Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Grain-Free Birthday Cake Muffins

The best surprise about blogging - other than the fact that somebody actually reads this - has been the community. Maybe I've said this before, but I really can't say it enough. In a world that seems like it would be horribly, high-school-ishly shallow and competitive, there is no shortage of encouraging words, positive reinforcement, and and gotyerbackim, a word that I just made up, but which should definitely exist because these ladies, they got yer back.

It's amazing to find a community of people who get you, get a side of you that most people in your daily life just don't totally understand. I may be a lunatic obsessive baker with a cat for a sous chef, but at least I have a circle of friends that I can talk to who are right there with me (the cat is optional).

One of these wonderful, equally baking-obsessed, terribly dedicated women is Meriem. Her site, Culinary Couture, is one that I was an avid reader of for a long time before Meriem and I became friends. We have a running email exchange, and this girl...she has my back. And I have hers. Because it's her birthday and it's Ramadan, a time of fasting, fellowship and prayer, so she is focused on so many other things right now and blogging is right where it should be: a last priority.

Just because it's Ramadan and she is fasting during the day, that doesn't mean she should have one hell of a birthday treat after the sun goes down. These muffins were made just for Meriem: they are are fun, sweet and celebratory, but at the same time full of healthy fat and fiber because the last thing you need after a day of fasting is a sugar high.

For the same reason, these are perfect for breakfast. They are grain-free and sugar-free, and full of healthy fat from the almond flour and fiber from coconut flour, flavored with vanilla for a cake-like flavor, sweetened by honey and dressed up with sprinkles. Totally worth getting out of bed for!

Have I convinced you? Great! You can find the recipe on Meriem's site, Culinary Couture!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vegan 2-Ingredient Scallion Cream Cheese (Soy-Free)

....No, the 2 ingredients aren't "scallions" and "cream cheese". Well, one ingredient is scallions. Let's back up: on Tuesday, I gave you bagels, and promised you "cream" "cheese" (I promise to stop using quotes now). And I am staying true to my word!

This wasn't planned, by any means. It came about from a particularly-first-world bout of self pity in which I whined to myself about so many bagels and no cream cheese. Wah. I'll pause for your eye rolls. Go ahead.

Anyway, it turns out that one need not have cream or cheese or even cream cheese to have cream cheese on your gluten-free bagel. All you need is cashews! And water and salt and, optionally, scallions. It could not be simpler: Soak your cashews (raw, unsalted is best) in water for an hour and then puree until smooth. Add salt and scallions, stir, and eat. By the spoonful is best.

Vegan 2-Ingredient Scallion Cream Cheese

  • 1 cup raw unsalted whole cashews
  • Pinch salt (optional)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (or to taste)
  1. Cover the cashews with enough hot water to fully submerse them and allow to soak for at least an hour, or overnight.
  2. Put soaked nuts in a food processor or Magic Bullet. Add just enough of the soaking liquid to keep the nuts moving, and puree until smooth, or to your preferred consistency (adding more water as necessary). I actually left mine a little chunky because I like the texture. 
  3. Transfer puree to a small mixing bowl, and stir in salt (if using) and scallions. 
  4. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Yield: Approximately 1 cup

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Montreal-Style Gluten Free Bagels

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Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

Oh, bagel. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Actually, never mind, let me just eat you instead. Sorry, bagel.

I'm fairly confident in saying that bagels have been one of the foods I have missed the most since being forced to eat differently, and since that time I cheated and had one in Montreal, I was reminded what I've been missing. In high school, I was the Bagel Queen. I mean, granted, that wasn't an official title, but what else do you call someone who wasn't homecoming queen but ate a bagel for breakfast and lunch every day for nearly four years? Let's not even talk about the degree of bagel consumption that I engaged in when I lived in New York. Let's just say I lived about 3 blocks away from the hands-down winner of this list (but that was before it was cool, obviously). 

