Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  It’s Christine here with your healthy dessert recipe of the week.  With all the sugary Halloween candy going around, I thought it would be nice to explore an alternative sweetener like stevia!

Is stevia safe?

After a not-so-great first experience with stevia and pumpkin, I vowed to do some more research on stevia to get it right!  I didn’t just find out about cooking with stevia, I also learned about the crazy controversies surrounding the sweetener.

Stevia: still scary for the FDA

Stevia: still scary for the FDA

The sweet leaves of the stevia plant are originally from South America, and have been sweetening Yerba Mate in Paraguay for centuries.  Japan has been using stevia as a sweetener since the 70’s and now it makes up 40% of all sweeteners used.  So how come it’s 2009 and stevia is just showing up at my grocery store?

Stevia had quite the journey coming here: there were a handful of very dated and poorly executed studies on stevia that showed dangerous results, which scared the FDA and fueled sugar lobbyists.  Two of these old studies found stevia to be a contraceptive.  The data methods have been seriously questioned and the results have never been able to be reproduced (ha!) since.  One study from 1985 made it seem that very high doses of stevia were mutagenic in rats.  It has been shown now that the data was handled incorrectly- even water would appear mutagenic — but in 1991 the FDA decided that stevia was an unsafe food additive.

There was a lot of fuss about the FDA’s ruling because it was made on the idea that stevia hadn’t been proven safe.  This contradicts the FDA policy to rule unfavorably only if a food has been proven unsafe.  The ruling also conflicted with trade laws, and in 1995 the decision was reversed and stevia was allowed as a “dietary supplement” but not a “food additive.”

What does this distinction mean?  It says that stevia is safe to include into a food because of its health benefits, but cannot officially be listed as a “sweetener.”  Silly, right?

In 2006 the World Health Organization declared that stevia is safe.  Just last year in 2008 the FDA finally decided that Rebiana, one extracted part of stevia, is generally regarded as safe.  For some reason, they haven’t ok’d the entire leaf yet.  Rebiana is the main ingredient in Truvia, owned by Coca-Cola, and PureVia, owned by Pepsi.  My impression is that when the two big sweetener-guzzling companies got interested in stevia, their influence overpowered the aspartame and sugar lobbyists’ impact on the FDA.

[stevia in palm photo]So now that stevia is here, what good is it?  Well for starters, our bodies don’t metabolize the glycosides, so we can enjoy the sweetness calorie-free.  I feel much better about eating a natural no-calorie sweetener than a synthetic one.  Stevia also doesn’t effect glucose levels, which makes it safe for diabetics.   It doesn’t cause cavities in teeth, either.

As for baking, stevia is heat stable so it won’t break down like synthetic sweeteners under high heat, and it also can handle being frozen.  Because of this, it doesn’t caramelize so it is unsuitable for, well, making caramel, and also things like meringue where you would need the sugar to brown.  Stevia can’t ferment either- sometimes in bread recipes you’ll see sugar being used to feed the yeast.  With stevia the bread will not rise as much

Stevia as a substitute

When substituting with stevia, it’s important to compensate not just for sweetness but also for bulk.  You only need to use about 1/2 a teaspoon of stevia extract for 1 cup of sugar, so you need to make up for that loss.  But remember that sugar melts in the oven, so for every cup of sugar you take out, you only need 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of filler.  Refer back to my post on healthier baking to find some great replacements; pumpkin, mashed bananas and applesauce all work well.

Stevia extracts aren’t standardized yet, so the strength of different brands will differ.  Start with a very small amount like an 1/8 teaspoon and taste as you go.  Stevia can very quickly have a bitter aftertaste.  Try adding a tablespoon of maple syrup to “warm up” the taste.

Vegan Orange-Currant Brunch Cake

I modified this recipe from one posted on several different stevia websites, including  It’s a small batch, so you may want to double it for a taller presentation.

[brunch cake photo 2]


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp stevia
  • 1 tbs egg replacer
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3 tbs walnut oil
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and stevia, then set aside.  Mix together the egg replacer with 1/4 cup warm water and stir until thick.  Add juice and oil.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry.  Fold in zest and currants.  Spread into a greased and floured tubed pan.  Bake for about 25 minutes, turning around halfway through.  A knife should come out clean when it’s finished.  Let cool for 20 minutes before unmolding.

[brunch cake in pan photo]

I was nervous about the simplicity of this recipe, but the results were delicious!  It is not too sweet at all- it reminded me of a good muffin.  The currants add nice bursts of flavor too.  I think the success here relied on using the stevia to play up the sweetness of the orange juice, instead of using the stevia as the main event.

