Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Recipe: Huli Huli Burger Wraps

A friend of mine is in love with Hawai'i. She and her husband head there nearly every year, sometimes twice. They take their kids, their grandkids, their friends, and pretty much anyone they meet because they both love it so much. If they had it their way, they'd retire right on the beach of some lagoon in the Hawaiian islands.

Beyond the beauty of the Pacific, one of her favorite things about Hawai'i is the food.

Hawaiian food has lots of specialties and their own unique cuisine. From spam musubi to Kalua pork, Lau Lau to chicken katsu, and of course, their infamous Hawaiian BBQ.

Spam Musubi and Kalua Pork
What is Hawaiian BBQ, you ask? It's a fabulous blend of Asian and American flavors, a bit more on the sweet side (as most Hawaiian food tends to be), but marvelous. Traditional Hawaiian plates come with two perfectly rounded scoops of rice, a heaping side of macaroni salad, and whatever entree is being served. It's not a lunch or dinner for the weak - most of the time, there's plenty for the next meal or two. Or maybe three.

For those of us who live on the mainland, a family-run chain of restaurants has brought all those flavors to shore. L&L Hawaiian BBQ has brought us fresh varieties of some of the most famous Hawaiian dishes. It's a great way to experience some of the food right where you live until you can catch that cruise or plane ride to your vacation getaway.

My friend and I were talking about Hawai'i, as we often do while we are busy making cookies. She raved and raved about one of her favorite sauces - Huli Huli sauce. Huli Huli Sauce was the invention of an islander, Ernest Morgado, who needed to marinate and baste his chicken in a teriyaki sauce while he was grilling for a farmer's meeting. He used his mother's teriyaki sauce recipe and the chicken became an instant hit. After nearly 30 years of competitions and fund-raisers, he began bottling his special sauce. You can buy it in most stores, but homemade is the way to go, especially if you can't eat soy or gluten. It can be used as a marinade, a basting sauce, a dipping sauce, or pretty much any way you can think of. Burgers, chicken, kabobs - you name it. Delish.
Huli Huli Chicken

This sweet, tangy, slightly spicy sauce, is a perfect family pleaser.

A week after my friend gave me her recipe, she asked excitedly, "Have you tried it yet?"

I hadn't.

And part of the reason I hadn't was the addition of soy sauce to the recipe. I don't eat much soy sauce due to the wheat content, as well as the soy. Neither does well in my body, so I had to find an alternative. So, I headed to the kitchen and decided to try it with my No Soy Soy Sauce.

And it is as wonderful as she claims. Sweet, tangy, slightly spicy from the ginger. All the sugars caramelize into the most amazing crusty sauce. It's fantastic, as well as versatile.

I think Ernest would be proud.

Happy eating!

Huli Huli Burger Wraps

Recipe collaboration: Sauce by L. Dolan (with my adaptation); the rest of the deliciousness by Michelle L. Hankes
Serves 4 hungry people (can be easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or quintupled)

For the Huli Huli Sauce:
(makes about 2 - 2 1/2 cups of sauce)

1 cup packed brown sugar or vegan cane sugar
3/4 cup ketchup (organic preferred)
3/4 cup soy sauce or No Soy Soy Sauce (just triple the recipe)
1/3 cup chicken broth, veggie broth, or warm water with two large pinches of sea salt
2 1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger root
1 1/2 tsp fresh minced garlic

Pour all ingredients into a medium bowl, then whisk to combine. Reserve 1 cup for the burgers. Place remainder in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for later use, up to 2 months.

For the burgers: 

1 1/2 lbs. good-quality ground beef
sea salt, to taste
8 lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup Huli Huli Sauce, divided

1. Place ground beef in a medium bowl, add a bit of sea salt (to taste), then mix with fingers just until combined. Divide the beef into 8 equal portions. Form each portion into a flat log-shape so they will fit easily into the lettuce leaves. (Don't put them in the lettuce leaves, yet!) Set aside.

2. Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium (or grill, if you prefer).

3. While the pan is heating, place 1/4 cup of the Huli Huli sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

4. When the pan is hot, place the "burgers" on the skillet (or grill) and allow to fully cook on one side about 2-3 minutes to get a good sear. Flip; then using the remaining 3/4 cup of Huli Huli sauce, baste the burgers either using a basting brush or a small spoon. Let cook for a minute or two, then repeat allowing to cook for another minute. This should create a lovely caramelized sauce on the burgers. Yum. (For safety, discard the rest of the basting sauce.)

5. Remove from pan when cooked to your liking and place in the lettuce leaves. Using the Huli Huli sauce that was first set aside (in step 3), drizzle a small amount over the burgers. If there's any left, save for a further use or use for dipping (it also makes an awesome Huli Huli mayo).

6. Serve with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and/or a green salad! Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

No Soy Soy Sauce

Ah, soy sauce...

Delicious, tangy, salty, briney. All the things you want to add some oomph to chicken, fish, burgers, sauces, and pretty much any dish that resembles something derived from an Asian culture.

But, soy sauce does not work for every body. Sometimes, it's the soy; sometimes, it's the wheat (although, you can now find wheat-free soy sauce in many stores or online). But either way, if soy sauce does not make you sing with delight, there aren't many alternatives to get the same flavor.

Until now.

That's right. I take credit for this delicious concoction created out of necessity.

Okay, nobody needs soy sauce, for the most part. But fried rice without soy sauce or teriyaki without soy sauce?? How bland! How boring! How, un-umami.

But, soy sauce in both components is not body-friendly for me. So, what's an umami-loving girl to do?

Create her own.

Happy Umami Eating!

No Soy Soy Sauce

Easy-peasy recipe by Michelle L. Hankes
Makes scant 1/4 cup


1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp tamarind concentrate*
2 generous pinches of sea salt (or to taste)


Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until combined. 

Use immediately one-for-one in any recipe needing soy sauce or as a dipping sauce. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for a week. Can be frozen for up to 3 months. 

*Tamarind concentrate is made from the tamarind fruit. It has a lovely tangy, kinda sweet, and definitely sour flavor that when added with salt makes a wonderful substitute for soy sauce. It is used in many traditional Asian dishes, including Pad Thai. I use Tamicon that can be purchased at Whole Foods or most grocery stores in the Asian food section or Hispanic food section. I use the concentrate version because it's smooth and intense in flavor, but it also comes in paste form and blocks of concentrate. I haven't tried those, but I'm sure they would work equally well. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: Rooted in Design by Tara Heibel & Tassy de Give

One of my favorite things about Blogging for Books is that I get to try a book that I might not try otherwise.


That isn't totally true.

I love books. I love pretty much any book.

Well...most of them.

But, that's the fun part of reading - you get to see into someone else's world and decide if that world coincides with your own.

