Have you ever started a recipe only to discover that it called for "pumpkin pie spice"?  And there was no such thing in your cupboard?  

You can make your own very easily.  Mix a big batch and fill a jar, or just use the ratios below to put directly in your recipe.  For instance, if your recipe calls for 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, use double the amounts below.  No need to stir them together first, either, just drop them in.  If you have cinnamon but not all three of the others, you can leave one of them out and still be fine.  (Just don't leave out the cinnamon!)

Pumpkin Pie Spice Makes 1 teaspoon. 

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Mix ingredients well. 

Bigger batch, for filling a spice jar:  
Makes 1/4 c (4 Tbsp or 12 tsp.)
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

See the bottom of this post for photos on making the heart-swirl pattern.

A friend of mine has to avoid dairy, wheat, and oats- and we were going to be together at a potluck lunch on Thursday.  The pumpkin cheesecake last week (for a different group) was such a hit I decided to adapt it so she could enjoy it too.  But with a bit of chocolate.  Like pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies.

I wanted it to be relatively inexpensive- no quart of coconut yogurt! -that stuff's pricey. Coconut milk and coconut cream, sure.  I have that on hand.  
No recipes using those appeared to be online anywhere, though I found the chocolate-version crust here.  There were some cashew-puree based ones- but not only did I not have time to soak nuts, but wanted this to be a recipe even the nut-allergic could use. So I started with my tried-and-true 'normal' recipe, and adapted. And I was willing to buy one 6-oz cup of coconut yogurt to put in the (optional) topping. 
You won't taste the apple cider vinegar, but it adds both the tartness and savoriness you'd get from cream cheese. If you have 2 (14-oz) cans coconut milk and a 19-oz can of coconut cream, that will be exactly enough for the filling, the topping, and the ganache.

If you want to use honey in the filling instead of sugar, use just 1 cup honey plus 1 Tbsp.  Since this also adds about 1/4 cup of water, add about a tablespoon additional pumpkin powder OR a tablespoon oat or coconut flour so the cheesecake won't be too soft.

Gluten free, dairy free Pumpkin Cheesecake
1 c. fine-shred coconut, toasted
1 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
1 ½ Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ Tbsp. cocoa powder 

Stir together and press firmly onto the bottom of a 9” springform pan.  Set aside.  
For a fall-spice crust instead of chocolate, omit cocoa powder, and instead use                 ½ tsp. cinnamon + ¼ tsp. cloves + ½ tsp. ginger

1 1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4  tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cloves
½ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. (slightly heaped 1/3 c.) pumpkin powder
2 (14-oz) cans coconut milk
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 c. coconut cream

Mix all together, in order.  Don’t overmix or whip air into it, or it may crack while baking.  Bake at 350 F for  75-90 minutes in a water bath, until center jiggles like Jello and internal temperature is 145-150 F.  Cool in oven or on counter, then chill, covered, in fridge 4 hours or more.

Rum-flavor Topping:
1 cup coconut cream, well chilled
½ cup coconut yogurt
½ cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. rum extract

Whip cream until just beginning to thicken; add all else and whip.  Spread over chilled cheesecake.

Chocolate Ganache drizzle:
¼ c. (1 ½ oz) dairy-free chocolate chips
3 Tbsp. coconut cream or coconut milk

Heat gently to melt chocolate chips; whisk until smooth.  Drizzle on cheesecake.
Can you tell it's zucchini and tomato season?  I've wondered before why so many recipes combine those two vegetables.  I now suspect that it's partly because the plain zucchini excels at tasting like whatever you cook it with, and very few things can top a fresh garden tomato in the flavor department.  This recipe also uses any mellow white fish, probably for the same reason.  The other ingredients both perk up and round out the flavor.  This one's a keeper.

Baked Fish and Vegetables

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon zest or 2-3 drops lemon essential oil
1 lb. zucchini or summer squash,sliced 1/4" thick
1 lb. tomatoes (3 medium), sliced thin, OR cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. minced fresh basil or 1 drop basil oil
salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs. mild white fish 
2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar*

Preheat oven to 450 F and move an oven rack to the lowest position.  Mix together the butter, minced garlic, lemon juice, and zest.  If using basil oil, add it to this mixture.  Rub a little of the butter mixture on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.

Put the zucchini slices in the bottom of the 9x13 pan; add the tomatoes in a second layer.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and with half of the basil (unless you used basil oil).  Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then place the fish on top of the tomatoes.  Dot the butter over the top, add the rest of the basil, and drizzle with the vinegar*.  Cover tightly with foil; bake about 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes when you twist a fork in it.  Serve immediately.

Serve over rice to pasta to soak up the delicious sauce!

