Healthy Habits: Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies

“You’d have to do the impossible….”

As a child my father told me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and I believed him. His words served me well as I grew, helping me to succeed at things folks were quick to say I could not, to endure difficult situations I felt ill-equipped to handle, and to learn how do things I might not have otherwise tried.

I did learn that simply setting one’s mind isn’t always enough, of course, but at the end of the day, having confidence that you can achieve does tend to open up possibilities which are closed to folks who don’t even make the attempt.

So, when a friend who is allergic to wheat, dairy, soy, rice, apples, nuts, peanuts, coconut, flax seed, eggs, and bananas told me she hadn’t had a brownie in 15 years, I took up the challenge. How could I not? What did it matter that I couldn’t use any of the usual substitutions for traditional ingredients in brownies? I was determined to make a brownie my friend could eat.

My friend wasn’t convinced I could make a brownie from “nothing” as she said, and especially not one that would taste like a brownie, but it helped that she wasn’t allergic to avocados and that she wanted a fudgy brownie as opposed to a cakey or chewy one.

The beauty of avocados is that they can substitute for eggs and the fat as one item so both eggs and butter could be substituted for in the traditional brownie recipe. Most nontraditional recipes would then use a dairy free milk but my friend is allergic to most versions. I opted to use water but I needed the water to be thick. Using unsweetened chocolate as part of my flavoring added the thickness I needed to the water. Then, I only needed to refine the chocolate-ly taste by adding unsweetened special dark cocoa powder, Enjoy life mini chocolate chips, and cinnamon.

I tried the brownies out on a group before taking them to my friend, and the reviews were positive, and one person commented, “The whole piece tastes like the inside of a brownie, which is the best part!”

When I took a pan to my friend, she couldn’t believe I had done it – made a brownie she could eat. I, of course, had trusted that once again my father’s words would be true!

Triple Chocolate Avocado Brownies

Ingredients:

1 cup mashed ripe avocado (usually two avocados)

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 cup boiling water

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup agave

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

3/4 cup Hershey special dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mash the avocado in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Place the unsweetened chocolate into a measuring cup or bowl which can sustain heat and pour the boiling water over it. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the liquid is slightly thick.
  4. Add the chocolate water mixture to the avocados, along with the vanilla and agave.
  5. In a smaller bowl, mix the flour with the unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until moistened.
  7. Add the chocolate chips and stir until the batter is well mixed.
  8. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until the brownies are slightly puffed and just a slight indent remains in the center when you touch it.
  9. Allow the brownies to cool in the pan on top of a cooling rack.
  10. Remove the brownies from the pan by lifting the parchment paper, and slice the brownies into squares to enjoy.

Healthy Habits: Aquafaba

website souffles

“What?”

I travel to libraries to give workshops on allergy friendly and healthier baking. Last weekend, at a workshop, I spoke with a group of about 30, and I received an email this week with a follow up question about aquafaba.

If you have not heard about the new rage, aquafaba, it’s apparently the words for water and beans and refers to the liquid you find in a can of chick peas or after you cook dry chick peas.  The chemistry of the liquid is yet to be determined but what is known is that it makes for a wonderful egg and dairy substitute. You can whip it like eggs to make meringues or replace eggs in baked goods or mayo or waffles and more.  You can whip it like heavy cream to replace dairy in whipped cream, mousse, or ice cream and more.

For my workshops, I always bring samples so folks will know that I’m telling the truth about being able to “have your cake and eat it, too”, and I try to provide a variety of desserts which are gluten, dairy, nut, peanut, soy and egg free. Depending on the season, the particular items I bake vary. For this workshop, I made meringues with the aquafaba and a chocolate cream pie with an aquafaba topping so folks could see how the aquafaba worked as both an egg and a heavy cream substitute.

The participant in the workshop who had emailed me did so because she was looking for the meringue recipe which wasn’t actually on this site. So, I’m remedying that situation by including it below. *grin* I’m also including some other tips for how you can use aquafaba in recipes.

Tips for using aquafaba:

  1. Purchase no salt, no sugar added versions of the chick peas if you are using canned chick peas. This helps you to control the sodium and sugar levels. You simply drain the liquid into a bowl and use your chick peas for another recipe at another time. If you prefer to use dry beans, soak them until doubled in size, bring the water to a boil, then simmer until the beans are soft. Drain the liquid into a bowl for your use and save the chick peas for another recipe.
  2. To use the aquafaba as a regular egg sustitute, simply measure out 1/4 cup per egg needed and whisk the egg with a fork just until frothy. Then use in your recipe as you would an egg. Works well for baked goods and French toast.
  3. To use the aquafaba as eggs which need to be whipped for angel food cake or Belgium waffles, start with room temperature aquafaba, add between 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and whip with the whisk handle of your mixer until stiff peaks form (as pictured above). Fold into your mixtures are indicated in your recipes.
  4. If you want to whip the aquafaba for a meringue topping or meringue cookies or to use as a whipped cream topping or as a substitute for heavy cream in ice cream, when you add the cream of tartar to the room temperature liquid, you should also add your sweetener at the same time. If you try to fold in the sweetener after you’ve whipped the aquafaba, it will deflate and soften. I find that powdered sugar works the best because it’s the lightest weight. Depending on how sweet you like your foods, 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar per 15 oz can of liquid works well for most recipes. After you have added both the cream of tartar and powdered sugar, then you can whip the aquafaba to the desired stiffness. It’s best to check if the sweetness is to your liking when soft peaks have begun to form so you can add more if needed before you reach the stiff peak stage.

How to Make Aquafaba Meringues:

To make the aquafaba meringues you simply need a 15 oz can of chickpeas.  Drain the liquid into your mixing bowl and put the chickpeas in the fridge for another use.   Add at least 1/4 tsp and up to 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar.  Then add powdered sugar to your liking.  Start with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of powdered sugar. You can always add more later if you find it’s not sweet enough for you. Add 1 tsp of vanilla alone or with 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder if you want vanilla or chocolate flavor.

After you’ve put everything into your mixer, use the wire whisk handle to whip the aquafaba until it looks like the picture above.  It usually doesn’t take very long.  (When the peaks are still soft, check the sweetness to see if you need to add any more before whipping to stiff peaks.)

After it’s whipped to stiff peaks, put some into a gallon zip lock bag and snip off the end.  Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using the ziplock bag, pipe meringues onto the parchment paper.  I usually make them about tablespoon size. I also like to make the meringues pretty by sprinkling a mixture of unsweetened cocoa powder and powder sugar on top of each meringue before putting them into the oven.

Once you’ve filled the cookie sheet with your meringues, pop them into the oven and bake them for at least an hour.  Then check them.  When they are done, they’ll be hard and dry.  If they’re not quite done, cook them longer for 15 minutes at a time until they are.  (If you make them tablespoon size, they’ll be done after an hour.  If you made them larger, they may take more time.)

Once they’re done, turn off the oven and let them cool in the oven for half an hour.  Then take them out and let them cool completely on a wire cooling rack.  When you go to take them off the parchment paper after they’ve cooled, carefully lift them off and place them into a tupperware, using parchment paper or plastic wrap to layer them.  They’ll keep for a good while in the tupperware.

