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Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years Reflections and Resolutions

2010 Reflections

We gained a new family member. Annie came into our lives on August 1, 2010 and has been full of attitude and humorous antics ever since. Just this afternoon I noticed her trot by with a mouth full of spinach she raided from our grocery bags.


A rare quiet moment on her first day home

Daddy's little girl

We had a scare with another family member who is still here today snuggled up on his bed, visiting from my family's house. Champ had mast cell cancer, and a nasty scar after surgery . The scar has healed nicely and he has been much friskier than even two years ago.

Champ a few days after surgery with a tough looking scar

Champ several month later with a much better looking coat
and more energy to keep up (and away from) baby "O"


My brother made my family very proud by becoming a PGA certified golfer and successful student after surviving cancer. He's back home after completing his degree, busy being a daddy.


It wasn't a great year for my health, but it wasn't the worst. I made a commitment to veganism that went beyond health, and I'm still learning more about environmental and ethical impacts of consuming products made from animals. I discovered my passion for food and that I want to make a career out of it someday, and I started this little blog.

Food blogging has become a popular pastime, to the extent of annoying people according to some recent articles. There are millions and millions of food bloggers, and sometimes I feel like a tiny whisper in a sea of foodies. I had to believe I have something unique to offer. I have been eating for better health while maintaining superior quality and taste. I grow tired of lowering expectations for gluten free food. My food is uniquely allergy conscious beyond just gluten free, and I hope people enjoy the recipes and find them to be tasty. I feel they are improving over time, and I am looking forward to expanding my collection in 2011.

Some of my favorite recipes this year:


Crispy and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies


2011 Resolutions


I have 3 major areas I want to focus on this year that are relevant here... Photography, content (more recipes included!), and a bakery or other means of distributing tasty, gluten free food.

My photography has slowly been improving. I can tell the sweet potato donuts and crepes were photographed earlier in the year. I want to continue to improve my eye and editing skills. I should work a little more on my writing skills as well and look into enhancing content in relevant ways.

I want to expand my recipe collection to accommodate a rotating menu and continue to learn how to incorporate seasonal vegetables and fruit into my cooking whenever possible. Baking is the most challenging area to master and it's my passion, but there are plenty of other dishes that are unique and delicious. Meal planning can be difficult for people with allergies, so offering more options across the board (breakfast, easy lunches, and dinner) is something I plan on doing.

I will come up with a business plan and try to keep pursuing a meaningful career in the food industry that will help others with allergies and gently educate people about the benefits of vegan and ecologically conscientious consumption.

Happy New Year! I hope it is a fabulous year for you all!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lemon Cupcakes and Recipe Suggestions


I've posted recipes for lemon cake and cupcakes before, but this is my favorite (so far). The texture meets the traditional cupcake texture and it doesn't have that "gluten free flour taste" that can be unpleasant. This was Lance's favorite by a slim margin over the Lucuma Banana Cupcakes. These cupcakes do not have a trace taste of banana that the lucuma cupcakes do.

Lemon Cupcakes
makes 18
6 oz Teff Flour
1 oz Arrowroot Powder
6 oz Brown Rice Flour
6 oz Sugar
3 T Chia Seeds (ground)
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Salt
3 oz Cashews
2 Meyer Lemons, juiced
3 Meyer Lemons, zest
1 large, ripe Banana
3 oz Agave
2 oz Coconut Oil, melted
1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Instead of a traditional sifter, I use a fine sieve and use a whisk to break up extra chunks. Strainers are much easier to wash. Zest three Meyer lemons and add the zest to the dry ingredients and stir. Put the cashews, lemon juice, banana, coconut oil, and agave in a high speed blender. Blend until smooth and fluffy. Pour all at once into the dry ingredients and fold in with a spatula, combining thoroughly. After you put cupcake papers in your tin and your oven is preheated, add the apple cider vinegar to the batter and mix vigorously to combine well. Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers until they are a little more than 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean.


Please feel free to post any recipe requests in the comments section. I'm trying to widen my repertoire of recipes, but I'm not sure what people are most interested in. Muffins for a quick breakfast? Healthy entrees? More desserts? Any feedback is appreciated!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mention on Top 100 Health and Fitness Blog List

To visit the list, click here
There are some great blogs listed!


I was contacted this evening and told that this blog has been included on a top 100 Health and Fitness Blogs list! There are a lot of great blogs on that list and I'm happy to see how many of them are vegan. My friend, Bitt, made the list with her bittofraw.com site, and you'll notice a lot of other blogs I follow including Sketch Free Vegan Eating and The Health Sleuth to name just a couple, and I intend on following a few more from the looks of it!

I plan on posting a delicious lemon cupcake recipe, but this evening I have been researching opening a bakery (my favorite topic these days) and scrounging around the kitchen for dinner and snacks. I had broccoli with green onions, carrots, Caesar salad dressing, and capers (I am addicted) then a pudding made from almond butter, cacao powder, probiotics (yum - supplements), and coconut milk. I also made some raw vegan almond toast that is in the food dehydrator. If it turns out half as good as the almond toast I had at Cafe Gratitude, I will be a happy camper!

Well, back to reading about my favorite topic!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lucuma Banana Cupcakes


Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit indigenous to the Andes. In its fresh form, the flesh is very dry and the fruit is very high in B vitamins and beta carotene. The fruit is gaining popularity globally, but is generally only available in powdered form in North America and Europe. On its own, lucuma is very sweet and reminds me of vanilla cake batter. It's a very popular ice cream flavor in Peru, and considered a low sugar sweetener that has more nutrition than some of the empty sweetener substitutes used today. Because lucuma reminded me of cake batter, it only made sense to make cupcakes with lucuma.

Lucuma Banana Cupcakes
Yield: 16-18 cupcakes
4 oz Teff Flour
1 oz Arrowroot Powder
5 oz Brown Rice Flour
3 oz Lacuma Powder
6 oz Sugar
3 T Chia Seeds (ground)
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
3 oz melted Coconut Oil
2 small, ripe Bananas
6 oz Water
1.6 oz Cashews
3 oz Agave
1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all of the dry ingredients (including the ground chia seeds) in a sifter. Put the coconut oil, bananas, water, cashews, and agave in a high speed blender and blend until fluffy and smooth. Fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients. Put the cupcake liners in your tin and right before you are ready to bake the cupcakes, add the apple cider vinegar to the batter and combine thoroughly. This helps the dough rise and have little air bubbles that make the texture like traditional cupcakes.


One of the pleasant side effects of using lucuma was that it made the top of the cupcake a little bit crunchy, reminding me of a cookie.


I buy my lucuma powder through rawvegansource.com here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chickpea Salad and Dried Beans


We had the family over for Christmas Eve dinner and I prepared chickpea salad, sauteed kale, Brussels sprouts, and made a batch of sugar cookies. I had some picky eaters in the crowd, so I didn't make a whole lot of food knowing that my family was bringing meat they cooked in their oven and salad. My grandfather isn't too adventurous when it comes to food, especially when it comes to "weird vegan" food. When he had seconds of the chickpea salad and raved about how good it was, I knew I was on to something! This was inspired by a recipe I tried by vegan and so forth found here.

Chickpea Salad
2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 large carrot, diced
3 stalks of celery, trimmed and diced
3 scallions/green onions, sliced

Salad Dressing
1/3 cup macadamia nuts
4 T water
1 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
squirt of Agave (1 tsp or to taste)

You can use canned, cooked chickpeas, but try to make sure the can is BPA free (if it isn't labeled as such, assume it isn't. Food cans have a resin lining, which leeches into the food). I took the time to peel the chickpeas because I originally thought about making hummus, but it's certainly not necessary. Mash them lightly with a fork. You don't want a paste - leave some texture. Chop the green onions, carrot, and celery. I included the celery leaves because I think they add a pleasant flavor.

Put all of the dressing ingredients into a high speed blender or soak the macadamia nuts before attempting this in a food processor to achieve better texture. Taste the dressing and adjust spices and water as needed. You want the dressing to be thick enough to cling to your ingredients, but not so thick it won't come out of your blender. Combine the dressing and salad ingredients and sprinkle some fresh cracked pepper over the top.

Working with Dried Beans

I purchased dried beans because I was tired of spending so much money on the canned beans that are BPA free. It's also a better environmental choice with far less packaging waist and more can be shipped at a time, so less carbon footprint per bean. I just knew that all of my vegan cookbooks had to have sections on working with dried beans. Guess what? The authors assumed I had been doing this all my life apparently and knew how long to soak beans before cooking them.

Why Soak Beans?

We dread when certain family members eat beans because it definitely means gas. Or does it? When I soak dried beans, it helps remove the oligosaccharides that cause gas. Oligosaccharides are very complex carbohydrates that are enzyme inhibitors, preventing the bean from sprouting too early. If the beans are not soaked, those oligosaccharides travel through your stomach and small intestines, feeding the bad bacteria in your colon. The bad bacteria causes fermentation and gas, which is why beans are known as the magical fruit. Jack in the Beanstalk, eat your heart out.

Another important reason to soak beans is to reduce their cook time. The less time something needs to cook, the less nutrition we boil out of them. I do not use the water beans have cooked in because that water also contains oligosaccharides in addition to some of the nutrients cooked out of the beans. I'd rather lose some nutrients than feed bad bacteria.

How Long Do I Soak Beans?

Before I go into how long I soak beans, I want to point out that they need to be rinsed during the soak process. For example, if I start soaking beans in the evening, I rinse them before bed, then again in the morning before work, then very thoroughly before I cook them for dinner. Today I am taking the day off of work, so i will be rinsing them around lunch time as well. Ideally, rinse the beans 3-4 times per day.

For a handy soak chart, click here. I tend to soak my beans for at least 24 hours. Lentils will start to sprout by this time, which certainly only enhances the nutritional content. I don't bother to sprout other bean varieties except adzuki. Adzuki and lentil are the two easiest to digest and sprout (Coincidence? I think not.). Cooking times vary and can also be seen on this chart. When I cooked garbanzo beans it took about 45 minutes. Lentils take around 20 minutes. Adzuki somewhere in between.

Is It Worth All That Work?

Soaking really isn't very hard to do, it just takes a little planning ahead. The beans sit on the counter and shed those enzyme inhibitors for you, so they're doing almost all the work for you! It's not as easy as opening a can and dumping it into a curry, but you also don't have to worry about what else came out of that can.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Caesar Salad and Spicy Mustard Sauce


When traveling on business to San Francisco, I had the good fortune to be able to have time to visit Cafe Gratitude. I sampled appetizers and had a Caesar salad for the main course, and it was delicious. The capers really made the dish and I promised that I would attempt the dish at home. Yesterday, we spent the better part of the day at my Grandparent's house and I brought the salad for my dinner.

