Cake Mix Revamping: Citrus Ginger Chip Cupcakes

“I knew you had food allergies….”

A very kind woman whom I had only recently met brought me a hostess gift which was a basket of Bob’s Red Mill gluten free cake mixes. It was lovely of her to be considerate of my allergies, and I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

Now for true confessions: I hold a prejudice against a majority of cake mixes. They have too much sugar, use the the worst type of flour with no protein or fiber, and usually are not very tasty, in my opinion. I will admit that some of that is changing. I have seen whole grain cake mixes on the market, as well as mixes claiming to have less sugar. I will also concede that using a cake mix when you are rushed for time will shave off five to ten minutes of prep time, and the convenience of that can be worthwhile to folks.

I decided to make the best of the situation, because as strong as my prejudice is, stronger still are my feelings about wasting anything. My family will tell you that I will turn leftovers into new meal after meal until every morsel is gone, rather than throw food out.

So, I assessed the Bob’s Red Mill Vanilla Yellow Cake mix to see what I could do. I could not change the sugar content or the lack of fiber and protein, but I could make sure not to add any more sugars than needed. I decided, therefore, to make cupcakes with no frosting, but I would need to jazz up the flavor if there was not going to be frosting. To do so, I zooped uncrystallized candied ginger with Enjoy Life chocolate chunks and mixed that in with the cake mix, along with some orange zest. While the candied ginger and chocolate chunks still had sugar, it would be much less than using frosting.

Once I figured out the flavors, I needed to think about the ingredients I needed to add to the mix. The recipe called for 3 eggs. I opted to use 1/2 cup of egg whites with one whole egg. It also called for melted butter or vegetable oil. I chose to substitute extra light olive oil.

When the cupcakes were done and cooled, I have to say I was not unduly upset with the result. It was still a cake mix batter with too much sugar and no protein or fiber, but it was tastier, and I had added a good fat and reduced some of the bad fat and calories. Also, as my husband is quick to point out, indulging in something not as good for you every once in a while usually will not hurt you.

Citrus Ginger Chip Cupcakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup uncrystallized candied ginger

1 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chunks

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Yellow Cake mix

2 tsp dried grated orange peel

1/2 cup egg whites

1 egg

1/2 cup extra light olive oil

1/2 cup water

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line 18 muffin cups with cupcake liners.
  2. In a food processor, zoop the candied ginger and the chocolate chunks several minutes into very small pieces.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cake mix and the ginger/chocolate pieces, adding the dried orange peel.
  4. Add the egg whites, egg, oil, and water, and using a mixer, blend slowly at first until all the ingredients are incorporated. Then on a higher speed, mix the batter for a minute or so until it’s thick and well mixed.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the 18 muffin cups.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until the cupcakes are puffed, firm to the touch, and/or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (When I baked them, it took 22 minutes.)
  7. Cool in the tins for about five minutes. Then remove them to a wire cooling rack to completely cool.
  8. Enjoy!

 

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Healthy Habits: Rethinking Weeknight Pasta

 

 

“But it’s all I can eat….”

My oldest decided a few weeks ago to do the elimination diet, which basically is eliminating everything except meat, poultry, fish, and non-starchy vegetables from one’s diet. She could not eat wheat, soy, dairy, nuts, peanuts, eggs, sesame, corn, peppers, potatoes, vinegar, yeast, sweeteners of any type, etc…, which meant dinners became a bit more complicated.

Since I usually include non-meat protein in many of our family dinners, I had to rethink our meals for a few weeks to make sure we were not eating too much meat and chicken. Obviously, eating more fish and beans was one solution, but the number of fish or bean dinners we currently eat are not my husband’s and son’s favorites as it is, so I did not want to create issues there. We could increase our vegetable dishes, but not being able to add any cheese, whether dairy or soy, or add tofu meant having no protein at all, which does not work for my or my daughter’s hypoglycemia.

So, as I thought about eating more meat and chicken dishes, it occurred to me that I could rethink weeknight pasta dinners, which is a staple for most families. Pasta and sauce is quick and easy for those busy nights when families do not have much time to pull dinner together. For my purposes, pasta and sauce was also a good dinner to be able to alter for our dietary needs.

