Happier Caramel-la Dipping Sauce (no added sugar, vegan)

Okay, so how do you make caramel sauce with no added sugar.  Caramel IS sugar – it’s just sugar cooked to a certain temperature with some butter thrown in, right?

Clearly there is only one way to make caramel that is ‘no added sugar’ and that is to leave out the caramel part.  Like low fat peanut butter.  How do you make low fat peanut butter….. leave out some of the peanut butter and put something else in there.   Doesn’t that thought make you want to read the label on the low fat peanut butter -yikes!

In this case however, the substitution is not scary – even if it is Halloween tomorrow.  In this case, you use the sweetness of dates, the smoky flavor of maca powder and almond butter to make a dipping or dripping sauce that will make any apple proud.

Who doesn’t like a caramel apple?  Okay, besides the mothers of small children – who doesn’t like a caramel apple?  It’s a great flavor combo and I confess a favorite treat that I can no longer abide because it is just too darn sweet.  So a recipe for caramel sweetened with dates caught my eye and from there I came up with something we will be dipping into with apples, carrots, bread, fingers and dumping on pancakes and french toast until it’s gone and they come begging and pleading for me to make more.  Oh how I love when they beg and plead for me to make more of a healthier alternative ;-)

The original caramel idea came from Emily at This Rawsome Vegan Life as part of a cookie recipe that sounds fabulous  I changed it up just a little, subbing almond milk for water and plain old sea salt for fancier salt

Happier Caramel-la Dip: (Substitute this for Nutella if you or your children are into Nutella)
1 cup dates
2 tablespoons maca powder
pinch of salt, to taste
3/4 cup water, more or less as needed (or almond milk – I ended up adding an additional Tbsp or so)
an equal amount of almond butter to the amount created by the first 4 ingredients
(If you don’t have maca powder, you could try using less liquid, or add a little oat flour as a thickener)

Make sure you use soft, moist dates.  Do not throw hard or dry dates in your blender.  If your dates are a little dry, soak them in a little water or almond milk first (for a couple of hours or more) and then use the soaking liquid and the dates and more liquid as needed to attain thick but creamy consistency.

20141030_112551This date thing is indeed not  about size, but about plumpness and softness.  A nice moist, plump, squishy date is what you want here.  Apply that philosophy where you will and choose the date on the left!

Mix all that stuff up in the blender (a tough blender is recommended).  It’s a bit of a mess but keep at it until you get a nice consistency.  You may have to add a bit more liquid to keep things rolling, just do so a little at a time and scrape  the sides of the blender as needed.

My original intention was for this to be the finished product – start dipping, right?

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Well my husband and I found the mixture a little too sweet and a bit on the smoky side for kids to enjoy.  I added about 1/8th tsp of ginger.  A little better but still not blown away.

Then I took 1/2 cup of this mixture
Blended in 1/2 cup of almond butter

Eh voila

The dipping went from pretty and gentle:

20141030_114221-001 to hand me that last apple slice and move over:

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Actually the addition of the almond butter also made it a lot healthier – much less sugar per bite, plus some protein – Dracula would approve and ask for more – “I vould like some more, please.” :-)

For other sweet dipping sauces, or pancake toppers:

maple cashew butter

Other alternatives to maple syrup at the breakfast table

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Salmonella in Carob, Cashews, and Chiles

FSNBHeads up people. Apparently salmonella can be on just about anything. Z Natural Foods Organic Carob powder recall details here. Deep raw cashew pieces too; details here. A variety of peppers details here. Check your pantry. Check your fridge. Check your friends. Salmonella’s bad news. Eat well, be well friends.

Weekly Meal Plan

Wow are we having some beautiful weather in Mid-Maryland! The trees are changing color. The mornings are crisp and the afternoons are sunny and warm. Oh fall, I love you. This week’s menu is definitely leaning in the fall direction, and probably also shows that we’ve got a wicked cold circulating through the troops. Lots of warm hearty comfort food working its way onto our table. Hope you’re enjoying autumn as much as I am!