Hope you learned something new about stevia and enjoy this yummy vegan cake!  If you have a good dessert recipe that uses stevia, I’d be pleased as punch if you sent it my way.

Have a sweet and safe Halloween!
xoxo Christine



Vegan Pumpkin Bread

Hey guys, Christine here!  As promised, today’s post is a continuation of last week’s preparation of fresh pumpkin puree!  Get ready to fill your home with the smells of the season because we’re baking everyone’s favorite fall treat: Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bread.

And guess who has a home filled with the warm aroma of pumpkin spice right now…the No-Meat Athlete himself! That’s right, I’m baking at my brother’s house!

[chris and matt photo]

I was coming up for a small dinner to welcome our mom back stateside, but due to the electricity shorting out in my kitchen (adios, everything in the fridge) I showed up a couple hours early to work on my STF dessert.

This is actually round two of this week’s post: before my electric went on the fritz, I was working on an entirely different pumpkin dessert.  I had picked up some stevia and I was excited to use it instead of sugar.  I guess I should have done some more research on stevia because it was a disaster!  A sickeningly sweet yet bitter disaster!  I only did a tablespoon but this stuff is really potent!  After getting fed up with the intricate stevia experiment that wasted a batch of my homemade puree,  I was in the mood for something comforting and simple like this yummy bread.

The recipe this week is based on one from The Joy of Vegan Baking.  When I originally got interested in animal-free baking, this is the first book I picked up.  But to be honest, I rarely lift it off the shelf anymore. Why?  It’s not that the recipes don’t taste good; for me the deterrent is soy.

Many of the recipes in this book rely on soy — soy margarine, soy milk, and silken tofu.  The book also leans heavily upon Ener-G egg replacer.  As I’ve progressed as a vegan baker, I’ve became less interested in creating soy copies of “normal” desserts.  My focus now is on making delicious desserts through the combination of REAL ingredients- and by ‘real’ I mean food I would be comfortable eating in or out of a baked good.

That being said, this is the kind of book that can win over the vegan naysayers, and it was a great introduction for me to see what could be done without the use of eggs and dairy.  And there are still some true gems here, like this gorgeous pumpkin bread.

[pumpkin bread photo]

I hardly made any changes to this recipe — it was already filled with the goodness of flaxseeds and applesauce.  Of course, I subbed in my fresh pumpkin puree instead of the 14oz can specified.  Oh by the way, I said in my last post that I got 2 cups of puree from each ‘sugar pie’ pumpkin — I have no idea why but after freezing and pureeing smooth it was reduced by about a quarter to half a cup.

To make the recipe a little more NMA friendly, I used a combination of whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour instead of the all-purpose.  I also cut down on the sugar by half a cup and switched to turbinado instead of refined.  Finally, I threw in some ground ginger instead of cloves- that’s just a personal preference because I always find cloves to be overpowering.  If you have it on hand, a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice will do just fine in place of all the spices.

Pumpkin Spice Bread Recipe

  • 3 tbs ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp each cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, and ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • sprinkles of oats and sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the flaxseed and water until thickened.
Combine flax mixture in a large bowl with sugar, applesauce, oil, and pumpkin.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet.  Fold in the walnuts.  Lightly grease loaf pans.  Divide into two regular 8 inch loaf pans or four mini loaf pans.  If you’d like, sprinkle on some oats or turbinado to garnish.  Bake the large loaves for about 55 minutes and the smaller loaves for about 40 minutes.  Let sit for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

[christine and mom photo]

Go ahead and enjoy these warm from the oven, or wrap up the whole loaf and make somebody very happy with a gift of pumpkin cheer!  This vegan pumpkin spice bread got a resounding “MMMMMMM!” from Matt, Erin, my mom, and me!  Plus, the loaves were so easy to make- just stir together!  I hope you enjoy this yummy and healthy slice of autumn.  Maybe I’ll get that stevia figured out for next Sweet-Tooth Friday!

Until then, stay sweet!
xoxo Christine



Homemade Pumpkin Puree

[christine pumpkin photo]Hi everybody!  It’s Christine again, checking in for Sweet-Tooth Friday!  Today we are going to take one of the season’s most popular flavors and give it life outside the can- I’m talking about fresh pumpkin!

While my big bro was busy qualifying for Boston, I spent the weekend at his house chilling with his two dogs.  It was really great to get out of the city for a couple days, and I took advantage of one of the many roadside stands and picked out a couple pumpkins to take home.

Ok I have a confession to make: I’ve never baked with fresh pumpkin.  As far as I know, I’ve never even tasted it.  I hardly use any canned products, but for some reason every October I turn my back on the plethora of fresh gourds available and reach for the ol’ can of Libby’s.

In either form, pumpkin is a great choice because it is loaded with vitamin C and E, lots of fiber, and cancer-fighting heart-disease-battling carotenoids.  That’s both beta-carotene and alpha-carotene!  Canned pumpkin is actually better in that department because during the canning process, the heat turns the beta-carotene into a form our bodies can absorb better.  On the other hand fresh pumpkin is sweeter and has more fiber than canned; it also comes with seeds that are superfoods in their own right!  The seeds have healthy fat, lots of vitamins and minerals, protein and cholesterol-lowering power.

I heard there is a taste difference between the kind of pumpkins grown for jack-o-lanterns and the kind grown for baking, but others say they cook their carved pumpkin after the festivities are over.  So I bought three little “sugar pie” pumpkins and one regular large one to see for myself.

[baking pumpkins photo]

I read up on several ways to “best” cook a pumpkin: roasting, steaming, and microwaving.  Before I could recommend any one way to you dear readers, I tried all three methods.  The results?  The roasting took over an hour and dried the pumpkin out.  The steaming method worked fine but I was concerned that a lot of the nutritional benefits were lost in the water.  The regular sized pumpkin came out flavorless and watery.  In the end, my favorite combination was the ‘sugar pie’ pumpkin in the microwave.  This had the best flavor and texture with the easiest preparation.

Before we get started on the how-to, I have three warning equations for you to consider:

1.  Pumpkins + Knives = Slippery sharp mess.  Count your fingers!
2.  Carved pumpkin + Several days on your porch = Compost, not pie.  Start fresh!
3.  Pumpkin + Plastic Wrap + Microwave = Very hot steam.  Just like your bag of jiffy pop.

How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Choose a firm ‘sugar’ or ‘pie’ pumpkin that weighs about 4 lbs.  If you can’t find this type of pumpkin, use a sweet winter squash like butternut.
Begin by washing any dirt off the pumpkin and drying thoroughly.
Cut a circle around the stem and pull the top off, just as if you were doing a jack-o-lantern.

[open pumpkin photo]
Cut the pumpkin down the middle and pull apart the halves.  Scoop out the stringy gooey stuff along with the seeds and set aside.

[split pumpkin photo]

Cut the pumpkin rind into chunks and put in a microwave safe bowl.

[cubed pumpkin photo]

Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 10 minutes.  Using pot holders, carefully remove the plastic wrap and stir up the pumpkin.  Cover with new plastic wrap and return to the microwave for 10 more minutes.  The pumpkin should be very soft and slightly darker in color.
When the pumpkin is cool, peel off the outside skin.  I found this easier with a sharp knife rather than a vegetable peeler.  The pumpkin can now be pureed in a food processor or mashed with a pastry blender depending on how smooth you want it.

[mashed pumpkin photo]

While the pumpkin is in the microwave or cooling, take the time to separate the seeds from the pumpkin goo.  The seeds can be washed, seasoned, and pan or oven toasted for a yummy and healthy snack.  (I sprinkled mine with a chipotle season-all.)

I got 2 cups of pumpkin puree from each of my 4 lb pumpkins- about equal to one can from each!  I divided the puree into three ziplocks and stuck them in the freezer, ready for any recipe from pies to soup.  Now, was all that preparation and gooey mess worth the effort?

We’ll have to wait until next Sweet-Tooth Friday to put our homemade fresh pumpkin puree to the test!

xoxo Christine



Vegan Thumbprint Cookies

[christine thumbprint photo]Yippee, it’s Sweet-Tooth Friday!  This is Christine with your weekly healthy dessert recipe.  Today I’ve got  a batch of incredibly addictive vegan thumbprint cookies!  These are yummy enough to satisfy the most discriminating of palates…like my dad’s!  Just don’t tell him the secret ingredient this week is CAULIFLOWER! The inspiration for these amazing little gems came from a comment last week about my Gluten-Free Carrot Macaroons.  The comment is from my stepmom, and she wrote:

“These look great to me but I don’t think your dear ‘ol dad will eat them (but I’m going to try anyway). I’d be grateful if you could come up with some recipes for cookies (or other easy treats) I can make (and freeze) for him so he’ll forever ditch the “Little Debbie” cakes! It would need to be close to a “regular” kind of cookie or dessert. He doesn’t like muffins, biscuits, coconut, almond flavor or nuts! I’ve not been able to come up with a healthy sweet treat he really liked and I’ve always considered myself a good baker. Any ideas you can pass to me are appreciated!”

As soon as I read this, the challenge was on!  I’ve met many dessert fans in my career and they always seem to fall into two groups: those that passionately love almond flavor, coconut and nuts, and those that passionately don’t.  My dad falls into the latter category so it was time to find a healthy dessert that didn’t lean on those elements as a flavor crutch.

The challenge doesn’t stop there — no, these healthy cookies don’t just have to be any regular kind of yummy — they have to hold their own next to the ultimate yumminess of my stepmom’s famous cookies. Let me tell you, when Christmas rolls around there is no better place to be than Margaret’s kitchen.  All season she pumps out every kind of cookie from jubilee bars to walnut swirls to lemon shortbread.  Her sugar cookies are so perfectly thin with just the right amount of sugar crunch that they are impossible to replicate.  (Believe me, I’ve tried!)

While she works, my dad sits perched by the counter eating the jam diagonals as fast as they come out of the oven.  Ahhh, the jam diagonals.  Rich buttery short bread, sweet raspberry jam, and a drizzle of lemon icing, all baked together in a sort of flat loaf, then elegantly cut on the diagonal like an Italian biscotti.  The combination of salty, sweet, and sour comes together in beautiful cookie harmony.  Could I really attempt to give the jam diagonal a NMA makeover?  I decided to give it a shot!

[thumbprint cookies close photo]

I started by shifting the jam diagonal into a more approachable shape — the thumbprint cookie.  Though humble, a thumbprint cookie has the same shortbread and jam elements without the rolling and slicing.  My next step was to imagine a healthier shortbread: canola oil for the butter, agave nectar for the sugar, and spelt and oats for the white flour!

It seemed way too good to be true, and I was right. As I stirred the ingredients together I realized I was lacking the structure that comes from whipping butter together with granulated sugar.  I had a “batter” on my hands instead of a “dough.”  I took a gamble and stirred in some cauliflower puree- ta da!  Not only did I get all the structure without added fat, but also got in some extra fiber and vitamins!  Plus cauliflower’s mild taste is undetectable.

For the jam, I used Welch’s Reduced Sugar Strawberry Spread.  It is reasonably priced and doesn’t use corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.  Instead of adding more sugar by drizzling the cookies with lemon icing, I stuck the lemon flavor into the cookie itself with lots of fresh zest.  Finally I added a tablespoon of flax seed just to sneak my dad some extra omega 3’s.

[thumbprint cookies photo]

Vegan Thumbprint Cookies

  • 1 ¼ cups spelt flour
  • 1 cup ground oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbs ground flaxseed
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup agave nectar
  • ½ cup cauliflower puree
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Low-sugar jam
  • Mix together the spelt, oats, baking powder, salt, and flaxseed.  Set aside. For the cauliflower puree, put 3/4 – 1 cup fresh or frozen cauliflower with 1 tbs of water into a microwave safe bowl.  Cover and microwave 3-5 minutes til soft.  Puree with an additional tablespoon of water.  It’s ok if it doesn’t get perfectly smooth.

    Stir together the cauliflower, canola oil, agave nectar, and lemon zest. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shape the dough into half dollar-sized balls, then press onto greased pan with deep thumbprint.  Fill the thumbprints with jam.

    Bake 16-18 minutes, checking to make sure bottoms are brown but not overdone.  Makes about 30 cookies.

That’s it for this Sweet-Tooth Friday!  Good luck rationing these cookies- I devoured mine!  Oh if you noticed my cookies look a bit textured, it’s just because I didn’t do the greatest job grinding my steel cut oats.  Using rolled oats is easier in my dinky processor.

Dad, I hope these healthy vegan thumbprint cookies can hold you over until Christmas!

Until next time, Stay sweet and keep those requests rollin’ in!
xoxo, Christine



Gluten-Free Carrot Macaroons

Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  This is Christine with a special gluten-free edition of STF. You’re going to love this simple recipe for vegan macaroons made with carrots!

[christine baking photo]When I last checked in with you guys I had just decided to eliminate meat from my home cooking.  I made a list of this week’s dinner menu with a lot of my NMA favorites like smoky black bean burritos, lentil sloppy joes, and sweet potato chickpea curry.  These are my tried and true meals- the ones that never leave me poking around my plate wishing for chicken.  I also hit up my local library and couldn’t resist a couple more vegetarian cookbooks.

I checked out one called The Oats, Peas, Beans & Barley Cookbook by Edith Young Cottrell.  What a delightful little book!  Maybe you’ve heard of it— it’s been around since the early 70’s!  My copy has library due dates stamped in it from 1984!  Of course nowadays I just swipe my keychain library card with its barcode and self checkout the books!

The author puts a lot of emphasis on whole foods, urging you to avoid foods that have nutrition lost in processing, and seek out those with their natural balance of nutrients intact.  Some of the nutrition facts are a bit out of date in their focus on protein and many soy-centric recipes.  However, there are soy recipes I’ve never seen before, like how to make your own tofu, soy milk, soy sour cream and whipped topping!  Even homemade wheat tempeh!  Though these certainly don’t have a place in my daily diet, it is really cool to know that there is a way around all the processed and prepackaged convenience food.

