Shortcut Cooking: Oatmeal Date Cookies

“We haven’t made cookies in a while….”

My husband had some errands to run, and my high school daughter was playing with the band at an event. So, this left my son and I to occupy our time together. Since I had a workshop coming up, I suggested that we do some baking.

The problem was deciding what to bake. I’d had a series of workshops recently and done a lot of baking so I was a bit tired of the same ol’, same ol’, which were a stock series of recipes which I usually make for the workshops because they’re quick and easy in addition to representing the various different substitutions I teach about in the workshops.

My son’s suggestion was that we make cookies because we hadn’t made them in a long, long time.

There was a reason for that…. I have found that cookies take longer to make, both in the assembling and in the baking. But my son was correct, that we hadn’t made any in a while, and they would be something different. So, we went to work creating a recipe.

I decided that if we were going to bake cookies, I wanted to make something that would be quick. This meant beginning with what we had in the pantry and not creating everything from scratch. So, we opted to use a gluten free flour blend that I had already made up for another item and had leftovers of in the pantry. We also decided to use pre-chopped, store-bought dates which we found in the pantry as well. Because I’m always trying to be healthy, we chose to make oatmeal cookies with whole rolled oats, also in in the pantry, and to use coconut sugar instead of white sugar so I could use half the amount I’d have to use of white sugar.

Using the mixer sped the assembling process up, and because we decided to make oatmeal cookies, we could simply drop the batter onto the parchment paper and flatten them without any rolling or forming. By using vegan butter, I minimized the spreading so I could put 16 cookies (the 1 tbsp size) instead of 12 to a cookie sheet which meant all the cookies fit onto just four cookie sheets, so I could bake two sheets at a time in the oven, resulting in only 20 minutes of baking time.

The result was that from when we started rummaging in the pantry to when the second batch of two cookie sheets came out, it was less than 45 minutes. Now, those are cookies worth making!

Oatmeal Date Cookies

(These make about 60 small cookies or 30 large cookies.)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup Gluten Free flour blend (I used a homemade blend of garbanzo bean and sorghum flours mixed with tapioca and potato starch)

3 cups Gluten Free whole rolled oats

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

8 oz pkg pitted, dried, chopped dates

1 cup vegan soy free butter or coconut oil or natural shortening

1 cup coconut sugar

2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 6 tbsp water (Mix ahead of time and let it sit)

2 tbsp additional water

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together in a bowl the flour, oats, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in the dates. Set aside
  3. In a mixer, cream the butter with the coconut sugar.
  4. Add the flaxseed mixture with the dry ingredients and the additional water. Mix until well combined.
  5. On the prepared cookie sheets, drop the cookie batter by 1 tablespoon-full for smaller cookies (2 inch diameter) or 2 tablespoons-full for larger cookies (4 inch diameter). Leave about an inch in between the cookies.
  6. Press the dough down with a fork in both directions and bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes for the small cookies until the cookies are puffed, golden and stiff to the tough. For the larger cookies, turn the pan around after 8-10 minutes and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
  7. Allow the cookies to cool for a couple of minutes on the cookies sheets before moving them to a wire cooling rack with a spatula to cool completely.

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

Ingredients:

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.

 

 

 

 

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

Ingredients:

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.