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!)

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.

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.