Gluten Free Banana Bars

Gluten Free Banana Bars

Super easy gluten free banana bars: nutrient-rich and delicious!

In an effort to avoid those pesky fruit flies, I’ve the adopted the habit of freezing bananas just after their peak of ripeness. I use frozen bananas in a variety of delicious recipes, such as: frozen sorbet, smoothies, banana bread, and waffles. However, our consumption of the frozen bananas must be less than our acquisition of bananas because my freezer was beginning to be overtaken by bananas. No problem, I cleaned out the freezer, put on my apron, and began experimenting. I grabbed a variety of wholesome ingredients, plugged in the food processor, and in no time at all, filled the kitchen with the smell and taste of these yummy banana oat bars. Enjoy them for breakfast, lunch, snacks, or dessert!

  • 1/2 c pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 c chia seeds, optional
  • 1/4 c hemp seeds, optional 1/2 c almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 c walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 c flax
  • 3 c Old Fashioned oats
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 8 oz organic dates, pitted
  • 8 ripe bananas (if frozen, defrost them in the microwave)
  • 1/2 c beet, optional (if frozen, defrost)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 large cookie sheets. Process nuts and seeds in food processor and transfer to large mixing bowl. Add coconut, flax, oats, cinnamon, and vanilla to mixing bowl. Process dates in food processor. Add bananas and beets and process until smooth. Mix all ingredients well. Pour mixture onto greased cookie sheets and spread evenly onto pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Allow banana bars to cool on pan for about 5-10 minutes, then cut into squares using butter knife. Use a large spatula to transfer oat bars onto cooling rack to cool. Can be frozen in freezer safe bags. Banana bars are great for breakfast, lunches, snacks, and dessert. Enjoy!

Serve banana bars to a hungry crowd!

Easy Homemade Vegan Yogurt: No Equipment Required

Easy Homemade Vegan Yogurt: No Equipment Required

 

Make your own non-dairy, gluten-free (even soy-free!) vegan yogurt without a machine, thermometer or hard-to-find ingredients. This inexpensive and simple technique will bring yogurt back into your diet.  

I haven’t eaten much yogurt since we went vegan several years ago. Non-dairy yogurts are expensive, and often have flavors that just don’t seem quite right. Buying enough for family of six, and then watching most of it go to waste–tossed out in half-eaten school lunches or downright rejected as “yuck”– gets old fast.

Though I’m pretty resourceful in the kitchen, memories of my own mother’s yogurt attempts include thermometers, machines, special cultures and weird ingredients. I’m the kind of cook that never makes anything the same twice. If I can’t wing it, it’s probably not going to turn out well. (No soufflés at my table…)

Truthfully, I haven’t missed yogurt. It was never an essential staple anyway. But as it’s time to begin making lunches for school again, I decided to see if I could do better than the commercial brands. After all, there is nothing that I buy from the store that I prefer over my own efforts. Convenience is what I buy in stores– delicious is homemade.

I just assumed it would be complicated. I ordered the yogurt maker, a thermometer and the special vegan cultures. I followed the recipe and my stop watch like a Girl Scout. It was surprisingly good from the first try. And the kids were excited.

But familiarity breeds laziness, and each batch I made became less by the book and more off the cuff. And it was still good. So I started paying attention to my forgetfulness and making notes of my results. I divided each batch into mini-science experiments (did you know I used to be a high school chemistry teacher?) and compared different ingredients and methods.

And there are quite a few! Unless you need commercial grade yogurt, you really can’t go wrong. If you enjoy making things your own, and you don’t mind eating the delicious spoils of your own trial and error, then this vegan yogurt recipe is for you.

