Pistachio Smoothie [v.]

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The weeks are flying by at a terrifying pace. As a senior in college, right now is when I’m supposed to be figuring out my future by applying to graduate school or finding a job. Lately, every conversation I have seems to comes back around to, “so what are you planning to do after graduation?”

Meanwhile, I’m trying to remain calm, and continue on with my schoolwork and extracurriculars. Calmness is vibrant pistachio smoothies and warm bowls of oatmeal with blueberries and granola. It’s listening to my Discover Weekly playlist in the morning as I sip hot coffee. I hope that you try out this recipe, and it brings you the boost it brings me.

pistachio3The latest non-dairy milk I’ve been enjoying is pistachio milk. Oddly, rather than tasting like pistachios, it’s super almond-y, way more than any almond milk I’ve tried. For this reason, I’m willing to bet any nut milk plus a tiny dash of almond extract would produce the same overall taste.

This smoothie is perfectly sweet and creamy, has an extra nutritional punch thanks to leafy greens, and can be made in literally any blender (I use a 14 dollar blender from amazon). Feel free to add a little extra nut milk if the smoothie seems too thick, and if you’re a granola fiend like me, definitely sprinkle some on top and eat with a spoon.

Pistachio Smoothie

  • 1 cup pistachio milk or any nut milk + 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup packed spinach leaves (be generous, you won’t taste spinach I promise)
  • 1 sliced and frozen banana
  • 1 tbs coconut flour
  • optional: 2 tbs soy protein powder or 2 tbs cashew butter

Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Enjoy! Oolala.

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Dairy-free Biscoff Ice Cream [v.]

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My favorite ice cream is the Biscoff flavor at this local ice cream shop in my hometown. It’s not what I would describe as a luxurious ice cream. It’s not exceedingly rich or overwhelmingly complex, but each bite is like a refreshing bite of chunky cookie butter. When I order it with friends, we get it sundae style, topped with chocolate shell and oreo crumbs. While I didn’t have oreos when I took the photos, chocolate shell was a must.

The ice cream’s base is lightly spiced, and there are copious rushed cookies added for texture. I’ve tried Trader Joe’s cookie butter ice cream and while good in a “how-can-you-screw-up-vanilla-ice-cream-and-cookie-butter” kind of way, it couldn’t compare to the biscoff ice cream at this shop.

Since my stomach has been rebelling against dairy as of late, I thought I’d try to make a dairy-free version of my favorite ice cream. I used a coconut cream and cashew milk base which I sweetened with brown sugar and plenty of crunchy cookie butter. I won’t lie and pretend you can’t taste any coconut because you can, but I thought the flavor paired perfectly with the cookie butter. I normally don’t like the taste of coconut, especially chocolate with coconut, ick, but the coconut flavor was mellow and if anything, enhanced the overall flavor of the recipe.

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Dairy-free Biscoff Ice Cream  – gluten free. vegan.

  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1 can’s worth cashew milk (measure with the empty coconut cream can)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup biscoff spread or trader joe’s chunky cookie butter
  • (optional: 2 tbs plain vodka, to improve scoopability)
  • 5 ounces biscoff style cookies, crushed into a mix of crumbs and chunks

To make the ice cream base, whisk together the coconut cream, brown sugar, and biscoff spread. Once smooth, whisk in the cashew milk, and vodka, if using.

Refrigerate the ice cream base until cold, and then churn in an ice cream maker according to the machine’s directions. Right as the ice cream’s finishing, add in the biscoff crumbs and let the machine go for a few more seconds until the crumbs are mixed in.

Scoop into a tupperware container and freeze for at least several hours. Or if you’re feeling impatient, eat soft serve style straight out of the ice cream maker.

Sweet Potato Brownie Adventures

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Want a tray of brownies without my delirious rambling?

Click here for my melt-in-your-mouth sweet potato brownies recipe.

Otherwise, prepare to read about my adventure in sweet potato brownies™.

