Healthy(ish) Spelt & Quinoa Muffins

Drop that bran muffin! Eat a heathy, tasty, quinoa muffin instead.

Vegan diets are a challenge for a baker. Eliminating eggs and dairy products might sound easy, but when it comes to texture and taste, let’s just say we’re not sold yet. Sure you can make a pretty good carrot cake using tofu, as Tartine bakery has, but we draw the line at using fake butter and soymilk. These products have no place in baking, at least in our kitchen.

Then there’s the egg dilemma. We know there’s the trick of using 1-tablespoon ground flax seed to 3-tablespoons of water to substitute an egg in a pinch, but to eliminate all the eggs in a recipe with ground flax seed would be like eating a handful of sand. Bleh! Why can’t there be a rich and delicious pastry with some healthful benefits added without tasting like saw dust? And it doesn’t matter if a vegan pastry is free of animal products, sometimes they’re even less healthy than the traditional pastry. At the same time, no one needs a high caloric, sugar loaded, coma-inducing muffin first thing in the morning.

Here’s our option for a more balanced–not vegan–muffin. Jason took inspiration from a few of our favorite bakers/cooks, Martha Stewart, 101 Cookbooks, and Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain and came up with a tasty muffin that’s good in the morning and at night. To eliminate the butter in traditional muffins he added olive oil, which gives the muffins a nice flavor, plus all those Omega-3’s everyone talks about. A couple ripe bananas substitute for one of the eggs (no flax seed in this recipe), but this recipe still calls for two eggs, sorry veganeers (Is that the term for militant vegans?). The banana adds a bit of sweetness too without overpowering the muffins with a strong banana flavor.

Replacing some of the all-purpose flour with whole spelt flour not only adds a nutritional punch, it’s also a nice compliment to the olive oil. And, adding cooked quinoa to the muffin batter and the streusel mix adds texture, flavor, and increases the protein significantly. The dark chocolate, while delicious in just about anything, has so many health benefits that everyone should eat a little every day, we do.

Calling these muffins healthy is just an added benefit. Personally, we just call them delicious. Enjoy!

Health, health, health, darling! Quinoa, olive oil, bananas, and dark chocolate.

Quinoa, Olive Oil, Dark Chocolate, and Banana Muffins

Yield: 14 muffins

Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup whole spelt flour*
1/2 cup cooked quinoa**
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup olive oil


1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole spelt flour*
3/4 brown sugar
1 cup cooked quinoa**
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 very ripe bananas
1/4 cup whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs, beaten

Crumb topping:
In a small bowl, mix together the whole spelt flour, cooked quinoa, brown sugar and salt until combined. Add the olive oil and mix until blended. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With a little olive oil on a paper towel, grease seven spots on each of two, one-dozen muffin tins for a total of fourteen muffins. Be sure to leave ungreased muffin spots between the greased muffin spots to allow air to hit most sides of each muffin.

In a large bowl, mix together the all-purpose flour, whole spelt flour, brown sugar, cooked quinoa, baking powder, and kosher salt until thoroughly combined and there are no brown sugar lumps, then add the dark chocolate. In a separate bowl mash the bananas with a fork until thoroughly “mushed.” Add the yogurt, olive oil, and eggs, and whisk together. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and gently stir together just until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly blended with the wet ingredients. Do not over mix.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill each muffin tin until almost full. Distribute the crumb topping evenly over each muffin. Bake for about 25 minutes rotating the pans mid way through baking. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool for 5 minutes in the pan then remove the muffins from the tins and allow to cool on a baking rack for about 20 minutes, if you can resist the temptation.

What's up with 14 muffins?

*If you are unable to find whole spelt flour, you can substitute regular whole wheat flour, graham flour, or just use 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour for the muffin recipe plus ½ cup all-purpose flour for the crumb topping.

**To cook quinoa, in a medium saucepan add 1 cup rinsed quinoa, 1 1/2 cups water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the water has absorbed. Allow to cool before making the muffins. Reserve any leftover quinoa for another use.

Paella and Valencia – Hot!

A few of our favorite pictures of Valencia

Our first stop in Spain took us to Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. Few of the people we surveyed in preparation for our trip had much to say about Valencia. Friends who have traveled to Spain focus their adoration on either of Spain’s two urban hubs – Madrid and Barcelona. Too bad! We loved our time in Valencia and would recommend it to anyone planning to spend time along Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

The biggest food market in Spain. So much food, so little time.

The cab ride from the train station to the hotel was quick. We checked in, unloaded our things and headed out to grab a bite to eat in the Placa de la Reina. First stop, the pintxos bar La Taberna de la Reina on the square where we found all kinds of delicious bites of meat, fish and cheese atop slices of baguette. These ubiquitous morsels can be found all over Spain, and while the main event was yet to come in San Sebastian, we thought it worth a visit to get a sense of how it works before we find ourselves in the serious pintxos bars later in our journey (more on pintxos to come).

An array of tapas.

Feeling sated, we wandered the ancient narrow streets in Valencia’s old city center around the cathedral where we found innumerable cafes, tourist trinkets, and massive colorful graffiti-covered stone walls. All that walking worked up an appetite so we scouted about to find our next bite and happened upon Boatella Tapas, a tapas bar and cerveceria across the street from the Mercado Central, Valencia’s fresh food hub and one of the largest food markets in Europe. The tiny corner bar has a small counter and seating area indoors and a few tables set out on the sidewalk. Atop the bar inside is an array of platters with piles of various fish, some fried, some roasted, all incredibly fresh and delicious. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and Steve’s Spanish language skills were just good enough to get the servers attention but not quite good enough to explain that we simply wanted a mixed plate of various items from the bar. The “medium” plate of food he thought he was ordering ended up being several medium sized plates of each of the things he pointed at on the bar. We had a big plate of fried whole small fish, a plate of grilled squid salad, a plate of fried shrimp in their shells, a full plate of padron peppers and a nice big plate of chicharones. There was no way we were going to eat it all!

