March 27, 2012

Eating my way through Seattle Vegfest one sample at a time | Dr. Neal Barnard

Could barely keep up with demand.
I spent the better part of the weekend at Seattle Vegfest. Saturday we went to wander around and eat samples, and to hear Dr. Neal Barnard speak, and Sunday we had a volunteer shift. If you want to make four hours feel like four days, just stand behind a table and pour Silk beverages into tiny cups while hundreds of people snatch them away. I did manage to taste a couple of flavors because I got kind of hungry. The light chocolate soy milk — sweetened with stevia — is pretty good, as is the unsweetened, organic soy milk. I thought the Fruit&Protein drink was too sweet, with a bubblegum aftertaste. Everyone else seemed to love it, though, so don't listen to me. I didn't try the coconut milk.

I happen to be a fan of Mary's Gone Crackers
In years past, I pretty much tasted anything that was vegan and reasonably healthy. I gobbled Field Roast sliders and sun-dried tomato focaccia  with abandon. I never could bring myself to sample vegan seafood, but everything else was fair game. This year, since I'm not eating gluten, I didn't expect to be able to taste much, but was I ever wrong. I'd never paid much attention to whether or not the proffered samples were GF, so I can't speak to past events, but this year's Vegfest was a vegan, gluten-free tasters paradise.

The first time I passed by the White Mountain tamales, I barely glanced at them, assuming they were glutenous, but as I was heading back from the Amy's table, the "gluten-free" label caught my eye, and I tried the spicy, chipotle-mushroom version. I thought they were really tasty, and a small chunk speared on a toothpick with a grape tomato might make a nice hors d'oevre. Speaking of the Amy's offerings, I didn't realize at first that they, too, were gluten-free.

I had lasagna followed by chocolate cake, and both were delicious. In reality, I don't buy very many prepared meals — just about none — but I'm offering my opinion in case anyone is looking for delicious meals to keep on hand in the freezer. No one would guess they were GF, either.

If you live in the Seattle area and like kosher pickles, you've got to track down some of Britt's naturally fermented sour and half-sour pickles, which come in a variety of flavors. I can personally testify that each variety is delicious. This is a new product that is gradually making its way into more and more local stores. It's not cheap, but it's excellent.

Another new, local product I tried was Búcha, a new kombucha that is supposed to appeal to everyone — even those who don't like kombucha. To me it seemed slightly bland, and not fizzy enough, but that may be exactly why kombucha haters will enjoy it. I would certainly drink it. It comes in seven interesting flavors like raspberry pomegranate, lemongrass ginger and blood orange, is organic, GF and vegan, with 48 calories per serving. If kombucha has always seemed too sharp or sour to you, this might be the one you like.

I'll never tell how many Coconut Bliss samples I tried, even if you torture me. In fact, I probably don't even know. But who can resist Coconut Bliss? And it had nothing to do with the British guy on the left. Nothing. Mostly nothing.

Food for Life had two gluten-free products available for tasting — bread and English muffins. I tried, and liked, both. I'm not a big consumer of bread, but every so often I get an urge for a piece of toast or a grilled sandwich. Now, if my future attempts at bread baking don't work out, I'll know what to do.

Popchips are pretty interesting — they're made from potato flakes and are kind of like potato chips, but are neither baked nor fried. They are popped. Go figure. Some of the flavors are vegan and all are certified gluten-free. They taste really good, and though they have half the fat of potato chips, they aren't something you'd eat to get your vitamins and minerals, just to satisfy a tasty, crunchy, salty snack attack. I love them!

One last product I'm going to share is Kallari chocolate, which I found to be most delicious. Not only is it delicious, it's fair trade, ethically produced, fantastic chocolate. Try some.

Bad phone-pic from the back of the room
I said at the beginning of the post that we attended a talk by Dr. Neal Barnard. Basically he spoke about the connections between diet and health, and laid out the benefits of a plant-based diet. He dispelled what he believes is misinformation about soy, and described what a healthy diet looks like. His approach to dietary change seemed reasonable and supportive, and he convinced me that if I weren't already a vegan, I should become one. His talk was informative and also entertaining, as he relayed personal anecdotes about his family's conversion to a vegan diet. He invited everyone to join his free 21-day vegan kickstart program, and I might, just to see what it's like. If you've been trying to change your diet to a plant-based eating style, you might want to consider the vegan kickstart.

