Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites

Look! A recipe that isn’t dessert! Oh JOY!

EASY vegan BAKED tofu buffalo bites

Haha I’m not sure why I wrote that…I’ve posted many non-desesrt or non-baked good recipes in my day. It just seems like lately desserts have been the kbaked.com trend (other than these nom nom baked plantains).

tofu prep

Back to the topic at hand: Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites. I made these after mentally toying with the idea for a few weeks now. Personally, I love any food or dish that is essentially a vehicle to eat an excessive amount of hot sauce. And while I do love cauliflower wings, I wanted to play around with buffalo sauce + tofu.

buffalo tofu

Anyone else just really love tofu? My theory is that if you don’t like tofu, you haven’t had it prepared well.I love it so much I can literally eat it plain with salt. That’s a little extreme for most people, but I am a tofu fiend for sure.

buffalo tofu marinating

The tofu and hot sauce lover that I am, I finally decided to pair them together. The result was stellar. So good, in fact, after testing only once, I immediately declared them blog-worthy, grabbed my camera, and just a few hours later here we are.

Vegan Baked Tofu Bites

These bites are blissful. Crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. And oh, so tangy and good!

Vegan Dipping Sauce for buffalo wings

To get the texture and flavor I desired, I first drained and pressed the tofu for about 4 hours before marinating overnight. This is optional and something I only did because I happen to be on break from school and have more time than usual on my hands.

EASY Vegan Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites

Skipping pressing the tofu and marinating for an time longer than an hour will totally work. You could even skip marinating all together if you wanted to, and simply drench the baked tofu in the marinate after baking.

marinating buffalo tofu

Another new tofu technique I toyed around with for these was the addition of a coating of cornstarch on the tofu cubes. I had read that lightly coating tofu in cornstarch enhances the crispness of the tofu’s exterior. What I read was correct. Highly recommend this technique if you’ve never tried it.

Easy VEGAN buffalo tofu bites

I also used what I had on hand to whip up a quick, cooling dipping sauce by combining plain unsweetened vegan yogurt (I used KiteHill Greek Style unsweetened yogurt) + some seasonings. You could also simply use vegan bottled ranch or regular ranch if you’re not vegan. Or a blue cheese dip. I personally hate blue cheese-flavored things, but you do you.

Easy Cool Vegan Dipping sauce

If you like hot sauce, even just a little bit, you should really give these a whirl. They are so, so easy, and so SO good. Crispy, tangy, chewy, creamy, spicy, addicting little bites of heaven!

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Easy Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites

Prep Time:  1 hour
Bake Time: 30-40 minutes
Servings: 2 people

Ingredients:

Buffalo Bites:

  • 1 16-ounce container firm tofu (I used Organic firm from Trader Joe’s – the one in the pink package)
  • 3/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vegan butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Dipping Sauce (OR sub Vegan Ranch):

  • 6 ounces unsweetened Greek-style non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon seasoning blend like Ranch seasonings (I used Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute)

Method:

  1. Remove tofu from package and drain excess liquid.
  2. If pressing, place tofu block between two plates and place 2-3 cans on top. Place in refrigerator for 3-4 hours and drain additional water. You can skip this step if short on time.
  3. Cube tofu into 1 inch cubes and place in a Tupperware container or baking dish large enough that cubes are close but not stacked.
  4. Prepare marinade by combining 1 tablespoon melted non-dairy butter with 1/2 cup hot sauce + 1/4 cup water. Mix. Pour over tofu. Cover tofu.
  5. Place tofu in the refrigerator for 1-8 hours (or overnight).
  6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove tofu from refrigerator and transfer to a bowl. Add cornstarch and gently toss until all tofu is lightly coated.
  7. Line a baking sheet with a Sil-pat or parchment paper. Transfer tofu to baking sheet, spaced evenly.
  8. Bake tofu for 30-45 minutes, until crispy on the outside, flipping halfway through.
  9. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce + 1 teaspoon melted non-dairy butter. Use to drench tofu immediately after removing from the oven.
  10. Serve immediately.

Vegan Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

For Christmas this year, I really wanted to make a special kind of cake. Something that screamed celebration or occasion. I went back and forth over what to make. A Bouche de Noel? A fruit torte? An apple cinnamon spice cake with cream cheese icing? So many options, so few people (at least, at our holiday gathering) to feed.

delicious vegan hazelnut cake chocolate buttercream

Eventually, I settled upon the idea of a nut cake. I love a hearty, dense, nut-meal cake. It reminds me of holidays. Growing up I used to always go to my friend Michelle’s house and her mom would always have these delicious walnut cookies covered in powdered sugar and I could.not.get.enough. of them. I LOVE anything made with ground nuts.

Vegan Gluten-free Hazelnut cake with chocolate buttercream

I set out of to make a hazelnut cake with a the very clear idea in my mind that it would be a nut-meal cake. And to my surprise, recipes were hard to come by. I did some extensive googling and found many ‘hazelnut cakes’ made with hazelnut liqueur…not ground hazelnuts. Or regular cakes that had hazelnuts on top…or hazelnut liqueur in the frosting.

