Saturday, 25 October 2008

Best Birthday Cake Ever

This cake was created specifically for my dear friend Chris Doyle. You might remember from last year I made him the maple cake for his birthday. The cake is like a giant peanut butter cup but like the good ones with lots of extra peanut goodness on the inside. I was inspired to make this flavor cake for him because we both love milkshakes, especially homemade chocolate peanut-butter milkshakes.

I think it would be a miracle, a sign of the end of the world maybe, if I actually remembered Chris's birthday on time. Chris is one of my dearest friends and we go waaayyy back to the days when he was a greasy haired skater punk and I was a bright-eyed prep-of-sorts. Chris and I met officially in high school in our art and design tech class. He would sit in the corner and sketch these really amazing pictures while I was busy slacking off as much as possible. One day, I said across the table to him, "Those drawings are really great." To which he replied a painful, "Thanks." Hmmm. I tried once more saying, "You are really good at that, can see it?" To which he replied another forced "Thanks" and slowly slid his sketch pad my way. Thus began a friendship that will last a lifetime!

He got over his pretences about me perhaps being an uptight prep, I perhaps became less of an uptight prep and before we knew it we were linked arm in arm skipping to our cars after school. Literally, Chris and I brought back skipping. We have been through a lot together and we've leaned on each other during good and the bad times. He knows I love him dearly, and that is why it is OK that I inevitably forget his birthday every year. This year I wished him a happy birthday (at least 2 weeks late) at his first feature length movie premiere at the Belcourt Theatre here in Nashville. I managed to corner him for a hug and congratulations when I blurted out of nowhere, "Oh! I missed your birthday....ummm, sorry. Happy Birthday!"
Check out his awesome movie!

Chris came over last Saturday and sat at my kitchen table while I made us lunch and cake. It was the perfect day to just relax and catch-up and eat good food. I made us tempeh rueben’s with sweet potato fries for lunch.

Then I got to work on the cake.

First- homemade peanut butter. To do this, simply roast a skillet full of raw peanuts until nice and toasty and fragrant. In a food processor or high powered blender whiz them for several minutes until a creamy butter is formed.

for the cake-

you will need:
2 medium mixing bowls
mixing spoon or electric mixer
2- 8 inch cake pans
microwavable bowl or double boiler for the icing

dry ingredients:

1 1/2 C all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C cane sugar

liquid ingredients:

1 C peanut butter
1/2 C agave nectar
3/4 C soy milk
1/4 C neutral tasting vegetable oil


6-7 ounces of very lovely dark chocolate
dash of coffee flavored liquor (optional)

to assemble:

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 cake pans

-make peanut butter if doing it from scratch, if not, skip to next step

sift together dry ingredients (minus the cane sugar) in a mixing bowl and set aside

cream the liquid ingredients, plus cane sugar, together until completely consistent in texture

pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and mix until just combined

bake for approximately 20 minutes

take out and cool for about 20 minutes before frosting

for the frosting:

melt chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler (or a make-shift double boiler like this....)

until completely smooth and free of lumps. add the liquor if using

set one cake on the plate or serving dish you wish to serve the cake on and poke little holes in the cake with a fork

pour half of the chocolate on the first layer spreading it thin

put the second cake on top and pour the rest of the chocolate on the top and let it drizzle down the sides

pop open a bottle of champagne, cut a piece of cake and enjoy!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

coney island muffins

Two weeks ago I found myself padding around New York with my good friend Julie B. We survived some epic adventures like: standing in the long line at the Shake Shack for 'sroom burgers and fries, being mistaken for prostitutes while waiting for our 'spa castle' shuttle in Queens, and trying to find wireless internet at the main Public Library (shame on them, by the way). We traveled to Boston (from Manhattan) in a luxurious Peter Pan Bus, then a Greyhound bus. While in Boston we walked miles and miles to find the best raw food restaurant, the best clam chowder, and then found ourselves sickened by the combination of the two cuisines in our stomachs.

One of my last nights there Julie and I decided to go to Coney Island. It's one of those things I've always heard and read about, but never really imagined myself going. Why?, you may ask. Why not? Is what you should be asking yourself.

After a 30 minute train ride we had officially scared ourselves shitless of the Cyclone on Coney Island. We had read the death toll, the thousands of horrible and scary reviews, and I had to listen to Julie's first hand experience of this truly painful rollercoaster. I am scared of heights, not fond of amusement park rides- but mainly scared of riding an old wooden roller coaster that is missing half of its tracks and doesn't have a waiting line. After opting not to get the $3 pina coladas served from large plastic vats by a woman with 2 teeth and what seemed like a permanent cigarette in her mouth, we went straight for the cyclone. By the time I paid my $8 ($8 dollars!!!) to ride this monstrosity, and walked up the rickety ramp I realized the deathly situation I was putting myself in. There was no line- a scary wonk-eyed man hustled us into our seats, and then a boy at least half our age eagerly pulled the lever with a dark, evil laugh- and we were off with a thud and a shove. Julie and I ducked our heads together and immediately stared involuntarily sputtering curse words. After two minutes of pure exhilaration/hell, we were done and had survived the cyclone! It took several beers and a couple of awkward encounters with some Turkish men to forget the unmentionable hell we had been through. By that time, the Cyclone seemed like a dream.

Upon my return home to my humble abode my dear friend Chris (pictured above) surprised me with a welcome home gift! One of those gifts included sprinkles from the impulse dollar bin at Target. I was immediately reminded of all the bright colors at Coney Island and knew right away that I had to make a worthy dessert to commemorate this beautiful memory. Of course, I realize that a true tribute to Coney Island would probably not be vegan, contain whole wheat flour and would most likely involve hot dogs in ways I don't want to imagine. But here in sweet-tempered land we like to keep things nice and hot dog here is a super easy recipe that even a Coney Island employee could make!