For now, I’ve got a couple of the recipes on my list like Lentil-Oat Waffles, Split Pea ‘Golden’ Nuggets, and Bulgar Chickpea Patties.  I checked out this book for my personal dinner planning, but I was totally psyched when I came to the dessert section.  Tons of low sugar, naturally vegan recipes!  It was love at first sight when I read the recipe for “Golden Macaroons,” made golden of course by carrots.  Why didn’t I think of that?!

For my version, I decided to go gluten-free because the flour was already playing second fiddle to the coconut and carrot.  Macaroons don’t need a delicate cake-like crumb from wheat.  If you’ve been avoiding rice flour because of its gritty reputation, this is the recipe you gotta try!  These little heavenly nuggets just melt in your mouth.  I made them with white rice flour that I had left over from a cake order, but I think they’d be even better with brown rice flour.

[six macaroons photo]

I couldn’t get my hands on unsweetened coconut flakes (anybody seen it?) so I cut out the rest of the sugar called for in the original recipe.  In the end I did add just a smidge of agave nectar to help keep the balls together.

Here’s my version:

Vegan Gluten-Free Carrot Macaroons

1 packed cup grated raw carrots (1-2 medium sized carrots)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups coconut flakes
3/4 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp alcohol-free vanilla extract
2 tbs agave nectar

optional garnish: 1 handful semisweet chocolate chips, melted.  I use Tropical Source brand which are vegan and gluten-free.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all the ingredients together except for the chocolate in a large bowl.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet.  Wash your hands and pat the mixture into 24 balls, slightly smaller than golfballs.
Place balls on pan 2 inches apart and bake for 30 minutes, rotating once.  Use a spatula to remove the macaroons from the pan.
If desired, drizzle melted chocolate over the macaroons with a fork.

These carrot macaroons are just divine!  There’s a decent amount of oil in them (about 1 tsp per macaroon) so they are definitely a treat.  But for people with celiac disease, this treat is well-deserved!  These macaroons do backflips over your standard vegan gluten-free desserts.  Heck, I’ll say it:  They’re better than regular macaroons!  The carrot adds a really nice subtle flavor that goes naturally with the coconut.  And the gorgeous color is perfect to welcome in the new season.

[four macaroons photo]

I hope you give this simple stir-together recipe a try.  I’d also like to hear from anyone else about their experiences with The Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Cookbook.  Any longtime vegetarians have this on their shelf?  Have any of you actually made your own soy milk?  I’ll keep you updated with my experiments.

Until next week,
Stay Sweet!

xoxo Christine



Vegan Pink Bean Muffins

Hey there guys!  It’s Christine here with for Sweet-Tooth Friday!  Today’s recipe is for Vegan Pink Bean & Berry Muffins.  These muffins are moist, delicious, and super easy!

[christine baking photo]Before I get to the muffins, I have two updates to share.  First of all, I have a new job!  I just started coaching Middle School Field Hockey.  It’s a ton of fun, and since it’s after school it doesn’t interfere with my morning baking.  I’m excited to have a scheduled workout session daily, especially now that Camogie is over for the summer.  It’s definitely a different experience working with 12, 13, and 14 year olds!  Who would believe that getting 20 hormonal girls to do sprints would be so trying—especially when the boys soccer team goes by!?

My second piece of news is that I have decided not to cook meat anymore at home.  I usually only fix meat (chicken, tuna, or ground turkey) about two times a week, but this is still a big change for me.  I’ve had my toes in the vegetarian water for awhile now.  What started as “Meatless Monday” ended up so yummy, doable, and inexpensive that I think it can easily fit into the rest of the week.

Omnivore's DilemmaPlus, I finally got around to reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma while on vacation.  I expected to enjoy the book, but I thought I knew enough about healthy eating that I wouldn’t take much from it.  Boy was I wrong!  The chapters about corn, corn syrup, and every other thing fed with corn made me feel sick and like a big ear of corn myself.  It also got me thinking more about meat being treated like a delicacy, as it was in the past.  So, I am ok with occasionally ordering meat at a trusty restaurant, but for the most part it’s veggies and beans for me!

Now back to the muffins!  I knew I was in the mood for muffins this week; they are one of my weaknesses at work but I always feel guilty about starting my day with all that dairy, fat, white flour, and sugar!  I found a great recipe from the US Dry Bean Council.  I veganized their recipe by using egg replacer for the eggs and juice instead of the milk.  I also cut down on the sweetener, used whole wheat pastry flour, and swapped an assortment of berries for the raisins and spices.

