Sunday, February 21, 2010

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Mmmm...that's all I have to say after tasting these muffins right out of the oven.  They are so yummy, I can't wait to serve them to company tomorrow!

But before I tell you more about the muffins, I really want to thank all of you who are out there reading my ramblings and letting me inspire you to cook - I have gotten more notes than I ever expected from people who are actually interested in what I have to say!  And for those of you who don't know me in real life, I'd love to hear from you, too - feel free to comment on the blog or write to me at my new e-mail address,  I want to know how my recipes turned out for you, if you made any changes that worked (or didn't work!), other recipes you think I might like, or just general thoughts :)

The reason now seemed like the right time to mention my wonderful readers is that not one, but two of you thought of me when you saw this muffin recipe, and I am so appreciative!  Mark Bittman wrote an article in the NY Times about how to make whole wheat muffins actually taste good instead of heavy and chewy.  Upon close inspection, this recipe is admittedly not as healthy as most of my muffin recipes - there's a little extra sugar and a half cup (one whole stick!) of butter.  But they do include 100% whole wheat flour instead of a refined flour mix, and have fruit or veggies in them, and butter is a wholesome ingredient that really isn't evil in moderation, so I thought they were worth a try.  Plus, I actually worry that my munchkin eats a diet that's too low in fat, so this is a good recipe for her.

The beauty of this recipe is that it's flexible - you can use the base for whatever kind of whole wheat muffins you want - read Bittman's article for more ideas!  I chose to make an apple version, and they are amazing.  As it turns out, there's a reason people who make yummy food use lots of butter - there is no taste quite like it!  These muffins are moist, light, and leave a hint of butter in your mouth, but are not greasy like so many of the muffins you'll buy.  And just like other muffins, they freeze and defrost beautifully, so they're perfect to have onhand.  I would be interested in reducing the butter and/or sugar a bit, though, so I may experiment in the future - please let me know if you have any ideas on the best way to make modifications!

I think hubby's getting a little bored of taking pictures of muffins!!

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins
adapted from the NY Times

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup sugar (you may need more if using a veggie that's not sweet)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon (optional, or replace with another spice if using another fruit/veggie)
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce (or whatever fruit or vegetable you want)
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk or yogurt (I always have plain whole milk yogurt around, so that's what I used, but low fat should work, too!)
1/2 cup apple, peeled and diced into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces (I think I may have been closer to 2/3 cup and that was still ok; use whatever add-in you want)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare 12 regular or 24 mini-muffin cups by spraying with oil or lining with muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together the melted butter, apple sauce, egg and yogurt.  Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and fold together; add apple pieces and stir until just combined. 

Fill muffin tins or liners with batter.  Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes for regular muffins (18-20 minutes for mini-muffins) or until muffins are puffed and turning golden brown on top.  Serve warm if possible, or freeze once cool and warm in microwave just before serving.

Makes 12 regular or 24 mini-muffins

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lentil Salad with Grapes

A few weeks ago I made Avocado Lentil Salad, and promised another favorite Lentil Salad recipe.  Well, I finally had a chance to make it last night!  This recipe is adapted from Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network and is delicious.  The two recipes are very similar - both have grape tomatoes, pistachios, and a lemon dressing, but this one has grapes instead of the avocado.  There are also some cucumbers and scallions for added crunch and flavor.  I don't know what it is about the combination, but the grapes in a lemon dressing mixed with all of the other ingredients is really great.  In my mind the lentils are kind of irrelevant - just some extra nutrients added to a really yummy combination of fruit, veggies, and nuts - how can you go wrong?

I made some changes from Giada's original recipe - she includes red bell peppers, which hubby and I don't love, so I subbed tomatoes.  Also, she uses hazelnuts, but the first time I made this I didn't have any around and ended up using pistachios instead - I loved the results so I haven't tried it the original way.  But I'm sure you could include whatever veggies and nuts appeal to you if you don't like my substitutions!

We ate this salad for dinner with some whole wheat bread, but it would also make a great side dish for a party or barbeque, especially if you have vegetarians in your crowd who will appreciate something hardy.

Lentil Salad with Grapes
adapted from Food Network

1 pound cooked lentils
2 scallions, chopped
2 cups seedless grapes, cut in half (red, green, or a combination of both)
1/2 English cucumber, diced
1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pistachios (I use roasted and salted)
2 teaspoons lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 1/2 lemons)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine dressing ingredients and whisk well.  Pour over salad and toss until all ingredients and dressing are well distributed.  Serve, or refrigerate for later - this is one of those salads that gets better with a little time.

