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

Healthy(ish) Spelt & Quinoa Muffins

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.

Look Ma, no cans.

A Thanksgiving Dinner (without the cans)

When writing about T-day feasts, food writers like us have a quandary; do we make a separate feast weeks before and pretend it’s our Thanksgiving Day meal or do we have our meal on the fourth Thursday of November and write about it a year later? We chose to do the latter. The dinner we write about here is from 2010. It was just the two of us and from our notes last year, we were on a processed food kick. Meaning, we wanted to kick processed food out of Thanksgiving all together, and everyday of the year. To our family members: we will be home for Christmas and will be respectful of your food choices. Our goal with our blog is to be happy and healthy, to share our recipes, and to foster a dialogue about all of our food choices – not to pass judgment. Enjoy our little tirade and try out some of our simple recipes at the bottom of the post. We’re sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we do.

Forget about the hormone injected turkey and the Stovetop stuffing. We don’t need the boxed mashed potatoes, canned green bean casserole with fried onion rings, or the gooey sweet potatoes topped with multi-colored marshmallows. And please do not serve another jell-o salad with canned diced pineapple and cottage cheese.  This is the same menu our families have been preparing every year for Thanksgiving since we were kids and even before. And we’re sure we’re not the only ones in America who had to eat the exact same menu every turkey day. It’s not that we don’t like these things when they’re made from scratch, but when the definition of scratch means opening up cans of one thing and dumping it into a casserole dish with a packet of this and another can of that – well, we find it just plain wrong. The food the pilgrims ate did not come from cans, packets, or boxes, so why do Americans believe that by eating this processed food we are honoring our American ancestral settlers?

We’re sure we’ve already offended over half the family for our blatant rant against this so-called food. Of course, if the choice is to either eat processed food on a visit with family or not go home for Thanksgiving, we’ll choose to visit with family and eat what is available without a disrespectful word , but why must these be our mutually exclusive choices? Why not choose to prepare items from their most natural state first before grabbing the can opener, or the box? Is it really that much harder to peel some potatoes, put them in a pot of boiling water until tender, drain them and then mash all together with butter, milk, salt & pepper? A box of instant mashed potatoes requires some measurement. Why not measure one or two more things and prepare something truly wonderful, something real?

We know that we are all busy this year (when aren’t we?) and times are tough all around. We want to save time to be with our families, but also save some money. This Thanksgiving, we propose that instead of going for the convenience of the box, we learn to think outside of it. For starters, let’s pledge to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store, leaving the middle lanes alone, and if possible just the vegetable section. When selecting a Turkey, think local, think fresh and think organic. When making the stuffing, try using bread from a real bakery – it makes for a fine first step.  Try sautéing some green beans in brown butter and serving both sweet potatoes and russet potatoes mashed separately. No need to add tons of brown sugar and a bag of mini marshmallow to make the sweet tubers edible. Nicely roasted sweet potatoes with a good dash of sea salt and a healthy dollop of sweet, unsalted butter need little more. And, let’s forget about the jell-o salad altogether. Why not try something bold like a nice radicchio and apple salad with warm apple cider vinaigrette, topped with a crumble of bleu cheese and a few pine nuts?

Yes, you can use canned pumpkin and we also used the recipe on the back of the can. The crust, however, was made from scratch and yes, it did burn.

Whatever your Thanksgiving menu will be, there’s one thing that even we agree should come out of a can. No, it’s not cranberries. It’s canned pumpkin. We’re all for picking up a sugar pumpkin and roasting it, but if you’ve already made everything else from scratch, give yourself a break. The pie crust, however, should not come from the freezer section of a supermarket. If you haven’t made a crust before, now is the best time to learn.

As for those cranberries, anyone who buys canned cranberry sauce and prefers it to fresh cranberries needs to learn a quick and easy recipe for home cooked sauce. It takes a whole five minutes to throw a bag of fresh cranberries into a pan with a little sugar, or honey, some cinnamon, a little citrus peel and some water. Crank up the heat until it bubbles, cook for 5 minutes and then let cool. That’s it!

Martha Stewart–the ultimate diva of all things domestic – and others – have videos and recipes galore for any training you may need. During the holidays your family members are going to appreciate the effort even more, so give “homemade” a try. Not only will you be amazed by how great everything tastes, you’ll also appreciate that the food you’re eating is healthier for you, and that should give you another reason to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Steve and Jason

Why roast when braising keeps the breast moist?

Wine Braised Turkey Breast
Serves 8-10
From cookbook author John Phillip Carroll

Active cooking time: 30 minutes

Total cooking time: 3 hours

1 whole turkey breast, skin on (about 6 pounds)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup heavy cream

Season turkey with salt and pepper. Heat oil over moderate heat in a Dutch oven. Add turkey skin-side down and brown in hot oil, about 5-6 minutes. Remove turkey, leaving fat in pan.

Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to pan and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until wilted. Add the stock and wine and bring to a boil. Return turkey to pan, cover and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until a meat thermometer registers 170° when inserted in the thickest part of the turkey. Turn the turkey 2 or 3 times during cooking, and make sure the liquid is just gently bubbling. Remove pan from heat and set aside about 20 minutes, with the cover askew (turkey should be skin side down in the cooking liquid).

