Get into the holiday baking mood with Banana Strawberry Bread with optional chocolate chips–with gluten-free and vegan options

“As long as you know how to bake, life is sure to be sweet!”–Unknown

One Sunday afternoon this past summer, I was talking with my Dad via phone as he now lives in Florida.  He shared that after church service, a fellow worshiper shared slices of homemade strawberry bread with others.  Listening to Dad, I decided to add “strawberry bread” to my list of writing/cooking ideas.  Of course, Dad was not surprised.

It took some trial and error, but I think I found the sweet spot.  Of course, when I bake, I am trying to meet unique dietary needs.  Selfishly, I prefer baking recipes that have the ability to be gluten free due to my celiac disease; however, I also like to find versatile ingredient scaffolding for those that can safely consume wheat.  Furthermore, I choose to eat plant-based; therefore, I also like to play with ingredients that offer that option as well.  Bottom line, however, if it tastes good and is easy to make, most people don’t care if it’s gluten-free and/or plant-based. 

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The recipe all came together after picking up a grocery order one day only to discover I was given extremely ripe, fully brown bananas instead of bright yellow.  Once I saw those bananas, I knew how I wanted to create my own version of strawberry bread.  I took further inspiration from The Big Man’s World website.  

Strawberries and bananas are complementary and commonly paired in many food items, such as drink mixes, smoothies, yogurts, fruit-cups, and so forth.  Additionally, bananas are one way to bake without eggs to bind ingredients together into a batter with a creamy texture and balanced moisture composition.  Furthermore, bananas add a subtle sweetness to baking recipes that tends to compliment many ingredients.  

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When baking without eggs, I also add a tablespoon of vinegar.  This depression era egg replacement reacts with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide that helps baked goods rise as they bake.  Plus, vinegar overall improves bread texture, whether baking with or without eggs.

You may notice that I use date sugar in this recipe, although it can be replaced with your preferred form of sugar. Date sugar is considered less processed due to the fact that it is made from dried dates pulverized into a powder; therefore, it retains much of its fiber and nutrients.  That said, don’t be fooled, it is still sugar, and like any sweetener, it should be consumed in moderation.

If you like to bake for the holiday season, this bread will lend itself to potluck gatherings, as it can be made a day or two ahead of time.  It would also make a nice holiday gift or simply a fun weekend addition to brunch.  It stores well, becoming more moist with age. I have toasted leftover slices of it in my air-fryer and reheated it in the microwave–either way works.  Plus, you can substitute your favorite chopped nuts in lieu of the chocolate chips–I just happen to like chocolate!  It’s tasty plain or smeared with butter or cream cheese as my daughter and husband  do or with your favorite nut butter, as I like to do.

This recipe is versatile, using fresh or frozen fruit. (Hint: I save all over-ripe bananas–and even strawberries–in a freezer bag in my freezer and pull out what I need anytime I’m baking!) Notice all the ways I offer substitutions for the original ingredients I used, so that you can meet your own individual needs/taste preferences.  Sprinkle the top of the batter with crystallized or festive-colored sugar before baking if desired and find ways to make this recipe your own!

From my home to yours, here’s to holiday baking!

Banana Strawberry Bread with optional chocolate chips

 with gluten free and vegan options

Ingredients

2 cups oat flour, can replace with all-purpose or gluten free flour

1/2 cup date sugar, can replace with regular or brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cup mashed banana (about 2 bananas)

1/4 cup applesauce, can replace with oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk, dairy or non-dairy work

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ + ¼  cup + sliced strawberries, frozen or fresh

¼  cup + 1 tablespoon chocolate chips, gluten free and/or vegan; 

(can replace chocolate chips with chopped nuts)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare loaf by spraying with nonstick cooking spray

Mash banana and set aside

In a large mixing bowl, stir together dry ingredients

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients

Stir in remaining ingredients, including banana, into the dry EXCEPT for strawberries and chocolate chips

Fold in ½ cup of sliced strawberries and ¼ cup of chocolate chips

Pour batter into loaf pan

Top with remaining strawberries and chocolate chips

Bake for 50-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean

Cool in pan for 10 or so minutes, use spatula to gently lift out of the loaf pan.

Finish cooling on wire rack

Slice to serve.

Can be kept in an airtight container, once completely cooled, in the fridge for up to five days.

Can also be stored in a ziplock freezer bag and frozen for up to 3 months.

