28 February 2010


Back in May 2007, when the Holiday post beow originally ran, this blog was new to the world and I was new to making Hamantaschen with agave nectar. What I learned was that too much coconut flour (used as a way of dealing with too much liquid in a recipe) can make a dough go very stiff. But when life hands me challenges like the one shown in the little movies below, I just make star cookies.

Note to vegans: While looking into veganizing this recipe, I found a very helpful posting at the Post Punk Kitchen that says you can use the dough for their Fig Not-Ins (from Vegan With a Vengeance) as a base instead. However, that uses regular sugar instead of agave nectar. It will require some food science to nail this one down, but I'm up for the challenge! It just might take place after graduation in May.

(By the way, whenever I see these old videos, I laugh at two things -- my wacky presentation style and my old kitchen. I really need to film the next Altered Plates blog post and bring my filmmaking into the next decade!)

Here's hoping you have a wonderful holiday and enjoy this original post from May 28, 2007:

The Hamantaschen That Became Stars

Here's a 15-minute short film in three parts on my experience re-doing hamantaschen from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. The dough didn't turn out to be pliable to fold into the traditional shapes, so I made cut cookies instead. Regardless, they were a huge hit.

25 February 2010

Rerun for Sanity's Sake

One year and some change after posting the original message below, there remains a shameful amount of misinformation about agave nectar on the Internet. While that doesn't surprise me, it does get under my skin now and then. Because I use Google alerts on terms containing "agave nectar" and "agave syrup," I have been able to track the number and type of mentions of the topic (at least as far as Google searches will allow; there are many other resources that are not spidered by Google, but the alerts demonstrate my point clearly enough).

Recently, I've seen more misinformed blog postings than usual, so I thought I'd do a public service and run this piece yet again. I sincerely hope that it clears up misconceptions because that was its original intent.

The original post and its comments is available here.

07 December 2008

Madhava's Craig Gerbore Responds to Agave Nectar Controversy Here

For the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure of corresponding with Madhava Agave Nectar's President, Craig Gerbore. Unfortunately, our conversations came about because there are a number of articles out on the 'net that are factually untrue. I contacted the company in order to find out 1. if Madhava was crafting a response to the rumors, and 2. exactly what is true/untrue. I'm very glad I did because Mr. Gerbore contacted me himself and provided me with a hefty bit of information which clears up much of the mess.

The whole thing is a bit (ehem, pardon the pun), sticky. If I link to the original, highly controversial and factually incorrect article published at NaturalNews.com, I feel that I'd be promoting the circulation of the errant piece. However, in order for you, my kind and lovely readers, to truly understand how this discussion came about, you should see the article that spawned this action. So, open up a new window when you click on this link, so you can compare Mr. Gerbore's response below with the original. It's eye-opening, to say the least.

One last thing before I share Mr. Gerbore's response. As a journalist and a professional editor who has worked for some top publications in their fields, I'm pretty disgusted with the NaturalNews's editor for even publishing such a patently one-sided story. Truly yellow journalism at its smarmiest.

That said, here is Mr. Gerbore's response completely unedited by me:

Agave Nectar: Hold on now…
Response to Rami Nagel’s article
By Craig Gerbore, President of Madhava

In response, I must first point out that Mr. Nagel’s article is based on the view of a sole individual, Russ Bianchi. I suppose we should thank Mr. Bianchi for pointing out some issues that may have contributed to Iidea’s (the initial manufacturer of blue agave nectar) demise from the market, however I want to be clear, this is not about Madhava or our agave nectar. Once a dominant supplier, as of this past summer Iidea is no longer a major supplier in the agave syrup business. The distributors using them as a supplier have quietly switched to newly formed blue agave companies for their supply. Madhava has always worked exclusively with Nekutli, the producer of agave nectar from the agave salmiana, a very different species of the agave.

However, there is no mention of our agave nectar from salmiana in the article, nor of the differences in the plant, the collection and production of our product. So, the author has blurred the line with his all encompassing attack on blue agave nectar, by his failure to present complete information on the subject of agave nectars. For what purpose was this article written? If it were to educate the public, I think it would include all the information available. With the errors and misstatements and half-truths, I don’t think this article is about education, it is an all out shotgun attack.

I believe Mr. Bianchi, presented as the sole authority on agave nectar, was initially introduced to Iidea’s blue agave syrup product on their entry to the market in the late 90’s. At that time, Iidea was promoting a 90% fructose agave syrup. This is what I believe Mr. Bianchi is referring to. Unfortunately, he ignores the fact that this is not the agave sold on the market today, nor is it representative of Madhava’s product. In fact Mr. Bianchi has never even acknowledged the existence of our agave nectar from the salmiana variety. So, all his comments are apparently based on his experience with Iidea’s product, but I find ourselves caught in the blast.

