Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Low-Fat, Low-Sugar Carrot Muffins

When you don't have time to make breakfast or just need an afternoon pick-me-up, muffins are a tempting grab-'n'-go. The problem with muffins, as most people know, is that they can pack upwards of 500 calories, 30 grams of fat, and unconceivable amounts of refined sugars.

If you love muffins or need an occasional healthier sweet option, these muffins might just solve your problems. They are made with minimal sugar and fat and grated carrots add wonderful texture and moisture. As with most muffin recipes, you can substitute your favorite sweetener for the brown sugar. You can also substitute up to 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for the white flour and still maintin a light consistency.

Carrot Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute up to 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg
1 1/4 cup almond milk soured with a 1 tbsp. of white vinegar.
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup raisins, optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil 2 six-cup muffin tins or line with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg. Mix in the sour almond milk, brown sugar, and oil.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until the mixture is uniform. Fold in the carrots and the raisins and nuts (if using).
  5. Divide batter among the twelve muffin cups and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Muffins will be golden brown. Cool on wire racks. Enjoy!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Homemade granola bars

I've been trying for months to come up with a successful homemade granola bar recipe. Granola bars seem to make great snacks, because they're packed with energy, tote along easily in a purse or bag, and are oh-so-tasty.

I seem to run into one of two issues when making homemade granola bars:
  1. Granola bars are too mushy and don't hold their shape after being cut, turning into pseudo-cookie crumbs
  2. Granola bars are too crispy and crumble when cut, turning into plain old granola (not the worst problem to have)
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your health and taste preferences, the solution to my problem was to add more peanut butter and honey to the recipe. The end result was a granola bar that held its shape when cut, but had an overall higher fat and sugar content. Although this makes them a little less nutritious, using all natural peanut butter, raw honey, and agave nectar might justify making these for yourself. The recipe is below. You can substitute different sweeteners, such as maple syrup or brown sugar, and different granola-type ingredients, such as other seeds, nuts, and dried fruit.

Oats and Honey Granola Bars
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant)
2 1/2 cups puffed brown rice cereal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup peanuts (honey roasted peanuts are great for this recipe)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup agave nectar
2 Tbsp. water (or more, if needed)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9"x13" baking pan and set aside. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, cereal, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and raisins.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut butter, honey, agave nectar, and water over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until the ingredients melt together. Add more water if the mixture looks too thick.
  4. Pour liquid mixture into the oat mixture and stir well. Spread into the baking pan and bake for about 20 minutes. 
  5. Allow granola bars to cool completely before cutting. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stone-Baked Pesto and Black Olive Pizza

People often wonder how to make pizza with the light and crispy crust that you can find in so many restaurants. Fortunately, for the home cook, it’s not a big mystery. If you invest in a baking stone, which can run as cheap as $15 or $20, you’ve purchased your ticket to deliciously addictive homemade pizza. All you’ll need to do once you have your stone is make a reliable pizza crust (recipe provided below) and get adventurous with your toppings.

The recipe below is for pesto pizza. Traditionally made without red sauce, pesto pizza is deliciously light and flavorful. After harvesting my basil plants this summer and making numerous batches of pesto, I was fortunate to have some homemade pesto from my garden to use on this pizza.

Stone-Baked Pesto and Black Olive Pizza
Serves: 2

Pizza crust:
1 ¾ cups bread flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
2/3 cup water
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt

1/3 cup pesto (homemade or store bought)
¼ cup black olives, sliced
½ tomato, chopped
¼ cup mozzarella cheese

To make the dough:
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the bread flour and instant yeast. Add the water and olive oil and stir until combined. Add the salt and mix until coarsely textured dough forms.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in bulk.

To make the pizza:
  1. Place the baking stone on the middle rack in the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees.
  2. After the dough has doubled in bulk, degas it by punching it down gently. Use your fingers to spread the dough out into a 14” disk. Place on an upside down baking sheet covered with a piece of parchment paper.
  3. Spread the pesto over the dough and top with black olives, chopped tomato, and mozzarella cheese.
  4. Slide the parchment paper and the pizza onto the hot stone and bake for 18-25 minutes or until the crust turns a golden brown and the filling it bubbly. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bird's Bread--not just for birds!

This three-grain bread recipe isn't for birds, but it's made with millet, a primary component of a lot of bird seeds. But don't worry! You don't need to sort your bird seed to find millet. Look for this ancient grain in the bulk section of health food stores, or near the rice in groceries that don't sell bulk foods. The other grains in this bread, quinoa and barley, add to the birdseed effect.

The grains in this recipe are uncooked and give the finished bread a nice crunch. If you prefer a softer, moister bread, soak the grains overnight or cook them completely before adding them to the bread dough.

Bird's Bread
2 cups bread flour
1 cup stone ground whole wheat flour
1/4 cup barley
1/4 cup millet
1/4 cup quinoa
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. instant yeast
2 cups water
1 Tbsp. agave or other natural sweetener
1 Tbsp. sunflower oil (you can also use canola oil, peanut oil, or melted butter)
2 tsp. salt

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the bread flour, whole wheat flour, barley, millet, quinoa, and yeast.
  2. Add the water, agave or other sweetener, oil, and salt and mix until a rough, sticky dough forms.
  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter top and knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add extra flour while kneading, if the dough gets too sticky.
  4. Place dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag and allow to rise at room temperature for about two hours, or until doubled in bulk.
  5. After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down gently and divide it into two parts. Form each part into a loaf shape and transfer each loaf to a lightly oiled loaf pan or baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag and let rise again for 45-60 minutes. Dough will rise about one inch and will spring back slowly when touched.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaves in the center rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes or until their internal temperature read 190 degrees. Loaves will sound hollow when tapped and have a golden brown color.
  7. Remove loaves from their pans and cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container or freeze for later use. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Leftover rice? Throw it into a bread!

This weekend I found myself with a little leftover cornmeal, a handful of whole wheat flour, and about a half cup of leftover brown rice. Determined not to waste these little bits of ingredients, I threw it into a bread. The result? A deliciously light and moist three-grain sandwich bread that I've been enjoying for the past several days.

If you find yourself with these leftover ingredients, or just want to make a delicious bread, give this one a try.

Three-grain bread
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/3 cup stone ground cornmeal
1/3 cup stone ground whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. raw honey
1 Tbsp. sunflower oil (you can also use canola oil, peanut oil, or melted butter)
1 tsp. salt

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flours and instant yeast. Pour in the water, honey, and oil and stir to combine. Add in the salt and mix well.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about ten minutes or until the dough is smooth an elastic, adding more flour if the dough gets too sticky.
  3. Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, a plastic bag, or an airtight lid. Let rise for about two hours or until doubled in bulk. 
  4. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down gently to degas it and form the dough into a loaf shape. Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet or loaf pan, cover again. Let rise for another 30 minutes, or until the dough rises about an inch and gently springs back when you press your finger into it. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Bake the loaf for 30-40 minutes. The finished bread will be golden brown, sound hollow when tapped, and have an internal temperature of 190 degrees. Enjoy!