Gingerbread Peach Muffins

peachy gingerbread muffins (gluten free, vegan)

I’ve never really been able to say with any amount of conviction that I have a favorite fruit. My preferences seem to go something like this: In the fall, I really love crisp apples and fresh plums. During the spring, I get excited for the beginning of fresh strawberry season. When fresh citrus is being grown down in Florida during the winter, I love juicy oranges and grapefruit. Throughout the summer, I can’t get enough blueberries, raspberries and cherries. And later in the summer, my kitchen counter is overloaded with fresh peaches and nectarines.

Fruit can be an amazing and perplexing thing. I’ve marveled at how much better an apple can taste when in season — crisp and sweet, versus mealy and flavorless in the off-season. Blueberries can be plump and flavorful during their peak, while most of the year they are small and sour. And then there are peaches. You rarely notice them year-round, as they tend to be an overpriced luxury that is not quite worth the expense. They never have that distinct, sweet and juicy peach flavor….until late summer, when they certainly do.

I’ve been obsessing a bit over peaches and nectarines lately. With prices low and abundance high, I can’t help but stock up on amounts that are probably excessive given that there are only two people (and one dog who does not like peaches — one of the few fruits he eschews!) living in our house. Nevertheless, I somehow seem to manage our haul by enjoying peaches and nectarines in every capacity — on oatmeal, in smoothies, as a snack, and in baked goods.

gingerbread peach muffins (gluten free, vegan)

I’m not sure what gave me the idea to combine the sweetness of peaches with the spiciness of gingerbread. Perhaps because I know that ginger and peaches tend to work well together, I thought, why not add some more spices into the equation? I also find that, while delicious, peaches also tend to have a more mild flavor that can balance nicely with something spicier on the palate.

With these muffins, I find that the peach keeps these muffins moist and flavorful, while balancing the spiciness of the gingerbread base. They make a great breakfast muffin or even dessert option and can be kept at room temperature, covered, for a few days. I imagine they would also freeze fairly well, and then can be re-heated to eat. I tested this recipe on Gennaro and my parents and these muffins were met with all-positive reviews. My mom actually claimed that these were “one of the best muffins I’ve ever had!” though I would take this endorsement for what it’s worth — my mom says the same thing about pretty much everything she really likes. At any rate, I hope you enjoy these as much as my family and I did!

Final note: while I did use oil in this recipe — even though I have drastically cut back on oil in my cooking and baking — the entire recipe calls for only two tablespoons. This adds up to about 1/2 teaspoon oil per muffin, or about 20 added fat calories per muffin from oil — making these a relatively low-fat option.

Gingerbread-Peach Muffins:

Yield: 12 Muffins

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups oat flour, loosely packed*
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup raw coconut crystals (or coconut palm sugar)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Wet Ingredients:
1 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk*
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing muffin tins

Plus: 1 heaping cup diced fresh peaches (about 1 large peach)

*Note: I used Arrowhead Mills Oat Flour. However, this brand is not certified gluten-free. If you’re highly sensitive, have Celiac disease, or are worried about cross-contamination with gluten, please look for certified gluten-free oat flour, such as this one from Bob’s Red Mill

**I tagged these as soy-free and nut-free, but obviously the use of soy or nut milk will negate either of these tags. That said, I used unsweetened soy milk, though almost any dairy-free milk could work, including coconut, almond or hemp milk. Play around and see which you like best. 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either gently grease 12 muffin tins with olive oil, using your hands or a paper towel,  or line each muffin tin with baking cups.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add wet ingredients to a separate bowl and whisk. Slowly add to dry ingredients and whisk together until combined.

4. Fold in peaches until well-distributed.

5. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter into each pre-greased/lined muffin tin. Place on the middle rack of your pre-heated oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until muffins are browned on top and bounce back when pressed.

6. Let cool for about 10-15 mintues before gently removing each muffin. I like to use a butter knife to go around the edges and make sure nothing is sticking to the sides, then I’ll gently loosen the bottom and  lift the muffin from the top. Let cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.

