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Baking

Christmas in May

May 10, 2017

What makes you think of Christmas?

Is it chilly weather, or the scent of fresh pine? For me, it’s cuccidati, the Sicilian Christmas cookies many of my family members make. The cookie itself is a light, slightly citrus flavored dough topped with a little homemade frosting and sprinkles, but the real star is the ground fig and date filling that rests inside, flavored with cinnamon and citrus peel and studded with little bits of chocolate.

The cookies are great, but they’re also a bit of work. And they’re for Christmas! Sure I may be thinking about them in early spring, but it’s a Christmas thing! What am I going to do with a huge batch of out-of-season cookies?

Then inspiration struck. It all started with this recipe, from The View From Great Island. It’s a Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread that is gluten free and dairy free, absolutely packed with dried fruit and nuts. Ripe bananas add sweetness so no sugar is necessary, and flour is replaced with almond meal, making a low sugar, high protein loaf that is well suited for a slightly sweet breakfast or a not too decadent dessert.

I’ve made it several times, following the recipe to varying degrees. It’s a dense, hearty bread that doesn’t rise much when baked. The original recipe includes suggestions for fruit and nuts to include, but notes that you can use nearly any combination. I’ve done “kitchen sink” bread, with cashew pieces, almond slivers, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, dried mulberries, chopped figs and whatever else I have in the cabinet. I’ve also done a “tropical” style, with only cashew pieces, coconut flakes and chopped dried pineapple which was a hit (my grandfather even liked it, and he was at this point about as difficult about food as one can be).

My mother recently asked me to make a cake for brunch, and I thought this paleo loaf would be the perfect choice; not too sweet, with no refined sugar, dairy or wheat, so overall, not a bad choice. As I sat eating my slice, I got a chunk of dried fig and a thought popped into my head…

“Do a cuccidati loaf.”

Do it.

So I did. And it was honestly, just about everything I hoped for. It doesn’t mimic the cookies precisely, and the pieces are chunks instead of ground together, but the flavors I was craving were all present. After a day or two in the fridge, I think it may have been even better than the first day!

Did I mention it’s easy to make? Any version of this loaf is quick and easy to make, with minimal mess. You have your pan, your bowl (maybe an extra small bowl if your coconut oil needs to be softened), measuring cups and spoons, and something to stir with. This was fast and simple, with a toddler helping to dump ingredients and mix, no less.

So, here’s the recipe.

Paleo Cuccidati Loaf

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds (can be omitted if you don’t have)
  • 1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips (check they’re vegan, if that matters)
  • zest of one tangerine.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a loaf pan and line with parchment if you like (I always put a strip of parchment that covers most of the wide edges so I can easily lift the loaf out once it’s begun to cool).
  2. Mash the two bananas well with a fork, then whisk in the two eggs and coconut oil.
  3. Stir in almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix well.
  4. Add the dried fruit, nuts, tangerine zest and chocolate chips and fold in until evenly distributed.
  5. Pour into the pan, trying to get it relatively even. This will not rise, so baked, it will look roughly like it does raw; smooth lumps and try to get it even thickness.
  6. Bake for 40-60 minutes, checking periodically. I’ve found that the time varies based on what’s in it, so watch for the edges beginning to turn gold, the center setting, and of course, check with a toothpick in the center; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready.
  7. Let the bread cool before attempting to slice it; chill it overnight if you wish, then store any leftovers in the refrigerator since this is a moist bread.

And that’s it! If you missed it earlier, the original recipe is the Paleo Fruit and Nut Bread from The View From Great Island.

Now I’m not going to say this is a beautiful loaf of bread. It had nice marbling when you cut it, but it isn’t a glamorous looking baked good. However, it’s well worth it. So, if you find yourself craving Christmas cookies in May, or whatever month it may be, I hope you enjoy this cheat to get the flavor of Christmas cookies without all the work.

Baking

Traditions and cookies

March 12, 2017

Halloween is in October, but Purim is in March. I remember the celebrations from my childhood; packing baskets full of miniature bottles of grape juice, bags of cookies and little cherry candies then delivering them to friends and neighbors in costume. While I haven’t celebrated properly in synagogue since, well, childhood, there’s a little bit of excitement each year when Purim rolls around.

If you’re not already in the know, hang on, because you’re about to get a crash course in Purim. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – and by that I mean in the 4th century BCE in the Persian Empire, King Ahasveros was in need of a new wife. He arranged a beauty pageant, and during this, the lovely Esther caught his eye. Esther was Jewish, but kept that a secret, and the two were married. Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, one Haman, was appointed prime minister of the empire and demanded obedience from the empire’s subjects. Brave Mordechai, leader of the Jews and cousin to the new queen refused to bow to this power hungry, known anti-semite. In a rage, Haman convinced the king to exterminate the Jews. Mordechai organized his people who repented, fasted and prayed, while Esther revealed her background to the king and explained the situation. The king had Haman hanged, and made Mordechai prime minister instead, also granting to the Jews the right to defend themselves. On that day they defended themselves, and on the next they celebrated – Purim is that celebration day.

My father, in his infinite wisdom, says that Jewish holidays can be summed up in, “they tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed, let’s eat.” And I suppose in the cases of Purim, Chanukah and Passover, there is something to that.

