Tempeh Tacos

Despite my absurb amount of recipe trials and experimentation, there remains the rare gluten-free or vegan ingredient that continues to confuse and peplex. Tempeh is one of those ingredients.

Given that I follow a gluten-free, vegan diet, you’d think tempeh would be a staple. Even if not, you’d think I could include the rare, gratuitious tempeh recipe for those who do enjoy the stuff. Until now, this was in fact nearly impossible for me to do without jeopardizing my credibility and testing my conscience. Why? Because, until now, I simply hated tempeh. Every time I made it, I’d suffer through the eating part —  if only because the only thing I hated more than the tempeh I just made was the concept of wasting food.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information: while most recipes I’ve seen for tempeh call for boiling it or marinating it first to get rid of its strong flavor, I have yet to find a package of tempeh that mentions this seemingly “necessary” step. This is strange to me, since I am now convinced that most people who, like myself, think they don’t like tempeh would reconsider if they knew about this key step in its preparation. And while I could easily find this tip in any number of other places, because I’ve never seen it on a package, I considered it an extra hassle (why boil something for an extra 10 minutes if you don’t have to?) that I didn’t really feel like going through. My bad.

So maybe it’s not necessary, but it’s a very, very good idea — especially if you’re a tempeh skeptic like myself. I’m excited that I have another gluten-free, vegan protein option to experiement with, now that I have the inside knowledge that a tiny step can make all the difference.

It’s no secret in our house (apartment) that taco night is Gennaro’s favorite. I feared after going vegan that he would not appreciate the drastic changes that overtook one of his favorite meals. Out were fish tacos and chipotle slaw. In were chickpeas and tofu. I’m not really a believer that good vegan food necessarily has to mimic meat. Still, there is the occassional exception — especially when you’re trying to convince the non-vegans in your life that vegan food can be just as satisfying as meat-laden faves. This dish is a great way to prove your point.

Tempeh Taco Filling:

1 package soy tempeh (double check to make sure it’s gluten-free), cut into strips

1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you’re not gluten-free)

1 tablespoon agave nectar or yacon syrup

2 tabespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup no salt added tomato paste

2 tablespoons chile powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

salt to taste

2 tablespoons water

Other Possible Ingredients:

gluten-free corn tortillas (I used sprouted corn)

lettuce (I like the crunch of iceberg in tacos — yes, I know it has no nutritional value)

tomatoes (I used halved grape tomatoes)

guacamole

salsa

vegan sour cream

vegan cheese (I like Daiya cheddar-style shreds with tacos)

anything else you normally like on your tacos

Directions:

1. Prepare filling: bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add tempeh and boil for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together tamari sauce, agave, olive oil, cider vinegar, tomato paste, chile powder, garlic powder, cumin and cayenne. When you are finished boiling the tempeh, drain and toss with sauce, gently breaking up tempeh with your fork. Add tempeh filling to a large skillet, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat on high for about 4-5 minutes, or until filling is heated through.

3. Serve in warmed gluten-free tortillas with desired toppings. My favorite way to warm corn tortillas is to heat both sides over a skillet until softened. Then I wrap in aluminum foil and let warm in a 200 degree oven until I’m ready to serve.

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Tofu Broccoli Stir-Fry

While I like to consider myself a healthy person, this classification is occasionally challenged as I learn about the food philosophy of some of my blogging peers, read a report on the potential dangers of an ingredient I’m frequently using, or listen to someone else’s take on what we should be putting into our bodies. While healthy debate and ongoing curiosity about our ideal dietary choices is probably a good thing, at times the information can be downright confusing. Depending on who you listen to, either fat, carbs, protein, soy, sugar, cooked food or processed food is the enemy.

I am not a doctor, a nutritionist or a scientist. Maybe this is the reason I’m not firmly committed to any one philosophy. I stopped eating animals because I learned the backstory of what happens to them before they’re our food (though I’m also fairly skeptical of the healthiness of many animal products). I stopped eating gluten and sugar because bloodwork results told me these were two of the reasons I was constantly sick. Pretty much everything else is (almost) fair game.

