Friday, March 29, 2013

Raspberry-Lemonade Muffins

A couple of weeks ago, I impulsively bought the Comfort Foods edition of Country Living's magazine. Big mistake. Every page offers a mouth-watering recipe filled with sugar and flour. All of our off-limits favorites. Everything from bacon-topped corn muffin sliders to stuffed macaroni and cheese. On Saturday, I tip-toed into our kitchen to make coffee before work and noticed the magazine suspiciously found it's way onto the recipe display, opened to a beautiful picture of strawberry-lemonade muffins. I decided to take the hint and give it a try during my usual therapeutic day-off baking session the next day.

I made some adjustments to the recipe and it still turned out incredibly delicious (especially for something sugar-free and gluten-free), although it didn't resemble the fluffy, high-topped muffins in the magazine, it hit the spot. I'll include the original recipe and my altered version:

GF & SF Raspeberry-Lemonade Muffins
(Makes 15 muffins)

2 1/2 cups gluten-free baking flour
3/4 cup raw honey
8 ounces plain yogurt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries, slightly defrosted

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, honey, yogurt, melted butter, lemon zest, lemon juice and eggs together until just moistened. Don't over-stir the batter, some lumps are fine. Gently fold in raspberries.

2. Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin pans or paper liners, filling almost to the top. 

3. Once you put the muffins into the oven, lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees (the heat change helps get a better rise on the muffin tops). Bake between 16-18 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Cool for about ten minutes. Serve alone or with homemade raspberry jam.

Here's the original recipe printed in the March issue of Southern Living's recipe edition.

Strawberry-Lemonade Muffins

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 (8oz) container sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups diced fresh strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.

2. Stir together sour cream and next 4 ingredients; add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Gently fold strawberries into batter. Spoon batter into lightly greased 12-cup muffin pans, filling three-fourths full. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup sugar over batter.

3. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans or on a wire rack 1 minute; remove from pans to wire rack and cool 10 minutes.

Although everything about "raspberry" and "lemonade" screams summer to me, it'd be a delicious addition to an Easter brunch. I'm slightly tempted to make (and devour) a batch of the real stuff for this weekend...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Coconut Creamer

Despite my ode to cream earlier, I have been working on finding/creating a good substitute to cream in my coffee in an effort to clear up my skin (and arteries) a bit. Spring is upon us, which in my book means coconut coffee season! A couple summers ago, my girl Molly introduced me to what is now a great love of mine: coconut iced coffee. When I'm working in the coffee shop, I'm always tempted to whip up a coconut latte for myself, but after peeking at the nutritional value and seeing that 1 ounce of the coconut syrup has 21 grams of sugar in it, I got to work in the kitchen.

It took a few tries to get the coconut creamer recipe just right. It kept coming out chunky, or not sweet enough for me. I bought some "So Delicious Coconut Creamer" (the original flavor) to try to match up the same flavor with my sugar-free recipe and I decided I just don't like coconut creamer. It's not creamy enough for me and has a bit of an odd after-taste that I don't want clouding up my precious coffee. I settled for a coconut syrup I created combined with my soy milk creamer. (I don't think the soy creamer will last long, I keep coming crawling back to cream.) But for those of you who are interested, I thought I'd share the recipe anyway:

Coconut Creamer:

1 can full-fat coconut cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk (I used coconut milk, but soy or almond would be great too)
2 tablespoons maple syrup, honey or agave nectar
A sprinkle of guar gum*

1. Heat up the coconut cream, milk of choice, vanilla extract and sweetener in a small sauce pan on low heat and stir until warm and thoroughly combined.
2. Pour the mixture in a blender, Vitamix or Magic Bullet. Shake a small amount of guar gum in. Blend the ingredients together until smooth (around 30 seconds).
3. Stir desired amount into your coffee and store the rest in the fridge, about 7-10 days.

*I realize that not everyone has guar gum lying around (unless you are use to gluten-free baking in which case I'm sure that you do!), but you need some sort of thickening agent to hold everything together otherwise the creamer will turn out chunky once it hits your coffee. Xanthan gum also works, but you will need more of it. Guar gum is the strongest thickening agent that I've found, so you need quite a bit less of it than corn starch, etc, in your cooking.

