DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! TO VISIT THE NEW SITE, PLEASE CLICK 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.” 

Back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Windsor, my first boyfriend and I (hiya, Mark! How’s tricks?) would regularly venture across the Ambassador bridge to the Greektown in Detroit (quite literally, a stone’s throw away).  That’s where I first tasted saganaki–kefalotyri cheese (like an aristocratic feta) doused in brandy and set aflame in the pan, right by your table, to raucous chants of “OPA!” and clapping from anyone in the vicinity.  The semi-melted cheese, crispy on the outsideand soft on the inside, was chewy, melty, oily, salty (basically any adjective ending in “-y”) and I absolutely adored it plonked on big, cushy pieces of Greek bread.

When the HH and I got together, we lived near the Greek area of Toronto and regularly indulged in our fair share of saganaki as well. Then I was diagnosed with IBS and changed my diet dramatically. Basically, I abandoned saganaki along with the rest of the restaurant’s menu–it was all Greek to me (or, at least, to my digestive system).

But there was one item in which I could still indulge, and still eat with gusto and impunity: dolmades.    

Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’re probably familiar with these bite-sized stuffed grape leaves.  Like my mother’s cabbage rolls of yore, the dolmades use smaller, softer grape leaves and roll them around a log of rice filling.  And while they are most often served with ground meat, they can be found in vegetarian versions as well, which I enjoy immensely.

I’ve always dreamt of making my own, home-made, dolmades. It’s a shame, then, that I’m just basically too lazy to do so.  Who wants to spend 3 hours of prepping and rolling just so the HH and I can devour them in 10 minutes?  And that’s where Deconstruction came in.

In university, I “studied” a literary theory called Deconstruction, which supposedly demonstrated how language has no inherent meaning, and words are just representations of our preconceived, culturally determined notions (the approach was characterized, primarily, by the generous use of parentheses, dashes and slashes in their writing.) 

Well, I hated Deconstruction. In fact, if someone had (de)constructed Deconstruction and left it to fade into oblivion in its little de/con(structed) sentence frag(me)nts, I would not have minded one bit. I recall sitting round seminar tables during my M.A. degree and squirming as I listened to the other students pontificate about Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and a non-linear group of other the(or)ists.  I kept thinking, “What the heck are these people talking about?! This makes no sense to me.”  (Later, after years of psychological trauma believing I was a numbskulled cretin, I discovered that none of them actually knew what they were talking about, either; they were just better at tossing around all that postmodern, poststructuralist, etymological, phenomenological mumbo-jumbo). 

My favorite use of this approach was the (now famous) re-structuring of the word “therapist” as “(the)rapist,” supposedly exposing our culturally-specific, misogynistic, subtext of the word. But I think the theory reached its all-time apex of absurdity in the form of a book we were asked to study as PhD students, in which the author filled individual (separate, unbound) pages with random words, piled the pages into a box like a set of stationery, then asked the students to dump the contents of the box onto a large table, shuffle the pages, and critique the results. I don’t remember any of the “re-visioning” of the text we came up with, but I am fairly certain that many a PhD student who’d “read” that book had a good, long supply of birdcage liners for many years to follow.

And so, in an ironic return to the reviled principles of Deconstruction, I decided to focus my attention not on the hidden meanings in the structure of words, but in the hidden flavors in the structure of grape leaves. The resultant Mediterranean Rice Casserole is an unconventional, unstructured mixture of brown rice, chopped collards (which stand in for grape leaves here) and spices reminiscent of the original dish.  It both is/and is not an accurate rendition of dolmades, and your interpretation of its flavor shifts constantly, depending on the particular arrangement–never the same twice–of individual elements in each specific bite.

The flavors will remind you of a long-ago meal in a Greek restaurant.  At the same time, the structure of the dish will remind you of a child’s kaleidoscope, ever shifting as you peer into the tube. Is there any way to interpret a consistent meaning for this dish?  Is there any signficance to the particular arrangement of fragmented colors in the casserole?  Can we extract some symbolic, gender-specific and pre-existing cultural stereotype from this dish?

Naw. So let’s just forget about all that theory, get ready to eat, and heartily par(take) of this de/lec(table) meal.

OPA!

Mum, you’re really not making any sense here. . . but can we deconstruct the leftovers?” 

Mediterranean Rice Casserole

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

A great way to use up extra rice and any kind of green leafy vegetables, this dish comes together quickly and works well as both a main course or a side. 

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! TO VISIT THE NEW SITE, PLEASE CLICK 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.” 

When it comes right down to it, (and like most Canadians), I’m pretty happy living in this country.  Oh, sure, I complain about the health care system and the excessive taxes, but secretly I’m proud.  When I went to Europe, I openly displayed a Maple Leaf on my backpack (in those days, only actual Canadians did that). I don’t mind the stereotype that we’re all hockey-and-beer obsessed (both of which I can’t stand), since it seems to be balanced by another stereotype, that we’re the peacekeepers of the world

Over the years, I’ve also appreciated the fact that, as opposed to a “melting pot,” we here in Canuk Country offer a “multicultural mosaic.” Because Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, its denizens contribute generously to that multi-faceted, multi-colored variegation.  A quick mental tally tells me I’ve taught students from six continents and almost 70 countries over the years. 

