Healthy banana nut flapjacks (oat bars) with optional hazelnut toffee crunch

Nutty banana oat flapjacksWhen I first came to England, I didn’t understand what a flapjack was. I thought of it as a down-home-American word for a pancake. Even once I understood what a flapjack was in England, I didn’t get for a long time what all the fuss was about (the English LOVE their flapjacks). As far as I can tell, the classic British flapjack is essentially a very sweet and buttery granola bar without all the good stuff associated with granola bars, other than oats. Little by little, however, I have come to see the potential of the British flapjack. Oat bars are almost a blank canvas, to which you can add any number of ingredients and still bake up a tasty treat. After considerable experimentation, I’ve come up with a version that’s really quite healthy.

My flapjacks are much lower in sugar and fat than the classic flapjack. They’re gluten-free and dairy-free – in fact, vegan. For added nutrition, I add a lot of nuts. Lots of banana keeps my flapjacks moist and sweet. For a quick and easy everyday snack, that’s where I stop. However, for a more decadent treat or to serve to guests, I like to add chocolate drizzle and hazelnut toffee crunch. Continue reading

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Sheer pira – Afghan-style almond cardamom fudge (vegan)

Four squares of almond fudge with walnutsOccasionally my wild kitchen experimentation results in something so good, it sets a new standard. Such was the case with my attempt at making sheer pira. In the future, I won’t be able to help but compare other fudge. It won’t taste almondy enough. Not cardamomy enough. Not… not my version of sheer pira.

I should back up a little and explain. For our Afghanistan-themed weekend, I looked for Afghan dessert recipes and thought sheer pira/sheer payra sounded nicest as well as naturally gluten-free. But most sheer pira recipes, like this one from SBS, involve powdered milk. Not only do I not have any powdered milk in the house, I’m lactose intolerant. So that was out. I did find an alternative from Recipes of Asia that involved regular milk instead. I thought I might be able to replace that with almond milk.

But that little bit of tinkering with the recipe wasn’t going to be enough. I decided to replace the pistachios, which are high in FODMAPs, with almonds, which are moderate in FODMAPs. And because the recipe seemed to involve too little in the way of solids, I decided to double the amount of nuts so it would be more in line with the SBS version. I decided not to use rosewater, which most recipes call for, because my husband doesn’t like it and I didn’t have any on hand. Finally, I decided to make my version dairy-free. So the experiment was on. Continue reading

Gluten-free, dairy-free Chinese almond cookies

Chinese almond cookies in a plastic containerThese cookies were born of disaster. I had actually made another batch of almond cookies beforehand, using a grain-free recipe. The pictures of the cookies from that recipe showed nice, firm little balls. I followed the recipe quite exactly, I thought, and put them in the oven a few inches apart, at the indicated temperature, thinking they would take 20-25 minutes to bake. Within minutes, my husband noticed they had melted and spread flat, all fused together. Because they had been in the oven such a short time at that point, I turned off the oven but left the cookies in there thinking they might need a little more time to bake properly. Not long after, I smelled something burning. Although the oven was off, it was hot enough to continue baking the now super-thin cookies, which had burnt to a crisp. Grr!

I was, however, determined to have almond cookies. I love almond cookies, though almonds are moderate in FODMAPs so I can only have a limited quantity. So I started over, consulting a number of different recipes to figure out what the problem might have been. The first thing I decided was that grain-free was out. The cookies needed more structure. The second thing I decided was to use vegetable shortening (vegetable fat) rather than butter, as that tends to produce a more tender cookie that spreads less, because it melts at a higher temperature than butter does. I also added an egg. All three decisions turned out to be right. Continue reading