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Archive for June, 2008

Ooh, Cherry baby…

The cherry recipes have been quite popular (Cherry No-Pie Juice, Cherry-Almond Scones) so just for kicks, let’s have a little cherry health education, shall we?

Cherries are chock-full of antioxidants, helping us fight those nasty bastards: free radicals. The flavonoids, anthocyanins, which give cherries their red pigment possess anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and anti-carcinogenic properties. Of the 150 different flavonoids found in plants, anthocyanins appear to have the greatest antioxidant capacity. Cherries are one of the richest sources of anthocyanins, containing more than sweet cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. There is also research supporting the belief that cherry juice helps relieve arthritis symptoms.

For you world travelers out there, cherries are one of the few known food sources of melatonin, a potent antioxidant produced naturally by the body’s pineal gland that helps regulate biorhythm and natural sleep patterns. “Scientists have found melatonin-rich tart cherries (commonly enjoyed as dried, frozen, juice or concentrate) contain more of this powerful antioxidant than what is normally produced by the body. Eating cherries can be a natural way to boost your body’s melatonin levels to hasten sleep and ease jet lag.” According to Russel J. Reiter, PhD (University of Texas Health and Science Center), one of the world’s leading authorities on melatonin, “try eating dried cherries one hour before desired sleep time on the plane. After arrival, consume cherries one hour before desired sleep each night for at least three consecutive evenings.” And since I’m about to board a plane today, I’ll be sure to pack my cherries – even though I’m crossing a time-change of only 2 hours.. 😉

And lastly, but certainly not least, cherries (the anthocyanins) have been shown to lower blood lipids, thus reducing heart disease risk. The latest research presented by University of Michigan researchers shows tart cherries may help reduce inflammation, a key risk factor for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Yummy ways to get your cherries are by Cherry-Almond scones or drinking it in a delicious juice form! Other good recipes would include yummies like Cherry Pie, Cherry-Cranberry Crumble, Cherry-Coconut vegan Ice Cream, Cherry Breakfast muffins…among others. And hopefully I can get another batch of cherries as good as before and do some experimental runs on these recipes for you!!

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I don’t know what happened to me. Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve been on an ice cream kick. But being vegan and disliking soy products, I’ve never been to turned on by the soy ice creams on the store shelves. But a few weeks ago, I had this insatiable craving for an ice cream sandwich – and it’s been a wild vegan ice cream filled ride ever since. It started with the So Delicious mini sandwiches (Neopolitan flavor, for some reason I justified to myself that the 3 flavors together would help detract from the soy flavor). They were so good! Then, I stumbled across the Purely Decadent Butter Pecan Praline flavor pint. Oh man, it was like the good old days with a pint of B & J’s half-baked. Clearly, I killed the pint in one sitting (not something I would recommend on a regular basis). Then, I fell upon the greatest thing since…since…Liz Lovely Snicker Dudes…. Purely Decadent Coconut Vanilla Ice Cream. An ice cream made from coconut milk instead of soy milk? What genius brought this into the world, and how can I thank them? So, without trying to blow my entire paycheck on nothing but Coconut milk ice cream and shoes for the rest of my life – I took a stab at homemade! I used to make my own ice cream before leaving the dark side, but my maker had been collecting dust until now! So, I give you: Butter Pecan (or Mixed Nut) Coconut milk Ice Cream!

Ingredients:

1/2 pint (500ml) coconut milk
1/2 pint (500ml) mimic-creme (**or all coconut milk)
1/4 C (2oz) brown sugar
1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter
1/2 C of pecans (chopped) – or mixed sweet nuts if that’s what you got on hand
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or according to taste)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

1. I made the recipe for my sweet and spicy nuts, but didn’t use the cayenne. Once cooled, place 1-1.5 C in a food processor and pulse until small bite-sized perfect for ice cream blending.
2. Meanwhile, place the coconut milk, sugar, cinnamon, and butter into a saucepan and mix together over low heat. Stir until the mixture starts to bubble around the edges. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool.
3. When the mixture is cold transfer it to an ice cream maker and stir in the mimic-creme and vanilla extract. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions but remember to add the pecans (or mixed nuts) as the ice cream starts to harden.

