Old treats updated for a healthier palate

Do you remember Rice Krispies treats? Maybe you still make them? I don’t. Not anymore, even though they are such a fond childhood memory of mine. I was crazy for them as a kid. I would have to say they were one of my favorite junk food items. I loved them so much that I didn’t leave it up to the fates to decide if I would be able to have one. Finding a Rice Krispies treat depended on a parent (not related to me, mine preferred to purchase their junk food pre-made) making them for some event and then being in the right place at the right time to have one. (I guess with that statement you’ve figured out that I am old enough to predate the advent of pre-packaged Rice Krispies Treats which are a pale shadow of the homemade kind). In order to guarantee a steady supply of these wonderful treats and make sure I had access to as many as my heart desired, I learned to make them. It turns out they are extremely kid friendly to make if you are a kid who can stand a second degree burn or two in the kitchen. I never had a problem making the actual molten goo required to make them stick together, I usually got into trouble after I mixed the cereal into the molten goo and then attempted to form them into the compact mass that would enable them to be perfect squares of crispy sweet goodness. I somehow managed to get my fingers and hands into the incendiary rice crispy mass.

So, you may wonder why I stopped indulging in something so wonderful? I don’t eat much beef or beef products anymore and when I do I choose grass fed. I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore. The main ingredient in these treats, marshmallows are loaded with gelatin and sugar. I know they make vegan friendly marshmallows now, but I don’t want to go down that slippery path. Not now that I have been doing so well at moving a lot of the processed junk and refined sugars and grains out of my diet.

Years ago, I tried to make the treats on the box of my favorite brown rice cereal. They were a disaster. I can’t remember what the ingredients were, but they were horribly sweet and would not stick together. The cereal tasted terrible in them. I gave up on the idea of having a healthier version of my childhood favorite treat until I came across a recipe on the Madcap Cupcake blog. This version used brown rice syrup for the sweetener with the addition of nut butter to cut the sweetness. This recipe looked promising so I bookmarked it and as usual forgot about it. You see, brown rice syrup isn’t an ingredient I am familiar with. I know I have eaten it in some of my favorite processed food from the health food store, but I didn’t know that you didn’t have to be a corporation to buy it. (This is why, I, an omnivore, hang out on vegan blogs. Not only are they nice folks but I learn something all the time!). Anyway, a few weeks ago, I remembered I wanted to make this recipe, so I got a box of brown rice cereal and the brown rice syrup. Today, I finally decided to dive in and give the treats a try. Were they the same as a Rice Krispies treat? Not by a long shot, but to my healthy palate, they were quite wonderful. Lightly sweet and nutty with little hidden surprises in each bite.

I really enjoyed the way these treats turned out, but since I used the bare minimum of rice syrup suggested in Marika’s recipe, the bars had structural integrity problems. They fell apart easily. I might make a little more goo in the same one to one ratio of syrup to peanut butter, or, if I keep them this way, I might form them into little balls next time instead of trying to make big thick bars. In the following recipe, I doubled the salt. I have salt free peanut butter so I knew I would need a teeny extra hit of salt. If you are using regular salted peanut butter, use the lesser amount. I also added 1½ cups total of the “add ins” (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, etc). This was a full ½ cup more than suggested, but I just love a good “add in”

Brown rice treats

Adapted from crispy rice squares from Madcap Cupcake

1-10 oz box brown rice cereal (I used Barbara’s brand)

¾ cup brown rice syrup

1/8 – ¼ tsp salt (use more if your peanut butter in unsalted)

¾ cup chunky peanut butter

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped dark chocolate

½ cup toasted almonds, chopped

Olive oil cooking spray.

Spray a 9” x 13” pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the brown rice syrup and salt. Add the peanut butter and stir until melted and well combined.

Empty the box of cereal into the biggest mixing bowl you can find. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the cereal and mix until well combined. Add the cranberries, almonds and chocolate. Mix until the goodies are well distributed. Pour the cereal mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the mixture evenly into the pan, pressing to compact it. Let cool for an hour (I missed that last instruction which would explain why my bars wouldn’t stick together. I’m impatient, I tell ya!)

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I just want my frozen yogurt treat. Grrr.

