[Sometimes, you just want a dish that's quick and easy--no fuss. 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 simple to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan." (For other FitP recipes, see "Categories" at right).]
If I ever found myself as a finalist in the Miss Universe Pageant and the tie-breaking “interview” question they asked me was, “If you were stuck on a desert island and could have only one foodstuff, what would it be?”–well, I think it’s pretty obvious that I’d answer, “Chocolate.” (Let’s overlook, for the moment, that I would obviously never actually find myself in that situation; I mean, I can barely stand up in heels, let alone sashay across a stage in them. How would I ever make it through the evening gown competition?).
Or, do you remember that story from last winter: a young woman survived for 9 days in her snowbound car by drinking melted snow and portioning out her two chocolate bars to last the entire nine days? Uh-huh. Well, I think we all know that if I ever found myself in that situation, I’d be a certain goner: I’d scarf down both bars within a couple of hours, then slowly perish during the following eight days (not to mention the fact that I’d freak out about being stuck under 60 CENTIMETERS (24 inches) OF SNOW, alone in my car on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. And then how on earth would I make it on time to the Miss Universe pageant?).
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Windsor, I worked part-time as a cashier in the residence cafeteria, where I became friends with one of the other student cashiers who, it turned out, also originally hailed from Montreal. Ultimately, our city of origin was really the only thing we had in common: Ms. Québecoise was about 3 inches taller than I, naturally lithe and slim (and yet buxom), with thick, jet-black hair that feathered and bobbed as she glided through a room, like palm fronds lifted by a gentle breeze. (Come to think of it, SHE would have made a great contestant for the Miss Universe Pageant). She’d already gone through several boyfriends at a time when I’d not yet met my first, and I yearned to be as worldly as she, with her own own apartment and car.
Apart from her powder blue Ford Escort and her always immaculate one-bedroom/one-bath, what struck me most about Ms. Q was that she consumed chocolate, every. single. day. No matter when I dropped over for coffee or a study session, I’d invariably spy a partially eaten chocolate bar lazing on the counter. Ms Q once confessed that she couldn’t fall asleep unless she’d savored her square of chocolate before bed. Yet somehow, it didn’t seem to affect her in any negative way. (Years later, I attempted to reproduce that practice of “one square a day.” That was December 2008, and, unfortunately, my “one square” turned out to be about a foot (30 cm) by one foot. . . more like a “one square of chocolate, continuously, all day long” practice. A short leap from that to full-blown candida, and well, here we are today.)
Accordingly, I tend to ration my chocolate consumption a little more these days, aiming for no more than one two (moderate) servings per week of either cacao-based treats or those made from unsweetened chocolate (my own sweeteners added). And I strive to create sweets that provide a sense of indulgence without spiking blood sugar levels or encouraging candida to proliferate.
That’s why I love these little gems, inspired by a recent recipe from my friend Andrea Nakayama (with whom I recently taught the Sweet Victory sugar detox course). A while back Andrea introduced her Nakayummies to the world: a combination of cacao, cocoa butter, coconut oil and honey. A couple of weeks ago, she posted a non-chocolate version, with ground up goji berries as the base flavor, complemented by fresh orange zest. I was intrigued and decided to unite those separate ideas and create a goji-chocolate confection. Since the anti-candida diet doesn’t allow oranges, and since I recently received some of the new Orange NuNaturals stevia to sample, I decided to throw caution to the winds and add some of it to the recipe as well.
Once firm, these bites provide a glassy, supremely smooth texture of real chocolate in the initial bite, then progress to a hint of chewiness in the finish–like a touch of toffee rounding out each bite (courtesy of the ground gojis). The citrus melds perfectly with the fruity gojis and cacao. I am betting you will love these, too.
Now, of course I’d never advocate consuming chocolate every day (because then how would I ever fit into my swimsuit for the Swimsuit competion?). But if it turns out that you do. . . .well, keep in mind that chocolate contains a wealth of heart-healthy flavonoids. And that these bites are actually very small. And that the only sweetness is from the fruit and (zero-calorie) stevia. In other words, these treats are actually good for you.
