An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Where There’s Smoke…

What does autumn taste like to you? Millions would likely respond with a resounding cry of “pumpkin spice” without a second thought, while others might venture down the less celebrated paths of chai, chili, apple pie, or perhaps speculoos. Happily, this isn’t a question we need to fight over. There are no wrong answers, nor any unsatisfying suggestions on this list. They all share one common thread, and that is a palate of bold, warm, yet utterly soothing spices. Colder days call for hotter dishes; succulent blankets to wrap around our tongues. While there’s never a bad time to ramp up the seasonings, a well-equipped spice rack comes in particularly handy around this time of year.

If asked the same question, I might hem and haw in my typically indecisive fashion, but in my heart I always know the answer immediately: Gingerbread is my everything when the temperatures drop and the sunlight wanes. Something about the combination of sticky dark molasses paired with the bite of ginger, belting out its sweet song along with a full cadre of spicy backup singers, makes it feel as though everything is right with the world, at least for those fleeting moments of indulgence. If it were lacking even one of those critical spices, the harmony would be thrown out of balance.

Even so, I can’t help but tinker. Lately I’ve been obsessed with smoky flavors, starting with a few innocent additions of smoked tofu and beets gracing my daily salads and quinoa bowls. Now I’m looking farther afield to the dessert course, finding little if any smoky sweets to experiment with. Clearly, this is a void that needs to be filled. I can think of no better candidate to step up to the plate, quite literally, than gingerbread. Smoky chipotle powder is right at home here, adding a piquant peppery accent to liven up the typical palate. Smoked salt was an obvious winner to continue the theme throughout each tender, sticky bite, and crunchy smoked almonds absolutely seal the deal. It might sound overwhelming in print, but there’s no denying the taste- It may be difficult to return to the same old gingerbread blend after adding a bit of smoke into the mix.

The primary push to explore the smokier side of dessert came from a call to action by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. They’ve invited a very talented team of bakers and food obsessives to spice things up with both sweet and savory recipes fit for dairy-free diets. To check out these submissions, vote, enter to win prizes, and find more exclusive recipes, visit Go Dairy Free.

Take your time to luxuriate in all the spicy possibilities out there. The good news is that this cake only gets better with age, as the flavors mingle and meld, over the course of a day or two. Don’t wait too long though; it may be hard for others to resist nibbling away at the edges, until not a single crumb is left. Trust me on this one.

Smoky Chipotle Gingerbread Cake

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Smoked Almonds, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Crystallized Ginger, Finely Chopped
2 Tablespoons Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Salt
1 1/4 Teaspoons Simply Organic Chipotle Powder
1 Teaspoons Simply Organic Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Grated Fresh Ginger

Faux-Fondant Glaze:

3 Cups (3/4 Pound) Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Mix well to distribute all of the seasonings throughout the dry goods, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, maple syrup, molasses, pumpkin, sugar, oil, and ginger until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before preparing the icing.

In a medium saucepan, combine confectioner’s sugar, water, and agave. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 100 degrees. It won’t look very different from when you began, but should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Quickly pour the icing over the cake and smooth across the top and over the edges. It sets quickly so you want to work fast!

If time allows, this cake does get even better with age, so try to make it a day in advance for the flavor to really meld and sing. I don’t blame you if you can’t wait though; simply allow the glaze to set before slicing and serving, at least.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


On a Roll

Tender. Gooey. Buttery. Decadent.

The very best cinnamon rolls are defined by these words. They should be rich, no-holds-barred indulgences, dripping with liquefied cinnamon sugar and redolent of the eponymous spice. One bite should be enough to sustain an athlete for a day, and yet that seductive sweetness makes it impossible to leave a single crumb, no matter the size of the bun. The inevitable sugar rush and crash that follows is always worth the pain, but does it truly have to be that way? After one such an experience, head reeling and fingers still sticky, I couldn’t help but seek out a better option.

Clearly, I’m not the only one looking for that sweet satisfaction without such a deleterious impact. Pro(Zero), makers of my current favorite protein powders, have just unleashed a new Cinnamon Roll flavor, proving that you really can have your cake and eat it, too- Or, cinnamon roll, as it were. Naturally, I still had to take it one step further and craft a true baked rendition to bring the cinnamon-spiced concept full circle.

