This past month, Kim and I chose Asparagus as our SOS Kitchen Challenge key ingredient, and set out a true “kitchen challenge”: could anyone actually come up with a (tasty) sweet asparagus-based recipe? Well, I’m thrilled to report that several of you rose to the challenge quite admirably!
The asparagus recipes flowed in all month, with many arriving down to the wire. Here are some of the highlights (you can find links to all these recipes and more in the linky list below):
. . .and The Sweet! (kudos to all of you for these incredibly creative dishes):
All of your recipes look sensational!
Thanks to everyone who participated this past month. We were thrilled with every one of your 22 entries.
Kim and I are currently putting the finishing touches on the kickoff post for May. . . a favorite ingredient that is used frequently on both our blogs. And we’re certain that everyone, wherever you’re located, can participate equally this month! Stayed tuned for the annoucement in a day or two.
This month’s SOS (Sweet or Savory) Kitchen Challenge asked readers to whip up dishes with spinach, and wow, did you ever take on this challenge with gusto! We received a dozen fantastic, creative recipes to try that all highlight the super-healthy leafy green. And yes, a few desserts are included as well!
Thanks to everyone who entered the challenge this month. As always, if you’ve submitted a recipe and I forgot to include it here, please let me know asap so I can add it to the list.
Here’s what’s on the menu with spinach:
THE SAVORY CONTRIBUTIONS:
Our very first entry was from Janet at Taste Space (Toronto) –a colorful and delicious Quinoa and Butternut Squash Spinach Salad with Cranberry and Pear. Well, I think the title tells you everything you need to know–doesn’t that just sound delectable? This savory salad is also a bit sweet with the pear and cranberries. Suitable for gluten free, vegan, sugar free, egg free and dairy free diets.
Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes (Dundee, Scotland) offers up a great recipe for Spicy Spinach and Potato Curry adapted from a recipe she found in one huge tome of a cookbook. Her pics look great (and check out the gratuitious cuteness of her new baby, Cooper!) This recipe is suitable for gluten free, soy-free, vegan, and ACD diets (contains coconut milk).
Kiersten from Full of Beans (Charlotte, NC )’s vegan Coconut Curried Chickpeas and Spinach looks like the perfect quick weekday dinner. I love a good curry, and with chickpeas AND spinach, you can’t go wrong with this one! Vegan, soy-free, gluten free, ACD-friendly and otherwise nut-free.
A double savory whammy comes to us from Lisa of Vegan Cookbook Critic (Toronto). First up, Lisa created a quick and easy savory Avocado-Spinach Spread–just look at the deep emerald color of that dip!
She also “uncooked” some gorgeously green Spinach-Hemp Flatbreads on which to spread it. Unlike many other dehydrated flatbreads, these remain soft, perfect for sandwiches. These both are vegan, dairy free, gluten free, raw, and sugar free.
Mom at the Gluten-Free Edge (Georgetown, Texas) decided that her Spinach Mushroom Pie should undergo a vegan revamp for this month’s entry! This is her remake of a long-time favorite recipe, and it worked out beautifully. The recipe is gluten free and vegan.
Donna from Fab Frugal Food (Provo, Utah) turned to Thai inspiration for her Wilted Spinach Salad with Thai Peanut Vinaigrette. Using all natural peanut butter was the key to this delectable looking salad. It’s gluten free, vegan and sugar free.
Chaya from The Comfy Cook is back this month with a fabulous Oriental Rice Pizza. This savory dish is filled with veggies and is a snap to make with its rice-based crust. It’s gluten free, sugar free and dairy free.
Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe (Melbourne, Australia) offers a cheezy spinach-based soup this month with her Pumpkin, Bean and Spinach Soup. While the recipe itself looks delicious, half the fun of the recipe is Johanna’s recounting of the experimentation that led her to it. And doesn’t the concept of tofu croutons just sound fabulous?
Valerie of City Life Eats (Washington, DC) has created a Lemony Spinach Pepita Pesto. With a unique combination of ingredients, this pesto would be delicious on more than just pasta. It’s gluten free, vegan, nut free, sugar free and ACD-friendly.
Aubree Cherie, who blogs at Living Free (Kennett Square, PA), decided to move out of her usual spinach zone with these Almond Spinach Biscuits. A great savory biscuit with a hint of sweet (dried cranberries), these treats were gobbled up by her significant other in no time. Definitely a fun (and delicious) recipe. Gluten free, sugar free, vegan and ACD-friendly.
My event partner, Kim at Affairs of Living, cooked up a fabulous Creamy Spinach and Celeriac Soup for those days when you crave something rich and healthy at the same time. The recipe is vegan, gluten free, sugar free, ACD friendly, soy free and nut free.
My savory contribution this month is a Classic Tofu Quiche recipe that I’ve had for years but never thought to post. The millet crust helps to make it quick, easy, and delicious! It’s gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
THE SWEET CONTRIBUTIONS (Yes, even spinach has a sweet side!):
Rachel from My Munchable Musings (WA) treated us to two sweet recipes this month! First up are these Spring Picnic Cupcakes, her take on the classic Strawberry and Spinach Salad–in a sweet mini confection! She’s also included a great bit of additional history and nutritional information about spinach here. These are wheat free, sugar free and vegan.
Rachel also created these adorable Green Thumb Print Cookies, that are gluten free! I love how the strawberry sits perfectly in the thumb print–seriously yummy looking. These are gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
Kim’s second contribution this month is her Invisible Spinach Smoothie. While you may have enjoyed smoothies with spinach before, this quick and easy recipe contains another veggie that you might not expect. Vegan, ACD-friendly, gluten free.
Finally, my sweet contribution is this Green Monster Muffin. Based on the concept of green smoothies, these muffins offer up spinach in a slightly sweet, hearty breakfast baked good. I’ve used chopped apples, but you could add in raisins or even chocolate chips to the mix if you like. Vegan, sugar free, gluten free.
Thanks again to everyone who played along this month. Enjoy these recipes until next month, when Kim–our hostess for June’s Challenge–will announce the new SOS ingredient.
