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Made him a believer

11 Oct

Michael has never been a fan of eggplant. I’ve cooked it maybe twice in our 14 years together, and last summer he tried some he deemed “acceptable” while attending a wedding. This spring, Halia planted an eggplant at her dayhome, and it was duly transplanted into the greenhouse. It didn’t survive transplantation, but Michael planted a new one on the sly.

I harvested that one eggplant — with some injury to my fingers, because did you know that eggplants grow gigantic spikes?? — just before our trip to Ottawa and brought it all the way to Ontario with me so that we could cook it there and eat it together.

That eggplant is still sitting in my mother-in-law’s fridge. Or perhaps it joined the rest of the Thanksgiving scraps in the compost bin. Poor eggplant, so arduously cared-for all summer long. The whole saga is so distressing, I had to buy an eggplant when I did my big homecoming grocery shopping on Tuesday morning.

Today, I cooked the darn thing. And it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that Michael proclaimed it something he would happily eat frequently. I do have my doubts about just how nutritious it is, being so fried and salted. But it’s delicious. And easy, too.

Oops, we ate them up so fast, there are none left to photograph. Here’s, uh, the pan I fried them in.

Gluten-Free Vegan Battered and Fried Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant, any size you wish
  • salt
  • cornstarch
  • corn flour
  • coconut oil, or other oil of your choice for frying

Directions:

  • Wash, peel, and cut eggplant into 1 cm slices. You can remove the peel entirely or peel it in “strips” to leave a bit of the purple on the outside edge.
  • Generously salt the eggplant and set it in a colander for an hour. Salting the eggplant draws out the bitterness and also removes excess moisture that can cause the eggplant to be soggy when cooked.
  • After salting is done, rinse the excess salt off and use two hands to squeeze each slice to remove excess moisture.
  • Start heating your oil in a pan. I used coconut oil and had it about 0.5 cm deep, so a good thick layer of oil.
  • Toss slices in a bowl to give them a coat of cornstarch. Make sure both sides are coated.
  • Dip each slice into a bowl of water, then coat each side in corn flour.
  • Fry 4-5 slices at a time in hot oil, letting each side turn golden before flipping. Don’t crowd the pan!
  • Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Let them cool a bit, and then enjoy! Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside!

Michael now believes in the deliciousness of eggplant.

Fruit pizza again! (And, shhhhhh, vegan…)

13 May

Some of my long-time readers may remember this post, in which I shared the recipe for Michael’s favourite dessert, fruit pizza.  It’s a tradition for me to make it for him for his birthday.  Sadly, since it contains both flour and dairy, it’s off Michael’s list of can-haves.

I put my thinking cap on,  revved up the creative engine, and rolled up my sleeves (enough metaphors yet?) to work on making it Michael-friendly; that would mean gluten-free and vegan*.

The crust came out great on the first try, but I failed at my first attempt at the filling when I used coconut milk and agar-agar.  Happily, I came up with a winner using cornstarch.  Sometimes it takes a bit of experimentation and yes, even failure.  But the end results are oh-so-sweet.

Fawn’s All-Vegan All-Yum Gluten-Free Fruit Pizza

(Edited to my latest refinements…)

FOR THE CRUST

  • 1/4 cup margarine (Earth Balance or Becel)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 3 tbsp almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1/2 cup ground pecans
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free oats

FOR THE FILLING

  • 1 can (400 mL) coconut milk**
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • fruit for topping (strawberries, kiwis, bananas, canned sliced peaches, canned mandarin segments, raspberries, blueberries, or whatever else you have on hand)

**NOTE: Use good-quality coconut milk and don’t skimp on the fat.  I recommend Thai Kitchen’s full-fat coconut milk,which is very sweet and luxuriously creamy.

