For every "quirky" ingredient I use that you may not be used to baking with, I'll give you a little more information about it on this page. And if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to answer! Because sharing is caring :)
Agave Nectar: this is a natural sweetener, which is substituted for sugar. It is a lot like honey, and is very sweet. Agave nectar has properties similar to real sugar so it is more practical than other artificial sweeteners BUT because it is a liquid, be careful about the consistency of your cookies or cake (or whatever else you might be making), and make sure it isn't too runny. I usually use 3/4 cup agave nectar to 1 cup sugar. It can be found at most supermarkets. If you want to know more, I used this website http://www.allaboutagave.com/
Almond Meal (or almond flour, they are pretty much the same): All it is is crushed up almonds. That's it. And it can be substituted for flour to give your baked goods a sweeter taste and it is very moist. However, it's consistency is more like corn meal than flour so it doesn't give cookies or muffins much structure, but using a couple more eggs usually helps. I buy it at Trader Joe's, and all health food stores should have it. And if you can't find it, just get out the food processor and start grinding! Almond meal/ flour is gluten free, high in protein, and low in carbohydrates and sugar.
Applesauce: I use applesauce in some of my recipes to substitute for oil. Not only does it reduce the fat content, but it also tastes better! However, working with applesauce is tricky, and can lead to some strange consistencies. I have also tried using it as a substitute for sugar, which only works in small quantities. If you do substitute oil for applesauce, use 1/2 cup applesauce to 1 cup oil- too much can turn the dough into soup.
Carob Chips: Carob is a popular vegan substitute for chocolate chips. It is made from carob powder, a color and texture identical to cocoa powder (carob powder is made from the seed pods of the carob tree, a tree in the pea family). Although they look just like chocolate chips and bake the same, they don't taste exactly like chocolate-they have more of a nutty taste. (Note: if you are doing some gluten-free baking, make sure the carob chips are not sweetened with malted barley)
Garbanzo Bean Flour: Garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) are a creamy bean that is rich in protein. I wouldn't suggest using it as a main ingredient in baking, though, it has a nutty flavor that can be very overpowering. However, if mixed with another type of flour, it is GREAT in baked goods with chocolate. It gives it more of a peanuty taste (yummy!). Garbanzo bean flour is best in savory recipes.
Kefir: I've used it to substitute for buttermilk just because it's thick, but after researching it, it also has some great health benefits. Kefir is basically a drinkable yogurt, and it tastes really great in smoothies!! Here's some good facts about Kefir from the Kefir website.