Easy Vegan Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate buttercream

Those might be all fine and well and good but those were not what I had in mind for my holiday hazelnut cake. I very specifically wanted a cake that contained quite a bit of ground hazelnuts.

Vegan Hazelnut Cake - Gluten-free, Chocolate frosting

My mom also speaks highly and frequently of a hazelnut-meal cake her Italian great aunt used to make, the dense cake made from hazelnuts all grated by hand. That’s what I wanted. No regular cake with liqueur for this gal (also, I hate liqueur).

Vegan Hazelnut Cake - Gluten-free

Lucky for me, hotforfood had a recipe that was sort of what I was looking for. I based the base of the cake loosely off her recipe, tweaking it to my liking and going a different direction with the frosting. Also lucky for me, food processors now exist and I didn’t have to grind hazelnuts by hand.

Gluten-free Vegan Hazelnut Cake

This cake turned out delicious. Rich, light, and dense, fluffy, sweet and nutty, all at once. The frosting pairs oh-so-perfectly with the cake.

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This is not the fastest easiest cake you will ever make. It requires prep work and planning ahead, but I assure you it is worth it. The nutty hazelnut cake offers a rich hazelnut flavor, the dense texture of the nut meal lightened by the oat flour. The ultra-rich deeply chocolatey buttercream elevates the cake from special to spectacular, the flavors reminiscent of Nutella, with far more finesse.

Vegan Chocolate Hazelnutcake_With_Chocolate_Buttercream

This is most definitely a special occasion cake. It feels festive and delicious. The recipe below with give you two layers, and enough buttercream to cover them both. The photos you see are of a cake that only had one layer, made into two, due to a dropped cake incident and making do with what was available. Didn’t matter tho, still tasted delicious!

Vegan Hazelnut cake with chocolate buttercream

I hope you make this and I hope you love it. If you do give the recipe a whirl, be sure to take me on Insta (@katherinebaker4). I love seeing what y’all make!

Happy 2018 everyone!

Vegan Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

Prep Time:  1 hour
Bake Time: 20-30 minutes
Servings: 6-8 people

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 2 cups oat flour (or sub all-purpose)
  • 3 tablespoons flax
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • aquafaba (liquid) from one can of chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (sub additional vanilla if you don’t have it)

Chocolate Buttercream:

  • 1 cup vegan butter, softened (I like Earth Balance baking sticks for frosting)
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powder sugar, more as needed
  • 2-3 tablespoons non-dairy milk, as needed

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If aquafaba is not cold, place in the fridge to chill.
  2. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Toast for 8-10 minutes until lightly toasted brown. Remove from oven and rub hazelnuts with a paper towel or clean towel to remove skins. If you can’t remove them all, that’s okay. Just do your best.
  3. Allow hazelnuts to cool completely. Meanwhile, lower oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans generously with oil or melted vegan butter.
  4. Combine oat flour, flax, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Once hazelnuts have cooled, pulse in a food processor until a flour/fine-ish meal forms. Some chunks are okay. It adds texture.
  5. Add hazelnut meal to dry mixture. Whisk well.
  6. Whip aquafaba with an electric mixture until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, non-dairy milk, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract. Stir into dry ingredients until just combined.
  8. Fold aquafaba into mix until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Place in the oven for 20-22 minutes until lightly golden browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean upon insertion and removal. Once baked, allow to cool completely.
  9. Meanwhile, prepare frosting: combine softened vegan butter with cocoa powder and powder sugar. Use an electric hand or stand mixer to beat until light and fluffy. Add non-dairy milk if a thinner texture is desired. Add more cocoa powder and/or powder sugar (up to 1 additional cup) if thicker texture is desired. Personally, I added no non-dairy milk because I wanted a super rich thick and fudgy icing. But if you want something a bit thinner and fluffier, add non-dairy milk, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.
  10. Frost cooled cake, top with hazelnuts, and serve!

11 Food and Health-Related New Year’s Resolutions That Are Way Better Than Losing Weight

It’s that time of year again: the time when everyone starts chattering about how this is going to be the year they finally lose weight. Diet talk starts flooding your ears and diet and fitness ads pop up all over the TV and social media. It’s unescapable.

But here’s a wild thought: if this stuff worked, and if these crazy cleanses and diets and fitness regimines were sustainable, then why does everyone pursue them year and year again? Oh, that’s right, because these are marketing gimmicks and money-makers from companies who have your wallet, not your health, in mind.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to live a healthy lifestyle. All I’m saying is that the diet industry has sort of distorted what it means to be healthy. And there are way more important and interesting things to pursue in life than talking about losing weight and doing juice cleanses all the time. Like, I don’t, perhaps realizing how privileged we are to be able to even not worry about where our next meal is coming from.

So here are 11 food and health-related resolution ideas if you want to make a resolution and are out of ideas since literally the only one you usually hear about is weight-loss related. Or don’t make one. That’s cool too. Eliminating extraneous and unnecessary self-placed pressure is totally something I can get behind.

