Alright I apologize, just one more ramp recipe I promise.  So I had my bunch of fresh ramps in the refrigerator and I made my Baked Eggs, with Asparagus and Ramps, but I was at a loss for what else to make.  After reading through Everyday Vegetarian I found the perfect recipe for Quinoa & Cauliflower Cakes with Ramps and that became our next meal.  But after that, there were several stalks left and I'd been wrestling with the idea of making ramp salt for the last few days.  I was thinking along the lines of how I like to put garlic salt on EVERYTHING, and ramp salt would be just as good if not better.  Sprinkled on eggs, mashed potatoes, homemade pita chips or that "everything" that I was talking about.  This would also make a super cool gift if you could manage to make enough to give away (well..maybe next year).

   I realize that not everyone has a dehydrator, but you should!  Ok maybe not, I really only use it every so often but when you need one, it is totally worth having.  Excalibur dehydrators are supposedly the best and a few months ago I picked up the smallest size one.  Like any big expensive kitchen appliance it is an investment for your future, but you definitely need space to keep it.  You could technically try to dry out ramps in an oven on a very low temperature, and if anyone is able to do so please let me know. The other thing you need for this recipe is a coffee/spice grinder, which is cheap, small and definitely worth getting.  I use mine for nuts, whole spices and everything but grinding coffee.  Once you have one you will wonder how you got through life without it.    

Ramp Salt + Powdered Ramp Leaves

2 teaspoons dried ground ramps (5-6 dried bulbs + 2-3 dried leaves)
3 1/2 tablespoons good quality flaked sea salt or your favorite choice of salt
Dehydrator - I use a Four Tray Excalibur

Wash and clean your ramps and dry them thoroughly.  Cut the bulbs from the green leaves.  Thickly slice the bulbs and place them on a dehydrator tray along with the whole leaves (you can leave smaller bulbs whole).  Make sure non are overlapping each other.  Run in the dehydrator on 125° F (vegetable setting) for 24-48 hours or until the ramps are completely dry and crispy. 

Once dried, grind 5-6 bulbs and 2-3 leaves in a coffee/spice grinder.  You could also try a mortar and pestle but a grinder is much faster and much more efficient.  This produced 2 teaspoons of dried ground ramps for me, but the amount will be different for everyone.  You can adjust the amount of salt used to suit your preference. I wanted a very "rampy" salt, but you could use less ramps and more salt for a milder flavor.  Mix the ground ramps and salt together and store in a sealed container.  Ideally let the salt sit for a day or two to allow the flavors to mingle and get know each other.  The salt should keep for about a year but the flavor might diminish over time like most herbs do. 

I had lots of leftover dried leaves so I decided to grind them up into a ramp leaf powder (as you can see below).  I have big hopes to use this in soups and stews, mashed potatoes or even to make some homemade ramp pasta.  The possibilities are endless in my mind, and you will probably be seeing it somewhere else on my blog in the future!
    I used up the rest of my fresh ramps by trying a recipe for Quinoa & Cauliflower Cakes with Ramps from Vegetarian Everyday by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl of Green Kitchen Stories.  I am mentioning this only because I purchased their book, and if you love vegetarian food as much as I do, you too should pick up a copy.  The quinoa cakes were excellent by the way!
    Alright, this is a quick little post to go with my quick decision to make jam today.  I have been thinking about doing this for the last week or so, mostly because I wanted something to put in my breakfast crepes this weekend.  Crepes are a new favorite in our house and I have quickly gone through most of my fall fruit preserves in the past couples of months.  Honey apple butter, cardamom peach jam and cinnamon pear butter are now all gone and irreplaceable in this particular month in the calender year, so I decided to check in my freezer.  I saw that I had a bunch of frozen berries taking up valuable real estate that will be badly needed in a few weeks for my super stash of strawberries and sweet and tart cherries.  With berry season right around the corner I didn't need last years stragglers getting lost in the frozen recesses, only to be tossed away when new tenants moved in.  I didn't want to think about what combination of fruit I wanted to use so they all got thrown in together and here I present to you: Mixed Berry Jam. 

