Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oatmeal Muffins

Oats are a food I am always trying to get more of into my diet.  I tried having oatmeal for breakfast every day, but I can't quite get into it - every once in a while I like it, but I always get sucked back in by my GoLean Crunch addiction!  Oatmeal cookies are great, but as healthy as they are, they are still a cookie, and not something I should be eating every day.  But what about an oatmeal muffin?  By now if you've spent any time reading my blog you should be well aware of my obsession with muffins, but only one of my muffin recipes has oats as an ingredient, and it's not the star. 

So I've been on the lookout for a good recipe, but nothing has come across my computer that meets all of my criteria (100% whole grains, moderate sugar, moderate healthy fats).  I ended up deciding some experimentation would be required.  I started with a recipe on Simply Recipes and made a ton of changes - whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose, yogurt instead of buttermilk (which I never have on hand), oil instead of butter, more oats, less sugar, and increased flavor punch since I left out all of the nuts and dried fruits. 

The first batch failed to rise due to some faulty thinking on my part, but after a little research I had some ideas on adjustments for round 2.  This batch just came out of the oven and while they are still on the small side, they got a nice little dome on top and are absolutely delicious.  Moist, sweet, buttery (even though there's no butter!), flavorful...and they're healthy on top of all that!  Between this recipe and my recent Healthier Oatmeal Cookies, I have come to believe that brown sugar and oats are meant to go together.  Seriously, I think this might be my favorite muffin yet.  Try them.  And that's all I have to say about that.  :)

Oatmeal Muffins
adapted generously from Simply Recipes

Dry Ingredients
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon (rounded) of cinnamon

Wet Ingredients
1/2 cup (scant) brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (scant) vegetable oil
1 cup plain yogurt (I used 1%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 400°F and grease a muffin tin.

In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  In another bowl, whisk together wet ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir with a large spoon just until combined.

Scoop into prepared muffin tray and bake 12-13 minutes for mini-muffins (I haven't tried standard size but I'd imagine they'd need closer to 20 minutes) or until a little brown around the edges and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the tray for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 24 small mini-muffins

Monday, January 10, 2011

100% Whole Wheat Pizza - Oven and Grilling Methods

Continuing from my previous post which included two methods of making pizza dough, I also have 2 recommendations for how to make the pizzas themselves. 

The first method is by using a pizza stone in your oven.  There is a big selection of pizza stones out there, starting around $15 (like the one I got at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) and going all the way up to over $100 (like the All-Clad set I registered for at Williams-Sonoma for my wedding)!  I highly recommend picking up a stone if you plan on making pizza in your oven - the cheap ones yield good results and I don't think you can get the same crust without it.  I would also recommend picking up a pizza peel if you have the space - even the cheap one in the picture below (also from B, B, and B) was much easier than the plate/sheet pan method I tried previously, but you can certainly make do without it!

The other method is on an outdoor grill, and I definitely suggest giving this a try if you can!  A big thanks goes out to my friend Nicole for teaching me about grilling pizza - it is so easy and comes out delicious.  The end result is a little different than the pizza stone version - it's more rustic and doughy, but the grill marks add some really great crunch and flavor.  With this method you can skip the peel and cornmeal (along with the fear of the pizza sticking when it's time to get it in the oven!), and the biggest benefit is that the mess stays mostly outside!  It is also easy to make 2 pizzas at a time if you have a full-size grill, which may not be a possibility inside if you only have one pizza stone.

We make 2 pizzas at a time - one to split that night, and one for leftovers.  We always eat it with a big salad (e.g., Caesar, Arugula, or just a mixed green with whatever toppings you like), which helps us to avoid overeating pizza and makes this more of a balanced meal.   Leftovers can be stored in plastic containers or wrapped in foil in the fridge, and reheat nicely in the toaster oven.

Overall, I have learned that with a little bit of practice, making home-made pizza is really one of the easiest meals to prepare, and it is always such a treat to have a guilt-free, wholesome version whenever I want.

100% Whole Wheat Pizza

Prepared 100% Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
Flour (for dusting)
Cornmeal or semolina flour (for dusting if using the oven method)
Olive oil (for drizzling if using the grilling method)
Salt & pepper (for sprinkling if using the grilling method)

When you are ready to make pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before making the pizza, and keep them in their bags so that they don't dry out.  You may want to open the bags a crack if they are puffing up a lot as they warm up.  Frozen balls will obviously need longer, or else if you think of it you can defrost in the fridge overnight and take them out 1-2 hours before cooking.  Ideally you want the dough to be at or close to room temperature when you stretch out the pizzas.

Oven Method

About 30-45 minutes before you expect the pizzas to be ready to cook, place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 F.  (If you do not get a crisp enough crust, you can experiment with a higher temp.) 

Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and get ready to shape your pizza dough. Unwrap the dough balls and dust them with flour.

