Healthy Habits: Aquafaba

website souffles


I travel to libraries to give workshops on allergy friendly and healthier baking. Last weekend, at a workshop, I spoke with a group of about 30, and I received an email this week with a follow up question about aquafaba.

If you have not heard about the new rage, aquafaba, it’s apparently the words for water and beans and refers to the liquid you find in a can of chick peas or after you cook dry chick peas.  The chemistry of the liquid is yet to be determined but what is known is that it makes for a wonderful egg and dairy substitute. You can whip it like eggs to make meringues or replace eggs in baked goods or mayo or waffles and more.  You can whip it like heavy cream to replace dairy in whipped cream, mousse, or ice cream and more.

For my workshops, I always bring samples so folks will know that I’m telling the truth about being able to “have your cake and eat it, too”, and I try to provide a variety of desserts which are gluten, dairy, nut, peanut, soy and egg free. Depending on the season, the particular items I bake vary. For this workshop, I made meringues with the aquafaba and a chocolate cream pie with an aquafaba topping so folks could see how the aquafaba worked as both an egg and a heavy cream substitute.

The participant in the workshop who had emailed me did so because she was looking for the meringue recipe which wasn’t actually on this site. So, I’m remedying that situation by including it below. *grin* I’m also including some other tips for how you can use aquafaba in recipes.

Tips for using aquafaba:

  1. Purchase no salt, no sugar added versions of the chick peas if you are using canned chick peas. This helps you to control the sodium and sugar levels. You simply drain the liquid into a bowl and use your chick peas for another recipe at another time. If you prefer to use dry beans, soak them until doubled in size, bring the water to a boil, then simmer until the beans are soft. Drain the liquid into a bowl for your use and save the chick peas for another recipe.
  2. To use the aquafaba as a regular egg sustitute, simply measure out 1/4 cup per egg needed and whisk the egg with a fork just until frothy. Then use in your recipe as you would an egg. Works well for baked goods and French toast.
  3. To use the aquafaba as eggs which need to be whipped for angel food cake or Belgium waffles, start with room temperature aquafaba, add between 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and whip with the whisk handle of your mixer until stiff peaks form (as pictured above). Fold into your mixtures are indicated in your recipes.
  4. If you want to whip the aquafaba for a meringue topping or meringue cookies or to use as a whipped cream topping or as a substitute for heavy cream in ice cream, when you add the cream of tartar to the room temperature liquid, you should also add your sweetener at the same time. If you try to fold in the sweetener after you’ve whipped the aquafaba, it will deflate and soften. I find that powdered sugar works the best because it’s the lightest weight. Depending on how sweet you like your foods, 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar per 15 oz can of liquid works well for most recipes. After you have added both the cream of tartar and powdered sugar, then you can whip the aquafaba to the desired stiffness. It’s best to check if the sweetness is to your liking when soft peaks have begun to form so you can add more if needed before you reach the stiff peak stage.

How to Make Aquafaba Meringues:

To make the aquafaba meringues you simply need a 15 oz can of chickpeas.  Drain the liquid into your mixing bowl and put the chickpeas in the fridge for another use.   Add at least 1/4 tsp and up to 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar.  Then add powdered sugar to your liking.  Start with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar. You can always add more later if you find it’s not sweet enough for you. Add 1 tsp of vanilla alone or with 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder if you want vanilla or chocolate flavor.

After you’ve put everything into your mixer, use the wire whisk handle to whip the aquafaba until it looks like the picture above.  It usually doesn’t take very long.  (When the peaks are still soft, check the sweetness to see if you need to add any more before whipping to stiff peaks.)

After it’s whipped to stiff peaks, put some into a gallon zip lock bag and snip off the end.  Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using the ziplock bag, pipe meringues onto the parchment paper.  I usually make them about tablespoon size. I also like to make the meringues pretty by sprinkling a mixture of unsweetened cocoa powder and powder sugar on top of each meringue before putting them into the oven.

Once you’ve filled the cookie sheet with your meringues, pop them into the oven and bake them for at least an hour.  Then check them.  When they are done, they’ll be hard and dry.  If they’re not quite done, cook them longer for 15 minutes at a time until they are.  (If you make them tablespoon size, they’ll be done after an hour.  If you made them larger, they may take more time.)

Once they’re done, turn off the oven and let them cool in the oven for half an hour.  Then take them out and let them cool completely on a wire cooling rack.  When you go to take them off the parchment paper after they’ve cooled, carefully lift them off and place them into a tupperware, using parchment paper or plastic wrap to layer them.  They’ll keep for a good while in the tupperware.


Holiday Happenings: Cranberry Sauce


“Apparently cranberry sauce is underappreciated….”

My husband came home the other day and told me about a news story on the radio. The topic was cranberry sauce and how it was not as appreciated as other foods eaten during the Thanksgiving meal. This, of course, spurred discussion among our family about our own cranberry preferences. My son will only eat jellied cranberry sauce with no chunks. My oldest, my husband and I love cranberry sauce in any form. My other daughter won’t eat it, no matter the texture.

Cranberries, however, are very good for your health, containing antioxidants, fiber, and many nutrients needed by the body. What I find, though, is that because they have such a tart flavor, folks use way too much sugar when cooking with them. So, I like to make my own cranberry sauce instead of purchasing it from the store.

When I tell folks that I make cranberry sauce, they always seemed to be surprised, which I find surprising since cranberry sauce is the easiest food to make. You simply put cranberries into a pot with water and sweetener and let it cook down. The entire process takes about 10-15 minutes, at the most.

Where the creativity comes in is deciding what type of cranberry sauce you’d like for Thanksgiving. You can add other fruits to the cranberries like pears or apples or tangerines or oranges or apricots or cherries to add a contrasting fruity flavor to the cranberries. You can add red wine or port or bourban if you’d like a more complex flavor. You can add ginger or maple or anise or jalapeno if you’re looking to try something a little different this year. You can use water, orange juice, apple cider or any other liquid you can imagine to change the flavor. You can add nuts or dried fruits to add crunch and texture. You can even change up the texture of the sauce, making it chunky, relish-style or jellied.

And after Thanksgiving the cranberry sauce can be “recycled” in many ways. Swirl it into your favorite cheesecake recipe. Add the sauce as a fixing for your favorite sandwich. Mix it into a muffin recipe. Top pancakes or waffles with it. Combine it with another fruit to make the filling for a pie. Stir it into your breakfast oatmeal. Use it as a spread for a slice of quick bread like banana or zucchini. Combine it with cream cheese for a dip. Top vanilla ice cream with it. The ideas are endless.