Okay. I need to time travel back in history to about 2 ½ weeks ago. I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I am about to tell you. If you have a weak constitution, you may want to visit one of the blogs on my sidebar instead of reading on. I got sick. Make your acquaintance with the porcelain altar for it will become your best friend for days sort of sick. After I was feeling a little better, I felt sure that I needed to eat some food that would help the good guys in the battle raging for my GI tract. I could tell they were losing the battle big time.

I felt better enough to risk leaving the house. I went to our gourmet/health food store to buy some relief. I immediately thought Kefir would be a good thing to have. I could drink it like a shake instead of having to actually eat something like yogurt. I went to grab some Kefir but my favorite, Nancy’s, was nowhere to be found. In it’s place were commercial looking brands with labels that screamed “now with NutraFlora!”. WTF?! I don’t know what this stuff is and I am in no mood to figure it out. From what I can tell, it is some sort of fiber and the last thing I need is kefir that has been fortified with fiber. After the previous few days, the last thing I need to think about is being regular. I completed the shopping trip of desperation with a shopping cart full of yogurt, kombucha tea, amazake and a big bottle of acidophilus. I got better and life went on. For the time being, I completely forgot about NutraFlora.

                                            

I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods but there are certain things I don’t make from scratch that I enjoy a lot. Frozen desserts are part of that category. I went to Costco last week and saw that they were selling huge boxes of Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. I passed on them last week because they weren’t blackberry flavor. They were strawberry. Julie’s makes the most delicious blackberry ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and these blackberry ice cream bars covered in dark, dark chocolate. Ohhhhhh. If those bars had been blackberry, I wouldn’t have made it to the check stand without eating them. But… they were strawberry. I left them where they sat. I went back to Costco today and saw the Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. They said “Hi Mimi. We are twelve delicious bars for $8.49. Please take us home”. I said, “Okay, please come home with me”. They were in my hand, on their way to my shopping cart when what did my eyes see? “Now with NutraFlora!” I turned the box over and didn’t see NutraFlora on the ingredients list. Just an item called fructin. Grrr. I put them back in the freezer.

I came home and started looking for information on this new ingredient that seemed to be making it’s way into all of the healthy seeming organic food. It turns out that NutraFlora is a prebiotic, meaning that it is a carbohydrate that is indestructible enough to make it to where your intestinal flora (fauna?) live. It feeds them and makes them healthy. According to the makers of NutriFlora, it is present in fruits and veggies but if you didn’t have “one serving of NutriFlora-enriched yogurt, you would have to eat about 22 bananas, 15 onions, 16 tomatoes, or 383 cloves of garlic“. Maybe this stuff is good for us, but I tend to be skeptical when they remove something from food and then enrich food that doesn’t contain it naturally with said nutrient. I am more of a whole foods gal, and I would rather eat the bananas, onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is my reasoning that if I do, I’ll get so much more nutrition than from my cup of yogurt, glass of kefir or frozen yogurt bar.

So, I made my own frozen yogurt bars and they were good. I could identify all three ingredients in the recipe.

Blueberry frozen yogurt bars

1 1/3 cups nonfat plain yogurt

1 1/3 cups frozen wild blueberries*

2 2/3 tbsp honey

Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour smoothie into ¼ cup capacity popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.

* I used frozen wild blueberries which are a small variety of blueberry. This recipe has not been tested using a larger berry. If you use a larger berry, taste the mixture before you freeze it (this is a good idea anyway since my idea of sweet may not be yours). Adjust to add more fruit and/or honey to taste. If making a change to the recipe creates more yogurt mixture than will fit in your molds, just drink it, this is essentially a thin berry smoothie.

…and now for something completely different

Avocado. Mmmmm. Silky. Luscious. Cooling. Cake… Huh??? If the words avocado and cake make you want to have a Corona with lime to help soften the blow of having those two words appear in the same sentence, then this cake is probably not for you. You can leave now. There is a nice sunny beach somewhere with fish tacos and beer and guacamole. You are excused. If avocado and cake made you perk up and be curious, stick around with me for a minute, you won’t be disappointed.

