Recipe Revamping: Lemon Berry Tart

“It’s for Mothers’ Day….”

I confess: I’m not fond of Mothers’ Day. Not because I don’t believe mothers should be appreciated, but because the way it’s celebrated in the U.S., Mothers’ Day seems to be about getting my children to take me out to a restaurant where I can’t eat the food, buy me flowers and chocolate which I’m allergic to, and/or make one more thing for me in school for me to find someplace to put and then dust for years to come.

It’s true that it’s nice to receive a card in which each of my children have written in their own hand how much they appreciate me, but even that, I also confess, is a bit tainted because I’ve caught them too many times hastily writing the script the morning of Mothers’ Day on a card which one of them quickly made because they forgot to do anything ahead of time.

To be completely honest, the best gift I could receive on Mothers’ Day is that the family would resolve to clean up after themselves the other 364 days of the year.

Since that’s not likely to happen any time soon, though, instead, I’ve made Mothers’ Day a time when the family has to what I’d like, whether they like it or not. So, one year I dragged them to an art museum. Another time, we saw a “mama” movie. This year, I decided it would about food I enjoy, so I spent the day making a number of items the family doesn’t consider a “favorite” – foods like grilled eggplant and roasted asparagus and baked tofu in white wine sauce.

Since I spend the other 364 days of the year catering to the family’s food tastes, I figure the Mothers’ Day meal can be about me for a change. So, for dessert, I made a lemon berry tart instead of what the children wanted, which was cake, which frankly I’m quite tired of eating. I wanted something that tasted like Spring.

Most of the recipes I found, though, seemed to use a lot of sugar and heavy cream, and of course, the tart crust was all white flour with lots of butter. So, I did a little bit of revamping. Instead of white flour, I mixed gluten free oat flour with whole rolled oats, added orange peel and nutmeg, and used just a bit of honey and vegan butter for a nice whole grain, protein filled crust. Then for the filling, I combined some tofu cream cheese with freshly squeezed lemon juice and again, a bit of honey. I arranged fresh berries in a pretty arrangement and topped it with sliced mint leaves.

It is everything I could wish for Mothers’ Day this year.

Lemon Berry Tart

Ingredients:

1 cup gluten free whole rolled oats

1 cup gluten free oat flour

1 tsp dried orange peel

1 tsp nutmeg

4 tbsp vegan butter

1/4 cup honey

Two 8 oz tofu cream cheese

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

blueberries

raspberries

blackberries

mint leaves, thinly sliced

1 tbsp Polaner Raspberry All-Fruit

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 or 9.5 inch pie pan with your preferred method.
  2. In a food processor, combine the oats, oat flour, orange peel and nutmeg and zoop until crumbly.
  3. Add the vegan butter and zoop until well combined.
  4. Add the honey and zoop until a small dough ball forms.
  5. Using your clean hands, shape the dough to match the shape of the pie pan.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then remove the crust and let it cool completely.
  7. In a mixer, whip the tofu cream cheese until it is smooth.
  8. Add the honey and lemon juice and mix until everything is well combined.
  9. Spread the filling into the prepared crust and top with the berries.
  10. Sprinkle the top with the sliced mint leaves.
  11. Melt the Polaner All Fruit and drizzle over the leaves and berries.
  12. Refrigerate the tart until you are ready to eat it.

 

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Healthy Habits: Easy Allergy Friendly Company Meal

Help….

This past weekend, my family traveled to New Jersey to celebrate my niece’s First Communion. The reception afterwards was at a beautiful, well-reputed restaurant where my brother had rented a room, complete with a buffet of assorted options from seafood, beef, and chicken to pasta and rice to salads and roasted vegetables. Of the ten items to choose from, I could eat three. The rest were all cooked in butter.

Fortunately, my brother had arranged for a special plate to be made for me, but it can be sad to be the odd person out, watching folks enjoy food you can’t have. This experience was fresh in my mind when a friend called to ask if there was something quick and easy she could make that would also be a “nice, company meal” because she was hosting a dinner where one person had severe food allergies. No wheat, eggs, dairy, nut, soy, or citrus foods could be served.

I applauded her desire to make something which everyone could eat and immediately thought of one of my go-to meals, chicken and vegetables. This may seem like a ho-hum meal to serve company, but if you roast whole carrots with sliced zucchini and bake tender, seasoned chicken breasts and serve both with a beet sauce, the experience becomes more than ho-hum, and if you look at the pictures, the food looks pretty, too, which enhances the appetite.