So, the world I decided to enter was the world of indoor gardening. Now, I am not new to indoor gardening. I have thirteen indoor houseplants, a myriad of outdoor growers, and I'm always pondering (and giving away) more. At one time, I had 20+ indoor plants, but decide to send some to new homes and merge several others into bigger containers. Sometimes, there can be a limit on how many living things can live in one 650-square foot abode.

My newest read from Blogging for Books is Rooted in Design by Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give, the co-owners of Sprout Home, a modern home and garden center that tries to bring new life into homes, work spaces, and pretty much any crevice that they can fill.

Rooted in Design is a really fun book that brings a whole new meaning to indoor plant life. They have so many intriguing ideas about where to put plants, how to showcase them, and how to really add a sparkle to your home. From wall planters made of bricks to air plants wired to the wall, this book will work for pretty much anyone looking to green up their life. Beautiful planters, creative ideas, inspiring foliage, and lots of tips and ideas fill the many pages of this colorful book. A few ideas like self-watering containers and Kokedama (a free-form planting method similar to bonsai) are interspersed in the book with detailed how-to steps complete with text and pictures which really makes me want to get out into the gardening shed.

This is a really fun, clever, and inspiring book. What a great find!

Happy indoor gardening!

**This book was given to me by Blogging for Books, obviously - but with the intention that I will give it a completely honest review. I have. It was pretty good. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland

I tried something new. Well, it wasn't really new for me. I am a great fan of books about ancients with incredible wisdom. This is one of those books.

Trying Not to Try is a fascinating look at ancient China and the secrets many of their philosophers once shared. Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhuangzi - all purveyors of infinite wisdom.

Some fascinating passages really captivated me. The stories and metaphorical allegories were really compelling, however, I got lost in the diatribe that too resembled a textbook. The author shares personal wisdom and a relatable prose, but then it falls back into a lecture series at the University. In fact, I often felt, while reading it, that I was sitting in front of Professor Slingerland.

This would make for an amusing and fascinating semester in college, but I was really more interested in the concept and reason for creation of the book: the interesting idea of wu-wei and de. Ancient Chinese philosophers examined the human condition (which, surprisingly is not unlike today) and the spiritual aspect of different versions of divinity - each with their own perception. Wu-wei ("ooo-way") followed amongst all the traditions as the concept of effortless action or trying not to try. De ("duh") being the energy that emanates from the person - that which is felt by others, be it charismatic or otherwise.

These two concepts and their evolution, as well as the potential for the author's examination, are what drew me to the book. However, I lost interest in the classroom feel the book has - or de, as it may be. I appreciate that the author is a Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia with a clear passion and integrity for the body of work he created. But, I think I got all I needed in just the first few chapters.

**This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. Honestly. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: Bread & Butter by Erin McKenna

I know cookbooks are not a venture from my norm, but a Babycakes cookbook is.

Why, you ask?

Well, there are a few reasons.

But, first, a little history.

Babycakes NYC is a very famous, very successful gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan bakery in the heart of Manhattan. Ever since they hit the stage with their delectable treats for those of us with gluten-intolerance, -sensitivity, or full-on Celiac's, they paved the way for better tasting treats. I've yet to have had the chance to visit any of their locations, but I, like many other loyal followers who have never set foot inside, wait patiently for the chance to try their raved about baked goods.

Erin McKenna, the owner and creator of Babycakes NYC, has been in the business of creating safer treats since 2005. That's a long time in the gluten-free world. That was a time when no one else was really doing such a thing - or at least not many were. And she went so bold as to create everything gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, and unrefined sugar-free. This place converted those who feared vegan, gluten-free products into loyal followers. Crazy!

So, you can see how many of us covet the chance to set foot in that adorable pink store. But, alas, not everyone can make it to NYC for a sweet, gluten-free treat. The frustration!

Then, the most amazing thing happened.

She created a cookbook.

The first of three, Babycakes, was the first proud child of this creative parent and offered those of us who couldn't make it all the way to her cute little store, the chance to experience Babycakes all for ourselves in our own home. All you needed was the book and a list of ingredients.

Or so we thought.

The moment I looked at that first book, I was disappointed.

It included gads of soy milk, bean flours, and recipes that didn't test well. My first red flag was the ingredients. How could a book include soy when she never touched it in the bakery, if these recipes were from the famed bakery itself?

I got it. Frustrating as it may be, I got it.

I understood that anyone who creates such an epic venture isn't going to give away all the tried and tested recipes in one simple book. Who would? But I did think she'd put a book out that had decent recipes and resembled the likes of her bakery; at least the same premise. It just seemed so unfair to all of the fans who were relying on the fact that she kept so many allergens out of her baked goods. The cookbook unanimously dropped that promise.

Babycakes fell a little off my must-see NYC travel list.

Oh, but, I still wanted to go. It's just so tempting. Who doesn't want to know what all the hype is about? I would bet that the goods are just as amazing as people say they are, but the book should have been shelved in the back by all the unused dishes.

Next, Erin created another cookbook, Babycakes Covers the Classics. I never even opened this one up. I just didn't trust the book to be any good.

But then, Blogging for Books offered her newest cookbook, Bread & Butter, a gluten-free, vegan book filled with savory breads and baked goods. I wasn't sure if I should trust it, but a part of me wanted to know if the books had gotten any better. Did they still seem like a publicity ploy and a way to make more money? Or did they finally have some integrity?

I'm not asking a prized bakery to give away all her secrets. But if you are going to offer a cookbook to those who love your stuff, don't disappoint with recipes that aren't the real thing or even well-tested. Just don't bother. Or suffer follower disloyalty and loss of respect.

If you disregard my last statement, I really did try to go into the book with an open mind.

The book in its physicality doesn't disappoint. It is adorable. It's just as cute as the owner and all the 1950's outfits they wear. Pink with cute fonts and a loaf of fresh bread on the cover. Adorable. I was excited to open it. I could smell the freshly-risen yeast dough.

I began to flip through the pages, reading the foreward and the intro, looking at the pictures of the bakery. Cute. So very cute. And still tons of pink. It definitely follows the bakery's brand.

Next up in the chapters: some simple, basic ingredient assistance (as she calls it) - outlines of basic gluten-free, vegan baking principles. Then, the help desk - a smattering of FAQs all about baking with some of Erin's requisite humor interspersed. Finally, onto the recipes: the waking hours (breakfast); breads; sandwiches; pizza and focaccia; this is for the kids (kid-friendly yummies); foreign affairs (some interesting global recipes); puff pastry and beyond; snacks, dips and dressings; a sauce, a spread, and butter (including her original "butter" recipe); bread reborn; and sweets: the bonus round.

It's not a particularly big book, so each of these categories has only a few recipes in each (some more, some less). Lots of great pictures and each recipe is well-written. No complaints there. Some even have tutorial pictures like the puff pastry recipe - which I would have to say is loosely a puff pastry recipe. Based on the ingredient list and the way the recipe is made - there's no butter block, the dough appears to be more like a simple pie crust, and it's made with oat flour and bean flours - it's probably not going to puff. Doesn't mean it won't be delicious, but I'm not so sure it's really puff pastry with the very distinct flakiness and intense buttery-ness.

