Cocoa Raspberry Resolution Muffins (with Cream Cheese Fillling!)

It's New Year's Eve and folks everywhere are preparing lists of resolutions they'll break in 2011. I don't mean to be negative, but it's the truth and we all know it. New Year's resolutions have always been about things you don't really want to do, so most people never make it through the year, let alone into spring, without falling off the wagon. I've always tried to keep my resolutions simple and attainable, but I've been at a loss for what I should vow to work on 2011 -- until now.

If you've been reading the blog a while, you've no doubt noticed a distinct lack of sweet baked goods in my repertoire. It's partly because I don't have much of a sweet tooth but also because I consider myself much more of a "cook" than a "baker" and I've racked up enough disappointing pastry disasters to prove it. But there's no reason why I can't learn to be a better baker or even a GREAT baker. So, my 2011 New Year's Resolution is to bake more sweet treats!

This may seem counter-productive, as many people are vowing to cut back on their sweets, but I'm taking a slightly different approach that makes sense for me. Here are the criteria for my 2011 challenge:

  1. Design small batch recipes (6-8 servings) 
  2. Combine savory with sweet when possible 
  3. Give baked goods as gifts 
I'm starting early with these decadent Cocoa Raspberry Muffins, inspired by Isa's recipe in Vegan Brunch, filled with a barely sweet cream cheese filling. Can I get a "yum-o" on this one?

Cocoa Raspberry Resolution Muffins with Cream Cheese Filling
Adapted from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Yield: 8 muffins

1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp canola oil
1 Tbsp applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
2/3 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)

Cream Cheese Filling:
2 oz vegan cream cheese (I used Follow Your Heart brand)
3 Tbsp vegan powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F and lightly spray muffin tin with canola oil (or use foil liners).

In a small bowl, beat or whisk cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Place in the fridge while you prepare your muffin batter.

In a glass measuring cup, stir apple cider vinegar into almond milk and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the flour mixture and add oil, applesauce, vanilla and almond extracts, and almond milk mixture. Stir with a fork until well combined. Fold in raspberries carefully.

Fill 8 muffin cups with approximately 2 Tbsp of batter. Spoon about 1 Tbsp of cream cheese filling into the center of the cup, pressing down slightly so the muffin batter surrounds the edges. Top with another 2 Tbsp of muffin batter, covering most of the cream cheese filling.

Bake 25-27 minutes. Cool in the muffin tins for 5 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack. Enjoy as part of a decadently balanced breakfast, or pair with your favorite red wine for dessert!


Essential Kitchen Techniques for Every Cook

I have been thinking for a while about doing some posts on kitchen techniques, like how to roast eggplant or cut an onion. Before I could get around to it, though, the folks over at The Kitchn beat me to it in a 2010 round-up post of 20 basic cooking techniques including some elusive gems basic knife skills and cooking dried lentils. After reading a few of their posts,  I decided that I don't need to recreate the wheel. Instead, I've collected my favorite "how-to" posts from other blogs to share. Each post has step-by-step photos to help you through the process.

Shopping for produce...
Shop for Avocados from World's Healthiest Foods
Select Eggplants from Vancouver Sun
Store Fresh Herbs from

Prepping and cooking...
Boil Artichokes from Gourmet Sleuth
Chop an Onion from VeganYumYum
Cook Dried Beans from Vegan Coach
Dice a Tomato from The Pioneer Woman
Make Calzones from Pizza Dough from Cookthink (substitute vegan fillings!)
Make Substitutions for Low/No Fat Cooking from
Roast Garlic from SimplyRecipes
Slice a Mango from VeganYumYum

And when you're done... 
Clean a Cast Iron Skillet from The Kitchn
Remove Garlic Smells from Hands from Good Housekeeping

I hope these tips and tricks come in handy in your kitchen. If you use one of these techniques or have one of your own to share, leave a comment and tell me about it!


Turkish Olive and Walnut Salad

Are you ready for another vintage-inspired recipe? In a season flooded where so many people are focused on acquiring new things, I've enjoyed looking back through old cookbooks and putting an updated vegan spin on some hidden classics. You can check out my other vintage re-do recipes here and here.

