Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lentil Soup

Something that makes me very happy is having a freezer stocked with home cooked, ready to go meals.  I actually have a dream about having a walk-in freezer one day that's full of things I've made!  Well, maybe not a walk-in, but a freezer bigger than the apartment-sized one I have now :).  Some foods lend themselves particularly well to freezing and reheating, like muffins (as I've already talked about many times), and soup.  I like soup a lot and it has the potential to be really healthy, but prepared soups can be incredibly high in sodium and scary ingredients (hydrogenated fats, preservatives, flavor enhancers, etc).  So recently I decided to see if I could make my own soup at home so that I could control the ingredients and add it to my freezer stockpile.

My first stop was lentil soup.  It is delicious, and so full of fiber, protein, and veggies, making it a perfect lunch or light dinner with a big chunk of bread.  Plus, I've been looking for ways to eat more legumes.  I have a bit of a hard time with beans in general, but am starting to find some ways to work them into my diet.  First stop was chili, and lentil soup is also something I really enjoy - maybe it's the small size of the lentils or the fact that they break down so much in the soup?

I found the original recipe on Epicurious and made some changes based on the reviews to make it more flavorful.  The end result is delicious, easy to make, freezes well, and has gotten good reviews from everyone I've served it to - doesn't get any better than that! 

Lentil Soup
adapted from Epicurious

1/4 cup extra–virgin olive oil
2 medium-large onions (approx 4 cups)
2 cups celery
2 cups carrots
4 garlic cloves
8 cups low sodium, fat free chicken or vegetable broth (read ingredient lists on broth - some of them have the scary ingredients we're trying to avoid by making soup from scratch!)
1 16 oz bag red lentils (approx 2 1/2 cups), rinsed and drained (I have also used green lentils - the color isn't as pretty and the cooking time is about double, but the end result was just as delicious)
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2 teaspoons cumin
Balsamic vinegar*
Parmesan or romano cheese

Heat oil in a large pot over medium–high heat.  Chop onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in a food processor and add to the pot.  (As a side note here, on one occasion I added broccoli and cauliflower to the veggie mix because I had it around and was looking to use them up, and the soup still came out great, so feel free to add whatever veggies you like!  You just may need to add some extra broth if it gets too thick.)  Sauté until vegetables soften, about 15 minutes.  Add broth, lentils, tomatoes with juice, and cumin and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 25 minutes (or about 45 for green lentils).

At this point you can either call the soup finished, or if you prefer a thicker consistency, use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot to your liking (recently I've been pureeing entirely; hubby prefers it chunkier).  Alternatively, you could transfer some of the veggies to a blender, puree, and add back to the soup.  Lightly season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve the soup with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of parmesan or romano cheese.

Makes approx 12 bowls of soup

*In my opinion, the balsamic vinegar really makes the soup.  But if you choose not to use the vinegar, you may want to season with a little extra salt and pepper to make it stand on its own.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Banana Wheat Germ Muffins

Before you even say it, yes, I'm posting another muffin recipe.  And there will likely be several more - I am on such a muffin kick these days!  I absolutely love having homemade muffins in my freezer at all times, but I need some variety so that we don't get bored.  Which is why even though I have some winners already (see bran muffins and granola muffins), I'm still trying out different recipes.

My most recent experiment came from my list of Weelicious recipes to try - banana muffins.  She promised this recipe was as good as traditional buttery, sugary banana bread, but it's incredibly healthy.  And you know what?  They're actually super tasty!  I happen to be surrounded by banana bread at the moment, so it's easy to compare, and the biggest difference is that these muffins are very light - they do not have the same moist density of traditional banana bread.  That being said, they are really sweet without having a lot of sugar, and they have the added benefit of wheat germ!  Wheat germ is packed with nutrients and fiber, so I'm always excited to find a new way to use it.

This recipe also uses agave syrup instead of regular sugar, as do many Weelicious recipes.  I've posted a few recipes with agave so far, so this is probably a good time to share my opinion that nutritionally, I think it's impossible to say that one is better than the other.  Some people argue that agave has a lower glycemic index so therefore it's better for us, and others argue that it's higher in fructose which makes it worse.  I think basically we don't know, and it really depends on what you're eating it with and in what quantities.  That being said, I think there are a couple of advantages to agave:  first, it's less refined which may make it better for the environment and add some nutritional value.  But more importantly, while it has the same calories per teaspoon as sugar (approx 16), it's much more sweet, so you can include less of it to achieve the same level of sweetness.