    If you have never made jam before let me give a few little tips.  Try to use a pot that has lots of room (very high sides) because there will be super hot splatters to deal with.  Definitely invest in a digital thermometer and use it (made that mistake once and I unintentionally made fig candy).  Don't get discouraged if it doesn't come out right.  If it comes out a little runny then just tell people you made berry syrup instead, they will still be just as impressed, I promise.  You need to become familiar with how jam feels and how you test to see when it is set, and the only way to do that is to try it. 

Mixed Berry Jam

made 1 1/2 pints of jam

6 cups (780 grams) of mixed berries:  Blackberries, Raspberries and Blueberries (Fresh or Frozen)
Juice from one lemon
1 cup sugar (I used Sucanat but feel free to use what you have)

1/2 cup *buckwheat honey

Start a boiling water bath if you plan on processing your jam.  Since this recipe doesn't make that much jam you could always keep it in a container in the refrigerator and not worry about canning.  

Place all the ingredients into a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over medium to high heat.  Keep the mixture at a rolling boil and stir occasionally so that the bottom doesn't burn.  Heat the mixture until a thermometer reaches the set point at 220° F  (You could perform a freezer test if you want as well).  The mixture should be thick.  When you spoon through the mixture it should separate so you can see the bottom of the pot and it should sheet off the spoon.

Sterilize your jars, ring and lids and get them ready on the counter.  Spoon the hot jam into the jars, seal finger tip tight and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Set on the counter to cool and test the seals when they have cooled down. 

*Buckwheat Honey:  This recipe calls for buckwheat honey because I personally love it.  The smell is...well lets not talk about what it smells like because if you never noticed it before you will once I say it, and then you will never be able to eat buckwheat honey again.  You don't need to use it if you don't want to.  You can either use another 1/2 cup of sugar or a different kind of honey.  Everything about this recipe can be changed to suit your preference so please deviate if you want/need to.        

"Help your brother's boat across, and your own will reach the shore."
                                                                                                  ~ Hindu Proverb

    It doesn't get any better then this!  Baked eggs with fresh asparagus, foraged ramps, homemade goat cheese and topped off with a pea shoot almond pesto (from homegrown pea shoots of course).  Label me a localvore if you must, call me an über foodie even though the term foodie is über uncool lately.  So I might just be a little complicated, a bit demanding, and perhaps a tiny bit pretentious at times, but this is what I love to do.  Everyone has that certain something they choose to devote their "free" time to and mine just happens to be making cheese, growing greens, reading food blogs, and dreaming about having my own chickens on small farm in Jersey (I said it was a dream ok).  Is this dish overly complicated and would anyone else be able to make it? Of course it is and perhaps they might, but that is not the point. This is what I love to do and what I devote my time to, so here it is: my breakfast this morning! 

    Come on, how cool is it that you can make, grow, forage and find great food and put it all together in one dish.  I know there is at least one person who understands me and he has a Shared Appetite (playing link tag, stay with me). But anyway, I guess that is it really, and all I can say is that I had a lot of fun with this recipe.  The only thing that could have made this even better was if I woke up, walked outside and grabbed a few fresh eggs from under a chicken (one day it will happen, just not today).

Baked Eggs with Asparagus, Ramps, Goat Cheese and Pea Shoot Almond Pesto

Inspired by Aran Goyoaga's baked eggs with olive oil- poached tomatoes, coppa & brie in Small Plates Sweet Treats

Serves 4

1/2 cup milk (I used goats milk)
3-4 oz goat cheese, sliced into four rounds
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4-5 ramps (read more about ramps Here)
4-5 small asparagus spears
8 eggs
freshly ground black pepper

*Pea Shoot Almond Pesto (see note below)