Anyways, happy New Year! Hope you have a fun, tasty, and festive holiday.

1. Don’t diet

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They don’t work. They lead you to be miserable, sad and empty inside.

They also cause a great deal of stress, which leads to the stress hormone cortisol elevating in your body. Elevated cortisol is not only detrimental to overall health, but can actually make it harder to lose weight (which honestly, you probably don’t need to do anyway).

If you had a friend that made you sad, miserable, stressed, and left you feeling empty inside, would you continue to pursue a relationship with that person? Likely not. You’d probably distance yourself from them.

So you should do the same with diets. Kick that sh*t to the curb. Free yourself.

2. Let Go of Food Norms

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In the past few years, I’ve gone from being self-conscious, rigid, and weird about food norms to not giving a flipping fuck.

What do I mean exactly? Well, for example, for reasons that escape all present logic, I used to feel really weird eating lunch before noon. Like, the thought of enjoying a salad at 11am gave me anxiety. All of my friends in New York ate lunch at like, 2 or 3, so I perceived that as the normal or cool thing to do. If I ate lunch early, it’d make me different and weird and maybe cause me to miss out on eating with friends later.

This odd rigidity lasted after college, even when I would work from home. How silly is it that if I was hungry-for-a-meal at 10:30am, that I’d eat a small snack and let my stomach rumble for 90 minutes, starting at the clock and counting down the minutes until 12;00pm hit, rush to the kitchen, and rage on food.

In retrospect, it makes no sense to do this. At all. Obviously with various work and school schedules, I don’t always get to eat when I’m hungry, or eat what I feel like eating at the time. That’s okay. That’s life.

But I’ve let go of rules and regulations. Since I eat breakfast between 5-6, being hungry for lunch at 11 is totally acceptable.  I don’t judge myself for it. I eat my food, satisfy my hunger, and free up brain space to focus on other things.

There’s no right or wrong time to eat or correct meal to eat certain foods at.

So eat salad and sushi for breakfast (I have). Have lunch at 10:00am. Eat ice cream before bed when everyone else is talking about their new weight-loss plan. Do you. Live your best life.

3. Disassociate numbers and health

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Including calories, macros, and weight. Your body is not a calculator.

4. Unfollow anyone on Instagram promoting a cleanse or detox

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You can follow them again later, but free yourself from daily posts about ‘chic’ fast-tracks to health. Spoiler alert: there is no magic pill to good health. Juice cleanses are an example of a way company’s have found to make tons of money profiting off the vulnerability of those who simple want to be healthier or thinner and don’t know where to begin.

Juice cleanses don’t work. There is literally no scientific data to support them. Literally none of my nutrition professors at Columbia nor NYU ever said a single favorable thing about them.

Drinking juice is unsustainable and highly unsatisfying. Want to be healthier? Eat more plant-based foods, move when it feels good, and

5. Realize that food on Instagram isn’t real life

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I feel like the internet has set up this dream world where food always looks perfect and luscious and bountiful and full of health and wonder and it sometimes leads us to set oddly high or distorted expectations of what eating is.

The truth is, food doesn’t always have to look glamorous or even taste amazing all the time. Truly. It’s fuel. Sometimes you eat things that are boring and eh or maybe things you don’t like. That’s life. And sometimes there’s more to eating than picture perfect or gourmet meals. Sometimes it’s about the social element. Sometimes it’s going with the flow.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t really cook or style food or eat very boring food all of the time. In fact, I eat very boring food most of the time, I just don’t post all those meals and snacks to the internet.

There’s a lot more to life than food (which I know, is ironic to say on a food blog). But it’s true. Food is what gives you energy to do all the other things in life. So go ahead and eat boring food and make sh*t happen.

6. Waste less food

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Food waste is one of our nation’s tragic and hidden scandals.

40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they don’t have enough to eat. Yet 40% of the food produced in this country goes in the trash, and often to landfills (which is also sad, since most food scraps are compostable).

Food waste wastes not only food itself, but also energy, water, and resources required to grow, package and transport it.

Even if you don’t giving a flying crap about the planet, there’s a selfish reason to care: wasting food wastes a ton of money, meaning there should be an incentive for everyone to stop buying or ordering more than we’ll realistically use, storing food more wisely (make friends with your freezers fam, seriously), and being more crafty with leftovers.

7. Take a few seconds a day to appreciate the fact that you have food

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Per reasons mentioned above. We live in a world of excess. Many of us walk around where food is everywhere, and in great abundance. Meanwhile, 40 million Americans don’t get enough to eat every year.

If you’re not food insecure, appreciate it. Truly. I firmly believe you can’t function at your maximum capacity when you are hungry.

8. Stop trying to ‘control your hormones’ with extreme diets and exercise habits

Vegan Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon Rolls via Kbaked

Lately, ‘mastering your hormones’ seems to be the fastest, easiest, and trendiest way to attract followers on social media.

