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The vegan lemon-blueberry cupcake recipe started off as a very basic vegan vanilla cupcake recipe from a friend. While the basic vanilla version is delicious in its own right, I wanted to change it up to make it even better. One of my favorite flavors in baked goods is lemon and when added to tart blueberries, they make a scrumptious paring. With a few changes, this is what I came up with.

Vegan Lemon-Blueberry Cupcakes

Before you get started, here are a couple recommendations. Use apple sauce in place of the oil to make the cake lighter, and a tiny bit healthier. When making the icing, use a beater to make it extra fluffy. The apple cider vinegar may seem like an odd ingredient but it “curdles” the soy milk to make a kind of vegan buttermilk to act as a thickening agent in place of eggs. This recipe makes 18 cupcakes, so keep that in mind when buying cupcake tins.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:
• 2 cup soy milk
• 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
• 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 4 tbsp. cornstarch
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2/3 cup apple sauce
• 1 1/2 cup sugar
• 4 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
• 1 package of blueberries

Frosting:
• 3 tbsp. Earth Balance vegan butter
• 5 oz. Tofutti Vegan cream cheese
• 2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
• 2 tsp. lemon extract as seen fit

Directions:

Cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin pan with cupcake liners
2. Whisk the soy milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle
3. In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt
4. In separate bowl, beat together soy milk/vinegar mixture, oil/apple sauce, sugar, and lemon extract. Stir the dry ingredients and mix until no large lumps remain.
5. Fill cupcake liners 1/4 full of batter, add a few blueberries then add more batter until about 3/4 full
6. Bake for 20 minutes or until done
7. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting

Frosting:
1. Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth, mix in lemon zest and extract
2. Slowly add sugar until thick enough to spread.
3. Frost and enjoy!

In the hunt for a healthier breakfast, oatmeal almost always gets suggested as an alternative to the sugary bowls of cereal and artificially sweetened pastries.  However, our culture of instant food preparation has made it a lot easier to assume that a packet of “just add water” instant oatmeal is the right way to go.

Packages of Instant Oatmeal

Three sugary servings of instant oatmeal

There is a trade off for that instant gratification, and the sacrifice involves a lot of sugar and sodium.  Although these packages like to tout flavors such as banana nut bread and apple cinnamon, the truth is that you rarely get something that actually contains real representations of those flavors, or, in other words, you end up with apple flavored “chips.”

But I have a confession to make.  I am notoriously bad at making oatmeal that is actually enjoyable to eat.  Typically it ends up too watery and too bland, and that is never a good start to anyone’s day.

So in the interest of finding some alternatives for breakfast (and to find a use for that massive canister of steal-cut oatmeal I bought a long time ago), I decided to take another shot; but this time, I brought backup.  Instead of resorting to just adding in my own cinnamon and artificial sweeteners, I wanted to have a complete overhaul of my standard oatmeal preparation.

Read the rest of this entry »

*Quinoa is actually a psuedocereal; I explain below!

For many Americans, our go to filler grain tends to be rice.  If we are feeling particularly adventurous, we might even turn to brown rice for the “extra” fiber. (The industry likes us to believe that brown = wheat = healthy, but brown rice actually is not much different from white, but it still has its benefits.)

A pan of toasting quinoa

Toasting Quinoa by tombothetominator via Creative Commons

But what most people do not know is that there is an entire world of grain-like products out there that in many ways outdo rice in the health department.  Today, I am going to highlight quinoa.

As you might have noticed, I have been stopping just short of calling quinoa a grain.  That is because it actually has more in common with chenopods such as spinach and beets.  But for our purposes (and yours), quinoa is an excellent alternative for situations where a good, hearty grain-like base is needed in a dish, and it blows rice away in terms of health benefits.

Quinoa’s high protein profile makes it a great choice for vegetarians and vegans, and quinoa comes with one of the most balanced servings of amino acids you can find.  Another benefit?  Quinoa is gluten-free.

