Category Archives: baking


black bean brownies - delicious!

Flourless Brownies

Who doesn’t love brownies?  Oooey, chocolatey morsels of deliciousness. They’re great as a snack, as an accompaniment to a cup of tea, or even for dessert. But some people avoid brownies because they’re high in simple carbohydrates. This includes the gluten free flour versions.

So what if I told you about a brownie that isn’t so high in simple carbohydrates and actually has a fair amount of protein? And no, I’m not talking about putting protein powder into the brownie mix.  I’m talking about beans.  Specifically black beans.  This adds not only protein but is also a great source of fiber, folate, copper, manganese, and thiamine.

Before you think, “Um…no” let me assure you, these are delicious.  I’ve brought these brownies to a number of different gatherings.  Each time I share them I wait until people have eaten them before telling them the ‘secret ingredient.’  Everyone is always amazed at how moist and tasty these brownies are. They’re surprised to discover that the brownies are made from black beans. 100% black beans, no flour. That makes it perfect for those who need to eat gluten free. And tasty for everyone.

When using black beans I’ve found that it’s best to use canned. When cooking black beans from scratch, even in the pressure cooker or slow cooker, the consistency doesn’t seem to come out as well. When using canned black beans consider using a brand that does not have BPA in the can lining. (You can learn more about BPA and it’s health impact in this video) Eden Brands is one company that does not use BPA in their linings.

Black Bean Brownies
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ C. black beans
  2. 2 eggs
  3. 1 heaping T. ground flax seed
  4. 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  5. 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  6. 1 pinch sea salt
  7. ½ t. baking powder
  8. 1 teaspoon almond extract
  9. 3/4 cup evaporated cane juice crystals
  10. 2 t. instant espresso powder
  11. 1 C. dark Belgian chocolate w/almonds, chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking dish
  3. Add remaining ingredients (except chocolate); blend until smooth; pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish
  4. Top with chopped chocolate
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes
  6. Enjoy!
The Ingredient Guru, Mira Dessy http://www.theingredientguru.com/

What’s In A Biscuit

Screenshot 2014-09-27 10.24.44

For some reason I’ve been seeing a number of recipes lately that seem to include the use of a can of biscuits.  Maybe it’s because Fall is here and so there are more stews and “comfort” foods being made to accompany the change in seasons.

Truthfully I used to use these a lot myself. Especially when my children were younger. It was an easy to way to get a quick batch of biscuits into the oven to have with dinner. They also made great donuts when coated with cinnamon sugar and fried. Or rolled out they made a quick and seemingly tasty crust or wrap for something.  They even made great snacks when cut into bite size pieces, rolled in melted butter, and sprinkled with parmesan.

Now I shudder to think about eating that and I’m horrified at the thought of all of those chemicals that I fed my children.  For those who can and do eat gluten, if you’re still eating this type of whack-and-bake product it’s truly not a good choice.

Let’s start with the Nutrition Facts:

This label demonstrates one of my biggest issues with how the label works.Screenshot 2014-09-27 10.31.23It doesn’t tell the truth.  Right there on the label we see “Trans Fat 0g.”  That leads us to believe that there are no trans fats.  And since we’ve all pretty much learned that trans fats are bad for you we think we’re doing a good thing by avoiding them.  But are we really?

Not here.

Because when we skip down to the Ingredients List we find the following:

Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Water, Soybean and Palm Oil, Baking Powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda), Dextrose. Contains 2% or less of: Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Sugar, Salt, Vital Wheat Gluten, Mono and Diglycerides, Xanthan Gum, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Yellow 5, TBHQ and Citric Acid (preservatives), Butter, Red 40, Color Added, Natural and Artificial Flavor.

Near the bottom we see Hydrogenated Palm Oil and Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil.  ANYTHING that is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated IS a trans fat.  So how do manufacturers get away with this?  Isn’t that lying?  Not according to the standards used for nutrition fact reporting which allow them to say there are no trans fats if there is less than 0.5g per serving.

What is a serving?  It’s what the label says it is.  A portion is what you serve yourself.  Regardless of how many biscuits you eat, even if you just eat one you are still getting trans fats.  Guaranteed.  Because it’s in the ingredients.

And that doesn’t even begin to address all of the other nutritionally damaging ingredients found in this product.

