Monday, January 26, 2015

Alternative Flours Explained

There are a lot of flours on the grocery store shelves now besides the standard AP and whole wheat but most people do not know what to do with them. Over the last few years with the explosion of gluten free baking and new gf cook books, these alternative flours are much more common in the average store, and not just available in health food stores.

Reading the label of a gluten free bread or cookie can also be a little confusing when you see ingredients like sorghum and xathan gum. Just what are they? Below is a list of flours and baking ingredients with descriptions of what they are made from and how they can be used.

** Special Note: gluten free flours have gotten WAY better in the last few years. Rice flour used to be grainy, now the brown rice flour from Bob's Red Mill is silky soft resulting in better baked products. And common brands like King Arthur and Betty Crocker now offer a gluten free all purpose flour blend, with the goal of making your baking easier. Be careful with these, they might contain more ingredients than you need like baking powder or xanthan gum.
Alternative Flours:

Almond Flour - made by grinding blanched almonds into a fine powder (skins removed). The consistency is more like corn meal than wheat flour. You can find extra fine Italian Almond Flour which has more flavor, but can be very pricey. Baking with almond flour requires using more eggs to provide more structure. Use it in cakes, cookies, and other sweet baked goods. You can make it yourself by placing blanched almonds in a Vitamix or high power blender.

Brown Rice Flour - made from stone ground brown rice. Used in gluten free baked goods as a replacement for wheat. Can also be used to thicken soups and stews. I prefer to use this instead of white rice as it contains more fiber and therefore has a higher nutritional value. The higher fiber content will contribute to a heavier product than recipes made with white rice flour. Can also produce a gritty product when used alone and is best when combined with other flours like sorghum, potato flour and tapioca starch.

Coconut Flour - delicious alternative to wheat and other grain flours. It is very high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrates and a good source of protein. It gives baked goods a rich, springy texture but needs a lot more liquid than other flours. Replace up to 20% of the flour called for in a recipe with Coconut Flour, adding an equivalent amount of additional liquid to the recipe. You will not need as much sugar when using this flour as the coconut has a natural sweetness.

Millet Flour - adds a subtle flavor, creamy color, and more vitamins and minerals than other grains. Substitute 1/4 cup millet flour for an equal amount of unbleached white flour in any baked good. Can be a little gritty and contains no gluten, so is best to substitute around a 1/4 millet flour for other flours when baking.

Potato Flour - made from dehydrated potatoes. Used in bread, pancake and waffle recipes and as a thickener for sauces, gravies and soups. It adds smoothness and moisture in gluten free baking. It is high in carbohydrates and lacks fiber which makes it necessary to use it along with other flours as a mixture.

Quinoa Flour - made by grinding quinoa (keen-wah) to a powder. Highly nutritious, containing more protein, calcium and iron than other grains. It has a light nutty flavor. Not recommended to use alone as it does not contain any gluten. Best when substituting 1/4 cup for another flour.

Sorghum Flour - is an annual grass originating in Africa and a popular cereal crop worldwide. It has a higher protein content than corn and about equal to wheat. It is neutral in flavor which allows it to absorb other flavors well.

Tapioca Flour - made from the cassava root. Once ground it takes the form of a light, soft, fine white flour. It is starchy, slightly sweet and adds chewiness to baking and is a good thickener. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup per recipe to lighten and sweeten breads made with heavier flours like brown rice and millet.

Xanthan Gum - is a natural, complex carbohydrate made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris. Using about 1/4 tsp in bread and other gluten-free baked goods adds volume and viscosity which usually comes from the gluten in wheat. It is also used as a thickener and emulsifier in dairy products, salad dressings, and other foods.

What blends I use

**My favorite blend for gluten free baking is 1 cup rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour, 1/2 cup potato flour, 3/4 cup sorghum flour. Mix flours and keep in an airtight container and replace for an equal amount of flour in your recipe of choice. Sometimes I add a little quinoa or millet flour as well. These flours work best when there are eggs in the recipe and do not work as well with egg replacers.
Overall, there is no good one flour replacement for regular wheat flour. In general, the best result comes from using a blend of flours. A great source for how to use these flours if you are new to the gf cooking world is "How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook" by America's Test Kitchen

For ideas of what to do with Coconut and Almond Flours, check out
Elana's Pantry. She uses them exclusively because of their higher protein content. The recipes that I have tried from her blog so far have been delicious!

Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods produces all of the flours above in a plant dedicated gluten free and is by far my favorite source.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My First Green Smoothie

I love juicing, especially during the warmer months. It gives me a boost of energy and helps me to get all my servings of vegetables in. 

But today, today I made my first green smoothie and I am HOOKED!  It was so much better than I thought it would be, creamy, refreshing, and did NOT taste a bit like the two whole cups of spinach I threw in.

Smoothies vs Juicing

There are so many great benefits to juicing, the pure vitamin power of the vegetables get delivered to your stomach and bloodstream immediately. You can drink way more vegetables than you would ever eat in one day. But the criticism of juicing is the lack of fiber for your stomach to work on. Too many fruits in a juice can spike your blood sugar which is not what you want, especially when juicing as part of a cleanse.

With a smoothie, the entire fruit and vegetable goes in the blender. Now you are taking in all the fiber from the peeled orange, and not just the juice. I felt full for a long time after drinking my smoothie and enjoyed every sip. It makes two servings, but I just drank half at home, put the rest in a mason jar with a lid and took it with me to work.

Here is what I made:

Orange Goodness
2 cups spinach*, packed
1 cup coconut water
1 cup almond milk, unsweetened
1 whole orange, peeled
1 frozen banana

Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into your favorite glass or jar and enjoy!

*For the spinach, I recommend using the bundle of large leaf spinach found near the lettuce. The small, baby spinach in the bags has much less moisture in the leaves and wont blend up as well. Using the bagged spinach is good too if that is what you have, any spinach is better than using none at all!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Aioli ... aka Homemade Mayo

Aioli (eye-o-li) could be described as the fancy name for mayo. That is the word most often see on menus, never "mayo" or "mayonnaise". And actually traditional aioli is made with a mortar and pestle, to grind the garlic cloves into a paste first, and uses olive oil, never canola.  With a food processor though, making aioli or mayo yourself is so easy and so much better than anything you would get a the store that you wont want to go back. You will be much happier with the far smaller list of ingredients as well.  When made from scratch, the flavor is so much more alive and interesting than store bought mayo. Your sandwiches and everything else will end up tasting better.

With this base aioli, you can create any flavor you want by adding fresh herbs and spices, or some roasted red bell pepper or sundried tomatoes. A recipe for chipotle aioli is below which goes great with burgers and fish tacos.

Homemade Mayo or "Aioli"
Makes 2 cups


3 large egg yolks
1 small garlic clove
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
1 cup grapeseed or canola oil
1/2 cup light olive oil


Place egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, mustard and salt in the food processor. Turn on and let run until garlic is broken up, about 15 seconds.

The key to a good emulsion is to start very slow. Most food processors have a hole in the round insert for the processor lid. This is to help create a slow, small stream of oil, when you pour the oil through this part of the lid. 

Turn on the processor and begin pouring in 1 to 3 tablespoons at a time of oil through the hole in the lid, until you can see the mixture begin to gel, or bind together. Take your time here. If the emulsification doesnt happen at the beginning, the mixture will just be runny no matter how much you run the processor.  Once you see the "mayo" forming, go ahead and pour the oil in a little faster. The hole will keep the oil flowing in a steady stream. 

My aioli tends to emulsify so well that the mixture is super thick half way through adding the oil. I then stop the oil and add a little warm water, about 2 to 3 tablespoons, and turn on the processor again. The aioli then thins a bit and looks like the consistency of regular mayo. Once all the oil is in, taste the aioli and see if you want to add any more lemon or salt. 

Store in a glass jar or airtight container in the refrigerator.

How to Make Chipotle Aioli


1 cup aioli
1/2 Chipotle in Adobo Sauce - look for a brand without wheat flour, found in the mexican food section of the grocery store
1/2 tsp smoked paprika powder
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp lime juice (about 1 lime)


Place all ingredients in the food processor and process until smooth. Taste and add more chipotle pepper in you like it hotter. I start with a half pepper and then add more depending on how hot they are. 