Monday: Picadillo with Quinoa and Salad

Tuesday: Oats Risotto with Mushrooms and Walnuts (this month’s Vegetarian Times), Green Beans, Salad

Wednesday: Spinach Chickpea Burgers, Roast Potatoes, Butternut Squash Salad

Thursday:  Korean Varia Bowl with Crispy Rice

Friday: Lentil Casserole, Roast Cauliflower, Salad

Saturday: Homemade Pizza, Raw Veggies

Sunday: Homemade Pizza, Salad

What a delicious looking week. Now I’m hungry…

Chicken and Crabmeat Recalled

FSNBAntioch Farms partially prepared chicken products (sounds appetizing, right?) recalled for possible salmonella. Please see details here. All Natural Jonah Crab Meat recalled for listeria. See here for details, and ignore the picture as it doesn’t seem to match the description of the container being recalled… Eat well, be well friends.

Keeping it Together When the Plan Falls Apart

I’ve shared with you that I’m not necessarily the best meal planner. When I said that, I didn’t really give you the whole picture. The truth is that with planning our culinary landscape, there are a variety of points in the process that can go wrong. 1) No plan at all; 2) an incomplete plan; 3) an unrealistic plan; 4) no grocery list; 5) an incomplete list; 6) an inefficient shop and finally 7) a culinary fail.  Any concerns you have about making something yucky should really take low priority in your worries about food. If you get through to 7, you’ve really run a marathon in my book.

So this week, I made my realistic plan, made a list, and then promptly blew 3 meals on the plan by forgetting to buy tomatoes and onions. Who forgets onions? This “I’m going by my plan and my list no matter what girl.” Daggone alliums didn’t make it on the list. We’ve had a full week here at Lake Domestica, so rather than try to fit in another trip to the store so early in the week, I decided to do some quick shuffling.

Moved burritos to later in the week when I already had errands planned, changed the varia bowl to soup in response to sniffly requests and rather than making potato pancakes, which I love but don’t like to clean up, I switched them out for a lovely, easy and super quick Dreena Burton recipe from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan: Everyday Vegan Recipes Worth Celebrating.  I absolutely love this book. Dreena has a site and tons of books and they are full with a great range of recipes. I’ve found things from the simple to the sublime in this book and it always gives a boost to my plant strong repertoire.

 photo dda1ada6-b9a8-4835-aa0d-6c9eb5c61e71.jpgRather than our favorite potato pancakes, we had Ms. Burton’s Potato Squashers. These are essentially the world’s easiest and simplest twice baked potatoes. Rather than ordinary russets, the recipe calls for Yukon Golds. I used Kennebec Whites as that’s what I grew in the garden. They have some of the same qualities as the Golds in that they are a little waxier and creamier than the russets. At any rate, the basic plan is to bake them to tender. To press on them until they give a bit, dress with olive oil and salt, return to the oven at greater heat so that the exposed and olive oiled flesh browns and crisps. Dead easy and fan flipping tastic. 100% approval rating AND would you believe that Ms. Picky Pants actually wants me to pack leftover potatoes in her  Thermos for lunch? Oh my stars, it’s like a dream come true. A simple delicious dinner that my daughter wants to eat as leftovers at school. I swoon.

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We had our potato squashers with sautéed green beans and a big green salad. Mr. Little Sis and I had ours with our favorite potato condiment, malt vinegar. And just so you know how great these were, I’ll share the greatest part of our dinner – the kids skipped the ketchup. Woot! Thanks Dreena!

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The big lesson? When the plan can no longer be executed, do a little shuffling, move things around, make the best of what you DO have, and check in with your most trust worthy advisors. If you do, you might be eating something as delicious as our dinner. :-)

Serrano Chilis and Dietary Supplements Recalled

FSNBBummer news in perfect chili season…. serranos recalled for possible salmonella. Details here. For serrano-less chili, see our picadillo or 30 minute bean and bulgur chili.

Shark cartilage supplement has also been recalled for salmonella. Shark cartilage? Hunh? Am I missing something great besides possible salmonella? Details here. Eat well, be well friends.

Weekly Meal Plan Plan

The word on the street is that I’m not the only one who struggles to plan my meal scene. After a few weeks of experimenting with a more regimented approach, I have to admit that the results I expected have once again proven true. Planning my meals ahead of time made my life easier in a variety of ways: 1) no last minute scramble, 2) a sensible, shorter, and more complete  grocery shop, and 3) less money spent at the store. What’s not to love about that? With all those pros, it seems like I could hardly fail to plan my meals…. except that I do fail to plan my meals and after a couple of weeks doing just great I stumbled and we had a chaotic week with weird food and greater expenditures at the store.