This one comes from Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle East by Arto der Haroutunian. Originally published in 1983, this collection of classic Middle Eastern recipes was out of print for 20 years before coming back on the market last year. All of the recipes are easily adapted to be vegan and most come together in just a few minutes, making them perfect for entertaining.

You can use any variety of olives you like for this salad, but I prefer Sicilian or Cerignola olives, which are large, green, subtly flavored and readily available at most supermarket olive bars. Look for pre-pitted olives to save yourself some time and energy!

Tsitblig (Turkish Olive and Walnut Salad)
adapted from Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle East by Arto der Haroutunian
Yield: 2-4 servings

4 oz green Sicilian or Cerignola olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 oz walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely
4 green onions, chopped finely
2 T parsley, chopped finely

1/4 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
2 T pomegranate juice
1/2 tsp red chili flakes

For the salad, toss all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the top of the olive and walnut mixture.

Serve with pita bread or whole lettuce leaves, and eat by spooning a bit of the salad onto bread or lettuce.

This salad could also be used to make canapes with baked pita crackers. Or, for a different twist, consider pulsing all the ingredients in a food processor until chunky, for a different take on tapenade.


Happy Holidays!

Wishing you warm toes and frosty noses this holiday season! I'll be back on Monday with more delicious recipes!


Cardamom Saffron Rice Cakes

Happy Solstice! Did you sneak a peek at the lunar eclipse laaate last night or eeearly this morning? I missed it, but I've been checking out some great photos from around the world on Huffington Post. Really. Cool.

Source: Huffington Post
Ok, enough astronomy. Let's get to the food!

We're neck deep in the holiday season and traditional foods are all around. Are you just about tired of peppermint, gingerbread, eggnog and mulled wine? Do your tastebuds need a break? Cleanse your palette by taking your senses on a trip to India with this great little side dish: Cardamom Saffron Rice Cakes.

These rice cakes are not only easy and elegant, but can also help you make use of your leftovers. Instead of cooking rice for the recipe, use approx 2 cups of leftover cooked basmati or other long white grain rice.

Cardamom Saffron Rice Cakes
Yield: 3 cakes

2 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup basmati rice
small cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed
6-9 saffron threads

In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and salt and cook 10 minutes. Strain rice and rinse in cool water. Discard cinnamon and bay leaf.

Spray 3 3-4 inch tart pans with olive oil. Sprinkle a pinch of cardamom seeds and 2-3 saffron threads over the each pan. Distribute rice evenly and pack down firmly. Spray the tops with olive oil and bake for 12 minutes. Carefully unmold rice, with cardamom and saffron on top, and serve hot.

Try pairing this side dish with a curried split-pea soup or other Indian-inspired main dish.


Pumpkin Romesco Sauce

Romesco sauce originated in northeastern Spain. Traditional 'salsa romesco' is accidentally vegan, and consists primarily of tomatoes, almonds, roasted red bell peppers and stale bread. Spanish fishermen created the sauce to accompany their seafood dishes. However, romesco is incredibly versatile and makes a great accompaniment to many pasta and vegetable dishes, and easily stands alone as a dip or sandwich spread.

My first experience with romesco was alongside grilled asparagus, one of my favorite veggies. As I inhaled ate the sauce, I just adored the way the nutty flavors of the asparagus, brought out by grilling, played with the earthy almonds and the breadcrumbs in the sauce. I knew this was a sauce I could have some fun with.

Romesco had slipped my mind until the other night. I saw the signs all over the kitchen:
1. A heel of French boule left overnight and rock solid.
2. Blanched almonds leftover from a batch of homemade granola.
3. A partial jar of prepared tomato sauce from last week's pizza.

Problem? Traditional romesco recipes call for roasted red bell peppers. But I didn't have any. So how was I going to add some depth to this sauce? Got it: get brave and reach for the leftover pumpkin puree. If I've learned anything over the years, it's that the best culinary adventures begin with deep breath and sudden jump. The reward is in the sauce.

Pumpkin Romesco Sauce
Yield: About 1 cup 

1 slice stale French bread (I used the heel for extra smoky crunch) or 1/4 cup dry coarse bread crumbs
1/4 cup blanched almond slivers
2 Tbsp almond meal
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1/3 cup prepared tomato sauce or fresh tomato, seeded and diced
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup water (or more if you want to thin it out to use as pasta sauce)
1 Tbsp tomato paste concentrate (optional, mostly for color) 

In a food processor, pulse bread, almonds and almond meal into a coarse mixture. Add all other ingredients except water and mix until thoroughly combined. Add water a little at a time until you reach the consistency you desire. The amount of water will depend on the size and dryness of your bread and on whether you want the sauce to be spreadable.

