Friday, April 30, 2010

The Pizza Story (2) - Ingredients

If you are just joining this story, check out this page for a little background :)

The first step in my pizza dough adventure was to find a recipe.  I wanted my crust to be 100% whole wheat, which is apparently a tall order. Almost every whole wheat recipe I found had a combination of whole wheat and refined white flour, until I found one on 101 Cookbooks that uses white whole wheat flour.

Before you stop me and say that white whole wheat is a contradiction, let me share what I've learned: most traditional flour is made from hard red winter wheat.  Producing all-purpose flour requires stripping away the nutritious bran and germ to leave only the endosperm, which is then ground up.  This produces a much lighter and softer flour than the whole-wheat flour produced from the whole grain.  But there is another kind of wheat - soft white wheat, or albino wheat, which is lighter in color and has a texture and taste closer to refined white flour. This flour has virtually the same nutritional benefits as the hard red variety, allowing it to be used in its whole grain form without compromising the texture to the same degree as regular whole wheat flour. Sounds pretty amazing, right?

So, despite the fact that my small apartment-sized pantry now houses all-purpose flour, stone-ground whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat bread flour, cornmeal, and coconut flour, I decided I had to add white whole wheat flour to the collection. This was not as easy as it sounded - I had to look in about 6 grocery and health food stores before I finally found it!

The other ingredient I needed to find was yeast.  Not having any experience with yeast, I bought the first one I found, which was active dry yeast.  Upon rereading the recipe at home I realized that it actually called for instant yeast.  I had no idea if these were interchangable or completely different, so I did a bit of reading.  Apparently the instant variety is more potent, so you can add it directly to dry ingredients rather than activating it first in water.  But you can substitute one for the other, adjusting the recipe to use about 20% more active dry yeast and activating it first using some of the liquid in the recipe.  Next time I will try to find instant yeast since it seems like it would be much easier to skip the activation step!

I was now set to give it a try, as the other ingredients - salt, olive oil, and cornmeal - were all in my pantry.  More to come on how it went in the next installment!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

A few months back, I posted a recipe for Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes that are absolutely delicious - light, fluffy, and sweet.  The only problem is that they achieve this by including half all-purpose flour along with the whole wheat.  I tried remedying this by using all whole wheat pastry flour in the same recipe, but this led to a completely flat pancake that was not particularly exciting.  I decided the next time around I'd find a new recipe, and in looking for something with 100% whole grains I came across Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes on Epicurious.  The recipe was originally in Gourmet, which is not a publication I would have generally thought of for healthy versions of classic foods, but the reviews were amazing: out of 90 reviews, 100% would make these again, and the average rating was a full 4 forks!  I had to give them a try.

I made a few minor changes (of course!).  I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the whole wheat flour, used 2 eggs instead of 1 (some reviewers suggested this but I'm not convinced it was necessary), used regular sugar instead of brown (because my brown sugar is still hard as a rock), and oil instead of melted butter (because I find melting butter to be an annoying step; I compensated for this by buttering my skillet instead of brushing with oil so we'd still have the buttery taste - yum!).  Apparently this is a flexible recipe, though - reviewers also used regular milk or a yogurt milk/combo instead of buttermilk, all purpose flour instead of whole wheat, all kinds of oats (the original recipe said quick oats; I used rolled). 

The resulting pancakes were really yummy - not as fluffy as the ones with some white flour, but I'm not convinced fluffy is possible in an all whole-grain recipe.  I'm also not convinced that pancakes need to be fluffy - I find thinner ones are often more moist and I really enjoy the texture.  The oats made these hardy but not heavy, and the flavor from the cinnamon and nutmeg almost made me like them better without syrup.  Plus, they freeze and reheat in the toaster beautifully, maintaining the buttery crunchiness on the edges.  I highly recommend giving these a try next time you're looking for a weekend treat!

