Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wholesome Birthday Apple Pie

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Last weekend was my Dad's 64th birthday!  I hope he's okay with me revealing his age.  My dad is one of the most influential people in my life, and I was so happy to be able to celebrate his birthday with him this year.  The last time I was in town for his birthday was in 2009 for his 60th, before I moved out east.  It's certainly been awhile, so I figured I had to somehow make up for lost time.  Solution?  I made him his favourite dessert - apple pie!

4 candles to represent 64 wholesome years of life!

Now this isn't just any apple pie.  As I was growing up, the first and foremost requirement of a dessert for dad is that it's sugar-free.  Since apples have some of their own natural sweetness, we're off to a good start!  Next criteria, a more recent realization on his part, is that he does much better following a gluten-free diet.  Having been strictly gluten-free in the past myself, and continuing to be mostly gluten-free now, I felt this didn't present too much of an issue (Especially since Thanksgiving, when I made a fantastic pumpkin pie with the Sweet & Salty Spiced Pecan Crust from Oh She Glows - this really boosted my confidence in making gluten-free pie crust!).  The final bit of criteria for my dad's birthday pie was for it to be dairy-free; not essential for him, but important for me so that I could enjoy it with him!

So, a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free apple pie?  Is this actually going to resemble apple pie when it's done??  I wasn't too worried about it.

As for apples themselves, the old adage goes, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."  How much truth is there to this statement, anyway?  Actually, apples are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, and dietary fibre, and may reduce the risk of cancer, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and heart disease.  They are also protective against neurotoxicity and stroke, and may help to lower LDL ('bad') cholesterol.

One additional note - apples are an important fruit to consume organic, as they rank highest in pesticide residue of all produce, according to Environmental Working Group.  To read my posting about pesticides on produce, click here.

Enough on the health benefits - let’s get started!  This recipe is adapted from Jules’ Fuel (blog of a nutrition consultant, life & health coach); when I saw that the crust featured ground nuts instead of gluten-free flour, I knew we were off to an excellent start in both the taste and texture departments!

The crust was the first task.  This nut crust features ground almonds as the main ingredient, and an egg to hold it all together:

Crust Ingredients:
2 cups of almond flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

Combine almond flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add egg and melted coconut oil and mix well to form dough.  Press dough firmly and evenly into the base and sides of a 9” pie dish.  Using a fork, poke a few holes into the crust before baking.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

'Pat-in-the-pan' pie crust, gluten- & grain-free version!

Next step – the juicy, spiced apple filling.  No wonder this is dad’s favourite dessert!  I did some research into the best apples for apple pie, and honestly, for the most part it seems to be up to personal preference.  For this pie, I decided to use a combination of Fuji (my favourite apple for eating out of hand) and Pink Lady.  Both are sweet, juicy, and delicious.  Other apples that do well in pies are the classic Granny Smith and Honeycrisp (another of my favourites!).  It's best to avoid apples with flesh that breaks down during baking, such as McIntosh and Red Delicious.  It’s hard to go terribly wrong with your apple choice, but these general guidelines will help to prevent a mushy pie.  If you’d like a more in depth discussion of choosing the best apples for pie, read here.

Filling Ingredients

4 large apples
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cut apples into thin slices, or smaller if preferred, and place in a large bowl.  Health tip:  Don't peel your apples - most of the fibre and antioxidants are in the peel!  Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix well to coat apples evenly.  Layer apple mixture evenly in the pre-baked pie crust.

And the glorious finishing touch – crumble topping!  This is my favourite way to complete a pie crust, as it takes advantage of the best of apple crumble and traditional pie crust.  Having this crumbly mixture on top adds incredible flavour and texture, and truly is the perfect finishing touch to any pie.

Crumble Topping Ingredients 
1 cup coarsely ground walnuts

1/4 cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Process walnuts in food processor or magic bullet, and mix with coconut flour and cinnamon.  Sprinkle the topping mixture on top of the filling, and add a drizzle of honey evenly on top, if desired.

I drizzled honey on less than half of the pie - I didn't notice it made much of a difference!

In the oven, already looking good!

Bake at 350F for 1 hour.  Allow to cool briefly and serve hot with coconut whipped cream.  Don’t forget the candles if it’s Dad’s (or anyone’s!) birthday!

Fresh from the oven!

Coconut Whipped Cream

2 cans coconut milk, refrigerated for 24 hours or at least overnight
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey (optional, or to taste)

The purpose of refrigerating the coconut milk is to separate the thick coconut cream from the coconut water.  When you open the cans, scoop off the thick cream and place in a deep mixing bowl.  Save the coconut water if desired for use in other recipes, or discard.  Add vanilla extract and honey, and whip with an electric mixer for 4-5 minutes, or until thick.  Refrigerate to thicken even further; Coconut Whipped Cream keeps well in the fridge for a week.

Ready to dig in and enjoy!

