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No Bake Pecan Pie Bars - Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

I have become obsessed with Medjool dates and I am still just as amazed now as I was the first time I baked with them. It is incredible how sweet they are. I have made quite a few simple raw “cookie” balls in the processor with just oats and/or nuts, some dates and other goodies like chocolate chips or peanut butter. They are so simple and a totally healthy way to get your sweets-fix. I need to start taking photos of those and sharing them with you. You will love them.

A few months back while shopping at the Lexington CoOp here in Buffalo, I ran across something called a “Raw Pecan Pie Bar” (I forget the name of the company that made it) – it was raw and sweetened only with dates and also had sprouted pecans and sprouted something else (can’t remember, again). It immediately peaked my interest, so I picked one up. It was quite tasty, but I couldn’t help but think I could make it even better. Plus, at $3.50 for a single small bar, I knew I could make it cheaper.

I had been looking at different recipes online for date bars as a base for my recipe and ultimately settled on Oh She Glow’s blog, once again. I liked how simple her recipe was and that it included everything that I love! I made a few additions and changed it up a bit to make it similar to a pecan pie. I am so excited about how these turned out. Oh and one quick thing to mention about these bars, because they aren’t loaded with sugar, you could even have this as a breakfast bar. I cannot believe it is sugar-free, egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and it’s even raw! If someone rattled off all of those things to me, with the words “pecan pie” – I would likely laugh in their face. You have to trust me though, these are so amazing. Even my southern-boy pecan pie loving hubby liked him, though he took one bite and said “man, these are good, a big ‘ol scoop of vanilla ice cream over top would really make this.” haha some things will never ever change.

I tend to actually have cravings for sweets around this time of year, which is crazy since I really don’t crave sweets that often. I think it could be the fact that everywhere you look there are holiday cookies and sweets just laying out, begging to be eaten. I am trying really hard to stick with my usual way of eating through the holidays this year, so I don’t step on the scale after the holidays to find I put on 5-lbs. I am planning to make a handful of alternative holiday sweets over the next couple of weeks, so I can still partake in the festive eating, but in a healthy way. I am also making sure when and if I do partake in some not-so healthy holiday eating – that I remember that everything in moderation is OK, a taste here won’t kill me and I would much rather have a little and know when to stop then to feel like I am missing out on something I really want.

Do you try to eat healthy during the holidays or do you just forego all healthy eating rules during the holidays?

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars - Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars – Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

Adapted from Oh She Glows
Makes 9 large squares or more if cut smaller

Crust:

1 1/2 cups whole raw almonds (you could also do 3/4 cup almonds and 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats (if you aren’t gluten-free just use regular rolled oats)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Date and Pecan Topping:

25 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup roughly chopped raw pecans

Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with two pieces of parchment paper going opposite ways. In a food processor, process the almonds, salt, and oats until a fine crumble forms. Add in the chopped dates and process until crumbly again. It your coconut oil is solid, melt it quick and add to the mixture with vanilla and process until sticky and a bit doughy. If your dough seems a bit dry, you can add a bit more oil, mind was fine as is. Remove from processor and press the dough very firmly and evenly into the pan to form your crust.

Clean the food processor real quick and process the dates with water and vanilla until a thick paste forms, it should be mostly smooth and creamy. You will have to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl often. You can add a tiny bit more water if needed, but you want the paste quite thick. Scoop out the date mixture onto the crust and gently spread with the back of a wet spatula until even.

Sprinkle the chopped pecans evenly across of it and gently press down with fingers. Refrigerate in the fridge until firm for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Cut into squares and serve. Store in the fridge or freezer.

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Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

Ingredients for Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

Spices for Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

I have seen quite a few recipes floating around on blogs and on Pinterest for homemade chai concentrate. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? It’s so easy and you can customize your own recipe to exactly what you are looking for in your chai. I like mine spicy, with a strong tea flavor and with a subtle sweetness. I find the packaged concentrates from the grocery store to really lack flavor and many times they are just too sweet for me.

I looked around at tons of different recipes and ultimately settled on this recipe. I have made it three times now to get it exactly how I wanted it. The first time I added my coconut sugar and honey in at the end, which resulted in a cloudy concentrate. It tasted perfectly delicious but it bothered me that it was cloudy. I made it a second time using date sugar and honey at the start, the sweetness was so nice but the date sugar I had was a bit clumpy, which annoyed me. The final time I used coconut sugar again but added it at the start, this time I skipped the honey. I saw a few recipes without pepper at all and some with just a tad bit of ground pepper. I really love the spiciness from the pepper so I added in whole peppercorns. I also really love the addition of orange zest and nutmeg in my chai. I love that there are no rules when making your own chai concentrate. Use this or any other recipes as a guide, but tweak the recipe and ingredients to your preference. Have fun with it.

