Sunday, January 31, 2010

You can't stop the Beet... or can you?

You thought I forgot about Beet Week didn't you? Not so! I had one last beet recipe in store, but I only just got around to making it today.

I found this recipe for Crispy Beet Chips and thought it sounded like a good idea. I love sweet & salty food, and I love chips, how could I go wrong. Armed with a newly purchased mandolin and an apron, I excitedly sliced my beet potato chip thin, lovingly arranged them on my cookie sheet, oiled and salted them and popped them into a toasty oven.

Remember how I said "How could I go wrong"? Well, I don't know what I did, but it went wrong. They curled up causing them to cook unevenly - some bits were singed while other bits were still soft. As you can see, not that appetizing.

Ok, so a few turned out well, and they were quite tasty. Since half burnt beets don't taste very good the batch as a whole gets a fail. Maybe my oven was too hot, I'm not sure, but this wasn't one of my shining moments in the kitchen.

So why am I sharing it with you? In the scientific community, negative results are almost never reported, and I suspect that food blogs follow this same pattern. The Journal of Negative Results was created to counteract this deceiving practice, so I am trying to do the same for food blogs by sharing with you my culinary failures as well as my triumphs. Also, they photographed well, so maybe not a total loss eh?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not yo mama's Shake'n'Bake

Remember Shake'n'Bake? Crispy, lower fat alternative to deep frying, reminds you of your childhood and comfort foods cooked by mom. Chances are you haven't even looked at a box in a while. Well it's not just for chicken anymore!

Enter Cauliflower. Yes, that's what I said. Cauliflower. Maybe you love it, maybe you don't, but this bland looking vegetable is a nutrition powerhouse.

It boasts a laundry list of nutrients including vitamin K, folate, omega 3 fatty acids, potassium, protein, vitamins B1, 2, 3, 5 & 6 and a healthy dose of dietary fiber. But the nutrient it's shockingly high in? Vitamin C! A cup of cauliflower gives you 91.5% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, almost as much as eating an orange.

Factoid: Cauliflower is a cultivar of Brassica oleracea, a species that includes broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale among its other cultivars.

Cruciferous vegetables (members of the family Brassicacea) contain compounds that help our liver neutralize toxins and protects against cancers including lung, colon, prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer. Eating a weekly dose of cauliflower has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer by half [1]! So all you men out there, stock up on broccoli and cauliflower! If you're not a fan, try this recipe that is sure to please the pickiest eaters.

Shake'n'Bake Cauliflower
Makes 4 servings

1 head of cauliflower
1 package of Shake'n'Bake
olive oil

Chop your
cauliflower into florets.
Put in a bowl or bag. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil over cauliflower and toss to coat.

Pop into a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, turning half-way.

These turned out even better than I expected, making me wish I had made the whole recipe instead of half of it. Even my mom agreed, this recipe is a keeper! I also think that Shake'n'Bake could liven up other veggies like zucchini and mushrooms, making for a baked alternative to those traditionally deep-fried bar favourites.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We interrupt Beet Week to bring you some delicious baking...

In case you were wondering, I've recently started a Statistics course, which is horribly dry (obviously), and explains the recent dramatic increase in the frequency of my blog posts. Good for my blog and my belly, not so good for my homework. Alas, here I am again.

Growing up Jean Paré's "Company's Coming: Muffins & More" cookbook was our baking bible. Every recipe was simple and delicious. One of my favourite part of her original Company's Coming books is that she always included corny jokes on the bottom of the pages throughout, entitled "Paré Pointers". Here are a few gems from Muffins & More:

The girl vampire and the boy vampire were very sad. They loved in vein.

A man who doesn't marry is a real sharp shooter. He never Mrs.

The firefly ran into a fan and was delighted.

What these have to do with baking I will never know, but I like to imagine Jean sitting at home chuckling to herself as she came up with these.

Factoid: Muffins & More was first published in 1983, the year I was born.

Just one look at our copy of this cookbook will tell you how well it has treated us over the years. Favourite recipes are well stained and encrusted with years of spilled sugar and flour. One such page is the banana bread page. It may truly be the best banana bread recipe in the world. Now that I am vegan I have not stopped using this book. Most of her recipes are easily modified to suit a vegan diet. A little egg replacer here, a little soy milk there, and voila!

Factoid: Bananas act as a binding agent and can be used as an egg substitute. In recipes that already have bananas, no other egg replacer is needed, but I like to add a little extra baking powder for lift, and sometimes some soy milk to make up the moisture difference.

We had some bananas sitting on our counter getting soft and spotty, and this can only mean one thing - banana bread. Opposite the well worn banana bread recipe we always use, there sits a recipe for banana coconut loaf. I don't know if it's the blog or the beets, but I was feeling adventurous and decided to stray from the old stand-by, and take a crack at this twist on the classic. After all, it's in Muffins & More, so it MUST be good. And how! This loaf turned out so moist and delicious, I may never make the original again! Ok, that's probably a big lie.

