Saturday, April 24, 2010

Six Simple Sprinklings to Satisfy

Personally, I love the taste of simple food sprinkle with a little somethin'. More often than not, I opt to add a bit of flavoring after the cooking or prep of the food is done so I can get a nice spicy, sweet, or salty hit followed by the pure and simple taste of what I'm eating. Here are some of my favorite toppings and how I use them....

Oh cinnamon, good ole' cinnamon! It pairs so nicely with sweet or savory flavors, is warming to the body, has acclaimed medicinal qualities- and is delicious to boot! I love to sprinkle (or dump) my ground cinnamon on:

  • Apples, bananas, or other fruit- normally accompanied by some kind of spread (tahini alert!)
  • Hot cereal (rice, quinoa, GF oatmeal, millet, etc)
  • Cold cereal (puffed rice or millet) with non-dairy milk
  • In a fruit smoothie
Maple sugar is my newest addiction. It's dehydrated maple syrup granulates, and is often used to replace sugar in baking. I haven't actually done that- it gets spendy. Speaking of spendy, maple sugar is very expensive- however a little goes a long way in adding flavor to:
  • Oatmeal
  • Any hot grain cereal
  • Cold cereal
  • I bet it would be good on fruit
And more!!

Paprika is a spice milder than chili powder but it still gives great color and a nice bite to any food. It is really delicious to sprinkle on:

  • Cooked sweet potato
  • Potato
  • tofu
  • grains
  • beans
  • Nuts, roast them with the paprika and you've got an addition!
  • Leftover soup
  • Anything else that could use a mild spice hit

Salt should not be forgotten! It's gotten a bad wrap because of its damaging effect on health when eaten in excess. Well, yeah! You'd get way too much sodium if you were eating all fast food, prepackaged dinners, packaged snack foods, and pre-made seasoning and sauces. But when moderately used in a whole foods vegan (gluten-free) diet, it is really great. Now, I used to be a salt freak- I heaped it on everything. Everything. I couldn't taste my food, only salt.

Then I got freaked out by all the "salt is bad for you" stuff and broke the habit, cleaning my taste spuds and awakening my senses to pure food. Salt is now a lovely addition to any food- and when a dish is deemed "perfectly salted" by my family I don't enjoy it as much because it tastes salty to me. I honestly enjoy the taste of pure and simple food, just lightly seasoned with herbs or spices. However, I still love a little salt "hit" when I eat, so I cook little to no salt into my food (soups, sauces, stir-frys, etc) and then sprinkle on a little salt, with some black pepper or paprika, as the case may be, at the table. When I take a bite I have a bit of salt hit my tongue accompanied by the pure taste of my food. Delicious. Does that make any sense?

Black Pepper- freshly ground has the best flavor. I used to hate the taste of anything remotely spicy, including black pepper, but I am now a convert. I don't use too much, just a light dusting on certain foods. I love it on anything that needs a light spicing up. Try this: cooked beans, warmed or not, with a sprinkling of salt, black pepper, and green onion. Yum!

Chopped green onion, chive, parsley, or cilantro is great to add color and flavor to any food- grains, beans, and especially Italian food. I also enjoy them added to wraps and on soups- heck, anything! Though I like to chop mine fresh each time, if you're short on time, feel free to have a little bowl or jar of pre-chopped toppings to throw on your food. You won't be sorry.

Butternut squash apple soup with a chopped green onion garnish

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How I Bake My Muffin and Use Science, too

I suddenly realized today that I've never talked about homeschooling specifically- after all, I told you I homeschool in my bio on the sidebar!

There are many types of homeschooling out there- I follow one form called unschooling. No, it doesn't mean I un-learn everything, but that I learn how I want to learn. For me, that is through real life and not out of a textbook.

It may hep to know my schooling history. After begging my mother for a solid month at the age of 6 to go to the public school 45 minutes away (we were out living in a yurt on some land off the highway), she relented. I went to school for the first time midway through first grade. I finished up that year, then we moved and I spent second grade at another local school. We moved again, and I went to third grade there. Near the end of that year, I felt like I had had enough. I didn't particularly like the teacher, so I "homeschooled" for fourth grade. What that actually turned into was me watching the Animal Planet and Food Network channel the entire year. I was so loaded from all the stress, rigid rules, and strictness of school that I just needed a year to unwind. At least I was learning all about cooking and animals!

However, I remember it being hard to keep up a social life at that time, since I knew no other homeschoolers, and my friends went to school all day. I made the decision to return to public school for my fifth grade year. I ended up with a fantastic teacher, though it was difficult to adjust to the fact that I couldn't ask a question whenever I had one. I couldn't approach the teacher whenever I needed assistance. No, it was raise your hand and stay in your seat. I continued on to the middle school, completed sixth grade and was half-way through seventh when I realized I had had enough. Upon the beginning of the second semester of seventh grade, I only kept up with my English and math class, both of which had the best teachers on the face of the planet. I attempted, at first, to keep up with everyone else with the school science and geography textbooks, but found it extremely dull. It just wasn't interesting, and they turned me off to the wonderful world of science and social studies. Just because of textbooks and the requirement to read them, I didn't want to learn anything about it. I thought it was all un-interesting. That has all changed now.

