October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!


A Spoonful Of Sugar Helps The Medicine Go Down

Little pumpkin tarts

You can read about little pumpkin tarts, here, and get a link to the recipe. They are gluten-free and vegan.

October 25, 2016

My brain has turned to bread

Typical breakfast as of late.

My cooking lately has bounced between making delicious things in the Instant Pot, and baking bread, but, in reality, the bread has taken over. I keep trying to post a recipe, but I get caught up in explanations, feel overwhelmed, and go for a walk instead. It's not that the bread is hard to make — the opposite, actually — but it's hard to explain in a few words. As you can see in the photo above, eating the bread is easy, and making avocado toast has reached the top of my list of "things to have for breakfast." (The above toast also had a layer of hummus, which I don't particularly recommend, and a layer of tomato, which is great.) Maybe next I'll try a suggestion that appeared on the blog in 2010 for eggy tofu on toast. It had a layer of tofu sprinkled with black salt on top of a layer of avocado.

I started the bread adventure by baking a sourdough buckwheat loaf. (Click here for the original recipe.) It contained only buckwheat groats, water and salt, and you can read about my experience here. The loaf was interesting and tasty, though not particularly sourdough-like, and although I liked it, I didn't love the texture. I can never leave a recipe alone, you know, so I started thinking of ways to adapt it to be more to my liking. I remembered a nut and seed loaf I'd made and admired a year or two ago, and wondered if I could combine the best features of both recipes. In my blog post I wrote, "Some time ago I made a very good nut and seed bread based on Josie Baker's adventure bread, (which in turn was inspired by My New Roots Life Changing Bread). I may try to incorporate some of the ideas from these breads into the buckwheat bread."

Some of the breads rose in the oven. See the nicely rounded top?

"May try" ha ha ha. I've made about four breads so far, and although I have more experiments to go, it's time to describe what I've done and post a recipe. Maybe someone who reads this will try it, get a brilliant idea how to change and improve it, and save me the trouble!

The first variation I tried was to substitute 1/2 cup of millet for the same amount of buckwheat groats, and incorporate aspects of the adventure bread (see link above). For one of the breads I was short on ingredients and substituted 1/2 cup of amaranth for 1/2 cup of buckwheat. (Don't do that.) I soaked the buckwheat and millet overnight, as per the sourdough recipe, drained the grains in the morning, then briefly buzzed in the blender to incorporate the grains with the water, while leaving a lot of texture in the mix. Then I placed the grain mix in a large bowl, and added seeds, nuts, rolled oats and several other ingredients, including psyllium husks. I packed the mixture into a oiled loaf pan and let it rest about four hours before baking. I was surprised to find that the loaf had risen during the baking process, and I wondered what would happen if I fermented the grain mixture overnight before baking, as in the original recipe. Would it rise more?

With sunflower, pumpkin, and black sesame seeds, and walnuts. Don't think I like walnuts.

Nothing much happened — that I could see, anyway. The mixture rises overnight when fermented, but the final bread doesn't rise more when baked, and I actually preferred the texture of the non-fermented loaf. Another change I made was to lightly toast the nuts and seeds (except for the sesame seeds), and I think the toasting improved the taste, but is optional. I happened to have hulled sesame seeds which is why I didn't toast them — they seemed too delicate compared to whole seeds. I would toast unhulled sesame seeds, and will probably opt for unhulled next time I buy them. To toast, I put the nuts and seeds in a shallow ceramic baking dish and placed them in a 350˚F oven for 10 minutes. Check after five minutes to make sure they aren't burning. My oven tends to be slow.

Unbaked loaf before resting and baking.

The last loaf I made had one cup of millet and one cup of buckwheat groats, seeds but no nuts, plus sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives. This was my husband's favorite. It was also the only loaf I shared with anyone besides my husband. My husband tends to like everything, so might not be the best gauge of how others might react. My son and daughter-in-law were at our house, and I gave them each a slice of avocado toast. They liked it, and my son asked if I could bring a loaf of the bread to Thanksgiving dinner, which I consider high praise, as he's such an accomplished cook.

Sun-dried tomato and olive loaf.

For some reason, the last loaf didn't rise during baking, and I'm wondering if it was because I made slits across the top before baking. Maybe it's steam that makes it rise. Or does it have something to do with the greater percentage of millet? Any scientists out there?

I have more experiments lined up for the next few loaves but I'm going to share the recipe as it stands now. It seems to me you can probably vary the amounts and kinds of nut and seed additions with little effect on the finished product, as long as you keep the basic proportions of wet to dry. I'd suggest reading the original recipes that inspired me (links above), to fully understand the process, and, you might rather try one of those breads instead of mine. Also, keep in mind, if you want the recipe to be gluten-free, be sure to choose gluten-free ingredients. The bread is delicious, dense, heavy and satisfying, and is at its best toasted. I usually toast my slices two or three times.

Avocado with roasted red pepper from the farmers market.

