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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Banana and Cinnamon Muffins


I am a fruit lover. Crunchy watermelons and apples, mangoes and cherries are among my favourites. But I like them all. Unsurprisingly, I have a fondness for fruity desserts. It is not often that recipes for typical Indian sweets and desserts call for fruit. There are exceptions of course - gajar ka halwa or carrot halwa comes to mind, for instance - but by and large, I think that is a fair statement to make. It is an entirely different story when it comes to baked desserts in the West. Fruits in baking often make for winning combinations. As I type, I am dreaming about peach cobbler, pumpkin pie, carrot cake, Christmas pudding, and lemon tarts. And banana muffins, which graced our kitchen counter for a brief interval before meeting their end at a picnic on a sunny afternoon.

Bananas do not feature in my list of cherished fruits. They're simply not exotic enough to make the cut. As with most things, their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength. You are never too far from a banana. They're easy to find, and in addition, cheap and cheerful. As I settle into navigating life on a relatively slim student budget, I find that bananas are great when it comes to adding bulk to our fruit bowl. Although not a cheerleader for bananas in their natural state, I do enjoy cooking with them. I love caramelised bananas with vanilla ice-cream, and also banana muffins, especially if they promise the crunch of walnuts or the scent of cinnamon. The more disgustingly ripe the banana, the more delicious your muffins are likely to be. One of the sights I most loathe is that of overripe bananas ridden with black spots, hiding squishy banana flesh and an overwhelming "banana smell" underneath. I've taken to freezing bananas that escape our attention and degenerate into this sorry state so that I can use them to bake muffins.

I have returned time and again to this ridiculously easy and relatively healthy recipe for banana muffins on Cat can Cook. The internet is swarming with recipes for banana muffins. The reason that I sat up and took notice of this particular one is because it comes with, at last count, a whopping 1330 comments, nearly all of which are positive. I made just a couple of tweaks to the original recipe. I added some cinnamon powder because I think banana and cinnamon make a great couple. These muffins are rather sweet, so you could cut down on the sugar if you are fighting calories or if you don't have much of a sweet tooth. The original recipe has received much praise on the internet without these tweaks, so you can happily ignore me and go ahead with the original recipe with good results. The secret to successful muffin baking is to avoid over mixing the batter. I know from personal experience that the temptation to beat away until you get a smooth mix is strong, but resist you must.

Bake these on a Sunday afternoon as you prepare yourself for the madness of Monday morning. Life is better if you have a banana muffin to share your pain with. 

Banana and Cinnamon Muffins
(makes 12 medium sized muffins, recipe sourced from http://www.catcancook.com, with minor tweaks)

3 large bananas, mashed 
1/2 cup white sugar
1 slightly beaten egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups self rising flour
1 1/2 - 2 level tsp cinnamon powder (depending on your preference)

Preaheat oven to 350 F. Mix the mashed bananas, sugar, egg and butter together. Set aside. In a separate bowl, sift baking soda, salt and flour until combined. Mix wet and dry ingredients all together. Do not overmix. A slightly lumpy batter is just fine. Pour into greased muffin tins, and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Happy munching.

Update: I tried this recipe with 3 very ripe bananas, reducing the sugar to just 1/4 cup and substituting the 1/3 cup melted butter with just 1/4 cup olive oil. The muffins turned out perfectly well, but just a little less firm than usual, possibly because of the squishiness from the additional banana.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Hello from Boston

Hello from Boston! Just over a year after the idea first occurred to me, I am finally here to begin my graduate studies.

I am happy to be in Boston but I am not sure Boston is as happy. I arrived on a Tuesday evening, and was welcomed  by a heavy downpour. My host family was at the airport to pick me up, holding a placard with my name on it. We'd never met before then. Over the next few days, they redeemed my faith in the goodness of mankind with many acts of kindness, both great and small.

When we reached my apartment, I realised that they mean things literally here in the US. "Unfurnished" means just that. No lights, no fixtures. A living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, two bedrooms and a balcony is what our lease agreement promised and that was exactly what was delivered. Nothing more, nothing less. Other than the shower curtain in our bathroom, the curtains in the living room, and a solitary light bulb in the kitchen, all of which seemed to have been left behind mistakenly, our flat came as naked as a newborn. 
On our first night in our new home, we, my room mate and I, slept in the living room on mattresses that my host family generously brought along, braving the rain and the night. Since then, we have survived on food from Trader Joe's and regular spurts of kindness from them. They drove us to IKEA over the weekend, where we spent a long afternoon marvelling at the wildly successful marriage between Swedish design and Chinese manufacturing. I am 5'3" tall (or 5'3" short, depending on how you look at it) and my room mate can hardly be described as a large person. And so it was my host family that helped us lug our loot from IKEA - large mirrors for us to look vainly into, a microwave to heat our leftovers in, and even a book case to hold the many economics books that we will no doubt acquire over the next couple of years. 

With all of that help, my room mate, A and I, managed to put together our first proper meal. My room mate is a rare and exotic specimen - half Russian and half Ivorian (her mother is from Russia and her father is from Ivory Coast). The poor girl has placed blind faith in my culinary abilities ever since I bragged about she found out about my blog. Her Russian ancestry is evident in her love of meat and potatoes, and it has been tough to miss her hints over the last few days on cooking up a meal involving those ingredients .

We finally managed to put it together last night, after a day of IKEA shopping and furniture lugging. Beef stew with mashed potatoes. Recipe and pictures to follow.