Posts Tagged ‘gluten-free’

Plant-Food Protein – Chickpeas & Quinoa

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I am a vegetarian. It’s a personal choice – I still have plenty of friends who eat meat. But I haven’t eaten it in about two years. So I’m a relative novice. And I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate more protein into my diet. Personally, I am not a fan of a lot of the “fake meats” – the tofu and seitan and other meat substitutes. I prefer getting my protein from beans, nuts, yogurt, cheese, eggs – those kinds of things. I’m not disparaging the faux meats – they work quite well for lots of people. I simply don’t care for them.

As I mentioned, beans are a leading choice. And garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are on top of my list. They have over 15 grams of protein per serving and are loaded with fiber. Also, they are extraordinarily versatile – you can use them whole in salads or mix them up into hummus. They even make up the base for falafel – a popular Middle Eastern staple made of ground chickpeas. Delicious! So I was intrigued when I recently read about roasted chickpeas. Said to be crispy outside with a soft, chewy interior – the sounded like the ideal protein-packed snack or healthy addition for summer salads. Just chickpeas, a little olive oil and some spices (see recipe below). And they turned out perfect on my first attempt!

Another favorite source of protein is quinoa. It’s a versatile grain that has a relatively high amount of protein. I can’t depend on it for the majority of my daily protein intake – I would have to eat a LOT of quinoa. But I try to choose it whenever I can. And, to shake things up a bit, I recently tried quinoa pasta. I’m happy to report that it tastes really good! I even prefer it to some of the denser whole wheat varieties. It’s fairly light and has a good bite to it. And it’s a great option for my gluten-free friends. An added benefit – it’s a vibrant yellow so adds a nice hit of color to any dish. I paired it with asparagus sautéed with lots of garlic and thin slices of lemon and topped the dish with a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil. Simple … and delicious.

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Oven-Roasted Chickpeas


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
  • 1 tablespoon crushed fresh garlic 
  • salt and pepper


Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and set aside.

Drain can of chickpeas/garbanzos. Rinse and drain very well again. Pat dry.

Toss drained chickpeas, garlic, oil and seasonings together in bowl.

Spread mixture onto lined cookie sheet so that the chickpeas are in a single layer.

Put into 400 degree oven for 30-45 minutes shaking occasionally. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Note: you can add any kind of spice you like to liven these up. Try cumin, fresh rosemary, crushed red pepper flakes, curry – virtually any spice you like will add another note of flavor. These are best served hot out of the oven. But they can be stored in an air-tight container and enjoyed for a few days after baking.

Ugly But Good

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I realize I just recently wrote about a gift I received – the healthy granola that a neighbor brought over as I was recuperating. But I feel the need to write about another gift I received during my convalescence. I don’t know if people realize the impact that homemade food can have on someone, but for me at least, freshly made soup or baked goods made a tremendous difference. Just knowing that someone cared enough to cook for me often left me speechless. So I want to do all I can to share these amazing recipes with you.

The soup and baked goods I mention were brought over by Mary and Jeanne – two friends I seldom see but whose vibrance mixed with their culinary skills make them a favorite pair of visitors. They opened the door bearing a large cloth box filled with Italian soup (that recipe will likely grace these pages at a later date), bread from a local bakery, freshly grated parmesan cheese, a few chilled DRY sodas, organic treats for the dog … and the strangest looking little cookies I had ever set eys on.

These baked goods were miniature and oddly shapen. I was at first a bit skeptical that they would be all that good. Being a true American, I am used to the obscenely oversized cookies oozing with chocolate and smelling of butter. These were altogether different. But considering the source, I overcame my initial concern and dug in. And…light, airy, chewy, just sweet enough – divine. A new favorite cookie – by a long shot.

Their Italian name is Brutti Ma Buoni – which translates to “Ugly but Good.” I’ll say. Despite their name – they are refined. And they are one of my favorites not only because they taste sublime. Comprised of mostly feathery almond “powder”, they are studded with chewy apricots and crisp walnuts. Additionally, they are healthy (no saturated fats, high in protein from all the nuts), easy to make and the perfect treat for my gluten-free friends (no flour!).

A number of different recipes resulted from a simple Google search. But I wanted to recreate the ones my friends brought over – I just can’t imagine any better. So the recipe below is copied exactly from a feint xerox copy my friend emailed. I don’t know its origin. The only change I made was to refrain from flourig the baking sheets. Parchment and a mist of cooking spray make these truly gluten-free and this approach worked just fine.

I hope you’ll try them. Don’t be dismayed by their appearance. Just one bite and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be an “Ugly” convert. Buon appetito!