    Preaheat your oven to 400° F.  Brush the insides of four large ramekins with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet.  Add two tablespoons of milk into the bottom of each ramekin.  Place a slice of goat cheese into each ramekin, smushing it a little if you want.  Cut the leaves off of the ramps and reserve the bulbs for later.  Place two or three ramp leaves against the sides of each ramekin (See picture above).
  Thinly slice the white ramp bulbs and slice the asparagus on a diagonal.  In a small saucepan over medium high heat saute the ramps and asparagus in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil until they become bright green and fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.  Spoon the warm ramps and asparagus into the ramekins, dividing it up evenly.  Reserve a little bit of the saute for on top (if you want it to look all pretty).  Crack two eggs into each ramekin and sprinkle on the remaining sauteed ramps and asparagus.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the egg whites are set.  Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and serve your baked eggs immediately.  Note:  You could easily divide this recipe to make two or even one serving if you like.

*I used Aran Goyoago's Pea Shoot and Almond Pesto recipe (pg. 156) excatly so I didn't feel that I could post the recipe for it.  You can find it in her book Small Plates Sweet Treats which I definitely recommend picking up (It is essentially pea shoots, almonds, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil)
    The promise of warmth and fresh food after a long and dreary winter is launched by the celebration of Spring.  We may all observe this holiday season in different fashions, but there is always a similar correlation to quality time spent with family.  It was a special treat to see everyone and meet some new friends around the table as well.  This year I tried my hardest to relax and keep any holiday stress at bay by reflecting on the smaller things: new buds on the trees, a little time to myself learning to make cheese, and watching my children having fun with their relatives.  I don't let go of life's responsibilities often enough and just live in the small moments.  
    The food at Easter is always great no matter whose house we are at, and for some reason there is always more leftovers at this holiday then any other (at least in our family).  My refrigerator is stocked with enough meals for dinner this week, and enough brightly colored hard boiled eggs to handle breakfast and lunch.  There are many great dishes to make with boiled eggs, but my favorite by far is egg salad.  Most of the time my egg salad is quite dull and boring; a little bit of mayo with salt and pepper and call it done.  It is a typical lunch dish that normally doesn't get enough attention, but it can be so easily dressed up.  With the addition of some toasted slices of bread you could even use this as an appetizer or brunch dish.  Who says egg salad has to be boring, right?   

Egg Salad with Herbs and Cheese

serves 2-4

4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup of crumbled farmers cheese (or a firm goats milk cheese)
1/2 small red onion, minced (or one small minced shallot)
3-4 sprigs each of Dill, Chervil, and Tarragon, finely chopped (parsley and chives can substitute)
pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of powdered lemon peel (or some fresh lemon zest)
slices of toasted bread

Toast your slices of bread in the oven or toaster oven.  Peel the eggs and mash them with a fork, keeping some texture.  To the mashed eggs add, mayonnaise, farmers cheese, minced red onion, chopped herbs, salt, pepper and powdered lemon peel.  Mix everything together until evenly combined.  Spread on top of toasted bread slices. 

This is my first batch of homemade farmers cheese!  I could just stare at this picture all day.
    The first day of spring has come and gone, and I've been trying not to read all the bloggers on the west coast who are in full spring mode with their asparagus and radishes.  That will be us soon and there will be ramps on the menu don't you worry (yes, I said ramps!).  But in the meantime I have been staring at my gorgeous citrus stash and trying to prepare myself for the inevitable diminish of bright citrus sunlight.  Sure with modern grocery stores you can still get citrus in the summer, but it is never as good and my favorite varieties won't be around for long.  I have been thinking about the best way to preserve my beautiful winter citrus so it will last through the summer months, and I finally came to the conclusion that I must make marmalade.  

    This marmalade is my love note to all my favorite citrus varieties.  I only just met Cara Cara, but it was love at first cut.  Her perfectly orange exterior coupled with a sweet pink inside.  Then there is the Moro Blood, whose bright colors and intense flavor never fail to impress.  And lastly the Sumo, bumpy and bulbous but with all the taste and convenience of a tiny mandarin.  These three varieties are my choice, but you can use whatever citrus you have available or that speaks to you in an intimate fashion.

