Birthday Cupcakes for Me! Sandy Vanilla Bean.

My 29th birthday this past Saturday was full of snow, smiles and Sandy Vanilla Bean Cupcakes. Check out my scrumptious birthday cupcakes, and why I think blueberries should be named purpleberries!...

Birthday Snow! This year, I experienced my very first ever birthday snowstorm. Fun! I spent the day snow-strolling, bday brunching, baking cupcakes, then going out for a bday Fiesta dinner. (I always boast about my long line of fabulous bday dinners with my husband: Candle 79, Blossom NYC, Dos Caminos Park Ave, Le Bernadin and Nora's in DC. This bday was also awesome.


Sandy Shore Cupcakes. It's funny when my birthday rolls around because all I want to do is help out with the bday treats. Plus my husband's homemade treat specialty is brownies...and that's about it. So we were excited to craft my bday cupcakes together.

Ocean Cupcakes. It's the middle of winter, and I wanted beach cupcakes! Blue and aqua frosting with a side of sandy shore sugar on top. I wanted vanilla bean cupcakes with a vanilla cashew cream frosting - dyed blue to match the ocean. Lets just say my plan didn't work out. I had been inspired by the beautiful color of Martha Stewart's blue-frosted beach cupcakes here. However, my tidepool dreams dried up and I was left with nothing but a sandy, yet delicious, shore...


Fruity Food Coloring. My big plan was to use fresh pulverized blueberries as the 'natural blue food coloring'. Lesson learned: blueberries do not make a blue color...they make icing a light pastel purple! Hmm...maybe they should've named them purpleberries. So when my ocean color didn't work out, I decided to nix the ocean and simply do seaside sandy shore cupcakes. The 'sandy shore' was a combo of orange sugar sprinkles and crushed graham cracker crumbs. I did do a nice "whole blueberry" ocean on a few of the cupcakes. It was fun, the cupcakes were delicious and that's really all that matters.





Here is the recipe my husband used for the cupcake batter, and my frosting:

Sandy Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
vegan

1 box Dr.Oetker organic Vanilla Cake Mix
1/4 cup organic canola oil
1 large ripe organic banana, mashed
*my egg replacer
1 cup soy milk, vanilla
1 whole vanilla bean, seeds scraped
dash of cinnamon
dash of baking powder

Cashew Cream Frosting
vegan
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp vegan buttery spread, softened
1 cup raw cashews, unsalted
3 Tbsp soy or hemp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean seeds
*I adjusted the ingredients until my desired thickness was reached.

Topping
Orange colored natural sugar sprinkles
8 graham crackers + 2 dashes cinnamon
optional: blueberries on top

Directions:

1. Combine cake batter ingredients, stir well.

2. Pour cupcake batter into paper muffin cups.

3. Place muffins into preheated 350 degree oven.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

5. While cupcakes are cooking, prepare frosting. Add all ingredients to a food processor. Add cashews last. You will need to process long enough to break cashews into tiny bits. Chunky is OK too.

6. You may want to adjust ingredients for frosting to meet your needs. Add more buttery spread for a creamier, richer frosting. Add more cashews for a milder in sweetness and 'chunkier' frosting. Add more sugar for a super thick sweeter frosting. Place frosting in fridge to harden. Note: You will need to store frosted cupcakes in the fridge when using a "buttery spread" based frosting.

7. Crush your graham crackers/cinnamon in a food processor. Pour into a shallow bowl and set aside.

9. Remove cupcakes from oven and allow to cool completely - about 45 minutes. The frosting should be firm by now as well.

10. Frost cupcakes.



11. Dip into orange sugar topping, followed by graham cracker crumbs. Add blueberries (opt'l).

Place cupcakes in fridge until ready to be served.
Store in fridge.









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Vegan Mac and Cheese Recipes.


My previous vegan Mac n Cheese recipe posts have been 100% nutritional yeast free. But now that I have embraced my new-found love of nutritional yeast flakes, I've also fallen in love with my two new pasta recipes.

