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!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Vegan Easter Awesome

I always remember Easter as being a pretty fun time when I was a kid.  Easter meant egg hunts, chocolate, and decorating eggs.  This year, with my niece about to turn two, the fun times can start again.  My mom and I orchestrated her first egg hunt, which she was super good at!  We figured two was a little young for egg decorating, and let's face it, it isn't exactly a vegan tradition.  So I came up with a better idea.  A way better idea.  Let's decorate egg-shaped cookies!  Not only are they vegan and less fragile, but once you're done decorating, you get to eat them!

I made the sugar cookie recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, some simple icing, and I had purchased a whole lot of fun sprinkles from bulk barn.  I taped some parchment paper to the coffee table, and handed her some freshly iced cookies for her to sprinkle at will - and sprinkle she did!  As you can see, they are masterpieces! :)  The cookies were delicious (albeit crunchy with the copious amounts of sprinkles), and I think I've just found myself a new Easter tradition.

My family had our celebration on Good Friday, and we discovered at the last minute that my sister-in-law, who is catholic, cannot eat meat on Good Friday.  Good thing there's a vegan at the table!  I made the vegan quiche from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, and put green onion, red pepper, and broccoli in it instead, and topped it with cheddar style Daiya shreds.  It was super yummy, and my sister-in-law thought so too (she even asked for seconds!).  Definitely omnivore approved! This quiche tasted just as good (possibly better?!) the next morning for breakfast, and I am going to start making it regularly as an easy make-ahead breakfast that is fast and nutritious for busy mornings.

What holiday would be complete without cupcakes?  These cute easter cupcakes are super easy to make.  First you take your basic vanilla (or chocolate if you prefer!) cupcake and fluffy buttercream icing from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  Then you colour some shredded coconut the spring colour of your choice, and roll the cupcakes in the coconut to form a "nest" around the outside (leaving the middle un-coconuted).  Then stick some mini-eggs in the middle, and ta-da!  Bird Nest Cupcakes! I know mini-eggs aren't vegan, but they make the perfect decoration (I gave mine to my mom to eat).  If anyone know of any vegan mini-eggs or something that would take their place, let me know so that next year they can be truly vegan, decor and all!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Step 1: Start with a healthy breakfast

So the first step (and arguably the most important) in "Breaking the Food Seduction" is eating a healthy breakfast.  The right breakfast can set you up for success, or failure, so choose wisely.  So what constitutes a healthy breakfast?  The two key components are 1) lots of fiber and 2) healthy protein.

Fiber is essential to winning the battle against cravings.  Fiber not only fills you up, but it also fills you up for longer.  Fiber digests slowly, gradually releasing a steady stream of energy all morning.  Low fiber foods (white toast/bagels, sugary cereals) release their sugar too quickly, raising and then dropping your blood sugar, opening you up to mid-morning cravings.  These refined carbohydrates (which you might as well consider pure sugar, because it takes no time at all for them to break down into sugar) increase the serotonin in your brain.  Serotonin regulates sleep, and mood.  These serotonin spikes can leave you feeling sluggish and drained - and reaching for a sugary and/or caffeinated pick-me-up.

Enter protein.  Plant-based protein blocks that extra serotonin surge and prevents the ensuing sluggish feeling.  I say plant based protein because most animal based proteins are laden with fat and cholesterol, and that is  not how we want to start our day.  I'll discuss more on the effects of fat and cholesterol in a later post, for now, let's stick with breakfast.

So here's a breakfast I had on a successful day:

Cantaloupe, dark rye toast, and scrambled tofu.  Fruits have lots of great soluble fiber that will keep your GI tract healthy and happy, and they help bundle up all those fruit sugars and make sure they are released gradually throughout the morning to give you the energy you need to make it til lunch.  Hearty whole grains, in particular low Glycemic Index whole grains like rye and pumpernickel, are also rich in fiber, to keep you full and prevent a mid-morning sugar crash.  Scrambled tofu is a quick protein source that easily replaces scrambled eggs, without all of the cholesterol or moral dilemmas.

If you have never tried scrambled tofu before, don't be afraid, it's really quite tasty.  Simply crumble up a block of firm tofu into a skillet.  You can add in diced onions and peppers for added flavour.  Season it with onion powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, turmeric, salt and pepper.  Saute it up til it starts to brown.  Voila!  That's it.  Seriously tasty, hearty breakfast.  That day I didn't crave pastries at work at all!  It had lost its appeal.

Other mornings where I've just had a smoothie, my resolve has not been so great and I find my sweet tooth aching quite quickly.  I either need to improve my smoothie recipe by boosting the fiber and protein in it, or have it along side some other hearty options.  This is still a work in progress, but I'm sorting it out.

Another easy breakfast that satisfies the protein and fiber in one fell swoop is beans.  You may not consider beans traditional breakfast food, but many cultures around the world eat beans for breakfast, and for good reason.  They are cheap, easy, fill you up, keep you full, and are SO good for you.  The easiest way to enjoy them for breakfast is in breakfast burrito form.  Saute up some canned beans with onions, peppers, tomatoes and/or salsa, and season it up with some cumin and chili powder.  Wrap it up in a whole wheat tortilla and you now have a portable breakfast.  The other great thing about this is you can make a lot at once, save it in the fridge, and you have a week's worth of breakfasts at the touch of a microwave button.

