Thursday, December 15, 2011

Coffee Chocolate Smoothies

Featured Ingredient: Coffee

The most popular post on this blog is for these frozen green smoothie cups. It seems that others are just as interested as I am in the possibility of whirling up quick smoothies without the fuss of pulling out numerous ingredients from the fridge and pantry.

So I thought I would share another frozen smoothie cup recipe. This one will perk up your day with an infusion of coffee. Banana, almonds and dried dates up the health ante. The protein powder I use is the chocolate hemp from Manitoba Harvest

Hemp protein is actually considered a complete protein much like whey is, making it a powerful addition to smoothies. If you are using a vanilla or unflavored protein powder, you can include a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder to add chocolatey goodness.

If interested in trying out a new coffee, may I suggest Doi Chaang from Thailand. It’s superior stuff with a wonderful story behind it. Here is an article I recently wrote about our bike trip up to the coffee growing community in northern Thailand.

I really recommend using silicon muffin trays when making frozen smoothie cups. Because they are non-stick and you can bend and twist them, extracting the frozen contents is a breeze. If using metal, you may need to place the bottom of the tray in warm water for a few seconds.

Java Chocolate Smoothie Cups

3 cups strongly brewed coffee, cooled
2 bananas
1/2 cup chocolate hemp protein or other protein powder of choice
1/2 cup almonds
1/3 cup pitted dried dates, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Place coffee, bananas, protein powder, almonds, dates, extract and cinnamon and in a blender container. Turn blender onto its low setting and process for 20 seconds. Switch to the high setting and blend until dates and almonds are pulverized, about 1 minute.

Divide mixture among 12 medium sized muffin cups. Place trays in the freezer and freeze until solid. Unmold coffee cups and store in the freezer in a zip-top bag.

When it comes time to make a smoothie, simply place a couple of frozen coffee cups in a blender along with about 1 1/2 cups liquid (I use 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup water) and blend until smooth. If your blender does not have a lot of power, you may want to carefully slice the frozen cups into halves or quarters before blending.   


Friday, December 9, 2011

Frozen Pumpkin Cups

Featured Ingredient: Pumpkin

The weather up here in Ontario has now turned foul for the season, but winter squash are still holding strong at our farmers’ market. So what does one do when presented with pounds of dirt cheap squash? Steam, puree and freeze, of course.

Instead of tossing pureed pumpkin, butternut and other winter squash into a container or zip-top bag where it will become a giant brick, a better idea is to break out the trusty silicon muffin cups. This is so great! Just divvy up the squash into the muffin cups and place in the freezer until solid. Once you’ve got your frozen cups, simply unmold and place them in a zip-top bag for future use. The flexibility of the silicon is incredible when dealing with frozen items such as this.

Now, I’ve got a bunch of 1/2-cup frozen pumpkin cups that I can use for soups, pumpkin pie, pumpkin butter and even smoothies. I plan on making pumpkin oatmeal with one tomorrow. As a bonus, I can just defrost small amounts based on my needs and these will defrost much quicker than a huge hunk of frozen squash. Plus, I won’t have to turn to canned pumpkin which comes up short in the taste department compared to a puree made from fresh sugar pumpkins.

I plan on doing the same thing with a bunch of butternut squash, which gives me plenty of opportunity to make soups down the road. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Matcha Pancakes

Featured Ingredient: Matcha

Green tea, meet your matcha.

Traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies, matcha is derived from lightly steamed tea leaves that are then ground into a fine powder which you dissolve in hot water. Since you're ingesting the whole tea leaf, it stands to reason that matcha provides soaring levels of antioxidants for which green tea is lauded for. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of research pertaining to the health benefits of matcha in comparison to other teas. However, a University of Colorado study discovered that the matcha they tested contained 137 times more of the potent antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate, or less of a mouthful EGCG, than a green tea rival produced by steeping the leaves.

The flavor? I would say slightly grassy with some lingering sweetness. I’m a little concerned that my girlfriend Tabi might be addicted to the stuff. I’ve noticed a slight verdant tinge to her skin. Well, not really, and there is definitely nothing wrong with imbibing daily as a warm mug of matcha in the afternoon is hard to beat.