Here’s what you do:

  • Choose your milk
  • Thicken
  • Flavor
  • Culture
  • Set
  • Refrigerate

Choose Your Milk: 
A walk through the non-dairy milk isle offers an overwhelming amount of choices. Gone are the days when it was soy milk or nothing! And that’s great! Options now include unsweetened, original, vanilla, chocolate and organic versions of soy, rice, almond, coconut and hemp milk. Consider:

  • If you can buy organic, do. This guarantees it’s free of pesticides and GMOs (especially important with soy!). Interestingly, it’s usually the same price.
  • “Unsweetened” is perfect if you want plain yogurt. Otherwise, you’ll add sugar of some kind anyway. “Original” is what I usually go with, as it has less added flavor than “vanilla”.
  • Soy is the only plant milk high in protein (8g/serving). Consequently, it’s the only milk that will curdle to a visible extent. The tart and tangy taste of traditional yogurt can be recreated in other ways, however, so if you want soy-free, move on without concern.
  • Oat milk has 4g protein/serving, and is a second-best for curdled flavor.
  • Rice and hemp milk are lower in protein (1g/serving) and higher in calories than coconut and almond, but they taste great! Note: I’ve not found the ideal recipe for rice milk; it separates. This doesn’t have to be a problem, just shake it before opening the lid. But if you’re looking to impress, use an alternative.
  • Good news…mixing and matching of all of the above is allowed.
  • I find the best deals at the big box stores. Look for the non-refrigerated boxes, often in the baking isle or natural grocery section. Meijer Organics have several varieties and are often on sale for $1.50/box. Stock up and go once a month or less.

Thicken:

There are many thickeners that work, and you probably have several in your kitchen. See directions below for specific directions for flax seed, arrow root, tapioca flour, agar agar, xantham gum, guar gum, soy lecithin granules and soy and sunflower lecithin.

Flavor:

Add fruit, flavors and sweeteners of choice as it cools and blend well. If working with frozen fruit, make sure it’s room temperature or even slightly warmed. But simple is good too. I like oat milk yogurt (original) just as it is.

Culture:

Yogurt by definition is fermented; this is what makes it tart and creamy. Vegan yogurt is no different. Bacteria must be added to the milk to initiate this reaction. For the best and most consistent result, you’ll need to purchase a culture designed to grow in plant milk. I use a vegan variety from Cultures for Health, and have had fantastic and consistent results.

Can you do it without a specially ordered culture? Yes, but it’s not an exact science. I tried several experimental runs with my OrthoMolecular Probiotic, and found that using one serving size (one capsule) per 1 qt batch of plant milk produced results similar to the commercial culture. But brand efficacy will vary. My only advice is to start with less. Too much will result in soupy and even bitter flavor.

You can also add similarly flavored store-bought vegan yogurt that hasn’t expired. And keep it going if you make it regularly. Use 1/3 cup as a starter for the next 1 quart batch.

Set:

Once the bacteria culture is added to the milk, it needs to set in a warm environment (approximately 110 degrees is ideal) for 6-8 hours. Tartness and thickness increase with time, so if you prefer neither, remove it sooner.

A yogurt machine is perfectly designed for this process. I love mine, if only for the 5 oz serving cups that fit nicely into lunch boxes. If you are going to buy one, look for an automatic shut off. This eliminates the “oops” factor.

But if you have an alarm clock (yes, you do! look on your phone!) and don’t need an extra appliance, your oven is quite capable of handling the job. Simply turn on the light and cover the vegan yogurt with a cloth. It might take a little longer to set as it’s not as warm; the bacteria won’t propagate as quickly. Increase the set time up to 9 hours, but no longer. Beyond that, it turns yeasty and “burpy”, with a sour flavor.

Refrigerate: Once it’s set, put an air tight lid on the container and refrigerate. This will stop the culturing process. As long as it tastes good, it’s safe to eat. The vegan yogurt will continue to thicken as it cools in the fridge. Be patient!

Directions:

1. Pour one 32-ounce box (or a total of four cups combined) of desired plant milk into a sauce pan.

2. Bring to a boil. Add thickener. Return to boil, whisk for 2-3 minutes, and remove from heat.

  • flax seed– Dissolve 2-4 tbsp in a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • arrow root– Dissolve 2-4 tbsp in a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • tapioca flour– Dissolve 2-4 tbsp in a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • agar agar powder– Add 1/2-1tsp directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.
  • xantham gum– Add 1/2-1 tsp directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.
  • guar gum– Add 1 – 2 tsp to a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • soy lecthin granules– Use a mortar and pestle (or a small grinder) to reduce 1/2 tsp-1 tsp granules to powder. Add directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.
  • liquid soy or sunflower lechtin– Add 1/4 tsp directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.