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes
adapted from Epicurious

3/4 cup oats (quick is best, but I have used rolled successfully too)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk, divided (or 3/4 cup milk + 3/4 cup yogurt)
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sugar

Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk) 10-15 minutes (my rolled oats soaked about 15 which was fine).
Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, oil, sugar, and remaining 3/4 cup buttermilk (or yogurt).  Add this and oat mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Heat a griddle/large skillet over medium heat until hot and lightly butter (I run the end of a stick of butter quickly over the pan).  Working in batches, pour batter onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown. Flip with a spatula and cook other side, about 1 minute more. (Lightly grease griddle between batches.)
Freeze leftover pancakes in a zip top bag separated by wax/parchment paper or plastic wrap and reheat in toaster oven.
Makes 20 pancakes using a 2 tablespoon scoop

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Pizza Story (1) - Introduction

A few months ago, I read Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is about the author's family's decision to move to a farm in West Virginia and subsist almost entirely on home or locally grown and produced foods for one year.  I found their commitment to organic, local, and sustainable food to be incredibly inspiring.  And while my lack of green thumb and current residence in a high rise apartment building without outdoor space to call my own does not really facilitate my ability to grow food, reading this book did reignite my motivation to purchase local food and make things from scratch whenever possible.

One of the Kingsolver family's traditions was to have homemade pizza every Friday night.  For many people, making pizza at home means throwing a frozen pie into the oven.  The somewhat more motivated might use pre-made crust, jarred sauce, and some shredded processed mozzarella.  The Kingsolver family, however, took this about 100 steps further, even making their own cheese and growing their own tomatoes!  I think that that pizza is one of the most universally loved foods throughout much of the world - even my father who doesn't like tomato sauce or cheese (I know, hard to believe, right?) ranks pizza on the top of his list!  But it also often falls under the unhealthy category, presumably because it generally consists of white crust loaded with tons of cheese and other unhealthy toppings.  But just like mac & cheese, I believe pizza can be a very wholesome meal when made properly (whole grain crust, moderate cheese) and topped with veggies and/or served with a big salad.

One day I hope to eat a pizza in which every component was created from basic ingredients in my home.  Before reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I didn't even know it was possible to make cheese at home, but I now have a cheesemaking book tucked away on my shelf for a future project :).  But just as every journey starts with a single step, I've decided to start with figuring out how to make my own wholesome crust.  Given my lack of dough making experience (I have never made anything using yeast!) I have a feeling it's going to take me a while to get this right. 

Please feel free to join me on this pizza journey as I document each step along the way in a few blog posts to come over the next several weeks, or months, or maybe years :)

Read on for part 2 - the ingredients!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blueberry Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know about my quest for the perfect oatmeal cookie (see here and here if you're just catching up!).  Well, a couple of months ago I discovered Sweet + Natural, a great blog for desserts made with wholesome ingredients.  I've already had great success with Carrot Cupcakes and Banana Pumpkin Oat Muffins from the site, so I thought I'd give her Blueberry Coconut "Oaties" a try, too!  The idea of throwing dried blueberries into a cookie was intriguing, and the recipe was pleasantly healthy for a cookie - if eaten in moderation (not easy!), they are moderate in sugar, have oil instead of butter, and get lots of good nutrition from oats, whole wheat flour, and blueberries.

After a couple of taste testers, the concensus seems to be that the blueberries could easily pass for raisins if they didn't know better, so feel free to use whichever you have/prefer.  But the cookies themselves came out great.  Not the most moist I've ever had, but I didn't miss the butter or extra sugar in a traditional recipe.  I think the quest may have to continue, though, for a more decadent version when I'm in need!

Blueberry Coconut Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from Sweet + Natural

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened dried blueberries
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and oats.  In a separate larger bowl, mix together oil, sugar, egg and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in blueberries and coconut.

Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes to make it easier to work with (it will be sticky if used right away).  Preheat oven to 350 when you put them into the fridge or whenever you are ready to bake.

Roll tablespoons into balls (I used my 1 tablespoon cookie scoop), flatten slightly and place on cookie sheet (note that these cookies do not spread at all, so make them into whatever shape you want your final cookie to be). Bake approximately 8 minutes until edges are just barely starting to brown.

