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

 

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Now is the discontent of our winter.

The dozen or so of you who were reading my blog last year at this time probably remember how much I hate the snowy season.  (How much, you ask?  As much as Gepetto hates dishonesty.  As much as Ellen loves Portia.  As much as the calories in a deep-fried Mars Bar (with whipped cream on top).  As much as union disagrees with management.  As much as my eternal incredulity at the popularity of Julia Roberts.)   This morning, when I emitted a plaintive little lament about the fact that we’ve already surpassed last year’s (record-breaking) snowfall for this date, the HH helpfully piped up, “Yeah, and we’ve still got over a month more of this to go!”  Gee, thanks, sweetheart.

So, what to do about a wall of pelting snow every time you leave the house,  ice crystals forming on your eyebrows, the grey rime that coats your glasses like vaseline on a camera lens? 

Make soup, that’s what. 

When I was a carefree singleton* back in the early 90s, I developed a Friday evening cooking ritual.   After arriving home from work, I’d change into sweats and a T-shirt, then spend most of the evening cooking food for the following week.  By the end of the week, I was usually too pooped to socialize anyway, and I found cooking to be incredibly meditative.  (Besides, if anything better male intellectually stimulating came up instead, I wasn’t irrevocably tied to my plan; I’d just cook the following day).  I’d pack the prepared dishes into plastic containers, then freeze them for consumption later on.  A relaxing evening plus seven days of healthy, homemade food–a pretty good arrangement, I thought.

In those days, I tended to cook a lot of soups.  Perhaps I was subconsciously emulating my mom, whose chicken soup graced our stovetop every Friday evening as far back as I can remember. In fact, the very first recipe I cooked in my very first apartment was soup–split pea and ham, as I recall (which is odd, since even then I didn’t really like meat, and I’d never tasted ham at all before that–or since).  In the interim, I’ve expanded my repertoire a bit, enjoying a variety of traditional or exotic or unusual soups over the years.  With its ability to embrace any and all stray vegetables, then bathe them in a warm, soothing broth, vitamin and mineral-rich soup is an ideal meal-in-a-bowl. 

Strangely, once the HH and I began seeing each other, I all but stopped making soups on Friday nights (he seemed to think our courtship should take place alongside a wine bottle rather than a stockpot).  Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received a copy of Nava Atlas’s newly released Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons  (this is a 4th edition of her earlier Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons) as part of the book’s virtual tour.   Suddenly, soup was back on my radar.  And I must tell you, I think this book has singlehandedly renewed my zeal for soup making. 

The book is divided by season, so it made sense that the fall and winter offerings would appeal most right now, with innovative and interesting combinations like Broccoli, Apple and Peanut Soup or Almond-Brussels Sprouts Soup (which I just enjoyed for lunch today–splendid!), and classics like Hearty Barley-Bean Soup or Minestrone.  But the spring and summer were equally tantalizing, with recipes for Creole Eggplant Soup and Gingery Miso-Spinach Soup and Strawberry Colada Soup.  (Now I have yet another reason to wish winter would end soon.)

With our seemingly irrepressible mountains of snow (now taller than the HH, who is over 6 feet/1.8 meters) outside, a hearty winter stew seemed just the right antidote. This Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew is a perfectly warming, filling, tasty combination, with a substantial broth, in which you simmer a variety of winter veggies, all imbued with a subtle sweet and piquant tang. Initially, the HH was a bit reluctant to try it (paradoxically, the guy will eat anything and everything if it’s derived from an animal, but is entirely unadventurous when it comes to vegetable dishes).  After the first few spoonfuls, however, he pronounced it “a keeper” and was content to have nothing more than this for dinner. 

I’m happy to say that I’m even looking forward to getting back in the swing of Friday evening soup-a-thons. And these days, I won’t be cooking alone  (hear that, HH?).

Mum, you know that we’d love to help you cook, too, if we could. There’s just this little matter of the ‘no opposable thumbs’ thing. But we’re still more than happy to help clean up the leftovers.” 

* Okay, I was never “carefree,” but more like “unattached, at loose ends, having no weekend plans.”  The closest I’ve ever gotten to “carefree” was probably during that time before I embraced all the responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood–like, maybe, when I was three.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew

from Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons

by Nava Atlas

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW SITE, BY CLICKING HERE.

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© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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

Well, folks, it’s been quite the day here at the DDD household.  This post may be a tad longer than usual, so relax, don those fuzzy slippers, curl up by the firewall, and read on. . .

The day started out almost like any other, except that the HH, suffering from a bout of the flu, was at home.  Knowing he needed something substantial and nourishing–and fearing I might be felled as well–I cooked up a huge batch of stick-to-your-ribs, nutrient-dense, thick and creamy Baked Oatmeal.  So far, so good.

As is our habit, the HH and I ate our meal at the table, as The Girls waited in the wings (really just across the floor), like so:

Once we were done, as usual, we offered The Girls the leftovers.  In this case, it amounted to about 1/4 cup (60 ml.) cooked oatmeal each.  I scraped the oatmeal into their bowls, set them on the floor, and the enthusiastic slurping began. 

“Isn’t it cute how they hoover it up?” I mused absentmindedly to the HH.

“Yep, they really seem to like that apple-raisin combo,” he remarked.

“Ha, ha, yes, the–the WHAT?!!  Apple-raisin??!!!  RAISIN???!!!!”  How could I have missed them?? HOW COULD I BE SO IRRESPONSIBLE???!!!! RAISIN. Oh, no. . . . . . 

I swooped in to whisk the bowls out of reach–but alas, too late.  They’d both eaten several mouthfuls of raisin-infused oatmeal!  Now, as any of you with dogs already know, recent media reports have warned that raisins–for some unknown reason–can be highly toxic to dogs, sometimes causing nausea, renal failure–or worse.  Horrors!

In a panic, I called the vet to see what to do.  My mind was already reeling with unspeakable possibilities. “Bring them in immediately,” she commanded. 

And so, a few moments of carelessness led Ricki to spend half her morning chewing her nails in the vet’s office, waiting for The Girls to upchuck a few mouthfuls of cooked oatmeal, apples, and raisins. 

Thankfully, everyone came through just fine (though to tell the truth, I’m probably still a bit traumatized–but that might just be because of the size of the vet bill).

Well, after the Ordeal of the Raisins, I was in no mood to crack open a coconut, so we’ll forgo that demonstration today.  I do, however, have this yummy coconut-rich Cabbage T’horin for you, as the first entry in the Lucky Comestibles: Coconut series.  (And no dogs were harmed in the making of this side dish).  

*   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Coconut, like coffee, chocolate and wine, is a perfect example of culinary atavism: hailed as a boon to health in one generation, scorned in the next, then revived as a “health food” yet again decades later.

Given a bad rap in the past because of its high saturated fat content, what we think of as coconut, that white “meat” that’s most often eaten shredded and dried, is actually the nut of a fresh, green coconut fruit.  In recent years controversy has developed over whether or not coconut oil is or is not good for us.  Apparently considered a panacea in the tropical countries where it’s naturally abundant,  coconuts have been touted more recently in North America as well, to treat a variety of medical problems. 

In nutrition school, we learned that the saturated fats in coconut, unlike those in other foods with a high sat fat content (such as meat or butter), are considered “medium chain fatty acids,” which don’t increase cholesterol levels or contribute to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular issues.  In fact, most of the studies previously done on coconut oil focused on hydrogenated varieties, and hydrogenation renders any fats unhealthy

Some researchers also believe that coconut oil is useful for a plethora of ills, including fungal infections (caprylic acid, derived from coconut, is a primary alternative treatment for candida yeast overgrowth), viruses, parasites, digestive disorders, and a wealth of other conditions, as well as helping to prevent heart disease and promote weight loss (though I’ve never been the beneficiary of this last characteristic). 

One thing that’s indisputable is its place as first choice when you’re seeking an oil to cook with on high heat.  Because of its saturated status, coconut oil is the oil least damaged by heat, which makes it great for frying (even though I know you never fry foods, right?) or baking.  And because it’s solid at room temperature (as long as your room is below 76F), coconut oil makes a great butter substitute, and can be used interchangeably with butter. At the organic market where I used to sell my baked goods, one of the vendors was known to eat it off a spoon.  I never quite achieved that lofty accomplishment, but do use it for stir-fries and baking.  

Fresh coconuts also confer health benefits, through the coconut “water” (the liquid inside the coconut fruit–not to be confused with coconut milk, which is made by boiling the meat of a coconut). I had the opportunity to drink some fresh coconut water extracted from one of these green coconuts a few years back when in nutrition school.  An incredibly healthy imbibement, the liquid from a fresh young coconut is said to have the same electolyte balance as our blood, so it’s a wonderful energy drink (which, according to Wikipedia, can actually be taken intravenously!) .  I must admit I wasn’t a fan. Apparently, coconut water is now being sold already flavored, so I may give it a try.

As to coconut milk, well. . . is there anything richer tasting than full fat coconut milk?  It’s the base for my soy-free vegan whipped cream (the recipe for which is being tweaked daily, with the goal of perfection by the time it appears in the upcoming cookbook) and many a creamy sauce.  I love it in desserts and use it in baking as well when I can, although again, you don’t want to overdo the sat fat. 

Finally, there’s the coconut itself.  Fresh coconut meat is unparalleled in flavor and texture, but practicality does take over most of the time when we’re cooking or baking, and dried is a fine substitute.  I’ve used freshly grated coconut meat on only a handful of occasions in cooking.  Generally, I prefer unsweetened, as I’d rather have control over the amount of sweetener in my foods (and shredded coconut is often sweetened with white sugar).  This way, as well, you need buy only one type, as it’s suitable for both cooking and baking.  For the recipes in the Lucky Comestibles series, I’ll try to include coconut meat, milk, and oil (and leave you to try fresh coconut water on your own).

Today’s recipe, the first one I made from my new cookbook, Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon, features shredded dried coconut.

According to the book, this dish hails from Kerala province in India, the very name of which means “Land of the Coconut Palms” and where “almost everything contains coconut.” I think this T’horin is testament to that sentiment–I mean, how often would you consider combining coconut with your cabbage?  And yet, it really works.

Try this out for a quick, easy, and incredibly tasty dish. Unlike many dishes with cabbage, this one stir-fries it without the addition of very much liquid, for a crisp yet fully cooked result.  I thoroughly enjoyed it as a side with dinner–and was sure it never came anywhere near the drooling mouths of The Girls.

“Thanks, Mum, we appreciate that. . . we’re still feeling a bit woozy from that weird breakfast you gave us.”

Cabbage T’horin

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

[Now, why would I place chopsticks in a photo of an Indian dish, you ask?  Beats me; just thought they looked nice somehow.  I did eat the T’horin with them, though.]

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