Saturday, March 31, 2012

Banana Chocolate Walnut Cookies

I am one happy baker today! I was finally able to successfully adapt a cookie recipe to my liking by making it healthier and having it actually turn out right. What you don't know is that for the past week or so, I've been trying out different cookie recipes using various substitutions for butter, sugar, oil and all-purpose flour.  For whatever reason, the combinations I put together did not yield the best results.

Part of what helped me succeed is a book called "The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions" by Celine Steen & Joni Marie Newman that I borrowed from my sister.   This book is a wealth of information that I highly recommend to anyone interested in vegan cooking/baking.  Not only are there suggestions for supermarket substitutions for milk, eggs, cheese, meat, animal by-products (honey & gelatin), gluten, sugar, soy & fat, but there are also recipes for how to make your own from scratch!  Each chapter contains one real, non-vegan recipe with suggestions on how to substitute with vegan ingredients.  They also provide you with lots of vegan recipes per chapter.   I especially appreciated the chapter that discussed the different types of flours and which kinds are best to use in what type of recipe.  In addition, they give excellent advice on how to adjust other dry and wet ingredients in a recipe when you want to use liquid sweeteners in place of refined sugar.  This is going on my "must buy" list!

On to the cookies... this recipe is adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar.

Banana Chocolate Walnut Cookies
(makes 24 cookies)
1 ripe banana (medium)
2/3 cup Organic, Grade B maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp quinoa flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly grease two baking sheets (I used coconut oil). In large mixing bowl, mash banana.  Add maple syrup and vanilla and mix together. Add flour, baking soda, salt & cinnamon to wet ingredients and mix until moistened.  Add oats, walnuts and chocolate chips and mix until combined.

Ingredients combined

Scoop out sections of dough slightly smaller than palm sized (I used an ice cream scooper).  Form dough into a ball, place on greased cookie sheet and flatten with your hand.   Place each ball 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned (mine took 11 minutes).  Cool for 2 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

By using maple syrup in place of refined sugar, I was able to completely eliminate the need for oil in this recipe.  Double bonus (no refined sugar or oil)!  Also, quinoa flour adds additional nutrition as it's rich in protein, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and is also gluten free.  It makes for moist and tender baked goods, and has a nutty flavor, perfect for this type of cookie.  It can be found at most health food stores.

These cookies are moist, chewy and ooey, gooey delicious!

Oh, and someone was very interested in the Rice Milk.....

Don't worry, I didn't actually let him have any.  He just got close enough to think he was getting some.  Silly cat!  :)  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chinese Fried Rice w/Homemade Soy Sauce

When I moved out on my own and into my first apartment in my early 20's, I wasn't much of a cook.  I relied heavily on pre-packaged foods and I ate out a lot.  I remember calling my grandma one day to ask her how she made egg salad.   Yup, I really had no clue.  Maybe I knew that the eggs went in boiling water, but I certainly didn't know for how long, or what to do after that!

Then there was my very first cookbook that my sister got me called "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen".  This is a great starter cookbook and was just what I needed at the time. My how far I've come!  I recently went through my cookbook collection and came across the poor thing hidden in the back behind all of my newer, vegan cookbooks with their long and fancy recipes.  There's a time for those types of recipes, and then there's a time for simple ones.  That is just what this cookbook offers, simple recipes that are easy to follow.  I remembered a really good recipe I used to make from it for Chinese Fried Rice and thought I'd pull the book out of its dark corner and adapt that recipe today!

Chinese Fried Rice
1 tsp water
2 cups cooked *brown rice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 small carrots, finely chopped
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp *soy sauce 
Dash of pepper to taste

*You want to use leftover cooked brown rice in this recipe.  If you use brown rice that was just made, the recipe will come out stickier and not taste as good.
*I used homemade soy sauce (recipe to follow). 

Chop onions and carrots either by hand or in food processor.  Place large frying pan over medium heat.  Add 1 tsp water.  Saute onions and carrots in water for about 5 minutes, or until the veggies are soft and the onions are translucent.  Add rice, peas, soy sauce and pepper.  Stir continuously for about 5 minutes, or until the rice is hot.  
If you'd like to make this recipe with eggs, simply scramble one egg first, shred it up and set it aside.  Add scrambled egg at the very end and distribute throughout mixture.

