Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola

Because it's decorative gourd season, motherf*ckers, I set out last weekend to plan a fall-themed Saturday up there with the best of them. Last year was apple picking and baking Perfect Pumpkin Apple Bread; this year, hiking and Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola. In retrospect, I totally should've reversed the order of my activities, because the granola would've been a great snack mid-hike!

A few photos from the hike...

Am I the only person who never realized how easy it is to make your own granola, or has Minimalist Baker just triumphed again? This recipe is SO easy! Mix together wet and dry components, combine, bake for 30 minutes. Done. Chock-full of whole, protein-packed ingredients, natural sugars, healthy oils, and fiber-packed pumpkin, this granola is unalloyed pure; a testament to the benefits of whole eating. Choose this toothsome snack for a real energy boost—whether it be to start your day or a mid-afternoon snack—where excessive sugar, unhealthy oils, and processed ingredients won't pull you down.

I chose this recipe because its pumpkin-thrice: real pumpkin puree and pumpkin seeds accompany the pumpkin pie spice. So many "pumpkin" recipes just call for the latter ingredient—that kind of feels like cheating, doesn't it? So in addition to the cozy, mellifluous fragrance of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and allspice (the combination of which defines pumpkin spice, FYI); the granola is fragrantly coated in a warm mixture of pure pumpkin, maple syrup, and coconut oil too. Seriously falltastic. I'm going to be honest, the taste of chunky pureed pumpkin isn't overwhelming (you kind of have to search for it, in fact....) but the granola's excellently spiced nature will wholly satisfy that pumpkin craving; a total trump over any pumpkin spice latte for sure.

This granola is truly fantastic. The crunchiness of the golden roasted oats, pepitas, and pecans against the sweet, juicy raisins—coated in an autumn blanket of maple and spice—is simply delicious.  When baking in the oven, it smells like a pumpkin pie, spiced apple cider, and pumpkin bread all rolled into one. Despite earning the healthy stamp for its wholesome ingredients and low(er) sugar content, the nature of granola is still extremely caloric: this one runs about 125 calories per 1/4 cup. To avoid eating it all by the handful in one sitting (albeit insanely tempting), try sprinkling it into less calorie-dense mediums like milk and bananas or low-fat yogurt to stay full without packing too many cals.

Amendments to the original recipe: I lessened the 3 tbsp of sugar to 1 tbsp; next time I will omit it all together as the maple syrup is plenty sweet, added in raisins (dried cherries would be a great alt), and doubled up on the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. I think I'll try adding cooked quinoa in the future too: more crunch, more protein, why not?

Another reason as to why you should make this your annual pumpkin cooking project? It lasts. Unlike pies, breads and spiced ciders which feed a crowd in a single sitting (and thereafter are extremely difficult to keep around), this granola can sit airtight for weeks; an intermittent breakfast or snack ready for you to reap this freaky-as*ed (McSweeney again) harvest whenever you please.

Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola (adapted from Minimalist Baker)
Makes about 5 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1 ¼ cups raw pecans
⅓ cup raw pepitas
½ cup raisins or dried cherries
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
¼ tsp of sea salt
¾ tsp pumpkin pie spice (plus extra dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice)
¼ cup coconut or canola oil
⅓ cup maple syrup (can substitute agave nectar or honey)
⅓ cup pumpkin puree

1.    Preheat oven to 340 F.
2.    Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, raisins, spices, sugar (if using), and salt together in a large bowl.
3.    In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the oil, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree and whisk. Pour the saucepan contents over the dry ingredients and quickly mix with a wooden spoon.
4.    Spread the mixture evenly onto two baking sheets* (or bake in two batches) and bake for 23-33 minutes, stirring a bit near the halfway point.
5.    Once the granola is golden brown (usually about 25 minutes), remove from oven and let cool completely. It will crisp up as it cools.
6.    Transfer to an airtight container, where it will keep for a couple weeks.

