Cheddar Scallion Biscuits

These biscuits are awesome. And if there’s any doubt that that last statement is just a result of my I-haven’t-had-a-biscuit-in-years brain talking, my husband ate seven of these last night along with his meal.

Ever since I discovered Daiya cheese, I’ve had this idea that I wanted to make cheddar-scallion biscuits. It was sort of one of those recipes that lingered in the back of my mind, but one I never tried to execute for one reason or another. Maybe I was out of an ingredient. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was watching my calories and didn’t really feel like testing batches of biscuits for days. Whatever the reason, the gluten-free, vegan cheddar-scallion biscuit was, for a long time, a figment of my imagination — a recipe that seemed destined to live forever in my head.

One advantage of being unemployed (always have to look for a silver lining, right?) is that all of the recipes that have made homes in my imagination have actually been given an opportunity to come to life. The best part about this one is that it’s even easier to make in reality than it was in my head. While the first batch I made contained xanthan gum, I found that the Daiya cheese held everything together nicely enough, and the addition of gum only served to make these chewier and gummier; less flaky.

Serve these with chili or soup. I think they’re the perfect addition to a fall evening. I don’t even think the picture does justice, because it struck me that these appear sort of dry-ish and heavy in the picture, and they are actually quite light and flaky and soft inside. While I thought the addition of garbanzo bean flour lightened up the batter and made the final product even flakier, you could use 1 cup of brown rice flour if that’s all you have on hand. The final product will be slightly more dense, but still good.

On that note, I’m off to apply to do more job applications and maybe make some more recipes while I’m at it. I’m curious: what recipes have you conjured-up in your head but never actually got around to trying?

Gluten-Free, Vegan Cheddar Scallion Biscuits:

The reason I’ve listed the brands I’ve used here is that I’ve noticed a stark contrast between results with different brands of flours — especially when it comes to brown rice flour. Feel free to use whichever brand you have on hand, but keep in mind that the results might vary.

3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean (chickpea) Flour

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

5 tablespoons Spectrum Organic Shortening

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon light coconut milk, plus more for brushing

1 tablespoon agave nectar

3/4 cup Daiya vegan cheddar cheese

1/4 cup scallions, chopped

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add shortening and, using your hands, crumble into the flour mixture. Add in agave and coconut milk and stir until everything just comes together. You can use a little more (about a tablespoon) coconut milk if necessary but try to stick with the 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (the more liquid, the more dense and chewy these will be). Add Daiya and scallions and knead into the dough using your hands until evenly distributed.

3. Drop batter by packed 1/4 cup onto a pre-greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, a few inches apart. Press down slightly on each biscuit with the bottom of measuring cup to flatten. Brush tops with coconut milk.

4. Bake biscuits in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Eat while still warm or let cool on a rack until ready to eat.

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Antioxidant Quinoa Salad

When you watch as many cooking shows as I do, you tend to become familiar with the standard jargon that gets tossed around during the course of a given episode. There’s the “make sure to wash your hands very well after handling chicken!!” That one’s an oldy but a goodie. Then there’s the obligatory “al dente” definition — “it means ‘to the teeth!'” — that follows every time you’re told how to cook your pasta. And of course there’s the endless oggling of a dish in its final moments of preparation, which can take many forms but usually involves something to the effect of, “now would you look at how gorgeous this is?” The last of these is perhaps the most familiar and pervasive, often preceding every end-of-show sendoff. This is understandable, considering appearance is an important aspect of selling a dish. After all, no one cares if something is “healthful,” “super easy,” or even “delish” if it’s going to scare their dinner guests away.

Despite this, I have to say that I’m not usually one to oggle my dishes. This is in large part because I’m usually so hungry and impatient by the time it’s ready that I tend to dig in the moment I get a chance, not allowing myself to take it all in. It’s only until I’m uploading my photos hours later that I appreciate the aesthetic aspects — or lack thereof — of a particular dish. But tonight was different. As I tossed the speckled red-pink pomagranates with the vibrant green parsley against a backdrop of fluffy quinoa, I was sort of mesmerized by the beauty of it all. So I took a moment just to stare.

