One and Done

One bowl. Six ingredients. No oil. No gluten.

Ready? Set? Bake!

It’s a lot to ask of one little loaf, but this pumpkin bread can truly do it all. Pared down to the bare essentials, it’s the ace up my sleeve for last-minute fall festivities or sudden sweet cravings. Everything comes straight out of the pantry and into the oven faster than you can say “good gourd!

Versatile, flexible, and endlessly adaptable, this basic foundation is just the beginning. Dress it up with nuts or seeds, get spicy with chai or apple pie blends, or go whole grain with buckwheat flour instead. Add cocoa powder, chocolate chips, and marshmallows, oh my!

This isn’t exclusively a bit of autumnal magic, either. Swap 3 – 4 large, ripe, mashed bananas for the pumpkin puree and you’ve suddenly got a crowd-pleasing perennial banana bread sensation to serve.

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A Date with Destiny

This blog post is sponsored by California Dates but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Prepare yourself for one hot date. No need to put on fancy shoes or spend an hour fixing your makeup though, because this eligible bachelor appreciates natural beauty, wholesome sweetness, and intelligence more than anything else. Rich, worldly, yet down to earth, its impossible to resist his charm. Ready to swipe right on this man of mystery? Well, I’m actually talking about dates. Whole, fresh dates, a universally beloved fruit with a whole lot of heart.

Though the majority of those found in stores fall into the “soft” category (versus the “semi-dry” and “dry” varieties), not all dates are created equal. Huge disparities in quality exist even within the same cultivar, depending on climate, water, soil, and topography, otherwise known as terroir. Yes, just like wine, California is uniquely suited to grow the very finest Medjool dates, moist, succulent, and honeyed through and through.

California dates add a natural sweetness with a lower glycemic Index than sugar. In fact, California dates are a healthy sugar substitute and can be used cup for cup in cooking and baking. Beyond imparting great taste, dates also add fiber, nutrients and antioxidants and other polyphenols to the diet.

Paying homage to the bountiful state that these fruits call home, I wanted to highlight some of the best that California has to offer, all in one nutritious morsel of sunshine. Beaming with the brilliant color of turmeric, the three official state nuts, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, team up in a chunky, crunchy granola blend. Sweetened entirely with dates, the thick and hearty clusters are equally alluring at breakfast and snack time. Spiced with warming ginger, sensuous cinnamon, and exotic cardamom, each bite takes you on trip straight to the west coast- Or as I like to say, the best coast.

Stay sweet, stay golden, and don’t forget to indulge in a blind date every now and then.

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Spooky Season

I don’t want to scare you, but those voices in your head, the haunting whispers, are all true: Halloween is right around the corner. It’s downright terrifying to consider how quickly the year is flying by, but it would be far more nightmarish to miss out on Spooky Season, and all the devilish treats it brings.

Commercial candies can be pretty frightening though, between artificial colors, unpronounceable preservatives, and the hidden horrors in labor and production. The instant gratification of trick-or-treat freebies does still tempt, but I happen to have a few tricks up my sleeve, too.

Years ago, I released Wicked Treats, a mini ebook with a half-dozen of my favorite homemade candies, sure to delight the most discerning guys and ghouls. Long off the market, this monstrous collection had been locked away, mummified in my digital vault. The photo quality is perhaps suitably unsettling but the sweet spells are still capable of culinary magic.

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Unchaining this Frankenstein once again, you can now download Wicked Treats completely free of charge. In addition to being vegan, these recipes are completely gluten-free, with options to make your candies soy-free, too.

What are you waiting for? The witching hour is almost upon us. Get a kettle on the fire and start brewing up something sweet!

General Admission

I hope this isn’t like debunking the myth of Santa Claus for ruining Christmas for some sad child, but I have bad news to break, and it’s about General Tso. Oh, no, he was a real person! It’s completely true that General Tso, otherwise known as Tso Tsung-t’ang, was a 19th-century general of the late Qing dynasty. Living on through epic tales of his prowess, crushing revolts, capturing rebels, and cultivating one of the most fearsome army forces in the world, his heroic might knew no equal. Lesser known are his efforts towards civil peace and stability through educated, prosperous citizens.

A complicated, stone-faced man, much remains unknown about the storied general, but one thing is for sure: General Tso had nothing to do with any sort of dish involving deep-fried chicken tossed in a tart-tangy-spicy-sweet brown sauce with broccoli. The eponymous leader never tasted the dish that keeps his name as part of the modern lexicon across the globe. For all we know, he didn’t even like broccoli – Because who’s really going to tell a war lord to eat his vegetables.

Sorry. The truth hurts.

Born in the good old US of A, General Tso’s chicken first appeared in the 1970, given the breath of the wok by a Taiwanese chef specializing in Hunan cuisine, no less. He was just a fan, a real history buff, I suppose, and also an excellent recipe developer. Riffs on this original formula proliferated faster than rabbits, coast to coast, introducing many American’s to their first taste of “Chinese” food.

So, my real point is this: Does knowing that an overweight bearded man won’t come slithering down the chimney at night to force coal into your stockings actually take the joy out of Christmas? Does learning that your favorite takeout might not be 100% “authentic” whatever that means, make it any less delicious?

Not a chance! Now, pass the plum sauce and wonton chips, please.

My take on General Tso’s is a departure from the typical composition. Replacing syrupy garlic sauce with a lighter, brighter soup broth spiked with vinegar and chilies, the results are richly invigorating well beyond greasy takeout. Crisp baked tofu perches at attention atop a coil of buckwheat noodles, tender and toothsome all at once.

One of two new vegan, gluten-free offerings from the JSL Foods line of Fortune Asian noodles, a package of Soba Buckwheat with Shoyu Flavor is the foundation of this unshakable recipe revamp. These new noodles can be found at Albertsons, Von’s, Lucky’s, Safeway, Carr’s, Dierbergs Markets and Cub Foods. Answering the call for their Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge, this fiery, bold, and somewhat sassy little beauty is my proud submission.

I’ve been burned out on contests lately, but I think that my General Tso, revived and injected with new life for more contemporary tastes, can take the heat. Go ahead and fight me for the title! Check out more inspiration from JSL Foods via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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Stubborn as a Mule

Endlessly evaluating the population at large, it’s impossible to predict exactly when or if a trend with actually come to bear, but that sure doesn’t stop us from trying. One of the most recent assessments that hit my radar was which drinks would be big this summer.

Preferences appear to be split across the country, showing a rise in appreciation for the aperol spritz and negroni in along the west coast, while easterners are more likely to quaff hard seltzer or froze to beat the heat. However, Moscow mules were indisputably on the decline across the board, having peaked in popularity long ago. Those copper mugs are so 2018.

Naturally, that’s exactly what I find myself gravitating towards.

Rather than claiming I was on board before it was cool, I’m proud to proclaim that I’m all in after it was cool. Much less pretentious, just a bit slow, I’ve discovered the charm of bracing ginger and lime over ice, spiked with the clean, crisp bite of vodka. It’s hard to go wrong with such a classic combination, which begs the question, just who is turning up their noses to proclaim it as passe? Besides, you’ve already got the cups knocking around in the back of your cabinet… What else are you going to do with them?

Meeting Russia by way of Japan, my eastern inspiration swaps vodka for sake, lime for bold, astringent yuzu juice, and adds a touch of matcha for an earthy foil. Paired with bracing ginger beer for both a sweet and spicy bite, this new blend could very well become a trend-setter after all.

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Wholly Macaroni

I couldn’t shake the question out of my head. It ran loops around my brain, echoing off the walls of my skull. Surely, there were more important matters to consider, but no. All I could think about was cheese. Mac and cheese, to be precise. It suddenly struck me that many years had passed since I revisited my previous gold standard for Stove Top-Style Macaroni and Cheese, and wondered if it would still hold up to scrutiny.

Considering the great strides that dairy-free foods have made since then, the bar had been raised to lofty heights I could have never imagined back in the day, toiling over the stove with little more than memories of the blue box to light my path. Yes, indeed, it was still good stuff… But it could certainly be better.

A few tiny tweaks make a world of difference. It’s all about incorporating the subtle umami nuances and sharp bite that a good aged cheddar might impart, but nothing earth-shaking that would come as a wild departure from the norm. Just a bit more finesse, some higher-quality ingredients, and a better understanding of the alchemical changes that flavors undergo with varying temperature and time.

Toeing the line between healthy and indulgent, the new and improved sauce introduces a handful of red lentils for body and viscosity, with the side benefit of adding extra protein and fiber into the mix. At the same time, a fearless dose of vegan butter creates that inimitable velvety texture also known as kokumi, enhancing and amplifying flavors, much like salt. Nutritional yeast is essential, of course, but joining it in savory harmony is a dash of miso, lending a greater depth of umami flavor in every cheesy, creamy bite.

Yes, it’s a bit more involved than tearing open a packet of dried dairy-derived mystery powder, but there’s no going back once you taste the difference.

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