So, here I am, putting all my meal planning cards on the table. I am going to attempt to post my meal plans here. I’d like to say that I’ll do it every week, and I plan to. I know you’ll understand if life gets the better of me from time to time. Just in case you’ve always wondered how Little Sis’ family eats all week, here you go.

Monday: White Bean and Kale Stew (Kathy Hester’s The Vegan Slow Cooker)

Tuesday: Crock Pot Burritos

Wednesday Potato Pancakes with Cashew Cream & Apple Sauce

Thursday: Asian Varia-Bowls

Friday: Homemade Pizza (Mr. Little Sis is awesome)

Saturday: Dinner at a Friend’s (Yay!)

Sunday: Homemade Pasta (Again, Mr. Little Sis provides)

Yes, that’s a lot of slow cooker going on. We have fall sports going on and I’ve found the Crock Pot to be a great help on these evenings. Nothing better than coming home from the gym or field to great smells and hearty dinners. As for the planning, I know there are a lot of systems out there. I am a luddite. Here’s my meal planning system.

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Not terribly high tech, but totally user friendly and CHEAP. So I make a plan and then make a grocery list from the list. Has taken less than 40 minutes every time.

So there you have it. All planned up and grocery store bound at some point.Here’s to better grocery trips and home cooked meals! Ta Da!

Porridge Got A Bad Rap… Polenta with White Beans and Kale

Pease porridge hot

Pease porridge cold

Pease porridge in the pot

Nine days old.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that I am of the last generation to learn this little gem from 1760. Whenever I hear the word porridge, this little ditty goes through my head. The really interesting part is that pease porridge bears nearly zero resemblance to what most of us think of as porridge these days. Pease porridge is, if I may draw an ill fitting comparison for the purposes of illustration, much more like hummus than like porridge. As I understand it, pease porridge was legumes cooked, mushed and flavored (onions, olive oil, maybe meat if it was available). When we talk about porridge today, what most people mean is a grain cooked in liquid until the two do some magic to make a soft warm bowl that is neither liquid nor entirely solid. Deeply satisfying, warming, wholesome and hearty.

As you likely already know, the Sis sisters are huge fans of porridge in its traditional Western breakfast form – a little sweetness added to cooked grains. We’ve already shared pumpkin apple steel cut oats, chocolate oatmeal, and quinoa porridge, to name just a few. Apparently the Scottish are the kings and queens of porridge, and porridge has starred in a number of culinary competitions, including the recent London Porridge Championships, not to be confused with the World Porridge Making Championships… who knew? All this attention being paid to the production of and the adornment of porridge makes those packets of precut, highly sugared, not really that much more convenient than the real thing oatmeal seem a little, well, lame (more thoughts on reasons to ditch “instant” oatmeal here).

Aside from bolstering my own love affair with oatmeal, this story of the London Porridge Championships reminded me of a historical culinary truth that I keep forgetting before I can implement it in my own kitchen. Porridge can be savory. Oh yes, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore, in fact it never was. Old cookbooks are full of recipes for savory cooked grains for lunch and dinner. We eat a lot of rice around here, and frankly a savory porridge might be just the thing our varia bowls need every now and again. And so I decided it was time for a savory porridge experiment… but how to approach it to best hedge my bets with Ms. Picky Pants?

I settled on polenta photo a313cca6-c072-4607-8036-92e5599d8d40.jpg. I didn’t want to potentially diminish the power of oatmeal in the morning here by having an oatmeal fail. Polenta’s creaminess and corniness seemed promising for my corny crowd. Mediterranean flavors tend to fare well… seemed like a good bet all around. And so, while not perhaps a traditional Scottish porridge, a grain cooked in liquid to creamy perfection is indeed what polenta is. Topped with white beans and kale? Oh yes, please.

I made this delightful dish from Patrice at Circle B Kitchen. I followed the recipe pretty closely (I AM capable, just usually not willing) except that I cut the animal products out of the polenta by replacing the liquids for cooking the polenta with 3 cups of veggie broth and 1 c coconut milk. I also ditched the cheese in favor of a smaller amount of nutritional yeast. Butter gone, olive oil in. Done. Vegan polenta. Admittedly less creamy in fat feel, but still super creamily delish. And the perfect base for white beans with kale. Thanks Patrice, for a lovely dinner and a baby step down the road to porridge for dinner.

