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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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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 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 second entry, I’m focusing on Quinoa. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]

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Well.  So.  It snowed again yesterday.  Actually, it stormed; we got about 5 cm. (2 inches) to add to the–what?  478 cm?  792 cm?  14 kilometers?–pre-existing snow already piled in mini-glaciers beside every driveway, walkway, sidewalk, and garage.  And there I was, once again stuck in the house, avoiding the pelting flakes and ice pellets.  

I imagine this is what it feels like to live in perma-frost, constantly surrounded by the white stuff with no end in sight. I feel exactly like Captain Robert Scott must have felt on one of his forays to the South Pole, holed up with his companions in his ice-shack as refuge against the elements.  Just as he did in his famous diary, I could easily write an entry something like this:

Bitter storms accosted the crew today, forcing the team to head indoors.  We huddle by the makeshift fire and attempt to warm our weary, frostbitten hands.  Thrashing winds surround us at every turn.  All but forsaken in this frigid terrain, we have but each other and the dogs for company.  Poor mongrels, even they refuse to venture outdoors in this accursed weather. But tomorrow, if the winds permit, we shall harness them up and commence the hazardous trek anew. . . .

Okay, well, not exactly like Scott, as I’m actually writing on a computer, not by hand with pen and ink on paper in sub-zero weather.  Oh, and I’m in a heated brick house in a modern city of 5 million people, not an ice shack.  Oh, with electricity. And some organic, vegan spelt cranberry-pumpkin scones and a hot cup of mint tea beside me.  And I’m not a couple thousand kilometers from the nearest sign of civilization. 

But other than that, just like him.

What this blasted weather stirs up in me (besides the propensity to write like a 19th Century Antarctic explorer) is a longing for breakfast foods. Since my dad worked at his store 6 days a week, he was out of the house by 6:30 AM on Saturday mornings.  During the winter, The CFO and I would fend for ourselves at breakfast and let our mom sleep in (once she returned to bed after making breakfast for our father). 

Our self-sufficiency wasn’t exactly the most healthful (I seem to recall feasting on saltines, peanut butter, and chocolate milk as we watched Saturday-morning cartoons), but it was comfort food to us.  These days, any breakfast fare spells comfort to me; when it’s cold outside, I want to eat pancakes, muffins, scones, omelettes, or even baked oats

Well, these quinoa muffins, adapted from a recipe in Veganomicon, fit the bill perfectly.  Hearty yet slightly sweet, filling yet not too heavy, they are satisfying and sufficient to warm the spirit and the belly. And full of nourishment for energy to brave the elements again, when you’re finally ready to lace up the sled dogs and hit the expedition once more.

(“Um, Mum, you’re not actually thinking of hooking us up to a sled, are you? Because, you know, it’s pretty cold out there, and our paws are rather delicate. . . we really hate getting them all full of ice and snow if we don’t absolutely have to.”) 

Almond-Quinoa Muffins

Adapted from Veganomicon

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I adapted these by using spelt flour and chopped dates, since I had no apricots on hand.  These are dense and pleasantly chewy; the quinoa does make its presence known, however, so beware that you will taste it in the mix.  I think these would be outstanding with the suggested apricots as well. 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT 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.”]  

* * *

[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.

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

Sweet Ending

November 23, 2007

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Today was an odd day, as I had to return to the old place to meet the cleaners for their final go-through.  Standing around as they swept, wiped, polished and mopped made me feel nostalgic for the past, yet kind of weird at the same time, being in the near-empty (except for us) space once again.  My H.H. and I actually still have lots more to do, what with closets full of our paintings, several boxes of records (yes, as in “record albums”) in the basement, assorted and sundry nails, screws, and picture hooks on the walls, and one spot, near the bottom of the front door’s moulding, where the Poo Poo Girl chewed a teeny spot out when she was about six months old and teething (C. will be painting it over this weekend).

I truly can’t believe how much effort, money, time, money, and money we’ve sunk into that place, given that (a) we don’t own it; (b) we were excellent tenants for over six years and took really good care of the place while we were there; and (c) we don’t actually live there any more!  But after the summer fiasco in which the hellish landlady freaked when the air conditioner broke (not our fault, I promise), I decided I’m going to try to ensure that she has nothing to complain about once we’re gone (officially, on November 29th, even though we actually moved out on the 12th).  So sad to think that this is how our generally happy six years of living there will end.

Despite the rather disheartening morning working in the empty house, I agreed to bake up a batch of muffins for a customer today, so came home after my walk with The Girls and set to work.  The order was for my favorite, the Sweet Harvest Muffin, which supplies each lucky eater with a full serving of vegetables in each muffin.  (No, I am not trying to bask in reflected glory of Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld and her mega-selling debut cookbook; I, like many others out there, have been baking goodies with disguised spinach in them for many years now). 

Before I knew it, I was totally engrossed in the task at hand, measuring, pouring, stirring and scooping; and ended up with two dozen lovelies that will be wrapped and sent on their merry way tomorrow.  As always, baking lifted my spirits and distracted me from an otherwise sour mood.  And now I can say I’ve had at least 1/2 a vegetable serving today (managed to stop myself after taste-testing the first half). (“And we appreciated being able to taste-test that other half, Mum!”)

shmuf2.jpg

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.”]  

orangeoatmuffin2.jpg 

After a rollicking time last evening (it was my Human Honey’s birthday, so we splurged ridiculously at one of our very favorite restaurants), I woke up, late, this morning and decided that it was time to return to the pleasures of baking.  After all, I haven’t baked anything in seven whole days!  Can it be only seven days since we left the old place??

 The first challenge to address was “what to bake?”  Then it hit me that I’m scheduled to teach a cooking class on Tuesday, and desperately needed to re-test one of the recipes I’d dashed off so cavalierly before the move.  With the class looming, I figured it best to try out the recipe before sending it in print to the cooking class coordinator.  Besides, I had all the ingredients on hand, I was sure I could locate all the necessary equipment, and–most important of all–I was really hungry for something real, something freshly baked, something–well, something not chocolate.

The perfect recipe?  My old standard, Orange-Oatmeal Muffins. 

This recipe is one of the very first I ever created with alternative-to-wheat flours, and it remains one of our favorites here in the house.  (“Yes, we love it, too, Mum!”) I’ve given it out to scores of friends, acquaintances, and cooking class participants, and everyone has been amazed at how simple the recipe is to prepare, how moist and dense the texture, and how generally yummy the result.

When I was first told not to eat wheat, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.  I’ve since learned that spelt (especially light spelt) flour is more or less a one-for-one replacement for wheat, and we have come to prefer its subtle, slightly nutty, slightly sweeter taste.  (Once, when I was baking “regular” vegan muffins–ie, choc full o’ sugar, white flour, and margarine–for a vegetarian restaurant, my H.H. and I felt the need to taste-test them to ensure they’d come out right before I dropped them off at the restaurant.  But by then, we’d been eating spelt- and kamut-based baked goods for three or four years already.  We took one bite of the pallid, unremarkable little quick bread and immediatley spat it out.  “It has no flavor!” we cried, and “this tastes like styrofoam!” we exclaimed. (Though how we’d recognize the taste of styrofoam, I have no idea.) We’d become so accustomed to eating food that has real depth, real substance, real nutritional value,  that the old, conventional baked goods tasted sickly and bland to us.) Nowadays, I think of spelt as a fraternal twin, rather than a distant cousin, of wheat.

When experimenting with muffin recipes back then, I wanted to create something with only natural sweeteners, preferably fruit-based, both for the vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant properties, as well as for the fiber and stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels compared to refined sweeteners. I opted for a bit of maple syrup (for its intense sweetness) paired with blackstrap molasses (for the incredible nutritional punch, the calcium, iron, and other trace minerals). Back then, flush with my newfound natural-nutritionist zeal, I was determined to include as many whole grains as possible in each recipe, so threw in three.

 While considering which fruits to include, I was struck by a childhood memory of a strange habit my mother had had.  On afternoons when she wasn’t working, after setting up whatever dishes she’d be preparing for dinner, she’d retire to her bedroom (where the only TV in our house was located), tote along a fresh orange, and sit watching her soap opera while she munched on it.  What made her practice unusual (besides sitting on the edge of a bed to watch TV at 2:00 PM) was the way she consumed the fruit:  she’d wash the orange, then bite into it the way one usually tackles a fresh apple–chomping straight through it, skin and all.  The juice would squirt, the flesh would fly a little, and she’d chew with a slightly squishy, slightly crunchy sound as she slurped, munched, and spat out the seeds onto a paper towel (we never seemed to have paper napkins in our house). 

I thought about my mother’s odd approach to oranges as I set about creating this recipe.  Why couldn’t I include the whole orange here, too, skin and all?  After all, much of the best nutritional value in the orange actually resides in the skin and pith, the slightly bitter white lining just under the orange peel. Antioxidants, bioflavonoids, cholesterol-lowering properties–I could include all of these.  I decided to give it a try, guessing that the combination of sweeteners and slight bitterness from the full orange would complement each other beautifully.  I was right!

Similarly, the combination of spelt and kamut allows a mix of hard and soft flours for a solid, but not too heavy, texture, and the oats provide a bit of chewiness and dimension. 

These are definitely not conventional muffins.  They’re low in fat, full in flavor, dense, and very moist.  You’ll find little flecks of orange peel and date scattered throughout. I love these muffins for breakfast, warm with a little almond butter.  You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

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Wheat-Free Orange Oatmeal Muffins

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

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