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One of the challenges of sharing recipes with others is trying to manage expectations. I’ve posted several brownie recipes on this site (I should start a section just for “brownies” in my recipe index, there are so many options at this point), each with its own character, texture and taste. Some are cakey, some chewy, some fudgey. Some are sweet; others, less so. Some have added flavors and different dimensions, others are old-fashioned and pure chocolate. They’re all different, but each still good in its own right (in my humble opinion).

The problem is, when you call something a “brownie,” there are still certain underlying expectations: a) that the recipe in question is chocolatey, and  b) that the finished product is sweet enough to satisfy a certain level of sweet tooth. My concern with this recipe, while possibly unfounded, is that it will satisfy neither expectation to the fullest. Sure, there is chocolate. And sure, these tend toward “sweet” on the sweet-savory scale. But then there’s the whole buckwheat factor, which adds a light nuttiness that sets a backdrop for the more subtle chocolate taste, and the fact that these are not that sweet when compared to other desserts sharing the “brownie” title.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided, based on the fact that I love this recipe, to abandon any inhibitions I may have about this recipe and just post it already. Because, after all, just because they’re not a “typical” brownie doesn’t mean they’re not good in their own right. In fact, I’m willing to argue that one of the most crucial components of a good brownie isn’t the sweetness or overall chocolate content at all, but rather the texture. These are soft and chewy — the perfect combination.

In keeping with my most recent self-imposed challenge to cook and bake without added oils, the only oil required for this recipe is a light spray of the pan to keep the finished product from sticking. Otherwise, these gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free brownies are oil-free as well. If that sounds sufficiently disgusting to you, make this recipe anyway. You might just be surprised at what a little applesauce and soy yogurt can do.

Yield: 1 9×13″ pan of brownies

Low-Fat Buckwheat Brownies:

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill buckwheat flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup plain soy yogurt*

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup coconut nectar**

2 tablespoons non-dairy milk

oil for spraying pan

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add in remaining ingredients and gently stir until incorporated.

3. Pour batter into a lightly-greased 9×13″ baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until top bounces back when lightly pressed. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

* I used WholeSoy & Co. unsweetened plain soy yogurt. Many plain soy yogurts do have some added cane sugar, so if you use one that is not unsweetened, be mindful that it may increase the overall sweetness of the final product.

** I believe agave may be substituted with good results, but it will still likely change the overall texture, at least slightly.

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First, let me start by saying that I have been an absolutely horrendous blogger of late. I’ve neglected my inbox, let comments go unnoticed for days — heck, weeks. And I haven’t posted since, I don’t know, 6 weeks ago?

Second, let me explain. As I alluded to in previous posts, the year of 2011 marks an exciting yet stressful transition in my life. I got a job in Michigan, and a job that I love at that (hence, the excitement). When the position became permanent in February, my husband was still working in New York and in limbo, waiting to see what would come of my temporary status. Long story short, from February until now, we have put our New York apartment on the market, sold our apartment, my husband has moved out to Michigan, and we are now living with my parents, using my parents cars and basically freeloading until we can find a place and get settled here. Therein lies the whole “stress” part of the equation.

Now here’s the kicker. Remember my stress and anxiety over taking the New York bar exam last year — the exam I vowed I would never, ever take again under any circumstances? Remember my excitement upon finding out I had passed last November? Well, I have to do it all over again. Alas, a little thing called “reciprocity” (or lack thereof) stands in the way of my New York scores being relevant here in Michigan. So, in the midst of a new job, no home, and closing our apartment sale in New York, I am now studying for the bar exam (again).

I hope, given the circumstances, I will be excused for my horrid blog upkeep of late.

