Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Salted Caramel

Gluten-free and dairy free!

We don’t have sweets around our house too often but Christmas calls for a few special desserts, baked good or snacks and I love making them! 🙂 We use mostly unrefined sugars though some of them do raise your blood sugar so I’m careful as too how often we indulge in sugary treats. My “go to” sweetener is stevia or raw honey but when special occasions come about I use a few of the following sugars such as; maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar or palm sugar (coconut sugar). I am a little sensitive to sugars so only a little honey for me since it ranks a 30 on the glycemic index but when I can buy raw honey from a local farm verses agave nectar in the store, I just feel that the raw honey is absolutely the better choice of the two!

I noticed a recipe for Salted Caramel Chocolate Sandwich Cookies on Everyday Occasions by Jenny Steffens Hobick. She blogs about lovely ideas for entertaining though I only gain inspiration from her recipes as they’re not usually gluten-free or dairy free. So I felt inspired to create my own recipe for these lovely cookies!

Now remember, sweets such as these are treats! 🙂

Also, I have to admit that when cooking the palm sugar, I truly do not know how it changes the make-up or nutrition of the sugar so it may not be the best for you…just take note please.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Salted Caramel

5 cups blanched almond flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup grapeseed oil

1 cup raw agave nectar

2 Tb vanilla

2 eggs

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add grapeseed oil, agave, vanilla and eggs. Mix until smooth. Chill dough in refrigerator overnight. Remove from the refrigerator and roll dough between two pieces of parchment paper to about 1/4 in. thick. Use a cookie cutter of your choice and place cookies on a baking sheet layered with parchment or silicone mats. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Cookies should be soft to the touch when you pull the pan out. Let cookies cool completely. 

Salted Caramel Filling

2  3/4 cups palm sugar

2/3 cup water

2 cups canned coconut milk (do not use light!)

1 Tb coarse sea salt

Using a heavy bottom saucepan, stir together water and palm sugar. Turn heat on low until sugar dissolves. Stir just enough to mix. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Let mixture boil for 5-7 minutes. The mixture should become thick and bubbly but be careful not to burn it. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in coconut milk. Continue to stir to incorporate the milk. Simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes until the milk and sugar are melted together. Remove from heat and stir in sea salt. Cool in the refrigerator until thick enough to spread onto cookies. I used a knife for spreading the caramel but a cake decorators bag may also work well. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and remove 5 minutes before serving to allow caramel to soften. 

*Note: I found that I did not cook the caramel long enough the first time I made this but was able to reheat it for a few minutes longer and I had beautiful caramel filling! So, do not despair if you feel it’s not perfect the first time! 🙂

I must say I was quite pleased with how these turned out. Not only was I able to cut out fun shapes but created a recipe that melts in your mouth for everyone! My husband complimented me on these and he’s not totally gluten and dairy free so I was very happy! I love when I can share something that everyone can enjoy!

I don’t drink caffeine but I would imagine that these are very yummy served a wonderful fresh cup of coffee!

Happy Baking!

Potato Pot Pie

I love finding new ways to make “old” things! I don’t like when the recipe is given the same name as the original such as “Blueberry Cheesecake” with the words below stating “really raw cheesecake”. I truly enjoy raw cheesecake but there’s just no chance you’re going to convince me that it tastes like real cheesecake! So when I create something new that inspired by something old I want to give it a new name also. I don’t want someone to feel disappointed or for their taste buds to be shocked or so surprised that they can hardly enjoy the goodness of a new creation!

So, here’s to pot pies…they usually have lots of crust made with plenty of gluten which I cannot eat and my husband eats very little of so I decided it was time to create something similar but new. I have to admit that my inspiration was an article in Martha Stewart’s magazine. She had pot pies of all sorts! The crusts and the fillings were different and quite delightful for the chef’s imaginations!

I decided on something relatively simple. Red Potatoes. Creativity with fillings can be endless but I used a few winter root vegetables for this recipe. However, I would like to try leftover Thanksgiving turkey with a little celery and swap the beef broth for chicken broth. Doesn’t that sound good?

Potato Pot Pie

1 1/2 cups beef broth, divided

6 oz. stew beef, cubed

2 medium carrots, 1/4 in. pieces

1 medium parsnip, 1/4 in. pieces

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

pepper to taste

1 tsp thyme

3 tsp cornstarch

2-3 red small red potatoes, thin sliced with a mandolin

2 tsp olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

Place 1 cup broth, carrots, parsnips, onion, beef and thyme in a medium kettle. Bring to a boil. Combine remaining broth and cornstarch in a mason jar and shake well until any lumps are mixed in. Slowly pour into vegetable mixture. Stir well. Add salt and pepper. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Pour into a greased baking dish. Top with potato slices, layering each slice to form concentric circles starting with the edge of the pan. Drizzle with olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper over potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately. 

