Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

This time of year, many people catch Pumpkin Fever, a perfectly harmless virus kept in check only by immediate administration of pumpkin pie, or other pumpkin-rich treat.

When you’re in the kitchen baking up a batch of tasty gluten-free pumpkin muffins, or pumpkin recipe of your choice (I recommend my Pumpkin-Date Blondies, which happen to be not only delicious, but vegan, refined sugar-free, and grain-free as well) you don’t have to wait for that timer to buzz. You can get a quick and easy pumpkin fix by sipping a wonderfully refreshing Pumpkin Pie Smoothie (also vegan, refined-sugar free, and grain-free). Bonus: It’ll keep you cool while the ovens heat up the kitchen.

You can use canned or homemade pureed pumpkin in this smoothie. If you roast your own pumpkin, it’s better to chill the pumpkin puree before using it in a smoothie. Hot, fresh from the oven roasted pumpkin is deliciously tempting, a lot of mine gets directly eaten as soon as it’s done, but for smoothies, it’s much better cooled off first. In fact, the more ingredients that are pre-chilled, the frostier your smoothie will be.

You can even freeze the coconut milk. Just measure out the desired amount of coconut milk and sliced bananas and place into a freezer bag. Carefully squeeze all the air out of the bag, seal it, and lay it flat in your freezer. A thin layer of coconut milk and banana works best. Don’t squeeze too many into a bag or you’ll end up with a tropical frozen brick. When you’re ready for a smoothie, take a bag out, gently bend it to break up the contents into pieces, and pour into your blender with the other ingredients.

To make your smoothie even frostier, make ice cubes out of some of the cup of coconut water ahead of time. The ratio of coconut water ice cubes to liquid coconut water will be determined by how well your blender handles ice.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Yield: serves 2

Calories per serving: 204

Fat per serving: 7 g

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut water (without added sugar)
  • 5-6 (40 grams) Deglet Noor dates, pitted
  • 1 tablespoon shelled hemp seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (canned or homemade)
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk (cooking kind, not coconut milk beverage)
  • 1/2 cup frozen sliced bananas

Instructions

  1. Put the coconut water, dates, hemp seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg into a blender jar. A high-speed blender works best. For a BlendTec, press the WHOLE JUICE button. For others, blend until smooth. If your blender is not very powerful, you may need to chop and/or soak the dates first.
  2. Add the pumpkin, coconut milk, and banana slices. Press the SMOOTHIE button, or blend until smooth.
  3. Serve as is, or top with whipped/chilled coconut cream, coconut cream froth, or your favorite gluten-free gingersnaps or graham crackers.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/pumpkin-pie-smoothie/

Be creative and add toppings to your Pumpkin Pie Smoothie. Chilled/whipped coconut cream is a classic vegan whipped cream replacement, but did you ever try Coconut Cream Froth?

I discovered Coconut Cream Froth one day when I didn’t chill my canned coconut cream far enough ahead in advance. It’s light, airy, and delicious, and will make you look like a vegan master chef.

You’ll need coconut cream, canned or UHT. Make sure there are no added gums or stabilizers. Pour it into a container with a tight fitting lid and extra room for shaking. Shake well, let it settle a bit, and a light frothy foam will rise to the top or stick to the lid. Like frothed milk for a latte.

Dee-lish! Makes me want to whip up a hot pumpkin drink just so I can top it with Coconut Cream Froth.

To give your Pumpkin Pie Smoothie a real pumpkin pie vibe, crumble some gluten-free gingersnaps or graham crackers on the top for a crust-like crunch. I’m not sure which gluten-free cookies are best. I generally try to avoid sugar, and now grains as well. If you have a favorite gluten-free cookie brand or recipe, especially grain-free or refined sugar-free, please share.

(This recipe was shared at: Tasty Traditions, Sugar-Free Sunday, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Keep It Real Thursday, Healthy Vegan Friday, Wellness Weekend, Pumpkin Potluck Party)

Sublime!

Fall may have fallen in some parts of the universe, but it still feels like mid-summer to me. So I’m glad for a cool, refreshing drink that’s as lovely to look at as it is to drink.

I love a good green smoothie, but let’s be honest. More often than not, they come out looking like mud. Tasty, healthy mud, but mud nonetheless.

That’s why I was simply tickled pink (or lime green!) that my Sublime Lime Smoothie came out looking as gorgeous as it is delicious and nutritious.

You can thank organic baby spinach for that lovely shade of green. Spinach is one of those Dirty Dozen veggies that are particularly high in pesticide residue, so buy organic spinach whenever you can. (Learn more about the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.) Baby spinach is very mild in green smoothies. It doesn’t make them taste like salad in a glass at all.

A trio of tangy ingredients helps the lime flavor pop. First of all lime, including the zest, organic if possible when eating citrus peel. Next pineapple for its incomparable sweetness and also hints of tartness that brighten the limey flavor. And finally, So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk.

