Gluten Free Vegan Sugar Cookies

Christmas has come and gone. Time moves at a quick clip when you're an adult.  I could wander down a path of pondering the speed of time but I would lose the point of this post.

And that point is that our Christmas was wonderful.  How was yours?  I can only hope you had the same love filling up your wine glasses and stockings.  I spent the days leading up to Christmas baking sugar cookies (we will come back to these), picking out last minute gifts, and preparing a fancy Christmas Eve dinner.  The presents we gave ended up hitting all of the right notes; there were a smattering of thoughtfully handmade pieces from Etsy, a few items I had remembered my family members mentioning in passing, and framed photos of Melissa for our parents and my grandparents.

Oh, and the gifts given to us?  Wow.  Just wow.  You who gave gifts to us--you really love us.  Cooking ware, entertaining pieces, new clothes, camera accessories, gift cards, red lipstick (for me) and a brand new turn table (for Tim).  As I type this, I'm listening to Tom Waits' album The Heart of Saturday Night.  It's one of my favorites and it gives me a feeling that listening to an MP3 just can't deliver. 

Our tree may only last a few more days in the living room as I've started to tackle some of our holiday clutter.  Putting things back in their rightful place seems the only way to master untidy accumulations and so the tree may go back into its box sooner than later.  These Christmas cookies may be the last holiday item to go if I can make them last that long--and that is proving difficult.

I assumed I would be able to make some baked goods to meet my allergists' restrictions, but I didn't think it would be this simple.  I happened upon a sugar cookie recipe that had already been adapted gluten free, and I only needed to swap a few additional ingredients to make it dairy free and egg free.  I wasn't convinced it would work, but I loved making Christmas cookies last year and didn't want to go without. 

Obviously, it worked.  Texturally, these cookies were a little chewy with a nice light crumb.  I made two batches with different gluten free flour mixes, and I much preferred the King Arthur Gluten Free flour blend though I don't think someone would notice the difference without being able to compare them side by side.  Also, if kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container, these cookies can last up to a week, maybe two.  I highly recommend making them in advance as they were even better on the second day.  

Gluten Free, Vegan Sugar Cookies with Vegan Buttercream Frosting 
cookie recipe adapted from Inner Circle Chic
frosting recipe adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World
makes about 36 cookies

If you are not vegan or do not have egg and dairy food intolerances/allergies, you can use the same amounts of butter and egg as a substitute.  You could also use Earth Balance's traditional soy-based spread instead of the soy-free spread.  You can make similar substitutions in the frosting recipe.  I cannot guarantee that the cookies will turn out exactly as well as mine did if you use a different gluten free flour blend as all flour blends are different. 

Ingredients for the Cookies
3/4 cup Earth Balance soy-free spread
1 cup sugar
2 Ener-G eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Flour Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp xanthum gum
1 tsp fine salt

In the bowl of a upright mixer, combine Earth Balance, sugar, egg-replacer, and extract.  Mix on medium speed until all ingredients are combined and the mixture is slightly fluffy.  There may be small lumps of Earth Balance.  If they are smaller than a pea, it's okay.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, gum, and salt.  Add dry mixture to wet mixtuer and mix on low speed until well incorporated.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.  If well covered, can be made a day in advance.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Remove dough from refrigerator.  Take a handful of the dough about the size of a baseball and making into a ball.  Set the ball of dough on well-floured (with gluten free flour) surface.  Return unused dough to the refrigerator.  Roll out the dough so that it is between 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch thick.  If dough is crumbly when you are rolling it out, just let it rest for a few minutes and then try again. 

Cut dough into desired shapes using cookie cutters or biscuit cutters. (The amount of cookies this recipe makes will depend largely on the size of your cutters.)  Place cut-out shapes onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 6-8 minutes until cookies are done.  For a crisper cookie, bake an additional minute past when the cookies are cooked through.  After removing cookies from the oven, allow to sit for at least five minutes on the cookie sheet before removing them to cool on a wire rack.

Repeat process until all dough is used.   Cool cookies completely before icing.  (Cookies can be frozen at this point although I personally did not test freezing and defrosting them.)

Ingredients for the Vegan Buttercream
1/2 cup Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening (soy-free)
1/2 cup Earth Balance soy-free spread
3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 - 1/2 cup plain almond milk

Beat the shortening and Earth Balance together until fluffy.  Add the confectioners sugar and beat for 3 more minutes.  Add the vanilla and 1/4 cup almond milk and beat for another 5-7 minutes.  If icing seems too thick, add more almond milk.  Beware of the icing being too runny for piping onto cookies!  If you add too much liquid, you can always add a little more powdered sugar to balance it out.