    Please proceed with intent because making and putting up marmalade is no simple afternoon project.  Anyone that knows this blog, understands that I am not about quick and easy.  I enjoy making food that slows down life and brings enjoyment.  We move too fast, wanting instant gratification in so many aspects of our lives, but what ever happened to sitting for a while and focusing on a single project.  Making things from scratch doesn't have to be difficult, but it does require attention and time.  Personally, this is my favorite way to relax and find peace.  If your hobbies lead you to other activities then you can find delight in knowing that you can easily get great marmalade in a store or farmers market (or stop by my house for some!).  

Winter Citrus Marmalade (CaraMoroSumo Marmalade)

made 10 jars (4 oz each), but you can use any size jars you like

4 lbs of citrus (I used an assortment of Cara Cara, Sumo and Moro Blood Oranges)
4 cups of the liquid from cooking the zest
5 cups of sugar (I prefer to use unrefined natural cane sugar but regular white sugar is fine too)

Wash the oranges in warm soapy water and then dry completely.  Using a serrated vegetable peeler or sharp knife, remove the zest from all the fruit.  Stacking a few of the zest strips at a time, slice them as thin as possible.  Collect all the zest and place it in a large pot with 2 quarts of water.  Bring the zest and water to a boil on the stove top. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the zest is tender.  When finished drain the zest from the water and reserve 4 cups of the cooking liquid. 

While your zest is simmering this is a great time to supreme all the citrus fruit.  Collect the segments and juice into one bowl and collect the membranes and seeds in another bowl.  Once all the fruit has been separated, collect a handful of the seeds and some of the inner membranes and bundle it into some cheesecloth and tie shut with twine so that no seeds can escape.  Prepare a boiling water bath and sanitize your jars and bands.  Place cleaned lids into warm water and set aside.  Set sanitized jars and bands on the counter in preparation of filling.   

In a large and deep pot combine the drained zest, 4 cups of cooking liquid, segmented citrus, sugar, and the cheesecloth bundle of seeds.  Bring everything to a vigorous boil and continue to boil until the mixture reaches the set point at 220° F, which can take about 30 to 40 minutes or longer.  Make sure to stir occasionally so it doesn't burn.  The mixture must hold at 220° F for 1 minute after you remove the pot from the heat source (you should also test the marmalade using the freezer test).  If the marmalade is not ready then return the pot to the heat and cook an additional 5 minutes and test it again.  Once it is set to your liking remove the pot from the heat and remove the cheesecloth bundle and discard it. 

Ladle the marmalade into the prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch head space and wipe the rims clean.  Add the lids and bands (finger tight), and process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the boiling water and set on top of a kitchen towel on the counter to cool.  Listen for the tink, tink, tink of sealing jars and check the seals using the finger test the next day.  Label your jars and pass them out to family and friends!

If you would like additional information about canning and techniques visit these two great sites: Food in Jars and Local Kitchen.  You can also pick up a free "Intro to Canning" on the Ball website: Click Here.   

    My skin is milky white, my cheeks are rosy red, my freckles increase in number daily and my hair curls just thinking about moisture.  I may only be a quarter Irish, but this fraction of my heritage is one I relate to more than others thanks to my appearance (And now thanks to a new last name from my half Irish husband).  Needless to say, in our family we avoid the sun like the plague, eat lots of potatoes, and can say in all honesty "Kiss me I'm Irish" on St. Patrick's Day. 

    One of the things I love about my family tree is that on a few branches I am able to trace my heritage back several generations, sometimes more.  My Great-Grandfather came to America from Ireland in 1925 on the SS Baltic when he was only 19 years old.  He made a new life for himself, found my Great-Grandmother and raised their family in Edgewater, NJ.  He helped to build roads along the cliffs of The Palisades during the depression, and eventually settled into a job as a postman.  Ironically enough, I hear from many family members that he was known for making everyone's favorite soda bread.    

