gluten free/ vegan

Salted Date Caramel & Pretzel Dark Chocolate Cups

Salted caramel makes me swoon. And cry tears of conflicted joy. Conflicted because I simultaneously recognize the perfection and fleeting nature of salted caramel. All salted caramel gets eaten… eventually… that’s a fact of life. It’s not meant to last forever. If it did, well, it would be McDonalds french fries and that certainly would not be worth writing to you about. Instead, here I am, eagerly writing to you about the mmmm-inducing tastiness that is salted date caramel. Yes, dates. Gooey medjool dates with not a trace of white sugar in sight. Instead of swabbing away at the date caramel with my grubby fingers until it was all gone, I managed to gather up some self-control and whisk together melted cocoa butter and cacao powder. And a little pinch of salt because it somehow brings everything together, doesn’t it? Or maybe I just enjoy sprinkling it a little too much. Either way, I encased the sweet umami caramel in the bittersweet chocolate mixture and allowed the little creations to chill in the freezer for less than half an hour. It’s really that easy. You do a little mixing and a little pouring and maybe a little dancing, and as if that isn’t all fun enough, you get to top each treat with a cute little pretzel. And a pinch of flaky salt, if that’s your thing.

I get super excited by the idea of caramel. Knee-jerking, cavity-inducing caramel used to catch my eye, but I’ve since found a better caramel pal who actually has my health and happiness in their best interest. If you didn’t already know, dates are gooey caramel in whole fruit form. I had to learn to say no to a lot of tasty things when I made the transition to healthier, more whole foods based eating, but I’ve since learned that caramel does not have to be one of those things. There is caramel that tastes like pure white sugar, and then there is caramel that’s a little softer around the edges, allowing you to enjoy the sweetness indicative of caramel without feeling overwhelmed by it.

Dates are packed with fiber and a host of other nutrients, but they also offer up a unique, subtle flavor that can’t be found in conventional caramel. Sure, the shade of date caramel might not be as mouth-gapingly wonderful as ‘caramel colored’ caramel, but if you approach it with wide-stretched arms, it may hug you back! I truly hope it hugs you back. And that your embrace lingers for a little longer than you had anticipated. There are very few things more enjoyable than being struck by a wave of amazing flavors. When a chocolate caramel cup contains the perfect balance of sweet and salty, it’s impossible not to lose yourself (if only for a handful of seconds) in a state of wonderful stupor. And when those seconds are over, and you’re about to indulge in bittersweetness (in both senses of the word), you quickly realize that you intelligently made 5 cups, not a lonely single one, and you find yourself in a caramel umami dream all over again. And you see me there, too! It’s nice to finally meet you.

Ingredients~
Makes 5 regular sized cups or 8-10 mini ones 

Cups:
1/2 cup cocoa butter, melted
1/2 cup cacao powder
2 tbsps brown rice syrup or other liquid sweetener of choice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1/2 heaped cup chopped medjool dates
1 tbsp coconut sugar
1-2 tbsps milk or liquid sweetener of choice (for slightly thinning the date paste)
1/2 tsp red miso paste
Handful of small pretzels (gf if necessary)
Pinch or two of flaky salt to top

breakfast

Diner-Style Buckwheat Pancakes

Ingredients~
Serves 2-3

1/2 cup wholegrain buckwheat flour
1/4 cup wholegrain spelt flour (or other light flour)
1 medium spotty banana
1 tbsp coconut sugar or other granulated sugar
1 cup milk of choice (I used hemp)
2 tsps coconut oil, melted
1 pasture raised egg
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1-2 tsps pasture raised butter for frying the pancakes
Optional: 1 cup fresh blueberries for stirring into the batter (or chocolate chips! or sliced banana!)

Instructions~

1/4 cup batter per pancake~

vegan

Chocolate Covered Date Caramel Nut Clusters

These nut clusters are the richest of the rich. I’m not talking about monetary richness; while being rich in cash is probably nice to a degree (i.e. you can buy all the baking ingredients you want without concern for going over your grocery budget), I bet it is no where near as enthralling as the richness of dark chocolate + salted date caramel + nuts of different shapes, textures, and flavors. The former three things equate to a richness, an edible one at that, that I can’t help but think, feel, KNOW is unique and special and worthy of hyperbolic praise.