It really makes me sad to see people with tons of power and influence promoting extreme regimes and unscientific potions to large audiences.

The truth is, nutrition is super complicated, as is the endocrine system. And an Instagramer with a shiny feed who appears to be a queen of ‘natural’ lifestyle knows nothing about your health or what your body needs.

While I have a background in nutrition, I am not your healthcare professional, nor are any of the references listed above. If you have a concern about your hormones and/or have lost your period, consider seeing a healthcare provider about it.

Many people suffer from hormonal imbalances and amenorrhea from under-eating, over-exercising, not sleeping enough, or being too stressed out. Robyn from the Real-Life RD writes some good stuff on this topic if you want to know more from someone who is actually educated  in the stuff unlike so many self-proclaimed ‘wellness and lifestyle experts’ out there who maybe read one trendy pop-nutrition book or two.

But seriously, free yourself from believing that potion-and-mushroom-filled lattes and eliminating grains is how to fix

10. Prioritize sleep and stress reduction

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For so many years, sleep and engaging in activities that lower my cortisol were the first things to go when I was busy or overwhelmed. But lately I’ve come to realize how crucial sleep + stress management are to physical and mental health.

11. Enjoy your food more

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Life is too short. Eat dat ice cream.

Giant Vegan Peanut Butter Cup

I have ALWAYS wanted to make one of these. Ever since I saw the half pounders at Target around the holidays, the urge to create my own ginormous peanut butter cup has festered deep inside me.

Peanut butter cup - Giant and Vegan

Yesterday, I scratched that long-time itch on my baking bucket list by making a real life giant peanut butter cup.

GIANT easy vegan peanut butter cup

I made it for a friend’s bday (hey Sarah, if you’re reading). I also made these Vegan Salty Chocolate Chunk cookies. I was honestly sort of insistent on the whole thing.

broken giant vegan peanut butter cup

Sometimes people are like “oh, you don’t have to bake me anything,” and I’m like “Please just let me I live for excuses to bake.”

Easy vegan giant peanut butter cup

So here we are. I halved the recipe below and put it in a mini pie dish since Sarah is leaving to go back to China tomorrow.

Vegan giant peanut butter cup

I am sad to see Sarah off. I have a lot of friends (well, not really but let’s pretend) from all different stages of life but there is just something about those friends you did stupid shit with in basements and backseats of mini-vans high school.

Vegan peanut butter cup - giant

The filling is more than ordinary peanut butter. Since true Reece’s have more of a frosting-like filling, I tried to channel my inner candy maker and copy it. You can totally just fill it with regular peanut butter if you’d like. That works too.

broken stacked vegan giant peanut butter cup

This broke coming out of the pan (hence the broken pics; do me a favor and pretend it’s artsy, okay? thanks). So grease that puppy good and allow it to come to room temp before trying to remove from the pan.

egan giant peanut butter cup bite

Without further adieu…I give to you…

Giant Vegan Peanut Butter Cup

Prep Time:  10 minutes
Chill Time: 20-30 minutes
Servings: 10-12 people

Ingredients:

  • 18 ounces dark chocolate or non-dairy chocolate chips (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy butter, softened
  • 1-1 1/2 cups powder sugar
  • sea salt (optional)

Method:

  1. Grease a pie dish. Set aside
  2. Combine peanut butter and non-dairy butter and whisk together (or use an electric mixer) until smooth. Melting the non-dairy butter may help. Using a hand whisk or electric mixer (preferred) whip in powdered sugar. Use as much or as little as desired until a frosting-like consistency is achieved. If you want it looser, use less powdered sugar. If you want it thicker, use more.
  3. Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second increments until melted, stirring between each increment. When melted, stir in the coconut oil.
  4. Pour a layer of melted chocolate in the pie dish.
  5. Layer peanut butter frosting in the center of the pie dish. Spread.
  6. Pour remaining chocolate over the peanut butter layer.
  7. Place in the freezer to set, at least 20 minutes. Allow to adjust to room temperature slightly before cutting.

Easy Vegan Gingerbread People

Happiest of holidays to you! Are you ready for some easy vegan gingerbread cookies and/or dog pics? Great! Keep reading.easy vegan gingerbread cookies kbaked

Finals are over which means it is BAKING SEASON (cue creepy Pillsbury dough-boy laugh). If I am ignoring your calls and texts and have seemingly disappeared into the abyss, assume it is because my hands are covered in (vegan) butter and cookie crumbs until further notice.

delicious easy vegan gingerbread

As much of a pessimistic Pauly as I can be, I really love the holidays. And the excuse to bake in excess is among the many reasons I relish this season (I also love being cozy, drinking copious amounts of hot chocolate, spending time with fam, and watching The Santa Claus and Home Alone 2).

