Zunana (Zucchini Banana) Flax Muffins

 

 

 

 

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Flax is really interesting. There were a lot of things I could have researched this week having to do with these muffins, but I knew the least about flax so I decided to go for it. It seemed like kind of a health food fad lately – which is true considering 300 new flax products have entered the market since 2010.

But I mostly know flax as an egg replacer. Most of you vegans out there will know this, but you can substitute a flax paste for eggs in almost any baking recipe, unless, of course it’s something egg-based like a souffle… A flax seed “souffle” might not be the most delicious. I’ve used this substitute two or three times in cookies and brownies mostly, and it works out alright:

1 egg = 1 Tbsp ground flax seed + 2-3 Tbsp water. Just boil the water and the flax together until it’s a thick egg-like consistency and allow it to cool before adding to your recipe.

But in doing research this week I found way too much information on flax. It’s one of those “super foods” that everyone from the Mayo Clinic to Cosmopolitan magazine likes to talk about. Obviously I’ll believe Mayo over Cosmo, but just the amount of information about flax was overwhelming. My combined sources claimed these facts about flax:

  • Reduces risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes
  • Has Omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • Has antioxidant qualities
  • Has fiber
  • Has a protective effect against breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer
  • May help with cholesterol levels
  • Reduces inflammation
  • May help with hot flashes
  • You can replace 1/4 to 1/2 cup of  flour with ground flaxseed if a recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour
  • The suggested serving is 1-2 Tbsp of flax seed per day

So if all those facts are true, flax is pretty great. And while I am skeptical, like I am with any health fad, it seems like most people are in agreement that flax is a good thing to consume for one reason or another. People believed in the benefits of flax even way back when. In the 8th century in Babylon, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flax that he passed laws requiring his court to consume it. I guess he knew what he was talking about.

Martha Stewart and I collaborated on the recipe – or I guess I should say that I just made some changes to Martha’s recipe, but collaboration with Martha might be a dream of mine. I typically like my muffins to be a little more complicated, and these certainly have a lot going on, so thanks Martha. Plus they have a whole half cup of flax so you can get in your daily recommended dose.

Zunana Flax Muffins

1 3/4 cups AP flour

1/2 cup ground flaxseed (I had whole seeds and ground them in my coffee grinder)

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 cup grated zucchini (1 small zucchini)

2/3 cup mashed ripe banana (2 large bananas)

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

chocolate chips (optional)

Streusel topping (optional)

 

Stir together the mashed banana and grated zucchini, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

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Add the milk, egg and vanilla, stir thoroughly to combine.

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Add the flour, flax, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar. Then the chocolate chips.

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Spray your muffin tin and fill each well 3/4 of the way (these muffins don’t rise like crazy, so don’t be scared to fill ’em up!)

Bake 22-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before taking them out.

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Eat them while saying the word “zunana” to your kittens over and over and watch how confused they get.

Side note: Peter wanted me to call these Bacchini (like Bikini) muffins, but I refused. Opinions?

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Alton Brown’s Ginger Almonds

Alton Brown is at the top of my heroes list. He’s the creator of the Food Network show Good Eats, the host of Iron Chef America and has written multiple amazing cook books. I completely relate to his curiosity about not just how to make delicious food, but how making good food works, where it comes from and what the story behind it is.

What I didn’t know about Alton Brown until recently was that he’s lost 50 pounds in the past 3 years, and he looks great! Some time after the holidays I watched his episode called “Live and let Diet.” I found it here on Foodnetwork.com (just click on Good Eats on the left sidebar).

He explained in this episode how awesome almonds are – they contain more nutrients than any other nut and they are SO filling. I have never ever enjoyed almonds unless ground into flour for a macaron or turned into a paste to fill a croissant, but his recipe sounded good, so I thought I’d give it a try. This is a satisfyingly salty, crunchy treat to keep in your purse, at work or in your car – a handful goes a long way.

Alton Brown’s Ginger Almonds 

1 Tbsp ground ginger

1 tsp kosher salt

3 tsp oil (olive oil, sesame oil, etc…)

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (alton uses chile de arbol)

1 lb. raw almonds

1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

 

Start by putting the ginger and salt in a large bowl, set that aside and preheat your oven to 250 degrees.

