Happy Monday, everyone! It’s also the beginning of the final month of the year–a perfect time for some announcements and updates (plus a request for your help–see last item in this post!). With so much going on here at DDD these days, I thought I’d take the opportunity to collate some items in a single post. But I warn you, this is a long’un–so grab a Carob Chai Latte (or, if you prefer, a glass of Holiday Nog), put your feet up, and read on!
Yes, that’s right: it’s been so chaotically busy over here that I completely neglected to post the winner of last week’s giveaway! As I mentioned last week, the book is great for anyone who eats gluten-free, and also contains a good number of vegan recipes. And I loved the Beet Tagine! A random selection from all entries resulted in a winner:
Number 8: Rick–the Health Sleuth! Rick’s comment: “I have never had tagine, omg i would love this cookbook! please add me to the contest!”
Congratulations, Rick! Please email me at dietdessertdogsATgmailDOTcom with your full name and address, and I’ll be sure the book gets out to you asap!
I’m giddy with excitement that I’ll be among the presenters at the brand new Nourished food bloggers’ conference, coming to Chicago in April 2012! The conference is the brainchild of Amy Green from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, plus Jen Cafferty, the woman behind the Gluten and Allergen-Free Expos and the blog Gluten-Free Life. The conference is the first of its kind, “tailored exclusively to the needs of those on special diets, writing about special diets, and niche bloggers.” These days, that includes more and more of us!
Some of the confirmed speakers who will guide you toward more fun, effective and popular food blogging include Susan Voisin of Fatfree Vegan Kitchen (one of my vegan blogging idols!), Silvana Nardone of Silvana’s Kitchen, Dianne Jacob of Will Write for Food and Cybele Pascal, renowned allergen-free cookbook author. I’m thrilled that I’ll finally get to meet so many of my blogging colleagues at the conference as well–and I do hope I get to meet some of you, too!
Free Ticket Giveaway! I’d love if you can make it out to Chicago next April and join in the event. The conference founders want you to be there, too, so they’re holding a giveaway for a free ticket to the conference, until Decmeber 8th! There’s still time to enter to win a free ticket. Hop over to the Nourished blog and leave a comment to enter.
III. Osteopenia Update:
Holistic Approach, -1.3; Conventional Approach, -2.2 (or, a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bone Density Test)
Some of you may remember my outrage a couple of years ago when my doctor unceremoniously informed me that I had osteopenia (a decrease in bone density that can be a precursor to osteoporosis). As a person who studied holistic nutrition and takes pains to eat a balanced diet of whole, natural foods, I was appalled that I could even fall within that category (or anywhere else, in fact, since I’d probably fracture a hip or something if I did fall). Last year’s results were even more dire: my T Score clocked in at -2.2, just a hair’s breadth away from full-on osteoporosis!!
As a perpetual student who’s been accustomed to doing well on tests, I was really ticked off at that abysmal score. Since I was in the midst of battling candida with my amazing naturopath at the time (I’ve subsequently continued the battle on my own), the first thing I did at our next appointment was ask how I could reverse the diagnosis. (I had asked the same question of my family doctor as well, of course, but her response was: “There is no way to reverse it. The best you can hope for is that it doesn’t get worse. And if it does get worse, we’ll have to put you on Fosamax.”).
Well, um, no thank you. Instead, my naturopath explained that “It’s not always what you’re eating that matters so much as how much you absorb from what you’re eating.” In other words, women who take 2000 mg of supplemental calcium a day could still end up with osteoporosis if their bodies aren’t able to absorb and actually use that calcium.
As a result, my naturopath designed a specific nutritional plan which I’ve been following for the the past year. The plan aims to (a) clear out as much of the candida as possible (I’m about 90% there); (b) improve my digestion; (c) increase my intake of the minerals essential for a healthy bone matrix through supplements; and (d) increase my intake of specific foods that help to build bones as well. I also committed to exercising 6 days a week, walking and lifting weights every day.
So, how did I do? I’m happy to report that I’ve been totally consistent taking my supplements; I endeavor to drink wheat grass juice daily (I actually like the taste of the fresh stuff); and I consume dark leafys at least once a day. I’ve managed to keep up with the exercise routine about 80% of the time as well (I will occasionally slip to 4 or 5 days a week).
I had my latest bone density test a couple of months ago. I found it odd that I didn’t hear back from the doctor’s office, so I decided to take the initiative and call them. The secretary (who read out my numbers to me over the phone) was clearly astounded when she compared them to last year’s digits: my score had risen from -2.2 to -1.3, moving me to the low-risk group (less than 10% risk for fracture)! Whoo hoo! The Mighty Kale triumphs again!*
I must admit, I’m not sure which was more satisfying about the results: the fact that my bones are now stronger (which means I needn’t worry as much about falling while walking the dogs over ice and snow in winter); or (once again) proving to my doctor that natural, nutrient-based “medicine” can work as well as, or better than, the conventional kind.
For once in my life, I don’t mind being called “dense.” To celebrate my healthier status, I whipped up this calcium-rich smoothie the other day. Combined with cranberries and pears, it’s both festive and nourishing. Hooray for holistic medicine! (See recipe at end of post).
IV. A Question–for All of You.
This last section is directed at all of you–all of the wonderful and much-appreciated readers who visit DDD on a regular basis. More than anything, I write this blog for all of you. Without your presence here, without you showing up regularly and reading; without your insightful, witty, supportive and empathic comments; without your feedback and input, this blog would really have very little reason for existing at all.
With the new year just beyond the horizon, I’ve been feeling a little restless with the blog and thinking about implementing some changes. In some ways, it seems I’ve lost sight of the original cornerstones of DDD and the types of posts that served to build the blog from the beginning. Too often, the focus has shifted toward events and giveaways–and, while I really do enjoy the latter, I don’t want to overlook the former.
So, I’ve decided to ask you what YOU would like to see on the blog. I’m posting three questions below, and I’d love to know your answers to one, two or all three, as you like. Instead of a survey, I’m asking that you simply leave your ideas in the comments section, and feel free to write about anything I may have forgotten to mention as well. Here goes:
Question One: If I revamped the blog, which sections or aspects of the blog are essential to keep? (Wellness Weekend? Stories? Recipes? Giveaways? The Girls’ input?) Let me know what you’d like to see remain as fundamental elements on the blog, or what you’d want to see more of!
Question Two: Is there anything on the blog you feel could be eliminated? (Wellness Weekend? Stories? Giveaways? Tabs at the top of the page? –etc.) If there’s something you feel isn’t necessary, is merely taking up space or simply bugs you, take note of it in the comments as well!
Question Three: Is there anything not already here that you’d like to see added to the blog? Is there a particular feature or specific content that you wish I’d add? If so, let me know!
I plan to introduce some updates and changes to the blog in the new year. Look forward to improvements and a sharper look as well!
Thanks, everyone, for your help! I can’t wait to hear what you think and read through your ideas.
And if you’ve made it this far, I think you deserve a reward! How about a big, frosty Cranberry Smoothie? Enjoy!
“Mum, a new look for the blog is a great idea. But you’re not seriously thinking of getting rid of US, are you?! Besides, ‘Diet, Dessert and HH’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. . . . Mum?”
Calcium-Rich Cranberry Smoothie
A snap to whip up, this smoothie makes a refreshing breakfast (or any time) drink, with just the right amount of sweetness. Sesame seeds are high in calcium, as are almonds, and both will add creaminess to this drink as well.
1 cup (240 ml) unsweetened soy, almond, rice or hemp milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 pear, cored (you can keep the skin on)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sesame seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) raw natural almonds
1 scoop plain or vanilla rice-based protein powder (I use BioNature)
1 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled
15-25 drops plain or vanilla liquid stevia, to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Drink immediately. Makes one serving.
* When my friend Eternal Optimist, who has also been diagnosed with osteopenia, heard about this reversal of fortune, she decided immediately to go on the same regimen. I can’t wait to see how her results turn out next year.
[Hearty, slurpy, stick-to-your-ribs Lentil and Almond Tagine]
Up until last month, the only tagine I had ever eaten were this one ** or one at a small Middle Eastern restaurant that the HH and I went to in the early days of our relationship. But then I was contacted by the lovely Martine from Robert Rose publishers, wondering if I’d like to review Pat Crocker’s latest oeuvre, 150 Best Tagine Recipes, and the amazing world of tagines opened up for me.
