Taste Test: Gluten Free Dreams

Today I picked up a box of Gluten Free Dreams Sugar Cookie Mix by Cherrybrook Kitchen.

I walked into a brand new Whole Foods Market here in Orlando and felt like I walked into a dream. Not only did a shimmering juice bar greet me but the store was HUGE with many more products and offerings than the store I previously frequented. (I say frequentED because this new store just kicked the old store’s ass.) The cute graphics on this cookie box caught my eye (apparently I am the target market) and I decided to try them out and then give them an official Miss Marie Blog Review.

I have never tried anything Wheat & Gluten Free. I know that a lot of people have allergies to gluten and there are so many talented bakers out there in the blogosphere who are blogging about wonderful gluten-free recipes. (Veggie Girl is a current favorite.) I have never been diagnosed with a gluten allergy but I am always looking for something new, healthy, and delicious and these seemed to be all of those things.

The Outside

First of all, the box is really cute. I know it’s something simple but graphic design and how the outside looks really makes a difference in my opinion of a product’s quality. This box is super cute.

The box advertises that the sugar cookie mix is Peanut Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free, Nut Free, Wheat Free, and Gluten Free. So what’s in it? That’s what I thought too. The ingredients are rice flour, evaporated can juice, potato starch, tapioca flour, non-alluminated baking powder, xanthan gum, and sea salt. Seems pretty straightforward. And pretty clean. I like it.

The box boasts that 1 cookie is only 70 calories. That’s wonderful! I’m already liking this product. But it makes sense since there’s no milk, eggs, or butter in these. The company also allows you collect the box flaps and trade them in for free mixes, water bottles, and other things. They also make note of the fact that the machines they use to make this mix do not process andy dairy, egg, peanut or tree nut products so consumers don’t have to worry the slightest about cross contamination if they or their loved ones are highly allergic. Bravo.

The Inside

I was a little skeptical when I tasted the dry mix because it wasn’t all that sweet. But after mixing in the required vanilla, soymilk and melted butter substitute, it came together nicely and tasted just like any other sugar cookie dough although it was a bit stickier. (aka no rolling out on a baking sheet without letting it chill for a few hours)

I decided that I wanted to turn these into Snickerdoodles so I added 1 tsp. cream of tartar to the dough and then rolled the dough in a cinnamon/organic sugar mixture before baking.

Final Judgement

Delicious! I’d like to try a blind taste test between these and my old non-vegan recipe because I’m not sure I’d be able to tell. If I were to guess, I’d say these are less heavy which is probably a very good thing. I was extremely surprised by how “normal” they tasted, looked, and felt. All together an amazing cookie mix. I highly recomment it.

Nom Rating:

Mr. Beagle: A+
He really liked them. I’m always surprised at how accepting he is of all my “healthy alternative” baking.

Me: A+
These were great. If I had a food allergy I would be so excited by these! I’d love to try to make these from scratch one day but after looking at the ingredients at whole foods I decided buying the mix is way cheaper. LOL.

In other news…

Andrea surprised me the other day by honoring me with another award. She wrote such a sweet little paragraph about my blog and I feel so flattered. (And now a little guilty that I didn’t write such nice things for the people I gave my last award to.) I’m even more flattered that I was included in such wonderful list of awardees that she chose!

Thank you so much Andrea and to everyone else who has visited, commented, and sent me sweet notes of encouragement. I love this creative community!

This award came with no rules so I’ll hand it out to two foodie blogs, and two non-foodie blogs that are regular commenters (gotta give love to get love people) and that I absolutely love:

Foodies:
A Place For Us: Earlier this year she transitioned herself and her family into a more healthful vegetarian lifestyle and is blogging through the journey. She includes lots of photos from their day-to-day life. And if her down-to-earth tone doesn’t draw you instantly in, the photos of the view from their garden will!

Dishing Up Delights: Esi always has creative recipes gracing the pages of her blog. They are all beautiful and look delicious! She really got me hooked when she did an entire series of recipes incorporating pomegranate seeds a week or two ago. You’ll be amazed!

Non-foodies:
Larissa Monologues: Larissa and I have been following each other’s blogs for a while now and I’m excited to share that she just recently found out that she and her husband are EXPECTING! Her posts are heart-warming and up-lifiting and I always look forward to what she will share next.

