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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blueberry Squash Muffins

I just love muffins. They’re so friendly. But before I say any more about muffins, I need to clarify which kind I like. There are the kind that are just cute-shaped cakes that don’t do much more for you than normal cake would, and then there are the kind that are more bread-like and wholesome. Not too dry, but not really oily either. With oats. This is the kind I love.

Justin loves them too. Last summer we were visiting my grandparents’ house in western New York. My aunt had brought muffins, and my grandma had made granola, and there was good toast, and a lot of breakfast options in general. So I asked Justin if he wanted a muffin or toast with his granola. He had just woken up and was still kind of stumbling around. He hadn’t said too many words yet. In a rather mid-westerner accent, he croaked out “MAHFIN.” I started laughing at him and promptly imitated the way he said muffin. Now it’s a running joke whenever there is a muffin in the room.

So for this batch of muffins, I had a lot of yellow squash on hand. Also, my co-worker had brought some blueberries into work that, surprisingly, no one was really eating. So I snagged those (don't worry, I'll bring in the muffins tomorrow for everyone) and decided to combine the two ingredients into a delicious, wholesome, and very friendly muffin.

I based these particular muffins on a zucchini bread recipe from foodnetwork.com, and I tweaked it quite a bit. I usually substitute plain yogurt or applesauce, or both, for oil found in baked goods recipes, but this time I used a combination of all three. I used yellow squash instead of zucchini, added blueberries and walnuts, and used a blend of whole wheat, oat, and white flour instead of just using white flour.

Blueberry Squash Muffins
Makes 12

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated yellow squash or zucchini
1 cup blueberries
1 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray and lightly flour muffin tin.

1) Stir dry ingredients, except oats, in large bowl. Stir in oats last. Make a well in the center. Set aside.

2) Whisk together wet ingredients in medium bowl. Add wet ingredients to center well and stir just until combined (don’t over stir – it will give you dense muffins).

3) Add squash, blueberries, and almonds and stir just a bit more until everything is combined.

4) Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until fork comes out clean.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Old Favorite

Sometimes what you plan to cook doesn’t end up happening. I used to get all upset over this, but after a few times of not having a key ingredient, or discovering the key ingredient has gone bad, I decided it’s better to either just try something new or fall back to an old favorite. Luckily, my laid-back husband has already adopted this policy. Last night I had to work late because of a meeting. The plan was for Justin to cook a whole chicken, and we would eat some of it with leftover pasta salad and coleslaw. The rest of the chicken we would use later in the week or freeze (whole chickens are great deals, as my sister had been telling me for years). Unfortunately, I far underestimated the time it would take for the chicken to defrost in the fridge. Justin had to defrost it in many changes of water. He realized that by the time it was defrosted and baked, it would be bedtime. So he whipped up one of our old favorites: rice and beans. He still made the chicken, and it was done by bedtime, but we just threw it in the fridge to pick apart later.

I discovered my love of black beans while spending time in Central America. Oh, they are so delicious and healthy. They’re packed with fiber and, when paired with rice or another grain, are a great source of protein. Studies have been showing that fiber helps fight fat. When the fiber is digested, it actually takes some fat out of the body with it. (I’ll dig around for the article and post it here when I get a chance). This is great news if you’re trying to lose weight, or even if you’re not trying to lose weight but want to enjoy a small dessert, like I do just about every day.

So back to the rice and beans. It’s basically the recipe from the back of the Goya can, but I’ll post it here so you can be inspired to make it yourself. (And actually, it’s a much better deal if you buy dried beans and prepare those according to the package directions. Less sodium too.)

I like to have rice and beans with cheese quesadillas on the side. Use whole wheat tortillas and a few slices of cheddar. Add some crushed red pepper if you’re adventurous. Fold it over and cook on a skillet over medium heat for a couple minutes on each side. You can also chop up a tomato to have on the side, slice an avocado, make salsa…this old favorite can be dressed up in many ways!

Rice and Beans
(Serves 4-6)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup minced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup minced green pepper
2 cans, or 32 oz., black beans
1 cup water
2 teaspoons oregano
2 packets Sazon Goya (a seasoning found in the Hispanic section of grocery stores)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

2 cups brown rice
4 cups water

1) Make brown rice (I use a rice cooker – if you don’t have one, combine rice and water in saucepan, bring to a boil uncovered, then cover and reduce heat to low. Rice will take about 45 minutes).
2) Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and pepper; cook for about 8-10 minutes until tender.
3) Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. The mixture will thicken a bit.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Perfect Snack

It's light. It's hearty. It's packable. Yogurt -- what a perfect snack! Yogurt is really good for your digestive tract. It's got lots of good bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria. It's filling enough to be a good hearty snack but light enough so that you don't feel stuffed. And you can dress it up with berries, nuts, granola, oh my! I have a few favorite combinations: cherries and walnuts, strawberries and almonds, or granola sprinkled on top. You can use any berry or nut you fancy. I use plain yogurt so I can control how much sugar goes into it, and then I add a little bit of brown sugar. I pack the ingredients into an emptied Bonne Maman preserves jar.

Here are the perfect ratios (layer from bottom up):

1/8 cup walnuts (or other nuts)
a few berries (I usually use cherries or strawberries)
1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt (I use Dannon all natural)
1 tablespoon brown sugar

You can use fresh or frozen berries. If using frozen, just make ahead of time and store in the fridge for a few hours until the berries thaw. When you're ready to eat, stir everything together. It's so yummy!