Spotlight

Roasted Red Pepper Footuccine

Behold this toetally toeriffic new chopping technique:

Toeriffic new chopping techniqueI don’t recommend trying this method unless you too have broken your hand mountain biking and can’t grip a damn thing in your left hand/club. It also helps if you do a whole lot of yoga and have freakishly good grip with your toes. (Can you hear the gasps from friends who have eaten at my house recently? “You chopped my veggies with your feet?! Oh my God – EW!”) (Heh heh heh heh)

Which brings us to the yummy vegan recipe of the day: Roasted Red Pepper Footuccine. (Well, I used penne pasta, but footuccine sounds much more spectoecular!) Pan-roasting the onion, red peppers and tomatoes brings out a deep, smoky, caramelized flavor that is so satisfying on a cold winter night. The cannellini beans add a kick of protein, and they soak up the rich, savory goodness of the white wine sauce as it reduces. Be sure to finish with toasted herbed breadcrumbs and pine nuts to add a nice crunch to the dish.  This meal so easy to prepare that you can make it with one hand tied behind your back (or encased in a cast).

roasted red pepper penne

Roasted Red Pepper Footuccine
From fridge to table: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6

3 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped into thin strips
1/2 of a yellow onion, chopped into thin strips
large handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt (preferably a flavored salt, like porcini salt)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes, to taste
10 oz fresh penne pasta, or about 3/4 pound dry penne
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
a handful of toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup toasted herbed bread crumbs (I like using panko since it’s so crunchy)

Preheat oven to 425. Toss the red peppers, onion, tomatoes and rosemary in 1-2 tbsp olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Roast – stirring a couple times while cooking – until veggies are very tender and red peppers start to blacken, about 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large chef’s pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Saute the garlic until fragrant and tender, about 2 minutes. Add wine, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and beans; cook for a few minutes until the wine reduces to about 1/2 cup. Cook and drain the pasta. Toss pasta with roasted veggies, wine sauce and fresh basil. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with toasted pine nuts and toasted bread crumbs. Then high five yourself with your foot and enjoy!

Roasted red pepper pasta

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Bake the World a Better Place: Vegan Meyer Lemon Cake

Vegan meyer lemon cake

What could be better than seeing the look of pure joy on someone’s face when you bake them an awesome, beautiful, delectable Meyer lemon cake? Well, the fact that it took you only about 35 minutes start-to-finish makes it better. And for me, what makes the moment even sweeter is when I get to serve this yummy cake to a die-hard carnivore, knowing that in just moments when they’re moaning with joy, I get to see their jaws drop when I tell them that this cake is vegan…and healthy, and good for the environment, and good for animals!

That’s right, this moist, delicious, lemony heaven-cake has no animal products at all.  And since it uses olive oil to make it moist (which has a host of benefits, from helping to prevent strokes and heart disease to protecting cells from damage), and agave nectar as a sweetener (which means your blood sugar level won’t spike), it’s a healthy dessert. Without traditional animal-based cake ingredients, like eggs, milk and butter, it saves some chickens and cows while also being better for the environment.

So bake the world a better and happier place by making this easy, super yummy crowd-pleaser that will make both carnivores and vegans smile. Happy holidays!

– Cimeron

Meyer lemon cake with berries

Cimeron’s Vegan Meyer Lemon Cake
From pantry to table: about 35 minutes
Serves: 8

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour *
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
Zest of one Meyer lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract

Mixed berries to serve on top

* I like baking with whole wheat pastry flour since it makes desserts lighter and fluffier. I get mine at Whole Foods, but you can find it at most high-end grocery stores or health food stores.

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a Bundt pan lightly with oil.  In a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, blend the olive oil, agave nectar, water, lemon juice, zest and vanilla extract. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and blend just until the lumps are gone. Pour into your Bundt pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cake, invert, dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh mixed berries or a simple compote. (To make a compote, toss the berries in a bowl with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and agave nectar to taste – let sit for 15-30 minutes to allow the berries soften and release some juices).

