3/30/2015

vegan blueberry bran muffins

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With so many other breakfast options out there in the pasty world alone, I feel like the humble muffin can get a little overlooked. And why? It's got everything we all look for in a breakfast baked good and then some. Occasionally, these simple-to-make baked beauties are more or less cake in a paper liner. Usually a tad sweet with a hint of fruit, nuts, the occasional chocolate chip or exotic coconut flake, I say stand aside cronuts: muffins are back.


My craving for the perfect muffin usually falls right in between decadent and health food. It doesn't need to be perfectly either, but I'll take a little goodness with a little badness, please. Which is where this blueberry bran variety comes in. Now, I know that hearing the word "bran" doesn't exactly make someone's eyes light up like they would if you said "all-butter pound cake" or "devil's food" or "peanut butter crunch."


It's, well, bran. And bran often gets a pretty bad rap. For being boring or tasteless or too much like cardboard. Well, stop right there. Not only does it give these muffins a nice, nutty, molasses-y flavor, you can also feel good about knowing that your breakfast (or snack or pre-dinner bite) is good for you, too.

That, and we all know where blueberries tend to fall on the health-food spectrum: A+. Done and done.


For this recipe, inspired by Cookie & Kate, you'll need:

1 cup almond milk + 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, mixed well
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax meal, 2 tablespoons water)
Zest from 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups wheat bran (likely in the cereal, not baking, aisle)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 ounces fresh or frozen (I used frozen) organic blueberries

Note: When I made this recipe, I used 6 ounces of berries and found that the result was a little too wet: the muffins took longer to cook and didn't come out correctly, so I think in this case less is best. 


Begin by preheating your oven to 325 degrees. This recipe makes about 12 muffins, so prep or line a 12-cup or two 6-cup muffin tins and set aside.

In a small bowl, add your almond "buttermilk" (the vinegar causes it to have the correct curdled taste), oil, sugar, flax egg and zest. Whisk together until uniform.

In a larger bowl, whisk together your wheat bran, flour, baking powder and salt. Gently fold in your wet ingredients until just combined. Lastly, gently fold in your blueberries. Transfer the batter evenly into your prepared muffin tins and bake for 20-22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.


Transfer to wire racks for ten minutes, then remove and cool completely (no one will judge you if you don't make it to complete cooling. At least, I won't).

Want more for your morning?



3/26/2015

spaghetti pangrattato with roasted tomatoes

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I have a secret to share from my kitchen to yours. Are you ready? It's a big one. Lean in a little closer (yes, to your computer or smartphone screen, just do it):

A really, really good dinner can seem complicated without actually being complicated.

Yes, yes, thank you, I know. The revelation startled me the first time, too. But the first time or two that I made a dish that took thirty minutes or less and people liked it enough to tell me so (twice) and even mention it again the following day, I thought to myself, there's got to be something to this whole easy-but-delightful thing we've got going on here.


Also, to pull this off successfully, it does matter what kind of staples you keep on hand, to be sure. If your freezer, like mine, is stocked with stashed pestos and sauces or you prep a canister of herbed bread crumbs the second a loaf has gone stale, then you're doing most of the hard work up front. The main lesson here is, invest in a food processor. Seriously. And taking a little time out during the weekend to do some meal prep for the week ahead? Invaluable. It will make those hectic weeknights fly by like a dream. It will cancel out the frantic "What the hell are we going to have for dinner?!" moments. It will make things like spaghetti pangrattato (Italian for "grated bread") happen as fast as it takes to boil water and chop some capers.