Cooking Techniques: Croquettes

“But you play that, not eat it!”

I confused my son last week because I made croquettes (kro-kets), and he thought I said, “Croquet (kro-kay).” He thought it was funny that we were going to eat the game! And of course, croquettes actually look like little balls, so throughout the entire meal, he kept pretending that he was hitting them through croquet hoops.

If you aren’t familiar with croquettes, the name comes from the French, but they’re simply chopped up meat or chicken or cheese or vegetables or fish or potato or rice or quinoa or beans or combinations of all these, rolled in breadcrumbs or seeds or nuts and then cooked. For me, croquettes are a lovely way to use up leftovers. They’re versatile, not only in what you can put into them, but the way you can make, cook, and serve them. Plus if you serve them for company, the French name makes them think you’ve done something special. *grin*

Croquettes are quite easy to make, especially if you’re beginning with leftovers. The most common recipes you’ll find online are for ones made with mashed potatoes, either alone or in combination with meat, chicken, cheese, or vegetables. You’ll usually find, too, that they’re fried in some way, whether deep-fried or pan-fried, but they can be just as good baked. Below I’ll give you some tips for how to go about making your own.

The Main Ingredients: What’s important to know about croquettes is that no matter what you use, smaller is better. You don’t want large chunks in your croquettes. Because you’ll be rolling the mixture into balls, the smaller the pieces of meat or vegetables, the easier it will be for them to adhere to one another. I use my food processor to zoop at least one of the ingredients into almost a paste – potatoes, butternut squash, chicken, fish, rice, quinoa, beans, etc… all work well. Then I process the rest of the ingredients into tiny pieces which will mix well into the more paste-like ingredient. The reason I made croquettes last week was because I had some leftover chicken breasts which weren’t enough to serve as another meal for the whole family, so I processed them into a paste and added finely chopped cooked zucchini, mushrooms, and broccoli (also leftovers).

The Seasonings: You can season croquettes however you like. Salt and pepper, of course, but herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chervil, sage, mint, dill, tarragon, marjoram, etc…) and spices (allspice, cayenne, cardamom, coriander, tumeric, cumin, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, cloves, mustard, onion, saffron, etc…) of your choosing are great, too. If you are going to eat the croquettes by themselves, you should season more heavily. If you are going to serve them with a sauce, then the croquettes can be more plain because the sauce will give them flavor.

The Binder: It’s important that your ingredients hold together to keep their shape. If you do as I do and puree one of the ingredients into a paste, then the rest of your ingredients will stick to that. It’s one of the reasons why so many croquette recipes are made with potatoes. Potatoes are naturally glutinous. If you want all your ingredients to be small, solid pieces, though, then you’ll need something to hold them together. Most anything works. Some recipes use eggs. Others call for mayonnaise or sour cream or yogurt. Many just moisten the ingredients with a little bit of liquid like chicken or vegetable broth or milk and add some flour or bread crumbs to give the vegetables or meat something to adhere to. Whatever you choose to do is fine. What’s important is that your ingredients can be shaped into balls, so if they can’t and won’t stick together, try something different.

The Shaping: Whatever ingredients you use and however you choose to bind the croquettes, I recommend that you chill the mixture before you shape the croquettes. Unless your ingredients are super sticky, chilling the mixture will help them to adhere to another better. I use a quarter cup measuring cup to form my croquettes but you can certainly make them smaller or larger. Whatever size you make, though, having them be uniform will allow them to cook evenly if you bake them or help you to time them consistently if you’re frying them.

The Coating: After you’ve shaped your main croquette ingredients into balls, you need to coat them with something. Usually they are coated in bread crumbs. I like to make my own with gluten free bread, but you can use store bought bread crumbs. What’s important is that your crumbs be very fine. Texture is very important to the taste of the croquettes. If you opt to use something other than bread crumbs, there are many options: cracker crumbs, finely ground nuts or seeds, flour, etc… Once you decide on your coating, you can decide how you want to adhere the bread crumbs (or other choice) to the croquette balls. You can roll the balls in beaten eggs, in milk, in broth, in mayonnaise, in just about anything which will help the bread crumbs stick to the croquettes. I find that eggs make for a crispier croquette, mayonnaise (or something similar like sour cream or yogurt) for a moister croquette, and milk and broth for softer croquettes, so you can choose.

The Cooking: If you want to deep fry them, it’s best to make sure you have enough oil to completely cover the croquettes. You also want to heat your oil as hot as you can. I have a deep fryer which heats to 374 degrees but if you heat oil in a pan stove-top, you can usually get the oil to about 350 degrees. The hotter your oil, the more quickly the croquettes will cook and the less oil they will absorb. Since your ingredients in the croquettes are already cooked, all you’re doing is making the croquette warm and crispy, so usually just two to three minutes is all they need to cook.

If you want to pan fry the croquettes, you simply need enough oil to brown all the sides of the croquettes. Having your skillet on medium high is good. Simply place the croquettes in the skillet and allow them to brown on one side before turning them over to brown on the other. When making the croquettes in a skillet, they usually take about four to five minutes per side.

My preferred method for making croquettes is to actually bake them because they’re healthier that way. I line a pan with aluminum foil which I’ve crinkled and very lightly grease the foil with olive oil. I place the croquettes on the foil and then lightly brush them with olive oil. I preheat my oven to 450 degrees and bake the croquettes for about 20 minutes, turning them halfway through.

The Sauces: Croquette sauces are as varied as the ways you can make the croquettes. You can dip them into a barbecue sauce, a cheese sauce, a tomato sauce, a lemon sauce, a mustard sauce, a garlic sauce, an avocado sauce, a dill sauce – if you can imagine it, you can make it. What’s important is to think about the ingredients you used in the croquettes and to match a flavor which would complement the croquettes. So, for example, if you used ham and potatoes, maybe a mustard sauce. If you made fish croquettes, maybe a lemon-dill sauce. What’s fun is if you make croquettes and serve them with a couple of different sauces for the family to try.

 

 

The Coating:

The Cooking:

Holiday Traditions: Allergy Friendly “Sugar Cookies”

website sugar cookies

“Well, they have to be the same….”

When you marry into a family who makes literally the best sugar cookies you’ll ever eat in your life, you must tread carefully about trying to revamp the recipe to be allergy friendly.

“Honey, I was thinking….”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’d really like to be able to have some sugar cookies this year… I think I could revamp the recipe to be dairy and gluten free….”

“No.”

“But what if they tasted the same?”

“Not possible.”

“Well… I think it could be possible….” I give my husband my most pleading, puppy-dog sweet face, and add… “If they don’t taste just like your family’s recipe, I’ll make another batch the “right” way.”

“Well, okay, I guess you could try….”

In the end, I only made one batch of sugar cookies because my husband and my children declared my recipe to be a success, which was good because we spent many hours baking very large batches of three different type of allergy friendly cookies this weekend, and I didn’t want to have to make any more!

