Archive for December, 2010

Birthday Cupcakes

I was asked to make cupcakes for the birthday party of a sweet little girl who was turning two years old.  She cannot eat gluten or dairy and her mom is holding off on introducing her to the world of refined sugar.  Just in case, we left nuts out too.  She’s fine with eggs, so these cupcakes do contain eggs, though I did a little testing with a vegan version and can offer some notes on that below.  The biggest challenge was decorating.  I’m a pretty simple girl and I don’t use a lot of the ingredients most pastry chefs would use to make their beautiful, artful desserts, but, of course, we wanted these to be cute and special for the birthday girl and her guests.  The next challenge was that I wanted to maintain the integrity of the ingredients and also make a dessert that would please a variety of little palates, including those that might be accustomed to more mainstream desserts.

The first challenge was fun – I made a cherry version of these cupcakes with a vanilla frosting that was faintly tinted pink with pureed raspberries.  Though I think I could have piped the frosting on with a pastry bag, I decided to hold off on that until I had worked with it more and instead stick to the theme of the party, which was butterflies.  I had recently made some fruit leather from the last of my apples and some frozen berries, so I formed 3-D butterfly shapes by using a slice of raisin as the body and fruit leather hearts for each of the wings.  When I stuck the bottom points of the hearts into the frosting by the body, voila, I had butterfly wings.  Simple, sweet, on-theme, and a healthy and fun decoration that every child could eat!

The second challenge was also relatively simple.  Truthfully, I find that most children do really well with wholesome, less-sweet treats as long as they aren’t way too different from what they are used to eating.  I used a mix of flours that included just a little bit of tapioca and arrowroot starches to keep the taste more neutral and the texture more traditional.  You can certainly leave them out and I might on another occasion, but I felt perfectly fine using them for a special treat, especially since the recipe is based mostly on whole, sprouted grain flours.  You can, of course, use traditional flours if you don’t have access to sprouted ones.  I used agave as a sweetener, but you could also use maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, or your favorite sweetener.  I think these were plenty sweet – appropriate for a birthday treat – but you could cut the sweetener by as much as half if you choose (unless you use coconut sugar which is less sweet than the others, in which case, I would stick with the full amount).  I used coconut oil and I would recommend keeping that as is, because it provides a delicious rich taste and a nice mouth feel.  If you would prefer not to use eggs, you can use a flax slurry instead (1 Tablespoon ground flax mixed with 1/4 cup of flour = 1 egg).  I think I will work with the vegan version a little more, but if you veganize this one, expect a more delicate texture, so you’ll have to be a bit more careful frosting them.

I really had fun making these and it opened me up to the world of alternative pastry decoration.  If you like to play around in the kitchen and/or have a special birthday coming up, think of a theme and then use your creativity to find healthy ways to execute it – y0u will be pleased with your results for sure.  Just keep it simple and have fun with it.  And, no one minds eating the experiments and mistakes…

For about 18 regular-sized cupcakes, or 12 jumbo cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups of this flour blend: 1/3 cup each of sprouted amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa flours and 1/4 cup each tapioca and arrowroot starches; see notes on flours below*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup agave, honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup unrefined coconut oil, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup room temperature water, to use as needed
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • optional additions/flavor options: chopped frozen or fresh berries, orange zest and almond extract, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, jam filling

*Notes on flours: as I said above, I used sprouted grain flours.  Sprouted buckwheat flour is much lighter in color and more neutral in flavor than what you might find at the store, though I think it’s possible to find light buckwheat flour.  It’s always helpful to use a mix of gluten free flours because they all have different qualities and can complement each other nicely.  In this case, the amaranth flour tends to create moist baked goods, but has a strong flavor quite different from conventional flours.  Quinoa flour creates some lightness, but also can have a strong flavor when used on its own.  Buckwheat flour is a sturdy flour and, while not related to wheat at all, probably acts more like wheat than any of the other gluten free flours I use.  When ground from whole buckwheat, including the hull, the flavor can be strong and the color dark, which works great in some baked goods, but may not work in others.  Tapioca flour creates a slight chewiness, or bite.  Arrowroot creates a lightness and fluffiness.  It can helpful to keep these things in mind when substituting flours or creating your own flour mixes in this or other recipes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and oil/line 12-18 muffin tins.  Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.  In a separate, larger bowl, beat the agave, coconut oil, and eggs until very creamy, using a hand mixer or whisk.  Beat in the vanilla.  Continue to beat/whisk the wet ingredients and add the dry ingredients, about 1/3 at a time.  The batter should look silky and should be a pourable, but not watery, consistency; if you life up the whisk/beaters, the surface of the batter should flatten out on its own.  If it’s too thick, add a little water, as needed, to get to that consistency.  Fold in the applesauce until just incorporated and immediately pour the batter into your prepared muffin tins/papers.  Put in the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes, then without opening the door, turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake another 10 minutes, or until the muffins are set and evenly browned.  When they are done, remove the pans from the oven and let the muffins cool for about 5 minutes in the tin.  After they have cooled slightly, remove them from the muffin tin and cool them completely on a cooling rack.  Frost and decorate as desired.  Enjoy!


