Last week I ran far, far away from home, where it’s been six-digit temperatures for the better part of the summer, in to the cool, loving arms of Portland, Oregon. I’ve never been to that part of the country and I can say it was just about love at first sight. To you Portlanders – well done! It’s one of the most beautiful, friendly, genuinely unique places I’ve ever visited.
I took in the scenic hikes at Mt. Hood, enjoyed tastings at local wineries, had lunch at the downtown food carts, and even picked up a bottle of honey (my go-to souvenir for any vacation). One of the things I loved the very most were the blackberries. They were very much in season while I was there, with many restaurants advertising all sorts of blackberry treats. The ones I enjoyed most were right out of a basket at the Portland Farmers Market on the PSU campus. Plump, juicy, and perfectly sweet… they were a far cry from any blackberry I’m used to having in Kansas.
When I returned home, I couldn’t get that sweet taste out of my mind. So this weekend, I made due with the blackberries I had access to and made what my husband called the best muffins I’ve ever baked. It seemed only right to share them with you.
I wanted a muffin that would let the blueberries shine, not be too heavy, and complement a breakfast rather than be the main course. I found a recipe that I could easily modify over at DozenFlours.com. Her recipe was great as-is, but I had to add a few of my own tricks to truly make it mine, make it a touch healthier, and help me savor that Portland blackberry flavor I was after.
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Baking in the summertime seems ridiculous, especially considering how hot it’s been. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable… like when my niece turns three! I’m the “weird” aunt who doesn’t give the kids juice, or candy, or chicken nuggets. So it’s to be expected when I make her a special birthday treat that it’s going to be healthy. I decided to kick-off her third birthday with a healthy, delicious, kid-friendly breakfast.
With plenty of in-season strawberries at my disposal, I chose a strawberry muffin. It looks like a cupcake to a toddler, but it’s so much better for her. Plus, I just wanted a strawberry muffin!
My goal was to use whole grain flour and not use any sugar, and a quick search lead me to Yummly where a recipe made that possible! This recipe for Strawberry-Lemonade Muffins was exactly what I was looking for and more. With a few slight modifications I was able to make this on a whim with ingredients I had on hand… with a few helping hands.
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Full disclosure: I’m a terrible baker. My husband warns people not to eat anything I bake.
That said, I get the itch to bake periodically and it always has to be scratched. Quiet, uneventful Sunday afternoons get the better of me and my well-stocked pantry. Once I’ve made up my mind, the oven’s on and the flour’s flying.
This past Sunday, I was already in cooking mode, with Chef Devin’s turkey meatballs and homemade marinara simmering on the stove (see the Biggest Loser Family cookbook). When I pulled the oats out of the cabinet to combine with the turkey, I immediately thought “cookies!”. I also had mini chocolate chips left over from a birthday party the previous weekend. A couple of tiny cookies would be the perfect end to our dinner and weekend.
I started reading through the ingredients listed on the oatmeal container and pulling each out of the cupboard and refrigerator. It called for butter. I froze. No butter. Then I remembered the healthier baking swaps article we did last year, and recalled Marisa Churchill’s suggestion for replacing butter with cream cheese. An entire brick of neufchâtel cheese sat in my fridge. Ball dodged.
Then it called for granulated sugar. Completely out. So I Googled “honey replacement for sugar” and found several suggestions for a 1:1 swap. Completely doable.
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For some, indulging in King Cake on Mardi Gras is well-worth the calories, particularly if sweets are something one is giving up for Lent. However, there are some creative ways to save on calories that are in keeping with the festive spirit of the holiday. Below are some ideas and lower-cal recipes to consider before you bake a cake with 250 to 500 calories per serving.
Calorie Saving Swaps
Former Biggest Loser contestant Heba Salama suggests having a healthier Fat Tuesday by making your King Cake with an angel food cake and frozen low-calorie whipped topping. “To make it a layered cake simply slice the cake in half, spread whipped topping down the middle, re-stack and keep cool until ready to serve,” she recommends. You can use food coloring to add the right colors without adding more sugar.
If King Cake just isn’t right to you without puff pastry and cream cheese, use these healthy swaps in any King Cake recipe. “You could replace nonfat Greek Yogurt for the sour cream and use four egg whites instead of the two eggs and use skim milk in the icing,” says Alison Lewis, cookbook author and president of Ingredients, Inc. “If a recipe calls for cream cheese, the light one-third less fat cream cheese is a great substitute.”
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Paula Shoyer is the author of The Kosher Baker: 160 dairy-free desserts from traditional to trendy. She is a freelance writer, teaches cooking and baking classes around the country and recently appeared on Food Network’s Sweet Genius. She specializes in baking for people on special diets such as gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. She can be found at www.paulaspastry.com and blogs at www.kosherbaker.blogspot.com and tweets @paulashoyer.
Carrot cake for me used to be like that sweater in your closet that you never wear. Every once in a while, you try it on and then take it off again. Eventually, you give it away. For decades, I sampled every carrot cake that came my way, but after one bite, I put my fork down and ultimately abandoned carrot cake altogether. When I wrote The Kosher Baker, I decided to include a carrot cake, though I had never baked one before. When I researched carrot cake recipes, I quickly learned why I never liked them: people put too much bling into them such as raisins, nuts, pineapple, and coconut to name just a few unnecessary and, in my view, pernicious ingredients.
I decided to create my own simple carrot cake that was dairy and nut free. I even added whole-wheat flour to make it healthier. For The Kosher Baker, I turned my simple carrot cake recipe into a huge layer cake with a dairy-free Cinnamon Honey Cream Cheese Icing. The icing is sinful and the iced cake is lovely for special occasions.
One winter, I taught a healthy-dinner-in-an-hour class and was searching for the right dessert. I chose the carrot cake, but omitted the icing and baked the cake in a bundt pan. During the class we ate it straight out of the oven. When my students left, my four kids ran downstairs and pounced on the carrot cake. My four chocolate lovers asked why I had never made it before. When I told them the origin, they said that this way was tastier because they could taste the carrots better. They also loved eating it warm, which makes it a comforting winter dessert. As Jessica Rabbit said in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, to make Roger feel better “Roger, let’s go home, I’ll bake you a carrot cake.”
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