Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sweeten Your Water Naturally with Fruit

Today is spectacular with blue skies, low humidity and a light breeze. Summertime is still here! It is such a welcome from the past weekend’s weather. Much of the East Coast was affected by Hurricane Irene, and hundreds of thousands of households are still without power. SensitiveHusband and I are thankful to be just fine along with our family, friends and neighbors.

Since I have been making bags of ice for my family who are without power, I am less focused on cooking today and more on just how refreshing water really is. Most of us are fortunate to be able to turn on a tap for flowing water. However there are many people in the U.S. who cannot do that today after the hurricane. And there are also people in the world who don’t ever have access to clean water. A hurricane sure does put needs and wants into perspective.

Speaking of water…some people are inclined to buy soda and fruity waters to quench their thirst, but it is even fresher to sweeten water naturally. The photo above is simply of a glass of water with sliced strawberries and orange slices. The result was quite delightful! I also enjoy a cold glass of water filled with sliced cucumbers. There are many fruit or vegetable combinations from which to choose…instead of reaching for a can of soda, why not slip a sliced peach or frozen blueberries into your water? Let me know what other options you have used. Have a great day.


The Blueberry Industry and Crumb Bars

Did you know that the U.S. leads the world in blueberry production, at almost 200,000 metric tons in 2008? North America certainly dominates this market since the next largest producer is Canada with almost 95,000 metric tons. Poland is distantly in third place with almost 8,000 metric tons.

The states that cultivate the most blueberries are Maine and Michigan with the Great Lakes State slightly edging out the Pine Tree State. Maine’s lead is in the wild blueberry market; virtually all of Maine’s cultivated blueberries are processed while about half of Michigan’s are used fresh and the other half processed.

The acres of land harvested for blueberries has about tripled between 1980 and 2009. The grower price for fresh blueberries has doubled during the last fifteen years while the price for processed has plummeted. Perhaps this is evidence of the increased demand for these sweet and healthy little fresh gems of goodness?

For those of you who would like to learn more about the blueberry industry, the USDA has a great web site with lots of interesting data like the facts above. If however, all of this talk about blueberries has you ready to eat some, below is a fabulous recipe for crumb bars that I adapted to make refined-sugar free. It’s a great time of year to use blueberries! And if you still have a few fruits left over, might I suggest making some blueberry oat bran muffins as well. Happy native blueberry season!

Blueberry Crumb Bars

2/3 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 pinch ground cinnamon (optional)
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/3 cup agave nectar
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon maple sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 2/3 cup agave nectar, both flours, and baking powder. Mix in salt and cinnamon, if desired. Mix in the oil and egg. Dough will be slightly crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the agave nectar and cornstarch. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer. Sprinkle with maple sugar, if desired.

Bake for 40 minutes or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares (about 16).

Adapted from Jam Hands and AllRecipes.

I am also sharing this recipe with Joy of Desserts, Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt my Tummy Tuesdays, Lady Behind the Curtain, Miz Helen’s Country Cottage, Something Swanky, Food Trip Friday and Sweet as Sugar Cookies.

Creating a Yeast-Free, Sugar-Free Hamburger – Part 2: The Ketchup

In Part 1 of my hamburger saga, I had successfully created a yeast-free, sugar-free bun. Now I just needed some ketchup without vinegar (being yeast-free includes avoiding vinegar), onion or cane sugar in it because a burger just isn’t a burger without that condiment. First I started by checking out supermarkets and health foods stores…although I struck out with finding a brand that met my criteria. So back into the kitchen I went. I started with a recipe without vinegar and gave it a try although the consistency did not turn out the way I wanted. So I tried again, changing the amounts of liquids yet keeping all of the flavors. My second attempt was successful!
That night SensitiveHusband grilled us each a hamburger. I loaded mine with lettuce, tomato and ketchup, all sandwiched between a fresh, homemade bun. My meal tasted so good, and I was proud of myself for not letting these food sensitivities get in the way of my summery treat.

Yeast-free, Sugar-free Ketchup
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon soy sauce (or tamari sauce)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and serve.

I am also sharing this recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, Everyday Sisters, This Chick Cooks, Lady Behind the Curtain, Miz Helen’s Country Cottage and Food Trip Friday.

Creating a Yeast-Free, Sugar-Free Hamburger – Part 1: The Bun

This story is filled with twists and turns, emotions, suspense and a happy ending. So sit back, pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy this story about a girl and her hamburger.

As I have mentioned before, I really enjoy a good steak or hamburger, especially grass-fed beef – I have wonderful memories of celebrations, picnics and other gatherings where I have shared deliciously grilled items with people I like and love. So last fall when I figured out I had sensitivities to yeast and sugar, I remember thinking about how I was supposed to enjoy a hamburger without the accompanying tasty bun. I had no answer because I could not find any bread in the supermarkets that did not contain yeast, let alone one without yeast and sugar. The winter passed without me eating a hamburger. As the springtime weather emerged I began to worry – what would I do come summer when I am at a picnic and am forced to eat a (gulp) bun-less burger? (Pause here for dramatic effect.)

What is this I hear about steam-risen bread? A friend’s sister-in-law who was in culinary school said it was mentioned in a class. I scoured the Internet for recipes and found information on the theory behind the bread: a steam-risen batter has more moisture relative to a yeast bread so that when it bakes in the hot oven, the steam forces the flours to rise. Ok, this sounds promising – I went to the kitchen and preheated the oven.

Bun Attempt #1: Disappointment
I could not find a steam-risen recipe, so I put my understanding of the theory to the test starting with a recipe for gluten and yeast free bread. I removed the sugar and replaced with honey. The batter was kind of runny, and when I scooped it onto the baking sheet, it just kept running away. SensitiveHusband and I tried to contain the oozing scoops with our hands without much luck. Oh well, into the oven they went. The result was the strangest looking flatbread loaded with bumps and divets although it tasted good. However, I would not be proud to serve it at a picnic.

Bun Attempt #2: More Disappointment
Our friend, Stever, suggested using bread flour because it has more protein and would rise more than the all purpose and whole wheat varieties. So for my second attempt I just used bread flour.

Wow, bread flour sure is strong! The batter was the thickest I have ever dealt with, and it took two of us to wrestle it onto the baking sheet. It also took us awhile to prepare the buns for the oven – alas, the result was another flatbread, although it was thicker than the first attempt. At this point I thought about Julia Child who sometimes had to tinker with recipes before getting them just right. Could I bake a bun that was tasty and pleasant to look at? I would have to keep trying.

Bun Attempt #3: Hope for a “Batter” Future
Not to be outdone by a batter, I strategized about how to change my recipe. I decided that I would invest in a muffin top pan. That way my batter would have a better chance of rising up rather than spreading out. I searched high and low for a muffin top pan and struck out in a number of stores. I had success online and ended up purchasing this pan by Chicago Metallic. I adjusted the flour mixture again, adding all purpose and whole wheat flours for some texture and bread flour for maximum lift. Success! The muffin top pan kept the batter from running out and the moisture in the batter allowed the buns to rise enough so I could split them in half! Now I just need some ketchup…tune in for Part 2 of this exciting tale.

Here’s my recipe for now, I’ll keep working to refine it…and welcome any suggestions on flours, steam-risen bread recipes, or other alternatives.

Yeast-free, Sugar-free Hamburger Buns
Yield: 6 buns
1 cup bread flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
4 eggs
2/3 cup milk (or water)
Sesame seeds (optional)

1 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 1 muffin top pan.
2 In your electric mixer, beat the flours, salt, eggs, honey and milk on high speed for 7-10 minutes. This should produce a batter with a consistency between soft butter-cream icing and cookie dough.
3 Working quickly, spoon this mixture by 1/2 cup portions onto prepared muffin top pan. Allowing the batter to sit for more than a minute will result in deflated buns.
4 If desired, sprinkle with sesame seeds or coarse salt.
5 Place in heated oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and puffed.
6 Allow to cool completely before slicing. As the buns cool, you will see a slight deflation of the buns.

I am also sharing this recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, This Chick Cooks, Lady Behind the Curtain, Miz Helen’s Country Cottage, Food Trip Friday and Cybele Pascal Allergen Free Cuisine.

Neighbors and Zucchini Fritters

I really like neighbors. And not just my own – I like people who act neighborly. This past weekend I experienced being a good neighbor myself along with accepting the help of others. Being a good neighbor can include gestures like giving vegetables from your garden, baking cookies, spending some time visiting, or checking to make sure someone is ok. Thanks to all of my neighbors who have helped me…I hope that I can return the favor.

So how are neighbors and zucchini related? I have spoken to my neighbors with gardens and they are all overflowing with zucchini! They have given many of the versatile vegetables away to friends and made zucchini bread. What else can they do with all of this zucchini? Why, try some fritters! This attempt was my first foray into the fritter world. They are tasty and not difficult to prepare. Below is the recipe…be sure to share with your neighbors.

2 cups grated zucchini, squeezed of excess water
1 egg
1 egg white
3 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg or ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper to taste
olive oil

Mix the zucchini, eggs and garlic. Next add flour, nutmeg or ginger, salt and pepper.
Heat a very thin coating of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Scoop the zucchini mixture, about 1/4 cup each, and place scoops into skillet, flattening them as they cook.

Fry the fritters on each side until lightly browned.

Drain on paper towels and while still hot sprinkle with some additional salt & pepper to taste.

I am also sharing my recipe with Everyday Sisters.

The Economy is No Peach, But This Ice Cream Sure Is!

My alternate title for this blog post was: “Tired of waiting for QE3*? This peach ice cream will ease your mind!” What a week to be an economist with food sensitivities – there is certainly no shortage of reading material!

