fig and olive oil challah


I've had a few successful bouts with bread-making in the past. And quite a few more that were not so fortunate. Yeast-risen doughs are a temperamental sort, finicky and snobbish towards things you can't control like climate or moisture. My thought is, if you have a free Saturday to devote to bread-baking, you should give it a go. The only way to improve is to keep trying, am I right?

Armed with this positive attitude and an intensifying craving for challah, I turned to an adapted Smitten Kitchen version of this classic loaf. I'd say the only huge difference between hers and mine would be that I didn't use much sea salt, mainly because I didn't have it. I added some salt to the dough itself, but did without the flakey version when it came to topping off the loaf pre-baking. If you think that's disgraceful, by all means: salt your challah. Spoiler: it will come out amazing either way.

Okay, what you need (other than a good three hours or so of time) is as follows.

For the bread:

1 packet (7 grams) of active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon of honey
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the rising bowl
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

1 cup figs, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper

And set aside a third egg for an egg wash over the loaf before baking.

Whisk your packet of yeast with 1 teaspoon of honey and 2/3 cup warm water and let stand for a few minutes until your yeast gets foamy. A mistake I've made before: don't mix your yeast with any liquid that could be considered hot. Even slightly more than warm. It will kill the yeast completely and your dough won't rise. The best thing to do is heat your water for about twenty-thirty seconds in a microwave and then let it sit on the counter for 3-5 minutes. That way it's just barely above room temperature, which is just what the yeast needs to activate properly.

While you're waiting for the yeast mixture to foam up (should take around 5 minutes), in the large bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the rest of your honey, your olive oil and 2 eggs. Add the yeast mixture and continue whisking. Add your salt and flour (one cup at a time) and continue whisking until the dough starts to stick together. After the second or third cup of flour, switch to the dough hook attachment. Continue to add your flour until it's all incorporated. Once you've added all your flour, run the dough hook on a slow speed (2 or 3 should work) for about 8 minutes. After this, transfer to an olive oil coated bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for one hour. (A good spot to do this is in the oven, which of course is off, but still warm enough to aid the rising dough.)

While you're waiting for the first rise, now's a good time to make your fig filling. In a small saucepan, combine your chopped figs, orange zest, orange juice, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer on medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the figs have softened and started to separate. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least an additional 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until it resembles a paste. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

After the hour, turn your dough out onto a well-floured counter. It's going to be pretty sticky, but that's a good thing. Flour the top well and divide in half. Roll the first half out into a haphazard rectangle (don't aim for perfection here). Spread half of your fig paste over the dough (quickly, because the moisture will make the dough harder to work with) and roll tightly. Carefully stretch the rolled dough until it's about doubled in length. Set aside and repeat this process with the second half of dough.

Now comes the part that seems tough, but trust me, you got this. Here are Deb's instructions (and feel free to refer to her version for accompanying pictures):
"Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet. So, now you’ve got an eight-legged woven-headed octopus. Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move the leg to their right — i.e., jumping it. Take the legs that were on the right and, again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you have extra length in your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round."

If it doesn't look perfect, don't worry too much. Because it's going to taste great. And honestly, it probably looks good, too. Now, if you haven't done your weaving directly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (because I didn't), try to carefully transfer your loaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk the last egg until smooth. Brush your loaf carefully with the egg wash and set aside (back in the warm-but-off oven) to rise for one more hour.

Fifteen minutes before the final rise is ended, take your loaf out of the oven and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaf with your egg wash one more time (be super generous so the challah gets that pretty sheen) and bake for 35-40 minutes. It should start to bronze pretty quickly, but if you notice it starting to get too dark too quickly, cover with some foil to avoid burning.

Deb recommends using an instant-read thermometer (should be around 195 degrees in the center) to make sure the loaf is done, in case you aren't sure. Cool on a wire rack for just about as long as you can stand it, which for me was about a half hour. It was a pretty excruciating 30 minutes, let me tell you. If I managed to hang on to any of this, I would definitely like to make some French toast with this bread. Maybe with more figgy jam on top: yes.


meyer lemon cake with fresh ginger glaze


Birthdays call for grand gestures in the dessert department. And yes, there should always be dessert. And I know we're all on a different path to wellness here, which might involve going gluten-free or sugar-free or what have you, but birthdays are the exception to all rules, as far as I'm concerned. Or, if you can make a gluten-free, sugar-free cake that tastes amazing, have at it. But I'm going to need a bit of convincing.

Or, you could always make this version of a yogurt pound cake with bright, sunny Meyer lemons and fresh, spicy ginger glaze. Oh, yes. I figured, I've done variations of this this cake with grapefruits (and you had your doubts, didn't you?) and oranges, and yes, even your run-of-the-mill lemons with a blueberry twist. All of which were, well, amazing. But when someone as awesome as my grandmother has a birthday (Hi, Gram!), you go all out. You go citrus-crazy, which is pretty much the only way to describe the heavenly-orangey-sweet-tartness that is the Meyer lemon.