I first became intrigued with the idea of avocado in a baked good after stumbling onto the recipe for avocado bread on the avocado.org site a couple of years ago. People use zucchini, carrots and bananas in baked goods. With it’s high fat content and creamy flesh, why not avocado too? My only problem: although I live in the middle of avocado country and I can get huge Hass avocados for a buck a piece, I am very miserly with them. I didn’t want to waste a good avocado or two on something that might suck.

This week, we managed to buy too many of these wonderful fruits, and like bananas, the window of yummy goodness is very short indeed. I had two avocados that were quickly heading past their prime. Today was the day to experiment.

The experiment went well. I have to admit that I was a little too bold with my experiment and the addition of chocolate chips, while well intentioned was possibly a mistake. They made the cake a little too rich. We tried a nibble of cake that somehow didn’t get polluted with chocolate and the dates and walnuts alone were just perfect. If you just have to have chocolate, it was pretty tasty but the cake would have been somehow more pure and elegant without the chocolate.

Why is this cake a surprise you ask? It surprised me with it’s super moist texture. Avocados are high in oil. If you look at the recipe, there is no added fat besides the flesh of the avocado. I used whole wheat pastry flour and yet, this cake was as moist as a cake made from cake mix. Just fabulous and yet another reason to drop the chocolate from the recipe so that you can enjoy the texture with just a little fruit and nuts to compliment it.

Avocado surprise cake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Zest from 1 large orange, chopped

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped (optional)

½ cup fresh dates, chopped

½ cup walnuts

½ cup honey

¼ cup orange juice (about 1 large orange, juiced)

1 cup avocado (2 large), mashed until smooth

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Oil and flour a bundt pan.

In a large bowl mix together, pastry flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, chocolate chips (if using), dates and walnuts.

In another large bowl combine honey, orange juice, avocado, egg and yogurt. Mix until well combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

How to season a wok

I’m very good at destroying things. It’s true. I’ve had two woks in the past. I followed the directions that came with these inexpensive carbon steel pans. Both times, no matter how well I cared for them, the seasoning came off and I rusted them most of the way through.

I love a good wok. A wok is so deep that you can pile the veggies into it and then crank up the heat and get a good sear on them. I’ve been wok-less for years and it’s been a major frustration.

A few years back, Gourmet did an article on the classic $15 wok. I saved the issue because the owner of the store that was profiled had instructions on how to season a wok and the instructions made so much more sense than the usual stove top method. I bought a wok and then forgot about it. Until today. Today was the day that a wok came back into my life.

I went hunting around the Gourmet website thinking that the instructions would be there, but of course I couldn’t find them so I’ll let you know what I did:

First, gather up what you will need:

A carbon steel wok

Steel wool

Dish soap

Vegetable oil

Paper towels

An old dish towel or wash cloth that you don’t mind damaging

Aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Your wok will have some sort of coating on the inside to keep it from rusting. Using some steel wool and dish soap, scrub the inside of the wok thoroughly to clean off this coating. Dry the wok with a dish cloth.

Now look at your wok. Does it have a wood or plastic handle? Plastic? Sorry, these instructions aren’t for you unless you can remove the handle. If you can remove the handle please do so now. If it is a wooden handle and the handle cannot be removed, wrap the handle in a wet dish cloth and wrap the cloth completely in aluminum foil.

Using a paper towel and some vegetable oil. Wipe oil all over the inside and outside of the wok. (If you like the look of the steel you can leave the outside surface unseasoned but I don’t recommend it, an unseasoned bottom was the source of my rust problems with the other woks). Put the wok in the hot oven and allow it to bake for 20 minutes. Make sure your room is well ventilated and run the range fan. This will cause smoke! After 20 minutes, remove the wok and let it cool for at least five minutes or until cool enough to handle. Using an oven mitt, grab the wok by the handle (the wok will be cool, but the handle will still be warm, be careful!) and take it to the sink. Scrub the inside of the wok with the steel wool, using hot water only, no soap. Don’t scrub enough to remove the layer of seasoning, you just want to scratch the surface up a little.

Repeat the oiling, baking cooling and scrubbing three or four more times until the wok is bronze colored. It’s now fully seasoned.

So what did I make with my newly seasoned wok? Tofu and Broccoli Stir fry from the June issue of Eating Well Magazine. Click here for the recipe, the only thing I changed was to double the garlic (I so love garlic!) and substitute honey for the sugar which I recommend. The honey made the sauce sweet but also so very flavorful. This was a delicious and easy recipe that used a lot of pantry items.

If you don’t already have a carbon steel wok, go out and get one! They are very cheap and a great addition to your kitchen. And…now you know how to properly season it! Oh and by the way… never use soap on your wok. A little kosher salt and a sponge are all you need to clean it up and keep it’s non-stick surface in great shape!

The definition of delicious

I don’t know why I haven’t tried quinoa before today. I love whole grains. I try to eat a varied diet. So many people have told me how much they like quinoa. I even bought a bag of it several months ago and then… forgot about it. I decided to try it today and I’m so glad I did.

I knew I had quinoa. I knew I had a can of black beans so I went in search of inspiration. I had to look no further than Epicurious. The recipe for Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro looked really tasty. I was ready to go for it and then I noticed that there were over fifty comments in the review section. Most people loved the recipe but each person had a suggestion on how to make it even better. I decided most of these suggestions sounded great so I went ahead and made many, many changes. One accidental change that I’ll recommend is to use Aleppo pepper for part of the chili powder. I ran out of chili powder and improvised. The Aleppo pepper flavor with the feta? Not at all southwestern but very, very great.

When I ate my first bites of this meal in a bowl, the word sumptuous came to my mind. The creaminess of the sheep’s milk feta and avocado was so wonderful against the spiciness and texture of the grains. I don’t often call vegetarian food decadent, but this was certainly over the top!

Southwestern style quinoa

Adapted from Quinoa with Black Beans & Cilantro, Sept 2008 Bon Appétit

This recipe serves 4 -6.

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup quinoa, rinsed, drained*

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp Aleppo pepper (if you can’t find this, substitute a second tsp chili powder).

½ tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp salt

1 ½ cups vegetable stock

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained

1 15-ounce can corn, drained

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

Garnish with:

Chopped cilantro (about a ¼ cup, divided)

Chopped tomato (1 large tomato, divided)

crumbled sheep’s milk feta cheese (around ¼-½ cup divided)

Avocado, cubed (1 avocado, divided)

* To rinse quinoa, pour the grain into a sieve nested in a bowl.  Run water through the grain until the bowl is full of water.  Use a spoon to mix the grains.  Lift the sieve to drain and pour water from the bowl.  The water will look viscous and a little cloudy.  Repeat this process a few more times until the water runs clear.  Quinoa is full of bitter saponins.  Rinsing well will remove the bitterness.

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and red pepper; sauté 8-10 minutes until the onions begin to brown a little. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Stir in quinoa, chili powder, Aleppo pepper, cumin, cayenne and salt. Add vegetable stock; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until quinoa is almost tender, about 14 minutes. Add beans, corn and 1/4 cup cilantro; cook uncovered until heated through and liquid is fully absorbed, about 3 minutes. Squeeze lime juice into quinoa and mix well. Transfer to bowls; Top with everything in the garnish list.

Trying to shrink

I hope you aren’t getting tired of muffins. Obviously, I’m not. Today’s post is masquerading as yet another muffin post, but it’s really about something else entirely. Something very personal. If you have been a very long time reader of mine, you will remember the year that I was serious about Weight Watchers and I lost forty two pounds. Several months ago, I just let it all go. It happened the way this sort of thing happens to people. I had a routine and it centered around work. I ate certain things at certain times of the day and walked during my breaks and then sometimes, made it to the gym on top of that. I had a really good routine that I hardly had to think about. The weight loss came easy. When I lost my job, I lost my routine, I got really depressed, things started to slip and a whole host of bad habits came back. Then I stopped trying altogether. I have gained back seventeen pounds.

Now, I know your first instinct is to be supportive and tell me that seventeen pounds isn’t even half of what I lost and I’m still okay. The problem is that I was going through all of this effort for my health. I don’t want to get diabetes, go blind, trip and break my hip, trip again and break my other hip and suffer the way my mother has. I don’t want to clog my arteries, suffer for years with angina and then have a quadruple bypass like my dad. I know I don’t want any of that, but I suffer from human nature and I am my parents daughter and I have ingrained poor habits that I have to concentrate very hard on changing every day. My dad said something last week that sums up what I need to strive for. He basically said that everyone gets old and everyone will die, but you want to do whatever you can to have the best quality of life until the end. Well said. Something I need to concentrate on very hard. Something that seeing my mom laying in her hospital bed so fragile and unhappy drives home for me.