In a large bowl stir together dry ingredients and make a well in the center. Then set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together wet ingredients.
Pour wet ingredients into the center of dry ingredients and mix with spoon until blended.
Finally, stir in sliced (or chopped, if preferred) strawberries and chocolate chips or nuts.
Bake in oven, and allow it to cool in pan at least 10 minutes before using a spatula to gently lift out loaf. Set loaf on cooling rack, and allow it to continue to cool.
Slice it up and eat it plain or with your favorite toppings, such as maple syrup, honey, nut butter, butter, or cream cheese to name a few.
Personally, I love nut butter smeared on a heated slice and allow the warmth of the bread to melt it.

Rice Krispie Air Fryer French Toast

“What does the best man at a French wedding do?”

“Make French toast!”

“Why is the French Toast the best team in the baseball game?”

“Because they have the best batter!”

Rice Krispie french toast sticks with melted peanut butter. Gluten-free and vegan options available!

Okay, I’ll try to stop, but in my defense, it’s way past my breadtime as I write this. My mind is crumbling, but I am not toast yet. There are still some ideas left in me, although I think they may be a bit stale. Perhaps, I should settle down, wrap up in a blanket, get warm and toasty, and go to bed to stop all this syrupy humor!

In all seriousness, National French Toast Day is November 28, 2022.  So why write about it in October?  Because I began playing with this recipe in September to, well, toast my birthday! It took several incarnations to get the recipe right, and I wanted to give you, Dear Reader, ample time to experiment with this recipe before the big toasty day.

You say you haven’t heard of National French Toast day?  Well, you’re in good company because neither had I until recently.  How did this obscure holiday come to be?  Based upon my research, no one source seems to know.  However, I did learn some interesting facts about a sweet and savory dish that is a weekend favorite food for many.

Rice Krispie French toast sticks smeared with chocolate powdered peanut butter, topped with strawberries, mixed berries, and chocolate chips!

The origin of French toast is debatable.  One source dated it back to a collection of 4th or 5th century Latin recipes.  While another source dated this eggcellent dish back to sixteenth century Europe. Additionally, the French were historically known for reclaiming old, stale bread, dipping it in egg batter, and frying it up.

It’s been known under a wide variety of names such as, “poor knights pudding,” “pain perdu,” “eggy bread,” and “French fried bread” to name a few.  The name, “French toast,” according to one popular Maryland breakfast restaurant, first appeared in American print in 1871, in the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. Regardless of its origins, or name given to this recipe, most of us can agree, French toast is one delicious dish of tasty goodness.

There are many variations for making French toast, but the basic formula includes bread, dipped in batter, typically made out of eggs and milk, and fried in a pan.  Some recipes call for added seasonings such as vanilla and nutmeg, while others call for rich cream and egg yolks with a dash of cinnamon.  Other recipes insist on thick bread, while others aren’t as picky.  

While reading through numerous recipes for French toast, I saw variations in cooking methodology.  Some cooks swear by frying in oil, while others enthusiastically endorse butter.  There were several variations of baked French toast, and even recipes that call for frying up the batter-dipped bread, then dipping it again in the batter, and baking it up.  I even found several French toast casserole recipes that made my mouth water.

Rice Krispie French toast smeared with chocolate powdered peanut butter and topped with strawberries, blueberries, mango, and chocolate chips.

This recipe uses an airfryer, and it offers variations for those with Celiac disease like me (hence the use of gluten free bread and crispy rice cereal).  I personally made this plant based as well by using non-dairy milk and a plant based liquid egg replacement, but that is a highly personal choice that may not be your preference.  The point is, the recipe is flexible and can meet a wide variety of dietary needs.  Plus, using the airfryer, rather than a butter or oil, can be a healthier option for those needing to cut back on dietary fat.  That being said, this recipe can be prepared in the traditional frying manner with butter or oil.

The use of Rice Krispies was intentionally designed for fun; after all, I created this recipe in honor of my own birthday.  I personally loved the way it added extra texture, visual interest, and the taste did not detract from the overall flavor of the batter.  In fact, the cereal gave the recipe a fun and festive vibe that made my inner-child, who needed to be honored on her birthday, smile!

Rather than wait for National French Toast day, why not give this recipe a try?

From my home to yours, I toast to your health and cooking endeavors! 

Rice Krispie Airfryer French Toast sticks

with gluten free and vegan options

Ingredients:

3 large eggs or plant based equivalent

½ cup favorite milk, dairy or non-dairy

1 tablespoon maple syrup

½  teaspoon vanilla extract

¼  teaspoon nutmeg, optional

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 cup Rice Krispies 

4 slices of thicker bread, cut into “sticks” (gluten free if needed)

Directions:

In a small shallow pan, stir together egg, milk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, nutmeg (if using), and salt.  

On a separate plate or shallow dish, spread out Rice Krispies.

Dip bread into batter mixture.

Press battered bread into cereal twice, coating both sides.

Place battered and coated bread sticks into the airfryer, without overlapping, into a single layer.