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Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

chocolate chunk banana bread top viewI consider chef Chloe Coscarelli to be a culinary genius. I’ve posted before about my love of her first cookbook (all vegan!), Chloe’s Kitchen, which is quickly becoming one of those beloved cookbooks of mine — joining the ranks of the other tattered, torn and food-splattered but frequently used books in my collection. I love her recipes because she has a knack for not only making things taste amazing, but making them super simple and un-daunting, which is a daunting task in itself! And while many (but certainly not all) of her recipes call for gluten-containing ingredients, they can easily be adapted to be gluten-free. In fact, she has a section in the front of her book all about gluten-free substitutions. Personally, I’ve made many of her recipes substituting gluten-free ingredients, including her baked macaroni (which I made with quinoa and corn mini shell noodles and brown rice flour for the roux), with stellar results.

But Chloe is perhaps most famous for her dessert recipes (she won Cupcake Wars on Food Network, and was the first all-vegan chef to do so), many of which I have sadly not had the chance to make because of the sugar factor (she indicates in her book that many of her dessert recipes can be made with gluten-free flours). I’ve found that it’s one thing to substitute gluten-free flours, but things get really tricky when you start messing with the sugar.

As many of you may know if you’ve been following this site for awhile, I avoid refined sugars due to a history of candida albicans and health problems which can be exacerbated by sugar intake. In fact, I believe that consuming refined sugars, while probably OK in moderation, can wreak havoc on anyone’s health when done to excess. With candida, I must be even more careful, especially after being on antibiotics for over a year. I went through a period of not eating any fruit or sugar, then slowly adding back non-refined, low glycemic sweeteners on occasion. Otherwise, I use stevia if I need a sweetener. I have also been advised to avoid fructose due to Lyme, which is why you will notice that agave nectar, while a staple of my baking in the past, is no longer used in my recipes. I tend to have the same attitude toward agave as I do toward regular sugar — fine in moderation, but problematic in excess, or even if consumed daily. However, these sweeteners can be especially problematic for people with health issues such as candida or Lyme, and should therefore be avoided.

For these reasons, Chloe’s desserts have both tempted and haunted me since I’ve had her book. Not to mention the fact that she has a new dessert book out, Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, which I have purposely not bought knowing it will just taunt me to no end.

chocolate chunk banana bread side view

Don’t worry – no one took a bite out of that second piece. I just made the age-old mistake of cutting too soon and that piece crumbled off as a result.

This weekend, I finally succumbed to my temptations and decided to tackle and modify a Chloe dessert recipe using a gluten-free flour and a sugar substitute. While I don’t even bake with unrefined sugar substitutes much anymore, I figured if I was going to bake something, it might as well be very, very good. In the end, I went with her Chocolate Chip Banana Cake recipe, which is on her website. Now, if any of you are also vegan, gluten-free and trying to avoid refined sugars, you’ll know that finding chocolate chips that meet your dietary requirements is completely impossible. They just don’t exist. So I usually try to avoid recipes calling for them, or use something else such as nuts or dried fruit — which sometimes (OK, probably most of the time) just doesn’t hit the spot in the way gooey chocolate does.

The reason I decided to go with a recipe calling for chocolate chips, however, is that I recently discovered what I imagine is a somewhat new product from the brand Coconut Secret, their Peruvian Crunch chocolate bar. It is simply dark chocolate, coconut and organic coconut crystals (dried coconut nectar). And it is TO. DIE. FOR. I almost felt like it was a waste of such an amazing chocolate bar to chop it up and mix it with other things. In fact, few recipes would actually justify such an act. But I felt that chocolate chunk banana bread had to be one of those recipes. And it was totally worth it.

photo (4)

Originally posted to my Instagram feed, @bversical

I made some other changes to Chloe’s original recipe in addition to my flour and sugar substitutions. Many of the changes were based on what I had on hand. I used olive oil instead of canola oil (I don’t ever have the latter on hand) and unsweetened almond milk in place of canned coconut milk (same thing — I always have almond milk on hand, almost never canned coconut milk). I also decreased the amount of chocolate chunks because I wanted to keep it to only one bar — otherwise, it could start getting ridiculously pricey just to make banana bread. I also omitted the salt, just to experiment for those trying to watch their salt intake whether it would make a difference. It was still amazingly tasty and flavorful. Though it would be interesting if someone did a taste-test to compare the salted and non-salted versions side-by-side. Finally, I had run out of ground ginger so omitted that from the recipe, and it was still extremely flavorful and well-spiced. I could also easily see this recipe being good with shredded coconut (it’s already in the chocolate bar, so it adds a nice flavor punch), chopped walnuts, or even some orange zest if you’re feeling super adventurous.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread:
Adapted from the amazing Chloe Coscarelli’s recipe for Chocolate Chip Banana Cake at Chefchloe.com

