22 March 2012

Vegan, Nut Free Girl Scout Cookies & So Delicious Giveaway!

It's around (maybe a bit after) the Girl Scout Cookie time of year. I honestly can't remember the last time I had a Girl Scout cookie. Although, there was a moment, back in the day, when a couple of them were actually vegan - Tag-a-longs, being the one of the varieties I remember and remember enjoying,1 ...pre and (briefly) post-vegan.

So, when one of my private students asked if I would buy some girl scout cookies, I nostalgically selected Tag-a-longs. Obviously, I wouldn't be consuming them, for several reasons, but I figured I could give them to my staff at the school.2
I also figured, I could just make them myself without all of the dairy, gluten, fillers and preservatives... and peanuts.

Oh! Of course I could. I already have a lovely basic shortbread recipe. I really would just need to add a couple of extra "garnishes" and assemble.

That's just what I did.

If you're wondering (worried?) about the flavor of the sunflower butter, in these cookies,3 it was bizarrely reminiscent of peanut butter. I don't know if my brain was creating some sort of long-buried flavor connection, but I totally thought of peanuts. My stomach, however, was very happy that there were, in fact, no peanuts at all.

My Tag-a-longs ended up being minis; it's sorta funny, because despite my penchant for small treats, I didn't set out to make them that way.4 I guess my baking instinct was on auto-pilot; I seriously didn't even notice until I started to slice the dough log into cookies.
They can, of course, be made larger to suit your tastes.

The cookies can also be fully immersed in chocolate - like the originals - if you prefer. I found coating only the top resulted in a sweetness that was a bit closer to my liking.
It was also less effort to execute.

Nut Free (Vegan, Gluten Free...) "Tag-a-longs"
(Makes 24 mini cookies)

For the Shortbread:
  • 1/2 Cup (70g) Sorghum Flour
  • 1/4 Cup (30g) Tapioca Flour
  • 1/8 tsp Sea Salt
  • 2 Tbsp (20g) Coconut Palm Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup (60g) Earth Balance Coconut Spread
  • 1/2 Chia Egg (1 1/2 tsp Ground Chia + 1 1/2 Tbsp Filtered Water)
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract

For the Sunflower Butter layer:
  • 1/2 Cup (130g) Sunflower Seed Butter (I used Maranatha - only sunflower seeds and salt!!)
  • 2 Tbsp (20g) Coconut Palm Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk
For the coating:

OVEN 325F/160C

Prepare the chia egg with the desired liquid component, and set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients for the Sunflower Butter layer, and mix well to allow the sugar to dissolve and incorporate. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to chill.

Prepare the shortbread:
In a small bowl, cream together the Earth Balance, coconut sugar and vanilla, until the mixture is mixed well, and the sugar begins to dissolve.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sorghum, tapioca, and sea salt, until evenly combined.

Add the buttery mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated. Add in the chia egg, and mix until a smooth dough forms.

Shape the dough into a cylinder of the desired diameter - mine was about 1.5" for the minis. Gently roll/wrap the log in a piece of parchment or waxed paper, and place it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the chilled log and slice into cookies, approximately 1/4" thick. Arrange the cookies onto an ungreased baking sheet, leaving a bit of space between each cookie, and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Do not overbake! The cookies should seem slightly undercooked, when removed from the oven. They will continue to bake and firm up as they cool. Allow the cookies to cool right on the baking sheet.

While the shortbread is cooling, begin to prepare the chocolate - either melting the chips in a double boiler, or preparing the easy chocolate as directed.

Once the cookies have cooled, remove them from the baking sheet and arrange them on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper - I set them right back on the same baking sheet, with the parchment under them.

Gently spread a nice layer of the sunflower butter mixture over each cookie. Take your time. If you're too heavy-handed (literally), the cookies may break. If the sunflower butter seems too firm to spread, allow it to sit a room temp for a few minutes before using.
Once all the cookies are covered, place them in the freezer for 5-10 minutes, before coating them with the heated chocolate.

