Blueberry pie with almond crust

Every summer my husband and I seem to need to have at least 1 home-made blueberry pies or we feel like we missed something. The problem is that it’s too hot to want to turn on the oven! I’m also still experimenting with gluten-free crusts, which sometimes feels like a lot of work.

So, because of the heat and the gluten-free challenge, we haven’t had a blueberry pie in 2 years!

I’m taking the week (mostly) off of work to have a mini-vacation while I take the morning intensives in the South Boston Yoga teacher training program. I’m having a great time!

Monday I finally got over the heat/challenge thing and made this superb blueberry pie with almond crust. I found a recipe at Elana’s Pantry for this nice almond-flour crust. Since Elana’s instructions said to pat the crust into the pan rather than roll it out, I knew it would have a crumbly consistency. I decided to double the recipe and use 1/2 of it as a crumble topping, which I added in the last 15 minutes or so of baking.

Make sure you have vanilla ice cream on hand–the first bite makes it clear that you must have it a la mode! I love either Purely Decadent or Cocobliss‘s vanilla coconut milk ice cream for this.

The crust is not as cohesive as a wheat-based crust, but it crumbles charmingly and tastes delicious.

Blueberry pie with almond crust

For the crust and crumble (see Elana’s original posting here):

3 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cp light-flavored healthy oil of your choice (Elana recommends grapeseed)
4 tbsp agave/brown rice syrup/maple syrup/honey
2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:

2 pints fresh blueberries
2 tbsp tapioca flour
1/3-1/2 cp sugar (I used Succanat)
1 tsp cinnamon
butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make crust and crumble:

Combined almond flour, salt and baking soda in large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl combine oil, agave and vanilla.

Stir oil mixture into almond flour mixture, mixing well to combine. Consistency should be fairly crumbly.

Press 1/2 of the almond mixture into a pie plate, reserve rest for topping.

To make filling:

Combine tapioca flour, sugar and cinnamon. Gently fold into blueberries, making sure everything is evenly distributed. If you’re using butter, put small pieces here and there on top of the blueberries.

Put blueberries into prepared pie crust and cover tightly with foil with a few small holes punched to let some steam out.

Bake covered for about 40 minutes. Uncover and distribute reserved crumble topping over pie (don’t touch! It’s hot and sticky).

Return pie to oven, uncovered, and bake for 15-20 minutes longer, until crumble topping is nicely browned.

Hazelnut chocolate chip cookies

I spend a significant part of my day talking about how important it is to eat a healthy, whole-foods diet. Food is medicine. In Chinese medicine, eating a healthy, balanced diet is often the best way to have good health.

I think too many people think a healthy diet is about self depravation and no enjoyment. They’re totally wrong. My personal approach is to eat the healthiest meals that I can–whole grains, beans, lots of kale and green things, fresh fruit, nuts, all delicious, no depravation–then I’m free to indulge a little every day. It’s totally guiltless, and that lets me enjoy it so much more.

Here’s a recipe for one of my indulgences. These cookies are super rich because they’re mostly hazelnut meal, so don’t overindulge. I think they’d be equally good make with almond flour, but I like the sweetness that hazelnuts add. The thing I love most about these cookies is that there are so many things here that are good for you. That’s my most favorite treat–tasty and healthy. Balanced.

Sadly, I have no pictures of this treat, but I’ll post some next time I make them.

Hazelnut chocolate chip cookies

2 cups hazelnut meal
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (or flour of your choice)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter, Earth Balance or coconut oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup agave, honey, maple or a combo
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cp chopped pecans
1/2 cp chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, cover with parchment paper and butter the paper.

Combine hazelnut meal, buckwheat flour, salt and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Whisk together until well blended.

Beat butter/Earth Balance/coconut oil and liquid sweetner until creamy and well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.

Add flour blend in several small quantities, beating after each addition. Dough should be fairly thick, but might still seem very moist. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips

For best results put dough into refrigerator for at least an hour, but as long as 24 hours. You can also bake them right away–they will just spread out more. The rest time lets the buckwheat flour absorb some of the moisture.

Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of cookie batter onto prepared pan, leaving some room for them to spread. Bake for 15 minutes.

Veggie burgers

I’ve finally finished by 10-month yoga teacher training, and while it’s bitter sweet to be done, I’m looking forward to having more time for my blog. I have a lot of recipes to post, and Chinese medicine and yoga to discuss.

Today’s post is for my homemade veggie burgers, which are a constantly-evolving, free-form food that I change based on my whim and what I have on hand.

veggie burgs

I’ve been experimenting with a couple of different recipes and found a nice combo in my last batch. It’s an amalgamation of Molly Katzen’s Tofu Nut Ball recipe (from The Enchanted Broccoli Forrest) and Mark Bittman’s Nut burger (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian).