Traditionally, to celebrate Purim you will hear the story read from the Megillah in synagogue (at least where we went, a somewhat raucous affair with shouts and noisemakers to drown out the name of Haman), giving to the needy (we would collect coins in small boxes to donate), bringing food to friends (the gift baskets mentioned earlier) and a celebratory meal.

Did I mention you dress up? Somewhere, and sadly I don’t have a copy to share, there is a photo of me at 6 months old, wearing a tiny gold crown and blue satin dress, all decked out as Queen Esther.

Now that you know the whole story, why am I telling you it? The answer is simply, hamantaschen. That’s ha-men-tosh-en. Now say it at normal speed. Hamantaschen.

This translates to “Haman’s ear”, which is kind of skeevy, but don’t let you put that off. Hamantaschen are the best; delightful little cookies stuffed with flavorful fillings. Traditional fillings include strawberry, apricot and prune jam, chocolate, and a sweetened poppy seed paste. Now, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t buy hamantaschen this year, because I actually bought and dispensed with two batches before the holiday even started (the entire early part of March was hamantaschen time). But I’m really here to talk to you about making them.

My cookie dough follows the recipe from Tori Avey, for Dairy Free Hamantaschen. My filling was homemade blueberry and peach jams, from the stockpile I made last summer. The dough is just right, and because it doesn’t need to be chilled, it saves time. Instead of rolling the dough on a floured table, I did it between two pieces of parchment paper to avoid extra flour on the cookies and a little bit of mess in the kitchen. Take note than a batch is roughly 35 cookies and will take nearly an entire regular size jar of jam; a teaspoon per cookie adds up. The folding method described in the recipe is spot on, making neat and lovely three pointed pinwheels that hold their shape most perfectly.

At a family gathering last night the peach were the runaway favorite, with the blueberry not far behind. These cookies do take time, as do any rolled and filled cookie, but they are not at all difficult to make. With help from my toddler, I cut out my circles and filled them with only minimal mess (the dough can be rolled out over and over, so sloppy circles are no big deal).

Purim technically ends at sunset this evening. Nonetheless, if you’re a cookie person, I recommend giving these a try. They come out so good, it seems silly to only make them once a year!

Baking

Lets play, plantain or banana?

February 12, 2017

The plantains are on the bottom, bananas on top.

Let’s play a game. It’s called plantain or banana.

If you want to eat a sweet fruit by itself, what do you want? Banana.

If you want something a little starchy that can be used green or ripe, and is great to cook with, what do you want? Plantain.

If you want to make a gluten free, dairy free, low sugar, moist and yummy cake that takes no time to prepare, what do you want? Both.

Seriously though, hear me out. You may have seen plantains in the supermarket and walked right by them; they look like giant bananas and might be green or might be yellow streaked with black. They’re usually pretty inexpensive.

My personal experience with green plantains is limited, though I understand that you can cook them like a root vegetable in soups and stews. The green ones are starchy and hard, with a very plain flavor. The yellow ones have begun to ripen (or mature, hence their traditional title, maduros), and develop a sweet flavor reminiscent of banana, but not quite the same. They remain a bit harder and more starchy than bananas. My first foray into using maduros was simply peeling and slicing them in half, spraying them with a bit of coconut oil, sprinkling with cinnamon and brown sugar and then broiling until the top crisps up. It’s a quick and simple dessert (or breakfast!) that’s sweet and filling and just lovely.

But this time, this time I went wild, using plantains AND bananas to make a cake that well, takes the cake. I was inspired by my mother’s experimentation, and wound up devising this recipe for a cake that is…

  • Gluten free
  • Dairy free
  • Plant based
  • Low sugar
  • Ridiculously moist and tasty
  • Super simple to make in the blender

A couple of notes before I share the recipe:

  1. Sorry to disappoint, you get snapshots. There are no beautiful staged photographs here. But then again if you’ve read Old Fashioned Modern Living in the past, you probably know you’re not here for designer photos.
  2. I used white sugar simply because I didn’t want to use up all my maple syrup. Feel free to substitute other sweeteners, or add a little less; the bananas have a nice sweetness that will satisfy if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth.
  3. I sprinkled in a little coconut flour just to absorb some moisture. Oat flour, or even regular flour if you’re not gluten free will likely do the trick.

Just kinda looks like cake, right?

Look at that crumb! Seriously, when you consider what went into this cake, the look and texture is surprisingly spot on.

The ingredients:

  • 2 ripe plantains
  • 3 ripe bananas (not black, but ripe)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Scant 1/2 cup of sugar or other sweetener
  • Generous sprinkle of ground cinnamon
  • 3 tsp coconut flour
  • pinch of salt
  • a couple of handfuls of mini bittersweet chocolate chips

The method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Peel fruit and chop into chunks just so they fit in the blender, then drop them in. Add vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, salt and coconut flour. Add the eggs in (or wait until your main mixture has been mixed and taste it first, then add your eggs). Give it a whirl until it looks fairly smooth.
  3. Prep your pan – I used a 9×9 square pyrex but a deep brownie tin will work too. I spray with coconut oil then line with some parchment to make removal easy.
  4. Head back to the blender and mix (mix, not blend) in your desired amount of chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared pan and pop in the oven.
  5. Bake for roughly 35-40 minutes, checking periodically. Your cake is done with the center no longer jiggles and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean and dry. Let cool a bit before enjoying.