When I was little I would get really excited about having saved up 20 NTD (a little under 1 USD). That kind of money seems like almost nothing in retrospect, but at the time it was my candy currency. 7-11 sold a white chocolate bar for 18 NTD and so, unsurprisingly, I would excitedly spend my allowance money on it. With my white chocolate bar in tow, I was a big kid, a budding chocolate connoisseur. Obviously, the white chocolate was shi-. I tried it a few years ago and couldn’t believe how waxy and plastic-like it tasted. Every child’s dream: white chocolate plastic. There was definitely no real cocoa butter to be found in it, and while I turn up my nose to cheap vegetable oil chocolate now, unexperienced little Meg thought it was divine magic. To this day, I can’t help but view a bar of white chocolate, with it’s neat columns and rows, and perfectly sized rectangular bites, as something incomprehensibly special. I guess childhood has a way of making the inanimate unusually animate in one’s mind; white chocolate sits on a table, unmoving and speechless, but in my mind it catalyzes an avalanche of excitement. Memory is such a weird thing. And so is waxy chocolate. Don’t worry, this isn’t a buildup to my confession about having used plastic chocolate in this recipe, no, no, quite the contrary. These caramely nut clusters are encased in velvety, dark chocolate; dark enough to appreciate the richness of cacao, but not so deprived of sweetness that your mouth feels chalky. There’s also a hint of umami provided by a tad bit of miso paste (try not to simply replace it with salt).

I may no longer be seven years old, but I am still dewy eyed in the face of chocolate. I’m also very, very dew eyed when presented with a salted chocolate caramel combination. These nut clusters are made without heaps of refined sugar and oil, but they don’t connote the grudgingness that ‘healthy’ often equated to when I was a kid. Healthy meant eating carrot sticks and sour apple slices and it was not fun. If it’s worth anything, I think I’d make my 8 year old self proud with this recipe; the all too straightforward and bland crunch of a dry carrot has been replaced by a matrix of rich, chewy, crunchy, sweet, and salty.

Kids are often labeled picky eaters and put down for their undeveloped palettes, but I think we (adults) can learn a thing or two from them. It’s easy (and honestly sometimes fun) to get caught up in the swing of intricate dishes and complex flavor combinations; there is a thrill in all of that, but there’s also a special, unassuming quality to simplicity that ought not go overlooked. I’m no self-proclaimed philosopher, so I’ll try to spare the tangential thoughts, but I think what I’m trying to get at is that it’s the simpler, mama-used-to-make-that kind of dishes that hold a special place in people’s hearts. If you give most kids free reign to choose what they want for dinner or snack, they’ll likely say pizza or pasta or brownies or ice cream. Each food stands on it’s own, stripped of convoluted wording (which I know I tend towards) and ingredients. For some reason, those straightforward foods from our childhoods become cemented on our tongues and hearts and minds. White chocolate will always be awe-inducing for me and salted caramel will always remind me of happy summers spent on the Oregon coast. It’s easy to dismiss seemingly ‘easy’ dishes as boring and unexciting, but at the end of the day, it’s what we usually choose to come back to.

There’s an unseen comfort submerged in the pumpkin soup you first tasted as a child. How pureed roasted pumpkin can be so powerful, I don’t know. Sometimes I enjoy asking questions I know I won’t be able to answer. I don’t really know why. Maybe there’s a thrill in uncertainty and the active pursuit of finding an answer. Or maybe calling attention to the mysteriousness that underlies a day to day activity such as eating adds more depth to my life; making soup can sometimes feel straightforward and mundane, but as soon as you incorporate emotion and memory inducing flavors into the mix, you have a bizarrely magical soup on your hands.

While I’m sure my eight year old self wouldn’t have specifically craved dark chocolate coated date caramel nut clusters, she definitely would have day dreamed about salted caramel ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate bars. And so, as a nod to my little kid self, I dressed up my childhood cravings in velvety chocolate and gooey date caramel. I tasted these clusters and wondered how can something taste so wonderful? Even though I put them together and anticipated how they’d taste, I couldn’t help but be struck by their spot-on sweet umaminess. You may not have revered salted caramel and chocolate as much as I did as a kid, but it’s never too late to imprint yourself with new, awe-inspiring flavors. We’re all still wide-eyed little kids, aren’t we?