The recipe called for 1 cup of cooked pinto beans.  At the store I was delighted to stumble upon PINK beans!  Sorry, but sometimes my girly side gets the best of me!  In my excitement, I misread the recipe and used a whole CAN of beans instead of a CUP.  My muffins still turned out great, but I think they would but a little fluffier and have a better texture with the correct amount, so that’s what I’ve listed here.

[vegan pink bean muffins]

Vegan Pink Bean & Berry Muffins

  • 1 cup cooked pink beans (rinsed if from a can)
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil
  • 2 tsp Ener-g egg replacer mixed with 3 tbs water
  • 3/4 cup real fruit juice (I used pomegranate-blueberry)
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (+1 tbs to coat berries)
  • 1/3 cup sucanat
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mixed berries
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    Mix the 1 1/2 cups of the flour, sucanat, baking powder, and salt together, set aside.
    Mix together the beans, oil, and egg replacer.  Beat until the beans are just about smooth.  (You can also puree this in a food processor if you prefer.)
    Alternate adding the dry mix and the fruit juice to the bean mixture.  Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl and scrape the bottom to get everything mixed evenly.
    Toss the berries in the tablespoon of flour to coat, then stir in.  It’s better to stir in the berries by hand so that you don’t crush them.
    Divide batter into 12 lined muffin cups.  Bake for 20-22 minutes, until a knife comes out clean and the tops are springy.

[pink bean muffins photo]

Even with the extra beans I added, my batch of muffins turned out surprisingly delicious!  I was worried they would be super-dense-hockey-puck-style muffins, but they still rose and domed nicely.  Finally I have an easy fix for my pesky muffin craving!  I can’t wait to do these Pink Bean & Berry muffins again with the correct bean measurements- and I’d love to hear how yours turn out!

Hope you enjoy this protein and fiber-rich vegan breakfast!
Stay Sweet!

xoxo, Christine

Pink Bean on FoodistaPink Bean



Veganize and Healthify Your Baking with These 6 Steps

[healthy ingredients photo]

Hi everybody!  It’s Christine with a special edition of Sweet-Tooth Friday.  Instead of a new recipe this week, I thought I’d share some tips on how to become a BETTER baker—one who makes healthier goodies!  Like the saying goes, you can give a gal a cupcake and treat her for one day, or teach her to bake a whole grain muffin and feed her for a longer lifetime!  Err … or something like that!

When I am getting ready to work on a Sweet-Tooth Friday dessert, I sit down with a recipe and check to see if the ingredients in the dessert are actually foods I want to put into my body.  For me, there are six main problem areas:

Problem #1: The recipe calls for eggs.

NMA fix: If you don’t want to use eggs in your baking there are again many options.  An egg is 2 ounces of thick liquid, so it is best substituted with 2 oz of another thick liquid.  Try any of the above fruit, veggie, bean, or nut butter substitutions listed for subbing out fats.

There are also “flax eggs” which are made by combining 2 teaspoons of ground flax seed with 2 ounces of warm water.  Stir and set aside until the consistency has thickened.  Flax eggs do well binding ingredients together.  There are also egg replacers you can buy, like Ener-G brand.  This is mainly potato starch and leavening.  It works well in lighter, more traditional cake recipes.  If you are worried about your baked goodies rising, add a pinch of baking powder for each egg replaced.

The infographic below illustrates ideas for 11 binder-iffic vegan egg substitutes. They will all work in just about any situation, but you’ll want to think about matching flavors and textures to your particular situation as you decide which one to use. Feel free to share the image!

Click image to view in full size.

Problem #2: The recipe calls for butter, margarine, or shortening.

NMA fix: Butter is a fat.  Therefore, the easiest substitution for it is another kind of fat.  I sub in canola oil one-to-one for butter with great success.  This will work in baked quick breads, but not something like buttercream.  Canola oil is relatively inexpensive and a good source of omega-6’s.  Walnut oil and almond oil also work great in desserts by adding a nice nutty (duh) flavor, though they are more expensive.  Coconut oil is excellent with its light tropical flair and can be helpful when you are looking for the “structure” of unmelted butter.  It works well in pie crusts and cookies.

For any of these options, add a pinch of salt for every half cup of butter you swap out.  You can trick your tongue into experiencing a buttery flavor with the hint of saltiness.

Problem #3: The recipe calls for way too much fat.

