Monday, January 26, 2015

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

There are 11 smoothie recipes in this cookbook, and the "Strawberry-Banana Smoothie" (page 530) is the 6th one I've tried so far. This, to me, is my basic smoothie recipe - strawberries, bananas, and soymilk. (Sometimes I'll use orange juice in place of the soymilk). Easy, tasty, and uses ingredients that are usually on hand. The twist in this recipe is the optional addition of strawberry jam to intensify the flavor, especially nice if you have less than stellar fresh or frozen strawberries. Since I've started making my own soy yogurt at home, I will sometimes substitute this for the soy milk for extra nutrition and a little more complex flavor.

 Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:

  • No changes necessary!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Giant Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

The recipe notes fittingly ask, is the "Giant Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake" (page 452) a "cake that thinks it's a cookie or a cookie masquerading as a cake?" My husband and I ate this dessert for several days, and after we finished every last delicious bite, neither one of us could rightly answer this question. It doesn't really matter, though, since no matter how you slice it, or bite into it, the bottom line is how good it tastes! And making it even more appealing to me was that the recipe does not call for any added oil or margarine. Not that it isn't rich enough, with ¾ cup peanut butter, this is a very indulgent dessert, and a little goes a long way. Besides the peanut butter, the cookie-cake contains maple syrup and brown sugar, soy milk, flour, baking powder, and vegan chocolate chips. Like I said, this is a very rich treat!

 Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:

  • Use whole wheat pastry flour or King Arthur's brand of White Whole Wheat flour instead of all-purpose (white) flour.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hot Cocoa

Sometimes nothing else will do but a steamy mug of "Hot Cocoa" (page 540), and since it is so easy to make, satisfaction is only moments away. I recently discovered a way to make cocoa in my Vitamix blender, simply by adding all the ingredients to the blender jar, and blending on high for six minutes. You end up with hot steamy cocoa without worrying about stirring, burning, or scorching in a pan over the stove. Of course, the stove top method works perfectly fine, but I admit, I am very excited about using my Vitamix for all future hot cocoa experiences. (I'm not sure if other blenders would work this way, but the Vitamix is able to heat liquids to high heats such as soups and gravies, and now, hot cocoa!) Simple ingredients in this recipe: non dairy milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and vanilla extract. Perfect to chase away a winter chill!

 Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:


  • No changes necessary! :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Breakfast Bran Muffins

The "Breakfast Bran Muffins" (page 523) didn't turn out quite as moist as I had hoped they would. Of course, when omitting oil from baked goods, there is always going to be a challenge in this respect, but I think bran muffins in particular tend to be a bit on the drier side (which is probably why most recipes call for lots of oil or butter). And since bran flakes can vary widely, depending on what brand you end up with, it's hard to know if the recipe as written will work with the ones you use. Using whole grain flour (which I did, but the recipe calls for white flour) also results in a less moist baked good. In any case, these muffins were kind of dry. My husband didn't seem to mind at all, and he is pretty good at giving me honest feedback on my cooking. Cutting them in half and slathering with jam or apple butter also made a positive difference, as did warming them up.  I liked the raisins, they helped keep these muffins less dry than they would have been without them.

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:                                                                                                                

  • Use whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose (white flour)
  • Instead of the ¼ cup of oil, use a mashed banana, or 1/3 cup prune puree (baby food prunes), or ½ cup applesauce.
  • Using soymilk instead orange juice for the liquid measure might help with the dryness by adding a bit more natural fat to the batter.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pumpkin Ravioli with Peas & Caramelized Shallots

When serving ravioli, I typically think of topping it with some sort of sauce - marinara, Alfredo, even a vegan cheese style sauce. The "Pumpkin Ravioli with Peas & Caramelized Shallots" (page 230) was my first experience of using ravioli not as something to be "topped", but rather as just one component in a mixed ingredient dish. And, I have to make a confession. The recipe actually starts from scratch, giving detailed instructions on how to make the ravioli, using a pasta dough recipe found elsewhere in this book, and filling with a mixture of pumpkin, tofu, herbs and spices. I had been considering this recipe for quite awhile, and when I saw premade vegan pumpkin filled ravioli in a natural foods store, a complete rarity, I took it as a sign. I bought two packs and decided to make this recipe, which at this point, became quite easy! There are only two other ingredients once you have the ravioli made (or purchased) - the shallots and the peas. The shallots are cooked long and slow over medium heat in order to caramelize them, and then the peas are added to the skillet just long enough to warm through, along with the cooked ravioli. Although a quite unusual (for me) way to prepare ravioli, I really liked it. I thought it needed a little zip, so I added red pepper flakes at the table. Caramelizing onions (or shallots in this case) is usually done by cooking them in oil, but you can do it using water. Just add a couple teaspoons of water at a time to the skillet as the shallots are cooking, waiting until the skillet begins to dry out before adding water again. Continue this for about 15 minutes until the shallots are quite soft and golden brown.