I'll have more ideas to come, but I thought I'd better update to let you know how it's going!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reclaiming Control

For many people, going vegan is often accompanied by weight loss and healthier eating. After all, many of the fattening foods are now off limits, and you find yourself filling your plate with more veggies, beans and whole grains than ever before.  After a while of being vegan, however, you get better at it, and your options expand.  It's no secret that I love making cupcakes, but cupcakes are nothing but fat and sugar (delicious and adorable fat and sugar).  After a while you learn more about what you can eat: no butter vegan beaver tails!  Oh wait, more fat and sugar.  The fact is, there's plenty of junk food out there that is vegan that you really have no business eating (oreos, potato chips, french fries, passion flakies - readily available vegan junk!).  Here's the truth - just being a vegan isn't good enough if your goal is to be healthy and fit.

Or maybe, you start to lose your resolve, get a bit more flexitarian from time to time.  A bit of cake at a wedding here, a sweet treat at a coffee shop there.... sooner or later, that vegan line you drew in the sand gets washed away and you're nibbling from the pastry case on a daily basis!  Ok.  So I have a confession.  I've been a bad vegan.  I started working at Starbucks.  When I started out I restricted myself to only the vegan snack options (blueberry bar, sweet potato chips, packaged nuts), but I gradually started sampling more and more of the pastries, pastries I knew weren't vegan, but I wanted them anyway.  "To hell with it", I would think, "I'm not allergic, it's not going to hurt me."  Eventually I was eating non-vegan pastries every time I went in to work.  Even when I didn't want to eat them - I wanted to resist - I craved them, and the cravings won, day after day.  

It's not like I was craving the animal products, which are quite minimal in a lemon poppyseed loaf, peppermint brownie cake pop, or the new cinnamon swirl coffee cake that I fell in love with.  What I was craving was fat and sugar.  I used to be able to resist these treats.  In fact, I never used to crave sweets at all!  I used to be a salty snack craver (potato chips being my ultimate undoing).  This was desperate, I needed to break free of this craving cycle, I needed to regain control of my diet!  Enter Dr. Neal Barnard.  I've been a big fan of his for a long time, and when I became a vegan I read his book Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life.  It's a really excellent book that discusses the health repercussions of the "standard american diet".  It is well referenced, thorough, and in my opinion, a must read for everyone who wants to be healthy.  One day, guilt ridden after not having the will power to resist sugary temptation, I remembered another of Dr. Barnard's books.  Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally.  I promptly got myself to amazon and ordered it.  It was high time I took charge, and I did that the only way I knew how - by learning as much as I could. 

If any of you find yourself at the mercy of your cravings, if you find yourself addicted to chocolate, sugar, cheese, or other unhealthy snack foods, I highly recommend this book.  It explains, on a scientific level (without being filled with complicated jargon), what is happening in your body and your brain when you crave and eat these foods.  Knowing is half the battle.  The rest of the tools are pretty simple, and the ones I'm going to talk most about on this blog are:

1. Eat a healthy breakfast
2. Choose foods that hold your blood sugar steady
3. Boost Appetite-Taming Leptin

One of the other steps is "Call in Reinforcements", and that's why I'm blogging about this.  It's like my version of AA.  I'm hoping to come on here and post about the foods that I'm eating that are helping me be successful, how many days I've gone without eating pastries (my current nemesis), and tell you about my failures a means to come clean and get back on track.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Veganism is not Deprivation

Don't believe me?

om nom nom...
Disclaimer: While veganism is generally healthier, and many people lose weight when they make the switch, this is not one of those recipes.  This recipe is for over-indulgence purposes only. Proceed with caution, and at least a pint of water.

Raspberry Chocolate Mousse Cake
you will need:
Chocolate cake
chocolate mousse
raspberry jam
fresh raspberries
Piping bag

Here's how I did it:  Make one chocolate cake recipe, in my case I used a double batch of the chocolate cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (if you don't have this book yet, I don't know what you're waiting for.  It's truly indispensable).  Bake it in 3 8-inch round pans.  Make a double batch of vegan chocolate mousse (again, from VCTOtW).  Yes this mousse recipe has tofu in it.  No, it tastes nothing like tofu.  Even my incredibly skeptical and picky brother had no clue. I promise.  Let the mousse firm up in the fridge for a few hours, and make sure the cakes are good and cool.
Ice the first layer, and pipe a protective lip around the outside of the cake, this will keep the raspberry jam from oozing out of the layers and making your outer icing a big mess.  Apply a thin layer of raspberry jam.  Gently place the next layer on top, and repeat.  Once the top layer has been placed, ice the whole thing.  If you find it's sliding around (mine did) place a BBQ skewer down the middle.  Pipe a fancy scalloped edge around the top of cake and fill in the top with fresh raspberries.  Keep refrigerated until you're ready to indulge, devour, and slip into a diabetic coma.