Last Year at this Time: The Ultimate Slow Food: Lupini Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil
Two Years Ago: When Cheesecake is Love (GF filling; spelt crust)
© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs
[Totally unrelated note: ever wonder how people find your blog? Well, ever since I wrote my post about our holiday in Florida, the number one search term that leads people to my blog is. . . "Alligators." Yes, indeedy: folks looking for reptilian, steel trap-jawed people-eaters are sent to. . . my blog. In droves. Well, hi there, Everglade adventurers! Howdy, outback croc-hunters! Welcome, designer shoe and handbag aficionados!]
By now, it’s probably evident that I’m a fan of spinach. Certainly, devoting an entire SOS Kitchen Challenge to the popular leafy green is one indication (and if you hurry, you can still participate: the deadline is May 20th!).
It was through my friend Sterlin that I first learned to love spinach. Even before I moved to Toronto myself, I was a frequent visitor to Sterlin’s place (her parents had pulled up stakes and made the trek from Montreal to Toronto long before I did). I loved visiting this “exotic” metropolis, where, with Sterlin as both tour guide and chauffeur, we’d scour the city for interesting restaurants, university-based events, or dance clubs (in those days, single undergraduates in search of a boyfriend, we still frequented dance clubs).
After a long evening of inane chatter, bopping in our blister-inducing heels and drinking too many beer (I never did acquire a taste for the brew), we’d drive back to Sterlin’s parents’ house, and, with the intense precision and focus of a neurosurgeon, unlock the door without making a sound, the way only truly inebriated twenty-somethings can. Once inside, we removed our shoes and tiptoed into the kitchen to raid the fridge, where, inevitably, we found. . . nothing. (Okay, not literally “nothing.” There was a half-eaten carton of cottage cheese and a few cans of Diet Coke). At this point, Sterlin would move to the freezer, where she’d withdraw one of 5 or 6 boxes of frozen spinach (the only item in there).
“Want a snack?” she’d whisper, brandishing the box in the air. “Mmm! Let’s have some spinach!”
“Spinach?” I’d counter, equally susurrating, ” As a snack??” I was accustomed to the cornucopia of home-baked chocolate chip cookies, chips, licorice, and other assorted junk foods in my own parents’ kitchen.
But snack on spinach we did. Sterlin loved the stuff so much that is was contagious, and I learned to love it, too. I can’t say I ever think of frozen spinach as a snack these days, but I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it. (Beer, on the other hand, still doesn’t tempt me).
The second spinach epiphany I experienced courtesy of Sterlin was the classic 1980′s spinach salad. You know the one: baby spinach leaves coated in creamy, nondescript dressing, topped with a generous toss of chopped hardcooked eggs and a sprinkling of crispy bacon bits. Back then, one of Toronto’s destination restaurants was a brand-new, ultra hip joint called Mr. Greenjeans (a current relative of the original place still exists, in a new location and without the flair or cachet of the original).
Their specialty was–get this–salad (rather ahead of their time, don’t you think?). And what made Mr. Greenjeans’ salads worth driving all the way downtown for? Why, their presentation: each portion of fresh greens was packed into a huge mason jar, perched atop a white plate the size of an hors d’oeuvre tray at a wedding. Once served, you had the choice of picking at the salad right from the jar (the cool way) or emptying it onto the plate (the loser way).
Like an early iteration of Sassafras (where the gliterati hang out during the Toronto Film Festival), Mr. Greenjeans attracted diners not really because of the food, but more because of the reputation for cool. After waiting in line for a table, we’d hope for a window seat, where we could see and be seen, scanning the sidewalk outside for celebrity sightings or people we might know. In those days, everyone who was anyone hung out at Mr. Greenjeans.
No wonder, then, that I thought of spinach as the first vegetable to include in a muffin when I first opened my organic bakery back in 2003. In my zeal to include healthy veggies–especially leafy greens–in my recipes (and to provide an incentive to kids to eat their veggies), I created the Sweet Harvest Muffin, boasting not one, not two, but three different vegetables, including spinach. Providing one full serving of vegetables in each muffin, the Sweet Harvest quickly became my best-selling product, and it was the first recipe I knew I’d include in Sweet Freedom.
With this month’s SOS Challenge devoted to spinach, I decided to create an ACD-friendly variation of that best-selling muffin as my “sweet” entry to the challenge. Based on the Green Monster smoothies that are ubiquitous on the internet, these contain both spinach and apple combined with carob and cinnamon, ingredients I often include in my own morning beverage.
While these Green Monsters aren’t quite as sweet as the original muffins (which contain both raisins and chocolate chips), they do still make a tasty breakfast on the go; in fact, they tasted good enough that the HH noted he’d be happy to take one along to the office for his morning coffee.
With the sepia carob masking its green, the spinach remains hidden in this muffin. You may not be getting quite the same quantity of spinach as you’d consume in an entire box of the frozen stuff, but you can feel good eating one of these babies for breakfast, knowing it provides a good sized hit toward your daily five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables.
This ACD-friendly adaptation also makes these muffins a perfect submission to Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.
And speaking of breakfast baking. . . I’ll be talking about breakfast (and other) baked goods from Sweet Freedom this Thursday morning on the Canadian version of Good Morning America, Canada AM! I am incredibly excited to share information about healthy eating with hosts Bev Thomson and Seamus O’Regan. So set your PVRs, video recorders, etc for Thursday, May 20, between 8:00 and 9:00 AM!
Green Monster Muffins (ACD Phase II and beyond)
These muffins are a great way to start the day with both some fruit and some vegetables. They’re sweet, but not overly so; and you won’t taste the spinach at all. (Promise).
2 small apples, about 6-6 1/2 ounces (170-185 g) each, washed and cored (I used Granny Smith)
3 ounces (85 g) fresh or frozen spinach (include the stems)
1/4 cup (60 ml) natural smooth almond butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or other light tasting oil, preferably organic
2 tsp (10 ml) chia seeds, finely ground after measuring
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tsp (5 ml) pure almond extract
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1-1/3 cups (320 ml) unsweetened soy or almond milk, plus up to 2 Tbsp (30 ml) more, if necessary
1/2 cup (60 g) carob powder*
1/2 cup (75 g) brown rice flour
1/2 cup (60 g) millet flour
1/4 cup (30 g) arrowroot powder
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum, optional (muffins will be slightly crumbly without it)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
Coarsely chop one of the apples and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Dice the other apple into very small pieces (about the size of blueberries) and place in a small bowl; set the second apple aside until later.
