A “Healthy-ish” Christmas Cookie Round-Up

I know people are divided on this — should cookies be healthy?! Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of eating a cookie? If you’re going to eat a cookie, shouldn’t you just eat a big, full-fat, white-flour, and refined-sugar-full cookie?

Well, I think that’s up to you.

Some people believe the body is a temple. Some people believe the body is a temple we bring sacrifices of chocolate and wine to.

Personally, I believe in honoring your cravings and not making any foods off limits (allergies and medical conditions aside) — but if I want something super indulgent, I like to either go out and eat it, or buy one and bring it home. If I want to make a big batch of cookies to keep around the house and eat throughout the week, I want it to be a healthy-ish cookie.

What meets the “healthy-ish” criteria?

  • Mostly whole grain flours. Even when I used a gluten-free all-purpose flour, I chose an AP flour with a chickpea flour base (Bob’s Red Mill brand… my favorite). I tried to limit starchier and/or flours that are more highly processed (read: stripped of most nutrients).
  • Refined sugar free. All the cookies I chose are made with either coconut sugar, honey, real maple syrup, or molasses.
  • All healthy fats. Instead of butter, lard, shortening (even more processed vegetable oils), I used nut butters, olive oil, and coconut oil.

Without further ado, here is a round-up of my top healthy-ish Christmas cookies (and other treats) to make this season.

The Toasted Pine Nut’s Peanut Butter Blossoms

Ambitious Kitchen’s Paleo Ginger Molasses Cookies

Kale Junkie’s Life Changing Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Clean Eats by Tay’s Vegan Soft-Baked Snickerdoodle Cookies

Dani Nemeh’s Gingerbread Truffles

The Healthy Maven’s Healthy Peppermint Chocolate Cookies

Sammy Eason’s Vegan Gingersnap Pillow Cookies

Oh She Glows’ Jumbo Chocolate Chunk Cookies (I added flaky sea salt, and it was out of this world.)

Pollen and Grace’s Vegan Maca + Cacao Truffles

Who-Needs-a-Man Chocolate Peppermint Pancakes (gf, df)

These are break-up-with-your-boyfriend, who-needs-a-man kind of ultimate pleasure pancakes. I don’t mean to over-hype, but these might be the best pancakes I’ve ever made. (And my pancakes are something I really pride myself on!) Make these on a Sunday morning to get in the holiday spirit, and feel good knowing they’re packed with ingredients that will make you feel good, will keep you full all day long, and won’t give you a nasty sugar crash later.

Ryan and I overzealously doubled this batch (we were very hungry), and despite stuffing ourselves still couldn’t finish each of our shares. I would recommend one batch for two people for a more *comfortable* fullness. You’ll be daydreaming these pancakes for the rest of the day, and bonus: they’ll make your house smell amazing.

Ingredients

Comfortably serves 2 people.

  • 1 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 1/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (I love Bob’s Red Mill, which has a chickpea flour base… more fiber + protein!)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, extracts, oil, and milk until frothy.
  • Slowly start stirring in the flour, baking powder, and unsweetened cocoa powder. Stir until there are no lumps left, but be careful not to over-mix. Your batter should be thick and almost pudding-like.
  • Finally, add in the chocolate chips and stir until just combined.
  • Grease and heat a large griddle. Once hot, spoon your pancake batter on in size of your choice. You’ll know your pancakes are ready to flip when the edges start bubbling — about 2-3 minutes per side.
  • Serve with real maple syrup, and a dusting more of cocoa powder (optional).

Espresso Dark Chocolate Chunk Muffins (gf, df)

Espresso Dark Chocolate Chunk Muffins (gf, df)

It took me two rounds to perfect this recipe. I am picky with my baked goods, and having to bake gluten-free makes me even pickier. My goal is always to create a baked good that I could put down in front of someone, without telling them what’s in it, and not have them say it’s “pretty good for being gluten-free”, but that’s it “REALLY good”, period. I think I achieved that with this muffin.

Basically, this muffin is the perfect solution to your 3 PM energy crash. It gives you complex carbs and healthy fats to prevent the “hangry” from coming on, and the staying power to get you through till dinner. It gives you a little dose of caffeine with the ground espresso, and it has chocolate in it. Chocolate just makes everything better.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tbsp. melted coconut oil, melted and cooled
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup gluten-free oat flour
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3 tbsp. espresso beans, ground in a food processor, or 3 tbsp. instant coffee
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup dairy-free dark chocolate chunks, plus more for topping

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray, or oil with a little olive or coconut oil.
  2. In a large bowl combine all wet ingredients (eggs through apple cider vinegar, above). Whisk until well combined — your batter should be smooth and creamy.
  3. Next, add in all dry ingredients (except for the chocolate chunks). Stir to mix, then fold in the ½ cup of dark chocolate chunks.
  4. Spoon your batter into 9 muffin cups, and top with a few additional chocolate chunks. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Let cool for about 5 minutes, and then enjoy!

Pumpkin Pecan Oat Scones with Maple-Almond Butter Glaze (gf, df, v)

Pumpkin Pecan Oat Scones with Maple-Almond Butter Glaze (gf, df, v)

I will preface this by saying I was not a scone person (before making these). I think I liked the idea of scones more than I actually liked scones — which I used to associate with being super dry, flaky, and not all that flavorful. If I was going to have something sweet, a scone was not going to be my first choice.

But the idea of scones…

Am I the only one who feels like when you’re eating a scone, you need to also be sipping coffee in one of those well-lit, white-washed “Instagram kitchens”, curled up in a chunky knit sweater with perfectly “I-didn’t-just-wake-up-like-this” hair? Or maybe you’re a fashionable upper-class woman who stops at the cafe every morning to sip espresso and eat a ~scone~ before work.

Scones are definitely the cool-girls of pastries.

I decided to give them a fair try, and tweaked and played with a few existing scone recipes to create this one — which is inspired by My New Roots and Cookie & Kate. My scone recipe is gluten- and dairy-free, as well as vegan. And I can confidently say it is the complete opposite of everything I used to hate about scones, plus everything I had hoped they would be.

These scones are crispy on the outside, but are wonderfully moist and soft on the inside. When you take a bite, you immediately get a great, creamy, pumpkin middle. The glaze, as well, is to-die-for, and I think a huge part of what makes this dish. I created my own glaze recipe from scratch, because I didn’t like that most scone glazes are primarily powdered sugar. Mine is refined-sugar-free, and just the right amount of sweetness. The trick is to pour the glaze over the scones while they’re only a few minutes out of the oven. They will soak it right up, and the glaze will fill every wonderful nook and crack in the scones.

Also – be generous. You’ll have excess glaze that will spill off the scones and onto the pan, but that’s ok. It lets the glaze seep into all sides of the scone, which makes it really delicious and fun to eat!

Pumpkin Pecan Oat Scones

  • 1 cup raw pecans
  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ginger
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup solid coconut oil
  • ¾ cup pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple-Almond Butter Glaze

  • 1/4 cup natural almond butter (drippy is best)
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425º F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spread your 1 cup of pecans on top, and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes. Keep a careful eye on them, as nuts do burn quickly. Once slightly cooled, chop the nuts into fine pieces.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, 3/4 of the chopped nuts, baking powder, coconut sugar, and spices. Whisk together.
  4. Next, use either a pastry cutter or a fork to “cut” your solid coconut oil into your dry ingredients. Mix well.
  5. Stir in your pumpkin puree, almond milk, and vanilla extract. It should take a while to get everything incorporated, and your dough should be fairly dense and stiff. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to knead the last bits of the dough together.
  6. Form your dough into a circle that is about an inch tall all the way around. Cut into 8 even slices (like a pizza), and then place on your parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until lightly browned on the outside.
  8. While the scones are in the oven, prepare your glaze by whisking all ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
  9. After you take the scones out of the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, and then generously pour your glaze on top. Really let the glaze seep into all sides and cracks of the scone. While the glaze is still wet, sprinkle your remaining pecan pieces on top.

Sunday Comfort Food: Lemon Aglio e Oglio Pasta with Homemade Garlic Breadcrumbs (vegan, gf)

Sunday Comfort Food: Lemon Aglio e Oglio Pasta with Homemade Garlic Breadcrumbs (vegan, gf)

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Last weekend I went home to New Jersey to visit my family. I go back at least 3-4 times a year (more in the summer)… if not for anything else, to get an appointment with the only colorist I let touch my hair (#Jerseygirlproblems?). It was great to see my parents and brother and get to run on all my favorite routes I grew up on, and get to visit some of my old favorite restaurants.

On Sunday, I cooked dinner for my parents. I made the Lemon Aglio e Oglio Spaghetti I had teased on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. Here it is — the full recipe!

I used Banza spaghetti, made from chickpea flour, which is my go-to gluten-free pasta brand. It’s really easy to find in stores, not too expensive, and as tasty as it is nutritious. With 8 grams of fiber, and 14 grams of protein, it is, quite literally, power pasta. My one tip with Banza — always cook it less than it says on the box! It says to cook it 8-10 minutes… we usually cook ours around 6. Test it often while cooking to see when it reaches al dente.

Serves 4 very generous-sized bowls, or 6 more normal-sized portions

Ingredients

For the lemon aglio e oglio sauce:

  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp coarsely-ground black pepper

For the garlic breadcrumbs:

  • 2-3 slices hearty whole grain bread (I used Happy Campers’ Seedy Buckwheat Molasses). Stale bread works great for homemade breadcrumbs, but you can also use fresh bread, toasted.
  • 2-3 tsp minced garlic
  • Generous drizzle extra-virgin olive oil

For the pasta:

  • 8 oz. Banza Spaghetti (or 2 boxes)
  • More salt and pepper, to serve
  • Nutritional yeast, to serve
  • Lemon zest (optional), to serve

Instructions

1. Fill a large pot with salted water, cover it, and bring it to a rolling boil.

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2. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare your breadcrumbs. If using fresh bread, toast it first, then pop it in a high-speed blender or food processor and pulse until it’s reached a fine, breadcrumb-like consistency. If using stale bread, you can skip the toasting step, and pulse it right away.

3. Pour the breadcrumbs into an oven-safe skillet, toss with olive oil and garlic, and turn on your oven’s broiler setting. Broil for a minute or two, until crispy. Very important (!) — be sure to keep an eye on it the whole time. It will toast very quickly, and you do not want your breadcrumbs to burn!! Take out of the oven once toasted and crispy, and let cool.

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4. Once pasta water has come to a boil, remove lid, add your spaghetti, stir, and set your timer for 6 minutes. You can use this time to prepare the aglio e oglio sauce, or wait to do that afterwards. Once pasta has cooked through (be sure to test a strand to see if it’s al dente), ladle a cup or so of pasta water into a small bowl, then drain it and let it cool.

5. Prepare your aglio e oglio sauce by whisking all ingredients in a small bowl. Add 1/2 – a full cup of pasta water into the sauce, and pour over your pasta.

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6. Top with the breadcrumbs, a generous sprinkling of nutritional yeast (for a nice, cheesy flavor), more salt and pepper, lemon zest (optional), and serve! Enjoy.

 

Ricotta Turkey Meatball Subs

Ricotta Turkey Meatball Subs

I say it all the time, but it has been amazing to see how far gluten- and dairy-free products have come… not only in the past 10-20 years, but even as recently as the past 5-6! I first started experimenting with gluten- and dairy-free products in high school 10 years ago. There wasn’t a whole lot out there, but everyone told me it was so much better than 10 years before that.

Then, my freshman year of college, I was getting sick all the time and had chronic stomach upset and bloating. I went to a doctor who ran some tests, put me on an elimination diet, and I found out I had bona fide wheat and milk allergies. Since then I’ve been obsessive about researching and keeping up-to-date on every new product on the market. Anything that could make my life easier. I hated that most of the gluten-free products out there were super refined (basically the equivalent of white bread), and nutrient-poor. I hated that most of the vegan cheeses out there had a 20-something ingredient list with lots of words I couldn’t pronounce, and tasted rubbery and artificial.

But again… we’ve come a long way! I want to do a round-up of my favorite gluten- and dairy-free products on the blog soon. In the meantime, here’s a product I recently discovered and can’t get enough of: Kite Hill’s new almond milk ricotta. Last week, I used it in a chicken sausage, tomato, and ricotta frittata. This week, I made homemade Ricotta Turkey Meatball subs. You’ve got to add these to your dinner rotation STAT!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb. lean ground turkey (I like Trader Joe’s 99% lean, but I’d recommend anything upwards of 80/20)
  • 3/4 cup Kite Hill Almond Milk Ricotta
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 5 tbsp. almond flour (use unblanched for the most fiber and nutrients)
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, plus more for topping
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 32 oz. marinara sauce
  • 6 small rolls, or 4 larger ones – Sliced in half lengthwise and toasted
  • Optional: Nutritional yeast for topping

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INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 450º F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix with your hands all ingredients except the marinara sauce and rolls.
  3. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Roll the batter into meatballs and place on the baking sheet. You should get 12-16 balls, depending on how large you make them. I found the ricotta gives the meatballs a great consistency and helps them bind nicely. But if yours are not staying together, cover your bowl and place the batter in the refrigerator for 20 minutes – 1 hour. Take out, and try rolling them again.
  4. Bake the meatballs for 7-10 minutes. They should be lightly browned on the outside when they come out. The higher fat content of the ground turkey you chose, the more color they’ll get (and vice versa).
  5. Use tongs to transfer your meatballs to a large pot. Pour marinara sauce on top, cover with a lid, and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, slice and toast your rolls. Once the meatballs are done on the stove, assemble your subs, making sure to spoon out some extra sauce for on top. Dress with extra dried oregano and (optional) nutritional yeast.

The BEST Gluten Free Buckwheat Banana Bread

The BEST Gluten Free Buckwheat Banana Bread

A couple of years ago, I started testing and tweaking banana bread recipes to create a gluten-free loaf I could pack as a daily work snack. My criteria: I wanted a really tasty banana bread recipe that is low in sugar, used whole grain flours as a BASE (not just an additive), and was something I could feel good about eating on a daily basis. This recipe was the result, which I kept track of in a Word document titled “The BEST Gluten-Free Buckwheat Banana Bread.”

Since then, I’ve made amazing banana breads with oat, almond, even chickpea flour, but when I want the nutty, hearty taste of buckwheat, I always go back to this recipe. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Melt your coconut oil, and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all your dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine all your wet ingredients (including the coconut oil). Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Do not over-mix!
  4. Grease a loaf pan, and pour in your banana bread mixture.
  5. Place into the oven, and bake for 45-50 minutes. Keep an eye on the loaf, and be careful not to overcook. The bread should keep some of its moisture when fully baked.