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Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free…. and Delicious Pumpkin Pie!

Recipe coming soon – I had to take a picture before it all disappeared!

Carrot Cake Cooler

One of my friends usually requests a carrot cake as her birthday treat, but this year, she decided to forego the carrot cake as she wanted to begin the year with an eye towards better health.  So, instead of a high fat, high sugar (and yes, yummy) carrot cake, we had Carrot Cake Coolers to celebrate.  Usually I think about these for a warm weather treat, but they are actually great anytime.  Besides, after all that holiday eating, I’m sure your liver would be happy with the extra love from the carrot juice!

This recipe is adapted  from the Carrot Cake Cooler recipe in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean by Diane A. Welland, M.S., R.D.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tbls. fresh carrot juice
  • 3 tbls. reduced fat (lite) coconut milk
  • 3 tbls. unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 4 tbls. rice milk
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg

Combine the juices and milks, stir, and serve over ice with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg on top.

Christmas Cookies – Part of the Solution

After spending my life making tons of Christmas cookies full of fat, sugar, frosting, and sprinkles (of course!), this year, I decided to be more a part of the solution than the problem.  As much as I enjoyed making pretty cookies and sharing them with friends, I hated hearing about how everyone was sick after Christmas.  I know how sugar crashes your immune system (among causing countless other problems), and here I was, giving my loved ones little bundles of immunity-busting sugar.

This year, I decided to go against the grain, so to speak, and make treats that are gluten-free, refined sugar free, mostly grain free,  low in carbs, high in protein,and  high in fiber.  For you Paleo/Primal eaters out there, these are pretty close!

I used recipes from some well-known sources and tweaked appropriately.  Below is the list  – I encourage everyone to think about creating some new, healthier traditions and maybe try some of these recipes.  For those of you who have tasted some of the ones I made, let me know what you think. (Really!)

Molasses” Spice Cookies, by Elana Amsterdam – www.elanaspantry.com.  I substituted molasses for the yacon syrup since I couldn’t find it locally.  I’ll have to order some online and try them again, but these came out great using the molasses, and they ended up tasting like a gingersnap but they were soft and chewy like a molasses cookie.

Nikki’s Healthy Cookie Recipe from www.101cookbooks.com.  These have become favorites!

I used Elana Amsterdam’s recipe for Hamantaschen for the triangle-shaped cookies, and also used the same dough recipe for the  traditional Thumprint cookies, filling them with cranberry-blueberry fruit spread.

Pecan Shortbread from Elana Amsterdam’s book: The GlutenFree Almond Flour Cookbook which is highly recommended!

Dina’s Delightful Cookies from www.elanaspantry.com.  (I added 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and substituted date paste for the agave nectar – date paste is just dates and water put through the food processor till smooth…. ratio is 1 cup dates to 1/2 cup water).  I made one batch with raisins, then a second batch with apple juice-sweetened cranberries, some orange zest, and a dash of cinnamon.

Dark Chocolate Bark – dark chocolate with cashews, pistachios, raisins and apple juice-sweetened cranberries.

Pumpkin Coconut Milk Ice Cream with Pecans, Coconut and Chocolate Flecks

Remember, back in the day, when the leaves would begin to fall and the breezes started turning cool, what would we all start thinking about? Pumpkin. Pecans. Pies straight from the warm oven, the house smelling of cinnamon.  Was there any better way to welcome the change of seasons?  Around our house, my friend, Phil, and I always turned to our favorite recipe, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins, to start off the holiday baking.  I think I started the tradition, then he carried it on, both of us making countless little pumpkiny treasures with just that little bit of chocolate to surprise the eager recipient at our respective offices and Halloween parties.

From then on, it was all about the pies – pumpkin and pecan, of course.  “Yes, of course, I’d love a small piece of both please.  After all, it’s the holidays!”  Before we even got to dive into the Christmas cookies, we’d all be feeling awful, already putting on our holiday “puffiness” and stressed to the max from all those carbs and sugar.

Well, times have changed.  When you know better, you do better.  The leaves are falling and the breezes are just beginning to cool, so it’s time to create new traditions. Don’t be tempted to fall back into old habits that may sabotage your Primal progress.  Instead, reinvent your traditions, use your favorite ingredients, and transform them to something unexpected.