My version is pretty flexible for the proportions of rice/nuts/tofu–the key is to add enough whole cooked rice at the end to be able to form nice burgers.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own burgers, we love Sunshine Burgers. They are gluten-free and made of sunflower seeds and other tasty things.

Cathy’s Veggie Burgers

1 cup raw almonds
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1 onion
1/2 block Chinese-style tofu (about 8 ounces)
1-2 tbsp tahini or peanut butter
Sriracha hot sauce to taste (we like a lot–1/2-1 tbsp), or any other hot sauce or ketchup (optional)
Soy Sauce to taste (about 1 tbsp)
1 egg

Grind almonds in a food processor to make a coarse meal. Add about onion, tofu, tahini or peanut butter, Sriracha, soy sauce, egg and about 1/2 of the rice. Pulse to form a thick, fairly uniform puree.
Dump puree into a bowl and add enough brown rice until the mixture is mold-able but still a bit wet (not sopping wet, just a bit wet).

I like to cook these on my double-burner cast iron griddle, but I think they’d also do well in the oven.

To cook on your stovetop: heat a thick griddle or skillet to a medium to low temperature. Mold 1/2-3/4 a cup of mix into patties (easier to do this with wet hands). Cook on griddle for 5-10 minutes per side. Turn your burgers carefully–they should hold together pretty well, but need to be handled gently. The idea is to slowly evaporate the liquid out while cooking the egg to hold it together. Keep the temperature low so that your burgers don’t burn while they slowly dry out.

To cook in the oven: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place patties on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, or until patties are crispy and brown on the outside and cooked through.

Serve with whatever burger toppings you like. My favorite toppings are avocado, dijon mustard, and tomatoes. My husband usually likes to melt some cheese on his burger just before it comes off of the griddle.

Quinoa for dinner

quinoa-kale pesto

Tonight for dinner I decided to try the Quinoa with Spring Vegetables and Walnut-Kale pesto recipe from this new blog I’ve been reading, Gluten Free Girl and Chef. I adapted the recipe to what I had on hand, and produced something that I think uses the structure of the original, but with a bit different result. I think the key to this recipe is the pesto. You can play with the other details to put more flavor into them, or you can keep it simple and serve a dollop of the pesto over simply cooked quinoa and steamed veggies. I’ve also made a vegan version of this by using a bit of nutritional yeast to replace the romano cheese. Here’s a link to the original posting.

Here’s my version, devoured by my quinoa skeptic husband:

Quinoa and broccoli with cilantro-kale pesto

For the Quinoa:

1/2 yellow onion
1/2 Tbsp Butter or Earth Balance
1-2 Tbsp olive oil, more if needed when you add the Quinoa
1.5 cups quinoa, rinsed
3 cups veggie stock (I used Imagine Foods No-Chicken Broth)
1/2 tsp salt

For the Pesto:

1/2 cup pecans
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch or more cilantro
1 bunch lacinato kale, aka Dinosaur Kale, or any other kale
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
optional: 1-2 tbsp grated romano or parmesan cheese (or, add 1 tsp nutritional yeast for vegan version)
Salt and fresh-ground pepper

For the Veg:

2-3 crowns of steamed broccoli florets
1/2 yellow onion
1/2 bunch cilantro
Olive oil

To make Quinoa:

Add butter and olive oil to a hot pan, and add onions when butter has melted. Saute until tender, then add rinsed quinoa. Saute until quinoa is dry and smells slightly toasty, adding more olive oil if needed to keep quinoa from sticking. Add 3 cups of stock and 1/2 tsp or more of salt. Put the lid on the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes. Removed lid when done to let some of the steam out.

To make pesto:

Puree pecans and garlic in food processor until uniformly chopped. Add cilantro and kale (you might need to add it in several small bunches). Puree until everything is uniform and drizzel olive oil in while machine is running. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the pesto is uniform. Add more olive oil if necessary to achieve a silky pesto consistency. Add optional romano or parmeson and lemon juice, blend. Taste for salt and pepper.

To prepare veggies and bring it all together:

Saute the other 1/2 onion in olive oil. When it starts to soften, add cilantro and toss briefly. Add steamed broccoli and toss until reheated. Add quinoa and peraps a bit more olive oil, gently stirring to combine and maybe brown some of the quinoa.

To serve: either toss quinoa/veggie mixture with all of the pesto, or spread a small amount of pesto on the plate, and top with the quinoa-broccoli mixture. Top with 2-3 tablespoons of kale pesto, or to taste. Top with some grated cheese, if desired.

