Blueberry Lemon-drop Donuts with gluten-free and vegan options

In all my work, I try to say ‘You may be given a load of sour lemons, why not try to make a dozen lemon meringue pies?'”–Maya Angelou

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

One snow storm followed by another within the span of one week, and this snow was then followed by the coldest temperatures of the year.  It seems that old man winter has already tossed a few iced lemons our way in the month of January. I can’t help but wonder what frosted goodies he has in store for February!  Of course, there’s always the hope that January has dished up the worst that winter has to offer!  Hey, it could happen . . . 

Perhaps it was due to all of the snow, but I decided last week that if life was going to hand us lemons, I might as well make something out of those tart orbs of joy!  Picking up a lemon in my hand last week, it reminded me of sunshine on crisp winter snow.  I kept thinking of the way in which mid-morning winter sunlight slanted over trees that looked as if they had been dunked in a bag of confectioners sugar as decoration for the crystalized sugar frosted white hills.  Those frolicsome winter rays make me feel as lighthearted as that vibrantly colored lemon in my hand. 

Truthfully, I had already been researching the various ways in which I could bake gluten-free, plant-based donuts. Since my diagnosis of celiac disease over ten years ago, donuts are not something I necessarily crave, but every now and again, I think eating one would be a nice treat.  In fact, it wasn’t until last year during a visit to Lexington, KY, that I actually ate my first gluten-free (and surprisingly plant-based) donut since that diagnosis at Gluten-Free Miracles Bakery & Cafe.  Ever since enjoying the cakey-goodness of that treat, I have wanted to recreate it at home.

While I am dedicated to eating a whole-food plant based diet, with as little processed food as possible, I do believe in balance, and that includes occasional sweet treats–especially if I am the one controlling the ingredients.  That said, it is not my desire to determine how others should eat.  Everyone has to figure out what foods work best for their own unique bodies.  Therefore, when creating this recipe, I tried very hard to make it as inclusive as possible, so no matter the dietary preferences, this is a doable and fairly easy recipe.

Moist and springy inside, bursting with blueberry goodness!

On a final note, my family (God bless them for being my ever-willing taste-testers.) found the limoncello to be overpowering in the glaze when it was first made; however, the taste mellowed within hours of mixing it.  In fact, they determined that they preferred the glaze a bit thicker with only a small amount of lemon juice (1 tablespoon or less) and no limoncello.  Additionally, in terms of flavor and texture, they preferred a light sprinkling of sparkling sugar over the glaze, but that is totally optional!

Regardless of how you choose to make this recipe, I sincerely hope that you do give it a try.  Whether you dunk one of these lemony rings in coffee, tea, or favorite milk, or if you choose to simply serve it warm, enjoying it bite by tangy, sweet bite, may this recipe brighten and warm your heart with a taste of baked sunshine on a chilly winter day. 


Blueberry Lemon-drop Donuts with Glaze 

(with gluten-free and vegan options)

Ingredients

*2 eggs or fleggs 

**1 ½ cup all purpose (gluten free) flour 

¾ cup oat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

Zest of one lemon

1 tablespoon vinegar 

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup maple syrup

½ cup milk

¼ cup applesauce (can substitute melted butter, melted vegan butter, or melted coconut oil)

⅓ cup fresh blueberries lightly dusted with (gluten free) flour of choice

Glaze

1 cup confectioners sugar

***1-2 tablespoon limoncello, lemon flavored vodka, or lemon juice–depending on desired strength of flavor

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1-2  tablespoons favorite milk, if/as needed

Directions

If using “flegg,” mix together first and set aside as directed below

Zest lemon and set zest aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare two 6-donut pans by coating with non-stick baking spray or other preferred method of “greasing”

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and lemon zest in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs (or fleggs) with vinegar,  vanilla extract, lemon juice, sugar, syrup, milk, and applesauce (or butter or oil).

Stir into dry ingredients until just combined.

Gently fold in blueberries.

Divide batter evenly among donut pans.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before flipping onto the rack to cool 5-10 more minutes.

Meanwhile, using a fork, stir together glaze ingredients using less liquid at first until desired consistency is reached with the glaze looking white and thick, rather than translucent and thin. Drizzle glaze, as desired, over donuts.

Sprinkle tops of glazed donuts with lemon zest, colorful sprinkles, crystal sugar, or chocolate sprinkles, if desired.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Can freeze, unglazed donuts up to one month in an airtight container.