One problem I have that I think everyone struggles with is portion control. I have a bad habit of having more than one of something I like and taking too much of it to begin with. In order to shrink me, I’ll need to shrink my portions so that’s what I did this week. I did a knock-off of the delicious strawberry muffins from last time but I made sure I made them in mini muffin tins. Here is the Mimi math for you. Each mini muffin is one half the size of a regular muffin. If I ate a regular muffin and then lost control and had to have a second muffin, it would equal four mini muffins. So, if I have a mini muffin and have a second, it equals one regular muffin. If I go really crazy and have three, it is equal to one and a half regular muffins, I am still ahead half a muffin. Terrible logic, I’m sure, but these are the little tricks that helped me lose the weight last time.

Sourdough apple walnut mini muffins

3 tbsp flax seeds

½ cup water

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tbsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp allspice

3/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts

½ cup apple sauce

½ cup honey

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup sourdough starter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large apple diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 24 cup mini muffin tin with olive oil spray and set aside.

In a blender, grind flax seeds to a powder. Add water and blend for forty-five seconds until thickened. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and walnuts.

In another large bowl, mix together all of the flax seed mixture with the apple sauce, honey, buttermilk, sourdough starter, vanilla extract and diced apples. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Let stand for a few minutes to rise a little bit.

Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin cups. Put the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the muffin tops are browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes and then serve.

P.S. Any muffin batter can be baked as mini muffins instead. Just experiment with decreasing the amount of time they bake. Here is a list of muffins that have appeared on Delectable Tidbits before:

Blood orange sweet cherry corn muffins

Carrot-currant muffins

Coco-nutty-cocoa sourdough muffins

Orange poppy seed mini muffins

Peach and strawberry muffins

Sourdough strawberry walnut muffins

If candy bars grew on trees

I wish candy bars grew on trees. Whenever that urge for a treat would hit me. I would go to my candy bar tree, reach up and harvest a mouth watering treat. If candy bars grew on trees, surely they would be full of vitamins and minerals to make us healthy. I have a feeling candy bars would be hard to grow organically. I think they would be very attractive to ants.

If candy bars grew on trees, there would be less garbage littering the streets. If candy bars grew on trees, I bet we would buy them from small farmers or grow them in our backyards instead of purchasing them from large corporations because they would be farm fresh and delicious instead of coming from places and people we don’t know or trust.

You know and I know the candy bar tree is a fantasy, but what if a candy bar could come from trees instead of grow on trees? Would they be just as virtuous? I think so. I can’t lie to you and tell you that a candy bar that comes from trees would have less calories than a regular candy bar, but I don’t think I would be lying if I told you that it would be healthier for you. It might take some getting used to, because it would not be the same as biting into a chunk of fat, sugars and salt, but I think you could easily get used to a candy bar that was made of luscious whole food ingredients.

Wanna make a candy bar?

The first tree we’ll have to look for is Prunis dulcis: The almond tree.

Photo by Alfonso, creative commons 2.0 license
 
 We’ll go pick some almonds. We’ll roast them and use them whole and chopped.

Our second tree will be Phoenix dactilylifera: The date palm.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.org, creative commons 2.5 license

 

We’ll pick close to a couple of dozen dates and pit them

Those first two trees can be found within driving distance of me, but the third one grows in the tropics. We’ll have to get on a plane to find Theobroma cacao: The cocoa tree.

Photo by Claus Bunks courtesy of wikipedia, public domain license

 

We’ll need to pick the fruits, ferment them, clean the beans, roast the beans, liquefy them and then make dark chocolate.

Ha! You knew I was lying about harvesting the ingredients, didn’t you? If not, I got you! Valrhona makes a good 71% bittersweet chocolate, let’s use that.

That’s it. Our chocolate bars are three ingredients. These three ingredients are rich in manganese, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, potassium, B vitamins, fiber, polyphenals and minerals. The bars are super healthy and luxurious. Can your snicker’s bar claim that?

