DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!  PLEASE VISIT THE NEW SITE BY CLICKING HERE.

Every year, when my sisters and I were kids, for our birthdays we each got a made-from-scratch, personally decorated birthday cake for our party.  One year it was Little Bo Peep, another it was Barbie, still others it was a pretty array of colorful frosting flowers splashed across a chocolate rectangle.  Cake, always cake; but never can I recall having cupcakes for my birthday.

Well, times have changed. In just a few years, cupcakes have become all the rage.  Little cupcake-only shops have sprouted in every major city; and my friend Angie tells me that, in Dallas, they’ve reached a peak of price and exculsivity. One might even say that cupcakes are poised to take over the world!

And so, this season, though I’ve been asked to bake for several children’s parties and an at-home Christmas celebration, in every case I’ve been asked to bake up a batch of cupcakes. 

As a vegan baker who uses neither refined sugar nor margarine, I can sometimes find it incredibly difficult to come up with substitutions that will approximate the same look and taste as conventional recipes (even though I own, and have carefully persued, every page of Isa and Terry’s phenomenal book, and send major kudos their way–especially for the agave-based vanilla cupcakes).  I find it fairly easy to substitute organic coconut butter for margarine, but sugar really is one of a kind, especially when you’re talking buttercream.

So, while I continue to experiment with an agave-based buttercream frosting (and to post to Holidailies), I am left with my old standby, agave fudgy frosting, for cupcakes.  Though delicious and thoroughly chocolatey, it’s not airy in the least, and not as easy to pipe into ruffles or scallops or drop flowers. It tends to sport a high-gloss finish, and can be a bit stiff, sometimes firming up so much that it won’t agree to be piped at all.  When the vanilla version is colored for decorations, it resembles the type of gel-like icings you buy in little tubes in the grocery store–not much fine detail to work with, there. 

cupcakeswscoop.jpg

[cupcakes with a scoop of frosting, waiting to be transformed. . .

So, when I received an order for some last-minute cupcakes decorated with a holiday theme, I wasn’t sure what to do.  Without any formal training in cake decorating (which, I’m fairly sure, wouldn’t be much help with this type of frosting, anyway), I had to improvise.  So I thought about simple line drawings of bells or bows that I could pipe onto the cupcakes, or how I might fill in an outline with colored frosting, which would then be smoothed flat, with something like a stained glass effect.

nakedcupcakes.jpg

[The blank canvas waiting for inspiration] 

Well, in the end, I would say the experiment was a semi-success.  You can tell what I was trying to achieve, but the icing just wouldn’t smooth out, so my holly leaves have little bumpy ridges on them.  Still, they tasted great (what? I couldn’t very well give them away without sampling to ensure quality, now, could I?), and I know that the kids who’ll be eating them will be thrilled. 

cupcakeholiday.jpg

[chocolate and agave holiday cheer] 

With precious little time left before the holiday and so many people on the lookout for Christmas recipes, I’ll contribute one more festive cookie.  These are a dense, chewy round that combines a peanut butter base with chocolate chips and cranberries.  If you bake them the full suggested time, they’ll be crispy on the edges and soft but dry inside.  Bake a little less, and they’ll cool to a moist and chewy goodness.  These are actually better the second day, as the PB flavor intensifies.

Hmm.  Peanut butter, chocolate and cranberries. . . I may just have to bake some of these myself. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on that sugarless vegan buttercream.

Holiday Cranberry Chippers

 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Quick and Easy Tofu Masala

December 20, 2007

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed today, what with an order for 56 frosted cupcakes due by noon, as well as an article on cooking with avocado expected by this afternoon.  Yikes.  Therefore, today’s Holidailies post will be short and sweet.  Or, in this case, short and spicy.

This recipe for Tofu Masala is quick and easy, despite the long list of spices that need to be ground into a curry. I’ve adapted the recipe from the fabulous cookbook, Green, by Flip Shelton.  When I saw it in Chapters, I loved the modern, clean look of the book and bought it on impulse, but must say it’s become one of my favorites because of the recipes. 

Maybe it’s my lifelong enchantment with Australia (and New Zealand) that drew me to it, but the book itself is a definite winner, filled with fresh, delicious, quick dishes that have, so far, always come out just right.

