Changing one taste bud at a time

Autumn energizes me, with her crisp sunny days and cool nights, such a welcome change from summer’s sweltering heat. Now we are heading into winter and a sort of settling in. 

Except that in our area, the pandemic is rearing its ugly head in a second wave.  We know co-morbidities put some of us at higher risk for complications from COVID-19:  diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, cancer. I have  some of these. For me, weight loss and healing my body with the best possible nutrition are my primary goals. I’d like to kick Type 2 diabetes and potential heart disease out the door forever. 

I know that a plant-based lifestyle is not a panacea. It will not cure everything and it certainly won’t prevent me from contracting the virus. It can, however, give my body a bit more of a fighting chance. Nutrition is an extremely powerful thing.  Studies show that a plant-based diet reduces inflammation and feeds the gut microbiome which is directly connected to a stronger immune system.  Antioxidants defend cells from attack and plants are full of flavonoids, powerful antioxidant agents. For people who are compromised, like me, that is nothing but good news. Is it real? Will it help? I can only hope so.

Just to recap, a whole-food plant based diet means:

  • Eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Avoiding packaged and processed foods, caffeine, alcohol
  • Avoiding animal products: meat, fish, shellfish, dairy
  • SOS version (for additional health benefits) means avoiding salt, oil and sugar 

A foodie at heart, when I started this I went through a period of mourning. In fact, I may still be mourning a bit. I was famous for my white chocolate cheesecake and boeuf bourguignon.  Would I long for lasagna? BBQ? I fell off the 100% plant-based wagon countless times with this mindset and kept starting over again and again. Then I committed and when i made that decision, it took. I will not eat meat or dairy or seafood. It has become so much easier since that proclamation. Cooking is still an adventure, even more fun and creative. I still have kitchen disasters but also thrilling wins. 

It is a process. My taste buds were used to huge hits of salt, sugar and fat, so at first, everything tasted bland. Unless perfectly ripe, fruit tasted sour. Learning to sauté without oil was scary until I started to experiment using broth or water or cooking wine instead. Herbs and spices are more amazing than ever. Berbere anyone? Neat tricks like making whipped cream out of aquafaba (aka bean water) still blows me away.

After two weeks of honest effort, the magic happens. Taste buds change. They literally change – taste cells are continually renewed in adults, with an average lifespan of 10-14 days. Cravings subside. Bite into a peach and it is the sweetest thing on Earth. The produce aisle or farmer’s market becomes a favourite hangout and the world of vegetables, mushrooms, beans and grains becomes an intriguing place.  Curries and stews and soups, oh my!  Accidentally tasting something enjoyed from the past, say, a bite of KFC or a sub or a donut,  will be shocking — so salty or cloyingly sweet as to be inedible. How have we, as a society, moved so far away from eating real food? 

Here is Mother Nature’s version of whole-food plant-based candy. Medjool dates have a sweet and sticky texture that resembles caramel.  When coupled with nut butter and a little cacao dust, they are great stand-ins for Hallowe’en size Snickers bar.  Guaranteed to please any sweet tooth with zero added fat or sugar. 

“Date Night” Candy

Take two Medjool dates and slice length-wise into halves

Fill each half with pure almond, peanut or any nut butter (ie/ nut butter with no additives).   If  allergic to nuts you can use sunflower seed butter.

Top each filled half with chopped nuts, cacao nibs, raisins, craisins, shredded coconut, or a dab of fruit butter or fruit jelly

Dust with cocoa powder

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Roasted Delicata Squash Rings

 

Autumn is here and we are seeing winter squash and pumpkins in all of their glorious hues of green, yellow and orange. The striped delicata squash is among my favourites.  “Delicata” because its skin is delicate, becoming soft and completely edible after roasting. The seeds are good to eat as well.

With this simple recipe (inspired by Forks Over Knives magazine) I decided to roast and eat some rings plain and some filled with a little bit extra. Creativity comes with the additions. You can rub any spice you like on top of the rings: cumin, paprika, cinnamon, curry powder, chili powder, etc. Once roasted, I would not skip the last step, which is brushing on a little maple syrup because it creates a lovely glaze over your selected spices, whether sweet or savoury. 

