Sunday, 30 October 2011

Tropical Traditions Virgin Coconut Oil Review

The other day, I received a jar of Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil from Tropical Traditions. I had heard great things about their coconut oil (especially for gluten free baking) and couldn't wait to try it out. I wasn't exactly sure where to start, so I went to their free coconut recipes blog. If you have coconut oil or are planning to buy it, this is a great resource and I highly recommend checking it out. Although I didn't use any specific recipes from their blog, I got a general idea of how coconut oil can be used in baking as well as in cooking. But, before I go into my experiences cooking with this product, I should tell you a little bit about Tropical Traditions' unique method of extracting their coconut oil.

Basically, the Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil is made by hand, in small batches, and the oil is allowed to separate naturally, avoiding the need to use chemicals and other harsher methods of extraction. For more information, check out this short video (3:22) explaining the process and the background of the company. It's actually quite interesting to see how it's made.

The first thing I noticed about this coconut oil was the amazing smell. When I first opened it, I tasted a bit of the oil straight from the jar, and I was surprised at how strong the coconut flavour was. I am a big fan of coconut so this was a definite plus for me. My husband wanted to try it out right away, so he made a little vanilla coconut steamer with some of the oil. I'm not sure that this is the best way to consume coconut oil, because it kind of floats on the top, but he seemed to enjoy it. The first thing I tried was some stove top rice pudding. I combined some leftover rice with sugar, milk, shredded coconut, cocoa powder, corn starch and coconut oil. I really liked the taste of the coconut oil in my simple rice pudding, but I really wanted to try the oil in gluten free baking.

Cocoa Coconut Rice Pudding made with Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil
I tried substituting the coconut oil in place of canola oil in some of my gluten free recipes. I liked the coconut taste and the great texture it gave to my gluten free pumpkin cream cheese muffins. It made the muffins sturdier and gave them a nice springy texture. I also tried the coconut oil in some pumpkin pancakes (can you tell it's fall?) along with some coconut flour. I loved how it kept the pancakes strong (not crumbly) but they still felt soft (almost a melt in your mouth kind of thing). I substituted coconut oil for canola oil in one of my GF bread recipes, and while it was great for texture, I found it a bit strong flavour-wise for bread. I'm not sure that the sweet coconut flavour would be great for savory sandwiches.

Pumpkin Pancakes with Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil

GF Multigrain Bread made with Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil 
Tip: Since the coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it is necessary to have all of your ingredients at room temperature so that the coconut oil doesn't re-solidify when you add eggs or milk (this I learned the hard way).

I had read on many different websites, that coconut oil is great for making shell chocolate that hardens on contact with cold things (like ice cream - think dairy queen dipped cones). I decided to try out this shell chocolate by melting some coconut oil with chocolate wafers (in a double boiler) and dipping banana halves in the mixture. Then I simply froze them on a tray, but you could push a popsicle stick into one end to make your own choco-banana popsicles (or even try rolling them in nuts or shredded coconut). I was heasitatn about eating frozen banana, but I was pleasantly surprised. The subtle coconut flavour went really well with the chocolate and banana. It made a yummy (and healthier) substitute for those frozen ice cream bars. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of these. Oh well, I will just have to make them again!

I am happy to give two thumbs up for this product and for the Tropical Traditions company!

Information for buying Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil can be found on their website (for USA here, Canada here, and Europe here). They often have great sales going so check back often!

Disclaimer: Tropical Traditions provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose.  Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review in return for the free product.

Monday, 24 October 2011

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds don't last long in my house. My husband just pops them into his mouth, shell and all (which is probably the healthiest way). I, however, feel like I am choking when I try to swallow the shell, and so I break that part off before I eat them. Whether you are a shell-eater, or a more sophisticated shell remover ;), I'm sure you'll enjoy this tasty snack. Pumpkin seeds contain lots of fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc and vitamin E, making them a healthy snack too. So instead of tossing the guts of your Jack-O-Lantern away this Halloween, why not try roasting the seeds instead.

We always did this when I was a kid, and now, whenever I smell pumpkin seeds roasting I am reminded of my childhood Halloweens, sitting on the kitchen floor designing our oh so creative carving plans (so dad can cut the masterpiece) while up to our elbows in slimy orange pumpkin guts from scraping out and the sorting the seeds from the goopy stuff. (That is a great job for kids by the way)

The hardest part of roasting is keeping an eye on the seeds and stirring them often so they don't burn. Check on them every 5-10 minutes.


