Sunday, February 28, 2010


A cooking experiment the other night was based around fat. I'm eliminating dairy products right now, which means no butter. There are many different types of margarines, but most seem to have a degree of processing and ingredients I'd rather not consume. After cooking with it before to make delicious cupcakes, I thought about giving coconut oil a try.

Vegan Cornbread
1 C cornmeal (medium grind/stone ground)
1 C whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour or other flour)
1/2 t salt
4 t baking powder
1 T agave nectar (optional)
1 egg's worth of egg replacer
1 C soy, almond, or rice milk
1/4 C coconut oil (or margarine)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sift together dry ingredients into a bowl. Add egg, milk, and fat. Beat until smooth, about one minute. Do not overbeat. Bake in a greased 8-inch square pan for 20-25 minutes, or in greased muffin cups for 18-20 minutes. Serves nine.

There is a hint of coconut flavor to this recipe, but it's in no way overpowering. The cornbread was very tasty (just ask my roommate--she had one piece one day, and two more the next), went well with my vegan chili, and kept in a closed plastic container for 4 days. Next time I want to add in about 1/2 cup of corn kernels. Other variations could include 2 T of diced green chiles, or 2 T of flaked coconut, to enhance the coconut experience.

Coconut oil is very distinctive in the realm of edible oils because it's a solid at room temperature. This is due to its very high content of saturated fats. However, what's interesting about coconut oil is that its saturated fats are very different from those found in other oils, animal or vegetable. The fatty acid chains are of medium length, instead of long length. You can look up the biochemical details if you choose, but studies indicate that medium length fatty acids tend to have a more positive effect on the body, despite the sweeping statement that all saturated fats are bad for you. In many Pacific countries, coconut oil has been the vegetable oil of choice for hundreds of years. From a common sense perspective, though, I'm using a small amount in a baked good of which I'm eating a small amount each day. Our bodies need fats, and I definitely want to consume the best quality ones I can find.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where to eat in Berkeley, Part 2

On Valentine's Day, a girl friend and I decided to be each other's hot date for the evening, and we went out to dinner at Herbivore. The restaurant is completely vegan; that is, no eggs, milk or any other animal products. Definitely great for anyone with a milk allergy or sensitivity.

We started off with the vegetable sampler--char-broiled vegetables served with three sauces: pesto, tahini, and lemon-garlic. The vegetables ranged from bell peppers to eggplant to potatoes. They were broiled to a turn and I couldn't decide which of the three sauces was my favorite.

That evening the restaurant was completely packed (unexpectedly so), and they didn't have my first choice for dinner, which was the ceviche. So instead I ordered the roasted beet salad. If you've never had roasted beets, please do. They're sweet and earthy, and are a fabulous combination with greens and vinagrette.

For dessert, I had an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and their soymilk hot chocolate. I was hoping to try out one of their vegan donuts, but those were all sold out (surprise, surprise). I also got a bit of mudslide ice cream, which is chocolate coconut fudge brownie. It was fantastic, and comes in a huge scoop, so it can easily be shared with one or two friends.

Overall, the menu is very intriguing and has many dishes I want to try. Of course it makes me happy that I can eat everything on this particular menu, instead of being relegated to a small vegetarian section on the last page. I'm looking forward to their cocktails, too, and next time I'll definitely have to try the german chocolate cake.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where to eat in Berkeley, Part I

Whenever my family comes to visit me in California, we tend to eat our way across LA. Now that I'm spending some time traveling up north to the Bay Area, I'm continuing the tradition. I had a fabulous time over Valentine's/President's Day weekend with friends and family up in Sacramento and Berkeley, plus the ritual sharing of delicious (and not so delicious) food.

First up is the restaurant that is top of my list of restaurants to return to in Berkeley. It's Bacheeso's. Bacheeso's is a family-owned restaurant that features locally-produced and sourced ingredients, plus a name that's very funny to say. Ba-cheeeeese-o's. Wandered over there for brunch/lunch on Sunday. They have a regular menu (which I haven't actually looked at), but on the weekends they serve a brunch buffet. If this conjures up images of pancakes, muffins, and "build-your-own" omelette bars, then think again. On my plate was a spoonful of cabbage salad, pepper & zucchini salad, mashed potatoes, lentils w/ assorted veggies, half a delicious pear, and more that I can't remember. Plus a small cup of rice pudding for dessert. There were also egg dishes, pancakes, soup, roasted vegetables, cake, and more fruit.

In addition to this feast, I had the best coffee I've ever had in my coffee-drinking existence (which, truth to tell, has been short). It was smooth, flavorful, and so delicious I drank it straight up and had to stop myself after the second cup because otherwise I would have been in serious caffeine overload. I can imagine going back just for dessert (a small sampling of which I saw, and had to restrain myself) and more coffee.

The pricing is good; the eating space pleasant, bright, and open; and there is a wall on the way to the restroom tacked up with thank-you letters from various social organizations that Bacheeso's has donated food to. It's nice to have a place that is so socially conscious. I'm really looking forward to my next visit there.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Recipe Review: Apple Oat Muffins

Thanks to a gift subscription (of a sort) from my brother-in-law, I receive Vegetarian Times in the mail (almost) every month. Last month I decided to try out the recipe for Apple Oat Muffins. I didn't have any quick-cooking oats, but instead used a multi-grain blend that I bought at Trader Joe's. The 2 cups of diced apple was obtained by one large Rome apple, on which I left the peel.

The result was delicious! If you look closely at the tops of the muffins, you can see bits of red from the apple peel. The recipe states that the muffin cups will be very full--they were--but you can see that there was no overflow. These were some hearty muffins. I would imagine that you could substitute whole wheat flour for some of the flour in the recipe for added nutrition. The yogurt is a good addition, substituting for the oil used in a standard muffin recipe. These muffins freeze very well, so you can make a batch, stick at least half in a plastic freezer bag, and eat them all week long. Just make sure they spend enough time defrosting--I discovered that frozen muffin is not so nice to eat.

Take note of the shiny pans used to bake these. These pans were specifically purchased to bake cupcakes. The shiny metal leads to very light baking. I should buy separate pans for muffins, in a darker finish, which will give the outside, the "crust" of the muffin, if you will, a much better texture to correspond with the density of the baked goodies.