For the pasta, we simply opted to substitute many of the grain free, protein packed pastas which are on the market: red and green lentil, chickpea and bean pastas are easily found at most supermarkets and are actually quite tasty. The ingredients are literally just red lentils or chickpeas or beans. Nothing else. So, for folks who need to watch ingredients, these pastas are great one ingredient pastas. (NOTE: there are pastas which mix flours with legumes to add protein. These are fine, too, if folks can eat grains.)

For the sauces, the solution was simple: substitute half of any meat or chicken with vegetables or quinoa. That way we had the protein but not as much of it. The result were healthier sauces which were just as filling but with less meat and poultry. Some of the pasta sauces and meatball recipes we made are below in case any folks want to try them for themselves.

Beet and Meat Pasta Sauce:

In a large skillet, brown 1/2 lb of lean hamburger meat with finely chopped onions, garlic, and herbs such as oregano, basil, black pepper, and thyme. Drain the fat from the meat and add 8 oz of frozen riced beets, one cup frozen chopped spinach, and a 16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added petite diced tomatoes. Saute until most of the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated. Add a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I use Victoria’s which literally only has tomatoes, garlic, salt oregano, and onions as its ingredients). Heat until warm and serve over a protein based ziti style pasta.

Kale-Carrot Turkey Pasta Sauce:

In a large skillet, brown 1/2 lb of lean ground turkey with finely chopped onions, garlic and herbs such as oregano, thyme, basil, and black pepper. Drain the fat from the meat, and set aside. In the skillet add 2 tbsp olive oil. Heat the oil for a minute and add 1/4 cup of a gluten free flour like GF oat or sorghum or millet. Stir until well mixed with the oil. Add 2 cups of a no salt, turkey bone broth, stirring and cooking over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Flavor the sauce with herbs like oregano, thyme and basil. Add the browned turkey, 8 oz frozen chopped kale and one cup grated carrots. Heat until the kale and carrots are soft and fully cooked. Serve over a protein based spaghetti style pasta.

Quinoa Meatballs:

Mix one pound of ground beef, chicken or turkey with 2 cups of cooked quinoa. Add to taste: chopped green onions, minced garlic, black pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, dill, and onion powder. Form into quarter cup size meatballs and place the meatballs on a pan lined with aluminum foil and lightly greased with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the meatballs for 25 minutes until browned on top and cooked through. Serve with your favorite sauce and protein based pasta.

Healthy Habits: Most Everything Free Blackberry Filled Mini Sponge Cakes

“You won’t be left out….”

So, what do you do when Valentine’s Day is approaching, and you cannot have eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, nuts, peanuts, chocolate/cocoa powder, sesame, coconut, or any non-fruit sweeteners, whether sugar or natural? Then, even planning for a nice dessert after dinner seems to out of the question, too.

This was the problem presented to me this week, and I had to really think about how to make something which was free of everything but would somehow seem a bit special at the same time. Removing every other ingredient except for sweeteners would not actually be a problem. Removing all sweeteners, however, becomes a bit more problematic.

Removing sugar from a cake means removing the ingredient which absorbs the moisture from the protein and carbs and which helps with the leavening process. This means your baked good will be more moist and dense simply by virtue of removing the sugar. Sugar substitutes like coconut sugar or agave, while not as efficient as sugar, can still do the same job. Once you are limited to only fruit, however, there’s not much you can do, other than to increase your dry ingredients and decrease the liquid but then the result may be a very dry dessert.

As I considered options, I realized that sponge cakes are actually cakes which are made to be more dense on purpose and that maybe I could use the lack of a sugary sweetener to my advantage. In the end I created blackberry filled mini sponge cakes, using Polaner’s Blackberry All Fruit. While not chocolate, it is a different, which could be therefore be considered special.

Blackberry Filled Mini Sponge Cakes

Ingredients:

3 cups whole grain gluten free flour blend

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp ground flax seed

6 tbsp hot water

1/3 cup Polaner All Fruit

1/2 cup hot water

2 cups mashed ripe bananas

1/2 cup safflower oil

2 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Polaner Blackberry All Fruit

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners
  2. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt. Set aside.
  3. Mix the ground flax seed with the hot water, and let it thicken.
  4. In a large bowl mix together the blackberry all fruit with the hot water and add to it the mashed bananas, oil, and vanilla.
  5. Add the thickened flax seed to the wet ingredients.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients with the vinegar and mix just until blended.
  7. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until the cakes puff and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Remove the mini cakes to a cooling rack and allow them to cool.
  10. After the cakes are cooled, fill a pastry bag with a round tip with blackberry all fruit, insert the tip into each cake until the tip is hidden by the cake, and then slowly squeeze the all fruit into the cake until the cake puffs. Slowly pull the cake tip out and fill in the remaining space with all fruit, just ’til a little bit of the all fruit is peeking out of the top of the cake.

