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Gingerbread Granola

Gingerbread Granola

We are back from our very short trip to Chicago, we got back late Monday night. It was a whirlwind of a trip, but it was super fun and totally successful on the business front. The holiday market was jammed packed with people and everyone was in such a festive holiday mood. I love that about this time of year.

When we are in Chicago we stay with good friends and it is so enjoyable and relaxing. We are so lucky to have so many amazing friends across the country that open their homes to us. It makes it feel like we took a trip to see and stay with family instead of the alternative of it feeling like the (somewhat) stressful work filled trip that it actually is. I really wish I had more time before we left for this trip to make cute little homemade gifts like this granola for our friends that we stayed with as a “thank you”. This granola would make a wonderful holiday gift for the cereal lover on your list and it would also be the perfect gift for the host or hostess that invites you by for a holiday party. This granola in a simple canning jar wrapped up with some sweet ribbon or twine with a little tag, it really doesn’t get any better. I wish I could also capture and bottle up the smell in the house after baking this and wrap that in a bow and give it to everyone I know. It was that good.

The only bad thing about coming home after traveling, is that the fridge is usually so empty when we return. I try to be smart and plan ahead so we don’t leave town with a ton of fresh produce or leftovers in the fridge, etc. But that also means that when we come home there is very little fresh food to eat and I need to find the time to get to the market. We are pretty busy with work right now, so I haven’t had the extra time to get groceries just yet, so we have been just making do with what we have on hand right now. I have been craving some holiday-inspired goodies, like crazy, so, I decided a fun and healthy way to get some holiday flavor in my life, is to make this gingerbread granola. It made the house smell amazing and it is a great breakfast and snack option. It would also be good sprinkled on top of greek yogurt or ice cream. I’ve been enjoying this granola for breakfast with a few glugs of almond milk or coconut milk (not the canned kind, the beverage kind from So Delicious).

I had blackstrap molasses on hand, so I used that, but feel free to use regular light or dark molasses if that is what you have. Since blackstrap molasses can have a bit of a bittersweet taste, I also added an additional 1/4 cup of coconut sugar. You could leave this off or substitute brown sugar or honey here if you are looking for a bit more sweetness, like I was. Blackstrap molasses is not only a healthier choice for a sweetener, it actually has some health benefits, which is a lot more than more sweeteners can say for themselves. Blackstrap molasses is high in iron and a variety of other minerals.

Is it bad that I want to wrap this granola up and give it to everyone on my list? It’s that good.

Do you plan to make homemade gifts food or otherwise for anyone on your list?

Gingerbread Granola


Gingerbread Granola

Gingerbread Granola

This made enough to fill two 1-quart canning jars

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (if you are gluten intolerant, be sure these are certified gluten-free oats. I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 cup chia seeds (flax seeds would also be nice)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (or pecans, almonds, etc)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses (light or dark molasses will also work)
1/4 cup coconut sugar (optional, you can also use brown sugar)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 325ºF.
 Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. You can also use a roasting pan, which is nice since you can just mix all of the ingredients right in it, without losing things over the edge.
Combine all of your dry ingredients, oats, seeds, nuts, dried fruit etc., in a large bowl (or in your roasting pan). Add in your spices and salt. Mix well.
Pour the molasses and vanilla over the dry ingredients and stir until well coated. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Give the mixture a little taste and add the coconut sugar (or brown sugar) if it’s too bitter for you.

If you aren’t using a roasting pan, spread the granola on the baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes. Toss every 10 minutes or so to provide even toasting.

Let cool completely – it will get crispier as it cools. Keep in airtight container.

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I didn’t get a chance to get on here Thanksgiving Day to wish you all a Happy Day, like I had planned but I was cooking away in the kitchen and watching the parade, the dog show and football! I hope all of my American readers had an incredible day surrounded by people they love most and filled with delicious and tasty fresh foods made with so much love and care. If you aren’t in the US – I hope you have a beautiful Thursday, still!

Our day was perfect, I spent the day cooking in my kitchen and relaxing with hubby, we really needed a day like that, then we headed to my parents to see a ton of family for dessert. It is going to be an insane few weeks coming up so I was very happy to have the perfect balance of a quiet and calm day, with a bit of the usual holiday fare with the extended family.