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Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good)

Makes about 32 cookies


  • 1 ½ cups blanched almonds (8 ounces)
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons minced moist dried apricots
  • Parchment paper
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and mist lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.

Grind almonds in food processor until finely powdered and beginning to hold together – it will start to look a bit like small, dry couscous. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl (about 3 minutes).

Blend in sugar, vanilla, almond extract and salt. With machine running, pour in egg white through feed tube and blend until mixture forms a ball. It will turn into the consistency of marzipan – I used a metal spoon to scrape it from the bottom of the mixing bowl – no mere rubber spatula would suffice.

Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Mix in the chopped walnuts and apricots.

Grab a bit (roughly a teaspoon) of dough and arrange on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. It will be sticky and a bit messy - but persevere!

Place both sheets into oven. After 10 minutes exchange the top sheet and the bottom sheet. Bake another 3 to 7 minutes until just beginning to brown. Cool on racks. Store in airtight container

Brunch with Friends & Potato Baskets

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

There is something about brunch that just warms my heart. And while I love hanging out at busy, boisterous cafés – during these chilly winter months, I can think of nothing better than welcoming friends into my home, getting a fire roaring in the fireplace, and serving a deliciously indulgent brunch.   The welcoming aroma of freshly brewed coffee filling the air. A savory frittata warming in the oven. Bowls full of sweet wedges of blood red oranges and chunks of vivid yellow pineapple.

This all sounds so idyllic. And it was the scene I pictured in my mind for a recent Saturday morning brunch. Until the obsessing started. I really wanted to impress my guests. And it wasn’t like I was having Barack and Michelle and the girls over. This was just meant to be a simple brunch with friends. I doubt they even expected more than coffee and a muffin. But I wanted to thrill. To astound. I was hoping for “oohs” and “aahs” and groans of delight. 

AND I was cooking for a gluten-free friend. I toyed with baking. I perused many of the inviting and mouth-watering recipes from Gluten Free Girl. She is amazing. Inspiring. Makes it sound so easy. But I just wasn’t ready for my first foray into baking without wheat flour. Call me a coward. But I was going to stick to what I knew. For now.

The frittata I had in mind sounded good. But I wanted great. Different. New and exciting. What came to mind was….potato baskets. Not a terribly elegant name. But deep in the recesses of my mind was a picture of thinly sliced potatoes, crisped to a golden brown and wrapped around a delicate piece of fish. I think I saw it on a Food Network show a while back. “Surely I can make a brunch item with similarly crisped potatoes,” I thought. Immediate beeline to Google. My search unearthed a number of recipes for potato baskets. Though the majority used frozen hash browns. Which was not an option. So I continued my search. Some recommended boiling the potatoes before baking. Others went with raw. So many choices. What to do? What if I fail? So I did what I always do. I dove in and I cooked.

The result was a new brunch favorite. Individual “baskets” composed of crisp shreds of potato filled with creamy eggs dotted with melting goat cheese and bright little shards of pungent chives. And when all was said and done (and eaten), I got the moans of delight I had so wanted. “Amazing,” exclaimed my friends. But at that point, my focus on impressing my guests had passed. It was more about camaraderie, laughter and a meal amongst friends.

Potato Baskets Filled With Goat Cheese & Spinach Eggs

Makes 8 Baskets


  • 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 oz. goat cheese
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper 


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Peel and shred potatoes into a medium bowl – using biggest holes on grater. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add 1 egg and a pinch of salt and pepper; toss to combine. Spray 8 medium muffin cups with cooking spray, coating well. Spoon rounded 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the palm of your hand; squeeze out excess moisture; place in each muffin cup. Push potatoes onto bottom and up side of each cup.  Spray “nests” lightly with cooking spray. Bake on in oven for 40 minutes – the tops will be browned. When potato baskets are done, remove from oven. 

Begin preparing filling when potato baskets have been cooking about 30 minutes. Warm olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until slightly caramelized. Add spinach and cook over medium until wilted. Salt to taste. Set aside in bowl.

Reduce heat to medium low and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Whisk eggs together with a 1 tablespoon of milk (or water) in a bowl. Add eggs to pan and stir GENTLY. Cook over low heat until eggs begin to set. The more slowly you cook the eggs, the creamier they get. Add goat cheese when eggs start to come together. Fold in spinach. Total cooking time for eggs will be approximately 10 minutes.

Spoon egg mixture into egg potato baskets. Top with small dollops of goat cheese (optional). Serve immediately sprinkled with chives. If the potato baskets have cooled, you can place the egg filled baskets back in the oven for 3-5 minutes to warm.

