Almost three weeks into this sweetener-free challenge. How has it been?
Basically, not as bad as I thought.
I knew it wouldn’t be that challenging to eat savoury dishes without sweetener. I don’t need the sweetness at mealtime. Right now, I have been getting my fix from roasting and coaxing the sugars from vegetables.
However, I like to eat raw veggies, too. Even if it is winter (yes, snow = wintertime). In the summer, I had a habit of adding fruit to my salads. Now, I add more vegetables instead. Red peppers are quite sweet, too, as well as snap peas. Carrots, too!
I also like tart ingredients, which begs for a bit of sweetener to be added to my dressings. For now, I tried to keep the tart ingredients to a minimum to help keep the sweeteners lower. I can’t stay away from lime and lemon too long but I did not find this dressing was lacking without sweetener.
This is a great salad, focusing on sweeter vegetables (red pepper, carrot and snap peas) while contrasting it with more bitter/greener veggies like baby bok choy and just cooked broccoli. Edamame gives some sustenance to a veggie-heavy bowl. The dressing was complex, with ginger, miso and lime, as well as toasted sesame oil and tamari. I wasn’t sure about it when I tasted it on a spoon, but combined with the veggies, topped with toasted sesame seeds, everything was well matched.
I would hate to mislead you that this is a very unchallenging challenge. One just needs a plan.
Nevermind the constant bombardment of fabulous dishes from fellow bloggers, and with fruit galore in our kitchen for Rob, there continues to be a lot of temptation. Especially when I find an apple to be a quick, satisfying snack. Or there are berries in the fridge. However, I replaced that snack with raw carrots and hummus. I am also drinking a lot more tea. Three times a day. I am loving all things chai right now, especially Yogi’s Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut which is a creamy, sweet chai blend. Except after a week of nearly daily consumption did I realize that one of its ingredients is stevia leaf, which explains its sweetness. I have a few other stevia-free chai blends that I have added into my tea rotation, though.
My biggest fear was breakfast actually (no fruit in my oatmeal?!), but I will share those thoughts in another post.
I was really tempted this weekend. My parents were over and my Dad surprised me with berries for dessert. He was equally surprised when I shared that I wasn’t eating fruit right now. Have no fear, this will likely be temporary.. unless I enjoy it too much. Think all desserts have to be sweetened? Not true! Gabby shared these delicious carob almond butter cups with me and you would never know they were sweetener-free.
Savoury Indian dishes have fuelled me during my sweetener-free challenge. While I have cooked up quite a few Indian dishes, I still feel like a novice to Indian cooking. Pangal, aviyal, dhokla, they are still foreign to me. I probably don’t even pronounce them properly. Leafing through 660 Curries and 1000 Indian Recipes, I know there are tons of curries and likely 1000s more beyond the pages of these cookbooks.
Thankfully I don’t think I will ever tire of the holy vegan trinity of beans+grains+greens. I eat it every day. These are staples throughout the world. I still have my favourite repeater curries, but like to mix things up with seasonal produce.
Here, this simple savoury red lentil and zucchini curry from World Vegetarian reminds me of Nepalese Dal Bhat and the Split Pea Dal with Ginger and Lime combined with hefty chunks of zucchini. Jaffrey says this dish is typically made with green bottle gourd, instead of zucchini, but the latter is easier to find.
I am a sucker for creamy red lentils and while it didn’t have the zip that dal bhat delivers, it was a great curry. I find that most curries are a bit too watery for my liking, especially if eaten fresh. So, I have suggested starting with less water. You can always add more to thin it out, but it is kind of a pain to boil that extra water away. It will thicken a bit as leftovers as well. I also ended up using less oil, salt and chili and adding more lime. Definitely season to taste, as I probably could have added more heat with the chile flakes.
Unlike my Chocolate Mousse Pie which is almost guiltless, these cupcakes are completely guilt-free! While they may have you salivating, you can make them guilt-free because you won’t be eating them. You’ll throw them into your bath instead.
American Thanksgiving is over, which means it is ok to think about Christmas. Even though I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend (as a Canadian, mine was in October), I still find it taboo to think about Christmas too early. Christmas music has been blaring down St Clair West for the past week, and it was just too much for me. However, it did get me thinking.