A food as versatile as cranberry sauce is truly just begging for you to experiment this year. And what’s great is that unless you’re allergic to cranberries, people with food allergies can eat it!

Some tips:

  1. The cranberries: It doesn’t matter whether you use fresh or frozen cranberries. The general rule of thumb is that about 12 ounces of cranberries requires about 1 cup of liquid.
  2. The sweetener: For most recipes, for 12 ounces of cranberries, they’ll call for 1 cup of sugar. I’d suggest you cut that in half and save your health or use 1/4 cup Agave or 1/2 cup of coconut sugar or 1/3 cup truvia.
  3. The add-ins: Decide what type of cranberry sauce you’d like to make and add the ingredients in with the cranberries so that they all cook together and the flavors meld.
  4. Traditional Style: To make traditional cranberry sauce, simply put all your ingredients into a pot, bring the liquid to a boil, let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the cranberries pop and are the texture you’d like, remove from the heat, let it cool, and then refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
  5. Relish Style: Simply use your food processor to chop up the cranberries, sweetener and additions and refrigerate. You should decrease the liquid, though, and only add just enough to moisten the relish.
  6. Jellied Style: Prepare the sauce as you would for the traditional but then push everything through a strainer, mashing the ingredients as much as you can to get as much as you can into the sauce and then refrigerate what you’ve pushed through the strainer.


Autumn Appetites: Winter Squash-Kale-Bean Soup

“Grandma’s wisdom….”

Last week I read that the folks at America’s Test Kitchen learned something which my grandmother had taught me 30 years ago and which she had known for many more years than that before she taught me. Not for the first time, I was surprised that those culinary “experts” hadn’t known something which I had figured was known by many.

As I thought more about it, though, I realized that there’s a difference between folks who have culinary jobs and people who have years and years of cooking experience. My grandmother raised eleven children and had to find ways to stretch food as much as she could, and she learned the best ways to make food and how to keep things as simple as possible whenever she could.

What I had learned from my grandmother, which America’s Test Kitchen apparently just learned this month according to their magazine, is that you never boil corn on the cob. You bring water to a boil and then you let the ears of corn sit in the hot water for a set time, depending on the amount of corn. This is how I’ve made corn on the cob ever since my grandmother showed me as a teenager. I had taken it for granted that others knew, too.

I figured my grandmother had learned it from someone before her, but she may also have simply figured it out on her own after cooking for so many for so long. I started thinking about the many other tips my grandmother had given me over the years when I was younger before she passed away, and I realized a lot of my cooking depends on things I learned from her. Just this past weekend, I made one of my family’s favorite soups, which uses tips I learned specifically from my grandmother.

My grandmother rarely had “fresh” food in the house. Dependent on food from local farms, which tended to be seasonal, certain foods simply weren’t accessible year round. So, she always had meat and vegetables frozen in a big freezer and jars of canned beans, jellies, sauces, and fruits in the “pantry” which was the walk-through area between the garage and their double-wide trailer. From her, I learned how to create foods which use staples from the freezer and pantry and which can be quickly put together to feed a lot of people.

The winter squash, kale and bean soup I made uses frozen squash, which I roasted last year, pureed, and froze; frozen kale which I always keep on hand, purchasing them by the bagfuls at the grocery store when they’re in season (early Spring and then again in the Fall); canned, unsalted, no sugar added beans, which I keep in my pantry; and no salt, fat free vegetable broth which I also keep in my pantry. I mixed everything together in my crock pot with some herbs and let it cook all day. When evening came, we had a hearty soup for dinner which warmed both the heart and the tummy.

Winter Squash-Kale-Bean Soup


9 cups thawed, frozen pureed cooked winter squash (equivalent to 6 of those 12 oz packages you can purchase in the freezer section of the grocery store)

1 cup frozen chopped kale (equivalent to half a 16 oz bag you can purchase in the frozen section of the grocery store)

One 16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added white or northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed between your fingers before putting in

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 to 1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

No salt, fat free vegetable broth (amount will depend on how thick or think you like your soup, between 1 to 3 cups)

Cooking Instructions:

In a crock pot (4 1/2 quart will work), mix the thawed squash with the frozen kale, the can of beans, the thyme, onion powder, salt and black pepper. Add the desired amount of vegetable broth and let it cook in the crock pot on low all day (6-8 hrs) or on high for half the day (3-4 hrs).


Cooking Techniques: Stir Fry

“It was magnificent!”

Our family had a recent opportunity to attend a concert my oldest was performing in which was her women’s Glee club singing with Cornell’s men’s Glee club. Over 120 voices combined in four part harmony to create a most wonderful listening experience. What was amazing was listening to the individual voices even as their voices melded to become one united sound.

I thought about this when I received an email asking about how to make a good stir fry. Stir fry is food’s equivalent to a choir. Separate types of food becoming one dish where the tastes of the individual food remains even as their flavors meld to create a delicious stir fry.

Too often, though, people think of stir fry as something difficult. “Well, I don’t have a wok,” some say. “It’s too much chopping,” others say. I’ve also heard, “I never have the proper ingredients.” The fact, though, is that stir fry can be easy, quick, and done without a wok. It’s a great way to use up leftovers or to make when you only have a little bit of a variety of food items available. It’s also versatile and can be made any number of one thousand and one ways, not to mention stir fry is very accommodating for people with food allergies.

The Pan: The reason people like woks is that their curved shape allows you to cook at different temperatures at the same time. The bottom, which is closest to the heat is hotter and the temperature gets increasing cooler as you get to the top. This means you can move cooked foods toward the top and add newer food to the bottom to begin cooking on the hottest part, and then you simply mix everything together in the end. The shape of a wok also allows you to cook in different ways. The food that hits the hot bottom sears which traps flavor into the veggies or protein. When the sauce is added, though, moisture rises in the concave center of the convex wok, allowing the foods near the middle to top of the pan to be braised, which softens the food without making it mushy. If you don’t have a wok, though, you can still make a good stir fry. The key is simply to use a skillet which is just slightly larger than your burner and which has at least 2 in sides, which most of the larger skillets have these days. The center closer to the burner will get hotter than the edges of the skillet which allows you to move food to cooler sections of the pan, and the higher sides will allow you to braise. If you don’t have a large skillet with 2 in sides, you can also simply cook in smaller batches, cooking the veggies and protein separately, then mixing the two, and thickening the sauce separately and adding it to the mixed vegetables and protein. Doing everything separately doesn’t add time, it only adds another dish, and if you use the dish you’ll ultimately be serving the food in, then it won’t even do that!