So overall, I highly recommend this recipe.  Not sure I'd use it for bread because I think you'd miss the dense texture, but it makes a really great, light, sweet muffin.

Banana Wheat Germ Muffins
adapted from Weelicious

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Wheat Germ
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Salt
3 Medium Very Ripe Bananas
1/2 Cup Agave
3 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp Vanilla
1 Large Egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with cups. 

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, mash the 3 bananas with a fork.  Add agave, oil, vanilla, and egg and beat using a hand mixer (or standing mixer) until well combined and fairly smooth (small bits of banana are fine).  Add dry ingredients in 3 stages and gently mix on low until just combined.  Do not over-mix.

Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full with batter.  Bake 15 minutes for mini muffins or 20 minutes for regular muffins, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 24 mini or 12 standard muffins

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lemon Oregano Chicken and Vinaigrette

Chicken breasts are one of those foods that are healthy and convenient, but often boring and repetitive.  So one night when we were going to have chicken salads for dinner, I looked for a new way to add flavor that wouldn't be too difficult.  My first stops for dinner recipes are generally Epicurious and the Food Network, and it was on the Food Network website that I found the most simple lemon chicken recipe with the most amazing reviews.  The marinade and salad dressing combined have only 5 ingredients, all of which are easy to have around at all times.  Is it the most delicious thing I've ever tasted?  No, but when you factor in the healthfulness and convenience, this recipe is a total winner!

The original recipe by Dave Lieberman is for a Greek salad, but I just used the marinade and dressing recipes to create a salad using whatever I happened to have around - usually some nuts, avocado, and a few kinds of veggies.  I've also tossed the leftover chicken with pasta, olive oil, and romano cheese for a very enjoyable lunch.  And I think the chicken could even stand on it's own as a main course with a yummy side dish (garden risotto?  more on that another time!) - so versatile!

Lemon Oregano Chicken and Vinaigrette
adapted from Food Network

For the chicken:

1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
A couple good pinches salt
10 grinds black pepper
1 whole boneless skinless chicken breast (approx 1.5-2 lbs)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk all ingredients except the chicken in a non-reactive baking dish (e.g., glass or corningware).  Add chicken breast, cut into whatever kind of pieces you'd like (halves, tenders, etc.) and turn to coat.  Cover and let marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  It does not really need longer than that, and the outside of the chicken will begin to "cook" a little bit from the lemon even in that short time, but the original recipe says you can marinate up to 4 hours if you want.

Bake chicken until cooked through, about 25 minutes for a split whole chicken breast.  Time will vary depending on the size of your chicken pieces.  Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing.

Note that the original recipe calls for cooking the chicken in a skillet or grill pan, but I have learned over the years that I am very prone to drying chicken out this way, so I prefer baking.  Another advantage is you can marinate and cook in the same dish - easy clean-up!

For the dressing:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon honey
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a resealable container and shake vigorously, or wisk in a measuring cup. Refrigerate until ready to serve, and then bring to room temperature before tossing salad.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carrot-Zucchini Pancakes

My little munchkin is a picky eater.  I know some people insist that children are capable of eating all sorts of foods if you just expose them to variety and don't cater to picky tendencies, but I am fairly confident that these people either do not have children or have children who are good eaters.  I am hoping that over time and with enough patience on my part the munchkin will be a better eater than I was as a child, but in the mean time her diet is very limited, and the only vegetables she'll really eat are sweet potatoes and white potatoes.  Not very impressive!

But one thing she does love is pancakes, so I was intrigued by a recipe I saw on Weelicious.  I love reading this blog because she has great ideas for healthy recipes that are both kid AND adult friendly, and I'll even forgive her insistance that kids will eat anything you put in front of them because when the munchkin pushes things away, at least I'm left with something that I don't mind eating myself!  And after initial rejection by the munchkin, on try #2 she actually ate a couple of bites!  It's a really interesting recipe - it is the texture of a regular breakfast pancake but packed with zucchini and carrots.  We were expecting something more like a latke, but in my opinion this was a pleasant surprise, especially since no frying was needed.  And despite the lack of resemblance to the latke, they taste great with applesauce.  So far they reheat well from the fridge in the microwave, and I'm guessing they would freeze well, too. 

