New Year Visions: Vegan Spanakopita

Happy New Year!

A friend of mine wrote in on December 31, 2017, that this was a day where all the adults living (as in over 18) were born in the 20th century (1900s) and all the minors (under 18) were born in the 21st century (2000s). It made me think about the changes I’ve seen in life from the 1970’s until now and also consider what I’d like to see going forward into 2018. The result was an ABC’s of wishes I wrote. If folks are interested in reading it, feel free to click here: Wishes

In addition, I thought about all the ways food has changed from the 70’s until now.  Cheese Whiz to organic, artisan cheeses… Chef Boyardee ravioli to whole wheat, butternut squash, kale ravioli…white flour noodles to gluten free quinoa pasta… Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies to Enjoy Life cookies free of 12 major food allergens. The list goes on, and the point is the same: what we consider to be “normal” eating conventions is different going into 2018.

This was evident in our home as we were deciding what to make for a New Year’s dinner we were hosting with some friends. Between food allergies and vegan children, coming up with a satisfying entree wasn’t easy. In the end we opted to make a vegan spanakopita which would have protein, fit dietary needs, and be a satisfying holiday-ish entree for the folks who neither have food allergies or are vegan. To make the dish, though, required work, specifically how best to alter a “normal” spanakopita recipe.

For folks not as familiar with spanakopita, it is a traditionally Greek dish which mixes spinach and feta cheese as a filling to go between layers of phyllo or filo dough which are thin sheets of a low-fat flour dough. Folks with gluten or wheat issues cannot use the filo dough found in stores, and folks with dairy issues cannot eat the cheese, so in the past, these folks could not have spanakopita, but those days are now gone.

How to make spanakopita:

  1. The filo dough: Folks with no wheat or gluten issues can purchase filo dough at the store. A variety of companies sell them in sheets of 20 which is what you usually need (10 sheets for the bottom and 10 sheets for the top). If people want to make their own, The Spruce has a good recipe: Filo Dough Recipe.  If folks have allergies, though, the only option currently is to make your own gluten free filo sheets.  Gluten Free on a Shoestring has the best recipe that I have tried: Gluten Free Filo Dough Recipe . It is not really all that hard, and it is worth the work.
  2. The cheese: Traditionally, spanakopita uses feta cheese. Some folks combine feta and ricotta. Others combine feta and cottage cheese, but feta is always a key ingredient. If there are no food restrictions, there are plenty of recipes online using feta which one can follow. If dairy is an issue or one is vegan, there are basically two options for replacing the cheese: nut or tofu, both of which require making your own “cheese”. For folks who might be allergic to both nuts and tofu, I have not tried any of the cheese, but One Green Planet has “cheese” recipes made from other food like zucchini and hemp and paprika which might be worth trying: Nut and Dairy Free Cheese Recipes
    1. Nut “feta”: Folks who do not have nut allergies can consider making “feta cheese” out of cashews. You simply soak cashews overnight, drain them, and crumble in a food processor with lemon juice, salt and nutritional yeast to your taste and liking and to a feta consistency.
    2. Tofu “feta”: Folks with nut allergies can crumble firm tofu into a bowl to resemble feta chunks, and mix with lemon juice, nutritional yeast, white miso and/or apple cider vinegar, and salt to your taste and liking. I have found that to get the most “feta-like” texture, that it also helps to add a little bit of “milk”. (I usually use soy milk.)
    3. “Ricotta”: If you want to have the texture of “feta” with the texture of “ricotta” in your spanakopita, you can make your own ricotta, too. For tofu ricotta, puree tofu with lemon juice and nutritional yeast to taste and until smooth. For cashew ricotta, soak cashews overnight and then puree with lemon juice, water or “milk”, and nutritional yeast to taste and liking.
  3. The filling:  Usually spanakopita is a mixture of the cheese with cooked spinach which you combine with just enough beaten eggs to hold it together. You can saute fresh spinach. You can use thawed frozen spinach. Your choice. If using frozen spinach, it is best to squeeze out as much of the excess liquid as possible.  When I made our spanakopita, however, I wasn’t going to be using eggs because I needed it to be vegan, so I used a combination of thawed frozen spinach and kale and didn’t squeeze out the liquid. Instead, I added extra nutritional yeast as well as ground flaxseed to absorb the liquid and help bind the “cheese” and veggies which worked incredibly well.
  4. The seasonings: Spanakopita traditionally uses garlic and onions to season the dish. Recipes will vary as to what else is added. Oregano and basil and black pepper are common but it really depends on your tastes and liking. You can experiment and see what you prefer.
  5. Assembling the dish: To make spanakopita, you layer the filo sheets on the bottom of your dish (at least a 9 x 13; I use an 11 x 15 pan) by brushing the dish with olive oil or melted butter, layering on a sheet, brushing the sheet with olive oil or melted butter, and repeating until the top of the last sheet has been brushed with oil or butter. (Olive oil is a healthier fat and you can brush a thinner layer of it than butter so you end up using much less than you would of the butter.) Then you spread the spinach-cheese mixture onto the filo layers and begin the process of layering filo dough on top of the spinach mixture. If your filo dough is larger than your pan, simply tuck the excess into the sides. It is important to be sure to brush the top and final sheet of filo dough with oil or butter.
  6. Baking the dish: Because the filo dough crisps and fluffs up, it can be difficult to cut after it is cooked, so it’s best to cut through the top layers before you put the spanakopita into the oven. Don’t cut through to the bottom, though. Just the top. Then when it cooks, it puffs up around your cuts and makes it easy for you to cut the final slices after it is done. You can bake the spanakopita at any temperature between 325 degrees and 375 degrees. Depending on the temperature you choose, it will take between a half an hour and a hour usually to brown and crisp.