*This ensures the mixture is completely spread out in a single layer. The mixture does fit on one baking sheet, but it will be compact and not properly crisp if too crowded.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds

People often ask me how I pick my recipes. Do you set out with a recipe in mind, they ask, or do certain ingredients inspire the dish? The answer is a bit of both. For example, now that it is fall, I feel obliged to add a new hearty soup to my repertoire and will google accordingly. But other times, the ingredients just speak to me (hello!) as was the case with this Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds recipe. On a weekly trip to the Union Square Farmers Market, I came across the most beautifully rainbowed bunches of carrots I'd ever seen. Creamy ivory, golden yellow, and deep, regal violet stalks accompanied the expected orange taproot; complete with cartoonish big, bushy green tops.

At the farmers market, my beta-carotene buddies didn't just speak to me—they shouted with glee. "Pick me! Are we not the most colorful bunch of carrots you've ever seen? How excited are you to cook with us!" And finally, "can you not just roast us though? That's boring."

Ok, I conceded. But which to pick: the fat, rotund roots or the thin, delicate bunch?  In a rush I grabbed the former, a decision I was grateful for later on: the thicker carrots peeled wonderfully for this quaint little side salad.

I loved this recipe because the ingredients are mainly pantry items, but the end result was so unique and delightful that I felt, flavor-wise, like I was experiencing something completely new. Pleasingly nutty, tangy and acidic, and kickin' in heat and honey; each ribbon packs quite the flavor punch. As the weather cools and our appetites gear up for heavier grub (stews, roasts, etc), think of this light, lithe carrot salad as a choice side to accompany that hearty fare. It's easy to evolve this side into a main too: just add spiced chickpeas and a heaping cup of cooked quinoa for an easy, healthy, and certainly colorful fall lunch or dinner.

Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds (from The New Persian Kitchen)

  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds (white or black)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, cut lenthwise into thin ribbons via peeler or matchsticks via mandoline
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, tightly packed

1. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sesame seeds and alternate between shaking the pan and stirring the seeds. When the seeds start to pop, after a couple of minutes, transfer them to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegars, honey, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour the dressing over the carrots, add the cilantro, and toss well. Season with salt, to taste, and serve. (If you can, make the salad a few hours before serving to let the carrots soak up the dressing.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Six Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake

What is not to love about this Six Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake? Just reading the title generates excitement: six minute = quick, vegan = low cholesterol and parve (hello Jewish holidays), and chocolate cake = immediate euphoria and giddiness, duh.

But that's just the icing on the cake. (Ha, ha.) Pantry item predominant, economical for your wallet, a one-pot wonder (can I even say, NO pot wonder? All the ingredients are mixed straight into the pan), and these superlatives don't even cover taste! Yes, this cake tastes as rich, decadent, and elegant as it looks. Dark as the night sky, it is moist and light, vivid and opulent, delicate yet powerful. It is going to become your go-to chocolate cake recipe, receiving ooo's and ahh's by all lucky enough to receive a slice. I'll leave it to you whether or not to reveal that this delectable dessert took less time to whip up than a pot of coffee.

I love the idea of spending all day in the kitchen creating a mastermind dessert that leaves you spent but wonderfully proud. But just like there is a time and place for complicated, multi- step aesthetic baking projects, there is also a time and place for the get-er-done quick fix dessert. This recipe is the latter. Messed up dessert #1 two hours before tonight's housewarming party but still need to bring something? Here is your cake. Made your first from-scratch Rosh Hashanah dinner, but realized you'd need to clone yourself three times to include dessert on the menu? Viva la vegan.

Now, to top the cake. Here is where things get tricky (and where my six minutes turned into over an hour.) The original recipe comes with a chocolate glaze, which I've included below, but the water/chocolate combo didn't work for me—it came out really liquidy and yuck. Next time, I will try adding the water slowly into the chocolate, rather than visa versa, to control the amount of liquid in the glaze.

My backup was a simple chocolate butter frosting (there goes the Vegan and the parve—whoops!) that worked wonders. However, the cake and the frosting were both so rich, that I think next time I'll try to make the glaze again to keep things simple. A simple dusting of confectioners sugar or whipped cream and sliced fruit would be great options, too.