After the talk, I went to ask him a question at the book-signing table. I even had a book. I asked him his opinion of coconut oil, because I really wanted to know what he thought. He said he'd always believed saturated fats were unhealthy, and he didn't know enough about coconut oil to change his mind, but that he was thinking of looking into it. My husband thought he was trying to get rid of me, though I was agreeing with him and not trying to challenge him in any way, but I think he was just being honest in his opinion. I'll be interested to see what he has to say on the subject in the future, because I respect his ideas.

The other speaker we heard was Ellen Jaffe Jones, whose first cookbook, Vegan on $4 a Day, I reviewed here.

Vegfest was its usual crazy, crowded smorgasbord of vegan and vegetarian product samples. The crowd was vast and varied, everyone interested in trying plant-based foods. I tried a few things I considered horrible, and many that were really great. I've only included a few examples here to give you an idea of what was available. Vegfest is much more than food samples; it includes an array of health practitioners, body-care purveyors, animal rights information, cooking demos, etc.

I leave you with an insider tip for Seattleites that I learned about near the close of Vegfest on Sunday. If you dine at Silence-Heart-Nest in Fremont, be sure to request the vegan, GF chocolate pudding. It's not on the menu but is usually available. I was offered some at Vegfest, and it's delish.


As if this post weren't long enough, I want to add one more thing. One of my facebook friends posted about this, and I thought I'd share it here in case any of you are interested.

The Spring of Sustainability 2012 offers:

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March 21, 2012

I NEED that | Great cookie sheets | Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate molds
There was an article in the Dining section of today's New York Times called, Must-Have Gadgets for the Kitchen? Think Again. As you'd expect, it was about all the "fabulous" kitchen items we think will make cooking more efficient or just more fun. We buy them, then rarely, if ever, use them. I agreed that most of the items described were not useful, but a couple, like a food processor and a pressure cooker, are necessities, not frivolous extras, to me. However, I am as guilty as anyone of being sucked into buying "things I need" for the kitchen, whether I need them or not.

Cashews and dried cranberries waiting for chocolate
My situation right now is a little odd, in that two years ago we moved from the Midwest to The Pacific Northwest on a trial basis. Because we didn't know what our future plans would be, we didn't sell our house, but rented it out fully furnished and equipped, to visiting faculty, and we rented a similarly equipped house in Seattle. The house we left behind was fairly large, and the big kitchen was well-supplied with ... everything. I took only a minimal amount of stuff with me — the food processor, the pressure cooker (ahem), a couple of favorite baking dishes and pots — leaving plenty behind for the renters. After we bought a small house in the PNW, I further divided the kitchen supplies in our former home, finally admitting that yes, I could easily supply two kitchens with my "stuff." I siphoned off more cookware, flatware, bakeware, etc, and no one would know that anything was missing from the rental. I left behind things like the pasta maker, waffle iron, dehydrator, mixer, etc., though I'm missing some of them and may grab a couple more items this summer. In the meantime, though I really, really am trying to stay minimalist in my new little kitchen, it's just not in my nature to turn my back on cool kitchen items that call out to me. Some, like new cookie sheets, I really needed, and others, not so much.

Take the Silikomart silicone chocolate moulds, for instance. They are so cool, and at 4-1/4" by 8-1/4" they don't take up much room in the cupboard. I can make 1" diameter chocolate morsels with swirled tops that pop right out after cooling in the fridge. My first attempt (using 1/2 of a version of this recipe-no apricots) was delicious but not perfect, but will I ever try again to make perfect chocolates or will my lovely chocolate moulds become mere space-takers? We'll see. (They actually looked pretty cute in person, but didn't photograph well.) (I also made the fudge in another shape not needing a mould, here.)

The other recent purchase I succumbed to was cookie sheets. In my defense, let me just say that in addition to neglecting to bring any to Seattle, I really needed new ones anyway. I've had all sorts of cookie sheets — non-stick, stainless steel, insulated — and they all have their good and bad points, but after much research, I bought two 14" x 17" 10-gauge aluminum Volrath cookie sheets, and they are the best I've ever tried. (If you're worried about having food in contact with aluminum, you can use parchment paper as a liner.) On these cookie sheets, my cookies baked perfectly and did not stick. And I'm talking about notoriously prone-to-stick gluten-free cookies. The pans are so thick and sturdy that I'm guessing they may be the last I ever buy. They were easy to clean, too.

And what is the cookie recipe? It's the same one I wrote about here — the GF chocolate chip cake recipe. I recommend using well-drained canned beans for the cookies. My home-cooked beans made a looser batter, while using the canned beans (I used Eden brand beans) resulted in a stiffer cookie dough. If your dough seems too soft for cookie dough, add a bit more sorghum flour, or some GF oat flour, if you can eat oats. If you like sweeter cookies, I recommend adding 7-10 drops of stevia to the bean mixture.