Best brownies ever

I’ve been playing with this gluten-free brownie recipe that I found at Gluten Free Goddess, and it really is one of the best brownie recipes I’ve ever made. It uses almond flour and some rice flour, and it’s completely delicious. I’ve made it using a combo of almond flour and a gluten-free flour mixture (which includes brown rice flour, quinoa flour, coconut flour and potato and tapioca starch). Even though they are gluten-free, I would confidently serve them to gluten eaters, and not feel like I was giving them a second-class pastry.

The Goddess includes directions to make your own almond meal, but it’s available in my local Whole Foods. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand. They also make a hazelnut flour which would probably be equally lovely in this recipe.

I’ve been playing with the chocolate, and have gotten good results by using 1 tablespoon of Ghirardelli’s cocoa powder plus 3 tablespoons of coconut oil to replace 1 ounce of chocolate. Any oil will do–I like coconut oil because it’s a healthy fat, and adds only the slightest hint of coconut flavor (which I really like). I also like to use this chocolate substitute because I can make it dairy-free. You could also use melted butter or margarine, olive oil, safflower oil, or really any oil with a mild flavor.

In the last batch I made, I used 2 ounces of Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons of Ghirardelli’s cocoa powder plus 9 tablespoons of coconut oil. The flavor of these brownies is screaming for some sort of alcohol flavoring, so I’m working on a way to include brandy or maybe some Kahula to give them an extra depth of flavor.

Good quality chocolate or cocoa powder makes a difference here, so don’t skimp!

Here is the recipe, as it appears on Gluten Free Goddess. You can read the Goddess’s original post here.

Dark Chocolate Brownies.

5 ounces Belgian dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup butter or vegan margarine such as Smart Balance (or Spectrum Organic Shortening)
2 organic free-range eggs
1 cup packed organic light brown sugar
1/2 rounded cup almonds, processed into a fine meal
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla plus 2 teaspoons peppermint extract)

Optional:

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired
1/2 cup extra semi-sweet chocolate chips for the top, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with foil and lightly oil the bottom.

Using the microwave, melt the dark chocolate and butter in a large (microwave safe) measuring cup. Stir together to combine. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs on medium high till frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth.

Add the melted chocolate mixture into the egg-sugar mixture a little at a time – incorporate it slowly- and beat well for a good minute. The chocolate will look smooth and glossy.

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients: almond meal, rice flour, fine sea salt and baking soda; whisk together. Add the dry flour mix into the chocolate mixture and beat well for a minute. Add the vanilla, beat another half a minute or so.

You now have your brownie batter.

If you are adding nuts, stir in the nuts by hand and spread the batter into the prepared baking pan [this brownie batter is much thinner than any brownie mix batter I’ve tried- don’t worry, it’s going to be wonderful]. Shake the pan a little bit to even out the batter.

Layer the semi-sweet chips all over the top of the batter and press them in slightly, if adding.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree F oven for 33 to 35 minutes, or until the brownies are set. Don’t overcook. (Err on the side of gooey, if you must- that’s what I do; I find gluten-free brownies taste better slightly undercooked and soft in the middle than over-cooked and crumbly.)

Cool on a wire rack; and remove the brownies from the pan by gripping the foil edges. Chill before cutting. We saved out two squares, and wrapped the rest for freezing.

These brownies were outstanding slightly chilled. Intense, chocolaty and tender. This is a fabulous recipe. And I have to Clare to thank for it.

Makes 9-12 servings. We got nine squares out of it.

Rice Porridge for a happy tummy

Congee or Jook is a special rice porridge eaten throughout Asia when someone is sick or feels the need to eat simple foods to cleanse the system. Traditionally, it is made of white rice cooked slowly in a large quantity of water, i.e. 1 cup of rice cooked in 3-8 cups of water for however long it takes to become a thick porridge. It is extremely bland and very gentle on the system.

I often make congee with whole grains, and then I add other things for flavor. For breakfast, I might add some dried fruit and nuts, and maybe a spoonful of agave nectar or honey. For lunch I like to add some sesame oil, soy sauce, cooked edamame, spinach, and if my tummy feels up to it, some chopped green onions. If you have the time, it’s nice to soak the grains to help make them easier to digest. I like to use brown rice, and often add other grains like quinoa or millet. If you are not avoiding gluten, whole barley and wheat berries are nice, too, but they work best when you soak them ahead of time, and add the maximum amount of water when you cook them. Whole oats, or even steel-cut oats are a nice addition, too.

Whole grain congee is not tradional, but I think that when you soak the grains, and cook them for a long time, they can be gentle to your system, and more nutritious than traditional white rice congee.

Maki at JustHungry.com give a recipe for a new year’s congee that includes 7 greens. You can read her posting here. The recipe is below:

Recipe: Nanakusagayu using local greens

Makes 4 servings

Since this is such a simple dish, make sure to use the best quality ingredients you can. The quality of the rice in particular is important, as is the rinsing and drying process. Use fresh greens and a salt that really tastes good.

* 1 cup white medium grain or Japanese style rice (see Looking at Rice).
* Mixed dark leafy greens
* 8 cups water
* Sea salt, to taste

Rinse the rice with several changes of water (see How to wash rice) until the water runs clear. Drain the rice into a colander, and leave for at least 30 minutes to dry.

Wash the greens. If you are using any slightly bitter or tough greens like kale, collard greens, daikon radish leaves (not sprouts), turnip greens, puntarelle or cabbage, blanch them briefly in boiling water, drain and refresh under cold running water. Tender greens can be used as-is. Chop up all the greens. You should end up with about 1/4 cup of cooked greens or 1 cups of raw greens, or a mix of both.

Put the rice and the water in a heavy bottomed pan (traditionally you might use a donabe or earthenware pot, but I just use a cast iron enameled pot). Bring up to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

Cook, while stir up the rice from the bottom of the pan occasionally as it cooks, so that it doesn’t burn or stick, for about 40 minutes, until the rice porridge is creamy, like a loose risotto. Add 1 tsp. salt and stir. Just before serving, add the prepped greens and stir in well. Serve piping hot, with additional salt on the side that people can add to taste to their bowls.

Congee cooks up nicely in a crock pot–just set it up before bed and you’ll have a nice porridge in the morning. I make mine on the stove and reheat it as needed (though Maki doesn’t recommend this. I find it works just fine for me).

Dr. Weil’s Carrot Cake

carrotsI can’t wait to try making this healthy Carrot Cake recipe that Dr. Weil posted recently. Carrots are really good for you, but carrot cake is loaded with sugar and fat. In this recipe, he’s replaced refined sugar and butter with honey and olive oil. Honey is still very sweet, and shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities, but it is a better choice than white (or brown) sugar. Olive oil might seem like a strange thing to put in a desert, but it’s actually quite nice and will not make your cake taste like Italian food. carrot cakeIt has a wonderfully rich taste making it a good substitute for butter. This recipe includes walnuts, but in my hometown of New Orleans, we would use pecans instead. Both nuts are rich in essential fatty acids, and in Chinese medicine, help build your Kidney energy.

Here’s the recipe:

2 cups firmly packed finely grated carrots
Juice of 1 large orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 cup honey, liquefied in microwave (30 seconds)
1/2 cup crushed or chopped pineapple, drained
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a mixing bowl, stir together the carrots, orange juice, vanilla, olive oil, honey, and pineapple until well blended.

3. In another bowl, stir together the flours, baking soda, and spices. Mix in the walnuts.

4. Blend the dry ingredients into the carrot mixture, stirring until just mixed.

5. Pour the batter into a nonstick 8-inch-square baking pan and bake for 45-60 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and remove from pan.

From Dr. Weil. Carrot cake image borrowed with gratitude from English food blog A Merrier World. Go there for recipes for carrot cake (a more traditional version) and other tasty goodies.

Fried Green Tomatoes: Not Just a Movie

You may remember Fried Green Tomatoes as a pro-woman movie from the early ’90s, but the titular fruit is actually a tasty summer treat.

Sure, fried things are in general not so healthy. But for an occasional treat, green tomatoes are certainly better than bacon or french fries.

Martha Rose Shulman at the Gray Lady serves up a recipe with a Mediterranean twist. (She recommends a heavy nonstick skillet, but I always stick with cast iron, to avoid carcinogenic teflon bits getting in the food.)

    1 pound firm green tomatoes

    1/2 cup cornmeal (you will not use all of it)

    Salt and freshly ground pepper

    Extra virgin olive oil or canola oil for frying

    1. Slice the tomatoes about 1/2 inch thick. Season the cornmeal with salt and pepper and dredge the tomatoes in it. You can do this in a large bowl, a flatter baking dish or a brown paper bag — whatever is easiest for you. You won’t use all of the cornmeal.

    2. Heat a heavy skillet, either cast iron or nonstick, over medium-high heat, and add enough oil to coat the bottom by about 1/8 inch. Fry the tomatoes on each side until golden, about two to three minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, on a paper bag or on a rack. Keep warm in a low oven until all of the tomatoes are fried. Serve hot or warm.

Photo and recipe are from the New York Times, natch.

