Monday, May 14, 2018

Break Time

Wanted to post that since I am hoping to launch a book on June 1st, I am going to put my blogs on vacation until the first week of June. It's crunch time! Recipes are piling up, so I should have plenty of blog fodder when I return! 

Stay tuned for more information on the book launch...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

I Quit Sugar Vegetable Lasagne (Modified)

A lot of recipe books are big on cooking everything from scratch, especially when much of what you are making is not technically difficult. Example: The 21 Day Sugar Detox Cookbook would like me to make my own tomato sauce for the Vegetable Lasagne (sic). 

While this involves only onion, garlic, tomatoes, and basil, I find it much easier to pick up a jar of Tomato Basil Marinara from Trader Joe's, though it has 6g of sugar per 1/2 cup serving, comprised of sugar naturally found in tomatoes (about 1-3g per whole tomato) and added by the producer of the sauce. 

For the record, adding a pinch or two of sugar to tomato sauces is something I learned from my family. Epicurious tells me this is a Southern Italian thing. As far as commercial sauces go, even no-added sugar sauces often have 5g of sugar per serving, so check your labels. If your favorite tomato sauce has more than 6g per serving, you may want to shop around for a new brand. 

As for the rest...

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced length-wise 1/4 inch thick
  • 3 T of ghee or other cooking fat
  • salt and pepper 
  • a dozen (or so) sliced cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 2 T water
  • 1/2 lb (about 4 cups) baby spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

Preheat oven to 350F.
  1. Grease (with ghee or another cooking fat) a rimmed baking sheet. Onto this, place the slices of eggplant, which you then brush with 2 T of the ghee (or whatever other cooking fat you have chosen) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. 
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, place the remaining 1 T of ghee (or whatever other cooking fat you have chosen). Cook the mushrooms until they are browned and softened (and delicious... so delicious...), about 8 minutes IQS surmises. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
  3. Put the 2 T of water into the skillet followed by the spinach and garlic. Cover the pan and allow the spinach to wilt, about 2-3 minutes. Remove spinach and set aside. 
  4. Now that everything is pre-cooked, time to assemble the lasagna (sic). First, grease a 9x13 baking dish (depending on the size of the eggplant, you may be able to get away with smaller). Then cover the bottom of your greased baking sheet with eggplant - but not all of the eggplant. Next, spread some sauce on top of the eggplant followed by a layer of spinach. After this, do another layer of eggplant, then more sauce, now a layer of mushrooms. Repeat until you run out of stuff to layer. Bake for 30 minutes.

Yup, this recipe calls for ghee, the second favorite pop cooking fat of the moment (after coconut oil). I finally broke down and gave it a try, and I have to say that I like it. The buttery flavor it adds to my food is yummy, and things don't seem to burn as quickly or as often. If you choose to not use ghee, that's totally cool. It is a dairy product, though contains little milk protein, which is good news for me. (Read about ghee, also called clarified butter, and its protein content at Livestrong.)

So how does the lasagna taste? Great! Mushrooms, eggplant, and tomato is one of my favorite flavor combinations. I chose to sprinkle on grated Parmesan cheese, upping the yumminess factor (in my opinion; obviously leave this and the ghee out if going dairy free). I would 100% make this, or a variation of this, again. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Gluten Free Pecan-crusted Chicken

After making the Gluten Free and Vegan Chocolate-covered Pecan Pie Cookies, we had a ponderous amount of leftover raw pecans. Cashews I'll eat, but pecans not so much - especially this much! Thus, this recipe was cobbled together from other nut-crusted chicken recipes. A food processor, or something to crush everything, is required.

  • two chicken breasts cut in half
  • 1/3 cup raw pecan pieces
  • 2 T grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 3 Udi's GF bread slices toasted (or 2 slices conventionally-sized bread)
  • 1 egg for dipping chicken in
  • Toast the bread, then break it into pieces so that it will fit in the food processor. 
  • Put the following into the food processor: pecan pieces, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and toasted bread. Process until the bread has become breadcrumbs. Then pour mixture into a dish large enough to dip the chicken.
  • In another dish large enough to dip the chicken, beat the egg.
  • Coat the chicken in the egg, then coat it in the breadcrumb-pecan mixture before transferring it to a greased skillet.
  • Cook until bottom side is browned, then flip so other side is also browned. Keep flipping if need be until cooked through to avoid burning.
If you would rather bake, this can be put into a baking dish and baked at 425F for between 20 and 30 minutes. If you brown both sides in the skillet first before transferring to the oven, lower the cook time to 10 minutes give or take a couple minutes.

I have a meat thermometer that I use to make sure the chicken is cooked to the right temperature whether baked or cooked on the stovetop. Since these chicken pieces weren't the same thickness, cooking took longer for some pieces than others. (They also didn't all fit in the pan at the same time, so I did it in shifts.)

The flavor was good, the pecans definitely adding nutritionally and flavorfully to what would otherwise just be breaded chicken (which I also enjoy). I imagine I'll make this again. There are still a bunch of pecans left...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

I Quit Sugar Apple Pie Smoothie

Since we got a new fancy blender for Christmas, I've been looking for reasons to use it. I have also been working a lot of morning shifts, and I am not a morning person, so I like to spend every last second in bed before getting up and heading into work, which leaves almost no time for breakfast - and I am not usually hungry that early, anyway. An hour or two into my shifts, though, I do get hungry, and I can't always stop and eat. However, I can stop to drink, which is where the blender comes in: smoothies. 

After checking out the 21 Day Sugar Detox Cookbook out of the library, I decided to try out some of their low sugar smoothie options. First up: Apple Pie Smoothie. The flavor was really tasty! The texture... Hm... 

Here's what I did.

  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk canned (or homemade, for which the book offers a separate recipe)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 green apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons nut butter (I used powdered peanut butter)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 dashes nutmeg (book says for garnish, but I blended it)
  • handful of ice
  • 1 to 2 scoops whey protein powder (I used vanilla flavored)
Put everything into a blender and blend until smooth. Very simple. But I noticed something with my can of coconut milk. When the milk got cold, like when it touched the ice, it got sort of... chunky. When it came out of the can originally, there was a crust of hardened coconut milk, as well, so I already had an inkling that solid milk was going to be a problem. 

So, even though I did not peel the apple like the book told me to (I generally appreciate the nutritive properties of a food's peel), the resulting smoothie had a strange chunkiness to it. I was able to split it up into two portions, one for that day and one for breakfast the next day, and as the ice melted completely, the chunkiness improved, but I don't think it ever really went away since the smoothie was chilled. I'm not talking big chunks - these were very little bits, but noticeable and it took time for the coconut milk to fully integrate itself into the smoothie.

Maybe the texture would have improved if I'd peeled the apple, maybe with no ice, or maybe with coconut milk that didn't start off partially solid to begin with. Anyway, I may or may not make it again because the flavor really was pretty nice. My go-to flavor used to be peanut butter and chocolate, so this was quite a departure. 

Next, I want to make IQS' Pumpkin Spice Smoothie. It occurs to me that apple and pumpkin are fall flavors, but eh bien. As a product of fall myself, I like fall flavors. I will have to check in with the local farmers markets to see what more seasonally appropriate food items I can find for further flavor explorations. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spicy Honey Chicken Breasts (Baked)

In my neverending quest to find new ways of cooking chicken, I came across this recipe for Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs. I didn't have chicken thighs, though they are delicious, so I substituted chicken breasts instead. I also don't broil, so I figured out how to bake it instead, and we don't do much spicy food, so I cut some of that, as well. Here is my version of the dish.

Preheat over to 350F.

In a bowl, combine...

2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground red pepper (I would use half next time)

Put the chicken one piece at a time in the bowl and coat with the above mixed ingredients. Place coated chicken pieces in a glass baking dish and bake for about 8 minutes.

While it's baking...

In another bowl, combine 6 tablespoons of honey and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar.

Back to the chicken...

Take the chicken out of the over and pour (if you have a brush, use that) the honey-vinegar sauce over the chicken pieces. Put the chicken back into the oven for 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven, flip the chicken pieces over, and pour (or brush) on the rest of the honey-vinegar sauce. Bake for another 10 minutes or so. If you have a meat thermometer, temp the chicken to make sure it's cooked through.

The taste was a good blend of sweet and spicy (though as I said above, I'd cut back on the spice next time because the spicy aftertaste built up too high for me). I paired it with Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower Stir Fry, but it would go well with conventional rice or noodles.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Does a Bagel Need a Hole?

It was a busy and emotional weekend, and getting my week going has been a real struggle. But the weather has been unseasonably warm (it's currently 62F/17C - in February! in Michigan!), and all of my local friends have been raving online about how great it feels to get out, so I decided I should force myself to leave my house for a bit. I am always more productive outside of my construction zone of a house than I am inside, so I packed my laptop and headed to downtown Ypsilanti in search of a suitable place to write. 

My favorite place to go was Ziggy's, but they are no longer open during the day. I considered Cultivate, but they are often busy and loud, which is great for them! Less so for me. The library downtown is nice and doesn't require buying anything to hang out, but small, and doesn't have quiet corners for me to curl up in (or if they do, I haven't found them). So I settled on B-24's, a simple, fairly inexpensive cafe that I do not visit often because they tend to close early in the evening and I tend to go out in the late afternoon. 

Which brings us to the title question: does a bagel need a hole?

B-24's is my favorite place to grab a bagel sandwich in Ypsilanti. They have this delicious salmon and cream cheese option that also has capers and a slice of tomato, which I am not strictly supposed to have right now, but nor am I supposed to eat the wheaty bagel, so we're even. Sometimes we eat things that make our bodies feel bad, but make our hearts happy (see ice cream and pizza rolls). So I ordered the salmon bagel because my mouth loves it, and it's been a crap week so far with few delights. I got the everything bagel for maximum flavor.