And now here I am, 14 years old and enrolled in the eighth grade band program, and a news casting class, where I am part of a team that produces and broadcasts a news show for the school to watch. I learn all the other "subjects" through my everyday life, such as community classes, walking to the local museum, and home life, to name a few.

I intend to homeschool for the rest of my life. If and when I need to, I'll pick up a textbook and study for my S.A.T.

But the truth is, in the "real world" "subjects" like geography and math don't stand separately. They bleed together in different ways depending on what your doing. Take baking for instance, a unique blend of math and sciences*, and passion of mine. Here's a basic breakdown of what I see in - say - baking a batch of muffins; you may have to add, subtract, multiply, or divide if you are doubling, one-and-halving (yeah, I do that sometimes), or cutting in half the recipe. You must consider how the baked good will change depending on any substitution you make- such as replacing an egg. Should you use applesauce, ground flax seeds, a banana? Each will affect the taste and texture in different ways. If I wanted to bake the dough into jumbo or mini sized muffin tins instead of the regular (same geometric shapes, but different sizes), this affects baking time and how the dough forms. If I were creating a muffin recipe, there would a whole lot more to it (e.g. ingredients to take into account). There's much more to it than that, but as you can see, things kids do every day are actually using all those skills that were drilled into us in conventional school. Maintaining this blog is teaching me about web design, html, writing, spelling, and much more!

Take a minute and think, what are some things that you (the kid) or your kids (the parent) does on a regular, or even irregular, basis. Split the activity apart and I bet you'll find lots of things you though could only be learned out of textbook. It's time to face the real world, baby.

Nowadays, just for a start, I take a band and news class, private flute lessons, babysit and pet-sit, volunteer at local organizations (mostly with animals), and take a jazz dance class. I avidly listen to audio books- the Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter books are my favorites, as I've listened to both series dozens of times over (no joke!). The readers are fantastic- go Jim Dale and Nathaniel Parker! Listening to audio books allows me to double task, while unconsciously learning pronunciation of words, sentence construction, and more. I also read lots of books about food (nutrition guides, cookbooks) and animals. I love to create baked good recipes (math and science alert!), and cooking for my family. Biking is a great joy for me.

As you can see, I live a life as real as anyone, and through it I'm learning many things.... in the way that I want to. This allows the knowledge gained to have meaning with me, which makes it more helpful in letting me reach for my goals. And that's what I really love- I don't have to sort through lots of useless information to find a small gold nugget of helpful information. Instead, everything I get is a big mountain of the 24 carat stuff.

In order to more understand the role of parents and children in unschooling, I highly recommend checking out this site and the Wikipedia link at the beginning of the post. John Holt's book- Teach your Own (he coined the word unschool, by the way) is what awakened my family to the true meaning of the word, and led us the the happy set-up we have today.

*I recently found a book at my library called BakeWise, a book that explains all the math and science of baked goods, and understanding how to make the perfect cake, cookie, etc. It is based on the usual components of baking (sugar, gluten, eggs, fat- aka everything I try to bake without), but I'm hoping it will give me some insight on how to create a successful baked good without all those things. It is pretty awesome!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Compassionately Vegan Gluten-Free Easter

Aggravated over eggs? Heartbroken about ham? And what about those little peeps? The gluten filled Easter candies? You don't want to contribute to cruelty or activate an allergic chain fire, but you want an enjoyable Easter with all the fixin's. Don't despair, I've made up a tutorial (kid approved, by the way) of tips and must-haves for a compassionately vegan, gluten-free, icky-preservatives-free, fun-filled Easter.

To start: Easter, whatever religion you view it from, is the celebration of new life. Spring. The flowers beginning to bud, the vegetables beginning to grow, the eggs being laid with the promise of chicks, and baby animals coming into the world. When considering Easter traditions and how to make them compassionately vegan and gluten-free, I have to remember that the core of the holiday isn't Peeps or chocolate bunnies. It's the celebration of new life. Of course, it's fun to have candy shaped like rabbits, and eggs, so use these tips as you will.

Vegan Sweet & Sara peeps

You can still have an Easter egg hunt! With those reusable plastic eggs easily purchased at any cheap store, chicks need not be hurt in your hunt, but neither do the children. If you use candy to fill the eggs, make sure it is all preservative and additive free. There are many great brands out there, but I find large amounts of them get very expensive (not to mention chocked full of plastic and other unfriendly earth packaging) so I would recommend whipping out some homemade treats- such as my Peanut Butter Cups or some de-spookified treats from Hannah's Ebook. Or, just skip the candy and go for your kid's favorite nuts or seeds. Pistachios, pecans, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts... the possibilities are endless. Be sure to get them still in the shell, as your little one will have a blast with the nutcracker!