Curiosity, Black Beans & Brownies

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

As I mentioned, the state of balance and wellbeing I currently enjoy in my life has been years in the making. And in that time there were losses (weight, guilt, food addictions), gains (knowing how to truly take care of myself) and a whole lot of culinary exploration in the mix. Changes were made – less butter, more olive oil. Less refined foods, more whole grains. It has been a journey.

During this time, I began reading up on possible “healthier” versions of my ultimate dessert – and in my humble opinion, the American culinary zenith – the Brownie. Terms like ‘apple sauce’ and ‘prune puree’ were mentioned. I was dismayed – and more than a little skeptical. These are not the sort of things that inspire enthusiasm, even for the healthy-diet minded. And then I stumbled on what can only be described as the paramount culinary offense when mentioned in the same breath as brownies – black beans. (This concept is apparently not uncommon. There are a number of recipes on the web that recommend using black beans as a substitute.)

black beans and chocolate

That discovery resulted in this thought: WHY would you ever do that to a brownie? Black beans and cocoa powder are not meant to co-exist. Ever. Or so I thought. And then, my curiosity got the better of me.

Investigating black beans and their potential role in brownie batter would be no small endeavor. Brownies – those molten, decadent, heaven-on-earth, fudgy wonders – are easily on my Top 5 list for desserts. Research would be required, recipes tweaked and fiddled with, comments and instructions pored over for hours. I will admit to a significant number of eye rolls. How good can a ‘healthier’ brownie be? But I persevered, took notes and created a recipe adapted from the best of what I could find – taking into account what I was willing to live with. And finally, I baked.

Out came the blender, on went the oven – preheating as I lightly oiled a square glass baking pan. I rinsed the black beans – THOROUGHLY – and drained. With breath held, I tossed the beans into the blender with sugar, oil, vanilla, baking powder, instant coffee, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. A quick blitz and there was batter. Thick batter. Canned-cake-frosting thick batter. No turning back now. I tasted it and it was… really very good. No hint of bean, no grit – and shining through it all, the strong, bittersweet hit of chocolate. (I take all the credit for doubling the amount of cocoa powder – clearly a wise move.) I scraped the batter into the glass baking pan, sprinkled a generous handful of chocolate chips on the top, and into the oven went the whole lot.

pan of black bean brownies

Thirty minutes later, the aroma of deep, rich chocolate filling my kitchen, the brownies were done and I was congratulating myself on my bravery. They looked legitimate – not at all resembling the sad, cellophane-wrapped specimens encountered in natural food stores. But the voices of recipe comments past lingered – words like “grainy,” “beany,” and “rejected outright” – flitted across my mind. Still, I jumped in. The promise was too great – this was potentially my new, go-to breakfast food, full of protein and fiber – and only moderately sullied by a bit of fat and a scant dose of refined sugar. I waited until they would be cool enough to eat, then sliced through the gooey layer of chocolate to the dense crumb below.

I took a bite. It should be noted, I wanted to love them. Or, I wanted to love them. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying I outright disliked them – just that I’m not head-over-heels crazy for them either. And it’s not the beans – their taste just disappears into the chocolate. But there was the subtle undercurrent of something else going on in there. Something earthy. Something *too* healthy. Not sweet enough. Moist and chocolately, but not chewy, oozing, do-not-disturb bliss.

So the final verdict. Will I serve them my dinner party guests? No. Will I make them again? Yes – from time to time, if I’m looking for a healthy dessert option or in need of a gluten-free gift for a friend – then yes*.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. With a few healthy reservations, I present:

Black Bean Browniesclose up black bean brownie

16 servings / approximately 125 calories per serving

  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee (I used one of those little Starbucks Via instant coffee packets)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8 square baking dish. Combine all ingredients except for the chocolate chips in a blender; blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes (the top will appear dry when done).

Let cool (about 15 minutes). Cut into 16 servings. Enjoy!

*A final note, lest any of the above commentary dissuade you from giving these BBB’s a go. I recently served them up to a group of daring friends, and they were smitten. Asking for more, begging for the recipe smitten. So, my not-quite-love regard for them might just be me. I do, admittedly, hold this particular dessert to an impossibly high standard – so I would urge you to give these a try before drawing any conclusions. As a wise friend once said, if brownies are the dessert equivalent of George Clooney (true!), then adding a little healthy substitution to the mix is like George in Birkenstocks. Nearly impossible to imagine. But, no matter how you slice it (and I really do hope you will), a pretty picture nonetheless.