To coat the cookies, simple drizzle a spoonful of melted chocolate (or Easy Chocolate) over each cookie, allowing it to run down the sides. If necessary, you can gently distribute the chocolate with the back of a spoon.
Allow the chocolate to cool and solidify, by chilling the cookies in the fridge or freezer, before serving.

Any leftover5 cookies can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge - or freezer even - for a few days. Place them on a paper towel or kitchen towel to help wick away any moisture.


Okaaaaay.... Giveaway Time!!
So... So Delicious has rolled out their newest line of dairy-free products... Almond Plus. They were generous enough to send me some samples, and I was rather impressed. Plus, indeed! I really love the added protein and lower sugars, and they're completely soy-free.
I'm still waiting for the Unsweetened Almond Plus milk - I was told that should be rolling out within the next few weeks; however, the Original and Vanilla have about half the sugar of other sweetened almond milks. This is great for someone like the BFF, who prefers sweetened milks, but also wants6 to cut down on sugar. I thought it might take some convincing to try to switch him over - I worried they may not be "sweet enough" for him - but it wasn't difficult at all; he's sold!

Let's not forget the Almond Milk Ice Creams! I got to try the Vanilla, Chocolate, Cherry Amaretto, Butter Pecan and Mocha Almond Fudge, as well as the Vanilla and Mocha Almond Fudge bars.
The frozen treats combine dehydrated cane sugar with monk fruit, to reduce the sugar content. This was another huge breakthrough for the BFF because he dislikes stevia and other non-glycemic sweeteners (natural or otherwise), but he greedily gobbled the bars and the "ice creams".
He is rather partial to the Mocha Almond Fudge. I'm quite fond of the Butter Pecan. YUM!
I'd love to see some No Sugar Added versions. They already offer NSA coconut milk frozen desserts, so hopefully, almond ones will be forthcoming :-)

Are you interested yet? Well, here's an opportunity to try them out yourself... for FREE!

I want to share the love, so TWO lucky readers will receive a voucher/coupon for a free So Delicious product of their choice.

I know it's weird to discuss So Delicious Almond Plus products in the same post that features a nut-free cookie, but I'm a bit weird that way. The vouchers are valid for any product, FYI :-)
Nut-allergies? No problem! You can try out one of the amazing coconut milk products!

Ready? It's easy!

Leave a comment below letting me know, "Which Almond Plus product appeals to you most?"

You can also earn BONUS ENTRIES (leave a separate comment for each):
1. Connect with Cucina Libera on Facebook
2. Follow Cucina Libera on Twitter
3. Tweet the following message "I'm entered to win @CucinaLibera @So_Delicious product giveaway! http://t.co/pIHwKp5Q"
4. Follow Cucina Libera on Pinterest, and pin the contest
5. Subscribe to this blog (Cucina Libera!) via email
6. Connect with So Delicious on Facebook
7. Follow So Delicious on Twitter
8. Follow So Delicious on Pinterest

The giveaway will run until Friday, March 30th midnight, CST. I will announce the winners on Monday, April 2nd.

This contest is only open to US readers.
[I was not monetarily compensated for, required or requested to write the above "review"]

Good Luck!!

1. "Enjoyed" at the time, when they still used peanut butter and not that poor-imposter-hydrogenated-peanut-spread.
2. Really, isn't the point to support the Girl Scouts? I remember having to try to sell cookies. Even as an eight-year-old, I found it annoying.
3. Or in general... FYI: I like sunflower butter much more than I ever cared for peanut.
4. I swear!!
5. If they're not all gobbled up... it'll be tough.
6. Tastebuds play a powerful role.
Read more ...

19 March 2012

Zeppole di San Giuseppe al Forno (Baked St. Joseph's Day Zeppole)

I absolutely adore the color green. Absolutely.

It would seem to follow that around this time of year I might post a green1 food recipe. You might have noticed that I didn't - not in color, at least. I was too busy fixating on recreating a particular treat.

