With Gratitude: Savory Triple Squash Muffinsu

“Is your kitchen ready 4 the holidays?”

I was driving to meet some friends when I saw a sign outside a home design business asking, “Is your kitchen ready 4 the holidays?”

My immediate response was, “Of course not, but who cares?” Obviously, though, people must care, or the business would not be using the sign as part of its marketing strategy.

For me, the holidays are about the three “F’s” — faith, family, and food. I confess, though, that the priorities aren’t always in that order. If I’m hosting, I tend to focus a lot on the food because I care very much that everyone attending will be able to safely enjoy what they eat.

So, when I received an email this past week in response to the post about the pumpkin cranberry muffins, I understood the desire behind the question: “Do you have a savory muffin recipe for Thanksgiving? My grandmother doesn’t like her breads to be sweet.”

This particular person had found my recipe because she was looking for an allergy friendly muffin recipe for her grandmother whose diet was restricted, but as she mentioned, she wanted something savory instead. So, for folks who want a choice, I’m posting a savory triple squash muffin recipe which I made last week and had many, many folks taste test with good reviews. They also have the added benefit of being gluten, dairy, soy, nut, sugar, and egg free.

Triple Squash Muffins

Ingredients:
1 cup gluten free whole rolled oats
1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp golden ground 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
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup safflower oil
1 cup cooked, pureed winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc… your choice)
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup shredded yellow summer squash
1/2 cup boiling water
2 tbsp vinegar (white or apple cider)
Baking Instructions:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line muffin tins with liners.
2.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 cup of gluten free whole rolled oats and set aside.
3.  Mix 2 tbsp of ground golden flaxseed with 6 tbsp of water and set aside.
4.  Combine 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, 1 tsp oregano, and 1/2 tsp thyme.
5.  Blend the oats with the flaxseed mixture, 1/2 cup safflower oil, 1 cup winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc…), 1 cup shredded zucchini, and 1 cup shredded summer squash.
6.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet, along with 1/2 cup of boiling water and 2 tbsp of vinegar (white or apple cider).  Mix just until the dry ingredients are fully moistened.
7.  Divide the batter evenly among 24 muffin cups.
8.  Bake for about 20 minutes until the muffins are puffed, golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (You may want to check after 15 minutes.  It could take up to 25 minutes.  It all depends on how accurate and well your oven keeps its temperature.  In my oven, it’s about 20 minutes consistently.)

Cooking Techniques: Popovers

“But that’s not appropriate.”

A friend from the city was visiting and heard my son hysterically laughing while reading our local newspaper. She commented that he must really enjoy the comics.

“Oh, he’s not laughing over the funnies,” I said. “He’s reading the police log.”

The look on my friend’s face was priceless! She clearly was wondering whether she had misjudged me as being a sound parent and how best to tell me that my son was going to grow up to be a psychopath if he found the police log funny!

So, I showed her the paper. Examples of true police log reports from papers in my local area:

“Goat running loose ate a pair of pants. Owner of pants declined pressing charges against goat.”

“Man waiting in line for Cabela’s to open cut in line. He was spoken to. All was well.”

“Report of annoying phone call. Mother-in-law was calling. Police explained they could do nothing about it.”

“Road blocked by 14 chickens. Traffic was backed up for 20 minutes until chickens finished sunbathing.”

“Unsecured trash barrel taken. Discovered in back yard of a neighbor. Child using it as a horse.”

“Back porch light went out. Al Qaeda suspected.”

Once my friend read that week’s police log, she understood why my son was laughing, and we had an interesting discussion afterwards about the difference between “crime” in the city and where I live.

I was reminded of this conversation recently as my son and I made popovers this weekend. Popovers are a wonderful addition to meals which people don’t often think about, because their perceptions of them aren’t always in line with reality.

There’s a myth out there that popovers are difficult to make, and if you google popovers, many sites talk about the “secrets” to making perfect popovers. This, I believe, feeds into the perceptions that people hold, so then folks opt to make muffins instead or to purchase bread from the store.

The truth is that popovers are ridiculously simple to make, and you can adapt them to make a variety of popovers for any occasion. Plus they’re fun. Children love them because they literally pop-over from the pan.

