Crunch Candy Bars

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Spring is in the air! Here’s a sweet, adorable treat for you to share with family and friends. They would be especially cute at your Easter brunch table. I was inspired by these Homemade Twix Bars over at the phenomenal vegan blog Oh She Glows. Angela Liddon dreams up the most amazing, decadent and yet still healthful creations and you will get lost in her 500+ vegan recipes. Please go check it out!

I’m calling my version “Crunch Candy Bars” and they are a trifecta of yummy goodness with a crispy brown rice layer topped with a layer of creamy almond butter caramel and crowned with a layer of crisp chocolate. Toasted coconut provides the perfect garnish. I took a page from Angela at Oh She Glows and decided to individually wrap my candy bars. I chose squares of parchment with a sweet, yellow raffia ribbon.

This recipe makes a 9 x 13 inch pan which yields about 28 bars. But you can choose to slice these into whatever size you like. Little squares would be adorable as well! Feel free to substitute peanut butter wherever you see almond butter listed. My son has a peanut allergy which is why we are huge fans of almond butter but both would work beautifully!

 

For the crispy brown rice layer:

  • 2 cups brown rice crispy cereal (I used the Whole Foods 365 organic brand)
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
  • 2 tbsp creamy almond butter (not raw)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • pinch of sea salt if you’re using UNsalted almond butter. Otherwise, leave it out.

For the almond butter caramel layer:

  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 1 cup creamy almond butter
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp pure vanilla
  • pinch of sea salt if you’re using UNsalted almond butter. Otherwise, leave it out.

For the chocolate layer:

  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

 

Line your 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

In a small pot, add the brown rice syrup, almond butter and vanilla, bringing it to a simmer while stirring frequently. Add the optional pinch of salt and stir well to combine. Pour the brown rice crisps into a large bowl and then pour your wet mixture over the cereal, folding it gently into the cereal until evenly combined. I find a flat wooden spoon works best for this.

Next, pour the mixture into your pan and wetting your hands slightly so they won’t stick to the cereal, spread the mixture evenly into the pan, pressing down firmly into an even layer. Place the pan into the freezer while you work on your almond butter caramel.

Make your caramel by placing all the ingredients into a food processor and blending until smooth. Pull your pan out of the freezer and spread your caramel layer over the rice crisp layer, making sure it’s spread evenly. Place the pan back into your freezer again while you make your chocolate and toasted coconut.

First, toast your coconut by placing the shredded coconut in a dry skillet over low-medium heat. Watch it carefully and continue to toss it in the pan until it’s reached a uniform, golden color. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small pot over low-medium heat, combine the chocolate chips and coconut oil until blended but not yet simmering. Again, remove your pan from the freezer and spread your chocolate layer over the caramel layer. You’ll need to work quickly since the chocolate will begin to harden from the pan having been in the freezer. Once the chocolate layer is evenly atop the caramel layer, sprinkle your toasted coconut on top while the chocolate is still in somewhat liquid form.

Place the pan back into the freezer for 3 minutes and then pull it back out again and slice into bars. The reason you do this after 3 minutes is so the chocolate doesn’t harden to the point that it cracks unevenly when you go to cut it. After you’ve cut the bars, place the pan back into the freezer once again for about 10 minutes or until the bars are hardened enough to handle them.

Wrap them individually if you choose but continue to store them in the freezer. If left out too long, they’ll begin to melt which would still taste yummy but look a little less appealing. : )

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Happy eating to you all!

 

Easy Bhindi Masala

EasyBhindiMasala4Vegans love Indian food for obvious reasons. There are so many vegan options packed with intense flavor and for spice-lovers like me, enough heat to make you wipe your brow with that cloth napkin as if you were in India in May.

One of my favorite Indian dishes has always been Bhindi Masala. This dish served as my introduction to okra as I’d devour plate after plate at Naan n’ Curry’s old location on Telegraph in Berkeley. At the time I didn’t even know of okra’s amazing nutritional resume: high in vitamins C and K, folate content and fiber, just to name a few.

For those of you who have never tasted okra, the bad news is the flavor is nearly impossible to describe. Many say it’s closest in taste to eggplant or green beans. I say you just have to try it for yourself. The good news is, you’ll probably love it. My kids certainly do, especially when served alongside fragrant basmati rice and steaming hot naan. (I used this recipe for homemade naan, since most store-bought naan is not vegan.)

Indian food, like any cuisine, is an art. When I walk into an Indian restaurant I can smell the aroma from dishes that have been stewing and simmering for hours. No doubt authentic Indian requires a mastery and patience I will never know. But as a busy mother of three who couldn’t stop eyeing the beautiful okra laying relatively untouched at the market, I just knew I had to find a way to prepare this dish in a way that was simple and quick, yet still true to the original.

A final note: For those of you who have caught wind of okra’s slimy reputation, don’t fret. My version of this dish which finishes the okra by broiling it in a cast iron skillet, does the majority of the de-sliming for you. So bring on the okra!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 lbs. okra (washed, ends trimmed, sliced lengthwise then diagonally crosswise)
  • extra virgin olive oil for cooking
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • sea salt to taste

Set your oven to the highest broil setting. Place your cast iron skillet into the oven to heat up. You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to smoke a bit. If you don’t own a cast iron skillet, use a roasting pan coated with olive oil or non-stick spray but do not preheat it.

Wash and slice your okra. The mucilage (slime) reacts with water so do not soak your okra. Just wash gently and then pat dry with a towel. Heat olive oil on a frying pan and sauté your okra over medium-high heat until browned, tender and less slimy. Pour the okra into a large bowl and set aside.

In the same frying pan, sauté your garlic, shallots and ginger until golden. Add in the tomato, folding it in gently. Season with the turmeric, coriander, cumin and sea salt and then add your okra back in. Fold all the ingredients together and then pour into your preheated skillet. Broil for about 10 minutes or until slightly blackened and crispy. Ovens very considerably so just keep checking it.

Serve piping hot with  rice and/or naan.

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Happy eating!

Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze

pumpkinmaplescones3I woke up early the other morning with a hankering for pumpkin scones. I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but the prospect of digging into one of these beauties was all I needed to push off the covers and get baking. With the Winter weather beginning to give way to Spring, these pumpkin scones strike the perfect balance. The pumpkin and maple flavors are rich and warm while the sweet glaze and fresh orange zest give you a springy start to your morning.

Best of all, these are simple and quick to make so you can whip them up for your family in no time.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3-1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance or other vegan butter, at room temp
  • one, 15-oz can pumpkin puree

For the maple glaze (thanks to Kate of Cookie + Kate for this beautiful and delicious recipe!)

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • zest of one orange as garnish

Preheat your oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Cut in the vegan butter using two knives until well combined. Finally, stir in the pumpkin puree. Knead the dough with your hands and shape into cushiony triangles. If you prefer, you can go the traditional route and roll your dough into a circle then slice it into triangles. But I prefer to shape my scones by hand.

Place them onto your baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While your scones are baking, make your maple glaze by whisking together the ingredients.

When your scones have finished baking, drizzle the glaze over them and garnish by grating your orange directly over the scones while the glaze is still warm.

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Happy eating!

 

 

 

Pasta “Carbonara” with Blackened Brussels Sprouts

CarbonaraBrussels6For some reason, bacon is all the rage these days. It’s always been popular but lately we’ve been seeing bacon cupcakes, bacon-infused beer, chocolate bars with bacon bits, and even bacon-flavored lip balm. I used to be a huge fan of the stuff and perhaps the application of bacon I’ve missed most of all is Pasta Carbonara. If you crave a rich, creamy, hearty pasta dish with that touch of sweet smokiness, here’s a heart-healthy, plant-based version that’s pig-friendly too!

My cream sauce is made with non-dairy milk and nutritional yeast which gives it a cheesy flavor with the added nutrient boost of B-vitamins, fiber and protein. My “bacon” is made from slices of firm tofu marinated in vegan barbecue sauce and pure maple syrup. And I’ve added a sprinkling of blackened brussels sprout leaves, shallots, leeks and garlic to round out the dish in texture and color. A dusting of organic panko crumbs adds crunch and a visual likening to the parmesan found in the traditional version of this dish.

This was a huge hit around our dinner table. My kids almost always enjoy my cooking but every now and then I really strike gold and my girls flatter with compliments to the chef. This time my 7-year-old daughter said, “Mom, when I come home from college, will you make this?” Planning for the future, that one.

Here’s what you’ll need to recreate this crowd-pleaser in your own home (makes about 6 hearty servings):

For the tofu “bacon”

  • 1 package firm tofu, well-drained and sliced into small strips
  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tsp rib or other meat seasoning (I use Whole Spice Napa Valley’s Rib Rub that contains sugar, sea salt, black pepper, garlic, onion, cumin, and chili)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the brussels mixture

  • about 2 cups brussels sprout leaves (rinse, slice off ends of sprouts, discard any yellowish or damaged outer leaves, then peel and keep the underlying leaves. Save the centers–what you can’t peel–to cook another time)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, sliced lengthwise then crosswise
  • olive oil

For the pasta (for a gluten-free version of this dish, use g-f pasta and g-f flour)

  • 16-oz package of vegan pasta (fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti)
  • 3 tbsp Earth Balance vegan buttery stick
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 cups soy milk
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Set your oven to broil on its highest setting and set your water to boil for your pasta.

