4.2.12

sesame tofu scramble

Tofu scrambles have become my staple food in the last year--I can make them with pretty much whatever ingredients I have and they come out good as long as I add coconut milk and salt of some sort. This asian-cuisine-inspired version is probably my favorite; I always double the batch and store leftovers in the fridge for breakfast or lunch the next couple days. 


Serves 2 very hungry people

1 tablespoon sesame, peanut, or coconut oil
1-2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2” piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
1 (around 14 oz) package firm or extra-firm tofu

¼-1/3 cup coconut milk
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons soy sauce/tamari/Bragg’s Aminos, or to taste
2 teaspoons cumin, ground or whole
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch of ground hot pepper, such as cayenne or chipotle, to taste
½ bunch greens (kale, collards, chard), stems removed and coarsely chopped OR several handfuls of baby spinach

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (at least)
black pepper


In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion, garlic, ginger, and bell pepper about 10 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add mushrooms, if using. Squeeze the excess water out of the tofu with your hands and crumble into pan. Saute another 10 minutes, until tofu is slightly browned. Stir in coconut milk, yeast, soy sauce, cumin, turmeric, and pepper. Add greens and cook another 5 minutes, until they’re wilted. Stir in sesame oil and black pepper, and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. Remove from heat, and serve hot. 

8.9.11

velvety hot fudge sauce























Hot fudge sauce is super quick to make and virtually fool-proof, but it's really all you need to turn plain ice cream into the queen of American desserts--the glorious sundae. 

The word "sundae" originated in the late 1800s, probably derived from "Sunday," either because the dish was made with ice cream leftover from Sunday and sold on Monday, or because it was sold only on Sundays to circumvent "blue laws" (enforced religious standards) against Sunday consumption of ice cream (this theory also holds that the spelling was changed to "sundae" to avoid religious offense).

The exact origin of the sundae is fiercely contested (although it is definitely American), but the original sundae undisputedly consisted of vanilla ice cream, a flavored sauce or syrup, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry, served in a tulip-shaped, footed glass vase (which I don't have, but I think wine glasses feel quite elegant). The hot fudge sundae was a variation often topped with nuts. Hot fudge supposedly came from cooks who failed at fudge-making and ended up with a gooey sauce-like mixture that never set up, so they poured it over ice cream. By the 1900s, enlightened cooks began to deliberately undercook the fudge so they could use it for sundaes.



Makes 1.5 cups (enough for around 6 large sundaes)
Time: 5 minutes

1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz vegan chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)

In a medium stainless steel saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk, maple syrup, water, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisking frequently, keep at a boil for 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, vanilla, and coconut oil, whisking until completely smooth.

To store, keep in a heatproof jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Reheat very carefully in the microwave or on the stove, stirring often.

Serve warm over vanilla ice cream, perhaps with toasted, chopped hazelnuts or pecans and vegan whipped cream. Freshly toasted coconut flakes or even a drizzle of caramel sauce are other options.

3.9.11

dark chocolate sorbet


If you think sorbets can't be creamy, you've never had a good chocolate sorbet. I first encountered chocolate sorbetto at one of the hundreds of gelato shops in Florence, and when The Penny Ice Creamery opened in Santa Cruz, I was ecstatic to hear that their amazing dark chocolate sorbet is a permanent fixture on the menu. But of course, I had to try to create my own because I can't always afford gourmet ice cream, and although I can't claim to have beaten Penny's sorbet, I've never met a dark chocolate lover who was disappointed.

I add a bit of coffee to deepen the chocolate flavor, but if you don't want to use coffee, replace with 1/4 cup of water.

Makes 1 pint (serves 4)

1/4 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup strong, freshly brewed coffee 
1/3 cup cocoa powder
a pinch of salt
3 oz vegan chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the agave with 1/4 cup of the water, the coffee, cocoa, and salt. Bring to a boil and let boil about 1 minute, whisking continuously. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate until melted, then add the vanilla and remaining 1/2 cup water. Pour into a blender and blend for a minute or two (if you don't have a blender, don't worry, but just be sure to whisk the mixture very well).

Chill the mixture for at least 3 hours or overnight. I should warn you this refrigerated mixture makes for a delicious chocolate mousse if you chill it in individual ramekins (see below), but otherwise, transfer the mousse into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. I like the frozen version slightly better because it's less sweet, so the chocolate flavor is even more intense.