What’s important to know about popovers:

1. Cooking: You want a hot oven temperature so I always preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Once you put the popovers into the oven, you don’t want to open the oven until they are done which is always 30 minutes in a regular sized muffin tin. When they’re done, just remove the popovers from the tin and if not eating immediately put them onto a cooling rack so moisture won’t condense on them. If eating immediately, you can put them into a nice bowl lined with a pretty towel.

2. Mixing: You want to mix the eggs together before adding the other ingredients, but you simply blend them with a fork for a minute or less until the eggs are mixed. No need to make them fluffy or frothy or airy. Just a nice uniform color to the eggs, and then you add the rest of the ingredients.

3. Measuring: I find the best way  to make popovers is to transfer the batter into a large spouted measuring cup so I can easily pour the batter equally among the muffin tins.

4.  Ingredients: A popover is just eggs, milk and flour. For a muffin tin that makes 12 popovers, you’ll always use an equivalent to one cup of eggs, 2 cups of milk, and 2 cups of flour. Since I like to be a bit healthier, instead of 4 large eggs (which should yield a cup) I opt to use half whole eggs and then add enough liquid egg whites to make a full cup. For the milk I’ve used soy, flax, and rice milk without any issues. For the flour, to be gluten free, I either use sorghum flour, arrowroot flour, or a mixture of both. For seasoning, I use 1/2 tsp of salt and then depending on the type of popover, an additional herb or spice.

5. Pan: A simple muffin tin is all you need whether it’s a 12 muffin one or two six muffin ones. It’s important to grease the muffin tins. You can use butter, oil, spray, shortening – it doesn’t matter what, but you must grease the pan so the popovers can rise and pop without sticking to the pan.

6. Variety: Popovers can be adapted. You can add any herb or spice. You can add cheese. You can add finely grated vegetables. My kids really like it when I make the popovers with pureed vegetables or fruit. I used puree squash or pumpkin or applesauce or bananas in place of some of the milk, and they come out quite delicious.

For eating, you can top the popovers with butter or jam or fruit butters. You can also cut them open and fill them with food like chicken salad which is incredibly tasty in a popover!

Below I’ll include two recipes I make often for the family. Enjoy!

Squash Popovers

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease either a 12 muffin tin or two six muffin tins.

2. Whisk 2 cups of flour of choice (I like 1 cup of sorghum flour with 1 cup of arrowroot flour) with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cardamom. Set aside.

3. Using a fork mix the equivalent of 1 cup of eggs (4 large whole eggs, 1, 2, or 3 whole eggs plus enough liquid egg whites to make 1 cup) just until the eggs are light and uniform in color.

4. Add 1 1/4 cup milk (I prefer flax or soy milk) and 3/4 cup cooked, pureed squash to the eggs. Whisk just until blended. There will be lumps, and that is how you want it.

5. Transfer the batter (which will be thin and runny) to a spouted measuring cup large enough to hold all the batter. Evenly divide the batter among 12 muffin tins.

6. Put the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Do not open the oven door at any time during the 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you can pierce the popovers to release the steam and then remove the popovers to a wire cooling rack or towel-lined bowl or directly to the plates.

Tarragon Popovers

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease either a 12 muffin tin or two six muffin tins.

2. Whisk 2 cups of flour of choice (I like to use 2 cups of sorghum flour for this recipe, but mixing half sorghum and half arrowroot or using all arrowroot is fine, too) with 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp dried tarragon. Set aside.

3. Using a fork mix the equivalent of 1 cup of eggs (4 large whole eggs, 1, 2, or 3 whole eggs plus enough liquid egg whites to make 1 cup) just until the eggs are light and uniform in color.

4. Add 2 cups milk (I prefer flax or soy milk) to the eggs. Whisk just until blended. There will be lumps, and that is how you want it.

5. Transfer the batter (which will be thin and runny) to a spouted measuring cup large enough to hold all the batter. Evenly divide the batter among 12 muffin tins.

6. Put the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Do not open the oven door at any time during the 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you can pierce the popovers to release steam and then remove the popovers to a wire cooling rack or towel-lined bowl or directly to the plates.

 

 

 

Cooking Techniques: Ratatouille

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“Can we PLEASE have vegetables for the rest of the summer?”

My children and I just returned home from a whirlwind trip, visiting many relatives and friends within a four state radius. While we enjoyed being with the people we loved, we ate a lot more meat than we are used to eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we ate meat at everyone else’s homes, because they either ate more meat in general than we do or because they thought they were giving us a treat by cooking meat.

Still, I laughed in surprise to hear my middle child practically begging me to purchase only vegetables when we stopped at the grocery store on our way home from our trip. I asked her if there was anything in particular she wanted me to make for dinner that evening when we arrived home, and she promptly answered, “Ratatouille.”

For any folks unfamiliar with ratatouille, it’s a wonderful vegetable dish originating from France. The main vegetable ingredients are usually eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers, though recipes may vary. It makes for both an excellent side dish or a main entree. My children like to eat it sprinkled with reduced fat shredded cheese and with a side of nice, crusty whole grain bread.

I love to make it in the summer time when we can pick the vegetables fresh from our garden. It’s a light and refreshing meal for a hot, summer day, especially if you simply cook it quickly on the stove top or in your crockpot, both of which don’t heat up your kitchen too much.

Ratatouille Information:

1. Cooking Methods: There are a variety of ways to make ratatouille, and if you google it you’ll see that many chefs actually are very particular about the best method for making ratatouille. I have tried all methods and find that there are pros and cons to each.

The most used method is to simply saute the vegetables in a pan on the stove top. This is nice because you can make the dish quickly for a family that is complaining that they’re “starving”.  In addition, it requires very little additional oil to saute. You need to be sure, though, to cut all the vegetables into sizes which will saute equitably and to cook them in order from longest cooking to shortest so you’re not serving a ratatouille which has overcooked zucchini with undercooked eggplant.

Another method is to roast the vegetables. What’s nice about roasted vegetable ratatouille is that all the pleasant, sweet tastes of the vegetables come out when roasted. The downside is that you usually need to roast the vegetables separately or precisely time the addition of each of the vegetables to the dish, both of which take time. As well, in the summer time, your kitchen will heat up quickly at the high temperatures needed for roasting. You’ll also find that you need a bit more oil to keep the vegetables from sticking to your pan as they roast.

A third method is to simply put your vegetables into a crockpot to slow cook over time. This method is extremely useful if you’re going to be out all day and want something done when you arrive home. The crockpot does make for a softer ratatouille, though, unless you’re home to take it out as soon as you see that the vegetables are at the slightly firmer texture you want. This method, however, does completely cut out the need for any fat which is nice for folks who need to watch their fat intake.

A fourth method is baking the ratatouille in the oven as a casserole. I like to do this when I’m going to have company and don’t want to be cooking instead of chatting. You simply layer the vegetables into a casserole dish and bake the entire casserole at once. This method is convenient and easy. It does, however, make for a moister dish because the liquids from the vegetables won’t evaporate like they do when you saute the vegetables. If, however, you like cheese with your ratatouille, layering the vegetables with the cheese makes for a very tasty casserole.

A fifth method is to layer the vegetables like you would for baking in the oven, only you do so in a pot and simmer the ratatouille over the stove top instead. This doesn’t warm your house as much as using the oven would, and it doesn’t require the constant watch and stirring that sauteing the vegetables does. The results, however, are more soupy than the other methods.

2. Main Vegetables: Eggplant is the base for ratatouille. You want a nice firm eggplant which isn’t under ripe or over ripe, though. When you press with your finger into the skin of the eggplant, you should leave an imprint which slowly comes back to shape. If your indent goes deep and doesn’t press back, it’s a bit riper than you might want. If you press and it’s hard, leaving no indent, it’s not ripe enough. A ripe eggplant will have a nice glossy purple skin with a bright green cap. Eggplant with bruises or dark splotches are to be avoided.

To cut eggplant for ratatouille I recommend peeling the eggplant first, then slicing into 1/4 inch rounds which you then cut into 1 inch squares which are a good size for both cooking and eating. You should cut your other vegetables up first before you cut your eggplant, though, because eggplant starts to brown pretty quickly after it’s been cut.

For your zucchini and squash, I recommend using smaller ones over the larger sized versions. They’re tastier, sweeter, moister, and less seedy. If you only have larger sizes, though, simply scoop out the seeds and cut the zucchini and summer squash into bite size pieces.

