Monday, May 30, 2011

Sensational Smoothies

With summer around the corner, more people are going to start thinking about whirling up refreshing smoothies. So I thought I would pass along some new ideas for blender creations courtesy of my smoothie article in the May issue of Fresh magazine. To view the article, which includes tips on how to master the smoothie and this almond blueberry smoothie, click here and go to page 44.

Here's a bonus recipe that did not make it into the article.

Oat Date Smoothie

Who says you have to eat oats out of a bowl? If your blender has trouble pulverizing the dates, try soaking them overnight. If desired, you can add a touch of maple syrup.

1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/3 cup dried pitted dates, chopped
1 banana, preferably frozen

Place milk in a blender container. Add in remaining ingredients in the order specified. Turn blender onto it low setting and process for 20 seconds. Switch to the high setting and blend until dates are turned into small bits, about 1 minute.Makes 2 smoothies.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rhubarb Strawberry Cups with Vanilla Scented Yogurt

Featured Ingredient: Rhubarb

The past few years have seen me embrace spring rhubarb with much more enthusiasm. I used to be too fussy to try and deal with rhubarb’s explosive tartness, but I’ve learned that it can be used in so many different savory and sweet dishes with such ambrosial results, that it has become a regular fixture on our spring menu.

Although rhubarb is considered a vegetable botanically related to buckwheat and sorrel, the stalks taste best when handled more like a fruit for things such as compotes, salsas and pies. Nutritionally, rhubarb excels in the antioxidant vitamin C and vitamin K, one of the less heralded bone-building nutrients.

These phyllo cups are a play on rhubarb tarts. They pair up rhubarb and strawberry – a perfect food pair if there was ever one. I think these are better when the filling is warmed and consider any extra a blessing as it can be used in yogurt, cottage cheese or oatmeal. Just pick these up with your hands and embrace the crumbling.

Do you think these are fancy enough for company or do they look a little too rough around the edges?

Rhubarb Strawberry Cups with Vanilla Scented Yogurt

4 sheets phyllo pastry

Oil or melted butter for brushing

1 cup strawberries, quartered

1 cup sliced rhubarb, about 2 stalks

1/3 cup brown-style sugar (I used turbinado)

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F. Very carefully place one sheet of phyllo pastry on a work surface and cover the remaining sheets with a damp kitchen towel to keep them moist. Brush oil over the entire surface of the sheet and cover with another sheet of phyllo. Brush with oil and repeat with another 2 phyllo sheets so you have four layers. With the tip of a sharp knife, carefully cut the layered sheets into quarters and slice each of the four squares evenly to form 8 squares. Tuck each phyllo pastry square into a lightly greased muffin cup making sure the bottoms lie flat. Bake until crisp and golden, about 10-12 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, ginger, lemon zest and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer and cook until rhubarb has softened, about 15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt and vanilla.

Add two spoonfuls of the strawberry rhubarb mixture into each phyllo cup and top with a dollop of vanilla yogurt.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Asparagus Frittata's

Featured Ingredient: Asparagus

If there was ever a vegetable that was a harbinger of sultry days ahead it would be asparagus. Because of our record setting wet spring up here in Ontario it took a little longer for it to colonize the local farmers’ market. Every spring I like to basically O.D. on the stuff so that I’m ready to move onto other vegetables as they come into season. And by doing so, I know that I have flooded my body with a wide range of vital nutrients.

Few vegetables have a nutrition-resume quite like verdant asparagus. It’s a great source of bone-building vitamin K, cancer-fighting folate, and immune-boosting vitamin A. The stalks even contain a descent amount of iron, too boot.

Our favorite cheese guy at the market recently awarded us for our devotion to his blue cheeses and raw stuff by giving us this huge chunk of Swiss style cheese.

So what does one do with a great cheese and asparagus? Frittata, of coarse. Instead of the skillet, you can also make whimsical frittata’s in muffin cups. These are so flavorful (thank a high-quality cheese) that there is absolutely no need for any sort of topping. Just heat them up and pop in your mouth.

