Gluten- and dairy-free blueberry muffins without refined sugar

blueberry muffin insideDespite the almost slogan-like title, these muffins are delicious, solidly structured with a perfect balance of sweetness that’s just right for breakfast. Or at least so I believe. But I could be wrong. Because I made them yesterday for a brunch that wound up being cancelled at the last minute. So no one but me has tried them. And I have a cold. Which brings my palate into question. Still. I’m pretty sure they’re good. And I’m certain that they’re good for you, full of whole grain flours, coconut oil, and blueberries. And free of all those trendily objectionable ingredients.

Indeed, my original goal was to make free muffins that were vegan to boot. blueberry muffin failBut that version (the little sunken lava cakes pictured on the right) refused to rise or even cook all the way through. So I gave up. Used eggs. Because, while the problem with version #1 may well have been an excess of blueberries, I was in a rush, and just didn’t trust that ground flax seed and water can really provide the structure eggs lend to baked goods. And I have no regrets. Because the end result  turned out perfectly, with a crispy rounded muffin top, a tender crumb, and a rich bite that reminded me of  a much less sweet form of pound cake.

blueberry muffinsAll that and the recipe includes beans! Sort’ve. Here’s what I did.

GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR MIX
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup potato starch

My mix is based on a thoughtful post from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef. (http://bit.ly/1fARZsO) I discovered the site a couple of years ago after Shauna (Gluten Free Girl) and Danny (The Chef) Ahern published their first book, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. (http://bit.ly/Lrhj9I)  In addition to great recipes, both their books and their blog include a ton of useful information about living well on a gluten-free diet. Plus their entire life seems like a sweet love story that is real and true and thus inspiring. So that’ s nice too. But I digress.

If you read Shauna’s post, which I encourage you to do, you’ll see that she and the Chef don’t like bean flours. Which gave me pause. I wanted to use garbanzo bean flour so that these muffins could include beans. That seemed like the only way I could avoid feeling like a total fraud for posting this recipe on my bean blog. Yet I didn’t want to make something icky. What to do?!

For this first time, I decided to risk the garbanzo bean flour. For the sake of the blog. Happily, my gamble paid off. Next time, though, I’ll probably try a different blend. Just to see.

To mix the flours, I started with the whole grains: brown rice, garbanzo bean, and sorghum. (Check out this post for some good information about sorghum (http://bit.ly/1envadS).) (The bags (I used Bob’s brand) are pretty small, so I had to pour the flours into the measuring cup instead of using the cup to scoop it out. To avoid waste, I measured over a bowl. When I finished the whole grains, I put the excess into a separate bag. Then I repeated the process with the white flours. So I now have three gallon-sized freezer bags in my freezer that are labeled as follows: 70/30 G/F mix; mixed whole grain G/F flours; and mixed white G/F flours. The idea is that over time, I’ll wind up with a sort’ve grab bag approach to gluten free baking. Super fun! And convenient. Because I’ve recently considered that the sometimes painful stiffness in my joints may correspond with my all too frequent over-indulgences in baked goods. This doesn’t mean I’m anywhere close to giving up bread. Or delicious pastries. But, as with refined sugar, it does mean that I will mostly eliminate gluten from the food I cook at home. If you’re not so committed, however, you may be interested in reading this review of a few commercial blends. (http://bit.ly/1alqlAZ)

MUFFINS (recipe adapted from Laura C. Martin’s trusty Green Market Baking Book (http://bit.ly/1k5guCC).)
2-1/4 c. gluten-free flour mix
4 t. baking powder
1 t. sea salt
7 T. coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup maple syrup
zest from one Meyer (or regular) lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup almond milk
11/2 c. fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 12-cup muffin tin with a little bit of coconut oil. Whisk the flour mix, baking powder, and salt until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk the coconut oil, syrups, lemon zest, eggs, and milk together until well blended. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Fold in the blueberries. Using a 1/2 cup measure, spoon the batter into the muffin tin, filling each cup almost to the rim. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a knife comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cut along the sides and pop out to cool on a rack.

