Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

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I have been experimenting with teff lately, both the whole seeds and the flour. Referred to as both a seed and a grain, if you are not familiar with this gluten-free nutritional powerhouse, you might want to look for it the next time you are out shopping. It is a tremendously versatile “grain” and cooks in much the same way rice or quinoa does but out performs them both in nutritional benefits. Add whole teff seeds to stews or salads, cook it into a porridge or use teff flour in baking. Teff flour blends particularly well with chocolate and makes one heck of a great chocolate zucchini loaf!

Anyone who knows me, knows I love chocolate. It’s my biggest weakness although to be fair, I am quite discerning, The chocolate I like is dark, decadent and rich with a high percentage of cocoa; dairy and soy free, and preferably flavoured with mint. I have no palate for the cheap supermarket varieties – I find them cloyingly sweet and pretty disgusting, actually. Bleh!

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I used to make chocolate zucchini loaf regularly at the hotel I worked for years ago. It was a delicious recipe – moist and rich, but of course, it was not vegan; nor was it gluten, oil or sugar free. This chocolate zucchini loaf is just as moist and rich but without all the refined sugar, oil and eggs.  It is also gluten free if you omit the chocolate chips and the teeccino – which you can easily do. However, if you can handle gluten, I think the addition of teccino (herbal coffee grounds) contributes a HUGE amount to the decadence of this loaf (see Notes). 

This is lovely with your morning or afternoon cuppa and I would encourage you to give it a try, if for no other reason than to experiment with teff. It is best eaten within a few days and will last a week, covered and stored in the refrigerator. 

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Yield: 10-12 slices

INGREDIENTS

Dry

  • 1 cup teff flour
  • ½ cup millet flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (I used raw cacao powder)
  • 1 tbsp. Teeccino mocha coffee (grounds)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ cup Lily’s dark chocolate baking chips*

Wet

  • 1½ cups grated zucchini
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1¼ cups rice milk
  • 4 dates, pitted and soaked for at least an hour to soften
  • 2 flax eggs** (see Notes)
  • 1 ½ tbsp. vanilla

Topping (optional)

  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, extra, optional
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips, extra, optional

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Prepare the flax eggs first. Stir 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds with 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or coffee cup. Allow the mixture to rest while you prepare everything else. As it sits it will develop a gel-like viscosity, which is exactly what you want.

In large bowl, whisk the flours, teeccino, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda. Sift the dry mix twice (sifting method in recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins). Gently stir the chocolate chips into the sifted dry ingredients.

Drain the water from the dates and add the dates to a blender with the vanilla and about 1/4 cup of the milk. Puree the dates until completely smooth, adding a little more milk if needed to easily puree the dates. Spoon the puree into a small bowl.

Finely grate the zucchini, and add to the date puree. Add in the remaining milk and maple syrup. Stir the wet ingredients to blend and pour the mixture into the bowl with the flours. Stir the flax eggs and add to the bowl. Gently stir the mixture in the bowl until the dry ingredients are completely moist but don’t over mix the batter. 

In a parchment lined 9X5-inch loaf pan, carefully pour the batter. using a small offset spatula, spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 55 -60 minutes in a preheated oven. If adding the topping, remove loaf from the oven and quickly sprinkle the top with coconut flakes and extra chocolate chips. Return the loaf to the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes more or until the coconut is golden and a cake tester inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

Read this before adding the topping … For a couple reasons, I won’t use this topping again. The chocolate chips didn’t melt the way I anticipated they would (another brand might though) and in fact they were quite bitter to taste. Apart from that, it was difficult to slice through the topping once the loaf had cooled. Next time I might try glazing the loaf after it has cooled instead. If you are not adding the topping, to test for doneness, insert a cake tester into the centre of the loaf after 55 minutes to see if it comes out clean. If it does, your loaf is done; if not, give it another 5 minutes in the oven).

