Easy, Healthy Fruit Desserts

According to a recent national poll conducted by Consumer Reports Health, 9 out of 10 Americans consider their diets at least some degree of “healthy” (thanks, Dad, for the heads up on the report). In a nation struggling with obesity, diabetes and heart disease, it’s no surprise that further poll questions unearthed a paradox: most of these same “healthy” people consumed too many sugary drinks and desserts, and didn’t count calories. Further, many admitted to not getting the recommended 5 fruit and vegetable servings a day.

While it’s easy to scoff at these misguided notions of what constitutes a healthy diet, I’m also keenly aware of how easy it can be to venture off-course, despite our best intentions. While I can’t claim to fall short of the 5 fruit-and-veggies servings requirement (my diet is a virtual orgy of fruits and vegetables), I do have a tendency of overdoing it in the dessert department (there’s a fine line between being a good blogger and a self-destructive eater — more testing recipes means more eating!) Even though I’m not eating refined sugar or white flour, that’s not to say that all of my desserts necessarily qualify as health fare, as much as I would love for that to be the case.

Shirley over at Gluten-Free Easily recently celebrated her 2 year blogiversary. In her anniversary post, she sums up the essence of why I love her blog: she aims to focus on naturally gluten-free foods, which are sometimes easy to count out with all the crazy flour mixes and substitutions available now. In reading her post, I was inspired to come up with some naturally gluten-free desserts that require no baking, little added sugar, and which, really, are just fruit (with a twist, of course). If the Consumer Reports poll taught us anything, it’s that we need more fruits and vegetables in our diets and fewer sugar-laden desserts. Here are two recipes to help tackle both of those problems. I’d love to hear about your favorite “naturally gluten-free” and fruit desserts as well!

Sliced Pineapple with Lime and Sweet Syrup: 

Slightly adapted from a recipe in Spain…A Culinary Road Trip

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons yacon syrup, molasses or agave nectar (I used yacon)

zest from one lime

Directions:

1. Arrange pineapple on a plate and drizzle with yacon. Sprinkle lime zest generously over the top. Serve.

Pan Glazed Apples:

Makes one serving — increase as needed

1 apple (I used Fuji), peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided

2 tablespoons agave nectar, divided

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more to taste

vanilla soy yogurt for topping (I sweetened my unsweetened soy yogurt with vanilla stevia)

Directions:

1. Toss apple slices with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon agave and cinnamon. Add to a nonstick skillet and heat over medium until liquid is absorbed.

2. Add remaining agave and lemon juice to pan and increase heat to medium-high. Continue to saute, stirring, until liquid is again absorbed and apples are glazed (about 5-6 minutes total). Serve warm, with a dollop of yogurt on top.

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Chili Sweet Potato Fries

When my friend Krystal told me she was excited to eat sweet potatoes over the holiday because they’re “not something (she) eats normally,” I knew I had to remedy this situation. Don’t normally eat sweet potatoes? I couldn’t think of a shopping trip where I hadn’t brought at least a pound of them home from the market, mostly to make my favorite dish: baked sweet potato fries (though I think the type she was looking forward to over the holidays was more of the sweet, buttery, marshmallowly variety). I told Krystal how I made these healthy alternatives to fries at home all the time — baked in the oven, making them not only healthy but also oh-so-easy. Then when I considered how often I made them, actually, it struck me as odd that I’d never posted the recipe here. In all honesty, it might have something to do with my pervasive fear that such a simple recipe will at best not impress and at worst insult my readers’ culinary abilities. Then again, I know many people (cough ***my husband*** cough) who need consultation on even the most basic kitchen tasks, and who could use a little gentle coaxing into some easy recipes in the kithen (cough*** my husband*** cough). On top of that, I’ve made it a New Years resolution to showcase more naturally gluten-free, low-maintenance recipes here. Even I, the self-proclaimed cooking enthusiast, could use a break at times from any complication in the kitchen. And to make things less comlicated for all of you, I present to you this recipe — one of my all-time faves — in picture.