Valencia has the best paella in Spain.

Paella is a Valencian specialty. The rice most commonly used for paella, Bomba rice, grows in rice paddies near Valencia and the sea provides all the delicious squid, muscles and langoustines needed for a traditional pan of saffron scented rice. We had the best paella of our visit at Restaurant El Rall, a great little place tucked away in one of Valencia’s many medieval squares. While we waited for our paella for two, we noshed on a favorite Spanish blood sausage that had been topped with a dollop of pureed ham and cheese then toasted under the broiler. They were delicious. The paella was exquisite and we were careful to delicately scrape our servings from the top, avoiding disturbing the bottom of the pan so that the rice could continue to cook and ultimately crisp up. That crunchy, brown rice at the end is the best part of the paella. Ours was perfect!

The best tapas in Valencia. It was worth the bike ride to find this place.

Perhaps our most memorable meal in Valencia, lunch at Bodega Montana, was satisfying in every way. The bodega has a great atmosphere with its marble bar and several barrels lining the walls from which wine and sherry is dispensed. We stuffed ourselves with an assortment of perfectly executed tapas. Standouts included the marinated tuna, the anchovy stuffed green olives, the bacalao (salted cod) potato puree and the fried stuffed red peppers. But that wasn’t enough. We also snacked on slices of Manchego cheese and thin slices of Iberico ham – perhaps the best we’ve ever tasted. As with many of our meals in Spain, we washed it all down with glasses of rosé and beer.

Hot chocolate and churros. A must try when in Spain.

We took a break from traditional Spanish food on our last night in Valencia, settling instead for Italian at La Papardella, just a couple of blocks off the placa near the cathedral. But this was not our last meal in Valencia. Before cabbing to the train station on departure day, we got up at 6 a.m. and headed over to the L’Orxateria next to the main entrance of the Mercat for churros and chocolate. The outdoor temperature at that hour was just cool enough to make this decadent breakfast of fried pastry and thick hot chocolate the perfect sendoff.

Next stop: Barcelona!

Go Yogurt!

More fun than a science experiment.

Whenever we travel back to visit our parents (Jason’s parents live in Utah and Steve’s are in Idaho) we end up at the grocery store in the dairy section looking for yogurt. With all the chips, dips, meats, sweets, and other bad-for-you foods that our parents serve us, our bodies get out of whack and in desperate need of repair. Yogurt, with its restorative probiotic cultures, seems to be just what the doctor ordered. But the problem we face is that the yogurt we find at the grocery stores outside our fair city is always crap. Sugary sweet concoctions with high fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient and low-fat or non-fat milk seem to be the only options available. It’s a tremor to the head, as Steve’s grandmother would say, that with all the obese people walking through the aisles with bags of processed “food” that they continue to think of yogurt as a diet food and something that needs to be free of fat to be good for you. And since there’s little or no fat to nourish and to satisfy hunger, manufacturers add lots of sugar to make the mess palatable. Why not just eat a little whole milk yogurt with fresh fruit or a nice drizzle of honey?

Plain, not boring. Homemade yogurt is rich and tangy.

Back in San Francisco we don’t have problems finding real yogurt. In fact, we have aisles of choices that may include the fat free and low fat options, but there are also real, organic whole milk yogurts, including increasingly popular creamy Greek yogurts, that are much tastier and keep the belly fuller longer. The problem with the “diet” versions is their lack of hunger busting fat. Those low cal tubs of sugar or artificial sweetener and non-fat milk  just don’t keep people full. And with all the processes  the sugary ones go through, there’s really no nutritional value left in the most important ingredient – whole milk.

Yogurt is natural. Its probiotic cultures help to repair the digestive system after we put it through the stresses of over eating crap and drinking too much booze, coffee and sugary soda. It helps to keep us “regular” and it’s easy to make. There is no substitute for organic whole milk in yogurt. We’ll revisit the whole v. low fat or skim milk argument in other posts, but believe us when we tell you that we do ourselves no health favors by cutting fat out of our yogurt, kefir or milk.

With fruit and nuts.

We started making our own yogurt about five years ago. It started with the purchase of a yogurt maker that had small glass jars and a warming bottom and cover. We made it a few times but found the machine to be just another cumbersome appliance that we just had to have. Like other specialty gadgets, the yogurt maker would be used a few times and then put into storage – out of sight and out of mind. We went back to purchasing yogurt in little plastic containers, but with our desire to go plastic-free a few years ago, we wanted to find an alternative. With a few web searches Jason found the perfect technique. Did you know you could make your own yogurt in your oven when it isn’t in use? It tastes better than anything you can purchase in the store and it takes no time to put together. Not all ovens will work, but if you have a thermometer in the oven and it’s registering something around 110 degrees when the oven is off, you’re set. The recipe is simple and easy. Give it a try, and if it doesn’t work do a web search for other methods. There are some interesting slow cooker recipes that look like they’re worth a try.

With multigrain pancakes and berries.


3 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup of whole milk yogurt

Using a candy thermometer and a medium pan, slowly heat the milk to 180 degrees. Prepare an ice bath by putting ice cubes and water in a large bowl, place the pan of heated milk on top of the ice and let sit until the temperature of the milk drops to around 110 degrees. Add the ½ cup of yogurt to the milk and whisk together. Place in a sterilized quart sized mason jar and place in the oven, turned off, for 12-18 hours. Remove from the oven and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before consuming.

When eating, top with your favorite fresh fruit, granola, or even a drizzle of honey.
Don’t forget to keep at least a ½ cup for the next batch of yogurt.