I made a couple of modifications to the original recipe - I doubled most of the quantities, and also used half whole wheat flour for some extra nutrition.  Let me know what you think!

Carrot-Zucchini Pancakes
adapted from Weelicious

2 carrots, grated
2 small zucchini, grated
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
Canola oil spray

Grate the vegetables using a food processor (or by hand if you're up for it!) and set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and egg.  Add the grated veggies to the milk mixture and toss.  Then add the flour mixture and mix well.

Spray pan or griddle and heat on medium.  Once the pan is hot, add batter 2 tablespoons at a time and flatten into pancakes with the back of a spoon.  Flip once the edges look dry and the first side is golden brown.

Makes approximately 15 pancakes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies - Try #2

So as promised, I finally found time to try Smitten Kitchen's oatmeal cookie recipe to see if they are as thick and chewy as promised.  I am a big fan of this blog (see broccoli slaw!), and had high hopes that this could be my perfect cookie.  Obviously I made some adjustments, as the original recipe is for oatmeal raisin, and I'm dreaming of the perfect oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookie.  First of all, I eliminated the cinnamon.  I also subbed chocolate chips for the raisins, and replaced 1/2 cup of oats with coconut (as opposed to just adding coconut) so that the cookie wouldn't dry out too much.  And finally, I make my cookies pretty small (so that I can eat more!), so I dropped the cooking time. 

And the verdict?  Much improved over the first attempt - they were indeed thick and chewy, even after cooling.  But they are still not quite as dense and rich as the cookies in my head.  If anyone out there has any ideas, please let me know!  I'm trying to figure out how to make those cookies that almost taste like raw dough even after they are cooked.

One real benefit to this recipe was chilling the dough - it meant I could make the dough during the munchkin's oh so brief nap, and have it waiting to scoop and bake for fresh cookies after dinner when I was exhausted!  In fact, I kept it in a container in the fridge and had hot cookies on 3 separate occasions this week.  It was just as convenient as store-bought packaged dough, but without all of the scary ingredients!  I love the idea of scooping and freezing to be able to keep these around even longer, too.  According to Deb, frozen dough only takes an extra couple of minutes to bake.

So overall I'd definitely recommend these, but I haven't quite finished my search for my dream recipe!

Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt (original recipe calls for 1/4; Deb uses up to 1/2 tsp, so I decided to split the difference)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, coconut, and chocolate chips.

Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.  I loaded the whole batch into a storage container and put it in the fridge, but Deb also suggests scooping the dough onto a sheet and chilling the whole thing.  I definitely do not have room in my fridge for that, but if you do it might be worth it - the dough is a bit hard to scoop when chilled.  If you are going to freeze the dough, you will definitely want to scoop first!  If you skip the chilling step, your cookies will not be as thick.

The cookies should be 1-2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet (the chilled cookies do not spread very much at all).  I used a 1 tbsp cookie scoop (approx 1 inch cookies), and my cookies needed to bake for 8-10 minutes.  Take them out when the edges and top are JUST starting to brown.  They may seem undercooked on top but will set up more out of the oven.  Let them sit for a few minutes before taking them off the baking sheet.  Theoretically they are supposed to finish cooling on a rack, but in my house this is the perfect time to start eating :)

Makes approximately 2.5-3 dozen small cookies

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Broccoli Slaw with Almonds and Cranberries

After using buttermilk in corn muffins, pancakes, and granola muffins, I found yet another use for that little bit I still had left!  And this recipe also allowed me to use up the stalks from the broccoli florets that I used in the pasta salad - a double whammy!  I first had this slaw at a friend's house about a year ago, and I am completely hooked.  Generally I am not a huge fan of raw broccoli, but there is something about the combination of flavors in this recipe that is just wonderful.  Maybe it's the onion, or the combination of the dried fruit and almonds?  In any case, it certainly motivates me to eat my veggies in large quantities!