Baked Chili Sweet Potato Fries:

1. Start by washing and drying 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes. Then slice them one at a time like this:

2. Make sure to tuck your fingers in like this when slicing, so as not to cut yourself if your knife slips:

3. Then cut your slices into fries by stacking your potato slices (you may want to remove the rounded bottom and slice that separately for better support) and cutting them into sticks like this:

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with remaining sweet potatoes. When you’re done slicing, toss your sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt until evenly coated. Lay flat on a baking sheet.

5. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Toss and lay flat again, then bake for another 15 minutes. If a really crispy fry is desired, you can turn your oven to a high broil for the last five minutes and broil, with your oven door slightly ajar, until sweet potatoes are crispy on top. Watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn.

ENJOY!

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Chestnut Pancakes

I have a dilemma. It’s one that has plagued me all my life, or at least since I was old enough to appreciate the joy that a simple cup of coffee and a few moments of quiet and solitude in the morning can bring. Here’s the dilemma: I’m a morning person. Of course, this is not a dilemma on its own. Considering, however, that I’m also something of a night owl, this creates a bit of an inner turmoil. Add the fact that I am one of those people who just can’t function on less than 8 hours of sleep a night, and you see how I might struggle to reconcile my incompatible preferences.

I love the morning because of the solitude, the smell of coffee brewing, watching Woodley (most decidedly not a morning dog) continue to dream as he flinches and flaps his paws in his deep state of sleep. I love getting a head start on my emails, the morning headlines, the daily news shows. I love that I have a whole day left ahead of me once I’ve done all of these things.

I love the nighttime for many of the same reasons. After a hectic day, I can slow back down to catch up on emails, to return to my news shows (among other shows, mostly of the type found on Bravo). I love that Gennaro — a definite night owl — and I can sit and unwind to our favorite shows, after the dog is walked, the dishes done, the bills paid. And even those nights when we don’t have our shows, and I don’t have so many emails, and when I’m not lost in a good book, I somehow feel like I’m missing out on something if I go to bed too early. I’m like the kid who resists her nap for fear of missing out on all the fun while she’s asleep.

My need for 8 hours of sleep usually makes the night-owl side of me, by default, the winner. If I’m up too late, which I usually am, it’s hard for me to wake up early in the morning.  I’ve been lucky enough to be in school for the last seven years of my life, so I learned not to schedule any early morning classes. Though when I did have the rare unavoidably early class to attend, and forced myself to go to bed early and get a good night sleep, I learned that I had a special place in my heart for mornings as well.

Every once-in-awhile, just for the fun of it, I do wake up early on the weekends. If anything, it’s just to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and some morning baking. Pancakes, of course, are the perfect compliment to these lazy, early Saturdays. Last Saturday (New Year’s Day, in fact), was one of those, and I decided to forgo my usual weekend breakfast fare for something really special and unique. My mom sent me back to New York after Christmas with a package of chestnut flour, challenging me to find something to make with it. This delirious-smelling flour is something of an enigma. It’s like coconut flour in its ability to absorb massive amounts of liquid — so much so that you keep adding more and more until you have a batter that bears some modicum of familiarity. Which is what I did, of course. I added more and more liquid to what was intended to be an all-chestnut flour batter until I finally thought it at least resembled a pancake batter, then discovered, to my dismay, that this rendered my “pancakes” unreconizable gooey blobs once in the pan. So I tried again, this time using the chestnut flour as a compliment to a brown rice flour-based batter. Much better.