 Coconut Syrup:

4 drops liquid stevia (or melted down regular stevia or chosen sweetener)
1 teaspoon imitation coconut extract (hats off to anyone who can find non-imitation!)
2 teaspoons filtered water

Stir ingredients together until combined. Stevia is a pretty great sugar replacement. It's natural and has very little sugar-free aftertaste, like the others do, but I still rarely choose to use it. I'm all about honey these days. If you want to use honey instead, use 1 tablespoon with 1 teaspoon coconut extract. (You'll need to melt it down with the coconut extract and water first.) This makes the perfect amount for about two glasses of coconut iced coffee.

 Welcome, spring!

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Getaway

Early Saturday morning, we packed up the car and headed onto the freeway to explore San Luis Obispo, an incredibly charming college a couple hours north of us. There are lots of quaint beach towns on the way up there, so we carved out lots of time in our very short trip to explore them. The drive itself felt like a vacation. We've finally been getting some rain around here, so the rolling hills were blanketed with smooth, freshly sprouted, green grass and cluttered with appreciative livestock. I couldn't put my camera down! About half the drove outlined the coast and since it was pretty early, the fog was still pulling off the shore, giving us some pretty epic-looking scenery. 

 We stopped in Avila Beach around lunch time. It turned out to be pretty touristy, but we enjoyed stretching our legs a bit and strolling down the pier. 

After our drive, we had a few hours before checking into our room, but of course my Type A husband had already thought of that and mapped out a hike for us! It was incredibly breathtaking to wind through a green forest; a very rare event in our beach town habitat. After about a mile, we arrived at a huge clearing that overlooked the ocean and decided to sit and enjoy it. It was exactly what we needed. Get out of the house, get out of Ventura and sort through our thoughts. I could have stayed there all day!

As if we weren't feeling relaxed enough after sitting in the shade of a tree for an hour, we soaked in hot springs nearby and then got deep tissue massages! I really can't remember the last time I felt that relaxed, physically or mentally. Our hotel was in a small town right by SLO called Pismo Beach. It was so adorable! We had an amazing dinner (I may or may not have ordered the macaroni and cheese pizza...) at an appropriately named restaurant called Rooster Creek. I'm not sure if it was the absurdly heavy dinner I ate or the results of a great massage, but I am incredibly proud to admit that I fell asleep at 8pm that night and enjoyed ten hours of much-needed sleep. I'll work six days a week for the rest of my life if it means a weekend like that every once in a while!

 I (tried to) let Matt sleep in on Sunday before we headed out to explore SLO. We've been there once before, where I found my beloved wooden breakfast tray, so we were looking forward to finding some more treasures. Such a charming area! We weren't prepared for the myriad of inebriated college students dressed head to toe in green, but what did we think was going to happen when we explored the most popular area of downtown on St. Patrick's Day?

Thrifting was an absolute success. I found a copper kettle, which I can't wait to place on top of an old stove in a big southern house someday, and bulked up my handkerchief collection quite a bit. While browsing through a record store, I found a Loretta Lynn vinyl for $1! I'm not super into her music, but after watching Coal Miner's Daughter a couple weeks ago, I had to snag it. (If you haven't seen that movie, do yourself a favor and watch it! It has hunky & young Tommy Lee Jones in it.) Matt found a few books on his list, we picked up a couple other records and my ultimate find of the day: a Bob Dylan teeshirt! An avid fan, I have been on the hunt for a Dylan shirt for years. 

I'm always hunting for vintage kitchen appliances, mostly because I like the way they look but partly because the quality is unmatchable. Some people probably think it's weird to buy used kitchen tools, but we have quite the sanitizing system and it's totally worth it. Our vintage cheese grader cuts through parmesan like nothing else! I'm pretty excited to add this old fashioned ricer to my kitchen. A sweet woman shopping nearby had to explain to me what it was, but once she did I had to have it!

You use it to make smooth, creamy mashed potatoes! Once you've peeled and boiled (or baked) a potato, you place it in inside and close it. Good-bye lumpy mashed potatoes. (Unless you prefer it that way, which I sometimes do...) 

This weekend was a much-needed escape and sabbath. I want to rewind and do it all over it! Spending three days straight with Matt made it that much more difficult to kiss him good-bye and face another work week in the face this morning, but I feel so rested!

Thanks again for planning such a wonderful weekend together for us, love!

Friday, March 15, 2013

 It must be the Oregonian in me. Every year, I welcome spring with open arms, as if it's the first spring I've ever experienced. Carrot cake must be made, bright colors must be brought out and every bloom spotted is exciting. Of course, the eight days of winter that southern California experienced this year were bearable, it's just that winter as a season of life felt especially long this time around. So I can't help but jump on the bandwagon with everyone else who is looking forward to some much-needed sunshine, figuratively or literally. 

