Do This Before Your Holiday Baking!

Baking Soda and Baking Powder TestIf you shoved your baking staples to back of your cabinet since last holiday season, you may need this baking soda and baking powder test. Because, just like your other ingredients, baking soda and powder freshness counts. So, before you gather your ingredients and pre-heat the oven, do this quick test to make sure your gingerbread men emerge from the oven pleasantly plump and your cakes rise to the occasion!

Why You Should Test Baking Soda and Baking Powder Freshness.

Both lose their effectiveness over time, typically after anywhere from 6 months to 1 year after opening. But, if opened and stored under humid conditions, they may not last until the “best used by” date on the container.

What is the Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder?

The difference is that baking powder contains an acid, whereas baking soda does not. So, when using baking soda, an acid be added separately. Either way, when the acid interacts with the soda, carbon dioxide gas develops, giving your baked goods that pillow-like loft and airiness.

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Dairy-Free Cacao Fudgsicles

Healthy FudgsiclesFudgsicles were one of my favorite summer cool treats. There was something about the way they slowly morphed from a frozen solid into creamy, chocolate pudding. Unfortunately, three of the top six ingredients in those fudgsicles are sugar, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. Keep reading the label and you will find other goodies, such as cellulose gum and polysorbate 80. No thank you.

The good news is that it is incredibly easy to make fudgsicles that are actually healthy. These fudgiscles also have the rich, creamy texture, which makes a fudgsicle a fudgsicle.  No dairy. No gluten. No cooking. No kidding! Continue reading

Coconut Cashew Cream Layer Bars

Coconut Cashew Cream-Filled Layer BarsBy request, I created these Coconut Cashew Cream Layer Bars as a vegan and raw version of my Healthy Nanaimo Bars. Rather than graham cracker crumbs for the base, I use a fiber-rich mix of dates, oats and nuts. A coconut cashew cream filling provides healthy fats and replaces condensed milk or pudding mix. And for the chocolate layer, polyphenol-packed raw cacao and coconut oil are the base. Maple syrup and dates are the only sweeteners. Raw, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free – these are suitable for almost any guests! Continue reading

No-Bake Healthy Nanaimo Bars

Healthy Nanaimo BarsNanaimo Bars were a ubiquitous treat growing up. After all, growing up in Seattle, we were not so distant neighbors with the bars’ eponymous Canadian city. You guessed it, Nanaimo. There are countless recipes claiming to be ‘the original’. And, while they have varying ingredients making up those three layers, they all use a lot of packaged items (pudding mix, graham crackers, condensed milk, processed cocoa powder, etc.) and a lot of sugar. I mean a LOT. But, there’s no doubt, Nanaimo Bars became a cult classic because they are easy to make and have an enticing variety of flavors and textures in every bite.  Continue reading

Easy Gluten-Free Pie Crust

Gluten-Free Pie CrustI was never a pie baker. Why bother when your mother and sister-in-law are masters of the art? But, when spending the holidays away from the family, the idea of baking my own gluten-free pie crust seemed a bit daunting, risky, and downright uninspiring.

This gluten-free pie crust recipe from Marth Rose Shulman changed my mind and made a pie baker out of me. Although I must admit that I do not own a rolling-pin. A wine bottle works just fine. This crust is flakey, slightly nutty and pretty much fail-proof. I love the recipe for these reasons: Continue reading

Black Bean Brownies

Black Bean BrowniesA gluten-free, grain-free, vegan brownie? You might wonder – why bother?! The Minimalist Baker convinced me otherwise. Here, I have adapted her black bean brownie recipe to make it sugar-free as well.

Beans, being a magical fruit in more ways than one, make a healthy brownie possible. Here, beans replace flour with pure vanilla and raw cacao camouflaging the bean flavor. Date paste replaces sugar. The result is a firm outside encasing a moist, dense and rich chocolate pudding-like texture inside. Only slightly sweet, this is an adult-style brownie. Think flourless chocolate cake, but healthier and antioxidant rich. Continue reading

How to Make Whipped Coconut Cream

Whipped Coconut CreamBelieve it or not, there is something more irresistible than coconut milk. That would be whipped coconut milk. Airy, light and slightly tropical, coconut whipped cream is about to become your topping of choice for desserts, fresh fruit or licked straight off the beaters. Isn’t that the best way to eat any kind of whipped cream?

The process is as simple as whipping regular heavy cream with just a few tips to consider. The main ingredient is full fat coconut milk, chilled overnight. Do not use light coconut milk. I repeat, do not use light coconut milk. Not ever. Not for anything. Use full fat coconut milk.

I prefer organic, GMO-free coconut milk, ideally in a BPA-free can. But, my buying preferences and full fat requirement aside, the brand you select does matter. But, more about that later.

Whipped Coconut Cream Ingredients

INGREDIENTS:

1 13.5 ounce can of full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or agave or sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

1. Place your can of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight so that the thick coconut cream will separate from the liquid. Chilling the beaters or whisk and mixing bowls is also helpful.

