Monday, December 31, 2012

Monster Cookes

How many times have I made Monster Cookies over the past 4 years (since I first learned about them)? More than I'd like to admit. There was a period where I was making them for every bring-something potluck or dinner I went to, and also a period of time where I was making them about once a week for a on-going bake sale fundraiser to support a literary journal (along with cake pops), where I was a member of the staff.

The thing I like about Monster Cookies are that they basically work with what you probably already have in your kitchen -- peanut butter, sugar, oats, butter (or in my case, vegan butter or coconut oil or even just canola oil), eggs (ehm, fake eggs), and chocolate, nuts/seeds, and dried fruit. Or, whatever else you want to throw in them.

I haven't made them since switching to a vegan diet, though I have made vegan monster cookies before. And I haven't tried to consciously make them just a little better for you, while still definitely tasting like an indulgence. To be sure, these are cookies, and they are an indulgence, just so we're all clear. But some indulgences are worse than others, right??

What makes these monster cookies better for you? Well... that's a somewhat subjective question, but these cookies are:
  • Gluten-free
  • Vegan
  • Low in refined sugar (they use agave nectar and the pictured cookies also use Enjoy Life (vegan, gf, soy free) semi-sweet chocolate chunks
  • High protein (especially if you add seeds/nuts!)
They're also moderately low fat (only a small amount of oil is needed to help these cookies become chewy and crispy and soft, the perfect combo in my mind) since most of the fat comes from peanut butter. They include whole grains, and they can use dried fruits or nuts of whatever sort makes you happiest.

Monster Cookies (vegan, gluten-free)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
2 flaxseed eggs (2 tablespoons ground flaxseed combined with 6 tablespoons water)
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 1/2 cups gluten-free oats (quick oats works best, but I never have them on hand, so pictured you'll see old-fashioned oats)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups of any combination of the following (or whatever your heart desires): VGF chocolate chunks/chips, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, raisins, chopped peanuts, VGF candy-coated chocolate (i.e. - sunspire drops), coconut flakes, slivered almonds, banana chips, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, agave nectar, coconut oil, flax eggs, and apple sauce, and stir until well mixed. Add the oaths, baking soda, salt, and fruit/nut/chocolate combo. Stir well.

Allow the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes (especially important if you're using old-fashioned oats, because this allows them to become a little softer). Scoop the dough, by 1/4 cupfuls onto a baking sheet that has been lightly greased, or lined with parchment. Cook 12-15 minutes and allow to cool another 3-5 minutes on the cookie sheet, before trying to remove them.

Serve, or allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

NOTE: You can also make smaller cookies (say 2 tablespoons, 1/8 cup). If you opt for this, keep an eye on them while they cook and reduce cooking time to 10-12 minutes. They should be golden brown around the edges when they are ready.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sweet and Fluffy Coconut Cornbread

Confession: I grew up not eating sweet cornbread. In the south, sweet cornbread is well, a bit blasphemous. It wasn't until I left my parents' house that I got sweet cornbread on a regular basis. Does that mean that I love sweet cornbread? Hardly. Pretty frequently, I opt instead for a spicy cornbread with whole kernel corn and jalapenos.

But, today seemed like a good day for a nice, warm sweet cornbread that I could pair with a vaguely chili-like stew. A friend of mine recently attempted to make a coconut cornbread that used coconut flakes and coconut oil -- and was disappointed that the coconut flavor didn't come through very strongly. I wanted to increase the coconut flavor (you should think coconut! when you taste this) when I worked with this recipe. The trickiest part was figuring out how much liquid to use (I guess coconut flour absorbs a lot of liquid -- this definitely used more water than I expected and you should see my note below about this, in case it was my cornmeal and not my flour greedily hogging water).

This is a vegan, gluten-free recipe that gets baked in an 8 x 8 baking dish, though I imagine it would also do well if you cooked it in a cast iron skillet (and it would probably have a better crust on the skillet side!). Serve it with a hearty stew for dinner, eat it as a snack, or pour some warm milk on it and serve it as a warm cereal for breakfast -- whatever makes you happy.