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Pecan pie, redux

This blog is now almost a year old. Yet, despite the very best of intentions, I have yet to post about a bean-based dessert. Not because such desserts don’t exist. They do. And I am very curious, eager to try them. But during this same year I’ve been trying to cut down my intake of refined sugar. So most of my baking has involved experimenting with alternatives like maple syrup, honey, and rice syrup. Since I’ve never cooked a dessert with beans, I don’t know what I’m doing, and therefore am not comfortable taking the experiment that far out of the known. Not yet. Which means I still am not posting about a bean-based dessert. But it’s almost Christmas. And, to me, after growing up in in the South as part of a large Southern family, Christmas is not Christmas without pecan pie.

pecan pieAs a kid and young adult, I relied on my mother to make pecan pie, which she did twice each year, once at Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas, excepting only the year she was in Nepal, the same year my mouth was wired shut because of a broken jaw. So I couldn’t eat pecan pie anyway. It was a blessing that none was there to torture me. Every other year, though, she made at least one, usually two pecan pies, which I loved equally well warm, at room temperature, or, after a night out with friends, cold from the fridge,

After I moved to Chicago and began hosting Thanksgiving for friends, I finally learned to make my own. And immediately realized that there is nothing easier than classic Southern Pecan Pie, which consists of eggs, butter, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and Karo syrup. Yup, Karo syrup. Corn syrup. My mom, who is visiting right now from Florida, thinks that Karo syrup is not the same level of evil as the corn syrup that is wreaking havoc on American bodies, minds, psyches, causing an epidemic of obesity and, to my mind, reducing our ability to think and feel. But I think all corn syrup is created equal. The sweetness hides pure poison.

Yeah, I know. Hyperbole. But really this is what I believe. Based on no research or knowledge and therefore simultaneously indefensible and incontrovertible. It’s just a slow-burning conviction that started off small but has gradually built up to this stance that no level of taste bud delight can overcome. Truly, I don’t know whether Karo syrup is less bad for you than the commercial corn syrup that is in pretty much all processed foods. But I don’t care enough to find out. Because I know that I can no longer comfortably cook with, or eat, any form of corn syrup.

And yet. Pecan Pie. The best part of Christmas. A food that is, within my small world, something I am known for, something that people request of me for dinner parties.  A part of my identity. How could I give it up? Especially when a dear friend asked me to make a pecan pie for a holiday dinner party.

Enter Laura C. Martin’s Green Market Baking Book, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. (http://bit.ly/1fRvHTj) The recipes are neither gluten- nor dairy-free, but everything is made without refined sugar. And in addition to mouth-watering, easy to follow recipes, there’s a ton of great information that should allow you to adapt recipes to almost any dietary regime. I haven’t spent the time to do so with any bean-based desserts yet. I did, however, spend the time to make Martin’s pecan pie. Last night. And it turned out so well that seven of us ate it all, wishing there was more. So even though this recipe has no beans, or anything to do with beans, I wanted to share. Because it’s almost Christmas. And maybe you, too, want pecan pie without corn syrup. This one is delicious.

The crust recipe below is adapted from Alice Waters’s Art of Simple Food. (http://bit.ly/1coee66) It turned out really well and was easier than other recipes I’ve tried. However, if you don’t have time or feel up to making your crust, just buy one from the store and make the filling. It will be great.

Pie Crust
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
6 T. cold butter, cut into pieces
1/4 t. salt
1/3 cup ice cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a medium or large bowl. Using your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour until you’ve formed a crumbly mixture. It should take about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the ice water and stir with a fork until large clumps begin to form. Gather the mixture into a ball, then wrap in plastic and press into a disk. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Or, alternatively, you can make ahead, refrigerating for up to 3 days or freezing for up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw in the fridge for 1 day. If refrigerated for more than 30 minutes (or frozen), allow the dough to sit out for a little while before rolling.