So below are some hints for cut-out cookies which I’ve shared previously and my revised recipe for rolled, cut-out sugar cookies. (We’ll keep the original a family secret… *grin*)

Tips for Making Rolled, Cut-out Cookies

1.  Use wax paper to roll out the dough.  Simply cut a sheet that overlaps around a large cutting board or piece of cardboard and tape it down.  Then when you sprinkle your flour over the wax paper, your dough won’t stick to the board.

2.  Use sifter to put flour onto your cutting board and rolling pin.  If you sprinkle it on with your fingers, you’re more likely to clump the flour in places which then get stuck to your cookie dough.

3.  Use a long, thin metal spatula to periodically release your dough from the board while you’re rolling it, and before you use your cookie cutters, be sure to go completely under the entire rolled out piece of dough so that your cookies won’t stick to the board when you’re cutting the shapes.

4.  Invest in some smaller cookie shapes which you can use to cut little cookies from the dough left after you cut out the big cookie shapes.  This cuts down on the amount of dough you need to re-roll.  Put one cookie sheet aside specifically for the little cookies, which you fill up as you go along and then bake at the end.

5.  Make sure your dough for rolling is very cold and firm.  Most recipes will tell you to chill for an hour, but in reality you’re better off planning ahead and chilling your dough for several hours or overnight.  When you’re making the cookies, be sure to put the dough back into the fridge in between scooping out new dough to roll.

6.  Put all your re-roll dough into a small bowl which you then put into the freezer while you’re finishing up the regular dough.  This will make the dough firm enough for you to re-roll immediately as opposed to having to wait for it to firm back up again.

7.  Make your own colored sugars.  Put 1/4 cup of sugar into a bowl and add two to four drops of food coloring.  Carefully work the color into the sugar, using the back of a spoon to continualy “spread” the color completely into the sugar.  You can store extra, leftover sugar in a sandwich baggie for a very long time!

8.  Use parchment paper to line your cookie sheets.  Your cookies will never stick. You won’t have to clean the cookie sheets.  And you won’t have to worry about cross-contamination of your cookies.  I usually use the If You Care brand.  The parchment sheets can also be re-used over and over again on one cookie sheet.

9.  Be sure to completely cool your cookie sheets before putting new cookie dough shapes onto them.  I usually pop my cookie sheets into the freezer for a minute or two after removing the cookies.  Works like a charm.

10.  Invest in metal cookie cutters which you can use year after year. When you’re cutting out the shapes, put a pan of flour in the center which you can dip the cutters into so the cutters won’t stick to your dough.

11.  When you’re done with your cookie cutters, fill the sink with hot, soapy water and just let them sit for a while.  You’ll be able to simply rinse them off without having to try to “clean” the crevices.  Then pop them (as long as they’re metal) onto one of your cookie sheets and place the cookie sheet in the oven which is turned off and cooling down.  The residual heat will evaporate all the water, and your cutters will be sterilized and ready for next year’s use.

Allergy Friendly Rolled, Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

(This makes a lot of cookies; if you want less,

cut the recipe into thirds)

Ingredients:

3 cups sugar (This is the only time I ever use sugar because a sugar cookie just has to have sugar!)

2 cups Tofutti sour cream

2 cups Earth Balance soy free vegan butter

3 eggs, room temperature

1 tbsp ground nutmeg

6 Gluten Free Flour Blend (you’ll need just enough flour to make a soft dough – I used 6 cups of Authentic Foods brown rice gluten free blend)

Baking Instructions:  (The dough needs to chill so make the dough up the night before or several hours ahead of when you want to bake the cookies.)

1.  Mix the sugar with the sour cream and butter until well blended.

2.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and blend well.  Add the nutmeg.

3.  Add in the gluten free flour, a cup at a time, only as much as you need to make a soft dough.  Blend well.

4.  Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and chill overnight, or at least for several hours.

5.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

6.  Line a board with wax paper.  Sprinkle the board and a rolling pin with flour of your choice (I used brown rice flour), and roll out small amounts of dough to a very thin thickness – thin enough to make a crispy cookie but not so thin that you can’t actually move the cut out dough to the cookie sheet.

7.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place on the prepared cookie sheets.  The cookies will not spread a lot so you can put them fairly close together.

8.  Decorate the cookies with colored sugar and/or currants. (You can also just bake the cookies and then decorate them with icing when they’re cooled.)

9.  Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 12 minutes.  Start with 8 minutes and then go up by 1 minute increments. (It really depends on how thin you are able to roll them in terms of how long the baking time needs to be.)  The cookies should be dry, crisp and slightly puffed.

10.  Let the cookies cool for a minute on the cookie sheet, and then move the cookies to a wire cooling rack and cool them completely. Once cooled, they’ll be nice and crispy sugar cookies.  If you eat them while they’re warm, they’ll be chewier.

11.  When the cookie are completely cooled, store them in a tightly covered container.  They’ll last for a few weeks, though after a couple of weeks, they’ll get a bit softer.

 

Holiday Traditions: Allergy Friendly “Fruitcake”

“How many fruitcakes does it take to hammer in a nail?”

You’ve probably heard all the fruitcake jokes which tend to make their round this time of year…. I personally think we should be applauding the folks who invented fruitcake, because it’s a rather ingenious cake. In a time when there is no refrigeration, people figured out how to use dried and candied fruits and nuts and alcohol to create a longer-lasting festive dessert.

While there does seem to be a lot of folks who won’t even try fruitcake, a substantial number of people do actually enjoy and make fruitcakes as part of their holiday tradition. An older gentleman emailed me a couple of weeks ago because he’s now gluten sensitive, and his wife told him he couldn’t have fruitcake anymore. He wanted to know if I could help….

Fortunately for him, I like fruitcake. I even like the versions with the traditional candied lemon and orange peels, cherries and citron. Fruitcake, however, doesn’t have to include these. I often make a fruitcake with just dried fruit like apricots, prunes, dates, and currants. What’s lovely about fruitcake is that you can do just about anything you want.

Some things to keep in mind:

The Batter:

Traditional fruitcake is basically a butter cake recipe. You can choose between a light cake recipe or a dark cake. Light means you’re using “light” sweeteners like white sugar, honey and/or corn syrup and usually lighter dried fruits and nuts (macadamia nuts, apricots, etc…); dark usually uses sweeteners like brown sugar and molasses and darker dried fruit and nuts (walnuts, pecans, currants, etc…).

Since I try to avoid refined sugars a much as possible, I tend to use a combination of coconut sugar, Agave, and date molasses because I can use much less than the sugar amounts normally called for in fruitcake. This means my fruitcake tends to be a “darker” recipe. I also cut the quantity of butter because traditional butter cake recipes use a lot of butter. And of course, because of my dairy allergies I’m really using a vegan “butter” instead of cow’s milk butter.

Fruitcake recipes also call for a lot of eggs. One, because fruitcake is really a lot of fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold it together, so eggs are very necessary to the binding and baking process. Two, fruitcake is normally made in large quantities which requires a lot of eggs. To minimize the cholesterol, I use half egg whites and half whole eggs. You can use all egg whites but it will make for a drier fruitcake.

Whatever you decide to do for a batter, make it to your liking. Since I like spice cakes, I make my fruitcakes with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. If you like more of a yellow cake, use vanilla. If you like fruit, use orange or lemon peel.