*The original recipe, from America's Test Kitchen, calls for 1/4 cup dry white wine.  I don't cook with wine, so the white balsamic is what I found in my pantry to add the savory flavor.  Since it's strong, I used only half as much (2 Tbsp. instead of 1/4 c.).  If you have neither, chicken broth and a splash of soy sauce would give a similar depth.
My no-butter spread still tastes like butter plus is made with healthy fats. The spread is in the container; dairy butter is on the left for comparison.
I am so excited!

But first- if you've noticed a shift towards gluten-free and dairy-free recipes lately, good noticing!  I. Love. Dairy.  I even milked a cow every day as a teenager so I had the fresh great stuff.  But sometimes people have health problems with certain foods.  So far we've discovered that two of my children get stomach aches when they drink milk.  One of my daughters has excema on her arms that just has not cleared up.  It usually comes and goes, especially in the winter, but she's had it for two months straight.  So I've taken all dairy and wheat items out of her diet to see if those common allergens could be a reason for it.  I'm still cooking normally for everyone else, but have necessarily been experimenting with this other way of cooking.  And here's the latest and greatest:

Butter.  Sort of.  It tastes like it, anyway.  And spreads beautifully.  It even cooks like butter.  I've creamed it with sugar and made a cake, made brownies, melted it on muffins, spread on toast, made honeybutter, and made dairy-free cream of broccoli soup with it.  Yum.

The idea was sparked by reading a label on a small tub of honey butter.  Turns out there was no butter in it at all, but tasted as though it did.  Reading through the list- hydrogenated soybean oil, honey, citric acid, soy lecithin, artificial colors and flavors- it occurred to me that if THEY could make something taste and spread like butter, then maybe I could, too.  So I started researching what the flavor components were in butter and what other foods contain them too.  It was fun to read about- ketones, diacetyl, acetoin, reactions between aldehyde and niacin.  (But, dang it, how come if I was setting a good example of work, study, and loving to learn, I had to remind my daughter every 20 minutes to get back to her schoolwork?!)

Anyway, I found some foods that naturally have some of the same flavor components as butter, and used one that covered the bases.  It's the ingredient that makes ALL the difference in flavor here.  Liquid aminos.  Or just use soy sauce, which is about the same thing.  If you prefer to avoid soy completely, nutritional yeast flakes will give a similar flavor.  Vinegar also works, in the same tiny amount.  The cornstarch, coconut flour, or xantham gum thicken the water so it will better stay mixed with the oils.

This is spreadable when used straight from the fridge.  It’s fantastic on toast, muffins, and waffles.   It has about the same fat-to-water ratio as dairy butter (80:20).  You can cook with it just like real butter, too.  It can be creamed with sugar for cakes and cookies.  Use it cold from the fridge to do this, and don’t beat it longer than about 45 seconds or it begins to melt a little.  This spread can be mixed with an equal amount of honey to make honey butter.

If you’d like a firmer consistency, like sticks of butter, increase coconut oil to ¾ cup and reduce liquid oil to ¼ cup.

Turmeric and paprika give it a nice color without  affecting the flavor.  Turmeric adds bright yellow so a little goes a long way, and paprika lends a warm pinkish orange.  Both will deepen after a day. Combine a pinch of each (just under 1/16 tsp) for the best color.  If you make this using olive oil, the buttery spread has a greenish hint to it which paprika helps eliminate.

Dairy-free Buttery Spread

2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp.  cornstarch OR coconut flour OR 1/4 tsp. xantham gum
1/8 tsp. liquid aminos or soy sauce or vinegar OR scant ½ tsp. nutritional yeast
½ tsp. salt
A pinch each turmeric and paprika, optional (for color)
½ c. coconut oil, softened just til creamy and stirrable
½ c. olive oil or other liquid oil like canola

In a glass 1-cup measuring cup, stir together water and coconut flour.  Microwave until it boils, stir until smooth.  (You’ll need 3 T water if boiling this in a pan on the stove.) Mix in the liquid aminos, salt, turmeric and paprika.  Set aside to cool. 

After it’s cooled to nearly room temperature, mix in the coconut oil, then whisk in olive oil until smooth.  Put mixture in the fridge to chill.  Stir after it starts to thicken, about 15-30 minutes. 

Store covered in the refrigerator.  Makes just over 1 cup. (9 ½ oz, or 3 T. more than 2 sticks of butter)

If you want a firmer consistency to form “sticks” of butter, after it’s just started thickening in the fridge and you’ve stirred it, pack it into whatever molds you have.  I use mini loaf pans, filling them on a scale so each stick weighs 4 ounces.  Put in the freezer to solidify. After they’re hard, pop them out of the molds and store in ziptop bags or wrapped in plastic.  Label and keep in the freezer for longer storage, or keep in the fridge for shorter-term use.