Ingredients~

1 cup unsalted nuts of choice (I like a mix of hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds)
1 cup chopped dates*
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1-2 tbsps brown rice syrup or other sticky liquid sweetener
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used 70% cacao)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp red miso paste*
Pinch or two of salt for sprinkling

*Soak the un-chopped dates in hot water for 10-15 min to make it easier to puree them.
*If you don’t have miso paste on hand, you can probably just replace it with salt (gradually add it to taste), but I do think the miso adds a unique, subtle flavor that salt can’t provide on it’s own.

Instructions~

vegan

Healthier Mini Bounty (Mound) Bars

This afternoon I learned never to try and make coconut butter with a cheap, low-powered food processor (take note or shed a few tears). I also learned that it’s possible to conjure up something awe-inspiring from something, well, sad and lame. Remnants of failed coconut butter? No, no, excuse me, more like bounty bar stuffing waiting to be shaped and dunked into divine chocolate. I thought you ought to know that these bounty bars don’t have a clean and pristine past. They were once the leftovers of a botched recipe. Luckily, I noticed the potential in the little mountain of should-be-coconut-butter that sat in front of me. If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: never throw away shredded coconut!!! Instead, think of it as the beautiful beginning to a tasty treat.

It’s hard not to fall in love with food. I truly do mean ‘love’. Not some shallow form of desire or lust and not a mere ‘like’ or ‘enjoy’. I delight in food so much so that it only makes sense to say I love it; the process of creating it, the act of tasting it, and the hesitation that pre-empts a monumental last bite… it must be love! Love takes different shades. I don’t love my family the same way I love a dark chocolate bounty bar. Obviously. That would be silly. But I do very strongly appreciate the existence of both.

Sometimes it helps me to compare creating a recipe to creating and mending a relationship. Both experiences take time and are more or less shaped by individual effort. Sure, a bounty bar can’t call me up and ask to hang out, but it can tell me how it’s doing. When I overlook an ingredient or crucial step to a recipe, the resulting bounty bar or, as I most recently learned, coconut butter, always reveals my misstep. It holds up the mirror for me. There is no chance to skirt the issue or stuff the uncomfortable reality into a drawer to deal with later. A gritty coconut mixture is not and never will be coconut BUTTER.

Comparing baking and cooking to relationships has brought a lot of clarity to my life. My many, many mishaps in the kitchen remind me that, just as my coconut butter lacks creaminess, I too lack some very ideal qualities. Some qualities I openly aspire to attain (I’d like to be more organized and I’ll admit that to anyone), but others I enviously snatch up and hoard in the far-reaching crevasse of my mind, hidden from everyone (to be as successful as x, y, z food bloggers? To frost a cake as beautifully as so and so?). I don’t always follow recipes correctly, if at all, and I don’t always follow-up with friends and family members as frequently as I should. There are a lot of shoulds and should-nots in both arenas of my life.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I guess relationships can be an uncomfortable subject to ponder, but thinking of them in terms of chocolate and coconut melts away some of the mental and emotional burden. Cooking is honest and real. You can’t fake a banana bread into liking you, it either bakes up fluffy and tasty, or it sinks and falls in on itself. I suppose it would be good to try and approach my relationships the same way… with as little resentment and drudgery as possible. With no expectations, but a great deal of effort and enthusiasm in tow (after all, bread won’t bake unless you show up to try and make it). And above all else, with a fat dollop of honesty. Always honesty.

Sometimes other factors get in the way of achieving a dreamed about recipe or a milestone in a relationship; cold weather stunts the rising of dough and distance and time create lost space between two people. But maybe not all recipes are always meant to work. That’s just how things are sometimes. Some days you simply can’t get the coconut to blend enough. And sometimes that’s precisely what has to happen for you to eventually find yourself here (or there, wherever you may be); in a place where happiness and satisfaction are finally all-consuming. And consumable. Yes, I am referring to these bounty bars. Along with optimism, it always helps to be carrying a few spoonfuls of sweet syrup wherever you go. And a big jar of not-quite-coconut-butter. Friends like friends with mini bounty bars in tow. It’s true, mine told me so.

