Monthly Archives: March 2016

March Muffin Madness: Samoa Muffins

Samoa Muffin

Samoa Muffin

I often find myself thinking outside the box. In this case, the said box is the one that contains Girl Scout cookies. I don’t even know how it popped into my head, but the inspiration behind this recipe started with Samoa cookies. If you’re not familiar with Samoas, they are made of caramel, chocolate and coconut. And since I’m more of a Thin Mint or Do-Si-Do cookie kind of girl, this was really a wild card pick. I do like chocolate and caramels and chocolate and coconut, so I went ahead with the concept. Here’s how I addressed the ingredient swaps: dates and maple syrup for the caramel; cocoa for the chocolate; canned coconut milk and toasted coconut, obviously, for the coconut. I eased my conscience about the coconut milk and syrup by using whole wheat pastry and oat flours. Do they taste like Samoas? Not really, but they came out mighty tasty . . .  and it was fun trying. If you like the taste of chocolate and coconut, then give these a try. Make a batch of Somoa Muffins and make it a Vegi-curious day!

Samoa Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

  • 1/2 cup chopped dried pitted dates, soaked
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coconut, toasted (plus extra for top, optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Place cupcake liners into muffin tin.

In bowl of food processor, process dates, applesauce and maple syrup until smooth. Add in coconut milk and extract. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, whole wheat and oat flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add coconut and toss.

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until combined. Using an ice cream scoop, portion batter into lined muffin tin.  (At this point you can press the extra toasted coconut onto the tops of the muffins.) Bake for 20 to 24 minutes. Remove to cooling rack.

30 Mar 2016

March Muffin Madness: Sweet Potato-Apple Muffins with Candied Pecans

Sweet Potato-Apple Muffins

Sweet Potato-Apple Muffins

Only three  days left in March and I have a few more Mad Muffin recipes waiting to get into the game. I came up with this recipe after overcooking some sweet potatoes and apples in my Instant Pot. (Remember, there are no mistakes in the kitchen; only new recipes to be discovered.) The taste was good, but the texture was too mushy. I use pumpkin puree in a lot of my baked goods and thought this might put an interesting spin on muffins. Since this sweet potato recipe also contains onion, my goal was to create a sweet and savory muffin that could be enjoyed at breakfast, snack time, brunch or even dinner. Instead of folding chopped pecans into the batter, I candied them with maple syrup in a non-stick skillet and sprinkled them on top of the muffins. I used the sweet potato-apple recipe from from Vegan Under Pressure cookbook, but you can simply boil or pressure cook a large sweet potato and a small apple (and some onion if you like) until mushy. Since I had a large portion, I portioned the puree into one-cup containers and placed them in the freezer for future use. You can play around with the spices, even add a little thyme or marjoram for a more savory touch. These muffins are good on their own and even nicer with a smear of cashew cream cheese. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Sweet Potato-Apple Muffins

1 cup whole wheat all purpose or pastry flour
½ cup oat flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup sweet potato-apple puree*
½ cup + 2 tablespoons soy or almond milk
¼ cup almond butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or 2 tsp. bourbon)
½ cup chopped pecans (see notes for praline topping)
Preheat oven to 350. Line 12 muffin cups with liners. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.

In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together sweet potato puree, milk, almond butter and vanilla.
Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until blended.

Divide batter among muffin cups, then place a spoonful of filling onto top of batter. Bake 16-18 minutes, or until tops spring up when touched lightly.

*Pressure cook sweet potatoes, apples and onions for about 3 minutes. Let cool, then puree in blender or food processor.

**Pecan Praline topping: Place pecans and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup in non-stick skillet. Heat over medium heat until maple syrup coats the pecans. Let cool, then remove to cutting board to chop. Sprinkle on top of muffins before baking.

