Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free Cookbook Review and Giveaway

doublechindiary_almondcookie

Hi everybody, happy Friday! A few months back I had the opportunity to sign up to review a new cookbook by Ricki Heller called Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free.  I knew back then that following the PCOS diet would mean making healthier choices in regards to sweets, and trying to eat as close to low-glycemic as possible would be a huge puzzle piece in my efforts to get fit. The book first attracted me because of the gorgeous cupcakes on the front cover. Although I can get down and dirty in the kitchen, I don’t consider myself a great baker… EXCEPT for making and decorating cupcakes. A few cake deco classes later, and I’m pretty confident with my swirly-topped creations. I have to admit that sometimes, the words gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan make me skeptical. Is it *possible* to have delicious tasting treats without butter, cream, eggs, or sugar? The answer is yes, and I know from both Lenny & Larry’s Vegan Protein Cookies and this new cookbook that vegan, sugar-free, and gluten-free CAN mean delicious!
As a highly visual person, one of my favorite things about this book is the gorgeous photography by Celine Saki. There are more than 60 full-color photographs in the book, which makes me happy because I think the most important part of any cookbook, besides the recipes, are the pictures. Doesn’t this picture of Cinnamon Buns make you drool? I’m a sucker for gorgeously styled food photography, and I must be the daughter of a photographer because today I was even pondering buying one of those mini light boxes for amateur food photographers.

vegancinnamonbuns_rickiheller

Heller also spends some time discussing how she came to be a food blogger and natural foods baker. She struggled with IBS and various tummy ailments her whole life, until she learned to start eliminating wheat, sugar and processed foods from her diet. Her story is similar to so many people I know, including my best friend, and I always appreciate it when authors give personal context to their work. Heller also provides a handy breakdown of the different types of non-wheat flours and sweeteners, which was helpful to me as I cheated a little bit in the upcoming recipe and used pre-ground Almond Flour by Bob’s Redmill. Shhhh.

The recipe I decided to test first was the “Easiest Almond Cookies”. The relatively short ingredients list appealed to me, and other than flax seed, I had almost all of the ingredients on hand. I was slightly intimidated by the process of grinding my flax seeds at first, because my food processor wasn’t seeming to “grind” them — just whirled them around helplessly. I finally realized if I jiggled the processor a little bit as it spun, it hit the seeds just right to turn them into crumbly, coarse meal.

Easiest Almond Cookies by Ricki Heller

Easiest Almond Cookies by Ricki Heller

Once I got past the step, the recipe lived up to its name, and they were pretty darn easy to make. I especially like that these are “smush” cookies, meaning you get to roll the dough into little balls with your hands, which I always think is fun. What can I say, I’m still six years old in a lot of ways 🙂 After a brief visit in the oven for just eight minutes, my cookies were delightfully firm around the edges but still chewy and soft. I barely let them cool, took a bite and was pleasantly surprised by how clean they tasted. Most cookies are so sweet that you’re kind of sugar-shocked with the first bite. These have a very delicate, light taste with a fragrant almond after taste. The texture would be lovely with a dark British tea like PG Tips. I did make one small substitution by using coconut oil instead of the suggested sunflower oil, as I had it on hand and am loving all things coconutty.

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You can find the recipe at the bottom of this post, but because you guys are awesome and so is Ricki Heller, she’s graciously offered one copy of the book to one lucky Double Chin Diary reader. To enter is pretty straight-forward — just leave a comment on this post telling me which recipe from the book you’d most like to try. You can read about a few more recipes at this webpage. For an extra entry, “like” Ricki Heller on Facebook or follow Ricki Heller on Twitter.  Just let me know in the comments if you did either, and I’ll count your entry twice. This giveaway will end one week from now, on Friday, October 4 at 11:59 PM PST. GOOD LUCK!

Easiest Almond Cookies by Ricki Heller

This recipe is from Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free by Ricki Heller. Recipe re-printed with permission from Sellers Publishing, 2013.