Add the spinach to the food processor, and process the mixture until almost smooth. Add the almond butter, oil, chia, vanilla, almond extract, vinegar and milk and process again until well blended. Add the reserved diced apple to the processor and mix it in by hand until all the pieces are coated, but don’t process again. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 3 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the carob powder, brown rice flour, millet flour, arrowroot powder, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, xanthan gum and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until just blended.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup (80 ml) measuring cup, scoop the batter into the muffin cups and bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until a tester inserted into a center muffin comes out clean. Cool five minutes in the pan before removing to a cooling rack. Cool completely before sampling; the spinach will be discernible in the warm muffins, but the taste disappears once they’re cool. Store, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator up to 4 days. May be frozen.
* you may use cocoa instead of carob, but cut back the quantity a bit (perhaps 2 Tbsp/30 ml) and add a bit more sweetener.
Last Year at this Time: Old Habits Die Hard: Mocha Cereal Cinnamon Muffins (non-ACD recipe)
Two Years Ago: Dolmades, Deconstructed (Mediterranean Rice Casserole)
© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs
I know; nothing is as awesome as George Clooney. (Well, at least according to George Clooney). But this is still one heck of a stud muffin, nonetheless! (*groan*).
So, are you ready for the Oscars?!
As I’ve been remarking on twitter, I’m not sure why I’m so geared up to watch the glitz-and-glamor, botox-and-restalyn, glistening parade of sartorial faux-pas yet again this year, considering (a) I’ve seen but one of the movies; (b) the hosts, while both appealing in their own ways, are really a generation removed from most of the viewing audience; (c) this year’s show, with its surfeit of charity-ops for camera-hungry celebs and its plethora of cause-specific ribbons, promises to offer a massive ego-massage positively onanistic in its over-the-top, only-as-they-can-do-it-in-Hollywood, self-indulgence.
But hey–I might see George Clooney! And Meryl will be there! And maybe even Oprah! And gowns! And a dance number! And Joan Rivers–!!
Oops, no Joan Rivers this year (at least, not in Toronto). Boo hoo! To me, her biting commentary and snarky asides were mostly what made watching the Oscars worthwhile (that, and the squirm-inducing speeches, of course). Well, at least I saw La Joan the other night at her live performance. (For those of you who asked, she was tremendous. Hilarious. Gut-splittingly funny. A force of nature, indeed! And the worst gutter mouth of anyone I’ve ever heard, regardless of age. Nice to know some things don’t change as you get older!)
I’ve always wanted to have one of those Oscar-night parties with friends, at which you all eat themed foods and drink themed alcoholic beverages. Instead, tonight I’ll be watching the show while continuing to work on my puzzle, with the HH gleefully adding his ascerbic commentary from the sidelines. Not a fan of the whole Hollywood-worship vibe, the HH would rather read a book on nuclear physics. For real.
Still, gotta give the guy credit for staying in the same room and keeping me company. And who says couples can’t have different interests? When we were first together, I might have wished that my honey and I would do everything together, but I’ve since realized it’s no fun, for instance, sitting in a movie theater watching The Notebook and bawling your eyes out while your partner silently mocks you for your melodrama. Much better to go with a girlfriend, and let her silently mock you.
And so, in the spirit of each doing her or his own thing, I bring you these Awesomeness Muffins, made especially for the HH to enjoy on his own. Since he’s not on the ACD, and since I would much rather he bring a homemade muffin than a Tim Horton’s muffin to work for breakfast each day, I was happy to do so. And they’ll make a great snack for the guy while he reads that physics text.
The recipe is adapted from the talented Kris Holechek’s 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes. The original muffins, called “Leslie’s Awesomeness Muffins” (see? some things really are better with your girlfriends) featured a combination of banana, dates, and nuts. I took the mix a step further–perhaps feeling a bit of the over-the-top Hollywood influence this weekend–and added butterscotch chips, which I sourced from a local supermarket and have been dying to use. The result was a moist, light muffin packed with a health-promoting punch and just a smidge of decadence. Somehow, I don’t think the Oscars will offer the same restraint this evening.
Awesomeness Muffins (ACD maintenance only)
adapted from 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes
Light, moist, and with very little added sweetener. You can certainly substitute chocolate for the butterscotch, but the butterscotch chips add a lovely aroma and richness to the muffins.
2 medium bananas, mashed (about 1 cup/240 ml)
1/2 cup (120 ml) plain or vanilla soy, almond or hemp milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
2 Tbsp (30 ml) blackstrap molasses
2 Tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1 cup (100 g) old-fashioned whole rolled oats (not instant)
2/3 cup (95 g) chopped dried dates
1/3 cup (65 g) dairy-free butterscotch or chocolate chips
1/2 cup (55 g) walnut pieces, lightly toasted
1 cup (140 g) light spelt flour
1/3 cup (45 g) whole spelt flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the bananas, soymilk, oil, molasses, maple syrup and apple cider vinegar; stir until well mixed. Add the oats, dates, chips and nuts and stir to coat. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the light spelt flour, whole spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined. Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup (60 ml) measure, scoop the batter into the prepared tins, dividing evenly. Bake in preheated oven 15-20 minutes, until a tester inserted in a center muffin comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before turning onto a rack to cool completely. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Grain Free Lemony Almond Pancakes
Two Years Ago: Week at Warp Speed and Easy Dinner (Lentil-Tomato Spaghetti Sauce and Avocado Pesto Salad Dressing)
[Thanks to everyone who purchased a copy of my new cookbook! And if you’ve been waiting for the book to be listed on amazon.com, it’s now there! Just click on the book image at left to see the three ways to buy.}
Anyone who’s ever successfully trained dogs knows that the key to success–more than anything else–is consistency. Dogs like things to be the same each time they occur. They like predictability. So when you say, “sit,” you must always ensure that they sit. When you say, “come!” you must ensure that they run toward you each and every time. When you set 5:00 PM as their feeding time, you’d damn well better feed them at 5:00 PM. And so on.
