Monday, December 19, 2011

Birthday (Banana Cream Pudding Peanut Butter Cookie Pie) Cake For Meem

Recently, I read an article about children consuming thousands of calories during class birthday parties and certain schools hoping to ban the unhealthy celebrations. I recalled images of store-bought vanilla ice cream cakes, oil-stained pizza boxes, and empty cups of Coca-Cola from my childhood. Simultaneously, I felt nostalgia for the pure festivity of in-class birthday parties, as well as an overwhelming feeling of disgust in regards to the choices we were given as kids. And soda. And society as a whole.  

Then, I promptly remembered my mom's upcoming birthday.... and decided to bake a cake filled with pudding.

My mom (affectionately called "Meem") is a sucker for banana pudding... but how is pudding worthy of a birthday? Why would anyone get excited over friends and family bringing out a bowl of pudding? Where would the candles go? It just wasn't conceptually working. We needed a cake. But, this birthday cake would have to be better than the artificially delicious birthday cakes of yesteryear. It would have to maintain the elements of decadence and festivity (no spinach-laden, sugar-free, grain-free cake today), but nix the stomach ache, nausea, and crash that generally followed the demolishing of a store-bought cake... and, it would have to be filled with banana pudding.

I started with a Nutter Butter pie crust, because a) I'd just discovered Nutter Butters were egg and dairy-free (yes, that's a less radical-sounding way of saying vegan) which was particularly exciting and b) there needed to be one really decadent aspect of this confection. Plus, because Nutter Butters have a creamy filling, I only needed a little bit of Earth Balance to bring it all together. It seemed decadent... but still ended up being healthier than a classic pie crust. Oh, and by the way, "classic" is the new word for "sticks and sticks of butter and white flour." I'd definitely make this crust again with banana pudding, chocolate custard, mocha pie, or with another crust on top and bananas in the middle like a sandwich. For breakfast. Moving on...

On top of the pie crust went a ring of whole-wheat banana bread/cake, because if the middle was vanilla, the outside needed to be banana (according to the imaginary laws of reincarnating banana pudding as a cake). Using bananas is a smart way to make baked goods more nutritious, because they serve as a natural sweetener and as a fat substitute that won't make anyone fat. They also deliver a healthy dose of vitamin C, B6, and potassium. Why not sneak some nutrients into a cake... I mean, we are going to end up eating vast amounts of it anyway, right? <Insert dumb joke about going bananas here> The next order of business was a simple vanilla pudding. The ingredients are few, preparation is minimal, and it contains no butter, no cream, and no gelatin. Oh, and it's really good. (Paula Dean is turning in her grave right now... wait, she's not dead yet? That's awkward.) Anyway, it firms up pretty quickly, so you'll probably need to run it through the food processor before serving, unless you want to eat it in chunk form.
Why not just use this fabulous box of Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding? How dare you ask that, reader! Unless you're in the business of ingesting disodium phosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, of course. They're both lovely alkaline chemicals which cause skin and eye irritation in humans, and "severe irritation and corneal injury in the rabbit eye"... it's always nice to see that scientists are using lab animals for a worthy cause (scoff). 

Jell-O also contains Yellow 5 & 6. The former is actually called tartrazine, and causes the most reactions of all the azo dyes. People who do have an intolerance to Yellow 5 are often also allergic to aspirin and develop migraines, blurred vision, itching, weakness, heatwaves, feeling of suffocation, insomnia and purple skin patches as a result of ingestion. Sexy. The latter is manufactured from petroleum. Yes, refined, chemically-altered petroleum is now considered a food ingredient. Last but not least, there's BHA, a preservative that the state of California has officially listed as a carcinogen and that countless furry creatures involuntarily sacrificed their lives for during testing. Syrian golden hamsters died of cancer for this Jell-O, people. If that's not a good enough incentive to avoid this powder, I don't know what is. Besides, everything tastes better when it's homemade. 

Cookie crumbs on bananas on pudding on cookie crumbs on bananas on pudding on bananas on crust, surrounded by a cake fortress.
Don't hesitate to just use the pie crust, make a bowl of pudding, or bake a cake in a normal shape. There's no obligation to construct this whole, giant confection. Feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

Meem's Birthday (Banana Cream Pudding Peanut Butter Cookie Pie) Layer Cake:

The night before:
Nutter Butter Crust-
- 11 Nutter Butters
- 3 tbsp Earth Balance, melted 
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pulse cookies in the food processor until crumby, then blend in Earth Balance and vanilla extract. Press into the bottom of a spring form pan and bake for 5 minutes. Cool at room temperature, then refrigerate.

