Thursday, October 30, 2014

Double-Chocolate Cupcake Muffins (aka Science Fair Muffins)

I call these "cupcake muffins" because the only thing that makes them not cupcakes is that they don't have any frosting. And calling them muffins makes them appropriate for breakfast. Yep. You're welcome.

At my house we also call these "Science Fair Muffins" because my daughter used them as part of her science fair project last year. She wanted to find out what combination of baking soda and cream of tartar would give the same results as baking powder (which is baking soda already combined with an acid). I already have a chocolate muffin recipe we like, but it uses baking soda and buttermilk (the acid), so it wouldn't work for her project. I fiddled around with the recipe until I had one that used baking powder and regular milk, and that's this one.

I won't go into all the details about her experiment because there are m-a-n-y, except to say that she and I (we took turns) ended up making nearly 20 batches of muffins--because the experiment had to be done three times (can you imagine my tears when I read that part of the instructions part-way through the experiment process?)--and that we didn't make chocolate muffins for a long time after that.

Here is one of the pictures she used on her display board. The differences are pretty interesting, huh?

She didn't place in the contest, which was disappointing, because we both thought it was an awesome experiment, complete with blind taste-testing performed by fortunate--or unfortunate, in the case of the muffins made with only baking soda-- friends and neighbors. Guess there just aren't enough food nerds in the Science Fair

These muffins are definitely best the day they are baked, and the best way I've found to store extras is in a zip bag in the freezer. To thaw them without killing them I put one in the microwave upside-down on a napkin and zap it for 30 seconds on 30% power. Then I turn it over and zap it again for 30 seconds on 30% power. I know it's a bit specific, but it works.

Also, don't skip the sifting part of the instructions. Sifting the flour and cocoa powder through a fine-mesh sieve gives you a much more tender, moist, and lovely muffin. And, as always, I suggest weighing the flour and cocoa powder to get consistent results.

Double-Chocolate Cupcake Muffins
printable recipe

10 oz all-purpose flour, sifted (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 oz cocoa powder, sifted (about 1/3 cup)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 cup miniature chocolate chips
1 1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat your oven to 400 deg and line 20 cavities of 2 24-cavity muffin pans with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix well. In another medium bowl whisk together the milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well with a silicone spatula.

3. Use a muffin scoop or 1/4-cup measuring cup to scoop the batter into the paper-lined muffin pans. Bake for 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost clean. Cool completely before eating so the paper comes off easily.

Makes 20 muffins.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spinach-Mushroom Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

I love sweet potatoes, but I was an adult by the time I realized they are delicious. All my growing up the only sweet potatoes I encountered were from a can and covered with brown sugar and marshmallows, and I hated them. Then about 8 years ago my world was rocked when I was at a friend's house as she was starting dinner for her family, and part of dinner that night was baked sweet potatoes.

Wait. What?

Come to find out, not only are sweet potatoes are an amazing whole food, they are fantastic when roasted or baked or mashed with just a bit of butter, salt and pepper. They are also pretty easy on my husband's blood sugar, so there ya go: sweet potatoes are on my list of nearly perfect foods.

This spinach-mushroom variety is just one way to stuff sweet potatoes; you can easily change it up with black or white beans, quinoa, chopped roast beef, or sauteed zucchini or kale. Sweet potatoes are so amazing I think they can pull just about anything off.

I feel I should note that this spinach-mushroom filling can be split between 2-4 sweet potatoes, depending on how generous you are while stuffing. My husband and I easily share the filling between the two of us, and accompanied by a simple green salad with an oil/vinegar vinaigrette, it makes a filling meal.

Spinach-Mushroom Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
printable recipe

2-4 medium-sized sweet potatoes (see note above)
1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
1/2  onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
2 big handfuls baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2-4 teaspoons butter
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
crumbled feta cheese

1. Heat your oven to 400deg. Scrub your sweet potatoes and prick the skin with a fork. Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack and bake for 30-35 minutes or until tender when tested with a fork.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 12-in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they have released most of their moisture and have begun to brown a bit (I actually turn up the heat a bit at this point because I like a lot of color development on my mushrooms), 8-10 minutes. Add the spinach, turn off the heat and stir, allowing the residual heat of the mushroom mixture to wilt the spinach.

3. Split open the baked sweet potatoes and use a fork to break up the inside. Add 1 teaspoon of butter and salt and pepper to your taste preference to each potato and mash it around. Stuff the potatoes with the mushroom-spinach mixture and top with the crumbled feta cheese.