Of course the best part of making a big feast for 2, is that we have a ton of leftovers. This is so perfect since we are leaving on Friday of this coming week to head to Chicago – so finding time to cook is probably going to be tough. Besides just reheating things, I plan to come up with all kinds of fun and creative ways to eat up the leftovers. This morning I saw a post on the Kitchn with this very topic – lots of great and delicious ways to eat up those leftovers! One of the hardest things to just simply reheat are the mashed potatoes, they are never as creamy and delicious as they are that night! You could certainly make a shepherd’s pie with them or potato pancakes of some sort, which I had planned on doing until I saw this post. The Kitchn had this delicious recipe for Mashed Potato Puffs that caught my eye instantly. Their puffs included ham and cheese, though this was a bit too rich for me after the two days of eating that I just had, so I skipped the cheese and ham and just added a small amount of turkey and some fresh chives from my garden. If you had a vegetarian Thanksgiving, these would still be equally as delicious without any meat at all. These adorable little puffs were super simple to put together and ready in 20 minutes. We had ours for breakfast and we put the leftovers in the fridge for either a side dish or another breakfast. They were puffy, had a slight crisp on the outside and were perfectly soft and creamy inside. I almost always make my mashed potatoes as garlic smashed potatoes, which I add a smidge of Nancy’s Organic Cultured Cream Cheese to for a little bit of creamy and tart flavor. I make my smashed potatoes with red potatoes, leaving the skins on – so my puffs were a bit more rustic and chunky than the original recipe, which I really liked. They can stick a bit when coming out of the muffin tin, at least they did for me, so make sure you grease your tin, even if it is non-stick. I personally didn’t care about that little bit of sticking – they were delicious regardless.

Well we’re off to the country to cut down our Christmas tree today and then to walk around beautiful Elicottville to really get even more into the Christmas mood! I cannot wait!

Tomorrow I plan to make a gluten-free turkey pot pie with some of the leftovers and I am going to cook down the bones to make a turkey stock for soup. What are you making with your leftovers?

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Smashed Potato Puffs
makes between 12 and 24 puffs, depending the size of the pan used
Adapted from The Kitchn

2 cups leftover smashed (or mashed) potatoes
3 large farm fresh brown eggs, beaten
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
1/4 cup shredded leftover turkey (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 400°F and lightly grease the cups of a regular muffin tin or a mini-muffin tin.
Whisk together the smashed potatoes, eggs, chives, and turkey. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.
Put a spoonful of the mixture in each muffin cup. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the potato cups are set, browned on top, and hot through and through. Serve immediately.

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Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

I was so excited to be participating in A Book of Yum’s Gluten-free Vegetarian Thanksgiving Event, that I of course couldn’t decide on just one recipe, so I made two! I wanted to re-imagine a classic side dish like stuffing, but I also really wanted to bring something completely new and unique to the table (pun intended). I came across a recipe in Edible Buffalo’s Fall 2011 issue a few weeks ago that I cut out and set aside, since it really intrigued me. It was a raw butternut squash salad – I had never thought about eating squash raw, but I honestly couldn’t wait to try it. In thinking about the recipe and really wanting there to be a rainbow of beautiful fall colors, I decided to change it up add some fresh local kale and dried cranberries instead of golden raisins. I also had some a fresh organic navel orange that I had zested earlier in the day to make another batch of my Chai concentrate and I thought the juice from that would be the perfect complement to all of the flavors going on in this salad.

This beautiful salad is crunchy, sweet and bright. It would be a welcome side dish at any Thanksgiving feast and it is a wonderfully unique option everyone, especially for those who are gluten-free, vegan and/or vegetarian. Plus, I personally love the idea of any Thanksgiving sides that aren’t heavy and carb loaded and more importantly, that don’t require the use of the oven that is always far too crowded on Thanksgiving.

Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

 

Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Edible Buffalo Magazine, Fall 2011 Issue

1 butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and grated by hand or with a food processor
1 cup kale, washed and stems removed, cut into very thin strips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients, toss and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate, covered, for an hour before serving.