Banana Cake Ring-
- 1 C whole wheat flour
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp Stevia (you can use more brown sugar if you don't have Stevia)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3-4 tbsp oil
- 2 large, ripe bananas, mashed 
- 1/4 C almond milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and stevia in a bowl. In a large bowl, combine beat together sugar and oil, then add mashed bananas. Stir in almond milk and vanilla, then gradually add in the flour mixture. Make a ring of cake batter on top of the Nutter Butter crust by placing a round casserole dish (or other oven safe mold that's approximately 2 inches smaller in diameter than the spring form pan) in the middle of the crust, then fill cake batter in around the sides. For a regular cake, just pour batter into a spring form or other cake mold. Then, bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool at room temperature.

Vanilla Pudding-
- 1/2 C sugar
- 1/4 tsp stevia
- 1/4 C + 2 tbsp corn starch
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 C almond milk
- 1 tbsp vanilla
Blend together milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly until thickened. Reduce heat to a simmer for another minute, the remove from stove and stir in vanilla. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, then blend in a food processor before serving.

Day of serving: 
- 3 ripe bananas
- 11 Nutter Butters, divided
- Vanilla wafers, optional

Slice one banana and layer it along the bottom of the cookie crust. Pour chilled vanilla pudding into a food processor and blend until smooth, then pour half of the vanilla pudding on top of the bananas. Slice another banana and layer it on top of the vanilla pudding. In a food processor, blend the 8 Nutter Butters to form coarse crumbs, then layer on top of the sliced bananas, followed by the other half of vanilla pudding. In a food processor, blend 3 Nutter Butters into very fine crumbs, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the vanilla pudding/banana cake ring. Slice the last banana and use with the vanilla wafers to make a decorative ring or flower in the center. 
Essentially, the layers should go like this: Nutter Butter crust, 1 sliced banana, 1/2 the vanilla pudding, 1 sliced banana, 8 crushed nutter butters, other 1/2 of the vanilla pudding, nutter butter sprinkling, 1 sliced banana and vanilla wafers (all in the middle of a banana cake ring). Serves 10 at 350 calories per slice. 

It didn't last long enough for pretty pictures... hopefully yours won't either. Enjoy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pesto Pizza: The Date Night Superfood

Here are just a few of the perks of making pizza at home: 
1. You can add hundreds of toppings without a $3.00 charge per item. 
2. It's a fun date idea, and only one/neither of you really needs to know how to cook.
3. You and your date both end up with an equal amount of green stuff in your teeth.
4. Eating fresh pesto, that you just made, on delicious crust, is one of the more satisfying experiences in life.

Defining the word 'pizza' is no simple feat. In order to be inclusive, one would have to say pizza is 'a flatbread with toppings, baked'... only sometimes the bread isn't even flat. Or baked. Normally there are tomatoes and cheese involved, but not if it's a white pizza, pesto pizza, or cheese-less pizza. In Amuricuh, we like our pizza thick, cheesy, oily and topped with pepperoni (and sometimes, we stuff our thick crust with more cheese... mmmm, tastes like diabetes). In Russia, red herring is a popular choice. Green peas top Brazilian pizza, and Mayo Jaga (potato, bacon, and mayonnaise) adorns Japanese pizza. Unless, of course, it's eel or squid gracing the surface of a Japanese pizza, which are also favorites. Popular options in India include mutton, pickled ginger, or paneer cheese. Basically, pizza can be just about anything and maintain its status as a tasty, popular item... but can it be vegan? Challenge accepted.

Vegan? As in tofu and leaf pizza? Nope! The goal here was still a decadent, cheesy, melty, flavorful mess... it just won't make you feel terrible after eating half of it. In fact, you'll feel great. I'm not preaching from the standpoint of someone who hasn't had "real" pizza in years; I've had every variety of pizza available in the continental U.S. (and a few other continents), and quite frankly, this is really delicious. Daiya is more flavorful than mozzarella, so you don't need as much (hundreds of empty calories, eliminated!), but, it's still as rich and silky in texture as cow's milk cheese. If you've never had it, I recommend buying some immediately. And if you're not in the mood for pizza, this pesto recipe is the best I've ever tried, and would likely taste equally amazing on pasta, in a scramble, or over seafood. You'll have a bit leftover even if you do make the pizza, so get creative. 

