Avocado-Lime Tart and Updates

Hello there! Long time no talk. When I last posted, there was still snow on the ground. It’s 81 degrees in Michigan today. So, you get the point.

Since my last post, a lot has happened. Gennaro and I finally found a house and moved out of my parents’ house. We searched, we found, we went into contract. And then about a month later, the house was ours. That’s the good news.

Then, there’s the other part of the story. The part I debated about posting for fear of, I don’t know…calling too much attention to myself? Being whiny? Making too big of a deal out of something that might seem like nothing to a lot of people?

Those thoughts all ran through my head. But then there was another side of me. The side that thought maybe someone could benefit from my story. So, here it is:

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may remember me posting a few times about chronic muscle spasms and stiff necks. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last few years, and something I had carelessly attributed to stress from law school, as it was certainly a new and unwelcome phenomenon for me. Not that I didn’t deal with it in every way I thought I could — yoga, heat therapy, massages, acupuncture, muscle rubs, countless chiropractic visits and even the occasional muscle relaxer were just a few of my go-to remedies. These have been a staple in my life for the last three years.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may also know that early last year, I left New York to move back to Michigan for work. Between then and our recent move into a new home, Gennaro and I were living with my parents. While being in your late twenties and moving back in with your parents is certainly not always an ideal situation, in my case, it had its benefits. For one thing, my mom noticed that I seemed fatigued and “out of it” a lot, and insisted that I see a doctor about it. She also insisted that my neck pain and muscle spasms were somehow related. Of course, my natural inclination as a child was to ignore her and insist I was fine. But that only lasted for so long before the idea of finally getting to the bottom of whatever was going on with me became too enticing. So I began seeing a wonderful doctor in Michigan who specializes in chronic disease.

Initial testing revealed less-than-surprising results: chronic candidiasis (I had known this was an issue for me), Epstein Barr, HV6, etc. If you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia in your lifetime, you’ve probably tested positive for some of these as well. But then my doctor asked me if I had tested positive for Lyme before, because there was a Western Blot strain that came back positive.

In fact, I had. Same Western Blot, about two years ago in New York. My primary care doctor there had ordered it because of complaints of fatigue back then, too. But when they told me I had an “equivocal” (i.e. “maybe positive”) test, I was told it was really nothing to worry about for the time being and that I should just wait to see how I feel. I was told, instead, that I might just be “depressed.” No follow-up testing was ordered. Naturally, I was suspicious and concerned. So I followed-up with an infectious disease specialist, who basically told me, in as nice of a way as you can say this, that I was wasting his time and he had really sick patients to deal with (alright, he didn’t sue those exact words, but his were surprisingly close). He appeased me, though, by ordering a follow-up test, which came back negative (I now know that this was a much less sensitive test and can often yield negative results even when someone is infected with Lyme). Plus, even though I had been in areas where Ticks were present, I did not develop the typical “bullseye rash” (which I now know is not always present), so I had nothing to worry about. OK, I thought. And I went on with my life without giving it a second thought.

Until it happened again. This time, I thought, it can’t be just a coincidence, right? So my doctor recommended that in addition to testing for other tick-borne diseases, that I send out my lab work to California to a facility for an IGENEX test and (hopefully) definitive results. That test came back clearly positive.

Now would be a good time to point out that there is a rift in the medical community about which tests should be used and whether the IGENEX testing  (or any testing, for that matter) is reliable. I’m also aware that a lot of people who are suspicious that they have Lyme get an  eye-roll from conventional medical doctors, and are instead offered a possible alternative cause of their symptoms. Like, for example, my “depression,” for which I was prescribed Wellbutrin (which I never took because I knew I was not depressed). A great documentary called Under Our Skin really exposes this controversy and casts a much-needed light on such practices.

Anyways, in addition to the positive IGENEX test, I also tested positive for a number of other tick-borne diseases — Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia and Rickettsia, to name a few.