Enriched flour is nutritionally deficient.  Notice all of the ingredients after “wheat flour” in the parenthesis?  Those are mostly B vitamins with some iron that are put back into the flour by Federal mandate.  But the flour is still missing all of the other ingredients which are stripped out in processing.  And then it’s bleached.  Enriched anything is not a healthy choice.

The dextrose is probably from corn and mostly likely genetically modified corn at that.  The soybeans are probably also genetically modified.  GMO foods are simply not a good choice for health.  The citric acid is possibly also sourced from corn and therefore likely to be GMO as well.

Artificial colors, yellow 5 and red 40.  While it may not look like a colored item this canned biscuit product does have artificial colors.  TBHQ, Propylene gycol alginate, artificial flavor, there’s a huge array of chemicals in this product and it’s not something that anyone should be consuming.

Sadly we often think that convenience foods are, well, convenient.  We don’t realize that in order for them to be shelf-stable and ready to go it means lots of chemicals and not a lot of nutrition.

For those who can eat gluten and who want biscuits to go with their meal it’s still possible to have them.  And although it takes a little more work, it’s truly not that much effort and the results are far better (and much better for you) than a chemical concoction from a can.

Soaked Flour Biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
1 cup organic whole milk
1 tablespoon raw unfiltered vinegar

Mix vinegar and milk together and let sit 5 minutes until milk curdles slightly
Add to wheat and oat mixture, combining thoroughly
Let sit 8 hours to soak

1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup organic, unsalted butter, cut into slices

Preheat oven to 450 F
Sprinkle baking powder, salt, and baking soda over the flour mixture
Add butter and gently work butter into mixture to fully incorporate
Don’t over-mix the dough or your biscuits will be tough

Roll dough out on a lightly floured board to about 1″ thickness
Cut biscuits out with a glass that has been dipped in flour (so it doesn’t stick)
Place on baking tray
Bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown

 

 

Making Vanilla

Vanilla is a great flavoring.  Used in baking it adds a subtle undertone and can help to intensify the flavors.  The beans for real vanilla extract are harvested from orchid flowers and many people consider those from Madagascar to be the best.  Pure vanilla, however, is very expensive.  For a 4 ounce bottle I’ve seen it priced anywhere between $4-$9.  That’s quite a bit when you consider that there are only two ingredients in there, alcohol and vanilla beans.

For vanilla extract (not pure), sometimes labeled “Natural Vanilla Extract” you may find yourself  looking at more than two ingredients:

  • Sugar.  I’m not sure why this would be added since vanilla extract by itself is not expected to be sweet, it’s used to flavor things to help bring out the sweetness.  If the sugar source is not identified as cane sugar it is possibly beet sugar which has the potential to be from genetically modified (GM) sources.
  • I’ve also seen labels that contain corn syrup.  This is, again, a sweetener, however since it’s from corn it is mostly likely to be GM and therefore not something you want to purchase.
  • Potassium sorbate can be added as a preservative.  This is most likely done when the alcohol content is low since alcohol by itself would be a preservative.  For some people this preservative can cause rashes, itching of the mouth or eyes, congestion, or digestive disturbance.
  • Caramel color is another additive.  True vanilla does turn brown but perhaps the manufacturers want a consistent looking product and therefore they use caramel coloring.  Unfortunately recent studies have shown this additive to be carcinogenic and therefore something you want to avoid.

Artificial vanilla, sometimes referred to as vanillin, has no extract from vanilla beans at all.  Instead it is chemically synthesized.  One common substance used is lignin, a waste product from paper making, which is treated to release vanilla flavor overtones.  Vanillin can also be synthesized from the oils from cloves.  The most common source is guaiacol, an oily yellow petrochemical-like substance made by distilling wood tar (wood tar is also referred to as creosote).  In some people vanillin can bring on migraine headaches or cause other allergic reactions.

For those who need to eat gluten free many dessert recipes call for gluten free vanilla extract.  The interesting thing is that most pure vanilla uses distilled alcohol as the base.  The distillation process creates a gluten-free product as the gluten proteins cannot carry over through vaporization, cooling, and re-liquifying that happens.

Having said all that, it’s easy, and not that expensive, to make your own pure vanilla extract.   Here in photos is my recent kitchen adventure making my own vanilla extract.  To make your own you’ll need 3-4 beans per cup of alcohol.