For this recipe, you will need:

For the bread crumbs:

1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
Fresh lemon zest (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & pepper

For everything else:

8 ounces dried spaghetti (any other shape will do, but for this dish, long pasta is just more fun)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup (not tightly packed) flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Salt & pepper


If you don't have breadcrumbs on standby, here's a quick tutorial on getting fresh bread to go stale. It's really not rocket science: you leave bread out, it gets hard, you pulse or smash it up. It just depends on how far ahead you've been thinking about this. I'm pretty much always thinking about bread or bread crumbs or pasta, so we're all set there. But if you can give yourself at least a day's notice, making your own breadcrumbs is easy. I took some stale-ish ciabatta, put it under the broiler for a minute or two or until lightly browned and then let it sit out all day. Once it feels crispy or like the texture of a cracker (waiting several hours is best for this), pulse in the food processor until broken down into crumbs. You can set them aside for later or store in glass jar in the fridge for later use (storing in plastic will just reintroduce some of the moisture you just got rid of).


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay out your halved tomatoes in a single layer. Toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and then lay face down on the tray. Transfer to the oven for about 20 minutes or until the skins start to wrinkle.

Meanwhile, get a large pot of salted water boiling on high heat. As you wait for the water to boil, heat your olive oil (for the breadcrumbs) in a small pan over medium heat. Add your garlic and cook for about 1 minutes or until it starts to brown. Add your breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, oregano and lemon zest and reduce the heat to low. Move around quickly to avoid burning and as soon as the crumbs start to brown, immediately remove from the pan. This process will happen super quickly depending on how fine a bread crumb you use, so leaving the crumbs on the coarser side will help avoid char.


Cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Once al dente, save about 1/4 cup of your pasta water and drain the rest. Toss your cooked pasta with your last tablespoon of olive oil, capers and parsley (and reserved pasta water, if the noodles are sticking together at all). Serve in deep bowls and top with crumbs, tomatoes and extra salt and pepper, if desired.

At this point, you can also add a little Parmesan cheese if you're like me and can't imagine eating pasta any other way.

If you like this recipe, you should try these:

3/25/2015

it's international waffle day!

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Or as I like to call it, the very best day ever. So what the hell, right? If you're the proud owner of a waffle iron and you didn't have waffles for breakfast (guilty), there is always the option of breakfast for dinner, which is something we should all aim to do more of.

In celebration, here are four easy, one-bowl and vegan (though you'd never know it) waffles recipes (clockwise from top left):



3/23/2015

raspberry zinger (birthday) cake

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Everyone knows one the best things about getting a year older is the dessert. Whether you're into traditional flavors or mixing it up or even vegan pie in lieu of the expected layer cake, some sort of vehicle in which to attach/blow out candles is an important ritual to mark the upcoming year.

And if your wish is to have a really good dessert, then you guarantee said wish coming true only moments later, which is really smart thinking if you consider the wish-granting odds.

Just kidding, I totally believe in that sort of thing (really).



This birthday baking took place in honor of Gram, who we had a birthday gathering for last weekend. Gram has always been a fan of the raspberry coconut combo found in Hostess's Raspberry Zingers (remember those?) and my sisters and I remember them being hard to find when we were kids.

Now that we're no longer kids (and I think they might still be tough to find), I thought I would try to recreate this snack cake in birthday cake form. I wasn't totally sure if the raspberries should be something incorporated into the batter, into the icing, both, or if the coconut was present somewhere other than the flakes on the outside of the cake. It had been a long time since I'd had a Zinger and my memory was feeling faint.


After scouring the online recipe world for inspiration, I came up with the (what I believe to be successful) following. For this recipe, you'll need:

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup frozen puréed raspberries
4 egg whites
1/3 cup milk
1/8 cup red or purple beet juice

For the frosting:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3-3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Zest of 1 lemon
Shredded coconut (unsweetened)
Raspberry jam (optional)


Okay: begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Prep two mini round 6" cake pans with butter. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and add (yes) even more butter. Set aside. While you're at it, you can also prep a 6 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners or more butter, as this recipe will have enough batter for two 6" rounds and about 6 (yay!) medium-sized cupcakes.

Note: Don't have mini cake pans? Don't believe in mini cake? You can double this recipe for a three-layer round (or square) 9" cake.

