Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Red Velvet Story....To Beet or Not to Beet.

I'll admit, I was a little arrogant in thinking that I could easily whip up a gluten free, dairy free and vegan red velvet cake that would be anything close to the real thing, but my friend Stephanie's birthday was coming up and I was going to wow her!

The real challenge was to somehow find a way to get that beautiful red color without using nasty artificial food coloring. What's all natural and could make a nice deep red?  Beets, of course.  I used the whole beet. Not just one beet either, but a bunch of beets.  I cooked them first, then pureed them and mixed them into the batter.  It was beautiful. I even made sure to use the right leaveners so as not to destroy the color while baking (there's some kind of chemical reaction that happens which can turn it brown).

The cake came out a nice red.  It was a bit on the dense side but as one of my good friends likes to say when my baked goods don't come out so well, "That's gluten free for ya!"  I was too excited about the color to worry about denseness, or even taste for that matter, so I covered it in frosting, put it in a box and froze it until the day of the party.

It was a long drive to Stephanie's house in the middle of winter in addition to a quick pit-stop to see the in-laws first. The poor cake had to sit in a cooler for two days until we made it to Stephanie's. Finally, we arrived and upon first looking at the cake everything looked fine. It was still all in one piece and nicely decorated.  The plan was to go out to dinner and then come back and eat the cake at the house.  Dinner was fabulous (Stephanie has excellent taste in restaurants) and I made sure that no one ordered  anything for dessert because, "don't forget about the cake back at the house". I'm sure the desserts at the restaurant were just as fabulous as the main course, but that was not in the cards for us.  Our fate turned out to be a complete disappointing mess.

Once we returned to Stephanie's house I excitedly headed for the cake. It was like an unveiling of my magnificent artwork.  I opened the box and looked inside.  It looked like a murder scene.  The cake, having been kept relatively cool for 48 hours and then moved into room temperature caused it to rapidly defrost.  Because I used so many beets, the juice from the beets literally oozed out of every pore it could find.  A once pristine white cake was weeping what looked like blood. The deep dark red liquid was a puddle under the cake.  My heart sank.  I even tried cutting it hoping it would at least taste good but when I pushed the knife into the cake it felt like I was cutting into mud.  And guess what it tasted like?  A lot like mud. 

So we didn't eat any cake that night and I'm sure my friend Stephanie shivers every time someone mentions the words, "red velvet". After that night I didn't even consider trying to make another red velvet cake again.  I figured I had reached too high and it was just not possible to make a gluten free, dairy free vegan cake without using artificial food coloring.  But luckily time heals all wounds and I started to crave another challenge to add to my recipe repertoire which is what brought me to my current recipe today.  I still use beets but just the juice and a whole lot less. If you would like the improved version of my red velvet cake recipe click here.

Beets: All Natural Food Coloring

I didn't start eating beets until adulthood mostly because as a child the only beets I ever had were from a can.  They tasted like dirt to me.  Well thankfully I gave them a second chance and boy was I surprised when I discovered they were actually sweet!  Not surprising since sugar can be made from beets.  I could go on and on about how beets are nutrient packed, have anti-inflammatory properties, are high in fiber, etc., but today it's all about their vibrant deep red pigment.

I use beet juice as a natural food coloring in my red velvet cake and also when making pink frosting for cakes. Once made it can be stored in the freezer for a very long time so you can make a lot of it and then use it at a later date.  For this recipe I am only going to make enough for my red velvet cake.

You will need either a juicer or a blender.  A juicer is better as you won't have to cook the beets or separate the pulp from the juice. 


8-10  small beets, raw

Wash beets and cut off the greens. 

With a juicer, cut the beets in half and then process them in the juicer.  If using a blender you will need to steam the beets for about 20 minutes or until slightly soft, then blend in the blender with a small amount of water or lemon juice.  Lastly, strain the juice from the pulp using a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. 

Pour beet juice into a small pan and make a reduction by simmering it on the stove top for about 15 minutes.  You will need 2/3 of a cup for the red velvet cake recipe.

When using in frosting a small amount goes a long way.  I use about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon in frosting that covers an 8 inch round double layer cake.

Gluten Free Dairy Free Red Velvet Cake? I've got you covered. (vegan too)

This recipe is one of my most cherished as it has taken me many attempts to get it right.  In fact, one of my early attempts could've ruined a longtime friendship (I kid of course....right Stephanie?). Click here for the back story, otherwise enjoy the recipe below.

There are four components to this recipe: preparing the reduced beet juice, baking the cake, making the frosting and frosting the cake.  It can be done in one day but I would recommend breaking down each component over two or three days. You could always use store bought frosting too which would save time but I guarantee you will want to make this vanilla frosting.  It is delicious!

