Monday, October 26, 2015

I want to make all things pumpkin

I don't know who all these people are that keep saying they are "so over" the pumpkin craze. Because I am not. I am so not over pumpkin. Pumpkin is a fall vegetable that I love eating at this time of year. And this is a super easy dip that has been causing everyone in my family to look forward to an afternoon snack of apple slices.   

5-Ingredient Creamy Pumpkin Dip
Makes 1 cup
Time: 5 minutes to make plus 30 minutes to chill.

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup daiya cream cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (or you can add more if you'd like it sweeter)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Wisk together ingredients.  Once you have it mixed everything, put it back in the fridge for at least half an hour to chill.  If you're in a huge rush you can skip this step but it really is at its best when served ice cold. Sometimes if it's been sitting out for a bit I will pop it back into the the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to chill it down again.  Otherwise if it gets too warm you get that little hint of the fake cream cheese taste.  

Serve with apple slices or graham crackers for dipping.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The best Russian Dressing

I discovered how to make the best Russian dressing completely by accident one day when I was trying to save time and decided to use my microplane grater on the onion instead of chopping it finely, which is what I normally do.  And the way that the microplane-grated onion infuses the entire dressing is just really magical if you have a fresh, sweet onion.  The recipe calls for a tablespoon of the grated onion but it takes a pretty good amount of onion to get that much so make sure you have at least quarter or half of an onion to work with.  

Russian Dressing
adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1 cup mayonnaise 
1/2 cup ketchup 
2 Tbs red or white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp dry mustard (or a little prepared mustard if you don't have dry)  
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste  
1 tablespoon onion (that has been grated using a microplane)

Wisk together all ingredients except the grated onion. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the onion and taste.  If you have a strong tasting onion, that may be all you want to add.  But if you have a nice fresh, sweet onion, you can add the full tablespoon. Wisk until smooth.  If it's too thick, you can thin it with some ketchup or vinegar.  

To make this into thousand island dressing, add pickle relish to taste. 

Mark Bittman recommends using this as a sandwich topping (mmmm... Reubens!) but I really like it as a dip for cut up raw vegetables.  I also eat it all the time on green salads, especially when we have Romaine Lettuce and I'd prefer a creamy dressing.

This lasts for a couple of weeks in the fridge if you don't eat it all first!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

3-ingredient Pumpkin Pie Soup

Long before I ever had kids, before I ever thought about food allergies, I was an intern in DC and there was this little cafe there that was not too far from where I was living so I went there a lot.  I was short on time and money and it was on the way to the Metro stop and very inexpensive. In the fall, one of their specials was pumpkin soup and I could get that and a grilled cheese sandwich for less than $5.  I'm assuming if you are reading this blog, you probably are not going to serve this soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, but my memories of this place are all wrapped up in that soup and the grilled cheese sandwich so just bear with me. I cannot tell you how many times I ordered that soup and sandwich combo.  I just could not get enough of it. I loved going to that place and it wasn't even nice inside.  I just felt so cozy dipping my grilled cheese into my soup. 

After I moved, it drove me crazy because I don't think I ever even knew the name of the place and, a few years later, when I tried looking around where I thought it might have been I couldn't find it.  So I could never get another bowl of this amazing soup or ask the people (it was always the same 2 people) who worked there how to make it!  I spent years, literally years, trying to duplicate the recipe from memory and was always very disappointed.  I would go through the trouble of roasting a pumpkin, chopping vegetables, cooking down the soup for a long time and then, after all of that, be supremely let down.  The first time I remember making the soup it was not just disappointing, it was terrible; I under cooked the onions so it was kind of crunchy.  Crunchy soup is never good.  

Imagine my delight when somewhere on the internet I found a recipe for pumpkin pie soup that tasted exactly the way I remembered THE pumpkin soup and it was pretty much the easiest thing in the whole world to make.  The original is made with heavy cream but I subbed coconutmilk with excellent results after I went dairy free.  

Pumpkin pie soup
Serves 6 as an appetizer

  • 1 can pumpkin pie filling (not plain pumpkin)
  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1/2 cup canned coconutmilk (full fat, not reduced fat)

Stir ingredients into a pan and heat.  That's it!

I can't decide whether this soup is better hot off the stove or after it has cooled a bit.  I think objectively it might taste better room temperature but since the soup of my memories was always warm, I prefer it that way.  Try it both ways, see how you like it.
We ate this for dinner yesterday (although I actually don't recommend it as a main dish, because it's too sweet for that).  Since I usually try to avoid eating food from cans I normally only indulge in this soup once a year.  This year it was extra great because we paired it with New Glarus Pie Lust beer, which I had never had before.  The slight bitterness of the beer balanced well with the sweetness of the soup.  I know absolutely nothing about pairing alcohol with food and so this recommendation should be taken with a grain of salt. But I daresay the soup went better with the beer than a grilled cheese sandwich...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Paleo chocolate ice cream

If you've never made a paleo "ice cream" before you may be surprised at how quick and easy it is. This is such a tasty treat that has a consistency kind of like soft serve ice cream. Keep in mind you will need pre-frozen bananas for this recipe.  And get out the spoons and napkins before you start because it melts quickly even in an air conditioned house!  