Broccoli Slaw
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 heads of broccoli
1/2 cup almond slivers or slices, toasted
1/3 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit - I've used mixed cranberries, raisins, blueberries, and cherries because that's what I had and it was still good)
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (I have also used sweet white and it still worked)

Buttermilk Dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

Trim and prepare the broccoli.  When using the entire heads, slice thinly using a mandoline or the slicing blade on a food processor.  When using just the stalks, I have found it works best to shred like traditional cabbage slaw (you may need to peel the outside of the stalks first).

Toss the sliced broccoli with the almonds, cranberries and onion in a large bowl. Meanwhile, whisk the dressing ingredients in a smaller one, with a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the broccoli - start with about half, toss, and add more as needed.  If your broccoli bunches were particularly big, you might even need more, but fortuntately it's really easy to mix up a little extra dressing! Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 6 servings.  Should keep up to a week in the fridge.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mom's Pasta Salad

My mom has a few classic recipes that are favorites across my whole family - marinated skirt steak, brisket, and meatballs to name a few.  Another one is her pasta salad with fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes.  This salad has made appearances at countless barbeques and other events and is always a hit.  So of course I have felt the need to steal this recipe!  I brought this few years in a row to my office holiday potluck because it can be made in advance, travels well, and is actually best served at room temperature.  It's also healthy when eaten in moderation (although moderation is actually a huge challenge), since it includes whole wheat pasta (if you want), veggies, and a reasonable amount of olive oil.  This weekend I made the pasta salad to bring to some friends who just had a baby because it's the perfect snack to have around.  But of course I couldn't resist making a double batch so we could keep some for ourselves, and as it turns out the munchkin is a fan, too!  Well, she'll eat the pasta - she handed the cheese and broccoli back to me, and she can't quite manage sun-dried tomatoes yet, but close enough :)

I've done my best to convert some estimates to actual amounts, but feel free to adjust the recipe based on your preferences!  My mom often includes peppers, and you could certainly include whatever sounds good to you.

Pasta Salad with Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

1 lb spiral pasta (whole wheat for health, or tri-color for presentation, or if you're making a double batch you could do one box of each like I did in the picture above!)
1/2 lb (approx 1 pint) fresh mozzarella ciliegini (little balls)
1 bunch broccoli
1/4 lb (approx 1 cup) sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsp grated romano (or parmesan)
1 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/3 cup olive oil

Put a pot of water up to boil.  Pour hot water over the sun-dried tomatoes and let sit.  Cut broccoli into bite-sized florets.

Prepare dressing:  in a bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients except oil, and then slowly add the oil, continuing to whisk constantly, until emulsified.

Preheat a large non-stick sautee pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil, and then add broccoli.  Season with salt and pepper and sautee until just starting to turn dark green.  Broccoli will still be very crunchy - you're just trying to get rid of the rawness.  (At this point you could also sautee any other vegetables you'd like to include.)

Meanwhile, when water boils, add pasta and cook until just al dente.  If you are combining whole wheat and tri-color pasta for a double batch, check the cooking times on the box, as you may need to add the whole wheat a few minutes earlier. 

While the pasta cooks, drain the sun-dried tomatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces.

When the pasta is done, drain and quickly toss with broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and about 2/3 of the dressing (this means you'll want to make sure all of your other ingredients are ready before the pasta).  Taste and add a drop more dressing if still dry.  Allow pasta mixture to cool, and then add mozzarella (if you add cheese while pasta is still warm it will take on the shape of the spirals!).  Add additional dressing as needed.  Sprinkle on romano and toss.

Keeps well in the fridge for several days, but is best if brought to room temperature before serving.

Makes 6-8 side-dish servings.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Whole Grain Overload - Pancakes and Granola Muffins

As you know, last weekend I made corn bread muffins which contain buttermilk in them.  The problem with buttermilk is that you can't buy less than a quart, and I've yet to see a recipe that uses more than a cup and a half, which inevitably means leftovers.  Well, tonight I found not one, but TWO uses for the two and a half cups I had left from last weekend!