Recipe Notes:

*flegg = 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed with 5 tablespoons water, stir together gently, set in fridge 15 minutes 

**Can use all-purpose flour if gluten-free variation is not needed due to allergy/celiac disease

***If a vanilla glaze is preferred, eliminate the limoncello, lemon flavored vodka, or lemon juice, and increase amount of milk as needed to achieve desired pourable thickness 

Divide the batter evenly in two 6-donut pans.
When baking with blueberries, whether frozen or fresh, it helps to dust them with a bit of flour
Allow to cool in the pan for five minutes before cooling the rest of the way on racks. Then, glaze as desired!

Gluten-free Snickerdoodles (with vegan option)

“Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. . . .”--Sandra Lee

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Years ago, back in the days of the VHS tape cassettes, when my daughter, Maddie, was quite young, she had her fair share of age-appropriate videos.  These were special treats as her TV time was limited. John, my husband, and I are both educators, and we strongly believed then–and still do–that screen time should be limited, especially before the age of five years.  Therefore, these videos were not watched daily, but rather saved for “special times,” such as holidays, sick days, and weekends. 

One of her favorites was Barney: Night Before Christmas.  It was 57 minutes of so much saccharine sweetness that John and I felt cavities forming, if not in our teeth, then in our minds! It used to drive us crazy with its terrible acting and poorly written script. Regardless, Maddie loved it, and she especially enjoyed singing along with the Barney closing jingle. I can still recall the way in which she would plead for her Dad and I to join her in singing it’s catchy refrain, followed by a group hug. 

One line from this video, ultimately became–and still remains–a running joke in our family.  Let me set the stage for you.  Magically, a flawlessly dressed and styled girl wakes up to find snow has fallen just in time for Christmas Eve.  Poof! Out of nowhere, a perfectly coiffed mom, garbed in stereotypical Christmas attire, emerges to hug her daughter at the window.  As Mother and daughter turn away from the window, in walks the doting Dad carrying boxes of Christmas decorations,“just in time for Christmas Eve too!”  Suddenly, Dad feigns hunger like Santa, so Mom suggests that she should bake cookies.

Ooo! Snickerdoodles cooling on a wire rack!

“Ooo–snickerdoodles?” says Dad, rubbing his hands together.

“Chocolate chip?” asks Daughter in a sing-song voice.

Mom smiles methodically in assent, as both parents make their way through the Christmas greeting card house and disappear behind a swinging door to presumably bake cookies.  Twenty or so minutes later, both parents will reappear, no worse for the wear, carrying a large Christmas basket filled with piles of Instagram worthy cookies–had social media been around then. 

The days of Maddie’s Barney obsession are long past; however, if I state that I am going to bake cookies, John, and/or Maddie, will both mimic the lines from the video.  John especially loves to say, “Ooo–snickerdoodles?” and dramatically rub his hands together as if teaching a primary science lesson on friction. As inside family jokes go, it never gets old! 

Gluten-free and vegan? Yes!

Therefore, this past Christmas week, I decided to be ironic and make those Barney dreams come true!  I researched and cobbled together my own version of gluten-free snickerdoodle cookies!  As an added twist, John inadvertently played the role of doting dad by scavenging stores for cream of tartar, the secret ingredient to these magical cookies, since it was out-of-stock at the store I most often frequent.  

Barney may have magic, but snickerdoodles have cream of tartar.

My family and I recommend giving these cookies a try.  At first glance, they may seem quintessentially Barney–simple and sweet. Unlike Barney, however, the cookies are not overly-sweet.  Instead, they are soft, pliable, and slightly complex in flavor due to the combined tang of the cream of tartar and the spice of the cinnamon.  Nonetheless, when you bake this recipe, don’t be surprised to discover that your home has been transformed into an idyllic world filled with singing dinosaurs, cued laughter, and a lovey-dovey theme song that won’t leave your head . . . “I love you, you love me . . . .

You get a cookie, and you get a cookie, and . . .

In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line anytime. Let me know your thoughts and/or suggestions. I always enjoy engaging with readers.

From my home to yours, I wish you sweet baking experiences!

A few of the tricks to making gluten-free, and vegan, snickerdoodles!
Blend the cinnamon and sugar first!

Gluten-free Snickerdoodles (with vegan option)

Ingredients for topping:

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Ingredients for cookies:

1 cup softened butter (You can substitute vegan butter for this if desired.)

1 ½ cup sugar

2 large eggs (You can substitute with *flegg.)

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose, gluten free flour

2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Directions:

If using flegg, mix first, and set aside.