A couple key points here to make this recipe a success:  First, don’t use lite coconut milk – it doesn’t contain enough fat, which is what we need!  Also, I’ve found huge variation among different brands of coconut milk.  I recommend Thai Kitchen’s organic coconut milk, as it has been the most consistent in separating when refrigerated.

This pie was a hit!  I was so happy to be able to make a treat that dad could really enjoy, and to pass along to others wanting to make a nutritious and delicious apple pie.  Success!  I better start brainstorming now how I’m going to top this for dad’s milestone 65th birthday next year!  Any suggestions?  Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Festive Antioxidant Holiday Granola Recipe

Staying true to my last post, I’m following up with my promise to share my favourite way to have granola.  For me, this all stemmed from back in the day when I could tolerate goat milk yogurt (I miss those days!), but nevertheless, non-dairy yogurt or simply almond/coconut milk will do just fine.  Two of my favourite non-dairy yogurts are So Delicious Cultured Almond Milk Yogurt and So Delicious Coconut Yogurt.  More recently I also discovered a local brand of organic almond milk yogurt called 'Almond Yoga' from the company Crave Conscious in North Vancouver.  I suggest you experiment and see which you like best!  If you are fine with dairy products, just look for an organic yogurt made with whole milk.

An exciting new discovery - locally made almond milk yogurt

Just in time for the holidays, this recipe features a beautiful medley of Christmas-coloured fruits – mango, kiwi, and pomegranate, the true star (you'll see why later).  While I chose these fruits for their festive colours, they also carry incredible health benefits.  Let's review those first before we get to the recipe!

Don't these colours just irresistibly put you in the Christmas spirit?

Aside from being completely delicious, mangos are a rich source of vitamin A and C, fibre, and a variety of minerals and phytochemicals.  In addition, a study at Oklahoma State University suggested that mango could help reduce body fat and have positive effects on blood glucose and cholesterol levels, demonstrating a similar effect to the drug rosiglitazone (used to lower blood glucose levels).

Tommy Atkins mango, freshly diced.  AtaĂșlfo mangos are also delicious, 
and both are readily available at most supermarkets.

Kiwis are an incredible source of vitamin C.  With one kiwi containing 120% the recommended daily intake, they contain a higher concentration of vitamin C than oranges!  Kiwis are also an impressive source of fibre and potassium, as well as a variety of flavonoids and carotenoids that offer antioxidant protection.  As a tip, to get the most fibre from your kiwi, leave the peel on.  It might take some getting used to, but if you can get past the fuzzy peel, all the better for meeting your daily fibre requirement!

The kiwi is truly a stunning fruit.  I suggest you get acquainted!

As a side note, a good rule of thumb is to not peel any fruit or vegetable that you can easily pierce with your fingernail (other examples: apples, cucumbers, potatoes).  On the contrary, do remove the peel of those fruits and vegetables that are not easily penetrable (bananas and oranges are the most common examples here).

Aside from being rich in potassium, fibre, folic acid and other B vitamins, pomegranates are an outstanding source of antioxidants.  In fact, one study found that pomegranate juice was superior to grape juice and red wine in providing antioxidant protection against free radicals.  Pomegranates offer great cardiovascular benefit, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, preventing abnormal clot formation (which can cause heart attacks and stroke), and promoting reversal of atherosclerotic plaque deposition; they are also well-known for their anti-cancer properties.  

The only downside to pomegranates is that they are known for being difficult to de-seed.  Fear no more!  Pomegranates are the true star of this post because I've discovered the most amazing video to share with you:  How to De-Seed a Pomegranate in 10 Seconds Using a Wooden Spoon.  I’ve done it and trust me, it works!  Prepare to be amazed at 3:07.  You won’t be picking apart pomegranates anymore if you follow the simple instructions in the video.  And it’s fun, too!

From left to right: Pomegranate half, pomegranate seeds successfully removed, 
and the empty pomegranate shell!

Alright, I bet you're salivating by now, knowing what a nutritious & antioxidant-rich treat you're in for!  I won't keep you in suspense any longer.  Here's the simple recipe:

Festive Antioxidant Holiday Granola

Ingredients (serves 1):

1/2 mango, diced
1 kiwifruit, diced
3-4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1/4-1/3 cup Healthy Maple Granola
Almond or coconut milk (or yogurt, if a thicker consistency is desired)

If using yogurt, put a few large spoonfuls in the bottom of a single-serving sized bowl.  If not using yogurt, skip this step and layer mango and kiwi chunks evenly, then sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top.  It'll be looking beautiful already!  The finishing touch is definitely the granola - sprinkle granola as the final layer, and if you didn't use yogurt, add almond/coconut milk as desired.  Eat the whole thing with a spoon and enjoy!

A close-up view - it makes me happy, just looking at the bright medley of colours!

Next time:  My dad's birthday is coming up this week, and I'm happy to be in the same city as him so I can make him a birthday dessert!  My next post will be a Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free, Grain-Free Apple Pie.  It's a surprise, so don't tell him... Mmmm, I'm excited already!

