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Lessons from no-refined sugar January

January is almost over.  And I’ve gone through the whole month (and the week after Christmas Day) without eating any refined sugar (but I have had maple syrup), meat or dairy.  It’s only been this past week that I’ve started having some animal products (eggs and honey in baked goods).  Still no dairy or meat yet … not quite sure how my system is going to react when I start introducing them again.

And the big news is … I won the challenge!  On the 20 January, I got a note from my colleague saying he had 2 donuts that morning so I win.  I’m still waiting to collect my winnings – he was going to make me a Paleo pumpkin pie, which I’m interested in trying out!

Anyway, the point of this post is to let you know some of the things I’ve learnt while cooking a vegan, no-refined sugar diet for just over a month.

Some things should not be tried to be made refined-sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free etc

As you will see in subsequent posts of my US National Food Day Challenge, I had no real choice but to try to make things like peppermint patties and creme-filled chocolates to fulfil my quota of 4 out of 7 days.  Let’s just say, these did not turn out too well.  The photos worked well, but didn’t taste good … AT ALL!

I can still eat too much in a day, even without any refined sugar

There were days where I just had cravings for peanut butter (not really that odd for me!) and granola bars, and granola.  And I ate them.  Lots of them.  And I also ate stuff while experimenting in the kitchen … lots of stuff.  I ended up just a little bit lighter in weight than at the beginning of the month, but when I did over-indulge, my system recovered a lot quicker than if I would pig out on cookie dough containing ‘normal’ sugar.

Eating too many beans on subsequent days leads to ‘beanie belly’

Beanie belly was a phrase I thought up … it means I had a lot of bloating, leading to lots of gas and discomfort, leading to a lot of noises in the toilet (trying not to give too much information away!).  I narrowed it down to when I had black beans two days in a row.  But strangely enough, having chickpeas in burgers and hummus didn’t seem to lead to the same discomfort.

Some recipes actually taste better when no refined sugar is used

I made up some really cool recipes during the month, based on stuff I had found on the internet, and adapted quite a bit.  I even managed to get Abby to eat a frosting made of dates (she absolutely hates dates!).  I’ve posted some of these recipes already, but watch your inbox for some others that I’ve done and really love!

Overall I’ve enjoyed the month of being refined-sugar free.  It just got a little painful towards the end when I couldn’t eat cheese, eggs, honey etc.  At the moment I’m not craving any sugar, or meat, but I know I’ll get back into the meat shortly.  I’m looking at limiting the amount of stuff with refined sugar to maybe 1-2 times a week maximum.  I’m also looking at staying basically vegan/vegetarian for my lunches at work and MAYBE having stuff with meat with the family for dinner.  We’ll see how it goes!

I’d love to hear any comments/suggestions you’ve got about this journey of mine!  And any adventures you may have had in a similar experience.

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home!

Sarah

Whole foods, plant based

‘Whole foods, plant based, no refined sugar’ – that’s my goal for January this year.  Mainly the no refined sugar bit.  This came after the massive sugar ‘hangover’ I experienced on the day after Christmas Day, where I spent the majority of that morning in bed with a major headache.  I thought … something has to change.  So my goal is to eat mainly whole foods (very little to none processed anything), and no animal products as well as no refined sugar.  I’m basically eating just fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and a few grains (gluten-free of course!).

I originally was only going to do this for 21 days (the no animal products part for only 7) but after the first week, I just felt so much better and I couldn’t bring myself to eat any meat … I’m sure that will change eventually though!  Anyway, then a colleague at work mentioned he was going for January without any sugar as well, but following a Paleo diet – fruits, vegetables, meats and eggs, nuts (but not peanuts).  So we thought we’d have ourselves a little challenge.  Both of us without sugar for all of January, using two different methods, and seeing which of us stuck with it longer.  It’s not about weight loss, it’s about feeling healthier (although I have lost a little weight since my big splurge on Christmas Day!).