Dark chocolate covered almond stuffed dates

3 ½ oz bar bittersweet chocolate (I used a 71% dark chocolate bar)

About 20 pitted fresh dates. Use Deglet noor or any other large date

1 cup roasted whole almonds. (I used unsalted almonds. Using salted almonds is your call but I don’t think it’s necessary).

Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Stuff each date with one or two almonds depending on the size of the date. Chop the remaining almonds coarsely and set aside. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler stirring until smooth. Dip a stuffed date into the chocolate, turning to coat. Set it on the parchment lined tray and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Repeat with each stuffed date. Put cookie sheet into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to help the chocolate set. Serve immediately or store in a airtight container in the refrigerator

 

Muffin manna

I promise we are going grocery shopping TODAY!

That being said, I woke up this morning to find that my significant other had made it to the refrigerator before me. His reward for being both a morning person and a breakfast lover? Leftover French toast and leftover frittata. He was set. I’m really not a morning person and breakfast, in my opinion should be put off for at least a little while until the grogginess wears thin.

Once I made it into the kitchen, I realized that there was one egg, a little tiny bit of milk that was flirting pretty heavily with it’s expiration date, and a teensy bit of yogurt. Hmmm. Maybe a muffin and some green tea could somehow be coaxed out of the last remaining food items in the house.

I grabbed a beloved breakfast cookbook and found a muffin recipe I hadn’t tried before. It was for Orange-Cherry Corn Muffins. I had one last bag of frozen sweet cherries and two teeny blood oranges left. I didn’t expect much from these muffins made of scraps but they came out so good that I had to keep the “sharing my breakfast” theme up with you.

These muffins turned out to be different from the original recipe due to my usual need to make things healthier and an unusual need to find appropriate ingredients. Here are some substitutions I made:

Whole wheat pastry flour for white flour

Honey for sugar

Blood oranges for Oranges

Yogurt diluted with milk for buttermilk

Olive oil for butter

These muffins were tender, moist and tangy and had a pretty sunny color due to the blood oranges and cherries. The best muffins I’ve had in a long, long time. My boyfriend… well, let’s just say that with an appetite like his, there is always room for dessert. He loved his second breakfast.

Blood Orange-Sweet Cherry Corn Muffins

Adapted from Sunlight Café by Mollie Katzen

Olive oil Spray

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup cornmeal

½ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp blood orange or orange zest

½ cup blood orange juice or orange juice

1/3 cup honey

¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt thinned down with ½ cup nonfat milk

1 large egg, beaten

½ tsp vanilla

4 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ cups frozen sweet cherries, undefrosted and coarsely chopped.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, F. Spray 8 – 10 standard muffin cups with olive oil spray (The recipes in this book annoy me. The muffin recipes always make an odd amount of muffins and she gives a range for how many you will end up with. When dealing with this book, I always start out spraying 8 cups, if the recipe makes up to 10 muffins like the author says, I spray a couple more as I need them. I don’t do all 10 because I ruined my muffin tins spraying too many cups once for one of these recipes, be careful).

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda and zest.

In another bowl, combine orange juice, honey, yogurt/milk mixture, egg, vanilla and oil.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Add the chopped cherries. Mix until combined well, being careful not to overwork the batter. Spoon batter into muffin cups until just full. Again the recipe gives a range of 8 – 10 muffins, depending on how you fill the cups you may get 8, you may get more, I got 9 and one of the cups was slightly overfilled.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

The alchemy of flour, salt and water

This morning, as I sat where I am sitting now, I really meant to put my nose to the grindstone and not delay the inevitable and sit and look for a job. But I sit and look for a job a lot. Since this is a chore that is not very exciting or particularly rewarding, I tend to let my mind wander and I get distracted. This morning, since I also delayed something else that is inevitable: eating breakfast, I found myself sitting in front of a computer, hair a mess, teeth not brushed, still in pajamas obsessing about a breakfast burrito. Normally this would not present a problem. We often pick up whole wheat tortillas at the store when we purchase groceries, but this past weekend it seemed like a much better idea to have a lot of fun instead of doing chores so we never quite made it to the store.