Makes 2-4 stuffed potatoes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hummus Veggie Wraps

We love hummus, and after making it myself the store-bought stuff doesn't even come close to being delicious. One of our favorite ways to eat it is in Hummus Veggie Wraps. It's super simple: hummus, tortillas of your choice (I love Guerrero brand because they are thin as well as tasty), and assorted shredded or thinly sliced veggies of your choice. My typical wrap has spinach, carrots, zucchini, cucumber, radish, red onion.

Next time you have some hummus hanging around (I totally recommend my hummus recipe), try making veggie wraps for an easy, delicious, and very healthy lunch or dinner.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spinach, Feta & Sundried Tomato Quinoa Salad

I think I may have mentioned before how much I enjoy a bit of quinoa. ;)

Here is another lovely quinoa salad. This one has a red wine vinegar dressing instead of a balsamic vinegar dressing like the Tomato Basil Quinoa Salad I adore. I feel I should admit that I took these pictures the day after I made the salad, which is why the spinach is a bit soft. If you eat this shortly after making it the spinach will be still be crisp (or however you describe fresh spinach).

I love the combination of flavors here, especially the feta and sun-dried tomatoes with the red wine vinegar. Super yum! And, again, I love that the quinoa doesn't wreck havoc on my husband's blood sugar :)

Spinach, Feta & Sun-Dried Tomato Quinoa Salad

2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled to room temperature or cooler
2 handfuls baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 medium cucumber, scraped and diced
2/3 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
several grinds fresh black pepper

1. In a medium bowl combine the cooled quinoa, spinach, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes; mix well.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Immediately pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture and mix to coat everything well.

3. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes about 6 3/4-cup servings

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Basil Tomato Quinoa Salad

I've been making a lot of quinoa salads lately, partially because I've fallen in love with quinoa and partially because it doesn't make my husband's blood sugar spike like pasta and rice. This Basil Tomato Quinoa Salad from Marathon Mama was one of the first ones I tried. It is so, so delicious, and so, so easy to make, you should definitely try it. And I think if you're new to quinoa this is an especially good salad for you to get your feet wet with. Because of delicious and easy.

Basil Tomato Quinoa Salad (from Marathon Mama
(I made a few very minor changes)

2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
2 cups tomatoes, chopped (I seeded mine)
1/2 cup basil, chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I used 4 tablespoons)
dash of maple syrup (I left this out)
dash of coarse salt

Combine everything in a medium bowl until mixed well.

Makes about 6 1-cup servings.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix


I talked this Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix up a lot on my Facebook page back in February and post. So everyone is so happy today!

This mix came about after I read the ingredients on a canister of commercial hot chocolate mix my daughter received as a gift. Gah! I make a lot of my mixes from scratch, so I knew there had to be a way to make a homemade hot chocolate mix that was tasty and didn't have all the extra semi-food and not-food ingredients.

Of course my first stop was Pinterest (good grief, where would we all be??). There were lots of recipes for homemade mixes, some of which I could tell by reading the recipe I wouldn't like, and some of which I actually tried. I wasn't super impressed with the ones I tried, and more important, my kids weren't super impressed.

So I set off to come up with a mix that I liked, my kids liked, and was easy to put together. Little did I know the quest I was creating for myself!

One of my biggest issues with the recipes I tried was the addition of chocolate chips to the mix, presumably to give the finished product a more rich, creamy taste. But I hated the chocolate chips because 1. they never dissolved all the way and the ones that made it into your mouth felt so weird on your tongue, and the ones that didn't make it into your mouth left an off-putting sludge in the bottom of the mug, and 2. they made the hot chocolate taste too much like chocolate chips.

Another issue had to do with the type of unsweetened cocoa to use. Some recipes were adamant that you only use Dutch-processed cocoa, and some recipes just used regular, raw cocoa. Did it matter? If so, why did it matter?

And yes another issue was the non-fat dry milk. Was one brand better than the others?

////I know. Why can't I just mix up the mix and be happy? Why do I always have to have so many questions? I have no answer for you other than I think it is a sickness of some kind.////

I don't know how much you want to hear about my experimenting, so I'll just say I mixed up many, many batches of hot chocolate mix, and had at least two taste tests with my fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how good the samples were) family members. I came to these conclusions:

1. No chocolate chips. Doesn't matter if they are regular size, mini size, or pulverized-in-the-food-processor size. No chocolate chips. There are always some that don't melt all the way and I didn't like the flavor the chips added.