Step one:  Buy some vanilla beans (whichever kind you prefer) and alcohol (I chose vodka)

making vanilla - step one

Step two:  slice open the vanilla beans and scrape out the stuff in the middle.  Scrape this stuff into your jar/bottle of alcohol.

making vanilla - step two

 

Step three:  Cut the vanilla beans and add them to the jar with the scrapings.  Cap the jar tightly.

making vanilla - step three

Step four: This is the part that requires patience. Wait.  In two weeks shake the jar.  Wait some more.  Repeat.  It takes approximately four months for your extract to be ready (some people say six is better)

Musings on making pure vanilla extract:

  1. Supposedly it does best if you make it in an amber colored bottle.  I didn’t have one the size I wanted so I just used a recycled glass bottle.  But I have a dark, fermentation cupboard so I figure it’s good in there.
  2. The bean does not at all smell like vanilla when you cut it open and scrape out the stuff.  I’m not sure what it smells like but, to my untrained nose, certainly not vanilla.
  3. The longer the extract sat the more it smelt like vanilla.
  4. Things to watch out for with the alcohol you are using.  Vodka is sometimes made from wheat so if you have gluten sensitivity issues you need to use gluten free vodka which is made from grapes (seek out organic in order to avoid pesticide residue from the grapes), potatoes or corn (potentially GM so look for organic if it’s sourced from corn).  Bourbon is made from corn and therefore potentially GM, you’ll need to look for organic bourbon (not easy to find I’ve been told).  Rum is made from sugar cane and should be fine.  Brandy is made from fruit pressings, grapes, apples, or pears usually.  Since apples and pears are high on the dirty dozen list look for organic to avoid pesticide residue.
  5. As you use your vanilla extract you can continue to top off the jar and let it sit a while to infuse.

Below is my current batch of vanilla extract, at approximately two months in.  It gets darker and darker each time I pull it out. And more vanilla-y smelling. I’m excited to start using it once it’s done.

vanilla - finished

 

Baking Soda Or Baking Powder?

For most people, learning how to cook is a fun part of growing up. However, it should come as no surprise that understanding the subtle differences that take a bit of trial and error to get just right. Baking is often considered more of a “science” because if you don’t get the ingredients just right you may not have an edible result. Let’s explore a common question among budding bakers – what is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? Are they essentially the same thing and thus interchangeable? Or should you have both on hand for particular baking adventures?

Both baking soda and baking powder are used to make baked items rise in the oven by releasing carbon dioxide bubbles thanks to a reaction with heat. Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. It only releases carbon dioxide when it is paired with an acidic ingredient in high heat. This reaction occurs immediately and therefore it is necessary to bake recipes with baking soda as quickly as possible after preparation.

Baking powder is simply baking soda already mixed with an acidifying agent, often cream of tartar, and a drying agent, usually starch. This means that baking powder can be used in any baked product and will result in the release of carbon dioxide, regardless of the other ingredients you have used in the recipe. There are usually two types of baking powder – single- and double-acting. Single-acting baking powder is activated as soon as it is mixed with moisture, meaning you have to use the batter immediately like with baking soda. Double-acting baking powder is partially activated when moisture is introduced and partly when the temperature rises in the oven, allowing for these recipes to be stored for short periods of time before baking.

The decision to include baking soda or baking powder in your recipe should be determined by the other ingredients you are using. If you know there is an acidic ingredient that will activate baking soda, feel free to use it but be aware it might add a somewhat bitter taste if not well-balanced with other ingredients. Baking soda is often used to make cookies and baked items of the sort. Baking powder can be used with less discretion and because it is already balanced, will have less of an effect on the flavor of your final product. Baking powder is usually used for cakes and breads along with other such items.

If a recipe specifically calls for baking soda, baking powder is a good substitute, although it may affect the final flavor a bit. If you have baking soda and need baking powder, however, you are must do a bit of work. To make your own baking powder you can mix in about two teaspoons of cream of tartar to one teaspoon baking soda. If you are a kitchen minimalist, having baking powder on hand will probably work for more recipes than just basic baking soda, though the latter is has extra uses and is great for taking odors out of hard to clean areas like the refrigerator.

You probably had a hunch that baking soda and baking powder were pretty similar, and you were right. Be careful about substituting one for the other and you should be a sodium bicarbonate expert in no time.

Ashley Williamson is a freelance writer and a full time food enthusiast. When she is not working she loves to cook and travel as much as she can. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below.

photo: Yingluck

September Is Cholesterol Awareness Month – Part 3

Focusing on cholesterol awareness we’ve covered what you need to know, healthy food choices, and now for the best part.  Delicious recipes!!