If you’re using the smaller sized zucchini and summer squash – think 6 inches in length – I recommend cutting them in half and then slicing them into 1/4 inch half moon shapes. These cook quickly and provide nice bite size eating pieces.

For peppers, you can use whatever pepper you like, but I prefer the sweeter bell peppers. One, the taste complements the eggplant well, and two, using different colored peppers (red, orange, yellow) makes for a prettier ratatouille. I recommend cutting the peppers into 1 inch square pieces so they cook readily with the other vegetables and are easy to eat.

3. Other Additions: Some people believe a ratatouille should only have eggplant, zucchini, squash and peppers. Others like to add more ingredients. It’s really up to you.

We like the versions which add mushrooms so if we have mushrooms on hand, we’ll use them. I usually slice white button or cremini mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices for adding to the ratatouille.

Another nice addition if you want to add protein is beans. Chick peas, cannellini beans, and black-eyed peas are all tasty in a ratatouille. And some people even like to add cooked chopped chicken, though, as a family we don’t really make it that way.

4. Tomatoes: Ratatouille always uses tomatoes. Purists will say you should only use fresh tomatoes which you peel, seed and dice yourself. I must admit, it’s rather delicious to make ratatouille with fresh tomatoes. I, however, tend to use dice tomatoes which I’ve frozen or get in a can, because it’s faster, more convenient, and simpler. For my tastes, I prefer the tomatoes to be petite-sized diced tomatoes because they blend better with the other vegetables, but larger sized dices tomatoes are fine, too.

5.  Seasonings:  Ratatouille will most always call for onions, garlic, basil and oregano, but from there recipes vary. Some add more herbs like thyme and parsley. Many call for salt and pepper. A few like to mix things up and call for a bit of red pepper or balsamic vinegar.

I find that using fresh herbs gives the ratatouille the best taste, but often I use dried herbs because that’s what I have in the house and on hand. If you’re using fresh herbs, be sure to add them at the end of the cooking. If you’re using dried, add it near the beginning of the cooking time.

For the garlic, you’ll find that recipes call for different ways of preparing it. Some say to use slivers. Others call for minced garlic. A few will suggest roasting the garlic first. Occasionally recipes will tell you to add smashed garlic. It really depends on your tastes and your time.

Roasted garlic is delightful in a ratatouille but then you have to take the time to roast it. Mince garlic incorporates more evenly throughout the ratatouille. Slivers give you more of a garlicky bite. Smashed garlic exudes more of the flavor.

As for salt and pepper: I rarely add salt, but using a small amount will bring out the flavors a bit more. I always add pepper because I like pepper but if you don’t want the pepper to overpower your other flavors.

6. Oil: Ratatouille usually calls for olive oil. The flavor of olive oil goes exceptionally well with ratatouille. Sometimes, though, recipes will call for another type. I would recommend sticking to a plant based oil which is a bit healthier for you and using as little as you can to keep the fat intake to a good level. My preference is to use an extra-virgin olive oil but most any olive oil works well and tastes good.

Quick and Easy Sauteed Ratatouille

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup mushrooms, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces (can omit if wanted)

2 to 3 peppers (yellow, red and/or orange; varying the colors is prettier), seedede and cut into 1 inch squares

1/2 cup chopped onions (frozen chopped onions work wonderfully)

one eggplant, about 8 inches in length and 4 inches in width

6 to 8 zucchini, about 6 to 8 inches in length, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch half moons (if using larger sizes, scoop out the seeds)

6 to 8 summer squash, about 6 to 8 inches in length, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch half moons (if using larger sizes, scoop out the seeds)

1 tbsp minced garlic

2 tsp dried basil or 1 to 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil

1 tsp dried oregano or 1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed fresh oregano

1/4 to 1/2 tsp black pepper, according to your tastes

3 cups petite diced tomatoes (if using canned, that’s about a 28 oz can)

Cooking Instructions:

1. Prepare all the vegetables first, washing, peeling, seeding and chopping and have them ready on hand to cook.

2. Heat olive oil for about 30 seconds in a large size pan over medium high heat or in a wok or in a deep dish griddle at 350 degree heat.

