Monthly Archives: July 2013

Summer Suggestions: Zucchini

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You know you’re looking at a huge bowlful of lovely, creepily-large zucchinis right now that your neighbor (aunt/mother/friend/colleague/brother/ex) just dropped off — or which have proliferated in your own garden.   What the heck are you going to do with them, you wonder, besides steam them into mush?  Well, fear no more; you’ll have a gourmet 4-course dinner whipped up in no time, starring zucchini!

Zucchinis may get a bad rap for being a bland side dish in this country (or being turned into fake “apple” crisp, true story), but these unassuming members of the cucumber family can be transformed into everything from sweet bread to patties to succotash, or are delicious simply grilled with fresh herbs.  You can even use flowers from the zucchini plant as garnish, you entertaining diva! 

People have been enjoying zucchini in Central and South America for thousands of years, and in Europe since the Columbian Exchange.  Italian immigrants then brought this versatile fruit back to the American continent in the 1920s.  Meanwhile, zucchinis were solidifying their position as one of the rock stars of international cuisine; they’re still featured in Greek, Turkish, French, Mexican, Egyptian, and Bulgarian dishes.

As you might surmise, zucchinis aren’t all about appearance — they pack a serious nutritional punch, with each serving high in folate, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin A, and, of course, low in calories. 

So, if you’re stuck at home alone with a load of zucchini — and depending on whether you’re feeling sweet or savory — try out one of these yummy recipes.

Vegan Zucchini Patties

  • 1 large zucchini, grated (or part of a morbidly huge one – these suckers can grow up to 3 feet long!). You should have about 3-4 cups.
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (I used red, but you can use any kind)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 white mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (or 2 t. dried)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds or chopped walnuts
  • bread crumbs, as needed (optional)
  • 2 T cornmeal
  • 3 T flour (I used a gluten-free mix)
  • 3 T flax seed meal

1. Grate zucchini into a colander; push it down to try and squeeze out some of the excess water.

2. Put the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. These patties are all about the texture, so just play around with amounts (the above are approximate, I was just dumping and mixing) until the patties are sticking together well and aren’t too gloppy.

3.  You can either bake these lovelies in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or lightly fry them in olive oil (or, of course, coconut) over medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side, until browned and crispy.  I highly recommend calling these “veggie burgers” for anyone 18 years of age.  We enjoyed them with potato salad, greens, and baked beans, but you could class it up and serve with a quinoa pilaf, pesto pasta, or bright steamed vegetables. 

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Vegan Zucchini Bread (adapted from allrecipes.com)

This is the primary way I remember eating zucchini as a kid, so it was a bit of a sentimental journey to find a vegan version of this sweetbread.  You can also easily make this gluten-free using Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free all purpose flour, though you’ll want to use more baking soda and powder to give it some oomph.  Or, add 3-4 tablespoons of cocoa powder and chocolate chips to make chocolate zucchini bread, you crazy thing! 

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons flax seeds (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon arrowroot powder (optional)
    1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup white sugar

  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
    1. Mix all dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients and mix until smooth.
    2. Bake at 325 for 70 minutes; cool, slather with Earth Balance or just eat plain! So very delicious, and you can keep telling yourself it’s zucchini bread, so it must be incredibly good for you, right?
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Vegan Fast Food: Mission Impossible?

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Traveling around as much as we have the past few months, at times it seems impossible to find a decent vegan meal (heck, even a snack) that isn’t just a vehicle for empty carbohydrates and sugar.  Another cinnamon raisin bagel?  More pretzels? Oh yes, please.  On days trapped in the car or traveling by plane — and particularly when I have not planned ahead — I find myself mindlessly scavenging on salty or sweet snacks and drinking way too much black coffee.  I arrive at my destination feeling neither particularly hungry nor satisfied, and ready to poke someone’s eyes out. 

