Monday, November 29, 2010

Pomegranate Olive Oil Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Pomegranate

In ancient cultures, pomegranates were symbols of love and vitality. And what’s not to love about this tempting jewel of the winter fruit stand. (Well, maybe the risk of red splatter but more on that later). The pomegranate, which grows on shrubby trees native to the Mediterranean and western Asia, is increasingly being studied for its age-avenging compounds that are present in the sweet-tart arils (seeds) and surrounding juices.

The crunchy arils are jam-packed with fiber, bone-building vitamin K and a host of free-radical destroying phytochemicals that have been purported to help fend off a number of cancers. Plus, they lend a burst of flavor to yogurt, salads, ice-cream and cottage cheese.

Perhaps the cleanest way to access the arils that won’t leave your kitchen looking like it was part of the set for Saw is to cut off the crown, score the rind into quarters and submerge it in water. Break open the sections of the fruit under water and roll out the seeds. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, and the inedible membrane will float to the top.

After you have your nutrient packed arils separated why not try them in this seemingly fanciful but not really recipe. These olive oil cakes are delicate so I would really recommend using paper liners or silicon cups for this one. You can grind up the almonds in a coffee grinder, food processor or a Vita-mix. It would probably also work just to chop them really fine with a chef’s knife. I was hoping the lemon flavor would come through some more but sadly it did not. Maybe more zest next time?

The Martha Stewart recipe I adapted this from used red grapes. So who says red grapes and who says pomegranate seeds?

If you like these, perhaps you should try these Olive Oil Rosemary Breads

Pomegranate Olive Oil Cakes

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup finely ground almonds

¼ cup yellow cornmeal

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 eggs

½ cup sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup milk

1 cup pomegranate seeds/arils

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, mix together flour, ground almonds, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Beat eggs, sugar, and zest with a mixer on high speed until pale and fluffy, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to low and slowly add in olive oil. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Fold in ¾ cup of the pomegranate seeds. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups and top with remaining pomegranate seeds. Bake for 28 minutes, or until slightly brown on top and a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

DIY Light Reflector

Featured Ingredient: DIY Light Reflector

This post is for my fellow food blogging crew out there. To capture photos that make your readers want to lick the screen, there is one fundamental must that trumps all others – good lighting! Lighting is key to a photo that’ll get you up on the pages of Tastespotting or the Foodgawk.

One way to better take advantage of the light that comes through your window is with a light reflector. This is any device you use to reflect light back onto the shadow side of your grub. This helps fill out the dark shadow areas so you end up with a picture that is brighter and needs less work in Photoshop.

Mango muffins without a reflector.

Mango muffins with a reflector.

But reflectors at photography stores can be pricey. A better option for the frugal foodie is to pull a MacGyver and make your own free standing one. And it only cost pennies!

Here’s how to make your own super duper inexpensive light reflector.

Are you ready for it?

This is going to be tough.

You may want to chug back a sports drink to power you through it.

Ok, grab a binder or folder and wrap it in aluminum foil.

Man, that was brutal. Feel free to call the boss and tell him or her you need a day off to recover from this laborious task.

Well, you may want to tape it in place but that should only take a few extra seconds. I just used a thin folder sent to me by the PR for Scharffen Berger chocolate. A seriously great chocolate company I may add. You can also use a three ring binder.

You can adjust the intensity by changing the distance and angle of the reflector compared to what you are photographing. The closer it is to the food, the more powerful the light will be. Remember, it only works if the foil side of the folder is facing the light.

Give it a try and let me know how the results work out for you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yorkshire Pudding

Featured Ingredient: Coconut oil

Coconut oil is obtained from the “copra,” or dried meat of the coconut. The copra is separated from the hull, then dried and pressed to extract the oil.

When various health organizations began their war on saturated fat, coconut oil was quickly deemed a health pariah. It’s true that this tropical oil is loaded with saturated fat, about 12 grams per tablespoon, but most of this is in the form of lauric acid – a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT). Because of a unique structure, MCTs are more likely to be burned for energy in our bodies as opposed to being stored as body fat. Case in point: A 2008 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study that administered four to five teaspoons of MCT oil or olive oil daily to subjects for 4 months found that those consuming MCT oil lost more body weight and fat mass than those exposed to the olive variety.

Lauric acid also has anti-bacterial properties and, unlike animal-origin saturated fat that is predominantly in the form of palmitic acid, it may reduce harmful LDL cholesterol, while increasing beneficial HDL levels. Adding coconut oil to your diet may also help stabilize blood sugar levels. So it is this dietitian’s opinion that the health organizations that dissed coconut oil had it way wrong. It should be noted that when saturated fat was made out to be as desirable as a root canal, food manufactures subbed out their saturated fat and replaced it with hydrogenated vegetable oils, a.k.a trans fat. And we know how that went. While coconut oil has a lot of merits, just don’t get caught up in the World Wide Web hoopla that it is the ultimate panacea.