NMA fix: Taking down the fat a notch (bam?) is half the fun of healthy baking!  Why?  Because there are just so many alternatives to choose from!  Start by just replacing half the amount of fat with an equal amount of any of these options:

  • Fruit purees like unsweetened applesauce, canned crushed pineapple, or mashed bananas.  Use an old banana for sweetness and banana-y flavor, a green banana for all the nutrition without competing flavors.
  • Vegetable purees like sweet potato, cauliflower, or canned pumpkin.  Also try shredded veggies, like the familiar carrots or zucchini.  Though technically a fruit, don’t forget about mashed avocado!  Save the darker veggies like spinach puree to combine with chocolate desserts or with a darker fruit like blueberries.
  • [healthy fat substitutes photo]Beans, my personal favorite option.  Beans add protein and structure to a recipe and, when pureed, go completely unnoticed!  Try great northern beans or pinto beans for a neutral taste, and chickpeas for a slightly nuttier taste.  Use black beans and adzuki beans in recipes that call for cocoa or chocolate.
  • Nut butters, like peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini.  Cashew butter has a particular neutral creamy taste.  These also pack in some extra protein.

Problem #4: The recipe calls for dairy.

NMA fix: Yes, there is always soy milk to substitute one-for-one for cow’s milk, but haven’t you already met your tofu quota for this week?  Try out almond milk, hemp milk, or coconut milk.

Don’t forget that any time there is a liquid, you have a chance to add flavor.  Try these alternative milks brewed with coffee in a chocolate recipe, chai tea for spice muffins, or mixed with Guinness for gingerbread!  You can also mix the milks with fruit juices like apple or orange juice for added sweetness.

Problem #5: The recipe calls for all-purpose white flour.

[healthy flours photo]NMA fix: I use whole-wheat pastry flour one-to-one for all-purpose without any problems.  But there is a world of flours outside of wheat!  Try out an ancient grain like teff or spelt for extra protein.  Go international with gram flour or grind your own chickpeas or fava beans into flour.  One of my favorites is oat flour; it only takes a second to go from rolled or steel cut oats to oat flour with the food processor.  Try replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with ground flax seed too.  Mixing and matching these flours will help it stay more flavor-neutral in the recipe.

Problem #6: The recipe calls for way too much white sugar.

STF fix: A lot of times you can just go ahead and lower the sugar amount by a quarter of whatever is called for and you won’t notice a thing.  There are several unrefined sugars on the market like raw sugar, demerara sugar, and sucanat.  Sucanat stands for sugar cane natural, and is just the dehydrated cane juice.  These unrefined sugars retain the mineral in the sugar cane plant.  However, there’s not a ton of nutritional value in this plant so the main point of using these kinds of sugars is just to avoid all the processing and bleaching.

[healthy sweeteners photo]There are also classic liquid sweeteners like maple syrup and honey which give a warmer flavor to a recipe.  If you use molasses, do so with an easy hand or use only a couple tablespoons to supplement another sweetener.  Blackstrap molasses is especially overpowering.

Agave nectar is my personal favorite because it has a lower glycemic index.  It’s also 25% sweeter than sugar, so you can use less.  Any time you use a liquid sweetener, cut back a little on the other liquid ingredients by about 1/4 cup to compensate.  There is also stevia extract, which frankly I don’t know much about yet.  (Update: see my post all about stevia.)  I’ve only tasted it in Tropicana’s Trop50; it was very good but did have a slight aftertaste.  I don’t recommend Splenda or other synthetic sweeteners.  They just don’t seem like real food to me.

So those are the six main problem areas in a recipe.  Finally, I want to highlight some “distracters” to help disguise unusual tastes and textures.  Cocoa or baking chocolate does a great job covering the taste of bean and veggie purees as well as the color.  Peanut butter is good for totally drowning out any mystery flavor competition.  Liqueurs and extracts also cover up flavors nicely; try some creme de menthe or amaretto.  Lemon zest adds a nice fresh citrus note to baked goods and, while it doesn’t cover anything up, it does add dimension to a sometimes flat flavor spectrum.  Finally nuts and dried fruits vary the texture of a baked good—this is especially helpful when you are using pureed beans to help distract from the inevitable mystery lump.

Ok, that just about covers what I’ve picked up during my run so far as the NMA’s resident healthy baker.  Remember, there are a lot of strategies here; start off just using one or two new elements at a time in your recipes.  One of the keys to substitutions is keeping the ratios of the original recipe the same regarding liquid to liquid and dry to dry ingredients.  Just keep tasting as you go and trust your instincts—you know you what you like.

Have fun, good luck and stay sweet!
xoxo, Christine

About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.



Steamed Peaches with Custard

[peach eating photo]Hey NMA-ers!  It’s Christine here with your weekly healthy dessert recipe!  For this Sweet-Tooth Friday, I went international and made Thai Steamed Peaches with Custard.  You’re not going to believe how delicious and elegant a dessert can be with just FOUR ingredients!