Paula’s Vegan Spanakopita Recipe:

Ingredients:

Tofu Ricotta: 14 oz firm tofu, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Tofu Feta: 14 oz firm tofu, 2 tbsp nutritional yeast, 2 tsp lemon juice, 2 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup soy milk, 1/4 tsp salt

Seasonings: 1 tbsp minced garlic, 1/2 cup chopped onions, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp black pepper

Veggies: 10 oz thawed frozen chopped kale, 32 oz thawed frozen chopped spinach

Filling Binders: 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 1/4 cup ground flax seed, 8 oz Daiya mozzarella

Olive oil

20 sheets preferred type of filo dough

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Make the tofu ricotta by pureeing all the ingredients together in a food processor. Set aside.
  2. Make the tofu feta by crumbling the tofu into feta size chunks and mixing it with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a small pan, saute the seasonings with a small amount of olive oil just until fragrant. Set aside to cool.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the filling binders together and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the thawed kale and spinach with the ricotta and feta and seasonings. Add the filling binder.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Brush an 11 by 15 pan with olive oil. Just enough to very lightly coat it.
  8. Layer a filo sheet and lightly brush the layer with olive oil. Repeat until ten sheets have been done.
  9. Spread the spinach mixture atop the filo layers.
  10. Layer a filo sheet and lightly brush the layer with olive oil. Repeat until ten sheets have been done. Be sure to brush the top layer.
  11. Cut the spanakopita into slices, slicing only through the top layers of filo dough and not the bottom.
  12. Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes, then turn the spanakopita around and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the top has browned and crisped and the filling is hot.
Advertisements

Holiday Happenings: Holiday Dried Fruit Cake

“I just don’t understand why….”

Recently I picked up a Cooking Light magazine which had slow cooker recipes. (If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know how much I love my crock pots!) To my disappointment, the recipes only proved how crazy this world is when it comes to healthy eating.

Cooking Light is a magazine which focuses on healthier eating, so can someone explain to me why their recipe for apple cider, which has a lot of natural sugars from the apples, tells you to add brown sugar?! Or why a recipe for green beans calls for sugar in the balsamic glaze when balsamic vinegar is usually used by chefs precisely for its sweetness?! Or why a pork chop recipe uses a can of Coke?! Coke!!

This is a perfect example of how the world falls into the trap of compartmentalizing. Cooking Light‘s idea of healthier eating is focusing on reducing fat and introducing more whole grains, which does add to healthier eating but it’s not the whole story. Similarly, folks who buy store bought products will find reduce fat food with higher levels of sugar or sugar free foods with higher levels of fat.