 

Healthy Habits: Vegan Dark Chocolate No Added Sugar Cupcakes

“No sweeteners except fruit are allowed….”

This past weekend, I was tasked with figuring out how to make a chocolate cupcake which would not only be dairy, egg, soy, gluten, and nut/peanut free but which also could not include any sweeteners like sugar, agave, honey, molasses, maple syrup, stevia, etc…. And of course, the recipient wanted the cupcakes to be fudgy and “healthy” as well.

Folks who have food allergies know how difficult it can be to find and/or make desserts which are free of whatever one can’t eat. When you add to that difficulty, though, that it has to be vegan and have absolutely no sweetener other than fruit, things become exponentially more complicated for ensuring the baked product tastes good.

Not one to give up, however, I figured out a way to make exactly what was ordered… a fudgy, dark chocolate cupcake which had some healthy greens mixed in and which used only fruit sweeteners. What came to my rescue was an apple butter pure fruit spread – apple butter sweetened only by fruit and no sugar. The result was quite tasty, even though it wasn’t sweet.

Vegan Dark Chocolate No Sugar Cupcakes 

(makes one dozen)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup gluten free flour (I used King Arthur’s whole grain version)

1/2 cup Country Farms Super Greens powder (you can omit this and just substitute another cup of gluten free flour, if you’re not interested in adding “healthy greens”)

1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup plant based milk (I used unsweetened gluten free oat milk)

1/2 cup plant based oil (I used avocado oil because it brings out chocolate flavors well)

1 cup apple butter pure fruit spread (I found this at a local store; made with only fruit)

1 1/2 tsp gluten free vanilla

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
  2. Mix together the gluten free flour, greens, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Mix together the water, oat milk, avocado oil, apple butter, and vanilla.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, along with the vinegar and whisk together until well blended.
  5. Divide the batter evening among the twelve cups. The cupcake liners will be filled almost to the top.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the cupcakes puff and a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Mine took 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the muffin tin to a wire cooling rack and allow the cupcakes to cool about five to ten minutes in the tin before removing them. They will collapse a bit, but that is what makes them fudgy.
  8. Remove the cupcakes from the tin and cool completely. They keep well in a covered tupper ware.

 

Healthy Habits: Vegan Protein Waffles

“I did well… lasted two days….”

Happy New Year! We are two and a half weeks into 2019, and the question, of course, is how we are all doing with any resolutions we’ve made. As someone who does not make resolutions in January, I am fascinated by people who do. I understand how and why the beginning of a new year prompts us to “want to do better”. What I don’t understand is why folks want to start in the dead of winter when it’s dark and cold, and we are too depressed to sustain changes (for those of us who live in the northeast part of the United States, that is!).

I spoke with a friend recently who had decided she’d incorporate walking every morning as a new routine. The problem, of course, is that after the first two days, the weather became frigid, and the sidewalks were too icy, and she didn’t want to leave the comfort of her warm bed. As we chatted, I suggested that maybe she needed to make an attainable goal for herself instead, like occasional outdoor afternoon walks, weather permitting, which supplement indoor exercise, maybe a home video or taking a class at a gym once or twice a week.

Too often, the reason we cannot sustain New Year’s resolutions is simply that they’re too lofty. I counsel folks in my baking workshops to make little changes, one at a time, which over extended time become habits and lead to overall better healthy eating in the long run, as opposed to changing everything at once and finding it to be too overwhelming and unsustainable.

So, in that vein, the next few posts will simply be some healthy recipes which folks can incorporate as you choose into your diet, and today’s recipe is for a vegan protein waffle. Homemade waffles are great because you can control what goes into them. Since waffles can be full of carbs, though, I wanted to find a way to add some protein. Also, with so many folks going vegan these days or having food allergies, I wanted waffles which most anyone could eat. We had them as a family last weekend, and they were delicious!