Nutritionally speaking, delicata is high in fibre, Vitamins A & C, manganese, potassium and magnesium. 1 cup has about 85 calories.

Fillings can be anything you like to eat:

Savoury:  rice & beans, quinoa with chopped peppers, stuffing, mashed potatoes, succotash, garlicky greens, corn, couscous, mushrooms, the sky is the limit.

Sweet fillings:   diced pears, mango or pineapple salsa, apples, raisins & rice

In this batch, I made a garlicky broccolini mixture (water sauteed onion, garlic, chopped broccolini, topped with a sprinkle of tamari and sesame seeds). The sweet ones were filled with a pear-cranberry compote.

Roasted Delicata Squash Rings

Creamy, rich, versatile squash rings that work as an appetizer, side or main. Eat them plain or fill them up!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Delicata Squash
  • Your Favourite Spices Cinnamon, Paprika, Cumin, Curry Powder, etc.
  • Your Favourite Fillings Stuffing, rice-and-beans,succotash, other veggies, fruit salsas or compotes
  • 1 tbsp Maple Syrup

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  • Scrub the squash clean under running water
  • Cut off a thin slice at each end of the squash
  • Cut the remaining squash into 1-inch rings
  • Remove seeds from each ring with a teaspoon
  • Place rings on a parchment-lined baking sheet
  • Sprinkle desired spice on top of each ring, or leave plain if preferred
  • Place in oven for 15 minutes
  • Turn the slices over, then roast for an additional 15 minutes
  • Remove from oven and turn over one last time, brushing each ring with maple syrup
  • Put back in oven for additional 5 minutes
  • Remove from oven and add any desired fillings
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

  • Fillings are optional and you can put in whatever your heart desires.
  • In my rings above, I filled my savoury rings with a broccolini/onion/garlic mixture which I water-sauteed and sprinkled with tamari and sesame seeds
  • The sweet rings were filled with a pear-cranberry compote that I made when I had too many ripe pears
Keyword Autumn, Oil-free, Vegan

 

Peach Blueberry Oats

 

Summer means fresh, juicy peaches and blueberries that taste better than at any other time of year. This simple little dish is perfect for breakfast, a snack or even to use as a topping on some sweet “nice cream”. It can be eaten hot, warm or cold. Unlike crisp or cobbler, this dish is oil-free and sugar-free, relying on the natural sweetness and juice from the fruit. If you would like it a little sweeter, you can always drizzle a little maple syrup on top.

 

 

 

 

 

Peach Blueberry Oats

Great for breakfast or dessert!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Servings 4 1/2 cup servings
Calories 195 kcal

Equipment

  • 8 X 8 glass baking dish

Ingredients
  

Ingredients

  • 4+ whole peaches, sliced Slice enough peaches to fully cover bottom of pan
  • 1 dry pint / 551 ml container fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup large flake oats
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water (optional) If your fruit is not super juicy, pour the water over the fruit and oats before baking

Instructions
 

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Wash and slice peaches, cutting away from the stone and spread the slices on bottom of an 8 X 8 glass baking dish
  • Evenly spread blueberries on top of the peaches
  • Evenly sprinkle oats on top of the blueberries
  • Very lightly mix with a fork to incorporate oat layer into the fruit a little bit
  • If your fruit is not the juiciest, add the water
  • Dust with cinnamon
  • Place into preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes
  • Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute, then use fork to thoroughly mix the baked fruit and oats together, until the oats are moist with fruit juice
  • Serve hot, warm or cold, on its own or as a topping over "nice" cream.
  • Drizzle with maple syrup if you like it sweeter (optional)

Notes

You may also cook this in the microwave on High for approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Stir after cooking.
Keyword Blueberries, Peaches, Summer

Crispy oil-free potato chips in 3-5 minutes

What do some of us miss when switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet with no processed food and no oil?

