Autumn Black Rice Salad [with Pomegranate, Coconut & Sweet Potatoes]

This morning I had this odd, sudden realization that I haven’t made or eaten black rice in a while. Actually, it wasn’t that sudden or odd. I thought about it after Beyond Sushi Instagramed this. And then I cried and sobbed because I wanted Beyond Sushi, because as we all know it’s my favorite thing on earth.

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Then I thought fondly back to my beloved Rainbow Black Rice Salad. I love love love that dish. It’s flawless in my opinion. Crunchy, fresh, bright, flavorful and satisfying. Ahh, yes, I’ve eaten that black rice salad many-a-times and never been let down.

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After a few minutes reminiscing over all the good times I’ve eaten said salad, I decided that lunch today was going to be a black rice salad, of sorts. Except I didn’t have those ingredients and I was feeling like something a bit more fall-ish since the Rainbow Black Rice Salad is a bit summery. I consulted my fridge. Half a pre-cut/seeded pomegranate. Awesome. I was instantly inspired by how bright the red would look against black rice. Step one towards recipe creation/greatness. I decided to work from here.

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Next stop: pantry. Sweet potatoes are never NOT in my pantry, and today was no exception. Grabbed a big one, and got chopping. While I popped those in the oven, I debated what else would pop on the plate with red and orange. As I did so, I reached for more ground coffee, which happened to be next to some coconut shreds. Coconut + black rice is also a favorite combo of mine (it worked amazingly in this black rice pudding) so those went in, as well. Upon assembly, I added some cilantro. Initially I thought this flavor combo would be weird, but it somehow pulled everything together. The clean note of the cilantro worked well with the earthy black rice, the tangy crunchy pomegranate seeds, and the creamy, hearty sweet potato cubes. The dish came together so well, my mom even decided she liked it better than the Rainbow Black Rice Salad. Personally I love them both, and think both are beautiful and satisfying for any event depending on your current taste mood.

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The tanginess of the pomegranate seeds removes the need for an acidic dressing as in the Rainbow Black Rice salad, and really all this salad needs is a drizzle of good olive oil, and a few dashes of salt and pepper. This is another keeper, I tell ya. Make a big batch and serve as a side dish, entree, or pack for lunch. Eat up!

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Level: Easy

Serves 2 as entree or 4 as side dish

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup black rice
  • 1 pomegranate, cut and seeded
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup coconut shreds or chips (sweetened or unsweetened depending on preference)
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, cook black rice on the stovetop according to directions on the package.

2. While the rice is simmering, peel and cube sweet potato into bite-sized pieces and place in the oven. If you’re short on time, you can also just microwave these for 3-4 minutes until tender.

3. Cut and seed the pomegranate and set seeds aside. Dice cilantro.

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4. Cool rice and sweet potato cubes. When they are cool, pour rice into a bowl, and mix 3/4ths of your sweet potato cubes, your pomegranate seeds, your coconut, and cilantro (saving the remaining 1/4th for garnish).

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5. Drizzle olive oil onto salad and add salt and pepper and mix.

6. Serve rice salad in a bowl or plate, topping with remaining sweet potato cubes, pomegranate seeds, cilantro and coconut. Add more salt & pepper if desired. Enjoy~!

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Chocolate Bark with Anise, Figs, Pistachio & Sea Salt

Chocolate is a food group. Or so says my mother. I tend to agree.

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And in addition to being a welcome addition to your tastebuds and mental sanity, chocolate can be a healthy addition to your lifestyle if you head on over to the dark side and select one that doesn’t have too much added sugar or icky preservatives. I believe that once you get into dark chocolate you don’t go back. It’s just richer and more satisfying. Maximum “mmm” per bite sort of thing. My favorite chocolate EVER is Mast Brothers. That stuff is on another level. It’s $8-9 a bar. And before I tried it I wondered why people would spend that much on one bar of chocolate. After a single bite I instantly understood why they did such a thing and became one of them.

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I don’t think I go a single day without eating chocolate. I always need a fix after dinner. And dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants and has even been shown to improve blood flow and circulation. Which is important as the weather gets colder and colder around these parts.

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Not to mention that chocolate goes well with basically everything. My favorite is with nuts. And dried fruit. But sometimes it’s also fun to do something a little different with chocolate and taste and appreciate it in a new light. So when presented with the October challenge for Recipe Redux to create a recipe that incorporate a spice that tends to sit around in cabnets without frequent use, I instantly thought of this chocolate-anise bark that my mom made around the holidays last year. It was epic; not so epic is when Sasha tried to eat it. Luckily she survived, as did the legend of the marriage of chocolate + anise.

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Anise is plain awesome in my opinion. I feel like it’s one of those flavors you either love or you don’t. I’m on team love. It tends to show up here and there around the holidays, but it’s licorsey, spicy/sweet taste is really one to be celebrated all year long. I encourage you to peer all the way back into your spice cabinet, blow the dust off your anise shaker, and make this bark. It’s incredible.

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The anise adds the most terrific flavor pop to dark chocolate, and the figs bring an element of chewiness and sweetness, not to mention some fiber, vitamin B6, and potassium. Yay nutrients! If you know me, you know I’m crazy about textures in my foods. The more interesting textures going on the better. Which is why the crunchy pistachios are an amazing contrast to the gooey figs. Ugh. It’s so perfect. Not only do they add a burst of bright green color, they provide some protein, healthy fats, and even more fiber, vitamin B6 and potassium. And then there’s the anise, which adds a fragrant spicy note of tongue, that keeps you going back for more, along with a dose of antioxidants, calcium and copper. So yeah. Basically this bark is almost health food. ;-).

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Truly though, this bark is extremely satisfying for a sweet/chocolate tooth, a lot less junky than a candy bar, and makes an awesome and beautiful gift or addition to a party spread. Not to mention, it’s super easy to make. Just chop the toppings, melt the chocolate, pour and cool, and just like that you have a beautiful tablet of bark before you. Break into squares as large or small as your heart desires and share as gifts or simply gift it all to yourself. Because you’re worth it. :)

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 0 minutes (but needs at least 30 minutes to chill)

Level: Easy!

Ingredients:

  • 24 ounces high quality dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips, chopped {2 bags chocolate chips}
  • 3/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds (optional)
  • 3/4 cup figs, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon anise
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Chop pistachios, figs, and anise.

2. Melt chocolate in a double boiler on the stovetop over medium heat or in the microwave by placing chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, heating in 30 second increments and stirring after each increment, until chocolate is melted.

3. Sprinkle about half the pistachio/fig/anise mix into the melted chocolate and mix gently. Pour melted chocolate into baking sheet and spread evenly with a spatula.

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4. Evenly sprinkle remaining pistachio, figs, and anise over the melted chocolate. Gently pat down toppings into chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt.

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5. Place bark into the fridge until chocolate sets and is solid, at least 30 minutes.

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6. Break bark into pieces using your hands or a knife and enjoy. :)

To check out more creative uses for neglected spices, click around here!:

Pumpkin Sunflower Seed Granola Bars

I have a granola bar addiction. There’s something so wonderful about these tiny squares of oats loaded with other goodies that I can never get enough of.

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I think my granola bar obsession peaked in college because granola bars became “special treats.” Let’s face it: groceries in New York can be expensive. As in a box of 5 Kashi bars is literally $7.99 at Duane Reade. Unless I bought granola bars at Trader Joe’s which I find a leeetle bit too sweet sometimes, granola bars became occasional treats I would buy only when they were on sale or when I was home on breaks. And then on breaks I’d go to Target and buy like 10 boxes of granola bars and pack them all in my suitcase and bring them back to school with me. I’m sure if my luggage ever got searched it was a lol to TSA.

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My dream granola bar is chewy, full of big chunks of nuts and lots of textures, and loaded with dried fruit, and a healthy dose of chocolate. Most of the time. Other times I want something a little simpler and more like a not-sweet snack that will keep me going in the afternoon. That’s right folks – sometimes I want things that aren’t too sweet. Gasp. I know. The nice thing about cooking/baking is that if you want these babies sweeter, you can add as much sugar as you like and make ‘em to your liking. Making things from scratch is great, isn’t it? Thought so.

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These bars have a nice, deep earthy flavor thanks to the pumpkin + sunflower combo. Grinding up the nuts into a nut butter not only binds the oats together, but gives them a hearty texture and some staying power thanks to all the healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats they have to offer.

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I honestly liked these more than I expected to. They’re chewy but hearty. And they have this distinct deep savory-sweet flavor that keeps you wanting to nibble. They’ll grow on you with every bite. Prep time is minimal, and one batch gives you a whole pan / week’s worth of snackies. I suggest you mix up your usual granola bar routine and give these a whirl. Make your days be full of peace, love, and excessive amounts of granola goodness. :-)

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup shelled sunflower seeds [or, if you have it, 1/2 cup sunflower seed butter + 1/2 cup sunflowers]
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup – 3/4 cup brown sugar, depending on desired sweetness
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (optional, but recommended)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place 1/2 cup sunflower seeds in a food processor and puree until the seeds reach a smooth nut butter paste. Add canned pumpkin and continue to puree until well mixed.

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3. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and brown sugar. Mix well.

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4. Add pumpkin/sunflower seed butter mixture to the oat mixture. Mix until well combined and all oats are moist. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and mix again. The mixture will be thick and cookie-dough like.

5. Line a 9×9 baking sheet with parchment paper or grease well. Pour dough into pan and press down using a spatula or your hands.

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6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and fragrant and edges begin to pull away from the sides slightly. They make seem a little gooey when you take them out of the oven but they will continue to set as they cool.

7. Cool completely and cut into whatever sized bars you want. Store in an airtight container or bag for up to a week.

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Candy Corn Cookie Cake [Pumpkin + Banana Chocolate Chip]

Apparently I’m really into making things that look like candy corn. First I made this roasted veggie corn pizza thing, and then on Sunday I made this giant cookie cake for a post for Spoon and frosted it so when you cut it, it looks like a piece of candy corn. When I get into something, I go all out. Hence why I posted like 5 pumpkin recipes in a row.

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Speaking of pumpkin, I went to Trader Joe’s this Saturday and got so excited and overwhelmed by all the new pumpkin products that I actually had to leave quickly without letting myself buy any otherwise I would have easily spent $50. I decided I had to go home and think about which to buy first so I don’t end up with nothing but pumpkin spice sugary things in my pantry. This recipe also has pumpkin. #cantgetenough The middle layer of the cookie is pumpkin. And the outside layer is banana. Get it? Orange/yellow. Just like a piece of candy corn.

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Using pumpkin and banana also makes this cake a dairy free/vegan option as it replaces using butter + eggs that a cookie mix calls for. Yes I used another mix. When I write for Spoon my goal is to be appealing and realistic to a college student. And when I was in college (omg I feel old saying that), I rarely had a fully stocked pantry or the desire to buy many things at once, so using a mix would have appealed to me, even though I still prefer every-last-detail-from scratch. But this makes it fast, easy, and less to purchase/clean up. Go with it. You can also make this recipe by assembling and whisking all the dry ingredients of regular cookie dough. But a mix will work just fine.  A lot of cookie and cake mixes are actually dairy free if you look at them. Just check the back of the package! Or use a fancy specific dairy free one like this.

So here is a recipe for cookie cake. It would be a hit for a Halloween party. Or, if you live alone and mostly hang out with your dogs cause all your friends are far away, you can be like me and have it all to yourself. I currently have about 80% left of it in my fridge from baking it earlier today. And a giant batch of chocolate bark for an upcoming post. #foodbloggerproblems. I’m okay with these problems, btw.

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You can view the Spoon version right here, or you can simply look at the recipe below. Happy eating!

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

Total Time: 30-35 minutes

Level: easy 

Ingredients:

1 bag chocolate chip cookie mix

½ cup canned pumpkin

1 large overripe banana

½ cup white chocolate chips, divided

1 ½ cup white frosting of your choice (vanilla, cream cheese, etc) —> I recommend making buttercream with 1 1/2 sticks butter or Earth balance non-dairy butter substitute + 4 cups powdered sugar + 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Divide cookie mix in half in two separate bowls.

3. Peel and mash banana. In one bowl, add mashed banana. In another bowl, add canned pumpkin. If desired, add yellow food coloring to banana portion, and orange to canned pumpkin portion.

4. Mix each bowl of cookie mix and pumpkin or banana until a dough forms.

5. Grease a pizza pan or 9 inch cake pan. First, make an outer ring with the banana cookie dough mix. Fill the center with the pumpkin cookie dough mix. Add half white chocolate chips to center to form a small circle.

6. Place in the oven and bake until the cookie is browned and fragrant and a toothpick releases upon insertion in the center, 15-25 minutes.

7. Allow to cool. Add remaining half white chocolate chips to center on top of the melted/baked white chocolate chips.

8. If frosting, dye half frosting yellow and half frosting orange by mixing food coloring or food dye into frosting. Frost with yellow frosting around the outer banana ring and orange frosting around the middle pumpkin ring.

9.Slice into triangles originating from the center and serve.

Candy Corn Inspired Veggie Tart: Corn Crust, Roasted Pepper Sauce, with Roasted Onions, Sweet Potatoes & Peppers

When I browsing the most important part of the Sunday paper [read: I dug through the paper for the Target weekly] I saw an ad about candy corn. Candy corn! I guess it is nearly mid-October, after all, so although I’m not that into candy corn, I am into being festive for holidays. Halloween is fast approaching, and so why not plan a fun dish to serve at my imaginary Halloween party with my dogs and all my imaginary friends.

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I thought that candy corn kind of looked like an awkward piece of pizza. And then I decided that I should make a candy-corn inspired pizza! And then I was like OMG BEST IDEA EVER! And declared myself a genius before I spent roughly 40 seconds trying to use a spoon to cut my veggie burger.

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I next spent an entire hour long walk with Millie dreaming up all the different ways I could make this candy corn themed pizza. My imagination was literally running wild. Sure, I could do something boring like use different artificially colored yellow and orange and white cheeses, but that just isn’t my style now is it? I wanted to make something new, different, and delicious. So that’s just what I did.

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Then I went to make the pizza and realized we have no pizza pan in this house. That’s awkward. I guess it got lost or thrown out when my mom moved. I got a lil sad and then decided that life would move on, and I made it a tart instead. Next time, pizza.

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The sauce is sweet-spicy and definitely different from your classic red [in a good way].  The roasted onions take on that sweet roasted oniony flavor which tempers the spicy pepper nicely. Potatoes on pizza are ALWAYS a life choice, and as sweet potatoes are my favorite kind of potatoes and also happen to be orange, they made their way on the pizza. The white tip is roasted onions. If I had cauliflower on hand, it would have gone on too. Yums.

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If you want to add cheese, add it under the toppings. This is totally allowed and actually makes for a more interesting taste/flavor combo. In fact, I believe once you start baking your cheese under your toppings on pizza you will never look back. Bless u.

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The key to this pizza is a little forethought: just throw all the stuff in the oven and let it roast. Meanwhile make the polenta crust, assemble it all together, and slice so it has yellow-orange-white from crust-to-tip so each slice sort of resembles a piece of candy corn. Right? Right. Cheers to festive food that isn’t full of crap! Because enough candy will come on Halloween :-).

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Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 90 minutes total

Level: Easy

Ingredients – Pizza Crust:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds or flaxseed, or an egg

Ingredients – Sauce:

  • 1 cup red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup onions
  • 1 cup orange or yellow bell peppers
  • 1 cup tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder or cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Ingredients – Toppings:

  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 large sweet potato, thinly sliced
  • 5-6 validena onions
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • feta crumbles or nutritional yeast for sprinkling (optional)
  • balsamic glaze (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farhenheit. Chop red bell peppers, onions, orange bell peppers, and validena onions. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and place in the oven until vegetables are roasted and slightly browned, 20-30 minutes.

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2. Meanwhile, make crust by combing water, cornmeal, and salt in a medium saucepan on the stove at medium heat. Whisk constantly until thickens, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 4-8 minutes until thick and dough-like.

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3. Remove vegetables from oven. Place orange bell pepper, onions (reserve several validena onions for garnish), red bell pepper, tomato, garlic clove, olive oil, curry powder, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until a sauce is formed.

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4. Peel sweet potato and slice into thin coins, or slice on a madeline.  Dice yellow bell pepper.

5. Grease a pizza dish or pie dish and thinly and evenly spread a thin layer of cornmeal crust.

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6. Top crust with a layer of sauce.

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7. Garnish with a layer of sweet potatoes.

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8. Top with more sweet potatoes in the center layer, yellow bell peppers on the outside, and onions or cauliflower in the middle.

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9. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt.

10. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until crust is crispy and vegetables are roasted, 25-30 minutes.

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11. Remove from oven and sprinkle with goat cheese, feta cheese, or nutritional yeas, and/or balsamic glaze (to make balsamic glaze, simply slowly cook balsamic on the stovetop until thickened to the consistency of maple syrup, while stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. it creates a delightful, sweet, sticky version of balsamic vinegar!)

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Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Ganache Buttercream

It’s like deconstructed Nutella in a cake form. Yes, you heard right. Hazelnut + Chocolate. One of my favorite classic combinations, along with bananas + peanut butter and iced coffee + soymilk. Some things are just made for each other, ya feel me?

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I made this cake for my mom’s birthday. For a long time she’s continuously spoken of this one hazelnut cake her aunt made. She said she would grate the hazelnuts by hand and make this nutty, slightly dry cake and serve it with whipped cream. Can you imagine grating that many hazelnuts? Me either. Thank goodness for food processors.

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Back to mom’s birthday: I wanted to make a cake because I love reasons to make a big cake and bake something that feels special that I normally wouldn’t make. I mean, I could bake big grand cakes all the time, but then I’d just constantly have giant cakes around they’d feel like special. Also, fancy baking ingredients like hazelnut and high quality baking chocolate can get expen$ive.

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So I love to pull them out for a special occasion, like Pita’s day of birth. I wanted the cake to be a surprise, but then she found hazelnut shells on the floor and knew what they were. Fail boat on my behalf. Also, epic nut shell identification skills on her end.

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I was a wee bit nervous about making this cake because I’ve never made it before and kind of made the recipe up as I went. Lucky for me, it turned out epicly. The cake is very nutty and has the slightest nutty grainy texture that works really with with the buttercream and ganache.

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The cake itself is not too sweet, and had a substantial texture that all worked well with the frosting. I choose chocolate frosting/filling because mommy loves chocolate and so do I. Duh. I actually used ganache for the filling instead of buttercream, but honestly it kind of got outshined by everything else. I’d skip this step and just use frosting for the middle layer if I made it again. But if you want ganache for the filling, I am not going to stop you.

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But truly, this frosting is kind of thick and really chocolately/rich/dense the way a ganache would be. Except it’s lighter and fluffier still, like buttacream. #bestofbothworld, always

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So here is the recipe. It’s perfect for a sophisticated Nutella lover or lover of anything chocolatey and nutty that tastes awesome. I included instructions/ingredients for both a vegan and non-vegan version. Make whichever you want. Both will be delicious.

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Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 20-25 minutes

Servings: 8-10 [2 layer cake with single layer filling and frosting]

Level: Medium

Ingredients – Cake:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or butter substitute [Earth Balance or coconut oil] at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs or 2/3 cup applesauce, 1/2 cup soy yogurt and/or 3 tablespoons chia or flax + 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy milk (i used almond)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Ingredients – Frosting:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or butter substitute [Earth Balance or coconut oil] at room temperature
  • 8 ounces baker’s chocolate, melted and allowed to come to room temperature
  • 4-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup almond or regular milk (no exact measure – something you just gotta eyeball as you go until you get the consistency you want!)
  • 1 cup hazelnuts, chopped (for garnish)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a large baking sheet and toast 10-15 minutes until browned and fragrant. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel or paper towel and cover them for about a minute, allowing them to steam. Next, rub the skins of with the towel or your fingers. This is putsy and a bit messy. But just remember: cake is your reward.

2. Allow hazelnuts to cool. Meanwhile, place almond, soy, or regular milk in a cup with vinegar and allow to curdle for at least 10 minutes (it’ll be good to go by the time you’re ready to use it). This is your pseudo-buttermilk.

3. Cream room-temperature butter or butter substitute until fluffy, about 2-4 minutes. Slowly add sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Add eggs one at a time, or slowly add egg substitute [2/3 cup applesauce, 1/2 cup soy yogurt and/or 3 tablespoons chia or flax + 1/2 cup non-dairy milk]. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.

4. Place flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until well combine.

5. Place cooled shelled hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until a semi-fine powder. It won’t be a super fine powder, so don’t aim for that. If you over-pulse, it will turn to nut butter, so use cation. Pulse slowly. If it gets nut-buttery, scoop out the nut-buttery bottom, and continue to pulse remaining nuts.

6. Add pulsed nuts (lol?) into the flour mixture and whisk until nut powder is evenly distributed. It will be a little grainy. That’s okay.

7. Add 1/3 the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. Add half of the pseuedo-buttermilk. Mix gently with a spatula. Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, and the rest of the buttermilk and mix again. Dump remaining 1/3rd of flour mixture into the bowl and continue to mix gently until just combined.

8. Pour batter into 2 greased round 9-inch cake pans. Pop into the oven on a middle shelf for 20-25 minutes, until slightly golden, fragrant, and a toothpick inserted into the center is clean upon removal.

9. Allow cakes to cool completely. Meanwhile, make your buttercream. Take 1 cup room temperature butter or butter substitute and beat with an electric mixer or kitchen-aide mixer until fluffy.

10. Chop baker’s chocolate and melt in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between each increment, until just melted. Pop into the fridge until cooled slightly, about 5 minutes.

11. Add 2 cups powdered sugar to the butter and whip until well combined. Add cocoa powder and a tablespoon or two of milk or milk substitute.

12. Once chocolate is no longer hot (lukewarm will work), add to the buttercream mixture and continue to mix. Add an additional 2 cups powdered sugar and continue to mix until well combined. From here, add up to 2 more cups powdered sugar and a few tablespoons milk as needed until desired consistency is reached.

13. Once cake has completely cooked, frost as desired. I placed a layer of frosting on one layer, placed the second on top of it, then frosted the whole top and sides.

14.  Chop hazelnuts and garnish as desired. I sprinkled allll over the top and sides because I love the added crunch of nuts on frosting. Yummies.

15. Enjoy !! (It’s impossible not to ;-) )

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Why You Should be Eating Carbs [My piece for Spoon University]

As you may or may not know, I wrote for NYU Spoon for about a year and a half in college, and I’ve since become a national contributor for Spoon University! It’s super fun and I enjoy it and have met lots of amazing and inspiring humans through the process so I thought, why not keep going?

Anyways, low-carb diets are like, my pet peeve. I’m sorry, there’s nothing wrong with eating fruits and grains and whole-grain bread in my opinion. Low carb does not equal healthy. Eat real food and all shall be well in the world.

After hearing a million people/friends/humans buy things or order things because they’re advertised as “low-carb” I was inspired to write this piece on Spoon University. I’ll post it here, and then if you want to keep reading, continue on the Spoon site! #carbs5ever

xoxo,

kbakes!

It seems like everywhere you look, you see “low-carb” products or hear about someone on a low-carb diet. But we’re here to tell you why low-carb dieting isn’t the healthiest choice. So go ahead, hug your bread, and let’s talk CARBS.

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“Is butter a carb?”

Well, no. Butter is mostly fat. But Regina George brought up a good point—there’s a lot of confusion about what a “carb”actually is. Carbs are found in a lot of places: grains and grain products (think cereal), bread, fruits, many vegetables, beans, dairy and sugar. See anything healthy in that list? That’s right–fruits and veggies, your body’s best friends, contain carbs. And the USDA Dietary Guidelines for healthy adults currently recommends you get 45-65% of your calories from carbs, more than from fats or proteins. That means most of your calories should come from carbs.

Photo by Katherine Baker

So why do carbs have such a bad rep?

A lot of carbohydrate-dense foods, including big, cakey muffins and baked goods in general, greasy fries, chips, gooey cheese-covered pasta and anything with added sugar are, as we all know not always the healthiest of food choices. The extra sugars and oils in them don’t provide a lot of nutrients per calorie. But not all carbs are bad! Whole grain breads and cereals, grains (like oatmeal, quinoa and barley), fruits, veggies, beans and legumes are bursting with tons of body-friendly vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep you healthy, happy, full and satisfied.

Photo by Katherine Baker

Then why do low carbohydrate diets work?

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy since they’re the easiest for you to metabolize. When you don’t have many of these around, your body makes do with what it has, which may include breaking down and metabolizing fat. But often times, low-carb diets work because people consume less calories overall. If you’re cutting out carbs, you’re probably eating less in general. Think about it. You might easily enjoy a cupcake or chips with your afternoon coffee, but would you have some chicken or steak instead? It’s more likely you’d just skip the snack all together.

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But low carb diets can be harmful!

While they may help some people get to a healthier weight, for healthy individuals, long-term, low-carb diets can cause some pretty bad side effects. When the brain and muscles don’t get enough energy from carbohydrates to maintain normal functions, the body gets pretty unhappy. Particularly true if your low-carb diet is high in saturated fat and cholesterol as many are, diets like the Atkins diet may, in the long term, increase blood cholesterol and triglycerides, among other icky stuff, like issues with your livers and kidneys.

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And let’s not forget to mention mood – a yearlong study by the Archives of Internal Medicine found that those who followed a restricted carb diet for a year experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those on a low-fat diet. You’re not imagining your low-carb dieting friends having their cranky pants on—some speculate that limiting carbs gets in the way of your body’s ability to make mood-boosting serotonin in the brain.

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Bottom Line:

Don’t shun carbs. Eat them, just be smart about it. Incorporate plenty of grains, fruits, veggies and beans, and when choosing grain products like cereal, bread and pasta, aim for to 100% whole grain versions at least half of the time.

Bow Ties with Pears, Spinach, Walnuts, & Cherries in Rosemary Garlic Sauce

[Disclosure:] “By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the National Pasta Association and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

Once upon a time I went out to dinner in New York with my friend Michelle. She really wanted a hearty bowl of pasta and we were both too tired to travel far, so after some yelping, we ended up at this adorable Italian restaurant a few blocks from my apartment called Spina. It was candlelight and had a charming server with an accent and for reasons beyond my explanation we were the only two at the restaurant. This has never happened to me anywhere, let alone New York City. It would have been totally romantic if it was a date. But instead we cracked terrible jokes and girl chatted and probably audibly burped a lot.

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Anyways, I got this one ravioli dish that was had handmade ravoili stuffed with some sweet pear filling and covered in rosemary sauce. I almost didn’t order it, but as if the server read my mind when I was debating about it aloud, he said (in an Italian accent): “Miss, if you are worried about the dish being too sweet, do not worry. It is not. It is perfect.”

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I looked back up into his beautiful eyes, and ordered in blind faith. He was absolutely correct. I still think about it all that ravioli all the time. It was one of those dishes so unusual you just want to keep eating it. So I did. I finished it all. I was so full I didn’t even want to get dessert after (!!).

Anywho, this is one prime example of pasta being what dreams are made of. I love me some good pasta. Nothing will ever be as good as my grandma’s (I will share my closest recipe to hers at some future time), but in the meantime, there are plenty of other creative ways to play with pasta.

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There’s also this misconception that pasta is an auto-fail for being healthy. This is false. In Italy, it’s often a small portion, served with salad and other vegetables, either incorporated into the pasta or on the side. And pasta is full of energy-providing carbohydrates and has a solid amount of plant-based protein (extra points if you use whole wheat varieties!). So when enjoyed with veggies, or in this case fruits AND veggies, pasta is certainly part of a healthy meal. It’s also cheap and filling, which is a double win for pretty much everyone. Carbs are wonderful, aren’t they? You all probably know my favorite hashtag already: #carbs5ever

This dish was inspired by the one I had in New York. It would also be really great with linguine noodles. I just had bowties on hand and bowties are fun. Anyways, it’s a relatively light, sweet, intriguing pasta dish with fruits AND veggies. The pears and cherries are intriguing and sweet, and the rosemary sauce provides a balancing bite. The spinach adds color, umami flavors, and a boatload of nutrients, while the walnuts provide protein, omega-3s, and crunch. It’s also vegan, so it appeals to those with dietary preferences and dairy intolerances. The mash up of different flavors and textures makes this pasta dish fun and interesting to just. keep. eating.

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Level: easy

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked pasta (I used bowties)
  • 1 large pear
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 1/4 cup almond, soy, or regular milk
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary, dried or fresh
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1/2 cup crushed or chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

1. Bring 6 cups water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add pasta and cook until al dente.

2. Mince garlic. In a sauté pan, add enough olive oil to cover the bottle of the pan and warm over medium heat. Add minced garlic and allow to simmer for a few minutes.

3. Slowly add almond milk and rosemary, and increase to medium-high heat. Allow the sauce to cook down and thicken, until about 1/3 its original volume. Add salt and pepper, more to taste if desired.

4. Thinly slice pear. Place pear slices into simmering sauce and cook until pears are tender, about 4 minutes.

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5. Add spinach and cooked pasta to the pan and toss with a spoon or tongs until pasta is coated with sauce. Spinach should wilt slightly in the process. Top with crushed walnuts and dried cherries, and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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 6. Enjoy!

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{Healthier, Vegan} Pumpkin Muffies

I love Panera. “Meet me at Panera Bread” is one of my favorite phrases to hear. Perhaps it’s a nostoglia thing (I ate a lot of Panera growing up) but p-bread forever has a soft spot in my heart. Those sourdough rolls. The baguettes. Their Strawberry Poppyseed Salad. Dat soup. The bread bowls. The bagels. The Med Veg sandwich with the cilantro-jalepeño hummus. The fact that my bestie Sarah Cath worked there. The unlimited in-house coffee refills. I could go on forever.

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When it comes to the baked goods Panera has to offer, Pumpkin Muffies also have a special place in my heart. To me, pumpkin muffies represent surprises my dad would bring me if he had grabbed lunch there during work, a (welcomed) treat on rare school mornings, or special weekend breakfast noms. I remember the excitement I’d feel every time I’d get that signature brown paper bag with that Panera criss-cross pattern and could see the bottom had a slight greasy oil circle at the bottom. At that moment, I knew: it was a Pumpkin Muffie, just waiting to give me a powder sugar mustache.

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Fluffy, sweet, pumpkin-y, and with those strange powder sugar balls, these babies are incredible and I love them unconditionally. I don’t quite know why I’ve never tried to make them at home before, but yesterday morning for whatever reason I just needed to do so. And that’s just what I did.

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I made mine with oat flour because it results in super soft baked goods, which is exactly what I was aiming for, and they’re whole grain, so they feel less junk-y than the original ones. The muffins themselves are super fluffy, almost bouncy, cinnamon-y, and are a bit less sweet than the Panera version.

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I used chia seeds + water as an egg substitute/nutritional booster, but you can also use flax, applesauce, or an egg if that’s more your style. The topping? That’s still pure sugary goodness. And that is totally fine.

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How do you make them muffies you ask? I placed a biscuit cutter on my baking sheet, put two generous spoonfuls of batter into it, allowed to batter to kind of adhere to its shape for a hot second, then lifted the biscuit cutter and repeated this 12 times until I had 12 muffies. You could also use a circular cookie cutter, pipe in a circle using a wide-tipped pastry bag or plastic bag with a large corner end snipped off, or do your best and try to spoon the batter into circular shapes. It’s up to you. Even if you bake them in a muffin tin as regular muffins, they will still taste delicious, don’t you worry. ;-)

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Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15-20 minutes

Level: Easy

Ingredients – Muffies:

  • 2 1/4 cups oat flour (all purpose would also work)
  • 1/2 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (any kind will do)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds or flax seed + 2 tablespoons water (can also use 3 tablespoons apple sauce)
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • dash of salt

Ingredients – Topping:

  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a small bowl, combine almond or soy milk and vinegar. Set aside and allow to curdle for at least 10 minutes. In another small bowl, combine chia seeds + flax seeds and water and set that aside too.

3. In a large bowl, combine oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk until well combined.

4. Add canned pumpkin, sugar, almond milk + vinegar mixture, and chia seeds + water into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Use a spatula or spoon to fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

5. Place a silicone baking pad or sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Place a biscuit cutter or circular cookie cutter down on the sheet. Place two generous spoonfuls of batter into the biscuit cutter. Allow the batter to form to the shape of the circle. Lift the biscuit cutter, and repeat 12 times until you’ve made 12 circular muffies.

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6. Place muffies in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until puffy, fragrant, bouncy upon touch, and a toothpick placed in the center of the muffies comes out clean.

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7. Place muffies on a cooling rack and allow to cool. Meanwhile, combine powder sugar and brown sugar in a small bowl and mix together.

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8. Once muffies have cooled, sprinkle topping all over them. I recommend doing this right once muffies are COMPLETELY cool, and/or preferably right before eating, otherwise the powder sugar may absorb into the muffies and they’ll look shiny and weird. Store in plastic baggies or an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. These also freeze and reheat well. Especially in the toaster. Yummies = when you have toaster muffies. Hooray! Muffies all week long. Happy Monday everyone :)!

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Curried Pumpkin Hummus

As I’m writing this post, the Packers vs. Bears game is on TV. I know this because of social media and because none of my friends want to hang out right now. Currently I’m watching an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians [one I've already seen]. Everyone in Wisconsin is now officially judging me. But no matter, I love football games. I see them as the perfect time to go to the mall, Target, the gym, or Trader Joe’s (no lines!! no people!!).

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So I’m not watching the Packer game. Football just was never a thing in my household growing up and then I went to NYU so that’s self-explanatory. I just don’t football. I DO go to football parties. For the food. And if I were watching the game right now, I would find this hummus a perfect “game snack.” Instead, it’s a good Kardashian snack. For today. But I encourage you to enjoy it however you please.

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So let’s talk about this Curried Pumpkin Hummus, shall we? This idea came about because I often combine canned pumpkin and store-bought hummus on sandwiches/wraps/etc and have grown fond of the tastes and textures together. When taking fridge inventory yesterday afternoon, I noticed about a leftover 1/2 cup canned pumpkin to use up, a can of chickpeas, and a freshly emptied container of hummus, so this was a no-brainer. I typically buy store bought hummus because honestly I think it’s one of those things that’s pretty-well done in the food world, and it’s easy and clean and tasty and cheap, so why not. Apprehension to spend a pretty penny on a large container of tahini also usually stops me from making hummus, because I just never end up using much of it. So rather than purchase tahini, I use sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, or nuts, and puree them to give the hummus that nutty flavor.

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But yesterday all stars aligned when I realized I had everything I needed, and as I’ve been itchin’ to try out a pumpkin hummus recipe for a while, I gave it a whirl with delicious success! The curry flavor was a no-brainer for me, as well, as curried-flavor anything is something I tend to dig. The slightly spicy and earthy flavors of the curry powder and cumin pair nicely with the umami flavors of the pumpkin and chickpeas. You can make it spicier if you want with more paprika or cayenne pepper, but I urge you not to skip the curry flavors. They really marry the other ingredients together.

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Now use up that leftover pumpkin and make a fresh batch of festive hummus. Eat it with veggies or on a sandwich or on a tortilla [PS currently obsessed with THESE oh my goodness!]. Also pickles. Because pickles’n’hummus are secretly a match made in heaven. #trustme

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup tahini, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts or almonds (use what you’ve got!)
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 heaping tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (more if desired)

Directions:

1. Place tahini, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts or almonds into a food processor or blender. Purée until the nuts reach a paste, the consistency of a nut butter.

2. Mince garlic, and add it to the food processor. Pour extra liquid from the chickpea can and dump the chickpeas into the food processor. Add canned pumpkin. Purée until desired consistency is achieved. Most people like it super smooth. I prefer it a wee bit chunky.

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3. Add curry powder, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt. Mix until spices are well incorporated.

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4. Pour into a festive bowl and enjoy the way you would other hummuses. I like it on tortillas, raw veggies, and pickles. Yes pickles. Don’t knock it til ya tried it. ;-)

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