Yield: 15 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (12 oz or 340 g) natural raw skin on almonds, preferably organic
  • 1/4 cup (25 g) finely ground flax seeds (from about 2 Tbsp or 30 ml whole)
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) agave nectar
  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) pure almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) water, if necessary

 

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
  • 2. In the bowl of a food processor, whir the almonds, flax, baking soda, and salt until you have a very fine meal (it should be the consistency of a coarse cornmeal or fine breadcrumbs, with no large pieces of almond visible). Watch that you don’t blend so long as to obtain almond butter, however!
  • 3. Add the agave nectar, oil, and extracts, and process again just until the mixture holds together and leaves the sides of the bowl. It should look like a moist dough. If the mixture is too dry, add the water and pulse quickly to blend.
  • 4. Using a small ice-cream scoop or tablespoon (15 ml), scoop the dough and roll into balls; place them about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Wet your palms (or use a silicone spatula) and press down to flatten each ball to about ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.
  • 5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets about halfway through baking, until the edges are barely golden brown and the cookies are dry in the center (the tops will still be light). Allow to cool completely before removing from the cookie sheets; the cookies firm up as they cool.

**** A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes, and an affiliate link to Amazon is included above. As always, all opinions are always 100% my own!

lyssaloves

No Sweeter Than the Ripest Cherry — Cookbook Review

Hi Friends! Today I’m sharing a review of my friend Suzie’s comic-cook book, No Sweeter Than The Ripest Cherry. Suzi and I met about 7 years ago when she and my husband attended the UCLA Film School. When I found out Suzie was a raw food chef, I was instantly intrigued by her career, thinking that raw food must mean ALL YOU CAN EAT IS SALAD. Thankfully, I was wrong, and when Suzi’s book came out, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy to explore.

No Sweeter Than The Ripest Cherry is a seasonal, fresh food inspired comic book recipe guide designed to fuse foundational, science-based nutrition concepts with a non-dogmatic seven-day culinary exploration of exciting, practical, and bowl-licking-good meals… that are mostly raw, mostly paleo, and made 100% from scratch with whole food ingredients and superfoods.

This is not your ordinary cookbook. The design is incredible, filled with comic book style illustrations, mouth watering photography, and clever typography and text placement that has you reading each page in depth to make sure you don’t miss anything. Look at these gorgeous pages!

NSTRC_pages_26and27

I also really like the style of writing. To me, cooking is FUN — so when things get a little too stuffy (cough cough, Mastering the art of French cooking), I get bored. Ripest Cherry is filled with personality, from the cutesy images of the character Ingrid on her 7-day health transformation, to great tongue-in-cheek quips such as “Like a wild primate, bang the empty coconut on the ground until it breaks.”

For my first Ripest Cherry adventure,  I decided to tackle The Blueberry Hawaiian, a yummy raw smoothie with Avocado, Celery, Cucumber, Lime, Wild Blueberries, Ginger, Honey and greens.

Photo from EssentialLivingFoods.com

This was my first time making a smoothie that had (GASP) vegetables in it, so I was a little nervous about what I’d end up with. For “greens”, I used a handful of spinach. I also added some Spirulina, because I got some at FitBloggin’ and it’s been staring at me from my pantry since June because I had no idea what to do with it.  For the record, wild blueberries are so cute and tiny, and their color is an amazing purple! Also for the record, raw honey is so much more robust than its boring sibling. I got mine (a sage citrus blend) at the Calabasas farmer’s market and it’s so good!

spirulina_spinach_ginger_smoothiedoublechindiary

The end result is perhaps not the most photogenic smoothie, but I have to say – I’m impressed! I was nervous it would taste grassy from the spinach and spirulina, but instead, the sharp ginger was really complemented by the honey, and the texture had a creaminess from the avocado that was only accentuated by the cooling cucumber.  This recipe makes a very large amount, so much in fact, that I had one full glass for dinner and have a blender-bottle of it for tomorrow’s breakfast. SCORE! What I liked about this smoothie was that not only did it taste super fresh,but it was incredibly filling.

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Besides having super yummy recipes like Guacatacos, the other huge benefit to Ripest Cherry is the health and nutrition information. Almost every other page is packed with an easy-to-read essay about topics like how digestion begins, the benefits of fermentation, and the importance of exercise. This is the type of information that you simply won’t get in your Glamour magazine — it’s the kind of information you get from that super-smart friend who teaches cooking classes at the local Ashram. (Suzie does that too!) For example, I loved this passage from the piece about exercise: “Remember, beginnings, however humble, are still beginnings. Everything in nature begins with a singular impulse. From the tiniest germ of being, life manifests outward into the universe. Where ever you may be in your journey, you can always take the first step towards reinvention.”