Seeded buckwheat bread with sun-dried tomatoes and olives
  • one cup raw, hulled buckwheat groats*
  • 1 cup millet*
  • 1-1/4 cups filtered water plus water for soaking
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (I use 2 but it's better with 3 if you're not reducing oil intake.)
  • 1 tablespoon natural sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt* (like kosher salt)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (Toast if you use unhulled. Don't toast if you use hulled.)
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (toasted)  
  • 1/2 cup pepitas (toasted)
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts if desired, optional
  • 1/4 cup psyllium husks
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (not in oil), optional
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives, optional
  1. Rinse the buckwheat and millet in a fine mesh strainer, then place the grains in a large glass bowl, cover with filtered water and soak overnight. For me, overnight usually means 3 p.m. to about 10 a.m. the next day. (This is based on my habits, not science.)
  2. In the morning, line a 9-inch by 5-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and oil any part of the pan not covered with parchment. (See photo above.)
  3. Drain the grains well and place in the blender with 1-1/4 cups of water. Pulse a few times to integrate the grains with the water. The grains should be broken up but still coarse, not smooth.
  4. Place the mixture in the large bowl and incorporate the oil, sugar and salt. 
  5. Add the oats, sesame seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, nuts if using, psyllium husks, tomatoes and olives. Mix well to incorporate ingredients. Feel free to use your hands, if desired.
  6. Pack the mixture into the prepared baking pan, cover with a towel, and allow to rest for four hours.
  7. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Bake at 400˚F for one to 1-1/4 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to rest about 20 minutes. Loosen the ends of the bread with a knife, and lift the bread out of the pan. (You may need a helper to hold down the pan.) Remove the parchment and allow the bread to cool on a rack for two hours before slicing.
  8. Store the bread on a board, covered with a kitchen towel.
  9. The bread is most delicious when toasted.
*The recipe also works well with 1-1/2 cups of buckwheat and 1/2 cup of millet. I don't know which proportion I prefer.
*Coarse salt is less salty by measure than fine salt. If you only have fine salt, use 1/2 teaspoon.

You're probably sick of reading about my bread by now, so I'll try to force myself to think about something else for a while, though it will be hard. I warn you, though, there will probably be a bread sequel.

October 14, 2016

Miss E likes my mac and cheese | Bread update

The adult version.

I didn't grow up eating mac and cheese. Nope. My mother had a terribly low opinion of noodles, and considered them to be filler — you only ate them to fill up if you had no other options. She grew up poor during the depression, and probably ate more noodles than she cared to remember. She scrimped and saved so her food budget would stretch to include meat on the nights my father was home for dinner, and chicken or fish on the nights he wasn't. The budget was tight, so she rarely bought junk food like chips or candy, and it wasn't until I was older that she allowed soda into the house. She was strict about what she considered 'healthy' foods worth spending money on. I remember once asking her to buy orangeade like I'd had at the neighbor's house, and she threw a fit about not throwing money away on sugar and water. If I wanted orangeade, she told me, I could add sugar and water to the orange juice we already had. I didn't. I asked often if she would please make spaghetti, but it was always a no. It wasn't until I told her my friend's mother made spaghetti one night a week, that she reconsidered. She thought very highly of my friend's parents, and I guess she decided if spaghetti was good enough for them, it was good enough for us. But mac and cheese? Never.

When my kids were growing up, and our family was vegan, I never thought about making mac and cheese. The only available cheese was 'cheese sauce' that I made myself, and I didn't make it that often. And for me, mac and cheese never registered as a comfort food; it was just not something I ever thought of.. For my grandkids, though, mac and cheese seems to be always on the menu. They eat dairy products, though, and I've never been able to make a mac and cheese that Miss E approved of — until now.

I made the insanely addictive queso from Naturally Lean, by Allyson Kramer. I added granulated onion and garlic to perk up the taste a bit (can't add actual onion because Miss E doesn't like to find onion bits in her food), and mixed about 3/4 of the cheese with 12 ounces of cooked noodles. I transfered some of the plain mac and cheese to a small baking dish for the kids before adding 1/4 cup chopped dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives and 1/2 cup chopped parsley to the rest, sprinkled it with bread crumbs, then baked it. Miss E loved it. She said, with enthusiasm, "This is good!" Her brother wouldn't taste it, but you can't win them all. I liked it, too, and plan to make it again.

Bread Update

In my last post I talked about making a bread from buckwheat groats, and not being completely happy with the texture. I've been experimenting with the ingredients, combining ideas and ingredients from several recipes, and I love the results. I was going to include a recipe here but I have another bread experiment fermenting as I type, and I think I'll wait to see how it turns out. Also, we're in the midst of a weather situation here, and 10,000 people in Seattle are already without power. I think I'll just post this while I still can, and hope I'll be able to bake in the morning. Hope everyone comes through the storm with minimum impact.

October 10, 2016

Buckwheat bread: GF and easy

A tasty sandwich with roasted red pepper, tomato and homemade hummus.