You can serve your chai warm as a hot latte or cold as an iced latte. Either way, I go with a 1 to 1 mixture on the chai concentrate to a non-dairy milk. I prefer almond milk personally, but you could use regular milk or any other non-dairy milk. If you like it less strong, use less tea bags, or mix 1 part concentrate to 3 parts milk instead of 1 or 2. Play around. If you are like me, after you make this once and take the first sip, you will be sure to always have a batch in the fridge.

This concentrate would make a lovely holiday gift in a mason jar with a cute tag, some ribbon or twine, etc. Another great gift idea would be to pre-mix all of the spices and place them with the tea bags into a cute little cheesecloth pouch for an adorable chai concentrate mix packet, so your recipient can make their concentrate whenever they wish, adding or taking away any spices of their choosing. You would just want to substitute dried ginger for fresh and skip the orange zest. And of course provide the recipient with the following instructions ::: To make your chai concentrate, place 4 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup coconut, date or raw cane sugar in a medium sized sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and place the cheesecloth pouch in. Simmer for 20 minutes, remove the pouch, then stir in 1 tablespoon of honey (optional). Allow to cool before pouring it in an air tight container or jar and placing in the fridge to cool. Keeps up to 7 days. For a latte, hot or cold, mix one part concentrate to one part milk of your choice, warm up or serve over ice. :::

PS – I am loving the comments about using the concentrate in other things like baked goods or making a syrup from it. SO brilliant, I didn’t even think of that. Great ideas!

Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

Homemade Chai Concentrate
Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups
adapted to suit my personal taste from many different recipes – this one and this one mostly.

4 1/2 cups water
8 bags black tea – I used orange pekoe
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split in half (or 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract added at the very end)
1/2 cup coconut sugar, date sugar or raw cane sugar (you can add more or less depending on how sweet you like your chai)
1 – 3-inch section of fresh ginger, cut into pieces
10 whole cloves
8 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 whole star anise pods
1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon raw honey (optional, leave off to make vegan, if you want it to be sweeter without the honey, add a bit more sugar in at the beginning)

1 small square section of cheesecloth, approximately 6″ square (if you don’t want to mess with cheesecloth, make sure you have a good strainer you can use at the end)
kitchen twine

Prepare the teabags by removing any tags if there are any and tying them all together. Prepare the spices, vanilla bean and orange zest by laying them in your cheesecloth, I leave my cinnamon sticks out to make the little pouch of spices a bit more compact. Tie the cheesecloth pouch shut with a small piece of kitchen twine. If you leave the cinnamon sticks out, just tie them together with kitchen twine.

*If you don’t wish to use cheesecloth, you will just add all of your spices directly to the pan when the time comes and strain them out after.

Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve or just remove the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. At this point if you want a bit more sweetness you can add a tablespoon of honey, stir to dissolve. I don’t always do this, but it is a really nice touch. Additionally, if you didn’t use a whole vanilla bean, add your vanilla extract now. Stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

** To serve, mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part milk of your choice. I personally love unsweeteened almond milk (you can even make your own). Heat for a warm beverage or serve over ice for a cold drink.

Ice Chai Latte made from Homemade Chai Tea Concentrate

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Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

I have fully admitted to my love-affair with pasta on this blog, many times. It is something I cannot live without and is almost always included in my weekly menu planning. Not only are pasta dishes simple and fun to create but they can easily be made with ingredients you have in the pantry and your refrigerator and many times can easily be made healthy. Even with the healthiest of pasta recipes, to me it is a major comfort food, it always will be. Probably the number 1 comfort food on my list.

Although I am on a cleanse, I wanted to make sure to experiment with at least one cleanse-friendly pasta dish. Of course, as I mentioned in my post about my cleanse, there are many different types of cleanses out there and many different items you can remove from your diet when cleansing. Obviously this recipe may not work on every cleanse. For me already being on a totally gluten-free diet, removing gluten when cleansing is never a major hassle or issue, but it is very important to a cleanse and to detoxify your body. For me one of the biggest things I like to remove from my diet while cleansing is dairy. I am not a milk drinker and I rarely cook with it, but cheese is what gets me. I love cheese. So with that in mind, I wanted to come up with a cleanse-friendly pasta dish that would bring the comfort of any other gluten-free pasta dish I would make, but with cleanse friendly ingredients.

