Monday, January 30, 2012

lower-fat cranberry
cornbread squares

Cranberry-Cornbread squares, fresh out of the oven.
Cornmeal-based baked goods are unfairly typecast. Cornbread tends to be savory or semi-savory while breakfast corn muffins usually lean on the sweet side. For this recipe, thinking "outside the savory box" required baking these tasty, sweet cornbread squares inside a box, 8" x 8" pan, to be exact. The slightly sour cranberries and orange juice and zest balance out the inherent sweetness of the cornmeal. Plus, I love how the ruby-red polka dots punctuate the sunshine yellow cake.

These Cranberry-Cornbread Squares are not exactly low fat – each square has about 4 grams. But compared to, say, store-bought corn muffins or buttery restaurant cornbread, they are practically angelic. These squares are divine for breakfast, slightly warmed with a dab of your favorite jam. They also pair nicely with a cup of afternoon tea.

Before I give you the recipe, please don't forget to enter my contest to win a $20 Gift Certificate to Allison's Gourmet. I'll be announcing the winner soon.

Bet you can't eat just one.
Cranberry-Cornbread Squares
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup flour [I used spelt]
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 T soy flour 1 T baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 2 T canola oil
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Finely-grated zest of one organic orange
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen cranberries

Serves 9

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and oil a non-stick 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" pan.

Mix dry ingredients [first five] in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl.

Stir the wet ingredients [next four] into the dry until just combined. Do not overmix. Finally, gently stir in the zest and the cranberries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a tester inserted in center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

win a $20 gift certificate for allison's gourmet

Some of the hedonistic confections that Allison makes by hand: dark peppermint bark, peppermint creme patties, truffles and artisanal caramels.

Last year at the Vida Vegan Conference, I met and hung out with Allison Rivers Samson, self-proclaimed "Maven of Mmmmm" and owner of the uber-popular Allison's Gourmet. Believe it or not, she is actually sweeter than the confections she purveys.

Speaking of her confections, I was a very lucky girl over the recent holidays. First, VegNews sent me and all contributing writers a box of Allison's brownies: rich, decadent with a faint orange scent. Allison also kindly sent me a holiday sampling of her sophisticated treats, sumptuously packaged in her signature chocolate brown box tied with lavender ribbon. Of course, I greedily gobbled them all up in record time. I especially enjoyed the Peppermint Creme Patties – they made me fall in love with peppermint again – and the Artisanal Vegan Caramels.

Allison's Gourmet has been in business since 1997. Her products not only taste good; buying them also make you feel good, because Allison uses only organic, fair-trade, vegan and minimally processed ingredients, and relies on post-consumer recycled paper and packaging whenever possible.

At the Vida Vegan Conference, left to right, me, Terry Hope RomeroJulie Hasson, Maven of Mmmm, Allison Rivers Samson of Allison's Gourmet

Want to win a $20 gift certificate for Allison's Gourmet? All you have to do is visit Allison's Gourmet, take a look-see, and leave a comment here with the decadent treat that you like most [Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible if you drool all over your keyboard or mobile]. You need to live in the US to be eligible. Please be sure to leave contact info. Good luck, chocoholics! I'll be announcing the winner in the next few days.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

pumpkin-pie smoothie

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie: Dessert in a glass

Smoothie Basics
The weather's growing colder, and I know it's more seasonally appropriate to write about warming libations like tea, coffee and cocoa. But the fact is, regardless of the temperature, when my tummy starts to rumble– usually around 10 a.m.– I crave a nice, tall smoothie. Besides their sweet, creamy flavor, I also love the fact that you can toss in all kinds of healthful goodies into smoothies to further boost their nutritional power– like ground flax seedsgreen powder, and/or probiotic powder. I also usually add 1/2 scoop of vanilla vegan protein powder to my smoothies; it makes them creamier [read: more decadent!] and provides me with an extra shot of protein. You can also supplement most fruit-based smoothies with about 1 cup of fresh greens, like spinach or lettuce. Believe it or not, you cannot taste them, since the bolder fruit flavors overpower the greens' subtle sweetness [Really. Truly!].