Recipe variation possibilities:

Use seeded and diced tomatoes instead of red pepper

Try tarragon instead of thyme

Sub in a half cup of shelled edamame for the peas

Individual Asparagus Frittatas

1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

4 large eggs

1/3 cup milk

1/2 cup (or more!) shredded Swiss, fontina, or emmental cheese

2 teaspoons grainy mustard

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook asparagus, red pepper, peas, garlic and shallot until vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, lightly beat eggs in a large bowl and stir in milk, cheese, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Add vegetables to egg mixture. Divide among 12 muffin cups and bake for 18 minutes, or until eggs have set. Let cool before unmolding.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pumpkin Yacon Muffins with Yacon Glaze


Featured Ingredient: Yacon Syrup

One of the latest additions to the expanding market of “natural” sweeteners is yacon syrup.

Yacon is a distant relative of the sunflower with edible tubers and leaves. The tuber is often chopped and added to dishes, but a syrup can also be pressed from them to produce a dark, rich sweetener.

Benefits include:

1. Lower glycemic index than heavily refined sugars so it won’t send your blood sugar into a tizzy. This makes yacon a good sweetener option for those who have diabetes.

2. A natural source of fructooliosaccharides, or less of a mouthful FOS, which are prebiotics helping increase levels of beneficial bacteria in your gut.

3. Measure for measure, yacon syrup contains only about half the calories as white cane sugar.

4. Its taste is reminiscent of molasses. And, if you’re like me and love molasses, that’s a definite bonus.

5. Yacon syrup is considered a very sustainable sweetener. Here is an interesting video from Navitas Naturals about how it’s sourced and produced.

I think you could use it as you would honey, agave or maple syrup in recipes. I wanted to test it out in a muffin recipe that screams for molasses. I’m really happy how yacon syrup worked in these. They are really moist and definitely sweet enough. Despite the extra cost of yacon, I’m giving it a thumbs up. I’ll have to try working in the Navitus yacon powder into a baked good batter some day.

Recipe variation possibilities:  

Fold golden raisins into the batter

Use molasses instead of yacon syrup

Try pureed butternut squash instead of pumpkin

Try ground cloves instead of allspice
Pumpkin Yacon Muffins with Yacon Glaze

1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup pure canned pumpkin
1/4 cup coconut oil or oil of choice
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon yacon syrup
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and salt. In a separate large bowl, lightly beat egg and stir in pumpkin, oil, 1/2 cup yacon syrup and yogurt. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix gently. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

After removing muffins from the oven, sift together powdered sugar and a dash of salt into a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon yacon syrup and 2 teaspoons water; mix until smooth. If the glaze seems too thick, add a little additional water; if it seems too thin, add more sifted powdered sugar.

Dip the tops of cooled muffins into the glaze, and let set for 1 hour before serving. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chocolate Almond Butter Banana Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Almond Butter

If my bank account looked more like what Bill Gates' does, I would buy so much freakin' almond butter. I love the stuff. But on a writers income, it’s an occasional indulgence.

Nutritionally, almond butter bests its peanut brethren in many ways. Firstly, it’s higher in monounsaturated fat which chips away at high cholesterol numbers making almond butter a champion for hearth health. It also comes in higher in the trio of bone-building minerals calcium, magnesium and phosphorus as well as the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E. Darn it, if only the creamy goodness was cheaper!

I have to say that these individual cakes are crazy good. The kind of good that makes you not want to share any of them. But then again, when chocolate and almond butter hook-up they are bound to produce a winner. When you get a bite that combines the almond butter and slightly melted chocolate chunks, it’s gustatory heaven.

At the last minute, I decided to toss in some espresso powder, but the coffee flavor did not really come through. Maybe the chocolate and chili drowned it out. If someone has a suggestion for giving these a more pronounced java taste, I’m all ears. Next time, I might try using a little more almond butter and swirling it into the batter instead of adding a dollop to each muffin cup.

