Recipe of the Week

DSCN2474 Italian Apple Cake!

We’ve been vegan for several months now, and little by little we replaced old favorite dishes with new favorite dishes. We’ve figured out how to throw quickie meals together, eat one dish for three days and even entertain a bit.  It’s really been quite a tasty adventure.

While I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for cooking great vegan food, I have settled into a bit of a comfortable cooking routine.  This is a very good thing.  I love that being vegan has become second nature–my pantry is stocked with most of what I need, and I no longer spend hours wandering around Whole Foods trying to find various ingredients.  The fifteen minute food shop has finally become a reality!

That being said, at least once or twice a week I deliberately try some new recipes, both to keep learning and to inject some variety into our diet. So rather than continue with the “what we had for dinner today” approach (um, you’ve already seen most of what we’ve been eating for dinner lately) on this blog, I decided to offer up one recipe each week that we think is worth sharing. And that brings us to this delicious Italian Apple Cake. DSCN2472 Last night we had friends over for dinner and the menu included lasagna, caesar salad (both from Oh She Glows) and some crusty bread.  I wanted to find a simple, not too sweet, non-chocolate (one of our guests couldn’t eat chocolate) cake that would work well with the rest of the meal.  I settled on another recipe from Chloe Coscarelli and you can find it here.

If you tend to keep apples around (the cake only uses 3) you probably have all the ingredients you need to throw this together.  You layer some thinly sliced apples on the bottom of the pan (that odd crinkly design on mine is from the parchment paper–bring on the powdered sugar!) and press the batter on top.  The batter really has more of dough-like consistency but the apples give off lots of moisture as the cake cooks.  The recipe doesn’t specify what kind of apples to use so I used granny smith.  This worked out well texture-wise and didn’t make the cake too sweet.

This fruity and light cake was just enough after a filling meal.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m looking forward to sharing more “recipes of the week”.  Please stay tuned…

Sunday Night Scramble and Perfect Cupcakes


I have to admit that when I first heard about “tofu scrambles” I thought it sounded downright odd.  I like tofu prepared all kinds of ways, but I just couldn’t envision it “scrambled”.  I’m glad I finally gave it a try because this tofu scramble has quickly become a regular dish on the weekend rotation.   It’s fast to prepare with ingredients I usually have on hand (today I didn’t, but my sous-chef extraordinaire ran out to the supermarket to buy them), and after weekends that usually involve some mix of hiking, socializing, eating out and hours of football on TV (yay Cardinals!),  I’m ready to keep it simple on Sunday night.

These recipes are all over the internet, but I chose a “southwest” version from The Minimalist Baker.  You can check out the recipe here.  This is a one skillet dish.  Sauté the veggies, sauté the tofu and drizzle on a liquid spice blend (cumin, chili powder, salt, garlic powder, turmeric and water).  Toss it all together, heat it through and you’re done!  Since we’re dealing with tofu here, you can’t really over or undercook it– much more forgiving than eggs.  And the flavors that make a great traditional scramble work equally well here.  We served it up with some grainy toast and salad but it would also make a great “breakfast for dinner” burrito.  The possibilities are endless.

For dessert we dug into this:


Oh yeah.

Our grandson, Sky, turned five this week, and today we celebrated his birthday with him.  He requested cupcakes so, of course, I obliged.  The chocolate cake/vanilla icing was his choice.  I’m not a huge cupcake baker but I can say with certainty that this is a killer recipe.  We were all licking our fingers.  I used a recipe from Oh She Glows (you can find it here).  No eggs but a whole lot of chocolate flavor and perfect moist texture.

For the frosting I went back to The Minimalist Baker.  This is a classic “buttercream” using a stick of Earth Balance instead of the butter.  The recipe is here.  It whipped up beautifully and was just the right amount of (super) sweet.  I always did prefer the classics at birthday time.  We sent the leftovers home with Jeff and Sky but we saved one cupcake to share (enough sugar already!):


So so good.  These cupcakes are not gluten-free.  I recently discovered that my beloved “Cup for Cup” gluten-free flour contains milk protein so I’m on the hunt for another reliable gluten-free flour.  I’ve read that Bob’s Red Mill now makes a cup-for-cup flour but it hasn’t made it to our Whole Foods yet.  I do plan to try it.  For now, though, I’m okay using regular organic all-purpose.

