Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spicy Green Beans With Pork

It's been months since my last post, but after a crazy-busy summer, I'm back!  This recipe was requested by my dear sister-in-law, Jody.  It comes from the October 2008 issue of Family Fun Magazine, and it's a favorite at our house because it tastes just like takeout. Next time you're in the mood for Chinese, save the money you would have spent going out (and the extra calories too) and try this instead--you won't be disappointed!

1 pound pork tenderloin
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp black bean sauce
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tsp chili garlic sauce (use less if you don't want it as spicy)
1 1/2 tsp sugar (I use agave)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, trimmed and snapped in half
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Shave the pork into thin strips.  In a small bowl, toss the pork with 2 Tbsp of the soy sauce, 1 Tbsp of the rice wine, and the pepper.  Marinate the pork at room temperature while assembling the rest of the ingredients.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining Tbsp of soy sauce, the remaining Tbsp of rice wine, the chicken broth, spicy bean sauce, hoisin, chili garlic sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch.  Whisk well and set aside.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the beans and stir-fry until they begin to brown or blister, about 10 minutes.  Remove the beans from the pan using a slotted spoon and pour off all but 2 Tbsp of the oil.  Return the pan to the heat and add the pork, garlic, and ginger.  Stir-fry the mixture until the pork is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.  Add the green onions and cook for 1 minute.  Add the reserved sauce and green beans, mix well, and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about one minute.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds before serving.   Serve over rice.   Makes about 5 cups.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gardein "Chicken" Fingers

Two weeks ago Mike had his wisdom teeth out and then a week later he broke his ankle.  Needless to say, it's been a crazy couple of weeks around our house but Nurse Wendy is finally ready to pay some attention to her sadly neglected blog.  I've written about Gardein products before and today I'm highlighting their faux chicken tenders.  Let me reiterate:  Gardein tastes and looks exactly like chicken.  Seriously.  Make these for your family, keep their true nature a secret, and your loved ones will be none the wiser.  The picture above features the Seven Grain Crispy Tenders (Gardein makes several different kinds).  You can buy a bag of these babies from Whole Foods in the freezer section for less than $5.00.  These are a regular at our house; they're fast, delicious, and nutritious!  Also pictured is a Sweet and Spicy Mustard Sauce that I whip up for dipping.  This recipe comes from Amy Green's cookbook Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free.  It was worth buying the book for this recipe alone.  It's so, so good.  Many sauces you buy ready-made are full of corn syrup and other unsavory ingredients.  You can feel good about serving this one.

1/2 cup Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp honey or agave (I prefer agave)
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper

Whisk all together and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note:  If you need to be gluten-free, you can substitute Bragg's Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce, which tastes exactly exactly the same.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Chocolate Cake (Gluten Free)

Unlike those with Celiac Disease, I do not need to completely avoid gluten in my diet.  But I own lots of gluten-free cookbooks because many of them are also sugar free.  And frankly, I feel better when I'm eating less gluten.  This chocolate cake is absolutely fab.  It's moist, rich,  and has a texture just like "regular" cake.  It comes from Kelly V. Brozyna, a blogger and cookbook author who lives in Boulder.  I couldn't resist buying her first cookbook because of its title: The Spunky Coconut.  Kelly's recipes are gluten, casein, and sugar free.  Her second cookbook, The Spunky Coconut Grain-Free Baked Goods & Desserts was just published.  This cake comes from her first cookbook and it's a regular at our house.  Everyone loves it, and it makes me happy that we can enjoy something so delicious and not feel guilty about it.  The frosting in the picture comes from Kelly's blog.  It's a vegan frosting and quite delicious.  I'm amazed that she was able to come up with a frosting that has no butter or powdered sugar in it, but still tastes great and has the same texture we all know and love.  Feel free to frost the cake with whatever frosting you like though.

3/4 cup coconut oil, liquified (see notes below)
1/2 cup organic cocoa powder
3/4 cup agave
6 room temperature eggs (cold eggs will harden the oil)
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp Chocolate liquid stevia (see notes below)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup coconut flour, sifted
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp xanthan gum

Beat the coconut oil and cocoa powder with an electric mixer.  Add all the rest of the ingredients and beat again.  Pour into greased and floured round cake pans, a bundt pan or a springform pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 34 minutes (don't overbake).