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Gluten-Free Mushroom Stuffing (Vegetarian)

Gluten-Free Mushroom Stuffing Muffins (Vegetarian)

When I found out I was going to be a part of Book of Yum’s Gluten-free Vegetarian Thanksgiving Event – I was so excited. This is the first time I have had the pleasure of participating in something like this, but I have wanted to ever since I started my blog a year and a half ago. This one felt like the perfect place for me. Although I am not exactly a traditional vegetarian, I consider myself to be a “conscientious omnivore”, meaning I only eat meat that I feel good about eating that comes from a local farmer where it is raised humanely, free to roam, eat pasture and not be filled with hormones or antibiotics.  We get all of our meat from Sojourner Farms in Olean, NY. This is the ONLY meat we ever have in our home and I feel like it is the right choice for us. We probably only eat meat anywhere from once a week to once a month at home, depending on what we have on hand and what we feel like. The rest of the time we eat completely vegetarian. I really love cooking vegetarian and find that eating a mostly vegetarian diet plus eating a small amount of local pasture-raised meat to have really changed my health immensely. I also feel like for me, it is a wonderful way for me to take a stand against the factory farming industry.

Sea, from Book of Yum, really wanted this event to not only make the transition into the first holiday season for newly diagnosed gluten-free folks to not seem so daunting, but to also highlight all of the wonderful options for those who are, or are cooking for those who are gluten-free and/or vegetarian (or vegan). Many of us find ourselves bringing our own food since many times the hosts are so terrified and paralyzed by what to cook, plus it alleviates the stress we have on wondering what we are even going to eat when we show up at someone else’s house. I love all of the wonderful recipes that have been featured so far, it’s such a great collection of classic dishes and new unique Thanksgiving options.

This year, like last, hubby and I are making the healthy and gluten-free Thanksgiving meal that we want and eating early in the day. After I get up and go to an early morning yoga class, while hubby takes our dog, Seri, to the park, we’ll spend the day cooking together, watching the parade and football and a enjoying a relaxing day at together at home without any work. After we are done eating, we will head over to my parent’s where they are having nearly 30 people for dinner (!) and we’ll join them for dessert, a cocktail or two and it will be the perfect way to have it all.

We took a nice long drive out to the country yesterday to pick up our Thanksgiving turkey from our farmer, Pierre, at Sojourner Farm in Olean. Since we will be having a turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted to plan the rest of the meal without any meat. I was really excited to take on the challenge of making a meat free stuffing this year. So making it ahead of time for Book of Yum’s event was even more exciting since it was a test run of this recipe, for me. In the past I have sought out some type of healthy sausage to make my mom’s famous stuffing recipe that I had to have, but it always feels so redundant and unnecessary to have a side dish with meat in it, alongside the turkey. I really don’t need or want that much meat in one meal.

Gluten-Free Mushroom Stuffing Muffins (Vegetarian)

I decided on making mushrooms the stars of the stuffing this year. This delicious side dish is so full of rustic and earthy flavor, the mushrooms have a nice chewiness to them and the beautiful fresh thyme pulled it all together so nicely. Additionally, as you can see by the above photos, I also decided to experiment with making little individual stuffing “muffins”, if you will. I dreamt this up as a way to make sure that everyone gets lots of the crispy goodness that makes stuffing so darn delicious. Come on, admit it, you’ve gotten into with a family member on Thanksgiving over who get’s the edges. In our house, my hubby usually gets the crispy edges on anything that has them, by default. If you don’t care about the crispies (as my husband calls it) or don’t want to mess with a muffin tin, this will perfectly fit into a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. I ended up having a little bit leftover after filling the 12 muffin cups, that I put into a very small glass casserole dish. I didn’t want to call this recipe “Stuffing Muffins”, as I feared it would turn people off, since it does sound pretty disgusting, really. Even if you don’t try the stuffing “muffin” approach for this Thanksgiving, you have to try it soon, it is so worth it and I honestly cannot believe I didn’t think of it sooner.