Suddenly, with all of this new information, things started making sense to me. Like why, two years ago, I felt like I was on my death bed with what turned out to be a nasty parasite called Cryptosporidiosis. My research on this parasite revealed that individuals with healthy immune systems can contract it and fight it off fairly easily, while others with HIV or AIDS (or Lyme, it turns out!) will have symptoms. And symptoms I had. Like, worst case of food poisoning you could ever imagine symptoms. Like, 94 degree temperature shortly followed by 102 degree temperature symptoms (that is not a joke). So, yeah. Apparently my immune system was not the healthiest.

I promise I am trying to get to the point here. But I also think it’s important that I be somewhat vocal about the fact that I went to countless doctors with my symptoms and was, basically, shrugged off. And even though I had classic Lyme symptoms (stiff necks, muscle pain, fatigue) and an equivocal test, I was told I was just depressed. So imagine my relief when I found a doctor who not only believed me and aggressively tested me, but who also is willing to aggressively treat me for what is actually wrong.

Unfortunately, the problem with aggressive treatment is the fact that it can be long and hard on your body. Since beginning antibiotics, I’ve experienced waves of nausea, chills, vomiting, fatigue and an increase in my muscle pains. This, I’m told, is the reaction to the toxins dying off and being released into your system. I’m not a fan. But it’s worth it because I know I need to get better. And while I try to get better, I need to remind myself to take it easy and not feel guilty about not responding to emails, comments, voicemails, etc. (I still feel guilty, but I’m working on it). I need to remind myself that even though there are still boxes piled up in our new home, there’s no timeline for getting everything done. I need to remind myself to leave work early when I need to, because otherwise I will just make myself worse.

Finally, I need to remind myself that even though I haven’t posted in three months, it’s not the end of the world! The blog can wait, as much as I love it so. Hopefully, it won’t have to wait too long.

But in the meantime, I did manage to make a dessert for our family Easter gathering last weekend. This avocado-lime pie turned out to be quite the hit. No one even guessed it was made with avocado. Plus, the lemon and lime juice kept it from discoloring, even though I made this two days ahead of time. The kiwi is optional, but I think it made for a nice presentation. You can make this in a traditional tart pan or in a springform pan as I did. Or if you’re looking to cut down on calories, carbs and sugar, simply make the filling and eat it as a pudding. It is very good on its own as well! I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Avocado-Lime Tart:

Crust:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup raw coconut crystals

2/3 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread

½ teaspoon sea salt

Filling:

2 ripe hass avocados (room temperature)

1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed

½ cup fresh lime juice

zest of one lime

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional:

2 medium kiwis, thinly sliced and patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess water

Directions:

1. For crust: combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until loose crumbles form. Press into a 9″ springform pan or tart pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup to even out the bottom. If using a tart pan, use fingers to push crust to edges and to even out the edges as well. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

2. For filling: combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender (I used the Vitamix) and blend on high until very smooth.

3. Transfer filling to completely cooled crust. Let chill in refrigerator for a few hours. If desired, top with sliced kiwi. This recipe can chill for up to two days in the refrigerator if covered directly with cling wrap.

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Mom’s Apple Crisp

Before I get any further into this post, let me just establish something very important here: when I showed my mom the picture I took of her apple crisp (which we had nearly devoured in its entirety the night before, leaving me with very little to work with picture-wise), she said “What??? That doesn’t do it justice.” Gee, thanks, Mom.

Unfortunately, she’s right. One of the problems was, in fact, the lack of an untouched dish to work with from the beginning. The other problem is that, frankly, I am still pretty much a trial-and-error person when it comes to camera settings (white balance, focus) and pretty much a minimalist when it comes to props and “set design.” This is fine, of course, by some standards. But when you’re trying to highlight the greatest apple crisp recipe ever created (gluten-free or not, vegan or not, sugar-free or not), I’m not sure any picture would quite do it justice. And I can say that, of course, without bragging because I had nothing to do with this recipe other than partake in eating way too much of it. And it’s not just me. My mom brought this dish to a potluck recently and found it was completely gone while a table full of chocolate cakes and gooey cookies and other sweet treats remained.