(In case you can't see the picture clearly, in the corner it says, "Bump your ass off")

Coney Island Muffins. Adapted from "Vegan Feasts" by Rose Elliot, using the vegan sponge (layer) cake.

you will need:
2 mixing bowls
2 muffin tins
mixer/wooden spoon

dry ingredients:
2 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C organic cane sugar

liquid ingredients:
1 C neutral vegetable oil (i used light olive oil and it worked great)
2/3 C tonic water or orange juice
2/3 C soy milk or water
1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from one vanilla bean

the most necessary ingredient:
brightly colored sprinkles!

-pre-heat oven to 325

-grease muffin tins

-sift together the first 5 dry ingredients until combined. add sugar and set aside

-in a separate bowl whisk together the liquid ingredients until well combined

-pour liquid mixture into dry mixture until just combined- add sprinkles and give another stir, restraining from over mixing, please

-divide into muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes

-makes 2 dozen absolutely fabulous muffins!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

mexican chocolate cake

Even though chocolate cake is not a traditional Mexican pastry, somehow over time, the addition of cinnamon, perhaps orange zest and maybe a little cayenne pepper seems to give a whole new cultural aspect to just plain old chocolate cake, thus deeming it, Mexican chocolate cake. I'm completely fine with this evolution of chocolate cake and intend to go with the flow on this one. However, I will hold true to the tradition of adding less sugar and incorporating more whole, unbleached, grains like in traditional Mexican baking. Speaking of Mexican pastries- if you live in Nashville I suggest taking a trip to the South side and having coffee and dessert in Aurora bakery on Nolensville Rd. There is not a crumb of chocolate cake, but their tres leches (with rum) will knock your socks off. Get their early for the best selection of freshest and finest treats.

Chocolate cake has made many appearances in my life over the past few weeks. Given my most recent sugar fast- I don't always indulge, or can only eat a small amount, but nevertheless chocolate cake and I are turning into inseparable entities. So when a Mexican themed party arose, I didn't have to think twice about my contribution to the pot-luck. Chocolate cake is just one of those things that almost everyone loves- and looks as though you went to tons of trouble to make it from scratch, when in reality it's extremely easy. I recently hosted a pot-luck themed, 'last supper', meaning, bring what you would want your last meal to be. Hush, it's not morbid or religious, it's fun. We had chocolate cake, brownies and chocolate chocolate chip cookies. This was neither pre-determined nor assigned; this is what people truly wanted to eat as their last meal. Chocolate beat out cheese, potatoes, crab cakes, pasta, bread and many other indulgent foods. There is something extremely decadent about chocolate cake- is it the color, perhaps? Its repuation and stereotype? For me it's the association factor; the fact that chocolate cake is linked to so many fond memories and simply making a chocolate cake can evoke the senses to take me to that moment or can create a new, wonderful moment in time. Yeah, that's how much of a nerd, I mean, chocolate lover I am.

This cake is so easy you can throw it together for breakfast! I'm not kidding. It comes together like a muffin batter and comes out in a cute little 8- 9 inch pan of goodness. I followed a recipe I found and also on They are the same recipes however I used less oil, a real vanilla bean in place of extract, more spices (and a pinch of salt) and substituted almond milk in place of the water and agave nectar for cane sugar. But let's get real, it's just chocolate cake with some spices thrown in- and a little love if you’ve got it. And, it's healthier than most chocolate cakes on the block so it seems extravagant and indulgent but is somewhat kind to your body. So you can....ummm, must. not…... say.....have your cake and eat it too?? Sorry. Had to.

What you will need:
2 mixing bowls
8-9 inch cake pan
Wooden spoon

Dry Ingredients:
1 ½ C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
4 T coco powder
1 (very generous) tsp cinnamon
1 (not so generous) tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Liquid Ingredients:
1 C agave nectar
1 C water or vegan milk of choice
3 T neutral tasting vegetable oil
1 T white or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extra or seeds of 1 vanilla bean

To assemble:

Pre-head oven to 350 degrees and grease your cake pan with a bit of oil

Completely combine the dry ingredients in one bowl

Thoroughly whisk all the wet ingredients together in the other bowl

Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until just combined. Over mixing will make your cake chewy and tough so resist the urge to make all those little flour pockets disappear. I promise they will go away while it’s baking

Bake for 30-35 minutes and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan and at least a couple of hours on a baking rack.
*I got impatient and put mine on a plate well before it had cooled and it fell a bit in the middle, which I don’t mind, but you might. It’s a delicate cake because it does not have the ever so lovely binders and leaveners (eggs and such) to make all those little molecules stick together- thus, leaving you with a slightly crumbly, lighter textured cake.

Top with powdered sugar, fruit, (edible) flowers or your favorite chocolate sauce

Serves 8-10

Saturday, 12 April 2008

lemon poppyseed cake

Over the past few weeks I've learned a lot about life and about myself. Who knew I could give a great buzz hair cut? My first experience using a shaver with a #3 guard and I proved to be quite the queen of shaving heads (not my own, mind you). Any takers? I also learned that in order to find the perfect bra, take one of your best gay boyfriends to the Target lingerie section and let him loose; he will come out with just the right thing every time. Guanteed. And when searching for something delicious to bake, ask your good friend who lives with a vegan chef who works at a high end gourmet vegan restaurant in Manhattan. And what did this wonderful friend say when I complained of lack of creativity and inspiration in the kitchen? Simple. "Why don't you make lemon poppy seed cake" Julie said without hesitation. Thanks Julie! Lemon poppy seed is one of those flavor combinations I love but always forget about because chocolate flavored things usually get in the way. When a lemon poppy seed muffin is placed next to a chocolate mocha muffin, the later always wins. When lemon poppy seed pancakes are next to chocolate chip pancakes on a menu, again, the later will always win. However, this is completely absurd seeing as lemon poppy seed baked and fried good are so unbelievably delicious. Maybe you don't have such a hard time with these dilemmas; maybe your taste buds are not so close minded.

Last post I mentioned that I am fasting from sugar for a month. Well, it's over and I'm feeling good. No, I'm not lying to you. There were times when I accidentally (no! not lying again!) consumed sugar and it tasted awful. It made my teeth hurt and tasted like chemicals instead of sweet sugary goodness. Instead, things that don't normally seem sweet to me actually are sweet now. Like certain coffee roasts, tea and vegetable and fruit juices are becoming to be just the right amount of sweet without added sugars. I have consulted my fasting partner (note: DO NOT fast from sugar by yourself; you've been warned) Carrie, and we both decided we like the sugar-free life much better. That's not to say I won't throw in a 1/2C turbinado sugar in a muffin recipe here and there, or indulge in a piece of birthday cake now and then, but I have been set straight of my sugar eating ways and hope to not stray down the path of refined sugar again. Amen.

I could not find a recipe to follow for this cake that I liked, so I took my chances with adding flour and liquids and zest and hoped for the best. My luck with this whimsical baking has been getting better and better and when the golden, sweet-lemony cake came out of the oven I knew immediately it was a winner. It's very dense like a rich brownie, however the taste is light and palate cleansing. I had very good intentions of frosting it, but after eating 2 pieces straight from the warm pan I decided this was rich enough on its own and needed no help. This would be perfect to make for a brunch, to celebrate a new haircut, new underwear, a sugar-fast...or just an ordinary day that needed a bit of sunshine.

you will need these:
2 mixing bowls
8-9 inch cake pan
wooden mixing spoon

dry mixture:
1 3/4 C unbleached self-rising flour
pinch of salt

liquid mixture:
juice of lemons and zest of 1
1/2 C rice milk (or any other vegan milk) +1 T apple cider vinegar (whisked together with a fork)
1/4 C neutral vegetable oil
1 C agave nectar
seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp non-alcohol vanilla extract

3 T poppy seeds

pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

grease and flour the cake pan then line with a piece of parchment paper

whisk the flour and salt together in one bowl

mix the rest of the liquid ingredients in the other bowl and beat until completely combined

pour the liquid mixture into the flour and add the poppy seeds. mix until just combined and bake right away for 30-40 minutes or until the top is a light golden brown

let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then let it cool out of its pan on a cooling rack for about 30 before eating....

it is wonderful when eaten straight from the pan, but the flavor is much better when it's room temperature.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

apples 'n oats

The other night I was just hanging out on my couch watching some Julia Child reruns when a light bulb struck. She was making a traditional French apple dessert with homemade pasty, lots of sugar and of course butter. Now, I have no idea how I got from fancy French desserts to the humble apple and oats you see pictured here but I went with it and made something very delicious. Nice juicy apples bits, sweet chewy oats and nuts all pulled together with just a touch of agave nectar spiced with garam masala. It begs to be stirred into yogurt, crumbled over ice cream or just eaten straight from the pan- hot or cold.

Starting last week a good friend and I started a 4 week refined sugar fast. We are still consuming natural sugars from fruits, vegetables and starches but have decided to cut out everything containing granular sugar. Just in case you have not read an ingredients label in a while....sugar is in everything! It was in my hummus, pasta sauce and curry paste. It's just small amounts in those things and our main concern here is basically cutting out actual sweets from out diet, but we don't do anything halvsies so here we are. Today makes exactly one week without sugar and although chocolate cake sounds really appealing, I know that it would probably just make my stomach ache, send me into a sugar high then send me spiraling down- leaving me tired, cranky and wanting more sugar. This is exactly the type of cycle we are trying to stop. Oh, and maybe to look a bit better in our swimsuits without resorting to the diet coke and cigarettes diet. I'm kidding. We are already swimsuit models anyway.

Eat this yummy goodness for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack or for a light dinner. It's probably one of the most versatile things I have ever posted. It's also a very forgiving recipe so if you don't like garam marsala, try substituting some cinnamon and nutmeg. Or if you don't like nuts.....leave them out! Maybe add some dried fruit? Whatever goes here and I'm sure whatever you do will be tasty. Promise.

you will need these:
baking sheet or cast iron skillet for toasting oats and nuts
8 x 8 baking dish
cutting board and knife
small saucepan
wooden spoon


4 medium organic apples, skin on
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 C rolled oats, not the quick cooking kind
1/4 C flax seeds
1/4 C raw unsalted sunflower seeds
1/3 C raw cashews, almonds, pecans or walnuts
3/4 C agave nectar
3 T coconut butter
1 T garam masala
2 good handfuls of unsweetened coconut (optional)

pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

toast the oats and seeds and nuts on a cookie sheet in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes or until nice and fragrant. you can also toast the oats and seeds and nuts in a cast iron skillet on the stove in about the same amount of time using a medium/high heat. just make sure to move them around a bit to keep from burning

lower oven temperature to 350 degrees

chop apples into 1 inch cubes and place directly in baking dish, ungreased

zest the lemon and set aside the zest. then squeeze the lemon over the apples and mix with hands to coat

in small sauce pan over medium heat, heat agave nectar, coconut butter and garam masala until everything is incorporated

sprinkle oats and agave over the apples and with a spoon mix very lightly until everything is evenly spaced

bake for 30 miutes

then sprinkle a couple of handfulls of unsweetened coconut evenly over the top and broil for a couple of minutes until nice and golden brown

remove from oven and eat as soon as you can!

serves 8-10

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

chocolate stout muffins

St. Patrick’s Day does not do a whole lot for me. Inevitably I forget to wear green, it's not a stay-at-home paid official holiday, people turn their beer undesirable shades of green, and I bear no personal attachment because I'm not Irish. However, a lot of my very dear friends are Irish, I love beer (without food coloring), my favorite color is green, and shamrocks are extremely adorable (and lucky!). And not that I need an excuse to bake really: I just could not resist doing something for St. Patty's Day.