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NOTES

*Lily’s dark chocolate baking chips are vegan and sugar free (sweetened with stevia instead) but they do contain soy lecithin, which is an emulsifier. Camino chocolate chips and Enjoy life brand chocolate mini chips are vegan and soy free but both contain cane sugar. So its a bit of a toss up.   However, the addition of chocolate chips is optional – you can omit them altogether if you prefer. 

**For the flax eggs, stir 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds with 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or coffee cup. Allow the mixture to stand for 5-10 minutes. As it does it will develop a gel-like viscosity, which is exactly what you want. Stir it once more before adding in the recipe.

Teeccino is a caffeine-free herbal coffee and a truly awesome alternative made from a blend of herbs, grains, fruits and nuts. It’s non-acidic and the package states that 75% of the ingredients are certified organic. Teeccino coffees come in a variety of flavours and the one I used in this recipe was medium roast mocha. The ingredients include: carob, barley, dates and figs, almonds, chicory root and pure natural flavours. Since barley is a gluten-based grain, you can substitute regular coffee granules if you have gluten sensitivities.

You may have noticed from the photo that I did not line the sides of my loaf pan with parchment. I just cut a strip of parchment long enough to line the bottom and ends of the loaf pan. A few minutes after removing the zucchini loaf from the oven,  I  run a thin blade along the insides of the loaf pan. If the loaf is done, the chocolate loaf will start to pull away from the sides of the pan on its own anyway. This trick just makes removing the loaf from the pan a little easier once it has cooled. After running the knife along the insides of the pan, let the loaf cool completely in the pan before removing.  

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Oil-free French Fries with Sugar-free Ketchup

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I missed National French Fry day last week! I am still bummed about that. Nevertheless, these fries will really hit the spot any time, any day of the year. Yep, you’re definitley going to want to make these. We love them! They make the perfect side to just about any meal I make at home, and since they’re oil free, it’s ok to indulge. So go ahead and eat all the fries you want.

Baking fries without oil is not hard but there a few tricks you can use to help the potatoes develop a crispy surface.  There is also an unlimited variety of spices you can use to season the potatoes based on your personal preferences. Some people add flour to the spices and say that the chips are crisper when they do. I tried adding sorghum flour to the spice mix and didn’t notice a significant difference in crispness. I have read that rice flour makes the fries crispy on the outside but I haven’t tried using rice flour.  The next time I make them, I will add rice flour to the spice mix and if I think it really does make the fries turn out crispier,  I will let you know. Flour or no flour, these fries are tasty and everyone my family loves them just as they are. The list of spices below is a variation of Emeril Lagasses’s recipe for creole seasoning from the book Emeril’s New Orleans Cooking. Use it as a guide and feel free to personalize the blend with your favourite spices.

I used red-skinned potatoes in this recipe but Yukon gold and russet potatoes also work well. Waxy or new potatoes probably are not the best choice for making these fries but most other varieties should be ok.  I chose to leave the skin on, but you can peel the potatoes if you want. 

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This recipe makes 2 generous servings of french fries.  

INGREDIENTS

3-4 medium-sized potatoes (you can peel or leave the skin on)

Seasoning Blend

For the seasoning blend, I quadruple the amounts in this recipe and keep the extra in a jar in my spice cupboard for other uses. But for the number of potatoes in this recipe, use the following measurements:

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. Pink Himalayan salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Slice potatoes into French fries. (See photo below to gage size. If you cut them too thin, they will break apart after they are parboiled and tossed with the seasonings).

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Add sliced potatoes to a pot with enough cold water to cover them.

Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes for 7 minutes. Turn off the burner. (Potatoes won’t be cooked through completely – they should still have some resistance to a fork inserted into the thickest part of one of the larger fries).

Drain potatoes thoroughly and place the pot back onto the stove with the seasonings and shake the potatoes and spices fairly vigorously in the pot until the fries are well coated in the seasonings. Don’t worry of the edges of the potatoes get a little roughed up – that’s what you want. Those rough edges are what crisps up during the baking. 