The Veggies: All good stir fry dishes have an assortment of vegetables. Varying what goes into the dish can make for a colorful presentation as well as provide a variety of nutrients, textures, and flavors. People tend to get hung up on what they see as a “traditional” stir fry with bamboo shoots and baby corn and water chestnuts, but virtually any vegetable can go into a stir fry, so whatever you may have on hand works: broccoli, green beans, carrots, peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, spinach, sweet potato, zucchini, squash, bean sprouts,leeks, asparagus, beets, radishes, mushrooms, onions, eggplant, and of course, baby corn, water chestnuts and bamboos as well. What’s key is cooking your vegetables uniformly. This means chopping vegetables of similar texture into the same size. It may also mean that you start vegetables which may take longer to soften like carrots and sweet potato first and adding greens like spinach or kale at the end. What’s nice about stir fry is that your goal isn’t to cook the vegetables for a long time; it’s to cook them just long enough for their colors to become bright and deep. You want the veggies to be still have some of their crunch and crispy-ness, not for them to be mush. For folks who don’t want to do any chopping or prep at all, nowadays you can buy your vegetables pre-chopped in the vegetable section. You can also used frozen chopped veggies, which is what I tend to do because then I always have veggies on hand.

The Protein: A stir fry doesn’t need to have protein but if you’d like to add protein, just about any type can go into a stir fry. Beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, scallops, tofu, beans. As with the vegetables you want the protein to be able to cook quickly and uniformly, so make sure all pieces are similar size. Cutting the protein into smaller pieces allows you to use less, increases it’s ability to blend in with the vegetables, and spreads its flavor. Most recipes will tell you to sear the meats like beef, chicken and pork first and then to move them to the cooler section of the wok or skillet while you cook the vegetables and then to mix the two together, adding the sauce. This allows the meats to begin cooking their cooking process with the searing but then finishes the cooking with the braising which keeps the meat from becoming tough and dry. When using protein like tofu or softened beans or seafood, though, it’s often better to cook those at the last minute, just before you add the sauce because they usually only need a couple of minutes to cook, and overcooking them will make them tough or fall apart. For folks worried about the prep and chopping for these, you can find pre-sliced tofu and meats at the grocery store. For seafood such as scallops, I use the frozen variety; I simply thaw them in cold water for about 15 minutes and throw them in. You can also simply used leftovers from previous meals which you throw in at the last minute just to rewarm.

The Sauce: A good stir fry will have some flavor added more than just your veggies and protein. What you do can vary, though. If you don’t want a sauce, you can simply use herbs and spices. Stores carry premixed blends for specifically adding to stir fry. You can also experiment with herbs and spices to see what you like. For me fresh ginger, garlic, and green onions are my preferred flavors. If using dried herbs and spices, you’ll want to add them to the veggies and to the protein as you begin cooking them so the flavor have time to meld. If using fresh, add them at the end. If you opt to make a sauce, the key thing to know is that you need a thickener for your sauce. For stir fry usually cornstarch is the thickener of choice but you can also use tapioca starch or arrowroot or any type of flour. You want to whisk the thickener in with your liquid before adding the sauce to the pan to thicken. A good rule of thumb is that one tablespoon of cornstarch, tapioca starch, arrowroot, or flour is needed for every cup of liquid. When cooking the sauce, you’ll want to continually stir the sauce whether you’re cooking the sauce separately or whether you’ve added it to the pan with the vegetables and protein. If you add it the pan with food in the pan, simply move the veggies and protein to the edges of the skillet or up the sides of the wok, so you can thicken the sauce in the middle of the pan. Once thickened, combine the sauce with the veggies and protein. As for ingredients in a stir fry sauce, that all depends on your tastes. For the liquid part you can use soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, broth such as chicken, beef, or vegetable, red or white wine, sherry, etc…, whatever your tastes prefer. To add another dimension of flavor to whatever liquid you choose, you can add different flavored vinegars like apple cider, rice, or red wine, juices like lemon or lime or pineapple, oils like sesame or peanut, etc…. You can also add herbs and spices like garlic, scallions, ginger, shallots, lemongrass, etc…. To make the sauce, simply mix all your chosen ingredients in the ratio that tastes the best to you and which makes one cup’s worth, add your thickener, mix well, and cook over heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens to a consistency where it will cling to the veggies and protein in your stir fry. If you find that for some reason you need more thickener, simply mix more of your thickener with the equivalent amount of water and add it to the sauce (so, one teaspoon of cornstarch with one teaspoon of water).

The Sides: Stir fry can be eaten alone or atop something else. Good options if you want to eat them with something else are rice (brown, white, wild, jasmine, etc…), quinoa, barley, noodles such as udon, soba, lo mein or rice noodles, strips of spaghetti squash or zucchini ribbons or chopped cabbage, fresh greens like spinach, kale, arugula or swiss chard, etc…. Use your imagination and be creative.



Autumn Fruits: Easy Marinara Sauce

website tomato sauce

“Are you going to do something with those tomatoes?”

A couple of weeks ago, my sister-in-law generously gave me several pounds of home grown tomatoes, the last picked of the season before the weather became cold. I was thrilled, but then my son became ill, and a week was lost at the hospital and helping him to recover at home.

Over the weekend, my husband looked at the tomatoes still taking up space on our counter, and asked, “Are you going to do something with those tomatoes or am I going to have to compost them?”

The idea of composting all those lovely tomatoes horrified me, so I quickly grabbed a cutting board and went to work….

Folks who have been reading the blog for a while know that I’m a big fan of the least amount of effort for great results. So, what’s something easy one can do when you have pounds of tomatoes and no idea what to do with them? Marinara sauce.

Marinara sauce is just a sauce made from tomatoes. If you make up a huge batch, though, you can freeze it and use it in a variety of ways: the base for a thicker spaghetti sauce, sauce for pizza, in Spanish rice, for ratattouille, the base for a cocktail sauce, for soups, to top enchiladas, in Sloppy Joe’s, the list is pretty never-ending. And what’s lovely is that unless you’re allergic to tomatoes, it’s allergy friendly, too – no nuts, dairy, egg, gluten, sugar, peanuts, etc….