Mac n Cheese recipe #1 is for a simple Nutritional Yeast Easy Mac n Cheese. Basic, from scratch. Creamy. Healthy. And full of nutty sweet flavor. Recipe #2 is for my Baked Dill Mac n Cheese. It is a bit more complex, rich and dense. Less creaminess, more bite. It combines the flavors of fresh dill, sweet potato and sweet onion with a hint of spicy vegan sausages folded in. Bubbly vegan cheese on top. Whichever recipe you choose, you'll be making a warm, cozy and healthy dish for you and your family. Get "cheesy"...

Mac n Cheese Basics.
There are two basic ways to prepare mac n cheese: straight-up pasta folded into sauce, or you can take a second step and bake the mac n cheese. Baking mac n cheese marinates the cheesy flavors into the pasta. The pasta becomes super tender, and the sauce reduces a bit to make a thick and hearty bite, rather than a 'wet' bite. Baked mac n cheese can be topped with vegan cheese, breadcrumbs or even fresh veggies and/or herbs.

My Two Recipes. My first recipe, is a "from scratch" recipe using nutritional yeast as the flavor base of the sauce. Sweet potato also adds flavor, sweetness and texture to the sauce. The second recipe easily uses Edward and Son's boxed mac n cheese, with a few added flavor ingredients. However, you can easily make the mac in recipe one and substitute it for the boxed mac in recipe 2. So it's your choice - make the sauce from scratch - or use a boxed powder.

Mac Virgins. If you've never tasted nutritional yeast based vegan mac n cheese before and don't want to invest in a giant canister of nutritional yeast - the boxed product from Edward and Son's is a good test-run route to taste.

Pasta. I like to use whole wheat pasta or gluten free rice pasta for my mac. Sometimes I will use a traditional shell or macaroni shape and then I will also add in some leftover long pasta like angel hair. I find that using a mix of pasta varieties in one dish gives the mac a unique complexity - plus it is a great way to use up leftover boxes and bags of various pasta! You can use whatever pasta you like best. Now check out these two dishes...

Baked Dill Mac n Cheese, with spicy "sausage":



Nutritional Yeast Quick Mac n Cheese:


Mac Recipe #1 of 2..

Nutritional Yeast Quick Mac n Cheese

vegan

6-7 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1 1/2 cups plain soy milk
1 cup sweet potato, mashed
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (opt'l)
1/2 cup onion
8 oz pasta
*I used whole wheat shells

Directions:

1. First check out these optional ingredients:
* For a ultra-rich n creamy sauce, use half soy milk/half soy creamer as liquid.
* You can bake this pasta and add a thin layer of vegan cheese on top to get that bubbly baked look and taste.
* 1 Tbsp of Vegenaise - adds a sweet creamy accent.

2. Heat your sweet potato - about small to medium sized - in the microwave or oven. Heat until cooked through.

3. Boil some salted water on the stove and drop your pasta for cooking as directed on box/bag.

4. While your pasta is cooking, add your nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, pepper, vinegar and soy milk to a large mixing bowl. Stir well.

4. Finely chop your onion and add it to the mixing bowl. Mix.

5. When your sweet potato is ready, peel off the skin and mash it well. Scoop about 1 cup of the mashed sweet potato into your mixing bowl. Mash it well into the liquid. You should get a nice thick creamy orange sauce. You can always add more liquid if you'd like a thinner sauce. And you can add more sweet potato if you'd like it super thick and a tad sweeter. You can even add in more nutri-yeast flakes for an extra strong nutty 'cheese' flavor.

6. Drain your cooked pasta and drop it right into you mixing bowl and fold in the sauce. You won't need to heat the pasta 'cheese' sauce separately because the warm pasta will provide heat. However, you can keep the pasta warm in a 180 degree oven, or re-heat in oven or microwave as needed.

Serve and enjoy some easy vegan comfort pasta!



Mac Recipe #2

Baked Dill Mac n Chreese
vegan

1 box mac n chreese, cheddar
*Edward and Son's brand
1 cup sweet potato, mashed
1 1/4 cups soy milk, plain
big handful of fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbsp Vegenaise (optional)
1 spicy vegan sausage
*Field Roast brand, Mexican Chipotle flavored
1/2 cup onion
topping: 1/4 cup shredded or sliced vegan white cheese
NOTE: If you don't have an Edward and Son's boxed mac n chreese, you can use the above 'nutritional yeast mac' recipe and make your own pasta and cheese sauce from scratch, - boxed or from scratch - either way will be delicious.
*If you use the nutritional yeast recipe, omit the sweet potato and onion from this baked dill recipe.