This stuffing does have two eggs in it, so if you are vegan you could experiment with an egg replacer such as Ener-G or making your own flax-seed egg replacer (To replace one egg: 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds plus 3 tablespoons hot water. Stir together until thick and gelatinous.) I have never made my stuffing vegan, but I am sure it would work perfectly. Please let me know if you try it out. Additionally, you will obviously have to make sure the bread you use is vegan.

Besides being very excited about how this recipe turned out, I am also very excited that I get to have stuffing twice in a week’s time, that isn’t a bad deal at all. Stuffing is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving dinner, I don’t think I have it any other time during the year, so it always feels so special. Between that and the mashed potatoes, those are two things that will NEVER be missing from my Thanksgiving menu. For my husband, Mark, I always have to make him a single-serving of his Momo’s famous sweet potato casserole, complete with an ungodly amount of butter, brown sugar and yes, it is even topped with marshmallows. It’s not for me, but I can totally appreciate how it won’t be Thanksgiving for Mark without it, so I will always make it for him.

What dish will always be a part of your Thanksgiving dinner?

Gluten-Free Mushroom Stuffing Muffins (Vegetarian)

Gluten-Free Mushroom Stuffing Muffins (Vegetarian)
Gluten-Free Mushroom Stuffing (Vegetarian)
serves 6-8

1 loaf of gluten-free bread, dried and roughly torn into small pieces (I used a loaf of Rudi’s all natural gluten-free multigrain bread, you can use your favorite bread)
1 – 1 1/2 cups mushroom broth, vegetable broth or water
1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 cup wild mushrooms, fresh or reconstituted from dried, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
2 large farm fresh brown eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Crumble or tear the dried bread into small pieces and place into a 9″ x 13″ glass baking pan. Wet the bread with enough broth or water so it starts to get soft, but you don’t want it insanely soggy, either. If you add too much liquid, just pour it out. Mix with eggs, mushrooms, onions, celery, herbs, olive oil and salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, roll your sleeves up and just get your hands in there to mix it all up, it’s the only way to do it. Once everything is evenly mixed in you can either leave it in the baking pan and bake it as is or start scooping with your hands, an ice cream scoop or a large spoon into a greased non-stick muffin pan. (I greased mine with a very small amount of vegetable shortening). If it doesn’t all fit into the muffin pan, scoop the remainder into a small glass casserole dish.

Place the glass pan or the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the top(s) are browned and crispy. Let the stuffing “muffins” cool slightly before attempting to pop them out of the muffin tin and don’t worry if they don’t come out like a perfect muffin shape, most of mine didn’t, some even fell apart a little. Don’t worry, it’s stuffing, its rustic and it isn’t about the shape and look of them, it is all about the crispies!

Enjoy.

NOTE: since I didn’t want to dry my bread overnight or for a day or so, I placed the sliced loaf in a single layer on a baking pan in the oven at 200º for about an hour to dry it out.

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Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Having a creative job means that sometimes you just can’t work. I know that sounds like an excuse, but when you are supposed to be creating something and you just don’t have any ideas, it’s quite hard to “work”. I am very lucky that we now work from home, so some days when that “creative block” happens – if I can’t find some silly administrative task like updating our webstore, shooting photos of new products or responding to emails, I can just walk away from my computer and get into any number of different things that are completely unrelated to work, like taking the dog for a walk, heading to a yoga class, watching TV, reading a book or magazine and my most favorite distraction from work… cooking! This week I have been feeling a bit stressed and the ideas just haven’t been flowing as freely. It has been a bit frustrating to say the least. We have a ton of work on the books right now, so it is no time to screw around or to just stare at a blank sketch pad. Wednesday, I decided rather than sitting at my desk with my sketchpad, that I would make our dinner early, so we could enjoy it for lunch and I could take photos when it was freshly cooked instead of trying to shoot them without daylight or shooting the leftovers the next day!