Why is this so? Because dogs are creatures of habit. Left to their own devices, they will repeat the same actions over and over (I mean, really, shouldn’t they already know what that hydrant smells like after the first 438 sniffs?). I recognize this canine quality every day at precisely 4:43 PM, when Elsie pads soundlessly across the office to barely graze my knee with her wet, leathery nose and remind me that dinner should be on its way in, oh, about 17 minutes. Or in the way Chaser tucks her head under the overhang of our bed’s comforter every evening before turning in for the night. Or in the way both Girls park themselves by the front door, pining, each weekday evening as they wait for the HH to arrive home from work.
Even though he’s fond of telling me I have “dog-like qualities,” it’s really the HH who is more the creature of habit in our relationship. I liken myself more to Jerry’s character in Seinfeld, the one who had a library of cold breakfast cereals lining his kitchen shelf because he peferred a varied selection. The HH, on the other hand, eats exactly the same thing for breakfast each day, following a very precise, very consistent morning ritual:
7:00 AM: Slam clock radio alarm with palm. Lower palm to side of bed and pat Chaser’s head. Heave self out of bed. Don “dog-walking pants” and sneakers. Take The Girls for their AM romp and morning ablutions.
7:40 AM: Shower and shave. Forget to wipe the counter, leaving soapy pools of water clinging to all of Ricki’s cosmetic bottles. Reach into closet and grab the next clean shirt and next clean pair of pants (no matter if they don’t happen to match) and dress for work. Slip into shoes, left one first, then right one and tie up laces.
8:15 AM: grab a paper bag from under the sink and a banana from the bowl on the counter. Head to the fridge to fill the sack with other foods to enjoy later with that first deskbound coffee. Pull out one green apple from the crisper drawer; then move to the door to select a home baked muffin from the unending stash on the shelf–
WHOAH! WAIT A SECOND HERE!
Suddenly, these days, there is no more stash of home-made, freshly baked breakfast goods. Crisis!
You see, for the past 12 years or so, the HH has cohabited with a baker. This means that he never had to think about his breakfast baked good; he was greeted each morning with a seemingly endless array of homemade, healthy treats from which to choose, courtesy of yours truly. In the past year alone, as I was testing and re-testing recipes for the cookbook, those baked goods seemed to multiply of their own accord like happy little Tribbles, and the HH was often faced with an embarrassment of riches. It could be a tough choice for the guy, between a Sweet Harvest Muffin, Lemon Blueberry Scone, Maple-Millet Muffin, PB & G Muffin, or even some Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake.
But recently, I haven’t been baking much. No, scratch that; I haven’t been baking at all. Adhering to the draconian restrictions desperate measures stringent dictates of the ACD has made me shun anything sugary. Forfeit anything floury. Eschew chocolate. And–for a while, anyway–ban baking.
Pity the poor HH.
Not only has he lost his endless stock of breakfast muffins, he’s also been forced to eat the red apples from our weekly organic box (since I’m off fruit) instead of his usual green ones. I mean, really, how much can the poor guy take?
Feeling sorry for the guy, I decided to bake up some new muffins for his morning meal. Well, turns out I’m more a creature of habit than I realized–where baking is concerned, at least. Bake I must! I decided to accept the fact: Baking is my calling. Baking is in my blood! Baking is my destiny! I. Love. Baking. Oh, and I also had a bunch of old ingredients in the cupboard I had to use up.
I spied a box of Cinnamon Puffins languishing at the back of the shelf , like the lone wallflower hoping against hope for a dance at the prom. I’d bought them before starting the ACD, mostly because I’d read about them so many times on VeggieGirl’s blog and was dying to try them. And while I would have been happy to finish the box myself, I’m not allowed cereal on this diet; and the HH wasn’t fussy about them. What to do?
Bake ‘em into muffins, that’s what! I thought I’d replace some of the usual flour with ground-up cereal for an extra hit of both grains and flavor. Playing with proportions and one of my favorite flavor combinations, I came up with this version of Mocha Cinnamon Cereal Muffins. And this way, you don’t have to choose between cereal and a muffin–you get both in one!
The result was an incredibly moist, fragrant muffin. The cereal added textural interest and a density that suits these miniature quick breads perfectly. Unlike most of my breakfast baking, these gems contain neither fruit nor vegetable, attaining their moistness from the mixture of cereal and ground chia. With just a hint of coffee and whisper of cinnamon, they would be perfect topped with some almond butter or even buttery spread.
It felt great to get back to baking, even if I can’t enjoy the fruits of my labor (well, in this case, the cinnamon-coffee of my labor) just yet. As for the HH, he seems much more comfortable now that his morning ritual has returned to normal.
“Mum, it’s great that you’ve got back to your old baking habit! But how about that letting-us-lick-the-spoon habit? Can you please get back to that one, too–??”
Mocha Cinnamon Cereal Muffins
I bet these would work well with any cinnamon-flavored breakfast cereal, or any cereal of your choice (just be aware that the cereal will confer some of its own flavor to the final product).
2 cups (480 ml) cinnamon flavored cold cereal, dry (I used Cinnamon Puffins)
1 tsp (5 ml) finely ground chia seeds or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely ground flax seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) instant coffee substitute, or 1 Tbsp (15 ml) instant coffee
1/4 cup (60 ml) light agave nectar
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) plain or vanilla soy or almond milk
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup (80 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup (105 g) light spelt flour
1/2 cup (60 g) barley flour (may substitute more spelt)
1 Tbsp (30 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2. 5 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
2/3 cup (65 g) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat oven to 350F (180 C). Line 10 muffin cups with paper liners for small muffins, or 8 cups for larger muffins; or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor,whir the cereal until it has crumbled to a fine meal. There should be no large pieces of cereal visible. You should have about 1 cup (240 ml) of cereal-meal.
To the processor bowl, add the chia seeds, coffee substitute, agave, milk, vanilla, oil and apple cider vinegar. Whir to combine. (Note: if you use flax instead of chia, the muffins may be a teeny bit dryer–but still delicious!).
Add the spelt flour, barley flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and sea salt, and process again until blended, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary. You should have a fairly thick batter. Sprinkle with the pecans and stir them in by hand, but do not process again.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup (80 ml) measuring cup, fill the muffin cups, dividing the batter evenly.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan once about halfway through, until a tester inserted in a center muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. Makes 8-10 muffins. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers
© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs
[That's our little Vanilla, in the middle]
So, I heard somewhere that it’s hockey season now. Oh, don’t look so surprised: despite having been raised in Montreal (a hockey town if ever there was one), I am indifferent to the sticks-and-pucks revelry. Personally, I’d rather read about the latest face-off between, say, brownies and blondies than between the Habs and the Flyers.