Makes 24 small cookies

Friday, April 23, 2010

Blueberry Bran Muffins

Way back in December, I told you about a yummy Bran Muffin recipe I found.  And while these were really tasty, they were a wee bit on the heavy side.  Ok, so they were a lot heavy.  I think the combination of bran and stone ground wheat flour made them really dense, so ever since I discovered whole wheat pastry flour, I've been dying to try these again.  And am I ever glad I did!

But before I tell you to just sub the pastry version in my original recipe, I have to admit that as hard as I try, it seems as though I am incapable of making only one change at a time.  In this instance my reasoning was purely circumstantial.  First of all, earlier this week I made my favorite Broccoli Slaw recipe which requires a half cup of buttermilk, which left me with 3 1/2 cups to find good uses for!  The other problem was that my brown sugar was hard as a rock (even with my fancy terra cotta thingy in it!), and I know there are all sorts of tricks for fixing that but I just couldn't be bothered for 2 measly tablespoons.

All this means that the resulting muffins are lower in fat and sugar, AND taste better!  As I hoped, they are much lighter.  They are not particularly sweet - they really benefit from the sweetness in the blueberries, so I'd definitely recommend including fruit.  But the texture is really nice, and I personally enjoy the more pure taste of bran.  These are especially delicious warm with a shmear of butter.  I hope you enjoy!

Bran Muffins
adapted from me!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
2 cups low-fat buttermilk or yogurt
1 egg
1/2 cup honey or agave
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup frozen blueberries (optional, or other frozen/dried fruit)

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 buttermilk, egg, honey, and butter. Add the dry ingredients and fold in until everything comes just together. Fold in 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 filled nearly to the brim). Bake 12 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 mini bran muffins or one dozen larger ones

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kale Chips

Last summer, we joined a CSA (community supported agriculture), which meant that we became shareholders in a local farm and received a selection of fruit and vegetables weekly from May through November.  I loved having fresh organic produce, and was especially happy to be forced into finding uses for items I may have never purchased on my own.  Some of my experiments were failures (I was never quite able to make bok choy taste good!), but we discovered some new favorites in the process.  Like kale chips. 

Did you know that if you bake kale leaves that they get light and crispy and melt in your mouth??  I would have never guessed - I always think of cooked greens as soggy and bitter, but something miraculous happens when kale is cooked in the oven just lightly tossed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt - hubby and I start fighting over who gets to finish the leafy greens :)

Kale Chips
adapted from too many sources to list

1 bunch kale (any kind should work)
olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 350, and cover a large baking sheet (or 2!) with foil or parchment for easy clean-up.

Remove the stems and center ribs from kale leaves and cut or tear into pieces.  Place in a large bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.  Place on prepared baking sheet(s) in a single layer and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crispy.  The chips do not need to be turned, but I'd recommend starting to check on them after about 15 minutes to make sure they don't burn.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Well, I'm sad to report that my recent Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins, which I said may be perfect, are not - while I still stand by the deliciousness and healthfulness claims, they have the fatal flaw of being completely rejected by the munchkin.  And while hubby thought it was good news that there would be more left for him, a big reason I make muffins is so that I can have healthy snacks on hand for the munchkin.  I'm pretty sure that the reason she didn't like them was the walnuts and cranberries, so I decided to make a similar veggie-packed muffin without the mix-ins.  I could have remade the same recipe, but I have been wanting to make my Carrot Cupcakes again as a muffin (i.e., no glaze), so I thought maybe I could use that recipe and replace half of the carrots with zucchini.  And while I was at it, I decided to play around with an agave-sugar mixture instead of all agave in order to test a hypothesis that agave makes things brown a lot and also leads to stickiness.

In the end I didn't quite solve the stickiness problem, but they sure came out tasty.  Next time I'll try without any agave and possibly cut down on the sugar amount altogether (they have a moderate amount, but are pretty sweet anyway).  In the mean time I'd just recommend greasing the pan really well or using muffin liners when you make these, because the result is delicious and packed with wholesome ingredients.  And they even passed the munchkin test - what more can I say :)

Carrot Zucchini Muffins
adapted from me!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Line 1 1/2 muffin tins with paper liners or spray well with oil (I got 24 mini + 6 standard muffins).