This goes great with sweet potato fries, tilapia tacos, burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. I am sure there is a lot more it could be served with too, let me know what you think. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kalamata and Lemon Baked Chicken

Makes 4 servings

2 -3 pounds chicken breasts and thighs
Freshly ground pepper
3 tsp olive oil, divided
½ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced, about 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons lightly chopped thyme leave
½ cup whole, pitted Kalamata olives
2 medium shallots sliced, about ½ cup
Zest of 1 lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Season chicken generously with salt and pepper.

Place large saute pan over medium high heat, add 2 tsp oil and when hot place 2 to 3 pieces of chicken in pan without overcrowding. Do not move for 2 to 3 minutes to allow chicken to turn golden brown, flip over and brown the other side, about 2 more minutes. 

Place in large baking dish, and repeat until all pieces are browned, adding a little oil in between if needed.  

Turn heat down to medium and pour in the wine to deglaze, scraping off any bits stuck to the pan. Remove from heat and pour over the chicken.

In a medium bowl, combine stock, vinegar, garlic, mustard, rosemary and thyme, and pour over the chicken. Add olives and shallots tucking them into the liquid around the chicken.  Sprinkle the lemon zest over the chicken.

Cover dish with foil and place in oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20 minutes.

Serve with steamed rice and a big spoon so your guests may capture the tasty sauce in the baking dish.

Alternate instructions if you want to grill the chicken:

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place in a large Ziploc bag. Wisk together the stock, vinegar, garlic, mustard, rosemary, thyme and lemon zest and pour into bag along with the olives and shallots. Marinate in refrigerator for 4 hours, up to overnight. 

Remove chicken from marinade and place on a hot grill, until not quite done, just long enough to get grill marks, about 5 minutes a side. Then place in baking dish, pour the marinade over the top, and bake for 1 hour uncovered.  Before serving, zest more lemon over the top and sprinkle with chopped parsley, or more fresh thyme. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Vegetable Frittata

I have been making a lot of these lately. Perfect for a quick breakfast or lunch (when you make it ahead of time) as this frittata is a meal in one.  It is great served immediately, but also keeps well over a few days. I like to eat it cold straight from the refrigerator when I am pressed for time. 

One of my current clients cannot eat dairy so I have been making this with homemade almond milk and it comes out just as good as with store bought almond or soy milk or cow's milk. 

Replace the asparagus with your favorite vegetables or leftovers.  For a non-vegetarian version, add 1 cup of chopped, cooked bacon, ham or ground turkey.  

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
½ bunch asparagus, ends removed and sliced in 3rds, about 1 cup
2 small leeks chopped, white and light green parts only, about 1 ½ cup
7 eggs
¾ cup milk, unsweetened almond or soy milk
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
½ tsp salt
Couple turns freshly ground pepper
1 tomato thinly sliced

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil the bottom and sides of an 8” Pyrex pie dish and set aside. 

2.  Heat 2 tsp oil in a small frying pan over medium heat, add leeks and saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat if needed to keep them from browning. Spread leeks across the bottom of the prepared pie dish and place saute pan back over heat, add 1 more tsp oil and add asparagus. Saute until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, season with a little salt while cooking.  Fork should easily pierce the asparagus but still be crunchy. Place in pie dish over the leeks.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper until well mixed. Pour into pie dish.

4. Gently place tomatoes in a single layer on top of egg batter. They should float on the surface of the egg.  Carefully place dish in the middle of the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven when the quiche no longer jiggles in the middle, and the entire quiche has puffed up. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
This dish will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days

Tip: It helps to have the pie dish close to the oven when filling it. Then once it contains the egg mixture, it will be easier to keep the dish steady as you place it in the oven.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is a valuable super food for vegetarians and vegans who are concerned about getting enough protein in their diets. It is the only grain that contains all nine essential amino acids which means less need for food combining. It is also high in lysine, an amino acid necessary for tissue growth and repair. Quinoa has a nutty flavor and is similar to rice in its texture and in the way it cooks. It is lumped in the grain category but it is actually the seed of a leafy plant, related to spinach and swiss chard. You can see what the quinoa plant and harvest looks like here. It comes in both the white version pictured below and red, and lately I have also been seeing a black version.