Scrape out the seeds and fibers from the pumpkin and place in a bowl (from a hole in the top if it's for carving)

Sort the seeds from the rest of the guts. (you can wash all the fibers off the seeds but I like to leave a little on for added flavour)

Place the seeds in a bowl and drizzle with 1-2 tsp oil. Add your favorite seasonings ( I usually use garlic and season salt but you could add chili powder, cayenne, Cajun spice, etc) and toss to coat the seeds.

Spread the seeds onto a foil lined baking sheet.

Bake at 300 F for 20-30 minutes (or until light brown) checking and stirring every 5-10 minutes.

Let cool and serve with a smaller bowl to discard shells (or just eat the shells if you're in to that). I usually just leave the bowl on the counter and they're gone within a day or two.

How to Roast a Pumpkin

How to Roast a Pumpkin

Pumpkins are abundant and affordable this time of year. While most are transformed into Jack-O-Lanterns, set out as decoration, and tossed at the end of the season, I see those bright orange beauties as the fundamental component of my favorite fall recipes.

If you are anything like me and love to bake pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, muffins, cupcakes, etc., you probably know how expensive the canned pumpkin can be. At my supermarket the other day, canned pumpkin puree was on sale for $2 a can (which contained something like 1 1/2 cups). I bought the pumpkin featured here for $4 and ended up with around 8 cups of pumpkin puree and almost 2 cups of pumpkin seeds. This week, I bought another similar sized pumpkin for $2.50. So we're lookin' at about $0.75 to $0.47 for about a can's worth of puree. That's some pretty decent savings. Roasting a whole pumpkin may seem a bit intimidating, but it's actually quite easy, as I'm hoping to show you here. It's also lots of fun to roast your own pumpkin seeds for snacking.

If you can find sugar pumpkins (or pie pumpkins), they are easier to work with because they are much smaller. Just adjust cooking time accordingly.

I know 8 cups of pumpkin puree can seem a bit overwhelming, but you don't have to use it all at once. It freezes well and can also be kept in the refrigerator for around a week before going bad. I like to freeze it in pre-measured amounts such as 1 or 2 cups so that you know what you're working with when you go to defrost it. If you don't want quite as much, look for a smaller pumpkin. It will take less time to cook and puree.You can use the fresh or frozen puree as you would canned pumpkin in any recipe.

I've included a few different methods. The main goal here is to get the pumpkin cooked and soft. Use whatever method seems easiest for you! 


Lightly wash the outside of the pumpkin to remove any dirt or chemicals.

Method #1

Cut your pumpkin in half from top to bottom. 

Remove seeds and interior fibers and put them in a bowl for roasting later.

Place pumpkin halves (inside down) on foil lined cookie sheets or in a roasting pan.

Roast at 350 for an hour or more (until the skin gives a bit when pressed).

Remove pumpkin from the oven and flip over (be careful, it will be very hot). Try to let any extra liquid drain off.

Method #2

Scrape out guts like above and cut into smaller chunks. 
Place in a covered casserole dish with 1/2 - 1 cup water.
Bake at 350 until pumpkin is soft (about 45 mins - 1hr)
(this method works great for chunks leftover from carving a pumpkin)

Method #3

Scrape out guts like above, but then cut into smaller pieces and cook in your slow cooker until soft.

Once pumpkin is cooked:

Working in batches, scrape out the flesh inside the skin and place in a bowl. Puree using a hand blender. (or you can use a food processor but watch out for steam)

Once it cools, store your puree in a jar in the fridge or freeze in marked containers (sour cream containers work well for 2 cup portions)

for the fridge

for the freezer

If the pumpkin seems a bit wet you can let it drain in cheese cloth or just add a little less liquid (milk/water) than what is called for in your recipes.

You can also roast butternut squash this way. It works great as a substitute for pumpkin in baking. No one will know the difference!

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds!

Pumpkin Recipes
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin with Pumpkin Spice Latte
I'm loving the fall flavours, especially pumpkin spice. I roasted a big pumpkin the other day and have been making all kinds of pumpkin flavoured foods (pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin oatmeal cookies, pumpkin granola, pumpkin lattes) over the last week or so. I've already made two batches of these muffins in the last month (plus two wheat flour batches for gluten-eating friends and family). I usually make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, but I saw a picture somewhere of cream cheese ones and thought I'd give it a try. Feel free to replace the cream cheese in this recipe with 1/2 cup chocolate chips if that's what you like.

