My Sister’s Amazing (banana) Chocolate Chip Muffins

One of the highlights of visiting my sister is that she makes the most amazing muffins for breakfast. These come together quickly and it doesn’t take long before her whole house is filled with the mouth watering aromas of chocolate and vanilla. I wish I could visit my sister every weekend, but I can’t, so she was kind enough to give me her recipe. Since I always seem to have bananas around my house, I’ve added them to the mix, but these work great with or without them.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit (about 200 degrees celsius) and grease a 12 cup muffing pan.

2) Combine 14 and 3/4 oz (3 and 1/2 cups) of all purpose flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Hold onto that teaspoon measuring spoon, since you’ll need it again in a bit.

3) Now coarsely chop up 1/2 cup of milk chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of any combination of dark, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips and add them to the flour mixture. Combine everything with a fork.

chopped_chocolate

This is what “coarsely chopped” looks like.

dry_stuff

Now I’ve added the coarsely chopped chocolate to the flour mixture.

dry_stuff_combined

Now I’ve combined the chocolate with the flour mixture.

4) In a separate bowl (potentially a large glass or other microwave safe bowl),  measure 7 oz (1 cup) of sugar and 4 Tbs. of butter, cut into 1 Tbs. pieces. If you had the foresight to take your butter out of the refrigerator well in advance, which I never do, you can cream together the sugar and butter with a fork. However, I usually just microwave the butter and the sugar for 30 seconds to a minute – until I can easily combine the two with a fork.

I can never remember to leave the butter out overnight, so I just microwave it for 30 seconds.

I can never remember to leave the butter out overnight, so I just microwave it for 30 seconds to a minute.

Here I've combined the melted butter with the sugar.

Here I’ve combined the melted butter with the sugar.

5) Optional, but awesome: Add 1 or 2 ripe bananas to the sugar mixture and mash them up with a fork.

6) Whisk in 2 eggs, 2 tsp. vanilla extract and 10 oz. of a combination of sour cream and buttermilk to the sugar mixture. (I usually have 6 oz of sour cream sitting in the fridge from last week’s taco night and 4 oz. of buttermilk from the jug that lasts forever.)

7) Fold the sugar mixture into the flour mixture until there are no longer any patches of dry flour, and distribute the mixture among the 12 cups in the muffin pan.

all_combined

Here’s what it looks like when you finally combine all of the ingredients into a single bowl.

Here's what the mixture looks like in the pan before baking.

Here’s what the mixture looks like in the pan before baking.

8) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. You can tell when the muffins are done when you can poke the biggest one with a toothpick and it comes out clean (or just smeared with chocolate).  After baking, let the muffins rest in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to wire cooling rack.

A tasty treat, waiting for you to eat.

A tasty treat, waiting for you to eat!

Shockingly, these muffins taste better at room temperature than when they are still warm.  I find this out the hard way every time I make them.  It’s a delicious lesson.

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

Dry Ingredients:

  • 14 3/4 oz (3 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of any combination of dark/semi-sweet chocolate chips, coarsely chopped.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 7 oz (1 cup) sugar
  • 4 Tbs. butter, cut into 1 Tbs. pieces
  • 1-2 ripe bananas (optional, but awesome)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 10 oz of a combination of sour cream and buttermilk.

October – Winter

Some people love fall. Summer chafes them for months on end and they can’t wait for the season to change. I’m not one of those people. I love long summer days and sunlight. I love the little turtle that comes out and plays in the creek at the bottom of the hill. I love day trips to the shore, and ice cream out in the countryside. I even love, to a degree, the warmth of summer. To me, summer is freedom with infinite possibilities to explore.

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Fall, on the other hand, evokes nostalgia and melancholy like nothing else. Everything seems to be coming to an end. The days get shorter and the spontaneity of summer is traded for routine. In the past, this has really brought me down, so I decided to do something about it this year. I made a list of all the good things that fall brings to help me focus on the positive rather than the negative.

The first thing I thought of was pretty obvious: cooler, drier weather is actually pretty nice. There are fewer mosquitos, too.