Easy Marinara Sauce

  1. The Tomatoes: I simply cut the tomatoes into fourths and cook them as is, seeds, peels and all.
  2. The Flavoring: Whatever you’d like. I usually throw in about eight to 10 whole garlic cloves, two purple scallions quartered and a chili pepper.
  3. The Herbs: Whatever you’d like. I like basil, oregano, and thyme. Use dried herbs. If you want fresh herbs, those can be added when you actually use the marinara sauce for a recipe.
  4. The Pan: I have a lovely Circulon pan which is 12 inches in diameter and three inches deep which I use for making marinara sauce. I recommend a larger, shallower pan over a deeper but smaller pot, which is the use recommendations. The reason? Because the shallower pan allows all the tomatoes to cook down quickly without you needing to continually stir to get the top tomatoes down to the bottom where the heat source is.
  5. The Cooking: If you cook the tomatoes in the shallower pan, you only need to cook the tomatoes, with a lid on, for about 20 to 30 minutes.
  6. The Consistency: If you want a chunky marinara sauce, simply let the cooked tomatoes cool as is. If you like a smoother marinara, puree everything up in a blender or food processor. If you don’t like the seeds, strain them out after pureeing. If you want a thicker marinara sauce, add tomato paste or cooked, pureed vegetables like squash or carrots or pumpkin which also add another flavor dimension.
  7. The Storing: Marinara sauce will keep for weeks in the fridge and for years in the freezer. To store in the freezer, make sure the sauce is completely cooled and then put the sauce into freezer friendly containers or bags. I prefer to put two cups of sauce into freezer bags because that’s the amount I tend to use for most recipes and because the bags will then lie flat in the freezer, taking up less space.
  8. The Use: If you know ahead of time you want to use frozen marinara sauce, simply take the containers or bags out of the freezer the day before. If you decide at the last minute to use sauce, the sauce easily defrosts as it cooks in the microwave or in a pan.


In Vogue: ??Beans??

website beans

“Wake up!”

One morning last week I had one of those loop dreams which you may have had at some point, too: I kept dreaming that I had woken up, but of course when I finally did wake up, I realized my alarm had been blaring for ten minutes. My physical body had been doing its best to ignore that I needed to wake up but my subconscious knew I must, so it told me over and over through my dreams to “Wake up!”

I find a similar loop seems to play in people’s minds about beans. If I ask people whether they eat beans, they usually reply that they don’t but that they know they should. That “knowing they should” part is usually because they are constantly being told how good beans are for them and that loop plays in their subconscious even as they consciously ignore the information and continue to not eat beans.

In an email, I was asked this week whether or not the hype around beans is true….

Beans are high in fiber, protein, and antioxidonts, extremely low in sugar and fat, and are cholesterol free, all of which is great for our bodies. Beans also come in so many varieties that your options for cooking them are pretty much endless. They’re also quite cheap which is wonderful for the pocketbook.

At the same time, though, beans are not the answer to life’s health problems as many tout. For many folks, beans cause digestive issues which we don’t need to explain in detail. Also while adding beans to one’s diet can be good, solely subsisting on beans is not, because beans have been shown to have less protein than meats and to contain compounds which may not be great for our bodies in high doses. As well, many people today are actually allergic to legumes (peanuts, beans, peas, etc…).

So what does this mean for folks who are hearing the loop about beans and wondering whether they should or they shouldn’t? “Moderation in all things,” is my answer. It has been shown time and time again that a varied diet of fruits, nuts, beans, veggies, whole grains, small amounts of good fats, and lean meats, fish and chicken is best. So be varied. Add some beans to your diet once and a while to balance out the meat or to simply try something new, but don’t begin eating beans five meals a day because you think it may solve some health problem.

If you’re thinking you’d like to add beans to your diet and wondering how to do so, here are some suggestions:

Ways to Moderately Add Beans to Your Diet:

  1. Throw beans into your every day dishes: Making chicken enchiladas? Add a cup of black beans. Turning leftover vegetables into a soup? Add a cup of dark red kidney beans to make it a minestrone soup.
  2. Substitute beans in baked goods: A lot of dessert recipes these days call for beans instead of flour because it’s a good way to add protein and cut back on the carbs. You can use pureed black beans in brownies, white beans in yellow cake, garbanzo beans in chocolate cake… the options are limitless.
  3. Add beans as a garnish: Toss some chickpeas on top of your salad. If you make a pureed roasted vegetable soup, drop a spoonful of lentils on top.
  4. Make bean dips: Instead of your usual sour cream dip, try a bean dip. White beans pureed with garlic, thyme, lemon juice, and a tad bit of olive oil is quite yummy. Hummus with chickpeas is great but so much better when homemade. Black bean dip is tasty with tortilla chips.
  5. Use beans as fillers: Want to stretch your meat for tacos or meatloaf or a hamburger? Add some chopped, cooked beans. Don’t have quite enough leftover chicken for the stir fry? Throw in a handful of cooked beans with the chicken.
  6.  Eat beans as a side dish: Beans are tasty, and with the variety, you can experiment. Make a side dish of black-eyed peas and spinach with garlic and onions. Mix some salsa into black beans. Make a bean salad with three or more different types of bean flavored with some lemon juice and green onions.



Cooking Techniques: White Sauce

Something simple yet versatile….

Every August finds me and my family up in the mountains of the Adirondacks where my husband’s family has been managing a forest for 60 years. Driving to the nearest major highway might get me two to three bars on my cell phone.  If I want to use the internet, I have to drive down into the local town to the library. Television viewing is limited to VHS tapes watched on a VCR. The radio picks up two stations, one of which is in Canadian French; and the house we stay in lacks modern amenities such as my coveted food processor, though we did upgrade the oven a couple of years ago from the kerosene/electric version to just plain electric.

For a number of years now I’ve been chief cook for the duration of my family’s stay, catering for dinners we have with the many folks who work for the family forest. While I enjoy the cooking, every summer I am reminded why modern conveniences such as food processors and hand blenders and Kitchen Aids are a joy to have in one’s kitchen. Chopping veggies for a ratatouille to feed 16 people takes about 5 minutes in my food processor — about five times as long by hand. A hand blender can turn lumps smooth in seconds — no matter how long you mash or stir with a masher or wire whisk, you’ll never get a puree. With a Kitchen Aid you can make a cake in minutes — creaming butter by hand takes a lot longer than one imagines it will.

As such, I love it when I can make something spectacular with little time and energy, so upon my return home I was thrilled to see a request for something “simple yet versatile.” My answer is just as simple: a basic white sauce.

