Thursday, April 28, 2011

Individual Carrot Cakes with Cashew Maple Cream

 Featured Ingredient: Carrots

We are still desperately waiting for spring to arrive here in Ontario. The weather just plain out sucks. Which means turning to food for comfort. And what could be more comforting than carrot cake? The spring issue of Food & Drink magazine (a mag we get here in the liquor store and one of my favs) includes a number of delish looking carrot cakes so Tabi and I wanted to try an adaptation of one in the trusty muffin tray. Of course, we needed to cut back on the sugar and fat to make them a little less of a guilty pleasure.

You could do a lot worse than carrots as a main ingredient in baked goods. Bugs Bunny’s favorite food is a great source of fiber, vitamin K, potassium and beta-carotene. Besides being converted to vitamin A in the body to improve bone, eye and immune healthy, beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant to mop up those nefarious free-radicals. Several studies suggest that a diet rich in beta-carotene can confer protection against a number of different forms of cancer.

We have my partner Tabi to thank for these to-die-for individual carrot cakes. You Rock!
I had some cashew cream leftover from a recipe I developed for a magazine article and thought it would go well on the cakes. Boy does it ever. A match made in culinary heaven indeed. You’ll never miss the icing!

Individual Carrot Cakes with Cashew Maple Cream

Cashew Cream:
1/3 cup unsalted, raw cashews
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Soak cashews in water for at least 2 hours. Place cashews in a blender along with just enough water to barely cover them. Process until smooth. Add maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla extract; blend until combined.

Carrot Cakes

1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup yogurt

2 cups finely shredded carrots
1/3 cup dried cherries, currants or raisins
1/3 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the wet to the dry and mix until just incorporated. Fold in the carrots, cherries, and walnuts. Divide among 12 medium sized muffin cups. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before unmolding. Slice in half and top with cashew cream.

Monday, April 25, 2011

All Dried Up

As I wrote in this recent article for Alive magazine, there are some big nutritional perks that come with grabbing a handful of dried fruit for a snack. And there are plenty of ways to incorporate dates, goji berries, dried tart cherries and others into recipes such as the ones below I developed for this piece. Psst...the hazelnut pancakes will rock your breakfast world.

Chocolate Fruit Bark

Chickpea Goji Berry Salad

Hazelnut Pancakes with Dried Blueberry Sauce

This is a bonus recipe that got axed for space issues.

Acorn Squash with Dried Fruit Rice Stuffing

2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 acorns, halved and seeds removed
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup wehani rice
1/3 cup black or green lentils
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 Tbsp  fresh thyme, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together maple syrup and butter and brush half the mixture over the squash flesh. Place squash on a baking sheet, tent with foil and bake until flesh is tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until softened. Add garlic, rice, lentils, cranberries, apricot, walnuts, half the thyme, and salt and pepper, to taste. Pour in 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered until rice and lentils are tender and water is absorbed, about 40-45 minutes. Add more water during cooking as needed.

Remove acorn squash halves from oven and stuff with rice mixture. Drizzle with remaining butter mixture and top with remaining thyme. Cook 5 minutes more.

Serves 4

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Double Chocolate Avocado Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Avocado

It was not too long ago during the “fat is worse than the bubonic plague” era that the creamy avocado was left to rot on store shelves. Thankfully, we have all come to our senses and avocado is once again considered what it should be: an exceptionally healthy food.

Yes, avocado contains a bunch of fat, but almost all of this comes from monounsaturated fat. A raft of studies has demonstrated that this particular guise of fat protects the ticker by helping improve cholesterol numbers. Add on top of this a smorgasbord of nutrients including folate, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin C, and you have a bon afide superfood. Oh, and each half avocado supplies a whopping 7 grams of dietary fiber.

This was my first attempt at baking with avocado and I am pleased with the results. When you incorporate pureed avocado into baked goods you don’t need to use any eggs. So these chocolaty muffins could easily be vegan by using non-dairy milk such as hemp or soy instead of cow’s milk. I’ve discussed the benefits of kamut flour previously as a great alternative to standard wheat flour, but if you can’t locate it whole wheat pastry flour will do. Or try half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. There is a fine line between these being moist and dry, so start testing them after about 20 minutes of baking time.

There are a lot of ways you can adjust the spices, nuts and sweeteners in this recipe to your liking, which is the beauty of so many muffin recipes.

Double Chocolate Avocado Muffins

1 1/2 cups kamut flour or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 medium-sized ripe avocado, pitted and peeled

2/3 cup pure maple syrup, preferably dark grade

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup coconut oil, melted or other oil of choice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks

1/3 cup walnut pieces.

