Thursday, October 25, 2012

Clean Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Bars


It practically has the word "yum" already in it. You can hear it. Autummmmmmn. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. I feel the same way about fall that some people seem to feel about spring. Everything seems new, exciting and renewed! Fall is the time for harvest and for exciting flavors, for spices and warm broths! I love the crisp air and the swirling leaves all falling down. The autumn aesthetic has always been very appealing to me.

Also, pumpkin.

Pumpkin everything, everywhere.

How can you not love that?

The problem with a lot of "pumpkin stuff" that I find, though, is that it's either loaded with sugar and syrups (a la Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte) or it's 3/4 covered in gluten and processed pie shell (like the deliciousness that is pumpkin pie). Surely we can do better than that for something as hardworking and versatile as pumpkin.

If you've never had the experience of carving up a pumpkin (for anything other than a jack o lantern) and roasting it in the oven, I highly recommend it! Smaller pumpkins are naturally sweeter. Cut the pumpkin in half, and then in quarters. Scoop out the seeds and "membrane" portion in the center. (Save the seeds to salt and roast! So delicious!) Wrap the quarters in aluminum foil and preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the quarters meat-side down on a baking sheet and pop into the oven. A small pumpkin of 4 or 5 pounds should take about an hour to roast. Once the meat is tender all the way through, the pumpkin is ready. Scoop out the meat into a food processor and let it puree until smooth. Voila! Clean pumpkin puree.

If you don't have the time or the inclination (or the food processor!) you can purchase pumpkin puree. Most brands will have pure pumpkin puree (Libby's is a popular brand in the US that you can use) but it never hurts to just check the ingredients list. Always check your ingredients.

With that out of the way, I happily present to you: Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Bars

Part of my love of fall might be born of the fact that my mother used to allow my sister and I to have a slice of pumpkin pie for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving. You know... Leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving Dinner! I was always so excited because we were eating dessert for breakfast. I felt like I was getting away with something.

One of the best things about being an adult now is you can eat whatever you want. Dessert for breakfast? Well, of course! Every day! ...But what to do with all that nasty guilt?

We could just never develop it at all. I vote for that.

These are gluten free, lactose free, sugar free Pumpkin Pie Bars. It's easy to turn this recipe into a pie, but as my primary motivation is to have this for breakfast, I find that bars are simply easier for those "mornings on the go". And, if I'm being honest, most of my mornings are "mornings on the should-have-gone-5-minutes-ago".

This recipe consists of two parts: my Go-To Almond Flour Crust, and the amazing, creamy Pumpkin Pie filling. Let's start with the basics, which will serve you well in recipes to come:

The Go-To Almond Flour Crust 
     For Pies, Bars and other Crunchy Support Systems

1 cup almond flour*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the dry ingredients and then mix the wet ingredients in. Combine well and you end up with a big, fantastic almond smelling mess. A lot of people have problems with their almond crusts burning. If you are making bars, line the pan with parchment paper first and then press the crust into the bottom and as far up the sides as you would like. I usually just form a crust for the bottom when I am making bars. An 8" x 8" pan works best if you want bars- your bars will have a good thickness to them. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust begins to turn a light gold color. When you press it with your finger it should have a little give, but should not push away. You are going to bake it a little more with the pie, but you need it to be further along than the rest of the dish.

If you want to use this recipe to make a pie, you are going to need a little more crust- maybe another half a cup of almond flour, and another half a tablespoon of coconut oil or butter. I also like to add maybe half a cup of shredded coconut for flavor and texture. Powdered xylitol can help add that sweetness that you may be craving from a pie as well. If you want that sweetness back, add 2 tablespoons of powdered xylitol. Powdered xylitol can be made by turning your blender on high and adding in regular xylitol slowly. It will powder wonderfully, although you should keep it covered as much as possible lest you end up with wonderful (and expensive) powdered xylitol all over yourself and your clothes.

A small note on almond flour: As a newly-wed and a college student, I find that almond flour gets expensive quickly! I make my own by using a small nut mill and raw almonds. I blend them in the nut mill (or coffee grinder) and then sift them to make sure only the fine particles get through. Sifting will help to make sure you have a nice, even texture to your almond flour. Dump the ground almond flour into a mesh strainer and then tap on the sides and shake back and forth over a bowl until only the big pieces remain. You can put these back in the grinder to re-work.

The finest texture you can get is by first blanching your almonds to remove the skins. To blanch almonds, place the almonds in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for about a minute (no more) and then dump the boiling water and run cold water over them. Letting them sit longer than a minute will make them start cooking and you will get mushy almonds and poor flour. Once the almonds are run under cold water, you can "squeeze" the skins off quite easily. Discard the skins and allow the almonds to dry before you try to grind them. Removing the skins will let you get a finer grind, but it also removes all the good fiber. In the case of our pumpkin bars, it's best to include the skins! This is early in the morning and you'll need a bit of almond skin to help you get your day started!

While your crust bakes in the oven, let's get started on the best part: the pumpkin.

Clean Pumpkin Pie Filling

1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree (or 1 3/4 cups of your own puree)
1 cup of full-fat coconut milk (coconut milk in a can)
3-4 tablespoons honey, agave syrup or your sweetener of choice
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all ingredients together until smooth. Make sure you mix in all your spices, or you'll end up with a clump of bitter in the middle of your filling. Once the crust is finished baking, pour the filling over it and pop it directly back in the oven. Keep the temperature at 350F and allow the bars to cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Keeping the temperature a little lower will help it to not dry out or crack. The filling should be solid but not dried out. Allow to cool before stuffing your face, and keep it refrigerated once it's totally cool.

If you are enjoying these little guys as a dessert, add some cinnamon to that leftover full-fat coconut milk and whip it into some whipped cream to put on top. It is easier to make if you refrigerate it before you whip it.

Autummmmmmn indeed.

Every Story Has Its Beginning

Every story of a clean start is different. Some have difference motivations, others have distinct goals, and still others have diverse levels of desperation. But all stories of a clean start have one thing in common: determination.

I have known for the past few years that my health needed to be more than just going to the gym so that I could attain some number on the tag of my jeans that I felt like I should be in. Goals alone have never been a really great motivation for me. I think of myself as having a type-A personality, but when it came to my health, simply knowing that there was a finish line somewhere was not enough motivation for me to run that race. 

But in the past years, a lot of changes have happened in my life. Health concerns began to pop up for me that were more difficult to ignore than a number on a scale, and allergies that I had explained away or ignored began to make themselves more and more obvious.

I am at the point of my clean start, my fresh beginning, and I don't think it could have come at a better time in my life. I am not usually very good at recognizing important events in my life. I am the kind of person who can only realize in hindsight when something crucial is happening. This time, my life events have been obvious enough to recognize. In the past six months I have gotten married, graduated from college, began my career in teaching, lost my last two grandparents, witnessed people that I love experience serious health concerns, and have left my childhood home.

Momentum is a powerful thing. This time, I fully recognize the significance of the events that are happening and acknowledge that determination is what causes us to stick it out when things get difficult. The love of and the love for the people around us makes healthy choices worth it, regardless of what our personal culture or our pop culture tells us we should do.

This blog will be many things for me, but it will also be a compilation of the choices that I make when it comes to food and health choices. Feel free to take the recipes that you find here and make them into whatever you need! My own health concerns are very specific, but I keep meeting more and more people who share them, which is comforting. My meals are gluten-free and unprocessed, primarily. I also try to avoid starches and sugars. Most of my recipes will use dairy, but they can be easily modified to be lactose-free.

Clean starts all have their own beginning, and this is mine.