baked sweets

Chewy Whole Wheat Gingersnap Cookies

I stumbled upon The Violet Bakery cookbook at the massive Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. I went in with no desire to buy a cookbook (the internet is essentially one huge one anyway), but after pulling multiple baking books off the shelves only to find them boring and uninspiring, I magically grabbed ahold of Claire Ptak’s beautiful book. After a few moments of admiring the cover and flipping through the bright and clean pages, I was off to the cash register, book full of unknown recipes in tow and mind and body bubbling with excitement. I went home, plopped myself on a bed, and devoured the words and pictures in a couple of hours. I then proceeded to doze off into a nice little slumber and awoke with the urge to bake and bake and bake. Since my first day owning this book I’ve filled it with a thick wad of cute post-it notes; some shaped like butterflies, others like polar bears; it makes the recipe perusing experience all the more fun. One of the first recipes that had me head over heels in awe was the chewy gingersnap cookies. Molasses and ginger plus butter and dark sugar equals a divine revelation.

Ptak’s recipe calls for white flour and brown sugar, but I made my usual swap and used whole wheat flour and coconut sugar. Why whole wheat flour? Well, it’s packed with a whole lot more fiber and protein. And that means a whole lot more good stuff for your gut. I prefer using coconut sugar in place of most granulated sugars for less factual reasons; some people tout coconut sugar as a superfood or something worthy of consuming everyday, but I stay clear of that pseudoscience. Besides providing a hint of delicious butterscotch (which is honestly the main reason I purchased it), coconut sugar isn’t a whole lot better for you than brown sugar. Let me break it down in the most un-scientific way possible: brown sugar is a teeny bit more nutritious than refined white sugar (because of the molasses used to color it) and coconut sugar is a teeny bit more nutritious than brown sugar, so that leaves us with coconut sugar at the top of the granulated sugar food pyramid, but only by a teeny teeny bit.

Simply put, coconut sugar isn’t as processed as conventional white sugar, and thus, it isn’t stripped of its minerals and vitamins. Just as real maple syrup contains a bit of manganese per serving, coconut sugar contains zinc, iron, and calcium (1). Sure, using a sweetener that contains trace amounts of minerals and vitamins is better than one that contains none at all, but that doesn’t mean you ought to start eating coconut sugar by the spoonful. Keep sugar low, always. However, when the chewy gingersnap cookies come a-calling, toss in the whole wheat flour and coconut sugar (or brown sugar!) and happily munch away. I don’t eat cookies because they are a health food; salad and roasted veggies reign supreme in that arena; cookies, on the other hand, reign in my heart and soul. Let’s keep it that way.

Ingredients~
Makes 12 large or 16 medium cookies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar (plus more for rolling the cookies; or light brown sugar)
1/2 cup unsalted pasture raised butter
1/3 cup & 1 tbsp dark molasses
2 tsps ground ginger
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Pinch or two of paprika
1 tsp baking soda
Scant 1/4 tsp fine salt
1 1/2 tsps boiling water

baked sweets/ gluten free

Flourless Sunflower Butter Brownie Cookies

I used to equate sunflower seeds to bird food. I wasn’t a bird, so they weren’t for me. However, over the last two years, when I finally started dabbling in ‘adult’ life, i.e. making my own money and paying for my own rent, I would occasionally buy sunflower seeds if they were on sale. The internet was buzzing about chia, hemp, and flax seeds, so I didn’t give sunflower seeds a second thought. In fact, they were quite literally my second thought; I only ever tossed them into salads or breads as an after thought. Well, a lot has changed since my ‘I’m too cool to eat pet food’ days. I am now the proud owner of a 2 pound bag of hulled sunflower seeds. My attitude towards the little fellas has flip-sided (and it’s not just because they turn into wonderfully fudgy cookies when you politely ask them too). I pressed a button on Amazon and the baby-sized bag of seeds turned up at my doorstep the next day. Now, I generously sprinkle a few tbsps over my morning oats and toss them into my post-run lake-water-esque smoothies (yum!). My new sunflower seedy life did not happen on a whim, but was a culminating act to nearly two years of developing a better, and more thoughtful, relationship with food. Let me tell you about that.