The sandwich arrived at my table and I thought, "Ooh, that looks good. Also... kind of different...? Have they always looked like this? Wait a minute. That bagel doesn't have a hole in it! Is it even a bagel? Why do bagels have holes anyway?"

I did what anyone with free wi-fi and a device with access to said wi-fi, I looked it up online - in between bites. It still tasted like a bagel. These are the results, in the order that I found them...
  • The hole is for the bagel tree. (Because who doesn't have a bagel tree?)
  • Bagels are made in the shape a stirrup or horseshoe, hence the hole in the middle. (Duh.)
  • If the hole weren't there, the bagel wouldn't cook evenly, and the center would be uncooked and gross. (Duh.)
  • It doesn't need a hole in the middle! But if it doesn't, it's called something else, a bialy. (What?)
I didn't know what a bialy was, but after seeing pictures, I can say that I have definitely seen them in shops before, possibly during trips to New York City, where they are apparently well-established (the bialy is Polish in origin it would seem). Bialys, however, while not having the hole, have an indentation in the center, which is filled with diced onion and poppyseeds, so not too dissimilar from an everything bagel. (To read more about bialys, check out this article from the Boston Globe.)

I do not think this is what I had, though. But I had eaten it entirely by the time I discovered the bialy, so I can't properly compare. It might have simply been a bagel without a hole, squarish in shape, and still lightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside when toasted. (And still capable of giving me an allergic reaction.)

I'm curious if any of my readers have heard of the bialy or tried one. What do you think of a bagel without a hole? Does it matter? Is the bagel a lie? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Dairy-free Yogurt Comparison

I was diagnosed with a milk allergy (which is different from lactose intolerance) when I was in college. For much of my 20s and early 30s, I ignored this and continued to consume whatever milk products I wanted. (I don't actually like milk, but putting it on cereal made a convenient breakfast, and yogurt was an easy, compact item to throw in my lunch bag.)

The older I get, though, the more difficult it is to ignore my food intolerances, so I've given up cow milk and switched to unsweetened vanilla almond milk for my wheat-free cereal. Dairy-free yogurt has been tough, though, For a long time, the only dairy-free yogurt I found was made with soy and I found it less satisfying. Now there are so many options for dairy-free yogurt! Yes, soy milk, but also almond milk and coconut milk in both "traditional" and Greek style yogurt.

I decided to get a a few different varieties and try them out. Here are my opinions on each type...

Kite Hill Greek Style (strawberry - soy and dairy free - made with almond milk)

I saw this at Meijer with prominent NEW signage, and I thought I'd give it a try. The texture is creamy and thick, as I'd expect from a Greek yogurt. The flavor is... I'm not sure how to describe it. I'd say bland, but it is definitely tart and the strawberry pieces are sweet. It's almost nutty... I think? I made my own nut milk once, and the taste reminds me of that, only with strawberries. I will probably not buy this one again.

Silk Dairy-Free Yogurt Alternative (strawberry and peach-mango - dairy and nut free - made with soy milk)

This was my first dairy-free yogurt. It's not terrible, which obviously doesn't say much. The flavor, to me, is just so soy. It's like someone pureed edamame and added strawberries. I love me some edamame - and strawberries! - but this is not a great flavor combo for me. The peach-mango was slightly better than the strawberry, but I still couldn't shake the soy taste. Of the many soy milk brands out there, Silk is my favorite (though, as I said, I use almond milk on my cereal), so nothing against the brand or necessarily soy milk. This yogurt alternative is just not a win for me.

Silk Almondmilk Yogurt Alternative (peach - soy and dairy free - made with almond milk)

I much prefer Silk's almond milk yogurt to the soy milk yogurt. (Obviously, if you are allergic to nuts, then the soy is a better option for you.) Peach is also such a sweet fruit that I think it masks a lot of other, maybe bitter or nutty, flavors. Almonds are also sweet, so one sweet thing on top of another sweet thing makes for one very sweet yogurt. I would pack this in my lunch.

So Delicious Dairy Free Yogurt Alternative (blueberry - soy, dairy, and nut free - made with coconut milk) 

Ok, first off, I am not really a coconut person. I don't mind the flavor so much as the texture, something I have come to terms with in the past year or two. I will eat macaroons and Trader Joe's Coconut Sesame Seed Clusters (both of which are sugary) or drink coconut rum with Coke or pineapple juice, and I use coconut oil and coconut milk in cooking, but coconut flakes in cake or frosting? Nope, nope, nope. This yogurt, though, I really like. It tastes refreshing. It's creamy, so no gross coconut texture, and is thus more like coconut milk than coconut meat. Coconut is naturally sweet, so it pairs well with fruit. This may be my new yogurt of choice!