White sauce is usually just milk, flour, and butter. On a stove top, you melt the butter (usually about 1/4 cup), stir in the flour (about 1/4 cup), add the milk (about two cups), and continuously stir until the sauce thickens. That’s it. Takes about 2 minutes.

But what you can do with a white sauce is amazing:

  1. You can adapt it to your needs: Have food allergies? You can use any type of “milk”, any type of flour, and any type of “butter” as a substitute. Trying to eat healthier? You can substitute 2 tbsp of olive oil for the butter or you can even omit the butter entirely and just stir about 1/2 cup of the flour into the milk and cook and stir until it thickens.
  2. You can add herbs and spices of any type. You want a curry sauce? Add curry powder. You want a garlic sauce? Simmer with minced garlic or stir in garlic powder. You want to try something a little different? Mix in a lot of thyme with a little bit of nutmeg.
  3. You can change-up the sauce: Want a cheesy sauce? Stir in shredded cheese or slowly melt in cream cheese. Want something with a more adult taste? Substitute a 1/4 cup of the milk with sherry or white wine or vodka. Want something a little less “milky”? Substitute half of the milk with a fat free, low sodium broth such as chicken or vegetable.
  4. You can add vegetables and meats: Looking for a veggie sauce to put over pasta or fish? Saute leeks, mushrooms and spinach and add to the white sauce with black pepper, thyme, and minced garlic. Want a nice sauce to use turn your leftover rice into a casserole? Chop leftover ham and chicken and throw it into a white sauce you’ve seasoned with curry powder.
  5. You can use it for anything: Like to make casseroles? Change up a white sauce to mix into any type of casserole — rice, pasta, veggie, meat…. Want to jazz up the side veggies or the chicken or fish? Make a sauce with freshly chopped herbs. Have just a little bit of leftover meats and veggies which you’re not sure how to use up? Throw them all into a more thickly made white sauce and serve them with toast triangles to the family.
  6. You can even use it for dessert: Want to jazz up your pie when you serve it? Make a slightly thinner white sauce sweetened with a little bit of agave with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Looking for a nice topping for bread pudding? Make a vanilla white sauce by steeping vanilla beans in your milk before making the sauce. Want something to contrast with your chocolate cake? Make a sauce adding white chocolate which you can drizzle over the cake.

Happy Fourth: Berry Crisp

website berry crisp

“I want something easy….”

Happy Fourth of July! I received an email yesterday, asking for a dessert that could feed a large amount of people, would be allergy friendly, was Fourth of July-ish, and would be easy to make. Fortunately, I had just the suggestion.

Berry Crisp. It’s one of my children’s favorites, and my son always says that it reminds him of the Fourth of July because of the color of the berries. What I love is that if you keep frozen berries in your freezer, you can whip this up quickly and easily any time of the year.

Berry Crisp


one 16 oz pkg frozen blackberries*

one 16 oz pkg frozen raspberries*

one 16 oz pkg frozen blueberries*

one 16 oz pkg frozen strawberries*

1/4 to 1/2 cup favorite GF flour (I use either garbanzo bean or sorghum or GF oat flour because they have more fiber and protein than others; use the smaller amount if you want a juicier crisp and the larger amount if you prefer a drier crisp)

1/2 cup Agave (if you like a sweeter crisp, increase this to 3/4 c)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

4 cups gluten free whole grain oats

1/2 cup GF flour (I use either garbanzo bean or sorghum or GF oat flour because they have more fiber and protein than others)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 cup melted vegan butter

1/4 cup Agave

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 11 x 15 pan with your favorite method. (If you don’t have a large pan like this, you can use several smaller dishes like the three pictured above.)

2. Empty into and mix all the frozen berries in a large bowl with the flour until they’re coated.

3. Combine the agave with the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and coat the berries with the agave mixture.

4.  Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and bake the berries in the preheated oven for about half an hour until the berries are warm and soft and starting to bubble a little.

5.  While the berries are cooking, mix the whole oats with the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Mix together the melted butter and agave, and mix the oats with the butter mixture. Set aside and let the oat mixture cool.

6.  After the berries have cooked for the half hour, remove the foil from the pan, and reduce the oven to 325 degrees.

7.  Give the oat mixture a good stir. (The oats should be cooled now and have formed little clumps.) Evenly spread the oat mixture over the berries.

8.  Bake the crisp in the lower heat oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, just until the oat mixture has begun to crisp up and brown just a little.  The berries will be bubbling. (Be sure to check after 15 minutes because the oats can become too toasty very quickly.)

9.  The crisp can be served while warm with vanilla “ice cream” or “whipped cream” or just plain. It can also be eaten room temperature or cold.

If you have leftovers, you can wrap it and leave it on the kitchen counter or you can put it into the fridge.  My son thinks it’s a great breakfast food!

* NOTE: Obviously, if the season is right or if you simply prefer and don’t mind paying more, you can use fresh berries instead of frozen. If you use fresh berries, then you don’t need to use very much flour at all, so reduce the flour coating to about 2 tbsp or leave it out altogether, depending on how juicy or dry a crisp you prefer.

Recipe Revamping: Coffee Cake

“It’s different but also the same.”

We were fortunate this past weekend to attend the world premiere of an orchestral piece by a composer from Singapore. My oldest was playing her French horn in the orchestra so my other daughter and my son drove with me to watch the performance.

For the selection, the composer began with an opera by Beethoven and imagined a different way of composing the piece. As the orchestra played his version, speakers placed at the four corners of the the building piped singing from the original opera piece. The conductor invited the audience to experience the “difference” and “sameness” by moving around the room. The conductor also asked the audience to add to the entire experience by downloading different variations of Beethoven’s work onto our phones and to play those, too, as we listened and walked around.

One would imagine this would be cacophonous but it was not, and in fact, the experience was quite pleasing and delightful; and we were glad we had been able to attend and participate.

As I thought about what the composer did – taking something known and creating something different, all the while keeping the essence of the original – I realized that this is precisely what I did when I set about perfecting a healthier and allergy friendly coffee cake. I wanted to create a coffee cake which I could eat but also which was better than traditional coffee cake.

Coffee cake is one of those foods which everyone enjoys but which truly is quite awful for your body, because it’s mostly white flour, butter and sugar. To create a coffee cake which kept the essence of what folks liked about it but which was allergy friendly and healthy was a very tall order.

But I like a challenge, so I created a recipe the other day which hit a home run the first time out….

