Corona Cooking: Vegan Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

“It is all too much…”

For three months, the world has been in various stages of shutdown due to the pandemic. Bubbling tensions of hundreds of years of injustice is rising to the surface again. People we have known and loved have died, and the only comfort we can give to the families is through virtual funerals. Our family life has been upturned by an ongoing health issue. My brother and many people we know are worried that they will lose their businesses. Relatives and friends have lost their jobs altogether. People we care about have been exposed to and/or contracted the virus. We have not seen family and friends in person for months due to travel bans. For the first time in 25 years, I am back in that stage of applying and interviewing for jobs – just as jobs have become scarcer.

The other day, one of my children made the comment that “It is all too much.” I understood what she meant. At times, life can feel overwhelming. These are situations which we have little control over so they cause much stress, worry, and anxiety. We like to be in control. We want to be able to “do” something, to fix the problems. When we can do nothing, it leaves us floundering.

So, I find myself doing all the routine things. Making my bed in the morning. Mowing the grass when it is high. Gardening. Cleaning. Cooking.

As I continue with my routines, I pray.  I pray for all that I mentioned above. I pray for the people I know. I pray for the people I do not know. I pray for our state, our country, our world. I pray and ask, “Is there anything I can do at all?”

And I realize I can continue to love my children. I can lend support to my friends and strangers as I am able. I can attend social justice gatherings in my town. I can remember that every time one person takes a stand for good, others will join, and amazing things can happen.

And I can share with you my thoughts and my recipes: For those days when maybe you need a little lift, try this vegan, gluten free chocolate-chocolate chip-zucchini cake the children and I made the other day. Comfort food which you can feel good about eating.

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake 

Ingredients:

2 tbsp ground flax seed

6 tbsp hot water

2 1/2 cup gluten free flour blend

1 cup coconut sugar (if allergic, use golden monk fruit sweetener or truvia-sugar blend)

1/4 cup Hershey Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

3/4 cup plant-based oil (extra light olive oil, safflower oil, avocado oil, melted coconut oil, etc…)

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup dairy free milk (oat, soy, flax, etc…)

2 1/2 cups grated zucchini

Baking instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the ground flax seed with the hot water and set aside to gel, stirring every once in a while.
  3. Mix together the flour with the coconut sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.
  4. Mix the flax seed gel with the oil, vanilla, and milk. Add the grated zucchini.
  5. Stir in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and blend until well-mixed. Batter will be thick.
  6. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, turning halfway through. The cake will be done when it is puffed, pulling away from the sides and firm to the touch.
  7. Put the pan on a wire cooling rack to cool. It is delicious warm and gooey from the oven, and just as good when it is cooled.

Happy Mothers’ Day: Layered Eggplant and Tomatoes

 

“It’s snowing…?”

Today is Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, and yet yesterday, it snowed on and off all day. When I spoke with my father about it on the phone, he said, “Maybe Mother Nature has the corona virus, and it’s affected her seasons.”

As we are all too aware, the pandemic has definitely affected our lives over the past many months, and I know that one of the ways I have been impacted is that for the first time in a long time, I find myself tired of trying to come up with dinner plans each and every day. With the virus impacting my ability to shop for groceries, our menus have been more limited, and thus has become rather boring.

However, since this is Mother’s Day weekend, the family decided to rise to the occasion. One of my daughters and my son made chocolate covered strawberries, and I decided I really wanted something summery since the weather was not cooperating on that front. Fortunately, I was able to get some eggplant and a variety pack of heirloom tomatoes. Using fresh basil and a vegan parmesan, I created a layered entree which was quite tasty and well worth the work.

I share it with you in case, you too, are looking for inspiration to liven up meal-time during the pandemic.

Layered Eggplant and Tomatoes

Ingredients: Amounts will depend on how much you are making and the size pan you are using.

eggplant

olive oil

oregano

basil

salt

pepper

pear tomatoes

grape tomatoes

cherry tomatoes

fresh basil leaves

minced garlic

vegan parmesan

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Slice washed and dried eggplant into 1/4 circles.
  2. Lay out eggplant circles on a large pan.
  3. Brush both sides of the eggplant circles with olive oil and sprinkle each side with oregano, basil, salt and pepper.
  4. Either grill or broil the eggplant a couple of minutes on both sides until browned.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. In an oven safe dish, lay out cooked eggplant circles to cover the bottom.
  7. Slice tomatoes into halves and layer on top of the eggplant.
  8. Slice the fresh basil leaves and sprinkle on top of the tomatoes.
  9. Sprinkle minced garlic on top of the basil.
  10. Sprinkle the vegan parmesan on top of the basil.
  11. Repeat layers until you reach the top of your dish.
  12. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  13. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Handling Holidays: Grain Free, Vegan Pumpkin Pie

“It’s just one more thing….”