26.8.11

raw almond milk






















I wanted to start making my own almond milk because I felt bad about all the packaging from store-bought milks, but the homemade kind is also much more delicious, healthier and cheaper than pretty much any store-bought milk. Plus, I can get all the ingredients from the local farmers market, so I can feel extra greener-than-thou. My family drinks it so fast I've been making it every few days, but fortunately it's pretty easy to make.

Almond milk has been around since at least the Middle Ages, when it was popular instead of cow's milk, which would spoil quickly unless turned into cheese or butter. It can be used exactly like cow's milk in just about anything--cereal, coffee, or dunking chocolate chip cookies.

Almonds should be soaked at least 8 hours or overnight, which makes them easier to digest by neutralizing the tannins and enzyme-inhibitors (which make nutrients less absorbable) in the brown skins. Plus, it softens the almonds which is easier on your blender. You probably could substitute nearly any nut or seed for the almonds--I've had superb results with hazelnuts. If you replace the soaking water daily, the nuts can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

The ratio of nuts to water is also highly variable: if you want a really creamy milk, use 1 1/3 cup almonds for every four cups water, whereas 1/2 cup almonds for every four cups water creates something closer to skim milk. For all-purpose milk I usually use around 2/3 cup almonds.

You can strain nut milks with cheesecloth, but if you plan to make them often I would invest in a nut-milk bag, which are inexpensive, convenient, and reusable. You'll be left with a flavorless nut pulp which I compost, but supposedly you can use this in baked goods.

Makes 1 quart

2/3 cup raw almonds
4 cups filtered water
a pinch of salt
2-3 dates, pitted (optional)

Rinse the almonds, place in a bowl and fill with filtered water. Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight (see notes above).

Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend on high for a minute or two, until the almonds are very well broken down. Letting this sit about 10 minutes will make the almond milk creamier.

If you have a nut milk bag, place it over a bowl and pour all the milk into it. Squeeze it to release the excess liquid, then remove the nut pulp, rinse the bag well, and hang it up to dry.

If you don't have a nut milk bag, set a metal strainer over a bowl and place a few layers of cheesecloth over it. Pour the almond milk through the cheesecloth (you may have to do this in batches). Once most of the liquid has drained out, gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze to remove the excess liquid.

Store the almond milk in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and be sure to shake before use. It's best used within 3-4 days.

11.8.11

mojo picon

1/4 c bread crumbs
3 spoons red wine vinegar
1/2 c water
5 cloves garlic
1/2 spoon smoked paprika
chili pepper, salt to taste

Blend all until creamy.

4.6.11

mocha truffles




Chocolate truffles, so named because of their resemblance to truffle mushrooms, originated in France in the late 19th century, and the rest of the world soon caught on.

These rich truffles are made with a coffee-chocolate ganache filling coated with chocolate and cocoa powder. I'm proud to say that several testers have told me these are better than any non-vegan truffles they've had.

The coffee granules deepen the chocolate flavor here, but they can be left out. The Grand Marnier is also optional, or you can replace it with another liquor such as bourbon or rum.

Makes about 16 small truffles

4 oz (115g) dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup coconut cream (the thick top layer in an unshaken can of coconut milk)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier

2.5 oz (70g) dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder


Place 4 oz chopped chocolate a medium heatproof bowl. Combine coconut cream, maple syrup, and coffee granules in a saucepan, bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring with a spatula until smooth. Stir in liquor and pour into a bowl. Chill for about 1 hour.


Scoop with a small mellon baller or roll into small balls about 3/4" in diameter.


In a sealed container, refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Put the cocoa powder in a bowl. Melt the remaining 2.5 ounces chocolate in a double boiler. Turn the heat off but leave the chocolate bowl on top of the hot water pan so the chocolate doesn't harden while you're working. With one hand, smear melted chocolate all over each of the ganache balls, then drop it in the cocoa powder and roll with the other hand. Place on a plate or strainer to release the excess cocoa powder, and let sit at room temperature to harden before serving.

To store, place in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 1 week, but let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour before serving.

