Sunday, October 31, 2010

Carrot Molasses Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Carrots

I’ve been meaning for sometime to adapt iconic carrot cake to the muffin tin. And now that the mercury has begun its descent here in Ontario, what better time to make this cherished comfort food dessert.

Nutritionally, carrots are a winner. Bugs Bunny’s food of choice is well-endowed with beta-carotene. In the body, beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A which functions to improve immunity and eye health. On its own, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant so it helps disarm those pesky free-radicals that prowl our bodies looking for cells to attack.

The problem I often have with many carrot cakes is that they are much too sweet. Not only is the cake overloaded with sugar but the frosting is pumped full of the sweet stuff, too. And let’s face it, carrot cake is really all about the frosting and the layer of loveliness it provides. This one is delicately sweetened with maple syrup with a whisper of vanilla that brought the home cook much approbation from his girlfriend. I am starting to think that she whishes the frosting could be a food group on the pyramid.

I was not sure about adding the molasses at first, but I think it gives the cakes a little kick of robustness that works well. I added some coconut flour for added nutrition and the hint of sweetness it provides. You could use other flours as well or just a cup and half of whole wheat pastry flour. Forget the all-purpose white stuff – it's a nutritional dud.

Next time I make these I would consider tossing in some raisins as well. Anyone have other thoughts for some tasty additional ingredients?

Carrot Molasses Cakes


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup coconut flour

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs

½ cup sugar of choice

2 Tbsp molasses

2 Tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup oil

1 cup shredded carrot


5 oz (about 5 Tbsp) cream cheese, room temperature

2 Tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine pastry flour, coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs and stir in sugar, molasses, water, vanilla, oil and carrot. Combine wet and dry ingredients until no dry flour remains. Divide mixture among 10 greased or paper lined muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

As the cakes bake, whip together cream cheese, maple syrup and vanilla. Unmold cakes and top with cream cheese frosting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Upside Down Pear Crumbles

Featured Ingredient: Pears

Trendy exotic fruits come and go, by pears are always there when you need them. It seems a lot of people forget about pears when discussing healthy fruits. Yet, the humble pear is a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of dietary fiber with a single medium pear providing about 8 grams. Surveys suggest the average North American diet only contains about half the fiber experts recommend. So noshing on a pear for a mid-p.m. snack is a good way to get your daily quota.

Fall is the best time to find local pears that are hazardously juicy with an ambrosial buttery texture, just they way they should be. To determine if your pear is ready to bite into, gently press near the stem end. If it yields slightly, get noshing.

This muffin tin recipe is a riff on pear crumble. You can find graham crumbs at most supermarkets. Almonds can stand in for the walnuts if you fancy. Topped with some vanilla ice cream or coconut gelato, this delicious pear delight delivers a snappy finish to a hearty fall meal. The coconut gelato I used was from Roba Dolce and it is to-die-for. Grab it if you see it.

Upside Down Pear Crumbles

1/2 cup graham crumbs

1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 ½ cups diced pear (not need to peel)

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp cinnamon

Juice of ½ lemon

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, combine graham crumbs, walnuts and maple syrup. Mix until everything is moist.

Divide graham mixture among 8 medium greased or paper lined muffin tins and press down until flat. In the same bowl, combine pear, brown sugar, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon and lemon juice.

Place and even amount of the pear mixture on top of the graham crust in each of the muffin cups. Place in oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the fruit has softened and browned. Let cool before unmolding. To unmold, gently guide a butter knife around the edges of the muffin cups and lift carefully.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Celery Root Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Celery Root

If there was ever an ugly duckling of the vegetable world it would be celery root.

Frumpy celery root, also called celeriac, is exactly what its moniker claims it to be: the root of a celery plant. The creamy white flesh tastes like a cross between celery and parsley with a starchy, potato-like texture. They are at their most flavorful around this time of year.

What celery root lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for with hefty amounts of vitamin K. Vitamin K is vital for proper blood clotting and bone strength.

As you can see from the photo, this root vegetable should be peeled generously with a sharp knife prior to eating. Choose small-to-medium roots as large roots tend to be woody or hollow inside.

