Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vegan Andes Mints

I don't know what has happened lately that's caused to me to suddenly stop posting here! I really need to get back into the habit soon! I've had this recipe ready to post for a while, but I was just waiting for it to be a little closer to Valentine's Day, because really, what's a better way to win a vegan's heart than with homemade chocolate mints (hint, hint)? 

I'm not gonna lie, Andes Mints are one of the few foods I've missed an awful lot since going vegan. They were absolutely delicious, such a fantastic combination of rich, sweet flavors. And they always were such a nice surprise, showing up at unexpected places (on top of pillows at hotels, with the receipt at Olive Garden, etc.). After three years without being eating an Andes Mint, I finally decided it was time to make my own. At first, it seemed like a pretty easy task, but there was a problem! The middle layer is white chocolate. I know there's vegan white chocolate brands available online (none are available in stores in my area), but I have never had to special order ingredients and I really don't want to ever have to. I thought maybe I could make my own white chocolate, but every recipe I found required cocoa butter, another ingredient I would have to order. So I gave up. But a couple weeks ago, I decided I would make something totally unlike white chocolate and use it instead - and, to my delight, it turned out to be very much like white chocolate! It doesn't necessarily have the same appearance as white chocolate, but it has a very similar smell and taste (well, until you add the peppermint, of course). Of course, I didn't ate white chocolate very often in my pre-vegan days, so maybe it's not as similar as I claim it it...however, it's delicious, and that makes it worth trying! As for the chocolate layer, recipe credit goes to the lovely Chocolate-Covered Katie.

Vegan Andes Mints

Chocolate Layer
  • 1/4 cup cocoa (or carob) powder
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

White Chocolate Layer
  • 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
  • 1 tablespoon sifted soya powder or soy milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon organic powdered sugar or 1 tablespoon stevia for baking (such as Stevia In The Raw Bakers Bag)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint extract

1) Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Place in freezer to keep cool. 

2) In a small bowl, mix together chocolate ingredients until completely smooth. Remove pan from freezer, then spread about one half of the chocolate into the pan, making a square about 5 or 6 inches long. Place in freezer for at least 10 minutes.

3) Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix together white chocolate ingredients until completely smooth, being sure to sift the soya powder. Remove pan from freezer (assuming it's been there for 10 minutes already) and carefully spread all of the white chocolate on top of the regular chocolate. Immediately put back in the freezer and leave for another 10 minutes.

4) Finally, once the time is up, remove from freezer once more, and cover with remaining chocolate. Then put it back in the freezer and freeze for 10 minutes, or until it's completely solid.

5) When you cut the chocolate, use a very sharp, large knife (such as a butcher's knife) and cut it in quick movements.  It will crack, as you can see in my pictures, but hey, it tastes good and that's what really matters, right? If you happen to have some green foil and lots of patience, you can wrap up these cute little chocolate to look just like real Andes mints. Whatever you decide to do, you must keep these frozen because they melt pretty quickly. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Almond Butter

I suppose I should make up some excuses as to why I haven't made a post in almost two weeks - I've been busy with school, I've had an awful ear infection, I've been making meals out of my new cookbooks I got for Christmas rather than making up my own recipes to post, I've had a food blogger's version of writer's block, I'm actually just incredibly lazy, etc. I really have been cooking even more than usual lately, thanks to my newfound love, Veganomicon. I adore that cookbook and I have no idea what I used to do without it! There are so many fantastic recipes, with so many helpful tips and tools (the sections on how to cook grains and beans has saved me from much Google searching). Almost every recipe includes good ideas as to what would be good served with the specific meal you're cooking; there's even a menu section in the back with pre-planned meal ideas, with entrees, sides, soups, salads, desserts, and everything. This is definitely my favorite cookbook, and everything I've made so far has been great.

I've also been enjoying using my new food processor, and I use it at least once a day for something. Such as: 

Almond Butter

  • 4 to 6 ounces/1 to 2 cups (really as much as you want) raw or roasted almonds

So this is what I did: In my food processor, I ground up the nuts on a high speed until it turned into a sort of powder. I changed it to a medium speed and let it go for 10 to 15 minutes — it will thicken, then turn into a ball, and, eventually, right when you're about to give up because you think you did something wrong, it will magically transform into a smooth butter. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

This is a pretty versatile recipe, and you can use most other types of nuts. You can also add salt (or just use salted nuts) or some syrup. 

Had I known I was going to post this recipe, I would have taken photos of each step in the process, but I didn't. Thankfully, someone else already did.

