A Plea for New Camera Recommendations, Double Sunday Running Round-up, and Delish Cookie Bars (sans pictures)

My camera is officially broken.

I thought I had enough pictures of un-blogged recipes to keep blogging, but I really don’t. I have enough for maybe a handful more posts. Sigh. It’s hard to get excited about posting a new recipe without pictures to go with it. I’ve made a few blog-worthy things, but without pictures, blogging just isn’t as enticing.

There’s something wrong with the camera’s internal mechanism for recognizing the memory card. Every time we put in the memory card, whether it is locked or unlocked, the camera tells us it can’t take pictures because the memory card is locked (even when it is not). My husband’s tried to release it using a straightened out paper clip, but to no avail.

Any suggestions?

If we have to get a new camera, any suggestions on what to get? We mostly take pictures of our kids, dogs, and food. :)

On to my running stats.

Last week: Monday 6; Tuesday 5, Wednesday 4.5, Thursday 0, Friday 3, Saturday 15, Sunday 3. Total: 36.5

This week: Monday 3, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 3, Thursday 1, Friday 17.5, Saturday 5.5, Sunday 4. Total: 40. Not bad! I really needed to get over the 15 mile mark; every long run I’ve done over the past few weeks has been 15 miles. The marathon I’m doing is in about 2 months, so I really needed to run more than 15, but somehow I just couldn’t do it. Surprisingly, the last 2 miles of this run were not bad! I must have just had a mental block hitting at mile 15. I did suck every last drop of water out of my Camelbak, and I listened to the entirety of Mahler 2 and Stenhammer 1….but it was a really good long run!

I made these fab.u.lous bars from Averie over at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com:

http://www.loveveggiesandyoga.com/2012/08/coconut-white-chocolate-chip-blondies.html

Her pictures are about 1,000 times better than any I could ever hope to take, so really, we’re not missing anything here by my lack of accompanying photos. Just check out her post. Drool.

I made a few adjustments:

I doubled the recipe :) and used a 9 x 13

I wasn’t sure I’d be into a 1:1 flour-to-coconut ratio, so I used 3 cups of flour/coconut total, with about 2.5 cups flour and 0.5 cups coconut. I used unsweetened coconut because that’s what I had. The bars were plenty sweet.

I used flax seed and water to replace the eggs. It worked just fine.

I used vegan margarine instead of butter (duh) and vegan white chocolate.

I did not use any melted chocolate on top because I didn’t want anything to detract from the white chocolate flavor. I order vegan white chocolate from Amazon and basically hoard it. I love white chocolate and would use it instead of regular chocolate all the time, if it wasn’t so hard to find good vegan white chocolate. So, when I do decide to use some of my precious vegan white chocolate chips, I am very careful to make sure those sweet little morsels of deliciousness are truly appreciated and noticed.

These bars were incredible. They are definitely very sweet and rich; my husband found them a bit too sweet. I loved them. I definitely like sweet things, but not all the time. These I might be able to eat every day, if they were around. They are dense, chewy, with a good, substantial texture; the coconut is not overpowering, and the white chocolate both dominates the bar and complements the brown sugar and vanilla flavors. I love vanilla. I love white chocolate. I love brown sugar. These bars are essentially a perfect flavor combination for my three loves.

I’ve been trying for years to get that perfect dense-but-not-gummy, gooey-but-not-wet texture to vegan brownies/blondies. This recipe is ingenius because there’s no rising agent – no baking powder or soda. That kept the bars good and dense. The flax egg substitute gave moistness without making the bars cakey or fluffy. Perfect. Definitely a recipe worth trying.

Oatmeal Ice Cream: Best. Homemade. Vegan. Ice cream. EVER

Creamy vegan goodness, covered in my mom’s hot-fudge sauce (made vegan)

This stuff is awesome. It is just utterly, completely the bomb. A few months ago, as temperatures got higher, I started my annual round of homemade vegan ice cream experimentation. Like many others, I seem to face the same problems every year: not creamy enough; too watery; doesn’t freeze well; doesn’t resemble ice cream, etc. etc. This is the first summer I’ve experimented with oats as an ice cream base, and I was delighted with the results. So were the people (vegans and omnis alike) to whom I served it.