There’s also a super nutrition appendix that lists the health benefits and properties of all of the ingredients in the book. Did you know that celery is sometimes used as a treatment for rashes, and that bee pollen can help reverse the effects of obesity?
These tips, along with the amazing photography, innovative recipes and informative health knowledge earn the Ripest Cherry the Double Chin Diary seal of approval. You can buy your own copy at RipestCherry.com for $14.95.

lyssaloves

Because a review just ain’t a review on the Double Chin Diary without a giveaway, Suzie has graciously agreed to offer a copy to one lucky Double Chin Diary reader. For your entry to win, all you need to do is visit RipestCherry.com, and tell me which recipe out of the four sample pages shown you would be most inclined to try (Leave a comment).  The winner will be picked next Tuesday at 11:59 PM. US Only, please — and GOOD LUCK! You can earn an additional entry by “liking” Ripest Cherry on Facebook, sharing a tweet or Facebook post about this giveaway! If you do those things, just let me know in the comment. Viva la ‘Raw’volution!

 

Belly Flop in the Kitchen: Paneer

You know how there’s always that one thing you want to try in the kitchen, but you never get around to? Well, today I attempted something I’ve wanted to make for a long time – homemade Indian Paneer! Paneer is a very simple farm cheese made from milk and some sort of acid component – you can use lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt. The steps were simple – heat 2% milk until boiling, add yogurt, and stir until curds separate from whey. Then drain the mixture in cheese cloth. This part was easy enough, and I felt like Mario Batali with boobs as my homemade cheese drained in the kitchen sink.

The cheese drained and then I got ready to cut it into cubes – so far so good.

Freshly made paneer

Like any good chef (or hungry person), I sampled the fruits of my labor and was pleasantly surprised with the simple, milky taste of the cheese – and the fabulous squeak squeak as I chewed. I cut it into cubes to use in my recipe for dinner.

Paneer was a success! ... So far.

I decided to follow the Paupered Chef’s Matar Paneer recipe, and I diligently ground up ginger, onion and garlic in my trusty food processor. Do you have a food processor? If you don’t, you should get one, because my food processor is hands down one of my top three favorite kitchen accessories/appliances; along with my lime squeezer and OXO vegetable peeler. I browned the paneer and set it aside, continuing to mix all of the other ingredients. The recipe was coming together nicely, filling my house with aromas of India.

After everything was cooked and mixed, the recipe said to add the paneer to the mixture and let simmer gently for 20 minutes. I placed the paneer in and noticed it was starting to crumble a little bit, but I didn’t think too much of it. Unfortunately before I even knew what was happening, the paneer fell apart and disentegrated into tiny little crumbly curds. Sad, sad, sad. The curry still tasted fine, but it definitely wasn’t good. I was so bummed! There’s nothing worse than putting a lot of time and energy into a new dish and then having it be a total belly flop at the end. I ended up tossing the whole dish, because I just couldn’t get over the grainy texture and mismatched flavor. Lame.

The finished product - Matar Paneer

However, I did have one kitchen success today – homemade salsa with veggies from my garden. Lime juice, green pepper, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, tomato, garlic, salt – that’s all you need for an amazing homemade salsa.

Garden Grown Salsa Saves the Day

So yeah – unfortunately my first paneer recipe was a flop. I’m going to try it again though, and this time, let the curds and whey soak longer, and avoid cooking the finished product as long in a recipe. I hate it when a new recipe turns out sucky, but I have to remember that that’s part of learning the cooking and kitchen process. Stuff gets screwed up all the time – and even master chefs have belly flops every once in awhile. (Usually all my belly flop recipes come from Pinterest!) What was the last kitchen belly flop you had?

A food filled weekend!

Hi Double Chinners, how ya doin’?

It’s Sunday evening and I had a productive weekend… packed with seeing the Hunger Games (highly recommend it), finishing a feature news story, putting together a podcast, writing a post for my thesis blog Heardio, working on a freelance project, painting my upcycled dresser, grocery shopping, cupcake decorating class… You get the picture. My weekends aren’t very restful lately but they sure are productive, haha!

Cinnamon Snails

This weekend was a fun weekend in terms of FOOD! Fun is sometimes dangerous for me, as evident by the three little “Cinnamon Snails” I consumed this morning…. (Total damage: 360 calories). I work for a company that makes toys, and one of the doll lines has an upcoming campaign with food related characters. I edit online content, and this weekend, I had to fact check a recipe for cinnamon buns. No problem – cooking and writing – two of my favorite things!