Now begin to hear the oil and red pepper flakes in a large skillet until fragrant (about 45 seconds). Add the almonds and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Add the soy sauce and Worcestershire and cook until reduced and the pan looks dry. Then move the almonds to the bowl of ginger and salt and toss them around to coat. Spread them out evenly on a baking sheet.

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Bake the almonds for about 20 minutes, then take them out to cool completely before snacking. Take it from me, if you eat them while hot they are kind of chewy and stick in your teeth. No fun. After about 30 minutes of cooling they should be perfect for munching.

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Yummmm…. everyone loves a healthy snack, even sleepy kitties.

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Lemon White Chocolate Italian Macaron

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I gave in to the macaron fad late, sometime around easter last year. “Macarons are the new cupcake” says NPR and fox news (I guess they agree when it comes to sweets). Well, I’m glad I gave in. Macarons are delicious, fun and a great challenge. When done right, they’re the perfect little bite of melt-in-your-mouth-wonderful, when done wrong, they still taste pretty darn good. So don’t be afraid of them! They’re kind of like a little science experiment that you get to eat afterward.

When I first made macarons I made the most common French variety. I later learned that there are also Italian and Swiss macarons, and their differences come mostly from the making of the meringue.

French: Meringue is made by adding granulated sugar to egg whites until stiff peaks form, then adding the meringue to dry almond flour and powdered sugar. Longer resting time: 15-30 minutes.

Italian: Hot sugar water is slowly added to half the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then added to a damp mixture of  almond flour, powdered sugar and the other half of the egg whites. Shorter resting time: 10-15 minutes.

Swiss: The least common method. Egg whites and sugar are beaten together over a double boiler, then added to dry ingredients. Medium resting period: 15-20 minutes.

I’ve only made french macarons in the past, but decided to try italian because I’ve become more comfortable with working with hot sugar, and I heard they have a more stable shell. This recipe is from my favorite little macaron recipe book Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes from the MacarOn Cafe, but the ganache is my own!

Lemon White Chocolate Italian Macaron

Shells

1 cup egg whites (7-8 eggs), divided in half

3 cups (10.6 oz.) almond flour (I get my almond flour from honeyville farms, it’s legitimately awesome)

2 1/4 cups (10.6 oz.) powdered sugar

6 Tbsp water

1 1/2 (10.6 oz.) cups granulated sugar

pinch of salt

5-7 drops of gel food coloring of your choice – I used yellow because of the lemon flavor, but you could always make them purple if you wanted to really throw people off.

Ganache

2 cups white chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cream

zest from one medium lemon

 

First get everything set up, once the batter is done you’ll want to work fairly quickly. So, get your baking sheets lined with parchment or a silpat and get a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.

Now sift together the almond flour and powdered sugar, then mix in half the egg whites – you’ll get a paste-like texture, kind of like playdough. Then combine the granulated sugar and water on the stove with a candy thermometer – we’re looking for 245 degrees, the firm ball stage.

Once all that is set up, start the other half of the egg whites and salt in a mixer with a whisk attachment at medium-high speed. Add food coloring here as well.

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When the sugar reaches 245 degrees, slowly pour it down the inside of the mixing bowl while beating the egg whites. Allow this to mix at a medium-high speed (but on the higher end, around an 8 on my kitchenaid) until you touch the bottom of the mixing bowl and it has cooled down significantly (about 5-7 minutes).

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Then, fold the meringue into the almond flour mixture until completely incorporated. At this point in making french macarons you have to be very careful to not over mix the batter, but with these Italian macarons it is much more difficult to over mix. Just one more reason to love Italian macarons…

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Now fill your pastry bag and pipe 2″ circles onto your covered baking sheet. Give them a little space (probably more than I did), just so that it doesn’t get too humid in the oven. Let the unbaked shells set for 10-15 minutes while your oven preheats to 325 degrees.

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Bake the shells 14-15 minutes, opening the door once (around the 5 minute mark) to let out the steam and humid air.

While their baking you can start the ganache. Put the white chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl, combine the cream and zest in a small sauce pan and heat until it just begins to simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate and wait about 5 minutes for the chocolate to melt, then stir until smooth. Let it sit out or in the refrigerator until it is a piping consistency.

When the macaron shells come out of the oven let them cool for about 10 minutes on the pan before attempting to take them off. When they are cool pipe a generous amount of ganache onto half the shells and sandwich them together.

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Ahhhh… macaron bliss…

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