Isn’t this sundae cup simply adorable? I found it in our cupboard. I have no idea where it came from, but I love it!

Of course, as a disclaimer, I have to put that there are two completely standard but completely fabulous vegan ice cream recipes that are super easy and always work in a pinch:

1. Blend a frozen banana. Eat as is, or add a splash of soymilk, vanilla, cocoa powder, sweetener, etc. etc. This takes all of 1 minute and results in yummy, creamy, non-banana-y soft serve ice cream.

2. Take a carton of Silk creamer (vanilla and hazelnut are particularly good). Pour into ice cream maker, and enjoy creamy richness 20 minutes later. Not the healthiest, but quick, easy, reliable, sweet, and creamy. Always a good choice.

However, for times when you want more than frozen banana puree masquerading as ice cream, and you either don’t have Silk creamer or don’t want to think about eating half a container of creamer :), I present this recipe.

It is 1. delicious 2. creamy 3. versatile and easily adjustable to fit your preferences 4. cheap 5. easy 6. made from ingredients we all have on hand all the time. The oats, soaked in water, release a nice gumminess that makes the ice cream creamy and thick, rather than watery. However, the recipe is suprisingly low in fat, with no actual added fat. (I did try it with some added oil, and there wasn’t a significant enough of a difference to mandate oil in the recipe.)

There is seriously nothing not to love about this ice cream.

It does take more steps than my normal recipes, but most of the time is waiting time rather than active time. It’s worth it.

Oat-based ice cream

1.5 cups oatmeal

3 cups water (or use half water, half soymilk for a richer product)

1/2 cup sugar, or to taste

splash of vanilla

dash of salt

Grind oats into flour. Put the oat flour into a blender with the water. Puree for a minute or so. Let the mixture sit for a while, about an hour. Puree again. Let sit for a few minutes. IF desired, strain the oat mixture at this time. Straining results in a creamier texture, but it is not completely necessary. If you’re okay with a little textured bite to your ice cream, don’t strain.

After straining (or not), add the sugar, vanilla, and salt. (at this time you could add other extracts or cocoa powder, etc.). Put the mixture in the refrigerator and let it sit at least an hour or two, and preferably 4-6 hours. This is so that the oats get absorbed into the liquid and the natural gums come out, thus resulting in a creamier, thicker ice cream product.

Whisk (or blend) the mixture prior to putting it in your ice cream maker. Some of the oat flour will settle to the bottom; you want to reincorporate it into the mixture (do not strain again or else your ice cream will be all watery). Pour into your ice cream maker and follow instructions henceforth. Enjoy!
Note: similar to other homemade ice creams, this once gets pretty hard when frozen, so it’s best to eat it as soon as possible after making.

Also, adjust the oat flour/water proportion to your liking, as well as the sugar and flavoring.

Double Sunday Running Round-up and Healthy (-ish) Peanut Butter Cookies (plus some recipe lust)

YIKES! We were on vacation sans Internet, hence the lack of posts. I’m not doing well on my 5-posts-a-week goal. It will be better from now until Christmas, because I don’t think I have any going-away plans. We went to New Hampshire to visit my family. (Of course, we picked the one week when the temperatures got into the 90s, and of course there is no air conditioning there.) I got in some decent runs; we swam in the pond, hiked, visited a farm, went to farmers’ markets, ate fresh produce, had communal meals, played with nieces/nephews, had in-door parades during a power outage, and generally had a great time hanging with my family.

Last week’s running, as much as I remember: Monday 0; Tuesday 6; Wednesday 4; Thursday 0; Friday 6; Saturday 0; Sunday 5ish. Total: 21. Not horrible, considering I was away much of that time and was hanging out with family I rarely get to see.