My mom adapted this recipe form the Betty Crocker Apple Crisp. She doubled the recipe to serve a crowd. I’d advise, though, that if you’re serving any more than 4 people, definitely make the double recipe. Otherwise, you can halve it and make what the recipe calls for, which supposedly serves 6. But I’m calling Betty’s bluff.

Apple Crisp:
Adapted to be gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook

8 cups tart apples (about 7-8 medium apples), peeled and sliced

1 packet stevia (optional)

1/2 cups currants (optional)

1 1/4 cup raw coconut crystals (packed)

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 cup gluten-free oats

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup Earth Balance buttery spread

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Grease a large baking rectangular or round quart baking dish. Place apples in bottom of pan. If apples are very tart, sprinkle with stevia. Sprinkle with currants.

3. Mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Sprinkle over apples and currants. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and sides are bubbling. Serve warm.

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Super Chocolate Brownies

My cousin Kelly  is 6 months pregnant. She’s ecstatic and glowing and oh-so cute in her little dresses that show off a growing belly (and for once, the long-time  “Kelly belly” nickname actually makes some sense).

Anyways, I made these brownies a few days ago for her birthday. I thought about what I would want if I were pregnant. From what I hear, the closest I’ve ever come to that experience is the whole “that time of the month” situation. The bloating. The mood swings. The chocolate cravings. Oh — chocolate! (Sorry to my male readers — all 3 of you? — for having to endure the “girl talk” in this post).

Yes, I believe that if I were six months pregnant, I would most certainly want something very chocolaty. Pretty much all the time.  So of course I thought I had hit the jackpot of birthday treat ideas, until about halfway through the recipe when I realized that chocolate contains caffeine and pregnant women are supposed to limit caffeine intake. Pregnancy gift faux-pas? My research says no; chocolate in moderation is perfectly O.K. and perhaps even beneficial. Phew. But I suppose a whole pan of brownies to keep for myself wouldn’t be the worst thing ever…

Of course, I did test a few of the brownies on my fellow housemates before pawning them off to unsuspecting pregnant people. For those not keeping track, my “housemates” currently include my parents, husband and three dogs. Though not to worry, I didn’t test the brownies on the dogs (much to their dismay).

The brownies got a universal thumbs-up and were deemed “very chocolaty.” Perhaps I  really was channeling my inner pregnant woman. I did add a tablespoon of coffee substitute to the batter, as I’ve learned from my days as an Ina geek that coffee brings the chocolate out of chocolate dishes, adding intensity to the flavor. Again, keeping my audience in mind, I steered clear of real coffee and went with the fake stuff (which is surprising good in its own right, I must say).

And thus completes yet another gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free brownie adventure in my kitchen. With this recipe, I think my brownie count on this site is at six. I don’t know what it is with me and brownies. Truth be told, I think it’s the fact that every time I set out to make an old recipe, I’m out an ingredient and with that, a whole new recipe is born. Apparently, I can get very creative when I’m craving chocolate.

For a twist, I sprinkled these with chopped walnuts and gluten-free chocolate chips . It makes for a pretty presentation and adds a nice nutty flavor and crunch. Of course, these would also be good with more coarsely chopped nuts mixed into the batter.

Makes: 1 8×8″ pan (about 9 medium-large or 12 small squares)

Gluten-Free Very Chocolate Brownies:

¾ cup Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon dry Ener-G egg replacer

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon instant coffee or gluten-free grain coffee substitute*

¾ cup applesauce

¾ cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

¼ cup coconut oil (liquefied), plus more for greasing

1/4 cup crushed walnuts and 2 tbsp. gluten-free chocolate chips (optional) for topping

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Lightly grease an 8×8″ glass pan with coconut oil and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee/coffee substitute and egg replacer. Add in applesauce, agave, coconut oil and vanilla and whisk until incorporated.
4. Pour batter into pre-greased dish. Sprinkle with walnuts and chocolate chips and very lightly press into top of batter. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until brownies bounce back when pressed. Cool on a wire rack completely before slicing.

