Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls, Guilt Free

It's been interesting to see my fav veg blogs post recipes for beautiful Christmas cookies. I am so glad they are posting them, because I haven't made a single cookie. Not one during this Christmas season.

It took me a while to figure out what was wrong with me...Ash, why aren't you making any cookies?! And then I realized, Oh, (picture the Fiddler on The Roof, and Tevia shouting) TRADITION!

All growing up it was our family tradition to have cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast. One of my favorite parts of Christmas, for sure. When we got to be a little older, and realized just how much work my parents went to in order to make Christmas the biggest event of the year, my oldest sister and I took over on Christmas cinnamon-roll-making-duty.

Then, we all got lazy, and decided to turn to Rhodes. Ah, Rhodes Cinnamon Rolls from the frozen foods section. Yummy stuff.

I usually ate about three or four of them...Once I start eating something delicious, I really cant seem to stop. When I got old enough to realize what I was doing to myself, and recognized that they made me feel sick, I also started realizing how guilty I felt after eating so many cinnamon rolls.

Seriously, how do you feel after sitting down to a Cinnabon cinnamon roll at the mall, and consuming the entire confection?

Like running a marathon?

Like shouting for joy?

Right. Me either. I feel like a big fat bump on a log. Someone ROLL me down the hall because I just ate a year's worth of fat and junk in five minutes. But then, despite how I feel physically, I really feel like I wouldn't mind eating another one. Yeah, that's me.

Every time I eat one of these delicious, marvelous, oil and dairy free cinnamon rolls, they taste so good to me, that my cinnamon-roll-eating guilt returns.

I start quizzing myself.

Okay, I should feel guilty because...let's see these have no oil in butter, no eggs, no cream, no dairy...and they are made with whole grain flours...I know there has got to be something in these warm, ooey, gooey, SIN-namon rolls that I should feel guilty about!

I'm healing. How about you? Learning to not feel guilty because I enjoy my food.

Healthy desserts.

After all, I'm pretty sure Christmas is supposed to be all about joy.

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Seven Secrets Cookbook


One Loaf Bread (The Dough)

This bread recipe is the right amount for one loaf, and works in most bread machines. This recipe can be used to make bread, pita pockets, pizza crust, and in our case, cinnamon rolls. Oil and dairy free never tasted so good!

As to which types of flour you choose, I have made these with half unbleached all-purpose, and half white whole wheat, all white whole wheat, and with completely all-purpose flour. Each version raised well and tasted great. If you are going for a healthy breakfast, choose either half whole wheat and white, or all white whole wheat. If you are going for a very dessert-y, copycat Cinnabon mall experience, use only unbleached, all-purpose flour.

Use either date paste, or brown rice syrup and sugar filling, depending on your preference. I also provide two different types of icings, or you can simply pour maple syrup on top of your roll for a more " cinnamon roll pancake" type of breakfast experience. My kids and I prefer the brown rice syrup filling, with the cream cheese icing.

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons applesauce
2 tablespoons honey (or agave nectar)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole wheat bread flour (I find that white whole wheat flour works best)
1 tablespoon gluten flour
1 tablespoon dough conditioner (optional, I didn't have any)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast


1.Place ingredients in bread machine container according to manufacturer's instructions. Once the bread maker has completed it's full cycle, roll the dough out into a long rectangle. Apply a thin layer of filling (see below, either date spread, or brown rice syrup mixture) over the surface, leaving 1/4 inch along one long edge free of spread.

2. Sprinkle entire surface liberally with cinnamon. Optionally, you can also sprinkle it with raisins, or other dried fruits and/or chopped nuts of your choice. We like it best without anything added except the filling. Roll up the long way like a jelly roll, and pinch the seam closed.

3. Cut 1-inch rolls by cutting all the way through with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Place rolls with cut side up on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, shaping into a circle. Let rise, covered with a damp towel, in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled.

4. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Lightly brush tops with pure maple syrup or cream cheese frosting while hot (optional). Cool on a wire rack, then place in covered container until ready to eat. These taste best when warm. If they have cooled, simply place in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds to reheat, and soften. Enjoy a guilt-free, sinless cinnamon roll! (Or if you are like me, enjoy two or three!)

For the Filling:

Note from Ashlee: This spread is great because it adds body and flavor without oils or fats. It tastes the best if the cinnamon rolls are going to be eaten the same day they are baked, or when the cinnamon rolls are very warm. Once the cinnamon rolls cool, the date paste tends to get chunky. Reheating helps, but the date filling tastes the best when fresh from the oven. Make sure you only spread a thin layer, as this will prevent the paste from getting chunky the day after baking.