A caveat: The quality of matcha can vary greatly. I’ve had really good stuff and very lackluster stuff. I’ve always been pleased with the vibrant flavor of the matcha from MatchaSource. Founder Alissa White is really passionate about the emerald green powder. It’s undeniably a splurge, but a worthwhile one indeed.

The use of matcha in desserts has been gaining steam over the last year, with it increasingly breaching the savory world of cooking as well. Here is a recipe from Bon Appetit for pistachio-matcha crusted halibut that I’ve gotta try.

In a previous post, I made up a batch of mini baked mesquite pancakes. In this version, I’ve teamed up two awesome ingredients: matcha and coconut flour. 

Coconut flour has a natural sweetness and is crazy high in dietary fiber. I use the one from Bob’s Red Mill. Keep in mind that this guise of flour absorbs a ton of liquid, so if you want to make these with straight up whole wheat pastry flour, you probably want to cut back on the amount of milk by about 1/4 cup. Most matcha baked good recipes just blend the powder into the dry ingredients, but if you dissolve it first in warm water you’ll end up with more of its lively flavor in the end product.

If anyone has ideas for savory dishes that matcha can shine in, I’d love to hear them.

Coconut Matcha Baked Pancakes

1 teaspoon matcha powder
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 large egg
1 cup milk or non-dairy milk of choice
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or melted unsalted butter
Maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together matcha powder with 2 tablespoons hot water. In a large bowl, combine flour, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat egg and stir in matcha, milk and oil or butter. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix gently. Divide batter among 18 to 20 greased or paper lined mini muffin cups. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a pancake comes out clean. Serve with maple syrup. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Cheesecake Bites

Featured Ingredient: Almonds

Woo hoo, I finally turned in the manuscript for my cookbook on Friday. After 4 1/2 months of slaving away in the kitchen, I think I’ve got a pretty good batch of muffin tin inspired recipes. I developed the recipe for these cheesecake bites molded in mini muffin cups with the book in mind, but they didn’t quite fit into any of the chapters. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t truly wonderful.

I would think you could serve these at a holiday party and receive much approbation. The almond base adds a really nice textural contrast to the cream cheese topping. It doesn’t hurt that almonds rock in the nutritional department, thanks to impressive amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and the antioxidant vitamin E. Hemp seeds offer an extra dose of supercharged fats.

You could flavor the chocolate with some chili powder, peppermint extract, coffee extract, or warming spices like cinnamon. The chocolate could even be omitted and just serve as mini cheesecakes. I would not use a darker sugar like palm for the cheesecake topping as you want it to be nice and white for presentation purposes. If not using flexible silicon muffin cups, it’s probably best to use paper liners for these.

Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Bites

1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/3 cup quick cook oats (not instant)
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar or brown sugar
1/3 cup hemp hearts (seeds), such as Manitoba Harvest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup lightly colored natural cane sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons reduced fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
Fleur de Sel (optional)

In a dry skillet, toast almonds over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning. Let almonds cool and then add to a bowl of a food processor along with oats, sugar, hemp hearts, salt, and butter. Process until mixture adheres together. Divide mixture among 24 greased or paper lined mini muffin cups, pressing down to help stick together. The crust should come about half-way up the muffin cups.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixture until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg, sour cream and vanilla until just mixed in. Divide cream cheese mixture among muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes, or until topping is set. Let cool before unmolding and then cool completely on a wire rack. Place cheesecakes in the freezer and freeze until solid.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of lightly simmering water, stirring often. Or microwave chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 20 to 30 second increments, stirring after each interval until chocolate is melted. One at a time, dip cheesecakes into the melted chocolate and use two forks to turn until fully coated. Let the excess drip off and place on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle each with a few grains of Fleur de sel and then place baking sheet in the refrigerator to set chocolate, about 1 hour.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Date Cashew Bites

Featured Product: Thrive Foods

I recently got my hands on the latest book from former professional triathlete and vegan Brendan Brazier called Thrive Foods, or here in Canada, Whole Foods to Thrive. It’s turning out to be a rewarding read.

Brendan is the creator of the lauded line of Vega whole food nutrition products you’ve likely seen in natural food stores. He obviously has a passion for plant-based whole foods and in his book makes a strong case for why more of us should as well. Brendan’s main selling points are that plant whole foods like legumes and jaunty kale provide more nutrient density (i.e. more micornutrients per calorie) and have significantly less impact on the environment than a triple cheeseburger or factory farm raised chicken. 

