Okay so I don’t love cupcakes. Even when the craze hit big time, I wasn’t totally on board. All of those gorgeous sweet little cakes, ornate and decorated just so… had way too much frosting for my taste. It seems to me that there is an inherent issue of ratios with this handheld treat. This is especially true if the frosting is piped on top, as opposed to being smeared rustically. Giant, sweet clouds were distracting me from my favourite part– the actual cake! Then the boutique bakeries were selling frosting shots. Actual shots! Glorified gluttony. And there was a tv show with cupcake shop proprietors competing and snapping at each other about non-rising cakes, time winding down, fillings not jiving with icings, trivial matters completely. Catty. Terrifying. Cupcakes and their whole scene was, without exaggeration, scaring the crap out of me. So I avoided them for a bit. I opted for cookies and actual slices of cake, a tart here and there. I felt fine about it.
But sweet, little snack cakes with just a bit of glaze-y coconut cream on top? I’ve talked myself into a bit of that action. It has a different feel. A bit more casual, but certainly refined. The ratio of sweet topping to lemony and light cake is ideal for someone like me. It’s just a nice little snack to go with tea. A cup-sized cake shouldn’t make you feel like you’ve gone over the edge with indulgence right? It’s individually portioned out of reason, out of fairness and in the interest of an individual’s right to an equal portion of the dozen. It is just. These spelt-based cakes are rich with coconut milk and have a crunchy little dusting of nutty sesame seeds for fun because individual cakes, at their heart, are totally about fairness and super cute fun time with sparkles and everything else great in life. And this is totally one of those throw-it-all-in-one-bowl-and-mix kind of cakes! Everyone wins here.
lemon coconut cakes with coconut glaze and sesames
serves: makes 10-12
notes: Feel free to mix up the citrus a bit! Meyer lemon or orange or lime would all be quite good. Also, as soon as you use 1/2 the can of coconut milk in the batter, put the remaining milk in the freezer so that it can firm up and become more cream-like.
1/2 cup natural sugar
1/3 cup melted coconut oil + extra for greasing
1 14-ounce can coconut milk, divided
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup), divided
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
1 cup white spelt flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
small pinch of fine sea salt
2 tbsp agave nectar
small handful toasted sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 12 tin muffin pan and set aside.
Mix the sugar, coconut oil, half the can of coconut milk, lemon zest, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp of vanilla in a medium-large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined.
Sift in the white and whole spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix into the wet mixture until just combined.
Portion the batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cake springs right back when you push on it and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack thoroughly.
Make the glaze: remove the remaining coconut milk from the freezer and give it a little stir. Whisk it up with the remaining lemon juice, vanilla and the 2 tbsp of agave nectar. Spoon on top of the cooled cakes and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds.
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Any one of my friends will tell you that I’m pretty enamored with the whole Momofuku collective of restaurants and the Dave Chang/Christina Tosi-worship/obsession thing. I have the cookbooks, subscribe to Lucky Peach and dream of future trips to New York for some ramen, birthday cake truffles and a cup of cereal milk soft serve often. Like crazy often. The whole thing is just too cool without trying to be too cool. You know? There are the wildly popular (and super pork-y) items that everyone talks about (for good reason), but last time we were in town, there was a beet salad that seriously got me so, so excited about root vegetables. Believe that! Total sleeper hit.
There was a heaped schmear of creme fraiche on the bottom of the plate, lovely cooked beets all diced on top, capers, rough chopped parsley and fresh horseradish. It was really simple, gorgeous to look at and delicious in an easy way. I say easy because you could just scoop it into your mouth and enjoy all of the flavours and textures making sense together. It was balanced and flavourful without too much effort. These ingredients were pretty much made for each other and I can’t believe it took this long for them to get together on a plate in front of me.
A little snag: I can’t eat creme fraiche every day. It’s expensive and my stomach would hate me, so I came up with this version that I can eat all day, every day with avocado and sweet little yukon gold potatoes. Beets tend to have a love affair with anything that’s creamy, tangy or rich so this all works out pretty nicely. The horseradish and shallot vinaigrette punctuates everything with a strong, vinegary bite. It’s just a hearty, composed winter salad. I’m not craving lettuce much these days, but boiled root veggies and potatoes with brine-y stuff and chives on top? Yes please. And lots.
beet, potato and avocado salad with horseradish and shallot vinaigrette
notes: dice the shallot as small as you can so that the vinaigrette gets all in there and softens the pieces up.