When you think of smoothies, the usual suspects come to mind: strawberry, banana-peanut butter, chocolate, blueberry, etc. Yesterday, I spied 1/2 cup of leftover pumpkin puree in my 'fridge and decided to do a deconstructed pumpkin pie, smoothie, sans crust. [Want the crust effect? Toss in a few vegan graham crackers.] Besides being seasonal, this smoothie is seriously addictive and now holds a permanent spot in my daily smoothie rotation.

Pumpkin-Pie Smoothie
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 frozen ripe banana, chopped
  • 6 oz non-dairy milk [I used a small carton of So Delicious Vanilla Coconut Milk. You can also use plain or vanilla non-dairy yogurt]
  • Sprinkle of ground flax seeds [Optional, but great way to add omega 3s]
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • Healthy pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 scoop of your favorite vegan vanilla protein powder [to add creaminess and protein]
  • Your favorite sweetener [eg, stevia, sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar] to taste
  • Optional additions: Ground flax seeds, green powder, probiotic powder, etc
Serves 1

Whiz everything in a blender until smooth.

Monday, January 16, 2012

80-20 rule and
easy black bean salad recipe

Beans, beans, they're good for your heart – and your wallet
The 80-20 Ratio
In terms of maintaing a healthy diet – and in maintaining equilibrium in most things in life – I'm all about the 80-20 ratio. Generally speaking, I aim for 80% healthy foods and 20% hedonistic. Some weeks are better than others. Sometimes without even trying, I can nosh 99.99% healthily for weeks on end. Other times, when I answer the call of the wild vegan cupcake with reckless abandon, the odds swing in the other direction. But on the whole, I would say that 80-20 is how my daily diet levels off.

We Americans are socialized to think in extremes. This said, I am sure a knee-jerk, visceral reaction to the  terms "healthy" and "hedonistic" is that they are mutually exclusive. Au contraire, organic pear! Healthy can and should be hedonistic. Plus, what could be more self-indulgent than flooding your body with phytochemicals, vitamin, minerals and fiber, all tied together via a tasty recipe?

Easy Black Bean Salad
Case in point this easy, Southwest-inspired black bean salad. Besides infusing the beans and produce with a decadent creaminess, the avocado also adds 20 nutrients, including cancer-fighting lignans, and pretty specks of celadon. Like most of the recipes I share, this black bean salad is versatile. You can eat it as-is, room temperature, as a side – or use it as burrito filling, tortilla chip dip, Southwestern soup base or green salad topping. It's also flexible in that you can add virtually any flavor-compatible ingredients and spices. You can also omit ingredients without anyone noticing. Plus, as a special added bonus, the spectrum of colors in this rainbow salad positively vibrate, contrasting against the glistening black beans. Serve it on a white plate for extra visual pop.
Bean Counting: Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or a die-hard omnivore, beans are, without question, the ultimate frugal protein. I eat a lot of beans and admittedly lean on canned beans when I am busy. But when I have time, I cook dried beans [which I find meditative] and freeze them in 1-2 cup portions in Ziplock bags. The bean counters tell me this can add up to saving about 34 cents per cup of beans. If you're a big bean eater, that adds up to a lot over the course of a year. Cooking beans with a pressure cooker would only increase the savings. Although I don't own one, for space and simplicity reasons, I am sure this appliance that would quickly pay for itself.
Last night's dinner: Black Bean Salad over baby spinach, clementines and steamed broccoli, livened up with Susan's Hidden Cashew Ranch Dressing [to which I added a fiery glop of harissa]

Easy Black Bean Salad
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans [or 1 can, drained and rinsed]
  • 1 mango, diced
  • One ripe avocado, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced [more or less, to taste]
  • 5-6 green onions, sliced, including greens
  • 1 cup of corn [Frozen is fine]
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional additions [About 1/2 cup each]: Fresh or roasted green, yellow, orange or red peppers, shredded carrots, diced jicama, diced pineapple. 
  • You can also season with your favorite Southwestern spices and smoked salt, to taste [eg, cumin, chile powder, coriander, turmeric]

Serves 6-8

Toss everything gently in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Allow flavors to marinate for at least two hours before serving, or ideally overnight.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

vedge with JL

Last Saturday, I met JL of JL Goes Vegan for a girls' night out nosh. She came down to Philly for work and was dying to try Vedge.  Of course, she didn't exactly have to wring my arm to join her; I had been to Vedge's press opening in November and was anxious to return for a full-on meal. Unlike most vegetarian restaurants, vegetables take center stage at Vedge [hence its name], with proteins playing a minor, supporting role.