Get the WHOLE family in the festivities: Have your Easter egg hunt include eggs with treats inside for the pets in your house. Homemade vegan dog treats for the pups (be sure to have the kids help out), nuts for rodents, a special fruit for rabbits, and catnip for cats are all god starting places. Go crazy and be creative!

Chocolate solutions: The fact being that most chocolate bunnies on the market having cow's milk and other crap, in the past my sister and I have received our favorite chocolate bars (I love Taste the Dream) but we recently found authentic VEGAN chocolate bunnies! Adorable, fair trade, and certified organic, these little sitting bunnies are crafted by Sjaaks Organic Chocolates, which also has vegan Easter egg chocolates. They have a variety of other themed chocolates, and assorted vegan caramel, nut, and truffle chocolates. Be warned, however, not all their chocolates are vegan, though a good percentage are. We were lucky enough to pick up a couple bunnies (and a box of assorted nuts and chews. Yum. Yumyumyum!) at Sidecar for Pigs Peace in Seattle last weekend.

Decorate the egg.... shaped cookies: Yeah, I know, I used to decorate blown out egg shells, too. But now I do something even better! Bake up a batch of your favorite cookies, such as sugar cookies, my gingersnaps (leave out the cayenne and replace the fresh ginger with a dash of powdered for for young kids), or any other reliable cookie recipe shaped in the form of ovals, aka eggs. Make sure to invite the little ones in to help with the cookie cuttering (and the older ones, they enjoy helping, too! I can tell you from experience...). Decorate the naked cookies with the whole family using assorted colors of frosting and cute toppings to add pizazz, such as nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and coconut shavings.

Don't stop at cookies! Instead of edible crafts, you can make fresh hats, necklaces, and bracelets with freshly picked plants, make Easter themed cards for one another together, or even decorate paper eggs.

Give a themed gift If you don't go heavy on the candy, a themed gift is always a fun thing. For instance, a couple years ago my sister and I both a received a cute bowling set where carrots were the bowling pins! Clothing, jewelry, toys, or even flowers are all options.

Take a nature walk. Gather up the family and take a look at your budding neighborhood, your community flower garden, or just take a walk around the yard to admire your garden and flower beds. New life is everywhere, so get the family together and take some time to appreciate it!

DO NOT buy a bunny on impulse: Children may beg for a bunny at Easter, but impulse buying is not a good choice. Do you homework first! Rabbits are not as cuddly as you may think, being prey animals. If, after researching the required care and commitment of taking care of a rabbit, you want to bring one into your home, always adopt. Pet store rabbits are cute, but they are mass bred and overworked mother rabbits are behind it all. There are so many abandoned bunnies (partly because they were dumped after impulse Easter purchase), so there is no reason not to rescue one. If you child really wants a rabbit, on Easter provide him/her with information on the care and commitment needed, perhaps accompanied with a toy stuffed bunny, to inform them about the required responsibility needed from the entire family. is an excellent site with information about Easter rabbits, in depth care needs, and much more.

What's on the menu? Well, lots of things, actually. Look at what you normally have on the menu, what's already vegan? What can easily be made vegan? What's already gluten-free? What can easily be made gluten-free? For example, if a dish traditionally has butter, use Earth Balance non-dairy butter, coconut oil, or olive oil in place of of it. If a dish calls for all-purpose flour, and you REALLY don't feel like experimenting with a dozen alternative ones, I will use Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour in a pinch. If you've been vegan/gluten-free for years, you probably already have a laundry list of suitable dishes to choose from. On the other hand, if this lifestyle is new to you, seek out the help of other blog writers, cookbooks, etc. A must for Easter is tofu deviled eggs, where tofu is cut in the shape of the egg, a bit is scooped out of the center and used as the hard boiled egg yolk in the recipe. Use eggless mayonnaise (such as Vegenaise) in the filling.

Use these few simple tips for a painless and enjoyable Easter, with family and friends:

#1 you can generally adapt your usual day to day GF vegan favorites into Easter fare.
  • Shape cookies into Easter shapes (think eggs, bunnies, and flowers)
  • Color frosting with spring hues
  • Embellish cupcakes and cakes with flowers and greenery
  • Add spring colors and flavors (asparagus, fresh greens) to dishes
#2 If you have company eating your GF vegan meal, add plenty of fat and salt to the food, possibly more than your used to. This method makes the food more appealing to many non-vegan palates. For GF baked goods, make sure there is plenty of sweetness and delicious flavors to distract them from the fact that the texture is not akin to the fat, sugar, gluten, egg, and milk filled cookies and cakes they are used to. If the baked good tastes great on it's own, more power to ya!

#3 Have plenty of fun activities for family and friends to take part in:
  • Decorate Easter hats
  • Have a group craft, perhaps decorating paper eggs or bunnies. Bring on the googly eyes, sparkles, and ribbon!
If there are lots of kids, a Easter treasure hunt. Have random eggs hold different clues, treats, and notes. Some can have nuts or candy. Others may have a rock with a note reading Oops! Nothing here! Have the eggs lead to the ultimate prize (one for each kid, of course), whether it be a vegan chocolate bunny, a bag of candy and nuts, or a toy stuffed animal.
I hope these tips help, and have a fantastic Easter!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Orange Tian: An Epic Failure

The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

There are only a few things for me to say about his dessert- I had hardly any time and it didn't go very well.