If you’ve never heard of tagines, you’re in for a treat. The word tagine refers both to the Moroccan clay pot used for slow-cooking a meal or side dish, and also the very meal or side dish that results (don’t you just love the efficiency of those Moroccans?). The (edible) tagine is a thick, rich, slowly-simmered kind of stew that can contain almost any ingredients you fancy, from meat (um, nope) to poultry (nada) to seafood (nuh-uh) to legumes (getting warmer) and all manner of vegetables (jackpot!). It’s also always deeply spiced with a mixture of aromatic blends with African influences. . . Think of it, as Jamie Oliver does, as “stew with attitude.”
At first, I was a little concerned that (given the traditional tagine ingredients) I wouldn’t find much in the book I could cook. But I was assured that the vegetable chapter would provide me with ample choice.
Turns out that was only partly true. There are 16 vegetable tagine recipes in the book; however, considering that there are also full chapters devoted to each of poultry, lamb, beef, and fish/seafood, I’m not sure I’d purchase the book if I were simply browsing in a bookstore looking for a new vegan cookbook. After all, there are so many other wonderful vegan cookbooks on the market right now (in fact, my next book review is going to focus on one of them!). That said, however, the book also contains quite a few recipes for salad and sides, dips and other finger foods as well as beverages and sweets; and it has tons to offer for gluten-free eaters, as tagines are naturally gluten free.
Chapter topics move from a general introduction to a detailed explanation of the concept of tagine cooking, its history and traditional equipment used, to the evolution of the modern (and stovetop) tagine. Crocker also covers information about traditional spices and seasonings used, common ingredients, and traditional spice blends (for which she includes recipes).
Because I don’t own a traditional tagine, I opted to cook the first recipe I sampled using the stovetop method described in the book (basically cooking the ingredients in a large pot with a lid). While it worked just fine, I wondered if I were somehow missing out on the true intent of the recipes, as the cooking time for stovetop preparation was under 30 minutes, when true tagine cooking can take hours. So, for my second attempt, I popped the ingredients into a casserole and baked at a leisurely pace. The result was spectacular: flavors melded beautifully, spices developed their full potential, chunks of veggies caramelized and exuded natural juices to season the entire stew.
When you make these recipes at home, I’d recommend baking in the oven rather than cooking on the stovetop if you have the time (unless you own a stovetop tagine, of course).
And so, on to the recipes!
The first recipe I tried was Lentil and Almond Tagine (see top photo), an aromatic mix of red peppers, lentils, tomatoes and toasted almonds. Both the HH and I loved the Bahrat Spice blend that was included (recipe from the book) and the hearty mix of toothsome lentils with soft, sweet squash.
Next up was the Eggplant and Lentil Tagine, which I decided to bake in the oven to reproduce more of an authentic tagine effect. I used store-bought garam masala for this spice mix (one of the suggested options) and while it was delicious, both the HH and I thought the casserole could have used even more spice.
[Subtly spiced Eggplant and Lentil Tagine]
Finally, I tried out a side-dish tagine, which may actually have been my favorite of the three. As you may know, I already love beets; but this is one dish that anyone can enjoy. As the headnote to the recipe states: “Slightly sweet, this colorful side dish tagine is often enjoyed by ardent beet haters.” That’s quite a confident statement, and one with which I’d concur! The spiced, sweet-and-sour broth is a perfect medium for the delectable roots. This tagine also offers the surprise tartness of green apples (which, by the time I snapped the picture, had absorbed the vibrant fuschia of the beets). And it even included some sliced fennel–the only way I’ve ever loved that veggie!
[My favorite, Beet Tagine--it will make a convert of you!]
Want to Try Tagines? Win a Copy for Yourself!
If you’re already a fan of tagines or just curious to give them a try, the kind folks at Robert Rose are offering a free copy to a DDD reader!
How to Enter: Entering the giveaway couldn’t be easier: just leave a comment here telling me whether you’ve ever tried a tagine (and if so, how you liked it) OR what about a tagine appeals to you.
Second and subsequent entries: you can gain extra entries by subscribing to this blog, following DDD on Facebook, following me on twitter, posting about this on your own blog or Facebook page, tweeting about it (be sure to include @rickiheller in the tweet so I see it), or checking out the Pat Crocker page from Robert Rose and telling me which of her other books you think you’d enjoy.
For each additional entry, please be sure to come back here and leave a comment telling me you did so!
The giveaway will run until midnight my time this Wednesday, November 30th. I’ll announce the winners later in the week. Open to anyone in North America (with huge apologies to my international readers!).
To get you in the mood, here’s a recipe from the book (which you can enjoy wherever you are).
1 fresh hot chile pepper, chopped (I used jalapeno)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sweet paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) Bahrat Spice Blend (see below)
1 cup yellow, red or brown lentils, rinsed (I used brown)
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) diced tomatoes, with juice
2 cups (500 ml) diced pumpkin or squash (I used butternut squash)
1/4 cup (60 ml) ground almonds
2 cups (500 ml) shredded swiss chard (I included stems)
1/2 cup (125 ml) toasted whole almonds
In the bottom of a flameproof tagine (or dutch oven), heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, chile pepper, bell pepper, paprika and spice blend and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. [Note: I found the mixture really stuck to the bottom of the pan this way; I deglazed with a splash of vegetable broth.] Add lentils and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil.
Cover with tagine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Add pumpkin and ground almonds, replace lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in Swiss chard, replace lid and simmer for 5 minutes or until greens are wilted and pumpkin is tender. Garnish with whole almonds.
Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
Bahrat Spice Blend:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) coriander seeds
4 tsp (20 ml) cumin seeds
1 piece (1 inch/2.5 cm) cinnamon, crushed
5 whole cloves
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cardomom seeds
2 Tbsp (30 ml) paprika
1 tsp ground sumac, optional (I left it out)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground nutmeg
In the bottom of a small tagine or frypan, combine the coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Toast over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly colored and fragrant. Remove from diret heat just as the seeds pop; do not let the spices smoke and burn.
In a mortar and pestle or electric grinder, pound or grind the toasted spices until coarse or finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the paprika, sumac (if using) and nutmeg.
Store in an airtight (preferably dark) glass jar with lid in a cool place for up to 3 months. Makes 1/4 cup (60 ml).
**Thanks to Johanna for reminding me about the olive-quinoa one! Since I can’t eat most of the ingredients in it any more, I must have wiped it from my memory.
Last Year at this Time: Borscht to Beet Stress (gluten free; ACD All Stages)
You know, sometimes I wish I had a bunch of posts pre-scheduled for this site. You see, I’ve been afflicted with a weird kind of virus-flu-sinus-thingie for the past several days. Just when I thought I was better, the following day I could barely get out of bed and slept 14 hours. Fourteen hours!! Clearly, my body is telling me something (like, maybe, ”time to get those extra blog posts pre-scheduled.”). Since I feel pretty good today, I’m going to leap on the opportunity and tap out this post toute de suite. Luckily, the skies cleared temporarily last Saturday as well, just in time for a dinner party I had planned.
You’ve probably heard it before, but truly, there is nothing like having old friends. As my latest crush*, Irvin Yalom, says in his most recent tome, “You can’t make new old friends.” That’s why it’s worth nurturing old friendships no matter what. A huge benefit of long-term alliances is the shared history that helps to strengthen bonds in the present (or, when the present may be a little rocky, allows you to fall back on all that already-established goodwill).
For me, the “old friend” on whom I most rely is my pal Gemini I (and by “old,” I mean as in, “I’ve known her longer than I’ve known my younger sister.”). I mean, who else would drop everything at 11:42 PM to sit in a cheap coffee shop with me for three hours while I cried about how my (then) marriage had just broken up? Who else would force me to eat something while sitting for three hours in said coffee shop (almost the only time in my life I didn’t feel like eating because of stress)? Who else was there to double date with me when I (finally!) met my first boyfriend? Who else would cheer me on when I decided to leave my job for a spell and study nutrition? Who else would (literally) lend me the shirt off her back for a special date? Who else could sit with me and reminisce about events that happened when we were five years old?
I’ve often heard it said that you should never try new recipes on guests, but Gemini I’s status is more like family, so that old adage didn’t apply last weekend. Then again, the other guests at the soirée were my buddy PR Queen (a veritable neophyte in the “friends-with-Ricki department at only 8 years) and her hubby. But since PR Queen is my only other vegan friend, I reasoned that trying a new recipe would be acceptable in her case, too.
