Friday, May 31, 2013

Chewy Vegan Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I've said it many times before, but I'll say it again. I'm really not a big fan of baking. I think it's the combination of making sure you follow the recipe exactly (I hate following recipes...I always adapt them) plus all of the measuring involved (which always means more dishes to wash). And most of the time, baked goods aren't all that healthy to eat anyways, so when I do bake, I'm always trying to make it healthy. I have to say that these cookies came out far better than I ever imagined. I adapted an old favorite recipe of mine (one that uses lots of butter, an egg, and brown sugar) and made it totally vegan and 100% whole grain without any refined sugar! And you know what? They honestly taste just as good as the original. It's incredible.
 I used a new-to-me sweetener in this recipe and that is the lovely coconut sugar. Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut tree and has a lower glycemic index than regular table sugar, which means it doesn't spike your blood sugar levels. The sugar is shown along with the oats in the second picture above. It's got a golden color to it and a complex sweetness that's not overpowering. What's really great is that you can substitute it for regular sugar perfectly in every recipe. Keep in mind, it is still a sweetener, and although it's much healthier than refined sugar, it is not okay to consume loads and loads of it.

Another important point about this recipe worth noting is the use of chia seeds in place of the egg. Chia seeds are crazy high in Omega 3's. Unlike flaxseeds, which need to be ground up to make the Omega 3's digestible, chia seeds can be eaten whole. Chia seeds, when combined with water, become thick and gelatinous, making it a perfect egg substitute for vegan baked goods. In fact, the rule I always follow when substituting egg in a recipe is:

1 tablespoon chia seeds + 3 tablespoons water= 1 egg

For this recipe to be successful, however, you must let these cookies cool completely after removing them from the oven. They will fall apart if you don't. I know, I know, it's really hard to resist when you have beautiful hot cookies straight from the oven just asking to be devoured straight from the cookie sheet. But trust me on this one, they're worth the wait.

Chewy Vegan Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies (makes about 12 cookies)

1/2 cup coconut oil (8 tablespoons), melted
2/3 cup coconut sugar (or rapadura sugar)
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seeds plus 4 1/2 tablespoons water, combined in a small bowl to make a gel
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole spelt flour (or other whole grain flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups + 3 tablespooons rolled oats
1 dark chocolate bar (at least 70% cocoa content), chopped
1/2 cup walnuts (65 grams), chopped (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Pulse half of the oats (3/4 cups) in a food processor to make a flour. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the melted coconut oil, the chia seed gel, and vanilla. Wisk very well.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the spelt flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together. Stir this into the coconut oil/chia mixture. Stir in the oats plus the oat flour you made earlier, chocolate chunks, and walnuts, if using them. You should have a nice, thick dough. If needed, you may want to put the bowl of dough in the freezer or refrigerator for a few minutes to let it firm up a bit. (this will ensure thicker cookies and not flat pancake cookies)

3. Scoop cookies into balls two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes (your baking time will vary, depending on your oven) taking them out when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. Remove from the oven.
*Important* Let them sit on the baking sheet for at least two hours to let them cool, otherwise they will fall apart. If you let them cool completely, they will stay together perfectly.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stinging Nettle Tea

Recently, I've been very interested in foraging for wild edible plants. The Pacific Northwest is really a forager's mecca and I've only just begun my venture into the world of wild edibles. There are wild berries, mushrooms, bitter greens like dandelions and chickweed, medicinal greens like nettles, plus countless others.
I recently read an article about how wild and heirloom variety plants have an incredible amount of health benefits, exorbitantly more than the typical varieties of produce you see in a grocery store. The reason for this is because our modern-day produce has been bred to taste good, ship well, last long, and look pleasing to the eye. This breeding process to help produce these "desirable traits" comes at a cost. And that cost is nutrition. For example, wild berries picked from a bush in the woods contain up to 37 times the amount of antioxidants per gram of fresh weight as compared to the typical blueberries you'd find in a plastic carton at the grocery store (source). Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets (source: New York Times). It's crazy, right?!
So what's a girl to do when she lives in the Pacific Northwest, land of the wild edibles? Go foraging of course! This time around, I found myself some dandelion greens, chickweed, salmonberries, and nettles. Lots and lots of nettles. And I'm here to tell you about the amazing health benefits of these stinging little greens.
Nettles really are powerful. Just type in a search in Google about the health benefits of nettles and you've got information for days.They are considered blood builders and are an amazing source of iron and vitamin K, making them wonderful for those suffering with low iron levels (hello vegetarian women and pregnant ladies!). Nettles are incredibly cleansing and detoxifying and help the liver and kidneys excrete metabolic wastes. They are used to treat joint pain, and many people with arthritis and fibromyalgia have reported decreased pain with the use of stinging nettles. Nettles are also a wonderful way to fight seasonal allergies. I for one have had zero problems with allergies since I've started consuming nettles regularly, and that's saying a lot for me! The list of benefits literally goes on and on, from skin and hair benefits, to helping those suffering with an enlarged prostate, to neurological disorders! I recommend this article for even more great information on nettles, if you're interested.

