Thursday, October 27, 2011

Whole Grain Apple Cinnamon Muffins

We went apple picking a few days ago. The weather was perfectly crisp, and since it was a weekday, we pretty much had the entire orchard to ourselves. The sad part was that I accidentally left my camera at home, so I couldn't take pictures of the beautiful fall colors. I'm still so bummed about this. But we picked a nice big bag of various heirloom variety apples and bought a freshly made half gallon of apple cider and now I'm loving that I can bake up something special.
I'm starting to really enjoy trying different types of flours and sweeteners, and these muffins reflect that. I made them with half spelt flour and half oat flour. To make the oat flour, I just put whole oats in the food processor and pulsed until I got a flour consistency. So easy, really.
And as far as the sweeteners go, I used Rapadura sugar and then added a touch of pure maple syrup. Rapadura sugar is unbleached and unrefined. It is the only sugar where the sugar stream is not separated from the molasses, helping to retain most of its essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Basically, it's the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane, which is then evaporated over low heat. The unique process gives the sugar a mild, caramel-like flavor that is perfect for baking. I topped the muffins with some raw turbinado sugar, though, because I'm really fond of the sweet crystal crust that it lends to baked goods.

You can absolutely make these muffins with whatever flour or sugar you have on hand and I guarantee that they will come out perfectly, so don't feel tied down by my particular ingredients. Just know that they are the perfect muffin to wake up to on a crisp fall day and perfect to use up some beautiful seasonal apples.

Whole Grain Apple Cinnamon Muffins (makes about 15 muffins)

1 cup whole spelt flour
1 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup rapadura or turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the butter,1/2 cup of the sugar, and maple syrup together. Add the egg and mix very well. Then, mix in the yogurt gently.

2. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on top.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Enjoy them fresh from the oven, but they will also keep well for a few days in an airtight containers at room temperature.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Garlic Dill Pickles

I have ventured into a whole new realm of healthy food preparation and it is so awesome. Ladies and gentlemen, I have successfully created my first batch of lacto-fermented pickles! And they are absolutely delicious and probably the easiest thing to make. Seriously, they're super easy. And they're super healthy, too! I went to the farmers market a few weeks ago and watched a woman do a demonstration about making these pickles. I've wanted to make these for awhile (reading food blogs makes you want to make a lot of things). But after learning how easy it truly was while watching the demonstration, I knew I had to do it immediately.
Now what is lacto-fermentation and how on earth are pickles healthy? Well,these pickles are made sour not by vinegar, but by natural beneficial bacteria. Lacto-fermentation happens when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid by a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria. Basically, fermented vegetables will give you the same digestive and immune system boosting benefits of cultured yogurt with the added bonus of vitamins, which dramatically increase during the fermenting process. Lacto-fermentation is the old fashioned way of making pickles, and boy are these pickles tasty.
I realize that I should have posted this recipe a few weeks ago when cucumbers were abundantly in season, but you probably can still find some pickling cucumbers around. If you can't find any, just bookmark this recipe and make them next summer. I apologize for my lack of 'keeping with the seasons'.

I am definitely not a lacto-fermentation expert, so if you make these, consult google and other blogs for more expertise and detail. Just know that after a few days, the water will turn cloudy and foamy and the cucumbers will start to look a little dull in color. You may see bubbles and you may even see some slime form on the top of the water. Do not be afraid, though! As long as your pickles and brine smell good, you'll be fine. I was a little nervous when my pickles looked a little funny, but after researching and tasting them, I knew they were fine. They tasted fantastic. Now, if yours smell a little off, this probably means your brine is contaminated with some unfriendly bacteria, so toss them and try again.

Garlic Dill Pickles

4-5 kirby cucumbers (pickling cucumbers), washed very well and quartered lengthwise
1 small bunch of fresh dill, flowering dill, or dill seeds (not dried dill weed)
3-4 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 1/2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt or pickling salt (not iodized salt)
2 cups filtered, purified, or distilled water
1 quart size jar with lid, cleaned and rinsed very well

1. Put garlic, peppercorns, and dill in the bottom of the jar. Add the cucumbers vertically until they all snugly fit into the jar. Make sure they're in there nice and snug! Be sure there is about 1 1/2-2 inches of space between the top of the cucumbers and the opening to the jar.

2. In a pitcher or bowl, add the salt and water and stir very well until the salt has dissolved. This is your brine.

3. Pour the brine into the jar over the cucumbers until the they are completely submerged in brine. You don't want any cucumbers poking out of the brine. The salty water keeps bad bacteria from gorwing and promotes good bacteria to multiply.

4. Place the lid on the jar. Let the jar sit out on your countertop for at least 3 days. I made a great batch by leaving them our for 5 days. They were nice and sour. But time will vary and all you need to do is taste them to see if they're sour enough. When they're to your liking, put the jar in the refrigerator and they keep really well for quite awhile.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

It's fall and it's squash season. So that means it's time to make butternut squash risotto.  I really needed this comforting bowl of risotto this week and it totally hit the spot. Now, I normally prefer to stick with whole grains when I cook. Arborio rice isn't exactly a whole grain. But how can I resist this starchy Italian rice that turns into a beautiful creamy bowl of goodness?  I've actually made a risotto with barley before, which was quite good, and I will be sure to share that with you soon. But in the meantime, go make yourself this indulgent meal. Pour yourself a glass of wine while you're at it.