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a food processor or high powered blender such as the Vita-mix, puree the avocado, maple syrup, milk, oil, and vanilla extract together until smooth. Add the avocado mixture to the dry ingredients; mix until all the flour is combined. If the mixture is too dry, stir in additional milk. Fold in chocolate chunks and walnuts.

Divide the batter between 12 medium-sized muffin cups, and bake for about 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out with just a few crumbs. Let cool before unmolding.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Individual Raspberry Cheesecakes

Featured Ingredient: Raspberries

Oh how I yearn for the warmer days ahead when raspberries are in season. The weather still stinks here in Ontario. We actually still have some frozen raspberries left over from last picking season that I often place in post-workout smoothies for a boost of nutrition. At this time of year, the freezer section of the supermarket is a good place to pick up raspberries.

A cup contains half the daily requirement for vitamin C and a whopping 8 grams of fiber thanks largely to all those tiny seeds. On top of its well known role to keep you more regular than Norm on Cheers, dietary fiber can help control body weight by keeping you feeling full. Further, a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that dietary fiber is associated with a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease. We all should aim for 25 to 30 grams daily. Like other berries, these red gems provide a smorgasbord of antioxidants to help fend off those pesky disease-provoking free radicals.

Add raspberries to yogurt, oatmeal and cottage cheese. Or try these little cheesecake treats for a fanciful dessert. You can also used crushed up Oreo cookies as the base if you want them to have a chocolate kick. Of course, almost any other berry or nut will work in this recipe. These cheesecakes still feel decadent even with the use of reduced fat cream cheese, so I suggest using it to shave off fat calories.

Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped finely

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar of choice

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup raspberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, stir together graham crumbs, walnuts, syrup and cinnamon. Divide mixture among 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with a mixer until light and fluffy. Pour in sugar while continuing to beat. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. With a fork, mash up raspberries. Stir raspberries into cream cheese mixture. Top each of the muffin cups with the cheese mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, or until set. Let cool before unmolding.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Purple Mashed Potato Cups

Featured Ingredient: Purple Potatoes

As a bright addition to the rainbow of spuds now available at markets, purple potatoes are a surprising source of antioxidants. They contain the same anythocyanin antioxidants found in blueberries and blackberries, which gives blue food, well, their blue hue. Research suggests that anthoycanins can confer protection from a number of cancers and protect the brain from oxidative damage known to contribute to memory loss. And similar to other potatoes, this cheery version is a good source of dietary fiber.

But nutritional perks aside, purple potatoes are always a fun addition to meal-time. Use them in any dish calling for other potatoes such as the iconic mashed stuff. I wanted to see if I could turn classic mashed potatoes into a muffin tin creation. It turns out it works! I’m a big fan of the bite of horseradish in my mashed potatoes, but you could leave this out if desired. Nutmeg is often my secret spice as it adds nice warmth. Chopped chives would be a great addition if you have them on hand. These are pretty good cold, so consider packing them for lunches.

Muffin Tin Mashed Potatoes

1.5 lbs purple potatoes, diced (about 4 cups)

1 cup diced cremini mushrooms

1 onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, diced

2 Tbsp butter

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup flour of choice

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 Tbsp horseradish

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Salt and pepper, to taste

Steam or boil potatoes until very tender. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic; cook until mushrooms and onion are softened, about 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, mash potatoes with a potato masher or fork with the butter. Stir in milk. Add flour, eggs, horseradish, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir until flour is incorporated.

Divide batter among 12 muffin cups and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a crust has started to form on the top. Let cool 5 minutes before unmolding.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gluten-Free Date and Nut Tassies

Featured Ingredient: Dates

Dates are the fruit of the date palm, a tree that prefers to live in desert-like conditions. The two varieties most often available in stores is the semi-soft Deglet Noor and the softer, plumper (and more expensive) Medjool. For baking and the sake of my budget, I stick with the later but for an out-of-hand snack almost nothing beats a tender Medjool. It’s is very difficult to come across fresh dates as the type most often available in stores are partially dried, pitted ones.

Dates are a wonderful source of hunger-quelling dietary fiber as well as magnesium, a mineral shown to help reduce diabetes risk. Plus, you get a healthy dose of potassium which helps control blood pressure.

It’s important to seek out dates that are soft and chewy and not overly dry like you’ll find in the bins of some bulk stores. For this recipe, I used the dried Deglet Noor dates from Sun-Maid. I continue to be happy with the quality of the dried fruits they sell.  

Because dates are among the sweetest fruits around, they work very well in baking and let you cut back on how much sugar is needed.  

Tassies are sort of like mini pies. In fact, these little treats taste like mini pecan pies, but I reckon the calorie and fat-damage is much less than the typical slice of pecan pie. Hazelnuts would rock in the recipe as well. If you don’t want to make them gluten-free, simply use regular all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour. Apricots would probably make a great alternative to dates. I used palm sugar and actually found them a tad sweet, so I might cut back just a bit on the sugar next time. These would photograph better if there was more of a color disparity between the crust and topping but I'll leave that to the food stylists out there.