Ingredients~
Makes 12-15 small bars

Filling:
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup brown rice syrup or sticky liquid sweetener of choice
1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil, melted
3 tbsps coconut milk (canned for best results)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Generous pinch of salt! (it brings out the sweetness)

Coating:
1 cup chocolate chips of choice* (I opted for 65% cacao)
1/4 cup cacao powder
3 tbsps unrefined coconut oil
2-3 tbsps liquid sweetener (add to taste or omitt for a bitter coating & add 1-3 tbsps more coconut oil)

*Alternatively, simply make the coating with 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips OR 1/2 cup cacao powder, 1/3 cup coconut oil, and 3-5 tbsps liquid sweetener (add the syrup to taste).

mains/ raw treats/ vegan

Creamy Beet, Red Cabbage & Kale Salad

Ingredients~
Makes enough for 4 main salads

Salad:
3 cups chopped curly kale
1 1/2 cups chopped red cabbage
1 medium beet, coursly grated (don’t squeeze/drain away the juice)
3-4 round radishes (the small bright pink ones), thinly sliced
3-4 tbsps diced red onion
3/4 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1-2 tbsps black sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Dressing:
1/3 cup unhulled tahini
1 medium lemon or about 3 tbsps freshly squeezed juice
2 heaped tsps dark miso paste
1 tsp dijon or yellow mustard
1-2 tsps maple syrup (add to taste)
1/2 tsp grated garlic (use a microplane grater for best results)
4 grounds of fresh black pepper
Pinch or two of salt (to taste)

baked sweets

Chewy-Gooey Healthy Apple Crumble

I have a bad habit of chewing myself into discomfort. When I’m stressed because I’m rushing to finish a paper the night before it’s due, you’ll find me hunched over my desk (another bad habit), chewing on my lips and gums. I’m usually unaware of what I’m doing until I notice a throbbing, raw sensation coming from my mouth. Oops. Sometimes the tightness in my jaw reminds me to shut my mouth and stop. It’s a silly, bad habit and I’m trying to be more aware of what sparks it. Is it the feeling of working under pressure? Is it due to boredom? I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that it is time to segueway into discussing the delicious chewiness of this apple crumble.

I introduce to you the chewy-gooey apple crumble that will knock your fuzzy Fall socks right off. You’ll thank me for that later. Your toes probably need to breathe. And your lungs are probably due a deep inhalation or two of slowly-baking cinnamon and apples. Could you possibly fill your lungs with anything better? No, even oxygen comes in second. I love when cinnamon and apples marry in the warmth of an oven. Everyone benefits from their union.

This dish may be Fall inspired, but there’s no need to deprive yourself by sticking a “Fall dessert” label on it. Please make apple crumble for your loved ones every season of every year for the rest of your life. Oops, was that a little too much enthusiasm? Time enforce some boundaries. I will henceforth stick to my job and deliver the photographs and recipe. My apple-crumble-adoring comments will now cease to clutter this post. Cue warm and toasty pictures of chewy apple crumble.

I decided to take a little risk and toss shredded coconut into the streusel topping. Tossed in alongside it are the more conventional crumble ingredients: chopped walnuts, oats, and whole wheat pastry flour. The high-fat, chewy texture of coconut definitely contributed to the soft chewiness of the final streusel, so please, please don’t omit it! I think walnuts could easily be replaced with, most preferably, pecans, but since pecans are a little pricy in my book, I’d have no problem replacing them with chopped almonds or hazelnuts. A little change of flavor make take place if you choose a different nut, but as long as it’s high in fat and free of added salt and sugar, you’re doing the right thing.

This recipe is happy to comply with little changes here and there. Same goes for the brown rice syrup. If you only have honey on hand, go for it. But do keep in mind that honey is a fair bit sweeter than rice syrup. This is only an apple crumble after all. “Only” in the sense that it is a comforting, unassuming dish and thus, won’t react with a tantrum if you choose to swap out one of the listed ingredients out for a more preferred or convenient ingredient. The easy-going nature of an apple crumble makes it possible for everyone to add a little bit of their own creative energy to the mix. It’s never a bad idea to do so (unless, maybe, you’re making someone’s wedding cake or a batch of croissants. In those cases, most definitely stick to the intended recipe).

Ingredients~

Topping:
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup walnuts (pecans would also be lovely)
5 tbsps unsalted pasture-raised butter, melted
2 heaped tbsps brown rice syrup or other sticky liquid sweetener of choice
2 tbsps coconut sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Filling:
3 medium red apples (I like to leave them unpeeled, but do what you prefer!)
2 tbsps coconut sugar
2 tsps cornstarch
2 tsps fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1-2 tsps butter or oil for coating the bottom of the pan

* If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour on hand try replacing it with 1/4 cup regular whole wheat and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. The fine AP flour will balance out the heavier flavor/texture of the regular WW!

