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Sunday, January 29, 2012

real fruit, real food, dang good muffins

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triple berry muffin

If there's one thing that drives me nutty when it comes to selling food, it's when companies advertise something they are not truly delivering. They aren't breaking the law, because you can always find out the real story through the ingredient list and the nutrition facts table....but it's still a poopy practice that makes me crazy.

Case in point - companies that sell products with fruit on the package, but no fruit *in* the package. Baked goods are one of the WORST offenders for these.

For example, take this blueberry muffin mix - if you click the link and read the does not contain any actual blueberries (although it does contain delicious-sounding artificial blueberry flavor bits, which themselves contain sugar, oil, artificial flavour and 2 different artificial colours). Blech. No thanks. These triple berry muffins are just as bad - containing the similarly appetizing imitation berry bits.

As an alternate example, there are those products that DO contain real fruit....just not so much the fruit that's being promoted.

This one actually peeved me, because it's a product I've purchased before (as you can imagine, I don't buy muffin mix, so I haven't fallen for the tactics above....that said, if any of you ever buy cake mix, before the carrot and banana nut cake....they probably don't contain carrots or bananas....always read the label....or google a recipe and make your own cake). The example above, while enlightening, don't really irritate me THAT much, because I don't think anyone really expects packaged muffin and cake mixes to be healthy, wholesome foods.

But when I buy an unsweetened applesauce product, labelled with a flavour....I do think it's reasonable to expect that the flavour labelled on the outside matches the ingredients that make up the product within. Mott's Fruitsations is a brand of applesauce product that advertises itself as unsweetened, boasts the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check label and in general, would like you to think that your Raspberry, Cherry, Starfruit puree is as pure and untainted as unicorn poop.

Except check out the ingredient list: apples, water, concentrated apple puree, vegetable juice concentrate for colour (black carrot), natural flavour, concentrated raspberry puree, ascorbic acid.

So um....I don't see any starfruit on that label. I don't see any cherry on that label. I do see black carrot juice for colour, though since the end product does not taste like carrot, I can only imagine that the tiny amounts of "natural flavour" and "concentrated raspberry puree" are the source of the berry deliciousness of this snack.

And it is pretty delicious, not gonna lie.

But I still feel that it's misleading to be a supposedly healthy product with these supposedly natural ingredients, and it turns out that the flavour is not, in fact, coming from the ingredient, but from some 'natural flavour' that is likely INCREDIBLY far processed from an actual fruit.

Don't even get me started on things like granola bars. Cereal bars (like the jam-filled Nutri-Grain bars) are some of the worst offenders over-promoting ingredients that barely make an appearance. My favourite? The cherry-pomegranate one. Ingredients for the filling are as follows: invert sugar, corn syrup, water, glycerin, cherry puree concentrate, sugar, modified corn starch, pomegranate juice concentrate, sodium alginate, sodium citrate, natural and artificial flavor, malic acid, citric acid, methylcellulose, dicalcium phosphate, caramel color, red #40.

I love how they advertise it as full of antioxidants, but I mostly see a bunch of sugar, gelling agents, additives I don't really understand, marginal amounts of concentrate fruit [which is also essentially sugar], flavours (both natural and artificial) and two different artificial colours.

Again...blech. Do yourself a favour and buy a pomegranate and some cherries. Eat them with oatmeal. You'll be much better off.

Allllll this bring me to the point that you really have to read product labels carefully. If you want a fruit muffin, I suggest you set aside 40 minutes and make yourself one. In fact, I suggest you make the one below. :)

It's not complicated to make (I've added a bit of complication, but not too much, I swear! And it's totally optional) and the end result is a muffin that you can feel relatively good about. You can pronounce all the ingredients, it's made with whole grains, it's not AS sweet as a purchased muffin, and it's got real fruit.

You'd still be better off with fruit and a bowl of oatmeal, but it wouldn't taste this good. ;)

Triple-berry explosion muffins

1 1/2 c oat bran (or wheat bran)
1 cup milk
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1/2 c honey
1 t vanilla
1 c whole wheat flour (I think spelt would work well too)
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 T ground flax (optional)
2 T ground chia (optional)
2/3 c frozen raspberries (still frozen)
2/3 c frozen blueberries (still frozen)
1/3 c reduced-sugar jam (I used strawberry) - this is optional

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line tins with paper. Get all your ingredients together.

mise en place...minus a few key ingredients

Except forget a few, and then get them out after.

the forgotten ingredeitns - apple sauce, flax and chia

2. Mix together bran and milk. Let stand 10 minutes.

oat bran and milk

3. In a large bowl, mix applesauce, egg, honey and vanilla.

the best way to measure honey.  so much easier to clean up.

4. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, chia and flax seeds. Again, the seeds are optional - if you have 'em, go for it, but they aren't necessary.

5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Give it a quick stir. Add the bran, stir just a few more times (lumps are fine...remember, the more you stir a muffin batter, the more your muffins will resemble hockey pucks. Be gentle).

6. Stir in raspberries and blueberries. Gently spoon into 12 muffin cups.


7. OPTIONAL: Using a piping bag (or icing gun), gently poke about 1 teaspoon of jam into the centre of each muffin. I use an icing gun with a plain small round tip. I added a bit more on top, because I still had a loaded icing gun. :) It does up the sugar content but it's a nice little surprise.

icing gun to fill muffins

Filled muffins:
triple berry muffin batter

8. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Once the jam is bubbling and oozing a bit, they are done. Let them sit in the muffin tin for about 5 minutes (especially if you haven't used paper...lower-fat muffins do tend to stick a bit!).

triple berry muffin

Cool on a rack.

triple berry muffin

These muffins are delicious....when you look at the ingredients, you can tell they are pretty healthy, but when you taste them, you just get to enjoy the delicious summery tang of real berries, just a hint of sweetness and a whole lot of whole grain goodness.

triple berry muffin

NOTE: I have also made these muffins omitting the berries and jam, and using dark chocolate chips. They were awesome. Also worth trying.

Hope you enjoy! And don't forget to check me out on Facebook!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

winter seafood dinner party

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Before I get into this dinner party menu, just wanted to show you my snazzy new facebook page - just adding another way for you to keep up. I also add some content on there that you don't get on the blog or via twitter. More snark and links and that kind of thing. So it's toooooooooooootally worth liking. :)

I'll apologize in advance for the cruddiness of these photos - my camera battery (all four camera batteries, actually....) was, of course, toast when I went to take prep pictures (so there are none of those). And that's when the light was actually good.

So unfortunately, these pics are a result of overhead kitchen light. But I swear the food is just as delicious as normal, so read on......

I was having some friends over for dinner, and I wasn't really sure what to make - the only restrictions I had were no peanuts, and that one of the diners was not a fan of big bloody masses of meat. Fine by me anyway, as I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be steering clear of steak tartare these days.

So I went with a seafood theme, and tried to stay a little bit seasonal (not that you can really eat *seasonal* food in Ottawa in January...).

For an appetizer, I opted to make some coconut shrimp - I was inspired from a recipe in the Kraft What's Cooking holiday magazine (I know...heinous, but I was inspired, what can I say?). So I took out the Shake and Bake, and the pre-made sauce, and made my own version with panko and a sour cream sauce. It was really delicious, but the shrimp are best right out of the oven, so they are nice and crispy.

oven-baked coconut shrimp with curry dip

I did find that the panko adhered well and really gave a nice crunch to the shrimp, which is unusual in a non-deep-fried appie. I served these with some venison pepperettes (courtesy of my bro), and some red and green pepper strips. I like to keep appetizers relatively light, and not too filling, because I just want to get people geared up for some gooooood eatin' later in the evening.

Coconut-Panko Shrimp
makes about two dozen
oven-baked coconut shrimp with curry dip

1 lb large shrimp (26/lb), peeled and deveined. Take off the tails, nobody eats them and they leave a mess
1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut, toasted (toast in a frying pan for 5-6 minutes on medium, stirring often and watching like a hawk)
1 cup panko
1 t curry powder
1 t garlic powder
dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

1/2 c low-fat sour cream
2 T indian curry paste
1/4 c chopped cilantro

1. (If you are baking right after assembling, preheat your oven to 400F).

2. Combine coconut, panko and seasonings in a shallow bowl.

3. Dip shrimp in egg (I actually just tossed the whole batch of shrimp in with the egg because I'm lazy like that).

4. Coat shrimp in coconut-panko mixture until evenly coated. TIP: have one 'wet hand' and one 'dry hand' - use one hand to grab the slimy eggy shrimp and use the other to help toss/pretty the coating mixture. The coating will adhere better and you won't end up covered in eggy coconut goo.

5. Lay each shrimp on a baking sheet. Don't let them touch. I baked mine on a silpat.

6. Bake at 400F for 10-12 minutes. Mine were perfect after 10 minutes (just pick one and cut through to make sure it's pink and opaque the whole way through).