Six Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake (from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts)
Makes 1 Cake


Cake Ingredients
1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil (I recommend coconut oil)
1 cup coffee
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Chocolate Glaze
½ pound semi-sweet chocolate
¾ cup hot water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate Frosting
½ pound semi-sweet chocolate
1 stick butter at room temperature

1. Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar directly into a 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pan. (You can also do it in a mixing bowl to make sure nothing spills over.)
2. In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the oil, coffee, and vanilla.
3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk. When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter as the baking soda and vinegar react. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and set aside to cool.
5. Make the glaze OR the frosting: To make the glaze, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Stir in the hot water and vanilla into the melted chocolate until smooth. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake.
6. To make the frosting, whip the butter until creamy. In a double broiler or microwave, melt the chocolate. Add the chocolate to the butter, and beat until consistency is smooth. Frost the cake with a spatula.

7. Refrigerate the glazed/frosted cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

DIY Frozen Yogurt

All summer I've kept this essential DIY Frozen Yogurt recipe to myself; requiring no ice cream maker and consuming a paltry 5 minutes of your time. I'm sorry! Do you forgive me? I promise my inability to share this coveted sweet treat stemmed from mere forgetfulness, not a perverse calculation to hog all the frozen yogurt for myself. (Mwahahah.) Now, with open arms, I share with you my one-gadget, two-ingredient ingenious froyo recipe.

Because I am a girl who likes sushi and hummus and kale; by default I must have an insane frozen yogurt addiction that propels me into a morphine withdrawal-like frenzy if I don't have it every week. Check, stereotyped fulfilled. When I misplace my wallet, my primary concern is the possibility of forever losing my Tasti D Lite, Pinkberry and 16 Handles frequent buyer cards.
But here is the truth fellow lets-do-spin-then-grab-sushi-and-froyo-after! friends—froyo really isn't so good for you, even if it's post Sweetgreen. What it lacks in fat it more than makes up for in sugar and chemicals; the antithesis of a wholesome, unprocessed food. And while I myself am guilty on many occasions of justification ("but it only has 150 calories so it really can't be that bad"), we all can admit that the $5.50 per cup minimum charge can really can burn a hole in the frequent consumer's wallet. 
So, what is the froyo addict to do? First, buy an immersion blender such is this Cuisinart Smartstick. (Don't complain that it costs $35. That's 4 post-dinner dessert cups + 1 I'm-just-going-to-get-a-giant-tub-but-eat-it-instead-of-dinner cup.) Next, get yo'self some frozen fruit! I love the Trader Joe's mixes—berry medley, tropical fruit blend—and mango chunks are my favorite if sticking to one variety. While you're at it, grab some non-fat, low-sugar plain yogurt: Fage 0% and Siggi's Icelandic-style Skyr will satisfy the charge.
Combine, blend, and you're done! The consistency is truly uncannily similar to chain-produced frozen yogurt, as well as the taste. What's amazing is that this DIY version has no added sugar (you'd never guess!) and is solely made up of protein-packed yogurt and real fruit—the cleanest froyo you'll ever have. Once you go [immersion] blender, you'll never go back: this little guy can also make soups, sauces, and pestos right in your own mixing bowl; clean up barely required.

My tried and true favorite is mango, greek yogurt, vanilla almond milk, and nutmeg. What combo do you plan on mixing up?

DIY Frozen Yogurt
Makes 1 serving

1 packed cup of frozen fruit (for big chunks like mango and strawberries, cut in half or give a few minutes to defrost)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt or Skyr
dash of liquid (water or milk)
dash of spice (Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cardamon)
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

In a medium to large bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix together with a spoon. Insert immersion blender, making sure the mouth is covering the bottom of the bowl at all times, and blend until mixture reaches uniformed consistency. Serve immediately.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rosemary Orange Zucchini Bread

If it's even possible to get zoodeled out, I have on more option for you to use up the farmers markets' seemingly endless zucchini supply. A loaf for late-summer loafing, try this Rosemary Orange Zucchini Bread: a truly delightful, savory twist on the beloved baked good.

We all know what to expect in a standard dessert bread—eggs, sugar, flour, and butter or oil lay the foundation for the added shredded veggie of choice; an appurtenance of nuts and/or chocolate chips are always well-received. As if to counteract the presence of produce, these breads are generally cloyingly sweet—a firm reminder that despite the presence of nutrition, this bread is meant to serve your sweet tooth.

