Ease into Easter

Watch out for seasonal whiplash. Ready or not, we’re hopping madly towards the first big family gathering since Christmas. If you’re still recovering from a brutal winter, far removed from the pastel-clad merriment of egg hunts, parades, and garden parties, fear not. There’s still plenty of time to shake off any residual frost and turn out a stunning dessert.

Inspired by the brilliant fresh flavor of real berries baked into Voortman Raspberry Wafers, these light and crispy creme-filled cookies have kept me sane in the dark days of barren farmers markets and middling fresh fruit options. Now, paired with the tender ruby gems themselves, those sweet sticks become the building blocks of even greater tastes.

Swapping bland, spongy ladyfingers for these new treats from Voortman injects new life into an Italian staple. Stacking bright, vibrant layers of flavor with the greatest of ease, anyone can assemble this masterpiece in minutes.

Be it an elegant brunch or low-key gathering with friends, it’s hard to beat this invigorating combination of rich, tangy cream cut by a touch of citrus zest, lightly spiked and softened wafers, and whole fresh raspberries. Bundle up the whole pan to go and take it away on breezy springtime picnics, since it’s surprisingly stable at room temperature too.

Served immediately, the cookies will remain crunchy for a resoundingly satisfying bite, but hold up brilliantly to delayed gratification. After a day or overnight, you’ll enjoy a more tender forkful from top to bottom, easy to slice, serve, and fully embrace with an open mouth. Go ahead, prep well in advance, so you can be ready whenever your party springs to life.

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Think Outside the Chocolate Box

Romance comes in many flavors, but chocolate is the dominant taste on lovers’ lips come February 14th. Truffles, molded and dipped, lavished with nuts, caramel, spices, and salt, line up in neat lines across interminable rows of red boxes, nestled into fluted paper cups serving more as garnishes than practical storage solutions. Chocolate, the ubiquitous sweet aphrodisiac, is easily the top treat for this loving affair, beating both flowers and jewelry offerings by a mile. Predictable yet indisputably in demand, it’s hard to argue with another chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day.

That doesn’t mean you need to stick with conventional confections to win over a fickle mistress. Consider a deeper dive into the cacao pool with a Homemade Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake. Originally devised as an amalgamation of questionable packaged baking mixes, a true tunnel of fudge cake is easier to assemble than your average Bundt. With a river of gooey, rich chocolate running through the core, it’s essentially a supersized lava cake if eaten warm. Dense, rich, and intense, at the core resides the famed heart of fudge, thick as cookie dough without the harsh sugar rush synonymous with unbaked batter. Nuts traditionally make up the bulk of this blend, but to make it allergen-free, they’re replaced with decadent chocolate morsels instead, much to the delight of devoted chocoholics and picky eaters, as well.

Just in time for this sweet heart’s holiday, you can find my recipe over on Go Dairy Free.

Happier Holidays – A Latte CBD Joy

Dashing through the snow,
In a 200 horsepower hybrid fuel vehicle,
Over the hills we go,
Screaming all the way.
Oh Ho, No!

Wait, that’s not how the song goes? Then why is my head throbbing with Christmas carols and an endless to-do list of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating to accomplish before the holidays hit? Pressure is mounting to make this short window of time as magical as a fairy tale, which inevitably turns it into quite the opposite experience. I know I’m not alone here based on the crazed, deranged looks staring back at me during many errand runs. Plans for a low-key celebration can quickly snowball out of control into a grand fete and before you know it, a dizzying array of demands await. Coordinating parties and managing difficult house guests, leave little space for anything but dread.

Let’s all take a moment to breathe, shall we? Peace and harmony aren’t just platitudes to espouse on seasonal greeting cards, and they certainly won’t manifest in such a state of extreme anxiety. While you can’t wrap it up with a shiny bow or have it shipped straight to your door in two days or less, taking care of your emotional well-being is really the greatest gift you can give this season. It may not seem like the most effective approach would start with a shot of espresso, but when you add a dose of CBD into the brew, the restorative results are unmistakable.

CBD oil has made a world of difference for me personally, especially at times of utmost stress. Extracted from the leaves, stem, and flowers of the hemp plant, it has no psychoactive properties, is legal in all 50 states, and readily found online. Consistently relieving anxiety, depression, inflammation, and nausea in early studies, it’s not just a Christmas miracle, but an everyday life preserver. Getting a therapeutic dose is easier than ever now, since you can find it bundled up in supplements, edibles, topical creams, and CBD vape oil, beyond just a straight tincture. That said, plain, unflavored oil is the most versatile for incorporating into recipes if pills simply don’t hold any appeal.