I won't be taking another long break for a while! I already have several chocolate recipes ready in time for Valentines Day. :) 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Vanilla Cake with Banana-Coconut Frosting (Sugar-Free)

Well, it's been almost two weeks since 2013 started, and I still haven't eaten any (refined) sugar. I don't really agree with the concept of "new years resolutions", however, I have been making several decisions lately for my physical and mental health, and one of them has been to cut back on sugar. As you can probably tell, I not only have a major sweet tooth, but I also love to bake. That puts me in a bad situation as I've realized cane sugar has some pretty noticeable side effects for me; it gives me terrible migraines, heartburn, mood swings, and fatigue. Also I'm sure it's not particularly beneficial for my psoriasis (or Crohn's!). So I'm trying to stop eating refined sugar, or cane sugar, except maybe the occasional treat on a birthday or holiday. I've been hearing a lot of nasty stuff about agave nectar lately, so I doubt I'll be using that much either (which is such a bummer considering it's so much cheaper than the other alternative sweeteners). I still eat maple syrup and brown rice syrup, but hopefully some day I will cut back significantly on my intake of those too; I'm taking this one step at a time.

This cake is pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself. Not only does it taste great, but it's the perfect consistency (not even a sugar-eating omnivore would be able to guess it's sugar-, egg-, and dairy-free!). Even if you choose to use a different frosting, this cake a fabulous base. It can easily be doubled (or tripled!) to make a layer cake. This recipe is modified from the book More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally, but I changed it enough that I feel okay posting it. The frosting recipe was inspired by this recipe by Chocolate Covered Katie, only I changed it somewhat, mostly because coconut butter is definitely not sold near me and my food processor is not cooperative when I try to make my own. It's not exactly the prettiest color in the world, and I would recommend decorating the top with coconut. Of course, if you're not so strict about avoiding sugar, you could use a different frosting, but this stuff really does have a good flavor and I would recommend trying it. 

Vanilla Cake
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, or other mild-tasting oil
  • 5 tablespoons pure maple syrup or agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1) Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly oil a circular 8-inch cake pan.

2) In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

3) In another medium bowl, mix together oil, syrup, milk, vanilla, almond extract, lemon zest, and vinegar until completely combined. 

4) Add liquids to flour mixture and stir until combined and no lumps remain.

5) Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

6) Cool on a wire rack in pan for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and let cake rest on rack until completely cool.

Meanwhile, prepare frosting:

Banana-Coconut Frosting
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (okay I have to admit I didn't measure this at all, so have at least 1 cup available, but you might not need it all)
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, or more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of salt

1) In a blender or food processor, blend banana until smooth. 

2) Add 2/3 cup coconut flakes and combine. At this point, it should be about the consistency of frosting (not smooth, obviously, because of the coconut, but the same thickness); if it seems too liquidy to be spread on cake, add a bit more coconut. 

3) Add maple syrup, extracts, lemon zest, and salt and mix until combined. 

4) Refrigerate until ready to use (it tastes best cold).

To assemble cake, frost with banana frosting, then sprinkle on some extra coconut flakes and lemon zest. 

Enjoy immediately or refrigerate until serving.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Orange-Banana Smoothie

I have to admit that, even though I live in Maine, I don't like winter. I mean, I enjoy cold weather and snow for a week or two, but by the time Christmas is over, I'm ready for spring. There's something about walking through the icy snow to get into a freezing car in the morning that just isn't pleasant. So on particularly cold days I usually end up subconsciously making summery drinks. Such as today, when I made this drink. I don't know what to call it. It's almost similar to an Orange Julius, but then again, maybe I'm wrong, since I've only had one once in my life and it was several years ago. It is just sweet enough and the lemon and vanilla add some nice subtle flavors. I was really pleased at how foamy it became after blending it for a minute or two. You can feel free to add ground flaxseeds or protein powder if you'd like.

Orange-Banana Smoothie
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup nondairy milk
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup or other sweetener
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup ice

1) In a food processor or blender, puree banana for one minute or until smooth. 

2) Blend in orange juice and nondairy milk until combined. 

3) Add maple syrup, lemon juice, and a vanilla and pulse several times to combine.

4) Add ice and blend for 1 to 2 minutes, until no chunks of ice remain. 