Presently I’m watching Relationsheep (#Bravofan5ever) as I quickly type up this post. Then it’s back to cleaning, gift wrapping, and doing a bunch of work (non-school related) that I pushed onto the back burner until finals had ended.

delicious vegan gingerbread cookies

But I thought I’d take a pause from my grind to share these easy vegan gingerbread people. These literally took about 10 minutes to throw together, and an additional 8-10 to bake. They were almost too easy making them the perfect cookie to whip up last minute for a gathering, and/or the perfect treat to satisfy a random gingerbread craving (which, personally, I have on occasion).

gingerbread people easy vegan

If you’d like to dress them up with some icing, by all means do your thing. I’m currently digging them plain, paired with a wicked cup of cocoa or a alongside a cold brew iced coffee. Mmmm.

super simple vegan gingerbread

If you don’t want the fuss of rolling out cookie dough, you can certainly bake these in dough balls with a dusting of raw sugar. This is a delicious option and gives the cookies a yummy chewy tummy middle.

easy vegan gingerbread people

I hope you give these cookies a whirl and love them as much as I do! If you make them, tag me on Insta (@katherinebaker4). I’d love to see them IRL!

EASY Vegan gingerbread_

Many more posts coming your way this weekend/upcoming week! In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of my dog in a Mrs. Claus outfit her grandma bought her from Walgreens. Happiest of holidays to you!

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Easy Vegan Gingerbread People

Prep Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 minutes
Servings: 8-10 people, depending on the size of your cookie cuter

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup softened vegan butter (I like Earth Balance baking sticks)
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax + 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup + 1 additional tablespoon molasses (note: these are molasse-y cookies, since I love the taste of molasses. If you want them a little less molasses-heavy, sub the additional tablespoon for water)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat baking flour (can sub additional all-purpose, if desired)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place flax and water in a small bowl and allow to thicken, at least 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cream together softened butter and brown sugar using an electric mixer or stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add molasses and flax egg and mix again.
  4. Combine flours, baking soda, spices, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together.
  5. Fold dry ingredients into wet until just combined. Form dough into a ball and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for ease of rolling (optional, but highly recommended; you can also pop it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes if you’re short on time).
  6. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters as desired. Place shapes on a lined baking sheet. For non-shaped cookies, you can also roll dough into balls, sprinkle with raw sugar, and place onto a lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes until just golden. Allow to cool before eating or icing.
  8. Enjoy!

PS – If you want more gingerbread goodness, try this yummy Nutty Gingerbread Granola!

10 Random Thoughts

I love reading these posts on other blogs and I have a lot of random thoughts and no where to express them so I’m going to start sharing some random thoughts here and there on the blog.

Hope you enjoy!

1. I Realized It’s Kind of Useless to Peel Carrots

I love eating big raw carrots (they taste way better than baby carrots IMO), and it recently dawned upon me that peeling them is unnecessary. This was a DUH moment. I mean, yes, removing the peel means it’s fresh and dirt-free, but it also takes time and wastes a lot of carrot.

Now I just rinse the carrot well and eat it all. A revolution for me.

(Okay truth time: sometimes I still peel them and feel the peels to Millie.)

2. This Recipe was the top post on the VeganRecipes subreddit for a hot minute on Tuesday.

I’m new to Reddit. It still feels foreign and weird to me. But this was exciting. Especially because this was my first ever food video. Also, you should make these.

3. I keep holding off on watching the season 4 finale of Great British Bake-Off on Netflix because I don’t want it to end.

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Also, I’m stubborn and don’t want to watch the 5th season with the new hosts. I can’t imagine the show without Mary Berry and Mel and Sue. I want to be friends with Mel and Sue. And Mary Berry. But I tried to follow her on Instagram and her account is private and she never approved…maybe it’s not her real account? lol #wishfulthinking. Still love her!

4. I can’t get enough plantains lately.

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Why have I not bought these before last week? They are SO GOOD. I let some of them ripen even more than I did the first time and decided this is key.

Last night after I got home from our department’s holiday party, I knew even though I ate a bunch of snackies and nibbles at the party, I still needed a meal to satiate me physically and mentally.

So I simply sliced a super ripe plantain, microwaved it for 2-3 minutes, tossed it in a bowl, cubed up an avocado and dumped on some black beans and mixed it all together with salt and a little cayenne pepper. I served it with a green salad. Didn’t take a pic cause I wasn’t thinking it would be anything special and also I was impatient. But it was like, incredible and took me less than 5 minutes. For a real recipe, click here.

Also, anyone else feel this way about eating meals even if you’ve snacked a ton? For some reason even if I’ve nibbled on appetizers (I know people make a meal out of them often!) I still mentally need a sit-down meal to feel satiated mentally. Even if it’s a light dish. I ju

5. I am so ready for holiday break.

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This has been a rough semester for me. First, with the housing clusterfuck, and even though I’m feeling less stressed now that I have a stable safe place to live, I have had a recent surge in anxiety and feeling a bit down/depressed that has really been effecting me.

For some reason, I’m just quickly and easily overwhelmed by socializing lately. I’m not sure why. Perhaps my mom’s health is weighing on my mind a lot (she’s really not doing so well), but I am having a hard time just socializing in person, especially in big groups.

