Month: March 2014

Nutty Vegan Brownie Delux

Posted on

2014-03-20 12.45.04

Although I am not a vegan nor anywhere close to embracing veganism, I have recently developed an appreciation towards vegan treats (mainly soy-free). I have been cutting back on my consumption of eggs due to the latest health scare. They are also easier to make and the ingredients are more accessible. Vegan or not, I am always open to a healthier and less caloric alternative. This isn’t your regular brownie recipe. Well, most vegan brownie recipes are not usually ordinary. I’ve seen vegan brownie recipes with kale, squash, etc. I’ve seen people use black beans for a gluten-free option. I contemplated this idea but since I’ve been using black beans as baking marbles on numerous occasions, I felt it was best to freeze the idea for the time being.If you have a gluten allergy or intolerance of some kind, the black bean option is at your disposal.  Although these are not gourmet brownies, the flavor and gooey texture is just as such. I almost neglected to mention that not only are these brownies soy-free but they are sugar-free as well.

Having your cake and eating it too is not a phrase I throw around lightly. Growing up using a regular brownie recipe, I have become accustomed to  dense, fudgy and soft brownies; not light, cakey and dry. Then why is emulating a traditional brownie recipe that simply consists of a few simple ingredients so difficult? It’s mainly due to the egg, which emulsifies, binds, slightly leavens then bakes up as part of the actual base of the brownie itself. Emulating this takes an expedition deep into the innards of brownie science.  It took me a number years of practice coupled with some failures to successfully perfect the brownie.  This vegan brownie recipe was a cinch to make. I used peanut butter, flaxseed meal with water,  almond spread, honey, vanilla extract, salt, spelt flour, apple cider vinegar,  and carob powder. I didn’t use these ingredients in that particular order but you get my point.

The process consists of  a luxurious batter that comes together in the bowl of your food processor. That’s right. No hand labor is required for this recipe.  Just dump and whirl. Let your food processor do all the hard work for you. It’s as easy as it gets. However, I strongly suggest that you don’t over mix your batter or you will get tough brownies; not the gooey dense texture that we all love. These indulgent, fudgy  vegan nutty brownies with a rich peanut butter flavor guarantee satisfaction. They are just pure, healthy decadence at its finest. They can be gourmet brownies without the excess amount of sugar, oil, butter, and eggs. Healthy treats are just as enjoyable and each bite of the brownies say a mouthful.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1  3/4 cup of spelt flour or oat flour (you can use the same amount of rinsed and drained canned black beans for a gluten-free option).
  2. 2 tablespoons of flaxseed meal resting in 5 tablespoons of water
  3. 1/3 cup of carob powder (you can use unsweetened cocoa powder instead)
  4. 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  5. 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  6. 1/2 cup of pure honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar
  7. 1/2 cup of unsalted natural peanut butter
  8. 2 tablespoons of almond butter (you can use other nut butters of your choice)
  9. 1/8 cup of apple cider vinegar
  10. 200 grams of dairy-free bittersweet chocolate squares broken into bits

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F . Lightly grease an 8×8 baking pan. Once the flaxseed meal has rested for 5 minutes, place all ingredients except for chocolate chunks in a food processor. Pulse for a few minutes. Scrape down sides as needed. If the batter is too thick, slowly drizzle in some water. Fold in chocolate chunks. Transfer mixture to a baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven or until the top is no longer shiny. Let  the brownies cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Yields 16 brownie squares

 

Quinoa with Squash, Leeks, and Sage

Posted on

2014-03-16 12.41.49

I borrowed this recipe from a magazine I receive on a weekly basis. The recipe was titled Quinoa with Hidden Sweet Potatoes in the honor of the hidden miracle behind the story of Purim. I modified this recipe by using squash instead of sweet potato and adding leeks and fresh sage instead. I like sweet potatoes but I happen to be more partial towards squash. You may think that squash is overused in my recipes but I can never use it enough. It literally has the Pavlov effect on me besides chocolate. Plus there are family members who don’t particularly like sweet potato so squash was my alternative. Now that Purim has past, this quinoa recipe would make a great gluten-free side dish idea for Passover. Quinoa recipes offer many variations.  What I like cooking with quinoa the most is that I can almost incorporate any ingredient I want and it’s still a complete yet light side dish. Most vegan recipes happen to be side dishes and quinoa happens to be one of my favorite. Not only quinoa is easy to digest and healthy, it is also versatile.  You can create your own variation but right now I am using the ingredients I have. If I wanted to, I could have added toasted almonds to the mix as well. I could have minimally added toasted pumpkin seeds if I wanted to. Nuts, seeds, all the above or neither, this vegan and gluten-free side dish serves well with roasted chicken or fish.  Or you can eat it as it is. Certain side dishes are filling by itself. If I am in the mood for a light meal, I won’t normally serve anything else.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  2. 1 cup of quinoa
  3. 2 cups of peeled and diced butternut squash
  4. 2 cloves of garlic minced
  5. 1 medium leek, light green and white parts cleaned and thinly sliced
  6. 2 tablespoons of fresh sage chopped
  7. 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  8. 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
  9. 2 cups of reduced sodium vegetable broth
  10. Salt and pepper for taste