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Quick and Easy (yummy too!) Frosting

I used this frosting for birthday cupcakes, but it’s really versatile and I have also used it to frost cinnamon rolls and cookies.  It’s delicious just as it is, but you can add whatever flavors you like – cocoa powder, other citrus zests, more vanilla, pureed fruit for flavor and/or color, etc.  Since coconut oil solidifies at 70 degrees, it holds up at room temperature throughout most of year.  If you make it in the summer, you will probably want to use less water and it will be soft, but still wonderful.  You can also adjust the sweetener; you really don’t need much, as the base of the recipe is coconut butter and it’s pretty sweet on its own.  If the frosting gets too soft, just put it in the freezer for a few minutes; if it gets too hard to spread, simply put the bowl of frosting in a larger bowl of warm water.

  • 1/2 cup coconut butter (this is different than coconut oil, which is thinner; I use Artisana raw coconut butter
  • 2-4 Tablespoons sweetener (agave, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar – keeping in mind the color you want the frosting to be), or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • warm water, as needed for consistency

Whisk or beat ingredients with a hand mixer, adding small amount of warm water as necessary to get a fluffy frosting consistency, or a pourable glaze consistency.  Keep in mind that the temperature will affect the consistency of the frosting, so you can also warm it to thin it or cool it to thicken it up.  Enjoy!

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My mom used to make a whole bunch of different cookies for the holidays. She would spend a few days baking, then keep them in the freezer, ready to take out to offer to guests. Of course, my brother and I would make numerous trips to the freezer to eat them throughout the days of Winter Break and beyond.

It felt so festive to see plates of so many different types of cookies and I would like to carry on this tradition, but on a smaller scale. So, I created a basic recipe that can be tweaked any number of ways so that I can make a variety of cookies with just a batch or two of dough. More freezer space available, less sugar overload, but plenty of cookies from which to choose.

By changing the type of nuts/nut butter, the flavorings, and the shape of the cookies, you could come up with dozens of different kinds of cookies with this one recipe….I’ll give you a few ideas to get you started, then be creative and have fun and recreate your own childhood favorites!

I am working on a shortbread recipe that can be shaped/decorated. Send me an email if you are interested in a cookie like that and I’ll be happy to give you a sneak preview. These cookies are drop cookies, so think spice cookies, thumbprints, chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, etc.

Basic Cookie Recipe:

  • 1 3/4 cup flour*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup chopped nuts, seeds, or nut butter
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/3 cup other sweetener (could be coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, or whatever is your favorite/complementary to your cookie
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut oil, softened or melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • water or other liquid
  • Other flavorings/add-ins, (spices, dried fruits, chopped nuts, extracts, chocolate chips, etc) or granulated sweetener/chopped nuts to roll them in before baking; you can also replace 1/2 cup of the flour with rolled oats, popped amaranth, etc.

*The flour mix I use is 1/2 cup each of amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat flours, plus 1/4 cup millet flour. I use grind my own flours from sprouted and dehydrated grains, so my buckwheat flour isn’t as dark/strong as what you will find in the store. If you have a grain mill or a Vitamix or other high-powered blender, try grinding your own flours from hulled raw buckwheat groats and other fresh grains – you will notice a great improvement in taste! Otherwise, for a lighter cookie, I suggest you consider replacing it with a nut flour, more millet, quinoa, or amaranth flour, or a different flour of your choice.

Flavor Ideas:

  • Spice Cookies: use coconut sugar as your other sweetener, add 1 Tablespoon blackstrap molasses, use pecans and grind them with 1 Tablespoon candied ginger (which you can make yourself with coconut sugar or another sweetener), 1 teaspoon dried ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon cloves; if you have ginger syrup from making candied ginger, use that instead of water, roll the balls in coconut sugar or another granulated sugar before baking
  • Spiced Thumbprints: Make the spiced cookies as above, but instead of rolling them in sugar, made an indentation in the balls with your finger and fill it with fruit-sweetened preserves
  • Cranberry-Walnut Cookies: Use agave as your other sweetener, use chopped walnuts, and add 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest and fold in a handful each of dried cranberries and coarsely-chopped walnuts
  • Lemon Thumbprints: Make the same as cranberry-walnut cookies, but leave out the cranberries and coarsely-chopped walnuts, make indentations in the balls and fill them with fruit-sweetened preserves
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies: Use maple syrup as your other sweetener, almond butter as your nut, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon , and fold in chocolate chips
  • Cinnamon-Raisin Cookies: Make the same as chocolate chip cookies, but fold in raisins instead of chocolate chips, or of course you could do both
  • Chocolate Chip or Cinnamon Raisin Bars: Make the same as chocolate chip or cinnamon raisin cookies, but add enough liquid to get a spreadable dough, then spread it onto an oiled baking sheet. Cut into bars as soon as they have cooled enough to stay together when you cut them, 4-5 minutes max
  • I could come up with cookie flavors for the rest of the night, but that gives you a good started point! Try other extracts, other spices, any dried fruit or nuts, etc, etc. These are sturdy enough to handle quite a few add-ins.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and oil 2-3 cookie sheets. If you have a food processor, grind your nuts first, then pulse in the dry ingredients. Measure the wet ingredients in a measuring cup, give them a stir, and pulse them in, adding small amounts of water (or other liquid) as necessary to get a smooth, thick dough. You may not need additional liquid if your other sweetener is a liquid or if you are using a nut butter, so just use it as needed. If you are making them by hand, mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl and the wet ingredients in a separate, larger bowl. Either way, the dough should be wet enough to stick together easily, but firm enough to be able to be shaped into a ball. If it is too soft, you can firm it up by putting it in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes, but not too long or it will be too dry/firm to work with. Roll the dough into balls and space them out about 2 inches apart. Roll in sugar, indent, fill as you please, and bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until they are firm in the middle. Underbaking them slightly will keep them softer, while baking them until they are a little more brown will result in a crispier cookie. Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes, then remove them with a spatula and let them cool completely on a cooling rack. Enjoy!