First off, whole grain buttermilk pancakes.  SO yummy.  I tried two different brands of whole grain pancake mix, neither of which was enjoyable, before searching out a recipe to make from scratch.  There are a few more I'd like to try (like this one in the NY Times this week), but I made the one below for the second time tonight, and it is a total winner.  I would be very happy to order these in a restaurant, even if I wasn't trying to be healthy!  They are flavorful and fluffy without being dry.  Last time I made them I threw the extras in the freezer, and after a quick pop in the toaster oven they were a perfect snack or side dish for the munchkin - I put a dab of butter on them for her, but they barely need a thing.  Not that I ever turn down maple syrup, but you get the idea :)

Then, because I am still searching out the best healthy muffin recipes, I had to try one in the same NY Times article I mentioned above about eating more whole grains for breakfast.  This recipe has all whole wheat flour (instead of half all-purpose like many recipes I've seen), and also includes granola for extra heartiness.  We belong to a CSA in NYC, and in addition to the great produce, I got really excited about some of the "extras" we were able ot order from regional producers.  I have bought meat, poultry, eggs, honey, maple syrup, and granola.  The granola was delicious, but I haven't been sure how to eat it.  I think it probably goes best with yogurt, but I'm not a huge yogurt fan, and I was always nervous about eating it on it's own because it's so calorie dense and easy to overeat.  So this recipe got me really excited as a way to use some of my delicious granola!  I overcooked them a drop because I converted the timing from full size muffins and apparently they needed a lot less time, but they are still really tasty.  Hearty but not heavy - the texture is actually really nice, a bit surprising given how healthy they are.  And while I'm not generally a big raisin fan, they help these to stay really moist.  I would definitely make them again!  The only problem is the seeds that were in my granola might be a bit tough for the munchkin to manage, but I'm sure hubby and I will do a good job of finishing off this batch without her help :)

Here are the recipes:

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pankcakes
adapted from Cooking Light

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together buttermilk, oil, egg, and egg white.  Add the wet ingredients to add to flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Heat a nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Once hot, lightly butter (tear the paper off one end of a stick of butter and just quickly go over the pan).  Drop spoonfuls onto your griddle (I used a 3 tbsp cookie scoop - the batter is thick so this worked well for me.)  Flip pancakes when the tops are bubbling and edges look cooked.  The second side cooks very quickly so don't go far.

Pancakes can be kept warm in a 200 degree oven.  They also freeze well - wait until they are cool, wrap individual portions in plastic wrap, and store in a zip top bag.

Makes approximately 12-14 pancakes 

Granola Muffins
adapted from The New York Times

1 cup granola (I had maple blueberry flax and was nervous it would give a funny taste, but you can't tell at all, which leads me to believe you can use any granola you want!)
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the granola and milk in a bowl and let sit for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, cover the raisins with hot water and soak for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a towel.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF with a rack in the middle. Spray muffin tin with non-stick spray.

Sift dry ingredients (whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) into a small bowl.  (I have found that stone ground whole wheat flour is really annoying to sift, so the second time I made this recipe I just whisked the dry ingredients together and the muffins still came out great!)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, buttermilk or yogurt, canola oil and vanilla. Quickly whisk in the flour, then fold in the granola/milk mixture and raisins. Combine well.

Distribute batter into muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake until lightly browned, 10-12 minutes for mini-muffins or 20 to 25 minutes for full size (this is according to the original recipe - I only made the minis).  Cool in the tins until you can handle the muffins and then remove them to finish cooling on a plate or rack.

Freeze any muffins that will not be eaten in a day or so in a zip-top bag and defrost in the microwave when needed.

Makes 12 regular or 24 mini-muffins

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bran Muffins

Over the past few weeks, I have become obsessed with muffins.  You can pack so many healthy ingredients into them, they are the perfect size and texture for babies, there are tons of variations, and they don't take much time at all to make!  Plus, they freeze beautifully so it's easy to make a batch, throw them in the freezer, and pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds whenever we need them.  I even bought myself a fancy mini-muffin tin at Williams-Sonoma to make them even more fun to bake :)

I've experimented with a few recipes (see my cornbread muffins for example), but my favorite so far are these bran muffins.  I have made them plain, with raisins, and with dried blueberries (see picture below!), and they all taste great!

Bran Muffins
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups full fat yogurt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey (or agave - I subbed agave because babies under the age of 1 can't have honey)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup of add-ins of your choice - raisins, chopped dried fruit, nuts, etc (optional)

Preheat oven to 425F degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, bran, salt, baking soda and sugar).

In a second larger bowl, whisk together the yogurt, egg, honey/agave, and butter.  Add the dry ingredients and fold in until everything comes just together. Fold in any optional add-ins.  Do not overmix!