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 cup coconut crystals/coconut palm sugar

1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)

1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond or coconut milk to be soy-free, soy or rice milk will make it nut-free)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for greasing pan

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, I had just run out)

1 chocolate bar such as Coconut Secret Peruvian Crunch, chopped (yields about 1/2 cup)

Directions:

1. Lightly grease a 5×10″ loaf pan with olive oil. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, xanthan gum, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

3. In a separate bowl, gently whisk together mashed banana, oil, milk, vinegar and vanilla extract. Slowly add to dry ingredients and whisk until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

4. Fold in chocolate chunks. Pour batter into pre-greased load pan and bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (no wet batter). Remove from oven an let sit for about 1/2 hour. Then remove from loaf pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

 

 

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Blueberry Muffins

I explained this in my pumpkin bar post, but it’s worth repeating: I made so many muffins before perfecting this recipe, it was ridiculous. Ludicrous. Unhealthy. Overkill. I made so many versions of muffins, it was weeks before I came up with a version that was worth posting. But then, with all that work, why stop at just something that was “worth posting”? So I kept going, until I finally, FINALLY had a recipe that I was actually proud of — something I would feel confident serving my non-vegan, non-gluten-free, sugar-loving friends without worrying about hearing “these are good……for being (fill in the blank)” I do not like hearing that I have a worthy recipe, if only for the gluten-free, vegan crowd.

The only problem with this recipe is that I missed my blueberry season window by a couple of weeks. Now, fresh blueberries are back to being exorbitantly priced and scarce. I suppose frozen blueberries would suffice, though I spent so long tinkering with the recipe, I would hate to think of any substitutions threatening the overall balance. But I’ll let you guys be the judge on that one. I also imagine chopped apples would be nice here, but that idea might merit a whole new post of its own…

Yield: 12 muffins

Blueberry Muffins:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour

½ teaspoon xanthan gum

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup coconut crystals or coconut palm sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon Ener-G egg replacer (dry)

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

½ cup hot water

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup coconut oil (liquefied)

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Fill 12 muffin tins with liners.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, xanthan gum, salt, coconut sugar, cinnamon, dry egg replacer, baking powder and baking soda.

2. Add milk, hot water, vanilla and coconut oil to dry ingredients and mix to incorporate. Fold in applesauce. Fold in blueberries, being careful not to crush.

3. Drop batter by 1/4 cup into each muffin tin, adding more if necessary until each tin is evenly filled. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack before serving.

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Sweet Potato Scones

I love scones. I think they’re among my favorite indulgences, as they’re one of the less sweet desserts out there, but also a very viable breakfast option. I also think I like just about anything that goes well with a cup of coffee, and I’ve never met a scone that didn’t.

It took me three tries to make these. They turned out well the first time, actually. But I stupidly measured the oil over my bowl, and as it went pouring over and into my flour mixture. From there I knew I was dooomed to guess exactly how much oil had actually made it in. My first guess (and second batch of scones) came out quite oily. The third was just right — and to my mom’s delight, as I think she is already quite over me dirtying up her kitchen and waving baked goods under her nose every weekend.

While I used agave in these, I was very gentle with it — only 1/4 cup. Therefore, these scones are not too sweet. Just how I like them. You’ll have to excuse my choppy writing, but I’ve had residual headaches ever since my migraine on Friday night and putting together a sentence is a little much for me at the moment. I think it’s time for winter to be over!

Sweet Potato Scones:

2 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup liquified coconut oil, plus more for brushing

1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup agave nectar

zest of one orange (optional)

1/2 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir in oil, sweet potato, agave, vanilla and orange zest until combined into a workable dough. Fold in cranberries.

3. Form dough into a large ball and place on floured counter. Roll into an 8×8″ disk using dusted rolling pin, smoothing out edges with hands. Make slices in dough, cutting into quarters and then eighths (alternately, roll into two smaller disks for 16 small scones). Gently remove to parchment-lined or silpat-lined baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining oil.