In an English class a few years back, I received a collection of essays from students who’d immigrated to Canada.  They told stories about landing at the Toronto airport on December 25th, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts; or having an in-house bathroom (with running water!) for the first time; reuniting with siblings they hadn’t seen for a dozen or more years; or being introduced to “Canadian” food (ie McDonald’s).  They also told stories about the information pamphlets they’d received from the government before they arrived. 

These days, they informed me, our multicultural populace is no longer referred to as a “mosaic.”  In fact, these days it seems Canada is more than just a peaceful, tolerant, polite country.

Canada, you see, is a salad.

Yep, that’s how the Canadian government, in all its gubernatorial solemnity, describes our great land.  Does this sound suspiciously like an episode of Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans?  Would that it were.  You see, a salad is presumably the perfect metaphor for our diverse population:  just as with a colorful tossed salad, people from all around the world are welcome to join us in this big bowl o’ Canada.  Once squished together in that ol’ Salad Bowl of the North, we mingle and mix, yet the separate elements each retain their individual characters, colors, and flavors–a harmonious coexistence, the sum greater than the individual parts; yet we never meld into each other.  As Doug and Bob McKenzie might say, Beauty!

So when I came up with this idea for a salad to contribute to Lisa and Holler’s No Croutons Required event, I immediately thought of this Canadian metaphor.  Not only is the salad a fusion of different colors and flavors, it’s also filled with items hailing from countries around the globe–Swiss “cheese,” mangoes from Southeast Asia, basil (originally) from India, balsamic vinegar from Italy–and perfect for a Canadian salad. In my mind, I envisioned a newfangled version of Caprese salad , except with a twist–the combination of mango and tomato offering an unexpected contrast in both color and flavor alongside the mild cheese and perfumed basil. (In this case, of course, the cheese in question would be “Un-Cheese,” the “Mostarella” from Joanne Stepaniuk’s Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook). Since Holler was asking for salads with cheese, this seemed the perfect occasion to finally try one of the “block” cheeses in the book.

The “Mostarella” started out well: I ground some oats and mixed them with nutritional yeast, soymilk, and a few other ingredients.  And while the mixture did appear a little too soft when I spread it in the mold, the recipe had cautioned that it needed overnight refrigeration to set, so I popped it in the fridge and waited. 

To my horror, the next morning it was still more like cheese sauce than cheese.  Oh, well, back to the cutting board.  Attempt number two: this time, I used a recipe for mild Swiss “cheese.”  With 5 tablespoons of agar, I had a feeling this one would set.  And set it did!  It produced a mild, firm yet soft, slightly tangy cheese with a hint of that acerbic zing characterizing most Swiss cheese.  I cut it into cubes and prepared the salad.

Based on this recipe (and switching basil for the cilantro), the salad sounded as if it would be a perfectly compatible match for the cheese.  Unfortunately, this international vegetable bowl didn’t produce the same harmonious result as a tossed Canada.  The mango and tomato competed for gustarory prominence, while the dressing seemed out of place against the sweet mango and basil.  In fact, I must admit that the only part of this salad I truly enjoyed was the “cheese.” 

I know the event asked for salad with cheese, but I just wouldn’t feel right recommending this salad recipe.  However, if you’d like to try some homemade vegan Swiss cheese, here’s a terrific choice.  I know: just eat it in Toronto, Canada, and you can pretend it’s surrounded by tossed salad.

Vegan Swiss Cheese

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

This cheese is lighter than dairy cheese, and not as filling (so you can eat more!). It holds its shape perfectly, so it can be sliced, cubed, or grated–and it lasts up to 5 days in the fridge.

 

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.” 

 

 

 

[NB: A huge “THANK YOU” to all of you who sent good wishes my way yesterday. I really wasn’t intending to sound so “woe-is-me” (I do that quite enough around the diet issues, thank you), but just reflecting on how the day could elicit positive vibes for all concerned.  Your comments sure worked toward that end for me, though: big hugs to all of you! ]

In my mind, here’s the perfect way to wake up on a Sunday morning: 

Outside, the weather is balmy. A mild breeze whispers through the slightly opened window, curtains undulating softly with each invisible breath.  The sun makes its presence known through the diaphanous curtain as it tickles the pillows of our bed with little sparkles of laughing light. Elsie pads quietly over to my side of the bed and, as gently as a rose petal floating to the ground, taps my open palm with her soft, moist nose. I open my eyes slowly. Glancing toward the window, I stretch luxuriously and think, “Ahh, yes! Another lovely, sunny Sunday! This is a perfect time to have. . . BREAKFAST.” 

