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Archive for the ‘Breakfast’ Category

Pumpkin muffins

We’re almost in what my sister likes to call Pumpkin Time. Yes, I know Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en are over, and we’re all pretty much over celebrating the harvest. She means Pumpkin Time in the Cinderella sense, as in turning into one — the year’s fun has peaked; it’s done. Pumpkin Time is where Autumn turns to Almost Winter.

November and I have an uneasy relationship. My birthday’s this month, and when I was a kid I usually had snow for my birthday, though not enough for a fun outdoor party. (I really feel that my spiritual birthday is in April, but never mind.) As an adult, this month is when I really start to feel the descent into cold and dark. My brain starts to really miss the sunlight.

In fact, the descent usually starts this weekend, when we turn the clocks back and trade a brighter morning for a darker evening. I hate that we mess with time like this; it’s one of the few reasons why I would ever want to live in Saskatchewan. I’ve done better in recent years in managing my seasonal affective disorder, but even so, to me November is the Month of Dread.

BUT! This week the weather has granted me a bit of reprieve. Sure, there’s more of a chill on the air, but the past few days here have been so sunny and golden. The leaves have turned but the trees are still half-full. I want these days encased in amber.

For now, Pumpkin Time isn’t so bad.

These muffins are a recent happy discovery. Lately I’ve been working on introducing Penny to new tastes, and it turns out freshly-baked tiny muffins are the perfect vehicle for new tastes. Warm? Check! Starchy? Check! Slightly sweet? Check!

To up the nutritional factor I used whole-wheat flour along with white, and applesauce so that I could get away with adding a bit less sugar. The molasses and spices give it a touch of pumpkin pie flavour. It’s a big hit with the kid.

Pumpkin muffins
makes 1 dozen muffins or 2 dozen mini-muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground clove

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup  brown sugar
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. freshly-grated ginger root
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Optional: 1/2 cup of toasted pepitas or pecans, plus more for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a muffin tin; either with paper liners or lightly grease each well with butter or cooking spray.

Sift together all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (Or if you’re lazy, like me, you can measure all the dry ingredients into the bowl and then whisk to combine.)

In a smaller bowl, mix together the pumpkin, applesauce, yogurt and brown sugar; whisk together until the sugar is well incorporated. Add the oil, molasses and grated ginger and mix to combine. Last of all, add the eggs one at a time and mix just until combined. If you’re adding pepitas or pecans, mix them in now. Spoon the batter into each muffin well and top with extra pepitas or nuts.

Bake for approximately 25 to 30 minutes (about 15 for mini-muffins) and let cool for five minutes before removing the muffins from the tin.

Serve warm. These are delicious with maple butter, apple butter, almond butter or just plain butter.

Do-ahead: If you want to make these for breakfast, mix up the batter the night before and keep in a covered container in the fridge. As a bonus, I’ve noticed that the flavour of ths spices is more developed if you do this.

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I have a love/hate relationship with pancakes.

I love to make them and I love to eat them, but I hate they way they leave me hungry an hour after breakfast is over. They’re like the Vietnamese vermicelli of breakfast. As a person with hypoglycemic tendencies who has recently changed my ways in the white flour and sugar department, I’ll treat myself on occasion but I swear I can feel my blood sugar get out of whack. (I’m sure this is just me being paranoid, but there you are.)

But here’s the thing. I have a husband who likes pancakes, and a baby who will happily eat anything starchy. How could I deprive my loved ones of pancakes? To make us all happy, I just need a pancake recipe that includes grains and less white flour, and then I need the will power not to drown my portion in syrup. But first things first: the tinkering.

Smitten Kitchen (a website I love) has a recipe for oatmeal pancakes that I tried once, and turned out fine, but it calls for a cup of cooked oatmeal. Now I can be organized, but not always so organized that I would think to cook extra oatmeal the day before. (Besides, how would I know that I’ll want pancakes the day before I want them? But I digress.) Now the advantage of using cooked oats is so that you get the heft of the oats, all that fibre-y goodness, without the chewy bits of dry/raw oats in the batter. As a compromise, I used both quick-cook oats and oat flour – rolled oats finely ground in the food processor – which both add weight but soften quickly in the batter.