In their zestful attack against the blue agave syrup he was introduced to initially, Mr.’s Bianchi and Nagel have also made inaccurate comments which reflect on agave nectar generally. As such, I take issue with several of their statements and claims and want to clarify some things as regards Madhava’s Agave Nectar from agave salmiana.

Their discussion of the processing of agave nectar is in no way reflective of how Madhava’s agave nectar is produced. There are three ways to convert complex sugars into a simple sugar sweetener such as agave syrup. It can be done thermally, chemically, or enzymatically as ours is. There are no chemicals whatsoever involved in the production of Madhava’s agave nectar from agave salmiana, nor is it cooked. Our agave is subject only to low temperatures during the evaporation of excess water from the juice.

The author states “The principal constituent of the agave is starch, such as what is found in corn or rice.”

This statement, which is the foundation of much of their argument comparing agave nectar to corn syrup, has no basis in scientific fact, THERE IS NO STARCH IN THE AGAVE.

How can the author and his source be so mistaken on this statement on which he bases his attack?

All plants store energy in one of two ways, as starches or fructans. All agave plants create fructans as their energy storing means.

So, agave plants have fructans, not starch. From Wikipedia: Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. They belong to a class of fibers know as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and it typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants which synthesize and store inulin do not store other materials such as starch.

There is no starch in either species of agave, and agave nectar is not from starch as the author and Mr. Bianchi claim. They have tried very hard to propagandize the public with a false fact, either by design, or ignorance, for which there would be no excuse.

Such an error of fact certainly casts doubt on the validity of the rest of Nagel’s article, as the lack of depth of his research has to be apparent to all. Really, he is just regurgitating the singular views of Mr. Bianchi.

I personally spoke with the author during his “research”, as did at least one other in the industry. He chose not to include one word of the information given to him by us, which I will repeat below, and failed to make any distinction between Madhava’s Nekutli agave nectar from salmiana and that from the blue agave plant. He only mentions blue agave. The plants differ, the locations differ, the methods and production differ greatly. The information we gave him did not fit his purpose and so was omitted in favor of a generalized attack.

Madhava’s source is exclusively agave salmiana. If you haven’t already reviewed our site at www.madhavasagave.com , you will find background information there. Briefly though, the native people supplying the juice collect it from the live plant, by hand, twice daily. There is no heat involved in the removal. The juice is immediately brought to the facility to remove the excess water as it will ferment rapidly if left standing. It is during the removal of the moisture that the only heat is applied. The juice is evaporated and moisture removed in a vacuum evaporator. The vacuum enables the moisture to be withdrawn at low temperatures. The temp is closely controlled. Subsequently, our agave is handled and packaged at room temperatures. No other heat is applied. And, rather than convert the complex sugars of the juice thermally, we use gentle enzymatic action. Just as a bee introduces an enzyme to flower nectar to make honey, we introduce an natural organic vegan enzyme for the same purpose. The technical term for the conversion of complex sugars into their simple sugar components is hydrolysis. Inulin is a fructan which is hydrolyzed into the simple sugars composing agave nectar, fructose and glucose. Honey is composed of the same simple sugars.

The blue agave plant is harvested and the blue agave nectar is produced by a completely different method. I will have to leave it to the blue agave nectar sellers to comment on the production themselves. While I know of it, I have not witnessed it as I have Nekutli’s. Unlike the author, I won’t comment publicly on something I cannot verify.

To clarify further on another claim, “Agave Nectar as a final product is mostly chemically refined fructose”. As regards Madhava’s agave nectar, there are no chemicals involved in our production whatsoever. The sugars in our agave nectar come from the breakdown of the inulin molecule through the introduction of the enzyme to break apart that molecule. It is in no way chemically refined, there are no chemicals involved in any part of the production or packaging process. Our agave nectar is refined only in as much as the excess moisture is removed from the juice of the plant.

“HFCS is made with GM enzymes”. Bianchi’s states “they (agave and corn syrup) are indeed made the same way” This is another false assertion as regards Madhava’s agave nectar at least. Our agave nectar is certainly and clearly not made the same way as corn syrup. There is no starch in our agave. There are no chemicals, no refinement beyond the evaporation of water. And, there are no GMO’s whatsoever. The agave salmiana has never been subject to this and the enzyme is a natural, non GM organic, vegan enzyme.

Other points regarding fructose apply to sugars in general and are a consumption, or overconsumption issue. Certainly consuming large amounts of sweeteners of any kind will be detrimental to one’s health. Suggesting fructose could cause health issues when concentrated amounts are eaten is a statement which should really apply to the overconsumption issue. The information the author links to agave nectar is the result of megadose testing of pure clinical fructose. Not the same thing as normal daily use of agave nectar in the course of our meals.