The latter is point is irrefutable. All the hoopla in recent years surrounding eating locally sourced food has led many people to believe that the 100-mile diet is the best way to reduce ones diet-related carbon footprint. Yet, a recent study found that a dietary shift towards less meat consumption has a much greater impact. Scientists in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology reported that shifting consumption of red meat and/or dairy to other protein sources such as eggs or a vegetable-based diet a single day per week could have the same climate impact as buying all household food from local providers. Further, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report addresses why embracing tofu more often can have such a big impact. Their experts determined that raising cattle for burgers is generating more climate warming greenhouse gases, including massive methane production, than often vilified transportation. What’s more, livestock now uses 30 per cent of the earth’s entire land surface which drives up deforestation for pasture leading to further impacts on climate change and wildlife extinction.

A huge chunk of the book is devoted to approachable recipes created by Brendan and an arsenal of natural foods chefs. Ones that have caught my eye so far are Black Bean Chili Pizza (page 250), Nori crisps (page 267) and Coconut, Mango, Curry Smoothie (page 132) – curry in a smoothie, who knew? But the recipe I wanted to give a go right away was the Green Energy Bars. I thought these would be perfect molded into mini muffin cups for an easy to grab snack. Were they ever! Tabi and I whipped them out in just a couple days. Perhaps it was the buttery goodness of the cashews that kept us coming back for more.

Brendan’s recipe calls for nutrient dense wheat grass powder, but I used the stellar chocolate greens mix from AmazingGrass as I think these really benefit from a little infusion of chocolately goodness. If you don’t have a greens powder (which you really should!), you could simply mix in raw cocoa powder. I also included some orange juice as this helps bind the ingredients in the food processor. I’ve professed my love for hemp seeds in previous posts, so any recipe that gives me a chance to work more into my diet is definitely welcomed. 

Silicon muffin cups work really well for recipes such as this as their flexibility makes it much more easy to pop the contents out. If using metal, you may want to give them a light greasing or use paper liners. 

So, if you’re interested in gravitating towards a more nutritionally balanced, less environmentally damaging diet, I’d recommend giving Brendan’s book a read for plenty of inspiration and recipes to whet your appetite.  

Date Energy Bites

Adapted from Thrive Foods

1 cup pitted dried dates, chopped
1 cup raw unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons greens powder or cocoa powder
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup hemp hearts (seeds)

Place dates, cashews, and greens powder in a food processor container and blend until the cashews have been broken down. Add orange juice and hemp hearts and process until the mixture clumps together. Divide mixture among 10 to 12 mini sized muffin cups and place in the freezer for 1 hour to mold. Unmold and store in the refrigerator. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hazelnut Pomegranate Financiers

Featured Ingredient: Hazelnut Flour

For my last recipe post, I tossed out the idea of using mesquite powder in your baking. Now, how about hazelnut flour? Almond flour is becoming increasingly popular meaning that hazelnut flour unfortunately often gets overlooked.

Ground from filberts (hazelnuts), this guise of nut flour is blessed with a rich, nutty flavor that can vivify pie crusts, quick breads, scones and muffins. Compared to flours milled from grains, hazelnut flour has significantly more heart-chummy monounsaturated fat and vitamin E. A recent study from Swedish researchers determined that a high level of the antioxidant vitamin E in the blood was associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline. Those who are watching their carb intake will appreciate that there is nearly as much protein as carbohydrates in hazelnut flour. Because it does not contain any gluten, you don’t want to use hazelnut flour on it own for most baked goods.

This is my adaptation of financiers, a light French tea cake often made in rectangular molds. For a change of pace, I’ve swapped out the customary almond flour for its lovely hazelnut counterpart and taken a pass on the nutritionally void powdered (confectioners’) sugar for the more wholesome coconut palm sweetener. The browned butter adds an irresistible nuttiness. Pomegranate season is upon us, so I decided to add them in to provide a tart crunch. You could use berries instead or simply omit the fruit.

For this recipe, I used the excellent hazelnut flour from Bob’s Red Mill. You can also try making your own by finely grinding hazelnuts into a powder with a good quality food processor or Vita-mix.

