July 15, 2014

Cherry Blueberry Bran Muffins

Hope you're not sick of cherry season yet, because I've got another cherry recipe to share with you today! After making my roasted cherry brownies, I still some more cherries to use up, so I thought they would be the perfect addition to some healthy breakfast muffins.

I'd had my eye on a recipe for blackberry bran muffins from the Straight From the Earth cookbook, so I used that recipe as my inspiration for these cherry blueberry muffins!

Besides using different fruits, I made a few other minor changes to the recipe, including the method of mixing the ingredients, and reducing the sugar a bit. I also added a touch of maple extract to add a bit more sweetness along with the fruit.

The bran was definitely the dominant flavour in these, so if you like bran muffins, you will love the flavour and texture of these muffins.

I liked how they tasted a bit nutty, they weren't too sweet, and they were just dense and hearty enough without being too filling. Of course, my favourite part was all the blueberries and cherries in every bite!

While bran muffins may not be the most popular muffin on the block, I ended up liking them a lot more than I was expecting to! And besides, if I'm going to eat a muffin for breakfast, I want it to still be somewhat nutritious, so I can feel good about eating one of these in the morning - my only complaint was that they were a little on the small side, but they still make a great addition to a smoothie or yogurt!

Cherry Blueberry Bran Muffins
Adapted from Straight From the Earth cookbook, as seen here

1 cup almond milk
1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
2 tbsp ground flax
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups wheat bran
1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup melted coconut oil (can substitute another oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp maple extract (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cherries (pit removed)
1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the almond milk and vinegar and let sit for 5-10 minutes. In a separate small bowl, stir together the flax and water and let sit 5-10 minutes as well.

In a large bowl, whisk together the wheat bran, flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

Add the sugar, applesauce, oil, and extracts to the almond milk mixture and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add the flax mixture and stir again. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir gently just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the cherries and blueberries.

Divide batter into muffin cups, then bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, until the muffins feel firm on top and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing muffins and transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes 12 small muffins.

July 09, 2014

Vegan Roasted Cherry Brownies

This past weekend, I brought home a couple of containers of fresh local cherries from the market and immediately started thinking of ways to use them (besides just eating them on their own!).

I'm not sure why, but whenever I think about cherry recipes, I always want to pair them with chocolate - it's one of those combos that just goes together so well! So after enjoying a chocolate coffee cherry smoothie for breakfast on Sunday, I decided to make cherry brownies as a treat that I could bring into work the next day.

Since I'm not usually the biggest fan of chocolatey desserts myself, I don't have a lot of experience making brownies. Luckily, some of the experts on vegan baking in the blogging world have already perfected their own brownie recipes that I was able to use as guides!

For my brownie base, I mostly followed Oh She Glows' recipe (also in her cookbook that I own), with some of these tips from Edible Perspective, except that I used a mix of oat flour and all purpose flours instead of almond meal, so mine are not gluten-free.

Instead of just adding the cherries as is to the batter, I was inspired by Annie's Eats to roast them first with a bit of maple syrup so they were nice and sweet and juicy!

While my coworkers could still tell that these were a "healthier" brownie (or maybe they just guessed because they know me and my baking by now), I loved how they turned out!

They held together well (a problem with vegan brownies I've tried in the past), and they were definitely chewy and fudgy in a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth kind of way, with just the right amount of chocolate flavour. I also thought the roasted cherries were the perfect addition to add some extra sweetness and cut the richness of the brownies a bit.

I've still got some cherries leftover, so if you have any other favourite cherry recipes or ideas that I can use, feel free to let me know!

Vegan Roasted Cherry Brownies
Adapted from Oh She Glows, Edible Perspective, and Annie's Eats

1 cup (heaping) fresh cherries
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1.5 tbsp ground flax + 3 tbsp water
1 1/3 cups oat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
100g dark chocolate, chopped (I used 1 Lindt bar), or ½ cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup sugar*
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tbsp instant coffee
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 450°F. Slice the cherries in half and remove the pit (or use a cherry pitter). Places halved cherries in a small baking pan and toss with the maple syrup. Roast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until they start to release their juices. Remove and let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Mix flax and water in a small bowl and set aside to thicken (I find it helps to let it sit in the fridge until all the water is absorbed).