Coconut Cornbread
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup agave nectar
1 cup water
1/3 cup coconut, almond, or soy milk
2 tablespoons vegan buttery spread (or coconut oil)
1 tablespoon canola oil

2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons flax + 6 tablespoons warm water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the dry ingredients (coconut flour through salt) together in a medium-sized bowl. In a small saucepan, over low heat, mix together the agave nectar, water, milk, buttery spread, and canola oil. Once the buttery spread has just melted, add the flax eggs to the liquid mixture, and then add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until smooth (note: you might need to add up to another 1/2 cup of water -- you want a batter that is a little thicker than cake batter).

Pour the cornbread mixture into a greased 8 x 8 pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, until it is golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Chocolate Orange Granola

I know, I know, you were thinking it'd been far too long since the last granola post, right?

I've started seeing Terry's Chocolate Oranges in the stores (and knock-off versions as well), and that reminded me of how, growing up, my dad and I would each receive a chocolate orange in our stockings at Christmas. I still enjoy the flavor of chocolate and orange together, at least from time to time, and because today is grey and gloomy (though also windy and warm, and beautiful in a slightly spooky way) it seemed like a good morning to try making chocolate orange granola.

As with my other granolas, this one isn't terribly sweet. If you like it sweeter, increase the sugar or agave nectar (in the directions, I'll have the amount I recommend increase in parentheses). The orange flavor is subtle, but then again, you probably don't want to overwhelm your tastebuds with super-duper-orange OMG goodness, or you'll cancel out the chocolate flavor.

The chocolate is also a moderately subtle flavor in this granola, which means you can actually still taste the oats and buckwheat groats -- which I appreciate, since they add their own complexity to the cereal. I bake this granola at a much lower temperature than most granolas I make since it does use cocoa powder and I definitely do not want that to scorch. If you decide to go with a little higher heat (like if you're crunched for time, I recommend not above 325, and stir more frequently).

Chocolate Orange Granola
4 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup buckwheat groats (not toasted)
1/2 cup brown sugar (2/3 cup if you prefer sweeter granola)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tablespoons agave nectar (3-4 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
10-15 drops pure orange oil

1/2 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all the ingredients except the water in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the water and stir until all the oats are evenly coated and moist. Spread the granola out on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Granola should be crispy when cool. Store in an air-tight container.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Product Review: Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chunks

Confession: I prefer using chocolate chunks in my baking over normal-sized chocolate chips. To me, it's more satisfying to bite into a chunk of chocolate, compared to a chocolate chip. The exception to this might be mini-chips, because you're pretty much guaranteed to get several in every bite.

Since one of my local grocers had the Enjoy Life (dairy, gluten, soy-free chocolates) semi-sweet chunks on sale, and because I have previously reviewed their mini chips, a quick note about the chunks seemed appropriate.

First of all, I find the white bag visually appealing on the store shelf. It's easy to spot, and sets these chocolate chunks apart from the browns and yellows that predominant the chocolate chips section of my local grocer. Score one point for that. I like it when I can quickly find the product I want -- it lets me escape the people who like to leave their carts blocking an entire aisle all the faster!

The chunks themselves aren't as MEGA as the bag would have you believe -- they're smaller than chocolate chunks I've purchased from other companies, which makes me a little sad, but at least they're still chunks! They have a nice, rich chocolate flavor and the ingredient list is short (if you don't understand the benefit of this, take a look at the ingredient list for any store brand of chocolate and see what I mean). These are friendly to all but the strictest vegans, and gluten-free (hooray! not all chocolate is gluten-free, which makes me sad). They aren't fair trade (or at least weren't when I checked in August and the bag still indicates they aren't), but the company assured me when I reviewed the mini chips that they work with the farmers.

I'm a skeptic on this point. But, hopefully they really are working in that direction and one day I can post an update that tells a different story.

Would I buy these again? Yes. Since they're spendy, I'd probably only buy these again when they're on sale. A fair number of chocolates are effectively vegan (though if you know someone very sensitive to lactose, you'd want to make sure they had chocolate that wasn't processed on machines that also process dairy) in that they don't contain animal products and gluten-free. But, with the sale at my grocer this week, this was cheaper than any of my other chocolate options.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cocoa Roasted Almonds

 Flavored nuts seem incredibly popular right now. Where I last worked, we often had a spicy chili-lime almond available, as well as toffee and mocha almonds. These made a nice snack, and, frankly can be pretty addictive (at least if you're me) -- but also a bit spendy, which is a problem on a small budget.