The prospect of cleaning up the mess known as me, and transporting myself to a grocery store in order to come home and cook seemed a hell of lot more daunting than skipping straight to the kitchen and creating an even bigger mess by starting a whole step backwards. When I say starting a whole step backwards, I of course mean making the wraps for my breakfast. Last week while perusing the Indian food section of my cookbook collection (yes, I have so many books that they can be categorized into sections, don‘t you?), I was noticing that there was a chapati recipe in each book. Recipe is a little bit of an overstatement. Chapatis are flour, salt and water, kneaded for a few minutes, flattened with a rolling pin and cooked in a heavy, hot pan. Same thing in each book. Easy.

But… I was thinking, would they be the same thing as the tortillas I buy? Not really, flour tortillas have a little bit of fat in them. The chapati recipes I was looking at have no fat, but the dough is kneaded for as long as I would knead a yeasted dough. They wouldn’t be soft but they should have a nice texture. The other challenge to my idea of a breakfast burrito would be the size. I only have a nine inch cast iron skillet. My chapatis would be bigger than a standard corn tortilla, but not big enough to wrap things up burrito style. I would have to make my breakfast resemble something more along the lines of a large taco. Fine with me. Filled with eggs and cheese and other goodies I could scare up from the depths of the vegetable drawer and the pantry, my chapati breakfast wraps would be a triumph!

Would you care to make breakfast with me? First let’s make chapatis:

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour and ½ tsp salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and slowly start to mix in between ¾ – 1 cup of water. I started with ¾ of a cup but being that I was using stone ground whole wheat instead of Indian atta flour, I think I needed more moisture. I used almost a cup of water. Begin kneading the dough in the bowl until it starts to stick together. Transfer the dough to your favorite kneading surface (mine is a lightly floured wooden board) and knead for seven minutes or more until you are able to form a supple, smooth dough. Form this dough into a round ball (see above), cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it sit for twenty minutes.

Divide the dough into eight even pieces and roll one into a thin round (about 9” in diameter).

Heat a 9” or larger cast iron skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke and then lower the heat to medium. Carefully transfer the first round of dough to the pan so that it lays flat.

Cook for about a minute until it starts to form bubbles. Turn the chapati over and press down with a clean dishtowel to make sure all of the surfaces contact the pan. Cook for about a minute and turn over again. Make sure the edges especially are cooked all the way.

Remove the chapati to a tortilla warmer or a dishtowel lined basket to keep warm.

Repeat the process seven more times until all chapatis are cooked. I was able to roll each chapati out in the time it took for the bubbles to form on the first side, so I did these assembly line fashion. If this is too stressful, roll them out and stack the dough between pieces of wax paper or parchment so they are ready to go.

While my fresh chapatis were safely tucked away warm and toasty in a tortilla warmer, I did a reconnaissance of what food was left in our kitchen. Here is the lovely chapati wraps I was able to make for a hearty brunch.

Chapati breakfast wraps

(Makes 4 wraps)

4 chapatis

2 – 3 tsp olive oil

½ red onion, halved again and then sliced thin

1 zucchini, sliced thinly into rounds

Salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs, beaten

15 oz can black beans

Chili powder and cayenne to taste

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

¼ cup cilantro, minced

1 avocado, pitted and cubed

If the chapattis are fresh, keep them warm. If not, toast them on both sides in a cast iron skillet and keep them warm until you are ready to use them.

Saute the red onion in olive oil until it softens and begins to brown slightly. Add zucchini, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until the zucchini softens and just begins to brown a bit.

Meanwhile, heat the black beans in a small pot over medium heat. Season with chili powder and a dash of cayenne to taste.

When the veggies are cooked, add the eggs to the pan. Scramble the eggs, stirring until fluffy and cooked.

Put a chapati on a plate. Top with ¼ of the scrambled egg mixture. With a slotted spoon, drain some of the black beans and use them to top the eggs. Next add the shredded cheese, then cilantro and avocado.

As I said before, the texture of the chapatis was not soft like the flour tortillas we Americans are used to. There was a toothsome quality but they were still soft enough to wrap up the fillings. They had a good wheat flavor with a little bit of a smoky charred flavor from toasting in the cast iron skillet. I really enjoyed them as a wrap for this egg mixture and they were surprisingly easy to prepare.

