Sunday, May 30, 2010

Powerhouse Muffins

Okay, so after my last post, you may find yourself looking for something a little less fattening. I don’t blame you. Just looking at the ingredient list for a great homemade ice cream, you can almost feel the pounds packing on. Well, I do like a good quality full-fat treat from time to time (sometimes maybe a little more than others), but I’m also interested in keeping things healthy as well. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, life is busy, which makes it much more difficult to work in those healthy choices. There is often little or no time to spend preparing healthy, and let’s not forget tasty, dishes at home. The fast-food, drive-through generation really got its start when I was a kid; and I’m a bona fide product of that generation. Add to that a 3 year old daughter at home, a busy work schedule, gatherings with friends and family and the fact that I have been going to the gym 4 days a week for the last year (go me!), I find myself stuggling to find the time to whip up the foods that would be best for our family.

Thus began the search for some healthier grab and go options. I like to peruse the isles at the grocery store for quick-fix meal choices to fit an on-the-go lifestyle. The last 5 years or so have seen some really nice options become available. From healthier breakfast bars, natural and even organic pre-packaged snacks and pre-prepared meals in the freezer that are a far cry from questionable fried chicken and watery instant potatoes. No, the market has responded well to the demands of the consumer. We want some better choices. Yes, the ‘processed’ foods that crowd the shelves at the supermarket probably won’t go away any time soon, for they do fulfill the wants of the average Americans who want it fast, tasty and cheap. And quite honestly, cheap does not fit the description of the healthier choices that are available. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t sell as much, or perhaps that they use fewer (if any) artificial additives to help preserve and stabilize them, but you can definitely expect to pay a premium for those ‘better’ choices.

It seems like almost every entry I add to this blog includes a line where I state that I am not a fan of some particular food. Well, this entry will be no exception, though it’s not a particular food, so much as the re-use of certain foods. I am not a big fan of leftovers. No, I pretty much get my jollies out of a dish the first time around. I simply can’t count myself among those who say that certain foods get better after they’ve sat out some time in the refrigerator. If that was true, then why aren’t restaurants capitalizing on this concept? I can just see the name now: “‘Seconds’ Because fresh is just okay” Or maybe: “‘Leftovers’ Nobody wanted it yesterday, maybe it will be better now”.

Okay, okay. I realize that eating something that’s been stored for future use doesn’t have to be a complete bummer. I’m really trying to get into the habit of making meals that can feed a family for at least 2 meals, which really cuts down on the amount of time to prepare, as well as the amount of waste. So, I decided to go on the hunt for a breakfast item that I could make ahead, would be quick and easy on the day I need it, and would be tasty to boot. I really like muffins, so I figured that would be the direction to take. I did know that muffins typically freeze well, so this should be no problem. I was wrong.

‘Healthy’ muffins. You know, there are really quite a few recipes out there in cyberspace for ‘healthy’ muffins. You can find them just about anywhere you look. A comparison of the varied types available will show some similarities: No white flour, they almost always include one ingredient with the word ‘bran’ in the name, they can include a wide variety of so-called ‘healthy’ add-ins like protein powder or flax seeds. Yes, there is no end to the combinations of healthy ingredients that people can throw together. And you know what, some of them really taste horrible. I can’t quite figure it out. The authors of the recipes make them sound amazing, even going as far to say they are just like eating a ‘real’ muffin. Yeah, right. I’ve tested numerous recipes over the years only to find out the hard way that regardless of the ingredients, they all pretty much taste like wet cardboard. The people who say they taste awesome, and even like a regular muffin? They probably started their lives as cattle, chewing on the grass out in the field, because these things just stink.

So, I present to you one recipe that I think does not stink. I won’t promise it tastes like a nice Blueberry Muffin from Starbucks with the tasty crumb topping and the too-high-to-mention calorie count. I will promise you that it does contain many of those good-for-you ingredients (including flax seed) and, in my opinion, do taste just a bit better than wet cardboard. The fact that I’ve made these more than once, the fact that I continue to eat them, and the fact that my wife and daughter both like them is testament to their goodness.

I’ve modified this recipe from a number of different recipes to come up with a muffin that really reflects our personal tastes. The only thing (that I know of) that is truly unique is the name I gave the recipe. This recipe can be altered to fit your personal desires or even for food allergies. Want to add nuts? Go ahead. Want to add a different fruit, more fruit, less fruit? Be my guest. The point is, if you can find something you like, perhaps by making changes to this recipe, and create something to put on your plate that will encourage you to replace a few more of those ‘fast food’ meals, you will have made a positive step in the right direction.

By the way, I would also like to take a moment to offer a word of advice - if you have a chance to have some little helping hands assist you with your baking, you will find it quite rewarding.

