Baklava for Breakfast

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

My dad is a tough one to spoil. He never asks for anything, rarely complains, and never seems to want anything beyond his means. Gracefully, graciously, he’ll accept gifts when the occasion mandates such an exchange, but he genuinely means it when he says, “you shouldn’t have.” For a man who deserves so much, he sure is impossible to shop for.

The best presents come from the heart, of course, and that’s synonymous with the kitchen, as far as I’m concerned. My dad would never turn down any of my crazy creations, no matter his preferences or appetite, but for Father’s Day, I wanted to make something he would genuinely enjoy.

Further complicating matters, grocery shopping just isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the carefree days of popping into the nearest store to pick up a few things. If it can’t be ordered online, it pretty much can’t be on the menu. Thank goodness for iHerb, supplying both the basics and more specialized superfoods and delicacies.

It’s one-stop shopping for all things vegan and beyond. Unlike other online marketplaces, iHerb clearly labels and categorizes all of their goods by dietary needs, so you can search specifically for items that are plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, and so much more, separately or all together if needed! Considering that there are literally thousands of vegan products to choose from, that eliminates the typical search frustration of scrolling through blurry pictures of labels, giving you exactly what you need. Orders are shipped to over 150 countries straight from climate-controlled distribution centers, ensuring the quality of their products. You’ll never receive expired goods, in sharp contrast to the gamble you sometimes take when purchasing from massive, multichannel online retailers. If there are ever any concerns, you can email or chat online with a real person 24 hours a day 7 days a week, speaking 10 different languages, too!

In case you forgot about Father’s Day until the last minute, don’t panic. You can get next-day, no-contact delivery without sweating over shortages or strange substitutions. iHerb even has the accoutrements covered; buy yourself some extra time by brewing up a quick beverage to slowly sip, savoring the company of The World’s Best Dad while breakfast is cooking. For me, that means instant iced coffee using Mount Hagen for a quick fix, and Twinings Cold Brewed Peach Iced Tea for him.

Recalling lazy weekends and leisurely mornings, the ultimate breakfast treat was a plateful of fluffy waffles, lavished with enough maple syrup to make a sapling weep. Only Real, Organic, Grade A Maple Syrup would make the cut here, because that quality makes a difference you can taste. Sticky and satisfied, we’d roll away from the table ready to take on the day.

Folding those memories into an even more decadent treat, such a celebration calls for something even more special. Flaky pastry meets the resounding crunch of crisp Eden Foods Pistachios and Bergin Fruit and Nut Company Almonds in my dad’s favorite dessert, baklava, now fit for “the most important meal of the day.” Sandwiched between two slabs of puff pastry, the nutty mixture is perfumed with aromatic Simply Organic Celyon Cinnamon and enriched with  Nutiva Butter-Flavored Coconut Oil, a thousand gossamer-thin layers rising to the occasion not in the oven, but in the waffle iron.

These delicate, shatteringly crisp sheets are designed to hold onto golden, honeyed syrup, infused with floral essence of Heritage Rosewater and subtly acidic edge of True Lemon Crystals. Each pocket unleashes a river of the sweet stuff, sure to appease even the most extreme nectarous cravings.

While you could serve baklava waffles for dessert instead, why not indulge a little bit? If your dad is even half as supportive, patient, loving, and good natured as mine, surely, he deserves it.

To you and yours, from me and mine, Happy Father’s Day!

Continue reading “Baklava for Breakfast”

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Roll with the Punches

I received free samples of California Walnuts mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Walnuts and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Bob and weave, parry and block; keep on dancing around obstacles and don’t let anything stop you. We’ve all suffered setbacks in recent weeks, to put it lightly, and even on the brightest of days, it’s easier said than done. How can one keep on going, keeping on rolling, in the face of such daunting odds?

There’s no easy answer, certainly no snappy, one-size-fits-all solution, but it all starts with you. That means nourishing your mind and body, which comes together quite nicely for me in the form of healthy, fun, and light meals. This one is literally how I roll.

California Walnuts, rich in plant-based omega-3, are a solid staple for versatile snacks both sweet and savory. Blended with umami miso and savory herbs, they turn into a stunningly creamy, unbelievably cheesy take on dairy-free ricotta. Spread lavishly across tender planks of grilled zucchini and twisted into tidy pinwheels, I’d be willing to call it the new power lunch.

Complementing the Italian-leaning seasoning, simple marinara sauce is a velvety tomato blanket to cradle these bundles, although it could just as easily be served alongside as a dip, turning each pinwheel into two-bite canapes for a crowd. One day, hopefully soon, those garden parties will blossom with friends, family, and good food once again.