Fortunately, they can also still be (not too bad?) good for you because nuts are packed with protein and minerals. Almonds, in particular, work well because they're already naturally a little sweet and they don't seem to scorch as easily as some other nuts (walnuts, I'm looking at you!).

I had the chance to try straight cocoa roasted almonds after a martial arts seminar -- they're a great energy boost, and the small amount of quick sugar is nice after an intense workout. But, as Chelsey (whose post inspired the particulars of my version) points out, most of the commercial brands contains modified food starch of one type or another. I share her sentiment why?? modified food starch? Why?

I still use a highly processed flour here (sweet white rice flour), but I'm going to hold that that's still better than a modified version of a starch that's already starchy. It's not the by-product of a by-product. I opted for sweet white rice flour because it's already naturally a little sweet and very glutinous, which will help the cocoa powder bind with the agave.

That's right, this uses agave. It's vegan friendly, gluten-free, and has a lower glycemic count than the same snack made with many other sweeteners. If you have the option, buy your almonds in the bulk section of your local grocer -- it's probably cheaper than buying a bag of them and depending on your particular grocery store (and the time of year) the bulk almonds are likely a little fresher.

Cocoa Roasted Almonds
1 1/2 cups raw almonds
1 1/2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tablespoon sweet white rice flour (really, any flour would work)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a small bowl coat the almonds with the agave nectar, stirring until the almonds are evenly coated. Set aside while you combine the cocoa powder and white rice flour in a separate small bowl. Add the almonds to the cocoa powder mixture and stir until the almonds are evenly coated. Spread the coated almonds onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Roast for 25 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes so the chocolate doesn't scorch. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cranberry Orange Scones

Cranberry Orange Scones (Vegan, GF)
It's been a long time since I made scones -- almost 18 months! That's far too long, and it makes me a bit sad (okay, so really only a year since I made any type of scone). This basic recipe is one of my favorites, and now I've modified it to be vegan in addition to making it gluten-free.

When I first posted the basis for this recipe,I hadn't been eating GF for very long. I used Bob's Red Mill flour, and was incredibly excited when the recipe turned out edible. Now, I'm more confident in baking GF and I experimented with the flours some. Generally, if you're creating your own GF blend a 70:30 (flours to starches) ratio works pretty well. This recipe hits that pretty close, though it's a bit higher on starches, which causes the scones to be reminiscent of sweet English tea biscuits.

If you're already baking GF, there's a good chance you have these flours in your pantry. If not, you can find them online (like anything else) or in most grocery stores, on the baking aisle. Xantham gum might be the tricky thing to find (and I actually don't love using it -- you're welcome to try the recipe without it. It works, but is a bit more crumbly.) and this too is pretty readily available now.

Scones remind me of breakfast with friends in the Midwest. The last time I made these, I created a glaze for the top using citrus juice and powdered sugar. I don't have powdered sugar on hand and it didn't seem worth buying for just this recipe, but if you want a slightly sweeter scone, I recommend it.

Cranberry Orange Scones
1/2 cup sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/3 cup soy milk combined with 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice to produce "soy buttermilk"
1 tablespoon flax seed mixed with 2 tablespoons warm water

Optional Quick Cranberry Sauce (you can use sauce leftover from another project or meal too!)
6 ounces fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Place rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. 
 If you don't have leftover cranberry sauce, combine all ingredients from the Optional Quick Cranberry Sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the scones.
In a mixing bowl, sift together flousr, xantham gum, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. In another bowl, combine  soy buttermilk and flax seed mixture, then  beat lightly with a fork. Add to flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough. 
Turn out onto a lightly floured board (I used a little bit of sweet rice flour) and knead a few times to make sure the dough isn't too sticky -- it should hold together without sticking to your hands, but it shouldn't crack around the edges either. Roll or pat out into a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 8 large or 12 small squares. On half the squares, spread a thin amount of cranberry sauce(amount will depend on the size square you’re using and how much jam you want. I make small squares and use about 1 tablespoon sauce per finished scone). Place the remaining, squares on top to make a “sandwich.” Place scones on prepared baking sheet. and bake at 425 degrees F for 12-15 minutes, until they just begin to turn golden. 
Up Close, Golden Brown and Ready to Eat!