Hazelnut Pomegranate Financiers

1 1/4 cups hazelnut flour/meal
3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar or other sugar of choice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (arils)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together hazelnut flour, whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Place butter in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat, swirling the pan regularly.  Allow the butter to bubble away until it turns a deep brown, being very careful you don’t allow it to go from brown to black. Stir butter, applesauce and vanilla into flour mixture. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a whisk or electric mixer until a soft peaks form. Stir in a quarter of the egg whites into the flour mixture and then fold in the remaining whites with a spatula just until everything is incorporated. Divide mixture among 10 medium sized muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool several minutes before unmolding.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Turkey Sandwiches

Want some new ideas to reinvent leftover turkey sandwiches? Here's an article with an arsenal of turkey sandwiches I put together for the November issue of Women's Health magazine.

Turkey on Rye with Sweet Potato Hummus

Turkey, Brie and Cranberry Panini  - This is crazy good!

French Dip Turkey with Mushroom Au Jus

Pulled Turkey Sandwich with Apple-Cabbage Slaw

Here are a couple that cut for space reasons, not because they weren't yummy.

Turkey Salad Pitas

Chockablock with muscle-building protein, Greek yogurt is an upgrade from mayo in this turkey salad. Crunchy pecans are brimming with heart-healthy unsaturated fats while red grapes provide pleasant sweetness and a dose of antioxidant vitamin C.

½ cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
½ lime, juiced
½ tsp cumin
Dash of cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup red grapes, sliced in half
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1½ cups cooked turkey (white meat, without skin), cubed
2 whole-wheat pitas

1. In a large bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt, lime juice, cumin, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in grape halves, pecans, celery, and turkey.
2. Slice pitas in half and stuff the four halves with turkey mixture. 

Mexican Turkey Cemitas

Originally from the Mexican state of Puebla, the festival of flavors and textures that is a cemita has become du rigueur with street food vendors in New York, L.A. and other cities. Here, turkey is a healthier option than traditional deep fried beef, cilantro replaces hard to find papalo leaves and smoky chipotle laced ricotta makes this sandwich sing.

¼ tsp smoked paprika or chili powder
½ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp lime zest
Salt and pepper, to taste
1½ cups cooked turkey (white meat, without skin), sliced
1/3 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
2 tsp minced chipotle chiles in adobo
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 cemita or other sesame seed rolls, sliced in half
½ ripe avocado, sliced
1 plum tomato, sliced
½ cup cilantro

1. In a medium sized bowl, combine paprika or chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, lime zest, and salt and pepper. Add turkey and stir to coat.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together ricotta, chipotle chiles with sauce, and lime juice.
3. Place turkey on bottom half of rolls and top with cheese mixture, avocado and tomato slices, and cilantro. Press down lightly with top halves of rolls.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mesquite Pancakes

Featured Ingredient: Mesquite Powder

One of the great things about having a blog dedicated to the muffin tin is all the great up-can-coming flours and powders I get to experiment with. Enter mesquite powder.

Ground from the edible bean-like pods of the mesquite tree, mesquite powder has a very distinct smoky and sweet flavor unlike any other flour on the market. Thriving in unforgiving environments, Native Americans in parched regions have long relied on mesquite to meet nutritional needs when a Wal-Mart wasn’t around the corner.

It’s most impressive nutritional attribute is crazy amounts of dietary fiber. A mere tablespoon dishes out 3 grams of this fat-fighter. A recent study in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine reported that the highest intakes of fiber – equivalent to about 30 grams per day for men and 25 grams for women – were associated with a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular, infectious, and respiratory diseases of up to 60 percent. Suddenly, bran never tasted so good!

Mesquite flour isn’t exactly cheap, but fortunately the old saw applies here: “A little goes a long way.” The one I used for this recipe is from the always reliable Navitus Naturals. I’m hoping mesquite flour starts popping up at more natural food stores.

In baked good applications, you’ll want to use gluten-free mesquite to replace about 25 percent of another flour a recipe calls for. All on it’s own the flavor would likely be too overpowering. It would also probably be a killer addition to smoothies and something I plan on trying.

The best thing about taking your pancake batter and plopping it into mini muffin molds is that it eliminates any need for flipping the flapjacks and all eaters get to chow down at the same time as opposed to the need to make pancakes in batches. Of course, if you can’t find mesquite these work well with straight up whole wheat flour.

Mesquite Pancake Puffs

2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup mesquite powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 large egg
2/3 cup low-fat milk of choice
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, mesquite powder, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat egg and stir in milk and butter. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix gently. Fold in walnuts and divide batter among 20 greased mini muffin cups. Bake for 12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a pancakes comes out clean. Serve with maple syrup. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cast Iron Cooking

When I was growing up, I was really into heavy metal. Stuff like Ozzy and Metallica. Now it's all about heavy metal in the kitchen. This article I wrote for the November issue of Alive magazine about new ways to use your trusty cast iron skillet in the kitchen may inspire a trip to Grandma's attic in search of one.

Recipes inlcude olive cornbread, blackened catfish, berry clafoutis and this butternut riff on pizza.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Delicata Squash Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Delicata Squash

If you only turn to butternut or acorn squash for your winter squash fix this time of year, boy are you missing out. Attractively adorned with green stripes, Tabi and I became smitten with this gourd last winter for a number of reasons:

It tends to come in smaller sizes than other winter squash making it easier to handle and better suited for families of two like us.

Like butternut, it’s blissfully naturally sweet. There texture is actually a little creamier.

When sliced and roasted, you can leave the peel on and eat it. That’s right, the thin skin is edible! Peeling winter squash like butternut can be a big pain.

Similar to other winter squash, delicata is very versatile in that it can be added to roasted vegetable medleys, green salads, pizza, soups, stews and baked goods such as these muffins that we have my muffin loving partner to thank for.

The delicate squash puree lends these muffins a subtle earthy sweetness that pairs beautifully with whole grains like quinoa flour and maple syrup. I actually found the flavor improved after a day or two. If you don’t have quinoa flour handy, simply use all whole wheat pastry.

Anybody else loving this squash??

Delicata Squash Muffins

1 medium sized delicate squash

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup quinoa flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup delicate squash puree

¼ cup oil of choice

2 large eggs

1/3 cup coconut palm sugar or other sugar of choice

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup walnut pieces

Slice 1 medium sized delicate squash in half and scoop out the seeds. At this point you can lightly coat the flesh in oil and roast at 400 degrees F on a baking sheet until tender or slice into segments and steam until tender. The latter is what we did. Scrap away the flesh from the skin and mash with a fork.

Preheat oven (or reduced oven temp if you roasted the squash) to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, combine squash puree, oil, eggs, sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix gently. Fold in walnuts. Divide muffins among 12 greased muffin cups and bake for about 18 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool several minutes before unmolding.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wok Star

It’s such a shame that for the most part Chinese food has been bastardized in North America. When prepared traditionally, real Chinese food is incredibly flavorful, light in calories and surprisingly easy to put together. I had a lot of fun overhauling five popular Chinese dishes for this feature article in the October issue of Alive magazine. After I am finished making the bounty of recipes for my upcoming book, I definitely plan on revisiting these.

Sweet and Sour Tofu

Wonton Soup

Orange Chicken

Chicken Chow Mein

Egg Fried Rice

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Breast Cancer Fighting Foods

Hey ladies, why eat plenty of mushrooms, blueberries and walnuts? As my article in the October issue of Best Health magazine shows, these are among the best foods to slash your risk for breast cancer.

Plus, try these three breast cancer fighting recipes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Amaranth Chocolate Crisps

Featured Ingredient: Amaranth

This is the first time amaranth has been featured on Muffin Tin Mania. What a shame!

While quinoa is all the rage among gluten-free grains, amaranth possesses some serious nutritional prowess as well. A cup serving is packed with fiber, protein, iron, selenium and magnesium. Though often under consumed, magnesium has been found to help slash the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. Similar to quinoa, the protein in amaranth is considered to be complete making it a valuable protein source for both vegetarians and meatarians. I’ve never had the chance to try amaranth greens, but I would like to someday.

You can prepare amaranth like you would other grains by simmering in liquid or you can also pop it like popcorn.

I’ve done this before to make a fanciful cereal. It also works well to make crispy chocolate bites. These are seriously dangerous to have around the house as it’s hard to stop at just one a day. At least they are full of nutritional goodness. I highly recommend adorning them with a whisper of salt for the complete package.  