The Dried Fruit and Nuts:

Traditional fruitcake has candied peels, cherries, and citron with nuts like walnuts and pecans. If you don’t like those, you don’t have to use them. You can use any type of dried fruit you prefer and any type of nuts you prefer. I omit nuts because I’m allergic to them. For the fruits I use a combination of the traditional and the non-traditional. Dates, dried plums, apricots, and currants are my favorite dried fruits to mix with the candied peels, cherries and citron.

A tip: I have found that what most people don’t like about fruitcake is that the fruit and nuts are too large. I use a food processor to chop everything into tiny pieces so they’re evenly distributed throughout the cake to give flavor without the chunkiness. Paradise also makes an Old English Fruit and Peel mix which has everything already chopped into tiny pieces.

The Alcohol:

Alcohol was traditionally used in fruitcake to keep the cake from getting moldy and stale in addition to adding flavor and moistness. The most common alcohol for fruitcake is either rum or brandy. Recipes vary as to how the alcohol is used. Some will tell you to soak the dried fruits and nuts in alcohol. Most, however, soak the cake in alcohol after it’s been baked. Many recipes do a combination of the two. Others simply put alcohol in the cake batter.

The main difference between which versions you choose is exactly how much of the “boozy” taste you want. Alcohol cooked into the batter will not be as strong as if you soak the fruits and nuts and/or the entire cake in alcohol. Another difference is time. Soaking fruits and nuts usually takes some hours before you can make up the fruitcake. Soaking the entire cake usually requires days.

I don’t use alcohol in my fruitcake recipes. One, I don’t particularly care for rum or brandy. Two, I don’t have the patience to wait for anything to soak. Three, we have refrigeration which keeps my fruitcake from getting moldy and stale. Instead I like to use unsweetened orange use or apple cider. Makes for tasty cakes without the alcohol.

The Baking:

Fruitcake needs to cook at a lower temperature to prevent the cake from becoming too dry, so usually it requires several hours to bake. I cut the time by baking my fruitcake in smaller mini-loaf pans or only filling regular size pans half full. Then instead of a couple of hours, the cakes cook in about one hour which fits with my schedule much better.

Cooking in the mini pans also means they’re a good size for gifting. I make a lovely chocolate fruitcake which I have given to neighbors for the holidays for years and which they actually really enjoy and look forward to each year. What’s nice about fruitcakes is that they store well if you wrap them well in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.

Many recipes will tell you to cook the fruitcake at 250 or 275 degrees. I find that 300 degrees work just as well, allowing the cook time to be slightly less. If, however, you do choose to make a large fruitcake in a bundt or tube pan, you should opt for the lower temperatures to ensure even cooking throughout.

A Recipe:

My favorite fruitcake recipe is the chocolate fruitcake I mentioned above. I use a combination of two gluten free flour blends – one which is a lighter brown rice flour blend like King Arthur’s; the other a more high fiber/high protein blend like Bob Red Mill’s garbanzo bean blend. I use unsweetened cocoa powder and add allergy friendly chocolate chips to the dried fruit blend. If I use the candied peels and citron, I usually just add dried dates and plums. If I opt to use only dried fruit, I like to combine dried dates, plums, apricots, currants, and unsweetened coconut. Both versions make for tasty fruitcakes.

Allergy Friendly Chocolate Fruit Cake

(This recipe makes 12 mini 4 x 8 loaves)

Ingredients:

7 cups favorite dried fruits, nuts, and/or candied peels, cherries and/or citron, chopped into tiny pieces

1 cup Enjoy Life miniature chocolate chips

1 1/2 cup vegan olive oil “butter”, melted

2 cups coconut sugar

1/4 cup date molasses

3/4 cup Agave

1 cup unsweetened orange juice

1 cup liquid egg whites

4 eggs

2 cups high protein/high fiber gluten free flour blend (like Bob Red Mill’s garbanzo bean flour)

2 cups brown rice flour blend (like King Arthur)

1 cup gluten free oat flour

1 tsp cardamom

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Arrange your oven racks so they are evenly spaced so you can cook on both racks at teh same time. Line 12 mini loaf pans with parchment paper so the paper hangs over the side like wings. This will make it easier to pull the cake out of the pans. Arrange the pans on two cookie sheets so they have some space around each pan for air to circulate.
  2. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, and/or candied peels and fruit with the chocolate chips. Set aside
  3. Mix the melted butter with the coconut sugar, date molasses, agave, orange juice, egg whites, and eggs. Set aside.
  4. Combine the two gluten free flour blends with the oat flour, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Stir the wet ingredients well before adding the dried fruit mixture to it. Carefully add the dry ingredients, along with the apple cider vinegar.
  6. Mix the batter well until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 loaf pans. The pans will be only 2/3 full. (If you’d like to make these in larger 9 x 5 pans, fill the loaf pans only half full.)
  8. Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes and then switch the cookie sheets between the two racks for even cooking of both trays of mini-loaves. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the fruitcakes are puffed, pulling from the sides, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and put the mini loaf pans onto a wire cooling rack. Cool for 10 minutes, and then carefully remove the cakes by lifting the parchment paper wings. Cool the cakes completely on the wire racks.
  10. To store the cakes, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil. They store in the fridge for about a week or you can double wrap them with foil and freeze them for a couple of months.

 

 

With Gratitude: Thanksgiving Muffins

“Only two weeks to Thanksgiving and then it’s Advent!”

My son ran into the kitchen today to announce that my time to pretend the holidays were not approaching was at an end. I could ignore his heralding at six months, three months, and even one month… but two weeks! Whether I was ready or not, it was time to begin thinking.

The fact is that when you have multiple food allergies, thinking about holiday meals can be something you’d like to put off if you can, because thinking about them means figuring out exactly which and how many dishes you’ll be making simply to ensure that you have food to eat.

If you’re new to the blog, you can search by category for “holidays” and find posts I’ve previously submitted about allergy friendly holiday cooking — everything from how to minimize stress to how to revamp pies, cakes, entrees and side dishes.

This week, however, a young mom wrote asking me about ideas for a Thanksgiving muffin. Her father-in-law cannot have eggs, dairy and wheat, so she thought muffins might be easier to make than rolls. She wanted the muffins to be “Thanksgiving-ish”, though, and I had just the recipe for her.

Thanksgiving Muffins. When I think about Thanksgiving, pumpkins, squash, apples, and cranberries always come to mind. So I have a recipe that you can make just about any way you want, varying the type of cranberries you choose, your choice of pumpkin, winter squash or even a homemade applesauce in place of pumpkin, and even the spices you decide to include. And the bonus is that they’re gluten, dairy, egg, soy, and nut free, too.