I recently pulled my celery root from the community garden which got me scheming about how to incorporating them into a muffin tin creation. I think these no-fuss cakes are a paean to this unalluring yet very appetizing vegetable. These would also be great with half celery root and half mashed potato. Maybe even a little bit of horseradish.

Anyone out there have a suggestion for a good sauce for these? 

Celery Root Cakes

3 cups chopped celery root
2 eggs
¼ cup flour of choice
2 Tbsp chopped chives
1 Tbsp capers
2 garlic gloves, chopped
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Steam celery root until very tender. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl of a food processor and whirl until well combined. Don’t over puree as you still want the mixture to be slightly chunky. Divide mixture among 8 muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes until the tops have turned a nice light golden color. Let cool before unmolding.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Black Rice Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Forbidden Black Rice

I’m always on the look out for unique, tasty foods to use in my muffin tin creations. Black rice from China definitely fits the bill. Also called Forbidden Rice®, Chinese lore says that this guise of rice was reserved only for emperors in ancient China because of its ability to promote longevity and good health.

Recently, scientists at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center reported that black rice (its more like a really deep purple color) is brimming with antioxidants including the same anthocyanins found in blueberries. It’s the antioxidants that lend this rice its striking hue. This on top of all the other benefits that come with a whole grain rice such as extra fiber, vitamins and minerals.

With a rich, nutty taste and chewy texture, look for it at an increasing number of health food stores. For the recipe below, I used the black Forbidden Rice® from forward-thinking Lotus Foods. Keep in mind that this is not the same rice as black sticky rice used in Asian desserts.

These cakes are beautiful in their simplicity. Feel free to sub out the tofu for diced chicken breast. The easy to make sweet and spicy sauce really completes the dish. Make these and bring them for lunch to elicit a few “wows” at the office.

Does anyone have any other ideas for using this splendid rice in a muffin tin?

Black Rice Tofu Cakes with Sweet and Spicy Sauce

1 cup black rice
3 large eggs
½ block tofu, diced into small cubes
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup rice wine
1/8 cup sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp garlic chili sauce, depending on how hot you want the sauce
1 garlic clove, grated
½-inch fresh ginger, grated

In a small saucepan, combine rice with 1 ¾ cup water. Bring to a boil, reduced heat and simmer covered for about 30 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in rice, tofu, thyme, salt and pepper.

Divide mixture among 12 prepared muffin cups. Cook for 15 minutes or until set.

As rice cakes cook, bring rice wine and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook until sugar is dissolved. Stir in soy sauce and simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chili sauce, garlic, and ginger.

Serve cakes topped with sauce.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Acorn Molasses Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Acorns

To me, there is something romantic about the idea of tramping into the forest and coming out with the victuals for a good salad. Foraging is an activity I would really like to participate in with more energy. Especially after reading the delicious book Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer, one of the foremost foragers in America. He thoroughly outlines a wide range of wild edibles that can be eaten. It seems there are no shortage of healthy consumables in our forests and backyards. One of his favorite items are acorns and with plenty of acorn trees in our neighbourhood, I decided this nut would be one of my first forays into gathering food from Mother Nature’s bounty.

Yes, you can eat acorns and they don't have to be just for squirrels. According to USDA data, acorns are rich in several nutrients including magnesium and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The main deterrent is that acorns are really high in tannins that make them very, very bitter and unpalatable raw. So they need to be leached of the tannins before they can be consumed. So here is how I turned a bunch of foraged acorns into a muffin tin creation.

First, I broke a bunch of ripe acorns open with a mallet and then separated the meat from the shell. Seasoned foragers have much quicker methods than this newbie.

I then ground the nut meat in my Vita-mix with some water. It was about 11 ounces of meat and 2/3 cup water.

To leach out the tannins, I used the cold leaching method which involves placing some of the ground acorn in a jar and filling it with water. The water should be changed a couple times a day and it can take a couple weeks before the acorns no longer taste bitter. I have to be honest that I got lazy about changing the water so it took longer before my acorns were ready for cooking.

The acorn flour then needs to be dried. I did this on a sunny windowsill. To hasten this, I placed the flour in the oven after turning it off once I was done cooking something else.

With this flour, I then made the muffins below. How is that for a satisfying muffin! These are very earthy and worthy of even the pickiest hippie eater.

Acorn Molasses Muffins

1 cup acorn flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs

½ cup applesauce

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup molasses

1/3 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine acorn flour, wheat flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in applesauce, oil, sugar, and molasses. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until everything is moist. Fold in walnuts. Divide among 11 medium sized muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fiber Fix

Most North Americans don't eat nearly enough dietary fiber. Here are some sneaky ways to add more to your diet courtesy of my article in Prevention magazine.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Matcha Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Matcha

Matcha is produced when steamed young Japanese green tea leaves are ground into a fine powder. Because the whole leaf is consumed rather than an infusion brewed from the leaves, it provides a huge dose of the antioxidants in tea that are becoming increasingly well known for their ability to help fend off a number of diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

I love this stuff. A warm mug of complex tasting matcha tea has a way of making you feel incredibly alive and invigorated. It’s fairly expensive, so it’s something to be thoroughly enjoyed without any distractions.

To make matcha, place a teaspoon in a small bowl or mug and pour a small amount of simmering water over top, then whisk briskly – preferably with a bamboo whisk to keep things old-school. Top with additional hot water. Because it is a powder, matcha can also be used in cookies, pound cakes and muffins such as these. The matcha muffins below are courtesy of my partner Tabi and are by far one of my favorites. They have such a delicate, gorgeous flavor. Besides, how can a green muffin not put a smile on your face?

You can find matcha at tea shops or online at

Matcha Muffins


2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tablespoons matcha tea powder

1/2 tsp cardamom

1 tsp ground ginger

¾ cup sugar

1 cup neutral tasting vegetable oil

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, matcha, ginger, and cardamom. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, sugar and oil. Add flour mixture and yogurt to wet mixture 1/2 at a time and mix well. Add chopped walnuts.

Spoon in to greased or paper lined muffin cups. Bake 18 10 20 min, or until a tester comes out clean. Watch closely and remove the muffins from the oven before they brown.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Acai Chocolate Flourless Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Acai

Harvested from the Amazonian rainforest, the deep purple acai berry is all the rage these days with respect to superfruits. While you should not believe the ridiculous internet claims about its weight loss and detox prowess, acai does have some serious nutritional might.

According to studies, acai has very high antioxidant levels meaning a daily dose can help mop up those disease-provoking free radicals. Very rare for a berry, acai contains some anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to boot. (But nowhere on the level of stuff like salmon and hemp). Further, a 2010 study in the journal Nutrition reported that supplementing with acai can improve cholesterol numbers.

In health food stores you can now find freeze-dried acai powder such as that from Navitas Naturals. The freeze-drying process does a very good job at preserving the flavor and nutrients of fruits. Speaking of flavor, acai is wonderfully tart with chocolaty and raspberry undertones making it a perfect candidate for adding to chocolate baked goods such as these extremely rich gluten-free chocolate cakes sans flour. You can buy almond meal/flour or make your own by grinding almonds in a food processor or Vita-mix.

Acai Flourless Chocolate Cakes with Acai Whipped Cream


7 ounces high-quality dark or baking chocolate, chopped finely

¾ cup brown sugar

2/3 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup almond meal/flour

½ cup acai powder

½ cup cocoa powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp cayenne (optional)

5 eggs

Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp acai powder

1 Tbsp powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chocolate and brown sugar in a metal bowl or pan and place this over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat until chocolate is melted and sugar is incorporated, stirring often. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. In a large bowl, combine almond meal, acai powder, cocoa powder, salt and cayenne. Add the melted chocolate to the bowl and stir to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring between each egg. Spoon the batter into 12 greased muffin cups and bake until firm to the touch, about 22 minutes.

To make the whipped cream, make sure bowl and beaters are cold. Add the acai to the cream and beat until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue beating to incorporate it. Serve cakes topped with whipped cream.