A taste of Ennis

Yesterday we ambled into town and I thought I’d share a few glimpses of Ennis and Ireland itself.  While waiting to use the ATM on O’Connell Street, I looked up and saw nature doggedly determined to express itself, no matter how difficult the circumstances.    If this town were left to itself, I truly believe nature would consume it within a matter of weeks.

chimney_flowers

After admiring the chimney, we headed off to Meanwell, our local health food store.  They are really good at displaying impulse items on their check-out counter, so when Kevin spied these, he HAD to have them.

vegqn_marshmallows

So how did they taste?  Surprisingly, they do resemble regular marshmallows, just not quite as chewy.  They melt a little quicker too.  I’m not a fan of them as they just taste like sugar to me, but Kevin yummed them up.

marshmellow_closesup

Next stop was Zest for a coffee break.  They now seem to have self-serve pancakes available.  Even though I’ve lived here for almost 4 years now, I never get used to seeing pre-made pancakes like this.  I simply can’t imagine why anyone would want to eat these.  You will also find them sold in cellophane packages in the shops in the bakery section.  Pancakes are a food to be made just prior to consuming, not weeks in advance.   This shall forever remain an oddity to me.

self-serve_pancakes

The next weird thing was what the cafe decided to serve with the caffe latte.  A Crunchie bar.   My first thought was left-over Halloween candy that had been repurposed.  Normally a small, delicate biscuit that is individually wrapped accompanies the espresso drinks, not a crappy commercial chocolate bar.   It just looked so incongruous beside that drink, I had to take a pic and share it with you all.

cafe_crunchy

For the past week there’s been a trad music festival going on in Ennis.  On our way to the art store in Merchant’s Square, we stumbled across these musicians having an informal jam session.   I really do love this style of music.  Sorry the clip is so short, but the waiter was standing and waiting patiently for me to finish filming so he could continue cleaning tables.

Hope you enjoyed our short ramble around Ennis!

 

Snowballs in May

Credit for the naming of this treat goes to Kevin.  When he saw them, he happily exclaimed, “Snowballs!”.

The inspiration for these snowballs was the left over pulp from my home-made coconut milk.  It still had quite a bit of flavour and it seemed a shame to put it in the compost bin.  Hence, a treat was born.

These were quite simple to put together.  Date paste, vanilla, a dash or two of cardamom and nutmeg, a couple heaping teaspoons of raw cacao powder, a pinch of sea salt and freshly crushed walnut pieces.  Most of the coconut pulp went into the food processor along with the the rest of the ingredients, with some coconut pulp and walnuts set aside.

After pureeing, I made them into balls then rolled them in the “snow”.  Just the right amount of sweetness and moistness.

They’ve been the perfect amuse-bouche for our green smoothie meals.

coconut_snowballs

No bake non-dairy cheesecake

Whenever I start cruising raw vegan sites, invariably a “cheesecake” recipe will show up.  They are usually based on cashews for the “cheese” part, and now that I have my fancy new blender, I felt ready to tackle one of these recipes.

For this recipe, I used the one on Rawtarian’s site.   It’s quite straight forward to make with very few ingredients required.  I added a couple of tablespoons of raw cacao powder to the crust, but other than that, followed the recipe closely.

After preparing, I placed them in the freezer for 8 hours, then moved them to the fridge where they remained until being served.  They keep their firmness perfectly fine in the fridge.  They also don’t start to melt or anything like that at room temperature.  They hold up just fine.

So how were they?  Delish!   I  can honestly say these were the best “cheesecakes” I’ve ever had.  And wow, absolutely decadent.  I used ramekins to create these individual size portions, but honestly, a 1/4 slice of one is all you really need.  They are very rich!

If you prefer chocolate cheesecake, check out the raw recipe over at Pure2Raw.  It’s one I will definitely tackle at some point.

cheesecake

 

Strawberry Shortcake Forever

There have been some absolutely lovely strawberries making their appearance in the stores lately, just begging to be made into a dessert.

I decided on strawberry shortcake because it’s been aaaaaaaaaaaaages since I’ve had it, and it makes me think of summer.  Two very good reasons, imho.

I figured someone had probably sorted out the logistics of a vegan, gluten free version already and so I went recipe hunting.  The one that caught my eye was featured at the blog Without Adornment.   As it was a Sunday and all the health food stores were closed, I had to make some substitutions.  I used quinoa flour instead of rice flour.   The thing about quinoa is that it brings its own unique flavour to the party, so the more neutral rice flour would have been better in this case.  I also didn’t have any potato starch, so I just added more tapioca flour to make up the difference.