Thanksgiving Muffins

Ingredients:

4 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

12 tbsp water

2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or winter squash (butternut, acorn, etc…) or apples

2/3 cup safflower oil

3/4 cup Agave

1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, dried cranberries, or cooked cranberries (My kids like the cooked cranberries best because they’re softer and I usually cook them with a bit of agave to make them sweeter, but you can also use fresh cranberries if you want a tart/sweet flavor contrast to the muffins or dried cranberries if you want the muffins to have some chewiness and little more sweetness)

3 1/2 cup gluten free flour blend (I usually use a homemade mixture of sorghum, garbanzo bean, and oat flour with arrowroot starch but I’ve used Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur and Authentic Foods)

2 1/2 tsp spices (any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, allspice and/or cloves are good)

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp vinegar (I like to use apple cider vinegar but a white vinegar is fine, too)

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and fill 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners. (The orange, red-flecked muffins look pretty in a white liner if you put the muffins in a bowl to put on the table for the Thanksgiving meal.)
  2. Combine the flaxseed with the water and let sit for five minutes.
  3. In a large bowl mix together the cooked pureed pumpkin or squash or apples with the oil, agave and flaxseed mixture. Set aside.
  4. In a food processor chop the cranberries, no matter what type you’re using, because this will distribute them more evenly throughout the muffin. Add to the wet mixtures.
  5. In another bowl mix the flour, spices, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, along with the water and vinegar. Mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened.
  7. Evenly distribute the batter among the 24 muffin cups. They will be filled almost to the top.
  8. Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Muffins will be puffed and golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe Revamping: Oatmeal Crumb Cake

“But it’s a craving….”

When I was pregnant, I never craved the unusual combinations like pickles and ice cream. I always craved one type of food. So, with my oldest I couldn’t eat enough whole grain bread, which was odd because I tended to prefer rice to bread as a norm – probably the Asian influence. With my middle child, I wanted vegetables all the time – fresh, cooked – how didn’t matter, but quantity did. My youngest seemed to want protein, chicken in particular, which struck me as ironic since with my middle child, I couldn’t eat chicken without feeling sick.

It’s been years since I’ve been pregnant, but I find that from time to time my body will crave something for days, and I usually take it to mean that I’m missing some nutrient or vitamin that my body needs.

Last week I wanted oatmeal. I couldn’t stop thinking about oatmeal, but I really wasn’t in the mood for eating a straight bowl of oatmeal. The weather was nice and sunny, and oatmeal for breakfast has always struck me as a cold weather food.

I started looking around for an oatmeal cake, but I discovered that most oatmeal cake recipes don’t actually have a lot of oatmeal in them, and the oatmeal cake recipes I found seemed to call for a lot of sugar, butter, and eggs. So, I set to work revamping a recipe….

Original Recipe:

Cake:  1 1/2 cups butter, 2 cups sugar, 4 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking soda

Crumb topping:  2 cups flour, 3/4 cup light-brown sugar, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups butter

Revamping the Recipe:

  • The oatmeal/flour ratio and substitution: Since I wanted a cake which had a lot of the goodness of the oats, the first thing I did was swap the oats to flour ratio. I opted to use 2 1/2 cups of gluten free rolled oats with 1 1/2 cups of gluten free sorghum flour. For the topping, I added 2 cups of gluten free oats to the recipe and cut the flour down to 1 cup of gluten free sorghum flour.
  • The butter: 3 cups of butter is just nuts! I decided to use 1/2 cup of vegan butter in the cake and added 2 1/2 cups of mashed, ripe bananas instead to help make the cake moist without all the fat. (You won’t taste the bananas in the cake, which was good for me because my middle child doesn’t like bananas but loved this cake!) For the topping I cut the butter to 1/2 cups of vegan butter, so that overall the new recipe had 1/3 the butter of the original.
  • The eggs:  4 whole eggs seemed a bit much so I decided to use only 2 eggs, but I added 1/2 cup of a homemade buttermilk (1/2 cup soy milk plus 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice) to keep my liquid amounts the same and to keep the protein I’d be losing from the extra eggs.
  • The sugar: Since I don’t use refined sugar, I swapped out coconut sugar for the refined sugar and cut the amounts, using only 1 cup of coconut sugar in the cake and 1 cup in the topping.
  • The spices: The cake didn’t call for any flavoring other than salt and vanilla. I cut the salt in half to 1/2 tsp, increased the vanilla to 1 tbsp, and added 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp ginger. For the topping, I increased the cinnamon to 1 tsp.
  • The pan:  The original recipe called for baking the cake in a 9 x 13 pan.  I opted to use a 11 x 15 pan to increase the ratio of cake to crumb topping.

The results were wonderful. Everyone who tried the cake loved it, and my children decided it was their new breakfast choice and have asked me already if I can make it again, now that they’ve finished off the original. The complete recipe is below for anyone who wants to try it.

Oatmeal Crumb Cake

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegan butter

1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas

1 cup coconut sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup soy (or other milk) plus 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

2 cups mashed ripe bananas

1 tbsp vanilla

1 1/2 cup sorghum flour

2 1/2 cups gluten free rolled whole oats

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

2 tsp baking soda

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup sorghum flour

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup vegan butter

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and either grease or line a 11 x 15 pan with parchment paper.
  2. Blend the butter with the 1/2 cup of banana and coconut sugar; then add the eggs, milk with lemon juice, rest of the banana and vanilla.
  3. Combine the flour, oats, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and baking soda.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. Combine the oats, flour, coconut sugar and cinnamon. Using a pastry knife cut the butter into the dry mixture until all the butter is incorporated and crumbly clumps are formed.
  6. Evenly distribute the topping over the cake.
  7. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is golden brown. The cake would have puffed and will be firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.
  8. Serve immediately or at room temperature. Keeps well on the counter top for days.

 

Creative Cooking: Prunes and Beets

“It’s so beautiful!”

My son has always been afraid of thunderstorms, despite everything my husband and I have done to convince him that he has nothing to fear.

Last week, however, we had a three day heat wave; and one night the hot temperatures brought severe thunderstorms. As I was driving home from a meeting, I noticed that the heat was causing an electrical storm to light up the sky a few miles away. I rushed home, yelled at my children to hop into the car, and drove back up to the main road.

As my son watched the “lights” in the sky, he commented on their beauty and suggested we put on some Beethoven to match the rhythm of the lightning. After several minutes of watching, he didn’t want to return home, though, finally, reluctantly, he did allow me to drive home.

As we drove, I asked him what he thought about thunderstorms now, and he said he never realized they could be so beautiful.

His reaction to the lightning storm is similar to what I hear people say about unusual foods like prunes and beets. So often, people “don’t like” them without having tried them. They think they know enough to make a finite decision about them, when really they don’t.

Prunes are high in fiber and don’t cause the same types of spikes in sugar levels while delivering a wonderful sweetness to anything you put into them. Beets are high in vitamins and minerals and fiber, and like prunes, have a naturally sweet taste. As such, both prunes and beets are great additions to desserts. Below are a muffin and a bread recipe I just recently created for the fun of it.

Banana Beet Bread

Ingredients:

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (ripe means they’re spotted brown on the peel)

3/4 cup roasted chopped beets (about two; roasting beets brings out their flavor more; then I just chopped them up in the food processor — you can also now buy the beets already cooked up in packages in the stores if you don’t want to cook them yourself!)

