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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. This is the second entry on coconut.]

First:  thank you all, most sincerely, for all your kind words regarding The Girls and the Ordeal of the Raisins. Both dogs are fine (my bank account, on the other hand, will suffer for some time–but that’s my penance, I reckon).  And I’m also glad that the post seems to have provided some new information to some of you, who may not have been aware that raisins are often poisonous to the canines in our lives. 

In fact, I was so rattled the other day that I neglected to mention something really great:  I won a contest!  And this time, folks, I truly felt the love! The eloquent, clever and enormously crafty Shellyfish of Musings from the Fishbowl recently conducted a contest to win one of her handcrafted felt change purses, and my comment was (randomly) chosen to win!  Whoo-hoo!  I am utterly thrilled and cannot wait to receive my prize in the mail.  I will, of course, blog all about it when it arrives. 🙂 Thanks, Shellyfish!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Lucky Comestible!

You know how some people are just so eccentric, so outré, so larger-than-life that they may as well be a caricature of themselves? Think Jack Palance at the Oscars.  Think Richard Simmons.  Think my mother’s old friend Ms. Gabor.

Say what? 

Ms. Gabor (a pseudonym, bien sûr) was one of my mother’s regular Mah Jong ladies who came to our house Thursday afternoons. Long before the era of elective plastic surgery, Ms. G managed to appear entirely plastic most of the time, all on her own. Likely in her 50s back then, she balanced under a towering, shellacked and elaborately braided beehive hairdo, pinned in place with a network of rhinestone-studded hair clips. She wore eyeliner too heavy, décolletage too revealing, and an attitude far too abrasive.  But what I remember most about Ms. G was how she coped with summer.  Because in the summer, our house–lacking any air conditioning–was not just hot; it was “feels-like-Vesuvius” hot; “the-smoke-detector-is-shrieking” hot; “someone-call-Denis-Leary-to-Rescue-Me” hot. 

On those blistering summer days when my mom and her friends played “Maj,” we kids would return home from school to a tableau of four women, reposing in a haze of smoke (everyone except my mom smoked cigarettes) and humidity, most of them dripping sweat and fanning themselves with handkerchiefs or napkins. And Ms. G, elbows on the table, calmly studying her tiles and wearing a black bra.  Yes, you read that correctly; it was not her black bra as seen through a sheer blouse; no, no; it was her black bra as seen on her torso because she had taken off her blouse and placed it on the back of her chair

Dahlink, vould you be so kind as to get me a glass of soda?” she’d inquire in her heavy Hungarian accent, as soon as I entered the room.  Then I’d be forced to march to the fridge, pour the club soda, and hand her the glass while pretending that I didn’t notice she was wearing nothing more than a bra!  Seeing this vision on a weekly basis may have, I suspect, traumatized me just as much as did seeing The Girls eating raisins the other day.

Well, my mother regularly made a dessert for the ladies that was her one coconut-based specialty.  She called it “Roly Poly,” and it was basically a layer of oily, dense dough rolled out to a rectangle, topped with (in this order) a thick slather of strawberry jam; sprinkles of toasted walnuts; a smattering of raisins; randomly scattered chunks of chopped Turkish Delight, and a final light shower of shredded coconut.  The entire monstrocity was rolled up jelly-roll style, sliced into pinwheels and baked.  It’s possible that the Turkish Delight, with its vaguely floral, vaguely alcoholic smell, is what pushed the roly poly over the edge from the “yucky parental dessert” category to the “makes me want to vomit” category, but I have an inkling it was more closely connected to the image of Ms. G munching mindlessly on a slice, crumbs floating gently into the cleavage on her black lace bra.

I did, eventually, get over my coconut aversion, once I met the HH and found he adored the stuff. But the inspiration for today’s recipe was neither Roly Poly nor the HH; it was two of the recipe testers for my upcoming cookbook. (By the way, have I mentioned lately that I ADORE my cookbook testers??)

Since these two women are gluten intolerant, I assumed they’d attempt the GF recipes exclusively (about 30% of the recipes will be gluten free).  What I’ve found, instead, is that these two have willingly adapted some of the original recipes to render them gluten-free!  I’ve been amazed at and inspired by their ingenuity, and decided I had to dive in and finally start creating more gluten-free goods myself. This coconut series seemed the perfect place to start out; I already had a recipe in mind that met my NAG requirements, so converting it to gluten-free was the next logical step.

