Simple Pleasures: Chocolate Chip Muffins

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“Well, can you make it a junky, healthy snack, then?”

My son has a sweet tooth – there is no doubt about that – and every day he looks for a way to finagle a treat. For a mom who’s trying to feed her children healthy foods, it can become tiresome to always be “fighting” about what is good and what it isn’t. So, I’m always creating recipes which can be a compromise between what my son considers a treat and what I think is healthy.

The other day, my son really wanted something “junky” as he called it, and I advocated for something healthy. When he asked me for a “junky, healthy snack” I laughed, but then I got to work. After all, if I could create something he thought was “junky” but it really wasn’t, then we’d both be happy.

I asked my son what he wanted, and he replied that he wanted a chocolate chip muffin. He, of course, meant one of those monstrosities they sell at the store which is all white flour and butter and huge chocolate chips, a lot of them. I wasn’t going for that, but it did give me an idea, and the result was a low fat chocolate chip muffin which was full of potassium from bananas, antioxidants and fiber from dates, and protein (and fiber) from oat and garbanzo bean flour – plus the muffins were free of dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, nuts, and refined sugar. What more could a mother ask?

And my son plus my daughters, and later, my writing group, all enjoyed the muffins immensely.

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:

8 ounces of pitted, chopped dates

1 cup gluten free rolled whole oats

1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

6 tbsp water

1 cup gluten free oat flour

1 cup garbanzo bean flour

2/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup arrowroot starch

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ginger

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Four 6 inch bananas (comes to about 1 1/4 cups mashed)

1/4 cup safflower oil

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners or grease them so the muffins won’t stick to your pan.

2.  Use a food processor to finely chop your dates into tiny pieces. (This will distribute the dates throughout your batter.)

3. Mix the finely chopped dates with the oats in a bowl, and pour the boiling water over them, pushing the dates and oats down into the water so they are covered. Let sit.

4. Whisk together the flaxmeal with the water, and set aside.

5. Whisk together the oat flour, garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot starch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

6. Mash the bananas and mix with the oil and the dates and oatmeal mixture and the flaxmeal mixture.

7. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients along with the apple cider vinegar. Mix up quickly just until the dry ingredients are moist.

8. Evenly scoop the muffin batter among the 24 muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until the cupcakes are golden and puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

9. Remove the muffins to a wire rack and cool completely.  These keep well in a tightly covered tupper ware container.

 

 

 

 

Creative Cooking: Using Baby Food

“If you could choose one superpower, Mommy, what would it be?”

My son is always asking me questions which cause me to think. When he asked me about which superpower I’d like to have, I had to take few minutes to consider my answer. I finally said, it would be difficult for me to choose between supersonic hearing so I could catch what my children were whispering about and the ability to fly, just because, well, that would be cool.

In response, my son said that he would choose the ability to change into different animals because then he’d have lots of powers. If he wanted to fly, he’d become a bird; if he wanted to be invisible, he’d become a chameleon; if he wanted to be fast, he’d become a cheetah; if he wanted to be strong, he’d become an elephant. (These are the examples he gave me.)

I have to say that I was quite impressed. My limited linear thinking brought a quandry, forcing me to have to choose between superpowers I wanted.  My son, however, had thought outside the box and found an answer which would give him the opportunity to have all the possible powers he could want.

When it comes to cooking, I think we can sometimes get caught in the same trap. We think about how to cook and what to cook in only one way, whether it’s only cooking the way we were taught or sticking to only traditional methods and ingredients or  being afraid to ever experiment. We don’t consider that maybe there’s an “outside of the box” approach we can take to both ingredients and process.

Recently I received a question from a mother which made me think about an “outside the box” cooking option which I use. Baby food. A mom wanted to use bananas in muffins but her daughter didn’t like the chunkiness of the banana, which is the consistency she got when she mashed them, or the little black specks, which showed up if she pureed them in her food processor. (It occurred to me that this mother must have children on the spectrum like I do!)