The antisweetener advocates just have to admit that it is the overconsumption of sugars that is the problem. Used in moderation, sugars serve a purpose, to make other foods and beverages more palatable. Imagine a world without sweeteners if you can. Affinity for sweet taste is a human trait that most want to satisfy. For those who use sweeteners, there are limited choices available and many choose agave for its particular attributes. It is a good choice. Madhava Agave’s neutral flavor suits the purpose. It is in fact low glycemic, organically certified and non allergenic. Many with diabetes and other special diets find it suitable for their use where other sweeteners are not. It’s easy to use and you can use less.

And, we guarantee the purity of our product. Attached is a letter from the CEO of Nekutli stating this guarantee that Nekutli agave syrup is pure and unadulterated, from the natural juice of agave salmiana.

While it remains up to the individual to maintain balance in their diet and monitor their overall consumption of sweets, Nekutli/Madhava’s Agave Nectar does have advantages over other sweeteners and that is why it has become so popular and
received so much attention today.

I think the information I have brought to light here clearly contradicts the claims contained in Rami Nagel’s article. Thank you for your consideration.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the clarification of this issue because I regularly use agave nectar, especially the Madhava brand. It's good to know a company president who not only stands behind his product, but who has the class to respond directly to a question from a customer.

Your thoughts?

19 February 2010

Veganomicon's Pumpkin Crumb Cake with Pecan Streusel

From February 2010 photos

For fans of the Veganomicon or for folks who haven't yet purchased this wonderful collection of tasty vegan recipes, I recommend the easy-to-make Pumpkin Crumb Cake with Pecan Streusel. I wish I'd made more of the streusel because it was definitely the best part. In fact, I'm planning on making a bundt cake using it as a center swirl.

From February 2010 photos

Above is a close up of the yummy topping.

Because I didn't make that many changes to the original recipe, I can't post it here. However, I will post my alterations below. Again, I highly recommend purchasing the Veganomicon for its diverse recipe collection, its very tasty dishes, and its handy guides and useful information along the way.

My changes:

1. Substituted agave nectar for the brown sugar in the streusel.
2. Added 2 tablespoons of barley flour to the streusel.
3. Used vanilla unsweetened almond milk instead of the soy milk in the cake.
4. Cut the oil in the cake to 2/3 cup.
5. Used 1 cup of agave nectar instead of the 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3 tablespoons molasses (it was definitely sweet enough) in the cake.
6. Used 2 1/3 cup pastry flour and 1/3 cup coconut flour for the all-purpose flour in the cake.
7. Baked it for 40 minutes at 325 degrees F.

Overall, the texture was quite moist from the pumpkin. I would probably substitute the spices for 5-spice powder the next time I make this. I also would double the amount of streusel and swirl some of it into the batter before topping it.

14 February 2010

Why We Don't Celebrate Valentine's Day

1. Every day is "Valentine's Day" to John and me.
2. Number 1 is enough.

We have so many reasons to celebrate every day. We are incredibly fortunate individuals. My cup runs over when I think about it (and when I don't).

I could list the multitude of reasons why I regularly wake up feeling very grateful, but it would get too personal for this blog, whose overarching purpose is to introduce new ways of using agave nectar instead of other sweeteners in baking and cooking.

So, instead I'll invite you to leave your gratitude lists in the comments section. I look forward to your notes.

09 February 2010

Vegan Pear-Cranberry Crisp

From February 2010 photos

A few weeks ago, my friends Bo, Rosie, and Tony visited for a celebration of vegan flavors. Now, understand that these folks are not vegan, nor am I, but I wanted to introduce some omnivores to the tastier and healthier dishes that can be found in the strict vegetarian diet. Tony was the most impressed with the massive spread and the dishes that kept emerging from the kitchen. He thought of going vegan right then!

Rosie and Bo were tougher sells, but this Pear-Cranberry Crisp sealed the deal. They enjoyed the granola-y texture and the fruity flavors. They also liked the ginger zip and the overall vanilla taste. It's the perfect warm dessert for a frosty evening (which tends to be the case in February), plus it lets me use up some of the thousand cranberries I froze back in the fall.

The recipe below is inspired by one of the same name found in the sadly out of print The Angelica Home Kitchen from the restaurant Angelica Kitchen down on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I also made the incredible Walnut-Lentil Pate as well as the Miso-Tahini Spread, which went over very well. (I'll be making the pate again for my mom and Dave's famous Flowers In February party to celebrate their gorgeous orchids blooming.)

From February 2010 photos

Above is another shot of the still-warm crisp topped with 3 small scoops of Vanilla Bean flavor Purely Decadent Coconut Milk frozen dessert. It was heavenly, to say the least. The scant leftovers were fantastic for breakfast the next morning.