Caesar Dressing
1/2 tsp Spicy Mustard Sauce (recipe below)
6 whole Black Peppercorns
1 small clove Garlic
1/2 cup Macadamia Nuts
1/4 cup water
juice from one Lemon
salt to taste

Put all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until they are very well combined. The peppercorns should be pulverized and blended well.

Spicy Mustard Sauce
(to be used very sparingly)
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tsp Agave
pinch Salt

Put the mustard seeds in a spice or coffee grinder and grind until fine. Stir in the other ingredients. This is really intended to be added to dressings and sauces, not to be enjoyed straight as it is overpowering. It blew out my palate after I had it with slices of quinoa flatbread, lettuce and sauerkraut. I couldn't taste the sauerkraut after the first helping. I would recommend adding to a little whipped cashews or macadamia nuts if you want a mustard spread for flat breads.

Caesar Salad
1 head Romaine, chopped
1 shredded carrot
sprouts
1/4 c. rough chopped almonds
capers
Caesar Dressing

I put the capers and Caesar dressing in small bowls and let people decide the amounts they want on their salad. Some people dislike capers (I don't understand it, but I'll respect it). The almonds and sprouts add some additional nutrition and texture, but aren't necessary.

I don't understand why people say it's hard to stay vegan over the holidays. Perhaps I'd understand it a bit more if I had any inclination to have dairy. Staying dessert free on the other hand...I made two gluten free vegan lemon pies and didn't follow my own advice so today I had a bit of a sugar hangover. At least it makes it easier to stick to the diet going forward!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday! Annie enjoyed her new toys, and we had some fun family moments. There were some awkward and crazy moments too (like when Annie got in a fight with one of the 7 dogs in the house - twice). Seems like there was a dog or two per family segment for about an hour of our visit. It felt like 12 hours. Don't worry, everyone left full and injury free.

Baby "O" really liked Thomas the Train Engine!

My family's beautiful and sweet Bernese Mountain Dog
(definitely not the dog Annie fought with)

Annie with part of her toy stash. Notice the protective
paw over HER reindeer. 100% attitude.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Gluten Free Pancakes and Poinsettias



Air bubbles = fluffy goodness!

This morning I woke up determined to start gathering another stockpile of recipes to use during my baking adventures, but first I wanted to measure out a Pancake recipe. It's much easier to replicate any recipe with weights, but with gluten free it seems to be particularly important.

This recipe is filling and the pancakes are fluffy. They are flavorful without tasting too "whole grain." I know a recipe is good if Lance gets seconds. If he goes back a third time, it's one I can prepare for non-gluten free friends.

Pancakes

8.5 oz Bob's Redmill All Purpose Flour
1.5 oz Teff Flour
1.5 oz Potato Starch
1 tsp baking powder*
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3 TB ground chia seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 oz melted coconut oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1.5 oz Agave

Mix all of the dry ingredients together thoroughly, including the ground chia seeds. Add in the liquids after your frying pan is preheated and mix thoroughly. Put a little coconut oil in the pan (easiest way is to put a little on a paper towel and rub the entire surface to coat evenly). Flatten the batter out a bit with the bottom of a ladle or a spatula. The chia seeds and teff makes the batter sick together very well. Once the batter starts to bubble, it's time to flip. The pancakes really puff up, so I poke a couple holes in the pancake after I flip them.

A few variations:

Add 1/2 cup of Enjoy Life vegan chocolate chips
OR
Add 1/2 cup blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or a combination of all 3
OR
Add in slices of banana
OR
Use the pancakes as bread for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich

*Baking powder often contains gluten or corn. Make sure to research your brand. I use Hain Baking Powder which has potato starch instead of corn starch.

Annie is helping me type this out...I'm surprised she hasn't attacked my cup of raspberry tea with vanilla hemp milk. I better wrap this up because we are busy getting the house ready today. My family is coming over this evening and I get to have a little helper in my kitchen! Baby "O" is going to help me with my gluten free cookie recipes. He has a lot of allergies, but he can eat the food I make and because it's vegan, it's not dangerous if starts to gnaw on some before I can get them in the oven.

Photo from Teleflora.com

Just a quick note about Poinsettias. I found it quite interesting to read that they are not nearly toxic as rumored. If animals or people eat the plant, especially the sap, they will become nauseated and have gastrointestinal distress, but it's considered more of an irritant than a toxin. According to Snopes.com, the plant got a bad wrap when it was rumored a popular politician's young child died after consuming the plant. The rumor had spread too far to be contained before the medical examiner's office had the chance to contradict the statement.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holidays without the Food Hangover


Happy Holidays from Annie!

I know this is going to be a big surprise, but... I love food. I spend way too much time pouring through food magazines, cookbooks, and, of course, the FoodNetwork. I confess that even while I'm at my day job, I'm fantasizing about the next treat I'll attempt to transform into delicious vegan and allergy friendly sustenance. I suppose I don't consider myself to have much moderation, but I don't give myself enough credit. I haven't purposefully had gluten in 6 years. I haven't had corn, eggs, soy, milk, and many other foods for at least 4 years. Now, I am attempting to go low carb over the holidays! While continuing to create more gluten free goodies! Wish me luck....

Eating with friends and family is difficult at times. It is so important to make sure that cross contamination is kept to a minimum, but that can be difficult to do without hurting people's feelings if you aren't careful. People don't seem to realize how easy it is to contaminate food, and I know restaurants also fall into this category. The better restaurants/bakeries have separate ovens, fryers, and work stations dedicated to gluten free, but those who are celiac or extremely sensitive can become a little ill even from walking into the bakery with all of the flour in the air.

When sitting at a shared dinner table, it's really easy to forget which spoon is being used with which dish. I remember watching in horror as my sister-in-law beat me to the dinner table and proceeded to use the butter knife to help dig into EVERY other dish. I ended up helping myself to the refrigerator and making a salad from fresh ingredients. If you're worried about things staying allergy friendly (or vegan for that matter), the easiest way to go is to bring your own dish and/or help in the kitchen. It also helps cut down on the hurt feelings. My family wasn't too excited about me being vegan (they were great about allergies), but now they are comfortable with my decision and are happy when I offer to bring my own main dish.

Here are some low carb dishes I'm thinking about bringing to Christmas Dinner:

Vegan Cremey Spinach Dip

Made with sauteed garlic and spinach, combined with macadamia nuts, lemon juice, salt, and a little water. Great with celery, carrots, or other chopped vegetables.

Veggie Stir Fry
It is so easy to empty out the veggie crispers and make a delicious stir fry if you know how to use your spices. Last night, Lance and I enjoyed a chickpea coconut curry with spinach. Saffron stir-fry with peppers and ginger is also a favorite. I've linked to the peanut stir fry recipe, but it works just as well with almond butter if you are allergic to peanuts. My husband thought it was delicious.


Pesto is so tasty, and there are more variations than one would think. Going 50/50 with basil and cilantro and adding lime, garlic, and olive oil is delicious.


Onions, garlic, and chopped zucchini combine to make a creamy base for a number of soups. Cream of mushroom and cream of broccoli are my favorite. Making these soups from scratch make me realize how "off" some of the canned versions taste.

Brussels Sprouts with Spaghetti Squash "Noodles" and Vegan Alfredo


It wouldn't be the holidays if I didn't bring cookies and pie. I will be increasing the amount of low carb, veggie dishes I bring to compensate for all the treats surrounding me. When I get hungry, I make really poor food choices. Please learn from my mistakes and bring at least snacks so you don't get hungry if something doesn't look trustworthy.

I hope everyone has a fantastic Holiday. Finding ways to stay allergy free and low sugar mean less New Years resolutions and less symptoms the next day. Standing your ground and bringing your own food means avoiding the bloating, headaches, wheezing, and stomach aches that often come with either purposefully cheating on your diet or accidentally getting a hold of something you weren't aware was contaminated.

I owe my readers more recipes. Tomorrow I'm testing some double chocolate cookies, pecan prints, sugar cookies (it's a classic!), and perhaps another. I should have at least one fabulous recipe to share. I've been a little greedy lately and have kept my pecan pie and chocolate chip cookies to myself....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ecolissa Vegan Fashion Promotion


Adorable Pencil Skirt - looks like wool, but it's 100% cotton

This is a food blog, but who doesn't love saving on clothes? Especially when all of the clothes on the site are vegan with an emphasis on environmentally friendly practices. When Melissa of ecolissa.com contacted me and generously offered 20% off of purchases for my readers, I took a little while to cruise her site and was happy to oblige.

Another work appropriate outfit. Made from bamboo, cotton, and spandex.

Use the promotion code "vegan20" to receive 20% off of your order at ecolissa.com. They have some really cute dresses, skirts, tops, and it's guilt free purchasing. I have often complained about how difficult it is to find nice business clothes that aren't made of animal products and spend a lot of time stooped over and squinting at labels. I love that I don't have to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what each fabric type is really made of.

In the interest of transparency, I haven't made a purchase from this site yet so I can't offer a full review of the customer experience yet. I do plan on it, but have been busy with holiday planning/cooking/festivities.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Marshmallow" Frosting


Frosting is so delicious and proof that vegan food is not always healthy. This recipe goes extremely well with my chocolate cupcake recipe.

Vegan frosting can be really tricky, as I found out for myself this morning. You need warm water to help break up the palm oil for mixing, but not so much you end up with a soup. Finding the right balance is key - if you slip with the hot water, the amount of powdered sugar needed goes up exponentially.

Marshmallow Frosting
3 oz Palm Oil (room temperature)
3 1/2 c sifted powdered sugar*
2 t vanilla bean powder
3 T agave
2-3 T very hot water
pinch salt

Put all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix with a stand mixer or hand mixer until the frosting is a blended, thick consistency with peaks forming as the mixer turns. You may need to add more sugar. This morning I slipped up and added more than a 1/4 cup of hot water and burned through 6 cups of sugar in no time. Not good.

The trick to the flavor of this frosting is really the dehydrated vanilla bean. I purchase mine through rawvegansource.com, which is fortunately located in my area so I can physically go to their store. The owners are really great and visit most of the farms they source from.

* Allergy and Vegan Note: I tend to use Wholesome Sweeteners brand because they have powdered sugar with tapioca flour instead of corn starch. Most readily available powdered sugars have corn starch and use bone char as a filter during processing. Wholesome Sweeteners sugars are also vegan; the company does not use the bone char filters.

