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Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, or “How Lisa Finds Her Recipes”

January 17, 2010

[Warning: This is a motherlong post. If you’re just starting it, read to the end of the paragraph starting “Often”, decide if what I’m doing in this post is interesting or relevant to you, and if it’s not, skip through, look at the pretty pictures of muffins, and move on. If you’re looking for ideas for how to incorporate new recipes into your stock, keep reading all the way through, or skip around. Thanks. :)]

So this past week at work, I was introduced to a new addiction. I’ve never been a fan of banana-flavored desserts. Banana bread’s OK and all, but if I’m going to invest the time and calories in a baked good, you can be willing to bet there’s going to be some seriously decadent chocolate, caramel, or cream cheese involved. So when I saw these little banana muffins sitting on our coffee break table, I immediately bypassed them for the chocolate truffles.

These are not the original muffins. Those were gone very quickly.

…then I saw the chocolate chips. BANANA MUFFINS, with CHOCOLATE CHIPS?! I’m hooked.

After eating one (or twelve) I decided that I absolutely must recreate them myself. But I waited too long to think about it, and missed asking the baker for her recipe. So I was faced with a choice. I either had to find the recipe on my own, or wait til I saw her at work again…which would be laughable (come on, now – there’s no way my sweet tooth could wait that long).

As I’m sitting here waiting for my sourdough … dough to rise,

Sourdough dough. There's no smart way to say that.

which I made using my very own sourdough bread starter,

It's aliiiiiive.

about which I’ll be posting later today when it’s finished, I had a thought.

Often (well, not that often, I mean, people don’t come up to me on the street or anything) people will ask me where I get my recipes. Whether it’s for their own recipe box, or mere curiosity (how did I get started on those ridiculous macarons?), it’s a question I get a lot. So I thought I could use these muffins as a “case study” of what I do when there’s something pickin’ at my brain, or something I really want to try out.

Now. Incorporating new recipes into my repertoire typically comes in one of two ways: either I see the recipe online and want to try it out, or I eat something somewhere that lights a spark in my head, saying “I want to do this myself.”

“Saw It Online” Recipe Technique

For the first, the “I saw it online” one, I have a very lengthy blogroll (read: a list of subscriptions to blogs who update religiously) which I read just about daily. I use Google Reader to keep up with them, because manually checking each blog would be ridiculous.

I have a special tab in Google Reader for “Food Blogs,” where I keep all the blogs with recipes. Typically the blogs that end up on my roll are ones with tried-and-tested recipes: either they’re personal websites (like mine) which tell you exactly what happens through each step of the process, or they’re professional websites (like The Kitchn) whose recipes are listed, followed by tons of comments from readers who’ve done their own adaptations.

This is how I get random ideas, typically for meals, that I adapt to fit what’s in my kitchen. For example: I saw this recipe for hashed brussels sprouts with fried capers and hazelnuts at The Kitchn. I read through the comments, and noted the things I had in the kitchen (brussels sprouts, lemons, olive oil) and the things I needed to buy at the store (capers, hazelnuts). I also noted the comments – people were intrigued by the flavors, but recommended a smoky flavor (bacon).

So, I tooled around with the recipe, tried it with the lemons (too sour) then tried it without (just right) and came up with an awesome new sidedish: hashed brussels sprouts with toasted macadamia nuts, bacon, and capers.

The blogroll method really works well if you’ve got time to scroll through the new entries, pick out some items that look tasty, and go back and review them. On the flip side, the “I can do that at home” technique works well for those moments when you’re ready to make/eat something, and have a specific “something” in mind.

A picture of the end result of the next section, to keep you interested.

“I can do that at home” Recipe Technique

OK – rule number one for the “I can do that at home” recipe. Never, under any circumstances, google the item (e.g. “banana chocolate chip muffins”), select the first thing that pops up, and follow that recipe with no further research. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve done it before, and trust me: you’re going to be disappointed. Or at the very least, you’ll see a recipe months down the line that kicks your recipe’s BUTT and you’ll wish you’d looked just a little bit harder.

To go for a completely new and random recipe, here are my steps, with links to the results I clicked on:

1. Google the item.

2. Take stock of what kind of items are popping up. Generally speaking, if the links that pop up are largely commercialized recipe clearinghouses (e.g., Recipe Zaar, etc.), I skip it. This is because I have had mediocre luck with finding truly awesome recipes this way.

I just tend to prefer the personalized touch of a good foodblog. They do nice things like post pictures of each stage of a product, which is very important for certain types of food. I do have some friends that have had great experiences with All Recipes, though, so maybe check that one out. I just don’t typically use it myself, that’s all.

3. Once I take stock of what’s on the option set, I start clicking. For the banana chocolate chip muffins, I started with these three: Epicurious, Curious Foodie, and No Fear Entertaining.

4. Looking at the recipes, I follow the same pattern every time: look at the ingredients list. Is there anything I don’t like? Is there anything I am impressed with or intrigued by? For this recipe, I saw baking powder in the Epicurious and No Fear Entertaining recipes. This is because they’re actually the same recipe! This happens quite a lot, as people in the foodblogging community go back and forth.

Anyways, I don’t like the taste of baking powder much, so I was skeptical. Then I saw that the Curious Foodie one had cinnamon in it, which was missing from the other recipes. I like cinnamon, particularly in muffins, so I decided to investigate further.

Next, I check to see if I need to buy anything. In this case, I had all the ingredients. But in the event that I don’t, I can either make a trip to the store (not likely), go back and check for other recipes that don’t include whatever ingredient I don’t have, or google substitutes for the item in question.

5. Next I check the steps. Is there anything complicated? Do I have enough time to devote? If I have 3 hours to kill, I know I can make some bread. If I don’t, then probably I’m going to need to skip it. Does the recipe require any weird contraptions? Like a melon baller? Or a food processor (before I had one)?

6. Once I’ve assessed the ingredients, the timing, and the contraptions, I go for it. In most cases, I try to make the recipe exactly as directed the first time, so that if there’s something I don’t like about it, I’ll know exactly where the problem came in. Whereas, if I started tweaking things from the get-go, there’s no telling what I did or didn’t like.

The result? Sometimes a fail, bread that won’t rise, caramel icing that sucks (I just can never get caramel buttercream right). But sometimes? Most of the time, really, a win.

Good to the last bite.

So there you have it! No mystery, just a lot of keeping up with the blogroll, google usage, and trial and error. Hope that was helpful!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2010 9:35 pm

    I love banana anything!

    • lisam permalink
      January 18, 2010 6:40 pm

      And that has earned you a spot on the “Next Time Lisa Bakes Anything Banana Flavored” list.

  2. January 20, 2010 8:04 pm

    p.s. i forgot to tell you i loved the one you brought me on Monday! the little kiddos at the card-making table looked longingly at my snack… but i didn’t give in!

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