A recipe like this comes in handy this time of year.  Show up with a platter of these cupcakes to your holiday celebration or office party and everyone (vegan and non-) will thank you.  I promise.


What Price Tradition?

David and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the third year in a row, and three of our five children and our grandson will be there.  As new vegans, we had a few discussions about how we wanted to handle the meal.  We decided that wanted to be true to our convictions as ethical vegans and have a vegan Thanksgiving.  And I admit that I had some trepidation about sharing the news with my son, Sam, who I thought might feel disappointed to not have his favorite “traditional” foods (cheesy au gratin potatoes for example) at the meal.

Through a text message (giving me the space to deal with my and his reactions) I shared the news.  He responded predictably–“what no cheesy potatoes?!” although he did add “lol”.  After a bit of back and forth chatting peppered with “lol’s” (mine and his) I assured him that he would be served a delicious meal and be healthier for it.  He agreed to keep an open mind as long as I didn’t tell him the specifics about exactly what he was eating.  Well, okay, I can live with that.  I am incredibly excited to see the kids and share the best my vegan culinary skills have to offer.  It’s going to be a great time.

And that brings me to a feature article I read in the Huffington Post this morning entitled, “I’ll Take Turkey Over Tofu, Thank you” and you can read it for yourself here.  The premise of the article (I think) is that tradition matters–and tradition (for this family) seems to be eating the turkey, the stuffing made with gobs of butter, and the pecan pie a la mode.  And the author emphatically (defiantly?) states that she and her family “will enjoy every bite”.  WOW.  Now I know that most people this Thanksgiving will be eating some version of the aforementioned meal (and enjoying it) but I couldn’t help but wonder about her defensive tone.  Perhaps she doth protest too much??

The author states that she is happy to eat vegan or gluten-free concoctions but others shouldn’t judge her for wanting to keep her traditions.  I agree that no one likes to be judged, and vegans, like people passionate about any cause, can ruffle plenty of feathers.  But this is not simply a matter of tit for tat or about our cooking skills or palate.  It is a matter of conscience.  I doubt I’m exaggerating when I say that millions of turkeys will be inhumanely fattened up and slaughtered so that American families can keep up this tradition.  I can work my way down the Thanksgiving menu but I won’t bother.  It’s all so very sad that as a country this is where we are at.  On some level, I wonder if the author of this article, who is making her assertions with some pretty intense energy doesn’t deep-down have her own concerns about the animals, the environment, her health and the health of her family.   I think it’s hard to live in our culture without there being some uneasiness about our values and how we live.

Regarding traditions, I do understand that family rituals can keep us feeling connected to one another, and this author alluded to an”empty chair” at her table.  I could feel the sadness in her words. The rituals around holidays (and food) are some of the most powerful we experience in our families and culture.  And one way we connect one generation to another is through rituals like these.  But even so, I believe that some traditions and rituals are worth rethinking even if the transitions feel uncomfortable.  As we all know, at one time, “being true to one’s heritage” meant owning slaves.

On a slightly lighter note (but still on the subject of tradition and ritual) I barely got my own mini-ritual started when I had to change it.  Remember this?


That wool yarn was not animal-friendly and the macaron is full of butter.  Here is my updated spread:


This is acrylic yarn from my stash that I am using to crochet a “snuggle blanket” for an animal shelter.  I got wind of this idea from an internet pal (thanks Barb!) who was wondering what to do with her (non-animal friendly) merino wool and she was considering making blankets for animal shelters.  I like the idea of making some mini reparations in this way as well.  The wool from the sweater above (if it’s washable) will probably be slated for shelter blankets as well.  If you want to know more about this wonderful effort you can check it out here.

As for the cookie:


This delectable oat jam thumbprint cookie came with me from home.  I made a batch yesterday and you can find the recipe here.

While I made some changes to my mini-ritual, I still chatted with other folks at Whole Foods and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  And here’s the thing–traditional foods are nice but they are nice because of the meaning we assign to them.  Turkey on Thanksgiving means connection and love and family.  While we can swap out one food for another, the people sitting around our tables are and will always be the main event.