The frosting will be very light and fluffy.  Chill the frosting for 1 hour before using.  In a medium bowl, add some icing and desired food coloring and mix.  Frosting will begin to slightly soften as you mix the color. Put frosting into a pastry bag or a zip-lock back with a snipped corner and decorating tip.  Pipe onto cookies and decorate as you desire.  Keep unused frosting in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.  Icing may seem soft but will firm up when refrigerated.  Keep iced cookies in a cool place. 

This frosting can also be used on cakes and cupcakes.


Merry Christmas!

(this is as still as I could get my dogs to sit!)


A Date to Dilly Deli

Tim and I have been doing a little dating lately--dating each other, of course.  I've learned over the past 2.5 years of our marriage (and over 5 years since we met) that relationships take real work.  A good marriage does not just happen to us--we create it for ourselves. That's where dating comes in.

During December, we went on all sorts of dates.  We went to the movies; I loved My Week with Marilyn (and Tim liked it, too).  On another night we got Starbucks and drove through a park decorated with Christmas lights.  We also went out to dinner at Dilly Deli and realized that I could eat so many things on the menu that we went back again two weeks later. 

We ordered a basket of sweet potato fries as an appetizer (both times) and it was served with creamy, sweet apple butter.  This is a perfect starter because it is not too filling and it's light in flavor so as not to leave an after taste. I especially appreciated that because my entree was full of strong flavors. 

Tim ordered the crab cakes and I ordered cioppino.  The mahi mahi was firm and flaky and the shrimp, crab, and mussels were cooked perfectly.  I loved my entree. 

After dinner we walked quietly to the car holding hands.  This was a really excellent date.   

(please forgive the grainy pics--I only had my iPhone with me!)


On Being Well (and Eating Well)

It's no secret I'm turning 30 next year, and I think I've also made it clear that while I'm doing my best to embrace my age, I can't help feeling introspective.  What tangible--and intangible--things do I have to show for these past 30 years?  So many good thingsSo, so, so many good things.  Family.  Love.  A stable household.  A job I enjoy.  Hobbies (like this blog) that I happily pursue.  And many more good things than I could list out on one page.

Lately, though, I've also been thinking about the future.  Am I in a good position to get where I want to be?  How do I get there?  Tim and I even have a date a few days after Christmas to sit down and talk through our joint goals.  (Kind of romantic, isn't it?)  I know I'm not the only one that looks at their life and sees room for improvement.  People decide to be the change that they desire and then execute that change.  Maybe they decide to lose weight--and do it.  Perhaps they decide to find the reason for their health problems--and they find it.  It could even be that they are unhappy in a job--and they seek out a job that fulfills them.

When I see those examples, I recognize that they are all getting well--physically well, emotionally well, financially well, maybe even spiritually well.  I'm on a journey to wellness, too.  So when my allergy doctor, who I am seeing about my food intolerances, told me this week that in addition to the seven foods that he has already directed me to avoid he would also like me to avoid a few others--including chocolate--I said, "sure."

Just like that.  I walked out to my car after the appointment, called Tim, cried a little about how many foods I simply can't eat right now; he soothed me by reminding me that this is all to help me feel well, and I resolved to carry out my doctor's orders.

Before you think that I'm dragging you into a pity party, I'd like to say that I am still finding food to indulge in; it just takes a little more work.  Except in the case of this Gluten Free, Vegan Apple Cake.  This didn't take much work at all.

I'm generally not one to suggest box mixes, mostly because I take pleasure in cooking from scratch.  But after awful experiences making gluten free, vegan cornbread and gluten free, vegan pie, I needed a baking win.  This box mix, my friends, is a serious win.

To find out exactly how to make this cake, you have to buy the mix!  Part of 123 Gluten Free's very smart marketing is to put the recipe for the eggless version of this cake inside the box!   Would you even believe me if I told you that there is a whole can of chickpeas in this cake?  (There is.)  Do not be dismayed--there is no lingering flavor of chickpeas in the finished product.