27.5.11

iranian baklava






















The origin of the baklava is highly controversial, claimed by many ethnic groups near Asia Minor. It's widely believed that in the 8th century BC, Assyrians baked pastries with layers of rough dough and chopped nuts, sweetened with a thick honey syrup. Merchants who frequented Mesopotamia carried the baklava back to Greece, where the Greeks devised a method to roll the baklava dough into paper-thin layers ("phyllo" means "leaf" in Greek), and baklava became a delicacy for the very wealthy. Through the silk and spice routes, the baklava spread to the Armenians, Arabs, and Persians, each of whom contributed their own spices and takes on the baklava.

Baklava has innumerable regional variations. It's cut into many different shapes, though always served in small portions because of its richness. One version in northeastern Greece is made with sesame seeds, and in another version the phyllo are not brushed, but hot olive oil is poured over the whole pastry before baking. A Hungarian version uses apricots, and Armenian baklava often contain cinnamon and cloves. The Iranian (aka Persian) baklava uses a combination of almonds and pistachios spiced with cardamom and a rosewater syrup, is lighter and crisper than other versions, and is cut into diamonds.

I've tasted many kinds of baklava, and used to make a version with walnuts, hazelnuts, orange zest, and maple syrup, which was delicious if a bit too heavy. However, I'm a sucker for cardamom and rosewater, so I tried to emulate the traditional Iranian baklava and have to say this version is my new favorite.

Makes 42 small diamonds

Rosewater Syrup:
1 1/2 cup (500g) light agave nectar
1 tablespoon lemon juice and zest from 1 lemon
6 black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup rosewater

Nut Filling:
1.5 cups (200g) raw, shelled pistachios
1.5 cups (250g) raw almonds
2 tablespoons granulated or raw sugar
2 tablespoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 lb frozen phyllo dough, thawed

Rosewater Syrup:
In a medium saucepan, stir together the agave, lemon juice, zest, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, simmer about 10 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. This must have time to cool completely, so chill as necessary. You can also make it several days in advance.

Nut Filling:
Finely chop or grind 2 tablespoons of the pistachios, and set aside for garnish. Add the rest of the pistachios, the almonds, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped.
Assembly:
Brush a 13"x9" baking pan (not nonstick) with coconut oil. Heat oven to 300F. Unwrap the phyllo dough on a large cutting board, and with a sharp knife, cut crosswise, then cut each stack to fit the pan.



Place a phyllo sheet in the baking pan and with a pastry brush completely with coconut oil.




Repeat with 7 sheets, brushing each
with oil. Evenly sprinkle about
2/3 cup of the nut filling over the phyllo.





Layer another 4 phyllo sheets, dabbing each with oil, then sprinkle another 2/3 cup of nut filling. Repeat with 4 sheets and 2/3 cup filling twice more. On the last, fourth layer of nuts, use up the rest of the filling. Top with another 8 layers of phyllo, brushing each with oil. Reserve the best-looking, most intact sheets for the top layers.

Score through the top layers of the baklava with a sharp knife lengthwise into 6 strips and diagonally into 8 strips to form diamond shaped pieces. Pour the remaining oil over the pastry, then lightly sprinkle water over the top (which helps prevent curling during baking). Bake until golden, about 90 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Remove from oven and immediately pour the syrup evenly over the pastry. Sprinkle the center of each piece with some of the reserved chopped pistachios. Let sit at least 3 hours or overnight, then cut the rest of the way through the scored pieces. Serve at room temperature, preferably with coffee. If the baklava are excessively sticky, serve in muffin cups.

23.5.11

cocoa nib hazelnut shake






















In this rich, thick smoothie, coffee granules give the chocolate a deeper flavor, and cocoa nibs create a slightly gritty texture (sort of like Turkish coffee), but if either of these are not to your taste you can leave them out. Hazelnuts can also be replaced with raw almonds.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup nondairy milk
1/3 cup (50g) raw hazelnuts
5 soft dates, pitted
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
pinch of salt
6 ice cubes (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup cocoa nibs

In a blender, add the milk, hazelnuts, dates, cocoa powder, vanilla, coffee granules (if using). Blend on a high for a couple minutes, until completely creamy. Add the ice cubes and 3 tablespoons of the cocoa nibs, and blend until broken down (if you blend the ice too long it will melt, resulting in a watery smoothie). Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining cocoa nibs.

