Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grain-Free Muffins Two Ways: Sweet and Savory



We are not a grain-free household by any means, but I maintain a soft spot for the possibility of baked goods sans the glycemic load.

Coconut flour has become all the rage, and though I usually go the opposite direction of fads, this one has something going for it. Coconut meat is excellent for many reasons, not only is it a traditional food packed with fiber, healthy fat and lauric acid; ground into a flour, coconut is a great alternative to grains for those with gluten issues, diabetes, or for those without any restrictions whatsoever.

Baking with coconut flour  takes a bit of getting used to since the proportions cannot be swapped equally with standard flour. But it's worth a go, since like these muffins, you end up with a nutrient packed, grab-and-go, high protein, low-carb snack.

The first recipe for chocolate cinnamon muffins baked nicely, but left me wondering about a savory version as a good breakfast choice on busy mornings.

Since both recipes call for 5 eggs, each muffin has a good dose of protein and healthy fat which serves to adequately satiate without the standard baked-good crash. They are springy and toothsome, giving you the same satisfaction of a standard muffin.

These may be a new stand-by. So far, I really like having them around.

Grain-Free Chocolate Cinnamon Muffins: Makes 8-9 Muffins
*5 fresh eggs
*4 Tablespoons butter, or coconut oil melted and cooled
*1 cup unsweetened applesauce or mashed overripe bananas
*3 Tablespoons raw honey
*1/2 cup coconut flour
*2-3 Tablespoons high quality unsweetened cocoa powder
*1 teaspoon baking soda
*1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Whisk eggs, butter applesauce and honey together in a small mixing bowl. Sift together dry ingredients. Blend flour mixture into egg mixture until well incorporated. Allow to sit for 10 minutes for the coconut oil to absorb moisture.  Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a muffin tin with butter or coconut oil.
Equally divide mixture into muffin tins. Sprinkle with maple sugar if desired. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool for 5 minutes before gently loosening each muffin with a knife and transferring to a cooling rack.



Grain-Free Cheddar Scallion Muffins: Makes about 8-9 muffins
*5 fresh eggs
*1 cup whole milk plain yogurt
*4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
*1/2 cup coconut flour
*1/2 teaspoon sea salt
*1 teaspoon baking soda
*2 Tablespoons chopped scallions
*2/3 cup shredded cheddar

Whisk eggs, yogurt and butter together in a small mixing bowl. In another bowl, sift together the coconut flour, sea salt and baking soda. Add to wet mixture until thoroughly incorporated. Mix in the scallions and most of the cheddar, reserving a small portion to sprinkle over muffin batter. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a muffin tin with butter. Divide mixture evenly into muffin tins. Top with reserved cheddar. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before gently loosening each muffin with a knife and transferring to a cooling rack.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Midwifing The Paw Paw Tree



It will be months of anticipation until the honeydew-hued paw paw skins tarnish yielding a scoopable, juicy flesh, this all hinging on the pollinators having a frisky spring.





Enjoying the fruit in September begins as early as March or April here in WNC. Unlike other early bloomers such as wild cherry and black locust, the sent of the paw paw flower is relatively foul. For the paw paw blossom, its funk attracts a specific type of lover, one with specific tastes, like the carrion fly. Yes, the same individuals who cannot help themselves from the intoxicating smell of road kill are the same to have the hots for the humble paw paw flower, with little competition.
The two paw paw trees at my place are finally mature and bearing fruit within the last couple of years, but not substantially.
To secure adequate pollination, growers can pollinate themselves, with a horsehair paintbrush and plenty of patience. But the timing has to be right, since the early green, tight blossoms start out female then become male as they mature and turn dark red.

This brings me to this guy:


This raccoon didn't have a good winter, and somehow ended up near the garden early this spring. I got excited about keeping the skull so I buried it and marked the spot. Impatience got the best of me, as usual, and I dug it up a little prematurely. And it was gross. Really gross. So I put it in the open air to "dry out." Then the flies came, and came in droves. I was bummed because I was looking forward to bleaching the skull and maybe painting its teeth gold and placing it with my other natural treasures to look upon, but this was a ways off.
Then in the middle of the night it hit me, why wasn't I putting those flies to good use? The raccoon skull yet again escaped a moment to rest in peace, and was gingerly hung in the budding branches of the paw paw tree.