Of course, it’s especially nice knowing that “beauty” here might as well be synonymous with “healthy.” With each contrast of color is a different vitamin, nutrient and disease-fighting property. Pomagranates are said to be the highest in antioxidants of all natural foods. They are also believed to prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Cranberries are rich with antioxidants as well — even more so in dried form, as antioxidants are more concentrated in dried fruit. Then there’s parsley. It’s one of my favorite all-around ingredients, and boasts a laundry list of health properties. It can boost immunity, cleanse the kidneys, is a great source of iron and vitamin C, and can even be used as a digestive aid. And of course, it’s high in antioxidants. Add vitamin and antioxidant-rich bell pepper and the protein and fiber of quinoa, and this is one healthy salad.

Since quinoa is a “whole” protein, I like to eat this as a meal, but this would also make a great side dish or light lunch option with soup. I think you’ll really enjoy this salad. Feel free to experiment with your own antioxidant-rich additions as well.

Antioxidant Quinoa Salad:

Serves: 2-3 as a main course, 4-6 as a side

Look for pomegranates that are red on the outside and which feel heavy for their size. These will yield the best seeds. This salad can be served either warm, room temperature or chilled — all good! I like beige quinoa for this dish, as red tends to have a more prominent, nuttier flavor which I thought would overpower the other ingredients.

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well and drained

1/2 cup pomagranate seeds

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup red onion, finely diced

1/2 large green bell pepper, diced (about 1/2 cup)

1 cup curly parsely, finely chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 1 1/2 limes)

generous pinch of salt, plus more to taste

Directions:

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together olive oil and lime juice. When quinoa has cooked, toss with remaining ingredients. Add dressing and salt and toss until dressing is absorbed. Taste and add additional salt to taste.

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Cran-Apple Cornbread

Balance. I think it’s something we all strive for in our diets, though doing so can require constant work and attention. It’s not always easy to monitor our sugar intake while diversifying the color of our vegetables, or the types of protein we’re eating. After cutting animal products from my diet earlier this year, I’ve sometimes found myself over-doing it on the tofu, or eating too many grains. It’s not that a gluten-free, vegan diet is necessarily difficult for me, it’s just that it’s easy to fall victim to the allure of continuity and convenience. To me, being healthy means putting in the extra effort to diversify, to remain flexible. To be balanced. 

Perhaps more difficult to maintain than a healthy gluten-free, vegan diet has been my adherence to the Anti-Candida Diet. For those fortunate enough to not know about Candida overgrowth, you can read about it here. For those familiar with candida, its manifestations and its treatment, you know that treating an overgrowth can be a painstakingly long process requiring patience, perserverance, and even a little faith. One problem I’ve had with following the Anti-Candida Diet is that it’s so damn strict. No fruit (except lemon and lime). No grains. No sugar. No alcohol. No mushrooms. Nothing fermented. No caffeine. In addition to that, the diet can also be confusing. Depending on who you listen to, fruits are O.K. in moderation (wait, I though they weren’t?), whole grains are O.K., low glycemic sweeteners are O.K. sometimes. Are we following this?

Perhaps in part due to the confusion, in part due to sheer rebellion, I’ve been a less-than-stellar pupil of the Anti-Candida Diet. I’ve continued to drink coffee. I haven’t given up all fruits. I eat carbs. I drink wine on occassion. I spent a good year sweetening everything with agave (true, it’s preferable to sugar for these purposes, but it’s not necessarily ideal). While my diet has changed for the better since my blood results, it’s still far from perfect. Still, every time I try to commit 100% to the diet, I can’t help but think that by pressuring myself to be perfect, I’m sort of setting myself up for failure.