Anyways, in other news…My parents recently returned from the 2011 Vegetarian Summerfest and they were absolutely blown away by the amazing experience. Armed with t-shirts, books and other propaganda from their trip , my mom declared herself a reformed woman upon their return. (To think that just a year ago they were just flirting with the idea of vegetarianism). From the eye-opening talk of S.A.E.N.’s Michael Budkie on animal research labs, to Woodstock Animal Sanctuary‘s Co-Founder Jenny Brown, to Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn‘s informed presentations on the effects of a plant-based diet on heart disease and health, the trip was truly life-changing and educational for my parents. I’m especially jealous that they got a sneak-peak at my girl Marisa’s upcoming documentary Vegucated, which I’m told was every bit amazing as I expected it would be (and my parents are not known to hold back their opinion on such things).

Among the trinkets of knowledge my parents brought back to Michigan with them were the health implications of a high-fat, high-oil diet. I’m much too busy and tired to veer too far into a debate on the virtues of a high-fat/low-fat diet, but it was interesting to me that multiple renowned heart doctors echoed the theory that “good” fats such as olive oil and nuts are really not that good after all. True or not, I’ve always been open-minded about different dietary protocols, because it just means more of a challenge for me. I love a culinary challenge, and taking fat and oil out of a roasted tomato pasta sauce seemed like the perfect place to start. The end result, with sweet basil and tomatoes in peak season this time of year, was a rich and flavorful sauce that didn’t miss the oil or fat (or gluten! or meat!) at all.

Roasted Tomato-Basil Toss:

1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes

1 cup vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable broth

1 tablespoon white wine

2 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced

small pinch of salt

fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 lb. gluten-free spaghetti

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. In a shallow baking dish, toss tomatoes with wine, broth, salt, pepper and garlic. Bake in preheat oven for 20 minutes, toss, then return to oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

3. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse if required. Immediately return pasta to pot and toss with roasted tomatoes and basil. Add additional salt to taste and serve.

 

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It’s here! It’s here! Rhubarb season is here!

I couldn’t contain my excitement when I spotted my first bunch of the season at Detroit’s Eastern Market this morning. I was too excited, in fact, that I did that thing where I grabbed the first bunch I could see and immediately bought it, as if this one vendor were the only vendor selling rhubarb at the market (not the case) and as if everyone else had been looking forward to rhubarb season with the same amount of intensity and fervor as I had (which also seemed to be highly unlikely, based on my later observations). I bought two bunches before realizing that rhubarb was, in fact, abundantly in season and available almost everywhere, as my mom had correctly predicted (while warning me not to buy the first bunch I saw). As I strolled (or should I say “pushed my way through the unprecedented, dense crowds”?) from one end of the market to the other, it seemed as if everyone was selling rhubarb and as if every bunch were somehow even more enticing than the last. In the end, I managed to leave with only three bunches. I now have one bunch left to experiment with after making this crisp (anyone have suggestions??).

Being a rhubarb enthusiast, it has always been against my inclination to give it the classic treatment by pairing it with strawberries. Rhubarb can be so great on its own (well, not totally on its own…like, I wouldn’t eat it raw). It also goes great with cardamom. Or peaches. Or lemon zest. I’ve experimented with plenty of such recipes (rhubarb-lemon compote, rhubarb-cardamom ice cream, rhubarb cobbler…). It therefore just occurred to me that, rhubarb not exactly being a staple in my childhood, I have never actually tried rhubarb-strawberry anything. Go figure. Now, after all these years, I finally know why it’s the most popular. Thank you,  rhubarb-strawberry crisp, for enlightening me.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp:

Filling:

4 cups fresh strawberries, quartered

4 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped

2 tablespoons brown rice flour

1/4 cup coconut crystals

Topping:

3/4 cup brown rice flour

3/4 cup coconut crystals

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, toss ingredients for filling so that strawberries and rhubarb are evenly coated with flour/sweetener. Turn out into a deep-dish 9″ pie dish or 8-8″ square baking dish. Prepare topping by combining first three ingredients. Add buttery spread and break up evenly into topping using fingers. Sprinkle evenly over filling.