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150 Food Products Recalled

FSNBI’m reasonably certain that what is meant here is not that 150 individual items were recalled, but rather 150 different kinds of prepared foods have been recalled. I can’t find any specific number of the total being recalled, and I’m going to admit I might be glad about that at the moment. 150 Food Products. I DO love when it’s called a food product. At any rate, these particular food products may have listeria, so you may want to give this list a check, especially if you live in the South and eat any one of 150 different types of food products. Eat well, be well friends.

What Makes It Halloween for You?

 photo IMG_0830.jpgI saw purple candy corn the other day at the store. Purple candy corn. For me that is wrong on so many levels, but I should confess that I am not, nor have I ever been a lover of candy corn. It is, after all, just sugar, corn syrup, and marshmallow. Yeah, I didn’t know about the marshmallow either. And really, that’s mostly just more sugar and corn syrup (I love it when they have both). At any rate, I didn’t mean to go on specifically about the candy corn, but the purple stuff got me to wondering. How did we get here? How did Halloween come to be a night to go gather an enormous bag of candy? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know my kids usually come home when their load is too heavy to carry any more.

What is Halloween about? That’s the funny bit. It seems that the march of time, cultural domination, and social realities have made Halloween about everything and nothing at all, all at the same time – a characteristic I would argue many of our holidays share at times. Halloween WAS about the fading of the sun, the rise of the dark. Then it was about honoring the dead. Then it was about pranks, and then, family fun (and CANDY).

As with all of our holidays, I sense that we sometimes forget what they CAN mean, and get caught up in a bit of what they seem to mean – thus the multiple aisles devoted to candy (as opposed to just the usual two) and the rush on costumes that have nothing to do with any of the original purposes of Halloween (lest you think I am throwing too many stones, I confess that I will be sending Elsa the Snow Queen out in a largely purchased costume because I couldn’t stand to say no to something else). I am taking this minute, right here in front of you like a intellectual and philosophical exhibitionist, to remind myself that I get to do Halloween my way, too.

This day of madness and mayhem gets to be whatever my family and I decide it should be. When I think back to Halloweens in my past, I remember with the greatest fondness being paraded around the neighborhood by Big Sis, coached about how best to approach the doorbell, and defended from the couple of neighborhood punks who sought to lighten my load. I remember costumes that were put together, fashioned as a project with my Mom; they were never perfect, but they were fun, and I remember feeling great about them. I remember crunching in the leaves, turning on the flashlight when the dark became too much, and moping on the occasions when I was forced to wear a coat over my beloved costume. I remember my Mom making salty roasted pumpkin seeds. And finally, I remember my neighbor’s popcorn balls. I would have given up everything else in that bag for another of those popcorn balls.

So where does that leave me in my own celebrations? What traditions do I wish to highlight, to start, to pass on? How is this night of candy hoarding about me and my family (cause I really do need everything to be about me ;-))?

 photo IMG_0825.jpgOur costumes will be hybrid. I bought big parts. We will use face paint and other special bits to make them extra awesome. We will work together and talk about the costumes to get them just so, to eke every bit of pleasure out of the dressing up that we can. We will decorate with creepy things to remind ourselves that death is a part of this great life as we stomp through the leaves that have indeed begun to fall. We will celebrate the abundance of the late harvest by picking pumpkins and roasting their seeds, maybe even making some pesto with them. And I am going to attempt to make popcorn balls without corn syrup (I’m looking at these, but have not settled for sure), in honor of the woman who I suspect kept my mother sane during my early years. I will hand out popcorn balls in a small bag with our name and address on it so people won’t be afraid to eat them and if we run out, there will be plenty of spider rings, glow sticks, and maybe a little dark chocolate for the truly worthy.

And when it’s all over, I’ll break the news to my kids that they can’t keep ALL the candy. They will not be surprised as I’ve been working up to it, and they still have some from last year. This year, we will take advantage of the candy buy back at a local dentist, and they will send it to our troops. Sounds like a good plan to me. Happy almost Halloween!