Italians celebrate March 19th - the Feast of St. Joseph. On St. Joseph's day, it is traditional to wear red, give food to the needy, and prepare an elaborate, 3-tiered Tavola di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's table).

According to legend, there was a severe drought in Sicily during the Middle Ages, which threatened to destroy the crops and start a famine. The Sicilians prayed to San Giuseppe, their patron saint, to bring rain, promising to honor him with a feast, if he answered their prayers. The rains did come, and the people kept their promise.
Because the holiday falls within the Lenten season, St. Joseph's tables contain only meatless dishes2. Fava beans were the crop that saved the Sicilians from starvation, and are featured prominently on the table. Other traditional foods include limes, wine, and sweets, breads and pastries3- particularly Zeppole.

Zeppole are deep-fried or baked (al forno) pastries, traditionally made from pâte à choux. They can be savory or sweet - the sweet ones are often filled with custard, jelly, or pastry cream.

When I was little, I loved zeppole - the crisp, barely sweet pastry filled with creamy, lemon-kissed custard and topped with a cherry were an exciting treat. I liked the savory ones too, but the sweet ones were a rare treat our sugar-prohibiting mother4 would allow us to enjoy.5
Of course, being incredibly egg-heavy, Zeppole are not something I have "enjoyed" in a very very long time.

Well, until now.

Admittedly, these are not an exact recreation of traditional zeppole. The traditional, egg-heavy pastry is difficult to replicate precisely without... well... eggs. But these are darn6 near close for being Vegan, gluten free, allergy friendly, and no refined sugars.

I initially tried to experiment by tweaking the traditional pâte à choux recipe. This ended in unmitigated failure. I feared the pastry aspect of the zeppole was about to become Panettone 2010 Revisited (saga mentioned here), or I guess more appropriately, Zeppole Saga 2012.
I saw the signs though, and I quickly abandoned the idea of any subsequent attempts at vegan, gluten free pâte à choux. I instead decided to start from scratch on my own blank drawing board.

I dare say, it was far more successful.

Zeppole al Forno
(makes 10-12 Zeppole)

For the pastry:
  • 2/3 Cup (85g) Sorghum Flour
  • 2 Tbsp (15g) Garbanzo Bean Flour
  • 6 Tbsp (45g) Tapioca Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 Tbsp (10g) Coconut Palm Sugar
  • 3 Tbsp (45g) Earth Balance Coconut Spread
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 2 tsp Ground Flax or Chia
  • 1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Milk (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk)
  • 1 tsp Vinegar
For the Pastry Creme*:
  • 1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Milk (again, So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk)
  • 1/4 Cup (40g) Coconut Palm Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp (7g) Tapioca Flour
  • 1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Organic Lemon Flavor or zest of one lemon
  • Pinch of Sea Salt
  • 2 Cans full-fat Coconut Milk chilled in the refrigerator overnight.
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut Flour
Garnish with:
  • Whole dried unsweetened Bing Cherries - soaked for 2-3 hours - 1 per zeppola (you can also use glace cherries or Maraschinos, if you don't mind the added sugar)

Oven 400F/200C

Prepare the pastry creme:
In a saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk, coconut sugar, tapioca, vanilla, lemon and salt. Whisk well, to ensure the tapioca is fully dissolved and no lumps remain.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens - approximately 5-8 minutes.

Remove from heat, and allow the mixture to cool almost completely, before setting in the refrigerator to chill. You want the mixture to be as cold as possible, before adding it to the coconut cream.

Remove the coconut milk cans from the fridge, and scoop out the solid cream, leaving the clear liquid behind. Add the solid coconut cream to a mixing bowl, then add the chilled tapioca mixture and the coconut flour.

Starting on the lowest setting of your hand mixer and working up, whip the ingredients together, until well blended and fluffy. This should only take a few minutes. Sometimes better results are achieved, when everything is cold; you may want to pop the bowl and the beaters into the freezer for a few minutes before whipping the cream together.

*The pastry creme can be made sugar free by subbing 30-40 drops of liquid stevia for the coconut sugar; skip the cooking step and omit the milk and tapioca.
Place the finished pastry creme in the fridge to chill a bit longer, while you... 