As a twist on my favorite dairy-free ice cream recipe, I decided to add pumpkin to help usher in the fall season as quickly as possible.  I included pecans and coconut because when toasted, they take on such richness and added dimension, and they provide a great contrasting crunch to the creaminess of the coconut milk and pumpkin.  For flavoring, I used vanilla paste along with a bit of vanilla extract.  I like using vanilla paste for the smooth flavor it brings, and besides, it’s just really cool stuff!  I love seeing all those tiny little specs of vanilla bean in the ice cream – it makes it all a bit more special. (Using just vanilla extract works fine, too).  As for adding some flecks of chocolate, well it’s chocolate.  ‘Nuff said!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/4 cup pulverized unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • 1 cup loosely packed dates (approximately 21 dates – add more if you like things on the sweeter side)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla paste + 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or use 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 – 3/4 tsp. ground ginger (to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut milk (I used full fat, but lite works too)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup small chunks of dark chocolate, melted and put in plastic bag for “flicking”

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line an 8×8 baking pan with foil, place chopped pecans in pan and toast in oven for approximately five minutes.  Keep an eye on them, and as soon as you get a whiff of toasty nuts it’s time for them to come out.  Put nuts into a bowl and set aside to cool.

Pulverize coconut using a mini chopper and put into same baking pan and toast.   Do not step away from the oven!  Seriously, it takes only a few minutes to toast coconut so no bathroom breaks.  Peek in after 2 minutes, shake the pan a bit to mix it up, and put back another minute or two until brown.  Add to bowl of nuts and set aside.

Put dates into a food processor and pulse a few times to rough chop.  Then turn on your food processor and let it go for several minutes until the dates get totally smushed,  scraping a few times along the way.  You want the dates as pureed as possible.

Add vanilla paste/extract and puree a moment longer.  Then add pumpkin, spices and pinch of salt, and pulse a few times until combined.  Slowly add coconut milk, puree until smooth.

Pour into a bowl and chill in refrigerator, or put into an ice bath to hurry up the process.  When cold, pour into your ice cream maker and start processing according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Now comes the fun part!  To add chocolate flecks, melt chocolate double boiler style (I use a small bowl over a saucepan of warm water) and pour into a plastic bag.  A few minutes before the ice cream is done, snip a small hole in the corner of the plastic bag and as the ice cream swirls around, slowly “flick” the chocolate into the mixture. The warm chocolate going up against the ice cream instantly freezes, making little flecks….. really!  Have fun with it and don’t worry about getting a little chocolate on your countertop, it’s just part of the creative process!

When you are happy with the amount of chocolate flecks you have “flicked” (ok, I couldn’t resist!), toss in pecans and coconut and let them swirl together for a few minutes.  By this time, your ice cream should be done.  Spoon into containers and freeze.

This ice cream will freeze to a very hard state, so be sure to take it out and set in refrigerator for about 20 minutes or so before serving. This ice cream is yummy anytime, but makes a great healthy (and Primal!) dessert for your holiday meals.

Variations:

Pumpkin Ice Cream is great plain, or with just the chocolate flecks.  You can also substitute walnuts, and try a bit of maple flavoring in place of the vanilla.

Pumpkin Snack Cake

This recipe is adapted from a Pumpkin Brownie recipe by Shelley of www.thisprimallife.com.  Anyone interested in a primal lifestyle should definitely check out her site.  This is a pretty generic recipe, similar to the nut butter muffins I make which are great for all of us with multiple allergies.  Shelley suggests getting creative with substitutions, and I look forward to trying lots of combinations.  The pieces shown above were made with the following recipe, but don’t stay in the box with this one.  Try different nut butters, spices, sweeteners, add-ins, etc. and if you come up with something you love, please share!

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 3/4 cup mashed pumpkin, fresh or canned
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup date paste*
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup currants

Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 8×8″ pan.  Bake at 350° for approximately 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  9 large servings.