* I used Dandy Blend instant herbal coffee substitute.


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Chewy, Gooey Pumpkin Bars

Lately, I’ve been involved in a head-on battle with what I’ve now dubbed my Achilles heel of baking: muffins. Truth be told, I’ve always considered myself more of a “cook” than a baker, but I’ve had my fair share of successes, of which I’ve posted on this site. But muffins have always brought me some difficulty. Issues with texture, dryness, sweetness and flavor plague my muffin endeavors more often than not. Occasionally I get it right. Usually I don’t. For some reason, though, I decided that this week would be the week I mastered muffins. Judging from this post, I think you can guess that muffins, it turns out, “mastered” me. Well, let’s just say we’re currently at an impasse, and I’m contemplating my next move. Just to give you an idea of how many muffins I’ve made in the past week, take a look at the collage of muffin photos I’ve taken:

…and that’s just a sampling.

In the meantime, I decided to go a different route. With fall permeating the air (the cool breezes, the shorter days, the Cicadas chirping in the evening…) my muffin-weary mind naturally turned to pumpkin. My intention was to create a cake-like bar, and was thus disappointed upon realizing these bars turned out far from cakey. I was not in the mood for another baking failure. But upon reconsideration, I opened my mind to the notion of a chewier bar. My mind was even more open to this idea when I tasted one bite. Then another. Then another…until I realized I was slightly addicted to these enigmatically chewy little bars.

My trusty taste testers (who had mixed reviews on many of my muffin attempts) were all unanimously fans of these as well. Phew. I couldn’t take another recipe “failure.” Though shouldn’t say the word “fail”… In my state of muffin frustration, my dad shared with me Thomas Edison’s view on the concept of failure: “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

I appreciate Mr. Edison’s sentiment, but there’s a fundamental flaw in applying his logic to baking: testing light bulbs, as far as I know, won’t make you fat.

Gluten-Free Chewy, Gooey Pumpkin Bars:

2 cups brown rice flour

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 cups canned (unsweetened) pumpkin

1 cup coconut nectar

1 cup hot water

1/3 cup coconut oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

Frosting:

1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour

1/4 cup coconut nectar

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 tablespoons canned pumpkin

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

water as needed

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, xanthan gum, salt and spices. Add wet ingredients (in no particular order) and whisk until everything is incorporated. Pour batter into a greased, 9×13″ and bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, or until center bounces back when pressed. Let cool on a wire rack.

3. To make frosting, blend all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender until smooth, adding water as needed until frosting reaches desired consistency. Spread frosting over pumpkin bars as they cool. Let cool completely before slicing. I actually like chilling these in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, as the flavor tends to intensify and texture improves, though this is optional.

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Chewy, No-Bake Chocolate Cookies

My aunt gave me the idea for these chewy, almost-raw gluten free cookies from a recipe she uses. Hers incorporated melted chocolate chips, for a decadent yet easy vegan treat. I decided to use the extra coconut nibs that I had on hand instead of the chocolate chips (for some reason, I keep buying cocoa nibs yet fail to find viable everyday uses for them. Looks like I found a solution in these cookies).

These cookies can double as an after-school or midday snack. They’re sweetened with date and coconut nectar, which makes for a healthier, lower-glycemic treat. What I didn’t account for was the fact that both of these ingredients lend an ultra-chewy texture, evoking a decadence that belies the super healthy ingredient list.