Remove turkey to a platter and keep it warm. Strain the cooking liquid; you will have about 3 1/2 cups. Rapidly boil it down to about 2 1/2 cups to concentrate the flavor.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and blend with flour until smooth. Add to the reduced liquid, whisking constantly until blended, then add the cream and simmer for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the turkey.

Radicchio & Apple Salad with Prosciutto
4-6 Servings

Bitter greens (reds) never tasted so sweet.

2 small heads radicchio, torn into bite sized pieces
1 medium sweet apple, cored, quartered, and thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2-3 thin slices of Prosciutto
1-2 tablespoons blue cheese crumbled
Salt & pepper

In a large salad bowl, add the radicchio and apples. In a small sauté pan, add the olive oil and pine nuts. Toasted until lightly brown then pour into the salad bowl and toss the radicchio and apples with the heated oil and nuts. Drizzle the apple cider vinegar over the salad and toss a little more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the salad among the plates and add torn strips of prosciutto to each one. Top with crumbled bits of blue cheese and serve.

Roasted Sweet Potato Puree
4-6 Servings

Leave the marshmallows for the hot chocolate.

3-4 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1-2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
¼ cup milk
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prick the sweet potatoes multiple times with a fork. Place in the oven on a baking sheet for 45-60 or until a knife can easily be inserted into the center of the potatoes. Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Heat the milk and butter, or olive oil, in a small saucepan. Once the taters are cool, peel the skin using a small knife. Place the peeled sweet potatoes in a bowl and mash with a potato masher for a rough rustic consistency, or use a hand held beater for a smoother consistency. Slowly add the milk mixture until the potatoes are the texture you desire. You may not use all the milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. The potatoes can be made ahead and kept warm in a low temperature (200 degrees) oven until ready to serve.

Smashed Red Potatoes
4-6 Servings

Lumpy or smooth?

8-10 small organic red potatoes (or 4-5 large ones)
1 Bay leaf
½ cup whole Milk
2-3 tablespoons Butter
Salt & pepper

Scrub the potatoes and cut out any black eyes or green tint. Place them in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Add the bay leaf and a large pinch of salt to the water. Place on the stove and heat over medium high until they come to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, longer for larger potatoes, or until a knife can easily be inserted into the spuds. Drain the water off of the potatoes, discard the bay leaf and leave the potatoes in the pan, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes or until the pan and potatoes are dry.

Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press each potato against the side of the pan and smash them. Once all the potatoes are smashed, stir in the milk mixture and continue to stir until you have the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. The potatoes can be made ahead and kept warm in a low temperature (200 degrees) oven until ready to serve.

Note: for richer Smashed Potatoes add a tablespoon, or two, of cream cheese when heating the milk mixture.

Sautéed Green Beans
4-6 Servings

Green beans from a can, never again.

½ pound Fresh Green Beans, washed and trimmed
2 tablespoons Butter or olive oil
1 small minced shallot
Salt & pepper
Optional: 1/4 cup chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.)

Fill a large pot with water, add a large pinch of salt, and place on the stove over high heat until it boils. While the pot is coming to a boil, fill a large bowl with ice and water. When the water in the pot is boiling, add the green beans and boil for 2 minutes. Remove the beans from the water and immediately plunge them into the ice water to “shock” them and stop the cooking. They will retain their green color. At this point, you can set them aside, or refrigerate up to 1 day, to be finished just minutes before serving.

When ready to serve, in a large sauté pan, heat the butter or olive oil over medium high heat until the butter has melted and the foam has subsided or when the oil is glistening. Add the shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the green beans and nuts, if using, sauté for 3-5 minutes tossing them to evenly cook. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Cranberry Sauce
4-6 Servings

So simple even a child can make this (with supervision).

1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
½ cup water
½ cup sugar or honey
Small pinch of salt

Optional: 1-2” citrus peel (lemon, lime or orange), small handful dried fruit (blueberries, cherries, and even cranberries), small handful toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachios, etc.)

In a medium saucepan add the cranberries, water, sugar or honey, and salt (if using citrus peel or dried fruit add them now) and place on the stove over medium high heat. Bring the cranberry mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.  If using nuts add them to the cranberry sauce. Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made 2-3 days ahead of time.

A sea of white.

Le Dîner à San Francisco 2011

Imagine one of those rare, warm, still, clear evenings on the Music Concourse, between the De Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences,in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. With beautiful museums flanking, a centerpiece of fountains and dozens of beautifully sculpted trees providing cover, the sunken Concourse is beautiful in the warm, autumn night. Now imagine a thousand white-clad, champagne-swilling, food-obsessed Bay Area revelers waiving white napkins, toasting friends and munching on thousands of different picnic nibbles in the waining, pink dusky light. Cafe music ushers in the darkness of night and thousands of candles (mostly flameless) dapple the scene with romantic low light as flying paper lanterns rise up over the crowd into the night sky. People dance or take a stroll, illuminated by ambient light. Throughout the evening, corks pop, glasses clink and picnickers laugh and eat.


Is this heaven? Ah, no. This is Le Diner a San Francisco, the City’s first effort at reproducing the famous Parisian Le Diner en Blanc. A sort of by-invitation-only flash mob, with a little costume party thrown in along with a good bit of decorative arts and fashion fetish to make it all fun, this is an event that will undoubtedly be harder to score entry to in the years to come. Dressed in white linen and cotton, the crowd enjoyed a remarkably comfortable night out of doors. The pop-up picnic organizers did a great job.

Bien manger et de bons amis!

We owe a debt of gratitude to Kris Corzine for inviting us to join her and friend Val, and for supplying much of the setup, including the flowers and table linens, a delicious Aperitif Ratafia plum liquor from the Perigord, foie de canard from the Dordogne (bought and brought from La Boutique de Badaud in Sarlat, France) and lentil salad a la KC. We supplied the crudité, anchovy-stuffed olives from Spain, charcuterie from Boccalone and a “tilted” four layer coconut rum cake. We all brought bottles of bubbly and still white wine to wash it all down.

A semi white array of crudite and more.

After three short hours of feasting, the party ends and everyone gathers up their stuff, leaving no trace and ghostly white parties slip into the dark of the park as they make their way home. It may not have been an evening picnic in heaven, but this year’s Le Diner a San Francisco was a smashing, heavenly success!

Coconut Rum Cake

Prepare the coconut rum pastry cream the night before. If you try to throw the whole thing together in a day, and you’re pressed for time, you’ll end up with a “tilted” cake, or worse. The cake and frosting recipes are from Martha Stewart (with minor adjustments) and the pastry cream is Jason’s, inspired by a combination of Martha’s and Ayse Dizioglu of Polka Dot Cake Studio in N.Y.C. via I like you, by Amy Sedaris (a must for entertaining).

“Tilting” Coconut Rum Cake

Layer Cake Recipe

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
2 cups sifted cake flour, not self-rising, plus more for pans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup superfine sugar
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure coconut extract
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 cup unsweetened coconut
Coconut cream filling
7 ounces (about 2 cups) sweetened angel-flake coconut
Seven Minute Frosting

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange two racks in the center of the oven. Line the bottom of three 6-by-2-inch (or two 8-by-2-inch) buttered round cake pans with parchment paper. Dust the bottom and the sides of the cake pans with flour, and tap out any excess. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set the bowl aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-low speed until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, and keep beating until the mixture is fluffy and light in color, about 3 minutes. Gradually drizzle in egg yolks, beating on medium-low speed between each addition until the batter is no longer slick. Beat until the mixture is fluffy again, about another 3 minutes.

Alternate adding flour mixture and sour cream to the batter, a little of each at a time, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Beat in vanilla. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pans in the oven, if needed, for even browning. Transfer cake pans to wire racks to cool, about 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, and let cool completely on racks, tops up.

In a small saute pan over medium heat add the unsweetened coconut and toast until lightly browned 4-5 minutes. Toss and stir the coconut to avoid burning.

To assemble, remove parchment paper from the bottoms of cakes. Split each layer in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Set aside the prettiest dome; it will be used for the final layer. Place another domed layer, dome side down, on the serving platter. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of toasted coconut over the cake. Spread a generous 1/2 cup coconut-rum pastry cream over coconut flakes. Repeat sprinkling and spreading process on the remaining layers until all but the reserved domed layer are used. Top cake with the reserved domed layer. Transfer cake to the refrigerator to firm for 1 hour. Remove from the refrigerator, and frost the outside of cake with seven-minute frosting. Sprinkle remaining coconut flakes all over cake while frosting is soft; do not refrigerate. Cake can be left out at room temperature for several days.

Coconut Rum Pastry Cream

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 can full fat coconut milk
1 tsp coconut extract
1 tablespoon dark rum

Place egg yolks in a large bowl; whisk to combine; set bowl aside.

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to a boil, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk 1/2 cup hot milk mixture into the reserved egg yolks to temper. Slowly pour warm yolks into the saucepan, stirring constantly. Cook slowly, stirring, over medium-low heat, until mixture begins to bubble, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in coconut extract and rum.

Transfer filling to a medium mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the pastry cream to prevent a film. Chill until firm, overnight, or at least 8 hours.

Seven Minute Frosting Recipe

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
3 large egg whites, room temperature

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Rub a bit between your fingers to make sure there is no graininess. Raise heat to bring to a boil. Do not stir anymore. Boil, washing down sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water from time to time to prevent the sugar from crystallizing, until a candy thermometer registers 230 degrees about 5 minutes. (Depending on the humidity, this can take anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes.)

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 1/2 minutes. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Remove the syrup from the heat when the temperature reaches 230 degrees (it will keep rising as pan is removed from heat). Pour the syrup in a steady stream down the side of the bowl (to avoid splattering) containing the egg-white mixture, with the mixer on medium-low speed.

Beat frosting on medium speed until cool, 5 to 10 minutes. The frosting should be thick and shiny. Use immediately.