Carrot-Walnut Muffins

It’s freezing in my apartment!

I’m too stubborn to turn the heat on so early in October, so I baked.  I threw these together while loosely following a recipe from a book and wondering why I have so few ingredients that are appropriate for muffins.   Please note the lack of oil.  I forgot to put it in.  They’re still spectacular.  Absolutely the best improvisational baking I’ve ever done.  Go make them NOW!

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn't survive the cooling process.

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn’t survive the cooling process.

Ingredients

1 c whole wheat flour

1 c all purpose flour

1/2 c sugar (I used white, but brown would probably be great, or honey, or maple syrup, but then you’d have to adjust the liquid)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3/4 c apple juice

1 egg or flax egg

1 T orange zest (Ok, I didn’t measure this.  It was two oranges worth.)

1/2 c  chopped walnuts

1 c grated carrot (hooray for the food processor!)

1.  Preheat oven to 400F and prepare a muffin tin for a dozen (grease them or use paper liners, up to you!)

2.  Sift together dry ingredients.

3.  Beat egg/flax egg with the apple juice and orange zest.  I did this right in the two-cup liquid measuring cup I used for the apple juice.

4.  Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined, then fold in the carrots and walnuts.

5.  Pour the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes clean.  Mine took 23 minutes.

Let them cool for a few minutes before turning them out on to a wire rack to cool.  Eat some while they are still warm!

Little life update, since it’s been ages since I posted regularly (I am trying to get back in the habit now that my life is calmer!):  In mid-August, I moved out of the big, dirty, junky house I’d been sharing with three women and a cat in Lawrenceville.  My manfriend and I are now living together in a lovely little two-bedroom apartment in Highland Park.  It’s quiet and has loads of trees, and the back windows overlook a very pretty little garden belonging to some unidentified neighbor on the next street, while the front windows look out on a gorgeous old house populated with small blond children and their NYC ex-pat parents.  Our kitchen is AWESOME.  Massive pantry, full-size gas stove, a peninsula counter, and a dishwasher!  Paradise.

 

Penny Parsnip in Pittsburgh

Hello Readers! I’ve been on hiatus for a while now, moving to and getting settled in to my new home: Pittsburgh, PA. This hasn’t left much time for fun creative cooking. I’ve been eating old favorites like black bean stew and endless combos of beans, rice, and fresh veggies. All the while, I’ve been wearing the soles of my shoes thin by walking all over this beautiful city. Pittsburgh is a pleasant mix of yesterday and today. Old factories and warehouses and falling down houses dot the landscape, while folded in are new buildings, brightly painted townhouses, hip small businesses and cheery murals.

Gorgeous store in The Strip District

Gorgeous store in The Strip District

Nearly two months later, I’m finally feeling at home:  I’ve got a room in a big old house with some other women and a fluffy cat, complete with a giant kitchen.  My dear friend Dorothy the food processor is out of storage, and as the days cool into crisp autumn weather, I’ll be back to whirring vegetables into little bits and boiling big pots of beans.  I have a job I like, doing fundraising for non-profits, and my neighborhood is very much like Brooklyn.

I spent last weekend with my family in the country, baking pies for our church festival.  Not too many, just four dozen ;).   And since I still had some energy left after baking the pies, I whipped up a birthday cake for my older brother and sister using my grandmother’s recipe.  It has eggs in it, so I won’t share it here, but I used soymilk in place of cow and no one knew the difference.

Silver-white layer cake, topped with fruit because I am terrible at at making icing look good.

Silver-white layer cake, topped with fruit because I am terrible at at making icing look good.

But now that that sugar-rush weekend is done, it’s back to healthy eating again.  I’m making my daily green smoothies again, and cooking stir-fry for lunch.  I’ve got kombucha brewing in hopes of finding some new customers.  Right now I’ve got a big batch of chickpeas bubbling on the stove to make hummus for our house party on Friday (and some for my little brother who is bringing the tahini.)  Plus I’m revamping some chili into a pot of quinoa and spinach laced glop for tonight’s dinner at work.  I’ve also developed a mild obsession with peanut sauce dumped on all of my veggies, so I’ll share with you a loose approximation of how to make it.