In a large bowl, whisk together the oat flour, all purpose flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.

Melt the chocolate with the coconut oil, either in the microwave or over a double boiler on the stove. Add the sugar (*I followed Ashley's tip to grind it in the blender first so it's more powdery), almond milk, instant coffee, vanilla extract, and the flax mixture to the melted chocolate and stir well to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until all the dry ingredients are incorporated (batter will be very thick and dry). Fold in the roasted cherries (with their juices) and the remaining chocolate chips.

Pour batter into an 8x8 or 9x9 pan (I used an 8x8) lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 30-37 minutes, until the edges have hardened and the surface is just barely firm (I baked mine for 35 minutes). Remove and let cool in the pan for at least 30-45 minutes, then transfer to the fridge to cool completely (you can remove brownies from the pan first and transfer to a wire rack). Once completely cooled, slice into pieces.

Makes 20-25 small brownies 

June 25, 2014

Chilled Zucchini Avocado Soup

Lately when I come home to my hot and humid apartment, the last thing I want to do is turn on the stove and add even more heat to my place, so refreshing no-bake meals are definitely needed!

This week, I decided that I wanted to make a chilled soup - one of my favourite things to eat in the summertime (and if you check the soup category in my Recipe Index, you'll find quite a few chilled ones there!).

I had a nice zucchini from the market sitting in my fridge, so I used that as my inspiration for this chilled zucchini avocado soup. While this is a no-bake recipe, it does require a bit of cooking on the stovetop first to saute some garlic and green onion, and get the zucchini nice and tender so that it will blend easily.

To make the soup extra creamy, I added an avocado and some plain yogurt which get blended up with the zucchini mixture until smooth. Finally, some fresh basil, lemon juice and a dash of cumin add even more layers of flavour to highlight the zucchini.

I loved how easy this was to whip up - I made it on a day when I got home late from the gym and then grocery shopping and I wanted dinner to be ready quickly, which it was!

The only hard part is waiting for it to chill, but you could definitely eat it warm if you like too. I actually ate it warm the first night and really enjoyed it that way, and then had the leftovers chilled, which was even more tasty and super refreshing!

This is also a very adaptable recipe, so feel free to add other herbs or veggies to the soup or as garnishes - some sliced radish, cucumber, or tomato would probably work well stirred in if you like extra texture in your soup!

Chilled Zucchini Avocado Soup
Partly inspired by this recipe

1 tbsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
~4 green onions (about half a bunch), sliced
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
2 cups water or vegetable stock (I used water)
1 ripe avocado, roughly chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil (can substitute another herb)
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
Ground pepper

Heat oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic and green onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the water. Bring to a boil, cover pot and simmer for about 5 minutes, until zucchini is tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Pour contents of the pot into a blender (I did it in just one batch but you could do two batches if your liquid is still very hot to avoid it exploding!). Blend until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and blend again until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until chilled.

Serve warm or chilled, with extra yogurt and basil on top if desired. (Note: the soup might thicken up after sitting in the fridge, so feel free to add extra water to thin it out if you prefer).

Makes 2-3 servings

June 17, 2014

Thai Peanut Cucumber Cups

This week is especially hot and humid here in Ontario, and when the weather is this warm, all I want for dinner is cold and refreshing meals, like chilled soups and salads full of fresh veggies. 

Of course, veggies can get a bit boring sometimes, so it helps to turn them into something more exciting, like these Thai peanut cucumber cups that I made as an appetizer last week!

The inspiration for these came from Courtney of The Fig Tree blog, who posted these peanut satay celery sticks a while back. I thought the idea of filling celery sticks with a peanut sauce, carrots, and sesame seeds sounded so creative!  I'm not a huge fan of celery though, and I knew that cucumbers go well with cold peanut noodle dishes, so I thought cucumber cups would work really well as a base instead.

I've actually made cucumber cup appetizers before and they're always a hit, but I usually fill them with hummus or tzatziki, so this was a fun twist! If you've never seen this idea before, you just slice your cucumber and then scoop out some of the middle so that you have a nice little cup to fill with sauce, and then you can add whatever toppings you like too. 