This first one was submitted by Sam, a newsletter subscriber who sent it in along with a delightful story:

Peggy’s Garlic Soup

1 head of garlic, peeled and smashed
32 ounces Organic Chicken Broth
32 ounces water
1 handful each of three of these herbs (fresh): Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Marjoram

Put in a large pot, bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or till the garlic is soft.
Remove garlic and herbs (do this on your garbage day because this stuff stinks!)
At this point you can freeze or eat.
To eat, put back into pot on LOW heat.
Add 1 small container of organic cream (light or heavy, does not matter).
Season with a dash of white pepper.

Serve over homemade croutons and Gruyere cheese grated on top.

If you’re shrinking at the thought of peeling an entire bulb of garlic here’s a quick an easy way to get the job done.

And now for the story:

My sister’s knitting group meets at the library.  Last year the group had a drop-in.  We were talking about fall soups.  She said she once made a garlic soup but lost the recipe. I gave her this one.

Yes, she was THE Peggy! We laughed at how far her soup had traveled before she got it back.

*****

Another great heart healthy recipe is oat bran muffins.  Now before you run for the hills I promise, these are delicious. It is important to note that if you’re not used to a lot of fiber you will need to start with ½ of a muffin and bumping up by ½ of a muffin every 3-5 days in order to allow the body time to re-regulate when adding this much fiber.

Fruity Oat Bran Muffins

2 cups oat bran, uncooked
¼ cup fresh ground flax seed*
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup organic whole milk
2 egg whites, slightly beaten
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 mashed banana

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Line muffin tins or grease bottoms only.
Combine dry ingredients, mix well.
Combine wet ingredients.
Add wet to dry and mix until combined.
Fill muffin tins 3⁄4 full and bake 15-17 minutes.

*Pre-ground flaxseed meal is often de-germed for shelf stability.  Flax seeds can be purchased inexpensively and ground into meal at home.  This way you get all of the beneficial parts of the seed. Use a clean coffee grinder, pulse them for one minute and then use.

photo: Rüdiger Wölk, Münster

 

Oven Dried Tomatoes

oven dried tomatoes

Sam writes and asks, “We have a bunch of beefsteak tomatoes that my sister wants dried. We have a gas oven but no dehydrator. What is the best way to do this?

You can dry or dehydrate foods in the oven and tomatoes do very well when preserved this way.  The first thing to do is figure out if you want your oven dried tomatoes in slices or in sections (i.e., slicing into quarters or eighths).

Start by washing the fruit well and discarding any that is over-ripe or bruised.  An easy way to wash it is to put the tomatoes in the sink, fill it with water and add approximately 1/2 cup of vinegar plus the juice of 1/2 lemon per gallon.

Drain the fruit well and core it before slicing.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F.

Prep your “drying tray” by placing cooling racks (fine mesh ones work best but the others will still work) on top of cookie sheets.  This will allow maximum air circulation around the tomatoes and help them to dry faster.  In case you’re interested this is also how I cook bacon in order to avoid bacon grease splatter all over the stovetop [20 minutes at 325].

Slice your tomatoes.  Note: If you are going to dry your tomatoes in sections you’ll need to pierce the skin in a few places to make sure all of the moisture can get out during the drying process.

I find that when dehydrating tomatoes it goes faster and works better if I remove most of the seeds and the pulp.  That’s a personal choice though, some people like the seeds in it.  If you’re removing the seeds this is the time to do so.

After the tomatoes have been sliced and de-seeded gently toss them with a little bit of olive oil and then arrange on the cooling racks.  Lightly sprinkle with sea salt or minced herbs if desired.  Then bake.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. How long to cook them for.  Well, that depends.  On how thickly they are cut, on how juicy they are, on the ambient humidity, and how dry you want them.  If you’re looking for serious long term storage it will probably take at least 8 hours.  You want the tomatoes to be very reduced in size, with curled up edges and almost leathery looking.  They need to still be a bit flexible, you don’t want to dehydrate them until they are brittle.

In order to use your oven dried tomatoes you’ll need to rehydrate them for about 20-30 minutes in liquid. You can use either warm water, broth, wine, or even olive oil.  These amazing veggie treasures can be used in soups, chopped for salad topping, added to meatloaf, used to create an intense flavor in sauces, the variety of uses is only limited by your palate and your imagination.

photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis

Blueberry Powerhouse

Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants.  Studies have shown their benefits for overall health and for memory support.  They’re tasty, low fat, and low glycemic.  Buying fresh blueberries in season and freezing them for later is a great way to enjoy their goodness year-round.