Without further ado, I give you:

Veganized Banana Coconut Loaf
modified from Company's Coming: Muffins & More

1/4 cup soy milk (for stronger coconut flavour use coconut milk)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted vegan margerine
3 mashed ripe bananas
1/2 tsp almond extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup flaked coconut
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Beat wet ingredients together in a large bowl.

In a seperate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour into greased 9-inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour at 350°F until toothpick comes out clean.
I think pecans would taste excellent in place of the walnuts, but we didn't have any on hand. If you have nut allergies, you can either leave them out, or try substituting with sunflower seed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

This Beet Goes On

I am a firm believer that everything tastes better when it has been roasted. Roasting seems to bring out the best in vegetables, and beets are no exception.

Betacyanin, the magenta pigment that gives beets their fabulous colour, is contained in vacuoles inside the beet cells, and these cells and vacuoles are very delicate. As soon as the beet is cut or heated there's red dye everywhere. But leaving the skin in tact helps keep all this pigment locked inside. If you've ever boiled beets, you'll notice you end up with cooked beets and red water. Let's not waste all that cancer-fighting pigment, and we'll do that by roasting our beets whole!

Factoid: Betanin is a commercial food dye obtained from beets. Make your own chemical free red food colouring following these steps.

If your beets still have their greens attached, snip them off. Give your beet a good rinse and rub it down with a little olive oil. Tightly bundle your beet in some aluminum foil and pop them in a 400 degree oven. Cook the beet until it's soft (I usually test it by sticking a knife in - if it slides in with ease, your beet is done!). This should take about an hour, but may take more or less time depending on the size of your beet. You can cook it in a lower temperature should you want to multi-task, suppose you're baking banana bread, lets say. Keep in mind, this will obviously take longer, but your beet won't be as lonely in the oven all by itself.

After your beet comes out of the oven and has had a chance to cool off a bit, the skin should slip right off with ease. It is now ready to be added to salads, or whatever it is you decided to cook your beet for.

You may have noticed that beets are very sweet. In fact, beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable. But fear not, waistline watchers, they are still very low cal. Because of this sweetness, they form excellent relationships with fruits, as demonstrated here in my sweet and fruity salad of the week.

Factoid: The common sugar beet, Beta vulgaris, is grown commercially for sugar production. It is 15-20% sugar by weight. You can read how beet sugar is processed here.

Week 4: Fruity Beet Salad
makes 2 big salads

1 beet, cooked & sliced
1 orange, seperated into wedges
1 apple, sliced
greenery of choice
sunflower seeds or slivered almonds

This salad pairs well with any sweet and/or fruity dressing. I made my own gingery-orangey dressing (included below), but there are a number of store bought dressings that I think would be tasty. Try poppyseed, raspberry, catalina or mandarin orange with sesame.

Gingery-Orangey Dressing
3 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp* sugar, honey or other sweetener of choice *or to taste
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp orange zest
1/4-1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger to taste

Whisk furiously with a fork til well blended, drizzle over salad.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 4 Salads left: 48

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Just Beet It: Cook Red-Handed

"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious." - Tom Robbins

I used to hate beets, or so I thought. As it turns out, I hated the way my mom used to make them - boiled and mashed with mayo. Not exactly appetizing eh? It wasn't my mom's fault, she had never had them any other way.

I was always dismayed that I did not like beets, after all, they are quite good for you. The pigment that gives beets their beautiful colour is called betacyanin, and it is a potent cancer fighter. They also protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation. Beets are an excellent source of folate, which is essential for normal spinal cord development in fetuses. Without enough folate in the mother's diet, birth defects can occur. All around, beets are our friends.

Factoid: Some people are unable to break down betacyanin resulting in bright red urine after eating beets, so if this happens to you, don't be alarmed!

One day while at a salad bar, I spotted some pickled beets. Feeling adventurous, I put a few slices on my plate, returned to my table, and took a tentative bite. I was surprised to find that not only was I not spitting it out in disgust, but in fact, found myself wishing I had picked up more than two slices. They were really good!

It was several months after my revelation before I attempted to make beets for myself. I decided to play it safe and put them in a salad, to be featured in next week's Salad Challenge! This week, however, I was feeling bolder. Bold enough to try some new recipes, even, recipes that have in the past frightened me. One such recipe is Borscht.

Borscht is a traditional Ukrainian soup, popular throughout eastern Europe. With beets as their key ingredient, it has a characteristic deep red colour. It is a classic, iconic dish, and a must-try for a soup enthusiast such as myself. So after scouring the internet and cookbooks, I came up with my own version of Borscht.