Revamping Coffee Cake:

1. The butter: With a dairy allergy I obviously wanted to substitute the butter with a vegan version, but I also wanted to cut how much butter is usually in a coffee cake. I thought about what makes coffee cake most appealing and realized it’s really that streusel topping. As such, I didn’t want to get rid of the butter in topping which meant I needed to get rid of it in the cake part.

To substitute for the butter, though, I needed to find a perfect substitute which would mimic what butter does for the flavor and texture of coffee cake.  Simply substituting a healthy plant oil wouldn’t work. Neither would using mashed fruit or vegetables. I finally decided to use a combination of tofu sour cream and frozen bananas. The tofu sour cream would add some fat without adding as significant an amount as butter, especially if I used half the amount I might otherwise have by mixing it with bananas. I wanted something which had the texture of butter, though, so I froze the bananas and pureed it with the tofu sour cream which mimicked the texture of soft butter.

2. The flour: Besides having gluten which I can’t have, white flour also adds nothing nutritionally to one’s body. I needed to substitute a gluten free flour, but I also wanted to use flours which protein and fiber. This meant foregoing the usual gluten free blends which use rice flours which are just carbs. I didn’t want to use the heavier blends, either, though, with the garbanzo and fava bean flours because the texture would be compromised.

In the end I made my own blend which was a mixture of 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1/4 cup coconut flour, 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup potato starch, and 2 tsp xanthan gum. The oat and sorghum flours have low glycemic indexes with high fiber. The oat and quinoa flour have a good amount of protein, and the quinoa and coconut flours add nutty lightness to the heavier oat and sorghum flours. The potato starch is necessary for binding and adds smoothness to the flour blend.

3. The sugar: Since refined sugar is poison to one’s body, I wanted to get rid of it altogether in the coffee cake. Agave would affect the texture of the coffeecake, and Stevia would affect the flavor. So, I opted to use coconut sugar which has a very low glycemic index and which would not affect the texture of the cake.

4. The eggs: Coffee cake usually utilizes a generous amount of whole eggs. To keep the cake healthier, I used liquid egg whites instead.

5. The cake pan: Since I wanted the cake to be healthier, I wanted to use less streusel topping than regular coffee cake recipes call for, but I still wanted a nice topping to cake ratio. As such, I opted to put my coffee cake batter into a larger 11 x 15 pan instead of the usual 9 x 13. This made for a slightly thinner coffee cake which meant the thinner layer of streusel was perfect.

6. The additions: One of the fun things about coffee cake is that there’s a variety one can purchase or make, so I wanted to experience with flavor. What I found worked well was to drop small dollops of Polaner’s All Fruit on top of the batter before I sprinkled on the streusel topping. The all fruit would melt while cooking and spread but then re-solidify with the streusel when cooling to mix the flavors.

7. The streusel: To make the streusel topping I decided to use garbanzo bean flour because it would add protein and fiber. Also, it is a heavier, denser flour which would make for a thicker streusel topping. I blended the flour with coconut sugar and added some cinnamon and nutmeg for flavoring. For the butter, I substituted a vegan butter which worked really well.

Allergy Friendly Coffee Cake


1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup vegan butter

3 cups Paula’s flour blend**

2 cups coconut sugar

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup vegan tofu sour cream

2 frozen bananas (medium 5-6 inch in length)

1/2 cup soy milk mixed with 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

3/4 cup liquid egg whites

1/2 cup Polaner All Fruit

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 11 x 15 pan with favorite method or line with parchment paper.

2. Combine the garbanzo bean flour with the coconut sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Using a pastry knife cut the vegan butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Set the streusel topping aside.

3. Mix the gluten free flour blend with the coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

4. In a food processor or blender, blend the tofu sour cream with the frozen bananas until thick and creamy. You should have 1 1/4 cup yield to use for the recipe.

5. Mix the sour cream-banana mixture with the soy milk mixed with lemon juice. Blend well, and then add the liquid egg whites.

6. Quickly mix the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

7. Drop small dollops of the Polaner All Fruit onto the cake batter so they’re evenly spaced on the surface. You won’t cover the entire surface of the cake.

8. Evenly distribute the streusel topping over the cake batter.

9. Bake in the preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. The cake will puff and be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

10. The cake is delicious warm. It’s also good at room temperature after it’s cooled a little bit.

** Paula’s coffee cake gluten free flour blend: 1/2 cup quinoa flour, 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1/4 cup coconut flour, 1 1/4 cup sorghum flour, 1 cup potato starch, and 2 tsp xanthan gum. You’ll only use 3 cups of this which will leave you with some leftover flour which you can use for something else.





Simple Pleasures: Chocolate Chip Muffins

website choc chip muffins

“Well, can you make it a junky, healthy snack, then?”

My son has a sweet tooth – there is no doubt about that – and every day he looks for a way to finagle a treat. For a mom who’s trying to feed her children healthy foods, it can become tiresome to always be “fighting” about what is good and what it isn’t. So, I’m always creating recipes which can be a compromise between what my son considers a treat and what I think is healthy.

The other day, my son really wanted something “junky” as he called it, and I advocated for something healthy. When he asked me for a “junky, healthy snack” I laughed, but then I got to work. After all, if I could create something he thought was “junky” but it really wasn’t, then we’d both be happy.

I asked my son what he wanted, and he replied that he wanted a chocolate chip muffin. He, of course, meant one of those monstrosities they sell at the store which is all white flour and butter and huge chocolate chips, a lot of them. I wasn’t going for that, but it did give me an idea, and the result was a low fat chocolate chip muffin which was full of potassium from bananas, antioxidants and fiber from dates, and protein (and fiber) from oat and garbanzo bean flour – plus the muffins were free of dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, nuts, and refined sugar. What more could a mother ask?

And my son plus my daughters, and later, my writing group, all enjoyed the muffins immensely.

Chocolate Chip Muffins


8 ounces of pitted, chopped dates

1 cup gluten free rolled whole oats

1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

6 tbsp water

1 cup gluten free oat flour

1 cup garbanzo bean flour

2/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup arrowroot starch

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ginger

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Four 6 inch bananas (comes to about 1 1/4 cups mashed)

1/4 cup safflower oil

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners or grease them so the muffins won’t stick to your pan.

2.  Use a food processor to finely chop your dates into tiny pieces. (This will distribute the dates throughout your batter.)

3. Mix the finely chopped dates with the oats in a bowl, and pour the boiling water over them, pushing the dates and oats down into the water so they are covered. Let sit.

4. Whisk together the flaxmeal with the water, and set aside.

5. Whisk together the oat flour, garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot starch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

6. Mash the bananas and mix with the oil and the dates and oatmeal mixture and the flaxmeal mixture.

7. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients along with the apple cider vinegar. Mix up quickly just until the dry ingredients are moist.