Earlier this year I posted a recipe for Sweet Potato Brownies. It was an on-the-whim type of recipe that I made once, decided was good enough, and posted. They were good brownies, super melty and soft with lots of chocolate flavor, but they had a notable starchiness from the sweet potato that I couldn’t get over. Eventually I put the post on private and forgot about it.

Then yesterday I was hit with an uncontrollable and explainable desire to make the damn best sweet potato brownies, so I picked myself off the couch and went to the store to buy sweet potatoes.

Batch 1:

  • “These taste really good but they’re a bit…I don’t know…gummy?” my mom says

My motivation grows stronger. I decide some kind of fruit puree might add moistness, better yet, carrot puree which I find more mild than applesauce, and that the food processor likely overworked the sweet potato. Fork mashing it is.

Batch 2:

  • Much better texture….but what was that I tasted…..a hint of….gumminess?

They are good, but I am on a quest for the best. By this point I am also running out of maple syrup. I decide to start making half batches.

I go to sleep, dreaming of sweet potato brownies.

The next day I start immediately after work. I double the oil to 2 tbs (1/4 cup if I were making full batches), and mash the sweet potatoes with it, like when making mashed potatoes, thinking this will prevent the starch from “developing”.

Batch 3:

  • The dough has that characteristic starchy pull to it. ‘Oh no’ I think.
  • Maybe there’s too much sweet potato in the batter?
  • I am pleasantly surprised, despite 3.5 ounces of sweet potato in the batter, the final brownies have a great texture: soft, fudgy, and a bit chewy (in a good non starchy way)
  • “Oh I like these ones”my mom says

But I’m not finished yet. I decide to see what happens when I reduce the amount of sweet potato. I reduce it from 3.5 to 1.5 ounces and mash the sweet potatoes with a tsp of oil. I reduce the oil in the batter back down to 1 tablespoon.

Batch 4:

  • The dough is much more liquid-y than the other batches.
  • The middle still looks wet after baking for 10 minutes, so I have to bake it about 5 minutes more.
  • The brownies are just the way I like ’em. Soft, melty, and gooey. Probably too gooey for the average joe. Was it a fluke? Why was the dough so liquidy?

I decide to recreate a new version of Batch 4 to see whether I screwed something up that led to its liquidy batter consistency. I’ve made so many sweet potato brownies that I’m not even sure I remember how exactly to make them.

This time I add 2 ounces of sweet potato, which I mash with 1/4 tsp of oil. Probably not necessary, but who am I to question this convoluted method I’ve developed? I’ve run out of good chocolate chunks and am using shitty chocolate chips. I learn that chocolate quality really matters in brownies.

Batch 5:

  • The batter is liquidy, but slightly less than batch 4. Does .5 an ounce of sweet potato make that much of a difference? Fairly believable.
  • I add 1/4 tsp of apple cider vinegar to the sweet potatoes. I’m not sure why.
  • It’s also 10 pm and I’m too impatient to let the sweet potato fully cool so most of the (shitty) chocolate chips melt
  • I decide to go to Trader Joe’s the next day and buy some chocolate chunks because Nestle chocolate chips taste janky, which I try to rectify by adding a splash of vanilla extract
  • They’re less gooey than the last batch, but still very fudgy…it still might be a bit too much for the average person.

Is this what obsession is? Will I ever make the perfect sweet potato brownie? That day I go to the store to pick up a new bottle of maple syrup. It reads “16 1/4 cup servings”. I read “16 potential attempts at sweet potato brownies”.

I want to determine if 2 tablespoons of oil are necessary for 3.5 ounces of sweet potato, or whether I can get away with only one. But I’m going to be a bad experimenter and reduce the sweet potato to 3 ounces at the same time. I’m starting to think this is a concave problem with no absolute maxima, but I’m still hoping to stumble upon a local maxima. If only I could apply stochastic gradient descent to cooking.

The fridge has been taken over by brownies. I eat sweet potato brownies for breakfast. I’ll probably eat sweet potato brownies for lunch. I get back from work and begin measuring out ingredients. It feels like muscle memory.