Randomly the other day I was poking around the PETA website and saw a recipe for vegan chocolate stout cupcakes. I was intrigued and inspired- most of all I was excited about taste testing several different stout beers and paring them with chocolate for the ultimate taste explosion. I had grandiose visions of myself in my kitchen with little shot glasses of fine expensive stout and little pieces of rich dark organic chocolate. I would be wearing fine linen pants and my hair would be pulled into a perfect little bun and posh, square framed glasses would be perched on my nose. I would take small sips of stout and then delicate crisp bites of chocolate and find the perfect pairing for my little cupcakes. I would be the hit of some random St. Patrick’s Day party and I would gain 20 new blog subscribers all thanks to my delicious chocolate stout cupcakes.

In reality, my little fantasy is pretty far from this image. There's me in Kroger without a list, without having read the recipe in a week and have since forgotten every single ingredient besides beer and chocolate and it's at the end of a long, long day. I have frazzled hair, am wearing cheap cotton pants and definitely have no posh glasses to speak of. I am perusing the beer aisle suddenly forgetting if it's stout or lager I'm looking for. Hrm. I finally decided on the Yuengling lager in its pretty green bottles and easy to swallow price tag. Then I get home and my internet is not working so I am unable to read the recipe. Honestly, this did not dampen my spirits one bit. After my last experiment with the peanut butter and jelly muffins my confidence level has raised significantly with creating a recipe from scratch. I have memorized certain ratios of things over the years and know when a batter is created whether or not it needs more liquid or flour to turn out just right. This comes from some pretty intense nerdy baking habits of reading every cookbook I can get my hands on, reading lots of baking blogs and doing lots of experiments in my tiny kitchen. It's all worth it.

So I arrived home from Kroger, immediately turned on the new Kylie Minogue album "X" and cracked open two beers. One for me, one for the muffins. I got to work with as much confidence as ever and had a wonderful time mixing, drinking, pouring, drinking and of course, lots of dancing and singing into my wooden spoon.

Before I even started this little experiment though I knew I did not want to follow the recipe exactly. There was too much sugar and fat in the version on the PETA website for me. I wanted something a little less sweet. I really wanted the beer flavor to come through but did not think it would pair well with a cloying sweet confection. Plus, after a night of heaving drinking the last thing a person wants is more sugar in their system. So, I added just a little molasses and touch of agave and what came out is more like brown Irish soda bread, than a cupcake. But it pairs so nicely with the vegan sour cream icing which contains sugar and vanilla. The end result is a muffin with icing kind of resembling a pint with a frothy top. The first moment of the bite tastes like beer, and then the savory/sweet flavors of molasses, flax seed and agave come through. You will get perfect little beer muffins just waiting to be gobbled up by hungry party-goers. Or, by hungover party-goers. Either way, these things rock- holiday or no holiday, Irish or not.

*a note about beer and stout. a lot of beers and wine are not vegan! it's easy to find out though the handy internet. just google 'vegan beer' or something similar and there are several web pages devoted to informing you on such things. if you are not vegan or don't care, use Guinness, because that's the right thing to do.

you will need these:
2 mixing bowls
wooden spoon
2 muffin tins

dry ingredients:
2 C unbleached self rising flour (white lilly makes an incredible version)
1/3 C cocoa powder (use the good stuff here since it's flavor will really shine through)
pinch of salt

liquid ingredients:
1 C beer or stout
1/2 C unsulfured organic molasses
1/2 C agave nectar
2 T flax seeds blended with 4 T cold water until a thick mass forms

sour cream icing:
generous 1 C vegan sour cream (i used tofutti and it was delicious)
1/2 C brown fine grain organic sugar
seeds of one vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla non-alcohol extract

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

grease two muffins pans or enough for 18 muffins

combine the dry ingredients and set aside

whisk the liquid ingredients until well combined

add liquid mixture to flour mixture and mix until just combined

divide evenly among the muffin tins and bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

while muffins are cooking whip the sour cream with the sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy

let the muffins cool completely before slathering with icing otherwise you will have a runny mess on your hands. i speak from experience here, however this runny mess is super delicious so it's up to you if you want to get messy or not

my suggestion is to put the icing in the fridge for a little while before icing them. i've been icing them one at a time as i serve them and this has seemed to work best. store them in the fridge. and because this recipe has no oil or fat, they will get dry in a couple days. so eat up!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

peanut butter and jelly muffins

Yes, juvenile things just exploded all over your computer screen when you clicked this link, but I hope you like it. At first I was going to apologize for the tacky picture and seemingly childish food but then I decided against it because it kind of fits the mood I’m in. And so do these muffins.

Lately my taste buds have been reverting back to their 10 year old former selves and encouraging me to eat things like plain cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, plain rice with butter, tater tots, popcorn and Little Debbie cakes. I’ve not considered adding saffron to my rice, or opting for salad, or reading the ingredients and making a wise decision to not consume massive amounts of hydrogenated oils. I even bought a giant bag of jelly beans! Yeah, you can judge me if you want, that's OK. I’m confident that one day soon I will be back to my vegetable juicing, fruit smoothie, robust curry, making self. Until then, I’m happy to eat popcorn for dinner and say OK to cookies for breakfast. This is just a phase like any normal (adult) 10 year old.