4. Bake scones in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until tops are golden. Let cool before serving.

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Sweet Potato Muffins

When I think of sweet potato in desserts, I usually think cloying and sweet and heavy. I think pumpkin pie spices, or maybe marshmallow if we’re going the casserole route. Maybe it’s this association that has had me hesitant to bake with sweet potato until now (I’ve never been the biggest fan of pumpkin pie, let alone sweet potato pie). My change-of-heart can be attributed to a few things: 1) I learned that the lining of many canned goods contains BPA, which is a no-no if you’re at all concerned about carcinogens. To me, sweet potato is simply much easier to cook from scratch (and available more often) than is pumpkin, my usual canned go-to. 2) I might as well give pumpkin a break as it is, since it’s appeared in quite a few of my recipes as of late. 3) I saw a recipe — and unfortunately, I can’t remember where or for what — that called for sweet potato with orange zest, and I thought “yes. I like that idea.” And so I tried it. I’m glad I did.

I know I promised my red lentil kibbeh recipe, but I’m not happy with the individual photos I took of it, so it’s gonna have to wait until I can make it again. In the meantime, please enjoy these easy, healthy, moist and yummy muffins. My new barometer for a good health muffin is whether you realize it’s healthy when eating it. I had two (and a half) today and (unfortunately, perhaps instinctively) began calculating the caloric damage. Remembering that these are all whole grain, contain flax, and are sweetened with stevia helped to put my mind at ease, at least a little. Still, I had to remind myself of all the benefits. They’re not apparent upon conspumption — which is a good thing, no?

Yield: 12 muffins

Sweet Potato Muffins:

While the perfectionist in me cringed at the sight of jagged muffins tops, don’t let their exterior fool you — these are moist and spongey on the inside. The sweet potato helps them to retain their moisture well after they’ve been ziplocked away and refrigerated. I mashed my sweet potato with a little texture — mostly smooth, but enough so that every once-in-awhile you bite into an actual piece of it. It creates a pretty speckled effect with the dried cranberry as well.

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

¼ cup flax seed meal

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups unsweetened soy milk

2 tablespoons canola oil (plus more for greasing tins, if needed)

1 teaspoon Nunaturals vanilla liquid stevia (or two teaspoons pure vanilla extract plus 1 teaspoon NuNaturals stevia)

1 ½ cups mashed cooked sweet potato (I boiled mine until fork tender, then drained)

1/2 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberry

Zest of 1 organic orange, washed (use a good, microplane zester for best results)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Whisk together flour, flax, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk in soy milk, stevia and oil until incorporated into the dry ingredients. Add orange zest, cranberry and sweet potato and fold into batter until evenly distributed.

3. Using an ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measure, drop batter into greased or lined muffin tins. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in tins for about 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Cranberry Gingerbread

If you live in New York City, you know that one of the bravest things a New Yorker can do is to tackle Trader Joes during the rush hour. And by rush hour, I mean pretty much every weekday after 11 a.m. and weekends (except Friday and Saturday after 9 p.m.). It’s a scary place, that Union Square Trader Joes. Shoppers shoving into you with their carts. People fighting over the last carton of strawberries. Workers trying to explain to people exactly where the line starts. In order to maneuvere what seem like impossibly narrow aisles (it’s really just all the people crowded into them), it’s best to leave your cart in a designated area and make a mad dash for as many items on your list as you can carry, all the while hoping no one’s moved your cart by the time you get back, or mistaken it for their own.

In the midst of the overcrowding and tension that defines the New York TJ’s shopping experience, I’ve considered it a well-deserved reward to round the area of the line where the sample station is, and to help myself to some of the always perfectly-brewed free coffee. This is the moment I’ve been anticipating ever since I shot a “don’t mess with me look” at the person who tried to steal my spot in line; ever since I realized that they were out of the medjool dates again; ever since I walked into this crazy establishment and contemplated walking out a thousand times. Believe me, after this extreme sports-like shopping experience, a Dixie cup full of coffee never sounded so good.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I endured the Trader Joes rush last week only to find that instead of coffee, there was a dispenser full of CRANBERRY JUICE waiting for me at the sample station. I went through all this for…CRANBERRY JUICE?!?! was my intitial — and I thought very justified — reaction. But then I realized that this was a cranberry cider that had been mulled with cloves and ginger and orange peel and apples. Hmmm…maybe I could come around to this cranberry juice thing after all.