For the cake portion of the recipe, you'll need:

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of plain yogurt (I used nonfat and you'd never know it. Except for, you know, now, because I told you)
1 cup plus one tablespoon of sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest (should take about 4, if they're on the smallish side, which they usually are)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

For the glaze, you'll need:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf pan (9"x5") and set aside. In a medium sized bowl, sift together your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and salt). In a larger bowl, add 1 cup of your sugar and your fresh zest. Scrunch it together using just your fingertips. If it sounds crazy (yes, it does), just wait until that lovely lemon smell starts wafting towards your face. Your just doing your part to help release a little more of that lemon flavor.

Once your sugar has been properly scrunched (don't overdo it now), whisk in your vanilla, eggs and yogurt evenly combined. Add your dry ingredients to the mix in stages, stirring until combined with each addition. Finally, add your olive oil to the batter and fold in using a rubber spatula. (I know, I know, it seems crazy and like it will take forever, but just keep folding, it'll happen.)

Pour your batter into your prepared cake pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Innn the meantime, add your remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and your 1/2 cup of lemon juice to a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the sugar is just dissolved, stirring constantly to avoid burning. This will happen relatively quickly for such a small amount of liquid, so don't wander off.

When the cake has been out of oven for about ten minutes, flip onto a wire rack. Using a toothpick, poke several holes in the surface of the cake. Slowly pour your lemon juice-sugar mixture over the top of the cake (being sure to add a baking tray beneath to catch the overrun!) and let it soak up some more of that lemon goodness. Once you've evenly distributed the syrup, allow the cake to cool completely.

In the meantime again, you can pass some cooling time to make the glaze. In a small bowl, add your powdered sugar (sifting will help get rid of any big lumps), ginger and lemon juice. Stir together until smooth. At this point, it's totally up to you to decide if that last tablespoon of milk is necessary. For me, the texture wasn't quite right (and I was out of lemons...), so a little more liquid helped get the consistency a bit more glaze-y. But I trust you. The cake trusts you, too.

When the cake is completely cooled (ahhhh), carefully pour the glaze over the top and let it run down the sides. Hopefully you've still got the tray under there to catch any drips. All that's left now is to insert candles, sing, celebrate and eat! Happy Birthday, Gram - you love lemon and we love you!


raw + vegan cauliflower pesto


Since I've had entire posts dedicated to it, it's no secret that I thoroughly enjoy pesto. It could definitely be last-meal-on-earth dish of choice. I'm not kidding. I'm not too picky about the shape of the pasta. In fact, it could just be a pasta-free bowl of the traditional basil, pine nut, cheese combo and I might be fine with bread and water otherwise. What I'm doing behind bars demanding final meals, that's another story, of course.

Despite my devotion to the dish, little did I know (until quite recently, anyway) that pesto is more considered a technique than a combination of ingredients. Now I haven't gone too crazy with this revelation yet (though there was an almond pesto excursion over the summer, repeated several times over to top off zucchini pasta), I decided it was time to give it another go with a new round of flavors. Namely, cauliflower. We've been stocking a lot of cauliflower this winter. In soups or vegetable stews, roasted or over rice, it's definitely a vegetable I enjoy for it's predictable purposes. But with Deb Perelman's cookbook in hand (and a plethora of ear-marked recipes to refer to), I found myself inspired by the use of cauliflower as a pesto sauce, and a raw one at that. Curiouser and curiouser.

While I usually take to my pesto in the Italian grandmother style (even though I'm not sure which I'm further from, being Italian or grandmotherly) and hand-chop everything, I decided that this was the time I would whiz everything up in the handy food processor to save on time. Not that you need it: this recipe truly couldn't be any simpler or any quicker to complete. Why? Deb thought it up after she'd become a new mother.

Ahhh, and the crowd sighed and nodded with knowing looks.

Okay, I'm not a mom, either, but I totally understand what it means to be short on time and patience. That counts, right?

Well, before we go any further down that road, let's get to the recipe itself. For this one, you should plan to use your 10 or so minutes while the pasta is boiling to knock this sauce down for the count: easy. And if your almonds are already toasted/roasted, even faster.

For this recipe, you'll need:

About half a head of one large cauliflower, cut into florets
1 clove of garlic
5 sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil; if they are, drain and rinse)
1/2 cup almonds, dry toasted
1 tablespoon capers, drained
A good glug of olive oil (getting technical here)
A good squeeze or two of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta, in your shape of choice
Parmesan cheese (a grand option if you are, like me, not fully in the vegan way)

After you've washed and cut your cauliflower, transfer into your food processor in batches. Pulse until it's fully crumbled, resembling a course meal, or, you know, pesto. Transfer your broken down cauliflower into a bowl.