Vegan Protein Waffles

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup whole grain gluten free flour blend (you can use a rice flour blend but it won’t have fiber and protein)

1 cup ground golden flaxseed

1/4 cup hemp protein powder (if you have a favorite protein powder, you can use that instead)

2 tbsp egg replacer (just put in the powder as is without mixing it with any liquid)

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups high protein “milk” (I like to use a GF soy or oat milk)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 cup plant based oil (oils like an extra light olive oil, safflower, avocado, etc…)

1 tbsp maple syrup

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Prepare and preheat your waffle maker as instructed.
  2. Mix together in a large bowl the GF flour, ground flaxseed, protein powder, egg replacer powder, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the milk with the lemon juice, and set aside.
  4. Mix together the oil, maple syrup and water. Add to the milk mixture.
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and add the vinegar. Whisk well until all the dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
  6. Cook waffles in your waffle maker as instructed.
  7. Enjoy!

NOTE: My niece told me that every time she tried to make vegan waffles they stuck to the waffle maker. I had no such issues with either of my waffle makers when we made these waffles. If you find that the waffles stick, it may simply be that your waffle maker has not been “seasoned” enough. Brushing the waffle maker with oil or spraying it with a non-propellant olive oil spray, as I do, tends to work.

Holiday Hints: Allergy Friendly Ice Cream Cake

“Don’t be people who destroy hearts….”

I watch as Yoko Kawashima Watkins, author of So Far from the Bamboo Grove, explains to a group of 7th graders that the Japanese Kanji for “busy” is a combination of the characters for “heart” and “destroy”. At 83, her body is frail but her voice is strong as she leans in closer to the children.

“Never have I told anyone that I am ‘busy’,” she says to them. “I don’t want to destroy anyone’s heart, and neither do you, right?”

Her gaze takes in each individual child as they vigorously nod their heads. They’ve already promised to thank their “honorable” parents for all that they do to take care of them (without letting their parents know that Yoko told them to do so, of course), so what could it hurt to agree with Yoko on this, too?

Later after I drive Yoko home, I think about the Japanese Kanji for “busy” and how interesting it is to me that being busy is seen as something that destroys one’s heart. Here in the States, being busy means you’re being productive, getting things done, not slacking off. When we’re “too busy”, then maybe it is something which can destroy one’s heart, but being just plain busy?

The holidays are probably a good example of what Yoko meant, though. Often the busyness of preparing for the holidays eclipses the amount of time actually spent just being with family members. For this reason, I’ve always tried to keep food prep to a minimum in favor of more time with my family, and as we think about yet another “special” dessert for New Year’s, I thought I’d share the fastest dessert recipe I have – allergy friendly ice cream cake.

You simply buy two flavors of your favorite pint size ice creams, a package or two of your favorite cookies, and a container of a chocolate frosting – all of which can be found in allergy friendly options- and within ten minutes you can assemble a dessert which will be both pretty and delicious. Below I will post the version which is pictured above.

Ice Cream Cake

Ingredients:

2 pint size containers of allergy friendly vanilla ice cream (I used So Delicious coconut milk version)

8 to 10 oz package of allergy friendly chocolate sandwich cookies (I used KinniToos)

2 cups of allergy friendly chocolate animal crackers (I used K-Kritters)

2 pint size containers of allergy friendly chocolate ice cream (I used Cados avocado version)

one cup chocolate frosting (I used Simple Mills)

Sprinkles (optional)

Assembling Instructions:

  1. Take out the four pints of ice cream and let them sit on the counter while you crush the cookies.
  2. Crush the chocolate sandwich cookies into bit size chunks and set aside.
  3. Crush the chocolate animal crackers into medium-sized crumbs.
  4. In a large bowl, scoop out the vanilla ice cream, and using a rubber spatula or wide wooden spoon, mix the chocolate sandwich cookie chunks into the ice cream until well mixed.
  5. Spread the ice cream evenly into a 10 inch spring form pan, making sure to level the ice cream flat.
  6. Sprinkle the chocolate animal cracker crumbs evenly over the layer of ice cream.
  7. Scoop out the chocolate ice cream into the large bowl and mix until the ice cream is soft and spreadable.
  8. Drop the ice cream gently in scoops to evenly cover the animal crackers. Then carefully spread the ice cream evenly over the chocolate crumbs and level the ice cream flat.
  9. Put the ice cream cake into the freezer for a few minutes while you’re working on the frosting.
  10. In a small bowl, stir the chocolate frosting until it is soft and spreadable. Spread it evenly over the ice cream cake.
  11. If desired, decorate the top of the ice cream cake with sprinkles.
  12. Put the cake back into the freezer and freeze until ready to eat.
  13. To cut the cake, run a butter knife around the edge of the pan and remove the side of the spring form pan. Run a large knife under hot water and cut the cake into wedges to serve.

