A PLATTER OF COOKIES FOR OLD SAINT NICK

Because so many cookies share common ingredients like flour, sugar, and margarine or oil, they need that little something unique to make them stand apart. With a generous measure of creamy pureed walnuts, these delicious cookies offer melt-in-the-mouth soft centers and delightfully crunchy outsides.

But giving them that extra-special touch is black walnut extract, a flavor that makes these cookies an outstanding treat for Old Saint Nick.

I wasn’t able to find black walnut extract at the grocery store but discovered JR Watkins an excellent online source for unique flavoring extracts.

Going to a cookie exchange party or a holiday potluck?  Bring along a batch or two of these little gems and reap the compliments.

OLD SAINT NICK’S WICKED WALNUT COOKIES

Yield: 4 1/2 dozen

2 cups raw walnuts

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/4 cups organic sugar

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup raisins

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 large)

2/3 cup vegan margarine

1 1/4 teaspoons black walnut extract, maple extract, almond extract, or an extra teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons flaxseeds or ground flaxseed meal

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Chop 1/2 cup of the walnuts into small pieces and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, oats, raisins, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl and mix well. Make sure the raisins are well coated with flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Set aside.
  3. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups of walnuts in a food processor. Process until they become a creamy walnut butter, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Add the bananas, vegan margarine, black walnut extract, and vanilla extract and process until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. The dough will become quite stiff.
  5. Pour the water and flaxseeds in a blender. Process on high speed for 1 to 2 minutes to form a thick slurry. Stir the slurry into the dough, mixing thoroughly to distribute it evenly.
  6. Roll teaspoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls and place them 1 1/2 inches apart of the prepared baking sheet. Flatten them slightly with your hands or the bottom of a glass and press a piece of the reserved chopped walnuts into the center of each cookie.
  7. Bake for 14 to 18 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned on the bottom. If the cookies on the top rack need browning, move them to the bottom rack for another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack or plate and let cool completely.

 

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FIGGY LOVE IN EVERY BITE!

Fig CrackersFIGGY WAFERS

Hunting for a stand-out holiday appetizer? I think I’ve got just the one!

Welcome your holiday guests with something warming to sip and a surprise taste adventure to invigorate the appetites –a platter of Figgy Wafers. Beautiful little flavor-infused morsels, these delicious crackers stand out because of a generous measure of aromatic cardamom to complement the sweetness of the figs.

While these irresistible little wafers make wonderful tidbits without accompaniments, pair them with a thin slice of vegan cheese and send your happy little flavor receptors into vegan nirvana. Even better, top the crackers with a slice of banana and then put the cheese on top.

Fig CrackersPlan ahead for the holidays by making one or more batches of the recipe, rolling them into logs, and freezing them. Then, when you’re planning to serve them, it takes only a few minutes to slice and bake them.

 FIGGY WAFERS

 

Yield: about 40 slices

10 dried figs, either black or golden

1/4 cup rum or brandyFig Crackers

1/2 cup whole almonds

1 cup Old Fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

  1. Have ready a large bowl and a pair of kitchen scissors. Using the scissors, snip off and discard the tough stems from the figs and snip the figs into small dice into the bowl. Pour the rum over the figs and set aside to soak for several hours or overnight.
  2. Combine the almonds, rolled oats, flour, ground cardamom, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely ground.
  3. Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the figs and use a fork to blend the mixture into a dough.
  4. Form the dough into a long log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 3 or 4 hours, or until solidly frozen. The log will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  5. When ready to bake the wafers, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
  6. Unwrap the frozen log and use a firm, thin-bladed knife to cut it into 1/8-inch slices. Put them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Carefully, lift the wafers with a metal spatula and transfer them to a platter to cool completely.