The song tells us that “it is the most wonderful time of the year,” but all too often it is also the most stressful time of the year. On top of the usual routines and busyness, we add having to prepare for festive dinners and company, present shopping, holiday recitals and business gatherings, and a myriad of other events and preparations which are squashed into a six week period of time.

If you add on top of all that having to make sure that the food you prepare can accommodate Uncle Bob’s dietary restrictions and little Susan’s food allergies, it can become overwhelming – as one mom mentioned to me this week. She needed to know how to make a pumpkin pie which was grain free, vegan, and nut free. She figured the nut free part she could do, but she didn’t know what to do about the grain free and vegan parts.

So, I went to work. Instead of wheat flour and butter for the crust, I used Cassava flour and vegan butter which are grain free and vegan, but decreased the butter from 16 tbsp to 10, which was more than enough. For the pumpkin filling, I used flax milk and arrow root flour to substitute for the evaporated milk and egg, both of which are grain free and vegan. Because this would affect the silky, custardy texture, though, of the pie, I added a small amount of oil to the filling to increase the fat content but which added good fats instead of bad. For both the crust and the pie, I omitted sugar, using only a small amount of agave and some monk fruit sweetener for the filling so folks could really taste the pumpkin. For added flavor for both the crust and filling, I used spices and orange peel. The result was a tasty pie which the whole family could enjoy.

Vegan, Grain Free Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients for the crust: (will make two crusts)

2 1/2 cups cassava flour

1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp grated, dried orange peel

1 cup plus 2 tbsp vegan butter

1 tbsp vinegar

6 to 10 tbsp cold water

Ingredients for filling: (filling is for one pie; double for two)

2 3/4 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin

1 1/2 cup unsweetened flax milk (can use soy or almond milk if you prefer; just make sure it has no grain starches added)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp grated, dried orange peel

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp agave

1/4 golden monk fruit sweetener blend

1 tbsp arrow root flour

1 tbsp extra light olive oil

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients for the crust: the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel.
  3. Cut in the butter with a pastry knife or grate cold butter squares with a grater into the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Add the vinegar and cold water, beginning with 6 tbsp and adding one tablespoon at a time as needed until the doug is moistened and holds together well for rolling.
  5. Form the dough into two balls and then pat into disc shape. Roll one of the balls between two pieces of wax or parchment paper dusted with flour to fit 9 or 9.5 inch pie pans. (If making two pies, do the same with the other ball. If only making one pie, wrap the disc tightly in plastic wrap twice and put into the fridge. Will last for a couple of weeks. Just be sure to let it sit at room temperature before rolling for use.)
  6. Shape the crust in the pie pan and set aside.
  7. Combine the pumpkin, flax milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, orange peel, salt, agave, and monk fruit sweetener until well blended.
  8. Add the arrow root flour and olive oil. Mix well.
  9. Pour into the prepared crust.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 40 minutes until the filling has puffed a bit and only jiggles in the center.
  11. Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack for 15 to 30 minutes, before placing in the fridge to cool and set completely.
  12. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Creative Cooking: Free Form Tomato Vegetable Tart

“The season is ending….”

While Autumn brings the delights of apple and pumpkin season, it also means the end of the garden-fresh tomatoes, eggplants and kale, which arguably taste so much better than store-purchased varieties. To take advantage of the last of these veggies, courtesy of my sister-in-law’s and mother-in-law’s gardens, I decided I’d make a vegetable tart to go with the vegan roast I had decided to make for dinner last night.

I forewarn folks that this is not my typical recipe – it is not quick to make. It requires time but I assure you it’s so worth the effort, which is the reason I put aside my usual laziness in favor of making the tart. I also figured out how to do several of the steps at once to make the cooking more efficient, which I’ll include in the instructions.

The key to a good tart is a good crust. When I googled, though, I discovered that recipes seemed to think you needed to use no less than 1 1/2 to 2 cups of butter, eggs, white flour, and a couple of teaspoons of salt, and in some case, also sugar – all of which I didn’t agree. So, the first step was to create a tart dough which I could stand by. That meant reducing and substituting for the butter and salt, omitting eggs, and using gluten free flour. To enhance the flavor of the crust and keep the crust together without as much butter, I opted to pulse in fresh basil leaves which worked beautifully.