Because it’s highly saturated, coconut oil has a very high smoke point making it ideal for high-heat cooking like stir-frying. For baked goods, you can experiment with using 3/4 cup of coconut oil in place of every cup of butter or vegetable shortening a recipe calls for or as a straight swap for other oils. But make sure you liquefy it first (on the stovetop over low heat) before incorporating into batters. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to use this tropical delight in more of my baked items.

Not surprisingly, coconut oil (especially “virgin” varieties) does have a coconut taste and smell. Refined “non-virgin” coconut oil has more of a neutral taste for those who do not care for the coconut flavor in recipes and baking. So for cooking, you may want to purchase a more mellow flavored brand, which happens to often be cheaper and leave the ones with a stronger coconut flavor (sometimes called coconut butter) for stuff like smoothies or as a spread for toast which is totally awesome.

I’ve been meaning to try out a Yorkshire pudding recipe for this blog for some time now. This comes courtesy of mom – thanks mom! Yorkshire pudding was always a staple of our holiday repasts. I don’t understand all the science behind making a successful pudding, but apparently its best to add the batter to hot oil and a hot pan. I think it makes the outside more crispy? Instead of shortening or beef drippings, I tried out the recipe with coconut oil. These are not as light and did not rise as musch as traditional Yorkshire pudding which I attribute to the use of whole wheat pastry flour. So if you want a more airy product, by all means use all-purpose flour. The original recipe called for 30 minutes cooking time, but my puddings were a bit overcooked so I’ve suggested 25 minutes. Perhaps with the all-purpose flour it would indeed be 30 minutes. A key is to not open the oven door to peak in or they will fall.

As for the mushroom gravy, which I adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, it’s very tasty but it did not thicken up as much as I liked - what's up with that Martha? So in the instructions, I say 3 cups of broth instead of the 4 I used. This should help out a lot. I used beer to add a little hoppy bitterness, but you could also use white wine.

For my American readers, this is a little late for Thanksgiving but keep this recipe in mind for the next batch of holidays in a few weeks.

Yorkshire Pudding

12 x ½ tsp coconut oil

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose white)

½ tsp salt

2 eggs, room temperature

½ cup milk, room temperature

1 Tbsp chopped chives (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°F. Divide coconut oil among 12 muffin cups. Place muffin cups in oven and heat for 5 minutes. In a bowl, combine flour and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and milk. Stir egg mixture and chives into flour. Don’t overmix. Divide batter among 12 hot muffin cups (about 2 spoonfuls per cup). Bake for 25 minutes without opening the oven. They are done when no longer doughy.

Mushroom Beer Gravy

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter

2 shallots, diced

½ cup pilsner, lager or wheat beer (or white wine)

3 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp fresh thyme

1-2 tsp cornstarch (if needed)

Remove stems from mushrooms and place in a saucepan along with stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and cook until mushrooms have turned soft, about 8 minutes. Add beer and boil until reduced by about half, roughly 4 to 5 minutes. Remove mushroom caps from stock and pour stock into another container.

In the saucepan, heat remaining oil and flour over medium heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in stock and then add mushrooms and thyme. Simmer, whisking regularly, until thickened. If the gravy does not thicken, stir in cornstarch and simmer some more. Serve over Yorkshire pudding. Extras can be frozen for latter use.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Flour Power

My round up of some great gluten-free flours in the current issue of Delicious Living magazine. I still need to work teff and garbanzo flour into a Muffin Tin Mania post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Buckwheat Chocolate Banana Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Buckwheat

Not at all related to wheat and in-turn blissfully gluten-free, buckwheat is a seed of a plant related to rhubarb native to northern Europe and Asia. Whole-grain buckwheat is a rare food source of the phytochemical rutin. Rutin may have a number of beneficial properties including halting the expansion of body fat cells and keeping cholesterol levels in check. A Canadian study found that buckwheat extract was effective at lowering blood glucose in diabetic animals.

I have been receiving an increasing number of requests to post gluten-free baking recipes, so I thought this was a good opportunity to shine the spotlight on this whole-grain nutrition powerhouse flour. I have to admit that my gluten-free baking expertise is a little unrefined and perhaps why these muffins are ok but not that great. Buckwheat flour has an earthy flavor and grainy texture which is very evident in these.

So I have this query: Does any one have suggestions to make these taste better? I’m thinking that replacing half the buckwheat flour with a different gluten-free option such as coconut flour would really help. They could also use a tad more sweetness, but I hesitate to add in more sugar.

For those who are gluten-free baking newbie’s, guar gum or xanthum gum are used to replace some of the functions gluten provides such as binding ingredients together.