As with all my recipes for baked goods it is best to weigh the flours listed in grams instead of using cup measurements.  This will give you the best results. If you don't have a kitchen scale they are fairly inexpensive (think Walmart or Bed Bath and Beyond) and worthwhile if you plan on doing a lot of gluten free baking. I also list the brands of flours I use as other brands may not give the same results. They can be bought online at Amazon.com.

Please note: Always check labels and manufacturing processes to ensure there is no evidence of any food allergens you may be sensitive to. 

RED VELVET CAKE: (gluten free, dairy free, vegan)

2/3 cup reduced beet juice (click here for instructions)
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

6 Tablespoons (90g) vegetable shortening, melted (Earth Balance)
1 cup (200g) cane sugar (use organic for vegan)
1/3 cup (100g) applesauce
2 1/2 Tablespoons (50g) maple Syrup
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon (120g) coconut milk (Native Forest)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon (100g) tapioca flour (Bob's Red Mill)
3 Tablespoons (24g) quinoa flour (Ancient Grains)
3 1/2 Tablespoons (20g) cocoa powder, sifted + extra for dusting (Dagoba or Hershey)
1 2/3 cups (196g) brown rice flour  (Authentic Foods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease two round 8 inch cake pans and lightly dust with sifted cocoa powder.   Melt the vegetable shortening in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. In a stand mixer or using a hand held mixer, combine the melted vegetable shortening, sugar, applesauce, maple syrup, coconut milk and vanilla bean paste in a large mixing bowl. Mix on low for about one minute. In a separate bowl whisk and combine the tapioca flour, quinoa flour, cocoa powder (sifted), brown rice flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder. In a third bowl combine the beet juice, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar and set aside to add last.

Add a couple of large scoops of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the mixing bowl. Mix on low to medium until all of the dry ingredients have been added then mix on high for about 20-30 seconds.  Now add the beet juice mixture and mix on low until it is mostly combined. Then scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula, ensuring that the beet juice mix has fully incorporated into the batter.  Mix on high for another 20-30 seconds. 

Poor half of the batter into each cake pan.  I use a kitchen scale with the cake pan zeroed out on it, but you can eyeball it too. The batter should be loose enough that it levels out on its own.  You can also gently tap the cake pans on a counter surface to level it out. 

Bake the cakes on the middle rack for 16-18 minutes.  Then poke center of cakes with a toothpick to see if they are done.  If no batter sticks to the toothpick, they are done, if it does stick, bake for another 2 minutes.  Repeat until the toothpick comes out clean. 

Remove cakes from oven and flip out onto a cooling rack. Let cool for about twenty minutes or until they are warm to the touch.  *Optional: place each cake into a sealed container or large Ziploc bag and freeze for about 45 minutes.  Frozen cake is much easier to frost!

VANILLA FROSTING: (gluten free, dairy free, vegan)

1 cup (178g) vegetable shortening, room temperature (Spectrum Brand Palm Shortening)
3 3/4 cups (370g) powdered sugar (use organic for vegan)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup (50g) coconut milk (Native Forest)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Sift the powdered sugar using a sifter or with the blunt end of a butter knife through a strainer. Combine the salt, vanilla extract and coconut milk in a small bowl and set aside. Place all of the vegetable shortening in a large mixing bowl and add one large scoop of powdered sugar. Using a stand mixer or hand held mixer, mix on low and slowly add half of the wet ingredients.  Continue to slowly add the powdered sugar along with the remaining wet ingredients while scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Mix on low until the frosting is smooth. 


Frosting a cake is not really something that can be explained without a visual tutorial so I will have to defer to Youtube for this.  Here is a link that helped me.  But really all you need is a butter knife and lots of frosting!

Questions? Comments?  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lemon Coconut Cream Chicken Soup (with vegan option too!)

For the last week I've been dealing with a cold. I made it through the entire winter cold free but as soon as the sun came out, bam!  I  got sick.  Well, who doesn't want a nice hot bowl of soup when they've got the sniffles?

I usually make chicken soup on a weekly basis so this week I thought I'd jazz it up a bit with some coconut cream and lemon.  OMG it was delicious!  The cream gave it that richness it was missing and adding the lemon was like tasting sunshine. Or maybe it's because I haven't seen the sun in oh...six months so anything fruity tastes like sunshine to me.

Although I do use chicken stock and chicken breast, this recipe can easily be made vegan by substituting vegetable stock and either leaving out the chicken or adding tofu instead.

Please note: Always check labels and manufacturing processes to ensure there is no evidence of any food allergens you may be sensitive to. 