A note on flour. The theory goes that using all whole wheat flour isn’t the best idea in a quick bread, since the bran tends to weigh a batter down. Despite that fact that I would rather leave out the white flour as much as possible, I do use a bit because I still can’t shake the notion that a quick bread recipe needs a bit of flour that is unencumbered by bran, for the sake of its structural integrity.  That said, I’m sure that you could substitute whole wheat flour for white in this recipe and it would likely turn out fine.

Come to think of it, you could probably get a fluffier pancake if you sub the yogurt for buttermilk. I just don’t like to use too much buttermilk in pancakes because then they turn out too tangy for my liking.

Anyway, these pancakes, they made me happy. I even made them into blueberry pancakes to celebrate the joyous height of fruit season.  Blueberries in the pancakes and on the side, plus some ripe perfect peaches on top. And a bit of lightly sweetened ricotta to add a tiny bit more protein. Oh yay.

The family approved.

And you know what? That breakfast kept me going straight through till lunch.

Blueberry oatmeal pancakes
makes about 16 four-inch pancakes

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick-cook oats
1/2 cup oat flour or finely ground oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. melted butter
2 eggs

approximately 1/2 cup of blueberries
extra melted butter for the pan

Combine the dry ingredients: in a bowl, whisk together the white, whole wheat and oat flours, quick-cook oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, honey and melted butter. Add the eggs last, one at a time, taking care not to overmix. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, folding the batter gently. Mix just to combine. A slightly lumpy batter is okay.

Heat your favourite skillet over medium heat until a couple of drops of water sizzle in the pan. (You can speed up the process by using two skillets at a time.) Brush the pan with melted butter and working quickly, use a quarter-cup measure to drop the batter in the pan, two or three at a time.  When bubbles form on the surface, drop a few blueberries onto the top sides of the pancakes. A pancake is ready to flip when bubbles are evenly distributed throughout the surface and the edges are slightly dry. Flip and cook another minute or two, and keep warm in the oven until all the pancakes are ready.

Serve warm with maple syrup and more blueberries. I also highly recommend some lightly sweetened ricotta.

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Recently I made some changes to my diet. The kinds of changes that, while you know are good for you in the long term, are difficult to carry out. The kinds of changes that require not only the advice of a trusted health professional to make you do it, but the deep-seated belief that she is right, and if you do it, you’ll feel better.

By which I mean since the new year I’ve cut out caffeine. And white starches. And sugars. I’ve started eating less wheat, and more of other grains, like amaranth, buckwheat and kamut. These changes are meant to be more or less permanent, with the understanding that in a little while I can switch from a zero-tolerance policy to a sometimes policy.

I’ve known for a while that I needed to do this. I have issues with my blood sugar levels, and there are times when getting hungry is a full-blown crisis. It’s not pleasant, for me or anyone close to me (especially my husband). So  I figure that since I don’t have work stress in my life these days, and I have the energy required to eliminate things from my diet, try out new ingredients and recipes, and recalibrate my tastebuds, now’s the time.

And here’s what I’ve learned so far: cutting out sugar sounds like a simple change. (Notice I said simple, not easy.) But it’s actually one change made up of a million tiny changes. It’s learning to like the taste of (decaf) coffee without sugar. It’s switching my evening snack from cheese and crackers to cheese, a bit of fruit and a few nuts. It’s discovering that oatmeal tastes just fine with some cinnamon and banana in it intead of maple syrup. (This is not true of french toast. Some things you just have to let go of.)

So far, results have been good. I feel much more even-keeled, and I’ve lost a few pounds to boot. So if you’re doing something similar, good news! I will share my successful new healthy recipes right here, so you have less kitchen experimenting to do!