This is a moist cake, so be sure to put any extra in the refrigerator to keep. And that’s that!

I am really pleasantly surprised by how this cake turned out. I made a smaller one recently (1 plantain, 1 banana and 2 eggs with a splash of maple syrup in a loaf pan),  that my husband and I destroyed, and then made this one for company. My brother had already begun eating his piece before he realized it wasn’t just regular old cake. I’d call that a success.

If you haven’t experimented with plantains, I’d say it’s time. Grab some bananas while you’re at it, and whip up this beauty. And if you do, let me know what you think!

Baking Life

A year that was awful, and a pie that wasn’t

December 29, 2016

The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading in that I don’t actually categorize things by year. New Years Day, to me, is just another day. I don’t make New Years Resolutions. But for argument’s sake, because everyone else is talking about 2016, I’ll refer to it that way.

In a lot of ways, 2016 was really hard, for my family in particular. My maternal grandparents passed away within 6 weeks of each other. We watched them struggle and suffer and ultimately go, and we barely had time to breathe between the two. This kind of loss doesn’t just go away after the funeral. You’re not sad for a few days and then you go back to normal. There’s a mourning period and an adjustment period and then…life. Some days it’s easy. Some days you cry in the supermarket. It’s difficult to accept that this is the “new normal”.

Yes, 2016 had been tough. It’s been an emotional year full of sad firsts.

And yes, I am aware of what is going on in the world. I force myself to read news articles on domestic and international concerns to stay informed. This election was quite ugly, and American politics hasn’t gotten much prettier since November.

If I got all my news from Facebook, first off, I’d probably see lots and lots of fake news…but secondly, I’d be pretty sure that 2016 was the worst year ever because lots of celebrities died. It is sad. Some, even tragic. Certainly many were major losses to the entertainment community and our beloved franchises. But forgive me if, standing where I’m standing, this doesn’t make 2016 any number of expletives or exaggerations I’ve seen it referred to as. I’m not impressed.

Everyone, feel how you feel. Seriously, I’m all about people working through things for themselves and I hate when something is used as a stand in to try to invalidate people’s feelings or concerns (ex: just because something is a “first world problem” doesn’t mean it isn’t profoundly affecting your life right now). But as far as 2016 being THE. WORST. YEAR. EVER. Unimpressed.

I’m big on perspective. 2016 hit my family hard. However…

  1. Little Miss is doing well, her speech is progressing appropriately and it’s becoming more and more clear how very clever she is
  2. My nephew, adorable little Indy was born
  3. My brother got engaged to my high school bestie
  4. My mother and I both got involved in an interesting business and are doing well and enjoying the products
  5. My own little business, Seashore Design Studio, has come together nicely and my sales have been the highest ever (out of 10 years on Etsy with various shops), and I now have an amazing group of “fans” who support and encourage me
  6. My husband remains gainfully employed, with good health insurance
  7. We are all, for the most part, healthy
  8. I discovered the Outlander book series
  9. I got over my fear of my canning kettle and learned to make and can jams
  10. I learned to make red beans and rice and arroz con gandules (it was a good year for rice and beans around here, I guess)
  11. I’ve been able to do more charitable giving than ever before, thanks to my little business
  12. I have continued to learn, research and grow as a person

I have good days, and I have bad days; the kind where everything reminds me of people I’ve lost or I can’t stop thinking about the atrocities happening around the world. But also this year I’ve learned that dwelling will accomplish nothing, but action will. Donating, learning, educating, can make a difference. Giving back in ways big or small make a difference.

Be kind, be generous, make someone smile.

Speaking of smiles, you know what makes me smile? Chocolate. So I’m going to finish this post out with a little story about a pie I made yesterday, as well as the recipe.


Vegan Chocolate Pie

This recipe was based on the Chocolate Raspberry Coconut Almond Tart by BlahnikBaker (link to original HERE).

I had pinned this recipe on Pinterest, into my “Naturally Gluten and Dairy Free” board. Today is my husband’s birthday – we had originally planned to see my parents last night, and his family tonight; due to a bunch of people being sick, that changed. But I was thinking I needed to make a birthday cake 2 days in a row, and no way was I making the same kind of cake for both! So, I thought, I need gluten free and dairy free. I headed to Pinterest and found this recipe, and sure enough, I had everything I needed in the house.

My version is slightly different from the original, but all credit really goes to the original recipe. I wish I had thought of vegan ganache! It’s lovely. My version is a pie instead of a tart, and I changed the proportions a little out of necessity. But still. The crust is tasty with great texture, and the center is dense and chocolaty and sweet, nearly fudgy and delightfully smooth. And vegan and gluten free, which perfectly avoided the allergens I needed to steer clear of. I topped it with candied sunflower seeds and served it with strawberries and blueberries to break up all the chocolate.