Beautiful and fresh tomatillos for the Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Roasted butternut squash for the Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Tomatillo's cooking down for the sauce for my Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

So, I got up at my usual 7am and started prepping the squash and the tomatillos for the sauce. Then I went upstairs for a few hours, it was the perfect boost that I needed and I started working on a poster design that I was stuck on and I made some major headway! It felt great. When lunchtime came, I scooted downstairs, preheated the oven, heated up the sauce and started assembling the enchiladas. I popped them in the oven and went back upstairs to work for a bit. When the buzzer rang, I ran down, took some photos and served my husband and our assistant the best lunch we’ve had since we moved the business home. It was actually really fun to eat a bigger meal in the middle of the day. It felt like the right time to eat that way.

These enchiladas, besides being a burst of beautiful colors, are so full of delicious and bright flavors. The squash has a bit of a rustic nuttiness, the tomatillo has a bright almost citrus flavor to it, with a little bit of heat from the lemon drop peppers I added. I thought about adding black beans inside of the enchiladas, but ended up deciding against it since I thought they would just be bursting open. I think even though it would taste incredible, it would be too many things inside with the big hunks of squash. But I will likely make them that way at some point. I used a simple traditional Mexican crumbly white cheese called queso fresca, it was the perfect compliment and didn’t make the dish too heavy and gooey cheesy, which can be a bit too much for me, sometimes. They were delicious topped with a fresh squeeze of lime juice, fresh green onions and cilantro and a little dollop of organic low-fat sour cream. If you are vegan, you could definitely leave out the cheese or substitute Daiya for the queso fresco. Or if you can’t find queso fresco, you could go with a small amount of good quality sharp cheddar cheese.

I have made homemade tortillas in the past when making enchiladas and it is most definitely worth it, but since I didn’t really have an unlimited amount of time to make these, I decided to go with a high quality corn tortilla from the store. The key to making enchiladas keep their shape, is to steam the tortillas first, otherwise they will break apart a bit. I know this and I steamed mine, but I think they should have been steamed a bit more, some definitely fell apart just a tad when I rolled them up. I decided to just go with it, since I knew it would all taste the same, but some would just fall apart when I served them. Of course, the two that I decided to take a photo of did just that when I served them, but I kinda liked how rustic they looked and I love how you could see the color from the squash exploding out. So I said, screw perfection and just went with it! Life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and my enchiladas aren’t perfect – and I am OK with ALL of it! I embrace it.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce
Yesterday afternoon I had another one of those moments where I hit a creative road-block, for some reason this one hit me harder than ever. I actually felt sad over it and I let it beat me, a bit. I was working on a project that is seemingly very simple and should have an easy solution, but I was struggling. It broke me! I cried. I decided to take a step away “virtually” and move over to another project and then to editing the photos for this post. It definitely helped and today I am looking at it again with fresh eyes and I am ready to tackle it again. So I wanna hear from you….

What do you do when you hit a creative roadblock?
Do you find cooking and baking to be a good escape from everyday life and your work or does it stress you out too much?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you get through when you are feeling stumped with a problem, creatively or otherwise. Share away!

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce
serves 6

Tomatillo Sauce
1 1/2 pounds of fresh whole tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 hot chiles of your choice, stems removed (I used dried lemon drop peppers from my garden) – you can skip this or just use one if you want it less spicy
enough water to cover the tomatillos
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1 handful of fresh cilantro (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Add your tomatillos and chiles to a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for approximately 5-7 minutes until the tomatillos are soft but still whole. If they aren’t all totally soft, no worries, still remove them from the heat and drain. Add the tomatillos and chiles to a food processor and add 2 cloves of garlic, fresh cilantro and salt, puree all the ingredients together and set the sauce aside.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

1 – 2lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
6-8 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (you can skip the cheese or use Daiya to make this vegan) – reserve approximately 1/4 cup for the topping
12 corn tortillas

fresh lime wedges
fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
fresh green onions, thinly sliced
organic sour cream

Preheat the oven to 400º, place the squash cubes on a rimmed baking sheet toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and place into the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes until tender and lightly browned. Set aside when done.

While the squash is baking, add the onion, garlic, red bell pepper and a dash of salt to the teaspoon of olive oil in a medium pan over a medium-high heat, sauté. Cook for 5-8 minutes until the onion is translucent and both the onion and pepper are tender. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Use the same pan from the onion and pepper mixture to heat up your tomatillo sauce. Bring it to a simmer over a medium-heat and allow it to heat through and slightly thicken. Just about 5 minutes.

