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Archive for the ‘Dairy Free Possible’ Category

 
Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies are fudgey, brownie and cookie-like all at once. You'd never believe they're free of many common allergens, including gluten, dairy, and can easily be made minus eggs and tree nuts.

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies are fudgey, brownie and cookie-like all at once. You’d never believe they’re free of many common allergens, including gluten, dairy, and can easily be made free of eggs and tree nuts. Cookie photos by Kristen Joerger of tiny-gourmet.com  .

This Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe post has literally been years in the making.  A couple of years ago, I ran across a cookie recipe I really liked, and tinkered with it.  Soon, I was baking these babies up, and taking them to house parties, to weekends away, on hikes, and on road trips. People LOVE these cookies. I’ve heard people go so far as to call them “The best cookies I’ve ever had in my life.”

cookiesI’d bet money they’ve gotten me invited back a few places ;-)

They were a huge hit at my most recent yoga retreat.

People always request this recipe, yet I always got sidetracked.

You’d never guess these cookies are free of many common allergens. My goal was to make them taste chocolately and decadent, not diet. These cookies have no:

  • gluten
  • dairy
  • egg (if you choose to veganize them, that is)
  • or tree nuts (if you choose the tree nut free option, that is)

Here are some of us at my most recent yoga retreat in upstate New York:

fall retreat group shot 2013 upstate

This magic batter traveled with me to my most recent yoga retreat, and the cookies were a huge hit when we packed them into the bagged picnic lunches we took with us to the apple orchard.

These cookies are packed with flavor and a beautiful texture.

Bria’s Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup peanut butter (or almond butter, or, to go tree nut free, use sunflower seed butter.)
  • 1 cup UNSweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of brown sugar (I prefer dark brown)
  • 1 egg (replace egg by combining 1 tbsp ground flax seeds + 3 tbsp warm water in a small bowl and stirring.  Allow a “jelly” to form after a few minutes and use this as your “egg”)
  • pinch teaspoon salt (leave out if your peanut butter is salted)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips, chunks, or half a cup of each (I used Trader Joe’s brand, as they are free of dairy)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a nice, roomy mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.

3. Begin adding in cocoa powder, 1/4 cup at a time, and mix until well incorporated and moist. If the batter gets too dry, add in bit of water, leftover coffee, or milk of choice to loosen it. Then remix. If batter becomes too loose, add in more cocoa powder to tighten it up.

4. Fold in 3/4 of the chocolate chips and/or chunks. Save the rest for garnish.

5. OPTIONAL/not always necessary: Stash mix in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you prepare  your cookies sheets. I either line mine with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray. One of these days I WILL get a Silpat.

6. Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to make uniform sized dough balls. (I do this by hand and spoon, and each cookie is a generous tablespoon of dough). Do NOT smash cookies down.

7. Place 3-5 chocolate chips and/or chunks on the top of the cookies. You can flip the cookie dough ball upside down and get the chips to adhere that way.

8. Bake cookies for 9-14 minutes, until ever so faint cracks appear on the surface. I know 9-12 minutes is quite a range, but I find that variations in altitude and ovens really do make a difference in bake times. In my NYC toaster oven, these cookies are perfect at 8-10 minutes of baking. In Colorado, I had to go closer to 12 minutes, sometimes beyond, in the “big” oven, to get the right texture.

9. Let cool slightly (or a lot, your choice, but I can never wait too long to try these). Enjoy!

So there you have it. An easy, creative,  recipe that is so delicious, you’d never know it’s friendly to many “restricted” diets and actually kinda healthy.

Question Time:

What’s your go-to dessert?

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Moist, cakey…like a cross between a cookie, a cake, and a muffin. Cream cheese icing optional. I found these cookies delicious without it.

Carrot cake is awesome, isn’t it? In cookie form, it’s pretty amazing, too. Especially when the cookie is moist and cakey at the same time, much like actual carrot cake. Bonus: cookies are soooo much more portable than cakes, or even cupcakes. Throw these in a picnic basket or lunch box, and you’re good to go.

At my last Yoga retreat.

I rigged up this recipe when looking to create a cookie  for my upcoming Yoga retreat. I wanted something with fall flavors and a comfort food vibe. I looked around online and found a handful carrot cake cookie recipes. With a few modifications, the cookies easily become healthier, with zero loss of flavor or texture.