I decided to make this sushi pizza, combining the best of both Asian and Italian finger foods. Rather than roll up individual rolls as I usually do, I opted for a veganized/ACD revamp of a recipe I came across in Bonnie Stern’sHeart Smart: The Best of HeartSmart Cooking, which I’d checked out of the library. (Yes, I do have more than 200 cookbooks. And yes, for some bizarre reason, I still feel the need to look at yet more cookbooks from the library). Stern’s now-famous recipe deconstructs your standard nori rolls into their individual elements, layering them lasagna-style, then cutting them into little squares to serve as appetizers. The only problem with the original recipe was (a) its reliance on regular white sushi rice and rice vinegar (two no-no’s on the ACD); and (b) its inclusion of smoked salmon as one of the layers.
What to do? I immediately thought of using this recipe (which I’ve been eyeing for a while) in place of the salmon. But when I made up a tester batch, I found that even though the flavor was marvelous, it didn’t adhere quite as well as I would have liked. Instead, I added some liquid smoke to my own standard “salmon-like” sushi filling, and the resulting spread worked perfectly. I also used brown rice and apple cider vinegar (the only vinegar considered acceptable on the ACD) for the sushi rice (of course, you could substitute regular sushi rice if you are not following a special diet).
I’m glad to say that the “pizza” was a great success, and even the omnis in the group (that would be everyone except PR Queen and me) enjoyed it immensely–only three small squares (from an 8-inch/20 cm square pan) were left when we hauled ourselves up to go eat the actual dinner. After that it was on to the salad (baby spinach with grapefruit, kiwi and a tangy dijon dressing); crusty (non-GF) bread, courtesy of Gemini I; two types of stew (beef bourguignon for the omnis and a spectacular tempeh faux version for me and PR Queen–recipe anon) ladled over mashed potatoes, complemented by sautéed rapini with pine nuts and raisins (I picked out the raisins); accompanied by a great bottle of First Press Cabernet Sauvignon (courtesy of Gemini I and her hubby).
Around the time that dessert made an appearance (chocolate pumpkin pôts de crème, chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, and banana cake, courtesy of PR Queen), the HH brewed his signature coffee (since, after more than a dozen years without, I’ve forgotten how), we were already moaning about how full we were and staggered into the family room to spend the remainder of the evening digesting and, ultimately, reminiscing.
[My mom and me at my wedding to the Starter Husband.]
I ran upstairs and grabbed an old photo album from my undergraduate days. Here’s another great thing about old friends: they remind you of all the details you’ve forgotten from your twenties. I’d completely forgotten about those deep turquoise walls in Gemini I’s old place! And how about that papasan chair that I so loved in my first apartment after the Starter Husband and I split up! We squealed at the hilarity of our younger, 1980s selves in geometric hairstyles and Amazonian shoulder pads; murmured at the photo of me with the puppy I shared with the Starter Husband; tsk-tsk’d at the image of old friends who have since fallen ill; and (well, I did, anyway) teared up at the photo of my beaming mother and me at my wedding to the Starter Husband (sadly, she never met the HH).
All in all, it was a great evening, reaffirming old friendships and forging new(er) ones. Unfortunately, the only photos I took that evening were of the food. No matter: if I ever need a reminder, I can call up my pals and know they’ll have their own accounts of the dinner–each one served up with a square of sushi pizza.
I served this cut into squares as an hors d’oeuvre, but you could easily cut the pizza into larger pieces as a first course. If you’re not a fan of the raw “salmon” spread, you can use vegan cheese or even hummus instead.
1 recipe “salmon” spread from here, with 1/2-1 tsp (2.5-5 ml) liquid smoke added
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) dry brown rice (I used long grain, but any kind will do)
3 cups (720 ml) water
3 Tbsp (45 ml) apple cider vinegar (or use rice vinegar if you can eat it)
one recipe Spicy Ginger-Miso Mayonnaise, below
25-35 thin slices of English cucumber
1 sheet toasted nori (about 8 x 7 inches or 20 x 18 cm)
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped green onion or chives
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black or beige sesame seeds
A day before you wish to serve the pizza: Begin to prepare the “salmon” by soaking the nuts.
On the day you wish to serve the pizza: Prepare the “salmon” and set aside. Line an 8-inch (20 cm) square pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
Next, prepare the rice: In a medium pot, combine the rice and water; bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, cover, and boil for 25 minutes, uncovering and stirring every 10 minutes or so (I did this to ensure that the rice would be sticky as a base for the pizza). Continue to simmer and stir until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost dry, but still sticky.
Transfer the hot rice to a large bowl and toss with the vinegar. Set aside to cool.
While the rice is simmering, prepare the mayonnaise: blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor (I used a mini processor) until perfectly smooth.
Assemble the pizza: Arrange the cucumber slices across the bottom of pan in layers, overlapping the slices slightly, until the bottom of the pan is covered. Dollop the salmon spread evenly over the cucumber, then use your fingers to gently spread it evenly over the pan without disturbing the slices. Spread the mayonnaise evenly over the salmon layer.
Using half of the rice, place mounds of rice evenly over the mayonnaise, then gently spread it out to completely cover the surface. Top with the slice of nori. Using the same method for the rice, gently spread the last half over the nori to cover it completely. Cover with plastic wrap.
Place heavy cans or weights over the pizza (I used a smaller square pan that fit into the sushi pan and then placed the cans on that for even weighting) and allow to chill for about half an hour or longer, up to several hours.
To serve, unwrap and invert onto a serving plate. Sprinkle with green onion and sesame seeds. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut the pizza into 9 or 12 squares. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 appetizer servings.
Spicy Ginger-Miso Mayonnaise:
3 Tbsp (45 ml) firm silken tofu (I used Mori-Nu)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) white miso
1 tsp (5 ml) toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 tsp (10 ml) freshly grated ginger
2 tsp (10 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) dijon mustard
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a blender or small food processor until perfectly smooth.
Yes, all you Frosty-philes, I know all the ways I am supposed to “learn” to enjoy winter. I own top-notch, thinsulate-lined boots and long underwear. I wear Arctic-approved gloves and earmuffs. I wrap my scarf around my face in a manner reminiscent of a Brendan Fraser movie villain. I have tried skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing (forget about downhill–I can barely stay upright on the snowshoes). I drink cocoa, eat soup, wear sweaters, use flannel and snuggle with my HH throughout the season. I will always appreciate summer (with all of my heart) and don’t need no stinkin’ winter to provide contrast, thank you very much. And Canadian? Shmamadian! I must have missed the “I love winter” genes.
In fact, the only teeny, tiny, miniscule bit of positive I can find in the Dreaded Season of Ice and Snow is that it looks pretty. For about 48 seconds.
And after that, it sucks.
So, suffice it to say that
I despise the cold, I dread the slush, I abhor the ice, I shun the snow, I resent having to scrape the rime off my car windows, I can’t stand that it takes longer to get dressed for a dog walk than it does for the actual dog walk, I loathe being chilly even indoors, I curse that my glasses fog up, I begrudge having to wear a hat and the resulting hat-head, I detest that I have to watch where I walk or risk slipping and breaking a hip.
And I really, really, do not like it.
Hate or not, however, I live in Toronto, which has cold, snowy winters. Except for the saving grace of The Girls romping and gamboling in the snow whenever we get to the trail for a walk, I’d probably just stay inside for four months. If there is a visual expression of the word, “elation,” Chaser and Elsie, playing in the snow, is it.
“Thanks, Mum! We really have fun over there. And we appreciate that you take us every day even though you hate it. But you really should get down on the ground and wrestle with us. I bet you would enjoy winter much more that way.”
[It's rich and smooth, but coconut is not the most prominent flavor.]
Luckily, around Christmas time (one of the other few bright spots in the season), I discovered Peppermint Bark from Heather (of the legendary Heather Eats Almond Butter blog). My first attempt at the recipe followed Heather’s own almost exactly, and I posted it on my Facebook Page.
And yes, this is a dessert. Did you think I’d stop making (and eating) them after my recent whinge about gaining weight? Mais, pas de tout! No, I have not eliminated the sweet stuff (made with stevia) from my menus. In fact, I feel that I need to keep such treats in my diet now more than ever, if I am truly going to learn to tap into the physical messages of hunger and satiation. I’ll continue to eat all kinds of foods, in moderation, and redouble my efforts to stop and think–and pay attention–before I eat (and I’ll be chronicling my progress in that area as well; more on that coming up).