Anyways, long story short, I actually did enjoy the mulled cranberry juice, which became my inspiration for this sweet, tart and spicy gingerbread. It’s all of my favorite flavors of this season (including pumpkin, which adds extra moistness and flavor), and goes really well with a cup of — you guessed it! — coffee.

Gluten-Free Cranberry Gingerbread:

After many attempts at this recipe, I feared that the tension between a bread that doesn’t fall apart and a bread that isn’t overly gummy would come to an impasse. Alas, this final version seemed to find a resolution between the two extremes, though a few tips may help to ensure you don’t end up with a gummy layer at the bottom of your loaf: 1) bake this bread for the full cooking time; even if it seems overly cooked on the outside, it will remain moist on the inside. 2) Try dividing the batter into two separate, smaller loaf pans, and 3) If you can, try baking this bread in a convection oven, which will help the heat to distrubute more evenly (in which case, you may actually need to reduce the baking time).

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1/2 cup tapioca starch (can substitute potato starch as well)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil, plus more for greasing

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup hot water

zest of one orange

1 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, spices and flax seed meal. Add pumpkin, applesauce, oil, agave, stevia and vanilla extract. Whisk until combined. Fold in hot water and orange zest and mix into batter until it all comes together. Fold in cranberries.

3. Pour batter into a pre-greased 4.5×8.5″ loaf pan. Smooth out the top of the batter with a spatula. Bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a long toothpick comes out clean. Cool in loaf pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn out bread onto rack and let cool for another 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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Veggie and “Cream Cheese” Focaccia Pizza

So, you know how in my last post I mentioned I’ve been making an effort to pace my posts? Well, it seems my body has helped out in this cause, as I was forced to rest this week with yet another stiff neck and some pretty significant fatigue. The good news is, the latest bout of muscle spasms and stiffness has forced me to seek out an acupunturist in New York, which is something I’ve been thinking about doing for quite some time. Has anyone tried acupuncture? Thoughts? I’m very excited about it,  and — AND! — it’s covered by my new insurance! Ah, the perks of being married!

But now that I’ve had a bit of rest today — along with a healthy dose of some evening iced coffee — I can finally post this pizza recipe, which has been patiently waiting to be shared here for over a week now. I have faint recollections of a Pillsbury “pizza” recipe that made its rounds among the block parties and holiday gatherings of my childhood. Likely because I knew it was something my mom would never make at home (Pillsbury? Please. Try Moosewood, thank-you-very-much), I always indulged in this take on pizza whenever I encountered it elsewhere. And just to make sure I’m not imagining things, I located the original recipe here.

Well, if we’re using raw, fresh veggies, we can do better than white flour and processed cream cheese, can’t we? That’s what I thought. My focaccia recipe has been reincarnated several times — here into a flat, bready pizza crust, which is the perfect vehicle for a creamy cashew topping and raw, fresh vegetables. I’ve been looking to make a panini with my foccacia recipe as well, but now that I know about this pizza, I’ll be hard pressed not to choose it over anything else.

Veggie and Cream Cheese Pizza:

all ingredients for 1 recipe of foccacia, minus the rosemary

1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 3 hours, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons Grapeseed oil Vegenaise

2 scallions, white part only

6 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

raw vegetables of your choice (I used broccoli, bell pepper and carrot)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Prepare focaccia batter according to directions. Spread thin and evenly (covering up any holes) onto a flat, pre-greased baking sheet about 11×11 inches in diameter, making a rough circle. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Carefully scrape under focaccia with a knife to loosen from baking sheet. Set aside.

3. Prepare cream cheese topping: Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until completely smooth and spreadable. Add additional water only if necessary.

4. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over focaccia and sprinkle with diced vegetables — as many or as little as you would like. Enjoy!

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Cran-Apple Cornbread

Balance. I think it’s something we all strive for in our diets, though doing so can require constant work and attention. It’s not always easy to monitor our sugar intake while diversifying the color of our vegetables, or the types of protein we’re eating. After cutting animal products from my diet earlier this year, I’ve sometimes found myself over-doing it on the tofu, or eating too many grains. It’s not that a gluten-free, vegan diet is necessarily difficult for me, it’s just that it’s easy to fall victim to the allure of continuity and convenience. To me, being healthy means putting in the extra effort to diversify, to remain flexible. To be balanced. 