Butternut Squash Risotto (serves 2 as a main dish and 4 as a side dish)

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
6 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375. Lay the cubed butternut squash on a baking sheet (I line mine first with parchment paper, making for an easy cleanup). Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat the squash evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the squash is soft.

2. Pour the vegetable stock into a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate large pot, saute the onion in butter with a pinch of salt until nicely softened. Then, add the rice and stir until it's coated in the butter, about 2 minutes. Add the wine. Pour yourself a glass while the bottle is open.

4. When the wine is almost fully absorbed by the rice, add a ladle-full of warm vegetable stock. Continue to stir until absorbed. Add another ladle full and repeat until all of the stock is used up and the rice is cooked through. If you need more liquid to cook the rice thoroughly, adding water will be fine.

5. Add the cubed butternut squash to the risotto and stir to combine. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and serve right away.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Roasted Corn Pudding in Buttercup Squash

Do you crave something comforting? Something creamy, warm, and cheesy? But something that also isn't horribly bad for you? Enter this squash recipe which should satisfy all of those things. You see, instead of making a comfort food like macaroni and cheese, I made this squash concoction and it hit the spot.
And it also gave me the opportunity to use these pretty buttercup squashes from the market. I was attracted to their pretty skin and they were the perfect size squashes to serve this corn pudding. They're like little squash bowls! I love to stuff squashes like this with lots of different things and I know I'll be making different variations of stuffed squash a lot this autumn. The corn I used in the recipe was fresh off the cob and probably the last of the corn on the cob for the season. I just loved the creamy corn pudding in the sweet squash topped with a nice sprinkling of cheddar cheese. Perfection, I tell you.
Make sure your squash halves lay flat in the pan that you're using, or else the filling will just spill right out of them. Also, you'll probably have some filling left over, so you could either use more squashes or do like I did and put the pudding mixture in a small baking dish and bake it alongside the squash. Either way works.

Roasted Corn Pudding with Buttercup Squash (slightly adapted from Heidi at 101cookbooks)

2 buttercup or acorn squashes, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 cup milk (preferably organic)
1 egg plus 2 egg whites
kernels from 2 ears of corn (roughly one cup)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub the orange flesh of the squash with butter or olive oil. Place cut side up on a baking sheet, cover with foil, and bake for about 45 minutes. You want to make sure the squash halves lay flat and not tilt, because later when you put the filling in, it will run out.

2. In a bowl, combine the milk, egg and egg whites, corn, half the scallions, and salt. Wisk well. Fill each squash half with the mixture and transfer back into the oven. (If you have leftover filling, bake it in a small baking dish sprinkled with cheese. It's a real treat.) Continue baking squash uncovered for 30-50 minutes longer, or until the squash has cooked through and the pudding has set. At the last minute, sprinkle the top of each squash with cheese and put it under the broiler just until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Serve squash warm with the rest of the chopped scallions sprinkled over the top.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cranberry Beans and Ribollita

There's nothing more exciting for me than trying new foods. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw these gorgeous cranberry beans at the market and decided to use them in my all time favorite soup. It was my first time using fresh beans (as opposed to dried) and I fell in love. Look at these beans! They're just gorgeous. Call me weird, but when I was photographing them, I got really excited because they looked so damn beautiful.

 Sadly, after cooking the beans, they lose their pretty color and take on the look of a typical white bean. However, they taste great and cook so much faster than dried beans. And they were fun to remove from the pod, so overall it was a good experience and I'm definitely not disappointed.

This soup is just bursting with local and beautiful produce from the farmers market. These carrots had huge green tops, dirt still clinging on them, and the sweetest crunch I'd ever tasted in a carrot. I knew that they were just pulled from the earth. And the lacinato kale with its sexy dark green leaves is bursting with flavor and nutrition. Combine these vegetables together with some other basic ingredients and you get the Italian soup called ribollita. It's a thick and  hearty soup, which makes it filling enough to be a meal in itself. Ribollita traditionally has bread added to it to make it extra thick, but I opted out of that this time and just had some nice crusty wholegrain bread on the side.
Serve the soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a shaving of fresh Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese and enjoy during this lovely autumn season when the air is getting crisp and the body longs for nourishment and warmth.


3 tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 large stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1  small can whole peeled Roma tomatoes (14 1/2 ounce can) or 3 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cups shelled cranberry beans or cooked white cannellini beans
4 cups vegetable broth
1 bunch lacinato kale, chopped into thin strips
sea salt, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

1. In a large soup pot, saute onion in olive oil until softened. Add the carrot and celery and cook about 5 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and then add the can of tomatoes. With a wooden spoon, break up the tomatoes into small pieces (unless you're using fresh tomatoes, where you would already have them chopped before adding them to the pot).

3. Add the beans and broth and let simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the beans and vegetables are cooked. Right before serving, add the chopped kale to the pot of hot soup (the heat should be off). Stir the kale into the soup until it's nicely wilted and retains a bright green color. This is a very thick soup,so if you want to thin it out with more broth, you may. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with olive oil and a shaving of fresh cheese. Delicious!

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