* Date Paste:  Easy to make by putting about 1 cup of dates, 1/2 cup of water, pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon juice into a food processor.  Puree till smooth.  If you feel like it’s too sticky, add water slowly until you get the consistency you desire.

Ice Cream For The Rest Of Us

For those of us who can’t/won’t eat dairy products, ice cream has been a treat relegated to childhood memories.  Now we can enjoy a cold, creamy treat that is not only dairy-free, but refined sugar-free as well.  And with such an easy recipe, the possibilities are endless (not to mention that taste testing is awfully fun!).

Either full fat or the lite coconut milk work fine, although I’m loving the lite coconut milk I can get at Trader Joe’s. I am using dates as a sweetener because I have no tolerance for typical sweeteners.  Dates are so naturally sweet you don’t need to use a lot. I use anywhere between 12-18 per batch, depending on other ingredients.  It’s sweet enough for me, and I can have a small scoop without feeling that “sugar rush” or get any hot flashes, so that’s good enough for me!

  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk or lite coconut milk
  • Approximately 15 dates, more if you like your ice cream sweeter, less if you are adding fruit, chocolate, etc.
  • 1/2 tsp. flavorings/extract (vanilla, coconut, almond)

That’s it!  This is simple to prepare, although best results require a food processor and an ice cream maker.

First, put your dates into the food processor, pulse a few times, then turn on until they are as smooshed as possible.  Not sure that’s a true culinary term, but you need to keep processing the dates until they first get broken up, then they form a ball, then they smear all around the sides of the food processor bowl.  So…. smeared or smooshed, you get the idea.  You can add your bit of vanilla extract or whatever flavoring you like to the dates and it makes it a bit easier to get to the smeared stage.

Scrape all that down and add a bit of your coconut milk, and process so that the dates get incorporated into the coconut milk.  Continue scraping, adding coconut milk and processing until it is as smooth as possible.

Pour into ice cream maker and continue as directed by your machine’s manual.  With mine, it takes about 15-18 minutes, then put in containers and freeze.  Because homemade ice cream is really pure, it freezes very hard, so remove from freezer and either refrigerate for about 15 minutes or just set out on the counter for a few minutes before serving.  Just don’t forget it, or else you’ll be so disappointed that it’s melted!

This is a basic recipe, and it just begs for experimentation.  I’ve added chopped peaches, chopped bananas, pureed mangoes, had it just plain with a bit of vanilla and almond flavoring, and made a wonderful coconut version using coconut extract and pulverized unsweetened coconut (about 1/4 cup worked fine).  If anyone experiments, let me know what you come up with.  Or if you have any suggestions on flavors I should try, you can always suggest…!

Turkey Clafouti

Although this has an unusual name, it’s very much like a crustless quiche and is another great basic dish that can be used with countless different ingredients.  For years I have made a Plum Clafouti which is one of my all-time favorite deserts, but I had never seen it used with savory ingredients.

I originally saw this recipe on one of my favorite blog sites, Mark’s Daily Apple. Click over to Mark’s site to see the full explanation, and to see the original recipe which is a Chicken Curry Clafouti.  Since I’m not a curry fan, I decided to go in a different direction.  You could easily use this recipe with chicken, salmon, sausage, etc. but I am always looking for another way to use turkey, so tried this with some leftover turkey breast I had in the freezer.  I used a spice mixture that was specifically for turkey, used mostly for Thanksgiving dinners, I’m sure.  It made the house smell heavenly!  Give this a try using your favorite combinations and let me know what you come up with!

A few quick notes: I had come challenges with the clafouti getting brown too quickly, so make sure you keep a very close eye on it and start checking it at 25-30 minutes (recipe calls for a 45 minute cooking time).  I also think next time I’ll try reducing the oven temperature from 400° to 350° so it doesn’t brown as quickly but still cooks through.

Muffins!

Any of  you who have been attending the Healthy Priority get-togethers, or have just been hanging around with me lately, know that I’ve been really excited about making grain-free/sugar-free (and therefore low carb) baked goods that are really tasty.  Now, I am sure that people who are used to eating those small cakes that pass for muffins at your local grocery would be used to way more fat, sugar, and carbs.  But for the rest of us who try very hard to feed our bodies foods that help and not hurt, having these muffins are a real treat!

These two have been the favorite recipes so far.  Both come from Elana Amsterdam’s fabulous cookbook called The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.  It’s been mentioned on this site lots of time because it has become somewhat of the gold standard for baking with almond flour.  If you are interested in healthy, grain-free and low-carb baking, go buy her book!

Both of these recipes have been used and changed a number of times already.  These are the basic recipes, but try experimenting to make them your own.  One change is that I sometimes have used melted butter instead of the grapeseed oil just for a bit of richness.  I’ve used dried cranberries instead of blueberries in the Banana Blueberry recipe, and I’ve only tried the Cinnamon Apple Muffins using unsweetened apple butter in place of the agave nectar in the original recipe.  I might try applesauce next time, and maybe add some raisins?  You get the idea – be creative!  If you guys come up with some good variations, let me know in the comment section below so we can all share!  And don’t forget – these muffins taste fabulous with a spread of nut butter on them.  My favorite right now?  Homemade Macadamia Nut Butter.  Yum!

BANANA BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

  • 3 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbls. grapeseed oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups (4-5) mashed very ripe bananas
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.  In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil and eggs.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined.  Stir the bananas into the batter, then fold in the blueberries.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the muffin tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then serve.

CINNAMON APPLE MUFFINS

  • 2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (I used unsweetened apple butter)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbls. vanilla
  • 2 medium apples – peeled, cored, and diced into 1/4″ cubes

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line 10-12 muffin cups with paper liners.  In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, baking soda, arrowroot powder, and cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar, egg, and vanilla extract.  Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined, then fold in the apples.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the muffin tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then serve.


Ya Gotta Eat Breakfast!

Everyone knows that you just have to start the day with something nutritious, but when you’re sleepy and rushed, it’s hard to be inspired, so I asked everyone in the Healthy Priorities group to contribute their ideas for a healthy breakfast.  Well, we got great ideas!  Below is our list so far, but we’d love even more ideas.  What is your favorite healthy breakfast?!?

  • Turkey bacon / scrambled eggs with tarragon
  • Saute spinach/mushroom/onion/lemon juice – then add egg
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Breakfast salad (hard boiled egg/spinach or salad greens/topped with apple slices, nuts, oil and vinegar)
  • Quinoa flakes by Ancient Harvest (Cook and add toppings like oatmeal)
  • Smoothies
  • Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Farina Creamy Hot Cereal (Cook with raisins, top with almond milk, brown sugar or maple syrup and cinnamon)
  • GF or Almond Flour biscuits, muffins, or bread – really great spread with your favorite nut butter
  • Quiche (with either a GF crust or Almond Flour crust)
  • GF or grain-free pancakes, waffles, french toast
  • Vegetable Latkes
  • Sugar free Crisp or Cobbler using almond flour for protein
  • GF or Almond Flour pizza (who doesn’t like cold pizza for breakfast!)
  • Bone Broth or Soup (My favorite – nothing is better on a cold morning.  It’s warm, you get some veggie and protein and it’s light enough to not drag you down first thing in the morning.  A great option!)
  • My typical “grab -n- go” breakfast is a couple of bites of fresh fruit, and a couple slices of chicken or turkey

Making Sugar-Free Recipes

All the years I’ve been baking “free”, I’ve had good success with dairy-free, even gluten-free products.  The toughest challenge is always sugar-free.  Adding to that challenge is the sometimes heated discussions around so-called “natural” sweeteners which may or may not be all that healthful, or all that natural, come to think of it.  What is obvious is that most people are addicted to sugar, and most have a very difficult time giving it up, no matter how tragic the consequences are for eating it on a regular basis.

I just found a really helpful article on creating sugar-free recipes and lots of good information on the different type of healthier sweeteners that are available. (Click here).   Although I know that all sweeteners are problematic to some degree, it’s a decision that everyone has to make for themselves.  Each body is different and will probably respond differently to each sweetener, so listen carefully to your body and what it’s telling you, and how you feel after eating any type of sweetener to determine if any of them can be used safely, and always in moderation.

If you come up with any sugar-free treats that you like, I hope you share!