Chocolate Amaranth Crisps

3 tablespoons amaranth
8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
Cayenne or chili powder (optional)
Fleur de Sel (optional)

Heat a medium sized pan over medium-high heat. When a drop of water energetically sizzles in the pan, add in 1 tablespoon amaranth (don’t add more!), cover with a lid and as soon as the popping begins vigorously shake the pan until most of the amaranth has popped, about 10 to 15 seconds. If amaranth burns, try shaking the pot about 1-inch off of the heat element as the popping occurs. You also may need to reduce the heat. After a couple times you’ll get the hang of it so have some extra amaranth on hand for failed batches. Remove amaranth from the pot to a bowl and repeat with remaining grain.  

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of very lightly simmering water, stirring often. Or microwave chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 20 to 30 second increments, stirring after each interval until everything is melted.  

Stir 6 to 8 tablespoons popped amaranth into the melted chocolate along with cayenne or chili powder if using. Divide mixture among 12 mini sized muffin cups and sprinkle each with Fleur de sel. Place in the refrigerator until set, about 1hour.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hemp Hearts

Featured Ingredient: Hemp Hearts

Let there be no doubt: I  heart hemp!

One of my favorite companies out there Manitoba Harvest recently rebranded their hemp seeds. They are now called hemp hearts. Why? Well, these little parcels of nutrition are the inner kernel (a.k.a. the heart) of the hemp seed.

Hemp seeds or hemp hearts. Regardless of names, they remain a staple in my daily bowl of yogurt and I’m making good use of them in recipes for my upcoming book. Here’s why you should too.

Protein power: With 10 grams in 3 tablespoons, hemp hearts contain more protein than most other seeds and nuts. What’s more, they contain a full arsenal of amino acids making them a complete protein source. If you’re a vegetartian shunning animal foods, hemp needs to be a part of your diet. Heck, I eat meat and I’m happy to load up on hemp protein.

Phat fats: Most health experts agree that our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio should be around 3:1, which is about what you will find in hemp hearts. Because of the glut of processed vegetable oils in our diets, most North Americans consume a diet with an excessive omega-6:omega-3 ratio that is thought to promote inflammation and chronic disease.

Marvelous magnesium: Hemp hearts are also loaded with magnesium - an often under consumed mineral shown to help slash the risk of diabetes by improving blood sugar control.

Truly tasty: Even if hemp hearts were not so nutritious, I’d still gobble them up for their toothsome nutty flavor.

Green with envy: Hearty hemp is one of the most sustainable crops out there as it grows easily without chemicals. Hemp foods are also never ever genetically modified.

Versatile: Sprinkle them on cereal, oatmeal, salads, stir-fry’s, soups and yogurt. Or work them into batters such as pancake, cookie and muffins. You can also try them in these hemp tarts.

Forget the grind: Unlike flax, hemp hearts do not need to be ground for proper absorption.

So there you have it. My rant on why hemp should be in your pantry. Is anyone else out there a hemp superfan?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Molten Lava Cake

Featured Ingredient: Failed Molten Lava Cake

Fellow food bloggers of the world, I need your help. I’m working on my first cookbook based on this blog and was really hoping to include a muffin tin molten lava cake. I figure if you can pull it off in a ramekin why not a muffin tin? Well, despite two efforts, I just can’t get my mini cakes to ooze.

The recipe I have so far is below. I’d love to get some feedback on what could be mucking up my results. These taste crazy good, but they are not having the effect I am looking for. It takes about 10 minutes for the tops to set and it seems like the innards are still liquid, but after cooling and biting into one there is no flow. I’d be happy to toss in a complimentary book when it comes out in the spring for any one who can solve my cake dilemma.

Not So Lava Chocolate Cakes

8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), diced

4 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/2 cup palm sugar or other granulated sugar of choice

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon cayenne or chili powder (optional)

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 12 medium sized muffin cups. Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of lightly simmering water, stirring often. Or microwave chocolate and butter in a large microwave safe bowl in 20 to 30 second increments, stirring after each interval until everything is melted.