7. While shrimp is baking, mix together sour cream, curry paste and cilantro.

Enjoy! It's awesome and pretty easy to put together.

I came across a really intriguing roasted cauliflower salad recipe on epicurious, and pretty much followed the recipe exactly (though I halved it because it was a huuuuuuuuuuuuge recipe).

radicchio salad with roasted cauliflower and pecans

Half of the recipe was just about perfect for 6 appetizer servings. I'm sharing my version below, but I've linked to the original. I figure most people are likely to need 4-6 servings of salad, rather than 12ish.

You can do all of the components in advance (i.e., the cauliflower, chopping the lettuce). I dressed each salad individually and this worked well.

Roasted Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad
stolen and slightly modified from epicurious
radicchio salad with roasted cauliflower and pecans

1 small head cauliflower cut into 1-inch-wide florets
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
9 large leaves of romaine, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 small head radicchio, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
3/4 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
parmesan cheese for grating on top

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.

2. Toss cauliflower with 1/4 cup oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Spread in 1 layer in a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep) and roast, turning over with tongs halfway through roasting, until tender and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes total. Cool in pan on a rack, then transfer to large bowl.

3. Whisk together vinegar, shallot, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl, then add remaining 5 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified. (FYI - this does not emulsify...just whisk before drizzling)

4. Add romaine, radicchio, parsley and dressing to cauliflower and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with nuts and parmesan.

I loved the richness of the nuts and cheese with the deep roasted flavour of the cauliflower. The acidity of the dressing really made it fabulous. Great salad. It's a bit labour-intensive, but I think it's wonderful for fall/winter and would make a great meal with a grilled chicken breast or something.

For soup, I went back to seafood.....I've made this mussel-fennel bisque before. I'm not going to re-post the recipe here, because I make it pretty much EXACTLY as written.

mussel-fennel bisque

The only changes I recommend is just including all of the fennel in the soup itself, and skipping the browned fennel cubes (too much work). I think you could also reduce the cream by half. The seafood broth with rice is so rich on its own that I don't think 1 c of heavy cream is fully necessary. It's so yummy though. I love this soup. It's rich and delicious and really just the perfect seafoody-indulgence. With bread and salad, it would make a great meal.

For the main, I had some salmon hanging around in my freezer and so that's where I started. I ended up with another epicurious winner, this salmon fillet recipe with a creamy horseradish sauce. I just made a few small changes (I baked my salmon at 400F for 12 minutes, because I"m lazy and because my bbq is under about a metre of snow and ice. Baking is great for dinner parties, because you just pop the dish in the oven, and then go back to your guests - no fuss! I marinated the salmon for about two hours, which was great.

salmon with basil-horseradish sauce and squash with mint leaves and pepitas

I can also attest that the leftovers are PHENOMENAL made into a salmon salad - I just combined my leftover salmon with the leftover sauce, added some minced onion/green pepper/celery and it was perfection in a sammich. YUM. I'd make this again - it's super easy and quick to come together and the sauce was delicious.

I served the salmon with this butternut squash dish - it's simple squash wedges, roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with pepitas and mint. It was a simple dish, but I really liked it as well. I think the serving estimate is a bit low (4 people ate most of the squash), but I also baked my squash over an hour to get it nice and soft and caramelized.

That said, I have a squash PSA. WEAR GLOVES WHEN CHOPPING BUTTERNUT SQUASH. The internets have not come to a consensus on why this is, but with some squash and some people, skin will react. After I chopped the squash, the fingers on my right hand started feeling numb. Then they started feeling tight. And swollen. It really kinda freaked me out. And then the skin that was feeling tight cracked in about a million places (sorry, I know that's gross). It seems it's like some sort of chemical coming from the squash that did it to me. Anyway, the moral of the story is....wear your damn gloves when you chop that squash. And then you can avoid freaking out about your bizarre reaction. #learnfrommyfail

Last, I wanted to finish with something pretty simple, and on the lighter side of desserts. I've made passionfruit pavlova before, so I just made a variation of it this time and it was sooooooooo fabulous.

pavlova with coconut yogurt and mango-passionfruit coulis

I followed a different meringue recipe this time, and I think the oven temperature was too meringues really did brown quite a bit. But they were still yummy, so I don't think it was a big deal. Also, rather than filling with whipped cream, I opted to fill with the most decadently delicious coconut yogurt in the world. Even at nearly 10% fat, I figured it was a lighter choice than the 35% whipping cream. And man, it's sooooooooooo good. Instead of a simple passionfruit drizzle, I added some pureed mango (just 3/4 of a large mango, a bit of superfine sugar, and a splash of water, pureed together) to amp up the volume. Passionfruits are $3/each and don't really give a whole lotta pulp each. It was a great balance and the tropical flavour of the passionfruit really came through nicely. I would make this again and again. Perfect easy dessert.

