Rosemary Olive Crepes

crepeLast night I did that thing I usually do when I’m procrastinating. It also happens to be the same thing I do when I don’t have a care in the world and time on my hands. I search the internet for interesting food sites. Sometimes I find myself back at old favorites. Sometimes I discover new and interesting sites. Last night I found myself searching through Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn‘s best recipes of 2009. This, in turn, led me to discover David Lebovitz’s recipe for socca, a crisp, savory pancake that hails from the South of France. Mr. Lebovitz broils his in a cast iron skillet in the oven, giving it the crisp, almost burnt edges of a true socca.

Actually, I learned all about the socca in just a single night of research. I had never heard of it before. While I tend to refer to myself as a “foodie,” I sort of cringe when I hear that word — precisely because it seems to connote all-knowingness; a certain intellectual superiority when it comes to all things gastronomical. As the socca example indicates, I am far from all-knowing. This is probably why I read The Joy of Cooking when I go to bed at night and The Minimalist by Mark Bittman… and anything else that might help me learn a little more about my favorite thing. Food. As one of my law professors once told my class: “Don’t get so worked up if you don’ t know an answer. If you already knew all of the answers, you wouldn’t be here.” He was right. In fact, the only reason I do tend to call myself a foodie is that there seems to be no better way to sum up in just one word someone who reads cookbooks for fun, watches The Food Network and Top Chef like they’re going off the air, and spends more time than is probably healthy researching restaurants she most wants to try. In short, there’s no better way to describe someone who just. loves. food. Is there?

Anyways, back to the socca. I fluctuated a bit when deciding what to call this dish. But, since I suspect the version I made bears little resemblance to the true socca that’s found in Nice, and since the version I made looked and tasted an awful lot like a crepe, that’s what I called it here. The following version is actually more similar to a subsequent socca recipe I found on Chow.com. I just tweaked the proportions and added olives for a nice, salty compliment to the rosemary. The nice thing about this dish is that it’s naturally gluten free (traditionally made with chick pea flour), egg free and dairy free. No substitutions. No gums or starches. Just minimal ingredients and an awesome-tasting little treat. My mom would like me to add that “these crepes are the best things I have ever had” (her words). Since my mom is a wonderful cook and a discerning food critic, I would say this is a glowing review from a very tough judge.

Gluten-Free Rosemary Olive Crepes:

1 1/2 cups garbanzo bean flour

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for cooking

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained and patted dry, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced

Directions:

1. Whisk garbanzo bean flour, water and olive oil in a medium bowl until frothy and all lumps are removed. Cover and let sit in refrigerator for an hour and a half.

2. Remove batter from refrigerator and stir in rosemary and olives.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat until very hot, about 4 minutes. Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil on skillet and turn to spread evenly. Using 1/4 cup to measure, pour batter into skillet and turn immediately to spread evenly over whole pan (you’ll get the hang of it — but the first crepe is usually a trial run for me). Using a flexible, thin spatula, lift the edges of the crepe and undeneath to make sure it doesn’t stick. You do not need to flip. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until bottom is golden brown. Remove from pan.

4. Repeat step 4 with the remaining batter. Serve immediately.

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Gluten Free Cranberry Orange Scones

Due to the fact that I’m heading into the home stretch of two grueling weeks of finals (not to mention entering the home stretch of my last year of law school), the fatigue has set in in multiple ways. Namely, I’m feeling like I want to make this post short and sweet, since my poor hands are beginning to bear the brunt of ruthless race-against-the-clock exams. That said, the fact that I was able to make these scones after a craving for something sweet to go with my second pot of coffee of the day (o.k., I’m exaggerating…but only a little bit) is a testament to how simple these scones are to whip up. Because believe me, I would not be baking anything at this point that wasn’t easy. Plus, their sweet aroma is quite comforting as they bake in the oven, which I very much appreciated.

With the impending holidays, stress is understandably abundant for many this season — and not just those studying for exams! With another year of economic woes behind us, and a degree of uncertainty still ahead, it’s easy to become annoyed with having to deal with the everyday stresses that remain a constant in our lives. Sometimes the little things — a meal with family, a homemade gift from a friend — will remind us what’s really important this season, and always.