I love gluten-free pastas and find them to be much lighter compared to traditional wheat-based pastas. I personally prefer brown rice pastas and I love Tinkyada brand organic pastas. They have three or less ingredients, organic brown rice, rice bran and water. That’s it. When I cleanse the majority of what I eat is fresh vegetables, legumes and whole grains – I certainly cannot go without pasta. Brown rice pasta falls within the constraints of my cleanse and though I don’t eat a ton of it, a dish like this is a perfect way to forget you are even cleansing at all. If you don’t care much for brown rice pasta, there are also corn and quinoa based gluten-free pastas that are also quite delicious, as well.

I decided when making this alfredo sauce rather than trying to experiment with different nut milks, which I knew wouldn’t give me the thick and creamy affect of an alfredo sauce, I would go the route of a raw nut based sauce. Cashews tend to be great for this. Even without excessive soaking, you can just add boiling hot water to cashews just before pureeing and get a delicious creamy sauce. I took the above photo the next day with the leftovers, since it was too dark to take photos the night we ate it. I honestly don’t think the image fully captures just how creamy the sauce really is, it is incredible. There isn’t an overwhelming nutty flavor to the sauce and by adding garlic, basil and some nutritional yeast, it’s very hard to tell that it is even dairy free. Beyond nutritional yeast’s nutty and cheesy flavor, is a great source of protein and fiber, it is rich in B-complex vitamins including B12 and it contains the glucose tolerance factor that helps in the regulation of blood sugar. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is definitely worth exploring adding it into your diet.

The beauty of this sauce is that it doesn’t actually need to be heated up, so if you like to eat raw, you could skip heating it up, use your favorite alternative raw noodle, like thinly sliced raw zucchini (or other raw vegetables), kelp noodles, etc and just pour the raw cashew cream sauce right over for a delicious and healthy raw meal.

I had some beautiful zucchini and yellow squash that we picked up at a farmers stand on our drive home from NYC so I added that and a carrot to the dish for some additional health-benefits as well as the very lovely colors. You could play around with many different vegetables here including fresh spinach, peas, etc.

I had a small amount of sauce leftover that I put in the fridge, I figured it would be delicious on some steamed broccoli or over a baked potato, etc. I have a feeling you will fall in love with this healthy alfredo sauce.

Soaking raw cashews for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Veggies for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Vegan, Gluten-Free Fettucine Alfredo
serves 6

1 1/2 cups raw, unsalted organic cashews
3 cloves garlic
1 cup warm water (you may need more)
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces of your favorite gluten-free fettucine or linguini, I use Tinkyada’s organic brown rice pasta
handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 zucchini, julienned
1 yellow squash, julienned
1 carrot, peeled, julienned (or you can wash and peel the outside, then peel the entire carrot instead of julienning it, which is what I did)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the raw cashews in a glass bowl, cover in water. Let soak as little as a few hours or overnight.

In a large saucepan bring your water to a boil and cook your pasta according to package directions.

Drain the soaked cashews and rinse well, place into your food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and 1 cup of water. You may find you need to add more water if the sauce is too thick, but you can always add more. Process until smooth and creamy. Once it is at your desired consistency, add in the nutritional yeast, pulse a few times to combine. Set aside until you are ready to heat it up.

While your pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat, add your julienned vegetables and sauté a few minutes until tender. Remove from heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of your cooking liquid, drain and place in a large serving dish. Pour the alfredo sauce into the saucepan you used to cook your pasta and heat over a medium heat, stirring often to keep from sticking. Once warm, pour over the pasta.

Add the vegetables and fresh basil to the pasta and sauce. Toss to combine, adding some of the pasta cooking liquid if the sauce is too thick. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with freshly chopped basil and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, if you wish.

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Lentil Soup

Well it is official, this past Friday marked the Autumn Equinox, so that means we are officially amidst my favorite season – Fall! Besides all the beautiful weather, cooler temperatures and lovely leaves – we are also blessed with some of my favorite foods of the year. Squashes, pumpkins, apples, brussels sprouts…pies, crisps, soups, stews, roasts…the list goes on and on. As much as I want to enjoy every single one of these things, after a long summer of traveling and the indulgences that goes along with it, I decided to once again mark the shift of the seasons with a cleanse. We were in NYC this past weekend, so rather than starting my cleanse on the equinox as I would have liked, I started on Monday. That was our driving home day, so it was definitely a bit tricky, but I was able to pack some snacks ahead of time for the car rides, like kale chips, roasted chickpeas and unsalted cashews. Plus our gracious hostess in Brooklyn, Karen, made me a delicious glass of fresh kale, apple, celery and cucumber juice before we hit the road. I made a delicious batch of kitchari (recipe coming soon) as soon as I got home and was able to make it through day 1, without a hitch.