Instructions: 

baked sweets/ breakfast/ vegan

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

Give me moist, dense pumpkin bread or don’t give me any at all. Sorry, was that rude? If the bread could be extra heavy on the pumpkin puree, that would be great too. I can be pretty particular (annoying) when it comes to baking. I’m almost certainly that person at the party/brunch/xyz celebration that will nibble on other people’s desserts while going back for heaping seconds and thirds of their own. Sorry in advance.

This pumpkin bread recipe is one I keep returning to for more. While I have posted other (lesser) varieties of it in the past, this exact one is the champion. It’s #1 status is largely thanks to the extra fat dollops of (freshly roasted) pumpkin puree I decided to stir into the batter last minute. The beautiful matrix of flavors is also due to the addition of a very heaped 1/2 cup of dates, 2 tbsps of coconut oil, and 4-5 tbsps of maple syrup. Yes, this recipe calls for a lot of wet ingredients. And yes, this pumpkin bread does in fact bake up into a sweet, spicy, packed loaf that has never so much as grazed shoulders with the words dry or bland.

I’m not a fan of overtly sweet anything, unless it’s perfectly ripe and juicy mango. But that’s a different kind of sweet than the type that most breads and cakes are saturated in. Well, I’ll be upfront and say that there’s none of that intense, sky-high-then-crash, sugar here. Just dates and maple syrup. And more of the former than the latter. Is it possible to make a loaf of ‘sweet’ bread that is truly tasty and, uh, sweet, with no more than the former two ingredients carrying the weight? Yes. Yes. And Yes!!!! It’s stupidly easy to do.

I opted for 4 tbsps of maple syrup and have to say that I found the bread a tad on the sweeter end of my baked goods spectrum. Still, it is far from white-sugar-sweet, so if you’re entertaining for people who still have a lot of refined sugar in their diets, you may want to increase the syrup to 5 tbsps. As for the dates, please don’t leave them out or try to replace them with more syrup. Or do, but don’t tell me about your sneaky swap. The dates help boost the sweetness, sure, but they also provide a heap of wet, stickiness that binds the ingredients and keeps the loaf from drying out. Like I said, only moist, dense bread here.

So maybe you prefer fluffy sweet breads; my use of the word ‘dense’ made you hesitate to keep reading. That’s fine. We all have our own tastes and preferences. But…. you’re here now. And have you ever had a dense pumpkin bread like this one? You won’t know until you’ve tried it, obviously, so… maybe you should just do it. Oops. I’ll take a step back now. I respect you’re palette, no matter how different it may be from mine, so all attempts at trying to convert you to team moist-and-dense-and-perfect-pumpkin-bread end now. All done.

Ingredients~

Dry:
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
3 tbsps bran flakes
1 1/4 tsps cinnamon
1/4 heaped tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp table salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans for topping and stirring-in

Wet:
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree (I toss the pumpkin in 1-2 tsps of extra virgin olive oil when roasting)
1/2 packed cup dates (deglet noor or medjool, it’s no biggie here!)
5 tbsps maple syrup
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1 egg
2 tbsps water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions~

gluten free/ vegan

Dark Chocolate Tahini Butter Cups

When I was a kid, getting my grubby hands on a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup was akin to winning the lottery; the milky chocolate exterior would leave a sweet mess all over my fingers as I did my best to make the peanut butter cup last as long as possible (which was never very long). The sugary, nutty filling was gold in my currency; in my mind, ‘rich’ kids were the Americans with 24 hour, 7 day a week access to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, not the kids riding in private airplanes and carrying Prada bags to school. I enjoyed sweets a lot as a kid, not a surprise, huh? Most children are eager sweet-eaters; they’re at an age when the insecurity and stress that often accompanies being a self-actualized individual with a physical body (a body that’s up for a lot of scrutiny and judging, particularly by one’s self), hasn’t set in yet; they want the Lucky Charms so they’ll eat the Lucky Charms, free from the waves of guilt and shame and should have’s and should have not’s that cascade over most adults when they sit down and eat a bowl of marshmallows for breakfast.

