Carob Muffins

Since starting this blog, I’ve tried to make an effort to provide something for everyone. I think I’ve said this before, but I don’t think food allergies/sensitivities come in a vacuum. I’ve tried to make a point to provide some soy-free recipes here, some nut-free recipes, some grain-free, corn-free….you get the point. I like to diversify my flours, in case some people can’t tolerate a certain type. Believe me, I know as much as anyone that food intolerances can go beyond the typical and verge on the obscure. I’m allergic to pineapple, for example. Everytime I see a good recipe calling for pineapple, my heart sinks a bit.

But one area where I think I could improve on in the diversification department would be sugar substitutes. I know I’ve used Truvia on here occassionally, but for the most part I’ve been an agave monogomist — rarely straying from this recently controversial sweetener. While I’ll leave the agave bashing (or myth debunking) to the experts, I will say that too much of a good (or bad) thing is probably never good. And too much of one sweetener can’t be good, either.

So, I’ve been doing some experimenting. In my recent transfer to a (more) vegan diet, I’ve sort of eliminated the possibility of raw honey — or honey — as a sweetener. Even if vegans seem to differ on whether honey is acceptable, I’d rather not alienate anyone on a strict vegan diet. It’s also perhaps a bit higher on the glycemic index than I’d prefer, as is maple syrup. Xylitol scares me. I have a dog that eats anything and everything he can get his hands on, and while I make things with chocolate, from what I’ve heard, xylitol can be a lot worse. That leaves a few options, but the most popular, natural alternative would probably be stevia. While I mentioned that I’ve been using Truvia for a few recipes here and there, 1) I found out that bee pollen is used in the processing of erythtritol, which is used in Truvia, which makes it technically not vegan, 2) there is currently no bulk Truvia baking product, which can make things tricky sometimes, and 3) like I said, I like to diversify. So, back to stevia. It’s pretty popular these days. I’ve even received a few requests for some recipes using liquid stevia. But the truth is, my tastebuds, in general, have been rather intolerant of the stuff, so I’ve usually given up on it after a few baking attempts. But after my mom sent me a recent (I’m not sure entirely unbiased or accurate — but still pretty powerful) article about some of the “dangers” of agave nectar, I thought it couldn’t hurt to revisit liquid stevia.

A few of my favorite bloggers provided some inspiration here. These apple pumpkin crumble bars from the blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs look absolutely amazing (just be sure to look for certified gluten-free oats in the recipe — and to make sure you can tolerate oats in the first place!), as do these egg-free, grain-free brownies from Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut.

For my inaugural post utilizing liquid stevia, I went with carob muffins. These not-too-sweet muffins are simple, one-bowl operation. Like I said, they are not too sweet, so you may add in a few extra drops of stevia or a few tablespoons of your favorite liquid sweetener here. Or, alternately, you might try really ripe mashed bananas in place of the applesauce. I was going for a not-so-high-sugar fruit as bananas here, but if you want to use bananas I’ve tried carob muffins with banana before and think it’s the perfect combination.

Yield: 9 muffins

Stevia-Sweetned Carob Muffins:

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/4 cup unsweetened carob powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup applesauce or mashed, ripe banana

2/3 cup almond milk or other dairy-free milk

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon + 3 drops liquid stevia, or more to taste

chopped, raw pecans for sprinkling

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sorghum flour, potato starch, flax, carob, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix together until incorporated.

4. Drop batter by heaping 1/4 cups into a pre-greased muffin tin. Sprinkle tops with a few pecan pieces. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until tops bounce back when pressed down upon. Let cool in tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Burrito-style Fresh Rolls

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. Any gluten-intolerant Mexican food fanatic like myself would understand why. You see, back in my college days, there were two kinds of people. There were Pancheros people, and there were Big Ten Burrito people. Where you fell in the divide could very well dictate who you went home with at night, who you hung out with, who you walked to tailgates with, etc.

Ok, so I’m exagerrating a little. There were some people who liked both places equally. But the take-away from all this is that there was no one who didn’t like a good burrito — no matter which burrito they felt fell under that definition. But the moment anyone gives up gluten, the burrito experience will never be the same. First, the corn tortilla, while (in my opinion) superior in flavor, is not of optimum burrito-making texture. And a brown rice tortilla, if you’re tried them, is not worth the effort taste-wise. Hence, many people seeking good, cheap take-out-style Mexican are relegated to the burrito bowl.

In addition to enjoying cheap Mexican food, I’m also a fan of the ubiquitous Asian fresh roll. I tend to order it whenever it’s on a menu, even though they all seem to taste relatively the same. There’s something refreshing, yet satisfying, about the fresh roll’s bright flavors, crunchy interior and chewy outer texture.

So tonight I finally did what I’ve long been wanting to do: I combined two of my favorite “wraps” into one dish — the Fresh Roll Burrito. It’s got the light, chewy, fresh feel of the fresh summer roll, with the flavors and spirit of a burrito. Below is the method (not quite a recipe) for preparing them. You can find rice wrappers in most Asian stores, or the Asian section of your grocery store (if you’re lucky). I saw them recently at Whole Foods as well. You’ll want the bigger size — one that resembles the size of a large flour tortilla.

Fresh Roll Burritos:

4 spring rolls wrappers made from rice paper

~ 1 cup fat-free refried beans (for less moisture)

shredded vegan cheese

grape tomatoes, quartered

sliced avocado

chopped green onion

cilantro leaves

Other possible additions (not pictured):

shredded romaine lettuce

corn kernels

red pepper

cooked brown rice

Directions:

Soak 1 sheet of rice paper in a shallow dish of cold to room temperature water until soft, about 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Remove carefully and lay flat on cutting board, pulling out any wrinkles or folded edges. On the side nearest you, spread a thin layer of refried beans at the end of the rice paper, leaving about 3/4 inch open on the left, right and side nearest you. Sprinkle beans with cheese, veggies and cilantro leaves. Fold the end of the rice paper just over the filling, tucking in filling tighly with fingers. Fold over the ends of both the left and right side. Roll the wrapper up the rest of the way tightly. Let sit for a few minutes until rice paper dries before cutting. Serve with salsa or guacamole for dipping.

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Gluten Free Apple Cinnamon Bread

breadFor those who celebrate Christmas, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I’m back in Michigan, enjoying some quality family time in the midwest before heading back to the Big Apple to start off what will certainly be a busy year. I’m studying for, then taking, the New York Bar Exam, getting married, and will continue the process of looking for a job. Of course, I can’t neglect this blog, as it has been a theraupeutic challenge for me — one that has been a welcome diversion from some of my more stressful, perhaps less enjoyable, everyday tasks.

In between watching chick flicks with the fam (we took in The Proposal last night — a must-see for chick-flick enthusiasts like myself), sleeping in, and post-holiday shopping, I’ve managed to find some time to test out a few new recipes today. This apple cinnamon bread turned out to be a hit. This was much to the relief of my parents, who were quite the skeptics after two failed blueberry cinnamon bread attempts. The apple flavor comes through pretty assertively in this bread. The trifecta of apple juice, applesauce and sliced apple probably had a lot to do with that. Expect an old-fashioned flavor, a soft, moist center and a more crumbly, somewhat drier crust. It’s reminiscent of a coffee cake with a cinnamon crumble topping.

I’m hoping to post again before then, but just in case: Happy New Year everyone!

Gluten Free, Sugar Free Apple Cinnamon Bread:

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1/4 cup hot water

2/3 cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 medium-sized apple, peeled and sliced thin

2 tablespoons cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together apple juice, grapeseed oil, agave and vanilla. Add wet to dry ingredients and stir to incorporate. Add applesauce and hot water and continue to stir until incorporated. Fold in sliced apples.