I recently recieved some coconut oil to test and review from Topical Taditions, so I've been experimenting with it in some of my baking. I tried replacing the canola oil in this recipe with coconut oil and it added great flavour and texture. You can use whatever oil you have on hand. If you use coconut oil, it is very important that you use room temperature ingredients. Coconut oil will solidify on contact with cold milk or eggs and will leave chunks of oil in your batter... this I learned the hard way.

You can use fresh or canned pumpkin puree (how to roast a pumpkin)... or you can even use other kinds of squash (butternut and buttercup work best). The muffins pictured were actually made with buttercup squash because I had some leftover from dinner (and hadn't roasted my pumpkin yet). Buttercup squash is quite dry so I added a little extra milk to make up for it. Butternut squash is similar to pumpkin in moisture content and can be substituted as is.

Buttercup Squash

Pumpkin, Butternut and Buttercup Squash
(makes about 14 muffins)

1 3/4 cups GF Flour (my light flour blend)
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (or 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cloves)
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1/4 cup Melted Coconut Oil (or Canola Oil)
2/3 cup Milk (I use 1/3 cup when using homemade pumpkin puree because it has more water in it)
1 cup Pumpkin Puree (canned or homemade)
1 tsp Vanilla
Cream Cheese (about 1/3 cup)

Note: you can add 1/2 cup chocolate chips in lieu of cream cheese


Make sure eggs, milk and pumpkin puree are at room temperature if using coconut oil.
Sift together GF flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie spice.
Make well in dry ingredients and add beaten eggs, oil, milk, pumpkin puree and vanilla. Mix to combine wet ingredients and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients to form the batter.
Spoon batter into muffin tins lined with papers or greased.

Cut cream cheese into 1/2 - 1 tsp pieces and press into the tops of the batter. The cream cheese should stick up about 1/2 cm above the top of the batter. (mine are a bit too high in the picture)
Bake at 375 for 15 to 20 minutes.
Eat warm or cool on a wire rack and freeze in ziplock bag. Microwave from frozen to serve.

spoon batter into prepared muffin tins

cut cream cheese into teaspoon sized pieces

press pieces of cream cheese into the muffin batter

after baking

finished product

cream cheese filling

Don't be alarmed if your final product doesn't always look like the pictures I provide. Sometimes the brand or even age of your ingredients can change the outcome a bit.


You can also make a delicious pumpkin coffee cake with this recipe (chocolate chips or nuts optional). Just pour all but about 1 1/2 cups of the batter into a greased square baking pan and bake for around 40 minutes or until cooked in the center (just make 4 muffins with extra batter).
If you have a bundt cake pan or any pan with a hole in the middle you can use all of the batter for the cake.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder

My husband loves chicken corn chowder... well the campbell's chunky soup version anyway. I try to keep some on hand for quick bag lunches. Of course, canned chicken corn chowder contains wheat flour, so I have actually never tried it. To be honest, chicken corn chowder doesn't sound that amazing to me, so I was never really all that jealous. But I thought that if my husband was such a big fan, maybe I should give it a try.

I had some leftover chicken breast from a bought rotisserie chicken, and I was planning on making some chicken tacos for supper, but then I came across a recipe for chicken corn chowder and I had an idea: What if I make a Mexican/taco style chicken corn chowder? I knew my husband would love it, and I was excited to finally try a version of the famous chicken corn chowder. So I threw together some vegetables, salsa and taco seasonings, and topped it off with grated cheese and crushed corn chips. It was a hit! If this is anything like regular chicken corn chowder, I can now say that I am a fan too.

I know most chowders have more of a white broth, but we can blame the salsa and the chili powder for the red colour. This is a Mexican chowder... if that even exists... I guess you're just gonna have to work with me on this one!

(serves 6-7 people)

1 medium Onion Chopped
4 cloves Garlic Chopped
2 tsp Olive Oil
1 1/2- 2 cups Chopped Cooked Chicken
1/2 tsp Celery Salt (or 2 stalks chopped celery)
3 T Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Season Salt
1 tsp crushed chili peppers
1/2 tsp Ground Pepper
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger (or fresh if you have it)
3 T Water
(if you like it spicy, add some cayenne pepper)

5 cups Water
1/2 cup Diced Carrot or Yam
4 Potatoes peeled and Diced
1/2 tsp Thyme
2 cups Frozen Corn
2/3 cup Salsa

1/2 cup Half and Half Cream (gives it some colour without adding too much fat) - can substitute milk
1/2 cup Milk
(or substitute 1 cup evaporated milk for cream and milk)

Toppings (optional)
Grated Cheese 
Corn Chips


In largest pot, saute onions and garlic in olive oil for 2 mins.
Add in chicken, spices and 3 T water and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add 5 cups water, yam/carrot, potatoes, Thyme, corn and salsa. Bring to a boil then simmer on medium to low heat for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.