1 small shallot, finely diced/minced up
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
2 tsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/3 cup grape seed or other neutral flavour oil
1/2 lb mini yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
2 medium beet roots, scrubbed
1 medium avocado, just ripe, not too soft and smushy-messy
10 blades of chives, finely sliced
juice of half a lemon
2-3 tbsp capers
salt and pepper
Make the vinaigrette: Combine the minced shallot and vinegar in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper and whisk well. Add the horseradish and mustard and whisk to combine again. Drizzle the oil into the horseradish/vinegar/shallot mixture slowly as you whisk it vigorously until thoroughly combined. Alternatively, you can throw the whole works except the shallots into the blender and put it on high for a few seconds and add the shallots to the mix after. Set aside.
Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water by about an inch or two. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until potatoes yield to a paring knife easily, but not so easily that they mush. About 12 minutes. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside. Place the beet roots in the boiling water and cook until you achieve the same knife-yielding tenderness of the potatoes. This should take longer, about 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and peel as soon as you are able, without burning your fingers of course. Cut potatoes and beets into small wedges and set aside in separate bowls.
Peel and pit the avocado. Slice it into 1/4 inch thick pieces and lay onto your serving plate. Squeeze the lemon over top of the avocado slices and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a bit of the dressing here too. Arrange the beets on top of the avocado. Drizzle some of the dressing on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and some of the chives. Arrange the potatoes on top of the beets and drizzle with more dressing, salt, pepper and the remaining chives. Scatter the capers on top. Serve.
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When I was going to culinary school, one of our instructors would frequently remind us that all of the fuss, the immense preparation for a 7:30 am cooking lab, the pressure, the precisely laid out plans of attack, the possible fear of inadequacy; it was all just for the sake of food. If you screwed up, the end result would still be edible and quite nourishing, perhaps with a touch more salt, the faintest splash of acid and a bit more time on the fire next time though.
And that was fine. The phrase certainly helped take some of the pressure off; not in a way that made you apathetic either. It just helped your hands to shake less when you were tying up roulades, mindful of the distant but aware gaze from the chef professor. You wouldn’t over-think it if you decided to throw a whole clove in to steep with a savory apple, onion and balsamic jam. You knew it would work and it freed you up to focus on your small dices, sautes, blanches, on and on. It helped us to consider the bigger picture.
The “just food” mantra has worked its way into my home cooking too. Making soup used to be a rather daunting task to me. I always thought that soup was the one simple thing that showed real kitchen prowess. It was certain proof of authentic experience. Thinking of its transformative nature, its ability to turn inexpensive items, scraps, leftovers and afterthoughts into something comforting and whole, a dish with renewed purpose and character, was intimidating as hell to me.
When it finally kicked in that it was just food, an infinitely variable nourishing substance no matter the end result, the soups started tasting a lot better. I take my time, taste as I go and linger over the pot so as to take it all in with every languid stir. I’ve also realized that most soups can be quite forgiving if you take a wrong turn, use too much spice or absentmindedly forget to stir up some rapidly browning onions. It all comes out in the wash. Everyone eats and feels warm and everything is certainly quite good with a decent crust of bread.
This is my go-to lentil soup. It’s a bit smoky and rich with pimenton, tomatoes and olive oil, studded with the usual celery, carrots and onions, earthy and lemony from thyme and tarragon. It is a simple serving of food that has great effect. Rather easily thrown together but complex and rich. Economical but satiating and full of grace. It is something that every home cook can (and should) tuck under their sleeve for when the deep winter chill sets into the bones and the variety of vegetables winds down to a bit of a minimum. It embodies the benefits of preparation and self-care and it makes your heart feel warm, maybe going a little bit past the criteria of “just food.”
french lentil soup with tomatoes, tarragon and garlic
serves: makes a big pot
notes: I know a 1/4 cup sounds like a lot of oil, but this makes a giant pot of very nutritious food. The volume of oil helps to stew the onions, garlic and herbs so that they effortlessly melt into the soup, meshing all of the flavours seamlessly (and rather luxuriously). Alternatively, you can use less oil and add spoonfuls of stock gradually to prevent sticking/over-browning.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, small diced
4-5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
2 tsp dried tarragon, crushed up with your fingers a bit
1 tsp smoked paprika
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and small diced
1 large stalk celery, small diced
1 28 ounce can dicd tomatoes
1 1/3 cups french lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
6ish cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium low. Add the onions and saute for at least 10 minutes, stirring them around frequently. It shouldn’t sizzle too loudly, this is a slow-cooking kind of process. When the onions are quite soft, add the herbs and paprika and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the garlic and stir until very fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until all vegetables are soft.