8. Evenly scoop the muffin batter among the 24 muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until the cupcakes are golden and puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

9. Remove the muffins to a wire rack and cool completely.  These keep well in a tightly covered tupper ware container.





Cooking Techniques: Ratatouille

website ratatouille\

“Can we PLEASE have vegetables for the rest of the summer?”

My children and I just returned home from a whirlwind trip, visiting many relatives and friends within a four state radius. While we enjoyed being with the people we loved, we ate a lot more meat than we are used to eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, we ate meat at everyone else’s homes, because they either ate more meat in general than we do or because they thought they were giving us a treat by cooking meat.

Still, I laughed in surprise to hear my middle child practically begging me to purchase only vegetables when we stopped at the grocery store on our way home from our trip. I asked her if there was anything in particular she wanted me to make for dinner that evening when we arrived home, and she promptly answered, “Ratatouille.”

For any folks unfamiliar with ratatouille, it’s a wonderful vegetable dish originating from France. The main vegetable ingredients are usually eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers, though recipes may vary. It makes for both an excellent side dish or a main entree. My children like to eat it sprinkled with reduced fat shredded cheese and with a side of nice, crusty whole grain bread.

I love to make it in the summer time when we can pick the vegetables fresh from our garden. It’s a light and refreshing meal for a hot, summer day, especially if you simply cook it quickly on the stove top or in your crockpot, both of which don’t heat up your kitchen too much.

Ratatouille Information:

1. Cooking Methods: There are a variety of ways to make ratatouille, and if you google it you’ll see that many chefs actually are very particular about the best method for making ratatouille. I have tried all methods and find that there are pros and cons to each.

The most used method is to simply saute the vegetables in a pan on the stove top. This is nice because you can make the dish quickly for a family that is complaining that they’re “starving”.  In addition, it requires very little additional oil to saute. You need to be sure, though, to cut all the vegetables into sizes which will saute equitably and to cook them in order from longest cooking to shortest so you’re not serving a ratatouille which has overcooked zucchini with undercooked eggplant.

Another method is to roast the vegetables. What’s nice about roasted vegetable ratatouille is that all the pleasant, sweet tastes of the vegetables come out when roasted. The downside is that you usually need to roast the vegetables separately or precisely time the addition of each of the vegetables to the dish, both of which take time. As well, in the summer time, your kitchen will heat up quickly at the high temperatures needed for roasting. You’ll also find that you need a bit more oil to keep the vegetables from sticking to your pan as they roast.

A third method is to simply put your vegetables into a crockpot to slow cook over time. This method is extremely useful if you’re going to be out all day and want something done when you arrive home. The crockpot does make for a softer ratatouille, though, unless you’re home to take it out as soon as you see that the vegetables are at the slightly firmer texture you want. This method, however, does completely cut out the need for any fat which is nice for folks who need to watch their fat intake.

A fourth method is baking the ratatouille in the oven as a casserole. I like to do this when I’m going to have company and don’t want to be cooking instead of chatting. You simply layer the vegetables into a casserole dish and bake the entire casserole at once. This method is convenient and easy. It does, however, make for a moister dish because the liquids from the vegetables won’t evaporate like they do when you saute the vegetables. If, however, you like cheese with your ratatouille, layering the vegetables with the cheese makes for a very tasty casserole.

A fifth method is to layer the vegetables like you would for baking in the oven, only you do so in a pot and simmer the ratatouille over the stove top instead. This doesn’t warm your house as much as using the oven would, and it doesn’t require the constant watch and stirring that sauteing the vegetables does. The results, however, are more soupy than the other methods.

2. Main Vegetables: Eggplant is the base for ratatouille. You want a nice firm eggplant which isn’t under ripe or over ripe, though. When you press with your finger into the skin of the eggplant, you should leave an imprint which slowly comes back to shape. If your indent goes deep and doesn’t press back, it’s a bit riper than you might want. If you press and it’s hard, leaving no indent, it’s not ripe enough. A ripe eggplant will have a nice glossy purple skin with a bright green cap. Eggplant with bruises or dark splotches are to be avoided.

To cut eggplant for ratatouille I recommend peeling the eggplant first, then slicing into 1/4 inch rounds which you then cut into 1 inch squares which are a good size for both cooking and eating. You should cut your other vegetables up first before you cut your eggplant, though, because eggplant starts to brown pretty quickly after it’s been cut.

For your zucchini and squash, I recommend using smaller ones over the larger sized versions. They’re tastier, sweeter, moister, and less seedy. If you only have larger sizes, though, simply scoop out the seeds and cut the zucchini and summer squash into bite size pieces.

If you’re using the smaller sized zucchini and summer squash – think 6 inches in length – I recommend cutting them in half and then slicing them into 1/4 inch half moon shapes. These cook quickly and provide nice bite size eating pieces.

For peppers, you can use whatever pepper you like, but I prefer the sweeter bell peppers. One, the taste complements the eggplant well, and two, using different colored peppers (red, orange, yellow) makes for a prettier ratatouille. I recommend cutting the peppers into 1 inch square pieces so they cook readily with the other vegetables and are easy to eat.

3. Other Additions: Some people believe a ratatouille should only have eggplant, zucchini, squash and peppers. Others like to add more ingredients. It’s really up to you.

We like the versions which add mushrooms so if we have mushrooms on hand, we’ll use them. I usually slice white button or cremini mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices for adding to the ratatouille.

Another nice addition if you want to add protein is beans. Chick peas, cannellini beans, and black-eyed peas are all tasty in a ratatouille. And some people even like to add cooked chopped chicken, though, as a family we don’t really make it that way.

4. Tomatoes: Ratatouille always uses tomatoes. Purists will say you should only use fresh tomatoes which you peel, seed and dice yourself. I must admit, it’s rather delicious to make ratatouille with fresh tomatoes. I, however, tend to use dice tomatoes which I’ve frozen or get in a can, because it’s faster, more convenient, and simpler. For my tastes, I prefer the tomatoes to be petite-sized diced tomatoes because they blend better with the other vegetables, but larger sized dices tomatoes are fine, too.

5.  Seasonings:  Ratatouille will most always call for onions, garlic, basil and oregano, but from there recipes vary. Some add more herbs like thyme and parsley. Many call for salt and pepper. A few like to mix things up and call for a bit of red pepper or balsamic vinegar.

