Friday, May 29, 2009

Baking Without

I posted a little while ago about my goal of not eating white flour and sugar. Memorial Day wasn't so great for the diet but since then, I've done well. I even did a little baking this week without flour or sugar. The first recipe is from my friend Nicole who was modifying her diet for gestational diabetes but is always creative about using healthful ingredients. She made these for me a few weeks ago and although we both used the same recipe, hers came out better than mine. I think I beat the eggs too much trying to get the lumps out of the batter because the texture of mine was more custardy than muffiny. But, I liked the coconut flour a lot.

The second recipe is from my friend Robin. She used quick cooking oatmeal and added 2/3 cups of sugar and again, I preferred her texture but this was a big hit with my husband and daughter this week and I'll be making variations on this for awhile.

No photos . . . we ate it all too fast (the first recipe only makes 6 muffins and they were gone in hours).

Blueberry Muffins with Coconut Flour (makes 6)

3 eggs
2 T butter, melted
2 T milk
3 T agave nectar (can use honey if you prefer)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. sifted coconut flour (I used "Bob's Red Mill" brand from Whole Foods)
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. blueberries (I used frozen)

Heat oven to 400 and put liners in a muffin pan. Blend together eggs, butter, milk, agave, salt, and vanilla. Combine coconut flour with baking powder and thoroughly mix into the batter until there are no lumps. The batter will be runny. Pour into muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Check them toward the end of the cooking time because these go from being liquid in the center to almost too done really quickly.

* Check out these other coconut flour recipes

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal

2 eggs
1/2 c. canola oil
4 c. oatmeal
2 c. chopped apple
3 tsp baking powder
2 c. blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. milk

Mix eggs and canola oil together. Then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Spread in greased pan (9x13 ish) and bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Serve with warmed milk.

*I halved the recipe and put it in a smaller pan and put in 1 T of ground flax seed. You can add chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, a little butter, sugar, dried fruit (cranberries or raisins) or anything else - it's a really versatile recipe.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Back of the Box

When I decided to make dessert for Memorial Day, I didn't want to go to the grocery store AGAIN so my options were to bake only using what I had in the house. And, since I wasn't going to be eating sugary, white floury goodness, I wasn't super inspired to be creative. I pulled out a box of Hershey's cocoa powder and read the recipe on the back for "Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake." It looked easy and I had everything and it turned out great. The only thing I added was 1 tsp. of cinnamon (because I just can't help myself).

The frosting was from the back of the C&H Powdered Sugar box - again, super easy and I had fun tasting the frosting on the spoon when I was done with it.

Both of these recipes go along with the theme that making things from scratch is just as easy and cheaper with less scary ingredients (do you know how much trans fats are in tubs of frosting?). I've made cake mixes from a box most of my life but I've changed my ways, especially because I only used 1 bowl for each recipe and it was ready before my oven preheated.

I know this is probably a whole other topic, but cocoa powder is something that I don't buy generic brands - Hershey's is great and I also like the Ghirardelli.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans (or 1 9x13 pan). Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla to the same bowl and beat with a mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes (for 2 round pans) or 35 - 40 minutes (for 1 9x13 pan) or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

*Same recipe will make about 30 cupcakes - bake for 20-25 minutes.

Basic Buttercream Frosting

Combine 1 stick of butter (softened), 1/4 milk, 1 (1lb) box of powdered sugar, and 1 tsp. of vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat it for about 2 minutes, or until it's the texture you want it, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Use a little more milk if you want it thinner. This will frost a 2 layer (9 inch round) cake or a 9x13 or about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Homemade Dressings and Marinades

A few years ago, it occurred to me that I didn't need to buy salad dressing, marinades, or prepared sauces. After reading labels and being disgusted by some of the things added to these items (like high fructose corn syrup) and realizing how much I spent on this sort of stuff (and the wastefulness of the packaging that I'd be throwing away), I started making my own. Recently I bought a Greek Seasoning from Penzey's and just add water, vinegar, and olive oil in a glass jar and keep it in the fridge. This post by Elise discusses vinaigrette ratios and a book that I've been wanting to read.Here are two easy dressings you can make on your own:

Dressing #1:
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2 T olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced.