I used to be very entrenched in the negative cycle of depriving myself of ‘bad’ foods, under-eating the right foods, relapsing or binging on the ‘bad’ foods, and subsequently feeling bad about myself and my inability to make the right decisions, a horrible feeling that jumpstarted the hopeless cycle all over again. Being healthy and fit meant being clean and in control all of the time. I didn’t understand that one could be healthy and in shape whilst eating high-carb foods like sweet potatoes, fruits, and beans. Even nuts, in all their high-calorie glory, scared me a little. I also definitely didn’t know that tahini was used for anything outside of making hummus (clearly, a lot has changed). My mainstream understanding of weight loss and healthy eating limited my potential; my potential for feeling good and performing well, my potential for happiness and satisfaction, and, last but by no means least, my potential for creativity.

Deprivation doesn’t satisfy most people, so most people grab for the foods they know won’t make them feel or look good. Instead of waiting for my cravings and impulses to pile up and suffocate my sanity, I now make an effort to listen to myself. What do I feel like eating today? If what I’m craving is, simply put, processed junk, I think about how I can best replicate it with whole ingredients at home, rather than denigrating myself for having cravings that stray from my pretty, idealistic picture of health. Today I heard myself saying ‘man, I really miss Reese’s Cups‘, so I jumped up and to it and made a batch of far healthier tahini cups (if I had natural peanut butter on hand I would’ve also made a true peanut butter cup). My version turned out far, far simpler than the real thing, which is honestly quite far from real… just take a look below:

Ingredients in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups:
Chocolate Flavored Coating [Sugar*; Cocoa Butter; Cocoa Mass; Nonfat Milk Powder; Milk Fat; Lactose (Milk); Emulsifiers, Soya Lecithin* (E322), Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate (E476)], Peanut Butter [Peanuts; Sugar*, Dextrose*; Milk Fat; Salt; Emulsifier, Soya Lecithin* (E322); Antioxidants, Propyl Gallate (E310), Ascorbyl Palmitate (E304), Citric Acid (E330)], *Produced from Genetically Modified Sugar Beets, Corn, and Soya Beans

Ingredients in my Tahini Butter Cups:
Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Powder, Tahini, Medjool Dates, Rice Malt Syrup, Maca Powder, Salt.


Ingredients~
Fills 5 mini cupcake liners

Dark chocolate:
1/4 cup cocoa butter*
3 tbsps cocoa powder
1-3 tsps brown rice syrup or other liquid sweetener (add based on desired sweetness)
Pinch of salt

Tahini butter:
1/4 cup tahini
3-4 medjool dates, mashed well or pureed
Optional: 1/4-1/2 tsp maca powder (maca has quite a strong and acquired taste, so start with a small amount)

*the cocoa butter is essential for keeping the chocolate from melting at room temperature, however, you could definitely substitute half or more of it with coconut oil so long as you don’t leave them out of the freezer/fridge for too long (especially in the summer!).

Instructions~

1. Chop the cocoa butter and melt it in a non-stick saucepan over low heat. Whisk the liquid cocoa butter with the cocoa powder, syrup, and pinch of salt. Using a tsp measurer, add about 1-1 1/2 tsps of chocolate to each cupcake holder (you want the chocolate to fill up halfway, no more or there won’t be room for the filling). Allow the chocolate to harden up in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
2. As the chocolate chills, combine the tahini, date paste, and maca powder. The resulting mixture will be wet but thick enough to handle with your fingers. Lightly press a scoop of the tahini-date filling into the center of each chocolate cup. If you don’t want the filling to be visible around the sides, make sure to leave a tiny rim of space around the filling before you pour over the remaining chocolate. Allow the chocolate cups to harden for another 10-15 minutes in the freezer or longer in the fridge before tasting the simple decadence!!

recipes/ vegan

Fudgy Chocolate Prune Truffles


Note to self: make chocolate prune truffles every chance you get.

Let’s put to sleep (forever) the notion that prunes are only for old people. I very loudly and proudly proclaim my love of prunes, particularly when morphed into fudgy, chocolatey truffles. Prunes sans the chocolate and fudge part? Still good, but not good enough to warrant knocking on your neighbor’s door about. So, here I am, more or less doing the former, trying to convert you to team prunes & chocolate. Think of me as a prune missionary; I’m a little prudish, but only for the sake of this pun.

