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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.” 

[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.”]

[Thanks to everyone who hazarded guesses about what type of peppers I’ve got flourishing in my backyard. . . I think we all agree they’re not jalapenos, but as to what they actually are, we may never be sure. They’re definitely spicy, yummy, and abundant–all I need to know, I guess!]

Another plant that grew beyond any sense of propriety in my back yard this past summer is mint.  In my eternal quest to find as many uses as possible for the wayward herb, I began to drink this refreshing, ridiculously simple-to-prepare iced tea almost daily.  I’d mix a huge batch of the beverage, pour it into a pitcher in the fridge, and just add ice whenever I felt parched, tired, or even a bit peckish.  It always worked to perk up my spirits and leave me reinvigorated.

And no wonder: mint has long been used to help soothe digestive problems, and the oils may also aid in preventing bacterial or fungal infections (perfect for someone like me, who’s been rather slack with her ACD lately).  Ginger is renowned as an anti-nausea remedy (which is why real ginger ale is so great for pregnant women). It’s also an effective anti-inflammatory and has been shown to help prevent various types of cancers while boosting the immune system. 

With all these benefits in a delicious and easy drink, there’s just no reason not to sip some every day.

Fresh Ginger Mint Iced Tea

about 2 cups (480 ml.) unpacked fresh mint leaves

2 2-inch (2.5 cm) pieces of ginger, peeled and sliced into think disks

8 cups (2 liters) boiling water

agave nectar, to taste

splash of lemon juice, if desired

Either coarsely chop the mint, or place In the bottom of a large glass or other non-reactive bowl (big enough to hold 8 cups or 2 liters) and then muddle with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler (but really, who actually owns a muddler??).  Add the ginger disks.

Pour boiling water into the bowl and stir gently to submerge all the leaves.  Cover if possible while allowing to steep (I used the lid from my wok, which was large enough to cover the entire bowl). Allow to steep 5-10 minutes, or longer if you prefer a stronger brew.  Add agave and lemon juice, if desired.  The tea can be used immediately if poured over lots of ice (the ice will cool it sufficiently).  Refrigerate any leftover tea and use as needed.  Will keep up to a week in the fridge.

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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.”]  

 

Necessity is the mother of many a new recipe in our house.

Because there are only the two of us (humans) living here (“Don’t forget about us, Mum!“), it’s usually fairly easy to decide what to have for dinner, or what to buy at the grocery store.  My HH and I share many a similar taste, except for all that animal flesh he eats, and we even enjoy cooking together whenever we do cook (which seems to be less and less frequently these days, come to think of it).

One thing we have in common is an apathetic response to pears.  I crave a fresh pear probably twice a year–no connection to any other event or season; it’s just something that happens, and then I eat a pear.  When I do bite into it, I do appreciate all its lush juiciness, smooth, aromatic flesh and the little-known fibre boost it supplies. 

Pears wouldn’t be a problem over here, except that we are also the happy recipients of a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box.  When I’m not being lazy, or when I have extra time on my hands, I will contact the company ahead of time if there’s something I don’t want (such as cantaloupe, or extra mushrooms) and they will kindly exchange it for something else I do want (such as kale, or sweet potatoes).  However, more often than not, I am forgetful this way, and we end up with two to four pears in the box.

If I’m indifferent to fresh pears, my HH is positively aloof.  He won’t eat them; doesn’t like them; won’t even so much as glance in their direction.  The result of this situation at home is the all-too-frequent overly ripe pears sitting in a bowl in our kitchen, looking ennervated and gloomy and feebly hanging on for dear life.  What to do?

In the past, I’ve simply chucked them, with no fanfare and lots of guilt (well, at least I put them in the organic waste bin). Then I realized that I could quarter, core, and freeze them for later use in a morning smoothie, along with my frozen banana and berries.  This worked well, and I enjoyed the added flavor imparted by the pears.  Eventually, though, the number of ziplocs containing pears just grew too large.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to whip up some of my favorite oatbran banana muffins, and grabbed a bag of frozen overripe bananas to defrost.  To my dismay, I realized once it was too late to re-freeze them that the melted, leaky mass in the bowl wasn’t bananas at all, but a batch of my frozen pears.  What to do?

The pear slices were too soggy and soft to use as they were (and certainly not suitable to cut into dice, as is so often the requirement for any baked goods made with fresh pears).  I had a wonderful recipe for pear and ginger muffins that I’d made about a year ago, but it called for freshly diced pears, and this mass of oozing, juicy, soggy goo was just too amorphous for any such recipe. 