1/2 cup safflower oil

1/2 cup Agave

1 egg

2 cups gluten free flour blend of your choosing (I used a combination of flours which mixed garbanzo bean, sorghum, and brown rice flours with potato starch and tapioca flour)

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 5 pan with parchment paper so that the paper is sticking out of the pan for lifting purposes.
  2. Combine the bananas, beets, oil, agave and egg. Put aside.
  3. Mix the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet with the apple cider vinegar and quickly mix everything together until the dry ingredients are completely moistened.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and let it sit for about five minutes before putting it into the oven.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the bread if puffed, a golden red hue, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool for five minutes on a wire cooling rack in the pan. Then use the parchment paper wings to remove the bread from the pan. Cool for another 10 to 15 minutes before removing the parchment paper and allowing the bread to cool completely.

Breakfast Prune Muffins

Ingredients:

9 ounces of pitted, chopped dates

2 tbsp garbanzo bean flour

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 allspice

1 tsp ginger

1 cup blueberries

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips (optional, but my children like it with them when I make them as a snack food for afterschool)

Four 6 inch bananas (comes to about 1 1/4 cups mashed)

1/2 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.  Put the prunes and flour into a food processor and finely chop the prunes into tiny pieces. (This will distribute the prunes throughout your batter.)

3. Mix the finely chopped prunes with the oats in a bowl, and pour the boiling water over them, pushing the prunes 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, allspice, and ginger.  Stir in the blueberries and chocolate chips and set aside.

6. Mash the bananas and mix with the oil and the prunes 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 tupperware container.

Recipe Revamping: Banana Cheesecake

“I wouldn’t have thought of that!”

At a baking workshop I had last week where 32 people were present, the comment I kept hearing in response to my answers to their questions was “I wouldn’t have thought of that!”

I found this intriguing, because I don’t really think it’s that folks wouldn’t have thought of it. I think it’s more that sometimes we tend to accept things as they are as opposed to giving any thought to whether something can done be different.

This week I received an email asking if I could revamp a recipe, which always thrills me. I enjoy thinking about a recipe and seeing if I can make it healthier, allergy friendly, and yummy all at the same time.

It was a gentleman writing in this time about a cheesecake recipe. I was interested immediately simply because it was a banana cheesecake which I had never actually heard of before. He needed it to be dairy, nut and gluten free, but he also wanted to cut back on the refined sugar and fat.

The bananas:

Original Recipe: 2 large bananas, diced, cooked with 1 tbsp lemon and 2 tbsp brown sugar

I thought about the folks who said they “wouldn’t have thought of that” because one of the first changes I made to the recipe was to roast the bananas. The recipe called for cooking the bananas on the stove top with sugar. The easiest way to sweeten bananas without the use of sugar is to bake them so their own sweetness becomes concentrated.

The idea of roasting a banana, though, isn’t something people usually consider for home cooking. It’s quite easy to do, though. There are several different ways to go about it, but the way I prefer is to simply bake the banana in its peel. You preheat the oven to 400 degrees, put your bananas in a line on a cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes. Allow the bananas to cool until you can safely peel them, and then use the bananas as you’d like.

The crust:

Original Recipe: 1 1/2 cup finely crushed vanilla wafers, 1/2 cup chopped pecans, and 1/4 cup butter (plus 17 vanilla wafers for the sides and 1/2 cup coarsely topped wafers for the top) 

This recipe called for the use of a lot of vanilla wafers.  It needed crushed wafers for the crust, then more wafers for the sides, and finally coarsely chopped wafers for the topping. This is a lot of sugar, fat, and just plain empty carbs. It’s also not great for folks with food allergies.

For folks who want to use vanilla wafers, Kinnikinnick actually makes a gluten, dairy, nut free vanilla wafer. I’d recommend just using it for the crust, though, and forgetting about the sides and top. That alone will cut back on the calories, sugar and fat. Since I’m always in favor of adding something better if possible, I opted to use Jo-Sef’s gluten, dairy, nut free dark chocolate cookie squares, because these cookies are made with soy flour, which adds protein, and not just the usual rice flour. In addition, because it’s a dark chocolate cookie, the sugars in it are much less. I zooped an 8 oz box of cookies in my food processor for the crust.

To make it dairy free, I used a vegan butter instead. Since 1/4 cup is actually a reasonably small amount compared to most crust recipes, I kept the amount as is. To make it nut free, I simply omitted the pecans altogether, which also cuts back on the total fat, though nuts are considered good fats in general.

(FYI: If you want to make your own vanilla wafers, Gluten Free on a ShoeString actually has a gluten free recipe which can easily be adapted to also be dairy, nut, soy, etc… free.http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/nilla-wafers/)

The filling:

Original Recipe: 3 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, 1 cup white sugar, 3 large eggs, 2 tsp vanilla

Since the crust was made with a store bought cookie which had some sugar, even if less than other cookies, I omitted sugar from the cheesecake filling, choosing to use Agave instead because I could then use half the amount of what would have been required of sugar.

To cut back on the fat, I replaced the whole eggs with egg whites, and to make it dairy free, I simply used tofu cream cheese instead. The vanilla, I kept as is.

The topping:

Original Recipe: 1/2 cup coarsely crushed vanilla wafers

As mentioned earlier, omitting the use of more vanilla wafers cuts back on the sugar and fat. It does, though, leave the cheesecake a little naked. So, I opted to make a sour cream topping with some amendments.

Usually a sour cream topping for a cheesecake calls for 2 cups of sour cream. I opted to use only one cup, though, to cut back on overall calories, and I used tofu sour cream to make it dairy free.

Sour cream topping usually also calls for anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar. I used 2 tbsp of coconut sugar, and I added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon for some additional flavoring.

The size:

Original Recipe: Bake in a 9 inch spring form pan.

A simple trick for cutting back on overall calories, fat and sugar, is to change the size of the cheesecake. Instead of using a 9 inch pan, I used a 10 inch, which slightly spreads the cheesecake to thin the overall layer out. So when you go to cut the cheesecake, you can cut it into more slices which have a little less height to them, thus making for a little less of everything you’re eating.

Banana Cheesecake

Ingredients:

one 8 oz package chocolate cookie wafers (I used Jo-Sef’s gluten, dairy, nut free ones)

1/4 cup vegan butter, melted

three 6 inch bananas

three 8 oz packages Tofu cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup agave

3/4 cup liquid egg whites, at room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup tofu sour cream

2 tbsp coconut sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a food processor process the chocolate cookie wafers into crumbs. Empty the crumbs into a bowl and mix them with the melted butter.

3. Put the chocolate cookie mixture into a 10 inch springform pan, and evenly press the mixture into a bottom crust for the cheesecake.

4. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and allow it to cool.

5. Increase the oven heat to 400 degrees.

6. Line the three bananas on a cookie sheet, and bake them for 20 minutes. They will be black and soft with some moisture oozing out of them when they’re done. Allow the bananas to cool.

7. Decrease the oven to 325 degrees.

8. In a mixer, gently blend the cream cheese until it’s smooth.

9. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the agave until it’s all incorporated into the cream cheese. Be sure to use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom occasionally.