Makes approximately 4-6 main course servings

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Salmon Cakes with Lemon Dill Sauce

I am always trying to eat more salmon, so when I saw canned wild Alaskan salmon at Trader Joe's, I bought a few cans to give it a try.  Problem was I wasn't quite sure what to do with it.  In the back of my mind, I thought I'd heard of salmon cakes, something I'd assumed would be similar to a crab cake.  But when I started searching for recipes, I wasn't having a lot of luck finding one that got good reviews, was simple to make, used canned salmon, and wasn't fried.  I thought those were reasonable criteria but I guess I was asking a lot!

I finally came across a recipe in Eating Well called Easy Salmon Cakes that got 3.7 stars out of 5.  Not quite the raving endorsement I'd hoped for, but they seemed to meet the other criteria.  Unfortunately, the comments muddied the waters quite a bit - it sounded like most of the people who rated them highly made some significant changes, so I wasn't going to be able to just follow the recipe.  Plus, these "easy" cakes were not so easy at all!  They called for sauteeing veggies, making breadcrumbs, and both sauteeing AND baking the salmon cakes.  So after reading the comments and trying to figure out what the general themes were, I made some adjustments to both the ingredients and the process and gave them a try.  Major changes were to cut down on the amount of breadcrumbs, add carrots for more moisture and flavor, keep the veggies raw, and just bake in the oven instead of sauteeing first.  Somehow I managed to get lucky on my first try and they came out great!

The website recommends serving them with Creamy Dill Sauce, which sounds good.  But I still had some Lemon Yogurt Sauce in my fridge from when I made Garbanzo Burgers, so I just added a spoonful of mayo and some chopped fresh dill and it worked great!  (Update: since this post, I have made a variation of the creamy dill sauce sauce a number of times, so I've added my version below!)

Salmon Cakes with Lemon Dill Sauce
adapted from Eating Well

1 small onion, cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks
1/2 cup carrots, cut into chunks
12 ounces (2 small cans) canned wild salmon (skinless and boneless), drained well
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 + 1/4 cups plain breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of salt

Lemon Dill Sauce
1/4 cup plain yogurt (I have had success with both whole and 1%)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon (or a good squeeze) of lemon
1 teaspoon dried dill (1 tablespoon fresh would also be great if you have some on hand)

Preheat the oven to 450.  Cover a baking sheet with foil and generously spray with oil.

Place veggies in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.  Pour into a mixing bowl and add salmon, egg, mustard, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, and ground pepper.  You may need to break up the salmon with a fork, and then mix until all ingredients are well combined.

Put 1/4 cup breadcrumbs in a small bowl and mix in a pinch of salt.  Use the side of your hand to score the salmon mixture into 8 equal portions (cakes will have about 1/4 cup of mixture each).  Form cakes by shaping with your hands, carefully coating with breadcrumbs, and placing on prepared baking sheet.  They will be a little prone to falling apart at this stage, so just gently place on the breadcrumbs and turn over, trying to keep them together as best as possible, and push them back together if a piece breaks off (I have actually found it's easier to make a ball from the mixture, roll it in the breadcrumbs, and then flatten into a patty on the baking sheet!).   

Generously spray the tops of the salmon cakes with oil.  Bake for 10-12 minutes (or until bottoms are golden brown), flip cakes, and bake for another 5 minutes to brown the other side.  While the salmon cakes are cooking, whisk together ingredients for dipping sauce.  Serve with a side salad or vegetable, or as a starter to a larger meal.

Do ahead: Prepare salmon mixture earlier in the day (while your kids nap, are in school, etc.!) and store covered in the fridge until you are ready to make your salmon cakes.
Serves 4

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beef Stew

Beef stew is one of my favorite winter meals.  Every year I make it once or twice when I'm in the mood for something really comforting, and so in preparation for this craving I ordered grass-fed stew beef the last time I was stocking up on meat from my CSA.  Last week, as I was looking through my freezer trying to figure out what I could make with what I had at home, I came across my stew meat and got excited - this is the perfect time of year!  I dug up the Irish Beef Stew recipe that I had adapted ages ago and got to work on Saturday night when hubby was home so that I could start dinner before the munchkin went to sleep.

I think this recipe is pretty classic - no fancy flavors, just wholesome ingredients that cook together for a long time and become really yummy.  In the years that I've been making it, I've probably never made it exactly the same way twice.  So while I can't promise you that I have ever actually made it exactly as the recipe states below, I can promise you that every single time I've made it the results have been delicious, so I've basically decided that you can't go wrong!  Feel free to be creative with the veggies, for example...I'd bet any root vegetable that can stand up to cooking for a long time would work.  I was thinking the next time I might throw in some sweet potato to mix things up - why not?

Apologies for the photo...turns out it's really hard to make stew look good! 