Lemon Coconut Cream Chicken Soup:

3 quarts chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 large carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup coconut milk (Native Forest brand is best)
1 1/2 cup cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups kale, chopped (can use other greens like swiss chard, beet greens, etc) 
1 1/2 cup gluten free pasta (I like Tinkyada shell pasta for this)
1 1/2 cup corn
8 oz cooked chicken breast, cut in bite size pieces* (substitute tofu or leave out)
juice from one lemon
salt to taste (less is more...)

*If the chicken breast is not yet cooked: preheat the oven to 375 degrees, rinse and lightly salt the chicken then wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until fully cooked through. Cut into bite size pieces and set aside.

Pour chicken stock into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. While waiting for the stock to boil cut and prep all the vegetables. Once the stock comes to a boil add the gluten free pasta.  Following directions on the pasta packaging for cooking time, set a timer for about 5 minutes prior to the pasta being done.  When the timer goes off add the carrots, celery, garlic, cabbage, onion, kale and corn.  Lower the heat to a slow boil. Reset the timer for 5 minutes.  After five minutes turn the heat to simmer and add the basil and coconut milk. Stir thoroughly. Taste to see if the soup needs additional salt or coconut milk.  It should taste like a light creamy chicken soup. Add the chicken breast and half of the lemon juice.  Taste.  If you do not taste a slight hint of lemon then add more.  The lemon should not be overpowering.  

I should warn you that the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid to infinity and beyond so if you put the soup in the fridge overnight don't be surprised to see gargantuan sized noodles the next day. It still tastes just as delicious but they definitely take up a lot of space.

 Now grab a big bowl and a big spoon, curl up on the sofa with a cozy blanket and enjoy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Pancakes (Vegan Option)

Pancakes.  Seems simple enough and it is although trying to make gluten free and dairy free pancakes that taste like, well, pancakes, can actually be a bit of a challenge if you do not use the right mix of ingredients.

The main flours I use in nearly all of my baked goods are the Authentic Foods brand rice flours.  I have yet to find another rice flour that meets or exceeds the quality of this flour.  Not only is the flour ground to a super fine texture which prevents any gritty or sandy mouth feel, the rice itself is grown in California where arsenic levels in rice are low. With the recent research on high levels of arsenic in rice, this is comforting to know.

Aside from the Authentic Foods rice flours, I use two key ingredients that really make these pancakes delicious and wholesome.  I add a small amount of organic quinoa flour which eliminates any gummy texture from the rice flour and also adds some valuable protein and other nutrients.  I also use full fat organic coconut milk which makes these pancakes spectacular! You cannot taste any coconut flavor and the fat prevents the pancakes from drying out. And coconut fat is healthy fat! You can order online at Amazon if you can't find these brands in your local store.

This pancake mix will make about 16 small pancakes.  I usually prepare the dry ingredients first, whisk everything together and then store in a Ziploc bag for when I get a hankering.

Well, enough chatting.  Lets get to the recipe already! I have some amounts listed in grams in parentheses if you use a digital scale.  Weighing the amounts is more accurate than using measuring cups and will give you the best results.

This can easily be made vegan by substituting egg with applesauce. I also like to add blueberries and ground flax meal to make this a nice wholesome breakfast.

Please note: Always check labels and manufacturing processes to ensure there is no evidence of any food allergens you may be sensitive to. 

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Pancake Recipe

Dry Mix: 
1  3/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon (260g) white rice flour
1 1/8 cup (134g) tapioca flour           
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 Tablespoons (56g) organic quinoa flour
1/2 cup (90g) organic cane sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking soda

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Store in airtight container or Ziploc bag for later use. Makes four batches of the recipe below.

Pancake Recipe: (makes 4 pancakes)
1 cup (148g) Pancake Dry Mix
3/4 cup organic coconut milk (Native Forest brand)*
1 Egg (vegan option: substitute 1-2 Tablespoons applesauce)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil  
1 teaspoon ground organic flax meal (optional)
1/3 cup organic blueberries (optional) ADD AFTER BATTER IS MIXED

 *If you are using an alternative milk such as rice or almond start with 1/2 cup and add more as you see fit. These types of milks have more water and less fat and will thin the batter so less is needed.

Combine all the ingredients except the blueberries (if using)  in a bowl and beat together until the batter becomes smooth. Turn on the stove top or griddle to medium heat. Grease the pan/griddle with a butter alternative (I use Earth Balance Organic Whipped Buttery Spread.  It tastes the most like butter.) Add the blueberries (if using) and gently mix them into the batter.  Scoop about 1/3 cup batter onto the greased pan/griddle.  Let it cook until you see bubbles forming around the edges.  Using a spatula gently flip the pancake over to cook the other side.  Remove from the pan/griddle and place directly onto the plate.  Cover with maple syrup, jam or topping of your choice and enjoy!