3. Bake crisp in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, until sides are bubbly and top is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20-30 minutes before serving.

 

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Having lived in New York for the last four years, Gennaro and I have spent many a Saturday and Sunday hanging out at local bars to watch our hometown football teams play. For those who are wondering: no, Detroit Lions games are not generally nationally broadcast. Shocker. And when Michigan football games are broadcast on the Big Ten Network, we’ve been relegated to the bar for those games as well.

Anyways, long story short, it doesn’t take much perusing on this site to figure out that my diet and bar food don’t generally mix. Same goes for the pitchers of beer that are often free-flowing at these sport bars — the drink of choice for seemingly every patron but myself. I often feel like a fish out of water, desperately searching the menu for one item — any item — I can eat. If nothing else, it’s an attempt to avoid annoying the waiter/waitress by being “that person” at the table, even though whatever I do end up ordering quite possible ends up annoying him/her just as much. Hence, I have developed some distaste for watching games at sports bars.

There is an exception, however, and a big one. “The Wright Salad” at Brother Jimmy’s was so surprisingly fresh, unique and flavorful that it had me actually hoping for more non-locally televised games on the horizon. The lettuce is actually fresh, crisp romaine with possibly even other heirloom varieties thrown in. It’s tossed with fresh toasted pecans, dried cherries, wild rice, roasted sweet potatoes and poblano peppers in an herb vinaigrette. If you read that description out of context, you would probably not believe anyone who tries to tell you that this salad is actually offered at a sports bar, and moreover, that it’s actually good. Surprisingly, now that I’m leaving New York for good, it’s right up there on my list of “New York” food items that I will really, really miss (along with Caracas arepas, Stogo Ice Cream and Viva Herbal Pizza).

Luckily, I’ve created a knock-off. Mine might not be as hearty (I didn’t have wild rice on hand when I was creating this version). And I’ve added kale for an extra nutritional boost (what can I say, that’s kind of how I roll). But for the most part, it captures the complexity of flavors and the excitement of the original that got me hooked on “The Wright Salad” (no idea about the name, really) in the first place. In other words, I think I got it “right.”

This salad takes a bit of work, especially for a salad. There are a few different components, but they are really all important to the overall taste and balance of the dish. Sure, it might be easier to hop on a plane (or bus, or train) and actually eat-in at Brother Jimmy’s. But if you’re going to hop on a plane to New York for food, I’m sure a sports bar is not the first place that comes to mind, let’s be real. Plus, if you make this salad for guests, it usually garners a lot of interest, as it was certainly the first time I had seen sweet potatoes, dried cherries and poblanos in a single salad.

Salad Ingredients:

1 head good, fresh romaine, washed and chopped

1/2 bunch kale, finely chopped

1/3 cup dried fruit-sweetened cranberries or cherries

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled and sliced (as described Buy viagra)

1/3 cup pecans, dry toasted in a pan until lightly browned, cooled

Herb Dressing:

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup grapeseed oil/light olive oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 clove garlic, finely minced or pressed

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teasooon dried thyme

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Toss diced sweet potato with oil and a tiny pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon). Lay flat on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned and soft, tossing halfway through. Set aside to cool.

3. Assemble dressing: briskly whisk or shake all ingredients. Set aside.

4. Assemble salad: toss all ingredients in a large salad bowl. Add enough dressing to coat lettuce leaves and toss until coated, adding more if desired. Serve immediately.

 

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Forgive me, as this is far from the most refined photo I’ve taken. It seems to have slipped my mind lately that I have a blog that might benefit from an updated post every now and then. When my mom asked me if I could make a dessert with the frozen blueberries she was looking to get rid of, my mind didn’t immediately go to blog recipe. I baked what I thought would be an adequate, but not memorable, cobbler. But halfway through eating it, I had an idea. Hey, Beth, why don’t you post this recipe to your blog? You know, that website you used to update on a somewhat regular basis with new recipes? And so, I ran to get my camera (which has been gathering dust in my bedroom as of late) and snapped a few shots of this half-eaten cobbler as if it would be gone if I waited any longer (which it almost was).

In the spirit of my upcoming trip to L.A. for my nephew’s baptism (!!!), I made this cobbler entirely with stevia (a zero calorie sweetener), used only 2 tablespoons of oil, and made this with whole grain brown rice flour. Not to mention this dessert is, by definition, comprised mostly of fruit. I know it’s a little early for fresh berries (not to mention STILL too cold around here to begin even dreaming of such a thing), but I love the fact that frozen berries mean never having to wait until July to make a good cobbler.

Berry Cobbler:

I’ll remind those looking to make this dessert that NuNaturals stevia is sort of one of those non-negotiables. If substitutions with the stevia are made, it’s highly likely the end product will taste much different than it should. This recipe was inspired by Susan O’Brien’s Blackberry Cobbler recipe in Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Cooking.

Berry Filling:

4 cups frozen blueberries

3 cups frozen raspberries

1/4 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

zest of one lemon

2 1/2 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

Topping:

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon Ener-G egg replacer

1/2 cup Wholesoy & Co. plain, unsweetened soy yogurt

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a 9×13″ baking dish, toss ingredients for berry filling and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, egg replacer and baking soda. Add remaining ingredients and stir until incorporated. Add dollops of batter evenly over top of berries.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until very bubbly and top is golden brown. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving, so berry filling can set. Serve with your favorite vegan vanilla ice cream for an especially delicious treat!

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My mom and I have been brainstorming our Easter Day menu and decided on a brunch theme. When I started this new “diet,” brunch was one of those things that was out of the question. Now, it’s one of my favorite menus to experiment with. I love a challenge. The latest brunch challenge that’s eluded me of late is a crustless vegan quiche recipe. I’m working on perfecting it before next weekend. In the meantime, I’m posting this tofu scramble recipe I’ve had in my archives, for those who might be looking into planning their own Easter menus in advance. I am well aware that tofu scramble is far from the most innovative of vegan recipes, but it’s hearty and healthy and it’s always a welcome accompaniment to roasted potatoes and vegetable in my home.

The truth is, I’ve never make this recipe the same twice. The one posted here is the only one I took the time to write down, but really, it’s pretty amenable to change. For a more Southwestern theme, you can reduce or even omit the turmeric and add some chili powder, melt some vegan Daiya shreds on top and finish with salsa and diced avocado. For this particular recipe, I also went a bit lighter on the spices than I’m used to, but figured my readers are all quite capable of — and likely inclined toward — making their own adjustments. Although it’s not pictured, I usually saute some portabello mushrooms with the onion and red pepper. Portobellos are my absolute favorite addition to tofu scrambles.

Tofu Scramble:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon dried mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 lb./15 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry, crumbled

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Directions:

1. In a large saute pan or skillet, over medium-high heat, add oil, onion and pepper. Saute until onions begin to brown and soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds. Add spices and toss with vegetables.

2. Add tofu and toss with spices and vegetables until coated and colored. Add salt and white pepper and toss. Saute for about 3 minutes, or until water is evaporated and tofu is slightly browned. You can add more turmeric for color or cumin to taste, plus more salt to taste. Serve immediately.

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Well, I’m back in New York for the week to visit my husband (if this last sentence confuses you, see: Viagra canada — the post, not the actual recipe). I brought some work with me to do during the day while Gennaro is at work. Otherwise, I had a chance to catch up on some of my favorite T.V. shows (my parents don’t have DVR. Enough said).

