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!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dinner in Malaysia: Hippopotamus Fritters! (Cucur Badak)

Sometimes people just need to get away for a little while. Whether that means making a face mask and painting your toes, going on a day trip up North, or spending the day at the Chinese Cultural Center, we've all got our preferences for mini-escapes. This recipe was born out of the lattermost of the day-escapes. After an adventure through the aisles of our local Asian supermarket, dinner materialized out of fresh Japanese sweet potatoes, dried prawns, fresh ginger and garlic, all from the day's shopping.

The likelihood of me ever making fritters is slim to none: I hate frying (I generally make it a rule to avoid large quantities of hot, splashing oil), speaking of large quantities of oil- that's pretty unhealthy, and the standard all purpose flour based fritter is also not the most nutritional of epicurean delights. However, after doing some research, I discovered Cucur Badak, which, in English, means "Hippopotamus Fritters." These fritters require quick frying at very hot temperatures, which prevents most oil absorption in the food (Hot oil.. still an issue. Oil in food reduction, check.) They're also sweet potato-based (Flour reduction, check), and, they're filled with a variety of healthy plants and low-calorie protein (Nutrition, check). 

Bottom line- if we're frying, at least we're frying this...
Sweet potato: loaded with carotenoids, potassium, vitamin C and fiber.
Ginger: effective as a digestive aid and a reliever of indigestion and stomach cramping.
Garlic & Shallots: full of vitamin B6, C, A, and manganese.
Tumeric: known as the anti-aging spice, packed with fiber, B6, iron, potassium & manganese.
Lemongrass: an excellent source of iron, potassium and manganese.
Shrimp: for every 3 oz. of shrimp, there's 18g of protein and 1 g of fat, plus B12 and selenium... all at 5 calories per shrimp! 

These fritters are insanely delicious. In fact, I just ate the last four for breakfast. They're fun and easy to make, and even more fun and easy to consume. You can serve them with anything you'd like, or enjoy them plain, but as a result of our South African and Jewish blood, my sister and I opted to have them with chutney (Hooray for Braais!) and sour cream (Hooray for Channukah!) The dipping sauce addition was fantastic even if it made the dish less authentic.. but hey, kepada setiap mereka sendiri! (To each their own.) Enjoy!

Hippopotamus Fritters (Cucur Badak):
Sweet potato dough:
- 2 C (about 3) Japanese sweet potatoes
- 1/2 C all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt

- 3 tbsp dried shrimp, rehydrated (Vegan? Substitute caramelized onions.)
- 2 shallots, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1-inch slice ginger, chopped
- 1 tsp tumeric powder
- 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
- 10 raw shrimp, coarsely chopped (Substitute vegan shrimp or crispy tofu.)
- 1/3 C coconut flakes
- ½ tsp salt
- oil, for frying

Cook sweet potatoes using method of choice (steaming, sauteeing, etc.) then peel, mash, and set aside to cool. Blend dried shrimp (or caramelized onions), shallots, garlic, ginger, tumeric and lemongrass into a paste, or grind using a mortar and pestle to achieve a paste-like texture. Sautee mixture until browned around the edges and fragrant. Mix in shrimp (or tofu), then remove from heat once shrimp turn pink and add coconut and salt. Set aside to cool. Combine cooled sweet potatoes with flour and salt to form a firm dough. Shape dough into ping pong balls, making a bowl shape in the middle with your thumb. Fill each ball with (at least) one heaped teaspoon of filling and seal, then press into a slightly flattened ball. Heat about an inch of oil to 375+ degrees in a large saucepan and fry until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels and serve. Serves four at 305 calories each.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Magical Salted Maple Almond Butter Spread

mmm.... Magical Mystery Spread. 
Standard peanut butter racks in at 200 calories for every two tablespoons. Almond butter, though healthier and much more nutritionally dense, still hits around 190 calories for every two tablespoons. What about Magical Salted Maple Almond Butter Spread, you ask? Oh, it's 60 calories for two tablespoons. Go ahead and double the serving size, and you're still 80 calories below peanut butter and well below the fat content. But how? The secret is simple.. it's xanthan gum.

What the deuce is that? Well, it's a high molecular weight polysaccharide vegan, gluten-free thickener and stabilizer in food. Xanthan gum is found frequently in sauces salad dressings to achieve a creamy consistency without the calories, ice cream to keep it soft in the freezer, and in gluten free baking to achieve a texture otherwise only possible with gluten. It's completely natural, and it's available at the grocery store. Bob's Red Mill sells the variety I use, and though ten dollars for a package of thickener may seem steep, at 1/8 tsp per recipe, I get the feeling it's going to last a long, long time.

After discovering the power of xanthan gum, I created an addictively creamy, sweet and salty nut spread that you can eat more than two tablespoons of without feeling bad... and with its versatility, you're going to want to. Add a dollop to oatmeal. Top ice cream with it. Spread it on toast, crackers, apples, bananas, or celery. Blend it into a milkshake. Use it as a glaze for muffins. Put it in chocolate chip cookies. Eat it with a spoon. Enjoy.

Magical Salted Maple Almond Butter Spread:
- 1/2 C almond butter
- 1/2 C warm water
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 C maple syrup
- 1/8 tsp xanthan gum
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Start with basic almond butter: use either organic store-bought or...

Make homemade nut butter! If starting with raw almonds, toast 2 cups of nuts in the oven on 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Once almonds are roasted, blend in a food processor until smooth and creamy (you may want to add 1 tbsp almond or coconut oil to help blend), then set aside 1/2 C almond butter and store the remaining butter in the refrigerator. 

In a food processor, combine almond butter, water, salt, and maple syrup until smooth. Sprinkle in xanthan gum and blend again. Add vanilla and cinnamon, pulse a few times, then pour spread into a mason jar. Store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sweetener 101: Easing Into Steviafying with Banana Pudding

Stevia is intimidating. My first experience with it made lemonade taste like drinking sugar-saturated lemon rind extract.. a bitter-sweet (in a negative way, not a poignant one) experience that left me with the notion that Stevia is not for human consumption. That was  a few years ago, and somehow between that time and today, I discovered that there are lots of things one can read in order to learn to use ingredients correctly... finally, a guilt-free banana pudding that tastes like a decadent treat was born.

Shown parfait-style, layered with toasted walnuts and thickened coconut milk.

After realizing that sweeteners are often the highest calorie component in otherwise healthy recipes, I decided to give Stevia another shot. With zero calories and none of the effects of sugar (cravings, dental decay, heart disease, diabetes, etc.) Stevia extract can reduce the amount of the delightful, destructive, and undoubtedly unnecessary chemical called sugar we use in cooking and baking, while still maintaining the original level of sweetness. As a plant extract that has actually been used for centuries, controversy has arisen as to whether Stevia's publicity and availability has been suppressed solely because of the competition it would create for sugar companies, which has come at the cost of human health... and based off of the upward trend in consumption of sugar, now is the time to start cutting back: the average of 114 pounds of sweetener consumed per person each year in 1967 has shot up to 142 pounds per person since 2003. 

Calorically, sweeteners stack up as follows:

Sweetener/Calories per Cup-

Stevia Extract/0
Turbinado Sugar/736             
Granulated Sugar/736
Brown Sugar/829
Maple Syrup/832
Agave Nectar/960
Brown Rice Syrup/1200

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Liquid sweeteners actually have a higher sweetening power than sugar, so for instance, 1 C sugar would be substituted with 3/4 C Maple syrup, Agave, or Honey, making them lower calorie sweeteners when used correctly. The recipe below uses a combination of only 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup, bananas as a healthy sweetener, and Stevia as a calorie free sweetener to compose a dessert that serves four. This delicious dish was a hit with everyone - probably because each serving can be customized to be as healthy (or not as healthy) as desired. Enjoy!

 Banana Pudding:
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1.5 tbsp maple syrup 
- 1/8 teaspoon pure Stevia extract powder
- 1 ½ C vanilla almond milk 
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp rum
- 2 bananas, sliced
- ¼ C toasted walnuts, crushed

Combine cornstarch, maple syrup, Stevia and almond milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until mixture is thick and boiling, then remove from heat and add vanilla extract and rum. Divide pudding between four bowls or fancy glasses, then add sliced bananas and top with walnuts. Chill and serve (there's no shame in sticking them in the freezer for 20 minutes to speed the chilling process). Makes 4 at 200 calories each.

P.S. - You could always reward yourself for creating a healthy dessert by smothering it with chocolate and granola..