Archive for November, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Happy Turkey Day!  

I hope everyone has a wonderfully thankful day filled with delicious food and family fun.  I know I’m pretty excited for some mashed sweet potatoes and pecan pie.  

I’ll be out of town for the rest of the weekend, so see you all next week for more baking fun!

Maple Sweet Potato Cornbread

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Fall is the BEST time for baking.  I seriously believe the season was made just to give us inspiration.  Think of all the flavors and spices – pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Ahh…I can smell an oven seeping with autumn aromas as I type.

I already made Spiced Pumpkin Honey Muffins to express my love for what I deem to be the epitome of fall – Thanksgiving.  But my love overfloweth, and I couldn’t let the holiday come and go without baking up another festive recipe.  So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Maple Sweet Potato Cornbread.

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My Maple Banana Cornbread was such a hit around here that I thought it would be fun to up the fall aspect and transform it into a loaf bursting with seasonal tastes.  Since sweet potato is a favorite Thanksgiving – or anytime! – food of mine, the way to make this happen was obvious.  I substituted sweet potato for banana and the rest, my friends, is history.

Here’s my recipe:

1 cup stone ground cornmeal

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 egg white

1/2 cup skim milk

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Spray an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together sweet potatoes, maple syrup, egg white and skim milk.  In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal, white whole wheat flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.  Stir the dry ingredients into the sweet potato mixture until just blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes.

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Maple!  Sweet potato!  Cornbread!  A trifecta of fall flavors!

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This bread is quite tasty!  Very moist and the essence of sweet potato really comes through.  Compared to my Maple Banana Cornbread, I’d say the sweetness is more subtle – because sweet potato has less natural sugar than banana – and the nutty cornmeal flavor is a bit more subdued.  But it was still very well-received and Dan an official taste tester had a hard time picking which loaf he liked best. 

This would be a great treat to bring along to a holiday dinner.  Will you be baking anything for Thanksgiving this year?  

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Maple Syrup

749196_22440404I used to think maple syrup was just for pancakes.  How silly of me to have such a limited imagination!  Well, I have recently seen the light and discovered that it can also be great as a sweetener in baking.  And considering I just bought a huge quart of it, expect to see some more maple-infused baked goods in the near future. 

Maple syrup is a natural, unrefined sweetener that comes from the sap of maple trees.  The Native Americans were the first to discover its deliciousness and often drank it as a sweet drink or used it in cooking.  Nowadays, maple syrup is widely enjoyed and its production is centered in northeastern America.  Vermont may be the most famous producer in the U.S. – its state tree is the sugar maple! – but Quebec actually makes more than 80% of the world’s maple syrup.  Mmmmm…think of how many pancakes could be slathered with that sticky sweetness.

Maple syrup production farms are called “sugar bushes” or “sugarwoods.”  Isn’t that cute?  To collect the sap – aka future maple syrup – holes are drilled into maple trees and tubes are inserted into the holes.  February and March are usually the best months to do this because the change in temperature from freezing nights to warm days creates pressure in the tree to draw the sap out.  The sap then flows into buckets or goes straight through the tubes to the “sugar shack” or “sugar house” – again, awesome name – where the magic really happens.  When the sap comes out of the tree, it’s clear and basically tasteless.  But in the sugar shack, it’s boiled, the water evaporates, it becomes sweeter and darker and maple syrup is born!  It takes about 40 liters of sap – about how much is produced by one tree in 4 to 6 weeks – to make 1 liter of maple syrup. 

In the U.S., maple syrup is labeled either Grade A or Grade B.  Grade As are the light, medium or dark amber colored maple syrups.  These are produced early in the season and have a mild, delicate flavor.  Grade Bs are the dark maple syrups.  They’re the late bloomers and have a more robust flavor.  Nutrition fact of the day!  Both kinds are great sources of manganese and zinc.

To substitute maple syrup for sugar, I replace every 1 cup sugar with 3/4 cup maple syrup.  I also use a bit less liquid than the recipe calls for since maple syrup adds some of that to the mix.  If I’m substituting maple syrup for another liquid sweetener, I go one for one.

And I’ll leave you with this: Every single time I went to type “maple syrup” for this post, I typed “maply syrup.”  So it has hereby been renamed in my book.

What’s your favorite recipe that uses maply syrup?

Maple Banana Cornbread

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If you haven’t caught on yet, I like to bake traditional treats with a bit of a twist…brownies with cinnamon, pumpkin muffins with honey, chocolate chip cookies with coffee.  My goal is to create recipes that are approachable, but interesting, because those are the kind I like best.  Everybody loves banana bread or chocolate cupcakes, but what can I do to make that first bite a tad surprising?  