The second important ingredient to a good tart is the flavor from the veggies. What I found, though, is that most vegetable tart recipes seem to rely on cheese – a lot of cheese – which does give flavor but camouflages the flavor of the veggies. So, I needed to find ways to enhance the flavors so cheese would not be necessary. This meant roasting the eggplant, caramelizing onions to mix with the kale, and letting the tomatoes rest for a bit with a salt-garlic mixture.

The result was a wonderful tart which we thoroughly enjoyed with dinner and which I hope you will, too. I’m thinking it will become a go-to for holiday celebrations because it was so pretty, flavorful, and vegan.

Free Form Tomato-Vegetable Tart

Ingredients:

two small eggplants (about 4-5 inches long and 2-3 inches wide)

2 cups gluten free flour blend

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves (packed means push the leaves down; if you loosely put them in, it would be 2 cups)

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup soy free vegan butter, cut into small pieces (two 8 tbsp bars)

1 tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar but balsamic or white are good if you want a different flavor)

1/4 cup water

eight medium tomatoes (about 3 inches by 3 inches; I used two different types for color contrast)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp minced garlic

8 oz sliced onions (about two cups; I used sweet white onions)

olive oil

5 oz fresh kale and/or spinach leaves (about 3 cups packed down)

1/4 cup vegan parmesan

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin slices

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prick the eggplants several times with fork tines to release steam while they are roasting. When the oven is preheated, place the eggplants on a small cookie sheet and roast them for about 40 minutes. When they are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. Do not turn off the oven, because you will be cooking the tart at the same temperature.
  2. While the oven is preheating, put the gluten free flour, the basil leaves and the salt into a food processor. Pulse until they are thoroughly mixed together and the basil leaves are small pieces incorporated into the flour. Add the vegan butter and pulse until small butter pieces are incorporated throughout the flour mixture. Mix the vinegar with the water and pour into the food processor. Pulse until you have a cohesive dough. Use a rubber scraper to remove the dough from the food processor onto a piece of saran wrap. Wrap the dough and shape into a disk. Place into the refrigerator. (If you do not have a food processor, use a pastry knife or two regular knives to chop first the basil and then the butter into the flour, and then mix the liquid into the flour with a fork until a batter forms.)
  3. After putting the eggplant into the oven and the tart dough into the fridge, slice the tomatoes into about 1/4 inch slices and put them into a large bowl. (I used two different colors of tomatoes [four of each] so that they’d look prettier in the tart, but all of the same type works, too.) To the tomatoes in the bowl, add the salt and minced garlic and gently toss to coat all the tomatoes. Then just let the tomatoes sit. While they are sitting, they will release their juices, which is what you want to happen.
  4. After getting the tomatoes ready, put the sliced onions into a shallow, wide cooking pan and mix with just enough olive oil to coat the onions. Turn the burner to low heat and allow the onions to slowly cook for about 20 minutes, stirring just every once and while. When the onions are completely caramelized, they will be a golden brown, soft, and look like they have a sticky sauce on them. When they are done, add the kale and/or spinach leaves and cook for about two minutes, just until the leaves begin to wilt and the onions and kale/spinach are well mixed together. When done, turn off the burner and let them cool.
  5. By now, your eggplants will be done and cooled a bit. Peel off the skins (this is easily done with clean fingers), chop the eggplants into small pieces, and stir the pieces into the onion-kale mixture.
  6. After that is done, drain the liquid from the tomatoes.
  7. Remove the tart dough from the fridge, and on a piece of floured parchment or directly on a cookie sheet, roll the dough into a 16 inch circle. (I used a 16 inch round pizza pan which meant simply rolling the dough out to the edges of the pan with a small roller that fit directly in the pan. If you use the parchment paper, you will need to transfer the dough to a sheet pan large enough to fit the circle of dough.)
  8. Sprinkle the vegan parmesan onto the dough, leaving a one inch margin around the edge of the dough. (The parmesan will help absorb any extra moisture from the vegetables so you do want to include it. If you would rather not for any reason, I suggest using a 1/4 cup of gluten free bread crumbs instead.)
  9. Carefully put the onion-kale-eggplant mixture on top of the sprinkled parmesan, leaving that one inch margin along the edges of the dough. Then, if using two kinds of tomatoes, alternate the tomatoes in circles on top of the onion-kale-eggplant mixture. Make sure the veggies are even all the way around.
  10. Then, using clean fingers and the help of a rubber scraper, gently push up the one inch margin of dough to form an outside crust around the vegetables. Once the crust is formed, sprinkle the sliced basil on top of the tomatoes to the edge of the crust.
  11. In the still preheated 400 degree oven, place the tart and bake for a total of 50 minutes, turning the tart around halfway through the cooking time. When the tart is done, the dough would have puffed a bit, be golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  12. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into it, so that all the juices will settle, and it will be easier to cut. Use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the tart into slices.