My response to her was to use baby food. Nowadays, at least at my grocery store, you can get all natural (only fruit or vegetables and water), jarred baby food, and there are many benefits to using the baby food: 1) They keep well in your pantry so they’ll be on hand when you need them; 2) when on sale, you can get them at a really low price which is more affordable than fresh fruit and vegetables; 3) they provide a concentrated flavor without the work; and 4) the jars are wonderful to have on hand for those craft projects your kids are required to do for school or for those cute little holiday gifts you always see in the “make your own” magazines but which you never do because you don’t have those little jars!

Some uses for baby food:

1. To make muffins, breads, pancakes, waffles, cakes, etc…: Use the baby food version in your recipes instead of having to cook and puree or mash the fresh equivalent.

2. As a thickener: Vegetable baby food is great for thickening your gravies, soups, pasta sauce, casseroles, stews, etc…. They add flavor and thickness without adding anything else.

3.  To add nutrients to your recipes: Add vegetable baby foods to your meatloaf instead of that sugary condensed tomato soup. Make a glaze for your chicken with a fruit baby food. Use baby food as a binder for your bread crumb coated baked fish or for your meatballs. Create your own fruit or vegetable butter for spreading onto toast.

4.  As a mix-in: Mix in baby food to store bought yogurt or cream cheese or cottage cheese to create a flavorful treat. Add baby food to the smoothie you make for breakfast. Mix in baby food to your favorite dipping sauce to create a new flavor.

Chocolate Chip Muffins

(makes 24)

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups gluten free flour blend

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cloves

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Four 6 0z jar containers of banana baby food

3/4 cup liquid egg whites

1/2 cup Agave

1/2 cup safflower oil

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners.

2. Mix the flour, powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together. Stir in the chocolate chips. Set aside.

3. Mix the baby food, egg whites, agave, and oil together.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and very quickly mix the batter up just until the dry ingredients are moist.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the 24 cups. The cups will be filled to the top.

6. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool in the muffin tins for five minutes. Remove the muffins to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

 

 

 

Recipe Experiment: Sorghum Quick Bread

“Well, can’t you make some healthy junk food for me to have as a snack?”

If my son was growing up in what the surveys say is a typical American home, he’d be a junk food junkie. Given the choice, cookies, ice cream, cake, chocolate, candy, would always win. As it is, though, he was born into our family so he is more of a junkie wannabe, constantly nagging me for all those things and resigning himself to a banana when the answer is, “No.”

The other day, though, he had a particularly rough day, and he really wanted something sweet but a banana wasn’t cutting it. (Yes, he must be my son, since he’s already learned that food can sometimes provide solace in the face of difficult days! No, I do not approve of folks “feeding” their problems, but face it, sometimes you just need some comfort food!)

One look at his little sad face, and I caved. Since I still have all that sorghum flour I mentioned in the sorghum pancake post, I decided I’d try experimenting. Maybe I could make a quick bread which would be a good healthy snack but provide that little sweet solace my son craved.

Since sorghum flour is so high in fiber, it seemed it would make a great base for a banana bread where ripe bananas would help to cut down on the need for sugar and the fiber in the sorghum flour would counter any spike in blood sugar levels from all the fructose. I didn’t want the bread to be too heavy, though, so I mixed a bit of brown rice flour, and then, because you know how much I like that protein-full garbanzo bean flour, I added that, too.

Because I wanted to steer clear of egg, dairy, and soy allergies, I used ground flaxseed and flax milk, using lemon to make a “buttermilk” and adding vinegar at the end to help the eggless, gluten free breads to rise.

I had wanted to use a little bit of safflower oil, but since the cupboards were bare of that, I opted for a coconut oil and used some coconut sugar, figuring any residual coconut taste would complement the bananas. To add other flavor, I decided this would be a spice bread and incorporated some cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cardamom. Then because this was supposed to be “medicinal” bread, I added mini Enjoy Life chocolate chips, and the results were two loaves of delicious, healthy snacking bread.

My son was happy that he got to eat a “healthy junky snack”, and I was happy that I was able to bring a smile to his face without compromising my principles surrounding junk food.