Add the can of tomatoes and stir to coat vegetables. Cook out the tomatoes for about 5 minutes so as to remove some of their raw, tin-y-ness. Add drained lentils and stir to coat in the vegetables, oil and tomatoes. Add a splash of the stock and scrape any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add remaining stock, give the whole mix a good stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, return pot to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Check in on the pot once in a while and give it a stir. Season to your liking
Serve hot with a bit of fresh herb on top and a nice crust of bread.
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Just a little quickie today. I have a guest post over at the gorgeous, gracious and brilliant Happyolks today. Kelsey’s blog is one of my favourites and I was completely flattered when she asked me to pay a little visit over there for a recipe, a little tale and some pictures (secret time: when that little “similar to you” tab on twitter pops up and her handle is listed there, I feel pretty cool). If you haven’t already, I encourage you to subscribe to her blog. Her observations are profound, but very real and relatable. Plus she totally high vibes on the plant-based, whole grain, real food ideology with killer, but approachable and deeply satisfying recipes. How could you go wrong?
You can check out the guest post here.
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So in my last post I was talking about how the whole juice fast experience really put me in tune with my body and what it needs food-wise and whatnot. Guess what? My body needed pancakes. On a weekend winter morning, something a bit heartier than a kale, ginger and cucumber juice is… let’s just say it’s ideal. Plus, now that I’ve transitioned out of the juice fast and into solid foods, a healthy indulgence was surely deserved on my part. These little golden beauties did not disappoint.
The batter is crazy stiff and looks kind of weird because of the chia gel, but once you lay it into the hot pan with some coconut oil, it starts to smell awfully familiar in the kitchen. These are like thin, little carrot muffins with a bit of an orange aroma and slightly crisped edges. Slather some tangy, lime-y and rich cashew cream on there with a drizzle of maple syrup and you get full-on breakfast indulgence not unlike the ubiquitous cake slice of choice. I wouldn’t say that cashew cream is low fat by any stretch, but it’s reasonable to say that it’s a more nutritionally virtuous option than sugared up cream cheese icing.
In general, I’m pretty crazy for breakfast. It’s easily my favourite meal and one that I never, ever skip. There’s a whole ritual with the tea and that first piece of fruit and the effort to make the meal balanced in the early hours. Everyone has their routines and preferences. When you work as a server or cook for a brunch shift at any restaurant, you see and experience this so strongly: the infinite styles of eggs, sweet or savory dishes, sauces on top or on the side, ketchup on everything!, light or dark toasted white, wheat or rye bread, just toast and butter!, fruit, potatoes, milk, cream and sugar, smoked fish, preserves, yogurt and granola, sausage or bacon?, salads, beans and rice, scones, croissants, doughnuts, indulgence!, but then.. sensibility! It’s very individual and all of the personality and life tied up in it is pretty interesting to me. I feel like I’m learning something about the person as I listen to their precise order. If someone makes these pancakes for your breakfast, you yourself will learn that a) they are the coolest person ever and b) they probably really like you. Another reason to not skip breakfast, am I right?
carrot cake pancakes with tangy lime cashew cream
special equipment: a blender or food processor
notes: Grate the carrots on the fine side of the grater for a more refined textured pancake. Oh, and if you don’t have cashews, you can always make almond cream!
1 cup raw cashews soaked for at least 4 hours
scant 1/2 cup water
juice from 1 lime
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1.5 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup white spelt flour
zest of 1 orange (or clementine is delicious)
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 tbsp maple syrup + more for serving
1 tbsp melted coconut oil + more for cooking pancakes
2 cups finely grated, loosely packed carrots
handful of toasted walnuts, chopped
Make the cashew cream: Combine the cashews, water, lime juice, vanilla and lime juice in a blender or food processor and blend/process on high until smooth. Scrape cream into a container and refrigerate until ready to serve (it will firm up a bit).
Stir the ground chia seeds and 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water together until combined. Set aside for 5 minutes or until the mixture gels.
Stir the apple cider vinegar into the non-dairy milk and allow it to curdle for a few minutes.
Make the pancakes: Combine the whole spelt flour, white spelt flour, orange zest, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the maple syrup, coconut oil, chia gel and curdled milk mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in grated carrots gently.
Cook pancakes: Heat a large saute pan to medium-low. Pour in about a tablespoon of coconut oil to get started. Once it’s heated up, place 1/4 cup portions of batter into the pan (not too many at a time!). Cook until bubbles start appearing on the surface and bottom edge looks slightly browned. Flip it over and repeat cooking process. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping cooked pancakes warm in a foil covered plate or in a low oven on a parchment lined sheet.
Serve hot with cashew cream, maple syrup and chopped walnuts.
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