The sauce will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a week.

Note: I suggest using the least amount of water needed to make the sauce come together. When using as a pasta sauce, I like to add a ladle of the pasta cooking water to the sauce, which thins to a perfect consistency for tossing with your pasta.


Another Easy Vegan French Toast

This French toast recipe has a nice little twist, thanks to a crust of coconut, oats and walnuts. Sounds like a lot of work to go through, but I had some of the mixture leftover after making (never home)maker's no bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Tart last week. The tart is definitely worthwhile, dense and full of yum, but I'm here to talk about breakfast. Really. Ahem.

Easy Vegan French Toast
Yield: 4 big slices

4 slices French boule
1 medium banana, thoroughly mashed (or approx 1/3 cup extra firm silken tofu, blenderized)
2/3 cup almond milk (plain or vanilla)
1 flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 Tbsp warm water) or your preferred egg substitute
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (never home)maker's oat crumble (optional; recipe below)

Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet to medium-high heat. In a wide dish or pie plate, combine mashed banana, milk, egg substitute, cinnamon, maple syrup and salt. Soak bread in the banana mix 1-2 minutes, flip and allow the other side to soak 1 minute.

While the bread is soaking, spread the oat mixture in a thin layer on a plate. This step is optional, but delicious. Finely chopped nuts would be a good substitute, or you can skip this step entirely. Working with one slice at a time, lift out of the wet mixture carefully, giving it a little shake to remove any excess. Press gently into the oat crumble, flip and press the other side. In retrospect, you may choose to coat just one side of the bread in the oat mix, but I like it all over.

Once coated, place in your skillet. Much sizzling and steaming will occur, and that's a good thing. Cook 2-3 minutes until the bottom crust is nicely toasted, and then flip to cook the other side. I like mine a little burned, so I let them go a minute or two longer.

Top with agave nectar, maple syrup, fruit jam or, if you like a little tartness, add a dollop of plain soy yogurt, like this:

Here's the recipe for the oat crumble, or you can get it straight from (never home)maker.

Coconut Oat Walnut Crumble by (never home)maker
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

2/3 cup rolled oats
1 cup raw walnuts
1/3 cup coconut flakes

Combine in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a consistent crumbly mixture forms. Use in pie crusts, sprinkle on yogurt, or find new and interesting uses for this yummy, healthy mix!


Featured Fruit: Clementines are winter gems

It's time again for my monthly produce spotlight! Last month, broccoli basked in the limelight, and this month I opted for something a little sweeter. They're no strangers to our holiday tables and we've all been up to our eyeballs in them at some point or another. They're clementines!

It's December, and clementines seem to be everywhere. And they are GOOD! Since most of us acquire these juicy little babies in 3-lb and 5-lb boxes, it's important to come up with some creative ideas to prevent these citrus gems from going to waste. After all, you can only eat so many clementines out of hand before it becomes too much.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for using clementines this year:
Whole Candied Clementines by VeganYumYum 
Tangerine Breakfast Cookies by (never home)maker
Clementine Vodka by Redsie on
Super Sticky Clementine Cake (gluten-free) by Allyson at

Clementine Salsa by Vegetarian Times

What's YOUR favorite way to eat clementines this season?


Updates! Recipes! Cool things!

I've been busy lately, and there are a few changes around the ol' blog that you may not have noticed. So, I thought I'd dispel the mystery and just come right out and tell you all about a few of them.

1. My recipe page is now fully updated! I've added the past month's worth of recipes to the indexed page, and hope this will aid in your holiday cooking and baking adventures!

2. I've added a new tool to help administrate comments. I know it's not the New Year yet, but I've made a resolution to help The Verdant Life become a better forum for discussion and I think the new comment format will help. You and me, all of us, we've got a lot to talk about. So please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or make a suggestion on one of my recipes.

