Sunday, February 9, 2014

Healthy Blueberry Oat Pancakes (+ gluten free!)

There's something indulgent and wonderful about weekend breakfasts.  You're not rushed to get out the door, you can take your time and make something delicious.  Suddenly, breakfast isn't just a necessary quest for nourishment you scarf down while you get ready for work, it is once again a meal to be enjoyed.

I'll be the first to admit, North American breakfast doesn't lend itself easily to veganism.  Typical weekend breakfast menus are full of bacon and eggs.  Don't get me wrong, I love a tofu scramble as much as the next vegan, but it still feels like it's lacking something.  As luck would have it, pancakes are particularly easy to veganize.  Unfortunately, typical pancakes, made of white flour and covered in syrup, are nothing but empty calories, devoid of any and all nutritional value.  Sure, it's maple-flavoured empty calories, but let's face it, not the best start to your day.

One day, a few years ago, I accidentally invented something awesome.  I wanted pancakes for brunch, but went to the cupboard to discover I had no flour.  Drat.  I did, however, have an exceptionally large bag of oats.  I had encountered oat flour in baking before, and figured it was a reasonable substitute for wheat flour.  It was not reasonable.  It was amazing.  It was like healthy oatmeal and delicious blueberry pancakes had a lovechild, and then that lovechild rolled around in maple syrup.

Blueberry Oat Pancakes
Serves 2

1 cup oats (gluten-free if that's how you roll)*
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
a dash of salt
a few dashes of cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
3/4+ cup non-dairy milk
Splash o' vanilla
1/3 cup frozen blueberries

In blender, grind oats into flour.
In small bowl combine ground flax with about 1/4 cup of non-dairy milk, mix and set aside to thicken.
In medium size bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Add remaining 1/2 cup of non-dairy milk, vanilla and flax mix.  Let batter sit for about 5 minutes. Add more liquid if need be (batter should be slightly thicker than pancake batter).
When your skillet is nice and hot (med-high), melt some vegan margarine or coconut oil.  Gently fold frozen blueberries into your pancake batter.  Ladle into pan.  Cook thoroughly before flipping (these pancakes will be more delicate than typical wheat flour pancakes, but should hold together fairly well if cooked enough before flipping).  Cook until nicely browned, but these will take longer than regular pancakes.
Top with real, Canadian maple syrup, berries or bananas.

* A note on Gluten-free oats: For those new to the GF game, oats are inherently gluten-free.  However, typical oats you buy in the store are almost always contaminated, as they are often processed on the same equipment as wheat. For this reason it is essential that you acquire legit gluten-free oats if you are sensitive to gluten.  Bob's Red Mill has GF Oats that you can find at most supermarkets, and if you are in the Ottawa area, Castor River Farm's oats are gluten-free, very reasonably priced and can be purchased at the Ottawa Farmer's Market (check their website to find out which weekends they attend which market).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Vegan Masoor Dal Soup

Lentils are a vegan's best friend.  They are tasty, versatile, filling, fast-cooking, and hella-cheap.  I've done a lot of things with lentils in my 6 years of veganism, and tonight I'm sharing one of my favourites.  No big surprise, it's a soup.  Dal, to be exact.  Now in India, "dal" is the word for any legumes (lentils, peas and beans) that have been hulled or split. Dal can also refer to a preparation of legumes, as a stew or soup.  Hulled lentils and split peas break down when you cook them, which is perfect for making thick, stick to your ribs soups.

Now, I have to confess something.  I hate peas.  Peas of all kinds.  Most of all, I hate yellow split peas. Pea soup?  Grossest food on the planet.  I know, not very vegan of me.  But I know that they are super good for you, so I've put them in this soup, and maybe, little by little, I can teach myself to like them.  I've kept my pea-to-lentil ratio low, but if you like peas, by all means, add more!

As discussed above, it is important to use hulled lentils in order to get the right texture.  Red lentils will do the trick and easy to find in most grocery stores, but any other hulled lentil will do.

Vegan Masoor Dal

1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, shredded or finely chopped
3-4 kale leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp each cumin, garam masala, & cayenne pepper (to start)
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1/2 cup split yellow peas
5 cups vegetable broth

Mince up your veggies and saute in a pot with a bit of oil.  Save yourself some time and mince up your veggies in a food processor if you have one.  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the lentils are cooked.  Taste the soup, and add more spices to taste. Serve with papadams or vegan naan bread if you can find it (most naan has dairy in it, but I've found vegan ones at the grocery store before).