Gluten-free Nut and Date Tassies

Adapted from Eating Well magazine

1/4 cup all-purpose gluten free flour or other gluten-free flour of choice
1/4 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
4 ounces pitted dried dates (about 3/4 cup), chopped
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or more if you like stronger vanilla flavor
1/2 cup pecans or almonds, coarsely chopped
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F. To prepare the curst, pulse flour, sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, cornstarch, butter and salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Divide the crust mixture among 12 lightly greased or paper lined muffin cups (about 1 tablespoon per cup) and press evenly into the bottoms.

To prepare filling, combine dates, water, sugar and butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until most (but not all) of the liquid has cooked away, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly, then process the date mixture in a food processor until a paste forms. Add cream cheese and vanilla; process to combine. Stir in pecans oralmonds. Divide the date-nut filling among muffin cups, gently pressing the filling down and smoothing the tops.

Bake until the filling is lightly cooked, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool before unmolding. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving, if desired.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Maple Madness

I recently called out maple syrup as a featured ingredient with these maple muffins.They were even featured on Maple Syrup World.

With maple syrup season in full swing, I thought I would provide some more sweet recipes courtesy of this article on tree goo I wrote for a recent issue of Alive magazine. I gotta make some of these again. Tabi says: "Especially the maple almond cookies!"

Maple Pumpkin Tea Loaf

Maple Glazed Trout

Maple Squash Soup 

Maple Granola

Maple Almond Cookies

Escarole Pear Salad with Maple Dressing

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Java Junkie

In the April issue of Women's Health magazine, I have an article on the health perks of drinking coffee as well as tips on brewing the perfect mug. If you're a coffee lover, you should really take a look at the piece. The article includes a recipe for coffee granita that will be perfect for the sultry days ahead. Though developing that recipe in the middle of December's chill was a bit odd. Three additional coffee infused recipes I developed made it as web extras that you can see here.

You gotta try the fig compote and greek yogurt

The No-Bake Coffee Cheesecakes are a good fit for this blog.

And what better way to start your day than a Java Smoothie.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Maple Apple Muffins with Maple Walnuts

Featured Ingredient: Maple Syrup

Here is Ontario the first crop of the season is not tangy rhubarb or asparagus, it’s maple syrup. Maple Syrup is a deliciously sweet treat that Mother Nature bestows upon us every year at this time.

As daytime temperatures warm in conjuction with frosty nights, the starch in maple trees is converted into sugar by enzymes. The sap is sweet enough for only a few fleeting weeks each year. The crude, almost tasteless maple sap, contains just 2 to 5 percent sugar with the rest being water which must be evaporated away, often in a smokey sugarhouse, to produce a table ready syrup. It takes about 40 litres of maple sap to produce just a mere litre of viscous syrup, a scant one-fortieth of the original volume. Ergo, making maple syrup is not a DIY kitchen project.

A star among its sweetener brethren, maple syrup contains several nutrients essential to good health such as zinc, iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as seveal antioxidants. Still, it contains an abundance of fast-digesting sugars and should be consumed in moderation like other sweeteners.

The lighter grades of maple syrup are often considered the best for table uses such as pancakes and waffles with the dark grade being used more in cooking such as baked goods. However, Tabi and I much prefer the robust flavor that darker maple syrup provides and exclusively use it for all purposes.

This recipe has a double whammy of maple goodness. When replacing a dry sweetener with a liquid one such as tree goo, you shouldn’t just add more dry ingredients as this can mess with the leavening. To compensate for its liquid state, a better idea is to take away some of the other liquid such as oil or milk. In general, for every 2/3 to 1 cup of liquid sweetener used cut back 25 to 30 percent of another liquid (I cut back on the oil used). Add a pinch of baking soda to cut the extra acidity, reduce the oven temperature 25ºF (here I went from 350 to 325) to avoid overbrowning and bake for a little longer.
Does this all sound A-OK to those baking experts out there?

Instead of incorporating the walnuts into the batter, I like the fanciful presentation that the nuts on top provide. You can also use pecans here too.

Maple Apple Muffins with Maple Walnuts

1 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup walnut pieces

2 Tbsp + 1/2 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda + a pinch more

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. cloves

1/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs

1/4 cup oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups apple, finely chopped

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Stir in walnuts and 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Cook, stirring frequently, until syrup is caramelized and nuts are toasted, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn the walnuts.

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in oil, 1/2 cup maple syrup and vanilla. Stir in half the flour mixture into the egg mixture. When combined, stir in the remaining flour until blended. Stir in apples. Divide mixture among greased or paper lined muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.