When you’re ready to bake the pie, you’ll need to prebake the crust, so heat the oven to 400 degrees. To roll out the dough, lightly flour a large surface. Marble is ideal, but I use the wood top of my baker’s rack. You can also use a large cutting board. Whatever you use, flour it well, especially if you’ve never done this before. At worst, too much flour will make the crust a little tough. But that’s better than sticking. And when people bite into the pie they will never notice a tiny bit of toughness in the crust. Unless they’re hyper critical pastry chef experts. In which case they should make the pie themselves.

Assuming you’re making the pie, start in the middle, press down into the rolling pin, and roll outward. Lift the pin and start again from the middle, rolling in all directions, until you have a round sheet that is larger than your pie plate by about an inch all around.  Roll the crust onto the pin, transfer to the pie plate, and unfold. Here’s a tutorial that I found on Saveur’s website. (http://bit.ly/1a1IQoc) Press the crust into the pan, trim the edges, and refrigerate for a half hour.

To prebake, line the crust with foil, shiny side down, and fill with pie weights, rice, or dried beans. You do this to prevent the crust from puffing up. If you use beans, save them for this use, as they won’t be good for anything else after being baked. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork, then brush with egg yolk. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350. Place a large baking sheet in the oven to heat.

Pecan Pie
prebaked 9″ piecrust
3 eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 t vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1-1/4 cups pecan pieces
2 T butter

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until frothy. Add the syrups, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Heat the butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, then add the pecans. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned, then remove from heat. Let the pecans cool for 5 minutes or so then transfer them to the pie shell. Add the filling.
4. Sauté the pecan pieces in butter in a large frying pan for 3 to 4 minutes, then allow to cool. Transfer the pie to the oven, on the baking sheet, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until set. Serve warm or at room temperature with creme fraiche, whipped cream, or as is. And enjoy.

Overnight granola and giving thanks, in Florida

I’m writing this from one of the two couches in my mother’s tiny apartment in Tallahassee, a couple of hours before I leave to return to Chicago. I’ve been in Florida for two weeks. This is at least the fourth time I’ve tried to write a blog post. I’m not sure what’s going on. Maybe writer’s block? Must be. Because I have a lot to say. Too much, perhaps. But every time I try to write something happens, I freeze. Stop. Decide to wait until later, when maybe it will come. And now here I am, the last day, still without having posted anything. Oy. That won’t do. So I’m writing this. Which will have to be good enough. Hopefully inspiration for more will return soon.

Before vacation, there was a different problem. For a week or so after my last post, I was just busy and overwhelmed with life. Then I had the flu. Which took me out for almost two weeks. It was awful on so many levels, probably mostly because of the surprising emotional component. There’s nothing like being sick with no one around to make you feel alone. It was a good wake-up call. To what I’m not yet sure, but it was a call to something, if only to make sure I always have some chicken soup in the house. To be grateful for my health, I suppose. Which I am. It is nothing to take for granted.

Now, as I prepare to head back to Chicago, I am absolutely filed with gratitude for having been born and raised here, in Florida. It’s a strange place, yes. I left because I couldn’t live here, had to escape the racism and small-mindedness. Yet it is also the most beautiful place I know, mysterious and deeply, richly alive. Although I took about a million photos and videos, so many that my phone is completely full, I’m having trouble with the transfer. But I have a few.

This vacation started and ended in Tallahassee, sandwiching a week on St. George Island.  During my daily walks on the beach I fell in love with a tree that had washed up to the shore. Here it is, as it looked during the sunny hours on the one stormy day. As you can see from the barnacles, it  obviously spent some time in the water before washing up to shore. Maybe it came here from Cuba, a refugee. I don’t know.

tree with barnaclesbarnaclestree in surf

What I do know is how incredibly lucky I am. So, so privileged. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted. Being alive. Able to get up and go outside, breathe air, drink water, walk. Cook and eat delicious, nourishing food. It’s impossible, I think, to be thankful every moment. Life would become overwhelming. Too serious. Sometimes you, or at least I, have to take things for granted. Yet it seems important to spend at least some time every day in appreciation. Noticing what we have that is good.