Then I started to notice that the shorter days meant I experienced the sunrise more frequently. Summer is all about sunsets, but fall, it seems, is all about sunrises, and some of them are really spectacular.

sunrise_2

And lastly, I realized that fall can be a time of newness. New people come to college towns in the fall, and new friendships begin. I’d never thought of it that way before. Fall wasn’t the end of all things good, but the beginning of so many good things. All of the sudden, fall wasn’t something I feared any more.

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For those interested, I have a few notes about this month’s song. First, it’s based on a chord progression that I used in Gaspard and Dancer’s “Annatations”. You can hear the original version in the studio version of the song (10 minutes and 29 seconds in). Second, “Winter” features the cello equivalent of “falsetto” – it’s a flute or whistle like tone that comes when I play with the bow close to the bridge. Technically, this is called “sul ponticello”, and it emphasizes high harmonics rather than the full tone. To me, it’s an “icy” sound, and fits with the theme of the tune.

As always, if you’d like to sing and play along, you can download the chords and lyrics.

The Best and Simplest All Day Tomato Sauce Ever

One of my favorite things about the first chilly days in fall is making the house feel all cozy by slow cooking an amazingly simple, yet rich and complex tomato sauce. I can not overstate how good, and yet easy, this recipe is. And it will make your house smell great. Use this sauce on pasta (straight up, or with a little cream and vodka), with homemade ravioli (I’ll show you how in the coming months), in a lasagne or just drink it (yes, I know that last one doesn’t sound appealing, but I’ve done it and, wow, it really was good!). This recipes makes a lot, so use what you want and freeze the rest. Anything that you put this sauce will taste better than ever before.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Combine 5 to 7 peeled cloves of garlic and 3 Tbs. of olive oil in a large pot.

Step 1:  Combine the garlic and the olive oil in a large pot.

Step 1: Combine the garlic and the olive oil in a large pot.

2) Warm the oil up just enough for it to start bubbling around the garlic, then turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover the pot, and wait 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the garlic will be soft and slightly browned on one side.

Step 2: Cover the pot and cook the garlic over low heat for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the garlic should be soft and lightly browned on one side.

Step 2: Cover the pot and cook the garlic over low heat for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the garlic should be soft and lightly browned on one side.

3) Add 4 28 oz. (about 800 grams) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes to the pot.

Four 28 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes.

Step 3: Add 4 28 oz (about 800 grams) cans of whole peeled tomatoes to the the pot.

Step 3: Add 4 28 oz (about 800 grams) cans of whole peeled tomatoes to the the pot.

Here are the tomatoes, in the pot.

4) If you’re not already wearing an apron, put one on and then reach into the pot and carefully break open the tomatoes with your hand. This is where the apron comes in handy; no matter how gentle you are, one of the tomatoes will squirt juice all over you.

sauce_hand

Step 4: Breaking the tomatoes up with your hand.

After breaking the tomatoes up, this is what they should look like.

After breaking the tomatoes up, this is what they should look like.

5) Turn the heat up until the sauce just begins to simmer, then turn the heat down to keep it at that simmer and no more. Simmer for 5 to 8 hours. If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, you put a lid on the pot or add more water. After about 6 hours of simmering, the tomatoes should be very, very soft, and the garlic will start breaking up.

Step 5: After about 6 hours of simmering, the tomatoes should be very, very soft, and the garlic will start breaking up.

Step 5: After about 6 hours of simmering, the tomatoes should be very, very soft, and the garlic will start breaking up.

6) After you’ve simmered the sauce all day long (and your house now smells amazing), puree it using an immersion blender, a food processor or a food mill.

Step 6: After letting the sauce simmer all day long, puree it using an immersion blender, food processor or food mill.

Step 6: After letting the sauce simmer all day long, puree it using an immersion blender, food processor or food mill.

7) Taste the sauce. Often I don’t need to add any salt, but if it does, add it in small amounts until everything is just right.

That’s all there is to it.

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

  • 5-7 stemmed and peeled cloves of garlic
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 28 oz. (about 800 grams) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
  • Salt to taste

September – That Dress

I started this month expecting to write a sad song because everything around me was ending. Summer was over, a great friend moved away and, to top it off, they knocked down the building where I used to breathe LA quality smog as a kid (in the name of science! That is, breathing LA quality smog was done in the name of science. The demolition was done in the name of making a green space.)

demolition

No more LA quality smog here! Pretty soon it will only be clean air.