I wrote my dear friend Dana (fellow lover of the paw paw)  about how long it took me to put two and two together on this one, wanting a good year for the paw paws while simultaneously unable to let go of this special but totally disgusting raccoon head. Her reply was: "Beautiful portrait. The raccoon skull midwifing the new life of the paw paws".  And there you have it.  The delicacies of pollonation, of death and life and life and death, and how they all are part of the same thread. Somewhere in this cycle, I will eat a paw paw, be nourished and remember the raccoon and its fetish-freak flying friends who made it a good year.




Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ramp And Feta Focaccia




Ramps are one of those delicacies associated with the true south. Alongside grits, salted pork, crowder peas and hoe cakes, ramps fulfill the southerner's call for flavor and thrift, a food that is free, and geographically significant.
A foraged food, ramps historically represented some of the earliest available seasonal greens, free to anyone with a knowledgable eye and access to forrest land. After a winter of green-less eating, the nutritional value of eating ramps was as significant as its pungent flavor. After all, southern food does not stop at fried chicken and sweet corn. On the contrary, food of the south is complex, herbaceous, seasonally dependent, and, in many cases, highly nourishing. Ramps, a fine example. 
But as onions and garlic have become commercially available year round, (along with every other imaginable perishable), ramps have come to represent something more significant. A food unwilling to adapt to the crude boundaries of industrial monoculture, ramps remain a wild food, a plant dependent on the forrest biome, the forager's food, a true patriotic symbol, owned by mountain dwellers only. Ramps do not succumb to transport or long-term storage. They are seasonal and regional exclusively. And thus special. Very special. 


Thanks to some friends who foraged for ramps with their native-born neighbor over the weekend, I somehow ended up on the receiving end of their bounty. This is the kind of offering to get sweaty about. You can't leave a gift like this in the fridge for a handful of days only to hope you'd eventually get around to doing something with it. No, this is a moment worth taking, as they do not happen often. Cooking with wild, native foods does something noteworthy for our sense of place, and equally so for our bellies.
Bless the ramp patch and those who watch over it, who take a bit, who share willingly and leave plenty untouched. This is the flavor of the south.

Feta and Ramp Focaccia: (Dough Recipe Adapted From Anne Burell)
Ingredients: (Dough)
1 3/4 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Topping:
10-15 ramps, rinsed, roots trimmed away
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
black pepper
flaky sea salt
olive oil 
Mix the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk until yeast is dissolved, and allow to sit until yeast foams, about 10 minutes.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, add the flour, yeast mixture, salt and 1/2 cup olive oil. Mix at medium speed for about 5 minutes, adding enough additional flour to create a smooth, springy dough. 
Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times, adding flour as needed. 
Coat the inside of the mixer bowl with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in a draft free place until dough has doubled in bulk, about an hour.
Coat a jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet with the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. 
Place the dough onto the pan and press it out to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. As you are doing so, spread your fingers out and make finger holes all the way through the dough. 
Meanwhile, place a skillet over medium heat coated with olive oil. Slice ramp bulbs and saute until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to prepared dough, spreading eavenly over dough. Sprinkle dough with fresh black pepper and sea salt. Then saute ramp greens and stems until just wilted, but still bright green and arrange over dough pressing into to dough lightly. 
Put the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising a second time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Sprinkle risen dough evenly with crumbled feta. Drizzle with more olive oil. Bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack before slicing and serving. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Curried Cauliflower Soup


After ordering a cup of curried cauliflower soup at our local bakery a few weeks back, I swore to try and recreate the dish at home. Home run. This is a fast new favorite. Nutty, flavorful, creamy and....low glycemic, which comes as a surprise given the recipe's "comfort food" appeal. Try this. Serve it with anything: salad, tandoori, fresh seasonal vegetables, or all by itself.



 Curried Cauliflower Soup: Serves a crowd
*2 heads cauliflower chopped and divided; core, stem and leaves removed
*1/2 onion, cut into 1 inch wedges
*3 cloves garlic
*olive oil
*3 cups chicken broth
*4 cups water
*sea salt
*1 Tablespoon powdered Indian curry
*1 cup half and half

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Place half of the prepared cauliflower florets, onion and garlic on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place remaining cauliflower, chicken broth and water in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven and add roasted contents to the soup pot. Cover and simmer another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly before pureeing with an immersion blender. Season with sea salt, add cream and curry powder. Adjust seasonings to taste. Blend until consistently smooth.

Divide among bowls. Garnish with a dollop of whole-milk, plain yogurt and cilantro.