I am doing a minimum of 2-weeks this time around, but definitely shooting for a full 28-days if my schedule allows. As with the cleanses I have done in the past, I am loosely following the Ayurvedic traditions, along with the items I tend to have issues with, personally. I am very excited to have a group of 25+ friends on Facebook that are all following along and participating in their own matter. It’s so amazing to have other people to motivate me and as a support system, it makes it even easier. Since I have had quite a few people ask me about how I cleanse, I thought I would put a very loose description of what I personally do in this post. If you have any additional questions about what I am doing, please contact me and I will do my best to help.

I am avoiding the following things:
Dairy*
Eggs
Sugar
Excess Salt (I will use a very small amount when cooking)
Caffeine
Alcohol
Meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc)
Fish and Shellfish (shrimp, scallops, mussels, etc)
Gluten (wheat, barley, oats, rye, etc)**
Soy
Corn
Foods with preservatives, additives or chemicals, and foods grown in an environment laced with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and canned, frozen or processed foods.**

*Ayurveda doesn’t restrict dairy, but I personally seem to have issues with it, so besides ghee, I am avoiding all dairy during my cleanse.
** these are both things that I avoid on a regular basis, but are very important to a cleanse

So you are probably wondering what exactly I am eating, then…

What I am eating:
Fresh organic fruit. I am going light on the fruit because of the sugar and I am focusing on suggested fruits that are best for digestion such as apples, pears, figs, prunes, papaya, etc.
Fresh organic veggies. Some of the best for digestion are leafy greens, cabbage, celery, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc
Whole organic grains such as brown rice, quinoa, amarynth, buckwheat, millet
Beans like lentil, mung beans, etc
Vegetable juice and broth
Soups and stews made with vegetables, legumes and grains.
I am cooking with a small amount of olive oil and/or ghee (indian clarified butter that is GREAT for detox)
Raw honey (sparingly)
lots of luke warm water with lemon and/or ginger
detox tea (I like Yogi brand Detox tea)
I am also taking probiotics in the morning after breakfast

I plan to get as many recipes on this blog throughout the cleanse, so you can see a good example of how I eat when I am cleansing.

Here are some additional tips that I have learned along the way:

Some of the differences with an Ayurvedic cleanse vs a regular cleanse is that it teaches you to avoid or focus on foods specific to you and your body-mind type (or your dosha) and it’s needs. Also, although you should be eating TONS of fresh fruits and veggies, you shouldn’t eat them raw during this cleanse. Raw foods are harder on your digestive tract, so you should be heating and/or boiling your veggies and eating them warm.

Eat whole, fresh, natural foods, organic if you can get it. Buy your produce fresh, and consume it quickly.

Also avoid ICE cold water and beverages, it can disrupt the “fire” needed in your digestive tract.

Cook with digestion-enhancing, detoxifying spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, clove, ajwain, fenugreek, dried ginger, Chinese cinnamon and fennel. Add the turmeric to foods as they are cooking, and sauté other spices in ghee or olive oil and pour over prepared dishes for the best therapeutic benefit.

According to Ayurveda, each meal should be a feast for all of your senses. When your plate reflects an appealing variety of colors, textures, flavors and aromas, your digestive juices start freely flowing in anticipation and your body, mind and heart are all fulfilled by the eating experience.

As I mention above, normally I avoid raw vegetables and fruit since it can disrupt your digestive tract and it is harder to digest, however this time around, I am including juices that I am making from fresh, organic vegetables and fruit. I decided to include this, as most mornings I go to yoga from 9:30 – 11:00am, I do not eat before I practice yoga and by the time I get home around 11:30, I am not quite ready for lunch but I am slightly hungry. The juices have been a great and fast way for me to get much-needed nutrients without having to prepare an involved breakfast, plus it is light enough that I am ready for lunch a couple of hours later.

I made this lentil soup for dinner last night and served it with some roasted butternut squash with rosemary, on the side. It was so delicious and perfectly satisfying. I love lentil soup because it can be quite versatile, every time I make it, it is a bit different from the last. You can experiment with different spices and flavors, you can add many different types of vegetables, including leafy greens like spinach or kale and if you aren’t on a cleanse, you could even top it with a delicious homemade yogurt sauce.