Chocolate Almond Butter Banana Cakes

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3 large overripe bananas
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup dark chocolate chunks
1/4 cup almond butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, salt, espresso, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne. In a separate bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Stir in egg, sugar, oil and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir gently until just combined. Fold in chocolate chunks. Fill 12 muffin cups about half full with the batter. Spoon 1 teaspoon almond butter into the middle of each cup. Evenly divide the remaining batter on top. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean (some almond butter may stick to the tester). Let cool before umolding.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ramp Pesto Cornmeal Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Ramps

A harbinger of warmer days, ramps are one of those ultra-seasonal foods not to be missed. Ramps (a.k.a. wild garlic) are an early spring onion/scallion/leek-like vegetable that grows abundantly in the fecund soils of eastern North America.

Their flavor is reminiscent of chives, scallion and garlic. When raw, they are intensely garlicky, but cooking them mellows them out. Both the white bulb and verdant tops can be eaten.

Because they have a very short shelf life after picking, you won’t find ramps in grocery stores making the farmers’ market your best bet. Or you can forage for them. I was lucky enough to find a big plantation on our local mountain bike trails, so I stuffed my hydration pack with a solid bounty of them. After reading this article in the New York Times about how their increasing popularity might be leading to unsustainable harvesting, I made sure to only collect a few from each patch so they will be around next spring. 

As a member of the Allium family along with garlic and onions, ramps contain an abundance of sulfur compounds shown to confer some protection against certain cancers. Some studies show these compounds can help control cholesterol numbers helping reduce the chances of culinary woes.

Any recipe calling for garlic can be adjusted to accommodate to ramps. I love making pesto with them because you can incorporate both the bottoms and tops. These savory muffins have just the right amount of pesto flavor – not too overpowering but enough to enliven your taste buds. My first batch came out drier than the Sahara, but these are marvelously moist. If you don’t have ramps, feel free to use any pesto you like in this recipe.

Obviously, you’ll have a lot more pesto on your hands than what is used in this recipe. Consider that a blessing as it can be used in pasta salads or a fanciful spread for burgers or sandwiches. In an air-tight container, it will also freeze very well for future uses.

Cornmeal Pesto Muffins

1 bunch wild leeks (ramps), white bulb and green leafy parts, chopped
1 cup cilantro
1/3 cup mint
1/3 cup walnuts
½ cup grated high-quality Parmesean cheese (not the Kraft stuff)
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt, to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup oil
3 tablespoons ramp pesto

Place wild leeks, cilantro, mint and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely minced. Add cheese, salt and lemon juice and process until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Through the feed tube, add olive oil while machine is running and process until slightly grainy.

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, yogurt, oil and pesto until everything is combined and smooth. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a  tester comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes before unmolding.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Triple Coconut Blueberry Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Coconut

Pity the poor beleaguered coconut. Long castigated for its saturated fat content, many health organizations have urged people to treat it as they would cyanide – avoid at all costs. Yet, coconut offers up a surprising nutritional punch and is far from the health pariah once considered. Case in point: Most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid – a medium-chain triglyceride which the body has a hard time storing so is more likely to burn off as energy. Lauric acid is also considered to have anti-microbial properties.

It should be noted that nations with high intakes of coconut generally have much lower rates of heart disease than those found in North American and Europe. In fact, there really aren’t any credible studies linking coconut intake with coronary woes. On the flipside, there are a raft of papers demonstrating the heart-hampering quality of trans-fat, a man-made fat we were once lead to believe was a better choice than coconut fat. Go Figure!

The inclusion of coconut makes any dish taste exotic and a reminder of tropical island vacations. These moist gems contain a triple threat of coconut.

Coconut oil: This is a great cooking oil since it has a very high smoke point and holds up well to high heats. Try using it replace of other oils in baking. A great one to try is the organic coconut oil from Navitas Naturals. 

Coconut milk: I never thought of using it in replace of cow’s milk when making muffins, but it really works well and gives the muffins a subtle hint of coconut flavor.

Flaked coconut: Look for unsweetened versions and keep it in the fridge to maintain freshness. Did you know that a mere ounce of shredded dried coconut contains a whopping 5 grams of fiber.