What’s even better, is that the entire meal takes only about 45 minutes from beginning to end to make, which gives you plenty of time to hang with your guests. While the veggies roast, you work on the chicken, and while the chicken cooks, you work on the sauce.

Company Baked Chicken Breasts and Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients:

2 lb bag of whole carrots, peeled (normal size, not crazy, huge ones)

Zucchini, sliced lengthwise into quarters, about size to eight medium-sized ones

6 chicken breasts, 4 ounces each (palm size portion, not crazy, hormone-induced size)

olive oil

onion powder

garlic powder

oregano

thyme

tarragon

red pepper flakes

black pepper

1 1/2 cups cooked beets (I buy precooked, ready to go ones in the vegetable section)

1 cup unsalted, no sugar chicken bone broth (I find this at my local grocery store)

1 tsp minced garlic

2 tbsp chopped onion

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground ginger

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Lightly coat the carrots with olive oil and place into a large oven proof pan which will hold the carrots in a single layer with space left for the zucchini to be added.
  3. Roast for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the carrots.
  4. Remove the pan, stir the carrots, lightly coat the zucchini quarters in olive oil, and add them to the pan.
  5. Roast for 5 minutes, remove the pan and stir, adding onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, tarragon, red pepper flakes and black pepper – all to your liking.
  6. Roast for another 5 minutes and arrange the vegetables on an oven safe, serving platter, and set aside. Turn the heat down to 450 degrees.
  7. While the vegetables are roasting in the oven, line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper and lightly brush olive oil on both sides of the chicken breasts. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with the onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, tarragon, red pepper flakes and black pepper – to your taste and liking.
  8. Cover the chicken breasts with another piece of parchment paper, tucking the ends in around the chicken into the pan.
  9. Bake the chicken for 15 minutes.
  10. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it sit, exactly as it is with the parchment covering it, and turn down the heat to 300 degrees. Let the chicken sit for 10 minutes to reabsorb its juices.
  11. Put the veggies which have been transferred to an oven safe serving platter into the oven to finish cooking while the chicken sits for the 10 minutes.
  12. While the chicken breasts are resting and the veggies are finishing, put the cooked beets into a blender with the bone broth, garlic, onions, cumin and ginger, and puree until completely smooth.
  13. Pour the sauce into a microwave safe, serving pitcher, and microwave for a minute at a time until the sauce is warm.
  14. After the 10 minute resting time, remove the parchment paper from the chicken, remove the veggie platter from the oven, and serve both with the warmed beet sauce.

 

 

 

Healthy Habits: Broccoli Muffins

“He won’t eat vegetables….”

A friend with a young son who is a picky eater reached out to me a few weeks ago. I was in the midst of the busiest time of my drama season but I wanted to help her anyway. Her son’s pediatrician had said she needed to get more green vegetables into his diet, but he refused to eat vegetables. Since he has had food allergies for most of his young life, he has adapted to being picky about what he eats.

As I mentioned, I was in a rather busy time of life so trying to figure out a recipe he would eat was not high on my ideal list of using my time, so I decided that I’d consider a muffin recipe to make. One, muffins are quick and easy. Two, we could eat them with most anything as I was experimenting. Three, children like muffins, and adults can hide most anything in a muffin.

In the end I worked out a savory broccoli muffin which my family really liked and which my friend’s son ended up liking, too. He apparently never even realized it had broccoli in it! So, I share it here for you to try for yourself.

Broccoli Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups whole grain gluten free flour blend

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp ground onion powder

1/4 tsp ground thyme powder

1 cup chopped broccoli florets

2 slices vegan cheese (I used Chao cheddar)

1 cup liquid egg whites

1 cup unsweetened oat milk

1/2 cup extra light olive oil

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, oregano, basil, pepper, ground onion, and ground thyme, and set aside.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the broccoli florets with the vegan cheese slices into you have well blended small pieces.
  4. Mix the broccoli and cheese mixture into the dry ingredients.
  5. Add to the dry ingredients the egg whites, oat milk, and olive oil, and mix quickly, just until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet and well blended.
  6. Divide the batter among the muffin tins and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until puffed, golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 

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!

 

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.