Since I first tried the recipe, I’ve continued to play with it, as I found the taste of concentrated coconut butter a bit much for my palate. I added some nuts and spices to create a firm-at-room-temperature, solid-when-refrigerated, impossible-to-resist version of chocolate bark, yet without any chocolate (of course, if you’re not limiting the stuff as I am, you can always sub chocolate or cacao nibs for the carob).
When the texture is refined in the blender, as I’ve done here, it becomes smooth, creamy and melty in the way that a good quality chocolate bar is melty. Even the HH proclaimed this to be a great snack (as he bit into his fourth piece). However, this bark is more akin to one made from white chocolate, with some additional goodies thrown in. It’s also a perfect high-energy snack or dessert, or a little sweet treat to set out on a tray when you’ve got people over on the weekend.
Because, you know, you won’t be going out much now that it’s winter.
This recipe is linked up to Amy’s weekly event, Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays. Check out all the other goodies over there (or submit your own), too!
[Freeform marbled pattern courtesy of natural coconut oils from the coconut, after they are chilled.]
Cinnamon Spiced Coconut Bark (ACD stage 1 and beyond)
This bark makes a great substantial snack. By blending the coconut with the nuts until perfectly smooth, you are, in effect, mixing coconut butter with your nut butter, which will allow the mixture to retain its shape at room temperature. Containing healthy fats and a good protein content, this bark will satisfy your sweet tooth while tiding you over to the next meal. It’s good enough that you can serve it to friends, whether or not they follow a special diet.
2 cups (160 g) unsweetened, dried shredded coconut (or you can use 1 cup coconut butter)
1/2 cup (60 g) lightly toasted walnut halves
1/2 cup (85 g) lightly toasted natural almonds (with skin)
Place all ingredients except carob chips in a food processor and process until smooth and almost liquid (as if making nut butter). This will take up to 10 full minutes; scrape the sides occasionally as you do so. If you are okay with a fairly crunchy bark, you may omit the next step.
Next, for a smooth and creamy textured bark (this is what I did), place the already-pourable mixture into a high powered blender and blend until perfectly smooth and silky, so that no traces of coconut texture are visible (if you don’t have a high-powered blender, you can probably do this in small batches; transfer the batches to a medium bowl after each one). Once the mixture is perfectly smooth, transfer it to a medium bowl.
If the mixture is warm (it will likely get heated up from friction in the processor and blender), place it in the refrigerator and cool it to room temperature, stirring every 10 minutes or so (it will take about 30 minutes). Once it’s cooled, stir in the chopped carob chips. If you add them while the mixture is warm, the chips will simply melt and you’ll have carob bark, which is okay, too. Turn the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
Refrigerate or freeze until firm. Remove the bark by inverting the pan over a cutting board. Peel off the plastic and cut into desired shapes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes about 12 servings. May be frozen.
[Quick reminder: only two days left to enter the blender giveaway!Click here for all the details and to enter (and another almond milk recipe!)]
[Sometimes, you just want to eat something now. I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan." (For other FitP recipes, see "Categories" at right).]
I’m popping in quickly (well, as much as I’m capable of communicating anything quickly) for a Sunday “hello” and to post this follow up to Friday’s almond milk review. Several of you asked for it, so I thought I’d offer this ultra-easy chocolate almond mousse recipe for y’all! (Okay, so I’m not really from the Southern US. But I just like to say that word, “y’all.” It’s sort of the way Jerry was with ”salsa.” And besides, I figure with an old high school chum and at least a couple of bloggerfriends out that way, I must be a Southerner at heart. Y’all.)
This mousse was my first experiment with the new almond milk I tried. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the result–it was a little too heavy to truly earn the moniker “mousse”–but since you asked for it, here it is. I figure I’ll let you y’all tweak it if you so choose.
The texture is more dense than that of a traditional mousse, yet still fairly light with an intense almond flavor. I was surprised, in fact, at how distinct the almond taste and aroma were given that it contains no added almond extract; soaking the nuts seems to bring out the natural almond essence.
For a smoother mousse, slip off the skins from the almonds after you soak them. I left them on, resulting in a slightly grainy–though not entirely unappealing–texture. The mousse was good on its own topped with some cacao nibs (it would be great with some coconut whipped cream); I also ended up using it as a spread on rice cakes, which was surprisingly good as well.
I’ll be back in a couple of days with the October SOS Challenge kickoff post–expect something special!
Chocolate Almond Mousse (inspired by Ani Phyo’s Almond Frangipane Kream from Ani’s Raw Food Desserts)–suitable for ACD Stage 1 and beyond
Except for soaking the nuts, this recipe comes together incredibly quickly. In a pinch, you could also try using dry almonds, but add a little extra liquid so the nuts will absorb it as the mousse rests in the refrigerator.
1/2 cup (80 g) raw natural almonds
water, to cover
2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable glycerin or agave nectar (use glycerin for ACD Stage 1)
pinch fine sea salt
1 ounce (30 g) good quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I like Cocoa Camino)
1/2-1 cup (120-240 ml) plain, vanilla or unsweetened almond milk (I used Almond Fresh)
10-20 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to taste
A day before you plan to serve the mousse, soak the almonds in enough room temperature water to cover for at least 6 hours, and up to 12 hours. For a smoother texture, you can squeeze off the almond skins after the nuts are soaked. (I left them on, but would remove them next time, especially if I were to serve this to guests).
Place the almonds in a high-powered blender with the glycerin and sea salt. Set aside.
Place the chocolate in a medium sized heatproof bowl. Heat the almond milk just until the boiling point, then pour over the chocolate in the bowl. Allow to sit for 30 seconds, then stir until all the chocolate has melted.
Pour the milk-chocolate mixture into the blender with the almond mixture and blend on high until perfectly smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary to achieve a creamy, silky texture. Add the stevia, blend again and taste; add move stevia as necessary. (I prefer the mousse to be bittersweet rather than too sweet). Pour into a bowl or serving dishes and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. The mixture may be piped or scooped as desired; use as a mousse topped with chopped chocolate or cacao nibs, as a topping for other desserts, or as a frosting or spread. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 4 days. Makes 4 servings.
[Whew! That title is quite a mouthful. But not nearly as full as my mouth was, stuffed with these cookies, for the past day.]
Back in our 30s, my friend Babe and I had a little routine we’d enact any time we met someone new (say, at a party, or a work event). A few minutes after the “hi, I’m Ricki” and “Hi, I’m Babe”* chit-chat began to stale, Babe would pause, crook her elbow and touch her index finger to her chin, then ask the unsuspecting targetvictimsucker stranger while nodding toward me, ”Okay, guess how long we’ve known each other!”
Usually, the person would begin with a reasonable guess, something like, “Five years?” Babe would shake her head. “Ten?” Another negative response. Eventually, the individual would give up, and Babe would announce flamboyantly, “We’ve known each other twenty five years.” The newcomer would appear suitably impressed, at which point Babe continued, ”but we’ve only been friends for six months. There was that week in grade five, a month in grade seven, three days in grade eight. . . “ She just thought that was hilarious.
In fact, the joke came about because of our habit during our tween years of getting together only once or twice a month. Invariably, we’d go see a movie (two eleven year-olds travelling on their own on city buses was a nonevent in those days). Since the only worthwhile movie theater was across town at the Cote Des Neiges plaza, we always headed there. It was there we saw Cabaret(velkomen!), The Poseidon Adventure(the first one, with Leslie Nielsen as a serious captain), The Hot Rock(remember Robert Redford sucking on Rolaids?), American Graffiti(probably Suzanne Somers’s only non-speaking role) and The Way We Were(about eight times–Barbra Streisand was then, and still is, Babe’s all-time favorite entertainer).
When we weren’t at the movie theater, we’d be watching movies at home; each in our own home, that is. A spring ritual that endured well into our twenties was watching DeMille’s The Ten Commandmentson television, with running commentary. We both thought Charlton Heston was dreamy (this was before he kind of lost his sheen by becoming the President of the N.R.A). Each on our respective sofas, in front of our respective TVs, with our respective snack foods (mine: chocolate chip cookies; hers: Bar-B-Q chips), we’d sit by the phone and basically watch the movie together.
I’d call Babe near the beginning of the film, already teary-eyed as the infant Moses was saved from certain death: ”Oh, wait, here it comes–look! She found the basket floating on the Nile!” Then twenty minutes later, Babe would respond with a call, pronouncing: ”Nefertiri still loves him–look at that agony on her face!” We loved how Moses’ good nature won over Pharaoh Seti and how the evil son, Ramses II (played by Yul Brynner) was thwarted. And even after Moses was condemned for being a Jew and flung out of Egypt, The Pharaoh felt compelled–on his deathbed–to honor his adoptive son, rasping out the words, “I must break my own vow, and speak the name of. . . . Moses.”