So here’s some of what I’ve been experimenting with … 

Vegan chocolate pecan cookies Chocolate pecan cookies – using cocoa, pecans, prunes, coconut oil, maple syrup, these cookies actually turned out pretty well.  But when I added a pecan/date/coconut milk frosting to it, these were amazing!  Rich, fudge-y, these went like hotcakes when I brought them to work …!
Vegan almond raisin cookies Almond raisin cookies – this recipe was on the back of the almond meal packet for vegan chocolate chip cookies.  I didn’t have any vegan chocolate chips, so I thought I’d be even healthier and use raisins instead.  I also added some nutmeg … again, when I brought these into work, they didn’t last long at all!
 Vegan oatless granola bars  A granola bar without oats – I took my really yummy no-bake oatmeal and raisin granola bar recipe (here) and substituted 1 cup almond meal for the 1 cup oats.  The texture is kind of like cookie dough (and hence I really REALLY like them!).  I also left the nuts quite chunky so the nuts and raisin taste dominate instead of the peanut butter.  Try them … please!
Vegan pumpkin & fruit-nut slices Two pictures in one here – on the left are some pumpkin pie granola slice and on the right is the fruit and nut granola bar (recipe here).  All with natural ingredients, no animal products whatsoever and absolutely delicious.  

And here’s where I’d like some audience feedback.  Apart from the two recipes that I’ve already got on this website, please let me know in the comments section below if you’d like to see any of the other recipes that have been really successful (in my humble opinion) on this website.  I’d love to hear from you!

So, until next time, enjoy cooking at home!

Sarah

Christmas baking

‘Tis the season to be merry … and bake … and give out homemade goodies to the neighbors.  I wasn’t going to do this, but one of the guys at work told me his wife was spending the day today baking cookies and was expecting me to do a similar thing.  And then I thought, why not?  So I pulled out all the stops and probably went a little bit overboard …  Check out how I did and feel free to try them for yourselves – most of the recipes are on this website!  If you do try any, please leave a comment and let me know how you did!

2015-01-10 Bittersweet chocolate crackle cookies Mini pecan pies White chocolate almond butter cookies Oatiest oatmeal cookies
Chocolate crackle cookies Mini pecan pies White chocolate almond butter cookies Oatiest oatmeal cookies
Funfetti sugar cookies Peanut butter raisin balls Gingerbread muffins 2014-12  
Sugar cookies Peanut butter coconut balls Gingerbread muffins  

Chocolate crackle cookies – crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.  It’s been a while since I have made these cookies (they’re loaded with powdered sugar), but they were definitely worth the wait.  Get the recipe here.

Mini pecan pies – this is the one that I don’t have on this website as yet, for the simple fact that I haven’t really succeeded in making a dazzling pecan pie yet.  These were close, but still weren’t great.  And they overflowed the mini crusts, so I had to carve them out of the trays …

White chocolate almond butter cookies – an experiment that I made up all by myself.  These have an awesome texture and the white chocolate chips really set off a taste explosion in your mouth!  Get the recipe here.

Oatiest oatmeal cookies – I realised the recipe for these originally came from my current cooking hero – Alton Brown.  And as for most of what he makes, they turned out fabulously!  I did make a substitution with half cranberries and half raisins, just to give it a bit more of a Christmas feel and it was worth the switch.  Get the recipe here.

Sugar cookies – I really wanted to try this recipe and use my new cookie press to make Christmas-shaped cookies.  I managed to get some working, but then had lots of problems with the press failing miserably.  So I just rolled out the dough and cut it out with a Christmas tree cookie cutter.  And then I realised I wasn’t that good at decorating cookies … but they tasted good!  Get the recipe here.

Peanut butter coconut balls – Just to balance all the high sugar stuff … I made these bite-sized balls with just raisins and peanut butter, coated in coconut.  I love this recipe .. and had a few while I was making it for the neighbors as well.  But they’re healthy, right?  Get the recipe here.

Gingerbread muffins – what would Christmas be without gingerbread of some variety?  Again, something I haven’t made for ages but used the opportunity to do so … they were great!  Get the recipe here.

So, if you live near us, or you work with me, please feel free to indulge to your hearts content!

Again, please feel free to contact, share this with others and enter your e-mail address to keep updated with all my cooking adventures.

And until next time, enjoy cooking at home!

Sarah

Re-booting for health

So this is going to be more of a self-serving blog post, not much about baking/cooking but a lot about eating.  And sorry, no pictures for this one.

For those of you who know me personally (and you know who you are!), you will know that I’ve always struggled with digestive issues.  I’m not going to go into too many details, but lets just say that I have spent quite a bit of my time in the toilet for one reason or other (and hence the diagnosis of being a non-celiac gluten intolerant person).  When we moved to the US about 4 months ago, I thought I’d have lots of opportunities to try new foods, especially on the gluten-free market.  Well, I did.  And I baked.  And cooked.  And ate.  Lots.  Lots more than I have in previous recent years and lots more than I should have.

A few weeks ago, it came to a head.  I had a really bad few days with headaches and stomach aches (and toilet problems) and I just thought I needed to change things up a bit.  Recently Grant and I watched the documentary ‘Fat, sick and nearly dead’, where a very overweight guy (named Joe, actually an Australian) with multiple medical problems took us through his journey of getting into a better life through simply drinking juices containing lots (and lots) of fruit and vegetables for 60 days.  Grant and I looked at each other and thought we could give something like that a go, for a much shorter period of time of course since neither of us are overweight.  When I was having my health problems a few weeks ago, Grant suggested I do a ‘reboot’ – nothing but fruit and veggies for a couple of days.

We don’t have a juicer, but we do have a blender (thank you Ninja!).  So instead of juicing, which extracts the juice from the pulp, I just blended it all together and ate/drank the entire contents.  For the first 3 days I also had a small meal and 3-4 of these ‘Joes’ (as I called them).  Then for 5 days all I had were the fruit and veggie Joes.  After the first day, my stomach pains had gone and I was feeling better.  However, then the impact of ingesting so many fruits and veggies (and nothing else) hit and I spent some more time in the toilet (for the opposite reasons than normal).  

Anyway, I stuck through the full 5 days reboot and this week I have been gradually introducing other foods back into my routine, like whole grains, fish and dairy.  I’ve tried to avoid any real processed foods, going for more of the wholesome vegetables (mainly) with gluten-free oats and quinoa as my whole grains, tuna as my fish and a bit of chicken for protein and variety, and Greek yogurt for the dairy.

I have to tell you, it has worked for me.  I wouldn’t want to do it much longer, especially with some of the failures of Joes that I made that were almost inedible, but it was definitely worth doing just to shake things up a bit.  And so I want to share some of my favorite recipes for ‘Joes’ with you all.

Sweet potato pie Joe

  • 1 sweet potato, including skin
  • 2 pears, cored but including peel
  • 1 apple, cored but including peel
  • 150g blueberries
  • Dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Green Joe

  • 4 big handfuls spinach
  • 2 cucumbers, including skin
  • 2 apples, cored but including peel
  • 1 lemon, without skin

Both of these worked really well.  Just blend them all together.  I usually had about 1 cup (250mL) at a time and had 5-6 of these every day.

I realise it’s not for everyone, but I think it worked for me.  I am also determined to not eat so much of the cookie and cake dough while baking (my Achilles heel!).  And not having any refined sugar in any form for nearly 2 weeks may have helped with me being able to bake some Sticky Toffee Date Pudding Cake (recipe here) last night and not even lick the spoon at the end of it all.

I’d love to hear from any of you about things you’ve tried to (a) be healthier and (b) use natural ways to help with health problems.

Until next time (which I promise will be more about actual cooking and baking!), enjoy cooking at home.

Sarah

Leftover Halloween Candy

Our first Halloween in the US meant our first stocking up of the Halloween candy bowl.  And we had a reasonable amount of leftover candy just sitting in the pantry.  So, what to do with it (apart from eat it all at once, which did cross my mind!).  So, I separated out the candy that I could eat (i.e. gluten-free) and this is what I was left with:

I put my thinking cap on and came up with these:

Chocol2014-11-29 Chocolate pizzaate pizza – a gluten-free base, made from a packet mix that said that it could make pizza crusts, but it turned into more of a biscuit/cake base, topped with melted chocolate, all the above candy, along with mini-marshmallows and a chocolate fudge syrup swirl on top.  Very nice, and used up a few of the leftovers …

 

 2014-11-11 Sundae

 

Chocolate ice cream sundae – good quality ice cream (with a peanut butter fudge swirl in it (just because), and chopped up all of the above candy, again with a chocolate fudge syrup swirl on top.  Yes, this was for one of the US National Food Days (National Sundae Day), but still worth it to use up some of the candy.

Ultimate chocolate peanut butter slice

 

 My ultimate chocolate peanut butter slice (recipe here) – followed the recipe pretty much as written, but in the top chocolate layer, I melted all the leftover peanut butter cups with some additional chocolate.  I took these to work and they were gone within about 15 minutes … with many people going back for 2nds, 3rds, and more.  One guy even picked up the plate with the crumbs on it, poured them into his hand and gobbled them up, saying ‘don’t judge me, these are just so good’!

 

Rocky road slice
Rocky road slice (recipe here) – with M&M’s (peanut and plain) and almond joy, these were also a crowd pleaser at work!  I also put in some cranberries, some additional coconut and almonds and gee, these were great!

 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our experiences with our first Halloween …

I’d love to hear any other ideas you may have about using up Halloween candy – please leave your comments below.

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home!

Sarah

Pumpkin theme – part 3

Definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Fortunately, this weekend of baking with pumpkin was much more successful than my previous 2 attempts (see here and here).  After Halloween had passed and I saw all these really yummy looking pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in the stores that I couldn’t eat (because of being gluten-intolerant), I really wanted to try making some again.  So I did.  And this time I was successful!  Unfortunately, and this is a trend that I’m seeing more of these days, I adapted a recipe so much without measuring what I was doing, so it’s difficult for me to add the recipe to the website – I’ll just have to make them again and measure this time!  And then, because I had a tin of pumpkin puree open, I felt I just had to use it in some other recipes I’d been wanting to try for ages.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies:

This was an adaptation from a recipe I had for soft pumpkin cookies – I added some chocolate chips and some extra spices.  They turned out really soft and chewy – they didn’t spread much in the oven so that’s why they don’t have the classic ’round cookie’ shape, more like just being dropped from a spoon onto the cookie sheet!  But the taste was definitely there – a success!

Pumpkin snickerdoodles:

I used to love snickerdoodles when I was growing up.  Actually I loved the dough more.  The recipe my mum had required the dough to be chilled overnight before baking, and I think on average there was less than half the dough originally made in the mixer available to be baked into cookies the following day.  This recipe was no exception to that tradition.  Although the recipe didn’t call for any chilling, so it was ‘one for the tray, one for my mouth’ … etc.  These turned out surprisingly light and fluffy inside, but again, I adapted the recipe by more than I can remember so I’ll just HAVE to make them again!

Peanut butter pumpkin fudge:

There is a National Peanut Butter Fudge day coming up (Nov 20) that I decided to get a head start on.  This recipe called for pumpkin puree as well as peanut butter and white chocolate to make the fudge part.  I added almost double the amount of peanut butter, because I wanted that real peanut butter taste to come through, and I loved it.  Didn’t really taste the pumpkin in it, but it just gave an added edge to the overall fudge.  I liked it, Henry didn’t.

Pumpkin gingerbread cookies:

Again, this was part of the US National Food Day quest, for Gingerbread Day (Nov 21) and I thought I’d try the substitute of pumpkin puree instead of egg in a cookie recipe again.  So I used a recipe I had for Pfeffernusse and did the pumpkin vs egg thing.  Again, these didn’t spread in the oven, but they still turned out pretty cool.

So I made lots of stuff this weekend.  And I ate lots of the dough.  So this week I’m back to trying to eat more healthy … until next weekend when I need to make some more things for the quest, like cupcakes and sundaes.

Please let me know in the comments below if you’d like to see any of the above recipes on this website – it will give me an excuse to make these again!

As always, if you like what you see, please enter your e-mail address in the area on the right hand side and you will receive updates when I post new recipes, or try new things (like this post).  And tell your friends and family about it too – I’d love to hear from you, even if you just want to encourage me!

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home.

Sarah

Marshmallows and s’mores

Living in the US has some benefits – I was walking in our local grocery store this weekend and found some gluten-free graham crackers … on special!  So I bought two boxes and thought I could FINALLY try some s’mores.  And use them in a crust for a pumpkin pie later this week (my friend Sam swears by a graham cracker crust for pumpkin pies … we’ll see!).  Anyway, I started making the s’mores for me and the family while we were watching a movie and realised I had a whole pile of mini-marshmallows leftover, so I wondered how I could use them up … and this is what I did.

I made some rocky road slice, using the graham crackers as an extra fill-in – these worked ok, but the recipe called for golden syrup and I substituted molasses for this.  In Australia, when I didn’t have molasses, I substituted golden syrup with great success, but it didn’t quite work in the other direction.  Don’t think this was really a success, we all tried them and then they ended in the bin!

I had a recipe for peanut butter s’more cookies – basically peanut butter cookies with choc chips and marshmallows with some graham cracker crumbs.  These were yummy – so yummy that I had to take them to work to share or else I would have eaten way too many of them!  The dough was AWESOME as well!

And then the traditional s’more … I didn’t have any blocks of chocolate, so used chocolate chips instead and these didn’t melt quite as much as they probably needed to.  The taste was awesome though … but I think I’m over the whole s’more thing now!

Depending on how the cookies are received at work, I may add the recipe to this website – also, if you would like me to add it without trying them, please just leave a comment below.

Remember you can comment everywhere you wish on this website, and if you’d like to receive regular updates and new recipes in your e-mail inbox, please subscribe by entering your e-mail address in the box in the top right-hand corner of this website.

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home!

Sarah

Pumpkin theme … take 2

 

After my disastrous attempt at trying to bake with pumpkin puree previously (see here) I thought I’d try again.  After all, how will I find that ultimate pumpkin cookie recipe if I don’t have a few failures along the way.  I guess it’s kind of like when I was on a quest for my ultimate chocolate peanut butter slice recipe – I had many failures and those that just didn’t dazzle before I came up with this one (recipe here).

So my adventures this time with pumpkin:

  • Layered pumpkin cheesecake

This was actually for my quest in the US National Food Day Challenge (see here), but I made a pumpkin cheesecake, with a crust made of granola, then a layer of ‘normal’ cheesecake, then a layer of pumpkin flavoured cheesecake.  It was ok, we ate it all, but it wasn’t exactly a fantastic eating experience.  I think the cheesecake layer needed a little more lightness, a little less cream cheese.  I went to a gluten-free expo the same weekend and tried a commercial layered pumpkin cheesecake – mine wasn’t anywhere in the same ball-park so I’ve got more work to do if I want to find a decent recipe for this!

  • Pumpkin creme bar

Yeah, this was a failure that ended in the bin.  It sounded like a good idea, all healthy ingredients, using coconut milk, and pumpkin puree for the filling, pecans and dates for the crust, but the taste, and the texture just wasn’t there.  It may have been that we ate it straight out of the freezer (which we prefer to do with the healthy bars and slices) but the pumpkin filling was really icy and didn’t have any real decent taste to it.  I won’t be trying this recipe again!

  • Pumpkin chocolate chip cookie challenge

I read on the internet that pumpkin puree can be used as a substitute for eggs – with 1 egg being the equivalent of 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree.  So I thought I’d give the guys at work a taste test to find which pumpkin chocolate chip recipe they preferred and whether it was good enough to put on this website.  So I used Sally’s chocolate chip cookie recipe (here) and substituted pumpkin puree for the egg, and added some pumpkin pie spice as well.  I found another recipe that was actually designed to be gluten-free and using pumpkin puree and oats but adapted it slightly also, since it used white chocolate chips and cinnamon chips and I wanted the two recipes to be as close as possible.  The verdict?  Well, since I’m still getting used to my new oven, I overcooked one batch of the oat cookies but out of the people that tried the cookies (and replied to me), it was almost equal with Sally’s recipe edging out the other one by one vote.  Combining that with my family’s votes, though, and the gluten-free / oat recipe won!

Remember, you can comment anywhere you wish on this website and follow me on Twitter (@sarahcookathome) – I would really LOVE to hear from you!

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home

Sarah

Recipes from ‘The Quest’

I’ve been enjoying expanding my horizons by doing the US National Food Day Challenge (see here for more details).  The family has also enjoyed the new recipes I’ve tried … and given constructive criticism when the recipes haven’t turned out quite so well.  So I thought I’d update this website to include some of the favourite recipes from the last couple of months on the quest so you all can enjoy them!  Oh, and there’s some new ones that I’ve just tried because I wanted to, and they turned out really well so wanted to share …

Savoury dishes:

Desserts:

Cookies:

As always, you can comment on any section of this website (PLEASE COMMENT!!), and feel free to share with family and friends if you like any of the recipes I put here.  Also, let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to try to find a good recipe for – I love experimenting in the kitchen!

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home,

Sarah

A pumpkin theme

I tried a whole pile of new recipes this weekend, and had most of them fail majorly!  Maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing with pumpkin puree … and would greatly appreciate any tips you may have for me!  Leave your comments below and I’ll give them a go the next time I feel the urge to cook with pumpkin.

So here’s the run-down of my weekend:

  • I had some pumpkin leftover from when I made pumpkin soup for my lunches (recipe here) last week and I didn’t want to waste it.
  • I had been reading lots of pumpkin-based cookie and slice recipes from my Twitter friends.
  • It was raining and cold – perfect weather for baking.
  • I made too many things, threw out most of them into the trash and ate too many of the things that remained.

Things that worked:

  • Pumpkin soup – always a winner with me, using pumpkin, potatoes and a mixture of veggies – this time I included some almonds as well and ate it either with gluten-free bread, or rice cakes for lunches.  Very tasty!
  • Thai chickpea pumpkin curry – this used an almond butter base, with lite coconut milk, pumpkin and zucchini.  From the bits I tasted while making it, I am going to enjoy my lunches this week!
  • Pumpkin white chocolate oatmeal cookies – I think it was the small amount of pumpkin puree used here, and the white chocolate chips that made this cookie work.  Very moist but very more-ish!

Things that didn’t work:

  • Pumpkin choc chip oatmeal cookies – this used 15 oz pumpkin puree and not that much oats – I added some more oats, but still it was an overpowering taste of pumpkin, and not that nice with the rest of the taste.
  • Healthy pumpkin slice – this was kind of like a pumpkin pie, it needed some Cool Whip, but only sweetened by dates so relatively healthy.  Don’t get me wrong, this was yummy, but it just wasn’t what I was aiming for.

Things that I don’t know whether they worked or not:

  • Henry’s birthday cake – I found a recipe in my new KitchenAid recipe book for a caramel banana torte and showed it to Henry, who immediately requested it for his birthday.  The cake worked well, just the filling didn’t set very well, so all the bananas in the middle kind of squished out while the cake was chilling overnight (tonight) … hopefully tomorrow with a pile of whipped cream on top and around it, no one will notice!
  • Peanut butter banana blondies – Henry requested me to make some stuff for him to take to school for his birthday … specifically something with peanut butter, bananas, choc chips and M&M’s.  I found a recipe and it looked pretty impressive when it came out of the oven, but will have to wait until later this week to find out how they actually went.
  • No-bake chocolate oat cookies – I had this recipe in my folder and we wanted to make something to say thank you to some people around here.  I used normal oats, so I couldn’t taste them, but the family say they worked ok.

 So that’s what’s going on in my life!  Remember, you can always comment on anything you see on this website, tell your friends and family about the website and encourage them to subscribe (that’s if you enjoy getting the updates from me …).  And any tricks or tips you may have for me for cooking with pumpkin, please let me know, otherwise I’ll just go back to making only pumpkin pie and not experimenting any more!

Until next time, enjoy cooking at home,

Sarah

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