Using an electric mixer or metal whisk, whisk together eggs and sugar until thickened and paler, about 3 to 4 minutes. Fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Stir in flour, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and cayenne or chili if using; mix well. If using espresso powder, place it in a small bowl and whisk with 2 tablespoons boiling water to dissolve and stir into mixture. Divide mixture among muffin cups and bake for 10 minutes, or until the tops are just set but the inner part is sill liquid (not working for me!). Let cool several minutes before unmolding and inverting on serving plates. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with fresh mint if desired.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Frozen Herbs

Featured Ingredient: Frozen Herbs

Yesterday at the farmers’ market, I bought enough sage to last me dozens of dishes and it only cost me 2 bucks. For the same price at the grocery story, I can get just enough for a couple uses and it often looks less than inspiring. At this time of year you can really load up on fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, mint and sage for crazy low prices. But the problem is that they don’t last very long, even if the roots are placed in a jar with water. To the rescue is the mini muffin pan.

To preserve delicate herbs such as the aforementioned, I first wash them free of any grit, chop them up finely, stuff them into mini muffin cups and top with water.

All you do then is slide the tray into the freezer, wait until frozen, pop out the herb cups and freeze in a zip-top bag. Granted, these herbs won’t be good for garnishing. But you can toss them straight from the freezer into pasta sauces, soups, chili and other dishes that require simmering.

This is one of those cases where I love the silicon muffin cups. Their flexibility makes it really easy to unmold frozen items. If your herb cups get stuck, try placing the bottom of the tray in warm water momentarily. Be careful that you don’t go too long and melt the contents.

Anyone else out there have good experiences with freezing and using fresh herbs

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Homemade Extracts

Featured Ingredient: Extracts

Several weeks back, I mentioned that I was experimenting with making my own extracts. With the project completed and a success, here are the recipes. It’s really easy to do and takes little more than a lot of patience as you wait several weeks for the flavors to develop. I can already envision the yogurt lemon cake that the lemon extract will come in handy for and the chocolate stout cake that the chocolate extract will make even more chocolaty.

Chocolate Extract

3 tablespoons cocoa nibs

1/2 cup vodka or white rum

1/4 cup water

Combine ingredients in a jar with a tightly sealed lid. Let sit 6 to 8 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every few days or so. Drain extract through a fine sieve to remove solids.

Lemon Extract

2 lemons

1/2 cup vodka or white rum

1/4 cup water

With a vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemons being careful to avoid getting too much of the white pith. Add to a jar with vodka or rum and water, and seal tightly. Let sit 6 to 8 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every few days or so. Drain extract to remove solids.

Coffee Extract

2 tablespoons crushed coffee beans

1/2 cup vodka or white rum

1/4 cup water

Combine ingredients in a jar with a tightly sealed lid. Let sit 6 to 8 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every few days or so. Drain extract through a fine sieve to remove solids.

Vanilla Extract

3 vanilla pods

3/4 cup vodka or white rum

1/4 cup water

Split vanilla beans along their length and then slice each in half. Place vanilla beans in a glass jar and pour in alcohol and water. Seal the jar with an airtight fitting lid and let sit for 6 to 8 weeks in a cool, dark place. Shake the jar every few days or so.

Almond extract

3 tablespoons ground skinless, blanched almonds

1/2 cup vodka or white rum

1/4 cup water

Combine ingredients in a jar with a tightly sealed lid. Let sit 6 to 8 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every few days or so. Drain extract through a coffee filter to remove solids.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sour Cream Peach Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Peaches

Peaches are considered a stone fruit because of their stone-like pits. Their orange hue hints at significant levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A and uses for healthy eyes, bones and immune system. Peaches are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C and blood-pressure lowering potassium. As one of my favorite summertime treats, I’ll be sad to seem them vacate our farmers’ market in the next couple weeks.

For me, just as delightful as biting into a ridiculously juicy peach is sinking your teeth in to a peach studded muffin. I had some sour cream in the fridge that needed to be put to use before a looming expiry date, so I finally got around to making some peach sour cream muffins I have been craving for some time. Often a concern with muffins is that they could turn out too dry. Well, these had no issues with that as the fruit and cream teamed up to produce a very moist muffin. I included coconut flour which I have discussed before to add interesting texture and unique coconut sweetness, but if you don’t have it on hand simply use straight up whole wheat flour or blend in another flour of choice. Wheat germ also ups the health ante.