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

Before Montreal, I hadn't had a bagel in about a year. Talk about cold turkey. I came home with the shakes just dying for another one of those thin, chewy rings of goodness, but struck out several times at attempting to recreate them and almost gave up. Certain foods simply NEED gluten, or so I thought before I discovered millet flour, which performs so eerily similarly to wheat that it is hard to believe it is actually gluten-free. Although these will never fool anyone into thinking they are a genuine wheat-y bagel, they come pretty close. How, you ask? Let's break it down:

First, you have to use the right combination of flours. In this case, I like millet and tapioca flours (note that tapioca flour is sometimes labeled "tapioca starch") because - as I said - millet gives the dough - both raw and baked - a very wheat-like texture and mouth feel, and tapioca because is not as grainy and gritty as, say, rice flour and it also helps to give the bagel just a slight golden hue that you usually don't get with gluten-free baked goods. On that note, here's a little trick I have learned: if you want even more golden color, skip the boiling stage and instead, brush or spray the risen bagels with oil just before baking. I didn't do that for this batch - these are boiled - but it worked great on another batch I tested.

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

Sorry to make you buy new flours, but I tried this with the old standbys of oat and rice flour and it just wasn't...right. If you want something using those flours instead, check out a full list here.

Next, we have to worry about moisture and binding, since as we know, gluten-free baked goods are notoriously difficult to keep moist. These bagels require water and an egg, the latter of which provides both moisture (yolk), binding (white) and texture (white). 

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

And finally, using the right yeast here is absolutely essential. By "right" I mean "viable". Yeast starts to lose its potency over time and eventually dies, so make sure you do not skip the first step of the recipe which "wakes up" the yeast, prepping it for action in the dough, and really making sure that your yeast is still alive and kicking so that you don't end up with dense, brick-in-your-stomach bagels. In order to extend its life, try keeping yours in the freezer. If you do that, be aware that it takes a little longer to "wake up" than if it were kept in the fridge, but once I put that warm water (about 110F) and sugar or honey in the bowl with it, I just walk away and don't touch it for about 5 minutes. When I return, it has a huge "head", like a badly-poured pint, and that's how you know it is still good. If there is no froth after 5 minutes, throw away your yeast and buy new stuff before continuing with the recipe.

Wait, wait, wait, how could I forget the actual most important thing? The cream cheese! Well, in this case, more like "cream" "cheese", because it is neither, but still surprisingly, mysteriously ends up tasting like what you would expect from a block of Philadelphia. But one thing at a time, and today that thing is bagels. Don't worry, though, I won't keep you in suspense for too long! Check back on Thursday for my new favorite cream cheese, which is vegan, gluten free and requires only 2 ingredients! 

Gluten-Free Sesame Bagels

"Montreal-Style" Gluten-Free Bagels
Print this

  • 2  teaspoons of active yeast
  • 3 teaspoons granulated sugar or honey, divided (I used honey)
  • 1/4 cup very warm water (Approximately 110 degrees F) + 1/2 cup room temperature water + more if necessary
  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 1/2 Tablespoons millet flour
  • 1/4 cup + 1 1/2 Tablespoon tapioca starch (aka tapioca flour)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons psyllium husk powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Sesame seeds, or other garnish (optional)
  • Nonstick spray or canola, coconut, or other flavorless oil (optional)
  1. In a small bowl, cover the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar or honey with 1/4 cup very warm water. Gently stir, then set in a warm area of the kitchen and do not touch for 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together the millet flour, tapioca starch, psyllium and salt. 
  3. When the yeast is ready (has a very thick foamy head on it), add the entire contents of the bowl, plus the beaten egg, 2 teaspoons honey and remaining 1/2 cup water, to the mixer bowl and mix on low speed to combine. Then turn up the speed to continue to incorporate everything together. It will be very soupy at first; keep mixing until the dough comes together in a tight, if sticky, ball. If it is too dry to hold together, keep adding more water, about 1 Tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the proper consistency. 
  4. Transfer the dough to a cutting board and knead with your hands a few time to make sure the ingredients are all completely incorporated. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Roll each portion into a thick snake and loop it back to form a bagel shape. If you want a Montreal-style thin bagel, make your dough snake about 10". If you want a fatter, New York-style bagel, go for a shorter, fatter snake shape. Press the two ends firmly together to adhere. If the dough sticks to the board too badly, coat the board with a thin layer of cornmeal. It also helps to have slightly moist hands when rolling to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands too much. 
  5. Arrange the 6 bagels on a large baking sheet covered with parchment or a nonstick pad, leaving as much room between them as possible. 
  6. Sprinkle your sesame seeds or other garnish of choice on top of each bagel, pressing them in very gently to adhere. 
  7. Preheat the oven to warm and as soon as it is preheated, put the tray of bagels in as quickly as possible to avoid letting the heat out. Turn off the oven immediately. The residual heat will be just enough for the yeast to thrive in. Allow the bagels to rise for 30 minutes until swollen. They won't get as large as wheat or even oat flour dough so no need to rise for more time. They will just dry out.
  8. Remove the bagels from the oven and preheat it to 450F. 
  9. Optional: Bring a stock pot of water to a boil, and boil each bagel for 5-10 seconds on each side, immediately before baking. Alternately, you may brush or spray the tops of each of the bagels with oil, which will help them brown and crisp up in the oven.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
  12. If not serving immediately, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months. 
Yield: 6 bagels