In a medium bowl, whisk together whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.  In a large bowl, mix together carrots, zucchini, coconut, agave, eggs, applesauce and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir just until well blended. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes for mini and 25 minutes for regular muffins until brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans.
Makes the equivalent of 18 standard or 36 mini muffins

Friday, April 16, 2010

Broccoli Mac & Cheese

Mac & cheese is one of those foods that generally comes to mind when we think of unhealthy comfort foods.  But does it really have to be unhealthy?  The basic ingredients are actually pretty wholesome - pasta, cheese, and milk are good for you in moderation.  So my goal is to find a great mac & cheese recipe that is satisfying but can actually be a guilt-free part of my family's diet.  I've already shared with you my version of Ellie Krieger's Mac & Cheese with squash, but I recently had the thought that the dish could taste great with broccoli. 

Apparently I'm not the first to think of that idea because I was able to find plenty of recipes to work from!  I ended up choosing one originally from Cooking Light as a base, but then I tweaked and simplified since there were a lot of steps and the reviews weren't that great!  Major changes include using whole wheat pasta, a cheddar/romano mix instead of fontina/asiago (I mean really, mac & cheese without cheddar??), and skipping the onion and garlic (which sounded like too much work).  I also processed the broccoli into small pieces instead of florets and skipped the crushed red pepper to make it more munchkin-friendly.

Hubby and I were very pleased with the result!  Just like the squash version, this is definitely wholesome - no pasta swimming in a bowl of melted cheese like you'd get at a restaurant, but there was plenty of cheese, the texture was good, and I thought the broccoli was a nice addition!  It was a bit droopy when we first cut it (as you can see in the second picture), but actually firmed up and reheated nicely from the fridge, so I'm thinking if we'd had the patience to let it sit for a few minutes before cutting we could have actually cut it into squares.  Hubby's only complaint was that I made it as a main course and he thought it would be better as a side, but next time I'm going to try to work some chicken in so that this can really be a one dish meal.  Unfortunately the munchkin didn't love it, but then again, despite loving both pasta and cheese, she has not managed to like any mac & cheese I've given her (even a homemade version without veggies, and yes, even Kraft!).  But despite my finicky toddler, this recipe is definitely a keeper, and hopefully she'll come around one day :)

Broccoli Mac & Cheese
adapted from Cooking Light

1 pound broccoli
4 cups whole wheat elbow pasta (about 12 ounces)
3 3/4 cups 1% milk, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons grated romano cheese, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (fresh or dry, whole wheat or at least without hydrogenated oils if possible)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°, and spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil.  Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

While the water comes to a boil, chop broccoli into chunks and then process to very small pieces in a food processor. 

If you have time, here's some other prep work:
1) whisk together flour and 3/4 cup of milk
2) shred cheese (if necessary)
3) make topping by mixing bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons romano, and olive oil in a small bowl

When the water comes to a boil, add pasta, and then add broccoli 1-2 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Drain both when the pasta is very al dente, and set aside.

Add milk/flour mixture and remaining 3 cups of milk to the pot and place over medium-high heat.  Bring milk to a boil, whisking regularly (this is another opportunity for prep work in between whisking).  Once it comes to a boil, whisk constantly for 1 minute or until thickened. 

Turn off heat and stir in cheddar and 1/4 cup romano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Add pasta and broccoli to milk mixture, tossing gently to coat. Pour into prepared baking dish and top with bread crumb mixture.  Bake at 400° for 18 minutes or until the top is brown and cheese is bubbling.  If you have the patience, let sit for a few minutes before cutting.

Makes 8 servings

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Zucchini Patties

In my ongoing quest to find creative ways to make veggies more interesting to the munchkin, I came across a post on Itty Bitty Bistro for Zucchini Nuggets.  They sounded very similar to the Cheddar-Broccoli Sticks that were a huge hit, so I thought I'd give them a try.  The biggest difference is that they were pan fried instead of baked.  They ended up having a very different consistency - softer and more moist, but I thought they were delicious - better than the Cheddar-Broccoli sticks in fact!   On the first try the munchkin seemed to disagree, but on the second try I remembered that she is more willing to eat new foods off a fork than with her fingers (odd, but true), and she ate a few bites this way.  It remains to be seen if these become a favorite, but even if they don't for the munchkin, these are something I will be very happy to eat!

