Strawberry Apple Rhubarb Muffins (Vegan!)

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Do you ever have those moments when you finally realize something that should have been obvious to you for a long time, and you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’ve never thought of this before?”

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That is exactly how I feel about strawberries, green apples, and rhubarb. In this in-between season, why not bring the best of the fall and the best of the spring together, in one delicious “tweasonal” snack? One day it’s fifty degrees and the next day it’s eighty – why not embrace the seasonal identity crisis in your kitchen as well? Strawberry and rhubarb is a tried and true pairing, but apple and rhubarb? That is a little less common. However I feel that the vibrant green stalk of the rhubarb has been trying to tell me something for years.

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Plays well with others. . . particularly with strawberries and Granny Smith apples. Because cramming three flavors into one muffin wasn’t enough of a challenge, I opted to make these vegan as well. I have made vegan cookies and breads before, but I believe these are my first vegan muffins. Non-dairy milk and a flax egg work wonders.

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If you have never made a flax egg before, do not be intimidated.

First, grind whole flax seeds into a fine powder. I use my coffee grinder for this step. The oils in flax are very temperamental and ground flax meal can go rancid quickly, so I always keep the seeds whole then grind them immediately before using in a recipe.

Second, mix 1 part flax seed meal to 3 parts water. Stir with a fork or whisk to combine. This recipe calls for two flax eggs (2 Tbsp flax + 6 Tbsp water).

Third, refrigerate for 15 minutes to achieve the consistency displayed below. This ingredient is a binder, so it needs to stick. When it has set up enough, you can turn a container of flax eggs on its side and the contents don’t spill out.

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Another unexpected part of these delicious muffins is the whole strawberry hiding in the middle of each one. I folded chopped apples and rhubarb into the muffin batter, then I sliced the tops off of twelve strawberries.

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After filling the muffin tins halfway, I shoved a whole strawberry into the middle of each tin, then topped off with some batter. As the muffins bake, the strawberry juice starts to leak out into the muffins, and when you bite into one, the whole strawberry center is like a fresh jam filling. I really should try this with peanut butter muffins, right?

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Some of the strawberries couldn’t stay hidden, and they chose to leak sweet strawberry lava out of the tops of the muffins. They look exactly how they are: irresistibly delicious.

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Vegan Strawberry Apple Rhubarb Muffins

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh ground flax meal
  • 3 ounces water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of peeled, chopped apple (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
  • 12 small strawberries, tops removed

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine flax meal and water, refrigerate for 15 minutes. The result is a “flax egg.”
  3. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients: flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
  4. In a smaller bowl, combine wet ingredients: flax egg, oil, applesauce, vanilla, non-dairy milk, and vinegar. Stir until mixed.
  5. Add wet ingredients to large bowl and stir to combine with dry ingredients, until just moistened. Make sure all flour is incorporated.
  6. Fold in apple and rhubarb.
  7. Grease or line a muffin tin with paper liners. Fill each cavity halfway with batter. Place one strawberry inside each cavity, then top with more batter until filled.
  8. Bake muffins in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the largest muffin comes out clean.

Note: if vegan isn’t your thing, you may substitute 2 eggs, beaten, for the flax eggs, and 1 cup buttermilk for the non-dairy milk and vinegar.

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Is it Spring time yet?!

Kitchen Refreshed

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I have wanted to do a few updates to our kitchen for the last few months, and I finally got around to one of my project ideas a few weeks ago. Our kitchen is far from modern, with a basic white tile floor, white speckled laminate countertops, very basic wooden cabinets that I believe were constructed by the previous owners and painted white, a big white farmhouse sink, and all white appliances. On the walls we have a combination of laminate backsplash and yellow and white striped wallpaper.

Eventually I will do a full kitchen renovation, but we have decided to hold off on that for a few years, until some other projects are completed. I know I won’t do the granite countertop and stainless steel appliance thing when we do get to the kitchen renovation, but I haven’t decided what we will do instead. In the meantime, I want to do a few updates to keep the space fresh, make it feel like it’s ours, and test out some ideas to determine what we like.

I am currently trying out open storage, after completing a quick half-day project that involved taking the doors off two cabinets, painting the shelves and interior of the cabinets, and reorganizing their contents. This project took a few hours and minimal materials, and I think it makes a big difference in the kitchen. It feels so clean and springy now! I also hung a framed photo of bright yellow lemons above my sink, and removed the ugly wooden accordion door to the left of the stove. The view from the kitchen to dining room is so much more open and bright now.