A Note About Palm Oil

There is an environmental crisis going on in Indonesia because of the palm industry. Unconscientious farmers are destroying millions of acres of rain forests using uncontrolled fires to clear the land and proactively killing animals that wander onto the farm land. In '98, more than 8,000 Orangutans in Borneo burned to death because of this practice, not to mention the ongoing destruction of the population because their habitat is rapidly disappearing. Palm oil is a huge source of income for the population of Indonesia, so it has become increasingly important to reward the farmers that are farming in a sustainable manner. The Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil is launching a logo in early 2011 to help consumers differentiate between the sustainable farmers and the farmers using practices destroying the environment. I tend to remain somewhat skeptical of associations run by companies in the industry, but I think this is a positive move by the industry. Right now I use Spectrum Palm Oil because it is farmed in Columbia and the manufacturer is fairly reliable in my limited experience.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lemon Bars & Seattle Bake Sale Tomorrow


I have been thinking a lot about food again! I think I burned out during Vegan Mofo, but I'm back in the kitchen trying to cook up a storm. Christmas time for me always meant pies, and lots of them, but I know plenty of people who associate that time of year with cookies and dysfunctional family gatherings. Not that it wasn't the case with my family at times - I'm just so food focused I'd cope by hiding in a corner stuffing my face with pie. Awesome mental picture, huh?

In the spirit of all thing sweet and rich, I decided to open up my repetoire a bit and start expanding my cookie collection. I was at the grocery store the other day picking up regular lemons for some citrus salad dressing when a beautiful, sunny yellow bag of meyer lemons caught my eye. The whole way home I was thinking of various lemony desserts that I could create, and some of those visions were a little on the ambitious side. I decided to go with a childhood favorite. Lemon bars were one of the few things my mom would cook better than anyone I knew (sorry Mom).

Lemon Bars
Shortbread
7 oz Palm Oil
5.2 oz Amaranth Flour
2.5 oz Potato Starch (can sub with Tapioca or Arrowroot)
2 oz White Rice Flour (can sub with Sorghum)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp Meyer Lemon zest

Filling
3 Meyer Lemons, juiced
Zest of 1 and 1/2 Meyer Lemons
8 soaked Dates
1/2 cup Date soak water
5 oz Agave
4 Tb Tapioca Flour
3 oz Coconut Oil (melted)
2 Tb ground Chia
pinch Salt

Topping
3 Tb powdered sugar*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 7X11 rectangular baking pan with bleach free baking paper. Combine the shortbread ingredients with a pastry cutter. Freeze the dough for at least 5-10 minutes to make it easier to work with and then press into the pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

While you are baking the crust, combine the filling ingredients in a high speed blender and blend until combined. Take the crust out of the oven and pour the filling on top of the crust (the crust will not completely set by this time...I was a little worried it wouldn't at all when I first looked at it, but it works well). Bake for another 25 minutes.

These bars are better the next day, after they rest for an evening. I will even throw them in the fridge for a bit the next day. Sift a little powdered sugar over the top and cut into bars to enjoy.

* Allergy & Vegan Note: Most powdered sugar that is readily available contains corn starch. Some brands, however, will use tapioca starch instead. I use Wholesome Sweetners Sugar because it contains Tapioca Starch and I know they don't use bone char filters during processing so it's vegan.

Bake Sale!

Sidecar for Pigs Peace in the U-District of Seattle is having a bake sale tomorrow. I'm not bringing lemon bars, but there will be chocolate cupcakes, thumbprint cookies, and probably some kind of shortbread. The bake sale will go on from 10 AM to 8 PM and they are located on the southeast corner of University and 55th. Click here for driving directions.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mistakes can be good too: Gluten Free "Graham" Crackers

Next time around I will cut them into squares...

I enjoy baking because it puts me in a Zen-like trance. This means I am doing enough to keep my mind off of things like work, but it's still relaxing. Baking hits all of the senses - well at least when it is vegan baking. Without eggs I can taste the batter to determine the level of sweetness. I use my hands to determine whether or not my proportions of oil to liquid to flours are correct, and I can smell if I have enough spice - especially when the first batch is in the oven. Sometimes I'm a little too Zen and forget ingredients. That doesn't happen often, but it usually doesn't spell total disaster. The food is usually still edible, but not something I want my husband sharing with coworkers so they get the wrong idea about my cooking skills (which he does anyways and they thankfully still enjoy). This time, my mistake turned out really well. I was in the mood for some spicy holiday cookies. I forgot a spice and toned down the sweetness way too much and ended up with texture and taste like graham crackers. I was excited because I'm pretty sure my little nephew will love them.

This is why baby "O" doesn't hold Annie

Graham is actually a type of whole wheat grain. I'll have to think of some clever packaging and a name to go with so people don't get confused because these are gluten free. These are great either with a little icing or melted chocolate. They would probably be fantastic with a little "Marshmallow" vegan icing and chocolate...

Gluten Free "Graham" Crackers
8.5 oz Amaranth Flour
2.2 oz Potato Starch (unmodified)
2.8 oz Sorghum Flour
1 1/2 t baking powder*
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp vanilla bean
3 oz palm oil
3 pitted dates & 3 dried apricot halves soaked
1/2 c soak water
3 Tb agave
4 oz Maple Syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. In a high speed blender, put the dates, apricot, soak water, maple syrup, and agave. Slowly combine the liquid into the dry ingredients until it's a workable consistency. Put a little sorghum flour on your rolling surface, and roll out the dough into a rectangular shape. The dough should be 1/6-1/8 of an inch thick. Cut into manageable rectangles and place on a cookie sheet. Bake until the dough turns a light golden brown or about 8-10 minutes. As the crackers dry, they become harder. These are actually better a couple days after they are baked.

*Make sure your baking powder is corn and gluten free. I personally use the Hain brand.

Why are some of the ingredients in weights?