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Trouble with Pesto

The trouble with pesto is that as tasty as it is, I really hate having garlic breath afterwards.  This makes pesto a poor choice for take-along lunches for work.  Nevertheless, I love pesto.  I find it a much tastier way to enjoy pasta than a traditional tomato sauce.  Also, sometimes tomato sauce upsets my somewhat cantankerous digestive system.  Pesto you find in stores or restaurants will typically have cheese in it, so if you want vegan pesto you will most likely have to make it yourself.

Pesto is really quite easy to make, particularly if you have a food processor.  A few cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh basil leaves, freshly squeezed lemon juice, some nuts (ideally pine nuts, but walnuts will do if that's what you have on hand), and a good helping of nutritional yeast, and you're away to the races.  You can also add any other fresh herbs you have on hand, spinach, kale, whatever you like to the processor, and blend!  Typically, pesto is quite oily as people will create a sauce of it by adding olive oil, but I've been trying to avoid unnecessary extracted oils (I get all the healthy fats I need from nuts and seeds).  I recently made myself a batch of pesto, and to thin it out, I used the starchy pasta water and it turned out perfectly.  I'd like to show you a picture, but I ate it all before I got the chance!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sprouting with the BioSnacky!

BioSnacky?  What's that, you say?

For christmas I received a gift card to the Natural Food Pantry, and I did what any good vegan would do with a natural food store gift card burning a whole in their wallet - I bought a sprouter! Ok, to be honest, I was totally considering buying $50 worth of Daiya with my gift card, but as luck would have it, on the way to the Daiya aisle I spotted the BioSnacky 3-tier Germinator!  With three different levels I could simultaneously sprout 3 different kinds of sprout, or alternatively, stagger my sprouting so that ever other day I have a fresh batch of new sprouts!  There are entirely too many exclamation marks in this paragraph, but I don't care, that's just how excited I was about this thing.
Triple the tiers, triple the fun!
So, you might be asking yourself "Why sprouting?".  Fresh sprouts are live, actively growing food, full of enzymes and vital nutrients.  Sprouting makes available nutrients that wouldn't be available or accessible in the pre-sprouted state.  In addition to the usual alfalfa and mustard sprouts you might find in the grocery store, you can sprout just about any legume or seed.  You can sprout chickpeas or lentils, and once sprouted, they don't need to be cooked in order to eat them (bonus!).  Looking for raw, plant based protein?  Alfalfa sprouts are 35% protein, clover - 30%, lentil - 25% [1].  Combined that with their low calorie content, and high concentrations of vitamins and phytonutrients, that makes sprouts among the most nutrient dense foods out there.  Best of all you can grow them yourself in your own kitchen - no green thumb required!

You can easily grow your own sprouts the low-tech way - all you need is a mason jar topped with some cheesecloth or other mesh-like product.  Frugal-Wise has a nice post on jar sprouting (I love the dish rack idea - brilliant!).  This is a totally legit way to sprout, I've done it before, and it worked out just fine. But there was something about the Biosnacky that called to me. Probably because it reminded me of giant petri dishes.  Clearly, the Biosnacky 3-tier Germinator is the nerdy way to sprout, and well, I'm a nerd.
Here's the deal - you pour water into the top tray to just above the red node until the water drains into the next tray.  When it reaches a high enough level in the second tray, that one will start to drain, and so on.  No soaking, no swirling, no shaking or tapping.  Just pour, and the Biosnacky takes care of the rest.  It took an already easy task, and made it even easier!  In just 4 short days, I had a smorgasbord of fresh sprouts!

What do you do with sprouts?  You can toss them in salads, stir-fries, smoothies, or my personal favourite - put them on sandwiches!
The HST Sproutwich - Hummus, sprouts, and tomato!
For everything you could possibly want to know about sprouting, as well as buying seeds, check out the Sprout People.  If you're in Canada, you should purchase seeds from Mumm's Sprouting Seeds (they offer free shipping in Canada for orders over $25!).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Freedom Never Tasted So Good

Ok, ok.  I've been a bad blogger.  Again.  Sorry.

On a brighter note - I just made the best muffins ever!  AND they're gluten-free!

So what's the deal with gluten anyway?  Much like veganism, it's been getting a lot more buzz lately.  But, in case you're still in the dark, here's some information.  No skipping past the knowledge to the muffiny goodness!

The word "gluten" comes from the latin word for "glue".  No, I'm serious.  You see, gluten is a protein found in wheat (and related grains like barley and rye), and is a binding agent used in baking - it's what gives bread dough it's stretchy, elastic consistency. For a very long time this posed a big problem for those trying to bake gluten-free goodies.  Gluten Intolerance is a spectrum of disorders involving people who have adverse reactions to gluten, from sensitivites, to full-blown auto-immune response (aka celiac disease).  While celiac disease has been pretty well researched, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is still poorly understood, but it can trigger many similar symptoms, such as digestive upset, headaches, and fatigue.  What we do know is that more and more people are discovering that they feel better when they are not eating gluten.

