vegan vanilla bean cupcakes with chocolate ganache

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Lovely people. If you’re still out there, you have my heart. It has been forever and ever since the last time we were all here and I can’t tell you how much I have missed this place. I feel like so much has happened in the three months I’ve been away. It’s been a journey.

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I wish I could say that I had gone away for three months traveling the world, doing fabulous things, but that just isn’t the case. I did sneak off to Montreal for a weekend in May, which was lovely and hilarious and full of deliciousness (poutine! and fois gras! oui!). I guess the best excuse for my extended absence is my move. I moved to Berkeley in the beginning of June. I didn’t go very far, about 10 miles, but it was a big deal move. It’s my first time ever being on my own, my first time living outside of the town where I grew up. It took me over a month to kind of sort of get it together. I spent the first few weeks slowly bringing things over from my parents’ (so. much. stuff.). Spent an obscene number of hours perusing the interwebs for home furnishings, obsessing over bar carts and throw pillows and pink sofas. Temporarily forgot how to cook for myself. It was rough in the beginning. I use to fantasize about living alone, but it got kind of lonely after the first week. I didn’t realize just how quiet it would be. I bought a small fountain just because I needed some ambient noise. I’m still figuring a few things out, but I absolutely love my place and can’t wait to share it with you.

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These cupcakes were the last thing I baked in my old kitchen, way back in May. My bestie had a birthday party, and I couldn’t show up without goodies in hand, even though she specifically told me not to bake anything (I know she was just being nice, and didn’t want me to be two hours late like previous years). And although I was already packing up my kitchen at that point, I really wanted to squeeze in one last baking day and one last shoot in that old space. So here we are, visiting the old kitchen for the last time.

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If you’re ever in need a solid vegan cupcake recipe, Isa Chandra is the source. I had something very simple in mind, and vanilla cupcakes and chocolate ganache are about as basic as it gets. I couldn’t resist the berries at the market that morning, and they were the perfect way to finish off these beauties. On to the next chapter…

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vegan vanilla bean cupcakes with chocolate ganache

very slightly adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s post punk kitchen

makes 1 dozen

For the cupcakes:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

For the ganache:

1/3 cup almond milk

heaping 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or margarine 

2 tablespoons corn syrup or pure maple syrup

Bake the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Whisk the almond milk and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes to curdle.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix.

Beat together the almond milk mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix until no large lumps remain.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.

In the meantime, prepare the ganache.

In a small sauce pan, bring the milk to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and add the chocolate, Earth Balance, and syrup. Mix with a rubber spatula for about 30 seconds. Turn heat off, continue stirring until the chocolate is fully melted and the icing is smooth.

To assemble:

Let ganache cool for about 10-15 minutes. Dip the top of the cupcake in the ganache and then set them on a cooling rack. Alternately, you can spoon the ganache onto the cupcakes. Top each cupcake with a few raspberries and let set in a cool room for an hour or so, or place in the fridge to set.

 

 

lentil soup with preserved lemon

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If January was the month of fun and indulgence, then February has definitely been a time for taking care of business. Self reflection. Home improvement. Getting shit done. It feels like the right time.

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But first I had to recover from my annual bout with bronchitis. I had been fighting off a cold for a few weeks, but it finally caught up with me and everything went downhill from there. I wasn’t much in the mood to cook, but I wanted a bowl of soup in a bad way. Since I couldn’t deal with a whole lot of prep or slaving over a hot stove, I busted out my crock pot (which I had only used once in my life and involved turning canned condensed milk into dulce de leche).

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I also came across some red lentils that I had bought a few months ago and forgotten about, and decided that it was a lentil soup kind of day. Then I remembered a lemony lentil soup that Sara and I had talked about a few weeks earlier. And then I started thinking about the jar of preserved lemons in my fridge. I started googling.

That night I had lentil soup with preserved lemon for dinner. It didn’t take long to find exactly what I was looking for – a recipe that requires very little prep and is packed with flavor. One cup of lentils, one carton of veggie broth, half an onion, and a few cloves of garlic transform into something hearty and satisfying while you spend the day in bed. The crockpot does all of the work for you. I could totally get used to this.

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lentil soup with preserved lemon 

adapted from Mosaic Kitchen

serves 4

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over

½ medium onion, diced

½ cup thinly sliced carrots

2 cloves garlic, minced 

½ teaspoon ground coriander seed

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon preserved lemon rind, diced or fresh lemon zest, plus more for garnish (recipe here)

Salt and pepper to taste

fresh grated parmesan for garnish (optional)

Add the vegetable broth, lentils, onion, carrots, garlic and ground coriander seed to a slow cooker pot. Stir together, cover, and set on low for 8-10 hours. The lentils should be very soft.

Stir in the spinach, lemon juice, and preserved lemon. Cover and continue to cook for 20 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish individual bowls with chopped preserved lemon and/or parmesan. Serve hot.