I've discovered that it is far easier to replicate a recipe when I have weights. I bought a cheap digital scale for around $8 or $12 and it is totally worth it. Cooking is an art form that lends well to improvisation and spontaneity. I often get away with this when baking, but have discovered I can't accurately share a recipe (or produce it again) without a scale.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Product Review: If You Care Baking Cups


Gluten is a protein found in many grains, and it helps give baked goods elasticity. It functions primarily as a binder, so those of us who are gluten free and do not use egg as a binder have to use other ingredients to help meld the batter/dough together. Unfortunately, that oftentimes translates to cupcakes that stick to the paper cups and crumble apart as the result of ripping the paper from the baked good.

If you look closely at the photograph, you can tell the paper
has intermingled with the dough along the sides. Not tasty.

Many times I also wonder what else is sticking to that piece of cupcake or muffin I still really want to eat when I see paper fibers. The cups I was using were low cost and colored. I started thinking about the dyes and chemicals that must go into the paper, as well as the bleach. When I saw If You Care baking cups at my local food grocer, I had to try them.

I wasn't sure what to expect of a natural product. Unfortunately, "natural" sometimes you are sacrificing positive attributes in exchange for getting rid of nasty chemicals. This product really pleasantly surprised me. Recipes that previously clung to cheap paper don't cling to this product. I also don't have to worry about throwing the cups into my compost bin, which I usually won't do with any paper products because of the bleach and coloring chemicals.

Long story short: I would definitely recommend this product.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Restaurant Review: Cafe Gratitude

I have to apologize for the photos. It was dark and I just had a cell phone.

I remember settling for so-so desserts that were gluten free and thinking, "Well, that's as good as it gets." After starting a raw vegan diet a little over a year ago, I had the luck of walking into a local restaurant and seeing something that looked like cheesecake. I asked about ingredients thinking it had to be something gross and soy, but it was safe for me to eat. I poked at it a bit trying to figure out what it REALLY was before taking a bite. That first bite was heaven. I had raw vegan cheesecake and it was like stepping into another plane of dessertdome. After that, I had to figure out how to make these delicious morsels myself. I can't remember if I purchased Sweet Gratitude or my sister-in-law gave it to me, but after tasting those fantastic desserts I made from their recipes, I had to visit the restaurant in person.

I live in Seattle and Cafe Gratitude is located in San Francisco, so there was a bit of a geographical barrier to that goal - until last week. The company I work for sent me to San Francisco for a conference and I was absolutely determined to visit the cafe. Every night I was in San Francisco I dined with coworkers, which is great, but no one else in the group is vegan or allergy prone (except someone would develop anaphylaxis when exposed to mushrooms - that was scary). One night we all went to Thai and the only thing I could order was a bowl of brown rice. I was holding out hope for Cafe Gratitude. (Don't go feeling too sorry for me. I always think ahead and pack frozen soups and other foods that travel well so I can eat when I get back to my room.)

On the final night in San Francisco, I was going to Cafe Gratitude with or without coworkers. A couple women were brave enough to try something new and we caught a cab to 20th and Harrison. It was a really rainy night, and we didn't spot the restaurant until we were almost past it. It was in a cute, older style house that reminded me of some of the homes I saw in England.

The interior was homey and comfortable. The atmosphere was very pleasant and the women I was with remarked on it as well. I was excited to be in my dessert Mecca and spent the first few minutes staring into the dessert case, wondering which filling was in those beautiful chocolates.

My coworkers are from the Midwest and may have been taken slightly aback by our server's numerous piercings, but the server was a real sweetheart and very helpful with the menu. I was tickled to hear that they are a gluten free establishment and most of their menu items were completely soy free. My coworkers had never been in a vegan restaurant before, never ordered a vegan meal, and had no idea where to start. I was trying to manage my own expectations and theirs, and steered them away from raw vegan soups. It's hard for some people to get used to cold soup.

The three of us decided to share an appetizer sampler at the suggestion of our server (good call). The hemp seed pesto crostini was amazing. I loved the texture of the "toast", which was almond based and had a texture similar to bagel chips, only thicker. The buckwheat crackers were of very good texture and flavor and reminded me of Wheat Thins in shape and texture. The hummus was probably my favorite component. The olive tapenade was very good. I'm told the flax chips were good but the cheeze sauce was a little spicy for my friend. The spring rolls were alright, but not the favorite part of the dish, and one of the coworkers loved the soup. I would love to know how they make their crackers. When the plate came out I thought, "Wow, that's not very much for $16", but it was very satisfying. I think the nut components helped fill me up a bit and I didn't feel cheated after sampling.

We all also ordered the I Am Effervescent Ginger Ale. It was very good, but wasn't quite heavy enough on the ginger for me. It was plenty sweet without being overly so. I think it may have been slightly heavy on the lemon, which threw off the taste. It was more like a sparkling gingerade.

Two of us ordered the I am Dazzling - Caesar Salad and I elected to order with capers. The capers really enhanced the dish and I was amazed at how reminiscent of Caesar dressing their dressing was. There was more almond toast like the appetizer round broken into crouton sizes. I ordered the half size and was fairly full after sharing the appetizer.

I ordered a half salad because I was not leaving there without having dessert. I know, it's not part of the diet I'm on right now, but I wasn't having much success at staying low carb anyhow and this was a special treat! I consulted with the server. Unfortunately, the key lime pie and coconut pie both had soy, so I opted for the pecan pie. It was very good, but it was that traditional on-the-verge-of-a-toothache pecan pie sweet. I was hoping for something a little more toned down in flavor because of the environment. I think people who love traditional pecan pie would definitely love this dessert.

My coworkers ordered the key lime cheesecake and the coconut pie. The coconut pie was ordered with some chocolate sauce. She loved the pie, but was head over heels for the chocolate sauce and talked about it for a good part of the cab ride back to the hotel. It was not too sweet and had a lot of flavor she wasn't used to having in a chocolate sauce.

