A Season for Baking

I know that fall has arrived and feels like it has already passed in many parts of the country.  Now that we are in Chapel Hill, the signs of fall are less abundant.  You have to search for auburn leaves crackling in the wind. While the grocery stores are filled with mums, winter squash, and pumpkins I am wearing short sleeves and sunglasses.  My windows have been open all day and the dogs have been basking in the sunshine.  The only hint of real autumn is the crisp air in the morning.  The temperatures are dropping at night into the forties only to climb back into the mid-seventies by late morning.  I feel pulled and dragged back and forth between summer’s sunshine and fall’s ingredients.  What foods are “in season” here?  There’s a whole new cooking learning curve for me.  Good thing the farmer’s market is just a brisk Saturday morning walk away.  In the meantime, I am taking advantage of the cool mornings and evenings to crank up the oven to make some “every” season favorites.





Since the first time I made homemade granola, I haven’t spent another penny on a box or bag of it.  It takes a little bit of time, but it comes together quickly and easily. You mix up the ingredients, spread them on a cookie sheet, and bake on a low heat until golden brown and your house smells like sweet, roasted nuts and oats.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

First chop up 2 cups of nuts.  I used 1 cup of cashews and 1 cup of almonds this time, but you can use anything you like.  Mix them with 3/4 cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut (You can leave this out, if you have coconut haters at home, but I suggest you try it.  I have converted many a coconut hater with my granola). Finally add 3 cups of old fashioned oats, 3/4 t of salt, and 1/4 cup plus 2 T dark brown sugar.  I have used regular brown sugar before, but the dark gives a lovely depth of flavor.

In a separate bowl combine 1/4 cup plus 2 T real maple syrup, honey, or agave with 1/4 c oil and mix well with the dried ingredients.  Spread it on a baking sheet with a lip or a 13×9 baking pan.  Bake at 250 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.  I find it is best to keep track of how long it’s been in the oven.  I use my dry erase board to keep track of the minutes, burning your lovely granola will not be lovely.  After the first stir, you will notice that the house is beginning to smell heavenly.  This is only one of the reasons to make your own granola.  I don’t think a candle company has replicated this aroma.

After an hour and fifteen minutes, the granola will be golden brown and the nuts will be wonderfully toasty.  If you can wait, let it cool.  If not, grab a handful.  You will not be disappointed.

Feel free to add your own flair.  I generally mix some ground flax seeds to the granola after it comes out of the oven.  Adding cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices to the mix is also lovely.  Raisins or other dried fruits are a natural addition to granola.  A bit of vanilla extract or vanilla bean infused in the liquids can’t be wrong.

Personally, I eat my granola every morning with a bit of Greek-styled yogurt and local honey or a bit of fruit.  Someday, I will have to share with you how I make my yogurt so you can know how amazing that process can be and how delectable the outcome!  The Philosopher drowns his granola in milk and adds fresh berries or bananas.  Since it’s fall, roast up some apples with cinnamon in the oven and top them with some granola and a little vanilla ice cream.  Simple apple crisp!  Toss your granola in your homemade trail mix, toss a few pieces in your pancakes after pouring them on the griddle for another breakfast treat, or give it away as a gift.  People love granola, yet most don’t realize how easy it is to make!  Last year, a good friend made homemade granola and packed it in gift bags for the holidays. Yep, that’s a great gift!

Store your granola in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  One batch usually lasts a few weeks around here.

So dear readers, wherever you are and whatever season your body thinks it is, cook and eat well.  How are you enjoying the changing seasons?






Welcome Back Dessert!

It’s been a long, cold spring.  Well it certainly felt that way without the the three fires of sugar, gluten, and dairy to keep us warm.  We survived and now, we celebrate.  Albeit the celebration is still fairly sugar, gluten, and dairy-free around here.  Or at least very light on those things.  Thankfully, summer produce offers us many scrumptious dining options without much of those heavy hitters.  Peaches have arrived in Central Ohio, which obviously calls for grilling those little treats and topping them with Jeni’s Pistachio and Honey ice cream.  This Jeni’s variety is mildly sweet, allowing the caramelized, peach flavor to shine.  Oh what a glorious time of the year!  This week, our CSA grew to include 5 summer squash!  Call me excited!  It’s time for zucchini bread!