10. With the mixer on low, slowly add the egg whites until they’re fully incorporated into the cream cheese batter.

11. Add the vanilla.

12. Remove the roasted bananas from their peels, and mash them. Then add them to the cream cheese batter until they’re fully mixed in. Be sure to scraped down the sides and bottom with a rubber spatula once or twice.

13. Completely cover the bottom of the springform pan with aluminum foil and put the pan into a larger pan which will hold it.

14. Gently pour in the cream cheese batter into the prepared pan, and level off the filling so it’s even.

15. Pour boiling water into the larger pan until the water is halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

16. Bake in the oven for one hour.

17. Mix the sour cream with the coconut sugar and cinnamon. When the cheesecake is done at the hour mark, carefully spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the top of the cheesecake, and bake for 10 minutes.

18. Remove the cheesecake from the larger pan when it’s done, and allow it to cool for about half an hour to an hour on a cooling rack.

19. Remove the outside of the springform pan, and put the cheesecake into the fridge to completely cool. Usually it needs at least three to four hours.

20. Slice, serve, and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spice Suggestion: Ginger

“You’re a gook.”

A recent event brought back some memories of my youth….

Growing up in the 70’s was not the best time to be Asian. It would be many years before I’d be old enough to understand the politics of Vietnam and the generalizing that strengthened the animosity aimed at me; so I remember being confused as to why people kept calling me a vulgar name for being Vietnamese when I was Korean.

As I grew up, I rebelled not only against the prejudice in general but the idea that there weren’t any differences among the various Asian ethnicities.

In some ways, I feel the same today about the spice, ginger. Too often when I mention using ginger, people will say something like, “Oh, it makes sense that you’d like ginger, being Asian and all.”

And when they do, that rebellious feeling sweeps over me again, and I find myself wanting to argue against the notion that ginger is somehow the spice of Asians and should only be relegated to Asian foods….

From medicinal to cooking uses, ginger has been a staple of Greek, Middle Eastern, and European countries for as many centuries as Asian countries. Even in the United States people have used ginger without considering it an “Asian” spice. Colonial recipes for gingersnaps and gingerbread and ginger teas and ginger ales abound as well as records of its use as medicine for upset stomachs.

Admittedly, ginger can be strong, so sometimes folks who are used to bland foods might find it a bit much, but a little can add an abundance of flavor.

In this day and age, ginger comes in a variety of types: fresh, dried, candied, crystallized, freeze dried, pickled, as a paste, and grated in a tube or container for the refrigerator. Fresh ginger obviously is the strongest in terms of flavor, but the convenience of the options with a longer shelf life is not to be underestimated.

If you’re using fresh ginger, you want look for ginger root with a nice, tan color which is firm to the touch and has smooth ends. If it looks dried out or moldy or is soft to the touch, don’t buy it. To use, simply peel and chop as desired. Ginger keeps for a good few weeks in the fridge, and you can even freeze it for several months.

Obviously the more you use, the stronger the ginger flavor, and fresh ginger will have a stronger taste than the other varieties. Ginger is like garlic and onions, and the more ginger cooks, the mellower its flavor becomes, so if you prefer the spicy, pungent taste, add the ginger near the end.

Some ways to use ginger:

1. Homemade ginger tea: The way my mom makes it is to put some fresh ginger root and cinnamon sticks into a pot of water and just let it simmer and steep for a while. Add a little bit of honey, and it’s quite delicious plus has added health benefits.

2. Vegetables: Grated fresh ginger root or ground ginger adds a bit of zest to sauteed vegetables.

3. Omelettes and Egg dishes: Make a paste of ginger and garlic to add a little zing which is quite tasty.

4. Baked goods: Add dried ginger or chopped crystallized ginger to muffins, pancakes, scones, waffles, cakes, cookies, pies, for a new taste.

5. Meats, chicken and fish: Add grated or chopped fresh or freeze dried ginger or ground ginger to any entree to add another flavor dimension to the dish.

6. Soups and dressings: Ginger adds a nice tang to soups and homemade dressings, whether for salad or entrees.

On this site there are already recipes for ginger snaps and a ginger cake and gingerbread, but I’ll add another couple below for a ginger cheesecake which is creamy and spicy and yummy and pumpkin custard squares which my kids love and which are great when you don’t want to take the time to make a pumpkin pie. Both recipes are dairy, gluten, nut and mostly refined sugar free.

Pumpkin Custard Squares

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8.5 x 11 pan with your preferred method.

2.  In a large bowl, mix 1 can of pumpkin with 2 eggs, 1/2 cup agave, 2 tbsp melted butter, 1 cup soy or flax milk, 1 cup water, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 to 2 tsp ground ginger (if you love ginger, use the higher amount; if not use the smaller amount), 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

3. Mix in 3/4 cup Gluten Free Bisquick until the batter is smooth and creamy with no lumps.

4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. The custard will be stiff and dry on top and the custard will be slightly puffed.

5. Cool completely on a wire cooling rack. Cut into squares and serve.

Ginger Spice Cheesecake

(Be sure ALL ingredients are at room temperature for best results!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 10 inch springform pan with your preferred method.

2. In a food processor pulse one 8 ounce box of gluten, nut and dairy free gingersnaps until you have crumbs. Mix well with 1/4 cup melted vegan butter. Spread evenly onto the bottom of the prepared springform pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack. Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

3. When cool, carefully cover the outside of the springform pan with aluminum foil and put the pan into a larger pan. Begin to boil some water, enough to fill the pan at least halfway up the springform pan but no more than 3/4 way up (this you’ll do after you put the cheesecake batter into the springform pan).

4. In a mixer, cream four 8 ounce room temperature Tofutti cream cheese packages until smooth and creamy. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the cream cheese down from the sides.

5. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup Agave while mixing the cream cheese on low.  Once incorporated slowly mix in one 12 ounce package Tofutti sour cream.

6. Blend in 1/2 cup liquid egg whites. Then 2 whole eggs, being careful to mix them in one at a time.

7. Mix in 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 to 2 tsp ground ginger (choose the amount based up on your preference for mild or strong ginger taste).

8. In a food processor chop up crystallized or candied ginger so you have at least 2 tbsp (you can use more if you want). Add to the cheesecake mixture and blend only until the ginger is incorporated.

9. Carefully pour the cheesecake batter into the springform pan. Place the larger pan with the springform pan into the oven. Very carefully pour the boiling water in the larger pan until it’s at lease halfway up the springform pan. You can go as high as 3/4 way up.

10. Bake for one hour and 30 minutes. When done, the cheesecake will be firmer around the edges, the batter won’t be jiggly, and the cheesecake will be slightly puffed.

11. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and from the larger pan. Remove the aluminum foil, and cool for 15 to 30 minutes on a wire cooling rack. Run a knife around the edge of the springform pan and remove the outer side of the pan.

12. Cool the cheesecake completely in the fridge for several hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Pleasures: Cranberry Scones

website scones

“May your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.”

When my husband and I married, one of my two newly minted degrees was in Psychology, and having gotten married in late December, our first New Year’s celebration came upon us pretty quickly. Being a wise 22, I decided we could do resolutions “better”. So, I made up a three page chart which would assess how our year had been physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually, stating that we’d then make goals under these categories for our new year, both individually and for us as a newly married couple.