This week’s running: Monday 10 (in the New Hampshire mountains, no less!); Tuesday 3; Wednesday 0; Thursday 3; Friday 2; Saturday 3; Sunday 14. Total: 35. Not bad!

I’ve been listening to the following while running: Bach b minor mass; Stenhammer symphonies; Dvorak symphonies, and RadioLab podcasts. I really like podcasts for running; they keep me interested and not focused on any pain I might be feeling. However, I don’t get the daydream while listening to podcasts, as they require such concentration. Sometimes daydreaming during a run with music is just what I need. :)

What about everyone else: While exercising, do you listen to music, podcasts, something else entirely, nothing?

My husband has recently been put on a low-salt diet. I know this is healthier for both of us, but I LOVE SALT!!!! I think what we’re going to do is cook in a low-salt way, and I will add salt to my food if I want it (which I will). I am also trying to watch my food intake, as I have gained a few pounds over the last few months. I don’t weigh regularly, but I can tell my stomach is flabbier than usual, and my clothes are snugger. I don’t want a few pounds to turn into 20, so I figure it’s better to take care of it now. I always seem to gain a little weight when training for a marathon; I’m not sure why that is. Between nursing, running, and having a somewhat-fast metabolism, I’m usually pretty lucky to be able to eat whatever I want. Having just hit my later-30s, though, I guess I need to be more careful. Sigh. So, expect fewer dessert recipes, but they will still be made using real ingredients. I’m just not that into low-fat baking (or cooking), and I don’t like using too many artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes. First, they’re expensive (even the natural ones like agave); second, they don’t always give the same results (notably, Splenda and stevia); and third, I would rather have a smaller amount of a full-sugar, full-fat dessert than more of a reduced fat-and-sugar one. I think for me it has to do with sustainability: I don’t want to be hooked into buying sugar replacements and substitutes all my life, so I’d rather just learn how to control myself around the real thing. Easier said than done, sometimes, of course! :)

Another question: real sugar and fat, or substitutes (other than substitutes to make something vegan)? What’s your preference, and why?

With both of our new diet needs in mind, I made these cookies tonight. I couldn’t take pictures because there is something wrong with my camera. Like most PB cookies, they weren’t that much to look at, anyways. They were yummy and substantial, and not too sweet. The ground oatmeal gave them a really nice chewy denseness, and the combination of peanut butter and vanilla is just sublime.

They’re slightly healthier than other peanut butter cookie recipes because of the oats, as well as the lack of margarine. Most peanut butter cookies, even vegan ones, call for a fat other than just the peanut butter; in fact, my own go-to peanut butter cookie recipe calls for a cup each of peanut butter and vegan margarine. Skipping the margarine makes the cookies lower in fat, and, surprisingly, less crumbly than traditional peanut butter cookies.

1 cup peanut butter, softened in the microwave for a few seconds

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt, more if you are using unsalted peanut butter

approximately 1/2 cup soymilk, more or slightly less as needed

1 1/4 cups oatmeal, ground into flour (I use the Magic Bullet for this)

1 cup flour

Cream peanut butter, sugar, vanilla, and soy milk. Add in salt and flours and stir until well combined. Batter will be quite dry; add enough soymilk to make a pliable, but not wet, dough. I found that just under 1/2 cup (as in, a teaspoon or so less) was enough. I baked these in the toaster oven for 10 minutes at 350, because I didn’t want to heat up the whole kitchen; you could bake them in an oven at 350 for the same amount of time. Grab hunks of dough and flatten between your palms; place on cookie sheet and bake. These cookies will not spread, so you can put them pretty close together.