Now I do need to note…I didn’t know chocolate pie was a thing before I read The Help. And that’s a real shame, because chocolate pie is amazing. Really, what a great idea. But now, I can’t make it, or even really thinking about it, without thinking about The Help. It was hard not to make any off color jokes last night.

But anyway!

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 table spoons agave syrup (you can use maple syrup as well)

Filling

  • 1 cup coconut cream (canned or bottled)
  • 6-8oz semisweet chocolate chips (I had half a bag of mini chips, make sure they’re non-dairy if that matters to you)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3-4 teaspoons cocoa powder

Directions:

  1. Start with the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix coconut flakes, almond meal, coconut flour (I assume another flour, gluten free or regular would act roughly the same) and salt in a bowl. Melt coconut oil and agave syrup then stir together with the other ingredients and mix well. Pat into the bottom of a pie plate (I used a glass Pyrex one) firmly, making sure the crust covers the bottom and goes slightly up the sides. Bake for 10-12 minutes until a little golden around the edges. Allow to cool somewhat.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat your coconut cream until it bubbles gently. Turn off the heat and add the cocoa and chocolate chips. Let sit a moment, then add vanilla and stir until smooth and even in color. Pour your awesome vegan ganache into the waiting shell, then pop it into the fridge for at least 2 hours to set.
  3. Keep cool until serving. Top with seeds, nuts, coconut flakes, some coarse sea salt or fruit (or serve the fruit alongside it, to keep extra moisture off the cake).

And that’s that! While the recipe originally seemed rather involved, it was actually fairly simple and quick.

So here’s to beautiful desserts, love and light and peace and giving, and a 2017 that doesn’t make people quite so miserable.

Baking

Autumn kitchen sink muffins recipe – gluten and dairy free!

November 1, 2016

So I had a big day Sunday. I peeled almost 30 apples, made 9 jars of quite yummy applesauce (plus some in the freezer), and managed to burn myself pretty nicely. Hey, you win some, you lose some, but the burn is another story.

So before that happened, I’m in my kitchen, big pot of apples cooking on one burner, huge canning kettle coming up to temperature on the other. Little Miss and her daddy are relaxing in the living room, and I think hmm, since I need to be in the kitchen anyway, let me use this time.

Rewinding for a moment, last weekend we visited my brother and sister-in-law upstate and we made a visit to the rather windy, but always lovely Schenectady Farmers Market. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying more Pucker’s Gourmet pickles, but again, that’s another story.

So we stop to buy some bread and I nudge my husband and nod towards what is labeled as a “carrot apple oatmeal raisin” muffin. Another couple of nudges got me one, and we decided to share it the next morning. It was fluffy and beautiful, and quite yummy; not a combination I would have necessarily thought of. So for the past week I’ve had this flavor combination kicking around in my head.

Fast forward again to Sunday. In between stirring the apples, I shredded some carrots and diced an apple real small and well…threw things together. I made up the recipe off the top of my head based on what I know of baking (and had the forethought to write down what went into the bowl for in case they came good). And come good they did.

My muffins don’t have the beautiful golden domed top of the one we bought at the farmer’s market. But you know what they don’t have either? Gluten and dairy. The ingredients are actually quite simple, and the outcome was moist, yummy, just sweet enough muffins that peeled cleanly out of their wrappers.

muffins3I’m calling these Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffins. Are you familiar with the “kitchen sink” concept? That’s when everything goes in but the kitchen sink (my soups tend to be kitchen sink soups too). I could call these Gluten Free, Dairy Free Apple Carrot Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Raisin muffins, I suppose, but that seems like a mouthful.

The recipe is incredibly straightforward, but there is one point I will clarify. I happen to have recently bought oat bran, which is what I used here, but in the past I have simply thrown organic rolled oats into the food processor to grind them into oat bran. Because this recipe doesn’t rely on gluten free flour, you don’t get that odd taste and texture that it often gives baked goods. As you’ll see when you’re mixing, the ingredients distribute nice and evenly so each bite is consistent; you don’t get doughy bits and them random mouthfuls of just the mix ins.

Feel free to leave out the chocolate chips or raisins, or substitute in craisins or other dried fruit. A handful of rolled oats would add some extra chew.

Okay, enough talk. You got all the big points. They’re gluten free. They’re dairy free. They’re easy. And they make a very serviceable dessert or breakfast, because most of the sweetness is natural.

Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffin Recipe (gluten free and dairy free)

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, shredded and peeled
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1/4 cup baking oil (I used avocado, because it’s what I had handy)
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Healthy sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Generous handful each of raisins and chocolate chips
  • Sprinkle of ground chia/flax seeds and hemp seeds (totally optional, but I threw them in)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grab a muffin tin and some liners.
  2. Peel and shred two medium carrots (I used a box grater), then peel, core and dice a medium sized apple into very small pieces, set in a bowl.
  3. Add sugar, baking powder, oat flour, salt, cinnamon and the ground seeds, if you’re using them. Mix it up so everything is evenly distributed.
  4. Add oil and stir in, followed by 2 eggs. Drop your mix ins on top (raisins and chocolate chips in this case) and stir until the mixture looks even.
  5. Spoon into waiting muffin liners, filling half to 3/4 of the way. These will puff up somewhat, but should not puff enough to overflow.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of one comes up clean. Allow to cool slightly before removing to a wire rack, or to enjoy warm.