29 Mar 2016

The Incredible, Edible, Bean: Smoky Black Beans in an Instant Pot

Black Bean Spread

Black Bean Spread

The American Egg Board has been using their slogan, “the incredible, edible egg”  since 1977. They wanted us to think that eggs were a healthy food choice that could be used in a variety of ways. Like so many unsuspecting Americans, I bought into that concept for many years. What’s so incredible about raising chickens in crowded conditions so that we could eat a food that’s high in cholesterol? Too bad that incredible slogan is already taken because I think beans are pretty incredible on so many levels. They’re high in fiber, protein, vitamins and they’re versatile. I just finished making a pot of black beans, you know, just because . . . just because I made a batch of recaito yesterday and decided to use it to make black beans. After quick-soaking the beans, I sauteed the recaito right in my instant pot, added the beans, water, liquid smoke and Sazon seasoning; pressure cooked on high for 6 minutes and was done. And while I was waiting for the pressure to come down, I thought about how this pot of beans fits in with my “one mess, many meals” habit. So, here I go. A bowl of black beans with brown, white or Spanish rice. Soft corn tacos stuffed with black beans, rice, avocado and salsa. Black bean spread with tortilla chips. Black beans smashed onto a tortilla, layered with avocado, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Strangely, I even made a sandwich of black beans, sauerkraut and mustard on rye that reminded me of corned beef. Wow! That’s a stretch, but something in those beans did that for me. It’s easy to see that you can make several different, healthy meals with just one pot of beans. Now that’s incredible!

I happened to have two cups of dried beans on hand which made a little over a quart of cooked beans. If you want to make more, here’s how it breaks down: for every cup of dried beans, use 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup of recaito, 1/2 teaspoon of Sazon and 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke. The great thing about making recaito and freezing it in small portions is that all of the flavor is in there — peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, culantro. You can find my recaito recipe here. (You can purchase recaito in the Spanish food aisle or freezer section, but home-made is much more flavorful.) The beans came out on the dry side, but that’s what I was after. You can adjust the amount of liquid and cooking time depending on your preference and experience with pressure cooking beans. Make a pot of black beans and make something incredible. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Black Bean Tacos

Black Bean Tacos

Black Bean Wrap

Black Bean Wrap

Black Bean & Sauerkraut Sandwich

Black Bean & Sauerkraut Sandwich


Smoky Black Beans in an Instant Pot

  • 2 cups black beans, soaked overnight or quick-soaked
  • ½ cup recaito
  • 1 teaspoon Sazon seasoning
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups water
  • ½ teaspoons liquid smoke
  • Salt (optional)

Set instant pot to saute setting. When hot, add recaito and cook until it starts to brown and its liquid evaporates. Add beans, recaito, Sazon and water. Secure lid and cook from 4 to 6 minutes, depending on your pressure cooker. Release when pressure has come down naturally.

If you don’t own a pressure cooker, you can use canned beans and simmer on the stove top for about 30 minutes, adding water as needed, until the flavors mingle and the beans thicken.


28 Mar 2016

March Muffin Madness: Muesli Muffins

Muesli Muffin & Apple Butter

Muesli Muffin & Apple Butter

Muesli Muffin

Muesli Muffin

Mmmmm . . . March Muffin Madness . . . Mad Muesli Muffins.

Bruce and I honeymooned in Quebec City and have spent many vacations in Canada since then. During one of our trips, the hotel served Muesli for breakfast. I don’t know if it was the “everything-tastes-better-on-vacation” effect, but Muesli never tasted that good here in the states. According to Wikipedia, Muesli was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital, where a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables was an essential part of therapy. With a cereal consisting of rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, Dr. Bircher-Benner was doing something right. One of my aims when I develop muffin recipes is to come up with something that is filling enough for breakfast or can be enjoyed as a snack, so it made sense to incorporate the ingredients from Muesli into a muffin. I started by making a puree of dates, applesauce, almond butter, maple syrup and milk for sweeteners and moisture. For structure, I mixed together old-fashioned oats and whole wheat pastry flour. I included raisins and dried cranberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds as the textural add-ins, but here’s where you can get creative and use any combination of dried fruits, seeds and nuts. Well, I couldn’t wait until breakfast to unwrap one of these and when I did it was bursting with a delightful aroma and a handful of goodness. These muffins can be enjoyed at the breakfast table or on the go. I actually made these a few weeks ago and stored them in the freezer. I defrosted the last ones for Bruce’s lunch, so I’m off to the kitchen to make another batch. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Muesli Muffins

makes 12 muffins

  • 1/2 cup chopped dried pitted dates
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • 1 Tbsp. finely ground flax seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. almond butter
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. apple butter (or applesauce)
  • 1 cup plain non-dairy milk (soy, almond, cashew)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoons non-aluminum baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 cup old-fashioned whole oats (not instant)
  • 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
  • 6 tbsp. dried cranberries
  • 6 tbsp. raisins

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

In the bowl of a food processor, process the applesauce, dates, almond butter, flax, maple syrup, apple butter and milk and process until smooth. (The dates can be chunky.)  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Add the oats, seeds, raisins and cranberries and stir to mix. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture in the bowl and stir just to combine.

Using a scoop or large spoon, fill the muffin tins 2/3 full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning once about halfway through. Cool about 10 minutes before removing to a rack.

21 Mar 2016

March Muffin Madness: Zucchini Quichettes

Zucchini Quichette

Zucchini Quichette

Is it a muffin? Is it a quiche? No, it’s a quichette! This week is the beginning of March Madness for college basketball fans, but March Muffin Madness is in full swing in my kitchen. Check out last week’s bracket winner, Tutti-Frutti Muffins. For this week’s recipe, I was shooting for a muffin that was more like a hand-held quiche and came up with these Zucchini Quichettes. I loaded them up with grated zucchini and a mixture of chickpea/fava and whole wheat pastry flours. The combination of black salt and nutritional yeast was added in to mimic the egg and cheese flavor components of quiche. Zucchini can be a little tricky in baked goods as they can let out a lot of water, so I squeezed out as much liquid as possible. For the final version I used a zucchini that weighed almost 12 ounces, but you could get away with as little as 8 ounces. The quichettes were a little stubborn coming out of the muffin tin, so if you don’t have non-stick bake ware be sure to coat the pan thoroughly. These quichettes came out just right. They held together like a muffin, tasted like a quiche. They’re versatile enough to be enjoyed at the breakfast/brunch table, as a party appetizer or as breakfast on the go. With warmer weather right around the corner, these quichettes are neat enough to pack in a cooler or picnic basket for your next trip to the mountains or beach, even your favorite sporting event. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Hand-held Zucchini Quiches

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used cashew)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (optional – this helps to brown the top surface)
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated  (12 oz.) squeezed
  • ¼ to ½ cup any type of onion, chopped

Dry Ingredients

  • ½ cup chick pea flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ to 1 teaspoon black salt, truffle salt or regular salt
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon tomato powder (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat non-stick muffin pan with oil.

In a medium size bowl combine milk and lemon juice and let sit a few minutes. Add in oil, zucchini and scallions.

In another bowl whisk together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake for about 35 minutes until light brown on top and almost cooked through.

Remove from oven, cool completely before removing from muffin pan.


13 Mar 2016

Learning to Cook: Cauliflower & Macaroni in an Instant Pot

Cauliflower & Macaroni

Cauliflower & Macaroni

One of my grandmother’s favorite meals, especially during Lent, was Cauliflower and Macaroni. It was prepared the same way that she made broccoli and cavatelli. It was pretty amazing how she was able to prepare a variety of meals using the same basic approach. This was how I learned to cook. While I was testing out my Broccoli & Orecchiette recipe for the Instant Pot, I was already thinking about how I could apply what I was learning that afternoon to other recipes. And then I remembered that head of cauliflower in the fridge. Since cauliflower takes a bit longer to cook than broccoli, I had to think about floret size and cooking time as it relates to the pasta. I discovered that the sweet spot for al dente pasta in the pressure cooker is six minutes on low pressure, so everything else is based on that. My first go at the cauliflower & macaroni included large florets and a four-grain penne. The cauliflower was too hard, which didn’t allow it to absorb the garlic flavor and the four-grain pasta created a gummy coating on everything. (If you’re really big on gluten-free pasta and don’t mind the slight gumminess, then go for it.) For my next attempt, I cut the cauliflower into florets small enough to fit inside a coffee measuring scoop (remember size matters) and used a mezze rigatoni made from semolina. This was just the right combination. The cauliflower was tender and infused with a nice garlicky taste and the rigatoni was al dente. I sprinkled a portion with black truffle salt for a bit of “umami”, which can be translated from Japanese as a “pleasant savory taste”.  I also tried a portion with some black salt which simulates the flavor of hard-cooked eggs. These days I use black salt when adapting recipes that are traditionally made with eggs. Just a sprinkling on top of this dish reminded me of a pie that was made with bucatini pasta, eggs and ricotta and served on Easter Sunday, but that’s another story. Tomorrow happens to be a Friday during Lent; but even if you don’t observe Lenten traditions, it’s a good day for cauliflower and macaroni. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Cauliflower Floret