Date Frosting (vegan)

1 1/2 cups dates (soaked overnight if dry)
3/4 cup raw cashews
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 Tbsp tapioca flour
1/3 cup coconut oil, liquified
3/4 cup cocoa powder

Put the dates and cashews in a Vita Mix, Blendtec, or flood processor.  Begin to puree.  While pureeing, gradually add the coconut milk.  Puree until creamy and smooth.  Add the rest of the ingredients and puree until creamy and smooth.  Freeze for about half an hour or put in the fridge until cool and of a good spreading consistency.  This makes a lot!  I usually use half on one cake, and keep the rest in the fridge to frost a second one.


Coconut Oil:  This is the first recipe I've posted that uses coconut oil.  This is a healthy oil with some great benefits.  I quote from Bruce Fife, author of the Cooking with Coconut Flour cookbook:  "Coconut oil is unique.  It is composed of a special group of fat molecules known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).  MCTs are digested and metabolized differently from other fats.  Insead of being packed away into fat cells, MCTs are used to produce energy.  This boost in energy production stimulates metabolism...So after eating a meal containing coconut oil, your level of energy is higher, your metabolism is running at an elevated level, and you burn calories at an accelerated rate.  Since more calories are burned up to produce energy, fewer calories remain to be converted into body fat.  Adding coconut oil to your food actually reduces the effective amount of calories in the food...As long as you don't overeat, coconut oil can help you lose excess pounds.  Coconut oil also helps regulate blood sugar and prevent insulin resistance."  Pretty great, right?!  You can buy either unrefined or refined coconut oil.  Unrefined is not processed at high temperatures, but it does have a distinct coconut taste.  I prefer to use the refined, which doesn't taste like coconuts at all.  Now don't be confused; when you buy coconut oil, it won't look like regular oil.  In the jar it's a white, solid substance (although if you keep your jar in a hot place, it will liquify).  When using coconut oil in recipes, you need to melt it first (use a really low heat on your stove--it won't take long) and THEN measure it.  You can get coconut oil in most grocery stores and online.  Lately I've been buying the expeller pressed organic coconut oil made by Spectrum.  I buy it at Vitamin Cottage.  Be aware that coconut oil is more expensive than other oils.  Just remember that you're paying for something that's much better for you than butter and other oils.  See my next note, which will help you use less coconut oil in this cake recipe (and therefore save you a bit of money).

Applesauce:  In Kelly's new cookbook, she's used applesauce to replace some of the coconut oil in her recipes.  Love that idea!  You use less of the expensive oil and also cut down significantly on the fat in the recipe.  I made this cake this week and instead of using the 3/4 cup of coconut oil, I used 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce and 1/4 cup coconut oil.  I couldn't tell the difference! 

Stevia:  Stevia is a sweetener that is very, very low on the glycemic index.  Another advantage it has over sweeteners like honey and agave is that it doesn't have any calories.  Sounds perfect, right?  Stevia comes in both powdered and liquid forms.  This recipe uses a liquid form which has been flavored.  It's made by a company called SweetLeaf.  You can buy it at health food stores, or order it online if they don't stock the chocolate flavor.  Kelly's original recipe actually calls for Chocolate Raspberry liquid stevia, but since I didn't have any of that I just used chocolate.

Xanthan Gum:  This adds a gluten-like texture to recipes.  It's a white powder and Bob's Red Mill is one brand you can buy.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Key Lime Pie

Whenever I'm at the library I take a few minutes to thumb through current issues of healthy food magazines.  Our local branch stocks Living Without (all about gluten-free cooking and eating) and Vegetarian Times.  It was while perusing Vegetarian Times some months back that I came across this luscious recipe for vegan key lime pie.  The ingredients looked doable and it was freezing outside so the warm, beachy feel of this pie was appealing.  I tried it that same week and was absolutely astonished that it tastes exactly like "regular" key lime pie!  This is truly one of my favorite recipes.  I've even eaten it for breakfast on occasion.  The creator of this divine, creamy sensation is Lauren Ulm, blogger and cookbook author.  Her book, Vegan Yum Yum, is beautiful.  She'll become one of your favorite people when you try this pie!