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Lately I’ve also been frustrated by some work stuff and am also a little irritated by some administrative stuff at school preventing me from getting research opportunities. Sigh. I’m just trying to give myself some breaks where I can and not stress over little stuff.

ALSO I can’t wait for break because I deeply miss being creative and want more time for projects. I have a few on my horizon; two in collaboration with a sustainability Media hub I’m a correspondant for, and others just for me and you :).

6. We’re Supposed to Get a Lot of Snow Today

And I’m excited. The above is a photo I literally just took out of my window (at about 10:40am). When I don’t have to shovel it, drive in it, or stand outside in -20 degrees (it doesn’t get that cold on the east coast….at least in the tristate area it rarely drops below 20) I can really get into a good snow storm.

Snow storm on a Saturday = the perfect excuse to not put on pants all day, drink all the hot chocolate (click link for my go-to recipe), and be extra extra cozy and antisocial. Maybe I’ll even bake if I have enough stuff in my pantry.

7. After making these chocolate banana penguins I am humbled and also inspired to make something else way more yummy.Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 10.31.58 AM

As you may know, I host “Vegan Bites” on @SpoonUniversity instagram stories every Thursday night. I made these chocolate banana penguin things and used carrots as feet/nose instead of orange candies because I was too lazy to go to the store and also I’m reallly low on cash monies these days and Spoon doesn’t pay me to host vegan bites and I buy the groceries for all my recipes.

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So I used carrots. And I had this weird AHA moment like “OMG this is weird all raw but carrot cake banana bread would be dank.” Also, the photo above is my “Little Moe with the Gimpy Leg” penguin. I love him.

So now I can’t wait to play around with that idea! Stay tuned!

8. I bought 2 avocados for $1 from a fruit stand yesterday

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And I am PUMPED about it. Can’t wait to gobble up with TJ’s everything bagel salt. Manhattan fruit stands for the win.

9. Yesterday was a fun day at school.

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Minus stats lecture. But we had a party in stats lab and that was followed with my department holiday party. They really went all out! I bought an ugly sweater for it and it’s getting delivered today (:() so I couldn’t get dressed up, but still had a good time for the brief period my social anxiety/anxiety to go home and let my dog out let me stay!

10. Speaking of school, my classmates are the nicest people.

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I can’t say this of every academic experience I’ve had, but almost every student and TA I’ve interacted with at Mailman is so down to earth, kind, and compassionate and really cares about what they are pursuing in life. I feel so safe among them. Yay nice people!

 

Happy weekend, y’all! What are you up to this weekend? I’d love to know. 🙂

Vegan Halo Top Review

Once upon a time I was asked to write about Vegan Halo Top’s release for Spoon University. Although I have a history of disliking Halo Top’s marketing for a variety of reasons, my curiosity was instantly peaked. I had to know what the hype was about.

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So for those who, like me, find themselves curious about the new non-dairy Halo Top flavors but are a bit hesitant to spend $5-8 on a pint of heavily-marketed frozen dessert, I thought I’d share my review to help you decide if it’s worthy of your time.

What Is Vegan Halo Top?

Halo Top has built a brand on a highly-effective marketing campaign of being the ultimate ‘guilt-free’ ice cream. It was one of the first well-received ‘low-calorie’ ice creams on the market (sorry Arctic Zero..), and has embedded itself into pop food culture alongside avocado toast and matcha lattes.

Halo Top advertises the calorie count of the entire pint right smack dab front and center of the packaging, and flaunts a high-protein content.

Non-dairy Halo Top is a coconut-milk based version of the original (280-360 calories per pint), with similar calorie counts and slightly lower protein contents (12 grams per pint versus 20 grams per pint).

Vegan Halo Top currently comes in 7 flavors: Caramel Macchiato, Chocolate, Chocolate Covered Banana, Peanut Butter Cup, Oatmeal Cookie, Sea Salt Caramel, and Cinnamon Roll.

The base appears to be a mix of coconut cream and water, and the dessert also contains prebiotic fiber (a thickener), organic cane sugar, erythritol (a calorie-free sugar alcohol), rice protein, pea protein, carob gum and guar gum (for thickness, I presume), stevia, and other ingredients that vary by flavor.

My Previous Distaste Of the Brand, Explained:

I have history of expressing irritation at the Halo Top marketing strategy. I don’t like the thought of demonizing or glorifying any foods, let alone my beloved ice cream. I don’t think we should feel guilty for eating regular ice cream, and I don’t think it’s wise, even if a food happens to be low-calorie, to disengage from internal hunger and fullness cues and give yourself permission to eat a whole pint.

Because the reality is, you should always give yourself permission to eat whatever sounds good to you in whatever amount satisfies your tastebuds and your tummy, whether it be a large salad as a snack, a piece of pie for breakfast, or a large scoop of your favorite ice cream whenever a craving hits.

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And you should also give yourself permission to stop if you’re full or things start not tasting so good. I can eat sweet potatoes until next Thursday and not tire of them, but often when I’m eating very rich foods, like ice cream or doughnuts, my taste buds will get over them and my stomach will tell me to stop. And I think it’s best I listen to my body.

This is what I’ve disliked for so long about Halo Top’s marketing: it presents itself as the angel among a devil-like group of foods, when really ‘real’ ice cream is just that: real ice cream. Delicious, rich, and satisfying.

Anyways…

Despite all of this, I still wanted to give Halo Top a try. I had always been curious: Okay, just how good can this stuff be? What could it possibly even taste like?

I had to know.

I pitched the idea of a review to my editors at Spoon, who approved the idea,* I went out into the world that very next weekend, only to find some pints of vegan Halo Top scattered among the original versions at my local Whole Foods. I picked up a single pint, put it in my cart, and went on my way.

*the review never ended up happening because apparently another Spoon writer reached out to HT to do a review and was sent a bunch of samples, but i decided to do my own on my blog

General First Impression

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Let me preface this by saying I love ice cream. Ice cream is probably my favorite dessert, and holds a special sentimental place in my heart as it’s a dessert I cherish many fond memories over enjoying with my dad growing up.

When it comes to ice cream preference, I go two ways: either I want rich, thick, dense hard-packed ice cream, loaded with texture (nuts, chocolate, cookies, candy, etc) or an airy soft serve that begins to melt the second it makes contact with the tongue.

So when I peeled back the golden foil from my Halo Top, I was pretty ready to be disappointment. After all, how could they manage such a low calorie count without making something completely fake-tasting, icy, or overly-artificially-flavored? It seemed like a near mathematical impossibility to me.

Throughout my trial and error with Halo Top, however, I settled upon something: it’s not ice cream. It will never be ice cream. It’s something else. It’s flavored fluff. And it’s delicious. Read on for details…

Texture:

 

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Right off the bat it was obvious that the texture of Halo Top is far different from that of a full-fat ice cream. This frozen dessert (I’m still not calling it ice cream) was almost fluffy when pulled from the carton with a spoon. I can best compare the mouthfeel of vegan Halo Top to that of marshmallow fluff or barely-thawed frozen Cool Whip. It’s aerated, light, and melts in the mouth.

The texture allows the flavor hits your palate in layers; first you just taste sticky cold and a hint of sweet. As it quickly melts on your tongue, you’re hit with a flood of de-fattened peanut butter, or cinnamon, it whatever flavor it is you happen to be eating. It’s almost soft-serve like, but with a quicker dissemination on the tongue.

Sweetness:

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Halo Top is a sweet treat but not overly so. I was quite worried the stuff would reek of nauseating over-artificial sweetness or leave your mouth feeling glowy as artificial sugar alcohols so often do.

The actual level of sweetness, however, is decently balanced. It’s certainly sweet, but not so sweet it’s inedible (as I find the non-dairy flavors of Ben & Jerry’s to be…sorry Ben & Jerry I so badly wanted to like you…).

As you swallow, you get a subtle lingering taste of artificial sugar alcohols, just slightly drying yet peaking your palate for more. The artificial taste is oddly not off-putting, but rather comforting and reminiscent of something semi-artificial you ate at sleepovers during childhood.

Chunks:

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As a texture junky, particularly when it comes to ice cream, this was the element of Halo Top I found most disappointing.

To me, when you a flavor has the word cookie in the title, I anticipate there will be chunks of cookie in the tub. This is not really the case with Halo Top. At first I was upset, but realized perhaps I misunderstood their concept. Maybe, after all, it was cookie-flavored-fluff, not ice-cream-filled-with-cookies. More on this is the flavor-by-flavor review below.

Slight misbranding aside, once I accepted this was not what Halo Top brought to the table, I was able to go back to enjoying it, reasoning I had the power (albeit less convenient) to add my own cookie pieces, chocolate chunks, candies, and whole nuts, especially since I am not concerned with keeping the calorie count of my desserts low as I’m not trying to lose weight or micromanage my body size.

By the Flavor:

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Since their launch, I’ve tried 4 flavors of non-dairy Halo Top. Below you can find my take on each I’ve had so far. I’d like to try more, but haven’t been able to find several of them. I’m also hoping they develop some of their other flavors (like cake batter or candy pieces) into non-dairy versions.

Oatmeal Cookie

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This was my first Halo Top experience, and my first dance with disappoint. Allow me to explain: I love oatmela cookies. the chewiness and moistness and soft crumb are what I dream of in a cookie, and I envisioned how wonderfully chunks of such a thing would taste dropped into ice cream.

To my sadness, there were no chunks in this flavor. Not a one. Rather, there were seemingly random oats floating within the fluff; oats which were dry and distracting rather than plush, scrumptious and experience-enhancing cookie chunks I had envisioned. Sigh.

The cloud-like texture and light sweet cinnamon flavor, however, brought my Spoon back into the point, digging for chunks, then cycling from anger, denial (no, there HAS to be chunks in here), to eventual acceptance of Halo Top as it was.

