Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Chocolate Quinoa Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Quinoa

Several years ago, I spent the summer bicycling across western Canada and down the coast of Washington, Oregon and California. A truly marvelous pedal indeed. For a couple weeks in Washington and Oregon, I rode with a free spirited guy whose name has now escaped me. Anyhow, two things that really standout about him was that he cycled with a didgeridoo – a long drone pipe instrument developed by Indigenous Australians – strapped over his panniers (drivers weren’t impressed!) and every night for dinner he would eat a mysterious beige grain that he lauded as being a nutritional marvel. He called it quinoa. At the time, like almost every other North American, I had never heard of quinoa let alone could remember how to pronounce it. How times have changed.

The ancient Inca grain quinoa is smokin’ hot these days, as there is even an entire cookbook devoted to this gluten-free wonder. Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood is apparently selling very well for the Canadian authors as a testament to good timing as quinoa is becoming the go-to grain for more households. My public library has an unusually long waiting list for the book. I’ve had a chance to look through the recipes, and so many of them look really great. If, like Tabi and I, you’re into quinoa, it’s a worthy addition to a cookbook library.

One recipe that immediately stood out was the gluten-free chocolate quinoa cake. Cooked quinoa replaces the flour. I decided to give the recipe a whirl using muffin cups and must say that these are ridiculously good. Very moist and desirably chocolaty. If the other recipes are half as good as this one, the book is a real winner! For my version, I cut back on the sugar by 1/2 cup as we don’t normally like baked goods to be too sweet and I added some coffee extract, but that is certainly optional as few people have it around. Although, I am in the process of making my own.

As a quinoa freak, I’d be interested in hearing about other unique ways to use this superfood grain.

Gluten-free Chocolate Quinoa Cakes

2/3 cup beige quinoa (It also comes in red and black hues)
1/3 cup low-fat milk
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coffee extract
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
1/4 cup oil
3/4 cup palm or other raw style sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium saucepan, combine quinoa and 1 1/3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 12 minutes, or until water has absorbed. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine milk, eggs, vanilla and coffee extract in a blender and process until mixed. Add cooked quinoa, oil and butter and blend until smooth.

Whisk together sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients to bowl and mix until everything is moist. Divide batter among 12 prepared muffin cups and bake for 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Garlic Rosemary Beer Bread

Featured Ingredient: Beer

Gone are the days when beer was considered too pedestrian compared to wine for use as a cooking liquid. With the craft beer boom and mounting experimentation in the kitchens of tony gastropubs and up-market eateries, not to mention TV mega-food stars, the humble brew is finally getting a chance to show its culinary wings. Check out the Iron Chef beer battle. So take one down and pass it around to tap into beer’s huge flavor-enhancing potential.

From a culinary perspective, cooking with beer offers several benefits. The hops provide pleasant bitterness with the malt giving dishes a subtle sweetness. Stout beer makes chocolate baked goods even more chocolaty and lets you cut back on the oil or butter needed. Plus, the carbonation of beer contributes to the leavening (i.e. rising) of bread such as the recipe below with the malt producing a nice curst.

A few rules to abide by:

Just like wine, never cook with a beer that you wouldn’t want to imbibe.

Beer can merely be substituted for part or all of the liquid – water, stock, or wine – in recipes. In general, use a darker beer as a stand in for red wine and a lighter brew for white.

Sure, you’ll trim a few calories, but calorie-reduced light beers often don’t have enough flavor to stand up to cooking.

As beer cooks and reduces, it’s sweetness tends to cook off with the water, pushing it’s bitter aspects to the forefront. So use heavily hopped, bitter beers such as IPA in deeply flavored dishes or add them towards the end of cooking. A beer style that is very lightly hopped is perfect for reduction sauces and baking.

Full-flavored beers such as stouts and porters will have more impact on your dish, so a little goes a long way. Lighter lagers and pilsners can be used in greater quantities.

Ready to pour? Here’s a simple recipe to get you started in the wonderful world of cooking with beer. These mini breads are perfect served warm with a whisper of butter.

Roasted Garlic Rosemary Beer Bread

1 whole garlic bulb

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup lager or pilsner beer, preferably room temperature

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove the excess papery covering on the garlic and slice off the top of the head so most of the cloves are exposed. Wrap in foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until garlic is very soft.

In a large bowl, squeeze out the soft garlic pulp and mix with flour, sugar, olive oil, baking powder, rosemary and salt. Add beer and stir until just combined (don’t overmix). Bake for about 20 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and an inserted tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hemp Tarts

Featured Ingredient: Hemp seeds

Haven’t joined the growing legion of hemp devotees yet? Why the heck not?

Unquestionably, hemp seed is one of Mother Nature’s most nutritious offerings to us. With an alluring nutty, earthy flavor that telegraphs its nutritional prowess, hemp seed provides more protein - about 11 grams per ounce - than most other seeds making it a great protein source for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Other nutritional highlights include heart-healthy omega fatty acids, magnesium, fiber and plant sterols, which have been credited with helping reduce cholesterol numbers assuring hemp is a champion for heart health.

When I came across this hemp tart recipe over at Cupcake Project, I instantly knew it was something I had to try. Hemp crust and hemp custard – what could be better? My recipe adaptation below is really tasty, but I think Cupcake Project would when a Top Chef battle here. My crust was a little thick and the custard seemed to absorb into it. I also used palm sugar for the custard which has a brown tinge. I think for presentation, a white sugar would be best. I added a white chocolate sauce which definitely adds a layer of goodness. If you don’t have vanilla hemp milk, you can use regular milk for the custard with a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

For the recipe, I used the hemp seeds from Manitoba Harvest which are now widely available.

Hemp Tarts with Blueberry Custard and White Chocolate Sauce

1 1/4 cups hempseeds

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup palm or other sugar of choice

1 large egg

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, mix together hempseeds, flour, sugar, egg, butter and vanilla extract with an electric mixture until well combined and flour looks moist. The mixture will resemble a bunch of small pebbles. Place mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Divide the mixture among 12 paper lined muffin cups. Press the crust down and up the sides of the liners nearly all the way to the top. (This is the most time consuming part of the recipe).

1 large egg

1/4 cup palm or other sugar of choice

Zest of 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup vanilla hemp milk, scalded (just before boiling)

1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, beat egg well. Stir in sugar, lemon zest, cardamom and salt. Mix in heated hemp milk a little bit at a time. Stir in blueberries. Spoon custard into prepared crusts. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before unmolding.

1 cup table cream

100 grams white chocolate, finely chopped

In a small saucepan, bring cream to a very slight tremble. Stir in chocolate until melted. Serve custard tarts topped with white chocolate sauce.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

DIY Extracts

Featured Ingredient: Extracts

Intensely flavored extracts can add oomph to cakes, muffins, yogurt, and smoothies. While most people are familiar with ubiquitous vanilla extract, less common versions such as coffee, lemon and almond can really add a little some extra to certain dishes. Try coffee extract in a chocolate cake and it will instantly heighten the chocolate flavor. But good quality extracts which are not fungible with cheap, industrial stuff can be pricey and, depending on the type, hard to come by.

That’s why I’ve decided to try and make my own. At the moment, I have vanilla, chocolate, coffee, lemon, and almond extract on the go. It’s a basic mixture of a solid such as cocoa nibs, vodka and a bit of water. Now all that this is required is patience as I believe it will take 8 weeks for these to be ready for recipes. I won’t provide any recipes for them yet as I want to make sure they work out first. So stay tuned!

Almond Extract

Chocolate Extract
Vanilla Extract
Coffee Extract
Lemon Extract

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Earl Grey Chocolate Cakes

Featured Ingredient: Culinary Tea

This is the first time that my featured ingredient has not been something you can bite into. Tabi and I are big-time tea aficionados as we have nice collection of fine Chinese and Thailand teas that we enjoy with breakfast and throughout the day. And being total tea geeks, we’ve become enamored with the cookbook Culinary Tea. It’s filled with beautiful prose, stunning photographs, an abundance of tea education and so many amazing tea infused recipes you’ll want to run straight to your local tea house and load up.

Among the recipes I definitely have my eye on are match mayo, smoky black lentils, salmon in black tea coconut sauce and apple Ceylon tea cake. But when I first flipped through the book and spotted the Earl Grey chocolate cake, I knew that had to be the first recipe we tried out. In the book, the authors use a Bundt cake pan, but the recipe worked really well in muffin cups as well. It seemed that the tea flavor actually became more pronounced after a day or two.

If you like tea and you enjoy cooking, I highly recommend adding Culinary Tea to your cookbook collection. Tea time never tasted so good!

Earl Grey Chocolate Cakes

Adapted from Culinary Tea
1 1/3 cup boiling water
2 Earl Grey tea bags or 2 1/2 teaspoons loose leaf
1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup palm sugar or other fine grain sugar of choice
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (see recipe note at bottom)
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup steeped Earl Grey tea
4 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter

Steep tea bags or tea leaves in boiling water in a bowl for 5 minutes. Discard bags or leaves.

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add 1 cup of the steeped tea, reserving the rest for the glaze. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and melted butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture for about 4 minutes on medium, scraping down the sides if needed halfway. The batter will be thin. Pour the batter into 12 prepared muffin cups and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool before unmolding.

To make the glaze, melt together the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Reheat the remaining 1/4 cup tea on the stovetop or in the microwave and then stir into chocolate butter mixture. Spoon the glaze over the cakes and let set for 1 hour.

Recipe note: If you don’t have buttermilk, try these alternatives.

In a 1-cup measuring cup, add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice.  Top the lemon juice with milk, stir  and let sit for two minutes. (This is better than the vinegar milk mixture commonly mentioned).

Mix 3/4 cup plain yogurt with 1/4 cup of milk.

Mix 1 cup milk with 1 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.  To avoid the mixture getting lumpy, mix the cream of tartar with 2 tablespoons milk.  Once mixed add the rest of milk.  

In a 1-cup measuring cup, add 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar.  Top the vinegar with coconut milk, stir and let sit for two minutes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Burger Time

With grilling season in full swing, I thought I would pass along an article I wrote for Women's Health with six tasty burger recipes such as chicken burgers with strawberry salsa and turkey gorgonzola burgers. Probably my favorite were these stuffed portobello burgers with caramelized onions.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Baked Oatmeal

Featured Ingredient: Oatmeal

Most mornings Tabi and I have a pretty supercharged bowl of oatmeal. As the old saw goes “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” so why not start it with a power grain. Among the many nutritional highlights of oats is beta-glucan, a soluble fiber shown to slash cholesterol levels. But oats on their own are as exciting as a lawn bowling match, which is why we take oatmeal and gussy it up with cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins, chopped apple, wild blueberries and a dollop of natural peanut butter. This ends up being a delicious bowl of goodness with a healthy balance of complex carbs, protein and fat.

Recently, I started to wonder what would happen if I baked together the ingredients of our bowl of oatmeal. So one recent morning I decided to give it a try. The results were a resounding success. These are pleasantly moist and you can really taste the peanut butter and that’s never a bad thing. I had some ground flaxseed on hand so I decided to toss that in for a boost of omega fats.

If you’re a morning oat kind of person, you’ll probably really enjoy these. If you do, let me know.

Possible recipe variations:

Try almond butter instead of peanut butter.

You can use regular milk instead of vanilla hemp milk and just add some vanilla extract.

Use dried cherries instead of raisins.

Toss in a handful of walnuts.

Baked Oatmeal

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup flax meal

1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 large eggs

2 cups vanilla hemp milk

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 medium apple, finely diced

2/3 cup wild blueberries

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, mix together oats, flax, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, lightly beat eggs and mix with milk and peanut butter. Add dry ingredients to wet and fold in apples. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool before umolding. Serve topped with blueberries and maple syrup.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Meatloaf with Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce


Featured Ingredient: Rhubarb…Part Deux

I believe this is the first time that I’ve blogged about the same ingredient back to back, but this rhubarb sauce was just too good not to share. My last recipe feature rhubarb in its more customary sweet application, so here is an excellent savory way to use this quintessential spring delight.

I’m a big fan of individual meatloafs, but one way I cut back on the amount of meat that is needed is to substitute half of the meat with mushrooms. This is a smart way to slash calories and because mushrooms are generally meaty in texture, they are a great stand-in. Instead of bread crumbs, oats are a healthier way to bind ingredients.

Not to sound like snobs or anything, but Tabi and I won’t eat beef from the grocery store. We just have no interest in the factory farm stuff. Instead, we turn to our emu farmer Michael for truly delicious red meat. 

You can use other game meats such as bison or elk in this recipe or try grass-fed beef which has been proven to be a healthier choice that the stuff fattened up on factory farms. My motto is that if you eat less meat you can afford more of the quality stuff.

Trust me, you’ve gotta try this riff on barbecue sauce. It would also be great served on burgers and fish.

Individual Meatloafs with Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce:
2 cups sliced rhubarb (2 stalks)
1/3 cup turbinado or other brown-style sugar
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/3 cup raisins, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar, vinegar, raisins, shallot, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb has broken down and mixture is dark in color, about 30 minutes.

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, diced (about 3 cups)
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 pound ground emu or other game meat or grass-fed beef
1/3 cup quick-cook rolled oats
1 large egg
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375F. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook mushrooms and onion until softened, about 4 minutes. In a large bowl, combine meat, oats, egg, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt, pepper and mushroom mixture just until everything is mixed. Do not overwork. Divide mixture among 9 medium sized muffin tins and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 160F is reached. Let cool for 5 minutes, unmold and served topped with rhubarb sauce.