When I made this particular pot, I wanted to make sure to include some cleansing spices and I also wanted to get some smokey spice from a couple of dried chipotles. If you don’t like the spices I used, experiment with your own, there are so many possibilities, you could use smoked paprika, yellow curry powder, chile powder, dill, etc – the flavor combinations are endless. For a real hearty pot of lentil soup, you could add some brown rice or other grains to this soup, which I have done in the past and it is delicious. Just add the uncooked rice with the lentils, and skip the pureeing at the end. You could also roast the butternut squash (recipe coming soon) with spices to match your soup and just add it to the pot just before serving. Honestly, I debated this for quite sometime, but ultimately I really wanted to savor and enjoy the crispy browned bites of squash on their own, it felt like such a treat.

Sometimes I like my lentil soup smooth with just a few whole lentils, which is how I made it this time. If you wish to have a chunkier, heartier soup, simply skip the pureeing step and serve the soup, as is.

Lentil Soup
serves 6-8

2 tablespoons of ghee or olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 dried chipotle(s)
1 medium organic red onion, diced
2 cloves of organic garlic, minced
1 organic celery stalk, diced
1 organic carrot, peeled and diced
1 organic green bell pepper, diced
a dash of sea salt (I used very little since I am cleansing)
3 cups of lentils (you don’t have to presoak lentils, but I do as it is supposed to lessen the gassy after-affects)
8 cups of low-sodium organic vegetable broth or water (you may need to add more if your soup gets too thick)
1 large organic tomato, diced (you can just use a can of organic diced tomatoes here, if you wish)

For serving:
1 small tomato, diced
1 small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced

If you wish to soak your lentils, rinse them well, sort through to pick out any small stones and place in a large glass bowl. Cover the lentils in water and allow to soak a few hours. Once you are ready to make your soup, drain the lentils and rinse again. If you aren’t soaking your lentils, just rinse well, pick through to remove any small stones and allow to drain.

In a large stock pot, heat the ghee (or olive oil) over a medium-high heat, add the cumin seeds, turmeric and dried chipotles, stir until fragrant and the cumin seeds begin dancing around the pot. Add in the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bell pepper and a dash of salt, saute for approximately 7 minutes until the vegetables are translucent and soft.

Add in the lentils, vegetable broth (or water) and diced tomato, turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a medium-high, cover and allow to simmer for approximately 45 minutes, stirring often. Cook until the lentils are tender. This may take less time, it may take more time, it depends on the lentils you are using and it depends if you soaked them first. You also may need to add more broth or water if the soup becomes too thick. Salt and pepper the soup to taste. You can leave the soup chunky as it is, or if you wish for it to be smooth and creamy, remove the dried chipotle pepper(s) and puree 2/3 of the finished soup in batches, in a blender, adding it to a large bowl as you go and then adding it all back to the pot when you are finished. Stir to combine. Serve the soup topped with freshly diced tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro and green onions, or whatever your toppings of choice may be.

 

NOTE: the above information about my cleanse is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Every individual is different, this is just what I have found works for me. There are obviously different ways of thinking and a gazillion different types of cleanses. I have done this particular style of cleanse many times over the last two years and have always had great results. Please acknowledge what is right for you, your own body and health and take this all into consideration when embarking on a journey like this.

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Gluten-Free Heirloom Tomato Tart with Goat Cheese

I love the abundance of tomatoes this time of year. I only had room to plant one heirloom Paul Robeson tomato plant and an heirloom black cherry tomato plant this year, so whenever I need more tomatoes than what I can produce at home, I just pick some up at the farmers market. This past Saturday I bought 8 quarts of Roma tomatoes and roasted them all. I made sauce out of half of them and froze the other half for soup or sauce later in the fall or winter. I have been wanting to experiment with making an heirloom tomato tart with some of the tomatoes coming from my garden and some from the farmers market. After making the delicious pea and goat cheese tart this spring using Gluten Free Girl’s delicious tart shell recipe, I couldn’t wait to make another beautiful and tasty savory tart with it.

I wanted many layers of fresh flavors, so rather than an egg/dairy based tart like the pea tart I made, I decided to start by roasting a whole head of garlic to spread on the bottom of the tart shell before laying on the tomatoes, I then added a handful of flavorful, freshly cut herbs from the garden (I am trying to use those as much as possible, while I still can). I finished the tomatoes with the light, creamy and tart goodness from the goat cheese, that gets slightly browned and crisp on top, while retaining the soft center (thanks for the wonderful idea David Lebovitz) and I also decided this would be the perfect time to make another balsamic reduction syrup to drizzle over the top of it all. You could also take a tip from David Lebovitz and just drizzle a good honey in place of the balsamic reduction.