Life According to Mrs. LC: Mrs. LC is a newly blogging newlywed that just recently began her degree in Nutrition. Her blog is loaded with fun posts of recipes, stories, and amazing little freebies that she finds and shares with the blogosphere.

Thanks everyone! Keep passing the love around! (Wow that sounds very 70’s doesn’t it? LOL)

Figgy Fig Cookies


(Alternate title: They aren’t cookies, they’re fruit and cake!)

Well, this post is a few days late. It was meant for Friday but Mr. Beagle is finally home from training in sunny San Francisco and I’ve been spending all my free time relaxing with him before our super busy November kicks into high gear.

On Friday though, before Mr. Beagle came home, my mom drove up and spent the day with me. It was really nice to just spend a whole day with her, even if our trip to Plato’s Closet was completely unsuccessful. On the positive side, she did help me clean my entire kitchen and then we messed it up again by baking a huge batch of these amazing little cookies (fruit and cakes).

My mom has always loved Fig Newtons so when I saw a vegan version in my Vegan with a Vengeance Cookbook, I thought it would be a fun mother-daughter-in-the-kitchen-bonding time. We baked a batch pretty much exactly as the recipe stated (save for a few tweaks) and then thought we’d try another batch using the scone batter also in the book. After an official taste test we decided that the cookie batter in the original recipe tastes more like the cake-y texture of real Fig Newtons. We also decided that we liked the fig filling pureed first because it was exactly like the filling in the real Fig Newtons and we didn’t have to bite into any big fig chunks. So, without furter adieu, our lightly tweaked recipe for Fig Not-Ins aka Figgy Fig Cookies:

Ingredients

For the dough:
1/4 c. non-hydrogenated butter substitute (softened)
1/4 c. Nonhydrogenated shortening
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbs. cornstarch (or tapioca starch or arrowroot)
1/4 c. soymilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

For the filling:
1 lb. dried mission figs, chopped
1/2 c. water (we ended up using 1 c. water because the figs were still too dry after 1/2 c.)
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon

For the dough:
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Add cornstarch and mix. Beat in soymilk and vanilla. Add teh flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and combine. Divide the dough into two portions, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour to make the dough firm enough to roll.

For the filling:
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continually. (We needed to add extra water before the figs started to really get saucy. We also mashed them a little bit with the wooden spoon as we stirred.) Process in a food processor until the consistency of thick jam. (The original recipe did not cal for this but we think this step makes them much easier to eat-no fig chunks- and much more like the original Fig Newtons.) Allow to cool before assembling the cookies.

Assembly:
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle roughly 9×15. Divide the dough into three strips lengthwise. Place the three strips on the baking sheet a few inches apart. Divide the filling among the strips creating a 1/4 inch think layer along the center with about 1/2 space of dough remaining on each side. Roll out the second batch of dough to the same dimensions as the first and cut into three strips lengthwise. Lay the dough over the filling and pinch the edges of the dough to seal it (like a ravioli). Cut each strip into 1 inch sections but do not separate them. Bake for 18 minutes until edges start to turn golden brown. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes and then cut each cookie to separate and allow to cook on a rack.

Nom Rating:

Mom: A
They aren’t the super-processed Fig Newtons we’ve all grown up on, but they taste great and the filling is an almost exactly duplicate of the kind in the real cookies.

Me: A
I was surprised by how alike our filling was to the real cookies. The dough though was more like a cookie than the cake texture of the store-bought ones. Still, these are a great little treat. I’d like to try them with various fillings like raspberry or even some sort of chocolate hazelnut.

Also…..

Today I got a sweet little note from Amy at Coffee Talk letting me know that she had graciously given me this sweet award. I’m always so flattered that there are even people out there reading about my life and culinary adventures. So…THANK YOU AMY! You made my night even sweeter! Apparently though, this award comes with rules and here they are:

(1) Put the logo on your blog.
(2) Add a link to the person who awarded you.
(3) Nominate at least seven other blogs.
(4) Add links to those blogs on your blog.
(5) Leave a message for your nominee on their blogs.