This flavor was just okay. It tasted nice on top of a German chocolate cake I made. I used it in place of whipped topping and for that, it served it’s purpose. Probably wouldn’t buy this flavor again.

Peanut Butter Cup

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Peanut Butter Cup was the second flavor I tried; I was hoping for redemption after my original cookie-less-Oatmeal Cookie letdown. Peanut Butter Cup had promises of two things I adore: peanut butter and chocolate. It certainly had to be good, right?

When I opened my second tub, I feel as if my expectations were more realistic. While I had a glimmer of hope that perhaps there were, in fact, real pieces of crushed candy in the frozen fluff, I knew there was a decent chance that would not be the case.

It was not the case. After emitting a sigh over the matter, I dug in with my spoon, ready to explore exactly what this had to offer instead.

It was at this point that I came to terms with the fact that Halo Top is not the texture-ridden, chocolate-and-nut-candy-packed ice cream I typically enjoy. It’s different. It’s fluff. That said, it’s weirdly enjoyable flavored fluff with miscellaneous swirly streaks and mysterious flecks of goo, and the occasional chunk if you picked up the right variety.

And that’s okay. It was halfway deep through the Peanut Butter Cup exploration that I mentally classified Halo Top as a separate food. It’s not ice cream, that was for certain. It’s not really even froyo or soft serve. It’s frozen flavored fluff. And oddly, I dig it.

Now. I’m not entirely sure what the base flavor was trying to taste like in this pint. There was a clearly defined peanut butter swirl which tasted like someone thinned out the insides of a Reece’s cup and rolled it into a thin strip that they decided would taste great in frozen fluff. But the fluff, itself, was confusing to me. Was it chocolate flavored? Was it peanut butter flavored? Was it somewhere in the middle?

I never reached a conclusion. I did, however, draw 3 conclusions during the consumption of Peanut Butter Cup: 1) I really liked the hard sweet peanut butter frozen-frosting-like swirl, 2)The flavored fluff in this pint is meh, and 3) I would maybe buy this flavor again and 4) This tastes way better with actual chopped up peanut butter cups added to it (obviously).

Chocolate Covered Banana

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I was wary about this one. While I an bonkers for bananas, I vehemently oppose artificial banana-flavored things.

Originally, I wasn’t even going to try it, but when Halo Top went on sale for $2.88 per pint at my local grocery store, this was the only vegan flavor I find in the bin besides Caramel Machiato. I went with Chocolate Covered Banana because for a fleeting moment I forgot it was likely banana-flavored and envisioned chocolate-dipped banana pieces in ice cream (back to my rookie-Halo Top-misunderstanding-ways) and I tend to dislike coffee ice-cream.

The verdict: it does have that artificial banana taste, reminiscent of banana-flavored Laffy Taffy. If you’re into that kind of thing, this flavor is for you. If you’re like me and a banana purist, I’d pick another flavor.

One clear strength of this point was the chocolate fudge swirl. This swirl Halo Top did not skimp upon, at least in my pint. There was ample chocolate fudge, albeit it syrupy, throughout the fluff.

I ended up hating the artificial flavor less than I normally do, perhaps as means to justify the money spent, adding chocolate chips and coconut whipped cream to temper the strong fake banana flavor.

This variety I wouldn’t buy again. Texture still on point, but not a flavor my tastebuds care for.

Cinnamon Roll

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This is by far my favorite of the four flavors I have tried. Unlike oatmeal cookie and peanut butter cups, Cinnamon Roll actually contains little chunks of….something. No, it’s not quite cinnamon roll pieces; rather, tiny balls of chewy cinnamon sweetness with a doughy texture float throughout the pint alongside a cinnamon sugary swirl.

It’s just enough textural contrast to keep you committed. I don’t need to add anything to this flavor (though it does taste good with crushed vanilla Joe Joe’s/Oreo’s). The base flavor itself, a sweet vanilla cinnamon, is superior in taste to Oatmeal Cookie, Peanut Butter Cups, and Chocolate Covered Banana in terms of palatability. Of the flavors, it also has the least ‘fake’ aftertaste.

I would buy this one again and again. Fluffy, cloudy, dreamy cinnamon sweet goodness. Excellent topper for pie or ice cream or on top of an iced coffee (yes, I went there).

Overall Thoughts:

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I went into this experiment curious but cautious, with my guard up high. I desperately wanted to write off Halo Top as a literal and figurative nasty marketing scam, but I emerge with a nuanced understanding of the obsession, and would like to make a public profession: I am a fan.

I want to try them all, especially the salted caramel if I ever come across it. I am even going so far to say I have stalked their flavors site and am hoping and praying they veganize other flavors, especially vanilla bean, lemon cake, birthday cake, pistachio, chocolate almond crunch, candy bar, and particularly pancakes and waffles.

And here I stand, a changed woman, humbled by Halo Top. I shouldn’t have judged you by your cover. And while I still dislike your anti-intuitive eating, diet-culture-contributing marketing style, I want to eat all the fluff I can get my sticky little paws on. Spoons up.