Peanut Sauce

Ingredients:

big blob of peanut butter (I like all-natural stuff, but Jif and Skippy are fine too)

Soy sauce

Rice vinegar (or whatever you have, apple cider is fine too)

a bit of sugar (maple syrup, honey, agave, etc)

Something hot like red pepper flakes, cayenne, or Sriracha

finely minced ginger and/or garlic 

a little water to thin, if needed

1.  Whisk it all together until combined and season to taste.  Sorry for the lack of measuring here, I just eyeball it and keep adding and tasting until it’s good.

More great recipes to come!  I’ve been challenged to make a healthy hot-pocket, so stay tuned!

Vegan Hrudka Experiment #1

While some of you were contemplating the Paschal mysteries this week, I have been contemplating the Paschal cheese.  My mother’s family is Slovak and every Easter Sunday we breakfast on a sumptuous cold meal of bread (pascha), hardboiled eggs dyed red with onion skins, butter molded into a lamb, ham and kolbassy, horseradish mixed with pickled beets, and something called hrudka, a delectable eggy cheese-like substance.

If you follow this blog or know me well, you may have noticed that the only thing on the menu I can eat is the horseradish.  Not much of a breakfast, is it?  In past years, we’ve added Tofurkey kolbassy to the basket for my brother and me, and once we even came up with a seitan-based faux ham.  I’m away from home this year, so I decided to come up with some of my own alternatives.  I easily found this recipe for vegan challah from Alicia Silverstone’s book, The Kind Life.  Since our pascha bread is very similar (if not exactly the same) to Jewish challah bread, I figured that would do.  She replaces the egg with a sweet potato!  Clever girl.  I’m not an experienced bread baker, so if it’s not delicious it’s probably my fault and not Ms. Silverstone’s.

Replacing hardboiled eggs is nearly impossible (I’m open to ideas!), but I do love hrudka, the Easter cheese.  This is a strange Slovak tradition that likely stems from the fact that eggs and dairy were once prohibited during the Lenten fast.  Thus, there were an awful lot of eggs to use up by the time Easter rolled around.  In fact, according to my employer (who is Czech but fluent in Slovak as well), the word hrudka itself means nothing more than “lump.” Now, taking an egg-based dish and making it eggless is no mean feat.  To illustrate the challenge I am face with, here’s the original recipe from my great-grandmother

1 qt milk

1 dozen eggs

2 T sugar

2 t salt

dash nutmeg

Whisk together and then simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until large curds form. Place in cheese cloth and squeeze our excess whey.  Weight for several hours.  Refrigerate.

I initially thought it would be easiest to try my hand at making tofu, since the methodology is similar.  My attempt failed.  I only ended up with about half a cup of curds from a half gallon of soymilk!  Useless for cheese-making, but the resulting mush was good as faux sour cream on some tacos.  I have no one to ask what went wrong, so I scratched that idea off the list.  My dear old mom had the idea to crumble some tofu with sugar and nutmeg, then press it back together in a cheese cloth.

So that’s what I did.  I also read up on other Eastern European Easter cheeses, the ones that start with farmer’s cheese and add raisins and nuts, figuring that cottage cheese is as much like tofu as scrambled eggs are. Most of those recipes use a few eggs for binding and additional heavy cream. Taking their lead, I combined a few different kinds of tofu: silken, firm, and extra firm.  I crumbled them together by hand, adding turmeric for color (I tried saffron, but it wasn’t strong enough).  I also put in some coconut oil for richness as well as additional binding. Once I added the nutmeg, salt, and sugar, I tasted it.  And I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste just like Mommy’s hrudka!

I also separated part of the mixture and added raisins, currants, and nuts with grated orange peel to attempt the Ukrainian style cheese an old friend’s mother served me for Orthodox Easter many years ago.

So here’s what went into my non-traditional Slovak hrudka:

1 lb extra firm tofu

1 lb firm tofu

1 12 oz package silken tofu

2 T sugar

2 t salt

1 T coconut oil (room temp)

heavy sprinkling of nutmeg

enough turmeric to make it yellow

I drained and then smushed all the tofus together by hand in a big bowl with the salt.  I removed about half the mixture to another bowl for my other “cheese.”  Then I added the sugar, nutmeg and turmeric and mixed until it was the right color.  Finally I added the  oil and blended it in with spoon so as not to get all greasy.

