pizza oven, romantic candles, and relaxed outdoor vibe. The pizza was the best I’ve had in Southeast Asia (although, admittedly, this ain’t Manhattan).

Have I whet your appetite?

Shine on!