Alternatively…

You can also make this on the stovetop:

Soften the onion and carrots in 2 teaspoons of olive oil in the bottom of a 3 quart soup pot. Stir in the lentils, vegetable broth, garlic, and coriander seed. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils and vegetables are very soft. Stir in the spinach, lemon juice, and preserved lemon or lemon zest, cover and continue to simmer for 10 minutes longer. Salt and pepper to taste.

baba ganoush

Is it me, or does time just move faster and faster as you grow older? This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. How the days turn into months and the months turn into years, and before you know it, babies are walking and talking, and almost two years go by before you finally realize that you haven’t seen one of your best friends in forever. It’s a bizarre feeling. I’m not sure that I like it.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about friendships and how they deepen and evolve over the years. I am approaching the ten year mark with a handful of friends and it kind of trips me out. How did so many years pass so quickly? How am I so lucky? I love the idea of friendships that span decades, the idea of making memories with the same people for years and years, the idea that there are people in your life that know you way better than you realize; I feel extremely fortunate to have these. I also very much appreciate friendships that stand the test of time and distance and life, the friendships that pick up right where they left off, no matter what happens or how much time passes.

I met Dave in 2003, when we were both young and wild. We were inseparable for almost two years, and when he left San Francisco after college I cried my eyes out. We’ve somehow managed to maintain a very awesome, funny phone relationship, which might explain why it never really felt like two years had passed since we last saw each other. Clearly, a visit was long overdue, so I made my way down to LA last weekend. We spent three days drinking margaritas and ice coffees and shopping and hanging out with the pup. While we were having margaritas at Marix, we called Dave’s grandma, whom I’ve never met, but love to pieces. She recited a verse about the importance of old friends, and though I can’t remember her exact words, it totally resonated with me. As the weekend passed, it became pretty clear how much we’ve both grown up over the years, but in some ways we are very much the same. I find a lot of comfort in that.

This baba ganoush doesn’t really have anything to do with friendship or LA. But it’s what I’ve been eating and I’ve been meaning to share it with you. Baba ganoush is the new hummus in my world. Like hummus, it’s seasoned with tahini and garlic and lemon juice. But the smoky roasted eggplant is what really makes me swoon. It’s great with fresh pita or pita chips or a little crudite. But you might want to eat it by the spoonful like I do. And you should. I won’t judge you if you do.

baba ganoush

adapted from David Lebovitz

makes 6-8 servings

2 medium-sized eggplants

1/4 cup  tahini (roasted sesame paste)

1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt

3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

a half bunch picked flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 400°F (190°C).

Prick each eggplant a few times, then char the outside of the eggplants by placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner. As the skin chars, turn them until the eggplants are uniformly-charred on the outside. (If you don’t have a gas stove, you can char them under the broiler. If not, skip to the next step.)

Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re completely soft; you should be able to easily poke a paring knife into them and meet no resistance.

Remove from oven and let cool.

Split the eggplant and scrape out the pulp. Puree the pulp in a blender or food processor with the other ingredients until smooth.

Taste, and season with additional salt and lemon juice, if necessary. Chill for a few hours before serving. Drizzle with olive oil. Baba ganoush can be made and refrigerated for up to five days prior to serving.

vegan dulce de leche cupcakes

Even though at the time it felt as though the sky was falling, I think turning thirty was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So I am pleased to welcome my bestie of hella years to the club. Hooray! You made it! Good job!

Every birthday is worthy of a sweet treat. But the big birthdays call for something fabulous. So I made sure to pull out all the stops. There was a serious debate going on in my head for days. Cupcakes or a cake? Chocolate cookies? Marshmallow frosting? Caramel?

And then I had an epiphany. A dulce de leche cupcake epiphany.

I actually already had a dulce de leche moment a few months ago. I tried the whole canned condensed milk in the crockpot thing, which probably would’ve worked out if I had let it cook for an additional hour or two. Then I went the store-bought route. And put it in everything. I put it in cupcakes. I put it in frosting. But I just wasn’t satisfied with the results. And because I gained a few pounds that week as a result of my overzealous taste testing, I decided I had to move on.

But while I was looking for caramel recipes the other day, I found this recipe for vegan dulce de leche sauce. And I knew I was onto something. The perfect dulce de leche cupcake was just around the bend.

It begins with a super moist, super chocolatey cupcake. Then a little well is created in the center of said cupcake. The well is filled with dulce de leche sauce. And the whole thing is topped with a cream cheese-dulce de leche frosting, which will knock your socks off. It’s quite the package, this little cupcake. It’s just what I wanted.