Unfortunately, the reality yesterday morning was more like this scenario:

It’s dark; the cold, clammy night air refuses to release its death grip on the house, barreling its way into the room through the open window.  Thin and defenseless, the curtains ripple and flap, rousing me with their wistful “flltt, flltt, fllllltttt” tapping an SOS against the pane.  Chaser thumps enthusiastically over to my side of the bed and, with a serviceable impersonation of an approaching foghorn, targets my exposed ear with her wet, cold nose. My eyes pop awake and dart toward the window: monochrome grey sky, raindrops still clinging to the glass. Outside, there’s a constant flutter of leaves pelted by rain.  I jerk upright, reach for the bedside lamp and lament, “Aaarrghh!  Another crappy, rainy, gloomy Sunday.” But wait; pause. My smile returns, and I reconsider: “Oh, well.  Typical Toronto day. But at least it’s time for–BREAKFAST!”

Like bright copper kettles and whiskers on kittens, breakfast does seem to make everything a little better, doesn’t it?

Well, as soon as I read about the second Recipe Remix blog event, hosted by Robin of Made with Love and Danielle of Make No Little Meals, I knew I had to enter. The event focuses on breakfast foods, asking bloggers to “remix” a traditional food in a new way.  Admittedly, the breakfast pickings were pretty slim (ah, if only I could say as much for my thighs): six dishes, five of which contained eggs, and all of which contained wheat–both no-no’s for this brekkie lover.  Initially, I narrowed the choice down to pancakes, crepes, or French toast. 

Now, as much as I love pancakes and crepes, I’d already dealt with both of those on this blog. Time for a new challenge.  But why, oh why did it have to be French toast?  I hate French toast.  Okay, maybe that’s being slightly dishonest.  The truth is, I TOTALLY, WHOLLY, ENTIRELY, COMPLETELY, ABSOLUTELY hate French toast. Can’t stand it. Never touch the stuff. Blech! French Toast is my mortal enemy! And I’m really not particularly fond of it, either.

I’m not sure why I developed this bone-chilling aversion to what is, arguably, a well-loved (and certainly popular) breakfast staple.  Perhaps it was my mother’s tendency to use approximately half a tub of margarine when frying the stuff, resulting in that previously unknown breakfast delicacy, Deep Fried Brick.  Despite the slices fairly floating in grease like aging Floridians at the pool, the toast inevitably still turned out slightly scorched on the outside.  At that point, my mom would stack the slabs on a plate (no blotting on a paper towel for her!) and douse them in corn syrup. The heavy, unctuous substance would spread, a slowly oozing blob that was eventually absorbed by the top slice, leaving it wet, weighted, and about as appetizing as a kitchen sponge just lifted from the bucket of grey, murky, muddy water. Ooh, yum. French toast, anyone?

I knew had to get over my childhood toast trauma.  I decided to approach it like an episode of Iron Chef: I’d been challenged to transform the lowly pain grillé into something mouth-watering, something delectable.  Was I up to the task?  Alas, I couldn’t think of anything.  I was at a loss; I was afraid I’d blow it.  In fact, I was certain I’d be. . . well, toast.

But this blog event was called Recipe REMIX, which meant I had carte blanche to change up the dish any way I wanted.  And who ever said that French Toast has to be fried?  In fact, it was the preparation method alone that rendered the stuff unpalatable to me; change the method, change the result.  Eliminating the frying would also result in a lighter, airier product.  I decided to bake the dish instead, after breaking the bread into smaller bits so they could soak up the liquid ingredients while nestled in a single soufflée dish: a French Toast casserole.

Working with a fairly standard (egg- and dairy-free, of course) mixture for soaking French toast, I added a few extra touches, such as a splash of berry liqueur or some mixed berries as a reminder of spring, a means to elicit that sunshine I missed so much in the morning.

As the mixture baked and browned, the bits of bread continued to soak up the batter, expanding and puffing like a male dove preening for a mate.  It rose up so much, in fact, with such a fluffy and almost mousse-like texture, that I decided to call it “French Toast Soufflé.” 

We ate it warm, bites of spongy, soft bread punctuated with bursts of juicy berries; but it could easily be served cold.  And while I didn’t have time to make any soy-free whipped cream yesterday, a dollop of cream would be the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of this fruity, light and delectable dish. 

Go on, indulge.  Why not have a big bowl for breakfast? It will make the rest of the day seem that much better.

 French Toast Soufflé with Summer Berries

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

I think this is what someone like Nigella would call a “summer pudding,” though I’ve never had one of those.  It would be a fabulous dish for a springtime brunch buffet, or even as a dessert following a light summer meal. 

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

Having lost my own mother over 15 years ago (yes, far too young, for both of us) and never having personally enjoyed the tangle of emotions that is motherhood, I tend to overlook today’s particular holiday, celebrated by the bulk of the Western world.

While catching up on my ever-expanding list of blogs on Google Reader, I happened upon Ashasarala’s poignant post for today.  It got me thinking:  aren’t I still a daughter?  And what about those other “mothers” I’ve known in my life (both actual and figurative), from my beloved CBC to my older sister to a couple of my best friends? This seems the perfect day to connect with those mothers, whether through birth, adoption, extended family, or simply psychological ties.

So here’s a wish for all of you who are, have been, or just feel like mothers today: may you enjoy meaningful, happy and loving encounters on this day, with the people (and pets) who mean the most to you–whoever they are. 

[“See, Chaser, I told you you were adopted!”

Um, hate to tell you, Elsie, but with that shnoz, it’s obvious that you shouldn’t be sounding so smug, either.”]

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.  

cosmiccookie2.jpg

[Unretouched photo of unidentified, disk-like objects, hovering in the air over my kitchen table]

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.”]  

Before I metthe HH, I’d read exactly one science fiction novel (Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, when I was about twelve) and seen only the standard TV shows or movies, such as Star Trek (in all its incarnations–though Deep Space really was an inferior specimen, don’t you think?) or Planet of the Apes.  It’s not that I’m uninterested in what might be happening on other planets or other universes; it’s just that, frankly, I have a hard enough time dealing with just this one–I mean, who needs more stress? 

Still, as a huge fan of all types of film (except anything with violence–which, I suppose, eliminates just about everything on screen these days, even down to Shrek the Third or Get Smart ), I was perfectly agreeable when the HH offered to introduce some of his favorite SF films to me, shortly after we first got together (of course, I was still trying to impress him back in those days, so I was pretty much agreeable to almost anything he suggested*). 

From La Jetée (the inspiration for Twelve Monkeys, aka The Only Film in which Pretty Boy Brad Pitt was Actually Any Good) to the original The Day the Earth Stood Still to Blade Runner, I have to admit I’ve enjoyed them all.  And these days, we’re both hooked on Battlestar Gallactica,  that terrific Canadian-U.S. co-production that’s not only well written and well performed, but a fascinating allegory for today’s political and religious climates (oh, and hunky Jamie Bamber in the role of Lee Adama doesn’t hurt, either). 

It seemed fitting, then, that I’d spy a recipe the other day for something with the oh-so-clever name of Cosmic Cookies (ie, they’re “out of this world”–get it?) at the new Planet Organic store that opened recently not too far from us. This was a monumental ouverture, as it was the first Big Organic Market north of the city (Toronto does have Whole Foods, but that’s way downtown in the tony Hazelton Lanes/Yorkville area, a far way to go for those of us orbiting out here in the ‘burbs).

cosmiccookiebite.jpg Well, I couldn’t wait to amble through the aisles and explore this newfound “planet.”  The atmosphere seemed amenable: I spent about 45 minutes inspecting the inventory, from prepared foods (salads, veggies, patties, croquettes, loaves, etc.)  to vegan baked goods (the orange-cranberry muffin I bought was, unfortunately, disappointing) to pastas, produce and packaged goods. 

Pleased overall, I ended up purchasing “just a few things” (at the checkout, once I regained the ability to breathe, I calculated that my little spree worked out to approximately $1.00 per minute. Clearly, this is no impoverished planet).

Here’s my haul:

1) Veggie patties.  Fittingly alien-looking with nubby edges and a deep carmine color, these little creatures were a mélange of carrots, beets, almonds, and an array of spices.  A bit too sweet for my taste; nevertheless, good lunch food.

2) Teriyaki tofu “steaks.”  Basically the first tofu recipe I ever cooked for myself: slabs of tofu marinated in the ubiquitous mix of soy sauce, ginger, something sweet and garlic. These were fine, if less than inspired.

3) A slice of bison meatloaf for the HH.  He loved it.  Enough said.

4) The pièce de resistance, the holy grail, the UFO (Unidentified Flour Object) I’d been seeking for weeks: a bag of coconut flour. I’d read about this elusive ingredient many times (it’s a mainstay in Deb’srecipes) but had never been able to find it before.  The coconut flour will provide me with hours of kitchen fun, playing with recipes for yet more cakes, cookies, bars, muffins, or pies free of wheat, eggs or dairy–and now, perhaps, free of gluten, too (it’s a GF flour).

In the meantime, I whipped up a batch of the store’s own Cosmic Cookies, a signature sweet made primarily of oats, seeds, raisins, chocolate chips and coconut.  I was so fixated on my coconut flour that I forgot to add the shredded coconut to the mix; they still came out fine. Since the store published the recipe in their own flyer, I assumed they wouldn’t mind my sharing it here as well.  

And though I enjoyed my visit to the store, I think I’ll restrict any future inter-planetary shopping to just the coconut flour. As much as I enjoyed the visit, it seems more like a special-occasion, rather than a regular, destination. Just like every other planet.

*No, nothing like that, you perverts!

Planet Organic’s Cosmic Cookies (verbatim from their flyer)

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

cosmiccookieinside.jpg

I modified this recipe ever so slightly. These are not too sweet and very filling, yet somehow, strangely addictive.  Could it be the extra-terrestrial influence?

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.”]  

Well, it’s certainly been a poster week for “Beginning of the Summer Semester” at the college:  long lineups outside the Chair’s office (but really, doesn’t it sound better as “Office Chairs”?), students transferring from one class to the next, questions, emails; scheduling changes so speedy that students barely have time to check their timetables before they’re registered in a new course. Yep, it’s kept me on my toes, with nary a minute extra to indulge my extra-curricular activities (really, now! Get those minds out of the gutter!). Activities such as writing this blog.  (Oh, and to all my students this term: Hi, Guys!)

Taking part in my Total Health course hasn’t actually helped much with the dearth of spare time, either.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I am loving this course, and it’s kept me on the Path of Righteous Eating for the past 2-1/2 weeks (and I must admit, I am feeling MUCH more energetic and lighter so far). 

Apart from our homework (see the Coda at the end of the post), the course requires that one prepare and eat healthy food.  No, I mean ÜBER healthy food–the type I learned at nutrition school:  nothing pre-packaged, nothing processed, nothing with chemicals, additives, sugar, wheat (or even flour, if I’m going to be really strict about it), nothing alcoholic, and, perhaps most difficult of all, nothing chocolate.  (Yep, that’s right; those muffins and cupcakes I wrote about last time?  Verboten.  Banned. Prohibited. Technically not allowed.  So was it lack of willpower or courageous defiance that prompted me to bake them?  I’ll let you be the judge.) 

What this directive translates to, for the most part, is spending more time in the kitchen.  More time peeling parsnips, more time scooping seeds out of butternut squash, more time cutting leaves from collard stems, more time dicing onions, more time chopping, slicing, sautéeing, stirring, simmering, pouring, spreading, baking, cutting.  The only part that doesn’t take more time is eating.

Well, for those of you who’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you may have inferred that, when it comes to cooking, I’m all about “easy.”  As much as I relish veggies, whole grains, dried beans or legumes and raw nuts and seeds, I am less than enthusiastic about the time required to transform those raw materials into something worth its all-natural, unrefined, organic, hand-harvested, Artisanal Celtic sea salt.

The other night, having spent the day on campus, I got home a little later than usual.  I was hungry. In fact, I was ready to eat dinner right that very minute.  But dinner, unfortunately, was not ready for me.  Perusing the contents of the fridge and considering what I could throw together that would satisfy both me and the HH, I came up with this lovely millet and pepper dish. 

My health course has been highlighting gluten-free grains, and millet is a definite winner in that category.  Great for heart health and (like all whole grains) ample in fiber, millet also offers antioxidant properties at par with, or superior to, many fruits and vegetables (such as helping prevent breast cancer, Type II diabetes, asthma or postmenopausal symptoms).  Finally, it’s generally considered to be the “most alkaline” of whole grains, meaning that it supports the natural pH (acid-alkaline) balance in our blood.

For most of you, this would likely serve as a sidekick to a separate main attraction (whether tofu, tempeh, meat, or whatever).  For me, it ended up as the entire meal, though I’d caution that this really isn’t protein-rich enough to use that way very often. 

The best part was that it came together quickly, and still tasted great.  The combination of mild curry and coconut milk adds an Asian undertone to the dish, complimented by the sweetness in the red peppers.  When the veggies are combined in a casserole dish with the grain, the millet becomes imbued with a lovely golden color that’s a great visual counterpoint to the red.  Pretty to look at, pleasingly aromatic and ready in a flash–it’s the perfect date side dish!

With its peppers and fresh basil, this is a great submission to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging event, started at Kalyn’s Kitchen and this week hosted by Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

Easy Millet and Red Pepper Pilaf

From start to finish, this dish can be ready in about 20 minutes.  It’s also great the next day.

1 cup (250 ml.) vegetable broth

1/2 cup (125 ml.) coconut milk

1/2 cup dry millet

1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 large red peppers, cored, seeded and chopped

3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 small tomato, diced

1 tsp. (5 ml.) mild curry powder (or more, to taste)

1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground coriander

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).  Grease a large casserole or spray with nonstick coating.

In a medium-sized pot, combine the broth and coconut milk, and bring just to the boil over medium heat.  Add the millet, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the millet is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed (if it’s not ready after 20 minutes, continue to cook for 5 minutes at a time and check until done).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to coat the veggies with the spices, and continue to cook another 5-10 minutes, until onion is soft. 

Stir the veggies into the millet mixture and turn into the casserole.  Bake until heated through and slightly browned on top, 20-25 minutes.  Serves two as a main course or 3 as a side dish. May be frozen.

Total Health Coda: This week’s lesson involved, once again, eating mindfully.  We actually did the “eating a raisin” meditation that I mentioned in a previous post.  The major insight for me, though, was delivered through an exercise we did at the end of the class (after we’d sampled at least four delectable, healthy dishes).  We were asked to tune in to our bodies to seek any lingering sense of hunger, and, if so, to determine where it resided.  Many in the class identified a metaphorical “hunger,” somewhere in the chest, or vicinity of the heart.  As the teacher remarked, “You may feel as if you’ve eaten enough, yet still feel hungry.”  In other words, this is clearly not a hunger for food per se

For some reason, I found this realization revelatory:  What? You mean it’s okay to just feel hungry, and not do anything about it? You don’t have to eat when you feel that way?  Of course, I’d encountered similar sentiments over the years in books, on websites, or at lectures, but somehow honing in on the exact spot of the “hunger” made it abundantly clear that eating, in so many cases, is used to satisfy emotional yearning as well as physical appetite.

