[Totally unrelated note: ever wonder how people find your blog? Well, ever since I wrote my post about our holiday in Florida, the number one search term that leads people to my blog is. . . “Alligators.” Yes, indeedy: folks looking for reptilian, steel trap-jawed people-eaters are sent to. . . my blog. In droves. Well, hi there, Everglade adventurers! Howdy, outback croc-hunters! Welcome, designer shoe and handbag aficionados!]
By now, it’s probably evident that I’m a fan of spinach. Certainly, devoting an entire SOS Kitchen Challenge to the popular leafy green is one indication (and if you hurry, you can still participate: the deadline is May 20th!).
It was through my friend Sterlin that I first learned to love spinach. Even before I moved to Toronto myself, I was a frequent visitor to Sterlin’s place (her parents had pulled up stakes and made the trek from Montreal to Toronto long before I did). I loved visiting this “exotic” metropolis, where, with Sterlin as both tour guide and chauffeur, we’d scour the city for interesting restaurants, university-based events, or dance clubs (in those days, single undergraduates in search of a boyfriend, we still frequented dance clubs).
After a long evening of inane chatter, bopping in our blister-inducing heels and drinking too many beer (I never did acquire a taste for the brew), we’d drive back to Sterlin’s parents’ house, and, with the intense precision and focus of a neurosurgeon, unlock the door without making a sound, the way only truly inebriated twenty-somethings can. Once inside, we removed our shoes and tiptoed into the kitchen to raid the fridge, where, inevitably, we found. . . nothing. (Okay, not literally “nothing.” There was a half-eaten carton of cottage cheese and a few cans of Diet Coke). At this point, Sterlin would move to the freezer, where she’d withdraw one of 5 or 6 boxes of frozen spinach (the only item in there).
“Want a snack?” she’d whisper, brandishing the box in the air. “Mmm! Let’s have some spinach!”
“Spinach?” I’d counter, equally susurrating, “ As a snack??” I was accustomed to the cornucopia of home-baked chocolate chip cookies, chips, licorice, and other assorted junk foods in my own parents’ kitchen.
But snack on spinach we did. Sterlin loved the stuff so much that is was contagious, and I learned to love it, too. I can’t say I ever think of frozen spinach as a snack these days, but I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it. (Beer, on the other hand, still doesn’t tempt me).
The second spinach epiphany I experienced courtesy of Sterlin was the classic 1980’s spinach salad. You know the one: baby spinach leaves coated in creamy, nondescript dressing, topped with a generous toss of chopped hardcooked eggs and a sprinkling of crispy bacon bits. Back then, one of Toronto’s destination restaurants was a brand-new, ultra hip joint called Mr. Greenjeans (a current relative of the original place still exists, in a new location and without the flair or cachet of the original).
Their specialty was–get this–salad (rather ahead of their time, don’t you think?). And what made Mr. Greenjeans’ salads worth driving all the way downtown for? Why, their presentation: each portion of fresh greens was packed into a huge mason jar, perched atop a white plate the size of an hors d’oeuvre tray at a wedding. Once served, you had the choice of picking at the salad right from the jar (the cool way) or emptying it onto the plate (the loser way).
Like an early iteration of Sassafras (where the gliterati hang out during the Toronto Film Festival), Mr. Greenjeans attracted diners not really because of the food, but more because of the reputation for cool. After waiting in line for a table, we’d hope for a window seat, where we could see and be seen, scanning the sidewalk outside for celebrity sightings or people we might know. In those days, everyone who was anyone hung out at Mr. Greenjeans.
No wonder, then, that I thought of spinach as the first vegetable to include in a muffin when I first opened my organic bakery back in 2003. In my zeal to include healthy veggies–especially leafy greens–in my recipes (and to provide an incentive to kids to eat their veggies), I created the Sweet Harvest Muffin, boasting not one, not two, but three different vegetables, including spinach. Providing one full serving of vegetables in each muffin, the Sweet Harvest quickly became my best-selling product, and it was the first recipe I knew I’d include in Sweet Freedom.
With this month’s SOS Challenge devoted to spinach, I decided to create an ACD-friendly variation of that best-selling muffin as my “sweet” entry to the challenge. Based on the Green Monster smoothies that are ubiquitous on the internet, these contain both spinach and apple combined with carob and cinnamon, ingredients I often include in my own morning beverage.
While these Green Monsters aren’t quite as sweet as the original muffins (which contain both raisins and chocolate chips), they do still make a tasty breakfast on the go; in fact, they tasted good enough that the HH noted he’d be happy to take one along to the office for his morning coffee.
With the sepia carob masking its green, the spinach remains hidden in this muffin. You may not be getting quite the same quantity of spinach as you’d consume in an entire box of the frozen stuff, but you can feel good eating one of these babies for breakfast, knowing it provides a good sized hit toward your daily five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables.
And speaking of breakfast baking. . . I’ll be talking about breakfast (and other) baked goods from Sweet Freedom this Thursday morning on the Canadian version of Good Morning America, Canada AM! I am incredibly excited to share information about healthy eating with hosts Bev Thomson and Seamus O’Regan. So set your PVRs, video recorders, etc for Thursday, May 20, between 8:00 and 9:00 AM!
Green Monster Muffins (ACD Phase II and beyond)
These muffins are a great way to start the day with both some fruit and some vegetables. They’re sweet, but not overly so; and you won’t taste the spinach at all. (Promise).
2 small apples, about 6-6 1/2 ounces (170-185 g) each, washed and cored (I used Granny Smith)
3 ounces (85 g) fresh or frozen spinach (include the stems)
1/4 cup (60 ml) natural smooth almond butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or other light tasting oil, preferably organic
2 tsp (10 ml) chia seeds, finely ground after measuring
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tsp (5 ml) pure almond extract
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1-1/3 cups (320 ml) unsweetened soy or almond milk, plus up to 2 Tbsp (30 ml) more, if necessary
1/2 cup (60 g) carob powder*
1/2 cup (75 g) brown rice flour
1/2 cup (60 g) millet flour
1/4 cup (30 g) arrowroot powder
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum, optional (muffins will be slightly crumbly without it)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
Coarsely chop one of the apples and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Dice the other apple into very small pieces (about the size of blueberries) and place in a small bowl; set the second apple aside until later.
Add the spinach to the food processor, and process the mixture until almost smooth. Add the almond butter, oil, chia, vanilla, almond extract, vinegar and milk and process again until well blended. Add the reserved diced apple to the processor and mix it in by hand until all the pieces are coated, but don’t process again. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 3 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the carob powder, brown rice flour, millet flour, arrowroot powder, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, xanthan gum and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until just blended.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup (80 ml) measuring cup, scoop the batter into the muffin cups and bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until a tester inserted into a center muffin comes out clean. Cool five minutes in the pan before removing to a cooling rack. Cool completely before sampling; the spinach will be discernible in the warm muffins, but the taste disappears once they’re cool. Store, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator up to 4 days. May be frozen.
* you may use cocoa instead of carob, but cut back the quantity a bit (perhaps 2 Tbsp/30 ml) and add a bit more sweetener.
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Last Year at this Time: Old Habits Die Hard: Mocha Cereal Cinnamon Muffins (non-ACD recipe)
Two Years Ago: Dolmades, Deconstructed (Mediterranean Rice Casserole)
© 2010 Ricki Heller