Don’t have or never seen Cultured Coconut Milk before? You could substitute dairy kefir or another non-dairy beverage, but I encourage you to look for So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk. Ask for it at your local health food store. (Visit the So Delicious Dairy Free website to learn more about Cultured Coconut Milk and other dairy-free products or print a coupon.)

Cultured Coconut Milk is one of my favorite non-dairy smoothie bases. Goes fabulously with a wide variety of fruit flavors. It has 10 active, live cultures and is certified gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO. It’s also soy-free, nut-free, and the original flavor is refined sugar-free as well.

Frozen, sliced bananas for sweet, non-dairy creaminess, and a splash of vanilla round out the simple, healthy ingredient list. (Making your own vanilla extract is easy, economical, and fun. Check out my Making Vanilla Extract, part 1 post. Guess it’s time for a part 2 update cause the homemade vanilla turned out fantastic!)

Finally if you must gild the lime green lily (and I say, “Why not!”) chilled coconut cream is a decadently delicious choice. You can separate the cream from the liquid, whip it with a mixer, or any number of advance preparations if you like. I just chill the coconut milk or cream and scoop a dollop on top. Simple and delish. Don’t buy the low-fat kind with too much added water or you will have to separate it. Look for 60-100% coconut milk/cream in cans or tetra-paks.

Sublime Lime Smoothie

Yield: 2 servings

Serving Size: 8 ounces

Calories per serving: 107

Fat per serving: 2 grams

Sublime Lime Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1/2 organic lime
  • 3/4 cup So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk, Original Flavor
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups organic baby spinach, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup frozen banana slices
  • 3/4 cup frozen pineapple tidbits
  • (fresh pineapple, chopped and frozen or pineapple canned in juice, drained and frozen also works if you can't find frozen pineapple)
  • Optional garnish: thick coconut milk or cream, chilled

Instructions

  1. Zest the half lime and set aside the lime zest.
  2. For a high-speed blender, peel the half lime, making sure to remove any thick bitter white pith. The thin membrane is OK to leave.
  3. For a regular blender, juice the half lime. (about 1 tablespoon)
  4. Put the lime or lime juice and half of the lime zest into the blender jar. Add the remaining ingredients in the order listed.
  5. If you have a regular blender, you may want to chop the spinach first, or blend the spinach with the liquids a little before adding the frozen fruit, depending on how powerful the blender is or isn't.
  6. For a BlendTec, press the "Smoothie" button. For all others, blend until smooth.
  7. Garnish with a dollop of chilled coconut milk, if desired, and the remaining lime zest.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/sublime/

Are you a green smoothie fan? What do you like to put in green smoothies?

(This recipe was shared at: Fat Tuesday, Fit & Fabulous Friday, Gluten Free Friday, Healthy Vegan Friday, Wellness Weekend)

Mexican Fried Ice Cream Sundae

With the 4th of July behind us, summer is officially in full swing, and 100+ degree temperatures have finally caught up with southern California. Maybe you’re roasting where you are as well. To beat the heat, I’ve whipped up an easy, fun Mexican fried ice cream sundae topping, unfried.

Before I had to switch from gluten-free to completely grain-free, Attune Foods sent me a box of their gluten-free Crispy Brown Rice cereal. So although I don’t usually post recipes using grains anymore, I’m making a special exception for this post. I hope you enjoy it!

Attune Foods’ Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice cereal has a fresh nutty taste. My daughter loves it with milk for breakfast. What I love about serving her Attune Foods’ gluten free crispy rice cereal is that it’s made from 3 simple ingredients: organic brown rice, organic brown rice syrup, and sea salt. In addition, it’s certified gluten-free and non-GMO, and has less than 1 gram of sugars per serving.

Beyond breakfast, this is a versatile cereal for cooking and baking. Use it in any recipe that calls for Rice Krispies. Crush it up and use it as a handy gluten-free bread crumb substitute or homemade chicken nugget coating. And definitely try it in my Mexican Fried Ice Cream Sundae Topping recipe below.

Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Nectar is a delicious low glycemic alternative to agave nectar or corn syrup. A vegan alternative to honey. It’s also organic, gluten-free, and non-GMO.

Coconut nectar has a milder taste than coconut sugar. It doesn’t taste like coconut, so you can use it in just about any recipe calling for a liquid sweetener. Try it in sweet iced tea for another refreshing summer treat.

It’s still a concentrated sweetener, though. So be sure to enjoy raw coconut nectar in moderation.

When making the Mexican Fried Ice Cream Sundae Topping recipe, if you don’t have any coconut nectar, try a spoonful of honey, sorghum molasses, or a liquid sweetener of your choice in its place. For a vegan version, use coconut oil in place of the butter. Substitutions will change the flavor somewhat, and might change the texture slightly, but should probably be fine.

