By Any Other Name…

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MSG is still…MSG

Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a food additive used to enhance flavour and has been implicated in a number of health issues. It can be found lurking in various products under the following monikers:

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Plant protein extract
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Textured protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour

The next time you go shopping or eat out, read the label and ask questions. If you are sensitive to this substance, your research may save you a headache, feeling of nausea or any other symptom associated with MSG sensitivity.

Meatless Monday – Around the Globe

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Around the Globe in 12 Healthy  Bites

I saw a piece about 12 foods around the globe you must eat before you die. Of course there were slim pickins’ with regard to vegetarian options and forget the health quotient – most of it was deep-fried. For this Meatless Monday post I decided to share my version of 12 healthy meat-free bites you should try around the globe:

  1. Morocco – Mint tea
    Sweet minty tea-like Wrigleys gum in a glass. Mint is an excellent tonic for digestion.
  2. The Middle East – Hummus
    With oil and tahini this dip is not low in fat but it is high in fiber and the raw garlic helps to boost the immune system.
  3. Belgium – Chocolate!
    Any kind will do but the healthier choice is dark chocolate with cocoa at a minimum of 70% and no unnecessary additives.
  4. New Zealand – Kiwifruit
    Originally named the Chinese gooseberry this fruit rivals the potassium content of a banana and the vitamin C in an orange.
  5. South Pacific – Coconut
    This superfood darling of recent times is chock full of fat, fibre and micronutrients. The water, oil and meat have been used in sweet and savoury dishes amongst various cultures.  See Coconut Research Center.
  6. Ethiopia – Misir wat with injera bread
    This boldly flavoured lentil stew with fermented gluten-free pancake-like bread forms a complete protein.
  7. Trinidad – Chickpea roti
    This dish reflects the various cultures found in Trinidad: Indian spices, a Caribbean vibe with nutritious garbanzo beans. (Usually known as doubles the original recipe calls for deep-frying. You can bake the bread instead. See post: “Seeing Doubles“)
  8. Indonesia – Gado Gado
    Vegetables, rice and a spicy peanut sauce make this iconic dish a complete meal of macro and micro nutrients.
  9. Mexico – Beans and rice
    A classic combination that tastes amazing in Mexico. Throw in some sweet peppers, corn and avocado for a colourful way to include some vegetables.
  10. Italy – Margherita Pizza
    Simple and delicious; All you need is (love) basil, tomato and mozzarella on dough.
  11. Jamaica – Rice and peas
    Yet another complete protein dish. In Jamaica peas can refer to any type of bean but this dish usually employs small red ones.
  12. India – Curried vegetables with a side order of grain (e.g. naan bread, rice)
    There are so many dishes from which to choose in the country with a reportedly high amount of vegetarians. Digestion-enhancing spices, luscious sauces, vegetables and sometimes cheese combine in richly-flavoured concoctions.

XOCOATL…

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…the Aztec word from which ‘chocolate’ is derived.

Modern day Mexico is credited as the ‘birthplace’ of chocolate. Pre-Colombian civilizations in this area made the seeds of the cacao pod an integral part of their societies.

A Brief History of Chocolate – Smithsonian

The name theobroma is a Greek term for the cacao plant. It translates as “food of the gods”, very à propos as this beverage was considered a drink for Aztec and Mayan VIPs only. Theobromine comes from the original Greek word and identifies the alkaloid substance in chocolate that is chemically similar to caffeine. Theobromine has been found to have the following properties:

  • diuretic
  • stimulant
  • bronchiodilator (lungs)
  • blood vessel dilator (thus helping to lower blood pressure)

Once the Spaniards got a hold of the cacao seeds, brought them back to the Old World  and added cane sugar (from the Caribbean colonies), it spawned the makings of chocolate as we know it today. Since then, various other ingredients have been added to chocolate i.e. vanilla, milk, nuts, fruit, liqueur.