For these, I filled the cucumber cups with a thick peanut sauce, then sprinkled sesame seeds, chopped peanuts, and shredded carrot on top of each one (see above picture for a visual of the process). Everything comes together into one bite that's creamy, crunchy, a bit spicy, and refreshing all at once!

I shared these with a group of friends and everyone loved them, so I'm sure I'll be making them again whenever I need a light, veggie-based appetizer - which will probably be often this summer!

Thai Peanut Cucumber Cups
Inspired by The Fig Tree and Vegetarian Times

1/2 cup peanut butter
4 tsp sweet chile sauce
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash of ground ginger (or fresh ginger, I just didn't have any!)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tbsp water
1 English cucumber
~1/3 cup shredded carrot
Sesame seeds
Chopped peanuts

To make the peanut sauce, stir together the peanut butter, chile sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger until smooth. Add the water to thin out a bit. Set aside or store in the fridge until needed.

Slice the cucumber into pieces about 1 inch thick. Use a melon baller or a ½ tsp measure to scoop out the middle seedy portion of each slice – don’t go all the way through, you still want a bit of cucumber at the bottom of each cup!

Lay out cucumber cups on a plate or serving dish. Spoon the peanut sauce into each cup (I just estimated how much to put in – you want a round mound in the middle of each cup but not too much that it overflows). 

Sprinkle a bit of sesame seeds on top of the peanut sauce in each cup, followed by a bit of shredded carrot and crushed peanuts – it might help to do the peanuts first so they stick to the peanut butter, then finish with the carrots, but the order doesn’t really matter!

Refrigerated finished cucumber cups until serving time.

Makes enough for about 20-22 cups.

June 11, 2014

Rhubarb, Brie & Arugula Quesadillas

Every year around this time, I go a little overboard trying to come up different ways of using rhubarb, whether its in savory dishes, baked goods, sauces and condiments, or desserts (check out last year's roundup of rhubarb recipes!). Rhubarb is probably one of my favourite ingredients, and since it's only available for a short time every year, I try to make the most of it!

This year so far, I've made curried lentils with rhubarb chutney, a sweet rhubarb compote, strawberry-rhubarb scones, and these quesadillas!

I was inspired by a recipe for honeyed rhubarb and brie paninis that I saw on The Miniature Moose blog. I thought the combination of rhubarb with creamy brie cheese sounded like the perfect idea for a sandwich, but then I thought of turning it into quesadillas instead.

I kept the ingredients pretty simple, so all you need is what you see above - tortillas, brie cheese, a rhubarb mixture that you make by cooking down rhubarb with some maple syrup on the stovetop, and some arugula to add a bit more substance to the filling and a bit of bite to cut down on the sweetness.

I was trying to come up with something else to make these extra special, like another ingredient for the filling, or some kind of salsa to serve them with, but it turned out that nothing else was needed - these were simple but perfect that way!

I loved the combination of the slightly melted creamy brie with the tart rhubarb sauce. These were nice and soft quesadillas - the kind you can pick up and fold over like a pizza slice without anything falling out!

I did have a bit of leftover rhubarb filling that I spooned on top of some of the quesadillas which worked well as a "salsa", but I liked them just as much plain too.

Hopefully I'll have more rhubarb recipes to share with you before it's all gone!

Rhubarb, Brie & Arugula Quesadillas
Inspired by The Miniature Moose
*Note: these are approximate amounts - use as much cheese and arugula as you like, and make however many quesadillas as you can with the amount of rhubarb sauce!

2 cups diced rhubarb
2 tbsp water
1.5 tbsp pure maple syrup
~4 whole wheat tortillas
Brie cheese, sliced

Place rhubarb, water, and maple syrup in a saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Once simmering, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to simmer for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb has broken down and the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out any remaining liquid if desired.

Heat two large skillets on medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Lay out tortillas and place slices of brie cheese on one half of each tortilla. Top cheese with a 2-3 tablespoons of the rhubarb mixture per tortilla (I just estimated how much to put on). Place a large handful of arugula on top, then fold each tortilla in half. Place two tortillas in each skillet and cook for about 2-3 minutes, pressing down lightly with a spatula, until lightly browned. Carefully flip and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cut each tortilla in half for smaller wedges.

Serve warm. Feel free to top with additional rhubarb sauce if you have any leftover.

Serves 2-3.


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