We had a few events this weekend that called for just such a dessert.  Gaining inspiration from David Lebovitz, I tired a gluten-free  and lower sugar version of his Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze.

First for the gluten-free flour mix.  I ran across this recipe in the NYT recently and have used it for waffles, pancakes, pumpkin bread, and zucchini bread.  It seems to be up to most typical glutenous challenges.  The cornmeal and oat flour offers this blend a nice texture that I have appreciated in my cooking so far.  You may want consider texture when deciding how to best develop your flour blend.  The NYT article further suggests that a ratio of 70% grain and/or nut flours and 30% starches will yield the best blend.  The grain/nut flours include rice, cornmeal, sorghum, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, garbanzo, or almond.  The starches include potato, tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch.  With all those options, the combinations seem endless.  As always, I say it’s time to play!  Stop worrying about following recipes and have fun.  Your stomach will likely thank you in the end!

So, using this gluten-free flour blend, I made a zucchini cake.  Here’s what I did.

First, oil and flour (use the GF flour) 2 bread pans, 2 round cake pans, or a bunt cake pan.  Chop 1c of toasted almonds, walnuts, or pecans (I used almonds for my cake).  Grate 2 1/2 cups of zucchini or other summer squash.  I did this by hand, but a food processor would do just fine.  I often find that grating squash leads to lots of liquid.  I say keep it and make sure it gets in your batter.  That is the stuff of gooey, moistness.  In fact, I have been known to freeze shredded squash for winter baking.  The defrosted squash usually has a good layer of liquid that separates.  KEEP IT!

Ok, rant complete.  Now on with dessert.  Next I sifted together the dry ingredients:  2c GF flour, 1t baking powder, 1/2t baking soda, 1t salt, 2t cinnamon, 1t ground ginger, and 1/2t nutmeg.  In a separate mixing bowl, I creamed 3 room temperature eggs (if you want to go egg-free/vegan, use 3T ground flax and 1/2-3/4c water) with 1 1/2c sugar and 1c safflower oil.    I beat these together for about 3 minutes on a medium setting.  I added 2t of vanilla and began to slowly add the dry ingredients until they were all well incorporated and mixed an additional 30seconds.  Stir in the nuts and zucchini.  Spread into your pan(s).  I made 2 bread pan-sized loafs and they baked for 50 minutes at 350.  I began checking them at 40 minutes, if you opt to make a 2 cake pans, you may want to check fairly early also.  When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, pull the pans out and let them cool for about 10 minutes.  I would suggest you place a cookie sheet or some foil under your cooling rack to collect the best part of this recipe.  The glaze!

Remove the cakes from the pan and mix together 1/4c freshly squeezed lemon juice (this was about one lemon for me), 1/3c granulated sugar (that’s the regular stuff), and 1c powdered sugar.  Mix until well incorporatedand brush over the top of the cake, allowing it to run gently down the sides.  Allow your cake too cool at least until the glaze has hardened.  The crunchy exterior is the best part!  The lemony glaze is so bright and vibrant!  It really makes this cake sing!

Serve on your patio to your friends/neighbors/[family members] while watching your dog attack the neighbor’s boxer puppy.  Smile.  That’s summer.

Easter: New and Old

I grew up spending Sundays at my great-grandparents farm surrounded by second and third cousins not knowing the difference between them and my more immediate first cousins.  Sunny days spent climbing trees with the boys, picking wheat from he fields, and riding an occasional cow are memories that happily resurface every Easter when the entire collection of us gather again at my second-cousin’s home out in the middle of nowhere Ohio.  Now, the faces of the children are a little different, their parents were my playmates.  The faces of the adults have changed too.  Some, with the relaxed smiles found happily by granparents.  My playmates faces show their growing wisdom as parents and capable aunts and uncles.  While this Easter was overcast, our day was spent roaming through the damp grass towards the pond, in search of brightly colored eggs, or to catch a squirmy dog.  Oh yes, we also ate some delicious food.

This afternoon began with the sounds of children racing up and down the front walkway.  Laughter followed by squeals.  Repeat.  Soon, the adults caught the infectious laughter and began to play. Oh and trees were climbed.

Soon, it was time to hunt for those brightly colored gems.  The hiders had lots of opportunity for creativity.  Can you spot them all?

For the last few years, hiding eggs always brings back the story of the 2-3 years when the youngest child at Easter was about 12.  The adults insisted that we  hunt eggs anyway.  Remember your teenage years?  I bet searching for eggs at your family Easter was one of your favorite things to do when you were 15!

Thankfully, there were very willing participants this year.  In fact, they were fast!  I could barely keep up with their swift legs and quick hands.  Here’s a few favorite shots I caught.

The dogs also enjoyed hunting for eggs.  Check out Sophia’s look-a-like!

These dogs don’t mess around.

Don’t worry, at our Easter, every basket gets a chocolate prize!

After lunch, new activities filled the space.  Fish were caught and eaten (by dogs–I will save you the pictorial evidence).

Flowers were gathered.  Dogs became leaders.

But wait!  I said, “after lunch”.  What about the food?  I know, it’s a food blog.  I am getting back on topic.  Here’s some evidence of my family’s culinary skills.  Delicious, right?

I know it’s hard to tell, but the little boy has just shoved an entire cookie in his mouth.   Click the picture to see!

So, what do you make for Easter dinner when you are on a crazy diet? Grilled vegetable salad with quinoa, of course!  I cooked up 1c of quinoa according to the package directions.  In the meantime, I grilled 1 eggplant and 1 zucchini (cut into small chunks and tossed with oil) until well browned.  I also opened one large can of whole tomatoes and roasted them at 450 with 3 minced cloves of garlic and a generous drizzle of olive oil for about 45 minutes.  When everything was done, I tossed them together with a healthy bunch of fresh basil sliced thinly, salt and pepper.

Refrigerate until cool and serve (or serve hot–it’s great either way!)

I also made a quiche.  The Philosopher has begun adding foods back into his diet so we are now both allowed to have eggs.  Here’s how you make my asparagus and sun-dried tomato pesto quiche:

Add boiling water to 1c of sun-dried tomatoes (they can be packed in oil or simply dry.  If in oil, drain, but save it.) until plump. Put the tomatoes in the blender with 1/2c toasted sliced almonds, a bunch of fresh herbs (I used basil), salt, pepper, and the reserved oil.  I added a bit more olive oil and some of the soaking water.  Blend until a thick paste develops.  Save and lick the spoon!

Make a gluten-free pie crust, but leave out the agave.  (or leave it in, if you want a sweeter crust).  Press into a pie pan.  Have The Philosopher break 4 eggs and have your mother prepare a bunch of asparagus into 1″ pieces while you work on the crust.  Make sure The Philosopher removes all egg shells before continuing.  Add 1c of unsweetened coconut milk to the eggs as well as a generous pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Whisk together well and pour in the prepared crust.  Arrange the asparagus and plop pesto throughout until you are satisfied with your pretty creation.  Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes until it isn’t wobbly in the middle. Serve hot or at room temperature.  Tell your cousin it’s “Egg Pie” so it’s manly enough for him to try.

Sometimes things change drastically from year to year.  The height of a child.  The number of family members roaming the house.  The person behind the camera.  Sometimes things change slowly.  The lines of our faces.  The development of the combined wisdom. The trajectory of our lives.

There’s comfort in knowing that next year the calendar will call us all back again after life’s path has moved us forward, tugged us away, and changed in scenery.

A Philosophical Birthday

Oh the pets in our life.  What joy they bring.  This little lady is our neighbor’s boxer puppy who managed to wedge herself between the couch cushions so she could watch the world go by.  I didn’t get the picture of it, but she actually fell asleep in this position!

She was likely exhausted because the night before we celebrated The Philosopher’s birthday.  We planned on having an outdoor bonfire, but the rain and wind kept us indoors celebrating my humble spouse.  Well, at least half of that description is true.

I whipped up a few recipes you have seen before, but I made some changes for the party.  First, the garbanzo crackers appeared again, this time I substituted southwestern spices and served them with a black bean hummus.  I switched out the turmeric, cayenne, and paprika for 1t cumin and 2t chili powder.  Again, they had a lovely color and a great flavor.  I ran out to buy a cookie cutter to use for dessert and managed to walk home with 100 cutters.  This change led to me cutting everything into fun shapes, including the crackers.

The hummus was simply black beans, lime juice, fresh cilantro, cumin and a jalapeno (seeded) and pureed in the blender.  Throw the crackers on the side with some fresh veggies, don’t forget jicama, and the party is ready to start!

For dessert, I used this pie crust recipe, but turned it into short bread.  I upped the salt slightly and rolled it out thinly.  I used more cookie cutters to cut them into the Philosopher’s age.  13 or 31?  I baked them on parchment paper (but I think they would have been fine on cookie sheets that were unlined) at 350 degrees for about 5-7 minutes.  As you can see below, they quickly changed from golden brown to darker brown so be careful!  Not to worry though, they all got eaten, regardless of the shade.  I added some fresh berries and planted a few candles in strawberries.  Happy Birthday!

I doubt that I will have use for all 100 cookie cutters (I really never owned any before), but I was excited to learn that I now have a stegosaurus, a hand and foot, and lots of holiday cutters–just in case I need them!

I think this post goes to show that recipes can be really versatile.  Feel free to experiment!  Can’t eat strawberry shortcake right now because you are on a crazy diet?  I bet there’s a next best thing.  Actually, this adaptation was likely better than those gross, pre-packaged things at the store.  Are you on a crazy diet that makes it impossible to buy crackers?  Make your own!  And own the recipe for yourself!  Add fresh herbs.  Leave the herbs out.  Make a fun dip for them.  Eat them plain with a salad.

Basically, I am telling you, Go Play With Your Food.

And wish The Philosopher a happy birthday.  We will be celebrating all month long 🙂

The Diet: Day 33

A better title for this would be “A Go and A No”.  I made two recipes today and one was certainly a “Go Out There and Make This Now” recipe.  The other recipe may just be a “Nah, Don’t Bother”.  Can you guess which is which on sight alone?  I bet you can.

Let’s start with the “Go” since you probably would rather make a recipe that turned out well.

Garbanzo Bean Crackers

Stir together 1c garbanzo bean flour, 1t salt, 1/2t GF baking powder, 1/2t turmeric, 1/2t paprika, and a dash of cayenne together well.    Add 1t safflower oil and stir together.  Add 4-8T of water.  I added 3T and stirred well and kept adding water until I could form a ball with the dough.  I needed about 5T total.  Place the dough in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to rest (I covered mine well and it rested overnight).

Roll the dough out thinly and cut with a knife for pizza cutter into ~1″ squares.  You can also use cookie cutters to make fun shapes (how about fish for your kids?).  You can also be lazy and refuse to make each a perfect square, letting the ends stay ragged on some.  Prick with a fork to let out the excess air while baking.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  The edges should be lightly browned and the crackers should be fairly firm to the touch when they are done.  If you can easily press down on the cracker, as if the dough is still soft, they need a few more minutes. This makes about 2 dozen crackers.  You may want to double or triple the recipe if you plan to serve these at a party!

The Philosopher has just been munching on these alone.  I planned on making a white bean hummus-inspired dip to go with them, but they keep disappearing before I get the chance.  I think we may be onto something here.  What’s next?  Buckwheat crackers?  Brown rice crackers?  The sky’s the limit!

They turned out so well, I thought you would want to see another picture!  Don’t they look a lot like those fake cheese crackers kids love so much?  I bet you could fool your child into loving these healthy snacks!