I had to push off my dessert making to Wednesday, having been sick previously, and we were leaving town the next morning. On Tuesday night I was able to make a few ingredients, however. I'll go through my tian thingy in sections:

Marmalade: I really had no idea how to make marmalade. Let's just let that be clear right now. That being said, here's what I did; I blanched my orange slices several times, but the bitterness was still apparent, so I just continued on to pulverise (not mince) them in the food processor, adding a gluggy splash of agave nectar and later some of the juice from segmenting my tangelos. I cooked off the water and called it done. Never try to make marmalade like this- it was really gross!

Whipped cream: A lesson was learned during this challenge- you can't whip silken tofu. So on VEGirl went to the coconut whipped cream method. You just skim the solidified fat from the top of a chilled can of coconut milk and whip until fluffly, but I whipped so long it actually began to separate. Oops!

Caramel sauce: The plan to make this was lost along with the time!

Pate sablee: Abandoning all attempts at low-fat and origanality, I cut together some Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour and some Earth Balance non-dairy butter, and threw in baking powder, agave nectar, and flax eggs. Into molds and an oven the batter went (forget chilling the dough and cooke cuttering it, it's midnight for heaven's sake!). What emerged was not a flaky pastry dough, but a crumbly baked thing. It tasted okay, though, so into the tian it would go.

Orange segements: Very fun, as a matter of fact! I enjoyed learning how to segment an orange, but I actually used tagelos for my dessert. Unfortunatly, I only had eough segments for a few slices for each tian.

So how did the finished dessert taste? I couln't finish mine- the marmalade really ruined it. I have no picture becuase I couln't turn the dessert out of the little mold I provided for it, even though I chilled it in the hotel freezer. I don't think you want to look at a mold.

I hope that other peoples' tians went well, and I hope I can give this another try some time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

As Promised....

Here is my Health Rebel Risotto!

Inspired by the March Daring Cook's challenge (my post), this healthy vegan risotto is filled with veggie, brown rice, "cheezy" goodness. Though not prepared traditionally, it's equally delicious (and very simple!). Why let the traditions tie you down?

Health Rebel Risotto

This risotto has the characteristic chewiness of brown rice, which I happen to love. White risotto rice can be subbed, but you won't get all the good fiber the rice bran gives.

1 cup basmati brown rice

1 cup brown sticky rice
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 large onion or 1 small onion, diced

Garlic cloves (however much you like), minced
approximately 1 cup chopped asparagus approximately
2 cups carrot, cut as desired

1/4 cup water

12 oz. (1 package) silken tofu
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon coconut milk
1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme
2 heaping teaspoons dried oregano

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Additional salt and pepper, to taste

Chopped parsley

In a large pot, bring the stock, vinegar, and both rices to a boil, adding the salt as soon as the liquid is bubbling. Cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat to low for about 60 minutes, when a spoon dragged along the bottom of the pot reveals rice sticking to it.

In the last half hour of the rice cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt the oil and saute the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, until lightly caramelized. Add the asparagus, carrot, and water to the skillet and steam the veggies, stirring occasionally, until the carrot is cooked through.

Meanwhile, blend the silken tofu, olive oil, coconut milk, and herbs in a blender or food processor until smooth (it's okay for the herbs to still be visible).

Once all the components are ready, add the cooked vegetables to the rice pot and coat with the contents of the food processor/blender. Heat through until piping hot. A the last minute, stir in the nutritional yeast and additional salt and pepper to taste. Add a garnish of chopped parsley to the dish right before serving. Pass additional chopped parsley at the table for people to top their risotto with.

Serves 4-5 people


Printable Recipe

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Health Rebel Strikes Again

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

Risotto doesn't have to be vegan's nightmare- just replace the butter with Earth Balance and use a vegan Parmesan. But what is one persons comfort food is another (ve)girl's challenge. I just couldn't bear to use white rice, seven tablespoons butter, a 1/4 cup of both olive oil and cheese in a dish. And then actually eat it.

Therefore, I decided to change my risotto up a bit- and still do the required parts of the challenge. My mother makes homemade vegetable stock with veggie scraps; I intended to help her, but overestimated my available time. Check! I also made the rice base (just changed it a bit...). Check! Only the thing is, before I went vegan, I detested the risotto. There was something about the texture that didn't settle with me, and there was no flavor except the cheese. With these unpleasant memories swimming in my head, I crafted a new risotto to my taste that my whole family thoroughly enjoyed as well. I will post the new recipe soon- Health Rebel Risotto!

Filled with veggies, brown rice goodness and a delicious sticky, "cheezy" coating, this stuff is the real deal. Stay on the internet, as the recipe will be posted soon. The Health Rebel has struck once more!