If you don’t have hemp seeds, you can still make the topping without them, but hemp seeds add a nutty, nutritional boost loaded with protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Plus, hemp seeds are just plain yummy.

Mexican Fried Ice Cream Sundae Topping

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 cup topping

Serving Size: 1/4 cup

Calories per serving: 84

Fat per serving: 4 g

Mexican Fried Ice Cream Sundae Topping

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Nectar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup Attune Foods Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Gluten Free Cereal
  • 1 tablespoon raw shelled hemp seeds (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in the microwave in a glass bowl.
  3. Add the coconut nectar and cinnamon and stir to combine.
  4. Add the cereal and stir to coat completely. Crush some of the cereal on the sides of the bowl as you stir, leaving some of the cereal uncrushed.
  5. Add the hemp seeds if using and stir to combine.
  6. Spread the topping mixture in a pan lined with parchment paper or tinfoil and bake for about 5 minutes or until the uncrushed cereal is crispy. The small clumps of crushed cereal will be slightly chewy. Watch carefully that the topping does not burn.
  7. Sprinkle on top of vanilla or coconut ice cream. Add berries if desired.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/mexican-fried-ice-cream-sundae/

Free-From Ice Creams

Two free-from ice creams you might want to try with this recipe are Clemmy’s Rich and Creamy and Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss.

Clemmy’s ice cream is sugar-free, lactose-free, and gluten-free. The Vanilla Bean flavor is made with real vanilla bean specks and extract, so it has a bold vanilla taste. It’s creamy with the texture of soft-serve. There’s just a touch of gumminess though. Toppings help to hide that.

Clemmy’s is sweetened with sugar alcohols: maltitol and xylitol. Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, are not sugar or alcohol. They’re carbohydrates that aren’t completely absorbed by the body, and therefore reportedly have a lower effect on blood sugar. They’re used in diabetic and low-carb products. Sugar alcohols do not promote tooth decay. The bacteria in your mouth can’t digest them either. My daughter’s dentist recommends xylitol-sweetened candy to prevent cavities. Some sugar alcohols are also prebiotics.

Sugar alcohols come with a warning: “Sensitive individuals may experience a laxative effect from excess consumption of this ingredient”. If you’re not familiar with sugar alcohol-sweetened foods, take heed of this warning and stick to small serving sizes until you know how your body reacts. Some of these products give me severe stomach cramps so I usually avoid them.

Maltitol is most often manufactured from corn, occasionally wheat, but is classified by the FDA as gluten-free. So watch out if you’re avoiding GMO foods or grain products. Consider the benefits and drawbacks and your individual situation when deciding if you should indulge in sugar alcohol-sweetened products.

Coconut Bliss is well-named. True bliss. It’s gluten-free, low-glycemic, organic, and vegan. Creamy, blissfully delicious, and coconutty.

The only thing I would change about Coconut Bliss is to remove the agave syrup and replace it with coconut nectar. I’m not completely sold on agave nectar, but do indulge from time to time in products like Coconut Bliss ice cream because the rest of their ingredients are so superior (for example: organic coconut milk, organic dried coconut, organic coconut extract, organic fair trade vanilla extract). I recommend the Naked Coconut flavor with the Mexican Fried Ice Cream Sundae Topping.

What’s your favorite summertime ice cream sundae?

If you can’t find these foods at a store near you, you can buy them online at Amazon:
Attune Foods’ Erewhon Organic Gluten Free Crispy Brown Rice Cereal
Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Nectar
Nutiva Organic Shelled Hempseed

(This recipe was shared at: Gluten Free Friday)

Happy Father’s Day!

Mom, Dad, and I

When I was little and our family visited Disneyland, my dad’s favorite treat was a chocolate-covered frozen banana.

He couldn’t wait till afternoon came and it warmed up enough for the ice cream vendors to roll out their carts. So these frozen fruit pops are for my father.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

I’ve given them a bit of an update and a healthy makeover, adding strawberries and taking away the refined sugar and other additives. Raw carob powder provides natural sweetness and cocoa powder provides chocolate-y goodness. The combination of carob and cocoa comes out to be about as sweet as dark chocolate, making it a nice counterpoint to the intense sweetness of ripe fruit. If you prefer a sweeter coating, add a little of your favorite sweetener to taste.

Carob

Carob is rich in calcium and other minerals, as well as antioxidants. It is said to be good for digestion and lowering inflammation. I don’t consider carob a chocolate replacement, though. The main thing carob has in common with chocolate is its color. Instead I use carob for it’s own unique properties and taste.

Cocoa

While you can use either natural cocoa powder or Dutch processed cocoa in this recipe, I prefer Dutch processed cocoa for making the fruit pops’ coating. Dutch processed cocoa is treated with an alkali, which neutralizes some of the cocoa’s acid. This makes the cocoa powder darker and slightly reddish. The darker the cocoa powder, the more acid has been removed. Black cocoa powder, what gives Oreo cookies their deep color, has had most of the acid removed.