A recipe I saw today that I am dying to try is from Averie over at www.loveveggiesandyoga.com. She has great recipes, but this white-chocolate blondie looks a.ma.zing. They look SO dense, but without being wet or gooey. She seems to get the ideal consistency in her bar cookies; I’ve never been able to mine as perfect as hers. Mine are either too cakey, too wet/gooey, or too dry. I’m going to try these sometime later this week. I have some vegan white chocolate stashed away that I guard very carefully and use only in absolutely wonderful recipes; I think this one is deserving. I’m thinking some flax would be a good egg substitute, but we’ll see.

Some other upcoming recipes:

the BEST homemade vegan ice cream ever. No lie.

peanut buttery-oatmeal-chocolate no bake bars. Drool.

Sunday Running Round-up and Grilled Pizzas

My husband was away for much of this week, and it is too wickedly hot for me to run with the girls in the double stroller, so I’ve had to depend upon the kindness of others to come sit in my house while the girls sleep and I run. Thus, I did not get a long run in, and I did not run every day. Now that I have my snazzy new Garmin watch, I am trying to run an hour every day (longer on long run days). I think this is a goal I can attain – I love data, and I love watching the time and miles go by on the Garmin.

Monday: 0 Tuesday: 5.5 Wednesday: 6 Thursday: 5.5 Friday: 4 Saturday: 3 Sunday: 0 Total: 24. Ipod listening: Stenhammer and RadioLab, both awesome. Mileage: Oh well, better luck this week!

I succumbed to the grilled pizza trend, and made grilled pizza twice in a week. It really is tasty, and it is much more energy-efficient to make than baked pizza. When it’s hot, turning on the oven seems like  a crime; this is a nice way to enjoy pizza without heating up your entire kitchen. I don’t have an outdoor grill, but I do have a stove-top grill that worked really well. I made my standard (yeast-based) pizza dough recipe, let it rise once, then tore off pieces/handfuls of dough, stretched ‘em out, smeared each side with olive oil, and threw ‘em on the grill. After 5 or so minutes, the dough was ready to flip; after flipping, I put sauce and toppings (olives artichoke hearts, spinach, mushrooms, sauted onions) on the hot side, let it cook a few more minutes, and then enjoyed! It really was quicker and cooler than making regular pizza. I don’t expect to make oven pizza again in the summer! Plus, we had guests both times we made this; each person got to make their own personal-size pizza, which was an added bonus. Everyone got the toppings they wanted, and got to be involved in the process. I think it’s fun for guests to pull their own dough, smear on their own sauce, choose their own toppings. Working alongside friends in the kitchen is a treat.

The only criticism I have of grilled pizza is the problem of getting the toppings hot. It would be hard to get vegan cheese to melt, for sure. Maybe on a real grill, this would not be a problem, but on a stove top grill, the heat is too concentrated on the bottom to reach the toppings.

Today I wanted some cookies but did not want to make a whole batch, partially out of laziness and self-control, and partially again because of the whole turning-on-the-oven-in-the-sweltering-heat thing. So I made a mini-batch (half of a dozen) of cranberry-chocolate chip cookies and baked them in our toaster oven. This worked beautifully. It was great for portion control, it was quick, it didn’t heat up the whole kitchen, and I did not feel wasteful by using energy for making just a few cookies.

I’ve seen some recipes on the blogworld for single-serving muffins/cookies/cake/whatever; these recipes are great for portion control, but they all require you to turn on your oven and bake ONE muffin/cookie/cupcake/whatever. To me that just seems extremely wasteful – that is a LOT of heat and energy to generate for one treat. When I use the oven, I try to be mindful of the energy I’m using; I try to bake two things at once, if possible (for example, I’ll throw in some sweet potatoes while I’m baking cookies).

However, if I had a real problem with portion control, I could see the benefit of a single-serving recipe. Lord knows it’s hard to find vegan treats, so we vegans usually have to make our own, and some of us don’t want 4 dozen cookies in the house. Understandable. With a family and a  freezer, it’s not hard for me to handle the extra cookies, but I can totally see the benefit of built-in portion control.