Tip: Quick way to chop pecans is not to chop them at all, but to seal them in a plastic bag (or roll 'em up in a towel) and hit them with a mallet.

From February 2010 photos

Pear-Cranberry Crisp
Serves 8

1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1 cup chopped pecans (I pummeled mine with a mallet instead of dirtying a knife.)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil of your choice (I used grapeseed oil.)
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla

6 firm pears, cored and cut into 1/2 in. sized pieces.
1 cup cranberries (I used frozen that I'd bought fresh and quick frozen back in November.)
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1/2 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger (the more finely grated the better)
pinch of salt

1. Mix the flours, pecans, almonds, and salt together in a medium bowl.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the oil, agave nectar and vanilla (from the top section of ingredients) until well incorporated.
3. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir until crumbly. This is your topping. Cover and refrigerate until the next two steps are done.
4. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
5. Lightly oil a 9 x 9 in. baking dish and pour the fruit mixture into the dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes.
6. Take the dish out of the oven briefly, then sprinkle the crumble on top of the baked fruit. Cover again, making sure the foil does not touch the crumble, and bake again for 20 minutes.
7. Uncover the dish and bake until the topping is golden brown, approximately 15 minutes.
8. Serve warm.

01 February 2010

The Best Granola Ever (really!)

From January 2010 photos

If it seems like a carpet of granola, it is. It's a delightfully large amount of tasty, crunchy, and all-kinds-of-good-for-you stuff (and I say stuff because it's equally at home in a bowl of non-dairy milk and in a container for snacks on the trail or car).

This is yet another of my recipes published in Dave Grotto's 101 Optimal Life Foods that I'm spotlighting (at least until I've shared all the new recipes). I was a bit ingredient-ly challenged when I put this batch together, so in the recipe below I'll show my minor changes in bold.

What makes this the best ever? Well, for one, all the warming spices. Here, I've used cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cardamom to really zip up this granola. There also is a great variety of chewy dried fruit, seeds and nuts for richness, and barley flour for crunchy bits. Dave Grotto recommends it for improved skin (nuts and flax); circulation (nuts, oats, cranberries, and cherries); nerve pain (nuts); stress and anxiety (sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and almonds); erectile dysfunction (go figure!) (nuts, seeds, coconut, oats, and barley); benign prostatic hyperplasia (barley, pepitas, and flax); and many other ailments explained in his new book.

In this slightly altered version, I have more dried cranberries and carob chips instead of dried plums. I love how the tartness of the berries sets off the rich nuts and seeds. Just be careful to have small servings because there is a lot of fat in this granola.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the format of the recipe as printed in Dave's new book is different than that of my Altered Plates postings (down to the use of the term agave syrup instead of agave nectar). Also, I never turn the oven on until everything is ready to be baked because my oven only takes a few minutes to come to temperature. However, I respect integrity, so below is the recipe straight from 101 Optimal Life Foods by David Grotto, RD, LDN Copyright © 2009 by David Grotto. The recipe is excerpted from the original book by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Cherry-Chai Spice Granola
Servings: 30


3 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup barley flour
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened dried coconut (as finely shredded as possible)
3/4 cup chopped almonds (I used walnuts)
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds, ground
3/4 cup sunflower seeds (I only had 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas (I only had 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1 cup agave syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Post-baking add-ins:
3/4 cup apple juice-sweetened cranberries (I used 1 cup)
3/4 cup unsweetened dried cherries (I didn't have any cherries, so I used 1/2 cup dried gogi berries)
3/4 cup chopped pitted dried plums (I used the same amount of unsweetened carob chips)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
     In your largest bowl, combine the first fourteen ingredients (all the ingredients up until the oil). Ensure that there aren't any flour pockets.
     In a much smaller bowl, blend the three wet ingredients until well incorporated.
     Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until all the dry ingredients have been coated. Spread the mixture equally onto the prepared baking sheets. Wash and dry the bowl and set aside.
     Bake for 15 minutes, then take the sheets out of the oven, stir the granola, and switch the positions of the sheets (the top one goes on the middle rack and vice versa). Bake the granola for another 15 minutes. Stir once more, then bake until uniformly lightly browned. It won't take more than another 15 minutes -- keep an eye on it, or you may burn it. If you like a chunkier granola, stir it less.
     During the final baking, combine the add-ins in your largest bowl. When the granola is done baking, immediately slide it off the pans on top of the add-ins in the bowl and stir well. Spread the mixture into the pans and let the pans cool on top of wire racks for at least 2 hours before transferring the granola to air-tight containers.

Nutritional Profile:
240 calories, 13 g total fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 27 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 5 g protein.

From January 2010 photos