New traditions await.

Vegan Gluten-Free Apple Crisp



So here’s what I’m learning about vegan desserts.  The more dairy and egg-laden the dessert you are trying to replicate or “veganize” the more ways that dessert can go horribly wrong.  I learned this one the hard way over the weekend when I bought a delectable-looking slice of vegan, gluten-free (really, it is??) carrot cake from a very lovely lady at a local farmers’ market.  It looked pretty much like the one I make (or made in my not-so-distant past life).  I figured it might not be hard to get a good carrot cake going but I was skeptical about that creamy-looking icing.  Well, this dessert was both gummy and oddly “off” tasting.  Very different and not in a good way.  I was feeling a little underwhelmed about the prospects for mouthwatering vegan desserts, either bought or homemade.

Enter this recipe from Tori Avey.  I’ve made several of her recipes, and I like how she balances flavors.  Since it’s apple season, I was immediately drawn to this recipe for Apple Crisp.  I was delighted to see that the only veganizing that needed to be done was to substitute Earth Balance for butter in the crumble.  Since this recipe has such strong flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove I didn’t think I’d miss the butter.  I didn’t.  The combination of tart granny smith apples with the sugar and spices was perfect.  The crumble, made primarily with walnuts and rolled (GF) oats, was crunchy and very satisfying. The only new ingredient for me was minute tapioca which I added to the fruit to bring out the juices and help them set up just a bit.

Here’s a look at the apples:


Layered with a nice thick layer of crumble:


And after an hour of baking:


And the house smelled amazing.  While we are enjoying sunny warm weather here in Arizona, the smells of autumn are still very welcome. Any fruit pie can be made this way, and I’m sure that peach and blueberry crumble would be terrific.

Well now, this is all very encouraging.  Perhaps they have room for me over at the farmers’ market 🙂


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Or more accurately, ten rows forward and five rows back.


This shawl, my latest knitting project, has been sent by the universe to teach me something.  I’m sure that’s what’s going on here.

The short version (of the long/endless shawl project) is that I keep making the same mistakes over and over.  And while I can fix many mistakes now, the one I keep making can’t be fixed (by someone at my skill level anyway).  And this time I can’t “live with it” either because the result will be a wholly unraveled shawl.  I’ll spare you the details about the exact sort of knitting trouble I’m getting into but suffice it to say that I don’t usually notice the problem until I am rows and rows along, which means I have to painstakingly backtrack stitch by stitch, row by row.  There are about 400 stitches in each row.  On Sunday, I spent the entire afternoon watching football and knitting backwards.  Yikes.

Today I finally got back in “drive”;  I was literally down to the last three rows (I’ve been to this point before by the way) when I spotted another mistake about four rows back.  So really, at this point it is time to contemplate those bigger universal lessons.  I think I’m struggling with the same situation over and over because I have yet to master the following : Patience, process rather than results, patience, acceptance of things we can not change, patience, kindness to self, patience, gratitude for do-overs, patience, using lifelines (knitting term), patience.  Oh, and did I mention patience?

In meditation I’m learning that I can hang in and be with some pretty annoying thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.  They won’t kill me.  They will pass.  And in my day-to-day life I’m always trying to remember that, especially when things aren’t going my way.  This Sisyphean knitting project will end.  I will be the proud owner of a beautiful shawl that (hopefully) will not unravel at an inopportune time.  I’m just not going to finish it today as I had hoped and planned.  And that is not a catastrophe.

Oh and there’s one more lesson:


I am allowed to step away from that which is making me unhappy and find something else that will make me happier-baking this cake, for instance.  If you want to bake it, I promise it will make you happier too.  The recipe is here.



Better Than “Good”

Every so often I reread my own blog posts, both because I can’t believe that I’ve actually written so many and also to look at my own development as a blogger.   I write about things that have a lot of emotional charge for me, and I see that my language reflects that.  My posts are peppered with descriptive language–words like “gorgeous, stunning, spectacular, disaster, mess, epic fail”, etc.

I love words, and part of the fun of writing is making the words sing as well as accurately convey how I feel.  Consequently, words like “good, okay, fine” don’t often find their way into my posts.   I think we can all agree that it’s not particularly interesting to read language that conveys so little.  That being said, our lives are chock-full of moments and experiences that might not qualify as “blog-worthy”.  As I pick and choose what to write about I naturally gravitate to the highlights.  Today’s post, however, is an homage to the other stuff -the stuff (see how nondescript I can be?) that doesn’t usually make the cut.

What actually inspired this post was last night’s dessert…


which was….good.

This is an Italian Shortbread Jam Tart (recipe here).  This was stunningly easy to prepare (I’ll get the superlatives in there somehow) with a simple shortbread dough:


Any jam can be smeared onto the dough.  I used the apricot preserves you see in the photo.   Then the remainder of the dough is crumbled onto the top, and sliced almonds (no toasting or anything) are sprinkled across the entire top and it’s ready for baking:


A half hour start to finish (plus baking time).  And here’s a slice on the plate:


Hmmmm.  Never mind how the tart looks (pretty delectable, actually)  I’m noticing that the photograph which is just “okay” because I couldn’t figure out how to deal with that pesky shadow.

This tart was really more like an almond  shortbread cookie, although it was slightly overcooked which gave the entire consistency more crunch than I think was intended.  And now that I’m reliving the initial bite, it was pretty melt-in-your-mouth buttery.  A little more jam in the middle would probably have elevated it quite a bit

As I’m writing this post, I’m realizing that this simple tart was really quite a bit better than “good”(and the piece I’m munching on now confirms this). I’m undoubtedly impacted by my own journey into cooking and baking which has moved me (and my palate) into more sophisticated territory.  But what I think is probably more true is that I hadn’t been fully present with the experience of sitting down to enjoy this dessert last night.  In fact, I remember feeling preoccupied by some discussion David and I were having over dinner.  Did I even really taste this?  Could I savor it at that moment?  I think not.  And as a result, I might have tossed a recipe that is not only tasty but very useful in my repertoire for its ease of preparation.

So maybe what I’m talking about here is more about my level of engagement with the okay/fine/good moments rather than the moments or experiences themselves.  As this post seems to suggest, what might make something “blog-worthy” is less the thing itself and more about how present I am.   And that begs the question, are there really any ho-hum moments if we are truly present?

I think not.

Keeping It Real

One of the last things I wanted to take care of today before heading out of town was to bake some kid-friendly goodies to take with us to my friend Rachel’s house when we visit tomorrow evening.  I figured I would whip up some cookies because they are fast and easy and can travel in a food saver.  While I considered trying out the brown butter coconut cookies that have been on my radar of late I decided to just make good old-fashioned chocolate chip thinking they would have the greatest kid appeal.  I haven’t made chocolate chip cookies in probably a decade, and I couldn’t resist using these fabulous bittersweet chips:


I don’t know why I didn’t just go with the tried and true Nestle Tollhouse cookies.  Hubris! Ego! I wanted to use the “good stuff”.

Back in the day I probably made chocolate chip cookies with butter and eggs out of the fridge, using a hand mixer, all purpose flour and processed cane sugar.  This time I brought everything to room temperature, used the gluten-free flour and organic sugar and mixed it all up in my Kitchen Aid.  I should have stopped when I noticed that the dough was looking too thin (probably from being beaten into submission in the mix master) .  And here’s what happened to the first batch:


The recipe on the back of the Ghirardelli chips said to use an ungreased cookie sheet.  My Williams-Sonoma cookie sheet did not like these cookies one bit.  What a mess.  In reaction to this first batch, I put the dough in the refrigerator for a while and cooked the second batch on the non-stick pan:


Uhh. No.  Can we go back to the peach pie now??

Luckily I was able to salvage enough (reasonably tasty) cookies to bring with us:


I don’t even want to eat them; I probably consumed several just trying to scrape them off the pans!

I’m not sure where I went wrong with these and I’m not even that curious about it.   I do feel disappointed though that I struggled with such a simple recipe.  I’m reminded of many episodes of Top Chef where contestants are challenged to take the most simple ingredients (eggs, chicken, potatoes) and make them taste amazing.  The professionals don’t always get it right either.

And on that note, it’s time to hit the road….Finally!

Oh my! Peach Pie!