(more…)

Baking Substitutions

Baking is something that many people enjoy.  But often people are looking for substitutions to decrease the amount of fat or sugar in their baked goods without sacrificing flavor.  I have used the black beans substitution for flour in brownies with great success, they came out moist and delicious.  As a matter of fact when I served them at a gathering everyone was surprised to learn that the brownies were gluten free and were were in fact made from black beans.

I love the idea of using pureed avocado as a possible substitution for buter in chocolate cookies.  Having successfully used it in pudding I can see how the flavor melds well.  The next time I’m experimenting with a new recipe I definitely plan to try this.

It’s important to note that not all of the substitutions (such as marshmallow fluff) are healthy ones and some (like chia seeds or avocado) may actually be more expensive.  It’s important to make choices that work for you and your nutritional plan.  This is, however a good general guideline for substitutions that can be made in baking.

Healthy Recipe Substitutions: Baking

 

Why Gluten Free Sourdough?

Today’s post is from Sharon Kane, the very talented baker and author of The Art of Gluten Free Sourdough Baking.  In this article she shares her journey from sourdough consumer to someone with multiple food sensitivities who needed to find an alternative.  During her long journey to learn how to make gluten-free sourdough bread Sharon was focused on making it as nutritious as possible by continuing to use whole grain flours.  It is important to note that many gluten free products currently on the market are made with enriched and nutritionally deficient flours.  They are also often not soaked and, as she explains below, this is an important part of the process which helps to make the end result more nutritious.

Screen shot 2013-06-20 at 10.00.17 PMSourdough baking is a time-tested bread baking technique that was used exclusively until the discovery of modern commercial yeast. The technique utilizes the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the grain, and in the air, to leaven bread. Sourdough bread becomes highly digestible because the flours are fermented or “soaked” in the starter as well as in the long rise period.

Some people may remember their grandparents soaking oatmeal the night before cooking it for breakfast. Soaking neutralizes natural enzyme inhibitors in the grain, begins breaking down the tough cellulose fibers, fosters the formation of probiotics and enzymes and releases vitamins. All this makes for a more nutritious finished product that is easy on the digestion with many nutrients available for assimilation. Sourdough breads have a robust taste, long shelf life and freeze well.

I became successful at making sourdough rye bread and happily ate the bread for a few years. Then I learned I was gluten intolerant and could no longer eat my beloved rye sourdough bread. I also learned I was highly sensitive to eggs, dairy, soy and commercial yeast.

Wanting to continue eating good bread, I went to the market and saw that all the retail gluten-free breads contained one or more of the ingredients I needed to avoid. I realized that if I wanted bread I needed to be able to control the ingredients and the baking technique.

I began experimenting with gluten-free flours using the rye technique as a guide.  My parameters were:

  • Use gluten-free whole grain flours
  • Minimize the use of high starch flour
  • Use only simple food ingredients so no xanthan or guar gums nor baking powder or soda
  • Minimize the use of all sweeteners
  • Use high quality oils, fats and flavorings

I began experimenting with the sourdough techniques I had mastered for the rye bread and it took one whole year to make a successful bread! Five more years of research and development led me to use different flour combinations and different types of breads.

This type of baking is different from conventional gluten-free baking and is also different from conventional sourdough baking. There is a bit of a learning curve to this technique however many people have mastered it and are happily eating nutritious gluten-free sourdough bread from recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, yeast, peanuts, baking powder/soda, and xanthan and guar gums.

Don’t forget to stop by The Art of Gluten Free Sourdough Baking for a FREE sourdough starter recipe.

Baking Mishaps

A lesson in humility… Just a week ago I posted a recipe for lemon millet muffins.  I was so happy with how the recipe came together the first time.  Often that doesn’t happen.  This next effort clearly demonstrates that.

I wanted to make cookies.  The family has been requesting chocolate chip for a while and I’ve been experimenting with lots of other types, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodles, etc, that I decided the time had come to make chocolate chip cookies.  Never content to just pick a tried-and-true recipe I wanted to make gluten free, dairy free, egg free chocolate chip cookies.

The picture shows that it was less than successful.  I will share that they taste great but they don’t look so hot.  The biggest concern is what will happen when they cool.  In my experience if they spread this much they are often inedible when no longer warm.  We’ll see how it goes.

And it goes without saying that this particular recipe is not exactly ready for prime time.