Simply put, the main reason I stocked up on sunflower seeds is because of their high vitamin E content. During my move to more health-conscientious eating, I would occasionally track my food for the day. I didn’t have a concern for calories, but I was curious about what I was getting from all of the food I ate, especially the foods (oatmeal, nut butters, legumes) I ate every single day. I very quickly noticed a trend: my calcium and vitamin E levels never met the daily recommended amounts (eek!), and my omega 3’s, iron, and complete protein levels occasionally didn’t meet the mark. It’s true that I was eating mostly plant based, but my insufficient iron and protein levels were a result of my lack of knowledge about nutrition, not a result of not eating many animal products. By paying attention to what I was eating at such a meticulous level everyday, I set myself up to learn a LOT.

Initially, I ignored the nagging voice that told me I needed to sit down, buckle up, and do a whole lotta research, but gradually, I began excitedly accumulating information about food that I’d never known before; dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium and walnuts are the brain’s favorite nut! It was, and still is, a slow process; you mostly learn from others, but you also learn from experience (not all ‘healthy’ foods have the same positive results in each individual). At times it was frustrating and overwhelming; all l I had previously known about being ‘healthy’ was turned upside down and violently shaken. But despite the many hair-wrenching moments, there were countless aha moments that projected me forward (and lets not forget the frequent omg, wtf moments). It’s been two years since I made the decision to scrap what I thought I knew and learn, and I finally feel like I have part of a tapestry to show for it.

Food is meant to fuel and nourish. White bread fuels, but it doesn’t nourish. Sunflower seeds fuel in a less efficient way (because they aren’t as readily utilized for energy like carbs and sugar), but they are densely packed with nourishment. Sunflower seeds are also cheaper than their counterparts pumpkin, chia, flax, and hemp. The former seeds are each unique, and it doesn’t help to compare them too much, but when it comes to cost, sunflower seeds reign the most affordable. If you are like me, and had to crack open your unhulled sunflower seeds as a kid, the sight of a 2 pound bag of tiny hulled seeds may startle you. It’s a sight of abundance and it’s awesome.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like vitamin E should be difficult to get enough of. The foods with the highest concentration of vitamin E tend to be fatty foods, namely nut and seed oils. Most individuals eating a standard American diet (S.A.D.) probably get their vitamin E in the form of palm, sunflower, and olive oil, but if you avoid palm oil because it is a leading driver of deforestation in Indonesia, and you don’t consumer sunflower or olive oil daily because good quality, trusted brands are expensive and cheap brands are sketchy, you may find that you’re not consuming enough vitamin E! Or so I wasn’t. So… why should you care? Or rather, why did I care enough to write these series of paragraphs?

In a far too simple, underrated response: vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps prevent against oxidation, a stress on the body (or more specifically, our cells) that is brought on by the attack of free radicals. It’s believed that the more free radicals a cell accumulates, the quicker it will age. Unless you wan’t your insides (and also your outsides!) to age fast, that’s not good. We breathe in free radicals as air pollution and we generate them through intense endurance exercise (1), and they ultimately occur in our bodies as a natural reaction to the food we ingest, so unless you live in a hamster home, there is no way of escaping them (on second thought, most average Joe hamsters are probably exposed to eyebrow-raising chemicals in their cheap, China-made plastic homes, so hamster or not, free radicals are a pervasive part of life).