That said, I do adhere to some personal — albeit somewhat loose — rules for what to eat. They are as follows:

1. Too much of any one thing is probably not a good thing.If I eat a carb-loaded breakfast or lunch, I’ll go with salad for dinner. If soy has been a constant presence for the day, I make sure to ease off of it for awhile. While fruit is full of vitamins and often fiber, it can also be high in sugar, so I eat it much less often than I would actually like. This “rule” could probably re-stated as follows: much like one’s investments, one should diversify her diet.

2. Whole food is almost certainly better than processed.But I won’t kill myself over the occassional processed ingredient, because I’m fairly sure that it’s not going to kill me.

3. Listen to your body.I stopped eating kiwi when I was about five years old because it made my throat itch like crazy. I was not yet reading full books or doing fractions, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out when something’s not right. Your body is smart. Listen to it.

4. Have an open mind.

My final rule — to be open-minded — sort of indirectly inspired this stir-fry. Over Thanksgiving, my uncle loaned my mom this book called Eat to Beat Cancer*. The book lays out a general diet plan for cancer prevention, along with individual sections aimed at preventing specific types of cancers. But the primary focus of the book seems to be on the list of super cancer-fighting foods from different foods groups, along with a few common foods to avoid (dairy being the main culprit). Some might scoff at a book that professes to help prevent a disease that has preyed on many seemingly healthy, active, health-conscious people. But my take is that there’s really no harm in making a point to eat more of at least some of the foods on the list, many of which are indisputably healthy in their own right. And if it helps to prevent cancer, well, hooray! If not, what did I really lose?

Of the foods that jumped out to me from the book were broccoli, soy and sesame seeds (now do you see where this stir-fry comes into play?) Still, you can basically choose any protein or vegetables you wish for your stir-fry. The sauce is really the star here, and will probably bring any combination of other ingredients to life. I’ve been trying out stir-fry sauces for seemingly as long as I can remember, and have never been completely happy with how they turned out. Whether they were too salty, too sweet or too sour, I’ve just been somewhat unimpressed until I tried this recipe the other night. It’s not necessarily adapted from any recipe in particular, though it’s probably inspired by many of those I’ve seen over time. Just the perfect sauce to help get more broccoli, tofu and sesame into my diet — whether I really need it or not!

* Bonus fact about the author: according to Amazon.com, he received his doctoral degree in environmental toxicology from my alma matter, The University of Michigan (so this book must be legit).

Serves: about 4

As far as I know, pretty much every ingredient for this stir-fry can be purchased at Trader Joes or at your local grocery store. I love when that happens; when a recipe is accessible to just about everyone.

Stir-Fry Sauce

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

3 tablespoons wheat-free tamari (of course, non gluten-free folks can use regular soy sauce)

3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 tablespoon agave nectar

2 teaspoons cornstarch (or arrowroot starch)

2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

You will also need:

15 oz. extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry, cubed

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I used grapeseed)

1 head broccoli florets, roughly chopped (about 4 cups)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Directions:

1. Whisk together all ingredients for stir-fry sauce. Set aside.

2. Heat oil* in a large (preferably non-stick) skillet. Add tofu and saute over high heat, stirring occassionally, until all sides are lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add broccoli and stir-fry sauce and toss until broccoli has softened and sauce has reduced by about half, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sesame seeds. Serve over brown rice or with rice noodles.

* I also saw on Dr. Oz that tossing your food in the oil before cooking instead of heating the oil in your skillet helps to preserve the benefits of whatever oil you’re using. I didn’t do this (I forgot), but you could always toss your tofu in the oil first if you wish to do so.