Thanks, Eleanor and Jess for the great challenge!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's Bread, But Flat as a Pancake

It's flat bread!

Remember when I mentioned my adventures with pita bread in the February Daring Cooks challenge? Well here's the recipe, re-named flat bread; though you can call it pita bread if you're serving it with a Mediterranean spread.

Gluten-free and flat bread work well together. Have you ever noticed that when you try to use a regular loaf pan to bake GF bread it falls and/or cooks funny? Yet when you put that same recipe in a larger baking pan, and it bakes only an inch or two high, the texture and taste is improved? In gluten-free baking, it seems, things need to be baked quickly otherwise it crumples on itself and becomes dense. To combat this phenomenon, a flat bread works nicely, as it bakes quickly and doesn't really need to raise much in the oven.

So without further ado, I give you your next staple bread. For a crunchy, tougher bread, bake each longer on each side. For a bread more akin to the pita variety, bake each side to a creamy tan color- it makes for a soft and steamy bread affair.

Flat Bread
Gluten-free, vegan, corn-free

This delicious flat bread makes a great pita bread substitute.

Special equipment needed: a pizza stone or cast iron pan(s)

2 c. warm water
2 tablespoon dry-active yeast
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (1/3 cup whole groats, ground down in a spice grinder/food processor)
1 1/2 c. sorghum flour- packed
1 c. brown rice flour
2 c. arrowroot flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Canola or coconut oil for cooking

In a large bowl, "proof" the yeast by whisk together the warm water, yeast, and agave. Allow the mixture to get puffy before adding the olive oil. While the yeast is proofing, whisk together the flours and salt in a separate bowl. Add the dry combo to the wet and mix into a smooth dough (hands are great for this). Let it rise in the warmest place you can find for twenty minutes. While the dough is rising, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F along with a pizza stone and/or cast iron pan(s). These are the best for baking the bread, as they heat to very high temperatures for quick cooking. Once the dough is done rising and the oven is heated, knead the dough for another moment. Now you're ready for cooking the bread.

Remove the hot stone/pan(s) from the oven and spread with a thin smear of you choice cooking oil. Using your fingers, press a golf ball (or larger, if desired) sized ball of dough down about 1/8 inch thick. Fit as many as you can on the stone/pan(s) and bake 6-10 minutes (cast iron bakes quicker), then flip the breads. The soonest time to flip the breads is when the bottoms are a creamy tan color, but you can wait till they are a tanner brown color for a tougher/crispier bread. Cook the other side for another another 6-10 minutes, when there are a few browned spots. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

These breads are best eaten straight out of the oven. Serve with a Mediterranean spread (hummus!) or as a side with soup, salad, etc. The sky is the limit! If there are any leftovers (impossible, right?) best storing results are yielded when the breads are wrapped still warm in a towel and placed in an airtight container before being re-heated to eat.

Makes approximately 20 flat breads, depending on the size of your dough balls

Printable Recipe

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why I've dropped off the face of the (blog) earth

Hi everyone,

I have basically disappeared from the blog world for the that 2 weeks, not a picture, recipe, or eco-tip to be seen coming from me. I haven't completed the February Daring Baker's challenge. And I've hardly been able to be on the Internet much.

If you've ever heard of Destination Imagination (DI), I am in one of those groups, and our regional competition was last weekend*. We were challenged to design a robot to perform a task, and invent a skit about a characters life changed by robotic technology and to build all the scenery and provide the props. Everything is for kids, made by kids, with a coach on the side. If you've ever been in DI, or ever talked to a member of it, you'll know that the two weeks leading up to competition is a mad dash to get all the work completed. DI was the the reason that making Tiramisu, snapping a photo, creating a recipe, even baking, was near to impossible, as the second I arrived home everyday I dropped into a sleeping silence- exhausted from meetings with my group, my already busy schedule, and lack of sleep.

In addition to the DI competition, my birthday was last weekend (Well, no, I am a leap day baby- meaning my real birthday is in two years, but I can dream, right?) and I was looking forward to posting some GF vegan sugar-free oil-free birthday goodies (sorry, you missed out). Yes, I am officially fourteen! Well, Easter is right around the corner so I daresay that I will make up all my missed holidays with lots of chicken and bunny shaped treats!

So, readers- I will get the rust off my photography skills, and bake something in the kitchen with the new mini-muffin tins I received for my birthday (read: lots of mini-muffins and cupcakes are coming your way!)- I'm back!

*Just in case you're wondering, we made to the state level competition!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Messing With Mezze

First off, Happy Valentines Day! Okay, on to the February Daring Cook challenge....

The 2010 February Daring COOKs challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

Mezze (pronounced mezz-ay) is a middle-eastern style of eating, with a bunch of small dishes to be eaten with pita bread. We were required to make our own hummus and pita bread from scratch, and then we could do whatever ever else was to our fancy (as long as it featured middle eastern flavors).