Prepare the pastry:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set up a pastry/piping bag with a wide tip or cut the corner off of a quart-sized plastic bag. Set the items aside, within close reach.

Cream together the coconut palm sugar and buttery spread. Set aside, to help the sugar dissolve.

In a small bowl or glass combine the vanilla, flax (or chia), non-dairy milk and vinegar. Mix well, and continue to stir the mixture until it begins to thicken.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours and the baking soda. Whisk together so that they are evenly mixed. Add the butter-sugar mixture to the flour and blend well, using a fork or whisk, until it is evenly incorporated. The mixture should be somewhere between crumbly and sticky.
Add the liquid mixture, and mix until the batter is smooth and uniform.

Working quickly but mindfully, add the batter to the pastry bag and squeeze the batter into rings, approximately 3" in diameter. Spiral the batter on top of itself, to create a double layer ring. Make sure to space the rings at least 1" apart on the baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet on the center rack of the pre-heated oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 400F/200C, then reduce the heat to 375F/190C and continue to bake for 10 more minutes.
Turn off the heat, and allow the zeppole to remain in the oven as it, and they, cool - approximately 15-20 more minutes.

Remove the zeppole, and allow them to cool completely at room temperature. Carefully, slice the zeppole horizontally - the way you would slice a bagel - leaving a bit more thickness on the bottom layer.

Now you're ready to assemble the zeppole.

Grab that same (cleaned) piping bag -- or same plastic bag - let's be as earth-friendly as possible :-) -- and fill it with the chilled pastry creme. Pipe an even ring of creme onto the bottom half of a zeppola, and cover with the top half. Pipe an extra little dollop of creme into the center hole/divot, and top with a cherry - the soaked ones should be nice and plump and soft.
Repeat the above steps, until all of the zeppole are assembled.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate, until serving.

Buone Feste!!

1. In all senses of the word.
2. Definitely right up my alley (or vicolo, if you will).
3. St. Joseph is also the patron saint of pastry chefs - I'm so not kidding - what doesn't this guy do?
4. For health reasons (she was "granola" back before natural foods were in vogue - SMART lady!), but probably also because I was a rather hyperactive child.
5. It was only once a year, after all.
6. Please, San Giuseppe, excuse my language.
Read more ...

10 March 2012

French Onion Miso Soup

Many many years ago the BFF and I enjoyed a delicious French Onion soup at a local vegan/vegetarian restaurant. Part of the soup base included miso. Despite not generally being a fan of miso, the BFF raved and raved about it and wanted me to recreate it for him. 1

Sure, I thought, why not?

If there's one thing I can pretty confidently say about my cooking skills, it's that I'm good at recreating savory dishes, once I've tasted them and without a recipe.
I can't explain why, it's just something I've always been able to do. Baked goods, however, were an entirely different story... until recently.2

Back to soup though... I had to think about that one for ahwile. I had never eaten French Onion Soup before that day3, and I hadn't eaten/tasted the soup consciously.4
The first version I sort of threw together. It was good, - the BFF ate it - but something was definitely missing. I didn't consider it much of a success and - not having much of a history with French Onion Soup to begin with- didn't bother even trying to make it again... until years later, when the BFF asked again.5
Not the first draft.
OK, I thought. So if, I was going to try this another time, and inundate my apartment with the smell of onions, I was going to make it count.

For the second go, I went ahead and peeked at a run-of-the-mill French Onion Soup Recipe and noticed what I hadn't paid attention to in tasting years back.6  To be honest, I was sort of annoyed with myself, because it was so simple. In fact, this recipe requires only 6 ingredients, including the herbs. There are no fancy steps involved, no reductions or pre-prep,  yet the outcome is a truly delicious soup, that I would happily make (and eat) again (and again).

I served the soup in the traditional way, with a toasted bread and melted cheeze, but this is completely optional. The soup was excellent on its own.
P.S. I didn't make my own vegan/gf bread([!!] - I know...); I cut up some store bought, and toasted it in the oven, until dry and crisp. The bread is still vegan, gluten free and allergy friendly; that counts for something.

French Onion Miso
(serves 3-4)
  • 2 Large Yellow Onions
  • 1/3 Cup Chickpea Miso (red soy miso is nice too - make sure it's Organic/Non-GMO!)
  • 2 Quarts Filtered Water
  • 2 Tbsp Organic Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2-4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tbsp Thyme
  • 4-5 Slices of your favorite Vegan/GF/Allergy-Free Bread
  • Daiya Mozzarella Shreds
Peel the onions. Slice off the top ends, and cutting from top to root, slice them into 1/4 slices.
Cut each slice (it's easiest to stack the slices and cut several at once) into halves or quarters, depending on desired length.

Place the onions into a medium-large stock pot along with the miso, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.
Sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the the onions begin to soften and the miso, vinegar and oil have combined and evenly coated the onions.
The improved version.

Add the water, and bring the soup to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 40-45 more minutes, or until the onions are completely tender and translucent.
Note: Chickpea miso tends to be a bit less salty than soy miso (at least the one I use is). Feel free to add a bit more miso or a few pinches of sea salt, to suit your taste.

While the soup is cooking, you can prepare and toast the bread. I simply cut a few slices of a store-bought (vegan/gf/allergy-friendly) loaf into large squares and toasted them for 40 minutes at 200F. It struck me afterwards that it would have made a nice presentation to cut the bread into circles, using a biscuit cutter. The downside of this method would be leftover bits of bread scrap.

Once the soup is ready, and the bread is toasted. Prepare the bowls for serving.
Crank up the oven to the broiler setting or 500F.
Ladle the individual servings into ramekins or other oven-proof bowls. Float your bread pieces or disks on top of the soup, and cover with however much Daiya floats your boat Gluten Free toast.

Arrange the ramekins/bowls on a baking sheet. Place them under the broiler for 5-10 minutes, or until the Daiya is fully melted - or leave them a bit longer, until the Daiya is bubbly and slightly browned.

Serve (carefully) and Enjoy!

1. He loves onions though; they totally trumped the miso.
2. Of course, they're all Cucina Libera-fied/Libera-ted (dork alert!... yet again)
3. Honestly!
4. Yes, I know. Hardly mindful eating.
5. Apparently, he forgot the previous uninspired soup, in that time.

6. There's a good mindful eating lesson here, kids.
Read more ...

04 March 2012

Healthy Cheezecake Truffles

**UPDATE: So Delicious no longer makes the Coconut Milk Kefir; however, they now make unsweetened versions of their Plain and Vanilla Cultured Coconut Milk "yogurt". 
You can use it in place of the kefir in this recipe. Keep in mind that the consistency is thicker, so you may need an additional tablespoon or two.**

Sometimes, I feel like I have a rather eclectic palate, and some of the things I enjoy might not necessarily be appreciated by others.
I don't share all of my concoctions - particularly ones that fall into the above "category".

Is this a disclaimer? I suppose it could be, for what follows is exactly one such creation.

So, I don't know that I would have felt inclined1 to post this recipe on my own (see above). However, I recently responded to a query of how people use kefir - So Delicious® Coconut Milk Kefir, to be specific. Once I'd spilled a couple of ideas, I received some requests for the recipes.
Willing to oblige, I decided to go with my Cheezecake Truffles. They're packed with protein, beneficial probiotics, and MCFAs; contain no sugars; and taste like dessert.


Decadent, healthy Cheezecake Truffles!
I always use/consume the plain coconut kefir- I love it! It's So Delicious' one "yogurt" product that is unsweetened. Now if only they'd make an unsweetened version of their plain yogurt (see Update above!). Please note: I'm hardly complaining; I simply prefer my vegan "milks" and "yogurts" unsweetened, but I digress... The So Delicious vanilla kefir could also be used here successfully, if you prefer. It does have added sweeteners though, so the resulting truffles would not be free of sugars.

In order to get a nice consistency, a good protein powder is important - you want one that isn't gritty.
My choice of protein powder makes these high-raw. I like (and use) Garden of Life Raw Protein - it's vegan, raw, gluten free, soy free, and no added sweeteners.2 It's pretty fine3, and I don't find it to be particularly gritty, but there may be/are probably smoother protein powders out there; use whatever you like best.
These can also be made using a mild nut butter (cashews and macadamias, I'm looking at you) or soaked and blended nuts. For the sake of allergy-friendliness, I'll be sharing the non-nut version here.

Healthy Cheezecake Truffles
(makes 12 truffles)

  • 1/2 Cup (50g) Garden of Life Raw Protein (other powders may have different weights; measure by volume, if using something else)
  • 2 Tbsp Virgin Coconut Oil
  • Pinch Sea Salt
  • 5-8 Tbsp So Delicious Unsweetened Plain Cultured Coconut Milk
  • 3/4 tsp Vanilla Extract (or seeds from 1/2 pod)
  • 16-20 Drops Liquid Stevia
for the coating
  • 3 Tbsp Shredded Coconut (ground to a fine consistency)
  • 1/8 Tsp Cinnamon
  • Pinch Nutmeg
  • Pinch Sea Salt
Measure out the kefir (5T = 1/4 cup + 1T)  into a small glass. Stir in the vanilla and stevia. Allow it to sit at room temperature, while you mix other ingredients.

Prepare the coating: Pulse the coconut in a coffee grinder or mini blender, using the grinder blade attachment, until powdery. Mix in the cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt, and set aside.

Make sure your coconut oil is liquid or very very soft/melty. If it's solid, you can gently warm it by placing the jar in a a bowl of very warm water.
In a small bowl combine the protein powder and sea salt. Add in the coconut oil and blend well - I found using a fork works well. You want the oil to fully combine with the protein powder; the resulting consistency should be something like a crumbly paste that will stick/clump together when pressed.

Begin to add the kefir ONE tablespoon at a time. This is important, if you add it all at once, it will cool the coconut oil too quickly. Be patient and deliberate; after each tablespoon, stir in the kefir, until it is completely blended. It must be completely blended before adding the next tablespoon.

After all of the kefir has been blended in, the mixture should be the consistency of a very thick, but very smooth paste or "dough". Set the truffle dough in the refrigerator to chill for 20-30 minutes (or longer, if necessary to firm up the mixture), before rolling out the truffles.

Spread the coconut coating into a shallow dish or plate. Have an additional clean plate, to place the finished truffles.

Remove the truffle batter from the fridge, and working quickly, roll a small chunk of dough between your palms, to form a 1" ball. Gently toss/roll the truffle into the coating, and set onto the clean plate. Repeat.

Pop the truffles into the fridge to set for at least 1 hour. The flavor and consistency really develops, if left longer or overnight.

Serve and enjoy!

  • Don't mind sugars/cane sugar? Sub Vanilla kefir and reduce the amount of sweetener.
  • Not into stevia? Sub 1T to 2T powdered4 coconut palm sugar - add it to the kefir, as you would have the stevia
  • Don't have a nut allergy? Try finely crushed walnuts/pecans/almonds/hazelnuts in place of the coconut for the coating. 
  • Crushed raw cacao nibs make a lovely coating as well. If their natural bitterness (which I quite like) doesn't appeal, toss them with a couple drops of stevia or powdered coconut palm sugar - you can also find already sweetened cacao nibs.
  • Chocolate Cheezecake Truffles: Add 2T unsweetened cocoa powder; reduce protein powder by 1T
How about CHOCOLATE Cheezecake Truffles?
Try not to scarf them all in one sitting ;-) But if you do, enjoy the fact that your truffles were loaded with healthy nutrients (and dare I say, almost a meal!?), as opposed to simply empty calories.

1. Read: brave enough.
2. Did I mention it's raw?
3. In more ways than one.
4. DIY in a coffee grinder or mini blender using the grinder blade attachment
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