At that, Babe and I both uttered the line simultaneously with Seti, gasping for air and dying with a flourish before breaking into irrepressible giggles.
For years, any time we changed our minds or were faced with an error in judgement, we’d employ Seti’s Formula: let’s say I’d promised to stop blabbering about my crush on Teddy Saskin and then slipped up. I’d be forced to admit, ”I must break my own vow, and speak the name of. . . Theodore!” Or if Babe and I shared some normally prohibited junk food after school, she’d have to admit, ”I will break my own vow, and speak the name of. . . Bar-B-Q Chips!” We used that formula for years, until we tired of the movie and eventually moved on to something else (probably Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which remained my personal favorite for the next decade or so; say, who are those guys??).
The Ten Commandments was also my major introduction to the history of Passover (yes, one would assume that the Passover haggadah, which actually relates the history of Passover and is read every year at the seder table, would have been a more fitting introduction. But neither my sisters nor I understand Hebrew, so while my dad droned on read from the booklet, our attention would always wander, and we’d find ourselves stealing dill pickle slices from the serving dishes, or dipping our fingers into the wine glasses, or giggling disrespectfully at the silly cartoon illustrations in the hagaddah, which would invariably elicit a terse and angry admonishment from our dad).
Because Passover foods do not contain leavening agents, desserts can be a bit of a bust. In recent years, flour-free chocolate tortes have taken over many of the sweet menus, but they tend to rely heavily on eggs, clearly a no-no for moi. Ditto for coconut macaroons, one of my favorite childhood Passover-friendly desserts.
Although we don’t celebrate Passover in our house, the HH and I are invited to friends’ seders this year, and I wanted to bring something appropriate that I could also enjoy. Complying with the ”no flour” commandment was easy, as I’m already eating that way quite a lot on the ACD. I thought about how I could approximate a chewy, gooey, meringue-y texture that is common in macaroons. Then I remembered the coconut macaroon recipe in my cookbook, always a big hit when it was sold in stores, and decided to alter it to be both ACD-friendly AND Passover-friendly.
While this version is definitely less sweet than the ones I remember, it is no less appealing. With the intense chocolate crunch of the cocoa nibs scattered throughout, the crisp edges and chewy interior imbued with a whiff of caramel flavor, these little gems are delicious in their own right, Passover or not. Even the HH, an avowed coconut lover, was happy to eat three of these at one sitting.
As for me, I couldn’t stop eating them. I bet they’ll make a great little snack–even as I break my own vow this year, and watch The Ten Commandments on television.
*Of course, she didn’t really say, “Hi, I’m Babe.” But this is a re-enactment, silly!
1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) cacao nibs or chocolate chips**
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, process the almonds, coconut flour, flax seeds and salt until the mixture attains the texture of coarse cornmeal (there should be no pieces of almond larger than sesame seeds). Add the coconut and pulse once or twice to combine.
In a small, heavy bottomed pot over low heat, melt together the coconut oil and cashew butter just until smooth. Whisk in the yacon syrup until well combined, then add the vanilla and coconut extract. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients in the processor and sprinkle with the cacao nibs, if using. Process until the mixture comes together in a sticky “dough” and the nibs have broken up a bit.
Using a small ice cream scoop or teaspoon, scoop out about 2 tsp (10 ml) of dough per cookie and place on cookie sheet. Wet your palm (or use a silicon spatula) and flatten the cookies until they are about 3/8″ (1 cm) thick.
Bake in preheated oven 10-13 minutes, rotating the sheet about halfway through, until cookies are deep golden and beginning to brown on the edges. They should still feel soft when pressed on top with your finger (but will be hot!). Allow to cool before removing from the sheet. Makes 12 smallish cookies. May be frozen.
*for ACD Phase I, use yacon [NOTE: According to this site, agave nectar has been certified "kosher for Passover" as of 2007. Similarly, some people don't consume sesame seeds (tahini) during the holiday. Depending on your own personal preference, you may wish to use another sweetener.]
Dogs really are creatures of habit, aren’t they? I mean, every morning at precisely 7:02 AM (about 1-1/2 minutes after the HH slams off his alarm), Chaser bounds into our bedroom and lays a wet sloppy one on the HH’s ear (translation: “Dad, it’s time to get up! Get up, Dad, we need to go for our walk! C’mon, Dad! Let’s go! Just hop outa bed and take us! C’mon, what are you waiting for? C’mon—” etc.).
Then, at precisesly 1:15 PM every afternoon, Elsie saunters over to my desk and plants herself at my side, glaring (and if you’ve ever seen a Border Collie stare, you know the power of “the eye.”). If I continue to focus on the computer screen and tap away at the keyboard, she will tentatively and ever-so-gently poke me on the thigh with her moist, cold nose (more startling in summer when I’m wearing shorts, to be sure). Translation: “Mum, I feel I must inform you that the hour has arrived for our afternoon walk. Seriously, Mum, it appals me that you could forget this important hour of the day. After all, do we not go for a stroll each and every day of the week at this time? And are we not reliant upon you to take us? Now, please, offer us the courtesy of rising up from your chair and coming downstairs so that we may embark–right now.”
Yep, like I said, creatures of habit. Later, at precisely 4:53 PM every day, both Girls heave themselves off their respective pillows to pad into the office and station themselves on either side of me as I work, staring intently in a silent summons like bookmarked lawn gnomes. Translation: “Mum, it’s almost dinner time. Where the &%$!@ is our food?” (Okay, perhaps they weren’t as profane as that. But it’s always fun to imagine dogs cursing, isn’t it?).
Given that I was born in the Year of the Dog myself, it makes sense that I, too, am a creature of habit. Or, at least, I used to be. Before I met the HH.
Like South Park’s stance with Canada, I tend to blame the HH for my current shortcomings. Long before we met, in my twenties (also known as the Decade of Firsts, in which I first went to university, first lived on my own, and first met not one, but two true loves), I was incredibly organized and even followed an hour-by-hour schedule every day, permitting me to live through an entire university career without ever missing a deadline. Subsequently, during the Decade of the Dinner Party, I still managed a schedule jam-packed with socializing, full-time work, sewing my own clothes (!), and regular trips to and from Montreal.
Enter my 40s and the HH: not only did I meet my true love, but my lasting love. It was around that time–when the HH and I first moved in together–that chaos erupted. Okay, not chaos, exactly, but certainly the reorganizing of closets. And–even while continuing to throw dinner parties–going to bed without washing all the dishes first (gasp!). And being open to unplanned activities. And (and here’s where I blame the HH) the eschewing rigid schedules.
Well, despite his disdain for pre-planning or scheduling, the HH is his own uniquely habitual creature. Unlike me, he eats the same breakfast every day* (I prefer to rotate through 25 or so different options). The HH takes the dogs to the same park every morning (I switch it up between the park, the baseball field, the Mill Pond, and trail). The HH can listen to the same symphony over and over, sometimes for hours (I rarely listen to the same CD twice in a row–unless it’s a new, incredibly talented singer that I adore, of course).
Which brings me to today’s recipe (finally!). As you may recall, the HH and I used to keep a weekly date every Tuesday, wherein I’d meet him for a sushi lunch. But since the anti-candida regime I follow doesn’t permit sushi (no white rice, no vinegar, no sugar, blah blah blah), I’ve had to forgo our midday shared meal. Do I miss that sushi? You bet! (Well, and yes, I do also miss meeting the HH for lunch every week. . . but really, we do see each other every evening for dinner, and when we walk the dogs, and when we watch 30 Rock, and when we have brunch on Sundays, and when we tidy the house together before friends come over, and when we run errands on Saturdays, and when we. . . geez, maybe we’re overdoing this togetherness thing a bit, anyway).
I decided I’d whip up my favorite at-home sushi for lunch on my own. Since the original version wasn’t exactly ACD-friendly, I adapted; instead of the orignal sundried tomatoes (which are taboo on the ACD), I made my own semi-dried oven baked tomatoes. (Who says I can’t be flexible? No rigid recipes for this doglike gal!). Well, it worked beautifully. The rolls are (mostly) raw, grain-free, and reminiscent of salmon (in my memory, anyway). All I can say is, “domo arigato!” And it sure did feel great to get back to that old sushi habit, even if I shared it with The Girls instead of the HH.