Crispy Cauliflower with Kimchee Crema and Black Vinegar
Uber-chef Rich Landau is known for juxtaposing surprising, often unusual ingredients to create a party on your palate. Forget the Food Network and Bon Appetit: I keep on on new food trends thanks only to Rich. Case in point: Crispy Cauliflower with Kimchee Crema and Black Vinegar. Rich can tease out qualities in vegetables that you never knew existed; this almost didn't taste like cauliflower, but rather something earthier and more decadent and chewier. Who knew this was possible?

Steak-Spice Seared Tofu with Chanterelles, Kabocha, Madeira and Walnut Picada
I do love my protein, so I could not resist ordering the Steak-Spice Seared Tofu with Chanterelles, Kabocha, Madeira and Walnut Picada. Talk about yin and yang. The crispy, masculine tofu crust contrasted nicely with the lighter, sweeter chanterelles and kobacha squash.

Spice-Cured Little Carrots with White Bean Sauerkraut Puree and Rye Toast Points
JL wisely ordered the Spice-Cured Little Carrots with White Bean Sauerkraut Puree and Rye Toast Points. The presentation on the wooden board was so attractive that we didn't want to disturb it – for about 2 seconds. This dish had a distinct Alsatian feel, with the carrots' inherent sweetness playing off the slightly sour bean dip and hearty rye bread. Although it looks small, it was surprisingly filling.

 Roasted Maitake with Creamy Celery Root with Seared Turnip, Truffle and Red Wine
Rich was disappointed that JL and I had not ordered one of his favorite dishes, the Roasted Maitake with Creamy Celery Root with Seared Turnip, Truffle and Red Wine, so he kindly brought out a plate gratis. Thank goodness he did: not trying this would have been an egregious error! This plate is a meat-n-potato lover's dream: a meaty Maitake mushroom perched upon a caramelized turnip, surrounded by  a lovely, complex red-wine reduction sauce. The celery root puree was a nice alternative to mashed potatoes.

 Fresh Hearts of Palm Garbanzo Crepe with Curried Golden Lentils and Green Harissa
As usual, I was craving some carbs, and the Fresh Hearts of Palm Garbanzo Crepe with Curried Golden Lentils and Green Harissa did the job – in a healthy way. This straightforward, fun take on a dosa was quite filling.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Smoky Mustard Sauce
We both ordered a side from the Dirt List, Vedge's ever-changing list of sides prepared from local, seasonal produce. JL chose the Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Smoky Mustard Sauce. The shaved preparation combined with the sauce made this pungent winter veggie surprisingly light.

Sunchokes with Harissa Dip
I opted for the Sunchokes with Harissa Dip. Think French Fries and Ketchup, but way more sophisticated and complex. 

Grilled Seitan with Black Lentils and Mushrooms, Creamy Horseradish and Kohlrabi
JL and I both adore seitan. She ordered the Grilled Seitan with Black Lentils and Mushrooms, Creamy Horseradish and Kohlrabi. This is the most expensive item on the menu, and it is worth every penny. It was my favorite dish of the bunch--slightly smoky, perfect texture and moisture, hearty--yet not.

 Cheesecake with Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Clementine Juice and Blood Orange Suprèmes
Amazingly, after all those courses, we managed to save some room for dessert. I am a huge fan of Kate Jacoby's cheesecakes, so I could not wait to try her Cheesecake with Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Clementine Juice and Blood Orange Suprèmes. It was decadent yet light, complex yet simple. I particularly love the taste of citrus in the winter; it reminds me that spring is coming and that it's sunny and warm somewhere.

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream
JL went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream. It was as luscious as it looked. Earthy and very British.

JL and me
JL and I lingered over our dinner for several hours, talking, laughing and sharing. Vedge is that kind of place. I love the fact that, with the small plates menu, you can spend a lot or a little, depending on your appetite and your budget.  Since poor JL did not have access to a 'fridge, I won the prize and got to take home the rather substantial doggy bag.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

easy mix-n-match crumble recipe [lower-fat]

In my "clear out my pantry" crumble, I used a combination of bagged organic gala apples, and the remnants of bags of frozen blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Crumbles are so easy to throw together; I don't know why I don't make them more often. Besides being a tasty way to work more fruit into your diet, especially during these long winter months, they are also quite forgiving: crumbles taste just as comforting whether you use fresh fruit, frozen, or a combination. They lend themselves beautifully to improvisation, and with the exception of some sugar and Earth Balance, fruit crumbles can be relatively healthy. They are perfect for lazy cooks and the recipe-phobic, as well as novice and anarchistic bakers.

My issue with most crumbles is that the usual grease-laden toppings tend to detract from the pure, fresh flavors of the fruit. I was shocked to note that most crumble recipes call for a 1/2 cup of butter or margarine! In this modular recipe, I reduced the fat to just 2 T of Earth Balance for a 6-serving crumble with great success. You just don't miss it because the fruit takes center stage, with crunchy oats playing a strong supporting role. You may even be able to get away with less fat, especially if you are using nuts. [Of course, you can always add more if you're throwing caution to the wind.]

This modular crumble recipe is really an anti-recipe. You can mix, match, ignore and embellish my instructions to your heart's content, and you will still wind up with a warming, phytonutrient-packed breakfast – or dessert when topped with a scoop of non-dairy ice cream.

Some flavor combination ideas:

  • Peach-Raspberry
  • Mango-Pineapple [Use coconut oil for the full tropical experience]
  • Apple-Pear-Almond
  • Mixed Berry [strawberry, raspberry. blueberry, blackberry]
  • Pistachio-Plum

An interesting factoid before we begin. Adding a bit of baking soda when baking with fruit [eg, crumbles, pies, cobblers] neutralizes the acid and allows you to cut back on the amount of sugar. For this reason, I added 1/2 tsp baking soda to my crumble.

Mix-n-Match Crumble
Fruit layer:

  • 3-4 cups fruit, fresh or frozen [eg, peeled apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, mangoes; raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, pineapple]
  • 1 T sugar, white or brown
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 tsp of any combination of the following: cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cardamon, pumpkin pie spice, mace
  • A squirt [about 1 tsp] of any citrus juice
  • Zest of 1/2 an orange, lime or lemon [optional, but adds a wonderful freshness]
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch salt

Crumble topping:

  • 1/4 cup flour [Any kind will do: whole wheat, gluten-free, spelt, white]
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 3-4 T sugar, brown or white
  • 2 T Earth Balance, cubed or 2 T coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts [optional]

Serves 6

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a pie pan, or an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9-inch baking pan. Set aside.

Cut larger fruits, like apples or pears, into berry-sized dice. Mix all prepared fruit in a medium bowl with other fruit layer ingredients, and pour into your prepared pan.

In a small bowl, mix all crumble ingredients. Squish in the Earth Balance with your fingers or a pastry cutter, but don't get too obsessed about mixing it all in. Small clumps are fine. Scatter crumble topping above fruit layer.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until topping is golden. I think crumbles taste best when served warm.

Note: Nutrition information may vary. Above is based on 1 cup blueberries, 1 large gala apple, 1/2 cup raspberries, 1/2 cup strawberries and no nuts, baked in a 9-inch pie pan.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

rethink your oatmeal ::
12 fresh ideas

Peanut Butter-Pecan Oatmeal with Bananas and Maple Syrup
Happy 2012! Here in Philadelphia, today is the first day this season that truly feels like winter. There's a cold, biting sting in the air, I'm finally cranking up my heat – and I am experiencing a serious oatmeal hankering.

As a rule, I tend to crave oatmeal in January and February. During these chilly months, my steaming morning soy latte just isn't enough to warm me through and through. Enter the humble bowl of oatmeal. In a world overflowing with ubiquitous food blogs, cooking channels and culinary magazines, oatmeal [aka, porridge or mush] is not exactly the sexiest victual in the world. But it is a relatively healthy breakfast staple – warming, filling, inexpensive, and overflowing with fiber and comfort. And it's neutral base lends itself wonderfully to improvisation.

As with most recipes, it's important to start with quality ingredients, and oatmeal is no exception. I'm partial to steel cut oats– I love the nutty chewiness. And I find that Irish quick-cooking oatmeal has a cleaner, more straightforward flavor than some of the American instant oats, which sadly, can taste like and resemble wallpaper paste.

Let's face it, oatmeal can get real boring real fast. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and soy milk can only hold our attention for so long. Here are a dozen ways to liven up your oatmeal. Please feel free to add your own ideas as comments.

1. Peanut Butter-Pecan Oatmeal with Bananas and Maple Syrup [Pictured above]. Put a healthy glop of peanut butter in a bowl. Stir in cooked oatmeal. Top with maple syrup, chopped pecans, sliced bananas, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. This has become my new addiction. Try it with different nut/nut butter combos [eg, walnuts and cashew butter, pistachios and almond butter]
2. Blueberry Supreme: Into cooked oatmeal, stir half a container of blueberry non-dairy yogurt and 1/2 cup fresh or defrosted frozen blueberries. You can substitute any berry/yogurt combination.
3. Pumpkin Pie: While cooking oats, substitute 1/4 cup cooking water with unsweetened pumpkin puree. Add 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice per serving. Top with brown sugar or maple syrup.
4. Almond-Pear Crumble: Peel an organic pear and cut into raisin-sized pieces. Cook along with your oats [works best with steel-cut oats]. Top with toasted almonds, a small dab of Earth Balance and some brown sugar or agave nectar.
5. Fruit-Juice Stock: This idea is from my first cookbook. Instead of cooking the oatmeal with water, substitute all or part of your favorite fruit juice: eg, apple juice, cranberry juice, just as you might cook a savory grain in stock. This infuses the oats with an extra zing of flavor and sweetness.
6. Cran-Apple: Toss 2-3 T unsweetened, dried cranberries and a peeled, diced apple into the oats as you cook them. Season with ginger and cinnamon. Add sugar or other sweetener, if desired. If you're really feeling domestic, add some fresh orange of lemon zest, too.
7.  Canuck Special: This one's courtesy of F-Stop. Boil some raisins, about 1/4 cup. Puree a peeled apple in the food processor. Add this mixture to your cooked oats, and top with your favorites: eg, nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, maple syrup.
8. Coconut Chocolate Chip: A fun departure, like eating a deconstructed turtle bar. While cooking the oats, add 2-3 T shredded coconut. Remove from heat. Stir in desired amount of dark chocolate chips and nuts, if you like. You should not need to add any sugar to this one!
9. Cherry-Berry: While cooking oats, add 2-3 T chopped, dried cherries. Season with cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and maple syrup or agave nectar.
10. Cardamon Sticky-Toffee: The name is a bit of a stretch--this oatmeal will never taste as decadent as the famous dessert, but it is a luscious breakfast treat. Pit and finely chop about 1/3 cup of Medjool dates and add them to the oatmeal cooking water; they will infuse your oats with a cloying, sticky sweetness [Add a tiny pinch of salt to counter the sugar's intensity]. Top with cardamon powder and, if you have a serious sweet tooth, a bit of golden or Karo syrup or molasses. Hedonists can also add some chocolate chips.
11. Pure Vanilla: Halve a vanilla bean, scrape out the insides and mix into the oatmeal and water, before cooking, along with 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and the vanilla bean shells [You'll remove them before eating--but why not extract every possible bit of flavor from these expensive little pods?]. Season as you like, with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, bananas, vanilla non-dairy yogurt, maple syrup – the sky's the limit!
12. Jelly Roll: Instead of sweetening oatmeal with the usual suspects, add a teaspoon of your favorite jelly [eg, apricot, raspberry, fig, quince] to the cooked grain. Depending on the kind of jam you use, this trick can elevate your oatmeal to bona-fide exotic.