19.5.11

ginger miso dressing






















This dressing is a fairly versatile sauce, but recently I've been craving this on top of kale, at least once a day. For some reason I only recently realized kale can be very delicious eaten raw just like salad greens, and this dressing has a very strong bite which can stand up to the robust earthy kale flavor. Just wash the kale, de-stem, and chop or rip into bite-sized pieces. I usually top it with quinoa and raw sunflower seeds or toasted cashews.

Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon agave or brown rice syrup
about 1/4 cup water
1" nub of ginger, peeled (1 tablespoon minced)

Vigorously stir together the miso, tahini, vinegar, curry powder, and agave. Stir in the water until the dressing reaches the desired consistency. Chop the ginger very finely or grate the peeled ginger nub with a citrus zester and then stir in. Alternatively, throw all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth.

15.5.11

cardamom rose ice cream
























Makes 1 quart

1 can (1.75 cups) coconut milk
3/4 cup agave nectar
1 cup almond milk or other nondairy milk
1 tablespoon finely ground cardamom
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
3 tablespoons rosewater

Whisk together 1/4 cup almond milk and the arrowroot, then set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk, agave, cardamom, and remaining almond milk to a boil over medium-low heat. Add the arrowroot mixture and whisk vigorously, until thickened, then remove from heat. Stir in the rosewater. Chill, covered, at least 3 hours or overnight. Freeze in an ice cream machine. Serve with chopped pistachios or toasted coconut.

9.5.11

classic chocolate chip cookies

I've been working on the perfect classic chocolate chip cookie recipe since I became vegan, and finally, here they are, soft, chewy, and fluffy all at the same time. Don't ask me how coconut oil, olive oil, and almond flour unite to create a buttery, eggy flavor, but just trust me. It works.



TIPS
  • The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least an hour so it doesn't spread as much in the oven, but I think the flavor improves the longer it sits--I recommend letting it chill overnight.
  • The pecans add an excellent flavor, but if you have to use a different nut, I think toasted, chopped almonds are second-best. Be sure to buy the nuts raw and toast them yourself just before chopping for the most delicious flavor. I toast them in the skillet over low heat for a few minutes, stirring often, until browned and fragrant. 
  • Almond flour can be found in the gluten-free baking section of most grocery stores, but is usually cheapest in the bulk sections of health food stores. You can also grind blanched slivered almonds in a coffee grinder or food processor, scraping the sides occasionally, until the ground nuts just begin to clump. 
  • Any leftover cookies (really?) can be stored in an airtight container for several days. 
Makes 2 dozen large cookies
Needs at least 1 hour to chill

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (preferably golden)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup nondairy milk (I use almond)
1-2 tablespoons vanilla
1.5 cup brown sugar or Sucanat
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup almond flour
1+1/3 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt

2 cups pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (see TIPS)
1.5 cups vegan chocolate chips

Whisk together the flax, cornstarch, and milk for a few minutes, until thick and goopy. Add the vanilla, sugar, and oils, and whisk for a few minutes, until the oils have solidified a bit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients, and stir until just combined. Add the nuts and chocolate chips.

Wrap tightly in parchment paper and refrigerate at least an hour, or up to a couple days (see TIPS). If you're going to let it sit more then a few hours, place in a sealed container so that it doesn't dry out or pick up refrigerator flavors.

Preheat the oven to 350. Shape the dough into balls 1.5"-2" in diameter. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until well browned around the edges. Bake one sheet at a time for even baking, and keep the rest of the dough in the fridge until ready to cook. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute, then transfer to a plate or cooling rack. Best served with a tall glass of almond milk.

27.4.11

gluten-free almond coconut cookies






















I developed this recipe at the request of my dad, whose favorite cookie at a local bakery is called "Almond Joe's" (pun intended), made with almonds, coconut, and chocolate. I accepted the challenge with pleasure and after half a dozen failures (too dry or too soft, though they were always all too edible), I found a cookie my dad says is so good that he could hardly enjoy the original anymore.

Makes 2 dozen

3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoon arrowroot powder
2 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oats, finely ground in a spice mill/coffee grinder (or 1/3 cup garbanzo bean flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped into roughly 1/3" chunks, or 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Vigorously stir together the maple syrup, arrowroot, flaxseed, cinnamon, and vanilla. Add the coconut oil and stir well. Chill until the coconut oil hardens.

