Tuesday Reviews-Day: Vegan Desserts in Jars

Tuesday Revews-Day


Expanding my skill-set in the kitchen is always my goal. Just like I learn something with every knitting or sewing pattern I follow, each recipe offers up a golden-brown opportunity to learn how different ingredients interact, how they taste in combination, and how–in some cases–they work in the place of another. When I started Low-FODMAP cooking and baking I got a crash course in all the hoops we have to jump though to bake without wheat, and these days I feel pretty confident about what I serve my friends and family, knowing there’s a better than good change they won’t know it’s lacking wheat (or whatever else) by taste or texture. But I also knew my substitution skills were lacking in one key arena: vegan baking.

So, when I was given the opportunity the try out Kris Holechek Peters’ Vegan Desserts in Jars, I figured it was just the kick in the pants I needed to clear the vegan baking hurdle.

Thanks to the plethora of alternative ingredients out there, it’s possible to find vegan dairy substitutes (margarines, milks, even cream cheese) in many large grocery stores. Sweeteners (other than honey, of course) are usually considered safe but I was recently made aware that part of the refining process uses cow bone char, so check the brands or packages before cooking for  your vegan guests. Eggs, though, they can be a bit trickier to substitute for, depending on which properties are key to the dessert. Thankfully Peters includes a great chart in the book listing the different egg replacers (from applesauce, to tofu, to flax seed) and the best time to use each.


The first recipe we tried was the Lemon Pudding Cakes (p.34) that started with a lemony cake in the bottom of the jar, topped withe a zest and sugar layer and then a lemon juice and water layer. While baking a curious alchemy occurred that placed the liquid components below the cake, the idea being that it would bake into a pudding beneath. In our case it was less pudding and more of a lemon sauce that formed, but it still made for a tasty sauce when combined with the cake.


Still craving tart citrus, I had to try the Lemon Meringue Pie (p. 47) which also uses the Flaky Pastry Crust (p.43) as well as the Meringue Topping (p.116)–the latter striking my curiosity most of all! As far as the pie goes, it was a case of too much crust for the filling–if I were to make it again I’d halve the crust and double the filling. The topping, though, talk about a challenge! First you have to cook the flax seed and let it sit, then strain it (it took 2 sieves and quite a bit of elbow grease to get the majority of the albumen-like goo separated from the seeds), and then finally whip it to within an inch of its life–do not try this without a stand mixer. The recipe directs you to serve immediately, but I found the pies that sat overnight in the fridge to taste even better, so don’t fear the leftovers.


Moving away from the zester, the next recipe we gave a go was the Chocolate Vanilla Puddin’ Cups (p.14). Let me state for the record that it’s nigh on impossible to screw up chocolate pudding, vegan or not. Chocolate’s natural properties make it excellent at getting puddings and mousses to gel, so I wasn’t worried about that half of this recipe. The vanilla, on the other hand, is a lot more dependent on each ingredient–one alone cannot carry it. The vegan vanilla pudding does not hold a candle to its egg-enriched counterparts, but it was tasty enough and paired well with the chocolate in it’s layered cups. If you were to make this recipe, I’d suggest you use a non-dairy milk that is fairly mild, as stronger ones can overshadow the delicate vanilla flavor.


Finally, we went back to the Cakelettes chapter for the Cream-Filled Carrot Cakes (p. 24)–rich, dense carrot cake accented with Cream Cheese Filling (p.111). Aside from making this wheat-free, the other substitution I made was to use mashed banana instead of applesauce (since apples are a High-FODMAP food). The banana did get a little pushy, flavor-wise, but the cake was still quite moist and the filling made it the best of the recipes we tried, so far.

Vegan baking may seem like a case of simple substitutions, but it takes that familiarity with ingredients to know what will please the palate. If you’ve wanted to eliminate some of the animal products from your diet or are simply entertaining the vegans in your life and want to be more inclusive in your cooking, Vegan Desserts in Jars  presents simple, straight-forward recipes to do just that. And the fact that they’re all made in canning jars–not only cute, but great for sending home with guests or delivering to coworkers’ desks–is just icing on the vegan cake!

Vegan Desserts in Jars is published by Ulysses Press. I was provided a copy for the purpose of review; all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Tuesday Reviews-Day: The Complete Idiots Guide to the Coconut Oil Diet

Tuesday Revews-Day

I first encountered some of the health benefits of coconut milk back when I was designing the drink that would become the Miracle Mocktail and looking for a dairy alternative. Almond, soy, and even rice milk had their detractors but coconut milk was just phenomenal in it’s many uses. I was amazed at how coconut milk (via the coconut oil content) was used to combat illness, including reducing the viral load of HIV patients! Ever since then I’ve appreciated Thai-style curries all the more, and when I needed a lactose-free option for heavy cream, coconut milk has worked a treat.