Batch 6:

  • I’ve developed a batter intuition. Glossy is good. Dull means too much starch. The thinner the batter, the more gooey the brownies.
  • 3 ounces of sweet potato and 1 tbs of oil gives the most beautiful batter I’ve ever seen. Angels are singing in my head, but maybe that’s from the past restless nights of sleep.
  • After I remove the brownies from the oven (they’ve lost their shine and are matte now, I take a nap to clear the angels from my head. Post nap hunger leads me to the brownies. Cold from the fridge they’ve regained glossiness. I hesitate before I take the first bite, but as soon as I taste chocolate I realize I had been nervous for no reason.
  • The brownies are soft and fudge-y with a complex chocolate taste, and there is exactly zero gumminess to be found. They don’t taste healthy in the slightest, despite being low-fat, vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free.

I’ve found the recipe, the quest isn’t quite over. Perfection is one thing, but repeatability and scalability (I had been working with half batches) is a whole ‘nother beast.

The next day I prepare for the final and most intense battle: baking a full pan of sweet potato brownies.

Batch 7:

  • The batter looks as it should: pourable and glossy, but thick enough that I have to scoop out the last bits of batter with a spoon. The batter is a bit less glossy than batch 6, which I blame on some chocolate chips melting (hey you, let the sweet potatoes fully cool).
  • I bake them for 22 minutes. They’re matte when I take them out of the oven but I’m not too worried. I leave them on the counter to cool and transfer them to the fridge before I go to sleep.
  • The next day I try them. Angels are singing again.

In conclusion, I’m completely nuts, but hey, I have the most incredible tray of sweet potato brownies in the fridge right now. I’m going to go hibernate for a very long time, only waking occasionally to stuff my mouth with brownies (maybe not a good idea considering the instant espresso, but based on what I’ve written, it’s safe to assume my judgement’s muted). Meanwhile, you should go make some sweet potato brownies so we can bask in their glory together.

You can find the full recipe here.

Avocado, Hummus, and Chimichurri Sandwich [vegan]

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Man oh man oh man oh man. This sandwich has revolutionized my life.

It started with a recent discovery. Chimichurri sauce. It’s similar to pesto, but tastes more fresh and herb-y, and I want to put it on everything. 

I’ve made two variations of this sandwich–first with chimichurri marinated zucchini, and again with  chimichurri marinated tofu [pictured]–and both had me cackling with disbelief because there’s no way a sandwich this simple should taste this good.

I recommend fresh ciabatta bread for optimal chewy crispy goodness, but I used frozen ciabatta rolls because they were calling to me from the freezer. Finally, because the flavors of this sandwich are so refined, I recommend finding a perfectly ripe avocado to avoid the unpleasant flavors that unripe and overripe avocados have.

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Avocado, Hummus, and Chimichurri Sandwich [vegan]

Makes 1 sandwich.

  • 1 ciabatta roll
  • 2-3 tbs hummus
  • 1/4 a large avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 small zucchini or 3 ounces firm tofu
  • 1 tbs + 1 tsp chimichurri sauce
  • lemon juice
  • salt
  1. If using zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. Lightly salt and set to side for half an hour so that any excess water will be drawn out. Pat dry.
  2. If using tofu, press the tofu, and then cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.
  3. Coat the zucchini or tofu in 1 tbs chimichurri sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or sauteé at medium heat in a nonstick pan for 2-3 minutes per side.
  4. Remove the tofu or zucchini from the pan and coat with the remaining 1 tsp of chimichurri sauce.
  5. (Optional, but makes the sandwich less messy to eat: Slice the ciabatta roll in half, and scoop out about half of the bread inside. I found it was easiest to cut a rectangle in each side of the roll, leaving a 1/4 inch border between the rectangle and the edge of the bread, and shave away the bread from this rectangle. Freeze the innards to use as bread crumbs in other recipes.)
  6. Spread the hummus on the bottom half of the roll, and top with with the tofu or zucchini.
  7. Lay 1/4 of a sliced large avocado on top. Sprinkle the avocado with a pinch of salt and a few drops of lemon juice. I like adding a sprinkle of garlic powder as well.
  8. Close the sandwich and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or cook panini style on a nonstick pan at medium-low heat until the crust of the sandwich is hot and crisp. If planning to eat later, wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to a day (beyond that, the avocado gets a bit icky). Heat before serving. I brought it to work and warmed it up in a toaster oven. It was perfect!

Seitan BBQ Ribs

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So, I go to school in Texas. When my high school friends and relatives found out that I was ditching beautiful NorCal for Texas, most reactions were somewhere between shock and feigned enthusiasm. Can’t say that Texas has the greatest reputation back home.

Three years in, I’m pleased to report that the stereotypes aren’t all true (although Texan pride is a very real and wild thing), and I’ve learned some key facts from living here.

For example, did you know that what Californians classify as a barbecue is considered “grilling” in Texas? All of my life I grew up thinking that a barbecue was veggie dogs and portobella mushrooms roasted over a propane flame. BBQ sauce: what’s that?

Turns out Texans would be outright insulted by that definition. People will wait hours for fresh brisket and ribs, although I don’t blame them because I’ve done the same for sushi.

I’ve tried bits and pieces of barbecued meat (pretty good!), but have never actually sat down to a complete bbq meal. I plan to someday, but there are so many other great restaurants to try that my veggie leaning self hasn’t found the chance to yet.

Meanwhile, I’ll snack on some seitan vegan bbq that, while completely inauthentic, is still hearty and delicious. It’s made with vital wheat gluten which is a great source of plant protein, and brushed with generous amounts of bbq sauce. I already have plans for a vegan BBQ pizza. (edit: pizza was delicious. dough + tomato sauce + fresh corn + bbq ribs + TJ “cheese” + bake + top with arugula dressed with balsamic dressing + ranch on the side = the perfect sweet savory zesty combo)

Here’s the recipe:

Seitan BBQ Ribs

Lightly adapted from Baked In

  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¾ cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • ½ tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce, I used this brand
  1. In a bowl, mix together everything but the vital what gluten and barbecue sauce. Stir in the vital wheat gluten, then gently knead the mixture with your hands for a minute or two.
  2. Press the seitan dough into a greased 8×8 pan. Use a knife to cut a rectangular grid ‘rib’ pattern into the dough (a horizontal mid-line and then vertical lines 1 inch apart). Be careful not to cut completely through the dough. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
  3. Next, one option is to brush the dough with bbq sauce and grill for 5-6 minutes per side (generously brushing with sauce each time you flip it). Or, if you don’t have access to a grill, brush bbq sauce on both sides of the seitan and bake for 20 minutes, flipping and recoating with sauce after 10 minutes. Lastly, broil the seitan at high heat until its edges are dark and caramelized.
  4. Serve with coleslaw, potato salad, and of course, lots of mac and cheese.

Chocolate, Fig, & Roasted Walnut Milkshakes (dairy free. refined sugar free)

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I almost got in a fight over milkshakes once.

You see, in my humble and objectively correct opinion, milkshakes should be thick. Creamy enough to stir, but almost too thick to drink from a straw.

Apparently there are other ways to make “milkshakes” because a while ago I was sitting at lunch as my friend sloshed together milk and vanilla ice cream in a ratio that could only produce cold, barely sweet liquid with icy chunks. I asked him what monstrosity he was making, and he tried to tell me it was a milkshake. I (only half facetiously) called him a liar. I take frozen desserts very seriously.

This started a table-wide discussion on what makes the perfect milkshake, and also the start of my disillusionment with the world as I realized that most people I know prefer slurpable vs spoonable shakes.

So in a sort of compromise, I’m providing a milkshake recipe that can be tuned to your own preferences. Add more or less liquid, and the shake will be more or less thick. Magic.

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These milkshakes are far from traditional, but they’re delicious, and not in a health food substitution kind of way. If you’re a classic chocolate milkshake kinda person, just leave out the figs and sub in cashews for the walnuts, and it’ll be just as tasty. Sprinkle with granola to add the perfect crunch, and enjoy poolside or computer-side; I’ve done both.

Chocolate Fig & Walnut Milkshakes

Makes 4 large milkshakes

Note: To make classic chocolate milkshakes, increase the cashews to 1 cup, and leave out the walnuts and figs. 

In a pot bring 2 inches of water to a rolling boil. Add:

  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • ½ cup dried figs

Boil for 3 minutes, then drain. Add to a blender along with:

  • 3 cups non-dairy milk*
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts**
  • ½ cup dates
  • ¼ cup coconut palm sugar
  • ½ tsp stevia, or 2 tbs coconut palm sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder***

Blend until completely smooth and creamy.

To make milkshakes, there are 2 options:

Option 1: Chill the mixture, and then churn in an ice cream maker for 20 minutes. This should create the perfect milkshake consistency. Thin with non-dairy milk as necessary.

Option 2: Pour the mixture into an ice cube mold, and freeze. Once completely frozen, add about half of the cubes to a blender with ~½ cup of non-dairy milk, and blend! Thin with milk as necessary.

Enjoy!

*The consistency of the final milkshakes will reflect the fat content of whatever non-dairy milk you use. Use canned coconut milk for very creamy (and a bit coconut-y) milkshakes, or unsweetened cashew milk to lighten them up. Rest assured that the milkshakes will be plenty creamy regardless of what milk you use; the whole cashews and walnuts guarantee this.

**Toast the walnuts in a saucepan at medium heat until fragrant, being careful not to burn them.

***I prefer dutch-processed, but any type should do. Reduce to 2 tablespoons for a fainter chocolate taste.

On a side note, I built a lightbox over the weekend to help me take more pictures. One of the problems I’ve encountered is that I do most of my cooking early in the morning or after the sun has set, both awkward times to take photos. With this lightbox, I have pretty good lighting regardless of the hour. Expect more recipes as a result.

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Vegan Pesto Cream Sauce

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In the many months since my last post, I learned something new about myself.  I’m lactose intolerant. Boo.

Apparently it’s common for people to produce less of the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose as they get older, but nevertheless I’m feeling a bit betrayed by my body. Betrayed and a bit in denial.

Luckily, I’ve also learned that there are some delicious (and simple!) replacements for traditional cream sauces: a prime example being this pesto cream sauce.

I was inspired by this recipe (cauliflower and cashews, brilliant!), but I made some alterations to cater it to my tastes. This sauce is so rich and hearty, but not heavy and cloying like many dairy-based sauces. I’ve made it twice so far, and shared it with enough people and kids to declare it picky eater approved. Lastly, don’t let the iphone photo with exactly 0 food styling dissuade you…it was so good I couldn’t wait to eat.

Now to figure out a way to make my favorite lasagna ever without cheese.

Vegan Pesto Cream Sauce

Makes ~2 ½ cups sauce

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add:

  • 1/3 cup raw cashews
  • 2 white mushrooms* (use 1 or omit if not fond of mushrooms)
  • 4 florets cauliflower, ~¾ cup

Boil for around 10 minutes, or until the cauliflower is soft. Next, strain the boiled mixture and add to a high speed blender with:

  • 1 cup unsweetened cashew or almond milk**
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast***

Blend until completely smooth and then add:

  • 2-3 tablespoons non-dairy pesto****
  • salt, to taste

The sauce is ready! Heat up in a saucepan or microwave and add to pasta, gnocchi, vegetables, lasagna or whatever else you can think of.

Store any extra sauce in the fridge. It stores and reheats perfectly!

*I looove mushrooms and used baby bella mushrooms for the sauce pictured. I’ve also used shiitake.

** Be careful to not use vanilla cashew milk. The packaging is almost the same.

***I thought I despised nutritional yeast, but it turns out the brand I had tried (Bob’s Red Mill) has a very strong taste. I much prefer this brand.

****Most pestos have parmesan cheese, but I found a brand without any.