The only thing I regret about this tart is that because I made it on a weeknight when I was done with work, by the time I roasted the garlic, blind-baked the shell and finished the tart, it was far too late and dark out, to take a good quality photo of the tart as a whole. I knew that my silly little light box and lighting would never do all the beautiful colors justice, so rather than setting it all up, getting frustrated and delaying dinner, I decided I would have to settle for a photo of a single slice of the tart the next day. Small price to pay, but I think you can see from just that one slice just how beautiful and colorful this tart was and you can also see how deliciously crumbly and flakey the gluten-free tart shell is.

* A note about this tart shell recipe: For those of you that are gluten-free bakers, I know most of these gluten-free baking recipes can at first seem daunting because of the seemingly long list of flours that you have never heard of, compared to a traditional recipe that just has one type of flour and that’s it. That being said, after you start baking more and more, you just learn what flours you like to bake with and those that you will use over and over, so you should always have them on hand in your pantry. I now have my go-to flours and as soon as I run out of one, I pick it up on my next grocery trip, so they are always on hand, it’s as easy as that. It can get pricey the first time you make something and have none of the items on hand, but thereafter they run out at different paces and you are just picking one type of flour up, here and there. No biggy. I actually had all of these flours on hand, since I always do, so this recipe was super simple. Also, in a lot of ways, this tart shell recipe is easier than the traditional since without the gluten you can’t over work it and you can easily mend any tears with your hand, no harm done. I really cannot recommend it enough, even if you don’t make it with this tart recipe, you should try it out.

Gluten-Free Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart
serves 8-10

Tart Shell
adapted Gluten Free Girl and The Chef – A Love Story (I added in the cheese for this particular recipe)

1/2 cup (63.5g) sorghum flour
1/2 cup (60g) tapioca flour
1/2 cup (96g) potato starch
1/2 cup (102g) sweet rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) frozen organic butter
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1 large local farm fresh brown egg
1/4 cup of ice-cold water

(if making a sweet tart, instead of savory, include 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon)

Sift the sorghum flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, and sweet rice flour into a large bowl. Stir in the salt (sugar and cinnamon if making a sweet tart). Sift into another bowl.

Grate the frozen butter directly into the dry ingredients. The butter will fall into the flours in soft swirls and start to melt in as soon as you stir. Add in the Parmigiano Reggiano. Work with your hands to mix everything, until the dough feels like cornmeal or large pieces of sand.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and water together with a fork. Make a well in the center of the flours. Stir in the liquid, working from the inside out. Feeling the dough for soft suppleness, instead of stiffness or sogginess. Feel free to use your hands at the end.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, or overnight if possible.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter and flour an 11-inch tart shell, I used sweet rice flour as the original recipe suggested. Pull the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. While your tart dough is coming to room temperature, and your oven is preheated to 375º, roast your garlic. Place garlic on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Wrap to enclose garlic in foil, and place on the rack in the center of your oven. Bake until soft, the outside will be golden brown and the flesh will be soft, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven; set aside.

Roll out the dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper, to the approximate shape of the tart pan. (this way you don’t have to flour your countertop and add more flour to the dough).If the dough falls apart or breaks a bit, don’t worry – there is no danger of the crust becoming tough by overworking it, which can happen with gluten dough. Press the dough into the pie pan and repair it that way.

Place the tart shell into the freezer until the crust is frozen, approximately 1 hour.

Butter a piece of aluminum foil approximately the size of the pie crust. Place it butter side down, onto the tart crust and fit snuggly against the sides. Bake pressing down any puffed up spots with a spoon until the shell has a good color, about 15 minutes. The tart should look and feel flaky, rather than sticky. Prepare the filling while the tart is blind baking.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart Filling

1 large head of garlic
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
2-3 large ripe heirloom tomatoes (I like to use a variety of colored tomatoes, since it is just all so beautiful together)
2 tablespoons olive oil
a large handful of chopped fresh herbs, I used basil, chives and oregano
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon organic light brown sugar
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven, roast your garlic and blind bake your tart shell, all the details can be found above with the tart recipe. When the garlic is cool enough to touch, with either your hands or a utensil, squeeze the cloves out of their skins and into a small bowl; mash with a fork, and set aside.

In a small saucepan over a medium-high heat bring the balsamic vinegar and sugar to a boil, constantly whisking to prevent burning. Continue cooking until it is reduced by half, stirring often. Remove from heat, allow to cool.

After the tart comes out from being blind baked, evenly spread the roasted garlic over the tart shell’s bottom. Sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano over the garlic. Slice the tomatoes and arrange them over the garlic and cheese in a single, even layer. Drizzle the olive oil over the top, season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the tomatoes, reserving some to put on top. Arrange the slices of goat cheese rounds over the tomatoes. Drizzle the balsamic reduction overtop of everything and sprinkle the remaining herbs on top.

