Caramel Corn

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

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

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

Caramel Corn:

2/3 cup yacon syrup

4 1/2 tablespoons Sweetleaf Stevia Plus powder*

5 tablespoons soy-free Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 quarts popped popcorn

3/4 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Directions:

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

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

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

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Crispy Gingersnaps

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

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

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

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

Yield: about 14 cookies

Crispy Gingersnaps:

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

½ cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

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

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons ground ginger

5 tablespoons Spectrum organic shortening

½ cup yacon syrup

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

zest of 1 lime

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

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

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

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Chocolate Chip-Pumpkin Blondies

I’m trying to pace my posts these days. After all, it won’t be long (I hope) before I actually join the 9-5 workforce, when testing 4-5 recipes a day is no longer a luxury. Then, I’ll wish I’d saved up some recipes to avoid the last-minute scramble for a post after a weeks-long hiatus.

All that said, these blondies were too good not to share right away. Like, today. Like, hours after I made them an devoured 3. I’ll justify my haste by reminding you all that pumpkin is at its peak of abundance right now. Come the new year, you’ll be circling the neighborhood grocery stores, desperately pulling away cans of sweet potato and butternut squash puree, hoping there’s a last, lingering can of pumpkin tucked away back there. I know that feeling all too well, which is why I’m taking full advantage of the overflowing shelves of pumpkin these days and want you to do so as well before it’s too late.

The best part about these blondies (ok, maybe second best — taste probably takes the #1 spot) is that they are pretty simple to make. I tried to stay away from too many ingredients, so I only used one type of flour in this recipe and no gums or starches. The pumpkin and yacon hold everything together very nicely. You can store these in the refrigerator for a few days, but I feel obligated to tell you (after all my previous hype) that they are really, really good slightly warm.

Pumpkin Blondies:

These blondies are chewy and moist. To make them a bit cakier, bake in an 8″ rather than a 9″ pan. I made my own sugar-free chocolate chips (I provied the recipe below as well), but you can feel free to use whichever chocolate chips you prefer in recipes, or you can chop up your favorite chocolate bar and use that. This recipe is a good option if you’re on a low-glycemic or anti-candida diet. But if you’re not, feel free to play around with other sweeteners, as yacon and stevia can be somewhat pricey (though the stevia, at least, will last you a long time). If using a different brand of stevia than NuNaturals, make sure to start with less and experiment with adding more to taste in the batter — I’ve found other brands in such high amounts overly bitter for my tastes.

1 1/2 cups brown rice flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup yacon syrup (you can experiment with agave, maple syrup or molasses here as well)

2 teaspoons NuNaturals vanilla liquid stevia (if you only have NuNaturals plain liquid stevia, add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract to the batter)

1/2 cup melted Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

homemade chocolate chip/chunks (recipe below)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. In a small bowl, whish together flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together buttery spread, stevia and yacon until smooth. Slowly add dry ingredients and beat slowly until incorporated. Beat in applesauce and pumpkin until everything is just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

4. Turn out batter in a pre-greased 9×9″ or 8×8″ baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until center bounces back slightly when pressed (will feel less done than a traditional cake — this is O.K.). Let cool about 15-20 minutes before slicing.

Homemade Sugar-free Chocolate Chips:

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

Directions:

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat until heated through, about 1-2 minutes. Add chocolate and stevia and whisk until shiney and smooth. Pour into a deep baking dish or parchment-lined container (the less shallow, the better — you don’t want the chocolate to spread too thin), cover and freeze for about 1/2 hours, or until completely hardened. Chop into pieces immediately before using.

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