3. Pour batter into a greased 9x4x3-inch loaf pan. Sprinkle cinnamon on top and spread evenly with the back of a spoon or spatula (it’s ok if the topping mixes in with some of the batter underneath). Bake in preheated oven  for 50-55 minutes.

4. Cool in pan for 45 minutes. Carefully remove bread from loaf pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

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Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip

Peanut butter and chocolate. Pineapple and coconut. Apple and cinnamon. There are certain foods that work so well together, one wonders why they would ever be eaten alone. I have, for quite some time, included spinach and artichoke on my personal list of such food pairings. What two vegetables are more addictive together than spinach and artichoke, mixed in a creamy, smooth dip? It’s a shame, then, that since giving up dairy, most restaurant offerings of this dip are now off-limits for me. Luckily, I’ve discovered a more than serviceable — an actually addictive — recipe to keep my cravings satisfied.

A while back, I created a recipe for hot spinach artichoke dip using vegenaise and thickened soy milk. I really loved the recipe, but I found that the results were somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes it would be thick and creamy, other times thin. But the days of inconsistency are over. This dip knocks it out of the park every time. For good results, though, I do not recommend heating this one, which will affect the consistency of the beans in the dip. I still use vegenaise in this recipe, which is made using organic ingredients, and unparalleled in the flavor and texture it adds to the dip.

This is also a great option for a low fat, lower-calorie spinach artichoke dip. You’re eating vegetables, after all. Might as well make everything else a little healthier as well. I also noticed, after creating this recipe, that there is a similar Moosewood recipe out there from their low-fat cookbook. I’ve declared my love for Moosewood on this blog before, so I’d be interested to see how their recipe compares.

Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip:

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans

1/3 cup vegenaise

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 scallions, roughly chopped, green part removed

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts

3 cups baby spinach, loosely packed

Directions:

1. Using the sharp blade of a food processor, blend beans, vegenaise, lemon juice, scallions and salt until smooth.

2. Add spinach and artichoke and pulse, 10-15 times, or until dip reaches desired consistency.

3. Enjoy. Serve with vegetables or tortillas chips or spread over gluten-free bread.

On a final note, this dip got the seal of approval from Gennaro, who dislikes spinach, let alone spinach blended into a dip. When he said he really liked it, that’s when I knew it was good.

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Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread

I am so happy to finally share this recipe with everyone. I made six versions of this bread. Each was good, but there was always something that needed tweaking. Pinning down the perfect recipe is sort of like working on a puzzle. Inserting the final piece — or finally slicing the perfect piece, in this case — is always as satisfying as the completion of any other seemingly insurmountable task. But there is one thing that I absolutely hate about having to bake over and over again: dishes. I am not one of those people who finds therapeutic solace in doing dishes. And frankly, I don’t believe those people who claim they do. So I was very happy knowing I would no longer being cleaning up after any more messy, havouc-wreaking baking attempts…for now. I know there will be several other trial and error sessions in my future. Today, however, I’m enjoying my banana bread and my clean kitchen. No more baking.

My experimentation did lead me to uncover some very interesting secrets to a moist and flavorful bread: 1) Mashed silken tofu will yeild a very nice texture, and 2) a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar will elevate the banana flavor.

On a final note, I tried using both Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill Brown rice flour in this recipe, since I was curious as to whether the difference would affect to the results. The first loaf was made using all Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and no white rice. The texture was very nice. But when I used all Arrowhead Mills brown rice flour, it had hints of the signature grittiness people associate with gluten free baking. So, that’s not good. Therefore, in the interest of creating a uniformly good bread, the recipe calls for part brown rice and part white rice flour, which will work no matter what brand you use. However, if you are using Bob’s Red Mill, feel free to use all brown rice flour in the recipe.

Because this bread is made with tofu, it should be kept in the refrigerator. It should keep for several days.