2. Turn the chilled can of coconut milk upside down, so that the liquid is at the top. Open the can (removing the bottom) and pour off the liquid. Set it aside for other use. This is prime liquid for smoothies and can also be used in baking or cooking. Note: If the solids have not separated from the liquid, use the coconut milk for something else as it will not whip up.

If you removed the top of the can, simply scoop out the solids on the top and place them in the bowl you will use for whipping.

Coconut Milk Separated

3. Using a mixer or immersion blender, mix on high-speed until the cream is fluffy and forms soft peaks, about 4 or 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it. It may not become as light and airy as whipped heavy cream. But, like heavy cream, you can whip it too much.

4. Add the sweetener and extract of choice and whip again until blended.

5. Whipped coconut cream will keep refrigerated for at least a week. If it separates or loses its mojo, simply whip it up again.

HEALTHY USE OF WHIPPED COCONUT MILK

Whipped coconut cream lends itself to enjoyment in all the same ways you would enjoy traditional whipped cream. However, most individuals should feel free to indulge more liberally in coconut cream than in its dairy cream cousin. True, this is a high-fat item. But, coconut milk is full of healthy fats, which give us a sense of fullness and satiety. True, the fat in coconut milk is saturated fat. But, not all saturated fats are equal. The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil are predominately medium-chain fatty acids or MCFAs, also known as medium chain triglycerides.

MCFAs are transported directly to the liver. In the liver, they are immediately converted into energy, rather than being stored as fat. So, MCFAs may help promote weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels [1].

WHICH BRAND OF COCONUT MILK IS BEST?

Does it really matter? It turns out it does matter, quite a bit. I’ve been making whipped coconut cream since finding Oh She Glow’s tutorial. I loved the idea, not only for its simplicity and delicious taste, but also because I always have a can of coconut milk on hand. Now, I always keep one in the back of the refrigerator, ready for action. Doesn’t a whipped topping make any treat a little more special?

Excited to share this treat via a blog post, I was less than thrilled when my most recent attempt was a wimpy FAIL. No soft peaks here. Not so thick. Instead, it was a droopy, wet mess. What happened?

Just be sure to chill down the can overnight in the refrigerator. 

I typically buy Native Forest or Thai Kitchen Organic coconut milk. This time, I used Native Forest, but did not get the usual satisfactory results, which led me to do a little research.

Beth of Tasty Yummies to the rescue. Her comparison of different coconut brands pointed out that brand differences in stabilizers and origin of the coconuts may greatly affect their whipping potential. Check out her site to see how gorgeous your desserts can look with whipped coconut cream. She too had experienced inconsistency with trying to whip up the Native Farms brand. Native Farms – it’s you, not me.

Frustration and culinary ego-bruising behind me, I purveyed a few more cans of Thai Kitchen coconut milk and deposited them directly into the refrigerator. The result was the top photo in this post. That’s what I’m talking about. Now, I’m ready for the 4th and hope you are too! 

[1] “Physiological Effects of Medium-Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Prevention of Obesity”J. Nutr. 132(3): 329–332. 1 March 2002.

Raw Cacao Spice Date Bars

Raw Cacao Spice BarDates didn’t interest me in the least, until Costco. No frugal foodie can resist two pounds of discounted organic fruits. Or, in this case, ‘drupes’.

This quick and easy raw date bar recipe gives me even more reasons to love dates. I’ve made this recipe with various types of dates and prefer the Medjool variety, and not just because Costco carries them. Medjool dates are larger (Left below) are a little sweeter, softer and more flavorful than other varieties, such as Deglet Noor (Right below). Full of fiber and dairy, gluten and sugar-free, these bars are a favorite pre or post-workout treat, especially with a glass of chilled almond milk.

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Coconut-Almond Tapioca Pudding

Coconut-Almond Tapioca PuddingI have never quite replicated my mother’s perfectly airy, yet creamy tapioca pudding. Like clockwork every year, my dad would request the chewy pearls for his birthday dessert. While I always tried to create a perfect ending to his special day, the result was tasty, albeit imperfect. I always whipped the egg whites just a tad too long. But, whoever made it, made it with love, and he knew it.

Anyone can master this vegan, sugar and dairy-free version of the traditional tapioca pudding recipe. I created this recipe while in need of a treat during a month-long cleanse. It has the richness and texture of the original recipe, but uses coconut milk and almond milk as the base and Stevia as the sweetener. If you prefer not to use Stevia, you can substitute it with 1/4 to 1/3rd cup of unrefined sugar. Using the ground tapioca pearls or tapioca starch is also optional. The same thickness can be achieved with longer cooking. Continue reading

Fruit Crumble with Cashew “Ice Cream”

Summer Fruit Crumble with Vegan Cashew "Ice Cream"Crumbles showcase the abundance and variety of the season’s fruits and are beautiful in a most rustic way. Quick to make and hard to mess up; they are a true “no fuss” dessert. So, making a crumble was on my priority list for the holiday weekend in the Catskills. Getting out of the city late, it seemed certain all the farm stands along the way would be closed. And they were, except for Hanover Farms, a 24-Hour produce stand! Who knew? Continue reading