Mix sugar and cinnamon together, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Mix in egg, vinegar, and vanilla, scraping down sides as needed, until creamed well.

Add in cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt until well blended.

Mix in flour, a cup at a time, until dough forms.

Using tablespoon, or cookie scoop, scoop out small amount of dough, and roll into balls

Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar mixture and place on the prepared cookie sheet.

If you prefer a flatter, crisper cookie, flatten each dough ball with a spoon, otherwise for fluffier, more soft cookies, leave as is.

Bake 8-12 minutes, depending upon how soft you prefer your cookies.

Allow cookies to cool 2-4 minutes on pan before removing to a cooling rack.

Store cookies in an airtight container.

*flegg=egg substitute: Per egg, mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water.  Set in refrigerator 15-20 prior to mixing dough

Are you hungry yet?

Gluten-free Apple Spice Muffins with Optional Walnut Topping

“It’s unsettling to meet people who do not eat apples.”–Amiee Bender

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler on Pexels.com

I love apples.  From tart to sweet, from bright green to crimson red, and all shades in between, as long as it is a crisp, juicy orb of an apple, I’m ready to slice it up and eat it up.   Some of my favorite apples are Fuji, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Crisp, and Pink Lady, to name a few, due to their crisp texture and bright taste.  Whether eaten alone, smeared with a bit of peanut or almond butter, or chopped and tossed in a salad, apples are a mainstay of my family’s refrigerator.

Fall, in our neck of the woods, is apple season.  Prices and selections of apples are at their prime. Additionally, new types of apples are marketed with more regularity, so this is the perfect time of year to explore new apple types.  In fact, it was only a few years ago that Honeycrisp was considered “new,” and now it is one of my favorite types of apples.

Photo by Laker on Pexels.com

I recall one of my friends, Jan, bringing a bag of sliced Honeycrisp apples to a Marshall University soccer game as a snack for our kids, who were both youth soccer players at the time, and the reason for our attendance at the game.  These were well before the days of MU’s Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex; nonetheless, we all enjoyed the game, and the kids loved those yummy apple slices.  Due to that experience, Honeycrisp apples entered into our family’s regular rotation of purchased apples.

Speaking of Jan, she and I were recently discussing Thanksgiving traditions and plans for this year.  Jan described a favorite spice cake with nuts and cream cheese frosting that her aunt made when she was younger.  As family lore often goes, this aunt shared her recipe at the request of numerous relatives, but all who made the recipe agreed that it never tasted as good as when the aunt made it.  Jan mused if the aunt had “accidentally” left off an ingredient.  (Which made me giggle because my sweet grandmother once confessed to doing that with one of her recipes!)

Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Pexels.com

Upon reflection of this story, and the added remembrance of our family’s introduction of Honeycrisp apples, that, a-hem, a seed of an idea was planted.  Could I create an apple-spice muffin recipe without cream cheese frosting–for which many in my family will be saddened, I’m certain, but with partial nuts? (Some like nuts, some do not.)  The answer is what follows below.

 My recipe is gluten-free, but if you do not have to consume a gluten free diet as I do, then feel free to use regular all-purpose flour.  Additionally, I kept the recipe plant-based and oil-free because it is easier on my sensitive digestive system.  That said, if that is not your preference, replace ½ cup of applesauce, with ⅓ cup oil or melted butter instead.  Additionally, 2 eggs can replace 2 “fleggs.”  Oh, and why vinegar? It makes the batter more acidic which, in the end, makes the muffins (or cake) fluffy, yet still moist.  

This recipe requires a bit more work than other recipes, but it is definitely worth the extra effort.  Your kitchen will be filled with autumnal aromas as the muffins bake.  Brew up a pot of coffee or your favorite tea, invite over a friend and/or family member, and swap stories while savoring these warm muffins.  You never know what your conversation could inspire, or conspire!

Gluten-free Apple Spice Muffins with Optional Walnut Topping

Ingredients:

Optional topping 

2 tablespoons butter (can substitute plant-based “butter”)

½ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons of gluten-flour 

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon salt

Muffins

2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (I used Honeycrisp, but feel free to choose another type!)

1 ½ cup gluten free all-purpose flour (Can use regular all-purpose flour.)

1 cup gluten free old fashioned, rolled oats

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice

½  teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

½ cup apple sauce

2 fleggs* or eggs

½ cup milk (or plant based alternative) at room temperature

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line muffin pan with parchment paper

If using topping, mix it together first and set in the fridge while mixing batter.

