Monday, December 31, 2012

Monster Cookes

How many times have I made Monster Cookies over the past 4 years (since I first learned about them)? More than I'd like to admit. There was a period where I was making them for every bring-something potluck or dinner I went to, and also a period of time where I was making them about once a week for a on-going bake sale fundraiser to support a literary journal (along with cake pops), where I was a member of the staff.

The thing I like about Monster Cookies are that they basically work with what you probably already have in your kitchen -- peanut butter, sugar, oats, butter (or in my case, vegan butter or coconut oil or even just canola oil), eggs (ehm, fake eggs), and chocolate, nuts/seeds, and dried fruit. Or, whatever else you want to throw in them.

I haven't made them since switching to a vegan diet, though I have made vegan monster cookies before. And I haven't tried to consciously make them just a little better for you, while still definitely tasting like an indulgence. To be sure, these are cookies, and they are an indulgence, just so we're all clear. But some indulgences are worse than others, right??

What makes these monster cookies better for you? Well... that's a somewhat subjective question, but these cookies are:
  • Gluten-free
  • Vegan
  • Low in refined sugar (they use agave nectar and the pictured cookies also use Enjoy Life (vegan, gf, soy free) semi-sweet chocolate chunks
  • High protein (especially if you add seeds/nuts!)
They're also moderately low fat (only a small amount of oil is needed to help these cookies become chewy and crispy and soft, the perfect combo in my mind) since most of the fat comes from peanut butter. They include whole grains, and they can use dried fruits or nuts of whatever sort makes you happiest.

Monster Cookies (vegan, gluten-free)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
2 flaxseed eggs (2 tablespoons ground flaxseed combined with 6 tablespoons water)
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 1/2 cups gluten-free oats (quick oats works best, but I never have them on hand, so pictured you'll see old-fashioned oats)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups of any combination of the following (or whatever your heart desires): VGF chocolate chunks/chips, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, chopped peanuts, VGF candy-coated chocolate (i.e. - sunspire drops), coconut flakes, slivered almonds, banana chips, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, agave nectar, coconut oil, flax eggs, and apple sauce, and stir until well mixed. Add the oaths, baking soda, salt, and fruit/nut/chocolate combo. Stir well.

Allow the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes (especially important if you're using old-fashioned oats, because this allows them to become a little softer). Scoop the dough, by 1/4 cupfuls onto a baking sheet that has been lightly greased, or lined with parchment. Cook 12-15 minutes and allow to cool another 3-5 minutes on the cookie sheet, before trying to remove them.

Serve, or allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

NOTE: You can also make smaller cookies (say 2 tablespoons, 1/8 cup). If you opt for this, keep an eye on them while they cook and reduce cooking time to 10-12 minutes. They should be golden brown around the edges when they are ready.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sweet and Fluffy Coconut Cornbread

Confession: I grew up not eating sweet cornbread. In the south, sweet cornbread is well, a bit blasphemous. It wasn't until I left my parents' house that I got sweet cornbread on a regular basis. Does that mean that I love sweet cornbread? Hardly. Pretty frequently, I opt instead for a spicy cornbread with whole kernel corn and jalapenos.

But, today seemed like a good day for a nice, warm sweet cornbread that I could pair with a vaguely chili-like stew. A friend of mine recently attempted to make a coconut cornbread that used coconut flakes and coconut oil -- and was disappointed that the coconut flavor didn't come through very strongly. I wanted to increase the coconut flavor (you should think coconut! when you taste this) when I worked with this recipe. The trickiest part was figuring out how much liquid to use (I guess coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid -- this definitely used more water than I expected and you should see my note below about this, in case it was my cornmeal and not my flour greedily hogging water).

This is a vegan, gluten-free recipe that gets baked in an 8 x 8 baking dish, though I imagine it would also do well if you cooked it in a cast iron skillet (and it would probably have a better crust on the skillet side!). Serve it with a hearty stew for dinner, eat it as a snack, or pour some warm milk on it and serve it as a warm cereal for breakfast -- whatever makes you happy.

Coconut Cornbread
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup agave nectar
1 cup water
1/3 cup coconut, almond, or soy milk
2 tablespoons vegan buttery spread (or coconut oil)
1 tablespoon canola oil

2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons flax + 6 tablespoons warm water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the dry ingredients (coconut flour through salt) together in a medium-sized bowl. In a small saucepan, over low heat, mix together the agave nectar, water, milk, buttery spread, and canola oil. Once the buttery spread has just melted, add the flax eggs to the liquid mixture, and then add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until smooth (note: you might need to add up to another 1/2 cup of water -- you want a batter that is a little thicker than cake batter).

Pour the cornbread mixture into a greased 8 x 8 pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, until it is golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chocolate Orange Granola

I know, I know, you were thinking it'd been far too long since the last granola post, right?

I've started seeing Terry's Chocolate Oranges in the stores (and knock-off versions as well), and that reminded me of how, growing up, my dad and I would each receive a chocolate orange in our stockings at Christmas. I still enjoy the flavor of chocolate and orange together, at least from time to time, and because today is grey and gloomy (though also windy and warm, and beautiful in a slightly spooky way) it seemed like a good morning to try making chocolate orange granola.

As with my other granolas, this one isn't terribly sweet. If you like it sweeter, increase the sugar or agave nectar (in the directions, I'll have the amount I recommend increase in parentheses). The orange flavor is subtle, but then again, you probably don't want to overwhelm your tastebuds with super-duper-orange OMG goodness, or you'll cancel out the chocolate flavor.

The chocolate is also a moderately subtle flavor in this granola, which means you can actually still taste the oats and buckwheat groats -- which I appreciate, since they add their own complexity to the cereal. I bake this granola at a much lower temperature than most granolas I make since it does use cocoa powder and I definitely do not want that to scorch. If you decide to go with a little higher heat (like if you're crunched for time, I recommend not above 325, and stir more frequently).

Chocolate Orange Granola
4 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup buckwheat groats (not toasted)
1/2 cup brown sugar (2/3 cup if you prefer sweeter granola)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons agave nectar (3-4 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
10-15 drops pure orange oil

1/2 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all the ingredients except the water in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the water and stir until all the oats are evenly coated and moist. Spread the granola out on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Granola should be crispy when cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Product Review: Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chunks

Confession: I prefer using chocolate chunks in my baking over normal-sized chocolate chips. To me, it's more satisfying to bite into a chunk of chocolate, compared to a chocolate chip. The exception to this might be mini-chips, because you're pretty much guaranteed to get several in every bite.

Since one of my local grocers had the Enjoy Life (dairy, gluten, soy-free chocolates) semi-sweet chunks on sale, and because I have previously reviewed their mini chips, a quick note about the chunks seemed appropriate.