When handling nettles, be sure to use gloves, or else you'll be stuck with stinging fingers for quite awhile. And it really really hurts! (yeah, I may have handled some nettles with my bare hands...bad idea) Lightly steaming or blanching them will deactivate the stingers. I've also heard that blending them up raw in smoothies and pesto will deactivate the stingers, as well, so I'm going to try that next. You can even make nettle tinctures or dehydrate the nettles and use them in their dried form.  Here, I make the fresh leaves into a dark green infusion that's just bursting with health benefits. Surprisingly, the flavor is quite mild and pleasant. It's very "green" tasting, but I actually really enjoy it.

Stinging Nettle Infusion

2-3 cups of fresh nettles, rinsed
4-5 cups boiling water
large pitcher

1. Put the nettles in the pitcher. Pout boiling water over them and stir. Let sit for as long as you want. The longer you let it sit, the stronger (and darker) it will become. I let mine sit overnight. Then, strain the liquid into a mug and drink as often as you want.

Note:To get even more out of your nettles, you may blend the water and nettles in a blender for a few seconds and then strain off the liquid. Your tea will be even darker.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Simple Bowl of Vegetables

I have a love affair with vegetables. Call me obsessed, but these edible members of the plant kingdom just get me so excited. And inspired. I adore so many things about them. Their colors, textures, flavors, and their ability to heal the body are just some of them. I like them prepared in all sorts of ways, whether they're dressed in a salad, steamed on a bed of brown rice, thoughtfully prepared into an elaborate entree, or slowly simmered in a soup. The possibilities are literally endless and I wonder why so many people find it difficult to eat more of them. Perhaps it just seems too complicated or intimidating to prepare vegetables for some? Or maybe those who have an aversion to them only know of the ways they don't like to eat their vegetables? I can only hope inspire people to not only eat their vegetables because they should. I want people to enjoy the process of trying new ones and preparing them in new ways (I said new ways, not complicated ways). I want people to truly savor their flavors, be blown away by their colors and varieties, and appreciate their powerful health-promoting benefits. I can only hope that this blog will inspire people to love vegetables.
Here's a super simple bowl of vegetables that came together in literally ten minutes. I put them over some brown rice and sprinkled them with sesame seeds. They're simple, nourishing, beautiful, and most of all, delicious.

Ginger-Garlic Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Zucchini

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
oil of your choice (I used sesame)
10 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
2 to 3 heads of baby bok choy, roughly chopped
1 zucchini, very thinly sliced (as thin as you can slice, or use a mandolin)
sea salt
tamari, to taste
toasted sesame oil, to taste
sesame seeds for garnish
cooked brown rice (optional)

1. In a large pan over medium heat, saute 1 tablespoon of oil with a tablespoon each of the chopped ginger and garlic for 10 seconds. Add the mushrooms to the pan with a pinch of salt. Stir constantly to avoid sticking, until the mushrooms begin to soften, only about 4-5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside in a large bowl.

2. Add 1 more tablespoon of oil with the remaining ginger and garlic to the pan. Saute another 10 seconds and then add the zucchini and bok choy with another pinch of salt. Stir constantly for another 3 or 4 minutes until the vegetables wilt a little, but still retain their bright green color and crunchy texture. Remove from the pan and add them to the bowl of mushrooms. Toss with tamari and toasted sesame oil. Garnish with sesame seeds. Serve over brown rice, if desired.

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