Kitchen Spotlight: Tips on Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Based on personal experience, here are some tips for cooking and using spaghetti squash. While you can microwave or bake the spaghetti squash, I’ve found that it is easiest to boil it before removing its strand-like interior. Here is how I would recommend boiling spaghetti squash:

  1. Use a knife to make a few small holes or cut marks through the skin of the spaghetti squash.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and heat the water until boiling. Once boiling, put the squash in to cook (ease it slowly into the water to prevent burns!), turning it occasionally with a wooden spoon. The squash will likely float in the water but that is fine. After about 15-20 minutes (about 20-30 minutes for a large sized spaghetti squash), use a knife to insert into the spaghetti squash. If it goes through easily, then it is cooked through. Take out the spaghetti squash immediately and let it cool in a colander (excess water from within may also drain out).
  3. Don’t worry if the squash skin cracks open slightly. When cooled cut the squash in half and then remove the seeds with a spoon. Then use a fork to scrape out the noodle like strands into a bowl.

That’s it! If you would like to see a variety of ways to cook this delectable vegetable, check out this post I found listing 50 ways to cook spaghetti squash: http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. Like other hard shelled squashes, you can bake it, grill it, roast it, stuff it, and even throw it in the slow cooker. Have fun experimenting!

(Source: Aggies Kitchen. 50 Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash. http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. October 8, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2017.)

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Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 5

STEP #5: TRY NEW PLANT-BASED FOODS & RECIPES!

Friends, this is where the real exciting adventure begins! Personally, I find this to be the most fun part of the journey. I think my family would agree, because they get to taste test lots of new plant-based breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas…not to mention baked and no-baked goodies! Think of yourself as a connoisseur or budding foodie on the trail of plant-based goodness, searching for delectable recipes to

incorporate into your family’s cooking repertoire. Your explorations will lead you to discover new tastes, colors and methods of cooking that you previously had not envisioned. Don’t be afraid to experiment! At worst, you just end up with a result that doesn’t taste great, but then just modify the recipe or try a different recipe.

New Tastes & Textures! – Dietitianmom.com

For myself, I never thought there would be such easy substitutions for eggs in baked goods (you could make a flaxmeal egg replacer or a chia seed egg replacer easily), or learn to appreciate the flavors within an Indian dish and even make a few Indian dishes myself! I am now using new spices like coriander, cumin and garam masala in my kitchen and have even made a vegan pumpkin pie using tofu as a base!

You might find some tastes and recipes that the family likes and some that they don’t like. But regardless, you will be awestruck at the wide array of existing and newly emerging whole foods plant-based recipes on the horizon through sources like the Internet, cookbooks, magazines, library resources, friends and acquaintances. For those with a ‘sweet tooth’ out there, you might be glad to find that there are actually a lot of plant-based foods out there that are naturally sweet, and fruits like dried figs and dates can be used to sweeten baked goods easily. Call them ‘Nature’s Candy’ if you will. There are also many easy vegan baked and no-bake treats that can be found through recipe sites on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time.

Here is another piece of good news. Currently, there is an abundance of plant-based alternatives on the market with new products continually emerging – you just need to be on the lookout for them in the grocery store, health food stores, ethnic food stores and online. Examples include soy based mozzarella or cheddar ‘cheeses’, dairy and soy free shredded ‘cheeses’, nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12, non-hydrogenated vegetable margarine, tofu dogs, tofu with different levels of firmness, veggie bologna, hemp hearts, ready-to-use nut and seed butters, ground flaxmeal, tempeh and a variety of calcium and vitamin D fortified plant-based milk alternatives. These commercial options make it much easier nowadays to maintain a plant-based diet, especially since you do not need to spend time processing or making some of these from scratch if you don’t have time (like making seed butters, tempeh or tofu!), though of course it is important to still choose whole foods where possible. It also helps tremendously that the world we live in now is a global market and foods from different countries are often imported into the nation. So take advantage of this!