Once the squash is done, you are ready to start assembling your enchiladas.

Start by spooning a small amount of the tomatillo sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish (I used an 8.5 x 11 pan and it was a bit crowded, but it worked) – just enough to cover the bottom with a very thin layer.

You will need to steam the corn tortillas so that they don’t break when rolled. Moisten two paper towels, working in batches of 3 or 4 tortillas at a time, wrap the tortillas in the damp paper towels and microwave them for approximately 30-45 seconds. Once microwaved, dip each tortilla into the tomatillo sauce, one at a time, making sure both sides get coated in the sauce. Scoop a small amount of butternut squash cubes (probably about 2 tablespoons), the onion and pepper mixture and cheese, keeping in mind how much to use so that you can roll the enchiladas shut and also so you have enough to fill 11 more. Place the enchilada, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat until you’ve made as many enchiladas as you want or have filling for (this recipe made 12, with a small amount of squash and pepper mixture leftover).

Spoon the remaining tomatillo sauce overtop all of the enchiladas and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of queso fresco.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is slightly melted, golden brown and everything is bubbling. Pull it out of the oven, sprinkle a bit of fresh cilantro on top to make it even prettier and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Serve your enchiladas warm with fresh cilantro, fresh green onions and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, you can also add a dollop of organic sour cream, if you wish.

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Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

I absolutely love my mom’s apple crisp, it is one of my favorite things about fall! I have been making my own gluten-free version for a while now and it is so delicious. After I made the vegan apple cobbler two weeks ago with palm oil shortening instead of butter, I decided I wanted to make an updated and healthier version of the apple crisp, too. I’ve actually been calling it Apple Crisp 2.0, but I didn’t think that would make for a good title or dish name. This apple crisp is as healthy as dessert can get in my opinion – it is gluten-free, vegan, refined sugar-free, dairy free, egg free and corn free. Besides using organic all natural palm oil shortening in place of butter in recipes to make them vegan, I have also really fallen in love with baking with coconut oil (I use Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil). When solid, it makes a great replacement for butter in many baking recipes that call for cutting it in. The benefits of coconut oil are numerous and can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc. It is great for your skin and hair when used topically and has been found to have anti-aging, regenerative effects. We even use it topically on and feed it to our dog, Seri, when she has itchy skin. She LOVES the way it tastes.

I was also excited to play with date sugar and maple syrup in this recipe instead of refined white or brown sugar. It turned out so perfectly sweet. Date sugar is totally unprocessed, unrefined and raw. It naturally contains fiber and is loaded with vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, and selenium. Because date sugar doesn’t melt the way sugar does, I knew I wouldn’t get that delicious syrup with the apples that I usually get with the brown sugar, so that is how I decided to add in the maple syrup. It was such a small amount, you can barely distinguish any maple flavoring, if any at all. Other options  instead of the maple syrup would be rice syrup or molasses or if you aren’t vegan, you could also use honey. I am so excited about how this apple crisp turned out. It has so much flavor and I actually think it is better than any apple crisp I have made in the past.

You could serve this with your favorite vegan (or not vegan) ice cream or whipped topping. Something that I saw a while back on Healthful Pursuit that I have been meaning to try is coconut whip, which I think would be perfect on top of this recipe. I may just need to make that happen this week.

Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free  and Vegan)
serves 6

Filling:
4 cups of peeled and sliced apples (4 med)
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Topping:
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup certified gluten-free oats (I like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup date sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (1 for the topping and 1/2 to drizzle over the top)
1/3 cup coconut oil (make sure it is somewhat solid and not liquid)

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place apples in an 8-inch square pan, pour lemon juice over. Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, spices and vanilla, toss around to combine.

Mix almond flour, oats, spices, date sugar and maple syrup together in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Cut in coconut oil in to make crumbly consistency.

Sprinkle over the apples, drizzle remaining 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup over top and bake 30-40 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown. Serve warm.

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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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