Zucchini Patties
adapted from Itty Bitty Bistro

3 small zucchini, grated (by hand or with a food processor)
2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (I just buzzed a few slices of whole wheat bread in the food processor)
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
canola oil

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, bread crumbs, flour, eggs, and cheese.

Preheat a pan with enough canola oil to thinly coat the bottom over medium heat.  Take a spoonful of the zucchini mixture (I used my 3 tablespoon scoop, although these would work well a little bit smaller, too) and roll into a ball.  Flatten into a patty shape and place in the hot pan, repeating until the pan is full without overcrowding.  Cook approximately 3-4 minutes on each side until golden.  Cook the rest of the mixture in batches, adding more oil as needed.

Makes 16 patties

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cheesy Burgers and Baked Potato Chips

Last week we had a bit of a heat spell in NYC - temps well into the 80's in April were a bit unexpected, and not altogether welcome given that our building has yet to turn on the air conditioning!  But it did put us in the mindset that summer is coming, which meant that when I gave hubby the option of shepherd's pie or hamburgers for dinner, he actually chose the burgers, something he is virtually never in the mood for.  I was pretty psyched about making burgers, although a bit disappointed to not have the opportunity to try out that shepherd's pie recipe!  I'm wondering if that will have to wait until the fall...

In any case, I set out to find a wholesome burger recipe that would work well with my very lean grass-fed ground beef.  I came across a recipe on the Food Network website that was originally from called Inside-Out Cheeseburgers.  The seasonings looked really nice and I was intrigued by the idea of putting the cheese inside the burger.  It turns out that while it's a little more labor intensive to make the burger halves to stuff and then put together, these burgers were incredibly flavorful and stayed really juicy with the cheese inside.  Plus, I'm sure I used less cheese this way than if I had put it on top - a half cup shredded is only about 1.5 ounces divided into 4 burgers - not bad at all!

Next stop was side dish - burgers need potatoes, and I happened to have some yukon golds in my fridge that needed to be used up.  I am always trying to perfect the art of the baked potato chip/fry, and actually had some luck this time!  They came out crunchy without being greasy.  Note that I tried following the same method with sweet potatoes, but the only states I could achieve were raw, soggy, and burned - I couldn't quite get them to crisp, so please let me know if you have any suggestions!

Cheesy Burgers
adapted from Food Network

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat the broiler.  Cover a pan with foil and coat with oil spray.

Gently mix beef, worcestershire, paprika, onion powder and pepper in a large bowl, preferably with your hands, without overworking. Shape into 8 thin, 4-inch-wide patties. Mound 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture on each of 4 patties, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Cover each with one of the remaining patties. Crimp and seal the edges closed.

Broil the stuffed patties, about 3-4 minutes per side for medium-well (I broiled 4 minutes on the first side and 2.5 on the second).  Let the burgers stand for 5 minutes before serving with your favorite toppings (photo includes ketchup, tomato, and pickles).

Makes 4 burgers

Baked Potato Chips
adapted from Teri's Kitchen

Cooking oil spray, preferably canola
Russet or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Line two large baking sheets with foil. Spray lightly with oil, then use a paper towel to spread it all over the bottom and remove any excess.

Slice the potatoes to about 1/8-inch thickness - this is easiest using a mandolin or food processor.  Place on the baking sheets in one layer (you may need to do multiple batches depending on how many potatoes you are using). Spray the tops lightly with the oil. Pat off any excess with a paper towel. Bake until brown and crispy, about 15-20 minutes. (Start monitoring them after 15 minutes; some of the slices may brown more quickly than others, which which case you can take them out sooner and continue baking the others.)