With an immersion hand blender, puree a little bit of the soup to help thicken it. (optional)

Stir in cream and milk (you can add more or less depending on your preferences)
Taste and add more salt/pepper if needed.
Reheat the soup to almost boiling. Serve.

with milk and cream added
 Top with crushed corn chips and grated cheese.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Chewy Brownies

I love pretty much anything chocolate. When I make a pan of these delicious brownies, I have to freeze them right away to keep myself from nibbling on them everytime I pass through the kitchen.  I have served these brownies to guests many times and they can't even tell they're gluten free.

My mom had this old brownie recipe she had cut from a newpaper or magazine when I was young. It was always our go to recipe for brownies, so when I found out I had celiac, we had to find a way to make an equally delicious gluten free version. The recipe only contains 1/2 cup flour, making it a little more forgiving than some of our other recipe alterations. We added an extra egg and 1/2 tsp baking powder (the original recipe had 2 eggs and no bp) and some kind of GF flour blend. I soon realized that you can use any flour blend for this recipe, but I find that a simple rice and tapioca flour blend (1/4 cup each) works great (and keeps things cheaper).

I like to sprinkle chocolate chips over the top of the brownies just after they come out of the oven. They will melt after a few minutes and you can spread the chocolate around with a knife to make a great icing. In this batch I chopped up some mini oh henry bars and mixed them into the batter before baking. You can do the same with any chocolate bar or chopped nuts if you like. These brownies are dark, fudgey and chewy... you won't be dissappointed! 

(makes 1 square baking pan)

1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup GF Flour Blend (I use half tapioca flour and half rice flour)
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 cup Oil
3 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 cup Nuts or chopped chocolate bar (optional)
1/3-1/2 cup Chocolate Chips (for icing - optional)

chopped oh henry bars

Stir together sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder.
Beat in oil, eggs and vanilla.
Stir in nuts if using.
Spread into greased square baking pan and bake at 350 F for approximately 30-40 minutes. It will be done when the middle is set (doesn't jiggle at all when touched).

before baking

after baking
Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Wait until melted completely (5 mins or so) and spread with a knife like icing over the brownies (optional).

Let cool a bit more and cut into pieces and serve with ice cream.
Wrap in plastic and freeze leftovers individually. To reheat, remove plastic, place on a plate, and microwave.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Gluten-Containing Foods to Watch Out For

I thought it might be useful to compile a list of some of those tricky gluten-containing foods. Hopefully this will save some gluten-free newbies from getting poisoned so much in the beginning. I am also hoping to help those who are trying to cook gluten-free for a friend or family member. I know this can be a stressful feat. It's frustrating when you try so hard to cook gluten-free, but you forgot to read the ingredients on the can of mushroom soup or bottle of soy sauce and contaminate the whole thing.

This post is partly inspired by a small group of ladies that I meet with every monday. When they first suggested we meet over supper time and take turns cooking for one another, I was like "oh crap... I will be poisoned for sure". It's not that I think they can't cook, I just know how tricky it can be. Gluten does not always present itself in an obvious way, and it's taken years (and countless stomach aches) for me to learn which foods to look out for. It's too easy to throw a seemingly innocent sauce or seasoning into a dish without even thinking to read the ingredients first. It's also sometimes hard to spot the gluten in the list if you don't know what you're looking for (eg. barley malt). Oh, and of course there's cross contamination (eg. using a fork to stir wheat noodles then stiring the rice noodles) of utensils, cutting boards and condiments. So anyway, I hope this helps!

Ingredients to watch for:
Wheat, Barley and Rye - I usually ignore the disclaimers saying it may contain traces of wheat because it really doesn't. They're just covering their butts in case by chance something got in and you try to sue them.
Malt - malt flavouring, malt extract, barley malt (maltodextrin is ok - not a barley product)
Flour - assume wheat if it doesn't specify
Gluten - assume wheat if it doesn't specify - if it says something like glutinous rice flour it's ok
Bread crumbs/toasted wheat crumbs

Sauces and Seasonings
Soya Sauce - probably about half of the brands have wheat, you just have to find the right one
BBQ Sauce - some kinds have it and some don't. Read ingredients and look out for sauces make with beer
Worchester Sauce - almost always contains wheat
Seasoning Mixes - read ingredients on these. I have seen seasoned salt that contains flour. Taco seasoning/chilli powder should also be checked. I think most kinds are ok but it's good to double check.
Soup Bases - many brands of dry and liquid soup base contain wheat. You can usually find something that works, but it might take some reading. Sometimes the low sodium varieties may be free of wheat when the full sodium kind has gluten.
Salad Dressing - Ceasar is the big one to watch for, depending on the brand (Kraft is bad). I usually feel pretty safe with italian and ranch. And of course avoid the croutons!
Other Cooking Sauces - prepared teryaki, sweet and sour sauce, etc can be bad so look out.