Healthy eating is about moderation in all respects. That doesn’t mean giving up all foods which might not be the best for you. It just means doing what you can to make those foods healthier for you when you do eat them.

Several weeks ago, someone asked me about fruit cake. She wanted to know if it was possible to make one without all the sugar usually in fruit cake and whether it could be made “vegan” and gluten free. Since she asked, I decided to try, and the result was actually such that a person at a recent workshop I came up to me at the end and said, “You shouldn’t call it fruit cake.”

“Why,” I asked, “it is fruit cake.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t going to try it because it said, ‘fruit cake,’ but I did and it’s so good.”

And it is good. For folks who like fruit cake or for folks who would like to try a vegan, gluten free, reduced sugar fruit cake, the recipe follows below. This version has no added white refined sugar because the fruit and peel mix has more than enough! It does use natural sugars from bananas and other dried fruit to give it a sweetness which is just enough but not overpowering. In addition, I chose some higher fiber and protein flour to add to its nutritional heft to help counter some of those natural sugars, and I reduced the fat to just 1/2 cup and used a healthier plant based oil at that.

Holiday Dried Fruit Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups ripe, mashed bananas

1/2 cup avocado oil

3 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 6 tbsp of water

16 oz pkg of Paradise Old English Fruit and Peel mix

1/2 cup currants

3/4 cup dried chopped dates

2 cups boiling water

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I used King Arthur’s whole grain version)

1 cup gluten free oat flour

2 tbsp Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line eight 4 x 6 pans with parchment paper so you have wings on all four sides to pull the breads out at the end.
  2. In a large bowl mix the mashed bananas and oil.
  3. In a small bowl mix the ground flax seed and water.
  4. In a medium bowl mix the Old English mix, currants, dates, and boiling water.
  5. In another medium bowl, mix the gluten free flour, oat flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and baking soda.
  6. To the large bowl with the bananas and oil, add the flax seed mix, the dried fruit mix and the dry ingredients, along with the vinegar, and blend really well until everything is moist and incorporated.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the eight pans and put them onto a cookie sheet large enough to hold all eight pans.
  8. Slide the cookie sheet into the oven and bake the breads for 20 minutes. Then turn them around and bake for another 20 minutes. When the breads are done they’ll be slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
  9. Remove the breads to a cooling rack by pulling them out of the pans by the wings you created.
  10. Let the breads cool for about 15 minutes before removing the parchment paper and allowing them to cool completely on the wire racks.
  11. The breads can be stored by wrapping them well in plastic wrap and putting them in the fridge. They also freeze well if you then wrap them again in aluminum foil and put them into the freezer.

Holiday Happenings: Cranberry Cheesecake

“If you have a good allergy…”

My oldest went to a restaurant where the menu said, “If you have a good allergy, let your server know.” She texted the picture of this typo to me, and when I responded, she said that it got worse. The rest of the blurb: “We have a glue tin free menu.”

Now, I am willing to believe the owners/managers of the restaurant didn’t catch the mistakes when they were ready to print the menus and afterwards decided that the costs of reprinting were prohibitive, but this serves as a good illustration of why folks with food allergies sometimes feel like people don’t care about their feelings.

After all, what is a good allergy? If we have the bad ones, we can’t let our server know? And it’s great that their food is free of glue and tin but what about those of us who can’t eat gluten? It’s easy for the restaurant owners/managers to wave off the typos, but for folks who live with the reality of life-threatening allergies, their dismissal can feel marginalizing.

Having had four too many anaphylactic episodes in the past several years (for most, it was how I learned I had these new food allergies!), I tend to be rather careful about food other people prepare. It meant a lot to me when my brother called to ask what he’d need to do to make the mashed potatoes dairy free for me to eat. It showed that he was taking my allergy seriously and that he wanted me to be able to partake of all the offerings and not be limited.

For most of us with food allergies, we’re not asking that people always accommodate us. We know it’s not easy and convenient to do at all times. We do ask, though, that folks at least be sensitive to the fact that we have allergies and that it’s not always easy for us either.