Paleo chocolate ice cream
Serves 2

large bananas (broken into chunks and frozen)

1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 Tbsp coconutmilk
1 tsp vanilla (I use alcohol-free vanilla but the kind with alcohol works too

Put the frozen banana pieces into the food processor and run it for a few seconds until it gets pretty broken up. 
It will look like this:

Then add the other ingredients and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor at least once so the cocoa powder gets mixed in.  Depending on the size of your bananas you might alter the quantities of the other ingredients a bit. And if you like things super chocolate-y, add 1/2 tablespoon more of the cocoa powder, that's how I like it!  Just taste as you go, it's pretty hard to screw it up! This is best eaten immediately, I have frozen it before and the texture isn't as good later on.  Enjoy!  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

Let's face it, chocolate is a big deal.  Desserts were one of my top worries when I stopped eating dairy. However, I have found other things (like cheese) much harder to replace.  The world of dairy free chocolate is pretty much amazing!   Many favorite treats such as chocolate chip cookies and brownies can easily be made from scratch by simply using an alternative milk, non-hydrogenated margarine, and dairy free chocolate in your favorite recipe.  And nowadays there are so many great non-dairy products available to buy (I recommend clicking on the links below to view the products so you know what you are looking for when you go to the store):   

  • Ghiradelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips :  Look for the yellow package. Some of their other chocolate chips contain dairy ingredients. These taste way better than the Nestle brand chips I was buying for years.  

  • Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownie mix :  Make sure to buy this specific one, some of their other mixes contain dairy ingredients.  I like the Ghiradelli products because they are easy to find at grocery stores and at Target.

  • Cocoa Powder:  You can make any of your favorite recipes using cocoa powder because it is always dairy free.  The only thing to watch out for is that you are buying true cocoa powder, not cocoa drink mix, which usually contains dairy. This is my favorite reasonably priced organic cocoa powder.

  • Dark chocolate:  Most bars of dark chocolate sold in regular grocery stores are dairy-free so that's an easy one.  It's only tricky if you are looking for one that is soy-free but  I like this one that is also fair trade and is available in better grocery stores.  

  • Rice Dream Bites: Chocolate covered "ice cream" bites (my favorite non-dairy frozen treat)  

  • So Delicious Coconutmilk ice creams:   These ice creams do taste like coconut so if that's not a flavor you like, you might not like these.  Their chocolate ice cream flavors camouflage the coconut taste better than some of the other flavors. These are available at regular grocery stores but health food stores typically have a wider selection of flavors.  

  • Enjoy Life Ricemilk Chocolate Bar:  This is tasty (I prefer it to a regular Hershey's bar) but it's not the most delicious thing I've ever eaten either. However, I'm including it in my list of products because it's a great option for people who do not like dark chocolate.  They also make a version with crispies in it. 

For multiple allergies, check out the family of Enjoy Life  products (which are free of common allergens including gluten, soy, dairy and nuts). Although I prefer the texture of the Ghiradelli chocolate chips, Enjoy Life ones are still good!  And they also sell a variety of different cookies, bars, trail mixes, and chips, some of which are better than others.  

I've listed my favorite products here but the baking aisle at Whole Foods has a variety of dairy free cookie, brownie, frosting, and cake mixes from brands such as Cherrybrook Farms,  Arrowhead Mills and European Gourmet Bakery Organics.  If you don't mind transfat, Duncan Hines has pareve baking mixes available at regular super markets (check out my FAQ if you are not familiar with using pareve labeling to identify dairy free products).

A last word of advice:  Cocoa butter is NOT dairy so if you see that on a label, don't worry!  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Can you get enough calcium without dairy milk?

My wonderful friend Julie recommended that I write this post a long time ago when I first started writing the blog and I'm really glad she did because I know it's the number one thing most people worry about when they cut dairy from their family's diet.  And it took me so long to get around to this post because the whole calcium and bone health thing is just very complicated.  However, both the short and long answers to this question are yes. Yes, you can get enough calcium without dairy milk.  

The short answer is yes because if you simply replace dairy milk with store-bought alternative milks, they are fortified with both calcium and vitamin D.  In fact, most of them now contain more calcium than cow's milk, although check labels to be sure. Or you can take a calcium supplement.  