Aside from the taste factor, this pesto is also incredibly good for you. Walnuts are amazing... you can read a rant about them here. Garlic, basil, and arugula will give you a heavy dose of vitamin B6, K, C, A, manganese, and a handful of other nutrients that people pay lots of money to take in pill-form. Nutritional yeast is high in fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, B12, folate and zinc. What does that mean? It's a conveniently available, cheese-y tasting powder that contains all the things meatless diets are supposedly lacking. Eat your words (and some yeast), carnivores! To those unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it's tasty and easy to throw in just about anything, especially sauces. It does, however, lack Omega-3 and Omega-6... but fear not! Olive oil is full of both of these healthy, polyunsaturated fats. Basically, this green spread contains everything that people think is only available in meat. Eat pizza, get healthy.

Vegan Pesto Pizza:
1/3 cup roasted walnuts
3 garlic cloves
3 cups coarsely chopped arugula
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp olive oil
8 ounces prepared pizza dough*
1/4 C Daiya mozzarella shreds 
- Flour, for rolling
- Toppings: I used slices of Trader Joe's vegan sausage, fresh arugula, thinly sliced onion, tomato, and mushrooms 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. To make the pesto, combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor, then blend while gradually pouring in the olive oil. On a floured work surface, stretch out pizza dough to desired thickness- about 12 inches in diameter. Spread the pesto over the dough, leaving 1-inch ring around the edges uncovered. You won't use all of the pesto, so save the extra in the frige for the next day. Top the pesto with onions, tomatoes, sausage, etc., then sprinkle with mozzarella. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until edges are golden and cheese is melted, or until the kitchen smells too awesome for you to hold out any longer.

*If you don't have the time to make fresh pizza dough, frozen dough is easy to use. Just place frozen dough in the refrigerator the day before you plan to use it. Two hours before you want to make the pizza, place the dough in a covered, oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lose Some Wisdom, Gain Some Wisdom.

After many attempts to rationalize not having my wisdom teeth extracted, I traded them in for a bucket of painkillers and a chipmunk face. The "suggested foods" list, so kindly presented to me by the dentist, was supposed to aid me over the next week in finding edible options. However, after eliminating the foods I don't eat, it looked something like this:
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Soup
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Poutry
  • Quiche
  • Ice Cream
  • Yogurt
  • Milkshakes
  • Small pieces of meat
  • Cool Whip
  • Pudding
  • Milk/Milk Products
  • Snapple
Soup...? Thrilling! I stayed true to the list (and the fall season) for about 48 hours, consuming only roasted corn soup, butternut squash soup, sweet potato soup, zucchini soup, and curry soup. By the 49th hour, I was yearning for anything with texture. Even packing peanuts looked appetizing. As someone who puts chips in their sandwiches, nuts on their chocolate-chunk ice cream, and toasts everything that will fit in a toaster prior to consumption, a texture-less diet had proved to be about as enticing as I had anticipated. If only there was a way to incorporate flavor that would compensate for the lack of crunch... Suddenly, the solution became obvious. If I could enjoy something with the greatest flavor known to humankind, it wouldn't matter if it wasn't chewy, crunchy, or smooth. Chocolate in any form would do.

After digging through old recipes, I uncovered a chocolate pie that I'd made for a dinner party almost a year ago. The flavor, however, was as easy to recall as if I'd had eaten it the day before - rich, thick, dark, and creamy. Though I was forced to sacrifice the graham cracker crust, it was really no loss. The filling is the star of the show, and by the show, I mean my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The versatility and simplicity of this dessert means that not only is it quick to prepare, but even someone on a plethora of painkillers can assemble it (tested and confirmed). If you don't like tofu - perfect, because this chocolate mousse/pie filling tastes nothing like tofu. Much like heavy cream, the tofu serves to create a fluffy, whipped texture, without contributing to the flavor. I'm still not an advocate of the stuff... I mean, tofu is about as processed as can be, but contains 1,000 less calories than heavy cream would in this recipe (and no lactose, obviously.) Whether you use chocolate chips or dark chocolate is up to you; chips yield a sweeter dessert, a chopped chocolate bar yields a richer one. The primary difference between baking with bars of chocolate and chocolate chips is that the bar usually contains a higher cocoa content and the chips usually contain more sugar. If you're a big fan of chocolate and liqueur, use up to 2/3 cup in this recipe, and feel free to substitute in your favorite kind.