I also had my last cupcake decorating class, and we tie-dyed buttercream! Let me know in the comments if you’d be interested in a tutorial on how to do it. I know this is technically a “healthy living” blog, so buttercream might not fit in that well… but I think part of “healthy living” means splurging every once in awhile. They came out pretty cool, I think – my coworkers will reap the benefits tomorrow!

Lastly, Matt and I needed tons of produce. Lately I’ve been really trying to up the ante on fruit and veggies, since they’re low cal, yummy and good for you. I’d been wanting to try a local ethnic produce market, so we went in and came out with this bounty. Don’t mind the tabby in the background… Lucia’s pretty vain and wanted to make sure she starred in the picture. (Bad kitty on the table!)

Lucia surveys the haul from a local ethnic market.

Guess how much all of this food cost? To help you tabulate, we have – a tub of Israeli olives, a sack of roasted peas, one bunch of celery, one bag of carrots, four huge russet potatoes, one pound of fresh green beans, three small spaghetti squash, a bag of mango “jubes” (I have no idea what they are – they just looked good!), a tub of baked pita chips, 5 Persian cucumbers, three limes, two mangos, and one green pepper.

Ok – ready for this? $21. Can you believe that? This would have easily cost us $35 or more at our local grocer. The celery was .33, and the bell pepper was .78. The olives were the most expensive thing we bought, at 3.99, still a steal considering how many you get (and pitted, at that!). I love food… but I also love saving money.

What did you do this weekend?

PS – We reached 100 “likes” on the Double Chin Diary on Facebook! Thank you to everybody for your support. In the next few weeks I’ll be setting up a giveaway of a few of my favorite things to celebrate! 🙂 And if you haven’t liked my page, what are ya waiting for?! http://www.facebook.com/doublechindiary

Tortilla Time

Tortilla making has a certain amount of allure behind it, and if you are like I am, you like to imagine apple-cheeked Abuelitas standing over hot coals patting out paper thin tortillas with their soft, wrinkled hands, instead of scary metal machinery cranking out tortillas en masse. The closet I can get to making a tortilla is ripping open the package and throwing them in the microwave, so I was delighted when my friend Monique offered to make me authentic Mexican tortillas. Here’s what you need:

  •  2 Cups of Self Rising Flour
  •   3/4 Capful of Corn Oil
  •  3-4 Shakes of Salt
  •  1 Cup of Hot Water – not boiling, but as hot as your delicate hands can stand
  • A rolling pin or if you’re very fancy, a pelote
  •  A cast iron pan
  •  A clean dish towel and large zip lock bag

1) Set the cast iron pan on medium.

2) Put two cups of the self rising flour into a large mixing bowl.

3) Slowly add a cup of hot water, mixing the water into the dough as you go. SLOWWWWWWLY. If you get excited and dump it all in, you’re going to have a mucky, floury mess that doesn’t mix well.

Slowly add hot water

4) Keep mixing with your hands until the dough feels like bread dough – soft and pokey and mostly together, like this.

Just the right consistency

5) Once you’ve made a well-formed ball, press your thumb into the center of the dough ball to make an indentation. Pour the 3/4 capful of oil into this hole, and leave the dough to rise for five minutes.

6) Waited your five minutes? Good. Now, knead the dough again with your hands, making sure the oil is well mixed into the dough. Separate the dough into 5 separate lumps on a lightly floured cutting board.

Roll!

7) Using your rolling pin or pelote, roll the ball upward once, then downward once. Roll from side to side until the tortilla is quite thin.

8) Throw it on the hot pan. It will bubble up immediately. Don’t be alarmed if you smell smoke, that’s normal. Using your fingers (‘cmon – be daring), flip the tortilla over on to the other side. The tortilla is done when it looks like a tortilla. Don’t over cook or it will be hard and yucky. This may take some time to get right, so don’t cry if your tortilla crisps up like a critter on the fourth of July.

Brown and bubbly and delicious!

9) Wrap the tortilla in the dish towel and place it inside the ziplock bag while you cook your other tortillas. You want them to stay steamy and warm inside.

10) Serve with other yummy things. We did shredded rotisserie chicken, el pato salsa with tomato, onion and cilantro, cheese and fresh cabbage. SUPER YUM!!!

11) Enjoy fat food coma and unbutton jeans. You did it!