Bake the tart for 30-45 minutes or so, until the dough is fully cooked and slightly browned, the tomatoes are tender, but retain their shape and the cheese on top is nicely browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool for 15-20 minutes, serve warm with a bit more freshly chopped herbs and a bit of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, if you wish.

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Curry Kale Chips

I fell in love with kale chips last summer. I had grown kale in my garden and had an abundance, so I decided to try my hand at the healthy snack that I kept hearing about. However, I never really got to eat very many of the ones I made. Unfortunately the day I decided to make them was the day after we had to rush our dog Derby to the emergency animal hospital, she had to stay the night so they could run tests and give her fluids. At the time I started making the chips, I was waiting to hear some good news about our little girl, so I was trying to pass the time and keep my mind busy since I couldn’t help but think the worst and just sit at home crying. Cooking and baking always provides that escape for me, a great way to “get away” and just create in the kitchen. Little did I know that by making those silly little kale chips on that very day, I would never ever be able to look at them the same way again.

I have found, at least for me, that food is always a great reminder of past times. Good or bad. The simple smell or taste of a dish can take you back to being a kid, remind you of a loved one, an amazing dinner party and so many other things. While that first batch of kale chips were baking last summer, my phone rang and it was the vet, they told me Derby had taken a turn for the worse and that we should come right there. After a series of many, many tests and an emergency surgery, Derby passed away later that same night. It was all so quick and it was all so completely unexpected. The kale chips sat on top of my stove, on the very pan they were baked on, for days. I couldn’t eat them, I had no appetite, but for some reason I couldn’t throw them out either. They reminded me of a time when I had hope that Derby was going to make it, I was baking them to pass the time until the vet called to say I could pick her up. I eventually threw the chips out, but I had been unable to make them since, which I know sounds totally crazy, but it was true. The mere thought of making them could just bring on the tears.

I know this is a completely, ridiculously sad back story for a food blog post about silly old kale chips, but I didn’t feel honest telling some wonderful and happy story about how I came to make these kale chips, it just didn’t feel right. I honestly kept thinking about what I would write when I was making them. I finally made the chips now, because after the one year anniversary of Derby’s death passed us in July, I promised myself that I would find the time to make these again. It most likely sounds silly to you, but I just wanted to wait and do it when I felt like I could handle it. I didn’t want to get over it or forget, I just wanted to be able to handle it and grow from it. I know, they are just kale chips, but it was about the healing for me.

The other ironic part about the kale that I planted and grew last summer, is that it somehow lived under the 3+ feet of snow the covered my garden this winter. At the first major melt, this past spring, the plant peaked through what snow was left and it was still green somehow with leaves still on it and immediately began growing again. Once the snow had melted and our new puppy Seri could get into the garden, she made a B-line for the kale and would steal the leaves off the plant and run around the yard, eating as much as she could. That dog absolutely loves kale. So much so, that many times she prefers that to any fancy meat treats we buy her. The entire time I was cutting up the raw kale to make these chips, Seri was under my feet, looking at me, waiting for any bit to fall. It was exactly what I needed. Maybe it wasn’t irony at all.

These chips are a perfectly crispy and healthy snack that is perfect for all you chip lovers. I personally have always loved a good crunchy or crispy savory snack. I honestly could eat an entire bag of kettle chips in one sitting, if I didn’t know better. Thank god I do. The kale chips are light and airy and you don’t even get a hint of the bitterness that kale can be known for. They are a tad bit spicy, the flavor from the curry is so perfect and the coconut flavor is very subtle but I felt like it would round it all out nicely. If you don’t like spicy, leave out the cayenne pepper or you can even leave out the curry powder and coconut flour and just go with a little freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt. Honestly, the flavor possibilities with kale chips are endless. You could use garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, etc. If you aren’t vegan, parmesan cheese would also be delicious on these. Play around. You will definitely be addicted once you make these, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try different flavors.

Curry Kale Chips

1 large bunch of kale, torn by hand into bite-sized pieces, stems removed
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coconut flour (if you can’t find coconut flour, just blend coconut flakes into a fine meal in your blender)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (you may need more or less depending on how large your bunch of kale is)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 375º F. Clean the kale very good, after removing the stems and tearing into bite sized pieces, allow the kale to air dry or spin it dry in your salad spinner. Lay the dry kale pieces in a single layer on two baking sheets (you may need more or less baking sheets depending on how much kale you have). Since I had two baking sheets covered in kale, I drizzled one tablespoon of olive oil over each. Toss the kale around with your hands to evenly coat it all in the olive oil. In a small bowl mix together the curry powder, coconut flour, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture over one pan and half over the other. Toss the kale gently with your hands to evenly distribute the spices.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes until the edges of the kale pieces are brown and they are crispy. Keep an eye on them. Be careful not to burn them. Once done, place the baking sheet on a rack to allow it to cool. I find storing the kale chips in a tightly closed paper bag, the best way to make sure they remain crispy.