Date Spread


2 1/2 cups pitted dates, or date pieces
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt


Bring all ingredients to a boil in a covered saucepan. Mash or process in food processor to make a thick paste. Or blend in a blender, adding a little extra water if needed, to blend until thick and smooth. (After spreading a very thin layer of the date paste, be sure to sprinkle generously with cinnamon before rolling the dough into a "jelly roll" to enjoy that cinnamon taste!)

Brown Rice Syrup and Brown Sugar Spread

Note from Ashlee: This filling is my own invention, and my personal preference as a fat free filling for cinnamon rolls. The hardest part is preventing it from becoming too runny; when that happens, all the filling oozes out of the dough. However, if that happens, the majority of the flavor remains on and around the roll during baking, and still tastes wonderful. I like this filling especially because it tastes great reheated, and retains it's flavor and texture the next day. Even at room temperature. Brown rice syrup is also a much cheaper and a faster alternative to using 2.5 cups of boiled and mashed dates!


1/4 cup brown rice syrup
2-4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon applesauce
2 teaspoons cinnamon


In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients with a fork, until well incorporated. If the mixture is too thick and too difficult to stir, consider adding an additional one teaspoon of applesauce. However, also remember that the mixture will soften on the dough. You don't want it to become runny or the filling will ooze out of the inside of the cinnamon roll when the dough is being rolled. If you want it to be thicker, add additional 2 tablespoons of brown sugar.

Spread a layer over the rolled out dough, leaving a remaining 1/4 inch of the dough dry. The dry portion of the dough makes it possible for the cinnamon rolls to seal shut when rolling the dough into a "jelly roll."

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/4 cup nondairy cream cheese (I use Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese brand)
1/2-1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
non-dairy milk, as needed

Whip cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract until they become light and fluffy. If it becomes too thick, add nondairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, until it is thinned to desired consistency. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar.

Pour generously over cinnamon rolls while they are still warm!

Maple Icing:
From Lindsay S. Nixons, "Happy Herbivore."

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, whipping to combine. Add more maple syrup for a thinner icing, or more sugar for a thicker icing.


I have tried to make oil free yeast breads before, and it has turned out abysmally. I thought for sure the dough would not rise. I basically was preparing myself for massive failure.

I was so happy when it actually rose! I had to run into the next room to show Paul that it wasn't a complete doozy of a recipe.

You can see here, how the filling was a tad too runny and came out a little bit because I added too much applesauce.

If this happens, just scoop up the filling and pour it on top of the cinnamon roll after it has been placed on the cookie sheet. To prevent this from happening, be careful not to add too much applesauce to the brown rice syrup and Brown Sugar Filling. Or, use the date spread, which is not runny at all.

I was equally as ecstatic when I discovered that they raised beautifully again, the second time, as rolls.

They baked to perfection. Cinnabon in my kitchen...

I've since made these cinnamon rolls several more times, and my children heartily gobble them up, asking for seconds. (PROJECT VEGAN KIDS!)

The whole wheat versions bake up just as nicely, and feel healthier when eating them.

The icing, is, well, the icing on the cake! It is so good! (And might I add, pretty too?)


What is your very favorite Christmas treat that brings back happy memories from childhood? Have you had any success (or fears!) in trying to re-make it into a healthier version?

Any Christmas/Holiday recipe you would like to see transformed into a whole food here on this blog?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mostly Raw Cranberry Apple Orange Dressing, & Something I Need To Tell You

Say, say, say, what do you say? ~ (Dr. Suess, Mr. Brown Can Moo)

Dr. McDougall says no added fat or oils,
Natalia Rose says no soy or peanuts, or potatoes
Dr. Joel Furhman says no bread, no pasta
Diana Stobo says no wheat,
Dr. Jeff Novick says no green smoothies
Robyn Openshaw says no yeast or sugar
Dr. T. Colin Campbell says no animal protien
Dr. Atkins says no fruit

My brain has been in a swirly.

Do you ever get tired of all the conflicting nutrition and dietary voices, and all they have to say?

Say, say, say, what do you say?

About one month ago I decided to try an experiment. Remove all added fat (even avocados, nuts and seeds, olives, soy, and oil additionally), and flour from my diet, to see if I could lose, unnecessarily, 15 lbs, recommended by Dr. John McDougall in hopes that I might heal a hormone imbalance.

After much sacrifice, I felt deprived for the first time on a whole foods, plant based diet. I felt like I was constantly having to tell myself, "no."

I came back home from a very physically intensive (I did a lot of movement and exercise!) vacation, strictly keeping all the McDougall rules, and I weighed more than when I began. And I can tell you why. I realize I was on vacation. I realize it was the Thanksgiving Holiday. I realize that I had to eat out more than usual. However, I know the main reason is because I felt deprived, so I ate. And ate. And ate. Every day, way more than I normally would. Because I. felt. deprived.

