Friday, July 29, 2011

Gluten Free Banana Muffins

I've been looking into gluten-free recipes for the past few days since my mom has a client who cannot eat gluten or dairy, and I jump on every chance I get to create recipes for any special diets. It probably sounds strange, but whenever someone tells me that they know someone who is vegan, can't eat diary, gluten, nuts, soy, you get the point...I get really excited. I love it because I have a new cooking challenge! I've done some thinking about this, and I've decided that probably one of the main reasons why I love cooking, especially healthy cooking, is because it allows me to help people enjoy food when they could otherwise feel so restricted. I love to show people that cooking and eating for allergies, or even just healthy lifestyles, is more exciting than it is dreadful.

So after a few test rounds with gluten-free baking (it's a little finicky), I stumbled upon this amazing creation using ingredients that I already had on hand (which is probably not saying much since I keep some pretty funky stuff on hand). I tried a different gluten-free muffin recipe the other day and it was horrible, although that's probably just because is substituted almond meal for almond flour. It sounds innocent enough, but trust me, the end result is heavy, hard, and dry. This one is exactly the opposite. These muffins are super light and fluffy and moist, have a great banana flavor with a subtle hint of nuttiness from creamy almond butter. I have to say, the only downside was that my muffins stuck to the paper liners, but that can be easily fixed with some cooking spray. Really, you would never know that these muffins were gluten free if I just handed you one without saying a word.

Gluten-Free Banana Almond Muffins
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg + 1 egg white
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons creamy almond butter
1/2 cup unsweetened ("natural") applesauce
1/2 cup mashed bananas (1 really big one, probably 2 smaller ones)
1/4-1/3 cup chopped almonds, for topping

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F, line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. I would suggest spraying the liners with cooking spray (I didn't do this and my muffins stuck to the liners when ate them...).
2. In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flours, salt, baking powder, cinnamon).
3. In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients (egg through bananas).
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, then sprinkle with chopped almonds. 
6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until they bounce back when touched lightly and a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean. 

-You could probably substitute regular flour for the gluten-free flours, but I have not tested this, so don't go blaming me if it doesn't work!
-Try substituting pumpkin puree for either the applesauce or the mashed banana. The muffins may turn out a little less sweet, but still good I imagine.
-You can substitute creamy, natural peanut butter for the almond butter and top with chopped peanuts for banana-peanut butter muffins. I wouldn't use "unnatural" peanut butter, since it usually has lots of additives like sugar, hydrogenated oils, and preservatives that make it not a great choice for baking.
-Also, you won't taste a hint of chickpea flavor in this don't worry about that chickpea flour, it just adds to the lightness and fluffiness of the muffins.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Update

I have a non-recipe post today, telling you more about all the exciting things I've been doing this summer! (since I'm sure everyone is deeply interested...)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I've been interning at the Governor's Office for Children (GOC) in Baltimore, MD. It's been a great experience learning about the legislation and "behind the scenes" work on Maryland's Partnership to End Childhood Hunger. As you may know, I am a strong supporter of Share Our Strength, the non-profit organization that co-chairs the partnership with the GOC, so I am very excited to see what goes on in the government side of things to meet our goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

So far at the GOC, I've  attended a few meetings regarding Maryland's progress with the partnership--updates on how many people are using the WIC program, SNAP (food stamps), free and reduced-price school meals, and summer meals programs. I have also been working diligently on a publication known as the Results and Indicators, which is pretty much what it sounds like. It's a book that compiles results from research comparing Maryland to surrounding states and the entire U.S. in numerous topics filed under three themes: Health, Education, and Family and Community Environment. Basically, it's like a report card for how Maryland is coming along with subjects regarding the well-being of children. I got to do a lot of research on the specific indicators labeled "Educational Attainment," "Food Insecurity," and "Poverty." (From what I've found, Maryland has a higher percentage of people completing higher education and a lower percent of food-insecure and poor children than the national measures, which is great!) I also wrote several summaries of the themes I listed above and the results that fall under them. I'm feeling pretty productive!

In addition to looking in to the government side of childhood hunger, I've been working on the front line with a program called Cooking Matters on Wednesdays. Cooking Matters is a series of cooking classes funded by Share Our Strength, but run by food banks on the local level. I'm participating in a class series for teens run by Capital Area Food Bank at Mary's Center in Washington, DC. Every Cooking Matters class is run with a nutrition expert who gives lessons on how to eat a healthy, balanced diet, a chef instructor, who teaches participants to make cheap, easy, and healthy meals, and a few class assistants to help out when needed (that's me!).

The class meets each week and most of the classes consist of a nutrition lesson, recipe reading, cooking, eating, and reviewing. At the end of each lesson, each participant receives a bag with ingredients and recipes so they can make some of the dished they made in class that day. However, yesterday's class was different. We set out to a nearby grocery store with a scavenger hunt--comparing the fat content of whole, 2%, 1%, and skim milk, learning about unit prices and how they can help you to find the best deals, comparing the cost of frozen produce and fresh produce, and learning lots and lots of tips to find the cheapest, easiest, and healthiest foods in the grocery store.