But if you're anything like me, you want to know how your family can get these nutrients from whole foods.  As far as I understand, the type of calcium used to fortify foods is not as easily absorbed by your body as other sources.  However, that might actually be a good thing because in the last couple of years, studies have shown that many people may actually be getting more calcium and vitamin D than the recommended daily allowances (RDA), probably because there are so many foods fortified with these nutrients. Too much calcium has been linked a host of different problems including kidney stones, heart problems, and a possible increase in certain types of cancers.  

So one of the best ways to get your calcium is from plant sources, in part because you'll be getting a ton of other necessary nutrients as well.  Finally, scientists have begun to examine the importance of plant-sources of calcium.  One study found that eating more vegetables was associated with better bone density. Some vegetables with the highest content of calcium include:  spinach, broccoli, bok choy, kale and other dark leafy greens (such as turnip and dandelion). 

You might have heard that spinach should not be counted on as a good source of calcium.  This is because it contains oxalates that supposedly interfere with  absorption of the calcium.  The thing is, almost all of the foods we think of as really healthy (such as kale) contain oxalates.  So most of the advice I've heard from nutritionists on this is to eat spinach in moderation and not rely on it as the only source of calcium.  Also, eating spinach along with foods rich in Vitamin C can help mitigate the effects of the oxalates. 

As far as other ways to get calcium, sesame seeds are also high in calcium so I sprinkle them on top of rice anytime we eat it, even if it's not an Asian dish.  Just google "non-dairy sources of calcium" and tons of lists will come up which include foods such as little fishes with bones, tofu, beans (like navy beans), and blackstrap molasses.  We also drink a lot of oat straw tea in our house (my son has it sweetened with honey or stevia).  

To make everything more complicated, it turns out that the amount of calcium a person needs really varies from individual to individual.  High protein diets may increase calcium loss so meat-eaters need more than plant-based diet folks.  Plus, vitamin D levels affect calcium absorption so a lot of it varies from latitude to latitude, and how much time you spend outdoors. 

In addition, most of us are concerned about calcium intake because we want to have healthy teeth and bones.  But recent research has showed that bone health is heavily dependent on many other factors including doing enough weight-bearing exercise, and adequate consumption of other nutrients, including vitamin D, but also other ones most people don't typically associate with bone density. So, a lot of nutritionists are shifting the focus to an overall healthy lifestyle, with adequate but not excessive amounts of dietary calcium.  

Bottom Line:  

Here's what I have gotten out of all my research on calcium:  People need calcium for bone health but the experts don't really know how much is optimal.  Nutritional science is in its infancy and there is a long way to go before the answers to our questions are really clear. So for me, I try to consume plenty of calcium-rich leafy greens and eat whole foods that are not stripped of their nutrients.  Since my son pretty much won't touch anything green, I make sure he has had either calcium-fortified "milk" or a calcium supplement each day.  And I pray each and every day that he will outgrow this picky phase and take a cue from his parents, who love their veggies!  

Sources for this post are:

Various Nutrition Diva Podcasts  (I don't always agree with her on every point she makes, but she really does her research so I highly recommend checking her out)

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm glad it's still cold out...

...because our family discovered something new this winter and I'm super excited to write about it.  Well, technically we discovered something that is very old but new to us:  savory porridge (known at our house as savory oatmeal).  We've always eaten a lot of oatmeal but my husband started to get sick of eating the same thing over and over so he started to look for savory oatmeal recipes.  And now we eat savory oatmeal all the time because it's so simple and delicious. My son still prefers his oatmeal made with almondmilk and cinnamon, but that's no problem because the basis of savory oatmeal is just plain oatmeal so it's easy to add whatever each individual person wants. I think this is best when made with steel cut oats but we've made it with just about every type of oatmeal available at the supermarket, and most often use quick oats, since we're usually short on time.  

If you're still not convinced about the greatness of savory porridge, check out the Golden Spurtle Competition or this on Mark Bittman's savory oatmeal with scallions and soy sauce.  

Savory Oatmeal - the basics
a bowl of oatmeal, made with water according to package directions.  
a sprinkling of sea salt or other coarse salt
a sprinkling of cracked black pepper (optional)  
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil  

Add-ons (choose one)
diced avocado 
pine nuts or other savory nuts (such as roasted cashews or pistachios)  
eggs, cooked anyway you like them 
crumbled bacon
sliced breakfast sausage
leftover ham, steak, or chicken, or whatever meat you had for dinner the night before 
heated up pieces of lunchmeat 

My favorites are the diced avocado and the ham.  We don't normally eat ham for dinner so I've gone out and bought a hunk of ham to cut into small pieces and freeze for use in oatmeal.  Yum!