But on to the recipe already. This new no-sugars rule unfortunately means no honey and no maple syrup either, or sweeteners in general. Which sadly removes granola bars from my diet. And I miss them! So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I tinkered with this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and took out just about all the sugar and honey, relying instead on nut butter, applesauce and eggs to bind it all together. So believe me when I say these things are barely sweet. In fact, the sweetness here largely comes from the dried fruit. It tastes sweet to me, because my palate is different now, but if you are NOT on a no-sugar diet, you can feel free to sub in honey for the applesauce, and even add more if you want.

Barely-sweet granola bars
makes 16-20 squares

1 2/3 cups quick-cook rolled oats
1/3 cup oat flour (or quick-cook oats pulverized in the food processor)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 cups mixed dried fruit and nuts (I used figs, apricots, pistachios, almonds, coconut and ground flax seeds)
1/3 cup nut butter (I’ve used both tahini and almond butter; I preferred the almond butter.)
1/4 cup applesauce (optional: use up to 1/2 cup honey in addition to the 2 tbsp. below)
3 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. vanilla
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an eight-inch square with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.

2. Mix together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, mix together the nut butter, applesauce, vanilla, honey, melted butter and egg. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. If the mixture is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water.

3. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan, pressing it in firmly to ensure that it’s molded to the shape of the pan.

4. Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked when you press into the centre of the pan but, they’ll set once completely cooled.

5. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Alternatively, you can use the parchment paper to pull them out of the pan and let it cool on the rack so that it cools more quickly.

6. Once the bars have cooled completely, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

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Apple Butter Granola

As if one recent major life event weren’t enough change in our lives we have another one looming on the horizon: we’re moving in a month. That’s right. Moving with a two-month old.

This comes with a certain amount of stress, of course, but it’s good. This move to our new condo has been almost two years in the making. And how appropriate that on the day I was in labour, we received a letter from the developers confirming our final occupancy date.  Two milestones made concrete in one day.

So move day is October 15th. And while we’ve started packing, I’m taking a long hard look at my pantry. How long have those rice noodles been there? How about that bag of chick pea flour? Do you ever buy ingredients that are slightly outside your repertoire, just enough that you only use them once or twice before they languish in your cupboard? If you’re anything like me, you do.

But here’s the thing about moving and kitchens: it makes no sense to move food. Special dispensation may be granted for my supply of frozen rhubarb and my stash of homemade dill pickles (more on this later), but damned if I’m going to pay movers to haul boxes full of unused dry goods only to have them gather dust in my new (space-challenged) kitchen. And like my mother, a daughter of Great Depression survivors, I cannot bear to throw away food.

And so, my friends, I give you the No Food Left Behind project.

For the next few weeks, I have made it my own personal challenge to eat up as much of my kitchen inventory as possible. I”m sure some results will be fairly mundane, but I’ll share the more interesting ones here.

Kicking things off, here is how I used up a surplus of rolled oats and last year’s homemade apple butter. The recipe would work equally well if you use orange juice if you don’t have apple butter on hand. Homemade granola is easy to make, and especially gratifying considering how expensive it is. For an equal investment in buying nuts at the bulk food store, you can make something that is as sweet as you like it, in nut-to-oat proportions that are exactly to your taste.

And then, you have a ton of granola in your house, for breakfast, for snacks, or for sprinkling on top of vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Granola with apple butter
makes approx. 10 cups

5 cups quick-cook rolled oats
1 cup each: sunflower seeds, pecans, cashews, pepitas and slivered almonds
1/4 cup oil (canola, sunflower, or [not extra-virgin] olive oil )
1/2 to 3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup apple butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a very large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and seeds. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, honey, apple butter, vanilla and salt. Heat it gently over medium heat, until the mixture bubbles. Mix thoroughly with the dry ingredients until everything is good and sticky.

Distribute evenly between two cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, mix the granola around to ensure even browning, and return to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. The granola should be golden brown and slightly damp. It will dry as it cools.

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