I’ve also struggled as of late to come up with some dessert ideas that are simple enough to satisfy any dessert craving at a moment’s notice. When I was living in New York City, I had the luxury of a sugar-free, vegan ice cream shop in my neighborhood that also sold sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan baked goods. Therefore, on the off-chance that I wasn’t in the mood for any more baking — or cleaning the kitchen, for that matter — I could send my husband walk a few blocks and purchase something perfectly-suited to my diet nearly whenever a craving stuck (alas, there were some 2 a.m. cravings that could not be satisfied).

Living in the midwest again has fostered a new sort of creativity in the quick-fix dessert department. Although these should chill in the refrigerator for maximum firmness, I’ve never been one to not lick the spoon and bowl, which is just enough sweetness to get me through the hour, before the rest of the batch is ready to eat.

Yield: approximately 15 cookies

No Bake, Chewy Chocolate Cookies:

1 cup gluten-free quick-cooking rolled oats*

10 medjool dates, pitted

½ cup cocoa nibs

¼ cup coconut nectar**

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2 tablespoons almond butter

Directions:

Place everything in food processor and process until clumps form and “batter” holds together. Form heaping tablespoons into a smooth sphere, then press into parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat for remaining cookies and chill in refrigerator for approximately an hour.

* As I always mention when I include oats in my recipes, even the purest of gluten-free oats cannot be tolerated by some people with Celiac Disease. Be sure you’re one of those people who can tolerate them before using. Alternately, if you are not gluten-intolerant, feel free to use regular quick-cooking rolled oats, as they tend to be cheaper.

** I’m sure brown rice syrup would work fine. Less sure about agave nectar but I would imagine it would yield a slightly sweeter, less chewy result.

 

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Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

agave-sweetened cookies

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

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

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

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

Holiday Cookie Recipes:

Scandanavian Thumbprint Cookies from The Spunky Coconut

Gingerbread Cookies from She Let Them Eat Cake

Gingersnap Star Cookies from Gluten Free Goddess

Chocolate Snow Balls from The Mommy Bowl

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

yacon-sweetened cookies with eggnog ice cream

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

Yacon-sweetened Chocolate Chip Cookies:

1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1 1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup Spectrum Organic Shortening

2/3 cup yacon syrup

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

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

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Add a few more tablespoons of chocolate chips.

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

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

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Vegan Eggnog Ice Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: this giveaway is now closed

Veggnog Ice Cream:

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

1 13.5 oz. can light coconut milk

1 13.5 oz. can full-fat coconut milk

1/4 cup yacon syrup

5 tablespoons agave nectar

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons bourbon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

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

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

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Cranberry Apple Crisp

Fall seems to have finally unpacked her bags and made herself at home here in New York, after weeks and months of t-shirt weather interspersed with a random, single chilly day. So when fall-inspired desserts were popping up on many a food blog, my mind was still craving ice cream and summery things. But now I’ve caught up, and fall is on my mind.

I don’t know about everyone else, but my body is still adjusting to this shorter days thing, though I’ve always had a bit of a slow internal adjustment system. While websites informed me that jet lag was no more than a few day occurrence, I went two weeks after our Spain trip feeling tired and slightly “off.” Of course, that could have been the aftermath of the virtual triathalon that was my bar taking (and studying), wedding planning (and getting married), and then my honeymoon. But I have nothing to blame my tiredness and lack of energy on this time around — nothing except my system, that is.

It was in my foggy, sleepy, post dark-at-4 p.m. state that I contemplated cranberry muffins. Then I thought about an apple pie. But there was something exhausting about just thinking about tedious measuring, precise baking times, and the always-sensitive nature of gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan baked goods that had me reconsidering my dessert options. Logically, I settled on a crisp — one of those dessert items that lends itself to some imprecision; it can be dressed down and put together lazily, but still manage to taste great.

I hope you all enjoy this easy, simply fall dessert as much as I did.