In fact, I can’t say that I’m too interested in any team sports–or, come to think of it, any sports at all. Is it any wonder? Perpetually the “anchor” in tug-of-war; too uncoordinated to hit a baseball with a screen door; lacking even the modicum of balance necessary for hockey (though I did go skating, once, when I was about 15, soley to impress a guy I had a crush on. Oh, I made a lasting impression, all right–somewhere on the upper right thigh, just where my skate sliced through the flesh, if memory serves.)
This is not to imply that I don’t enjoy a good competition with myself every now and again, in a constant effort to improve on my own “personal best.” (And speaking of competitions, I’ve just gotta say it: time to wave goodbye to Jason Castro, don’t you think?). I’m forever asking questions like, “Can I increase my speed on the treadmill this week?” “Can I accomplish a bicep curl with a 15-pound weight?” “Can I use up every single veggie from our weekly organic box?” “Can I manage to sweep my kitchen floor every day three times a week monthly before the dust bunnies take up permanent residence on the living room couch?”–and so on.
(“You know, Mum, we’d be happy to chase those bunnies for you. And while we’re on the subject, why are they allowed on the couch when we’re not?”)
As far as I’m concerned, a little healthy competition in the kitchen can only be a good thing. In order to improve a recipe-in-progress, I might tinker with it 10 or a dozen times to get it right, often in a single day (why, yes, it’s true: I don’t have anything better to do!). Is the muffin better with agave or maple syrup?–let’s bake a new batch and find out! Should I use barley flour or oat in the apple bars?–only another round of baking will tell! Can the cashew cookies stand up to cardamom, or would ginger be better?–let’s test ‘em out and see!
This somewhat peculiar proclivity in the kitchen was the impetus behind a strange experiment last week, one I conducted after receiving my copy of Carole Walter’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, in the mail. As some of you may recall, my recipe for Maple-Walnut cookies won the book in a recent Cookthink Root Source Challenge for recipes based on maple syrup. (Hmm. Yes, I suppose that made me “competitive,” though of course not in the athletic sense.)
As soon as I ripped open the package, I was charmed by the clean, clear layout, the stunning full-color photographs and the innovative, precisely written recipes (200 of them!). And even though it’s filled with traditional recipes with conventional ingredients (think eggs, milk, butter, etc.), the book focuses on homey, classic treats, which are fairly easily adaptable to NAG principles.
Virtually everything in the book appealed to me, from the Vanilla Bean Poundcake to the Irish Whiskey Cake to the Apricot and Dried Pineapple Muffins to the Fig and Walnut Loaf. Lest you think the book is partial to goodies baked in pans, Walter also includes recipes for cookies, bars, biscuits, strudel, danish, buns and braids–plus many more treats shaped by hand.
My gaze lit upon a recipe called “Favorite Vanilla Muffins.” Vanilla muffins? Sure, I’d sampled many a vanilla cake in my time, but never a vanilla muffin. With its denser, moister texture, might a muffin be a better foundation to showcase the fragrant, floral tones of pure vanilla extract? A competition was in order!
I thought about the differences between the two. Like the Olson twins (though of course, in this case, actually connected to food), muffins and cupcakes are the same, but different. Both are single-serving renditions of a larger baked good (loaf or cake); both sport domed tops, flat bottoms and angled sides often encased in frilly paper liners. To muddy the batters even further, both may (but are not required to) contain chopped fruits, nuts, or chocolate.
A few Googled pages later, I discovered that the cupcake versus muffin debate was already in full swing among bloggers and other writers (two good sources are recipezaar’s concise take on the issue, and the more detailed viewpoint on Curious Foodie’s blog).
How, I wondered, would that Favorite Vanilla Muffin stand up against its cakey counterpart? I decided to bake one of each (both using my adaptations of Walter’s recipes) and compare the results. Granted, my creations (no matter how delectable) would never be exactly as Walter intended; but I was okay with that. I chose a Classic Sour Cream Cinnamon and Nut Coffee Cake (without the cinnamon/nut filling) for my cupcake, mostly because, like the muffin recipe, it called for sour cream (and I needed to use up the tofu-based batch I’d be concocting). That would leave me with one vanilla; two vanilla (any more than that and we’d have the unfortunate Milli Vanilla).
[Coffeecake cupcake--with its intended filling. Get a load of that cinnamon-pecan swirl!]
Which won the competition? As expected, the muffins were heavier and denser. In fact, apart from the shape, they were a different animal entirely. For some reason, in these particular muffins, the vanilla essence proclaimed its presence assertively, even before you bit into the soft, moist interior; the sweet, floral aroma fairly radiates. And even though I knew my “sour cream” was soy-based, there was an incredible richness to these muffins that rendered them filling and satisfying; no need for fruit or fillers.
The cupcakes, for their part, were equally delectable. Undisputably more delicate with a tender crumb, the cakes were lighter both in texture and color. The vanilla essence here was definitely noticeable as well, though in a more understated fashion. Like pitting Ella against Diana singing Cole Porter classics: each transformed the outcome into something unique and exceptional, though clearly hailing from the same original concept.
So, in the end, it was a tie. Two winners–two delicious baked goods to eat. Everybody wins!
Since the recipes highlight vanilla, I thought this would be a perfect entry for the Master Baker Challenge, hosted by Master Baker.
Vanilla Muffins and Cinnamon-Pecan Cupcakes (inspired by recipes in Carole Walter’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More)
[Left to Right: Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcake; Vanilla Muffin; Vanilla Muffin with Cashew-Cardamom variation]
For the “Sour Cream” (makes enough for one batch of each, muffins and cupcakes):
12 oz. (350 g.) firm silken tofu, such as Mori-Nu
2 tsp. (10 ml.) agave nectar
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) lemon juice
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) smooth cashew butter
Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender, until perfectly smooth.
For the Vanilla Muffins:
1/2 cup (125 ml.) “sour cream” (half the batch)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) coconut butter, melted
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (150 ml.) agave nectar
2 tsp. (10 ml.) Salba (ground chia seeds)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups (220 g.) light spelt flour
1 tsp. (5 ml.) baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line 9 muffin cups with paper liners for large muffins, or 12 cups for smaller muffins, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the sour cream and melted coconut butter; whisk until well incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla, agave nectar, salba and vinegar and set aside.