Suitable for Anti-Candida Diet (ACD) Stage 3 and beyond
I’ve used raw cacao in this recipe even though it’s not technically a raw chocolate because I find that cacao has a fruiter, less bitter flavor than regular cocoa powder. However, if you’re okay with regular sweeteners, feel free to use cocoa and add a bit of maple syrup or other sweetener as well.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) dried goji berries (the dryer and harder, the better for this recipe; soft ones will not work as well)
In a small, heavy bottomed pot over low heat, gently melt the coconut oil and cashew butter; whisk until smooth. Blend in the stevia and set aside.
Place the goji berries, cacao powder and salt in a coffee grinder and grind until the gojis are powdered (there shouldn’t be any pieces of goji visible). Add the powdered mixture to the pot and whisk until smooth and well combined.
Pour the mixture into mini silicone muffin cups or candy molds. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. Makes 6-7 candies. Will keep, covered in the refrigerator, up to. . . gee, I have no idea, since I ate them all within 24 hours. . . but I’m guessing a week.
For a fancier candy, place 2-3 whole goji berries in each muffin cup before adding the melted chocolate mixture (see middle chocolate in photos above).
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Many of you already follow Kelly, the powerhouse behind The Spunky Coconut blog, mom of three, grain-free baker and cook extraordinaire. When Kelly asked me if I’d like to join her for one of her popular podcast chats, it took me all of a tenth of a second to say “YES!”
We had a blast! Head over to Kelly’s blog to listen in to our chat about the ACD, kombucha, homemade coconut milk-based yogurt, stevia, Sweet Victory and Nourished, favorite Toronto restaurants, cooking with beans and what Kelly called my “Canadian accent” (I don’t hear it–do you?). ;-)
Thanks to everyone who submitted a stevia-based recipe for February’s SOS Kitchen Challenge! As always, we received a stellar collection of recipes.
Here’s the “Sweet”:
Kim and I were blown away by the creativity in the “sweet” section of the event this past month. While I have added every single recipe to my “to try” list, some that stood out as particularly enticing were
Aren’t they beautiful? I bet they’d win anyone’s heart!
And now, for the “Savory”. . . .
Um. . . well, er. . . what the–HUH??
It appears that there was only one savory recipe in the list apart from my own Crunchy Green Salad! I guess most people consider stevia a “sweet-only” ingredient, but if you think about all the savory recipes made with a dash of sugar or honey, you’ll begin to understand the wide range of recipes that can include stevia. I hope you’ll try out some savory variations in the future!
Happy (early) Valentine’s Day, everyone! The HH and I have a special celebration planned, which I’ll share in a day or two. In the meantime, I’ve got a guest post up today over at Go Dairy Free for Sweet Sundays: these ridiculously decadent, luxurious Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Bites. After all, what’s guaranteed to melt your sweetie’s heart if not chocolate?
I suppose anyone who devotes one third of their blog’s name to “dessert” must really love the sweet stuff. (Uh, yeah). A quick glance at my blog’s recipe index will reveal that, ACD be damned, I’m not willing to give up my sweet treats.
You’ll also notice that stevia has been my savior ever since I began the anti candida diet. As I mentioned in yesterday’s SOS kickoff post, it’s up to 300 times sweeter than sugar and also boasts some pretty impressive health properties. For someone unwilling to consume sucralose, aspartame or other unnatural chemical alternatives, stevia is a perfect means to add sweetness without calories to food. Used in conjunction with other natural sweeteners, it can boost a recipe’s sweet quotient while lowering overall calories–and allow you to continue to enjoy perfectly decadent desserts.
Enter this coconut ice cream, the final recipe in my dinner party trifecta (along with the sushi pizza and tempeh bourguignon). I made it last week for a couple of friends who don’t have any dietary restrictions. I served it over a big slice of the Ultra Fudgy Brownies from Sweet Freedom. Both of them (along with the HH) gobbled it up, entirely unaware that they were eating something “healthy.” (Happily, I was able to enjoy a big serving of the ice cream, too, with fresh blueberries, since it’s ACD-friendly).
Because it contains ingredients that are actually good for you, I felt no compunction whatsoever about having some ice cream atop waffles for brunch a few days later. The HH was very appreciative, too.