4. Sweeten with favorite flavors. Mix well. I recommend finishing with a hand-held mixer or a quick puree in the blender.

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  • Chocolate, Peanut Butter Banana: 1 tbsp cocoa powder, 3 tbsp peanut butter (or peanuts if using a vitamix) 1 banana (frozen is fine)
  • Banana, Coconut, Orange: 2 bananas (frozen is fine), 1/3 cup coconut, 1 peeled orange or lemon
  • Cinnamon Pear: 1-2 pears, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and clove
  • Other: 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit, 1 tbsp sweetener (optional)

5. Allow mixture to cool for about 1 hour. (If you add culture when it’s too hot, it will die.) If you are using a thermometer, it needs to be between 90-115 degrees. If you are using your finger, consider that a delightfully hot bath is somewhere between 100 and 105 degrees. If it feels hot to your finger, but not hot enough to need to pull your finger out, it’s perfect.

5. Add culture packet, 1/4-1/2 cup of commercial yogurt or a single serving of a pro-biotic. Mix well. Divide into desired containers as needed and place in yogurt maker or other warm (90-110 degree) environment. Leave the individual lids off the glass jars for your yogurt maker. If using oven, cover container(s) with a towel, turn on oven light.

7. Check in about 6-8 hours. If using the oven, 7-9 hours is necessary.

6. Sometimes the consistency isn’t perfect; various milk, thickener, flavoring, and temperature combinations all interact different. Occasionally, I need to add a little of “this” or “that”, or even just re-blend it. If separation occurs, but it tastes ok, just give it a shake before you serve it. And enjoy the fact that there are no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, antibiotics or hormones in that little cup of awesome.

6. Store in refrigerator in an air-tight container. It will firm up even more as it cools.

How to Fix a Failure:
There are several reasons vegan yogurt might fail to thicken:

  • Too much or too little culture was added
  • The culture was expired or improperly stored
  • The culture was introduced at too high of heat, or inoculated at too low of heat

But for whatever reason it fails, as long as it tastes ok, it can still be eaten. Simply bring back to a boil and add more thickener. It may not have the pro-biotic benefits to your digestive tract, but it need not go to waste. Allow it to cool and store in fridge.

Easy Gluten Free Apple Cobbler

Easy Gluten Free Apple Cobbler

The delicious apple-cinnamon aroma will fill your home as you bake this healthy gluten free apple cobbler. Excellent for company, yet easy enough for everyday, this dish will quickly become a family favorite. If you are lucky enough to have left overs, this cobbler also makes an excellent breakfast dish or topping for your oatmeal. Enjoy!

10 organic apples, diced
3 T cinnamon
5 cups Meier’s Marvelous Granola 
1 c sliced almonds as garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add chopped apples to baking dish and coat well with cinnamon. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and top with granola. (You may prefer to stir in your granola. Either way, it’s delicious!) Return dish to oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes until warm. Serve warm with unsweetened almond or coconut milk or homemade whipped cream and top gluten free apple cobbler with sliced almonds. Enjoy!

Healthy Gluten Free Waffles: Breakfast, Lunch Box and Dinner!

Healthy Gluten Free Waffles: Breakfast, Lunch Box and Dinner!

Nutrient-dense, these healthy gluten-free waffles are perfect for breakfast, in a lunch box, and even for dinner! Try 3 delicious varieties:

  • Peanut and Apple Butter Waffle Sandwiches
  • Cinnamon Pumpkin Apple Carrot Waffles with Pumpkin Seeds and Raisins Topped with Baked Apples, Shredded Carrots, and Slivered Almonds
  • Banana Beet Cinnamon Zucchini Apple Waffles with Shredded Coconut, Walnuts, and Raisins Topped with Sliced Bananas, Slivered Almonds, and Cinnamon

The kids and I were brain-storming for some healthy options to pack in their lunch boxes this school year to give them some variety and boys requested waffles. Little did they know that waffles are and excellent vehicle in which to disguise all kids of veggies, seeds, fruits, and even beans (garbanzo bean flour or pureed Northern beans work well!) to nourish their growing bodies and minds, so, of course, I pulled out the waffle iron and granted their wish for waffles and we all scored!