Instead of receiving a bag of food and recipes at the end, the participants were challenged with coming up with an idea for a meal and buying all the ingredients they needed for $10 (they received $10 gift cards).
One of the teens I was helping out managed to purchase a box of whole wheat pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, a bag of low-fat mozzarella, a bag of salad, and frozen fruit and yogurt for dessert. All that was under $10! Another bought a tub of yogurt, a box of granola, a box of strawberries, and 2 mangoes (which she learned how to cut in a previous lesson) to make parfaits, a recipe we made a few weeks before. This may have been my favorite lesson yet, because I feel like the participants really understand the concept of putting together an inexpensive and healthy meal when they are placed in a realistic situation, like shopping at their local grocery store.

On top of all that, I've been cooking as much as I can and keeping up with training for Cross Country next year, which is coming up way too fast! It's been a busy summer, but definitely an enjoyable one as well (with the exception of this 100+ degree weather).

Are you having a fun and busy summer? I'd love to know what everyone else is up to (besides my parents who I already know are spending their summer driving me to and from Baltimore and D.C...).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oatmeal Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Oatmeal cookie dough ice cream is...a healthy snack? Really?

Yes, really. And it's so delicious, too!

Oatmeal Cookie Dough Ice Cream
Ingredients (for 1 serving):
1 frozen banana
1 tablespoon oats
1 tablespoon oat flour
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon almond butter

1. Combine oats, oat flour, flaxseed meal, agave, and almond butter in a food processor or mini chopper. Process until the mixture holds together when pressed--it won't look like traditional cookie dough
2. Either clean out the food processor or mini chopper that you just used or use another one to process the banana (this will become the 'ice cream').
3. Break the frozen banana into a few chunks and then process until smooth and creamy. It will look exactly like soft-serve ice cream. This takes maybe 2 minutes in a processor, and you may have to scrape down the edges once or twice.
4. Stir half of the cookie dough into the ice cream and then top with the other half.

Tips and ideas
-use peanut butter instead of almond butter for peanut butter cookie dough
-add cinnamon and/or ginger to the cookie dough for spice cookie dough
-mix 1/4 to 1/3 cup of other frozen fruit with the banana to make a fruit ice cream/sorbet treat
-make sure you process the banana long enough for it to be creamy, but don't process for too long or it will melt. If the finished product is softer than you want, just stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up. (although I find it too difficult to wait any longer than I need to)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Savory Sweet Potato Pie

After that success of a veggie pizza crust, I decided to tackle a veggie pie crust as well. And what better pie to test it out on than a savory sweet potato pie? This pie was delicious, smooth, and addictive. I used zucchini and carrots in the crust, but probably any shreddable veggie would do!

Savory Sweet Potato Pie:
1/2 lb zucchini, shredded
1/2 lb carrots, shredded
1/3 cup flour (any kind, I used whole wheat)*
pinch salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

3 large sweet potatoes (almost 3 pounds)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used greek, but regular will work too)
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
pinch salt and pepper
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour*

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a pie dish with cooking spray.
2. Combine all the crust ingredients in a medium bowl and press into the prepared pie dish. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown and set. Allow to cool for a few minutes when done.
3. While the crust is baking and cooling, prepare the filling: Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into about 1/2 inch chunks.
4. Place the sweet potatoes in a large pot, cover completely with water, and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are very tender.
5. Drain the potatoes and plac ethem in a food processor with the chickpeas, herbs, salt, pepper, and yogurt. Puree until smooth, then add the eggs and flour and process until combined.
6. Spread the filling into the cooked crust and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the filling is set.
7. Garnish with greek yogurt

*to make this recipe gluten free, I would suggest using chickpea flour or brown rice flour

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Zucchini Pizza Crust

I was reading the Moosewood Cookbook a few days ago (awesome vegetarian inspiration!) and came across a recipe for zucchini pizza crust, where the crust of your pizza is basically just a big zucchini pancake. Considering the fact that I stopped by a farm stand on the side of the road the other day and bought four    2-lb zucchinis, this sounded awesome! As usual, I read the recipe and then closed the book and made my own version with just the end result in mind. I love cooking this way because I get inspiration for what to cook but I still feel creative by making my own recipe, and I feel like I know how to cook well enough to end up with a delicious result!

Zucchini Pizza Crust
2 lbs zucchini, grated
1/4 cup oat flour (to make this recipe gluten free, I would use chickpea flour or brown rice flour)
2 egg whites
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Directions (step-by-step!):
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or a silicon mat, spray with cooking spray, and then sprinkle with cornmeal.

2. Place the grated zucchini on a paper towel and squeeze to remove most of the moisture.

3. Put the zucchini and the rest of the ingredients (except the cornmeal) into a bowl and mix until combined.

4. Spread the zucchini mixture in a circle about 10 inches wide on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the top of the crust with more cornmeal.

5. Bake the crust for about 30 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.

You can top this crust with any of your favorite pizza toppings, the one pictured here was topped with 2 cloves of garlic and one red bell pepper sauteed in some olive oil, Trader Joe's pizza sauce, and 3 oz chopped fresh mozzarella, then baked for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees F. After it was done baking, I sprinkled it with some chopped fresh basil.