On the upside: only a couple of recipes have spelt, which is technically gluten-free, but the protein in spelt is so closely related to wheat that many gluten-sensitive people react to it. This was one of the the major complaints by many about her first book - nearly all of them had spelt. This one focuses more on oat flour (preferably certified gluten-free), Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free flour blend (which includes garbanzo, fava bean and other flours made in a dedicated gluten-free mill), brown rice flour, arrowroot, and potato starch. The dairy-free milks of choice are now rice and coconut - a far cry from the soy milk-dominated first book.

And the oils of choice are still unscented coconut and canola, or you can make Erin's "butter" recipe which calls for an interesting mix of things: unscented coconut oil, canola oil, rice milk, coconut milk, agave, sunflower lecithin, salt, xanthan gum, and lemon juice blended together, then refrigerated into a solid form.

I am intrigued by the "butter." I haven't made this yet, so I chose a recipe that I had pretty much everything for. If I didn't have it, I followed her substitution list of things that should be equal substitutions.

I chose to make bagels. I've made gluten-free bagels before from Carol Fenster's book and loved them. They were slightly chewy and I loved the baking soda/boiling water concoction that creates the crusty exterior. Even if making bagels (wheat or not) is a time-consuming activity, those worked great.

These, however, did not.

They were...okay.

Now, mind you, I have eaten many, many, many gluten-free, dairy-free items (my standard) and consumed my fair share of gluten-free, vegan products too. The bagels turned out more like a biscuit, both times I made them.

Why did I make them twice if they were just okay?

For a very good reason.

Quality control.

In this book, Erin states you can substitute various flours for other flours. I followed that in the first test with one exception - I don't use potato starch at home. My body isn't a huge fan. Instead, I use arrowroot and cornstarch. That's what I had, so that's what I used. Most of the time, I've had no problem with conversion. However, the first batch turned out very biscuit-like. Not a bad taste, but not a bagel either.

The dough did not turn out sticky, like the recipe described. Gluten-free dough often isn't handleable like a typical wheat dough - it tends to be thinner and more moist. This was that. Oftentimes, if a gluten-free dough is the same consistency as a wheat dough, the outcome will be dense and tough. I was supposed to be able to form the dough with my hands into bagel shapes - this first dough was too thin and moist for that.

But, I persisted with the recipe. I didn't want to add more flour. I wanted to see what the outcome would be as the recipe is written in the first trial. I set it in the fridge to rise and mingle for a hour, then pulled it out and scooped it onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Since I couldn't hold the dough to shape it, I just used a spoon to shape it into bagel-shape. I didn't think too much of this as this is what I do with my gluten-free, vegan pizza dough that I've gotten tons of compliments on. There's still hope for a gluten-free dough that looks like this.

I covered them with tea towels and waited another hour. After preheating my oven, I popped them in, baked them for the required ten minutes, pulled them out and brushed them with coconut oil (which is what she does instead of boiling them), then baked them a little longer. I let them rest the full ten minutes on the baking sheet, then pulled one off.

The first thing I noticed was they stayed together pretty darn well. That's an amazing feat with a vegan baked good. The eggs in a standard gluten-free item help everything stay together; and since the recipe lacked those, this part actually pleased me. But, I already knew what the texture was going to be like by looking at them - like a biscuit. Not a bad biscuit, but not a bagel, in my opinion. They were missing the crusty, chewy exterior and the bread-like interior.

After mulling these over for a few hours, I wondered if the potato starch would really make that much of a difference. There is a slight difference in consistency and potato starch tends to be a little more hydrophilic that cornstarch. Cornstarch also tends to seize up and dry out a good faster than potato starch - but not by much.

So, I ran to the store, bought some potato starch and started again. This time, would it be more like a bagel?

In some ways, I thought they would be akin to my Bread. Wonderful Bread. recipe that I adapted from a Living Without article several years ago. That bread has a fabulous texture, a crispy, crusty exterior and is a great baguette. The ingredients and their quantities are quite similar in both recipes. But, a bagel is meant to be chewy on the outside with a nice, soft bready inside - baguettes are a little too crunchy for that. There would have to be some differences in preparation.

Babycakes DisneyWorld location - see the bagels on the middle shelf all the way to the left? 

The second batch was prepped, set, and baked, just as before. Overall result: a slightly more structurally tight bagel-shaped biscuit. The first batch fell apart more quickly. The second held together better overall. But, I just didn't see how they were bagels, except in shape. I ate one, and it wasn't bad; the texture was nice, like bread. Donut-shaped bread. Which, I suppose technically is all a bagel is. But it really missed the essential parts of a bagel. And the texture of my bread recipe has a better mouth-feel (and it's vegan too) than these bagels in terms of similarity to a soft, squishy bread center. I'm sure that recipe could easily be adapted to make bagels. Or I can just use Carol Fenster's recipe which turned out great - and those can be made vegan too.

Overall, I would venture to say that this book is better than the first - by leaps and bounds. The ingredient list is consistent with the bakery's mission, the recipes do work for the most part, but I am going to venture to say that the actual bakery store products are probably made from different recipes than these.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Until I fly to NYC for a little shopping and sightseeing, I won't know for sure. But, for now, I think I will keep using my other gluten-free baking books - my favs have vegan substitutions for those who need them and the products turn out awesome. In some ways, cookbooks made by high-profile eateries remind me of bestselling books that become movies - they are just never quite the same. Something gets lost in translation (or outright changed) which leaves the audience either uproariously happy or walking away wanting more.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. Honestly. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: Inspiralized by Ali Maffucci

This is a really fun cookbook. When I first came across it, I thought every dish would be raw, as most spiralizing recipes are. I bought my spiralizer several years ago to add some new textures to raw dishes and a new way to eat veggies and fruits - something fun and different. I had seen zucchini "noodles" at a holistic expo and was so captivated by how tasty they were, I went and ordered one on Amazon almost as soon as I got home.

Those "noodles" were raw and intended for a raw, vegan audience. This is what I was expecting from Inspiralized. But what I found was so much more. There isn't much that Ali Maffucci won't spiralize - zucchini, butternut squash, potatoes, celery root, cucumbers, kohlrabi, apples, even broccoli stalks (something I just tried last night and it worked great)! The list goes on and she has probably tried just about every different fruit or veggie to spiralize, making the workload easier for all of us. And it's all in her new cookbook.

Vegan Buffalo Cauliflower with Sweet Potato Noodles

The book includes a little bit of her story, how to set up your kitchen, detailed instructions on how to spiralize different kinds of fruits and vegetables, options for healthy ingredients, and oodles of noodles. She wanted to keep the recipes as healthy as possible, so she has eliminated milk, butter, sugar and most of the gluten. She specifies which meals are completely gluten-free and the level of difficulty in creating them. Her correlating website, Inspiralized.com, is chock-full of videos, more recipes, instructions, and the infamous spiralizer that she created that's now for sale.