The other day at the grocery store I suddenly felt compelled to buy a different fruit, something that would pair well with my usual bowl of oatmeal in the morning, but also something that could mimic dates in baking (my very dear stash of medjool dates are nearly gone). I settled on prunes because: A) they are overwhelmingly decently priced and B) they are packed with healthy, helpful things. Let’s start by getting the elephant out of the room; yes, prunes are known for having a laxative effect, which is rightfully so, given that they are more helpful at moving things along than psyllium husk, a currently very trendy (and pricy) fiber-packed product. It’s a shame most people won’t look beyond the glaring laxative label slapped onto prunes to notice the other, incredibly beneficial nutrients they contain. For starters, they are a good source of manganese and iron, two antioxidants that, very simply put, work at keeping our immune systems and mitochondria in check. On top of that, 1/4 cup of prunes (about 4-5 prunes) will load you up with 32% of your daily requirement of vitamin K, 12% of fiber, and 9% of potassium. Click here or here if you want more details about why you ought to add prunes to your diet!!

While prunes are no where near as sweet or gooey as medjool dates, they provide the helpful punch of moist, stickiness that I usually rely on to replace some oil and liquid sweetener in baking. I had a go at making date-sweetened chocolate truffles a while back and was very pleased with the result, so I obviously, very enthusiastically, jumped at the opportunity to replace the dates with prunes. Maybe my eagerness for the prune truffles to work and blow me away with flavor and fudge had something to do with the magic that ensued. Or maybe prunes just rock. And prunes in chocolate form? In other words, chocolate prune truffles? They rock at a rate never before fathomed by man/woman. Please make (and eat) these truffles, they are the perfect dose of healthy decadence and everyone needs a great big serving of that once in a while.

Ingredients~
Makes 6-8 truffles

Truffles: 
7 pitted prunes (I used California prunes)
2 medjool dates
3 tbsps cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsps cocoa butter
Pinch of salt

Coating:
2 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tbsps cocoa butter
1-2 tbsps finely crushed walnuts (or use shredded coconut, more cocoa powder, sea salt, etc.)

Instructions~

1. First, chop up the cocoa butter and melt it in a non-stick saucepan on low heat. Allow it to cool as you mash the dates and prunes. If your dates/prunes are very dry, soak them in hot water for 10-15 minutes before mashing. Once you have a thick, sticky fruit paste, mix in the cocoa powder and pinch of salt (I find it easiest to use a fork and cut in the cocoa powder). Add the 1 1/2 tsps of melted cocoa butter and use a fork to cut up the mixture, ensuring the cocoa butter is evenly distributed throughout it. Alternatively, use your hands to knead the ingredients together until the resulting mixture holds together in a glossy ball. Set the truffle mixture in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and allow it to chill in the freezer for about 15 minutes or until a little more firm and easy to handle.
2. As the truffle filling chills, prepare the toppings. Melt the cocoa butter over low heat until melted. Allow it to cool as you finely chop the walnuts; you could also use a food processor to blend the nuts, but know that the texture should resemble walnut meal rather than powder or flour. Whisk together the cocoa powder and cocoa butter until no lumps remain. Remove the truffle mixture from the freezer and roll together 6-8 balls. Using a chopstick or fork, prick each truffle, dunk it in the liquid chocolate until fully submerged/coated, and gently level it onto a sheet of parchment paper. Sprinkle each truffle with the chopped walnuts right after setting it on the paper; the wetter they are, the better the walnuts will stick. Allow the truffles to harden up in the fridge for about 1 hour or speed things up by leaving them in the freezer. Enjoy the fudgy, chocolatey goodness!!

baked sweets/ breakfast/ vegan

Fiber-Packed Graham Muffins

These muffins miiiight not be sweet enough for you. Unless you’ve been weaned off refined sugar for a while or very actively try to avoid it (i.e. you don’t even reach for the Heinz ketchup anymore, knowing how much corn syrup is packed into each squirt), you may consider these muffins to be a bit too rugged; rugged because of the uneven texture provided by graham flour, but also rugged in taste. Does that word put you off? I apologize, but I mean ‘rugged’ in the most positive, endearing way; these muffins transport me to a cozy log cabin in lush, deep green woods I’ve never been to (yet). Refined sugar can’t be found in these woods, but fruit can, and fruit these muffins do contain.

These muffins are not standard sweet muffins; they contain one ripe banana and a handful of gooey medjool dates, both of which lend in creating a subtle, gradual sweetness unlike the tooth-shocking, eye-popping kind found in packaged pastries and, much to my dismay, trendy coffee shop pound cake. I enjoy surprises (so long as they don’t involve people popping out behind curtains and corners), so I dumped chunks of walnut and diced red apple into these muffins. Considering how simple and versatile this batter is, any sort of stir-in should work; next time around I’ll definitely step up my muffin game and add dark chocolate covered berries.