Balance. It’s the only way I think I can maintain a long-term adherence to this diet. I’m just trying to do the best I can. If I eat a carb-laden lunch, I’ll enjoy a light salad for dinner. If I eat something agave sweetened, I’ll limit my fruit intake for the day. And if I decide to make something with fruit these days, I try to make stevia my sweetener of choice (a good choice for anti-candida purposes). I’m taking this thing one day at a time, trying to make my health a priority (law school didn’t exactly make the latter very easy).

Trying to put my approach toward balance into practice, I developed this cornbread while craving something carby but not too sweet. It’s stevia-sweetened, speckled with lower glycemic green apples and fruit-sweetened dried cranberries. I found this combination unique and surprising, while the overall flavor was still reminiscent of a traditional cornbread. Best of all, it is easy, easy, easy to make this. One bowl. One skillet. No electric mixers. No gums or starches.

Any candida suffers out there want to share their successes, opinions or approach? I can only assume I’m not the only one who has struggled to be perfect, while falling short of that ideal.

Cran-Apple Cornbread:

1 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour (not cornmeal)

3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons sea salt

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 1/2 cups light coconut milk (shaken)

2 droppers (about 1/2 teaspoon) NuNaturals Liquid Vanilla Stevia

1 cup green apple, peeled and diced

1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberry

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. Add oil, coconut milk, applesauce and stevia and whisk until smooth. Fold in apples and cranberries until evenly distributed through batter.

3. Pour batter into pre-greased 9″ skillet. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until cake is firm to the touch and golden brown on top. Let cool on a wire rack for 25-30 minutes before slicing.

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Creamy Almond Butter Noodles

So, there are days — more frequently, lately — where I have this nagging urge to just stop what I’m doing, throw my hands to the air and scream why can’t I just be normal?!?!?!?!?!?

Am I alone here?

Take, for example, today. Dishes piled high in the sink. Wedding thank you notes waiting to be written. A workout routine that’s been neglected for far too long. Friends whose calls have gone unreturned. Job applications waiting to be sent out. A doctors appointment that needs to be made. It would be a good idea to tackle one of these items on my to-do list, don’t you think? Yeah, I think so, too. So what do I do? I decide to bake a cake.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!?!

Aside from baking cakes at very inopportune moments, I have other traits that are really starting to get in the way of real life these days. Like my incessant need to tweak this site. If you haven’t noticed (and how could you not), the tweaking — of the logo, the setup, the sidebars, even the photos — has bordered on compulsive. This has made being normal quite the challenge. Weekend plans with Gennaro to catch a long-anticipated movie can be easily threatened by my sudden awareness of a glitch in the way this site appears in a certain browser. You know, because double- checking different browser shots is the kind of thing I do to pass the time before heading out to the movies. Hours later, I’ve re-vamped the entire look, only to discover, this time, that my pictures are ever-the-slightest bit bigger in this new design. And I don’t like it. By now, Gennaro is asleep on the couch, and I’m having one of those moments again.

What is wrong with me?!?

As you may have quessed, the compulsive tendencies carry over into my recipe-writing as well. I’ve even been known to make recipes after they’ve been posted and decide, this really would be better with less sweetener, and more nuts. And so I’ll change it, likely annoying several people in the process, none more so than myself. Can I pass this all off as “being a perfectionist” and call it a day? Well, luckily, I do recognize (sometimes) when enough is enough.

…Like with these noodles. I adapted the recipe for this sauce from a recipe in Delicious Meets Nutritious, the cookbook from the folks at Xagave (which is actually a pretty awesome cookbook, by the way). When I say adapt, I usually mean “overhaul,” since I am not always content to only play around with a recipe a little bit (surprise, surprise). But in this case, I made 3 very small changes. Tasted it. Loved it. Thought about it.

No, I wasn’t going to change anything else, thank-you-very-much.