*If using “flegg” instead of eggs, stir together 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed with 6 tablespoons of water, and set aside in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, sugar, applesauce, fleggs (or eggs), milk, vinegar, and vanilla.

Add in flour-spice mixture and mix the batter 1-2 minutes until the batter begins to thicken. 

Stir in apples.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

Scatter with topping.

Tip: I cut the nut-topping recipe in half, and only topped half of the muffins.  On the half without nut topping, I sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Finally, you can skip the nut-topping altogether, and/or stir in ½ cup chopped walnuts into batter when adding in chopped apples.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow muffins to cool in a pan set on a wire rack.

Serve warm.

Store any uneaten muffins in a storage container/bag in the fridge or freezer for up to two months.

**Updated option: When baking for those who may not like nuts, or simply can’t have them either, eliminate the nuts from the optional topping, or divide all of the topping recipe in half add simply add 1/4 cup walnuts to one half, and leave the other half of the topping, nut-free.

Mix the dry ingredients.
Combine rest of ingredients.
Mix one-two minutes until batter thickens.
Stir in apples.
Gently mix together apples and batter. Then divide among muffin cups.
If desired, sprinkle optional walnut topping over tops of muffin batter before baking.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bars

“What’s the point in having a sweet tooth if you don’t use it?”–unknown

I blame my parents.  Who else am I supposed to blame for my sweet tooth? While both of my parents eat an overall healthy diet, they also like their dessert from time to time. I confess, I am the same way.  It’s all about moderation and balance, and, well, never underestimating the power of chocolate . . . or peanut butter! 

I enjoy nearly any form of chocolate!

About a month ago, I baked my grandmother’s traditional recipe for chocolate frosted brownies.  It is a family favorite from an old 1930s or 40s vintage Betty Crocker cookbook.  While it is not vegan, I can say it is vegetarian; and anyway, I am not about so-called perfect eating.  Besides, it’s not like I bake Grandmother Helen’s brownies on a regular basis.

My mom had dinner with us on the evening that I baked brownies, so I sent a few home with her.  The next day, my daughter walked into the kitchen where I was food prepping my work lunches for the week, laughing and shaking her head.  She said that while talking to my mom on the phone, “Gran’ma confessed to spreading peanut butter all over the brownies before eating them.”

Mash up the banana first. I find a pastry cutter perfect for this!

At first, that seemed sacrilege!  How could she desecrate that beloved, treasured family recipe?  The horror of it!  What was she thinking?

“Sounds like a good idea to me!” said my husband.  “I just might try that!”

He had a point.  Peanut butter–and almond butter for that matter–are like dessert.  Nothing can improve a bad day like nut butter.  In fact, I would argue that nut butters, as a rule, have a certain calming quality to them!  During my younger years, when annoying bodily afflictions, such as acid reflux, were nearly non-existence, banana and peanut butter was one of my favorite go-to meals.  This led me to thinking . . .  which is always dangerous!

Stir in the peanut butter.
Add in the rest of the liquid ingredients.

I began to wonder if there was a plant-based, gluten-free compromise-recipe I could find or create.  Thus, my research began.  Scrolling through one web-site after another, I eventually landed on two different recipes. One recipe was from a web-site entitled, “It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken,” and the other recipe was from a web-site called, “Purely Kaylie.”  

Add in the dry ingredients.

Using both of their recipes as scaffolding to create my own variation, I did a bit more research on baking with both oat milk and oat flour.  These two ingredients, I decided, would not only increase the nutritional value, (Read between the lines–ease the guilt of my sweet tooth!) but also eliminate gluten and dairy products since I have celiac disease and prefer to eat plant-based.  Additionally, I also conducted a bit of research on the science of baking with dutched cocoa, my preferred cocoa, and I learned that it bakes more effectively with baking powder, rather than baking soda.

Stir in chocolate chip and mix until just blended.
Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips.

I made this recipe on a Saturday afternoon, and our entire home was redolent with the scent of baking chocolate.  The recipe was super-easy, requiring only one bowl, and honestly took no longer than 10 or so minutes of active kitchen time. The oven did the rest.  Once cooled, I cut the recipe into 9 generous sized squares and stored part of them in a plastic container in the fridge. I could have frozen them for future weekend cravings, but they did not last that long.

Give this recipe a try.  Enjoy it for breakfast, as a dessert, or a grab-and-go snack. It’s a mostly healthy, guilt-free way to have your cake and eat it too!  

All to cool before cutting into 9 generous squares.
Who prefers corner pieces???