3. I selected clementines as the featured fruit this month. Don't they bring a beautiful little splash of color to my sidebar? On Monday, I'll be sharing some great ideas on how to handle those juicy little gems in creative ways this season! Stay tune


Updates from The Veg Edge

Chloe Coscarelli featured in "The Veg Edge." Photo from VegNews.
The other day, I told you about "The Veg Edge," the 1-hour vegetarian special on the Cooking Channel. It aired last night and I haven't seen it yet because I don't have cable.

I hope the show will be online at some point, but until then, at least we can enjoy the recipes! The network was kind enough to post a bunch of recipes from the show. Among those featured are a few vegan dishes Fettucine Alfredo by Chloe Coscarelli, Heavy Metal Vegan Sushi by Tim Hogarth, and Curried Coconut Vegetable Soup by Alicia M. Ojeda.

If you have the Cooking Channel but missed the special, check the website for additional airtimes and let me know what you think!


Dutch Oven Baking: French boule

I looooove homemade bread and there is no better method for producing the perfect loaf at home than your cast iron Dutch oven. You got a sneak peak of this bread in my last Leftover Gourmet post, where I served it alongside Spicy Sweet Potato Peanut Soup. This is a wonderful multi-purpose bread, great for accompanying soups and salads, for French toast, or even for sandwiches.

Baking in a Dutch oven is a simple method and it takes a lot less time than traditional at-home bread baking. You've recently watched me take advantage (several times) of the convenience of a bread machine, but THIS is my preferred method. I originally learned it from Zoë François and have tweaked it a bit based on what works for me.

Start with a simple recipe. This French bread recipe will yield 2 long baguettes or 2 loaves or 24 dinner rolls or 18 fat breadsticks or 24 skinny ones. I  love a baguette from time to time, but when I've got my Dutch oven in mind, there's only one shape that will work: the classic boule.

French Bread Dough (vegan!)

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour, unsifted
2 tsp yeast

In a large bowl, combine salt and flour thoroughly. Make a well in the center and carefully pour in your warm water. Add yeast and sugar to the water, and stir lightly to wet them without pulling in any of the flour from the sides. Allow the mixture to sit for about 5-10 minutes, until frothy.

Add oil to the yeast mixture and, with a wooden spoon, begin incorporating flour from the sides of the bowl, a little at a time until it's all combined. Stir with the spoon until a loose dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead 10-15 times. If you're making boules or baguettes, divide the dough into two equal pieces. If you want to save half for another day, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for up to a month.

For the dough you're baking today, cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled (45-60 minutes).
Punch down the dough and knead again, 10-15 times. Shape into ball, sprinkle with flour, and make a few diagonal slashes along the top of the loaf (usually 3-4) or slash around the sides in a square shape. Transfer the loaf to a piece of parchment paper about twice the size of the loaf, cover with a towel, and allow to rise again for 1 hour.

After your dough has been rising for 40 minutes, it's time to get your oven ready. Place your cast iron Dutch oven with lid in the center rack and preheat to 500°F. Once the oven reaches temperature (about 20-25 minutes), carefully remove the lid of the Dutch oven and lower your shaped loaf, along with the parchment paper, into the Dutch oven. Replace the lid and bake 15 minutes. This is the perfect amount of time to steam the loaf and create a beautiful crackly crust.

Remove the lid, reduce the oven temp to 450°F, and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf. You can test a loaf for done-ness by lifting it up with a wooden spatula and tapping on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack. I like to leave my Dutch oven in the oven while it cools, so it can return to room temperature slowly. This prevents damage to the enamel coating (if yours has one, like mine) and prevents you from having to dance around a 450°F piece of cast iron on your kitchen counter!


Banana Bread!

I just wanted to share something lovely and amazing that showed up at my house the other day. Banana bread! Ok, so it didn't just "show up" out of nowhere without any prompting. I made it, with the help of a friend, 3 overripe bananas and a bread machine. Yup, that's right.
I really wish scratch 'n' sniff technology extended to the internets because, damn, this bread smells UH-mazing!

So, now you want the recipe, don't you? Yes, you do.