Cocoa Powders: Natural on the left and Dutch Processed on the right

You would imagine that darker cocoa powder would have a stronger flavor, but it’s actually more mellow. Dutching takes away the bitter, sour, and fruity notes of chocolate. If you are a chocolate aficionado, you will probably pick up on this. However the amount of chocolate is small in relation to the amount of fruit, and my tasters couldn’t tell a difference.

Dutching also makes the cocoa powder dissolve more easily. Natural and Dutch processed cocoa are interchangeable in some recipes. When baking soda is called for in a recipe, you should use natural cocoa powder, because the acids in natural cocoa are needed to react with the baking soda and make the batter rise.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is what makes this coating harden like Magic Shell topping. Coconut oil is a solid at temperatures under 76° F (24.4° C). When the topping touches the frozen fruit, it hardens in a matter of seconds! (Click here for more about coconut oil.)

Fruit

Bananas are the traditional frozen fruit treat. They’re sweet, creamy, and they freeze well. Use ripe bananas that have a few brown spots. This is a great way to use up ripe bananas before they go bad, especially in the summertime when they ripen so quickly. Don’t use under-ripe bananas, which will tend to be hard, starchy, and not very sweet or creamy.

I’ve added fresh summer strawberries, since they are at their peak in June. Strawberries work in this recipe, but freeze a little harder than bananas, due to their higher water content. Experiment with your favorite fruit to see what you like best!

Frozen Fruit Pops

Frozen Fruit Pops

Ingredients

  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons raw carob powder
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder for raw pops)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • OPTIONAL
  • chopped toasted nuts
  • unsweetened macaroon coconut

Instructions

  1. At least 4 hours ahead or overnight, cut the bananas into approximately 1 inch chunks, and remove the strawberry cores.
  2. Stack the fruit onto lollipop sticks. I place a strawberry on the bottom and a banana chunk on top because strawberries take a little longer to thaw than bananas. With the banana on top, it will get eaten first and give the strawberry more time to soften. For frozen bananas on a stick, cut the bananas into halves or thirds.
    I don't recommend using bamboo skewers. They have a sharp point and tend to break easily.
    You can also simply freeze the fruit pieces without sticks for frozen fruit bonbons.
    Place the fruit into freezer bags in a loose single layer so they will not stick to each other. You can also harden the fruit on a tray in the freezer for a short time before putting them into freezer bags. Just don't leave the bananas open to the air in the freezer overnight or they may turn brown.
  3. Add the carob, cocoa (or cacao) and vanilla to the coconut oil, and stir until all the powders are dissolved and the topping is smooth. A glass measuring cup is a good thing to mix the topping in.
  4. If the room temperature is too cool, the coconut oil may not stay liquid. Place your cup/bowl of topping into a larger bowl of hot water to make a water bath as shown below. Be careful not to splash water into the topping.
    For a sweeter topping, add a bit of sugar, stevia, or the sweetener of your choice and mix well. Be sure to dip a piece of frozen fruit to try it out first, because the topping tastes different depending on whether it's liquid or hardened.
  5. Working quickly, dip the fruit into the topping. You can tilt the cup/bowl to more easily coat the fruit completely. A thin coating is best. If you work too slowly, the coating will be thicker.
  6. Place the coated frozen fruit onto parchment or waxed paper. If you don't want a flat side on your fruit pop, hold it up in the air until the coating has hardened before placing it down.
  7. If you are dipping fruit without sticks, use a fork or spoon to place the fruit into the topping and lift it out again.
    If your fruit starts to thaw, put it back in the freezer to harden up before dipping. Melted ice crystals on the surface of the fruit will curdle the topping.
    OPTIONAL
    To add chopped nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on quickly after removing the fruit from the topping. If you're too slow, the coating will harden before the nuts/coconut have a chance to stick.
  8. Serve immediately or place in freezer bags and return to the freezer until you're ready to serve. If the fruit has frozen very hard, you may need to wait 5 or 10 minutes before eating.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/happy-fathers-day/

Tea Time

Dad, you probably won’t be having a Father’s Day tea party, but without the sticks, the frozen fruit pops would make wonderful frozen fruit bonbons for a summer tea. You could also serve them with or without sticks at a Father’s Day barbecue.

Frozen Fruit Bonbons for a refreshing summer tea

What kind of fruit would you like to use to make frozen fruit pops?

(This recipe was shared at: Raw Foods Thursday, Gluten Free Friday)

Coconut-Date Chocolate Bonbons

These bonbons are simply amazing. In a word, paleo crack. OK, that’s two words, but you get the picture. Chocolatey, coconutty goodness. Like an inside-out Mounds bar.

Their secret ingredient is coconut butter. (That and dates, but you already know where I stand on dates. For more on dates, see my post, California Chocolate Pudding.)