While there's nothing enlightening about the aftermath of having one's third set of molars drilled into oblivion, I have learned that chilled chocolate mousse does wonders for a sore mouth. It also does wonders for the mind and body, satisfying chocolate cravings without a sugar crash afterwards and delivering a decadent texture with less than half the fat of classic chocolate mousse. Nothing like being free of wisdom teeth, free of guilt, slightly dazed, and full of chocolate.

Chocolate Silk Mousse or Pie Filling:
- 1 1/2 C chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
- 1/4 C sweet liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, Kahlua, or Bailey's
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 package (about 12 oz.) firm silken tofu
- 1 tsp vanilla 
      Melt chocolate and liqueur over a double broiler until smooth. Add all ingredients to the food processor and blend until smooth and silky, scraping down sides with a  rubber spatula. Pour into glass bowls or a cooled pie shell and chill for at least two hours (unless you want to eat it out of the food processor, which is perfectly fine). Serve with sliced bananas, over fresh fruits, topped with nuts or shredded coconut, etc. Serves 10 at 205 calories each, when using chocolate chips. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Secret to Oatmeal (Who Knew There was a Secret?)

Before I give away the secret... let's rewind to the oat part. What kind of oats does one use to make awesome oatmeal? What are the different varieties? Who do the Irish think they are coming up with their own oat?

Here's the breakdown:
This is an oat groat, the grain's original state, before being processed into breakfast. Only the outer hull is removed. 
These are instant oats, AKA the worst. They're precooked, mushy, nutritionally depleted, and will not be considered food from this point forward.
These are rolled oats, also called oat flakes or old-fashioned oatmeal. They're nothing more than oat groats that have been steamed, rolled and flaked (in order to cook more quickly). While they do serve practical purpose in oatmeal cookies, pie crusts, and granola... I generally refuse to acknowledge their presence as a breakfast food. Textureless food is not fun food.
These are steel-cut oats! (applause) Sometimes they're referred to as Irish oats or Scotch oats, but all the title really means is that these oat groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces for easier eating. They're the healthiest, the tastiest, and the most satisfying of all oat breakfast options.
Now that you understand the ingredient... you're ready to learn the secret. Ready?

Don't use water. 

The secret is... almond milk.

If you cook oats in milk (in my case, almond milk... you could also use dairy milk or try another nut milk) they absorb the flavor and adopt a rich, creamy texture that would typically be attained with the addition of something blasphemous, like heavy cream. While using milk is obviously a better idea than using cream, taking it one step further with non-dairy milk slashes calories from sugar (91 cal/cup skim milk, or 40 cal/cup almond milk) and adds vitamins and minerals, without compromising calcium.

(Milk them.)
Both almond milk and skim milk contain 30% of one's daily recommended amount of calcium, but almond milk is sugar-free, while milk sneaks in 12 grams of sugar. That's two more grams than in a Pure White Fudge Covered Oreo, and the first ingredient on its nutrition label is, in fact, "sugar". Have I hammered that point in hard enough? No one needs the extra sugar. Next, milk offers negligible amounts of vitamins (4% vitamin C... that's it), while almond milk serves as an excellent source of vitamin A, D, and E. Plus, when it comes to cooking, baking, making pudding, hot chocolate or smoothies, almond milk and skim milk are interchangeable. Oh, and there's always the fact that almond milk is lactose-free, casein-free, and vegan... but on to the wonderful world of oats.

Spiced Apple Pie Oats!
Avena Sativa, or oats (I've typed the word 'oats' about 60 times now and it no longer looks like a word), contain a plethora health benefits, including manganese, selenium, vitamin B1, dietary fiber, magnesium, and protein. What are the benefits, you ask? Well, the beta-glucan (soluble fiber) found in oatmeal lowers cholesterol at least 8%, which translates to an at least 16% decrease in risk of contracting heart disease. Nothing like reducing your chances of coming face-to-face with the #1 cause of death in America, right? Beta-glucan also stabilizes blood sugar, which keeps you from craving a half a package of Chips Ahoy half way through your day. Magnesium, calcium, and whole grain foods in general consistently reduce risk of type-2 diabetes in medical studies, and I won't even get started with the anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. Bottom line: as things with gluten in them go, oats are pretty good for you.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Oats!

Now what? Start with:

- 1/4 C steel cut oats
- 3/4 C almond milk

Add almond milk and oats to a small pot and leave in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, cook oats on the stove over low for about 10 minutes. You can also cook them the morning of by boiling the almond milk and adding the oats, then simmering for about 30 minutes. Don't have time? Make a larger batch over the weekend and it'll keep in the fridge for the week, or use McCann's quick cooking steel cut oats.

Then choose your path of inspiration:

1. The Elvis
During the last 5 minutes of simmering your oatmeal, melt in one mashed banana and one tbsp nut butter, then sprinkle crushed nuts on top.

2. The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Add 2 tbsp raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla and crushed pecans or walnuts

3. Trail Mix
Add a small handful of dried fruits and nuts of your choosing (and no one will judge you if there are chocolate chips involved).

4. Maple Walnut Crunch
Add 1 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tbsp walnuts, and a sprinkle of granola on top.

5. Spiced Apple Pie
Add 1 diced, peeled green apple, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ginger and a dash of nutmeg, then simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Hot Cocoa
Add 1 tsp cocoa, an extra splash of sweetened milk + vegan mini marshmallows at the end of the simmer phase.

7. If you like PiƱa Coladas...
Add toasted coconut + diced pineapples. The rum is your call (don't do it)... and feel free to sub coconut milk beverage for almond milk!

8. Banana Cream Pie (favorite)
Stir in one mashed banana, chopped walnuts, and 1/2 tsp vanilla during the last five minutes of the simmer phase, then sprinkle cinnamon on top.

9. Savory
Add salt to taste. It may sound weird, but it's not. It's awesome.

10. Berry Scone
Stir in dried cherries, fresh strawberries, blueberries + 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Banana Cream Pie Oats!

Feel free to invent your own breakfast creations and combinations, and don't hesitate to share. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

So how do you, like, get protein and stuff? Cookies, of course.

That's really my favorite response to "No thanks, I don't eat meat." Okay, not really. But, how do I, (and the other 15% of students who don't consume animals), like, get protein and stuff? Now, this may come as a shock to those who's only source of dietary understanding can be traced back to Oscar Meyer and Tyson campaigns, but.... meat is not the only source of protein available to human beings. (Muscle Milk is not the only alternative, either. Sorry, bro.)

They're even going veg in Seoul!
Crash course on protein: The human body requires protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids found in humans, and adults actually can synthesize a lot of them internally. Yes, we make protein (actually, we recycle our old body tissue... and now that we know we're kind of eating ourselves, who needs an outside source, anyway?) Eight of these 20 amino acids are considered "essential" to humans, because we can't synthesize them and must obtain them from food sources.

Here's the Tyson factory where a deadly chemical accident landed 173 workers in the hospital. Yay, protein!
What foods actually contain all eight of these essential amino acids, aside from animal products? Quinoa, soy beans, hempseed, and spirulina do (those hippie vegans are onto something.) But here's the catch: The human body doesn't need to obtain a complete protein from one food source. Incomplete protein sources, missing one or more essential amino acid, can be combined, or even consumed separately throughout the day to yield the same benefit as the complete protein found in a steak. What combinations could possibly do that? Any combination of a legume, grain, or nuts and seeds.

Terminology for Dummies Regular People:
Legumes - beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, chickpeas, and soy products
Grains - barley, bulgur, cornmeal, oats, buckwheat, rice, pasta, rye, wheat
Nuts/Seeds - sesame, sunflower, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, etc.

Now, let's apply that to foods you'd actually eat. Rice and beans is a simple one... yes, that Chipotle burrito was a complete source of protein before you added the carnitas. Legumes + wheat are another popular complete protein lunch choice, since in layman's terms, a that's a PB&J on whole wheat bread. Middle Eastern food is also an excellent source of a meatless protein, just dig in to a dish made with rice and lentils (legume + grain), or dip anything in hummus (legume + seeds). For breakfast, make this, or toss some walnuts in your oatmeal. Even vegetarian chili and a piece of cornbread satisfies the complete protein requirement. In fact, there are even more foods that contain essential amino acids. Chocolate, oats, bananas, dried dates all contain Tryptophan. Green beans, spinach, and amaranth contain Lysine. Valine is present in mushrooms, and Phenylalanine can be found in avocados and lima beans.