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[That’s our little Vanilla, in the middle]

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

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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.”]  

So, I heard somewhere that it’s hockey season now.  Oh, don’t look so surprised: despite having been raised in Montreal (a hockey town if ever there was one), I am indifferent to the sticks-and-pucks revelry. Personally, I’d rather read about the latest face-off between, say, brownies and blondies than between the Habs and the Flyers.

In fact, I can’t say that I’m too interested in any team sports–or, come to think of it, any sports at all. Is it any wonder?  Perpetually the “anchor” in tug-of-war; too uncoordinated to hit a baseball with a screen door; lacking even the modicum of balance necessary for hockey (though I did go skating, once, when I was about 15, soley to impress a guy I had a crush on.  Oh, I made a lasting impression, all right–somewhere on the upper right thigh, just where my skate sliced through the flesh, if memory serves.)

This is not to imply that I don’t enjoy a good competition with myself every now and again, in a constant effort to improve on my own “personal best.” (And speaking of competitions, I’ve just gotta say it: time to wave goodbye to Jason Castro, don’t you think?). I’m forever asking questions like, “Can I increase my speed on the treadmill this week?”  “Can I accomplish a bicep curl with a 15-pound weight?”  “Can I use up every single veggie from our weekly organic box?” “Can I manage to sweep my kitchen floor every day three times a week monthly before the dust bunnies take up permanent residence on the living room couch?”–and so on.

(“You know, Mum, we’d be happy to chase those bunnies for you.  And while we’re on the subject, why are they allowed on the couch when we’re not?”)

As far as I’m concerned, a little healthy competition in the kitchen can only be a good thing. In order to improve a recipe-in-progress, I might tinker with it 10 or a dozen times to get it right, often in a single day (why, yes, it’s true: I don’t have anything better to do!). Is the muffin better with agave or maple syrup?–let’s bake a new batch and find out!  Should I use barley flour or oat in the apple bars?–only another round of baking will tell! Can the cashew cookies stand up to cardamom, or would ginger be better?–let’s test ’em out and see!

This somewhat peculiar proclivity in the kitchen was the impetus behind a strange experiment last week, one I conducted after receiving my copy of Carole Walter’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, in the mail. As some of you may recall, my recipe for Maple-Walnut cookies won the book in a recent Cookthink Root Source Challenge for recipes based on maple syrup. (Hmm.  Yes, I suppose that made me “competitive,” though of course not in the athletic sense.)

As soon as I ripped open the package, I was charmed by the clean, clear layout, the stunning full-color photographs and the innovative, precisely written recipes (200 of them!). And even though it’s filled with traditional recipes with conventional ingredients (think eggs, milk, butter, etc.), the book focuses on homey, classic treats, which are fairly easily adaptable to NAG principles.

Virtually everything in the book appealed to me, from the Vanilla Bean Poundcake to the Irish Whiskey Cake to the Apricot and Dried Pineapple Muffins to the Fig and Walnut Loaf.  Lest you think the book is partial to goodies baked in pans, Walter also includes recipes for cookies, bars, biscuits, strudel, danish, buns and braids–plus many more treats shaped by hand.

My gaze lit upon a recipe called “Favorite Vanilla Muffins.” Vanilla muffins?  Sure, I’d sampled many a vanilla cake in my time, but never a vanilla muffin. With its denser, moister texture, might a muffin be a better foundation to showcase the fragrant, floral tones of pure vanilla extract? A competition was in order!

I thought about the differences between the two.  Like the Olson twins (though of course, in this case, actually connected to food), muffins and cupcakes are the same, but different.  Both are single-serving renditions of a larger baked good (loaf or cake); both sport domed tops, flat bottoms and angled sides often encased in frilly paper liners. To muddy the batters even further, both may (but are not required to) contain chopped fruits, nuts, or chocolate.

A few Googled pages later, I discovered that the cupcake versus muffin debate was already in full swing among bloggers and other writers (two good sources are recipezaar’s concise take on the issue, and the more detailed viewpoint on Curious Foodie’s blog).

How, I wondered, would that Favorite Vanilla Muffin stand up against its cakey counterpart? I decided to bake one of each (both using my adaptations of Walter’s recipes) and compare the results. Granted, my creations (no matter how delectable) would never be exactly as Walter intended; but I was okay with that. I chose a Classic Sour Cream Cinnamon and Nut Coffee Cake (without the cinnamon/nut filling) for my cupcake, mostly because, like the muffin recipe, it called for sour cream (and I needed to use up the tofu-based batch I’d be concocting). That would leave me with one vanilla; two vanilla (any more than that and we’d have the unfortunate Milli Vanilla).

[Coffeecake cupcake–with its intended filling. Get a load of that cinnamon-pecan swirl!]

Which won the competition? As expected, the muffins were heavier and denser. In fact, apart from the shape, they were a different animal entirely. For some reason, in these particular muffins, the vanilla essence proclaimed its presence assertively, even before you bit into the soft, moist interior; the sweet, floral aroma fairly radiates. And even though I knew my “sour cream” was soy-based, there was an incredible richness to these muffins that rendered them filling and satisfying; no need for fruit or fillers.

The cupcakes, for their part, were equally delectable.  Undisputably more delicate with a tender crumb, the cakes were lighter both in texture and color. The vanilla essence here was definitely noticeable as well, though in a more understated fashion.  Like pitting Ella against Diana singing Cole Porter classics: each transformed the outcome into something unique and exceptional, though clearly hailing from the same original concept.

So, in the end, it was a tie.  Two winners–two delicious baked goods to eat.  Everybody wins!

Since the recipes highlight vanilla, I thought this would be a perfect entry for the Master Baker Challenge, hosted by Master Baker.

Vanilla Muffins and Cinnamon-Pecan Cupcakes (inspired by recipes in Carole Walter’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More)

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 [Left to Right: Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcake; Vanilla Muffin; Vanilla Muffin with Cashew-Cardamom variation]

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

For the Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcakes:

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

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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.”]  

Sometimes, you just want to eat something now.  I’ve decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly, or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required.  Here’s today’s “Flash in the Pan.”

cranberryjamtop1.jpg 

One of the advantages of having a little baking business as a sideline is that you can buy some ingredients in bulk, and save a little on the price of more expensive items (such as nuts or dried fruits) by purchasing them in 2-kilo or 5-kilo bags.

At the same time, one of the disadvantages of having a little baking business is that you end up with 1.8 kilos or 4.9 kilos of leftover bulk items, such as nuts or dried fruits, when no one happens to order baked goods that contain those ingredients, and they’re left languishing in huge plastic bins in your basement, and you sometimes have to throw them away, and they end up costing you more than if you’d just bought the regular size at the retail store (and your distress over that fact causes you to write really long sentences).

A few weeks ago, I noticed some dried cranberries that, clearly, had had better days.  They were perfectly servicable if scattered in muffins or cookies (they are, after all, already preserved by dehyrdation); but they were just a little too crisp on the edges for my taste, sporting that whitish, frosty patina that figs, dates, or other highly sweetened dried fruits seem to acquire when they’ve been sitting too long.  Worse, their rimed exterior reminded me too much of winter (the agony is still too close), so I knew I’d have to find another use for them–STAT.

“Hey!” I remarked to the HH, “I could make cranberry jam out of these!”

He stood and stared at me for a second, clearly flummoxed. “Um, wouldn’t that be just the same as cranberry sauce?” he asked.  Hmm.  The guy had a point.  And while I do enjoy an occasional daub of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, I don’t really care for it very much any other time of year. 

But the idea of cranberry jam did appeal to me. With sweet-tart berries and the right cooking method, I knew I could end up with something akin to raspberry or blueberry preserves, perfect for spreading, baking, or little gift jars.  

Since the cranberries were already sweetened (pretty much all dried cranberries are), I didn’t need to add anything more.  I simply popped the contents of my bin (about 2 cups) into a pot, covered with fresh orange juice, and brought to a simmer.  Then I let the mixture bubble, stirring every so often, until the cranberries had broken down and almost dissolved into a soft, gleaming crimson, spreadable preserve. 

One that bears absolutely no similarity to cranberry sauce, I might add.

The spread is perfect on muffins, scones, or even Quinoa-Oatmeal Croquettes for breakfast.  You could also mix this with a little spicy chili sauce for a great dipping sauce (try it with squares of Nut Roast–fantastic!).

Oh, and since it did, in the end, resemble that jam I was seeking, I’m submitting this to the Putting Up event, hosted by Pixie of You Say Tomato, and Rosie of Rosie Bakes a Peace of Cake.

Cranberry Preserves

cranberryjamside.jpg

Quick. Easy. Two Ingredients.  Need I say more?

dried cranberries, at least one cup (but more if you like)

orange juice, enough to cover the cranberries in a pot

Place cranberries in a pot and cover with the juice.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; lower heat to simmer, cover, and allow the mixture to cook softly, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and the cranberries soften and begin to fall apart.  Stir to create a smooth mixture with a few chunky bits.  Transfer to a jar or other container to cool.  Will keep about a week in the fridge; or freeze for later use.

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.”]  

When I was organizing my photos this weekend, I came across a fair number that I’ve never used in blog posts. Not sure why; maybe it’s that my (relatively new) blog-related compulsion to photograph virtually every dish I cook, bake, or eat has produced a backlog.  It also struck me that I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers  to provide inspiration, unique recipes, or novel combinations of ingredients that often direct me in my cooking and baking exploits. And what better way to acknowledge their inspiration than to showcase some of these photos–and their recipes–here?