Whole grains for a busy life

In my attempt to eat primarily whole grains, Iíve found a few shortcuts that make it possible to fit the longer cooking time into my busy work schedule.

First, I generally make a large pot of brown rice mixed with some millet at the beginning of the week. Iím not too exact about the ratio of rice to millet, but I generally try to make 3 cups total, usually a 1/2 cup of millet and 2 1/2 cups of brown rice. They cook together nicely, and the millet doesnít really change the flavor too much while adding a lot of nutrients. (It contains iron and some other helpful minerals, B vitamins and protein.) You can do this same thing with white rice to improve itís nutritional value without changing its taste too much.

This big pot of rice allows me to simply re-heat it any time I want some rice with a meal, without the 30+ minutes of cooking time.

My other favorite pre-cooked grain combo is a blend of quinoa, amaranth and millet. I generally make about 2 cups total, with roughly 1 cup of quinoa + 3/4 cup millet + 1/4 cup amaranth. These grains also cook nicely together in about 12 minutes (like white rice). Quinoa and amaranth have a heavy dose of high-quality protein (similar to egg white, which has the highest quality protein around), as well as large quantities of minerals (like iron and magnesium) and B vitamins. I generally use this grain blend as a breakfast porridge. I re-heat it in the morning with some soy milk, and add raisins, nuts, cocoa nibs and a bit of honey for a super-healthy, super-filling start to my day.

Both of these whole grain blends contain ample fiber and have a low glycemic index, making them filling, slow-burning energy generators.

Both blends cook well with a standard 2 parts water to 1 part grain ratio. For the brown rice, I generally add and additional 1/4 cup of water since it cooks longer. Itís important to add 1/2ñ1 teaspoon of salt to bring out the natural flavor of the grains.

These grains are also gluten-free and allergen free, so theyíre a good choice for people with food sensitivities.

For more information about the nutritional makeup of these grains, you can check Nutritiondata.com.

Mincemeat has a bad rap

For about a year now, I’ve been thinking about trying to make home-made mincemeat for my husband. My father loved mincemeat, and my mother would buy jars of Nonesuch Mincemeat and make a pie for him every winter. As a picky eater, I resolutely refused to even taste it. I don’t think my mom especially liked it, and perhaps my older brother would eat a bit. Despite my refusal to have even one taste of it, I remember thinking it smelled good. It was dark brown, and smelled sweet and spicy.

My memories of this good smell made me think that my husband would enjoy mincemeat, and that I might actually like it, too. We both love that other, much-maligned holiday treat, fruitcake (but only from Deluxe Fruitcake in Corsicana, TX–it’s the only one worth eating). I did some internet research for recipes and found one that looked like the right combination of tasty and not too difficult.

So, what is mincemeat? It’s been around for hundreds of years and no one seems to know what it’s all about. Traditionally, it did contain finely minced beef, along with fruit (fresh and dried), spices, fat (as suet) and some sort of alcohol like wine. It was a way to preserve meat and fruit in a time before refrigeration. I did find several recipes that had beef listed as one of the ingredients, but since I don’t eat beef (and since it sounds kind of yucky to put it in a sweet pie), I sought out an all-fruit version.

From reviewing several recipes, I determined that it’s a fairly flexible recipe that should contain some fresh apple and maybe some fresh orange, a variety of dried fruit (raisins, cherries, peaches, apricots), butter, spirits like brandy and spices. It’s actually really easy to assemble, and cooked quietly and happily on the stove for about 40 minutes.  I used the recipe for Bubby’s All-Fruit Mincemeat (found at globalgourmet.com), and adapted it to what I had on hand. Here’s a link to the original recipe.

I haven’t yet made my mincemeat pie, but this stuff is awfully tasty just eaten with a fork!

My adaptation of Bubby’s excellent recipe is as follows:

Cathy’s Mincemeat


1 Granny Smith apply, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces

1 naval orange, cut into small pieces (including skin and pulp)

2 small (or 1 large) Bosc pears

1/2 cup red wine

1 cup succanat (or rapidura, an unrefined sugar)

3/4 cup Brandy

1/4 cup dark rum

1/2 cup water

4 oz raisins

4 oz dried bluberries

4 oz dried apricots, cut into small pieces

3 oz mixed dried apples and peaches, cut into small pieces

5 tbsp butter

1 oz candied ginger, cut into small pieces

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

pinch cayenne

Combine all ingredients in a 6-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and let it gently simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all of the dried fruit is plump and soft, and the liquid has been reduced to a very thick syrup. Cool completely. This should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Now you’re ready to make pie!

Let mixture cool completely. It is not ready to use as a pie filling, or whatever else sounds good to you.