Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fennel Pollen & Passover

A few months ago my husband and I had a rare moment to go into NYC by ourselves, sans kids. My mother-in-law gave us tickets to see Fela, a fabulous Broadway show about Fela Kuti, one of our favorite musicians from Nigeria, and choreographed by Bill T. Jones who I also love! (Very worth the trip, check it out!) After the show we got together with one of our oldest friends Mel and her boyfriend Caesar, both of whom are acupuncturists and great NYC foodies. We ended up in the east village at The Red Head, a farmers' market driven southern cooking restaurant with some New Orleans influence. It was very good, and better than you'd imagine even the best southern influenced cooking could be, and I don't say things like that lightly. We got to talking about foods we love, only to learn that Caesar had been carrying his own salt around with him lately, to sprinkle on all kinds of things! After dinner we treked over to Porchetta, a small pork restaurant in alphabet city, where Caesar quickly purchased a little tin, and handed it to me as a gift. A fabulous gift! It was a great night, and did a lot to quench my thirst for NYC food and friends.

Since returning home, I have been sprinkling tiny bits of this fragrant fennel pollen laced salt on just about everything, fish, bagels, tofu, carrots, you name it. I love Fennel, and the deep but fresh aroma of the fennel pollen, mixed with sage and rosemary in this salt is just wonderful. We have fondly come to call it "Pig Salt", due to the pig on the tin (not very kosher, I know). If you want to experiment with fennel pollen, there are lots of resources online for it and you can shop around, but here is one site where you can purchase some.
For our passover seder last night hosted by my mother, I was given the task of making 2 cakes, the matzo balls and the fish. A recipe ripped from the NY Times was left on my counter a few days ago and then yesterday a large bag of Haddock she'd purchased. Check out the original recipe which included thinly sliced roasted lemons and olives, both of which I love. I hadn't really looked at the recipe much until I was ready to cook it, and hadn't noticed that it had fresh rosemary as well. Since my garden is still thawing, I didn't have any on hand, I thought my fennel pollen salt with rosemary would make a great substitution for the fresh rosemary and also the chili powder in the recipe.

I followed the recipe and started by roasting the fish with the lemons at 450, and then broiling them for  a minute to brown them, but they didn't really brown much. I would start by broiling them first, and then set the oven to 450 to finish them if needed. We served this up with roasted asparagus and green beans, as well as smashed fingerling potatoes with leeks. 

We had a very nice seder, which this year included the reading of the names of many of our family members who died during the Holocaust in Europe. We had old friends and new ones, family members ranging in age from 1-87, and of course, tons of great food. Below clockwise from the left: matzo ball soup, my mom's roasted chicken staying warm, a fabulous almond cardamom and lemon cake (no dairy, no gluten), and miriam's delicious salad with pea shoots, candied nuts, and some roasted beets my mom added on.

What did you cook or eat this week? 
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Memories & Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake

My passion for baking was sparked long before my passion for cooking. The culprit: large meringues spooned and piped onto parchment, drying out in our apartment oven overnight. They emerged from the oven early the in the morning like fluffy white clouds slipping from the pitch dark oven, glowing when touched by the morning sun. Seriously, for all it's poetic cheesiness, that is how I remember the moment that I was first dazzled by egg whites and sugar.

I don't think I was more than 5 years old, and  I'd probably been helping my mother bake for most of them. When I was born she started a quest to bake her way through a french pastry book recipe by recipe, Julie/Julia style, but decades earlier, (and minus the blog). Meringues soon became my specialty. I would sit on the counter beside the sturdy kitchen aid mixer with a cup of sugar and a spoon. As the egg whites whisked around the silver bowl I would slowly sprinkle in a spoonful of sugar, being careful to have it fall onto the whites and not be kicked back onto the sides of the bowl. I sat patiently waiting for 30 seconds before slowly adding another spoonful, again and again until the cup of sugar was empty and the egg whites were billowy and glossy.  Let me point out that I was not a patient child, more of a burst of energy and inspiration kind of kid, so you can imagine that completing this recipe and then waiting for the meringues to dry out for hours in the oven, sometimes overnight was an incredible feat. But I loved it, and it quickly became my job to make meringues for passover every year. I continue to be mesmerized by meringues, or any recipe containing whipped egg whites for that matter, to this day.

I know it is odd for such a description not to lead into a recipe for meringues, but I actually sat down to write a lead up to this fabulous chocolate sweet potato cake, also inspired by my mother, and also for passover. As I started to think about passover and baking and making a cake leavened by beaten egg whites as this one is, I was over come with the memory of meringues in my mother's kitchen. A wonderful illustration of the visceral, non-linear nature of food. Memories sparked by a scent of spice, the feel of butter or the texture of clouds.
I found this picture from last year where I actually topped the cakes with meringue.

Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake or Cup Cakes
The original recipe for this cake was called "mock chestnut torte" and can be found at Epicurious.com.
It is by Marcy Goldman from,

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 Cup brown sugar
2T white sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes, fresh or canned - slightly warm is good
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, melted and still warm
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg or cardamom
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. If making a cake, line a 9-inch springform pan with baking parchment. If making cupcakes, fill muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the 1/2 cup brown sugar. Blend in the egg yolks, then the mashed sweet potatoes, vanilla and warm chocolate. if the chocolate and potatoes are cold, this mixture will be very hard, and difficult to fold in whites.
  3. In another bowl, with clean beaters, whip the egg whites gently until they are a bit foamy. Then add in the salt and whip on a higher speed, slowly dusting in the two tablespoons of sugar to form stiff, glossy (but not dry) peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the sweet potato/chocolate mixture and work them in well to loosen the batter. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg whites, blending well but taking care not to deflate the mixture. 
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan or cupcake papers. Bake for about 40 minutes for the cake and 25 minutes for the cupcakes. The cake rises and looks dry, and slightly cracked on top when done. The middle should be soft but firm. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. At this point, the cake can be frozen for up to a month.
Pictures of the cake from passover 2010, decorated by my 5 year-old, he was very proud!

    The original recipe gives a chocolate ganache glaze, but I didn't think it needed more chocolate. My mother likes to melt chocolate and pour it over the top of the cake. I have been more inclined to leave it plain, or top it with a salted caramel buttercream or torched swiss meringue.

    To make a simple meringue frosting:
    2 eggwhites
    1/2 cup sugar

    Put the eggwhites and sugar in a heat proof mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. wisk constantly until sugar is disolved and whites are very warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water and using electric mixer whisk whites until cool, about 7-10 minutes. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes. To brown, use a hand torch, or set cakes under the oven broiler for 20 seconds or until edges of meringue are golden.

    To leave a comment, click the word "comments" below

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Spiced Curry Rice

    Around 4:45 each night I start warding off hungry children with small bowls of sliced veggies or nuts to munch on until I can get dinner ready, and hopefully hold them off until Papa is home to join us. This means that cooking dinner on a weeknight is usually a quick event consisting of bits of leftover rice or noodles, a bunch of vegetables, or a few dishes I managed to cook ahead on Sunday afternoon. Spiced rice is a great solution for this sort of dinner. For this dish, I was inspired by a recipe from Khadija Gurnah in New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven, the community cookbook I developed, and by a great dish served up at Thali Too, a fabulous Indian vegetarian restaurant in New Haven, CT where the use of spices is superb, and everything on the menu is under $10. 

    For this rice dish I added tofu and almonds for some protein, and some broccoli for the vegetable part of the meal. The kids and I nibbled on cucumbers, and a few slices of red peppers while dinner was cooking. you can get very creative with additions to this dish. any protein would work well: slices of chicken, beef or shrimp, or even chickpeas could be nice, and peas, peppers, greenbeans, or cauliflower would all be good additions as well.

    Spiced Curry Rice
    Cooked basmati rice (white or brown)
    Curry powder
    Extra spices of your choosing (cardamom pods, cumin, corinader, cinnamon, clove, hot pepper, tumeric)
    Onion, finely diced
    Garlic, minced
    Fresh ginger, grated or minced
    Tofu, cut in small cubes
    Almonds, toasted
    Broccoli, cut into small floretts
    1. In a large high-sided frying pan, sauté onions in a small amount of oil, add garlic and ginger, a pinch of salt and cook until onions are translucent and garlic and ginger are fragrant.
    2. Add broccoli and saute for a minute. Add spices and tofu and saute for another minute. Add rice and Raisins and sauté on low heat until rice is warm. You may need to add a sprinkle of water to the pan at this point to make the rice tender if it had been in the refrigerator.
    3. Continue stiring the rice gently  over low heat until warmed through. Toss in some almonds, adjust seasoning, and serve. 
    If you'd like to leave a comment, click the word "comment" below