After pruning our plum tree a few days ago, I got inspired and the next thing you know, our house is peppered with spring blooms.

My work schedule has been pretty crazy lately and there's been a lot going on with us, so Matt and I are taking my unexpected weekend off pretty seriously and going on a mini getaway! 

It may or may not involve hot springs, flea markets
and a couple of appointments for much-needed massages for some tense shoulders...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Happy birthday Ashby!

Take this as your virtual birthday card since God only knows when you'll receive the package I sent you. I love, adore and miss you greatly! I hope your first birthday over there is sunny and fun and filled with people that you love. I wish I was there so I could treat you to a latte and show up early in the morning with a bouquet of flowers and a purse full of DVDs and yarn.

I love these two pictures of you! Feeding a giraffe with glee and curled up in public, buried in a book. Only thing missing is a picture of you holding a baby. Both of them make me miss you more than usual. I love you! Have a good day!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Breakfast Smoothie

I thought I'd share my favorite smoothie recipe (of the week). Ever since we made room on our counter for our food processor, smoothies have been a regular treat in our house and my go-to breakfast on the days I rush off to work.

This recipe is the only way I can sneak kale into Matt's diet without him picking it out and between the spinach and yogurt, it has more than 25 grams of protein. Yum! The strawberries make it quite sweet, but if I don't have strawberries I substitute the coconut milk for organic apple juice.

Has anyone found a good way to add coconut oil to a smoothie?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A silly, little post about coffee.

That quote is anonymous, probably because it's been mumbled by so many people that it's hard to pin down the original author. When I first started drinking coffee, I'd slug down anything someone put in front of me as long as there was access to cream and sugar. After living with Bethany for over a year, a true Italian who wouldn't interact with me until there was a mug of coffee in her hand (we actually made a rule of it), I got spoiled with well made (and very strong) coffee and now I can't go back! I can barely choke down Starbucks these days.

I usually drink coffee once I get to work or grab some downtown (I'm an Americano addict), but I'm constantly pursuing a good cup of brewed coffee at home. For a while I was making French press, then using a Keurig (that was a giant step down) and then a single cup French press which was either burn-a-hole-in-my-stomach strong or too watery. (I swear, I make a pretty good barista once I'm at work surrounded by quality machinery...)

For now, I've been using a ceramic pour over. Last summer, I was having yet another great cup a joe with Bethany and she introduced me to the 70's classic. You place it over your coffee mug, lay a paper filter (I get mine at Trader Joe's; they're biodegradable!) and scoop a couple of tablespoons of freshly and finely ground coffee inside, pour hot water over it in a circling motion and in a few moments you have the perfect cup of coffee. A tip from the pro herself: the stronger you want your coffee, the slower you pour the water.

My favorite way to drink coffee is with a scoop of raw honey, (great antioxidant that stabilizes blood sugar and promotes digestive health), a dash of quality cinnamon (also regulates blood sugar) and of course, lots of cream. Cream, wonderful cream. Cream in my coffee is the one thing I can't cast aside during all these diet changes. It has very little sugar in it and is hands down my favorite part of drinking coffee, so why omit it? Life is short, right? I've been indulging lately and buying the "cream top" milk from Trader Joe's. Skimming the cream from the top to stir into my coffee makes me feel like I'm sitting on a porch in the south on a big farm, relaxing after morning chores.

I picked up this tin of cinnamon in a country store in Alabama and I can't seem to find it anywhere else around here, but it's the best! I never realized there could be a difference in cinnamon quality...

This honey was left in the cupboard after our roommate moved out (thanks Nathaniel!), and although I prefer local honey (helps with allergies), this has impeccable, strong taste and a little goes a long way so it's lasted us quite a while.

Honey, cream and cinnamon create the perfect and most delightful cup of coffee I've had yet. Bethany, who adds only a splash of cream to her coffee, is probably ashamed of me right now with all my dessert-like tendencies, but it is so good!

After having a couple visitors last month, I realized I need a more practical way to prepare coffee when I'm making more than one cup, so finding a fancy, new coffee brewer last weekend was a definite score. But most days, I only have time for a cup or two at home so I use the pour over.

But I'm curious, what are some other ways to brew a single serving of coffee? Any and all recommendations welcome, unless it involves instant coffee. (See how far I've come, Beth?)

*Public comment restrictions have been removed, so chime in!