Bravo was nice enough to provide a gratuitous Bethenny Ever After marathon on Monday. I have to say, maybe it’s the name (I’m a Bethany), or the fact that there’s a cute baby on the show pretty much all the time now (Gennaro would probably have a field day with this one. He knows how I feel about cute babies. I can’t say he’s not a little worried about it, actually), or maybe it’s the whole New York aspect (there’s something fascinating about watching others navigate the city you live in/lived in for four years). Whatever it is, though, I find that show to be the ultimate in my guilty pleasures. And now I’m caught up. Vacation: successful.

Then yesterday Oprah replayed her “going vegan” episode, where 300+ Oprah staffers signed up to go vegan for a week. Of course, as a vegetarian/vegan who has been known to try to gently convince others of the merits of a vegan diet from time to time, (and who says this doesn’t work? My parents went from reluctant to full-throttle — they’re actually signed up to go on a vegan retreat this summer. By their own free will) it made me giddy with excitement to see that some Oprah staffers not only felt better after a week of going vegan, but that they were going to stick with the plan indefinitely.

Then again, it made me sad to see that some folks were less than enthused about their new food options. As someone who does not eat gluten or animal products on a regular basis (if at all), I am used to the questions and cringing from others over what my diet consists of. In those moments, I feel some sense of duty to channel my inner salesperson and convince others that not only am I not deprived, but that I’ve actually never been more satisfied with my diet (and that is really the truth). But I have to say, I felt for Kathy Freston when it was on her shoulders, alone, to do that with hundreds of Oprah staffers at one time. Sometimes, defending your food can be exhausting.

As a blogger, things get even more complicated. I’m putting myself — and my food — out there, so it’s much more likely to be analyzed (Whoah, that girl eats wayy too much Daiya cheese! Probably true.) On the one hand, I would like to be able to say, “It’s my blog, so I can do what I want.” Still, on the other other hand, I feel a sense of duty to those who might be curious about or just starting a gluten-free or vegan or sugar-free diet. I truly want to show people how satisfying these diets can be, which is why I started this blog in the first place. Plus, I want to provide a variety, so everyone can enjoy at least something on this site.

This dish was inspired by that mindset. I am always asking myself, if I could make one meal to convince someone that “gluten-free, vegan” doesn’t mean lettuce and sunflower seeds for eternity, what would it be? My lasagna? My tempeh tacos? I tend to think comfort foods are the most longed-for when we’re overhauling our diets. I already have a macaroni and cheese recipe on this site, but this really easy, somewhat sophisticated version is the ultimate in comfort fare. It’s rich and creamy, but ultimately full of fiber (brown rice pasta) and healthy veggies (a full head of broccoli).*

So, next time Oprah and her staffers need convincing, I would send Kathy Freston this recipe to make for them.

Fusilli with Broccoli and Cheese Sauce:

1 lb. brown rice fusilli pasta

1 head of broccoli florets, chopped

salt to taste

Cheese Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1 1/4 cups unsweetened soy milk

1 1/2 cups Daiya cheddar-style shreds

Directions:

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of salted water. Add broccoli during lasting minute to two minutes of cooking. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, while pasta cooks, melt buttery spread in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in soy milk, then Daiya and stir until cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes. Add drained pasta and broccoli back to pot and pour in cheese sauce. Stir to coat completely. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

It’s worth explaining that I view carb-laden recipes as wasted calories if they’re not infiltrated with something healthy like broccoli or other veggies, which might explain my broccoli with mac-and-cheese streak on this site.

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I realize that in the world of Celiacs and those who are gluten intolerant, “oats” can often be a controversial subject. Between the cross-contamination issues and gluten-like properties, oats have a reputation for bringing on many of the symptoms that we in the allergy-free world try to avoid. Still, there are very few things I can think of that are quite so comforting as a warm, chewy oatmeal cookie. And I’ve been craving them recently. My craving for oats brought on some experimentation with what I thought might be a passable substitute: quinoa flakes. But when I made my first batch of quinoa cookies, I realized that I had thought wrong. Quinoa flakes were more than just passable; they might even be better.