Now for most of my Sweet-Tooth Friday posts, I’ve been sneaking nutritious elements into normally unhealthy desserts, like avocado into chocolate mousse.  I’ve also been doing crazy substitutions to get my desserts to athlete standards- swapping out animal products and unrefined sweeteners with alternatives like flax and applesauce.  The results have been delicious, but there have been a decent amount of ingredients involved to bring the healthy desserts into the yummy category.

Gettin’ Steamy

[peach dessert ingredients]At my last camogie game, a friend of mine requested a recipe with less ingredients for this week’s post.  A long list of ingredients can appear time-consuming, complicated, and expensive.  I decided to go back to basics.  Besides, after a large and often spicy meal I am never craving a sky high piece of layer cake.  All I really want is a piece of fruit with a little pizzazz to sweeten the palate.

You know, the best dessert I’ve ever had was at The Thai Restaurant in Baltimore.  Like the restaurant’s name, this dessert seemed so simple but so perfect: fried bananas with a drizzle of honey and sprinkle of sesame seeds.  With this inspiration, I left Betty Crocker on the shelf and reached for The Food and Cooking of Thailand.

The Thai cookbook had a recipe for Steamed Custard in Nectarines, which is similar to the Thai dish sankaya but done in a nectarine instead of a small pumpkin.  If you’re curious about sankaya, be careful with your internet search—google repeatedly “corrected” my query to Sanjaya, the silly American Idol contestant with the weird hair!

[peach half photo]Anyway, I went ahead and used peaches for my version since there are just so many around this time of year.  Peaches are part of the “dirty dozen,” so try to find organic if you can.  My peaches weren’t quite ripe, but steaming them really did wonders to open up their sweetness and softness.

I’m a baker, not a “steamer,” so this was a first for me.  I think by getting outside my comfort zone I can really bring you Sweet-Toothers a simple and successful dish without relying on my experience.   I was delighted to see how easy the custard was to make!  Previous to this, I had only done it painstakingly over a double-boiler with lots of cornstarch, careful stirring, and dozens of failed “scrambled” custards.  This one is just pour and steam!

[peach custard photo]Maybe you’ve noticed that this is the first Sweet-Tooth Friday that calls for a real egg.  A lot of times in baking recipes the eggs really are unnecessary and are just there out of traditional misconceptions.  I did this recipe THREE times, once with Ener-g egg replacer, once with two egg whites, and once with one whole egg.  The egg replacer was just too slimy; the egg whites were passable but nothing to write home about.  The whole egg, on the other hand, launched my taste buds into creme-brulee-meets-peach-French-toast land.  There may be ways to make vegan custard, but with this few natural ingredients and without the magic of soy, it just wasn’t happening.

Also, the original recipe called for three tablespoons of palm sugar, which I would like to try but couldn’t get my hands on this week.  I used 2 tablespoons of amber agave nectar and it was plenty sweet and the custard still firmed up.  Go ahead and use honey if you prefer.  For the coconut milk, just put two tablespoons aside the next time you open a can, or get one of those teensy cans.

Steamed Peaches with Custard

6 organic peaches
1 egg
2 tbs agave nectar
2 tbs coconut milk

Optional garnish: fresh mint leaves, lime zest

Start heating a pot of water to boil.
Meanwhile mix together the egg, agave nectar, and coconut milk.
Cut the peaches in half along the “seam” and remove the stones.  Use the spoon to hollow out a slightly larger cavity.
When the water is boiling, put peach halves into a steamer basket over the water.  Pour the egg mixture into the cavity about 3/4 the way full.  I’ll tell you from my own mess that it’s just silly to fill them first and transfer to the steamer second!
Cover and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for 7-10 minutes, until the filling is firm.
Take the steamer off the hot water, but let cool completely before removing the peaches from the steamer basket.  This way they don’t lose their shape.
If you’d like, garnish with fresh mint leaves or lime zest.

[peach dessert photo]

These were so light and refreshing, with just the right amount of creamy decadence!  They looked really nice served in little martini glasses with some extra coconut milk pooled in the bottom.  This peach dessert will make an excellent ending to your spicy summer dishes and it’s so easy to make!

I hope you give this Sweet-Tooth Friday a try!  It’s really a nice change of pace to have something so fresh and simple at the end of a meal.  I never would have tried this if there hadn’t been a request for fewer ingredients but I am so glad I did!  With that in mind, please remember that I take requests!  If there’s a dessert you’ve been craving, let me know and I will try my best to revamp it with a NMA twist.  Or if you have a ton of a certain ingredient around, say summer squash, let me know and we can create a yummy recipe based on that!

Can’t wait to hear from you!
Until next STF, stay sweet!

xoxo Christine