Triple Chocolate Brownie Doughnuts

gluten-free, vegan triple chocolate doughnutsI read an article around New Years last year that had food experts predicting the next food trends of 2014. One expert pegged 2014 as the year of hybrid desserts, in light of the recent cronut craze of 2013.

In our home, if we had to predict what sort of surprises 2014 would bring, I don’t think either of us would have predicted that this would be the year we’d find raccoons living in our attic. But that’s exactly what we were presented with a week ago yesterday. Had it not been for that little fly – er, raccoon – in the ointment, so to speak, last Sunday would have been a wonderful day. It was Easter Sunday, so we packed up our car bright and early, Woodley in tow, to attend church and then a day of festivities and vegan feasting at my parents’ home. It was a beautiful outside – in the 70s and sunny. Once we got home for the evening, we took a long family walk through the neighborhood, enjoying the warm and peaceful evening. As we rounded the corner of the street back to our house for the night, it became apparent that there was some sort of creature up on our rooftop, staring at us as we approached our home. That creature, it turns out, was a quite large raccoon. We locked eyes for a moment before she quickly darted back into, well, our home. From the roof. I was too creeped out to keep watching her, but Gennaro stayed outside only to learn there was another adult raccoon with her as well. The “baby daddy”, if you will (side note: when raccoons take up residence in the attic, they are almost always preparing for babies to come, which would explain why the raccoon who greeted us when we came home last Sunday night was nearly the size of our 45 lb. dog, and why there was a second adult raccoon with her).

A frantic Google search later, we learned that homes like ours – bungalows with dormer rooms built out over the roof – provide the perfect entryway for raccoons into an attic. Did you know raccoons can fit into holes only 4” wide? Yup, neither did we. Keep in mind that, as we were doing this Google search, we could clearly hear the unsettling pitter-patter and thumping of our house guests above us.

Instinctively, without a second thought, I began searching the internet for ways to get them the hell out. This, in turn, presented a rather interesting vegan dilemma that would have me losing sleep in the week that followed.

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Quinoa-Coconut Thumbprint Cookies

Gluten-Free, Vegan Quinoa Coconut Thumbprint Cookies | Delectably FreeIf it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — just tweak it! 

It seems that’s been my basic motto in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. I’m a restless cook — one who rarely makes the same exact thing the same way twice, unless, of course, I’m testing recipes to post here. But even then, once the recipe has been posted, after all the testing an tweaking that came before it, I’m still hard-wired to contemplate adjustments to that recipe that could make it even better. Or at least, something that could make it different.

The recipe for these thumbprint cookies is based on a previous recipe from 2011 for quinoa cookies — an oat-free oatmeal cookie alternative that has been a family favorite in recent years. If you compare the recipes side -by-side, you’ll notice they’re quite similar. But just a few tweaks to the original recipe has yielded a quite different cookie altogether. It’s like a coconut macaroon married with a thumbprint cookie and spiked with lemon zest for a fresh burst of flavor. It’s a bit of a departure from the oatmeal-like quinoa cookies upon which these were inspired.

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Soft & Chewy Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

double chocolate chip cookiesIt’s been a little over a year since I’ve been “back” and blogging. In the year prior, I had spent my time resting a tired and weary body, one which was riddled with Tick-borne infection and needed a level of care that I wasn’t able to give without giving something up. Sadly, that something was maintaining this website. There were definite moments when I thought of giving it up entirely. In fact, during my year off, I operated with the assumption that my blogging days were over. I was too tired — too exhausted, really — to even think about getting back to a place where I could fathom putting in the work required to create recipes, take photos and write up posts.

But something compelled me to come back. The realist in me thinks it was just that I was feeling better and needed an outlet for my new-found — albeit sporadic and fleeting — bursts of energy. But the spiritualist in me knows that there was more to it than that. I missed what this blog meant for me on a deeper level. I missed having a voice that I believed resonated with those seeking a healthier, more fulfilled and compassionate existence through their food choices. At the time, I didn’t really know if what I was sharing resonated with anyone, or whether my voice was missed. But I did know that if what I believed and was compelled to share, through food, resonated in my own heart, it was bound to reach someone else as well. 

What I’ve never mentioned, or admitted, is that this blog has also become a personal tool for my spiritual growth. Selfishly, I know that no matter what, by sharing my words here, I am doing something important for me — which is, simply, “putting myself out there”. When I first had the idea to start a blog, I quickly brushed it off as a ridiculous notion. Who would really want to see what had to share, or what I had to say? Who was I, really? There are thousands of food bloggers on the planet, many with more beautiful photos or fancier web designs than my own. The idea of throwing myself into the pool, with the strong risk of facing rejection (read: no one giving a crap) scared the bejeebers out of me.