The Soy Sauce recipe is from Savory Seasonings:

Soy Sauce
(makes 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp molasses
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground ginger
black pepper to taste
In a saucepan, over medium heat, stir together all ingredients.  Boil gently until liquid is slightly reduced.

I'm not a huge soy sauce fan and don't normally use it, but it's really what gives the rice its flavor for this recipe.  I wanted to make my own because I don't like the additives in most bottled versions.

The fried rice recipe is very easy to make and the possibilities are limitless.  You can pretty much add whatever you want to the rice, as long as you stick with the basics.

Who needs take-out? :-)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Apple Streusel Oatmeal

Every morning I start the day with a fresh pressed glass of juice from my juicer.  It typically involves some mixture of apples, carrots, kale, spinach and oranges.  That gives me quite a bit of energy to get through my morning workout, and then I make my breakfast.  I almost always eat oatmeal for breakfast hooked up with bananas, raisins, walnuts and ground flax-seed toppings.  I keep it pretty simple and I love it.  Other days, if the mood strikes, I just have a slice of homemade toast with some all-natural peanut butter.  I don't experiment a whole lot when it comes to breakfast since I pretty much never get tired of my usual.  I'd like to branch out a bit more when it comes to the most important meal of the day though, just to see what else might tickle my fancy!

I was craving something sweet this morning (shocker!), so I decided to experiment with my oatmeal.  (I didn't want to get too crazy yet and try something completely new, ha!). I'm glad I did because it turned out to be a nice change from my usual oatmeal and it really hit the sweet spot.

Apple Streusel Oatmeal
(serves 2)
1 1/2 cups water (or other liquid of your choice)
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 apple, chopped into small chunks
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 dates (with pits removed), soaked and blended in 1/4 cup water

Optional toppings
Handful of walnuts, chopped (or other nuts of choice)
1 tbsp ground flax seed

Soak dates in water for 10 minutes.  Drain and blend in food processor/blender with 1/4 cup water until a paste forms.  Set aside.

Bring water (or liquid of choice) to a boil and add oats and chopped apples. Return to a boil then lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat, add cinnamon and date paste. Mix until well combined.  

This really is quite the healthy breakfast packed with lots of extra nutrients from the added apple and dates. I didn't eat any of the optional toppings today, but I suspect that adding some nuts, especially walnuts, would make this even more yummy.   I plan to try that out next time.  Also, ground flax seed is very good for you, so it's never a bad idea to try and sneak some tablespoons into whatever you're eating.   It's pretty high in protein, Omega-3 Fats and Fiber.  I add it to my usual oatmeal and it doesn't change the taste at all.  

I'm off to start my day now!  Enjoy yours!  :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chocolate Mousse Torte (no-bake)

I just can't stop myself from making anything chocolate. I would say that I made this tonight because I had a craving for chocolate today, but that's everyday. Wanting to keep things natural and healthy, I settled upon this chocolate mousse torte recipe. The best part about this dessert, sure to satisfy the cravings of even the most die hard of chocolate lovers, is that it's as nutritious as it is delicious! There's a secret ingredient that makes it so healthy. I almost don't want to share what it is for fear of you shaking your head in contempt.  I suppose I have to though if you want to make this yourself.  Are you ready for it?   Keep an open mind now....   it's avocado!  I had a few avocados lying around the kitchen about to go bad, so I used that as an excuse to make this.

When I first learned that avocados could be used in making a chocolate dessert I had my doubts, but let me assure you that you will never even taste them!   The finished product will taste like chocolate, and only chocolate!  All you have to gain from using avocado is fiber, potassium, Vitamins C, B & E, folic acid and "good" cholesterol lowering fats, among many other benefits.  What a delicious way to sneak some added nutrition into your diet!  I managed to stop myself from eating more than once slice tonight.  But then again, the night isn't over yet...  ;)

The Chocolate Mousse is adapted from Wonder How, and the crust is inspired by Gluten Free

1 cup almonds
1 cup pecans
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup Organic, Grade B maple syrup

Grind almonds and pecans in food processor/blender into very small pieces.  Add coconut oil and maple syrup.  Pulse until combined.  Press mixture into a pie dish. Place in freezer to firm up while preparing the chocolate mousse.