Beef Stew
adapted from Epicurious

2 tablespoons (approx) olive or vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour seasoned with black pepper
1 1/2 pounds stew beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dark beer or red wine
3 cups chicken or beef stock (homemade or the best quality low sodium you can find)
1 small can tomato paste (use about 3/4 of the can)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or oil
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (I do not peel my potatoes, but the skin does fall off the potato in the cooking process, so if you don't think you'll enjoy that feel free to peel!)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups carrots, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups celery, cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 cups frozen peas (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (for garnish, optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil (or enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pot) in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Toss beef in flour seasoned with black pepper. Add beef to pan and sauté until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes.  The beef really should be able to fit in one layer; otherwise it just steams and does not brown.  1 1/2 lbs just fit in my pot, so if you're increasing the amount at all you may need to do 2 batches or use 2 pans.

Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add beer or wine and scrape up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan while it cooks for a few minutes. Add stock, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, melt butter or additional oil in another large pot over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion, carrots, and celery. Sauté vegetables until golden, about 20 minutes. Add vegetables to beef stew.* 

Simmer uncovered until vegetables and beef are very tender, about 1 hour from the time you added the liquid to the beef. Add more broth or keep covered if the stew is getting too thick.  Discard bay leaves. Tilt pan and spoon off fat (if necessary; my grass-fed beef is so lean that there was no fat to skim).

Can be prepared several hours and up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer and add peas just before serving. Garnish with parsley if desired and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 6

*Theoretically this is an important step because getting color on the veggies should add flavor to the stew. I'm not convinced. If you overcrowd the pan at this stage (which I have in the past) the veggies just get soft, not golden, so this time I did them in batches to get good color and my stew did not taste noticeably better. The next time I'm going to try just adding the veggies directly to the broth and letting them cook in there to see what happens!  If it still tastes good I'd be very happy to make this a one pot dish :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vegetable Barley Risotto

Do you remember my Vegetable Risotto recipe?  The one that I told you was delicious and healthy, with the exception that white rice has limited nutritional value?  And then I said that I was going to make it with barley instead?  Well, as you've probably figured out by now, I did it!  I finally got around to getting some pearled barley and found the time to stir a pot of risotto at the end of a very busy weekend. 

All I did was replace the arborio rice with pearled barley and kept everything else about the recipe the same.  The cooking time was a little longer, but otherwise the method works.  And the result was worth the time - this variation is delicious!   I do have to admit, if you are expecting a replica of traditional risotto, this is not it - the barley has a much stronger flavor and chewier texture, but you do still get the creaminess and all of the other flavors in the original.  And the health difference is amazing.  I usually focus more on ingredient lists than nutrition labels, but in this case the nutrient difference is so obvious:  for a 160 calorie serving (1/4 cup dry), arborio rice has no fiber and 3 grams of protein, whereas pearled barley has 8 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein!  Just think of all of the other nutrients not captured on the label that remain with the grain when all of the healthy parts aren't stripped away.

So I am convinced - with apologies to the traditional Italian cuisine that I love so dearly, barley risotto is the way of the future in my home!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Garbanzo Burgers

Here we go with another recipe from my Weelicious list!  While I often have a hard time eating whole beans because of the texture, once they are mashed up or pureed I am happy to indulge.  Which makes these Garbanzo Burgers a great way to add more legumes to my diet.  I first made this a few months back, pre-blog, but wanted to make it again so that I could get a photo for you all :).  The burgers are so flavorful that you really can't tell there are beans in there, they come together really easily, and they got rave reviews both times I made them (from hubby and me; the munchkin is still a bit skeptical).  Plus, they are packed with healthy ingredients.  In my home that make this recipe a winner, and I'm happy to have another vegetarian meal to add to the rotation.

I served them on a bun with avocado, tomato (a big tomato would have been better, but as you can see I only had grape tomatoes at home so those worked in a pinch!) and a lemon yogurt sauce.  But feel free to take liberties - I'm sure there are tons of way these can be enjoyed!

Garbanzo Burgers
adapted from Weelicious

1 15 Oz. Can Garbanzo Beans, drained and rinsed
1 Small Carrot, cut into chunks
1 Garlic Clove
1 Small Onion, cut into chunks
2 Eggs
1 Tsp Salt
1/3 Cup Bread Crumbs
2 Tsp Sesame Seeds
Oil (up to 1 tbsp)

Place the first 6 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.  Move mixture to a bowl and stir in bread crumbs and sesame seeds. 

Heat oil in a large saute pan (or spray a large skillet) over medium heat.  Place approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture in your hands (I used the 1/3 cup measure that was out for the bread crumbs and didn't quite fill it), and form into a patty.  Place on hot pan and repeat to make 8 patties.

Cook the patties for approximately 5 minutes on each side, reducing the heat when you flip them or if they are browning too quickly.

