July 15, 2015

Healthier Homemade "Oreo" Cookies

I grew up in a junk food-free household but as a kid, I would secretly go across the street to get my sugar fix. My friend and I had an unspoken agreement that whenever I would come over, she would raid the cupboards and bust out whatever boxed sugary treats she could find. Oreo cookies were the prize find. At the risk of having you un-follow this blog, I'm going to tell you that we had this thing we did where we would scrape off all the Oreo cream filling and collect as much of it as we could, roll it into a giant ball and stick it in the freezer to gnaw away at later. Yup. Like the strange sugar-obsessed demented squirrels that we were. It's a miracle her parents never banned me from their house.

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day and a blogger I follow had posted a photo of the new Oreo thins. The photo description encouraged her followers to enter an Oreo contest. Her photo was hashtagged #sponsored and #oreothins so I clicked on the hashtag and saw that oodles of popular Instagrammers were being sponsored to post photos of the new Oreo thins. 

What irked me about this is that, as some of you know, I'm working on a documentary about GMO labelling and I've been doing a lot of research to find out who is preventing GMO labelling from happening here in Canada and the United States. It turns out that among many other junk food companies, the company that owns Oreos is paying big bucks to lobbyists in Washington to sweet talk politicians into voting in favor of the DARK Act (HR1599) which would overturn Vermont, Maine and Connecticut's democratic GMO labelling laws. 

In fact, this bill would make it illegal for any state to pass a GMO labelling law ever. Instead, it proposes national "voluntary" GMO labelling. What does this mean? It means if a company feels like it, they can tell us their food contains GMOs and if they don't feel like it, you're shit out of luck. And guess what? We've already had a "voluntary" GMO labelling system in place for the past 20 years and do you know how many companies have chosen to label the GMO ingredients on their products? Zero. Not one single company. If this bill passes we can all kiss bye bye to GMO-labelling in America. Years of hard work by activists, farmers, chefs, politicians, moms and dads? GONE. Hasta la vista. If you want to know what's in your food, better move to Europe.

The sad thing is, all that lobbying paid off because just yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee voted to pass the bill which now goes directly to the House floor for a vote as early as next week. But here's the encouraging thing, good politicians DO listen to what their constituents want, and here's the proof:

So we need to rally the troops, get all hands on deck, and call, tweet, visit, email our elected reps to tell them to vote NO on HR1599 because we have a right to know what's in the food we eat. It seems like such a no-brainer, it's mind-boggling that we're having to fight so hard for this. I've heard people say "it's not a big deal, just buy organic". Aside from the fact that this bill threatens the future of organic and non-GMO agriculture, it's important to realize that not everyone can afford or even access organic or non-GMO certified foods. It shouldn't matter where you live or what your budget is, every person deserves the right to informed decision making, especially when it comes to what we put into our bodies.

It never ceases to astound me that, despite the fact that 90% of Americans want GMOs labeled, our elected officials would ignore their constituents and vote for what junk food companies with deep pockets have convinced them to do instead.  64 countries around the world already have GMO labeling, so why do we have to be fighting such a gigantic battle to get that basic right here? GMO labelling is scheduled to go into effect in Vermont in 2016. If this bill passes, Vermont's democratically passed law will be overturned. It begs the questions, who gets to write our laws, people or corporations? 

On the paid lobbying list for HR1599, alongside Oreo's parent company, you see the usual suspects: Monsanto ($1.2 million), Kellogg ($700,000), Coca-Cola ($3 million), Kraft Foods ($350,000)... to name just a few. It makes my brain explode when I think of how much money these companies are willing to invest into making sure no one knows which foods contain GMOs. And that's not counting the millions of dollars they've shelled out to fight individual state GMO labelling bills such as the ones in California and Washington.

So I wrote a friendly note on my fellow blogger's sponsored photo, telling her about what Oreo is doing. I said no thank-you to the Oreo thins contest but that if she did a homemade Oreo recipe post, I'd be all over it. She deleted my comment. Actually she deleted all the comments by all of her followers who don't like Oreos or who questioned why she was promoting Oreos. I wondered if Oreos made her delete the comments as part of their sponsorship agreement. At any rate, I gathered she was not going to be doing a homemade Oreos post anytime soon. So I decided I would.