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Taste of Montreal

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks, between a a road trip to Iowa, Colorado and Nebraska a couple weeks ago and a trip to Montreal last month. Montreal is a city I have wanted to visit for many years, and it's such a quick flight that I am not sure why we didn't go sooner. But hey, better late than never.

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

The trip was over Memorial Day weekend, in honor of Bryan's birthday and also secretly in honor of my fleeting ability to speak French and desire to stumble through some basic phrases for a weekend if for no other reason than to reassure myself that I still "got it". No matter why we were there, it was an amazing weekend in a wonderful city. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

The architecture was very Parisian, especially in the Old City, but the city was not as dense and serpentine as Ol' Pareeeeee, so was much easier to navigate. Also, all Montreal citizens are bilingual and their English is perfect, so communication was much easier than it is in France. Oh, also, the weather cooperated for the only full day we were there - hooray! And merci, Canada. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

The centerpiece of the Old City is the gothic Notre Dame Cathedral which looked eerily similar to the Parisian equivalent, although a little less ornate. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Entering the Cathedral:

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Inside the Cathedral: 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

And, coincidentally, they were filming a movie just outside the Cathedral, so we got to lurk and gawk, er sit and watch, for awhile. There were tons of extras walking around in full-on 60s outfits, but the most fun things to see were the "antique" cars and Vespas. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

We walked around for several hours every day, and, of course, all this walking meant we were in need of lots of fuel. We ate well, although a few meals were less than stellar, and had a chance to try Poutine (fries covered with gravy, cheese curds, and usually other toppings), some local beers, maple everything, and of course.....

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com


I have heard and read the raves, but I am not a big fan of mass produced doughnuts and fast food coffee. While the doughnuts weren't bad (in a blind taste test, I couldn't distinguish between a Tim Horton's doughnut and one from Dunkin' if my life depended on it, though), but the coffee was actually spectacular. I drank it black and it was delicious. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Our hotel was in the tourist-y Old Montreal neighborhood, but we hopped on the subway and headed up to a neighborhood near McGill University, which had much more interesting independent shops and restaurants, including an amazing vegan restaurant called Aux Vivres. In a meat-and-potatoes town (actually country), this was a really big deal, and I never would have believed that it was worth a shot except that Davida recommended it, and I trust her judgement. She was 110% right.

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Aux Vivres introduced me to the wonderful concept of a Buddha Bowl, which contained brown rice layered with all sorts of fresh veggies like beets, carrots and sprouts, plus baked tofu and an incredible "honey" mustard dressing. I could eat this dish every day and never get sick of it (sorry for the crappy picture; we were sitting in a dark corner of the restaurant).  

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Then, it was off to fulfill the real purpose for the trip: Bagel tasting. Ever since I heard about the famous Montreal style of bagel-making, I have been dying to try one. There are two bakeries whose products compete for the title of best bagel in town, and Fairmount Bagel was, frankly, the most convenient. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Unlike New York bagels, Montreal bagels are fired in a pizza-style oven that must be a billion degrees. The man making them (who, I think, is the same person as the guy who was pictured in the New York Times; presumably they have more than one guy making bagels, but he must be the top dog!) lines them up on a long, thin board and slides them into the oven, then retrieves them with the same board a few minutes later and flips them dramatically over his head into the orange bin to his left. 

