Friday, December 25, 2009

Enjoying the Holiday Grain-Free, feat. Zimtsterne!

Shortly before I left Switzerland to come home for the holidays, I began to see the Swiss & German Christmas foods (Weihnachtsguetzli) everywhere: Basler Leckerli (honey almond cookies from Basel) , Kastanien Vermicelli (sweet chestnut 'vermicelli'), and the ubiquitous Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars). I had more than my share of Zimtsterne in all flavors, and the best part is that they are gluten free! The traditional cookie, actually from Germany, is made from ground almonds and egg whites. I was determined to make these - sugar-free - and other healthy dishes for my family this Christmas (see recipe below). My theory, more than ever this year, was to ensure we begin 2010 on a healthy note. All my gifts are also meant to improve quality of our lives in some way - but more on this later.

For Christmas dinner, I wanted to remind them that health doesn't mean sacrificing delicious. So I made a 'pasta' dish with squash, and a pesto with tofu and veggies. For the sauce I was inspired by Susan O'Brien's more classic basil pesto.
Spaghetti Squash w/ Spinach Tofu Pesto

1 small to medium spaghetti squash
1/2 t sea salt

4 oz. firm tofu
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic
4 T olive oil
2-3 T parmesan cheese
2 T ground almonds
1 T lemon juice
2 T water
dash of onion powder
dash of herbes of de provence
lemon pepper & sea salt to taste

  • Cut spaghetti squash in half. Wrap in plastic and microwave for 10 minutes OR cover with foil and roast in oven for approximately 1 hour.

  • Meanwhile, mix all pesto in a blender and process until smooth and creamy. Remove to a medium to large bowl.

  • Remove squash and let cool slightly before discarding seeds. Sprinkle with the sea salt.

  • Use a fork to scrape fibers or 'noodles' of spaghetti squash into bowl with pesto and fold together. Garnish with more pesto...and devour.
Sugar-Free Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Star Cookies)

3 cups of blanched almond flour*
1.5 full t cinnamon

Equivalent of 1/2 cup sugar (I used 12 packets of Whole Foods Stevia)
dash of salt

3 large egg whites
Equivalent of 1.75 cups sugar (I used 12 packets of powder Stevia and 15 drops liquid Stevia)
1.5 t vanilla (preferably alcohol free)
1 t lemon juice

  • Preheat the oven to 250 F.

  • In a large bowl, mix almond flour, cinnamon, sweetener, and salt.

  • Beat egg whites to soft peaks. To this, add sweetener, vanilla, and lemon and whip to semi-stiff peaks.

  • Fold all but 2/3 of meringue into the almond mixture to form dough.

  • Roll dough on greased wax paper to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out star shapes, reforming and rolling out the 'scraps' (I came out with nearly 30 cookies with a 3" cutter).

  • Carefully spoon and spread remaining meringue on cookies, sprinkling with cinnamon.

  • Bake for about 20 - 25 minutes, depending on thickness, until the star edges turn a golden brown.. Allow to sit in open oven to cool for another five minutes, then remove and let cool completely.
These were nothing short of amazing, and despite the seeming complexity they were in fact very simple to make. The dough is very easy to work with. I made two versions, one with the meringue-cinnamon topping and one without. Needless to say, both were DELICIOUS!!
*I used Honeyville blanched almond flour which is very finely ground. Elana of Elana's Pantry uses this flour as well as other grain free varieties I love (flax, coconut) on her blog.
Merry Christmas, all.

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