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bars

Ingredients: 

2 *fleggs (2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds + 6 tablespoons water)

1 cup ripe mashed banana–about 2-3 bananas (The bananas should have brown spots.)

1/2 cup sugar or equivalent sweetener

⅓ peanut butter

¼ cup favorite milk (I used oat-milk.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup flour (I used oat flour to keep it gluten-free, but any all-purpose flour would work.)

½ cup cocoa powder (I prefer to use Dutched Cocoa powder as it dissolves more quickly.)

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

⅔ cup chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life chocolate chips.  They are dairy and allergy-friendly.)

Directions:

Combine ground flaxseed with water in a small bowl and set in the fridge for about 15 minutes to thicken.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat, with nonstick cooking spray, a square 8 x 8 baking pan, or line it with parchment paper.

Mash banana in a large mixing bowl.

Mix in sugar, peanut butter, milk, vanilla extract, and flegg.

Stir in the dry ingredients–flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, & salt–but do not over mix. Gently fold in half of the chocolate chips.

Spread batter evenly as it will be fairly thick.

Sprinkle batter with remaining chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, preferably longer, before attempting to cut into 9-squares.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to three months.

Mix ground flaxseed and water first. Set in fridge for about 15 minutes before using for best consistency according to my research.

*Flegg= flax “egg”, which is a plant-based, allergy friendly substitute for eggs.

Cranberry-pumpkin Muffins (Gluten-free and plant-based)

Historically, the health-promoting properties of cranberries have been based on folkloric remedies, which have existed for centuries. The healthy giving properties of this fruit were recognized by Native American Indians, and early New England sailors are said to have eaten the vitamin C-rich wild cranberries to prevent scurvy.”–Massachusetts Cranberries website

Cranberries are one of just three fruits native to the United States.”–The Humble Gardener website

Photo by Irita Antonevica on Pexels.com

I couldn’t help but notice all of the ongoing fresh cranberry offerings and deals that have been found lately in the local grocery stores; therefore, I purchased a 12 ounce bag for myself.  Those inviting, bright crimson berries have often reminded me of mini Christmas baubles hanging from an evergreen branch.  Curiosity began to get the best of me, and I decided that I needed to learn more about these tiny ruby orbs.  Afterall, a fruit full of that much color had to have some redeeming qualities, and boy-oh-boy do they ever!

One of the first facts I noticed was that numerous medical and nutritional-based websites consider cranberries to be a so-called, “super-food,” due to their overall nutritional benefits.  Part of this designation is due to cranberries’ high levels of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant, that give cranberries their bright red color. (I knew that bright red color was important!) In addition to being consumed in its various forms as part of the treatment for and prevention of  UTIs, research has also linked cranberries to improving the function of the immune system as well as decreasing blood pressure. Additionally, there are several promising studies indicating cranberries may be helpful in slowing down the growth of cancer cells, particularly in certain types of tumorous growths.

Stir in fresh cranberries to your favorite fruit salad.

Several websites describe cranberries’ high levels of polyphenols may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Studies have also found that consuming cranberries, as part of a whole-foods healthy diet, regularly promotes the health of gums and teeth.  Cranberries are also believed to decrease inflammation associated with both chronic disease and aging, and these tiny powerhouse fruits offer numerous benefits to one’s gut health and microbiota. Additionally, the naturally low-sugar, high fiber berries possess anti-inflammatory properties.  Plus, like other berries, cranberries are high antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin K.

Cranberries are typically in season and widely available throughout the fall and into the early winter months.  They can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two months, and frozen for several more months for later consumption.  When choosing fresh cranberries, look for smooth skin that is firm to the touch and unwrinkled.  

Fresh, ripe cranberries have smooth, unwrinkled skin, and are said to bounce like a basketball.

Of course, cranberries are typically part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, however, they are quite a versatile food that can be used in a wide array of recipes.  Add them to oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salads, and even dark, leafy green salads.  Cook them down into a sauce on the stove with some maple syrup, honey, or sugar, add a bit of cinnamon, and perhaps the zest or juice of an orange or a drop of orange extract.  Use this sauce as a condiment for toast, sandwiches, oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, or even in muffins.  Stir in fresh, or dried, cranberries into muffins, cakes, breads, and even cookie recipes.  The ways in which to use cranberries are only as endless as your imagination. 

Below is a recipe I created based upon one I found in an old Betty Crocker cookbook.  Betty Crocker cookbooks have been a mainstay for the members of my family, a tradition handed down to me and my siblings from both my mother and grandmother as Betty Crocker recipes are fairly easy to follow/create and typically use simple ingredients.  This recipe I adjusted to make it both gluten free and plant-based.  I added a few extras to it in order to, as my Grandmother Helen used to say, “doctor it up.”