    My recipe for Irish Soda Bread is actually not a descendant of his recipe, because what we currently know as "Irish Soda Bread" is actually not very traditional.  I normally call this bread a St. Patrick's Day Soda Bread because it has been more modernized with the use of eggs, butter and raisins (real traditional Irish Soda Bread is only made with flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk).  The recipe below has also been modified to be Gluten-Free in keeping with our new lifestyle.  But, if any of my family is reading, fear not, my regular soda bread will most definitely be served alongside our corned beef and cabbage this weekend!  Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my fellow Irish-American's and to all the rest of you that get to be Irish for one day a year.   

St. Patrick's Day Soda Bread (Gluten-Free)

makes 1 small loaf

1 cup of raisins
2 cups Gluten-Free Soda Bread Flour Blend (Recipe below)

2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (I use Irish Kerrygold butter)
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 375° F
.  In a small saucepan place 1 cup of raisins and about 2 cups of water (enough to cover the raisins) and simmer for 5 minutes or until soft and plump.  Remove from the heat, drain the water and set aside.  In a large bowl whisk together the GF flour blend, sugar, xanthan gum, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.  Using your fingers cut 2 tablespoons of butter into the flour mixture until it forms small crumbs.  Add the egg, buttermilk and slightly cooled raisins to the flour mixture and stir everything together with a fork until you can work it with your hand.  Gather the dough together (working it as minimally as possible, it can be a little crumbly looking).  Place the round of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Score the bread with an "X" (I read once that this was supposedly to release the devil).  Bake the bread for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown and firm.  Remove the bread from the oven and brush on 2 tablespoons of melted butter.  Allow to cool before slicing and spreading on lots of butter!

Gluten-Free Soda Bread Flour Blend

makes 3 cups

1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
2/3 cup tapioca flour/starch
1/3 cup potato starch

Whisk all together.  Store extra in an airtight container.

Note:  Different flour blends are used for different types of baked goods when you are baking gluten-free.  This blend has worked great for me, and doesn't have any "beany" aftertaste that is found in some all purpose flour blends.  If you have a hard time finding the products listed above, try using your favorite brand of all purpose flour instead.
    This is part 2 of "what to make when you have too many ripe avocados."  There are many mornings when I am just not interested in eating something healthy for breakfast.  I'll start rummaging through my pantry looking for the first thing that is either made with chocolate or going to be fast and easy. Normal muffins are probably not the best healthy choice for breakfast, but this recipe is not for a normal muffin.  You can grab one of these on your way out the door, and not have to feel like you are making a bad choice for breakfast.

    I adapted this recipe from a very similar one that I saw in my recent issue of Living Without Magazine.  I'm going to admit, I have a food magazine addiction.  Right now my latest favorites include, Vegetarian Times, Living Without, Simply Gluten Free and EatingWell.  Just as I was contemplating this Avocado series, Living Without gets delivered to my door with a title on the cover "Avocados: The Miracle Ingredient."  Well isn't that just I decided to try some of the recipes. 

    The muffin recipe interested me the most so I started with that.  The ingredient list was a little strange and the picture made them look a little dense, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I swapped out a few things and added some others.  Muffins are actually quite easy to make and alter because as long as you follow the 2:1 ratio (2 cups flour to 1 cup milk) you can really tailor them to your liking.  I loved the idea of making them gluten-free (hence the Living Without part) but I'm not really fond of the premixed flour blends.  I love baking with coconut flour, but you have to be careful with it because it soaks up a lot of moisture.  To deal with this issue you need to increased the amount of liquid.  *If you don't normally have coconut flour and almond meal on hand you can certainly use 2 cups of gluten-free flour mix and keep the milk at 1 cup.*  You could also top your muffins with chocolate chips, walnuts or any other accompaniment that you like to use with chocolate.  