Here are some key tips to assist you on your plant-based food journey:

* Don’t be afraid to try new recipes (or create your own!) and new ways of cooking (e.g., stir-fries, casserole dishes, salads, soups). If you have time, read the some reviews on a recipe before trying it. This will tell you if you need to modify the recipe, if you can use certain substitutions or whether the recipe is even worth trying! If you are just starting out in this plant-based realm, pick recipes that require 10 ingredients or less and don’t need exotic ingredients that are hard to source. There are many great plant-based vegetarian recipe websites on the Internet, with just some examples being www.chocolatecoveredkatie.com, www.plantplate.com and www.emmaslittlekitchen.com.

*Use your slow cooker! As mentioned in previous posts, the slow cooker is my new best friend, especially for recipes using legumes such as beans, split peas, and chickpeas. See below for some links to great recipes I’ve tried and tested already.

*Experiment with different nuts and seeds, including using flaxmeal in your cold and hot dishes.

*Experiment with making a variety of salads and using different toppings and dressings.

*Try different milk alternatives such as calcium and vitamin D fortified almond milk, soy milk, cashew nut milk and coconut milk. Some stores may also carry rice milk, pea milk and hemp milk. But be careful to choose the calcium and vitamin D fortified versions, as many organic and non-organic versions of milk alternatives are not calcium and vitamin D fortified. Due to the possible contamination of arsenic in rice milks, in the United Kingdom children under the age of 5 are not recommended to drink rice milk (read more about arsenic in foods here)

* Try new foods such as quinoa, chia and buckwheat

*Experiment making your own protein bars/snack bars (non-baking options and baked options available). These then become great snack options for you and your family.

* Try modifying existing recipes. For example, does a recipe call for butter in the graham cracker crust? Substitute with some vegetable oil, and it works pretty much just as well! Need an egg in a recipe? Try using an egg replacer like a ‘flax egg’ or a ‘chia egg’. Need to use cow’s milk in the recipe? Substitute with a fortified plant-based milk alternative like almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk.

Here is just a small sampling of the recipes available from the Internet. I’ve made these recipes and found them easy and delicious. My family agrees!
Slow Cooker Black Bean Pumpkin Chili
Lazy Lentil Burger
One Pot Vegan Mushroom Pasta
Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas
Kung Pao Eggplant

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4 (Increase Beans & Other Legumes)

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

My husband has a love (…ok craving…) for sesame snaps and frequently buys them at grocery stores. It looks deceptively healthy…after all it’s packed with sesame seeds, which are nutritious right? However, a look at the ingredient labels reveals that the snack is basically made up of sugar. For example, of the four ingredients in a Sezme brand sesame snap, three of the ingredients are sugar based. Here is the entire ingredients list: Sesame seeds, glucose syrup, sugar, honey.

I was determined to make a healthier version. But I was disappointed to see that most of the recipes out there on the Internet for homemade sesame snaps or sesame bars use quite a lot of sugar or sweeteners as the main ingredient as well. I really wanted a healthier, lower sugar version. So when I stumbled across this recipe (see source) from bon appetit for Sesame-Peanut Bars Recipe by Molly Mitchell, I was ecstatic!! I tried it out right away, making some modifications and a winner was born! I absolutely love the fact that it only calls for ¼ cup of honey. Try it yourself!

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

Recipe by: Dietitianmom
Makes about 16 snaps

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups raw or toasted sesame seeds
  • ¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup unsalted, roasted cashews (chopped).
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13 inch glass bakeware pan with parchment paper, with sufficient overhang on all sides.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the wet ingredients (sesame seeds, coconut, chopped cashew nuts, salt and optional ingredients like the flaxseed meal and chia seeds if desired).
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients (honey, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla)
  4. Add the wet ingredients mixture to the dry sesame seed mixture and mix well.
  5. Scrape mixture into prepared baking dish, and then press firmly into an even layer, as thinly as you can!
  6. Bake in the oven until golden brown around the edges (at least 20–25 minutes, depending on how thick the mixture layer is).
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until firm (this will take at least 30–40 minutes). Lift the entire parchment piece with the baked layer out of the bakeware (if it starts to crumble, let cool longer) and let it cool fully. Then cut into rectangular snaps.