The most fun part of her book is that many of the "noodles" or "rice" dishes are cooked. I hadn't seen this before and when I had tried it in the past, the veggies fell apart. Still delicious, but no longer a noodle. I love that Ali has mastered this part and is sharing it with all of us. And yes, it works. My broccoli stalk noodles came out awesome.

Spicy Spiralized Shoe String Jicama Fries

I am definitely inspiralized by her this book and can't wait to try more of the dishes. If you want to add more fun to your meals, as well as health and vitality, this book is definitely worth a try. As it turns out, spiralizing has been commonplace in Asia for quite some time to add beauty, texture, and interest to dishes. I completely agree. It's a lot of fun and the product comes out delicious. After you decide what kind of spiralizer you'd like (which to me is about size and storage - as they are both easy to use and get the job done), get to it and have some fun!

Happy spiralizing!

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: Daily Painting by Carol Marine

The concept is simple. Live what you love every single day. Artist Carol Marine loved to paint. She loved it so much that she started to find distractions so she didn't have to do it. Any creative person has been there. You work hard on a project, give it your all, and then...nothing. No huge sales, no big break. It's just you and your piece of art. Now, what?

Carol had done big gallery shows, created beautiful pieces of art, sold a few here and there, but never really was able to create a living by it. She became the infamous starving artist. She sought out advice from well-known artists and over and over again, she was whispered the same thing: do some art every single day.


You mean I have to sit down and actually create something? Haven't I already done that?

It can be discouraging to be an artist and find yourself with a trunk full of creative endeavors and no where for them to go. Sometimes, you don't want them to leave. Sometimes, you can't have them leave by way of the garbage fast enough. It's a passion-pursuit, artistry, no matter if the medium is oil, acrylic, or words. Writers face the same dilemma.

Carnival by Carmen Beecher, 8x10, pen and ink on paper, 2013

But, as it has always been said: we do what we do because we love it...and for no other reason.

This doesn't mean we don't want to eat.

We do.

We really do.

But, again, we have to face why we offer what we offer. For the love of creation and to see what we can come up with. It's just pure fun. Doesn't mean there isn't hard work associated with it, but why not love the work you do?

That's where Carol's book takes us through the twists and turns of a career as an artist. This book is a treasure trove of interesting things. Not only does it go through the basics of painting (materials, value, composition, color mixing), but the artist-author shares her secrets to becoming a successful artist.

She and her programmer husband created an unique website, www.DailyPaintworks.com, where non-juried artists (read: you don't have to prove your talent or be selected by a committee) post their daily works. Whatever you create can become part of an auction, an online sale or something to just admire. And because the pieces tend to be small (that's how you get one piece of work done every day or as often as you can), they tend to be less expensive, overcoming one of the most common hurdles to artistry. Big, beautiful paintings are wonderful, but not everyone can afford $10,000 for one piece of art.

Carol tried to keep painting as she had before - big art pieces. But she found herself frustrated, even painting every day. She would spend weeks on something and then just wipe the slate clean if she wasn't happy.

All artists and authors understand this.

But, with a small project - a 6x6 canvas - you can play with lots of different mediums, textures, concepts, what-have-you and no matter how it comes out, tomorrow is literally a new day.

Dragon Cat by Diane Hoeptner, 10x10, oil on wood, 2013

This book is brilliant. It showcases Carol's talent, as well as a myriad of others, and shows you the nuts and bolts of being an artist. The final chapters shed light on how to sell your art online, where to go, and how to stage it for photographs. It's a small, concise book that packs a punch. Well worth every penny (if I had paid for it - and I would have, twice over).

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I honestly really liked it. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review and Easiest Pumpkin Pie-Chia Pudding Recipe: Supermarket Healthy by Melissa d'Arabian

I have been eyeing this cookbook for a few weeks on Blogging for Books. For some reason or another, I chose a few other books (which were all quite excellent in their own right), but this one kept catching my eye, time after time.

I finally ordered a copy. And it was worth the wait.

This is a really fun, simple, yet delicious cookbook. The concept comes from cheap-eats-become-gourmet genius, Melissa d'Arabian. Winner of The Next Food Network Star and host of the ever-popular Ten Dollar Dinners, Melissa has a knack for bringing delicious food to your table that anyone can afford - all it takes is a little creativity, some simple staples, and a meager budget.

According to her new book, Melissa d'Arabian regularly feeds her family of six on a modest budget, something she did long before she became a Food Network star. And since moving from Seattle to California, she has discovered a gluten-intolerance in one of her children and regularly feeds vegetarians and those with lactose-intolerance in her extended family - so all of her new recipes include easy adaptations or come naturally free of whatever allergen. Bonus for those of us already eating this way!

Supermarket Healthy is a complexly simple book that guides you through the supermarket with tips, advice, and know-how to feed yourself and your family wisely. It's chock-full of recipes that focus on healthy, lean cuts of meat and fish, tons and tons of vegetables, and a few modest desserts. Even though she is the queen of cheap-eating, she is a major front-runner for healthful eating too (her book could almost be the poster child for any ailment that would benefit from healthy eating - diabetes, heart conditions, adrenal overload, etc.). I could eat very well if I spent a year just eating from her book alone.

The book has all sorts of smart-tips for substitutions and easy shopping ideas, but what surprised me the most by her healthy cookbook is that it didn't completely feel like a healthy cookbook. You know what I mean. The ones that say only eat boiled chicken, steamed veggies with a small side of brown rice. No butter, faux or otherwise, maybe a drizzle of olive oil. Melissa doesn't put this into her book at all. She just makes you feel like it's a cookbook by an adorable mom who wants to feed you as well as she feeds her own family. I think that's her genius. It's like eating with your adorable mom, if your adorable mom looks like Melissa d'Arabian.

There are a lot of interesting recipes like Cinnamon Popovers with Cream Cheese Glaze (a healthier version of a cinnamon roll), Kale and White Bean Caesar (that's dairy-free and vegetarian), Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad with Smoked Trout and Olives (which sounds complicated, but it's super easy), Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Pine Nuts, and Penne, and Flatiron Steaks with Quick Cauliflower Kimchi. All of these are intriguing, simple to make, with easy ingredients to find, and won't take forever to prepare. That's what makes this cookbook so fun.

The downside of any cookbook is that oftentimes, they don't add enough pictures of the finished dish. This is a big thing for most of us that love cookbooks. This one does not have enough. I love the ones they do include, even the few of Melissa staring off at things in the distance as she makes her dishes, but more of the end product would be so much better. On the other hand, with the size of her cookbook and the places the editors did add photos, if they added more, the book would have been a lot thicker. There are a lot of recipes in this book. And if they all had a coinciding picture, it would be about a third bigger. I suppose all cookbook editors must make choices. However, I am still a fan of lots of dish pictures.