Gluten Free Vegan Banana Bread:

3/4 cup white rice flour

3/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour (starch) or potato starch

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

2/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cup mashed ripe bananas

3/4 cup mashed silked tofu

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together agave, oil, and cider vinegar. Add to dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate. Fold in banana and silken tofu. Finally, add hot water and slowly whisk batter until absorbed.

3. Pour batter into a greased, 7x4x3 – inch loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. You may have to cover with foil about 40 minutes into baking so that the bread will cook through without the crust becoming too brown. Cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for 25 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

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Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

This is a healthy — yet addictive — salad that goes great as a side with any Middle Eastern dish, such as mujadarah. A single recipe makes enough to serve 2-4 (depending on how many other items are on your menu), but I like to make a triple recipe and have it on hand over a few days for a healthy meal or snack. I got the idea for this Shepherd’s salad from a wonderful version I enjoyed at the Turkish Kitchen in New York. They serve great Turkish food in a very trendy, nightclubish atmoshpere. The Turkish salad is a must-order there. I love the burst of flavor from the briney kalamata olives, a lovely contrast to the fresh, crunchy vegetables and parsley.

Shepherd’s Salad:

1 1/2 cups diced persian cucumber

1 cup diced roma tomato

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained

1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1/3 cup minced red onion

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Toss all ingredients in a medium bowl to combine.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Lasagna

Since being diagnosed with food allergies, the one thing I’ve really — I mean really – been missing has been lasagna, which was one of my all-time favorite comfort foods back in the day. This version is not only gluten-free and dairy-free, but also soy free. After coming across a recipe for pine nut ricotta dip in one of my favorite food blogs, Elana’s Pantry, I decided to adapt her dip recipe into a ricotta that could be used in lasagna. The results were out-of-this-world. Now when I’m craving a comforting, decadent one-dish meal, this vegetable lasagna will be my go-to recipe. Serve this meal for friends, but don’t tell them what’s not in it. You’ll fool them every time.

Gluten Free Vegan Lasagna with Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium zucchini, diced

5 button mushrooms, sliced

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

2 plum tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon rosemary, minced

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles (I used Tinkyada brand, which is made with brown rice)*

Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 cup raw pine nuts, soaked for 2 hours and drained

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Prepare sauce: In a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven, saute onions and garlic in one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Add zucchini and mushrooms, plus another tablespoon of olive oil. Saute for another 8 minutes. Add both canned and fresh tomatoes, parsley and rosemary. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. When finished, drain any excess liquid. Mixture should be quite thick. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pasta according to package directions (I cooked mine for less time than the box called for).

3. Prepare ricotta by blending pine nuts, water, lemon juice and salt in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

4. Assemble lasagna: in a 9×13″ baking dish, start by layering noodles, side-by-side, lengthwise. Spread approximately 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the top of the ricotta mixture. Repeat 3x, then top with a final layer of noodles.

5. Bake, covered in aluminum foil, for 20 minutes. Serve topped with additional parsley.

*You may need 2 boxes to fully complete the layering process. 1 box will usually be sufficient, but if there are broken pieces, one box might not always be enough. I try to keep an extra box on hand just to be on the safe side.

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Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Cake

This cake is a quick and easy one-bowl-and-you’re-done operation. I adapted it from the apple cake recipe in the Joy of Cooking, which, for all intents and purposes, is my bible (the book, not the recipe). I’ve been known to bring it to bed with me to read on more than one occasion. You’ll love the smell coming from your oven as this cake bakes. In all, this gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free cake makes the perfect dessert for a cool fall evening. Add chopped walnuts for some extra flavor and crunch if you wish. In an effort to incorporate more gluten free flours into my baking, I made this bread using sorghum flour, which is high-protein and high-fiber and reminiscent of whole wheat. That is, if you remember wheat well enough to reminisce. I’m not sure I still do…

For a twist: try this cake topped with orange vanilla frosting from the recipe for carrot orange cupcakes. Of course, it’s very good as-is, with no frosting or sauce at all.

Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Cake:

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light coconut milk

1/3 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup apple, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup frozen cranberries

 Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add agave, coconut milk, oil and vanilla and whisk until batter is smooth. Fold in apple, cranberries and walnuts (if desired). Pour batter into a greased, 8-inch square baking dish.

3. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with “Sour Cream” Frosting

Frosting is one of the most difficult feats to pull off when cooking for a dairy and sugar-free diet. When it’s done right, though, it can be just as satisfying as the powdered sugar kind. But the first time I tried a cupcake with the unique addition of a sour cream frosting, I was hooked, and I didn’t know if a dairy-free sour cream frosting of the same caliber could ever be pulled off.

Well, this frosting is not an exact match, but it’s pretty darn close. The spirit of sour cream is completely there. It’s tart and sweet, and a great fit with the fluffy chocolate banana combination beneath it. To create a thick and fluffy texture for the frosting, I used coconut butter. It has great coconut flavor and hardens up really nicely in the refrigerator. One potential problem with this product, however, is that it is not available everywhere. A very good alternative would be coconut cream, which is inexpensive and somewhat more upiquitous. Can’t find coconut cream, either? Well, you could try coconut oil, but I would reduce the amount of coconut milk in the frosting. Play around with it, and make sure the final product is really well chilled. Notice how the sweetness of the coconut and agave go surprisingly well with the secret “sour” ingredient — apple cider vinegar.

Yield: 12 large or 14 regular sized cupcakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup light coconut milk, shaken

3/4 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup mashed ripe banana

Frosting:

1/4 cup coconut butter

1/3 cup coconut cream from the top of a full-fat can of coconut milk (do not shake or stir)*

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Prepare frosting by blending all ingredients in a blender or food processor (blender is preferable). Chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat coconut milk, agave, oil and vanilla until combined. Add banana and beat until smooth. Slowly add dry ingredients to mixture and beat slowly until everything is smooth.

4. Add cupcake liners to cupcake tin. Fill cups with batter about 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 22 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire wrack.

* Note: if you get a can of coconut milk that, for some reason, does not have the layer of cream on top, you can thiken your coconut milk with cornstarch or arrowroot in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk 1/3 cup milk with a tablespoon of starch until thick like a paste and add to blender. This will change the texture of the frosting, but should do the trick.

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Low Fat Pumpkin Mousse Pie

pumpkin mousse pie 2My mom commented on the amount of buttery spread I had used in my lemon coconut pie crust. But pie crusts by definition contain butter, I thought. Then I thought some more. Was that really the case? After putting the dates I had been saving to make muffins to experimental use, I discovered pie crust can be more than a butter-ladden treat, and so much less fattening as a result. Then, the healthy pie crust  idea inspired a  health-conscious filling to match. I read somewhere that pumpkin is one of those super healthy things that people don’t eat enough of. In keeping with the theme, I added a whole can, along with silken tofu, to the filling. Healthy crust? Healthy filling? Before you run for your lives, I offer you this: I made this for a recent family party and even some of the non allergy-plagued guests counted this dessert among their favorites. If that doesn’t convince, I offer this: I don’t actually like pumpkin pie. In fact, I usually despise it. I loved this one.

If you avoid oats for fear of cross-contamination, try Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats. They test all of their oats to make sure they don’t have a trace of gluten, and process them using completely gluten free facilites. If you simply can’t tolerate oats altogether, well, I’m still working on a good, cripsy crust that’s gluten-free, vegan, and still tasty. It may take awhile, but I’m determined to do it, so check back in often!

Ingredients:

Crust:

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill dry rolled oats

1 cup dates

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

Filling:

1 12-oz. package Mori Nu extra firm silken tofu

1 15-oz. can pumpkin

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Place all ingredients for crust in a food processor and blend until a large clump forms. Using fingers, press evenly into a 9″ pie pan. Bake for 22 minutes. After crust has baked, set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, using a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients for filling. When crust has cooled, pour in filling and chill in refrigerator overnight.

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