The moisture of chestnut flour makes this version slightly less “cakey” than most pancakes. But they’re too good (in my opinion) in their own right not to share at all, at the risk of offending those pancake purists who have one thing in mind and won’t accept any variations. They’re especially good drizzled with some cinnamon-laced agave nectar. Now that I have this recipe down, I have a new thing to add to my list of things I love about the mornings. Then again, pancakes make a wonderful late-night snack as well…

Yield: about 15 pancakes

Chestnut Pancakes:

½ cup chestnut flour (mine came from here)

1 cup brown rice flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

½ cup water

¼ cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for brushing pan

Directions:

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and flaxseed meal. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Brush a cast iron skillet or pancake griddle with oil. Heat over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, until hot (to test: drop a teaspoon of batter onto the skillet and see if it sizzles). Drop scant 1/4 cups of batter onto hot skillet, a few inches apart, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the first side, until golden brown on the bottom and bubbly on top. Slip and cook second side for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove pancakes to a plate.

3. Repeat step 2 as necessary with remaining batter.

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Winter Rice Bake

Well, I’m a delinquent blogger. While my fellow, more disciplined, blogging buddies have likely supplied their readers with things like year-end lists of their favorite recipes or healthy detox recipes for those ready to start the new year off on a healthy foot, here I am, presenting an everyday recipe — a simple, no-frills baked rice dish. Sure, it’s quite healthy in its own right; brown rice, leafy greens, low-fat Cannellini beans, butternut squash. But it’s not necessarily a detox-friendly dish (unless you’re on a detox that allows for processed foods, and I’ve not heard of any of those myself).

Still, after contemplating my own list of favorite recipes (after awhile I felt like a bad parent, not wanting to make any of the other recipes feel bad) and reminding myself that I’m not a person who likes the all-or-nothing resolution diet attitude (I prefer a year-round, more balanced approach), I reassured myself that there are at least some out there who are open to an easy, comforting winter dish. As many of you gear-up for a return to the 5 day work week and cold months ahead, consider this one antidote to all of that work and cold, and presumably, tiredness.

Oh, and in keeping with my New Years delinquincy, I am writing this post while I should be paying attention to the Michigan bowl game. However, the performance on the field is such an atrocity, I can find comfort only in writing to all of you. Let’s hope 2011 is a better year for my Wolverines. Maybe someone should tell them to eat some black-eyed peas…

Serves: 4-6

Winter Rice Bake:

3 cups butternut squash; peeled, seeded and cubed

1 teaspoon olive oil

3 cups swiss chard, chopped into short ribbons

3 cups cooked short-grain brown rice

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella-style shreds

a pinch of salt to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Toss butternut squash with olive oil and lay flat on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until soft.

3. Reduce oven heat to 350. Meanwhile, toss together butternut squash with remaining ingredients. Taste for salt. Spread into a baking dish and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5 minutes, or until edges are golden. Serve.

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Caramel Corn

I based this recipe off of a “crazy corn” recipe my aunt made over the holidays. Hers was sticky and sweet and utterly addicting — this version is crisp and crunchy, but just as dangerously good. Seriously, don’t make this unless you have loads of friends over to help you finish it off, or serious willpower (alas, I most definitely do not possess the latter).

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Ours was spent in Michigan, where Woodley spent the first extended period of his life outside of New York since he was born, and was thoroughly excited to play in a real backyard and run through an actual home (not an apartment). We hosted Christmas Eve at my parents’ house. It was as all-vegetarian affair (vegan if not for a Greek salad with feta, which I admittedly cheated on). I took a picture of my cousin’s plate at her request, which only includes about half of what we had to offer. There was also crushed lentil soup, quinoa tabbouli, and vegan spinach dip.

I could really go on all night about our Christmas Eve menu (seriously, I could…) but we are heading back to New York tomorrow and have 10 hours of driving ahead of us, which means I should probably sleep at some point tonight. Therefore, without further ado, here’s the recipe for my new favorite addicting treat. This recipe is anti-candida diet friendly, if you’re on a diet that allows corn products. While the yacon can be quite expensive, I think it’s worth it here in terms of taste and texture.