In light of this baking ideology, and the approaching holiday, I set out to spice up a seasonal favorite – cornbread.  I’ve had some stone-ground cornmeal hanging out in my apartment for a while now – remnants of a one-off chili and cornbread night – and it’s been begging to be used.  I think it felt left out because every time I reached into the cabinet to pull out my baking ingredients, I passed it over in favor of WWWF or whole wheat pastry flour.   I figured it deserved its moment in the spotlight too, but what to do with it?

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Maple Banana Cornbread sounds good to me!  This is a really fun recipe that has no added fat and is very low in sugar – but you can’t even tell!  I think that’s awesome.  Just make sure you use a cornmeal that’s 100% whole grain to keep it 100% whole foods.

Recipe:

1 cup stone ground cornmeal

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 medium bananas, mashed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 egg white

1/2 cup skim milk

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Spray an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, white whole wheat flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, mix together bananas, maple syrup, egg white and skim milk.  Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients until just blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes.

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I’m really excited about my Maple Banana Cornbread because it came out exactly the way I was hoping it would.  It has the nutty flavor and slightly crumbly texture of cornbread with added sweetness and moistness from the maple syrup and bananas.  This one’s a keeper!

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I like the tops of sweet breads best because they’re the softest!

Do you have a spruced up cornbread recipe?  

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Blog Award!

I’d like to thank the Academy… Ooh, wrong award?  My bad.

You bloggers are too welcoming!  I received my first award tonight from Lindsey at Life According to Mrs. LC.  Thank you for the recognition!  I now proudly display this little cartoon man on my blog.  

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What you guys don’t know is that I actually had the same striped shirt in 2nd grade.  Very stylish.

So here are the rules:

1. Post the award on your blog
2. Link to me for giving it to you
3. Link the originating post here
4. Pass it on to five three deserving people – I’m changing the rules…so rebellious!
5. Post these rules for your recipients

I clicked around to see who’s gotten this so far, so hopefully I’m avoiding a repeat!  And the winners are…

1. Andrea at bella eats [and runs] – Andrea is also a newbie to the blog world and was the first to try one of my goodies, the Spiced Pumpkin Honey Muffins, so I definitely owe her some blog love for that!  She is a fellow baking fan, has great recipe ideas and takes lovely pictures.  Check out the one of her black lab she posted tonight!  I know, not food related, but I’m a sucker for puppies (see Ashley Facts: Part II). 

2. Jenn at eating bender – I gotta give it up for Jenn because she’s a fellow Northwestern-er and helps me reminisce my college days through her posts.  She also gives thorough product reviews in case you’re on the market for new snack ideas.

3. Liz aka VeggieGirl – Liz is a force to be reckoned with in the blog world!  She’s always one of the first to comment on a new post and offer compliments or words of encouragement.  Her enthusiasm is contagious!  Plus, she’s a devoted baker, so that gives her extra credit in my book.

Go!  Click!  Enjoy!

Grain Sweetened Chocolate Chips

263727_8252-1Chocolate chips are such a throwback to childhood for me.  Remember making chocolate chip cookies with your mom and sneaking chips from the bag before they could make it into the mixing bowl?  And I was totally that kid who inspected every cookie in the batch to make sure the one – or two…or three – I choose had the MOST chocolate chips.  Who am I kidding?  I still am that kid. 

When I went to make my Espresso Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies, I had to think for a second.  Regular chocolate chips are sweetened with refined sugar… This blog is about baking with whole foods… Good ol’ Toll House wasn’t gonna cut it for these cookies.  Hmm…what to do, what to do?  So I moseyed on over to a health food store to peruse the baking aisle.  There were lots of baking chip options – organic, vegan, carob.  Most still contained refined sugar.  But then I stumbled upon exactly what I needed – grain sweetened chocolate chips!

The brand I found is called Sunspire.  Their chocolate chips are made without any artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or additives.  And they’re sweetened with whole grain malted barley and corn – aka unrefined sweetener – instead of traditional sugar.  Bonus! – In addition to making these chips whole-foods-approved, malted grains are also supposed to let the pure chocolate flavor shine through rather than get dominated by regular sugar’s sweetness.  SidebarDid anyone else just picture a little white sugar crystal fitted with boxing gloves and sparring in the ring to prepare for its match against cocoa powder?  No?  Ok, just me. 

Here are the ingredients for Sunspire’s grain sweetened chocolate chips: Whole grain malted barley and corn, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (a non-GMO emulsifier), and pure natural vanilla.  Short.  Naturally sweet.  And they taste like regular chocolate chips – maybe a little more cocoa-y.  I like it!

Do you know of any other chocolates or baking chips that are made with natural, unrefined sweeteners?

Espresso Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Mmmmm…the aroma, the flavor of coffee.  Cozy warmth on a cold morning.  The end of a long and delicious meal.  The perfect pairing for a freshly baked doughnut, still hot from the oven.

