Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Muffins for my Muffin: Healthy Banana Nut Muffins & Herbal Coffee!

Valentine's Day is a fickle thing, you never seem to know exactly what we can expect from it, always a reminder of time and change in our life. But, like many other holidays, its an excuse to whip up something unnecessary, but delicious... to build love into our art & experiment with emotional play.

Thus, the succulent muffin was born! Well, I didn't quite birth it myself, it was inspired by the fabulous The Joy of Vegan Baking (a must read for veganization of the classics, Irish Soda Bread to breakfast scones). It was also inspired by T, who was taking me to a movie for Valentine's Day: Forks Over Knives! Yes, T obviously knows me well, giddy at the chance to sneak a peek at the newest and highly rated documentary on the benefits of a "plant-strong" diet. (A MUST see, more on this in a later post).

Being the Chocolate-in-my-Muffin-Addict I am, I did a side batch for my self (shhh)

With health and nutrition on the mind, the task began to strike a balance between comforting morning sweets (sometimes I think T's an incurable sweet addict) & a healthful diet... if there were going to be 16 muffins tempting me, they'd better not be pure sugar.

So, with a bit of reconfiguring and additional add ons, here's a quick recipe for one of the best, if not thee best, vegan muffin I've had to date (no dates involved, but a good idea!); evenly cooked, super soft, and with a gentle moistness about it:

Be Mine Muffins
* 2 C, whole wheat pastry flour
* 1 1/2 t, baking soda
* 1/2 t, salt
* 1/4 C, granulated sugar
* 1/4 C, brown sugar
* 1/3 C, grapeseed oil
* 2/3 C, applesauce
* 4 very ripe bananas, well mashed
* 1/8 C, water
* 1 vanilla bean, caviar
* 1/3 C, chopped walnuts
* 1/3 C, chopped pecans
* 1/4 C, chopped good-quality dark chocolate (*optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place muffin tins in your muffin pan and grease lightly (make approximately 16 muffins)
2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the sugars and oil. Add in applesauce and mix. Add in the mashed bananas and stir well. Stir in the water and vanilla bean, mix thoroughly.
4. Add the flour into the wet mixture, along with the nuts and chocolate (is using). Stir to mix.
5. Fill each muffin tin about 2/3 of the way with batter. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes (mine were done at 24 minutes each), or until they are golden brown and a knife, when inserted into it, comes out clean. Enjoy!

Of course, it wouldn't be Valentine's Day without some gifts and surprises....

HERBAL COFFEE! I was lucky enough to have won this great selection of healthy, mostly organic, non-caffeinated, herbal coffees and, lo-and-behold, they arrive on my door step with love, the day of love!

Too perfect.

The selections were chocolate, chai, hazelnut, vanilla almond, and java. With all natural ingredients such as organic carbo and organic dates, its a unique blend of some of my favorite flavors. Of course, if you're a coffee aficionado (as I sometimes think of myself as; only because of an irrational obsession perhaps), I would give a word of warning: don't expect "coffee".

T said he could've been fooled, but if you know your coffee, I beg to differ; it doesn't have the fullness and subtleties of real (good) coffee, a bit more like an strong herbal tea. Which is NOT to say that they are delicious.

I think it does its job well and if you want something richer than tea, but perhaps don't want the caffeine or the potentially cancerous decaf version of coffee, this is not only a great alternative, but its a really unique drink with some great ingredients and flavors.

Have you tried herbal coffee? How much coffee do you drink & what flavors do you look for in a good coffee? Also, anyone have a good vegan pistachio muffin recipe? :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Simple & Fresh for Success: A Review of Harvard Square Clover

Lesson learned: chocolate seduction is not an excuse to replace sweets & fried foods for a real meal

One of the best ways to cook and eat I've found is to be guided by how you will after the meal. If you're running low on fuel, high-sugary refined-grains may seem appealing, but the quick energy spike and massive crash you'll receiving after will leave you worse off than before. In this case some whole grains and nutrient-dense veggies (particularly protein packed options like spinach or quinoa) would serve you better presently and in the future.

Sometimes I forget this simple rule and go by misguided instinct rather than rational understanding. This is what happened last night and, boy, can I tell you, it is not pretty!
Years ago, when I used to be addicted to junk food (as many people now are; it really is addicting), it might not have phased me.... but after a night of (literally) unlimited, free greasy Chinese food, a plethora of vegan desserts, and tons of free appetizers samples (everything fried), I paid for it in more than a mere stomach ache. [This was less the result of choice, but more of happenstance and too many events in a night].

Food nourishes not only our body but our mind and our soul. There have been numerous articles suggests that poor nutrition leads to poor learning. Unhealthy food clogs our mind and skews our emotions. The bright and light feeling after a morning of muesli and fresh carrot/apple/kale juice could not be more contrasted to the faint twinge of depression accompanying the crash after a nutrient-low meal.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one; how have you experience food as a predictor of mood and bodily satisfaction? I'd love to hear to learn from others experiences and recommendations!