      Wednesday, March 24, 2010

      New Office of Sustainability in New Haven

      Welcome to New Haven Register readers from the "Blog Haven" site.  On this blog you will find delicious recipes, ideas on cooking fresh affordable simple meals, information on sustainable agriculture and food issues and much more. Much of it is global, but certain topics are distinctly local, like this one:
       Last night as a member of the New Haven Food Policy Council, I attended a welcoming celebration for Christine Eppstein Tang, the new Director of the New Haven office of Sustainability.  Representatives of many grassroots organizations and local businesses gathered to welcome her and share in some delicious local Grub. A fresh garden salad with greens from the Yale farm, pasta from Nica's, coffee from Blue State, and tasty coconut cupcakes from Cafe Romeo. The establishment of the new Office of sustainability is an opportunity for the city to build on and coordinate with all of the work being done in our community already. There is a green movement sweeping our nation and New Haven is near the head of the pack. Our small city has dozens of grassroots organizations passionately committed to sustainable agriculture, food, energy efficiency, and environmental issues.  

      Initially in her new position, Ms. Tang will be focusing on:
         - Energy conservation initiatives
         - Overhaul of the City’s recycling program
         - Efforts to improve local air quality.
      The sustainability office is using social media like twitter and facebook to communicate with city residents and get their message out and get feedback. Check out their site for links to other local organizations working on sustainability in our region.

      The New Haven Food Policy Council has been active in helping to improve our city's school food program which provides universal free breakfast and lunch to all New Haven students. The program is now run by Chef Tim Cypriano, aka, the Local Food Dude, check out his blog where he posts information on improvements being made to our school meals program as well as federal and state policy issues we are all fighting to change to improve the food our students eat. I'll post more about the great advances in our school food program in later posts.

      There are so many great local organizations that work on food sustainability issues, here are a few:

      If you have any questions about local food issues and how to get involved, please post comments or questions here.

      Tuesday, March 23, 2010

      A little bit of cold has crept back into march, just in time to savor a little more hot chocolate before the winter has left us for good. You don't really need a recipe to make hot chocolate from scratch, just warm some milk (even soy or almond milk) add some chopped chocolate or cocoa, whisk well,  sweeten if needed and sip away. Your hot chocolate can be milky, bitter, sweet, thick and rich or how ever you like it. This version Is particularly rich and decadent (notice the tiny cup it is serve up in).

      Many years ago during a brief stint work pastry at Gramercy Tavern in NYC, I worked with a talented woman from Mexico. On a cold Sunday morning she warmed some milk with cinnamon, let it steep and stirred in a little milk chocolate. The infusion of cinnamon into the chocolate, a classic Mexican pairing was new to me, and a great revelation in what hot chocolate could be. The wave of rich hot chocolate quickly swept NYC, including two of the greats that I regularly sought out: City Bakery  with it's hot chocolate festival and housemade marshmallows and Jacques Torres chocolate shop in NYC.

      Over the years I have refined my favorite recipe to include dark chocolate, some cream if i have it, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and an important pinch of salt. This recipe made it on to the Menu I created for the Thaine Family Café, for Yale Dining Services and the Yale Sustainable Food Project in 2008. We used organic chocolate and milk. Much of that menu has changed in the preceding years since I moved on to other projects, but the hot chocolate has endured as a favorite drink.

      Spiced Hot Chocolate
      3 cups Milk
      1 cup Cream
      2 cinnamon sticks
      6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
      4 whole cloves
      pinch salt
      10 ounces bittersweet chocolate - finely chopped
      ancho chili pepper (ground or whole dried peppers)
      1. Put cream and milk into a pot with all the spices and salt. Simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the spices steep for 20-30 minutes while you chop your chocolate.
      2. Remove the spices from the milk. bring the milk back to a simmer and add the chocolate. whisk until well combined. Taste and adjust sweetness if desired. Serve in a small espresso sized cup as is, or top with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.
      3. If you want to spice it up even more, add a little chili pepper. You can use any kind of ground chili you have, ancho peppers add a nice earthy mild spiciness. If you find dried whole ancho chilies in the latino section of your grocery store, soak them in hot water until they are soft. Remove seeds, and puree in a food processor or blender until smooth, add a little water if needed to blend. Start by adding a small spoonful to your hot chocolate, whisk well and adjust spiciness as desired.
      Note: you can use any combination of milk and cream in this recipe, 2% milk and no cream is fine, Soy, Rice or Almond milk are also fine substitutions. Try experimenting with other spices too such as vanilla or black pepper.

      Sunday, March 21, 2010

      Starting Seedlings - will last year's seeds sprout to life?