One of my recent, accidental, and brilliant travel discoveries (while driving alone with two young children) has to be stopping at a grocery store–Albertson’s, I think–replete with a Starbucks near the family restroom. My kids are still small enough to stuff into a grocery cart, so after wheeling us all into the bathroom, I made my way to the Starbucks stand, planning on getting yet another coffee and be on my jittery way, and instead was pleasantly surprised by the savory meal options. A brown rice, butternut squash, kale, beets, and summer peas with lemon tahini dressing?! Somebody slap me! I usually promote patronage of local coffee shops, but I must recommend Starbucks salads for vegans on the go. (Of course, it’s always great to plan ahead and pack fresh fruits, vegetables, and mixed raw nuts for the trip, but if you’re like me you feel like a superhero just remembering your wallet and your children.)

My other favorite fast food option is always Mexican cuisine — even faux Mexican like Taco Bell can do in a pinch, just order the Fresco Bean Burrito, grilled. Alright, my fellow nomad, please sit down, because I have some very exciting vegan news hot off the grill. . . Chipotle restaurants, following California’s lead, will now (as of tomorrow!) offer a specifically VEGAN option throughout the Pacific Northwest: Sofritas – shredded, organic tofu braised with chipotle chiles and roasted poblanos. I tried one of these rad burritos in Irvine, California recently, and I can vouch for them. Totally yummy.

Sandwich places are hopping on the vegan train, too, offering increasing vegan options beyond the cardboard-like veggie burgers we’ve all endured — or, worse, lonely buns sporting only lettuce, condiments, and pickles. I try to find places that use hummus, of course, or at least avocados or dairy-free dressing so I’m not choking down a bone-dry sandwich. Of course, regardless of what I find, there’s always more coffee to wash it down, right? 🙂
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Popcorn: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

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I have a challenge for you. Close your eyes and think about three or four favorite childhood memories with your family (no, not the one in which your sister shaved your head or you thought it would be funny to pull the chair out from under your rickety great-aunt).  Chances are, at least one or two of these might just include popcorn, a naturally healthy snack humans have been enjoying for over 7000 years that has been completely transformed in recent decades by food manufacturers–and not for the better. 

The Good News: Unadulterated, air-popped corn is delicious, and not at all bad for you (unless you bite down on an unpopped kernel, crack your tooth, and end up scheduling a root canal three days before your wedding; true story).  In fact, popcorn has healthy doses of fiber and the antioxidant polyphenol, which is supposed to fight those pesky free radicals. Of course, the good is outweighed (pun intended) if you soak your popcorn in a vat of butter and salt. Instead, try going Little House on the Prairie and pop your corn on the stove in a few teaspoons of coconut oil (okay, you’re right, Ma would have used bacon grease), or sprinkle some salt and nooch (nutritional yeast) on these fragrant kernels for an extra dose of B vitamins.  Organic kernels are inexpensive, too.  Get yourself some and make new popcorn-centered memories, stat!

The Bad: If you’re like me, the more suspenseful a movie is, the faster you’re stuffing your face with popcorn and sour patch kids. The following info may stop even us mid-shovel, however: a large tub of movie popcorn has an entire’s day worth of fat and calories before the extra added butter. Un-freakin-believable. But before you reach for a bag of Pop Secret (the secret is out!) or Act II (type 2 diabetes, most likely), microwave popcorn is not exactly high-quality fuel, either.

The Ugly: Let’s begin with the packaging. Microwave popcorn bags are usually lined with perflourochemicals (PFCs), which are known to mess with your thyroid and have also been linked to ADHD, reproductive problems, and various cancers. Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?  There are more chemicals lurking on the genetically-modified kernels themselves, the worst offender being diacetyl, a chemical added to create that “fresh” buttery flavor.  Remember the guy who got “popcorn lung” disease from ingesting (and inhaling) too much microwave popcorn? Was he perhaps going a bit overboard by eating two bags a day for 10 years? Possibly. Further, and certainly just as disturbing, is the use of industrialized, or trans fats, to add “shelf stability.”  Did you know that if a serving contains less than .5% trans fat manufacturers are not required to put that information on the label? Here’s a tip: If you see the words “trans fat” on an ingredient label, DO NOT EAT IT.  Why else would it be on the label if there weren’t at least scant amounts in the product? Precisely, my dear Watkins.  

So, as with most other foods, the less processing, the better. Keep it simple, and when you need a movie-popcorn fix, at least you’ll know the score.
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Rediscovering the Ranch

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I’m a vinaigrette kind of lady, but every once in a while a dish comes along that begs for Ranch dressing.  I used to think one of the costs of going vegan was saying goodbye to creamy dressings and sauces, but I have happily discovered that we can have our ranch and eat it, too.

In a recent commercial for Hidden Valley Ranch, a place “where kids always eat their vegetables,” Ranch dressing is delivered in the place of milk and kids enjoy broccoli with Ranch dressing instead of ice cream. Then, seated at rustic picnic tables in a sunny, Leave it to Beaver community, children enthusiastically eat salads and vegetables coated with Ranch.  The not-so-hidden message, of course, is that the only way to get kids to consume veggies is paired with bottled salad dressing.  Holy preservatives, Batman!    

Ranch is by far the favorite salad dressing of Americans, both at home and at restaurants. In fact, we love it so much that a 2012 campaign was launched to rename Ranch “American” dressing (oh, the pride!), there is a movement to brand Ranch “The New Ketchup,” and Ranch dressing upset bleu cheese (gasp) as the favorite side for 1.23 billion chicken wings consumed on 2013 Super Bowl Sunday. First World issues, anyone?   

What’s the harm of pouring that bloop of comforting Ranch on your gorgeous garden greens, you may ask?  First, you realize you’re letting more than the allotted 2 tablespoons slide out of the bottle, right?  But, Hannah, you whine, I grew up with Ranch dressing, it’s the taste of my childhood!  That very well may be, but you also grew up sporting a mullet, pimples, and leg warmers, and that time has, gratefully, passed.  Further, have you taken the time lately to actually read the label on the (probably long expired) bottles of salad dressing kicking it in your refrigerator?  It’s time, my friend, because the ingredients in Ranch are, at best, unhealthy, and at worst may be doing you harm. 

Check out the ingredients in “Lite” Ranch Dressing:  water, corn syrup, soybean oil, vinegar, egg yolks, salt, modified food starch, sugar, less than 2 percent of phosphoric acid, monosodium glutamate, xanthan gum, garlic (dried), artificial color, polysorbate 60, spice, parsley (dried), onions (dried), natural flavor (milk), lactic acid, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium edta (to protect flavor).  Could you whip this up at home? I thought not. One more tidbit: each serving contains 440 milligrams of sodium, or one-third of your daily recommended intake.

Let’s just glance at one of the lovely players in this group, polysorbate 60, a toxic chemical and known skin irritant which causes diarrhea and reproductive problems in rats when administered at high doses. (The good news is that it seems to only cause tumors on rodents treated dermally, so you should be fine if you avoid washing your face with Ranch dressing.) 

Your best option is not to swear off your beloved Ranch, but to make your own delectable vegan ranch-style dressing that you can dip everything from carrots to pasta in – and guilt-free!  I made this for my non-vegan family this evening to enjoy with enchiladas, black bean and mole sauce, and salad, and it was fabulous to see that bottle of Ranch pushed aside.

Vegan Ranch Dressing (adapted from Appetite for Reduction)

  • 1 package extra-firm silken tofu (absolutely has to be silken!)
  • 2 T. vegannaise (vegan mayo)
  • 1 t. vegetable broth concentrate
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 t. dried dill (or 1/4 cup fresh, chopped fine)
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t. onion flakes
  • 1 t. garlic powder
  • 1 t. light agave syrup
  • salt, pepper to taste

1. Boil a small pot of water. Cut tofu into cubes, then add to boiling water and remove after 2 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water.

2. Add water, vegannaise, and vegetable broth  to tofu. Blend with immersion blender (if you want to wear a bit of tofu/mayo) or throw into food processor.

3. Next, add rest of ingredients and beat until smooth. Go get some carrot sticks and serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for more Ranch-like coolness. Makes about 6-8 servings. Enjoy!

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Coconut Granola

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What could be more refreshing on a hot summer day than a steaming bowl of granola, fresh out of the oven?

Okay, so I realize granola is not exactly synonymous with summer. Even so, homemade granola fulfills many of my food goals right now, including avoiding as many processed foods as possible, generating less waste, consuming less refined sugar, eating more gluten-free items, and providing healthy, quick, and filling breakfasts for my we’re-really-not-morning-people family members.

Granola is one of those things I always thought was difficult to make; don’t ask me why, it is actually easy-breezy (maybe not as easy as plunking the box into my grocery cart, but still, quite simple).  Besides, have you ever noticed that each bag (hidden in a child-size cereal box) of store-bought granola contains about 12 “recommended servings” of 1 teaspoon each? I suppose this may be because no one wants to read “calories: 4 gazillion” on the ingredients label.  Anyway, we’re getting off that train.  We don’t need to buy any more prepackaged granola filled with all kinds of ingredients we cannot identify.  Are you with me??

As it turns out, granola is the perfect kind of food for rocking your retro apron and channeling your inner Betty Crocker. It’s easy, smells divine (definitely make this right before an open house), and lends itself to individual expression. Start with a base of oats, then add whatever nuts or seeds you most enjoy, throw in flax seeds for some extra omegas and veg-cred, and sprinkle a bit of dried fruit on for texture after baking (or mid-way through if you like that baked-raisin flavor, yum. Dried cherries are wonderful in granola, too, just sayin’). 

As you well know, I think coconuts are the best thing since, well, coconuts. However, I have a dirty little secret: I don’t really enjoy the texture of shredded coconut, so I often end up swapping out shredded coconut for coconut oil or milk in recipes that I think still need some coconut love. Most granola recipes I have seen include shredded coconut in addition to oil, so I decided to use coconut oil instead, and I am oh so happy I did. Absolutely delicious! 

G’s Favorite Coconut Granola  (“This is the best thing you’ve ever made for me!”)

  • 3 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ (omit if gluten-free)
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds, ground in your honey’s coffee grinder
  • 3 T. brown sugar
  • 1 cup almonds and walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds (optional)
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/4 c. nectar of the gods (I mean coconut oil)
  • 1/4 c. real maple syrup (no mrs. butterworth’s here friend)
  • 1/2 c. dried fruit (golden raisins, cranberries, apricots, etc.)

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

2. Mix dry ingredients (except fruit) together in a largish bowl and wet ingredients in a smaller one.  Stir both separately, then pour oil mixture over oats.  Work out some of your  aggression by blending well with your hands.

3. Spread granola evenly on a cookie sheet (or two) and bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring once.  Patience, darling–let your masterpiece get cool and crunchy before you start snacking. 🙂 

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We Can Do Better: A Recipe

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Have you ever watched “Hoarders” on TLC, the show in which a voyeuristic audience watches as individuals who have literally buried themselves in mounds of miscellaneous trash and rotting food are outed and hopefully “cured” by the end of the episode?  Like most viewers, I have always assumed these people were the aberrant, unhealthy ones, while the rest of us — who simply toss our garbage in a bin and forget about it — are normal. What if we saw it differently? What if the hoarders, who actually produce the same amount of trash as the rest of us (102 tons in an average lifetime), are the only ones really seeing what our waste is doing to the planet?

In his recently published book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash (2012), Edward Humes provides a surprisingly hopeful outlook on what we waste, why we waste, where it ends up, and how we can work towards not only lessening the amount of trash we generate, but creatively utilizing the mountainous, growing landfills that already exist.  I have only read the first few chapters, but I’m already inspired to waste less, especially in the area I’m most passionate about: food. 

Each year we throw away 28 billion pounds of food, or about 25% of the American food supply.  This is insane, especially considering how many people are going hungry or standing in line at the food bank.  Aside from the actual food going to waste, the immediate trash created from food and drink packaging is also astronomical: 35 million plastic bottles per year; 40 billion plastic knives, forks, and spoons; so much plastic waste in our environment that 92% of us have plastic chemicals in our urine.  I’m no doctor, but I do not think this is a good thing. 

Because I cheated and skipped to the end, I know Humes is going to discuss what we can do on a city, state, and national level to turn our garbage into renewable energy, using Copenhagen and other green-thinking cities around the world as models.  But I am an impatient person; I want to know what I can do right now to make a difference, even a little one.  So here is my personal recipe for doing just that — creating less garbage.

  • Only use regular silverware, dishes, reusable shopping bags, coffee cups, and water bottles (= no paper cups, plates, plastic silverware, water bottles, plastic bags, etc.) My picnics just got a little more interesting.  Think medieval vegan.
  • Plan a menu for the week, then clean and prep all veggies within a day of buying them. (If I don’t clean and cut up my vegetables, they often end up sitting in the crisper drawer and I forget about them until they are too far gone and have to be thrown away. Most of us grossly underestimate how much food we’re wasting.)
  • When brave enough to take my toddlers out, I am actually going to sit down and eat at a restaurant on regular dishes rather than get take-out in Styrofoam. In fact, I’m trying to never ever use Styrofoam in any form – it cannot be recycled and never degrades.
  • Get on a no-mailing list for catalogs and plastic-wrapped booklets and promotions, etc. We don’t need the stuff being advertised, and we certainly don’t need the extra paper or plastic. (www.catalogchoice.org)
  • We’re switching from plastic sandwich bags to reusable lunch bags and thermoses for coffee and soup. (Even though I have always disliked trying to clean and reuse ye old ziplocs, I am going to start doing that, too. You were right, Grandma.) 
  • Reuse whatever I can, then recycle the rest. I am going to actually do research into what can be recycled before I just shrug my shoulders and throw it away (plastic containers, carpets, or electronics, for example).  

Americans generate 50% more trash per person than other nations with the same standard of living.  We can do better!  

 

 

 

Fresh Cherry Walnut Muffins

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As I pitted a colander of sour cherries this afternoon — eating as many as I placed in the muffin batter — I daydreamed, following the web of memories conjured up by this beautiful little fruit: climbing our large, shady cherry tree in the back yard of the house we moved into when I was two years old; sledding down Coeur d’ Alene’s Cherry Hill on plastic saucers for hours on winter afternoons; picking cherries with my sister and throwing the soggy ones at our babysitter (sorry, Thelma); discovering dried cherries, which I love; and of course, Grandma’s delicious cherry pies smothered with ice cream.  A not-so-pleasant memory is tasting chocolate covered cherries for the first time.  A florescent, syrupy maraschino cherry enveloped in waxy chocolate? Well no, thank you.   

Like most fruits, sour cherries are different than the larger, domesticated cherries we see at the grocery store. Smaller, softer, and tart (and usually found at farmers’ markets or in your yard), these tiny gems are perfect for pies and other desserts because you can adjust the sweetness and their texture stands up well to baking. 

Our friends Justin and Megan graciously gave Ryan a large bag of cherries from their back yard yesterday (either that or he swiped them, I didn’t ask). Delicious all on their own, cherries certainly do not need to be encased in carbs, but it just seemed right to use some of them in muffins to keep my afternoon cup of coffee company. . . right??

  Cherry Walnut Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 t. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup cold-pressed sunflower oil
  • 2 T lemon zest
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t. almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cup sour or “tart” cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Place almond milk, vinegar, extracts, zest in a separate bowl. Mix well, then add to flour mixture.

3. Stir in fruit and nuts last, folding into batter.  Get creative – you can use any kind of fruit or nuts with this basic recipe (except avocados and tomatoes, I forbid it!).  Depending on your mood, you may want to throw in some dark chocolate chips, too. Grease or line muffin tins, fill about 3/4 full. Makes about 15 muffins (I know, kind of lame, but you can use a ramekin or something and eat that yourself. No one needs to know.)

4. Bake at 375 degrees for 23-25 minutes and your house will smell oh-so-sweet. Cool for .4 seconds and enjoy with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. 🙂

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