It was the ultimate exercise in restraint, but the right choice. Sometimes, you have to quit while you’re ahead. This recipe was the perfect balance of creamy, spicy, sweet and salty. Over noodles, it was downright addictive. You can substitute peanut butter for the almond butter here (the original recipe calls for peanut butter). You can also use this as a dipping sauce, which is how it’s billed in the cookbook. Instead of heating this, you can also blend everything in a blender. But I like the way the flavors of the ginger and the garlic are sort of mellowed out when it’s heated through. This is such an easy, quick dinner, that it almost justifies a reckless foray into unecessary cake-baking for dessert.

Almost.  

One Year Ago Today: Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

Creamy Almond Butter Sauce:

Adapted from Delicious Meets Nutritious

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1 clove garlic, grated or pressed

1/2 cup lite coconut milk

3 tablespoons wheat-free tamari soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine all ingredients except for lime juice. Whisk until almond butter is melted and the sauce is heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Set aside.

Toss with:

1/2 lb. cooked gluten-free linquine (eyeball it if using a 1 lb. package)

3 scallions, chopped

This recipe serves about 3-4 but can easily be doubled.

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Lemon-Rosemary-Olive Oil Cake

It wasn’t a particular recipe or picture or memory or craving that inspired me to attempt a gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free version of an olive oil cake. It was an unstocked pantry that brought this all about a few weeks ago. Still slow to build up to the pre-honeymoon stock of baking items, I was craving an upside-down cake and all I had was olive oil. Well, the upside-down cake was sort of a flop. But that’s O.K. What ensued was a two-week exploratory course in all things “olive oil cake.”

And that’s when the obsession started.

First, there was the olive oil cake Tastespotting search, which yielded this recipe, then this recipe, and finally this one (which leads me to an interesting question: if doing the same tastespotting search, which of the olive oil cake pictures would you have clicked on?). Of course, none of the offerings were gluten-free or vegan, let alone sugar-free. But I search for inspiration; rarely is an actual recipe the goal. Then there came the test runs. Some crumbly, others much too dense. Had it been any other recipe, I may have given up. But I couldn’t shake the olive oil cake idea. And so I let myself one last chance at redemption. This time, with rosemary. I think you can guess the rest of the story…

Now, a few things about this recipe. There comes a time during the baking process where compromise is necessary. While I was originally determined to bake this with stevia, agave nectar yielded far superior results here. So while I had to relinquish the stevia idea, please find comfort in the fact that I have a very promising cheesecake recipe — made entirely with stevia — in the works. Also, while I originally intended to use only the gluten-free all purpose flour here, I ran out. That’s when I decided to sub-in some almond flour, which turned out so awesome that I didn’t bother trying it again using the original plan (I think it enhances the flavor and texture of the cake). Finally, this cake is not too sweet at all. Instead, I tried to let the lemon and rosemary flavors do the singing, the agave offering a harmonious accompaniment to the real stars (sorry about the metaphors, The Simpsons “art camp” episode is starting to rub off on me).

Lemon-Rosemary-Olive Oil Cake:

I went a little easy with the rosemary here. I think you could definitely add a bit more if you’d like. Make sure to use a really good olive oil. Extra virgin yields the best flavor.

1 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer whisked with 1/4 cup warm water until frothy

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup light coconut milk whisked with 1 teaspoon lemon juice (let sit for 10 minutes)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon minced rosemary, plus 1 sprig for topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum. Set aside.

3. In a mixer, beat together agave and olive oil. Add egg replacer-water mix, coconut milk-lemon mixture, vanilla, lemon juice, and zest. Turn mixer speed to slow and slowly add dry ingredients until batter just comes together. Fold in minced rosemary.

4. Pour batter into a pre-greased or parchment-lined 4.5×8.5-inch loaf pan (1.5 qt.). Pull leaves off rosemary sprig and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Run knife around cake to loosen and turn out from loaf pan. Let cool for another 15-20 minutes before slicing.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Eggplant Parmesan

My love affair with eggplant Parmesan began years ago, back when I was a precociously adventurous eater. Not that eggplant Parmesan is necessarily adventurous. But when you’re a kid and claim eggplant to be one of your favorite foods while others your age cite hot dogs and pizza, you tend to earn the title over time.  Telling someone that your all-time favorite food is “squid with black bean sauce” when you’re in kindergarten doesn’t hurt, either.