Pre-Packaged Soups, Cereal, etc
Condensed soups - almost all of these have flour, but I have found that the store brand of my supermarket has a low fat version of mushroom soup that is gluten free (while the full fat version is not)
Ready to eat soup/chilli - while many have flour, you can usually find a couple varieties in each brand that are gluten free. I like the Campbells chunky chicken sausage gumbo and split pea and ham.
Cereal - the big dangerous ingredient in cereal is malt. Most rice and corn cereal contain malt flavouring. And of course many kinds of cereal are made with wheat.
Pasta Sauce - most kinds are ok but the fancier kinds can have flour for thickening.

Junk food
Chips - most chips are made from corn or potatoes, and therefore seem innocent. Seasoning is the thing you have to watch for. Most doritos are ok, but the Nacho one has wheat in the seasoning. Often BBQ or all dressed potato chips have wheat. Just read.
Licorice - always has wheat flour. I have never seen one that doesn't. Most candy is ok, but for some reason licorice isn't.
Pop corn seasoning - read it!
Chocolate Bars - many do and many don't. Stay away from anything with a wafer (kit kat, coffee crisp, etc). Smarties seem harmless, but they actually have flour in the candy coating (no idea why...) M&Ms are gluten free though!

Beer - there are a few gluten free beers out there, but most is made with barley. Hard liquor tends to be ok because it's distilled.
Tea - most is fine but it can contain barley. I think the gingerbread celestial seasonings one has barley.

Cold Cuts - often kinds like pepperoni and other mechanically separated then squashed back together meats can have flour. Usually basic ham or chicken are ok but look out for any fancy seasonings.
Hot dogs, Sausages, Smokies - many contain wheat. it can take a bit of hunting to find ones that are gluten free.
Burgers - look for all beef. Wheat crumbs are often used as a filler. Check ingredients in restaurants and supermarkets. Or just make your own!

This can be the trickiest part of all.
Crumbs - in the butter, on the counter, on a knife, the list goes on. If you are using a condiment, try to remove the top layer if you see crumbs. It helps if you have your own condiments, utensils and even your own toaster (see bottom of this section).
Stirring Utensils - my husband has done this countless times... stirs his pot of noodles then uses the same fork for mine. Try to keep everything as seperate as possible and don't reuse cutting boards you've cut wheat products on without washing them first.
Dips - even if the dip is technically gluten free, it's best to put some in a separate container for yourself in case someone dips a cracker or bread in it while you weren't looking.
Baking pans and sheets - just make sure these are washed well. You can even have a separate pan for your gluten free baking.
Plating - make sure to keep gluten free stuff on a different dish than wheat-containing products. Many people will react even with that little bit of contact.
Toaster/Microwave - make sure you have your own toaster (or at least your own side of the toaster) for your gluten free bread. Also, make sure to put your food on a plate before microwaving because who knows what kind of residue has been left in there...

This list is not exhaustive. Please feel free to contribute to my list with your comments. I will try to update these lists as I think of more gluten dangers. Good luck!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Here is another great recipe for fall apples. Muffins are one of my favorite breakfast foods; I try to keep a stockpile of them in my freezer. I have a fairly high success rate with gluten free muffins, so I tend to do a lot of experimenting with them. My light flour blend can be substituted for regular flour in most muffin recipes as long as you double the leavening (baking powder or soda) and add an extra egg. For this recipe, I just altered some of my other muffin recipes to create the right flavours. I used small chunks of apples in this recipe, but you could also try grated apple.

(makes 12-14 muffins)

1 1/2 cups GF Flour Blend (light flour blend)
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
2 Eggs
1/4 cup Oil
1/2 cup Milk
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Finely Diced Apple (peeled and cored)

1 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Cinnamon


Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
Make a well in the mixture and stir in wet ingredients and apple pieces.
Spoon into 12 lined muffin tins.
Combine 1 T sugar and 1/2 t cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the raw muffins.
Bake at 375 F for around 17 minutes.
Let muffins cool on a rack, then store in freezer.