“We enjoyed it, too, Mum. Thanks for sharing. But, um, didn’t I hear you say something about salmon?”
* A bowl of Raisin Bran with milk, if you’d like to know.
Raw Nori Rolls with “Salmon” Filling and Spicy Ginger-Miso Paste
A great recipe for those avoiding grains or anyone seeking a delicious variation on sushi. If you’re not following an anti-candida regime, go ahead and make the original. The Miso paste can be enjoyed by anyone.
cut vegetables for filling: zucchini, cucumber, carrots, avocado, daikon, green onion, etc.
2 sheets nori (sushi wrappers)
Spicy Ginger-Miso Paste:
1 Tbsp (15 ml) white miso
1/8-1/4 tsp (.5-1 ml) cayenne pepper, depending on desired heat
1 tsp (5 ml) toasted sesame oil
2 tsp (10 ml) finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
For the nori rolls:
Prepare the “Salmon” filling: Soak almonds in room temperature water for 8-12 hours. If you soak them longer, refresh the water after 12 hours and store in refrigerator for up to one more day. Drain and rinse before using.
Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes: preheat oven to 300F/150C (or, for a completely raw dish, heat to 115F/45C or use a dehydrator). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or grease with extra virgin olive oil. Cut each tomato in half and place cut side up on the baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven 1-2 hours, checking every 20 minutes after the one-hour mark, until tomatoes exude most of their juice and begin to shrivel and brown slightly. (If using a dehydrator, dehydrate until shrivelled).
Place drained almonds, tomatoes, 2 tsp (10 ml) miso, 1 Tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice, Bragg’s and black pepper in the bowl of a food processor and process until almost smooth. Set aside.
Prepare the Paste: in a small bowl, mix together all ingredients with a spoon until well combined and smooth.
Assemble the rolls: Spread about half of the miso-ginger paste over the nori sheet, spreading to the edge on 3 sides, leaving about 1/2 inch (2.5 cm) empty on one edge. Top with about half the salmon spread. Place 3-4 rows of desired vegetables along the edge opposite the empty edge, like so:
Next, use a sushi mat or just your hands, roll tightly starting at the edge with the cut vegetables. When you reach the empty stripe at the end of the nori sheet, moisten it with a bit of water and then roll up, leaving the seam down (against the table). Cut into 5-8 pieces. Repeat with second nori sheet. Makes 2 servings.
Totally unrelated note: One of today’s Google searches leading to my blog read, “Die Dessert Dogs.” Is that a typo, or just a really ticked off blog reader?
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the first entry on apples.]
Honestly, where does the time go? Here we are on November 5th–but wasn’t yesterday Halloween? Now that I finally seem to be clawing my way out of my flu funk, the days are whizzing by (if only they’d whiz directly to mid-April–do not collect $200, do not pass snow–that would be great. I, for one, could do without winter.)
Well, whether we want to or not, at this point most of us are thinking ahead to the holidays. With that in mind, I’ve got two great suggestions before I turn to today’s Lucky Comestible.
If you’re looking for some delicious holiday-themed dishes, take a look at Nava Atlas’s A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving ebook. At 78 pages, it contains a slew of recipes, from appetizers and soups to salads, side dishes, entrées, stuffings, sauces, and desserts. While most of the recipes are Nava’s own, she also includes dishes from ”guest” chefs like Beverly Lynn Bennett, Fran Costigan, Dreena Burton, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Robin Robertson and Susan Voisin, among others (and two recipes by yours truly!). I was thrilled to receive my copy and even though we’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada, I still saw lots of recipes I can serve up at Christmas time and through the new year. Best of all, profits from the book are all going to some of Nava’s favorite charities. Click here for more info or to buy.
And don’t forget that Sweet Freedomis on sale until the beginning of December! With over 100 recipes for all your favorite sweet treats made healthy (plus a few unexpected goodies!), you can have your cake this holiday season, and great health, too. The book would also make a wonderful gift, and can be signed for the recipient. Just click on the book cover at left or the Cookbook link at the top of the page for more info or to purchase.
And while I was thinking about the holidays, I decided on the focus of this sixth Lucky Comestible series. Although I love pumpkin and have a few recipes that include it on this blog, there’s never a shortage of pumpkin-based recipes at this time of year. I got to thinking about other autumn produce and how I could incorporate it into my holiday menus. And since I’ve recently seen the return of limited fruits to my culinary repertoire, I immediately decided to highlight one of these not-so-sweet beauties in my next Lucky Comestible series. And then it hit me–why not apples?
I mean, apples are, in a way, the original fruit (though technically those naked lovers did gorge on pretty much every other fruit before they bit into that MacIntosh). And it’s true what they say–your daily Granny Smith could very well be a means to protecting your health. Apples are also visually appealing, tasty, portable snacks; and, I daresay, they are probably the single fruit consumed by the largest number of people. They’re sort of like the Miss Congeniality of fruits. In fact, they’re actually the Sally Field of fruits–we like them! We really, really like them. How many people don’t enjoy apples?
Far from being a mundane pleasure, then, apples are a healthy indulgence that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and appellations. Of course, we’re all familiar with cute little Granny Smith, with her tough exterior and tart insides, or the sweet and delicate Delicious varieties. But how about the Scarlet O’Haralson or Summer Rambo? Apples take on Hollywood! If you’re curious about all the names bestowed upon this common fruit, check here.
Of course, we all know how versatile the forbidden fruit is in terms of flavor combinations; besides the seminal apples and cinnamon, apples can chum around with savory curries, sweet spice mixtures, your choice of alcoholic beverages, caramel, and even chocolate. It’s also a flexible ingredient that contributes equally well to any course of a meal. So I thought it would be fun to run the gamut of courses, featuring an apple-based dish spanning appetizer to soup to main course and dessert.
Ready for your appetizers? Let’s begin with this astonishing roasted red pepper and apple dip. Wouldn’t this look beautiful on a holiday buffet table?
This recipe hails from Nicole Routhier’s Fruit Cookbook, a massive tome that’s been wedged in my cookbook book case between Meena Pathak’s Indian Cooking for Family and Friends and the Moosewood Low Fat Favorites for almost a year without stirring (pun intended. Oh, and that reminds me, I really need to organize my cookbooks already). A book based on fruit recipes seemed perfect for my apple quest, so I pulled it from the shelf and began to browse. The original dip was intended for grilled shrimp, but we had it over grilled tofu with favorable results. It would also go exceptionally well spread on crackers, or as a base in either a grilled eggplant or avocado sandwich (or both together).
The alluring triad of smoky peppers, tangy Granny Smith, and fiery chili flakes was enough to win my heart (and my taste buds)–after enjoying this spooned over tofu, I took to spooning it straight from the container and into my salivating maw. One part chutney, one part part salsa, and one part jam, this is a perfect spread for almost any food. With a cheery orange blush (perfect for the season!) and slightly grainy texture, the dip looks beautiful mounded in a serving bowl and struck me as a fitting centerpiece for a platter of simple sweet potato “fries.” Let the holiday menus begin!
(And stay tuned for a very festive giveaway coming up next post!)
A versatile dip that works well with roasted vegetables, tofu, or burgers. This would also be great tossed with pasta or spread in a sandwich.
4 medium red peppers, roasted (you can roast them yourself or just use prepared ones), chopped
1/2 cup (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
4 tsp (20 ml) minced garlic
2 tsp (10 ml) dried red pepper flakes (or less, to taste)
1/2 cup (85 g) natural almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar (for ACD variation, use lemon juice)
1 tsp (5 ml) sugar, or 3-5 drops stevia liquid
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat 2 Tbsp (10 ml) of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté until fragrant and lightly golden, about one minute. Remove from heat.
Place the chopped peppers in a food processor or blender (I used a food processor). Add the sautéed garlic mixture, the remaining 6 Tbsp (90 ml) olive oil, toasted almonds, vinegar (or lemon juice) and sugar (or stevia) and process to a purée. Add the chopped apple and process again until blended. (If your blender isn’t large enough to hold allt he ingredients at once, process in two batches and then stir them together in a bowl).
Transfer the dip to a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Makes about 2 cup (480 ml). Will keep, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days.
What? Another breakfast recipe–and so soon, you say? Well, you can never have too much breakfast is what I say. I mean, breakfast really is the best repast of the trio of meals, isn’t it?