Perhaps more difficult to maintain than a healthy gluten-free, vegan diet has been my adherence to the Anti-Candida Diet. For those fortunate enough to not know about Candida overgrowth, you can read about it here. For those familiar with candida, its manifestations and its treatment, you know that treating an overgrowth can be a painstakingly long process requiring patience, perserverance, and even a little faith. One problem I’ve had with following the Anti-Candida Diet is that it’s so damn strict. No fruit (except lemon and lime). No grains. No sugar. No alcohol. No mushrooms. Nothing fermented. No caffeine. In addition to that, the diet can also be confusing. Depending on who you listen to, fruits are O.K. in moderation (wait, I though they weren’t?), whole grains are O.K., low glycemic sweeteners are O.K. sometimes. Are we following this?

Perhaps in part due to the confusion, in part due to sheer rebellion, I’ve been a less-than-stellar pupil of the Anti-Candida Diet. I’ve continued to drink coffee. I haven’t given up all fruits. I eat carbs. I drink wine on occassion. I spent a good year sweetening everything with agave (true, it’s preferable to sugar for these purposes, but it’s not necessarily ideal). While my diet has changed for the better since my blood results, it’s still far from perfect. Still, every time I try to commit 100% to the diet, I can’t help but think that by pressuring myself to be perfect, I’m sort of setting myself up for failure.

Balance. It’s the only way I think I can maintain a long-term adherence to this diet. I’m just trying to do the best I can. If I eat a carb-laden lunch, I’ll enjoy a light salad for dinner. If I eat something agave sweetened, I’ll limit my fruit intake for the day. And if I decide to make something with fruit these days, I try to make stevia my sweetener of choice (a good choice for anti-candida purposes). I’m taking this thing one day at a time, trying to make my health a priority (law school didn’t exactly make the latter very easy).

Trying to put my approach toward balance into practice, I developed this cornbread while craving something carby but not too sweet. It’s stevia-sweetened, speckled with lower glycemic green apples and fruit-sweetened dried cranberries. I found this combination unique and surprising, while the overall flavor was still reminiscent of a traditional cornbread. Best of all, it is easy, easy, easy to make this. One bowl. One skillet. No electric mixers. No gums or starches.

Any candida suffers out there want to share their successes, opinions or approach? I can only assume I’m not the only one who has struggled to be perfect, while falling short of that ideal.

Cran-Apple Cornbread:

1 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour (not cornmeal)

3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons sea salt

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 1/2 cups light coconut milk (shaken)

2 droppers (about 1/2 teaspoon) NuNaturals Liquid Vanilla Stevia

1 cup green apple, peeled and diced

1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberry

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. Add oil, coconut milk, applesauce and stevia and whisk until smooth. Fold in apples and cranberries until evenly distributed through batter.

3. Pour batter into pre-greased 9″ skillet. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until cake is firm to the touch and golden brown on top. Let cool on a wire rack for 25-30 minutes before slicing.

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Lemon-Rosemary-Olive Oil Cake

It wasn’t a particular recipe or picture or memory or craving that inspired me to attempt a gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free version of an olive oil cake. It was an unstocked pantry that brought this all about a few weeks ago. Still slow to build up to the pre-honeymoon stock of baking items, I was craving an upside-down cake and all I had was olive oil. Well, the upside-down cake was sort of a flop. But that’s O.K. What ensued was a two-week exploratory course in all things “olive oil cake.”

And that’s when the obsession started.

