Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Superhero Muffins

Until recently, the words healthy, nutritious, and delicious seemed highly unlikely to be used together to describe anything on any list of favorite, crave worthy foods. At least in my world. Additionally, the idea of reaching for a muffin not slathered in icing or cream cheese frosting would have caused someone to ask 'are you alright?' If a couple of my running friends had not sung the praises of these Superhero Muffins, I may have continued to make delicious, unhealthy, and relatively nutritious muffin choices. Ones more than likely having a thick layer of topping made of either confectionary sugar or cream cheese or both. Pre- and post-run eating decisions have always been a bit of a challenge for me. Worries about how my body would react or what my stomach would tolerate generally has led me to make one of two choices: Eat nothing or eat something not likely to aid in optimizing my running performance or recovery. Fortunately change is possible.

In their recently released cookbook, "Run Fast Eat Slow", Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky shared their recipe for Superhero Muffins. These two highly accomplished runners have not only shattered my healthy/nutritious/delicious theory but they have gifted me with a long overdue nourishment option. I would be doing a great disservice to these muffins if I led to you believe they should only be eaten by runners, cyclists, swimmers, hikers, yogis, or athletes of any kind. Regardless of our level of physical activity (or non-activity), we all need these Superhero Muffins in our lives.

What makes these dense, flavorful, moist, satisfying, insanely delicious muffins so healthy and nutritious? Grated zucchini, grated carrots, toasted walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, sea salt, eggs, melted butter, maple syrup, oatmeal, and almond meal. In other words, they are not made with processed sugars or processed white flour.

These Superhero Muffins are super easy to make. Two bowls, a whisk, and a spoon are all you need to create the batter. Wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately before being combined.

If you don't want to buy a whole bag of Almond Meal, stores like Whole Foods allow you to buy what you need. Although after you taste these muffins, you might decide it's more convenient to buy a bag of Almond Meal so you don't have to keep running back to the store to get some. Spoiler Alert: You will make these muffins more than once.

Grated zucchini can add 'too' much moisture to your batter, resulting in a 'wet mess' of a muffin. There are two things you can do to minimize this. Begin making this recipe by first grating the zucchini and allowing it to drain in a colander. When getting ready to measure, press down with a paper towel to remove more of the moisture. Using these two techniques resulted in a perfect muffin consistency.

Not willing to leave well enough alone, I made several changes to the original recipe. First, I toasted the walnuts before chopping and adding them to the mixture of dry ingredients. Second, I reduced the amount of nutmeg from 1/2 teaspoon to 1/4 teaspoon. As much as I like nutmeg, I wanted the cinnamon flavor to shine through. And lastly I used Grade A instead of Grade B maple syrup. So what's the difference other than flavor between the two of them? While both grades of maple syrup have many nutritional benefits and contains no fat, 'the potency and richness of Grade B maple syrup amplifies its health benefits'. If you want the absolute healthiest version of these Superhero Muffins, use the Grade B maple syrup.

Some have recommended adding a half cup of dark chocolate chips to the muffins. The nutritional value of dark chocolate comes into play when it's cocoa content ranges from 70-85%.

The are innumerable benefits to these Superhero Muffins, including but not limited to, the intoxicating aroma they have while baking. If, or rather when, you make them for friends and/or family, withhold telling them they are 'healthy and nutritious' until they taste them. Just in case they too operate under the assumption healthy and nutritious means they have a low deliciousness factor.

Super Hero Muffins (Slight adaptation to the Superhero Muffins recipe shared in the cookbook Run Fast East Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky)
Makes 12 standard sized muffins

2 cups almond meal
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup raisins or currants (optional)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unpeeled and grated zucchini, drained and squeezed to remove any remaining moisture (about 1 medium sized zucchini)
1 cup peeled and grated carrot (about 2 medium sized carrots)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup Grade A or B (real) maple syrup 
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
Optional: 12 walnut halves for topping each muffin

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Line a 12 cup stand muffin tin with paper muffin cups.
2. In a large bowl combine the almond meal, oats, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Also add chopped chocolate, if using.
3. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the eggs, grated zucchini, grated carrots, melted butter, maple syrup and vanilla.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
5. Using an ice cream scoop, spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each to the brim. Top each with a walnut half if using.
6. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until tops are nicely browned and lightly spring back when pressed in the center and/or a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the muffin.
7. Transfer muffins to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before serving.
8. Individually wrap with plastic wrap or bag and store any remaining muffins in either the refrigerator or freezer.

Notes: (1) If you use gluten-free oatmeal, these muffins will be completely gluten free. (2) Grate, drain and press dry your zucchini before measuring. (3) Muffins can be stored in the freezer. Can defrost in the microwave on low power for 20-30 seconds.

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