I made about 30-40 cookies, slightly flattening each mound of dough into about a 2" round. The cookies spread while baking, so give them some space. Bake at 350˚F for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven and the type of pan you use. The bottoms and edges should be a nice golden brown. The cookies will get deliciously crispy if baked five minutes extra.

Although the cookies will keep for a couple of days on the counter, I think the leftovers taste much better if they are frozen. They defrost very quickly, though I usually just eat them right from the freezer. The chocolates freeze well, too, but they taste better defrosted, if you can wait.

Full disclosure: I purchased the cookie sheets on my own. I received no money for the mention of this product. I am not an affiliate of this company. All opinions are my own.

March 14, 2012

Fabulous, easy (GF) dinner | Animal rights stop sign

On Sunday night our middle son cooked us dinner. It was a simple but amazingly delicious meal that can be served to company with little stress, and much appreciation from the diners. The bowl you see above contained hot, freshly cooked quinoa topped with roasted vegetables, raw arugula, chickpeas and creamy tahini sauce. The vegetables were cauliflower, sliced carrots and onions, which were tossed with olive oil and roasted approximately 30 minutes at 450˚ F. The idea is to let the veggies get brown and tender but not let them burn. The sauce contained several tablespoons of tahini, thinned with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and water to make a thick but spoon-able sauce. My son used a food processor to get a creamy texture.  The tahini sauce was seasoned with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. You might want to add a tiny bit of sweetener to the sauce, depending on your taste and the sweetness of the veggies. The carrots Aaron used were so sweet that I first mistook them for sweet potatoes, and I think the ultra sweet carrots played that role in Aaron's dish. The combination of quinoa, chickpeas, vegetables and tahini sauce made a very pretty and satisfying meal. I might just make it tonight with broccoli.


Animal rights on the corner — it's a sign 
This is the stop sign on my corner. It really is. It was spotted by my friend Bethany the other day when we were coming back from a walk. For those who might not know what shark finning is, it's the despicable practice of cutting off living sharks' fins, usually at sea, and throwing the sharks back into the ocean.  The mutilated sharks, who can no longer swim correctly, either slowly starve to death or are eaten by other fish. You can read more about shark finning here or here. Shark finning is a cruel but lucrative practice, and fins sell for shocking amounts of money.

The fins are a delicacy used for making shark fin soup, which is very popular in Asian countries, where it's believed to be health-enhancing. Its great cost also makes it a status symbol. However, shark fins contain high levels of toxic mercury, and soup made from them is not a healthy food. A new study has also found that shark fins contain a neurotoxin that has been linked with Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease.

If you can stand to watch the video, you'll see Chef Gordon Ramsey learning about the shark fin industry. He starts out eating a bowl of soup, but quickly becomes shocked and disgusted by what he uncovers about the process of obtaining the fins. Ramsey isn't the most compassionate person when it comes to eating animals, but he is appalled and sickened by his experience. He starts out saying he might be willing to accept shark finning if the fins tasted good, but I doubt he still held that opinion by the end of his experience. Watch if you want to learn more about shark finning, and why it should be banned.

March 09, 2012

Gluten-free chocolate chip cake (cookie pie)

Remember when black bean brownies were sweeping the blogs, and every other type of bean was making it into one baked good or another? Well, you never saw beans in baked goods on this blog. Ever since a particularly unpleasant involvement with sweetened adzuki beans in a gelatinous Japanese sweet, just the thought of beans in a dessert was enough to cause me to experience a slight wave of nausea. I must have been especially desperate for a baked good of any kind when I came across a recipe for gluten-free deep dish cookie pie, made with a lot of white beans, and became obsessed with making my own version of it. (recipe below.)

You know, I haven't really been mentioning this, but I've been eating pretty much gluten-free since last August. It's been an experiment of sorts to see if eliminating gluten would affect the stomach pains I sometimes get after eating. And yes, it did — no gluten, no pains. Mostly, my cooking hasn't really changed much, since it turns out much of what we eat at home is already gluten-free. Even most (but not all) of the pasta we've eaten for years has been quinoa, corn, buckwheat or rice-based. We've always used wheat-free tamari, and even the miso in the fridge was wheat-free. But the seitan had to go. And the bread, as well as other things. And the rules for eating out had to change. I managed all that.