Remove the chips from the pans and place on paper towels, salting immediately to taste.  Chips may be served immediately, or allowed to sit while making the remainder of the dinner.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

I have very stringent criteria when it comes to muffin recipes - because I like to always have muffins on hand in my freezer as a wholesome snack for my whole family, I'll generally only make ones that are actually healthy. So when I'm looking at recipes, I look for whole grains (no refined flour if possible), moderate sugar (approximately 1/2 cup for a 12 muffin recipe), and moderate fat (1/2 cup or less for a 12 muffin recipe, and oil instead of butter if possible).

I think these criteria are perfectly reasonable, but apparently I'm in the minority because it's very hard to find recipes that meet all of them.  Which is why I was excited when I came across a recipe for zucchini muffins on a food blog I just discovered called Kalyn's Kitchen.  I made some slight changes to the original - replaced an agave and splenda blend with all agave, and used a combo of walnuts and cranberries instead of pecans. I also used whole wheat pastry flour instead of white whole wheat flour, and put them in the oven hoping that they would actually taste good.

I think I may have found the perfect wholesome muffin.  Not only did last night's creation meet all of my basic criteria, but they also included a fruit, veggie, and a nut with healthy omega-3's.  Oh, and they tasted delicious - moist, sweet, and flavorful.  Hubby even declared them one of his favorites.  Could you ask for anything more in a breakfast or snack?

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup Agave nectar
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini (I got this from 2 small zucchini, about 2/3 pound total)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
good pinch of salt
1 cup mix-ins (I used half chopped walnuts, half dried cranberries; pecans are suggested in the original recipe)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray a mini-muffin tin with oil or line with papers.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Grate zucchini by hand or using a food processor, then gently squeeze grated zucchini to remove some of the water. Measure 1 1/2 cups (packed) zucchini for this recipe, and if you have extra, freeze it for another time.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat egg, then mix in vanilla and agave. Stir in the grated zucchini, then the oil. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the top of this and mix in.

Stir dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture, then fold in mix-ins.

Scoop into muffin tins (I was able to get 20 mini-muffins, but you could stretch it to a full 24 minis or 12 standard muffins).  Bake 15-20 minutes for mini-muffins (probably 25-30 for standard, although I didn't try this), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Note that agave makes baked goods brown quite a bit, so make sure they are cooked through when you take them out.  Let muffins cool a few minutes in the muffin tin, then remove and cool a few minutes more.

Makes approximately 20-24 mini-muffins

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Arugula Walnut Pesto

I've mentioned my love of pasta, right?  Well, last week hubby asked me why we never have pasta anymore, which was kind of a shocking question.  But when I thought about it, I realized that I've been doing such a good job of trying new recipes that I forgot about the basics!  Well, that had to be fixed asap.  Especially with Passover coming up, last week was the perfect time to load up on pasta.  One night we just had spaghetti with sauteed veggies (I buy frozen mixed veggies so I always have something easy on hand), a little tomato sauce, and lots of romano (really, the whole meal was about the cheese!), and then another night I had some wild salmon to cook up, and decided a pesto pasta could be perfect.  I had also just bought some arugula for hubby's new favorite salad, and decided to try a pesto made with arugula as a complement. 

I did a quick search and came across a recipe on Simply Recipes that looked really exciting.  In some ways it was a pretty standard pesto, but included two new techniques that I had never seen before - did you know that you can "roast" garlic in minutes without any oil by putting cloves in a saute pan with the skins on?  And that you can "toast" walnuts in the microwave??  I had to give this a try!

The result was great.  In my opinion it's really hard to mess up pesto, and this one had a nice bright flavor from the arugula.  I also loved the roasted garlic - lately I've ended up with some really potent heads of garlic, and have been having a hard time finding the right balance when using it raw.  But the roasting allowed a nice subtle garlic taste without overdoing it.  It was a hit with hubby and the munchkin, too, and, like Spinach Walnut Pesto, is a good way for me to integrate more greens and nuts into our diets.