Even though I am completely uncreative in the craft department, I got it into my head that I wanted to make a craft cupcake. I thought of making soap cupcakes, but realized it called for way too many ingredients I didn’t have (sodium hydroxide!). My attention next turned to bath bombs which uses many ingredients I already have, including many that I don’t plan to eat anyways (cornstarch, baking soda, citric acid) – perfect for guiltless clearing of my pantry, too! While searching for bath bomb cupcakes, I even came across a chocolate whoopie pie bath bomb made with oat flour, cocoa powder and milk powder. However, I only had 1/2 cup citric acid leftover from my chaat masala so I went with one recipe. Thankfully, this was perfectly timed. My mom was coming to visit this weekend and able to bring ingredients I didn’t have (Epsom salts, icing sugar, food coloring, cream of tartar, SPRINKLES!) and baking contraptions (frosting tips, cupcake wrappers) to frost my cupcakes. Plus, she has mad frosting skills. I figured I needed a frosting tutorial from her regardless.
As soon as my Mom arrived, we got to work! I looked at her sprinkle collection and fell for the clear green ones. My mom suggested a pale green cupcake base so we were off! This was definitely a team effort. I sifted and spritzed while my Mom mixed the cupcake batter. I originally used witch hazel to mist my batter but it didn’t seem to work at binding, so then we switched to water which was used in the original recipe. Once it was semi-solid, we packed them tightly into wrapper-lined muffin tins.
You can go as simple or as ornate as you’d like. You could stop right hear and have bath bomb disks. Or use ice cube trays with fun shapes for variety. I didn’t have any fragrances or essential oils (they need to be skin safe) so I went without. I can only imagine how much more awesome this would be with mint.
Next, we got to work on the frosting. For the real bakers out there, you may recognize this as royal icing. Icing that you can mold and allow to firm up solid. It can keep for years if properly stored. It is what you would use for gingerbread houses or pretty flowers on cakes. I decided not to experiment, so I stuck with the original recipe. I had to locate meringue powder, easily found at Bulk Barn, but nowhere else I looked. I know, this doesn’t make the frosting vegan. Only now did I realize there are vegan royal icings. I may try that next time.
So I whipped out my much neglected mixer and we made the icing together. Stuffed the icing into a bag and started piping. Pipe then sprinkled.
The frosting is edible but I don’t recommend eating the cupcake! For now, you get a silky smooth skin after your glorious bath time.
Do you make your own beauty products? What gifts are you planning on making this holiday?
With all the recent sweets, it was probably no shock that I’d jump on the chance to try a sweetener-free challenge. Early in the summer I tried to reduce my fruit consumption, to no avail, as local berries arrived and continued to excite me throughout the summer. In the fall, came the figs and apples. Now we have pomegranates, too.
This time, I tried caramelizing it like I do with onions. A long slow braise to express all the natural sugars while taming the boldness of the anise. Silky and sweet, I really enjoyed fennel this way. I sprinkled it with cumin and lemon juice for a second level of flavour. Then, it is tossed with quinoa in a punchy salad spiked with cilantro and dill with chunks of lemon. The Aleppo chiles added a nice wave of heat contrasting the sweet fennel. While caramelizing the massive amount of fennel, you may wonder how everything will fit into the salad, but trust me. It wilts a bit and I loved that this was a fennel heavy quinoa salad, instead of a quinoa heavy salad. Tossed overtop baby spinach, it was delicious . Two guesses as to where I got this recipe. With such focus on each ingredient, you might guess Denis Cotter, but no, it was from another great, Ottolenghi. It was reminiscent, but better, than his barley and pomegranate salad I made last year.
The original salad also calls for pomegranate arils, which I added for one serving, just as I started my sweetener-free challenge. It elevated the salad to a whole other dimension. I wonder if it was because I knew it was the last fruit I’d be having until the new year.
Have you ever tried a sweetener-free challenge? Do you think I am nuts for trying it?
Earlier this year, my cousin’s wife was trying to track down kamut, an ancient wheat. She explained to me that kamut contained less gluten, perfect for her gluten-free adventures. She searched high and low and could not find whole grain kamut. Kamut flakes and puffed kamut, yes, but not regular old kamut. Since she was hoping to get rid of gluten, I suggested not trying to track down such a hard-to-find ingredient, especially since it still contains gluten, even if it is a smaller amount.
A few days later, when I decided to reorganize my whole grains, I discovered I had kamut. Turns out I had forgotten all about it. I bought a small amount while in Calgary, since I had never seen it before. Unfortunately, while Community Natural Foods has an online store, I don’t see kamut for sale. With my curiosity piqued, I decided it was time to try out the kamut.
Nothing fancy, I opted to add it to a bowlful of roasted fall vegetables. More veggies, less grain, please.
First, the kamut. I will admit that it was nice. Similar to wheat berries, they were pleasantly plump yet their shape made it more akin to orzo. A plumpy, chewy orzo. Milder than wheat berries, I rather enjoyed them. If I had easy access to kamut, I would likely choose it over wheat berries, but since I don’t know where to replenish it in Toronto, I will just have to finish my spelt berries first. Although, I am already on a whittling of the pantry plan, where nothing is being replenished except for my easy-to-find favourites: quinoa, red lentils and chickpeas.
Next, the veggies. Delicious right from the oven, I had a hard time holding back from gobbling everything down. I loved combining the different roasted vegetables for different complementary flavours. The Brussels sprouts were earthy and crispy, contrasting the soft and sweet squash, next to the tart and juicy cranberries. The balsamic-curry dressing was not overpowering, and allowed the natural flavours to shine.
Don’t have kamut? No worries. Simply omit it or add your favourite whole grain or bean. I am thinking chickpeas or white beans would be great here.
If you do have kamut, and live in the GTA, please tell me where you found it.
You know you are a food blogger if…
According to this list, I am not a very good blogger. I can only relate to:
3. You’ve made kale chips. And there is a recipe for it on your blog.
I’ve made kale chips but it is not on my blog. Or does my kale chip pizza count?
6. You take the same photos of the produce at the farmer’s market that you did last year, but you can’t help it. The rainbow chard is so pretty!
I don’t recall actually doing this but I could see myself doing and saying this.
7. You really are confused as to why granola is so expensive at the grocery store.
Uh yeah, especially when it is so easy to make at home.
8. You go shopping with your significant other, and at some point, while looking for a specific item on your grocery list, you turn to him/her and say “We need to shop at a white person grocery store.”
Sounds like something I could say but I don’t think I have. In my defense, ethnic grocery stores don’t carry nutritional yeast!
9. When dining out, no one is allowed to eat the food until you have whipped out your camera/iPhone/Android and taken a shot of it first.
Rob and I both do this!
11. You scope out restaurant tables at lunch with proximity to windows to provide natural lighting for
your Rob’s photographs.
If the light isn’t right, I don’t even try taking a photo.
19. You have run out of room for your cookbooks. Yet you still buy more.
Guilty, as charged.
21. You think Pinterest is a godsend as well as the devil’s work.
27. You start to get nervous when you are down to only
one pound of butter, one bag of flour, one head of garlic, or one onion.
But is that really because I am a food blogger or just a meticulous cook that likes garlic and onions?
9/40. I fail.
I have others suggestions: You know are a food blogger when you can’t NOT make a new recipe, when you make meals during the day to help take photographs in natural light, or you have a special spot dedicated for food photography.
I never really thought much about blogging and my life, 3 years – has it really been that long?, until I tried to stop blogging.
I recently went to a party and planned to keep things low stress. I would make a repeater recipe: My Crunchy Cabbage Salad with an Orange-Tahini Dressing. However, I knew I could eat half of it, so I decided to double the recipe. After I cut all that cabbage, it seemed like a heck of a lot. Even if there would be 12 people at the party. So I reverted back to my die-hard blogger instincts and made a second salad instead of doubling the original salad.
This is the second salad. Which I photographed before the party and repackaged. Because who would share a cake with a piece missing at a party? (#24) Only if it is my own party! And really, I just claim the first piece.
While cabbage haters would likely not be pleased with 2 salads, both featuring cabbage, I was glad that I brought both (just like kale salads, cabbage salads keep well as leftovers). The Orange-Tahini Cilantro Cabbage Salad is bright and flavourful but this second salad was warm and earthy. Onions and garlic are pan-fried along with cabbage that is gently cooked to remove some of its bite. Granny Smith apples add tartness and sweetness along with raisins. Tossed with rosemary and balsamic vinegar, you have a simple salad that is more than the sum of its parts. I used green cabbage which became a bit muddled from the balsamic vinegar. My suggestion would be to use white balsamic if you have it or use purple cabbage instead.
The salads had mixed reviews. Personally, I preferred the new salad but the guests seemed to prefer my old stand-by.
How do you know that you are a food blogger?
This is my submission to this month’s No Croutons Required for special salads for guests, to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Lynne, to this month‘s Herbs on Saturdays and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays
I have been blogging for over 3 years (and cooking for myself for the past decade), so you’d think I’d have figured everything out in the kitchen by now, right?
You’d think I’d have figured out what I like to eat or not…
OK, I know what I like but I love trying new things. It is harder to pinpoint what I don’t like. (Other than celery).
With my never ending stash of pumpkin puree, I whipped up a quick and simple pumpkin pie pudding. It didn’t woo me.
While I grew up with turkey at Thanksgiving, we rarely had stuffing (no one likes it), sometimes had cranberry sauce (not sure who likes it) and we never had pumpkin pie (who knows why). I don’t know if I have ever had it except as a raw cheesecake from Naked Sprout (which doesn’t really count as traditional pumpkin pie).
I figured a sweet pumpkin pie pudding with pumpkin, maple and pumpkin pie spice would be great. It was missing something, though. I didn’t know what. I added some blackstrap molasses to make this more gingerbread-like. I definitely preferred the sharp bite from the molasses. But as I licked my way through my dessert, I wasn’t particularly smitten with its pudding nature. I don’t really like pureed soups either. I like soups with body and bulk. So I stirred it into my morning oats with the natural Sun Warrior blend and I had a happy protein-rich breakfast for the week. Creamy with some body from the steel-cut oats. Re-purposed dessert for breakfast, yum.
I also thought it would be fun to share my trusty travelling spork. A spoon, a fork and a knife, all in one. This one is orange, to boot.
I’ve told you my weekly menus now revolve around a new dressing.
Now that veggies may not necessarily be at their peak, a good dressing is key to eating raw salads.
Or, once you make this dressing, you may just decide to drink it instead. Forgetting the veggies altogether.
It took me a long, long while to finally make Tess’ peanut sauce. Her recipe was daunting with the coconut milk, peanut butter and heavy use of agave. Tess’ last coconut-based sauce (the creamy Thai cilantro ginger sauce) was heavenly so I knew I should try it out. Eventually.
However, I was guarding the last of our molasses for the recipe. With my pantry purge and gusto of tackling old bookmarked recipes from October, I finally took the plunge. With less sweetener, less sodium AND using coconut beverage, we have a winner. A drinkable winner. The twist from the other peanut dressings comes from the bite from molasses and umami from the fermented black bean sauce. Use it to coat anything. Veggies, grains, beans, you name it. Here, I paired it with sliced carrots, thinly sliced sugar snap peas, julienned baby bok choy, kelp noodles and pea shoots.
I suppose this is a good time to let you all in on a challenge I started this month. A sweetener-free challenge. For 8 weeks along with Gabby and Megan. Leanne is also doing a 2-week sugar-free cleanse which is a bit too extreme for me. While I have already cut out refined sugars, I am going to limit my intake of other sweeteners, including dried fruit, maple syrup, agave and stevia. I decided to keep eating fruit that isn’t sweet (cranberries, green papaya, tamarind, etc) since they are more sour than sweet. As I work through some of my recent recipe successes, a few may still contain sweeteners which is good for those of you still using them.
Not only am a I bad vegan who missed World Vegan Day, I am also a bad blogger.
October slipped by without me realizing I had an anniversary. October marked my fourth year as a blogger.
I can’t believe it has been 3 years since I posted a Wild Rice and Wheat Berry Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Almonds in a Citrus Dressing.
One can see why it was easy for me to switch to a whole foods vegan diet with an inaugural salad such as that. Just swap the honey for your preferred sweetener, or omit it entirely, and it would be a recipe I could see myself munching on today.
I am going to joke a bit about Hurricane Sandy, but truly, my heart goes out to everyone who was affected. Toronto wasn’t hit nearly as bad. There was at least one fatality but trees suffered the most of the storm’s brunt. Although some people lost power, we fared very well. A few days of a light rain with some higher winds. Other than leaving my bike at home, I wasn’t affected.
Except I somehow made not one, but two desserts that week. This was the second dessert.
I blame the hurricane.
My excuse for making the chocolate chip blondies was to thank my co-workers. I gobbled down more than a few pieces in the “taste-testing” phase. While they were delicious, I felt shy bringing them to work. Even though Rob agreed they tasted great, they were non-traditional (never mind eating chocolate chip blondies, but they were filled with chickpeas!). They also were only 1-cm thick or so, and not as visually appealing as I had hoped. Since the whole plan was to thank my co-workers, I decided to make something else.
A vegan chocolate cake.
I actually wanted to make cupcakes, but I had no muffin wrappers.
I actually wanted to make a mint avocado cream frosting but did not want to brave the storm to get more avocados.
Even before my vegan days, I had a favourite quick and easy chocolate cake. It just so happened to be vegan. Pantry-friendly with staples such as sugar, oil, cocoa, and vinegar, my grandmother dubbed it “Wartime Cake” since the ingredients were reminiscent of cakes she made during the war when there were rations on milk, eggs and butter. While it would have been a fool-proof and easy cake to make, I wanted to try something new, something healthier.
Thankfully I had one avocado to make Joy’s Chocolate Avocado Cake. Oil is easily replaced with avocado. You would never know the difference. I only had whole wheat pastry flour, so I used that instead of white flour. If you could guess anything was up, you might have been able to tell there was whole wheat flour in the cake. Although nothing seemed to be suspected by others.
Instead of topping it with a green avocado frosting, I busted out a simple peanut butter chocolate frosting. I have not always been a fan of frosting (especially the ooky sweet ones), but since I didn’t use too much and it had peanut butter in it, this sealed this as a delicious cake.
My co-workers and Rob’s co-workers agreed. While Rob was sneaky, I disclosed to my gang this was a vegan cake and people were buzzing all day with compliments, at the same time marveling there were no eggs, butter or milk. They were impressed at how moist it was, which I ascribed to the avocado, my secret ingredient.
Baketivism. Sharing the love of veganism through baking.
I could get used to this.
I am a bad vegan.
I’ll change that right now. What better way to share vegan cheer than by spreading some vegan desserts?
I went a bit dessert happy last week and made not one, but two desserts. Both with secret ingredients.
First, we have these blondies. Fudgy and moist like brownies but without any cocoa. Speckled with chocolate chips and sweetened with dates, you have a delicious dessert. Nut-free, to boot, these treats are made with chickpeas!
I first tried baking with beans when I made chocolate black bean cookies last year. Deliciously moist, creating a cake-like consistency. Without a hint of beans, the beany cookies were definitely a hit over Christmas. This time, the chickpeas contribute to a moist filling along with the dates. Chocolate chips speckled throughout made it a nice treat.
A momentary lapse caused me to inadvertently double the wet ingredients, so I ended up doubling the recipe and making 2 pies. After chowing down one pie in 2 days, I knew I had to share the second pie. I had to say goodbye.
Rob ended up bringing it work and had some fun at the same time. His email to the masses:
I put some leftover cake and brownies in the kitchen on 5. There’s not much there. Get it while you can!!!
After it was devoured in 10 minutes, Rob sent out a second email:
I can see that all y’all devoured the goodies in mere minutes. Little did you know that they were both VEGAN cake and brownies. *evil laugh*
Rob shared with me his co-workers responses:
lol well played sir!
still tastes good =D
LOL! Touche, my friend!
Little you knew I sprinkled bacon bits over both… muhahahaha. Actually being evil!
For some reason, he didn’t disclose there were chickpeas in the blondies and whole wheat flour in the cake. I think that would scare off more people than telling them it was vegan, right? Healthy does not have to mean taste-less.
If a group of twenty-something men devoured them, I bet you would enjoy them, too! Did you celebrate World Vegan Day?
With less free time, I have had to trim my bloglist. I can’t seem to fit everything into a day, so I am focusing my blog reading in the morning.
However, all bets are off if I can’t sleep at night.
I recently discovered this incredibly hilarious blog. Maybe you’ve run into her blog already? Jenny, The Bloggess?
Just read these two posts and I guarantee you will be laughing:
I don’t want to give away any of the punch lines, but it makes me look tame. Crazy Janet buying 10 squashes is nothing compared to this!
Crazy Janet buying 10 squashes means more squash recipes for you, though!
This is a recipe I bookmarked years ago when Deb first posted it: Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew.
I stashed away a preserved lemon and green olives a bit too long, just for this recipe.
Turns out that while I had the squash and green beans, too, I didn’t have any chickpeas. My freezer collection had been depleted. Undeterred, I pulled out the next best thing: chana dal, or split chickpeas. Except they aren’t typical chickpeas, they are black desi chickpeas. A tad smaller, a bit firmer, they have a thick shell which makes them look black. However, chana dal splits them in half and removes the tough outer shell. I figured they would cook up faster than unsoaked chickpeas, too. Have no chana dal? Try split yellow peas instead (soaked would be best)… or used cooked chickpeas like in the original.
While my stew looks nothing like Deb’s original version, I am sure mine was equally as delicious. I liked the creamy nature of the chana dal as a back drop for the stew along with cinnamon and cumin. The buttercup squash was sweet and complemented the grassiness of the green beans (yes, my plants were very prolific this year). For further depth, green Cerignola olives and preserved lemon make this an exotic twist of flavours.
I was trying to tackle bookmarked recipes last month and I wonder if I should keep this one bookmarked so I can try the original version? I still have half a preserved lemon left!
While I still have many more bookmarked recipes courtesy of a great vegan mofo, I still tackled many of my dog-eared bookmarks and depleted my pantry items. Thank goodness most of the recipes were successes!
What have you bookmarked recently?
What are your favourite non-food blogs?