Serves 2 to 3

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reflecting on My Health & Diet in 2012

I can't believe it's already a new year! 2012 seemed to go by so quickly. I spent the first half of the year totally focused on my trip, fundraising, shopping, daydreaming, you name it. After I got back from Europe and had finally accepted the fact that I live in America and not a beautiful city in the Mediterranean, I began to spend most of my free time researching nutrition and plant-based diets. Up until this summer, I was still eating Oreos, Ritz Crackers, and all junk food that can technically be classified as "vegan". I had never heard of seitan and spinach was my least favorite food (which is a shock, considering I eat it at least two times a day now). There were a few things this summer that sparked my desire to try a true plant-based diet. While I was overseas, I do remember the food being one of the most fascinating aspects of the trip. Everything we ate was so pure, whole, organic. I had always hated tomatoes, but in Greece and Italy the tomatoes tasted like an entirely different food. And so did the cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, apricots, cherries, plums... When I got home, I knew I had to find those flavors again and that was when I discovered I can get equally delicious fruits and vegetables at farmer's markets and farm stands. All of these exciting new ingredients challenged and inspired me to eat differently.

Another reason I started a plant-based diet was to get my health in order. Rewind back about a month or two before my trip. I was finishing up all final preparations to travel (I had my suitcase packed weeks ahead of time of course) when, in a matter of days, my entire body broke out in an awful rash. It didn't itch or hurt or anything, it was just there, and it was the most traumatic thing I could imagine as I was preparing to leave for three weeks on a trip where I had hoped I could truly be myself and make new friends. I rushed to a dermatologist who said I had developed psoriasis as a reaction to the Remicade I was on for Crohn's disease (which is awfully ironic, considering Remicade is often used to treat psoriasis). He prescribed some lotions which certainly reduced the patches, but it became a battle of chasing the psoriasis around my body, as it would come and go in spots but never truly go away. I had the most difficulty treating it on my scalp, and I began losing hair - lots of hair; eventually, I couldn't even go out in public without wearing a bandana or spending an hour trying to cover each bald patch with bobby pins. Anyway, this summer, as I dealt with the realization that I had been diagnosed with a second chronic auto-immune disease, I knew it was time for me to do something on my own.

My dermatologist and my GI doctor didn't get along. He wanted me to go off the Remicade, she didn't. My Crohn's had been in remission for two years, ever since I started the medication (also when I originally went vegan..hmm), so I definitely understood her viewpoint; but it was making me go bald, and as a fifteen year old girl I knew I couldn't stay on it. So that was when I started really getting interested in health, nutrition, and various diets. I watched about a billion health documentaries on NetFlix, dabbled in macrobiotics and gluten-free, and finally decided on a plant-based diet: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Originally I had thought this diet would restrict my food choices even further, and I suppose it technically has, but it doesn't bother me at all because I no longer consider the things I don't eat as food. To me, animal products are not food - they are a sentient being's flesh, they are products belonging to the creatures who created them, they are not my food. Processed and artificial substances are not food - they look like food, they taste like food, but they are not food. This change made me fall in love with the vegan lifestyle all over again. Cooking became my favorite hobby and I even started a food blog to share my thoughts and recipes. :-)

After a few months of eating whole plant foods and feeling like an entirely new person, I had a endoscopy/colonoscopy, and my GI doctor said that my colon was basically as healthy as a colon could be for a Crohn's patient. She gave me her full permission to stop using Remicade (at that point I had actually not had a Remicade infusion for about four months, so it was pretty much completely out of my body). For the first time since I was ten, I was finally able to go off Crohn's medications. It has been so liberating. But at the same time, it's terrifying, knowing that if I ever mess up my diet significantly enough, I could send my body into a flare up. Since then, I have been working so hard to make sure I eat well, and my diet is improving every day. My psoriasis has been gradually improving too; around Christmas, I noticed that I could wear my hair loose without having any bald patches show for the first time since summer (which was odd since only a few weeks before, the hair loss seemed to be at it's worst). I only have a few patches now, and they are so minimal that I hardly notice them. I don't know if my psoriasis will ever go away completely, but I hope that as I continue to eat better food and improve my lifestyle, my symptoms will continue to diminish. Through these experiences over the past year, I've learned to willingly accept the challenges life presents me, and instead of letting them build up and overwhelm me, to face them head on and give them a challenge of their own.

Pictured above (my favorite things I cooked this week!):

Chickpea Romesco served on Garlic-Saffron Rice from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

No-Bake Brownie Bites (sweetened by dates, best tasting things ever actually) from Vegan Junk Food by Lane Gold

Hamburger Buns from this recipe, using vegan versions (so far this is the best hamburger bun recipe I've tried but it was much more dense then your typical store-bought hamburger was more like a roll)

Black Bean Burgers also from Veganomicon, served with those fancy hamburger buns and some homemade baked french fries