October 28, 2013

Treat or trick

What to hand out at Halloween is always a dilemma. Should I give out healthy treats? Should I give in to popular demand and buy bags of candy at Target? And then there is always the possibility of leftovers to consider — as in, what do I want to have leftover for me to eat? I've mentioned before that for years I bought small boxes of raisins, which the little kids and their parents seemed to like a lot, but which the older kids scorned. One year I heard my next door neighbor, who was about 10, say to her friend, "don't go to that house. They always give out raisins." I felt like an outcast.

Then we discovered big Halloween sacks filled with small bags of Snyder's pretzels. Everyone seemed to like them, but they were hard to find, and some years they just weren't available. One year I went out and bought chocolate candy like everyone else. The kind of candy I really wanted was too expensive to buy in bulk, so I bought a few 'good' things for the kids whose parents I knew wouldn't let them eat junk, and everyone else got ... junk. But not only did I feel guilty, I had to haul the leftovers into work, because mostly the stuff wasn't even vegan. My co-workers appreciated it but I was sad. I prefer feeding people good, vegan food.

The first couple of years in Seattle, we had about three people show up for Halloween, but in the neighborhood where we are now, quite a large number of children come, and we're back in the trick-or-treat business again. This year, we found a few different treats to offer. If you are a last minute shopper like me, maybe these suggestions will be of use.

My husband found the pretzels again at Whole Foods, so we have 24 bags of those. I can't eat them because of the gluten, so they go first. Then we have some Stretch Island fruit leather and some Clif Kid Zbars. That should trick the treaters into eating something a little better than the usual junk.

Stretch Island says their fruit leather contains 1/2 serving of fruit in each strip. According to their Web site they are 100% natural with no artificial additives, made from real-fruit purée with no added sugar – all sugar comes naturally from fruit, and they are non-GMO Project Verified. Stretch Island® products use only BPA-free packaging.

We found the Zbars this weekend at Costco, and they were the most reasonably priced healthyish treats we spotted. We got a box of 24 for $10.79, which is a lot less than they sell for elsewhere. In fact, it's a crazy price. They are usually between $13 and $18, depending on where you buy them. There were three flavors in the box — Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Chip and Iced Oatmeal Cookie. Here's a sample of what ingredients are in a Clif Kid Zbar:

INGREDIENTS: Organic Oat Blend (Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Oat Flour, Organic Oat Fiber), Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Chocolate Chips (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla Extract), Organic Fig Paste, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Maple Syrup, Organic Soy Butter (Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soybean Oil, Salt), Organic Chocolate (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla Extract), Organic Milled Flaxseed, Natural Flavors, Baking Soda, Sea Salt. The bars may contain traces of dairy, gluten and peanuts.

Hopefully, we'll have enough stuff for all the kids who show up.

Do you get many trick-or-treaters? Do you feel compelled to hand out healthy treats or do you just buy bags of regular candy? If you were going trick-or-treating, what do you wish people would put in your bag?

Click to enlarge.

Full disclosure: All products were purchased by me. All opinions are my own. I wasn't paid to write the post.

October 24, 2013

Winner of "Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free"

Butterscotch Blondies from Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free

The contest to win a copy of Ricki Heller's new cookbook, Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free, has ended, and the random number generator has chosen The Peace Patch as the winner.

Congratulations! Your book will be mailed out to you early next week. I hope you enjoy creating the wonderful dessert recipes that Ricki has become so well known for.

If you haven't already read my review of Ricki's book, you can find it here. But, the contest is now closed.

October 21, 2013

Pies and Tarts With Heart: review and recipe

I'm not much of a pie baker. I admit it. I make a pie now and then like the obligatory pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, or an occasional cream pie for a review, but I have issues that generally distract me from pie baking. The biggest one is that I balk at adding large amounts of fat to food, and pie crusts are one of those foods that usually have a lot of fat. I have also been hesitant about rolling out a gluten-free crust, preferring instead to find a way to avoid a pastry crust in favor of a nut crust, grain crust, or other press-in-crust affair. Not to mention that I've never had much of a sweet tooth. I can work around these issues on my own, but here I am reviewing a pie book! When I review a book, I like to make the recipes as written, not adjust them to my preferences.

In spite of my reservations and fears, that's exactly what I did with Dynise Balcavage's book, Pies and Tarts With Heart, and all I can say is, WOOHOO! I made two pies from the book, including one with a rolled-out gluten-free crust, and one with a mashed-potato crust, and you have to believe me when I tell you that they were both amazing, and I wasn't thinking about fat as I devoured them. Because I'd just recently reviewed a dessert book, I was feeling like making something savory, and the book had so many tempting options it was hard to choose just the two I had time to make. Seriously, having a pie book with so many gorgeous photos should be illegal. Truthfully, I kept wavering between the sweet pies and the savory, but finally couldn't resist the Aloo Palak Pie with a mashed potato crust. Oh my. The pie was pretty easy to make, and tasted amazingly delicious. It was all I could do not to eat the whole thing myself. I can see myself making this again and again — with and without the crust. I served it with a side of chickpeas, and it made a wonderful meal.

Although the book is not specifically gluten-free, Dynise provides lots of options for GF baking, and my next pie-making adventure involved making that scary GF single crust. It rolled out pretty easily, and was nice and flaky, but as you can see, it did crack a little after it was baked — I'll need to troubleshoot that. I made the Red Pepper Onion Tarte Tatin, and not only did I have to roll out a crust, I had to bake the pie with the crust on top and flip it over when it was done. I didn't understand from the directions just how much of the crust to trim, so I ended up with quite a bit of overhang. In spite of the technical difficulties, the taste was excellent. We enjoyed our tarte alongside black beans and steamed kale.

Pies and Tartes with Heart has lots more savory recipes like Cornish pasties, Mexican Tortilla Pie, Quiche, etc. etc. etc., but let's move on to the sweet stuff. Every manner of traditional fruit and sweet vegetable pie, including one made with only your favorite jam and a crust, fills the first section. Some examples are Cherry or Blueberry Pie, Gingered Pear Pie, Shoo-Fly Pie, Retro Strawberry Pie, and Pumpkin Pie. Then there are the cream pies — like Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie, S'more Pie, Frozen Spumoni Pie, Frozen Chocolate Mudslide Pie, etc. Next we have citrus pies and tarts like Lemon Fluff Pie, Lemon Bar Pie, and Chocolate Orange Curd Pie. There's also a collection of raw pies, nut pies, fancy pies, and pie toppers, plus of course, recipes for multiple types of pie crusts. All in all there are more than 60 recipes.

In addition to the 60+ recipes, there's a section covering pie-making 101, where Dynise provides all the information you need about ingredients, techniques and equipment to have you up and rolling in no time. Recipes that can be made gluten-free are noted, as are fast, low-fat, kid-friendly, raw and no-bake recipes. And, there are handy tips and informative notes throughout the book. Pies and Tarts With Heart is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photography by Paul Runyon.

Dynise Balcavage is the author of two previous cookbooks, The Urban Vegan and Celebrate Vegan. She blogs at urbanvegan.net.

Quarry Books has graciously allowed the recipe for Aloo Palak Pie to be reprinted. It is copyrighted material. Please do not reproduce without permission from the publisher.

Aloo Palak Pie with Mashed Potato Crust

Mashed Potato Pie Crust (one 9-inch crust)
We usually think of vegetables as pie filling and not pie bases. But I like to flip things upside down on occasion. Some vegetables, like the potato family, make wonderful savory crust bases. Carbolicious and comforting, mashed potato crusts are economical and an interesting way to transform leftovers into a literal meal base. You can use mashed white potatoes, sweet potatoes, or even mashed turnips or rutabagas. Or mix and match.
  • About 5 potatoes, peeled and baked, or "nuked"
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (28 to 42 g) margarine
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons (30 to 60 ml) nondairy milk (to bind, if needed)
  • ½ teaspoon salt or more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Mash with the margarine and milk until creamy. (Use a potato ricer to save time!) Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Aloo-Palak Pie

Aloo palak without ghee is one of the darlings of vegan Indian cuisine lovers. This 'reconstructed' version uses all the flavors of aloo palak that you love, in an unexpected pie presentation. It’s loaded with vitamins and it’s cheaper than takeout.
Makes one 9-inch (23 cm) tart

For Spinach Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 to 1½ teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon red hot pepper flakes (optional, but I use the full Monty!)
  • 7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
  • 12 cups (360 g) roughly chopped, trimmed spinach or baby spinach, preferably organic
Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC, or gas mark 4).

Press the crust into the pan. Set aside.

To make the filling:
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the spices, then the garlic and onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt if the mixture starts to dry out.

Add one-fourth of the spinach, let it wilt, stir, and repeat until all of the spinach is in the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes. Spread into the crust.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until firm. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of the book. All opinions are my own. I was not paid for my review.

