No, I'm not on a blogging hiatus ... I'm on a cooking bender. I've been taking a few classes and focusing intently on how to feed my family better than what we're eating. We dine out too much, and, when we don't, we return to the same "safe" foods ... chicken parm, pasta dishes (usually made with quinoa pasta since I'm wheat-allergic), breakfast for dinner ... all healthy, but, for this foodie, quite dull. We need to spice things up a little around here!
Last week's cooking class was artisinal breads and soups, from which my family will eat the focaccia (I can't eat it, and it's hella difficult to make the way it was taught, but I'll try making it anyway), and the Guv will eat the fresh corn and chipotle soup (which also has potato and parsnip). That's about it! Squash soup: no. Tomato soup thickened with masa para tortillas? Probably not. But it was SO good! The lesson of that class, taught by the owners of Palo Alto's renowned Oaxacan Kitchen, was not to use stock; bring out the flavors of the soup's ingredients instead. It's more healthy and usually vegan and gluten-free that way, too, especially with prepared masa (readily available here in CA) as a thickener. This week, I'm taking Antojitos Oaxacanos, in which I'll learn to make one of Oaxaca's seven famous moles: mole amarillo. I'm stoked! My family probably won't eat it, but hey -- it's fun, it's inexpensive, and I'll learn some new tricks that might translate into some dining success at home.
Yet despite the blast I'm having gathering outside intel on the elusive in-home dining menu, some of the best ideas are coming from my cookbook collection. I read them like novels! And since I found myself both with half an hour of free time and in the vicinity of a huge Barnes & Noble this weekend, I bought a soy latte and browsed, making the disturbing observation that the baking cookbooks are right across from the self-help eating disorder guides in that store. Hey B&N? SHELVING FAIL.
Anyway, I scored two great ones, and both from the clearance rack to boot: The Wagamama cookbook, from one of my favorite restaurants, for $10, and the healthy kids' cookbook pictured at left for $8. Normally, I don't even look at kids' cookbooks; except for Mollie Katzen's fantastic ones (ok, and "Fanny at Chez Panisse"), they usually really stink. I don't need a recipe involving how to cut up a hot dog and frozen broccoli and mix it up with Velveeta-based mac-n-cheese! (And: eeeww!) But when I started leafing through this one, I found a whole lot of stuff that I hadn't tried making for my family before. (Believe me, I'm having a cooking renaissance, but I've tried a lot of variety searching for a new hit over the past decades, to little avail.) And so today, I gathered some ingredients, and tried attempt #1: healthy muffins, also known as "something to put in Dash's lunchbox that he might actually consider eating."
Aside: his lunch repertoire consists presently of Ritz crackers and Trader Joe's presliced sharp cheddar with a TJ's "squeeze" applesauce that he never eats ... or a whole wheat Whole Foods croissant with a chocolate milk that he rarely drinks ... or a Kraft cheese on sourdough sandwich that he never eats ... or blue-box mac-n-cheese that, at most, he takes two bites of ... are you starting to get a sense for how hard it is to get this kid to eat ANYthing? I look forward to Thursdays, as it's "bagel day" at recess, so I know he'll eat a nutritionally-void but filling plain bagel -- and to Fridays, where I don't have to pack him a lunch and usually take him out to a place where he can absolutely gorge himself on chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, etc. -- because, by Fridays, he's starving to death. Perhaps literally.
So with that, I baked Yam-and-Jam Muffins, and they are a WIN! He absolutely woofed it down after school (probably because today was one of those two-bite mac-n-cheese days), and he declared it "the healthiest cupcake ever." Tomorrow, his lunch will be one of these and a Stonyfield "super smoothie." If he drinks even half of it and eats this muffin, it'll be a blessed miracle. (P.S. I did not tell him the ingredients, a lesson learned from many years of battling his Stubborn with my Evasive.)
Since it worked so well in our house and since I do think it's pretty healthy, the recipe follows. I chose to opt out of the frosted top, though it's included in the recipe below, because I think that detracts from the healthfulness; and dusting the top with powdered sugar scratched the itch for it not to scream "VEGGIE MUFFIN!"
Set your oven to 400 degrees F first, and lightly grease or line 12 regular-sized muffin cups with paper liners.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/4 cup white flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon apple pie spice or ground cinnamon (I used cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 of a 17-ounce can sweet potatoes, drained, about 1 cup (I used one cup of organic sweet potato puree, which is sold canned at Whole Foods)
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup milk (I used fat-free, lactose-free)
1/3 cup fruit jam or preserves (I used all-fruit apricot; other suggestions are strawberry, peach or plum)
1/4 cup cooking oil (I used canola)
1 recipe Jam Icing (follows)
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
2. In another bowl, mash the drained sweet potatoes with a fork (or dump in prepared puree). Stir in egg, milk, jam, and oil.
3. Add sweet potato mixture all at once to flour mixture, and stir just until moistened; the batter should be lumpy.
4. Spoon/scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling 3/4 full. Bake at 400 for 18-20 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove and cool slightly more.
5. Drizzle muffin with jam icing if desired (recipe below) -- or dust with powdered sugar like I did -- and, if desired, top with additional jam or preserves.
Jam Icing: In a small bowl, stir together 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 Tablespoon fruit jam or preserves, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and enough milk (2-3 teaspoons) to make icing of drizzling consistency. Makes about 1/4 cup.
Nutritional info, per muffin: 215 calories, 6 g total fat (1 g saturated), 19 mg cholesterol, 174 mg sodium, 39 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein. Daily Values: 24% vitamin A, 5% vitamin C, 6% calcium, 8% iron. Exchanges: 1 Starch, 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrate, 1 Fat.
P.S. This recipe is from page 45 of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook pictured above.