Either grease a mini-muffin tin (I sprayed with canola oil) or line the tin with small muffin papers. Fill each 3/4 full (mine were actually practically overflowing before baking).  Bake 10 -15 minutes, until muffins are golden on top and cooked through. You can also make larger muffins in a standard size muffin pan, you just need to bake them about 5 minutes longer.

Makes about two dozen tiny bran muffins or one dozen larger ones.

*See updated recommended recipe here!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chili and Cornbread Muffins

In addition to hosting a birthday brunch for the munchkin last weekend, my in-laws were staying with us for the weekend.  We got a babysitter and went out after the baby's bedtime Friday night, but Saturday night we decided to stay in.  My goal was to find something that everyone liked but could be made ahead so that I didn't have to first start cooking after my daughter's birthday party.  The menu I came up with was chili with corn bread muffins and a tossed salad. 

I have made turkey chili twice before, and the result was good, but tasted more like a meat sauce than chili.  So this time I made a few changes:  I doubled the chili powder, added cumin, and used beef instead of turkey because I had enough grass-fed ground beef in my freezer to double the recipe.  Increasing the spices definitely helped, but I'd imagine the recipe would still work just as well with turkey.

Cornbread is something I've never made before, but after looking at the ingredient lists of some premade ones I decided it was worth the effort!  I made cornbread muffins in a mini-muffin tin earlier in the week and froze them in a freezer bag.  Saturday night I just popped a bunch in the microwave on a plate and we had "fresh" cornbread!  The recipe I found is fairly healthy - low in sugar, no butter, and has whole grain corn meal.  They were a drop on the dry side, but tasted delicious warm with a shmear of butter and dipped in chili.

Here are the recipes:

adapted from Food Network

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onions (approx. 1 small onion)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (approx. 1 large clove)
1 pound ground turkey or lean beef
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with juices
1 (16-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (this is half the original amount - I am very sensitive to heat, so I prefer to use less in the chili and then serve Tabasco on the side for those who prefer hotter food)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon dried basil (my crushed tomatoes had basil so I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or less, especially if you're limited on cooking time)

In a large skillet, saute onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add ground meat and cook until browned.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour or until desired thickness, stirring occasionally.

This tastes better the next day, so it is a great choice to make ahead!  I assume it would also freeze well, although we never seem to have enough to bother :)

Makes 4-5 bowls

Mini-Cornbread Muffins*
from Weelicious

1 3/4 Cup Cornmeal
3/4 Cup Flour
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/4 Cup Agave
1 1/2 Cup Buttermilk
2 Eggs
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Mix the first 5 dry ingredients in a bowl.
3. Whisk the remaining wet ingredients in a separate bowl until thoroughly combined.
4. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the wet ingredients and thoroughly combine with a whisk.
5. Pour into 24 greased mini muffin cups.
6. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted inside.
7. Cool and serve.

Makes 24 mini-muffins

*Check out this recipe for another cornbread option!

First Birthday Cupcakes

This weekend my little munchkin turned 1 year old!!  I know the first birthday is famous for giving babies cake with lots of icing to smash and smear all over themselves, but I just couldn't do it.  I have been trying very hard to only expose her to healthy foods, and I just couldn't see any reason to give her sugar packed cake and icing at such a young age.  Instead, I set out on a quest for a cupcake recipe that I could serve to my guests and also feel ok about giving to the munchkin.  I came across several recipes for low sugar carrot cake made with some whole wheat flour, but what intrigued me most was a recipe for chocolate cupcakes that had a blend of all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat germ, plus a mixture of blueberries and spinach.  Yes, you read that correctly - spinach in chocolate cupcakes! 

The original recipe was from a cookbook by The Sneaky Chef, who, from what I can gather from her website and the blogs that reference her recipes, is all about hiding fruits and vegetable in foods that children already like.  As a general rule I am not in favor of the idea that you need to hide healthy foods in less healthy ones to get children to like them, but that being said I couldn't think of any downside to adding some extra vitamins and nutrients in something we'd eat anyway as long as it's not a replacement for eating fruits and veggies in their more obvious forms.  Plus, the carrot cake recipes seemed to really need icing, but with chocolate cake a dusting of powdered sugar was all that was needed!

