Monday, February 27, 2017

Cooking in Azeroth, post 4: Making Magnificent Muffins

Cooking in Azeroth is a weekly blog series featuring recipes from "World of Warcraft, the Official Cookbook" by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. Over the next year I will cook and review all 100 recipes.

Do you know the Muffin Man?

His name is Moser and he lives in Shattrath City.

And his muffins are pretty magnificent.

Moser's Magnificent Muffins
This week I made Moser's Magnificent Muffins from the Desserts section of the Warcraft cookbook.

These muffins are apple and cinnamon flavored, topped with streusel and maple-flavored icing.  Fresh from the oven, they are absolutely delicious - it was hard stopping myself after eating only one! And they hold up well a few days after baking, in case you don't have the numbers to eat the whole dozen right away.


Moser's Magnificent Muffins are very easy to make.  Most bakers will already have the ingredients in their kitchen - baking powder, flour, brown sugar, etc.  They come together in about an hour, making them a fine choice for a lazy weekend breakfast or to whip up quickly after dinner to get you through the week.

While these muffins are easy to make, they are a bit messy to eat... with sticky icing and crumbly streusel topping falling all over the plate.  Delicious, but not really a grab and go style muffin.  The muffin itself is dense and chewy, much like an applesauce cake.  These muffins go well with coffee, tea, and fresh fruit.

Streusel topping, before baking

The recipe as written makes 12 muffins.  Each muffin is about 310 calories.

Personally I will be stretching this recipe to make more muffins in the future - making only twelve as the recipe suggests, my muffin tin was filled to the brim and there was so much streusel wasted because it was laid on so thick.  This made me sad because this streusel recipe is amazing... I would make a batch and eat it by itself if I wasn't concerned about all the calories and sugar!  I think stretching the batter and streusel over 18 muffins will be just as satisfying, and make the streusel topping easier to bake and eat.

Icing the muffins

Once the muffins were a couple days old the added moisture and sweetness from the icing was appreciated, however I don't think the maple flavor added much.  The icing did melt into the streusel topping after a day, so if you want crunchy streusel and fresh icing I would recommend making a batch and drizzling it on right before you eat.

If you're looking to cut some calories, you can probably skip the icing altogether, or make a thicker maple icing to top them and forgo the streusel. Both include a lot of sugar.  Stretching the recipe to make a larger batch would also decrease the calories.

I already had everything for this recipe on hand except for the applesauce.  A six-pack of individual applesauce cups costs $1.99 at Wegmans.  I bought my applesauce individually packaged so I wouldn't feel rushed into eating a whole jar once it was opened and in my fridge.  One half-cup portion was plenty for this recipe, and now I have the remaining cups for more muffins or snacks.

Thank you for reading!

Recipes completed to date: 9/100

Banner background, item description images and links are from Other images are my own.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cooking in Azeroth, post 3: Westfall Stew

Welcome to Cooking in Azeroth, a weekly blog series featuring recipes from "World of Warcraft, the Official Cookbook" by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. Over the next year I will cook and review all 100 recipes.

This week I made Westfall Stew, a hearty beef stew flavored with a variety of spices and red wine. The hearty Cornmeal Biscuits from the first Cooking in Azeroth post also made a second appearance. With local temps in the 20s, we wanted something that would fill us up and stick to our ribs - and this stew definitely succeeded.

Westfall Stew
"Westfall Stew" is one of the first recipes player characters can learn in-game. It is dropped by mobs in the Alliance Level 10-15 zone called "Westfall" - Horde players must travel there to obtain it.

This version of Westfall Stew is a hearty beef and barley stew. It cooks long and slow in the oven on low heat, and requires several hours to prepare and make. My prep time also took much longer than that cited in the cookbook, but I find that is often the case - I don't have much counter space in my kitchen, and I think that contributes to recipes taking a little longer.

Probably my favorite part of making this stew was preparing the mushrooms and pearl onions. They are mixed with a little butter and brown sugar, then roasted in the oven before being mixed into the stew towards the end of cooking. This gives them a slight glazed quality. Mixing this with spices and other roasted vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and squash could make a pretty awesome side dish.