Gently fold in cranberries into the batter, careful not to overstir the batter so that the muffins do not turn out “tough.”

Both my daughter and husband tried these plump muffins of goodness, despite the fact that they do not, per se, like cranberries.  To their surprise, they both really liked this recipe.  It is moist, but springy–like a good muffin should be.  The sparkling sugar adds a thin crusting effect to the muffin tops.  Plus, a large portion of the berries burst open into the batter during the baking process creating a just the right amount of tang and sweet.  Enjoy these muffins slightly cooled, but still warm, from the oven or warmed over in the microwave.  Share the goodness of these muffins, chock full of healthful benefits, with someone you love, and be sure to store the uneaten muffins in an airtight container or bag in the fridge or freeze them for quick morning or a snack time reheat on the run.

From my home to yours, I wish you homemade, happy, and healthy meals.

Use an ice cream scoop to help divide the batter evenly among 12 muffin cups.
White sparkling sugar, sprinkled on top, creates a nice crust to muffin tops.
Cool muffins on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups (I use a gluten-free variation.)

¾ cup sugar (Can use a sugar substitute, such as Swerve.) 

3 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

1 can (15 ounce) of pure pumpkin

½ teaspoon orange extract 

½ cup apple sauce (Can substitute ½ cup oil if preferred.)

2 eggs or “flegg” equivalent (2 tablespoons ground flax seed + 5 tablespoons water, allow to sit in the fridge for 5-10 minutes.)

2 cups cranberries

½ chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

White sparkling sugar (If you do not have this on-hand, simply use regular sugar.)

Directions:

**Note: if using egg replacement, “flegg,” please make first and set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Line muffin tins with parchment paper or lightly grease.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Stir in pumpkin, orange extract, apple sauce, and eggs. Until just mixed–careful not to over mix.  Gently fold in cranberries and nuts if using. 

Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, divide batter evenly among muffin cups and sprinkle with sugar.  Before sprinkling with sugar, you can also top with a few cranberries, a bit of pumpkin seeds, or a bit of oats.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow muffins to cool on a rack.  Serve warm. 

Makes 12 muffins that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Serve slightly cooled, but still warm from the oven.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

“When there is cake, there is hope.  And there is always cake.”–Dean Koontz

“My idea of baking is buying a ready made cake mix and throwing in an egg.”–Cilla Black

By the time you read this, Dear Reader, I will be celebrating another year of life.  Honestly, the way 2020 is going, I am almost afraid to celebrate, but I am throwing caution to the wind.  By golly, in spite of everything that is upside down in this world, I am going to celebrate another year of life.  I am going to smile, eat a ridiculously calorie laden meal or two, drink a bit of good wine, and dang it, I am eating cake!  Of course, it has to be gluten-free due to my celiac disease, but I will eat cake–chocolate cake to be precise because chocolate is my favorite!

Sure, 2020 has been a train-wreck of a year in many ways, but fall is in the air.  Even though winter is around the corner, there is something about autumn weather that makes me feel hopeful–hopeful for better days ahead.  Call me crazy, but I gotta believe that life has to take a turn for the better . . .at least that is my birthday wish.

In addition to feeling hopeful, I feel grateful–grateful for my health, my family, my friends and loved ones, my home–flaws and all–and my job.  I wake up every day in a warm bed, and as I step out of it, I am able to turn on hot water for a shower.  Food is stored in both my refrigerator and cabinets–not to mention the fact our water is drinkable.  My job, with all of its challenges, is still providing a paycheck that allows me to celebrate my birthday in the manner in which previously I described.  Therefore, in spite of all the negatives 2020 has to offer, there are still numerous things for which to be grateful this year.

To add to my list of items for which I am grateful, I would have to include an unexpected email that I received from registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie Ferrari, with Fresh Communications.  Thanks to Stephanie, and the kind (or should I say, sweet) people at Swerve, I was thrown a “swerve” ball during the summer months when the Swerve team sent a care package of products to my house.  Thanks to their generosity, I have been blessed with the opportunity to play and create with a few of their products including their chocolate cake mix, which is featured in this month’s recipe.  