Turn the airfryer on 375 degrees and cook for 7-8 minutes. 

Repeat the process, if needed, until all “sticks” are cooked.

Keep “sticks” warm until ready to serve.

Top with favorite toppings, syrups, spreads, and/or fruits.

Serve immediately. 

Serves 2.

Recipes can be doubled or tripled if needed.

Refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.

Cut your bread into “sticks”.

You’ll need a few basics to make this gluten and plant based if needed/desired.

First, dip bread into batter.
Next, pressed batter-dipped bread onto Rice Krispies.
Cook up in an air-fryer for 7-8 minutes, or until desired brownness and texture reached. Then add your favorite toppings and enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Muffins, gluten-free, plant-based options

Procrastibaking: the art of making muffins instead of whatever else you should be doing.”–as seen on INTO THE COOKIE JAR

I had work to do, but there it sat.  The lone, leftover banana.  Muddled and marred by dark brown spots, hiding its inner-sweetness.  Too mushy to eat, but perfect for baking.  But what?

Nosing around in my cabinets, I noticed a partial bag of chocolate chips.  Hmm?  Maybe I could bake chocolate chip cookies, but would I be able to use a banana in it?  Not sure if that would work, at least regarding taste.  Then, it hit me like a Monday morning: muffins!

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I was pretty sure that I had once read that bananas can be used as a substitute for an egg in a recipe.  Sure enough, for once, my memory was correct. One banana equals one egg. Now don’t get me wrong, bananas cannot do everything an egg can do when baking, but in a recipe such as this one, where I am also including vinegar and baking soda, bananas are a decent substitute.  

Speaking of vinegar . . . Why add it to baking?  Historically speaking, vinegar has been used in baking for centuries.  One such example was during the Great Depression when rations, such as eggs and butter, were limited.  One teaspoon of baking soda combined with one tablespoon of vinegar makes baked goods light and fluffy.  Even if you are using an egg, adding one tablespoon of vinegar to a cake, cookie, or bread recipe will help batter rise, increase moisture, and even brighten the color.  

Photo by Rosana Solis on Pexels.com

Regarding flours, you will notice that I chose a combination of two different types as well as oat bran.  This was an intentional choice due to the fact that I have celiac disease, so I cannot consume wheat.  Additionally, I wanted to increase the fiber/nutritional content of these muffins while keeping the texture light and fluffy side.  Think of it as a compromise–balancing out the white flour and sugar with the nutritional profile of oats!  Plus, I happen to like baking with oats and oat flour due to the texture and moisture oats tend to create while not lending an overpowering flavor.  Nonetheless, you could use almond flour, rice flour, or other preferred varieties. In fact, you could simply use nothing but all-purpose flour if that is your preference.  As long as the total amount of flour remains the same, most flours should be fine!

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Finally, feel free to play around with the stir-ins.  There’s up to one cup total, so make the recipe yours.  Stir in raisins, walnuts, peanut butter chips, dried cranberries, chopped dates, butterscotch chips, chopped pecans, and so forth.  Make the recipe fit both your taste preferences and/or the ingredients you have on hand. 

Once these muffins are baked and cool enough to serve, slather one with butter or your favorite nut butter.  Dip them in maple syrup–who says it’s for pancakes only?  Drizzle agave or honey over the tops.  Then again, eat ‘em plain–after all, they will be plenty moist! 

Customize this recipe, and make it work for you and yours!  Then, hit me up on social media, or send me an email, and let me know what variation worked for you!  In the meantime, enjoy procrastibaking! 🙂  

Chocolate Chip Muffins, with gluten-free, plant based options

Recipe inspired by Betty Crocker’s 40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook Betty Crocker’s Cookbook/40th Anniversary Edition Hardcover – September 1, 1991,

Allergy AwesomenessRhian’s Recipes, HealthyGirl Kitchen

Ingredients:

¾  cup oat flour*

¾ cup oat bran*

1 cup all purpose flour, gluten-free flour*

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ripe banana

1 cup milk, any variation

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ -1 cup chocolate chips, gluten-free and/or vegan if desired/needed

½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Sparkling sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line 12 muffin tins with parchment paper or nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mash banana in a medium bowl.

Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla, and vinegar.

Gently combine liquid ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined.

Fold in chocolate chips and/or nuts, if using.

Divide batter evenly among cups.

Top with extra chips, and/or sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if desired.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Allow muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack.

Serve immediately.

Can store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days, or can freeze for up to 3 months.

After refrigerating or freezing muffins, reheat muffins before serving.

Makes 12. 