Arugula Walnut Pesto
adapted from Simply Recipes

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup walnuts
2 cups packed baby arugula leaves
1/2 cup grated romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil

Brown 6 garlic cloves with their peels on in a skillet over medium high heat until the garlic is lightly browned in places, about 10 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan, cool, and remove the skins.

Toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat until lightly brown, or heat in a microwave on high heat for a minute or two until you get that roasted flavor.  The walnuts didn't actually get brown, but they definitely took on a toasted smell without risk of burning :)

Combine the arugula, walnuts, and garlic into a food processor. Pulse just to combine, and then drizzle in olive oil while running continuously.  Remove the mixture from the processor and put it into a bowl. Stir in the cheese and season with a few grinds of black pepper to taste.

Mix with cooked pasta, adding some of the starchy cooking water or some extra oil if necessary. 

Makes enough for approximately 4 servings of pasta

Friday, April 2, 2010


As a little background, I started this blog as a kind of personal food diary.  I've found that being a mom has made me completely incapable of staying organized or remembering much of anything without detailed documentation, which meant that keeping track of recipes was becoming a huge challenge.  So one day I decided that if I post my recipes and reactions on the internet, then I can't lose them!  Along the way it occurred to me that there might be 1 or 2 people out there who are also interested in my recipes, so I started writing to a theoretical audience, although, despite the occasional person who assures me that they do read this site, I am still somewhat convinced that I am talking to myself!  The reason I'm giving this context now is that this post is an example of how this blog is more of a food diary than tried and true recipe recommendations like some other food blogs. 

Recently, my friend Kristin at Brooklyn Forager posted a recipe for spanakopita that looked interesting.  I have not historically been a huge fan of feta, but recently it has been growing on me, and spanakopita seemed like such a wonderful way of eating spinach.  The munchkin really likes feta and I have had luck with spinach in a few recipes for her, so I even thought this could make a good dish for the whole family.  Plus, I know Kristin is a great cook and my last recipe from Brooklyn Forager was a big success so I was excited to try something else! 

The first pitfall, though, was that I couldn't find phyllo dough that meets my definition of wholesome - even after scouring 2 grocery stores and 2 health food stores, I could only find it with scary chemicals and preservatives.  But I was already committed to trying the recipe, so I figured I'd get the scary kind and if we liked the outcome I'd worry about finding something better next time.  I also wanted to try this with frozen chopped spinach instead of fresh for simplicity, so I needed to adjust the recipe somewhat.

The end result was just ok, but I can't tell whether that was because I just don't like spanakopita, I screwed something up, or it was too healthy!  The flavors were nice - I could definitely detect the mint and the hint of red pepper, but there was something about the texture that just didn't excite me.  Hubby's biggest complaint was that I made it as a main course and he thought it was too light - he would have liked it better as a side, and he actually ended up using the filling on day two in an omlet, which worked really well.  So despite the fact that this is not the most enthusiastic endorsement, I wanted to document the recipe and put it out there in case any of you want to play with it and see if you can make it work for you :)

adapted from Brooklyn Forager

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 small sweet onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (this yielded very mild heat; feel free to use up to 1/4 tsp as per original recipe)
12-16 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and thoroughly squeezed out in a towel
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
1 large egg white
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
4 sheets phyllo dough (whole wheat if you can find it), 13x18 inches each
Additional olive oil in mister or spray

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and pepper flakes and saute for about 2 minutes. Add spinach and sautee for a few minutes to heat through and combine with onion mixture.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool while prepping other ingredients.  When mixture has cooled, add dill, mint and egg white. Mix well. Fold in feta cheese and set aside.

Mist an 8x8 inch casserole dish or baking pan with olive oil. Cut or gently tear each phyllo sheet into 4 strips lengthwise. Place 3-4 strips across casserole, overlapping slightly and letting phyllo hang over both ends of dish. Place an additional 3-4 strips going in the opposite direction. Mist strips with olive oil. Continue layering until all strips are used, misting each layer.

Spoon spinach mixture into center of dish and gently spread evenly across phyllo. Fold strips over to cover all spinach. Mist lighly with olive oil.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly brown and crispy. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Makes about 4 lunch portions or 6-8 side portions