After making healthy gluten free waffles, I allowed them to cool, then cut them diagonally to form cute little triangular waffles. I placed the waffles in a freezer safe container and I stock piled the freezer for lunches, breakfasts, and even quick and easy breakfast-dinners.

Healthy gluten free waffles have been an excellent investment of my time. No more complaints of “I can’t think of anything to pack in my lunch.” One boy packs his waffles “naked”, the other boy takes two waffles, slathers them with peanut butter and apple butter (R.W. Kudsen organic apple butter is the BEST!) and makes the most delicious PB&J imaginable. Win-win! Enjoy!

  • 3 cups gluten free flour, I grind my own mixture of almond flour, organic garbanzo bean flour, millet flour, sorghum flour, brown rice flour, and xanthan gum in my Vitamix. If you need an easy cheat, use 2 boxes of Hodgson Mill Multi Purpose Baking Mix.
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 3t cinnamon
  • 1t pumpkin pie spice
  • 4 T black strap molasses
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 4 T coconut oil
  • 2 cups non-dairy milk (I like Silk’s unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • Replacement equivalent of 2 eggs: 2 t Ener-g egg replacer + 2 T hot water, let stand OR 2 T ground flaxseeds + 6 T water or other liquid, let stand OR 2 t apple cider vinegar + 6 ounces almond or other non-dairy milk, let stand
  • 1 1/2 or 2 cups creamy oil substitute: mix and match if needed! pureed banana, shredded apples and/or applesauce, pureed pumpkin and/or squash, pureed or shredded carrots, purred or shredded zucchini, pureed beets, pureed beans, such as black beans, Northern beans, or garbanzo beans (yes, I am serious!), nut butters, such as almond butter, peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, apple butter (R.W. Kudsen organic apple butter is our favorite!), berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, pomegranates, cranberries
  • 1/2 c – 1 cup nutrient-dense add-ins:
      • pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chai,  and hemp seeds or ground powder equivalents, walnuts, slivered almonds, pecans, cacao nibs, shredded coconut raisins, dates, and/or figs

 

Lightly spray waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray.  Place flour or baking mix, baking powder, and spices in mixing bowl and mix well.  Add in other ingredients and mix well until blended. Get creative. There are no wrong answers with heathy gluten free waffles.  Pour mixture into preheated waffle iron.  Allow to cool. Enjoy!

Note:  This gluten free waffle batter also makes excellent Lunch Pail muffins. Just preheat oven to 350 degrees, spoon batter into greased muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes, checking for doneness.

Nutritious No Bake Recipes: Customize to Perfection!

Nutritious No Bake Recipes: Customize to Perfection!

No bake recipes are not as simple as expected. Complications can create crummy or gooey results. But once you’ve found the right “base” of ingredients, there are no limits to what you can make.

I create no bake recipes often, and they are never the same twice! Once I figured out the perfect balance between crummy and gooey (neither), I’ve been able to expand my options to any flavor or nutrient combinations that I want. They make a delightful dessert, an easy “energy” bite or kid-friendly party treat. Store extra in the freezer for single serving access. Enjoy!

  • 1 cup oats
  • ½ cup wheat germ, wheat bran or grounded flax
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup peanut butter, softened (click hereto learn how easy it is to make your own!)
  • ½ cup honey, agave, molasses or combination mixture
  • 2 T vanilla
  • ½ cup raisins, figs, or dates

Mix dry ingredients. Add in other ingredients. Roll into balls. Freezes well.

Coconut Cocoa Balls 

Pumpkin Oat Balls

Festive Fruit and Nut Balls

Tomatillo Tofu Scramble and a Question: Is Soy a Healthy Option?

Tomatillo Tofu Scramble and a Question: Is Soy a Healthy Option?

I have a new appreciation for the black man that can’t dance, and the British boy bored with soccer. When people discover that I am vegan, the first thing they awkwardly offer is tofu.