I still find this dish at the top of my list of comfort foods. It’s creamy and gooey and rich and cheesy — all recognizable comfort food attributes. It took some time to figure out a way to make this dish gluten-free and vegan, however. So when I came up with this recipe a few weeks back, I was so excited that I made it several times, even though it turned out just fine after the first attempt.

This is a relatively easy dish to pull-off, as it lends itself nicely to liberties and variations. I could imagine some shaved zucchini or roasted red pepper making an appearance in here. There’s also the possibility of using various types of pasta sauces. I would recommend, however, a relatively light pasta sauce here, as the almonds tend to let out some oil as this dish bakes. An oily pasta sauce would make this dish a bit on the heavy side. And while this recipe could comfortably feed four people, don’t hesitate to make this if you’re only feeding one or two — you’ll find the flavors even more developed the next day.

Gluten-Free, Vegan Eggplant Parmesan:

I would recommend a chunkier pasta sauce here. If you use a thinner sauce, try adjusting the amount used so the end product is not too runny. Most importantly, use a sauce you would eat alone on pasta, as the sauce really makes a difference in the dish.

15 eggplant slices, between 1/4″  and 1/3″ thick (from 1 medium eggplant)

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3-4 teaspoons soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread, divided

1 cup jarred pasta sauce, divided

3/4 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella, divided

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a blender or immersion blender, add flax seed meal and water and blend until frothy. Pour mixture into a shallow dish.

3. In a separate shallow dish, mix together almond flour, nutritional yeast and salt. Individually dip eggplant slices into the flax-water mixture, turning to cover both sides. Transfer slices to the almond flour-nutritional yeast dish and press into the mixture, turning to coat both sides. Shake off any excess coating.

4. Heat 1 teaspoon buttery spread (or more as needed) over a non-stick skillet on medium-high until melted. Add eggplant slices — about 4 at a time — to the pan and fry on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until outsides are golden brown. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat as necessary with remaining slices.

5. Layer a 1-qt. baking dish or 9″ cast iron skillet with 5 eggplant slices. Top slices with 1/3 cup sauce, then 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat 2x. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until pasta sauce is bubbly and eggplant is soft.

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Red Breakfast Quinoa

While health magazines and nutrition gurus will tell you that fiber-rich breakfasts like oatmeal are the key to keeping us full until lunchtime, it’s a rare circumstance with anybreakfast that I last beyond 10 a.m. without feeling lightheaded and woozy, needing a snack. It’s true that my low blood sugar plays an unwelcome role in this phenomenon. Gennaro can attest to this. He’s long been accustomed to the wrath of Beth without her snacks, and has since initiated a campaign to get me to carry them in my purse at all times, lest “Mama Beast” (an extension of the “Mama B” nickname I acquired when I became a mama to Woodley) rears her ugly head.

So while breakfast may, in fact,  be the most important meal of the day, it’s especially a priority for me. It sets the tone for the rest of my day. If I fail to remember Gennaro’s words of warning and find myself trapped — in a doctor’s office, a classroom — without snacks and between meals, a really good breakfast is all the reinforcement I have to back me up. Thus began my self-initiated challenge to find the breakfast that fills me up the longest before my next meal. For awhile, these breakfasts were savory, as fruit tends to spike my blood sugar in the morning, only catalyzing the inevitable late-morning crash (on that note, scrambled tofu with broccoli, tamari and brown rice was a great, make-ahead-and-heat-up option). But I soon longed for the idea of breakfast. I needed something breakfasty to go with my morning cup of coffee (also probably not a great help with the crash thing…but I’m working on that). Fried rice wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

When my brother and I were young, my dad had breakfast duty. This was nice for me, not only for the fact that my dad was a surprisingly decent breakfast-maker, but also because he was sport enough to play “talking Cinderella”  many mornings (for those curious, “talking Cinderella” was a modified version of  Cinderella, in which I was Cinderella and my dad — lucky him — got to be one of the evil stepsisters. The only difference was that we talked it all out, so as not to keep my dad from his breakfast duties). One of the most memorable items in the breakfast rotation was cream of wheat, especially once we discovered the chocolate stuff. Probably loaded with artificial flavors and tons of sweetener (this likely before my mom caught wind of what was on the label), my brother and I were too young to care and too mesmerized with the process of its creation that we seldom wanted anything else.  That, and the fact that we were — gasp! — actually allowed chocolate at breakfast.

For some reason this breakfast quinoa reminds me of cream of wheat. Maybe it’s the solid-absorbs-liquid parallel that so captivated me many years ago. Maybe it’s the creamy, sometimes grainy texture of the cream of wheat that I’m reminded of now. So, yes, there’s the nostalgia element here (I’m getting a lot of that lately, huh?). But — BONUS! — this breakfast quinoa meets my personal requirements for a balanced breakfast: fiber, nutrients, protein and more protein (almond butter and quinoa being two great protein sources). I’ve officially declared this my go-to for fending off Mama Beast days.

Breakfast Quinoa:

The recipe below is for single-serving portions. Simply adjust — double, triple, whatever — according to servings needed. I like this with just a dash of cinnamon, but it would be great with some dried fruit or fresh banana as well. You could definitely substitute regular quinoa for the red, but I prefer red here for its subtle nuttiness and crunchier texture.

1/3 cup dry red quinoa, rinsed well

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (regular will work as well)

1 tablespoon creamy roasted almond butter

12-15 drops NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

a dash of cinnamon

Directions:

1. Add quinoa and water to a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil until quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid (keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn).

2. When quinoa has absorbed the liquid, add almond milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer until about half of the milk has been absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in almond butter until distributed throughout. Add stevia and adjust sweetness according to taste. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and serve.

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Greek Salad

If you’re not new around here, you may have noticed a new addition to the site conspicuously lurking in the sidelines. Hm. What’s that link to Amazon products doing there? Well, after over a year of posting my recipes, listing my favorite, must-have ingredients and crediting those cookbooks that have inspired me along the way, I had a thought. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to provide a link to all of these gluten-free products, sugar substitutes, gadgets and books right here, so that I don’t have to worry about the fact that my mom has to drive an hour to get her hands on NuNaturals’ vanilla stevia, or the fact that I have readers who tell me that they can’t find bean flours anywhere? And, I thought, given how many people I’ve steered toward books like “Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Cooking,” wouldn’t it make sense to link to that book here, where I’m (hopefully) providing some support and advice for those with similar allergies and restrictions?

In full disclosure, whenever someone clicks on a link on the side and buys something based on it, I get, like, a nickel or something. While I may be an unemployed former law student with impending loans to pay off, and living in the most expensive city in the world (ugh), I’m not so desperate that I need the rare nickel deposited in my account. I just figured it was a good, efficient way to share those products and books that have helped me thrive as a gluten-free, (mostly) vegan, sugar-free food lover.

Ok, onto this salad. I am a Greek salad FREAK. I mean, I think a good Greek salad is heavenly. And yet, I’ve had plenty bad. So by now I’ve assembled a pretty good formula for failure and success. Success: good romaine lettuce. Failure: iceberg. Success: Fresh cooked beets. Failure: the canned stuff. Success: good, kalamata olives. Failure: bad kalamata olives (um, duh) — or worse, no olives! Success: a good, creamy-yet-not-too-thick-dressing. Failure: Too-thick-dressing. Success: good quality feta…