This is a very easy and versatile recipe, and quick to throw together when the snack craving hits. Use whatever you have in the kitchen, be it toasted or raw sesame seeds, sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes or coconut shreds. I’m sure it will work fine with other nuts too such as chopped pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts! Feel free to experiment! You can also make these bars a few days ahead of time and store them in an airtight jar or container. However, if you don’t intend to eat all of this right away, the best method I’ve found to maintain the crispiness of the sesame-cashew snaps is to freeze them in an airtight container. Then take some snaps out to thaw for about 10 minutes before consuming.

The problem? Now I’m addicted!

(Source: Sesame-Peanut Bars. Bon Appétit. http://www.bonappetit.com.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sesame-peanut-bars. Published September 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.)

 

Coconut Corn Mini-Breads (Dairy & Egg-Free!)

I knew there was a reason I bought this recipe book. Many years ago, I decided to buy a book titled ‘Quick Breads’ by Howard Early and Glenda Morris. I am a novice bread baker, so the idea of being able to make breads rapidly without much dough kneading or rising time was very appealing. However, I never made more than 2-3 recipes from this book over the past decade. This past weekend, we had company over and I decided to have another look at this dusty book on the shelves, to find something to complement the vegan lasagna I had made (we had forgotten to get dinner rolls at the store). To my surprise I found an easy recipe called Coconut Corn Bread using ingredients I already had at home, so I decided to modify the ingredients and give it a try. It was an intriguing combination: coconut and corn? I had made cornbread before but had never mixed both ingredients together before. The result? Our family and guests enjoyed it so much I wanted to share this simple modified dairy-free and egg-free recipe with you!

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used the fortified Silk brand original flavor coconut milk)
  • 1/3 cup of oil
  • 1 flax egg (see directions below)
  • 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 tablespoon of honey (or maple syrup for those who do not want to use honey)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch cake or loaf pan (I used silicon muffin cups instead).
  2. Make the flax egg: Mix 1 tablespoon of flaxmeal combined with 3 tablespoons of water together with a whisk or fork, then let sit for 10-15 minutes. Before using, use the whisk and give it a good mix for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix wet ingredients together.
  5. Gently combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (or when toothpick inserted comes out clean). Optional: at about 5-10 minutes before the baking time was up, I sprinkled some shredded coconut flakes on the tops of the cornbread muffins for an extra flair!
  7. Serve warm or let cool for 5-10 minutes then remove from pan.

You may adjust the ‘sweetness’ factor depending on your preference, by adding more or less honey or maple syrup. Serve warm to complement a meal, or add a little bit of vegan butter, jam or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup on top. Th

is is such a simple recipe that you can also enlist your little helper at home to help out with measuring and mixing the ingredients together!

Fresh Cranberry & Pear Crisp

I initially created this recipe below to use up some fresh cranberries I had on hand from the winter holidays. But my husband and child loved it so much that I’ve made it a few times since, including taking it to potluck meals. Enjoy!

Fresh Cranberry & Pear Crisp

Recipe by: DietitianMom
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 pears (ripened pears work best)
1 cup fresh cranberries, pierced
4 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼-1/2 cup brown sugar (depending on sweetness desired)
1 cup old fashioned/rolled/large flake oats

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  • Peel and cut pear into slices. Layer the pear slices, covering the bottom of a baking dish.
  • Rinse and wash the fresh cranberries, then pierce each with a toothpick. Then throw the cranberries into the baking dish, evenly dotting the pear slices.
  • In a bowl, mix the oats, brown sugar (add the amount you desire), cinnamon, nutmeg and oil together.
  • Sprinkle this oats combo mixture over the pear slices and cranberries in the baking dish.
  • Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly then serve!

