Gluten-Free + Vegan Animal Crackers for Kids of All Ages

 

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I have vague but delicious memories of animal crackers as a child, a rare and special treat to be given a box of Barnum’s Animals all to myself, to open the package and to pick out each animal one by one, savoring it before reaching in for another.

Later in my teen years, I discovered the pink and white frosting and sprinkle version of animal crackers and they too became their own ritual, a big bag to share on a school road trip, or otherwise special occasion.

 

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Until last spring I’d forgotten about animal crackers and then one quick weekend getaway, walking the aisles of the local co-op, I saw the “natural” brand versions of these childhood treats and unexpectedly found that a little handful of those delicious crackers would be just the sweet I needed. Unfortunately, even within the allergen-free and natural brands, animal crackers that I can actually enjoy safely are pretty difficult to track down, so I set out to make my own.

What began as a whim and a craving became a tiny lovely treat that both William and I love to snack on after dinner, and taking this childhood favorite into our adult years, we found they pair particularly well with a Sicilian Rosé we tend to favor.  ;)

 

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This recipe is part of my monthly contribution to The Recipe Redux, a recipe challenge founded by registered dietitians and focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for you. The theme this month is Kids That Cook and we’re recreating some of our childhood favorites or what we’re cooking with kids now. While I never made animal crackers as a child, I did bake a lot of cookies, make playdough, and loved to watch my mom make a special occasion gooey cinnamon swirl bread which somehow was even better because it was our neighbor’s recipe.

What were your favorite childhood foods, homemade or otherwise?

 

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Animal Crackers {GF + Vegan}, makes about 100
Roll these to your desired thickness. I prefer them extra thin, William enjoys a little more cookie width. Also make sure to give a good pinch of nutmeg (make sure it’s fresh), as it really makes the difference. 

1 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
generous pinch of nutmeg and a little pinch of cinnamon
1/4 cup cashew butter
3 Tbs. unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup organic cane sugar
1 Tbs. ground flax + 2 Tbs. warm water – thickened for 5 minutes
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
  • In a larger bowl, whip the cashew butter with a fork until creamy and then add the applesauce and sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Then add the flax and water mixture and vanilla  and blend it all together.
  • Add the dry ingredients slowly into the wet mixture and stir until the mixture comes together into a cookie dough ball.
  • Cover the bowl of dough well and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  • When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Coat a flat surface with a little flour and roll about 1/3 of the dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using mini animal cookie cutters, cut out the cookies. If you’d like to make them a little more realistic, simply use a toothpick to create an eye for each animal.
  • Place on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, just until the edges begin to lightly brown.
  • Continue to roll out and bake the remaining cookies.

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Moroccan Potato + Summer Vegetable Tagine: Performance Meal Planning with Potatoes

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By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Potatoes USA and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

In one of my first nutrition classes, we read the book Nourishing Wisdom and I distinctly recall a section about the flavor of place, and how the author found himself loving and craving pizza when living in New York, avocados when in San Diego, and Gravenstein apples when in Sebastopol, California, a place where they’re particularly grown. When I read that section of the book, it took me back to fall term of my senior year as an undergraduate. I lived in Ireland that semester and for the first time in my life, could gladly eat potatoes every single day. My favorite was to buy the smaller baby potatoes, slide a few into a pot of cold water on the stove, bring to a boil and cook until soft, and then serve plain as a side with no additional flavorings except a little heavy-on-the-vinegar Irish ketchup and a dash of salt. It was heaven.

And then I returned home and my affinity for potatoes dropped away just as quickly, even though I grew up eating them a whole bunch.

I haven’t craved a single potato-based meal since living in Ireland. Enjoyed, yes. But never craved in that same way.

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Which is really too bad because my local farmers grow some particularly lovely and flavorful potatoes, baby size and all.

I’ve an intention to focus more on making the main components of my meals from local ingredients for the next couple months, and that means exploring some great foods I don’t always rely on. While at my local farm the other day, I noticed all the different potato varieties lining a whole section of the stand and I quickly grabbed up several handfuls of each, envisioning all the different ways I’d like to enjoy them. While simple can often be best, I decided to center them in a savory sweet Moroccan Tagine. If you’ve never tried a tagine, I think this version is the Northern African equivalent to the very-Irish Potato Stew I grew up on.

So completely different, but also so similar.

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And while still on the topic of flavors of place, there’s actually a good reason why we crave foods grown in our regions, those in season, or what is super super fresh. They’re the foods that are often packed full of all the nutrients!

This is particularly important for us athletes who are trying to maximize our nutrient intake, pack in some quality meals to enhance recovery, and eat for flavor, texture, and enjoyment. For me anyway, even several years beyond the Ireland potato phase, this meal hits all those spots.

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While I don’t generally go into nutrients and calories and nutritionism in detail in this space, I recognize that some of you actually do want this information, and to be honest, I live in this world for at least half my time right now so I do understand.

And to be clear, I also once thought potatoes weren’t a very nutritionally sound food choice but that’s generally only true if they’re eaten without their skin, are fried in rancid oil or processed beyond recognition.

For athletes especially, potatoes provide a good source of carbohydrates and potassium, as well as several trace minerals, and if super colorful like the one below, phytonutrients needed to perform at one’s best. A medium potato with the skin provides just 110 calories and a good hit of the daily value of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant needed for optimal athletic recovery. They also provide more potassium than a medium banana, which aids in muscle, cardiovascular and nervous system function. And nearly all of us–athletes or non-athletes–fail to get enough of this essential electrolyte!

Lastly, potatoes provide as much — if not more — of several essential vitamins and minerals found in spaghetti, brown rice or whole wheat bread, making them a smart addition to the other favorite performance foods. This is especially true because the more diversity in our whole-food choices, the happier our gut microbes–and thus health! And even more important for athletes who stress the GI to the max in all our fun but grueling endurance pursuits.