This is a dairy-free version of sweetened condensed milk, using honey as the sweetener.  For some other ways to make a substitute for sweetened condensed milk, including some with dairy, see here
It doesn't need cooked, which not only makes it super fast to make, but is great if you want to use raw honey and keep the enzymes.
Due to the fiber in this recipe, it won't be as smooth as the store product, but it is still thick, creamy, and sweet

This has one rather obscure ingredient: coconut butter.  That, however, is super easy to make, and will store at room temperature for a long time.  Months, at least.  
Coconut butter is plain, unsweetened coconut ('macaroon coconut') that has been pureed in a blender or food processor for several minutes, until it becomes liquid and creamy.  It, like coconut oil, will solidify at temperatures under about 75 F, but can be gently heated to liquefy again.  If you make your own, use at least 2 cups of coconut to begin with so there's enough in the blender or bowl to puree.  This much will give you about 1 cup of coconut butter.  If you want other ideas on using this coconut butter, see here or the Tropical Traditions recipe blog, where they call it Coconut Cream Concentrate.

No-cook Honey-Sweetened Condensed (coconut) Milk
Makes about 14 ounces

2/3 c. honey (7 oz. by weight)
1/4 c. plus 1 Tbsp. water, warm but not hot
1/2 c. coconut butter (also known as coconut cream concentrate), warmed

Add the warm water and coconut cream to the liquid measuring cup you have the honey in. Whisk together.

Mixture will thicken as it cools to room temperature, but can be used right away.

To thicken faster, cover and put it in the fridge.

This can be used any way that you'd use regular sweetened condensed milk, EXCEPT in the no-bake cheesecakes that call for lemon juice.  It won't thicken up properly there, because the condensed (dairy) milk thickens by the lemon juice curdling it.  Coconut milk doesn't.

Try it with the Two-Minute Fudge recipe!
One tablespoon of this sweetened condensed milk contains 1g of fiber, 1g of protein, 7g fat, and 19g sugars.  The regular canned stuff has no fiber, 3g protein, 3g fat, and 22g sugar.

So this recipe is higher in fat, but it's a healthy fat.  It's lower in sugar, plus contains coconut fiber, which has shown an ability to reduce the glycemic load of foods by slowing glucose release.
Crab Salad - with watermelon rind!
To go along with last week's post on cutting a watermelon, here's something to take it a little farther!

 Most everyone has seen recipes for watermelon rind pickles- but is the rind edible for anything else? 

YES!  And since it can make up 25-45% of the total melon weight, eating it makes your money go further.

You can even eat the green part, though it's tough.  I prefer removing it.  If you use it, at least make sure it's been washed.  It is, after all, the part that was sitting on the ground and then handled by everyone else. 

The lighter green part can be eaten fresh, or cooked.  It has a high water content, a good fiber content, and a little Vitamin C and Vitamin B-6.  It also has a compound that converts to the amino acid arginine, and current research indicates it may help relax blood vessels.   When fresh, it's somewhat like a really firm cucumber.  You can use it in place of cucumbers, chopped apples, fresh zucchini, or celery.  It doesn't have as much flavor, so if that matters, you might want to increase any flavorings or spices in the recipe.  For instant, if you use watermelon rind in place of celery, it would be tasty to add a little celery seed or celery salt.  If you use it in place of apple, you might want to add a little honey and lemon juice. 

When it's cooked, it resembles (cooked) zucchini or apples.  There's a recipe for a watermelon rind stir-fry at Allrecipes.  Or maybe try Watermelon Boats on the Grill (substitute a slab of rind for a half zucchini.) What else could you use it in?  Think about all the recipes you use zucchini or yellow summer squash, apples, celery, cucumber, or other bland vegetables.   There is actually an entire website devoted to watermelon rind recipes!  It's -what else?- WatermelonRind.com   A friend of mine made the Watermelon Rind KimChee and loved it.  (seehere for a follow-up post on it.)

Meanwhile, here's something from my house the other day- I didn't have celery for my pasta salad, so instead threw in some diced watermelon rind!  I weighed the melon and its parts: out of a 16-lb watermelon, 4.5 lbs of its weight was rind.  Just so you know.

Crab/Krab Salad

1 lb. seashell pasta
2-3 Tbsp. pickle juice or cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I prefer olive oil or coconut oil)
1 lb. crab or imitation, flaked
1/2 onion, chopped or pureed (for kids!)
1-2 c. grapes
1-2 c. chopped watermelon rind (OR use cucumbers or celery)
3/4 tsp. salt
pepper to taste

Cook and drain the pasta.  Add pickle juice or vinegar, along with the oil, to the hot pasta (it soaks in better, resulting in better flavor.)  Add crab, onion, grapes, watermelon rind, and salt.  Stir well, add pepper to taste, and add more salt if you want it.

Cover and chill.