Coconut butter is simply dried unsweetened coconut, pureed into a smooth paste. Similar to peanut butter, except way more delicious. If you’ve never had coconut butter before, you’re in for a real treat. You can use it in smoothies, sauces, baked goodies, and more. But my favorite use for coconut butter is making delicious, healthy, whole food candies. After all, who said life can’t be sweet just because you don’t eat refined sugar?

Because coconut butter is a whole food, you get all the nutritional benefits of the entire coconut. Fiber, protein, oil, vitamins, and minerals. They’re all in there.

You’ll most likely find two different brands of coconut butter on your health food store shelf, Artisana Coconut Butter and Nutiva Coconut Manna. They’re both made from organic whole coconut, both are equally delish, and both work well in my bonbon recipe.

The main differences are that Nutiva is less expensive than Artisana, and Artisana is raw and produced in a gluten-free facility. Whichever one you choose, just be sure to warm the jar well and stir the oils in completely before using for the best texture. When cold, coconut butter can have a bit of a gritty texture.

In a pinch you can make your own coconut butter, although it will probably not be as smooth as the kind you buy. That may not matter once you mix it into the candy. It’s not like you’re spreading it on toast or anything. (Although people do report that coconut butter is delicious on bread. I can’t say from experience.) Just put some shredded, unsweetened dried coconut into your food processor and process away, until it turns into butter.

Because these bonbons use cocoa powder rather than melting chocolate, they’re quick and easy to make. No need to worry about temperatures, splashing water, or chocolate seizing or scorching. Quick. Easy. Delicious.

Coconut-Date Chocolate Bonbons

Yield: 30 tablespoon-sized bonbons

Coconut-Date Chocolate Bonbons

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder or raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, preferably unrefined
  • 1/2 cup coconut butter
  • A generous 1/2 cup unsweetened macaroon coconut, lightly toasted if desired

Instructions

  1. Soak the dates in 3/4 cup water for 30 minutes. (The easiest way to measure is by volume: Use a clear liquid measuring container and add the water to the 6 ounce line first. Add chopped dates until the mixture reaches the 10 ounce line.)
  2. (If you have a high-powered blender like a BlendTec or VitaMix, room temperature water is fine. For a regular blender, the dates will be smoother if you put the 3/4 cup water and dates into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, place a lid on the pan and soak for 30 minutes.)
  3. While the dates are soaking, warm the jars of coconut oil and coconut butter in a bowl of hot water until the coconut oil is liquid and the coconut butter is softened and pourable. (Make sure the lids are on tightly so no water gets inside the jars.) If the oil has separated to the top of the coconut butter, stir it back in until smooth.
  4. Blend the dates and soaking water in a blender until smooth. (On my BlendTec I use the 'Whole Juice' cycle.) Push the mixture down the sides to the bottom of the blender jar with a spatula.
  5. Add the vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder and pulse to combine.
  6. Pour the date-cocoa mixture into a bowl. You'll need a spatula to get all the chocolatey goodness out. Add the coconut oil and coconut butter. Stir well until smooth and combined completely.
  7. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more, until the mixture is the consistency of fudge.
  8. Roll the mixture into tablespoon-size balls. The heat from your hands may slightly melt the surface of the balls, but the entire ball should not melt. If the rolling is too messy, the bonbon mixture may need more chilling time. Return the bonbon mixture to the refrigerator for 5 or 10 minutes more and then try rolling again.
  9. Place the bonbons onto a pan or sheet of parchment paper. Refrigerate for a few minutes to firm up the bonbons if desired.
  10. Roll or gently press the bonbons in unsweetened macaroon coconut.
  11. Can be served chilled or at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator.
  12. VARIATIONS
    • Roll some of the bonbons in different colored cocoa powders.
    • If you're serving the bonbons immediately you can roll them in coconut sugar.
    Coconut sugar will soak up moisture from the bonbon, so roll once, set aside and when the coconut sugar has melted into the surface of the bonbon, roll it one more time in coconut sugar. Rolling a second time ensures a longer-lasting coating. A coconut sugar coating will not last overnight though. The coconut sugar will soak up so much moisture that the bonbons will be sitting in syrup (a delicious syrupy mess).
    • Coating the bonbons in a mixture of half coconut-sugar and half-cocoa powder is another option. The coating will look more like cocoa powder, but taste a little sweeter.
    • Try putting a whole nut or a generous pinch of chopped nuts inside the bonbon. Chopped, toasted macadamia nuts make a delicious bonbon filling.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/coconut-date-chocolate-bonbons/

Have you tried coconut butter before? What’s your favorite way to use it?

(This recipe was shared at: Chocolate Coconut Party, Sugar-Free Sunday, Made from Scratch Monday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Raw Foods Thursday, Gluten Free Friday)

California Chocolate Pudding

Vegan desserts. Just another culinary oxymoron like white chocolate or healthy junk food?