So as a responsible award recipient, here are my lovely awardees (in no particular order):

1. Lauren at Vegan Girl
2. Veggie Girl
3. Shellyfish at Musings from the Fishbowl
4. Clara at I Heart Cuppycakes
5. Happy Meals and Happy Hour
6. Joanne at The Laid Back Buddhist
7. Jess at Cupcake Punk

All of you have enriched my life with your blogs full of hilarious life stories, witty observations, amazing recipes, beautiful creations, and sharing about your everyday life! I’d love to write each of you a super sweet paragraph about why I love reading your blogs but I just got back from an Engagement Shoot and I’m dead tired. So a simple and sweet “much love” to you all will have to do for now! 🙂

Harvest Black Bean Soup

I get to cross another recipe off my Top 5 list today. (I’ve been replacing them as I go, in case you were confused.) This may be my favorite blogosphere recipe yet! I found this little jewel at Vegan Deliciousness even though the original recipe is listed at 28 Cooksand have been so excited to try it ever since.

I would have never thought to combine pumpkin and black beans, and in this amazing soup the pumpkin is really very delicate. I added more spices than the recipe called for but that’s just what I always do. It was delicious! I am making more tonight and sticking it in the freezer because this may just be my new favorite soup.

If you’ve been following my blog and thinking, “I really want to try one of those recipes!” I highly suggest you start with this one. It’s so delicious! I made a few small tweaks to the original recipe and here’s what I ended up with…

Ingredients

1 tbs. nonhydrogenated butter substitute
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbs. curry
1 tbs. cumin
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. flour
1 1/2 c. soymilk
1 c. vegetable broth
1 can pumpkin
1/2 can black beans, drained
1 tsp. cayenne
pinch of nutmeg

Melt butter in a pot, add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
Add curry, cumin, salt, soymilk, and broth and saute for 1 minute.
Whisk in flour and other ingredients
Bring to a boil, stirring continually
Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer 5 minutes
Process in batches in a blender until smooth
Garnish with raw pumpkin seeds

Nom Rating:

Mr. Beagle: n/a
He’s {still} not here 😦

Me: A++++++
This is my favorite thing that I’ve made in the last few months. This recipe was warm and very autumnal. The pumpkin is light and does not overpour the soup but still gives it a creamy warmth. The black beans help to fill out the soup’s texture, which I like since I like thicker soups. The original recipe calls for less cumin, curry, and cayenne than I listed but I think the Holy C-nity deserves more so I upped all their measurements.

What now, Cupcake?

By now, it’s pretty evident that cupcakes are the new pink. They’ve come back with a bang and with a makeover. Once iced lazily with a butter knife, they are now hand decorated using tools once reserved for wedding cakes. When we all first saw these new and improved little delights, they blew our minds.

And now… I’m about to blow yours. (Are you excited yet?)

I’m addicted to I Heart Cuppycakes’ Blog. She has amazing ideas and is a master at presentation. Inspired by the gorgeous cupcakes I see all over the blogosphere, I decided to take muffins one step further. That’s right, I said it, “MUFFINS”. No longer will muffins be the ugly stepsisters to cupcakes. No longer will they remain un-iced. No longer with they be (gasp) bald! 😉

Yesterday I made sweet potato tartlets and had a good amount of filling leftover. I put it in the fridge last night and decided I’d try to make good use of it (since I’m on a “use up everything in the pantry before shopping” kick). And today I decided that muffins were the perfect creations for using up the rest of the filling. I added some flour, baking powder and salt to the sweet potato filling and baked them for about 15 minutes in a mini-muffin tin. The result? Good, but not sweet enough. The answer? Icing! But not real icing, no. This is a muffin, let’s not get crazy people.

I got out my butter (read: vegan non-hydrogenated butter substitute) and whipped it up with brown sugar until it was nice and fluffy. Then I piped it on top and sprinkled the top with cinnamon. New result? Delectable! Voi-la!

What now, Cupcake?

Don’t call me "Sweety" Potato Tartlets

I’m a Floridian and I know that everyone just kind of smiles politely and nods along when we gush over the “crisp” weather and how much we love “Autumn”. But give us a break, we gotta work with what we’ve got, and come March when you’re all freezing your cider-drinking asses off you’re going to be jealous that I’m in the backyard with a margarita and a bikini. 😉

When I woke up today it was a crisp (There’s that word!) and beautiful temperate outside. The kind of temperature that whispers softly to me, “It’s okay, wear the super cute scarf from Urban Outfitters. Fall is here and winter is just around the corner! But, uh…no Hun…not the boots. Yeah, go ahead and take those off. You just look silly, and it’s gonna be 85 by noon.”