In a food processor or blender, pulse your frozen berries for about ten pulses until broken down but not fully liquified. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add your flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk together until evenly combined. Switch to the paddle attachment and add your butter (cut into tablespoon size pieces will work) and raspberry purée. Beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes.


In a separate bowl, whisk together your egg whites, milk and beet juice. Don't be alarmed at how dark red the beet color appears: it will fade significantly while cooking, but still give that pop of expected pink that you look for when you announce "It's raspberry-flavored" as you cut into the cake. Add the egg white combo to your batter in three increments, mixing well with each addition.


Distribute your batter into the prepared pans and cupcake tins and bake for 30-35 minutes for the rounds and 15-20 minutes for the cupcakes, rotating halfway through, or until a toothpick comes out clean. As always, a good trick (beside the toothpick rule) for knowing a cake's doneness: Has the cake pulled away from the sides of the pan? If you tap the top lightly, does the cake bounce back? If your cake is still touching the sides with no bounce, continue cooking in 2 minute increments to avoid over-doneness.


Allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before flipping out onto wire racks. Let cool completely.

If you plan on icing the same day (the cake can be baked a day in advance), you can get started on your frosting. The first step is the most important one: sifting the powdered sugar. I know it probably seems like you can just whisk out the lumps or that no one will notice, but it's a tedious-but-crucial step to not only pretty cakes but avoiding big bites of hard sugar in your frosting.


Sift the sugar into a large bowl. Start with about 3 cups; this way, you don't sift more than you need (maybe) and if you need more, well, you sift more. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat your softened butter on slow-medium speed until whipped and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add your lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat for another 30 seconds. Begin to add your powdered sugar in half cup increments until you've achieved your desired texture.


How do you know it's the right texture? It should be thick enough that it holds its shape (think scooping like you would ice cream) but still spreadable. I stopped at around 3 1/4 cups of sugar, but it will vary depending on your room temperature and particular taste. Once you've gotten it where you want it, add your milk and whisk for another minute.

One thing that made frosting this cake really easy is that you don't have to worry about it being perfect or even decorative. Why? Because it gets covered in a forgiving layer of coconut! Start by putting a generous dollop of icing between the two layers: one side gets frosting, the other side raspberry jam (if using) and then they get sandwiched together.



Using a flat knife or spatula, generously spread your frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Immediately cover with coconut to ensure that it sticks. An easy way to do this is to set your cake stand on a walled sheet pan. Cover with coconut, allowing the tray to catch the excess so it isn't wasted. For the sides of the cake, press (gently) so that the coconut sticks to the sides.

And there you have it. A zinger snack cake, all grown up. Happy birthday, gram!

More recipes involving cake or raspberries or both:




3/20/2015

sweet & sour saffron rice bowls

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Saffron is just one of those things that when I have it I think, OHHHH. Right. I get it now. I get why people freak out over this stuff and love it and pay a lot for it. Kind of like truffles. You're wondering, how great could it really be and then you have truffle potato wedges at brunch and you're like never mind, guys, I'm on board.


I've had saffron a handful of times before. Not many, and we've never cooked with it much in our own home (if you're looking for an affordable dose of it for a recipe or two, Trader Joe's has you covered). But I recently had a glorious bowl of risotto with saffron and roasted tomatoes and I was like, HOLD PLEASE. I knew it was good but, THIS GOOD?

It was a serious moment for everyone. I was asked to leave the restaurant. Just kidding about that last part, but imagining it going that way is kind of nice. (I would stand on the table in protest, obviously.)


But I left that lunch with a newfound appreciation for saffron. I should use it more! I should definitely get back into cheese (never left it, but a cheesy risotto will make you realign your cheese-related values)! And then I remembered how much it costs. Insert squatty brass instrument sound here: womp to the womp. But! Trader Joes, and, it turns out that a little bit goes a long way and can turn an otherwise simple meal into something pretty memorable.