Buckwheat Chocolate Banana Muffins

2 cups buckwheat flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp guar gum or xanthum gum

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp allspice (optional)

¼ tsp salt

2 eggs

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

½ cup palm sugar or sugar of choice

½ cup neutral tasting vegetable oil

1/3 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine buckwheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, gum, cinnamon, allspice and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs and mix with banana, sugar and oil. Stir dry ingredients into wet and then fold in walnuts. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups and bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out mostly clean.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Mini Mushroom Loafs with Tomato Basil Dressing


Featured Ingredient: Mushrooms

Redolent of the earth they sprout from, mushrooms are one fungi that should be on more dinner plates. A spate of research suggests mushrooms have a wide array of cancer-fighting and immune-supporting compounds including polysaccharides such as beta-glucan. And you don’t have to splurge on the exotic varieties to get many of these benefits. Dice up a bunch of lowly white mushrooms and you’ll still reap an immune boost.

A big benefit in the battle of the bulge is that mushrooms add meaty texture to dishes for very few calories. Use them as I did in the recipe below in replace of some (or all!) of the meat in soups, meatloafs, stir-fry’s and burgers as researchers in the journal Appetite reported that this swap can reduce daily energy and fat intake with little effect on overall appetite.

Read more about the benefits of various mushrooms in this article I wrote for Natural Solutions magazing

These mini loafs look and have a mouthfeel that would suggest they are loaded with beef. But alas, they are blissfully vegetarian friendly and really tasty. My girlfriend hates meatloaf but was a serious fan of these. You need a lot of mushrooms and there will be some serious chopping, but its so worth it. Keep the mushroom caps in a bag in the freezer along with other vegetable trimmings to use for homemade veggie stock. You can’t go wrong with a simple tomato basil sauce. Use any extra on pasta or freeze for later use.

Mini Mushroom Faux Meatloaf with Tomato Basil Sauce

Adapted from Macheesmo

Mushroom loafs:
2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped (I used a mixture of button and cremini)
3 shallots, diced
2 tsp dried thyme
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp garam masala
2 tsp chili garlic sauce (find it in the Asian section of the grocer)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin seed (or 1 tsp cumin powder)
8 plum tomatoes
1 cup fresh basil
¼ tsp chili powder or cayenne
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms, shallots and thyme.

Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the mushrooms have reduced in size by more than half, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in eggs, garlic, bread crumbs, soy sauce, masala, chili garlic sauce, salt and pepper. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide mushroom mixture among 12 greased muffin cups. Cook for 20 minutes, or until darkened on top and set. Let cool before unmolding.

As mushrooms cook, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cumin seed and cook 1 minute. In a blender or food processor, process tomatoes, basil, chili, salt and pepper until smooth. Add tomato mixture to skillet and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Serve mini mushroom loafs topped with tomato sauce.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Buttercup Squash Oat Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Buttercup Squash

Sweet Dumpling. Gold Nugget. Buttercup. Sounds more like aliases on a naughty chat room than what’s for dinner. But at the risk of bruising zucchini’s ego, you should make these mighty gourds and other winter squash your go-to vegetable this winter. The various guises of winter squash are a cinch to store, versatile in the kitchen and their nutritional benefits are often great.

Those with a bright orange flesh such as buttercup are a storehouse for beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can be converted to vitamin A in the body to boost immune health. So loading up on winter squash can help keep the sniffles at bay. Vitamin C, potassium and fiber are other nutritional perks. And you get this nutritional goldmine for only about 60 calories per cup keeping the needle on the scale going in the direction you want.

With a sweet flesh, buttercup squash is a natural for incorporating into baked goods as a way to sack some of the fat. 

You really do need to try out these whole-grain muffins. They are supper moist and heavenly flavored. To make the squash puree, I just cut the buttercup into chunks, sliced off the skin and steamed the flesh on the stove top until very tender and then mashed it with potato masher. You could probably also roast it until tender. Butternut or acorn squash would also work in this recipe. I’m becoming increasingly smitten with the flavorful, low glycemic palm sugar from Navitas Naturals, but you could use other sugar here as well. 

I came across a really great printer function that you will find a tab for from now on below my recipes. Just click on it and you can easily customize the page to what you want printed. 

Anyone else have much experience baking with winter squash? 

Buttercup Oat Muffins

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp all spice
¼ tsp salt
1.5 cup buttercup puree (yield from about ½ of a medium sized buttecup squash)
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
½ cup palm sugar or sugar of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
½ cup walnut pieces
2 Tbsp oats
2 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and salt. In a separate bowl, combine squash, vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla and ginger. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Fold in walnuts. Divide muffins among 12 prepared muffin cups.