I wore the scarf (passed on the boots with a twinge of jealousy for my boot-wearing sisters in NYC) and decided that I wanted to make something new today. I wanted to be creative. I headed to my kitchen to see what was available…{oats; sugar; flour; cans of pumpkin, butternut, and sweet potato; molasses; spices….Hmmm} I decided to work with the sweet potato. I’m just loving all of the rich autumnal flavors and sweet potato is definitely one of them.

First I thought I’d make some sort of muffins but I couldn’t find anything that really excited me. Next I moved to cookies, but everything looked too familiar. Then I thought, “don’t they make pies out of this stuff?” It turns out that they do in fact and the pies look great. But, I’m in a condo by myself for a week. I don’t need to make a whole pie. How could I make them smaller? I remembered a set of tartlet tins my mom had given me a few years ago- PERFECT!

Again a conundrum: What kind of crust? A regular pie crust would suit but that’s not very original now is it? Maybe some sort of cookie crust? Nope, I have no cookies in the pantry. Gotta work with what I’ve got. I got it! Oatmeal! I’ve been oatmeal crazy these last few weeks so why not just go one day further? 🙂

So now for your viewing (and hopefully later tasting) enjoyment…

Sweet Potato Tartlets


Get it? Sweet because of the heart and because of the potatoes? I’m here all week people…

For the crust:
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 c. oats
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. non-hydrogenated butter substitute ( I love this one)
1 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 325 and lightly butter 6 tartlet tins
2. Stir together sugar, oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon
3. Add butter and and mix until mixture is crumbly but forming a big ball of dough
4. Press dough into each tin making sure to keep the crust even
5. Chill 15 minutes
6. Bake 20 minutes

For the filling
1 can organic sweet potato puree
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbs. molasses
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 banana (mashed)
2 tbs. non-hydrogenated butter substitute (melted)
3/4 c. soy milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 300
2. Combine sweet potato and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in molasses and banana.
3. Add spices and stir in soy milk and butter until well combined.
4. Pour into shells (1/3 cup fills them perfectly)
5. Bake for 20 minutes until edges of the filling are firm but the center quivers a little.

Nom Rating:

Mr. Beagle: n/a
He’s not here 😦

Me: A
I was really proud of myself with this one. This one was really a creation from start to finish for me. I loved the sweet potato filling. It was the perfect amount in each bite and the mix of savory spices and sugar really gave it a lot of depth. The oatmeal crust was wonderful and different. But you’ll definitely need a big glass of soymilk and a partner to help you finish one of these. They are so filling!

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

This photo is not without a commentary. I needed comfort food. I’m feeling very lonely. Mr. Beagle is currently 38000 feet in the air on his way to Cupertino and I am at sitting here at sea level in an empty condo missing him. He’ll be gone for a week enjoying gorgeous California on Apple‘s tab while I’m here tending to our business and working like crazy. So, while I wallow in melodramatic loneliness, I decided to make myself something soothing and savory. Going along with my “try to use things already in the panty” mantra, I reorganized our kitchen and discovered that I could whip up a batch of butternut squash soup. (Thanks to Target for having a bogo sale on pumpkin and butternut squash last week! Glorious! Expect something pumpkin soon.)

I have had butternut squash soup before and I love it but I had never tried my hand at making it myself. After looking up a bunch of different versions all with different styles (harvest, pure, spicy, savory, sweet, fruity, etc) I decided to just mix and match until I came up with something I liked. This recipe is very simple, a little sweet, a little warm, and a lot “savory”.