 

Holiday Hints: Finger Treats

“Mercury is in retrograde….”

It began shortly before Thanksgiving. One of my daughters started having mysterious hives. My other daughter needed to come home for health reasons. The microwave wouldn’t work. The blender broke. My back went out. The drama scripts didn’t arrive as they were supposed to have. The Christmas cards fell into the mud. One of the ears of my glasses fell off. The printer went on the fritz. A gift disappeared. My mother lost a long time friend unexpectedly to undiagnosed cancer. The rice cooker became temperamental. My husband’s sleep apnea increased. BJ’s called to say my newly ordered glasses’ frames were no longer in stock.

Within the past couple of weeks, the universe seemed to be sending me a message, and when I told a friend about my experiences, she said, “Well, you know mercury has been in retrograde.” I laughed because that certainly explained it!

None of the experiences above are unusual. They are a part of life, and they happen all throughout the year, but at the holiday time, they can feel extra overwhelming because we have so many other things we are trying to do… buying presents, attending holiday parties, going to the children’s winter concerts and recitals, planning for family gatherings. And when we have food allergies and need to bring goodies to share, the pressure can sometimes feel like it’s too much.

That’s why I have some easy finger treats which I fall back upon for holiday treating of folks, and when I received an email yesterday asking about what someone could easily make for a party, I decided I’d post some ideas for anyone else who might be wondering the same thing.

One of my favorite easy treats is Chocolate Truffles because they only require two ingredients, are quick to make, and if you put them into little cupcake liners and put them on a plate, folks think you’ve worked hard when you haven’t.

Another simple treat is what I have pictured above which are cheesecake bites. When I make cheesecake and have leftovers, I turn those leftovers into the bites to bring to parties by scooping out tablespoons of the cheesecake and rolling them in gluten free graham cracker crumbs. For the holidays, using Cranberry Cheesecake or Ginger Spice Cheesecake are always good choices. If you haven’t made any cheesecake recently, you can use store bought cheesecake (Daiya makes an allergy friendly version which you can often find in the freezer section of grocery stores) which you bring to room temperature and then roll into the bites. What’s great is you can vary the crumb coating by also using your favorite cookies which you crush. Then, when you put the bites into muffin liners with the different types of coating, they look pretty.

A treat I just made last week are what I call “butter melts”. You take your favorite “butter” as in peanut butter or almond butter or sunbutter or cashew butter… whichever you prefer and fits your allergy needs, mix it with some vegan butter and a little bit of powdered sugar, and roll them into balls and put them into the freezer on wax or parchment paper for about ten to 15 minutes until they’ve hardened and you can coat them with chocolate. The recipes you will find online use crazy amounts of real butter and powdered sugar. I cut the amounts considerably, and for 1 cup of sunbutter, I use a tablespoon of vegan butter and just enough powdered sugar to make the “butter” rollable, which is always less than the cup to two cups called for in regular recipes. I also don’t dip the balls into the chocolate. I simply drizzle chocolate over the top, put them into the freezer for a few minutes, flip and drizzle the other side and put them back into the freezer for another couple of minutes. Much easier, neater, and quicker than dipping! For the chocolate coating, just melt allergy friendly chocolate chips with a tsp or two of a fat like coconut oil or avocado oil or vegan butter or shortening until the chips melt when you stir them. I usually do this in 20 second intervals.

A final finger treat idea I offer is making your own chocolate bark. This is fun as well as quick. Simply put 10 to 12 ounces of your favorite allergy friendly chocolate chips into a large microwavable bowl with 2 to 3 tsp of your favorite fat (coconut oil, vegan shortening, vegan butter, a plant based oil) and melt in the microwave in 20 seconds intervals until stirring the chips completely dissolves them. Put wax paper or parchment paper in a 10 x 15 pan and spread the chocolate mixture to cover the pan. Sprinkle the chocolate with whatever you want (peppermint candies, nuts, chocolates, pretzels, m & m’s, cookie chunks, etc…) and put the pan into the fridge until the chocolate hardens. Then you break them up into bite size pieces and arrange them in muffin liners to look pretty.