Ok…I have a confession to make.  I actually don’t drink coffee.  I’m one of those people who love the smell, but not the taste – it’s too bitter for me.  But I’m always intrigued by the coffee-chocolate combo and wanted to give it a whirl in cookie form.

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Before baking my Espresso Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies, I found a recipe that looked like a reliable base.  To make it Sweet + Natural, I subbed whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose and turbinado sugar for white and brown.  To make it Espresso Almond, I added some ground coffee and chopped almonds to the mix.  Oh, and because I don’t drink coffee, I don’t have it tucked away in my pantry and didn’t want to buy a whole container if it wasn’t going to be used.  So I snuck some home from the office.  Shhhhh.

Here’s how the recipe ended up:

2/3 cup turbinado sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon ground coffee

2/3 cup grain sweetened chocolate chips

1/3 cup chopped almonds

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  In a large bowl, cream together sugar and oil.  Beat in egg.  Add vanilla and blend.  Add dry ingredients in order, mixing after each.  Dough will be sticky, so refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to make it easier to work with.  Roll heaping tablespoons into balls, flatten to 1/3 of an inch, and place on cookie sheet.  Bake for about 8 minutes.  Let stand two minutes and remove to cool.  Makes 16 cookies.

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See the little coffee specks!  How cute.  The dough was totally brown before going into the oven, so I thought the cookies would be too.  But they morphed in there and came out cookie colored and flecked.  Magical.

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These Espresso Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies are really yummy!  Even as a non-coffee lover, I really enjoyed the depth of flavor the ground coffee brought to the table.  It seemed to make the chocolate taste even richer.  And they were perfectly soft on the inside with a slightly crispy edge – just the way I like my cookies! – and stayed that way for days.  The only thing I may change up in the future is trying a more finely ground unrefined sugar.  Turbinado is what I had on hand, but since its sugar crystals are larger than regular sugar crystals, they added a bit of texture to the cookies.  Not bad at all, but I’m curious how it would turn out with another type.  Any suggestions?

What’s your favorite flavor to make mingle with coffee?

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Ashley Facts: Part II

As promised in yesterday’s Ashley Facts: Part I, I’m back today with 7 Random and/or Weird Facts about me.  I always find these more fun to read than the standard “I grew up here…went to school there…do this now…” spiel.  They’re both necessary, of course, but revealing your quirks is like getting past the first few dates and letting the other party in on the real you.

So here’s a taste of the “real” me…

Random and/or Weird Facts:

1. I shared a pet gnome with my girlfriends in college.  We found him perched atop a trashcan outside the town Burger King at the beginning of freshman year.  Innocent and lonely, he was clearly waiting for our rescue.  We adopted him immediately and appropriately named him “Nanners” after the large ceramic banana he clutched in his pudgy ceramic arms.  He came on many an adventure with us – to French class, school meetings, the dining hall.  Unfortunately, he tumbled off a cafeteria tray one evening and led the rest of his life completely wrapped in clear packaging tape – the only thing that would safely hold together his fragile wounds.  Still, Nanners stayed with us through graduation and I believe remains on the fireplace mantle where we left him to this day.

2. I do not eat the tops or bottoms of bananas.  If I have a knife, I cut them off.  If there is no knife in sight, I pop them off with my fingers and toss them into the garbage.  It’s become a sort of superstition for me.

3. I am infatuated with puppies.  They have an uncanny ability to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Seeing as I do not have one of my own (see Normal Fact #2), I am forced to live vicariously through other pet owners.  This involves being a regular visitor to dailypuppy.com via the Daily Puppy widget I placed front and center on my Google homepage.  Dan (see Normal Fact #6) gets instant messages with links whenever an especially cute puppy is featured.  If he is not there to receive an instant message, he gets an e-mail.I would say this happens, oh…four or five times a week.  No one should miss out on that adorableness.

4. My college girlfriends (same ones as above) and I call each other “Mom” instead of going by our first names.  I’m not totally sure how this got started, but I think it had something to do with me always having keys out of the purse and ready to get us into our dorm – a very “mom-like” behavior.  Hey, when you’re walking across campus in below freezing Chicago temperatures, you want to be prepared to get into the warmth ASAP!  However it began, the nicknames stuck, and I now have four moms.

5. I read the comics with breakfast everyday from age 5 to 22.  After that, I no longer received a newspaper at my door each morning, and the tradition sadly came to an end.  But you better believe that the funnies page is the first thing I reach for upon waking whenever I’m visiting my parents.

6. I have an obsession with anything abnormally small or excessively large.  Things like this and this.  Something that’s not the size it’s supposed to be, but is still functional – I’m all over it.