Rich and chewy, with the slightest amount of crispness around the edges, these cookies have the unmistakable nuttiness of quinoa. My dad — ever the Top Chef judge at heart, even if he doesn’t know it —  referred to their flavor as “subtle yet complex.” I, for one, love the flavor, but also don’t mind the fact that quinoa packs a punch of protein in a way oats never could. It’s a great excuse to sneak these as a mid-afternoon snack.

Oh, and my apologies to anyone who has a coconut allergy. I realize I’ve been on a bit of a coconut streak lately — I’m admittedly craving it in pretty much everything I make. I will concentrate next week’s baking efforts on something that is coconut free.

Yield: 20-24 cookies per batch

Quinoa Cookies:

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

1 cup quinoa flakes*

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/3 cup coconut oil, liquified

1/2 cup coconut nectar**

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries or raisins

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, quinoa flakes, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, xanthan gum and coconut. Add coconut oil, coconut nectar, applesauce and vanilla and stir gently to incorporate, then use hands to form ingredients into a cookie dough. Dough should be slightly sticky but workable. Add cranberries/raisins and fold in with hands.

3. Taking large tablespoonfuls of dough at a time, work dough with hands to form evenly-sized balls. Place on parchment or silpat-lined cookie sheet a few inches apart and slightly flatten with palm of your hand, creating evenly-shaped round cookies. Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes (longer for a crispier edge), or until bottom of cookies are golden brown.

4. Gently remove cookies immediately to a wire rack to cool. Cookies will harden more as they cool, but should still remain soft and chewy. Enjoy!

* For those who can tolerate oats, 1 cup instant oats can be substituted for the quinoa flakes

** If you can’t find coconut nectar, you can TRY experimenting with other sweeteners. In my experience, substituting agave, at least, yields a drastically different texture. So experiment at your own risk! Lately, I have been finding coconut nectar at just about all of my local health food stores. I know it’s quite pricey, but it’s definitely the best choice for these cookies.

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I’ve heard that a full moon can make people crazy, but what about tired? Despite catching up on my sleep over the weekend, drinking  a few cups of coffee today and not doing anything particularly grueling, I’m sort of physically and mentally exhausted. Maybe there’s some emotional exhaustion at play as well.  Has the stress from all of the changes going on in my life perhaps taken its toll? It doesn’t help that I haven’t seen my husband in over a month. He’s usually my go-to when I’ve reached my emotional limit and need a hug/a laugh/some perspective/a pick-me-up.

Without Mr. Delectably Free by my side, I’ve channeled my emotional energy into cooking. This weekend, alone, I’ve made two types of cookies, a mousse, two types of soup and a noodle-broccoli-kale-miso salad. Hm. Maybe that’s why I’m so tired. At any rate, I’ve reached my limit and don’t even feel like loading this weekend’s photos onto my computer, which means I’m sharing a recipe that’s been sitting in my personal archives for far too long. It’s a fitting meal for those who’ve reached their emotional limit as well, since this one is both comforting and super easy.

I often forget how pasta — even gluten-free pasta — can make such an easy and fuss-free meal.  This recipe was heavily based a spaghetti puttanesca recipe featured in Everyday Food last month. I absolutely love grape tomatoes and was so excited to find a recipe that featured them in a unique way.

Spaghetti Puttanesca:

Adapted from Everyday Food

1 lb. gluten-free spaghetti of choice, cooked according to package directions

2 cups grape tomatoes, halved if large

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1 cup canned tomato sauce, plus more as needed

1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives, drained and patted dry

2 tablespoons capers, drained

Directions:

1. Heat oil over medium-high heat and add grape tomatoes. Toss and heat until tomatoes begin to pop and break down, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and toss for another 20 seconds.

2. Add tomato sauce and heat through. Toss with pasta, capers and olives until pasta is coated. Add additional tomato sauce if necessary. Serve immediately.