Ingredients

1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 can organic pureed butternut squash
1 c. vegetable broth
1/2 c. soymilk
1/2 c. coconut milk
1 tsp. ginger
1 tbs. curry
2 tsp. kosher salt (or just “to taste”)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tbsp. agave nectar to sweeten
Fresh grated black pepper

Heat a pot on medium heat
Add oil and garlic and saute until tender
Add squash, broth, soymilk and spices
Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes
Stir in coconut milk and agave
Add fresh grated black pepper
Garnish with pumpernickel croutons

This soup is best described as “savory”. The curry and ginger add depth and a little warmth while the cinnamon, nutmeg, and agave add that harvest sweetness that we all love so much about this time of year. I also like my soup thick and creamy which is why I substituted the 2 milks for some broth. But I didn’t just want creaminess, I wanted flavor so I used not only soymilk, but coconut milk. If you prefer your soups less creamy, just omit the 2 milks and increase the vegetable broth by 1 cup.

Nom Rating:

Mr. Beagle: n/a
He’s not here 😦

Me: A+
I really love it, it’s sweet with a bit of heat. It’s thick and creamy and filling. Perfectly comforting. I will definitely be making this again. Maybe next time I’ll add apples. Hm…

Dinner in a Bowl

Alternate title: How to make a kick ass, satisfying vegan dinner for a vegetarian and a meat eater on a budget. 🙂

After reading an amazing post about eating healthy during the recession I decided that I was going to stop buying the frivolous items that I usually get (like sorbets, veggie chips, pre-made soups, etc). Instead, I want to start buying staple foods like grains in bulk and produce in season, fresh weekly from the farmers market. And, I’ve been trying to cook using only what I already have in my pantry. I tried my new plan today at the store and my normal grocery tab of about $75 dropped to $30. Bravo!

That being said, tonight I went a little kitchen crazy and decided to try my hand at this dinner in a bowl as a sweet, hearty dinner for Mr. Beagle and myself. I wasn’t planning on posting about it since the only recipe I really created myself was for the zucchini, but I thought this would be a perfect way to show how simple it can be to cook dinner for a vegetarian and a meat eater.

The recipes I used for this meal were:
Panko Baked Tofu (Mahi for him) and Snappy Sauce
Sour Creamy Potatoes
Sweet Julienned Zucchini

The nice thing about this is that both Mahi and the tofu filets need to cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes so it’s a perfect way to prepare one main dish that suits both of our preferences. I prepared the mahi the same way I did the tofu by first coating it in honey dijon mustard and then breading it with the Panko mixture.

Sour Creamy Potatoes

3 large potatoes washed, peeled, and cut into large pieces
3/4 c. Tofutti Sour Cream
1/4 c. Soymilk
salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a pot and fill with water until the potatoes are all submerged.
Bring them to a boil and then cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until fork tender.
Drain the potatoes and then put them in a bowl with the milk, sour cream, and salt and pepper.
Use beaters to whip whip them until they are creamy. I sprinkled them with parsley for garnish.

Sweet Julienned Zucchini

1 large organic zucchini
Curry spices
2 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the zucchini I decided to try something a little different. I wanted them to be bright and tender but also a little sweet and savory so I sauteed the zucchini (cut into 1/8 in strips, aka “julienned”) with olive oil, garlic, black pepper, and curry spices. The curry added just the right amount of “savory” to the veggies and complimented the mahi/tofu really well.

I then made these delectable Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Vegan Girl’s blog. I cut the recipe down so that I could make just a few cookies for Mr. Beagle and I to enjoy tonight. (Lord knows I don’t need dozens of cookies floating around my house all week.) They are AMAZING! I wanted to take a picture but I had already put all my camera gear away so you’ll just have to go look at them on her blog. 🙂

So, to wrap up. My dinner was vegan. Mr. Beagle’s was just healthy. The only non-vegan aspect of his meal was his fish. I’m telling you ladies and gentlemen, it so easy to bridge the gap if you just get a little creative. 🙂

Nom Rating:

Mr. Beagle: A++
Ask and you shall receive. Last time I made my breaded tofu he suggested I use the same technique on chicken or fish for him. He loved it all, especially the potatoes. I was showered with flattery all throughout the meal. He’s a big fan of snappy sauce and peanut butter cookies.

Me: A++
So good! I was surprised how tasty the Tofutti non-dairy sour cream was. Between that and soymilk, the potatoes were super creamy with a little zing. The cookies taste delicious but were a little cakey. I think that’s just because I’m bad at math and tried to make only 1/3 of the recipe. HaHa.