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

The result is a thin, chewy bagel with a tough rubbery (in a good way) exterior skin. Compared to the thick, doughy monsters in New York, this one seemed small and dainty, and it was a little sweeter than its New York equivalent. But it was truly delicious, and much better as a side with breakfast than the massive New York bagels that are a meal in and of themselves. I just don't understand how Canadians can make a sandwich out of these (which I did see on a couple menus).

A Virtual Tour of Montreal's Sites and Flavors from ACleanBake.com

Anyway, no complaints here. I ate it, gluten and all, and it was SO worth the stomachache. Aside from it being a fun getaway in a beautiful city, the trip reminded me how much I miss a good bagel. So, I decided this must be remedied, at long last! I have been working on a gluten-free bagel and it is finally ready to share. Stop by next week for the recipe!

In the meantime, tell me about your recent or summer travel plans. Going anywhere fun?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How To: Make Candied Lemon Peels (and Lemon Simple Syrup)

Don't you love candied citrus? I know I do. Citrus and summer go together like peanut butter and chocolate so there is no better time to make these bright, sweet and tart little candies. 

Don't be intimidated by the concept of candying. There are NO candy thermometers or cooked sugar here. This recipe could not be easier!

 It starts with cleaned and sliced lemon peel. If you don't like lemon, you can easily substitute orange or grapefruit peel. Make sure you have removed all of the lemon (or orange or grapefruit) meat from the inside of the peel, then quickly boil the peels in plain water until tender before a long boil in sugared or honeyed water. The peel dries for a long time before it is ready to eat (and, optionally, coat with sugar, and optionally still, dunk in a layer of chocolate, both of which steps that I skipped), so while this recipe is a bit time-consuming, it's insanely hands off. And, like I said, no candy thermometer required!

As though a big pan full of candied lemon peels isn't enough, you get a bonus batch of lemon simple syrup out of the deal too. Simple syrup is nothing more than sugar (or honey) dissolved in water and reduced. It is an absolutely fantastic addition to summer cocktails, alcoholic or non. One of the best drinks I have had recently was a cherry spritzer made from combining sour cherry juice and this simple syrup with sparkling water. It's so refreshing, especially garnished with one of these chewy, zingy candied lemon peels!

Candied Lemon Peel (And Lemon Simple Syrup)

  • Peel of 4-5 large lemons, meat removed, thinly sliced
  • Tap water
  • 2 cups honey or sugar, or 1 cup each (I used honey)
  • Granulated sugar for garnish (optional)
  • Melted dark chocolate for dipping (optional)
Cooking Directions
  1. In a stockpot that fits the prepared peels with room to spare, cover the peels with tap water and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes before draining. Return the peels to the pot and repeat. 
  2. After the second boil, put the cooked peels in a bowl and set aside. Put the sugar or honey (or both) plus an additional 2 cups of water into the pot, stir briefly, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar/honey into the water, then add lemon peels. 
  3. Boil for 1 hour until the water is thick and has reduced to below the level of the lemon peels and the peels are translucent. Turn off the heat and let the peels cool completely in the pot with the liquid, with the top off. 
  4. Once the peels and cooking liquid have cooled completely, strain the peels, reserving the liquid in a separate container. Place a cooling rack over a cookie sheet or cutting board covered with wax paper or a nonstick pad. Spread the peels evenly across the rack and set aside in a cool, dry place to cool completely for about 24 hours, or dry for about 3 hours before pressing gently into a bowl of granulated sugar to coat. 
  5. Once the peels are completely dry, or have been thoroughly coated with sugar, dunk halfway in melted chocolate and place back on the drying rack until the chocolate solidifies (optional). 
  6. Store peels and simple syrup separately in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Yield: about 3 cups lemon peels and 1 cup (give or take) simple syrup

(1) If you use honey, it is normal that your peels will not ever completely "dry". I dried mine for 24 hours, and they remain moist and sticky in spite of it. Don't get me wrong; they're delicious, but you will be more likely to need a napkin after eating them!
(2) Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

BBQ and Picnic Favorites for the Fourth of July

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There is no new recipe today because I spent the weekend cooking and baking for friends, which means I have lots of new recipes coming soon (thanks for your patience!). But since your week is probably being spent planning for the holiday weekend anyway, I have something that is hopefully even better...a cheat sheet. If you're planning to host or attend a 4th of July party, here are a few ideas for the most important part of the day: the food!