Combine in a container and shake it up or use a whisk.

Dressing #2:
1/4 c. basil leaves
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Chop up basil leaves and whisk all ingredients together.

The next two recipes can be used in a variety of ways - as a marinade for chicken, fish or veggies; as a dipping sauce for cooked meat, veggies, or chips; or to dress different types of salads.

Basil-Parsley Pesto (from Celebrating with Julienne by Susan Campoy) - makes about 2 cups

1 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 1/2 c. lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 c. lightly packed fresh parsley leaves
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 c. good quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. (about 5 oz) freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

You can make this in a food processor or blender. I had great results with my hand blender packing everything into a large cup and then pulsing until it was mostly smooth. I'd pack everything into your bowl/blender/cup except the olive oil and cheese. Pour some olive oil over the top, adding more as it gets blended together. Add the cheese at the end. You can make it ahead but some of the oil might separate out and it might discolor unless you put plastic wrap right on the surface of the pesto.


* Marinate chicken in this overnight, then bake or grill (sometimes I do chicken skewers)
* Make pasta salad or barley salad and toss it with this (see below for barley)
* Use as salad dressing

I had leftover pesto so I made this salad for our Memorial Day picnic:

Barley salad with vegetables, feta & pesto

1 1/2 c. barley
1 medium cucumber, diced
1 cup chopped tomato
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 carrot, diced
Chopped fresh parsley (a couple tablespoons)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

I soaked the barley overnight in 3 cups water, drained, and cooked for 15 minutes in about 5 cups boiling water, and drained it again. Then I tossed the warm barley with about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the pesto and refrigerated it. I added the cut up veggies, a little more pesto, and the feta before I served it. If you wanted a main dish, adding some cooked or grilled chicken for protein would be great in this salad.

Cilantro Dressing

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper

Try tossing it with these three ingredients for a yummy summer salad:
3 cups fresh corn kernels (approx. 6 small ears)
5 medium tomatoes, diced
2/3 c. finely chopped red onion

Friday, May 22, 2009

Eating Habits

Here's my dilemma: I love sugar, desserts, bread, pasta and I want to feel comfortable in a bathing suit this summer. For the next few weeks, I'm trying to cut out any added / refined sugar in my diet and any white flour. I did this for 6 weeks at the beginning of the year and it made a huge difference in how I felt. The first few days are always the worst for me and then I start having more energy and more will power. See that picture of my lunch today? I actually feel satisfied and proud of myself after eating that instead of the piece of pizza I was eyeing at Whole Foods this afternoon.

While my initial motivation for these dietary modifications might be pure vanity, what keeps me motivated is thinking about the health consequences of a diet high in refined sugar and refined carbs. I met a junior high health ed teacher recently and she told me that she has her students make paste out of white flour, sugar, and water to show them what it does to their bodies - yuck. Check out this blog for some great information and links to research. I've also been inspired by watching my parents do FLT and my sister-in-law survive a strict anti-candida diet so I figured that I could get rid of sugar as well. A final motivation has been my daughter - wanting to stay healthy for her sake and becoming concerned about what I feed her and what I teach her about eating habits.

For me, the white flour is much easier for me than the sugar. There are so many gluten free, whole grain options these days and I can easily eat brown rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, and quinoa. Sugar is another story. First, sugar is in EVERYTHING and I don't just mean sweets (black beans, canned vegetables, salad dressings, broth). Second, I love to bake and I have a hard time achieving good results (not just taste but texture) without some form of sugar. I'm going to be making a muffin recipe with coconut flour and agave that a friend made for me and I'll let you know how that goes.

For now, my sweet tooth is satisfied with freeze dried fruit, unsweetened dried mango, or dates, and I find that drinking lots of water helps cut down on the cravings. I'm also learning that I reach for snacks and sweets more when I'm bored, tired, or frustrated than when I'm actually hungry.

What are some of your dietary challenges, modifications, or tips for staying motivated?

And, although I still make this with sugar, here's a chocolate chip cookie recipe without white flour:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 c. oats, ground in the blender until flour-like
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/4 c. oil
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together. With a mixer, cream the butter and the sugars. Add the egg, oil, and vanilla. Add the dry mixture to the butter mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Drop batter onto a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Spicy Chocolatey Goodness

Last week, my friend Lisa made these brownies and brought me one - they were awesome. I've been looking for a homemade brownie recipe that uses powdered cocoa instead of chocolate and you already know that I love chocolate with cinnamon and a little spice. We both agreed that the cayenne could be increased a little but it'll depend on the spiciness you desire and the spiciness of your cayenne.

Lisa's comment about the recipe was that it's not a typical What's For Meat recipe because of the white flour and sugar . . . I'll write more about my love/hate relationship with white flour and sugar soon but you should try these amazing brownies!

Mayan Cocoa Brownies
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 tbsp water
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease(or butter or nonstick spray) a square pan (9x9 or 8x8). Combine sugar, butter, water in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne in a medium bowl. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. If you insert a toothpick in the center it should be slightly sticky.

Happy Birthday, Lisa!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reading, not cooking

I haven't done much cooking from start to finish this week. We were out of town over the weekend and I've been making Dream Dinners since. Do you know about Dream Dinners? You go prepare meals to bring home and freeze then you can eat them when you want to. Typically, I made about 12 in an hour and it lasts me two months. On the days that I work or that we're busy, it's so great to not eat cold cereal or take out.

Despite not cooking too much, I have been doing a few food-related activities, like reading to my daughter. We got some new books a few weeks ago and I already know that they're going to be favorites. The first is "The Seven Silly Eaters" by Mary Ann Hoberman which is illustrated by one of my favorite children's book artists, Marla Frazee. It's about a harried mom who makes all of her seven children's favorite foods from scratch (homemade pink lemonade, applesauce, fresh baked bread) and in the end, the kids have a cooking adventure resulting in a gift for the mom's birthday.

The other book (Summer by Alice Low) doesn't have as much to do with cooking but we're sure excited about summer and one line from this book is great: "We like the things that summer brings. It brings the sun. It brings the heat. It brings the things we like to eat."

The other reading I've been doing (on my own, not reading to my daughter) has been magazines and cookbooks to plan our next family dinner. In my family, we take turns planning a menu and distributing recipes. Everyone brings the ingredients for their assigned recipe and we get together to cook the whole meal together and eat it. My brother has described it best by saying "It's where we use all the dishes in my mom's kitchen." There are a pile of dishes at the end of each evening (which, I'm ashamed to say, I usually miss out on because of baby girl) but it's a wonderful experience. We've done it almost monthly for a few years trying new foods and new techniques.

May is my turn to plan. I wanted a menu that incorporated fresh, spring ingredients and from and here's the menu:

First course
Grilled asparagus and carmelized onion pizza (Cooking Light)
Strawberry Avocado salsa with pita chips (Cooking Light)

Main course
Roast chicken and vegetable salad with pesto (Julienne cookbook)
Cream of Artichoke Soup (Russ Parsons - How to Pick a Peach)

Lemon Yogurt Cake (Ina Garten) with berries

I'll let you know how it all turns out!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cleaning out the Crisper

Tonight I was looking at some leftover stuff in the crisper (notably one zucchini and half a bag of dried out baby carrots) and contemplating throwing them out. It seemed wasteful but didn't know when I'd be using those vegetables and I didn't want them to turn into slime in the bottom of the crisper drawer. Then, I remembered this recipe from a recent issue of Cooking Light and made some muffins after baby girl was asleep tonight.

All the ingredients were things that I had and the batter came together quickly. I made a few changes - added the flax seed, used plain yogurt instead of buttermilk, and used half whole wheat flour. I also reduced the sugar quite a bit thinking that the sweetness of the apples and carrots would compensate for that. Check out the original recipe if you want to. The end result was a little dense but moist and sweet enough for me. They were easier than and tasted better than I remember the Apple Bran Muffins. What a great way to eat vegetables!

Apple Carrot Zucchini Muffins (10 muffins*)

1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated peeled Granny Smith apple (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup grated carrot (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup shredded zucchini
2 T ground flax seed (optional)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup lowfat plain yogurt (or equal amount non-fat buttermilk)
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325. Combine both flours and the next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add grated apple, grated carrot, shredded zucchini, and flax seed to flour mixture; toss well. Combine canola oil, yogurt, and eggs in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Spoon batter into 10 prepared muffin cups (greased pan or paper liners). Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*You can alternately make one loaf by pouring the batter into a greased loaf pan and baking at 325 for 50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack and then cool completely before slicing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, T!

For my sister's birthday, I'm making these chicken enchiladas and this spanish rice. What I'm really excited about is the Tres Leches Cake and Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream that I'm making for dessert. I first made this cake a few years ago for a mexican-food themed potluck at work and it was a big hit. It's easy and tastes better if you make it a day before and let the cake soak up all the milk goodness.

I put it in the refrigerator last night and when I was laying in bed, I was thinking "Tres leches means three milks but I only put two milk in the milk mixture . . . " I forgot the regular old not-from-a-can milk. I didn't pour all of the wet stuff so I think I'll mix the remainder with the milk I forgot and pour that over the cake when I get home today.

At a birthday party, you have to have ice cream with the cake so I'm making my favorite ice cream recipe - Mexican chocolate. I love all things Mexican chocolate - the bars by Vosges, Mexican chocolate cappuccinos from Zona Rosa on El Molino . . . you name it. My friend Lisa made mexican chocolate brownies this weekend and she promised to save me one - maybe she'll put the recipe up as a guest blogger (hint, hint).

I've read other recipes that use Ibarra or a Mexican chocolate to start with but I go with what I have on hand. This time it was 72% dark chocolate from Trader Joe's. The spiciness of cayenne pepper varies and the jar I have is super hot so I just sprinkle a little bit - maybe start with 1/4 tsp and taste the mixture before putting it in the ice cream maker. It should have a warm aftertaste, not an immediate bite.

I'll update this post with a photo and a review of how it actually tasted after we eat it tonight. Happy birthday, Auntie T!

Tres Leches Cake (Serves 12)

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. sugar (divided)
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla (divided)
3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. sweetened condensed milk
3/4 c. evaporated milk
1/3 c. liquer (optional - I used brandy but Frangelico, Chambord, or Amaretto would be good)
1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan. Whisk flour and baking soda together and set aside. Cream butter and 1 cup of sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and 1/2 tsp. of vanilla. Beat well. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 1/4 c. at a time, mixing until well blended. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Let the cake cool and pierce it with a fork about 8-10 times. Combine the 3 milks and the liquer (if using) and pour over the top of the cooled cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

When you're ready to serve it, whip the whipping cream, 1/2 c. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla until it's thick and spread it over the cake.

*Because of the milk, make sure you keep the cake refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve chilled.

Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream (4 cups)

2 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2 egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
5 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate (chopped)
1 or 2 tsp. cinnamon

Heat whole milk, cream, and chocolate over medium heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is almost boiling. Meanwhile, mix sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla until pale (I use a hand mixer). Turn heat down. Temper the egg mixture with 4 tablespoons of the milk mixture (stir one tablespoon at a time to warm the egg mixture so you don't end up with curdled or scrambled eggs).