Question: Do you like/use single-serving recipes that require oven use? Is the instant portion control worth the trade-off of using a good bit of energy for a cookie? I can completely understand NOT microwaving single-serving treats…..most baked goods are quite inferior when made in the microwave. I have to say I am really, really liking the toaster oven for smaller batches of baked goods…..

Do you

Friday Fun, Vegan Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, and Spinach-Basil Pesto

Today WAS indeed fun, although it is wretchedly hot here. I went for a run – I am totally loving my new Garmin watch, which was a birthday splurge. After running, we had pancake breakfast, and then headed to the courthouse to file some motions, and then we were off to a playdate at a pool. Good times. No coffee shop or library or playground today; we did all of those things yesterday, and will probably do them again tomorrow (my husband is out of town so I took some time off from work to be with the girls).

My birthday was a few days ago. Normally I would make vanilla cupcakes, or the standard vegan chocolate cake (you know, the one that uses vinegar and baking soda as rising agents). However, I had some Trader Joe’s low-fat vegan mayonnaise that I needed to use up, so I made a chocolate mayonnaise cake. I had bought the mayonnaise totally on a whim. Having been a vegan for so long, I just haven’t had mayonnaise in forever. Even before I was a vegan, I don’t think I ever really ate mayonnaise. TJ’s had this great deal on a big thing of vegan mayo, so I completely impulse-bought it. Then, once I got home, I puzzled over what to do with it. I didn’t like it on sandwiches, and it was okay in potato salad, but I still had some left. So, after looking around at various non-vegan recipe, here’s what I came up with:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

salt (1/2 teaspoon or so)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup vegan mayonnaise, low-fat okay

1 cup water

Mix dry ingredients; stir in wet. Spread into a 9 x 13 and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

I frosted it with a simple buttercream frosting. I found the cake a tad salty, and not overly sweet, so I think it really benefited from frosting. The cake has a really good texture and is not crumbly. My omnivore mother-in-law really liked it. I would make it again if I had mayo to use up, but I’m not sure I’d buy mayo just to make it. It was definitely good, but it just wasn’t different enough from the standard vinegar cake to warrant the extra expense of vegan mayo.

Yesterday I made my standby spinach pesto, but since a friend had given us some fresh pesto from his garden, I threw that in as well. It was DELICIOUS. The basil mellowed out the bite of the spinach, and the combination of almonds and cashews made it soooo creamy. You can find the spinach pesto recipe under ‘main meals’ and ‘sauces'; it’s basically a bag of spinach, olive oil (about 1/4 cup), a clove of garlic, and 1/4-1/2 cup raw nuts, blended. This time I added about a cup of pesto. Delish.

I’ve been working on two big new recipes. Here’s a picture of one to get you drooling. I’m going to try to have the recipe up early next week.

Pakoras on the Porch

Last night, I made pakoras for dinner. We were out of onions, but a neighbor was kind enough to bring one over; in exchange, we all had pakoras and wine on the porch. It was a lovely evening. Pakoras are usually a snack/appetizer, but they also make a good meal if you eat enough of them! I figure there’s enough nutrients, between the chick pea flour and veggies, to make them a decent dinner, right? ;)

My pakoras are thicker/heavier than those you get in an Indian restaurant, but they are still so tasty. I have found that the trick is to fry them correctly. I am NOT much of a fryer. I did not grow up eating fried food, and frying kind of scares me – all that hot oil! Ugh. I got burned on my first batch of pakoras yesterday, but it was worth it. :) Anyways, the oil has to be hot enough to cook them almost as soon as they enter the oil – if not, the pakoras end up kind of soggy and absorb more oil. When the oil is hot enough, the pakoras cook quickly, have a beautiful brown color, and are not greasy. However, it’s scary to get the oil hot enough – it needs to be around 350-375 degrees! I used a deep cooking pot so that there wasn’t any splatter. I also used less oil – about 3/4 of an inch – than most recipes call for, and it was more than sufficient.