Now, onto the “Nah…”  I am posting the recipe with the hope that a brave reader and friend will take my feeble attempt and actually make good cookies.

Coconut, Sunflower Seed and Oatmeal Cookies

The surprise is how they fell apart the moment you touched them.  Oops.

I based this recipe on one I made recently.  I am now eliminating all sugar from our diets, including agave.  I thought I would try to make these cookies without the raisins or agave.  And I did.  And they are ho hum.

First I made oat flour by putting 1c of GF oats in the blender until flour-like.  I mixed the oat flour, 1c GF oats, 1c almond meal, 1/2c shredded coconut, 1/4c stevia, 1/2t salt, and 1/2t cinnamon in a bowl together.

In a separate bowl, I mixed 1/2c sunflower seed butter, 1/2c safflower oil, and 1t vanilla.  I mixed the two bowls together and refrigerated for a few minutes until slightly hardened.  I formed balls using an ice cream scoop (I figured it was getting tired of living in the drawer) and flattened the balls slightly.  I baked them at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until the bottoms were golden brown and the tops were fairly firm to the touch.

The problems:  they fell apart pretty easily and they taste an awful lot like the stevia.

The good part:  they are nutty and crunchy and slightly sweet.  Pretty much what I want in an oatmeal cookie.

This recipe may happen again, if I can figure out a “glue” to substitute for the agave.  And I learn to like the after taste of stevia.  Thoughts?

The Diet: Day 24

It’s been a busy weekend!  What was hoped to be an in like a lamb spring break, has certainly been a little more out like a lion around here.  Friday, The Philosopher was off work and much needed spring cleaning commenced.  As well as cooking for an NCAA watching party.  It’s hard to cook for friends when you diet is so limited, but we did well.  I made black bean burgers based on my knowledge from Mark Bittman and the Day 20 success.  I roasted potatoes and made a papaya-cranberry juice “cocktail” for our guests.  Friends were kind enough to bring cheese, buns, kale chips, and a huge salad to share.  We started the second half with a pieces of gluten-free and vegan carrot cake with hopes of an OSU victory.  Well.  At least my cake was victorious.

Yesterday we took an impromptu trip to Toledo to visit The Philosopher’s family.  Today we helped our neighbor move the rest of her belongings in and found ourselves again at Northstar for lunch.  Wow.  What a shame 🙂

Now onto that last meal.  The veggie burgers used the same proportions as before.  I used black beans, oatmeal, and onions as a base.  I also added a chopped tomato, salsa, 2 jalapenos, chili powder, fresh cilantro, and cumin.  I tripled the recipe.  Don’t ask why.  I was being ambitious.  This time I baked them (I did make like 15 burgers or something crazy).  They again turned out lovely.  Some guests even had seconds.  Two people wanted to copy the recipe.  I made a batch of guacamole and had some salsa to top them.  Delicious! 

The “cocktails” were 2 parts papaya juice, 1 part cranberry-pomegranate juice, and 2 parts sparkling water.  I floated a piece of lime top of each glass.  Lovely!

Now, on to the interesting stuff.

Gluten-free, Vegan Carrot Cake

(adapted from Flying Apron’s Gluten-free and Vegan Baking Book)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment on the bottom of 2-3 round baking pans.  I only had two, so I just baked mine longer.  Either will be fine.

In one bowl mix together 2c brown rice flour, 1 1/4c garbanzo bean flour (or chestnut flour–if you can find it), 1 1/2t baking soda, 3/4t kosher salt, 1 1/2t cinnamon.

In a separate bowl mix 1c safflower oil, 2c water, 1t vanilla extract, 2c agave (or maple syrup or concentrated fruit juice, the author suggests pineapple-peach-pear).

Slowly whisk the flour mixture into the wet ingredients.  In the empty bowl, add 5 medium, grated carrots (or about 1 1/4c), 2 1/2c shredded, unsweetened coconut, and 1 c golden raisins.  If you can find walnuts or pecans you can have, add 2c chopped also.  All the baking nuts I can find are cross-contaminated with peanuts–so I left them out.

Add the carrot mixture until combined.  Distribute evenly in your pans and bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Mine took about 50 minutes as I used two 8″ cake pans and the recipe calls for three 9″ pans.  My cake was still wonderful, so don’t worry about the equipment you have, I bet a 13×9 would also work, just keep watching the cake and testing with a toothpick.  After the cake cooled for 15 minutes, I removed them from the pans to cool on a rack.

I iced the cake based on a recipe in the same cookbook for Coconut Heaven Frosting.

First, toast 4 1/2c shredded unsweetened coconut.  Place on a cookie sheet (after you have baked your cake) in a 300 degree oven.  Stir every few minutes until the coconut is browned evenly and fragrant.  Be careful not to burn the coconut!

In a mixing bowl combined 3c palm or coconut oil, 1 1/2c agave (or again, use the fruit concentrate), 1/8t kosher salt, and 1 1/2T vanilla extract.  Combine with mixer until all the ingredients are incorporated.  I looked closely for chunks of remaining coconut oil.  Add the shredded toasted coconut.

Make sure your cake is completely cool before icing.  Oops.  I skipped this step.  Ah well.  The good part?  Coconut oil melted into the cake, making it one of the most moist, rich delectable things to have left my kitchen in a long time.  The bad thing?  It was surely not a pretty cake when I was done with it.

The cake was so rich in fact, that few of us could finish our pieces.  Those of you that can drink coffee out there or those that love rich and moist baked-goodness, MAKE THIS CAKE.  Then make some coffee.  Enjoy together.  Be happy.

Until you notice the score on the TV.  Oh well.  Maybe next year.

The Diet: Day 21

Yesterday was my third day of spring break and I decided it was high time for come cookie baking and eating.  Who says that taking away gluten is the same as taking away baked good yumminess?

These cookies were super easy and quick to mix up.  They baked easily and I doubt you would miss flour or real sugar in them.  Trust me, these puppies are good!  They totally filled that sweet craving.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Mix 1c gluten-free oats, 1c oat flour (I put 1c oats in my blender until powdery), 1c almond meal, 1/2c unsweetened, shredded coconut, 1/2t salt and 1/2t cinnamon together in a bowl.  You could leave the coconut out, but I think it was a nice touch.  I was also thinking a tablespoon of nut butter could be a nice addition in the future.

In a separate bowl, I mixed 1/2c agave, 1/2c safflower oil and 1/2t vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients slowly into the dry until well incorporated.  Form ~1″ balls and flatten slightly.  Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until browned on the edges and slightly crispy.

For dinner I made a soy-free stir fry.  This has been hard, not being able to use soy sauce.  Mostly because it imparts such a dept of flavor in the background of food.  Last night, I thought I would try a take on one of our favorites, peanut sauce.  I used tomato paste and dried porcini mushrooms for umami. Here’s what I did:

First, I reconstituted 5 dried procini mushrooms in hot water, until they were softened.  I rinsed the mushrooms well and squeezed out the excess liquid.   I added the mushrooms, 2t sesame oil, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 2T minced fresh ginger, 1c water, 1/2t salt, 1T tomato paste, 1t coriander, 2/3c almond butter, 2T agave, 3T unsweetened rice wine vinegar, and 2t Asian chili paste (read your labels carefully, some have sugar added!) to the base of my blender and pureed until smooth.  Please, taste and play around with your seasonings!  More ginger?  Sure!  More vinegar?  Yes!  When I was happy with mine, I sat it aside and stir-fried some veggies and prepped rice noodles.  The sauce is pretty thin, but when you add it to the veggies it thickens over the heat and coats them well.  I used yellow squash, broccoli, and frozen peas for dinner last night.

While nothing beats a good peanut sauce with the loveliness of soy, this was exactly what I wanted.  Slightly sweet yet savory and salty.  Filling and warm, like our local good take-out meals always are.  All you purists may shudder, but we are eating well here!