To begin with, if it’s breakfast time, you’re probably rested. Your belly is primed and ready to accept food (after all, you have been fasting all night). You’re most likely clean (après morning shower), your face is still fresh and mascara-free, and you can feel good about giving your body “the most important meal of the day.” And besides all that–breakfast tastes better than just about any meal I can think of.
I’ve always favored breakfast, but I didn’t really develop my true allegiance to the morning meal until my late teens, when my friend Sterlin and I took our first vacation on our own–across the continent, to California. (Were our parents insane, letting two seventeen year-olds travel alone? Naw–no worries there–we were total nerds). Our first stop was LA, where we stayed with my dad’s aunt.
Let’s call her “Great Aunt Yetta.” (Actually, that was her real name, but let’s still call her that anyway). Even back then, more than 30 years ago, Ms. Yetta was already ancient, in her late 80s. Poor Yetta’s husband had died almost twenty years earlier, and she lived alone in their small bungalow near Beverly Boulevard in the city. The place looked as if nothing had been disturbed (or, by the looks of it, cleaned too often) since her husband’s death.
About four-foot-ten in heels, Yetta greeted us at the door with a heavily teased, upswept ‘do reminiscent of Endora in Bewitched (except Yetta’s hair was entirely white), its outer layer shellacked with Aqua Net. Despite her advanced years, she still took pride in her appearance, and in our honor had donned the full regalia: fuscia and lime green flowered cotton housedress belted at the waist in shiny white vinyl; gold and black sandals revealing painted crimson toenails, the toes themselves bent various unnatural directions. On her wrists and neck she wore four or five strings of multi-colored plastic beads, along with sparkly, dangly earrings; her face was slathered with full theater-worthy makeup, the purple eyeshadow thick enough to glaze pottery, a coat of carmine lipstick (which only partially followed the actual outline of her lips) on her mouth.
Yetta spoke in a sqeaky, slightly sing-song voice that brought to mind a Polish Edith Bunker. Had we been a little less starry-eyed from having just landed in California that day, Sterlin and I might have found Yetta somewhat creepy (that came later); instead, we assumed she was merely “eccentric.”
On our first morning in the city, we bounded out of bed at 5:30 AM (with the time change, this was already 9:30 our time) and emerged ravenous from our room.
“Come, dahlink, eat some breakfast,” Yetta said, grabbing me by the forearm. She led us to the dilapitaded dining room, where the table was laid with a few dishes, cups and a teapot. There was nothing recognizable as food, but as we drew closer, we could make out what was on the table. Without a word, Sterlin and I exchanged meaningful glances and began silently to plot our exit.
“No, you must eat some breakfast!” Yetta insisted. “Here, have some cheese.” She presented me with an amorphous blob of something half covered in soft, green fuzz. “Oh, don’t worry, it is still good,you just do like this–” She grabbed a butter knife and began hacking at the outside of the blob.
“Oh, no, really, thank you so much, but we aren’t hungry,” we piped up in unison.
“Okay, so some juice then,” she declared, handing over a jar of Tang that had clearly first entered her cupboard in the Sixties. I unscrewed the rusty lid and cautiously peered inside. The contents was so old that it had fossilized, one solid mass of crystalline orange rock.
Before I could say anything, Yetta grabbed the jar. “Oh, is okay,” she insisted, brandishing the same trusty butter knife, “You just make like this and you pour it out!” With that, she began to chip away at the ossified Tang.
“No, really, we never eat breakfast in the morning–OR drink anything before lunchtime!” we cried, backing out the door, “But thank you so much, anyway! See you later!” Luckily, we found a Farmer’s Market down the street, rife with fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, and–a thrilling discovery at the time–frozen yogurt! (It didn’t exist yet in Canada in those days).
For the entire two weeks in LA, each morning we went through the ritual of thanking Yetta for her generosity, insisting that we never ate breakfast, and then running over to the market to gorge on every breakfast food (and several non-breakfast foods) we could find.
And so, my fascination with breakfast was established.
On our last evening in LA, we were asked to dinner at Great Uncle Norman’s house (Yetta’s brother), though Yetta was not invited. After the meal as we sat chatting about our visit, we actually began to feel a little sympathy for Yetta.
“Gee, it’s too bad about her husband,” Sterlin mused.
“What do you mean?” asked Great Uncle Norman.
“Well, you know. . . that he died,” Sterlin said.
Great Uncle Norman’s mouth dropped open. I think he may have even lost a few crumbs of his coffee cake. “Died?” he repeated. “Are you kidding me?! He didn’t die! He left her–he couldn’t stand to be in the same house as her for one more minute! He’s remarried and lives in Burbank.”
Maybe she’d fed him the green-cheese-and-Tang breakfast, too; who knows? In any case, my own interactions with breakfast have remained consistently pleasant since that time.
The HH and I enjoyed these sausage patties and biscuits with gravy for brunch last weekend. After celebrating my birthday in a very low-key fashion (stupid flu! stupid virus! stupid germs!), the HH and I decided to aim for a special brunch instead. (I did receive a truly beautiful, totally indulgent and indescribably warm and cozy cashmere scarf as a gift from the HH, however).
With leftover cooked rice in the fridge, as well as some nearly-dried sage left over from the roasted plum and spinach salad I’d made the week before, I developed a vague idea of wanting ”sausages” and so devised this recipe for super-simple and quick savory patties. I baked mine, but they can be pan-fried just as easily. The patties crisp up on the outside (even baked), retaining a moist yet firm interior. The coupling of walnuts and sage here mimics a meaty flavor exceedingly well, I think.
After reading Lindsay’s post a while back about Southern biscuits smothered in gravy, I knew I had to try this pairing out myself! Of course, my choices for both biscuits and gravy are currently limited, but I revised my coconut flour biscuit recipe as a savory round*, and topped it with a slightly altered version of Isa’s brilliant Smoked Almond Gravy (since I can’t eat smoked almonds–the ACD forbids pre-roasted nuts, as they tend to harbor molds–I simply roasted my own natural almonds, then added smoked paprika and some caramelized onions to the mix for an irresistible alternative).
This delicious, thick and chunky gravy, once ladled atop the savory biscuits, transported the dish from merely a ”Jennifer Aniston good” to a stellar, “Meryl Streep good.” They’re that good!
If you’re looking for a fairly quick and easy brunch that will encourage seconds, here it is. Add a green salad, and you’ve got a perfect meal.
The inclusion of Tang is optional.
Since this is a perfect brunch meal, I thought I’d submit this to Meeta’sMonthly Mingle event–this month highlighting brunch!
Easy “Sausage” Patties
These are great to use up leftover cooked rice. I used walnuts, but you could substitute other nuts if you prefer.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, preferably organic
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-1/4 cups ( g) lightly toasted walnuts
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) cooked brown rice (I used basmati)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) vegetable broth or water
2 Tbsp (30 ml) chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped fresh sage (about 10-12 leaves), or use 1 tsp (5 ml) dried sage
1/2 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Heat the oil in a frypan over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are golden, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until well mixed and almost smooth. Add the cooked onion/garlic mixture and process until combined. The mixture should be moist and sticky, but firm enough to hold a shape.
Using a large ice cream scoop or your hands (be sure to remove the processor blade first!), scoop about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the mixture at a time and place on the cookie sheet. Flatten the patties to about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. If desired, spray or brush with a little olive oil (this will help the patties to brown up on the outside). Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, until crisp and dry on the outside. Patties may also be pan-fried for 5-7 minutes per side. Makes 8 patties. May be frozen.
Thick, smoky, chunky, and creamy–this is everything gravy should be!
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 cup natural raw almonds, baked at 350F (180C) until toasted, 10-15 minutes, and then cooled
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) water
2 Tbsp (30 ml) soy sauce, Tamari, or Bragg’s
3/4-1 tsp (3.5–5 ml) smoked paprika, as you like
2-4 Tbsp (30-60 ml) brown rice flour (depending on how thick you want it)
fine sea salt, to taste
In a large frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, process the almonds in a food processor until they are the texture of a fine meal (like a coarse cornmeal). Add the cooked onion and garlic and process to blend well. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
Transfer the mixture to a medium pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the gravy bubbles and thickens. Serve immediately. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 4-6 servings.
* For savoryCoconut Flour Biscuits: omit stevia and vanilla; use bean flour instead of buckwheat flour; and add 1 Tbsp (15 ml) each of dried tarragon, oregano, and basil.
[Giveaway Alert: Today is the last day to enter the cookbook giveaway! Post your comment by 12:00 midnight (Toronto time) to be eligible to win a free copy of Sweet Freedom!]
It seems impossible, but I returned to full-time work at the college this week after two months away. (Yes, just when most college students and profs are beginning their summer off, my vacation is over. I’m just wacky that way.)
Where did the time go? Somehow, it just doesn’t feel like a “real” vacation without either a flight somewhere, a ten-hour drive, flip-flops, suntan lotion, sand in your underwear, martinis with 3 olives, holding hands as you stroll along the beach, abnormally extroverted conversations with strangers–or all of the above. Instead, all I’ve done is stay at home attending to the usual quotidien activities that define one’s working days: cooking, writing, exercising, walking the Girls, getting together with friends, or wrapping up a cookbook.
It’s not as if I forgot about taking a proper vacation, no, no; it’s just that I never seemed to get around to it, sort of like that pile of 57 boxes that have been sitting in our basement since we moved in to this house in November, 2007. (It’s incredible, really, how you can get along perfectly well without stuff you once thought essential, isn’t it?)
Better late than never, I say. So with Mother’s Day upon us last weekend, the HH and I enjoyed a mini, virtual vacation (or ”stay-cation,” as it’s being called in these tough economic times). We slept in late, listened to the stereo, watched funny movies, took The Girls for an extra-long walk in a woodsy park, cooked together (though without hand-holding). And we ate appetizers.
[The prize: in honor of the end of the semester.]
Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Because before all that, the weekend kicked off with a trek downtown to visit Ruth of Plentiful Plants and deliver her prize from my last blog giveaway: a chocolate layer cake from a Sweet Freedomrecipe (which she blogged about here). It was so great to meet Ruth in person–now I’ve got a friendly face to attach to a name.
[Don't those look yummy? Recipe at the bottom of this post]
And she had the sweetest surprise for me–some cinnamon roasted chickpeas that she’d made as a gift. And the best part? They are even ACD-friendly!! Whoo-hoo! Thanks so much, Ruth. I’ve been snacking on them since then and will be sorry to see them gone!
And so, on to dinner.
Years ago, when my friend Gemini I got married, she and her hubby honeymooned on a small Greek island, where their days were spent wandering from ruins to quaint local taverns to dusty roads bordered by wild flower gardens and back to their B and B. Mealtimes were spent gazing into each other’s eyes, hands clasped over a small, private table by the seaside, rocks so white you had to squint just to look at them. A cornucopia of fresh, rainbow colored produce and seafood graced their plates, the cerulean sea splashing up over their sandaled toes as they ate. I had an image of the HH and I doing something similar over a casual appetizer platter (well, without the island, hand clasping, white rocks, seafood or water part. No matter.)
We ended up with three appetizers: Almond “Feta” (in honor of that Greek island); lupini beans in garlic and olive oil (Italy’s representative here); and Raw Sunflower and Carrot Pâté (nothing to do with the Mediterranean–I just like it).
I’d been eyeing the recipe for Almond “Feta” from last month’s Vegetarian Times ever since it arrived in the mail. After thinking I’d lost the magazine, I finally found it again while clearing my desktop of stray papers and other debris (gee, imagine what I’d find if I ever did open those 57 boxes in our basement?).
I’ve loved feta cheese ever since I first tasted it as a twenty-something one summer when I worked as a secretary. One of my colleagues, a wacky, brash blonde named Dia Nicolopoulos (I mean, how could you forget a name like that?) invited me to her home for dinner. Remember the rock band Blondie? Well, Dia bore an uncanny resemblance to (young) Debbie Harry, complete with outrageous wardrobe, carmine lipstick, raspy voice, and teetering, stillettoed walk. She had a belly laugh that could drown out a fire alarm, and when she extended that dinner invitation, I didn’t hesitate to accept.
In a scene straight out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Dia’s mother kept foisting plate after plate of food at me. When I was sure I was about to burst, out came the feta. It was Dia’s mother’s own recipe, homemade from goat’s milk and bathed in a pool of opaque salted water. It was rich, creamy, salty, smooth–like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and I was smitten. I ended up eating three servings.
And while this almond-based version does require some advance prep (you’ve got to start 48 hours before you want to eat it), it was a worthy reminder of that long-ago dinner. With a color, taste and texture remarkably feta-like, this cheese was fantastic on its own or spread on crackers. Firm enough to cut yet not quite solid inside, it would be perfect sprinkled in bits and blobs inside a tofu omelet along with some red onion and basil. As the HH remarked, “You know, this cheese is really good in its own right. I mean, even if someone wasn’t particularly into the “veggie” thing, you could serve them this and they’d still like it.” High praise, indeed!
The raw pâté is my adaptation of a sunflower pâté in Nomi Shannon’s seminal Raw Gourmet. I added a hefty serving of beta carotene via carrots, both for color and flavor. The result was a fresh, light, with a slightly grainy texture and understated, natural sweeteness, it provided a perfect foil for the briny cheese.
The final appetizer, lupini beans in garlic and olive oil, were an experiment I tried following a chance remark while shopping at the bulk store. But I think these warrant an entire post of their own. . . suffice it to say that they require even more advance prep than the feta.
We completed the dinner with baby carrots, raw kale salad, and some crackers. With nothing else to do but enjoy each other’s company as we nibbled, it was a great way to end the evening. And while I still wasn’t quite ready to dive back into work, at least I ended my holidays in a relaxed frame of mind. I’m already planning the next appetizer dinner. . . now, if only I could secure that Greek island setting.
“Mum, you don’t really want to go away from us for two weeks, do you? Because, well, eating appetizers by the sea is all fine and dandy, but if you left, who would feed us??”
Perfect for a party table or when dining al fresco, this cheese will transport you to a Greek island. (Okay, not really. But it is very good.)
1 cup (240 ml) whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup (60 ml.) fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1-1/4 tsp (6 ml) fine sea salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) cold water
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh rosemary leaves
Place the almonds in a bowl of room-temperature water; allow to soak for 24 hours, then drain and rinse.
In a powerful blender, purée the almonds, lemon juice, 3 T olive oil, garlic, salt and water until very creamy, 5-7 minutes. (The original recipe calls for a food processor, but I found it didn’t get creamy enough that way).
Place a triple layer of cheesecloth over a strainer and spoon the cheese mixture into it. Bring up the ends of the cheesecloth, twist the top and squeeze slightly to remove some of the excess liquid; tie the top with a twist tie or elastic. Allow to drain in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 8 hours.
Preheat oven to 200F ( C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Turn the cheese out onto the parchment and shape it into a disk about 3/4-inch ( cm) thick. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the top is firm and dry. Cool, then chill.
When ready to serve, place the cheese on a plate. Top with additional olive oil (I only used about 2 Tbsp/30 ml instead of the 1/4 cup/60 ml), sprinkle with herbs, and enjoy. (I used basil rather than the herbs called for, since that’s what I had on hand; I think pretty much any fresh herbs would be fantastic with this). Makes 4 appetizer servings.
Raw Carrot and Sunflower Seed Pâté
adapted from The Raw Gourmet
Perfect for light, casual summer dining, this fresh and healthy dip is a perfect accompaniment to crackers or crudités, or even as a sandwich filling.
2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
1 cup (240 ml) raw sunflower seeds, soaked in room temperature water for 8-10 hours and drained
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping Tbsp (20 ml) raw tahini (use regular if you’re not concerned about the pate remaining raw)
1/4 cup (60 ml) coarsely chopped parsley or cilantro, or a mixture
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) cayenne pepper
2 tsp (10 ml) freshly grated ginger root
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground cumin, optional
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) mild curry powder
Place carrots and seeds in a food processor and process until crumbly. Add remaining ingredients and process until desired texture is reached. Taste and adjust spices; process again and serve. Makes 4-6 appetizer servings. Will keep, refrigerated, up to 3 days.
Thanks to Ruth for this simple recipe that’s delicious (and just a bit addictive!). I had mine without sweetener, but add yours to taste.
1 can (19 oz or 540 ml) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
1-5 drops stevia or 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) agave nectar, to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Grease a large roasting pan with coconut oil, or line with parchment paper.
In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the tahini, cinnamon, salt and optional sweetener. Add the chickpeas and toss to coat evenly. Spread the chickpeas in the pan, trying to keep them in a single layer if possible. Drizzle any excess coating over the top of the chickpeas in the pan.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring frequently, until desired level of doneness is reached (I like them a little crunchy on the outside; some people prefer them softer, which would take less time). Allow to cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes about 2 cups (480 ml).