Chocolate Avocado Muffins (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

adapted from a recipe in Living Without Magazine - February/March 2013 Issue

makes 12 muffins

Wet Ingredients
6 tablespoons avocado oil (or your choice of oil)
1 1/2 cups milk (your choice - I've tried both almond milk and goats milk)

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (unrefined)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1 avocado peeled and mashed up (about 1/2 cup)

Dry Ingredients
1/2 cup coconut flour* (see note above)
1/2 cup almond meal* (see note above)
1 cup all purpose gluten-free flour mix* (see note above)
1/2 cup raw cacao powder

1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder

Preheat oven to 350
° F.  In a stand mixer with paddle attachment or a large bowl with a hand mixer on a low setting, mix all the wet ingredients together until smooth. In another bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients.  Add the dry ingredient mix to the wet mix and using your mixer on low speed blend everything together (be careful not to over-mix, stop mixing once it is combined)Divide the batter into a lined muffin pan or a greased muffin pan with 12 spaces (I like to use a ice cream scooper to help with this part).  Sprinkle on your topping of choice or leave them plain. (I topped mine with finely chopped almonds) Bake 20-25 minutes or until they pass the toothpick test. Set them to cool on the counter or cooling rack.
    These fragrant saffron buns are traditionally served on December 13th, in honor of St.Lucia Day.   This tradition is popular in Scandinavian countries including Sweden, which is where some of my ancestors hail from.  As a young woman I would dress in all white with a red sash around my waist, and a wreath of candles on my head.  I would wake up early on December 13th and serve these buns along with some milk or hot chocolate to my brother and sisters.  I looked forward to this small celebration every year, and these buns have become a nostalgic treat for me now that I am raising my own children.
    This year my oldest son became very interested when I started making them, and I figured it would be a fun task that he could help me with.  Making bread, though difficult, is actually great for kids to participate in.  My son helped mix the batter, kneed the dough, roll it out and place the little raisins in each of the swirls.  I can't help but hope that making these St. Lucia Buns with me will one day become a great memory that he will always look back on.
     I consider these a special treat that only comes once a year, so I didn't try to make them gluten-free or vegan.  Instead, I tried to make them a little more healthy by using white whole wheat flour and unrefined sugar.  Great served as a quick breakfast or even as dessert after dinner.  The smell of saffron buns baking in my oven will always be a warm reminder of my childhood, and now the promise of memories yet to be made.   

St. Lucia Saffron Buns

makes 12 saffron buns

1/3 cup of milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 water (heated to between 110-115° F)
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup pure sugar cane (unrefined)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (or crushed-up saffron threads)
2 3/4 cups of white whole wheat flour (or regular all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon olive oil (or cooking oil)
egg wash - 1 egg whisked with a little water
48 raisins

    In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the milk and butter.  Once the butter is melted take it off the heat and set aside to cool.  In a large bowl put the warmed water and dry yeast and set the bowl aside for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is activated.  Check the milk and melted butter with a thermometer to make sure it is not above 115° F.  If the temperature is right, add it to the yeast along with the sugar, egg, salt, and saffron.  Whisk everything to combine.  Then, with a wooden spoon stir in 1 and 1/2 cups of the flour until smooth.  Add in the remaining flour a little at a time until you can form the dough into a ball (With the whole wheat flour I only used an additional 1/2 cup).  Place the dough on a floured surface and kneed the dough for about 5-10 minutes or until it is smooth and it springs back when you poke it.  Place the dough in a large bowl and coat it with the olive oil.  Place bowl in a warm place covered with a kitchen towel to rise for about 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.

    Punch down the risen dough and cut it into 12 equal pieces.  Cut each of the 12 pieces in half (now 24 pieces of dough).  Roll out each half into a long rope (6-8 inches) and cross two ropes in the middle.  Coil each of the ends of the rope toward the center in a circular clockwise pattern as seen below.
    Shape the rest of the dough the same way and place them with plenty of space between each other, on parchment lined cookie sheets.  Cover the buns with a kitchen towel and set them aside in a warm place to rise again for about 30-45 minutes or until they double in size again.  Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Whisk together an egg with about 1 tablespoon of water.  Brush the egg wash over each of the buns and place a raisin in each of the four corner swirls, and push them in.  (A great task for a small helper).  Bake the buns for about 15-20 minutes or until they are golden and browned slightly on the bottom.  Move the buns to a plate or wire rack to cool.  Enjoy!
     I have been wanting to make baked oatmeal ever since I saw a recipe for one created by Heidi Swanson in her book Super Natural Every Day.  I have seen this recipe remade on more then a few blogs, and all of them seemed to stick with the same ingredients of bananas and blueberries.  Those ingredients did sound great, but what I really wanted was a gluten-free, vegan alternative that featured a different taste combination.  I wanted to make something that I could serve on Christmas morning so I started thinking about flavor combinations that are more seasonable.  I starting pondering ingredients like cranberries, pear and almond; all things that reminded me of the Christmas season. 