I find that using fresh herbs gives the ratatouille the best taste, but often I use dried herbs because that’s what I have in the house and on hand. If you’re using fresh herbs, be sure to add them at the end of the cooking. If you’re using dried, add it near the beginning of the cooking time.

For the garlic, you’ll find that recipes call for different ways of preparing it. Some say to use slivers. Others call for minced garlic. A few will suggest roasting the garlic first. Occasionally recipes will tell you to add smashed garlic. It really depends on your tastes and your time.

Roasted garlic is delightful in a ratatouille but then you have to take the time to roast it. Mince garlic incorporates more evenly throughout the ratatouille. Slivers give you more of a garlicky bite. Smashed garlic exudes more of the flavor.

As for salt and pepper: I rarely add salt, but using a small amount will bring out the flavors a bit more. I always add pepper because I like pepper but if you don’t want the pepper to overpower your other flavors.

6. Oil: Ratatouille usually calls for olive oil. The flavor of olive oil goes exceptionally well with ratatouille. Sometimes, though, recipes will call for another type. I would recommend sticking to a plant based oil which is a bit healthier for you and using as little as you can to keep the fat intake to a good level. My preference is to use an extra-virgin olive oil but most any olive oil works well and tastes good.

Quick and Easy Sauteed Ratatouille


1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup mushrooms, washed and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces (can omit if wanted)

2 to 3 peppers (yellow, red and/or orange; varying the colors is prettier), seedede and cut into 1 inch squares

1/2 cup chopped onions (frozen chopped onions work wonderfully)

one eggplant, about 8 inches in length and 4 inches in width

6 to 8 zucchini, about 6 to 8 inches in length, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch half moons (if using larger sizes, scoop out the seeds)

6 to 8 summer squash, about 6 to 8 inches in length, cut in half and then into 1/4 inch half moons (if using larger sizes, scoop out the seeds)

1 tbsp minced garlic

2 tsp dried basil or 1 to 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil

1 tsp dried oregano or 1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed fresh oregano

1/4 to 1/2 tsp black pepper, according to your tastes

3 cups petite diced tomatoes (if using canned, that’s about a 28 oz can)

Cooking Instructions:

1. Prepare all the vegetables first, washing, peeling, seeding and chopping and have them ready on hand to cook.

2. Heat olive oil for about 30 seconds in a large size pan over medium high heat or in a wok or in a deep dish griddle at 350 degree heat.

3. Add the mushrooms, peppers and onions to the olive oil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add the eggplant and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the zucchini and squash and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is greenish-purple.

6. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and black pepper and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. (If you want a soupier ratatouille cook with a cover on. For a thicker ratatouille saute without a lid.)

7. Serve with reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese and crusty bread.




The Skinny on Fat: Substituting for Oils and Butter

website skinny fat

I was twelve years old and as round as a basketball. 

Then, to my surprise, adolescence kicked in, lengthening my body’s height, which thinned my waistline.  Suddenly boys thought I was interesting, and I began to think they weren’t so bad, either.

So, when Keith asked me if he could walk me home from school, I said, “Yes.”  I don’t recall what we talked about, if we talked at all.  I do, however, clearly remember that pivotal moment when we stopped at the center of the bridge to watch the trucks rumble past underneath.

We had been standing side by side, when he suddenly stepped in front of my view, facing me.  Since I only came to his chest, I had to look up to see his face.  He smiled down at me and slowly lowered his head.  I was about to receive my first kiss, and the only thing I could think was “But I have gum in my mouth!  You can’t kiss someone with gum in your mouth!”

I learned, though, that yes, you can actually be kissed while you have gum in your mouth!  But more than that, my first kiss subtly reinforced to me the notion that no fat was good.

The reality, though, is that not all fat is bad.  My husband just told me about a recent study that was published which actually revealed that people with a little bit of fat on their bodies live longer and healthier than skinny folks.  Go figure!

The purpose of fat in baking

And when it comes to baking and cooking, fat plays a pivotal role.  In cooking, fats such as butter, oil, and shortening add flavor, help transfer heat, are needed to deliver certain vitamins into our bodies, and bind foods which normally would not mix well.  In baked goods, fat makes the difference between a crispy or chewy cookie, between a light or dense cake, and between a hard or flaky scone.

What’s important to remember is that you don’t need to use as much fat as any recipe calls for, nor do you have to use the fats which aren’t as good for you or which you’re allergic to and can’t eat

You can cut down the fat

I’ve learned that most recipes call for twice as much fat as you really need, so if you simply want to cut down on the fat, just reduce the amount in any recipe by ¼ to ½ and check if you can taste or see the difference.

You can substitute “good” fat

If you’re trying to decrease your use of the “bad” fats such as butter, feel free to substitute a “good” fat.  The “good” fats such as olive oil or avocado oil or safflower oil, essentially plant based fats, are easily substitutable in recipes.  As well, if you have a dairy allergy, the vegan “butters” work very well in traditional recipes.  What you need to remember, though, is that liquid fat should be replaced by another liquid and a solid fat by another solid.  If your recipe calls for you to cream butter and you try to replace it with canola oil, you should expect to have some problems with the substitution.

You can eliminate the fat

For anyone who does need to avoid fat altogether, though, you, too, can still bake those goodies you long to eat.  Fruit and cooked vegetable purees work wonders in many recipes, as does yogurt or buttermilk, presuming you have no dairy allergy.  The tip to keep in mind when using such substitutions is to use ½ as much of these products for the amount of fat called for in a recipe.

Paula’s Low Fat Date Bread Recipe


1 cup finely chopped dates

1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup Agave or honey

1/4 cup egg whites or 1 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp water 

2 tbsp plant based oil

2 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 2 cups whole grain gluten free flour blend

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder

1 cup your choice of finely chopped nuts, mini chocolate chips, or dried fruit*

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 9 x 5 loaf pan to your liking. (I would use “If You Care” parchment paper, but you can spray it with Pam spray or coat it with butter or oil.)

2.  Cover the chopped dates with the boiling water and let sit for at least five minutes.

3. Mix the flour with the baking soda, salt, and baking powder.  Stir in the nuts, chips, or fruit.  Set aside.

4.  Add the Agave, egg whites, and oil to the date-water mixture.

5. Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet and pour into prepared loaf pan.

6.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.  Bread will be golden brown.

* Since I have a nut allergy, I like to use the Enjoy Life allergen free mini chocolate chips, but I have occasionally added other chopped dried fruit like apricots and dried plums.