Beetiful Borscht
1 beet, peeled & grated
1 carrot, peeled & grated
1 medium potato, peeled & diced
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 roma tomato, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp parsley

In your soup pot, saute onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until soft. Add all other ingredients. Simmer until everything is happy, bright red, and soft. Many recipes I came across called for topping it with some sour cream and dill, so if you have any vegan sour cream like substance, toss a dollop on top, and sprinkle on some dill for an elegant colour contrast.

And the verdict? I actually quite liked it! Despite it's bold appearance, the flavour of the soup is quite unassuming. As it turns out, the beet's bark is bolder than its bite. It wasn't one of my favourite soups, but I will definitely make it again!

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Men are like wine - some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age." - Pope John XXIII

While the former pope was using vinegar in a negative context he really couldn't be more wrong. Vinegars are wonderful culinary delights. They can come from a great many sources from barley to coconuts. They are found in a great number of foods, particularly condiments and pickling, and make an excellent cleaning product owing to their acidity and antimicrobial properties.

Additionally, some vinegars also get better with age. A prime example is Balsamic vinegar. Like the wines of Bordeaux and Champagne, real Balsamic vinegar can only come from a specific region - the Modena and Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy to be exact. It is made from a reduction of the syrup, aka "must", of Trebbiano grapes (a sweet white grape), which is then aged in wood barrels for at least 12 years. The result is a sweet, rich vinegar bearing the complex flavours imparted by the woods. The balsamic vinegar industry is very much like the wine industry, with different companies producing more expensive vinegars than others. Needless to say, real Balsamic vinegar isn't cheap. In fact, 100 mL of 12 year old Balsamic can set you back up to $100 or more. But if you're feeling really indulgent, spring for some of this 25 year old vinegar, at a price tag of $255.95. That's about $12 per teaspoon.

Factoid: Use non-reactive cookware when cooking or marinating with vinegars - reactive pots, such as those made with aluminum or copper, will alter the taste! Use glass, ceramics, or stainless steel instead.

So let's get real and talk about the "balsamic" vinegar the vast majority of us actually use. Until some time in the 1970s, nobody had ever really heard of Balsamic vinegar. But when it broke out on the culinary scene, demand for this vinegar was high, and vinegar artisans just couldn't keep up. Cheaper vinegars aged for less time, often in steel barrels, were produced, making "balsamic" available to the masses. Instead of 100% must, as in traditional balsamic vinegars, most vinegars you'll find in the grocery store are made from a combination of must and red wine vinegar. The higher the percentage of must, the higher the quality. White balsamic vinegars are made using white wine vinegar, and are not caramelized, giving the vinegar a golden colour. This is good if you want to put it in any kind of light coloured dish or sauce without imparting an ugly muddy colour typical of balsamic vinegar.

As you may have guessed, this week's salad challenge recipe makes use of balsamic vinegar. I got the recipe from the February 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times. It is based on the traditional South German dish Kartoffelsalat, which is a potato salad that is made with oil & vinegar and served warm, unlike its mayo-based, cold counterpart of the North.

German-Style Warm Potato Salad

8 0z. baby red potatoes, sliced
4 oz. green beans, cut in half
3 tbsp olive oil
3 green onions, chopped
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley*
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or dill*
4 cups baby spinach leaves

*If you're using dry herbs (like I did) you'll need to use less, so use teaspoons instead of tablespoons.

Boil potatoes until tender. Add green beans during last minute of cooking (you still want them to have some crunch).
While you're waiting on the potatoes, saute your green onion in the oil on medium for a few minutes until tender. Remove from heat and add the vinegar.
Drain beans & potatoes and add to the pan with the onion. Add your herbs, salt & pepper to taste, toss to coat, then serve warm over baby spinach.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 3 Salads left: 49

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Salad Challenge!

Last week's blog gave me an idea. I'm sure you've all heard of the 52-week challenge, the latest craze in new year's resolutions. If you haven't the basic premise is that people come up with a list of 52 things to do, and each week they have to check one off their list, or some kind of variation on the theme of weekly accountability.

I'm not usually one to jump on bandwagons, but I like the idea of this because it can promote creativity, and I'm all for that. So after last week's delightful salad, I thought to myself, I bet I could make a different salad every week for 52 weeks without repeats. And this is precisely what I plan to do! Since last week's post is what inspired this plan, I'm going to retroactively name it Week 1 of the Salad Challenge!

I am always kicking myself for not keeping up with my food blog enough, and this will force me to do that, on a weekly basis. I am still hoping to intersperse non-salad meals in between salad-of-the-week, but we'll see how that goes.

Tonight I made taco salad. Vegan taco salads have all the hearty full-meal-salad makings of its ground meat filled namesake, but much healthier (and none of that gross bright orange grease that always drips from meat-based taco filling!). It makes for a super fast crowd pleasing salad that will satisfy herbivores and carnivores alike. Definitely not a wimpy salad.

Week 2: Vegan Taco Salad
1 can black beans, drained
1 package taco seasoning
Lettuce/greenery of choice (crunchier lettuces like Romaine stand up better to warm toppings)
Diced bell peppers, hot peppers, green onion, tomato, cucumber
Corn chips

To make the taco mix, put the black beans, taco seasoning and water in a saucepan over medium heat. If you're making this gluten-free, most seasoning packages contain wheat products so you'll need to season it yourself. The Gluten Intolerance Group posts a recipe for taco seasoning here. With a potato masher, coarsely mash the beans so they form a more cohesive paste, while still leaving lots of chunks behind. Let the mix simmer until it has thickened.
In a large bowl or plate pile on lots of lettuce, spoon on a healthy helping of taco mix, top it with peppers, onion, tomatoes. Finally top with broken corn chips (this is a great way to use up the broken bits from the bottom of the bag! In fact, broken corn chips make an excellent crouton substitute on a number of salads.).

You can put on a salad dressing if you like, though I find that it's not really necessary because the taco seasoning adds all the saucy goodness you need. However, if you feel you want a little something extra, I suggest using one of the following dressing options:
- salsa
- lime vinaigrette (fresh squeezed lime juice, olive oil, cilantro & cumin)
- vegan ranch dressing (I tried this recipe from Veggie Terrain tonight and it was very good)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Salad You Can Make Friends With

In the Simpsons, when Lisa decides to go vegetarian, Homer and Bart taunt her by chanting
"You don't make friends with salad! You don't make friends with salad!"
Clearly, Homer and Bart had never tried this salad. This is a salad, dear readers, that you can proudly present to friends and family as they ooh and aah at your culinary prowess. It is a salad worthy of any high end bistro, and it couldn't be simpler.

Not only is this a simple salad, but it is nutritious and pretty Canadian too: Walnut Pear Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette.

What could be more Canadian than maple syrup? Nothing,
obviously. The sweet nectar of our national tree (the Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum) was being made into maple syrup by Native Canadians long before the Europeans came along. It was an important source of energy for early settlers as other forms of sugar were hard to come by. Although it's mostly sugar, it is not devoid of nutrition like its white, powdery counterparts. In every tablespoon of maple syrup you can find 35mg of potassium, 21mg of calcium and small amounts of iron, B vitamins (1) and a host of other goodies (2). I'm not trying to say it's a health food or anything, but among sugars it has a leg up on the others. Not to mention it's DELICIOUS!

Factoid: In 2009, Canada produced 9.1 million gallons of maple syrup, 90% of which was produced in Quebec (3).

The Black Walnut tree grows throughout eastern North America, and it's range peeks into Southern Ontario, with populations extending just into the Ottawa Valley, where I once again call home. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our walnuts are harvested in California, making it unlikely that I'll ever find Canadian walnuts in the local grocery store. Truly the King of Nuts, walnuts are exceptionally good for you. Just 1/4 cup provides nearly all the omega-3 fatty acids you need for the day, as well as a healthy dose of antioxidants, and about 4g of protein. Eating walnuts are good for your heart, lowering cholesterol and preventing high blood pressure, and lowering your risk of heart disease. In fact, there are so many health benefits I don't have the time to talk about them all, or do them justice. Instead, you can go read about them on the World's Healthiest Foods.

Factoid: California produces 99% of the national supply of walnuts and supplies 2/3 of the world walnut trade.

Pears are not native to North America, but like the apple, it has become such a prominent member of our locally grown produce, I like to think of it as an official Canadian citizen. A member of the rose family, this fruit was designed for seduction. Soft and juicy, with its buttery, delicate sweetness, fresh Ontario pears are something I look forward to at the end of every summer. It is a seduction of not only short term pleasures but also long term rewards. Pears are a good source of dietary fiber, as well as vitamin C and K. Fruit fiber, in addition to keeping us regular, has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer (4).

Factoid: A pear tree can produce fruit for over 100 years.

Now that I've gotten you excited about all the wonderful health benefits, lets make a salad!

Walnut Pear Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Makes 2 large salads, 1 for you and 1 for a friend

2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp real maple syrup
2 tsp dijon mustard

Greenery of choice - opt for dark greens like baby spinach that give you an extra nutrient boost
1 ripe pear
1/2 cup walnut halves

Wisk together dressing ingredients (or put them in a jar and shake).
Thinly slice pears. Divvy up the greenery, pears and walnuts onto 2 plates, drizzle dressing, and serve. I told you it was easy!
You might have a little left-over dressing, depending on how large your salad is, and how much dressing you like. Just pop it in the fridge for another day.