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When I was given the chance to review the Complete Idiots Guide to the Coconut Oil Diet I was more than a little intrigued–after all, I thought I understood the healthy benefits of coconut oil and coconut milk, but an entire diet around a vegetable-based saturated fat? I wondered how that was supposed to work.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the simplest way of enacting this “diet” is just to replace the other vegetable oils with coconut oil where appropriate. It helps if you like the smell of coconut in your food (the flavor is often lighter, but since flavor is comprised  of both smell and taste, it will obviously have an overall impact), but if you prefer a milder presentation, there are refined versions (designated RBD for refined, bleached, and deodorized). Aside from those smart substitutions, there are four more encompassing protocols presented in the book, each with a different take on how coconut oil–either through direct consumption or by cooking with it–can influence your health.

I admit, even as much as I enjoy food science, the in-depth chemical analysis and component-by-component play-by-play included in the book made my eyes cross a bit, but it’s great that they included it for those who want to know more about the Medium-Chain Triglycerides that make up coconut oil and how this variety of saturated fat can be healthful. They also discuss the earlier opinions about saturated fat in general and the rise it gave to soy and corn oils, for instance, and we all know how the trans-fat hydrogenated oils blew up in the face of our collective health.

The last third of the book or so is recipes that do a lovely job of showing how versatile coconut oil can be in day-to-day cooking. We tried out a few of these recipes with overall positive results.

Lamb Madras, p.200

Lamb Madras, p.200

We love going out for Indian food, almost as much as we like making it at home. The Lamb Madras can also be made with beef, and it’s spicy sauce is fabulous for cooler nights. Served over rice I also tried out the Paleo naan recipe that had been floating around–it worked, more or less, but it needed quite a bit more liquid using the coconut flour I opted for instead of the almond.

Filipino-Style Pork and Noodles (Pansit), p.196

Filipino-Style Pork and Noodles (Pansit), p.196

Pansit (Filipino-Style Pork and Noodles) reminded me a lot of Pad Thai with the mix of flavors and garnish of peanuts.

Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup, p.226

Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup, p.226

But it was the Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup that really surprised me! What I though might be a run-of-the-mill squash soup really got a boost from the coconut oil and it made for the most velvety soup I’ve had that wasn’t roux-based!

Luau Chicken, p.188

Luau Chicken, p.188

Finally, the Luau Chicken was the only recipe we tried that didn’t quite live up to expectations. The chicken, itself, was fabulous lightly dredged in seasoned flour and pan-fried in coconut oil–that I would do again in a heartbeat, though I’d probably opt for boneless thighs over the bone-in whole chicken the recipe calls for–and even the sauce for it was tasty, but the amount of coconut milk called for both to finish the chicken and to cook the spinach in was excessive and made for a very messy, soupy dish. Still a great meal, as paired with the sweet potato you see above, but I’d definitely hold back on the coconut milk if I were to make this one again.

The book also includes recipes for personal care items using coconut oil–everything from conditioner to deodorant!

While I still maintain that “Diets” aren’t a good option for lasting change, I can definitely get behind the increased use of coconut oil in place of other oils. And with its increase in popularity leading to greater availability, the ease of that substitution is also increased. I consider The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Coconut Oil Diet anything but idiotic.

***I was provided a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Coconut Oil Diet for purpose of review. No other compensation has been received and all opinions expressed are my own.***

Tuesday Reviews-Day: The Fondue Bible

Tuesday Revews-Day


Whether for Girl’s Night Out, birthday, anniversary or New Year’s Eve, there’s nothing that carries the same feel of anticipation than heading to the local fondue restaurant for a several-hour dinner. Fondue is the ultimate communal meal–instead of everyone concentrating on their own plates, there’s a mutual point of interest about what’s in the pot, and the waiting for each item to cook (or cool down enough to bite into) invites both conversation and relaxation.

Back in the 60s, the fondue set became a standby of housewarming and wedding gifts, and with many people fascinated with kitsch and mid-century throw-backs, I think the fondue pot is making a comeback for home use. I received one a few years ago as a Christmas present, but admit that it hasn’t seen the heat of a flame very often and spends more time in it’s box that on the table.

Getting the chance to review The Fondue Bible, though, gave me the chance to dust off the fondue set and give it a place of prominence on the table for a couple of gatherings and a relaxed mid-week supper.


Because it lends itself so well to party grazing, I started off with a cheese fondue for one of our local game nights. The Edam Tarragon Fondue (p. 32) was a nice combination of the more traditional cheeses with the almost sweet tarragon, especially with the grainy mustard added. It went excellent with sausage puffs, chicken breasts, apples and carrots. As for the leftovers, those were fabulous as an impromptu quesadilla filling when melted inside of tortillas.