1  1/2 cups crushed vegan graham crackers 
1/4 cup Earth Balance, melted
1/4 cup agave nectar

1 cup cream of coconut (see notes below)
1 cup raw, unsalted cashews
7 oz. silken tofu (I just use half of a 12 oz. box, even though that's slightly less)
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp agave
2 tsp grated lime zest

To make crust:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Stir together crushed graham crackers, Earth Balance, and agave in bowl.  Press mixture into bottom and sides of a 9" pie dish using fingers or bottom of drinking glass.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.  Cool.

To make filling:  Place all filling ingredients in a blender (you need the likes of a Vita Mix or Blendtec for this).  Process until very smooth.  Transfer filling to saucepan, and heat over medium-high heat 5-7 minutes, or until filling thickens, stirring constantly.  Spread filling on crust.  Chill in fridge at least 4 hours before serving (I usually chill overnight).  Serve garnished with lime slices and crushed graham crackers, if desired (or if you're like Mike, squirt a bunch of whipped cream from the can on top.  This, of course, makes the pie not completely vegan).

Graham crackers:  try to find a brand that has less white sugar.  I like New Morning Organic Honey Grahams (you'll have to go to Whole Foods or Vitamin Cottage for these).

Cream of Coconut:  This is NOT coconut milk.  It's the stuff they use in pina coladas and it does contain sugar (but I don't let that stop me from enjoying this pie!)  Coco Lopez is one brand (it comes in a can) but I like Coco Real Cream of Coconut which comes in a plastic squeeze bottle.  I buy it at Super Target and it's in the "drink mixers" section.

Tofu:  I realized as I was typing this post that the original recipe calls for extra-firm tofu (drained).  I've only ever used the silken stuff.  The extra-firm might give the pie a firmer texture, if you prefer that.  I like mine on the more creamy, smooshy side.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mexican Haystacks

You may be familiar with "Hawaiian Haystacks" which are delicious and fun to eat.  You layer a bed of rice with chicken in a creamy sauce, and then top the whole shebang with your choice of things like cheese, pineapple, raisins, chopped and steamed veggies, peanuts.......So yummy.  Well, here is the Mexican version.  This recipe is done in a crock-pot and I tend to make it on Sundays.  I get the meat cooking in the morning and when we get home from church, the house smells fabulous and we're ready to eat.  Sheer Genius.  My sister-in-law Marianne gave me this recipe (thanks Girl!) and I've tweaked it just a bit to make it as healthy as possible.  Muy Bien!

Meat Sauce:
3-4 chicken breasts (I actually use a pound of chicken tenders)
1 15-oz can of Red Enchilada Sauce (I make my own, see recipe below)
1 packet of taco seasoning (try to buy a brand that doesn't contain sugar.  I use Wick Fowler's Famous Taco Seasoning Mix which only has a handful of ingredients and no sugar.  Whole Foods has it.)

Place all ingredients in a crock-pot and stir to combine.  Cook on high about 4 hours or low about 6 hours (if you're going to be cooking it longer, you can use frozen chicken breasts or tenders).  When ready to serve, shred the chicken with a fork.  Serve over rice (we use brown rice) and add any of the following toppings:

chopped tomatoes
chopped cilantro
sour cream (thinned with a little milk so it's easy to drizzle)
shredded lettuce
Corn Salsa (recipe below)

Red Enchilada Sauce
This recipe comes from The Diet Rebel's Cookbook by Jillayne Clements and Michelle Stewart.  I prefer to make my own sauce since it's lower in fat and sugar. 

1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
14 oz. tomato sauce
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup water
1-3 Tbsp chili powder (depending on desired heat and flavor; I usually use just 1 Tbsp)
1 1/2 tsp evaporated cane juice (Sucanat)
1/2 tsp raw apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg's Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, but you could use regular apple cider vinegar in a pinch)

Saute onion and garlic in oil until tender.  Add the rest of the ingredients and let simmer, covered, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  This may be pureed in a blender or left as is (I'm lazy so I don't bother to puree).

Corn Salsa

About 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn, thawed  (I  just eye-ball the amount)
1 diced red bell pepper
1 chopped tomato
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 can black beans, drained (I leave this out since my family likes it better that way)
Italian Salad Dressing (see below)

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.  (can be made the day before)

OK, so here's the deal on the salad dressing.  The original recipe calls for a dry packet of Italian salad dressing that you mix as instructed on the packet.  I wanted to healthy things up a bit since these packets have sugar and some other ingredients I don't love.  I discovered Bragg's organic Healthy Vinaigrette, a bottled dressing made with EVOO and a bit of honey.  Patricia and Paul Bragg have a whole line of healthy products which you can buy at Whole Foods and the like.  The only thing about this dressing is that it solidifies in the fridge, which is fine for storage.  But if I'm going to make this salsa, I take the dressing out of the fridge and bring it to room temp so it's pourable.

A few final notes:

For some strange reason, Mike doesn't like to use rice in his haystacks.  He'll eat a burrito with all of these same ingredients INCLUDING rice at Chipotle, so it's a mystery to me why he doesn't like the rice in this instance.  But we each have our quirks, right?  So I buy Fritos and he puts everything on those.

This recipe serves about 4, but you can double the meat sauce recipe easily.  This is also really fun for entertaining as guests can help themselves and tailor the toppings to their liking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Northwoods Chicken Salad (plus a vegan version)

I grew up in Minneapolis, and there's a fabulous grocery store there called Byerly's.  This recipe comes from Byerly's and it utilizes the Minnesota state grain, wild rice.  Wild rice is grown in Minnesota and Canada, and is native to North America.  This delicious grain was a staple of the Chippewa and Ojibwa Indians.  It's low in calories; one cup of cooked wild rice contains only 130 of them.  It also contains more protein than other types of rice and  has potassium, B vitamins, fiber, and Vitamin E.  Wild rice can be a bit pricey, so I order mine online in a big 5 pound bag from Wilderness Family Naturals.  It's cheaper this way and the big bag will last awhile.  This online source offers either "Conventional Parching" or "Hand Parched" wild rice.  Last time I purchased the "hand parched" variety, which cooks quicker than the conventional.   You can find wild rice in any grocery store as well.  This salad is one of our favorites.  I'll serve it with muffins for a complete meal, and even my husband Mike is happy.  Make it the day before and you've got a delicious, healthy meal waiting--great for those days when you know you won't have time to make dinner.  Kinsey often takes this salad to school for lunch.  One of her friends asked to try it and reported, "well, it looks funny but it tastes great!" 

1 cup uncooked wild rice
5 1/2 cups chicken broth
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 chicken breast, cooked, cooled, and shredded
3 green onions
1/2 red pepper (though I usually use the whole thing)
2 oz sugar or snow peas (cut into pieces)
2 avocados
1 cup cashews

Place rice and broth in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then adjust to a summer and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes (the hand parched will cook quicker).  The grains will start to split open and you want to make sure they're completely cooked--slightly chewy and soft.  If you need to add more liquid, just add some water.  Line a colander with a towel and drain.  Rinse well.  Transfer to a bowl and toss with lemon juice while still warm.  Cool.  Add chicken, onions (which I usually leave out), peppers and peas.  Toss with dressing.  Cover and refrigerate 2-4 hours or overnight.  Just before serving add avocados and cashews.

2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar or agave nectar
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil

Combine all in a food processor or blender.