Despite my prediction, a song about dancing showed up in my head on the very first day of the month and wouldn’t budge. I tried everything I could to write something else. I installed a pick-up in my ukulele and played it like an electric guitar, I recorded the first parts of another song and even wrote down the lyrics. I then spent a lot of time rehearsing and performing with Gaspard & Dancers. (Psst!  The reviews are in! My music was called “haunting and very beautiful“)

gaspard

Here’s Gaspard, dancing in a duet with Kristin Taylor. His style comes from his 10 years touring with Pilobolus.

The dance song, however, wouldn’t go away. After three weeks, I finally recorded it, and I’m so glad I did. Maybe it was from spending so much time with the dance company, but I just had to write this song. Dance and music are two very different art forms, but they fit perfectly together and they give meaning and significance to each other. So, if you can, try to dance to this one for me. It’s a slow dance, so you don’t have to do anything complicated. Just enjoy it.

This month’s song features the incredibly talented Miriam Chicurel-Bayard. If I could do it all over again, I’d re-write the lyrics so that she could sing lead (i.e “You’ve got that tux I like…”). It’s an honor to have her help me out and I hope you enjoy her voice as much as I do. And as always, if you’d like to sing or play along, here are the chords and lyrics.

Annatations with Gaspard And Dancers

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The last two nights I performed “Annatations”, a work I composed for amplified cello with Gaspard and Dancers and both nights were amazing. The dancers were in top form and the music and motion meshed together perfectly.

A number of people asked if they could get a copy of the music. For you, I’m posting it here and I’m including two versions: the original “studio” version, which is layered and complex, and the “live” version, which is raw and powerful.

You can stream it from this site, or you can download it to play whenever you wish. To download, click on the button in the upper right-hand-side that shows an arrow pointing down to a line.

If you download the music, please support me by buying my latest album. You can get it on CD or you can get it from iTunes. At the very least, please sign up for my mailing list. I only use it to send out one email a month when I have finished a new song.

gnd_1_20140924

The Best Old School Tacos with Tofu

This vegetarian recipe is based on the tacos I ate as a kid, the old-school tacos that came as a kit from the grocery store, with a seasoning packet and hard shells. Back then these were made with ground beef, but times have changed and I wanted to make something that captured the same fun (and messiness) with tofu for my vegetarian friends and loved ones. As always, the trick with tofu was figuring out how to get the flavor and texture to be satisfying in its own right. The flavor comes from a surprising ingredient, carrots, and a not-so-surprising ingredient, butter (more on this later), and the texture comes from a new speedy drying technique.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Prepare the tofu: Drain the water from a 1 lb. (500 gram) package of firm or extra-firm tofu. Now put a colander in the sink and line it with paper towels.

colendar

This is my colander, in the sink, lined with paper towels.

Crumble the tofu onto the paper towels…

crumbled_tofu

Now I’ve put the crumbled tofu into the colander.

…and then press it down with your fist to squeeze the water out.

pressed_tofu

Here I am, pressing the water out of the tofu.

Try to press out as much water as you can. There’s a lot, and you can’t get it all, but the more you can squeeze out, the shorter the cooking time will be.

2) Make the taco filling: While the tofu is draining, dice an onion and a carrot, and, if you like it hot, one or two diced chili peppers.

I have a fun trick for dicing onions that I learned from Julia Child. She used the layers of the onion to do a lot of the work for you. You first trim the top and peel the onion, leaving the root on, and then cut it in half, from top to bottom (through the root). With one half of the onion flat-side down on your cutting board, make length-wise slices, about 1/4-inch apart, that almost go to the root, but not quite. Then turn the onion 90 degrees and cut it width-wise, perpendicular to your first set of cuts. Voila! You’re done…  with the first half. Now do the same thing with the other half of the onion. Here’s a video showing all of this in action:

Now sauté the onion and a pinch of salt in about 2 Tbs. of olive oil over medium heat until it is just starting to turn soft, about 5 minutes.

a_pinch

This is my version of a “pinch of salt”

To dice the carrot, peel it, and then cut it in half length-wise. With one half of the carrot flat-side down, cut it into planks, then stack these planks and cut them into matchsticks, then cut the matchsticks into small pieces. Repeat with the other half of the carrot.