Easy Vegan Banana Bread
Yield: 1-1/2 lb loaf

3 ripe medium-sized bananas, mashed
1/2 cup soy or other non-dairy yogurt, your choice of flavors (I used lemon and didn't notice the flavor)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour, unsifted
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine ingredients in pan of bread machine according to manufacturer's instructions, except walnuts. Set on "quick bread" or "cake" setting and watch closely. After 5 minutes of mixing, scrap down the sides of the bowl. Once mixing is complete, toss in the walnuts and use a spatula or butter knife to swirl the nuts into the batter, leaving some nuts exposed on top. Allow the machine to complete its baking cycle, and let the bread cool in the machine for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and transferring to a cooling rack. The amazing scent will test your patience, but you'll be best served by allowing the loaf to cool completely before slicing with a serrated bread knife and serving. No jam needed.

To make this recipe without a bread machine:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a large loaf pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients (except nuts) in a bowl and combine thoroughly. Pour into loaf pan, add nuts and swirl in with a spatula or butter knife (as above). Bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.


Got cable? Get The Veg Edge!

The vegetarians have arrived, and they're on TV. Kids, are you ready for something really special?

On Thursday, December 9 at 9pm EST, The Cooking Channel (Food Network's sister station) airs their first-ever hour-long special "The Veg Edge." The show features vegetarian food and culture in 5 U.S. cities: New York, LA, Seattle, Austin and Portland.

Surprised you haven't heard about the special yet? Don't be. Although the veg community is pretty freakin' excited about it -- and rightly so -- the mainstream press has been pretty quiet on the subject. Here's the link to The Cooking Channel's page about the special but I haven't seen it yet due to an "error processing this directive" on their website. Methinks the veg*n masses of the world might be overloading their circuits? Hmmm?

So, if you have cable, check to see if your carrier brings you The Cooking Channel and tune in or DVR or TiVo or do whatever you have to do to make sure you see "The Veg Edge" on Thursday night. After the show airs, come back and leave a comment here, post about it on Facebook, tweet it, and help get the word out about the need for more vegetarian and vegan food and cooking shows!

Update 12/10/10: The show aired and the Cooking Channel has posted many recipes from the show on their website. See here for more details!


Leftover Gourmet: Spicy Sweet Potato Peanut Soup

Leftovers. Some people hate 'em, but I actually try to end up with them on purpose. Usually, it's so I don't have to think too much about what to have for lunch or a quick snack. Nothing's easier than reheating a plate or bowl of yesterday's yummy dinner and enjoying it all over again.

Sometimes, leftovers just beg for a little more fooling around with. Not a ton, just a bit. One of my favorite leftover treatments is a super easy one, and it goes well with lots of different types of leftovers: Make soup.

Remember my Sweet Potato in Ginger Peanut Sauce over brown rice from last week? Well, I still had a serving of it hanging out in the fridge a few days later, so I thought I'd turn it (sans rice, that is) into some tasty peanut-sweet potato soup.

In a small pot on the stovetop, I heated 1 cup of almond milk and 1/4 tsp sea salt. I added my leftovers one big spoonful at a time, stirring it together so that my peanut sauce combined with the warm milk base. I probably had about 2 cups worth of leftover sweet potatoes. In the end, I decided that the soup was a bit chunkier than I wanted it to be, so I used an immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot. I thought about adding a bit more peanut butter, say a teaspoon or so, but after a quick taste test, I decided it wasn't needed.

I dished up my leftovers with a side of crusty homemade bread (recipe to follow in the days to come!) and a few raw cashews. Mission accomplished!


Kitchen Essentials Part I: Tools

Every cook has a few favorite kitchen tools. Some cooks have LOTS of favorite kitchen tools. The pros have even more! There are probably a few things we all agree on, but what kitchen tools go on a cook's "must-have" list?

The answers vary depending on the types of food we make, the ingredients we use, and our favorite methods of preparation.

Since I recently moved (and thus had the opportunity to get rid of many tools and gadgets I didn't need/want), I thought this was a good time to share with you MY special list of kitchen favorites.

Keep in mind, these are my preferences. I prefer simple, rustic recipes with little prep time, so my list of essentials is pretty short and suited for the way I cook and eat. In fact, it was such a struggle to come up with ten items that I decided to list just eight! (Later on, when I share my personal list of pantry essentials, it'll be another story entirely!)

Another reason I wanted share this list with you now is that any of these items would make a great holiday gift for the cooks on your list. But beware! As I mentioned, one's choice of kitchen tools is based on personal preference, so just because Aunt Sue doesn't have an avocado slicer doesn't mean she's been dying to get one! Sometimes, it's best to go with the old gift card or, better yet, ask them to take you shopping at their favorite kitchen store!

