Homemade Nut Free, Gluten Free Granola

Finding a granola that's tasty, nut free and also not loaded with weird ingredients used to be hard. Do you have a favorite brand? There are loads of great options out there, but I found my happy place when I started regularly making my own. Lately I've been leaving the big jar out on my kitchen counter and it gets demolished pretty quickly. My son plans granola + yogurt + fruit for his lunch at least once a week, and with a big jar on hand, it's super easy to pack.

parfait lunchbox

I love homemade granola because it's straightforward, versatile, and with a million different ways to keep it interesting, no two batches are ever the same. Some weeks, ours includes lots of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), some weeks it's heavy on dried fruit. Once I got the basic formula straight, it freed me to customize based on my pantry. 

The only hiccup arises when I shut off the oven timer but not the oven, and forget to take it out. Admittedly, this has happened more than once. Sigh. This recipe is easy enough for kids to make on their own, with adult oven supervision. It's perfect for a nut free, gluten free meal or snack, though it's best to always read labels if cross contamination is an issue for you. Be sure to check the recipe notes following the recipe for some variation ideas. 

homemade granola

* 3 cups rolled oats
* 1 1/2 cups mixed seeds, like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
* ½ cup dried coconut
* ½ cup olive oil
* ½ cup maple syrup
* 1 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
* 1½ cups mixed dried fruits cut into small chunks. 

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Toss oats, seeds and coconut in a large bowl. Add oil and syrup and stir until well coated. Season with 1 teaspoon salt. Spread out onto the pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Use the same bowl for the dried fruit pieces, and add the oats back to the bowl after they cool for 5-10 minutes, and combine.
Don’t clean up the baking tray yet. Pour the mixed granola onto it and let the whole thing cool for a while.
Taste and adjust the salt if needed.
1. If you can have nuts, feel free to add those in! Start with 1/2 cup and go from there. Add at the same time as seeds. 
2. If you don't have coconut oil, any neutral oil (like avocado or grapeseed) will do. 
3. Options for the dried fruit might include chopped dried apricots, or raisins, or dried banana pieces. 
4. I love coconut, but if you hate it, eliminate it. 
5. I've tried this recipe with honey, and I prefer maple's more subtle sweetness. Both are doable in this recipe though. 
7. I've tried reducing the amount of maple added, but it didn't taste as good in my opinion. 

healthy nut free granola lunchbox

Want more lunchbox inspiration? Right this way.... 
Looking for meal planning help with lunchboxes? I've got you covered

Corn Soup

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

While it doesn't feel like summer yet, I'm dreaming of blue skies, warm weather and a hallmark of the season: fresh corn. In preparation, I've created a recipe for an easy Corn Soup that you can enjoy during any season, but one that will taste utterly fantastic with the freshly hulled ears of summer. This version serves 4-6 and is vegan, but you can make substitutions (noted below). 

Here's what you'll need:
• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 1 medium white onion, chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
• 2 white fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3 inch chunks
• 2 cups vegetable broth (you can use chicken broth too)
• 1 cup coconut milk (I used full fat. You can use cow's milk too) 
• 3 cups of corn kernels (I used frozen corn for this, but come summer, I'm going fresh all the way) 
• juice of one lime plus 1/2 teaspoon of lime zest
• 1 scallion, chopped (green parts only, for garnish)
• 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (garnish) 
• salt and pepper to taste

corn soup

Here's how: 
1. In a soup pot, heat the oil to medium high and add the chopped onion and garlic. Sauté for about 5-6 minutes.
2. Add sweet potato, broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.
3. After about 5 minutes, add the corn but reserve about a half cup of the kernels for garnish.  
4. Stir, cover and let this cook until the potatoes are soft (but not mushy). Should be approximately 20-25 minutes.  
5. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.
6. Purée with a stick blender, but leave some chunks for texture.
7. Add lime zest and juice and stir to combine.
8. Garnish with scallions, smoked paprika and corn. 


Corn Soup

Vegan Nut Free Carrot Cake

Do you love carrot cake? I'm allergic to nuts, so carrot cake is on my "do not play" list. But a dozen years ago, a friend of mine from business school - a pastry chef turned MBA - made a nut free carrot cake for me and it was my first taste of a dessert that had, until that point, been completely unknown to me. The cake was moist and flavorful, the frosting was tangy with delicious cream cheese. I loved it! My husband and I ate it for days - admittedly even for breakfast. 

Not sure how I went so long without even thinking about making my own carrot cake, but well, I did. Then recently I came across this post from Pack Mom Packs, who makes a 'Happy New Year' cake for her brood on the first day of every school year. What a sweet tradition! As the first day of school approached, I planned on making a cake but honestly, I didn't give much thought to the details. When the first day of school finally rolled around, I looked in the fridge and alas! I was out of eggs. 

piece of vegan nut free carrot cake

A quick google search on recipes for eggless cakes led me to this one for vegan carrot cake. It looked easy enough and I had all of the ingredients! I've picked a ton of carrots lately, so I figured this was a practical move, in addition to a delicious one. Still though, I decided to play it safe and make half of a recipe for a one layer cake. Mistake! I wish this cake had both layers. I modified it slightly by removing some of the sugar and altering the amounts of spices. (Recipe below) From what I understand, cream cheese frosting is the perfect companion to carrot cake. That wasn't going to work here. My youngest is dairy free and this cake had to be universally enjoyed. I decided not to make frosting at all, and instead use plain Anita's coconut yogurt, which is just coconut milk, coconut water and live cultures. It is tangy, rich and absolutely delicious. It's not the classic, but it was tasty nonetheless. When everything was ready, I sprinkled the top with a bit of cinnamon and my brood kicked off the new year with a delicious celebration! 