Combine oats, sugar and oil in a small bowl. Divide mixture among the tops of muffin batter. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding. Because they are so moist, it’s best to store them in the fridge. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

French Toast Cups

Featured Ingredient: Maple Syrup

Being Canadian, cut me and I like to think I would bleed maple syrup. When you cut into the bark of a maple tree it does indeed bleed maple sap, a faintly sweet liquid that can be boiled down into nature’s perfect sweetener.

A 2010 study in Nutrition Journal discovered maple syrup (the real stuff, not the maple flavored corn syrup imposter) has a higher antioxidant capacity than several sweeteners such as honey, cane sugar, corn syrup, brown sugar and stevia. In fact, a recent study conducted at the Univeristy of Rhode Island found a cocktail of 20 different antioxidant compounds in tree goo, including phenolics that are also found in berries.

Darker grades have a fuller maple flavor and are the type I prefer to use for salad dressings, pancakes, chocolate sauces and French toast. I realized that I had not yet done a breakfast Muffin Tin Mania post so with some extra time this morning courtesy of daylight savings, I whipped up these little egg batter soaked gems. For the most part, I’m really pleased how they turned out. I only used 1/3 cup milk but we thought they could have used a little bit more moisture so try adding a couple extra tablespoons of milk as I have indicated in the recipe. I went with a simple blueberry and maple syrup topping but you could go in all sorts of directions such as a sweet cream or even a chocolate sauce.

Try these out and let me know if you think they are worthy of a lazy Sunday morning repast.

French Toast Cups

Recipe adapeted from The Chic Life

6 slices whole-grain bread

3 eggs

1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp unflavored milk of choice

2 tsp brown, palm or turbinado sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp salt


Maple Syrup

Slice bread into cubes, about 1-inch long. In a bowl, lighty beat eggs and mix with milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir in bread cubes until they are all moist. Let sit five minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide bread cubes among 12 muffin cups and lightly press down on each.

Bake for about 22 minutes, or until they start turning golden on top and egg has set. Unmold and served topped with blueberries and maple syrup.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Salmon Lentil Cakes

Feature Ingredient: Canned Sockeye Salmon

Among the canned swimmers, convenient and ultra-versatile sockeye salmon is a nutritional heavyweight. It is brimming with:

Omega-3 fats
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish have been purported to boost brain powder and keep the ticker beating strong. For good health, experts recommend consuming an average of 250 to 500 milligrams of the omega-3s found in fish daily. A 3 ounce serving of canned sockeye salmon contains about 1400 milligrams so just one serving gives you nearly a weeks quota.

Vitamin D
Salmon is one of the few foods to contain a significant amount of vitamin D. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people with low vitamin D levels are at greater risk of dying from all causes including  heart disease. Vitamin D behaves like a hormone to impact a large number of bodily processes. It should be noted that canned sockeye salmon has more vitamin D and omega-3s than pink salmon.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is required for the proper formation of red blood cells which transport oxygen throughout the body. We also call upon vitamin B12 for a healthy nervous system and DNA synthesis. According to a recent study in the journal Neurology, vitamin B12 may help protect against Alzheimer's disease.

If you nosh on the soft bones in canned salmon, you’ll get a hefty dose of bone-building calcium.

In the body, the mineral selenium is incorporated into proteins that have antioxidant power. This means they can help disarm free radicals before they can do some serious cellular damage.

I always splurge and purchase canned salmon from one of the smaller companies such as Wild Planet or Raincoast Trading because frankly the flavor of their products is far superior to the stuff canned by larger producers. I also appreciate that they practice sustainable methods for harvesting their salmon and other fish. The salmon comes from healthy wild stocks and not farms that are rife with environmental problems.

I always try to keep a can or two of salmon on hand for when I need to whip up a quick dinner. It can be used for tasty burgers, mixed into bean salads or, as I did here, turned into tasty, no-fuss muffin tin cakes.

The lentils add some fiber (nad perhaps some windy effects later on!) but make sure to use red lentils as they turn to mush much easier than green/brown lentils. Each bite has a bit of kick from the horseradish which is really wonderful.

I made a chili garlic sauce to accompany these but it wasn’t really a great flavor combination. So does anybody have another suggestion for a good topping?

Lentil Salmon Cakes

2/3 cup red lentils

2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

½ tsp cumin seeds

6 oz. can sockeye salmon

1 tbsp horseradish

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp fresh dill

½ cup bread crumbs

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, bring lentils and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils have become very tender and water has mostly been absorbed, about 10 minutes. As lentils cook, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet and cook shallots for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cumin seeds and cook 1 minute more.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Mash lentils with a fork or potato masher and combine with shallot mixture, salmon, horseradish, eggs, dill, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Divide mixture among 10 medium sized muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until set and slightly golden on top. Let cool before unmolding.