It’s a testament to my husband’s sainthood that he humored my insanity, not only that evening, but over the course of the year as I continued to drag out the bedraggled sheets to assess how we were doing.

When our second New Year’s came around, my husband very gently asked me whether we should assess the successfulness of my better resolution experiment before we embarked on another year of it; and of course, what we discovered is that we hadn’t done any better with our resolutions than we had any other time in our lives.

What it had done, though, was to make us more conscious of the fact that a better life is all about those daily decisions, not the one time a year ones; and for those of us trying to be healthy and take care of our allergies and be in better shape and wanting to love better, it’s what we do each day that makes the difference, not what we simply say we want to do on January 1.

So, for today’s post, I’m sharing another simple pleasure recipe for scones. In the past, I wouldn’t make scones because normal versions use a lot of butter and cream, and they took too much time and required more effort than I liked to expend. Over time, though, I realized that there were ways to make them healthier and that I could make drop scones instead which took much less time and effort. These cranberry ones don’t take much time to make, and you get lots of good health benefits from the cranberries, protein and fiber, which is one way you can improve your health today on your first day of 2015.

Gluten and Dairy Free Cranberry Scones

Ingredients:

12 oz bag fresh cranberries (I actually keep them frozen in my fridge so I can just pull one out when I need it)

1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice

2 tbsp Agave

1/3 cup vegan butter

2/3 cup flax milk mixed with 2 tsp lemon juice (You can use another type of milk if you prefer)

1 cup vegan ricotta

1 tbsp coconut sugar

1/4 cup safflower oil

2 tbsp Agave

3/4 cup sorghum flour

3/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

2 cup Gluten free brown rice blend (I use Authentic Foods)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

2 tbsp coconut sugar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. In your food processor, chop up your fresh or frozen cranberries with the orange juice and agave. Set aside.

3. Measure out the vegan butter and put it into the freezer while you are assembling the rest of the ingredients.

4. Mix the flax milk with the lemon juice and let is sit for a minute while you mix the ricotta with the coconut sugar.

5. Add the milk mixture to the ricotta mixture, along with the safflower oil and agave. Set aside.

6. Mix together the sorghum, garbanzo bean, and gluten free flour blend with the salt, cinnamon, ginger, and coconut sugar.

7. Take your butter out of the freezer and cut in the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives until the flour mixture is a bit crumbly.

8. Gently stir in the cranberries so they are coated with the dry ingredients.

9. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Quickly mix the batter up just until the dry ingredients are moist.

10. Drop the batter by 1/4 cup onto the lined cookie sheets, and bake for about 20 minutes. The scones will be puffed and golden. You may eat them immediately while warm or cool the scones on a wire cooling rack for later eating.

NOTE: Your cooking time may vary, depending on your measuring cup. I usually use a deep cup so it takes 20 minutes, but once I used a shallower cup and the scones took less time, so be sure to gauge accordingly. Basically you want your scones to be puffed and airy and cooked through.

 

Holiday Traditions: Revamping Gingerbread

“Your daughter made the entire class cry.”

My oldest was in Kindergarten when I received a phone call from her teacher who was concerned about the fallout of my daughter having caused distress to all her little classmates.

The evening before we had spoken with our children, only the two daughters at the time, about Saint Nicholas, about the real person who had cared deeply for the poor children of his country at the time, and how he had died but that his spirit lived on in the modern version of Santa Claus.  Apparently, the next day, when my daughter’s classmates were talking about Santa Claus, her little truthful autistic self felt compelled to let her classmates know that Saint Nicholas was dead,which her classmates interpreted as Santa Claus having just died and that there’d be no Christmas that year.

We had to have a nice long chat with our daughter about what exactly one can share with other people and exactly how one should go about sharing even if “it’s the truth” as she kept insisting.

What I remember clearly from the incident, though, was the surprise of the teacher when we explained that the issue arose because we didn’t actually encourage a belief in a current active Santa Claus, that we wanted our children to learn compassion and care for people around them by understanding what the real Saint Nicholas did because of his faith in God and that our children and we, too, could care for the people around us and take care of the poor because of our faith.

At the time, she seemed to think that we were somehow depriving our children of “imagination” as she put it. We argued that our children had plenty of that without any extra help from Santa Claus and that while we didn’t push a belief in Santa Claus, our children did believe in the Tooth Fairy and Leprechauns so they weren’t completely without a fairy world.

I doubt we convinced her, though, and I find that the same thing happens when it comes to food traditions for the holiday. Too often people tell me that they don’t want to try my holiday goodies because “it won’t be the same”. My argument is that it’s not supposed to be the same. Traditions are wonderful, and our family has boatloads of them, but change is good, too, and sometimes, something new can be even better than the original tradition, especially if it means that you can include the members of your family who otherwise would have to miss out on the food tradition because of their food allergies or restrictions.

One of the holiday food traditions in the States is the making of gingerbread. Last year, I shared how we had revamped a roll-out ginger cookie recipe. This year, I’m going to share a gingerbread recipe. We made this for my in-laws over Thanksgiving, and we tweaked it a bit to make it even better for Christmas.

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread

Ingredients:

2  15 ounce cans pears in 100% pear juice

1 1/4 cup sorghum flour

1 1/4 cup cornstarch

2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp ground ginger powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 cup warmed pear juice from the canned pears

1/2 cup coconut sugar or regular sugar

1 cup date molasses or regular molasses

1/2 cup vegan soy free butter

2 beaten eggs

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Grease the bottom of a glass pan. You can use vegan butter or shortening or a plant based oil of your choosing. You can use a 9 x 9 x 2 square pan or an 11 x 8 x 2 rectangular pan. Which type of pan you choose will slightly affect the baking time and how thick your gingerbread is.

3. Drain the pears from their cans, reserving the liquid for use as part of the wet ingredients.

4. Slice the pear halves into thin strips and arrange them on the bottom of your chosen pan. They will need to overlap with one another to create a nice thick layer of pears.

5. Whisk together the sorghum flour, cornstarch, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Set aside.

6. Warm a cup of the leftover pear juice in the microwave until the juice is boiling. Microwaves may vary, but mine usually just needs about 45 seconds to a minute.

7. To the boiling pear juice add the sugar, molasses, and butter. Stir until everything is dissolved and well combined.

8. Mix together the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients with the beaten eggs, just until everything is combined and the dry ingredients are wet.

9. Carefully spread the gingerbread batter evenly over the pears and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Depending on which size pan you use and whether it’s a glass pan or aluminum will affect the baking time, so set your time for 30 minutes and check from there. I make mine in an 11 x 8 x 2 glass pan which takes about 40 minutes. A 9 x 9 x 2 will probably take closer to 50 minutes. Aluminum pans may cook more quickly.

10. When the gingerbread is done, you can serve it as is, which is what I did for my in-laws and cut out pieces with the pears on the bottom, or if you want to do what I did for a party I hosted last week, you can carefully turn the pan onto a platter and serve the cake with the pear-side up which is very pretty.