First of all, I find the white bag visually appealing on the store shelf. It's easy to spot, and sets these chocolate chunks apart from the browns and yellows that predominant the chocolate chips section of my local grocer. Score one point for that. I like it when I can quickly find the product I want -- it lets me escape the people who like to leave their carts blocking an entire aisle all the faster!

The chunks themselves aren't as MEGA as the bag would have you believe -- they're smaller than chocolate chunks I've purchased from other companies, which makes me a little sad, but at least they're still chunks! They have a nice, rich chocolate flavor and the ingredient list is short (if you don't understand the benefit of this, take a look at the ingredient list for any store brand of chocolate and see what I mean). These are friendly to all but the strictest vegans, and gluten-free (hooray! not all chocolate is gluten-free, which makes me sad). They aren't fair trade (or at least weren't when I checked in August and the bag still indicates they aren't), but the company assured me when I reviewed the mini chips that they work with the farmers.

I'm a skeptic on this point. But, hopefully they really are working in that direction and one day I can post an update that tells a different story.

Would I buy these again? Yes. Since they're spendy, I'd probably only buy these again when they're on sale. A fair number of chocolates are effectively vegan (though if you know someone very sensitive to lactose, you'd want to make sure they had chocolate that wasn't processed on machines that also process dairy) in that they don't contain animal products and gluten-free. But, with the sale at my grocer this week, this was cheaper than any of my other chocolate options.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cocoa Roasted Almonds

 Flavored nuts seem incredibly popular right now. Where I last worked, we often had a spicy chili-lime almond available, as well as toffee and mocha almonds. These made a nice snack, and, frankly can be pretty addictive (at least if you're me) -- but also a bit spendy, which is a problem on a small budget.

Fortunately, they can also still be (not too bad?) good for you because nuts are packed with protein and minerals. Almonds, in particular, work well because they're already naturally a little sweet and they don't seem to scorch as easily as some other nuts (walnuts, I'm looking at you!).

I had the chance to try straight cocoa roasted almonds after a martial arts seminar -- they're a great energy boost, and the small amount of quick sugar is nice after an intense workout. But, as Chelsey (whose post inspired the particulars of my version) points out, most of the commercial brands contains modified food starch of one type or another. I share her sentiment why?? modified food starch? Why?

I still use a highly processed flour here (sweet white rice flour), but I'm going to hold that that's still better than a modified version of a starch that's already starchy. It's not the by-product of a by-product. I opted for sweet white rice flour because it's already naturally a little sweet and very glutinous, which will help the cocoa powder bind with the agave.

That's right, this uses agave. It's vegan friendly, gluten-free, and has a lower glycemic count than the same snack made with many other sweeteners. If you have the option, buy your almonds in the bulk section of your local grocer -- it's probably cheaper than buying a bag of them and depending on your particular grocery store (and the time of year) the bulk almonds are likely a little fresher.

Cocoa Roasted Almonds
1 1/2 cups raw almonds
1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sweet white rice flour (really, any flour would work)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a small bowl coat the almonds with the agave nectar, stirring until the almonds are evenly coated. Set aside while you combine the cocoa powder and white rice flour in a separate small bowl. Add the almonds to the cocoa powder mixture and stir until the almonds are evenly coated. Spread the coated almonds onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Roast for 25 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes so the chocolate doesn't scorch. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cranberry Orange Scones

Cranberry Orange Scones (Vegan, GF)
It's been a long time since I made scones -- almost 18 months! That's far too long, and it makes me a bit sad (okay, so really only a year since I made any type of scone). This basic recipe is one of my favorites, and now I've modified it to be vegan in addition to making it gluten-free.

When I first posted the basis for this recipe,I hadn't been eating GF for very long. I used Bob's Red Mill flour, and was incredibly excited when the recipe turned out edible. Now, I'm more confident in baking GF and I experimented with the flours some. Generally, if you're creating your own GF blend a 70:30 (flours to starches) ratio works pretty well. This recipe hits that pretty close, though it's a bit higher on starches, which causes the scones to be reminiscent of sweet English tea biscuits.

If you're already baking GF, there's a good chance you have these flours in your pantry. If not, you can find them online (like anything else) or in most grocery stores, on the baking aisle. Xantham gum might be the tricky thing to find (and I actually don't love using it -- you're welcome to try the recipe without it. It works, but is a bit more crumbly.) and this too is pretty readily available now.

Scones remind me of breakfast with friends in the Midwest. The last time I made these, I created a glaze for the top using citrus juice and powdered sugar. I don't have powdered sugar on hand and it didn't seem worth buying for just this recipe, but if you want a slightly sweeter scone, I recommend it.

Cranberry Orange Scones
1/2 cup sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/3 cup soy milk combined with 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice to produce "soy buttermilk"
1 tablespoon flax seed mixed with 2 tablespoons warm water

Optional Quick Cranberry Sauce (you can use sauce leftover from another project or meal too!)
6 ounces fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. 
 If you don't have leftover cranberry sauce, combine all ingredients from the Optional Quick Cranberry Sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the scones.
In a mixing bowl, sift together flousr, xantham gum, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. In another bowl, combine  soy buttermilk and flax seed mixture, then  beat lightly with a fork. Add to flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough. 
Turn out onto a lightly floured board (I used a little bit of sweet rice flour) and knead a few times to make sure the dough isn't too sticky -- it should hold together without sticking to your hands, but it shouldn't crack around the edges either. Roll or pat out into a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 8 large or 12 small squares. On half the squares, spread a thin amount of cranberry sauce(amount will depend on the size square you’re using and how much jam you want. I make small squares and use about 1 tablespoon sauce per finished scone). Place the remaining, squares on top to make a “sandwich.” Place scones on prepared baking sheet. and bake at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes, until they just begin to turn golden. 
Up Close, Golden Brown and Ready to Eat!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Curried Red Lentil Stew with Winter Veggies

So, it's the beginning of flu season. This means people around me are sick. And by people around me, not even necessarily people I know -- in the grocery store the other day, I saw someone who looked like she was about to pass out (pale features, sheen of sweat, red nose, bundled up far more than the temperatures outside called for). Cold and flu season makes me want to eat things that are going to help boost my immunity (and, let's face it, that are just plain good for me).

And, since the days are more frequently cool / cloudy / wet, I want to consume warm things -- stews, soups, bakes. teas & coffee, etc.

This is where a curried red lentil stew comes in. This particular stew has onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, lentils (hooray protein!!), dark green veggies*, and more immune-system boosting goodness. Regardless of whether any of these actually help me stay healthy during the winter months I like to imagine they do -- and it creating a large batch of this stew provides me with several days of quick, healthy meals.