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When I started this site, I set out to make dishes that were not just “good….for being gluten-free/vegan/sugar-free,” but also good in their own right. However clear this mission was, it was never so imperative as it was on Friday night, when I set out to bake a cake that was to be auctioned off for charity among a group of church members I would have to face again. The perfectionist in me (or should I say the perfectionist that I am) could never live with someone having purchased a mediocre cake. Which meant I spent a little bit longer than usual conceptualizing, writing, and ultimately executing this recipe, my show-offiest of cake recipes to date.

By the time the final layer was set — the coconut-pecan mixture lightly pressed on top — I had spent a good portion of my night and the next morning baking. I baked off a small cupcake-sized amount to taste-test, which confirmed that it was worth the extra effort. I decided it was.

That said, the lucky winner of this oh-so painstakingly created cake ended up being none other than my mom. Something about the “gluten-free,” “vegan,” “sugar-free” description just didn’t get the crowd too eager with their bids. Which is just as well, because really, nothing excites me more than shaking people of their notions that this type of eating is synonymous with deprivation. So when I started doling out slices to the diabetic at one table, the newfound celiac at another, I was delighted to watch their expressions shift from aprehension to pleasant surprise. I began to imagine this cake as not just a cake, but as a glimpse into a delicious world of possibilities, even  without the gluten, sugar, dairy or eggs.

Of course, this is a special occassion type of production, as it is a bit of an ordeal to make. This is the kind of dessert you look to when you want to be a show-off (and show your friends that you’re not missing out in the dessert world). But that doesn’t mean a modified version can’t be tackled on a smaller scale. German chocolate cupcakes, anyone?

The cake itself is quite moist; the frosting light and fluffly. It doesn’t have the exact makeup of a traditional German chocolate cake (not like you haven’t probably figured that out already), but the spirit is most definitely there.

Serves: 10-15

Chocolate Cake:

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Buckwheat flour

6 tablespoons coconut flour

1 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (non-alkalized)

1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 tablespoons Ener-G egg replacer

2 1/4 cups light agave nectar

3/4 cup coconut oil (liquified)

1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups light coconut milk

1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce

Agave-Sweetened, Vegan “Buttercream”

1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread

5 tablespoons Spectrum Organic Shortening

6 tablespoons agave nectar

3 tablespoons liquified coconut oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 tablespoons coconut flour

5 tablespoons cocoa powder

Toasted Pecan-Coconut Mixture:

1 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

4 tablespoons agave nectar, divided

2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread, melted

Directions:

1. For Cake: Lightly grease three 8-inch, round cake pans with some melted coconut oil. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and egg replacer until combined. Set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together coconut oil, agave and vanilla extract until smooth. Slowly, on low speed, add in dry ingredients until incorporated. Beat in coconut milk and applesauce until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Pour equal amount of batter into each pre-greased pan, using a spatula to spread evenly and smooth out the top. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for about 1/2 hour. Gently flip to remove from pan and allow to cool completely on rack.

2. For frosting: Beat together first 5 ingredients with electric mixer fitted with a wire beater on high speed until smooth. Add in remaining ingredients and beat until incorporated. Refrigerate to set for about an hour, or until a bit more firm but still spreadable.

3. For coconut-pecan mixture: toss coconut and pecan with melted buttery spread and 2 tablespoons of agave. Lay flat on a baking sheet and bake in preheated, 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Let cool to crisp, then toss with remaining agave.

4. To assemble: Place bottom layer of cake on a large plate or tray. Spread about 1/3 of frosting (doens’t need to be a very thick layer) evenly over top. Sprinkle with coconut-pecan mixture, leaving some frosting showing so that the next layer will stick. Repeat with the second layer. To top: spread with remaining frosting just enought coconut and pecan so that the top is evenly covered, pressing down lightly into the top. If frosting seems a little loose, return cake to refrigerator so that the frosting can reset, about 30 minutes (it shouldn’t melt after this).

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