So that's my menu....I wanted to keep it on the simpler side, and not ultra-indulgent. I thought it balanced really well and the flavours were really good. YUM. Any of these recipes would be great as part of another menu as well.

Thanks for reading - and don't forget to check out DNM on facebook!

Monday, January 02, 2012

ringing in the new year with chickpeas and dark leafy greens

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chickpea-veggie wraps

If you guys are anything at all like me, you probably tend to start out the new year with all sorts of healthy eating resolutions. For me, it's not even really about the idea that it's a "NEW YEAR" and thus I must resolve to renew myself and become somehow better. Mostly, it's that I've just come through an orgy of unhealthy (yet oh so delicious) food and celebration and that I think it's time for a little more restraint.

Also, it doesn't hurt that I'm six months pregnant and would prefer not to gain 10 zillion pounds. Not that I did that last time or anything *cough.*

Veggies are good for me.
yummy veggies

Hubs is less than thrilled. In fact, he pronounced that tonight's creation tasted like "New Year's resolution food." Not sure that's the most ringing endorsement. At any rate, I thought it was tasty, and if you crave something a little more indulgent, these wraps are easily doctored to include such toppings as cheese, salsa, sour cream, etc. Really, they can be as indulgent as you want them to be. For all I know or care, you could douse them in gobs of butter and a few slabs of bacon.

But you won't do that, right?

Because it's ALL about the healthy...2012 means more swiss chard and kale.....

swiss chard!

I doctored this recipe pretty substantially in terms of flavourings. I could tell from reading the original in the Jan/Feb issue of Clean Eating that some flavour was going to be needed.

I started with these guys and went from there (hence adding curry powder, etc.).

round of spices....number 1

I'm all for eating healthy, but food still needs to have a certain amount of flavour and taste to be yummy. I simplified the instructions as well, because I'm all about keeping things as easy as possible. :)

Chickpea-swiss chard veggie wraps
(adapted from Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Clean Eating)

chickpea veggie wrap

1 t olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
1 zucchini, chopped
2 c frozen corn
1 bell pepper, chopped (red or green.....your choice)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped (use 2 if they are small)
1 bunch swiss chard, chopped (smaller bunch is probably best)
***Note - spice measurements are approximate. Taste and adjust as necessary.
1 t turmeric
1 t garlic powder (or use fresh if you are feeling less lazy)
1 t cumin
1/4 t cinnamon
2 t curry powder
1/2 t salt
pepper to taste
1 T vinegar

cilantro, chopped
tomatoes, chopped
sri racha hot sauce, because it is awesome.

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, zucchini and carrot.

new food prep bowls make me happy

Once they have sautéed for a couple of minutes, add in the corn. It's okay if it's still frozen (you can see Lil Z likes to steal it while it's still frozen....)

food stealer

Cook until veggies are softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Add in dry spices (turmeric, garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, curry powder). Combine well. Throw swiss chard over top.

swiss cooks down

Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-7 minutes, until the greens have wilted down. Add salt and pepper and vinegar. Taste - adjust as needed.

wrap filling

I found this mix could take a lot of spice and I may have even used more than I call for above. Since this forms the bulk of your filling, you will want this to be pretty flavourful.

3. While chard is cooking, chop your tomatoes and cilantro. Combine if you want. I think fresh lettuce (or something else with crunch) would be a great addition to this.

chopped grape tomatoes

4. Top each tortilla with about 1/2 cup of filling (I had huge tortillas, so I used about 3/4 c) and a good sprinkling of tomato/cilantro. Top with a nice amount of sri much as you can handle. :)

chickpea veggie wraps with sri racha

I think it's a great way to start off the year. The spice of the sri racha really gives the bite that this dish needs. I think the filling would also be a great side dish with fish or chicken. Hubs is really not as thrilled about it, but has promised me that he will in fact eat his leftovers tomorrow for lunch...

chickpea veggie wraps with sri racha

Perfect to start the new year with a meatless Monday.

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