Originally given to me by a friend in university, this recipe was titled, simply, “Coconut Loaf,” and called for eggs, butter, white sugar and white flour.  Using gluten-free flours and finally trying out some xanthan gum as a binder, I came up with this combination.  I’m happy to say that the resultant loaves were just as light as–if not lighter than–the original, with a tender, delicate crumb and ethereal coconut flavor. The HH pronounced this a hit as he bit into his second loaf, remarking, “The texture is so light, it reminds me of a Twinkie.”  (To the HH, this is the highest praise one can confer on a cake.)

I, too, was very pleased with the result, and would certainly make these again, gluten free or not. Even if you are able to eat gluten, you might want to try these out as an alternative to your usual cupcakes; the preponderance of legume flour (from the beans and chickpeas) makes these an abundant source of both protein and fiber, more so than most other baked goods. I’m sure the Maj ladies would approve.

I’m also contributing this post to the Living With Food Allergies blog carnival that takes place every month and is hosted by Rational Jenn.

Finally, if you’ve recently posted any coconut recipes you’d like me to share, just leave the link here in the comments or send it via email, and I’ll add it to the list below!

Gluten Free Coconut Mini Loaves or Cupcakes

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

These are light and not too sweet, with a pronounced coconut flavor.  For fancier loaves, drizzle with your favorite glaze.

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

 

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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.

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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 find it fascinating how certain ideas make the rounds in the world of food, blogging or otherwise. I’ve mentioned before about how it galls me that Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld has an over-hyped, over-acclaimed, skyrocketed-to-bestseller-status cookbook in print, all because she thought to add some vegetable purees to existing recipes (Oh. And because she’s Jerry. Seinfeld’s. Wife. Right.).  No matter that otherswriters, or, naturally, vegan chefs–have been doing this sort of thing for years (and even my little baking company has been selling carob muffins with hidden spinach in them since 2004–so there!). 

[Note to readers:  Please permit me this puerile rant.  It’s January 28th, it’s been snowing and way below 0 degrees C for weeks over here, and there is no end to winter in sight.  I am grumpy.  I hate ice and snow.  I have been consuming highly insalutary amounts of chocolate. But I assure you, this is just a rant. It will pass and I will be better tomorrow.] 

Well, when I was asked a while ago by VegFamily magazine to come up with a trio of chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day, I decided to jump on this veggies-in-sweets bandwagon.  Maybe MJS has dumped some veggies into regular recipes, all full of eggs, refined flours and white sugar.  But has anyone seen vegan versions, and without wheat or refined sweeteners?  Gotcha!  And so I had my angle.  

 I had been working for some time on a brownie recipe gfbrownie2.jpg made with pureed white (navy) beans, and decided to include this in the VegFamily piece by stretching the original concept somewhat.  Then, the other morning, I took a peek at Celine’s fabulous blog and–voila!–there is a recipe for Black Bean Brownies, based on a still-earlier version from Activist Mommy.  See what I mean?  It’s that 100th monkey effect (or, in this case, 100th black bean effect. And that’s not just a lot of hot air, either.  Unless you eat too many, of course.). 

Next up, I wanted to do something really decadent, and also really romantic.  One of the most romantic desserts of all time is the Molten Chocolate Cake, so I was determined to re-create a healthier, vegetable-rich, vegan version. 

lavacakebig1.jpg

First of all, regular molten chocolate cakes rely on lots of eggs, and the batter is only partially baked to ensure a soft, oozing, chocolatey centre.  I solved this problem by including two mixtures: one for the cake, and one for the centre, then combining before baking.  The result was a rich, gooey, warm and definitely decadent treat.  Oh, and just for fun, it has hidden zucchini and spinach in it! I’m happy to say that the result was enthusiastically “HH Approved.”  He’s even asked for them again, on the real Valentine’s Day.

The last item was a very fudgy, very peanut-buttery, chocolate-peanut butter cookie.  These were an immediate hit with Gemini I’s kids as well as my colleagues at the college.  And because they’re all used to my weirdo creations already, nobody batted an eye when I told them the cookies incorporated eggplant puree in the batter.

pbfudgycookieclose.jpg

I’ll be posting all three recipes on this blog after the article is published.  If you’d like to check out the recipes before then, head on over to VegFamily once their February edition is up on the site.

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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.