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1 Nutritional data is based on a 5.2 ounce skin-on potato.
2 Gelibter, A., et al. Satiety following intake of potatoes and other carbohydrate test meals. Ann Nutr Metab. 2013;62:37-43.

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Moroccan Potato + Summer Vegetable Tagine, 
serves 3-4
– Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend, somewhat similar to a garam masala. The name actually means “Top of the Shop” and each spice house will usually have their own blend which features their best spices. I made my own (see below), but there are several good ones available to purchase, or improvise with a garam masala knowing it won’t provide quite the same flavor profile.
-Other than the potatoes, any summer vegetables will work in this and I encourage you to use what is fresh and available near you!

2 Tbs. coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1 Tbs. ras el hanout
1 tsp. sea salt
1 lb. small potatoes, sliced 3/4-in thick
1/2 lb. yellow summer squash, diced
small bunch / 4 oz. broccoli, chopped
3 cups water
small handful / 4 oz. green beans, ends trimmed and diced
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
4 dried plums or dates, diced
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon, to taste
cooked quinoa, optional

  • In a large pot or dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat and add the garlic and onion. Cook until the onions begin to soften.
  • Then add the ras el hanout spice, salt, potatoes, summer squash and broccoli. Stir to coat, and then add enough water to barely cover most of the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  • About 10 minutes before the potatoes are done, stir in the green beans, garbanzo beans, and dried plums.
  • As the vegetables are done, add in the lemon juice to balance the flavors and then taste and adjust seasonings.
  • Serve it as is, or alongside some quinoa.

 

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Ras el Hanout seasoning
Blend this up by weight or by teaspoons.

4 parts cumin
4 parts ginger
4 parts turmeric
3 parts black pepper
2 parts coriander
2 parts cinnamon
2 parts cayenne
1 part cloves
1 part allspice
1 part cardamom
1 part rose petal powder

 

Nutrition Information // Based on 1/3 of recipe served without quinoa
Calories 475 | Fat 12.8 g | Cholesterol 0 mg | Sodium 830 mg | Total Carbohydrates 79 g | Fiber 16 g | Sugar 18 g | Added Sugar 0 g | Potassium 1563 mg / 33% DV | Protein 17g | Vitamin C 93 mg

 

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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream

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Friday evening and William and I took each other to the county fair. He stood in line for a corndog, a really good one, he said, and then we headed away from all the noise to the barns, ambling through each aisle one by one, comparing the chickens to ours, wondering at whether the tagline saying aggressive! scrawled under the price for a $40 bunny was a comment about the price, the animal’s temperament, or some other reason I already forget. Then we went to the hog barn, the sheep, and then the cattle. I beelined us towards the champion animals, commenting about how when I was in high school a dozen or more years ago, the genetics were just leaning towards better in the sheep division, and now the champion lambs are packed, their muscles rippling with every move.

 

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After it all we headed a couple blocks over to Friendly’s, a neighborhood natural foods store. We bought small pots of expensive delicious ice cream, brought it back home, and sat in the near-dark on the couch, eating little spoonfuls slowly. When I scraped the last bit from my dish and nearly got up for more, William stopped me, saying no just wait a moment and you’ll realize you’re done. 

And I did.
And I did.

It was a fabulous and simple evening after a long week with more weekend work ahead. It was lovely to just set everything else down for a few hours and be present, enjoying summer, enjoying the magic, realizing the hunger we’re hungry for can be fed in small doses of treats and much larger heaps of time with a loved one and their caring hand and arm around the shoulders, their well-intended suggestions, and in taking the time to share snippets of a long-ago passion at the county fair.

 

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The Recipe Redux asked for stone fruit this month. Even though I’ve been eating the various fruits daily, working apricots or plums into morning oatmeal, having a handful of cherries with afternoon snack, or gliding thin slices into whatever savory is up for dinner, this time of year calls for a treat, with stone fruits at their best.

This raw, barely sweet lemon and coconut cream tart is a real favorite, but one I often forget about. It’s one to make for a dinner party or a sunday feast. Or maybe, just because it’s summer and our weary selves need a little wholesome decadent goodness.

 

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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream, adapted from my blackberry version
There are a few options here. The fruit can of course be changed up depending on preference, but the choice of nuts and sweetener can too. I used a mix of hazel and walnuts, the almond meal, and then used lucuma powder to sweeten. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit that has a slightly mapley caramel flavor and the powder can be used as a natural sweetener. I had a nearly expired packet in the back of the pantry and put it to good use here, but the alternative of using about half the amount of regular or powdered sugar works well too and honestly isn’t added in enough quantity to do much harm.

5 medjool dates / 45 g, pitted and briefly soaked
1/2 cup / 50 g nuts of choice, toasted
1/2 cup / 50 g almond meal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 15 oz. / 400 mL can full-fat coconut milk, chilled
2-4 Tbs. lucuma or sugar
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 peaches and pluots
lemon juice

  • In a food processor, combine dates, nuts, cinnamon, and salt.  Puree until finely chopped and the mixture sticks together when pinched with your fingers.  Turn out into a 7-8 in tart pan.
  • Open the chilled coconut milk and without stirring, spoon out the cream layer into a medium bowl. Reserve the watery milk in the bottom of the can for another use.
  • Whip the coconut cream along with the lucuma, lemon zest, and vanilla.  Spoon and smooth atop the nut layer.
  • Thinly slice the peaches and pluots and layer around the top of the coconut filling, in circles, as desired. To preserve the color, brush a little lemon juice across the fruit layer, and then lightly cover and set the tart in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.

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