Since I began my “Total Health” kick just over a week ago, I’ve steered clear of most sweets, including my greatest desire, chocolate. I have to admit that the restriction feels a tad less torturous this time than during the WOCA, when I would have hopped on the nearest streetcar named “Chocolate” and happily gone wherever it took me. Well, as it turns out, most of my photos depict desserts–how perfect for a sultry Sunday evening!  So here are some of the lost treasures that have been baked in the DDD household over the past few months:

These chocolate-cranberry biscotti, adapted from a recipe in Patricia Greenberg’s Whole Soy Cookbook, were my first attempt at these crisp coffee-dunkers. I wish I’d read Romina’s post about her own version before I made these, as I definitely baked them too long. While visually appealing, they were probably more useful as paperweights or doorstops than cookies.  After a long soak in a hot tub cup of tea or coffee, though, they were just fine.

Next up were Vegan Magic Cookie Bars from Susan’s blog. When I was a kid, we called these “Hello Dollies” in our house (Why “Dolly?”  No idea.). Susan warns that these are definitely not fat-free.  Having said that, they were gooey, rich, and deliciously decadent. I had to give the rest away or I would have consumed them all.

These speckled darlings are Lemon-Zucchini Poppyseed Muffins adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Laura Matthias’s Extraveganza. With a tender, ethereal lightness, these muffins seemed almost too fragile for this world. Didn’t stop us from eating them, of course.

These gorgeous, golden beauties are Sweet Potato and Cranberry Scones, a test recipe for Anne-Kristin at Swell Vegan.  I adored these–juicy with tart cranberries, a base that’s satisfying, lightly spiced and not too sweet, with the expected heft you’d get from a conventional biscuit.  The HH and I thoroughly enjoyed these for breakfast (oh, and a few snacks). 

Another recipe courtesy of a fellow blogger: this Raw Carrot Cake and Cashew Cheeze Frosting hails from Lindsay over at Day to Day Vegan.  I’d been wanting to try this cake ever since Valentine’s Day, when we both participated in the Vegetable Love contest! My version came out a bit softer than Lindsay’s, so I just popped it in the freezer for about 20 minutes before unmolding and frosting.  Raw, with a mysterious magnetism. . .  This was yummy!

Finally, here’s a photo of the Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies from Ellen Abraham’s amazing cookbook, Simple Treats.  These are, quite simply, one of the best brownies I’ve ever baked or eaten.  See those chocolate chips gleaming in the sunlight?  These are so good, I have to show them again.  From another angle: 

Everyone I’ve ever served these to has flipped over them.  Aren’t they just stellar??  In fact, they might make you want to rush from the apartment, down the fire escape to the sidewalk below, and bellow at the top of your lungs, “STELLA-R! HEY, STELLA-RRRRRRR!!!!!!”

(Well, you just knew that’s where I was going with this one, didn’t you?).

Thanks to all my baking muses! Now, back to reading more blogs for new ideas. . . 

I Got Meme’d!

May 2, 2008

Well, I thought I’d just pop in here for a minute (I know, poor me, nothing else to do on a Friday night–sniff, boo hoo) to add a quick post before the real weekend fun starts–watching Battlestar Gallactica with the HH and The Girls! Whoo-hoo!

One of my favorite bloggers, Lisa of Lisa’s Vegetarian Kitchen, has tagged me for a meme.  Here are the rules: 

Pick up the nearest book, and turn to page 123. Find the 5th sentence, then copy out the next 3 after that.

 The book I’m reading is called Consolation, by Canadian author Michael Redhill. The book relates 2 parallel storylines: one about a young apothecary in the late 1800s who emigrates to Toronto from London, England, to embark on a new life so he can transport his family to Canada; the second, a present-day story about a widow whose quest (sparked by her geologist husband’s suicide) is to validate his theory about Toronto’s history, which had been rejected before he died.  I’ve not quite finished it yet, but I’m guessing the two plotlines will intersect before I do.  I’ve been enjoying the book immensely–Redhill is a flawless writer whose use of language borders on rapturous at times –and would recommend it highly.

Okay, so here are the sentences. I think it’s fairly obvious from which plotline they’re plucked; and–bonus!–he uses long sentences, so more to read:

It felt warmer, or perhaps he was warmed still, whether by the lethal cocktail Ennis had given him or by the seeming closeness of the people he loved, and he had an urge to visit the lakefront, to stand where he’d first stood almost nine months earlier, full of arrogant wishes and simple hopes. He walked down to Front Street, where people of a more familiar class were now to be seen near the American Hotel, standing in knots of conversation.  He returned a happy wave of the hand to one of them, and inside the ground-floor windows of the hotel, frosted around the edges and fogged, he could hear the revelry of the guests in their grog, and a pianoforte playing in the background.

And now–the most difficult part–I am to tag five others.  On the one hand, I wish I could tag more than five, since there are so many great blogs I’m reading these days (reminder to self: update blogroll!).  On the other hand, I know many of you have been tagged recently and may be memed-out.  I apologize if you’ve already been asked to participate; I’ve made an effort not to include anyone who’s been tagged in the recent past–well, that I remember, anyway:

Looking forward to seeing what everyone’s reading.