Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Spelt Blueberry Muffins

I was going to call these "Almost Vegan Blueberry Muffins" but I didn't want to scare anyone off. For some reason, the word vegan, like the word tofu, can be scary to some. But actually there are lots of baked goods that are awesomely delicious and just happen to be missing eggs and dairy.

The recipe I use here comes from Erin McKenna's Babycakes cookbook. It's a book of vegan recipes for cookies, cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, pies, etc. (thanks again, Jackie). My variation isn't completely vegan since I use cow's milk instead of the rice milk called for in the original. Some day I'm going to experiment and try the different kinds of non-dairy milks out there -- rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk.

I think these are the best-tasting blueberry muffins I've tried. Spelt flour has become a favorite ingredient of mine in baking; it makes for very tender results. Wheat flour used to be unfamiliar territory, but with so many different variations now readily available -- white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, spelt flour (there's white spelt also), etc. -- plain old all-purpose flour is no longer very appealing to me in a lot of cases.

A simple one-bowl process (i.e., easy cleanup): 

Add the blueberries and then divide among the muffin cups:  

 After 22 minutes of baking:

 Soft, moist, and very blueberry-ie:

This makes 10 smallish muffins. I based it on half the original recipe. Feel free to double it for 12 large muffins. (What I call large is probably most people's normal-sized; I like food in small portions since it makes it easier for sampling and also helps with not overindulging.)
Spelt Blueberry Muffins
(adapted from Erin McKenna's Babycakes)
1 1/8 cups spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted*
1/3 cup agave
1/3 cup milk
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberries

Melt the coconut oil (stovetop, low heat), then set aside to cool a bit.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper liners.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Add the oil, agave, milk, and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. Fold in the blueberries.
Divide the mixture among the lined cups (10 smallish-portioned cups). Bake for 22  minutes, rotating the pan after 15 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean.
Let them cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then onto a wire rack until completely cooled. Store in airtight container at room temperature.
* I use unrefined, extra virgin, unprocessed coconut oil

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Bars

This will be a quickie post, like the recipe to follow. After struggling with some technical i-difficulties (i as in iPhone, as in my camera; what does the i stand for anyway?!?), I'm ready to get this post posted already. Thanks go to my in-house technology guru/expert who is always there for me, no matter how much I moan about unintuitive technology.

Just 4 main ingredients:

Mixed together in a bowl (after first melting the coconut oil):

"Whip it good":

And poured into a mold of some sort:

The last step is putting it into the freezer to set for a couple of hours. And, voila, homemade chocolate bars!

In these photos, I was making half the recipe below which produced six
2 1/4" x 2 1/4" squares (and about 1/4" thick). I used a dessert pan I happen to have. I've also made the full recipe and used a regular loaf pan to make one large bar.

Homemade Chocolate Bars
(from bittersweetblog.com)

1/2 cup coconut oil, melted*
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup agave
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Melt the coconut oil, then whisk  together all of the ingredients until completely smooth (the cocoa powder will clump, just keep whisking and stirring). Pour into a lightly greased mold (a loaf pan works fine) and put it into the freezer to set (at least 2 hours).

It's best to store the bars in the refrigerator or freezer.

* I use unrefined, extra virgin, unprocessed coconut oil.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fruit & Nut Butter Granola Bars

After trying a number of different granola bar recipes I finally figured out that you can either bake it or refrigerate it, that you can usually leave a lot of the sugar out (the dried fruit makes it plenty sweet), and that you can use whatever you like for the dry framework and for the wet "glue" to hold it all together.

Since the oats/nuts/seeds are usually toasted first regardless of the recipe, I say why use the oven twice when you can just use the frig to do the last step.

For the "glue", I've tried honey. It's OK, but at least for me it seems to turn into a tough, chewy, tooth filling-grabbing, taffy-like goo. And I'm not sure if that's what happens to honey when you bake it, or if the same thing happens with refrigeration as well. Lately I've been using agave instead of honey; it's milder tasting and less viscous, so it blends nicely with a nut butter (peanut, almond, etc.).

And speaking of almond butter. Mmm, it's delicious. Better than peanut butter, by a neck maybe. Thank you, hubby, for giving me the motivation to buy some since you said you weren't thrilled with the taste of peanut butter in your granola. I'm good with the almond butter. But it is to be used wisely and in moderation ... it's expensive!

A lot of ingredients are expensive if you choose organic ones. And I do so choose. I'm willing to pay the extra because it's important to me. If there's a choice I usually go with organic. But I also realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford to make that choice. If I had my way the entire planet would be organic and there wouldn't be a choice to be made. Anyway, I won't specify "organic" for ingredients listed. But it can be assumed that's usually what I try to use.

Feel free to use other types and combinations of nuts and seeds and dried fruit. Also, I snuck in a tiny bit of almond extract because I wanted to try it, and some coconut oil because I love the stuff. I think it would be just as good with just the vanilla extract, and I'm not sure the coconut oil did much of anything (but I still love the stuff).

Fruit & Nut Butter Granola Bars

1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup almond slivers
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1 tbsp flax seed meal

Dried Fruit:
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped

Wet Stuff to Melt:
1/4 cup almond butter (or peanut butter), smooth or chunky
1/4 cup agave
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract + 1/8 tsp almond extract)
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp (or more) virgin unrefined coconut oil -- optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a square or rectangular dish/pan with parchment paper (I used a 10"x6" dish).

Bake the oats, seeds, and nuts for 8-10 minutes until lightly toasted. (Keep an eye on them because the different sizes will toast at different rates.) Cool for a few minutes then transfer to a medium-to-large bowl. Add the flax seed meal, then the dried fruit to the bowl. Stir to mix thoroughly.

In a small saucepan on low heat, melt the almond butter and agave together. Add the vanilla/almond extract, salt, and coconut oil (if using). Stir until combined and mostly melted (the almond butter will still have some relatively solid chunks). Add to the dry ingredients using a spatula to thoroughly mix the wet with the dry.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish, using the spatula to spread it as much as possible. Then, with wet fingers, press down the granola firmly to even it out. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two. Cut into squares with a sharp serrated bread knife or other sharp knife.

Storage: Depending on the indoor temperature (and how gooey or solid you want it), either store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mango Strawberry Smoothie

Catching on to the great benefits of freezer living has come to me slowly and gradually. There's nothing more unappetizing than freezer burn, right? Fruit has helped a lot with my education and experimentation. Only want to eat half of that rather large banana? No prob, just freeze the other half for a future smoothie. Frozen bananas are always the first basic ingredient I put in a smoothie, so it's nice to keep a stash.

Freezing leftover strawberries is also a great use of the freezer. Strawberries, especially organic ones, are too expensive to toss in the garbage. The trick is to get them into the freezer before it's too late, which can be difficult since it's tempting to keep them in a ready-to-eat status.

I got the idea of adding peanut butter to a smoothie from the Sexy Tofu blog. I know, it's an interesting name. Picture a Victoria's Secret model type lying on her back with tofu pieces scattered about ... that's the banner photo. But peanut butter and mango really work well together in a smoothie -- at least I think so.
More on freezer living and convincing hubby it's a generally accepted practice later.

Note: The glass pictured is a small, half-pint sized glass.

Mango Strawberry Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
1 1/2 cups frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (0% fat)
1 tbsp peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
1 tsp ground flax seeds
water, as needed (approx. 2-4 tbsp)
Note: Makes a quite small one-serving batch.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

White Bean Hummus ... first post

Why Fried Sage? Why not? Have you ever had any? Fresh sage leaves frying away in a pan of olive oil or butter, waiting for the fillet of rainbow trout or Arctic char or salmon to join for a quick and easy saute. Like crispy, slightly blackened fish skin, it's my version of bacon. Besides, the name was one of the few still available in the blogosphere. Geez, it's getting crowded in the pool.

So my first attempt at documenting this new path of learning (and actually enjoying) how to cook will be short and simple. White bean hummus. Quick and easily tweakable, and nearly impossible to screw up. Cannellini beans are my white bean of choice, because they're mild and creamy and a can is on hand. This is a small batch using one 15-oz. can, because it's cooking for one pescatarian (no eat meat, but most else).

There are few ingredients ... which is a good thing since the little mini-processor doesn't hold much. And I'm not too worried about getting it silky-thin smooth; I like it thick and sturdy. Along those lines, I use probably 1/4 the amount of olive oil normally added. That way it tastes like I'm eating beans with a bit of oil and not oil with a bit of beans.

White Bean Hummus
(adapted from George Duran's recipe from FoodNetwork.com)

1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans
lemon juice (about half a small lemon)
3/4 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup tahini paste
salt & pepper (to taste)
1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more or less, depending on personal preference)

Combine all ingredients, except the olive oil, in the food processor bowl. Turn on the processor and slowly add the desired amount of olive oil. Process until it's reached your preferred consistency.