For this recipe, you will need:

1 cup brown basmati or jasmine rice (will produce about 2 1/2 cups cooked)
2 cups mustard or other sturdy greens, stemmed and chopped
2 small sweet potatoes, sliced
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/8 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Lime wedges (optional)

What's great about saffron is that it's traditionally used in a lot of dishes that carry other bold flavors, so it's built to stand up to other strong spices and textures. My goal here was to have a little bit of everything: sweet, sour, crunchy, bitter, etc.

In a small bowl, cover your (super duper) thinly sliced onions with your vinegar and sugar and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.


Start by getting your rice going since that's bound to take the longest, about 30-40 minutes. Prepare according to the package instructions (using water or stock) and seasoning with salt and pepper. When the rice comes to a boil, toss in your saffron threads and allow to roll along for about 6-8 minutes before covering and reducing the heat. (I learned this trick from one of my favorite chefs, celebrity or otherwise, Jamie Oliver, and it absolutely results in perfectly cooked rice every time.

I didn't learn it from him personally, I mean. It was in one of his video clips on his YouTube channel Food Tube. You should subscribe. It's hilarious and educational, which is pretty much how I like most things to be. 



So you get your rice going and at the same time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay your sweet potatoes out in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Toss together with your one of your minced garlic cloves, fresh ginger, paprika, salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast for about 35 minutes or until soft and golden, rotating the pan halfway through your cook time. At the same time, lay your chickpeas out in a single layer on a smaller sheet pan and toss together with olive oil, salt and cumin. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the chickpeas start to split: this means that once they cool slightly, they'll be nice and crisp.


When your potatoes, chickpeas and rice are about 10 minutes from done, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add your last garlic clove and sauté for about one minute. Add your mustard greens and cook until completely wilted down.


Serve on top of your fruity, flowery saffron basmati rice. Add your sweet potatoes and chickpeas on the side and top with your quick-pickled onion and serve with lime wedges for a little extra punch.

Want some other options?
  • Try this jasmine-kale rice with roasted futsu (next fall, of course). 
  • You could also stay classic with risotto.
  • You could also have rice for dessert: vegan coconut rice pudding (with strawberry jam).

3/18/2015

spaghetti with white bean quinoa balls and arugula pesto

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A few weeks ago, I made this kickass vegan version of wedding soup, inspired by the folks at Thug Kitchen. Sometimes when I'm trying out a completely new take on something, I try to keep a cap on getting too worked up about it, just in case it doesn't come out the way I imagined it would. In this case, this approach was 100% not necessary: the soup was awesome.

So I thought to myself, there has to be other recipes I can use to incorporate my own version of the soup's white bean balls. Why not? After all, they're meant to replace the meatballs in the traditional soup recipe, so what else can I use them for? What other dishes typically call for meatballs?


Duh, spaghetti. Big piles of warm, al dente pasta with, yes, some white bean balls with a little spin all my own.

For this recipe, you'll need:

For the white bean balls:

1/2 large yellow onion
1 1/2 cups cook cannellini beans
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used low-sodium)
1 teaspoon all-purpose seasoning (this is a favorite)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon fresh parsley

For everything else:

1/2 pound dried spaghetti (any pasta shape will do, but I thought spaghetti would keep it the most traditional)
2 cups tightly packed arugula
2 cloves garlic, whole
1/4 toasted almonds
Salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil (ish)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prep one large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, mash up your beans until they become pasty. You can used the back of a fork to get this started, but feel free to use your hands if it seems easier. Add in your chopped onion, quinoa, garlic, nutritional yeast, olive oil, soy sauce, seasonings and parsley. Mix it all up (again, hands work) and get everything evenly distributed. If it feels a little dry or the mixture isn't sticking together, add a touch more olive oil.


Form your paste into balls (about golfball-sized) and place them on your prepared baking sheet. Bake them for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through, until they're golden and slightly crispy on the outside.

