Archive | November, 2011

Agave Nectar: A Natural Sweetener

14 Nov

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Agave nectar (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) is a natural sweetener that is produced from several species of the agave plant, most commonly the Blue Agave (interesting fact: the Blue Agave is the same plant responsible for the production of tequila). The Blue Agave is used most often because of its higher carbohydrate content which results in a higher fructose content in the resulting nectar. The sweetener is typically made in Jalisco, Mexico.  

Agave nectar has a consistency that is comparable to honey. It can be used to replace other liquid or granular sweeteners in a recipe (i.e. honey, maple syrup, sugar); however, the ratios required may not be 1:1. One source states that agave nectar is 40% sweeter than brown or white sugar, so when swapping out sugar for agave nectar, be sure to use less in your recipe!

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Agave is touted as a vegan product. This was surprising to me, as I thought most sugars and sweeteners were vegan. However, one source states that some sugars are filtered using bone char from animals, so agave nectar may be one appropriate alternative in a vegan diet.

This sweetener can be purchased in two varieties: light or dark. The lighter syrups are also lighter in colour. They have a more mild taste and can be used in a large variety of recipes. The darker syrups are filtered less which results in a stronger flavour. Darker agave nectars can be purchased in the store for purposes such as pancake/waffle toppings.

These nectars haves been deemed as healthy sweeteners in the media. Recently, however, its health claims have been scrutinized and reports are stating that this sweetener can actually be as bad for us as high fructose corn syrup. There is a lot of conflicting information about agave nectar, so you may have to decide for yourself if agave nectar is for you.

Healthy Rice Crispy Treats

 

 

slightly adapted from: Vanilla and Lace

Ingredients

  •  1/3 cup xagave
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups rice crisp cereal
  • ¼ cup chocolate chips

Directions

  •  Heat agave and peanut butter over medium heat until it looks like a thick syrup, about 2-3 minutes. 
  • Add vanilla.
  • Spray a medium sized bowl with oil and add the rice cereal, pour syrup mixture on top, and mix until evenly coated and chocolate is melted in.
  • Press into oiled 9×9 dish. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

For other recipe ideas, try these:

Whole Wheat Oatmeal, Raisin and Chocolate Chip Cookies 
Strawberry Banana Ice Pops 
Toasted Sesame Tofu Caramelized with Agave Nectar, Wasabi and Soy Sauce 
Agave Nectar Ketchup 
Healthy Vanilla Bean Cherry Chocolate Granola Bars  

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Goji Berries

13 Nov

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Goji berries (pronounced GO-JEE) have garnered a lot of media attention over the past couple of years based on its alleged health benefits. These berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but have only recently become a food of interest for people in North America. These berries are also known as wolfberries and lyceum barbarum and are grown in China, Mongolia and in the Himalayans in Tibet. When purchased here, they are typically found in dried form or in a goji berry juice.

Nutritionally, these little berries are low in calories, fat-free and rich in fibre, antioxidants and vitamin C. However, health claims concerning its use in treating diabetes, hypertension, fever and cancer are based on few studies and more evidence is needed before these correlations can be confirmed.

Per 1 oz (28 grams) of dried goji berries:

Calories 100 kcal
Total Fat 0 grams
Protein 4 grams
Carbohydrate 21 grams
Sugars 13 grams
Fibre 3 grams
Sodium 75 milligrams
Vitamin A 140% DV
Vitamin C 20% DV
Calcium 4% DV
Iron 10% DV

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The taste of these berries has been compared to a cross between cherries, cranberries and raisins with a slightly bitter taste. Its texture is similar to that of raisins. So how exactly can you incorporate these berries into your diet? Try adding them into a smoothie or juice (you can even rehydrate them by soaking them in water), sprinkling on oatmeal or cereal, adding it to salads or a stir fry and more!

The dried berries can be found at your local Bulk Barn, while goji berry juices will typically be found in health food stores. However, the juices can be very pricey!

I tested these berries out by soaking them in water overnight and adding them to a smoothie!

With no exact measurements, I added the rehydrated berries, orange juice, pomegranate juice, frozen strawberries and cranberries, and chia seeds. Any combination will do!

Recipes:

Goji Berry Granola
Oatmeal Spice Cookies with Goji Berries
Goji Nibby Nuggets
Goji Berry Smoothie/Goji Berry Trail Mix/Oatmeal with Goji Berries

Agar: A Vegan Gelatin Substitute

10 Nov

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Agar is also known as agar agar, kanten or Japanese gelatin. So what is it exactly? I found this unusual ingredient while perusing a health food store and thought I’d give it a try! I was surprised to find out that agar is a combination of sea vegetables that is used as a clear and tasteless alternative to animal-based gelatin. It is often used in Asian cultures to thicken soups and jellies. Other recipes that may use agar for its thickening properties include: pies, puddings, jell-o, marshmallows, custards and more. If you’ve ever taken a science course, agar may sound familiar, that’s because it is used in petri dishes in science labs!

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The seaweed used to make agar is harvested in the Pacific Ocean and is then boiled, cooled, purified and dried. After this process, agar can be purchased in the form of a bar, granules, flakes, or powder. Sources say the flakes and powders are easiest to use, but different ratios are required in recipes:

AGAR-AGAR TABLESPOON FLAKES TO POWDER RATIO LIST

1 TABLESPOON AGAR-AGAR FLAKES = 1/2 TEASPOON AGAR-AGAR POWDER

2 TABLESPOONS FLAKES = 1 TEASPOON POWDER

3 TABLESPOONS FLAKES = 1 1/2 TEASPOON POWDER

4 TABLESPOONS (1/4 CUP) FLAKES = 2 TEASPOONS POWDER
5 TABLESPOONS FLAKES = 2 1/2 TEASPOONS POWDER

1/3 CUP FLAKES = 2 3/4 TEASPOONS POWDER

7 TABLESPOONS FLAKES = 3 1/2 TEASPOONS POWDER

8 TABLESPOONS (1/2 CUP) FLAKES = 4 TEASPOONS POWDER

Nutritionally, agar is low in calories and carbohydrates and contains no sugar and no fat. It is composed of 80% fibre and contains calcium, iodine, phosphorus and iron.  If you’re interested in using agar in a recipe, it can be pretty pricey depending on where you buy it. Check out a health food store or Asian grocery store and compare prices!

Pecan Pie

* apologies for the terrible picture! 
source: Eden Foods

Ingredients

Crust
Pecan Filling

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°.

CRUST: Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add oil and mix until consistency of cornmeal and add EdenBlend. Form into a ball of dough. Roll out the dough, and place in a 9″ pie plate. Crimp edges of the dough with your fingers and trim excess dough.

PECAN FILLING: Place malt, Edensoy, oil and agar flakes in a saucepan. Cook over a low flame, stirring frequently, until the agar dissolves, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn flame to high and cook until mixture foams. Remove from flame, whisk in the vanilla and stir in the pecans. Pour into the pie shell.

TO BAKE: Bake pie for 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for 1 hour. As it cools the filling will set.

* I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust! Still delicious, but a lot quicker 😉

Recipes:

Blackberry Ice
Vegan Marshmallows
Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
Vegan Peppermint Chocolate Chip Dessert
Eggless No Bake Pumpkin Pie
Raw, Vegan Chocolate Pudding
Mango Cheesecake

Eggless Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mocha Pie

Basic Agar Pudding

Chia Seeds: Fibre & Antioxidant Rich

7 Nov

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The first thing that probably comes to your mind when you hear “chia,” might be those Chia Pets often seen on television that sprout when you water them. Chia seeds as a nutritional ingredient, however, haven’t gained enough attention to become widespread, making this an unusual ingredient!

Chia is the common name for Salvia hispanica, and is a member of the mint family. It has been estimated that chia has been cultivated since 3400 BCE in Mesoamerica. In the 16th century, chia seeds were valued for many uses: a staple food, medicine and oil source. Many of the local recipes are still popular in Mexico and Guatemala today, such as chia seeds soaked in water to make a drink called pinolillo in Nicaragua or chia fresco in Mexico.

Nutritionally, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants and dietary fibre. They are also a good source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and other vitamins/minerals. There is potential for chia seeds to aid in weight loss and diabetes control, but more research is needed in this area.

Want to give chia seeds a try? They can be found on the shelves at some health food stores or in bulk food stores. They have a mild, nutty flavor which makes them great as a topping for yogurt or oatmeal, added into a smoothie or used as a binder in baked goods. When chia seeds are added to water they form a gel, often called a ‘chia egg’ which is commonly used as an egg replacer in vegan recipes.

Blueberry Lemon Chia Seed Muffins 

source: Fabulous Food Finds

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour (use half whole wheat if desired)
  • 3 Tbsp Tru Roots Chia Seeds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • the zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ½ cup reduced fat sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 3/4 cup washed fresh blueberries
Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray . Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time beating well after each addition.

3. In another bowl, combine the flour, chia seeds, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest and salt.

4. Mix together the sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla in another bowl. Add the flour and sour cream mixture alternately to the sugar butter egg mixture and mix just until blended. Fold in the blueberries.

 Other recipe suggestions:

Almond  Blueberry Chia Smoothie
Vegan Chocolate Sweet Potato Chia Seed Pudding  
Healthy Cookie with Chia Seeds 
Homemade Maple Cinnamon Almond Butter with Hemp, Flax and Chia Seeds
Chia Vegetable Stir Fry