Fig CrackersA Note About Cardamom

Because cardamom is not as familiar a spice as cinnamon, it frequently gets overlooked. But give it an opportunity to show its mojo and you’ll be hooked.

cardamom-greenYou can buy this spice already ground into a powder in the spice section of most markets. You can also find it in Asian and Indian markets where it’s available in whole pods or already ground. While the ground cardamom is certainly more convenient, it quickly loses its pungency and its flavor fades.Cardamom brown

For its flavor delightful strength I much prefer to buy the whole pods and crush the small seeds with a pestle. Really fresh pods are green, but if they’ve been around awhile, they turn beige. It’s a bit painstaking because first I pound each pod to open it. The, one-by-one by hand I open each pod and empty the seeds into the mortar. You can also put the seeds into a spice grinder for a quicker grinding process.

SOUTHERN PECAN PIE–PERFECT FOR THE HOLIDAYS!

Pecan Pie copyDOWN HOME PECAN PIE

Pecans are native to the American South, and you can bet those creative Southerners put them on the menu every chance they could find. Those delicious little pecans even made the South famous for its pecan pie, an irresistible dessert that makes ex-pat Southerns very homesick.

Many Southern families have their own treasured family recipe–possibly even some handed down from grandma’s or great-grandma’s secret recipe. Years ago, family recipes were so cherished many were kept secret.

I have great respect for those delicious heirloom recipes that bring families together at special times like the holidays. And I also love the way Southerners say pecans– south of the Mason-Dixon line they call them puh cons.

My holiday version has all the eye-appealing and flavorful attributes of its traditional counterpart with the added benefit of being totally vegan. But I must admit that veganizing the recipe was one heck of a challenge.

My first 8 attempts–yes, it actually took 9 tries to get it right–came out too runny or totally soupy. It was maddening and totally frustrating, but I was one determined gal. The goal was to find a way to thicken and bind the ingredients, as eggs would do in the traditional recipe. About the 8th time the top baked perfectly, and I thought I had achieved success at last. But, no! As soon as I cut into it, it was soup.

NutGourmet cover copyTaking the place of the eggs in my successful recipe is a combination of tapioca flour and flaxseeds that gives the pie its unique, creamy texture. The tapioca flour also performs the double duty of thickening the filling as well as providing an inviting glaze that enhances its appeal. The key was tapioca flour –it worked like magic! Now I’m thrilled to share this recipe that’s from my cookbook The Nut Gourmet.

There are many ways to arrange the pecans on the top. Some people simply sprinkle broken pieces over the filling, but I wanted a pecan pie that was pretty darned eye appealing. If you have the time, start by sorting out beautiful pecan halves of similar sizes for the topping. Then arrange them side-by-side in concentric rings beginning in the center of the pie.

At serving time, make way for those wild and crazy pecan lovers. There’s bound to be a mad scramble for a piece of pie!

DOWN HOME PECAN PIE

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie

Nutty Wheat Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flourPecan Pie copy
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup organic canola oil
2 tablespoons cold water

Pecan Filling
1 1/4 cups coarsely broken pecans

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) dairy-free margarine
1 1/2 cups light or dark corn syrup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup regular soymilk
1/2 cup tapioca flour, packed

5 tablespoons flaxseeds
1 1/4 cups pecan halves

  1. TO MAKE THE PIE CRUST, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine the pastry flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Add the oil and mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Add the water and stir thoroughly until the mixture forms a soft dough and all the water is absorbed.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and roll it out between two sheets of waxed paper. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper, place the pie pan over the dough, and invert the dough and pan together. Remove the waxed paper carefully and firm the edges of the crust. Trim the excess crust with a knife. Bake the Crust for 5 minutes and set it aside on the baking sheet to cool.
  4. TO MAKE THE PECAN FILLING, put the coarsely broken pecans on a small, rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 8 minutes. Immediately pour them onto a dish to cool. When cool, spoon the pecan pieces into the bottom of the pie shell.
  5. Melt the margarine over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the corn syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla extract and bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 5 minutes and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.
  6. Put the soymilk in a small bowl and stir in the tapioca flour. Set it aside for 5 minutes to allow the tapioca flour to absorb some of the liquid. Don’t rush this step. The tapioca flour needs a full 5 minutes to absorb some of the liquid.
  7. Meanwhile, put the flaxseeds in a blender or mini chopper and grind them to a fine meal. Add the flaxseeds and the soymilk mixture to the cooled corn syrup mixture. Stir to combine, and pour the mixture into the blender. Blend for 1 minute, until smooth. Pour over the toasted pecans.
  8. Top the pie with the pecan halves, arranging them in concentric circles, beginning in the center. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool thoroughly before chilling in the refrigerator. The pie will firm after it is thoroughly chilled.

CHOCOLATE? YES! BRING IT ON FOR BREAKFAST!!!!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsCHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Chocolate for breakfast is my favorite! And it’s actually a better way for me to indulge than eating it at night. That naughty little chocolate has the power to keep me up at night. As tempting as it is to reach for the chocolate as an after-dinner treat, I resist. It takes a heck of a lot of will power, but I really prefer a good night’s sleep and to wake up feeling great.

Chocolate doesn’t affect everyone like that, but those of us who are sensitive to the caffeine-like substance  in chocolate called theobromine, actually get a high from eating it. 

These muffins offer some SERIOUS CHOCOLATE–inside and out. So I offer them at a time of day when more than half the world turns to coffee for that morning boost.

I’ve enhanced the muffins with chocolate chips and enriched them with plenty of pure cocoa powder, so these outrageous little babies offer heaven in every bite for those of us with a passion for chocolate.

Once you bite into these muffins, you might feel like you’re eating dessert, but consider the wheat bran and bananas a healthy dose of dietary fiber that justifies their presence at the morning meal. I like to include this recipe as part of the muffin party for its uniqueness. Served with seasonal fruit, either as a fruit salad, attractively sliced, or presented whole with knives and a cutting board, the muffin breakfast or brunch makes a festive gathering pure fun.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsCHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Yield: 1 baker’s dozen–yep, that’s 13 unless you overfill the muffin pan like I did.

1 1/4 cups plain or vanilla soymilk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or distilled vinegar

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flourChocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 1/4 cups wheat bran

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup organic sugar

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or raw cacao powder

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup mashed bananas

2 tablespoons organic canola oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon caramel extract

Topping

1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup toasted sliced or slivered almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 2 six-section muffin tins with paper baking cups. Alternatively, use an ungreased silicone 12-section muffin pan. Put the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Combine the soymilk and vinegar in a medium bowl, stir well, and set aside to thicken.
  3. In a large bowl combine the whole-wheat pastry flour, wheat bran, brown sugar, chocolate chips, organic sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix well to distribute all the dry ingredients evenly and set aside.
  4. Add the bananas to the bowl with the soured soymilk, along with the canola oil, and vanilla and caramel extracts. Mix well and add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring briefly just until the batter well moistened. .
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, over-filling each section to use all the batter. For the baker’s dozen, reserve some of the batter to fill an oven-proof custard cup or ramekin.
  6. For the topping, sprinkle the chocolate chips into the center of each muffin, and the sliced almonds over the remaining exposed surface. Bake for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of several muffins comes out clean. Cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving to allow easy release from the baking pans.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsVariation:

Espresso Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

Grind 2 tablespoons of espresso coffee beans into a very fine powder in a mini blender. After spooning the muffin batter into the muffin pans, sprinkle the tops lightly with the espresso powder. Then, add the chocolate chips and toasted sliced almonds.

Suggestions:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. For ease in moving the muffins in and out of the oven, have 2 large rimmed baking sheets ready with two mini muffin pans on each of the baking sheets. Spoon the batter into the mini muffin pans and bake for 20 to 24 minutes. Allow the minis to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pans.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and put them, uncovered, in the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and seal tightly. Defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.

Pecan Lovers Scramble for a Piece of Pie!

DOWN HOME PECAN PIE

Because pecans are native to the American South, they frequently turn up as pecan pie on Southern dessert menus in homes and restaurants. And many home cooks have their own treasured family recipe–possibly even one handed down from grandma’s cherished blend of pecans, sugar, and spices. pecan downhomeI have great respect for those heirloom recipes that bring families together at special times like the holiday season. And I also love the way Southerners say pecans– south of the Mason-Dixon line they call them puh cons.

My holiday version has all the eye-appealing and flavorful attributes of its traditional counterpart with the added benefit of being totally vegan. Taking the place of the eggs that usually bind the saucy ingredients together is a combination of tapioca flour and flaxseeds that gives the pie its unique, creamy texture.

The tapioca flour also performs the double duty of thickening the filling as well as providing an inviting glaze that enhances its appeal.

So when is it the perfect time to serve pecan pie? All throughout the holiday season and any time you can buy gorgeous pecans. The new crop of nuts are harvested in early autumn, around September, so they’re fresh and flavorful. My family tradition is bringing a pecan pie to the Thanksgiving table along with the traditional pumpkin pie.

Converting a conventional recipe to a vegan version can often be an easy swap-out of ingredients. Sometimes, though, it’s just a bear of a task. Pecan pie was my biggest challenge and it took 9 tries with different methods to get the pie to bind together. Many of the versions ended up as too soupy. About the 8th time the top baked perfectly and I thought I had achieved success at last. But, no. As soon as I cut into it, it was soup.NGcover8 copy 2

The key was tapioca flour –it worked like magic! Now I’m thrilled to share this recipe that’s from my cookbook The Nut Gourmet.

You can also create an irresistible, love-at-first-glance pecan pie by taking the time to sort out beautiful pecan halves for the topping and then arranging them side-by-side in concentric rings.

Down Home Pecan Pie

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie

 

Nutty Wheat Pie Crust

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup almond meal

2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

1/2 cup organic canola oil

2 tablespoons cold water

 

Pecan Filling

1 1/4 cups coarsely broken pecans

 

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) dairy-free margarine

1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

1/2 cup regular soymilk

1/2 cup tapioca flour, packed

 

5 tablespoons flaxseeds

1 1/4 cups pecan halves

 

  1. TO MAKE THE PIE CRUST, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready a large rimmed baking sheet. Combine the pastry flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  1. Add the oil and mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Add the water and stir thoroughly until the mixture forms a soft dough and all the water is absorbed.
  1. Form the dough into a ball and roll it out between two sheets of waxed paper. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper, place the pie pan over the dough, and invert the dough and pan together. Remove the waxed paper carefully and firm the edges of the crust. Trim the excess crust with a knife. Bake the Crust for 5 minutes and set it aside on the baking sheet to cool.
  1. TO MAKE THE PECAN FILLING, put the coarsely broken pecans on a small, rimmed baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 8 minutes. Immediately pour them onto a dish to cool. When cool, spoon the pecan pieces into the bottom of the pie shell.
  1. Melt the margarine over medium heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the corn syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla extract and bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 5 minutes and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.
  1. Put the soymilk in a small bowl and stir in the tapioca flour. Set it aside for 5 minutes to allow the tapioca flour to absorb some of the liquid. Don’t rush this step. The tapioca flour needs a full 5 minutes to absorb some of the liquid.
  1. Meanwhile, put the flaxseeds in a blender or mini chopper and grind them to a fine meal. Add the flaxseeds and the soymilk mixture to the cooled corn syrup mixture. Stir to combine, and pour the mixture into the blender. Blend for 1 minute, until smooth. Pour over the toasted pecans.
  1. Top the pie with the pecan halves, arranging them in concentric circles, beginning in the center. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool thoroughly before chilling in the refrigerator. The pie will firm after it is thoroughly chilled.