Another night we went for the sweet with a cocktail-inspired B-52 Chocolate Fondue (p. 198). In addition to the dark chocolate, Kahlua, Cointreau, and Irish Cream I used coconut milk thinned with a bit of lactose-free 2% in place of the heavy cream and it worked fabulously. Into this we dipped strawberries, fresh-cut pineapple chunks, and cubes of homemade (gluten free) pound cake. Some of our guests also went for the salty-sweet combo by dipping rice crackers and salty popcorn into the gooey chocolate.

With my current fondue pot I usually use sterno-style gel fuel but it tends to get way too hot for cheese and chocolate fondues. Behold, the power of the humble tea light as this is plenty to keep a couple cups of melted cheese of chocolate liquid enough for dipping without risking scorching the whole pot (the center does tend to get a little stuck, but at least that’s easy to clean up).


The gel fuel worked wonderfully for the Quick Asian Hot Pot (p. 138), though, doing an excellent job of keeping the broth (I made lamb broth since I had some lamb ribs on hand from a different meal) steaming hot for the duration of our dinner. While it looks like a lot of work, there really wasn’t much more to it than the prep for any stew or soup–the bits and pieces were just laid out prettily on a platter instead of tossed into the soup pot. And the remaining portions were tossed together on the stove to prepare soup for lunch the next day.

We didn’t dip into the oil fondues–that many forks in boiling oil makes me a little nervous, truth be told–but maybe I’ll get braver as they do look just as delectable as the book’s other options. The Fondue Bible includes 200 recipes, loads of gorgeous photographs, and plenty of pairing ideas as well as dips and sauces that could easily go with any other meal, not just your fondue fest. I have a feeling my fondue set is going to be getting much more use, now, with so much inspiration at hand!

Tuesday Reviews-Day: Easy Everyday Gluten-Free Cooking

Tuesday Revews-Day


You know the problem with most gluten-free cookbooks, at least those I’ve seen? Unless they are baking-specific, most of the books are made up of main dishes that have little-to-no need for gluten to begin with. Great for ideas, but a little light on gluten-free usefulness.

Which is why I was so happy to peruse the table of contents for my review copy of Easy Everyday Gluten-Free Cooking by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt and see that at least half of the book is baked goods. Because, let’s be honest, it’s the quick breads, desserts, and other bready treats that we’re most missing when we give up wheat or gluten. And it’s those same dishes we want to most share with our families at holidays and other special occasions but meet resistance with because of so many bad dishes that have come before.

Not that the dinner-style dishes are anything to ignore! We enjoyed several suppers from within its pages and I found the rundown of gluten-free flours and starches as well as the tips for traveling gluten-free as well as preventing cross-contamination in the home to be straightforward while avoiding being dull. It allows the reader to get up to speed and start cooking as fast as possible, and that’s definitely a good thing in my book! (pun totally intended)

Battered FIsh

Batter-Fried Fish (p.79)

Just because we watch what we eat, doesn’t mean a good old-fashioned indulgence isn’t called for from time to time. Such was the case with the Batter-Fried Fish for a fish and chips night. Among the different coatings we’ve tried over the last year this has been hands-down the best.

Grilled Mandarin Chicken Salad with Sweet and Sour Dressing

Grilled Mandarin Chicken Salad with Sweet-and-Sour Dressing (p.68)

A staple of American-style restaurants, Mandarin Chicken Salad is often fried. Everyday Gluten Free gives us a grilled version whose dressing more than makes up for the missing breading, even if you skip the Caramelized Almonds like we did.


Souvlaki (p.139)

Greek food is always a big hit in our house, so when I saw the Souvlaki recipe I knew it would end up on our table. The marinade is flavorful without being overpowering and the authors suggest serving it either over rice, as we did, or in corn tortillas. A little tzatziki sauce and you’d be good to go!

Scalloped Potatoes with a Twist

Scalloped Potatoes with a New Twist (p.123)

Going back to comfort food, scalloped potatoes can be a little ho-hum. This version uses stock instead of milk or cream and adds celery leaves for additional flavor. There was a slightly green tinge to the dish, but the flavor was outstanding.

Spinach Risotto

Spinach Risotto (p.125)

The only quibble I had with the Spinach Risotto was that it didn’t follow proper risotto technique. While I knew better, I followed their directions but needed to add more liquid slowly cooked in to achieve the correct al dente texture. The combination of carrots, spinach, and zucchini, though, was right-on, flavor-wise.

And for your holiday baking pleasure, give these decadent Triple-Threat Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies a try!