I’m usually not a big fan of peeling fruits and vegetables because in many cases a lot of the nutrients, fiber and antioxidants are found in those outer layers. But in this instance, you should really peel your peaches. To do so, simply prepare a small pot of simmering water. Score an X in the bottom of the peaches, drop them in the water and let simmer for about 20 seconds. Remove peaches with a slotted spoon and the skin will lift right off from the bottom.

These may look frumpy, but your taste buds won’t care about appearances. I have to give a shout out to my girlfriend Tabi as she took my recipe and made these a reality despite my unwelcome presence in the kitchen.

Possible recipe variations:

Replace sour cream with yogurt

Top batter with sliced almonds before baking

Swap out wheat germ for quick-cook oats

Replace peaches with mango or nectarine

Sour Cream Peach Muffins

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/3 cup wheat germ

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1/4 cup melted coconut oil or other oil of choice

1 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup palm or other sugar of choice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 large peaches, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves and salt. In a separate large bowl, lightly beat egg. Stir in oil, sour cream, honey, sugar, vanilla extract and almond extract. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour the wet mixture in and mix gently. Fold in peaches and raisins. Divide batter among 12 medium sized muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Surprising Antioxidant Foods

Most often when the conversation turns to antioxidant powerhouses, the usual mentions are fruits and vegetables.  However, when researching this article on surprising antioxidant foods for the September issue of Runner's World, I found out that there are no shortage of items with a longer shelf life that are loaded with these disease-thwarting compounds including black rice, egg yolks and (yeah!) peanut butter.

Have a read and then hit the bulk bins for some Brazil nuts.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chocolate Beet Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Beets

Among vegetables, beets are notable for their sweetness - they have the highest sugar content of any veggie – and of course leaving a mark in the kitchen. Their cutting board, finger and shirt staining power comes from their betacyanin content, which turns out to be a powerful antioxidant to help mop up pesky disease-provoking free radicals. Plus one average sized beet has only 35 calories to keep you on good terms with the scale and is brimming with folate, a B vitamin essential for heart health and cancer prevention . The perfect two-for-one vegetable, edible beet greens are brimming with vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Beets are one of the few things that managed to grow well in my community garden plot this year (I won’t bother ranting about that), leaving me to scheme of ways to put them to good use. It may seem like an odd couple, yet beets and chocolate go together very well. Like other vegetable purees, they add sweetness and moisture in lieu of extra sugar and fats such as oil and butter.

You can definitely taste the beets here, and for a beet lover like me that is a good thing. But if you have an aversion to this root vegetable, these probably aren’t for you. I used a mixture of kamut and quinoa flour which provides a powerful nutritional combo, but you could use straight up whole wheat pastry flour if you prefer. The flavor of acai powder pairs well with chocolate, so I tossed that in for an antioxidant boost. You can leave it out if it’s not in your pantry. But definitely include the hot stuff, as it provides a nice little kick.

Chocolate Beet Muffins

1/2 pound beets (about 3 medium), chopped

1 cup kamut flour

1/2 cup quinoa flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup acai powder (optional)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon cayenne or chili powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup palm sugar or other granulated sugar of choice

1/4 cup coconut oil or other vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup low fat sour cream

Steam beets until very tender. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix together flours, cocoa powder, acai powder, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne, cloves and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in sugar, oil and vanilla.

Place beets in a blender or food processor container along with sour cream. You can also add 1/4 cup of the beet steaming liquid. Puree until smooth. Stir beet mixture into egg mixture. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix gently. Divide mixture among 12 medium sized muffin cups and bake for 18 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool several minutes before unmolding.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

PaperChef Parchment Cups

Featured Ingredient: PaperChef Parchment Cups

As you know, I’m a big fan of silicon muffin cups. Virtually non-stick and bendable, I really on them heavily for muffin tin recipes. But when I need or want to use paper lines such as creating groves in desserts for a nice presentation, I have found the perfect solution: PaperChef Parchment Cups.

Because most paper liners are not non-stick, you often have to grease them or risk a good chunk of your mini frittata’s being left behind. These parchment cups are stick-free so you eliminate the need for extra greasy calories. Plus, they can often be used for more than one batch of muffins helping cut down on waste. But when you do pitch them, you can feel a little less guilty as they are completely bio-degradable.  

If you are muffin tin devotee like me, I highly recommend picking up a box and trying them out.