Quicker than a pie: 

A grain-free twist on a crowd-pleaser: 

On the grill: 

To quench your thirst: 

For the kids: 

Because it's not a party without chips and guac: 
(link to homemade guac is in the post)

To cool off: 

If you're a gazpacho fan: 

To say Happy Birthday, America!: 
(swap in red, white and blue sprinkles for extra festiveness)

To accompany BBQ: 

For Dessert: 
(no special flours required!)

Have and happy and safe 4th of July!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cold Carrot Quinoa Soup with Chickpea Croutons

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Cold Carrot Quinoa Soup with Chickpea Croutons

Soup in June? Don't worry; I haven't lost my mind...at least not any more than usual. There is just something about the transition from spring to summer always makes my taste buds crave fresher and less-sweet fare like this chilled carrot soup. Not to mention that ever since I got home from vacation, it has been cool, grey and dreary!

This soup may sound a little odd, but it is rich and creamy, filling and comforting, and slightly sweet from caramelized sugars in the roasted carrots. Plus, it is easy to make, can be eaten hot or cold, and the recipe can easily be multiplied to feed a crowd. Think of it like carrot gazpacho. Freeze leftovers and, along with a good veggie burger, you're all set for your next BBQ!

PS: Let's do a quick poll! I'd like to do more of these savory recipes once in awhile. Tell me how you feel about that by leaving a comment below. Do you want to see some more savory food here, or do you come here exclusively for sweets? 

Cold Carrot Quinoa Soup with Chickpea Croutons

Cold Carrot Quinoa Soup with Chickpea Croutons
Print this

For the Soup:
  • 4 very large (or 6-8 small/medium) carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 large white onion, sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder (or to taste; see note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock or water, or a combination of both
  • About 2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled (or more or less, depending on your taste and hunger)
  • Sliced green onions, for garnish

For the Chickpeas:
  • 15-oz can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Juice of 1/4 of large lemon
  • Pinch each of salt and pepper


  1. Make the soup: Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking pan or cookie sheet with a nonstick pad, parchment paper or a generous coating of nonstick spray. In a large bowl, toss the carrots and onion with a splash of olive oil (about 1-2 Tablespoons) plus a pinch each of salt and pepper. Spread in a single later on the prepared pan, making sure there is space around each piece. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until vegetables are tender and slightly caramelized. 
  2. Preheat a small stock pot and more oil (about 2 Tablespoons) and fry the curry powder, garlic powder, and ginger for about a minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Do not let the spices burn.
  3. Add the roasted veggies to the pot plus 6 cups of stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are very soft. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool, then puree it in a blender, adding more stock or water as necessary to ensure the soup liquefies. Don't add too much; just enough to keep things moving in the blender. 
  4. Make the chickpeas by tossing all ingredients in a large bowl and spreading on the prepared baking sheet with plenty of room around each. Roast at 400F for 25-30 minutes until crispy and golden. Allow to cool on the pan before serving; they will crisp up as they cool.
  5. Immediately before serving, assemble the soup: Put about a half cup of cooked quinoa (or as much or little as you like) in the bottom of a bowl, and top with soup. Garnish with a handful of crispy chickpeas and a pinch of chopped green onion.
Yield: Makes about 6 bowls of soup, depending on the size of your bowl.

(1) I used homemade chicken stock, which lent a stronger, more pungent chicken undertone to the soup than if you use store-bought. I also like strong flavors. So 1 Tablespoon of curry produced a perfectly balanced flavor for me. However, if you are using water or store-bought chicken stock, or simply have a more sensitive palate, this might be too much for you. If you are concerned, start with 1/2 Tablespoon (or even less if you want) and wait to add the rest until after the soup is fully pureed and you can taste all of the flavors together.
(2) Chickpea croutons adapted from Bakers Royale
(3) Leave out the chickpeas to make this paleo-compliant