So where can you find it?  I suggest you skip the “grain” aisle at the grocery store and visit the one of the bag-your-own stations found in many supermarkets.  Not only is it cheaper when purchased in bulk (my last batch I got for less than a dollar a pound), you typically find a much more varied selection than what you can get of the bagged varieties.  Here in Austin, I suggest you try either Whole Foods Market, Central Market, and some HEB stores also carry it.

Bowl of Cooked Quinoa

Bowl of Prepared Quinoa by sweetonveg via Creative Commons

To prepare Quinoa, you take most of the same steps as rice, although when you buy it in bulk you want to make sure you take the time to soak it in water for a few hours to remove the bitterness (if you buy it prepackaged, this has likely been taken care of for you).  Bring two cups of water to boil, throw in some salt and butter/oil to mature the flavor a bit, and then add one cup quinoa and cover.  Once the germ begins to separate from the seed (you will see a little curl coming off), it is done!  As I said before, treat it like rice; serve it under chili or toss it in a soup!

Including quinoa in your diet every once in a while is a great way to sneak in more nutrients with very little effort!

After I visited some Vietnamese restaurants I am tempted to try to make spring rolls by myself. Spring rolls are a quick, no cook meal and are surprisingly easy to make. I made spring rolls not as same as other restaurants have but followed my own recipe. Its ingredients are most of what I and my guest like, and people who try to make it can also change my recipe in a way that they want. Before I greeted the guest I prepared and set a table.

Ingredients (recipe for two people)

  • Spring roll wrappers
  • 1/2 yellow onions, chopped and grilled
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms
  • 1/2 packed tofu
  • 1 regular size chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn
  • 5 crab sticks, chopped

– For dipping sauce

* Sweet chili sauce

* Peanut butter sauce: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well.

  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 2/3 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry

Directions

1. Fry the onions and mushrooms until they soften. Also, cook on the prepared grill until no longer pink.

2. Bring a large bowl with warm water.

3. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Do not over soak your rice paper wrapper! Then, lay wrapper flat.

4. You will be placing your ingredients in the bottom half of the wrapper.

5. Fold up the bottom, then the two sides.

6. Repeat with all the other remaining ingredients.

7. Serve with dipping sauce and enjoy!

* Here is one more tip for someone who brings spring roll  to a party.

An olive oil caddy found in the House of Olives

An olive oil caddy found in the House of Olives - via Shishberg on Flickr

During my early years, my parents never really prompted me to try my hand at preparing my own meals.  In hindsight, that probably was not a good thing, but it did give me an opportunity to develop my own cooking style and preferences from scratch.

One of the first things I learned was that “butter = bad,” “oil = good.” (The truth of that is neither here nor there, let’s just say I no longer feel that way.)  And thanks to the prompting of Food Network staples like Rachel Ray, I began my infatuation with extra virgin olive oil.  And for a while, I never questioned it.  Every time I needed a refill, I would cringe at the high costs of quality oils, but bite the bullet and do the best I could.

But something was not right.  Every time I made scrambled eggs, they were greasy and overpowered by the oil, and hamburgers always had this faint hint of earthiness brought on by the extra virgin.  It quickly became obvious what someone should want out of a cooking oil.  When cooking, the oil should stay out of the way!

House surrounded by canola plants.

A canola field surrounding a farmhouse - via Paraflyer on Flickr

So how do you pull this off?  You have two, very healthy, choices.  First, take a look at canola oil.  Not only is is very good for you, it has a neutral natural flavor that does not threaten to over power your food.  Pair this with the optimal balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids provided by the oil and you have something you do not have to regret using.

Second, there is plain olive oil.  Yes, there is a difference!  Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first press of olives, and it is not mixed with other oils that will dilute the flavor.  So, extra virgin has a robust flavor (and price premium).  Regular olive oil (also known as “pure,” confusing, I know) is mixed with virgin olive oil and pomace oil (the leftover oil from processing virgin olive oil).  This oil has a less defined flavor, and as a result, it is cheaper.  So if being pulled away from olive oil as your go-to lubricant is too radical, give pure olive oil a try, your wallet might appreciate it!

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