I hope you bake these scones and share them with someone you love. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did (but I know you will).

Yield: 8-10 scones

Gluten Free Cranberry Orange Scones:

1 2/3 cup sorghum flour

1/3 cup potato starch

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup Spectrum organic shortening

1/2 cup light coconut milk (shaken), plus more for brushing

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries (if you can’t find them, you can substitute raisins)

1/2 cup fresh cranberries, halved

zest of one orange

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add shortening and crumble into dry mixture with hands until small clumps form. Add coconut milk, agave and vanilla extract and stir until everything is incorporated. Add fresh and dried cranberries and orange zest and fold until evenly distributed.

3. Drop heaping 1/4 cup-sized drops onto a greased baking sheet. Brush tops with coconut milk. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

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Gluten Free Bran and Flax Pumpkin Muffins

Muffins have been getting a bad rap in recent years. One need only flip through a few fitness magazines to find some sort of article about the diet-sabotaging potential of just a single muffin. In New York, where calorie counts at fast food restaurants are now mandated by law, muffins rank among the most calorie ladden desserts. I was surpised to learn that a blueberry muffin at Dunkin Donuts had almost twice the calories of a cream-filled, gooey glazed doughnut. I knew muffins could be sneaky when it came to calories, but I didn’t know it had gotten that bad!

As someone who nearly survived on muffins for breakfast throughout college (breakfast wasn’t covered by my meal plan, nor was it served in my dorm), I object to the tarnishing of one of my favorite morning treats. Sure, some muffins out there may be the size of a small melon these days. And sure, many places selling these muffins throw in ingredients that most of us can’t even pronounce — not to mention several other ingredients most of us (food allergy sufferers, that is) can’t eat. But that shouldn’t mean that muffins lose all credibility when it comes to a sensible morning option. This recipe for gluten free, vegan and agave-sweetened muffins is ladden with fiber-boosting whole grains and flax to help fill you up in the morning. Yes, there’s fat in it — but only good fat (in the form of flax) and otherwise very little oil. Pumpkin is high in antioxidants, several key nutrients and zinc. And finally, cinnamon is said to regulate blood sugar and may even boost cognitive function and memory. Round them out with some soy milk or a shake for protein (have to do my due “protein-advocacy” diligence after years of — ahem — gentle coaxing by my mom to eat more of it) and these muffins will redeem your faith (if you had any to begin with) that muffins can have a place in a healthy diet.

Yield: 12-14 muffins

Bran and Flax Pumpkin Muffins:

1 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup rice bran

1/2 cup potato starch

1/2 cup flax seed meal

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

3/4 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or soy or rice)

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup hot water

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Whisk dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together agave and grapeseed oil. Add to dry ingredients. Add almond milk, pumpkin, vanilla and hot water to the mixture and whisk until incorporated (feel free to add nuts or raisins here as well). Fill muffin tins (greased, if not using baking cups) with batter until batter almost reaches the top of each cup.

2. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown. Let rest in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

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Raw, Grain-free, Vegan Sushi Rolls

Let me first apologize to those sushi purists out there who object to anything rice-free being called sushi (which literally means “vinegared rice,” not “ground nut and vegetable thing”). I am sincerely sorry. Second, let me apologize to those raw purists for calling this dish “raw” even though the recipe calls for a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and nori, which is lightly toasted as well. I thought I could sneak it past everyone, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I would just come out with it (any true raw purists out there who know whether either of these ingredients is actually forbidden? I would actually love to know). I have to confess as well that this was not my genius idea, but a treat I have enjoyed several times at the Living Zen Organics Cafe at the Detroit Zen Center — a place I’ve praised here before, and one I’ve included in my “Delectably Free Faves.” Being a frequent visitor of the cafe whenever I am back in Michigan, I have had the privilege of being able to study their raw sushi enough to pay homage to it with a version that is somewhat distinct in flavor and texture, but still quite good. In fact, Gennaro, my harshest taste-tester (by default, really, because he is the only person who samples all the meals I make before posting them here), gave this dish a “very good,” which translates to two thumbs up from him (I’ve learned to decode his comments after years of experience, being that he is un-critical by nature, which has proven to be both a blessing and a curse).