I was not even planning on coming up with something for a blog post. I came home from work the other night and it was cold, raining hard and I was in the mood for, simple. Then it struck me that I really wanted a pb&j. like bad. But I guess not bad enough to brave the rain and wind and cold to go buy some bread. And like a light bulb it struck! Peanut butter muffins stuffed with jelly- I think that's what the Dali Lama might eat for dinner if he could. I googled "peanut butter and jelly muffins" and whole bunch of smuckers and goobers stuff came up. I’m consuming lots of preservatives now but I’ll be damned if I’m actually going to make hydrogenated crap for myself. That would have required going to the store anyway. And making things like that for myself just seems all wrong- that's Little Debbie’s job. Besides, I’ve yet to find a bottle of corn syrup solids in the baking aisle. I could feel the Force was with me so I went to the kitchen and like I had made these 1,000 times before I came up with what might be the ultimate (juvenile) muffin.

The title posted plus my ranting (and recent love of) preservatives and junk might lead you astray, but rest assured that like any other sweet-tempered recipe this one is quality all around. Organic natural peanut butter, spelt flour, jam without the added sugar, and only a little agave nectar for sweetener. However, I didn't stand in my kitchen trying to decide whether I should grind some cinnamon fresh, or de-seed a vanilla bean, or contemplate the flavors of peanuts and cardamom and would they go good together…..? It’s straight to the point here, folks. So if ever a childish sweet-toother (I’m leaving that typo 'cause I like it) strikes, or perhaps you are entertaining children, or maybe you are home alone during a thunderstorm and REALLY want a pb&j but don't have bread- this is the recipe for you. So grab the (soy) milk and chow down. Because unlike other peanut butter and jelly things, this is actually pretty good for you!

-this recipe made exactly 11 muffins for me. But I think I could have either stretched it a bit for 12, or given a little extra to each for 10. 'Sup to you- sweet-tempered reader. This can probably count under the "how much peanut butter to ratio" discussion that inevitably comes up while discussing pb&j's- it's my humble opinion to load both on without reservations. When it's dripping out the bottom of the sandwich you know it's a good one. I just happened to have smooth, creamy peanut butter but I feel when it comes to sandwiches crunchy peanut butter reigns champion. I also think it would be awesome in this recipe.

you will need these:
2 medium size mixing bowls
wire whisk
rubber spatula
muffin tin

dry mixture:
1 1/2 C spelt flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

liquid mixture:
1/2 C creamy natural organic peanut butter
2 T neutral vegetable oil
1/2 C agave nectar
1/2 C soy milk
1 T apple cider vinegar

1/4 C-or so- jam or jelly (try using all natural, fruit juice sweetened varieties. i happened to have black cherry and that was some delicious stuff)

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

grease the muffin tin or line with paper cups

to assemble:

combine all the dry ingredients and set aside

whisk the vinegar into the milk and set aside

whisk the peanut butter, oil and agave nectar until nice and smooth (this is extremely tasty, by the way) and then whisk in the milk and vinegar mixture

add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir until just combined

plop into the greased muffin tin. then, with a small spoon put about a teaspoon of jam/jelly right into the center of the batter. if you are a 'lot's of jelly person', go for more. you can't mess this up

bake for 18-20 minutes or until the muffins give just a little to the touch

i can't stress enough how you should at least 2 of these warm right out of the oven. this is some of the best tasting juvenile stuff you will ever put in your mouth.

see? even my jokes are immature.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

orange pecan bread

Two weeks ago my dear friend Galit (pictured left) had a lovely Shabbat celebration at her house. For those who are not familiar with Shabbat, it is the day of rest in Judaism, observed every Friday at sundown. Candles are light, challah is eaten and prayers are said. This was quite a relaxed Shabbat though, so don't go reading about it on Wikipedia and think you know it all, because that's what I did and I was way off. This party was a reinvented celebration of sorts incorporating a Middle Eastern potluck, PBR in a can (red wine too, of course), the gathering of -likeminded, 'why were we not friends before this party?'- people, and was accompanied mostly by Devendra Bernhardt. Galit knew all the lovely prayers to say before and during the lighting of the candles and then we passed beautiful bread around and each said some wonderful words of enlightenment and thankfulness and then ate mounds of falafel, couscous tabuoli and stuffed grape leaves.

When Galit invited me she mentioned that it was a potluck and said if I wanted to bring something to eat, loosely based on a Middle Eastern theme, I could but that it was not necessary. I took this to mean that I needed to check out all the Jewish baking books from the library, scour the internet and magazine databases to find the most traditional Shabbat recipe that I could find; speaking strictly of sweets, of course. Then I would take lovely pictures, blog all about it and be all the smarter for it. But what I found out upon my recent reference adventure was that Jewish bakery books are mainly composed of wonderful recipes, most of which are pretty normal though. Hence the orange pecan bread you see here. A lot of recipes were written with parve directions, meaning it did not contain 'dairy', however, the Jewish rules state that both eggs and honey (neither of which are vegan) can be used. So of course I had to modify, but I had a lot of excellent nerdy baking moments looking through the recipes trying to decide what to bake. I decided upon this recipe for many reasons. It was fast, I had most of the ingredients already, and it was super low maintenance but sounded kind of fancy. Two hours later, including a trip to the grocery, my house was filled with the sweet smells of orange and spice and everything nice. Although I used a bundt pan to make my bread that is not what the recipe suggested; it asked for 2 loaf pans. Either will work fine.