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Dump the coated fries onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake them in a preheated oven for 15 minutes. Turn the fries over and continue baking another 10-15 minutes.

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Easy Refined Sugar-Free Ketchup

Now that you’ve made a really healthy choice for your fries, do you really want to dip them into a high-sugar, additive-laden brand of ketchup?  No, of course you don’t – and you don’t have to! This simple sugar-free ketchup recipe is my life-saver. Of all the sugar-free homemade ketchups I’ve tried, this one is closest to the real thing in my opinion, and the only one I make. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 13 fl oz. (369 ml) tomato paste (1 large can)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, (more to taste after blending)
  • 2 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. Pink Himalayan salt
  • ¼ tsp.  allspice

INSTRUCTIONS

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.  Adjust the sweet and sour flavour to taste by adding more lemon juice or maple syrup as desired. Cover and store in the refrigerator. Lasts at least one week refrigerated but it also freezes well.

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Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

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I am not really a muffin person. And anyone who’s tried making gluten free muffins, or baked goods knows that gluten adds elasticity to baked goods that is hard to replicate using gluten free flours and grains. Gluten provides structure and holds everything together in baked goods and without it, baked goods can easily fall apart or be unappealingly dense. If you are new to GF baking, packaged GF flours can be a good place to start but read the ingredients on the package because manufacturers often add binders and stabilizers like xanthan and guar gum into the blend.

Recipes for GF baked goods work best when a combination of flours is used, as opposed to just one. It is just a different beast than wheat flour. Oat flour is a one of the easier whole-grain flours to work with and makes great base flour in these muffins. But there are also seed and nut flours and flours made from beans and legumes. Starches are often used to lighten up and give texture to gluten-free baked goods. Each flour and starch has its pros and cons and some have stronger flavours than others. If you have the time and inclination, it would be ideal to experiment with several of them to find the combinations you like best.

I used a combination of oat and millet flours and no starch, but I am still experimenting. Oat and millet flours are known for adding structure to gluten free cookies, breads and other baked goods. Millet flour in particular is often used in recipes for baked goods containing yeast. Both flours are pleasantly mild and both can be made at home by simply throwing the whole grain into a coffee or nut grinder to make as much flour as you need, when you need it. I added cornmeal for a bit of texture. 

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This recipe makes a decent enough blueberry muffin. Like I said, I am not a big muffin fan but on the odd occasion, or when I am on the road or hiking, I will take these. They are satiating. They also pack and travel well.

INGREDIENTS

Dry

  • 1 cup gluten free oat flour*
  • ½ cup millet or millet flour
  • ½ cup finely ground cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. cardamom 
  • Pinch salt

Wet

  • 1¼ cups non-dairy milk (both homemade and commercial rice and nut milks work)    
  • 100 ml unsweetened apple sauce** 
  • 12 dates, pitted and soaked a couple of hours to soften
  • 1 1/2  tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

2/3 cups fresh blueberries***

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F and line 12 muffin cups with foil liners. (You can also use a silicon muffin pan, but I don’t have one.  😦

If using whole millet, grind millet in a high-speed blender until the texture of flour and add to a large bowl with the oat flour and fine grained cornmeal. Add baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and salt.

Now, here’s a trick I learned when I was working as a pastry chef. To ensure that flours, grains and baking enhancers are well blended and there are no clumps, measure all of your flours, spices, baking powder and soda into a large bowl. Then, sift the ingredients through a sieve over a large piece of parchment paper. Place the empty sieve back on top the bowl. Gather the ends of the parchment and carefully pour the dry ingredients back into the bowl through the sieve. This is the same as sifting the ingredients twice, and ensures that the flours and spices are evenly distributed without getting flour all over   your counter. The parchment can then be re-used to line laking sheets and pans when making cookies or cakes. 