Meanwhile, you can get started on your pesto. I like to make an extra large batch each time so I can freeze meal-sized portions for nights when I'm feeling stuck on what to make. Leave on the countertop for an hour or more and boom, instant flavor. In the bowl of a large food processor, pulse together your almonds, garlic, salt and pepper, about 10 pulses. Add your arugula and continue pulsing until finely chopped, but not puréed. Add your olive oil and pulse 2-3 more times, until evenly distributed. Set aside. 


Get a large pot of salted water boil on high heat. Prepare your pasta according to the package instructions. Once al dente (about 9 minutes for our whole wheat spaghetti), reserve about 1/4 cup of your cooking water. Drain your pasta and return to your pot. Immediately toss together with your pesto until evenly coated. If the pasta is sticking together at all (it shouldn't if you move quickly), use a bit of your reserved water to loosen and separate.


Serve immediately, topping each bowlful with white bean quinoa balls. It will change your life, always for the better.

Want more? Here you go:


3/16/2015

cherry almond granola bars

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There are so many granola bars out there these days. Crunchy, chewy, oat-y. Nuts, no nuts, sweet, salty, dipped in chocolate, candy bar-esque, cereal bars with jam. I could probably go on.

I'm a fan of all of these. What's not to like? And even though quite a few companies have been making some changes and leaving out confusing and unnecessary ingredients, I still like to avoid processed stuff whenever I can. And for something like granola bars, or even just granola, that's a pretty easy thing to do at home without a lot of effort.


And what's great about these, is the ingredients can change depending on what you've got on hand. Think about the flavors in your favorite store-bought bars and go from there.

For this particular flavor combo, you'll need:

1 3/4 cups rolled oats (I used Trader Joe's Organic Multigrain Oats)
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2/3 cup dried cherries (unsweetened, if you can find them)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 salt
1 cup unsalted almond butter
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While the bars themselves require no baking, both your oats and added nuts need to be toasted. On a large baking sheet, spread your oats of choice into a single layer and toast for about fifteen minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.


On a separate sheet, toast your almonds and pecans for about 5-10 minutes or until fragrant. When you take both the oats and the nuts out of the own, be sure to remove from the pans or they'll continue cooking and could end up tasting burnt. Nobody's looking for that add-in.

Once toasted, add your oats and nuts to a large bowl. Toss together with your cherries, cinnamon and salt. In a smaller bowl or a liquid measuring cup, add your almond butter, honey and vanilla extract. Whisk together until evenly combined (I put this mixture in the microwave for about thirty seconds to help loosen it up/make it easier to stir).



Pour your nut butter/honey mixture over your dry ingredients and fold together until all the dry ingredients are coated. Finally, press the mixture down into a parchment lined pan (9"x9" will work) and refrigerate for several hours or up to overnight.

These are obviously nutty and sweet enough without being overpowering. Next time, chocolate chips and peanut butter.

Craving granola for days? I've got others:



3/13/2015

vegan carrot cake waffles

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Carrot cake is one way to sneak in some unexpected vegetables. Sort of. Not exactly virtuous but not exactly, well, not. While the cake itself is hard to beat, you can't really go around eating cake for breakfast. I mean, I won't stop you, but it wouldn't necessarily be an advisable start to your day (unless it was your birthday, in which case: what the hell).


But instead of my birthday, it was just a regular, snowy winter Sunday when these beauties came to life. One peek out the window on a morning like that, and you know it's waffle weather.

For this recipe you'll need:

1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1/4 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened (optional)
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)


Begin preheating your waffle iron on your desired setting. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together your flour, spices, salt, baking powder and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, stir together your milk, vanilla and carrots. Fold your dry ingredients into your wet. If you plan on using the coconut, raisins and pecans (duh, it's tradition), fold them in now, too.

Generously spray your waffle iron with nonstick spray. Add a ladleful of batter to the waffle iron and repeat until all the batter is used (makes about 4 large waffles).


Truthfully, I think you could make these even without the sugar. They've still got enough sweetness from the carrots, nuts and raisins and if you wanted to add a little coconut cream on top in lieu of cream cheese frosting, you would have yourself a winner and then some.


Want more waffles? Who wouldn't: