Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Scones

I was testing out a new recipe this morning in an effort to use up cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving that I'd stashed away in the freezer, along with a can of pumpkin that never quite made it into a pie. This holiday-spicy, pumpkin and cranberry breakfast treat was the perfect thing to make the house smell incredible and take away that winter chill.

Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Scones--right out of the oven

I have written the instructions to make these scones either as pictured or as “drop scones.” The wedge-shaped scones (pictured) have a more muffin-like texture than I’m used to for scones. The drop scones will be crisper around the edges and have a more traditional scone texture. So, make whichever version you prefer—enjoy!

Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Scones

1 heaping cup of fresh or frozen cranberries
¾ cup Silk unsweetened soymilk (dairy milk or other unsweetened non-dairy milk)
4 tsp. ground flaxseed
1-15oz. can pumpkin puree
3 TBSP molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/3 cups sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon*
1 tsp. ground ginger*
½ tsp. ground cardamom*
¼ tsp. ground cloves*
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg*
1 tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) vegan margarine or butter, cold and cubed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper or Silpats.
2. In food processor, pulse cranberries until roughly chopped. If frozen, return to freezer until you are ready to use.
3. In medium mixing bowl, whisk together milk, flaxseed, pumpkin, molasses, and lemon zest; set aside.
4. In large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Then, sprinkle the margarine/butter cubes over the flour mixture. Use your hands to break up the margarine/butter into pea sized pieces or smaller and distribute them evenly through the flour mixture.
5. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Add cranberries. Fold together until just mixed taking care not to over mix (which will make the scones tough).
6 (wedge-shaped scones, muffin-like). To make these like the picture, divide dough in half and put each half onto the center of the 2 sheet pans; shape into a circle that is about 1-inch thick. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds if using (I did not do this for the scones pictured). Bake about 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cut into eighths, like a pizza, when finished. Place wedges on a cooling rack. This method makes very muffin-like scones.

Pumpkin Spice Cranberry Scones--ready for brunch on the deck
7. Eat while warm. Cool to room temperature before packing into a ziplock or airtight container and storing in the freezer. These are good reheated in the microwave for ~20 seconds or until warmed through; toast if desired. Serve alone or with butter.

Drop Scones (more scone-like): Instead of step 6 above, use an ice cream scoop to portion out scoops of the dough evenly onto the sheet pans. If using pumpkin seeds, brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with the seeds (I did not do this for the scones pictured). Bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place scones on a cooling rack. This method makes more traditional-textured scones.

Wedge-shaped scone method makes 16, and drop scone method makes 20 scones.

*To make this faster, you can substitute 3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice for all of the spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg).

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bran Muffin Recipe Rehab

Did you know that most bakery muffins have almost as much sugar as a can of soda?!? Those healthy-looking bran muffins are no different than their blueberry cousins. Most bakery muffins are simply made from a cake recipe baked into the shape of a muffin.

If this doesn’t make you feel cheated, then I don’t know what does. We expect this from pastries, but not muffins—especially not bran muffins!

By the way, that chocolate croissant you passed up for an apple bran muffin the last time you were in Starbucks—it had less than 1/3 the sugar of the muffin!

Before you throw up your hands in defeat and start gobbling chocolate croissants for breakfast everyday, try this rehabilitated bran muffin recipe. Each muffin has 75% less sugar than average bakery muffins and no oil. Don’t worry, they’re still delicious…especially when topped with cinnamon sugar before putting them in the oven.

Bran Muffins

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (can substitute all-purpose flour instead)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 tsp baking powder*
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 c milk (dairy milk or unsweetened non-dairy milk)
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 egg (or flax “egg”**)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 cups bran cereal (like All Bran)
Cinnamon sugar, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.
  3. If using flax “egg”, mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed together with 2 tablespoons of hot water and let sit for a couple minutes to thicken. Stir again before using.
  4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together milk, applesauce, egg (or flax “egg”) brown sugar, and molasses.
  5. Add flour mixture and bran cereal to liquid mixture and fold together until just combined.
  6. Place 12 muffin cups in a regular (1/2 cup) sized muffin tin; spray muffin cups with non-stick spray. Use a ½ cup scoop to portion batter into muffin cups. The batter should come up nearly to the top of the cups (which will make ~10 muffins) or slightly less than full (which will make 12 muffins). If desired, sprinkle tops of muffins with cinnamon sugar.
  7. Place muffin tin into the oven and lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin; it will come out clean or with crumbs (no liquid batter) when done.
  8. Remove muffins from tin within a couple minutes of removing from the oven and cook them on a rack or serve.

Bran Muffin Recipe Rehab--Now Healthy, Still Delicious

Makes 10-12 muffins.
Serve alone or with butter and jam.

*If using all-purpose flour instead of whole wheat flour, use only 1-1/2 tsp of baking powder.

**To replace 1 egg in a recipe, mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed together with 2 tablespoons of hot water and let sit for a couple minutes to thicken. Stir again before using.

Time-saving tip: After muffins cool on the rack, transfer them to a gallon-sized ziplock bag or other airtight container and freeze. For a quick breakfast, heat in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to warm through.

Other flavor options:
  • Add ½ cup golden raisins or currants, or 1 cup diced apples tossed in ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, to the flour mixture in step #2.
  • For a bit of extra spice, you can add ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom or ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice with the cinnamon in step 2.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Making New Year’s Resolutions that Stick

*Photo credit:

All those grandiose goals—lose 30 pounds, cook all of my own healthy meals, etc.—may sound good after some champagne on New Year's Eve, but are they DOABLE?

Yes and no.

We’ve all been determined to improve ourselves in some way, but without setting specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely (or S.M.A.R.T.) goals, there’s often not enough planning to make them stick.

The idea of SMART goals has been around for nearly 35 years. Isn’t time that we made use of them?

An example of a non-SMART goal is:

I will lose 30 pounds.

An example of this same goal transformed into a SMART goal is:

I will lose 1 pound per week for 30 weeks by cutting out 500 calories per day from my diet (3,500 calories=1 pound, 7 days/week x 500 calories=3,500). I will figure out how to do this by using an online calculator to figure out how many calories I need per day to maintain my weight and will then subtract 500 calories from that to come up with my total daily calories. I will make sure that I’m eating 500 calories less per day by using MyFitnessPal to track my calorie intake.

“I will lose 1 pound per week for 30 weeks by cutting out 500 calories per day from my diet.”

“…using an online calculator to figure out how many calories I need per day to maintain my weight and will then subtract 500 calories from that to come up with my total daily calories. I will make sure that I’m eating 500 calories less per day by using MyFitnessPal* to track my calorie intake.”

Except for those whose weight maintenance calorie level is very low (e.g. those of us who are vertically-challenged), most people can cut 500 calories per day.

A healthy level of weight loss for most people is 1-2 pounds per week. More than that is not only not realistic, but can also set you up for a weight yo-yo where you gain back everything that you lose and more.

“…1 pound per week for 30 weeks”

In addition to SMART goals, I find it useful to take lessons from motivational interviewing, health coaching, and the Transtheoretical Model and plan for the following:

  • How will you stay accountable?

o   Solution: enlist a partner in your goal—either someone who also needs accountability in achieving their own goal or someone who cares about you and wants you to succeed.
  • Do you need help to achieve your goal? Identify the help you need and make a connection.

o   If you want to quit smoking, you may need help from a physician to get nicotine replacement and they can refer you to a support group of others trying to quit smoking.
o   If you want to eat healthier or exercise, you may benefit from the help of a wellness coach, personal trainer, or by taking healthy cooking classes. 
  •  What will keep you motivated?

o   Solution: create a list of the reasons you want to achieve your goal and look at it when tempted to go off-track, or post an inspirational picture or phrase where you’ll see it regularly.
  • Envision your life if you are successful at your goal. What will you gain and what will you lose?
  • Identify the things most likely to get you off-track. Plan ahead how you will deal with them.

o   Solution(s): if you snack on junk food, get all of the junk food out of the house. If exercise is part of your goal, get the workout gear for your next workout together immediately after you finish working out and put it in a place that you can’t miss it. This may help motivate you to exercise when your activation energy is low.
  • What will you do if you get “off track”?

o   Create a plan to get back “on track” before you even begin. Modify the plan, if needed, after your first bump in the road.
  • What if you discover that your goal is too difficult (e.g. 500 calories per day is too difficult to cut out)?  Make a “plan B.”

o   Example: Instead of cutting 500 calories from your diet, try cutting out 300 calories from your diet and walking briskly for 30 minutes (burns 150-200 calories) to add up to the 500 calories. Alternatively, just plan to cut fewer calories and stick with your plan longer than 30 weeks.
  • If your goal takes time, how will you make time?

o   We’re all busy, but I believe that whenever we want something bad enough, we can make time to achieve our goals. Stop making excuses and make a plan.

This post highlights the most common mistakes and frustration-prevention points I see with people trying to make positive changes. The above goal setting and achieving tips are not meant to be encyclopedic. The example solutions are meant only to illustrate the point, but many other solutions may be a better fit for you. These tips offer a place to start.

Now, go get started!   

*There are many other calorie and fitness trackers available for free out there. This post is not an endorsement of MyFitnessPal.