Another gripe I have is the name choices for the dishes. One dish is called Almost Raw Asparagus Soup. There is really nothing raw about this soup, except maybe the salt. The asparagus is roasted, the almonds are toasted, and the finishing touches include chicken broth (which better not be raw) and yogurt (which you can find raw, but the recipe requires the soup to be heated). I'm not sure why they called it almost raw at all. Does this make it sound healthier? It's asparagus soup! It's already healthy and looks delicious.

The only other weird thing for me was the blueprints they included. The blueprints are a DIY guideline included next to certain recipes that can be made as you would like them. So, for instance, there is a trail mix blueprint that gives you the baseline options for making your own trail mix (and a recipe that Melissa made, as well) with steps to achieving whatever version of trail mix you might like. Clever idea, but they aren't consistent throughout the book. They all look the same, but I found some of them to be kind of confusing and the details didn't always match Melissa's complimentary recipe. The frittata blueprint had different instructions than the recipe. The recipe and the blueprint called for exactly the same amount of ingredients, however, in the recipe, Melissa tells the reader to cook the eggs on the stovetop for 3-4 minutes until set, then bake in the oven at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes until finished. The blueprint skips the stovetop cooking and goes right to baking at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. I wouldn't have minded the skipping of the stovetop, nor the temperature change, except that 10 minutes will more than likely not be long enough if you don't set the eggs first on the stovetop.

The Salad In A Jar blueprint was equally perplexing. I've made a few jar salads and they are an awesome way to take salad with you, but you have to do things in a certain way (dressing must be on the bottom) or you'll get a soggy salad for lunch. The blueprint had all the ingredients, but I didn't think they made it clear in what order to put them in your jar. Melissa's recipe does, but the blueprint just has arrows pointing from one set of ingredients to the next with no mention of which way to put the ingredients into the jar. When I read it, I sort of thought it was a blueprint like the rest (all the other blueprints have arrows that point from the first ingredient to the last, as you cook along). These arrows point from the toppings to the greens to the veggies/meat/beans/grains to the dressing, so it looks like you are making a salad, just like any other. However, if it is going in a jar, the dressing goes in first, next to the meat/veggies/pasta/beans, so it doesn't wilt or soggy up the greens. I just think that if you are going to include a blueprint, they should be consistent. First ingredient first, etc. The blueprints were lacking for me.

However, overall, I love this book. I want to spend everyday eating from here. I feel healthier just thinking about it. It's smart, it's clever, and some of the recipes are just a really healthful approach to a classic dish. She doesn't try to showcase some sort of culinary expertise, as much as offer the reader a way to make delicious food that's healthy, just like your mom. Only these are beautiful, easy, and elegant dishes that require nothing more than a willing to try something new.

Happy Eating! 


Here's the recipe I tried and I would highly recommend it to you. It's a great starter for the day or as a snack, which is my preference. Lots of fiber, protein (those chia seeds are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals), and it's simple, fast and easy. You can even make it the night before, so it's ready for breakfast or to take with you. Or great for a dessert-time snack.



From Supermarket Healthy by Melissa d'Arabian

Serves 4
Preparation time: 35 minutes (plus 1 hour to set)
Cooking time: none


1/2 cup chia seeds
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin puree (not sweetened pie filling)
2/3 cup light coconut milk (canned or carton)
2 cups unsweetened almond milk or soy milk
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey, plus more for serving (optional)
1/4 cup raw pecan halves, roughly chopped (almonds and cashews work, too!)
1 medium banana, peeled and thinly sliced


1. Place the chia seeds and pumpkin pie spice in medium container with lid. Cover and shake to distribute the powder among the seeds. 

2. Whisk the pumpkin puree with the coconut milk in a separate small bowl, until smooth. Pour over the chia seeds and add the almond milk and maple syrup. Cover and shake vigorously. Place the pudding in the refrigerator to thicken, shaking it after 30 minutes, and letting it set up for at least 1 hour, or up to several days. 

3. Divide the pudding among bowls and serve sprinkled with pecans, bananas, and a drizzle of maple syrup (if using). 

Per serving: 255 calories / Protein 8g / Dietary Fiber 14g / Sugars 12g / Total Fat 16g

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson, NMD

My latest choice from Blogging for Books is a bit outside of my normal cookbook routine. However, I have a love of non-fiction self-help books from long ago, particularly ones that are inspirational or about understanding the body. I debated about this one for quite some time because I am not a diet book fan. I don't like the latest crazes, easy fixes or some book that is going to fix everything and everyone in your life with three simple steps.

Do you know why I don't like these books? Because I've used them and they don't work. There is no easy fix. In fact, I'm convinced now, more than ever, that no fix is ever needed. And really, that comes from my presumption that we are truly whole already, we just don't always know it and we don't always practice the walk that creates the experience of that wholeness. Thus, I'm not really a lover of self-help fix-it books, but I do like books that provide introspection and a new perspective on who we are, why we choose what we do, and how we can alter those choices.

This is one of those books.

In the world of diet and self-help books, fix-it sells. So, there's a small amount of that present in this book - in the marketing. By reading it thoroughly and at a leisurely pace, I can clearly see and feel that the author has the best intentions. The marketers scream, "Lose weight!" But the naturopathic physician - the true identity of this author - is all about health, wellness, and resetting the many premises that have lead us to feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, overweight, and overdone. That is clarity I can appreciate.

I chose this book for a few reasons, mostly personal, but for some time, I have known that my adrenals are incredibly sensitive to many things and a few times in the past, I have overworked them. However, after reading his book, I realize that most of us have overworked adrenals just from the lives we live that include daily stress and pressures, poor food choices that include processed foods or even home-baked goods, and eating either too much of the wrong kinds of proteins or not enough.

I have read many of the slightly-scientific health books like the Zone Diet, the Genotype Diet, the Blood Type diet, the Hormone cure, all with a grain of salt. What I wanted was a more in-depth analysis of how our bodies work and what we can do to make all of that function at its peak. I'm not interested in the drop-ten-pounds diet, the look-great-naked diet, or the stop-eating-this-eat-that diet. However, they all sort of coincide. It just depends on what you are looking for, what your body might need, and if you like the science of symptoms. I do. I follow Dr. Sara Gottfried for this reason. She's an MD that writes extensively about the co-mersion of Western medicine and Eastern philosophies, as well as hormonal balancing. In truth, after having read many, many books about health and wellness, they all pretty much say the same thing, but with slightly different premises (and I'm not talking about the quick-fix diet books here): eat whole foods, primarily vegetables and some fruits, eat whole grains, listen to your body, eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, avoid allergens. And sometimes, they include breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, affirmations, etc. To me, our food and body issues have arisen because we stopped listening to ourselves and our bodies. My interest has always been about understanding the body better and the choices that I make that either feed its brilliant ability to self-heal or prevent that. The Adrenal Reset Diet is just another piece of that.

