Thursday, June 20, 2013

Agave Bran Muffins with Raisins

I like healthy muffins, but I don't want them to taste like healthy muffins. Luckily, it's fairly easy to find good-for-you recipes that aren't rubbery or dry. For this agave-sweetened bran version, I tweaked a good, classic recipe from the blog, The Moveable Feast. It's quick to make, even though the mixing directions are slightly unorthodox; the crumb is light and soft, and the flavor is sweet but virtuous.

The original recipe calls for honey, but I used agave because it's estimated to be about 25% sweeter than honey or sugar for the same number of calories. The idea was to keep calories under control, while keeping the muffin sweet enough to actually be enjoyable (Cut sugar too much, and you'll just be sad, believe me.). You can certainly use honey, but I would add an extra 2 tbsp to be on the safe side.

Another thing to note is that this bran muffin contains no molasses, a typical ingredient in classic or traditional versions. Before I came to the recipe here, I made a similar recipe with molasses (not blackstrap--bake with that stuff at your peril), and discovered it was not the flavor I was looking for. The funny thing is that I love molasses cookies. Then I realized that the bran muffin I wanted to duplicate was the one they used to sell at Dunkin' Donuts (it's not on their website; tragically discontinued, I guess), which was plenty sweet and tasted a lot more of honey than molasses.

At least that's what I remember. The last time I ate one was probably 10 years ago! That's fine because I'm happier with my homemade version. Tell me, are you a bran muffin fan or could you not care less?

Agave Bran Muffins with Raisins
Adapted from The Moveable Feast 
These healthy muffins have about 200 calories and 5 g of fiber each, yet they’re moist, soft and pleasantly sweet.

Makes 11 (You could easily make them a bit smaller and get 12.)

1 cup wheat bran (68 g)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 large egg
1/3 cup safflower or canola oil
1/2 cup agave nectar (175 g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour (120 g)
1 tsp  baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup raisins (130 g)
Turbinado or other coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with 11 paper liners and mist the surface of the tin with cooking spray to prevent muffin tops from sticking (optional).

In a medium bowl, stir together the bran, buttermilk and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, oil, agave and vanilla until combined. Add to bran mixture and stir until combined; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to bran mixture and stir until no white streaks remain, taking care not to overmix. Fold in the raisins.

Add to muffin tin, filling cups nearly to the top. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until edges are golden and a toothpick comes out with a crumb or two (not wet batter, obviously), or comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. These freeze great; defrost at room temp.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Saag Paneer

I got this recipe from a friend after she made it for a dinner party. It was amazing. After trying it myself at home, I think it's one of the best Indian dishes I've ever made. The spices are dead-on, the perfect balance between earthy (cumin, coriander) and warm (cinnamon, cardamom). If you've loved this dish in Indian restaurants, but never made it on your own, this is the recipe to try.

It's originally from Food Network chef, Aarti Sequira. I actually adapted it to make it simpler. I have access to good Indian grocery stores where they sell Indian brands of frozen spinach that differ from what we're used to. Inside one bag, you get multiple frozen chunks that look like big ice cubes. It is chopped much finer than American brands, so it's practically a puree. The original recipe is cleverly designed for American grocery stores, so it includes instructions for running chopped spinach through a food processor. With the spinach from the Indian store, I eliminated this step.

The recipe even includes instructions for making your own paneer, which my friend did. She said it was easy, and the cheese definitely had great texture and flavor. I used store bought. I've also included my recipe for absolutely perfect steamed basmati rice. It took years, but I finally hit on the right method for grains that are never to soft and perfectly separated. I love this meal, so I hope you'll give it a try!

Saag Paneer
Aarti Sequira via Food Network 

If you have frozen chopped spinach from a regular grocery store, defrost in the microwave, squeeze out a bit of the water and puree in a food processor; this approximates the texture of Indian spinach. You can use lowfat or regular paneer or click on the original recipe link and make your own. If you don't have ghee, use oil. You can just as easily use chicken or lamb instead of the paneer, both of which you'll find on Indian restaurant menus. I rewrite recipes that aren't my own using my own words about 99% of the time; in fact, I usually alter them beyond recognition. But here, I borrowed some language from the original source (especially in the 2nd paragraph) because I thought it was perfectly stated. 

Serves 4 as a main dish

10 oz paneer, cut into 1” cubes
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
Indian chile powder or cayenne to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Safflower oil
24 oz frozen chopped spinach from the Indian store, defrosted and drained (see head note)
1 1/2 medium white onions, finely chopped
1 (3-inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (about 3 tbsp)
6 cloves garlic, minced
Red chile flakes to taste
1/4 tsp (generous) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (generous) cloves
1/8 tsp (generous)cardamom 
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup (approx) homemade buttermilk or plain whole milk yogurt

In a large bowl, toss the paneer, turmeric, chile powder, pinch of salt and about 1 tsp safflower oil. Set aside.

Add 1 tbsp ghee to the to a large skillet and heat on medium. Add the onions. Now here's the important part: saute the mixture until it's evenly toffee-coloured, which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Don't skip this step - this is the foundation of the dish! If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. After the onions have cooked for 12 to 15 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chile flakes. Continue cooking until soft and toffee-colored, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven't already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, until the raw scent of the spices cook out, and it all smells a bit more melodious, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and cook until most of the water evaporates, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and rest for 2 to 3 minutes. 
Add the buttermilk or yogurt to the spinach, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. 

While spinach cooks, add about 1 tbsp safflower oil to a heavy skillet and heat on medium high. Add paneer and cook until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Add to spinach. If necessary, reheat on low, stirring frequently, just until everything is warmed through. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Perfect Steamed Basmati Rice
Julie O'Hara

Serves 4

Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add 1 cup white basmati rice and cook, stirring frequently until opaque and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups water and a scant 1/4 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until rice is tender and water is absorbed, 15 to 17 minutes. Keep the pan covered and set aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.