1. Whisk. I like to make sauces, especially ones that begin with a roux. For all my whisking needs, I prefer an 8-Inch French whip. I have small hands, and I feel like the French whip gives me the most control. I've known lots of cooks who prefer longer, larger balloon whisks, so it's all a matter of preference.

2. Kitchen scale. Whether I'm weighing flour for bread or trying to figure out how many fingerling potatoes make 2 lbs, my kitchen scale always has the answer. I prefer a digital read-out for accuracy, but cool retro models are still out there as well if you're trying to keep with a theme.

3. Cast iron skillet. I recently extolled my adoration for cast iron and it's all still true. Cast iron is the one cooking surface that can take on anything that needs cooking, from tofu scramble and pancakes to sauteed veg to stir-fry, you name it. Plus, it's cheap and lasts forever!

4. Microplane grater. It's a grater. It's a zester. It grinds nutmegs into smithereens! It's also perfect for adding *just a little bit* of grated chocolate to the top of your hot cocoa (or, uhm, morning cup of joe). The best microplanes have a molded handle like this one for comfort AND safety.

5. A good knife. Perhaps above all other kitchen tools, knives are the most personal. Everyone has their favorite style, brand, construction and price point. Most of my foodie friends love to pick on me about this one, because MY favorite, every-day, go-to knife is by IKEA. Yeah, I know, you're rolling your eyes. It's an 8-inch santoku-style vegetable knife like this one and I love it. Would I love to someday have a (expensive!) Wusthof of my very own? Sure, but I can't imagine straying from the santoku style that slices through veg matter like buttah.

6. Ramekins. The ultimate multi-tasker. They hold dipping sauces and salad dressings ("on the side," Sally said). They double as prep bowls for complicated recipes. I use them to bake individual pot pies, single-serve carrot cakes or even single microwaved muffins. They don't have to be expensive or fancy. (I'm pretty sure mine came from TJ Maxx and were 4 for $6.) I frequently see them in thrift shops. Just be sure to check for cracks!)

7. Parchment paper. Another great multi-tasker item. Use it to line baking sheets for easy cleanup without adding fat. Wrap up packets of veggies for steaming. Line a cast iron dutch oven with parchment paper when baking bread in it. Yes, it's pretty much a one-time-use item, but to be kinder to the environment, look for unbleached, recycled parchment options like If You Care

8. Electric kettle. It might be obvious to use this for heating water for tea and French press. But it's also great to have on hand for instant soups (like miso), to warm water for bread making, or to fill a water bath when baking something delicate in your ramekins! Look for something with a large capacity and an automatic shut-off-- something akin to this this cordless model.

That's it for my absolutely, hands-down, must-have kitchen tools. These are the things that I use on practically a daily basis and couldn't live without. Stay tuned for more "essentials" lists, including my pantry staples, vegan baking ingredients, and easy "recipe savers" that every cook should know about.


Sourdough 101: Baking day

It's time for another lesson in Sourdough 101! If you're playing along at home, you already learned in my first post how to make your own starter and my second post, which includes what it should look like in the first three days and how to "feed" it. Now it's time to get baking!

There are tons, I mean, TONS of sourdough recipes on the web and most of them can be easily veganized. For my first loaf, I chose to adapt a recipe that includes two of my favorite things: almonds and apricots. Although you could easily change up which nuts and dried fruit you use, or leave them out entirely, I think the combination of these two gentle, slightly sweet flavors is a big winner.

Almond Apricot Sourdough
Yield: 1 1/2 lb loaf

1 cup sourdough starter
3/4 cup warm water -- not hot!
2 T vegan cane sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2/3 cups chopped dried apricots (unsulphured)
1/2 cups chopped whole raw almonds

Combine starter, warm water, sugar, salt, extracts, flour and yeast in the bowl of your bread maker. Use the "sweet" setting or the "rain/nut" setting if your machine has one, and add the apricots and almonds when the machine beeps (or whatever it does; check the instruction manual of your maker).

If you don't have a bread machine or simply prefer to use your oven (especially handy for warming up the house this time of the year!), check out the myriad suggestions for converting bread machines recipes to oven baked methods.

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