29 July 2007


This may look like your garden-variety oatmeal cookie, but it's not. This little guy (about a teaspoon-sized cookie) is packed with fiber and protein (and a bit too much fat for my liking--but good omega fats, but I'm working on a different version made with nut butter instead of oil). Importantly, it's vegan.

I had downloaded a recipe for Oatcakes back in February, with the intent of making a sweet version with agave nectar. However, since I've launched into this massive calorie/fat cutting regimen, I decided to kick these up a notch, fiber-wise. As a result of my extensive changes, this is truly an Altered Plates venture. It really bares only a passing resemblance to the original -- the amount of oats.

I made them a few days ago, and the kitchen still smells faintly of the spices I used to bake them (a nice bonus). They've gotten a bit chewy over time, so I might just stick them in the oven a bit to crisp them up. These health-conscious morsels taste a lot like granola bars, and in future versions, I'm definitely adding nuts.

How did Oatcakes become "Regulars?" My husband John's a funny guy. Given the high fiber content, he promptly named them "Regulars," and advised me to eat just one per day. That's as much as I'll say on that.

Here's the recipe with a few photos to show what to expect.

Makes approximately 30 cookies.



3 1/2 cups of oats
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oatbran
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup rice milk (I used enriched vanilla)
2/3 cups agave nectar
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
1/2 cup raisins (I did not pack the measuring cup)


1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, salt, oat bran, and spices.

3. Mix in the oil until the oat mixture looks like this (just beginning to get clumpy):

4. Mix in the Rice milk, agave nectar and vanilla.
5. Fold in the raisins.

6. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes.
7. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the cookies and flatten them gently on the parchment paper. They will not spread, so you don't need to leave more than an inch between them.
8. Bake the cookies for 18 minutes, then turn the cookies and switch the pans' places in the oven.

9. Bake for another 20 minutes or until the edges are light brown and tops just start to turn golden.

10. Let the cookies sit on the sheets for 5 minutes before moving them gently to a wire rack to cool completely.


22 July 2007

Increased Dietary Restrictions

Yes, I'm making my foodie life much more complex as I go on (dare I say it) a diet. It's true. I took all the pertinent measurements, weighed myself and bit the bullet. It's time to cut my calorie intake, exercise more and drop the "married, fat and happy" weight.

My friend Dawn pointed out that since year two of happiness with John, I've gained 10 lbs per year. That's a total of 30 lbs. Too much weight for my 5'2" frame, to be sure. Not only that, but it puts me in the high risk group for diabetes and heart disease.

What to do? While nosing around Mom and Dave's cookbook shelves, I found Secrets of the Lean Plate Club by Sally Squires, health reporter for The Washington Post. It's filled with important facts such as how much protein my brain actually needs to function (46g per day), how much fat is alright, and much more. Reading just the first 100 pages of her book provided a huge wake-up call, so a week ago Monday, I began my fight against calories. I committed to losing 30 lbs in 6 months, trying to lose 1-2 lbs per week by cutting at least 500 calories from my diet each day and upping my exercise to every day, for at least an hour (instead of the 3-5 times a week I'd been averaging).

One of the first and most important pieces of advice Ms. Squires gives is to keep a food journal. I found one online that I liked, my-calorie-counter.com, and plunked down my $25 for 6 months of a premium membership (allows users to make custom entries in the food journal). I've been using it every day, mostly adding custom entries for the items I've been eating. For each entry, the software instantly calculates where I am in terms of calories, protein, sugar, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates.It's just up to me to measure my food and make sure that my servings are true servings and that I don't go over my self-assigned targets.

So, for example, here's how my day went (foodwise) on Tuesday, 17 July:

In the image at the beginning of this post, you can see my targets for my dietary intake. Here, you can see my actual intake and how I score against those targets (scroll down to the bottom of the image to the left). Items in blue are within the targets, while those in red show where I've topped out.

With this diet, I'm also drinking more water, taking my vitamins more religiously and exercising more deliberately. The Calorie Counter part of the journal also calculates the calories you burn when doing various exercises, like using the elliptical trainer, lifting free weights and/or hiking. Yesterday, for example, I ran a calorie deficit, but not on purpose. John and I hiked for two hours, and the calories I'd eaten for the day didn't add up to as much as I'd burned. So, I ate 3 oz of shrimp and a cup of cooked, plain, whole wheat pasta to balance things out a bit.

The biggest challenge will be to apply low-fat alterations to some pretty high fat recipes I enjoy. However, the site also has a bulletin board and a very active community of users who share recipes and their results. One person gave a great tip about using yogurt instead of butter in cakes. I'm going to try that later and post the results here when the cake is done.

Each week, I'll weigh and measure myself before entering my numbers in the journal. The reason for this is to track my progress along with the calories. It's a little work, but I'll bet you I'll be seeing the rewards soon enough.

Wish me luck!