This recipe made 9 muffins, and any leftovers will last several days in the refrigerator.

Baking

Birthday cakes, minus

October 28, 2016

I say “I need to bake” fairly often. And 9 times out of 10, it’s not normal baking.

Normal implies following recipes and baking what most of the population eats. Wheat, dairy, full sugar, all of that. I nearly always bake non-dairy, using either coconut oil or vegan butter in place of real butter, and often enough it needs to be gluten free also. And sometimes I mess with sugar too, either reducing the amount or substituting in some maple syrup.

This fall I had two birthday cakes to make, one for my dad, and one for well, me. Yes, I made my own birthday cake; it made sense and I like baking.

I used existing recipes with only moderate alterations, and the results were pretty nice, which is why I’m sharing. I’ve made plenty of gluten free, dairy free cakes from existing recipes that sort of felt like you were eating sand. The texture was wrong, the taste was off…there are a lot of ways a well meaning cake can go pear shape.

But these were good. Really, quite good. So I decided, even though it’s been a while since I made these, that I’d share these recipes with you for just in case you find yourself in need of a gluten free or dairy free cake. I’ve already done the test run for you!

Gluten free, dairy free birthday cake

cake1For my dad’s birthday, I wanted to do something to his taste. He’s not a fan of very sweet desserts, so I wanted something with enough natural flavor that the recipe wasn’t relying on sweetness to carry it. I found the Light & Fluffy Gluten-Free Lemon Layer Cake from Gluten Free Gigi (click the title to link to the recipe), and decided to use that as the base. After years of thinking otherwise, I’ve found that I rather like lemon and as I suspected, the lemon helped cover the flavor of the gluten free flour.

This recipe does call for 1/2 cup of milk, but the author herself used non-dairy milk instead, so it was very simple to just substitute in the cashew milk I had in the house.

I had a minor mishap in that I planned to top this cake with coconut whipped cream, but my coconut cream wasn’t cold enough and wouldn’t whip; I made emergency vegan buttercream using Earth Balance vegan butter sticks instead. The two layers of gluten free, dairy free lemon cake housed an interior layer of homemade strawberry jam I made back in June, then I piped the vegan buttercream on top and pressed sliced strawberries and blueberries into the top.

The two layers were on the flat side, but that worked out just fine for me. I hate needing to trim cakes to layer them.

The result? The cake had a nice taste and texture, and the lemon rounded it out and covered the taste of the flour a bit. The jam added a nice kick of sweetness, and the fresh fruit on top brought it all together. All things considered, I’d call this a success.

Vegan chocolate birthday cake

cake2For my birthday, I chose what else? Chocolate. I didn’t need to go gluten free this time, but I still needed to avoid dairy. I chose The Ultimate Vegan Chocolate Cake from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken (again, click the title to link to the recipe). The recipe was easy to follow and overall, pretty simple. I did use slightly less sugar than the recipe called for, and didn’t miss the missing 1/4 cup or so. I will admit, adding apple cider vinegar threw me a little because I hate the smell of apple cider vinegar, but it worked.

I did not make the frosting according to this recipe, but instead made coconut whipped cream (you can easily find recipes, basically you throw cold coconut cream in the KitchenAid with powdered sugar and let it get fluffy) which I mounded onto the layers, then sprinkled the top with  chocolate chips. Because why not.

The two layers fluffed up beautifully, taller than the lemon cake came. In my past experience, vegan cakes tend to come very flat, but not this one. The layers were beautiful, and I piled them up with homemade peach jam from this summer generously slathered between. Then topped it with that coconut whip I mentioned.

This cake came really nice. It wasn’t the overwhelming chocolatey-ness of a german chocolate cake (which has melted chocolate in the batter) or a flourless chocolate cake (which is practically all cocoa powder and sugar), but compared to the vast majority of chocolate cakes that just sort of taste brown, this was a real winner. I am extraordinarily picky about chocolate cakes; they’ll be gorgeous and gooey looking and then just taste brown. They betray me.

This was not a betrayal. This was a very pleasant success.

So! Test runs complete. If you find yourself in need of a recipe for a gluten free and dairy free cake, check out the Gluten Free Gigi lemon cake recipe, and if dairy free or vegan is your intention, visit It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken for the chocolate cake recipe.

Baking

Farmhouse Rules, Biscuits and Vegan Butter

September 14, 2016

Vegan butter. Oxymoronic, right? Butter is made from milk, and milk comes from an animal, so….

I know, not everyone is as used to the concept of “vegan dairy products” as we are around here. Vegan butter is made from various oils but gives the approximate taste and feel of real butter; it comes in tubs to spread and also comes in sticks for baking and cooking.

Back in early September, I ended up with a box of Earth Balance vegan butter sticks. Prepping for my dad’s gluten free, dairy free birthday cake, I grabbed the box in the supermarket, forgetting I didn’t actually need it for the recipe I had chosen. It was a lucky mistake though; when my coconut whipped cream refused to whip because it was too warm, I was able to just mix up a quick batch of vegan buttercream to top the cake with. Of course, this didn’t use up the whole box, so I had extra for my next little project.