Triple-Threat Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Easy Everyday Gluten-Free Cooking


Makes 5 dozen

1 cup sorghum flour
2/3 cup whole bean flour*
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthum gum
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup shortening
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp instant coffee granules
2 eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

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Triple the pleasure, triple the fun–but who’s counting calories? These fudgy morsels are worth every bite!

1. In a large bowl or plastic bag, combine sorghum flour, whole bean flour, tapioca starch, baking soda, xanthum gum, salt and cocoa. Mix well and set aside.

2. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate, butter, shortening, water and coffee granules, uncovered, on Medium (50%) for 2 minutes. Stir until completely melted. Set aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar and brown sugar for 3 minutes, until smooth. Add vanilla and cooled melted chocolate mixture. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls 2 inches (5 cm) apart on prepared baking sheets. Let stand for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

4. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until set. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately.



Tuesday Reviews-Day: The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes

Tuesday Revews-Day


Whether you look at the Paleo diet as a food fad, a healthy trend, or a sigh-worthy concept, the fact is that the “Paleo” diet does have some good stuff going for it: reduced carbs, lean protein, and an eating clean mentality that’s hard to argue with. Granted, I don’t think I’d ever give up my Basmati rice (among other things), but when I first started looking for Low-FODMAP dinner inspiration, Paleo-style recipes were a great place to start as many of them are Low-FODMAP-friendly without too many changes.

So when I was given the opportunity to receive a copy of Judith Finlayson’s The 163 Best Paleo Slow Cooker Recipes I was more than willing to give it a shot. Between the love we already have for slow-cooker dinners and my high opinion of Finlayson’s work (see here and here) I was expecting good things within its pages.

If you’re not familiar with the Paleo diet (the short version is that it’s supposedly the diet our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten), it contends that our bodies aren’t really evolved enough to process most grains and starchy vegetables, not to mention nothing processed. Finlayson gives a good overview of the various tenets of the diet and then talks about some of the specific ingredients that she uses or allows, even though they are considered controversial by others (potatoes, dairy, etc.).

Even if you aren’t interested in the caveman aspects of the diet, the recipes in Paleo Slow Cooker are excellent starting points for a traditional meal. Most of the dishes we paired with rice, so with potatoes. Do what makes you happy, right?

Pot Roast in Barolo, p. 132

Pot Roast in Barolo, p. 132

Beef in red wine is a classic dish but the Pot Roast in Barolo is a simpler, straight-forward version of the show-stopping Boeuf Bourguignon. Of course, its tough to make a bad pot roast in a slow-cooker, but this version was really outstanding.

New World Leek and Pepper Soup, p. 38

New World Leek and Pepper Soup, p. 38

The author’s take on leek and potato soup uses sweet potatoes. Since I can only eat the green tops of leeks, our version of New World Leek and Pepper Soup was a bit different than intended but still filling and tasty.

Spicy Chicken in Coconut Sauce, p.70

Spicy Chicken in Coconut Sauce, p.70

Similar to a butter chicken, the Spicy Chicken in Coconut Sauce uses the much-sturdier chicken thighs (which also tend to have more flavor) that don’t become mealy after a day in the slow-cooker.

Ranch House Chicken Fried Steak, p. 147

Ranch House Chicken Fried Steak, p. 147

The Ranch House Chicken Fried Steak was, to be honest, interesting. It’s not what you really expect, though to expect any sort of breading to hold up to slow cooking is kinda silly anyway. What it is was a good steak dish that didn’t require tending the grill or frying pan–no harm there!

Manhattan Clam Chowder, p. 104

Manhattan Clam Chowder, p. 104

I admit, I’m more of a New England girl, but when Todd decided to make this Manahttan Clam Chowder I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say I’m a convert, but I’m at least willing to branch out now and then!

Southwestern Brisket, p. 120, and Down-Home Tomatoes with Okra, p.224

Southwestern Brisket, p. 120, and Down-Home Tomatoes with Okra, p.224

Saving the best for last, this was actually the first dish we tried out of this book and it set the bar pretty dog-gone high! The Southwestern Brisket was melt-in-your-mouth tender and just spicy enough to get the point across without eclipsing the brisket. This one will definitely be gracing our table again, it’s just too good not to make again!

Like the cover says, Paleo is naturally Gluten-Free, so it’s a great way to get ideas for meals that don’t rely on wheat or other grains. Most recipes serve 6-8, so you may need to cut them down a bit to fit your family dynamic or plan to make extra and freeze it for those nights you don’t want to start from scratch. There are tons of tips throughout the book and great pictures, as well. And for the first time when I was in the midst of reviewing a book I ran into someone who was already a big fan. Not like I needed convincing, but it’s always nice to get other opinions, right?