Rinse your food processor (or don't, since it's all going in the same place) and add your garlic, almonds, capers and sun-dried tomatoes. A note: Deb's original recipe called for 4 sun-dried tomatoes, which seemed low to me. I know they're intense in flavor, but it seemed like a small amount to counter the mountain of cauliflower staring me down. So I added a fifth. Looking back, however, I feel I may have even added a sixth or seventh the next time I make this for diner. Just a thought.

Anyhow, pulse these ingredients until chopped, about 1 minute. Scoop out into the bowl with the cauliflower. Top with olive oil and lemon juice and fold together. You can add a bit of salt and pepper, too; taste, then add more if needed.

By now your pasta should be good and ready. Before draining, save about 1 cup of your starchy pasta water to help your sauce adhere. Toss your pesto, pasta and 1/2 cup of your water together. If the sauce seems too thick, add a bit more water until you've reached your desired consistency. You can also save some of your pesto if you don't want to go with a full pound of pasta. It freezes great, and will be ready and waiting the next time you're not sure what to make for dinner. Or, as Deb suggests, spread it on some toast: correct, Deb. You are infinitely correct.


root vegetables with roasted orange balsamic


Roasting veggies has pretty much always been one of our winter standbys. It often sings the answer to the question, What to do for dinner? If you put almost any vegetable in a 400-degree oven with a little olive oil and salt, it's hard to go wrong. Of course, with the tiniest bit of forethought, it's pretty easy to enhance the usual flavors and take this meal up a notch or two.

Another great winter staple is citrus fruit. Normally we buy it by the bag, because I have no idea what could be better than a perfectly sweet, tart navel orange. Unless of course it's a blood orange. Or an heirloom orange, which is now in fact a thing.

Since winter is rapidly (or reluctantly) coming to a close, I thought: why not pair these two things together? And of course everyone knows that oranges and carrots are great friends and always have been. Vibe-ing in every way from color coordination to complimentary flavors, I knew this would be a good mix-up. But what else? Well, for this recipe you will need:

About 2 cups of root vegetables,  peeled and halved (I chose carrots and radishes, but I have a feeling that parsnips or rutabagas or beets would be equally tasty)
1 medium orange, quartered
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (dark or golden is fine)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil plus more for roasting pan
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 clove garlic, grated
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup cooked quinoa or other grain of choice, optional

So even though this version might take a little more planning than turning the oven on to let it work its magic, it's still unbelievably simple. You don't have to be too invested in measuring or watching. There are no complicated techniques that will leave you scratching your head or rereading the recipe.

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss your vegetables together with some olive oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Spread into a single layer on a large aluminum tray or roasting pan, intersperse with orange quarters and pop in the oven for about thirty-forty minutes or until tender. This will vary a little bit depending on the vegetables you choose, but this timeframe usually works for a fork-ready radish.

While you're waiting, you can cook your quinoa or chosen grain according to the package directions. Since quinoa is usually a fast-cooking grain, you could even wait until 15-20 minutes into the roasting process.

Once your vegetables are looking gloriously caramelized and slice easily with a knife, remove from the oven. First removing the orange slices (carefully), return the veggies to the bowl in which they were originally tossed. In a small separate bowl (or right on top of the veggies, if you're not that into doing dishes) add your balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil if needed. If your vegetables are already looking pretty glossy, it might be fine to skip this step. Add your grated ginger and garlic and toss (or whisk) together.

Finally, squeeze (again, carefully) your roasted oranges over the vegetables. The fruit should be extra juicy due to the cooking time, so goggles, or at least shielding your face with an oven mitt, wouldn't be totally out of the question. Toss again and re-season according to taste.

These beauties can be served over your grains, tossed together with the quinoa, as a side dish or a main course. (Obviously, as with any main course, I don't hate the idea of adding a little feta or goat cheese: yum.)


vegan mexican chocolate ice cream


Probably the only thing better than plain old chocolate (hellooo) is Mexican chocolate. Warm, earthy with a kick of spice, it's the only possible way that ice cream could be accurately described as warm. Seriously, one taste and you'll understand.

Still high on a mega-kick for dairy-free desserts, our latest delve into the vegan ice cream world had to include chocolate. Sure, we'd used chocolate chips (in a not-at-all vegan version, of course), but this time we decided to get serious.

The beauty of all of these ice cream recipes so far is the simplicity: just a few ingredients and not a whole lot else. Just one more reason I'm getting more and more excited about making our own food. No additives, ingredients I recognize (not to mention witness in front of my own face), and flavor that's remarkably more appealing than their über-packaged counterparts. (Don't get me wrong, though; there are still some ice cream brands out there doing the good stuff. Hats off you to, Alden. You get things.)