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:
  • Use the water method of caramelizing onions instead of cooking in oil. Using a medium heat, allow the shallots to cook until almost dry, adding 2-3 teaspoons of water at a time to allow the cooking process to continue. Repeat this procedure for about 15 minutes until the shallots are soft and golden brown.
  • If you are lucky enough to find  pre-made whole grain pumpkin filled ravioli, buy as much as you have room to store! :-) Otherwise, you can make your own using whole wheat pastry flour - not something I've ever tried, so I can't really comment on how that would work. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ragin' Cajun Popcorn

What's more fun than popcorn? "Ragin' Cajun Popcorn" (page 4) just might be! The very first recipe of this book (but the 396th recipe I've tried), this offering really starts the book off with a bang!! Popped corn is tossed with a highly flavorful and HOT blend of spices, including oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, garlic, onion powder, celery salt, and cayenne pepper. These are flavorful spices known to Cajun cuisine, and they do pack a flavor punch. The biggest challenge here is getting the spices to adhere to the popcorn if you use the air popped method, thereby omitting the oil. One solution is to lightly spray the popcorn with water or Braggs Aminos prior to adding the spices, being careful to add just a spritz or two so the popcorn doesn't get soggy. If you choose to use oil, however, you certainly don't need ¼ cup of oil for 1/3 cup popcorn kernels. You will find that just 2 teaspoons is enough to pop the corn, cutting the fat content from the oil down from 54 grams of fat and 477 calories to just 9 grams of fat and 79 calories (for the entire batch). And you know how popcorn is, once you start eating it, it's hard to stop! Those calories and fat grams could add up very quickly!

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:


  • Use air popped popcorn so you won't have to use oil in the popping process. Spritz the popped corn with water or Braggs Aminos before adding the spices so they will stick.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pear Gratin with Cranberries & Pecans

Including dessert in a healthy low-fat diet can be a challenge, but if you look for those that are mostly fruit, you can find plenty of options. "Pear Gratin with Cranberries & Pecans" (page 491) is a fairly healthy choice, especially if you leave out the margarine (as I did), because all it really amounts to is fresh fruit sprinkled with nuts. I say "fairly healthy" because there is a significant amount of nuts in this recipe, which are high in fat. Sliced pears are tossed with dried cranberries, sugar, ginger, and cornstarch, arranged in a gratin dish (I used a pie plate since I don't have a gratin dish), drizzled with a splash of soymilk, topped with chopped pecans, and baked in a hot oven until the fruit is soft. This was a delightful dessert, although the cornstarch didn't seem to thicken up the juices much. In retrospect, I think I could have left out the ¼ cup soymilk without detracting from the overall enjoyment (and maybe the dessert would have thickened up some as well). The recipe calls for dotting the top of the gratin with ¼ cup margarine prior to baking, but I left this out completely, and didn't miss it at all. If you are really feeling decadent, the recipe suggests serving this warm topped with a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream. (Of course, this would cancel out those benefits of a fruit-only, low-fat dessert!)

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:


  • Completely omit the ¼ cup margarine. You won't even miss it!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Smoothies in Winter

I like smoothies any time, but the "Smoothies in Winter" (page 530), which uses pumpkin, is especially seasonal this time of year. A mixture of puréed pumpkin (fresh, or from canned), frozen banana, pure maple syrup for added sweetness, soymilk, vanilla extract and spices, it is very reminiscent of pumpkin pie. (If you happen to have any plain vegan yogurt on hand, substitute half of the milk with the yogurt for a treat that tastes like pumpkin cheesecake!). This is a wonderful winter treat, and as the recipe suggests, could even be served in place of eggnog at a holiday gathering.

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:


  • No changes necessary! :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Maple-Pecan Waffles (Or Pancakes)

Some people think I had to give up all my kitchen appliances when I moved full time into my 5th wheel trailer. Not so! Others think the only appliance we need is a can opener, and that all our meals are eaten off of paper plates. Also not so! I actually have a very well stocked kitchen with a large variety of cookware, small appliances, and kitchen gadgets. But alas…I do not own a waffle iron…I didn't own a waffle iron before living in my 5th wheel either, but happily the recipe for "Maple-Pecan Waffles" (page 517) states that you can use this same batter to make pancakes if you like. So I did! What an easy recipe, just basic pancake batter with the addition of ground pecans and pure maple syrup. (I also chose to add a few blueberries, easy to do by just popping a few berries onto the batter after ladling onto the hot skillet.) These delicious pancakes are wonderful topped with warm maple or blueberry syrup at the table, and even sprinkling on a few more pecans if you want, as the recipe suggests.

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:
  • Use whole wheat flour, or whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose (white) flour.
  • Omit the melted margarine when preparing the batter - you won't even miss it!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chard & New Potato Gratin with Herbs de Provence

I was able to utilize my husband's skills with a mandoline (a tool for preparing very thinly sliced vegetables) in the "Chard & New Potato Gratin with Herbes de Provence" (page 322), as I am scared to death of slicing off my fingers with this gadget, even with the guard in place. So, whenever a recipe calls for using a mandoline, I ask my husband to do the honors. If you don't have a mandoline (or anyone in your house willing to use one!), you can still make this dish, just slice the potatoes as thinly as possible with a sharp knife. Pre-cooked onion and Swiss chard is layered with the sliced potatoes and herbes de Provence, drizzles of vegetable broth (the recipe calls for drizzling with oil, but I used broth), topped off with vegan Parmesan or Parmasio, and baked in a hot oven for about an hour. Traditionally, gratins are served directly from the baking dish, but I spooned a portion out on a plate for this picture. I love just about anything made with potatoes, and this was no exception. This was actually the first time I used herbes de Provence, an aromatic and delightful blend of rosemary, cracked fennel, thyme, savory, basil, French tarragon, dill weed, Turkish oregano, lavender, chervil and marjoram. I enjoyed this dish for dinner the first day, and diced up and browned in a skillet for breakfast the next morning.  

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:


  • Omit the oil when sautéing the veggies; instead use a nonstick skillet and/or a little water, broth, or sherry as the sauté liquid.
  • Use vegetable broth instead of oil to drizzle over the potatoes as you are layering them in the gratin dish.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Spinach Soufflé

You know how sometimes everything comes together exactly right, and a recipe that is making no sense at all turns out perfectly wonderful? And you know those times when it doesn't…? I've been cooking, reading recipes, even writing recipes for over 40 years, and consider myself comfortable enough in the kitchen to make adjustments on the fly when necessary, and able to recognize when something in a recipe will work, or not. But still, there are those times when you are caught off guard, and you end up scratching your head, wondering what went wrong. Such was the case with the "Spinach Soufflé" (page 329). The basic recipe is a mixture of sautéed onion and spinach combined in a food processor with firm tofu, to which is added flour, ¾ cup broth, and baking powder (plus some soy sauce for flavor, salt, and pepper). The first thing that didn't seem right was the addition of the broth. The mixture at this point was already like a thin cake batter, and I thought adding any more liquid would make it almost soupy. So, I decided against adding any broth at all. I proceeded with the rest of the instructions, scraping the mixture into a casserole dish and baking for an hour. And the end results were…disappointing. I'm not sure why, exactly. It was a texture thing, partly. Possibly not cooked long enough? It was blandness, partly. It really could have used some pizzazz, maybe with the addition of fresh garlic, or red pepper flakes, or both. It could have been my own alterations to the recipe - I used more spinach than called for, maybe half again as much (although it cooks down to almost nothing so it didn't seem like this would matter); I omitted the broth for reasons mentioned above; I excluded the 3 tablespoons of oil. I also have to say, having never made a non-vegan soufflé, having never made any kind of soufflé, maybe I didn't know quite what to expect? In any case, this recipe turned out to be one of the rare recipes from this book I haven't thoroughly enjoyed, truly the exception.

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:

  • Omit the oil when sautéing the veggies; instead use a nonstick skillet and/or a little water, broth, or sherry as the sauté liquid.
  • Use whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose (white) flour in the soufflé mixture.
  • Omit the oil from the tofu-spinach soufflé mixture when preparing in the food processor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Farfalle with Crunchy Crucifers & Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

"Farfalle with Crunchy Crucifers & Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing" (page 91) is super fast, super easy, and super tasty! The recipe calls for 2 cups each cauliflower and broccoli, and I had every intention of including both. (You might notice there is nothing green in this photograph.) But on the day I was making this dish, I found to my dismay that my broccoli had spoiled. How often does that happen? Broccoli is a hearty vegetable and should last quite a while under refrigeration. I had it in my refrigerator less than a week. Makes me wonder how long it sat in the grocery store? In any case, I had plenty of cauliflower, so not to be daunted, I doubled up on that. Maybe not as colorful as it might have been, this was still very good, and I think the secret here was the poppy seed dressing. Silken tofu is seasoned with Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, maple syrup, and of course, poppy seeds. It also calls for olive oil, but I left this out altogether with no substitution needed. Served equally delicious chilled or at room temperature, and the leftovers hold well. 

Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:

  • Omit the oil in the poppy seed dressing.

  • Thursday, November 27, 2014

    Summer Vegetable Soup

    If you have your own garden, or access to a local farmer's market, you will have all the fresh veggies you need for this "Summer Vegetable Soup" (page 149). Leeks, carrots, garlic, potatoes, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes and corn cook tender in a light vegetable broth, and fresh spinach adds the colorful finishing touch. This soup is soothing, nutritious, and delicious. But you don't have to wait until summer to make it - you can usually find these vegetables in well stocked grocery stores year round. 

    Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:

  • Omit the oil when sautéing the veggies; instead use a nonstick soup pot and/or a little water, broth, or sherry as the sauté liquid.
  • Saturday, November 22, 2014

    Green Bean Bake with Crispy Leeks

    Just in time for Thanksgiving, "Green Bean Bake with Crispy Leeks" (page 370) presented me with a fun challenge - how to prepare the 'crispy leeks' portion of the recipe without using ½ cup oil to fry them in. But first things first: preparing fresh green beans (trim and cook in boiling salted water); sautéing garlic, shallots, fresh mushrooms, with herbs and spices; thickening the sautéed veggies with a roux of flour and sherry; simmering all this in broth until it thickens; adding soy creamer and the prepared green beans to this mixture. Now you've got the 'Green Bean Bake' portion of the dish. 

    (Note: when I try to use flour as a thickening agent in a skillet of sautéed veggies, I usually end up with a lumpy mess, especially when cooking oil free. To avoid this, I usually add whatever liquids will be used in the dish to my blender, along with the flour, and whirl on low to a smooth consistency before adding to the skillet. It may not be as "gourmet" as creating a roux, but I find I get much better results with no loss of flavor. In this recipe, I blended the flour, sherry, and veggie broth (mushroom flavored broth was an excellent choice here!) before adding to the hot skillet of sautéed veggies and was rewarded with a rich, flavorful, and lump-free mixture.) 

    Now, for the challenge of preparing the crispy leeks. The instructions ask you to cut one leek in half lengthwise, into two long this strips. This didn't seem right to me, and I even wondered if it was a typo. Instead, I opted to slice the leek from the top, creating several small rings, and working my way down to the tough green part before I stopped. I ended up with about 10 small "onion rings", which I further separated into smaller rings. I put these rings into a bowl of soymilk to soak for about 10 minutes. I then placed the seasoning mix of flour, salt, and pepper into a small brown paper bag (like a lunch bag). I removed the onion rings with a slotted spoon, placed them in the bag of seasoned flour, shook them up good, then spread them on a parchment lined baking sheet. I baked these at 375 for about 30 minutes, checking at 10 minute intervals to make sure they weren't burning. When they were browned and crispy, I took them out of the oven and used them for the casserole topping. 

    This dish did turn out to be a little time and labor intensive, but if you are looking for a delicious, and impressive, vegan alternative to the standard Green Bean Casserole that shows up every year around this time, it could be well worth your effort! 

    Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:

    • Omit the oil when sautéing the shallots and garlic; instead use a nonstick skillet and/or a little water, broth, or sherry as the sauté liquid. (Also, see my note above about incorporating the flour as a thickening agent in the skillet.)
    • Use whole wheat pastry flour when for thickening the vegetable mixture and for preparing the leeks instead of all-purpose (white) flour.
    • See my method above for creating the crispy leeks, as opposed to frying them in oil.

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Quinoa & Pinto Bean-Stuffed Peppers

    The "Quinoa & Pinto Bean-Stuffed Peppers" (page 336) is a very festive dish, especially if you use different colored peppers. Many grocery stores carry the pre-packaged, multi-pack, multi-colored peppers, a great choice for this recipe. As you may have read in some of my earlier posts, I'm not a huge fan of quinoa, but I am starting to warm up to it, the more I experiment, and the combination of ingredients for the stuffing here - quinoa, red onion, and pinto beans - was simple, but good. I did find the filling just a tad bland, however, and a bit dry, so I added ½ cup green salsa to the mixture before stuffing the peppers. This added a nice amount of moisture, and the extra flavor boost I was looking for. Most recipes for stuffed peppers call for par-boiling or quick cooking the peppers prior to stuffing and baking them, but I always skip this step. I find the peppers get too soft for my liking when doing this, and baking them in the oven once they are stuffed yields the best texture. You might end up with extra filling, which makes a nice side dish for another meal.

    Keeping it "McDougall Friendly" checklist:
    • Omit the olive oil when sautéing the vegetables; instead use a nonstick saucepan and/or a little water, broth, or sherry as the sauté liquid.