Happy Herbivore Blog

Recipes are Just Suggestions?

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Misc

Recently I was at a vegan restaurant where I ordered a sandwich on the menu with some modifications. It went something like "hi! I'll have the veggie burger, but hold the onions and can I get the multi-grain bread and dijon dressing instead? thanks!"

After I ordered, my friend ordered his sandwich by name and followed it with "and I'll take it just like the chef intended it to be."

He said it in a way that offended me slightly, like I was being rude to the chef.

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"Well every time we go out to lunch you're always bastardizing the menu item. When we go to non-vegan restaurants I get why, but here you can eat everything. Why not eat it the way it was intended?" he explained.

We then went into a long exchange. I explained that I hated raw onions and I was just going to pick them off anyway, might as well not be wasteful, and also, that I don't eat white bread, or aioli (the original dipping sauce)---even if it's vegan.

These were just my personal preferences, it wasn't that I thought I was smarter or could make the sandwich better. Hell, if we're going on taste alone, I bet the soft white bread and extra fat was more delicious -- but that's not how I eat. Besides, why would I order something I know I won't enjoy? Isn't part of the restaurant experience having someone else cook for you, your way?

But my friend's attitude wasn't budging. He still thought I was being a diva

Finally he said, "Well how would you like it if people tampered with your recipes?"

I smiled and said "oh but they do, all the time! and I want them to! I even said as much in my cookbook. Recipes are really just a "suggestion" and people can tweak the spices or whatever to their tastes. More or less of a spice won't break the whole recipe."

One of my favorite parts about writing a cookbook is seeing how my testers palates and preferences play into things. Some of my testers really love heat, while others tend to go very mild. Then they all have their unique quirks---one gal is always telling me to go heavier on the garlic and another is telling me my goodies need more sugar since they're, you know, goodies... that sort of thing.

When I'm trying a new recipe for the first time, I tend to follow it as written (with the exception of oil that I always omit or sub out) but there are times when I don't have everything, so I "make it work" or I'll see something has, say, 3 tbsps of chili powder, and knowing that's too strong for my preferences, I'll scale it back. Even with my own recipes, which were designed for my palate, I'm always tampering.

A friend that's a chef at a popular NYC eatery told me once that she's pretty sure every entree that leaves the kitchen is just a little different. She has a base recipe in her head, sure, but its all a pinch of this, a dash of that--and sometimes her hand is heavier. 

I've always felt cooking was organic--intuitive, and deeply personal. The best part about being home in the kitchen is being home in the kitchen--feeling comfortable.

So I beg to ask--do you follow a recipe to a T? tweak it and customize? a bit of both?

A picture of (un)health.

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Misc

I stumbled upon this picture yesterday & found it...shocking. I just had to share.

Image from Healthy Meal Experts.

Oat Flour: The Gluten-Free Solution?

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: FAQ

One of the most popular questions I get via email is: 

"How can I convert your [recipe] to be gluten-free?"

My go-to response has always been "Maybe try a commercial gluten-free all purpose mix?" which, of course, I'd feel bad giving, but I really didn't have much else to offer. Gluten-free baking isn't my forte or even something I have much experience in. To be perfectly honest, gluten-free baking has always intimidated me.

I think what scared me off, more than anything else, was the long list of unfamiliar flours that accompanied every gluten-free recipe. Sure I keep things like chickpea flour on hand, but I don't have millet flour or almond flour or coconut flour, etc.

But then I discovered oat flour!

You see, I was in the middle of working on a recipe for rum cake (in my new cookbook!) when I realized I was out of whole wheat flour. I searched my cabinets, my freezer--even my fridge-- hoping and praying I had flour stashed somewhere. I didn't, but I also wasn't about to abandon my cake.

So... I pulled the oats from my pantry and ran them through my blender for a minute or so until the consistency was soft and flour-like. I then carefully measured out the amount I needed and finished my cake.

The result? Exceptional. The oat flour gave my cake a wonderful lightness and a slight nuttiness. Naturally, this led to more experimentation. 

I used oat flour to make muffins and cookies (both recipes ended up in my new cookbook!) and then I started substituting oat flour for whole wheat flour in other recipes. 

It all worked so beautifully that I started to wonder... is it really this easy? Is oat flour the simple gluten-free substitution I've been waiting for?

Now, I should preface that not all oats are truly gluten-free. I mean, yes, oats themselves are gluten-free, but some oats can be cross-contaminated with wheat, rye, barley or gluten so if you have a sensitivity or allergy, you should take care to purchase oats (or oat flour) that are certified gluten-free. (There is also an oat controversy in gluten sensitivity over avenin that Coeliacs should be aware of).

Otherwise, if you're just trying to avoid wheat or gluten, regular ol' oats and oat flour should be fine. 

I am really excited about this 'discovery.' I have a number of wheat and/or gluten-free friends who have been trying it out in their kitchens as well and so far all of us have had great success using it as a substitution.

I'm sure there will come a time when it won't work so beautifully and the adaption won't be a you-can't-tell-the-difference result like it has been, but for now it seems to be a fairly easy, straightforward and inexpensive way to replace whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flours in my recipes.

In the meantime, I made these "oatmeal muffins" this morning. I used 100% oat flour and the flavorings I use in my morning oatmeal (banana, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg). It's hot oatmeal meets muffin and YUM. 

By the way, Scott loves to add a dab of peanut butter to his oatmeal and as soon as I'd stuck the muffins in the oven I thought pb would make a wonderful addition if you eat peanut butter.

Anyway, enjoy these muffins & if you've had any experience with oat flour (good or bad), please share your thoughts!

Recipe:Oatmeal Muffins (Oat Flour Muffins)


These heart-healthy treats are oatmeal turned into a portable muffin. When I make them, I use the flavors I love in my oatmeal - raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, but feel free to adjust the spices and add in anything else you like. I think 1-2 tbsp of peanut butter would make a great addition! 



Transfer rolled or instant oats to a blender and whiz for a few seconds until flour forms. Carefully spoon out 2 cups of oat flour and transfer to a mixing bowl. Whisk in baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, and set aside. Add nondairy milk and banana to the blender and whiz until well combined. Pour into oat flour mixture, add raisins and stir to combine. It should be rather soupy. Add a handful (about 1/3 cup) rolled oats and stir. If it's still runny, add more oats. I usually add about 1/2-cup total. The batter should be thick like oatmeal (ha ha!) but not dry. Set batter aside and preheat oven to 375F. Grease a muffin pan and spoon batter into the pan. The batter will thicken and get a little sticky/tacky as it sets. If it's so thick you can't stir it easily, thin it out with a little nondairy milk, but you shouldn't need to. It should be thick like oatmeal or heavy mashed potatoes. Spoon into 12 cups, top with cinnamon (and brown sugar if you like) and bake 10-15 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Note: If you have a rather ripe (very sweet) banana, you probably don't even need the sugar, especially if you're used to eating unsweetened oatmeal. Or you could add a few dates in with the nondairy milk and banana for a naturally sweet alternative.