I always make sure to make and bring food which I can eat so that it’s not a hardship on the folks hosting, and this Thanksgiving was no exception. I ended up making those mashed potatoes for my brother, simply because I had all the ingredients and he didn’t, but I was glad he asked. And I contributed a green bean dish and homemade cranberry sauce, made without sugar, since I don’t encourage anyone to eat sugar.

There was enough of the cranberry sauce left for me to ponder a use for it, and this past week I made a gluten, dairy free cranberry cheesecake for a brunch I hosted. It came out so creamy, and the tang of the cranberries was a wonderful complement to the cheesecake. I used only one half a cup of agave to sweeten the entire cake. It was so good! I’m going to include the recipe below. For folks who need tips on making cheesecake, see Cheesecake Tips

Cranberry Cheesecake

Ingredients:

3 8 oz containers of tofu cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup agave

1 tsp vanilla

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup tofu sour cream, at room temperature

1 cup leftover cranberry sauce (I made a homemade version which was just fresh cranberries with water and two tablespoons of agave)

1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cover the bottom of a cheesecake springform pan with aluminum foil so it’s completely covered. You may need two or three layers to make it waterproof. I used an 8 inch pan for this cake to make it thicker but you can use a 9 inch pan for a thinner cheesecake. You’ll just need to adjust the cooking time. Grease the pan with your favorite method.  I just used vegan butter.
  2. In a mixer, blend the tofu cream cheese until smooth.
  3. Slowly pour in the agave, mixing the entire time on low. Scrape down as needed.
  4. Add the vanilla.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
  6. Pour the cream cheese mixture into your prepare pan.
  7. If you want the chunkiness of the cranberries, then just dollop the leftover cranberries on top of the cheesecake and swirl through. If you want it smooth like I made it (because my autistic children have a thing about chunks!), put the leftover cranberry sauce in a blender or food processor with the orange juice and puree. Then dollop onto the cheesecake and swirl.
  8. Put the cheesecake pan into a larger pan and fill the larger pan with hot water, halfway up the cheesecake pan.
  9. Bake in the preheated over until the cheesecake is firm around the edges (a knife inserted will come out clean) but still a bit jiggly in the center. If you used the 8 inch pan, it may take 75 to 80 minutes or so. If you used the 9 inch pan, it may be slightly less. Don’t stress if you “overcook” by a little bit of time. It’ll just give you a firmer cheesecake, which some people actually prefer.
  10. When the cheesecake is done, turn off the oven and leave the door open and let the cheesecake cool in the oven before putting it into the fridge to chill.
  11. When you’re ready to serve it, you can drip some melted allergy-friendly chocolate as I did to make it festive or just serve as is or serve with an allergy friendly whipped cream.
  12. Enjoy!

 

Holiday Happenings: Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Pudding Pies

“Well, I prefer chocolate….”

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and that means pies. If your family is like ours, everyone has a different favorite. My husband prefers apple pies. My son and mom like pumpkin. My dad wishes folks would go back to making traditional minced meat pies. I enjoy experimenting and making pies like pear-cranberry or sweet potato. My oldest will eat any pie. For my younger daughter, however, who is a chocoholic, there’s nothing like a chocolate pie.

For folks who are in agreement with her, there are two different ways that I make a chocolate pie, one version uses my dark chocolate mousse recipe which is made with tofu. The other adapts a chocolate pudding recipe because some folks are allergic to soy.

For both I make a chocolate cookie crumb crust. Often I make my own chocolate cookies but when I’m pressed for time I like to use Enjoy Life’s chocolate or chocolate mint cookies because they are free of 12 of the major food allergies.  Most recipes call for 1 1/2 cup to 2 cups of crumbs mixed with 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup butter.  Since I tend to use a 10 inch pie pan, I process enough chocolate cookies to make 2 cups of crumbs but I have found that 2 tbsp of a fat is all you really need. So, choose a plant based oil or melted vegan butter or coconut oil and mix it well with the crumbs. Press the crumbs into your pan to cover the bottom and all the way up the side. Then you can choose to either bake the crust in a preheated 325 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes to set the crust or you can simply freeze it for half an hour which will also set it.