…and that’s where a great vegan Greek salad has eluded me until now. The feta. With a little help from the internet, I learned that some tofu drizzled with red wine vinegar and some other flavorings could be masqueraded as the real deal. Still, I was skeptical. Very skeptical. It took my own series of experiments with this idea before I considered it a satisfying — if not exact — substitute. Hey, I didn’t say that for a good Greek salad the feta portion had to actually be feta, I just said it had to be good. This savory, briney tofu creation is quite good. My secret is to use a really good, raw fermented red wine vinegar for the marinating. It’s better for you, and I think it tastes better as well. Eden makes a very good one (actually, the it’s the only raw red wine vinegar I’ve seen).

I hope you enjoy this healthy, crunchy, salty Greek salad as much as I did! I listed the recipes for the various components separately below.

Tofu Feta:

1 package firm tofu, drained (extra firm will work, though I prefer firm for this recipe)

1/3 cup raw fermented red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast, divided

Directions:

1. Crumble tofu into a medium-sized, shallow glass dish. Whisk together red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt in a separate bowl and pour over tofu. Add two tablespoons of nutritional yeast and let sit for about 15 minutes. When ready to serve, stir in the remaining nutritional yeast. Taste for salt.

Greek Dressing:

1/2 cup grapeseed oil vegenaise

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)

Directions:

1. Whisk all ingredients well until smooth or add to a jar and shake vigorously.

Other Salad Ingredients:

Romaine lettuce, chopped

Beets, cooked and chopped

Kirby or Persian cucumber, chopped

Red onion, thinly sliced

Kalamata Olives (pitted preferably), drained

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Apple Cake

Having been born and raised in Michigan, and having lived there for 22 years, I’m well aware that there are plenty of reasons to love The Great Lake State. Still, every time I find myself saying “what? You never went to an apple orchard when you were a kid?!?!” to any of my east or west coast pals, I can’t help but move “apple orchards in the fall” to the top of my list of reasons to love my home state (as a side note, I usually get a similar reaction from people when I tell them I’ve never been to Disneyland. Or world.). As some of my midwestern readers might attest (and those New Yorkers who aren’t too cosmopolitan to leave the city every once-in-awhile), a day at the apple orchard, especially in the company of family and friends, is a pretty cool experience.

The Versical family take on this fall tradition usually involved a goal. After all, the Hungarian in my mother was not content to waste a day frolicking amongst the apple trees and sipping hot cider. We had quotas, people. Bushels to fill, winter supplies to stock up on (the same went for blueberry and raspberry picking, but we’ll stick with the orchard theme for the sake of staying concise). Inherently, sauces, pies, and baked apples were a mainstay in our household at least through the remainder of the fall, if not through the remainder of the year.

As I write this, I’m becoming a bit nostaligic remembering this part of my childhood. It’s traditions like these that we don’t really appreciate until they’re no longer a tradition but a memory. And my mom’s apple pie is yet another thing I wish I’d appreciated more when it was a mainstay, rather than a rarity (pies post-alleries have been a bit more elusive).

So, when I made this cake and wafts of sweet, apple-scented air floated from the oven, I was overcome with something much more than hunger. A montage of orchard memories filled my head. Images of my mom hovering over the oven poking apples as they bubbled away, filled with cinnamon and sugar and raisins. Then I thought of Halloweens carving pumpkins with my dad in the garage, Thanksgiving day parades in downtown Detroit.

Perhaps it’s the recent marriage that has me wondering things like whether I’ll be able to create such great fall memories for my kids. Having married the biggest Michigan football fan in, well, history (I would say I’m exaggerating, but I really, really don’t think I am), I’m sure our memories will be a bit more football-heavy. But I do hope there are orchards. Pumpkin patches and pumpkin carving in the garage. Jumping in a huge pile of freshly raked leaves (incidentally, my dad sent me the above cartoon clipping a few years back, and I can’t help but think of it now). Finally, I hope I’ll do half the justice to apples as my mom did with her baking.