Obviously not my photograph. This appears as it does on the Cafe
Gratitude
website.

The experience was fantastic. I would go again in a heartbeat and told my husband he's lucky we don't live in San Francisco because we would be there all the time. Actually, he'd probably like it very much as well.

The coworker who had the coconut pie wrote me an email to thank me for suggesting the restaurant and said it was a fantastic experience. She loved the food and had a surplus of energy that evening. It is so nice to be able to introduce people to something new. I was glad my coworkers had an open mind and were welcoming a new experience.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Final Vegan Mofo Post: The Ultimate GF Chocolate Cupcakes


I was thinking about keeping this recipe to myself, but in the generous spirit of Vegan Month of Food, I'll share. This cake is rich without being overwhelming and not too overly sweet (despite all of the sugar), so it would be tasty with some frosting. The cake is a little extra work, but totally worth it. There are actually 3 recipes in one here - which helps make up for some of the days I've missed. I bring some of my baked goodies to work for coworkers to taste test. They've gotten really good at it! They said the texture and flavor were very good. It's very chocolate-y without being overly rich, and there is a very slight nutty flavor from the cashews that go into the batter.

The beets in the recipe sound a bit odd, and I can't claim that idea as my own. I often use vegetables and fruits to add moisture and texture to my gluten free goodies, but I found the non-vegan, non-gluten-friendly version of this recipe in the Hot & Hot Fish Club cookbook I was given as a gift. I know the recipe book isn't vegan, but I love free things, especially when it's easy for me to veganize it!

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 2 dozen cupcakes
3 oz finely grated beets
1/4 c. Tapioca Flour
3/4 c. Teff Flour
1 c. Brown Rice Flour
3 oz cacao powder
6 oz sugar (preferably sucanat or turbinado to keep things vegan and minimally processed)
3 Tb ground chia seeds
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder**
3/4 tsp salt
5 oz melted coconut oil (about 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups Cashew Buttermilk (recipe below)
1 tsp coconut vinegar
1/2 cup Cashew Whipped Kreme (recipe below)


Cashew Buttermilk
1/2 c. soaked cashews
1 c. water
juice of 1 lemon

Cashew Whipped Kreme
1/2 c soaked cashews
1 Tb water
2 Tb agave

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cake assembly: Sift the teff flour, tapioca flour, brown rice, cacao powder, sugar, chia seed powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the cashew buttermilk, beets, and melted coconut oil until well combined and the lumps are gone. Fold in the Cashew Whipped Kreme and coconut vinegar. Put in a muffin tin with cupcake liners and bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean.

I will try to write a review tomorrow about my new favorite cupcake liners, If You Care baking cups. They really make all the difference and they are bleach free!


** Allergy Tip: Baking Powder is often made using corn and gluten. Be sure to read labels carefully and choose a brand that specifically states they are corn and gluten free.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vegan Mofo Day 27: Thanksgiving and GMO foods

Thanksgiving was full of fantastic food and interesting conversation topics. I had plenty to eat, and eat I did. I am still full. I contributed roasted garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry apricot chutney, I brought a pasta salad just for me, and my family set aside several vegetable dishes that were carefully prepared vegan and gluten free. I brought two pies. My Pecan Pie stole the show and was a great conversation piece.


My grandma and I both love pecan pie. I loved its glucose busting sweetness and buttery rich filling - and the way that caramel goodness seeped into the crust was amazing. Now I'm not quite so much of a sweet tooth, but this was a fun dish to try to make healthier (and vegan). With a little creativity, I found that it was completely possible to ditch the butter, eggs, and best of all, the corn syrup! It held up very well to being sliced, and still had that buttery goodness thanks to a little coconut oil. I would post the recipe, but I have to save something for a book and restaurant :)


The lack of corn syrup in the pie got us on the topic of genetically modified foods, factory farming, and the "Food Safety" bill that is on the table, threatening to jeopardize organic farmers and ban seed saving. I need to read up more on the topic, but my grandmother is planning on giving our state senators an earful. Go Grandma!

"We're Americans! We don't plan; we do!" Colonel Custer, Night at the Museum 2

I don't rant very often on this blog, but sometimes it's warranted.

Genetically modified foods can elevate allergic responses and induce food intolerance (particularly gastrointestinal symptoms) (1*). Genetic modification can increase the levels of allergy causing proteins and introduce new allergens. Splicing Brazil Nut genes into corn was fortunately discontinued because of the severe risk to people with tree nut allergies (2). There really hasn't been substantial research over the 20 plus years needed to determine how a modified crop will impact the people consuming it and the environment around it, but we charge ahead regardless, embracing a crop that is more resistant to pests and disease.

I find it very frightening that one of my local food co-ops no longer carried corn because they couldn't find any farms that were reliably non-GMO. Think of what that means for all of the products that contain corn! I don't mean just the product with "corn" listed in the ingredients. I mean the products that have citric acid, liqueurs, maltodextrin, glucose, fructose, "natural" flavors and colors, vanilla extracts, baking powder, and starches. All of those come from...you guessed it...corn! It's in nearly everything! (For more hidden sources of corn, click here). And let's not stop there. What do you think is being fed to livestock and farmed fish? Yes, they feed farmed fish corn and soy - not a species appropriate diet. Corn and soy are not species appropriate for cows, sheep, and pigs, who are all meant to be pasture fed on grass. That's right, pigs aren't meant to eat buckets of food waste "enriched" with genetically modified soy and corn. They are meant to feast on grass, leafy greens, insects, and roots. The overly complex diet fed to farm animals causes digestive problems and lowered immunity meaning more methane and toxic build up for our ozone and more antibiotics for the animals.