We thoroughly enjoyed this dinner and served it with gluten-free cornbread. I like using Pamela’s Gluten Free Cornbread Mix.

Happy cooking!

Gifts or Chickens?

What does Christmas bring to your home? Crazy schedules, cleaning, cooking, baking, “holiday stress”, spending money most of us don’t have…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas and what it meant about 2000 years ago and what it may or may not mean now, in 2011. I’m saddened to realize that even though I may think of myself as a frugal person, I do believe the true meaning of Christmas may have slipped from my grasp a little.

Christmas is really about someone’s birthday…Jesus’ birthday. What do you do for  birthdays? At our house we cook up a special meal with the menu being the birthday person’s choice and buy a small present for the special birthday person. It’s nice and we have fun doing things for each other and truly love giving gifts. So I’ve been thinking that, while it’s great that we extend giving at Christmastime to each other and to others, I’m not sure if I’m really giving Jesus anything “extra” for His birthday.

I had the pleasure of meeting a dear missionary friend for coffee the other day. She’s been ministering to the people in the Philippines for almost 7 years now with only a few months of visiting back in the states. Since she’s been living outside of the states for some time I asked her what the most disturbing thing is that she notices about the American culture when she comes back. She hesitated and said, “How people waste their money”. Wow. I wasn’t even sure what to say. The unwanted human selfishness in me wanted to defend myself at first saying, “but we’ve been so tight financially for so long and we’re careful with our money and we don’t live extravagantly!” While this may be true to some degree I was quickly reminded of just how much I still have as she showed me pictures. The dear children she works with were beaming with smiles on a picture as they had just been given a few school supplies for the first time in their lives-they were probably 1st or 2nd graders. Another picture showed them playing with a ball made out of plastic grocery bags and bats made of bamboo sticks…again, the kids were grinning from ear to ear. Now they may have been happy to have their picture taken but I do believe they were having a blast playing with their homemade ball and bat!

A couple of things alarmed me through this conversation. One, that she referred to the money as “their money” which has me thinking that this is exactly how we look at money…like it’s ours. Hold on, you may feel shock…it’s not yours! It’s God’s money!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Yes, we work for paychecks and it may be blood, sweat and tears at times but in the end even a stressful job that gives a paycheck still results in a blessing from God. How then have we come to think of it as “our” money? I know it’s easy for it to happen…God gives it to us to manage and use and it’s a necessity to function here, unfortunately. I know I’ve lost perspective when things get really tight or even when there’s a little extra. I have to admit that my first reaction is not always to talk to God about where the money should go.

In light of the Christmas season and extremely sparse finances in our home we decided to skip the shopping this year and I’m quite alright with it. The less I have at times makes me realize just how much I do have and how little we can survive on but even with the small perspective I have in this area, it’s nothing to what these dear little children in the Philipines have.

So, while we’re not giving gifts in our home we decided maybe it’s time to look at giving gifts elsewhere. Giving extra to God’s Kingdom this Christmas instead of each other. I immediately think of chickens because I love chickens and they have so much to give! 🙂 You need a rooster and a couple of hens and you’ve got eggs, baby chicks, a bigger flock, meat, eggs for your neighbors and chicks to start another flock! So our gift of a couple of chickens to someone else may be food for them and many others as the chicks are passed on! How wonderful is that?!

I think I may enjoy Christmas more this year than any, knowing that while we enjoy Christmas dinner and may not have a tree or gifts, we can also give someone else food for months with only a little of the money that is not ours in the first place to give.

Just think about it. Consider it. Talk with your family about it. Pray about it.

What if all of us would just give up our stockings? Only a small portion to give to someone in much greater need. Do you not think we could change the world a little and take back a little part of America for Jesus?

Besides, whose birthday is it anyways? Have you ever asked Jesus what He wants for His birthday?

I pray you have a blessed Christmas with family, friends, good health and a new perspective on HIS birthday that inspires you to give to HIM this year!

If you need a few suggestions of places to buy chickens, cows, ducks or clean water, look below. You may be surprised to see your children excited to buy chickens for other children who have nothing! 🙂

Compassion Catalog

http://www.compassion.com/catalog.htm

Samaritans Purse Catalog

https://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/Giving/gift_catalog

World Vision Catalog

http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwv2ibeCCtpSctDspRte.jsp?section=10389

Harvest of Hope Catalog

http://www.harvestofhope.org/browse.php

Gospel for Asia Catalog

http://www.gfa.org/gift/

Mennonite Central Committee Catalog

https://donate.mcc.org/giving-catalog

Fish=Grace

Fish=Grace, yes I know, sounds strange but let me explain.

We’ve  recently been attending a small group of wonderful people from a few different churches that meets once a week for Bible discussion and fellowship and there’s of course always a little snack! 🙂 We’ve been studying parables in the Bible. Parables can be so full of good things when you really sit and study, read and compare books in the Bible and versions of the Bible. They can also be quite confusing at times.

I feel a bit sorry for the disciples and those Jesus was speaking too because at the time they didn’t have the Holy Spirit and it seems Jesus often refers to things that were yet to come and the parables would’ve often proved to be very confusing to them. However, I’m sure they still gained a great deal from Jesus’ teachings. Wow…what a privilege to be in His presence learning from Him!

So, our latest parable discussion was on Matthew 13:47-50:

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. They sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

Now, there’s quite a lot to pull from these few verses but I’m mostly going to focus on what really spoke to me.

“The specific Greek word (and I quote this line from our teacher) is used only once in the entire New Testament. This net is a drag net and literally pulls everything in with it.” So the fishermen cast the drag net out and when it’s full (my imagination would suggest they had very clear water) they pull it in and everything comes with it…fish of all shapes, sizes and kinds, maybe turtles, seaweed, sticks or maybe a sandal that a child lost while swimming. Whatever happened to get in the path of the net was coming in.

So Jesus is likening the kingdom of heaven to this net…it is for everyone, it’s meant to bring everyone to Him, to be saved and have eternal life and live forever with Him in heaven. God’s heart is to see all the human race show up in heaven! But, we have been given free will to choose this path. Moving on…

So we have all kinds of fish…big and little, bottom feeders and umm…top feeders? 🙂 You know, the difference between crappies and salmon! The fishermen spent plenty of time I’m sure, to pick out the best fish. They had to make sure their time at sea was worth while, that what they brought in to take to market was going to sell and be enough to feed their families. This was their livelihood.

We have pastors, leaders, missionaries overseas, stay at home moms, working dads, grandparents, kids in school, rebels, gang members and innocent babies. We’re all at different places in life, in our walk with God or maybe we haven’t even chosen to believe in God yet.

You’ve probably heard the line “there’s plenty more fish in the sea”…makes me smile when I read these verses and wonder where it came from? 🙂

So we’re the fish here. And, as you continue to read, Jesus speaks of the end times, when all of us are brought to Him on judgement day. He suggests the angels are the fishermen and “pick” us over, keeping the good and riding of the bad. I’m not sure that I completely understand this part simply because it’s clear in other scripture that God calls the final judgement but maybe He asks the angels to “help out?”

Here’s where conviction came over me. We discussed how we can be so judgmental of others thinking that they’re not making changes in their lives, that they’re making nothing but bad choices. It’s easy to feel as though my “reaching out” to others is to no avail at times when I don’t immediately see tangible results. But, only God knows a person’s heart and only God will judge. It is not my place to judge a person. My job is to spread the message, the gift that I’ve chosen to accept and let the rest to God. It was suggested and agreed that we may be a bit surprised by whom we may see walking through heavens door simply because we can’t see a person’s heart. God may be doing amazing things in a persons heart…baby steps…little by little. Some times it takes years to pray for a person, spend time with them, just loving them but feeling like we see no results.

Yet God is so big and so great He can use every little moment. How wonderful is that?!

As I continued to think about this and realized I need to ask God to work on my heart, that I’ve judged others or assumed things and it’s not my place…God is His loving kindness showed me more.

When we started discussing the fish I realized I had viewed myself as a big or at least medium size fish and certainly the delicious edible kind and healthy for you! But God started showing me pride. Yuk! Now, I’m not trying to be negative in how I view myself but I just felt God tell me that it’s not even my job to decide what kind of fish I am! I know I’m not the lost sandal anymore or maybe the unwanted shellfish or bottom feeder because I’ve chosen to accept Jesus as my Saviour. I’ve made the free will choice. But beyond that, for now, I feel as though God tells me that He’ll decided what kind of fish I am.

Wow, so God please help me rid of any judgmental attitude towards others and rid of any pride or pedestal I may have placed for myself. Help me to be humble and to spread Your good news as You have called me to do and I have agreed to do.

I felt God saying, “See, look at My grace! It’s sufficient for all my people!” I felt that the picture of sorting fish and God choosing to keep ones that I may throw back was a perfect picture of His love and grace.

I am once again overwhelmed by God’s unending grace. Its is sufficient for you and me.

I may not ever look at my dinner of cod or salmon the same, in fact, I pray that it will forever remind me of God’s grace.

Thank you Jesus for Your grace!

Love, Sheila