Technically it is possible to make all kinds of sweet treats from donuts to red velvet cupcakes without animal products. While many debate what it means to be a vegetarian, the definition of vegan is crystal clear: no animal-sourced ingredients, period. But when I think of vegan cuisine, I think of fresh, natural, healthy whole foods which only happen to be, by the way, animal-free.

dates
Raw agave syrup and organic cane juice certainly have more syllables than sugar. Unfortunately, more syllables does not equal healthy or natural. Try sweetening your treats with a natural, delicious, healthy whole food such as dates. (While dates do have fewer syllables than sugar, that’s not what makes them so healthy. ;-) )

Dates are my all-time favorite natural sweetener. They add a rich, complex sweetness to desserts and are delicious in savory dishes too. They are a good source of potassium and other minerals. I have never personally had a blood sugar problem or carb intolerance with dates, but if blood sugar or food intolerance are issues for you, it’s always a good idea to consult your health care provider first.

What makes dates a healthy sweetener is that they are a whole food: the fiber and nutrients have not been removed. Beets and sugar cane were also healthy whole foods once upon a time before they were processed into sparkly white powder. While honey and maple syrup are certainly natural, to your body they are primarily sugar with traces of nutrients. I prefer to use maple syrup and honey as sweet flavorings rather than as a sweetener. Think spoonfuls, not cupfuls.

I usually soak dates in water or some other liquid and blend them into a smooth date butter for use in desserts. A high-powered blender like a Blend-Tec or VitaMix is perfect for this. (but not absolutely necessary if you don’t have one.) Use more or less liquid depending on the consistency you’re looking for. To try date-sweetened desserts, you can start with my easy California Chocolate Pudding recipe below, but don’t be afraid to experiment with dates in your favorite recipes.

Some people like to use date sugar, which is simply finely ground dried dates (still a whole food, nothing’s been removed but the water, which dates don’t have much of to begin with). I’ve never tried date sugar myself, but I’ve heard it’s a good substitute for regular sugar in recipes. If you have experience with date sugar, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

recipe makeover
Here’s a classic vegan recipe: Chocolate Avocado Mousse.

Chocolate. Avocado. What’s not to love? How about those unhealthy (and unnecessary) sweeteners? I’ve replaced them with, surprise, dates! Healthy and delicious. And of course, still gluten and dairy free. I’m new to paleo and therefore, still learning, but I think we can call this recipe paleo-friendly as well. I’m not going to call it mousse, though. Mousse means foam in French, and although it certainly is creamy (thanks to our good friend, avocado), foamy it is not. Pudding is just right. And I’m calling it California pudding because, well, here in sunny southern California, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by avocado and date trees!

It’s pudding, not chiffon cake. The recipe’s not going to fall flat or explode if you change a thing or two, so feel free to experiment and add your own special touch. If you’re a chocolate aficionado, see how different cocoa powders taste in the pudding. A mix of half regular cocoa and half raw cacao powder is divine! 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in place of the 1 teaspoon vanilla is a good variation. Another is: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. If I hadn’t tossed out all my coffee, I would give espresso a try in the pudding, either brewed in place of the water or add a spoonful of instant. Please come back and share the results of your variations with me!

This is perfectly sweet if you’re used to the mild sweetness of real dark chocolate or if you generally avoid refined sugar in your diet. If you prefer a sweeter dessert, replace some of the water with maple syrup or your favorite liquid sweetener. Or simply pour the maple syrup over the top like a chocolate-maple sundae.

My favorite way to serve California Chocolate Pudding is with sliced bananas. Fresh berries are great, too. Macadamia nuts are a super paleo topping. Trader Joe’s sells dry toasted, chopped macadamias now, which are as fantastic on salads as they are on chocolate pudding. But I digress, let’s get on to the recipe, shall we?

California Chocolate Pudding

Yield: 4 servings

Serving Size: 3/4 cup

California Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 cups mashed avocado (about 2 medium)

Instructions

  1. Soak chopped dates in water. For a high-powered blender cutting the dates into fourths is enough. For a regular blender or food processor cut into smaller pieces and use hot water. (The easiest way to measure is by volume: Use a clear liquid measuring container and add the water to the 8 ounce line first. Add chopped dates until the mixture reaches the 12 ounce line.) Let them soak for 1/2 hour.
  2. Blend dates and water until smooth. In a Blend-Tec use the "Whole Juice" button. In a food processor, start out with just the dates and add the soaking water gradually to avoid leakage. Push mixture down with a spatula as necessary.
  3. Add the vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder and pulse to combine. Push mixture down with a spatula as necessary.
  4. Add the mashed avocado and pulse to combine until smooth. (Mashed avocado is both easier to measure accurately and easier to blend smoothly into the chocolate mixture. The final mixture will be somewhat thick and you will not be using your machine to smash the avocado, just to combine it with the other ingredients.)
  5. If necessary, add extra water a tablespoon or two at a time to help the ingredients combine smoothly. (Avocado is a natural ingredient, after all, and sometimes they vary in their moisture content. Adding more water can also make the pudding less thick if you prefer a lighter consistency.)
  6. Chill before serving.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2012/california-chocolate-pudding/