In a larger bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until well moistened (don’t worry if there are a few small dry spots here and there).
Using a scoop or large spoon, fill cups 3/4 full for larger muffins or 2/3 full for smaller muffins. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool five minutes in pan before removing to cooling rack. These freeze well.
Cashew-Cardamom variation: Mix together 1/2 cup (125 ml.) chopped cashews with 2 Tbsp. (15 ml.) Sucanat and 1/4 tsp. (2 ml.) cardamom. When ready to scoop the muffins, fill each cup halfway. Top with a spoonful of the cashew mixture and cover with another spoon of batter. Bake as above.
For the Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcakes:
1/2 cup (125 ml.) “sour cream” (half of the batch)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) sunflower or other light-tasting oil
1/2 cup (125 ml.) pure maple syrup
1 tsp. (5 ml.) Salba (ground chia seeds)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup (140 g.) light spelt flour
1 tsp. (5 ml.) baking powder
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) baking soda
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) sea salt
Optional Cinnamon-Nut Filling:
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) Sucanat
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Line 6 muffin cups with paper liners for large cupcakes, or 8 cups for smaller cupcakes, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the sour cream, oil, maple syrup, Salba, water, and vanilla until well mixed. Set aside.
In a larger bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and whisk until well combined.
Fill each muffin cup about half full. Top with about 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) of the nut filling, then cover with more batter. You can draw a knife through the mixture once if you like to create a little swirl inside (but not more than once, or the filling will become too blended with the batter).
Bake the cupcakes in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until the tops are golden and a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool 5 minute before removing to a cooling rack. These freeze well.
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this second entry, I'm focusing on Quinoa. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]
Well. So. It snowed again yesterday. Actually, it stormed; we got about 5 cm. (2 inches) to add to the–what? 478 cm? 792 cm? 14 kilometers?–pre-existing snow already piled in mini-glaciers beside every driveway, walkway, sidewalk, and garage. And there I was, once again stuck in the house, avoiding the pelting flakes and ice pellets.
I imagine this is what it feels like to live in perma-frost, constantly surrounded by the white stuff with no end in sight. I feel exactly like Captain Robert Scott must have felt on one of his forays to the South Pole, holed up with his companions in his ice-shack as refuge against the elements. Just as he did in his famous diary, I could easily write an entry something like this:
Bitter storms accosted the crew today, forcing the team to head indoors. We huddle by the makeshift fire and attempt to warm our weary, frostbitten hands. Thrashing winds surround us at every turn. All but forsaken in this frigid terrain, we have but each other and the dogs for company. Poor mongrels, even they refuse to venture outdoors in this accursed weather. But tomorrow, if the winds permit, we shall harness them up and commence the hazardous trek anew. . . .
Okay, well, not exactly like Scott, as I’m actually writing on a computer, not by hand with pen and ink on paper in sub-zero weather. Oh, and I’m in a heated brick house in a modern city of 5 million people, not an ice shack. Oh, with electricity. And some organic, vegan spelt cranberry-pumpkin scones and a hot cup of mint tea beside me. And I’m not a couple thousand kilometers from the nearest sign of civilization.
But other than that, just like him.
What this blasted weather stirs up in me (besides the propensity to write like a 19th Century Antarctic explorer) is a longing for breakfast foods. Since my dad worked at his store 6 days a week, he was out of the house by 6:30 AM on Saturday mornings. During the winter, The CFO and I would fend for ourselves at breakfast and let our mom sleep in (once she returned to bed after making breakfast for our father).
Our self-sufficiency wasn’t exactly the most healthful (I seem to recall feasting on saltines, peanut butter, and chocolate milk as we watched Saturday-morning cartoons), but it was comfort food to us. These days, any breakfast fare spells comfort to me; when it’s cold outside, I want to eat pancakes, muffins, scones, omelettes, or even baked oats.
Well, these quinoa muffins, adapted from a recipe in Veganomicon, fit the bill perfectly. Hearty yet slightly sweet, filling yet not too heavy, they are satisfying and sufficient to warm the spirit and the belly. And full of nourishment for energy to brave the elements again, when you’re finally ready to lace up the sled dogs and hit the expedition once more.
(“Um, Mum, you’re not actually thinking of hooking us up to a sled, are you? Because, you know, it’s pretty cold out there, and our paws are rather delicate. . . we really hate getting them all full of ice and snow if we don’t absolutely have to.”)
Adapted from Veganomicon
I adapted these by using spelt flour and chopped dates, since I had no apricots on hand. These are dense and pleasantly chewy; the quinoa does make its presence known, however, so beware that you will taste it in the mix. I think these would be outstanding with the suggested apricots as well.
1 cup vanilla soymilk
1 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds
1/4 cup sunflower or other light-tasting oil
1/4 cup agave nectar or pure maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup light spelt flour
1/3 cup whole barley flour
1/4 cup almond meal or almond flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1-1/4 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 cup finely chopped dates
Preheat the oven to 350F (180 C) and lightly grease 12 muffins cups, or line with paper liners.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the soymilk and flax; allow to sit for one minute, then whisk in the oil, agave, and vanilla.
In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until just incorporated. Gently fold in the cooked quinoa and the apricots and mix until only the large lumps are gone.
Pour into the prepared muffins tins, filling about 3/4 full, and bake for 20 to 22 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. May be frozen.
Other Posts in this Series:
Lucky Comestible II (1): Quinoa Salad with Buckwheat and Cranberries
Lucky Comestible II (3): Quinoa-Oatmeal Croquettes
Lucky Comestible II (4): Tagine of Quinoa with Chickpeas, Olives and Prunes
Lucky Comestible II (5): Apple Quinoa Cake
Other Quinoa Recipes:
(Got a quinoa recipe? Send me the link during this Lucky Comestible week, and I’ll add it to the list!)
