Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gluten-Free Banana Nut Muffins

I wanted to make some gluten-free and dairy-free muffins, just to see if I could, but when I looked for recipes, it was hard to find gluten and dairy-free.  But I found a few like this one and this one. But I wasn't crazy about either one.  And as for changing recipes, that takes a bit of tweaking.  And if you're into that, you know the first thing you do is to write down everything you change in the recipe.

Sometimes I'm up for experimenting, and I like starting at the bottom and taking bits and pieces of recipes and then weaving them together.  But baking is tricky and I don't like to waste food, and I don't want to make mistakes.

Let's just say these muffins saw earlier drafts. 

The buckwheat version came from all the buckwheat flour I had on hand.  I'd had plenty for dog biscuits, but just because it's good for dog biscuits, it may not fly for muffins.  The buckwheat muffin was dense, and  tasted like a strong gingerbread.  Leftovers the next morning were hard at rocks, and they seriously could have hurt someone if I'd thrown it.  (Not that I'd ever have reason to chuck a muffin, but you never know.)

Let's just say my Cooking Assistant happily disposed of the mistakes.  He must pray for mistakes.

In the second version, I used millet flour (recommended by a local gluten-free bakery).  But I didn't include enough liquid ingredients, so though the outer muffin looked and tasted good, but inside the crumb was dry and crumbly.  The next day the texture was like sawdust.  Well, maybe not that bad but you seriously needed a cup of coffee to go with it. 

One thing I learned: 

Eat your mistakes while they're still warm.

My Cooking Assistant hopes for more baking mistakes.

Gluten-free vegan muffins dry out sooner than wheat based muffins or muffins that include eggs.  That's because eggs add moisture, so here in this recipe comes from bananas, oil, and maple syrup. 

Someone recently asked me why not applesauce?  The truth is, I haven't baked with applesauce enough to have confidence that my muffins won't turn into hockey pucks.  

Really, it could happen.  Some sad muffins have passed through my experimental kitchn.  Baking is a precise art.

Gluten-Free Banana Nut Muffins
(Makes 6 muffins)
These muffins have great flavor and the outside is sweet.  The inside is more delicate than a wheat-based muffin.  It's possible the could even be better with one tablespoon more of potato flour.

1 cup millet flour
1 tablespoon each: tapioca flour and potato flour
1 teaspoon xantham gum
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 small)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Line 6 muffin tins with paper or lightly oil tins. 

2. Combine millet flour, tapioca and potato flour, xantham gum, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Mix thoroughly, making sure no small lumps of baking soda remain.

3. Combine oil, banana, lemon juice and maple syrup.  Mix well.   Pour mixture into the flour blend and stir until a dough forms.  Stir in walnuts.  Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full.

4. Bake for 25 minutes or until rounded and browned on top.  The millet flour caramelizes as the muffin bakes. 

I plan to ring in 2014 with more breakfast options and recipes.

2013 has been a good year in food.  Here's to many more!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lavender Shortbread

This year for our annual holiday luncheon with my writing group, we all made recipes from Kathy Gehrt's fabulous cookbook Discover Cooking with Lavender.  This book is a great introduction to cooking with this undervalued culinary herb.

 I remember when  Kathy's  book first came out in 2010.   

We all brought our books to the writing group one week and took this photo.

Kathy and I  are the "foodies" in the group and we did a number of cooking events together.  We each attended the others demos and talks.  We had lots of fun and I learned a lot about cooking with lavender from Kathy. But my favorite stories were always the ones from history.  FYI--Lavender was Cleopatra's secret weapon for luring suitors.  And in the Middle Ages lavender was used as a disinfectant, and the most intriguing bit of folklore: lavender has its own fairy.  Who knew?

For cooking, you should always select culinary lavender because some varieties of lavender are very pungent.  And when you use the wrong variety of lavender in cooking, your cookies could taste soapy. 

Grosso lavender is a more fragrant variety and is best for fragrances and bouquets.  It is also used to make essential oils. 

Ask whether the lavender you're buying is a culinary variety. 

I got bundles of dried lavender at the Lavender Festival in Sequim when I assisted Kathy with a cooking class one year.  Kathy also taught an herb container garden class at Sky Nursery.  

Lavender can also help you relax and get to sleep at night.  I keep a lavender sachet handy for anytime I need to chill out.   I'm sure if more holiday shoppers and drivers stopped to sniff the lavender, we'd all stress less.

Here is the recipe I picked. Overall all this recipe was easy but it turned out better with butter than Earth Balance.  I think if you used a coconut based spread the cookies would hold their shape better. And whatever you do, don't let them overbake!

