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

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.”]  

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)

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

 [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.

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. . . 

[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.”]  

* * *

[I thought it would be fun to start a little series over here at DDD: the series will profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this first entry, I’ll be focusing on Sweet Potatoes. The series will be presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]

 

 

 

Let’s just say that my mother was not an overly adventurous cook. She habitually repeated the same six or seven dishes over and over, with the occasional new recipe from Family Circle, my aunt, or someone in her Mah Jong group thrown in on occasion.  So we were treated to salmon patties and potato boats (called “twice-baked potatoes” these days), hamburgers with mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches, or tuna salad over cucumber, tomato, and iceberg lettuce on a rotating basis. 

Fresh fish?  Forget it.  Artichokes?  Don’t make me gag.  Fresh herbs?  Bah!  Who needs ’em?!  (Once, when I was visiting during March break, in a moment of temporary insanity I wondered aloud if we might purchase some dried oregano for the pantry.  It was as if I’d taken a cup of steaming clam chowder and poured it over her bare feet.  Actually, no.  Clam chowder was too exotic for our house.) 

So. When I finally discovered the beauty and gustatory appeal of sweet potatoes at a visit to a restaurant here in Toronto, it was truly a revelation.  Allen’s (known primarily for its extensive selection of specialty scotches, come to think of it–how odd!  What on earth was I doing there??) to this day still serves up a killer dish of sweet potato fries with mayonnaise.  In my mother’s house, on the other hand, those off-color interlopers had never once been allowed to sully our doorstep (don’t forget, this was the woman whose entire repertoire of herbs and spices consisted of onion powder, paprika, and dill).

It wasn’t until years later that I finally began to cook the sweet spuds myself, and my next encounter with sweet potatoes, unfortunately, wasn’t all that auspicious.  I had just been put on a very restricted diet by my naturopath and was feeling pretty resentful of all this crunchy-granola, health-foodie, good-for-you-five-to-ten-a-day foods.  Sweet potatoes?  Well, if I couldn’t have them after they’d been immersed in a vat of 400-degree, week-old restaurant fat for 20 minutes or so, then I didn’t want them at all!  Besides, weren’t they only appealing to commune-living, hemp-smoking hippies (or–gasp!–Southerners)?  I’d never actually tasted one without the benefit of hydrogenated enhancements (though I did suspect I’d enjoy Sweet Potato Pie, what with all the sugar, eggs, and cream they added to it). 

Turns out sweet potatoes were my savior.  During a period when I could eat NO sweeteners or fruits of any kind, sweet potatoes quickly becamesweetpotwarmwalmond.jpg my favorite sweet treat.   I ate them for breakfast (baked, with a dollop of almond butter–delicious–much better than they look in this photo!–seriously), lunch (raw, sliced, as a base for raw almond pate), or dinner (heavenly, spiced sweet potato “fries,” which were really baked).   Later on, once I was allowed to broaden my diet, I began to experiment with sweet potatoes in baking, and created recipes for sweet potato muffins, mini loaves, pudding, pie, and several other sweet treats.

Besides being high in fibre, vitamin A (as beta carotene) and other minerals, sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E and iron, and even contain a contribution of protein.  According to Paul Pitchford in his phenomenal tome, Healing with Whole Foods, Traditional Chinese Medicine uses sweet potatoes for their cooling nature and to promote chi energy in the body; they are also useful to enhance functioning of the spleen and pancreas.  And because they’re a source of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen), sweet potatoes can help mitigate those pesky symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.  In addition, they are also alkalizing in the body, which is great if you tend to drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of sugar, or prefer to discourage the growth of cancer cells in your body. 

Best of all, sweet potatoes are low on the gylcemic index (the measurement of how food influences your blood sugar levels), registering at 54 (surprisingly, lower than white potatoes, with a score of 88-93), so they are a great food for type II diabetics or plumpers like me.  And when baked, their natural sugars caramelize, producing the most ambrosial sweetness.

Though most North Americans consider the more orange-fleshed, moister vegetables to be yams, they are, in fact, just another type of sweet potato alongside the lighter-fleshed, dryer ones.  (According to PCC Natural Markets, “true yams, which are which are grown in the tropics, are almost ivory in color, and are more starchy than sweet”).

Sweet potatoes have become a true staple in our home, and are definitely at the top of my list of favorite vegetables.  With that in mind, I thought this would also be a good entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, the terrific event originated by Kalyn’s Kitchen and this week hosted by Anna at Anna’s Cool Finds.

 Mini Sweet Potato and Chocolate Chip Muffins

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

I’ve previously posted another of my favorite sweet potato-based recipes, the Thanksgiving-themed Sweet Potato and Carrot Casserole.  Today’s contribution is a mini-muffin using the sweet spud, as well as a sprinkling of chocolate chips. These are a great snack when baked as minis; you can also double the recipe and make a dozen regular-sized muffins.

swpotminimuf1.jpg

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