Despite the substitutions, it still turned out great and we yummed it up completely!

strawberry_shortcake

Vegan frittata extravaganza

As pot pies are passée,  I had to find a new use for those tins and vegan frittatas were the perfect solution.  Normally these would be made in a cast iron skillet in the oven, but a parchment lined pie plate works well, especially if you want to make individual portions.

kale-frittata

Tofu frittata with sweet kale flowers

Here’s a peek inside.  The base is tofu, the texture of which is remarkably like egg.  It holds everything together quite well.   These were prepared with spinach, red pepper, green onion, turmeric, salt and pepper.

frittata-cut

 

frittata-kevin

This is a frittata Kevin made. It was scrumptious!

These frittatas are remarkably easy to make.  You just need a block of medium firm tofu, processed till smooth in the food processor.  As tofu can be a bit soggy, add 2 heaping teaspoons of chickpea flour and a 1/2 cup of engevita nutritional yeast if you want a cheese-like flavour and process again. Put the pureed tofu mixture in a bowl and add finely chopped veggies of your choice.  Don’t overdo it with the veggies otherwise your frittata won’t hold together.   Add a teaspoon of turmeric if you would like it to look like the egg version (turmeric is also an excellent cancer fighting spice, so a good idea to include it regardless).

Salt and pepper to taste.  Put everything in a cast iron skillet, or a parchment lined pie plate as below.   Smooth the top and evenly spread one teaspoon of olive oil over the surface.  This keeps it the top from drying out while baking.  Bake at 350F/180C for 25 – 30 minutes.

frittata-in-pan

Frittatas fresh out of the oven

Easy, right?

 

Gluten free goodness

This is going to be a mega post with a bunch of gluten free meals.  It really hasn’t been much of a transition to gluten free.  Easy peasy in fact.   When I think about it, most of my meals weren’t built around wheat anyway.

First up is a fusion dish of old and new worlds.  Quinoa from Peru and borlotti beans and sundried tomatoes from Italy.   Ireland contributed the spinach and the onions.  I also pureed some of the sundried tomatoes for the sauce.  A very delicious and easy dish to make.  In case you’re wondering, borlotti beans taste a lot like pinto beans.  If you’re a newcomer to quinoa, make sure you rinse the grain thoroughly before cooking to get rid of the bitter tasting saponins.

spinach-beans-quinoa

The colours are a bit garish due to indoor lighting – the bane of food bloggers everywhere.

Keeping with the quinoa theme for the next dish, I tossed some cashews, green onion,  sundried tomatoes, and olive oil with red quinoa.  A couple of spritzes of Braggs Liquid Aminos to round out the flavour.  Visually it probably would have looked better using white quinoa, but red was what I had on hand.  Accompanying this were sprouted falafels and tahini dressing.  Yummy!

falafel_quinoa_plate

This next dish harkens back to my Polish/Ukrainian roots.  These lovelies were stuffed with rice and smoked tofu with a pinch of salt and pepper.  We ate them with ketchup, which is the BEST way to eat cabbage rolls, imho.

cabbage_rolls

The rolls were made with York cabbage, a variety I discovered here in Ireland.  Nice long leaves to work with.cabbage-york

Next up we head to the Far East for inspiration.  This is my version of sag aloo, which means the only resemblance to the traditional dish are the potatoes and spinach.  This particular curry was prepared with split yellow peas for the base, along with coconut milk.  The curry spice was Green Saffron’s Murgh Oudhi blend.  Honestly, Green Saffron has the BEST curry blends I’ve experienced anywhere and they are based right here in Ireland.  Their blends are always freshly ground and delicately balanced.   Never overwhelming.  I stick to the mild options as I don’t particularly like “hot” food.  Spicy as in flavourful, yes.  But hot, no.   This dish was then topped with fresh cilantro.

split-yellow-pea-curry

Of course a big part of an Indian meals are the breads.  As these all seem to be wheat based, I decided to tackle making a gluten free version.  For help with this, I followed Ramani’s Gluten Free Chapati recipe.  As I didn’t have all the flours listed, and you need a bunch, I used what I had, which was quinoa and tapioca flours.  Outside of that huge divergence, I followed her recipe faithfully.  Oh, except for frying them in ghee.  I used coconut oil.  So, how did they turn out?  Well, Kevin said he liked them, but then he’s extremely supportive and polite when it comes to my experiments.  In my opinion, they were way too chewy, reminscent of shoe leather.  Not that I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining on shoe leather, but it’s what I would imagine it to be like.  The quinoa imparted a rather strong flavour, which I would have been happier without.   I really have a feeling the quinoa grains are not rinsed prior to milling.

So these were a fail in my opinion.  Next time I will make sure I use all the flours Ramani suggests and will avoid substituting quinoa flour.

indian-flat-bread-quinoa-tapioca

Next we slide back to the Mediterranean for inspiration.  Home made dolmades stuffed with rice and smoked tofu, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice; garlic-infused borlotti beans tossed with red peppers, green onion and sun-dried tomatoes;  and steamed potatoes quickly sautéed with fresh oregano, red peppers and green onion.  Absolutely one of my fave dishes from the past couple  of weeks.  I don’t normally make separate piles of food due to the extra work involved, but in this case it was worth it.  Delish!

mediterranean-plate

And back to the very Far East again for sushi.  This isn’t exotic, of course, but it is in Ennis because we don’t have a sushi restaurant.  But what we do have is access to the raw ingredients to make our own, so yay!

Kevin and I absolutely LOVE avocado maki, so those are always on the sushi roster.

sushi-avocado

Next up one of my own creations.  Tamari marinated tofu, grilled till firm, smothered in a horseradish mayonnaise.    OMG, divine!

sushi-tofu

tamari-gluten-freeThe only downside to the meal was the wasabi.  It was bitter and awful.  I have yet to locate a good tasting wasabi powder here.     I ended up leaving it out as it really was quite horrid.  For the tofu rolls, I used regular horseradish in the mayo.

Luckily we’re able to get a wheat free tamari, so all was not lost.

I think that covers a good sampling of what we’ve been dining on lately.  I hope I’ve convinced any skeptics that a gluten free lifestyle is no hardship.  Rather, it opens up a huge cultural horizon of food, filled with endless variety and flavour.

Bon appétit, tout le monde!

 

 

Who knew kale flowers were so yummy? (updated)

The kale I planted two years ago finally bolted and flowered.  As the flowers reminded me of broccoli, I decided to see what they might be like to eat.

For this experiment, I used only the green, unopened flowers, which turned out to be a GOOD idea.


kale_flowers_green

I don’t recommend using the open, yellow flowers as a side dish.  They are like chewing on twigs.  Guess how I know this?!  Save the yellow ones for your green smoothies as they’re perfect for that.

kale_flowers_yellow

Right, so back to the green kale flowers.  I gently sautéed them with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of sea salt.  They only take a couple a minutes to cook;  they should be a deep green colour when ready.

So how do they taste?  Sweet!  I mean that literally.  They are so sweet and tender, with absolutely no hint of that broccoli-like bitterness.  It’s a wonder these aren’t sold commercially as they are fantastic.  I ended up serving them with a vegan frittata, which was also delicious.

kale_flowers_cooked

 Seems kale flowers ARE commercially available.  Props to my friend Sherry in Edmonton who spotted these kale flowers at her local Planet Organic store.  But look at the price:  $27.54/kg!  Crazy!

kale_flowers_edmonton

 

Gluten Free Adzuki Bean Brownies

I love adzuki beans and I love chocolate, so why not put them together?   These brownies were quite gourmet in their execution, so not something that could be whipped up quickly.  The inspiration for this recipe came via conversation with my friend Betty.  We were talking about using beans in brownies and she said she preferred to use adzuki beans because of their natural sweetness.  And she’s right!  I’ve made brownies with black beans before, but I do prefer them with adzuki beans.

First of all, I started with dry adzuki beans which had to be soaked overnight before being cooked in the pressure cooker.

As I like chunks of chocolate scattered throughout, I made raw, organic chocolate for that purpose.  Kevin and I both remarked recently that the flavour and texture of commercial chocolate really pales in comparison.     Now that we make our own chocolate, we can’t imagine buying a commercial brand again.  I guess you could say we have become chocolate snobs.  :P

As I didn’t want the brownies to be entirely bean based, I also used buckwheat flour.  I have to say there’s a real learning curve with using gluten free flours.  Buckwheat tends to produce somewhat dry baked goods, so in this case, it was a perfect companion to the very moist adzuki beans.

 

adzuki_bean_brownies

They turned out maaaaarvelous!

As I made these a few days ago, I’ll have to go off memory as to how I did it.

Ingredients

Raw, organic chocolate broken into chunks (see recipe below)
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup cooked adzuki beans, pureed
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
1/2 cup rapadura sugar (or more to taste.  You can reduce the amount of sugar considerably by adding a small amount of stevia)
1/2 cup freshly shelled walnuts, broken into pieces
1/2 cup coconut milk + 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions

Line an 8″ x 8″ cake pan with parchment.

Combine the buckwheat flour, sugar and cacao powder in a food processor and mix together.  Add the  adzuki bean puree and coconut milk/vanilla mixture and blend again.  If  the batter is too stiff, add more coconut milk a tablespoon at a time.  The resulting batter should be thick,  but easy to spoon into your pan.   What you don’t want is  a runny batter.  Buckwheat flour has a tendency to get really, really wet, so caution is necessary when adding liquid to it.

Move the batter to a mixing bowl and add the walnuts and chocolate chunks.  Combine well and then add to the cake pan.  Sprinkle more chocolate on top if you like really chocolatey brownies.

Bake at 350 F/180 C for 20 minutes.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out fairly clean.

Making Organic  Chocolate

I use a scale to weigh ingredients for chocolate as doing this by volume is really too hard.  I have found the magic ratio to be 1 part cacao power, 1 part honey, 2 parts cacao butter.   I arrived at this via trial and error.   For the above recipe, I used these amounts:

24g raw cacao powder, sifted
24g honey
48g raw cacao butter

Gently melt the cacao butter over low heat.  Once melted, add the honey and whisk together.  Once combined, add the cacao powder and whisk till smooth.

Remove from heat and pour into a mold.  I use a silicone ice cube tray as I don’t have any authentic chocolate molds.  Heck, it does the job.  Cover the mold with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to set.

When ready to use, you may need to let the chocolate warm to room temperature before trying to get it out of the mold.

I’m not a chocolatier, so maybe there are better ways to do this, but the above works for me.

 

 

A Smoothie Start

green_smoothie

We’ve moved away from porridge for breakfast and are now having green smoothies instead.  As there’s still kale growing in the garden (such a hardy plant!) that’s the green part of the drink.  The rest is rounded out with pineapple, mango and banana.

It’s amazing how substantial a breakfast this is.  It also tastes great!

This was made in an ordinary blender but there’s a trick to getting those kale leaves finely blended.  I start with a small amount of water in the blender, just enough to cover the blades.  Then I turn the blender on high and start dropping chopped bits of leaves through the lid.  The small volume of water ensures the leaves get finely chopped and blended.  Once that’s done, I start dropping in the pieces of fruit through the lid, all while the blades are spinning.  If the blender gets a bit sluggish, I add more water.  The end result is a very smooth smoothie.

So simple and such a great way to start the day.

Going Gluten Free

gluten free grainsA couple of weeks ago I began a gluten free journey.  What prompted this was a simple discussion with a friend about wheat, which then led to reading about wheat and how genetically modified it has become over the past 50 years.    It is these modifications which seem to be severely impacting our health.  Wheat is blamed for many ailments, chief among them gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.

Do you suffer from heartburn (acid reflux) after a meal?  What about bloating that lasts for hours and hours after eating?   I certainly did.  I attributed this to all kinds of things EXCEPT wheat.  I’d have a sandwich and would suffer from both heartburn and bloating.  I thought it might be the condiments I was using, or the filling in the sandwich.  I never considered the bread.  The same thing would happen after eating pasta.  Again, I thought it might be the oils in the pesto, or something else in the sauce.  But never the actual pasta itself.

I would also get really sleepy after eating wheat-based foods.   Wheat seems to be very good at spiking blood sugar far above the normal range, which is then followed by an over production of insulin.  This is what makes you sleepy after eating food containing wheat (or a lot of simple sugars).  This yo-yo effect on blood sugar levels is treading into diabetes territory.

After going through the literature on wheat and gluten intolerances which described quite accurately what I was suffering, I decided to forgo all wheat products, along with anything made from spelt, rye or kamut.

Guess what?  I haven’t had an episode of heartburn or bloating since.  Yup, 2 weeks gluten free and I have no more GI complaints.

As I’m not eating bread or pasta, what am I eating?  Quinoa, amaranth, rice and buckwheat are my new carb staples.  Of those quinoa is definitely my fave.

I’ve also used buckwheat and quinoa as flours in various baked goods (more on those in a future post).

We’re not big fans of fake veggie meats, which is a good thing as most of those contain gluten or wheat.  So fake meats are off the list.  The basic rule of thumb is if it’s processed food, I don’t bother eating it.

What sounds like hardship really isn’t.  I prefer to feel good after a meal so this change in diet seems a very small price to pay.

I’ve been photographing the many wheat/gluten-free meals I’ve been making over the past couple of weeks and will write posts about them soon.

I hope sharing my gluten free journey may help others who are also suffering.

À votre santé, everyone!