At our most recent picnic celebrating family togetherness and my sister-in-law’s birthday, my MIL created a delicious homemade peach ice cream. In her first batch she used regular sugar as the sweetener, and in the second batch she used honey. They were enjoyed greatly, and those who tried both did not notice a difference in taste. Now that’s a positive indicator!

MIL’s Homemade Peach Ice Cream (Adapted from Joy of Cooking)
4 ripe yellow peaches (or 2 pounds)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Lower in peaches and poach for 1 minute. Remove and slip skins off under cool running water. Discard pit and put peaches into blender.

Blend peaches with half of the honey. Swirl until smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Chill an hour or more.

Mix in separate bowl: cream, milk, remaining honey and vanilla.  Chill an hour or more.

Churn:  Give cream mixture a good stir.  Pour into an ice cream maker and churn until thick (about 15-20 minutes).  
When almost frozen, pour in peach mixture and churn again until thick.  Enjoy immediately, OR pack into an air tight
container and freeze.  Let warm 10 minutes at room temperature before scooping.  Best if used within two weeks.

As shown in the photo, the sugary and sugar-free versions of this delicious ice cream look quite similar.

*QE3 refers to the potential third round of quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve. It is an economic stimulus approach by which a central bank purchases bond assets, either government or private sector, in order to depress medium to long term interest rates and to encourage investors to spur the economy by putting their money elsewhere.

I am also sharing this recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Something Swanky, Joy of Desserts, Two Maids a Milking, Beauty and Bedlam, This Chick Cooks, The Lady Behind the Curtain, Food Trip Friday and Sweet as Sugar Cookies.

MaryAnn’s Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins

This blog post is contributed by MaryAnn of Oatmeal Bread fame. MaryAnn baked the muffins using the original recipe with cane sugar and then tried a version with agave nectar and some other revisions.

After baking the already healthy (and delicious) blueberry oat bran muffins courtesy of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini a couple of times with regular granulated sugar I decided to try them out with agave. I had never baked with agave before, so I had no idea how they would come out – I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised!  The first thing that I noticed was the difference in the batter – it thinned it out a little bit, which I actually found to be a good thing because the batter is quite thick and heavy (probably partially to do with the fact that I am using Greek yogurt, which is far thicker than regular yogurt). The original version of the muffin is not overly sweet, so I decided to do a 1 for 1 swap of the sugar and agave, and it turned out perfectly – my husband said he didn’t notice a difference in the taste what so ever. I thought that the taste was slightly less sweet, but in a very subtle way, and that the texture was a bit lighter, but overall they tasted very similar and baked up beautifully. This will be a recipe that I will be using often and can feel good about eating. Next time I might have to bake a double batch because they don’t last very long in our house!

Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins
– 1 cup oat bran
– 1 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
– a good pinch salt
– 1/2 cup agave nectar
– 1 cup blueberries
– 1 cup plain yogurt (I used plain/fat free Greek yogurt)
– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 2 eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 360°F (I lowered the temp by 25 degrees because I had read that agave browns faster than regular sugar, so the bake time was a little longer – I think in my oven it ended up being about 19 minutes) and grease a 12-muffin tray really well.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until no lumps remain. Add the blueberries and toss gently to combine.

In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, vanilla, eggs and agave. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, and fold it in gently with a spatula until no trace of flour remains. The mixture will be lumpy, but resist overmixing.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tray, filling each muffin mold by about three quarters. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes (possibly longer if using lower temperature) until set and golden. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Makes 12 muffins.

This recipe is also being shared with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Food Trip Friday and This Chick Cooks and The Lady Behind the Curtain.

Use the Summer Bounty to Make Zucchini Bread

Reason #2,764 Why I Love Summer: Farmers’ Markets. During this time of year I have to factor in extra driving time because I brake for roadside produce stands. I can’t resist native fruits and vegetables particularly berries, lettuce, peaches, squash, honey…well, you get the idea. Thinking about all of this food has me in the mood for a snack so I will close this blog post with a great recipe for zucchini bread. My original inspiration came from The Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition and I modified it by changing the flours and flour ratios, using honey instead of refined sugar, and increasing the baking time. This is an excellent way to use the extra produce that you buy at a farmer’s market…that’s what I plan to do!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan. Whisk together:
–1 cup all purpose flour
–1/2 cup whole wheat flour
–1 teaspoon baking soda
–1 teaspoon baking powder
–1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Blend well in a large bowl:
–1/2 cup honey
–2 large eggs
–1/2 cup canola oil (or other vegetable oil)
–1 teaspoon vanilla
–1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir in the dry ingredients. Blend in with a few strokes:
–2 cups grated zucchini, squeezed of excess moisture
–1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Pour batter into greased pan. Bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Makes one delicious loaf of bread.

I am also sharing my recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, This Chick Cooks, Two Maids a Milking, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, Food Trip Friday, Something Swanky and Sweet as Sugar Cookies.

If you still have extra zucchini and need some cooking inspiration, consider my recipe for zucchini fritters.