This salad can be enjoyed as a main course or a side dish.  It keeps in the refrigerator for a week, but I would leave out the avocado if you plan to store it that long. The avocado will get brown and you could instead just add a little when you are ready to eat this dish.

Here is how you make it...

3 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced
2 large tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup green onions, sliced thinly
½ cup parsley, minced
¼ cup fresh mint, minced
¼ cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt 

fresh cracked pepper, about 6 turns
1 cup canned chickpeas
1 ripe avocado, diced

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. This recipe is best with quinoa that has not been overcooked and is still a little al dente. Make sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking as it contains a natural coating that is a little bitter.

Place the quinoa, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, lime juice, oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl and lightly toss. Taste for seasoning and add more lime, salt or pepper to taste.

Add chickpeas and avocado and stir to mix again. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Red Lentil and Coconut Soup

This is one of my favorite soups to make, as well as a household favorite. This soup has a slight sweetness that comes from the coconut milk. I end up throwing other items in it like broccoli stalks, carrots and curry powder which give it multiple layers of flavor. Red lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber. Before cooking, place the lentils in a bowl and run your hands through to pick out stones and other debris. Adding the lemon juice at the end makes all of the flavors come to life.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium onion, small dice, about 2 cups
2 medium carrots, chopped, about 1 1/3 cup

4 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 can coconut milk, 13.5oz
4 cloves garlic, left whole
1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons white miso paste
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Alternative seasonings:
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger, or 2 tsp ginger juice
- 2 teaspoons cumin or curry powder


In large soup pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and carrot and sauté until onions are soft, stirring frequently, about 2 to 4 minutes.

Add stock, coconut milk, lentils, garlic and salt to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid and let simmer 10 more minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat once lentils are completely soft and let cool 10 minutes before going to blender.

Pour half the soup in a blender, including the garlic cloves. Add the miso paste, and blend until smooth. 

** Be careful, the soup is still hot, so hold the lid on tight when you first turn on the blender and then lift the lid a little, or remove the small piece in the lid to let the steam vent while the soup blends. 

Return soup to the pot.  Add lemon juice, and any additional seasonings desired and stir to mix. If soup gets too thick, add additional stock.

Pour into bowls and serve.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

The soup will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. It can be frozen but is best made fresh.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Yummy Lima Bean Dip

If you were asked if you would like some lima bean dip, you might be just like me and think, "uh, no thanks." I was given a menu to work off of that had lima bean dip as one of the snacks and at first I wasnt expecting it to be a great dish. Once we got started working on it though, it was surprisingly good. Lima beans are also called "butter beans" because of their creamy and buttery texture. Similar to garbanzo beans in hummus, they can take on whatever flavor of herbs and spices you want to throw in. 

This is great as a snack in the afternoon, or put it out at a party instead of regular hummus. I like to serve it with these crackers from Food Should Taste Good.

1 16-oz bag frozen baby lima beans
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
Picked parsley leaves from 2 to 3 stems, about 1 tbsp
Juice of ½ lemon, about 1 tbsp
Zest of ½ lemon, about 1 tsp
3 tbsp olive oil

3-4 tbsp water (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add lima beans and garlic cloves, bring back to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Place lima beans and garlic in a food processor, add the remaining ingredients except water and process until completely smooth.  If the lima bean mix does not move smoothly add a tablespoon at a time of water until mixture is completely smooth.  Taste and add more salt or lemon zest if desired.

Place in serving bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but 1 to 2 hours is best.  Dip will get better as it sits, giving the flavors a chance to develop and becomes completely cold.

Serve with your favorite dippers like carrot sticks and crackers.

Next time I make it I want to play around with adding a little cooked bacon or sauteed shallots. 

**Note: I reduced the amount of oil in this recipe and added some water instead to create a creamy consistency. I wanted to maintain the flavor of the lima beans instead of muddling it with the flavor of olive oil.  You can add more oil if you like. Other additions that would be really good are cumin, cilantro instead of parsley, fresh dill or a little pesto instead of the water.