Fast forward to this past Friday. I’m trying to tidy up the house, fold laundry, finish up some work and pack for a weekend upstate. But Little Miss is crabby, and asking to watch her show. I turn the television on planning to put on a 20 minute Netflix kids show for her while I shower. The cable box had been left on, and the channel left on the Food Network. As the TV blinks to life, I see the sign for Fix Brothers orchards in good old Columbia County, New York.

Hang on, what?

Long story short, a rerun of Farmhouse Rules was on. The show is your typical cooking show, starring Nancy Fuller – mom, grandmother and traditional cook – set in Columbia County, where she lives. I realize that to most people, this is quaint yet meaningless. For me however, seeing Nancy visit places I’ve been going to my entire life is fairly exciting!

With half an eye on the television and half an eye on my cell phone, I quickly looked up the show and the recipe for the lemon and sugar mini biscuits that were being made on the show…because with so much to do, why wouldn’t I add baking into the mix?

I’m going to link you straight over to the recipe, right HERE.

biscuitsIt’s a pretty quick and easy recipe. I mixed everything, zested the lemons and had the dough in the fridge to chill pretty quickly, and that’s with a two year old dancing around my feet. Once it had a little time to chill, I rolled it out and cut it with a 1.5″ circle cookie cutter while my little assistant looked on. I rolled them a touch thinner than they should have been, but they puffed up nicely in the oven, even with my alteration.

What was my alteration? Vegan butter, of course. In place of butter and buttermilk, I used the Earth Balance vegan butter and cashew milk and I still wound up with relatively moist, fluffy little biscuits. The egg wash across the top gave it some nice color, though you can easily forgo the egg wash to make it fully vegan and not just non dairy. These biscuits are not very sweet, but were absolutely perfect with a little butter or jam on top.

This post is rambling. I’m sorry. But seriously, if you’re a biscuit person, this simple recipe is well worth trying in it’s original format or non dairy.

Baking

Go bake wild

July 15, 2016

What’s the one most common piece of wisdom you’ve heard about baking?

For me, it’s been “baking is a science”. It’s about chemistry, ratios, exact measurements. In other words, follow your recipes.

So I always did. Sometimes I’d get a little bit daring and do a minor substitution. But then I got a little more daring. With close family members being gluten free and dairy free, it got so that I had to start experimenting. These days, you can find recipes for nearly anything on the internet but even so, I might make a gluten free recipe non dairy as well, or try to make a regular recipe gluten free…or lower the sugar, change the spices, etc.

Even following recipes, I’ve had some busts. I’ve had cookies made with coconut oil melt into puddles and pour off the sides of the tray. Just yesterday I followed a recipe for a gluten free apple cinnamon pull apart bread and it was an inch from a disaster. The fluffy dough was more like pancake batter, and after enough doctoring to make it workable, the result was a tasty, but dry and dense loaf. Luckily for me, Little Miss was not upset with her somewhat lackluster birthday cake!

I’ve recently made an interesting discovery. You don’t need a recipe. We’ve always been told to stick to our recipes, but that’s just big baked goods trying to keep us down.

I’m joking about that last comment. Mostly.

If you have enough experience baking that you have a decent understanding of the ingredients and what they do, you can make up recipes and will likely have at least moderate success. They won’t always be an out of the ballpark hit, and at worst you may wind up wasting some ingredients.

Do you have the guts to go bake wild?

I’ve got two stories to share, and both include my “throw sh!t in a bowl” method of baking. Neither of these experiments was gluten free, but they are non dairy.

No-recipe bread

I’ve made a decent number of loaves of bread in my day. I have three favorite recipes that I rotate between, all of which are low to no knead, and only require a few hours to rise because I am impatient, and unlikely to realize a day in advance that I’d like to make bread.

So one day I decided to do an experiment. I poured a cup of warm water into the bowl of my KitchenAid, then added a tablespoon of yeast – why a tablespoon? Because it’s a generous amount without being too much. Some recipes call for a sprinkle of sugar for the yeast to “eat”, but it’s not necessary. Once that had a few minutes to mingle, I added a little pink sea salt, 3 cups of unbleached flour (one at a time) and a little drizzle of olive oil and let it mix for several minutes with the dough hook. I got lucky, the dough looked like bread dough; if it didn’t, I could doctor it with more water or more flour to get the texture right. Then I covered it and let it sit for a few hours and woohoo, it rose! I greased my loaf pan generously and dumped the dough in, then let it rise another hour or so and baked it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, keeping an eye on it to see how the color looked. When the crust had some color and the internal temperature was 190 degrees, I took it out.

And I had bread. With no recipe. It was a little bit dense and chewy, but that’s fine by me. I don’t tend to make fancy breads, I tend to make simple, hearty peasant breads. A few days later I repeated the process with a touch more olive oil, and dried garlic and rosemary stirred in.

I made bread. With no recipe. All because I knew the basics.

No-recipe cookies

Have you heard of “kitchen sink” cookies? That’s when cookies contain “everything in the kitchen except the sink”, and that’s my style. I feel like cookies are a little more complex than bread because there are more ingredients. Again, if you have experience baking, you can likely figure out something halfway decent.