Cranberry Apple Filling:

2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked through

3 medium-sized Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons orange juice (fresh squeezed or not)

1 tablespoon Sweetleaf stevia powder

1 tablesspoon cornstarch or arrowroot starch

Crisp Topping:

6 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill almond flour

6 tablespoons brown rice flour

4 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread, cold and tightly packed

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons Sweetleaf stevia powder (depending on desired sweetness)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Prepare filling: toss together all ingredients for filling and turn out into a 9″ deep-dish pie pan or other, similar-sized baking dish. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, add all ingredients for crisp topping. Break buttery spread into mixture with fingers until small pieces form and are evenly distrubuted throughout the topping. Sprinkle evenly over filling.

4. Bake crisp in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until filling is bubbly around the edges and top is slightly browned. Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

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Grilled Plums with Crumble Topping

How do all you gluten-freeers our there feel about oats? As I understand, it’s a sensitive (literally) topic for some, one which invokes a very mixed set of feelings. Though I am an oat lover, I can’t claim this to be much of an endorsement for others, as the grains on my sensitivity list extended only to wheat. That said, Bob’s Red Mill, Gifts of Nature, and Gluten Free Oats (duh!) all sell certified gluten-free oats, and many studies indicate that oats are safe for folks with celiac or a gluten-intolerance. Still, I understand why many are wary. Your body knows better than any study out there, so sit this one out if oats aren’t your thing.

I saw some very pretty organic plums at the market this morning. They were originally scheduled to make an appearance in another crisp trial. However, somewhat sick of making crisps, I thought I’d do things a little different here. Well, different for me. Grilled fruit is certainly not a novelty. In fact, it’s sort of the trend, it seems, these days. Nevertheless, I’d never done it. I guess you could call this a deconstructed crisp. It’s the perfect late summer post-dinner treat.

To sweeten the topping, I used NuNaturals NoCarbs Blend, which consists of a mixture of stevia and erithrytol, the latter being one of the most easily digested of all sugar alcohols (others include xylitol and maltitol). Erythritol is derived from corn, so be wary if you have a corn allergy.

After singing the praises of NuNaturals Vanilla Liquid Stevia for quite some time, the lovely folks at NuNaturals perhaps caught on to my enthusiasm, sending me some of their other products as well. I must say, I continue to be impressed. The topping is just the right amount of sweet, minus the stevia bitterness, which is conspicuously absent from NuNaturals’ products. I may be “paid off” so to speak, but I couldn’t be more sincere when I say that NuNaturals has made me a believer in stevia. After trying several other brands, I once feared I would never be able to break my agave habit. Now I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle of the stuff.

I served mine with my Vanilla Frozen Yogurt, but Purely Decadent Vanilla Ice Cream would be a nice accompaniment as well.

Grilled Plums:

4 ripe black plums, halved and pitted

Earth Balance Buttery Spread, melted, for brushing

Crumble Topping:

1/2 cup gluten-free oats

1/2 cup almond meal (you can find it at Trader Joe’s)

1 teaspoon NuNaturals NoCarbs Blend

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoon Earth Balance Buttery Spread

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Prepare topping: In a medium-sized bowl, stir together all ingredients for the topping except for the buttery spread. When dry ingredients are well mixed, add buttery spread. Break into mixture with your fingers until evenly distributed. Lay topping mixture flat on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Make sure to watch the topping carefully during the second half of cooking, as it can quickly go from being perfectly browned to burned.

3. As topping cooks, prepare plums: Heat a grill pan (or grill) on high heat for 3-4 minutes until very hot. Brush with a light layer of melted buttery spread (if using an outdoor grill, you may want to brush plums with the buttery spread directly). When grill is hot, add plums flesh-side down. Cook, without turning or moving, for 3-4 minutes, pressing down gently on each one to get nice grill marks. Turn plums and grill on the skin-side for another 4-5 minutes (still on high or medium-high heat, time will depend on the ripeness of plums).

4. Remove plums to a plate or bowl and add crumble topping when it’s still a little warm.

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