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Crispy Gingersnaps

To say that I’m a homebody is something of an understatement. I’ve said before that my favorite part of a night out is coming home to my pajamas — and I much prefer a night in at that. I spent most of the summer — against all advice to the contrary — studying for the bar exam in my apartment, watching the lectures online and taking practice exams in my sweats. With the exception of the occasional trip to my favorite coffee shop, I was content (as content as you can be studying for the bar) with this staying at home approach.  Maybe it’s just me, but spending half an hour (or more) to get ready and pack my books and snacks, then another 20 minutes to walk to the library where I would inevitably search for a good spot away from distraction, freeze in the air conditioning, and get hungry at some point and have to go out to buy some lunch just seems to add more stress than is necessary to the already stressful process of studying.

The same reasoning applies when I cook. If I can make something with what I have at home, I’d rather put off a hectic trip to the store, waiting in long lines and braving the cold. So even though I’ve had this recent obsession with making some sort of a chocolate-orange bread this week, I ran out of oranges this afternoon and decided against running out for more, which left little else but some pantry items and a few randomly purchased limes. I’ve been oggling Elana’s Ginger Cookie recipe for quite some time, and figured my recent purchase of ground ginger was a sign that I finally needed to tackle my own version of this classic treat…

I used yacon syrup in these cookies for the molasses-like color and taste, but without the high-glycemic index and with an added prebiotic boost. Yacon is one of those ingredients I’m hesitant to experiment with — at over $13 a (small) bottle, it’s a bit of a risk. It’s also hard to find around here, so I order mine online. So basically, if I screw up a recipe using yacon, not only am I out 13 bucks, but I need to go online and order some more. Not cool. Still, my (online) friend (sadly, I’ve never actually met her) and anti-candida diet baking pro Ricki Heller tells me that yacon is safe on a candida diet. Plus, its unparalleled unique flavor makes it hard to resist entirely.

Well, I guess I got lucky this time around. Not only were these cookies a success , but they might actually be my favorite thing I’ve baked to date. They’re not too sweet (yacon yields a sort of understated sweetness), quite gingery and spicy (beware gingerphobes, this one’s not for you!), and perfectly crisp. They’re also a great gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan holiday cookie option, both for parties and for gifts. I used lime zest here because, well, I had no other “zests” available. And while I actually thought the lime worked really nicely with the other flavors here, I’m pretty sure lemon or orange zest would be good as well.

Yield: about 14 cookies

Crispy Gingersnaps:

Note that almond flours can vary significantly among brands. So if you’re using another brand of almond flour, be aware that results may vary , and that you may need to increase the amount of shortening or liquid to compensate (in my experience, other almond flours tend to be less “wet” than Bob’s Red Mill).

½ cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1 cup + 2 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour (not cornmeal)

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons ground ginger

5 tablespoons Spectrum organic shortening

½ cup yacon syrup

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

zest of 1 lime

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, run flours, baking soda, salt and ginger through for about 10 seconds, or until flours are fine and ingredients are combined. Add remaining ingredients and process until dough comes together into a ball. Dough should hold together loosely, and will seem slightly more “wet” than a typical cookie dough.

3. Roll tablespoon-sized pieces of dough with palms into even spheres. Lay on parchement-lined baking sheet, a couple inches apart, and slightly flatten with the palm of your hand. Bake in preheated oven for 15-17 minutes, or until cookies are browned around the edges and golden brown on top. Let cool for a few minutes on the parchment before removing to a wire rack to cool completely (note: cookies will harden as they cool).

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Red Lentil Kibbeh

Growing up in Metro Detroit, I took for granted that I was living next to a national resource: Dearborn, Michigan, which boasts one of the largest Arab populations outside of the Middle East. It was only when I moved out to New York that I realized not all cities — not even what many consider the greatest food city in the world — are home to a plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants like Dearborn is, all lined up, one after the other, like a virtual Vegas buffet of Middle Eastern dining options. Perhaps I also took for granted the fact that kibbeh — a popular Lebanese dish — was a staple when we ate out; I’m surprise to find it on virtually zero menus here in NYC. Growing up, I remember it well: a baked dish made with lamb and cracked wheat and pine nuts. I thought it was delicious, and equally so when I occasionally ordered a vegetarian version (what it consisted of, I have no idea), or — eek — the infamous raw stuff: a blend of raw ground meat, cracked wheat and spices.

With Thanksgiving looming last week, I was eager to find a main dish that would make me wonder why turkey was ever the preferred option. I thought about a lentil loaf, and tested a few recipes for that. Never a meatloaf lover in the first place, I keep thinking there must be a better option, which is when I considered revamping my lentil loaf into a lentil something else. And that’s when my years of kibbeh experience came into play (as I consider kibbeh to be a meatloaf of sorts), and how I ended up having a kibbeh Thanksgiving.

Not to worry: turkey was not totally forgotten this holiday season. I “adopted” a rescued (formerly slaughter-bound) turkey named Jordan through Farm Sanctuary. His favorite foods are carrots and kale (some kind of a health nut, this Jordan) and he’s “youthful and kind.” It’s funny. This time last year I was researching brining techniques, brainstroming recipes for turkey leftovers and sneaking bites of the dark meat as my dad did the carving. This year, I’m saving turkeys from becoming food. What a difference a year makes, indeed!

Jordan

Luckily, this lentil kibbeh is not nearly as seasonal as most Thanksgiving fare. It’s a  versatile dish that can be enjoyed any time of year, and in many ways. While Gennaro enjoyed some wrapped in a whole wheat flatbread, I had mine with salad and some tahini dressing. And while this version is baked in croquettes (a popular traditional kibbeh preparation), the “batter” can also be spread into a square baking dish and baked into a casserole for an additional ten or so minutes, then cut into squares. If you’ve never had kibbeh before , think a moist, tomato-ey version of baked falafel.

Red Lentil Kibbeh:

Note: 2 hours of inactive prep time

Yield: 30-35 croquettes

I used Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina hot cereal in this recipe to mimic the traditional cracked wheat. I imagine — for those without allergies or intolerances to gluten or wheat — that a dry cream of wheat would also work here, though I’m not entirely sure (it’s been so long since I’ve had the stuff!) I also used a no salt added tomato paste here, though if you can’t find any, reduce the salt to 1 teaspoon instead of 1 1/2. I think this kibbeh is best drizzled with tahini dressing.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for spraying or drizzling

2 1/2 cups diced onion (about 1 large onion)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry red lentils, rinsed and picked over

2 1/2 cups water

1 cup dry Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/3 cup no salt added tomato paste (if using regular tomato paste, reduce salt)

Directions:

1. Saute onions over medium-high heat in olive oil until they begin to soften and become transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Set aside.

2. To a medium-sized pot, add red lentils and water. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for five minutes. Add brown rice farina and stir to combine. Turn off heat.

3. Stir onions and garlic into the lentil mixture. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine, lightly mashing lentils with the back of your spoon. Set aside to cool. When cooled, refrigerate mixture for 2 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 400. Remove mixture from refrigerator and begin to scoop out using 2 large soup spoons. Use spoons to shape kibbeh into oval-shaped croquettes. Lay croquettes onto a pre-greased flat baking sheet. Spray or drizzle tops of kibbeh with olive oil (I used olive oil spray to get an even coating). Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes (check for browning after about 20 minutes), or until bottom of kibbeh is browned and tops are crisp. Enjoy hot and crisp, at room temperature or refrigerated.

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Sweet Potato Muffins

When I think of sweet potato in desserts, I usually think cloying and sweet and heavy. I think pumpkin pie spices, or maybe marshmallow if we’re going the casserole route. Maybe it’s this association that has had me hesitant to bake with sweet potato until now (I’ve never been the biggest fan of pumpkin pie, let alone sweet potato pie). My change-of-heart can be attributed to a few things: 1) I learned that the lining of many canned goods contains BPA, which is a no-no if you’re at all concerned about carcinogens. To me, sweet potato is simply much easier to cook from scratch (and available more often) than is pumpkin, my usual canned go-to. 2) I might as well give pumpkin a break as it is, since it’s appeared in quite a few of my recipes as of late. 3) I saw a recipe — and unfortunately, I can’t remember where or for what — that called for sweet potato with orange zest, and I thought “yes. I like that idea.” And so I tried it. I’m glad I did.