And a Little Bit of Growth


Considering we are taking off for Montana in a few days and are all about using up our refrigerator contents, my impulse buy the other day at Trader Joe’s was probably a bit ill-advised.   I just couldn’t resist the wonderful smell of the ripe peaches (even though I’m not much of a peach eater), so that crate of peaches came home with me.  Check out these beauties:


So, what to do with the peaches?  I went to my usual sources, Smitten Kitchen and Barefoot Contessa, for some inspiration and I found a peach pie recipe from SM and a peach crumble recipe from Ina.  At first I was leaning toward the crumble because my inner voice (you know, the one that tells you all the reasons you can’t do something?) was suggesting that I could never pull off making a great fruit pie.  It’s hard to make a good crust.  It takes so much time. What about that lattice pattern on top?  And anyway, who is going to eat this?  Can it even freeze?  Is my pie pan the right size?  Wow.  I was all up in this when I had an “aha” moment care of Oprah.

A Fortuitous Super Soul Moment

While I was perusing peach recipes yesterday I was simultaneously catching up on this week’s Oprah Super Soul Sunday episode, and her guest was author and screenwriter, Steven Pressfield.  He is probably best known (outside of super soul circles) for his book, The Legend of Bagger Vance which was also a movie with Matt Damon and Will Smith.  The topic of the show, however, was how he understands the  creative process and the resistance we all have in response to our efforts to achieve greater consciousness, fulfillment and success.  His philosophy is outlined in his book “The War of Art”.   What caught my attention though (and how very timely) was his assertion that these inner voices, like the Debbie Downer in my head around the peach pie, are all about fear and exist as levels of resistance in direct proportion to the potential for growth in consciousness.  No argument from me.  This is stuff I know and believe.  The antidote?  Correctly identify the voices as irrelevant to the business at hand, and just do it.  So I did.  And here it is:


With perfect flaky (gluten-free!) butter crust:


And juicy, tart peaches:


An absolutely perfect summer dessert!

In truth, making this pie wasn’t any more complicated or difficult than many other things I have made  (that glazed lemon pound cake comes to mind), but for some reason tackling it felt like a task that was beyond my skill in the kitchen.  As I plowed ahead, step by step, I got in the flow and the nagging voices receded.  My kitchen didn’t look so hot, but when I popped that pie in the oven I suspected that it was a winner.  This time I didn’t let the what-ifs stop me and right now, I’m pretty sure that David’s office staff is enjoying a fabulous dessert with their lunch.

I know that this is a pie and not a big life decision but the experience of feeling “not up to the task” for me anyway, can show up around all kinds of endeavors.  And how very limiting that is.  I even suspect that the impulse buy/Oprah show wasn’t that much of a coincidence but instead the universe putting an opportunity and a little encouragement in my path.  This time I was paying attention and got the message.

And that is sweet indeed.


So this is my first public service announcement on my blog.  And I come to you as a wholly unsponsored user of the following product:


I became gluten-free about three years ago.  No celiac disease or “diagnosed”  issue with gluten.  I just felt so much better without gluten in my diet that it was a no-brainer not to continue.  Ironically, at just about the same time as I chose to eliminate gluten from my diet I discovered my passion for cooking and baking.  After some initial research on using replacement flours in baked goods, I had some success adjusting favorite recipes.  Since baking is science (and science I don’t really know much about) my tinkering didn’t always work and I still remember a pretty dramatic fail with a banana bread recipe that ended up all over the oven.

Quite by accident, as I was only half listening to a Barefoot Contessa show on Food Network, I heard Ina say that she was making a gluten- free meal.  And that’s how I found out about Cup 4 Cup.  As the name implies, this flour can be substituted into any recipe where all-purpose flour is an ingredient without any other adjusting of ingredients.  Intrigued, I tracked Cup 4 Cup down in Williams-Sonoma (now they carry it in Whole Foods!) and got busy baking.  I was skeptical but I needn’t have been.  In each and every recipe where I have used this gluten-free flour the results have been divine.  And this includes both sweet ( all the goodies on this blog) and savory (béchamel, binders in fritters, etc.) dishes.  I am fairly certain that in terms of both taste and consistency no one could tell the difference between these items and items made with all-purpose flour.