Caramel Corn:

2/3 cup yacon syrup

4 1/2 tablespoons Sweetleaf Stevia Plus powder*

5 tablespoons soy-free Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 quarts popped popcorn

3/4 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Directions:

1. Bring first 5 ingredients to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Drizzle over popcorn and pecans and toss to combine until popcorn is evenly coated.

2. Lay popcorn flat on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 250 degree oven for 1 hour, tossing every 15 minutes. Let cool for about 20-30 minutes before serving, or until popcorn is crisp.

* Note that this amount will need to be adjusted if you’re using a different brand. See comments.

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Sparkling Pomagranate Sodas

Hi all. I’m guilt ridden because I’ve been neglecting all of your wonderful comments, which I solicited in my last post (shame on me!) The thing is, I read each and every one of them, and am always so grateful for your kind words and stories. It’s just that my husband’s good friend was in town over the weekend, and right after playing host for him, we were getting ready to take a 10 hour roadtrip back to Michigan for the holidays. We just touched down and 15 minutes later, I’m cutting out some time for a quick post. So, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for all the holiday memories, and for keeping me entertained with your stories and inspired with your holiday favorites over the weekend. Finally, congrats to our winner — and commenter #13 — Ashley on winning the ice cream machine. As I said before, I wish I could give one away to everyone. But alas, I do not have the means.

Here is a quick holiday-inspired recipe for a guiltless yet festive virgin cocktail. Truth is, I sip on these year round when I’m tired of water (which is rarely, because I fear I may have a water addiction). During the holidays, my logic is that the less I fill up on calorie-laden drinks, the more I can justify eating.

Pomagranate Sodas:

Per one serving

1 1/4 cup seltzer water

2 teaspoons 100% pomagranate juice (such as POM)

4 drops liquid vanilla stevia

Directions:

Pour ingredients over 3-4 ice cubes and gently stir. Serve.

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Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

agave-sweetened cookies

The Cuisinart Food Processor giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered, and Congrats to our winner, Carolyn. But here’s the deal. It’s the season of giving, and as I mentioned before, I’m in a giving mood. I also realize that posting a vegan eggnog ice cream recipe was a tease for those who are without the tools to make it (i.e. an ice cream machine), which is why I’m following up my first-ever giveaway with another one: a Cuisiart Ice Cream Maker (from Sur La Table) in the color of your choosing. And just to whet your appetite, here are some vegan ice cream recipes  that you can look forward to making if you win. Actually, I wish I were Oprah and had the ability to give away one of these babies to all of my awesome readers. Because this really is one of my favorite things. But alas, I am not even currently employed, let alone a billionaire. Sigh…To enter, please leave a comment on this post. Specifically, I would love to hear your favorite holiday treat or memory, or just say hello! This giveaway will close on Tuesday December 21st at 4 p.m. While it will likely not arrive in time for holiday gift-giving, you will have a new kitchen tool to start your 2011 off on the right foot (if you’re resolutioning, you can just make this or this). As always, all winners will be chosen at random (I number all comments and choose a number randomly through random.org).

Anyways, onto the cookies. So, I know that Christmas is not too far away  and that around this time of year, if you’re going to be posting a cookie recipe, it better be one for the holidays. I guess you could say I was feeling rather uninspired (read: lazy) this year, because the best I could come up with was to take a chocolate chip cookie recipe and add some mint flavor. But to be fair, one of my earliest holiday season food memories was my mom’s obsession with peppermint ice cream — a seasonal, otherwise unavailable winter treat. Now as a result — despite the fact that my mom is now on a strict no sugar, no dairy diet and would probably deny that she was ever obsessed with an ice cream you can buy at a non-health food store (for the record, she was, along with Coldstone’s Cake Batter ice cream. Don’t tell her I told you) — I will always and forever associate the month of December with peppermint and ice cream. Hence, the mint in the cookies. Hence, the ice cream recipe in December (see: previous post).

Still, I know that mint in cookies is not everyone’s thing (though I can’t imagine why). As a result, I will tell you that you can make a perfectly regular, good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie (sans mint) by swapping in two teaspoons vanilla extract for the mint flavor.

For those looking for some cookies that scream “holiday,” I’ve compiled a rough list of some gluten-free, vegan cookies recipes from my fellow bloggers below. I’d love to see more, so if you have a holiday-ish cookie recipe on your blog, let me know and I’ll add it to the list! 

Holiday Cookie Recipes:

Scandanavian Thumbprint Cookies from The Spunky Coconut

Gingerbread Cookies from She Let Them Eat Cake

Gingersnap Star Cookies from Gluten Free Goddess

Chocolate Snow Balls from The Mommy Bowl

I made two versions of these cookies. One batch is sweetened with agave nectar and the other with yacon syrup. I prefer the yacon-sweetened cookies, as they got really thin and crisp and make the perfect vehicle for an ice cream sandwich (bonus! see below). But the agave-sweetened version is good, too, albeit a bit more thick. Given their thickness, you’d think they’d be of the soft and chewy variety. But alas, they are not. I did actually try undercooking one batch to see their potential for chewiness. They were decidedly not chewy in the traditional sense, but turned out more cakey and sort of stuck to the teeth in a weird way. When cooked fully, however, they turn into crisp little morsels that are totally yummy. So, I suggest you refrain from a foray into the undercooking territory.

yacon-sweetened cookies with eggnog ice cream

Full disclosure: I searched high and low for peppermint extract to use in these cookies and couldn’t find it anywhere. Therefore, I used mint flavor, which real foodies will probably tell you is not a viable substitution. Well, my cookies turned out just fine. And while I’m sure an extract would have yielded more concentrated flavor, I see no need for you to make yourself crazy looking for it like I did. If mint flavor is all you can find, it will work just fine.

Yacon-sweetened Chocolate Chip Cookies:

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1 1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup Spectrum Organic Shortening

2/3 cup yacon syrup

1 1/4 – 1 1/2 teaspoon mint flavor (add 1 1/4 teaspoon first, then adjust to taste), or half as much mint extract

1/2 cup gluten-free chocolate chips, stevia-sweetened chocolate chunks, or agave-sweetened chocolate chunks*

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Add flours, baking soda and salt to a food processor fitted with a sharp blade. Run through processor for about 10 seconds, or until flour mixture is very fine. Add shortening, yacon syrup and mint flavor and pulse until mixture roughly comes together in a loose ball.

3. Remove to a bowl and fold in chocolate chips until incorporated. Roll tablespoon-sized balls of cookie dough into a smooth sphere with your hands. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, a few inches apart, and lightly press down with the palm of your hand.

4. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are evenly browned around the edges. Cool on cookie sheet for about a minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

* as you can see from the picture, I got lazy and used actual chocolate chips (I ran out of cocoa powder and coconut oil for my homemade versions and didn’t feel like going to the store). I actually used Sunspire grain-sweetened chocolate chips, which are not gluten-free, but which I can tolerate because I am not sensitive to barley (note: I have a wheat — not gluten — sensitivity). Please, please check with your doctor and read all labels before using any chocolate chips, and do not use any grain-sweetened chips if you are gluten-free. If you can tolerate barley (and corn), and if you’re not on a strict candida diet at the moment (I should be, but am getting a little lax with the holiday season), these might be a good option for those who don’t feel like taking the time or spending the money to make their own chocolate chips.

To make these cookies using agave, make the following changes:

1. Add 1/4 cup almond flour to the dry ingredients.

2. Use 1/2 cup agave in place of the yacon syrup.

3. Add a few more tablespoons of chocolate chips.

4. Lay cookies flat on an unlined, ungreased baking sheet (still flattening slightly with the palm of your hand).

Baking time should be the same, but you can add another minute for extra crisp and browned cookies.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Green Bean Casserole

Anyone who’s gone vegan, sugar-free or gluten-free knows that often in our attempts at recreating old favorites to fit our dietary restrictions, we end up creating a dish that’s inherently much healthier as well.

This is not one of those dishes.

I’m sorry to say, but there comes a point in ones life where health concerns must surrender in the interest of taste, and for me that point is usually somewhere around the month of December. We can always change back our ways come the new year — that’s what resolutions are for, right?

Now, before I go giving this grean been casserole such a bad rap, let me just say that, well, it is made with a vegetable after all. And vegan sour cream is somewhat less fat-laden than the dairy-made stuff. And I made the topping using reduced fat potato chips — not the full-fat kind. So, there. Take it for what it’s worth.

I was inspired to make a vegan green bean casserole by my friend Charlie, who made one for Thanksgiving using canned mushrooms (thickened with some cornstarch) and dairy-free sour cream. He then topped his with the traditional french fried onions. As my unofficial guinea pig for a green bean casserole recipe (I was secretly waiting to see how his idea turned out before attempting my own…), he reported positive results and rave reviews from his Thanksgiving taste-testers. Thus, confidence in my own green bean casserole attempts immediately soared. Thanks, Charlie!

Because my own taste-tester (that would be the hubs) has some sort of mushroom phobia, I had to proceed with caution in this department. There are only a few things, I’ve learned, that he will really pick out of his plate, and one of those things seems to be certain types of mushrooms (though he will tell you he’s coming around to liking them). As a result, I decided to go with the clear front-runner on his mushroom list, which would be shiitakes. Luckily, their earthy flavor and somewhat meaty texture make them a great addition to green bean casserole, along with some caramelized onions in the filling.

To replicate the crunch of french fried onions in the topping (the ones I’ve seen in stores are not gluten-free), I had many ideas. I considered making my own french fried onions, but nixed that thought once I considered the work that would involve. I thought about baking the casserole with gluten-free bread crumbs on top. I also considered using no topping at all, but immediately dismissed this notion as culinary blasphemy. I mean, what is the point of green bean casserole if you’re not going to top it with something salty and crunchy? Ultimately, I went with crushed potato chips, with the addition of a little nutritional yeast for flavor. It may not be traditional, but it yielded a nice crunch and a wonderful contrast to the creaminess underneath.

Here are some other veganized green bean casserole recipes that might be of interest:

Semi-Raw Green Bean Casserole from Pure2Raw

The Best Vegan Green Bean Casserole from Susan at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen

Another take on Susan’s Green Bean Casserole from Gena at Choosing Raw (scroll to the bottom for the casserole)

And just to remind everyone, leave a comment on my previous post (eggnog ice cream) to enter the giveaway for a Cuisiart Mini Food Processor. Even if you already have a food processor, a mini one is great for small-prep items and even has a grind function on it. It’s a great space-saver as well. And, since I’ve heard some feedback that while the food processor is nice, what everyone is really pining for is an ice cream maker, I got to thinking (since it is the holidays, after all). That I might just follow-up this giveaway with a little something along those lines. And, since (in the interest of fairness) all winners will be chosen at random by my computer, who’s to say someone might not get lucky and win both? Anyways, stay tuned…

Green Bean Casserole:

1 1/2 lbs green beans, trimmed and halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion, sliced thin

10 shiitake caps, sliced

1/3 cup vegetable broth

1 cup Follow Your Heart Sour Cream Alternative

1/3 cup Follow Your Heart Vegenaise

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons nutritonal yeast

For Topping:

40 Kettle Brand baked potato chips, crushed (next time I make this I am going to crush the chips a little more coarsely than shown in the picture for some more texture and crunch)

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse immediately with cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350.

3. In a large saute pan, saute onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes over high heat, or until onion is soft, transluscent and browned. Add shiitake caps and saute until soft (1-2 minutes). Add vegetable broth, stir, and turn off heat. Stir in sour cream alternative, vegenaise and green beans. Toss to combine and add a pinch of salt to taste.

4. Turn out green bean filling into a 2 qt. shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with nurtitional yeast. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for about 25-30 minutes, or until green beans are softened to your liking and sides are bubbling. Remove from oven and let sit for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with crushed potato chips and serve immediately.

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Vegan Eggnog Ice Cream

Keep reading until (or skip to, if you must) the end — there’s a surprise!

Saturday was just sort of one of those days where I had an idea for a recipe and really nothing was going to stop me from making it. First came the idea — a rather sudden, crazy idea to make a vegan eggnog ice cream. To be clear, this is not a crazy idea if you’re one of the many people in the United States who grew up loving eggnog, and who maybe wants to find a healthier (or vegan) recipe for it. But when you’re me, and you grew up hating eggnog, an eggnog ice cream is not exactly the kind of recipe you would expect to be jumping through hoops for, so to speak. But this is the sort of phenomenon that happens when you go vegan or gluten-free (or both). You can have no interest in something for the entire time that it’s allowed in your diet. Then once you’re restricted, suddenly everything carries fond memories and nostalia. I find myself saying things like “but Christmas just won’t be the same without eggnog,” when in reality, the last time I had eggnog during the holidays was probably when I was about six. And I most likely spit it out.

Having my mind set, however, I then decided that I wanted to use yacon syrup — at least in part– as a sweetener. I imagined its sweet, rich taste and syrupy texture would yield a luscious texture for the ice cream. The problem with that idea was that I didn’t have any yacon, and as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not available in most local stores in my area. Nevertheless, determined as I was, I started calling every health food store I could think of in a 20 block radius, thinking that at least  one store had to carry it. I was right. A store about five blocks from my apartment — the third one I called — had it in stock.

As I made the trek to my the health food store on a Saturday night, I was reminded that I had chosen “drunk Santa Saturday” as the day of my mission. I’m not sure the official name (or reason for it, actually), but it seems that every year around this time in December there’s a city-wide bar crawl where everyone’s dressed like Santa Claus. By the time it’s dark outside, the city is overrun by obnoxious drunks in bad Santa costumes. When I left my apartment for the store, drunk Santa day was in full force, and I was just wasn’t in the mood to share any narrow NYC sidewalks with them. Still, I told myself that the annoyance of the trip would come with a sweet and icy reward.

I kept telling myself this until, lo and behold, I get to the health food store and the yacon syrup is nowhere in sight. I checked the sweetener aisle, the baking aisle, the airea where the peanut butter and hazelnut butter are. I even look in the supplements section. Nothing. Fulling expecting disappointment, I finally ask the cashier where they “keep” their yacon syrup. She gave me a perplexed look, and I braced myself for the news that I’d been given some bad information when I called. Then, something seemed to register for her. “Wait a second,” she said slowly… “I think it’s over…” her voice drifted off as she headed over to the CHIP AISLE, where she proceeded to pull back a few bags of chips, reach into the back of the shelf, and grap a bottle of yacon syrup. I could think of no other explanation for this other than that the stock boy at my local health food store has been an enthusiastic participant in drunk Santa Saturday.

On my way home, using this unofficial holiday as an excuse to head into a liquor store by myself on a Saturday night (and with no plans to speak of), I picked up one of those one-shot bottles of Bourbon to use in the ice cream. Now, as far as I know, there is really no good explanation for buying just one of these bottles unless you’re using it in a recipe, which you can never really explain unless you’re asked (which I wasn’t), because otherwise you’ll sound like an idiot. And a liar. Plus, there’s really no use for a bag when you’re buying something that small, and there’s nothing you can really feel but entirely sheepish when you slip a tiny bottle of bourbon into your shoulder bag, which I did.