Sorghum Banana Quick Bread

Ingredients:

2 tbsp golden ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tbsp of water

1/2 cup flax milk* mixed with 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

2 cups mashed very ripe bananas

1/2 cup melted coconut oil**

1/4 cup Agave

2 cups sorghum flour

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour***

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp allspice

1 1/2 cups Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips****

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar*****

Baking Instructions:

1. Line two 9 x 5 loaf pans with parchment paper so there are wings hanging over the sides of the pan for lifting the bread out, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mix together the flaxseed and water and let it sit for five minutes to thicken.

3. Mix together the milk and lemon juice and let that sit for five minutes to thicken.

4. Mix together the flaxseed mixture, the milk mixture, the mashed bananas, coconut oil and agave. Set aside.

5. Whisk together the sorghum, brown rice and garbanzo bean flours with the coconut sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.

6. Add the chocolate chips to the dry mixture, and then add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients with the apple cider vinegar.  Mix quickly and well.

7. Evenly divide the batter between the two loaf pans.

8. Bake for 40 minutes until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick in the center comes out mostly clean.

9. Cool the bread for 10 minutes in the pan. Then remove the bread, using the parchment paper wings to a wire cooling rack. Cool another ten minutes, and then carefully slide the loaves off the parchment paper onto the wire rack.

10. Cool completely, slice and enjoy.  Or eat it while it’s still warm, if you can’t wait!

* You can use any other type of milk, too.

** Try it with safflower oil or vegan melted butter instead of coconut oil if you have a tree nut allergy.

*** If you have a legume allergy, just double the brown rice flour or opt for another type altogether.

**** If you want to mix it up, omit the chocolate chips and try using chopped dried plums or apricots or dates instead.

*****If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, white distilled is fine.

Final Note: If you don’t want to use all those spices, don’t. Feel free to omit any of them or experiment with your own flavors.

 

 

Recipe Makeover: Banana Sheet Cake

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“I need it to taste good.”

For the beginning cook, the most nerve-wracking part of experimenting with a recipe is that niggling thought which you can’t banish, no matter how hard you try:  “What if it doesn’t taste good?”

When I received an email a few days ago with a request for help in making over a family favorite recipe, the plea was “I need it to taste good.” As I finished reading the email, I thought about the number of times I’ve made something that “didn’t taste good”.

Once.

Really. I know it’s hard to believe, but in all my years experimenting, only once has something come out so badly that I couldn’t eat it. All the other times, the texture and/or taste may not have been exactly as I wanted, but it’s always been edible and/or fixable to be edible.

I share this, because worrying about how something will taste can be paralyzing. The only thing we can do is to simply forge ahead and see what happens. Might it be less than perfect? Sure, but will it be such a disaster that you can’t serve it? Most likely not.

The request received was about a banana sheet cake which the family has always enjoyed. Unfortunately new food allergies have hindered the mom’s ability to make the cake anymore, and she was wondering whether it was possible to recreated it.

The answer, of course, is “yes”, but the caveat is that the cake will obviously be different once you make the adjustments. I took a stab at making over the recipe over the weekend, and the result was something that my family liked very much. Below I’ll explain what I did and other possible ways for recreating the recipe.

The recipe for the original banana sheet cake is:

2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp vanilla, 4 eggs, 5 cups flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 1/3 cup buttermilk, and 2 to 3 mashed bananas — all of which combines to make an 11 x 15 sheet cake.

Makeover:

1. The Flour: This mom needed the recipe to be gluten free. Here’s the tip: Banana cake can be dense, so if you’re going to use a gluten free flour blend, you should opt for something that is lighter like a brown rice flour blend as opposed to a heavier flour like a garbanzo bean flour blend. For this makeover, I used Authentic Foods Gluten Free Multi-Flour blend because it’s a lighter flour and already has the xanthan gum mixed in.  If you use a blend that doesn’t have the xanthan gum, be sure to add it in: 1/2 tsp per cup of flour.

If you don’t need your cake to be gluten free but you’d like to make it a bit healthier, opting for a white whole wheat flour will make for a more fibrous but still light cake. Otherwise, you can use a whole wheat flour which works well but will give the cake a slightly denser texture and a nuttier taste.

2. The Sugar: This mom didn’t care about replacing the sugar, but since I try to avoid as much refined sugar as I can, I’m letting you know that you can replace the sugar in a one to one ratio with coconut sugar or use half as much of the called for sugar by replacing it with Agave or Stevia.

If you use the dry options (coconut sugar or Stevia), you don’t need to adjust any of your other ingredients. If you use Agave, though, you should either increase your flour by 1/2 cup or decrease your liquids by 1/2 cup.

I chose to use Agave and decreased the oil which decreased the overall fat for the recipe.

3. The Vegetable Oil: I always suggest replacing vegetable oils with an oil like olive oil or safflower or grapeseed or a blend like Smart Balance because the fats are considered good fats. I also like to reduce the fat if at all possible. For this recipe I used a Mediterranean blend of olive, grapeseed, and canola oils, and I reduced the oil from 1 1/2 cups down to 1/2 cup since I was increasing the liquids with the use of Agave.

4. The Eggs: This mom didn’t have any egg allergies, so I kept the eggs, but to decrease the fat and cholesterol, I opted to use liquid egg whites instead of whole eggs.

If you have an egg allergy, though, I’d recommend using ground flaxseed meal mixed with water. You use 1 tbsp of flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tbsp of water for every egg you replace. Let the mixture sit for at least five minutes so it can thicken.

Because this cake calls for buttermilk, omitting the eggs and replacing it with the flaxseed mixture will actually work quite well since the acid in the buttermilk will help with the leavening you lose from the eggs.

5. The Buttermilk:  This mom needed to avoid dairy so I chose to make a nondairy buttermilk. I used flax milk but you can use any type you prefer like soy or rice or almond or coconut milk.

To make your own buttermilk, simply mix your “milk” with one tablespoon of an acid per cup of milk. For the acid I prefer to use either lemon juice or white or apple cider vinegar. Mix the lemon juice or vinegar with the milk and let it sit for about five minutes to thicken before using it in your recipe.

6. The Sodium:  Since I always try to reduce salt use, I cut the salt in half and decided to add some other spices instead like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; and because I added the spices, I decreased the vanilla to 1 teaspoon, but you can even omit it altogether if you like.

7. The Bananas: Since the recipe called for bananas by amount, I decided to change it to a measurement. If you simply say 2 to 3 bananas, the question becomes, “What size banana?” and the size is important because your entire recipe can be messed up if they meant two to three small bananas versus the larger sized ones you normally find at the store.

Working off my knowledge of most banana recipes, I figured about two cups of ripe mashed bananas would be good for the recipe. This worked out to 5 5 inch in length bananas.

8. The Additions:  Banana cake is not actually a favorite for two of my three children, so I decided that if I was going to make this, I would need to liven it up a bit. To do so, I chose to add some allergy friendly chocolate chips, but I didn’t want to have actual chips affecting the texture of the banana cake. So, I put the chocolate chunks into my food processor and processed them into pieces smaller than mini chips but not quite ground up, which I mixed into the flour mixture. The result was quite tasty.

9. The Topping: The original recipe simply said to frost with a cream cheese frosting, but my children aren’t fond of cream cheese frosting. Instead, I used a chocolate frosting recipe from Elana’s Pantry (www.elanaspantry.com) to top the cake instead. Since I had put the chocolate pieces into the cake, I figured chocolate frosting would top the cake well.

10. The Final Recipe:  Banana Sheet Cake

Ingredients:

5 cups Authentic Food Multi-Flour Gluten Free Blend (whisked well)

2 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

10 oz Enjoy Life chocolate chunks, processed smaller in food processor

2 cups ripe, mashed bananas (about 5 five inch bananas)

1 1/3 cup flax milk mixed with 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 cup Mediterranean Oil Blend (olive, grapeseed and canola)

1 cup liquid egg whites

1 1/4 cup Agave

1 tsp gluten free vanilla

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg well. Combine the processed chocolate pieces with the flour mixture.

3. Mix the mashed bananas, flax milk, oil, egg whites, Agave, and vanilla together.

4. Mix the dry ingredients slowly into the wet ingredients until they’re combined. Give the batter a quick stirring for about 30 seconds to make sure everything is well mixed.