All that changes with this recipe.  After halving the sugar, adding wholesome nutty flax seed and whole wheat flour, and using heart-healthy olive oil and yogurt to ensure proper moistness, I was left with a perfectly versatile bread: sumptuous enough for dessert, yet also hearty enough for breakfast or snack without going into a sugar coma—or the associated guilt.  Food 52 (are you familiar with this site? If not, check it out—it's my go-to cooking blog for likeminded kitchen enthusiasts; and the community is fantastic) describes it the best: "a rosemary and orange-scented loaf cake that feels both indulgent and virtuous."

Oh, it does. The rosemary, pointedly sophisticated outside of its usual Thanksgiving milieu, balances the earthy zucchini wonderfully; a pleasing savory opposition against sunny orange juice and zest. You can hardly taste the olive oil, but the barely there hint of grassiness is just right. This loaf is truly best describes as the sum of its parts; individually, the ingredients are slightly curious. But it works, ebulliently hearty and delicious—and freezes well too!

Rosemary Orange Zucchini Bread (adapted from Food52)
Makes 2 loaves

2 large eggs + 1 flaxseed egg (1 tbsp flaxseed meal stirred with 3 tbsp water)
1/2 cup of plain yogurt (preferably low-fat)
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 cup of sugar*
2 cups of zucchini; shredded
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary; finely minced
Zest of one orange (preferably Valencia)
Juice from 3/4 of the orange 
3 cups of flour (I used 2/3 whole wheat; 1/3 white)
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of toasted pecans; chopped

*I eliminated 3/4 cup of additional sugar from the original recipe. This cut may be drastic for some, so if you are sugar-inclined, add 1/4 cup more (you can taste the batter as you go.)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans and set them aside.
2. In a large bowl beat the eggs (plus flaxseed egg). Mix in the yogurt, oil, and sugar. Then mix in the shredded zucchini, rosemary, orange zest, and orange juice. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add toasted nuts.
5. Once the batter is well combined divide it evenly between the two loaf pans.
6. Bake the loaves for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Start testing if the loaves are done at 45 minutes, and every 5 minutes after that until a tester, such as a knife, comes out clean.)

7. Remove the loaves from the oven and allow them to cool for 10 minutes inside the loaf pan before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely. Serve plain, or with your favorite jam.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Grilled Chicken with Ginger Peach Sauce

Well isn't this just peachy: a new study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that the nutritional benefits of peaches—low in calories/glycemic index, stellar source of vitamins, phytonutrients and fiber, and potential cancer-fighting properties—are only amplified when canned. Picked and parceled at the peak of freshness, canned peaches let their [cell] walls down, freely distributing greater levels of vitamins (specifically, vitamin C, antioxidants and folate) than when fresh.
So, should you make this Grilled Chicken with Ginger Peach Sauce using canned peaches? No! It's summer, dum dum. Eat this iconic summer stone fruit now, when the fuzzy is fresh. I'm just telling you because this sauce is so good you're going to want to make it all year round, so in the winter when you're craving any connection to summer, you don't have to feel guilty for buying your main ingredient a la can. (No added sugar though. That ruins everything.)

Hailing from Better Homes and Gardens (my favorite magazine, despite owning neither a home nor a garden), this recipe appeared in the August edition highlighting dishes featuring peaches. At only 41 calories per serving, it truly is summertime light. Biting ginger and crushed red pepper perfectly offset the honeyed peaches, while the soy sauce, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar add subtle Asian flare. Slow simmering the peaches makes the flesh delicately soft and tender to the touch; yielding a liquid that is literally drinkable.
I served the Ginger Peach Sauce atop grilled chicken; I think it would work with grilled shrimp, salmon, and tofu as well. Alternatively, you can serve as a dipping sauce for rustic, crusty bread. Either way, these peaches could not be more palatable—a must-try during peak season of the sensational stone fruit.

Grilled Chicken with Ginger Peach Sauce (from Better Homes and Gardens)
Makes 2 cups

1 tbsp Grapeseed oil
¼ cup chopped yellow or red onion
2 tbsp finely chopped ginger
3 cups peeled chopped peaches (can also be frozen and thawed)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (more if you like heat)

1. In a midsized saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and ginger; cook and stir for 1 minute.
2. Add peaches, soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar and fish sauce to the saucepan; bring to simmer.
3. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until peaches soften. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper.
4. Serve atop grilled chicken, shrimp, salmon, or tofu.