October 17, 2013

Eating chips for dinner | Leftovers | Dogs that eat pumpkin

My husband picked up a couple of necessities on his way home from work the other day — almond milk, canned pumpkin for the dog*  — and a bag of tortilla chips, and salsa. Tortilla chips. It was dinnertime, and now all I could think of was tortilla chips. We still had a big box of salad mix, an avocado and olives — all we needed were beans and we could make taco-salad bowls. Taco salad is always a good excuse to eat chips. I wanted pinto beans but they were the only beans we didn't have in cans, and no one had soaked or cooked dried ones. I wasn't in the mood to cook beans so I introduced my husband to the technique I'd learned more than 25 years ago from my friend Claudia, for cooking pinto beans in less than an hour using a pressure cooker. He did it by himself, proving it's easy and foolproof. Just wash and sort the beans, place them in the cooker with about three inches of water above them, and bring the cooker up to full pressure. Cook one minute, then let the pressure come down. Drain the beans and start over. When they come to pressure again, turn off the heat, bring the pressure  down, and your beans are cooked. I forgot to tell him to save the final cooking water for soup, but you should save it for stock. When the beans were nealy ready, I started making a cheesy sauce.

The evening before, we had split a hefty baked delicata* squash as part of our meal, and I could only finish half of mine, so there was 1/4 of a squash in the fridge. Banana squash is probably my favorite winter squash — it bakes up so sweet and creamy it's almost like eating a silky pie. Even the skin is edible. Delicata squash doesn't store all that well, so they're only available for a short time, and you have to use them pretty soon after buying them. Don't expect to store them like acorn or butternut — you'll end up with rotten squash.

Anyway, I like finding uses for leftovers, and I turned the squash into a cheesy topping by whizzing it in the blender, including the skin, (I used a Vitamix) with cashews, nutritional yeast, water, garlic, salt, chipotle chili powder, salt and a little fresh rosemary. The taco bowl had a generous base of salad greens, topped by seasoned beans, chips, olives, shredded carrot, salsa and avocado and cashew-squash sauce. What a great way to justify chips for dinner! (The chips we used were 365 Organic Lightly Salted Tortilla Strips, from Whole Foods. We no longer use our old favorite chips since they were bought out by General Mills and are now made from GMO products. We really like the 365 tortilla strips.)

*delicata squash. I originally misnamed the squash a banana squash when I should have said delicata. Just corrected it. 

The next day, I took some leftover roasted Brussels sprouts, doused them with leftover cashew sauce, heated them and ate them for an afternoon snack. I love leftovers.

*Why my dog eats pumpkin

This is rather unappetizing but if it halps one dog and its human companion, it will be worth it. Dogs have anal glands that are naturally kept in working order each time the dog defecates. Some dogs have issues with this process, and develop blocked or even impacted anal glands, causing them to excessively lick the area, and also to scoot on the floor or carpet to relieve the pressure. Anyone who has seen this behavior in their house will understand how icky it is. The dog is uncomfortable, and expensive vet visits are in order much more frequently than most people care to visit with their dog's veterinarian. Feeding a dog about a rounded tablespoon of pumpkin each day bulks up the stools, and keeps everything in better working order. Pumpkin aids in both constipation and diarrhea in dogs, and Callie has been much better since I've started giving her pumpkin every day. After opening a can of pumpkin, I freeze it in ice cube trays until it's solid. Then, I transfer the cubes to a plastic bag and store in the freezer. I take out one cube each day, nuke it in her bowl then add her canned food. She eats it right up.

UPDATE: In the ongoing battle over dog anal glands, I'm sorry to say that pumpkin isn't enough to insure complete health. It helps, but just isn't enough. I've had surprising success by changing the diet and feeding pattern of my dog. She now eats Petguard organic vegan formula canned food and a 50/50 mix of V-Dog and Acana chicken and potato dry food. She used to get 1/4 can plus pumpkin in the morning, and 1/2 cup of dry food at night. She still had anal gland issues but less frequently. Then I started giving her the canned food and pumpkin plus 1/4 cup of dry food in the morning, and 1/4 cup of dry food at night, and her problems seem to have disappeared. Even the discolored fur around her butt has gone away, and she seems perfectly normal.

Yesterday, our grandson was here, and when he dumped his lunch onto the floor, Callie the dog ate a bunch of green peas. This morning she produced a huge, very firm poop, which is exactly the goal in this situation. So, now I'm experimenting with giving her peas with her breakfast. Whatever it takes, I'm there.

The reason Callie gets the Acana is because she won't eat the V-Dog without it. She even will pick V-Dog out and drop it on the floor. She will go for days without food rather than eat only V-Dog, but she loves the Petguard. When the V-Dog is gone, I'm going to try another brand, if I can find one with ingredients I think are healthy for dogs.