As previously mentioned, I do have celiac disease, so I cannot eat products containing wheat, rye, or barley.  Furthermore, birthday celebration aside, I do try to eat in a fairly healthy manner that works best for me.  Due to an incredibly sensitive stomach/digestive system, it’s taken me years to figure out how to best eat for my body. However, I also recognize that what works for me may not work for others.  Thus, when I create recipes, I try to create choices in order to adapt to a variety of tastes/needs/preferences.  Personally, I prefer to eat plant-based, forgoing dairy, eggs, and meat products most of the time.  Therefore, you will see that reflected in this recipe, but I also list other options if that’s not your cup of tea, or slice of cake, as the case may be.  

I based this recipe upon one I found on the Swerve website.  This is because since it wasn’t my official birthday, I wanted to keep the recipe fairly “clean,” and save the calorie-laden splurge for the actual big day.  This is where Swerve products check all the boxes for me.  Therefore, the recipe is not only gluten and grain free, but it is also a fairly low carb treat.  In fact, there isn’t one ingredient that leads me to feel guilty or over-indulgent.  The leftovers store well, and it is my experience that they tend to become more moist and chewy after being stored in an airtight container for a day or two.  Therefore, I can have my cake and eat it too–for several days in a row if I want–rather than saving cake for a once per year special eating occasion!

Whether you’re looking for a way to brighten a bad day, wanting to indulge without completely blowing your calories, or simply in the mood for chocolate, give this recipe a try. Within less than an hour, your house will be redolent with the aroma of chocolate cake baking, and your taste buds will be dancing with the delightful taste of warm, gooey chocolate.  Think of it as a small manifestation of making lemonade, or in this case, cake, out of the lemon of a year.

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade treats.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (I use Swerve brand.  Also, feel free to use Vanilla cake mix if preferred.)

½ cup applesauce or melted butter at room temperature (I use applesauce to keep it plant-based.)

1 large egg, or “flegg”, at room temperature (Recipe for flegg is below.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder

½ cup oats or your favorite chopped nuts (I use Nature’s Path organic gluten-free oats.)

½ cup chocolate chips or other candy bits, i.e. peanut butter, white chocolate, and so forth (I use Enjoy Life allergy-free brand.)

Optional: White sparkling sugar

Directions:

Set out egg to come to room temperature, or if replacing egg, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. (Recipe below)

Likewise, if using melted butter instead of applesauce, melt first and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, coconut oil, or line with parchment paper.

In large bowl, add cake mix and using fork gently break up any clumps

Stir in applesauce (or butter), egg (or flegg), and vanilla extract until well combined.

Gently fold in oats and chocolate chips until well combined.

Press mixture into pan.

If desired, sprinkle with white sparkling sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are golden, and the top is puffy.

Allow to cool before cutting into 16 squares.

Store any uneaten bars in an airtight container.

Leftover bars are especially tasty when warmed slightly in the microwave topped off with a dollop of whipped topping, if desired.

*“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

1 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

3 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.

Indulgent Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars aka “Brookies”

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”–Walt Whitman

Remember the rhyme that went something like this . . . 

“Rain, rain go away. 

Come again another day. 

Little Sally (Insert any name.) wants to play.  

Rain, rain go away.” 

Well, I’ve rewritten it.

2020, go away.

Don’t come back another day.

Little Stephie (Insert any name.) wants to play.

2020, please go away.

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

Let’s face it, folks, 2020 has been a challenging year for the entire world on so many levels.  It seems to me that just when I think it can’t get any worse, it can, and it does!  Sometimes I feel like we’re living in the Old Testament days alongside Job.  Okay, okay, that is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. However, it does feel, at times, that there is a dark and menacing cloud hovering over the edges of life that will not dissipate.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

“All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”–Charles M. Schulz

Therefore, trumpet trill please, I present you with a newly created recipe idea . . . Light, triumphing over darkness.  Sweetness overcoming bitterness.  All symbolically baked up into  one luscious, (fairly) guilt-free indulgence. . . or, so I thought it was a new idea.  (Insert daughter popping my bubble here.)

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com

My daughter, Madelyn, introduced me to the name of my so-called creation when I shared with her my, “exciting new recipe idea.”

“Uhm, Mom.  You know that’s not a new thing, right?  Mixing brownie and chocolate chip cookie dough is not new–not even close.  Look it up.  It’s called a “brookie.”

Since when?  I never heard of it.  

“Brookie.  Really?  It’s a thing?  I didn’t first create it?”

“No, Mom, you didn’t.”

Cue the pom-pom shaking teenager from a long-ago video-vine, with which Maddie used to tease me as the unknown teen looked straight into the viewer’s eyes and stated, “You ain’t special.”