*Notes: Feel free to mix and match types of flours, and even leave out the bran, to suit your needs/taste preferences as long as the total amount of flour used equals 2 ½ cups.  Additionally, while I have to bake/eat gluten free and choose to eat plant based, you choose the ingredients that match your preferences.  Finally, you can use an egg, ¼ cup applesauce, or ¼ cup yogurt to replace the banana if desired or don’t have a banana on hand.

You’ll need two bowls.
Mix your dry ingredients in one bowl.
Mash your banana well.
Stir in wet ingredients with banana.
Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently mix.
Be sure to preheat oven and prepare muffin tins. I prefer parchment liners.
Stir in those luscious chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly and top with desired toppings. I added mini chocolate chips and white sugar.
Allow muffins to cool on a rack, but feel free to serve warm!

Enjoy the yummy results of procrastibaking!

Reese of Mind Donuts (gluten-free, egg-free, & dairy-free options)

“Fresh popcorn is near impossible to resist, second only to fresh donuts.”–Shannon Wiersbitzky, What Flowers Remember 

For years, I watched with glazed eyes as others enjoyed donuts. 

Donut go breaking my heart!” I would say to friends and family as they enjoyed their orbs of confectionary perfection. 

Donut worry, be happy!” They would reply, driving me glazy as they handed me a gluten free granola bar. “It’s hole-some.”  While I donut want to be ungrateful for their thoughtfulness, a granola bar donut really have a hole of my taste buds.  

I donut have to circle around these orbs of deliciousness.

After years of circling around all of those boxes of glaziness, watching others enjoy those holesome spheres of sweetness, I declared to myself, “Donut let them kill your vibe, Steph!  You can simply create your own glaze-of-glory confection!

Away in the solitude of my home work space, feeling glazed and confused, I did what any self-respecting donut-deprived punster would do, scroll the internet for recipe inspiration.  I donut, I mean, would not, stop believin’ that I could create a glazy alternative–one that was as close to being as hole food as possible with gluten-free, plant based ingredients.  Donut tell me I can’t! 

Ooey-gooey peanut buttery goodness!!

Thus, my holesome quest began.  Since then, I have created recipes for Blueberry Lemon-drop donuts and Chocolate donuts with chocolate glaze.  So what makes this recipe different from the previous chocolate donut recipe?  This recipe comes with the reese of mind that the ingredients are all holesome AND has the added benefit of protein and oats. 

Well, maybe the chocolate chips and powdered sugar aren’t particularly as healthy as some of the other ingredients?  But holey-moley, donut judge me.  You can just glaze over that part! Besides I am fairly certain I sense reesent traces of confectioners sugar on your lips!

Enjoy this gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free wonder without any worry of stomach upset!

While these donuts may not bring world reese, they may have your taste buds singing, “Hole me closer, tiny donut.”  May this recipe, or should I say, reese-ipe really get a hole of you, and may you love them a hole lot!

P. S. Reese and desist from blaming me for all of the bad puns, I may have eaten one too many drunkin’ donuts! 

Donut cry anymore when the donut box gets passed around, fellow celiacs. You can make your own!

Reese of Mind Donuts  (gluten-free, egg-free, & dairy-free options)

Donut Ingredients:

¾ cup oat flour (Can use regular oats and used food processor to make it flour)

1 serving chocolate protein powder (I use plant protein.) 

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup applesauce or yogurt

½ cup milk (I use plant based.)

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: ¼ cup chopped Reese’s pieces 

Glaze Ingredients:

1 tablespoon melted butter or coconut oil (I use plant based butter.)

3 tablespoon natural peanut butter, melted

½  teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ – ½ + cup powdered sugar

2+ tablespoons milk (I use plant based.) 

Batter will be thick, but easy to spoon into donut molds.

Donut Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat 6-donut pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, protein powder, cocoa powder, flax seed, sugar, baking soda and salt) until well combined.

In a small bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (vinegar, applesauce, milk, and vanilla).

Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix–batter should look/feel thick.  If using chopped Reese’s pieces, gently stir them with wet ingredients.

Divide batter evenly among donut molds.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before turning over onto cooling rack.

They’re actually tasty without any glaze or chopped reese’s pieces stirred in and with less sugar! However, feel free to drizzle a bit of melted peanut butter on the top if you choose not to glaze!

Glaze Directions:

In a medium microwave safe bowl, combine butter (or oil) and peanut butter.

Warm in microwave until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally to incorporate.

Stir in vanilla and powdered sugar, stir to combine, adding more powdered sugar if desired.

Gradually stir in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired glaze consistency is achieved.

Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled donuts.

Feel free to top donuts with chopped peanuts, mini chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, or crushed Reeses pieces.

Serve immediately.  Can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to three months.

These are so easy to make. They will give you gluten-free reese of mind!

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.

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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.

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

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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.