It is estimated that 1 in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease [1].  Throw in the folks with gluten sensitivity, and well, it just makes good sense to learn how to cook without gluten!   Two of my close friends are gluten-intolerant, and I myself spent a year eating gluten-free as I suspected it as a culprit in my digestive woes.  When I first started cooking gluten-free (6 or more years ago now!) it was a challenge.  There was no Gluten-Free section at the grocery store, you couldn't find gluten-free goodies in your local bakery, there was no gluten-free pizza crust or hamburger buns available at restaurants.  What a difference 6 years makes!  Times have changed, and as awareness grows, so is the availability of products and resources.

Take, for instance, Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour.  With one easy step you can transform any baking recipe into a gluten-free one.  Which is just what I did with the delightful muffins I'm about to teach you how to make.

Om nom nom... 

Gluten-Free ChocoNana Walnut Muffins!
Makes 12-15 muffins

1 1/2 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/3 cup mashed, ripe bananas
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts

Whisk together dry ingredients (= lazy man's "sifting").  In a separate bowl whisk together wet ingredients.  Add wet to dry.  Fold in walnuts.  Pour into greased or lined muffin tins.  Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, or until muffins are set and toothpick comes out clean.  Devour.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Starbucks inspired cupcakes!

This summer Starbucks introduced a new frappuccino - the Mocha Cookie Crumble.  I was making cupcakes for a friends' baby shower, when the Siren's inspiration hit.  These cupcakes were seriously decadent - this may be my favourite icing I've made to date!

Vegan Mocha Cookie Crumble Cupcakes

24 Chocolate cupcakes (I used a double recipe of Basic Chocolate Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World )

1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup cocoa
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 package Starbucks Via Instant Coffee
1/4 cup non-dairy milk

6 Chocolate wafer cookies
12 Oreos
*Yes!  Oreos are accidentally vegan! Just be careful of imposters - some imitation brands do have milk ingredients.

Make chocolate cupcakes as usual.

Beat together margarine and shortening until smooth.  In a separate bowl, whisk together cocoa, icing sugar and Via instant coffee.  Add in small quantities to margarine mixture, adding small amounts of non-dairy milk along the way to achieve desired consistency.  Add the vanilla.  Beat it all on high til it's fluffy and awesome.

Ice cupcakes, don't be stingy.  Put the chocolate wafer cookies into a ziplock bag and bash them up into fine crumbles.  Generously sprinkle the cupcakes with crumbles, and top each cupcake with half of an oreo.  I would tell you to enjoy this with a frappuccino, but these cupcakes are so rich you'll be needing a large glass of water instead!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Taraxacum officinale

Has this ever happened to you?  You're in the grocery store or farmer's market, and you spot something.  "Hmm..", you think to yourself, "I've never had that before, I wonder what I could make with it!" This time, that something was dandelion greens.  As a biologist, I knew that the latin name for dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, and any plant with the species name officinale, officinalis, or officinarum indicates that it is a medicinal plant.  I figured that there must be something special about dandelion greens to have afforded it such a long-standing medicinal status.  Although often viewed as a pesky weed, it is undeniably a tenacious survivor, a quality that is indeed admirable.

After returning home with my greenery, a quick internet search revealed that dandelions are an incredible herb.  Traditionally they are used as a diuretic, improve kidney and liver function, aid digestion, stimulate appetite, act as a mild laxative, and the list goes on.  Recent research indicates dandelion can be used for weight loss, normalizing blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, and as a disinfectant. [1, 2, 3].  Nutritionally, they are an excellent source of calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, vitamins A, B3, B6, C, E, K, thiamine, riboflavin, and folate [4, 5].  That only scratches the surface.  Take home message: eat more dandelions!

Problem being, dandelion greens are really quite bitter.  Young greens aren't so bad, and are often found in "spring mix" salad greens.  The greens I bought were older, and when I sauteed them up with some garlic salt &  pepper like I would normally do with spinach, kale, or collards, they were much more bitter than I would like.  I figured to make them more palatable, they would need to be paired with something sweet.  Tonight's dinner was an overwhelming success!

Sweet Potato and Dandelion Saute
1 sweet potato
1 tsp rosemary
1 cup dandelion greens
1 cup other greens (I used beet greens)
1/4 cup diced red onion
1-2 cloves minced garlic

Roast the sweet potato with the rosemary in the oven until soft.
Saute onion for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil.  Add garlic, saute for 30 seconds.  Add greens and cooked sweet potatoes, toss until greens have wilted.  Salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!