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Place the dates, apple sauce, lemon juice, vanilla and non-dairy milk in a high-speed blender. Pulse a few times to chop up the dates and then increase the speed to puree the mixture. Puree completely until well blended and smooth. The mixture should be thick but pourable. 

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Pour the contents of the blender into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to get it all out. Start folding the wet ingredients into the dry with a spoon.

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After a few strokes, add in the blueberries and continue mixing long enough to moisten the dry ingredients and evenly distribute berries. Don’t over mix. 

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Divide the batter evenly between 12 foil-lined muffin cups. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the muffins comes out clean.

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Notes:

*If you can’t find millet or oat flour, you can grind certified gluten free rolled oats and the whole millet grain in a nut grinder to make the flours yourself. I do this all the time!

**I like to have the individual 6-packs of unsweetened applesauce on hand for baking on the fly – these are the ones you buy at the grocery store. Each individual container is equal to 100 ml. However, if you are making your own apple sauce, use a scant ½ cup. Just be sure it is unsweetened.

***You can use frozen blueberries instead of fresh, but they tend to turn the batter a bluey-gray colour. The muffins won’t turn out as attractive, but if that doesn’t bother you, go for it. Using frozen blueberries won’t alter the flavour or texture at all. 

Yield: 12 muffins

Meatless “Pulled Pork” Sandwich

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Canada Day, Independence Day or Meatless Monday – whether you are celebrating a national holiday this weekend or just trying to have a meatless meal, this vegan take on pulled pork has you covered!

Traditional pulled pork is a well-seasoned lower quality cut of meat (usually pork shoulder), slowly cooked over a barbecue or open fire pit until it is fall-off-the-bone fork tender. Carolinian slaves and servants working on the plantations during the colonial era mastered the technique of   preparing the tough, fatty cuts of meat that their employers typically didn’t want. Steps included brining the meat overnight and letting it smoke for several hours over a pit dug in the ground until the meat was tender and flavourful.  Over time, Carolinian pulled pork has become renowned for its distinct smoky barbeque flavour that usually begins with a dry rub and finishes with a vinegar based sauce that is used to  both brine and “mop” the meat throughout the cooking process. While there is little disagreement amongst traditionalists that the pork should be cooked slowly over a barbeque pit, there is plenty of disagreement about the addition of tomatoes in the finishing sauce. I have prepared finishing sauces with and without tomatoes and I like it both ways. This recipe includes a little tomato paste in the sauce.

This recipe attempts to capture the flavour of an authentic Carolinian pulled pork but  includes a couple of fundamental changes to the method of cooking and ingredients in order to stay true to purpose of my blog. That is, to provide healthy and delicious recipes that are vegan, gluten free, oil free, soy free and refined sugar free. For starters, I substituted canned jackfruit for the pork. Jackfruit is a tree fruit, widely grown in the tropics and is known for developing a stringy texture similar to pulled pork once it is cooked. For that reason, jackfruit is a perfect vegan substitute for pork in this recipe! Second, I cooked everything in a fry pan on top of the stove in under 30 minutes. Jackfruit doesn’t require a slow cooking process in the way that a tough cut of meat would and a long cooking process wouldn’t enhance the flavour or texture in any way.  In spite of these fundamental changes, I think this recipe is a winner!

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About Canned Jackfruit

I was both surprised and thrilled to find fresh jackfruit at a local Asian supermarket a few weeks ago. Just as I was about to pay, the cashier engaged in a conversation about jackfruit, asking me if I liked it and what I was going to do with it. She seemed a bit reluctant to ring it through. I told her that I had never tasted it before, but that I was looking forward to trying it. Right away she told me I should buy the canned variety instead of the fresh one I had in my hands, insisting that the fresh one  was “not good.” At the time, I didn’t really understand why the heavy, firm, bumpy outer-shelled fresh jackfruit I was holding was inferior to the cans she ran off to grab for me. Perhaps it was out of season, under ripe, or over ripe. What I do know is that this woman clearly knew more about jackfruit than I did and if she thought canned jackfruit was better than the fresh one I intended to buy, I was going to trust her.  So, I put the fresh jackfruit back – even though I don’t particularly like canned fruits or vegetables. 