When it comes to culinary applications, a good rule of thumb is to substitute 3/4 to 1 teaspoon CBD oil for every serving of whatever oil is called for. That means if you were making a vinaigrette that yields four servings, remove 3 – 4 teaspoons of olive oil and replace it with CBD infusion. Take into consideration the strength of the oil when calibrating your formula as well, since quality can vary wildly between brands. In recipes meant for one, it’s much simpler; just give yourself one dose, as in the case for this balancing, calming, and simultaneously invigorating peppermint mocha latte.

Velvety frothed dairy-free milk meets the bracing bitterness of bold espresso, all tempered by a subtle undertone of chocolate indulgence. A light touch of peppermint evokes nostalgic memories of candy canes pulled off tinsel-topped presents, cool and refreshing, soothing and sweet. This unbeatable flavor sensation would be every bit as delicious without the added medicinal benefits, but not quite as effective for balancing out unreasonable mood instability.

It’s not hard to make the holidays a bit more merry and a little less scary.

Yield: 1 Serving

CBD Peppermint Mocha Latte

CBD Peppermint Mocha Latte
Velvety frothed dairy-free milk meets the bracing bitterness of bold espresso, all tempered by a subtle undertone of chocolate indulgence. A light touch of peppermint evokes nostalgic memories of candy canes pulled off tinsel-topped presents, cool and refreshing, soothing and sweet. This unbeatable flavor sensation would be every bit as delicious without the added medicinal benefits, but not quite as effective for balancing out unreasonable mood instability.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk*
  • 1 Shot (1.5 Ounces) Hot Espresso or 3 Tablespoons Strong Brewed Coffee
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Chocolate Syrup
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
  • 1 Dropper-Full CBD Oil
  • Cocoa Powder (Optional, for Garnish)

Instructions

  1. Place the non-dairy milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Gently bring up to about 100 degrees, or until just hot enough that you can only comfortably hold a finger in it for a few seconds. You don't want it to boil. Alternately, you can warm it in the microwave for about two minutes.
  2. Whisk vigorously until frothy or use an aerator or blender to help speed up the process. Add in the espresso, chocolate syrup, peppermint extract, and CBD oil, mixing to combine.
  3. This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled effortlessly to treat a crowd, but in that case, make sure the final mixture is whisked very thoroughly to ensure that the oil is equally distributed throughout. It's important that the dose isn't too strong or too weak when divided into individual mugs. On the other hand, you can skip the CBD oil if you merely want an uplifting coffee break to help power through a busy winter day.
  4. Top with a light sprinkle of cocoa powder if desired, to garnish. Serve right away and take in a moment of holiday harmony.

Notes

*For best results, seek out a "barista blend" that's formulated specifically to make a richer micro-foam. Otherwise, soy generally works best due to the protein content, but nut milks are a good choice for a lighter option. Avoid rice milk unless there's no other option, as it tends to be watery and bland.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

1

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 254 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 3g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 20mg Sodium: 149mg Carbohydrates: 40g Fiber: 2g Sugar: 31g Protein: 10g

Grace Under Pressure

The race is on: Stomachs are rumbling and the call for a quick, cozy dinner is at fever pitch. Even the thought of bundling up to grab Chinese takeout seems onerous, too exhausting after spending so much time on the road or at work already. Besides, once jackets are off and pajama pants are on, there’s no going back.

I have good news for you. Believe it or not, the makings of a hearty, warm, restorative meal are already sitting in your pantry, and they’ll come together in mere minutes, with minimal effort. You don’t even need to leave the plush luxury of your bunny slippers to make it happen.

Could there be anything more comforting than a big bowlful of velvety tomato soup? Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix for this almost instant blend, transforming humble broth and vegetables into an impossibly luscious, creamy bisque. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove; only you need to know it needed just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.

No fancy equipment? No problem. Bring out your standard soup pot and plan to simmer for a little bit longer. It may be difficult to wait, but it’s worth the extra time, and still beats greasy lo mein by a long shot.

Yield: Makes 4 - 6 Servings

Heat ‘n Eat Creamy Tomato Bisque

Heat ‘n Eat Creamy Tomato Bisque
Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix for this almost instant blend, transforming humble broth and vegetables into an impossibly luscious, creamy bisque. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove; only you need to know it needed just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock
  • 1 (28 ounce) Can Fire-Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup Raw Cashews
  • 2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Julienned (Thinly Sliced) Fresh Basil

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in your pressure cooker set to sauté function. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened; about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt and continuing cooking for about 10 minutes, until the onions begin to evenly brown. Be patient while caramelizing the onions because the more golden-brown they get, the more-flavorful your soup will be.
  2. Pour vegetable stock into the cooker along with the undrained can of tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, cashews, nutritional yeast, vinegar, and black pepper. Lock the pressure cooker lid in place and close the steam vent.
  3. Seal and cook over high pressure for 8 minutes. Once the cooking cycle has completed, quick-release the steam vent to quickly break the seal.
  4. Transfer the soup to a blender and thoroughly puree until completely smooth. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil to serve.

Notes

No fancy equipment? No problem. Bring out your standard soup pot and plan to simmer for a little bit longer.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 130 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 500mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 5g Protein: 5g

Schmear Campaign

Whoever first looked at a cashew and thought, “Hey, I think this could taste like cheese!” deserves some kind of gold medal, if not a Nobel Peace Prize. Though this tropical nut has quickly been adopted as the staple ingredient to many dairy-free delights, it truly shines brightest when blended to a creamy consistency and inoculated with savory cultures. Something about the fermentation process brings out all the best flavors, not to mention the probiotic benefits, locked away inside those unassuming beige kernels. Recipes have flooded cookbooks both print and digital within the span of just a few years, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence on the grocery store shelves, too. Just take the new line of schmears from NuCulture for example.

Based in the Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon, I was lucky enough to stumble upon these fresh blends while visiting Seattle for the VegFest this past spring. Availability is still limited, but growing at a steady clip, as more savvy consumers catch on and get hooked. Very rich and buttery, each flavorful option is so much more than just plain pureed cashews.

Garden Herb is the best entry point for the uninitiated; think of it as an upgraded cream cheese, simply begging for a bagel. Scallions take the lead here, bringing onion flavor to the fore, while gentle notes of parsley, thyme, and oregano play backup in perfect harmony. For whatever reason, it’s the thickest of the three, making it less of a contender as a silky smooth dip, but still perfectly creamy and spreadable.

On the other hand, to all you nostalgic southerners out there, your pitch-perfect pimento cheese dip dupe has arrived. Paprika Pimento bears a mild kiss of red bell peppers, lending a gentle warmth without a bite. An irresistible savory spread with subtle, balanced sweetness, it was the first to disappear when the snacks hit the table.

If you like it hot, though, Bacony Chipotle has your number. Beware that it’s not a treat for the meek! This one is packing serious heat. It starts with a smoldering, smoky, meaty flavor but quickly progresses into a blazing finish. The fire definitely builds as you eat, which can catch up quickly if you’re a serial snacker, unprepared to face the flame.

For all you keeping score at home, mark this one down as yet another win for cashews. Though currently a regional specialty, I hope that the love of this nutty schmear will continue to spread through all 50 states soon, and beyond.

Foam, Sweet Foam

Long gone are the days of curdled soymilk clouding an otherwise lovingly crafted cup of coffee. Alternative milks have reached such astounding levels of acceptance in mainstream markets that even the most basic establishment will have at least one suitable substitute, if not two or three, for the dairy-adverse. Home brewers have even more to raise their mugs to, with more options available than one could hope to drink in a lifetime, no matter how prodigious their caffeine consumption. While almond has become the new default alt-milk, coconut is no slouch these days, and oat milk is now making a big splash on the scene, too. A whole world of creamy contenders remains on the fringes of widespread awareness, though, unsung and unappreciated for their own unique qualities. One such challenger poised to hit the big time is macadamia, if the latest submission from Milkadamia is any indication.

Differentiating themselves from the existing “Latte Da Barista” Macadamia Milk, this new line of coffee whiteners is aimed at home users looking for a simple splash of cream in their morning cuppa Joe. They’re so new that information is scant online; even their website hasn’t been updated to include these hot options. Shelf-stable and available in three flavors, Unsweetened Vanilla provides the most clean, neutral flavor while Vanilla and Fudge add an indulgent twist to the array.

Of course, with access to some world-class baristas at my second home at Nourish Cafe, I had to ask the experts what they thought of these innovative creamers. Across the board, everyone was impressed by the most basic entry, finding it hard to believe that absolutely no sugar was included in the unsweetened option. Smooth and rich in a way that’s near impossible to replicate with homemade recipes, this simple blend had genuine body that came stunningly close to true heavy cream. Though it wasn’t designed for foaming or latte art, it performed remarkably well when put to the test, too.

Turning up the flavor dial to 11, the sweetened varieties became my fast favorites, despite my penchant for plain, jet-black coffee in the morning. So called “fudge” lives up to its name, with a round chocolate flavor akin to liquefied truffles. Suddenly, I understood the craze surrounding flavored, fanciful lattes. Though clearly designed with the standard roasted bean in mind, I found it dangerously habit-forming in hot matcha, both green and blue.

I’m already craving my next fix, waiting for supply to keep up with demand. These new creamers from Milkadamia should be hitting store shelves sometime this month, and I’ll be first in line to add a generous splash to my next fresh brew.