Thanks for being born, pal!

vegan dulce de leche cupcakes

makes 1 dozen cupcakes

for the dulce de leche sauce:

from Terry Hope Romero via Shine

makes about 1-1/2 cups

1 cup soy creamer or rich soy milk

4 teaspoons tapioca flour or arrowroot powder

1⁄2 cup brown rice syrup

1⁄2 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegan margarine

1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

In a measuring cup, whisk together 1/4 cup of the soy creamer and the tapioca flour and set aside. In a large saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of soy creamer, brown rice syrup, and brown sugar.  Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Stir in the margarine and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture should resemble a thick caramel sauce and easily coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Whisk the tapioca flour mixture again and stir it slowly into the simmering sauce. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens even more, simmering for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Let cool completely before using in frosting or cupcake filling.

for the chocolate cupcakes:

adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1 cup soy milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract or chocolate extract  or more vanilla extract (I used 1/4 teaspoon of almond and chocolate)

1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or natural ( I used Dutch-processed)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, other extracts, and espresso powder to the  soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients in two batches to the soy milk mixture and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).

Pour into lined muffin pan, filling three quarters of the way. Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

for the dulce de leche cream cheese frosting:

adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, softened

1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon dulce de leche sauce

1-1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, cream together the margarine, cream cheese, and dulce de leche sauce until just combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar in 1/2 cup batches. Add the vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cupcakes:

Using the small end of a large pastry tip, insert into the center of the cupcake and remove a small hunk of the cake to create a well.

Fill the well with a spoonful of the cooled dulce de leche sauce.

Fill a prepared pastry bag with the the dulce de leche cream cheese frosting. Pipe the frosting on top of the cupcake.

Repeat with the remaining cupcakes.

vanilla chia pudding

Okay people. We’re going there. If you were hoping for something decadent, come back in a week or two. This recipe can be filed under healthy. Or wholesome.

What we have here is chia pudding. Chia? Yes, like ch-ch-ch-chia. Chia seeds have become popular in the way that flax and hemp seeds are. They’re rich in antioxidants and omega-3s. I am definitely a fan of flax seed, but I never quite got around to trying chia seed. But then I landed on this recipe for vanilla chia pudding while flipping through the January issue of Martha. Something about it was very intriguing. Perhaps because it was described as being like rice pudding, and I do love rice pudding. I decided to give it a whirl.

There are plenty of good things in this pudding – it has a homemade cashew milk base, it’s sweetened with dates and maple syrup, and contains a little bit of coconut butter for richness. The chia seeds actually have a very tapioca-like texture, which I rather enjoy. And the berries on top are perfect, adding a pop of color and a brightness in flavor.

I will warn you now that this pudding is not for everybody. But if you’re looking for a healthy dessert or you just want to try something new, then you might just love it. It’s not necessarily something I would serve while entertaining. I would, however, share it with friends who are being conscious about their diets but still want to satisfy their sweet tooth. I plan on making it again and again.

vanilla chia pudding

from Amy Chaplin via Martha Stewart Living

serves 6-8

1/2 cup chia seeds(available at healthfood stores and on-line)

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped, pod reserved

1 cup cashews, soaked in filtered water for 2 hours to overnight

4 cups filtered water

7 medjool dates, pitted

pinch of sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons coconut butter

4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups mixed berries

3/4 cup maple syrup for drizzling

Place the chia seeds and vanilla pod in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.

Drain the cashews and rinse well. Transfer the cashews, filtered water, dates, salt, cinnamon, coconut butter, vanilla extract and vanilla seeds to a blender. Blend on high for 2 minutes. Pour the cashew mixture into the bowl with the chia seeds and vanilla pod. Whisk well. Let the mixture stand for 10-15 minutes, whisking frequently to prevent clumping.Refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.

To serve: Discard the vanilla pod. Whisk the pudding and divide among bowls. Top with berries and drizzle with maple syrup.

butternut squash²

butternut squash, tuscan kale, yellow eye beans

These cold weather days call for comforting, effortless meals that make staying indoors more of a reward than a burden.  Fellow blogger M of Little Magazine recently asked me to prepare and photograph a duo of butternut squash recipes created by the super talented Sophie of The Super Taster.  Now that all of those lovely winter squash are abundant at your local grocers and farmers markets, how can you possibly resist them?

One large butternut squash was tossed with olive oil and spices, oven roasted till tender, and divided. The first half of the squash was pureed into a smooth, flavorful soup and garnished with sour cream and fresh sage (which, after it’s closeup, was fried in brown butter).

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Napa grown Rancho Gordo yellow eye beans and sauteed Tuscan kale were combined with the remaining half of the roasted squash and transformed into a hearty and incredibly satisfying dish, which would be an excellent candidate for a Thanksgiving side or equally perfect served as a main course accompanied with rice or farro as recommended by Sophie.

roasted butternut squash, sauteed kale, beans

Not only were both recipes outstanding and easy to prepare, they are extremely versatile (you can use whatever beans or greens you’ve got on hand) and vegan friendly. I will definitely make both dishes again and again. Check out the recipes at LittleMagazine.