Place the cheese in a strainer lined with cheese cloth over a bowl or in the sink.  Place a plate on top of it and weight it down with something heavy – a big can, a jar of water, a sack of sugar, etc.  Refrigerate the weighted cheese over night.  In the morning, remove the weight, untie the cheese cloth, and pour off the liquid from the bowl.  It should be firm enough to handle, so you can wrap it up in plastic until you’re ready to eat it.

Admittedly, this is much softer than the original egg-based hrudka.  It’s still delicious.  The Ukrainian-style “cheese” is more like the original, and is also very yummy.  Next Easter, I’m going to try using only extra-firm tofu for the hrudka.  Stay tuned!

Does your family have any Easter traditions?  Have you made any changes to make them healthier or more convenient?  I’d especially love to hear from any readers who also have roots in Eastern Europe!

The Green Pancake Challenge

Earlier this week, one of my friends invited me over for St. Patrick’s Day pancakes.  I immediately offered to make them because…well, she knows why.  Then she challenged me to make them green – WITHOUT artificial coloring!  Not being one to turn down a challenge, I got to work.

I immediately thought of savory pancakes, like zucchini or potato with spinach, but that seemed like cheating.  We wanted a pancake to eat with maple syrup, that just happened to be green.  Then it occurred to me that if I can make a green smoothie sweet and delicious in spite of its spinach content, why not a pancake with spinach and banana?

My first batch started with my regular pancake recipe as a base, which includes a banana and a flax egg, simply with the addition of half a cup of frozen thawed spinach, squeezed as dry as I could make it and blenderized with the milk.  They were tasty, but tasted very strongly of banana and were much too moist and dense, as well as so thick that they couldn’t be cooked through.  (I’ll save that batch for when everyone’s really wasted.)  I did think that with a few minor modifications  they’d make great muffins.  Since my heat was out this morning yet again, I made the changes and baked some fabulous bright green muffins.

Mixing up my green batter.

Mixing up my green batter.

While the muffins were in the oven warming my apartment, I got back to work on the pancakes.  I added more milk and halved the banana, while also upping the sugar content to make up for the lost sweetness of half a banana.  I’m not totally convinced they really needed more sugar, but I included it here, since I haven’t tried making them with less.  After cooking the first two, I could tell they still weren’t perfect, so in a burst of inspiration, I threw in a handful of oatmeal.  Pancake perfection!  Moist but not soggy, not too dense or too airy, and bright green inside.  The Green Pancake Challenge is won.  Plus, you get two recipes in a single entry!  Happy St Pat’s, and happy eating.

Ingredients for Green Pancakes:

1 c white flour

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c rolled oats

2 T sugar

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

a dash each of cardamom, nutmeg, and allspice

2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 very ripe banana

1/2 c frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as you can

2 T maple syrup

2 T canola oil

1 tsp vanilla

1.  Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

2.  Blend wet ingredients until smooth in a blender.

3.  Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined.  There can be some small lumps; it’s important not to overmix!

4.  Fry them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat like any other pancake, and serve with maple syrup.

Shamrock cake!

Shamrock cake!

Ingredients for Green Muffins:

3/4 c white flour

3/4 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c rolled oats

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 c sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each ginger and cardamom

2 T ground flax

1/2 c frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as possible

1 1/2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1 very ripe banana

1 tsp vanilla

Optional but highly recommended: 1/2 c mini semisweet chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 375F and lightly oil a muffin tin for 12 muffins.

2.  Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

3.  Blend wet ingredients until smooth in a blender.

4.  Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.

5.  Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and bake for about 25 mins, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

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Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Bar Experiment

I know it’s the wrong time of year, since it’s almost Spring, but I had a giant can in the cabinet leftover from pumpkin muffin making season.  And anyway, I can think of at least one person (you know who you are) who would argue that it’s always the right time of year for pumpkin.  So last week I felt like baking a pie, and pumpkin seemed the logical choice based on the contents of my pantry.  Then I had leftover pumpkin puree, and I needed a filling breakfast to eat on the train while on my way to a babysitting job at the ungodly hour of 7am.  Thus I created the shockingly delicious and filling Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl, involving raw rolled oats, pumpkin, soy yogurt, raisins, cinnamon and nuts all placed in a plastic container the night before and stirred together into a cold orange slurry while riding the G train.