This dish also seems like an appropriate continuation of the holiday detox theme. This is a carb-free sushi that provides several health benefits from walnuts, which are high in fiber (a must for any successful detox), vitamin E (good for the brain and the immune system) and omega-3 fatty acids (also good for brain health and immune function, as well as well as beneficial for cardiovascular health). Sunflower seeds, as well, are a great source of vitamin E. They are also high in magnesium (good for bone health and for regulating nerves) and selenium, which contains cancer-fighting and detoxifying properties. Add vegetables and nori, which is rich in potassium and iron, and you have one delicious, super-healthy meal, appetizer or snack. This sushi is also a great way to get a picky eater to eat nuts, I might add, as they are ground up and seasoned, making them virtually unidentifiable in the dish.

Raw Vegan Sushi:

Yield: 4 rolls

4 sheets sushi nori

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 3 hours, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup raw walnuts, soaked for 3 hours, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon reduced sodium wheat free tamari or coconut amino

3 scallions, chopped, white part only (use rest for garnish)

3 tablespoons – 1/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 large carrot, julienned

1/2 large cucumber, julienned

1 avocado, sliced

1 teaspoon wasabi paste, plus more for serving

Directions:

1. In a blender, combine sunflower seeds, walnuts, sesame oil, tamari, scallions, water and sea salt until fairly smooth, but with some texture remaining (but not large chunks). This process may take some coaxing with a spoon, and you may add more water as needed.

2. Spread about 1/4 of the nut mixture over 3/4 of the sheet of nori, leaving open space at the end of one side of the sheet. Using your fingers, spread about a 1/4 teaspoon of the wasabi paste about 1/4 inch away from the edge of the clean end, making a thin layer which will be used to seal the end of the nori after the sushi has been rolled. Place some julienned vegetables and sliced avocado on the end with the nut mixture, and, tucking the vegetables in with your fingers, tightly roll the sushi (special sushi tools, I’ve found, are handy for this but not necessary), pressing down on the nori as you go. When rolled, press the end of the nori down slightly with finger to seal.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with remaining nori, nuts and vegetables.

4. Cut sushi into equal-sized pieces using a sharp knife (serrated is best). Serve with additional wasabi, pickled ginger and wheat-free tamari sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

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Cornbread Stuffing

I still remember the first Thanksgiving my mom spent after cutting wheat, dairy and sugar out of her diet. I sat across from her at the table, sheepishly enjoying my mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce as she picked at her plate of boiled potatoes and plain turkey. Wow, I never want to have to do that…I thought to myself. Little did I know that three months later I would be sitting in a doctor’s office listening to a diagnosis that was, essentially, a “not to do” list that included some of my favorite foods. I immediately thought about Thanksgiving. For years, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. It’s not just the food, but also the atmosphere. No one is rushed, there is little stress leading up to the big day, and everyone can just eat and relax, take a nap, and watch football. Still, it all comes down to the food, and Thanksgiving just wouldn’t seem the same (at least not to me) without some good old-fashioned sides to go along with the turkey.

Eventually my mom did find a way to bring the traditional sides back to our Thanksgiving meal with some simple substitutions: unsweetend soy milk and Earth Balance in the mashed potatoes, stevia and xylitol for the cranbery sauce, and a cornstarch-thickened instead of flour-thickened gravy. But the one thing we never seemed to be able to replace was the stuffing. This year, I decided to experiment by making a gluten free cornbread stuffing — not an entirely novel idea, but something that, truthfully, I had never thought about making until now. I went traditional with the flavors — nothing too fancy or different — but I think this recipe would be very amenable to additions and experimentaion. I included the gluten-free cornbread recipe here, too, which can be made in advance or just before making the stuffing.

Gluten Free Cornbread:

1 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk or almond milk

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons agave nectar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Pour batter into a greased, 9×9 inch baking dish or cast iron skillet and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Let cool.

Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing:

1 medium sweet onion, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

2 tablespoons vegan buttery spread

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup vegetable broth

1 recipe gluten free cornbread

1/3 cup roughly chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large skillet or saute pan, saute onion and celery in buttery spread over low heat until soft and transluscent, about 15 minutes. Add garlic in last 5 minutes of cooking. Add vegetable broth and increase heat to medium. Bring to a simmer. Remove onions and celery from heat. Crumble cornbread into skillet. Add parsley and thyme. Stir to combine and until liquid is absorbed.

3. Transfer stuffing to a baking dish and bake, covered in foil, in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes to brown the top. Alternately, use recipe to stuff turkey or any other poultry.

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Cranberry, Walnut and Chocolate Morsels

What is it about fresh baked cookies and a glass of milk — or soy milk — that is so enticingly comforting? I’m willing to bet that no other smell quite matches that of fresh baked cookies in eliciting warm, nostalgic memories from children and adults alike. To tell you the truth, I don’t particularly remember my mom baking many cookies when I was younger. While my mom was a wonderful baker, pies seemed — and still seem — to be her real speciality. And yet, it’s when I bake cookies — not pie — that I think of home and my childhood. Maybe it’s because no matter how hard I try, I will never bake a pie that comes close to those my mom can make, and therefore no pie I make reminds me in any way of the ones I remember my mom baking when I was a kid. Whatever the reason, during my 1000+ attempts at making these cookies, I kept getting a comforting feeling as they baked in the oven, slowly filling my apartment with sweet, chocolately wafts of air.

But unlike the cookies you likely enjoyed as a kid, these gluten free, sugar free and vegan cookies have some redeemable qualities. First, you won’t experience the ever-so-familiar sugar rush — then crash — that can be associated with too much of a good (sugary) thing. Plus, the omega-packed walnuts and antioxidant-packed cranberries are actually good for you. If you don’t do sugar and can’t find fruit-sweetened cranberries in stores (I find them at Whole Foods and at my local health food store), try ordering them here, a source recommended by Elana of Elana’s Pantry. So go ahead, enjoy more than one of these wonderful, little chocolate morsels. Your body will thank you.

Yield: about 15 small cookies

For Glaze (optional): Make chocolate coating from this recipe. When baked cookies have cooled to room temperature, lay flat on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and chill until sauce has hardened. Serve chilled.

Gluten Free, Sugar Free Chocolate, Cranberry and Walnut Cookies:

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup sorghum flour

1/4 cup potato starch

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Spectrum organic shortening

1/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup light coconut milk, shaken

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together cocoa, sorghum flour, potato starch, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt.

3. In a larger bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together agave nectar, shortening and vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients and whisk but do not beat (using a whisker instead of electric blades to avoid flour flying everywhere).

4. Whisk in coconut milk until incorporated. Fold in cranberries and walnuts. Batter should be more thin than a typical cookie batter.

5. Using a tablespoon for measuring, place rounded tablespoon-sized amounts of batter on a lightly greased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.

6. Bake cookies in preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

Tip: These cookies are quite good — I’m tempted to say even better — frozen and eaten straight from the freezer. Something about the cold concentrates the flavors and yields a nice, crisp crunch. Make a double batch and freeze half for quick treat that you can enjoy anytime.

For a Chocolate-Free Version: Use garbanzo bean flour in place of the cocoa powder and increase the amount of potato starch to 1/3 cup.

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Jalapeno Salsa

023My aunt made this delicious jalapeno salsa over the weekend. I loved it so much, I asked for permission to share the recipe. This is a wonderful alternative to a traditional green salsa, which is typically made with tomatillos. If you seed the jalapenos, the salsa will be quite mild, though you can always add seeds to suit your tastes and preferences. Even though it seems like the recipe makes a lot of salsa — which it does — trust me, it won’t last long. I suspect this salsa would be really great over fish or chicken, simmered with shrimp, or stirred into rice for a delicious side dish for a Spanish or Mexican meal.

Thanks for sharing your recipe, Aunt Pam!