The book's premise lies in an easy set-up: understand what the adrenals do for your body, figure out where you are on the adrenal spectrum (Thriving, Stressed, Wired and Tired, Crashed), then understand how to reset yourself back to a state of Thriving where your body's cortisol levels, adrenal function and overall hormonal balance come back into a balanced state. Dr. Christianson's concept comes from years of being an adrenal and thyroid specialist. His practice led him to question how we could reset adrenal function to a point where the body can do all that it needs to do in order to maintain harmony. He experimented on himself first, then a few willing and aware patients. From there, he expanded out to more clients willing to try simple and easy things that might reset their adrenal overload. He met with great success. When he started with personal experimentation, he tried the opposite of his diet strategy plan and found that it created an increase in cortisol and adrenal production (which he tested at specific intervals), as well as weight gain, sleep issues, and a myriad of other problems. This, along with patient trials, convinced him of the overall effectiveness of his Adrenal Reset Diet (ARD) plan.

The basics of the ARD premise is simple: eat more protein, choose healthy fats, and cycle your carbs throughout the day in a specific way.

Simple. Basic. Yet, with the interesting science behind this theory, intriguing.

(The complexities of each level of adrenal function and the coinciding chapter offer many more ways to reset your adrenals including herbs, breathing exercises, light therapy, outdoor/nature experiences, sleep patterns, specific foods, etc. It's up to you how in-depth or how simplistic you want the ARD to be. And that's all laid out in the book.)

I took this book with me on a recent vacation back to see my family. I wanted to do a little experiment of my own. If we made just a couple of changes, would we see or feel anything akin to what he describes? Would our adrenals become more supported and thus, decrease our cortisol levels and all the problems that go with high cortisol? Well, there's no way to fully know the latter of these two without adrenal and cortisol testing. We didn't do that, like Dr. Christianson does with patients. Instead, we went solely on sleep and feel, as well as potential body aches, pains, blood sugar, brain fog, and other assorted adrenal spectrum ailments. In fact, this is how Dr. Christianson suggests readers accomplish this. Follow the ARD, then retake the ARD test every few weeks or monthly until you are Thriving.

Here's what we did: we added the protein shake or a protein-based breakfast with organic veggies and minimal carbs for breakfast (according to the ARD). We added more carbs as the day went on, as per the ARD suggestions. We did nothing else because it was too hard to coordinate three people and their light needs, their sleep patterns, etc. I just wanted to see if what Dr. Christianson suggested to one of his patients would really make a difference - three simple changes: add 25 mg of protein to breakfast, diffuse some of the stress patterns, and turn off all artificial light, except a reading light, by 9pm. It's all about changing the circadian rhythms to balance the adrenals. I was able to consistently make meals that increased the protein and vegetables, as well as the fiber content, while cycling the carbs (less in the morning, more in the evening) and for myself, I increased the natural light exposure early in the morning. We also made sure to eat within one hour of waking. And for one week, we followed those simple parts of the ARD.

What came of it all?

I noticed I slept better, as did my family members. One family member in his 70's wakes up repeatedly at night. He tends to be a night owl and late riser, as well as a restless sleeper - which remained the same - but during nearly the entire week, he stayed asleep throughout the night. And he didn't nod off as much throughout the day. I also noticed the emotional energy was softer. We have a lot of big personalities in my family and oftentimes, when the stress gets high, the emotions grow too. They feed each other. This seemed more minimal overall, as though everyone was better able to deal with any stressful situations. The situations didn't really change, but our response to them did, for the most part. (A definite cortisol reaction.) I also noticed that my mind felt clearer most of the day. We all noticed we wanted to eat less (felt full more of the day), craved carbs and sugar less, and everything we ate tasted really good. We still ate sugar and treats, and went to bed late, but I did see changes. And incorporating more veggies and proteins into our meals turned out to be rather easy.

The tiny experiment makes me want to know more and go a little deeper into the ARD suggestions. Dr.Christianson has more specifics for each adrenal level and I am planning on incorporating more into my day. Long before I knew about the Adrenal Reset Diet book, I started to make some of the changes he suggests because I could feel how they changed my body's response to certain experiences - shut off computers and tablets a few hours before bedtime (turns out they speed up brainwaves and trigger cortisol); eat carbs in the evening (turns out slow-release carbs raise blood sugar slowly which makes us sleep better, but cortisol should be low in the evening or we get too ramped up to sleep well);  licorice root tea  in the morning and chamomile at night (supports the adrenals in the a.m. and calms them at night); rely on whole foods (self-explanatory). He has a lot of other suggestions to support the body and the hormones that it uses to maintain itself. I found this book intriguing, not too overly wordy or science-y for those who aren't looking to become doctors, and a good source of information to understand the delicate endocrine system. By reading the book, I can tell he isn't a strong-and-fast stickler about all that he suggests. It's about balance, not discipline. And maybe the very things that are haunting us can be balanced with much greater ease than we think.

Author's note: There's a lot more to this book than in this review. He has some pretty great insight into what makes us gain weight, unable to lose weight, hormonal imbalances, etc. For me, these books are best reviewed based on personal experience because there are tons of books out there with the same sort of information. That's why I just chose to dive right in. I want to see if this works for me or if I can incorporate pieces into my life that make sense. If you feel stressed, frazzled, overwhelmed, overworked, tired, worn out, angry, emotional all the time, or can't seem to lose weight, I would suggest you at least take a look into this book to see if it fits for you. Talk to your doctor or naturopath. There are no prescriptions in here or huge life changes - it's about listening to yourself, hearing your body, eating foods that make sense, and learning to simplify so you can feel better. There's nothing radical here. Just a return to simplicity in our world of overexposure to pretty much everything. Some things are going to resonate; some are not. It's not a quick-fix because whatever life-long patterns you have built that created where you are will continue to create where you are until you change them. Starvation doesn't work; extreme diets don't work; life changes do. And it's not about giving up everything. It's about finding peace in yourself and finding out who you truly are.

This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World by Gabriele Galimberti

I ordered another cookbook from Blogging for Books. Yep. Another cookbook. I know...how many does one person need?

Well, the truth is, they are all just so different. And I love each and every one.

This book is different than the rest for so many reasons. The basis of the cookbook started as an idea by the author, a photographer by skill, study and trade. Gabriele Galimberti took on a self-induced magazine assignment to couch-surf his way around the world. Two years, a camera, laptop, some journals, and a free couch wherever he could get it. The assignment wasn't specific to finding recipes, but to relay his experiences in weekly magazine articles. The idea for the cookbook came from...his grandmother.

After explaining to his small-town Italian grandmother what he was doing, unconvinced, she simply asked, "Who is going to feed you?" This inspired the author to reassure his grandmother that there would be other grandmothers out there in the world who would feed him, just like she had his entire life.