Someone recently suggested more snacky things on the blog (sorry Ray, I failed to come up with a chip alternative), so I took my remaining cup of pumpkin puree and got to work on a breakfast cookie.  It’s not quite perfect, but I like it and I am excited that there’s a lot of room for fun variations.  You may prefer something a little sweeter.  If so, I suggest adding a few tablespoons of maple syrup or honey in step 3.  A more natural route to sweetness might be to grind a few dates with the nuts, but you’ll have to try it and let me know how that turns out.  Also keep in mind that the browner the banana, the sweeter it will be.

Ingredients:

1/2 c nuts of your choice (I used walnuts)

2 c rolled oats

1/4 c ground flax seed

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each: nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger

1 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix! the only ingredient should be pumpkin)

1 large ripe banana

1/2 c plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 c raisins

1 c rolled oats

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9″x13″ pan, including up the sides.  You could try a smaller pan for thicker bars, but I can’t guarantee the results.

2. In a food processor fitted with the S blade, pulse the nuts until they are slightly chopped.  Add 2 cups oats, flax, soda, and spices and pulse until just combined, but not so much that the oats and nuts get powdery.

3.  Add the pumpkin, banana, and milk.  Pulse until well-combined.

4.  Add the raisins and remaining cup of oats.  Pulse a few times, then finish mixing by hand.  The batter will be quite thick by now.

5.  Spread the batter evenly in the pan.  Bake for 25 minutes, until lightly browned and pulling away from the edge of the pan.  Turn it half way through the cooking time for even baking.

6.  Let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then cut into squares and carefully remove them from the pan to cool on a wire rack.

So what kind of variations could we make?  I’m thinking of a peanut butter and banana bar next, with either blueberries or chocolate chips.  Who else has ideas?

Party Planning

I’m cooking for a crowd this week!  What with my recent belly-aching, I was a little nervous about this party… until I realized that most of the food is healthy and shouldn’t bother my stomach!  Here’s the menu:

Spring Rolls (not deep fried, filled with raw veg, served with peanut sauce)

Black Bean Sliders and Guacamole (to make the sliders, form them into small patties or balls and bake them on a parchment lined pan at 425 for about 20mins, until golden.  No need to flip them.)

Crackers topped with pesto spread and cucumbers

Hummus and veggies

Chocolate Chip Blondies

See?  Even the cookies are healthy!  All I have to do is steer clear of the potato chips and try not to drink too much, and my stomach will be fine.  Now, I’ve got to make all this food by Friday night, and still go to work in the mean time.  I learned from the best (thanks Mom!) to make lots of lists and plan around my work schedule when to make what.  Here’s my mission:

You must be wanting some recipes by now.  Since you know all about hummus and black bean burgers, how about that pesto?  More of thick spread than a sauce, it’s oil-free and has no cheese.  I substituted cashews for pine nuts because who can afford those things?  Plus, I stretched my basil by replacing some of it with kale or arugula.

Pesto Spread

Adapted from Chef AJ’s MVP Stuffed Mushrooms, found in the Forks Over Knives Cookbook

2 c pine nuts or cashews

1 c basil

1 c something else green, like arugula, spinach, or kale, or more basil

4 or more cloves garlic

2 Tbls light miso (I like shiro miso)

Juice of two lemons

1.  Puree all ingredients in a food processor fitted with the S blade, until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Try not to eat it all at once.

Surviving Sandy

I just got home to my apartment after spending the last two days holed up in a high rise with some dear friends.  My place isn’t in a flood zone, but we don’t have a television, so we sought greener pastures.  Our apartment was fortunately unscathed, but there’s no subway service (ie nowhere to go).  What’s a gal to do when she’s tired of TV?  Bake cookies, courtesy of Oh She Glows!

Here’s her recipe: http://ohsheglows.com/2011/09/08/vegan-chocolate-chip-cookies/

I used regular whole-wheat flour in place of the pastry flour, and margarine instead of Earth Balance.

Be sure to space your vegan chocolate chip cookies further apart than I did, or you get conjoined cookies.

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