It is with this in mind that I am thankful for a new, fresh addition to Harvard Square: Clover Food Lab. Among the numerous greasy pizza and burger joints offer to Harvard students, Clover stands out as one of the few that serves up healthy, fresh, and simple food that is still outstandingly delicious (kudos also to Crema Cafe, Cafe Pamplona, Falafel Corner, & Boloco, among potentially others).

Clover started out as a food truck, parked just down the street near MIT. I remember numerous times of biking past it and thinking how I'd have to try it, it's consistently massive line indicating customer satisfaction. Imagine my luck, then, when I found out they were opening a permanent location in Harvard Square! All white, minimalist, it could double as an Apple store; perhaps not surprising, then, that your order is taken down by a greeter on an i-touch.

The best part? Clover is ALL vegetarian and most menu items can be easily made vegan! With its extremely reasonable price, welcoming environment, and friendly on-the-go style, Clover became an instant hit among the student population. Never have I heard so many of my omnivore classmates suggesting a vegetarian location for lunch.

It was no surprise, of course, upon tasting their unique menu items:

Chickpea Fritter Sandwich
It's clear why this sandwich is their most popular item; filled with a light hummus, pickled vegetables, fresh Israeli salad, and tender chickpea fritters (made with organic chickpeas, its similar to a falafel), this whole-wheat pita pocket steals the show.

Egg & Eggplant Sandwich
Made with the unique combination of hard-boiled egg and eggplant, drizzling with their light vegan tahini sauce over fresh veggies, my eating companion (Matt) informed me that it too was fantastic. All eggs are sourced locally from a family-owned farm. This sandwich can easily be made vegan by omitting the egg.

The Soup of the Day when I went, I thought it was very flavorful and hearty, but with a Polish boyfriend and close Russian friend, its hard to compare to generation old family recipes. Then again, who can say not to perfectly stewed beets?

CoffeeI wouldn't use the word connoisseur because it seems pompous but I do think I've tasted my fair share of coffee and have a palate now that can taste the subtle differences in flavor (and the not so subtle lack of flavor extracted from burn, over roasted chain "coffee"). This coffee met the test for a wonderfully made cup.

All the coffee is single origin, often organic, and made using a manual individual-drip process (as most of the best coffee places do, such as Monmouth in London). Furthermore the servers are very knowledge in helping you find the pick the right coffee. They also offer cold brew.

Clover also has daily sides, some of which switch, all of which seem intriguing: fried pickles, rosemary fries, hot honey ginger tea, and apple popovers in the morning.

One thing we can expect from Clover besides consistent deliciousness is an openness that fosters true trust (something we can only rarely expect from the food industry these days). The Harvard Square location has an open kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows allowing customers to view the cooking process; team meetings are held in the store and anyone is allow to come listen.

With a focus on fresh food that changes daily and the promotion of vegetarian values, Clover offers what many restaurants fail to: a commitment to serving real, honest food.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

When its chilly outside: White-Bean Chili inside

The snow storm to end all snow storms has been rolling through Boston here; so after a day of almost slipping on tons of black ice, climbing over mini-snow-mountains, and wadding through calf-high puddles (I kid you not) just to get to class, nothing beckons my taste buds more than a hot one-pot meal.

Recently it's been a plethora of different soups, but the other day I came home with an appetite for something spicy. T & I, of course, ended up disagreeing on what should compose this chili and somehow turned into chili-making contest (not our first time).

When all was said and done, and presented to a group of friends, mine took the winning ticket! (Though T's was a favorite for our summer chili cook-off).

Not to toot my own horn of course, but I was surprised with how deeeelicious it came out! Especially because I just wing'd it, knowing lentils, corn, & white beans would be the primary ingredients.

The corn provides a nice sweetness against the strong heat from the different peppers, as well as a good texture difference. It's not to heavy and has a very smooth texture--definitely going to be winter fav!

1st Place: White-Bean Chili


* 2-3 T, neutral-tasting oil (I used grapeseed)
* 1 small yellow onion, chopped
* Corn nibs from 2 cobs
* 1/2 jalapeno, diced
* 2 large garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 t, marjoram
* 1 T, chili powder
* 1 1/2 t, cumin
* 1 t, coriander
* 1 t, oregano
* 2 t, red pepper flakes
* 2 t, marash pepper flakes (or more red pepper might work)
* 1/2 t, paprika
* 1/2 t salt
* 1 t, freshly ground pepper
* 2 T, balsamic vinegar
* 2 C, vegetable broth
* 1/2 C, brown lentils
* 1 8oz can, tomato sauce
* 1 8oz can, cannelloni beans


1. Add oil to a large pot and head over medium. Add in chopped onions and corn, saute until softened, about 2 minutes (add more oil if needed).
2. Add in jalapeno and garlic, saute until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant but now browned, about another minute or 2.
3. Add in all of the spices from marjoram to pepper; stir constantly for 30 seconds, then deglaze with the balsamic vinegar.
4. Quickly add in the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add in lentils and slow to a simmer. Cover and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked thoroughly.
5. Add in the tomato sauce and cannelloni beanes. Bring to a boil and then bring to a very low simmer. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes more to get the best flavor meld. Enjoy!