Powerhouse Muffins
Makes approximately 24 muffins

1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Oat Bran
1 cup ground Flaxseed (see note below)
1 ¼ cups Brown Sugar (light or dark)
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Salt
2 tbsp Cinnamon
1 ¼ cups Pureed Carrots or 1 ½ cups Shredded Carrots (see note below)
2 – 3 medium Apples, finely shopped or shredded
3/4 cup 1% or Nonfat milk (see note below)
2 large Eggs, beaten
2 tsp Vanilla extract
Other fresh or dried Fruit or Nuts at your discretion

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare 2 muffin pans with paper or foil muffin liners.

Mix flour, oat bran, ground flaxseed and other dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add carrots and apples (if adding nuts or dried fruits, do so at this time). Mix the dry ingredients well.

Stir together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until well moistened. If adding fruit such as fresh or frozen blueberries, stir them in now.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top, about 3/4 to 7/8 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean.


Ground flaxseed meal goes bad very quickly. If at all possible, purchase whole flaxseed in the bulk food section of the local supermarket and grind it yourself. To grind, use a blender or an electric coffee grinder (clean). Process to a fine meal, but stop short of making flaxseed butter.

I prefer using carrot puree as I don’t care for the texture of the shredded carrots – you decide. If you choose carrot puree, approximately 3 containers of carrot puree baby food will work very well. Because of the added moisture, cut the milk to ½ cup.

These muffins freeze very well. Just let them cool, then place them in either a gallon size ziplock bag or individual ziplock bags. I just take them out of the freezer the night before. They are good cold, even better warmed in the microwave. I like using foil cupcake liners as they tend to release the muffin easier – and this is a sticky batter.

The number of muffins you get from this recipe will vary depending on the amount of additional fruit or nuts you add to the batter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Snickerdoodle...Ice Cream


Well, not exactly Snickerdoodle Ice Cream, but pretty darn close. We just got back from a vacation (working vacation for me) in Central Oregon. I had hoped to have some time to work in some long-delayed baking projects. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as much time as I had hoped. I did, however, manage to work in this tasty little treat, one I had wanted to try for awhile now.

I first tried my hand at homemade ice cream a few years ago after receiving a new ice cream maker for Christmas. Now, let me just say that I am not a huge fan of ice cream. It’s not something I typically crave, but I do enjoy now and then. I should also admit that I am one of those oddballs that doesn’t like to have a scoop of ice cream served with cake or pie. The only time I’m interested in cake and ice cream together is the Cake Batter Ice Cream they serve at Cold Stone, but I digress…

After making my first few batches of ice cream in my new maker awhile ago, I found that it would be almost impossible to match the creamy goodness that is homemade ice cream with anything I could purchase at a supermarket or even many ice cream shops. No, the stuff from home is so much better. Unfortunately, it is also just a bit time consuming. If you have the time, however, it is well worth the investment to try it yourself.

For this batch, I had actually intended to make a different recipe, but I was lacking some of the necessary equipment. You’ll just have to wait for a later post to learn about that one (tease tease). For now, I decided to try a recipe I found on for Cinnamon Ice Cream. The recipe was highly rated on the site and was just different enough from the ‘usual’ ice cream recipes that it was worth a shot.

I have to tell you, it is good. It probably won’t cause me to start craving ice cream, but it is quite delicious. Oh, and if you are counting calories, you can stop here, this is not a low-fat, low-cal ice cream. It is however, creamy, sweet and cinnamony. And a fair warning, a little bit goes a long way. For me, the almost cloyingly sweet goodness was well balanced with a nice cup of strong black coffee.

So there you have it. If it’s time you dug out your rusty old ice cream maker in preparation for summer, give this recipe a try. Don’t like cinnamon? The base custard recipe would work well for any number of flavor additions.  My wife suggested an addition of some chunks of sugar cookie dough, which  would probably make this just about perfect.  Too bad I didn't have any to add at the time.  Oh well, maybe next time around.  For you, go nuts (or maybe add some, if you like).

Cinnamon Ice Cream (courtesy of

1 Cup White Sugar
1 ½ Cups Half and Half
2 Eggs, beaten
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon

In a saucepan, over medium-low heat, stir together the sugar and half and half. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat and whisk half of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk quickly so that the eggs do not scramble. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, and stir in the heavy cream. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, and whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside to cool.

Pour the cooled mixture into and ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Erik’s added tips and notes:

I would strongly suggest running the custard mix through a fine-mesh strainer before processing to remove any large bits of cooked egg that may have occurred during the tempering process. Refrigerate the custard for several hours before adding it to your ice cream maker. If you do want to add nuts, cookie dough bits, etc., do so at the end of the churning process. Be sure to freeze the finished ice cream for several hours before eating to allow it to set up properly, as well as to allow the flavors to fully develop.

Want a closer look at the photos below?  Just click on them for a larger view.