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Monday, August 30, 2010

Salt & Pepper Tofu

salt & pepper tofu 2

Salt & Pepper Tofu with Amazing Sauce!

Yes, it's another tofu dish, but this is not just any tofu dish, Dearies. This is the one I make and always offer to my and Cauldron Boy's tofu hating friends. 'Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?' I say. And, of course, at the mere thought of tofu for dinner they quickly respond with something like 'No, no. I'm fine. Thank you though'.

Well, dinner starts and then what I call 'the eyes' start to happen. Yes, one all of a sudden notices that this meal looks delicious despite the presence of tofu. Since I am not a mean witch, I quickly address the look with a 'Are you sure?'. A very reluctant and somewhat guilty response of 'Would it be too much trouble to fry some more?' is heard. Little does my lovely know I already anticipated this response and made extra just for this inevitable moment *wink*.

Stories and jokes aside, Dearies, this meal of Salt & Pepper tofu with Amazing Sauce will most likely make a tofu lover out of you if you are not already one. It will indeed convince you that anything can be liked if executed properly. So the super easy recipe is below, and I really hope you will try it. Especially if you identify with not liking tofu so much. Plus, you can come complain about it to me here if you try it and don't like it;-)!

Salt & Pepper Tofu for 4
1-14 oz. Pack Organic, Extra Firm Tofu (Patted Dry & Cubed)
1/2 Cup Corn Starch or Potato Starch*
1/4-1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
1/8 Tsp. Sea Salt
Vegetable Oil for Frying

*Ellie at Almost Bourdain also makes this dish and she feels that Potato Starch produces a superior result, so, if you're anti corn product, potato starch should be great. Just look at her pics!

Put your vegetable oil at least 1 inch deep in a 8-10 inch wide pot and bring to about 350 degrees/medium heat.

Meanwhile, pat your tofu block dry with paper towels and cut the tofu into about 1 inch cubes. I always try to dry the the tofu as I'm cutting it too, so that it is not water laden. Put your corn starch, salt, and pepper into a large plastic bag and mix. Gently place half of your tofu in the bag and toss it very gently. Grab the pieces out, give each one a pat to displace excess starch, and place them in the hot oil (not warm oil!). Do not move them at all for at least 2 1/2 minutes. Then turn to the opposite end and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Place on a paper towel to drain. Repeat with second batch. By the way, this tofu stays nice and hot for quite a while, so don't worry too much about the first batch getting cold.

Frying Note:
To those of you afraid of frying, just know that I was too. It's so easy for me now though. I don't take a temperature even. I just put my stove to a solid medium heat (#4-5 on my electric stove) and wait about 4-5 minutes. Then I put one piece of tofu in the pot-if it sizzles nicely, I place the rest of them in. If not, I wait a minute or two more. Also, if your oil gets too hot, simply pull the heat down a bit and just watch your food.
The only truly scary thing that commonly happens is splashing water in the oil or using a utensil that has water on it, so don't do that (smile)! Oh, and always fry on the back burner in case a water accident does occur.

Amazing Sauce for 4
6 Tbsp. Low Sodium Soy Sauce (A Good One)*
1/2 Tsp. Toasted Sesame Oil
1-1 1/2 Tsp. Chili Garlic Sauce
2 Garlic cloves (Finely Minced)
1 Tbsp. Scallions (Sliced)

*Please, please use a nice soy sauce like San-J or Tai Hua brand, etc.

Mix the ingredients above and enjoy your tofu with jasmine or black rice and a Tanantha Salad! You guys do know that my Tanantha over at I Just Love My Apron is the salad queen, no? Well, she is-just check out this lovely and you'll realize that salad porn is real...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Perfect Pumpkin Pie (Sugar Free?)

Sugar Free Pumpkin Pie

Dearies, I thought for once in my life I might try to do something 'on time' or maybe even early, hence this post on pumpkin pie. Many of you probably have a standard or family recipe for this traditional fall dessert that I must mention is both delicious and not at all lacking in the area of redeeming qualities. I mean, anything made with squash as its main ingredient has got to be healthful to some extent, right?

Well, I've made sure that my pie is by using organic canned pumpkin, xylitol instead of sugar, and organic eggs and milk along with fresh spices and vanilla. The result is not only a more healthful dessert, but what I call 'pumpkin pie perfection'! So for those of you that don't have a family recipe or have just never made pumpkin pie at home, here is an easy, delicious version.