As you can see, this recipe contains this month’s SOS ingredient, stevia, as well as last month’s (coconut oil). That’s because I had actually intended this as another coconut oil recipe, but, as often happens these days, got behind in my blogging. No matter; like so many other recipes in my life, it coincidentally contains stevia as well–which makes it a perfect anti-candida dessert.
“Mum, it’s also a perfect canine dessert, you know. How about we help clean up those plates once you’re done?”
[Coconut ice cream atop a wholegrain waffle from my upcoming ebook, Top of the Morning: ACD Recipes without Sugar, Gluten, Eggs or Dairy.]
This ice cream is extremely rich tasting, smooth and silky, with pronounced coconut flavor that isn’t overpowering. For a more subtle coconut contribution, swirl in some chocolate sauce, melted nut butter or sugar-free jam after the ice cream is ready to serve.
1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened plain or vanilla soy, almond, rice or coconut milk (for coconut milk, use the kind in a carton, not a can)
1 cup (150 g) raw natural cashews, soaked in room temperature water 6-12 hours and drained
1 ripe medium pear, cored and cut in chunks
1 pkg (12 oz or 350 g) firm or extra firm silken tofu (I used Mori Nu)
1/2 cup (45 g) dry shredded unsweetened coconut
2 Tbsp (60 ml) extra virgin coconut oil, preferably organic
1/3 cup (80 ml) coconut (palm) sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) agave nectar or food grade vegetable glycerin
10-15 drops plain or vanilla stevia, to your taste (I used NuNaturals)
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pure coconut extract, optional
1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
Place all ingredients in a high powered blender (such as a VitaMix) and blend until perfectly smooth. This may take a while (if using a VitaMix, you’ll need to push the ingredients down with the wand until everything comes together). If using a regular blender, start with the wet ingredients and then add the coconut and cashews last; blend in small batches if necessary.
Pour the mixture into silicone muffin cups or small plastic containers and freeze until solid. Remove from the cups or containers and store in plastic freezer bags until ready to use.
To make the ice cream: For each serving, remove one muffin cup (or equivalent sized piece) of frozen cream from the freezer and, using a large, sharp knife, cut it into 5 or 6 pieces. Place the pieces in the bowl of a food processor and process until it comes together in a ball (at first it will break apart and resemble breadcrumbs, but eventually it will come together). Stop the processor and spread out the mixture evenly in the bowl, then process again if necessary until it just begins to smooth out (avoid overprocessing or the mixture will be too soft). Scoop into bowls and serve. The full recipe makes 4-6 servings.
Can I tell you a secret? But you have to swear you won’t tell anyone.
This particular secret involves a clandestine, middle-of-the-night meeting in an abandoned field; secret code names; the removal of clothing; and a vow never to tell another soul.
Oh, and three cans of neon yellow paint.
(And I bet you thought you knew where I was going with this one, didn’t you?)
Allow me to explain. As a middle child in our family, I exhibited the typical middle-child traits: I was quiet, a peacemaker, and always tried to please everyone. Middle kids don’t ruffle feathers. They don’t make waves. They’re the “good girls” (well, except for the boys, that is, who I’m guessing are “good boys.”). In other words, they don’t break the rules.
But being the perennial ”good girl” can sometimes become tiresome. Sometimes, you want to break loose and do something wildly out of character. Maybe skip school and have a little adventure like Ferris Beuller. Maybe just pick up and move to Australia*. Or maybe even say “what the heck“** and take that leap like Joel in Risky Business.
That’s why, though I’d never done anything even remotely similar before, I was inspired to call the HH up for a date after we’d met at a party the previous weekend (seems to have turned out okay in the end).
That’s why, one evening in university after I’d just called my friend Babe to wish her a happy birthday and sat studying in my dorm room, I turned to my study buddy Elaine and asked, “Hey, do you want to drive to London tonight to visit Babe?” We arrived just before 10:00 PM, Babe squealed with surprise and delight when she saw us, we shared hugs and a bottle of wine, and we found ourselves back at the dorm around 2:00 AM (just in time to finish studying before our test the next morning).
That’s why, when I first learned that Ellen DeGeneres had eschewed refined sugar (after being vegan for a couple of years), I thought, “Wow! The treats in my cookbook would be perfect for her!” and mounted a twitter and blog campaign to serve healthy, vegan, sugar-free desserts to Ellen and her studio audience on her show (so far, it’s turned not too badly , but I’m still waiting for that invitation–feel free to send her a message and ask her to have me on the show!).