The recipe took a bit of testing, it was finicky because I was trying to avoid refined sugar and white flour, etc. (My mom would have approved). In fact, I was trying to avoid just about every single ingredient normally found in Oreos, except for the cocoa and the baking soda:


In the end, I arrived at 2 recipes. Both are made with buckwheat flour which I've always found goes well with chocolate. One version has organic butter, egg, and coconut sugar, and you can find that one on my latest PBS Food post. The other version which I'm sharing below is dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and only sweetened with honey. And despite being "everything-free", it's surprisingly full of flavour and goodness!

As a final note, please sign and share the petition against HR1599 because we all have the right to know what's in our food. Also, check here to see if your elected rep is on the committees that will be looking at this bill before it goes to a vote. Or if they're a cosponsor of the bill. Please call their office, write to them, let them know how you feel! I've started working my way through the list of undecided cosponsors and tweeting to every one of them. Let's sway them in favor of democracy. Because as it's been said, "democracy is like a muscle, either you use it or you lose it".

Homemade Healthier "Oreo" Cookies

(This version is dairy-free, egg-free, and gluten-free. For a butter and egg-based version of these, check out my post on PBS Food.)

Cookie dough:

1 cup buckwheat
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup softened coconut oil
5 Tbsp white or creamed honey
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 level teaspoon baking soda

Cream Filling:

3/4 cup raw cashews
2 Tbsp white or creamed honey
3 Tbsp coconut oil, at room temperature (use refined, expeller-pressed if you want to avoid the coconut taste)
1/4 tsp vanilla or peppermint extract (I highly recommend the peppermint!)

To make the cream filling, place the cashews in a small bowl and cover with water. Soak them for at least an hour, or overnight. Drain the water and pat the cashews dry with a clean towel. To make the cream filling, you can either use a high-powered blender or an immersion stick blender. Place all the ingredients together and blend on highest setting for several minutes to obtain a smooth thick paste. Place this in the fridge while you work on the dough.

To make the cookies, preheat your oven to 325 F. Whisk all the dry ingredients together. If you have a food processor, simply pulse the coconut oil and honey together until creamy, then add the dry ingredients and pulse until they come together into a ball. If mixing by hand, cream the coconut oil and honey together. Add the dry ingredients mixture and mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Use your hands to shape the dough into a ball.  Flatten it into a disk. Sprinkle a little buckwheat flour on a rolling pin and on a clean surface and begin to roll out the dough to about 1/8th or even 1/16th of an inch thick. (The thinner the dough, the crispier the cookie). Continue to sprinkle a little buckwheat flour under the dough as you roll it, it will help you lift off the cookies to transfer them to the pan. This dough is delicate and does not flip over well, but with flour sprinkled on top and bottom, it will roll out nicely.  If your dough is simply too sticky to roll out, you can knead in a bit more buckwheat flour (not more than 1 Tbsp at a time) or chill the dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes. 

Once your dough is rolled thin, use a round cookie cutter or the top of a small drinking glass, about 2 inches in diameter, to cut the cookies into circles. Using a thin spatula, carefully transfer them to a parchment paper-lined or greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 325F oven, but check them often as they can burn very quickly, and burnt buckwheat does not taste very nice. (If your dough is rolled very thin, they may bake even more quickly). Cool the cookies on a rack, they will crisp a bit as they cool. 

To assemble, make sure the cookies are completely cooled (or the filling will melt). Coconut oil hardens significantly when chilled. If your cream filling is cold and hardened, you can roll it into little balls, about 3/4 inch in size and gently squeeze it between 2 cookies, making sure to press on the centre of the cookie so it doesn’t crack along the edges. Alternately, if your filling is not too cold and still spreadable, you can simply butter it on the bottom of one cookie and press another cookie on top. If the filling is left at room temperature too long, the oil may begin to separate, if this happens, simply chill it again and whisk it back into a cream. The filling amount should be fairly thin, about 1/8th inch thick. The cookies will keep for about 1 week. Enjoy!