I am the vegan that doesn’t like tofu.

Slimy. Bland. Mushy. BLAH!

I don’t bring this up at the our secret vegan meetings. It’s don’t ask, don’t tell around this issue. I see other vegans who pick around chunks of tofu, but we don’t make eye contact. It’s just not discussed.

Though tofu is a standard in Vegetarian 101, I’ve only enjoyed it twice in my life. The first was at Blossom, a vegan restaurant in Manhattan, where mouth-watering smells, flavors and textures would convince Kevin to give up Bacon.

The second was a subtle surprise. While on vacation, a girlfriend and I combined our leftover veggies with her block of tofu. I intended to pick around it as I always do. But, as I sit to write this, I have just finished the final bite. I’ve been eating the leftovers all day, and it has only gotten better. We stumbled upon a magical combination and luckily, I was paying attention.

There are four key ingredients.
5-6 Tomatillos
a handful of freshly chopped cilantro
fresh block of organic tofu
3 tbsp of yeast flakes

The rest of the vegetable medley is whatever you want. We added vidalia onion, sweet yellow pepper, baby spinach leaves, 4 cloves of garlic, a zucchini, radishes, carrots and a can of black beans. Adding green onions, spicy peppers or sweet corn, and serving with a favorite hot sauce would also be wonderful additions. Also, season with cumin, turmeric, garlic powder/salt and any other seasoning of choice.

Prepare a block of tofu by crumbling it in a bowl, and mash in 3 tbsp of yeast flakes. The crumble is so much better than mushy, slimy cubes! Add it to the skillet.

Combine with chopped veggies and fresh garlic. The crumbled tofu and tomatillos are watery, and should provide enough liquid to sauté, so don’t add extra unless it’s necessary. Cook until desired texture is reached (go for crunchy and colorful) Season with black pepper and sea salt. A squirt of lime juice puts the cherry on top.

Tofu is high in protein, low in fat, and can be a good source of iron, calcium and magnesium, which is why it’s “the other white meat” in VeganWorld. But as most soybeans in the US contain GMO’s, it’s critical to look for organic varieties that are fresh. (If it’s in a cardboard package on a canned good shelf, skip it. Look for it instead in a refrigerated produce display.)

Being vegan, it’s easy to overload on soy without even realizing it. Eating a wide variety of foods is always a good idea, and there are great alternatives in rice, coconut, oat, hemp and almond milk products. Too much soy (like every meal, every day) can disrupt estrogen levels. But don’t let this scare you. It’s rare that any food qualifies for unlimited consumption. Salmon contains mercury, eggs contain cholesterol, beef has no fiber and too much cheese will make you fat. Also, there is corn and/or soy (think vegetable oil, thickeners, sweeteners, etc.) in nearly every processed product on the market  Yet in a carnivorous diet, these are considered safe and even beneficial in moderation.

Same principle applies to soy. If you are struggling with fertility, early onset of puberty, man-boobs, or looking for an infant formula, talk to a nutritional specialist. Otherwise, organic soy is a healthy part of a plant-based diet.

Try this! Let me know how yours turns out!

Want to know why organic soy is so critical? Read more about GMOs…

Pretty Delicious Mango Beet Banana Smoothie with Coconut Milk

Pretty Delicious Mango Beet Banana Smoothie with Coconut Milk

Pretty Delicious Mango Beet Banana Smoothie with Coconut Milk

Summer is a great time to enjoy a cool, refreshing, and nourishing treat such as this Pretty Delicious Mango Beet Banana Smoothie with Coconut Milk. The name says it all. I use frozen mangos, beets, bananas, and some unsweetened coconut milk (almond milk works well too!).

When ripe, peel the mangos and bananas, then freeze them. I roast beets covered in foil in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, cool, and peel off the outer skin. I use beets in sautés, salads, and even chocolate cake and freeze the remains for smoothies.  A little beet goes a long way and, in addition to its nutrition, beets add a pretty pink color to your smoothies.

Blend all ingredients in a high speed mixer, such as Vitamix to reach desired consistency. If youare lucky to have any left overs, you can freeze them as popsicles to be enjoyed another time. Enjoy!