October 14, 2013

Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free: review, recipe and giveaway

Today's my day to host a stop on the blog tour for Ricki Heller's new cookbook, Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free. I just want to say before I begin, that you need this book. Whether or not you have food sensitivities, you probably have friends who do, and how great would it make you feel to be able to make your friends a fabulous dessert they can enjoy? Not to mention that you will love the desserts, too, because this isn't just a great gluten-free dessert book, it's a great dessert book. Period.

Seriously, Ricki is the wizard of healthy, allergy-free desserts — maybe because she's had lots of practice in dessert-making and-eating. With a monster sweet tooth, she's struggled all her life with sugar cravings. When health issues forced her to rethink her diet, she developed new recipes that were both indulgent yet suitable for her new way of life.

Ricki says, "As more and more of us seek a healthier diet and lifestyle, finding a dessert that tastes great without contributing in some way to ill health can seem like an impossible task. After all, isn't a 'healthy dessert' an oxymoron? We're left wondering: is it possible to enjoy authentic desserts without consuming any of these unhealthy foods? With this book, I hope to prove that you can have your cake and great health too!"

A pan of freshly baked butterscotch blondies, cooling.

There are 100 recipes for wonderful desserts that look and taste amazing. Everything from cheesecakes to cupcakes to butter tarts to bundt cakes, whoopie pies, cookies, ice cream and raw cookie dough bites have been perfected for your table. In addition to the recipes and lots of gorgeous photos, there are more than 30 pages of information covering topics like supplying the pantry, ingredients, tips and techniques, and kitchen equipment. Speaking of ingredients, it's true that if you are already cooking and baking to accommodate allergies or other health issues, your pantry may be stocked with foods many people have never heard of, but many of our pantries may be missing some of the less typical ingredients. If using recipes with unusual ingredients has you worried, fear not, Ricki provides loads of substitutions for less common items. Don't have coconut sugar on hand? It's OK to use regular sugar. You may even find that expanding your pantry to include a few new ingredients, can be a good thing.

One of my favorite recipes from Ricki's first cookbook was Butterscotch Blondies. (recipe to follow) In fact, I was so fixated on the blondies that I almost couldn't make anything else. (Click here to see the old recipe on her blog.) In her new book, Ricki has updated the recipe to make it gluten-free and allergy-friendly without compromising the yummy flavor and great chewy texture. Of course, the blondies were the first thing I made from Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free, and it took a lot of will-power to make myself try another recipe rather than making the blondies again and again. (I didn't have goji berries so I used dried cranberries, but next time I'm thinking of using dried bananas.)

But, in the interest of maintaining a balanced diet, ahem, I whipped up a batch of Easiest Almond Cookies. When I was a child, my family used to go to Philadelphia's Chinatown every Sunday night for dinner before visiting my aunt, uncle and cousin in West Philly. To complete the meal, I always ordered an almond cookie for dessert. When I saw Ricki's recipe, I was eager to revisit my childhood memory. Ricki doesn't place an almond in the center of her cookies, but I just had to press one into each cookie so they would look like the ones from the Dragon Gate restaurant. Ricki's cookies are chewier and a little less sweet, but just as delicious as the ones I remember.

When I first saw Ricki's recipe for Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, on her blog, I was skeptical, to put it mildly. Rather than being made with a stick of butter, it's made with sweet potato. Eewww, right? I was so surprised by the ingredients, I had to try it for myself, and now it doesn't even seem weird to me. The taste and texture are fabulous, and everyone I've served it to loves it as much as I do. Actually, no one has a clue the frosting contains sweet potatoes — and I don't always tell.

Sellers Publishing has given me permission to share Ricki's recipe for Butterscotch Blondies, and I've provided links to the other recipes mentioned in my post. In addition, the publisher will send a free copy of the cookbook to one of my readers, randomly selected from the commenters. If you want to be eligible to win, please be sure your comment is connected to an email address so I can contact you. The book drawing is limited to North America, but please don't let that stop you from leaving a comment. I love comments! If you live in North America and wish to be entered in the drawing, please type 'book' after your comment. The contest is open until midnight, Oct. 19.

Butterscotch Blondies with Chocolate Chips and Goji Berries                Makes 16
These are a favorite dessert in our house. They are rich tasting and chewy, and the combination of lucuma with coconut sugar and coconut nectar is, I think, very reminiscent of butterscotch. I love using dried, super-healthy goji berries in these bars, but dried cherries or cranberries work just as well. In fact, feel free to stir in any additions you like, as long as you keep the same proportions. For instance, one alternative I really enjoy is pistachios and chopped dried apricots. ~ Ricki
  • 1 cup (135 g) Ricki's All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix (see page 22)*
  • ¾ cup (75 g) whole oat flour (to make your own, see page 35)
  • 3 Tbsp (45 ml) lucuma powder
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
  • ½ tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
  • ¼ tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) xanthan gum (use only Bob’s Red Mill brand if you are concerned about a corn allergy)
  • ⅓ cup (25 g) coconut sugar
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
  • ½ cup (120 ml) coconut nectar
  • ⅛ tsp (.5 ml) pure stevia powder or
  • ¼ tsp (1 ml) pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste
  • ⅓ cup (90 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
  • 1 Tbsp (30 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp (1 ml) rum, butterscotch, or brandy flavoring (optional)
  • ½ cup (100 g) unsweetened carob chips or dairy-free dark chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) dried goji berries, cherries, cranberries, or dried fruit of your choice
  1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F (170˚C). Line an 8-inch (20-cm) square pan with parchment paper, or spray well with nonstick spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, lucuma powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum. 
  3. In a large bowl, mix the coconut sugar and water until the sugar begins to dissolve. Add the coconut nectar, stevia, oil, vanilla, and flavoring, if using, until well blended. Gently stir in the chips and gojis.
  4. Pour the dry mixture over the wet ingredients and stir to blend. You will have a thick and sticky batter. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through baking, until a tester inserted in the center comes out just barely clean (a moist crumb or two is fine). Take care not to overbake, as these will dry out! The top may fall a little as it cools; this is fine. Allow to cool completely in pan before cutting into squares. May be frozen. 
*You can use your favorite GF flour mix, Bob's Red Mill GF flour mix, etc.

This material is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce without the publishers permission.
Full disclosure: I received the cookbook without cost. All opinions are my own. I was not paid for my review.

    October 11, 2013

    They look a little weird, but so what

    Not quite rectangular, but delicious.

    I've been wanting a waffle iron for a long time but I'm such a guilt-ridden person that I just couldn't justify adding another specialty appliance to our small kitchen. "Just eat pancakes," I'd tell myself. Same thing, really.

    About a month ago I was at an estate sale (you know, just to see the house) and I came upon a small waffle iron which I was able to purchase for $4. The small amount of cash, and the small size of my find, added up to a guilty pleasure that seemed acceptable, even to me. The house, by the way, was a wonderful craftsman that the new owners had purchased furnished. They were selling the furnishings so they could move their stuff in, and I just hope their things were at least half as nice as the furniture they were getting rid of — so many beautiful, classic craftsman style pieces.

    My first attempt at gluten-free waffles resulted in a sad, crunchy mess that had to be scraped and picked out of the waffle iron, which was disheartening as I'd just spent a long time thoroughly cleaning it and making it look like new before using it the first time. The little crumb chunks I managed to save tasted great, but I was thinking maybe I'd have to get a new waffle iron after all if I wanted actual, whole waffles. Or, maybe I should have used a recipe.

    My second batch had a more normal shape.

    So, today I tried again. This time I used my silicone brush instead of a wadded up paper towel to lightly but thoroughly coat the waffle grids with oil. I still used Bob's Red Mill GF flour mix but I made the batter thicker. I made flax eggs that I whipped into gluey blobiness with a wooden spoon before adding it to the batter. I carefully measured out 1/3 cup of batter onto each waffle grid, closed the top and waited.

    At the end of the cook time the waffles popped right out! They were a weird shape but they were crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and great tasting. For the next batch I spread the batter more carefully, and got more of a rectangular waffle. I think I've got the basic waffle down, and am considering what delicious variations I can try next time. But I have a question. I just realized I forgot to add baking powder to the batter. The waffles were light and perfect and I'm wondering why. Should I leave the baking powder out?

    Update 10-12-13: The answer to my question is, "add the baking powder." Just made my third batch, and they were the best yet, using a combination of Bob's Red Mill GF baking mix and quinoa flour. My husband proclaimed he couldn't tell they were gluten-free.

    October 03, 2013

    Raw Snacks winner

    I used the handy random number generator to pick a winner for the Raw Snacks bars giveaway, and the number that came up was #7, Molly, from Rambling Vegans. Here's something a little weird. I sent Molly an email this morning telling her she was the winner and asking her to send me her address. I hadn't heard from her but started writing my post anyway, thinking I'd post it when I got her confirmation. Just as I typed her name, her email popped up! One or both of us must be psychic.

    To choose a winner, I had planned to use the same selection method I used for my last giveaway, which was to write each name on a slip of paper and have Callie pick a name, but neither one of us was in the mood.

    We were both feeling a tad lazy, so the random generator got the job. Congratulations to Molly!