(This recipe was shared at: Gluten Free Friday)

Pasta 1-2-3

Need a delicious gluten-free meal in a hurry? Take 3 pantry ingredients: brown rice pasta, fire roasted diced tomatoes, and tuna packed in olive oil, add a few favorite seasonings to make it your own, and you’ve got dinner in not much more time than it takes to boil a pot of water.

Brown rice pasta is delicious in its own right. I often ate it even before giving up gluten. But you have to cook it right.

Cooked correctly, brown rice pasta has a wonderful bite, slightly softer than semolina pasta, but not gummy or sticky. Just about every package you’ll ever find says BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERCOOK. Don’t ever disregard that warning.

Tips for cooking brown rice pasta

If you’re not accustomed to cooking brown rice pasta, choose a short macaroni style like penne. Less likely to stick to each other than a long pasta such as spaghetti. Brown rice pasta is very mild tasting. Generously salt the water to bring out its flavor. Turn off the burner about 2 minutes before the suggested cooking time is over and place a lid on the pot. When the time is up, check the doneness and always rinse well in cold water after draining.

Pasta improv

A 28-ounce can of fire roasted diced tomatoes sauces a 16-ounce package of pasta perfectly. I add one 5-ounce can of tuna packed in olive oil, but you might prefer two. Or if you’re vegetarian, maybe you’d rather add mushrooms instead.

While the water boils, prepare the sauce. I start with the seasonings:

  • crushed garlic
  • fresh oregano and thyme
  • sea salt (not too much salt at this point, the canned tuna contains added salt)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • a generous pinch of ground chili
  • smoked paprika to bring out the smokiness of the fire roasted tomatoes

Heat a large pan over medium and drain the olive oil from the tuna into the heated pan. Add your choice of seasonings and cook several minutes. If anything sticks, add a spoonful of tomato juice from the can. Next add the tuna and cook a couple minutes more, stirring to combine well. Finally add the can of tomatoes, juice and all. Bring to a simmer and taste. Add a pinch of sugar if desired (I like coconut palm sugar) and adjust the other seasonings as well.

By now your brown rice pasta should be done. Drain and rinse well in cold water. Make sure the water is drained well after rinsing, then add the cooked pasta to the sauce in your pan. Combine gently and heat thoroughly, until the pasta is hot again and any liquid in the pan is reduced. Splash a bit of good quality olive oil in if desired, and serve.

Have fun!

This is not a “recipe”. Don’t worry too much about measurements or duplicating my ingredients exactly. Relax and have fun with it. If you’re unsure how much to use, add a little, taste and add more if needed. Remember you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.

Use your imagination and the ingredients in your pantry to make it different each time. Olives go great with tuna. Sheep’s milk feta is wonderful with fire roasted tomatoes. Fresh basil. Dried herbs. Minced onions and celery. Chopped green veggies. What would you add?

Creamy Avocado Vinaigrette


Make the most of the final days of summer with this fresh and tangy avocado salad dressing. (I know the calendar says autumn, but here in southern California, the weather doesn’t always listen to the calendar.)

Creamy avocado vinaigrette will go wonderfully with romaine lettuce and the last home-grown tomatoes from your garden. If autumn has already settled in, pair your avocado salad with your favorite soup for the perfect light dinner combination for chilly evenings.

Finding salad dressings on store shelves free of gluten, dairy, egg, soy, and sugar is a losing proposition. Especially when it’s so quick and easy to make your own from scratch. Avocado makes it deliciously creamy and nutritious. You can even use this avocado dressing as a dip for raw veggies or your favorite gluten-free chips.

Creamy Avocado Vinaigrette

Total Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1-1/2 cups

Creamy Avocado Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup unfiltered raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup unfiltered cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel and seed the avocado, and peel the garlic clove.
  2. Blend the avocado and garlic in a food processor until the avocado is creamy and the garlic is finely chopped.
  3. Add the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar and process until blended.
  4. Add the sea salt, smoked paprika, and pepper, and process until mixed in.
  5. Add the olive oil. You can pour it in slowly while the food processor is going or simply pour it all in at once. Blend until the oil is fully emulsified into the dressing.
  6. Taste, and add more salt, paprika, or pepper, if desired.
  7. Garnish with a sprinkle of smoked paprika, if desired.
  8. Chill to thicken.
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2011/creamy-avocado-vinaigrette/

(This recipe was shared at: Raw Foods Thursday)

Butternut Squash Soup Improv

Remember that half of a pureed butternut squash from my mac & cheese? Well, here’s the soup it grew up to be: Indian-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Soup is the ultimate improvisational food. I can’t resist the lure of a large soup pot on a cold day. It’s so much fun to throw in a bit of this and that, plus all my favorite veggies. Simmer, taste, and adjust the seasonings for soup perfection.