    The original recipe calls for milk, eggs and butter but if you are a vegan then those ingredients just won't work.  I decided to juice some of the pears (see how to juice pears below) and use homemade almond milk to replace the cow's milk.  I also substituted flaxseed meal for the eggs.  If you can't find the Coconut Secret products then you could use unrefined cane sugar to replace the crystals and use maple syrup to replace the nectar.  I really love the coconut products because they have a low glycemic index and are vegan.  The nectar tastes just like maple syrup, and the crystals are sort of like brown sugar.  
Forelle Pear Juice:   Wash 5-6 forelle pears and core them (keeping the skin on).  Place the pieces of pear through a juicer.  You will need to make 1 cup of juice (8 oz.) for this recipe so if you don't get enough juice increase the amount of pears you use.

    Forelle Pears are considered "specialty produce" because they are only found once a year here in the northeast corner of the United States of America.  They are available to us only in the winter, and they start to pop up around Christmas time.  I have normally seen them adorning tables, fruit bowls or gifted Christmas baskets, and I have always looked at these pears as more of a decoration then a food. My local grocery store had them in stock the other day and in the spirit of "trying new things" I decided to pick up a few and see how I could use them best.  Everything I read stated that they are not good for baking because of their small size.  I found this strange because never has size stopped me from using something yummy before. The suggested use for Forelles is just for snacking, but when I bit into one of these little gems I found a firm juicy sweetness, that to me seemed like a perfect fit for my juicer.  Pears are not well accepted by centrifugal juicers that normally destroy very soft fruit.  The Forelles held their own against the high speed whirling blades and transformed into a slightly thick and sugary sweet juice.  It was great to drink on it's own, but my mind had grander ideas to pursue with my new find. 

Forelle Pear & Cranberry Baked Oatmeal
(Vegan & Gluten-Free)

makes an 8-inch square pan

1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 forelle pears, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons coconut nectar by Coconut Secret
+ extra for drizzling

1 cup homemade almond milk (or unsweetened original almond milk)
1 cup of forelle pear juice (see the how-to above) (or Pear juice/nectar from the store)
1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal in 3 tablespoons of warm water (this is the egg replacement)

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup coconut crystals by Coconut Secret
1 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum and gluten-free)

2 cups gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

    Preheat oven to 375° F.  Grease an 8-inch square pan with the coconut oil, making sure to cover the sides too.  Scatter the roughly chopped pears and a 1/4 a cup of the fresh cranberries into the pan.  In a small bowl mix the flaxseed meal in warm water and set aside until it becomes thick and gelatinous, about 10 minutes.  Then in a large bowl whisk together the coconut nectar, almond milk, pear juice, vanilla extract and almond extract.  Add the flaxseed "egg replacement" into the liquid and whisk to incorporate.  In another bowl toss together the coconut crystals, baking powder, rolled oats, and a 1/4 cup of the toasted and chopped almonds.  Pour the dry oat mixture over the fruit in the pan.  Slowly drizzle the liquid ingredients over the oats.  Sprinkle the 1/4 cup remaining fresh cranberries and remaining 1/4 cup of almonds on top of the whole thing.  Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until it looks browned and set. Serve it warm out of the oven and drizzle some extra coconut nectar over the top.

* To toast almonds I normally just place them in an ungreased frying pan over medium high heat and toss them around until they are golden brown.  Just wait until they cool down before chopping and adding them to the recipe.  You could also toast them in a 400° F oven on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes, tossing them half way through cooking.