I ate this alongside a gluten-free flat bread (that turned out crispier than I would have liked), but it would also go well with brown rice or a nice pliable flat bread, like pita. If you want to up the spice (again, this might depend on the curry powder you choose), add a pinch of red pepper flakes at the same time you add the lentils.
Thick Red Curry with Winter Veggies

Curried Red Lentil Stew with Winter Veggies
2 teaspoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch piece ginger, minced

1 cup fresh cauliflower florets
2 tablespoons curry powder**
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (optional)
3 dried curry leaves (or 1 bay leaf)
1 cup red lentils
3 1/2 cups water

1 cup fresh kale, chopped

Warm the oil in a medium-sized soup pan, over medium-high heat. Add the onion, sweet potato, and salt, and saute 4-5 minutes, until the onion and sweet potato begin to brown. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic and ginger. Saute another 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the kale, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and allow to simmer 18-20 minutes, until the cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and lentils are soft. 

Stir in the chopped kale and remove from the heat. As soon as the kale has wilted (this took less than a minute for my curly kale), taste and add salt, if necessary. Serve hot.

Special Notes:

*I also chopped some of the green parts of the cauliflower -- about 1/2 cup worth, and added those. Biting into them was a bit like biting into a piece of cabbage in the stew, and something I would do again, but this is definitely up to you. If you do add them, add them 2-3 minutes before you add the kale and before you take the stew off the heat.

**I use a medium-hot curry powder with a moderately high ratio of turmeric. If you use a sweet curry powder, start with 1 tablespoon and add more toward the end, if you desire. As always, it's easier to add than to take away!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chocolate Mint Granola

You might say that I'm on a bit of a granola kick. This is, as I explained in a previous post, partly because I now live in an area where my GF cereal of choice isn't as cheap as I'm used to and I'm living on a fairly small budget. Granola, of course, is a little more expensive to make than just eating oatmeal, but it's also more satisfying when I want something crunchy (or if I just don't want hot cereal). Plus, during these cooler months of the year, it's an excuse to turn on the oven for an hour or so while creating something useful.

I'd been wanting to make a chocolate mint granola for a while -- in part because I love mint patties, but no longer eat them for a variety of reasons, and in part because I have mint extract from my green-mint smoothie phase earlier this year. I wanted to make it gluten-free, of course, and also vegan since I've embarked on eating mostly vegan.

This granola, like my others, isn't overly sweet, but if you drink vanilla soy / coconut /almond milk it is just sweet enough, and almost exactly the flavor of eating mint patties. For the record, I use organic spearmint extract when I make this granola, but I imagine it would turn out similarly using a peppermint extract. Note, these are both different than using mint oil. Baking Bites has a great article about the differences, that I won't rehash here -- but you should check it out. I like adding lentils to the granola, to increase the complexity of my morning meal, but you could omit them if you wanted (just skip those steps in the recipe below). I also like eating this with pumpkin seeds or sunflower kernels.

This would make a wonderful surprise breakfast for your kiddos who really, really want that chocolate sugary cereal from the grocery store since it's pretty much fat-free, doesn't contain much sugar, and still tastes like chocolate. Or, you could make a double-batch and wrap it up in pretty jars and give it as a holiday gift. Or, you could just make some for yourself, a small indulgence.
Yum! Chocolate Mint Granola (with red lentils)

Chocolate Mint Granola
1/3 cup split red lentils, boiled in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes and allowed to rest in hot water for 20-30 minutes (optional)

3 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure mint extract (note, this is different than oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

Mix together your oats, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl.
Dry Ingredients
If using lentils, add the mint extract and agave nectar to the lentils and mix well (otherwise, mix the agave and mint extract together in a separate bowl with 1/3 cup warm water). Add the lentils, and their liquid, to the oat mixture. Stir until the oats are evenly moist.

Spread the granola on a baking sheet, and place in the oven. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15-20 minutes, until the oats have turned dry and crispy* (in moist climates, this may take a little longer). Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

*Note: As with other granolas, it's important to remember that the oats will continue to turn crispy as they dry. If you have some oats that are not completely dry, but others that area, you can turn the granola once more time and then turn off the oven. In another 20-30 minutes, your oats should all be crispy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Product Review: Whole Foods Grind-Your-Own Chocolate Peanut Butter

On a whim, I recently bought a small container of Whole Foods' grind-your-own chocolate peanut butter. Why, you might ask?

Why not?

At my Whole Foods -- and maybe this is the standard -- the grind-your-own chocolate peanut butter uses vegan, gluten-free chocolate chips (hooray!). The balance in the machine appears to be mostly peanuts with a handful of chocolate chips -- you can see there is chocolate in there, but it doesn't look like nearly enough to produce anything chocolatey.

But, when I hit the start button on the machine, the peanut butter that came out was a lovely dark brown.

The peanut butter itself isn't overwhelmingly chocolate-flavored, but there are distinct chocolate notes -- in fact it's moderately chocolatey (unless you're a dedicated choco-holic) which is nice for a small I-want-something-different treat (especially on banana chips!). The grind for the machines I used was set to create smooth peanut butter, which meant that however many chocolate chips I got were well-incorporated. It's definitely less chocolate-flavored than something like Nutella or the chocolate peanut butters by Peanut Butter & Co.

The price: reasonable at $3.99/lb -- the same price as the other grind-your-own nut butters (almond, peanut butter, and honey-roasted peanut butter) on the day I visited.

Would I buy this again? Possibly. While I love chocolate & peanut butter (when I'm in the mood for either), this is an indulgence as I don't see a practical use in my life for chocolate peanut butter on any regular basis. I can mix chocolate into peanut butter on my own, if I really want it right this minute, and I prefer almond and sunflower seed butters. I like that it's vegan and gluten-free (some chocolate chips aren't). I like that this peanut butter can be made ground fresh and bought in whatever quantity I desire.

But, those probably aren't enough things to cause me to run back to Whole Foods as soon as I'm done with the chocolate peanut butter I currently have, or to push me to purchase more at any point in the near future.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Masa Harina Cornbread (GF)

First, let me apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. You'll have to just trust me.

When I started to make black beans the other day (now in March, when I was still eating animal products, since I didn't remember to take pictures the next time I made this either), I realized I didn't have enough rice. Oops. Oh well, I had some masa harina (tamale style, though I'm not convinced it really makes a difference). I poked around on the internet until I found a masa harina cornbread recipe. That recipe, apparently, didn't come out very fluffy but had a strong corn tortilla taste. 