To make the first version of the chocolate filling, you make the dark chocolate mousse recipe and then sprinkle two teaspoons of unflavored gelatin or agar powder or Vegan Jel over 2 tbsp of cold water. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to soften, then dissolve with 2 tbsp of hot water. Mix well into the mousse and then pour the mousse filling into your prepared pan and put it in the fridge for several hours to set.

To make the second version of the chocolate filling, you make the dark chocolate pudding recipe with whatever “milk” suits your allergy need, only before you thicken the pudding, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dark chocolate or mini chocolate chips and stir until they’re melted to make for a richer-tasting pudding and increase the cornstarch to 4 to 5 tbsp to make a thicker pudding. Then pour the pudding into the prepared cookie crust, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and put into the fridge for several hours to set.

You can leave the pies as they are, or to make them prettier, you can sprinkle chopped dark chocolate over the top. Then enjoy!

 

Autumn Appetites: Fruit Butter Muffins

“But it doesn’t look like butter….”

When my oldest was in preschool, I asked if she wanted to try apple butter on her toast, and when I placed it on the table, I could tell by her face that she was confused. “But it doesn’t look like butter,” she said.

For folks who haven’t enjoyed the taste of a fruit or vegetable butter, it’s basically a spread like jam or jelly, only with a softer, more paste-like consistency, and it is extremely easy to make your own, especially if you own a crock pot. You simply slowly cook the fruit for a long time so that it breaks down completely. And homemade fruit or vegetable butters are very allergy friendly because you control what goes into the recipe.

Folks who have been reading my posts for a while know that I like recipes which require little work, and making fruit or vegetable butter in the crock pot fits the bill perfectly. And this time of year, when I’m looking for a myriad of ways to use apples and pumpkin, making them into “butters” is ideal, though fruit and vegetable butters can be made with just about any fruit or vegetable… apples, plums, pumpkins, squash, peaches, mangoes, strawberries, turnips, cherries….

You simply chop the fruit or vegetable into pieces which you place into your crockpot. For fruit like apples, pears, plums, etc… I don’t even peel the fruit. I simply core and slice, because the nutrients are in the skins, and you’re cooking the fruit for so long that the skins break down. Vegetables with hard rinds like pumpkin and squash, though, you’ll want to peel.

Once the fruit or vegetables are in the crock pot, you can decide if you want to make the butter plain or spice it up. Adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, cloves, etc…, or flavors like lemon or vanilla or orange peel, etc… adds dimension to the flavor. For folks who want a sweeter butter, you can add some agave or truvia or coconut sugar (or sugar if you use it). Unless my fruit is very tart, however, I don’t add any sweetener.

Then you just turn your crock pot to low and let the fruit break down over a long period of time. How long will depend on the amount you’re making and the thickness of your fruit or vegetable, anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. You want to cook the fruit or vegetables long enough that the consistency is very thick, way past applesauce consistency. Some folks recommend propping the top of your crock pot lid to help with evaporation. I’ve never done that and haven’t had any problems with the fruit being too watery, but you can choose which way you’d like to try.

Once your fruit or vegetables are completely cooked down, you can cool them and have a chunky butter or you can puree the fruit or vegetables with a food process or blender into a smoother butter. Your choice. The butters will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you can freeze them for several months. If you want to extend the life of the fruit butter in the fridge, you can add sugar and lemon juice which help to preserve the fruit and keep mold from growing. And of course, you can always can the butters if you are one the type to can, which I am not. *grin*

Fruit butters can be used in place of butter and jams on toasts, muffins and scones. It can be used in place of applesauce in recipes. It can be used to thicken sauces. It can be added to cookies and pies for a richer flavor. The list is endless. For myself, I like to make muffins with the butters, and below I’ve pasted in recipe that is one of my favorite creations. I have used apple butter, pumpkin butter, winter squash butter, and strawberry butter so far, and I can’t wait to try some others!

Fruit Butter Muffins 

Ingredients:

8 ounces of chopped dried fruit, your choice

1 cup gluten free instant oats

1 1/2 cup boiling water

2 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

6 tbsp water

3 cups gluten free flour blend (I like to use a garbanzo bean, sorghum, and oat flour blend)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ginger

3/4 cup plant base oil (extra light olive, safflower, avocado, etc…)

1/2 cup fruit or vegetable butter

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners or grease them so the muffins won’t stick to your pan.

