Vegan chocolate-cranberry cake

The smell of coffee still triggers memories of Sunday mornings at my grandparents' former Pennsylvania home. On snowy December mornings before church, the grown-ups would pour themselves cups of coffee from the drip machine, discussing Pittsburgh football and the developments of the extended family while my brother and I snacked on the glorious and artificially-flavored Butterscotch Krumpets. My Pop-Pop leafed through the newspaper, and I copied him with the Sunday comics. 

I got a whiff of those memories earlier this week while making a chocolate cake. (!!!!!) Here the short story: the cake recipe called for freshly-brewed coffee, and so I brewed said coffee, and then promptly proceeded to spill the stuff all over my right hand. As the bad words fell from my mouth, I thought of those Sunday mornings and thought "Awww, never mind, Coffee. It's okay that you burnt me." It's funny how good memories can affect temporary pain.

But enough about that! On to the cake! Chocolate-cranberry cake! That's accidentally vegan because I'm running out of groceries and had to make do with what was in the kitchen!! A lot of exciting dishes (and art projects) start that way. 

I made this cake for a Christmas Party I attended Thursday evening. One of my high school best friends, Corinne, and another amazing high school friend, Austin, were visiting California along with Corinne's parents, and Corinne's godfather invited all of us to his big holiday blowout. Whew! In addition to all these familial connections, Corinne and Austin got ENGAGED (!!!) about a week ago, and were celebrating it up fiancé-style.. They two hit it off during sophomore year, when Corinne took on the seemingly-innocent role of Austin's Spanish tutor. I don't know how well Austin currently speaks Spanish, but given the circumstances,  I think the lessons seem to have paid off. (wink wink nudge nudge.) 

So in the spirit of Christmas and celebration, I tore through the cabinets of my baked goods and threw everything into a bowl, sneaking licks along the way. Chocolate cake batter is a dessert of it's own caliber, and provides a warm darkness that wraps me in up in a sexy, silk blanket. Sugared cranberries spill on a white plate, and I play Michael Bublé's Christmas album while still in my bathrobe and glasses. 

Christmas takes place in the kitchen, in my car, and the living room with Wes and Dylan. As the oven warms the chilly air (yes, LA is chilllllly!!!) and sprinkles and cranberries line the counters, I clap my hands in joy and say "it really is beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas." 

One week and I'm on a redeye back to Virginia. Until then, friends, enjoy some chocolate cake. Don't let the vegan-ness of this cake steer you away; it's moist and fantastic and perfect for holiday parties. It's my little gift to the cows this year. The can keep their eggs and milk for the season while I lick the batter from a spoon.

vegan chocolate cranberry cake 

1 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup organic can sugar

1/2 cup safflower, vegetable, or canola oil

1 cup chilled brewed coffee

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup cranberries tossed with 2 tablespoons sugar 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using oil or spray, grease an 9-inch cake pan, then cut a circle of parchment and place it on the bottom, then oil. This makes such a wonderful difference!

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Whisk together to break up any cocoa clumps. In a second medium bowl, combine the oil, coffee, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir together until smooth. Stir in the cranberries.

Add the vinegar and stir. Some fizzing may occur as the vinegar interacts with the baking powder. Immediately, pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Take the cake out of the oven and cool completely on a rack. When cool, frost with the chocolate frosting and garnish with any remaining cranberries. 

Here is the chocolate frosting recipe I used. To keep it vegan, I substituted the butter with Earth Balance's buttery spread. 

This recipe was adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen. Thanks, ladies!

- stay cozy

Paleo mini pumpkin pies with a vanilla-coconut crust

It's about time.

pumpkin5.jpg

Pumpkin pie and I have a long history. Sometime around elementary school, I asked for pumpkin pie over the traditional yellow-and-chocolate frosting birthday cake. Mish happily obliged, providing me with a giant orange circle of spiced goodness. Plastic pink-and-white candles stood stacked in the pumpkin like naked trees on fire, and I wore an old gypsy Halloween costume as I made my wish.

During my senior year of high school, my family would occasionally buy ginormous pumpkin pies from Costco during the fall season. They stuck around for about a week, steadily making their disappearance as we grabbed after-dinner (and often late-morning) slices. One night, I was up until four am annotating Memoirs of a Geisha. Annotating was a regular practice in my AP Literature class; each month we picked a novel for the month's theme (black history, women's rights, utopian societies), read it, and filled the margins with dozens of notes and ideas. My teacher, Mrs. Buckley, was phenomenal, and introduced us to so amazing reads that to this day I continue to use her list of recommendations. That being said, I had gotten so caught up in Sayuri's journey down the rabbit hole into Geisha-land (especially in regards to her infatuation with the Chairman), that I had ...ahem...skipped over some annotations to finish the story. So there I was, in the black of a November night, scribbling away at the margins as if my life depended on it. (Mrs. Buckley, if you ever read this, I loved this book and I'm sorry I was up until 4am making my annotations. Thank you for being understanding and wise.) Luckily, there was that Costco pumpkin pie. I dined on a hefty slice, looked a the oven clock and to see that it was 3:56, and thought "well this isn't such a bad way to spend my evening."

College was a time full of microwavable dumplings and lucky charms and dixie cup jello shooters. I rarely took the time to bake, and when I did it was often outrageous baked goods covered in commercial baked goods (example: the zebra cake cake).  Luckily, come late October, our dining hall began serving slivers of some of the most amazing pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. The crust was likely industrialized, and possessed small imprints along the ridges that looked as if a squared-footed bird had confidently stomped in a neat circle. The pumpkin custard was perfectly spiced, and there was a wonderfully moist padding at the point where the crust and pumpkin made contact. The only problem was that the pieces were small, and so I would often return for seconds, earning myself the nickname "pie girl." It could have been worse.

I'm surprised it's taken me this long to tackle a pumpkin pie. For a bit I trusted that it would be available Thanksgiving Day, but that sort of hubris can leave a girl alone and pie-less. I needed to control my own destiny. I had to bake pumpkin pie, and I had to do it before Thanksgiving was over and everyone moved onto cranberries, eggnog, and gingerbread. (Though I really do love cranberries, eggnog, and gingerbread. Don't worry. I'll get to you guys.)

So I opened my brain and tackled the task at hand.  I've been doing a lot of paleo baking, a rather like the end result. Almond and coconut flours provide a nice texture, and my gut tends to thank me the next day. So after some internet research, I found a recipe. I had no pie plate but I did have a muffin tin, and from said muffin tin came irresistible baby pies that I love like my own children. My children that I eat.

The thing about making pumpkin pie is understanding the spice ratios. This is where you're allotted some freedom, but it's a bit like playing God with a blindfold on. You don't really know what the pie is gonna taste like, you just kinda throw in some nutmeg, maybe a bit more cloves, and hope and pray the thing tastes good. Libby's has a solid recommendation of spices, but I've made this before and it did not taste like my beloved dining hall pumpkin pie. After mixing around a bit, I think I've got it.

In most pumpkin pie recipes, you either go for a handful of spices or opt for the all-in-one pumpkin pie spice. The trick is to do BOTH. That's right, get your hands dirty and sprinkle all those babies right in the batter. I'm fairly certain dining hall pumpkin pie relied heavily on pumpkin pie spice, but I love the addition of extra nutmeg. It's adds savory warmth, and brings me back to those moments of dining hall dinners consumed before heading to rehearsal.  

I'm a proud pie girl. 

paleo mini pumpkin pies with a vanilla-coconut crust

crust

1 cup coconut flour

1 cup tapioca flour (aka tapioca starch)

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup coconut cil, melted

1 egg 

5 tbsp raw agave 

1 tbsp vanilla extract

filling

1/2 of a (15 oz) can of pumpkin puree, or 1 cup 

1/4 cup coconut milk (canned, full-fat)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground cinnamo

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice 

1 1/2 tbsp agave 

1/2 tbsp tapioca flour 

 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, whisked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with your choice of oil or fat.

Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix unto thoroughly combined into a smooth, dough ball. If the dough seems too crumbly, add a bit more coconut oil. If it seems too oily, add a bit more tapioca flour.

sing your hands, drop a small ball of dough into each muffin cup. Use your fingers to press and shape the dough into a small cup, forming the crust. You can use a tart tamper, or a wooden cocktail muddler, to help flatten everything out.

Bake the tarts in the preheat oven for five minutes.  Remove the tarts. They will have puffed up some, so gently the middle of each tart with a toothpick or fork to release steam. Use the muddler or tart tamper to press down and bubbles. 

While the crust cools, prepare the pumpkin filling. Combine all of the pie ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, fill the cooled tart shells all the way with pie filling. Cook for ten minutes, or until the edges of the crust are just browned. 

Allow to cook completely on a wire rack. Using a spoon or small paring knife, separate the tarts from the muffin tin. Served with coconut cream, if desired.

This was adapted from a recipe on Our Paleo Life.  

Enjoy in the late morning with a cup of chai tea, with friends around the kitchen table, or alone, while reading a book, at 4am. 

P.S. No list links today, but I did read this wonderful article about letting go of the guilt revolved around "shoulds." Find it here!

- stay cozy

Indian Food with Simon Majumdar, and a few Saturday morning links

I was spoiled this week. 

Wednesday - I twirled to First Aid Kit, a two-girl Americana band hailing from Sweden.  A string quarter joined them, and as they sang the The Lion's Roar, massive headbanging ensued. 

Thursday - Cathy gave me a set of baby balsamic vinegars for tiny tastes and samples! For no reason! I also went into Williams and Sonoma for the first time this holiday season and while I'm trying not to be so much of a consumer, oh my goodness did I want everything. There were dutch ovens and emersion blenders and stand-mixers of the palest blue. As I get older, this is what I envision Santa's workshop to look like. With the addition peppermint white russians. 

Friday - I ate Indian food.

Correction, I learned how to make Indian food, straight from food and travel writer Simon Majumdar. One of the subtitles on Simon's website says, "Go everywhere. Eat everything." He's a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen, Iron Chef America, and The Next Iron Chef, and a poet when it comes to detailing the nourishment of food and exploration.

Simon (the sweet guy!) agreed to do some videos for Salted, one of the companies I'm currently freelancing for. Mostly my work has me A) curled up in bed with a cup of hot cocoa, researching the history of the pomegranate, or B) in the office, this time likely with chai, and writing out Thanksgiving Day recipes.  However, Friday was spent in the best possible way:  setting up camp in the airy loft of littlemeatsLA for a day of filming Simon serving up some classic Indian dishes.

Over the course of nine hours, we learned how to temper oil, to roast and grind spices,  to make garam masala, to make naan, and to make paneer. We also learned the recipes for chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, a lime/garlic/ginger/chile yogurt sauce, and saag paneer.  Cardamom, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves danced in the air as we moved through the shoots, pausing to change refill water bottles and sample some of Simon's brilliant creations. 

"Look how sexy that is," Simon said, gesturing to the spice pods, dried chiles, and cinnamon sticks laying seductively in a white bowl. He was right. They WERE sexy.  Like,  man-bun level of sexy. 

Now, I know I was technically working. Simon in particular was moving with a super-human level of endurance. But there was something about this process that felt so utterly cozy.  The lofty kitchen of littlemeatsLA provided our day's nest and offered all of the kitchen supplies we could possibly need (someone did their Williams and Sonoma shopping). There was a sense of community as we navigated across the counters, refilling jars with kashmir chili and cream so that Simon could continue onto the next recipe. Even washing dishes triggered the memory of Thanksgiving Day back in my home of Northern Virginia. I had that same feeling that I should be overwhelmed with the amount of dishes, but instead I felt lucky to even be in the kitchen in the first place. It's a good place to be. 

By the time the sun dipped beyond the horizon, Simon had prepared his final dishes, and we were sampling his homemade naan. There was a warm lick of butter across the top of the surface, and the pillowy interior rocked me in a gentle massage.  Light fell from the high bulbs of the loft onto the wooden tables, and the remaining warmth from the burner echoed throughout the room. 

Every time I practice yoga, I set a small mission for myself to keep through the day. Most recently I've been focusing on awareness and gratitude, because there's really no point for me not to feel either. As I scooped up my remaining saag paneer with a wedge of the naan, I felt a wave of both sensations. The naan offered more than a jolt of energy; it gave me gratitude for the moment, awareness of every sensation, and tremendous appreciation for the flavor of life. 

Some more of Simon's recipes can be found here. I certainly recommend trying the saag paneer. In addition to being sexy, it's also downright delicious. 


Saturday morning links!

// littlemeatsLA is where we filmed Simon's shoot. It's a sweet little creative space that allows for artists and chefs to collaborate with one another, and is on a mission to bring back the Sunday Supper vibe. 

// how famous artists would plate Thanksgiving Day meals  

Remember chugging the leftover chocolate milk from Cocoa Pebbles? Megan turned it into a grown-up dessert. //

// I want to live in a cake terrarium   

Mama makes beautiful lunchbag art for the littles one //

// Aphrodite's Kitchen is now one of my go-to blogs for beautiful pictures and collages. Her stories of Cyprus read like fairy tales. 

 

-stay cozy! 

 

 

 

 

 

Salted candy bar cookies

It's hard to improve perfection.

Halloween candy, for example. There's something about this seasonal treat that sets it a few notches higher than the average Milky Way, or heck, even a Milky Way Midnight. Halloween candy comes in a diverse cluster, filling a plastic bag with bright colors and foreign treats. It can  leads us down the road to the more evasive candies, like Caramel Apple Tootsie Roll pops or Rolos.  I rarely eat candy, and when I do, I stick to the classics. Enter Halloween, and it's fun-sized buffet of everything from malted milk balls to dark chocolate Kit Kats. 

That being said, after a week of dipping my hands into the pile of plastic and sugar, I was ready to think outside of the box. And I was reading Paris Letters, specifically the chapter when she's quotes Hemingway and says that if we ever feel stuck, all we need to do is "write one true sentence." Okay!

1. Halloween candy is good. 

And then I wrote another. 

2. Chocolate chip cookies are good.

BOOM! Halloween candy + chocolate chip cookies + a sprinkling of salt (because salt makes everything sparkle) = Candy Bar Cookies that sing like the sirens and taste like a fancier version of childhood. 

I made these on a late Saturday afternoon, after two yoga classes and a walk that was was too long to be doing with a yoga mat strapped to my back.  I felt all zen-like and was super into the idea of hanging out in the stillness of the kitchen for a few hours. The sun sunk down early, and I opened a bottle of red champagne and began chopping the cold chocolate. 

When I poured the candy out onto the table, the made an adorable clunkthudclunk and lay splayed out like a painting.  The snickers cut quite nicely, revealing flat squares of nougat, peanuts, and caramel. The Butterfingers were another matter, and flaked, sprinkling the cutting board in a sweet orange powder. Said orange powder ended up being an entirely new ingredient within the cookies, giving them a hint of salty, peanut-y-ness throughout. No complaints whatsoever. 

The resulting cookers were like a party; lots of candies invited and I want to hang out with all of them.  Snickers and Babe Ruth dominate as beer pong partners, and Milky Way makes sexy eye contact with Hershey's. Whoppers instigates a game of strip poker, and all the candies squeal, remove their wrappers, and then I eat them all. (!!) 

The base cookie recipe comes from Crepes of Wrath, and it's perfect.  Crispy edges, soft interiors, and a delicate balance of salt and butter. I ate them at the kitchen table, breaking the edges off and dipping them into a glass of milk. It was cozy and fun and I've never more like a child and a grownup at the exact time. 

Salted candy bar cookies 

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups chopped fun-sized candy bars

fleur de sel or sea salt, for sprinkling

 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Use a chef's knife to chop the candy bars into small, 1-inch chunks and set inside. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the melted butter and sugars until incorporated. Add in the egg, mix until combined, then the egg yolk, and mix until combined. Add in the vanilla and mix.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add it to the sugar mixture and use a large spoon or rubber spatula to mix until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fold in the chopped candy bars. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment parchment paper or silpat, and scoop out 2-tablespoon sized balls onto the sheets. Sprinkle a bit of salt onto each cookie. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just lightly golden and set. All to cool on the sheets for a few minutes before removing. 

I find this whole thing is a bit easier if the candy bars are refrigerated beforehand. I made these using Hershey's, Milky Ways, Reeses, Butterfingers, Snickers, Whoppers, and Take 5. 

-stay cozy

 

 

Gluten-free and vegan chocolate covered oreos

Happiest of happy Halloweens! I hope your day is filled with fun-sized milky ways, plastic pumpkins, and face paint.

It's been a good week. Last Monday night I was fortunate enough to participate in a creative non-fiction writing exercise with the Ziji Collective. The experience was like tossing scarves into the wind on an autumn day; simultaneously cozy and freeing.

The exercise was to simply write out "I remember _______." They were truths, and often short little stories. For example:

I remember wanting to read the famous sex scene in Judy Blume's Forever, but not being able to because the book wasn't allowed in my middle school library. 

I remember entering a chat room for the first time. 

I remember when my high school history teacher threw a baby doll off the porch of our trailer-classroom in order to demonstrate what happened to unfit, Spartan babies. 

We took turns reading from a book of "I remembers" and then sharing our own. What came across was a sense of connection; many of us had eyeballed the weird looking old guy on the bus or re-visited a sex scene in some piece of fiction. We had once felt cool, and then stupid, and then cool once again, and then confused. 

As Halloween approaches, I'm sure we all have many "I remembers." This holiday is the launch pad into the fall season. It's when the walk home from school felt somewhat spookier and you sorted you candy for an elementary school activity. It's a party where they've somehow made hotdogs into sexy costumes and cupcakes with lime green frosting. 

In LA, we had our first lick of Fall yesterday. While I was babysitting, Dylan and I went on a walk, and we had to put on our long sleeves for the journey out into the surprisingly crisp weather of the Santa Monica late afternoon. His family is having a Halloween party tomorrow night, so we also made chocolate covered "oreos" for celebration munchies. Quotes are necessary because these oreos were of the gluten and dairy free variety so that mom could enjoy some as well. Halloween snacks are far more fun when everyone dive right in. (I remember how sad I was when it was the era of braces and I sat looking longingly at a plate of candy apples.)

Because everything was so damn precious, I had to take pictures. 

"Do you always take pictures when you bake things?" Dylan asked me.

"For the most part," I said. The shutter clicked. Dylan, ever curious, pulled out his dad's camera (a big fancy thing) and started to follow suit.  We had a nice time. 

Gluten and dairy-free chocolate covered oreos

One pack of gluten/dairy-free oreos (Newman's Own makes a good one.)

2 cups of dairy-free chocolate chips (I use Mini-Chips. They melt easier, too.) 

3 tablespoons coconut oil 

Decorative tasties! Sprinkles, frosting, whatever your heart desire. (optional, but not really)

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a double-boiler or in the microwave. If microwaving, cook in 30 minutes blast until fully melted, stirring in between. 

Lay out a piece of wax or parchment paper over a baking sheet. Using a pair of tongs, dip the cookies into the chocolate, fully coating each side,  and place onto the parchment paper.

If using sprinkles, start to decorate the oreos. If not, place them into the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Make or prep your frosting. I used this buttercream recipe and added orange food coloring for a spOOOOOOOky result! 

 

I think we'll remember that afternoon.  Enjoy your treats, friends! I'll be romping around as Aladdin Sane tonight, so keep your eye out for some sparkles. 

-stay cozy

Dark chocolate brownies with strawberry cream cheese frosting

I've been keeping a secret. Well, several secrets, really.  Somethings just aren't meant to be discussed right away, and it's nice to keep a teacup full of private thoughts. But now I'm feeling guilty and it's time to do some sharing.  1) At summer camp, I once hid under the bunkbed during a fire drill so that I could read the sex scene in Judy Blume's Forever without fear of judgement  2) I wrote fanmail to gay Broadway actors asking if they wanted to get coffee on my NYC school field trips and was sad when I never got a response, 3) I have a brownie recipe. (!!)

While now I tend to gravitate toward the homemade version, I was raised a boxed brownie kid. They were simple and I thought the batter was better. Artificial Ghiradelli was the best, and my mother taught me to swap out the water for some espresso, leading to a very hyper, chocolate-covered child. Then I started to blossom, slapped on my baker's backpack, and ventured out into a world of homemade brownies.  I explored my palette, sampling brownies with caramel, often chocolate chips, and then the occasional super brownie that came decked out with a cream cheese design and lookin' like it was headed to the Tony's. 

About two weeks ago, my friend Blake celebrated his 26th birthday. Blake and I get along well; as fellow libras we understand the value of balance and can appreciate a really good party. Blake's soiree consisted of a backyard decked with fairy lights, iron-wrought tables and chairs, and an outdoor bar for wine and whiskey consumption. The dress code was "Sunday Best" and the menu consisted of cannolis, birthday cake oreos, chocolate chip cookies, and red velvet cupcakes.  It was so fancy, the beer pong table had a tablecloth. 

As for my contribution, I envisioned something a la "Alice in Wonderland", where the frosting doesn't completely cover the cake, but rather glops over in a rustic-storybook-kinda-way.  Cake would have been nice, but brownies sounded better. Don't get me wrong, I worship all sorts of flavors and types of cakes,  but if it's gonna be chocolate, I say go big or go home. Go for the brownie. 

This brownie recipe is not just any ordinary brownie recipe. These are the brownies that cause diets to crumble and tears to fall. These are the brownies that you give to potential lovers to keep them around and to your mother to say "thank you." They're deeply chocolate-y, a good median between cake and fudge, and when cold, quite literally, melt upon meeting the tongue. If I sent these bad boys instead of some stickers plastered on Hello Kitty stationary, those broadway actors may have written back. 

dark chocolate brownies with strawberry cream cheese frosting 

Ingredients 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour 

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder

4 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

3/4 cup granulated sugar 

1/4 packed brown sugar 

3 eggs, at room temp

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 8x8 or 9x9 baking pan with aluminum foil and grease with butter. 

Whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder until incorporated. 

Place the chopped chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

Add one egg to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey!!

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a knife comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the foil. For a super clean cut, chill the brownies in the fridge before slicing. 

The brownies were adapted from Michelle over at Brown Eyed Baker, and there are plenty more delicious recipes to choose from over there. To make the frosting, I simply used this super easy recipe here. 

These brownies are pretty stellar hot and gooey, but they're out-of-this-world after they've been chilling in the fridge for a few hours.  For me, it's reminiscent of mornings I would head downstairs for breakfast, check the fridge for eggs, and quickly opt for the cold, melt-in-your-mouth-y brownie leftovers instead. 

-stay cozy

Apple cider margaritas

You guys are the best.  Seriously, thank you for reading and for reading faithfully. You put up with me going on and on about various baked goods, random travels, my love for blankets, and etc.  But we can drop the act. It's okay. We all want the same thing: a good drink after a day's work. 

So here you go. 

Tequila seems fitting for a sticky afternoon and apple cider is positively designed for the fall season, so it seems appropriate that in California, where both of these worlds collide, we drink apple cider margaritas.

The first time I sipped a margarita it came in a yard-stick-sized plastic cup. And I said, "OKAY. LET'S."

I kid you not, fellow cozies. It was in Aruba, where the congo lines danced in a slurry of khaki shorts. At the same restaurant, I later discovered you could swap turns down the waterslide for free shots of rum punch.  I ended the afternoon soaking wet and inhaling a plate of nachos.

Since Aruba, I've upped my margarita game, saving them for Ketel One visits and the occasional splurge to a well-reviewed Mexican restaurant. I like it when the tequila is slightly smokey, and dances with the lime juice in a sexy tango. The subtle kiss of orange liqueur tickles the back of the tastebuds after cold salt meets hot lips. There's something sexy about a margarita, and so it's no surprise that they like to make their appearances in the kind of weather that demands a bikini bottom. 

But as my yearning for colder weather increases, I've made an exciting discovery. Margaritas CAN BE COZY. Hell, these margaritas are even wearing infinity scarves and hopping on the hayride. These are the kinds of margaritas that want to tag along on the trip to the cornmaze, and get chased by high school drama students dressed up like Freddy Kreuger. These margaritas are fireplace margaritas. 

On my first go with cozy margaritas, I used a silver tequila,  but in retrospect they'd probably be even better with a gold or mezcal. I bet the smokiness would add something special to the sweet n' spicy duo of apples and cloves. I also used a combo of granny smith/gala apple slices, as I like the mixture of sweet and tart. And aesthetically, red and green are ca-yuuuute. 

Apple cider margaritas 

Ingredients 

500 ml (or just over 2 cups) of cold spiced apple cider 

4.5 oz (or 3 shots) of  good tequila 

1.5 oz (or 1 shot) of grand marnier or triple sec

1.5 oz (or 1 shot) of lemon juice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cloves

1/2 granny smith apple

1/2 gala apple

2 lemon wedges 

cinnamon sugar mixture (for rim dusting)

 

 

Add one cup of ice into a pitcher. Pour in the first four ingredients and stir to mix. (You can also divide this recipe by 2, and make an individual serving using a shaker.) Add the cloves and cinnamon. Shake or stir the mixture, allowing the spices to disperse themselves throughout the rest of the drink. 

Cut the apples into thin slices. Using one lemon wedge, squirt some juice onto the edges of the apples. Set aside. 

Spread the cinnamon-sugar mixture onto a plate. Rub the rib of two mason jars or other desired serving glasses with the remaining lemon wedge. Turn the glasses upside down and dip into the the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Fill the glasses with ice, and then the margarita liquid. Add sliced apples, as desired.  

Serves two thirsty, flannel-loving people. 

That's all from me, folks. I'll be busy this week scouring the dollar stores for cheap-o Halloween decorations and packing (!!!) for this weekend's ChiTown visit with (!!!!!!!!!) the ladies from 1373 South Main Street.

-stay cozy

 


Honey and sage cornbread and backyard vegan chile

Sundays are sacred days. On the best of the Sundays, we are permitted to indulge in obligation-free relaxation, an addicting read (I currently can't stop clutching Not that Kind of Girl), and a seat that allow's the feet to sit perched up and happy. 

The weekend started in the best way possible: Popcorn Movie Night. For those of you unfamiliar, this is an evening where you slap on your coziest jammies, dress up some popped kernels with salt and olive oil (or cinnamon sugar, or parmesan and thyme, or ..get ready....taco seasoning), and watch something with an above-average plot line. 

A holiday that will never cease to be celebrated, I must say. That and Sundays.

Since it's also October, and I've mastered making our apartment feel like it's 10 degrees colder outside than it actually is (pumpkin spice candles and air conditioning, can't I get a hell yeah), this Sunday demanded something comfy. It demanded something that demanded chopping, slicing, simmering, stirring, baking, and timer-buzzing. It demanded a ginormous bowl of backyard vegan chile served with honey and sage cornbread. That's right people, we're going south! 

Cornbread and chile is an October-Sunday staple. It is post-pumpkin patch cuisine at it's finest. I used a recipe for vegan chile because I saw it while exploring Darling and it looked amazing. The "backyard" portion of the title comes from the use of barbecue sauce, which adds a delectable tang. It's the kind of thing you want waiting for you after you've just suffocated yourself in a pile of leaves, and pairs perfectly with beer and an afghan blanket. 

As for the cornbread, I got the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I added honey because honey gives cornbread an extra-comfy sweater, and real corn shredded straight from the cob because it tends to make it all the more special. The sage adds seasonal warmth, highlighting the bread's buttery flavor and subtle sweetness. Together, the honey, fresh corn, and sage do a little dance that best be described as "the coziest hoedown ever."

As we ate, we watched Jane Eyre and pondered potential Halloween costumes. Considerations included: Slutty Brontë Sisters and twin Walter White Jrs. Those will likely end up in the reject pile, but we didn't need permanent answers then anyway. It was Sunday. 

vegan backyard chili

Ingredients

1 medium onion

2 medium bell peppers

1 1/2 cups of each beans: pinto, kidney, and black beans

4 cloves of garlic

2 teaspoons olive oil

4 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

Chop up all the vegetables and dice the garlic. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and allow them to quick for 5 to 8 minutes. 

Add the vegetables to the pot, and allow them to cook for another 5 minutes. Stir often. Mix in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, and salt. Cook for one more minute. 

Add the barbecue sauce to the pot. I used one called "BIG AND TANGY" and it lived up to it's name. Different flavors will yield different chiles, so you can mix it up and try your favorites. I added the brown sugar at this point, as I wanted to add something sweet to the big and the tangy. 

Lower the heat and add the beans. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes. For thicker chili, add fifteen minutes to the simmer time. For more soup-like chili, add vegetable broth. 

Once your chili is finished, add the lemon juice, or any other spices to achieve the desired flavor. Give one big stir and serve warm. 


Honey and sage cornbread

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425. Grease a 9-inch cake pan; set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, stir the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and sage.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, honey, and melted butter. Add egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture. Add the fresh corn. Stir until just moistened, careful not to overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly; serve warm. 

Ingredients

1 cup cornmeal

3/4 all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk 

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 tablespoon honey

Kernels from one ear of corn

Cornbread is a lovely lovely lovely thing because you can play with as if it were a bucket o' playdoh. Add whatever mix-ins you desire...cranberries for sweeter bread or jalapeños for a bread with attitude. The chili recipe can be found here.

-stay cozy

Fein tau weiyema, or pumpkin bread pudding from Mexico

Today we’re caravanning to back to college with a longer goal of reaching South America.  I’m aiming to have all you East-Coasters back by dinnertime.

There are several things I enjoyed about undergrad.  I loved the feeling of snatching one of the coveted “double-decker” desks located on the third floor of our library during exam week, the random tapestry and incense sales that would occur outside the student union, it being totally acceptable to wear leggings as pants, and the dining hall’s bread pudding.

 Eating bread pudding at James Madison University was my first exposure to this revolutionary dessert.  I remember eating it, setting my fork down, and thinking “what the f***?” The concoction was somehow both crispy and uncooked. It felt like my grandmother had made it, and yet at the same time it had come out of the vending machine. And it was right next to the frozen yogurt machine, which was like putting the North Pole beside Señor Frogs.

As you can see, I was hooked.  Before the experience, I liked pudding, but it was never something I would methodically seek out. But now, after that first freshman year taste, I was obsessed with pudding and carb combinations. Rice pudding, which seemed like a disgusting snack portrayed in 90s cartoon lunchrooms, was actually amazing. Even tapioca pudding had its moments.  Despite the delicious culinary adventure I was on, it always came back to bread pudding. Especially when JMU decided to start adding Nestlé chocolate chips into the mixture. I literally once used a dining hall punch only to get bread pudding, put some in a tupperwear container, and then took it back with me so I could eat in my pajamas while watching Memoirs of a Geisha.

 However, I have since graduated, and had to wave goodbye to the industrialized bread pudding and hello to my pair of oven mitts.  It’s not bad at all, especially when cans of pumpkin are hitting the shelves at only 99 cents.

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This is not a recipe for bread pudding, rather a recipe for South American pumpkin bread that tastes and feels like bread pudding. I found the recipe in an issue of Saveur and fell in love with its warmth and simplicity.  It provides the same level of comfort as JMU bread pudding, but allows me to play in the kitchen and powder my nose with flour.

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 The article, along with the recipe, highlighted the cuisine of the Garifuna people living along the coast of Honduras. Identity and cuisine go hand in hand, as the Garifunians use the findings from their habitat to provide nourishment.  When it comes to preparation, the focus is on the act of cooking; friends and family gather in the kitchen, massaging plantains while coconut milk bubbles. 

 Comfort and cuisine are good playmates. They hold hands, take turn licking the beaters, and offer a cozy companion when things get a little chilly. 

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fei tau weiyema (or bread pudding from Mexico)

¼ cup canola oil, plus more for pan

2 cups flour, plus more for pan

1½ cups sugar

¼ cup milk

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. kosher salt

2 (15-oz.) cans pumpkin purée, or 2 lb. puréed, roasted pumpkins or acorn squash

cinnamon-sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan; set aside.

Stir together oil, sugar, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and pumpkin in a bowl; add flour, and stir until just combined. Pour into prepared pan, and smooth top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1-2 hours. Cut into squares or wedges to serve.

I sprinkled mine with cinnamon-sugar, but this is one hundred percent optional!

This recipe was first published in a November 2012 issue of Saveur and comes along with a lovely little story written by Betsy Andrews on Garifunian lifestyle and cuisine.  The bread is very, very moist. I baked it on the longer end of the spectrum, hitting about 2 hours. The exterior is spicy and crunchy, like a cookie, and the inside is like a pumpkin molten cake. 

In other news, I really love this article on living minimally. I especially love the the mason-jar-food-storage system. Feel like a storybook!!! wee!

-stay cozy

Rustic paleo apple cake

Fall in California requires a little creativity.

I live in the desert. Sometime it’s also the mountains, and if I drive for fifteen minutes I’ll hit the ocean, but for the most part, there’s a lot of a dust and a lot of cacti and a lot of sun.

This weekend was supposed to be upper 90s (!) over on the Westside and 100 (!!!) in the Valley.  Many vague plans were made: go to the beach, go to the pool, etc, etc.  They were all very appropriate things for one to do when the heat comes wriggling in a thick magic carpet-style wave.  When it’s hot, you try to cool off. That’s why I bought a Chillow.

But I also had another idea in mind, and it was called Apple Cake.

During this heat wave, Sydney and I blasted the air conditioner, wore cotton socks, and lit pumpkin and vanilla candles. With autumn scents wafting through the air, and the glimmer of pines out the window (Yes, we have a few pines! That’s pretty great), it felt like your average, September afternoon. To heighten the experience, I explored the cabinets for fall-related goodies, and emerged in a pile of metaphorical crunchy leaves and holding a jar of applesauce.

I was never crazy about applesauce as a kid, as I’ve morphed into adulthood, I’ve grown to love it. Paired with a sprinkling of cinnamon, it’s a comforting and simple snack, and tends to make one feel slightly adorable. It’s a cute food. And when it comes to making cakes, it’s wonderful. With applesauce, gluten-free and paleo recipes are TRANSFOOOORMED into beautiful, moist desserts.  

The apple cake is a great example for this. I had a marvelous time slicing the apples, hearing them crunch, and allowing the aroma of nutmeg and cinnamon to dance through the kitchen.  I licked the batter off the rubber spatula, and it was earthy and sweet.  When the cake came out of the oven, the edges were golden and the apples had softened into a gentle dusting of tiny pillows.  Steam billowed out as I made thick slices. It was so moist that not a single crumb fell.

It’s paleo and gluten-free, and if that turns you away, please don’t let it. Using applesauce and banana feels so appropriate for this fall treat, and the coconut flour adds a richness that you simply can’t find with all-purpose.

rustic paleo apple cake

1 apple ( I used Gala, but any would do)

2 tsp maple syrup

¾ cup tapioca flour/starch

½ cup coconut flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp +1/2 tsp cinnamon, divided

tsp + tsp nutmeg, divided

tsp + tsp ground cloves, divided

2 eggs

½ cup agave or honey (I used agave)

1 tbs vanilla

2 tbs melted coconut oil

1 small banana (mashed up)

1 cup apple sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a 8x8 cake pan in wax paper. You can also use a 9.25 X 5.25 X 2.75 loaf tin, if desired.

Cut the apple into thin, vertical slices and then cut in half horizontally. Place the slices in a small bowl and pour 2 tsp of maple syrup on top.  Add ½ tsp of cinnamon, and the tsp of both the nutmeg and the cloves. Mix everything together and set aside.

In one bowl, mix the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and the rest of the spices together with a fork. Set aside.

In a second bowl, mix the eggs, honey or agave, vanilla, coconut oil, and mashed banana together with an electric mixer until everything is well incorporated. Add the apple sauce and mix with the electric mixer until well blended. Pour the first bowl into the second bowl and mix using the electric mixer.

Use a rubber spatula to pour the batter into the pan. Vertically insert the apple slices into the batter in rows. Try to space them evenly apart, with not too much or too little space in between the apples. You might not use all the apples, but that’s okay because you can snack on the leftovers…!

Bake for 60 minutes. Remove from oven when golden brown and let cool.

This recipe was found off of Perchance to Cook, which is very cute and should be explored.

So, A++++++++ for Apple Cake. It’s simple, rustic, and warm. It can be eaten for breakfast, dessert, or a simple snack.

By the way, the Chillow did not satisfy. Boyhood, however, is VERY satisfactory, and I could talk for hours about how much I enjoyed this film. If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you do. It’s very, very good.

-stay cozy (even when it’s warm!)

Funfetti shortbread

Let's talk about celebration.

Sprinkles come at a time when it feels necessary to throw one's hands up in the air and shout "party!" How is that the slight addition of multi-colored bits of sugar can us feel so special? Sprinkles cause the clapping of hands and jumping up-and-down of a 23-year-old Libra alone in her kitchen. They are cute, they are very fun. 

Besides, there are several things to celebrate.  Six months in LA, the up-and-coming launch with Salted, and a red-eye leaving tomorrow (!!!) back east (!!!) to see my long distance love.  Oh, and for the potential airline travel wait, I've downloaded A Little Princess onto my Kindle. 

The protagonist, Sarah Crewe, was a storyteller and self-declared princess, wowing her faithful audiences with tales of leathery skinned elephants and the pleasant strum of an evening mandolin.   I have a hardcover version of the book hiding somewhere, still maintaining it's magic since I first digested Sarah's story several years ago.

When it comes to cookies and classic storybooks (the ones with crackly spins and pages that smell like glue), I always think of shortbread. I used to call shortbread, "Grandma cookies" because I envisioned them as the type of a cookie an afghan-owning woman would snack on as she poured herself a second glass of Irish Breakfast Tea. They would crumble with each bite, and were eaten on the front porch.

Now, however, I see shortbread differently. It cannot fit into one category. Like a story, it's universal, and melts into several of life's occasions. Shortbread is simple, and sometimes sneaky. Shortbread can be a snack. It can be breakfast. It can be eaten in a nearly-black kitchen late at night, paired with a glass of cold milk and the glow from the light in the fridge.

In every sense, it is very much romantic. If  I hadn't already slid funfetti into the title, I might call it "storybook shortbread." 

The few ingredients make it simple; the sprinkles make it special. It tastes like butter and coconut and looks like a celebration. Eating it, especially eating it while packing my travel dress, is just enough of a reason to say "party."

funfetti shortbread

1/2 cup softenend butter

1/2 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup funfetti sprinkles

 

 

 

 

Preheat the oven to 300.

Using a hand-mixer, combine the oil, butter, sugar, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed. Add the flour and blend until the mixture resembles sand.  Stir in the sprinkles using a wooden spoon, or something like that.

Press dough into a greased 9x13 pan or two 8x8s. Use your hands to create a smooth surface, and then a fork to create tiny pricks along the top of the shortbread. 

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the shortbread are golden brown. Allow to cool completely before cutting. 

Drink with tea, milk, red wine, or whatever your celebrating self desires. 

 

You can taste the comfiness.

-stay cozy

Gluten free s'mores blondies

It's S'more Season!!! This is something I've just made up, so technically any month will do, but August seems rather appropriate. We're entering the time of year where summer starts to fade (not yet though), and so the amount of camping trips and outdoor bonfires hike on upward.  I made an insane amount of s'mores the month before I went off to college; my high school friends and I would drive out to camp off Route 7 in Virginia, where we could stay up as late as we wanted and come home well after the sun rose.  We simultaneously felt very young and very grown up. 

Our s'mores mostly consisted of the traditional honey graham cracker, Hershey's chocolate bar, and large marshmallow, though we would occasionally get crafty and sub out the grahams for two Keebler Elf Fudge Striped Cookies. They were amazing, and perfect for the last moments of freedom before we all bounced off to our respective universities. 

Wes and Dylan might not be heading to college, but they are well on their way to kindergarden and the 3rd grade! S'mores were definitely in order. 

Their mom, Cathy, is gluten and dairy free, and so her treats tend to be a bit harder to find recipes for. Luckily, Food 52 offers an amazing recipe for gluten-free blondies. We made two versions: one with chocolate chunks and marshmallows (so not REALLY all the way dairy free...) and one with dried blueberries and dried cranberries.  I"m sure they would work well with a variety of other dried fruits/chocolates/nuts as well, but the point is: they were YUMMY. 

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I also love love love getting this little guy in the kitchen. He spent all morning in his hockey gear, and then promptly swapped into an apron. (Even at five, the process is oh-so-important!) I fed him pieces of chocolate as he stirred, and fell all the more in love. 

S'mores Gluten and Dairy Free Blondies

Inspired by Food 52 Blondie Recipe

1 cup coconut oil or buttery substitute, melted

2 cups light brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla

1 1/2 cup almond flour

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup chocolate chunks (or carob chips, to keep dairy-free)

1/2 cup marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare a 9x13 pan with parchment or foil. If using foil, be sure to grease. Let the eggs and oil/fat reach room temp before using. 

Mix the butter and brown sugar with a whisk until they reach a caramel-y color and smooth consistency.  Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly incorporating as you go. Add the vanilla and stir.

Blend the flours together and stir in. Once combined, add the desired mix-ins and fold into the batter. Once everything is evenly distributed, spread the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the tops are a golden brown. 

Let cool in pans, and then place in the fridge before cutting into squares.

P.S. my awesome friend Maddie is unleashing her self-written music and it's beautiful! I'm really proud of her. 

-stay cozy