And that’s why, when one of my best friends in high school thought it would be a good idea for our group of “goody-goody” girl friends to leave our mark (literally) on our high school, I said, “okay, what the heck.”
Which is how the six of us ended up meeting one night under cover of darkness, changed into sweatpants and sweatshirts, and sneaked into our abandoned-for-the-summer schoolyard. We pried open the cans of neon yellow paint and drew the largest characters we could muster, as high as our arms would stretch , emblazoning the words, ”GRADS 76″ on the brick wall before we ran off into the night, whispering and giggling.
We made our way back to the schoolyard innumerable times throughout the summer to admire our handiwork. Of course, no one ever suspected that we were the culprits–after all, we were such “good girls.” (Oops. I guess the cat’s out of the bag, now. But you have to promise not to tell anyone else. ).
Although the SOS Challenge doesn’t require you to submit both sweet and savory recipes (so please don’t feel obliged to do so), as my final submission to this month’s rhubarb challenge, I wanted to provide our star veggie with an outlet for something a little out of character. Shrug off the pies and crumbles and muffins, Little Rhubarb, and head over to the savory side of things! A quick search on the internet revealed a few Indian-inspired dishes, but I wanted to highlight the characteristic most prominent in our featured stalks: the sourness. I decided to create a vegan variation on a typical Chinese sweet-and-sour dish, using rhubarb to confer the “sour.”
The result was a little unusual, but pleasing nonetheless. The tart rhubarb is tempered somewhat by the sweetness of the stevia, and the chilis provide a subtle heat that seems to bring out the individual flavors. Chickpeas contribute the protein here, but tofu would seem an obvious choice next time I give this dish a try. Served over cooked millet, it was a satisfying supper for both of us.
So go ahead, try something a little different. It will be our little secret.
* I actually almost did move to Australia, once. I had arranged a teaching exchange with another teacher in the Land Down Under. All the papers were in place, the jobs approved, and the only thing left to do was purchase the steamer trunk. Sadly, once the other instructor learned the cost of renting an apartment in Toronto, she backed out of the deal.
** No, Joel didn’t actually say, “what the heck.” His particular four-letter term was a little more colorful than that. But this is a G-rated blog, folks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish
In a small saucepan, combine the water and Bragg’s. Remove about 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the liquid to a small bowl, and add the potato starch to the bowl. Stir to mix well. Set aside.
To the pot, add the rhubarb, red pepper, garlic, ginger, lemon zest and chili flakes, and bring to boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and allow to simmer until the rhubarb begins to break up. Add the chipeas and stevia to taste. Stir the liquid in the bowl again and slowly add it to the chickpea mixture, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Stir for another 30 seconds. To serve, ladle over cooked grain of your choice; sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
This recipe is my submission to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, a fabulous event started by Susan at the Well Seasoned Cook and this month hosted by Diana at Spain in Iowa.
The Question Question: Before I sign off today, I wanted thank everyone who responded to my query in my earlier post. Your responses were fairly split on the issue of whether or not to include questions at the end of blog posts: the final verdict seems to be, “if they develop naturally from the content of the post, they’re okay.” Of course, I’d never pose a question that had nothing to do with the post (except, um, for that first question). On the other hand, many of you suggested that you’d simply not comment at all if the question didn’t appeal to you.
Well, comments are one of my favorite aspects of blogging (both reading them and leaving them on other blogs), and I do enjoy the interaction they encourage. I’m also all for the recent types of comment sections that allow individual commenters to respond to each other (and I will have to install those–not on the blog right now). So I’ve decided to incorporate questions only occasionally, and see what happens. And even if you’re not keen on the questions, please do continue to comment on the blog post itself!
[A sweet treat to celebrate the firsts: sunflower butter cups--recipe below]
I hope everyone here in Canada had a great Victoria Day weekend!
It seems as if this past week has been filled with a few exciting firsts for me (hmm, that sounds rather like a post-virginal confession, somehow, doesn’t it? True, I was what you’d call a late bloomer, but even I am too old for that kind of “first.”). No, the firsts to which I refer involved a high profile TV appearance; a meetup with a fellow blogger, and happening upon a new ACD-friendly restaurant–all within three days.
First Number One (aka ”First First”): Those of you who follow me on twitter already know that I appeared on Canada AMthis past Thursday morning (and thanks for all the good wishes, everyone!). The show is the Canuck equivalent of Good Morning America or the Today Show in the US(it bills itself as “Canada’s most watched national morning show”) so I was beyond excited to be a guest!
I chatted about healthy eating and a few items from Sweet Freedom. It was very gratifying to see the show’s host express genuine delight (and, perhaps, surprise) after tasting some of the goodies. The clip was available last week on the Canada AM main page, but it appears it’s been usurped by more recent ones now; I’ll try to get it up on YouTube if I can.
First Number Two (“Second First”): I’m sure many of you have experienced this: you relate an anecdote about a fellow blogger, or wax enthusiastic about a food blog recipe you tried, and before you know it your husband/ significant other / friend/ relative’s eyes glaze over. Their expression combines equal parts disdain and pity. And without a sound, they arre able to communicate that, in their world, blog friendships couldn’t possibly be “real.” Like the HH, most of my friends perceive blog buddies on par with imaginary BFFs, as if I were a five year-old child recounting her vacant-chair tea party, or Jimmy Stewart in Harvey.
Now, anyone who writes or reads a blog with any regularity, anyone who has enjoyed a lively exchange of ideas in a comments queue, anyone who has shared a series of friendly emails with another blogger, or anyone who has participated in a blog exchange will know just how misguided such judgments are.
[My remake of a favorite salad at a local haunt: Insalata Roma, with mesclun mix, roasted red peppers, walnuts and "goat cheese"]
Last week, I had the unique pleasure of meeting one of my favorite “blogging buddies” in person: Amanda (of Still Life in Southeast Asia) was in Toronto and we met up for lunch. What a total delight it was to meet with her! I’ve been following Amanda’s blog ever since she lived in Buenos Aires, and have always admired her poet, evocative writing style and enchanting photographs. I learned a lot about the different places in which she’s lived (and there have been many) and vicariously enjoyed some of the local attractions through her posts.
Although we’d never set eyes on each other before that moment, we hugged each other warmly and immediately began chattering like Saturday morning regulars at the local beauty salon. To onlookers, we must have appeared like old room mates or relatives reunited. Because of our blog connection, we were able to dispense with so much of the usual introductions; and I didn’t have to explain about my dietary restrictions or the need for an ACD-friendly restaurant.
Have I mentioned before how much I love eating in restaurants? I’m guessing my predilection is partly inherited from my mom (who felt the same way), and partly as a reaction against my dad, who abhorred any food that wasn’t cooked at home. In fact, when my sisters and I were growing up, our family unit would eat in a restaurant perhaps once a year. (No, that’s not a typo: ONCE a YEAR).
Why this aversion on his part? It may have had something to do with the fact that my dad grew up on a farm and was accustomed to made-from-scratch foods. Or perhaps it was a consequence of his discovery, on an early date with my mom in Montreal’s Chinatown, of a matchstick (previously unlit) sharing space with the bean sprouts in his eggroll. Possibly, it was related to his work as a butcher, as he’d regularly share stories about local restaurants purchasing meat for daily specials from his store ; the meat was, he noted, barely a step above (and sometimes, below) dog food. In fact, I was basically forbidden from ever ordering hamburger in a restaurant.
[My version of my regular order at our local Middle Eastern resto: Israeli salad, with diced tomato, cucumber, red onion and avocado (and my addition of mixed lentil sprouts) with lemon-olive oil dressing.]
As for me, I rebelled against my father’s restaurant reluctance as soon as I was able to pay for my own food. With my forays to eating establishments decidedly restricted over the past fourteen months (fourteen months on the ACD? What kind of insanity is that?), I’ve resigned myself to meals in the same three places, over and over, with very limited choices from each menu. So I wasn’t quite sure where Amanda and I would end up. Which leads me to. . .
First Number Three (“Third First”): Almost as soon as we started walking, however, Amanda pointed to a new café (I’d never seen it before) called Kale Organic Eatery. A small, quaint and cosy spot that exuded warmth and welcome, it offered a limited but varied buffet of both cold and hot dishes. And everything on the menu was vegan–with many ACD-friendly options! Whoo-hoo! There was also a terrific selection of homemade desserts (it’s okay; I averted my eyes).