Feel free to double or triple the recipe if you like. This is a great recipe to involve your preschooler or older child in, as it’s easy to make and is ready to eat in no time! My preschooler had lots of fun helping me pierce each fresh cranberry with a toothpick. The best part? Since the ripened pears are already sweet, you don’t really need to add too much additional sugar to sweeten the dish. So adjust the sweetness level to what you prefer by the amount of brown sugar you add. This crisp keeps for a few days in the refrigerator and tastes delicious cold too!

Fresh Raspberry Yogurt Cake

raspberryyogurtcake2

Raspberry Yogurt Cake – Dietitianmom.com

This was a recipe that I obtained from the book “Bringing Up Bébé” by Pamela Druckerman, in which I jazzed up with some fresh raspberries. I had recently read this book during the spring, and was highly entertained by its witty and informative content. It certainly caused me to ponder many cultural norms and child-raising habits often observed in the United States!

This recipe below was so easy that I was able to make it with my nearly 4 year old this past week. It was her first time in the kitchen and she loved it! The key is to obtain at least one 6 oz  plain yogurt container (or equivalent container) which your child can then use as a ‘measuring cup’.

Ingredients
2 (6 oz) containers of whole or reduced fat plain yogurt
½ to ¾ cup of vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 containers of all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup fresh (or frozen but thawed out and drained) raspberries

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch cake or loaf pan.
  2. Gently combine the wet ingredients (yogurt, sugar eggs, vanilla and oil) into one bowl.
  3. Combine the flour and baking powder into a different bowl.
  4. Add the dry ingredients gradually into the wet ingredients, mixing gently until just combined
  5. Add in the frozen or fresh raspberries (or other fruit).
  6. Bake 35 minutes to an hour, until a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool then serve!

Although the original recipe called for using whole milk yogurt, I found that the reduced fat yogurt I used worked fine as an alternative. Also while combining the dry into the wet ingredients the mixture became quite thick and difficult to stir. But using a wooden spoon, and consistent mixing, the mixture ended up softening down and became more malleable. I used olive oil as the oil in the recipe which worked but you could discern the olive oil taste. Hence, you may want to use a different vegetable oil like sunflower oil or canola oil in this recipe instead. I also found that using about 1/2 to 2/3 a cup of oil was adequate. The first time I made this recipe, I became concerned that the batter was too thick so added a little bit more oil (about 3/4 cup). However, it ended up taking a long time for the batter to cook through. So do not worry if the batter appears too thick. If you end up with the same problem as I did, you can cover the top of the loaf pan with some aluminum foil halfway through the baking process, to prevent the top from becoming overly brown and hard. Enjoy!

 

Qn of the Month: What’s An Easy Homemade Play Dough Recipe?

 Easy Playtime Fun!

While I was away on a trip to the East Coast, my husband decided to try his hand at making play dough from scratch. This is coming from a husband who has never baked or made a dessert in his life! But amazingly it worked! He found this recipe on the Internet and it turned out so well, I want to share it.

All you need:
1 cup all purpose plain flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup salt
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
¾ cup boiling water
Food coloring (optional)
A few drops of glycerine (optional – adds more shine!)

Directions:
1. Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a large mixing bowl
2. Add food coloring to the boiling water, then slowly add small amounts of this colored boiling water into the dry ingredients gradually until a sticky dough mixture is achieved.
3. Stir continuously until the materials combined into a dough
4. You can glycerine if you would like to, otherwise move on to step 5.
5. Allow it to cool down before removing the dough out of the bowl.
6. Knead the dough quickly and vigorously for a few minutes until you get the perfect dough consistency. (if it is still sticky after a couple of minutes of kneading, you can add a smidget of flour until it is no longer sticky).

A few tips: Put the finished product in a sealed container and it should stay good for a few months in a dark cool storage place. My husband didn’t put any glycerine in the play dough, but it still turned out fine. Also, you don’t need to refrigerate the dough. If you want to make twice the portion of play dough, just double the recipe with the ingredients above!

(Source: http://theimaginationtree.com/2012/04/best-ever-no-cook-play-dough-recipe.html )