FYI – kale chips are also wonderful crumbled up and sprinkled over popcorn.

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Mint Pesto

Last summer I made, what I later learned, to be a big mistake – I planted mint in our yard, not in any pot or planter, just in the dirt on the side of the yard near my vegetable and herb gardens. I originally planted it because I absolutely LOVE fresh homemade mojitos in the summer time. There is nothing more refreshing. The reason my planting of said mint turned out to be a mistake, was the fact that it has grown out of control and it is taking over that section of the yard. Because I have never grown it in my own yard, I didn’t realize how quickly it grows and how far it can spread. We travel so much, that getting into the yard and weeding my gardens gets increasingly difficult as the summer goes on. I know I should get out there more, but I don’t, so I always try to plant things that need very little upkeep. Well, mint definitely falls into that category. Early in the summer I took a look out in the yard to see the progress of things and I was floored at how the mint was spreading. It was crazy. So I made a lot of mojitos this summer. I also decided I needed to find other things to do with the mint. I mentioned something on Twitter and Kelly from Design Crush made the wonderful suggestion of mint pesto. I had never thought of that. So, earlier this summer I played around and made mint pesto to serve with gluten-free penne. It was sooo good that we ate it all up and I forgot to write-up my recipe or photograph it. Ooops. That just meant I needed to make it again. Darn.

This time around, I again served this over delicious organic gluten-free penne with some gluten-free crispy zucchini rounds on the side. We both were in heaven with this meal. This pesto, much like the original that we all know, is bright and light but chock full of flavors. I like my pestos garlicky, which gives a bit of a spicy kick, you can certainly take it down to one clove if you don’t like a lot of garlic (shame on you). I also love playing around with different nuts in my pestos. Most original basil pesto recipes call for pine nuts, which I really love, but they can be hard to find sometimes and many times are insanely expensive. I have played with both toasted almonds and walnuts in pesto recipes, both of which are absolutely equally delicious, if not more. I think any one of those nuts would be great in this mint pesto. I went ahead and still included some basil in this mint pesto, since I also grow that in my yard and I thought it would round out the flavor of the mint nicely, so it wouldn’t be too overpowering. Also, it should be noted, it is crucial to use a good quality olive oil in your pestos, since the sauce is left raw and is never cooked, the olive oil flavor remains in the forefront of the flavors, so you want it to be a good one.

In addition to all the usual dishes that pesto is great in; pasta, sandwiches, pizza, in soup, over a baked potato etc, – you could definitely use this mint pesto for other non-traditional uses as well, such as a marinade or served over-top grilled lamb or steak, etc, you could just skip the basil and cheese, maybe add some lemon juice and red pepper flakes and make it more of a Chimichurri style condiment. Have fun with it and make sure if you plant mint of any kind in your yard plant it in a pot, unless you are looking to be able to make enough mojitos and pesto to serve a small country.

Gluten-free Penne with Mint Pesto

Mint Pesto
makes approximately 1 cup

2 cups fresh mint
1 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds (walnuts or pine nuts would also be great)
2 medium-large cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, shredded (plus more for serving)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Place mint, basil, almonds, garlic and salt in a food processor; pulse a few times, and process until everything is finely chopped and combined. With the processor running, gradually pour the olive oil in and process until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides to get all the little bits. Add the parmigiano reggiano and pulse again until blended and smooth. Season with additional salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

If you are serving this immediately, keep the sauce at room temperature and pour it over your cooked pasta (I used my usual gluten-free organic brown rice penne) and quickly stir to combine, top it with fresh parmigiano reggiano and serve immediately. I always recommend reserving approximately 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid from your pasta so you can add it in to the final dish, if need be, to thin the sauce if it is too thick.

If you aren’t serving this immediately, it can be stored in a tightly closed container in your refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes:

To toast sliced almonds, cook them over a medium-low heat in a small dry skillet, stirring and tossing constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, this will take less than 5 minutes.

If you’d like to freeze your pesto, leave out the parmigiano reggiano. When you’re ready use the pesto, defrost it first, then stir in the cheese.

Seri frolicking in our mass amounts of mint

Seri hiding out in the mass amount of mint in our yard, earlier this summer

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