Replacing white sugar and even so called ‘healthier’ sugars, such as honey and rice malt syrup, with fruit, will take your baked goods to miraculous heights. I still rely on liquid sweeteners sometimes, but upon recently discovering the world of fruit-sweetened ‘treats’, I’ve become Cinderella at the ball and I’m not quite ready to lose my slipper and return to normal sugar laden life. Also, the more online research I do, the less convinced I am that occasional unhealthy indulgences are worth it (also, the word ‘occasional’ allows for a dangerously vast pool of interpretation! My ‘occasional’ may = three times a week, but yours may very well be once or twice a day. And honestly, how often do we stick to plans that are so ridiculously vague?) When I look back on the past few years, it becomes increasingly obvious how often I would use the ‘once in a lifetime’ excuse when presented with sweets and junk food. In reality, choosing not to taste a donut or cinnamon roll from one particular cafe somewhere in the world will not affect my potential for happiness in the future (or even in that moment!) Coming to terms with the former fact has been tough; I’d like to believe one single cinnamon roll could alter the course of my future and be tasty enough to cause a lifetime of regret if not eaten, but the truth is, the only affect it may have on my future is by increasing my risk of heart disease, cancer, and I’d rather not think about what else.

I used to reserve muffins and cookies for my shameful snack times after school; the drudgery of the weekday always got to be too much, too boring, too demanding, and highly processed, sugary and fatty foods offered themselves up as the perfect escape; indulging in a box of Oreos melted away the stress of a failed Math test and a big bag of sweet chili chips covered up the chatter of social anxiety and insecurity. Weekend nights presented the most different avenues for escape; everyone feels more apt to lose themselves, whether to sweets or alcohol or insert vice here, on the weekends. Indulgence is easily justifiable when you’re feeling down in the dumps and lethargic, so it’s no surprise that the more sugar you eat, the more unhappy and tired you feel, and thus, the more you want, no, the more you NEED, sugar; it’s a vicious cycle that kills and ruins lives and exponentially lowers one’s potential for happiness.

So, can you really be happier with a date and banana filled muffin as opposed to a sugary, frosted one? Yes. Giving up the devilish sweet stuff can sometimes feel like giving up a big chunk of happiness; but if you think about it, try reasoning with a smoker or drug addict and they will tell you the same thing, how can I ever be happy again without my daily pack of cigarettes? Replace cigarettes with conventional pastries and sweets and I can say that the same words have rolled off my tongue many more times than I can remember. Am I a sugar addict? Apparently so. Apparently, lots of people are. In fact, most people are (in the USA at least). It’s a little chilling. And frightening and startling and spooky to think of all the children growing up with sweet tooth’s the size of canines and appetites for sugar that may very well land them in hospitals one day. It’s sad, but it’s the reality at the moment. I find that reality deeply unsettling and am quite simply unwilling to accept it into my little sphere of life; sugar sugar, go away, come again another day in the form of caramely medjool dates and ripe bananas and dried figs and juicy, juicy mangos. Thank goodness for fruit.


Ingredients~
Makes 5 muffins

1/2 cup whole wheat graham flour
1 small VERY spotty banana
3 medjool dates, mashed
5 tsps unflavored/unsweetened soy or nut milk
2 tsps chia seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped red apple (pear would probably be nice)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or nut of your choice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Scant 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
Dash of salt
Pinch of nutmeg and/or ground ginger (optional)

Instructions~

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/365 F. In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork before stirring it together with the mashed dates, milk, and vanilla extract. Once combined, add the flour, chia seeds, cinnamon, baking powder and soda, dash of salt, and nutmeg/ginger if using. Lightly stir together the mountain of dry ingredients before thoroughly stirring them together with the wet mixture. Add the chopped apple and walnuts. The resulting batter will be quite thick and rocky in texture, thanks to the bran in the graham flour and the seeds, nuts, and apple. If using silicone muffin tins, don’t bother oiling them down, but if using metal ones, it would be safe to do so. The batter equally divided among 5 of my tins, but it may be closer to 4 or 6 depending on the size of your tins. Bake for 14-18 minutes until fully set and an inserted chopstick/toothpick doesn’t come out gooey and wet. Allow to cool on a rack before enjoying with peanut butter or 100% fruit jam!!