5. Carefully spread the batter into the pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes. The cake will be puffed and golden when it’s done and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

NOTE: Because of the Agave, the cake may brown more quickly than you’d like. About halfway through the cooking time, you can always place a piece of foil or parchment paper lightly across the top to prevent darkening of the cake.

6. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire cooling rack. When cooled frost with your favorite frosting.

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding Ingredients As a Whole: The Art of Chemistry

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My kitchen table was a mess.

As a treat, I made root beer floats for the children.  Unfortunately, I forgot my chemistry.  I put in the ice cream first, and then I added the soda.  If you know your chemistry, you’re already nodding your head, laughing at me, because you know why my table was a mess.

The cold temperature of the ice cream released the carbon dioxide – that wonderful gas which makes our sodas fizzy – from the root beer, and the gas bubbles reacted with the proteins in the ice cream, creating froth and foam – much too much froth and foam – which erupted like a volcano out of the glass and onto my table.

The children, especially my young son, were absolutely delighted by this impromptu science experiment, but it was a reminder to me that the art of cooking is always tempered by certain laws which we must keep in mind.

Recipes Have Ratios

For example, if we were to carefully analyze many different cake recipes right now, we would notice an average ratio to the ingredients in the recipes – something like this:

•2 cups flour ingredients

•2 cups liquid ingredients (which includes the eggs, where 2 whole large eggs equal to about ½ cup of liquid)

•1/2 cup fat ingredients (like butter or oil)

•1 cup dry sweetening ingredients (like sugar or brown sugar)

•2 tsp dry leavening ingredients (like baking powder or baking soda or a mix of the two)

•½ tsp to 1 tsp salt

•1 tsp to 2 tsp flavoring (like vanilla or cinnamon)

Recipes Have Patterns

We’d also discover a pattern to the ingredients where usually:  1. The weight of the liquid ingredients is the same as or more than the weight of the sugar.  (One cup of sugar is said to be about 7 ounces in weight.); 2. The sugar weight is equal to or more than the flour.  (One cup of white flour is said to weigh about 4 ½ ounces.); 3. The eggs weigh the same as or more than the fat.  (Two whole large eggs are said to weigh just under 4 ounces.); and 4. For every cup of flour, the recipe will call for 1 tsp of baking powder or ¼ tsp of baking soda.

Both the ratio and the patterns are important for us to know if we want to create foolproof cakes.  If, however, we know these basic conventions for cake baking, then we can artfully experiment within that framework to successfully create delicious cakes which are tailored to our dietary restrictions and needs – as well as other baked goods such as cookies and muffins which have their own ratios and ingredient patterns.

Paula’s Son’s Favorite Snack Muffin:  Peanut Butter Muffins

Ingredients:

2 tbsp favorite plant based oil (olive, safflower, avocado, etc….)

2 tsp honey

3 tbsp Agave

1/2 cup rolled whole grain regular or gluten free oats

3 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 2 1/4 cups favorite GF whole grain flour blend 

2 cups rolled whole grain regular or gluten free oats, pulsed in a food processor until to make a crumbly oat flour

4 tsp gluten free baking powder

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt* 

1/2 cup Agave 

2 mashed or pureed ripe bananas

1 cup applesauce

2/3 cup peanut butter** (you can substitute another “butter” if you are allergic)

1/2 cup egg whites or 2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tbsp of water 

1 1/2 cup soy milk (you may use another type of milk, if necessary)

1 tsp gluten free vanilla extract

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare muffin tins for 18-24 muffins, depending on the size muffins you want. (I would use “If You Care” muffin cups, but you can use Pam spray or grease them with butter or oil.)

2. Stir the canola oil, honey, and Agave together.  Mix in the rolled oats until they are completely coated.  Set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, processed oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.

4. Mix together the Agave, mashed bananas, applesauce, peanut butter, and egg whites or flaxseed mixture.  Add the milk and vanilla.

5.  Quickly combine the dry ingredients into the wet, stirring just until the dry ingredients are moist.  Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

6. Carefully sprinkle oat topping onto each muffin. (Will be sticky work!)

7. Bake for 15-20 minutes until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

8. Cool for at least five minutes in the muffin tins before removing.

* You can omit the salt, if you want.

** I use Teddy’s no salt, no sugar added peanut butter.