It took me 2 tries to get these right - the first batch came out very dry, in part because they were overcooked (see my note about the toothpick test below) and in part because I think making dessert with wheat germ might be a LITTLE ambitious, at least for my palate!  I eliminated the wheat germ from the second batch, made some modifications for simplicity, and increased the ratio of blueberries to spinach to add a little more natural sweetness. 

In the end, I actually found them to be very tasty!  They would be even better with icing, but I was happy to eat them as is with a cup of tea or milk.  The munchkin wasn't a huge fan, but then again this was her first experience with chocolate and she tends to be very skeptical of new foods.  Which meant we didn't quite get the smashed cake photo anyway, but if she's going to be picky at least it applies to dessert, too!

Here is the final recipe:

Chocolate Cupcakes with Spinach & Blueberries
Adapted from RecipeZaar

1 10 oz box frozen chopped spinach
1 8 oz bag frozen blueberries (you can also use fresh if you prefer)
1/3 cup white flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour (or 1/3 whole wheat + 1/3 wheat germ)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (half a stick) butter
1/3 cup + 1/3 cup chocolate chips, divided
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
powdered sugar (optional)

1. Make "Sneaky Chef Purple Puree" (spinach/blueberry mixture) by cooking the spinach and blueberries until soft. I microwaved them in a 1-quart pyrex measuring cup for 6-8 minutes, but you could also put them in a pan and gently cook (covered). Puree the cooked spinach and blueberries (do not drain!) until completely smooth - I used an immersion blender, but you could also transfer to a food processor or blender.  This makes 2 cups, which is double the amount that you need for one recipe.  I froze the other cup in a freezer bag to use another time.  You could also use half the amounts of the spinach and blueberries, but for me it was easier to just use the entire package of each.  You can make the puree in advance and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to make the cupcakes.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F and prep a 12-muffin pan with cooking spray or liners.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt).  You don't have to be exact about the flour ratio - I took a 1-cup measuring cup and filled more than half way with whole wheat flour and then the rest of the way with all-purpose.  The original recipe calls for a third of the blend to be wheat germ if you're looking for extra nutrients, but I think this compromises the texture.

4.  In a large bowl, melt the butter and 1/3 cup chocolate chips together.  I used a glass bowl in the microwave, but you could do this over barely simmering water on the stove.

5.  Add the rest of the wet ingredients (1 cup spinach/blueberry puree, egg, vanilla, and sugar) to the butter/chocolate mixture and whisk to combine.

6.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. 

7.  Stir in remaining 1/3 cup chocolate chips.  This is optional, but I think really adds richness and moisture to the finished product, especially if you're not using icing.

8.  Divide batter between 12 muffin cups.  The batter is very thick, so I used a small ice cream scoop for this task.

9.  Bake at 350°F for 23 to 25 minutes for the cupcakes - no longer.  They will bounce back when finished, but the toothpick test does not really work - it will have crumbs on it even when the cupcakes are done, and the chocolate chips can make them look raw!

10.  Cool completely.  Dust with powdered sugar or add icing if you'd like.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


This year we celebrated Thanksgiving at my brother's house in NJ.  My sister-in-law and her mother are fabulous cooks, and they took care of most of the main meal, which left me in charge of hors d'oeuvres along with one other guest.  My goal was to come up with a few items that were unique and seasonal, but could be completely prepared in advance so that I did not have to get in the way in the kitchen once we got there.  My resulting offerings were cheese and crackers, pumpkin butter served with puff pastry, and curried pumpkin seeds.  My definite favorite from this bunch was the pumpkin seeds - they were surprisingly delicious without a whole lot of effort.  The only problem is that almost a week later my apartment still has a faint curry aroma!

We decided to stay over Thanksgiving night so that we could put the baby to sleep and not have to transfer her, which meant we'd be there for breakfast in the morning.  I thought it would be nice to bring some healthy muffins to have after gorging ourselves the previous night.  I found this recipe for pumpkin bran muffins, which got mixed reviews from my family.  I thought the texture was great (as far as healthy bran muffins go), but unfortunately I went a little light on the spices because it sounded like so much, but that turned out to be a mistake.  The muffins smelled great, but were definitely missing some flavor.  I will have to try again another time!