Now, grandmothers can be very protective of their grandchildren and the food they eat, especially if they cook that food themselves in the most loving way. I doubt that Gabriele's grandmother was all too convinced of his exploits just by this mere admission alone. But what that concept has created is something really beautiful: a cookbook dedicated to the grandmothers of our world - the many cultures, the many foods, and the many ways to prepare and serve truly loving meals to the families that we love. Every one of these recipes is as unique as the woman herself, even if they are staples for that country. Fifty-eight grandmothers of every age in every corner of the globe. And with recipes as equally as varied. Tiramisu from Italy; Coffee from Colombia; Bison from Canada; Moose from Alaska; Injera with Curry and Vegetables from Ethiopia; even Honduran Iguana with Rice and Beans from the Cayman Islands.

Yes, you read that right. Honduran Iguana. Apparently, iguanas are edible. Or you can substitute rabbit, if you prefer. I don't see a lot of iguana at Whole Foods or at my local butcher's, so I would have to choose rabbit. I live in Washington - we don't have a lot of roaming iguanas.

Boonlom Thongpor - Thailand - Kai Yat Sai (Stuffed Omelet)

But that is part of the fun of this clever book. Aside from iguana dishes and the most astonishing - Finkubala (Caterpillars in Tomato Sauce) from Malawi - the book itself has beautiful images of the dishes alongside lovely captures of the women and their kitchens (mostly). The images are the highlight and a little bit of the disappointment of the book. I wanted to be with them in their kitchens, but many of the images weren't taken in the kitchens for unknown reasons and I would have loved more of a chronicle of his experiences in the cooking experience. The author cooked with each of the grandmothers, helping them make their chosen dish, spent time with the families, even living with them if that's where he was couch-surfing. There is one image of a grandmother with her preparations laid out in a lovely array, then right next to it, one image of the prepared dish looking down from the top. The images are consistent and beautiful in many ways, but I wanted more. I wanted to know them more - the food, the women, the culture.

Each set of images is followed by an introductory paragraph that describes the grandmother, maybe some about her family, sometimes a little bit about her dish. They were tidbits. Some really captivating and others less so. He wrote about his experience with Regina Lifumbo, the grandmother from Malawi. He wrote about what they ate (mice, snakes, caterpillars and cockroaches), about her life and her family, and finished the small section about her by saying cooking with her was one of the most emotional experiences of his life, changing him forever. Why? There is no explanation here. I couldn't find the connection. And to me, this book is all about the connection.

Is it really a recipe book? Mmm, kinda. Most of us aren't going to make Caterpillars in Tomato Sauce. However, there are plenty of recipes that I would make, such as Bat Bot from Morocco (which I did make gluten-free with mild success). This book is really an immersion of recipe book and cultural photographic tome. It is neither and yet, it is both.

Normita Sambu Arap - Kenya - Mboga and Ugali (White Corn Polenta with Vegetables and Goat)

The paragraphs describing the grandmothers are a mixed bag for me. In some, he lavishly praises the grandmothers (his own included), but then others feel disconnected and trite. It's as though he wasn't sure what to say, sometimes just saying a mildly pedestrian version of their life. In one narrative, the author describes Laura Ronzon Herrera as having a kitchen that was a real mess and delicious meals that aren't beautiful. I thought the image looked enticing and interesting, in its own way. It's a Vegetarian Tamale laid on a banana leaf that is was steamed in. It seemed unnecessarily harsh. Some of the paragraphs seemed a little mediocre when this - as the reader, not the traveler - is our only connection to the grandmothers beyond their images and recipes. I suppose some editorial influence would have benefited the book greatly here.

Overall, it was a lovely concept filled with images of beautiful women who cherish their grandchildren and the food they provide, if they can. The recipes are intriguing, even the caterpillar dish. I would keep this book more as a cultural collection rather than a standard go-to cookbook, but more than likely I will follow in the tradition of what these grandmothers cherish most - sharing the bounty with others.

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson

As you can probably tell by now, I have a great love for cookbooks and Blogging for Books (thank you!) keeps me in supply.

This time around, I chose an unlikely book for me in some ways because a traditional Southern kitchen is bound to be loaded with butter, milk, cream (hint: dairy products), flour and wheat derivatives, and all sorts of Crisco, something I tend to not use. However, in the spirit of my sister who lives with her beautiful family in the deep South, I chose this book, Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson.

Turtle Cake Roll
I watched about half of the inaugural (and only, I think) season of American Baking Competition, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy and a hefty panel of baking judges, including the famed Paul Hollywood. I distinctly remember Francine Bryson from the show. Her personality was as big as her apparently-amazing baking skills. She just shone bright and she was willing to take a risk without compromising herself or trying to tear someone else down - outside of just plain fun. I appreciated that in a contestant on a reality cooking show. There's always one who is bound to make you shake your head at their antics and Francine was not that one. She was strong, vocal, funny, and clearly, talented. She landed in the top three and impressed everyone.

And now, she has a new cookbook, right from her self-titled redneck kitchen.

The book is a really wonderful compilation of new and old recipes, either passed down to her from one of her grandmas, something she created due to a baking competition, or just to please her family. Francine is a skilled baking competitor. She started baking at a very young age with her grandmas (both lived right near her for most of her youth), then went on to experiment on her own. She started entering into baking competitions in her teens and, to her astonishment, won. She began collecting recipes and cookbooks, amassing a mere 3,000 books in all. (I would love to see her library or kitchen, wherever she has them stored.) And from all her years of competitive baking, she began to truly hone her skills and learn the ins and outs of true baking...under pressure.

World Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie

As I pawed through her book, the first thing I noticed was the ease in which it was written. Each recipe starts with a story about Francine, where the recipe came from, or simply the love of baking that particular thing. There are lots of mentions of Granny, Nana, and Mama, her mentors in the world of baking; plenty of nods to her hubby and how she won his heart with her baking; and many stories about why she loves to bake. Her passion is clear and evident and so is her skill. Many of the recipes include a Blue Ribbon Tip about how to make each recipe come out just right and there are eight different pie crust recipes - and that's just for a start. There is plenty of wisdom for new bakers or experienced bakers wanting to tap into her many years of baking knowledge and prowess that comes from twenty-some years of competitive baking, which requires a whole other level of expertise and creativity. No ordinary cherry pie is going to cut it, not unless it knocks your socks off.

Francine's book is filled with pie recipes, cake and cookie options, cheesecakes, candies, and other assorted dessert treats. Some are simplistic and others have a twist that make them intriguing and clever. There are too many recipes in the book to mention that aroused intrigue (of which I spent 20 minutes describing in detail to a friend on the phone just awhile ago). So, I will mention two: Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake and Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie. Holy moly. These two are something out of this world. Both won competitions and by the looks of them, I can see why, if not for just looks and creative design alone.

The Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake is a four-layer moist pumpkin cake with a sweet cream cheese frosting and chocolate glaze, however, there is an interesting twist to this cake. A couple of interesting twists, in fact. One is that she uses lemon-flavored Greek yogurt in the cake batter. Fantastic. The other, however, is truly where the magic lies. In between the cake and frosting layers, she has added a layer called cookie crunch. She starts with butter, Oreos, a can of salted mixed nuts and some brown sugar, adds them to the food processor, then pulses. She layers this into four 9-inch buttered pans, then adds the pumpkin cake batter on top and bakes it. The result is this beautiful four/eight layer confectionary cake that is truly outstanding just to look at. I can only imagine how delicious it tastes. I might just have to try it one of these days. Part of what I love about her book is I'm pretty sure I can adapt just about any of her recipes. This one, for sure.

Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake

The Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie is the next on my short list of her amazing desserts. (And the list could go on - Slap-Ya-Mama Fudge Cookies, Good Ol' Raisin-Oatmeal Pie, Pretzel Pie, Keep-The-Hubby-At-Home Cake, Black Tie Strawberry Pie, Coconut-Pecan Sweet Potato Cheesecake, German Upside-Down Cake, and her World-Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie.) Back to the apple pie. This pie is something of an ingenious creation. It's a pie, that's for sure. But it's also something a whole lot more. She takes your standard American apple pie and turns it on its head, literally. She starts by adding whole pecans, round side down, on the bottom of a deep pie dish, then up the sides. She spreads brown sugar all over the the pecans, then adds one of two pie crusts on top of that. Yep, she just sealed pecans and sugar into the bottom of a pie dish. She then adds all the apple filling and another pie crust on top, just like a standard apple pie. She bakes it all together, then flips it over. The inverted pie becomes a masterpiece of shiny, sticky, caramel-pecan goodness on top of an apple pie. Ingenious. And something I definitely want to try.

Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie

If I had to say one thing to her publisher and to all cookbook publishers everywhere, it would be, add more pictures, please! The pictures they did use are fantastic, but they are few and far between. I would love to see more images of what I might be making and this book has far too few for my taste. Nonetheless, this book has stolen my baking heart.

When I chose this book, I wasn't sure that I was going to keep it. I had thought I might send it down to my sister for her own redneck kitchen. However, I think she may be getting a copy from me via Amazon. This one is going on my shelf.

Happy eating!

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars - an gluten-free, dairy-free adaptation

Thank you, Pinterest. I am a big fan of Pinterest. Hours and hours of immersion into worlds of creation and positive challenges. I love it. How can you not? Unless, it sucks you in and you find you get nothing else done.

The lure of Pinterest.

However, in moderation, it can be a super fun experience - just as I had when I came across this amazing recipe for Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars.

Let me tell the story:

I was on the hunt for something exciting and intriguing to make. A good friend and neighbor was hosting a Pictionary night filled with a homemade taco bar and cookie potluck. We were all told to bring our enthusiasm and some tasty cookies or bars for sampling - and for potential winning. My friend was going to dream up some wonderful prize and a few of the attendees would be selected to taste and choose a winning cookie.

Hmm. This is always a challenge.

See, my friend and most of her friends aren't gluten-free. I am. I knew I was going to bring something that I could eat, but I wanted others to enjoy it too and not be wary of the "gluten-free" cookie. I planned on making it dairy-free too, but that's a gingersnap with cookies. Vegan margarine or Spectrum shortening always do the trick. That's never been a issue. And I think my gluten-freedom has become fairly inspired and quite tasty, but not everyone is so willing to try something gluten-free - or once they learn it is, they begin looking for the differences.And she has kids. Kids are the hardest to please.

Oh, well, I thought! I am going to find something I like and the rest will be history. Her family has responded well to my gluten-free offerings in the past, but you just never know what everyone will like. So I decided to find something I wanted to eat and just dive in and do my best.

I started flipping through Pinterest one night and came across this recipe for Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars. As I looked through the ingredient list, I realized I had everything I would need already in my tiny kitchen. So alright then! Cookie challenge accepted!

I got up early on the day of the game night, started baking and by mid-morning, my whole house smelled of apples, cinnamon, and delicious cookie yummy-ness. Mmm...they smelled so good.

As you will see, the recipe states that you let them cool in the pan - completely - or they will have a tendency to fall apart. With gluten-free baking, this is more than a good chance.

So I let them sit.

And sit.

And sit.

Oh, the waiting!

I scooped out a corner. I had to try them. Quality control. Yeah, that's it.

Mmm. They were so good. Soft, moist, dense, appley, cinnamony. Good.

Hurry up and cool!

It took a few hours and I could tell when I tried to pull them out early that the original creators of this recipe weren't kidding. Let. Them. Cool. These are a soft cookie with a tendency to fall apart. Just let them be. You'll be glad you did.

When I finally pulled them out, I cut them into tiny squares because I knew they were headed to a cookie sampling night, so I didn't want them to be too big. The small two-inch squares were perfect.

When I made them, I chose to use an apple called Elstar that I found at one of the orchards just north of Seattle. It's a sweet, small apple with an intense flavor burst! A few weeks prior, I had purchased a variety of the apples they offer (they produce a paltry 19 different varieties!) and had an apple tasting with some friends. It's amazing how different each apple variety is. Soft, sweet, tangy, tart, moist, dry. And that's just in one apple! (I'm kidding. But only kinda!)

I had two Elstar apples left that were best to be made into something baked, so a cookie recipe was perfect. I knew the apples would provide a ton of apple flavor and wouldn't get lost in all the cinnamon Snickerdoodle goodness. The Elstar is also a slightly meatier apple variety, so I thought they would work best at keeping the moisture level down. This was supposed to be a cookie, after all. I decided to dice them small and left the skin on for the extra texture and fiber (which by the way, seemed to melt right into the cookie).

The cookies turned out perfect. And I guess the judges agreed because my little apple cookies won the contest unanimously. On a funny little side note, there were five different cookies brought by various individuals and couples that night and four out of the five happened to be gluten-free! One was vegan and gluten-free, one had dairy, and the other was sort of an accidental gluten-free - it was a no-bake cookie that is naturally gluten-free. It was a surprise to all of us how many gluten-free cookies there were, but they were all delicious in different ways. It's such a treat to go to a gathering and find out that you are no longer in the food minority.

Enjoy this recipe adaptation! Happy eating!

Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars - the gluten-free, dairy-free adaptation

Original recipe by Shelly of CookiesandCups.com

Makes 12 big squares or about 24 minis

Double recipe and bake in a 9x13 for more goodness and some to share! 

  • 1/4 cup butter or dairy-free margarine, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour plus 1 tsp xanthan gum (I used 1/3 cup each millet flour, brown rice flour and cornstarch) 
  • 1 cup diced apples
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. Line an 8x8 pan with foil and spray slightly with cooking spray. 
3. In a large bowl, combine melted butter and brown sugar with a wooden spoon. Once mixed, stir in egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate small bowl, combine salt, baking powder and gluten-free flour, making sure no clumps are left. Add flour mixture to egg and sugar mixture. Stir until combined and dough forms. 
4. Stir in apples and spread in pan. 
5. Combine granulated sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of batter. 
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown and center is set.
7. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.