I know I promised my red lentil kibbeh recipe, but I’m not happy with the individual photos I took of it, so it’s gonna have to wait until I can make it again. In the meantime, please enjoy these easy, healthy, moist and yummy muffins. My new barometer for a good health muffin is whether you realize it’s healthy when eating it. I had two (and a half) today and (unfortunately, perhaps instinctively) began calculating the caloric damage. Remembering that these are all whole grain, contain flax, and are sweetened with stevia helped to put my mind at ease, at least a little. Still, I had to remind myself of all the benefits. They’re not apparent upon conspumption — which is a good thing, no?

Yield: 12 muffins

Sweet Potato Muffins:

While the perfectionist in me cringed at the sight of jagged muffins tops, don’t let their exterior fool you — these are moist and spongey on the inside. The sweet potato helps them to retain their moisture well after they’ve been ziplocked away and refrigerated. I mashed my sweet potato with a little texture — mostly smooth, but enough so that every once-in-awhile you bite into an actual piece of it. It creates a pretty speckled effect with the dried cranberry as well.

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

¼ cup flax seed meal

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 cups unsweetened soy milk

2 tablespoons canola oil (plus more for greasing tins, if needed)

1 teaspoon Nunaturals vanilla liquid stevia (or two teaspoons pure vanilla extract plus 1 teaspoon NuNaturals stevia)

1 ½ cups mashed cooked sweet potato (I boiled mine until fork tender, then drained)

1/2 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberry

Zest of 1 organic orange, washed (use a good, microplane zester for best results)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Whisk together flour, flax, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk in soy milk, stevia and oil until incorporated into the dry ingredients. Add orange zest, cranberry and sweet potato and fold into batter until evenly distributed.

3. Using an ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measure, drop batter into greased or lined muffin tins. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in tins for about 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Cranberry Gingerbread

If you live in New York City, you know that one of the bravest things a New Yorker can do is to tackle Trader Joes during the rush hour. And by rush hour, I mean pretty much every weekday after 11 a.m. and weekends (except Friday and Saturday after 9 p.m.). It’s a scary place, that Union Square Trader Joes. Shoppers shoving into you with their carts. People fighting over the last carton of strawberries. Workers trying to explain to people exactly where the line starts. In order to maneuvere what seem like impossibly narrow aisles (it’s really just all the people crowded into them), it’s best to leave your cart in a designated area and make a mad dash for as many items on your list as you can carry, all the while hoping no one’s moved your cart by the time you get back, or mistaken it for their own.

In the midst of the overcrowding and tension that defines the New York TJ’s shopping experience, I’ve considered it a well-deserved reward to round the area of the line where the sample station is, and to help myself to some of the always perfectly-brewed free coffee. This is the moment I’ve been anticipating ever since I shot a “don’t mess with me look” at the person who tried to steal my spot in line; ever since I realized that they were out of the medjool dates again; ever since I walked into this crazy establishment and contemplated walking out a thousand times. Believe me, after this extreme sports-like shopping experience, a Dixie cup full of coffee never sounded so good.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I endured the Trader Joes rush last week only to find that instead of coffee, there was a dispenser full of CRANBERRY JUICE waiting for me at the sample station. I went through all this for…CRANBERRY JUICE?!?! was my intitial — and I thought very justified — reaction. But then I realized that this was a cranberry cider that had been mulled with cloves and ginger and orange peel and apples. Hmmm…maybe I could come around to this cranberry juice thing after all.

Anyways, long story short, I actually did enjoy the mulled cranberry juice, which became my inspiration for this sweet, tart and spicy gingerbread. It’s all of my favorite flavors of this season (including pumpkin, which adds extra moistness and flavor), and goes really well with a cup of — you guessed it! — coffee.