Just keep on rolling, friends.

Continue reading “Roll with the Punches”

Real Food in Real Life

Here we are, a day before the official release of Real Food, Really Fast, and it feels as though I’m already late to my own party. By some strange twist of fate or marvel of Amazon.com, copies started shipping weeks ago, way back in the depths of December amidst all the holiday madness that goes with it. My head hasn’t stopped spinning since then, and if you can believe it, we’re about to turn this steady buzz into a bold roar, all the way up to eleven.

Kicking things off with a casual sampling and signing, come meet me TOMORROW, January 16th for my first appearance at Nourish Cafe, 1030 Hyde Street in San Francisco, 11am – 1pm, where I’ll hand out tastes of the single most popular recipe among testers: The Buttered Buffalo Pecans. Crisp, nutty, spicy, and just a touch sweet, it’s no surprise that this simple snack turned into such a big hit overnight. One bite and you’ll be hooked too, but in case you’re not in the bay area, here’s a little sneak peek:

The big celebration happens on Friday, January 19th, with a menu of sweet and savory tastes straight from the book, along with an incredibly generous raffle of premium baking supplies furnished by Rodelle, a free copy of the latest issue of VegNews Magazine for every attendee, and perhaps most importantly, an evening of fun and revelry! On the menu are more of the greatest hits, including Millionaire’s Kale Salad, Thai Laab in lettuce cups, and Peppermint Bark Meltaways. Get your tickets here ASAP because space is limited, and because, well, I need to know how much food to cook. Small details, right?

I hope to see your lovely, shining faces out there soon! If you’re not nearby, don’t despair; I have many more book-related appearances on the horizon, near and far, so stay tuned for those details. Until then, keep it real[ly delicious.]

The Smiling Nut

Question: What’s a food photographer’s favorite subject?

Answer: Pistachios, because they’re always smiling!

Now you know my best/worst joke. Should I attempt to tell it again in person, I wouldn’t blame you for rolling your eyes, sighing in exasperation, or both at once. Despite that, I’m certain it will still happen sooner than later because I just can’t resist a terrible pun, especially when it relates to food. The likelihood that it might become a prime interjection into standard conversations is also high because pistachios happen to be one of my very favorite nuts, if I was forced at gunpoint to pick just one.

Granted, I’m far from a discerning connoisseur. Typical choices for these edible emeralds range from raw to toasted, in shell or out. Maybe you might get some fancy seasoning sprinkled into the mix, or keep it classic with a shower of fine salt. It’s an embarrassing admission to make in the age of hyper-awareness surrounding food sourcing and the celebration of less conventional options, but it never even occurred to me that there might be different types of pistachios out there. All nuts are not created equal, though history suggests that the pistachio originated from one general region in Asia over 9,000 years ago. Notable growers today include California, which is the sort of green emerald most US consumers are likely to pick up from the grocery store, consciously or not, as well as Iran and Turkey.

Just a single farm from any of these locations might be churning out a half dozen unique varietals, too. Rarely would the average consumer be able to pick them out by name, but the distinction between nuts is striking. Some might range from a mere centimeter to a full inch long; a whole spectrum of green hues can tint the kernels; flavors can dominate with more buttery, woodsy, grassy, or savory notes; textures might be impeccably crisp, or more tender, almost like a raw pea. Just scraping the surface on the micro-mutations of the cashew’s cousin makes me realize just how little I know about this beloved nut.

Greek pistachios had never crossed my radar prior to a press release from Hellas Farms. I wondered how different they could really be from my standard economy pick, a no-name brand from a pirate who’s name rhymes with Grader Schmoe’s. It was surprising to see the warm red blush tinting these nuts, a reminder of where the antiquated practice of dying the shells once came from. A very light kiss of salt accentuated the lightly roasted flavors embedded within, highlighting the high quality nut in a very simple, unfussy way.

The ultimate takeaway from this nutty exploration, however, is not that it’s necessary to seek out pistachios with particular pedigrees; rather, what counts more than anything else is freshness. All too often, packaged nuts sit on grocery store shelves for months, or even years, before you toss them into your cart. It makes a world of difference to have them shipped directly from the source, and especially when that producer has a real passion for their pistachios. No matter from where in the world your pistachios hail, opting for a more carefully cultivated selection will certainly give you something to smile about.