A few weeks ago we were expecting company and I decided to make cookies. Rebel that I am, I decided to again forgo a recipe. I started with 2 cups of unbleached flour and sprinkled in a pinch of salt, then added a tablespoon of baking powder (why a tablespoon? Because that’s what I decided). I added sugar, only about half a cup. Then a generous shake of cinnamon went in, a sprinkle of ground flax and hemp seeds and a handful of chia seeds. Next up I stirred in an egg and a few tablespoons of coconut oil, a nice drizzle of maple syrup and a tablespoon of vanilla extract and enough water that it began to resemble a cookie dough. When the texture looked right, I tossed in some mini chocolate chips and chopped dried cranberries. Then I spooned them onto some silpat and baking sheets and baked them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, keeping an eye on their color.

A selection of pantry supplies.

A selection of pantry supplies.

Why was I able to do this? Again, the basics. I have a general idea of the amount of flour to use for a normal batch, and I know what cookie dough should look like. Baking powder is for leavening, so I made sure to include some. Coconut oil is a great substitute for butter, but it turns to liquid at about 70 degrees, so I used just enough to add a little fat content but not enough to liquify and make the cookies turn to mush. A little almond or cashew milk would have worked as well as water, but I wanted to avoid the nuts; the water makes them a little fluffier with a bread-y texture.

I also could have used brown sugar or more white sugar, but I know that maple syrup digests differently and affects blood sugar less than white sugar.  Similarly, the flax, hemp and chia seeds have health benefits and add a tough of protein to balance out the carbs and sugars. The next time I made no-recipe cookies, I mashed a very ripe banana and mixed it in so I could use even a little less sugar. Did you know that bananas are considered one of the sweetest fruits out there? Just eating one, I wouldn’t have guessed it, but hey, whatever.

Are these healthy cookies? Not really, I mean, they’re still cookies. But they’re healthier than a lot of alternatives.

So. Do you have what it takes to go bake wild? To break out of the constraints of printed recipes? To make those baked goods your own?!

Start slow. Adjust sugar content. Try coconut oil and cashew milk instead of butter and dairy milk. Sprinkle a little cinnamon into your chocolate chip cookies. See what’s in your pantry and leverage your knowledge.

If you’re happy baking with recipes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you want to experiment, despite what I was always told, it is possible!

Baking Cooking

4 ways to use fresh strawberries

June 24, 2016

When I was a kid, June was an exciting month because it signaled the end of school and the start of summer. These days, no longer attending or working in a school, June is just June. With the exception of one sweet, red little thing. Or in this case, more than one…more like 14 pounds.

lil-strawberryNow the thing I look forward to in June is strawberry picking, even more so now that Little Miss can come with us and experience it too (spoiler: she wasn’t all that impressed). My mom’s birthday falls smack in the middle of June and so her birthday and strawberry picking have become somewhat synonymous. We used to pick upstate when we could, but when I was in college my mother and I began driving out east on Long Island to pick strawberries. Wherever they’re from, fresh strawberries are pretty awesome. The backs of our legs may ache a little bit the day after picking from all that bending and crouching, but ripe red berries straight from the plant, warm from the sun are so worth it.

To make a long story short, we’ve already gone strawberry picking twice. I brought home probably about 7 pounds each time; that’s a lot of strawberries. And don’t think they’ll last because they’re fresh picked, they need to stay in the refrigerator and even so, when it gets close to the week mark you’ll start noticing some funk going on.

So pick away! But the initial rush, where you pick and buy all these berries and think you’re going to use them all might sour a little when you realize you actually need to USE them. In this house, as much as we love fruit, two adults and one toddler just aren’t going to get through 14 pounds of strawberries in 2 weeks.

So, what’s a berry picker to do? Here’s how I managed to use all the berries we picked, losing only a handful to over ripeness.

1. Gift them

I like picking strawberries a whole lot, but that doesn’t mean everyone does. Some people don’t have the time in their schedule, or the patience for the drive, or just would rather relax on their free time. That’s all good! Very good, because when you realize how inundated with berries are, you can sweetly hand off sandwich bags of these rosy beauties into plenty of grateful hands. Many of my friends received quart size bags of berries these past few weeks.

2. Bake with them

strawberry-cupStrawberry shortcake anyone? Whether you want the ease of a cake mix or you’d rather go a more controlled route and bake from scratch, go for it! A quick Google search will turn up plenty of recipes for white cake, shortcake, angel food cake, all of which will be delightful with cut fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

We had to do dairy free and gluten free, so I made a vegan gluten free white cake which we topped with berries and coconut whipped cream and it was lovely. The cake wasn’t as fluffy as I’d have liked, but it came together nicely nonetheless. There are so many recipes available, you’re sure to find something that suits your mood and needs.

3. Freeze them

Do you like smoothies? Of course you do, who doesn’t? Wash your berries, remove the hulls, slice them in half and throw them into a freezer bag to keep them for smoothie making. In a decent blender, you just toss your frozen fruit and some liquid in and you can easily make a smoothie (or go light on the liquid for a fresh, healthy sorbet). Yeah, you could buy frozen fruit in the store, but if you have your berries anyway, why not?