This recipe was one of my first ventures into homemade curries, and I was a bit intimidated by all the spices the first time I made it; my mother’s spice cupboard, in contrast, contained exactly one jar each of garlic salt, paprika, onion salt, and white pepper.  All I knew about fenugreek at the time was that it’s commonly used in Ayurvedic cooking, and is supposed to help keep blood sugar levels even (enough of a reason right there to try it, I guess).  But the spice mixture here–and it’s a powerfully hot mix, so beware if you’re timid about hot spice–is the perfect blend to offset the otherwise bland tofu, the al dente vegetables, and the brown basmati rice. 

Sorry I don’t have a photo of this one; we made it at my last cooking class and consumed it before I remembered to snap a picture.  I’ll add one in next time we eat it over here at D,D & D. 

Easy Masala Curry with Veggies and Tofu

This dish is truly a snap to make, despite the long list of spices.  And you can alter the mix of vegetables to your taste, or according to what’s on hand in the fridge!

1/2-1 small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

 4 cloves garlic, chopped

1-inch piece of ginger, minced

2 T. chopped cilantro

1 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. whole black peppercorns

1 tsp. black mustard seeds

1 tsp. fenugreek

1 tsp. ground turmeric

1 tsp. Sucanat or 5 drops stevia

Pinch sea salt

Juice of one lemon

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

About 400 g. (1 lb.) firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed

1 cup green beans, cut in half, or green peas

1/2 red pepper, chopped

2 small Japanese eggplants, cut in disks

1 cup button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

4 medium tomatoes, chopped 

Place the jalapeno, garlic, ginger, cilantro, spices, sucanat, salt and lemon juice in a small food processor or coffee grinder and blend until you have a paste.  Set aside. 

Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat and add the onions.  Saute for two minutes, or until just soft. Add the chili paste and stir until the onion is well coated. Add the tofu, and stir to coat.  Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Serve over brown basmati rice. Makes 4-6 servings.

Leftover Pizza for Breakfast

November 30, 2007

pizzaslice.jpg I must be on a “dinner-for-breakfast” kick.  This morning, I scarfed up the last 2 pieces of pizza from last night’s cooking class.  Normally, the class participants take all the leftovers home with them, but due to intermittent snow squalls throughout the GTA, two people cancelled at the last minute and left me with–yum!–breakfast.

I am feeling a bit downcast this morning, as last night’s was the final class, not just of 2007, but likely forever.  After four years of offering alternative cooking classes in my home and finally reaching some sort of critical mass on the website, I decided with this recent move to stop teaching in the house. 

First of all, my H.H. hated it (since he was relegated to the upstairs TV room for the entire evening), and even though The Girls loved it (“Yes, Mum, all those new people to sniff and free food dropping from the air all evening!”), I find this new place isn’t as well suited to having three cooking stations in the kitchen.  Besides, it’s a new home; time for a fresh start.  I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with other projects and commitments lately that it was beginning to seem onerous every time I had to prep a class (a full-day venture, plus cleaning up until midnight most nights).

What I will miss is meeting an ongoing array of amazing women (sorry, Garry, you were the only man to register in the entire four years!) who have opened my mind to new experiences and taught me more about life than I could ever have taught them about cooking.

Believe me, as one who formerly suffered from anxiety attacks, I was the last person you’d expect to invite total strangers into  my home.  But after a giddy year as a nutrition student at CSNN, my desire to share what I’d learned and cook with the amazing selection of new and healthy foods I’d discovered overcame any doubts I may have had.  (Besides, we all know that the last thing those health-foodie, crunchy granola types would ever do is steal or pillage).

So:  to Giovanna, who burst onto the scene post-radiation with her smile still beaming, it was such a pleasure to meet you and observe as you entered this world of alternative medicine and organic eating.  Your courage and determination have inspired me.  And so cool to know that there are such incredibly gorgeous wigs out there (though I must say I prefer the natural grey on you).

To Sandra, with your naturally effervescent nature, thank you for winning the prize for “only student who attended all fourteen cooking classes in a single season.”  I enjoyed hearing the plethora of stories about your kids and their pranks, and I wish you continued success as you introduce healthier options into your family’s menus. 

To Barbara, with your peripatetic streak and calming smile, I so enjoyed hearing about your many travels and so many interesting customs from other countries.  Thank you for your unbridled appreciation of the food and for being so affectionate with my dogs (“yes, thanks, Barbara!”).  I know you will love your upcoming time in Cairo.

To Maria-Elena, you brought an informal approach and many guffaws to the class.  Thank you for showing me that the Coconut Cream Pie could work when made in the blender, even though that wasn’t what the recipe called for. Who needs to measure, anyway?

To Michelle, I’m so glad you took that first chance and leapt in.  I have so enjoyed our outings and discovering this new friendship. And thanks for all the great puppy pix and recipes to try out! You are a natural at it.

There are so many more, and every one has touched me in some indelible way.  Still, I know this was the right move for me, one that will allow my concentration to move to more current interests (hmm, such as this blog!). 

Yes, I will sorely miss the camaraderie and buzz in the kitchen.  What I won’t miss is having to dash frantically around the house cleaning up the night before class (oh, wait, maybe I should miss that–this may mean our house is never clean again!).  I won’t miss the last-minute forays to the corner store for overlooked okra or missing miso, or having to reprimand Chaser when the guests arrive because her exuberance overtakes her and she jumps up on people even though she’s been trained not to (“But Mum!  They might have food!”).

Last evening’s theme was “Light and Easy Suppers,” healthy dishes that are mostly kid-friendly and can be cooked up in a fairly short span. 

Here’s the final menu (this suddenly feels like a tribute to the Titanic, or something!):

  • Sesame Sweet Potato Wedges with Thai Dipping Sauce
  • Spelt Thin-Crust Pizza with Artichokes, Caramelized Onion, and Chard (photo above)
  • Tofu Masala Curry with Brown Basmati
  • Moroccan Spiced Tomato Soup
  • Napa Cabbage Salad
  • Gluten-Free Pumpkinseed Shortbread Cookies.

I will post recipes for all of these over the next while. Now that there will BE no more cooking classes, this is my best place to share, though I don’t have all the photos yet (of course, given my shaky photography “skills,” that may not be a bad thing).

In the meantime, why not indulge in pizza for breakfast?

Mediterranean Tofu Scramble

November 29, 2007

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE NEW SITE BY CLICKING HERE.

I have to admit, it took me a long time to warm up to tofu. 

When I first revamped my diet in accordance with the NAG principles, I had never eaten tofu, let alone familiarized myself with the many varieties in which it’s available.  My naturopath touted the truism you hear so often:  “It’s basically flavorless on its own, so it absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it with. ” Great!, I thought, I’ll make some tofu tonight! , and went out and bought some. 

Back then, I didn’t know about the importance of buying organic tofu, or which type to buy, so I just got any old extra-firm.  Went home, and created some kind of pseudo-stew (the ingredients of which elude me now) and tasted it.  Bah!  Feh!  Ptewie!  I couldn’t even eat one full mouthful.

No taste, you say?  Absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s with?  Uh, sorry, no.  Tofu tastes exactly like what it is: cooked, compressed soybeans.  Ugh.

It took me several months of experimentation, some great cookbooks, and a dogged determination to finally hit upon a few recipes I could actually eat and enjoy.  Over the years, tofu has become one of my very favorite foods, a staple in our home, despite the many controversies swirling round it.

The trick, I’ve found, is to use assertive flavors that can complement and conceal it.  Pressing the tofu helps considerably, as that causes the water to exude, thereby leaving little gaps for the sauce to sneak its way in and become absorbed.  Baking firm or extra-firm tofu in a hearty sauce is useful, too.  (Now, desserts are a whole other matter, and they most often require aseptically-packaged silken tofu.  But depending on the dessert, you can choose anything from Soft-Silken to Extra-Firm Silken. Occasionally, cheesecakes are good with Chinese-style, water-packed firm tofu. Some souffle-type desserts are best made with medium tofu.  Okay, got all that? Quiz to follow).

I’ve said this before, and it truly bears repeating: I’m a very lazy cook.  Not the best trait for someone whose dietary restrictions require that everything be made from scratch.  Consequently, I try to find shortcuts where I can.  Use the food processor instead of the hand grater; make up huge batches and freeze for later re-heating; or, as in the case of this morning’s breakfast, recyle up leftovers whenever possible.

simplegreens.jpg

[Yesterday's Simple Sauteed Greens] 

I enjoyed some simple sauteed greens for dinner last evening (yes, that’s all I even wanted, after a mid-afternoon chocolate frenzy), and so had a container of pre-sauteed broccoli rabe hanging out in the fridge.  The saute was super-easy:  sliced garlic, olive oil, chopped rabe.  That’s it.  I also noticed some leftover canned crushed tomatoes being stored in a glass jar.  I’d been hankering after a tofu scramble for several days, so thought this would be a great opportunity to whip one up (no matter that the house is still not unpacked, and I’m hosting what will probably be my last-ever at home cooking class tomorrow evening–none of which is prepared yet).

Tofu is a wonderful scrambled egg substitute, I find, especially when it’s crumbled (as here) rather than cubed.  This dish provides complete protein courtesy of the tofu, high-protein pine nuts, and the greens.  You’ll also be acquiring a surfeit of minerals here, due to the many trace minerals in the greens and the high iron in the raisins. Garlic and tomato round out the dish for antioxidant benefits–and the many anti-bacterial, anti-viral qualities of the garlic are a true boon this time of year (at least, for those of us enduring a cold, wet winter, such as we get in Ontario). 

You’ll find this dish is still quite saucy, so decrease the tomatoes if desired.  The combination of herbs works wonderfully with the pine nuts and raisins, the sweetness of which act as a perfect counterpoint to the bitter greens and slightly acrid tomato.  If you find broccoli rabe too bitter, I think chopped chard would be excellent here, too.

As I said, I ate this for breakfast, but it seems to me most people would find it suitable as a dinner dish or even a side dish.

mediterraneanscramble.jpg

Mediterranean Tofu Scramble

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 [Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved!  If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

* * *

The snow here in the GTA this morning is relentless–curtains of white, ice pellets grazing your cheeks as you attempt, vainly, to walk the crunchy path to the local park to appease The Girls.  It was Chaser’s first experience with snow, and apparently (so my H.H. tells me), she loved it, bouncing and prancing and pawing at every crystallized chunk that scuttled her way along the road.  (“That stuff is awesome, Mum!  Can we go out again?  Can we? Huh? Huh?!”)

firstsnow.jpg

[If you look really hard, you can see snowflakes against the fence.]

On mornings like this, I wish I had a fireplace before which I could curl up and just read, my latest book club book (as-yet unchosen, since it will be my pick this time round), one of the fifty or so I have stacked up in my office, the entire newspaper, magazines, or food mags.  But, hey, wait a second!  I do have a fireplace (albeit gas–ugh), one of the nicer features of this house.  Unfortunately, it’s still surrounded by boxes and as-yet unassembled bookcases and other detritus that we haven’t found a place for yet. 

But something about the snow and the cold, as we all know, elicits a strong desire for comfort foods. As if I don’t have enough cravings for chocolate, anyway.

In order to satisfy the urge and eat something relatively healthy, I decided to mix up my favorite vegan chocolate pudding.  Now, admittedly, there are at least 7,482 such recipes floating on the Internet and in various vegan cookbooks, but I still think mine is best.  It’s an amalgam of recipes I’ve read over the years for similar puddings, from the McDougall‘s original to the ubiquitous vegan chocolate mousse one finds everywhere. 

chocpudding1.jpg

This one is ultra-rich tasting, creamy and has a certain globby texture that reminds me exactly of old-fashioned, cooked, chocolate pudding.  Only this one is made with relatively low-fat silken tofu (the kind in the aseptic boxes), cocoa powder (lower fat than actual chocolate), and agave nectar instead of any refined sugar.  Chocolate bliss, truly. 

One caveat:  my photos do not do justice to this extraordinary dessert.  (In fact, the H.H. thinks it looks sort of like poo.  “Poo?  Did you say, ‘Poo,’ Mum?  But I love to eat poo!”).  Seriously, you have to try it.  Even the highly carnivorous H.H. loves it (despite its scatological appearance).

Heavenly Chocolate Tofu Pudding

chocpudding2.jpg

[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog.  For more information, check the “Cookbook” button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]

TO VIEW THE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers