Salad with Tahini Dressing and Stevia Candied Walnuts

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

Tahini Dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

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

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)

1-3 tablespoons water, as needed

Truvia Candied Walnuts:

1 tablespoon vegan buttery spread

1/2 cup walnuts

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

pinch of salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)

Other Additions:

Bibb lettuce, spinach or romaine

Cooked beets

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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Gluten Free Coconut Cupcakes

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

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

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

Yield: about 10 cupcakes

Gluten Free Vegan Coconut Cupcakes:

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour/starch

1/4 cup coconut flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup agave nectar

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup dry unsweetened shredded coconut for the top

Sugar Free Vegan Coconut Frosting:

3/4 cup regular coconut milk

2 teaspoons arrowroot

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons coconut flour

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions:

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

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yield: about 30, depending on size

Chocolate Covered “Sugar” Cookies:

1 cup garbanzo bean flour

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

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

zest of one orange

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

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon agave nectar

Chocolate Dip:

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup virgin coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

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

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

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

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

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

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Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip

Peanut butter and chocolate. Pineapple and coconut. Apple and cinnamon. There are certain foods that work so well together, one wonders why they would ever be eaten alone. I have, for quite some time, included spinach and artichoke on my personal list of such food pairings. What two vegetables are more addictive together than spinach and artichoke, mixed in a creamy, smooth dip? It’s a shame, then, that since giving up dairy, most restaurant offerings of this dip are now off-limits for me. Luckily, I’ve discovered a more than serviceable — an actually addictive — recipe to keep my cravings satisfied.

A while back, I created a recipe for hot spinach artichoke dip using vegenaise and thickened soy milk. I really loved the recipe, but I found that the results were somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes it would be thick and creamy, other times thin. But the days of inconsistency are over. This dip knocks it out of the park every time. For good results, though, I do not recommend heating this one, which will affect the consistency of the beans in the dip. I still use vegenaise in this recipe, which is made using organic ingredients, and unparalleled in the flavor and texture it adds to the dip.

This is also a great option for a low fat, lower-calorie spinach artichoke dip. You’re eating vegetables, after all. Might as well make everything else a little healthier as well. I also noticed, after creating this recipe, that there is a similar Moosewood recipe out there from their low-fat cookbook. I’ve declared my love for Moosewood on this blog before, so I’d be interested to see how their recipe compares.

Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip:

1 15-oz. can cannellini beans

1/3 cup vegenaise

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 scallions, roughly chopped, green part removed

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts

3 cups baby spinach, loosely packed

Directions:

1. Using the sharp blade of a food processor, blend beans, vegenaise, lemon juice, scallions and salt until smooth.

2. Add spinach and artichoke and pulse, 10-15 times, or until dip reaches desired consistency.

3. Enjoy. Serve with vegetables or tortillas chips or spread over gluten-free bread.

On a final note, this dip got the seal of approval from Gennaro, who dislikes spinach, let alone spinach blended into a dip. When he said he really liked it, that’s when I knew it was good.

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Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread

I am so happy to finally share this recipe with everyone. I made six versions of this bread. Each was good, but there was always something that needed tweaking. Pinning down the perfect recipe is sort of like working on a puzzle. Inserting the final piece — or finally slicing the perfect piece, in this case — is always as satisfying as the completion of any other seemingly insurmountable task. But there is one thing that I absolutely hate about having to bake over and over again: dishes. I am not one of those people who finds therapeutic solace in doing dishes. And frankly, I don’t believe those people who claim they do. So I was very happy knowing I would no longer being cleaning up after any more messy, havouc-wreaking baking attempts…for now. I know there will be several other trial and error sessions in my future. Today, however, I’m enjoying my banana bread and my clean kitchen. No more baking.

My experimentation did lead me to uncover some very interesting secrets to a moist and flavorful bread: 1) Mashed silken tofu will yeild a very nice texture, and 2) a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar will elevate the banana flavor.