Instructions

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, squash, quinoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, sage and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the squash and quinoa are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Gently stir in the spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Yields 4 servings

 

 

 

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Posted on

2014-03-25 08.47.21

I shamefully admit to not eating enough asparagus as I should. It’s not that I don’t like this vegetable; it happens to be one of the most expensive vegetables in the market. Since they are at their peek this short lived season, I bought them in a cluster as a treat. This will be my first but not last recipe I will be sharing with you on asparagus. I made this cream of asparagus soup for dinner last night and it was met by a lot of lip smacking compliments. Who would have thought that asparagus would be in the lime light for the day? Here is the kicker; this creamy soup has no cream or milk of any kind primarily because it doesn’t need any. The potato and celery root employed it’s creamy and silky texture. The asparagus gave this soup a wonderful flavor and that spectacular olive green hue. Elegance does not require a lot of calories and fat. Something gourmet as this healthful version of cream of asparagus soup can be nutritional as well. If you normally add cream to your vegetable soups, I suggest you forgo this method just this once. Looking back, I can’t recall when I last added cream or milk to any of my vegetable soups.

Since ancient times, asparagus was considered to be a delicacy. As one of the oldest recorded vegetables in history, asparagus  is thought to have originated along the coastal regions of eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas. This herbaceous perennial plant is botanically classified with the Asparagaceae family.  Succulent and tender, this prized vegetable arrives in the beginning of spring when its shoots break through the soil and reach their 6-8 inch harvest length. Just as a spear is used as a weapon, asparagus’s javelin-shaped form could be viewed by some as symbolic for its age- and disease-fighting abilities. Asparagus is packed with health benefits that I have been sadly depriving myself of. Loaded with nutrients, asparagus  is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.

Along with avocado, kale, and Brussel sprouts, this herbaceous plant contains a large amount of  of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals. This is one of the reasons why eating asparagus may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, such as bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers. Packed with antioxidants, asparagus is ranked among the top fruit and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. According to preliminary research, this may help delay the aging process. Asparagus contains another anti-aging property which may help our brains fight cognitive declination.

Akin to leafy green vegetables, this vegetable delivers folate, which works together with vitamin B12 to help prevent cognitive impairment.  Another health benefit of asparagus is that it  contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine , a natural diuretic  increased urination not only releases fluid but helps rid the body of excess salts.

This incredibly simple cream of asparagus, pureed till smooth, has rightfully earned it’s place on my menu. It is delicious eaten hot or cold.  For brutal hot summer days, a bit of lemon juice in this soup can be very refreshing to the palate. A piece of toasted bread completes this soup for me.  I may use leftovers to make an asparagus Alfredo sauce.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 2 lbs of asparagus chopped and stems removed (reserve one cup of cooked asparagus spears for garnish if you like)
  2. 1 onion chopped
  3. 2 cloves of garlic minced
  4. 1 medium-small potato peeled and chopped
  5. 1 celery root peeled and chopped
  6. 4 cups of water or vegetable broth
  7. Salt and pepper for taste
  8. Olive oil (optional)

Instructions

Place vegetables in a stock pot over medium high heat. Saute for 5-10 minutes or until the vegetables begin to sweat. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 25 minutes or until vegetables are soft and tender. Puree with a hand blender or in batches with a standing blender till smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with asparagus spears when serving.

Yields 4 servings

 

 

 

Flax Seed Butter

Posted on

2014-03-19 08.25.23

Is it me or is the week really crawling on it’s knees? I guess that notion may be  indicative of how stressed out I am.  With all the upcoming holidays, making meals for new mothers, and hosting people, there almost never seems to be a moment of relaxation. I suppose I shouldn’t compain. At least I am preoccupied with something. At times, I find myself preferring sheer boredom to stress but within moderation.   Amid my hectic schedule, I was able to buy myself some time to share another recipe with you. I don’t know about most bloggers but I find blogging about my recipe to be just as therapeutic and settling to the mind as I do with yoga. It allows me to focus on the activities I enjoy most.