3. Add the mushrooms, peppers and onions to the olive oil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add the eggplant and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the zucchini and squash and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is greenish-purple.

6. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and black pepper and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. (If you want a soupier ratatouille cook with a cover on. For a thicker ratatouille saute without a lid.)

7. Serve with reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese and crusty bread.

 

 

 

Food “Subbing”: How to Revamp Recipes

website subbing

“Do you have a pass to be out of class, young lady?”
     I was 22, and it was my first day as the newly hired in-house tutor and substitute for a 6-12 private Christian school, and apparently my recently acquired pantsuit did nothing  to disguise my youthful appearance.  To my chagrin, as my conversation with the teacher progressed, I realized I was not even being mistaken for a high schooler but as one of the middle school students!
     This would not be the most embarrassing moment of my new job, though.  My crowning mortification would come a few days later in the week, when a seventh grade boy decided he’d like to invite the “new girl” he’d seen around to the first dance of the year!   (For some reason, my husband of several months thought this was hilarious!)
     Over the next couple of weeks, I even had to convince some parents that despite my youth, I was a good replacement for the retired tutor.  In time, though, staff, students, and parents alike learned that I was more than capable of fulfilling my responsibilities for the job.
“Making Over” a recipe
     In many ways, people tend to be skeptical in the beginning about substituting non-traditional ingredients in tried and true recipes.  They fear that the new ingredients will detract from the quality of the food or that they’ll mess up the whole recipe entirely by attempting to make any changes.I can tell you, though, that  most recipes are quite adaptable.  You just need to remember the few tips we’ve discussed in previous posts about exactly how to replace one set of ingredients for another.
     To help you see how to pull those tips together, I’m going to show you below how I adapted a recipe to fit my family’s needs.
An example

     Recently I was invited to brunch with some friends, and I decided to make some muffins.  I found a recipe for pumpkin muffins which looked good.The ingredients were:2 cups of raisins1 cup boiled water

3 1/2 cups white all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp cloves

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 1/4 tsp white sugar

4 eggs

2 cups cooked pumpkin

1 cup vegetable oil

Since I don’t ever use white flour or refined white sugar, I substituted 100% whole wheat flour for the white flour and Agave for the sugar.  Because I was using the Agave, it meant I needed to increase the flour amount and reduce the amount of Agave (in the end I actually reduced it more than just half).  I decided to omit the raisins, since my children don’t like “chunks” in their muffins; and because I wanted to add protein to the muffins,  I substituted soy milk for the water.  In addition, I switched the “bad” fat with a “good” fat and decreased the amount of oil being used.  To lower the fat even more, I put in all egg whites in place of whole eggs. Finally, because I personally like more flavor and because I had leftover butternut squash I wanted to use up, I added to the spices and substituted squash for the pumpkin.

So, here’s what my new recipe looked like:

1 cup soy milk*

4 cups 100% whole wheat flour**

1/2 tsp salt (decreased it simply to have less sodium intake)

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup Agave

1 cup liquid egg whites

2 cups cooked pureed butternut squash

2/3 cup grapeseed oil

The muffins baked up nicely, and the four of us at brunch and later my family enjoyed them immensely.

Squash Muffins

Ingredients:

1 cup soy milk*

4 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 3 1/2 cups favorite gluten free flour blend

1/2 tsp salt (decreased it simply to have less sodium intake)

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup Agave or honey

1 cup liquid egg whites

2 cups cooked pureed butternut squash

2/3 cup plant based oil

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare 24 muffin cups.  (I would use “If You Care” muffin cups.  You can also spray with Pam or coat with butter or oil.)

2.  Mix all the dry ingredients:  the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.

3.  Blend the wet ingredients:  soy milk, Agave, eggs, squash, and oil.

4.  Quickly blend the dry ingredients into the wet just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Fill the muffin cups evenly about 2/3 full.

6.  Put the muffin tins into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375 degrees.  (Preheating the oven to 400 allows the muffins to begin with the heat necessary to facilitate  rapid rising of the muffins, but lowering the heat allows the muffins to cook evenly without the sides becoming more cooked than the middle.)

7.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for at least five minutes in the tins before removing to a wire rack to cool.

* You can always use water or another type of milk.