FOR THE GLAZE

  • 1/4 cup apricot jam or orange marmalade
  • 2-3 tbsp hot water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. To make the crust, melt the margarine and coconut oil, then blend in sugar.  Add flours, oats, pecans, and the mashed banana.  Spread onto a pizza pan.  I found that the oils made this batter difficult to spread using a wooden spoon, but using my hands to pat it in place worked very well.  Bake at 375°F until the edges brown (around 10 minutes).  Because of the banana, this crust is a bit cakier and takes longer to bake.  After the edges browned, I used the broiler to crisp up and brown the top of the crust, which took just a few minutes.  Watch carefully so that you don’t burn it!  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
    • The final crust was cookie-like and softened up to a nice chewy texture after being refrigerated with the topping on it.  It did taste quite oat-y compared to the original, but I rather liked that.  If you prefer less of an oat flavour, I think you could safely replace some or all of the oat flour with more rice flour.
  2. For the filling, shake the can of coconut milk to blend the fat and liquid.  Pour it into a medium-sized pot and set the heat to medium.  Dissolve the cornstarch in several tablespoons of cool water, then stir it into your coconut milk.  Add the maple syrup and lemon juice.  (You could also add vanilla, but I didn’t, as it doesn’t agree with Michael.)  As the mixture heats up, be sure to stir continuously to avoid starch lumps.  The cornstarch will start to work its magic, thickening up the coconut milk.  When it reaches the consistency of pudding, remove from heat.  Allow to cool before spreading it onto the crust.  It will thicken up a little more when it has been refrigerated.
  3. After spreading the coconut milk onto the crust, decorate with your fruit toppings as desired.
  4. Mix the jam and hot water together. Press through a sieve if you desire a smoother consistency.  Use a pastry brush or silicone basting brush to spread the glaze gently over the fruit. (The glaze seals off the fruit to keep it from oxidizing too quickly.  It also adds sweetness, so even if you use less than perfectly sweet fruit, the final dessert will still be yummilicious.)
  5. Cover the whole pizza with saran wrap and chill until set, at least several hours or overnight.
    • It’s also a good idea to put a bigger pizza pan underneath, if you have one, to catch any drippings from the glaze.

Although there are a few more ingredients to the crust, this recipe really isn’t any more difficult than the original fruit pizza, and it’s just as pretty and every bit as delicious.  Even the fruit pizza addict agrees!  (There would be photos of him enjoying the fruits of my labours, but of course, he scarfed it much too quickly for a camera to capture the action.  Next time I’ll use the sport setting.)

*No, we’re not vegan, but when you can’t have eggs or dairy, pretty much any dessert you eat is going to be vegan. Unless you’re into chicken breast on your desserts…

Salt of the earth

8 Apr

One of Michael’s aunts is from Bulgaria.  She once told me that she couldn’t get used to the salt here in Canada because it wasn’t as salty as the stuff  she used in Europe.  I’d never given salt a lot of thought before.  When Jade started on keto, I switched to sea salt because someone on an online forum had said that keto kids shouldn’t use iodized salt.

As it turns out, iodine isn’t the problem.  Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a box of table salt?  Yes, the INGREDIENTS.  What do you expect to see?  “Ingredients: Salt”.  Right?  Okay, an anti-caking agent of some kind wouldn’t be surprising.  But nope.  “Table salt” actually contains SUGAR.

Sugar!

No wonder the salt in Bulgaria tastes saltier.  It probably is saltier.

I’ve been looking more into salt lately because last time I bought salt, everything at the grocery, even the “sea salt”, contained extra ingredients.  I thought SURELY there most be salt sold somewhere that is just plain salt!

Then a couple of weeks ago I read somewhere that unrefined sea salt is healthier to use for cooking compared to other types of salt because besides sodium chloride, it also contains trace minerals and chemically looks much more like the natural salt of our blood.  I don’t jump onto every nutritional band-wagon that makes fantastic health claims, but it did remind me to go looking somewhere else for salt.

As usual, the Riverside Grocery was able to deliver.  I ended up buying “Redmond RealSalt All Natural Sea Salt”, which comes from an “ancient sea bed” in south central Utah.  Perhaps not exactly what one would expect when thinking of  sea salt.  You know, considering how much existing ocean we have on the planet.  It claims to have over 50 natural trace minerals, including iodine.  It also says the salt did not suffer any heat processing, and contains no additives or preservatives.  It is somewhat speckled with reddish-brown spots, as though it contains a bit of sand, but I haven’t found it to be gritty, so perhaps they are simply coloured salt crystals.  Maybe it’s those “natural trace minerals”.

Whatever.  It’s easy to think way too much about this.  The main thing I wanted, and got, from this salt is all in the ingredient list, which reads: sea salt.  Also, it tastes great.

Who could ask for anything more?  Especially when you don’t want anything more.

Michael-safe cornbread

19 Mar

When we first learned about all of Michael‘s food allergies, I went into high-creativity gear and started making all sorts of new things.  I was excited to post recipes about them but couldn’t without giving away answers to his “Villainous Vittles” competition.  But lately I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for cooking and creating new things, so there haven’t been any recipe posts.  Until tonight!

Baking has been very challenging since we’ve had to go gluten, egg, and dairy-free.  Gluten is the stretchy “glue” that gives baked goods their texture and replacing wheat flour often means mixing together all sorts of other exotic flours, the very thought of which makes me tired.

So imagine my pleasure when this cornbread turned out great on the first try!  Plus it was easy-peasy.  Now, I know some people are very particular about their cornbread, but as far as I’m concerned, this stuff is just as good as the flour-and-eggs version I used to make from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.
I found this recipe on a vegan cooking website called Notes from the Vegan Feast Kitchen and I’ll love Google forever if only for this.  Below is the recipe, copied and pasted directly from the other blog, with my notes in square brackets.

BRYANNA’S VEGAN ALL-CORN CORNBREAD
9″ square panful

I adapted this from a recipe in “The Best Light Recipe” by Editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

  • 1 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal [I used Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits, which gave things a lovely gritty texture]
  • 2 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. (8 tsp.) sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • another 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice plus [I’d run out of lemons AND bottled lemon juice, so I used apple cider vinegar instead]
  • soymilk or nut milk to make 2 cups [I used PC Blue Menu Original soy milk]
  • 1 Tbs. ground golden flaxseed [This is often used as an egg-replacer in vegan cooking, but there’s so little of it and it doesn’t get mixed with hot water by itself, so I’m not sure it’s really necessary]
  • 2 Tbs. melted Earth Balance [I was too lazy to do this, plus we don’t like the taste of the stuff, so I substituted 2 tablespoons of canola.  I did use Earth Balance to grease the pan, though.]

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix together the first cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and soda in a medium bowl.

In another bowl mix together the 2/3 cup cornmeal and the boiling water and stir well. Stir in the lemon juice/soymilk mixture, flaxseed and melted Earth Balance.

Pour this into the dry mixture and mix briefly. Pour into a well-greased 9″ square baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until it tests done and is crusty on top.

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per square [cut into 9 pieces]):
157.5 calories; 24% calories from fat; 4.3g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 341.8mg sodium; 264.0mg potassium; 27.4g carbohydrates; 2.6g fiber; 5.2g sugar; 24.8g net carbs; 3.7g protein; 3.0 points.

I wasn’t sure it was cooked all the way through, as it was still a bit moist inside when I cut it (but just couldn’t wait any longer, with a hungry Halia on my hands!)  I found it was particularly tasty after it had cooled, and the extra moisture disappeared.  Halia, Amanda, Michael, and I all loved this cornbread, right down to the last square that got gobbled up the next day.  And I didn’t even get a picture!

Hypoallergenic Christmas

29 Dec

So, how was your Christmas?  Did Santa bring you everything you wished for?  Did you get to stuff yourself with turkey, gravy, potatoes, and your favourite veggies?

(We had a great day, overall, thanks for asking.  My dad joined us for Christmas this year — while my mom is now off visiting her family in Taiwan — and he even put in an appearance as Santa Claus first thing Christmas morning.  You should see the bruise where my jaw hit the floor when I heard he had brought a Santa suit.   Seriously, grandparenthood changes everything.)

But speaking of Christmas dinner, we had a delicious meal, if I do say so myself.  I was frequently stressed during the cooking, sometimes because of howling children who absolutely-needed-mama-rightthisverysecond.  But mostly because I wasn’t sure how long some of my dishes were going to take and there hadn’t been time to do advance prep.  I ventured into new territory this year, mostly to make the meal Michael-friendly.

Y’see it turns out Michael has a whole schwack of food allergies/sensitivities (most likely a result of a chronic yeast imbalance that we discovered just a few months ago).  So suddenly we are cooking gluten-, dairy-, egg-, {and a whole lotta other stuff}- free.  (I won’t give any more away, or you’ll have an unfair advantage on his Villainous Vittles contest.)

Yeah it sucks.  But it’s also good.

It sucks for the obvious reasons: the foods we have to cut out, more time and trouble preparing meals, not being able to eat out.  But there have been some happy side effects.

For one, we’ve both become a lot more creative about coming up with our meals.  We’re trying new foods and ingredients cooking methods and liking it.  For another, having to cook everything from scratch using fresh ingredients and emphasizing lean meat and veggies means we’ve been eating a much healthier menu. 

And the extra bonus on top of that?  I’ve lost weight without even trying.

Actually, it’s a wee bit problematic, as my clothes aren’t fitting so well these days.  I gave away my smaller clothes long ago, thinking I’d never see 135 again.  But, oh well, I guess that’s a problem I can live with. 

And anyway, it makes me feel a little better about scarfing, um, (Michael don’t read this) 20 Toffiffee candies in one sitting on Christmas night.  (Did you know those buggers are 45 calories each???!  Please don’t do the math on that one…)

Talk to me vegetabley

23 Oct

I’ve lost a bunch of weight in the last couple of months.  This is because I started a diet called “between-getting-the-baby-fed-and-the-keto-kid-fed-there’s-no-time-to-eat”.  I am frequently having breakfast two hours after I get up or supper at 9 p.m.

BubblyBunny and I have made a pact to eat better and we’ve developed meal plans.  Sort of.  I’ve yet to actually start using mine, which is pretty awful considering it was all my idea.

Part of my problem is balance.  I do eventually eat when I’m hungry, but I’m definitely not getting my 5-10 servings of fruits and veggies in a day.  I find it so hard to squeeze them in now because while most meat I can throw in the oven, pot, or slow cooker with just a few extra ingredients, I find vegetables much more work, what with washing, peeling, coring, chopping…

I’m getting so tired of red peppers and zucchinis, something I never thought I’d say.  I know I should buy more squashes because they really are dead easy to fix (as long as there isn’t also meat in the oven) and I can use them for Jade AND for Halia.  But squash will only take me so far.

Tell me: what are your favourite veggies and how do you prepare them?  Extra points for super-duper easy or fast!

Thai red curry

21 Jan

Kelli, aka Captain Momma, asked me for the curry recipe from this post and I typed it up for her in less than ten minutes.  Since I plan to be in bed before midnight for once, I figured it would substitute for a post.

We’ve only ever tried this with chicken, and we cheat because we use Indian curry paste (which is easy to find) rather than Thai, so I guess we’ve never had the “authentic” stuff.  I don’t think Michael ever follows the recipe exactly anymore, but it’s always danged good!

Thai Red Curry with Beef or Chicken from The New Canadian Basics Cookbook (Carol Ferguson)
If you’re not familiar with Thai cooking, this easy recipe is a pleasant introduction to typical flavours.  Adjust the curry paste to taste (Thai curry pase is very hot).

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp (or to taste) red curry paste
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 lb beef stir-fry strips or boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1 sweet red pepper, cut into thin strips
3/4 cup coconut milk (Michael always uses to whole can and gets extra sauce, so he probably also uses extra curry paste to compensate)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice (we always use lime)
3 cups cooked jasmine rice

In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.  Add onion; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add beef or chicken strips; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until almost cooked through.  Add red pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Stir in coconut milk, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Bring to simmer; cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes.  Add more fish sauce (for saltiness) if needed.  Serve over jasmine rices.  Makes 2 to 3 servings.