Talking almost nonstop between bites of beets, steamed greens, tamari-marinated tempeh and brown rice with nori, we breezed through two hours of animated chatter and before we knew it, I had to leave for an appointment. The company, the chat, the serendipitous restaurant find–it was a positive, energizing and fun way to spend an afternoon. Thanks so much, Amanda!
By the time I got home, I’d been thinking quite a bit about those desserts I couldn’t eat. I decided to whip up these sunbutter cups, a sugar-free, allergen free, ACD-friendly version of the classic with peanut butter. Of course, you can use whatever nut or seed butter you like, but I thought the sunflower seed butter offered a nice change of pace. The recipe is fairly small–just enough to share with a friend, whether virtual or otherwise.
Crunchy Sunbutter Chocolate Cups (ACD friendly Phase II and beyond)
Of course, you can fill these cups with whatever filling you choose; almond butter is ACD-friendly and would compliment the chocolate beautifully, as would walnut-cacao butter. I chose sunbutter so that the cups would be allergy-friendly as well–and they tasted terrific!
about 1/4 cup (60 ml) crunchy sunflower seed butter (or use 3 Tbsp/45 ml smooth butter and stir in 1 Tbsp (15 ml) coarsely ground sunflower seeds)
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
15-25 drops stevia, to taste (or use about 1 Tbsp/15 ml agave nectar)
2 oz (60 g) good quality unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) carob powder
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut oil, preferably organic
35-45 drops chocolate, vanilla, or plain stevia liquid (to taste)
Line 4 muffin cups with paper liners. Set aside.
Prepare the filling: In a small bowl, mix together the sunflower butter, salt, vanilla and stevia to taste. Line a plate with plastic wrap and, using about 1 Tbsp (15 ml) for each, drop mounds of the mixture onto the plastic and place in the freezer until firm.
Prepare the chocolate cups: In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the chocolate, carob powder and coconut oil. Stir constantly over very low heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the stevia and stir to combine well. Using about 2 tsp of the mixture for each cup, cover the bottom of the cups with chocolate. Place the cups in the freezer until firm, about 5 minutes.
Once the sunflower butter mixture is firm, shape each mound into a flat disk that is just smaller in diameter than the bottom of each chocolate cup. Place one disk in each cup (it should almost cover the surface of the chocolate, leaving a very thin border of chocolate showing all around the disk). Then, using about 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of chocolate per cup, pour the melted chocolate over sunflower filling, allowing it to flow into the edges and cover the top, effectively effectively encasing the filling in chocolate.
Return the cups to the freezer until all the chocolate is firm. Peel off paper and enjoy. Makes 4 cups. May be stored, wrapped in plastic, in refrigerator up to one week.
[Totally unrelated note: ever wonder how people find your blog? Well, ever since I wrote my post about our holiday in Florida, the number one search term that leads people to my blog is. . . "Alligators." Yes, indeedy: folks looking for reptilian, steel trap-jawed people-eaters are sent to. . . my blog. In droves. Well, hi there, Everglade adventurers! Howdy, outback croc-hunters! Welcome, designer shoe and handbag aficionados!]
By now, it’s probably evident that I’m a fan of spinach. Certainly, devoting an entire SOS Kitchen Challenge to the popular leafy green is one indication (and if you hurry, you can still participate: the deadline is May 20th!).
It was through my friend Sterlin that I first learned to love spinach. Even before I moved to Toronto myself, I was a frequent visitor to Sterlin’s place (her parents had pulled up stakes and made the trek from Montreal to Toronto long before I did). I loved visiting this “exotic” metropolis, where, with Sterlin as both tour guide and chauffeur, we’d scour the city for interesting restaurants, university-based events, or dance clubs (in those days, single undergraduates in search of a boyfriend, we still frequented dance clubs).