Makes 8 patties

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Banana Pumpkin Oat Muffins

Back in December, I told you about the Pumpkin Bran Muffins that I made for the day after Thanksgiving: I liked the texture, but wasn't happy with the flavor, presumably because I didn't put in the full amounts of spices.  Well, I'm sad to report that after trying them a second time and sticking to the recipe, I'm still not happy with the taste.  Hubby and the munchkin also didn't love them, so I need to find a new pumpkin muffin recipe!

The next stop is Sweet + Natural.  She has 2 pumpkin muffin recipes: the first one, Spiced Pumpkin Honey Muffins, looks delicious but has more sugar (honey) than I'm looking for in a muffin recipe.  Her Pumpkin Banana Oat Muffins, on the other hand, have less sugar and have the added benefit of more fruit, flax seeds (go omega-3's!), and oats!  Since I like muffins to be a truly wholesome snack, not a dessert, my choice of which to try first was easy.

And overall, these were a success!  They are moist, flavorful, and hardy, although in my opinion the banana was a stronger flavor than the pumpkin (which is why I changed the name around), so I don't quite have a pumpkin muffin recipe yet.  This was my first time cooking with flax seed meal, and I'm so excited to have a good recipe.  The only thing I might change is to use quick cooking oats (I used rolled) because the oats did stay a little crunchy, but they also add some texture which isn't a bad thing.  Hubby, who is generally opposed to all things pumpkin, said that they are good but he'd probably like them even better if they had raisins or nuts in them - he's a fan of muffins that are filled with "stuff" :)  But he can stick to his favorite granola muffins if he wants because the munchkin and I are gobbling these up just the way they are!

Banana Pumpkin Oat Muffins
adapted from Sweet + Natural

Dry Ingredients
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup oats
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

"Wet" Ingredients
1 15 ounce can of pumpkin
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3/4 cup flax seed meal
2/3 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 375.  Spray muffin tins with non-stick spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  In a separate, larger bowl whisk together "wet" ingredients (flax seed meal isn't really wet, but for some reason it goes in that bucket!) until well blended.  Add dry ingredients to large bowl and stir until just combined. 

Fill each muffin cup to be about 3/4 full, and bake 15 minutes for mini-muffins and 20 minutes for regular muffins.

Makes approx 30 mini or 15 regular muffins (I got 24 mini + 3 regular)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Double Broccoli Quinoa

In the world of grains, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a winner.  It is easy to cook (similar to rice but faster), has the nutritional benefits of being a whole grain, and is even a complete protein (most grains are missing a couple of the essential amino acids, which means that while they are good protein sources, you need to ensure you are eating foods with complementary amino acids to get everything you need.  For example, rice and beans are a perfect combination because the beans include amino acids that rice lacks).  Sadly, a few years back I tried making it a few times and just couldn't get excited about the taste - I found it to be boring and a little bitter.  Well, that was before I realized that you can toss it with pesto (in this case, broccoli almond)!  I just came across this recipe for Double Broccoli Quinoa on 101 Cookbooks, and it is delicious.  Remember I told you that hubby declared our recent Avocado Lentil Salad to be one of his favorites?  Well, this quinoa dish may have topped that. 

What's even more exciting than this recipe just being wholesome and delicious (as if that's not enough!) is that after years of thinking that no meal is complete without a piece of meat, I am finding that vegetarian meals can be totally satisfying.  We ate this topped with slivered almonds and feta cheese with some toasted bread on the side, and it was a great dinner.  The original recipe recommends avocado as another topping, and I think that would taste great, too!  Feel free to be creative with this could probably even add some dried fruit if you want to make it more like a salad.  We enjoyed it warm for dinner, and I just had it cold for lunch, so it's also versatile from a temperature perspective.  Let me know if you come up with any other ideas that work well, as I'm sure I'll be making this again many times!

Double Broccoli Quinoa
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup dried quinoa
2 cups broth (or water)

5 cups raw broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets and stems

2-3 medium garlic cloves
2/3 cup toasted almonds
1/3 cup grated romano cheese
2 big pinches of salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approx. 1/2 large lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup (or less) broth

Toppings (optional)
Feta or goat cheese, avocado, toasted slivered almonds, extra pesto

Cook the quinoa according to package directions, using broth or water.

Lightly steam the broccoli by bringing 3/4 cup water to a simmer in a medium pot and adding the broccoli, leaving it in there covered for 2-3 minutes.  I needed to stir a couple of times to get the raw edge off of the whole batch.  Transfer to a strainer and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

Make pesto by pureeing 2 cups of the cooked broccoli with garlic, almonds, romano, salt, and lemon juice in a food processor.  Drizzle in olive oil and then add additional broth until smooth.

Toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli with about half of the pesto*, adding more if necessary.  Top with any toppings you are using.

Makes about 4 servings.

* You could, of course, just make less pesto, but having some extra in my fridge to toss with pasta later this week is pretty exciting!