Yummy

Supper Club 600: Italy

Heidi, a beauty in blue by her buffet

One of the great things about this blog is that it’s helped me make some new friends, like the lovely Heidi, from Finishing the Hat! Heidi has lost over 60 pounds and hosts dinner parties with her husband Tom called “Supper Club 600” – where every course totalled equals less than 600 calories! As a foodie and someone who loves to cook, I was very excited to be invited to Heidi’s last fete, Supper Club 600 -Italy!

A Fantastic Feast

Heidi served eight dishes, which is no small feat when you’re cooking for a crowd of over 15 people. Some of the delicious offerings for the evening included bruschetta caprese, spaghetti aglio olio and pollo marsala. As someone who happily tried every dish, I can see that Heidi has a real talent for cooking and I will gladly attend any upcoming supper clubs. Because I’d rather have you hear about the awesomeness of Supper Club 600 straight from the source, please read this interview with none other than the chef herself, Heidi!

1) How or why did you start the Supper Club?

When we started our weight loss journey, Tom and I were not sure how to translate our love for food into healthy daily habits.  As we worked with Richard Simmons’ meal plan (called the Food Mover) we started to observe portions closely, and focus on finding a balance between protein, carbohydrates, fats, veggies and fruit.  The more we put our love of food into building healthy meals, the more we realized that it would be possible to remain “foodies” while overcoming food addiction, because when we ate a good balance – and especially when we put care into the ingredients – we were never hungry the way we expected to be while losing weight.  Instead, we were satisfied, nourished, and fueled.Richard reviewed our food log each week, giving us support and feedback.  And each week, he’d make a point of teasing us about how much we are able to eat for the calories we were eating.  “Everyone should see Heidi and Tom’s food log. You guys eat better than ME,” he’d tell our class.  People would ask us frequently: “what is it that you’re eating!?”  So we decided to host a dinner party for some of our Slimmons friends, to show them some of the recipes we’d discovered (or tweaked, or created from scratch.)  It was a hit, and soon we found ourselves dreaming up themes for future dinners… and coming up with an official name: Supper Club 600.

Amazing Bruschetta

2) How do you think up the menu for your Supper Club 600?

It depends on the theme!  At first, we were just putting together menus, but now we’ve progressed to full themes.  Once we have a theme (say, BBQ, springtime, or Indian) we think about all the foods we’d enjoy within that particular cuisine or season.  What kind of meal would we plan if we were hosting a meal with unlimited calories?  Those dishes are our usual jumping-off point, and we use it as a challenge to build new kinds of healthy meals around favorite dishes.  Sometimes, as in the case of our Indian theme, we don’t know much about cooking the food and we have to do a lot of practice.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of coming up with unusual ingredients to swap into recipes to help reduce calories.  Once we have a couple of great recipes, we build in sides, desserts and beverages depending upon how many calories are left.  We haven’t topped 600 yet, and we don’t plan to!

Alyssa's Heaping but Healthy Plate at Supper Club 600

3) How do you calculate the nutritional information for the dishes?
Tom and I are both avid users of LiveStrong.com.  Their “My Daily Plate” function is very helpful in calculating the nutritionals.  We add a new recipe by ingredients, and it automatically calculates the information per serving.  (This is also helpful in determining what serving sizes fit into the meal.)

Spaghetti Squash, Carbonara Style!

4) What has been your favorite supper club “theme” thus far?
My favorite one was definitely B-Movie BBQ at the Drive-In.  I’m a movie buff (that’s putting it mildly) and it was great fun to put together the decorations and the movie snack bags.  Plus, the food was some of my favorite.  You can’t beat BBQ jackfruit for a dinner that tastes delicious and feels like the opposite of dieting.  (I am, in fact, not dieting per se, just eating healthfully and overcoming food addiction.) (See Heidi’s recipe and post about BBQ Jackfruit here!)

50 Calorie Tiramisu? Yes, Please!

5) Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start their own supper club?
Yes!  DO IT!  It takes a lot of prep work, but what you invest in healthy cooking will pay off in spades.  By planning these every other month, it gives me an area to focus on, so that my list of healthy recipes grows, and I never get stuck in boredom.  (Boredom is one of the reasons I used to eat unhealthfully.) Think of a supper club you’d like to throw, and then practice with recipes and ideas.  Or take some inspiration from one of my themes!  Sharing food with friends and loved ones is so fun – and when it’s healthy food, it’s such a positive jumping-off point for discussion and understanding.  I highly recommend it!

Laura, Me, Alexa (The Curvy Nerd) and Heidi