While there haven’t been studies proving a swift and clean correlation between specifically eating more antioxidant rich foods and living a longer, more mind-in-tact life, there is no denying that whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (as well as many other foods), are good for us and can add years to our lives. Are sunflower seeds the end all be all to cancer and heart disease? No, of course not, but we can form our best judgement with the information and legitimate studies we do have; sunflower seeds are certainly packed with more healthy goodness than white bread, there is no denying that. When combined with a variety of other nutritious, whole foods, sunflower seeds will definitely give you a bang for your buck. Health is a matrix, not a one-word answer or single ingredient. If sunflower seeds aren’t your thing you could also increase your vitamin E intake with almonds, avocados, wheat germ/wheat germ oil, or check out this cool link for more options. And to be fair, since I’ve been picking on white bread a lot in this post, I ought to acknowledge that it is packed with a certain kind of goodness; not a goodness of nutrients like sunflower seeds, but a special goodness for the soul that is only found in the fluffy white interior of sliced carbs. If there is such a thing as healthy balance, it’s sunflower seed butter swabbed on thick white toast or, in keeping with the title of this post, sunflower seed butter brownie cookies.

I had tried twice, with mixed results, to make flourless cookies with sunflower seed butter, but it wasn’t until I came across My New Root’s sunbutter chocolate cookies that I realized I was missing (a now for obvious key ingredient) chocolate!!! My recipe is heavily based off of hers, but with a few adjustments; I used coconut sugar instead of a liquid sweetener, upped the vanilla extract for flavor and the baking soda due to the increase in acidity, and used cacao powder instead of cocoa. I also reduced the total amount of ingredients so that my hands weren’t overflowing with deliciously decadent sunbutter cookies the day before Thanksgiving… any other day, however, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at a two dozen batch of sunbutter chocolate cookies (that’s your cue to double this recipe).

Flourless Sunflower Butter Brownie Cookies

Print Recipe
Serves: 12-14 cookies Cooking Time: 7-8 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sunflower seed butter*
  • 1/3 cup cacao powder
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 2 pasture raised eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
  • Scant tsp baking soda 
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt 
  • 1/3-1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (I used 70% cacao)
  • 3-4 tbsps hulled sunflower seeds for topping the cookies

Notes

*I used store-bought roasted sunflower seed butter, but homemade/raw seed butter should work swimmingly! Also, if your store bought butter contains sugar, you may want to reduce the added amount by a few tsps.

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

Buckwheat Pancakes

Ingredients~
Serves 2-3

1/2 cup wholegrain buckwheat flour
1/4 cup wholegrain spelt flour (or other lighter flour such as whole wheat pastry or all-purpose)
3/4 cup milk of choice (I used hemp)
1 tbsp coconut sugar (or other granulated sugar)
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 pasture raised egg
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1-2 tsps pasture raised butter for frying the pancakes
1/2 cup blueberries for stirring into the batter (or chocolate chips! or sliced banana! or raspberries!)

For serving:
1 cup blueberries (cooked on the stove until reduced into compote)
3-4 tbsps heavy cream, whipped into soft peaks
Maple serving or honey for drizzling!

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.

I was recently thinking about the similarities between making something in the kitchen and 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.

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 (I’m not alone on this, right?). 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
3 tbsps unrefined coconut oil, melted
3 tbsps milk of choice
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 or cocoa powder
3 tbsps unrefined coconut oil
2-3 tbsps liquid sweetener (add to taste or omit for a darker chocolate coating)

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 jumpedup 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*
1/4 cup cacao powder
1-2 tsps brown rice syrup or other liquid sweetener of choice
Pinch of salt

Tahini butter:
1/4 cup tahini
4 gooey 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 large pitted prunes (I used California prunes)
2-3 gooey medjool dates
3 tbsps cacao or cocoa powder
2 tsps cocoa butter, melted
Pinch of salt

Coating:
2 tbsps cacao or cocoa powder
2 tbsps cocoa butter, melted
2-3 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!!

gluten free/ mains/ vegan

Vegan Radish Cakes (luó bo gāo)

Ingredients~
Serves 2-4

Radish cake batter:
1/2 pound (226.8 g) daikon/Japanese radish, shredded
2/3 cup white rice flour
1 1/2 tbsps potato starch
1/3 cup & 2 tbsps water
1/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 heaped tbsp white onion, finely chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped (reserve green bits for garnish)
1/4 tsp chili paste (I used dou ban jiang)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp table salt (add up to 1/4 tsp if your chili paste isn’t very salty)
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Dipping sauce:
1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
2 tsps water
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp spicy chili paste (optional)

Important note: this recipe was loosely adapted from the Woks of Life’s turnip cake recipe!

baked sweets

Healthier Graham Crackers

I found a way to make a good thing still good without the bad stuff. Hmm? Let me paraphrase: I made graham crackers without the heaps of sugar, oil, more sugar (but this time in liquid form), and other not-whole-food ingredients, and they turned out highly recommendable!!!