Start by making your tofu “bacon.” Heat your olive oil on a skillet and place the tofu strips in a single layer over medium-high heat, turning them over until both sides are browned and crispy. This can take awhile as any excess water needs to be cooked out, but be patient. Your tofu will be more convincing if you can get it crispy. Lower the heat to medium and toss the tofu with the rib rub/meat seasoning. Add the maple syrup, allowing it to caramelize onto the tofu. Finally, add the barbecue sauce and cook until well-coated and sizzling. Remove from heat and set aside. As you work on preparing the other elements of this dish, your tofu will take on a meatier, thicker texture.

CarbonaraBrussels4Next up is the brussels sprout mixture. Place your cast iron skillet into the oven to preheat.  If you don’t have a cast iron, use a deep roasting pan but no need to preheat it. Toss all the ingredients into a mixing bowl with olive oil to coat.

Tossing the greens with olive oil

Tossing the greens with olive oil

Place into your preheated skillet and broil, turning occasionally, until the vegetables are blackened and crispy on the edges.

Blackened to perfection

Blackened to perfection

CarbonaraBrussels2Turn your oven off but keep the brussels mixture in the pan to retain its heat.

Boil your pasta to al dente.

To make your cream sauce, heat the vegan butter and flour in a medium saucepan, whisking it together to make a paste. Add in the salt and soy milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. It will have taken on a thick consistency. Lower the heat and whisk in the nutritional yeast, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Toss your cooked pasta with the cream sauce, then gently fold in the tofu. Serve into pasta bowls with a heaping spoonful of the brussels sprout mixture on top. Finally, sprinkle with panko crumbs and serve!

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Happy eating!

 

Mini Deep Dish Apple-Pomegranate Pies

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Whether you’re into the whole Valentine’s Day thing or not, who can resist a sweet, miniature, piping hot pie, topped with a little bit of love? These little pies are the perfect treat for a special day. They’re fun to make, adorned with that bit of detail that comes only with homemade goodies, and best of all, everyone gets their own! I made these for my family of five and love was clearly in the air.

This recipe makes 6 miniature pies. I made four of mine in ramekins and the other two in deep, oven-safe glass dishes. Both worked out perfectly.

Whip these up as a sweet ending to a cozy meal at home with your loves, or consider serving them as a sweet surprise for breakfast in bed!

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the pie dough

  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup vegan buttery stick, at room temp
  • 3/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened soy)
  • non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening for greasing the ramekins
  • 1 tbsp vegan butter, melted
  • 1 tsp beet powder (be sure to save this for the last step of the recipe!)

For the filling

  • 3 medium apples, washed, cored and diced
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 425 and grease your ramekins with the vegetable shortening.

In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients and then set aside.

Next, make your pie dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, 2 tbsp sugar and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture is somewhat crumbly. Stir in the milk until just moistened. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until well combined. Then break the dough into 13 even balls (yes, 13!).

Roll the first ball into a large circular shape and place it into the ramekin, pressing it down evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Do this with 5 more balls until each ramekin has a bottom crust. Take your melted butter and using a basting brush, coat each bottom crust.

Distribute your pie filling equally into the 6 ramekins.

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The pie filling atop the bottom layer of dough

Next take 6 more dough balls, roll them out into circles, and place them carefully atop each pie. Use the tines of a fork to seal the pies and give them that old-fashioned look.

Once you’ve sealed all six pies, take that last (thirteenth) dough ball and knead it together with the beet powder. It will have a sort of marbleized pink appearance. Roll out your pink dough and using a paring knife, hand cut six little hearts. If you’re not confident in your hand-cutting skills, feel free to use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Place a heart atop each pie and then cut venting slits around each heart. It’ll look like the hearts are bursting with love. : )

Use your basting brush to coat each top crust with more melted butter and then these little beauties are ready for the oven.

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Bake for 25 minutes or until the crusts are golden brown and the fruit juices have started to bubble to the surface. Serve piping hot, perhaps with non-dairy vanilla ice cream as we did!

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Out of the oven!

Minideepdishpies7Minideepdishpies9Minideepdishpies10Minideepdishpies11Happy eating and Happy Valentine’s Day!

xoxo,

Lauren