I have decided that, for me, the most important factor in eating healthily is that I not feel deprived. I need to feel free.

After reading so many nutrition books, and studying, feeling confused and frustrated, and experimenting on what makes my body feel the healthiest, I have had to stand back.

Step away from the books.

Take into account all of the information I have learned about foods, and their nutrient contents.

And then eat what my body is craving. What sounds good, what I like.

Create my own, Dr. Ashlee eating plan. Pay attention to how I feel, emotionally and physically, and then eat the foods that make me feel awesome.

I like being educated about foods, and their nutrition content, and then feeling the freedom to make choices as I see fit.

Being vegan is probably one of the most freeing choices I have ever made. I have not felt deprived, in fact, I felt like I was being given permission to not eat the stuff that had been weighing me down for so long. I also felt permission to eat some of the most delicious, and fantastic foods without guilt. Vegetables, fruit, breads, grains, beans, nuts, seeds...

When I walk into a produce or bulk foods section of a grocery store, and see all of the variety, I get ecstatic. I have to hide my excitement from all of the other shoppers around me. The choices. The colors. The variety. The endless possibilities.

While I do not call this fat free experiment a "failed" experiment, I do declare an end to it. I learned a lot. It was, actually, successful. Now that I feel so much freedom in choice, by deciding to not be a fat free, flour free vegan, I have relished in eating the healthiest of food. I haven't gone crazy and added cashew cheese to everything, made peanut butter cookies every day, and gorged myself on avocados and bread.

In fact, quite the opposite has happened. Now that I feel free to eat plant foods as I see fit, I find myself gravitating towards raw fruits and vegetables, cooked vegetables with some whole grains, and the occasional sweet treat. It feels great. I feel free again.

I do need to make sure that I clarify, and say that I do not add oils to my food, cooking, or baking about 98% of the time. So I still consider myself an oil free vegan. I'm not perfect. A good friend introduced me to the idea of homemade good! They require a tad bit of added oils, and I let myself have them every once in a while.

I have always felt that there are so many health benefits to avocado, nuts, seeds, tofu, and olives. As I have said, while I am not gorging myself on them, I do have a greater understanding of them. I understand that they are higher in calories and fat, and that they are more of a condiment or treat than a main dish. Now that I have that understanding, I have no need to demonize these foods.

What have I been eating lately?

Whole grain, hot cereals.

Rice, and cooked vegetables.

Indian Vegetable Biryani, one of my new favorite ways to eat rice and vegetables.

Raw carrot juice. Raw fruit.

The occasional, fat free, whole wheat cinnamon roll. Coming soon! They are so good!

We recently had Asian stir fry. And black bean burgers with baked potato fries.

Green smoothies. Green salads.

One of my new, favorite, mostly raw salad dressings.

In my decision to just let myself eat intuitively, taking my nutrition knowledge into account, I have found a new love for raw foods. Nothing replaces them in flavor and satisfaction.

Plus I can stuff my face with them, all day, because I am a big eater. I love to eat volumes and volumes of food. Never did well with the small portions idea.

The original version of this dressing requires that the cranberries be cooked. After making the dressing according to the original recipe, it came out too sour and gummy (I tried replacing oil with instant corn starch).

I understand the health benefits of raw cranberries, and thought, why? Why do the cranberries have to be cooked first? Can't they be raw?

I tried using the cranberries raw, and adding raw apple, raw orange juice, and then a little bit of soy yogurt, instead of oil.

The result?

A tangy, slightly sweet, refreshing, and mostly raw cranberry dressing.

Perfect for Christmas, with all the familiar ingredients and smells of the Holidays.

Mostly Raw, Holiday Cranberry Apple Orange Vinaigrette
Inspired by Angela Liddon


1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, preferably organic
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed clementine or orange juice
1 gala apple, or other sweet apple, preferably organic, cut into large chunks
3 tablespoons soy vanilla yogurt (optional, it just makes the dressing more creamy, and less sour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black Pepper to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon)
1-2 teaspoons stevia powder
2-3 tablespoons pecans, (optional, for garnish, or pulsed in, adds buttery flavor)


Place all ingredients in blender (except for pecans) and blend until completely emulsified, about 1-2 minutes.

Optionally, after dressing has been completely blended, add pecans and pulse into the dressing (you want them to remain in chunks). Chill in refrigerator for optimal taste. Enjoy on fresh salads.


Now It's Your Turn:

What do you say? What is the most important factor for you in being able to enjoy eating healthy foods?