I could have made this a quartet if I had some coconut flour, which I featured in an earlier post. I would have gone with 1/2 cup coconut flour and 1 1/4 cups pastry flour.

These muffins came out so moist with an abundance of coconut goodness, it’s really hard to eat just one.

Triple Coconut Blueberry Muffins

1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup sugar of choice (I like to use the palm sugar from Navitas)
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut + additional for topping
1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. In a separate bowl, light beat egg and mix with sugar, coconut milk, coconut oil and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix gently. Fold in coconut and blueberries. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes before unmolding.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hemp Chai Chocolate Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Hemp

In the May issue of Alive magazine, I’ve have a feature article on hemp food. Packed with nutritional highlights, immensely sustainable and crazy versatile in the kitchen, few foods are more cherished to me than hemp.

If you are interested in adding a nutritional boost to your everyday diet, take a look at the article and give one (or all!) of the recipes a try. Just reading the article last night got me hungry for some hemp, so I whipped up these moist and tasty protein packed muffins. Hemp protein is a regular part of my smoothies, but this is my first attempt at baking with it. I’m thinking these would be great for after a workout as the good combination of protein and carbs would help recharge the muscles. You can sub out the currants for other dried fruit such as cherries or raisins.

When it comes to hemp, my go to company is Manitoba Harvest. These guys are a perfect example of building a sustainable food business from the ground up. Their website has a bunch of recipes making use of this superfood.

Hemp Chai Chocolate Muffins

1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup hemp protein powder

2 chai tea bags, opened

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup turbinado, palm sugar or other sugar of choice

1/2 cup chocolate cow or hemp milk

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

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup dried currants

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, hemp protein, contents of chai tea bags, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, milk, oil, and vanilla. Gently stir together contents of dry and wet bowls until flour is incorporated. Fold in currants. Divide mixture among 10 medium sized greased or paper lined muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fabulous Flax

Though all the hoopla surrounding flax has largely fizzled in the past couple years, it remains an extremely healthy addition to any diet. This article I wrote on the salubrious seed for Today's Diet and Nutrition magazine explains the health perks of flax and gives you a nice selection of recipes to make good use of it in the kitchen.

Hazelnut Flax Pancakes with Braised Apples

Flax Granola Bars

Black Bean Flax Burgers with Flax Cilantro Pesto

Monday, May 2, 2011

Savory Spinach, Feta and Red Pepper Muffins

Featured Ingredient: Spinach

Why does Popeye the Sailor Man eat spinach? We know that it’s to recharge his superhuman strength so he can win over a certain lady. Apparently, the creator of Popeye made the strongman’s main fuel spinach because it was believed back in the day that spinach was abundant in iron. Now, nutritionists know that the leafy green is not a very good source of iron and the plant contains compounds that reduce its absorption.

Regardless of its iron content, spinach is indeed a powerfood. A serving of the verdant vegetable contains an abundance of beta-carotene, vitamin K used for blood clotting and bone strength as well as folate, a B vitamin shown to reduce the risk for a number of different cancers. All the more reason to add spinach to plenty of recipes, including, surprisingly, muffins.

It’s been a long time since I made a batch of savory muffins, so when I saw an amazing idea for one with spinach, roasted red pepper and feta in the pages of Bon Appetit magazine, I knew it might just be winner. These muffins are great for packing with your lunch as they work both cold and warm. I believe they would also be wonderful with gorgonzola cheese in replace of the feta. This recipe is just another example of where you can swap out the nutritionally poor all-purpose flour for more wholesome whole wheat with great results.

Does anyone out there in the cyber world have any other ideas for tasty savory muffins?

Savory Spinach Feta Pepper Muffins

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup sugar (I used turbinado)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk or unsweetened non-dairy beverage

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 cup thinly sliced baby spinach leaves, stems removed

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers from a jar

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, cayenne, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk and oil. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix gently until flour is incorporated. Fold in spinach, feta and red pepper. Divide among 12 muffin cups and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden on top and a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.