Cauliflower Floret








Cauliflower & Macaroni with Truffle Salt for the Instant Pot

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ lb. mezze rigatoni pasta (or any cut pasta)
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon truffle salt (you can substitute sea or black salt)*
  • 12 oz. cauliflower, broken into pieces that would fit inside a coffee measuring scoop
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set instant pot to saute and heat oil if using. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add in red pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off saute setting. Add pasta, water and bouillon if using, then place cauliflower on top. Place cover on instant pot and set to low pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Use quick release to bring pressure down and when safe remove cover. Remove contents to a serving bowl immediately to prevent further cooking. If there is extra water in bottom, you can set the pot to saute to evaporate the excess liquid.

*Note: You can leave the salt out of the recipe while cooking and let everyone salt when served.





10 Mar 2016

March Muffin Madness: Tutti-Frutti Muffins

Tutti-Frutti Muffins

Tutti-Frutti Muffins

I was never the athletic type and didn’t participate too much in team sports as a child. I think I held myself back because I was the shy, chubby girl who was afraid to look like a klutz. For some reason, when I was eleven, I mustered up the courage to join a softball team. What was I thinking? All the other girls had been playing for years and they were really good (I mean college-scholarship good). The coach decided to put me at second base. You know, that’s a pretty tough position to play. If there wasn’t a fly ball to the outfield it seemed every other hit was a line drive aimed right at me. I must have been thinking, “I better figure this out or I’m gonna get hurt.” The coach probably put me there because I couldn’t throw the ball very far, but I had a good eye and quick reflexes to pick up those infield hits. At the end of the season, I was quite surprised to hear the coach say that I was the most improved player on the team. “Most improved?” I must have been really bad when I started out the season, but I tried really hard not to let the other girls down. Even with the coach’s encouraging words, I didn’t sign up for the team the following year. It’s kind of funny how, to this day, I have no interest in watching a baseball game (or any other sporting event), but I really liked playing softball. So, maybe I’d rather be in the game and not just a spectator. This brings me to the big sporting event that comes around at this time of year: March Madness. For the handful of you who may not know, this is the NCAA basketball tournament that determines the national championship of college basketball teams. All around the country, people will be gathering around the water cooler wondering who’s going to the dance and what teams will be Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight or the Final Four. Standing just shy of five feet tall, it’s fair to say that basketball is really a stretch for me. I don’t know a thing about this sport, so how could I get in the game? What I do know is how to make a mean muffin, so I decided to come up with a series of posts called “March Muffin Madness” where I get to show off some moves on the home court (aka my kitchen). I don’t think I’ll have the energy to come up with 16 different muffin recipes, so I’ll shoot for eight, be happy if I come up with four and hopefully have a few slam-dunks along the way. The tip-off recipe will be Tutti-Frutti Muffins. Chock full of dried fruit, teff flour and unrefined sweetness, these muffins will have your fans jumping out of their seats! Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Tutti-Frutti Muffins

 Makes 24 miniature muffins

  • ¼ cup almond butter
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup dates, softened
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or 1 tablespoon brandy or rum)
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ¾ cup mixed dried fruit, chopped (figs, apricots, prunes, etc.)
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder or flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup teff flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease two miniature muffin tins with coconut oil or non-stick spray.

Place almond butter, maple syrup, dates, milk and vanilla in container of mini-chopper. Blend until combined (small pieces of dates are okay). Set aside.

In a small bowl, toss together walnuts, dried fruit, raisins and cocoa or flour until fruit and nuts are coated. Set aside.

Sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add fruit and nut mixture and stir to distribute ingredients. Add wet ingredients and stir until combined.

Using a small ice cream scoop, portion batter into muffin tins. Bake for 14 minutes until muffins spring back when touched with your finger. Remove to cooling rack and cool completely.




04 Mar 2016

Instant Gratification: Broccoli & Orecchiette in an Instant Pot

Broccoli & Orecchiette

Broccoli & Orecchiette

I’ve had an Instant Pot for a few weeks and have been experimenting with making pasta in it. The tricky thing about making pasta is getting it al dente (in Italian, that means “to the tooth”). The time-honored way of cooking pasta is to use several quarts of water for just a pound of pasta. This allows some of the starch to cook out of the pasta and keeps it from getting sticky. Have you noticed how the water gets cloudier the longer you cook the pasta? Many recipes instruct you to under-cook the pasta by 25% of the required time, reserving some of the cooking water, adding both to the saucepot and cooking with the sauce for the remaining time. This technique allows the pasta to absorb the sauce and for the sauce to stick onto the surface ensuring full-blown flavor in every mouthful. I’ve done it this way many times and it’s a great technique.

So I pondered the idea of cooking pasta right along with other ingredients in an Instant Pot (which goes against this code we Italians have about cooking pasta) and was happy to take on this culinary challenge. What would happen to all that excess pasta starch? Would it come out gummy? And how do you judge the right amount of water? Would it come out too dry or too watery? Would the sauce stick or separate from the pasta? It’s a lot to consider, so I figured I might as well test the waters.

I’ve always enjoyed broccoli and cavatelli which is typically made with a lot of garlic and even more olive oil. I’ve made VFF (virtually fat free) versions on the stove top, but they’ve usually been too dry and bland. Since an Instant Pot forces the flavors into foods, I figured this would be a good recipe to try. For my first attempt I browned garlic, fennel and crushed red pepper on the saute setting, then layered, in this order, small florets of broccoli, orecchiette then enough water (about 3 cups) to cover everything. (I was afraid to try frozen pasta, hence the use of orecchiette instead of cavatelli.) After six minutes on low pressure, the pasta was al dente with a nice garlicky taste, but there was too much leftover liquid and the broccoli was mushy. I drained the excess liquid and had this for lunch. For my second attempt, I put the orecchiette in after browning the garlic and added just enough water (about 1 cup) to cover the pasta. I then placed the broccoli on top so that it would just steam instead of stew in the liquid. The pasta came out al dente; with just enough liquid left so that the pasta was juicy; and the broccoli was garlicky, but not mushy. Warning: my next statement may sound a bit risque, but please read on. Sometimes in cooking, size matters. When a recipe calls for an ingredient like broccoli or cauliflower florets, it might be a good idea for the instructions to be more exact. For my first attempt at this recipe, I cut the broccoli into small florets. I believe that contributed to the mushy outcome. For the second attempt, I broke the broccoli into very large florets (you’ll see in the recipe that I used the description “bigger than a coffee scoop”) and it came out just right. If you’ve ever made a zucchini bread and the recipe called for a “large zucchini”, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it can make a big difference in the final outcome if you’re left wondering exactly how “large” something is. Looking ahead, I will be mindful to include weights and measurements in my recipes whenever it makes a difference.

I’ll sum it up with two words. Pasta. Perfection. There’s not much else to say, until next time. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Broccoli - Size Matters

Broccoli – Size Matters








Broccoli & Orecchiette for the Instant Pot

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (optional)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ lb. orecchiette pasta
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon Better Than Bouillon No Chicken base (optional)
  • 12 oz. broccoli, broken into pieces about the size of a coffee measuring scoop
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Set instant pot to saute and heat oil if using. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add in fennel seeds and red pepper and stir for 30 seconds. Turn off saute setting. Add pasta, water and bouillon if using, then place broccoli on top. Place cover on instant pot and set to low pressure and cook for 6 minutes. Use quick release to bring pressure down and when safe remove cover. Remove contents to a serving bowl immediately to prevent further cooking. If there is extra water in bottom, you can set the pot to saute to evaporate the excess liquid.

01 Mar 2016

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