Lavender Shortbread
(Makes about 20 cookies)

2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds, crushed
1 cup unsalted butter [or use 1 cup vegan butter substitute like Earth Balance
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Whisk flour, salt and lavender together in a bowl.  In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream butter until it is smooth.  Add sugar and heat until mixture is light and fluffy.  Beat in the lemon zest and juice and gradually add the flour mixture, beating until it is blended in with the other ingredients.

2. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least one hour.  

3. Preheat oven to 350F.

4. Roll cookie dough on a lightly floured board, until dough is about 1/4-inch thick.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Use cookie cutters to cut dough into individual cookies.

5. Place cookies on cookie sheets and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. (This helps the cookies hold their shape as they bake.)

6. Bake shortbread on the middle rack of the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.

Allowing the cookies to firm up in the refrigerator first is an important step.  Don't skip this step.

Celebrate the holidays your way!

My Cooking Assistant is grateful  for any mistakes that come his way.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Carrot Cake Muffins

I've been thinking about this idea for carrot muffins for the past few weeks. For one thing, I needed more recipes for an article I'm working on and for another, I was craving something like a carrot cake without the rich frosting.  

I searched online for inspiration, but recipes listed milk, yogurt or sour cream, and I wanted dairy-free. I ended up borrowing ideas here and there and I'd made muffins before so I knew the flour and baking soda measurements.  Most recipes listed 1 1/2 to 2 cups grated carrots, and how different could carrots be from zucchini in muffins.

At any rate, this recipe is a first run.  I'll make it again and refine the measurements, but first time around I generally only make one big switch which is to substitute for eggs.  I used white unbleached flour because local flours have different moisture levels and sometimes baked goods tend to spread out with local whole-wheat pastry flour.  If you want to use local whole wheat pastry flour, keep in mind baked treats often require more of the local pastry flours and in my experience, they tend to rise more slowly for some reason. 

This is where measuring by weight is probably more important.  I know serious bakers especially gluten-free bakers say we should all weigh flour. But how many home cooks call themselves "serious bakers?" If you don't weigh your flour, remember don't compress the flour in the measuring cup and add more.  Fill gently and when the cup is full, gently level it off with a knife. Do not compress it. In any case, I leave weighing flour up to you. 

Here are some of the ingredients you may find locally in the Northwest:

My favorite egg replacer in recipes is a flax seed egg replacer.  I love this for muffins, breads and pancakes.  To replace one egg: use 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds and 3 tablespoons water.  Beat until frothy.  Make exactly as the recipe directs, simply add the egg replacer for eggs.

 Maybe I'll try that next time I make these.  Also, you don't have to use papers, you can oil the muffin tins, but it's more fun to peel the paper.

Muffins are best served warm or eaten the day they were made.  If you want to keep them, freeze them in a plastic bag.

Carrot Muffins
(Makes 12 muffins)
Unlike other muffin doughs, the dough for this muffin is quite thick because carrots give up moisture as they cook.  If you want to use whole wheat pastry flour, add a little more flour to the mix.

2 tablespoons ground flax seed
6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar 
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup canola oil
11/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
3/4 cup raisins or currants
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
1 1/2 cup grated carrots

1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Line muffin tins with papers.  

2. Combine flax seeds and water with an immersion (hand) blender until the mixture is thick and frothy. Set aside.  Blend sugar, brown sugar, molasses and canola oil.  Combine this with the flax seed mixture, blending well.

3. Mix flour, soda, powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice together, making sure no small lumps remain.  Mix in raisins, pecans.  Then blend the wet and dry ingredients together.  Gently blend in the carrots making sure not to over stir the mixture as this can make muffins tough.

4. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full. 

5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on rack. 

My Cooking Assistant is not happy about the empty muffin tins.
He quickly took advantage when these were placed in front of him for a photo op.

Oh no, which muffin was it?  No one will ever know. . . .

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brussels Sprouts with Shiitake Mushrooms and Mustard-Lemon Vinaigrette

It usually has to be really cold for me to properly appreciate Brussels sprouts.  And it's really cold right now in the Pacific Northwest.  Coldest it's been in three years.  So cold, the market manager closed the Hillsdale Market in Portland last Sunday.  They do get wind gusts there.

But they didn't close the U-District market and on Saturday I bundled up and went looking for some sprouts.

I wasn't disappointed.  Well maybe a little because it was so cold my hands froze, but when I came home, everyone was happy, even my Cooking Assistant.

I looked for rice-Brussels spouts casserole online and couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.  So I created what I imagined and figured I could just add the cooked sprouts to the rice when I was done.

I did find these crispy lemon roasted Brussels sprouts.   But the recipe was too simple and it was something I'd normally do.  I also found this one for smoky shredded sprouts, but all that shredding seemed like too much work, especially when I had gotten mostly small sprouts, which I think are more tender than the big one.  I liked the idea of smoked paprika, but I also imagined a mustard flavor and maybe some balsamic vinegar or a berry wine

When buying at the market be sure to check all vendors to see which sprouts look the best and which ones fit into your budget.

Last Saturday the offered evergreens, ball ornaments and ribbons to make swags.  I love the color and glitter of the season!  And who doesn't like the scent of evergreen trees?

I bought my sprouts form Willie Greens and Nash's.

I got the shiitaki mushrooms from Sno-Valley

And I had some tayberry wine from Rockridge Orchards.

Use your own local favorites.

Some people grow them here, but bringing lemons inside when it's so cold doesn't appeal to me. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Shiitake Mushrooms and Mustard-Lemon Vinaigrette
(Serves 4)
This is a great all-round side dish that can go with most any main dish.

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon, (about 1/4 cup juice)
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon spicy Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar or agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Smoked sea salt to taste

1 to 1 1/2 medium-size Brussels sprouts, rinsed, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon berry wine (I like Rockridge Orchards)
6 ounces shiitaki mushrooms, sliced
1 or 2 shallots, small dice

1. Combine lemon juice, zest, mustard, sugar, black pepper and smoked sea salt.  Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 500F and place baking rack in the lower part of the oven.  

3. Place Brussels sprouts in a baking dish and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon berry wine. Cover and roast for 15 minutes or until the sprouts are fork-tender.  Don't remove them too soon or they may be tough.  While sprouts cook, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and cook mushrooms.

4. Dry-fry shiitaki mushrooms until the soften.  Add shallots and 1 tablespoon oil.  Stir and cook until shallots and mushrooms are soft.  Remove sprouts from the oven.

5. Combine Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and shallots and stir in the lemon-mustard vinaigrette.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage

For Thanksgiving last week, we drove south, visited friends and dined with family for the big feast. It was so cool because where we stayed wasn't far from the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove.

I'd been dreaming about seeing clustered Monarchs since last summer when I wrote this article about dwindling Monarch populations. The Mexican reserves where Monarchs from the eastern and midwest United States overwinter are more extensive than the California butterfly groves, but it was still shocking to see so few butterflies clustered and flying around compared to the hundreds of thousands I'd seen in videos of the Mexican reserves.

Declining Monarch populations are sad.  Attention Californians: please plant milkweed!

I loved catching up with friends and family and who doesn't love the over-the-top big annual feast?  Of course my Cooking Assistant totally made himself at home--so spoiled, he'll find a chair when he's sleepy and avoid sleeping on the floor.

If the seat fits, take it.

Of course the best part of Thanksgiving are the side dishes and I was looking forward to trying them all. There was something for everyone from roasted Brussels sprouts, to yams, to spaetzle. I brought my favorite quinoa salad, but the dish that really intrigued me was what everyone called Mom's Red Cabbage.

I watched my sister-in-law start the dish.  Cabbage, vinegar, sugar--it seemed easy and really, what can go wrong with cabbage, especially local cabbage.

I'd created a recipe for red cabbage in my first book called Red Cabbage with Apple and Red Wine Vinegar.  This recipe used half vinegar and half sugar.  I'd also added onion, lemon juice and garlic.

The recipe made it into my second book practically unchanged.  Until now.  Every recipe need to be updated and this time cut out most of the sugar and dropped the onion and lemon.

Use any apple you want.  I chose a Pink Lady because it was handy.  If you like it really tart, a Granny Smith might be exactly what you need.

My Cooking Assistant likes Pink Pearls.

And you probably already know I love Rockridge Orchards' berry vinegars.  I always keep enough of this on hand to give one for a gift.

This is one reason why I specified one or two apples.  The size differences of farmers' market apples can be startling.
Here's the new version of the  recipe:

Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 or 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium-small head of red cabbage, sliced thin
1 or 2 medium to large sweet tart apples, diced
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's Peppers (optional)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (or to taste)
1 or 2 tablespoons apple cider (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oil over medium heat, in a medium-size heavy skillet.  Add cabbage, apples and Mama Lil's, if desired.  

Stir and cook until cabbage softens.  While cabbage cooks, combine apple cider vinegar and sugar.  Blend until sugar is dissolved, then stir into cabbage and apples.  Cover and simmer on low until apples and cabbage are very tender.  This may take up to 30 minutes.  If you need more liquid add a little apple cider.  When cabbage and apples are done, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Here's my Cooking Assistant getting carried away.  You can hardly blame him, gone from the kitchen and cooking for a week, what's a dog to do?