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. Continue reading

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. :-)

Dump the Unhappy

Dump the Unhappy

just not in the ocean… the fish don’t need it either.

For tips on giving up soda and other sugary drinks, see Baby Step #1. You don’t have to dump it in the ocean to get off the fizzy stuff. We can help.

Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils

 photo DSC01007.jpgAs you can imagine, when I find myself in a food rut, I turn to the blogger community for a little boost. I’ve found some lovely meals this way. This find, however, deserves a little more than a “lovely” title. Batter Licker’s Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils were a culinary revelation, and not just because it’s another lentil dish although that may be part of it. ;-)

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working on planning my meals a little more carefully. Big Sis has a great system and is really good about making meal plans and following them. My intentions are good, but in all honestly I usually don’t make it to the finish line on this particular goal. As a result I spend more at the store than I should and I waste a lot of time late in the day coming up with a last minute fix (although some of these have turned out quite well).  In planning, I also provide myself with the opportunity to try to incorporate some new meals using ingredients I already have or know how to work with rather than scrambling at the last minute to follow someone else’s instructions. A few weeks ago Asian Cabbage Rolls made it onto my plan and BOY am I glad they did.

These rolls are warm and satisfying without leaving you feeling loaded up and weighed down. The lentils work beautifully with the Asian flavors. I can’t say enough about how much Mr. Little Sis and I enjoyed this dish. At first glance the dish looked complicated, but really, the only tricky part is making the rolls themselves. The rest of the procedure is pretty similar to making any simple bean dish. The only changes I made to this recipe were ditching the egg (something the original author said she’d do next time), switching out the sugar for maple syrup in the sauce, and decreasing the chile in the sauce in favor of adding it at table for the sake of the little people.

This lovely meal goes something like this. There is admittedly a bit of chopping. And if you don’t have leftover rice and cooked lentils, that needs to be done as well. May I suggest you start the rice first, then the lentils, then the chopping and gathering of other ingredients and preheating the oven. Mark Bittman has rightly criticized the overly organized French method of mise en place, and I suddenly realized, upon finding out what his book was about, that I should have written that a while ago… another missed opportunity. ;-) I digress. The point is, start the longest bits first, then prep the rest. It’s efficient, and still yummy.

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After the chopping and cooking, there is some combining and then the fiddly part, the daggone cabbage wrap bit. I have tried making various cabbage rolls before and had all manner of trouble getting them to roll and stay rolled. I now have a trick, which I will share with you so you don’t curse and stomp in your kitchen. When you choose a cabbage leaf, get a big one that is not torn. Then chop a couple of inches off the bottom where it connects to the head. What you’re trying to do is to get rid of the thickest, toughest part of the cabbage leaf, you know the part that won’t roll. Get rid of it and you know what? They roll. IMagine that. The next part of the trick is to use a kitchen utensil to hold those rolls in place as you create them and place them in your dish.

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There you go. Awesome tricks so you can now make cabbage rolls – Asian ones, Polish ones, Italian ones, whatever you want. Cut the inflexible bit and hold everything in place. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I’ll find it after I eat more of these. Delish!

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Slow Cooker Herbed Beans and Barley

The weather has been doing its transitional season flip flop around here. One week it’s summer, one week it’s fall with a little scent of winter in the mornings. And with the change of seasons comes the change of activities that makes the challenge of family dining a very real one. While I limit my kids to one after school activity, because there are two of them, we are still on a wacky schedule for two of the five weekend nights. Monday Ms. Picky Pants does gymnastics from 5-6 and Tuesdays my increasingly gigantic son plays T-Ball from 6-7. These times bookend our usual dinner time.

Because there’s no way my gentle giant of a boy could make it through T-Ball without dinner, we simply eat early on those days. Monday is more challenging as there’s no way we could eat in time for a 5 o’clock practice. And so, given these complications AND the drop in temperature, there is no better time than now to bring the slow cooker out of the corner cabinet and keep it in semi-permanent residence on the counter. Preparing the meal the night before, or in the morning and letting it cook all day allows us to eat at whatever time and frees me up during the crucial times for chauffeuring and cheering responsibilities (I especially like the cheering part).

Our favorite new slow cooker recipe was an improvisation of mine, a pantry wonder that is sure to become a regular in our house. I’ve used kidney beans because I had them on hand, and because I think they’re so good looking (that’s weird, isn’t it). I imagine just about any bean would work here, although this one time I’d steer you away from lentils as they do tend to mushify a bit and the pearl barley is already providing a creaminess that benefits from a little more substance in the bean department. White beans, black beans, chickpeas would all be great. This dish was so simple and satisfying. The gentle giant just LOVED it.

Slow Cooker Herbed Beans & Barley

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  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
  • 3 c kidney beans (soaked overnight or quick soaked*)
  • 1 1/2 c pearl barley
  • 5 c veggie broth
  • 1-2 t thyme
  • 2 t red wine vinegar
  • 2 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm olive oil in pan on stove. Add onions and celery. Sauté until onions are nearly translucent. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute or so. Place sautéed veggies in crock pot with all the other ingredients. Turn on low. Cook for 5-6 hours. Yes, that’s it. Stir, season to taste, and serve on a bed of deep greens. Spicy fans may enjoy a little hot sauce. I like it both ways. Delish.

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* Quick soaking beans requires bringing the beans to a boil, allowing them to really boil for 2 minutes, and then leaving them in the hot water for an hour, then rinse and use for cooking. They will not be tender as they are not fully cooked yet, but will not be little rocks anymore.

Fall Recipe Parade – Yes, there’s some pumpkin

It’s that time of year – one of the many that sneaks up on me each and every year. While it is still sunny and warm here in mid-Maryland, I am apparently supposed to desperately want pumpkin everything. And honestly, I’m okay with that (except for the coffee thing, I don’t get it – but to each her own coffee). Here at the pantry we do have a healthy love of pumpkin. We also love the other flavors of fall and the opportunity to break out those super warming dishes as the temperatures begin to drop. To welcome this season of bounty and cool nights, we offer you a treasure trove of autumn yum. Most of these recipes are both gluten and dairy free. :-)

Morning Warmer Uppers

  

1. Pumpkin French Toast

2. Dark Chocolate Steel Cut Oats

3. Sweet Potato Apple Oats

Mains

  

4. Slow Cooker Burritos

5. Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala 

6. Sweet Potato Chili with Greens

Sides

  

7. Amazing Applesauce

8. Herbed Bulghur Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Cranberries

9. Waldorf Saute

Sweet Endings

  

10. Super Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies

11. Walnut Crust Apple Pie

12. Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

Yay for pumpkins and apples, for warm afternoons and cool mornings, for low humidity and crunchy leaves, for new pencils and new schedules. Here’s to fall and wonderful food, family, and friends. Delish!

Bee Bim Bop – Korean Stir Fry

This dinner has a lovely beginning.  Before the sauteing, before the boiling, before the chopping…. before the garden and the grocery store.  Before all that came the children’s book.  My son and I stumbled on this lovely book in our neighborhood library when he was 5.

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The book tells the tale of a little girl shopping with her mother to purchase the ingredients for a Korean dish called Bee Bim Bop.  It rhymes and bounces along happily and on the very last page there awaits a recipe.  My then 5 year old son wanted to try it.  So we did and it has been a staple at our house in the 9 years since we read the book :-)

The recipe can be made with or without meat, although I do believe that the egg is a wonderful addition.  I make it with veggies and egg now, but I used to use chicken.

Whichever way you try it, it’s delicious and if you have small children, this book is a great place to start to introduce them to something new.  In fact, it would make a lovely time to read it and then cook it together.  Nothing says try me like something you’ve cooked yourself!

This is my take on the recipe from the book – meatless and, in true Pantry style – with the veggies I had on hand.

Ingredients:
2 cups brown rice
2 cloves of garlic
4 scallions, sliced, including most of the green
5 Tbsp soy sauce (I use Bragg’s liquid aminos)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used avocado)
1 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon roasted (or raw) sesame seeds (optional)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 carrots
a head of broccoli cut into florets
2 cups fresh spinach
4 eggs
salt and pepper
Tabasco sauce

If you want to use meat, then cut down the amount of vegetables and mix the garlic, soy sauce, scallions, sugar and sesame oil and marinate while cutting veggies / doing other prep.

Set rice to cooking at the beginning so it will be done in time.

Scramble the eggs and set aside – get out small fry pan to cook a thin layer of egg 4 times.  Oil the bottom as necessary for your pan.

For meatless version:

Mix soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds, sesame oil and pepper.

Place vegetable oil in a frying pan and saute the minced or pressed garlic and the scallions.

Cook until translucent and fragrant.  Add the chopped veggies.

While veggies cook (not too long – keep ‘em green and bright!) Pour 1/4 egg into pan at a time and cook about 1 minute each side.

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When all 4 ‘omelettes’ are done, stack them and slice into ribbons.  I usually cut into ribbons and ten cut the ribbons in half.

Turn off the heat on your veggies and add the spinach. Stir it in to wilt.

Serve over rice with egg strips on top – and a bit of tabasco makes a wonderful addition to this.  If you want to be authentic you serve Kim Chee with it – a Korean spicy fermented cabbage that can be purchased ready made in many places.

Mix it all up – that’s what bee-bim means, ‘Mix mix’.

The original recipe encourages you to cook each item separately and then allow people to choose what they want.  That’s a lovely way to do it but on most nights I’m thinking, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”  But if you do it’s yet another way to engage hesitant eaters…. at least they have a little say on what goes in the bowl!

Nice alternative veggies would be cabbage, mung bean sprouts would be good on top, or other hearty greens.

However you do it – this is a wonderful alternative taste to stir-fry.

To serve, put bowls of all the different meal components on the table and allow each family member to serve themselves. Pile the meat and veggies on top of the rice and top with the egg. Add some of the “gravy” from the cooked meat. Finally, mix (remember, “bee-bim” means “mix”) everything together. And enjoy!

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Why Should I Eat Something I Don’t Like?

Indeed.  Why should my son who asked that question of me?  Why should I?  It got me thinking about ‘First World Problems’ and starving children, but, let’s be honest.  Generations of parents have tried to convince their children that they should eat something nasty just because there are people in the world who would be happy to have that nasty thing which is WAY better than nothing.  But it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work for children OR adults.  Empathy is not the forte of the young, especially when it really doesn’t make sense.  It is sad that others do not have enough to eat, or what they want to eat, but my son will say that if there is something he prefers right there in the cabinet, then why can’t he have that right now?  He knows what he eats for dinner won’t affect that poor child’s hunger either way.  So how to answer that question for him, and for myself.  In a culture that emphasizes choice, reward and satisfaction, why shouldn’t we always have something we like to eat?

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I chose a picture of broccoli because my son used to hate broccoli. The only way we could get him to eat it was to allow him to put ketchup on it (Bleah!) He still does not love it, but he eats it, without complaint, and without ketchup ;-)

I’ve got 3 responses to share with my son and myself:

A) You can acquire a taste for things / change your taste for things;

B) You have 1 body which you would like to be able to navigate through as much of this world / life as possible; and my personal favorite….

C) Because I made it and we’re all sitting down here together to eat it, dammit!  i.e. this is about more than your personal satisfaction.

I know, that’s all a bit flippant, so allow me to expand…

A) Indeed you can acquire a taste for things and even lose a taste for things!  I recently splurged on a purchase of some fancy Italian ice cream which was labelled chocolate / peanut butter.  Who knew the fancy Italian ice cream would have little peanut butter cup candies in it?  My mother will think I’m lying, but I removed the candy peanut butter cups because they were too sweet.  They made the ice cream cloyingly sweet to me, so I didn’t eat them.  Mind you, I used to ADORE Reese’s peanut butter cups.  They were my candy of choice and Younger Big-Bro could always get a good trade out of me at Halloween if he had Reese’s cups to offer.  However, I have lost my taste for milk chocolate and heavy duty sweets because I stopped eating them and learned to love other things that are not so sweet instead.  It can happen.  It took awhile!  Baby Steps friends, remember to take Baby Steps – small changes a bit at a time, like reducing amount or cutting it with something.  With chocolate you can slowly switch over to darker chocolate.  For more info on making switches – either fast or slow, see Baby Step #1 The Ol’ Switcheroo, or Baby Steps Boost which makes suggestions for how to take Baby Steps away from some common unhealthy foods.

It can also happen that people’s taste buds change as as they mature and as they age.  Little Sis will tell you that Miss Picky Pants (my adorable niece) has taste buds that can change overnight ;-)  If they haven’t tried it in awhile, have them try it again.  And not the touch the corner of the fork with your tongue and then make a face try.  An actual try that involves a bite, followed by chewing and swallowing.  We require 2 bites because the first one is still colored by negative expectations, or a poor guess.  This rule goes for adults also.  As a precursor to answer ‘C’ I say, “Put your Big Girl Panties on and just eat it – it won’t hurt you even if you don’t like it.”

B) If children were left to eat without any input, some of them just might develop some serious nutritional deficiencies.  Heck, many adults have serious nutritional deficiencies.  Personally I am low in iron.  I try to eat greens and cook in a cast iron pan to amend that situation.  I’m sure you know the basics of balancing protein, carbohydrates and including lots of veggies and fruits.  Perhaps more information about what nutrients are in our food and what those nutrients do for us would help allay the tendency to eat pizza every night.  Check out some resources for nutrient information:
– Charts on the nutrients in fruits, vegetables and fish
– 
An extensive list of foods and the nutrients they contain – this is a pdf booklet – you have to go through about 10 pages of other info before you get to the chart, but it is a good resource.

As we mentioned in the Baby Step on getting your kids engaged with change, try to tie in their personal goals with their food intake.  In other words, if they want to be an athlete stress the nutrients needed to help them get stronger and to grow healthfully.  If they want to do well in school stress the foods that will feed their brains….

Understanding the physiological need for a variety of healthy foods and the physiological benefits of a variety of healthy foods can be helpful in convincing yourself and others to eat things that are not your first, or even second or third choice.

C) Eating is about more than personal satisfaction.  It is part of the ritual of converting the bounty of the planet into bountiful community.  It takes a village to feed one gaping maw.  Recognizing the involvement of community, family or personal involvement on the resulting meal or even packed lunch takes a little emphasis off the pleasure and places it back on the living, necessity of eating.  So when our culture shines through in my son’s belief that he is entitled to have something delicious every time he eats, I can try to re-focus him on all of the reasons and all of the work that goes into feeding people.  Little Sis’ family starts the evening meal with some thanks to the one who prepared the meal.  What a great way to re-focus the meal on the bounty of being fed…. the bounty of having good nutrition…. and the bounty of being together and taking care of each other.

Should we live to eat? or eat to live?

Here at the Pantry we usually fall in the middle on such spectrums of possibility.  It surely seems too stringent to do either exclusively.  But there is definitely room in most of our lives for a little more eating to live.  Such a blessing to even have a choice!

Pleasing Picky Pants…Oven Baked Carrot Fries

I have an unwritten policy as regards dinner planning in my house. It’s important to remind you all that I am the mother of one VERY picky eater. When I say picky I don’t just mean that she makes faces when she eats or that she really loves the foods that all children love most.  When I say picky I mean my daughter has about 5 foods in the world that she enjoys, the rest is either nearly tolerable or yucky. We spend a LOT of time in nearly tolerable. When I plan a few days worth of meals I attempt to ensure that at least every few days I make something that Ms. Picky Pants might actually almost enjoy (even if it’s not one of the top 5). If I know the main dish isn’t anywhere near the top 5, I try to make up for it with sides she might like to ensure some level of dinner time tranquility. Which brings us to tonight.

Having backed myself into a grocery corner by running out of time yesterday, I was committed to having my beloved nutshroom burgers. I should mention that Mr. Little Sis and I both love these. My son is not enthusiastic, but is accepting. My daughter USED to love these burgers. That’s the other thing I should tell you about the top 5 foods Ms. Picky Pants enjoys. They rotate out on a daily basis. I’m not making this up. In response to “I thought you liked this dish sweetie,” my daughter will say “I DID like it before, but I DON’T like it today.” Yes, she is going to be the death of me. You can, perhaps, now also see why I don’t accommodate her preferences more than I do. I’d have to actually know what her preferences are on that day to even consider accommodating her. I digress.

 photo IMG_0670.jpgIn order to make the nutshroom burger dinner a pleasant experience I had decided to make oven fries. Many problems can be solved with my oven fries. When the time came to get started this evening, I realized that I had failed to procure the needed spuds. My own garden spuds are not quite ready for fry size, so I decided to do some creative improvising. Internet search engine to the rescue. Carrot fries coming up, thanks to William Sonoma. Continue reading

Help for Hummingbirds : Kids & Real Food

I am feeling it a little bit lately, although I am trying to dodge and weave and can’t get ‘it’ in focus.  Like the hummingbird outside the window I just tried to photograph to share with you,  things are feeling kind of fuzzy.  I know that if I open the front door to get a shot from the front porch, she will probably fly away so I am enjoying her and will let you imagine her vibrant green back and her tiny wings that look thick with frenzied speed while the rest of her stays steady and immobile.  Apparently my steady, immobile persona still fools friends who are surprised anytime (and everytime) we eat anything less than perfectly nutritious, yet my wings are getting a bit tired with the attempt to provide healthy, real food in this culture.  So my hard edges as The Food Regulator (TFR) are beginning to blur a bit.

There is a hummingbird out there valiantly staying afloat against all odds.

There is a hummingbird out there valiantly staying afloat against all odds.

Not to complain, but between work, graduate school, TaeKwonDo (which my son and I do together) and home and family, I am starting to wear down a little.  I don’t tell you this for sympathy or “pride of busy-ness” (the 8th deadly sin),but because I am sure that many of you are similarly stretched.  There just isn’t enough time in the day to do all of the cooking and gardening that I used to do and would like to do.  So I have decided that a little controlled erosion is in order lest the whole mountain be undermined and bury us in an avalanche of mcnuggets, doritos and moon pies. Continue reading