After a long evening of inane chatter, bopping in our blister-inducing heels and drinking too many beer (I never did acquire a taste for the brew), we’d drive back to Sterlin’s parents’ house, and, with the intense precision and focus of a neurosurgeon, unlock the door without making a sound, the way only truly inebriated twenty-somethings can. Once inside, we removed our shoes and tiptoed into the kitchen to raid the fridge, where, inevitably, we found. . . nothing. (Okay, not literally “nothing.” There was a half-eaten carton of cottage cheese and a few cans of Diet Coke). At this point, Sterlin would move to the freezer, where she’d withdraw one of 5 or 6 boxes of frozen spinach (the only item in there).
“Want a snack?” she’d whisper, brandishing the box in the air. “Mmm! Let’s have some spinach!”
“Spinach?” I’d counter, equally susurrating, ” As a snack??” I was accustomed to the cornucopia of home-baked chocolate chip cookies, chips, licorice, and other assorted junk foods in my own parents’ kitchen.
But snack on spinach we did. Sterlin loved the stuff so much that is was contagious, and I learned to love it, too. I can’t say I ever think of frozen spinach as a snack these days, but I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it. (Beer, on the other hand, still doesn’t tempt me).
The second spinach epiphany I experienced courtesy of Sterlin was the classic 1980′s spinach salad. You know the one: baby spinach leaves coated in creamy, nondescript dressing, topped with a generous toss of chopped hardcooked eggs and a sprinkling of crispy bacon bits. Back then, one of Toronto’s destination restaurants was a brand-new, ultra hip joint called Mr. Greenjeans (a current relative of the original place still exists, in a new location and without the flair or cachet of the original).
Their specialty was–get this–salad (rather ahead of their time, don’t you think?). And what made Mr. Greenjeans’ salads worth driving all the way downtown for? Why, their presentation: each portion of fresh greens was packed into a huge mason jar, perched atop a white plate the size of an hors d’oeuvre tray at a wedding. Once served, you had the choice of picking at the salad right from the jar (the cool way) or emptying it onto the plate (the loser way).
Like an early iteration of Sassafras (where the gliterati hang out during the Toronto Film Festival), Mr. Greenjeans attracted diners not really because of the food, but more because of the reputation for cool. After waiting in line for a table, we’d hope for a window seat, where we could see and be seen, scanning the sidewalk outside for celebrity sightings or people we might know. In those days, everyone who was anyone hung out at Mr. Greenjeans.
No wonder, then, that I thought of spinach as the first vegetable to include in a muffin when I first opened my organic bakery back in 2003. In my zeal to include healthy veggies–especially leafy greens–in my recipes (and to provide an incentive to kids to eat their veggies), I created the Sweet Harvest Muffin, boasting not one, not two, but three different vegetables, including spinach. Providing one full serving of vegetables in each muffin, the Sweet Harvest quickly became my best-selling product, and it was the first recipe I knew I’d include in Sweet Freedom.
With this month’s SOS Challenge devoted to spinach, I decided to create an ACD-friendly variation of that best-selling muffin as my “sweet” entry to the challenge. Based on the Green Monster smoothies that are ubiquitous on the internet, these contain both spinach and apple combined with carob and cinnamon, ingredients I often include in my own morning beverage.
While these Green Monsters aren’t quite as sweet as the original muffins (which contain both raisins and chocolate chips), they do still make a tasty breakfast on the go; in fact, they tasted good enough that the HH noted he’d be happy to take one along to the office for his morning coffee.
With the sepia carob masking its green, the spinach remains hidden in this muffin. You may not be getting quite the same quantity of spinach as you’d consume in an entire box of the frozen stuff, but you can feel good eating one of these babies for breakfast, knowing it provides a good sized hit toward your daily five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables.
And speaking of breakfast baking. . . I’ll be talking about breakfast (and other) baked goods from Sweet Freedom this Thursday morning on the Canadian version of Good Morning America, Canada AM! I am incredibly excited to share information about healthy eating with hosts Bev Thomson and Seamus O’Regan. So set your PVRs, video recorders, etc for Thursday, May 20, between 8:00 and 9:00 AM!
Green Monster Muffins (ACD Phase II and beyond)
These muffins are a great way to start the day with both some fruit and some vegetables. They’re sweet, but not overly so; and you won’t taste the spinach at all. (Promise).