I was once window shopping at a health food store perusing through some of the items there. I have been making various homemade nut butters as the commercial items tends to be expensive. The item that stood out to me was flax seed butter. I know flax seeds are not nuts but the spread did pique my interest enough to want to make some of my own rather than spending 10 bucks on a small jar. While I did not make the purchase, I was inspired enough to learn how to make flax seed butter for myself which I subsequently did.

Flax seeds, or linseeds, are thought to be one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet to some.  These type of seeds come from flax – one of the oldest fiber crops known to mankind which have been cultivated in ancient Egypt and China.  Apart from being a rich source of healthy fat, antioxidants, fiber, vitamin B1 and omega-3, modern research has also discovered evidence  to suggest that consuming flax seeds regularly may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. That’s one heck of a tall order for a single seed that’s been around for many centuries, no?  All the better reason to make your own flax seed butter.

Not only will you get your money’s worth but you will benefit from it’s nutrition value as well. I have been gradually replacing margarine with avocado and flax seed butter. If you don’t like flax seeds, however, you can use sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds instead. Or you can use a little of each. This flax seed butter recipe is perfect for those with nut allergies who want to enjoy a good spread. I don’t always do things by the book.  Results are more important to me.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 2 cups of flax seeds
  2. 1/4 cup of pumpkin seed, sunflower seed or canola oil
  3. Pinch of salt (optional)
  4. Sweetener such as agave, honey, or brown rice syrup (optional)

Instructions

Place seeds in a grinder and grind each batch of seeds, tapping and scraping contents into a bowl for mixing. If you don’t own a grinder, toast seeds in a skillet over low heat. Stir frequently to prevent burning and remove from heat when fragrant. Once cooled, place flax seeds in a food processor and grind for a minute. Slowly drizzle in oil while the food processor is still running. Continue processing until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. You may need to occasionally turn off the food processor and scrape it down with a spatula. Taste and add salt and sweetener if desired. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more oil, processing until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

 

 

Soy Free Vegan Cheesecake

Posted on

2014-03-06 12.41.16

A lot of vegan desserts, especially vegan cheesecakes are laden with soy. I generally don’t have an issue with that but sometimes I do a appreciate a soy-free option every now and then. So can a lot of people in my family. I made this cheesecake once before with my mother who got the recipe off of a magazine. It has been buried for years which I didn’t understand why since everyone seemed to enjoy it. Only in recent times have I decided to revive this recipe with my own twist. I only remember pineapples being the main ingredient in this dessert.  It also had some eggs but I wanted to experiment without them. I made this dessert for a friend who recently gave birth. No one couldn’t believe that this cake lacked cream cheese, let alone soy cream cheese. The texture and the flavor are very similar. The only difference I can think of is that this version has lower fat content due to the crushed pineapples.

If you want to knock the fat content and sugar content further down, leave out the pie crust. Not only will you have a dessert that is soy-free, and sugar free, but you will have a gluten-free cheesecake as well. That is your option to use if you choose to. If you want a pie crust and a gluten free dessert, create your very own gluten-free pie crust. I always say less is more and minimizing the sugar can have a great impact on the cake. Plus you have enough sweetness derived from the pineapples.  I highly recommend you use fresh pineapple for this soy-free dessert recipe because the flavors are more natural and taste better. You can use canned crushed pineapples if you can’t find fresh pineapple. I nearly neglected to mention that I include a red berry sauce recipe as a topping for this cheesecake. If regular cheesecakes have them, then why can’t this one have any?

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 9 inch prepared graham cracker pie crust or greased 9 inch spring form round pan
  2. 3 cups of fresh pineapple chunks or 28 once can of crushed pineapples
  3. 1 cup of plain almond or rice milk
  4. 1/3 cup of cornstarch
  5. 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  6. 2 packets of stevia
  7. Scant 1/8 teaspoon of salt

For the red berry sauce, you will need:

  1. 2 cups of chopped strawberries or raspberries
  2. 1 cup of water
  3. 1 packet of stevia
  4. 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  5. 1 tablespoon of lemon or orange juice

Instructions 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend till completely smooth. Pour into prepared pie crust or spring form pan.  Bake for 45 minutes. While the cake is baking, place berries and water in a medium saucepan over medium low heat. Add the remaining ingredients.  Taste and adjust sweetness as desired. Mash the berries and heat until bubbly. Pour red berry sauce over cake and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn oven off and leave cake in there for an hour. Remove cake from oven and let it come to room temperature. Cover and chill cake before serving.