Ignarro LJ, Byrns RE, Sumi D, de NF, Napoli C. Pomegranate juice protects nitric oxide against oxidative destruction and enhances the biological actions of nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide. 2006 Sep;15(2):93-102.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Almonds, Coconuts, and Pumpkin Breakfast Porridge

My apologies, as I'm sure you have noticed, I have neglected my blog for the past few months.  For those who don't know, I have spent the last few years studying naturopathic medicine and this year I finished my program to become a naturopathic doctor!  Between graduation, licensing exams, moving back to the west coast, another exam, and working on getting my BC license, I've had my hands full.  But not to worry - while my hands have been full of books, papers, pens, acupuncture needles, and my stethoscope, they've also been full of plenty of good eats!  Now, while I am waiting for my BC license application to be processed, I figured it's a good time to catch up on sharing some of these good eats with you.

We're definitely in the season for warm breakfast foods, and this breakfast porridge recipe is out of this world.  But first, I have to tell you the story that led me to it!

 Yes, it does taste as good as it looks!

I finally made my own almond milk, impressed with the result and happy to be able to finally check it off my bucket list.  It was way easier than I thought, and tasted amazing - it really made me wonder what I have been doing this whole time, drinking the store-bought stuff!  The ingredients are pure and simple, free of any added emulsifiers or stabilizers.  Having been dairy-free for years now, I'm always experimenting with new dairy-free products.  Lately, however, there has been some publicity about carrageenan, a food additive highly prevalent in many non-dairy milks and linked to intestinal inflammation and digestive complaints.  It's a tricky one to avoid, since most non-dairy milks do contain carrageenan for its thickening and stabilizing effects.  I have found one brand, Silk, which is carrageenan-free, however it is not organic!  If anyone has found an organic almond milk that does not contain carrageenan, please let me know.  For now, I'll keep alternating between Silk and making my own!

Homemade almond milk and beautiful flowers from my mom!

I'm addicted to Angela Liddon's vegan recipe blog, Oh She Glows.  So, it's not surprising to me that her recipe for My Favourite Almond Milk absolutely blew my mind.  It has a very fresh almond taste, with the natural sweetness of dates and flavours of cinnamon and vanilla.  I won't re-post her recipe here, but I highly encourage you to visit her blog and check it out for yourself.  For the record, here's a close-up of how mine turned out:

Check out that gorgeous foam with flecks of vanilla!

Feeling increasingly adventurous these days, I more recently made my own coconut milk, which is possibly even more simple than almond milk!  Less squeezing involved - I used a wire strainer and it worked just fine.  This creamy deliciousness closely rivalled my almond milk, and really it's up to your taste buds which one you prefer.  Here's the recipe:

Homemade Coconut Milk
4 cups hot water (not boiling)
2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a blender, combine hot water, coconut flakes and vanilla and blend until smooth.  Filter out remaining chunks of coconut using a wire strainer (you can also use cheesecloth if desired).  Save the coconut pulp for making breakfast porridge (see below).  Drink coconut milk immediately or place in the fridge to enjoy a chilled beverage. 


I was so impressed with how the coconut milk turned out, I just had to show you two views.

As you can see, homemade non-dairy milks are pretty easy to make.  Actually, the hardest part for me was figuring out what to do with the leftover pulp afterward.  For inspiration, I did a quick Google search which led me to a multitude of ideas, but the one that most stood out to me was the one that used another ingredient I currently have sitting in my fridge - leftover pumpkin!

Pumpkin Breakfast Porridge.  It makes me feel all warm inside just thinking about it.  As a bonus, not only is it gluten-free and dairy-free, it's Paelo too!  So really, anyone can eat it.. unless you have a nut allergy.  In that case, choose your ingredients accordingly!

The site I found used almond pulp, but since I had just made coconut milk, I decided to use my leftover coconut pulp instead.  Here's the link to the original recipe, and below is my rendition!

Just in case the first photo wasn't enough to get you excited!

Pumpkin Breakfast Porridge

Ingredients (1 serving):
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 heaping tablespoons coconut pulp (leftover from coconut milk - see above)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1/3 cup almond milk (coconut milk would work well, too!)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
Pecans, chopped (or other nuts of choice)
Raisins (or other dried fruit of choice)
Additional coconut pulp for sprinkling

In a small pot, combine pumpkin, coconut pulp, ground flaxseed, half the almond milk, sea salt and cinnamon.  Stir continuously as the mixture heats up, and allow to cook for a few minutes.  Add remaining almond milk as desired.

Remove from stove and transfer to a small bowl.  Sprinkle with chopped pecans, raisins, and coconut pulp.  Serve hot and enjoy!

That's all for now - stay tuned until next time for a return to my Healthy Maple Granola, which has gotten such great reviews that I feel inspired to share how I like to use granola as part of a festive holiday breakfast!