[I thought it would be fun to start a little series over here at DDD: the series will profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this first entry, I'll be focusing on Sweet Potatoes. The series will be presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]
Let’s just say that my mother was not an overly adventurous cook. She habitually repeated the same six or seven dishes over and over, with the occasional new recipe from Family Circle, my aunt, or someone in her Mah Jong group thrown in on occasion. So we were treated to salmon patties and potato boats (called “twice-baked potatoes” these days), hamburgers with mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, or tuna salad over cucumber, tomato, and iceberg lettuce on a rotating basis.
Fresh fish? Forget it. Artichokes? Don’t make me gag. Fresh herbs? Bah! Who needs ‘em?! (Once, when I was visiting during March break, in a moment of temporary insanity I wondered aloud if we might purchase some dried oregano for the pantry. It was as if I’d taken a cup of steaming clam chowder and poured it over her bare feet. Actually, no. Clam chowder was too exotic for our house.)
So. When I finally discovered the beauty and gustatory appeal of sweet potatoes at a visit to a restaurant here in Toronto, it was truly a revelation. Allen’s (known primarily for its extensive selection of specialty scotches, come to think of it–how odd! What on earth was I doing there??) to this day still serves up a killer dish of sweet potato fries with mayonnaise. In my mother’s house, on the other hand, those off-color interlopers had never once been allowed to sully our doorstep (don’t forget, this was the woman whose entire repertoire of herbs and spices consisted of onion powder, paprika, and dill).
It wasn’t until years later that I finally began to cook the sweet spuds myself, and my next encounter with sweet potatoes, unfortunately, wasn’t all that auspicious. I had just been put on a very restricted diet by my naturopath and was feeling pretty resentful of all this crunchy-granola, health-foodie, good-for-you-five-to-ten-a-day foods. Sweet potatoes? Well, if I couldn’t have them after they’d been immersed in a vat of 400-degree, week-old restaurant fat for 20 minutes or so, then I didn’t want them at all! Besides, weren’t they only appealing to commune-living, hemp-smoking hippies (or–gasp!–Southerners)? I’d never actually tasted one without the benefit of hydrogenated enhancements (though I did suspect I’d enjoy Sweet Potato Pie, what with all the sugar, eggs, and cream they added to it).
Turns out sweet potatoes were my savior. During a period when I could eat NO sweeteners or fruits of any kind, sweet potatoes quickly became my favorite sweet treat. I ate them for breakfast (baked, with a dollop of almond butter–delicious–much better than they look in this photo!–seriously), lunch (raw, sliced, as a base for raw almond pate), or dinner (heavenly, spiced sweet potato “fries,” which were really baked). Later on, once I was allowed to broaden my diet, I began to experiment with sweet potatoes in baking, and created recipes for sweet potato muffins, mini loaves, pudding, pie, and several other sweet treats.
Besides being high in fibre, vitamin A (as beta carotene) and other minerals, sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E and iron, and even contain a contribution of protein. According to Paul Pitchford in his phenomenal tome, Healing with Whole Foods, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses sweet potatoes for their cooling nature and to promote chi energy in the body; they are also useful to enhance functioning of the spleen and pancreas. And because they’re a source of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen), sweet potatoes can help mitigate those pesky symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. In addition, they are also alkalizing in the body, which is great if you tend to drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of sugar, or prefer to discourage the growth of cancer cells in your body.
Best of all, sweet potatoes are low on the gylcemic index (the measurement of how food influences your blood sugar levels), registering at 54 (surprisingly, lower than white potatoes, with a score of 88-93), so they are a great food for type II diabetics or plumpers like me. And when baked, their natural sugars caramelize, producing the most ambrosial sweetness.
Though most North Americans consider the more orange-fleshed, moister vegetables to be yams, they are, in fact, just another type of sweet potato alongside the lighter-fleshed, dryer ones. (According to PCC Natural Markets, “true yams, which are which are grown in the tropics, are almost ivory in color, and are more starchy than sweet”).
Sweet potatoes have become a true staple in our home, and are definitely at the top of my list of favorite vegetables. With that in mind, I thought this would also be a good entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, the terrific event originated by Kalyn’s Kitchen and this week hosted by Anna at Anna’s Cool Finds.
Mini Sweet Potato and Chocolate Chip Muffins
I’ve previously posted another of my favorite sweet potato-based recipes, the Thanksgiving-themed Sweet Potato and Carrot Casserole. Today’s contribution is a mini-muffin using the sweet spud, as well as a sprinkling of chocolate chips. These are a great snack when baked as minis; you can also double the recipe and make a dozen regular-sized muffins.
1/2 cup Sucanat (unrefined evaporated cane juice)
1/3 cup sunflower oil or other light-tasting oil
2 tsp. finely ground flax seeds or flax meal
2 Tbsp. plain soy or rice milk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup pureed sweet potato (it should have the consistency of very watery mashed potatoes)
1 cup light spelt flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup dairy-free semisweet chocolate chips (minis are nice)
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Spray 18 mini muffin tins with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, mix together the Sucanat, oil, flax, milk, vanilla and sweet potato. Allow to sit while you mix the dry ingredients, or for at least 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, spices, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to mix. Gently stir in the chocolate chips.
Using a small scoop or tablespoon, fill the muffin tins about 3/4 full. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely and remove from tins. Makes about 18 mini muffins.
Subsequent posts in this series:
Lucky Comestible I (2): Sweet Potato “Fries” Three Ways and Miso Gravy
Lucky Comestible I (3): Sweet-Potato Cranberry Scones
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]
Today was an odd day, as I had to return to the old place to meet the cleaners for their final go-through. Standing around as they swept, wiped, polished and mopped made me feel nostalgic for the past, yet kind of weird at the same time, being in the near-empty (except for us) space once again. My H.H. and I actually still have lots more to do, what with closets full of our paintings, several boxes of records (yes, as in “record albums”) in the basement, assorted and sundry nails, screws, and picture hooks on the walls, and one spot, near the bottom of the front door’s moulding, where the Poo Poo Girl chewed a teeny spot out when she was about six months old and teething (C. will be painting it over this weekend).
I truly can’t believe how much effort, money, time, money, and money we’ve sunk into that place, given that (a) we don’t own it; (b) we were excellent tenants for over six years and took really good care of the place while we were there; and (c) we don’t actually live there any more! But after the summer fiasco in which the hellish landlady freaked when the air conditioner broke (not our fault, I promise), I decided I’m going to try to ensure that she has nothing to complain about once we’re gone (officially, on November 29th, even though we actually moved out on the 12th). So sad to think that this is how our generally happy six years of living there will end.