Gluten-Free Cranberry Gingerbread:

After many attempts at this recipe, I feared that the tension between a bread that doesn’t fall apart and a bread that isn’t overly gummy would come to an impasse. Alas, this final version seemed to find a resolution between the two extremes, though a few tips may help to ensure you don’t end up with a gummy layer at the bottom of your loaf: 1) bake this bread for the full cooking time; even if it seems overly cooked on the outside, it will remain moist on the inside. 2) Try dividing the batter into two separate, smaller loaf pans, and 3) If you can, try baking this bread in a convection oven, which will help the heat to distrubute more evenly (in which case, you may actually need to reduce the baking time).

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1/2 cup tapioca starch (can substitute potato starch as well)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil, plus more for greasing

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 cup hot water

zest of one orange

1 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, spices and flax seed meal. Add pumpkin, applesauce, oil, agave, stevia and vanilla extract. Whisk until combined. Fold in hot water and orange zest and mix into batter until it all comes together. Fold in cranberries.

3. Pour batter into a pre-greased 4.5×8.5″ loaf pan. Smooth out the top of the batter with a spatula. Bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a long toothpick comes out clean. Cool in loaf pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn out bread onto rack and let cool for another 10-15 minutes before slicing.

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Vegan Miso Gravy

The Thanksgiving-inspired recipes continue here, as I present you with my first attempt at a vegan gravy. This one couldn’t be easier, and has the added — and interesting — flavor of miso for a unique touch.

Please forgive my short post. I have been yawning for the last few hours, and am ready to call it a night. But before I do, I should note that the mashed potatoes in the picture were made with unsweetened soy milk and Earth Balance buttery spread. For those looking to veganize their Thanksgiving fare this year: if you use these two substitutes, I guarantee no one will be able to tell the difference. Just take your favorite mashed potato recipe and veganize by substituting unsweetened soy milk and vegan buttery spread for milk and butter 1:1.

Miso Gravy:

There is an option for both a thick and thin gravy, depending on how much flour you use. I prefer the thinner version, but if you like your gravy to have a bit more body to it, the extra tablespoon of flour makes for a nice, thick sauce which you can simply thin out to your liking by adding extra vegetable broth.

2 tablespoons Earth Balance buttery spread

1-2 tablespoons brown rice flour, depending on desired thickness

1 cup vegetable stock, plus more as needed for thinning

1 tablespoon white miso paste (look for one that’s gluten free and made with brown rice)

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, melt buttery spread over medium-high heat. Add flour and continue to whisk until the buttery spread and flour form a paste. Slowly whisk in vegetable stock and bring to a slow boil, continuing to whisk (should be about 3-4 minutes). When sauce begins to bubble, remove from heat. If gravy appears too thick, whisk in additional stock until it’s to your liking.

2. Add miso to hot broth and stir until melted into the sauce. Serve.

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Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

Having many unanswered questions in my life these days (like, when will I get a job? for example), anything that’s certain is a good thing. And if there’s one thing I’m certain of right now, it’s this: in my next life, I want to be Gwyneth Paltrow.

I mean, is there anything that woman hasn’t accomplished? Oscar-winning actress? Check. Wife of a rock star? Check.  Estee Lauder endorsement? Check. Hands-on mom? Check. Great singer? Check. Perfect body? Check.

I could go on, but it’s already getting old, right? Not to mention a bit sickening. Which is why, when Gwyneth started her perfect little lifestyle website, GOOP, a few years ago, it should have come as no surprise. Clearly whatever cosmic laws dictate that one cannot be good — or perfect, for that matter — at everything have mercifully evaded Ms. Paltrow.

All this is just about enough for me to want hate the woman, if I didn’t also think that if we ever met, we would be best friends forever (I would also totally settle to be the fifth wheel on a second season of Spain: On The Road Again). This theory was just about confirmed when I was reviewing some of GOOP’s past Thanksgiving recipes, and stumbled upon a recipe for pumpkin ice cream pie that had me drooling over my keyboard.