For this recipe, you will need:

2 15-ounce cans of unsweetened coconut milk (Coconut-base ice creams can tend to be a little icy. To reduce this possibility just a bit, you can always go with the full-fat variety of coconut milk. If you're looking to save on calories but keep good flavor, low fat versions are also available.)
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 cup dark chocolate chips (Equal Exchange or Sunspire are good options for chips that have zero milkfat)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
A pinch of sea salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper (trust me, a pinch is enough)
1 teaspoon ground espresso
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, heat your coconut milk and agave over medium-high heat. Slowly bring to a boil. As soon as your mixture boils, immediately reduce to a simmer to avoid scalding. After 1 minute, remove from heat and stir in chocolate until completely melted. Allow this mixture to cool on a countertop for 1 hour.

After the hour is up, whisk in your spices, salt, espresso and vanilla. The last step is to churn following the instructions with your ice cream maker. For you KitchenAid users, simply use the pre-frozen attachment, churn for about 15 minutes, then transfer to a freezer-safe container for about 1 hour or until completely solid. Olé!

Who's going to say no to a third scoop?


vegan morning glory oatmeal


Alright, guys, I have another favorite food blog: Cookie and Kate. If you try anything, besides this oatmeal that was inspired by Kate herself, you must make the baked falafel. It will change you forever.

Since we're not in the lunch, dinner or any-time-of-day snack mode, let's stick to oatmeal for now. (Possible idea happening here: Breakfast falafel? Falafel for breakfast? Can it be done?) I've always been a major fan of oatmeal. I feel for it. I feel like it gets a bad rap. People find it mushy, gray, flavorless. Or on the very opposite hand, it suddenly becomes wildly unhealthy once we heap it with brown sugar and coat it with butter.

Oatmeal, in my mind, is a winter superfood. Honestly, most days the only thing that gets me out of my roasty-toasty bed from November through February is the promise of a hotass cup of coffee and a massive bowl of oatmeal that I can clutch dramatically (you know, for the warmth) and think of Spring, melting snow, even Summer, if I'm feeling daring.

So how to mix it up, make it more interesting? The standards, banana, brown sugar, almonds, are all well and good, but every now and then it's good to shake up your routine. And of course, I am a major fan of finding ways to sneak vegetables into any and all foods, especially breakfast.

For this version of oatmeal (that is soon to be your favorite), you will need:

1/2 cup steel cut oats (quick-cook or regular is fine)
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup grated carrots (Yes! Carrots in the morning! In your cereal! So?)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 tablespoon orange zest (you want to definitely use organic for zest-ing)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped raw walnuts and pecans, mixed
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar, to taste

Start by cooking your oats according to the instructions using the almond and coconut milks in place of water. Bob's Red Mill is a great go-to for organic steel cut oats, but if you're looking for a quick and easy version, Trader Joe's makes a great one that's ready in eight minutes (though usually even less). In the mean time, grate your carrots. Once your oatmeal has thickened, add your raw carrot shreds, raisins and spices. Allow to finish cooking to desired texture (steel cut oats should be slightly al dente).

Stir in your coconut, vanilla extract, brown sugar and orange zest. Top with chopped walnuts and dig in with a spoon; brace yourself for a breakfast that will be seriously hard to beat. It's basically deconstructed carrot cake in a bowl, that you don't have to feel bad about eating before work.


chocolate chip walnut banana bread


Somehow it seems whenever we buy bananas, we always end up with a few that cross over from edible to slightly unrecognizable as food. You know, like these:

And while you could never talk me into eating one that's this far gone, it turns out they are perfect for baking. The flavor is that much more increased and the softer texture adds more moisture to breads and muffins. So naturally, these guys got transformed into some form of banana breads, muffins, pancakes, and this time, what I've decided is my new favorite banana bread recipe. You will need:

1/2 stick of butter, softened
2 eggs
3 very, very ripe bananas
2/3 cup of sugar
1 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup of walnuts, chopping
1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips

The walnuts and chocolate chips are totally optional, but then again: seriously? They're what make this loaf: so go nuts. You know, literally.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a fork or a potato masher, have at the ripe bananas until nearly liquified. Whether or not you leave any chunks is a matter of personal preference. In a small bowl, contained the softened butter and sugar. Add your eggs and bananas and set aside.

In a larger bowl, combine your dry ingredients and spices. Add your wet ingredients and fold together. Once combined, fold in your walnuts and chocolate chips. Pour your batter into a well-greased loaf pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

This bread is perfect right out of the oven, but keeps well in a sealed bag for up to a week. Perfect for breakfast, with coffee, topped with a little peanut butter (whaaat) or as is.