I used stone ground whole wheat flour for these but I may try using whole wheat pastry flour or a mixture of stone ground whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flour. I’ve never used atta flour so I am not sure what would be closer to authentic. If anyone has experience making chapatis with the proper flour, let me know what you think!

A whole lotta yum

So… you may recall that I promised my boyfriend that I would bake treats with reduced sugar or no refined sugar at all. It’s been weeks and everything was going just fine until he said, “I want a cookie”. After I asked (excitedly), “Do you really want a cookie?” and he said “no“… well, I have of course been obsessing over cookies with real sugar. Sweet, chewy, bendy cookies. It sucks.

To make matters worse, everywhere I looked people were blogging about their cookies. Like this one, or that one or this other one or yet another. I was also bumping into websites (even healthy recipe sites) with cookies, like this or this. Ugh.

Today, I set the DVR to record the Oscars so that I could go on an adventure. We drove up north to look for wild flowers. We didn’t find the big field of lupine and poppies I remembered so we stopped at a local lunch place where we ate monster sandwiches. On the way out, I noticed what looked like giant biscotti. These things were enormous!! We both were obsessing over them and we almost drove back to the restaurant to get one, but we stopped at a local winery where we drowned our craving in Pinot Noir instead.

On the way home, my boyfriend mentioned that he wanted to get a sugar free pie on the way home. We have a bakery that makes these amazing sugar free fruit pies with dates or apple juice as the only sweeteners. Great pies but I was feeling frugal after splurging on lunch and wine tasting. I wasn’t about to let him spend $15.99 on a pie, so I told him I would make him pie.

I envisioned a variation on the sweet lemon crust from last time. I would do an orange scented crust and then the filling would be loaded with orange flavor and blueberries and spices. I always have such delusions of grandeur…

The crust came together like a charm. Flecked with orange rind, it was beautiful in it’s raw state. I have developed a habit of rolling the pastry out much larger than my pie pan and then I pinch the edges together, roll them under until they form a thick crust and then pinch the crust all the way around to give it a slight fluted shape. When I used this method this time, I created a hilariously outsized crust.

The filling was lightly sweetened with honey, but I think I needed more cornstarch. Our first couple of slices saw a pure collapse of the filling which was too wet. A consequence of not enough thickening agent and frozen fruit and liquid sweetener. As a consequence it was difficult to photograph a pretty slice. I forgot to add cinnamon and vanilla which I thought would be great in the filling so I was worried that the pie would fail, especially when I saw how wet the filling was. However, the flavor was wonderful. The crust, due to the acid in the orange juice, was as light and flaky as a croissant. A beautiful and delicious pie. But… I may still want a cookie. Harumph!

Sunshine in a blueberry pie

Crust:

3 cups unbleached white flour

1 tsp salt

1 cup cold, unsalted butter cut into chunks

1 tbsp honey

Zest from an orange

4 – 5 tbsp orange juice

4 – 5 tbsp cold water

Filling:

26 oz frozen wild blueberries

Juice and zest from an orange

3 tbsp (or more) cornstarch

3 – 4 tbsp honey

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter a 9″ pie pan.

Mix flour, salt and zest. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Add honey and orange juice to the flour mixture. Begin to mix in a tablespoon of ice water at a time, gently mixing the flour and liquid together, trying not to over-knead the pastry. Mix in just enough water to be able to form a ball of dough. Cut the dough ball in half and put half in the refrigerator. Roll out the first ball of dough until it is large enough to overhang the edges of your pie pan by at least an inch or two. Store the pastry in the fridge while you mix the filling.

In a large bowl, mix together, orange juice, zest, honey and cornstarch until well combined. Add frozen berries and stir until combined. Pour filling into pie shell, store in the refrigerator while you roll the top crust.

Roll out the top crust into a round that is one to two inches larger than the pie pan. Top the pie with the top crust. Pinch the overhanging lower and upper crusts together and then roll them under themselves to form a thick crust. With your thumb, make a fluted pattern by indenting the top of the crust edge. Cut steam holes into the center of the top crust. Bake the pie for 55 – 60 minutes until well browned. Check the pie at the half hour mark. If the edges are browning too quickly, use a pie shield or (if the crust is enormous like mine) crimp foil around the edges. Cool the pie completely before serving.

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