Turns out, it wasn’t too difficult for me to get to work on a gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan version of her pie. I already had a great crust recipe that I’d recently used for my key lime cheesecake — I merely swapped out the lime zest for some cinnamon. And thanks to Turtle Mountain‘s awesome Purely Decadent Vanilla Ice Cream, I also had a great base for the pumpkin ice cream filling. While this pie is not exactly diet food, the low-glycemic agave and almond and brown rice flour crust provide a nice antedote to the carb-loaded, usually fattening Thanksgiving day fare.

And just for the record, I am actually certain of many things these days. Like: I have a wonderful husband, dog and family — all of whom I am very, very thankful for this holiday season.

Serves: 8-10

A word of warning: this pie is best when made the day you’re going to eat it. While the crust could probably withstand a generous make-ahead schedule, the filling will get icy if left frozen for too long. My suggestion: either make the filling and freeze exactly three hours before you plan on serving it, or, if making well in advance, let thaw for a few hours in the refrigerator before serving. If you use the coconut-based Purely Decadent ice cream, and soy-free buttery spread,  this is a great soy-free, vegan alternative to pumpkin pie.

Crust:

1 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Almond Meal

1/4 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Pumpkin Ice Cream Filling:

1 pint Purely Decadent Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (coconut milk-based), slightly softened

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons agave nectar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Prepare crust: add all crust ingredients to food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade and process until crust resembles the texture of damp sand. Turn out into a 9″ pie dish. Using the bottom of your measuring cup, press evenly into the bottom and along the edges of the dish (mixture is crumbly, so edges won’t look perfect — do the best you can). Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 (I needed about 25) minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

3. Prepare filling: using an electric hand or stand mixer, beat together ingredients for filling until smooth. Pour into prepared pie crust. Cover and freeze for 3 hours, or until filling has set (press gently on the center to make sure it’s not still really soft). Serve immediately.

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Asian Vegetable-Noodle Soup

I have to admit, I’ve not always been the biggest soup person. That’s not to say I don’t love certain (indeed, many) soups — crushed lentil, gazpacho and Tom Yum come to mind — it’s just that old standards like chicken noodle, lentil or potato-leek never really did much for me. My slight apathy toward certain soups gained momentum when I started eating a vegan diet. Vegetable stock necessarily replaced chicken as a base, and I was immediately disappointed with how inadequate a substitute it could be in certain applications. Take, for example, an Asian broth. Something about a backdrop of celery, turmeric and onion — three ingredients nearly always going into a traditional vegetable stock — just doesn’t balance with the salty, subtle, umami-like taste of most Asian soups.

Enter this homemade broth. Inspired by my recipe for vegetarian pho (an excpetion to the vegetable-stock-is-no-good rule), I decided to infuse my own broth with ginger and garlic, then add soy sauce for a salty, Asian flavor. A hint of sesame oil adds a bit of nuttiness and added flavor.

If you commit this recipe to memory, my guess is you’ll be rewarded when cold and flu season hits. In my experience, an easy, light and subtle hot broth is as much a required remedy as zinc, vitamin C and rest. You can omit the noodles if you choose, swap out certain veggies (though the baby bok choy seems to me to be a must here), and add some red chile flakes for spiciness if you’d like.

Serves: about 4

Soy-Ginger Broth:

6 cups water

1 large bulb ginger, washed and chopped into 4-5 pieces

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed but left intact

2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari sauce

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

salt to taste

Additions:

3 bunches baby bok choy, washed and chopped

1/2 block extra firm tofu, diced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

rice noodles (cooked according to package directions)

chopped scallions (optional)

Directions:

1. Add water, garlic, ginger and soy sauce to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. Remove garlic and ginger from broth using a strainer. Add vegetables and simmer until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Add tofu and heat through.

2. Remove soup from heat and stir in sesame oil. If necessary, add a little salt to taste. Ladle broth and vegetables over prepared rice noodles and serve immediately.

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