Directions:

1. Bake your sweet potato.

2. Thinly chop your onion.

3. Boil some salted water and drop your pasta (boxed or your own variety).

4. In a large mixing bowl, add you own from scratch nutritional yeast sauce (recipe above) or add the boxed mac powder pack the the bowl and add in the remaining ingredients - soy milk, onion and mashed sweet potato. Mix well until a nice creamy sauce forms.

5. Add your cooked pasta to your sauce, and fold well.

6. Chop your vegan sausage into thin rounds and fold into pasta.

7. Lastly, fold in your chopped dill.

8. Pour your pasta into a medium sized bread pan or a small casserole dish. Cover with a thin layer of vegan cheese. I use Follow Your Heart brand Monterey Jack cheese. You can drizzle with some optional EVOO if you'd like as well. Tomato-y Idea: You can even add a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes to the bottom layer of this dish if you'd like. Use a larger dish if you add the tomatoes.

9. Place uncovered, in hot oven on broil for 4 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees, cover pasta with foil, and bake for additional 10-15 minutes. Keep in warm oven until ready to serve.






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Nutritional Yeast Flakes. Hate -> Love!

I often confess to you that I hate nutritional yeast flakes. Well not anymore! I've rediscovered them and realized why I hated them in the first place. My story, and why you should consider embracing nutritional yeast flakes too. For health and flavor!...


Where to Find Nutritional Yeast.
It's 8pm on a tired Thursday. I am wandering the aisles of Whole Foods Market with my poor husband in tow, an over-filled, incredibly heavy hand cart strapped to his wrists. "It has to be here!" I mumbled to myself as I wandered down every aisle - on a mission. A mission to find nutritional yeast.

I looked in the spices and baking section - scouring each jar-filled rack from almond extract to za'atar. No such luck. I looked in the yeast section - nothing. Hmm, of course! Look in the nutrition section! OK, OK, I didn't figure that one out myself. I had to ask a WF employee - he graciously ushered me over to the nutritional yeast section - right below the smoothie mixes and protein powder. Aha!

There were about five or so brands - large canister containers. I settled on the Kal Nutrition brand of Nutritional Yeast Flakes. I chose that brand because it had a few added in vitamins like B12 and folic acid. Yay! I was so excited to find it because I had been looking for it (although not so-proactively until now) for a few months. I smiled widely at my hubby, "Isn't this exciting?!" He wasn't as excited as me, but that's OK. So off to the checkout stand we went.

Nutritional Yeast Flakes Taste Test: Take Two! Now you see, I've bought, tasted and tried nutritional yeast flakes in the past. About 5 years ago I bought a small curious bottle of nutritional yeast flakes at some grocery store. I forget the brand. I tried making vegan mac n cheese. It was horrible! I then tasted the flakes in another recipe and still - horrible. The flakes smelly fishy and rancid and almost sour. I decided I did not like nutritional yeast and would never try it again!

Cut to five years later,
when I tried THIS nutritional yeast in a pasta recipe and love, love, loved it! One sniff from the canister and I knew these flakes were yummy. Nutty, salty aroma. Yum! (FYI - nutri-yeast is very low in sodium) My final stance is that I either bought a very poor brand of nutri-yeast or it simply really was a rancid, gone bad bottle. Odd. Anyways, I'm so thrilled to have resolved my "issues" with nutritional yeast. I was really starting to wonder about my vegan taste buds - since every vegan I know raves about vegan nutri-yeast mac n cheese...FYI I will be posting TWO NEW nutri-yeast mac-n-cheese recipes later tonight - or this weekend! yes! Here is a sneak peek of one of my recipes:


Side Note: The one thing that really spurred me to try nutri-yeast again was the fact that I love Edward and Son's vegan boxed mac n chreese. It is flavored by nutritional yeast...this was my first inclination to do a do-over taste test.

Now let me convince you why nutritional yeast flakes are so gosh darn healthy!...

Nutritional Yeast Flakes and Health. Healthy as can be! Here are just a few reasons why nutri-yeast flakes are healthy (I am taking nutrition info from my Kal Nutrition Nutritional Yeast Flakes canister):

*no added wheat, corn, milk, egg, soy, glutens, sucrose, animal products, artificial colors, starch or preservatives.

*gluten free

3 Tbsp contains:
*only 80 calories
*9 grams of protein, only 1 gram of fat (not saturated) and 14 grams of carbs.
*5 grams of fiber
*11% RDA of potassium
*only 5mg of sodium, that's <1% RDA*820% RDA vitamin B-1*720% RDA vitamin B-2*370% RDA vitamin B-3*560% RDA vitamin B-6*310% RDA folic acid*150% RDA vitamin B-12*40% RDA selenium*25% RDA zinc*4% RDA ironand more vitamins and minerals..
*There is a wide variety of amino acids, vitamins and minerals in nutritional yeast that I did not list - too many to list on one post. But you can read the nutrition label on your brand's bottle to check out all the good stuff.

Animal Product Free.
Nutritional Yeast, contains no animal products, yet it does contains a lot of nutrients that are usually plentiful in animal products. This is great news for vegans.


How Nutritional Yeast Flakes are Made. Kal Nutrition brand yeast states this: "Kal Nutritional Yeast is primary grown on molasses. The natural source produces yeast flakes containing a full spectrum of essential amino acids and a balanced variety of B vitamins......traditional brewer's yeast is produced through the brewing process and can have a bitter aftertaste."

Interesting! Who knew nutritional yeast could 'grow' on molasses. And you know I adore molasses for its taste and nutritional value. Molasses: Goo that's good for you.

I hope I have convinced you to give nutritional yeast flakes a try. And FYI, remember, you might find nutritional yeast flakes in the "nutrition" section, under the powdered smoothie mixes, not in the yeast section! :) ...hope that saves you and your shopping buddy a few trips down the aisles... or online:

Nutritional Yeast. I buy mine at Whole Foods. Kal and Bragg's brands are my favorites at WF. More info. You can also buy Nutritional Yeast online...



I also love One Lucky Duck's Nutritional Yeast $6.75 online.





*My mac n cheese post coming soon...



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Cooking Tofu Tips and Advice. Tofu Help for All.

If you're a vegetarian who can't cook tofu, you're probably feeling a bit frustrated, so here are a few of my cooking tofu tips and advice.

Tofu Overload. Just a few years ago, it seemed tofu was "the protein" for vegans and vegetarians. But as nutrition facts spread, more people learned that tofu definitely wasn't the only way to get animal-free protein. And with so many vegan protein foods, from exotic vegan products featuring seitan and tempeh to whole grains, lentils, nuts, beans and good ol' veggies, tofu is really just a sometimes food, instead of an every meal food.

I still love tofu. And it is quite helpful if you know how to turn that lifeless white block of sludge into something mouthwatering and delicious. It can be done. I was inspired to write down these tips when I received an email from a very frustrated vegan who says she "can't cook tofu worth a lick!" Check out her email and my response. Get some tofu help!...

Enia's email:
Hi Kathy, My name is Enia and I'm a recent vegan (1 year). I found your blog when I was trying to prepare my first vegan Thanksgiving. I love your recipes but I have a problem. A giant problem for a vegan to have: I can't cook tofu worth a lick. I like it when I eat it in restaurants so I know it's me and not the tofu. It either comes out dry and spongy or falls apart. I don't know what I'm doing wrong: I'm a pretty good cook otherwise. Do you have any tips you can share? Basically, I want to pan fry it or bake it and make it have flavor. I see that you make delicious-looking tofu all the time. So can you help with some very rudimentary directions? I would appreciate it forever.
Thanks in advance, Enia


My "Tofu Help" Response. Such a great email, and such a common question. I will admit that I am not a 'tofu expert' by any means, but I have figured out how to turn it into something I love and even something I crave. So here are my tofu tips:

*Quality Matters. There are a lot of various tofu brands out there. And yes, some brands are better than others. There are even a few artisanal tofu brands you can find at farmer's markets and local stores. One example is Hodo Soy in San Fran, CA. My advice is to try at least three different brands and decide which suites you best. Not all tofu is created equal. I have always been impressed with Vermont Soy tofu, but there are many high quality brands on your grocery store shelf.

*Silken or Firm? Silken tofu is generally used for recipes other than a straight-up saute. Choose firm or extra firm tofu for a saute or baking recipe. I prefer extra firm since it pretty much guarantees that my tofu won't fall apart. However, if you are seeking a pillowy tofu, firm may be for you.

*Low Moisture. Always squeeze as much moisture out of your tofu before placing it on the pan. Use a few paper towels and wrap it tightly - let it sit for a while and soak up the excess moisture. Some chefs even let tofu soak in towels overnights. More moisture out, the more flavor can get in.

*High Heat. Make sure your pan and braising/oil liquid is HOT. This is important for that beautiful brown sear color and texture you want on your pan sauteed tofu.

*Keep it Moist in the Pan. You can pan-saute tofu in either oil or a combination of liquids - I use and combine everything from fruit juice, vinegar, agave syrup, maple syrup, orange or lemon juice, water, wine, oils, marinades, soy sauce, miso soup, liquid smoke and of course veggie broth. I use a combo of different liquids for each recipe. You can't just wipe a tsp of oil in your pan and expect to get a flavorful saute. Tofu is not a seasoned food, and thus needs a a lot of flavor added to make it tasty. The good thing is that tofu is like a sponge and will easily soak up all the flavorful liquids and even dried herbs and spices that you add to it. Also read my Braising 101 Post here for tofu braising info.

*Spices. I always add flavor in the form of liquids and dry spices/herbs to my tofu. My favorites are garlic powder, cayenne, black pepper, turmeric, paprika, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme, onion powder and my favorite for a savory Mexican flavor: cumin powder. I will either add these spices to my marinade, or sprinkle them directly on the tofu before and while sauteing.

*Salting. Tofu needs salt. It just does. Even a tiny pinch will do a world of good. I like to add a pinch of coarse sea salt at the end of my saute or bake. You can also add salt in the form of vinegars and soy sauce during the cooking process. Pepper too. A pinch of fresh pepper makes your tofu extra happy.

*Tofu Needs You! I never just let my tofu sit on the pan - for too long. I like to get a super high heat and do a tossing style saute until the edges are browned and the center seems fluffy and moist. Also, moving the tofu around creates steam, which further pulls the moisture out. Notes: to create a nice seared color on your tofu, you will want to let it sit in the hot pan for a few seconds, followed by a brisk shake of the pan and flip of the tofu. A larger cut of tofu will need to sit longer to create a sear. Bottom Line: Don't walk away from the tofu, it needs your eyes.

*Baking Tofu. If you are baking tofu, bake covered for a moist spongy texture and uncovered for a dry firm texture. Baked tofu should be marinaded first. But if you bake tofu in a sauce or liquid, you will likely get super mushy tofu- yet still flavorful. Sometimes 'mushy' tofu is yummy, but it's not always what you want. Baking tofu if helpful if you want a no oil added tofu dish. While a high heat saute, does usually require oil.

*Freezing Tofu. You may have heard that if you freeze tofu before cooking with it, you will get an extra fluffy, luscious tofu texture. I have personally never tried freezing tofu for texture, but it never hurts to experiment. I have been fine using tofu straight from the container.

*Marinate Tofu! If you have time, after you have squeezed your tofu "dry" with a paper towel, set it in a marinade liquid for a few minutes - a few hours or overnight is even better. When I marinate my tofu, I like to use enough liquid to cover my tofu and let it soak for half a day. Flavor galore!

*Cube it! When I don't have time to marinade and want my tofu in under 20 minutes, I like to cube it. Then saute. Cubing it makes tofu cook faster and creates more surface area, for those nice brown crispy edges I love so much.

*Troubleshooting. If your tofu starts to burn on the pan before it is fully cooked, keep adding in a tiny bit of liquid like water, broth or an acid like vinegar/citrus juice. This will deglaze the pan (get the flavors moving around off the pan) and it will also create steam to keep the cooking going. You don't want your high heat pan to burn up. A burnt pan is a good path to a tofu disaster. Towards the end of the cooking process, make sure there is no liquid in the pan - this will get the edges crispy and brown! But don't overcook and dry out your tofu. Be sure to move the tofu around in the pan a lot (a nice shaking and tossing motion with the pan will work).

*Tools: Don't use a fork or tongs with tofu. Use a soft wooden spoon or a high heat spatula or long spoon. You don't want to harm the tofu. Use a wide saute pan. If you must use a soup pot, you will have to use a lower heat to avoid burning the sides of the pan.

I know that was a lot of information thrown at you in odd snippets, but I hope you can reference a few of my anecdotes and be on your way to delicious tasting and looking tofu. ~Kathy

A few of my fave tofu recipes:
Ginger Mandarin Rice with Cashew Tofu
Cranberry-Soy Sauce Tofu
BBQ Sauced Tofu
Sesame Peanut Crusted Tofu
Fluffy Coconut Rice with Tofu Pillows
Zen Green Tofu Salad
Tofu Scramble




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What is Kombucha?

What is kombucha? What is this mysterious, fizzy, fermented, fabulous, fun and buzz-worthy bottled drink? Find out...

I love kombucha! But what is it anyways? Kombucha (pronounced com-boo-ka) is a fizzy fermented tea beverage that is a health-seeker's delight. So in short, it's fermented tea. "Fermented foods are foods produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms." -Wikipedia Fermentation is the healthy transformation in which "good" or healthy bacteria begin to form in foods. Other fermented foods include pickles, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, tempeh, miso and more.

Fun Fact: The science of fermentation is known as zymology.

Kombucha can be found in health food stores and grocery stores such as Whole Foods Market. My favorite flavor/brand is Synergy's guava flavored kombucha. However, I haven't tried a few of the newer brands on the market, so I won't say yet that Synergy is 'the best'. But I'm guessing it has the widest distribution in the US. I see it everywhere.

Health claims. Cure-All? There are many health claims surrounding kombucha such as increased energy, weight loss, better skin, better digestion, detoxification of toxins and many more. Hmm, I certainly do not think kombucha is a "cure-all" as some sites and company's claim.

I personally drink it because it just makes me feel good and hydrated! I crave those fizzy fermented bubbles. Kombucha's health claims cannot be truly verified, as is the case for many food items claiming increased health with consumption. Also, kombucha products are sold as "a dietary supplement" in the United States - not a drug, which would require the companies selling kombucha to formally verify to the FDA its safety and effectiveness against its health claims.

"Although there is limited specific scientific information supporting any purported benefits and a lack of studies being conducted, much anecdotal information purporting its historical medicinal value has been reported.[1] Kombucha is available commercially, but can be made at home by fermenting tea using a visible solid mass of microorganisms called a kombucha culture or mushroom."-wikipedia, kombucha

I just chugged a bottle
of the guava flavor by Synergy, in a frosted wine glass. It helps get me through an afternoon. Better than coffee for sure....I don't drink it daily though, maybe just 1-3 times a week. And sometimes I just don't crave it for weeks and weeks.

And yes, I tried making it myself once...failed miserably. I'll leave the kombucha crafting to the experts.


For more fun facts, info and consumption recommendations about kombucha you can check out these websites:

http://www.cancer.org/docroot/eto/content/eto_5_3x_kombucha_tea.asp?si
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha
http://www.sulis-health.co.uk/kombucha/facts.shtml
http://www.kombucha-research.com/
http://www.synergydrinks.com/kombucha.html
http://organiclivingcorner.com/organickombuchateafacts.aspx




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Sunny Asparagus Tapenade. Homemade. Healthy. Easy.

My Sunny Asparagus Tapenade is the perfect recipe to perk up any dish - sandwiches, salads, pasta or appetizer platters. Plus, you'll be adding a delicious dose of super fresh, healthy veggies to your meal or snack. Gourmet. Simple. Yummy. Versatile.

Homemade Tapenade. I must say, I've been quite obsessed with veggie tapenades lately. You know, the kind that come in those cute little jars and have simple ingredients like olive oil, salt, garlic, capers, pepper, spices and some sort of main veggie ingredient. Olives, artichoke, red pepper etc. Such simple, timeless flavors - blissfully delicious. Light bulb! Hmm, why spend $3-8 per tiny jar when I could easily make these myself - with handpicked, super fresh, creative ingredients? Thus I set off to create my very first homemade tapenade. Did it work? Well lets put it this way, I could barely stop licking the spoon as I tried to carry on with my tapenade photo shoot. Delicious. Easy. A real recipe winner. Get it...


Thick or Thin? The one thing I noticed about making tapenade is that I had a lot of extra water in my mix. My tapenade blended up kinda slushy at first, but I added another scoop of sunflower seeds and even a palmful of croutons, and it firmed right up. Plus, blending for a long time helps too. And you will want to drain your asparagus (or any veggie ingredient) well before placing it in the food processor.

My final result was a tapenade that was a bit thinner in consistency than the jarred store-bought brands - but that extra water is healthy! A higher water content makes your tapenade much more hydrating than the bottled tapenades. That means less calories per bite. And don't worry, there's no sacrifice in flavor. The freshness of the flavors send you into loud moans of "mmmmm!" Asparagus never tasted so elegantly delish!




Sunny Asparagus Tapenade
vegan,
makes about 10 servings, one serving = 3.2 Tbsp - recipe makes just over 2 cups of tapenade


1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons agave syrup
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs, optional
12 ounces asparagus

Directions:

1. Chop your raw asparagus. Add it to a soup pot of salted boiling water. Boil for 4-5 minutes. Strain, and rinse well with ice cold water, or submerge into ice bath. Set aside. Leave out 1-2 asparagus tips for garnish.

2. To a food processor, add your lemon and orange juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, agave syrup, parsley, spicy red pepper flakes and sunflower seeds. Lightly blend.

3. Add in the chopped and blanched asparagus. Blend until smooth.

4. Do a taste test. If you'd like a thicker tapenade, add 2 Tbsp of plain vegan croutons. Or bread sticks. Or day old bread.

5. Pour tapenade into a serving dish and garnish with asparagus spear and whole sunflower seeds. Chill or serve at once. Serve with crackers, veggie sticks or spread on toasts and sandwiches.

Nutritional Info per serving
1 serving = 3.2 Tbsp
about 10 servings per recipe

Food energy: 58 calories
Saturated fatty acids: 0.48g
Monounsaturated fatty acids: 1.50g
Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 1.86g
Total fat: 3.85g
Calories from fat: 34
Cholesterol: --
Carbohydrate, by difference: 5.16g
Total dietary fiber: 1.52g
Protein: 1.81g
Total lipid (fat): 4.03g

*calculated with MacGourmet







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Starbucks New Teas and Vegan Cookies! Taste Test.

This dark, damp, oddly humid, and blustery morning I had a thirst to check out Starbucks new teas and vegan cookies. I had been hearing speckled rumors about new vegan cookies, full-leaf teas in tin containers and a few other healthy on-the-go snacks - I had to investigate this. The pale sunrise ushered me to the store where other groggy eyed, open-coated, thirsty early-morningers stood in a willowy long line. Orders were being shouted out left and right "Skinny Latte!" "Half-Caf Coffee." "Triple Venti Soy Latte!" "Double Tall No Foam Latte" "Grande Mocha, No Whip!" Etc. Etc. Etc.

Taste test! New treats indeed - Starbucks has set up a huge "snack station" - a bunch of straw bins filled with dried fruit, exotic gourmet nuts, crackers and cookies - all in snack-sized pouches. I spotted the Lucy's brand vegan cookies and snatched a chocolate chip flavor. There were about 3 flavors to choose from. I then snatched a Sahale Snacks Cashews sack, two canisters of tea and headed for the register. I politely asked the cashier if they still carried almond butter for the bagels. She giggled and said "Huh? No." Hmm. Have they really ditched the healthy Justin's brand almond butter? Sad. I love that stuff. So anyways, I rushed home to taste test the snacks and teas, but did they past my health-minded taste test? Find out...


$20 for some tea and snacks? I was a bit shocked when my two tiny sacks of snacks and two canisters of Starbucks new tea came out to around twenty bucks. The new TAZO tea is $6.95 a tin and my snacks around $2.50 each. "This stuff better be good!" I thought, as I shoved my tea and snacks into my reusable bag and headed home to try the new eats n sips.

So lets get snacking!


The Cookies.

Lucy's brand vegan cookies were the lucky company to get Starbucks to sell their snacks. Vegans all over Twitter and Facebook have been buzzing about the new vegan cookies. But is there really cause for buzz? I was hoping for a super healthy, fresh, warm, chewy vegan cookie. But no such luck. Just a bag of store-bought looking crisp cookies. The taste: like Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies - only vegan and gluten free. Nut free too. Very tasty, but not "homemade" tasting. Not chewy or warm or soft or delectable. Just a nice sweet tasty dessert snack. The nutrition: 173 calories per bag. 4 mini cookies per bag. I was a bit annoyed when I saw that 3.6 out of the 6.6 total grams of fat per bag were saturated. 3.6 grams of saturated fat per bag is not my idea of healthy. The oil used is a mix of organic soybean, olive, palm fruit and canola oil. And the vegan chocolate chips in the ingredients just said "vegan chocolate chips" so I don't know what went into the chips. There is 3.6 grams of protein and 3.6 grams of fiber per bag. Not bad. I like the almost 4 grams of fiber, but that still didn't win me over. Sodium is about 9% RDA per bag. Not great at all. That's more sodium than in the bag of nuts I bought!



Overall, not impressed with the new vegan cookies at Starbucks. Yes, they are much healthier than many treats that crowd the baked goods window, but they just aren't my thing. I won't be buying them. Although, I'm guessing my cookie-obsessed husband who loves vegan treats, will love them. And yes, the cookies are great for allergy sensitive folks. But vegan baked-goods snobs like me will not be too pleased. These cookies are no Babycakes cookies. Side Note: I know a lot of you have started to ban Starbucks altogether, but I still love it. So I hope they will continue to evolve with their vegan snacks. Maybe a Babycakes brand fresh cinnamon toastie??? Please?


The nuts were Sahale brand Cashews with essences of pomegranate and vanilla. "Glazed Nuts". Yummy. I've had them before. But honestly, not so different than the nuts Starbucks already carries. Good snack add, but nothing mind-blowing.


Starbucks New Full leaf Tea. Price: $6.95 per tin. 15 sachets per tin.

I was really excited about this TAZO tea. At around 47 cents a bag, I was hoping for some yummy teas, and the second I opened the tin and smelled sweet fragrant tea aroma, I had a good feeling. I bought two teas: Chai and Zen. I had purchased these bags often in the past, so I knew the flavors well and could compare old vs. new tea flavor. Both had lovely sachet bags and fresh smelling full leaf teas. High quality. Similar to many brands I can find at Whole Foods and even the tea bags at Le Pain Quotidien. Taste Test: I loved the new Zen. Green tea is always best in full leaf form. The Chai, however wasn't as good as I had hoped. It was full of fresh flavor, but the taste was still a bit too bittersweet for my taste. I like a chai that is a bit more peppery and briskly spicy rather than bitter. So overall, I am thrilled with the new tea upgrade. It was about time that Starbucks stepped up their teas.

Overall,
I'm glad that there is another vegan, allergy-sensitive snack in the store, but Starbucks definitely has a long way to go if they really want to impress their vegan health-minded customers. The new teas are fabulous. Well done.

1/26 UPDATE: I just had an amazing at-home soy green tea chai latte. Ingredients: 1 zen TAZO tea bag, 1 chai TAZO tea bag, 1 cup soy milk, 1 cup chai tea concentrate OR water + 1 Tbsp agave syrup, dash of cinnamon, dash of cayenne. Spoonful of soy foam on top. Soooo delicious! Adding plenty of milk and side flavors removes the bitterness from the Starbucks chai tea bag. Delicious! Energizing and zen-filled.



Lastly, a few ideas for Starbucks, from me to you. Dear Starbucks, here are a few of my ideas:

*A fresh vegan pastry or treat made with whole grains, organic natural sweeteners like maple or agave syrup and nut or fruit flavors. A walnut-goji berry spelt scone perhaps?

*Experiment with other non-dairy milk options like hemp, almond, rice or grain milks.

*Next summer, launch a soy-blended frappuccio that's 100% vegan. Made in a separate dairy-free blender too.

*Launch a vegan breakfast sandwich with Daiya cheese and vegan Field Roast sausage. Crisp arugula or spinach and a spicy Veganaise morning mayo. On a quinoa grain english muffin. 100% vegan.

*Try again with the fruit smoothies...and actually, I don't know, include more real fruit than a simple banana. Make them dairy-free this time.

*Have an organic fruit bowl with whole, grab-n-go, yummy-looking fruit rather than not-so-yummy looking bananas.

Just a few ideas Starbucks, from this health-minded vegan, to you.

Have you tried any of the new treats or teas?? I'd love to hear what you think!









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