      The weather in March in New England can feel like the dead of winter or a warm burst of spring. A few weeks ago we had a foot of snow, but this week the weather was well into the 50's and 60's and sunny. The warm weather and the added hour of daylight in the evenings brought me and the kids out into the backyard just before dinner, a bag of dirt, some half filled packets of seeds from last year, and a glimmer of hope that they might yield us an early crop of veggies this year.
      Planting seeds with a 5 year old, is a wonderful experience, but the addition of an almost 2 year old, added a frantic, chaotic and humorous element to the project. Dumping being the main skill-set of that age meant that there were 30 seeds where there should have been 2,  and dirt everywhere.  Overall, I think we got at least a few seeds planted properly and everything straightened out and labeled in the end. I kept my seeds in a bag in the uninsulated mudroom off the back of our house, which I have a feeling may have been a bit too cold or hot at times to be good for the longevity of the seeds, so, we'll just have to wait and see if they will sprout.

      Left: Ayo's marigold seeds planted and labeled. Right: 2 kinds of spinach, nasturtiums and zucchini seeds, planted and awaiting water.

      When we left Brooklyn and landed in New Haven almost four years ago the long yard with space for growing food was my solace for the vast land of fabulous grocery stores and restaurants I was leaving behind. The yard had not a drop of sun until we reluctantly removed a few trees, but now we get a solid 6 hours of midday sun and can grow a good deal of produce to get us through the summer and fall months. Our growing area is about 4 feet by 20 feet with small walkways between the raised beds. We have a small strawberry patch, raspberries, two struggling blueberry bushes, and 5 beds that last year had an assortment of tomatoes, lettuces, kale, cucumbers, carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini, beets, green beans, nasturtiums, and a few ears of corn.

       a spring crocus

      As the spring continues, I'll add more info about starting a home or school based garden, but for now, you might just start thinking about where and what you might like to plant. You can grow food in buckets and pots as well as raised beds or straight in the ground. Get your soil tested at a local Agricultural cooperative extension office (just google that plus your state). For the CT office click  here. You can get seeds at most garden centers and some grocery stores. Try and find organic, heritage or non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds. If you want to order online, two good companies I have ordered from are Johnny's Selected Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

      If you have kids and want to engage them in gardening and food, here are a few great picture books:
      • Carrot Soup - by John Segal
      • The Green Truck Garden Giveaway: A Neighborhood Story and Almanac by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Alec Gillman
      • Eating the Alphabet - Lois Elhert
      • Bee-Bim Bop! - by Linda Sue Park and Ho Baek Lee
      • The Gardener - by Sarah Stewart and David Small
      What are you planning to grow this year? Any home or school gardening tips? Please post any comments below!

      Wednesday, March 17, 2010

      Nothing "Natural" About Natural Flavorings

      I am a bit of an obsessive ingredient label reader. I want to know what is in the food I eat. If the label is full of ingredients that are not actual food, words I can't pronounce, or just a long slew of words, I tend to avoid it. But, reading and deciphering labels is a little more complicated than that. Companies throw in words like "natural" and "whole grain" to make people think that their products are healthy. These terms are not regulated, and therefore, don't always mean what they should. There are many other terms and ingredients I would like to go into further in later posts: "free-range", "organic", "high oleic", interesterified oils" etc. But, for now, I'd like to focus on one term that has recently been popping up everywhere: "Natural Flavorings"

      There is nothing much "natural" in natural flavorings. The difference between a natural and artificial flavoring is "the method by which is was derived, but ultimately the chemical composition can be nearly identical."

      Natural Flavorings are highly processed extracts added to foods to make them taste more intense. It has been common for decades to see packages that say "made with artifical flavorings" on things like fruit punch or ranch flavored chips, and "made with natural flavorings" might have shown up on the front of a juice blend. However, in the past few years, natural flavorings have been popping up in the fine print on ingredient labels everywhere. Here are some of the shocking places I have seen them:
      raw turkey meat
      celestial seasonings teas
      organic yogurts (almost every single brand)
      100% apple juice
      100% grape juice
      unsalted butter

      This is crazy right? Doesn't butter taste enough like butter, not to need flavoring added to it?! and juice? why would 100% juice need flavor added to it to make it taste more juice-like? I think the answer is 2 fold:

      1. people are used to buying more processed foods these days because they are cheap, and so companies feel like they have to make products that actually are made with natural whole ingredients, taste more intense or have a bigger "flavor profile" like their more processed counterparts. All of this goes back to the farm bill and how it subsidizes certain crops and not others, which has resulted in cheap packaged food that is mostly bad for our health.

      2. because the flavorings come from "natural sources" they are still allowed to be called "natural" making them sound like they are good for our health, so people don't worry about eatting them. Just because something is "natural" does not mean it is good for you.

      My sister inlaw has some pretty severe health problems and is on a very restricted diet that was really helping her colitis. One thing she has to avoid completely is chemicals. It was cooking for her that made me start to realize just how many things have natural flavoring in them, i mean raw turkey breast, seriously!!!
      Click here for more info on natural vs. artificial flavorings
      Click here for a definition of natural flavorings

      While i was in the grocery store sneaking photographs of food labels, I walked past this wonderful example of everything that is wrong with our food system right now:
      Let's just say that there is absolutely nothing "healthy" about this Healthy Bunch pack of popsicles. There is almost nothing that is actually natural in this box. It is much healthier, cheaper and tastier to make your own fruit juice popsicles or sorbet, and it takes hardly any work. Check back to this blog through the summer and you will find lots of great recipes and ideas for healthy, homemade frozen treats.

      Monday, March 15, 2010

      Peanut Butter Balls - The Next Generation

      I grew up in the 70's and 80's, raised by a single mom with a serious sweet tooth that she tried to suppress in favor of the brown rice syrup, date sugar, and other assorted non-sugary sweets of the hippy healthfood movement of the day. In my family, this desire for sweets is a phenomenon much larger than my mother. The evidence of this is clear amidst any gathering of the maternal side of my family, the Wynbergs, where the love of cooking and eating is paramount, but where the number of desserts at a meal usually matches or exceeds the number of savory dishes.

      I stared working in bakeries in NYC shortly after graduating from college in 1995. Spending my days surrounded by sugary treats, my hands rolling dough, chopping chocolate, decorating cookies and making frangipane, set my heart alight, and the freedom to sample these treats at my whim curbed my sweet tooth, well, just a bit. Suddenly sweets where not rare, forbidden or expensive.

      There are certain healthy sweets I have terrible memories of from my childhood, and which I have completely avoided as an adult. Peanut butter balls fall into this category. I remember sticky, goopy, peanut butter molded into blobs served up to us kids at our cooperative daycare. Now don't get me wrong, I love peanut butter (and cooperative daycares for that matter), but there was something about the memory of this food that screamed "yucky-super-crunchy-granola-snack-no-kid-really-likes". It is amazing how things can change once you have children of your own...

      Confronted last week by a 1 1/2 year-old asking for yet another spoonful of peanut butter (only half of which makes it into her mouth), the memory of peanut butter balls resurfaced, but took on new significance. To make these treats, peanut butter is mixed with something like oats or powdered milk to form a firm dough. Hence, the peanut butter my daughter scrapes off of bread with her pointer finger or smears onto her face or in her hair when I'm not looking would be rendered un-smearable!

      So I set off to tackle this tainted treat and breathe some new life into it. Some freshly ground peanut butter from the grocery store (the cheapest all natural PB around) was mixed with some honey, cinnamon, quick oats, a little powdered ginger and a pinch of salt till it formed a stiff nicely sweetened dough. Then rolled in coconut, or cocoa to help them resemble truffles rather than the gooey blobs of my childhood. Well, it turned out that my 5 year old boy loved these (as did I), but the one year old, well, not so much. She still prefers the stuff straight from the jar on a spoon. But, at least me and my boy have one more healthy sweet treat to share, since of the two of them, he has clearly inherited the Wynberg sweet tooth.

      Saturday, March 13, 2010

      Burgers with Sneaky Greens

      These burgers are a simple and delicious way to "sneak" a few veggies into a meal. This recipe can be found in the community cookbook I just completed in partnership with Cityseed and the CT Department of Public Health: New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven. My kids are pretty good about eating vegetables, but I do like to sneak a few extra into some of our food so that they will eat a wider variety of vegetables, especially leafy greens which are full of fabulous vitamins. I love these burgers, and am happy to get a few more greens into my meal as well.

      For this meal I made lamb burgers and used lacinata or "dinosaur" kale. The prep is simple, and all you need to do is sear them well in a very hot heavy bottomed pan or grill, and serve them up with any number of sides. We had sweet potatoes and slices of red pepper with ours for a quick dinner.