“Huh, I guess I am not so clever after all.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

Nonetheless, even if I am not as special or as innovative as I thought,  I will still share my recipe for the so-called “brookies” with you, courtesy of the kind people at Swerve. 

Early into the start of 2020, my brother, Scott, and I were talking via phone when he asked me if I had heard of a new sweetening product called Swerve.  At the time, he described it as the sweetener that he was using to regularly make lemonade in order to remain low-carb.  He added that it did not upset his digestive system as other sweeteners tend to do.  Since I also have an extremely sensitive stomach too, I was definitely interested in giving the product a try.

This was early in the pandemic when there were numerous shortages, especially in the baking aisles of grocery stores.  I was fortunate enough on my next shopping trip to pick up what appeared to be the last package of Swerve in-stock.  Trying it first in my green tea, I found I liked the taste–not possessing that fake chemical after-taste–nor was it overly sweet.  Plus, it did not upset my stomach.

In a later discussion with Scott, he shared with me that he had successfully baked cupcakes using the Swerve confectioner sugar replacement.  Whaaat???  He remained impressed with the product.  Hmm . . .

That’s when I decided to give Swerve a try in my raspberry muffin creation that I shared last month both.  It baked up well, tasted great, and did not seem to affect the texture.  Best of all,  I still did not experience any negative gastrointestinal side effects!  However, when I shopped at my supermarket the following week, they were completely wiped out of all Swerve products. 

Much to my surprise that is when the good people at Swerve reached out to me, asking if I’d like to try out more of their products.  Little did I know how many products this company makes!  Wow!  All of the products they shared were gluten-free and grain-free–which especially works for me.  Additionally, according to their packaging, Swerve products are Keto/low-carb friendly, low-glycemic, diabetes friendly, tummy friendly, natural, zero added sugar, and all natural, “born and raised in New Orleans.”  Plus, I can remain plant-based when I bake with them by merely tweaking a few ingredients as you will see below. 

Additionally, while my first batch of “brookies” was baking, I discovered the Swerve company has an amazing website chock full of support, advice, recipes, and ideas.  Sure enough, as my so-called original recipe continued baking, I learned that they already had a “brookie” recipe on-line.  Maddie was right, I was indeed NOT special.  Cue the sigh and slumping shoulders as the spotlight fades into darkness on my so-called bright idea.  

Even if not as original as I once thought, I will still share my “brookie” variation with you.  I especially recommend this recipe when you feel a little dark and down, or not-so-special.  Simply the smell alone is enough to lift the spirits!  However, it’s the ooey-gooey texture and the combination of two different tastes that is, well, enlightening–reminding the taster that even in the midst of a challenging and dark moment, life can still have its light, sweet moments.

“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.”–Ernestine Ulmer

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, homemade, and not-so-original sweet treats!

P.S.  A big shout out of thanks and gratitude to Stephanie Ferrari at FRESH Communications and the Swerve team for inspiring this not-so-original recipe!

Indulgent Chocolate Chip Brownie Bars aka “Brookies”

Ingredients:

1 package brownie mix (I used Swerve Sweets Brownie Mix.)

2 large eggs (I used a plant based replacement that I affectionately refer to as a “flegg” but it’s probably not original either!  See recipe below.)

½ cup oil (I used applesauce.)

½ cup water

1 + 2  tablespoons vanilla extract or powder (I used Organic Gold Vanilla powder.)

Optional add-in:  ½ cup chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life 100% dark chocolate Morsels.)

1 package chocolate chip cookie mix (I used Swerve Sweets Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix.)

3 tablespoons milk, dairy or plant-based

3 tablespoons melted butter (or plant-based equivalent, i.e. applesauce)

Optional add in:  ½ cup favorite nut pieces or oats (I used gluten free oats.)

Directions:

If replacing eggs, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a square baking dish by lining it with parchment paper, or coating it with nonstick cooking spray.  (I used a 9 x 9 pan.)

In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs with oil, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and water.

Add in brownie mix, and if desired, stir in chocolate chips and mix until combined.

Spread brownie batter over the bottom of the baking dish.

In another medium bowl, mix together milk and 2 tablespoons vanilla.

Stir in chocolate chip cookie mix, and if desired, add in nuts or oats.

Add in melted butter and mix until combined.

Gently spread chocolate chip batter over brownie batter. 

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry and the edges are set. Cover with foil about half-way through baking time (around the 20-25 minute mark) so that the top won’t get too brown.

Allow to cool.

Makes 12-16 servings.

Store in an airtight container.

“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

2 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

6 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.