4. Can them

I made strawberry jam by myself for the first time yesterday. I chose a low sugar recipe that I found through – you guessed it – a Google search, and loosely followed it. I’m not going to lie, I made “jammysauce”. It spreads nicely on toast, but is not as thick as a true jam. But it is soooooo yummy. I even canned it properly, using my big canning kettle and sealing with boiling water. It’s not nearly as intimidating as it looks.

canningI worried about burning myself to death with that huge canning kettle, but I was careful and used the canning tongs and I was just fine. It looks like this insane process at first, but then you get it and suddenly you get it. And then after the jars come out of the water, you get the deep satisfaction of hearing each lid pop as they seal. If you’ve ever canned, you know the sound. Admit it, it’s super satisfying.

Try to make a jam or purposely go thin and make a delicious sauce to go on cakes, pancakes, ice cream, waffles and anything else you can think of! Many recipes are very very heavy on the sugar, so feel free to go light when you begin – you can always taste your mixture and add more as it cooks.

That’s more or less how I used up 14 pounds of strawberries in 14 days. I’m looking forward to blueberry picking next, and seeing what I can do with them!

Baking Cooking Recipe

Frozen Pizza, 2 Ways

May 3, 2016

As many of you know, I’ve been spending the last few months preparing for the arrival of my baby boy! My due date is now less than a month away- and instead of manic nesting energy- I find myself incredibly sleepy! I’m hoping to give my body the rest it needs now so that I can store up some energy for the home stretch. Along those lines, my pre-baby freezer meal prep for the week is cheat your butt off frozen pizza! The sauce, dough, and cheese are all store bought. The meatballs are leftovers from Sunday dinner. The second version is a vegan, veggie pizza with a sweet onion/garlic sauce. I recently saw it on A Beautiful Mess, and I have been dying to make it ever since. This one requires more work, because you have to make the sauce and cook the veggies a little- but the dough is still store bought.

From reading I’ve done, the key to making a good homemade frozen pizza seems to be pre cooking your pizza dough a little bit, and wrapping them really well to prevent freezer burn.  I’m planning on making four small pizzas, so that they aren’t so floppy that they fall apart on me when I am trying to move them to the freezer!

What You’ll Need:

2 bags refrigerated pizza dough

flour (for rolling)

(for traditional pizza)

1 small jar of sauce

1 bag of shredded mozzerella cheese

2 sliced meatballs (or whatever is in your fridge)

Penzey’s Pizza Seasoning

(for veggie pizza- adapted from A Beautiful Mess)

1 medium onion

4 cloves of garlic

1/2 large green pepper

2 big handfuls of spinach leaves

1 quarter of a medium zucchini

Penzey’s Italian Herb Mix

2 tblspn olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

1 tblspn balsamic vinegar

 

The first step is to remove the paper from your onion and garlic cloves, drizzle them with olive oil, and wrap them in tin foil. Bake them for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

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While your onion and garlic is roasting, chop up your veggies into thin slices (I chose peppers, zucchini, and spinach- but you can use whatever you want), and sauté them with olive oil and italian herb mix until they are just starting to get soft. You do not need to fully cook them because everything  will be baked when you are actually getting ready to eat your frozen pizza. Once your veggies are slightly softened, you can set them aside while you wait for your other veggies to be done roasting.

Once the garlic and onions are finished roasting, set the temperature to 375 degrees, and begin rolling out your dough into four small pizzas. I baked my rolled out dough for about 6 minutes at first, but I noticed that when I left the dough in for 2 minutes longer by accident, it was slightly more sturdy for wrapping the pizzas later. So, I’d say bake your dough for about 6-8 minutes, depending upon what makes sense to you.

Dough before baking

Dough before baking

Dough after being baked for about 7 minutes. It will look similar to the raw dough, but you will be able to move it without it breaking.

Dough after being baked for about 7 minutes. It will look similar to the raw dough, but you will be able to move it without it breaking.

While you are baking the dough, prepare the onion and garlic sauce. Blend the onion and garlic cloves with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar until it is pureed into a thick sauce. Once that is completed, make room to assemble your pizzas and gather the rest of your toppings.

For the traditional pizzas, I spread on tomato sauce, scattered slices of meatball, and covered them in mozzarella cheese. I figured if I covered the sauce in cheese, it would be less likely to all stick to the plastic wrap! I also sprinkled on the pizza seasoning.

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For the veggie pizzas, I divided the onion and garlic sauce between the two pizzas and spread them over each. Next, I added the softened veggies. It turned out that I cooked a large amount of veggies, but I used all of them anyway since these pizzas do not contain meat or cheese.

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This may be overkill, but I wrapped each pizza tightly in three layers of plastic wrap. I stacked them neatly and nestled them into the freezer. According to Emma of A Beautiful Mess, you need to thaw the pizza for at least an hour before you intend to bake it, and then bake it for 18-22 minutes at 400 degrees. Definitely keep an eye on your pizza as ovens can have some variations! I hope these come out good- because I will be saving them for easy meals after the baby is born! I think either of these types of  pizzas would be a nice dinner for two with a big salad- or a really generous dinner for one with no sides. Enjoy!

Pizzas tightly wrapped and ready to be stored in the freezer!

Pizzas tightly wrapped and ready to be stored in the freezer!