2. Dutch processed cocoa. Dutch processed cocoa is much more fine than raw cocoa (Hershey) so it dissolves better. The flavor is also better because of the way it is processed. You'll find there are many brands of Dutch processed cocoa; other than me telling you that you don't want a blend (Dutched and raw), and I recommend against buying the cheapest Dutch processed, you're a bit on your own choosing which one to use because it will come down to personal taste and how much money you are willing to spend. I tried several brands--from local stores and ordered from Amazon--and ended up being happy with a reasonably priced bag of Callebaut Royal Dutch Processed Cocoa I found at a baking and cooking super-store in Salt Lake City called Gygi.

3. Country Fresh Non-Fat Dry Milk. I actually can't take much credit for this one. My husband did a lot of research into dry milk so he could mix some up each day to keep in the fridge at work to use with his coffee and tea, and he found that Country Fresh brand was the best. I did try Carnation brand dry milk, and found it to be lacking compared to the Country Fresh. If you can't find canisters of Country Fresh in your stores you can buy it on Amazon.

4. The sweetness is up to you. When it comes to your own mix, the amount of sugar you'll use depends on how sweet you want your hot chocolate. Predictably, my kids liked more sugar than I did.

5. The cornstarch is important. Without the cornstarch in the mix your hot chocolate will not have the mouth-feel you're used to, especially if you're using hot water instead of milk.

6. Weigh and Sift. I've talked about weighing baking ingredients before. I also suggest you weigh these ingredients so you can have the same results each time you make up a batch of mix. I also suggest you sift the ingredients through a fine mesh sieve as you add them to your bowl--especially the cocoa, powdered sugar, and cornstarch--to make sure you are able to completely incorporate everything together.

7. Not Swiss Miss. This isn't going to taste like most commercial mixes, which is a good thing.

8. Add-ins are awesome. Feel free to add marshmallows or cinnamon or vanilla powder or stir it with a candy cane.

9. Easy to make it your own. Next to controlling the ingredients, the great thing about homemade mixes is that you can adjust them to suit your personal tastes and the tastes of your family. If you want the mix sweeter or less sweet, simply adjust the sugar. If you want a stronger hot chocolate, increase the amount of mix you add to the hot water or milk.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

2 oz (about 3/4 cup) Country Fresh Non-Fat powdered milk
2 3/4 oz (about 3/4 cup) powdered sugar
1 3/8 oz (about 1/3 cup) Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 oz (about 2 teaspoons) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Using a fine mesh sieve, sift each ingredient into a medium bowl; whisk together until combined very well. Store in an air-tight container. Shake container before using.

Makes about 2 cups mix, or 6 servings hot chocolate.

***To make a cup of hot chocolate: Shake the container and measure 1/3 cup mix into a mug. Add 1 1/3 cups very hot water and stir very well until the mix is dissolved.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Redefining this blog

I haven't posted anything since last May, and I almost can't believe it's been that long! But then I think about what's happened in the last several months: my oldest graduated High School and we got her situated at Utah State University; I dramatically changed how and what I cook because of my husband's diabetes; I organized our annual neighborhood rodeo (which was rained out twice!); I started homeschooling my two younger girls (11 and 7-years old); my 11-year old started participating in horse shows with her pony; we went to The Grand Canyon for a super-fun vacation; I started a pony-ride business out of our property.

OK, I can see how it's been that long :)

Even though I haven't been posting I've been giving a lot of thought to this blog. Should I try to keep writing? Should I stop all together? Would anyone notice or care if I just stopped?

So first, why the blog? When I first started this blog it was to promote a cookbook I was putting together of the recipes I submitted to the Pillsbury Bake-Off contests. I never really made much progress on the book, and over the years came to the slow conclusion that it's very hard to be successful in the cookbook market, only one reason being the availability of free recipes on blogs. I finally admitted that the cookbook just wasn't going to happen.

If there wasn't going to be a cookbook I had to redefine the purpose of the blog, which was actually both easy and liberating.

The new blog: I've removed from the blog all extra stuff, ads, affiliate links, things trying to make money and drive traffic, and most all references to my book. From now on I will simply post recipes because they are tasty and I think other people will also like them. No stress and no pressure and no worrying about how many Pins or shares or number of Followers or number of FB Likes I have.

I'm happier already :)

Now on to the tasty stuff!

Coming next: Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

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