Jalapeno Salsa:

16 jalapenos, halved, seeded and stems removed

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped

1/2 small white onion, diced

4 roma tomatoes, diced

juice of 2 lemons

salt to taste

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until fairly homogenous — or until salsa reaches desired consistency. Adjust salt to taste.

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Salad with Tahini Dressing and Stevia Candied Walnuts

I’m packing up and headed to Michigan for a few days to visit my family, so I’ll make this one quick. It’s fitting, actually, because this hearty salad would make a relatively quick and healthy dinner. It’s also very amendable to variation, though you simply must give these sweet yet guilt-free candied walnuts a shot. The tahini dressing is a creamy, tangy and satisfying addition to salads. I imagine it would also make a great sauce for chicken kabobs. Other possible variations to the salad: chopped avocado, chickpeas, dried cherries or goat cheese.

Tahini Dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)

1-3 tablespoons water, as needed

Truvia Candied Walnuts:

1 tablespoon vegan buttery spread

1/2 cup walnuts

2 packets truvia (I don’t like to use Truvia anymore; try your favorite stevia and start with one packet then add more as needed)

pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)

Other Additions:

Bibb lettuce, spinach or romaine

Cooked beets

Cooked Lentils (I cook mine with a pinch of salt and a pinch of allspice)

Directions:

1. To make dressing: blend all ingredients in a blender, minus the water. If dressing is too thick, add water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season with more salt or pepper to taste.

2. To make candied walnuts: In a small saute pan, heat buttery spread over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Add walnuts and toss to coat. Saute for about a minute in the butter. Add truvia and salt — when added to the butter, the coating will begin to brown. Continue to toss walnuts in coating and saute for about 4 minutes, or until walnuts begin to brown. Cool walnuts on a flat sheet of parchment paper until hardened.

3. Assemble salad. Garnish with walnuts and drizzle with dressing.

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Gluten Free Coconut Cupcakes

Maybe it’s because I live in New York City, where seemingly every other storefront these days has sweet scents coming out of it, and a long glass window with rows of cupcakes beckoning passersby inside. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, and we tend to like our sweets pre-portioned. Maybe it’s just that they’re fun to eat. Whatever the reason, I’ve been on a cupcake-making binge lately, and I can’t get enough. I’ve already made chocolate banana cupcakes with sour cream frosting, carob cupcakes, and carrot orange cupcakes, all with their own, distinct twist. It was time, I decided, for a simple, old-fashioned cupcake. This recipe fits the bill.

There’s another, more practical, reason behind my cupcake-making streak. I have recognized that while many visiting this blog share a common list of food don’ts — gluten, sugar, dairy, wheat — other, less common, sensitivities may be present in varying degress among this larger group of visitors. I needed a recipe for those intolerant of rice flour, a frosting for those who couldn’t eat corn. This cupcake fits that description. While coconut flour is one of the more expensive flours out there, a little also goes a long way. You can keep the rest in the refrigerator and add it to other flour mixtures for cakes and cookies — you can even use it to thicken other frosting recipes, as I’ve done here. The weird thing about coconut flour is that it seems to soak up a lot of the liquid in the recipe. Therefore, while the batter may seem somewhat more dry than other cupcake batters, the cupcakes will come out nice and moist when they are done.

Please Note: Cupcakes will harden slightly in refrigerator. I happen to like them this way, but to maintain the cupcakes’ lightness, store in an airtight container at room temperature and frost just prior to serving (frosting tends to melt if left at room temperature for more than a few hours).

Yield: about 10 cupcakes

Gluten Free Vegan Coconut Cupcakes:

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour/starch

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup dry unsweetened shredded coconut for the top

Sugar Free Vegan Coconut Frosting:

3/4 cup regular coconut milk

2 teaspoons arrowroot

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons coconut flour

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions:

1. To prepare frosting: in a small saucepan, whisk coconut milk and arrowroot over medium heat until it thickens and bubbles, about 3 mintues. Add to a blender with the rest of frosting ingredients and blend until smooth. Chill in refrigerator until thick, about 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together coconut oil, agave nectar and coconut milk. Add to dry ingredients and fold with a spoon until incorporate. Fold in applesauce until incorporated into rest of batter.