This apple cake is just a start, but a good one. I’m always happy to have out-of-town visitors so I can really test-run some of my baked goods. Not that I didn’t already really like this cake. It’s just that a second opinion is always nice. So when an out-of-town guest — fittingly, a childhood family friend — seemed to enjoy it as much as my allergy-restricted self, I deemed it safe for sharing. Of course, this cake will work just fine with regular apples from the market, but will be all the more memorable with apples hand-picked during a day at the orchard with family. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Apple Cake:

This recipe makes 1 9″ cake. It’s awesome served warm with a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream.

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

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour/Meal (Trader Joe’s almond meal will work, too, but yields a slightly more dry cake — still good!)

1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour (they’re the same thing)

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread, melted, plus more for greasing pan

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 teaspoon NuNaturals Vanilla Liquid Stevia

1/4 cup water

1 medium apple (I used honeycrisp), peeled and sliced very thin

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flours, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger. In a separate bowl, mix melted buttery spread with liquid stevia. Stir in to dry mixture. Add applesauce and water and stir until smooth. Batter should be a little bit thicker than a regular cake batter.

3. Arrange apple slices around the bottom of a pre-greased 9″ cake pan or pie pan until covered. Pour in batter and spread evenly over apples, all the way out to the edge of the pan. Use fingers to pat down and smooth out the top. Bake cake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for about 20 minutes before turing out onto a plate.

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Spaghetti Squash with Spinach-Basil Pesto

For years, it seems, I’ve heard people rave about spaghetti squash being a dieter’s dream — super low calorie, high in fiber, low carbs, and a great substitution for real spaghetti. And quite frankly, I thought those people were full of it. I imagined spaghetti squash to be a sad consolation prize for those who, for whatever reason, were depriving themselves of the real thing.

Then I tried it. The verdict? Suffice it to say, I spent a good portion of my day today on a spaghetti squash scavenger hunt, frantically digging through piles of squash at various locations across the city, like an addict trying to get my fix (I guess I’m not alone in my affinity for the stuff; it was sold out just about everywhere I went). I’m not sure what it is that I love so much. It certainly isn’t an exact substitute for spaghetti; it’s crunchy and somewhat bland on its own. Yet I’m hesitant to call it a vehicle for sauce, either, because it’s worthy of some recognition of its own. Maybe I like the texture, or the child-like joy I get from using my fork to pull out perfect little transluscent strands.

And yeah, so maybe it is a great vehicle for a really great sauce. I especially like it with a pesto sauce, because it’s great served either hot or cold. The pesto here is inspired by a raw recipe from the cookbook Alive in 5, which my Aunt Pam kindly let me hang onto after I expressed an interest in a banana-date smoothie recipe from the book. I like the idea of raw sunflower seeds in the pesto, as I often try to pack as many nutrients and health benefits into a recipe when I’m working around a very healthy ingredient (here, the squash). Plus, given that Jillian Michaels hasn’t graced the presence of my T.V. screen since back when I had something to get in shape for (my wedding), and that a little thing called patatas bravas was the uncontested third wheel throughout our honeymoon, it doesn’t hurt to make a meal that can claim all-around healthy benefits and few carbs.

Pesto:

2 cups packed spinach

1 cup packed basil

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons good olive oil

1-2 tablespoons water (as needed)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt (plus more to taste)

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a high-powered blender until smooth. You may need to coax the ingredients a bit with a spoon if they’re being stubborn (I had to, as my blender is not the top-of-the-line). Toss pesto with cooked spaghetti squash until coated. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold. Taste for salt and add more to taste.

Squash:

1 spaghetti squash, stem removed, halved lengthwise, seeds and pulp scraped out

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Lay squash flat on a parchment-line baking sheet, flesh side down. Bake in preheated oven for 4o-45 minutes for softer squash, and 35-40 for a crunchier texture (I prefer the latter). Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before using your fork to scrape out the spaghetti-like flesh.

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