The Cold Shoulder

July? Already? Each new month always seem to sneak up out of no where, unannounced and premature, startling me out of my never-ending daydream and back into the present moment. Somehow, the arrival of July doesn’t feel quite so jarring this time around, and yet there’s considerable dissonance between the calendar date and the weather at hand. Oh, it’s been gloriously sunny, aside from the average fog-smothered mornings, but never has a mid-summer month run in with such a cool breeze on its tail. San Francisco summers are unlike any other; I came prepared with plenty of layers, but I still doubted that I would need my autumnal leatherette jacket this late into the year. Thank goodness I suspended that disbelief at least long enough to pack it, since it’s become a constant companion on my brisk campus-bound commutes.

While the rest of the country prepares to celebrate our independence with the standard round of backyard barbeques, pool parties, and fireworks, I’m still struggling to get into a properly jubilant mood. How could anyone think of stripping down to a bathing suit when the thermometer barely registers in the low 60’s on some days? Where do city folk all hide their grills, and how do they not set off the fire alarms every single time a tofu pup hits the searing metal grates? Furthermore, how do I make it back home from the fireworks when the Muni is guaranteed to become missing in action, just in my moment of greatest need? While my plans remain up in the air, it’s clear to see that they’ll end up falling on the more nontraditional side of the tracks.

One thing that can never be altered about any proper 4th of July party, even for a party of one, is the ice cream. I don’t care if I found myself in a freak snow storm come early July- There would still be ice cream on my menu. Trouble is, what with all the festivities and rampant jubilation, it can be tough to find yourself anchored by an unwieldy cupful of frozen confection. This is a job that calls for bite-sized, chocolate-covered, flavor-filled ice cream truffles.

Inspired by a generous gift of shelled pistachios straight from the nutty experts at Diamond of California, these glorious green gems couldn’t be simpler to prepare, and are the prefect offering for a party of any size. Best of all, they can be made well in advance, so all you have to do on the day of celebration is bust them out and look like a total ice cream-churning pro. The creamy emerald interiors are sophisticated enough to suit the most discerning palates, while the shatteringly crisp chocolate coating adds sweetness and whimsy that is sure to appeal to a younger generation of food critics in training.

Pistachio Ice Cream Truffles

Pistachio Ice Cream:

2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cup Shelled, Toasted Pistachios
1/3 Cup Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed (Optional, for Color)
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/8 Teaspoon Fiori Di Sicilla, or a Tiny Pinch of Orange Zest

Chocolate Coating:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil

To prepare the ice cream base, simply drop all of the ingredients, except for the two extracts, into your blender or food processor. A high-speed blender is your best bet for the smoothest texture, but with enough patience and a bit of straining, any model can make do. Blend on high for 5 – 6 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary, until the mixture is thoroughly pureed, without a single fragment of pistachio to be found.

Pour the smooth mixture into a medium saucepan and set on the stove over moderate heat. Whisking frequently, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from sticking and scorching, bring the liquid up to a gentle boil. Once bubbles begin to burst on the surface with increasing regularity, turn off the heat. Stir in the vanilla and Fiori di Sicilia last. Let the base cool to room temperature before moving it into the fridge to chill thoroughly; about 3 hours.

Churn the cooled base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the soft ice cream into an air-tight container, and let it “cure” in the freezer for at least 3 more hours before scooping out your truffles.

Use small ice cream scoop to make neat little rounds of ice cream, placing them on a silpat- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet that can fit easily into the freezer. Scoop all of your truffle balls and quickly move the whole baking sheet back into the freezer. You want the interiors to be solidly frozen before attempting to dip them, lest they melt once they hit the hot chocolate coating. Allow at least 3 more hours (yes, again!) or let them chill overnight before proceeding.

Finally, to finish the truffles, heat the chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave-safe container for about 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all the chips have completely melted. Use a fork to quickly submerge the frozen ice cream balls into the liquid chocolate and pull them out again, working as fast as you can. Place them back on their silpats and immediately return the baking sheet to the freezer upon finishing. They can be eaten immediately, or stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 months.

Makes a Scant Quart of Ice Cream; 2 – 3 Dozen Truffles

Printable Recipe

Sophisticated Solo Snacking

Holiday season firmly behind us, the time of endless parties and merriment may have passed, but even as we enter the frigid month of January, I’m unwilling to fully surrender to that immense shift. Winter hibernation beckons invitingly, yet the inertia of both work and play pulls me forward, with little conscious decision on my part. Once the wheels start spinning, they can’t simply stop at the drop of a hat, much like my restless mind that continues to churn away. Always coming up with the perfect come-back hours or days too late, it’s the same phenomenon that provides inspiration for recipes that would have been ideal for occasions that have already come to pass.

Thankfully, a raucous celebration is not required to enjoy a slightly more sophisticated snack than the norm, and it’s probably recommended that you enjoy such a savory treat far from the maddening crowds. Bringing together the nutty, toasted notes of hazelnut with herbaceous rosemary, these simple crackers are perhaps more addictive than such a small batch should allow. Horde them if you must, because I guaranteed they’ll fly fast if served to company.

Despite the wild success of such a simple crunchy snack, it’s hard to eat many dry crackers plain. Crackers are always accompanied by dip in the best of circumstances, complimenting and contrasting the crisp texture. Inspired by the tried-and-true beet marmalade we serve at Health in a Hurry, I whipped up a golden version to serve on the side. A bit more like a chutney than a spread, the sweetness of caramelized onions and apple cider mellow the earthy flavors of gold beet in a mild but flavorful harmony. Lest that fools you into thinking this is one boring accompaniment, don’t forget about the surprising kick of cayenne that sneaks up out of the blue, rounding things out nicely.

It’s for the best that we move away from the relentless holiday demands. A few quiet nights at home with more intimate parties of one or two, with a nice, carefully assembled snack platter sound much more appealing anyhow.

Yield: 4 Servings

Hazelnut-Rosemary Crackers

Hazelnut-Rosemary Crackers

Bringing together the nutty, toasted notes of hazelnut with herbaceous rosemary, these simple crackers are perhaps more addictive than such a small batch should allow. Horde them if you must, because I guaranteed they’ll fly fast if served to company.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Raw Hazelnuts
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon Tamari or Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon Black Sesame Seeds (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.
  2. Pulse the hazelnuts in your food processor until ground down to a fine meal, with as few coarse chunks as possible. It’s helpful to start with frozen nuts for the best texture, to prevent them from warming up and turning to nut butter. If they threaten to cross that line, just pause and move the bowl of the food processor into the fridge to cool down before proceeding.
  3. Grind the flax seeds down to a powder separately, in a coffee or spice grinder. Add the flax meal to the food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Pulse to combine. Once smooth, transfer the mixture to your prepared baking sheet, and use lightly moistened hands to flatten it out slightly. Top with a second silpat or parchment paper, and roll out to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness. This second sheet will help prevent the “dough” from sticking to your rolling pin, without the need for added flour.
  4. Score the sheet of soft cracker dough into equal rectangles or diamonds, and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Press the seeds in gently with the palm of your hand to ensure that they stick. Bake for a total of 80 minutes, rotating the baking sheet every 20 minutes to ensure even browning. Let cool completely (they will continue to crisp as they cool) and then break along the scored lines. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.
  5. If you’d prefer a raw snack, simply spread the mixture on a teflex or other non-stick sheet instead, and dehydrate until crisp. Your mileage/timing may vary.

Notes

Yield varies depending on size and shape of your crackers, but makes approximately about 4 servings.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 244Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 477mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 6gSugar: 2gProtein: 8g
Yield: 2 - 3 Cups

Gold Beet Marmalade

Gold Beet Marmalade

A bit more like a chutney than a spread, the sweetness of caramelized onions and apple cider mellow the earthy flavors of gold beet in a mild but flavorful harmony. Lest that fools you into thinking this is one boring accompaniment, don’t forget about the surprising kick of cayenne that sneaks up out of the blue, rounding things out nicely.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound Gold (Yellow) Beets
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Small Red Onion, Diced
  • 1/3 Cup Apple Cider or Unfiltered Apple Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  • Pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt and Black Pepper, to Taste

Instructions

  1. First things first, roast the beets: Wrap your beets in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered in a neat little pouch, and place them on a baking sheet to catch any potential drips. Cook in an oven preheated to 450 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, until fork tender. Let rest until they’re cool enough to peel.
  2. Meanwhile, heat up the oil in a medium skillet on the stove, over medium-low heat. Introduce the diced onion and stir frequently, until soften, not browned, and a golden caramel color. This will take anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes, so keep a close eye on the pan. Turn off the heat and let cool.
  3. Introduce both the peeled beets (cut down to slightly more manageable chunks if they were huge roots to begin with) and the caramelized onions in the food processor, along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse to combine, until the beets are broken down to very small, coarse pieces, but not pureed into a smooth spread. Though the marmalade is best if allowed to chill and mellow for at least an hour, it’s perfectly tasty eaten right away.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 42Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 79mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 6gProtein: 1g