What I couldn't quite deal with was baking. I was scared off by the huge ingredient lists for gluten-free baked goods, and the multitude of odd flours and additives. Although I always have an assortment of interesting flours in my pantry, they don't all go into one dish! And I didn't want to eat things that seemed to have so little nutritive value (because they contained so much starch), even if they were desserts. Anyway, I tried to make gf brownies to take to a dinner party, and they were so awful my husband had to run out to Whole Foods to buy a bag of "normal" cookies to bring. The brownies were weirdly sandy, and they fell apart if I touched them. The taste, apart from the texture, wasn't horrible, but who, at a dinner party, wants to eat sandy brownies with a spoon? This failure was disconcerting, but I started reading everything I could find about gf baking, assembled a cupboard full of even more odd ingredients, and vowed to try again. I made a yeasted bread that wasn't awful. And then the cookie pie entered my dessert-starved brain, and I decided to give it a go, beans and all,  with a few changes based on knowledge I had gleaned from Carrie Forbes, who writes the blog, Ginger Lemon Girl. (This is not blog that espouses a vegan lifestyle, but there's lots of gf baking info, and some vegan recipes.)

Chocolate "swirl" cookies (hahaha)
A few weeks ago I cooked some cannelini beans overnight in the slow cooker (because I really am trying to use more home-cooked beans), and let them cool. Then I carefully measured my ingredients and got to work. And guess what? The pie, which I think is more like a cake, was delicious in every way. My husband enthusiastically ate it, and claimed there was no way he would guess it was gluten-free. Miss E., who is used to eating "normal" baked goods, gave her complete approval, and devoured her share. I couldn't stop eating it, and when it was gone, I made it again. (I even made it into cookies with the addition of gf oat flour, but because I sadly neglected to cool the beans, and the chocolate chips melted, I'll have to try again before I share the recipe.)

I'm going to post my recipe for chocolate chip cake because although some of the ingredients are the same as the original, it's really quite different. The original called for oats, and some people who follow a gluten-free diet can't handle oats, even gluten-free oats. (Not to mention the fact that I didn't happen to have any on hand.) I think I used less starch than is found in most gf recipes, but it seemed to work.

I baked my cake in a 10-inch spring-form pan (thrifted from Goodwill on a lucky day) that I first coated with Earth Balance. I want to mention that the cake was hard to remove from the pan bottom (the side just pops off), so next time I'll try baking it on a round of parchment paper. I left the cooled cake on a plate on the counter, loosely covered with plastic wrap, and much to my surprise, it held up very well for several days.

Gluten-free chocolate chip cake (based on a recipe from Chocolate-Covered Katie)
(check labels to make sure you are using gf ingredients)

Oil a 10" spring form pan fitted with a round of parchment paper on the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
  • 1-1/2 cups of cooked, cooled and well-drained cannelini beans (or one can, rinsed and well-drained)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or mild vinegar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (your preference)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup evaporated cane juice or organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
  • 1/3 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour (or GF oat flour if you prefer)
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour (or arrowroot flour)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips (the larger amount is excessive but fun)
  1. Blend the beans, applesauce, oil, vanilla and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Place the baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, almond flour, sorghum flour, brown rice flour (or oat flour), and tapioca flour in a large bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together until all  lumps are removed and the flours are combined.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the food processor and buzz until the two mixes are well-integrated.
  4. Stir in about 3/4 of the chocolate chips or, add to the processor and buzz carefully a few times until the chips are mixed in but not broken.
  5. Spread the batter (it will be fairly stiff) into the greased pan and smooth the top. Add the rest of the chips and press in gently.
  6. Bake in a pre-heated 350˚ oven for 40 to 50 minutes until a toothpick in the center comes out sort of dry. The edges of the cake will be drier than the center, which will stay a bit moist.
  7. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before removing from the pan. If you haven't used a spring-form pan with parchment paper on the bottom, good luck. 
When you slice the cake, use a very sharp knife and slice straight down — NO SAWING. Trust me.
UPDATE: After the cake had cooled about 20 minutes, I placed a plate over the top, flipped it over, peeled off the paper, placed a serving plate over the cake and flipped the cake right side up. It worked much better than trying to remove the cake from the pan bottom.
UPDATE II: You can find suggestions for turning the cake into cookies, here. 

UPDATE III: I now find I get a better rise and chip distribution if after mixing the wet ingredients in the processor, I add the wet ingredients to the dry (except for the chips) and beat with an electric mixer for about a minute. Then I add about half of the chips to the batter, and swirl in gently. I scrape the batter into the baking pan, smooth and level it, then add the remaining chips, pressing in gently.

I now have a copy of The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread waiting to be reviewed, so maybe there will be another baking post coming up soon, if I can stop myself from making more chocolate chip cake!  Or these cookies!