      Burgers with Sneaky Greens
      from New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven
      1 pound Ground beef, lamb, or turkey
      1/2 small onion, finely chopped
      1 egg (you can use 2 if you want more binding)
      1/2 cup bread crumbs or flour
      1 cup finely chopped kale (or collards or spinach)
      1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
      1 pinch pepper (to taste)

      1.In a medium bowl, gently combine all ingredients together with your hands, and form into 6-8 patties.
      2.cook in a hot heavy-bottomed frying pan with a small amount of oil. when the first side is nicely browned and the edges are starting to cook, flip burgers and cook for 1 or 2 minutes more.

      These burgers are great with the usual fixings, or you can try caramelized onions, spicy mustard and greens.

      Monday, March 8, 2010

      Quick thoughts

      Monday lunch, yesterday's trip to Brooklyn a sweet memory lingering on my plate. Warm Za'tar bread, lemony Lebanese hummos, freshly made, long lettuce leaves, torn from a romaine heart. Organic romaine hearts form Trader Joes. Guiltily purchased rather than the more expensive but more sustainably grown local lettuce I would prefer. NPR on the radio, talk of GMO seeds, mono-culture and world hunger, a manipulated discussion that missed the real point and problem. I change the station in favor of my simple lunch and a glass of cool water, pondering what is next in my life in food.

      Saturday, March 6, 2010

      Buttermilk Muffin Inspiration

      About a week ago I bought a pint of buttermilk and it has been staring at me from the refrigerator shelf ever since. Usually the luxury of having real buttermilk in the house would have inspired me to pour it into a batch of pancake batter or scones as soon as I had a free moment in the morning. Lately, I've been more than a little busy with the arrival of our new book New Haven Cooks, so a whole week went by and the butter milk was still sitting there, waiting.

      On Saturday I was up before the sun (thanks to the 1 year old) and felt that wonderful early morning urge to bake. I have some basic recipes I keep scratched on scraps of paper which I use as a jumping point for most of my basic baking. There is a great pancake recipe, an apple oil cake, scones, and a few others. but I felt like making muffins and didn't have a good buttermilk muffin recipe, so i jumped online and found one at:

      I often use a baking recipe as a starting point. I like to alter the types of flours to make the recipe a little healthier without sacrificing flavor, so i might use part whole wheat or spelt flour, oats, or dry grains such as millet for a little crunch. I sometimes reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe or change the types of sweeteners used, so some of the sugar might be replaced with honey, agave, or molasses. And then there are the basic additions, fruits (fresh, frozen or dried), nuts, chocolate, almond paste, and spices.

      The basic thing to keep in mind when replacing ingredients in a baking recipe is to maintain the balance of dry and wet ingredients, and the ratio of baking soda or powder to the density of the ingredients you are using. for example, if you replace some dry sugar with wet molasses, then you might want to add an extra tablespoon or so of flour. Or, if you are using all whole grain flours, you might want a little more leavening.

      This type of experimental baking does take a little practice, but it's fun, healthy, and just by using a little common sense and creativity, you're bound to end up with tasty results in the end.

      Here is my completely altered recipe for
      Buttermilk Muffins with Molasses, Orange and Currants

      1 cup unbleached white flour (I used spelt)
      1 1/3 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
      1/4 cup dry millet
      1/3 cup molasses
      1/4 cup agave (or honey or maple syrup)
      1/4 cup sugar
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      1/4 teaspoon baking soda
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
      zest from one orange
      1 egg beaten
      3/4 cup butter milk (you can substitute 3/4 cup milk or soy milk plus 1 teaspoon vinegar or 1 tablespooon orange juice)
      2/3 cup oil
      1/2 cup currants or other dried fruit)

      1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease or place muffin papers in one muffin tin (12 muffins).

      2. Mix the wet ingredients together, including the zest.

      3. Sift the dry ingredients together and stir in the sugar.

      4. Mix the wet and dry together and carefully fold in the blueberries.

      5. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

      Here is the original delicious recipe with my substitutions in parenthesis and in green:

      Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins
      from the Joy of Baking with my notes in parentheses

      2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (replace with: 1 cup white, 1 1/3 cup whole spelt, 1/4 cup dry millet)
      3/4 cup granulated white sugar ( replace with: 1/3 cup molasses, 1/4 cup agave or honey, 1/4 cup sugar)
      2 tsp baking powder
      1/4 tsp baking soda
      1/4 tsp salt
      (add 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger)
      Zest of one orange
      1 large egg, lightly beaten
      3/4 cup buttermilk
      2/3 cup safflower or canola oil (I used a light olive)
      1 tsp vanilla extract (did not use vanilla)
      2 cups of blueberries (replace with: 1/2 cup dried currants)