Being allergic to corn gives me an easy out for not consuming it, but even I have problems avoiding products that contain trace amounts. Corn isn't the only "product" that is nearly completely GMO these days. Soy is about 90% GMO (with more contaminated GMO) and canola oil is another big one.

Genetic modification isn't just an issue restricted to plants. Recently, a push to approve GMO Salmon was under way. I'm frightened for what this may mean for our ecosystem. GMO Salmon grow to what we would consider a mature weight in under 18 months. Normal maturation occurs at 3 years in the wild. These salmon are more aggressive and consume more, which most likely would mean very bad things for our ecosystem if they were to be released or let out of their pens. For more on this topic, click here. We have over fished our waters and that is being used as an excuse to produce freaks of nature instead of cutting back on our animal consumption. Bluefin tuna is now predicted to be extinct by 2012 (for an article on overfishing, click here). Fish farms are known for fairly unreliable containment systems - imagine how much we could speed up the extinction of natural species of fish by letting these magnificent examples of our need to control everything around us out in the open ocean?

Ain't science grand?

*While I most certainly do not condone the use of animals in medical testing, I will be citing some articles that used this form of research.

Resources

1. "A WZS minitature swine food hypersensitivity model orally induced by soybean
beta-conglycinin." Zhonghua Yu Fang Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2009 Sep;43(9):776-80

2. Julie A. Nordlee, "Identification of Brazil-Nut Allergen in Transgenic Soybeans," New
England Journal of Medicine, 334 (1996):688-692.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Vegan Mofo Day 24: Butternut Squash Soup & Thanksgiving Tips

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I've been busy trying to figure out what all I am going to make and bring to my family's house. I will bring a vegan side with plenty of veggie protein (there will be salads and I'm making Mashed Potatoes my way). I'm also bringing a couple vegan pies. I know Apple Pie is definitely going to be one of them, and I'm going back and forth between Pumpkin Pie and raw vegan Pecan Pie. I am really hoping things warm up tonight and tomorrow and we don't have to try to battle our way into the Eastside through ice and snow. It has been cold, and Seattle isn't the most equipped to deal with snow and ice.

Annie in her little jacket, ready for some playtime outside

What she really thinks of the camera.

Many of us are enjoying meals with family members who don't share an allergy or a life/food preference. It can be really difficult when people don't understand contamination and appreciate that using one spoon for two things can mean an emergency or severe discomfort to someone with a severe allergy.

Here are some very simple tips I will be following this Holiday.

1. Bring a dish or two that you can eat and share.

I will be bringing a vegetable protein rich dish and helping with sides that I know I am not allergic to and are vegan. If you are able to stand in the kitchen and watch some preparation, you can usually get a good feel for whether or not they understand contamination issues. If you are going to an omnivore house as a vegan, it's also a good idea to bring a couple side dishes. You would be surprised what people think is vegan (I've been offered fish and things with dairy).

Root Roast with Kreamy Parsnip sauce, Kale,
and cauliflower over Miso Cheeze

2. Love dessert like I do? Don't forget to bring yourself a dessert.

It can be very disappointing when you feel forgotten on a holiday. Don't let an allergy or lifestyle preference rob you of dessert -- bring your own.

Cranberry Apricot Tart

3. Bring protein bars.

Just in case you don't get quite enough at the dinner table, an allergy friendly protein bar has saved me from making poor food choices and grabbing something that I would react to or regret later. A Larabar has been my saving grace many times.

What we choose to eat is a very personal matter and can cause heated arguments. People are passionate about food, and usually they mean well. Those of us raised on a traditional diet have been fed nutrition advice by doctors in a very animal protein obsessed society. When I made the switch, my family was very concerned with my health, especially because I am very allergic to soy. I think they are becoming more comfortable with the notion, and I continue to educate myself on the topic. I've found that removing the emotion from the argument and just basing my argument on logical, rational facts surrounding nutrition, food contamination, and health is the soundest approach. I will be doing my best to avoid this conversation on the Holidays. That's not to say I don't speak my mind when prompted.

Butternut Squash Soup


This dish was inspired by Skinny Bitch's Curried Pumpkin Soup in her new book, although I took the dish in a completely different direction. I did like her idea of adding pumpkin seeds to her pumpkin soup for crunch and texture, and will probably try that next time.

2 TB olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 apples, chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
pinch of cinnamon
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup hard apple cider
2 cups carrot juice
1 tsp salt
1 roasted butternut squash
1 cup vanilla hemp milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the neck of the butternut squash from the bulb. Cut those sections in half and put them face down in a baking pan with about an inch of water. Cover the baking pan and squash with aluminum foil and bake for about 30-40 minutes or until you can pierce the squash with a fork. Once the squash is done, remove it from the oven and the pan to cool on a rack or plate.

Put a 4 quart+ saucepan over medium heat. Put in 2 Tb of olive oil. When the oil is ready, add the onion, apples, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the onions look translucent. Add the hard apple cider and mix until the alcohol smell has died down. Add the carrot juice, butternut squash, and salt and cook until the apples are very tender.


Take the soup off the heat and put half in a high speed blender with half of the hemp milk. Put the blended portion in a serving bowl and repeat this step with the remaining veggie/apple chunks and hemp milk. Serve while warm.