Mexican hot chocolate is not your average cup of cocoa. It is sweet, spicy and rich in bittersweet chocolate. The Aztecs were said to drink an unsweetened version of chocolate ‘paste’ mixed with water and laced with spices to promote virility, vitality and strength. Below is my interpretation of a typical modern-day Mexican hot chocolate recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup organic soy or rice milk  (organic or unadulterated cow’s milk can be substituted)
  • 1 cinnamon stick-about the length of your index finger
  • a sprinkling of chili pepper
  • a splash of Mexican vanilla – about ½ teaspoon
  • ¼ cup dark chocolate shavings-adjust amount up or down to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon agave nectar-adjust amount up or down to desired sweetness

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients except agave nectar into heavy bottomed pot. Heat on medium-high until the chocolate melts. Stir frequently.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Put agave nectar into cup. Pour mixture from pot into cup. Stir.

Enjoy and take note to see if your vitality has increased.

Battle of the Beverages
Hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder while hot chocolate is made with ground chocolate.
If you want a strong chocolate taste without all the fat, then hot cocoa is the drink for you.

Meatless Monday

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Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth nations is November 11th – a day established in 1919 to remember the fallen soldiers in the “Great War“.

And what began as a war effort by the US government during World War I, then revived in 2003 with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has now gone global. The Meatless Monday campaign is reportedly recognized in 36 countries and the support for going meat-free continues. The oft-cited benefits of a healthy well-balanced meatless diet are:

  • less environmental impact from industrial farming and the waste by-products of cow digestion i.e. manure and methane gas
  • healthy effect on blood lipid profiles
  • the occurrence of diabetes and severity of certain cancers is mitigated
  • it is more economical and agriculturally sustainable than meat and dairy-farming
  • a plant-based diet tends to be more nutrient-dense containing essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants

Here is a recipe for an easy-to-make, complete and versatile meal.

Meat-free recipe du Jour
Roast Vegetables

Chop an assortment of vegetables into bite-size cubes and place in a bowl.

e.g. organic yellow/red potatoes; carrots; parsnips; red pepper; sweet potatoes; onions; a head of garlic (leave whole)

Drizzle about 1 Tablespoon of oil onto veggies and mix to coat. Spread freshly oiled vegetables out on a lined baking pan and sprinkle with a little bit of sea salt and white pepper. You may also wish to use a salt substitute such as Herbamare if you are sodium conscious.

White pepper is more mild than black pepper and gives a mild oomph without the bite.

Roast for 40-45 minutes until the vegetables shrink a little in size and have turned brown on top.

Tip: If using olive oil, set oven to 300°F and if using grapeseed oil set oven for 350ºF.

To complete the meal, mix the veggies with chickpeas and serve with whole-grain rice, couscous or cooked sorghum. For a little extra zing, whisk a bit of oil (e.g. olive, almond, pumpkin) with some lemon juice and mix with the cooked grain and chickpeas before adding the veggies.

Carbohydrates – √ Fat – √ Protein – √ Fibre – √ Vegetarian/Vegan – √ Good Nutritional Content – √ Flavour – √

Yes this meal has got it all.

My Chocolate Weekend

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Saturday it was popcorn and chocolate and Sunday it was the annual Chocolate Show. There was also some wine that pairs with chocolate and a trip to Soma Chocolatier included in my adventures. I had the chocolate weekend supreme.

I was fortunate to have been graciously given a VIP ticket so I ended up attending the Chocolate Show this year although I had already declared that I wasn’t going to go. With the promise of a loot bag and sampling tickets (all included with the ticket hence the VIP status), how could I resist? I was primed and ready having had an appetizer the day before watching the film Chocolat with Juilette Binoche and Johnny Depp for the fifth, sixth time? (I’ve lost track.)

Then it was off to the annual Chocolate Show on Sunday. I was less than impressed the previous years that I went but a free ticket and loot bag suggested it would be worth it. The usual vendors were there selling their wares and the snake oil types peddling “the best, most innovative product” all in the hopes of taking home some serious change. I got my usual chocolate skull by chocolate artist Laura Slack (skulls and chocolate are an irresistible combination for me) and watched the resident chocolate artist in the process of creating a master-cacao piece.

It turned out the loot bag was anti-climatic: candle holders now destined for the Goodwill donation bin, some chemically laden chocolates that look pretty but are full of the FD and C carcinogenic food dyes and a decent looking Swiss milk chocolate bar which I would like to gift to my dad (if you’re reading this dad, pretend to be surprised when you get it.)

The sampling tickets turned out to be the best part of the show. I was able to get a few chocolate truffles with somewhat unusual flavour combinations: passion fruit; rose and pistachio; tonka; gingerbread; cranberry cinnamon and a falafel bite finished with a white chocolate drizzle. It was ‘interesting’ but in a good way. I think I would need to eat several more of them to be able to articulate the flavours. It was simply delicious and a little unusual.