On a final note, I tried using both Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill Brown rice flour in this recipe, since I was curious as to whether the difference would affect to the results. The first loaf was made using all Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and no white rice. The texture was very nice. But when I used all Arrowhead Mills brown rice flour, it had hints of the signature grittiness people associate with gluten free baking. So, that’s not good. Therefore, in the interest of creating a uniformly good bread, the recipe calls for part brown rice and part white rice flour, which will work no matter what brand you use. However, if you are using Bob’s Red Mill, feel free to use all brown rice flour in the recipe.

Because this bread is made with tofu, it should be kept in the refrigerator. It should keep for several days.

Gluten Free Vegan Banana Bread:

3/4 cup white rice flour

3/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour (starch) or potato starch

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

2/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cup mashed ripe bananas

3/4 cup mashed silked tofu

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together agave, oil, and cider vinegar. Add to dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate. Fold in banana and silken tofu. Finally, add hot water and slowly whisk batter until absorbed.

3. Pour batter into a greased, 7x4x3 – inch loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. You may have to cover with foil about 40 minutes into baking so that the bread will cook through without the crust becoming too brown. Cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for 25 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

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Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

This is a healthy — yet addictive — salad that goes great as a side with any Middle Eastern dish, such as mujadarah. A single recipe makes enough to serve 2-4 (depending on how many other items are on your menu), but I like to make a triple recipe and have it on hand over a few days for a healthy meal or snack. I got the idea for this Shepherd’s salad from a wonderful version I enjoyed at the Turkish Kitchen in New York. They serve great Turkish food in a very trendy, nightclubish atmoshpere. The Turkish salad is a must-order there. I love the burst of flavor from the briney kalamata olives, a lovely contrast to the fresh, crunchy vegetables and parsley.

Shepherd’s Salad:

1 1/2 cups diced persian cucumber

1 cup diced roma tomato

1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained

1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1/3 cup minced red onion

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Toss all ingredients in a medium bowl to combine.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Lasagna

Since being diagnosed with food allergies, the one thing I’ve really — I mean really – been missing has been lasagna, which was one of my all-time favorite comfort foods back in the day. This version is not only gluten-free and dairy-free, but also soy free. After coming across a recipe for pine nut ricotta dip in one of my favorite food blogs, Elana’s Pantry, I decided to adapt her dip recipe into a ricotta that could be used in lasagna. The results were out-of-this-world. Now when I’m craving a comforting, decadent one-dish meal, this vegetable lasagna will be my go-to recipe. Serve this meal for friends, but don’t tell them what’s not in it. You’ll fool them every time.

Gluten Free Vegan Lasagna with Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium zucchini, diced

5 button mushrooms, sliced

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

2 plum tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon rosemary, minced

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles (I used Tinkyada brand, which is made with brown rice)*

Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 cup raw pine nuts, soaked for 2 hours and drained

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Prepare sauce: In a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven, saute onions and garlic in one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Add zucchini and mushrooms, plus another tablespoon of olive oil. Saute for another 8 minutes. Add both canned and fresh tomatoes, parsley and rosemary. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. When finished, drain any excess liquid. Mixture should be quite thick. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pasta according to package directions (I cooked mine for less time than the box called for).

3. Prepare ricotta by blending pine nuts, water, lemon juice and salt in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

4. Assemble lasagna: in a 9×13″ baking dish, start by layering noodles, side-by-side, lengthwise. Spread approximately 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the top of the ricotta mixture. Repeat 3x, then top with a final layer of noodles.

5. Bake, covered in aluminum foil, for 20 minutes. Serve topped with additional parsley.

*You may need 2 boxes to fully complete the layering process. 1 box will usually be sufficient, but if there are broken pieces, one box might not always be enough. I try to keep an extra box on hand just to be on the safe side.

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Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Cake

This cake is a quick and easy one-bowl-and-you’re-done operation. I adapted it from the apple cake recipe in the Joy of Cooking, which, for all intents and purposes, is my bible (the book, not the recipe). I’ve been known to bring it to bed with me to read on more than one occasion. You’ll love the smell coming from your oven as this cake bakes. In all, this gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free cake makes the perfect dessert for a cool fall evening. Add chopped walnuts for some extra flavor and crunch if you wish. In an effort to incorporate more gluten free flours into my baking, I made this bread using sorghum flour, which is high-protein and high-fiber and reminiscent of whole wheat. That is, if you remember wheat well enough to reminisce. I’m not sure I still do…

For a twist: try this cake topped with orange vanilla frosting from the recipe for carrot orange cupcakes. Of course, it’s very good as-is, with no frosting or sauce at all.

Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Cake:

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light coconut milk

1/3 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup apple, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup frozen cranberries

 Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add agave, coconut milk, oil and vanilla and whisk until batter is smooth. Fold in apple, cranberries and walnuts (if desired). Pour batter into a greased, 8-inch square baking dish.

3. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Carrot Ginger Dressing

I’m busy early in the week this semester. When the days are long and I’m getting tired, I’m always tempted to order in or hit the salad bar at Whole Foods. Just a little Sunday night preparation, however, goes a long way. Last night, for example, I washed and cut up some romaine, roasted some tofu, and sliced some red onion. By adding some sprouts and this dressing I had a simple and healthy lunch and dinner, and one that will last me at least a couple of days. Despite the very low calorie content of this dressing, it’s amazingly flavorful. Prepare a batch for yourself and let it brighten up your busy week as well.

Ingredients:

1 cup diced carrot (about 2 carrots)

1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon wheat free tamari

1 teaspoon agave nectar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon grapeseed oil

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

pinch salt to taste

Directions:

Blend everything in a blender until fairly smooth. Dressing will be thick and carrots will still have some texture, but no crunch. Chill in refrigerator before serving.

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Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with “Sour Cream” Frosting

Frosting is one of the most difficult feats to pull off when cooking for a dairy and sugar-free diet. When it’s done right, though, it can be just as satisfying as the powdered sugar kind. But the first time I tried a cupcake with the unique addition of a sour cream frosting, I was hooked, and I didn’t know if a dairy-free sour cream frosting of the same caliber could ever be pulled off.

Well, this frosting is not an exact match, but it’s pretty darn close. The spirit of sour cream is completely there. It’s tart and sweet, and a great fit with the fluffy chocolate banana combination beneath it. To create a thick and fluffy texture for the frosting, I used coconut butter. It has great coconut flavor and hardens up really nicely in the refrigerator. One potential problem with this product, however, is that it is not available everywhere. A very good alternative would be coconut cream, which is inexpensive and somewhat more upiquitous. Can’t find coconut cream, either? Well, you could try coconut oil, but I would reduce the amount of coconut milk in the frosting. Play around with it, and make sure the final product is really well chilled. Notice how the sweetness of the coconut and agave go surprisingly well with the secret “sour” ingredient — apple cider vinegar.

Yield: 12 large or 14 regular sized cupcakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup light coconut milk, shaken

3/4 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup mashed ripe banana

Frosting:

1/4 cup coconut butter

1/3 cup coconut cream from the top of a full-fat can of coconut milk (do not shake or stir)*

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Prepare frosting by blending all ingredients in a blender or food processor (blender is preferable). Chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat coconut milk, agave, oil and vanilla until combined. Add banana and beat until smooth. Slowly add dry ingredients to mixture and beat slowly until everything is smooth.

4. Add cupcake liners to cupcake tin. Fill cups with batter about 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 22 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire wrack.

* Note: if you get a can of coconut milk that, for some reason, does not have the layer of cream on top, you can thiken your coconut milk with cornstarch or arrowroot in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk 1/3 cup milk with a tablespoon of starch until thick like a paste and add to blender. This will change the texture of the frosting, but should do the trick.

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