4. Full muffin tin with cupcake liners. Using an ice cream scoop, fill baking cups with batter about halfway. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through so cupcakes cook evenly. Cupcakes will seem under-done when the come out but will harden as they cool. Let cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Then remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.

5. Top cupcakes with frosting and dip tops of cupcakes into shredded coconut until covered.

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Gluten-Free, Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Covered “Sugar” Cookies

Back when I was a junior in high school, my mom, grandpa and myself visited the University of Wisconsin as part of a small series of college tours. While I didn’t choose the school, I fell in love with Madison; it was charming and friendly. And at the end of our long, cold days taking in the small city, our warm, inviting bed and breakfast left a special treat that may have just solidified our love for Madison. Crisp — yet slightly soft — pepperminty sugar cookies, lightly dipped in a thin layer of chocolate, were piled high on a plate when we walked in the door. Devouring the cookies, my mom and I looked at each other knowingly. These were no ordinary cookies. They were pure bliss. We were smart enough to get the recipe. Years later, we would continue to bake the cookies — mostly reserving the slightly labor-intensive process for Valentine’s day, when we would make several batches and send them out to all of our loved ones.

I’ve gotten over many of the food losses I suffered when I received my allergy diagnosis: my mom’s famous plum dumplings, bagels and lox, even Georgia ruebens (a guilty sandwich pleasure in college). But it saddened me to know that I would no longer be able to enjoy those cookies, which somehow represented the memory of a trip that was equally unforgettable.

I’ve tried several times to recreate the recipe using agave nectar and gluten-free flours — 13 times, to be exact. Each version was similar, but also quite obviously a little off in at least one way. Nearly defeated, this was, I told myself, going to be the last version I tried before calling it quits. As it turns out, this version came closest to the original, though not quite exact. I’m not sure I will ever reproduce cookies that mimic the original, but the following recipe merits some praise for being a gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan cookie that still actually tastes like a cookie. And looks like a cookie. And smells like a cookie when it comes out of the oven. They’re delicious cooled with chocolate hardened over them (as pictured), or warm just out of the oven. They will be really soft and flimsy immediately after being removed from the oven, but if you let them sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a rack, they will harden as they cool and remain intact. In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to substitute grated orange zest for the peppermint extract called for in the original (the cookies don’t exactly come out orange and black — but the idea stuck). You can use peppermint if you wish, or try experimenting with any number of other flavors. The chocolate dip would also be a great sugar-free, natural option for chocolate-covered strawberries.

Please Note: If you opt to do without the chocolate, keep cookies at room temperature and store in an airtight container. The soft chocolate layer is a nice contrast to the crisp cookie underneath, but without the chocolate, the texture would be much better if left unrefrigerated.

Yield: about 30, depending on size

Chocolate Covered “Sugar” Cookies:

1 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour (very important to use this brand)

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

zest of one orange

3/4 cup virgin coconut oil (liquify by letting jar sit in a bowl of warm water)

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon agave nectar

Chocolate Dip:

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup virgin coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours, xanthan gum and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk vanilla, orange zest, coconut oil and agave. Add wet to dry ingredients and fold batter until incorporated. Chill batter in refrigerator for 10 minutes, or until workable.

3. Using your hand, roll tablespoon-sized amounts of batter into balls and place on baking sheet. Leave space between each cookie. Using the side of your hand, press down on dough and form into round, 1/4-inch high, 2 inch-round cookies (this should be fairly easy using the inside part of your hand).

4. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Cookies should be golden brown on the outside when done. Let sit on baking sheet for a few minutes, then gently transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

5. Meanwhile, prepare chocolate sauce. Over a double boiler (I just used a glass bowl over a small saucepan filled with 1/2 cup water), melt together ingredients for dip. Whisk for about a minute until shiny and smooth. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before dunking cookies. Dip cookies halfway, then let set on wax paper in the refrigerator. Refrigerate at least three hours.

6. Serve cookies cooled — should not be left out too long or chocolate will melt.

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