Yields 8 servings

 

Baked Kale Chips

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kale chips

I have been meaning to make kale chips for a while. I only found a carton full of fresh kale recently and when I saw them, kale chips automatically came to mind. Truthfully, I never snacked on kale chips before I made a batch myself. They seem to be the latest rave and after having snacked on some myself, I completely understand why.  Gaining in popularity, kale is an amazing vegetable that is recognized for its exceptional richness in nutrients, health benefits, and delicious flavor. Generally speaking, eating a variety of natural and unprocessed vegetables has proven to be beneficial to your health, but eating nutrient loaded kale on a regular basis may provide significant health benefits, including cancer protection and lowered cholesterol.

Also known as  borecole, kale is believed to be one of the healthiest vegetables around. Kale belongs to the Brassica family that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collards, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Moreover, the health benefits that kale provides are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K — and sulphur-containing phytonutrients.  Kale is also contains eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds. Beyond antioxidants, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when kale is cooked instead of raw.

Just as addictive and crispy and potato chips, kale chips not only make for a healthy snack idea but they are a great way to incorporate more vegetables in your diet. Baked kale chips are a low calorie nutritious snack that even the most fastidious eaters can immensely enjoy. I planned on serving kale chips at an event but they sadly did not survive because they were intercepted by hubby and yours truly. I had to make something else instead. Since kale has an acquired taste, I seasoned it with a bit of garlic powder, smokey paprika, chili powder, a drop of turmeric and ground pepper.  I suppose it’s fair to say that kale chips have nearly imminently replaced potato chips (unless they are homemade and oven baked).

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 1 bunch of kale
  2. 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  3. 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of smokey or sweet paprika
  6. 1/3 teaspoon of turmeric
  7. 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
  8. 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wash the kale and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Pull the leaves off the center ribs in large pieces, and pile on a baking sheet. Discard the ribs. In a small bowl, mix oil and spices till well combined. Pour over the kale. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves until each one is evenly coated with the spice mixture. Do not drench.  Lay the kale leaves out flat on 3-4 full sized baking sheets. Do not overlap. Bake for 10-11 minutes until crisp, but still green. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before moving. If some kale chips are still a little flimsy or damp, remove the crisp chips and place the damp chips back in the oven for a few more minutes. Store in an air-tight container.

Yields 12 servings

 

Mackerel Salad

Posted on

2014-03-04 15.49.16

Mackerel is believed to be part of the same family as tuna. The textures are very similar, especially when canned. I am not such a huge for tuna but sometimes I have an unexplainable torturous hankering for a tuna salad. While shopping last week, I initially intended on buying a couple of tuna cans but had a change of mind when I saw smoked mackerel fillets. Most of the fish dishes on my menu planner seem repetitive so a change of pace is always welcomed. I was looking for different lunch ideas and mackerel salad seemed ideal. I simply masked the mackerel fillets with a fork, tossed in some avocado mayonnaise, spiced it up with a bit of chili oil for an extra punch, and seasoned it as usual. I mixed it with some chopped raw vegetables and I was all set for a balanced and nutritious lunch. I reserved the remnants of the mackerel salad for my afternoon snack. Feeding into my lack of inhibition, I had a couple of tortilla chips on hand. I sometimes I have a habit of eating my own words. Out of sight out of mind is my motto but the chips were staring me down. It was hopeless. But it could have been a whole lot worse. Thankfully, junk food in the house doesn’t extend beyond chocolate, homemade popcorn (hubby found an ingenious way to make oil-free popcorn thanks to online sources. I know I rib him too much but he does deserve credit for his ambition), oven-baked tortilla chips, and fruit.

Mackerel  is one of the loveliest, versatile, and tastiest fish around that still remains plentiful. Yet, nearly everyone scorn at this oil-rich fish primarily because it is considered to be pungent, oily, and, well, somewhat fishy. This mackerel salad recipe can be enjoyed in many ways. Serve it over lettuce, grains, cooked diced potatoes, and even over oven-baked chips. All I can say is it doesn’t hurt for you to give it a try.

For this recipe, you will need:

  1. 2 cans of smoked mackerel fillets
  2. 1 scallion chopped
  3. 1/4 cup of avocado mayonnaise
  4. 1 teaspoon of chili oil
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  6. 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper

Instructions

Mash mackerel with the back of a fork.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well till combined. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Yields 2 servings