Then it hit me that I could do with the pears what I had intended to do with the bananas: grab my trusty hand blender and whip them in to a puree.  Then use the puree in a quickbread recipe.

I got to work and concocted what I thought would work.  I even threw in some Salba, as I’d just bought my first bag (for the low, low price of $13.70!!!) and wanted to experiment.  An hour later, I had four pear and ginger loaves–a little too flat, a little too dry, but on the right track.  A few more test runs, and I was pleased enough to give the results to my HH to taste. I told him it was a “spice bread.” 

Well, let’s just say, the days of the Pear Prohibition are over.  My HH made quick work of 2 loaves in succession that very night, then asked for another for breakfast the next day.  I’ve since told him they contain pear, and he’s even okay with it. 

Here’s the recipe, so you can see what you think. Another reason I’m excited about it is that this will be my first contribution to the ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday round-up next week, hosted by Cate at Sweetnicks.

[NB.  Those eagle-eyed among you (okay, technically “between you,” since among is reserved for more than two) will notice that there is, indeed, a photo attached to this post, despite my earlier whining that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Luckily, I shot a few photos of my pear loaves last week, when I baked them.  Wow, that free camera can snap nifty photos!]

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Mini Pear and Ginger Loaves

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

Last Minute Christmas Cookie

December 24, 2007

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.”]  

* * *

Talk about under the wire.  Here it is, the LAST DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and I’m still experimenting with baking cookies (and still posting to Holidailies).  And guess what?  I think I’ve hit on something.

I’ve been wanting to do a Christmas sugar cookie for years.  Ever since I had to alter my diet and cut out wheat and refined sugars, it’s been a bit difficult to bake traditional treats (though there are so many great cookbooks out there, not to mention a whole lot of blogs using all-natural ingredients, which makes it easier and easier). 

agavecookietray.jpg After baking with agave nectar for the past few years, I felt pretty good about that.  But a sugar cookie?  Wouldn’t it be kind of heretical to take the sugar out of it?  (And what would I call it, anyway–“agave cookie cutouts”?). 

But recently, I also started baking chia seeds (yes, those selfsame seeds that used to grow into little animals in pottery shapes for kids), only edible.  One could say that “chia is the new flax,” since it contains the same healthful Omega 3 fatty acids, only more so than flax.  Further, chia is lighter in color and texture–perfect for a creamy white, snowy “sugar” cookie.

Sugar cookies are also, traditionally, rolled and cut.  When baking with agave, however, the cookie dough is more often soft and most suitable for scooping or smoothing into pans, to be cut later into bars (since agave is a liquid sweetener, after all).  So what to do?  I decided that the combination of coconut butter instead of butter (since it’s also solid at room temperature), and chia as an egg substitute would work best, since the chia would absorb some of the excess moisture in the agave. That way, I would be able to use almost the same ratio of flour to sweetener in a “regular” sugar cookie.

I’m happy to report that the dough came out beautiful!  It was a teeny bit softer than expected when first mixed, so I split it in two parts, and scooped the first half (at room temperature).  These cookies came out just barely golden on the bottoms, uniform in shape, with a beautiful, tender crumb and delicate flavor.  Truly, they were delicious–a great plain all-occasion cookie that’s not too sweet. 

I put the second half of the dough into the fridge to sit for an hour or two and firm up.  I’m going to roll it out later, cut it into shapes (should be interesting, as we haven’t yet unpacked all my baking supplies, and I’ve got neither a rolling pin nor my cookie cutters), and bake it that way; I’ll post those photos as soon as they’re ready.

[Edit, December 2008:   The dough was perfect once chilled–firm and easy to roll.  Here’s what the cookies look like rolled out, and cut with cookie cutters:]

sugarfreesugarcookie1

In the meantime, I’ll share this recipe for those of you who may want to play around for next Christmas!

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Ricki’s Sugar Agave Cookies

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!  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.

A Sweet Alternative

December 18, 2007

What was I thinking, agreeing to post an entry a day for a whole month? True, I have really been enjoying the whole Holidailies event, but given the whirlwind of events that are generally going on this time of year, coupled with the fact that I’ve been fighting some kind of weird virus the past two weeks (hope it’s not some alien quinoa I ate, or something), and this whole idea of posting to a schedule seems insane.   

And so, I’m going to chuck the schedule tonight and write about something else entirely, instead of the pre-planned “diet” post.  True, the title of my blog includes this very word, AND it is so often foremost on my mind that I may as well have a “diet” tatoo emblazoned on my stomach (where, of course, no living soul will ever see it if I can help it). Still, I am, every so often, occupied with something other than diets.  Like dessert. Or dogs, for example.

These days, when I make or bake desserts, I tend to use organic, natural, unrefined sweeteners.  That wasn’t always the case.  I grew up in a home with an immigrant father who’d been raised on a dairy farm and was quite accustomed to home-baked desserts (not to mention everything else made from scratch as well).  As it turned out, my mother was a dessert lover herself (the ultimate cause of her death, I’d wager) and an excellent baker.  So we always had homemade goodies in our house, and my sisters and I would come home from school to cookies, cakes, or whatever else my mom had whipped up.

Growing up in a house like that was both a blessing and a curse.  I knew how to bake by the time I was six or seven, helping my mother and aunt (who was also a professional baker and happened to live right upstairs in the same duplex).  On the other hand, all the females in my family have or had weight problems, and struggle with sugar addictions.  (My father, in contrast, is now in his eighth decade, has never been overweight, and just doesn’t understand how it can happen.  “If I feel my belt getting a bit tighter,” he says, “I just stop eating dessert for a couple of days, and I go back to my normal size.”  There’s no point telling him that (a) he doesn’t have an eating disorder, so of course he just “stops eating dessert”; and (b) he’s male, so all he has to do is have one less sip of coffee a day, and he’ll probably drop 10 pounds in a week.

The curse part is being so attached to dessert that I’m unwilling–perhaps unable–to cut it out of my life entirely, despite the deleterious effects I witnessed growing up. Even when my naturopath put me on a rigid diet that excluded all sweeteners for two years (including all fruits for the first 3 months), I eventually found a way to make dessert. I’d grind nuts with fruit puree–once the fruit was allowed–along with carob and spelt flour, shape it into patties and bake it; my HH called them “Dust Cookies.” 

So maybe I just need to accept that baking is something I’ll always do, like writing, or patting my dogs, or brushing my teeth every night.  I can live with that, as long as I’m not harming my health in the process.  And that’s where the alternative sweeteners come into play.

It’s true that all “real” sweeteners will be converted to glucose in the body, thereby raising blood sugar levels.  But there’s a huge difference between the immediate BOOM of sugar (converted quickly) and something like agave nectar, (converted slowly, more like a whole fruit would be, allowing for a more even rise in blood sugar levels).  The lower GI (glycemic index) of agave also supposedly makes it appropriate for diabetics (if only it had been available when my mother was younger!). 

It was a huge challenge at first when I began to bake with alternative sweeteners (not to mention the shift from regular flour to mostly spelt flour, from using eggs to no eggs, from butter to vegetable oils, and myriad other small changes).  Eventually, though, I learned how to substitute healthier (for the most part, liquid) sweeteners for the sugar. 

I use a variety of natural sweeteners now, but agave is by far my favorite. Somewhat like honey with a lighter consistency, it has a delicate flavor that won’t overpower the other tastes in your dessert (so, for instance, while I will use maple syrup in baking, I opt for agave when I’m making something light, like a lemon cake or banana cupcake). It’s also less sticky than honey, so it won’t cling to the bottom of the jar when it’s almost empty (just invert and wait a few seconds, and every last drop makes its way out).

If you haven’t tried it and would like to, here are a few quick tips for converting your existing recipes:

  • Agave is about 1-1/2 times sweeter than regular sugar.  So if you’re replacing sugar with agave syrup, you can start with 2/3 to 3/4 cup agave for each cup of sugar. 
  • Since agave is a liquid sweetener, simply substituting one for one with sugar will alter the chemistry of the batter by adding more liquid.  To compensate, either cut other liquids in the recipe (say if it calls for 1 cup milk) by about 25%.  In other words, if the original recipe used 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk, change that to 2/3-3/4  cup agave and 2/3-3/4 cup milk.
  • If the original recipe didn’t use much liquid, you can still compensate for the agave by increasing the flour.  Add about 25% extra flour for each cup flour (in other words, if the original recipe calls for 1 cup flour, use 1-1/4 to 1-1/3 cups with the agave).
  • Baked goods made with agave may be a little heavier than what you’re used to, so you might want to increase any leaveners. If the original recipe calls for 1 tsp. baking powder, I usually up it to 1-1/4 or 1-1/2 tsp.
  • Finally, agave browns faster than sugar (just as honey does), and so should be baked at a slightly lower temperature for best results.  If the original recipe uses 350F, I will bake an agave-based recipe at 325F.      

Baking with agave allows me to create sweets that I’m willing to eat (that is, things that are actually tasty), without causing terribly unhealthy swings in blood sugar levels.  And I do believe that dessert can be part of an overall weight loss eating plan (see, I didn’t say “diet.”).