For some reason, store-bought graham crackers connote healthiness. Maybe in comparison to Oreo’s and Chips Ahoy they’re good for you, but wholesome and healthy? Not really. I realize that it’s very difficult, perhaps oxymoronic, to try and connote actual healthiness with a cookie, but if there is a way, and I think there is, these graham crackers cookies would be it. While store-bought graham crackers contain a little over 4 grams of refined sugar per cracker, these ones contain less than 2 (and a less refined, blood-spiking one at that). I also switched the standard ratio of white flour (more) to whole grain graham flour (less), resulting in a far more fiber-packed cracker. These graham crackers prove that healthier substitutes don’t have to be gut-wrenching to make, and that they can go a long way, quite literally, in providing you with more plentiful energy throughout the day. I had three of these crackers at 3 PM and didn’t find myself eager for dinner until 8 PM, which is very, very, unusual for me.

I remember Honey Maid’s graham crackers fondly; they were crucial in sealing together the best part of a summer spent on the Oregon coast: hot, gooey marshmallows and dribbling milk chocolate. At the traditional family camp fire by the beach, hot dogs and baked beans were passed around and devoured, but not indulged in, because everyone knew (well, the kids at least) that the best part was saved for last: s’mores to sing songs about and pray to God that you get the chance to eat again before you’re old and mature and reply ‘no thank you, I no longer eat sugary, processed fake food’ when someone offers you a free s’more. The notoriously American s’mores of my childhood definitely spoiled me. Every other s’more I’ve had since I was 10 or 11 hasn’t been the same. Even my healthier ones. Surprised? Probably not, and neither was I. Obviously, the above pictured s’mores aren’t quite as mind-blowing as the one’s I enjoyed as a kid on the beach. Maybe I’m recalling the childhood memories with a bit too much pleasant nostalgia, but I think it was probably the insane amount of sugar added to Honey Maid’s graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey’s chocolate, that made said s’mores as memorable as they are. With that mind, if you’re not looking to fill your body and mind with:

(the ingredients from Honey Maid’s graham crackers)
UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE {VITAMIN B1}, RIBOFLAVIN {VITAMIN B2}, FOLIC ACID), GRAHAM FLOUR (WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR), SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, HONEY, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), SALT, SOY LECITHIN, 

then good on you, but don’t seal the warm and fuzzy childhood memory of s’mores away forever; instead, color it in with a new shade, i.e. homemade graham crackers that are full of fiber, slow-releasing sugar, and fat sans the hydrogenated part. And maybe, if you’re lucky, a thick layer of dark chocolate and ooey gooey marshmallows will sketch themselves into the picture. Maybe.

Ingredients~
Makes eight 3-inch long crackers

1/2 cup graham flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (plus 2-4 tbsps for dusting)
2 tbsps unrefined coconut oil, melted
3 tbsps brown rice syrup (or sub with honey but know that the cookies will be slightly sweeter)
1 tbsp applesauce
1 pasture raised egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 heaped tsp ceylon cinnamon (add a little less if using regular cinnamon)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp table salt

Topping:
1 tbsp fine raw sugar, brown sugar, or coconut sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Note: These crackers are sweet enough in my opinion (especially when made into a s’more sandwich), but definitely subtly sweet compared to standard graham crackers (hence the appropriate ‘healthier’ label), so, if you’re after a sweeter cracker, simply add 2-3 tsps of any granulated sugar to the rest of the dry ingredients.

Instructions~