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  • Sea Salt & Cacao Nib Brownies (+ Brownie Sundaes with Whiskey Pepper Chocolate Magic Shell from "Food With Friends")

    Summer, my friends, calls for ice cream. Of all sorts, shapes, sizes, methods of delivery. Shakes, malts, cones, sandwiches, cakes, dip cones. And the ultimate: the sundae. In my mind, the ice cream cake is  a close second, but the sundae reigns supreme 'cause you get to top it with WHATEVER you want each time. Cakes bind your creativity, with having the same "cake" for 8-12 slices with the same...stuff...in/on it.

    The fickle, flakey, ever-changing nature of my personality loves the sundae. The endless options. Ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, rocky road...the toppings: crushed cookies, brownie chunks, salted peanuts, praline pecans, crunchy Maldon salt flakes, strawberries, raspberries, blackcaps....the sauces: fudgey, chocolatey, caramely...the extras: SPRINKLES. whipped cream, cherries. You know the deal. Something about how cold, creamy, sweet ice cream meeting with hot, instantly-turns-viscous, or even completely solid, caramel/chocolate sauce, and topped with crunchy, sweet, salty, fruity things just melts my heart. It takes me back to visits to Culvers (my stepdad and mom go there during the summer, and the turtle sundae is pretty hardcore). To Dairy Queen stops with my Dad as a kid (he would always stop when he would tote along my sister and I to gun shows...the greatest debate still stands: chocolate, cherry OR butterscotch dip cone?? And WHY can't they just do all THREE on one cone?!). And finally, to the simple combo of freshly picked strawberries, blackcaps, or raspberries tossed with a bit of pure cane sugar, macerated until juicy, and piled high over the top of vanilla ice cream to produce purple-pink swirls of creamy, summery goodness. My grandma would buy (...ok, ok, she still does buy) those biiiig plastic gallon tubs, with a handle, full of vanilla-infused kid bait. Often times, she would bribe us to "FEED THE CHICKENS!!" with this simple summer treat of berries and ice cream (but let me be clear, berries and ice cream was a special treat, as most days, for feeding the chickens or doing whatever chores she had for us, we would get a rock hard piece of expired generic bubble gum...HA). For birthdays, she would step it up one notch: berries, ice cream and angel food cake. Which, let me be honest, is another whole story, one that ends (at least on my part) in a cruel plot twist. Oh grandma, you trickster you...

    ANYWAYS. For how much I (clearly) friggin' love these ice cream treat situations, I don't indulge enough in them. This, my friends, is changing TODAY. And come on, you need to treat yo'self, too! You are worth it. And, summer!!!This sundae is friendly. It plays nice with those who cannot eat the gluten and the dairy. If you want to go all out, you can top the sundae with your favorite whipped cream, and a cherry. I was simply too infatuated with the chocolate bourbon magic shell to do those things, but really, points for you if you do. And I suppose you could just eat the brownie as-is, without doing the sundae business, since these brownies are very, very good in their own right. They are my current go-to brownie, and have been for about 2 years now. Their only flaw is that they are a *touch* crumbly, so be sure to not over bake them. But hell, even if you do, the crumbles are still perfect for ice cream! And pro tip: if the brownies are cold or frozen, simply zap them in the microwave for a few seconds to warm and soften them up before piling on the ice cream and toppings. 

    Ok, and now...this magic shell business. MAGIC, you say. Well, it isn't reeeeeally magic, in fact, it is simply medium chain triglycerides (or "MCTs" for those keeping up with colloquial, semi-scientific terminology) that have similar fatty acids attached to their glycerol backbone molecule, which yields an oil with sharp melting, and solidification, temperatures. Meaning: you pour the chocolate sauce made with coconut oil over cold ice cream, and it "magically" solidifies before your eyes. It is really just basic lipid science, but we'll stick with "magic". What else is magical about this chocolate sauce? The bourbon, the black pepper, the sea salt and the cloves. Oh, and it seriously takes about 5 minutes to stir together. Count another 1 minute to scoop your favorite ice cream (I love me some Vanilla Island Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss) into a bowl, drizzle with the magic shell, wait about 30 seconds for it to harden, and there you have yourself a mighty fine, super quick and easy summer dessert. I tell ya, Food with Friends mastermind Leela Cyd knows what she is doing on all food/entertaining fronts. I am really loving her book, and will be providing more feedback on it for my first Blogging for Books review. I just couldn't wait any longer to share the magic shell recipe...so just...go with it. Side note: a jar of this magic shell would make an amazing host/hostess gift. Look at you...all generous and kind to yourself and others. Happy summer and sundae'ing!



    Brownies with cacao nibs, walnuts and sea salt // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; soy-free; low FODMAP// makes 9 large, or 16 small, brownies //

    • 1 cup almond flour 
    • 3/4 cup oat flour, certified gluten free if necessary
    • 1/2 cup raw cacao, or natural cocoa powder (do not use dutch process/alkalized), plus extra for dusting baking pan
    • 4 tsp finely ground flax seeds, or flax seed meal (could also substitute very finel ground chia seeds)*
    • 1 TB arrowroot powder**
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 cup semi or bittersweet chocolate chips or baking chocolate
    • 1/4 cup plus 2 TB melted virgin coconut oil, plus extra for baking pan
    • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
    • 1/4 cup plant-based milk, using nut free if necessary, 
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • add ins: 1/4 to 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips, 1/4 cup cacao nibs, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
    • to top the brownies: large flake sea salt, such as Maldon 

    *I make flax meal by pulsing whole golden flax seeds in my coffee grinder until the seeds are completely pulverized and powdery.

    **this is completely optional, as I have successully made these brownies without it many times. The arrowroot helps to bind the brownies together a bit more upon baking, but do not fret if you do not add it. The brownies will turn out fine as-is, just be sure to allow them to cool 100% before cutting. 

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare an 8"x8" baking pan by lining with parchment OR by greasing it with coconut oil and dusting it with cocoa powder. Do not skip the parchment or oil/cocoa powder, as these brownies will stick if you do. Let me learn these mistakes for you :)

    2. Into a large bowl, sift the almond flour, oat flour, cacao/cocoa powder, flax seeds, sea salt, baking soda, arrowroot powder and cinnamon. Set aside.

    3. In a medium bowl that is microwave safe, or in a medium sized sauce pan, combine the 1/2 cup chocolate chips or baking chocolate and coconut oil. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil, stirring to combine. Once melted, off the heat, and add in the cane sugar and milk. Stir to combine. 

    4. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the dry sifted ingredients, along with the vanilla extract, extra chocolate chips or chunks, cacao nibs and walnuts. Stir to thoroughly combine. The mixture should be thick, but still a touch goopy. If the mixture is too stiff, add in a TB or two of milk until the consistency is that of proper brownie batter.

    5. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly out into the pan. Pat down the top to make an even surface, and to slightly compress the batter into the ban. Top with flakey sea salt, if desired. 

    6. Bake the brownies for 28 to 33 minutes, or until the center of the brownies is just starting to firm up. If you here a bit of moisture still bubbling in the brownies, that is ok. These brownies are better left under baked a touch than over baked.

    7. Allow the brownies to cool COMPLETELY before cutting. If you used parchment, simply lift the entire works out of the pan, and onto a surface to cut. If you greased and cocoa dusted the pan, cut with a sharp knife and use a small off-set spatula to get the brownies out. Store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month. 



    Whiskey Pepper Magic Shell from "Food with Friends" // adapted for a 1/2 batch, double measurements for the recipe as-written by Leela with my comments in parenthesis // 

    • 1 cup semi or bittersweet chocolate
    • 1/4 cup coconut oil (I used virgin coconut oil, but used refined if you do not like the mild coconut flavor of virgin coconut oil)
    • 1 TB but 1/2 tsp of your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey (I used Four Roses single barrel Kentucky straigh bourbon whiksey, as it is indeed one of my favorites!)
    • 1/4 tsp large flake sea salt (or a generous pinch, I used Maldon)
    • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp ground cloves (I used just a pinch, as I am sensitive to clove flavor)

    1. In a small sauce pan, or microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate and coconut oil. Melt, taking care to not burn the chocolate. 

    2. Stir in the remaining ingredients, taking care to not add them when the melted chocolate and coconut oil are too hot, as this will flash-off the booze and volatile oils in the spices. If the sauce is a bit too thick after adding the bourbon, add in a TB or two of melted coconut oil. The goal is a drizzly, thin sauce that will form a thin chocolate shell. 

    3. Use immedieately by drizzling as much of the sauce as you would like over ice cream, and waiting about 20 seconds for it to firm up. Or, for later use and gifting purposes, simply store in a glass jar or conainer in the fridge for up to 1 week. For future ice cream use: gently reheat the sauce to a consistency that can be drizzled or poured before enjoying.



    First things first: the BROWNIES. Get yourself some cacao nibs (I shelled some from whole cocoa beans from Dandelion Chocolate)Now, organize, prep baking pan, measure, melt, snack on chocolate. Oh and preheat that oven, yo!You know what to do: mix!Into the greased and cocoa dusted pan (or parchment paper lined). Batter slightly compressed, evened on the top, and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt flakes.Baked, cooled all the way through, then cut. Some crumbs will happen, but you know what to do with those...patience is rewarded with intact brownies. Rejoice!

    Ok, now you prepare yourself some MAGIC SHELL. With BOURBON. Yes!

    Simply melt the chocolate and coconut oil, then sprinkle in the sea salt flakes (intact flakes are good!), freshly cracked black pepper and cloves.Have yourself a mini-party, and add the bourbon! The mixture may thicken a bit, but not to worry. Adding another TB or two of melted coconut oil will smooth things out. We want a thin, drippy consistency to drizzle over ice cream!Into a jar, and used right away. OR, covered, stored in the fridge, and gently reheated for future drizzling, magic needs.The needs are real. Get on it! Brownie + Ice Cream + Magic Shell + Sprinkles. Waiting 30 seconds hardens the magic shell! MAGIC!Add sprinkles, and you know what to do...

  • Strawberry + Raspberry Crisp with Fresh Ginger

    The sun is out. We are breathing. The sky is blue, and we have plenty of tea/coffee/kombucha to fill our cups. Full or not, sometimes it is a challenge to keep ourselves positive and happy...

    Does anyone else feel like that sometimes? Maybe it was the whirlwind trip I had with a few of my best girlfriends to New Orleans (uhh, that city has some major spooky magic and cool vibes going on), or the pressure of adulting, or the fact that I think I have to majorly revamp my diet to cure my recent mega-bloat attacks, but I am feeling the feels. All the feels. And I just kinda want to be left alone. 

    Take a walk around the block. Go for a run (ps: I may or may not have started to train on a 6 month long marathon training plan). Wander around a few blocks I haven't been on. Get lost. Try to focus on the small things that make the world go 'round. Like crisp. Crisp, so...sweet and crispy and juicy. And easy...so very easy. The doctor (ahem, me) orders you to go out to a market this week, find some amazingly ripe raspberries and strawberries (and also buy yourself some flowers, ok?), head home and bake up a crisp for you, your lover, your friends, your parents, your sister or brother. You cousins, your aunts, uncles, grandparents....anyone. Nothing about this crisp cannot make you happy: pink, sweet, tart, free from weird ingredients, and perfect for breakfast the next day (or just for breakfast) (with or without your favorite yogurt or on ovenright oats).

    Just do me a favor and make a crisp, and send happy, positive vibes into the world. Oh, and maybe plop on some of your favorite ice cream or whipped cream situation. Just do your thing, be you, don't overthink it, and enjoy.



    Raspberry and Strawbery Crisp with Ginger and Almonds // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; soy-free // makes 1 9 or 10" pie plate full of crisp, or one 8x8" pan full of crisp

    Filling:

    • 1 quart (4 cups) strawberries, hulled and cut into halves or quarters
    • 1 punnet (1 cup) raspberries
    • 2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot starch
    • 1 TB coconut sugar*
    • 2 TB maple syrup
    • 2 tsp lemon juice
    • ½ tsp lemon zest
    • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger or 1/2 tsp high quality dried ginger
    • Pinch sea salt
    • optional: small sprinkle of freshly grated black pepper

    Topping:

    • 1 cup rolled oats
    • ½ cup oat flour
    • ½ cup slivered almonds or almond meal/flour*
    • ½ tsp cinnamon
    • ¼ tsp sea salt
    • 4 TB melted coconut oil and/or earth balance
    • 2 TB maple syrup 
    • 2 TB coconut sugar

    *Ok, so after I have written up this post, I have discovered that coconut sugar (dehydrated coconut palm nectar) is rich in a prebiotic, readily fermentable fiber, inulin. So, replace with another sweetener of choice for a true low FODMAP crisp. Also, almond flour can also effect some people, as can too many almonds. In that case, simply omit the almonds or replace with 1/2 cup of walnuts, which are super FODMAP friendly :) 

    1. Preheat oven to 350F.

    2. In a large bowl, mix up all the filling ingredients, and then plop into a 9" or 10" pie tin, or an 8x8" pan. 

    3. In the same bowl, mix together all the topping ingredients. Using your hands, squeeze the mixture to form a handful, and then gently break apart the handful into chunks and crumbs over the filling.

    4. Bake for 40-45 minutes until bubbly and topping is golden brown. Serve right away or serve slightly cool. Crisp will keep for 4 days in the frdige, covered. 



    Baked up and ready for some lovin'

  • Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas + Easy Enchilada Sauce from Scratch!

    Hello! Happy Sunday. I hope the weekend has been treating everyone well, and I hope that were the weather has permitted, you have enjoyed summer's last stance. It has been unusually beautiful here in Madison, and as usual, I am stuck indoors for most of it. Albeit I have been making excuses to be outside more and more just to soak up the last of the season, I still haven't gotten enough, and am afraid that fall will be showing it's colors really soon...just this last week, I saw THIS on my walk to school:

    Ok, yeah, it is beautiful. And don't get me wrong, I love fall. In fact, it is probably my favorite season...what with all the squash, pumpkin, baking to keep warm, soups and stews....hot chocolate....hot tea...hot cider......anyways: I think by this time of year, people fall into two camps (haha get it, "fall"??)

    Camp 1: you are over the tomatoes, the giant zucchini, the onslaught of kohlrabi and other CSA items you just can't deal with eating anymore of. You've done your preserving, and you're just waiting it out like a fat squirrel who has collected their nuts to enjoy their stash when it hits sub-zero temps.

    Or...

    Camp 2: you are holding on....you are still in the summer game...you still want more tomatoes, zucchini, all the fresh basil before the first frost hits...and you can't get enough room in your freezer to save more of the summer season bounty. You start to understand why your grandmother and other family members have several chest freezers in their basements and/or garages (...and find specimins from the 1990's still to this day in said chest freezers). Your mason jar collection is dwindling, and you seek out opportunities to squirrel away more of summer's bounty as each day nears the new season.

    I am firmly in camp 2 this year. I mean, we're picking cherry tomatoes at our CSA farm today!! Any tips for preserving them?

    But...having a small freezer is an issue while in "squirrel mode": I can't fit anything else in after I froze several bags of tomatoes a few weeks back! So in efforts to make some room, I present to you: homemade enchilada sauce (and a recipe to use said sauce in if you wish). The sauce is quick, easy and tastes amazing. You can use it right away, stash it in the fridge for a few days until ready to use, OR freeze it (and completely eliminate that room you just made clearing out the frozen tomatoes!!). 

    Note: the enchilada sauce was inspired by the original here. The enchiladas were inspired by this and this recipe, as well as my edits from making them several times. And yes, I know: this is not a 100% authentic enchilada sauce, or enchiladas. However, still very tasty, just not authentic. For a smoother process during the week, simply prep the sauce and filling one day, and then assemble and bake another (or stash the sauce away in the freezer for whenever you'd like to whip up your enchiladas!). You can wait up to 3 days to assemble after prepping the filling and sauce. And lastly, these are *best* fresh out of the oven! You could bake them in smaller batches, or simply keep some sauce aside for re-heated leftovers as noted in the recipe, as the corn tortillas like to soak up lotsa moisture. Not sure about flour tortillas, but I am sure they'd be similar. 



    Enchilada Sauce // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; soy-free; nut-free; sugar-free // makes about 4-5 cups - enough for 1 recipe of Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas //

    • 2 TB olive oil
    • 1 onion or ½ large onion, roughly chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic
    • 3-4 cups frozen tomatoes (or 1 28 oz/ two 14.5 oz) cans diced/crushed/whole tomatoes
    • 2 TB chili powder
    • ¼ tp 1 tsp cayenne
    • 1 TB dried oregano (or 2 TB fresh)
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • small pinch cinnamon or drizzle of molasses for a bit of sweetness (optional)
    • 1 TB tomato paste
    • 2 TB lemon or lime juice
    • 1 tsp salt
    • ½ cup water or vegetable stock, if needed to help blend to smoothness if using frozen tomatoes
    1. In a blender, combine all the ingredients; blend until smooth
    2. Add sauce to a medium pan, and simmer on medium (or medium-high if in a time crunch) for 15-20 minutes, until thickened to the consistency of tomato sauce. Use a lid partially tilted off the pan to help control spatters. Stir a few times during this to help prevent scorching.
    3. Taste and adjust seasonings. Use right away, or refrigerate/freeze until you need it.

    Everything in the blender:

    The finished sauce! You can't beat the taste, even though it is not 100% traditional. You get points for not using the bottled stuff! You can use it right away, refrigerate for a few days, or freeze it for a few months for future enchilada adventures.



    Black Bean, Sweet Potato & Red Pepper Enchiladas // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free option; sugar-free; soy-free; nut-free // makes ~10 small enchiladas, or ~4-6 large enchiladas //

    • 1 recipe red enchilada sauce (you'll probably have a bit lefover)
    • 8-10 small corn or flour tortillas (or 5-6 larger tortillas)
    • 1 large sweet potato, 2 to 2 ½ cups diced small
    • 1 sweet red pepper, diced small
    • 1 medium or ½ large onion, diced small
    • 1 TB olive oil 
    • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly, or about 2 cups black beans
    • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 TB lemon juice
    • 1 ½ tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • ¼ tsp smoked or regular paprika
    • ¼ tsp cayenne
    • ½ tsp salt
    • Avocado Cream: 1 medium/large avocado, 1.5 TB lime or lemon juice, 1/4-1/2 cup fresh cilantro, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, pinch cayenne, 1-2 TB water to help blend
    • Cashew Cream: Great Recipe Here!
    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly oil the baking dish you want to use (I used an 8”x8” and managed to cram in  7 enchiladas; use a smaller dish for smaller batches). In a large skillet, add the olive oil, red pepper, onion, and sauté until tender and onions are translucent, about 10 minutes on low-medium. While this mixture cooks, add the diced sweet potato to a small pot, cover with water and place a lid on. cook over medium-high until fork tender, about 7-12 minutes depending on how large the pieces are. Drain, and rinse once under warm water, draining thoroughly.
    2. Add garlic to the onion and pepper mixture, and cook for another 2-3 minutes, taking care to not burn the garlic. Add the black beans, and gently incorporate. Add in the cooked sweet potatoes, 1/3 cup of the enchilada sauce, as well as the remaining ingredients, and taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed.
    3. In oiled baking dish (I used an 8”x8” pyrex), scoop ~3/4-1 cup of sauce, or enough to cover the bottom of the baking dish you are using.
    4. Prep the tortillas: stack on a plate, and microwave for 30 seconds to help soften and make more pliable to prevent breaking while rolling. Place a tea towel over the top to help keep them warm while rolling the enchiladas. 
    5. For small enchiladas, scoop ~1/3 cup filling onto each tortilla, and gently, but tightly roll; place seam side down into the sauced baking dish. Repeat process, tucking each enchilada close to the other to prevent them from unrolling.
    6. Top with enchilada sauce (and any filling if you have leftover, if desired) to completely cover the enchiladas. Note: reserve some sauce if you wish for re-heated leftovers. Cover with a lid or tin foil, and bake for 20-35 minutes. If your filling and sauce are cold, the time will be nearer to the 35 minute mark; the enchilada sauce should be mostly absorbed by the tortillas, and should be a deep red color. Allow to sit for 10 minutes to set before serving. Top with avocado crema, cashew cream or just avocado slices and cilantro. Great with tortilla chips for crunch!

    The filling goods in the pan, all cooked and ready to be stirred with spices + sauce:

    The filling, all ready. Seriously tasty. I recommend having tortilla chips handy to taste and adjust seasonings accordingly... Microwaving the tortillas for ~20 seconds made them way more pliable for me, so they were less prone to cracking when rolled. Fill em' with the the...filling...roll, and stuff into the pan you have put a bit of sauce down in:

    Getting all cozy in here....

    Pour sauce over the top...

    Smooth out, and top with the rest of the filling if desired. Cover, bake until sauce is deep red, and everythign is all bubbly. 

    ...and excuse the bad lighting, but it was dark by the time I pulled these babies out of the oven. Totally worth it, especially after a chilly run!

    Top with the avocado crema: simply blend all the ingredients together until smooth. Or simply top with sliced avocado and cilantro. Enjoy!



  • Easy Cauliflower Cheeze Sauce

    Happy Labor Day! I hope you all are recovering from the weekend, and had a chance to relax this weekend. It has been a good one for us, and a well-earned break. On Friday evening, we checked out the new Estrellon by Tory Miller. We loved the new space, and the tapas. Highly recommend patatas fritas (uhh, fancy for AMAZING french fries! If you don't want aioli, ask for a side of the tomato sauce they use on the patatas bravas, since it is basically ketchup's better half), the tomato bread, and the marinated olives. So good! We then walked our full bellies over to the Edgewater, and grabbed a after-dinner drink that we enjoyed outside by the lake. Perfect evening! Saturday was cleaning, prepping and organizing, and yesterday we celebrated my grandma's 90th (!!!!) birthday! Good stuff all around.

    But please, brace yourself, for the end-of-summer harvest is still in full swing! Our fridge is bursting with veggies. Some I honesty have no idea what to do with. Brusselini? Is that broccolini's evil cousin?? 

    Lately, it has been all about the simple food. Our staples have been pesto and tomato pasta (or slices of tomato slathered with fresh pesto, sprinkled with Maldon, on toasted bread), fresh salsa with crunchy chips and creamy guacamole, and hummus [check out this roasted jalapeno version! So good!!] with various things to dip in it, like fresh veggies, bread, tortilla chips...). 

    But honestly don't feel a bit of culinary guilt about simplicty these days...with all the amazing produce we have around. It is so bountiful, at one point a few weeks ago, we had five cauliflowers ("cauliflowers"...is that the plural of cauliflower? or is it just "5 cauliflower"?...??) in the fridge from our CSA. And speaking of, do you know how to deal with 5 large heads of beautiful organic cauliflower? Well, here is what I did: 1) blanch and freeze a ton, 2) mash one head up with potatoes for some amazing mashed comforting goodness [note: we had to blast the a/c to get a cold-season feel to enjoy these in the hot weather!!], and 3) use one for this flavorful "cheese-y" sauce, which is also freezer-friendly. Take that, cauliflower!!

    I really wish I could remember where I got this recipe from, but I assure you it is a mish-mash of the standard vegan cheeze-y sauce featuring great-for-you veggies, cashews and seasonings. Rather than leaving you feeling like you've eaten a cow, you feel nourished after eating this! So please, give it a try, even if you are a classic mac die-hard fan. Yes, it will taste different from the traditional stuff, but I assure you that this sauce is still creamy, savory and delicious. The nutritional yeast in the recipe is a must, as it lends that savory, cheese-y flavor to the sauce and also gives it yellow color. If you'd like to bump-up the yellow color a bit more, add a pinch of dried tumueric. I added a bit of miso paste because it lends a savory, complex flavor to the sauce, but is completely optional. 

    What we did is this: we enjoyed the sauce for 2 meals of mac n' cheeze, then bumped up the spice factor with hot sauce, a dash of cumin, and some chipotle in adobo for wicked nacho-cheeze sauce that was perfect with homemade lentil walnut "meat", salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips. For fresher mac n' cheeze, make fresh pasta and mix in the sauce for each meal you'd like to make the mac n' cheeze. This entire batch is enough for 1 pound of pasta. 



    Creamy Cauliflower Cheeze Sauce // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free option; soy-free option; sugar-free; oil-free option // makes about 4 cups of sauce // 

    • 1 small-medium head cauliflower, florets only
    • ½ cup cashews, soaked overnight or for ~30 minutes in boiling hot water
    • ½ cup + a few TB water or unsweetened, un-flavored plant-based milk 
    • 4 heaping TB nutritional yeast
    • 1 TB shoyu, tamari, liquid aminos or soy sauce
    • 1 large clove garlic
    • heaping ¼ tsp dijon mustard
    • ¼ tsp chili powder
    • ¼ tsp garlic or onion powder
    • ½ tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
    • 1 TB lemon juice plus more to taste
    • ¼ tsp turmeric, for color (optional)
    • 1 tsp miso paste for additional savory flavor (optional; I used dark red soy miso, but use garbanzo or another legume-based miso for soy-free)
    • Pasta of Choice (use a gluten-free variety if needed)

    1. Place the florets in a large pot with 1" to 1.5" of water in the bottom. Place a lid on and steam florets until tender, about 6-7 minutes. 

    2. As the florets steam, place everything else in a blender. Drain the florets, and add to the blender. Puree until smooth, taste for seasonings. If needed, add a few TB of water or plant-based milk to help the mixture blend. Adjust and re-blend as necessary. Note: if using a conventional blender, it may take a few minutes to get the sauce smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides of the blender as necessary.

    3. Stir into your favorite pasta, or spice with cumin, chipotle in adobo and hot sauce for a nacho-cheezey sauce perfect for dipping chips in. 

    4. Sauce will keep for 3 days in the fridge, or a few months frozen.



    Cauliflower...who knew it could be so great for you AND make a creamy, dreamy sauce?! Serioulsly, give this stuff a shot! I think good ol' Cauli will surprise you. 

  • Stashing Away the Summer: Pickled Beets, Quick Refrigerator Pickles and How To Freeze Tomatoes

    So guys....it is September. I have been a hermit, working away at my research, trying to not pull my hair out. You know how big of a pain humidity makes cooking caramel to specific moisture contents? Well, let us all hope that you never have to go down that road. Caramel should be fun, not painful...I rest my case. Have I mentioned how eager I am to graduate in December? I have imporant things on my mind...like my graduation party! Should I make my own cake? What sort of snacks should I provide? Hot chocolate bar?? Veggie chili with lots of toppings?? But for right now, I am trying to focus on having a relaxing holiday weekend, involving spinach artichoke dip, bean dip with lots of fresh summer produce, and sitting in the sun. Not gonna lie, I think I have earned a few days off before the next round of my data collection begins next week!

    For the preserving: I canned tomatoes with my mom a few weekends back, and then made pickled beets...this Wisconsin girl *cannot* fathom that she has never made them (spoiler: super easy, super tasty). I also hit the jackpot with some super easy, super-duper tasty refrigerator pickles (spiked with garlic, of course). And this past weekend, after picking ~30 pounds of tomatoes at our CSA farm, I froze a few pounds of them beautiful red 'maters.  

    I assure you, the goods below are not a ton of work, even though preserving/canning is usually assumed to be very time consuming-just be organized, keep your work space clean and remain calm. There is not a moment to waste! We have the last few weeks of summer to enjoy, and the harvest to preserve to help us get through the wicked cold season that is too fast approaching. 

    Notes: 

    First, please start with clean jars for the pickled beets and pickles: thoroughly wash in soapy, hot water (or in a dishwasher with a high-heat setting somewhere during the cycle), and sanitize with a dilute bleach solution. Air dry. This can be done up to 2 days ahead.

    The Pickled Beets recipe hailed from an issue of The Isthmus, Madison's weekly newspaper full of fun shit...and now, evidently pickled beet recipes...what more could a WI girl ask for? The original called for 3 1/2 pounds of beets, but I only had about 2 on hand (about 2 regular bunches). I did not cut the other ingredients in half, so if you wish, just up the beets to the full 3 1/2 pounds for 4 full pints (not 2). If you are a strict vegan, than I suspect agave OR maple syrup would both be suitable subs for the honey. I use locally sourced, raw honey, cause that is the right thing to do. These are great in salads, on sandwiches, or by themselves. 

    The Refrigerator Pickle recipe comes from none other than Deb. Need I say more?? Feel free to throw in a few slices of peppers, more garlic, some red chili flakes, and anything else you think would improve with a spa-like bath in vinegar (carrots, radishes, etc). Eat these as you would any pickle...um...however you do that. 

    And lastly, the frozen tomato method is from my grandma/everyone's grandmother. It is just the way you do it! You can halve, quarter or slice the peeled tomatoes, squeeze out the juice/pulp and use for another purpose (or strain and freeze separately!). Really, this method is super flexible. You could even freeze the tomatoes whole after peeling, juices/seeds and all! Some people freeze tomatoes whole and raw, but I prefer to blanch and peel my 'maters before freezing, because 1) who likes tough tomato skins? No straining, blending or pureeing required once you use the tomatoes, and 2) the blanching step stop enzymes, and this is important especially in home freezers; we like to think that freezing "stops" or makes every biological/metabolic process dormant, but this is not always true. Frozen tomatoes are best used in cooked recipes, since they will be mushy from freezing. Sauces, soups, stocks, purees...you get the idea!



    Easy Pickled Beets - Naturally Sweetened // plant-based; vegan option; nut-free; oil-free; soy-free; refined sugar-free option; gluten-free // makes 2 pints (double only the amount of beets for 4 pints) //

    • 2 bunches beets, any colors or variety (about 2 lbs; original called for 3 ½ lbs, which would make 4 pints)
    • 1 cup water and/or liquid from cooking beets
    • ½ large onion, sliced thin (original called for ½ lb)
    • 2 cups white vinegar (I used 50:50 white:white white vinegar)
    • 1/3 cup honey + 1/6 cup (original called for 1 ¼ cups sugar)
    • 2 TB salt (I used regular-grain sea salt)
    • *spices: original called for 6 whole cloves an a 13-inch cinnamon stick, in a spice bag, but I left this out.

    1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Fill clean jars with the hot, boiling water and allow them to sit. Place clean canning lids in the remaining hot water, off to the side on your counter. 

    2. Trim the root ends and tops off beets. Place into a large pot, fill with water, and boil until tender. This will depend on the size of your beets. Don't sweat it too much if you have some large and small beets. Once cooked, carefully drain the cooking water off, reserving 1 cup if it isn't too funky looking (I juse used water, since my cooking water wasn't the most appealing). Run hot beets under cold water, peeling skin away as you do this. Cut peeled beets into 1/3"-1/2" slices.

    3. In a large pot, combine the water, onion, vinegar, sweetener of choice, salt, and spices of your choosing. Bring to a boil. Add the beets, and return to a boil for 4-5 minutes. 

    4. Pour the hot water out of the jars, and immediately pack the beets in, topping off with liquid. Clean the rims of the jars off with a damp clean towel, then place jar lids on right away, and tightly close with jar rings. Allow to sit for 24 ours, undisturbed. Store in the fridge for 4-5 months.


    Did you know that pickled beets need that punch from onion? I had no idea. I sacrificed a super pretty purple onion from our CSA. Also, note the burn marks on my cutting board. At first I was horified when that did that, then grew to like it. Weird, Ok, now those beets...

    The sunlight + The Beets = Summer Jewels!Crazy to think that those roots below can be so beautiful (and so good for you!)Everything in the pot, ready to place into jars:And the finished pickled beets! I'll be thanking myself in November...you will too!



    Easy Refrigerator Pickles // plant-based; vegan; nut-free; oil-free; soy-free; sugar-free; gluten-free // makes ~2 pints // 

    Ok, so here is the scoop: I followed Deb's recipe to the T. The only thing I adjusted was adding more garlic, a very heavy pinch of red pepper flakes, and probably double the amount of dill. This recipe, beyond the vinegar/salt/water ratio, is very flexible. See the notes above for more ideas! These lasted only about 2 weeks for us, at which time they were still crunchy. 


    Pickles...in the making (aka: cucumbers). A homegrown pepper was tossed in too...seriously, this is the first year my pepper plants have actually produced. Maybe the neglec to water consistently was a good thing then??

    Fresh Garlic. Pretty purple!The pickles cut up. Cut them thin if you like them thinner...and thicker if you want them crunchier...whatever your texture preference.Stuff it all into a jar, and let the osmosis take place! Taste along the way...you made pickles!!

    After about 1 hour:

    The next day! These were so great to munch on. 

    Still crunchy a few days later, and the flavors had really come together!



    Frozen Tomatoes // plant-based; vegan; nut-free; soy-free; sugar-free; oil-free; gluten-free // makes however many bags of tomatoes you wish // 

    • however many pounds fresh, fully ripe summer tomatoes you'd like to stash away for the winter
    • sharp paring knife slotted spoon or other tool to transfer tomatoes
    • heavy-duty freezer bags (you can re-use them when you're done!)
    • Sharpie marker for labeling bags (prevents the "WTF is this?" moment 3 months later when you forgot that you took the time to freeze summer-fresh tomatoes)
    • baking or cookie sheet

    1. Bring a large pot of water to a good simmer. Meanwhile, get a large bowl full of cold water and ice ready.

    2. Cut an "X" in the non-stem end of each tomato. Remove any stems or leaves from tomatoes. 

    3. Working in batches (if needed), use a slotted spoon to carefully slide tomatoes into the simmering water. Allow them to blanch for 30 seconds-2 minutes, or until you can see the "X" you cut start to widen and/or skin around the "X" loosen/peel away. Transfer with the slotted spoon to the ice bath. Allow to sit until the tomatoes are cool enough to touch.

    4. Using you fingers and a paring knife to help, peel the skins away. Remove the stem end and tough core. Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters, reserving any juice that comes out in the process-I do this entirely over a baking sheet to catch the mess. Alternatively, you can also leave the tomatoes whole.

    5. Place tomatoes into freezer bags, along with the juices (if desired, or you can simply strain and freeze the juice separately, or use it fresh). Try to not cram in a ton in each bag, as this hinders a quick freezing process. I use a kitchen scale to measure out approximately the same quantity in each bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible, or use a straw to suck out extra air. Label, lay flat in freezer or place onto cookie sheets, and freeze. Once frozen, you can move them around as you see fit in your freezer.

    6. Tomatoes will last about 7-8 months in a standard home freezer. 


    So many tomatoes...so little time....

    Such a crazy pretty red color...ketchup has nothing on these guys.The X's cut into the bottom of the tomatoes:After a few minutes in a good simmering bath, plunge into ice or very cold water, and watch as the skins start to peel off themselves:Finish the peeling...naked tomatoes!Core the tough stem end out, and then slice into halves, quarters, or simple leave whole. Place in bags, get all the air out you can, freeze flat, then you are done! Oh, and label if you want...I labeled my bags.I put about 20 oz. in each bag, and had 6 bags at the end. Hooray!

  • Citrus & Basil White Sangria

    Have you been eyeing those bottles of pre-made sangria at your local store? Well, I am here to save you. Don't do it. Seriously, just walk away. It is never as good as you think it will be, and is likely full of sugar...not that you're looking for a health beverage when sipping the 'gria, but if you're going to treat yourself, at least do it with quality ingredients!

    This week, I proclaimed that I needed to take part in more summery activities, despite being busy at school. A picnic dinner was in order!! I made an effort to prep extra pesto and tomato pasta the night before (still loving the gluten-free pasta from Trader Joe's!), using CSA basil and some homegrown tomatoes. And, to make it super special, (drum role!) sangria to sip on while enjoying the evening. Needless to say, I was impressed with myself, considering the past 2 weeks have been super busy and quite stressful at school (read: a major impetus for making this white sangria was the fact that I may or may not have left a bottle of pinot in my freezer, thus renduring the cork to almost explode out of the bottle, leaving my freezer a wine-y, sticky mess; I think mostly frozen white wine is the perfect occasion to make this sangria, and laugh at the crappy last week you had while sipping on the repurposed wine). PS: those are basil flowers floating on top of the 'gria. They are super fragrant and of course, totally edible.

    This sangria is a bit lighter than the traditional red sangria. It has a heavy note of citrus, is fortified with white wine and brandy (or cognac, which is all I had on hand; feel free to use either, or even triple sec if you have it), and is then elevated to a summery level with a basil simple syrup. I have seen recipes that call for various fresh fruit and berries (peaches! raspberries! strawberries!), so add those as you would like. Seriously, who ever complained about boozy-wine marinated fruit on a hot summer evening? If you don't have basil, you can omit it. Mint could be a sub, but it may combat the brandy/cognac flavor...if you try the mint, let me know how it goes! If you'd like to take the sangria to a lighter level, consider topping off glasses of this with sparkling water or ginger beer. Either way, cheers to summer-get out there and enjoy it while it lasts! 

    PS: not a fan of white wine? Or prefer the more traiditional red sangria? Check out this recipe at Minimalist Baker! I may have to make this one for the weekend ahead...!



    Citrus and Basil White Sangria // plant-based; vegan; refined sugar-free; nut-free; oil-free; gluten-free // makes five 8 oz. cups, enough for 2-3 people to share //

    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1/4-1/2 cup agave, honey or coconut nectar (I used 1/4 to keep it not too sweet; you can use sugar in a pinch)
    • 10-12 large basil leaves
    • 1 bottle white wine (I used Italian Pinot Grigio)
    • 3 oranges or similar cirtus, or 6 clemintines, cut into thin slices 
    • 1/2 grapefruit, cut into thin half moon slices (I used an organic white grapefruit)
    • 1 lemon, yellow skin peeled into 1" wide strips (I got about 6 strips)
    • 1/4 cup brandy or cognac 
    • 1/4-1/2 cup orange juice (I used freshly squeezed, but quality bottled juice works too)
    • optional: sparkling water or ginger beer; fresh berries or peach slices, or other fruit desired; additional basil leaves and flowers.

    1. combine the water, sweetener, halve the lemon strips, and basil in a small pan. Heat to a gentle simmer (if using sugar, be sure it is all dissolved).  Off the heat, and steep for 10-20 minutes. You may do this up to 1 day ahead, and simply place the basil infusion into the fridge in a covered container or jar. 

    2. In a large jar or other container that will hold ~5 cups, combine all the ingredients, other than the sparkling water or ginger beer if using, and any berries/fruit you want to garnish with.

    3. Allow the sangria to steep for at least 20 minutes, up to overnight. Pour into glasses, topping off with sparking water or ginger beer, and garnishing with additonal fresh fruit if desired. The sangria can sit in the fridge in a glass container with a lid for a few days while you enjoy it, or can even be made several days ahead. Enjoy!



    All the stuff!

    The citrus. I love the colors!!

    My super tiny and cute 8 oz. copper pot with the basil, water, sweetener (I used coconut nectar) and lemon peel. Why? Because this is a great excuse to use such a tiny pot, and because my Dad got it for me for christmas last year...so there!

    The finished sangria! This was 24 hours after I prepped it. The flavors steeped, the fruit got boozy, and I got increasingly excited about drinking this as the day progressed. Totally easy and worth it! Cheers!

    Refreshing, slightly boozy, a little herbal from the basil, and a bit tart from the grapefruit. Of course, I sprinkled some basil flowers on top...cause why not?

    Cheers to summer!

  • Strawberry Jam (Lower Sugar!)

    After picking and sorting through 35 pounds of strawberries last weekend, I was left with pretty much zero fridge and freezer space. I froze 7 gallon-sized bags of them. Even after sorting the berries between "eat now" (ripe and ready to eat) and "jam/pie" (more ripe or damaged), I was still left with a hefty haul to deal with. Strawberry smoothies, strawberries and coconut ice cream, strawberries alone, and a strawberry pie (ok-two pies!!) later, I still had enough to crank out a batch of jam! Wow.

    Strawberry jam...the stuff you eat in the dead of winter to give you hopes of summer. The stuff that actually tastes of strawberries and the sun, and is sweetened with non-gross-corn-derived substances. The ruby red, fruit-packed, sweet stuff that is slathered onto toasted bread, pancakes, muffins and biscuits. I grew up eating my grandma's strawberry jam. It is probably the one thing that makes me think of her most! It is her signature; usually birthday or other gifts include a small jar of her strawberry jam (sometimes, it is elderberry, if you're lucky). Back in 2012, I had the pleasure of actually making it with her. It was so much fun, and she even shared her "secrets" with me. What wasn't secret was the slightly obscene amount of sugar needed to form a gel with the pectin she uses. Yes, I still love and enjoy her jam. But sometimes, it is nice to have a jam in your fridge that doesn't scare you pancreas. Enter: high methoxy pectin!

    I will put all the fancy food science terms aside, and sum it up here: high-methoxy pectin forms a gel in the presence of calcium ions, not sugar. The end. 

    (Note: If you are still freaked out about traditional preserves, check out some great recipes for-nearly- instant "chia seed jam"!)

    Back in 2013, I had to embark on my own jamming adventures...by myself...because I was a lonely recluse who lived in Janesville and worked all. the. time. I discovered Pomona Pectin at my local food cooperative, and knew I had to try it out. Not going to lie, it was kinda scary, even for someone who has been formally educated in the know-how of food colloids and stabilizers, to make jam by myself. Where was my grandma to stick her finger in the mixture, and know it was "sweet enough" for the low-methoxy pectin to gel? or that it was "thick enough" for the berry chunks to not separate in thr jars? Who on earth would tell me that the berries were smashed enough? And who was going to submerge their un-protected hands into that boiling bath of water to get the jar lids out?? Gaaah-it was all too much (ps: don't stick your hands into hot water). But I hunkered down, gave myself a pep-talk, and did it. And it was a success. I was floored! I made freakin' jam by myself, and it tasted great!!!

    So here we are now...third year in a row, with 8 pretty darn respectable half-pint jars of strawberry jam, waiting to be enjoyed once the strawberry season is long gone. I think the third time is a charm, so I must share the recipe with you. Pomona Pectin is awesome...and I say that on my own opinion. It is easy to use, reliable, and produces a great texture. You can use almost any dry or liquid sweetener, including xylitol if you're into the sugar-free jam thing. I have included a few optional add-ins that I have tried the past three years with success; feel free to experiment, and make your own twist on your strawberry jam! The force is with you...so go on, and preserve those seasonal fruits!!

    Note: sweetener preference and amount will vary; in previous years, I have used equal propotions of organic cane sugar and local honey, 1/2 cup each, for the recipe below. However, this year, the berries were a bit more tart, so used 3/4 cup organic cane sugar and 1/2 cup WI maple syrup. You can also use agave. See the Pomona Pectin website for more details, tips and recipes! My recipe below was adapted from their prescribed formula. It can easily be cut in half or doubled. 

    Double Note: I have provided a list of equipment/tools you will need; preserving the bounty of summer requires some forethought, but please, don't be intimidated by this! If you stay calm and organized, it will go smoothly. You can even prep your jars and tools the day before, and make your jam the next.  

    Cheers to jam and fruit and all the summer things!!



    Strawberry Jam // vegan, plant-based, gluten-free, nut-free, oil-free, soy-free // makes 8 half-pint jars, or 4 pint jars //

    Jam:

    • 8 cups strawberies (you want a solid 4 cups smashed fruit)
    • 1/2-1 1/2 cups dry or liquid sweetener of choice (see note above)
    • 2 tsp Pomona pectin
    • 2 tsp calcium solution (made by mixing 1/2 cup water with 2 tsp calcium in a jar, and shaking vigorously; solution will keep for several months in the fridge for future jam adventures)
    • 1 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Optional add-ins to try:

    • small pinch salt
    • 1-2 tsp freshly grated ginger
    • zest of 1 lemon or orange or lime
    • 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
    • freshly grated nutmeg
    • small pat virgin coconut oil or Earth Balance (this helps reduce foaming in the jam)

    Tools You Will Need:

    • large stock pot or other large pot with lid (I use my enameled cast iron French oven...since it is all I have for a big pot!)
    • small saucepan for lids and rings
    • medium to large pot for cooking jam
    • measuring cup for transfering hot jam into jars (I use my glass 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup with handle and spout for pouring)
    • funnel (optional)
    • potato masher, pastry cutter, or other mashing tool
    • tongs
    • heat resistant spatula for stirring jam and scraping bottom of pot as it cooks
    • hot pad holders
    • 2 clean kitchen towels
    • measuring cups and spoons
    • clean and sterile canning jars, lids and rings (I use half pint jars)
    • microplane (for zest, if adding)

    1. Wash and sterilize jars and lids, as well as a measuring cup (and funnel if you need it) for portioning the jam into the jars. I wash mine in the dishwasher, and then again with hot soapy water wtih antibacterial soap. You could also use a bleach solution after the dishwasher or washing by hand. I let them air dry after this. You can do this up to 1 day ahead of time, and cover the jars and tools with a clean towel to prevent any foreign material from contaminating the clean jars and tools.

    2. Place jars in a large pot. Fill with water to submerge jars. Bring the water up to a boil, and then take off the heat. In a small pot, place lids and rings. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat, keeping the lids and rings in the hot water.

    3. In a medium/large pot, measure out your fruit. Using a potato masher or a pastry cutter, or other similar smashing tool, mash the berries into medium-large chunks. Add the calcium solution. The berries will break down further as you cook, and you can always mash them more as they are cooking. Bring the berries up to a rolling boil.

    4. As you wait for the berries to come up to a rolling boil, measure out your dry and/or liquid sugars into a medium bowl, then thoroughly mix the pectin into them. Take the hot jars out of the pot using tongs, and place them on a kitchen towel (you may get jam on this!). 

    5. Once the berries are to a rolling boil, add the sugar and pectin mixture and stir vigorously to distribute the pectin to prevent lumps. Add any of the optional add-ins now, if desired. Bring the mixture back up to a rolling boil, about 1-2 minutes, stirring every few seconds to prevent scorching and to distribute the pectin. During this time, taste for sweetness, and add more sweetener if needed. Take off the heat, and transfer the pot to the area where the warm jars are at.

    6. Using the clean measuring cup (and funnel if desired) from step 1, carefully portion the hot jam into the warm jars. Wipe rims of the jars clean using a clean, damp kitchen towel or paper towel. Quickly, but carefully, place a warm lid on each jar. Tightly screw on a jar ring on each jar, using a kitchen towel to help hold the hot jars. Carefully transfer the filled jars back to a large pot with a lid, and fill with warm water to cover the jars. Bring water to a boil, and hold the jars at the boil for 10 minutes. Off the heat, and carefully transfer the hot jars using a set of tongs to a kitchen towel. Let the jars sit for 12-24 hours, until set. Do not disturb, as this is when the vacuum is formed inside the jar, seal is set, and jam structure solidified. 

    7. To check the seals, simply press down on the center of each lid. If the lid can be pushed in, a seal was not formed. Simply re-process in boiling water (step 6; see the Pomona Pectin website for more tips on how to properly re-process). Sealed jars will keep 1 year; once opened, enjoy jam within ~2 weeks and store in the refrigerator. I usually keep all my sealed jars in the fridge, but these are shelf stable so can also be stored in a cool, dark place (i.e. do not display them on a shelf, in the sunlight...despite how pretty they are and how much you want to show-off you awesome skillz!).



    The clean and sterile jars, the lids/rings, berries and pectin. And a lemon, too.

    Most of the tools you will need, plus some of the ingredients and calcium water in a jar:

    Ok, now...the berries. Smash those beautiful berries!

    And after...something tells me I shouldn't be wearing a white shirt right about now...

    Ok, now throw those berries into the pot you'll cook the jam in. Put in the calcium water, and turn the heat to medium-high. Meanwhile, mix together your pectin and sugars (if using all liquid sweetener, simply mix it with that). You do this to prevent pectin lumps from forming in the cooking jam.

    Back to the cooking jam: bring the berry and calcium water mixture up to a rolling (rolling!) boil:

    Now, add the sugar/sweetener and pectin mixture, along with any of the optional add-ins. Bring that back up to a boil, about 1-2 minutes. 

    Ok-you have made jam! Now, to get that sweet stuff into the jars, work as swiftly as possible, as it will being to set-up as soon as it begins to cool. I like to use my 1-cup glass pyrex measuring cup with a small spout. Pour enough jam into each jar to come up 1/4" from the top. Wipe the rim of the jars clean with a clean and damp towel, then place a lid and ring on top of each. Tightly screw on the rings, using a kitchen towel to help hold the hot jars if needed. 

    Now, back into the large pot. Fill the pot with water until it covers the jars, and bring to a rolling boil, and hold for 10 minutes. Off the the heat, and using tongs, transfer to a kitchen towel lined surface. Allow the jam to sit for at least 12 hours to cool, set and seal. Check seals by pressing down on the lid; if you can feel it compress and lift back up again, a vacuum was not sealed, and the jam needs to be re-processed. See the Pomona pectin website for tips on how to do this properly. 

    Pile all jars on top of each other, with strawberries on top. Take photo, and laugh at yourself for staging jars of jam....! Enjoy within 1 year, and refrigerate after opening (I keep all my jars, sealed or opened, in the fridge). Be sure to eat the jam within ~2 weeks of opening, cause nobody likes moldy jam! Happy summer!

  • Summer Strawberry & Rhubarb Pie with Coconut Oil Crust

    Wow! How good does summer feel? Well, besides the humidity here in WI, it is glorius. I have a hard time focusing (well, even more so!) in the summer because it feels like a weekend all. the. time. I wish it were so...but then, we wouldn't appreciate the time we do have to relax. The same goes with seasonal fruit: I seem to appreciate it so much more, each and every year, when it rolls around. This year, I was so excited about strawberry picking. My Mom and I went to Carandale's in Oregon, WI and rocked out some great picking. The berries were perfect, not soggy like last year from all the rain, and were so easy to pick. 

    Ever since I was little, I remember picking berries of all sorts in the summer. Strawberries at Carandale were my favorite, but going back into my Aunt and Uncle's woods, geared up with long sleeved shirts, pants, tied around the leg with twine to prevent ticks and mosquito bites, to pick black caps and raspberries is also a great memory. Oh, and don't forget the twine around the waist to hold a plastic ice cream bucket for putting the picked berries in! My grandma really knew how to be a functional fashionista whilst picking seasonal produce. She still is a rockstar in that department, btw. 

    My favorite way to enjoy them, besides right off the plant, is with vanilla ice cream. My grandma preserves heres with plain ol' sugar, so the juices come out, making for the perfect ice cream topper. Nothing else needed: just ice cream, sugar and those juicy berries. Now, in my ripe middle-age, I enjoy those naturally sweet super-ripe berries, smashed a bit, with some coconut ice cream (uhh, thanks again Luna and Larry's!!). But there is nothing wrong with some good old fashioned locally produced vanilla ice cream or custard, too. 

    Second runner up? Strawberries and my grandma's angel food cake. Still haven't figured out how to make that one vegan...working on it. Goal for summer. Any suggestions or tips are welcome!!

    Ok, and third: now a 3-year tradition in my kitchen, is the strawberry and rhubarb pie. This year, it was so special. Freshly picked berries with my Mom, rhubarb from my Grandma's garden, and an all-vegan coconut oil crust were put together for a super seasonal, fresh and delcious pie for my Dad on Father's day. Lattice top and all, cause this is summer...and lattice tops are where it is at! It is easy-I'll show you how. Don't be afraid...the pie pastry can smell fear. But you can do it!  Bonus: there is no blind-baking required for this pie. I have a baking method that works like a charm, and produces prefectly crisp bottom crusts every time. 

    Don't like coconut oil in your crust? Try this one. It is a no-fail, and works like a charm. It makes enough for a double crust or lattice-topped pie that will fit a 9", 10" or even 11" tin (yes, I have tried all three sizes). In fact, I have had great-dare I say better results-when I replace half the butter in that recipe with virgin coconut oil. Whatever you choose to do, do not use a pre-made crust. Seriously, people, we are adults here. It is too simple and gratifying to make your own pie pastry! So get with it!! You may need to practice, but I assure you that the outcome each time will be better and better. And what better excuse to make and share more summer pies? Make the pastry, suit it to your diet/food mantra, and revel in the summer season and the bounty it brings us...it won't last long, so get on it, NOW!!

    Note: the coconut oil pie pastry is straight from Gena Hamshaw, see recipe here. It is a rich pastry, perfect for holding in all those summery fruit juices. The pastry can be made up to 2 days ahead, and chilled. Additionally, you can make it and then freeze it for up to 1 month, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and placed into a plastic bag with excess air pressed out to prevent freezer burn and drying. The coconut oil pastry makes enough for 1 9" or 10" double-crusted or lattice topped pie; if you use a larger pie tin, say 11" or 12", the recipe will make enough for 1 single-crusted pie. 

    The tapioca starch (not whole pearls!) used in the filling is my go-to thickener. I do not like arrowroot, or cornstarch, as I find they produce a slime-like filling when cooked (ew). Furthermore, they are not acid or freeze/thaw stable if you choose to use any citrus in your filling, or freeze your pie. I make tapioca starch by buying tapioca pearls (any size), and grinding them up in my coffee/spice grinder into a fine powder. 



    Strawberry Rhubarb Pie with Vegan Coconut Oil Crust // makes one 9" to 10" pie // vegan, nut-free, soy-free //

    For The Coconut Oil Pie Pastry:

    • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
    • 2 1/4 cups flour (all purpose or whole wheat pastry, or a combination)
    • 1 TB organic cane sugar or sucanant
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • 4-6 TB ice water 
    • optional: freshly grated nutmeg (strawberries and nutmeg are best buds)

    For The Filling

    • 3 1/2 cups sliced cleaned and hulled straberries (I slice mine ~1/4"-1/3" thick)
    • 3 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into ~1/2" pieces
    • 4 TB tapioca starch (see note above)
    • 2-3 TB organic cane sugar, sucanant (plus more to taste)
    • 2-3 TB honey, agave or maple syrup (plus more to taste)
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1-2 TB lemon juice
    • Zest of 1/2 lemon
    • small pinch sea salt

    1. For the pastry, it can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen (see above). Start by sifting the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Plop the coconut oil into 1-2 TB pieces on top of the dry mixture, and place into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes until the oil is firm. 

    2. With a pastry cutter or a fork, cut in the solid oil until pea-sized-ish piecs remain; some larger ones are ok, too. Sprinkle on the iced water by the TB, starting with 4 TB. Mix, adding more water by the TB until a shaggy dough that holds together when squeezed in your palm forms. Some crumbs are ok! The less water, the flakier the pastry.

    3. Dump the pastry and crumbs out on a clean surface. With a rolling pin, gently roll the round lumps of solid coconut oil into flatter pieces, as this prevents large round balls of coconut oil poking through the crust. Gather the dough into a ball, kneading gently and as little as possible. Flatten into a disk, and wrap. Store in the fridge for at least 1 hour before baking. This helps prevent the crust from shrinking when baked.

    4. Before using, be sure to take the pastry out of the freezer or fridge with enough time for it to come to room temperature for easy rolling; the coconut oil will warm up quite fast so this may only take 30 minutes from the fridge depending on the temperature of your kitchen. If you find your pastry is too warm at any point, simply pop it back into the freezer for a few minutes. 

    5. When you are ready to make the pie: preheat the oven to 400F. On a floured surface, place the disk of pastry. Cut ~2/3 for the bottom crust, leaving a bit more than ~1/3 of the pastry for the lattice top. Starting from the middle and going out towards the edges each time, roll the pastry into a 1/4" thick circle, moving the pastry around every few rolls of the pin to ensure it is not sticking to the counter. Add more flour if sticking occurs. To make sure you have rolled it out enough, place your pie tin in the center and make sure there is enough to cover the entire tin plus 1" overhang.

    6. To transfer the rolled pastry, roll the entire thing onto the rolling pin and then roll out over the pie tin. Or, fold the pastry in half, and gently lift into the pie tin. Gently coax the pastry into the edges and sides of the pie tin, being careful to not puncture or tare (but if you do, just press the dough together to seal it back together). Trim around the edges, leaving a 1" overhang. If you find that you don't have enough, simply patch on some pastry that you have trimmed off. 

    7. Make the pie filling by tossing all the ingredients in a large bowl. Taste for sweetness. I needed to add 2 TB more sugar to mine this year. Add the filling to the pie tin lined with the pastry, slightly mounding in the middle. 

    8. Make the lattice by rolling the remaining ~1/3 pastry out to ~1/4" thickness. Cut into ~1/2"-3/4" strips using a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Place half the strips evenly accross the pie. To weave, simply pick up every-other strip, and lay another one perpindicular accross (see photos below). Tip: use a butter knife or small off-set spatula to help get the thin strips off the floured surface. When done, trim any strip overhand to match the 1" bottom crust overhang, gently press both together, and fold under to make a smooth edge. Now, crimp by using whatever method you desire (see here for a great tutorial!). Brush the top of the lattice and edges of the pie with plant-based milk. If you found that your coconut oil pastry was getting a touch oily, simply pop the entire pie into the freezer for 5-10 minutes to allow it to firm up again; this will make for a flakier crust.

    9. Place the pie on a sheet tray lined with parchment (to catch drips and for easy clean up), and bake the pie at 400F for 10-12 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and bake for another 40-55 minutes, or until the top and edges are golden and the filling is bubbling throughout the entire pie. Place on a cooling rack, and allow the pie to cool for at least 2 hours. The juices will thicken and settle during this time! Slice into generous pieces, and serve with your favorite ice cream or whipped topping! 



    Pastry ingredients, ready to party:

    The cold coconut oil cut into the dry ingredients. Pea-ish size chunks are the goal!

    The pastry. I put mine back into the bowl, covered and chilled for 1 hour to let the gluten relax and coconut oil firm up a bit again. You want all those lovely specs of coconut oil, that will make for a super flakey pie crust!

    Now, the filling! The stars of the pie: freshly piced strawberries and rhubarb. So beautiful!!

    Some simple slicing, chopping and measuring for the filling!

    A gentle toss with a few spices, some sugar and sweetener, pinch of salt and some lemon.

    Now, roll the pastry...you can totally do this! Doesn't have to be perfect-it is a pie! Call it rustic...

    For the lattice top, I like to use a pizza cutter for easy strip cutting and a small offset spatula to help me get them off the floured surface. Simply cut 1/2" to 3/4" strips from the reserved ~1/3 pie pastry. Lay half all accross the filled pie: 

    Now, simply pull back every-other strip you just placed on the pie, and lay another strip down...see, easy! Martha and Betty have nothing on you. You can weave pie pastry!!!It is ok if a few strips break...just piece them back together-no one needs to know. And DONE! You did it! Trim the excess strips, tuck under with the 1" overhang of bottom pastry, and crimp. 

    Brush with milk of choice (I used almond), and if needed, pop into the freezer to firm-up that coconut oil. This ensures that the coconut oil is solid when it goes into the oven, which is key for that flakey crust we all love. No shame in having 3 giant freezer bags full of strawberries and a pint jar of gin in your freezer at this time of year! (ps: yes, that image is sideways, my real-life freezer is not). 

    Ok-we are ready to bake! The first minutes at 400F ensure lots of heat to melt the solid oil FAST, and create lots of steam to make the crust flakey. This also helps cook the crust fast, so less of the fruit juices seep in. No one likes a soggy bottom. We turn the oven down to 350F for the last 40-55 minutes to cook the fruits, concentrate the juices, and crisp the crust even more. 

    Be sure that the crust is nice a brown, and that the filling is bubbling throughout the pie. You want to see bubbles in the middle before you take the pie out. This tells you that the filling is cooked through, and won't be super soupy when cut into. Also, I highly recommend that parchment paper-this pie has no mercy when it comes to overflowing! Totally worth it. 

    And pat yourself on the back, because you are now a pie master! Serve with your favorite ice cream or whipped topping. I love Luna and Larry's Coconut Bliss in Vanilla Island. Happy Summer-ing!

  • Strawberry "Milk"shake

    Yeah, I know: a recipe with quotations HAS to be suspect. But seriously, this one isn't. But what it is: vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, refined sugar-free (only naturally occuring fruit sugars & a touch of maple syrup!), simple and delicious. No ice cream required (however, if you wanted to add a scoop or two of vanilla Luna and Larry's, that would take it to another level of awesome). 

    All you need for this is frozen ripe bananas, frozen strawberries, your favorite plant-based milk (freshly made is great for optimal creaminess, but an unsweetened pre-made milk is great, too), a simple chocolate sauce and then whipped coconut cream and cacao nibs for optional-but highly recommended-garnish. You could play around with the frozen fruit you use, but the bananas are not really optional since they are the creamy base. Raspberry and mango come to mind as other tasty alternatives for the strawberries-but please, be creative!

    I fortified mine with a heaping teaspoon of hemp hearts, since I was enjoying this as a post-run gnosh (as in, I totally inhaled an entire one by myself after a sweaty run). However, you could add your favorite plant-based protein powder, some chia sees (note: they will thicken and add some dark flecks if using black chia seeds), or just omit all of that protein nonesense entirely! Up to you. This comes together super-duper fast, and it is very likely you have all the igredients on hand. Win-win situations, on top of that fact that this is actually great for you: it is full of fruit and plant-based milk, not sugars and hard-to-digest protieins and other additives. Read: this won't make you feel like crap after you enjoy it. As much as I loved traditional milkshakes growing up, they always left me feeling a bit blah. Not anymore!! This will for sure be a staple for us this summer. It would be simple to double or triple the recipe and make these for a crowd, too. 

    The chocolate sauce can be made with a high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder, carob powder, or raw cacao powder-up to you. Sweeten with your liquid sweetened of choice (I used maple syrup), and boom: you have a simple chocolate sauce fit for topping other ice creams (banana soft serve!) or even making an iced mocha (that may be another post, soon!). Good for you, versatile and delicious...what more do you want?! You'll have a bit extra sauce left after making the milkshake, so store any extras covered in the fridge. It should last a week or so. 

    Cheers, and happy "milk" shaking!!



    Strawberry Milkshake // makes 1 large milkshake, or 2 smaller // vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, nut-free, soy-free //

    Chocolate Sauce:

    • 1 TB unsweetned cocoa powder (either natural or alkalized/Dutch is fine), cacao powder or carob powder
    • 1 TB liquid sweetener, like maple syrup or agave
    • 1 TB water
    • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract
    • very small pinch salt 

    Milkshake:

    • 1 1/2 cup plant-based milk (I used homemade cashew, but use whatever suits your taste or diet)
    • 2 large ripe bananas, frozen
    • 2 cups frozen strawberries or berry/fruit of choice
    • Optional: 1 heaping TB hemp hearts for a protein kick
    • Optional: 1 or 2 soft medjool dates for additional sweetness if using tart fruit or berries
    • Optional: cacao nibs for topping (or chocolate shavings/chips)

    Coconut Whipped Cream:

    • 4 TB coconut cream
    • Optional: maple syrup or other liquid sweetener, to taste

    1. In a small bowl or jar, mix together all the chocolate sauce ingredients until smooth. Drizzle a few spoonfuls of sauce inside the glasses you will be using for a chocolate marbled look. 

    2. In another small bowl, whip the coconut cream with optional sweetner with a fork or small whisk until light and fluffy.

    3. Place all ingredients for the milkshake into a blender. Mix until smooth and creamy, adding a splash of milk if needed to blend. Pour into chocolate drizzled glasses, top with whipped coconut cream, additional chocolate sauce and cacao nibs if deisred. Enjoy immediately!



    The stuff you will need:

    Poured into a chocolate-smeared glass (totally worth the extra 30 seconds of drizzing effort!).

    Topped and drizzled, ready to enjoy. The one below is without nibs, drizzled with the carob version of the syrup, for there is a chocolate hater amongst me. 

    Straws are optional, but add some fun! They really do. I promise.

    I think you get the picture. Go and make this, guzzle it by yourself, or be generous and share. Stay cool!