I had SO MUCH FUN with this challenge. I spent a great deal of time looking up native foods to the middle eastern area, desserts, and recipes. I actually made Mezze twice; I was so much fun the first time, and I wanted to add different recipes. Oh, and because the pictures I shot the first time weren't very good, so I deleted them all- making it so I almost had to make Mezze a second time.

I'll stop talking now, and let the pictures explain themselves....

My Mezze: hummus, split pea kalamata dip, mock tabouli, black olives, and sweet balsamic sunflower seeds. There was originally sweet balsamic almonds (way better) included, but I was without almonds the second time of Mezze.

Because I am gluten-free, I had to create my own pita bread. I wanted to create my own recipe for it, and after three failed batches (three) I struck gold. Mind you, they don't puff up, but they are a delightful flat bread, and the recipe can be adapted in a kick-butt pizza crust, too! Unfortunately, when I made Mezze the second time, I was without a needed flour, so my mom (who wanted to learn how to make them) was carrying out my adaptation instructions. She accidentally misread one of the ingredient preparations, hence the cracking of this pita bread. They normally don't do that.


Split Pea Kalamata dip. My own recipe.

Mock Tabouli, with non-traditional ingredients, but oh so yummy!

Thanks Michele, for the great challenge!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Macro Rat

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Hand for Haiti

The overwhelming chaos and tragedy of the Haiti earthquake has shaken me, to say the least. I wondered what to do, all those people, and animals, who need help! For the animals, Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH) is on this, and I will be leading a fundraiser for them at the local middle school. I know that there are countless of places to donate money to the people pf Haiti, but I just don't know where to start. I don't know, helping people has never been something that comes to me as easily and assisting animals. Donating to the local giving tree last Christmas was something new to me. Haiti needs help, what can I do? I wondered. Then, I found out that Lauren of Celiac Teen was struggling with the same thing, and she came up with a brilliant contribution. We might not be able to to go to Haiti and treat the wounded, or donate millions of dollars, but we can cook. I can cook. The blogosphere working to together with a common goal- helping Haiti, by doing what we love best.

A Hand for Haiti the recipes that make the blogosphere feel at home e-book is now available for purchase. The minimum price is $10, but you can give more as an extra donation. And, the Canadian government will match all donations made up to February 12. So buy your copy now, and see if you can spot yours truly of page 74! That's right, I'm in a cookbook. A dream come true.... and it goes to a good cause, too.

I contributed my adaptation of chocolate pudding cake, a very rich and homey dessert in my family. There are also 86 other recipes, ranging from breakfast to dinner, from sweet to savory. Some recipes are vegan, some are gluten-free, and even if you can't eat every single recipe in the book, there's something for everyone. There's even something for the people of Haiti.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Even when you've been gluten-free for years, every once and a while that craving for a wheat-y, gluten-y something comes along. I had mine this morning.

I wanted toast. I wanted toast NOW, and I wanted a big pat of Earth Balance non-dairy butter on it, too.

And yet, I didn't want go through the process of making bread [takes forever], and buying GF bread from the store entails a large sum of money, a large amount of packaging, and it often has sugar, oil, eggs, or dairy! Besides, even if I did want to get a GF vegan loaf of bread safely packaged in plastic [I don't trust the bakery; why would you put the GF and wheat bread side by side in the case?], the nearest health food store is 30 minutes away, and I can't drive.

So, I had to settle for something else, it might not perfectly fit the bill, but it was crunchy, I could have my earth balance, and also dress it up for a sorta-cinnamon-toast. This isn't a recipe, but instead my way of quickly dealing with the crunchy-chewy toast craving I get every once in a while. Here goes:

To start, take a brown rice or corn tortilla [I used brown rice- I'm going on a no-corn trial run, we think I may be allergic to that, too. Will the tirade of necessary deprivations ever stop?]. Anyway, broil the tortilla until crispy. Smear lots of Earth Balance non-dairy butter on top, which will melt [yum!], drizzle on some brown rice syrup, or other sweetener, and top it off with a large sprinkling of ground cinnamon. Add some raisins and/or nuts/seeds to your "toast", if desired. Eat hot and relish the crunch of the tortilla, the buttery goodness of the Earth Balance, the sweetness of the brown rice syrup, and the heat of the cinnamon.

May all your gluten-free endeavors end well,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Graham Cracker and Nanaimo Bar: Daring Bakers January '10

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

I happily took up the challenge- I have been long trying to make satisfactory graham crackers, and had never heard of Nanaimo (pronounced Nah-nye-Moh) bars! To make it vegan, I would have used Earth Ballance non-dairy butter- but I decided to pass up on the the ten sticks of the stuff (how expensive could that get?) and experimented with a more healthy low-fat version.

My little sister thought the middle layer was a homemade (vegan) ice-cream, and was shocked when I told her it was beans! Didn't stop her eating them though....

A traditional Nanaimo bar is comprised of three layers: the first is a chocolate, coconut, almond, graham cracker crumb base (made gluten-free). The middle layer is a butter-custard mixture, and then topped of with a chocolate spread (mixed with more butter).

Well, my bar went a like this....