Working one at a time, gently press a dough ball into a disk and, working in a circle, pull the dough out a little at a time so that you retain a lip at the edge but get the center as consistently thin as possible without tearing (I use a combination of putting the dough over my knuckles and just holding with one hand and pulling with the other).  You may even be able to see through spots - that's a good thing.  You should be able to get each pizza to be at least 12" across.  If the dough is being fussy and keeps springing back, let it rest for another 15-20 minutes and try again.  Place the pulled-out dough on the prepared peel or sheet pan, and shake the pan to make sure the dough will move around on the cornmeal ball-bearings (you don't want it to stick at all).

Add your toppings, being careful not too add too much - you should still be able to see dough through the sauce, and sauce through the cheese.  I have even used a cheese slicer on a block of mozzarella and used the thin slices in one layer - this was plenty.  Slide the topped pizza onto the baking stone - it's easiest if you can get it straight into the oven, but you could also remove the stone from the oven if that works better for you.  Bake approximately 10 minutes, until the crust is crisp and nicely brown. 

Alternatively, if your toppings are cooking too fast for you to get a crisp enough crust, feel free to prebake the crust for about 5 minutes and then remove, add the toppings, and put back in the oven until cooked to your liking (there is no need to flip pizza).  This is an especially good idea if your pizzas are on the thicker side, or if you are using fresh mozzarella, which will melt very quickly.

Remove pizza from the oven and cut on a cutting board, not your pizza stone or pizza peel, which could get damaged.

Grilling Method
Preheat grill to medium-high heat about 15-20 minutes before pizzas will be ready to go on.  Drizzle a plate (or 2 plates if you'll be making pizzas simultaneously) or a large baking sheet with olive oil.  Unwrap the dough balls and dust them with flour.
Working one at a time, gently press a dough ball into a disk and, working in a circle, pull the dough out a little at a time so that you retain a lip at the edge but get the center as consistently thin as possible without tearing (I use a combination of putting the dough over my knuckles and just holding with one hand and pulling with the other).  You may even be able to see through spots - that's a good thing.  You should be able to get each pizza to be at least 12" across.  If the dough is being fussy and keeps springing back, let it rest for another 15-20 minutes and try again.  
Place stretched pizza round onto oiled plate/pan and use your finger tips to stretch a little more if you want (with this method you'll be lifting the dough off of the plate anyway, so you don't have to worry about pushing down and causing sticking).  Rub a drizzle of oil onto the top side of the dough and sprinkle with course salt and/or pepper.  Prepare your toppings and bring everything outside for grilling.
Place the pizza dough directly on the hot grill, trying to keep it as round as possible (we generally have slightly oblong grilled pizza from swinging it onto the grill - no biggie!).  If you are grilling two, follow the same method and just cook them side by side.  Grill with the cover open for about 4 minutes on the first side, until there are well defined grill marks on the bottom (you may want to check frequently the first time you do this to get the timing right for your grill and temperature, but do not lift the pizza until it releases on its own - once it's cooked it should not stick at all).  Flip pizza using tongs, quickly add toppings, close cover, and grill until the bottom is crunchy and toppings are heated through (approximately another 4 minutes for us).  Remove, slice, and enjoy!

Each pizza serves 1-2 people, depending on your appetite, toppings, and side dishes :)

100% Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Well, the time has finally come for me to share the pizza dough recipe that I have been blogging about since April!!  After much practice and many pitfalls, I have finally gotten good enough at this that I can easily whip it up at any time and feel very comfortable sharing with you all what I have learned - hopefully that will mean your learning curve will be much faster than mine!  As a little background, this recipe is designed to rise slowly in your refrigerator overnight.  The advantage here is that the active prep time is minimal and you don't have to be watching the dough at all, but it does require a bit of advance planning.  On the plus side, the dough can easily sit in your fridge for several days or the freezer for weeks (months?), so it's easy to make some dough if you might want it that week, and you can always throw it in the freezer for another time if you change your mind!

Also, notice that the recipe includes White Whole Wheat Flour - read here for a little background on what this is if you haven't heard of it before.  It is really amazing stuff - all the nutrients of whole wheat flour, but with a much softer texture, closer to an all-purpose flour.  I have seen both organic and non-organic at Whole Foods, non-organic at Trader Joe's, and various versions in some other select health food stores.  The most common brand is King Arthur Flour.  It is by no means the cheapest flour, but still less expensive than buying pizza and way more healthy!

I'm including two methods for dough preparation below - the bread machine and a stand mixer.  If you have been following this story, you may recall that I also tried to make the dough in a food processor, but this was a bit of a disaster, so I wouldn't recommend that method!  My preference is definitely the bread machine version - it's easy as can be to add the ingredients, the machine doesn't budge while kneading, and the clean-up couldn't be easier.  However, I understand that many of you may not want to invest the money or space for one of your own (although I highly recommend you reconsider if you have the means!!), and you can definitely make this dough in a stand mixer as well.

Now the only problem is that my little munchkin DOESN'T LIKE PIZZA!!  She likes coffee, goat cheese, and tuna fish, but will not eat pizza.  I don't get it, but in the mean time instead of pizza being a weekly staple in our house as I'd hoped, it's become more of a twice a month treat for hubby and me when we are eating together after the little one goes to sleep.  But if you have a house full of pizza eaters, this is a great way to have a wholesome, delicious, and easy meal any time you're in the mood!

100% Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 3/4 cups cold water
1/4 cup olive oil
4 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast*

Bread Machine Method

Place all ingredients in your bread machine according to the prescribed order for your brand (mine requires adding liquids first, followed by dry ingredients, with yeast going in last).  Create a custom cycle or manually set machine to knead only for 10 minutes - you do not need the preheating or rise time included in most pre-set "dough" cycles.

Continue with "In both cases..." directions below.

Stand Mixer Method

Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. By hand, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed.  Place in machine with the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough.  Add a touch of water or flour to reach the desired effect. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky.  If it is so sticky that you wouldn't be able to handle it easily, add more flour.  On the flip side, a dough that tears easily is too dry and/or needs additional kneading time.

In both cases...

Remove dough to a smooth surface drizzled with olive oil (I use a piece of parchment paper for easy clean-up!).  Pat the dough into a symmetrical shape and cut into 4 equal pieces using a pastry scraper or large knife.  Drizzle the top with a little more olive oil, form each quarter into a ball, and drop them into individual sandwich sized storage bags. 

Place all 4 dough balls in the refrigerator at least overnight, or up to a few days until ready to use.  We generally cook two the next day, and at that point put the other 2 in the freezer for future use - this way the rising is already done when you are ready to use the dough and all you need to do is defrost.

Read on for instructions on how to cook pizzas in your oven or on your grill!

Makes four 9-ounce pizza crusts, and each pizza is enough for 1-2 people - when eating this for a normal weeknight dinner, we can easily split a pizza if we make a big salad to go along with it, but when serving to company we have averaged almost a whole pizza per person!

*You should be able to substitute 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast for the instant; just warm 1/4 cup of the water to dissolve yeast according to package instructions before using.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Healthier Oatmeal Cookies

I have been trying to get away from dessert recipes...really, I have!  But the little peanut in my belly seems to have quite the sweet tooth, and I have been wanting dessert all of the time lately.  In an effort to get my sweet fix from something moderately healthy, I decided to try out a new recipe for healthier oatmeal cookies.  I have tried a few others in the past (like these and these) but have not yet found anything to blow me away.  But my latest experiment has a ton of potential!  I made the first batch a few weeks ago following the recipe exactly...the result was a tasty cookie that was very cakey, not really what you'd expect from an oatmeal cookie.  There just seemed to be too much liquid, and as a result I ended up with more of a batter than a dough.  But the flavor was so good I decided it was worth trying again with some tweaks.

You may have noticed that many of my baked goods include liquid sweeteners (e.g., honey, agave, maple syrup), but this is not a requirement for me.  Despite the insistance of some in the health food space that such sweeteners are more natural and contain more nutrients, my general perspective is that sugar is sugar, and we shouldn't be eating enough of it to get any benefit from the small amounts of nutrients anyway!  Plus, brown and granulated sugar are cheaper and easier to work with than their liquid counterparts, so I thought a cookie recipe would be a great opportunity to make the substitution.  Theoretically you need to add liquid to a recipe if using sugar instead of honey, but since this recipe was so liquidy in the first place, the only thing I did to compensate was to increase the baking temperature.  Other tweaks include using whole wheat pastry flour, bumping up the vanilla, and using chocolate chips instead of the fruit and/or nuts (I just can't resist!).  The resulting cookie is soft and chewy and delicious, but not too sweet - exactly what I was going for! 

Another motivation I had for trying to make this recipe work is that I wanted an alternative to my Wholesome Monster Cookies.  I think those cookies are great, and they get rave reviews, but when it comes down to it I really don't like peanut or other nut butters!  I have tried so hard, but it's just less enjoyable to me so I wanted another cookie recipe that I would look forward to but was not too much of a guilty pleasure.  Plus, with so many kids out there having nut allergies, I thought it would be helpful to have a nut-free option.  Which means despite the success of the recipe below, my next stop will be to try to pack some more healthy ingredients in, like flax meal, wheat germ, or coconut, just to bump up the nutrient level.  Stay tuned for the results of my experiments!

Healthier Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from Whole Grain Gourmet

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional; I did not include when using chocolate chips)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional; I did not include when using chocolate chips)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2-1 cup add-ins of your choice (I used 2/3 cup dark chocolate chunks; could also use raisins/dried fruit and/or walnuts/other chopped nuts)

In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients (flour through spices).  In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients (sugar through vanilla).  Pour the wet mixture into the dry, add the mix-ins, and mix with a spoon until combined.

Place dough in the refrigerator to chill for 30-60 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Scoop cookies by the tablespoon onto baking sheet and press down slightly to flatten (cookies will not spread while baking).

Bake for 10 minutes, until bottoms of cookies are light brown - you will just start to see some brown around the bottom edge.  Do not overcook!  Leave cookies on baking sheet for about 1 minute after removing from the oven and then move to a cooling rack.
Makes 27 cookies (using 1 tablespoon scoop)