The book I liked the most was "Secrets of a Jewish Baker: 125 Breads from Around the World", by George Greenstein. There is a nice combination of sweet, yeast, quick and easy recipes, all of which are fabulous. His introductions are straightforward as are his recipes and descriptions for executing them properly. He even made the seemingly frightening challa bread easy to make. There were not enough pictures, but that's not saying much coming from me because there are never enough pictures for me in cookbooks....ever. But I read it and enjoyed it all the same and should you, my friend, ever be invited to a Shabbat party, I highly recommend this book for all your baking needs.

The bread went over wonderfully, in case you were wondering. With all the fuss of making falafels, chatting, consuming tasty feta, drinking lots of wine and beer, and all of the above mentioned festivities, by the time we got around to dessert it was a little late. Some people were pulling out their coats and there was a definate end of party feel going on. Determined to serve my bread (I think at that point I was calling it cake...), I asked that everyone please humour me and eat a piece. My most favorite response was from the girl who reluctanly took a piece explaining how she did not really like cake but would try it...she didn't have much choice as I was shoving a piece in her hand then immediately regretting it because I was in no mood for rejection. I sliced a couple more pieces for everyone then turned to see how my reluctant cake eater was doing...well, half the cake was gone and she was genuinly giving compliments to the chef. By the time she was out the door her cake/bread was gone and everyone left was sitting around eating it and finishing their last sips of wine. The bread seemed to please everyone without being over-the-top extravagnat. And the cashew pecan butter that I made on the spot seemed to give it that extra special somthing; lucky for me it took all of 2 mintues to make. And speaking personally, it made an excellent breakfast the next morning.

The recipe as follows is exactly how it appears in the book except for the substitutions, but I have quoted the original beside it just in case you are not in it for the vegan aspects, or were considering making snide remarks about plagiarism. I have also included the recipe for homemade pecan cashew butter that tastes excellent when smeared across a warm slice of this delicious orange pecan goodness. Shabbat Shalom!

you will need these:
large mixing bowl (or mixer)
wooden spoon

Orange Pecan Bread

2 T neutral tasting vegetable oil (or 2 T unsalted butter or margarine, softened)
1/2 C agave nectar or maple syrup (or brown sugar)
1/2 turbinado sugar (or regular works fine too)
juice and grated zest of 1 orange plus enough water to make 3/4 C
2 T apple cider vinegar (1 egg beaten)
1 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour, preferable stone ground
11/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C coarsly chopped pecans
6 pecan halves, for topping (optional)

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

in a large bowl cream together the oil (butter) and sugars/sweetners

beat the juice mixture and vinegar (egg) until smooth

add the flours, baking powder, soda and salt and mix throughly

fold in the pecans

grease 2 8 or 9 inch leaf pans (or bundt pan) and line them with parchment or waxed paper

grease the bottoms again and dust them with four

turn the batter into the prepared pans

place pecan halves decoratively on top

bake until browned and the center feels firm when gently pressed with your fingertips- 50-60 minutes

let cool for 5-10 minutes in the pans, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Homemade Pecan Cashew butter: (amounts can vary will be tasty no matter what)

1/2 C raw cashews
1/3 C raw pecans
seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp alcohol-free vanilla
1 T maple syrup
pinch of sea salt

*could even add some orange zest if you were feeling saucy...

pulse this together in a food processor until it forms a nice creamy butter-like consistency. spread across anything and everything or simply eat it straight from the bowl with a spoon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Flapjacks from a small island....

How honoured I am to be making a guest entry into this treasure trove of vegan baking delights! I can only hope the following recipe lives up to Alexandra's high standards. Before I tell you about the food perhaps I should explain how my love affair with Alexandra began?

It's really quite simple.

Wherever I go, I seem to get into conversations with people. Those who know me would confirm that I don't always invite it, but I can never rebuff the advances of a chat. This means in every aspect of my life I am a collector of people. I guess some might say I am friendly? And this is what often gets me into trouble. This 'friendliness' can often be mistaken for 'friendship' and quite often I can tie myself in knots trying to 'dispose' of unwanted individuals I have managed to become entwined with. None of those worries with Alexandra. Oh no. From the beginning I knew she was a keeper. We have so much in common. Pretty much the same name; big brown eyes; love to dance and LOVE to bake. Not just the occasional cookie or muffin from a Betty Crocker mix. And not just on special occasions. But you know this. You read this blog. We are baking nerds.

So we meet at dance class start chatting (surprise!) and both shyly admit that we believe that Nigella Lawson is actually a best friend although we've only read her books (also big brown eyes and love of baking mmmm?...Go ahead, call us narcissists we don't care!) After a while I feel safe sharing the fact that I am planning an enormous Christmas baking session and gently ask Alexandra if she would consider joining me in my mixing days preparing fresh mince meat (see recipe on this very blog) and mince pies and Christmas Cake (not at all vegan I'm afraid). Rather than laughing in my face and suggesting rudely that I am stuck in some bygone era when women spent their free-time in the kitchen, Alexandra's eye's lit up and she agreed to join me for an afternoon of baking delight....imagine my joy when I realised I had a real-life baking buddy?! So one chilly afternoon in early November 2006 we bonded over the mixing bowl - or was it the Kitchen Aid? Truly bonded. We realised that this was no infatuation. This was true love running deep in the blood (or that could have been the cider pulsing through our veins?!) Anyway. It began in a shared love of cake in my friend's idyllic little kitchen. In the months that followed, she taught me how to replace refined sugar with agave nectar and what to use in place of eggs and saturated fats. Not that they don't have a place in sweet treats. Just not every day and certainly not on this blog. And here, nearly 18 months later, is my first vegan recipe for you to share and indulge in. I hope you enjoy....and just thank Alexandra when you're done.


This is a recipe for flapjacks. I think this is an English dish. Like an enormous oatmeal cookie baked in the bottom of an ovenproof dish or tray, left to cool then cut into individual pieces to nibble on. I made them for Damian as he has started cycling to work and needs something healthy to feed the constant hunger brought on by the extra exercise.

You'll need 45 minutes and a blindfold (it's really so simple that anyone can make these delicious morsels without looking).

About 14oz oats
3 1/2 oz chopped hazlenuts
3 1/2 oz cranberries
3 1/2 oz raisins
3 1/2 oz honey
3 1/2 oz agave nectar
3 1/2 fl oz canola oil
2 oz dessicated coconut
2 oz sunflower seeds
1 x chopped apple
1 x chopped banana

Gently heat the oil and honey in a pan over the stove. Once its warm and very very liquidy add the apple and banana. Cook gently till the fruit is soft. Add the oats. The liquid should cover the oats to make a nice paste-y kind of mixture. If it's looking a bit dry add a drop of oil and drop more honey until it can be stirred nice and easily. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Don't be shy about adding more liquid if you need it. Keep the heat low. You don't want those oats sticking to the bottom of the pan, they're a pig to scrub off.

When you're done set aside the pan, pre-heat the oven to 350 deg and lightly oil a normal sized baking tray or oven proof dish. The one I used was around 12' x 8'. Tip out the gooey mixture and - making sure you have lovely clean hands - press it out into the bottom of the pan. You want it to be between 1/2 and 1 inch thick - though really there are no rules here - as fat or thin as your dish/mixture ratio allows you.

Pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Let the tray cool completely and tip it out on a wire rack until it's cold. Corners can be nipped off and smuggled into one's mouth at this point. It's allowed. And irresistible!

Once it's cool chop it into squares and scoff away to your heart's content!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

chocolate date truffles

This recipe spawned from an intense craving for chocolate cake. However, I'm afraid that holiday eating has extended into the New Year for me and the last thing I need is a chocolate cake all to myself. So the wheels in my little head started turning as to how to have my cake and eat it too.

I was first reminded of the chocolate cake that I ate at Pure Food and Wine in New York earlier this year. This place is the pinnacle of raw food cuisine offering the most extravagantly delicious food. Everything I ordered was exceptional and when my chocolate craving hit just the other day, I was reminded of this little cake I had eaten for dessert. It was a dense little cake with dates (I think) as the base. It was served with orange sauce and caramel-orange ice cream, with little miniature orange segments as garnish. I would certainly not be creating this dish, not even close, but I wanted to experiment with dates and chocolate turning into a cake-like creation. I pulled out my food processor and got to work and after just a few minutes of blitzing together the ingredients I thought would go good together, I was left with an intense something-or-other batter that I was content to just eat with a spoon straight from the bowl. After a few minutes I realized I was going to have to do something with this, but I was not willing to change anything about it. Now it just needed a shape. Try as I might this batter will not turn into anything cake-like. My attempt at this was to press the batter into a muffin tin and stick it in the freezer. However, this proved to be useless as it is so sticky and dense that it will not un-mold in a uniform shape. My only option was to roll them up, dredge them in more tastiness and call it a day. But the main question is, was my chocolate cake craving taken care of? Yes. And is it healthier than all the crap I've been consuming lately? Yes. Check and check. This makes me a happy little baker...and I didn't even have to turn on my oven!

Of course I thought it was tasty, but sometimes I am skeptical of my taste buds because I find things like juiced cilantro and grapefruit good. This is nice when I'm trying new foods or trying to be healthy. But since I'm making sweets, I sometimes value a second and third opinion. This is where my research and development team come into play. Also known as Carrie and Kyle, my friends and co-workers who are willing to try my food, but don't necessarily like juiced cilantro and grapefruit.

Scenario: Sunday afternoon in the workroom before starting our shifts.

Me: "Hey research and development team, I've got something for you to try"

Carrie: -eyes light up- "Awesome!"

Kyle: "Cool, what is it?"

Me: "Well, they are chocolate date truffles, see what you think"

Kyle: "Mmmmm. OK let me tell you what I like about them"

Me: "OK"

Kyle: "I like that it's like I'm eating raw cookie dough."

Carrie: "Yeah and it's not too sweet, like the aftertaste is not overpowering."

Kyle: "If you had a shop you could totally sell these. Wait, dates, you said? Is this going to make me go to the bathroom....a lot?"

Carrie: laugh....

Me: "Well, I think dates have a lot of fiber in them...but it's not like you ate a ton of them or anything"

Carrie: "I don't even like dates really, but I like these a lot."

Kyle: "Yeah, me neither, but these are great."

Well, there you go. Straight from the meat eaters mouths. And for the record, dates do have a lot of fiber. Around 7 grams per 1/2 C, along with many other wonderful nutrients but not a lot of fats. The truffles do contain fat from the coconut oil, but those are mostly good fats and when eaten in moderation actually benefit your health. And make sure to rub the excess coconut butter into your hands as it makes a wonderful moisturizer. As for the type of date used, I found medjool dates but any variety would be fine; just make sure to pit them if they haven't been already. And feel free to dredge them in anything you like. I used coconut flakes, pulverized almond and cacao nib and cocoa powder. But something like chopped nuts or dried fruits would be good too. I guess you could wrap these up and give them to your valentine...but you could also do something nice for yourself and keep them in the fridge; hidden. Because it's always nice to do something sweet for yourself- no matter the season.

you will need these:
food processor (maybe a high powered blender would work...but this dough is super sticky and dense- probably best to stick with the big guns here)
rubber spatula
wax paper


10 oz or approximately 2 C pitted dates
1/4 C coconut butter
1/4 C agave nectar
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger powder
pinch of salt

Just put everything into the processor and let it blitz for a couple of minutes until the batter is very smooth and thick.

Place in the refrigerator until the dough is cold throughout. Approximately 30 minutes or overnight.

Using a spoon, take out about a tablespoon of dough and roll it between your palms until it's nice and round. Dredge it in toppings or just put it on wax paper to set. Once rolled, store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on how much dough you eat beforehand. Or don't even worry about the truffles and keep the dough in the bowl with a spoon in it ready to go at all times. This stuff is definitely worth keeping around. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, 28 January 2008

citrus macadamia scones

When searching for something to bake, not only for me- but for you, dear sweet-tempered reader, I wanted to come up with something that would facilitate a way for me to tell you about my recent visit to London. Really, this was a very hard challenge. Everything I ate tasted wonderful and there are so many things I want to try and re-create. I especially like that a lot of their desserts are loaded with booze. And occasionally light on fire- as was the Christmas pudding after Christmas day dinner. Booze or no, every bite I ate was just as delicious as the next. That's mainly due to the fact that my gorgeous tour guides (special shout out to Alex and Damian) always knew exactly where to go or what to cook. However, we will be here all day if I try and tell you about ALL of it.

One of my favorite parts about my trip to London was when Alex and I rented a car and drove down to Canterbury and then spent the night in Whitstable. While in Canterbury, musing around the town, I saw it from afar. Hotel Chocolate. The store was immaculate; boxes of truffles lined the walls while little displays of different sized chocolate bars sat very content in the middle of the store. In the corner a display with champagne and chocolate sparkled- looking refined. Immediately Alex picked up a package labeled "citrus puddles", raved about it, and then put it down remarking how we already had packed chocolate with us for the trip. I picked it back up and said, probably my favorite thing to say, "I'm on holiday". Done and done. I ended up buying a couple other things (amazingly they have actually been given as gifts) and spent approximately $30 on chocolate. Thinking back to the store, that number is really low compared to the damage I could have done.

The citrus puddles came to be very close friends of ours over the next couple of days. While standing in Canterbury Cathedral looking up in awe at the insanely tall ceilings and incredibly old statues, one of us would lean to the other and say, "Can I have one of those citrus puddles?”. We would ask while walking past the pubs and sea side gift shops, we would ask while waiting for fish and chips to arrive on our plates, we would ask after tea and before coffee. They got us through some rough sugar lows and I will forever be indebted to their tastiness. Now that I'm home, sans Alex and citrus puddles, I am forced (no, delighted) to come up with a version of my very own. The original puddle was about the size of a quarter and was pure white chocolate infused with lime oil with bits of tangerine zest poking about. It snapped like good chocolate should and coated my mouth with creamy goodness, only to be washed away in seconds by the intense citrus burst. The only aftertaste was a bit of citrus and the hopeful imagination of another puddle being eaten.

I certainly chose a challenging "inspiration" food because frankly, vegan white chocolate sucks. And there is no way getting around it. Now, I did notice that on the Hotel Chocolate website that they actually sell vegan white chocolate, and I would be willing to say that is probably good stuff; the regular health food store run of the mill vegan white chocolate is nothing but a bunch of sugar, vanilla and additives making it not worth eating, really. Perhaps when tucking it into a nice cookie or muffin batter it's OK, but alone it would certainly not steal the show, not even close.

After tinkering with several ideas I finally came upon this and knew it was a winner. The light appearance of the white chocolate was replaced with a nice scone and the snap from the chocolate comes from the buttery macadamia nuts. The flecks of zest are added and the whole batter is bound by the juice from the tangerines giving it an extra citrus burst. Little bits of turbinado sugar nestle in the tops giving a little crunch to each bite. It's almost like eating the puddles, except there is the warming sensation that comes from eating a wonderfully homemade scone, kind of like the warming sensation one gets when walking around Canterbury with a best friend having the time of your life.

These scones are easier than most because they do not require cutting in butter and shortening to make them fluffy. The orange juice that is just barely mixed in gives them their tender dough that is easily comparable to other scones that are laden with fat. There is only 1/4 cup oil in the entire mixture and not much more but a little zest and flour is needed to make these. It's even a one bowl project! So if you are not vegan, or do not feel like buying potentially expensive ingredients for just one baking project, this recipe is for you. It's very loosely adapted off a recipe from the post punk kitchen team. I used their ginger chocolate scone recipe to make what you see below, but really, it's completely different. Just saying.

you will need these:
1 large mixing bowl
mixing spoon (or electric mixer)
greased cookie sheet

dry ingredients:
3 C all-purpose unbleached flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 C turbinado sugar, plus more for the tops
1 tsp salt
1 C coarsely chopped macadamia nuts

wet ingredients:
zest and juice of 2 tangerines and 1 lime
*you will need 1 cup of juice for the mixture. Either juice some more tangerines and save the zest, or justify with a small amount of store bought OJ.
1/4 C mild flavor oil (I used olive oil because that's all I had and it worked fine. Canola or safflower would work too)

putting it together:

pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees

mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt until well incorporated

make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the juice and start mixing

slowly mix in the oil and zest; ending with the macadamia nuts. make sure to only stir the necessary amount- over mixing will cause your scones to be rubbery

plop little balls of dough onto your greased cookie sheet, making them about the size of a golf ball. sprinkle them with the additional sugar and they are ready to bake

bake for 10-15 minutes or until nice and golden on top

will make approximately 2 dozen

it's a wrap!

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