Here are all of the recipes:

Pumpkin Butter
adapted from Weelicious

2 Cups Pureed Pumpkin or 1 15oz Can Pumpkin Puree
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
1/4 Cup Honey (I substituted all Agave Nectar to make it baby friendly)
2 Tbsp Agave Nectar
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.  Cool and serve.

Makes 2 cups

Curried Pumpkin Seeds
adapted from Epicurious

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (I used lemon because I bought them for the Pumpkin Butter)
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I cut this in half - I am very sensitive to spice and they were plenty hot with less pepper!)
12 ounces hulled pumpkin seeds (about 2 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment; spray with nonstick spray. Whisk egg white, lime (or lemon) juice, and oil in large bowl. Add next 4 ingredients; whisk. Add pumpkin seeds; toss. Transfer to baking sheet, spreading evenly. Bake until toasted and fragrant, stirring often, about 24 minutes. Cool on sheet. Do ahead: Can be made 5 days ahead. Store toasted seeds airtight at room temperature.

Makes 2 1/2 cups

Moist Pumpkin Bran Muffins
adapted from GreenLiteBites

1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp all spice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 15oz can of pumpkin
¼ cup molasses
2 tbsp honey (or agave)
2 eggs (or 1 egg whole egg and 2 whites)
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup plain yogurt (any fat level you have!)
¾ cup Wheat Bran
Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the pumpkin, molasses, honey, egg, egg whites, applesauce and yogurt. Beat until all ingredients are mixed well.

Pour the flour mixture and wheat bran into the pumpkin mixture. Combine until just moistened. Don’t over mix!

Spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. Evenly distribute the batter in the cups. Sprinkle with a bit of oats (or pumpkin seeds) and bake for about 20 minutes for regular, 15 minutes for mini-muffins.

Makes 12 regular or 24 mini-muffins

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok, so in my blog description I said that I'm passionate about healthy cooking, and yet my first post is for cookies - what gives?  Well, I should further explain what I mean by "healthy cooking":  as much as possible, I am committed to preparing foods that are organic, whole grain, and recognizable, with minimal proccessing and no trans fats, excess sodium, flavorings, or other chemicals.  That's not to say that everything I make comes from local organic farms, but I do obsessively read ingredient lists when buying packaged foods to look for the highest quality possible.  After all, I am a new mom in NYC - looking for convenience is a big part of my life!  So my goal is to prepare foods that are wholesome, nutritious, delicious, AND do not take hours and hours to prepare.  Because labor intensive foods will not get made in my house, and above all I think home cooked trumps take out or processed!

That being said, this weekend I had a craving for oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies.  And they DO qualify as healthy cooking in my book - I can use almost entirely organic ingredients, they have whole grains in them, they can be on the plate quickly without any fancy equipment (my rule with baking is that it can't require a stand mixer, flour all over the place, or time to rise), and they are delicious!  After a quick web search, I found a recipe on a blog with the cutest title - Two Peas and Their Pod.  As it turns out I had every ingredient on hand except chocolate chips, so after the baby went to sleep, I left hubby in charge for a few minutes while I ran down to pick some up.  About an hour later, we had hot cookies!

And they were good, but did not quite live up to my expectations.  You see, in my mind these cookies were going to be dense, soft, and chewy, and this recipe produced cookies that are light and crisp.  If that sounds good to you, by all means check out the recipe below.  But for me, the quest for the perfect Oatmeal Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie is still on.  Luckily, after just searching for chewy oatmeal cookies, I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs!  The recipe doesn't have chocolate or coconut in it, but the description sounds like exactly what I am looking for.  I figure I can easily sub chocolate chips for raisins, and (hopefully) add some coconut without changing the texture too much from what Deb promises. 

In the mean time, the first batch is sitting happily in my freezer waiting to answer a dessert craving, but I'm looking forward to trying again...I will let you all know how it goes!

Coconut Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Two Peas and Their Pod

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.

Cream together sugars and butter with a mixer. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add flour mixture and beat until combined.  Stir in oats and coconut, and then chocolate chips.

Shape to form 1 inch balls (I used a 1 tablespoon cookie scooper).  Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake 10-12 minutes or until tops are just golden. They will still be jiggly but will harden as they sit.

Makes approximately 40 cookies.