Garnish with more Sweet nuts for added crunchy goodness, or even some vegan dulce de leche or chocolate ganache… Homemade ice cream will typically stay good for a few days (or so all the cookbooks say, but I’ve noshed on some I’ve made up to a week later) – but I don’t think you’ll have to force yourself to eat it within 2-3 days. You’ll be lucky if it sticks around that long!

Happy Freezing!

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A lot of people seem to think that steaming your veggies is kind of boring, or what you do when you don’t want any oil in the dish (low-cal, snark, snark). As a vegan, I don’t think about my calorie intake one iota, but I do occasionally steam my veg. However, for me this is the highest compliment I can pay them and I reserve this simple pleasure for only the best vegetables I come across. Now, I enjoy a thick curry sauce as much as the next gal, but when I get a bag of absolutely divine sugar snap peas from the farmer’s market, I just cannot bare to cover up their flavor with anything more than a little salt. These peas were so good, I’m impressed that any of them survived long enough to get cooked, and that is my standard for which vegetables to steam. For me, herbs and spices can take your oridinary store bought stuff to extraordinary heights, but when you start off with something amazing, adding to it ends up taking away. Steaming should always been done conservatively, because over cooking ruins beautiful vegetables more than anything else.

Start off with 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of your pot, and bring it to a boil. Put your steamer basket into the pot and add your veggies. Place the cover on the pot askew, so that most of the area is covered, but you have one side with a vent. If you have a lot of veggies, you should stir them up every 1-2 minutes, to redistribute. I would advise you to never steam anything longer than 10 minutes, but the actual time will depend on how big you chopped things, and how much you have in the pot. Green peas and beans are the easiest, since they give you a color coded message: stop when all of them have turned bright green. Carrots and cauliflower you want to be able to pierce with a fork, but you definitely do not want them turning soft. The peas & carrots below went for 8 minutes. When they’re done, dust lightly with some salt and eat right away.

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I very much prefer quinoa to rice, it has a deeper flavor, with a hint of nuttiness. This spicy recipe is delicious with some lightly steamed veggies. You could also add in some black beans (at the same time as the bell pepper) for a heartier dish.

Ingredients:

2 C quinoa

1.5 C water

1 medium yellow onion

1 red bell pepper

1 habanero pepper (very spicy!)

1 bunch cilantro

juice of 2 limes

few tbs vegetable oil

few tsp salt, to taste

Instructions:

In one medium pot, heat a spoon full of oil. Toast the quinoa in the oil for a few minutes, then increase the heat and pour in the water and salt. When the water starts to simmer, turn the heat down to low and cook covered for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit until the sautee is ready.

While the quinoa is cooking, heat another spoon of oil in a skillet. Cook the onions over medium heat until clear. Add the habanero. When the onions have browned, add the bell pepper and cook a further 5 minutes. Salt to taste. Turn heat to low, then pour quinoa over the sautee. Squeeze the two limes over the quinoa. Stir and cook over low heat for 3-4 minutes.

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I love a good pasta tossed with veg and olive oil! The fresh diced tomatoes just scream spring and summer to me! With all these veggies, you’re sure to be getting a full dose of daily vitamins and minerals. This recipe will serve 6 as a main course. And with a total time of 45 min to make from start to finish (only 10-15 minutes of that actually active time), this is a super quick and healthy option for a weeknight dinner. It is also tasty as a pasta salad while lounging in the hammock on a Saturday afternoon. You want to make sure you have an oven-proof skillet (i.e. no wooden or plastic handles) – if need be, you can do the roasting in a casserole dish.

Ingredients:

1/4 C extra-virgin Olive Oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small or 1/2 medium Yellow Onion, diced
1 medium Red Bell Pepper, julienned
1 small Zucchini [yellow or green], cut into thin half-moons
12 Baby carrots cut lengthwise in half, then again
1-2 handfuls Fresh green beans, ends popped off
1 pound Fresh Roma (or Plum) tomatoes, cut into big dices
1/4-1/2 C Frozen Green peas (depends on how much you love peas!!)
1/4-1/2 C Frozen Corn *optional; but I find it adds wonderful color
Salt and Pepper to taste
16 ounces Fusilli pasta or other twisted pasta (*you can also search for gluten-free pastas to make this dish gluten-free)
1 C packed Fresh basil, chopped
1-2 TBSP each oregano, thyme
1/2 C Vegetable Broth or Water *optional; i didn’t need it due to tomato juicyness

