I imagine almost everyone in the world has some acquaintance with coffee. It’s so prevalent, sold in every restaurant, grocery store, and of course blaringly advertised from the storefronts of such global giants as Starbucks. And if that two-tailed mermaid isn’t burned into the mind’s eye of some rural inhabitant of a faraway land not yet conquered by the large corporations, surely that innocent soul has been exposed to a small, local mom-and-pop store hand-brewing the bitter brown substance for the grateful townspeople. In certain places, coffee means beans and hard labor; in others it means surviving endless piles of work. In one or two very authentic locations in Italy, perhaps it means culture and enjoyment. Most everyone I know is addicted to it. However, everyone has a unique relationship with it, ranging from loathing its necessity to savoring every sip.
My cat likes to taste beverages people leave on the kitchen table (whether or not we give her permission,) and once she licked a drop of coffee that had spilled out of my dad’s unattended mug. Ever since then, we’ve had to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn’t overdose on the concoction she craves like catnip. One of my teachers in school will only take coffee diluted with cream and sugar and crowned with so many sweet toppings that barely any trace of the bitter bean survives to penetrate his taste buds. My mom doesn’t go that far in smothering her energy-sustaining substance in sweetness, but she does enjoy a good nonfat decaf soy mocha once every couple days or so. My dad, on the other hand, couldn’t go a day (or even an hour) without coffee. That’s why he jumps on every opportunity to go to a given coffee-carrying outlet to grab a cup, and why we always have a substantial stash of instant coffee in our house: caffeinated Starbucks Via for my dad, to satisfy his round-the-clock needs, and occasionally some decaf Starbucks Via for my mom’s intermittent desires.
I have no desire to put caffeine in my body, as substantial research has implicated it for having negative health effects, and it is known to be addictive. In my view, any dependence on a substance is limiting and unhealthy, so I avoid coffee if I can… but I conceded to use some decaf in this recipe. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create some amazing muffins, encapsulated in one of my mom’s boxes of decaf Starbucks Via. The hearty banana muffin base is enhanced with a chocolatey swirl laced with coffee flavor for a deep, intriguing taste. My mom described these muffins as being complex and interesting – she didn’t guess the coffee taste until I told her, but said it tasted interesting and with each bite she felt like she was discovering something new.
This phenomenon keeps anyone tasting these muffins hanging onto every bite, wanting to explore more deeply into the center of the dense, chunky muffin oozing melty chocolate chips on top – perhaps they do retain some slight level of addictiveness from the coffee! But they make up for it with health benefits galore – made with two whole fresh bananas, whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and Greek yogurt, they abound with fiber and potassium while cutting most of the fat found in traditional muffins. The sole sweeteners here are the lower sugar oatmeal, natural sugars in the bananas, and in the chocolate swirl, a bit of Truvia baking blend, a blend of sugar and the natural sweetness of Erythritol and stevia leaf extract. Chocolate chips on top can be any brand – use vegan, sustainable, or replace with cacao nibs or chocolate covered espresso beans if desired.
A note on the recipe: if I would change anything, it might be to add a bit more lightness to the texture, which my mom liked but I found even a bit too hearty and dense. Maybe using whole wheat pastry flour would help lighten things up – but with whole wheat it’s good too, just in a different way!
Banana Coffee-Cocoa Swirl Muffins
makes 12 regular-size muffins
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 packet Quaker brand Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal, Maple & Brown Sugar flavor
- generous splash of cinnamon (I mean very generous, if you want to be accurate to my inaugural attempt to control the new cinnamon shaker I got)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 container Dannon brand Light & Fit Greek yogurt, Banana Cream flavor
- 2 large bananas, separated
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 2 tbs Starbucks Via Ready Brew Decaf Italian Roast Dark Instant Coffee
- 2 tbs Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa
- 1/4 cup Truvia baking blend
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Line a standard-sized muffin tin with 12 muffin liners.
For Coffee-Cocoa Swirl: In a small bowl, combine instant coffee, cocoa, and Truvia baking blend. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.
For Muffin Batter: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs and yogurt. Using a hand mixer, beat on medium speed. Add 1.5 of the bananas in little pieces, and beat until mushed together.
Alternate pouring hot water and dry batter mixture into wet batter mixture, mixing well after each addition.
Slice the reserved 1/2 a banana, and cut the round slices into semicircles. Add these to the batter and gently stir.
Put it all together: Spoon about 1/2 the muffin batter into prepared muffin liners, distributing evenly. Add 1/2 the coffee-cocoa mixture. Top with the remaining muffin batter, then add the remaining coffee-cocoa mixture. Use a spoon or butter knife to gently swirl some of the coffee mixture down into the banana batter.
Bake at 325 Fahrenheit for a total of 17-20 minutes, removing muffins from oven after 10 minutes to top with chocolate chips before returning to oven to finish baking.
Serve warm… with coffee if you must. 🙂
Matzo farfel is basically like French toast, but with the bread replaced by matzo (the “bread of poverty and persecution,” eaten by observant Jews for eight days during Passover.) It seems like the kind of dish you’d only eat for lack of the opportunity to eat anything better, like those fake Cheerio-type cereals made with who-knows-what that are kosher for Passover but deserve the title of “the cereal of styrofoam and indigestion.” However, in its bland quirkiness, matzo farfel has garnered a certain corner of my heart. I used to love it so much as a kid my mom would make it for me throughout the year, and eating it evokes for me the memory of childhood.
Out of pure lack of inspiration, I made plain matzo farfel for my breakfast the other day, expecting its childhood appeal to have worn off, leaving it tasteless and unappealing. However, taking that first bite transported me back to a simpler time. Instantly, my food-blogger’s brain began buzzing with ideas in response to the vital question: how can I make this dish blog-worthy? I knew I wanted to make it again, but this time with more to recommend it nutritionally, and with some more interesting flavors.
A few days later, I threw together the ingredients currently in our Passover-ified pantry to make this more interesting matzo farfel. Cooked veggies add flavor, antioxidants, and fiber, while crumbled goat cheese melts magnificently into the matzo mass for a smooth richness complemented by the Mediterranean feel of the pimiento stuffed olives. I added some sage to spice things up – it would have been even better with some more interesting spices, so feel free to elaborate on that front.
Mediterranean Style Matzo Farfel
- 2 sheets matzo (I used egg; try whole wheat or gluten free if you’re feeling adventurous)
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup milk of choice (I used plain almond milk)
- pinch salt
- pinch sage
- 1 cup fresh, cooked or frozen vegetable mix (I used frozen Green Giant brand Steamers Antioxidant Blend, which is a mixture of broccoli, carrots, red and yellow bell peppers cooked in an olive oil seasoning; found in the frozen aisle)
- 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
- 4 pimiento stuffed manzanilla olives
Spray a medium to large pan with nonstick spray.
Prepare vegetables if frozen. (I microwaved them while cooking matzo farfel for convenience.)
In a medium to small bowl, beat egg, milk, and salt. Break matzo into pieces and add, coating each piece with egg mixture.
Pour matzo-egg mixture onto prepared pan. Heat to medium. Cook until one side of matzo pieces is browned, then flip. (You might get some omelette-y bits if you pour all the egg in there – that’s all right, it adds taste and protein and can help indicate when you’re ready to flip!) When both sides of matzo pieces are cooked and there is no more runny egg, remove from heat.
Place on serving plate. Mix in veggies, cheese and olives. Enjoy!
In 1926, Los Angelesian Julius Freed opened an orange juice stand. Three years later, Freed’s real estate broker Bill Hamlin improved upon his recipe to create a version of the orange drink that was less acidic. It became so popular that by 1964, the “Orange Julius” was named the official drink of the World’s Fair in New York. Dairy Queen saw the beverage gaining a following in the libation kingdom, and purchased it in 1987. Now this icy concoction of orange juice, milk, powdered egg whites, and vanilla flavoring is sold in Dairy Queen outlets from coast to coast.
(Image above from Wikipedia)
Looking at that ingredient list, it’s easy to see why the Orange Julius is so widely liked: it’s boring. I mean, I’m sure it has some taste to it, since there were probably oranges involved in that juice at some point, but most of the other ingredients are designed to soften the edge of that citrus flavor and create a sweetly simple drink even tastebuds accustomed to the most boring of American fast food could handle. And that’s all right for some. Others like to be a bit more adventurous…
I wasn’t thinking about an Orange Julius when I made this smoothie. In fact, I’ve never even tasted one, so I’m not sure I can fairly compare it with what I came up with. All I know is, I took one sip of this ice-cold blend and the iconic drink came to mind. I wondered if I had accidentally created some variation on their recipe… a variation for those who crave a little more excitement, who relish a rich, novel taste and perhaps don’t relish powdered egg whites in their flavorful libations. Is it an improvement on the classic? Dare to taste and decide.
Click here for the full recipe: Orange Julius Plus Smoothie
Orange Julius Information Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Julius
In brief: Palm oil is used in many products, under many pseudonyms. Palm plantations are causing deforestation and direct harm to wildlife, as well as social injustice. However, change is imminent: while it’s nearly impossible to remove all palm oil from store shelves at this time, the oil can be farmed sustainably. Consumers can look for certification of this and encourage their governments to incentivize or require transparent labeling and reasonable practices.
Meet the “Man of the Forest” – the orangutan. This charismatic creature plays a vital role in maintaining rainforest biodiversity by dispersing seeds, and shares about 96.4% of its genes with humans. Yet some estimates predict that that intelligent face might only be possible to behold staring out of a textbook in the next 5-10 years. According to worldwildlife.org, “A century ago there were probably more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but the Bornean orangutan is now estimated to number about 45,000-69,000 (Endangered) and the Sumatran about 7,500 (Critically Endangered). ”
One major reason for this is human activity, including habitat destruction to make way for palm oil plantations. The plantations replace the biodiverse forests that orangutans and other beautiful and rare creatures can’t live without: distinctive proboscis monkeys, majestic Sumatran tigers, fascinating pygmy elephants, and adorable sun bears are among the slew of notable wildlife whose populations are being decimated by deforestation and its effects. Beyond loss of habitat, clearing the forest and building roads for the plantation workers makes animals more accessible to poachers and agents of the illegal pet trade. Poachers, as well as simply the process of burning and chopping down trees, also cause the brutal deaths of orangutans and other animals, which would have been safe in the forest had it been protected.
It’s been estimated that 98% of Indonesia’s rainforest will be cleared within 9 years. If palm plantations continue to replace the unparalleled rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, not only will the world bid farewell to numerous amazing creatures found nowhere else, but the destructive processes used to clear the forest will contribute to global climate change and remove productive, CO2-absorbing rainforests from the face of the earth, bringing our planet that much closer to the apocalypse the most excitable climate scientists have been predicting – not to mention intense boredom due to the loss of so much inspiring biodiversity.
So stop creating all those terrible palm oil plantations! is the natural reaction, and the one I had after first hearing the news. After all, who even uses palm oil? I’ve never purchased it once…
Actually, I have, several times a week, and most people reading this have too, without even realizing it. Palm oil is that secret ingredient that makes many of our products as cheap as they are, with as long of a shelf life and with the textures to which we have become accustomed. It can be grown using half the land other types of vegetable oils need, making it efficient and cheap to produce, and nearly irresistible to manufacturers.
As a result, palm oil is sneaked into tons of processed foods: cookies, crackers, candy, nut butters, packaged popcorn, pudding, cereal, instant noodles, ice cream, non-dairy coffee creamers, margarines…the list goes on and on. The kernel of the palm can also be used in products, which would be listed as palm kernel oil in a host of items. Some non-food products, such as toothpaste, soap, lipstick, and car and house cleaning products also use palm oil and chemicals derived from it. Both food and non-food manufacturers will often use palm oil but call it something else, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, cetyl palmitate, glycerin, stearic acid, vegetable oil, and others.
Are you prepared to live without all these products for the rest of your life? I know I’m not. Thankfully, there is a way to compromise. By supporting sustainably sourced palm products, the jobs created by the palm industry remain intact, our pantries remain stocked with Nutella and our teeth properly brushed with Colgate toothpaste (for a reasonable price), and no more orangutans need suffer. As consumers, citizens and societies, we are powerful.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a not-for-profit organization comprised of 1,000 NGOs, business people, stakeholders, and producers involved in every step of the palm oil supply process (member count from November 2012.) Formed in 2004, it is committed to providing consumers with sustainably sourced and fairly traded palm oil. The RSPO created the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) criteria in 2008. In order to label a product as CSPO certified, companies must refrain from destroying primary or very biodiverse forest, as well as reduce the use of pesticides and fires while obtaining palm oil for their products. They must also treat workers fairly and respect the needs of the local people where plantations are built. Products bearing the RSPO Trademark use sustainably sourced palm products.
Around 15% of all the palm oil produced in the world each year is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. This number seems quite small: that means that 85% of all the palm oil leeching into our pantries was harvested in a dubious manner, at best. However, in a way the 15% is big: in the teens, it indicates that consumers are beginning to become aware of the environmental and social consequences of mainstream, destructive palm oil production methods. And we don’t like it. Occasionally, we dislike it so much that we make our voices heard. Companies hear our voices. And sometimes they listen.
In 2013, Ferrero officially announced its total reliance on 100% segregated, RSPO certified palm oil in all Nutella sold in France, as well as some other European markets. It also reportedly met its 2015 goal for all Nutella sold throughout the world to be made with this segregated, certified palm oil. Colgate-Palmolive has promised the public that it will use 100% sustainable palm oil by its 2015 report. Other companies are making similar pledges. By voting with our wallets, we can show companies we care how they make their products so delicious and useful. The RSPO website includes a list of some products bearing the RSPO Trademark, found here: http://www.rspo.org/trademark/trademark-products-gallery. More companies have pledged to go the sustainable route by a certain date.
However, corporations are often tricky. Many find ways to deceive consumers with a labyrinth of descriptions regarding their status on sustainability. They may be RSPO members, but not be currently sourcing the palm oil for their products sustainably. (Such hypocrites!) Some mix sustainably and unsustainably sourced palm oil in one production line. Others may use RSPO labeling, but not the seal that may only be used if they are certified officially. This indicates beating around the bush – their product is neither 100% segregated nor 100% certified sustainable, the two labels you should look for when purchasing sustainably sourced palm oil products, according to 1millionwomen.com.
How to solve for this? Consumers could demand transparent labeling, as is currently being demanded for GMO products hitting store shelves. The government, like corporations, is motivated to please the voters, and will often listen to their voices. According to Reuters, the European Union announced that, as of December 2014, all products sold in Europe that used palm fruit oil had to be labeled with it as an ingredient. In Malaysia, one government official reportedly stated an intention to create a new labeling system to let European Union consumers know whether their palm oil has been sourced in an environmentally-friendly manner.
Meanwhile, the US and many other governments allow palm fruit oil to slip under the radar: the US at least requires that it be distinguished from vegetable oil, but as previously mentioned, palm fruit oil can wear a whole wardrobe of disguising names and can cite sustainability even if this claim is shaky. It’s possible that more stringent labeling laws pertaining specifically to the level of sustainability would help consumers make educated choices. Meanwhile, self-education and close examination of labels is always in order while shopping.
Perhaps the best route is compromise. Change can straddle public and private lines: if the governments of palm producing and consuming nations, as well as the producers, investors, workers, and consumers, collaborated to incentivize the plantation owners and buyers to reduce their negative impact on environmental and social well-being, the results would be mutually beneficial. With a combination of consumer pressure, worker and employer agreements on the plantations, possible government-issued rewards for improving sustainability and maybe consequences for excessive deforestation, all manufacturers will get on the bandwagon in pursuit of those consumer and government dollars. Together, we are strongest. It can all start with one voice.
Personally, I admit that on this blog I have published many recipes that probably use products in which the palm oil (or whatever that company decided to call it on the label) was not sustainably sourced. It’s nearly impossible to avoid these products in today’s grocery stores, at least in the US. However, my personal goal is to become more aware of the products I buy, and to increase the awareness of others by seeking out ethical products, promoting the few certified sustainable brands I can find, and encouraging others as well as myself to show corporations that we prefer transparent labeling and, ultimately, show a clear preference for sustainably sourced products that did not cause any deforestation. Hopefully, 100% certified sustainable, 100% segregated palm oil will soon hit store shelves around the world in a big way.
Information Sources (links) :
Image Sources (in order of appearance) :
Wow, it feels like it’s been forever since I last blogged! I never wanted to be one of those bloggers apologizing to my readers for a prolonged hiatus due to putting other elements of my life first…but, sorry, all you readers out there, I’ve been focusing on other things for the past several months. Nothing particularly interesting, mostly staying caught up with schoolwork (barely) and dealing with dental problems (let’s not have an extended discourse about that fascinating topic.) Oh, yeah, and I spent some time doing schoolwork too.
While it may seem like it’s been a long time since I last blogged, Passover is here again after what doesn’t seem like a whole year since its last dreaded appearance on the calendar. Don’t get me wrong – I love Passover, but don’t really like the aspects such as cleaning the house and sitting at a long nighttime seder and then eating matzo for eight days…
DON’T eat matzo for eight days! You will probably die a humiliating death of constipation, as well as be denying your tastebuds the deliciousness of more interesting options. Take this flourless chocolate cake I made yesterday.
Dense and fudgey, not too sweet, and laced with the subtle kiss of caramel and a swirl of cinnamon, your tongue will dance with joy for the liberation from boring Passover food. Furthermore, with a greatly reduced fat content and more fiber and Vitamin C than most Passover cakes, it will set your health conscience free from worries. The cake can also be made gluten-free quite easily by making sure the cocoa and any other questionable ingredients are certified gluten-free, so a wider audience can benefit from its nutrition and decadence!
It’s true that the Israelites only had 18 minutes to bake their bread before the Exodus, whereas this cake takes considerably longer what with all that beating of eggs and thorough mixing of ingredients. But if you can spare an hour or two out of your day, it is more than worth making – whether or not you observe the dietary restrictions of Passover.
When I first tried a piece of this cake, I was unsure if non-health-fanatics would like it, since it wasn’t very sweet at all. My mom, a standard test subject for my cuisine, and not the biggest fan of health-ified desserts, took a tentative half a piece. She tasted it and grabbed the other half as well. Success!
I intended to follow the “Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon” flavor trend, but the cinnamon swirl I added was very subtle – I might suggest doubling that part of the ingredients. (Ingredients listed below are amounts I used.) Other than that, I wouldn’t change anything about this recipe. Enjoy!
Flourless Chocolate Cinnamon Cake with Caramelized Banana
makes about 8 servings
for cinnamon swirl (I recommend doubling these three ingredients)
- 2 tbs Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread
- 1 tbs Truvia Baking Blend
- generous shake or two of cinnamon
- 6 eggs, separated
- 12 tbs Truvia Baking Blend, separated
- 1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
- 4 oz/113 grams Tree Top brand cinnamon flavored applesauce (I used one of their single-serving units)
- 1/2 cup plain almond milk (or other milk of choice)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbs chocolate hazelnut spread (I used Safeway brand)
- 1 single-serving pouch of Weight Watcher’s by Whitman’s candies brand bite-size caramels
- 1 banana
- 1 tbs Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread
- 1 tbs Truvia Baking Blend
- dash cinnamon
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
For Cinnamon Swirl: Place Earth Balance in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 25 seconds or until melted. Mix in the Truvia and cinnamon thoroughly. Set aside until ready to swirl into cake batter just before baking.
For Cake: Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Line an 8″ square pan with aluminum foil, and spray the foil generously with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, combine the cocoa, applesauce, and almond milk. Mix well.
In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer to beat the egg yolks with 6 tbs of Truvia Baking Blend, as well as the vanilla extract and chocolate hazelnut spread.
Add the egg yolk mixture in with the chocolate mixture, and mix well.
In another medium bowl, use hand mixer to beat the egg whites with the remaining 6 tbs of Truvia Baking Blend until stiff-ish white peaks form (this takes longer than you’d think.)
Fold egg white mixture into chocolate mixture, 1/4 at a time, until completely combined.
Pour cake batter into pan. Swirl cinnamon mixture into batter. Break up caramel candies by hand and drop the pieces into the batter, gently swirling them in.
Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for a total of 33-35 minutes, pausing after 20 minutes to add the caramelized bananas…
For Caramelized Bananas: Cut one whole banana into circular slices of medium thickness.
Place 1 tbs Earth Balance in a nonstick pan. Heat to medium, melting the Earth Balance to coat the pan.
Add the banana slices. Cook until one side is slightly browned. Then flip over and sprinkle with Truvia and cinnamon. When other sides of banana slices have browned, flip once more to coat with Truvia and cinnamon and cook until both sides are golden brown. (Slightly burnt-looking is okay.)
After cake has baked for about 20 minutes, remove from oven and distribute caramelized banana slices evenly across the top. Sprinkle with dried cranberries.
Return cake to oven for another 13-15 minutes (it should bake for 33-35 minutes total.)
Serve warm or chilled in the fridge. I recommend topping your slice with Healthy Choice brand Greek Frozen Yogurt, Caramel Swirl Flavor!
Bon appetit and happy spring holidays!
Recipe adapted from the following sources:
caramelized bananas: http://www.lovefoodeat.com/caramelized-bananas-topped-with-roasted-cashew-nuts/
cinnamon swirl: http://www.food.com/recipe/cinnamon-swirl-coffee-cake-47134
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