This cake is definitely best when served on the same day it’s baked. Be sure to ziplock and refrigerate the leftovers to keep it moist. Enjoy!

How is it possible that my pencil-thin Meyer lemon tree produced approximately 8000 lemons this year? And how is it still upright?!

How is it possible that my pencil-thin Meyer lemon tree produced approximately 8000 lemons this year? And how is it still upright?!

Play with your nuts: Mexican Chili-Lime Peanuts, Spiced Maple-Glazed Pecans, Wasabi-Soy Almonds

Welcome to the third and final installment of the Great Spiced Nut Series! How about we play with our nuts today and dress them up with some yummy international flavors?  (Hey, is that your mind right there in the gutter? Okay, I sort of lead you there, but still!) So today we’re off to Mexico for Chili-Lime Peanuts, to the American South for Spiced Maple-Glazed Pecans, and Japan for Wasabi-Soy Almonds. These are all so addictive and delicious that you’re going to proclaim to one and all the joys of playing with your nuts. Enjoy, and please let me know which ones you like best!

Mexican Chili-Lime PeanutsMexican Chili-Lime Peanuts
From pantry to table: about 45 minutes
Chili + lime + peanuts + salt = heaven. Seriously, need I say more? Just imagine these classic flavors together – if you cannot taste them on your tongue right now, I’m sorry to tell you this, but I think your taste buds are dead.

3 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp chili powder
½ tsp smoked sea salt
1 cup roasted but unsalted peanuts

Heat oven to 250. In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients except peanuts. Then add peanuts and toss to coat. Toss all of this onto a parchment-lined pan and roast for 30-45 minutes, until toasted and the liquid is fully absorbed. Be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so. Serve once they’re cooled.

Spiced Maple-Glazed Pecans

From pantry to table: about 15 minutes
These nuts are slightly sweet, a little sticky, a teeny bit spicy, a touch smoky, and totally delicious. They’re especially fantastic on salads, but they’re also great on their own.
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1 cup raw pecans
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cumin
generous pinch of allspice
pinch of cayenne
¼ tsp smoked sea salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp maple syrup
 
Heat oven to 350. Toast pecans for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a metal bowl, combine the spices. Add in the maple syrup and blend well. When nuts are done, toss them in the syrup/spice mixture for a few minutes until fully coated. Spread them in a single layer on parchment paper and cool completely.

Wasabi-Soy AlmondsWasabi-soy almonds
From pantry to table: about 16 minutes
If you like things a little spicy and crunchy, this recipe is for you! The rich flavor of soy and the clean-hot flavor of wasabi are a match made in heaven, and the smoky flavor of toasted almonds brings it all together to make a perfect snack. 

1 cup raw almonds

sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
generous dash of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
dry rub:
1 1/2  tsp wasabi powder
1/4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp smoked sea salt
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Heat oven to 350. Toast almonds for 10 minutes. While that’s happening, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Toss the hot, toasted almonds in the sauce and coat well. Then roast the almonds for another 6 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes so the sauce doesn’t burn.  (The nuts will be a little bit damp when you take them out, but that’s fine – it’ll help the dry rub stick to the nuts.) While that’s happening, in a dry metal bowl, mix together the dry rub ingredients. When the nuts are ready, toss them vigorously with the dry rub ingredients until coated. Enjoy!

Thai-Spiced Peanuts and Smoky Spanish Cashews

Welcome to part two of the spiced-nut recipe series! Today we’re visiting Thailand and Spain with our taste buds. And special bonus: scroll down to the bottom to learn how to make these cute mini chalkboard clips, which are really great for labeling party food. It’s also great for freaking out your friends who will be convinced that a deranged person is running loose in your house and labeling things with chalk. (Please do not tell me that you write beautifully with chalk because this will thwart my efforts to convince my husband that everyone looks like they have maniac  handwriting when they write on chalkboards.)

Thai-Spiced Peanuts

Thai-Spiced Peanuts
From pantry to table: about 35 minutes
If you’re a fan of Thai red curry, you are going to love these nuts, which feature the rich, slightly spicy, aromatic flavors of Thailand. Plus, these spiced nuts are super unique. Nummy!

1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
3 tbsp lime juice
2 1/2 tsp Thai red chili paste (available in the Asian food section of most grocery stores) (add more paste if you want angry nuts and/or you want to be a fire-breathing dragon)
½ tsp smoked sea salt
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp dried basil

Heat oven to 250. In a small bowl, blend together all but the peanuts, then add peanuts to coat. Pour into a parchment-line baking pan and roast for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minuets. Cool completely, then watch them disappear.

Smoky Spanish Spiced Cashews Smoky Spanish Spiced Cashews
From pantry to table: 11 minutes
These nuts are pretty much my new addiction. The combination of smoky paprika with rosemary, brown sugar and salt is just flipping ridiculous. People go nuts (sorry for the pun) when I serve these. This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s The New Classics.

2 cups raw, unsalted cashews
2 tsbp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp smoked sea salt
1 tbsp Earth Balance spread

Heat oven to 350 and toast the cashews for 10 minutes until golden. Meanwhile place all the other ingredients in a metal bowl. When the cashews are ready, mix them vigorously with the spice mixture until the Earth Balance melts and the cashews are fully coated. Cool and don’t even bother serving – just spoon them directly into your gullet.

How to make mini chalkboard clips
You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make these cute little chalkboard clips. They’re super quick and easy to make. Just head down to (or go online to) Michael’s Craft Store and pick up any shape of wood cut-out you like. Here are a few that I picked out:

wood cut-outs for chalkboards

Next, buy some wooden clothespins, chalkboard paint (it comes in a variety of colors) and chalk – all available at the craft store. I also bought a $2 glue gun and some glue sticks to make this project go even quicker. Clip the clothespins onto something so they’re suspended off your work surface, then glue the wooden cut-outs onto the ends of the clips. chalkboard clips in the makingOnce dry, apply three coats of chalkboard paint, waiting until the paint is totally dry between applications. Then try like hell not to write like a serial killer on your new mini chalkboards.

Go Nuts with These Easy Spiced-Nut Recipes

Spiced nuts

The holidays are here, so it’s time for that annual freak-out-festival of “Oh My God, what am I going to make for all those people coming over, and gifts for the neighbors, and snacks for shopping, and and and… akkkk!” Never fear, my friends, for I am about to blitz you with a ton of spectacular, tasty and easy spiced nut recipes straight from my kitchen. Featuring flavors from around the world, there’s something here to suit every palate: Indian curried cashews; Truffled-honey hazelnuts; Mexican chili-lime peanuts; spiced maple-glazed pecans; Thai-spiced peanuts; smoky Spanish cashews. I don’t want your heads to explode, so I’ll dish out two of these recipes at a time over the next few days.

These nuts make elegant appetizers, they’re tasty snacks, and they’re fantastic as gifts. Plus they’re high in protein, and did I mention that they take no time at all to make? In short: they kick ass.

But before we get to the nuts, exciting news: have you heard that Jay Z and Beyonce are going to try being vegan for the next 21 days? This is great for them, but even better for us! Next time you’re at a restaurant without vegan options on the menu and you ask the chef to make you a plant-based dish, if the waiter gives you that look – you know the one I’m talking about – you can now throw some attitude back at him: “Would you give that look at Jay Z or Beyonce?! Hmm?” (You may also want to follow that with: “Please don’t spit in my food.”)

Why are Beyonce and Jay Z doing it for just 3 weeks? No, it’s not because they’re special guests at a Fresh Meat Festival at the end of the month. (By the way, there really is such a thing…but I think it might disappoint some carnivores. Google it!)  According to some psychologists, it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. So if you know some carnivores who want to convert, tell them about Jay Z and Beyonce’s 21-day vegan challenge and see if that helps. If that doesn’t work, maybe try giving them that look and spitting on their meat? 😉

In honor of all converting carnivores, the holidays, and everyone with taste buds, here are the first two recipes in my 3-part installment of super easy and extremely delicious spiced nut recipes. Enjoy!

(Oh, and how do you like my mini-chalkboard clips?  They’re great for labeling food for parties. I’ll show you how to make these yourself in an upcoming post, so start channeling your inner Martha Stewart and stay tuned!)

Huh, when using chalk, my handwriting looks like that of a serial killer. (Why is my husband hiding the knives?)

Huh, I just recognized that my handwriting looks like that of a serial killer. Hey, why is my husband hiding the knives?

Indian Curried Cashews
From pantry to table: 11 minutes

If you like the flavors of India, you’re going to love these cashews. (And if you don’t like Indian flavors, what is wrong with you?!) These are crazy-easy to make and when you toss the hot nuts in the spice mixture, it unleashes intoxicating aromas that make your house smell heavenly.

2 cups raw, unsalted cashews
1 tbsp curry powder (personally, I like doing ½ tbsp of curry powder and ½ of garam masala – yum!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp olive oil
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Heat oven to 350. Roast the cashews for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium metal bowl, mix all the spices and oil. When the nuts are ready, immediately toss them with the spice/oil mixture for a couple of minutes to coat completely. The nuts are HOT, so it’s important to use a metal bowl instead of plastic (which will melt) or glass (which may crack). Cool completely, then watch people vacuum them up.

Truffled-Honey Hazelnuts*Honey truffled hazelnuts
From pantry to table: about 15 minutes

Mmm, these are so addictive!  The beautiful, elegant flavor of truffles compliments the earthy flavor of the roasted hazelnuts and the slightly sweet taste of honey just perfectly. Serve this to guests you want to impress…or just hoard them all for yourself.

1 cup hazelnuts (preferably with skin removed)
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp truffle salt

Heat oven to 350. In a small bowl, microwave honey for about 15 seconds, until it becomes a little more liquid. Toss the hazelnuts in the honey and coat well.

Line a small baking pan with parchment paper and pour out honeyed nuts in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, then remove from oven and immediately sprinkle on the truffle salt. Cool completely – the honey coating will harden upon cooling. Then break them up and serve, or store in an airtight container. Oh who are we kidding? Just scarf them down and screw everyone else – you deserve it!

*Please note that I did not call these “filberts.” Because that is just wrong. Whoever is behind the evil plot to change the beautiful name of hazelnut to the dumpy hick name of “filbert” (probably some nut farmers named Phil and Burt – we’re onto you!), we must resist!

Super Simple Scrumptious Savory Soup

Multi-grain super simple soup
Have you ever heard a friend tell you: “Oh you really like this soup? I just whipped it up using whatever I could find in my fridge, it only took 15 minutes.” And did you force and smile while thinking: “A-hole! I haven’t even found time to shower today.” Well my friends, never fear, for today you will become that a-hole! That’s right, with this simple, hearty and delicious dish, you’ll be that much-envied home chef who can magically create a scrumptious and healthy soup from scratch in no time at all using scraps from your cupboard and fridge. And bonus: it’s a one-pot meal, so clean-up is quick and painless.

Harvest grains

Thanks to the Israeli couscous, orzo, quinoa and chickpeas, this savory soup is quite filling and has a nice backbone to it. The rich flavors of the tomatoes and red pepper really shine, and they do a great job of hiding the zucchini and carrots (which is essential for those of us who want our veggie-averse loved-ones – like my husband – to eat and enjoy this soup). It’s also versatile – if you’re more in the mood for a thick stew, just use less broth.

So get ready to make your taste buds and your body very happy! It’s a perfect meal to make at the end of a busy day. And if you share a bowl with your friends and tell them how quickly you cheffed up this yummy soup using “just a little of this and that I found in my fridge and pantry,” be sure to enjoy watching them force a fake smile to mask the fact that they’re screaming “a-hole!” inside their heads.

Multi grain soup ingredients

Super Simple Savory Multi-Grain Soup

From pantry to table: about 20 minutes
Serves: 4

½ of a large onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chili de arbol, broken (optional – if you want a spicy little kick)
1 cup tomatoes, chopped
½-3/4 cup carrots, chopped
4-6 cups vegetable broth (use for if you want stew, 5-6 if you want a thinner soup)
½ cup “mixed grains” *
1 tsp dried oregano
2 zucchinis, sliced lengthwise then cut into half-moons
salt and pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice, to taste

* For your mixed grains, be sure to choose those that take the same amount of time to cook. For example, I like using Israeli couscous (which is fatter and chewier than regular couscous), quinoa, orzo and chopped chickpeas. Trader Joes has their own blend of this called “Harvest Grains,” which is quite nice.

In a large soup pot over medium-high, sauté the onion in about 1 tbsp of olive oil for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for 1 minute, then add the red bell pepper and chili de arbol (if using). Continue stirring until the onion is limp and translucent. Add the tomatoes and oregano and cook for 1 minute, then add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, toss in the carrots and mixed grains and stir well. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, stir in the zucchini, cover and cook for another 5 minutes.

Season with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice. Enjoy!

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Delicious Syrian Treat: Nuts and Wheat Berries Bejeweled with Pomegranate

Syrian Treat - YUM!

Looking for an incredibly tasty, unique breakfast (or dessert) treat with exotic flavors? This delicious, healthy dish will do the trick! Toasty notes of roasted nuts, coconut and wheat berries are beautifully balanced with warm cinnamon and bright little bursts of tangy pomegranate. Toasted fennel seeds add a dash of mystery on the palate with its faint hint fragrant licorice. Mmmm, this dish is so yummy and unlike anything you’ve ever tried! A bowl full of this high-protein, fiber-packed goodness will satisfy your taste buds, your belly and your whole body.

I’m not exactly sure what to call this dish (hence the lame name I’ve given it). A Syrian friend once made it for me many years ago and I’ve long forgotten the name. She told me it’s a dish that her family made for special occasions, but she always had some in her fridge to eat for breakfast; she also liked to spoon over yogurt and ice cream. I became an instant addict and have been making it (and modifying it) ever since.

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In addition to the trio of toasted nuts, its other main ingredient is the all mighty wheat berry. This little super grain is an unprocessed wheat kernel, which is packed with minerals, fiber and vitamins. In addition to lowering your risk of various cancers and heart disease, wheat berries have a lovely earthy flavor and a slight crunch – they’re really great in this dish.

Best of all, this tasty treat is bejeweled with the fruit of my people: the luscious pomegranate, which is as delectable as it is good for you. Honestly, is there any better taste of fall than ripe pomegranates? Well, I suppose there’s one: pomegranates that someone else has seeded for you – somehow, those always taste better!

So get ready to make your taste buds happy with this delicious Syrian Treat! (And please message me if you come up with a better name for it!)

Cimeron’s Syrian Treat

From pantry to table: about 45 minutes
Serves: 8

1 cup toasted, unsalted pistachios*
1 cup toasted, unsalted walnut pieces*
1 cup toasted, unsalted pine nuts*
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
1 cup wheat berries (available at Whole Foods and other natural food stores)
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tbsp brown brown sugar

* if you can’t find pre-toasted nuts, just buy raw nuts and roast them in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes.

First step is to soak and cook the wheat berries. These are tough grains, so soak them overnight, then add them to a large pot with about 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the grains are tender, about 45 minutes. Then drain the wheat berries and put them in a large bowl.

(I like to save time and use my pressure cooker. If you have one too, here’s how you cook the wheat berries. There’s no need to soak them overnight. Just 3 cups of water, 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 cup of wheat berries in your cooker and cook under high pressure for 40 minutes. Drain and add to a bowl.)

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 350. Spread fennel seeds in single layer on a cookie sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Spread coconut onto a separate cookie sheet and toast until golden, about 6-8 minutes. Add both to the bowl with the wheat berries.

Add the pomegranate seeds, toasted nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt. Stir well to blend, then serve and enjoy!

You can store this in the fridge for 5-7 days. (Who am I kidding? Once you taste it, it will be gone very quickly!)

Shutdown Survival Foods

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Just in time for Halloween, reports of disease-infested meats are starting to come in. Goody! Unfortunately this is no trick-or-treat – USDA food inspections have been suspended due to the Congressionally-induced government shutdown. (I saw a poll today that showed that Americans prefer dog poop, head lice and colonoscopies to Congress – seems about right!) If you’d like to avoid salmonella and survive the impending zombie apocalypse (have I been watching too much cable news?), it’s a great time to go vegan! Since salmonella is most commonly found in food products that come from animals, it’s easy to steer clear of it: just don’t eat meat or animal products. Simple as that!

Here are two super quick, extremely tasty animal-free snacks that will put a smile back on your face: tomato-basil hummus and pan-roasted shishito peppers. Both take just minutes to prepare, and extra bonus, one of them has a built-in handle for easy hurling at your TV, a member of Congress, or whatever…

Oh, and if you have any old, potentially E. coli-laden meats in your fridge, no need to let them go to waste – just send them to Congress as a special “gift” for their excellent service.  Trick or treat! 😉

Tomato basil hummus

Tomato-Basil Hummus
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 5 minutes

2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp fresh basil leaves
½ cup sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for a few minutes to soften
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if you’ve got basil-infused olive oil, now is the time to use it! My favorite is from 11Olives.com – deeelish!)
A little water, 1 tbsp at a time, to taste

Toss everything except oil and water into a food processor and grind until smooth. Drizzle in the oil, then drizzle in water – one tablespoon at a time – until you reach desired consistency. Personally, I like this hummus a little thinner than a typical hummus, but it’s totally up to you!

Pan-roasted shishito peppers - yum!

Pan-Roasted Shishito Peppers
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 10 minutes

Grab a basket of these beautiful little peppers from your local farmer’s market, then heat up your wok to super-hot. Pour in a little high-temperature oil (like grape seed oil), then slide in the peppers. I like to slide them down the sides of the pan to avoid oil-splatter. Stir vigorously until they’re a little deflated and thoroughly charred. Turn off heat and toss in some smoked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, then serve (or huck at the TV – your choice).

Enjoy!

Pig Out On Vegan Chocolate Cake

This cake will make you as happy as a piggy in a mud bath!

This cake will make you as happy as a piggy in a mud bath!

Converting carnivores, rejoice! You’re going to hog wild when you try this moist, delicious, luscious vegan chocolate cake!

I made this cake for my veterinarian, who is a serious chocoholic and one of the most wonderful people on earth. He provides incredibly compassionate veterinary care to the cats of Project Bay Cat, which is a humane feral cat management program that I co-founded 9 years ago. When I told him I wanted to make him a vegan cake to thank him for his kindness, he cocked his head and looked at me suspiciously, like he was trying to avoid a sucker punch.

“If it’s vegan, it’ll be good for me, so that means that it can’t taste good.  How could you possibly make it without butter, milk and eggs?” he asked with a far-off and somewhat fearful look in his eyes, probably envisioning a cake made of sawdust and frosted with spackle.

The challenge was on and I was determined to knock his socks off. To help overcome his vegan fears, I thought I’d distract him with a cute little pigs-in-a-hot-tub motif.

pig out on vegan chocolate cake

Much to my surprise, I was able to find a vegan version of the KitKat bar to create the siding for the hot tub – the dark chocolate version sold in Canada doesn’t have any animal-based ingredients – bonus!

When my vet saw this cake, he laughed out loud, and when he and his lovely wife tried it, they said it was the best chocolate cake they’ve ever had.

Give this a try – even without the cute pigs or the hot tub, it’ll still make you smile. It’s super simple and quick to make, and it’s moist, scrumptious and guilt-free!

Vegan Chocolate Cake (pigs in a hot tub edition)

Cake ingredients:
2 1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cup water
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp distilled white vinegar

Frosting ingredients:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 tbsp coconut milk
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan margarine (or equivalent)
¾ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp agave syrup

Other ingredients:
8 dark chocolate vegan KitKat bars, scored into 32 individual ‘logs’

Cake directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Oil  and flour two 8″ round pan. This is a very moist cake, which makes it somewhat challenging to remove from the pan once baked. So use some parchment paper on the bottom of the pan so the cake will easily pop out when done.

In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients well. Then add all the wet ingredients and stir well. Pour into baking pans and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto wax paper or parchment.

Frosting directions: 
In a high-sided mixing bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and cocoa. Add all the remaining ingredients, and using an electric beater, mix on low speed for one minute, scraping sides of bowl. Then mix on high for another minute or two until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Hot tub assembly:
I went for a smaller hot tub, so I cut off about an inch around the perimeter of the cakes. Place one cake in the middle of a plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Then place the second cake on top. Spread some frosting on top and place your piggies in the ‘mud puddle.’  Frost the sides of the cake generously as this will act as the glue to hold up the KitKat bar siding. Carefully place the KitKat bars shoulder to shoulder, with the unmarked side facing out. To make them even more uniform, gently tie a wide-banded ribbon around the lower section of the hot tub. Then serve and listen to your friends and family squeal when they see this delicious vegan treat!

Sing Summer’s Song with Plum Granita

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It was close, but I’m happy to report that we survived Plumageddon! During a 3-week period every summer, our beautiful old plum tree dumps enough fruit to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. A few years ago, in a desperate attempt to put all the fruit to good use, I tried 14 plum recipes, and this one – elegant, vibrant Plum Granita – emerged as the Big Hit. It just sings summer! It’s my taste buds’ favorite summer song, and our friends request it more often than a 12 year-old asks to hear One Direction.

It’s no wonder why this granita so popular –  every spoonful of this icy delight bursts with the bright, sun-ripened taste of fresh plums. It’s got much more true-fruit flavor (and a lot less sugar) than sorbet, and its hint of fresh vanilla bean, allspice and cinnamon create a memorable melody of luscious flavor that will make you hum with joy. And bonus – it’s a healthy, fruit-filled alternative to fat-laden, dairy-based desserts. Plum Granita is a snap to make, and since it keeps well in the freezer, you can make a big batch and keep playing this hit throughout the year.

Enjoy!

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Plum Granita

3 pounds red plums, pitted and chopped
1.5 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole allspice berries
1 fresh vanilla bean

In a small pot stir together water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and allspice berries. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds and stir into the mix. Add the sliced vanilla bean as well, then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced to about 1.5 cups. Cool the syrup.

While the syrup cools, puree the plums in a food processor or blender. Place a sieve over a big bowl and press the pureed plums through it.

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This will fill your bowl with a thick liquid that looks kind of like a plum smoothy. Throw away the plum solids. Mix the cooled syrup into plum ‘smoothy’ and stir until well blended. Put the mixture into a Tupperware bowl and freeze for 1 hour. Then stir the mixture thoroughly with a fork, and repeat ever 45 minutes until you create a lovely, fluffy, light icy granita. Yum!

Can you see the tiny black specks? Those are vanilla seeds, which add a heavenly, aromatic dimension to this elegant dessert.

Can you see the tiny black specks? Those are vanilla seeds, which add a heavenly, aromatic dimension to this elegant dessert.