After the stew has cooked for 2.5-3 hours it is very thick. This thickness might come from the pearled barley breaking down a little, and from the roux that is made at the start of the recipe. I noticed that our stew was thicker than the one pictured in the cookbook... but you also can't see the barley in that image.

Even though I could smell the bacon all through the cooking process, I did not notice the flavor at all; because of this I think we might try this recipe again in the future and omit the bacon and flour roux, hopefully giving the broth a texture more like an au jus than the thick gravy-like mixture that resulted. Cooking the stew covered for the last 90 minutes might also help it retain some moisture, thinning it a little.

The flavor of this stew was beefy and floral, from the red wine and dried juniper berries. I did feel like it needed something sharper to cut the floral and savory notes, and hoped the buttermilk in the Cornmeal Biscuits would offer that, but that flavor was much more muted than it was when we paired the Biscuits with the Dragonbreath Chili the other week. Using a more acidic or sharper flavored red wine than the pinot I had on hand, or maybe adding a splash of red wine vinegar, might offer this quality next time.

As for leftovers, the recipe says this stew makes four servings but I divided ours into six 2-cup sized servings and could easily have made it into eight servings. This stew was very thick and filling on the first night, and the leftover stew was even thicker. It reheated well. The Boyfriend is not a fan of mushrooms and did comment that their texture was more noticeable in the leftovers than on the night it was cooked.

Though The Boyfriend and I both enjoyed this stew, we preferred the Dragonbreath Chili.

I divided our stew into six 2-cup servings, which were 550 calories each. The Cornmeal Biscuits are 185 calories when the recipe is used to make a dozen.

I had some ingredients on hand already, like salt, pepper, butter, wine, and carrots. We bought everything* else for this recipe at Wegmans, costing $29.09. Divided by the six servings, that's less than $5 a meal. The "start up cost" of the spice blend used for this recipe was not included in this total, but is listed below. Everything to make the Cornmeal Biscuits was leftover from the last time we made them.

Bonus recipe: Northern Spices
This recipe for Westfall Stew incorporates a spice blend called "Northern Spices." Warcraft players will remember this in-game item from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, released in 2008; almost every recipe in that expansion seemed to use this item. Or at least it felt like that while leveling! I think I still have stacks of this stuff in my bank alt's bags...

The real-life version of Northern Spices is a fragrant blend incorporating dried juniper berries and smoked salt with a variety of other spices. The recipe for this spice blend can be found in the Spices and Basic section of the Warcraft Cookbook.

Ingredients for this spice blend were purchased at Wegmans for $19.76, which included everything* except the allspice and black pepper. The most expensive was the jar of cardamom, $8.99. This recipe makes a couple tablespoons of spice blend, which should last through several recipes when stored in an airtight container. There was plenty of each ingredient left after making one batch of spice that we shouldn't need to buy again for other recipes using this blend or the individual spices.

Thank you for reading!

Recipes completed to date: 8/100

Banner background, item description images and links are from Other images are my own.

* Though I try to provide details about each recipe, I do not post complete ingredient lists or instructions on this blog. 
If you have questions about a recipe or any concerns about food allergies, I'll be happy to answer in the comments! 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Running the Mad-Eye Moody 5K

Last Thursday, February 2nd, I ran the Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody Constant Vigilance 5K, a Hogwarts Running Club event.

The Hogwarts Running Club is a charitable organization that hosts virtual races. Virtual races are race events hosted online that can be run anywhere in the world. There might be some requirements - such as providing proof of completion or running on a specific day - but generally they're pretty flexible. Some road races also have virtual options - the 5K I ran in December, the Christmas Story House 5K, offers virtual participation for people who can't travel to Cleveland to participate.

Participants pay to enter the HRC event - usually $25 - and are sent a medal after. Confirmation of completion/time/distance are not required, and participants can run, walk, or even divide the distance up over several days, making it possible for literally anyone of any fitness level to participate. And 70% of each entry fee is donated to a selected charity - the Mad Eye 5K was benefitting the Limbs for Life Foundation, an organization that donates prosthetics to people who cannot afford them.

I first learned about the HRC when Gladys tweeted about participating in 2016, though I did not "join" until HRC followed me on Twitter. As for joining, there's no application, no membership fee - it's just entering the races and joining Facebook/Charity Miles/Fitbit groups if you want to have an online social element. HRC uses the miles logged by each Hogwarts House group on Charity Miles to award the House Cup at the end of the year. Slytherin won in 2016... but Ravenclaw was the first to 100,000 miles in 2017, so watch out!

My bib, even though I forgot to print it off and wear it :(
My Run
Sweaty post-run selfie! 
I hadn't run in two months, not since my first 5K race back in December. After that the weather turned icy - I overheat easily and don't mind the cold so much, but the ice makes me nervous. Once I lost December it was hard to motivate myself to throw on my running gear and get going, even when we had a streak of 40 degree weather in January.

Unfortunately our weather has been back in the 20s and icy again, so I ran on my treadmill. I hate running on the treadmill - after about 10 minutes I get really bored, even if I'm watching an interesting show or listening to a great podcast. Also it's way too easy to quit and just turn the treadmill off. Even though I hadn't run in two months, this was more a test of mental endurance than physical.

I ended my 5K seven minutes slower than my personal best in December, four minutes slower than my November average. I had to take one walking break around the second mile, but that was more mental than physical - I had to slow down and psych myself back up to finish. For taking two months off, this is actually pretty great! I'm pretty proud of myself, even though I'm sore today.

I'm so glad I participated in this run. I would have felt so bad about myself if I hadn't run at all and it was the perfect source of motivation to get going again and show myself that I can still do this, and that I still enjoy it!

Friday, February 3, 2017

January 2017 in Review

Honestly I don't know where January went. The first half of the month was spent in a post-Christmas haze, fueled by mince pies and British chocolates. The last half of the month was spent in a constant state of anxiety, to the point where I am wondering if I shouldn't spent the next four years medicated.

I started a new blog series, Cooking in Azeroth. Each week I'm going to post about different recipes from "World of Warcraft, the Official Cookbook" by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. I'm currently at 6 recipes made out of 100, and I'm looking forward to continuing this project.

January was the first month since June that I didn't lose a single pound... The combination of holiday treats followed by a month of giving in to my desire to comfort eat just didn't create enough of a caloric deficit. Add in that I just started blogging about making food (maybe not the best idea while actively trying to lose weight).

Oh well, that's life, January is over and as of yesterday I'm back on the wagon. If I stay on target I should hit goal weight sometime this year. I'll stay on target and hit goal weight sometime later this year.

No news about any SDCC ticket sales yet - presale has usually passed by now, with general sale happening in March the past few years. Though The Boyfriend is saying we'll try to buy them again, I'm cautious that we'll get them and then decide the cost of flights and hotel is too much and cancel our plans. (If I'm being completely honest... I'm getting cabin fever and ready to say eff it all, pack up and move west. That'd remove the need for flights, at least.)

Books I read...
Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher
Shockoholic, Carrie Fisher
Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher

I read/re-read Carrie Fisher's memoirs in January. I found comfort in her words, as I was grieving her death and anxious over the future presidency. Sometime I'll get around to posting what I wrote about meeting her last October at NYCC.

Movies I saw...
Um... none, actually. Despite really wanting to see Hidden Figures we never made it to the movies in January. The Boyfriend never got to see Moana either, which is a shame because that movie was GORGEOUS on the big screen. But Hidden Figures is still showing at my local theater, so I will probably treat myself to a matinee sometime this week.

Other than that, nothing really interesting happened here. Just calling my Congressmen and Senators multiple times a week, working, and finding my joy where I can.

#5FandomFriday: My TBR Pile

Wow you guys - somehow I completely lost track of Five Fandom Fridays! Other than the Harry Potter month last summer I honestly didn't realize there were new prompts, probably because I slacked off on blog reading last year.

Anyway, I saw Megan's post this morning... right after pondering my TBR list on Bookreads and my yearly goal of 35 free-read books. It was serendipitous. As a PhD student I read A LOT, but I really don't read many things for the sheer enjoyment of reading unless I'm making an effort to.

I prefer reading in the evenings and before bed. I like fantasy and historical fiction the best, along with sci-fi and non-fiction history. When and what do you like to read?

Currently in my looooooong TBR pile...

1. Surrender the Pink, Carrie Fisher
I've seen the movie "Postcards From the Edge" based on Carrie's book, but I've only ever read her memoirs. Reading/re-reading Carrie's books has been part of my grieving process, and seeing as how Amazon was sold out of many of her books last month, I'm definitely not alone in that.

Having never read her fiction I selected "Surrender the Pink" because the plot of a woman "find[ing] it hard to relinquish the 'pink' fantasy that a man will indeed secure her happiness ever after"  (Publisher's Weekly, 1990) intrigued me. I think many of us go through something similar... realizing that the rose-colored, Disney-esque fantasy of happily ever after doesn't come with marriage, and life is continually working at everything, relationships and all. And I know Carrie will put a wonderful humorous spin on that.

2. New Star Wars canon, various authors, published by Del Rey and Disney
I've read a few of the new Star Wars books, but now that I own many of them I want to read through them in chronological order. My reading order is: Dark Disciple, Ahsoka, Tarkin, A New Dawn, Moving Target, Lost Stars, the Aftermath Trilogy, and Bloodline.

3. A Court of Wings and Ruin, Sarah J. Maas
This book won't be published until May, but I really can't wait to read it. Seriously - my memory keeps tricking me into thinking it's going to be published next month! This is the third book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I found ACOTAR on my Kindle last summer (I buy ebooks when they're on sale and then forget about them) and proceeded to DEVOUR it while on a road trip to Canada. As soon as I arrived home I ordered physical copies of ACOTAR and its sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury.

These books are... delicious. A perfect combination of fantasy and adventure, with plenty of elements inspired by classic fairy tales and Celtic folklore. While I was reading ACOTAR I felt like this was exactly the series I've been craving my whole life.

4. The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill
My local library actually picked this one up after I suggested it. *smug smile* I can't afford to buy every book I want to read right now, so I love accessing my library's collection in both physical and ebook formats.

This book is a fantasy about a young girl with magic powers who is raised by a witch, and one day must defend her home. It sounds like an adventurous exploration of identity and coming of age.

5. The Family Plot, Cherie Priest
A new take on classic haunted house horror, this book is right up my alley (I have enjoyed Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and Maplecroft books, and a year ago I spent October reading spooky stories). I wanted to read this one last October, but never got to it.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Cooking in Azeroth, post 2: Lunar Festival Treats

Welcome to Cooking in Azeroth, a weekly blog series featuring recipes from "World of Warcraft, the Official Cookbook" by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel. Over the next year I will cook and review all 100 recipes.

This week I made Red Bean Buns and Pearl Milk Tea to celebrate the Lunar New Year! These treats were really delicious and easy to make.

The Lunar Festival is one of many in-game holidays (such as the Feast of Winter Veil/Christmas, Hallow's End/Halloween) and coincides with the Lunar New Year. Cities are decorated in paper lanterns, there are fireworks and gifts enclosed in red paper envelopes, and characters can wear clothing that looks like cheongsam.

This in-game holiday and the fourth game expansion, "Mists of Pandaria," are the inspiration for many East Asian-inspired recipes in the Warcraft cookbook, all of which sound delicious.

Red Bean Buns
The recipe for Red Bean Buns can be found in the Breads section of the Warcraft cookbook. This recipe is inspired by the in-game item "Red Bean Bun" from the Mists of Pandaria WoW expansion, released in 2012. The Cooking profession quests to source ingredients and unlock new recipes were a highlight of this otherwise problematic expansion (in short: reliance on tropes perpetuating the view of East Asian cultures as mystic and traditional).