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Chocolate-Avocado Mousse

chocolate-avocado mousseI don’t know what got into me. Well, I do know. It was Chef Fran’s amazing book Vegan Chocolate that started this recent whirlwind of cooking and baking with chocolate (though in this case, there is neither cooking nor baking required). From chocolate granola to chocolate-covered strawberries to chocolate chip pancakes to the double chocolate chip cookies I’ve been teasing but haven’t posted yet, it’s been a big ‘ol chocolate party at my house recently, all thanks (or no thanks) to Chef Fran. My apologies to any of you out there who are not chocolate lovers (including my husband) or to those who have chocolate allergies (my cousin Weylin comes to mind..and I always keep him in mind when I’m developing recipes for family gatherings).

That said, I’m sorry I’m not sorry for loving chocolate and wanting to share all things chocolate with the world. This recipe is the ultimate dichotomy: rich and creamy, yet raw, vegan and healthy. And when I say rich, I mean it. The richness of this mousse is like built-in portion control. You can eat a little bit and feel filled and satisfied.

Yes, there are plenty of avocado mousse recipes to be found on the internet these days. A recent Facebook meme with a similar recipe comes to mind. So there are tweaks and variations galore for those looking to play with this recipe. But what I love about this one, in particular, is that dates — not any sugar substitutes — are used for sweetness, making this an entirely whole-foods and raw (if using raw cocoa powder) recipe.

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Sugar-Free Chocolate Ganache Strawberries

chocolate ganache strawberriesI mentioned in my last post how inspired I was by Chef Fran, whose book Vegan Chocolate dazzled and delighted me once I got the chance to fully peruse its pages upon my return from New York. I was mesmerized, particularly, but the beautiful photo of chocolate ganache, which was just simply a big bowl of glorious, shiny, deep and rich chocolate. No need to get fancy, there. A bowl of chocolate sauce was enough to pique my curiosity and had me testing things in the kitchen very shortly after my return, as tired as I was feeling… Did I mention that I do not do well on less than 8 hours of sleep?

Anyways, I headed to Whole Foods to see if I could find an unsweetened Bakers Chocolate so that I could start testing recipes for a low-sugar ganache using alternative sweeteners. But once I got to Whole Foods, I found something better: vegan chocolate chips sweetened with…

Stevia!

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Cranberry-Oatmeal Cookies

cranberry-oatmeal cookiesWell, just a few weeks after I proudly bragged about not getting sick in several years (and I was not including getting Lyme disease in that proclamation, just for the record), I’m stuck at home this weekend with a pounding headache, body aches and chills. That’s what I get for bragging, I guess.

Last night was the first time in my life that I walked out of a movie I actually liked. It was a girls night out. Dinner and a movie. Dinner was fine, though I was feeling pretty tired. And then there was the movie. Captain Phillips. I was excited to see what was supposed to be Tom Hanks’ best performance since Forrest Gump. But I didn’t get very far into the movie before my head began to pound and  I started to feel dizzy, sweaty, nauseous and just plain sick. So that was why I was forced to walk out of what seemed to be a decent movie, and one I think I would have been enjoying had the room not seemed like it was spinning as I watched.

Now that I’ve got enough medications in me to actually look at a screen without seeing double, I thought I’d take advantage of my day as a shut-in and actually post this cookie recipe I’ve been holding onto for too long. I made these cookies a few weeks ago and had to fight Gennaro off from eating all of them before I could take a picture. These are classical oatmeal cookies with a twist of tartness from the cranberries, which replace the more traditional raisins.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Because now, I go back to putting my head down and not thinking for awhile.

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Single-Serving Banana-Omega-Chia Pudding

banana-omega-chia puddingI am approaching this first post of the new year with a bit of trepidation, as this would normally be the obligatory resolutions and reflections post, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that 2013 went by so fast. Resolutions? I’m not there yet. I’m still wondering where all the time went. This has me thinking. By the time I’ve figured out my resolutions for this year, it will probably be 2015.

Time passes quickly. I learn that more and more each year. As my dad says, it’s because the older we become, each year is a smaller proportion of our lives thus far.

What I have learned is that, the older I become, the more keenly aware I am of the importance of caring for my body. I marvel at the things I seemingly got away with doing to my body while in college. All-nighters cramming for tests or writing papers, diet sodas, beer at tailgates and 2 a.m. pizza delivery were not uncommon occurrences in my college days. And judging from the number of people still in the school computer lab at 4 a.m. or by the crowds at tailgates and bars over the weekends (and sometimes during the week), I am pretty sure I was not alone.

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Raw Avocado-Citrus Bars with Strawberries

Raw Citrus-Avocado Bars with strawberriesI’ve been thinking for awhile about creating a healthy(ish) holiday dessert option that would still evoke some of the spirit of the holiday season. Ideally, I wanted to create something using traditional Christmas colors, but without resorting to any artificial coloring or non-edibles to get the job done. I have also been thinking of creating an all-raw variation of my Avocado-Lime Tart. As the filling of that tart was raw to begin with, I figured it would make sense to make an entirely raw version for those who prefer to eat that way.

And so, these all-raw Avocado-Citrus bars were born. They marry the idea of a Christmas-themed treat with an all-raw tart. The light, minty green coloring of the filling combined with the strawberries on top makes a lovely pairing. And even though I used the same filling as in my avocado-lime tart, I changed the name to Avocado-“citrus” bars — because it’s my blog, and I can do stuff like that.

I tested these bars on Gennaro and a friend of his who was over the night I made them — both of whom gave their approval and urged me to post these. Sometimes I can be such a perfectionist when it comes to my recipes that I’m not sure when to stop tweaking things. So it’s sometimes nice to be told something is really good as-is, so I don’t have to think about it too much.

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Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie

pumpkin chocolate mousse piePumpkin season may have started awhile ago, but I was sort of blanking out when it came to anything new I wanted to tackle in the pumpkin department. But then I got inspired by a vegan pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake I saw at Whole Foods and was immediately determined to make one of my own without any processed sugars or gluten.

When I first made this, I thought it was good. But it didn’t taste much like cheesecake. So I decided I would have to tweak it. But I liked it. And Gennaro liked it. “But it doesn’t taste much like cheesecake” I argued, explaining why I couldn’t post it on the blog. “No. It’s more like a chocolate mousse” Gennaro said. “I like chocolate mousse”, he added.

Who doesn’t?

And so it was confirmed, a fact I’ve long suspected: taste is in large part dictated by expectation. Ever taken a sip of, let’s say, orange juice, thinking for some reason you were drinking apple juice? Your brain will immediately alert you that something’s wrong, and you’re lucky if you don’t end up spitting it out. Because you weren’t expecting it!

While I didn’t spit this out at first, I took my first few bites disappointed that it didn’t taste like cheesecake as I’d hoped. But the more bites I took the more I decided I was liking this non-cheesecake concoction. And when Gennaro mentioned that it was like a chocolate mousse, I nodded in agreement. This was a description I could wrap my brain around. And suddenly, realizing that I was eating a chocolate mousse, I was loving this concoction and wanting more. Funny how the brain works, huh?

As I mentioned in my last post, my diet has shifted from more processed and higher-fat foods such as fake meats and cheeses to lower fat, whole foods. This pie definitely reflects that shift. While I did use tofu in this dish — which is technically a processed soy food — I tend to use soy overall in moderation, and always opt for organic, non-GMO soy. Even though I use soy in moderation (meaning I don’t have it daily, let alone for 3 meals a day!), I find that tofu is incomparable to other products when it comes to getting a really creamy texture without adding a lot of fat. Keeping the fat content of the filling relatively low was especially important to me considering that I used walnuts in the crust. Sure, walnuts are a very healthy monounsaturated fat sources that are high in omega-3s, but they’re still a high-fat food. And whenever using a high fat food in one part of a dish, I make an effort to keep the remainder of the dish lighter to balance things out. If nothing else, it’s for the simple purpose of keeping me from having a massive stomach ache after eating.

The pumpkin adds more to this dish texturally than it does flavor-wise. It’s certainly not the star of the dish, but I do taste it in a subtle way. Plus, it’s always nice hiding good sources of Vitamin A into delicious food (which seems to be a theme for me in these last few posts).

Note: For this photo, I took some extra crust that stuck to the bottom of the pan and used it to top the pie for serving. Feel free to make extra crust to use for topping if desired. 

Below are a few more of my pumpkin-based recipes you may wish to try:

Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie:

Crust:

1 1/2 cups raw walnuts

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

9 medjool dates, pitted

Filling:

14 oz. extra firm tofu, drained of excess liquid

1 15 oz. can organic pumpkin

2/3 cup coconut nectar

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add all crust ingredients to a food processor fitted with sharp steel (S) blade. Process until ingredients begin to clump together in small clumps.

3. Pour crust ingredients into a 9″ springform pie pan or regular pie dish and distribute evenly. Press down until evenly covering bottom of dish.