16 July 2007

Whole Grain Carrot Cake

Back in March, Mom and Dave, who have long encouraged my culinary pursuits, gave me two whole grain baking books for my 38th birthday. This carrot cake recipe comes from one of those books, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. It’s a wonderfully easy recipe that results in a light, moist, delicious cake that hardly tastes like it’s made from whole wheat flour.

It’s not your typical, many-spiced cake with raisins. Instead, it uses quite a bit more carrot than usual, shredded coconut and pineapple to keep it moist and sweet.

I’ve altered it for agave nectar by cutting the amount of oil and sweetener. The original calls for two cups of sugar, but that seemed a bit on the sweet side. I was right. When I brought my altered cake to some friends to try for the first time, they said the sweetness was right on the money.

This cake definitely improves over time. Serve it a day after you bake it, keeping it at room temperature in a sealed container. It makes all the difference.

This recipe yields two 9-in rounds, 3 8-in rounds, 24 full-sized cupcakes or one 9 x 13 in. sheet cake.


4 large eggs
6 oz grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups agave nectar
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (I did this with the food processor to get tiny pieces)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple, very well drained (as much as possible)


1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour your pans and/or put liners in your cupcake pans.
2. Beat the eggs and add the oil while the mixer is running.
3. Add the vanilla and agave nectar, mixing well.

4. In a very large glass measuring cup, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, mixing to achieve a smooth batter.

6. Mess up your smooth batter by adding the carrots, coconut and pineapple. Mix well.

7. Fold in the nuts.
8. Pour the batter into your pans and bake. Cupcake pans should be turned 180 degrees at 10 minutes. If you’re baking a pan of cupcakes and one 9-in. pan, switch the positions of the pans in the oven after you turn the cupcake pan. Seven minutes later, take out the cupcakes and move the cake to the center of the oven. Then, turn up the heat to 350 degrees F to finish the cake. It should take another 17-23 minutes to finish. Use the toothpick in the center method to test for doneness. The toothpick should just have the tiniest bit of cake on it.

9. Cool the cake/cupcakes in their pans (tip cupcakes up so that their bottoms are tilted and not touching the bottom of the pans) for 1 hour before releasing them from their pans and cooling completely a rack before frosting. Let the cake sit a day before frosting and serving.

10. To frost the cupcakes, first poke a hole in the middle of the top of a cupcake, then fill the hole with frosting. Then, frost the top, covering the hole.

As you can see from the photo above, when you're poking your cupcake, you may run up against a nut or chunk of pineapple. If you do, don't worry, just fill it with frosting!

Here's a photo of the 9-in. round I made covered with Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World's "Super Natural Agave Icing." I added more coconut to it, so that's why it's lumpy.

11 July 2007

The Best Mint Carob Chip Ice Cream Ever

I'm not exaggerating. This stuff is smooth, creamy and lush. Lush in the way velvet feels on your skin. The mint isn't overpowering in the least, and the chips are just the right foil for the cream. It's not low-calorie stuff, mind you, but it's a great indulgence on a rare occasion.

I found the original recipe at Allrecipes.com. My changes included:

1. Using whole milk for the 2% milk.
2. Using agave nectar for the sugar.
3. Using peppermint oil (and less of it) for peppermint extract.
4. Using unsweetened carob chips for the chocolate chips (and more of them).

Additionally, I made half the recipe since I just wanted to try it. The results were fantastic!

I made a short movie of the experience. Please comment and let me know what you think!

10 July 2007

A Meme

Well, I haven't been tagged for a meme in a while, and never for this blog, so I thought I'd honor Tara's tag and participate.

Here are the rules: Each participant posts eight random facts about themselves. Tagees should write a blogpost of eight random facts about themselves. At the end of the post, eight more bloggers are tagged.

My eight random facts (within the topic of the blog and food in general) about myself:

1. I will gladly eat the most bruised banana in the bunch. This suits John just fine because he prefers them speckle-free. In fact, I'm eating a mashed, severely bruised one right now.

2. Even prior to realizing my dietary sensitivities, I altered recipes to suit my taste and to figure out what would happen if I did something different with them.

3. When friends and/or family and I go out for a meal, I often ask them to order dessert so that I might live vicariously through them. I also request detailed descriptions of the dish for a "fuller" experience. I don't find it torturous, instead, it's hugely amusing. It's like participatory voyeurism (oxymoronic, I know).

4. I'm a huge fan of many food bloggers. My Google reader has 46 entries. Thank goodness they don't all update their sites daily!!! If you asked me my favorites, it would be hard to say, but among those I've pretty devoted to reading for a while are The Amateur Gourmet, The Girl Who Ate Everything, Culinary in the Country (formerly Desert), and Cream Puffs in Venice.

5. On many occasions, I will prefer something savory to something sweet. I will always prefer something crunchy to something gooey.

6. Now that I know how to bake really tasty cookies with agave nectar, I no longer look for fruit-sweetened cookies in the stores.

7. I drink a lot of herbal tea. To my right is a cup of my homebrewed iced tea made from St. John's wort and ginseng peppermint teas. I like it strong, too. It usually doesn't have any sweetener in it because it's just me drinking the stuff.