At any rate, the (small) annoyances and (slight) embarrassment I endured for this recipe (really just some general musings masquerading as some sort of rant) were well worth it. At first, Gennaro wasn’t so sure that it actually tasted like eggnog. I was so happy with how it tasted that I didn’t care, I decided it was still blog-worthy. As he continued eating it, however, he changed his tune and thought it “definitely” tasted like eggnog (I guess it’s been so long since he’s had the stuff, too, that he couldn’t remember what it tasted like, either). I say, who cares? It’s rich and creamy, with a boozy aftertaste and a general aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg. Oh, and if you haven’t already assumed as much, I am not one of those people who considers ice cream a summer-only food. Someone’s got to keep the vegan ice cream shops in biz during the winter months! I’m happy to do my part.

Oh, and I have some BIG NEWS (at least for me):

In the spirit of the holidays (maybe some of the drunk Santa love got into me), I am doing my FIRST EVER GIVEAWAY. I know, big stuff. And I thought I’d start by giving away my absolute favorite, often-used, tried-and-trusted kitchen tool: a food processor. I can’t tell you the number of recipes I’ve posted on this site that require some sort of food processor prep (see: gingersnap cookies, avocado vinaigrette, cashew cream cheese). And I know there are some of you out there who are in need of one (or a new one) yourselves. So, please, don’t make me feel bad — enter my giveaway for a Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus Food Processor (a perfect choice for small kitchens or small recipes). To enter, just leave a comment on this post. I’d love to hear which holiday recipes you’ve veganized, some of your holiday stories, or your thoughts on this eggnog ice cream idea. Giveaway will close on Friday, December 17th at noon. Happy Holidays!

Note: this giveaway is now closed

Veggnog Ice Cream:

I used Native Forest brand coconut milk in this recipe because their cans are BPA-free.

1 13.5 oz. can light coconut milk

1 13.5 oz. can full-fat coconut milk

1/4 cup yacon syrup

5 tablespoons agave nectar

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons bourbon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Briskly whisk together all ingredients in a chilled bowl until combined.

2. Slowly pour into ice cream machine and let machine run until ice cream is set. For best results, freeze ice cream for another 1-2 hours or until ice cream is set completely. This ice cream will keep a good, creamy texture in your freezer for a few days. To serve, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon.

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Tempeh Taco Salad

It’s two recipes for the price of one today, as I just had to follow-up my tempeh tacos with an option for taco salad as well. I made this salad last night, and Gennaro and I both really liked it. Like the tacos, you can add any toppings — vegan cheese, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, or black olives, to name a few — but it’s also good at its simplest, with just lettuce, tomato, vinaigrette, the tempeh taco filling and chips (as pictured, along with some shredded carrot). Any simple vinaigrette will do, but I made an avocado vinaigrette that was creamy and spicy and quite good with this salad. I included that recipe here, along with the recipe for homemade baked tortilla chips I used in the salad (so, I guess you’re really getting 4 recipes for the price of one today).

Avocado Vinaigrette:

1/2 ripe avocado

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons Vegenaise

3-4 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1 scallion, roughly chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded, roughly chopped

sea salt

Directions:

Blend all igredients except salt in a blender or food processor. Add salt to taste and water until dressing is desired consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Remaining Salad Ingredients:

1 recipe taco filling

romaine lettuce

shredded carrots (optional)

sliced grape tomatoes

tortilla chips (recipe below)

Homemade Baked Tortilla Chips:

Makes about 30 chips — increase amount of tortillas as needed.

5 sprouted corn tortillas (any corn tortilla will do, really)

olive oil for brushing (or olive oil spray)

a pinch of sea salt for sprinkling

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Halve corn tortillas, then cut each half into thirds, making even triangles. Place tortillas on a lightly oiled large baking sheet. Lay side-by-side but do not overlap. Spray or brush the top of each tortilla with oil. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until tortillas are lightly browned and crisp.

3. Immediately after they are removed from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool slighly before serving.

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