In my last post I mentioned purchasing a gluten-free sourdough bread that was beautiful and delicious, but the whole time I ate it I had bloating and discomfort. A reader, 'cv', suggested in the comments that my digestive distress may have been related to the psyllium husks in the bread's ingredients list, and she included a link to a recipe for GF sourdough bread made with only buckwheat groats, sesame seeds, salt and water. Even if I weren't trying to avoid gluten, I probably would have been sucked into trying the recipe just to see if it would work. You sure don't have to be GF to appreciate a whole grain, fermented loaf.

The batter after fermenting for 24 hours.

The recipe is ultra easy, if waiting around for things to soak and ferment isn't an issue for you. The buckwheat is soaked over night, drained the next day, blended with water, salt and sesame seeds, then fermented for 24 hours before being baked. There are only four ingredients including the salt and water, and very little hands-on time.

Using parchment paper helps in removing the baked bread.

I followed the recipe as written, except I lined my baking pan with parchment paper to make removing the bread easier after baking. I was not about to mess around with such an unusual recipe.

The finished loaf, cooling before being sliced.

So how was the bread? The comments on the original blog post are extremely positive, which makes me think any disagreement I might have is probably due to something I did or didn't do as I followed the recipe. Did I over-blend? Did I bake it long enough? I like the taste a lot — probably because I like buckwheat, and the bread tastes like buckwheat. The texture, on the other hand, is not quite optimal. I don't know exactly how to describe it except to say it is a little mushy. Not wet, mushy, but it doesn't offer resistance when chewed, if that makes sense. It kind of falls apart in the mouth. Still, I do like it, and toasting it several times improves the texture. My bread slices look more dense than the ones on the original blog post, though I'm not sure what would cause that.

Toasted slices with hummus.

I'm planning to experiment a little with the recipe, maybe even add in some psyllium husks, both see if the texture changes, and to see if I react to it. I can guarantee the bread won't be wasted if do react because my husband likes it a lot. I also might add other grains as well as seeds.

Some time ago I made a very good nut and seed bread based on Josie Baker's adventure bread, (which in turn was inspired by My New Roots Life Changing Bread). I may try to incorporate some of the ideas from these breads into the buckwheat bread. Experimenting with new (to me) ideas is what makes cooking interesting! Do you like to experiment with unusual recipes or prefer to make things you're pretty sure will work?

October 05, 2016

What's on the menu?

The longer it takes me to write a new post, the harder it is to refocus; I have lots of ideas I want to share but 'things' keep getting it the way and I put off writing. Then I become a procrastinator, and writing gets even harder as time moves farther and farther away from what I had intended to post. Does this ever happen to you? For now, I'm going to do one of those random, recap posts to catch up, and try harder to stay up to date in the future. At least that's what I intend.

In my Sept. 13 post, I  described a mini-vacation we took on Orcas Island, and mentioned a vegan, gluten-free sourdough bread we found in the local food co-op. It was a Barn Owl Bakery bread, and it looked gorgeous and tasted great.

I was pretty excited to find the loaf, and started planning how to ferment GF sourdough starter and make bread when we returned home. Before bidding gluten goodbye, I used to be a darn good baker, and regularly made both regular and sourdough loaves as well as the on-demand bread that's made from dough kept at the ready in a tub in the refrigerator.  I was so happy to find the beautiful Barn Owl Bakery bread, and it inspired me to want to bake again.

I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to take on a day hike and they were delicious. But, after eating the bread, I had much intestinal distress and cramping — not the most horrible cramping, but still uncomfortable. Gluten free readers — what do you make of this? Do you bake sourdough bread at home?

The ingredients look perfectly fine to me. What do you think?

When I get an urge for a sandwich I usually make a batch of bannocks. The last time I got a craving for something in a bun, I lightened up the slightly heavy bannocks with a small recipe adjustment, and used them to hold kidney bean burgers.

My husband made the burgers from a recipe while I made the buns.

The burgers fulfilled my desire for a messy, dripping sandwich, but weren't quite good enough to go on the make-again and-share list. We have other burger recipes we like much better, but it's always fun to try new things rather than use the same old recipes again and again.

My sushi rice cooked in the Instant Pot is getting so much better since the first time I made it when it turned out more like rice pudding. I think the magic ratio is one cup of rice to 1-1/4 cups of water. I used standard measuring cups for the rice and water rather than the cup that came with the Instant Pot, and the rice had a great texture. After the cooking time was up, I let the rice stay in the closed pot for about 20 minutes. I seem to have a never-ending craving for vegan sushi, and even writing about it now is making me want some.

Polenta is another one of the foods I get cravings for, so when I make it (in the Instant Pot, of course) I make extra to use the next night, or for lunch. 

Here is a plate of leftover polenta enhanced with stir-fried tofu and bok choy, sprinkled with toasted peanuts. I suppose the polenta was slightly out of place here, but it sure tasted good!

Top 100 vegan blogs

I don't know how many vegan blogs there are, but I just received notice that my little blog is among the top 100. At least according to feedspot.com. So for whatever it's worth, if you are interested in discovering more vegan blogs, you can use the list of 100 as a starting point. I'm honored to be on the list with so many great blogs.