8. Finally (!) my biggest challenge at the moment is developing an agave frosting that won't melt away if the temperatures are high.

Consider yourselves tagged! Please leave a comment on my blog here with a link to your meme entry. I'd like to see your eight random facts.

05 July 2007

Star-Spangled Pie

My dear friend Richard and his lovely friend Barbara throw an annual 4th of July party each year to the delight of his employees and friends. For this festive occasion, I thought I'd bake a pie. Little did I know it would become such a spectacular hit!

The crust is an altered version of Elise's All Butter Crust, originally adapted from Oprah magazine. I've used this crust many times before, but I made it slightly different this time to ensure a less sticky dough.

My changes included:

  1. Omitting the brown sugar and water, substituting a total of 4 tablespoons of agave nectar (very cold).
  2. Using roasted, unsalted almonds instead of blanched almonds.

For the first time ever making this crust, I also happened to have heavy cream in the house, so I used her glaze of heavy cream and egg yolk to top the pie before I baked it. Her glaze is just genius. It works brilliantly.

Well, on to the process. You've waited patiently enough.

In my food processor, I pulsed the almonds until they were pretty finely ground.

Then I added the flour and salt before pulsing a few more times, and the almonds were incorporated well into the flour.

Next, I added the butter and pulsed until I could see the coarse meal above.

Cautiously, I added agave nectar one teaspoon at a time until I saw these streusel-like clumps. Then I took the dough out of the processor and formed it into a disk.

I wrapped the disk in plastic and let it chill while I created the bottom crust. If, on the other hand, you have a processor big enough to handle the entire recipe (lucky duck!), divide the dough in two, and wrap each disk in plastic. You'll need to chill yours for at least an hour.

While all the dough chilled, I prepped my fruit.

I really need a cherry pitter. It took way too long to cut these up and remove the pits.

Blueberries are so great in this pie. Heck, they're great in any pie!

I'd made a syrup using agave nectar, water and lemon juice a few days prior to making this pie, and poured the remains over a pint of raspberries. It macerated them over the course of three days.

The surprise fruit in the pie (no one ever guesses it) -- nectarines!

I drained the syrup from the berries and added some arrowroot to it in hopes of thickening it a bit.

Next, I mixed the fruit into the arrowroot syrup until all was coated.

When the dough had chilled enough, I rolled it out on a silicone mat.

I always wanted to try the trick where you roll out your dough and use your rolling pin to transport it to the pan. It worked well enough, although you can see a tear in the bottom.

After a small amount of patching, I was able to fit the dough into the tart pan and put the pan into the fridge to chill while I rolled out the excess dough.

With the excess crust dough from the bottom, I cut tiny butterfly cookies and spread a little strawberry jam on each. They were so tasty, they didn't last the day.

Oh, my! Such a wet pie! I really should have drained the syrup off the fruit, but I thought it would be alright. Next time, I'll do that.

Next, I rolled out the top crust and cut out some stars to make it more festive. Then, I used Elise's great cream and egg glaze on top.

About 20 minutes into baking, I should have switched pans to one with more of a lip. Already, the juices were flowing.

Messy, yet tasty. I switched pans to save the oven from being completely covered in fruit juice. Still, the pie was a huge hit at Richard's party. I've never had so many compliments on my baking.

Juicy! Lesson learned.

03 July 2007

A New Role For Agave Nectar -- Sports Drinks?

While I'm not a big drinker of liquid nutritional supplements or sports drinks, I am interested in a trend -- the emergence of lower glycemic sweeteners such as agave nectar in commercial media.

Just in case you're interested, here's a great article by Leonard S. Ershow on how agave nectar might be a viable resource for "natural" sports drinks.


01 July 2007

The Straight Dope

Yep, that would be me.

I really would have liked to have shared with you the magnificent tart I made for the party. Except that at every turn, disaster showed its ugly face. On the bright side, I have some great footage for an outtakes reel.

Sometimes the kitchen works with me and sometimes it just laughs at me. It laughed loudly on Saturday morning. Guffaws could be heard in Ohio (I'm in Jersey).

Main problems:

1. Not adequately reading the recipe prior to baking.
2. Lack of pie weights (that's a whole blog entry unto itself).
3. Dumb decision NOT to use the shiny new tart pan in favor of a cheapie disposable tin I could just leave at the party. Hypocrite -- I've got a sign on this very site saying "Ditch the Disposables" (albeit, the ad is talking about something not remotely food-related).
4. Too much noodling with the tart crust.
5. Pastry cream issues up the wazoo.

After all that, we didn't end up going to the party. After all the baking and cleaning up after the disasters, I had such a nice time catching up with John after a stressful week that he and I decided to just stay put for the rest of the day (except for a lovely walk). It was a good decision, but now I have a pastry cream fruit pie with lovely fruit decorations [in a (gasp!) store-bought, perfectly baked pie shell, no less] sitting in the fridge.

No worries, though. I'll be meeting up with some friends tomorrow night and am bringing this less-disastrous and less-homemade version with me. Here's a tiny clip of the pie: