May 23, 2013

Small Changes

I've been making some small changes to my usual recipes lately. Small changes, but hopefully these will turn into habits and new ways of thinking about food. In the past I have not been one for ingredient substitutions because I'm too afraid the end product won't taste good and I will have wasted the time and food. But my days can't afford for me to come up with all new recipes, though I'm always on the lookout for more healthy recipes, so I've been more brave about trying substitutions. And my success has pushed me to be even more creative in the future. As I make tweaks, I will add the new ingredient note to my old posted recipe. Here's a summary of my changes.

**Costco is a good place to buy some of these items at an excellent price: coconut oil, Medjool dates, chia seeds, and some other items not mentioned in this post: organic brown rice, quinoa, hemp seeds, black rice, organic white sugar.  Also try or for decent prices.

Using Less Meat
In recipes that call for beef, pork, or poultry, I try reducing the amount of animal protein. I've had a lot of success with this - the dish still tastes the same.

Chili - used half the amount of ground beef
Lasagne - used half the amount of Italian sausage and added spinach
Won Tons - used sauteed, crumbled tempeh in place of the ground pork. Really, I could not tell at all.
Spanish Tortilla - used half the amount of bacon

Dairy Substitutes
I've mentioned several times that I really don't want to consume cow's milk and am looking for ways to reduce other milk products (cheese, etc.). Almond milk has proven to be a wonderful substitute for milk in recipes. Coconut oil or ghee can work in place of butter, and avocado is an excellent replacement for sour cream. Oh, and I also have tried coconut milk whipped cream, but just as an experiment and not for a specific dish. Here's a link to a coconut whipped cream recipe.

Cinnamon Rolls - subbed almond milk for cow's milk
Whole Wheat Buns - subbed almond milk for cow's milk
Chocolate Cupcakes - subbed coconut milk (but I have no doubt almond milk would work just as well) for cow's milk
Popcorn - topped it with coconut oil instead of butter
Any type of quesadilla, taco, etc. - used mashed avocado instead of sour cream

Healthy Oils
The topic of oils is a controversial one.  People have many varying opinions on what is healthy.  I stick with items that have been used in traditional cooking for a long time.  My main three oils/fats are organic butter, olive oil, and coconut oil.  I've just tried ghee, an Indian product,  which is clarified butter and actually contains no milk solids, but I'm still learning where to use it.

Meyer Lemon and Strawberry Muffins - subbed coconut oil for canola oil
Popcorn - used coconut oil and also ghee in place of canola oil

A grove of sugar maple trees on a nearby farm.  The blue tubing carries the sap to the sugarhouse, where it is evaporated into maple syrup.

The sugarhouse on the farm - see the steam?

Natural Sugars
Banana - I used to not like bananas that much, but lately as I've been using them more to sweeten various dishes, I've grown more accustomed to them and don't even notice the banana flavor so much.  The riper the banana, the more sweet, but also the more banana flavor.

Dates - I'm still experimenting with using dates (buy whole dates, usually Medjool), but am impressed so far.  They are sweet but not too much, and don't have a really distinct flavor like bananas do.

Maple Syrup - Maple Syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees that mainly grow in New England and Canada.  The sap can only be extracted in late winter and early spring.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!  The sap (which I've tasted) looks and tastes almost like water.  So the processing evaporates the water off, leaving the syrup behind.  Grade A syrup is lighter in flavor, while Grade B has more intense flavor.  The grading system has nothing to do with quality.  Grade B is usually recommended for baking/cooking, though it tastes great as a topping as well.

Maple syrup and honey can be used in place of white or brown sugar.  Try using half the liquid per called for amount of sugar.  So if the recipe says 1 c. sugar, use 1/2 c. maple syrup or honey.  Then reduce the other liquids in the recipe slightly, about 2 Tbsp. per cup of liquid.  So if the recipe calls for 1 c. milk and 1 c. sugar, use 3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. milk and 1/2 c. maple syrup or honey.  I have not tried this substitution in a recipe that does not have any liquids, like cookies.

Honey - Please buy local, raw honey.  Local honey is supposed to help with allergies as it is made from bees who used local plants.  RAW honey is a must.  Honey that has not been processed is considered raw, and of course retains more nutrients.  You can tell if a jar of honey is raw because it will be opaque and thick.  The processing of honey makes it more transparent and runny and doesn't crystallize as easily, but this appears to be mainly for the consumer's benefit.  I've bought three kinds of local, raw honey here in Vermont and each had a different flavor.  I never liked honey much before, but raw honey is so deliciously complex, I always lick the spoon clean.

Sucanat - This is a commercial name for natural cane sugar (the name is derived from SUgarCAneNATural), the purest form of sugar from the cane.  It's very brown and in granules about the size of couscous.  Different types of sugars can be confusing - demerara, turbinado, raw sugar, etc. resemble sucanat, but are more processed.

Sucanat can be used anywhere white or brown sugar is called for.  It has a wonderful flavor, as the part that is usually extracted and made into molasses is still intact.

Adding Superfoods
It's all about the spinach and chia seeds for us lately. We started drinking smoothies after dinner as a way to curb the appetite for a post-meal treat, and so fresh spinach has found its way into my fridge more than usual. Now it's my go-to superfood that I sneak into anything I can think of.

Chia seeds can be added to smoothies, breads, added to oatmeal, and made into pudding.  I've seen lots of exciting recipes using them around, so the learning process continues.  They don't really have a distinct flavor, but do add texture.  Dry they are crunchy, and soaked, they turn soft and gelatinous.

Using Less White Flour
The idea of subbing some or all white flour with wheat flour has been around for a while, but I have never diligently applied it. Lately, I've been using freshly ground whole wheat flour, and that makes a big difference. It seems to be lighter than the bagged stuff.  Where I've tried subbing white flour for some wheat, I've noted in my recipes.  Some usual places I substitute are tortillas and pizza crust.

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