2 small apples, about 6-6 1/2 ounces (170-185 g) each, washed and cored (I used Granny Smith)
3 ounces (85 g) fresh or frozen spinach (include the stems)
1/4 cup (60 ml) natural smooth almond butter
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or other light tasting oil, preferably organic
2 tsp (10 ml) chia seeds, finely ground after measuring
2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tsp (5 ml) pure almond extract
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1-1/3 cups (320 ml) unsweetened soy or almond milk, plus up to 2 Tbsp (30 ml) more, if necessary
1/2 cup (60 g) carob powder*
1/2 cup (75 g) brown rice flour
1/2 cup (60 g) millet flour
1/4 cup (30 g) arrowroot powder
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum, optional (muffins will be slightly crumbly without it)
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
Coarsely chop one of the apples and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Dice the other apple into very small pieces (about the size of blueberries) and place in a small bowl; set the second apple aside until later.
Add the spinach to the food processor, and process the mixture until almost smooth. Add the almond butter, oil, chia, vanilla, almond extract, vinegar and milk and process again until well blended. Add the reserved diced apple to the processor and mix it in by hand until all the pieces are coated, but don’t process again. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 3 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the carob powder, brown rice flour, millet flour, arrowroot powder, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, xanthan gum and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until just blended.
Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup (80 ml) measuring cup, scoop the batter into the muffin cups and bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until a tester inserted into a center muffin comes out clean. Cool five minutes in the pan before removing to a cooling rack. Cool completely before sampling; the spinach will be discernible in the warm muffins, but the taste disappears once they’re cool. Store, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator up to 4 days. May be frozen.
* you may use cocoa instead of carob, but cut back the quantity a bit (perhaps 2 Tbsp/30 ml) and add a bit more sweetener.
Random.org has done its thing, and selected the four winners of the giveaway. Congratulations, all!
I’ll be back next time with a food post and new recipe.
NuNaturals Stevia gift pack winners (see this post for details):
1) Stacie–Number 23!
“I have a HUGE sweet tooth — and a family history of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease — so I try my hardest to stay away from it if I can. I would LOVE to be able to try this brand of stevia to bake up some yummy goods to satisfy my sweet tooth — especially those brownies – wow!”
Hope this prize pack does the trick, Stacie!
2) Courtney–Number 49!
“Oh my goodness Ricki, where to start?!? First of all–those brownies! Wow. That is it. Wow. They look and sound purely decadent and amazing…
Second of all, I have been wanting to try NuNaturals for so so so so soooooooooooo SO long. Seriously! It is just *SO* expensive and I haven’t been able to justify the cost without even knowing if I would like it…I would be thrilled to win some! You don’t even know how happy that would make me, lol.”
Glad to know this will make you happy! I know what you mean about the expense. . . luckily, you only have to use a few drops. And even MORE luckily for you, you get some for free!
3) Shirley from Gluten Free Easily–Number 89!
“Those look awesome, Ricki! I tried stevia long ago and didn’t care for it then, but definitely want to try it again. )(Read more on my blog tomorrow.) Your post is timely. I got both your books last week as you know (and am thrilled with them!), but I would love to add one to my support group’s library.”
Since you won the stevia prize pack, you can give it another try–I really do find that the NuNaturals has no aftertaste. And glad you’re enjoying the books!
“i’m so impressed by how creative your desserts are — sweet potato brownies?!?!? yowza. i’ve never cooked with stevia before and, as i continue to explore alternative, natural sweeteners, it’s next on my list. i’m surprised you needed both agave and stevia in this recipe. anyway to just use the stevia? or, do you think brown rice syrup could substitute for the agave? thanks for the great ideas!”
Well, you’ll have the chance to bake more desserts with stevia with recipes from the ebook. Hope you enjoy them!
Congrats, everyone! Please contact me at dietdessertdogsATgmailDOTcom with your mailing address (and phone number for Canadians) so I can arrange to have your prizes sent!
After many gruelling trials (So many brownies! So much chocolate! All that taste-testing! Ah, the sacrifices I make in the name of food blogging), I’ve finally developed a recipe for fudgy, dense and delectable brownies that are grain-free, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan, stevia-sweetened and ACD-friendly. Decadence never tasted so sweet!
For the recipe, a review of the NuNaturals stevia I used, and a giveaway, click here!
Update, April 28: The winners have been announced! Check this post.