Why I love to bake

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies from 101 Cookbooks, photo credit Kirsten Akens 2015

Last week I found out that a friend, who has been lactose-intolerant for many years, learned he is now gluten-sensitive — and will find out soon if he's actually gluten-intolerant.

Every time I hear a story like this, I cringe a little inside.

I love to bake.

I love to eat what I bake.

I love to share what I bake.

I can't imagine having to completely give up any one item when it comes to eating. (I am vegetarian, but that's by choice.) And gluten is a hard one, in particular, when it comes to baking.

So that's why, sometimes when I bake, I experiment.

I play with flax eggs for my vegan friends.

I test out assorted flour mixes for my GF friends.

I make cakes out of hot wings, carrots, celery, and ranch "frosting" for my friends who really prefer meat to baked goods. (True story, as horrendous as this thought is to me.)

What I like most, really (aside from the eating part of the baking), is gifting someone with a surprise muffin, or scone, or cookie that is exactly to their dietary needs and taste preferences.

It's probably the connection — typically over sweet treats, though any food will do — that I love (and crave) most.

The connection, and the resulting smiles.

So in light of my friend's situation, I baked tonight. I pulled out an oldie-but-goodie, already vegan, cookie recipe, exchanged the whole wheat flour for a GF pastry flour blend and the old-fashioned oats for GF oats ... et voilà.

Warm cookies.

Instant smile.

Deeper connection.


Tonight's recipe — one of my all-time favorites — comes from the incredible Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks. I highly recommend her website. A good 95 percent of recipes I've made from there have been excellent.

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Note: this is the original recipe as found on 101 Cookbooks. It's already vegan/dairy-free. If you want to make it gluten-free, simply exchange the flour and the oats with GF options. I used Bob's Red Mill products in both cases, easily found at most natural foods stores.

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unrefined (fragrant) coconut oil, warmed until just melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1. Preheat oven to 375F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oats. Add the nuts and carrots. In a separate smaller bowl use a whisk to combine the maple syrup, coconut oil, and ginger. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

3. Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one level tablespoonful at a time, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10 - 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.

4. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

In the kitchen


Tried out two new recipes yesterday, and one former #newrecipeaweek that's turned into a house staple.

Let's touch on the latter first.

About a year ago, I tested out this Food52 recipe:

The Splendid Table's Refried Beans with Cinnamon and Clove

These are seriously the best refried beans ever. And — bonus! — they make your house smell amazing. You can turn them vegan by eliminating the butter at the end (which I've done numerous times simply because I've forgotten to add it), and they taste just as good.

On top of being super yummy, this recipe makes a ton, and results in week-long leftovers. I can't praise them enough. I will note, I like my beans smooth so I give them a whirl around with my immersion blender before serving.

Now back to the actual newbies.

My friend JL's latest book, Vegan Pressure Cooking, came out earlier this month, and I've been slowly trying a recipe here and there in my InstantPot. Yesterday I cooked up a double batch of her Apple Pie Steel Cut Oats — and they're quite delicious. If you're a pressure cooker user, check out her book. Steel cut oats have become my winter breakfast go-to because they're easy to batch cook and refrigerate.

And finally ... gluten-free, vegan (if you replace the honey with agave or maple syrup) chocolate chip cookies.

What makes them GF and vegan? A chickpea and peanut butter base.

No, I'm not joking.

A friend sent me the recipe through Pinterest and I thought I'd give it a try. I'd played with black bean brownies in the past and had success with those, so, why not?

It's got seven ingredients: chickpeas, vanilla extract, all-natural peanut butter, honey, baking powder, salt and chocolate chips.

And our verdict (mine and my husband's)? Not bad.

They are not ooey-gooey, sink-your-teeth-in traditional chocolate chip cookies. But they're also decent in the cookie-replacement realm for those who need options.

I would try them again and make them a little smaller (I got 10, when the recipe said I should get 14), and I think I would sprinkle a little flaked salt on top for a tiny bit extra flavor.

Anywho, that's all for now. Whatcha been cooking in your kitchen?

Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes

LentilSloppyJoe [dropcap custom_class="normal"] L[/dropcap]ast night's meal, Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes (my second #newrecipeaweek this week), came from Food52.

It was a hit with the hubby.

And, while I appreciated its flavor profile and the way it made my house smell, it was too spicy for my taste buds. (But I'm a wimp when it comes to spices. When dining out, I always order my Indian dishes "mild.") I'd probably make it again, but cut back on the chili powder.

What I appreciated was that this was a vegan Sloppy Joe that relied on lentils, not some sort of meat stand-in like tofu or seitan. It's just a whole food dish, that, aside from having to soak the lentils the night before, didn't take much time to pull together.

And for the record, my husband eats pretty much anything, including meat, and I'm a long-time vegetarian who also eats small amounts of fish and a couple "humanely treated cow" burgers a year *** — and who likes to experiment with all types of vegetarian/vegan recipes.


*** When I was working at the Colorado Springs Independent, I awarded an IndyPick during our annual Best Of competition to the one local place I go for a burger.

IndyPick • Reason to Temporarily Break Your Vegetarian Stance

Marcello Burger at The Margarita at PineCreek

(7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, coloradoeats.com/margarita/home.html)

I'm a vegetarian primarily for moral reasons. Most days I just can't detach the being that lived on this planet from the food it's become. And yet, a couple of times a year my body just craves meat. When this happens, I typically hold off as long as I can, then I turn to my husband and ask, "Margarita at PineCreek?" The Marcello Burger, available on the lounge and patio menu, is topped with gooey white cheddar, sweetly caramelized onions and, lord, oh lord, smoked bacon. It is protein perfection on a soft bun. And because Margarita is committed to working with Ranch Foods Direct and local ranches to source high quality, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from humanely treated animals, I can take some solace in knowing those I'm consuming at least lived healthy, respected lives. — KA