I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but it needs to be said: These exceeded my wildest sugar-encrusted dreams. Soft, supple, and impossibly rich, these treats can roll with the big boys. They’re not sad imposters of the real that would necessitate a warning label of being “healthier” alternatives, but wholly gratifying desserts in their own rights. In sum: Toot!

Why reach for another dry, shrink-wrapped protein bar when you can have a luscious cinnamon roll instead? As far as I’m concerned, baked goods are the new health foods now.

Protein Cinnamon Rolls

Protein Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
3 – 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Pro(Zero) Cinnamon Roll Protein Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt

Cinnamon Filling:

1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon

Cream Cheese Protein Icing:

1/4 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Cinnamon Bun Protein Powder
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Heat your non-dairy milk in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the olive oil and agave. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, protein powder, and salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding them into the liquid mixture. Beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour. Bear in mind that the protein powder will continue to absorb liquid, so give it some time to fully hydrate.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 – 20 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush evenly with the melted coconut oil. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. You can either bake them individually in lightly greased muffin tins or together in two 8-inch round cake pans. If baking them in groups, try spacing them as evenly as possible. You can begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees at this point, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before baking.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, simply mix all of the ingredients together, stirring until completely smooth, adding more or less water depending on how thick you want the mixture. Less will give you something closer to a pipeable frosting, while more will create a thinner type of glaze. Bear in mind that the mixture will continue to thicken as it sits.

Makes About 12 Cinnamon Rolls

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


Grow, Grow, Grow Your Boat

If you’re growing zucchini in your backyard garden, or if any neighbors within a 10 mile radius are, there’s a good chance that you’re up to your ears in green squash by now. Even weeds aren’t as vigorous in most cases, crowded out by masses of tangled vines heavy with fruit and flowers. Although impressively versatile, swapping loyalties from sweet to savory associations at the drop of the hat, playing the backup or the lead singer with equal grace, there comes a point when it’s hard to contemplate another plate of the stuff. I’ve seen a particularly prolific garden down the street where zucchini line the porch, free for the taking. One of them has grown so large that it now sits regally in the deck chair, presiding over the others like a monarch, complete with a rather handsome straw hat atop its crown.

When faced with such zucchini abundance, my default answer is to bust out the trusty old spiralizer. No cooking, no muss, no fuss, and you’ve got a pile of crisp green noodles to dress up or down as you please. That’s all well and good for the average sized squash, but once you get a full pound of flesh in every squash, even the spiralizer can’t save you anymore.

Zucchini bread is a classic approach to tackling this kind of glut, but for these extenuating circumstances, it still isn’t enough. No, this calls for a full-frontal zucchini exposé, not just a handful of shreds hidden within a loaf of quick bread. Drawing inspiration from the ever-popular concept of stuffed zucchini instead, all it takes is a few simple ingredient swaps, and you’ve got a bona fide, zuchini-fied dessert worthy of any summer’s harvest.

Hollowed out and refilled with a luscious mixture of spiced bread pudding, those once unlovable giant Italian squash will finally get the praise they’re due. Never again turn away those extra-large options, claiming their interiors to be “too seedy” to be any good- A familiar refrain that I’ll admit I’m guilty of saying as well. Like any bread pudding worth its salt (or sugar, as it were) the add-ins are entirely flexible based on personal preferences. Go crazy with your favorite nut, try out different dried fruits, or go ahead, double down on the chocolate chips and indulge your inner chocoholic.

Though they don’t make for great eating in this application, there’s still no reason to toss the zucchini innards! Try chopping them up and simmer them in marinara sauce or blend them into just about any soup, for starters. You’re only limited by what your garden can produce, and if your situation is looking anything like mine, there will be quite a bit more zucchini still to come, ripe for experimentation.

Zucchini Bread Pudding Boats

2 Large Zucchini (About 1 Pound Each)
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3 Ounces Sourdough or French Bread, Cut into 1/4-Inch Cubes (About 1 1/2 Cups)
1/2 Cup Raisins or Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy interiors, leaving 1/2 – 3/4 centimeter around the border to support the boat. A thin spoon should do the trick just fine, but if you’re having trouble, try an ice cream scoop instead. Place the zucchini with the cut sides up on your prepared baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, whisk together the non-dairy milk, brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of the cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring frequently. Add in the vegan butter or coconut oil along with the vanilla, mix to incorporate and turn off the heat. Let cool for 10 minutes before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together the bread, raisins and/or chocolate chips, and nuts with the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Once thoroughly coated, pour in the liquid ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine. Spoon the bread pudding mixture into your waiting zucchini boats, dividing it equally between the four halves. Don’t be afraid to mound it up in the centers!

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the zucchini is fork-tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


Keep Your Cool

There are certain world records that no one wants to break. No one would be proud to claim the title of World’s Most Accident-Prone Person, or boast of sporting the World’s Longest Nose Hairs, for example. Unfortunately, the world itself has been officially awarded the unfortunate record of World’s Warmest Year, as of 2015, and we’re right on track to continue that winning streak for 2016.

Some of us have it worse than others. Living in the sheltered weather bubble that is the bay area, protected by a perpetual blanket of fog, it’s hard to imagine the crushing heatwave smothering the east coast right now. I don’t say that to brag- It’s with both awe and sympathy. I genuinely don’t know how you folks manage to survive yet another round of unprecedented heat and humidity.

No doubt, ice cream must help. It’s the only real relief that I would fully endorse on any day, and in any climate, for that matter. Even though temperatures around here rarely break the 80-degree mark, I’ve fully indulged in more than my fair share of frozen desserts this summer, thanks in large part to So Delicious. Their soothing cashew- and coconut-based treats are guaranteed to take the sting out of the most brutal days of summer sun. Short of churning your own, quite frankly, there are no better nor more diverse mainstream brands out there.

Although it’s tempting to hoard all of this frozen goodness for myself, I know there are many hungry ice cream-lovers out there suffering far more than I am this season. That’s why I want to share the wealth, and offer a FREE So Delicious product to two lucky readers! Anything your heart desires is up for grabs, but of course, I can’t recommend the ice cream highly enough. To enter, head on over to the giveaway page here, and don’t forget to leave a comment about your favorite ice cream flavor. You have until August 10th to enter, so get to it! I wouldn’t want anyone to sweat through the whole summer without a bite of cold comfort.


Lazy Day Luxuries

Browsing through the latest issue of a prominent food magazine, the leading sentence of yet another summer recipe round up grabbed me by the throat. Proclaiming August the “laziest month,” it struck me as a particularly bold declaration, forcing me to consider how plausible such a blanket statement might actually be. When else would we, collectively as a workaholic society, sneak out of the office sooner, take longer siestas, or justify more extended weekend adventures? December would be a close contender, but when you factor in the stress of holidays and family obligations, it’s clearly out of the running. Perhaps they’re right; perhaps August does take the cake for stringing together the most laid-back, unhurried days on the calendar.

So, as July inevitably slips through our fingers, it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare to seriously take it slow. I’m all about minimal effort resulting in maximum impact, which is why I can’t get enough of The Blender Girl‘s raw key lime pudding.

It first graced my hot and humid east coast kitchen a number of years ago and has become an annual summer staple ever since. It’s baffling that I somehow neglected to include it in my initial review of her brilliant cookbook, but I suppose I was subconsciously saving it for the more languorous days that best suit the no-muss, no-fuss preparation.

I’ve barely done anything to the original formula, which only goes to show what a solid recipe Tess has concocted here. I’ve never gone out of my way to actually use key limes, and yet it still bears a sprightly, zesty flavor thanks to the balance between standard limes and lemons. I’d venture to say that adding a touch of grapefruit to the party might be a delightfully tangy addition, too. It’s a good thing we have the whole month of August ahead of us- I’ll undoubtedly have many more batches of this refreshing raw treat to experiment with.

Raw “Key Lime” Pudding
Modified slightly from The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Avocados, Pitted and Peeled
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Bananas, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

It’s easy enough to figure out how this one comes together, but in case you need some hand-holding, here’s how it all goes down: Throw everything into your blender and process until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. Transfer to four individual glasses or ramekins, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until chilled. Serve the same day to prevent browning.

Makes 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


Just Add Ice Cream

Given my unconventional approach to featuring a pint of my favorite ice cream, as highlighted in my previous recipe melt down, it should surprise precisely no one to learn that I was once a master at making ice cream soup. Especially when the air took on a chilly edge and a solidly frozen scoop could send shock waves rippling through my sensitive teeth, it only made good sense to temper my treats a bit. Science has proven that we’re less capable of tasting the full flavor nuances of anything chilled below 32°F. I’d like to think I was simply wise beyond my years, gleefully turning sundaes into spoonable milkshakes for maximum enjoyment. Inevitably this led to some very sticky situations and many stained shirts, but that’s another story.

It wasn’t long after gaining the privacy of my own tiny apartment kitchen that I began to tinker with some downright insane concepts, while taking my penchant for ice cream soup to the extreme. After one cycle too many in the microwave, I discovered that my luscious chocolate ice cream had “defrosted” far beyond the realm of milkshake territory, sloshing around inside its cardboard carton freely. While one could toss the liquid back into an ice cream churn and salvage the mess, I saw this as a new opportunity. A new ingredient to play with, once again, to transform into an entirely new treat.

No baking is required for those suffering under summer’s stifling heat. In fact, the end results taste even better when eaten chilled; an inadvertent homage to its frozen origins. For anyone who’s ever craved a brownie denser than a cake, or a fudge just a hair lighter than pure ganache, these obscenely rich bars fill that gap. Admittedly, the squares pictured above are much too large for any reasonable human being to consume in one sitting. That didn’t stop me, of course, but I can’t recommend it for the sugar rush and food coma sure to follow. Just a little bit goes a long way with these devilish little dark chocolate squares.

This is yet another entry for the Raise a Pint Recipe Contest, fostered by Go Dairy Free and So Delicious. The entry period will end on July 24th, at which point all the sweet recipes will be revealed and you can vote for your favorites. In the meantime, you can join in by sharing your ice cream moments on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter- Be sure to use #RaiseAPint! Find the full details right here.

Instant Brownie Fudge Bars

1 Pint So Delicious Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
4 Cups (About 18 Ounces) Finely Ground Chocolate Sandwich Cookie Crumbs
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans, Divided

Line an 8×8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease; set aside.

Place the ice cream, coconut oil, and salt into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Allow everything to fully melt, bringing the liquid to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, whisking periodically, for about 5 minutes.

Add in the cookie crumbs and half of the nuts, stirring quickly and vigorously with a wide spatula. The resulting batter will be very thick, so don’t be afraid to put some muscle into it. Transfer to your prepared pan and spread the mixture out into a smooth, even layer. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top and use your palms to gently press them into the surface.

Move the pan into your fridge and chill for at least 4 hours, or into your freezer for 2, before slicing into bars or squares as desired. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week… If you can keep you hands off of them for that long.

Makes 16 – 24 Servings

Printable Recipe


Given the Cold Shoulder

Blurring the line between genius and madness, typical recipe brainstorming sessions can yield any number of wild, unpredictable results, combining disparate flavors that bear tenuous connections at best. It’s the best and worst part of any free-association exercise, opening up the floodgates and allowing a torrent of unfiltered ideas to flow. I’ve come up with some of my greatest hits this way, but sometimes, I’ve inadvertently managed to cobble together terrifying Frankenstein monstrosities instead. Most of these are easily eliminated before they ever come to fruition to assault unsuspecting eaters in real life, but unfortunately, it sometimes takes a round of testing before I realize the errors of my ways. Recipe writers don’t like to talk about it, but failure is far more common than success.

Thus, given my adoration for ice cream and endless supply of crazy concepts, I’ve dished out more than my fair share of distasteful scoops. In honor of Nation Ice Cream Day today, I thought it might be fun it dive into the archives to unearth some of these frozen horrors. Brace yourselves: The following list is not for the weak of stomach.

  • Raisin Bran Ice Cream
  • Black Garlic Ice Cream
  • Old World Borscht Ice Cream
  • Ketchup Ice Cream
  • Bread & Butter Pickle Chip Ice Cream
  • Cinnamon-Raisin Noodle Kugel Ice Cream
  • Smokey Barbecue Sauce Ripple Ice Cream

Consider yourselves lucky that I had enough common sense to know when to put the ice cream paddle down. Not all ideas can be winners, but you have my word that only the best ever make it into print.

I hope everyone is enjoying this “holiday” with only the creamiest, sweetest, and most luxurious of sweet scoops!