As I search for recipes online I often see comments from readers who are wondering how to make delicious looking recipes gluten-free, so I’d like to do my bit to get the word out about this amazing product.  OK, my bit is done.

And here’s my latest obscenely delicious (and gluten-free) dessert.  This is a bittersweet chocolate cake courtesy of (where else?) Smitten Kitchen:


No shortage of powdered sugar either (oops!).  So dig in, feel good and enjoy.


Recipe Hack

Is that even a term in cooking?  I learned that term from sewing blogs, specifically a “pattern hack”.  Sewists “hack a pattern” by combining different elements from existing patterns to create their own.  Sometimes it’s to change the style, sometimes the fit.  Well, today I did a recipe hack!

I Built a Better (Turkey) Burger 

So remember our hockey pucks of a week ago?  These were our good-looking, but oh-so-dry turkey burgers:


Well, I was determined to tinker with this recipe to find a way to add some moisture.  I checked out all of my favorite food network gurus to see how they did it.  So with a bit of help from Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay and a smattering of info from other recipes online I decided to make a few changes:

1.  I used less lean ground turkey.  Unbeknownst to me the original recipe used 85 % lean ground turkey, although that wasn’t specified in the written directions.  I discovered that today when I was perusing the comments section on the blog where I found the recipe.  So I chose 93% lean because that was all my supermarket had.  This was a mix of dark and white meat ground turkey.

2. I added one egg white.  Plenty of recipes use eggs.  I didn’t want to overdo it because I was still trying to get a burger-like consistency rather than a meatloaf one.  I saw one recipe that used egg whites so I adjusted the amount for my recipe.

3. I added 1/8 cup of (gluten-free) panko bread crumbs.  Bobby Flay didn’t use any bread crumbs but lots of other recipes did.  I went with a small amount.

4. I pumped up the jalapeño.  We liked the flavor of the original recipe but thought it needed more kick.  I still eliminated the seeds and most of the inner membrane.

5. I made a sambal oelek mayo spread for a condiment, both for added flavor and in case the burgers were still too dry.  I think I stole this idea from Anne Burrell.

6. I gently combined the ingredients using a fork . I read that overworking the patties can make them tough.

PHEW!  That was a lot of research for a weeknight dinner, but I am nothing if not persistent.  And the results were FANTASTIC:


They still have that good eye-appeal, but oh my, they were divine.

Here’s a shot of David’s constructed burger with some avocado and the sambal mayo:


Unfortunately, by the time we realized that the photo was a bit blurry that burger was long gone 🙂

Some of what’s exciting about a recipe hack (aside from the fact that we had a great meal and a dish that’s a real keeper) is that I actually created my own recipe.  And, I get to share it with my readers!  So if you want to have some very delicious, very moist turkey burgers try the recipe at the end of this post

And if you’re still hungry I can recommend some gorgeous little pecan sandies that I also made this afternoon:


No recipe hack here but they’re just too delicious not to share.  The exceptional flavor comes from toasted pecans ground right into the flour (I used gluten-free).  Yum. This recipe is from my go-to, Smitten Kitchen and you can find it here.

So there was lots of good eating in our house tonight.   And now I’m off to go root against San Antonio (long-suffering Suns fan here) 🙂


Third Act Evolution Everyday Turkey Burgers  (Makes 5 one-inch thick burgers)


1 pound ground turkey (I used Jennie-O 93% percent lean)

1/2 cup minced yellow onion

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/8-1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 jalapeño finely chopped, seeds and membranes removed (be careful not to put your hands near your eyes!)

1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/8 cup panko bread crumbs (I used Ian’s gluten-free)

1 egg white, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Olive Oil (for brushing on burgers before grilling)


1/2 cup Hellman’s mayo

1-2 tablespoons sambal oelek (it’s spicy so test it out)


Combine all burger ingredients with a fork trying not to handle the meat too much.  Shape loosely into 5 one inch patties and press a quarter size impression on top of each one (This is so they keep their shape on the grill).  Preheat grill to 400 degrees.  Brush a bit of olive oil on the outside of the burgers and cook about 6 -7 minutes per side or until they are cooked all the way through.  Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Combine mayo and sambal oelek and smear on buns or english muffins.

Serve burgers with slices of avocado and ENJOY!