‘God Bless America’ Cranberry, Oatmeal, and Flaxseed Muffins

In a few short weeks, I’ll be back at work. I’m not excited about being away from my kiddo when she’s still so young, but bills must be paid. For those reading who live in European and Scandinavian countries that don’t merely pay lip service to “family values” but actually provide paid family and medical leave to support new families and help your citizens be able to afford to take time off from work to care for an ill loved one, take a moment to count your blessings.

In fact, readers from pretty much any country but the U.S. can count on their country’s family-oriented public policy. I live in one of the “wealthiest” countries in the world, but we give more tax breaks and financial support to multinational corporations who take business to less wealthy countries where they can exploit foreign workers through legal loopholes while gutting the poor and middle class back home than we do to the very people who form the backbone of America. Meanwhile, I’m forced to listen to the same politicians who support unsustainable big business practices involve themselves in culture wars around what constitutes family values while opposing any real economic policy that would support the families who voted them into office in the first place.

And before I get flak for promoting “laziness” as a way of life for Americans, consider some unflinching evidence: quality and affordable childcare for families is so unfeasible for many women in the U.S. that they’re forced to quit their jobs because they either can’t earn enough from their work to pay for childcare or else they break even and decide it’s better to be unemployed and caring for their kids than to hand over their entire paychecks to childcare providers and rarely see their little ones. (I’m one of the fortunate Americans who has a job where I’ve been able to save money and paid vacation leave to take time to care for my newborn. I took a hit financially during these past three months, but at least I had some options to make caring for a baby viable.)

God bless America.

On a less enraged note, check out these “healthier than most” muffins I made last night. Tart cranberries, crunchy rolled oats, and buttery ground flaxseed come together to showcase the fruits of American agriculture. This wholesome muffin, sweetened with earthy browny sugar, offers a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, heart-healthy whole grains, and immune-boosting vitamin C with each bite. They’re so tasty you’ll be forgiven for momentarily forgetting the state of of family leave in the U.S. for prospective parents, parents, and non parents who wish they could afford to spend much needed time caring for their respective children and ailing loved ones without fear of losing their jobs or homes. Little wonder that a satirical Onion article about American women and pregnancy could be mistaken for fact.

Cranberry Oat Flax Muffins 1

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Cranberry, Oatmeal, and Flaxseed Muffins
(adapted from a Food 52 Baking recipe)
Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients
– 1 1/6 cups whole wheat flour

– 2 1/2 cups rolled oats

– 3/4 cup dark brown sugar

– 1/3 cup ground flaxseed

– 2 tsp baking soda

– 1/2 tsp baking powder

– 2 tsp ground cinnamon

– 1 large egg, lightly beaten

– 1/2 cup vegetable oil

– 1 cup buttermilk

– 1/4 plus 1/8 cup water

– 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (I used frozen.)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and line one standard-sized muffin pan with paper liners. (I wound up making slightly more than a dozen muffins with this recipe, so I added three paper liners to a 6-muffin tin as well.)

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, ground flaxseed, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. In another medium bowl, add the egg, oil, buttermilk, and water. Make a well in the bowl with dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients well, and mix until the dry and wet ingredients are just combined; then gently fold in cranberries.

4. Spoon the batter into the muffins cups, filling each cup right up to the top, and bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Then turn out onto a rack, and cool completely before serving.

‘Work That Winter Vegetable’ Roasted Acorn Squash with Soy Ginger Glaze

With the new year, I’ve stepped up my commitment to strength training. While I’ve been a consistent runner for years, my desk job lifestyle has not called for much upper body strength. (Contrary to belief, shuffling law books around the cubicle does not transformed one into a strong woman.) But with an ever growing bambina who needs to be moved and carried, I’ve been forced to reckon with my puny arms and overall lack of physical strength. Fortunately, friend and fellow townswoman, Kate, made a similar fitness goal this year, so we’ve been teaming up for personal training sessions at the gym and motivating each other to get strong.

I wish I was the kind of person who wasn’t unsure of myself in the gym weight room, but after injuring my collarbone a few years ago from lifting weights incorrectly, I avoided weight machines and focused on running form instead since I was less likely to end up damaged. Enter our personal trainer, Cliff, who has helped me gained confidence by teaching correct postures for weight lifting and strength training exercises, and I’m now doing crunches without straining my neck and making it through squats without wrenching my back.

While I had entertained working with a personal trainer in the past, I’m a frugal gal and have a hard time parting with money when it comes to physical fitness, but by sharing costs on the training sessions, Kate and I have managed to afford six sessions without breaking the bank. Even better, a workout buddy makes gym time much more fun. As someone who tends to be a loner when it comes to athletics, workout buddy solidarity has made all the difference in getting fit without fixating on how much work it takes to get fit. Thanks, Kate!

Below you’ll find an easy-to-assemble, energy-boosting vegetable side dish that showcases the fresh food slim pickings at the grocery store during the winter. Winter squashes are my go-to vegetable when the snow piles up in Colorado. Nutrient-rich and colorful, I’m reminded that it’s still possible to eat my veggies during the coldest time of the year. If you’ve exhausted all your acorn squash recipes by now, check out today’s Chinese flavor-infused roasted acorn squash. Zesty ginger and garlic, sour rice vinegar, salty soy sauce, and a touch of sweetness from sugar, these wedges of roasted acorn squash pack in the flavor with minimal work.

Acorn Squash 1

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Roasted Acorn Squash with Soy Ginger Glaze
(a Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes cookbook)
Serves 4

Ingredients
– 2 lbs acorn squash

– 2 TBS vegetable oil

– Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

– 1 TBS minced fresh ginger

– 1 TBS minced garlic

– 1/4 cup minced scallions, plus more for garnish

– 2 TBS water

– 1/4 cup soy sauce

– 2 TBS mirin (I used dry cooking sherry.)

– 1 TBS rice vinegar

– 1 TBS sugar

Directions
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Toss the squash with 1 TBS of oil, season with salt and pepper, and arrange on the baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 35 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 TBS oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and sweat until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the water, soy sauce, mirin (or sherry), vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until the glaze is syrupy, about 8 minutes.

4. Drizzle the squash with the glaze, tossing gently to distribute glaze, and sprinkle with more scallions.

Homestyle Vegetarian Collard Greens

Collard greens, like most dark, leafy greens, were not high on my “to-eat” list until I stumbled into my thirties. Even though collards are a Southern staple, I didn’t like their bitter taste when I was a kid and dreaded when my parents served them up at the dinner table. These days I crave collards and kale like nobody’s business, and I’m always on the look out for great recipes that use showcase their texture and flavor.

Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson’s The Broad Fork takes the traditional ham-jeweled collards loved by Southerners into vegetarian territory. If you’re skeptical that collards can be good without pork products, give this recipe a try. Though Acheson eliminates the meat, he amps up the greens’ flavor with umami-rich ingredients like garlic and sautéed onions and softens the assertive bitterness that comes with collards by adding honey. While I like his recipe, I fiddled with ingredient proportions to appeal to my palate and offer the adapted version below. I wanted more melt-in-your-mouth greens. Butter tends to help in that department. Enjoy!

Collards 2

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Vegetarian Collard Greens
(adapted from a Broad Fork cookbook recipe)

Ingredients
– 3/4 lb trimmed collard greens, weighed after ribs have been removed (2 regular-size bunches from the supermarket sufficed here.)

– 3 garlic cloves, thinly shaved

– 2 TBS unsalted butter

– 2 medium yellow onions, cut into small dice

– Kosher salt

– 2 TBS honey

– 4 TBS cider vinegar

Directions
1. Stack the collards on top of each other (I did this in smaller stacks), roll them up, and slice the roll into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Submerge the greens in a bowl of cold water and then lift them out into a colander. Drain for a couple of minutes and then dry on paper towels. (I cleaned the leaves prior to cutting them into small pieces, so I skipped this part of the step.

2. In a large saucepan, slowly sweat the garlic in the butter over medium-low heat.

3. When the garlic is very aromatic, add the onions. Season the onions with kosher salt, and sweat for 15 minutes, until translucent and soft.

4. Raise the heat to medium, add the collards, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the honey and vinegar, and cook for 10 more minutes, or until the collards are tender but still have some chew. Adjust the seasoning with more kosher salt, honey, or vinegar, if needed, and serve.

‘Comfort Me’ Vegetable Pot Pie

While the East Coast was pummeled with snow over the weekend, Denver was sunny and almost warm. But winter is winter, friends, and I broke out the bakeware to work on something savory and comforting for Sunday dinner. I’ve been drooling over savory pie recipes in Ken Haedrich’s Dinner Pies cookbook and finally settled on a vegetable pot pie recipe for my entry into Haedrich’s expertly crafted comfort food.

Though somewhat time intensive to make the recipe, from start to finish, in one day, you can easily break the prep work into two chunks, assembling the wet and dry biscuit ingredients in their respective bowls and refrigerating one day and then making the filling the day you plan to bake the pot pie. I set to work on Sunday afternoon and had the pot pie ready to come out of the oven for an early dinner, serving the pie with a big side salad.

Vegetable Pot Pie 1

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Vegetable Pot Pie with Pumpkin Biscuit Crust
(a Dinner Pies recipe)
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients
Pumpkin-Sage Biscuit Crust
– 2 cups all-purpose flour

– 1 TBS sugar

– 2 tsp baking powder

– 1 tsp crumbled dry sage

– 3/4 tsp salt

– 1/2 tsp baking soda

– Pinch of ground cloves

– 6 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

– 1/2 cup cold buttermilk

– 1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin purée

– 1/4 cup cold whole milk

Filling
– 4 TBS unsalted butter, plus 2 TBS additional melted butter for biscuit tops

– 2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped

– 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced

– 1 smallish bell pepper (I used a yellow bell pepper.)

– 8 oz white mushroom caps, sliced

– 1 carrot, peeled and cut into rounds

– 3 cups vegetable broth

– 2 cups peeled and cubed winter squash (I used butternut squash.)

– 1 1/2 cups frozen green peas (You don’t need to thaw before using.)

– 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into large dice (I used a red potato.)

– 1 1/2 TBS tomato paste

– 3/4 tsp dried thyme

– 1/2 tsp dried sage

– 1 bay leaf

– 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

– 1/2 cup light cream or half-and-half (I used half-and-half. Be sure to read the ingredients label on your cream and half-and-half. Some brands add weird stabilizing ingredients. Your dairy here should just be milk/cream.)

– 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
First, prepare the biscuit crust.

1. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, sage, salt, baking soda, and cloves in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter, and toss to coat with flour. Use your fingers to cut the butter into the dry mixture until well combined, with pieces of butter the size of peas.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, pumpkin, and milk. Place both bowls into the fridge until ready to assemble pot pie.

Now, work on the filling.

3. Melt 4 TBS butter in a large pot (I used my well-worn Dansk Dutch oven) over medium heat. Stir in the leeks, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms, and carrot. Salt lightly, then cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, allowing liquid to build in the pan. Uncover the pan and cook the vegetables, stirring often, until everything is soft and the leeks are beginning to turn golden, about 8 minutes.

4. Add the vegetable broth, winter squash, peas, and potato to the casserole. Bring to a simmer, stirring in the tomato paste, sage, and bay leaf, plus 1/4 tsp salt–or more is broth is not salty–and ground black pepper to taste. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer the mixture gently, stirring occasionally, until the winter squash is very soft and starting to fall apart, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The potatoes should be tender. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

5. Transfer two or three ladles full of broth to a small bowl. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Stir this thickener into the pot and continue to simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and cook at a very low simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat. Taste to decide if filling needs more salt and pepper.

6. Transfer the filling to a deepish, medium-size casserole; the filling should not come any closer than 1 inch to the top rim. (I used a 3 quart oblong Corningware baking dish.)

Vegetable Pot Pie 2

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7. Finish mixing the biscuits, patting them out so they’re slightly more than 1/2 inch thick. Using a 2- or 2 1/4-inch round cutter, cut the dough and gently place the rounds, evenly spaced, on top of the filling. Brush the tops with the remaining 2 TBS melted butter, then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over them.

8. Bake on the center oven rack until the biscuits are crusty and golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

‘Not Just For Birds’ Roasted Broccoli and Millet Pilaf

Though I’ve eaten millet a few times in my life, every attempt led to an undercooked grain too chewy for my tastes. Convinced it was better in bird feed than on my plate, I’d avoided millet when filling the grain-shaped hole on my dinner plate. But birds aren’t the only critters who should benefit from millet’s healthful magnesium, copper, and fiber content.

Over the weekend when I tried my hand at Thug Kitchen’s homemade baked beans, I followed the recipe creators’ advice to serve up their Roasted Broccoli and Millet Pilaf as a side. While I wasn’t wild about the beans, this naturally gluten-free pilaf was surprisingly enjoyable. The key to fluffy and tender millet? Use the correct water-to-grain ratio.

I enjoyed the texture of the millet (similar to well-cooked couscous), but the next time I make it, I’ll be doubling the roasted broccoli and sauce ingredients for more greens and flavor. Below you’ll find the adapted recipe. If you’re worried about the pilaf being too oily, keep in mind that the millet sucks up a lot of the sauce, so even when I doubled the sauce recipe, the end product wasn’t especially saucy. Thanks, Thug Kitchen, for changing my mind about millet.

Roasted Broccoli Millet Pilaf 1

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Roasted Broccoli Millet Pilaf
(adapted from a Thug Kitchen Cookbook recipe)
Serves 6 as a side

Ingredients
– 2 small to medium broccoli crowns

– 1 tsp plus 2 TBS olive oil (or more to taste)

– 1 cup uncooked millet

– 2 cups water

– Salt and ground pepper

– 8 cloves roasted garlic (Here’s a quick recipe on prepping the garlic.)

– 2 TBS lemon juice (or more to taste)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut broccoli into chunks no larger than your thumb. Toss broccoli with 1 tsp oil and spread in one layer on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, roasting the broccoli until a little charred, about 20-25 minutes.

2. While broccoli roasts, place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the millet, stirring until it smells toasty and nutty, about 2-4 minutes. Pour in water and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer millet. Cover and let millet cook until tender, about 25 minutes. (Millet will swell and burst into fluffy deliciousness as it absorbs the water you’ve added.)

3. As the millet cooks and broccoli roasts, prepare your sauce. Place remaining oil, lemon juice, roasted garlic, and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor. Process until smooth. Feel free to increase amount of sauce by increasing these sauce ingredients in equal parts.

4. When millet is finished cooking, pour into a large bowl and add roasted garlic sauce and a several shakes or turns of your pepper grinder. Stir to combine well (using a sturdy fork worked to combine and fluff up the millet) and then fold in broccoli. Taste and tweak to your tastes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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