Meanwhile, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the maple mixture, then fold in the coconut, almonds, and chopped chocolate. Shape the dough into a round with your hands, wrap with parchment paper, and seal in an airtight container. Chill for at least 1 hour, but I think the flavor improves if you let it sit overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Shape the dough into roughly 1.5" balls, place on a baking sheet (I reuse the parchment paper from wrapping the dough), and flatten slightly. Bake 10-12 minutes, until the edges are well browned.

28.3.11

spicy, chewy ginger cookies






















I hoped to make a ginger cookie not like the hard, biscuit-like ginger snaps, but the kind that's soft and chewy on the inside, cracked and crispy on the outside, and intensely spiced. If you're half as crazy about fresh ginger as I am, you will like these cookies.

Makes 2 dozen
Time: 1.5 hours (including 1 hour chill time)

2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup unrefined cane sugar or brown sugar
3-4 tablespoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 cups (250g) whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 teaspoons soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegan granulated sugar

In a liquid measuring cup, measure out the coconut oil, molasses, and coconut milk, and whisk together with a fork until the oil firms up. Stir in the sugar and spices.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the wet ingredients, then wrap the dough with parchment or wax paper and chill for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. Shape the dough into 1.5" balls, flatten slightly, then roll the entire cookie in the sugar and place on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the edges are set but the center looks slightly wet beneath the cracks. Let cool.

6.3.11

coconut: the dairy of vegan baking






















Coconut is a convenient replacement for dairy in baking for many reasons. First, like butter and cream, coconut has a delicious, rich flavor. Second, coconut oil is primarily saturated fat, which makes it solid at room temperature (with a melting point of 76F) and can function like butter or shortening. Coconut oil is also increasingly being recognized as one of the healthiest types of fat (see below).


Baking with Coconut

Heavy cream (aka whipping cream) in many baked goods can be directly substituted with coconut milk, the kind found in cans. Avoid "lite" versions, which are pointless as far as I can tell because some of the fat is removed, which is what contains all the flavor. Be sure to shake the can before opening, as coconut milk usually is separated, unless you know you want just the thick cream on the top.

Coconut oil usually comes in a jar and is solid at room temperature. The easiest way to use it in baking is to place the coconut oil jar in a bowl of hot water, which melts the oil inside, then pour out the melted oil. Clarified butter and ghee, which are nearly all butterfat, can be directly substituted with coconut oil. Normal butter is only about 80% butterfat, as it retains some liquid and milk solids, and in most recipes this should be taken into consideration. To simulate butter in most pastries, I like add 1 part coconut milk to 3 parts coconut oil, and whisk them together with a fork until the oil resolidifies and the mixture resembles whipped butter. This can then be creamed together with sugar or cut into a flour mixture. Coconut oil comes in both scented and unscented varieties. I use the scented version exclusively because I think it imparts rich coconut undertones and makes a better substitute for butter, which has its own flavor. However, if you don't want everything have a coconut taste, try the unscented version.

Shredded coconut is great for adding texture and flavor to baked goods. You can toast shredded coconut to add a caramelized, toasty flavor and a slightly crisper texture. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet, and bake at 350F for about 5 minutes. Stir with a spatula and return to oven for another couple of minutes. Repeat until evenly golden brown.

If your oven isn't already on, you can also toast coconut flakes in a skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan often, until evenly browned. Keep a close watch on the coconut when almost done because it will become overcooked very fast.


Coconut Health

There's much that's misunderstood about coconut oil. This is partly because most of the past research on coconut oil was based on hydrogenated coconut oil, which, like any hydrogenated oil, is unhealthy.

Many claim coconut oil to be unhealthy because it is more than 90% saturated fat, more than butter or lard. However, just as it's now common knowledge that not all fats are equally healthy (there are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and then the dreaded hydrogenated oils), not all saturated fats are created equal either. Whereas long chain fatty acids, the main type in animal fat, is difficult for your body to break down and stored as surplus body fat, the saturated fats in coconut oil are medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which are supposedly burned by your liver as immediate energy. Proponents of coconut oil say they increase metabolism by taking stress off of the pancreas, helping the body burn energy and overweight people to reduce body fat. They also claim MCFAs are easier to digest, assisting the health of thyroid and enzyme systems, and have antimicrobial properties, which helps to control bacteria, fungi, and parasites that cause indigestion.

There's a widespread belief that coconut oil is bad for the heart because of the saturated fat. However, lauric acid makes up about half the fat in coconut oil, and is said to actually help prevent heart problems such as high cholesterol and blood pressure. It is also the most important essential fatty acid in maintaining the body' immune system. The only other rich dietary source of lauric acid is mother's milk.

As much as I'm tempted to take all these virtues of coconut oil as an excuse to eat unlimited coconut-fattened pastries, like everything else, coconut oil is only healthy in moderation. Because pastries are sweet by definition, they are never going to be truly healthy, but I like to think of coconut oil as a reduced-guilt baking technique.

Sources:
Mercola, Joseph. "Coconut Oil Benefits: When Fat Is Good For You." The Huffington Post. 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.
Patil, Kirin. "Health Benefits of Coconut Oil." Organic Facts. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.
Wilsinson, Fiona. "Health Benefits of Coconut: A Good Diet Aid, Heart Healthy and Helps Fight Cancer." Suite101.com: Online Magazine and Writers' Network. 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2011.

26.2.11

gluten-free oatmeal raisin cookies






















Oatmeal cookies are my ultimate comfort food: crisp on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside, generously-spiced, and perfect for dunking in a strong cup of coffee. I don't even like raisins that much, but for some reason they are unbeatable with cinnamon and walnuts in oatmeal cookies. One of the main drawbacks of these cookies being vegan is that they don't have raw eggs in the batter, which means I usually end up eating half the cookie dough.

Whoever had the genius of putting raisins in oatmeal cookies is unknown, but we do know oatmeal cookies are a descendent of oat cakes, baked in Scotland as far back as 1000 BC. The cakes were more like a staple food, and didn't evolve into a cookie until the 1800s, when oatmeal had become more popular throughout the world. They then gained popularity as a health food, which is unfortunately misleading.

Notes:
  • The dough stays well in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for much longer.
  • While I like to make most pastries as small as possible, these are better large because the outside can be crispy while the interior remains soft.
  • The cookies freeze very well and make phenomenal ice cream sandwiches. I bet you can also heat them up and crumble on top of an ice cream sundae, although they've never lasted in the freezer long enough for me to try this. 
Substitutions:
  • If you don't need wheat-free cookies and you don't have arrowroot, brown rice flour, or xantham gum, omit these ingredients and add 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour. The cookies will be a bit chewier.
  • Can't find affordable maple syrup? No problem--just replace with 1-1/3 cups vegan brown sugar or Sucanat and 1/2 cup non-dairy milk. 
  • If coconut oil is also a splurge, you can replace up to half with another oil. I usually use 1/4 cup coconut oil, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of a neutral oil, such as sunflower or canola (don't be afraid to use olive oil in sweets--it gives a subtle savory backdrop). The coconut oil definitely gives the cookies a buttery richness, so I wouldn't omit entirely. 
  • If you don't have almond flour, grind 1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts in a food processor or sturdy coffee grinder until the ground nuts just begin to clump.
  • VARIATION: Chocolate Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies
    Omit the nutmeg and raisins, double or triple the cinnamon, and add 4 oz (115g) chopped dark chocolate bar and 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes.

Makes 2 dozen smallish or 1 dozen huge cookies
Total time: 1.5 hours

1 cup (320g) maple syrup
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed 
1/2 cup (110g) melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup (100g) brown rice flour
1/3 cup (40g) almond flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
2 cups (200g) gluten-free oats
1 cup (150g) raisins
2/3 cup (70g) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

With a fork, whisk together the maple syrup, arrowroot, and flax for several minutes. Whisk in the coconut oil, vanilla, and spices and stir until hardened. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, and xantham gum. Stir the mixtures together vigorously for 1-2 minutes, then add the oats, raisins, and walnuts. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll dough into 1.5" balls, flatten with your palms slightly, and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cook the sheets one at a time for the most even baking. Halfway through baking, tap a spatula lightly on each cookie to flatten the tops of the domes, rotate baking sheet, and continue cooking. Remove the cookies after 12-14 minutes, when browned around the edges but still soft and slightly wet in the center, and let cool. However, if you're like me, you'll dive into the cookies while they're still hot and get a fistful of crumbly oat goodness. These also taste ridiculously good dunked in coffee.