A time-saving trick with pakoras is to chop the veggies and mix them directly into the batter, instead of coating individual pieces of veggie. This also allows you to mix veggies together, if you choose.

I used spinach, onion, and zucchini in these pakoras. Zucchini is not traditional, but it was delicious.

I didn’t really measure ingredients, but here is the basic recipe (serves 4-6 as a meal, more as an appetizer):

2 cups chick pea flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

chili powder, to taste

about 1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups water

Veggies of your choosing: for this amount of batter, I used 1 zucchini, chopped; 1 onion, chopped; and 1/2 bag of spinach, chopped

oil for frying

Mix the dry ingredients. Add water and whisk well until a thick batter forms – about the consistency of pancake batter. (Note: the batter will taste overly salty; when you add the veggies and cook the pakoras, the salt becomes much less prominent).

Heat the oil to about 375 degrees. Divide the batter among your veggies, and mix well to combine so that the veggies are well-coated with batter. Drop tablespooonfuls of the batter-coated veggies into the oil; cook a few minutes on each side.

Serve with tamarind sauce (mix sugar, tamarind paste, and water) and coriander relish (I buy mine; it is a spicy mix of cilantro and chilis. I usually use Nirav brand.)

I know a lot of people do not like frying, but trust me, this is one recipe that really needs to be fried. Baked pakoras just don’t work. Baked samosas, baked doughnuts, baked fries – all of those work. Baked pakoras, not so much. The frying doesn’t take long, and if you do it right, not much oil is absorbed, so it’s not that unhealthy. Trust me on this one.

Sunday running roundup: Monday, 3; Tuesday, 0; Wednesday, 5.5; Thursday, 3; Friday, 5; Saturday, 1; Sunday, 14.5. Total: 32. Not bad! I meant to do 10 miles today but was enjoying myself so much that I added on a few extra.

Vegan Cupcakes (that I didn’t have to make myself!)

Our sweet and smart intern surprised me today with 4 vegan cupcakes that she got at a bakery in Columbia called, appropriately, Cupcake. She told me a few weeks ago that she had seen vegan cupcakes there before; I was completely surprised and thrilled with today’s surprise treat!

There were 4 of the same flavor (I think they have at most one vegan offering a day, but for the south, that’s not too bad!). I’m excited to have any vegan dessert that is not something I had to make, so I think these tasted extra good just for that reason. The cake part was, I think, the standard vegan chocolate cake recipe that everyone uses and that is posted on everyone’s vegan blog and has been around forever – you know, the one that our parents/grandparents had during leaner times when eggs and milk were not available, and that uses vinegar and baking soda to replace the eggs – you totally know the recipe I’m talking about. It’s one my family has used forever, and it was our standard cake recipe even before the word ‘vegan’ was known to our family. I think I even have it memorized: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, between 1/3-1/2 cup cocoa powder, salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, vanilla, 1 cup cold water or cold coffee, 1/2 cup oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar. See? I knew you knew it. It is a GREAT recipe – tastes good, is easy, and is made with simple, standard ingredients. It kind of cracks me up, though, when people post this recipe or a close variation thereof (like, with 3/4 cup sugar instead of 1 cup) and act as if they created some vegan genius. This recipe has been around forever, and will be around forever. It’s that good.

Anyways…..the cake was good; sweet and satisfying, but nothing extraordinary. The frosting was strawberry flavored and was delicious. It was thick and sweet, with some salt and a little bit of tartness from the strawberries.

The best part, though, was the big sugar sprinkles. I never cook with sprinkles, and every time I have them, I am reminded of what a treat they are. I love the crunchy texture, followed by melting……all so good! I really liked these because they were nice and big and had a really satisfying crunch. They reminded me of sprinkles you’d find in a Williams-Sonoma catalogue – high class, high quality. Eating this cupcake was an experience!

Anyways, if you are in the Columbia or Charleston area, check out Cupcake for its vegan cupcakes! And hooray for awesome interns who bring treats to their associates!