Right now, before I finish packing, I’m noticing how delicious this granola is. I made it before I left Chicago. Because I meant to blog about it. It’s my new favorite. Which I decided to share despite the fact that it has zero beans. Only oats. And nuts. And a few other things. Although my photo will not upload (serious technical difficulties are making me CRAZY!), here’s the recipe, which I adapted this recipe in Fine Cooking. (http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/dried-cherry-coconut-granola.aspx)

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1-1/2 cups dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup halved or slivered raw almonds
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, honey, and oils, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine.

2. Spread onto a heavy-duty baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until just starting to brown. Turn off the oven. Stir the granola mixture, return to the oven, and close the oven door. Let the granola sit in the oven for 6 – 12 hours. Transfer to a large bowl, breaking up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to one month. Enjoy!

banana coconut chocolate chip cookies, so wholesome you can eat them for breakfast

I’m a total sugar addict. Junkie, really. Which I used to be rather proud of, bragging about my love for skittles, red hots, hard candy of all kinds. Cake. Cookies. Cookies. Oh, how I love cookies. But it’s sad how little sugar loves me. As a child, I would sometimes get literally sick after eating cake at family birthday parties. Chocolate gave me hives. To this day I develop horribly painful canker sores after heavy sugar binges.  Clearly, for my body, sugar = poison.

A stronger person than I would have simply eliminated this poison. But that didn’t work for me. It was too extreme. So I decided to compromise. I started trying recipes that call for alternatives to sugar, such as honey and maple syrup.

Yes, I know. Maple syrup is a sugar. But it is not refined sugar. There is a great deal of controversy on this topic. For example, this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) suggests that the enormous amount of sugar in the average American’s diet is the root cause of many diseases, including cancer. I don’t know whether t

banana coconut chocolate chip cookies

hat’s true. But I do know that even if I binge on these cookies, which I often do, I don’t get headaches or start snapping at people or find myself helplessly in thrall of butterfingersnickersbabyruthmoundsm&msskittlesredhotsjawbreakerslifesaverstictacs and whatever other kind of candy I can lay my hands on, which is what happens when I eat refined sugar. So I like these cookies.
Here’s the recipe, which I’ve changed only by switching from canola to olive oil.

2 overripe bananas, mashed
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. rolled oats (I use the old-fashioned)
2/3 c. brown rice flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. shredded unsweetened dried coconut
pinch of sea salt
1/4 c. semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips (since I’m not vegan, I normally use Ghirardelli, but I made these once with vegan chocolate chips and they were almost as good)

Preheat the oven to 350.

1. Mash the bananas in a medium bowl. Whisk the oil, syrup, and vanilla extract together until it becomes thick, and then mix it into the bananas. Add all of the dry ingredients to a separate bowl. Whisk until combined, then add the banana mixture. Stir until you no longer see any flour. Fold in the chocolate chips.

2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Drop the batter onto the sheet by tablespoons, leaving the mounds as is. Bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

These taste best if eaten on the same day that they’re baked. But they also freeze really well. I’ve been known to eat them straight from the freezer. However, if you have more patience than I, try reheating in a toaster oven. They’re dreamy.

I can’t count how many times I’ve made these cookies since January 28, 2013.  Obviously none of those times was remarkable. But today I tried something worth noting. I used coconut oil instead of olive oil, and I added 1 Tablespoon of Maca powder. Superfoodorama!! I just learned about Maca yesterday, when my acupuncturist recommended that I add it into my diet. Apparently my reserves are depleted and I need to build them up. Who knew? Not me. I don’t know whether this will really help, but it’s worth a try. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s an article that spells out the hype. http://www.naturalnews.com/027797_maca_root_hormone_balance.html