4. Bake crust in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

5. While crust cools, add filling ingredients to a high-powered blender (such as Vitamix) and blend on medium to high until extremely smooth, like the texture of a thin mousse. Once crust has cooled, pour filling ingredients into crust and bake again at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until edges darken and begin to crack.

6. Let pie cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight before serving. Filling will firm up as it cools.

 

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Healthy Apple Tarts

healthy apple pie tarts

Healthy eating should be intuitive. Mind you, I said should. Nowadays, we’re bombarded with competing health information. Carbs are good. Then carbs are bad. Fat is good. Then fat is bad. Miracle weight loss diets come and go. So, while healthy eating should be intuitive, that’s much easier to say than it is in practice.

I, too, fall victim to the confusion that is “health” these days. But unfortunately, when you pay attention to what you put in your body, you inevitably end up hearing some pretty weird and oftentimes conflicting information. For example, while I’ve regularly praised the wisdom of nutritionist Kimberly Snyder — whose books have influenced me for the better in many ways — I somehow can’t fully get behind the idea of “food combining”, which she heavily endorses. Under this principle, even beans — beans! — are an “imperfect” food in that they contain both protein and carbs. Yet beans and legumes have long been consumed by some of our longest-living and healthiest populations, so intuitively, it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around beans being an unhealthy food — and to the larger point, around the notion of food combining in general. Other diets point to fruit as the “enemy”.  I don’t know much about these theories except that they are somehow based on the natural sugar content in fruit. But again, when I think about how many vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes are packed into whole fruits, it’s hard for me to imagine that fruits are in some way bad for us — unless, of course, someone is suffering from a particular allergy or condition that is helped by reduced overall sugar intake.

healthy apple tarts

So what is the answer, then, when we’re bombarded with so much conflicting, confusing and overwhelming information? Well, I don’t claim to know, and I don’t necessarily think there is one answer. But I do think Michael Pollan was onto something when he wrote “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Simple, right? Well, the complexity, I think, comes from the fact that what we now think of as food is so far removed from what food should be. Food is not something that was chemically manufactured in a lab, made to taste so good that we become chemically addicted. This is how most of our processed foods are made these days. And sadly, the typical American diet consists of many processed foods (and is also heavy on unhealthy animal products such as meat and dairy).

uncooked tart shells

This recipe was designed to be as stripped down and unprocessed as possible. The crust is sweetened naturally from dates, and is just made from a few simple ingredients: dates, nuts, cinnamon, oats and just a little bit of coconut oil. The filling was created with a similar mindset. I tried to keep everything as simple as possible, so the filling is just fruit, a little lemon juice, a touch (just a touch!) of sweetener and some spices. I also tried to keep this recipe from becoming too fussy — which is why the apples are sort of just piled into the crusts without too much thought toward arrangement. It’s “rustic”, if you will — evoking the feeling that you’re eating real food and not something that looks too manufactured or perfect.

I gave these tarts to a few taste testers and even though they’re healthy, unprocessed, vegan and gluten free, I was told that they’re still delicious…as whole, plant foods so often are! If only more people knew that little secret, we’d all be a bit better off overall…

Healthy Apple Tarts:

Yield: 4 mini tarts

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup whole oats

1/2 cup raw walnuts

6 medjool dates, pitted

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon raw coconut oil

Filling Ingredients:

3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons natural sweetener (such as coconut crystals, coconut nectar or agave)*

a dash or two of nutmeg

a dash or two of cinnamon

* Note: overall sweetness may vary depending on sweetener used. Liquid sweeteners will cause the apples to break down quicker than the coconut crystals. If using stevia or a more concentrated sweetener, be sure to adjust proportions to account for this. 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Add walnuts and oats to a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade. Process until medium to fine crumbles form, with some oat pieces still visible. Add remaining ingredients and process until larger clumps begin to form.

3. Divide crust mixture into quarters and evenly distribute to 4 mini tart tins, as shown in photo. Non-stick tins are preferable here. Press down using fingers into crust shell, making sure crust is evenly distributed.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes and remove immediately.

5. Meanwhile, toss filling ingredients in a bowl. After crusts have been removed, transfer filling in equal parts to the 4 tart shells. You do not have to arrange apples in any particular way.

6. Reduce oven heat to 325 and return tarts to oven. Heat for 15 minutes. Remove again and cover tart tray tightly with foil (I like to line my foil with parchment paper to create a buffer so as not to inadvertently contaminate my food with aluminum). Return to oven and bake for a final 15 minutes, or until apples are softened but retain their shape. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing tarts and serving.

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