The recipe is below, but first know the '3 musts' for perfect canned pumpkin pie:

1. Use organic canned pumpkin-there is a major taste difference!
2. Whip your wet ingredients with a whisk for proper mixing.
3. Leave it to cool for at least 3 hours. Then chill before cutting.

Here's the recipe:
1 15 oz. Can Organic Pumpkin
1/2 Cup + 1 Tbsp. Xylitol*
2 Organic Eggs
3/4 Cup Organic 2% Milk
3/4 Tsp. Fresh Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Tsp. Ground Ginger
1/8 Tsp. Cloves or Cardamom
1/8 Tsp. Sea Salt
1/2 Tsp. Real Vanilla Extract

*If you do not want to use Xylitol, 3/4 Cup of Turbinado sugar is excellent too.

Place pumpkin in a mixing bowl with the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt. Mix. Then add the Xylitol or sugar, eggs, milk, & vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Pour into chilled crust (the outer edges of the crust should be protected with foil or a crust protector). Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 350 and bake for another 40-50 minutes. Remove from the oven & allow to cool on a wire rack for at least three hours. Then chill. Serve with whipped cream, etc.

For the crust, I made my typical crust from this post but, instead of A.P. Flour, I used King Arthur's White Whole Wheat.

Enjoy, my Lovelies!

Oh, and I must thank Kim over at The Ungourmet for reintroducing me to Xylitol, a natural sugar taken from wood and corn that does not affect blood insulin levels (amazing, no?). I never used Xylitol in baking due to reading that it just didn't work well in baked goods. Since I saw Kim's Sugar Free Almond Cornmeal Blueberry Shortcake's, I knew something had to be wrong with that information. And there certainly was, as my pumpkin pie is perfect. Take a look at Kim's beautiful shortcakes too if you please...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tofu Egg Rolls/Paula H.'s Favorite

Hello My Lovelies!

I am extra exhausted after planting for my Mum's Fall/Winter garden along with other cleaning and scrubbing activities I was involved in this last week while visiting my parent's house. Well, that along with my turbulent & somewhat terrifying plane ride home have completely sapped my energy;)

I do want to quickly share with you the tofu egg rolls I made this week for my parents. My Mom particularly loved these and is still making them now that I'm gone, so I figured they're worth posting (smile). And even if you don't normally like tofu, you will most likely love these morsels of fried deliciousness. Hence these rolls are a great way to sneak some organic soy into your diet while also indulging a bit!

Tofu Egg Rolls-Makes 6 Rolls
Nasoya or other Egg Roll Wraps (6)
Organic Extra Firm Tofu (7 oz. or 1/2 pack)
Black Pepper
Fresh Basil Leaves
Oil for frying
*The combination of cumin, black pepper, & fresh basil is particularly lovely, Dearies!

Place oil in a pot so that it is about an inch deep-at least. Bring stove to medium heat and allow oil to heat (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit) while you set up your rolls.

Open your tofu and cut off half of the block. Place it on a dry paper towel. Use another paper towel to dry it and take out some of the moisture. Cut into six long strips or whatever way you'd like to cut it really. Again, dry the individual pieces with a clean paper towel.

Sprinkle each piece of tofu with a light dusting of cumin and black pepper. Place a piece of tofu on a wrapper with a leaf of torn basil-be sure that a corner of the wrapper is pointed towards your belly, not a side of the square. Bring the pointed corner end of the wrapper over the tofu tucking it while beginning to roll. Grab the sides (to your right & left) and neatly fold them on top of the tofu while continuing to roll forward. Let the roll sit on the seem and begin this process again. If this makes no sense to you;), see here!

Make sure your oil is hot for frying (about 350 degrees). I never use a thermometer. I just stick the end of a roll in and if my stove is at medium heat and it sizzles, then I start frying seam side down! Allow to fry on both sides for a total of about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Place rolls on a paper towel and serve with low sodium soy sauce...

p.s. I douse my soy sauce with a touch of toasted sesame oil & sriracha for extra effect!

*Oh, and if anyone has seen vegan egg roll wrappers at any of the major stores, please do let me know! BTW, Nasoya Egg Roll Wrappers are vegetarian and available at places like Publix and Whole Foods...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The David K. Stack & Everyday Tings'

Hello Dearies!

I wanted to quickly share with you all a snack that has become a tradition in my family. My Dad, David K., has been making this 'stack' for himself and his family since I was a little witch. The 'David K. Stack' as we call it is a heavy, delicious and extremely satisfying snack, and is something that is always shared between at least two people. It's filling *wink*!

Filling in a good way though. Yes, this treat has carbs. However, if one uses 100% whole grain bread, unsweetened peanut butter, and just enough natural maple syrup and fruit to moisten this treat while sharing it with another person, it can be a wonderful nutrient-dense component of your diet. Indeed, I had half of this pictured stack with some hot green tea and couldn't eat a thing for the next 5 hours. I just couldn't!

That all being said, I debated as to whether I should even post such a snack or food. I mean, we all have our own standby foods that are less than fabulous in terms of ingredient content. Some are not very photogenic while others are so peculiar we might wonder if anyone else would even eat such a concoction!? Well, this is one of mine. It's simple, delicious, and possibly enticing?!? So, if you're ever in the house with little food on hand, The David K. Stack's ingredients are so typical that it or something like it can usually be thrown together saving you & others from temporary starvation (smile).

Oh, and I think you'll love it...?!

The David K. Stack Ingredients
3 Slices of 100% Whole Grain Bread (Toasted)
Unsweetened Peanut Butter*
Berries, Bananas, Kiwi, peaches, etc.
Maple Syrup
Pinch of cinnamon

*David K. uses the kind that is 100% ground peanuts from the farmer's market!

Toast your bread. Schmear each slice with a bit of peanut butter. Stack the bread adding a little bit of maple syrup between each slice. Top with berries, a bit more maple syrup so that it moistens the sides, and pinch of cinnamon. Enjoy with your best mate! Coffee, hot tea, and cold milk are all super wonderful beverages for this snack.

p.s. I am visiting my parents this week. I will catch up to all my lovelies' posts as soon as I finish planting for my Mom's Fall/Winter garden;)!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Agar Agar & Neat Things!

Agar Agar Jello

Agar Agar is an algae product valued for its ability to act a bit like gelatin-maybe more than a bit! In fact, one can make the most wobbly of neat gelatin like treats or even somewhat hard gelatin like chews depending on the amount of agar agar used. These chews, as I call them, can be made into different shapes and colors and thrown to the bottom of glasses of iced soy milk for fun's sake...

As you might have already imagined, agar agar is valued by vegans and vegetarians alike. And I have to say that I've even noticed meat eating folks show a lot of enthusiasm towards this product! A lot of people just don't like the idea of gelatin, hooves, and such (smile).

Positives aside, there are two major downfalls to agar agar. First, the price is usually outrageous. Indeed, I just noticed a 1 oz. package of agar agar flakes for $7.49 at my local health food store. Only 1 oz.! Well, I think I've found a solution to this. Maybe. See, I went to my local Asian foods store and found packs of Telephone Brand Agar Agar Powder that were almost 1 oz. packs being sold for a $1.49 each. Powder means more agar agar in comparison to flakes, as recipes that call for 1 tsp. of powder will tell you to double this amount if you have flakes. So I got almost double the amount of product at the Asian store for $6 less!

The second downfall relates to recipe reliability, as recipes for agar agar are difficult to write. This may sounds strange to someone that has never used the product, however, my experience is that I get different results for the same recipe when I use different brands. Hence the recipe below is for Telephone Brand Agar Agar powder. You are more than welcome to try it with a different brand, but I just can't guarantee results! Also, this is kind of a base recipe. If you try it and feel it needs to be more wobbly to meet your taste, just make it with 1/4 teaspoon less agar agar the second time around and so on, etc...

Basic Agar Agar Jello
2 1/2 Cups of Organic Juice (Your Favorite)*
1 Tsp. Telephone Brand Agar Agar Powder
1-2 Tbsp. Agave Syrup (Optional)**
Berries or Cut Fruit

*I used Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Nectarine juice (1 Cup) to get this nice color in combination with a lighter juice.
*I did not use agave, but feel free to add a bit if you are using a very tart juice blend.

Place 1 Cup of juice in a very clean sauté pan with the agar powder and stir. Allow this to sit for about 5 minutes to dissolve. Then turn the heat on and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a large measuring cup. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of juice and stir. If you are using a tart juice, also add the agave and stir. Pour into your favorite dessert dishes or shot glasses and allow to cool for 10 minutes on the counter. Transfer to the fridge and allow to set up for at least 30-40 minutes.


Oh, and in reference to Asian Foods Stores, they are usually a treasure trove of amazing foods. I've also never been to one that wasn't a help to my pocket book ;) So, if you have one nearby, you may want to get familiar if you're not already...
p.s. Yes, you can make vegan alcoholic jello shots with this recipe. Just sub in some rum or tequila, etc. for some of the 1 1/2 cups of juice that is not boiled. And you may definitely want to use the agave as a simple syrup to ensure good flavor!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sugar Addiction & Scary Things!

Vegan Pudding

Oh My Dearies! I have to ask a favor of you, and that is to please read this entire post!? Please? It's important. I promise I will never ask you to do more than look at pictures and key words ever again (smile)...

This post is about sugar addiction just as the title states, but I'm not going to broach the typical realm of how bad refined sugars are for you. Everyone knows that, and we either choose to consume them anyway or not. This post is about sugar in all of its forms, and the addiction that a disturbing percentage of the Western World has to this substance.

First, I'm going to address what happens when we eat even a somewhat healthful meal that has the one downfall of too many sugars or carbs. Let's use something common like an 7 oz. piece of grilled rosemary chicken with a 1/2 cup of organic mashed potatoes and a serving of asparagus. There is also some bread on the table in case we'd like some. Sounds good and healthful, right? But, realistically, this meal will probably also be accompanied by a glass of wine or two, a soda, or some sweet tea. Ooh, and what about dessert? Most people like something sweet at the end of a meal. For good show, let's keep it healthfully sweet and say organic peach cobbler with a crumb topping. We'll even forget the ice cream that would most likely be on top of a cobbler at most tables.

The aforementioned meal has potatoes, which hit the average person's bloodstream almost like a blow from a candy bar. Then there is the glass of wine or soda, which is another pretty good blow. Ooh, and what about that piece of baguette we ate? This is not necessarily a blow, but it is a carbohydrate that will soon be converted in the system to even more sugar. And now we're going to have some cobbler, which has natural sugar in the peaches, added sugar to the peaches for dessert like goodness, and the topping has both sugar and a bit of A.P. flour in it. Sugar, sugar, sugar! Hey, and some people go back for seconds!

So what's the big deal about all this sugar in an otherwise healthful meal that has redeeming qualities like organic potatoes, lean meat, and vitamin rich asparagus and peaches? Well, to understand this you must understand the following:

When sugar, especially refined sugar, hits the bloodstream in large amounts, the body has to borrow from its stores of nutrients in order to process it. Insulin also begins to spike at high levels in order to help convert such a large dose of sugar into energy, as this is insulin's function. This sounds good, unless you know that large amounts of insulin trigger hunger. So this individual that has just consumed too many different forms of sugar by eating the above meal now feels hungry again! Eating resumes to satisfy the hunger and more sugars enter the bloodstream, but there is a big problem this time. The body's insulin was used up on the first sugar & carb laden meal. Hence this second load of sugar is immediately stored as fat!

Yes, we run out of gas or insulin. So not only are our cells struggling with high sugar and the damage it causes (see below), but nutrients are taken from our stores & insulin spikes causing us to be hungry again. So we eat a second time while our body is low on insulin, and we don't get the good effect of sugar being converted to energy this time. Instead, it is stored as fat & we gain weight! And all because our first meal had too many forms of sugar! Oh, and this constant spiking of insulin creates that condition we all know as insulin resistance. Our cells get so accustomed to insulin spikes that they stop responding to it, causing for sugar build up in the blood too.

If overeating, gaining weight, and eventually entering into a state called Type II diabetes doesn't bother you, how about the destruction of your skin? Did you lovelies know that the type of high sugar intake described above destroys both elastin and collagen? To blame is a natural process known as glycation, which happens when sugar in your blood stream attaches to proteins forming harmful new molecules called 'advanced glycation end products or AGEs'. The more sugar we eat, the more AGEs we develop. As AGE's accumulate, they damage proteins in a domino like fashion. Collagen and elastin are some of the most vulnerable proteins to this damage. Hence springy, resilient skin becomes a thing of the past! Of course, this is just one type of damage. I could go on and on...

So what's the answer to this sugar dilemma? Well, there are a lot of lines of thought on this subject. Some say we should avoid refined sugar and sugary foods at all costs, as eating them only makes us want more. Sugar is, indeed, addictive. Others will tell us to stay away from refined sugars, flours and things like white rice/white bread while also being careful with natural sugars. I personally am trying to cut refined sugars and flours out altogether while also being aware of how many natural sugars I eat at each meal. I mean, if I eat a handful of dates, I'm just not going to be able to have a glass of wine that day and vice versa.

I hope you will all consider your own diets and the damage you may be unknowingly doing to yourself. People who break sugar addiction usually rave about the positive effects even saying things like it was the best thing they've ever done for their health and life. I believe Michelle over at Find Your Balance stated something along these lines and knows quite a bit about how to assess and break bad habits like this.

No matter what you do though, Dearies, please don't turn against whole grain, unrefined carbs. Instead, eat them in moderation/small amounts and make good choices like brown rice instead of white while also noticing how many sugary type foods you're eating and drinking at each meal or snack.

In the meantime, here is a sweet that has no refined sugars. It's basic and quite nice.

Vegan Chocolate Pudding
1/2 Package Plain, Organic Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Organic Cocoa (Green & Black's is excellent)*
1/2 Cup Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Plain, Sugar Free Soy Milk**
1 3/4 Tbsp. Corn Starch or Arrowroot
1/4 Tsp. Real Vanilla Extract

*A quality cocoa powder is imperative for good results here!
**If you use a sweetened soy milk, you may want to lower the maple.

Place all of the ingredients except the vanilla in a food processor. Blend until smooth-about 30 seconds. Pour the ingredients into a pan on low heat. Bring the heat up just enough to allow the mixture to bubble and thicken while stirring regularly. Allow to bubble for about 3 minutes or until it's a bit thick. Remember it will thicken more in the fridge, so don't over do it. Mix in the vanilla & pour into ramekins. Chill for at least an hour and half-the colder the better!

Enjoy your refined sugar free treat!

To my Rick at Bittersweet, I hope this post doesn't cause any dragon like fury. You know you're my favorite sugar loving elf 'round this here town that is the blogosphere!

*Info on AGE's taken from Prevention (10/2007), Author: Karyn Repinski

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Winner!

Tonight, I assigned each lovely who left a comment on my 'Mixed Berry Cobbler & A Giveaway' post a number. The number was chosen very simply. If your comment was the tenth comment, then you were 10. I then used random. org to pick a number for me, which was quite a strange feeling once the number showed up on the screen. It happened so fast! I hit the submit button and it was like 'abra cadabra' and the number was in front of me in a fraction of a second. The lucky number was the number I assigned to LeQuan of Luvtoeat! Congratulations LeQuan! I'll e-mail you in a moment about your CSN gift certificate...

I want all of you to know that I really wish I had a gift certificate to give each and every one of you. In fact, I never could have anticipated how much your responses as to why you needed or wanted the certificate would pull at my heart strings. It was almost stressful, Dearies. Thank goodness for random generators is all I have to say!

And that's how the cookie crumbled...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Agua de Sandia (Watermelon Water)

lavender aqua de sandia

So a couple of weeks ago I got the most exciting package in the mail. I knew who it was from right away and was looking forward to it, but I never expected all the sweetness that would be inside. See I won a cookbook called 'The Local Flavor of Lavender' from Bonnie over at Sweet Life, which came with a tin of the most floral and wonderful smelling culinary lavender you can imagine. But Bonnie also stuffed the package full of all kinds of Texas goodies that I didn't expect.

Upon opening the package, I was quickly tossed to the side by my own Texan, Cauldron Boy, who ravaged the package by pulling out each and every item practically opening them all for me. He quickly inspected each treat, tea, or spice while telling me what he wanted me to make with it. Well, I'll be sure to tend to all of Cauldron Boy's stuff later...

For now, I made my Bonnie's favorite: Agua de Sandia or Watermelon Water. This one is infused with lavender, as I got the idea from 'The Local Flavor of Lavender'. I modified the recipe a bit to my own taste, and it turned out to be refreshing and wonderful. Cauldron Boy was also no less than pleased with this concoction.

You can also try Bonnie's more authentic version here!

Agua de Sandia-Serves 3-4
3-3 1/4 Cups of Seedless, Ripe Watermelon*
About 1 1/2 Cups of Icy Cold Water
1/4 Tsp. Culinary Lavender
1 Tbsp. Agave Syrup
*This recipe only works well with a sweet melon!

Place watermelon in a blender with the lavender and agave syrup. Add half of the water and blend. Add more water till you reach your desired consistency. Place in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes before stirring and serving very cold. Enjoy!
*I used almost the exact measurements above for the pictured drink and it was delicious and refreshing!

Next will be the Lavender Potatoes! Oh, and please enter my contest below, Dearies, if you are interested and haven't done so already...
p.s.-Bonnie, I tried to take super cool photos like yours. I don't know if I got the lighting right-it's close though, no (smile)?