2. Mix the chopped dried fruit 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.

3. Whisk together the ground flax seed with the water, and set aside.

4. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Set aside.

5. Mix the oil with the fruit butter, oatmeal mixture, and the flax meal mixture.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. Remove the muffins to a wire rack and cool completely. These keep well in a tightly covered tupperware container.

Autumn Appetites: Apples and Pumpkins

“Change is bad….”

My youngest went trick or treating for the first time without his parents last night. He had fun with his middle school friends, trick or treating as a group, eating pizza at the Halloween party, playing games in the dark. He laughed and played and enjoyed himself. Then… he came home and cried because he realized the Halloween traditions of his last twelve years didn’t happen because he had gone out with his friends instead of with his parents. And as is typical with children on the autism spectrum, he made this blanket pronouncement: “Change is bad!”

Change is bad. How often do we feel and think that? Even as adults whose life experiences have taught us that change can be good, we can feel uncertainty and anxiety creep up on us when something in life changes. Often, the change has to prove its goodness as opposed to us believing its potential good from the onset.

As you can imagine, I took the time last night to speak to my son about the many changes he has had in his life which were good and pointed out that last night’s change enabled him to have a really good time with his friends which he wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t “changed” by growing and becoming a middle schooler who wanted to hang out with his friends instead of his parents. He, of course, remained skeptical, but I trust that, as with my older two, someday my words will resound as reasonable and not gobblygook.

For those of with food allergies that appear later in life, change can definitely seem bad. Suddenly, the foods we’ve loved, we can no longer eat, and we now have to learn a whole new way of eating which includes new foods, new ways of shopping, and creating new recipes. It can feel overwhelming and just plain bad sometimes. Trust me, I know! The last few months of accidents, family health issues, and two too many deaths have created food comfort cravings, and what I wouldn’t have given to be able to eat one of my son’s Reese’s peanut butter cups last night!

On the other hand, though, developing food allergies later in life has expanded my repertoire of new food experiences, new recipes, and new opportunities for being creative, to do a different type of work, for establishing new networks and relationships, and to add support to community life. The good outweighs the bad.

Autumn presents a similar tension for folks… the changing colder weather means heavier clothes, shorter, darker days, and the coming of snow-storm filled, winter months. It also brings Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas, though, and wonderful foods like apples, pumpkins, kale, winter squash, and opportunities for eating those more cold weather foods like stews and holiday foods like tortes and pies.

This week, we had apples and pumpkins from neighbors’ gardens as well as our own to use up, so I decided to “change” what I usually make with apples and pumpkins (apple crisp and pumpkin pie) in favor of trying something new and different. So, I made an apple brownie, which is different from a chocolate brownie but tasty nonetheless, and a pumpkin gingerbread trifle because I had leftover gingerbread muffins from a workshop. Both treats were thoroughly enjoyed by the folks who benefited from my willingness to think that change could be a good thing!

Apple Brownies

Ingredients:

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I used King Arthur’s whole grain version)

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup vegan butter, melted

2 cups coconut sugar

eggs equal to 1/2 cup (2 or three, depending on the size of your eggs)

3 large apples, peeled, cored, and diced into thin slivers

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Mix together the melted vegan butter, sugar and eggs.
  4. Stir the chopped apples into the dry ingredients, and then add the wet ingredients, mixing well until everything is moistened and incorporated.
  5. Spread the mixture into the lined pan and bake for about 30 minutes. The brownies will be puffed but will settle when it cools.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

Ingredients:

two cups pureed, cooked pumpkin

24 oz unsweetened plain or vanilla flavored coconut yogurt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

2 tbsp agave

container So Delicious dairy free coconut whipped cream

cut up pieces of gingerbread cupcakes Gingerbread Cupcakes

Assembling Instructions:

  1. Mix the pumpkin, coconut yogurt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and agave together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Thaw the coconut whipped cream as instructed.
  3. In a deep round dish, layer according to the following: a thin layer of the pumpkin mixture, a layer of cut up gingerbread, a layer of the pumpkin mixture, a layer of half of the whipped cream, a layer of gingerbread, a layer of the pumpkin mixture, a last layer of gingerbread, last layer of the pumpkin mixture, and a layer of the second half of the whipped cream.
  4. Store in the fridge until ready to eat.

Hashing it Out: Veggie Hash

“You seem to like to take the easy way….”

Folks who have been following this blog know that every once and a while I branch out of baking to post “how-to’s” about food other than baked goods. Usually that is because someone asks me a question which I think others might like to know the answer to as well. This week someone read a couple of posts of mine and asked an interesting question about hash.

If you are not familiar with hash (or know it only as the shorten form of hashish, a stronger form of marijuana), hash is a dish that began as a way of stretching meat during times of scarcity. You take leftover meat, dice it up, and add diced potatoes (because potatoes were filling and cheap) and anything else you can dice to make the dish more satisfying. Almost every country has its version of hash, which comes from a French word meaning “to chop”.

Over the centuries, the versions of hash recipes which exist has exponentially grown with every type of meat or poultry and potatoes variations being explored. In more recent years, folks started adding vegetables and tofu and legumes to make the hash more “healthy” and edible by non-meat eaters. This week, someone asked me, though, “The recipes for hash seemed to require so much work! All that cutting and chopping. You seem to like to take the easy way. How would you make hash quick and easy?”

I just had to laugh. Someone who knows how lazy a cook I am! School nights are always a rush at dinner time because of the children’s activities or my and my husband’s meetings, so yes, I do find ways to make meals quick and easy. Folks who have read other posts know that I love my crock pots, and many days of the week, meals are crock pot dinners which were assembled in the morning and ready to eat at dinner time. When that is not possible, though, then something like hash for dinner is perfect as long as you have ready-made items on hand.

For quick and easy hash, I keep diced potatoes in the fridge. Simply Potatoes is the brand I usually purchase at the store because it stores well in the fridge. Because we usually make a vegetarian version, I also stock the freezer with frozen, chopped kale or swiss chard or collard greens or spinach, and I keep cans of no salt and no sugar added petite diced tomatoes in the pantry. In the spice cabinet I have freeze-dried fresh herbs, onion powder and pepper, and in the fridge, I keep diced garlic. All this is all one needs to make a quick and easy vegetable hash. Should you want a meat version, then make the hash on a night when you have leftover meat or poultry from another meal which you can just add near the end of the cooking time. When I make hash, I can have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Vegetable Hash

Ingredients:

Olive oil

two 20 oz packages of Simply Potatoes with Onions (or another brand)

one 20 oz package frozen, chopped kale, collard greens, swiss chard or spinach

one 29 oz can of no salt, no sugar added petite diced tomatoes

Freeze dried or fresh Herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, dill, rosemary, marjoram, etc…; if you use dried herbs, you should add them with the potatoes so that the flavors have time to meld)

Black pepper

Onion powder

minced garlic

Optional: add leftover chopped meat or poultry or rinsed, canned beans or tofu

Optional (which is how we eat it): Serve the hash with a cooked egg atop of it

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a large, shallow pan, on the stove top, put just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the diced potatoes and cook the potatoes until they are browned on all sides. To brown potatoes well, you need to let them just sit and cook. They will stick to the pan, but that’s what you want. That is how the crispy coating is formed. Just use your spatula to unstick the potatoes and turn them. Any browned crusty pieces which stick to the bottom of the pan will come up later when you add the greens and tomatoes.
  2. After the potatoes have browned, add the frozen chopped greens and cook through, stirring frequently, until the  greens have thawed.
  3. Drain the canned tomatoes and add the tomatoes without the juice to the pan, along with herbs of choice, black pepper, onion powder and minced garlic, all to your taste liking. (I don’t add salt because the store bought potatoes have more than enough salt in them for the entire dish, but if you like things saltier, that’s your call.) Mix well and let the hash simmer, stirring every once and a while, for about five minutes until the browned crusty pieces have come off the bottom of the pan and mixed in with the hash.
  4. If adding the meat, do so now and cook just until everything is thoroughly warm.
  5. If eating as a vegetarian dish, serve as is. If eating it as we do, fry eggs hard or over-medium and place one on top of each serving of hash.
  6. Enjoy!