Graham crackers: I decided to, once again, try to design my own gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, oil-free graham cracker recipe. I tried. MANY TIMES. I finally just used the soy grits leftover from homemade tofu making- mix it up with some GF flour, agave, etc., press it into the pans, preliminary bake, cut into squares, and dry out in a low-temperature oven. Sadly, the dough cracked and would not cut- and ended up breaking off the pan in small chunks and crumbs. Oh well, they had to be pulverized anyway.

Nanaimo bar:

First layer: Using sesame seeds instead of almonds, and a combination of carob and cocoa powder changed up the flavor a bit. Cooked garbanzo beans were my bet on replacing butter and.... it worked! With consistency, anyway. The bottom layer was my favorite part- though I wished I had left out the carob. Brown rice syrup lent a hand in binding the mixture and sweetening.

Middle layer (garbanzo "custard"): Garbanzo beans replaced the butter in this layer- even though I added a bit of Earth Balance for flavor. Garbanzo beans gave the same color, stiff texture, and a mostly neutral flavor- a perfect booster for the sweetness of brown rice syrup, and some other ingredients to mimic a custard flavor. It had a slightly mealy texture that I'm convinced the dried dates did.

Chocolate topping: A mixture of unsweetened bakers chocolate and date syrup made a suitable chocolate ganache to smear atop to bar.

A freezing session in the freezer (the garbanzo "custard" wouldn't harden otherwise) made a nice slicing subject, and gave the garbanzo "custard" a great texture, aside from the slight mealiness. I did like the bottom layer- and I have lots of graham cracker crumbs leftover for other baking ventures!

I certainly want to perfect my approach to this particular confection- I believe that this first try has great possibilities.

Thanks Lauren, for the great challenge!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Wondrous Oat


Ever since turning gluten-free, I haven't laid my lips on a single oat- due to the fact that most are contaminated with gluten during processing. It's was just one of those things, part of the spiel you gave the wheat-eating onlookers: "I can't eat wheat, oats, barley, or rye" [or spelt, triticale, etc]

Until now.

Oh, the wondrous oat- so delicious! I can't ever emember being a fan of them before going gluten-free. But of course, being deprived of something makes you want it even more, so when my mom showed me the Bob's Red Mill bag of certified gluten-free rolled oats, I started going on an oat frenzy. Here is what I'm done so far:

1. Eaten the oats plain
2. Oatmeal raisin cookies
3. Oatmeal
4. More oatmeal [man, that stuff is GOOD!]
5. Muesli
6. Granola- the recipe for today!

With my granola, there's no hassle of using the oven! Instead, you do everything on stove top and have your granola within 15 minutes. It's modeled so that you can use any nuts or seeds you please; I used a mixture of peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds, and raisins for the dried fruit.

Unfortunately, there is no picture because the laptop I use to upload photos is on a three day trip- but I'll post it on Flickr and this post very soon. *UPDATE: It's here now*

Quick n' Easy Pan Granola
Gluten-free, vegan, corn-free, sugar-free

3/4 c. your choice mixed nuts and seeds
1 c. certified gluten-free rolled oats [I use Bob's Red Mill]
1/4 c. your choice dried fruit, chopped as needed
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat. Dry [Without using any oil] toast the nuts and seeds, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and the seeds are popping out of their skins, as is the case with pumpkin seeds. Add the oats and continued toasting- stirring frequently- for another couple minutes.

Incorporate the dried fruit, then add the coconut oil to the pan- it doesn't matter if it's solidified or not, as it will melt anyway- and coat the granola. Allow the coconut oil to penetrate before coating the contents of the pan with the brown rice syrup, ground cinnamon and vanilla extract. Now stir the granola constantly, allowing it to get crispy. Once crispy, remove the granola from the pan to cool (or not- it's great warm).

Serve warm or cooled with non-dairy milk or as a satisfying snack. Store in an air-tight container.

Makes 2 cups of granola

Printable Recipe

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Mystery

You walk into the kitchen, mouth crying out for something yummy. You spy some round balls on the counter, fresh from the freezer. Why, what are they? You tentatively take a bit, and experience a multitude of sensations...

I am hard put to categorize these, they are no-bake, but not necessarily raw, and they have an candy-like texture when chilled. With bits of pure, rich unsweetened chocolate, the mellowness of brown rice syrup, and the nice addition of sweet dried dates and raisins, it's also hard to categorize the taste of these no-bake balls. But don't let the mystery of these treats hinder you making them- give them a try!

Though the recipe calls for peanut butter, you can substitute your favorite nut butter depending on your taste preference or allergies. Also, I use oven dried leftover grits from straining homemade almond milk (like my Basic Almond Milk)- which is great for baking and replacing bread crumbs.

Delicious Mystery Treats

1/2 c. leftover grits from Basic Almond Milk, dried out in oven
8 pitted dates
1/4 c. raisins
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 tablespoon peanut butter [or other nut butter]
1 tablespoon chopped 100% cacao unsweetened bakers chocolate
pinch salt
pinch ground cinnamon [optional]

Blitz all ingredients in a food processor until a loose ball is formed. Roll into 12 even balls, and chill in the freezer until firm- 20 to 30 minutes.

Makes 12 balls

Printable Recipe

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I made it!

Jeeze! What's my luck- the day I get accepted into the Daring Kitchen community, as a daring baker and cook, turns out to be the DC reveal date? Well, I had to dash to the kitchen and get cooking!

The January 2010 DC challenge was hosted by Cuppy of Cuppylicious and she chose a delicious Thai-inspired recipe for Pork Satay from the book 1000 Recipes by Martha Day.

As vegan, and not wanting to harm a pig in my first ever DC challenge, I used tofu for my satay- marinading, baking, and then broiling for a crispy finish.

For the photograph, I laid the tofu satay on a bed of the chunky onion, garlic, and ginger root mix left over from the marinade. I guess I didn't chop the ingredients finely enough, in any case, it's delicious eaten with a spoon!

Unable to obtain the coconut milk necessary for the peanut dipping sauce [hey, can you blame me?] I improvised my own. It's not too bad, but a bit salty.

Well, I'm glad I could get this cooked and posted in time. Let's hope I can be a bit more timely next month!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Million Words.....

Thursday, January 7, 2010


This is a post in the Eco-Series~ posts giving tips and alternatives to the products and acts that can be environmental-harming in your home.

It may seem odd to start with the toilet room- so many environmental disasters happening; climate change, overflowing landfills, toxic waste, just to name a few, and I talk about the bathroom? But of course- little things build up to big things, and to upgrade supplies in your bathroom are a simple and easy place to start for environmental protection- let's hear for the eco-bathroom!

*UPDATE 1/9/10: I promise that no company or person paid me to promote their products on this post- these are my tried and true preferences and techniques*

Your bathroom cabinet......

Razor refills [if you plan ahead that way]
Toothpick [do people still pick their teeth with those. I don't, but just wondering....]

For all of the above, I highly recommend purchasing from Preserve, a company that makes all their products out of consumer #5 plastic and recycled yogurt cups. Even the packaging is recycled materials! Even better, when you need to replace your Preserve product, just send it in to them and it will become a new product. Also, Preserve's methods of production are more efficient than traditional plastic production methods.

Dental floss- Eco-Dent make makes a vegan floss packaged in paper packaging, with the only plastic being the floss itself, a cover for the floss roll, and a sticker holding the box shut. The box may tear, but you can putt the roll into a normal plastic dental floss box. And yes, this one actually is vegan. Eco-dent marketed a "vegan" floss a while back, when in fact one of the ingredients was grown on a cow's milk derivative, and people were disappointed and upset. So, they made this vegan one for you and I!
Shaving cream
- Since shaving cream is generally packaged in plastic and other wasteful packaging, you can use assorted oils to replicate it- do a quick search on the web for many options. However, if you do continue buying shaving cream, be kind to the animals and choose a vegan one without the use of animal testing, such as Alba Botanica.

Lotion- Many lotion packaging is plastic and can't even be reused [why the funny shaped packages? WHY?!], so I make my own. After a disastrous attempt at trying to replicate store-bought lotion, I settled on a simple, cheap, easy method that hasn't failed me yet. Mix one part vegetable glycerin with 2 parts water, and shake vigorously with a dash of your choice essential oil [my favorite scent is rose] and voila! In my experience, for best results rub the lotion into your skin after showering or bathing for soft, hydrated skin. It's works other times, too, but doesn't absorb as quickly and has a funny feeling on the skin- not bad, just weird.

Shampoo- If you know of a way to make shampoo yourself, let me know. My family currently buys bulk concentrated shampoo, where you can use your own bottle from home and you add water. My favorite is Ballard Organics grapefruit scented- organic, so less strain on the environment and eco-system, and not animal tested either. Ballard Organics also makes other products you may be interested in, though I haven't tried any of them.

- I will reveal a secret: I don't use conditioner! Nope, I use something else, that might sound odd- but don't ditch it 'till you try it. Ever since I can remember, my family has used a mixture of vinegar and water to the same effect, making soft, tangle-free hair which has the added advantage of repelling head lice. Mix 1 part vinegar [any kind- we use apple cider vinegar, but you can also use white] with 2 parts water. To use, mix 3-4 tablespoon or so in a large cup of water and pour evenly over your hair. Don't rinse it off- or it will be gone and won't do anything! The best time to de-tangle your hair is when it's still wet.

Soap- Sappo Hill, hands down! My younger sister has very sensitive skin [certain makeup, soap, bees, polyester- she get a rash], so for all those people who can't use certain beauty care products- this may work for you, but try it first, just to be sure! Sappo Hill soaps are vegan, non-animal tested, and made with 100% vegetable oils. Some scents include lavender, aloe vera, jasmine [my families favorite], sandalwood, oatmeal [their most popular, but not good for us gluten-free people], and fragrance-free.

Whew! Tell me, did I miss anything? Anyway, keep watching for more Eco-series posts!

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