To counteract the flat nature of the cornbread, I didn't use a preheated skillet and I increased the baking powder from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. I also used melted butter because, growing up in the south, I never once saw a cornbread recipe that didn't use melted butter. I reduced the amount of butter and added some olive oil (because why not), but you could certainly use all butter if you were so inclined. It definitely leaves a lightly buttery flavor in the cornbread at this ratio. I increased the amount of honey because 1 tablespoon seemed too low and added a dash of cinnamon for a little extra complexity--and to complement the flavors in the black beans.

The cornbread that came out was light, rather than dense, and had a nice corn flavor without being overwhelming. I wasn't really reminded of "corn tortillas," probably because I added a little extra sweetener, and because of the cinnamon.

I let it cool for about an hour before I cut into it, so I can't attest to how well it will hold together still hot, but at "lightly warm" it held together beautifully, without adding any binders other than the ones you see. I saw one variation similar to this one, meant to be gluten-free, that added xanthan gum and an extra egg--lots of extra binder in other words. Not necessary and that just increases your overall cost, so I recommend against it. Plus, let's face it, it increases the "tastes gluten-free" factor. 

Masa Harina Cornbread
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1/2 cup brown rice flour

1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter, honey, and olive oil and stir to combine well. Add the eggs, mix, and then add the milk. The batter should appear moderately wet at first, but will quickly start to thicken. Pour into a greased pie pan and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn up to 425 degrees for another 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Orange-Lentil Granola

Orange-Lentil Granola
Regular readers, you might have noticed I was absent for a while. A fairly long while, compared to this spring. I was in the middle of another move, and now that I'm settled I hope (plan) to start posting more regularly again. I appreciate your patience and the handful of kind notes I got asking where I'd been.

Shortly after moving to my new place, I discovered a lack of (affordable) stick-with-you / nutrient-dense gluten-free cereals. I'd been spoiled by having a CSA share (sauteed veggies for breakfast most days) and access to cheap(er) cereals over the past year. To compensate, since I'm trying to survive on a really small budget, I started making granola again, and now make it a couple times a week. That much granola can be, well, a little boring.

That's what inspired this vegan, gluten-free granola, which has just a slight hint of orange. I don't like my granola particularly sweet, but if you do, add a little more brown sugar or a hit of agave to it. You might also experiment with the amount of orange you add. I use pure orange oil, so a 1/4 teaspoon works well. One of my testers though, used an orange extract and suggested that 1/2 teaspoon would be more appropriate. It's absolutely fine to taste it before you stick it in the oven, and add more orange flavoring, if you like.

The lentils in this granola add a lovely splash of color and a hint of protein. Soaking the lentils, as I suggest in the recipe (or boiling them for about 5 minutes, and then draining them) is essential. You'll (probably) get really gassy otherwise and they'll definitely crunch a lot when you bite into them. Be sure you use split red lentils.

This would be perfect to make a few days in advance of Thanksgiving, so you don't have to think about it on Black Friday morning, when everyone is feeling possibly-still-a-little-gross from the day before -- or something that you can make a lot of and put in mason jars as gifts for the winter holidays!

If you do decide to make this recipe in larger quantities, I find about 3 cups of oats per baking sheet works pretty well.

Orange-Lentil Granola
1/3 cup red lentils3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup hot water (near boiling)

2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon pure orange oil

Mix all the dry ingredients ingredients together. Add the hot water and the oils, and mix thoroughly. Allow to rest 30 minutes to an hour (this will start to soften the lentils). Spread the granola mixture on a baking sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the oats have turned golden and most are crispy.* Store in an airtight container.

*If some aren't crispy, they'll continue to harden as they dry. As long as the majority of your oats have begun to crisp, and you don't have any huge lumps of granola-cluster, you should be fine.
Orange-Lentil Granola, with dried cranberries

The pictures in this post are courtesy of Nick Clift.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn Muffins (GF and Vegan)

Dog, seen on bike ride
Until recently, I worked at an Inn, where I made breakfast for people a lot. I love this work, because as you're probably aware (if you're a regular reader), I enjoy feeding people and forming a connection with others and with the environment via the things we put in our bodies. For me, cooking for others -- and eating with others -- creates a sense of community that I think is often overlooked in the way we usually run our lives. Unfortunately, a lot of the time at the inn, I made one of a dozen or so dishes and it quickly becomes pretty routine. I didn't always get to talk to our guests after they've finished their meal (there are so many things to do at an inn!), and I only had the opportunity to try one new recipe on guests (and this isn't it).

Happily, however, one of my co-workers (we'll call her J) and I started eating brunch together after work about once a week -- it was a wonderful opportunity for us to just relax, to talk about life, and generally hang out. We worked together in the kitchen, lovely change from the Sunday evening cooking I do for a handful of friends, and reminiscent of the Friday breakfasts I shared with friends when I lived in the Midwest.

Tree, no pretty leaves yet...
These breakfasts also presented an opportunity for me to actually feel inspired to try new things, or to make modifications to recipes I didn't like as much the first time around but see potential in. That's what happened with these muffins, which were inspired by a non-vegan recipe from my food co-op. These muffins are moist and taste like autumn -- perfect as the weather starts too cool off. Lately, I've even seen a few trees with red and yellow leaves!

We had these vegan, gluten-free muffins with a lovely veggie saute, made entirely with veggies from J's garden. They rise well, are moist, and hold together nicely (especially for a gluten-free product). If you decided to make these in loaf pans, you could definitely do that and because it holds together well, you could probably turn it into french toast (easier if you're not vegan). Afterward, we went for a bike ride together, and these muffins combined with the veggies, gave us plenty of energy for a 20 mile trip.

Don't let the ingredient list intimidate you. If you're already gluten-free, you probably have many of these ingredients around -- and if you're not, but are cooking for someone who is, these ingredients are available at most grocery stores. If you like nuts (I don't in baked goods), consider sprinkling a few chopped walnuts on the top of the muffins before throwing them in the oven.

Autumn Muffins (Gluten-Free)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 medium, overripe banana, well mashed
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup water
15 ounces roasted butternut squashed (mashed)
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup quinoa or millet flour
2 teaspoons guar gum
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped dates, raisins, or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil muffin tins*, or line with paper liners. Beat flax seed, banana, oil, agave, and water until creamy. Fold in butternut squash.

In a separate bowl, sift together all dry ingredients (brown rice flour through nutmeg). Fold the wet and dry ingredients together. Fold in coconut and dried fruit. The batter should be pretty thick, but add more water if it's the consistency of extra-firm cookie dough. Divide batter into muffin cups (3/4 full). Bake 25-30 minutes, until tops begin to brown and spring back lightly when touched. Allow to cool for five minutes before removing from the pan.

Serve warm. Store in an airtight container, and refrigerate after the first day. Keeps 2-3 weeks in the freezer.

*I come out with 12 regular sized muffins, plus 1 mini-loaf (which cooks another 10-15 minutes.
The Muffins!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gluten-Free Lifestyle

I've received a few questions from people lately about why I'm gluten-free, and it's a topic that seems like it's discussed more often than even just a few years ago. In fact, the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You recently ran an episode that explains, in laymen's terms, the concept of a gluten-free lifestyle (or reduced gluten), with a particular emphasis on Celiac's disease.

Last spring, I started to notice that I was having a lot of stomach issues that I won't go into, and feeling extremely lethargic. I've had friends (including a former roommate) who are either gluten-intolerant, or have full-blown Celiac's. I've also had friends who discovered later in life that they were lactose-intolerant. These friends all described a variety of symptoms that at least somewhat matched mine.

Milk Bottling
Due to a general lack of insurance, I decided not to go get expensive testing done, but instead try an elimination diet (ehm, not a true elim diet -- I started by just stopping my gluten consumption entirely which caused me to realize how abundant it is). I started with eliminating gluten instead of milk products because I was really, really hoping it would be gluten. I kinda love yogurt. A lot.

And after three weeks, it seemed like it was, in fact, a gluten-problem. My stomach problems mostly cleared up and I had more energy. Since I don't eat many processed foods, I don't think it was just eating fewer processed foods that did the trick.

So, I haven't gone back to eating gluten. I am careful to make sure I'm eating enough iron from other sources, and to eat nutritional yeast (a good source of B vitamins) regularly, because people who opt for a gluten-free lifestyle can have problems with getting enough of both of these nutrients. I'm eating more whole foods, for sure because buying highly processed gluten-free bread products is super expensive, and there are foods I miss (like a really delightfully chewy baguette!), but for the most part, I'm figuring out how to create the things I truly miss using gluten-free options.

That's also why I try to maintain this blog on a regular basis. It's important to add voices and resources to the gluten-free community, especially for people who are just venturing into a GF lifestyle, or who suddenly need to create a dish for someone who is gluten-free (or, gluten-free and vegan!). There are people who've been doing it for much longer, for sure, and there are other terrific gluten-free blogs out there that are solely gluten-free and always have been. That's not true for me. If you look back at my archives, you'll notice recipes that contain gluten. In fact, my most popular recipe from week to week, and of all time (based on number of hits and search engine key words) is for a gluten-based recipe for Reese's PB Cup cupcakes.
A pretty landscape!

I think that's okay. Part of what I started this blog for was to talk about what it meant to be flexitarian -- to only eat meat as a condiment, or to be a not-overly-picky vegetarian (what, this is cooked with chicken stock? From a chicken that was formerly scratching about your yard [or not]? Well...okay....). What it meant to transition from one lifestyle to another. If you're a regular reader, you'll notice that same kind of transition as I start writing about gluten-free recipes, and increasingly, creating gluten-free and vegan recipes. Understanding the process of transition, especially if you're transitioning your diet as well, is important to making yourself a food-conscious consumer.

Please note: I don't advocate a gluten-free lifestyle for everyone. If you don't need it (and it has become a fad diet), you really should consult a nutritionist if it's still something you want to do. With veganism, I urge you to be conscious about the amount of processing that goes into some of the products you likely consume -- I'm thinking specifically of milk product alternatives. If you don't have a medical reason to avoid diary (for instance), it might be better to focus on minimally processed foods that were raised in a healthy, respectful way -- regardless of whether you choose to consume meat. My friend Marissa blogs about moving from a vegetarian lifestyle to eating meat for ethical reasons.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Product Review: Enjoy Life Mini Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

[Disclosure] Here's the thing about the product reviews I post on this blog: I always become incredibly self-conscious. I'm telling you this because I don't post as many reviews as I sometimes think I should (based on the frequency with which "review product x" comes up in how people linked to my blog via search engines), and simultaneously because I sometimes feel like I'm posting far too many reviews. For these reasons, I try to focus on products that don't seem to be reviewed on the interwebs quite as often. I've mentioned this with past product reviews, but if there's a product you want reviewed (that's gluten-free), let me know. I'll be happy to try and review it -- depending on availability in my area.


Bag of Enjoy Life Mini Chips (semi-sweet)
Enjoy Life brand chocolate chips are vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and soy-free, which makes them a prime candidate for review on this blog -- where a lot of my recipes try to take into account food sensitivities and preferences.

On a purely taste level, these simple chocolate chips have a lovely chocolate flavor with none of that weird aftertaste that say, Hershey's (or any number of other brands of chocolate) have that make me either want to eat more (but not actually enjoy it -- so typically American of me, at least if I'm to believe Jim Gaffigan's analysis of the American palate) to get the taste out of my mouth (because that makes sense) or leaves me feeling incredibly thirsty. I personally prefer a deeper chocolate flavor (the darker the chocolate, the better if you ask me!), but these work well for the things I use them for.

They're smooth and melt easily (sometimes too easily if you don't have air-conditioning) and because they're mini chocolate chips, they don't overwhelm delicate desserts if you're inclined to make things that need small bursts of chocolate (I don't have occasion to make these very often).

On another note the Enjoy Life website isn't the most appealing site in the world (mostly just the images of food). If I'd first encountered these chips via their website, I'd probably never have purchased them. However, that wasn't the case and at my local store, the mini chocolate chips are the only option -- though I'm interested in their chocolate chunks.

That being said, I've been trying very consciously to reduce the amount of exploitation that I enable through my purchasing decisions. These chocolates are not certified fair trade or organic. I contacted Enjoy Life about this, to find out if they're working with their supplies to ensure an enjoyable life for the chocolate workers and for the environment. Here's what they said:
Our chocolate is not fair-trade certified.  However, our supplier focuses on improving conditions for the cocoa farmers and is committed to operating in an ethical, responsible, and safe manner.  Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to source fair trade ingredients that meet our strict allergen free requirements. 
Okay, fair enough. But I still can't help but read it with a bit of skepticism. I admittedly don't know much at all about the production of chocolate and the facilities in which they produce their chocolate, but it seems like there shouldn't be much cross-contamination on the farms and plantations where at least some of the people in the cacao-to-chocolate production line work.

That being said, I'll probably continue to indulge in these chocolates from time to time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cheap Vegan Pesto

It's summer, which means abundant basil. I've been getting huge bags of it in my CSA share pretty consistently for the past month or so, and I can't seem to use it in enough things without making pesto. Pesto makes me think of my friend Rachael, who loves to make pesto -- and often did when we cooked together, back when we were fortunate enough to still live in the same town. Pesto's not something, before I ate it with Rachael, that I would normally eat on my own. Even with the fond pesto memories I formed with her, it's still not high on my list of things to make.

That is, until I have three half-pound bags of basil in my refrigerator. Then, pesto seems a lot more appealing. Unfortunately, traditional pesto is kinda expensive to make (especially the pine nuts) and even when you make it with walnuts -- another common variation -- it's pretty expensive.

Then, you add in the cheese (or don't) -- and the cost of it (which, for high quality organic cheese, can be pretty steep). I don't like traditional pesto with parm -- the flavor of Parmesan is something I just never learned to enjoy. Plus, if I don't include it, then I can make vegan pesto, which makes me happy because I'm toying with the idea of being a household vegan -- not eating animal products at home, but not adding that to my already long-ish list of dietary needs if someone else is feeding me. If I go that route, I'd make that choice for environmental reasons -- and I'm undecided. There's a lot of processing that can go into a vegan diet (especially regarding dairy alternatives) and it might make more sense for me to just move more strictly to a "whole foods" diet so that I'm opting for as little processing of ingredients as possible.

So, for this pesto I use raw, unsalted sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts or walnuts, and nutritional yeast in place of parm. The result is pretty good. I like it with a crack of black pepper and if I were making it just for me, instead of sharing it, I'd up the amount of garlic to 3 large cloves. This recipe is fast and easy, and makes about 16 ounces of pesto -- plenty for several meals. Store it in a well-sealed container, in the refrigerator for several days.

Cheap Vegan Pesto
3 packed cups basil, rinsed and stems removed
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, raw and unsalted
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup sunflower or olive oil (you can use more, but then the pesto isn't as cheap!)
2 large cloves garlic
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Combine all ingredients, except water, in a blender or food processor. Begin blending, slowly adding water (or more oil), until the pesto blends easily and remains at a thick consistency. Refrigerate, and serve over whatever you like! (I like it over quinoa and piled on tomatoes).
Sunflower growing in a guerrilla garden

Monday, August 13, 2012

Polenta -- made from masa!

I spent the last year living on a very minimal budget. As in, after rent (which is modest and included utilities), I had slightly less than $200 for the month. Some months, because of odd jobs, I had a bit more. But this $200 needed to buy:
  • Gas (occasionally; mostly I bike)
  • Dog food (and her yearly vet bill) for a mid-sized dog
  • Toiletries
  • Food
Occasionally, I allowed myself treats. E and I, for instance, have made one of our housemate-bonding experiences a weekly trip to a fro-yo place where we sit and watch traffic violations and talk about our weeks, books, or television. Or, for example, sometimes I really just want to buy that GF Vegan cookie from the co-op that's so yummy, or to buy coffee out with a friend. Or I needed some article of clothing or pay an insurance. This year, there were also plane tickets -- one a mental break from my rough spring and the other to a funeral.

French Lentils with Marmalade over Masa Polenta
Fortunately, before this year, I had three years of grad school to practice living on a tight budget while still eating moderately well. If you're a regular follower of my blog, you've heard me talk about cooking on a budget before.

But now I'm probably moving soon and I'm trying to use up things I bought over the year. One of those: tamale masa. For a recent Sunday dinner, I made French lentils with orange marmalade and this polenta, made from masa -- all because these were things in my cupboard that I want (and need) to use before I move.

This is a soft polenta, but if you chill it over night, it gets pretty thick and I'm moderately sure you could make fried polenta cakes out of it (let me know how it works if you try it!). 

Masa Polenta
2 cups tamale masa
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized pot or a large pan, combine the masa, water, and salt. Turn the heat on under the pan to medium and stir constantly until the masa has thickened enough that when you drag a spoon through it, it doesn't immediately run back together (with my masa, this took about 10 minutes). Adjust salt if necessary, and grind in some black pepper. Serve.

Friday, August 10, 2012

French Lentils with Marmalade

For a recent Sunday dinner with E & Co., I decided I needed to make a serious effort to use up things I've had in my pantry. The primary targets: lentils and tamale masa.

French Lentils with Marmalade over Masa Polenta
With the masa, I made a polenta and served it under the lentils (in part, because E isn't a fan of lentils). That will (hopefully) appear in a future post.

The salty polenta base complimented the sweeter lentils nicely, but they could be served on their own, tossed on top of a salad, or be used in a variety of other ways. I selected to mix these with marmalade mostly because that's what I had on hand (inherited from E's previous roommate, actually) and I figured it would work out okay. I actually really liked the way they turned out though, which is why I'm sharing it with you.

French Lentils with Marmalade
1 cup French lentils, rinsed and drained
3 cups water
Generous pinch salt

2 tablespoons marmalade, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the lentils, water, and salt in a pot over medium heat. Allow to simmer until the water is completely absorbed and the lentils are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the marmalade and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: this also tasted good the second day, chilled. Do what makes you happy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Watermelon-Basil Salad

So, as regular readers might remember, I joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) this year with the hope that, in addition to supporting the local foods movement, I would also be forced into the kitchen more to actually cook and be inventive with food, something I find hard to do when I'm only making food for myself.
Watermelon Basil Salad

To some degree this has worked -- but you've probably notice a serious lack of posts recently. That's because I've reverted back into "hm, let me just saute these veggies together that could more or less go together..." or eating raw food (which is fine, but not a particularly thrilling blog post).

Sundays are different. Sundays, I actually make real food because E and I have a couple of friends over. That inspires me to cook (or at least be slightly more creative in the kitchen). It's nice to have something that resembles a family dinner once in a while.

This past Sunday, one of our friends brought a lovely cucumber salad, and I asked our other friend who usually comes to bring a seedless watermelon so I could create a watermelon-basil salad. Cool salads sounded particularly good since we're in the middle of a hotter-than-normal period of the summer. I based this salad off the first recipes that came up on Google under "Watermelon-Basil Salad" that didn't have feta. I wanted a vegan salad.

This recipe is super flexible, so I'm not providing amounts (though I do provide estimates below the recipe if you want to start with an approximation). Some people might like basil more than others (or your particular basil might be stronger/milder). The basil I used came from my CSA and this week it was Genovese. I asked my friend to bring a seedless melon because that made my job simpler (and they're cheaper at the store this week). If you prefer (or have) seeded watermelon, use that -- just remove the seeds as much as possible in advance or give it a good stir right before serving to push any seeds that have come loose toward the bottom of the bowl.

Watermelon-Basil Salad
Seedless watermelon, cubed
Basil, chiffonaded
Ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in an appropriately sized bowl and stir well. Let rest at least 15-20 minutes and stir again before serving.

That's it! Some recipes use vegetable oil, but I don't see the point. The salt will cause the watermelon to release a lot of liquid, so you may want to opt for serving this with a slotted spoon, but that's entirely up to you. Allowing the salad to sit for 15-20 minutes provides the opportunity for flavors to mingle.

Because I told you I'd provide estimates of quantity (this could have served 6):
1/2 medium-sized seedless watermelon
1/4 cup (tightly packed) basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Monday, August 6, 2012

USDA & Meatless Mondays, a Commentary on Eating Less Meat

As you know, I try to keep this blog fairly apolitical. If you're into politics -- food politics, environmental, social justice, etc., I encourage you to visit my other blog, Counterfeit Journalist. However, since the recent bout of news regarding reducing consumption of meat is immediately relevant to this blog, I thought I should say a few things about it. There is no recipe today, but if you're new to my blog and are looking for meatless ideas, I encourage you to browse my recipes.


Pigs in a CAFO
If you've been paying attention to news in America at any point during the past two weeks, you've probably heard about the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) "recommendation" that people (well, USDA employees) could reduce their toll on the environment by eating less meat. (If you haven't followed the news, the Huffington Post sums it up nicely here and I'm not going to bother repeating most things repeated there.). Surprise, surprise, various lobbies with an interest in meat production/consumption immediately lashed out (that is, after all, what lobbyists are paid to do) and the USDA retracted the statement.

Let's talk though, for a few minutes, about Meatless Mondays -- or more generally, about eating less meat. Regardless of whether you choose to eat less (or no) meat because you want to reduce your cholesterol, be nice to non-human animals, or shrink your carbon footprint, eating less meat is a kind thing to do for yourself and for the planet. The average American eats just shy of 200 pounds of meat per year. That's a lot of meat. And a lot of (mostly) corn* that meat is eating. And a lot of water used keeping that meat hydrated and it's living area clean.

So, even if you don't care to shrink your carbon footprint, reduce your cholesterol, or be kinder to the planet maybe, at least for now, it's a good idea to eat less meat because more than half the counties in the United States are disaster areas because of drought. Depending on who you choose to believe, between 441 (the beef industry) and 2,400 (PETA) gallons of water are used to produce each pound of meat. Let's settle on the number 1,800 gallons which is more or less the number that most (non-special interest) groups use.

To put that in perspective, a 1000** pound cow uses enough water to completely fill two Olympic sized swimming pools and partially fill a third.

That's a lot of water.

Laying Operation Chickens
I'd like to point out that it's not like skipping meat once a week is something you have to do for the rest of your life if you don't want to (though I suspect after the initial period where you break old habits you'll discover you don't miss it like you think you will). I used to date someone who believed he couldn't stay full if he didn't eat meat ("Let me introduce you to this funny little thing called fiber. Let's try eating unprocessed foods..."). His best friend was a "weekday vegetarian." The bestie and I repeatedly explained to my old boyfriend how we could live without meat. We demonstrated it at restaurants and at his house. It never sank in.

My housemate now, E, pretty much only eats meat when she goes out for a meal. This gets to the idea of meat as a treat, or meat as a condiment. Maybe, for you -- or your loved one -- it's time to think about just reducing meat consumption in different ways*** and opting for more sustainable options (like pasture-raised meat).

And as for the argument that sustainable options cost more. Well, yes. But study just came out that said that if we factor in the hidden costs of beef (it didn't address other meats as thoroughly), the average hamburger**** would cost $1.50 more. Most sustainable options are not subsidized (if you want smaller government, you shouldn't want subsidized food sources. Btw.) and also factor in the "true" costs of raising those animals.
Black Angus on a Feed Lot
My point in telling you this isn't to guilt you. If you're reading this blog, you either already know most or all of  these things or you're at least curious. My point isn't to preach my lifestyle and personal views (though again, if you want to see that, hop over to my other blog). My point is be part of the conversation about reducing American meat consumption -- which was my point in starting this blog to begin with. And I'd like you to join that conversation too.

*For animals raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
**This is an estimate for an average female black Angus, at butchering time, and does not account for the reduction in weight at hanging (i.e. - when viscera, etc has been removed), which apparently reduces the weight by about 62%
***Though I'd argue if you want a planet to live on -- or for the next generation, you stop making excuses and give up meat. It's an irresponsible choice in the way Americans (and others too, but American food habits are what I can speak to with authority) raise and consume meat animals and it's killing the planet.
****They chose burgers because the average American eat three burgers a week.

Butchered Hogs

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Oat Groat and Lentil Salad with Raisins, Carrot, and Spring Onion

For Sunday dinner a few weeks ago, with E and two of our friends, I wanted something that would 1) be cool(ish) since it's been pretty warm outside and 2) use up some of the pantry staples I've got on hand. This led to a quick evaluation of my pantry and noticing that I had half a bag of lentils and a lot of oat groats. I've written about oat groats before, but in case you're new to the blog and to groats, they're the unprocessed oat and cook up similar to barley or brown rice, texture wise.

In my local grocery stores, groats have also been cheaper than brown rice of late and although they don't combine with lentils or beans to create a complete protein, for most people that's not really a problem -- most of us get plenty of protein (granted with vegetarians and vegans, this can be a bit of a problem). Lately, I'm not concerned about it, because I've been making my many smoothies with vanilla soy milk (great grocery store special) and so I'm getting a fair amount of protein there, and in other places.

I baked the groats, despite the extra heat that would cause, because it meant I could also go walk the dog. You can cook them on the stove top, but this might result in them breaking up a bit more (and looking more like normal oatmeal). Aside from cooking the groats and lentils, this salad comes together quickly and can be eaten warm -- I do recommend allowing it to chill overnight though, if you've got the spare time, because it allows the flavors to blend. Do not reheat it!

This recipe was inspired by a different grain-and-lentil salad I used to make frequently just after moving to Iowa, and a salad I recently tried, from a grocery store near the coast.

The raisins add a nice sweet bite from time to time, the carrot some extra crunch, and the onion really draws the whole salad together. If you're garlic-squeamish, you can leave it out (scape season, after all, is really short), but I like the complexity it adds. The chipotle adds a slight smokey note without really adding spice.

Oat Groat and Lentil Salad with Raisins, Carrot, and Spring Onion
1 cup uncooked oat groats
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch red pepper flakes

1 cup uncooked whole lentils
2 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 tablespoon chipotle paste*
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raisins
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 cup spring (or green) onion, chopped (greens only)
1 teaspoon garlic scape, slivered (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the oat groats, 2 1/2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes into an oven-safe baking dish that can be covered. Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until groats are "to the tooth."

Meanwhile, on the stovetop, add 1 cup lentils, 2 cups water, and dried oregano to a small pot. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender and most of the water has been absorbed. Stir in the chipotle paste and salt. Remove from heat.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine raisins, carrot, onion, garlic scape, and lemon juice. Add the cooked, and slightly cooled, groats and lentils, and stir to combine. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight, before serving.

*Chipotle paste: I take tinned chipotles and blender them all at once, then store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to use as needed.

(sorry for no picture this time)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Vanilla Cranberry Smoothie

I'll keep the prelude short, since I've been writing about smoothies a lot of recent. This smoothie continues to use my cranberry stash, and I added some rolled oats to help make it creamy. I added two leaves of Russian red kale from my CSA, because I could, and because I like adding in veggies whenever possible. In my mind, these additions, along with vanilla soy milk help the smoothie last longer -- and whether that's true or not, I felt less hungry a couple hours after finishing this smoothie, compared to some of my other recent concoctions.

Vanilla Cranberry Smoothie (with kale!!)
2 tablespoon OJ Concentrate
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4 cup GF old fashioned oats
1/2 cup cranberries
2 leaves Red Russian Kale

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until very smooth. Add water or more soymilk if you like, to create the consistency you want (or that works for your blender). Serves 1.
Vanilla Cranberry Smoothie with Red Russian Kale

Monday, June 18, 2012

Eating Carrot Tops, plus (another) smoothie recipe

In my CSA box, I got carrots. I love carrots. But when you don't buy them in a pre-packaged bag, they come with greens which most people throw away. There's really no need for this. Any of you who read this moderately regularly will know how much I hate throwing things away (part of the reason I want a few chickens, eventually) if they could be composted or otherwise recycled. Since I don't have a compost heap, this means a lot of creative uses of the parts of veggies a lot of us throw away -- from bases to broths, to things like this lightly sweet recipe guessed it! Another smoothie!

Carrot-top Smoothie
This is one of my favorite smoothies of late, in part because it has such a fresh flavor and because it's a brilliant, bright green. It's not particularly sweet, so if you like sweeter smoothies, add a tablespoon or so of agave, honey, or other sweetener of your choice. Personally, I think the apple juice adds enough sweetness, without adding much flavor -- unlike the vanilla soy milk, which also adds some sweetness, in addition to protein. The oats help thicken it.

Ready to try it? Yes? Carrot fronds (not the stem, that can be woody) work best for this recipe. If you're still wondering why eat carrot tops, here are just a few reasons:
  • a good source of potassium, chlorophyll, and vitamin K
  • brightens flavors in everything from salads to a garlicky pot of beans
  • Americans throw away a ridiculous amount of food waste
Carrot-Top Smoothie
1 cup carrot fronds, lightly packed
1/4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4 cup oats

Add all ingredients to blender and puree until smooth. Add more liquid, to reach the desired consistency, if necessary. Serve.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Butternut Squash Quinoa Oat Burgers

Sundays are "family dinner" night with my roommate and several of our friends. The actual number of us any given Sunday is between two and four, with occasional exceptions. I love Sunday dinners because it means

1) I'm actually eating with other people
2) I often get the opportunity to cook for others
3) Everyone's willing to contribute, if asked

When I lived in the Midwest, I ate with people a lot more often than I do now and I miss the social aspect of eating with people I care about -- even if we're not actually eating the same thing (though it's nice when we are). Sundays help fill this gap.

In the skillet
One recent Sunday dinner, there were just going to be two of us and I decided I wanted to make veggie burgers (just fyi, if you're wondering, most store-bought veggie burgers contain gluten). I thought about asking the woman who was coming to bring GF buns, but then decided we could just throw the burgers on corn tortillas since I already had those around and we're both operating on a budget. I thought I had an old can of beans at home, bought in the fall before I decided to stop buying cans of beans in favor of just making my own beans from dried and freezing some for later use. As it turns out, I didn't. And the only beans I had prepped were chickpeas. No thanks, not for this.

What I had instead was a can of butternut squash (bought cheap, organic, and still in date, don't worry). I decided to work with it and this recipe is what resulted. The nice thing about this is that the butternut squash acts as a really good binder, the oats help absorb extra liquid and add a little fiber, and the quinoa provides plenty of protein. I served this with homemade sweet potato fries (oven baked). Play with the spices a bit, if these don't appeal to you.

Butternut Squash Quinoa Oat Burgers
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon hot chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon onion powder, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1 14-ounce can organic butternut squash (or equivalent fresh -- baked & pureed)
1/2 cup gluten-free* rolled oats (not quick or instant)

Cook the quinoa in the water, simmering over medium heat about 20 minutes or until tender and water is absorbed. Careful not to scorch the quinoa. Mix in the spices, and then combine with butternut squash and oats. Let rest for 20 minutes, to allow flavors to blend and oats to absorb extra liquid. Form into patties an appropriate size for your bun, and about 1/2-inch thick.

Cook patties on a lightly oiled pan, over medium-high heat, about 3-5 minutes per side (depends on how evenly your pan heats and how moist your squash was), until both sides are brown and firm. Serve.

*Remember, some people with gluten-sensitivity don't react well to GF oats either, so be sure to check. If you don't have gluten-sensitivities, you can use regular oats. If you, or the person you're cooking for is sensitive to GF oats, substitute rolled quinoa flakes, if available.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cranberry Raspberry-Lemonade Smoothie

As regular readers may have noticed, I've been on a bit of a smoothie kick (thanks, in no small part to my friend Marissa, over at We*Meat*Again, reminding me I liked them). I think it's the warm weather, all the other fresh goodies I've been eating, and the fact that I've been writing in the mornings rather than getting ready for work. Smoothies travel well and are fast to make. This is the next installment.

Yum, smoothie!
Don't ask why I have MinuteMaid Raspberry-Lemonade frozen concentrate in my freezer. It's a kinda long story -- but it's almost gone, because I've been making this smoothie a fair amount (okay, three times). It sweetens the smoothie nicely and allows me to imagine summer when I'm in the office. I like the sweet-tart flavor, the color is beautiful, and best of all, it doesn't use a banana!! It does use cranberries, so if you don't have those on hand (read about why I do), play around. The wonderful thing about smoothies is that they're pretty flexible.

When I take smoothies to work, I tend to also grab some carrots and/or nuts on my way out the door to make sure that I'm getting enough energy for the work day. Consider what your body needs and what will keep it happy, healthy, and functioning the way it should based on your work (or play!) environment.

Cranberry Raspberry-Lemonade Smoothie
2 tablespoons frozen raspberry-lemonade concentrate
1/2 -3/4 cup frozen cranberries (I like more, but they are too tart for some people)
1 cup milk or milk alternative of your choice (I use plain almond milk)
1 tablespoon vanilla protein powder

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Serve.