Please sir, can I have some more?

After being carded (I should have been more flattered than offended but I did say thank-you to security for thinking I looked under 25) I went upstairs to the chocolate and wine pairing section; my first time ever as I always skipped this part of the show before. A representative from Southbrook winery in Southern Ontario generously let me try some raspberry wine for free and I was so impressed that I went to the alcohol shop right after I left the show and bought 2 bottles of their organic vegan wines: a Riesling and the Framboise.

And so the show for me ended on a fermented note and I used the last bit of chocolate enthusiasm I had to check out Soma to see what was new. Nothing. The cocoa dust has settled on yet another chocolate adventure and I’m sure there will be many more. Stay tuned for my next tempered encounter with the food of the Gods…

The opportunity to do the 2014 Chocolate Show report was generously donated by my aunt Carol.

 

Meatless Monday – ‘Tastes Like Chicken’

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In recognition of World Vegan Month, today’s Meatless Monday looks at some common vegan substitutes in recipes.

When it comes to preparing food, the ‘big 4′ seem to get star billing: eggs, dairy, bacon and the enigmatic umami. It is the inclusion of these ingredients around which the success of a recipe is based. Without them, however, a recipe can still work. Here’s a sampling of some meat-free substitutes

Eggs
Eggs serve many functions in baking e.g. binding, leavening, moisture. There are many options for egg replacements and your choice will depend on the purpose of the egg in the recipe. Here are some suggestions:
Binding – chia seed and water (1 Tablespoon ground chia seed: 1/3 cup water); flax-seed and water (1 Tablespoon ground flax: 3 Tablespoons water); soft tofu (i.e. silken) pureéd
Leavening – commercial egg replacer (e.g. Ener-G); carbonated water in place of some of the liquid; a mix of vinegar and baking soda (1 Tablespoon: 1 teaspoon)
Moisture – pureéd banana, pumpkin or applesauce

Dairy
Any non-dairy milk will do with soy, almond and coconut being the most popular and effective. Try rice milk, nut milk and cashew cream for something different. As for cheese and yogurt, there are a number of vegan products on the market and books on making your own. In some areas you may even have access to some artisan cheese makers. Most cheese products are nut based while the yogurt ones are generally soy or coconut based.
Book: Artisan Vegan Cheese

Bacon
Everything tastes better with bacon so some people say. To substitute the essence of this product in recipes or simply make your own tempeh bacon, combine liquid smoke, maple syrup and vinegar. To complete the flavour, add salt seasoning sparingly, either low sodium tamari/soy sauce or coconut aminos.

Umami
Umami is that indescribable savoury element, the ‘fifth taste’. It rounds out the flavour profile of meat-free food and elevates a meal from mediocre to magnificent. To accomplish this use nutritional yeast (for a vegan soup stock that ‘tastes just like chicken‘) or marmite (yeast extract).

Books:
The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions

The Allergy Free Cook

 

No Day of the Animal Dead On World Vegan Day

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I have the best costume for Halloween (a day late oh well). I’m vegan and I’m going to dress like a vegan for World Vegan Day on November 1st. So how does a vegan dress? Clearly there is no leather and fur involved. But apart from that a vegan dresses as he/she pleases. Anyone can be a vegan.

It was a year ago this month that I pledged to follow a vegan diet in November. I am pleased to announce that a year later I am mostly vegan. I still eat honey (sparingly), will indulge occasionally in an exquisitely baked good or pastry that seduces me in spite of its egg/dairy content and may temporarily revert to my vegetarian roots during world travel. All in all, the vegan journey has shown me how creative cooking can be and has encouraged me to find out what really goes into food of the Industrial Age.

World Vegetarian month in October gives way to World Vegan Month in November. November 1st 1944 was the day the first Vegan Society was founded. There are a number of things you can do to mark this event:

  • go to a vegan restaurant
  • host a vegan potluck
  • check out the many great vegan blogs on the net
  • continue with Meatless Mondays
  • view animal welfare documentaries

Here are some foods that are naturally vegan:

  • humus and pita
  • many salads
  • Jamaican rice and peas (beans)
  • most dark chocolate