I didn’t have a whole day to devote to broth- and soup-making, so I sauteed a small onion together with a garlic clove, added an Organic Country Herb Medley bouillon cube (from Edward and Sons Trading Company) and a dash of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Organic Country Herb Medley bouillon cubes are gluten-free, vegan, and made from yeast extract, a variety of herbs, and sea salt. When you don’t have time to make homemade broth, these bouillon cubes have a fresh, natural taste. Not like some bouillon that tastes like it should be used to season artificially-flavored potato chips.

Just as I was finishing up the soup, in true improvisational fashion, I suddenly wanted a gingery butternut squash soup. Since this soup was done cooking, the time when I should have fried fresh ginger was long past. I took out the ground ginger. Next to the ground ginger was my Indian spices, and well, an Indian-spiced butternut squash soup does sound absolutely heavenly.

So I added a generous amount of ginger and Indian chili powder, some cumin seed, galangal, and turmeric, and a pinch of garam masala. In essence, all the Indian spices on hand that were already ground. After all there’s no time for grinding and frying whole spices when as previously noted, the soup is already cooked.

Finally, I topped it all off with a garnish of fresh thyme leaves. Sure enough, simply heavenly.

What’s your favorite soup to make?

(This recipe was shared at: Fill Those Jars FridayGluten Free FridayFall Harvest Potluck Party)

Veggie-tastic Mac & Cheese

Mac & cheese without wheat or dairy is, well … &.

Actually if you take my usual mac & cheese recipe (from my pre-gluten- free, dairy-free days) and remove the wheat and dairy, you’re left with Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Hmmm, you’re not feeling very hungry today, are you?

Luckily, with a few secret ingredients a creative cook can make a delicious, comforting, and healthy mac & cheese dish. Do you thirst to know our secret ingredients? (Random bit of trivia: I’m a BIG Iron Chef fan in spite of the fact that I can eat almost nothing that they cook.)

1. Tinkyáda Brown Rice Pasta – Fusilli: Whole grain, gluten-free, nutritious and delicious. Also really hard to mess up. Need I say more? You could use other gluten-free pasta, but why?

2. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds: Vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free. Tastes surprisingly like cheese and melts like a dream. It’s not really a whole food, but Daiya is fabulous for a special treat like pizza or mac & cheese.

3. Fresh Butternut Squash: Butternut squash has a slightly sweet, pumpkin-ish taste. It’s a great source of vitamins A and C. Also a good source of the minerals magnesium and potassium. You won’t need a whole butternut squash for this recipe, so why not roast and puree extra butternut squash and save it to make soup the next day. For butternut squash soup, just saute some chopped onions, then add some broth and the pureed roasted butternut squash. Heat gently, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and nutmeg. Two meals in one! Or two out of five butternut squash dishes if you’re playing along with Iron Chef.

Allez cuisine!

Veggie-tastic Mac & Cheese

Veggie-tastic Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

  • 3 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1" cubes*
  • 1 16-ounce package Tinkyada Brown Rice Pasta – Fusilli
  • 1 8-ounce package Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or other mild-tasting oil)
  • 1 teaspoon gluten-free Dijon mustard
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • Smoked paprika
  • *A small butternut squash weighs about 2 pounds. You will probably use about half a small squash, or you can buy a bag of pre-cut butternut squash. 3 cups of squash cubes will cook down to about 2 cups.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the butternut squash and grape seed oil in a roasting pan and toss to coat. Roast for 20-25 minutes until tender. Stir the squash pieces halfway through the cooking time.
  2. While the squash is roasting, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and brown rice pasta when the water boils and cook pasta 10-12 minutes according to package directions. Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water before draining. Rinse the cooked pasta well with cold water.
  3. Place the roasted butternut squash and reserved pasta water into a blender and blend until smooth.
  4. Put the butternut squash puree into the empty pasta pot. Add the package of Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds and Dijon mustard. Stir to combine. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper is a good amount to start with. Add the pinch of nutmeg. Be careful not to overdo the nutmeg. Nutmeg can easily overpower the sauce. Stir to combine all ingredients.
  5. Gently fold in the drained pasta to coat it with sauce. Warm the noodles and sauce in the pot over medium heat until the Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds are melted and the pasta is heated through. Gently stir occasionally to distribute the heat evenly and prevent sticking. Place a lid on the pot while warming to quicken the heating process, if desired.
  6. Sprinkle with smoked paprika before serving. Enjoy!
http://www.laurawestkong.com/gff/2011/veggie-tastic-mac-cheese/

How do you like to prepare butternut squash?