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400. In large oven-proof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cook until slightly golden, stirring, about 2 minutes.
2. Add bell pepper, zucchini, cook 1 minutes, stirring and tossing constantly. Remove from heat.
3. Add tomatoes, carrots, and green beans. Add salt, pepper, and herbs. Stir to combine.
4. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast, uncovered for 10 minutes.
5. Stir the ingredients. Add peas and corn [if using]. Return to the oven and roast and additional 10 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain well.
7. Add pasta directly to the skillet full of yummy vegetables. Toss to combine. Adjust seasonings as necessary.
8. Serve warm, or at room temperature [for a more pasta salad feel].

There’s really no need for any sides with this dish. You have everything you could ever want in one bowl…except perhaps for a spicy pepper to turn this into a spicy Texas Primavera, if you will..

I like to serve this dish with a light, fruity Riesling or a hearty Chianti Classico.
I think this dish could hold it’s own with either choices.

**Important Note: Remember that your skillet handle is hot when it comes out of the oven, even if it’s one of those handles that doesn’t heat when it’s stove-top. Use a pot-holder and avoid burning delicate hands. If you do happen to forget and burn your hand, douse it with canola or olive oil, and lavender if you have some on hand. Don’t use butter like the old wives tale – butter causes the blister to worsen and pain to be imminent. Oil, for some reason, doesn’t cause blistering. The lavender helps reduce the pain – trust me. If you don’t believe me, ask my sister!

Happy Cooking!

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There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of creamy pasta – and even better when it’s full of veggies! I love this recipe so much, it’s usually one of the first I give to friends when they want to make something new, and quick, and crowd pleasing. It’s creamy like a risotto, but much easier (for those who have risotto-fear). I love that it has peas (of course, I’ve fallen in love with peas so I’m biased). Peas are loaded with vitamins A, B1, B6, C, and K. One cup of boiled green peas has 46% of your RDA of vitamin K1, known for maintaining bone health and helping blood to clot to prevent bleeding. Peas are high in fiber and low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Plus, they’re a good source of vegetable protein.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
12 oz. [1.5 C] orzo pasta
3 C vegetable broth
1 C frozen peas
1 medium onion, diced
2 red peppers, roasted [or 1- 7.5 oz jar roasted red peppers], chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oil over med heat in large deep sided skillet.
2. Sauté onion and garlic, until onion is on it’s way to translucent, about 5 min.
3. Add red peppers, sauté about 2-4 min.
4. Add orzo. Cook about 2-3 minutes. Add broth, salt and pepper. Bring to boil over high heat.
5. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let simmer 10 min [stirring occasionally]
6. Add peas, and let cook 5 more minutes [or until orzo is tender, yet still firm to bite, and has absorbed all the liquid]
7. Serve at once… It’s good leftover, but best right when done.

Experiment with fresh herbs such as oregano, basil, rosemary. Toss in when you add the peas. Serve alone or with some lightly salted steamed broccoli and carrots [steamed for 5 min: no more, no less] and some garlic bread. You could also add a side of cooked black beans tossed with some fresh diced tomatoes and oregano, or some corn — salt and pepper to taste.

Happy Cooking!

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I had some more cherries from the Farmer’s Market, and decided to make a juice (after being inspired by Madcap Cupcake’s Spinach smoothie). This recipe (Cherry Pie) is originally from The Big Book of Juices and Smoothies, and naturally I’ve altered the recipe just a slight bit (quantity alterations, plus I don’t have a juicer). And even though it is originally named Cherry Pie, it doesn’t have all the pesky calories of a cherry pie, but all the flavor! So with my alterations, I dub thee…

Cherry No-Pie

1 handful pitted fresh cherries
Apple juice

Blend pitted cherries in a blender, use a bit of apple juice to allow ease of blending. Pour into 8 oz juice glass, top off with more apple juice.

Variation: I think it would also be good with the addition of raspberries or strawberries. And turn it into a smoothie with the addition of a frozen banana, blended in with the cherries before addition of AJ.

Happy Juicing!

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