7. I have been told by some that I ask too many questions.  I like to say I have a curious mind and inquisitive nature and enjoy the banter of conversation.  Others like to say I should think about my inquiries before blurting them out because half of them are rhetorical and I can usually figure out the answer to the rest with 14 extra seconds of thought.  I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

So there’s a peak into the random side of me!

I think this tag thing has gone around quite a bit, so rather than risk making the blogging faux pas of re-tagging (gasp!), I’ll just ask anyone who reads this…Do we have anything in common?  Come on, own your weirdness!

Ashley Facts: Part I

Only one week into blogging and I’m already being picked on!  J/k, j/k.  I was tagged this evening by the lovely Andrea of bella eats [and runs] and now feel like the new kid on the playground who’s been chosen for the kickball team.  Hooray!

The dealio:

– Link the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog
– Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself
– Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links
– Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog

Since I am the new kid on the block and don’t want to lose all credibility over here, I figured I’d balance out the 7 random and/or weird facts with 7 normal facts.  Today, I bring you Normal Facts.  Check back tomorrow for Random and/or Weird Facts, which will most likely be more revealing of my true character…

Here goes.

Normal Facts:

1. I’ve lived in New York City for over two years, but grew up in St. Louis, MO.  Whenever I tell people where I’m originally from, I say St. Louis and leave off the Missouri.  It means the difference between suburbia and farmland.  Not that anything’s wrong with farmland, but people mistakenly tend to think that’s all the Midwest’s got going for it.

2. I am the oldest of three children, one Labrador retriever and one Persian cat.  Past members of our family have included a lop-eared rabbit, a hamster and a multitude of fish.  I unfortunately have no pets of my own right now – roommate is allergic!

3. My parents are empty nesters as of one year ago – minus the dog and cat of course.  They now spend their days throwing wild dance parties in the backyard, learning to fly jumbo jets and traveling to exotic locales.  Just kidding!  But they did go to Chicago last weekend.

4. I graduated from Northwestern University in 2006 with a double major in art history and psychology.  I am neither an art historian nor a psychologist.

5. So what do you do?!  I work as an Account Planner for an advertising agency.  Basically, this means I’m in charge of figuring out what makes consumers tick and using that knowledge to guide the strategic direction of a brand.  You can often find me sitting behind a one-way mirror watching and analyzing focus groups for market research.  I’m currently assigned to a soon-to-be-launched women’s health product that will be getting a LOT of media attention once it’s on the market.  Suspenseful, right?

6. I am lucky to have a wonderful boyfriend who serves as my very willing taste tester.  I would say he’s my critic too, but he’s pretty easy to please.  Hi Dan!

7. Besides baking, some of my [normal] hobbies include reading, wining and dining, doing crossword puzzles and hitting the gym.  My younger self played volleyball and racquetball – it’s not just for old men anymore! – and took a lot of art classes.

And that’s my normal side.  Get excited for the random and/or weird Ashley to come.

In the meantime, how about all of you share some Normal Facts about yourself?

White Whole Wheat Flour

567605_44363860-1When I first started baking with whole grain flours, I used regular ol’ whole wheat for everything.  I didn’t even know I had other options.  So new to the whole foods world was I…  While there’s nothing wrong with that regular ol’ whole wheat flour, and I still use it from time to time, it does make baked treats denser or stronger-tasting than you sometimes want. 

Enter white whole wheat flour!

Sidebar:

From this point on, I will refer to white whole wheat flour as “WWWF” – not to be confused with “WWF,” the World Wrestling Federation.  It’s too much of a tongue (finger?) twister for me to type and you to read over and over.  Don’t worry – I asked its permission and it’s all cool.

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I don’t remember how I heard about WWWF’s existence, but I’m glad we finally met.  WWWF is made from a white or “albino” wheat instead of the red wheat from which regular whole wheat flour is milled.  This white wheat is actually quite common in the U.K., but red wheat still rules the U.S.  It’s been gaining popularity in the States – have you seen all the white whole wheat breads at grocery stores? – but I blame its eons of elusiveness as an excuse to why it escaped my notice for so long. 

The great thing about WWWF is that it has all the nutrition and fiber of regular whole wheat flour, but with a much milder taste.  It’s still made from the entire grain – bran, germ, and endosperm – but doesn’t contain tannins and phenolic acid in its outer bran.  These are the substances that give red wheat its distinct, sometimes bitter flavor. WWWF also has a whiter color (obviously) and slightly finer grind, so it can act more like traditional, light and fluffy, all-purpose flour in baking.  In the end, you get sweeter-tasting, lighter-colored, softer baked goods.  Hooray!

When substituting WWWF for all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour, I just go cup for cup – works great!  I’ve used King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, but Bob’s Red Mill and Hodgson Mill both make some as well. 

Have you ever baked with white whole wheat flour?  What’s your favorite whole grain flour?


Contact

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