Then slowly pour the egg mixture into the milk mixture, stirring constantly. Without letting it boil, heat the mixture until it's thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (3-4 minutes). Chill completely and follow your ice cream maker's instructions for the rest.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Many Dirty Dishes

I don't go to work on Mondays and for the third week in a row, we made some muffins in the morning. Then, I marinated chicken for dinner, made a batch of the most wonderful ice cream and tried a new quinoa recipe as a side dish for dinner. Yeah, I'm kind of crazy. It was too much cooking (translate: too much cleaning up) for one day, even for me, but it all tasted great.

Maple Bran Muffins
This recipe is from a new cookbook I bought at Julienne restaurant in San Marino by the woman who created Julienne, Susan Campoy. It's a great book and you'll probably be hearing more about it from me, but go buy it!

I didn't read carefully that it made 10 "jumbo" muffins and I ended up with 18 regular sized muffins. By bedtime, there were only 5 left. This is one of the first bran muffin recipes I've made that's not from a mix/box and I really loved them. The recipe is exactly as it was written - I didn't make any changes. In the future, I might try lighter sour cream and some ground clove.

1 c. cake flour (oh, I guess I did make a change. I just used regular flour)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1 c. sour cream
3/4 c. sugar
4 extra-large eggs
3 cups wheat bran
3/4 c. unsalted butter, melted.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 10 jumbo muffin cups (or 18 regular) with paper liners. Combine the flour and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the maple syrup, sour cream, sugar, and eggs to blend. Stir in the flour mixture. Mix in the wheat bran, then the melted butter. Bake until a tester comes out with some crumbs and the tops are brown and crackle slightly, about 35 minutes (20-25 for regular size muffins).

Mango Sour Cream Ice Cream (4 servings)

I discovered this recipe on a blog that I sometimes read and before I served it to my husband, I told him it would change his life. If you haven't come up with a good reason to be my friend, here it is. I'll make this for you and you'll love it. For the last time, I promise Cuisinart doesn't pay me anything for talking incessantly about their ice cream maker.

Mango Sour Cream Ice Cream
from A Thinking Stomach

2 very ripe large mangoes
Several limes
Some sugar (between 1/4 cup and 3/4 cup, depending on the fruit's sweetness)
1 1/2 cups sour cream

To make the ice cream:
Peel the mangoes and cut the fruit off the pits. Place the fruit into a food processor with 1/4 cup sugar and the juice of one lime. Blend, pulsing the processor until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the sour cream until completely combined. Taste. Most likely at this point you will need a touch more sugar; remember, that ice cream should be a little on the sweet side, since once it is frozen, it won't taste as sweet. Add sugar as necessary. Does it taste bright enough? If not, add more lime juice. Stir again to make sure to combine all ingredients, and place the mixture in a covered container to chill (in both senses of the word) for a few hours before pouring into your ice cream maker. From here on out, follow the directions your ice cream machine provides.

Risotto-style Quinoa with Asparagus (4 servings)

I adapted a recipe from Cook4Seasons and it was my favorite quinoa so far. Quinoa (say keen-wah) is a whole grain, good if you're eating gluten-free, low-glycemic, or candida diet. It's a good change for us from the cous cous and brown rice we've been eating recently. The fresh parsley, lemon rind, and asparagus tasted like spring to me.

1 TB butter
2 TB olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped leek (can also use onion)
1 cup quinoa
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 TB grated lemon zest
1 TB fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 c. shaved good quality Parmesan cheese

Heat butter and olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek; sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add quinoa and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add wine; cook until liquid is almost absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups broth; cook 10 minutes. Add asparagus and simmer until quinoa and asparagus are tender, stirring often and adding more broth a little at a time as needed, about 7 minutes. Add parmesan cheese and stir until cheese is melted, about 1 minute. Season to taste w/ salt & pepper. Garnish with lemon zest, parsley and the shaved parmesan.