It's a sugary, chewy cake that manages to be light at the same time.  I gave it my own spin by swapping out the suggested golden raisins for a 1/2 cup of each diced apple and pecan pieces.  Also the box recommends either a dusting of powdered sugar or an icing so I whipped up some vegan buttercream.  I must say that this cake was excellent the night I baked it, but it was particularly great the next few days.  I am already planning on making this for Christmas Day with my family, but you don't have to wait until then--you can go out and buy the box mix tonight.

A quick note:  Part of the process that I'm working through with my allergist is to get to a point where I feel good every day.  When we get there, I expect that he will allow me to reintroduce certain foods into my diet, one at a time, to see if they cause me to feel sick.  Then we will know which specific foods are the problem.  It's entirely possible that in six months from now, I may be enjoying chocolate--or any of the other foods on my do-not-eat list-- again.  But for now, I'm just following the good doctor's orders.  


Monday Links: 2011 Holiday Gift Guides Round-Up

Instead of creating my own, I decided to to link out to some of the gift guides I've found around the web.  I'm nearly done with my holiday shopping--and I've done it almost exclusively online--but I need to pick out a few more items.  I hope you get some inspiration to shop for yourself or your loved ones.

Wine Me Dine Me Holiday's Gift List Part 1 and Part 2  (maybe more to come?)

The Proper Man: A Gentleman's Gift Guide (a Homefries blog)

The Kitchn's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide for Good Food Causes 

We Are Not Martha's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide for Food Lovers

Simple Bites 2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Top 10 Cookbook Picks  (sidenote: I really want Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five!)

The Homesick Texan Gift Guide 2011 (in honor of my Texas family--send me some of that Dr. Pepper, would you?)

A variety of Gift Guides from Serious Eats

Want more ideas?  Hit up the treasuries on Etsy for themed collections. (I particularly like this mustache-themed collection!)

Not a gift guide exactly, but you can order Gluten-Free Gift Baskets to send to loved ones from this new website, So Lucky

(tip-hover over the website names for active links to the sites)

Have you finished your shopping?  Are there any gift guides that I should add to my list?  Please tell me in the comments!

A Short Season

We've spent some time the past few weeks readying the yard and garden bed for winter.  Melissa and I pulled most of the remaining vegetable plants using a combination of hedge trimmers and brute force.  Tim opted to wait until most of the leaves dropped from the trees (save a few hangers on) and mow over them rather than rake them in piles.  It seems to have been the right decision because when he finished I could hardly believe how all of the leaves were gone.  It felt like the end of fall.  It's such a short season, isn't it?

My potted oregano plant had an unexpected growth spurt during the month of November.  I took my kitchen shears to it and ended up with a huge bowl of clippings.  After washing and drying them, I wrapped two small handfuls in paper towels and put them into the refrigerator.  I'm hoping for some oregano inspiration this week to use those up.  I considered drying the rest but settled on making a batch of oregano pesto; Heidi's post last week about making some had been stuck in my head since I read it. 

It was easy enough to throw together; picking the leaves from the woody stems was the most tedious part of the process.  The sun had long gone down by the time I got around to tossing all of the ingredients into the food processor so I didn't get a picture of the pre-frozen product.  But this pesto, when freshly made, is the color of a Christmas tree.  It was deep green and studded with little bits of garlic and pine nuts.  The flavor is fresh and bright from the parsley but the hints of oregano gave it a warm, wintry flavor.  It could possibly be my favorite pesto ever. 

I froze the pesto in an empty ice cube tray and then combined the frozen cubes in a labeled zip lock bag.  It made about 12 ice cubes which really is quite a bit when you think about how much flavor just a tablespoon of pesto can pack.  What will I do with all of this pesto?  When thawed, I figure I can spread it on bread as a condiment for sandwiches.  I can drizzle it over a pasta with bright tomato sauce for extra herby flavor.  I can spoon it over grilled meats or vegetables.  I think it might even be good on a baked potato.

Oregano Pesto
adapted from 101 cookbooks
makes about 1 cup of pesto

1.5 cups of loosely packed fresh oregano
1.5 cups of loosely packed fresh parsley
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts, cooled
3/4 to 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt to taste

Add the oregano, parsley, garlic, and pine nuts to a food processor.  Pulse a few times to slightly chop.  Then pour in the olive oil, starting with just 3/4 cup, and process, adding more olive oil if needed to reach your desired consistency.  There should be some texture, but the pesto should be a fine sauce.  Add salt, starting with 1/2 teaspoon, and adjust to taste. 

Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container for 3-4 days or frozen for several months.