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Crock Pot Black Beans

A couple of notes before I start.  If you don’t have a crock pot, read on, because you can certainly do this on the stove.  But, you might want to consider that small investment if you can stomach another kitchen gadget.  It might be worth it if it helps you avoid the weeknight take-out routine…Also, this is a basic recipe and you can fix it up however you like, including subbing a different kind of beans.  Don’t feel the need to go to crazy, though, because it doesn’t take much to make good food taste good and why make life complicated?

Every once in a while, a discussion about slow-cookers, aka crock pots, comes up.  It  seems that many people have them, but don’t know the many advantages of using them.  Well, I am here to tell y0u how easy your life will be if you dust off your old crock pot and get it working for you….You can cook just about anything in a crock pot and the biggest advantage is that you don’t have to be there watching over it.  You just throw your ingredients in, turn it on, and go on about your life while it does its work.  That means you can go to sleep and wake up to a hot, ready-made breakfast.  You can have lunch ready to scoop into a thermos.  You can go to work and come home to a steaming hot, yummy dinner.  Or, best yet, on the weekends,  you can throw your dinner in the crock pot and then sit around reading a book ALL day while enveloped in the delicious aroma of a home-cooked meal.  I know, in this busy world we live in, it seems outrageous to lie idle all day, but I challenge you to rebel and give it a try.

Seriously, all you have to do is put your ingredients in the crock pot and turn it on.  If you think you can’t cook, keep reading, because you are going to learn to love your crock pot.  The only thing I ever do to complicate things is saute my vegetables on the stove before putting them in, but you can even skip that part.  You can also skip the whole soaking/bean cooking part if you already have some leftover cooked beans.  This is a fabulous way to use them up.

Here’s a good starter recipe.  It’s nice because it’s simple and yummy and you can really use any kind of beans with good results (though you might need to add more cooking time for larger beans).  We’re going with black beans for now, because just about everyone likes black beans, but you can use whatever kind you like.  The added bonus is that you also get to learn that cooking beans from scratch is also a breeze.

  • 2 cups dry black beans
  • water for soaking
  • olive oil
  • 2 medium onions or leeks, chopped (or a combination)
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 strip kombu*, optional
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • Optional – bell peppers (seasonal), sliced carrots, cumin, chili seasoning, fresh lime juice, chopped greens, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cabbage…
  • 5 medium tomatoes, fresh and roughly chopped if in season, 1-1/2 cups jarred strained tomatoes if not
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

*Kombu is a sea vegetable often cooked with beans to make them more digestible.  It also adds nutrients, particularly iodine.

Soak the black beans in water to cover by about an inch overnight.  Alternatively, you can put them in a pot with water to cover by 2 inches, bring it to a boil, and just soak them for 1 hour.  Drain the beans in a colander and rinse them well, then put them in your crock pot along with a little olive oil and your onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and kombu if you are using it.  Add enough water to cover the black beans by an inch or two.  Turn it on, high if you have a choice, cover it, and walk away for the next 6-8 hours.  I don’t add salt or anything acidic until the beans are soft.  That’s controversial, but I have found that these impede the bean softening process; you can decide for yourself.  Once the beans are soft, add the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper and let it all cook for at least another hour or two.  Here is where you can make the timing work how you want.  You could cook the beans the  night before, then throw the tomatoes, salt, etc in in the morning and then cook it on low until you are ready to eat.  This is optimal, because the beauty of the crock pot is that it gives lots of time for your flavors to come together.  However, if you are pinched for time, you can cook the tomatoes on the stove for 10 minutes and stir them in and it will still be delicious.   If you are adding some of the optional vegetables – bell peppers, cabbage, and other relatively quick cooking veggies can be added with the tomatoes.  I would add carrots at the beginning.  Winter squash and sweet potatoes will need at least an hour and maybe two to get soft, but can also be cooked more quickly on the stove and added in.  Serve over rice or quinoa with a green salad on the side, maybe some cornbread too, and enjoy!

PS – if your schedule requires the beans to cook a little faster, you can bring it all to a boil on the stove, then transfer to the crock pot, or if you don’t want to dirty another pot, you can heat the water in a tea kettle or pot on the stove and pour it over the beans, etc in the crock pot.

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