Nope, that's not chicken. Some Chipotles carry Garden Blend vegan protein... double the awesome.
To be fair, meat contains the most concentrated amount of protein, but who said unlimited protein was a good idea to begin with? Excess consumption of protein causes nitrogen to be excreted in the urine, which is linked to reduced kidney function. Studies show that reducing protein intake in subjects with impaired kidney function slows the organ's rate of decline. Additionally, too much protein increases calcium excretion, and calcium exiting through the urinary system can produce kidney stones (as in, you might pee blood.)

So where is the perfect equilibrium of protein intake in a human diet? Our ability to metabolize so many different foods makes it impossible to tell, but this much I do know: everyone likes cookies. Here's a recipe for a vegan, protein-packed cookies that are as rich and delicious as any cookie could be, but substantial enough to fill up on for dinner (tested and confirmed). They're much higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than any "normal" cookie. Why? Flour has been traded out for chickpeas. I know. It sounds weird. However, I just watched a bunch of unsuspecting dinner guests wolf these down without hesitation. I mean, I didn't mention that they were made from legumes, but no one inquired in the first place...

High Protein Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies:
- 1 can chickpeas 
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 2 tbsp almond milk (any kind of milk will work)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 C brown sugar*
- 1/8 tsp stevia, optional
- 3 oz dark chocolate, chopped in chunks

*You can fully or partially substitute one ripe banana in place of brown sugar to eliminate refined sugar, add nutrients and an extra gram of protein, and change up the flavor. (Note: if you don't like banana, don't do this.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain and rinse chickpeas well, then soak them in water with 1 tbsp baking powder. Allow to sit for at least half an hour, preferably longer. In a food processor, puree chickpeas, almond milk, and peanut butter until smooth and creamy. Add all other ingredients, except for chocolate, and blend until smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks. Spoon cookies onto a greased baking sheet or parchment paper, then bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool and serve with any milk (excluding muscle milk.) This recipe yields 6 servings of 2 cookies at 100 calories each, with 6 grams of protein per serving. Enjoy guiltlessly. 

(Piles of cookies.... the new cover girl of good health.) 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

(Internal) Cupcake Wars: Minty Dark Chocolate Ganache Filled Cupcakes

This posts makes me feel like Benedict Arnold. As I typed that, my first thoughts were "eggs benedict" and "Arnold Palmer"... and these are the things that reassure me that I should be spending my time food blogging, but I digress. Back to why I'm a traitor: I recently got a job working in a bakery-boutique that primarily sells cupcakes. They're beautiful little classic flour-and-butter cupcakes, which is ideal due to the fact that I avoid them. Temptation problem: solved... so I thought. What I failed to take into account was that while regular cupcakes wouldn't tempt me, they would inspire me to go home and bake a modified version of them all.

Basically, I'm a "just like grandma used to make" cupcake seller by day, but a secret cupcake chef.... and connoisseur, by night. I've cut hundreds upon hundreds of calories from each cake by turning the butter-based frosting to tofu (I'm not a soy product fan, but in this case, it's the lesser of two evils), the heavy cream ganache to coconut milk, and the butter-and-egg cake to applesauce and oil (gross, right?) Here's the catch: people literally have no idea. They'd think it was from the bakery if I didn't tell them otherwise. While I'm more than happy to promote the cupcakes I'm surrounded by at work (and I'm genuinely enthusiastic about selling them), my friends are family are generally too health-conscious or dietarily restricted to be able to truly enjoy them, much like myself.

These cupcakes are too easy to enjoy; I don't want to say addictive, but they are. Initially, they were baked as a gesture of kindliness and goodwill to our helpful neighbors... however, my family decided these were "too good" and that the neighbors could settle for four of them, while we hoarded the rest like crazed squirrels. The cupcakes have been disappearing from the fridge since I baked them, not just at dessert time, but snack time, appetizer time, lunch time, really any time that can be defined with a number between one and twelve. The great thing about these little cakelets is how much lower they are in fat and refined sugars compared to traditional cupcakes, without compromising on texture or flavor. Such qualities make for a satisfying and certainly not sickening treat... it does, however, make them particularly hard to resist. 

You've been warned... now go preheat the oven.

Minty Dark Chocolate Ganache Filled Cupcakes:
Dark Chocolate-Mint Ganache -
- 1/3 C regular coconut milk
- 1/4 tsp peppermint extract
- 1 3/4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
Mint Chocolate Cream Filling (Optional)– 
- 3 oz. firm tofu
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1.5 oz melted dark chocolate
- 1/4 tsp mint extract
- 1 tsp almond milk
- mint flavored candies, optional
Chocolate Cupcakes-
- 1 C almond milk
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2/3 C raw sugar 
- 1/8-1/4 tsp stevia (if stevia is unavailable, add more sweetener to taste)
- ¼ C coconut oil
- 1 tbsp applesauce
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 C all purpose flour, or flour of choice
- 1/3 C cocoa
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder

To prepare the mint chocolate ganache, add the chopped chocolate and peppermint extract to a small, glass bowl. Heat coconut milk in a small saucepan until steaming. Pour coconut milk over chocolate, wait 30 seconds, then stir until chocolate is completely melted and cool at room temperature. If making filled cupcakes, make the mint chocolate cream by adding all ingredients to a food processor and blending until smooth. If you choose to use mint candy, blend with tofu first until creamy, then add in remaining ingredients and blend again. Chill until ready for use.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 and line 12 muffin tins with cupcake liners. Whisk almond milk and vinegar together in a large bowl and allow to sit for a few minutes. Mix in sugar, stevia, oil, applesauce, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to wet gradually, being cautious not to over-mix (small lumps are fine). Fill tins with batter 2/3 way full and bake for 19 minutes.

Once cupcakes have cooled enough to handle, it's filling time. Use a paring knife to slice a cone shape out of the middle of each cupcake, then remove the tip of each cone. Fill cupcakes with mint chocolate cream and put tops back in place (sneaky, right?) Spread dark chocolate mint ganache on top and serve chilled. Makes 12 servings at 180 calories each.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Redefining Breakfast: Sweet Onion & Fresh Corn Buttermilk Cakes + Chorizo Hash

Anonymous: Whoa.. You had that whole thing... for breakfast? (motions to picture)
Me: Um, yes. Why, what did you have?
Anonymous: Corn Pops.
Me: You had those... for sustenance?

There's a reason people think of sugar cereal and orange juice as breakfast, and it's not a very good one. Let's start at the beginning: the first cereal (Corn Flakes) was invented by a doctor (Dr. Kellogg) in order to feed his hospital patients a more digestible bread substitute. The year was 1906. That's why the most heavily advertised breakfast food in America was invented... for sick people who couldn't digest bread. When General Mills entered the competition for mass-producing a cheap commodity that could feed a lot of people in 1924, they removed fiber to make cereal more digestible and added sugar so it would appeal to children, then introduced mascots... and so it began.

Today, the most promoted cereals on TV are often over 40% sugar, including Cocoa Pebbles, Reeses Puffs, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, and Cap'n Crunch. Even no-sugar "healthy" cereals, like Kashi 7 Whole Grain Cereal Puffs, have only one gram of fiber per cup. Regardless of the fact that it's just 70 calories per serving, because the product is nothing more than a grain that's been air-popped, you're actually eating the equivalent of 1/8 C of un-puffed grain (primarily wheat). This isn't to say that small amounts of cereal can't be used to accompany fresh fruit and yogurt, but consuming nothing but cereal for breakfast is about as beneficial as eating a cup and a half of popcorn.. or kettle corn, if it's sweetened cereal. That being said, it's apparent that the better breakfast choices lie beyond the Post-Kellogg-GeneralMills horizon... the solution may even be on this very page!

After a friend kindly requested that I post recipes that call for 'normal' ingredients that 'normal' people actually have in their house (instead of requiring them to go out and buy things like Japanese sweet potatoes, xanthan gum, and amaranth), I figured that since they read this thing, it was the least I could do (for the first recipe, anyway) but I digress.

Back in Breakfastland... here's a warm welcome to the double recipe special! Are you looking for something nutritious and delicious to spice up your bland breakfast routine? Need a way to use that sweet summer corn? Craving flavor? Spice? Are you alone every morning and have nothing better to do than develop breakfast recipes while you wait for school to start and the rest of the world to come home? Well, even if only one of us can answer that last question with a "yes", it's the reason this breakfast fandango was born. These sweet and savory crosses between johnny cakes and corn bread pair wonderfully with eggs, chili, sour cream, veggie scrambles, sausage, or delicious chorizo hash brimming with spices, vegan protein, and fresh vegetables (hint, hint). You can also double or triple the batch and refrigerate the batter for a breakfast that's ready in five minutes.

Sweet Corn & Green Onion Buttermilk Cakes:
- 1/2 C almond milk
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- ½ C yellow cornmeal
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 2 small or 1 large egg
- 3 tbsp chopped green onion
- Heaped ¾ C fresh corn

In a small bowl, combine almond milk and vinegar, then let mixture sit for five minutes to make vegan buttermilk. Sift together cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl.  Add maple, egg, and buttermilk mixture and mix until uniform. Stir in onion and corn. Cook cakes over medium heat in a greased skillet. When the cakes turn golden brown (2-3 minutes), flip  and cook on the other side. Makes two servings at 260 calories each.

Spiced Chorizo Hash:
- 1/2 finely chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp chile powder
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- 1/8 tsp liquid smoke
- 1 1/2 C water
- 1/2 C TVP
- 1 tomato, diced
- 10 mushrooms, sliced thinly
- 1/2 C spinach

In a saucepan, sautee onions for three minutes, then add garlic, salt, spices, maple and liquid smoke, and sautee for another two minutes. Add water, TVP, tomato, and mushrooms, then cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer for 10 more minutes. Uncover and add spinach until wilted, then remove from heat and cover until serving so TVP can absorb more flavor. Serves 2 at 120 calories each.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Antioxidant Party! Come Drunk, in Bright Pink & Full of Chocolate

If any packaged variety of plain vanilla, non-dairy ice cream is at least 220 calories for every half cup, how is it that this ice cream is not only flavored, but packed with chocolate chunks and rum, and racks in at 170 calories per serving? And did I mention the health benefits?


Cherries - sweet, juicy, summer fruits packing just 91 calories for every full cup. Plus, they're brimming with antioxidants that lower cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation, and reduce the risk of heart disease. When compared to the highly revered Acai berry, cherries actually outshine the berry's nutrition benefit in certain categories. Since most ice cream recipes call for at least a 1/2 cup of sugar, which is around 400 empty calories and contains zero antioxidants, cherries seem like a mighty fine alternative for sweetening ice cream. In addition to two cups of fresh cherries, this recipe calls for one tablespoon of agave nectar..  and that's it. At 242 total calories of sweetener in a recipe that serves 8, that's about 30 calories worth of sweetener per person... which is like adding two teaspoons of sugar to your tea (only this is a half cup of creamy ice cream.)

 Mmmm... chocolate. Mmmm... flavonoids? Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that lowers risk of heart disease, lung and prostate cancer, and diabetes. Epicatechin is a specific flavonoid found in cocoa that not only has heart health benefits, but insulin mimic action as well. So why is dark the only variety of chocolate to make the cut for health benefits? This is for two reasons, the first of which is simple: The darker the chocolate, the lower the sugar content and the higher the cocoa content (which is where the flavonoids are). The second reason is slightly more convoluted: scientific findings indicate that dairy interferes with the absorption of antioxidants in chocolate. A specific study divided subjects into three groups - the first group ate dark chocolate, the second ate dark chocolate and had a glass of milk, and third ate milk chocolate. One hour later, those who ate dark chocolate alone had the highest levels of antioxidants in their blood, including epicatechin. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest levels of epicatechin of all. The message is clear: join the dark side.

Speaking of the dark side, last up for research is rum. If you care to learn about the nutritional aspects of alcohol, check out this page. I, however, can't volunteer any information since I'm not 21, so naturally I'd have no business studying things like that, right? I'd rather just sip my O'Douls in the corner while other people ate my ice cream, anyway... but on a serious note, there are some surprising studies about booze out there. All the more reason to dig into this summery, frozen delight.

Boozy Cherry Dark Chocolate Ice Cream:
Cherry sauce -
-2 C cherries
-1 tbsp lemon
-1/8 tsp sea salt
-1 tbsp honey, can be further sweetened to taste
Ice cream base -
-1 can lite coconut milk
-1/2 tsp stevia
-1/4 tsp fleur de sel
- 1/3 C + 1 tbsp rum
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1/4 tsp xanthan gum (Ice cream can be made without xanthan gum, but it keeps the finished product from freezing as hard.)
Add in -
- 3.5 oz dark chocolate (at least 70%), chopped in chunks

Bring cherries, lemon juice, salt, and honey to a boil in a small saucepan, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with all ice cream base ingredients except for xanthan gum in a food processor. Blend until smooth, then pulse while gradually sprinkling in xanthan gum. Chill in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, then churn in an ice cream maker. Add in dark chocolate during the last 5 minutes of churning. Makes eight 1/2 cup servings at 170 calories each. Enjoy!