Once the onion is just turning soft, add the diced carrot (and chili peppers, if using), another pinch of salt and sauté for another 5 minutes.

onoins_carrots

I’ve already cooked the diced onion for about 5 minutes and now I’ve just added the diced carrot.

Once the carrot is just starting to turn soft, add 5 Tbs. of butter to the pan and let it melt, stirring to coat the onion and carrot mixture. This may seem like a lot of butter, but keep in mind that when you were a kid, you used a pound of ground beef with 20% fat. Even with a full 5 Tbs. of butter, this recipe is leaner than what you ate when you were young. Once the butter is melted, add the tofu, 2 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground coriander and 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir to combine.

saute_start

This is the filling mixture, before cooking it for about 20 minutes.

Cook, stirring occasionally until the tofu is brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.

saute_end

After 20 minutes, the filling gets crispy and ridiculously tasty.

3) Prepare all of the extras: While the filling is cooking, shred 1 cup of cheddar cheese, 1 cup of lettuce and dice 1 cup of tomatoes. For a tasty sauce, combine the following three ingredients in a small bowl: 1/2 cup sour cream, the juice from 1/2 lime and a dash of ground cumin. You didn’t eat it this sauce when you were a kid, but you will wish you did!

When the filling is done cooking, warm up the taco shells and serve! The easiest way for me to warm up the taco shells is to put them in the oven, turn the heat on and wait about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and your done!

taco

The final taco, enjoy!

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

  • 1 lb. (500 grams) firm or extra firm tofu, crumbled and drained
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • (optional) 1-2 chili peppers, diced
  • 5 Tbs. butter
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 10 hard taco shells
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup lettuce, shredded
  • 1 cup tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • The juice from 1/2 lime
  • a dash of ground cumin

 

August – That Dude (in the movies)

This is an embarrassing story, but I’m going to tell it anyway. All of my life I’ve been a skinny guy. This is fine. I don’t mind, but back in college I got this crazy idea that I would look better if I had big muscles. I smile about this because I would look idiotic if I bulked up, but at the time I daydreamed about taking my shirt off at the beach and everyone admiring my physique. I have no idea why.

charles_atlas_j

When I was a kid, I saw ads for the Charles Atlas workout routine.

One day I thought I’d try to live the dream and I signed up for a weight lifting class. I spent hours imagining how awesome I was going to look at the end of the semester. I’d come home for the summer and everyone would freak out. People might even call me up to move furniture. Stuff like that.

So I took the class and learned about all kinds of fancy fitness machines. After a few weeks, I felt like I was making progress. At the very least, my entire body was sore. To make room for all the extra muscle I was carrying around campus, I started walking with my arms puffed out . This was awesome, a dream come true! I knew I looked good. Then I  looked in a mirror.

uku_in_mirror_smile

The ukulele looks in the mirror and sees… a ukulele.

The guy looking back was just me. The same old skinny me. Completely deflated, I dropped my arms to my sides and walked back to my dorm room.

But, you know how these stories go, there’s always a silver lining. On my way back to my room I realized that the real hero of the beach wasn’t the guy who could crush a can against his head (although I still wish I could do that), it was the guy who knew CPR. This was liberating. I already knew CPR. I could stop wasting time on the fitness machines and spend more time playing my cello. Score.

cello_and_uke_smile

The ukulele admits that sometimes he wishes he was a cello.

Folks, this month’s song is all about those times when we wish we could be cooler than we think we are. Or when we wish we were better at karate. In the end, we are who we are and that’s the best. We just don’t always realize it at first.

I hope you have a great September, and, as always, if you want to play or sing along, here’s the song sheet!  (I’m now referring to the chart as the “song sheet” because there was some confusion about whether the chart also had the lyrics).

p.s. Check out the new “Recipe of the Month” feature that I’ve started up!