This cake is a victory for us: it's nut free, it's dairy free, it's simple and it's yummy. Best of all, it has started a new tradition for us -- carrot cake for the start of a new school year! 

vegan carrot cake

Vegan, Nut Free Carrot Cake (this recipe makes a single layer cake)

1.5 cups of grated carrots
1/4 cup sugar minus one tablespoon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/8 cup soy milk or other nondairy milk
1/3 cup grapeseed oil or coconut oil
1 1/8 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for dusting the top
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2/3 cup plain coconut yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 350. 
2. Grease a 9 inch cake pan.
3. In a large bowl, mix the carrots, sugars, vanilla, soy milk and oil until thoroughly combined. 
4. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice. 
5. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. 
6. Pour the batter into the cake pan.
7. Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes.
8. Once cool, spread the coconut yogurt on top evenly and dust with cinnamon. 


3 Uses for Coconut Milk Yogurt

Are you a "phase" person? I definitely am. There are periods where I have oatmeal and a banana every morning without fail, and then suddenly I realize it's been months without it. There are weeks where I can't get enough eggs, and then one day I notice that there are still three eggs in the dozen that I bought ten days ago. This past summer I had a phase where I ate giant breaded chicken cutlet sandwiches for lunch several times a week, and now I can't remember the last time I had one. These phases begin and end unceremoniously and in between, I eat a variety of things like a regular person. 

It dawned on me today that I'm in a new phase: I'm currently obsessed with Anita's coconut milk yogurt (this post is not sponsored, I genuinely love this stuff). Coconut milk yogurt is dry and thick, like a strained Greek yogurt and has a pleasant tang that makes it perfectly suited for both sweet and savory dishes. The brand I've been buying lately has just 3 ingredients: coconut milk, coconut water and live probiotic cultures. It's rich and filling, with no added sugar which means it's great for everyone in my house, including my youngest who cannot have cow's milk  dairy. It's high in fat, low in protein and sugar. I'm not put off my the high fat content because even 1-2 tablespoons of this goes a long way and I believe in moderation of everything. I'm also not concerned by the lack of protein because my family gets a solid amount of protein regularly so I try to focus on the big picture. 
So what can you do with coconut yogurt? 

1. Coconut yogurt is a perfect soup companion. Today felt like a soup day so I prepared this quick red lentil soup before getting started with work and when hunger hit, I poured myself a bowl and immediately reached for the coconut yogurt to make it creamy and even more delicious. Hours later, I am still completely satisfied. 

red lentil soup with coconut yogurt

2. Coconut yogurt works wonders for breakfast. Last weekend I made my favorite batch of apple pancakes using coconut yogurt (instead of kefir or soy or goat milk, as I usually do). I had to thin the batter by adding some additional coconut milk and they were a huge hit with my kids. Other quick breakfast ideas include coconut yogurt with granola and fruit, or a waffle smeared with a tablespoon of coconut yogurt in place of a nut butter or other spread. 

4-ingredient vegan chocolate mousse

3. Coconut yogurt is terrific with dessert! Need a quick dairy free chocolate mousse? Coconut yogurt is your answer. Four-ingredient chocolate mousse is simple and delicious because it's not too sweet and the creamy texture is perfect alone or with fruit. You can also top a cookie with a dollop of coconut yogurt, or use two to make a sandwich! 

coconut yogurt with gingersnap cookies

If you can't find coconut yogurt in your neck of the woods, you can make it on your own.  

Have you tried coconut yogurt? What do you think? 


Carrot Soup for Cold Weather

Tonight's dinner plan calls for turkey meatballs with marinara sauce and pasta. I'm not sure what to do about that because it's freezing here in New York and a craving for warm soup completely took over and I've just made this giant batch of carrot soup. 

carrot soup
ingredients for carrot soup

It was innocent enough; I had all of the ingredients in the kitchen and this soup is easy enough to prep and finish in under an hour so it seemed like a good idea. And that giant bowl I just had for lunch really hit the spot. The hardest part of this soup was pureeing it, because after my run-in with a stick blender a couple of years ago when I almost lost two fingers, I threw it out and my only option is a blender, which does the job, but not as seamlessly. 

If you're craving something hearty and warm and also vegetarian, I've got you covered. 

carrot soup on the stove

Carrot Soup with Sweet Potato

carrot soup in the blender

4 tablespoons of grapeseed or vegetable oil
5 -6 cippolini onions, chopped, or one small yellow onion chopped
2 pounds of carrots, peeled and cut into pieces  
2 sweet potatoes
7 cups vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup fresh dill, chopped  
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon + zest of one lemon

In a large pot on medium high heat,  add the oil and onions. Sauté until translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and stir. Add the stock or water, bring to a boil and simmer for approximately 35 minutes. Add the dill, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are soft. Add the lemon juice and purée with a stick blender.  Garnish with lemon zest.

Want more carrot soup ideas? Right this way and here too

For more deliciously hearty winter soups, check out: 
Winter Root Soup  
Lentil Curry Soup
Kale Soup