 

 

 

 

Creative Cooking: Vegan Chocolate Chip Muffins

“Yes, a pick me up….”

When I was a younger mom with younger children, no one told me that I should consider those the “easier” years of being a mom. Perpetually exhausted from lack of sleep, newly learning how to be a parent, mentally and emotionally perplexed by each new developmental-stage challenge, it can seem like those parenting years are the most difficult.

Today, as an older mom of both grown and teenage children, I sometimes yearn for those- what I know now to be – “easier” days of parenting. Back then, there were challenges but most everything was within our control as parents. We could enforce bed times, make rules for behavior, put the children in car seats and strollers to keep them safe, and find a myriad of books which told us how to toilet train, get them to sleep in their own beds, and encourage their emotional abilities to interact with the world around them.

With older children, the challenges are much more challenging and mostly out of our control to fix, the children are not bound by anything we say or offer, and the few books which are out there agree that all we can do is be there for our children and hope and pray for the best.

So, some days, I just need a little pick-me-up, a treat, to keep me going in the middle of a long day of driving between colleges and home or helping with a problem long-distance by phone. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you already know that I fully believe in comfort eating now and then. Obviously, you don’t want to overindulge all the time in too many “not as good for you” foods, nor do you want to use food as a way of dealing with your problems, because it doesn’t work. At the same time, a well-timed small treat once in a while when you’re in need of something to give you a bit of energy – physically, mentally, and emotionally – is not necessarily a bad thing.

Hence, this week’s post on vegan, gluten free chocolate chip muffins. They hit the spot, as they say. I like to make them as mini muffins because just one mini muffin usually does the trick for me, but the children prefer them regular size because otherwise they’d be likely to eat three or four of the little ones.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup unsweetened vegan/plant based milk (we use soy or flax or oat)

1 tbsp vinegar (choose white, apple cider, or raspberry)

2 cups your favorite gluten free flour blend (I like King Arthur’s whole grain blend)

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup coconut sugar or monk fruit golden sweetener

6 tbsp plant oil (we use safflower or avocado or extra light olive oil)

2 tsp gluten free vanilla extract

Baking Instructions:
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12 regular-sized muffin tin or 24 mini-muffin tin with appropriately sized cupcake liners or grease the tins with your preferred method, and set aside.
    2. Mix together the “milk” and vinegar to make a “buttermilk”. Allow it to thicken.
    3. Combine together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and chocolate chips.
    4. Add to the “buttermilk”, the coconut sugar, oil, and vanilla extract.
    5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until all dry ingredients are moistened.
    6. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin tins of choice.
    7. Bake in the preheated oven until puffed, golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Larger muffins will take about 20-25 minutes. Mini muffins will take 10-15 minutes.
    8. Let the muffins cool in the tins for 5 minutes; then remove them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Healthy Habits: Baked Pears

“He has to be careful about his levels….”

Every summer, we head to the Adirondack mountains to work at the family forest my husband’s family has run for over 60 years. Since I am allergic to everything God has created in nature, I act as the chief cook as opposed to wandering around in the woods, measuring and counting trees. As the chef, I am often cooking meals for anywhere between eight to 20 people for any given meal. This means often taking into account not just my own food allergies but other people’s food restrictions as well.

This year, I needed to be careful about foods which would spike glucose levels for diabetics, so I was trying to avoid making a lot of cakes and cookies, and I opted instead for fruit desserts like a blueberry cobbler which I made with oat biscuits which used no sugar for either the blueberries or the biscuits.

This morning, however, I needed a dessert for a brunch and wanted something healthy but not necessarily a lot of work. At the store, I noticed that they had ripe Bartlett pears on sale, so I purchased those and set about making something for the brunch. As I googled, I noticed that the most common pear dessert is to poach them, but that required watching them on the stove and thickening syrups and such, all of which was too much work.

So, I decided that I’d simply bake them with a little bit of cinnamon and honey and whole rolled oats.  The result was a nice, light dessert, which was perfect for the brunch and well received. One person said that she didn’t usually like pears but liked the dessert. So, I call that a success.

Baked Pears

Ingredients:

8 ripe Bartlett pears

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp hot water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp very finely chopped ginger, almost like a paste

1/2 cup gluten free whole rolled oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cloves

1 tbsp vegan soy free butter, melted

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut pears in half, remove stems by pulling them down the middle to remove the hard core, and then core out the center seeds. (I just use a small spoon.)
  3. Lay the pears in one or two pans, which are large enough to hold them.
  4. Mix together the honey, hot water, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger until well blended. Drizzle over the pears.
  5. Combine the oats with the cinnamon, cloves and melted vegan butter. Spoon them evenly into the holes left by coring out the seeds.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 30 minutes (will depend on the ripeness of your pears) until the pears are golden and warm.
  7. You can eat them as is or serve them with ice cream or whipped cream.

Healthy Habits: Oatmeal Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies

“It’s been soooo long….”

If you were to peruse the recipes on this site, you would notice that the cake recipes far outnumber cookie recipes. There are several reasons for that. The first is that cookies require so much more time than cakes. When one is pressed for time to make a dessert, cookies are not the most efficient to make.

The second is that “healthy” cookies are trickier to make. Adding fruits and vegetables to cakes is easy. Using them in cookies usually just means a really soft cookie which won’t keep for more than a couple of days. Swapping whole grain flours adds some protein and fiber but if you want a cookie which isn’t dry and crumbly, you still need a substantial amount of fat because cookies don’t usually require much in the way of liquid ingredients, which precludes using liquid plant oils, which affects the taste and texture of cookies anyway. And while there are many options on the market to substitute for the sugar, the fact is that they do affect the texture and taste of cookies.

The third is that I find that folks have a way of eating a whole lot of cookies in a sitting because their size and lack of filling makes eating many easy to do. This, of course, is not healthy eating, so it is easier to make cakes and control the portions.

This week, however, my son asked if I would make cookies. As he reminded me, I haven’t made any since Christmas which is when I usually spend weeks making many different type of holiday cookies for the season.

I wanted to make a cookie which I would feel good about my son eating, and of course, I also wanted it to taste good, because it’s not worth eating something that doesn’t, in my opinion. And I wanted it to be a cookie where one would fill him and not make him want a second or third or more in one sitting.

After some thinking I decided that I’d make an oatmeal cookie because oats have protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. I also decided I’d make them with chocolate chips so I could use the sugar from the chips as opposed to adding sugar, and I would use dark chocolate chips because dark chocolate chips would have less sugar and more beneficial flavonoids. I also opted to make them vegan so that I could make them in the future for the vegan side of the family. Finally I added some chopped non-crystalized, candied ginger for a special flavor.

The cookies came out great and fit all my parameters. They had healthy oats, less sugar, a great taste, and eating just one was satisfying.

Oatmeal Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup gluten free whole rolled oats, processed into oat flour

1 1/2 cup gluten free whole rolled oats, as is

1 1/2 cup whole grain gluten free flour blend

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life’s 69% dark chocolate chips)

2 to 4 tbsp non-crystalized, candied ginger (use less if you just want a hint; more if you want a more pronounced ginger taste)

1 cup dark chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life’s 69% dark chocolate chips)

3/4 cup vegan, soy free butter

1/4 cup applesauce

1/4 cup honey

Baking Instructions:

  1. You will wait to preheat the oven because the dough needs to be refrigerated first.
  2. In a food processor, process the one cup of oats until you have something resembling flour. To the oat “flour” add the whole rolled oats, gluten free flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a food processor, process the one cup of dark chocolate chips with the candied ginger until you have small, fine pieces. Add it to the dry ingredients and mix well.
  4. Stir in the remaining one cup of dark chocolate chips.
  5. In a mixer, cream the vegan butter. Add the applesauce and honey and mix well, scraping down the sides as needed.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until the dough is well blended.
  7. Cover the bowl and put the dough into the fridge for at least one hour and no more than 24.
  8. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cover cookies sheets with parchment paper.
  9. Using a quarter cup scoop, place level, quarter cup portions of the dough onto the cookies sheets with space in between to spread. Use a fork to crisscross the dough into a slightly flatter circle.
  10. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cookies are browned, larger, and slightly stiff to the touch.
  11. Put the cookie sheet on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes. Remove the cookies to the wire cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.
  12. They can be stored in an airtight container for several days.

NOTE: These are large cookies because I always keep in mind that summer is a good time to make ice cream cookie sandwiches. *grin*  You can halve the size by using 2 level tablespoons instead and reducing the cooking time.

 

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

one 8 oz tofu cream cheese

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp 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.

 

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: 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.