Here are the before pictures:

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And the after pictures:

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I wasn’t sure about the blue paint at first, but once I filled the shelves with our dishes, I grew to love the warm yellow and cool blue together. Also I am really starting to embrace the white kitchen appliances. They make the room bright and they feel so clean and neat. Especially with the lemon yellow, everything just feels so sunny and zesty now.

This color scheme isn’t for everyone, but it makes me pretty happy. Kyle likes it too and he has even offered some ideas for further improving the organization and storage in our kitchen. My next project will be installing a pegboard for storing pots and pans, which will free up some cabinet space for appliances, and therefore free up some counter space for cooking!

So. . . what do you think? What spring cleaning or renovation projects do you have going on at your house?

SOJ Chef Demo 09.22.12

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market cooking demo, Chef Sam got creative with a mixture of summer and fall ingredients. Norma’s Produce had a variety of colorful melons that inspired a fresh melon vinaigrette.

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The Chef grated a canary melon, then whisked it together with red wine vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, fresh basil and tarragon. The melon vinaigrette was sweet and tangy. Drizzled over mixed greens, it made a refreshing salad to start the day.

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The Chef used fresh tomato and cucumber to round out the dish for sampling. Reflecting on the dish, I wonder if this melon vinaigrette will make it onto the brunch menu at the Hermitage Grill soon.

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This was the first week I saw brussels sprouts at the farmers’ market, and I was anxious to see how people would react. I of course jumped at the chance to snag some of these beautiful sprouts from Pleitez Produce. These are always a hit at my house, but I usually roast them, so I was interested to see how Chef Sam would prepare them without an oven.

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Sam and I were both so excited to see brussels sprouts available that we decided to make them the Veg of the Week!

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I was anxious to see how people would respond, because brussels sprouts are notorious for making people turn their noses up. I knew I loved them, but I felt like most people would need some convincing. Boy, was I wrong! All morning long, shoppers came up to our table to ask where they could buy their own. I lost track of how many times I heard “oooh, I love brussels sprouts!”

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The one person who did need convincing this week was me. Chef Sam picked up some “chicken of the woods” mushrooms from Haas Shrooms. These highly sought after mushrooms are foraged in the wild and they are known to be a real treat. I have always had an issue with mushrooms and only recently have I even allowed them to touch my plate. Something about fungus just seems inedible to me. I know that is irrational, but I have had a hard time tricking my mind into allowing me to enjoy mushrooms.

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Chef Sam said “they taste just like chicken,” so I considered taking a bite, then changed my mind. He threw them in a pan with some oil, salt and pepper, and they turned a brilliant orange color. They smelled fantastic while they cooked. After I heard the comments from samplers, praising Sam for his ingenious preparation of these odd little seashell shaped fungi, I decided to take a bite.

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Sam was right; they were awesome. That’s right folks, I ate mushrooms and liked them. If my Mom is reading this right now, I can guarantee you her jaw is on the floor. I have to tell you, it was a really cool experience. Over five months, I have watched Chef Sam convert non-adventurous eaters into believers in all kinds of produce. I’ve heard them say they couldn’t believe they were eating (insert odd local ingredient here), and I’ve seen them pick up a new type of produce to try at home per his recommendation. It was definitely strange to find myself in their shoes and have my mind changed about an ingredient.

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Chef Sam composed plates of salad with melon vinaigrette, pan roasted brussels sprouts, sautéed chicken of the woods, and beef hanging tender. I spared you the photos of the beef, because brown food never looks good in pictures. The brussels sprouts were sautéed with onion and garlic in oil, then seasoned with rice wine vinegar and smoked sea salt. The hanging tender was marinated in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic and other spices, then slow cooked in a pan over a bed of sautéed onions. Chef Sam explained that the onions keep the meat from sticking to the pan during the long cooking process. He topped the beef with a  dollop of Goats R Us Horsey Chevre, then handed the plates off to market shoppers.

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If anyone needed convincing before, after having a taste of this plate, he was a believer.

Thank you to Deer Run Farm, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Origins Farms (formerly Victory Farms), Pine Fork Farm, Goats R Us, Pleitez Produce, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for making (and foraging for) this week’s tasty ingredients.

Farmers’ Market 06.16.12

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I know I have mentioned before how awesome my new route to the South of the James farmers’ market is.

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And it’s made even more beautiful by everything that is in bloom this time of year.

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I found out these giant ferns with pink wispy pom-pom blossoms are called Mimosa trees. No wonder I like them! I’m getting very comfortable with my routine of walking to the market with a Chobani Greek yogurt and a banana at 7:30 every Saturday morning. You have your mimosa brunch, I have my Mimosa walk.

Check out who else showed up at the market this weekend!

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The photo hardly conveys how adorable this baby monkey (ape? I never remember the difference…) was, crawling around in a little basket in a miniature diaper after the market closed down on Saturday.

While I played with local veggies and exotic animals, Kyle did a little shopping. Here is this week’s loot!

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  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Summer squash
  • Red potatoes
  • Kale

Kyle said he almost got purple carrots, and he almost got tomatillos, but he chickened out. I told him it was okay to go a little wild and crazy and pick up something now; in fact, I prefer it that way! I saw bright yellow cucumbers and bright purple peppers at this week’s market too.

What “weird” produce do you think we should pick up next week? Have you tried anything new and crazy lately?

Farmers’ Market 06.09.12 and Colorful Weekend

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This weekend I spent a warm Saturday morning at the South of the James market. Kyle took care of the shopping while I helped out with the cooking demo.

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This week’s loot:

  • Carrots
  • Easter egg radishes
  • Basil
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Elephant garlic (not pictured)

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I featured cauliflower as the Veg of the Week at this weekend’s cooking demo, due to the abundance of colorful cauliflower at the market stalls. Read my recap here!

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After watching people stroll past the demo booth over the last few weeks with this awesome elephant garlic in hand, I finally picked some up this week. It’s almost as tall as me! Can I do anything with the stalk or flower? I don’t know!

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The bulb is what you would expect, but the long, skinny, bright green stalk and the fluffy purple cluster of flowers look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, as one of my friends pointed out. It has a very strong smell; even the flowers on top smell like fresh garlic!

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The bag of spinach was truly a steal. Kyle picked this overstuffed bag of spinach up from Walnut Hill Farm Produce for just 4 dollars. Check out how much green you can get at the market for less than the cost of a Starbucks latte! I’m not giving up my coffee habit yet, but I can’t deny that that is quite a deal for a much more nutritious source of energy!

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I took it easy on Sunday, catching up on some chores around the house, reading, and converting our produce into deliciousness. I tried my hand at (electric) grilling peaches for a peach salsa.

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I made “quick pickles” for the first time, using the Easter egg radishes and fresh dill from the market. I haven’t cracked open the jar yet, so whether it worked out is still a mystery!

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I got a sampler pack of IPA’s for my wonderful fiancé Kyle, which we enjoyed on the back porch during the last few hours of a beautiful weekend. I did not complete my to do list (or even come close to it), but I felt relaxed and rejuvenated by Sunday evening, so I’m calling this weekend a success!

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P.S. Mini Gardenology Update – I think I might be harvesting green beans within a week! 🙂

SOJ Chef Demo 06.09.12

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market, the sun was shining and there was a smorgasbord of fresh produce just waiting to be be chopped, cooked and served to market shoppers. I had to feature this gorgeous purple cauliflower as the opening photo. I love the gradient of the supporting leaves, with their dark purple edges and lavender stems. The shading highlights the beautiful Gothic cathedral-esque architecture of the vegetable in a way that simple white couldn’t. Please excuse me for the poetic vibe, but it’s inspiring to be around such great local veggies!

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At the market demo tent last Saturday morning, Chef Sam Baker gathered his ingredients and set to work on the three featured dishes of the day.

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There was a lot of colorful cauliflower at the market this week, so the Vegology Veg of the Week board displayed some facts about this often overlooked vegetable. Cauliflower has made several appearances on this blog in the past, so I offered some ideas for preparation in addition to those featured in the Chef’s demonstration.

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Cauliflower on Vegology:

Cauliflower Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

Spicy Cauliflower Po’boys

Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash

Vegetarian “Shrimp” and Grits

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The Chef featured prepared food vendors too this week. Vendors like Simply Savory and Empress Farm sell jams, salsas, condiments, and canned goods that make eating local at home quicker, easier, and much more flavorful. We often see them sitting side by side at the market, but we don’t always know how to combine the prepackaged goods with the fresh-from-the-farm produce to create a delicious meal. The Chef showed shoppers how to do just that, as he served Tuckahoe lamb in a Simply Savory fig jam marinade and Barham Seafood shrimp in an Empress Farm strawberry jalapeno BBQ sauce.

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Chef Sam’s food samples never last long, but occasionally he can grab a few bites to share with the great, hardworking people who bring all these fresh ingredients to market.

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After passing around some BBQ shrimp samples and giving the lamb plenty of time to marinate, the Chef revealed his plan for the other ingredients on the table.

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The first main dish was a marinated lamb chop, served with patty pan squash and cauliflower. The Tuckahoe lamb was marinated in fig jam, a little water, garlic, mint, basil and crushed red pepper.

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Omnivores enjoyed the whole dish, while vegetarians snacked on the brightly colored summer veggies. The Chef fielded a lot of questions about the purple cauliflower from Norma’s Produce, the orange cauliflower from Pleitez Produce, and the patty pan squash from Rocking F Farms. It was evident that the market goers were not at all shy about asking questions about what was on their plates. The habit of asking questions about your food has its benefits, and we were happy to answer all of the inquiries that came our way.

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The final main course item was a “kitchen sink” dish, a meal with which I am very familiar! We make kitchen sink pasta, salads, curry and stew at my house every once in awhile. The main premise is that you throw in “everything but the kitchen sink.” Cavanna spinach and cheese ravioli was tossed with just about everything else the Chef had picked up that day, and together with the vegetable medley, the ravioli delivered delicious Cavanna vodka sauce. This is a great way to use up vegetables at the end of the week or any time you are trying to clean out the refrigerator. The tender pasta pillows had just enough flavor to stand alone, but they were simple enough to work well with other vegetables.

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Thanks to Barham Seafood, Cavanna Pasta, Empress Farm, Haas Mushrooms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Rocking F Farms, Simply Savory, Tuckahoe Lamb and Cattle Co., Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.

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Have a question for Chef Sam Baker? Send me an email at vegologyblog [at ] gmail [dot] com or put it in the comments. We’ll get you an answer AND your question may be included in an upcoming Vegology Ask the Chef post!

Farmers’ Market 06.02.12 and the Return of Gardenology

Kyle picked up some great stuff at the market this week. The selection at the SOJ Market has expanded so much that it is really easy to do some creative meal planning around what we bring home on Saturday morning. In early spring, I would have to creatively use asparagus three times a week. Now in June, there is so much variety. I couldn’t be happier about the arrival of summer squash, and I even featured it as the Vegology Veg of the Week at the cooking demo last weekend.

Here’s what my handsome gatherer brought home to me this week:

  • Onions (Pleitez Produce)
  • Mixed Greens (Victory Farms)
  • Carrots (Victory Farms)
  • Turnips (Victory Farms)
  • Summer squash (Pleitez Produce)
  • Curry fusilli. . . I think (Bombolini Pasta)

In other news, I am pleased to announce the return of Gardenology. Remember when I started a patio garden last year? If not, you can read about the adventure here: Gardenology. It’s okay, I’ll wait. I have plenty of plant watering, shades wearing and sundress rocking to do while you catch up.

All finished? So, as you can see, my garden has grown a little since last year. I have also learned a bit from my failures adventures in gardening last summer, so I am hoping that I will grow something (anything!) in this 4-by-8-foot vegetable incubator I have built with my own two hands.

I decided on a raised bed because our soil is full of clay and rocks, and I didn’t feel like trying to blend it with better soil to try to make it work. Plus I am pretty sure that is an advanced maneuver, which I am clearly not ready for yet. A layer of landscaping fabric separates our backyard dirt from the organic garden soil that I used for planting. This is supposed to help minimize weeds and keep that nasty clay dirt away from my lovely little plants. I think it is working well, although I am pretty sure I have a weed or two in there that looks like a tomato plant so I’m just nurturing it for now until it grows big enough for me to identify it as an intruder.

How about some progress photos?

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I have a feeling that the garden is progressing kind of slowly, but most of the seeds sprouted and I don’t believe I have killed anything yet, so I should eventually get some vegetables out of it. I am not expecting much since I am horrifyingly incompetent when it comes to gardening, but I am doing my best.

Let’s have a closer look.

Zucchini flower – good sign, no?

Empress Green Beans

You say tomato

Pokey Peppers, taking their time

I planted:

  • Several types of tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant (no sign of life yet, maybe they were duds)
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet peppers
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Some herbs

I used heirloom seeds for almost everything and organic soil that is meant for vegetable gardens. I just realized that might be why my garden seems a little slow. No chemical growth-boosters! I had an issue early on with bugs eating the leaves on my green bean plants, so I started using an organic spray called EcoSMART Garden Insect Killer. The active ingredients are rosemary oil, peppermint oil, thyme oil and clove oil. As far as I can tell, this has been working, and I am glad that I don’t have to either use chemicals or spend hours handpicking bugs off of the plants.

I will post another update when I have some garden news for you. Please leave tips in the comments or send me an email if you have any useful advice to share. I need all the help I can get!