First, there was the olive oil cake Tastespotting search, which yielded this recipe, then this recipe, and finally this one (which leads me to an interesting question: if doing the same tastespotting search, which of the olive oil cake pictures would you have clicked on?). Of course, none of the offerings were gluten-free or vegan, let alone sugar-free. But I search for inspiration; rarely is an actual recipe the goal. Then there came the test runs. Some crumbly, others much too dense. Had it been any other recipe, I may have given up. But I couldn’t shake the olive oil cake idea. And so I let myself one last chance at redemption. This time, with rosemary. I think you can guess the rest of the story…

Now, a few things about this recipe. There comes a time during the baking process where compromise is necessary. While I was originally determined to bake this with stevia, agave nectar yielded far superior results here. So while I had to relinquish the stevia idea, please find comfort in the fact that I have a very promising cheesecake recipe — made entirely with stevia — in the works. Also, while I originally intended to use only the gluten-free all purpose flour here, I ran out. That’s when I decided to sub-in some almond flour, which turned out so awesome that I didn’t bother trying it again using the original plan (I think it enhances the flavor and texture of the cake). Finally, this cake is not too sweet at all. Instead, I tried to let the lemon and rosemary flavors do the singing, the agave offering a harmonious accompaniment to the real stars (sorry about the metaphors, The Simpsons “art camp” episode is starting to rub off on me).

Lemon-Rosemary-Olive Oil Cake:

I went a little easy with the rosemary here. I think you could definitely add a bit more if you’d like. Make sure to use a really good olive oil. Extra virgin yields the best flavor.

1 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer whisked with 1/4 cup warm water until frothy

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup light coconut milk whisked with 1 teaspoon lemon juice (let sit for 10 minutes)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon minced rosemary, plus 1 sprig for topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum. Set aside.

3. In a mixer, beat together agave and olive oil. Add egg replacer-water mix, coconut milk-lemon mixture, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest. Turn mixer speed to slow and slowly add dry ingredients until batter just comes together. Fold in minced rosemary.

4. Pour batter into a pre-greased or parchment-lined 4.5×8.5-inch loaf pan (1.5 qt.). Pull leaves off rosemary sprig and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Run knife around cake to loosen and turn out from loaf pan. Let cool for another 15-20 minutes before slicing.

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Strawberry Scones

As hard as this may be to believe, there was a point in my life when my sweet tooth was virtually non-existent. Sure, I’d enjoy the occassional tiramisu at an Italian restaurant, or ice cream on a hot summer day. But generally, I didn’t enjoy sweets. I was one of those savory-over-sweet at brunch people; I’d prefer to eat more for dinner and not save room for dessert. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I probably went months at a time without eating anything sweet.

Then a funny thing happened. I was diagnosed with food allergies. Suddenly, every time I saw a chocolate chip cookie, I wanted it. Every ice cream cone taunted me, each piece of cake at a wedding. Let me tell you something: nothing kicks a sweet tooth in gear like thinking you’ll never be able to eat anything sweet again. I was desperate to re-create everything I couldn’t eat, and developed my newfound sweet tooth in the process.

Despite liking things a bit sweeter these days, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the not-too-sweet, biscuit-like scone —  the perfect end to a meal for sweet tooths and non-sweet-tooths alike. I love just about any kind of scone, but drop scones are an easy, almost foolproof, quick baked good. These scones are also quite healthy. They’re made with whole grains, and sweetened with just stevia. I’m loving NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia for baking. When I wanted to start baking more with stevia, I bought a bunch of different varieties and have been trying them all to see what I like (since I haven’t always been the biggest liquid stevia fan). I think this brand is definitely a good bet if you’re looking for nice flavor and less bitterness than you might expect from a liquid stevia. It may seem a bit on the pricey side (and it is, compared to many refined sugars), but remember that since it’s vanilla flavored, you won’t have to worry about paying for pricey vanilla extract. And since a little goes a long way (only 1/2 teaspoon for these scones), it will last you for several recipes.

I decided to make these today to celebrate the start of strawberry season, and to celebrate my last day of law school. Ever. Which means, today was my last day of school. Ever (I’m not counting Bar review classes here, of course…because that would just be no fun).  So here’s to the beginning of a season, and the end of an era.

Strawberry Drop Scones:

Yield: 8-10 scones

1 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/3 cup Spectrum organic shortening

1/2 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons light coconut milk, shaken, plus more for brushing

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1 dropper NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia (plus more to taste)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, potato starch, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add shortening and crumble into dry ingredients with hand. Add coconut milk, stevia and lemon zest and stir with a spoon until everything comes together. If batter is dry, add additional tablespoons of coconut milk one by one until it comes together. Fold in strawberries.

3. Drop scones by 1/4 cup measurements onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly brush tops with coconut milk. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden.

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