June 23, 2015

Hakurei Turnip and Shiitake Mushrooms on Soba Noodles

If you've never experienced the bliss of crunching on a Hakurei turnip, you're missing out. What I love about Hakurei (aside from its creamy tender awesomeness) is that it's not readily available in most grocery stores even though many farmers grow them. What this means is that you have to seek it out. It's a vegetable begging to be pursued and found, ideally close to its place of origin and the hands that grew it: at farm stands, farmer's markets, or through a CSA share with a local farmer. In a world where we are spoiled enough to find pretty much anything we could dream of at one-stop grocery stores, I get a secret pleasure knowing that there are still some things that you need to get right from the farmer who grew them.

I've been making various incarnations of this Hakurei & soba noodle recipe pretty much non-stop this spring, ever since I laid hands on the first Hakurei of the season. I can't seem to get tired of it. I could eat it (and have done so) for days on end. It's tasty, light, healthy, and quick to make.

I was lucky that one of our neighbouring organic farms, Bahner Farm, had a lush bed of Hakurei and kindly harvested some so I could make this month's recipe video. I loved working on this video because a) I got to visit Bahner Farm, b) got to eat a LOT of soba noodles and Hakurei, c) got to try out my new bling bling knife from Le Creuset (it's nothing short of amazing!!), and d) I got to make my baby turnips dance to another fabulous Lullatone tune. (I always did love to play with my food). 

You can find the recipe over on PBS Food

Now, go forth my friends and eat some Hakurei!

June 11, 2015

Your help is needed + chocolate sesame smoothies!

I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in saying that given the choice, I'd rather spend my time looking at food porn than reading about agricultural policy or writing a letter to my elected representative. But no matter which way you slice it, food is political. And if you love food and believe you've got a right to know what you're eating, there are 2 things happening right now that are putting our food democracy at risk. One is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the other is a bill making its way through Congress, called the DARK Act. If you don't have time to read on, it takes 30 seconds to send a letter to Congress: here and here. It may seem like it won't make a difference, but these types of letters do have an impact and the more people sign on, the greater that impact. 

First, the TPP. A strange beast that no one has fully gotten their head around yet for the simple reason that the documents are top secret. They haven't been publicly released and even most Congress members haven't been able to read the details of the agreement. The TPP is a massive free trade deal that would give sweeping new powers to corporations and make it illegal for countries to pass laws protecting health care, labour wages, consumer rights, and the environment if any of those laws were seen as obstacles to selling a product. So if TPP passes, it will have devastating impacts on our democracy, our environment, our farmers, and needless to say, on our food. Basically, it's NAFTA on crack. TPP documents have also identified GMO labelling as an "unjustified trade restriction". What does this mean? It means that just as we are finally on the verge of winning GMO labeling in the US, the TPP could eliminate the ability of countries around the world to label GMOs or impose common sense restrictions on the sale of genetically engineered seed and food in their countries. Tomorrow, Congress votes on fast-tracking the TPP, so it's very important that as many people as possible sign this petition.

The second thing is the DARK Act which is quickly working its way through Congress and would deny the right of individual states to pass GMO labelling laws. Vermont is the first state in the US to have passed an unconditional GMO labelling law and it is set to take effect on July 1, 2016. Monsanto and its junk food industry friends are in a panic. They've already filed a lawsuit against the state of Vermont, and now their lobbyists are hard at work to pass the act (HR1599), which would make it illegal for individual states to label GMOs. If they're so proud of their GMOs, why not label them and give us all the choice whether to eat them or not? 90% of Americans want GMOs labeled and if this act is passed, Congress would be siding with biotech companies instead of the vast majority of citizens. Click here to add your voice to the petition against HR1599. You can also write a letter to your elected rep and click here to find out if your Congress member is a sponsor of HR1599. The best thing to do is to call your elected rep's office directly and simply ask them to oppose HR1599 because we all have a right to know what we are eating.

Have you made it this far? If so, I love you. And I give you this chocolate sesame smoothie, I hope you like it! 

And in case you missed this one on my Facebook page this week, it oh so delightfully nails the problem with GMOs…