Chocolate Mousse
1/2 cup water
2 large, ripe avocado flesh
1/2 cup cocoa powder 
1/4 + 1/8 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon

Place all ingredients in food processor/blender and process until a smooth mixture forms.  Take crust out of freezer and spread mousse mixture on top. Place back in freezer and chill for 2 hours.  When ready to eat, let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.   Enjoy!

This dessert is very decadent, so you only need a small piece to get your chocolate fix! Keep this stored in your freezer wrapped tightly, or in an air-tight container.  It should be served chilled as it gets soft at room temperature.  

Happy indulging!  :)

Pets Alive's First Annual Kitten Shower!

They say there is a first time for everything, and that's the truth!  Today I went to my first ever kitten shower!  Yup, just like a baby shower with gifts, treats and party favors, but for kittens.  This was just too cute, and such a fun time, to pass up sharing here.  Since animal rescue is just as much a passion of mine as cooking, you'll have to bare with such posts from time to time! ;)  (There will be a very yummy dessert recipe to follow, I promise!)

Pets Alive is a no-kill animal shelter in the Hudson Valley, NY area.  (They also have shelters in Westchester County and Puerto Rico). When it comes to animal rescue and advocacy, they really know their stuff. Not a day goes by that I don't hear about another animal that they've taken in. Not only do they take in strays, but they also rescue animals from around the country who are on death row at kill shelters, and animals that have been neglected by other so-called "rescue shelters". They do it sometimes without knowing where the funding to care for these animals is going to come from. They do it because they know it's the right thing to do. I'm proud to be a volunteer! Now, on to their first ever kitten shower! (click on photos to enlarge)

This adorable sign was set up at the shelter entrance. 

We arrived around 11am and met up with my sister and her nieces.  There were tents set up outside with various tables for raffles, baked goods, Pets Alive merchandise for purchase, and for the gifts. 

Raffle Table

Pets Alive Merchandise

Baked Treats!

Kitten Gifts :)

After walking around outdoors for a bit and chatting with their very friendly staff and volunteers, we decided to tour the cat house.  These cats have the life!  I've visited many shelters over the years and Pets Alive, by far, is the nicest and cleanest place that an animal lover could ever hope that homeless cats (and dogs) could live.   Some places have you leaving in tears, but while it's still heart-breaking to see animals without homes, you really leave Pets Alive with the peace of knowing that they're being treated right.   What I love the most is that the cats are free to roam, they're not locked up in cages. They're well provided for with cat condos, pillows, beds, treats, toys and love!

Here's the cat house.  Yup, they live here! 

Here's a look inside!

Kitties love their kitty condos!

A cat bed fit for a king or queen!

An afternoon nap

So content!

Take me home!

Me and my new best friend

All in all it was a very nice way for an animal lover to spend the day!  I'm really happy that they're going to make this an annual event.  We had a great time and look forward to next year!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

(Vegan) Basic Bread Machine Bread

I think I mentioned in a previous post that this is my "go to" recipe when I want to make a loaf of bread.  I thought I'd post my adaptation of this recipe since it's Vegan, low-fat and I happened to be making a fresh loaf today!  

Basic Bread Machine Bread
(Yields 1.5lb loaf)
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Directions:  Place ingredients in bread machine in the order listed.  Select the basic cycle and light crust.  (I'm sure bread machines vary, but my West Bend takes 2hr & 53 min to make this loaf).  Cool on a wire rack.

I pretty much can't go wrong with this recipe.  It makes a good sized loaf that's nice and crispy on the outside and soft/airy on the inside.  It makes a great sandwich bread.   As for storage, I've done some trial and error and have found that wrapping the bread lightly in cling wrap keeps it fresh for several days.  It doesn't usually last long anyway! ;)

Chickpea Salad

Are you a Vegetarian/Vegan who misses tuna salad?  I can relate! Nothing can tempt me to my former way of eating like the tuna salad sandwich!  (Okay, that and Turkey Hill's Double Dunker ice cream *yikes!*) Yet, I somehow resist. :) Maybe you do eat fish but you're looking for a change from the "same old".   I came up with this yummy chickpea salad using whatever I had in my fridge.  If you're hoping for something that tastes like a tuna salad sandwich, this isn't it.   But it will give you a similar consistency.  At least you'll feel like you're eating one. ;)  It's a different taste, but delicious in its own right!  

Chickpea Salad
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
12 black olives, chopped
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp yellow mustard 

Place all ingredients except for lemon juice and mustard in food processor. *Pulse* until ingredients are finely chopped and well combined.  Add lemon juice 1 tbsp at a time and pulse through.  Place mixture in bowl, add mustard and mix with a spoon until combined.  Enjoy on bread, in a wrap, with chips or by itself! 

*Pulsing the ingredients rather than fully processing them is important because you don't want everything to turn to mush.

Just in time for lunch!  

I had this mixture on a slice of my Basic Bread Machine Bread and it was delicious!   I topped it with some lettuce, tomato and onions.  I wanted to keep eating more.....!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Vegetable Pot Pie & Easy Pie Crust

I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while now and I'm happy to say that it turned out really good!   

I've yet to find a pre-made Vegan pie crust at the store, but I suspect that even if I did, it might contain some unnatural ingredients.  I've tried a few different homemade recipes in the past, but they all turned out too heavy and bland.  I wanted to give this one a try since anything with almond butter has to taste good, right!?  

These two all natural recipes are adapted from Pure & Simple:

Easy Pie Crust
(makes one bottom crust)


3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup almond butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water

Mix brown rice flour, almond butter and salt into a crumbly mixture.  

Add water and mix well.  You will end up with a play-dough like consistency.
Press into ungreased pie pan and prick with fork several times.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. 
This pie crust is very easy to make.  It didn't take long in the oven for the crust to brown so just keep an eye on it since oven times vary.   Set aside while you prepare the Veggie Pot Pie.

Vegetable Pot Pie
1/2 cup cashews
1 cup water
1 tbsp brown rice flour
1 medium onion
2 garlic gloves, minced
3 potatoes, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup frozen corn
2 cup frozen peas
1/8 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
salt & pepper to taste

Start a pot of boiling water, add chopped potatoes.  Boil for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are soft.  While potatoes are cooking, prepare the following:

For the GRAVY:
Blend cashews, water and brown rice flour in food processor/blender.  Add onion, garlic cloves, cumin, paprika and salt & pepper to taste.  Blend until smooth.

In a large bowl, mix the boiled/cooked potatoes, carrots, celery, peas & corn with the gravy mixture.

Pour veggie/gravy mixture into crust and bake at 400 for 30-40 minutes, until veggies are done.

This turned out very tasty!  The gravy and almond butter crust gave it a very nice, nutty flavor.   The gravy really thickened up while baking too and that, combined with the potatoes, gave it a nice, thick consistency.  I will definitely be making this again! 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Oh how I love cookie dough; and since I pretty much have [Vegan] chocolate running through my veins, the two mixed together are one of my favorite treats!   I remember eating cookie dough straight out of the Pillsbury package it came in when I was younger.  Of course I can't do that anymore because A) it's not Vegan and B) it's anything but "natural".   When I first became Vegan, one of the first things I did was research how to make Vegan desserts.   Should I be embarrassed to admit that? No, I don't need to know what I can eat for dinner tonight, just dessert thank you. :)

There are many Vegan chocolate chip cookie dough recipes out there, but this one is very easy to make with natural ingredients and so good!  Don't be fooled into thinking it can't possibly taste as good as the "real thing" based on the ingredients.  It somehow tastes just like cookie dough!

Adapted from Averie Cooks:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
(yields 16-20 balls)
2/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup oats
3 Tbsp Maple Syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup Vegan chocolate chips 

Place cashews and oats in food processor/blender, blend into a flour-like consistency.  Add maple syrup & vanilla extract.  Blend again until combined.  

Place mixture in bowl and add chocolate chips.  Mix with spoon.  Refrigerate mixture for up to 30 minutes (this will take the "stickiness" out of the dough and make it easier to roll into balls).   

Roll into balls and enjoy!   

I use Enjoy Life's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini-Chips (dairy, nut & soy free).  They only contain three ingredients:  Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Chocolate Liquor (Non-Alcoholic), and Non Diary Cocoa Butter.  I've researched these ingredients and have not personally found anything wrong with them.  If anyone knows otherwise, please feel free to share with me (although I might be devastated) ;)  

Okay, I'm off to devour some (more) of these!! :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

(Vegan) Bread Machine Hard Rolls

I love making homemade bread.  There's nothing quite like the smell of it baking in the air!  A while back I found a recipe for homemade, dairy-free bread here and have been using that to make almost all of my loaves (I just omit the sugar with no ill effects to the finished product).  Occasionally I try other types of bread recipes, but there's really nothing like that "go-to" recipe for me (if it ain't broke, don't fix it?).  Since, for some reason, I'm shy about trying out the other eleven functions on my bread machine besides the "basic" cycle, I usually end up just using sliced bread for meals that would typically be eaten on a roll.  Maybe I just hate reading directions. ;)  Starting this blog has inspired me though to branch out and actually try to make hard rolls!   I have made *bagels* once or twice before and they came out really good, so I don't know why I don't try different things more often! 

This recipe is loosely adapted from Vegan Start's Bread Machine Bagels.

Bread Machine Hard Rolls
(Makes 6 small rolls)
3/4 cup of very warm water
1 tsp salt
2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp of yeast

Put all ingredients in bread machine in the order listed and set on "dough" cycle. (My bread machine takes 1 hour 30 minutes to make the dough). Once ready, separate the dough into 6 chunks, roll into balls and pat down to 3/4-1 inch thickness (you can use a cookie cutter if you want an exact circle, but it's not necessary). Place dough rounds in boiling water for 2 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
The rolls actually turned out a tad on the small side for what I had in mind.  I was hoping for more sandwich type rolls, but these would be perfect dinner rolls.  Next time I will just break the dough into 4 chunks and make 4 rolls so they turn out bigger.   They tasted really good though.  They have a nice crunch when you bite into them, yet they're light and airy on the inside like you might expect a roll to be.  I ate my veggie burger from my previous post on one of these rolls, so they can be used for sandwiches despite their size.  

Here are some pictures of the process:

My West Bend bread machine & bread basket

The dough after the bread machine finished its cycle

Boiling the dough rounds in water

This recipe pretty much makes itself if you have a bread machine.  There really is minimal effort and it's worth it if you want wholesome, homemade bread!  I can still smell it in the air!  :)

Veggie Burgers

Ever since I had the best veggie burger eeeever at a restaurant called Fetch a few weekends ago, I knew I had to try my best to re-create the recipe!  I'm very picky when it comes to veggie burgers.  Typically I like them firm throughout and not soft, but this was an exception.  This was light and crispy on the outside, but softer (or "mushier") on the inside.  I had a feeling the veggie burger was potato based and when I asked the waitress, sure enough I was right!  I've made things before substituting mashed potato for vital wheat gluten (a valuable tip I learned online), so I already knew it would make a good binder.   I just had to decide which veggies to use and what else to add.  I picked my brain for all of the information I learned from my years of researching plant-based recipes and came up with my very own veggie burger recipe!

Veggie Burgers
1 small zucchini
1/4 cup onion
1/2 green pepper
5 broccoli crowns
1 small carrot
2 medium potatoes, mashed (should yield 1.5 cups)
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tsp paprika

Peel potatoes, cut into 1.5 inch chunks and place in pot on stove top.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Let potatoes simmer for 20 minutes, or until soft. (You can always make them in the microwave if you're short on time). While potatoes are cooking, finely chop zucchini, red onion, green pepper, broccoli crowns and carrot. Mix all vegetables together in a large bowl. Place boiled potatoes in a separate bowl and mash. Once mashed, add potatoes (1.5 cups) to vegetable mixture.  Add bread crumbs, vegetable broth and paprika.  Mix until all ingredients are well combined. Form into 6 large patties.  Place patties on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until nice and brown/crisp on the outside.  *These will firm up a bit as they cool.

I'm sure you could use whatever veggies you like, as long as you stick with the measurements; otherwise, I can't guarantee how it might turn out.    The same goes for spices.  I like things more on the tame side, so feel free to add more spices if you wish.  Also, I used home-made bread crumbs by processing a large chunk of home-made bread.  Any type you decide to use should be fine.  Finally, the vegetable broth I like to use is Trader Joe's Organic Vegetable Broth.  The ingredients are only organic vegetables.

This recipe turned out just how I hoped it would!  The texture was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  My choice of veggies gave it a nice combination of flavors too.  It was delicious, if I do say so myself!  :)  

Mixed Veggies

Veggie/Mashed Potato Mixture

Finished product before toppings on my bread machine hard roll  


Enjoy! :)