Vegan Version:  This is equally as delicious!  And you just need 2 simple substitutions.  First, replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth or vegan chicken broth.  Second, replace the chicken with a product called Gardein.  This is a miracle product developed by a Canadian named Yves Potvin.  It looks and tastes like chicken, but is made completely of vegies and grains.   Kinsey and Mike both like it, which makes me happy since they are both so-so with other vegan meat substitutes.  Gardein comes in lots of varieties, but for this you want just plain tenders.  You can get them in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods (different varieties of Gardein are also sold in the freezer section). Buy the plain tenders, prepare as directed on the package (basically you just pan-fry them for a few minutes on each side).  Then when they've cooled, shred them and add to the salad in place of the chicken.  Trust me, this is totally delish!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oatmeal Cake

My mom sent me an e-mail wondering how to substitute alternative sweeteners for white sugar.  Thanks for the question mom!  It's a good one.  I'll focus today on agave.  Quoting from Ania Catalano: "When adapting a recipe to use agave nectar, reduce the other liquids by one-third.  When replacing table sugar, plan on using about 25% less agave nectar to achieve the same level of sweetness; for example, use 3/4 cup of agave nectar for every cup of sugar.  Also, baked goods with agave nectar brown more quickly, so reduce oven temperatures by 25 degrees to avoid burning."

Today's recipe is a great example of substituting healthy ingredients (including agave) for not so healthy ones.  I took 3 different recipes I had for this oatmeal cake, made some substitutions of my own, and came up with this version which is low in fat, white sugar free, and every bit as delicious as the original!  Seriously, give it a try.  You will not be disappointed.

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp boiling water
1/2 cup oatmeal (I've used both quick cooking and regular oats and they both work)
1/4 cup applesauce
1/8 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup agave
1 egg white (I buy All Whites liquid egg whites that come in a carton.  3 Tbsp equals one egg white)
1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pour boiling water over oatmeal.  Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.  Add applesauce, buttermilk, agave, egg white, and vanilla.
Whisk dry ingredients together then mix with the wet ingredients (you can do this by hand).  Pour into a greased 8 inch square pan.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Put 1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup amber agave, 3 Tbsp light or regular butter, and 2 Tbsp evaporated skim milk in a small saucepan.  In a small bowl, combine 2 tsp cornstarch with 1 Tbsp evaporated skim milk.  Add this to the saucepan as well.  Bring this to a boil, then cook 1 more minute.  Stir in 3/4 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened is best) and 1/3 cup chopped and toasted pecans.  When the cake comes out of the oven, pour the frosting on top and smooth out with a knife.

The reason I use amber agave in the frosting is to give it a darker color (like brown sugar would).  If you don't have the amber on hand though, just use light agave.
The pecans in the frosting are optional.  I don't usually put them in, but most people love them.
This cake is delicious both warm and cold. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tomato Bisque

I've subjected my family to many new recipes over the past few years.  Lots of them have been resounding failures.  One night I prepared a pasta dish with lots of fresh herbs.  Kinsey said it tasted like she was eating grass.  So much for that one.  The only way to expand your repertoire of "tried and trues" though is to venture into the unknown.  When a recipe doesn't work out I have to admit I'm bummed about it.  It feels like it was a waste of time and ingredients.  When my whole family loves a new recipe though, you can't beat that feeling of success.  This Tomato Bisque recipe is one of those successes.  It comes from Tal Ronnen's cookbook, The Conscious Cook.  Tal is a vegan chef.  When Oprah went on a "vegan cleanse" diet for a few weeks last year, Tal was her personal chef during that time.  This soup is divine--the best tomato soup you'll ever eat, vegan or otherwise.  There's another great soup in Tal's book--the corn chowder.  I make one of these soups every week.  Kinsey often takes the leftovers to school in a thermos for lunch.   It's hard to believe that such a creamy soup as this is vegan.  The secret is a cashew cream made from soaked cashews blended with water.  Prepare to be amazed!

4 Tbsp Earth Balance
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp flour
5 cups faux chicken stock
1 (28-oz) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, juice included (I use Muir Glen brand)
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups regular Cashew Cream (see below)

Melt the Earth Balance in a large stockpot over medium heat until melted.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and continue cooking and stirring for 2 minutes.  Add the stock, tomatoes with juice, and parsley.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the Cashew Cream.  Continue to simmer (do not boil) for 10 minutes.
Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender and blend on high for several minutes until very smooth.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley.
Makes 6 servings

Cashew Cream
2 cups raw cashews

Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.  Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water.  Place in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch.  Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth.  (If you're not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve).   
Makes about 3 1/2 cups regular cream
(so to make enough cashew cream for this recipe, I usually only soak about 3/4 cup of cashews.)