Despite the rather disheartening morning working in the empty house, I agreed to bake up a batch of muffins for a customer today, so came home after my walk with The Girls and set to work. The order was for my favorite, the Sweet Harvest Muffin, which supplies each lucky eater with a full serving of vegetables in each muffin. (No, I am not trying to bask in reflected glory of Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld and her mega-selling debut cookbook; I, like many others out there, have been baking goodies with disguised spinach in them for many years now).
Before I knew it, I was totally engrossed in the task at hand, measuring, pouring, stirring and scooping; and ended up with two dozen lovelies that will be wrapped and sent on their merry way tomorrow. As always, baking lifted my spirits and distracted me from an otherwise sour mood. And now I can say I’ve had at least 1/2 a vegetable serving today (managed to stop myself after taste-testing the first half). (“And we appreciated being able to taste-test that other half, Mum!”)
After a rollicking time last evening (it was my Human Honey’s birthday, so we splurged ridiculously at one of our very favorite restaurants), I woke up, late, this morning and decided that it was time to return to the pleasures of baking. After all, I haven’t baked anything in seven whole days! Can it be only seven days since we left the old place??
The first challenge to address was “what to bake?” Then it hit me that I’m scheduled to teach a cooking class on Tuesday, and desperately needed to re-test one of the recipes I’d dashed off so cavalierly before the move. With the class looming, I figured it best to try out the recipe before sending it in print to the cooking class coordinator. Besides, I had all the ingredients on hand, I was sure I could locate all the necessary equipment, and–most important of all–I was really hungry for something real, something freshly baked, something–well, something not chocolate.
The perfect recipe? My old standard, Orange-Oatmeal Muffins.
This recipe is one of the very first I ever created with alternative-to-wheat flours, and it remains one of our favorites here in the house. (“Yes, we love it, too, Mum!”) I’ve given it out to scores of friends, acquaintances, and cooking class participants, and everyone has been amazed at how simple the recipe is to prepare, how moist and dense the texture, and how generally yummy the result.
When I was first told not to eat wheat, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I’ve since learned that spelt (especially light spelt) flour is more or less a one-for-one replacement for wheat, and we have come to prefer its subtle, slightly nutty, slightly sweeter taste. (Once, when I was baking “regular” vegan muffins–ie, choc full o’ sugar, white flour, and margarine–for a vegetarian restaurant, my H.H. and I felt the need to taste-test them to ensure they’d come out right before I dropped them off at the restaurant. But by then, we’d been eating spelt- and kamut-based baked goods for three or four years already. We took one bite of the pallid, unremarkable little quick bread and immediatley spat it out. “It has no flavor!” we cried, and “this tastes like styrofoam!” we exclaimed. (Though how we’d recognize the taste of styrofoam, I have no idea.) We’d become so accustomed to eating food that has real depth, real substance, real nutritional value, that the old, conventional baked goods tasted sickly and bland to us.) Nowadays, I think of spelt as a fraternal twin, rather than a distant cousin, of wheat.
When experimenting with muffin recipes back then, I wanted to create something with only natural sweeteners, preferably fruit-based, both for the vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant properties, as well as for the fiber and stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels compared to refined sweeteners. I opted for a bit of maple syrup (for its intense sweetness) paired with blackstrap molasses (for the incredible nutritional punch, the calcium, iron, and other trace minerals). Back then, flush with my newfound natural-nutritionist zeal, I was determined to include as many whole grains as possible in each recipe, so threw in three.
While considering which fruits to include, I was struck by a childhood memory of a strange habit my mother had had. On afternoons when she wasn’t working, after setting up whatever dishes she’d be preparing for dinner, she’d retire to her bedroom (where the only TV in our house was located), tote along a fresh orange, and sit watching her soap opera while she munched on it. What made her practice unusual (besides sitting on the edge of a bed to watch TV at 2:00 PM) was the way she consumed the fruit: she’d wash the orange, then bite into it the way one usually tackles a fresh apple–chomping straight through it, skin and all. The juice would squirt, the flesh would fly a little, and she’d chew with a slightly squishy, slightly crunchy sound as she slurped, munched, and spat out the seeds onto a paper towel (we never seemed to have paper napkins in our house).
I thought about my mother’s odd approach to oranges as I set about creating this recipe. Why couldn’t I include the whole orange here, too, skin and all? After all, much of the best nutritional value in the orange actually resides in the skin and pith, the slightly bitter white lining just under the orange peel. Antioxidants, bioflavonoids, cholesterol-lowering properties–I could include all of these. I decided to give it a try, guessing that the combination of sweeteners and slight bitterness from the full orange would complement each other beautifully. I was right!
Similarly, the combination of spelt and kamut allows a mix of hard and soft flours for a solid, but not too heavy, texture, and the oats provide a bit of chewiness and dimension.
These are definitely not conventional muffins. They’re low in fat, full in flavor, dense, and very moist. You’ll find little flecks of orange peel and date scattered throughout. I love these muffins for breakfast, warm with a little almond butter. You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.
Wheat-Free Orange Oatmeal Muffins
1 whole medium organic orange, washed, dried, and cut in eighths (remove any pits)
1/2 cup chopped dried pitted dates (they should be soft)
1 Tbsp. finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil or organic sunflower oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup plain organic soy milk or almond milk
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup whole kamut flour
2-1/2 tsp. non-aluminum baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup old-fashioned whole oats (not instant)
Preheat oven to 375F. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners for small muffins or 9 liners for large muffins, or spray with nonstick coating.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the orange segments until almost smooth. Add the dates and process almost to a smooth puree (you can leave a few small flecks of date and/or orange). Add the flax, oil, maple syrup, molasses, and soy milk and process again just to blend. Set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Add the oats and stir to mix.
Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture in the bowl and stir just to mix. (It will seem too wet for a regular muffin batter; this is as it should be.)
Using a scoop or large spoon, fill the muffin tins 2/3 full for smaller muffins or 3/4 full for larger muffins. Bake in prepared oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once about halfway through. Cool about 10 minutes before removing to a rack. These taste even better the next day, as flavors meld. These muffins freeze beautifully.
Please do let me know how you like these if you try them.
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]