These buns are made with a yeast dough. Preparing the buns for baking takes a while because you must let the dough rise twice: once before assembling the buns by filling flattened circles of dough with sweetened red bean paste, and once again after they have been assembled.

I have never, ever managed to get dough to rise in my kitchen without proofing the yeast first. Proofing involves mixing dry yeast with 110F water and sugar, then waiting for it to bubble - gotta make sure those yeastie beasties are still alive! The recipe does not mention proofing and my yeast packages say they can be used without proofing as long as the recipe involves mixing the yeast with warm liquids, but I always strike out - so your mileage might vary. I did find the extra liquid from proofing made the dough easier to work with and gave it a consistency closer to other yeast doughs I've made in the past.

Even if you're a beginner, this recipe is very easy to make. The resulting buns are delicious, perfectly sized for breakfast or a snack, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. The dough is made from ingredients most bakers have on hand and the recipe instructions were very easy to follow. And I love how the buns look like flowers, with the slits cut into their sides and poppy seeds!

The Boyfriend did express that he wished the dough was saltier, so we might experiment with that.

This recipe makes 10 servings. Each bun has about 185 calories when filled with a tablespoon of bean paste. I bought my bean paste at a local Korean grocery store and it was just the right amount of sweet.

Ingredients cost me $10.98, and included the yeast, bean paste, and poppy seeds. The jar of poppy seeds was the most expensive item at $6.49, and might have been cheaper if I had gone to the larger store that carries more than one brand. Everything else (flour, sugar, etc) I had on hand.

Pearl Milk Tea
I LOVE boba tea and have always wanted to try making my own. I was so excited to find this recipe in the cookbook! Mainly because I would have to make it, and couldn't back out like I always do after googling boba tea recipes (it's just so much easier to visit a local cafe instead of buying and making the boba).

The "Pearl Milk Tea" in-game item is also from the Mists of Pandaria expansion, released in 2012.

The recipe is pretty standard - milk, tea, boba pearls. The instructions say to use yak milk for best results but this is a reference to the in-game recipe, which uses an item called Yak Milk to craft the recipe. I just used regular 2% in mine.

I used Cock Brand tapioca pearls because they were the only ones available at my local shop. I had to experiment with cooking them because there were no instructions on the bag. I found that soaking the boba before boiling made them very slimy and broke them into smaller pieces, while dumping them into boiling water left many with uncooked, chalky centers. Finally I found placing the boba in its cooking water before bringing the pot to boil for 30-35 minutes, then letting them soak in the hot water another 15-20 minutes made them the best.

In the future I will probably source my boba from Amazon, because of the variety and reviews, though I'll continue to check my local groceries for different types of tapioca pearls to experiment!

The other ingredients for this recipe were things I already had on hand or were bought at my local chain supermarket, like 2% milk and black tea. You can use your preferred tea for this recipe, so we tried it with green and black, and found the black tea stood up better against the sweetness of the other ingredients.

Once the boba were cooked this recipe was very easy to make. The recipe includes suggestions for steeping the tea while the boba soaks in its syrup, so everything has a chance to soak up yummy flavors and cool off - I found that after my boba had chilled a bit it was gummier and less slimy, which I really liked.

This milk tea was very sweet to me, but the texture of the drink was deliciously smooth and much nicer than some of my local shops that use powder mixes for flavor. The honey flavor from the boba syrup stood out the most, followed by the black tea. Since I didn't care for the sweetness I think I will omit the condensed milk in the future (this would also cut some calories!)

The recipe says this makes about two servings, but for us it was closer to three. At three servings, and estimating that about half the syrup is left after soaking the boba, this recipe comes in at about 430 calories per serving.

Ingredients cost $14.26 and included all of the ingredients for this recipe except the black tea, which I had in my kitchen already.

Thank you for reading!

Recipes completed to date: 6/100

Banner background and item description images are from Other images are my own.