A note on ingredients:
Earth Balance:  This is a vegan butter.  It comes in sticks and you can buy it at Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods.
Faux Chicken Stock:  The brand I use is Imagine No-Chicken Broth.  It comes in a 32 ounce container.  You can get this at King Soopers as well as Whole Foods/Vitamin Cottage.  Here's a tip.  There's about 4 cups of broth in one of these containers.  Rather than open another one for the extra 1 cup of broth needed for this recipe, I keep some regular vegetable broth in my fridge (which I use in other recipes) and just supplement with that. 
Muir Glen Tomatoes:  These are organic canned tomatoes.  The fire roasted tomatoes called for in this recipe have a fabulous flavor. 

Two final notes:
You can freeze this soup.  When you defrost it and plop it into a saucepan to reheat, it may have separated a bit.  Don't despair!  Just whisk as you heat, and it will return to the normal consistency.
Also, don't forget to soak the cashews the night before you want to make this!  I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to do this and we've had to eat something else instead.  Write yourself a note if you need to!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Healthy Microwave Popcorn

It's Friday and I'm looking forward to a weekly tradition that my daughter Kinsey and I have:  Watching the latest episode of "Merlin" on the Syfy channel.  This TV show is a winner!  It's a British production about King Arthur of Camelot and the magician Merlin in their younger days.  The third season is being broadcast now and the first two seasons are out on DVD.  I love it because it's a G-rated series that the whole family can enjoy (it's a favorite of my 22 year old son Adam).  Of course any night spent in front of the TV must be accompanied by popcorn!  I've been concerned lately about the bags of microwave popcorn that are always being popped in our house. The stuff you buy in the store contains not so healthy ingredients, and many manufacturers of microwave popcorn use perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in their packaging.  PFOA has been associated with increased cancer rates and birth defects.  I was thrilled to come across a superb idea for making your own microwave popcorn in the book The Cleaner Plate Club by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin.  I tried their method today and it worked great.  Here's what you do:

Place 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag.  Fold over the top of the bag 2 or 3 times (do not staple or tape) and place on its side in the microwave.  Cook on HIGH for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (my microwave took the full 2 minutes) or until there are about 2 seconds between each pop.  Remove the bag from the microwave and add olive oil (or butter if you prefer) and salt.  Shake the bag and voila! 

Beth and Ali also have some great popcorn seasoning ideas in their cookbook.  Here's one:

Herbed Popcorn:  Mix 1/2 tsp dried basil, 1/4 tsp dried oregano, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and 1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle over oiled or buttered popcorn.

I hope you'll try this idea and whatever you're watching this weekend, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ingredients and Where to Buy Them

I'll never forget the first time I walked into Whole Foods in search of some exotic ingredients I needed to start making healthy treats.  It was downright scary!  Luckily, there were many helpful employees who led me through the aisles and answered all of my questions.  Hopefully this little guide will help you to walk into any natural foods store with confidence.

First, let's talk about sweeteners.  There are several problems with white, refined sugar.  It has been highly processed and stripped of any nutritional value.  So it's basically just a bunch of empty calories.  It's also very high on the glycemic index (GI).  What is the Glycemic Index, you ask?  Ill let Ania Catalano (a wonderful cookbook author) explain:  "The GI ranks foods according to how quickly they are processed into glucose in the body.  Pure glucose, with a GI of 100, is the reference point:  The lower the GI, the more slowly the food is processed and the less dramatic the fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels.  Health experts agree that controlling these levels is an important component in lowering risk for heart disease and diabetes, reducing cholesterol levels, and managing weight."  White sugar has a GI of 60-65.  It raises blood sugar quickly which can lead to disease and also to aging in the body (think sagging and wrinkles people!)  So the sad truth is that we'd all be better off without eating so much of the white, refined stuff.  There are some wonderful substitutes out there:

Agave Nectar:  This is one of my personal favorites.  Agave is a liquid which has a bit thinner consistency than honey.  Agave has a GI of 55 or below, depending on the manufacturer.  Blue Weber agave is in the 19-39 range.  Agave is considered safe for diabetics because of this low GI rating.  Agave comes in both a "Light" and "Amber" color.  Unless a recipe calls specifically for the Amber color, I use the Light.  You will love, love agave!  You can substitute it for sugar in many recipes.  I buy my agave at Vitamin Cottage (for all of you who live in the Denver area).  It's cheapest there.  Mudhava is a great brand, and you can get a 46 ounce container for about $10.00.  Agave is more expensive than regular sugar, but totally worth it!!  Whole Foods, Sunflower Market, and even King Soopers has agave but I find that it's more expensive there.  By the way, some of my friends use agave straight from the container as pancake syrup!

Maple Syrup:  You want the pure stuff here, baby!  The fake stuff just won't do the trick.  The GI of maple syrup is about 54 and it's high in minerals.  Maple syrup comes in 2 grades:  A and B.  Grade B has been boiled longer so it has more flavor and nutrients than Grade A.  I buy my maple syrup at Whole Foods.  They have a "365 Everyday Value" Brand which is priced well.  I usually buy the Grade B, and a 32 ounce container is about $17.00 (don't gasp too hard--it'll last you awhile).

Sucanat ( dehydrated cane juice):  This is cane sugar that has not been refined.  It is a brown color and the granules are larger than it's refined, white counterpart.  Dehydrated cane juice contains micronutrients (which always makes me feel better about eating it).  Sucanat is simply a brand name for dehydrated cane juice.  You can buy this at Whole Foods but I find it's cheaper at Vitamin Cottage.  They sell it in bags in their "bulk foods" aisle for $1.75 a pound.

Dates:  These little babies are full of good things:  fiber, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, Vitamin A, and antioxidents including tannins and beta-carotene.  That's a pretty impressive list!  I buy my dates at Whole Foods in their bulk food aisle (this is where all the bins are and you just help yourself to how much you want).  Dates dry out pretty quickly, so I only buy what I need for the week.  Whole Foods carries several varieties including Medjool and Deglet Noor.

Let's move on to a few other ingredients I use a lot.

Tofu:  Tofu is made out of soybeans.  It's a great protein source for vegetarians and vegans.  You can buy it 2 ways:  In little tubs of water in the refrigerated section of any grocery store, or sealed in little boxes that don't need to be refrigerated (Mori Nu is the most popular brand).  Tofu comes in firm, extra-firm, and silken varieties.  The firm stuff you buy in the tubs is used in a variety of ways--you can marinate it, grill it, steam it, scramble it (if you add some tumeric it ends up looking like scrambled eggs), etc.  The Mori Nu stuff is used for desserts and in baking (this is the silken tofu, and it's consistency lends itself to baking and things like pudding).  Tofu is CHEAP!  So it's a great meatless way to add protein to meals.  While it looks white and funny, it will take on the flavor of whatever you mix it with so it's incredibly versatile.

Flax Seeds:  These little seeds are full of fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids.  They're also very low in carbohydrates.  Now I must admit that, alas, I don't love the taste of flax seeds.  I know there are some who sprinkle them on everything from cereal to salads because they want the amazing health benefits that these seeds provide.  I am not one of the those people.  But I do use flax seeds in baking, which masks the taste.  Flax seeds are also an egg replacer used in vegan baking.

Spelt Flour:  I'll quote here from another fabulous cookbook writer, Ricki Heller:  "Spelt and kamut, both distant relatives of wheat, are ancient grains that have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the past few years.  While both do contain gluten, they have less than wheat, and they haven't been hybridized the way wheat has over the years.  As a result, spelt and kamut are often tolerated by people who are sensitive to wheat.  Spelt is now available in both wholegrain ("whole" spelt) and partially refined ("light" spelt) varieties.  While light spelt does retain less of the whole grain, it looks and acts much like all-purpose flour and is great in recipes requiring a lighter texture...Wholegrain spelt is made from the entire grain ground up, and looks and acts much like whole wheat flour."  So there you have it.  I buy my spelt flour from Vitamin Cottage.  They have a refrigerated section full of bags of flours, nuts, and other good things, all at very good prices.  You can also find spelt flour at Whole Foods in their bulk foods section.

Cashews:  These are full of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, vitamins, protein, and the "good" monounsaturated fats.  They are also used in many unexpected ways in the world of healthy cooking.  For example, you can soak them and then blend them with water and you end up with "cashew cream" that adds richness and thickness to soups and desserts.  Amazing!  Cashew butter is also used in recipes.  When you buy cashews, buy the "raw" unprocessed ones.  Vitamin Cottage is where I get mine.  And cashew butter I buy from Whole Foods (it's over by the peanut butter).   

That's it for now.  I'll be adding to this list as we go along.  Here's one more definition though:

Vegan:  A vegan is someone who doesn't eat ANY animal products.  While vegetarians stay away from meat, they do eat eggs, milk and dairy products.  Vegans don't eat anything that comes from an animal.  Am I a vegan?  No.  Although I have cut way back on the amount of meat I eat and am tending more and more towards full veganism.  It's a process for sure.  I do know that I feel great when I'm eating a lot of vegan meals.  And for those of you who have to avoid dairy products, vegan recipes are for you!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Dalmation Cheesecake Brownies (VEGAN)

Hooray!  So here is my first post.  This recipe comes from the cookbook Sweet Freedom:  Desserts You'll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar by Ricki Heller.  I ordered this from and every recipe that I've tried has been delicious.  Now bear in mind that these will taste slightly different from dairy cheesecake brownies full of sugar.  But I have to say, they're pretty darn close!  I make them regularly.  Since this makes a big batch, you can easily freeze extras (I cut them up and put them in a Tupperware container) and then just defrost a few at a time to calm those cravings!

Cheesecake Topping:
1 pkg (12 oz.) aseptically-packaged firm or extra-firm silken tofu, such as Mori Nu brand (NOT the kind that is packaged in a tub of water)
1/2 cup natural smooth cashew butter
1/2 cup light agave nectar
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
pinch of sea salt
2/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips  (NOTE:  I use the grain-sweetened chocolate chips made by Sunspire which are white sugar-free)
Brownie Base:
4 oz. dried, pitted unsweetened dates (18-24 medium dates, not Medjool)
1/3 cup date soaking liquid (see instructions below)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp Sucanat (or other unrefined evaporated cane juice)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp finely ground flax seeds
6 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup light spelt flour
6 Tbsp oat flour
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9"x13" pan with cooking spray (I use a glass Pyrex dish) 
Soak the dates for the brownie:  In a small bowl, cover the dates with boiling water.  Allow to soak while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
Prepare the cheesecake topping: In the bowl of a food processor, process the tofu and cashew butter until smooth and no pieces of tofu are visible.  Add the agave, lemon juice, vanilla, almond extract and salt and process again, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally, until you have a perfectly smooth mixture.  Turn the mixture into a medium-sized bowl, scraping as much as you can from the processor, but don't bother to wash it (you'll use it again in a moment).  Fold the chocolate chips into the cheesecake mixture.  Set aside.
Make the brownie base: Drain the dates and reserve 1/3 cup soaking liquid.  Using the same processor bowl, whir the dates and soaking liquid until they form a relatively smooth paste.  Add the Sucanant and maple syrup and process again until smooth, allowing the Sucanat to dissolve as much as possible (don't worry if a few flecks of date are visible here and there).  Add the vanilla, flax seeds and oil, and process to blend.  Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the spelt flour, oat flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Pour the wet mixture from the processor over the dry ingredients and stir to mix well.  Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake the brownie layer for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour the reserved cheesecake mixture over it, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the top is deep golden brown and the cheesecake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan.  The middle of the cake should jiggle just a little when you shake the pan, but the rest should be firm (don't overbake!)
Allow to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate.  The brownie should be served cold.  Makes 16-20 servings.

Whew!  Ok, so this may seem a little labor intensive, but trust me--it'll be worth it!