Potato Chips.

I was gob-smacked to discover that you can make crispy chips in the microwave in about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how powerful the oven is and…it is the easiest thing ever.

THE POTATOES

I have been experimenting with Russets, Yukon Gold and red potatoes. While some people say Russets are the way to go, I found the Yukon Gold crunched up a lot better. I think your mileage may vary on this one depending on your oven and it’s probably best (and fun!) to test all varieties. I plan to try sweet potatoes next.

TECHNIQUE

The scrubbed potatoes do not need to be peeled, but they do need to be sliced very thinly. I use a mandolin (very carefully – these things are SHARP – use the safety holder). If you don’t have a mandolin, just use a sharp knife to slice your potatoes as thinly as possible. 

Place the cut slices in a bowl of cold water to rinse off the starch. 

Meanwhile put a sheet of parchment paper on a microwavable dinner plate 

Take out enough of the potato slices from the water to put on the plate.  Dry them  first between tea towels or paper towels.

Lay the potato slices on the parchment on the plate not touching one another. I did it this way, but found the slice in the very middle of the plate burns, so you may wish to leave that empty.

Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, watching closely. Stop the microwave when they are lightly browned. It’s quick.  You have to pay attention – don’t walk away!

FLAVOURS

It’s best to toss the raw potato slices with spices after you dry them, but before you lay them on the plate. You can use the following or experiment with any flavour profile you like:

 

  • salt
  • paprika and garlic
  • chili powder
  • barbecue spices

Crunch and enjoy!

 

 

A is for autumn, apples and the air fryer

Not long ago my gas range went kaput and the budget being what it is, I decided to not replace it for a while. The barbecue carried me through the summer, along with an older toaster oven (which I have to watch carefully as it routinely sets off the smoke alarm) .  After hearing so many great things about them, I decided to try an air fryer. Crispy french fries with just a teaspoon of oil, or even with none? What’s not to love? 

I took the plunge with a Philips VIVA air fryer (Model HD9220C) from Costco that came with a bonus grill pan. I think they’re discontinuing this line which is why it was on sale, but it had great reviews. 

First try – fries of course. Fantastic. Lightly browned. More like baked than truly fried, but I prefer them this way rather than greasy. I’m sure if one added a bit of oil, they’d be crispier. The ones pictured here were air fried with NO oil at all. Really, the air fryer is just a tiny convection oven that is more energy-friendly and possibly quicker too. 

I have been having great fun experimenting with things to air fry. My last effort was breaded steamed cauliflower which came out very well. 

It’s fall now and apple season. As the weather cools and the leaves turn, bring on the comfort food and those wonderful smells: apples, nutmeg, cinnamon…crisps and cobblers. 

I thought I’d experiment with apples in the Air Fryer. First try apple chips – I just sliced up an apple, tossed with juice of half a small lemon, a tbsp of  coconut sugar and a tsp of cinnamon. Air fried at 200 C for 10 minutes. Tossed the slices and air fried 10 minutes more. These are really delicious – sort of a cross between a dehydrated apple slice and a baked apple. Would be lovely topped with a scoop of ice cream/ice dream. 

So why not a whole baked apple? 

 

WHAT I DID:

I cored two Mutsu apples but certainly select your favourite.

In a separate bowl I mixed 

2 tbsp rolled oats
1 tbsp coconut sugar (brown sugar would work as well)
Sprinkle of chopped walnuts
Sprinkle of craisins (or raisins)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
A few scrapes of fresh nutmeg or a scant sprinkle
A scant sprinkle of salt
Approx 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan spread (or coconut oil)

Mix this blend together until the oats seem moist and want to clump and stuff the two cored apples. Place in Air Fryer at 175 for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on type of apple. It should be fork tender but still keep its shape. You can open the drawer and check with no consequences! The result is a tender, delicious baked apple with a crunchy, sweet topping. 

Happy Autumn and enjoy those freshly-picked apples!