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I bought 2 different brands of canned jackfruit and used them both in this recipe. The label on the can of the first brand stated packed in water and the label on the other stated packed in brine. In both cases, the ingredients were jackfruit, water, salt and citric acid. However, the label on the water-packed can of jackfruit also stated that it might contain sulphates. The difference in the appearance and taste of the 2 brands was minimal enough to be  insignificant, so in the future, I will likely buy the jackfruit packed in brine as sulphates were not listed as a potential ingredient. Just make sure to purchase jackfruit packed in water or brine – and not syrup.

And now, here is a vegan recipe for pulled “no-pork” sandwiches using canned jackfruit!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cans jackfruit in brine or water, thoroughly rinsed, drained and patted dry
  • 4 sandwich buns
  • cole slaw

Dry Rub

  • ½ tbsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tbsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tbsp. onion powder
  • ½ tbsp. chili powder
  • ½ tbsp. smoked chipotle powder
  • ½ tbsp. ground paprika
  • 2 tsp. Celtic or Pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, mix together all of the spices and set aside.

Finishing Sauce “Mop”

  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 4 tsp. maple syrup
  • 3 tsp. apple cider vinegar, (can use lemon juice or lime juice)
  • ½ tsp. Celtic or Pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup water

In a small bowl, mix together all of the wet ingredients and set aside.

DIRECTIONS

Thoroughly rinse and pat dry the canned jackfruit.

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Cut off and discard the triangular tip of each piece as in the photo below. You can leave it in if you want, but I don’t recommend it as the triangular tip doesn’t break apart into shreds, mimicking the nature of pulled pork.

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Place the remaining chunks of jackfruit in a large Ziploc bag and toss with the dry rub. Heat a medium sized non-stick fry-pan over medium heat and add the coated jackfruit to the pan.

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Toss the jackfruit gently for about five minutes until fragrant and starting to darken, but do not let it scorch.

Pour half of the mopping sauce over the jackfruit – the mixture will bubble up and be absorbed fairly quickly. Continue stirring and tossing gently to blend everything together. When the mop is absorbed by the jackfruit, add the remaining sauce and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the sauce has been absorbed and the mixture looks fairly dry.  

Preheat the broiler while the jackfruit is simmering.

Using 2 forks, gently start pulling the jackfruit pieces apart separating the strings. Toss the mixture once or twice to coat the strings. When the broiler is ready, stick the whole pan onto one of the top shelves and broil the jackfruit for a few minutes until just starting to char around the edges. (If your fry pan doesn’t have an ovenproof handle, double wrap the handle in tin foil to protect it from melting or burning before putting the pan in the oven). Alternatively, you could transfer the jackfruit mixture to a baking sheet before broiling. (The jackfruit can be prepared ahead to this point and stored in the refrigerator, in a sealed container).

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Does that look like pulled pork or what??

When ready to serve, warm up the cooked jackfruit and divide it evenly between 4 buns. Add a pile of coleslaw on top of each, and enjoy! Since I was making these sandwiches for my non-vegan, non gluten-free family, the buns in this photo are not gluten free. They are brioche buns that I picked up at Safeway’s but you can substitute your favourite gluten free buns for the ones I used – any type of bread will work. You could even serve the pulled “pork” on regular sandwich bread.

How simple was that??

Yield: 4 good-sized pulled pork sandwiches

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Notes:

The coleslaw can be dressed with the same finishing sauce used to the mop the jackfruit. That would certainly keep things simple, but since I had my own vegan mayonnaise on hand, I used that instead.  But don’t be afraid to use your favourite cole slaw dressing  – any dressing will work