My carrot cake cookies don’t taste “free” of anything, but they are indeed free of many common allergens, including dairy, gluten, and, if you prefer, tree nuts. Of course there’s sugar, but a moderate amount.  There is egg in them, but you could likely leave it out and just do a flax or chia “egg.” (Leave me a comment if you try it to let us know how it goes). These cookies are packed with flavor and a beautiful texture.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup (5 ounces) oat flour (simply grind 1 cup whole oats into a flour-like texture in your food processor or blender. If gluten free is a concern, get certified GF oats)
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (Yes, it’s a lot. Trust me on this).
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons sunflower seed butter, at room temperature (I use Trader joe’s brand; Sunbutter brand is good, too)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light both work)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (note: these ARE a tree nut; leave out if needed. I personally prefer my cookies minus nuts, and leave them out.)

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a nice, roomy mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients: oat flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and powder, salt.

3. In a second roomy mixing bowl, cream sunflower seed butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Once smooth, add egg and mix until smooth again.

4. Make a well in the wet ingredients. Gently incorporate dry ingredients, 1/3 of the mixture at a time. Fold in raisins, grated carrots, oats, and walnuts (if using).

5. Stash mix in the freezer for 10-15 minutes while you prepare  your cookies sheets. I either line mine with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray. One of these days I WILL get a Silpat.

6. Use a cookie scoop or a spoon to make uniform sized dough balls. (I do this by hand and spoon, and each cookie is a generous tablespoon of dough).

7. Bake cookies for 9-14 minutes, until ever so faint cracks appear on the surface. I know 9-14 minutes is quite a range, but I find that variations in altitude and ovens really do make a difference in bake times. In my NYC toaster oven, these cookies are perfect at 9-10 minutes of baking. In Colorado, I had to go closer to 14 minutes, sometimes beyond, in the “big” oven, to get the right texture.

8. Let cool slightly (or a lot, your choice, but I can never wait to try these). Enjoy!

So there you have it. An easy, creative, fall-friendly, carrot cake cookie recipe that is so delicious, you’d never know it’s friendly to many “restricted” diets and actually kinda healthy.

Question Time:

What’s your favorite fall dessert recipe?

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Nutella cakes are easy to throw together.

My first memories of Nutella are from way back when, during my first semester at Columbia. That’s when I first tasted this hazelnut and chocolate blend of European origin. I’ve loved it ever since. Somehow, it brings back memories of my time at alma mater. For a lot of people, Nutella is the taste of childhood memories. For me, the taste reminds me of truly feeling like adult. On my own, in a strange city, thousands of miles from family, and being fine. Happy even.

Alma mater.

It also reminds me of one the only phases in my life during which my fridge wasn’t packed. A bit of context: I’ve never truly been That Girl with a sparsely packed fridge. (What a blessing, to have this problem). Anyways, if anything, I’m That Other Girl with both a fridge and freezer that are packed. Packed, I say. To the point that my current freezer appeared to not be working some months back. So I called my super. And he called a repairman. My landlord paid the guy to come out and tell me (wait for it). . .

. . .that my freezer was too packed, and it’d start working again swimmingly if I just got rid of some stuff, already.

Oh dear.  I’m sure my psychologist friend and I could have a field day with analyzing why I do this to my appliances.

Turns out the repairman was right. But I consoled myself by telling myself that my lack of common sense had kept this guy working, at least for part of one day. My own personal contribution to the economy, and during a recession, no less!

Nutella! One person’s taste of childhood is another’s taste of emerging adulthood.

Anyways, the point here being that my time at Columbia was about the only time that I had a fridge that wasn’t jammed to the max. I’m not sure exactly why (again, my shrink friend could probably be of help here. . .)

The edibles I did have on hand,  were of the highest quality (for a student).  In no particular order, most all of it purchased from Westside Supermarket:

  • Nutella (yes, I kept it in the fridge. No I am not THAT dumb. I just wanted to prevent myself from gobbling tons of it at room temp, because, admit it, it tastes better at room temp).
  • Smoked gouda cheese (HAD to be smoked!)
  • Almonds (usually smoked)
  • Bagged spinach
  • Alcohol (wine and vodka, mostly)
  • Lindor truffles by Lindt (this was back before they were available at a Wal-Mart near you)
  • A roasted chicken (sometimes)
  • Bread (kept in the fridge to prevent it from molding)
  • Apples
  • And yes, I had a tendency to “fridge” things that really shouldn’t be “fridged.” I’ve learned. I think.

My friend dubbed these PMS cakes.

But mostly I lived off of cheese, almonds, and spoonfuls of Nutella. And I drank quite a few meals, I must say. Ahem.

I certainly wasn’t ambitious enough to throw together mini-nutella cakes back during my Columbia Daze, which is too bad, because they’re so simple. The cakes, not the Columbia Daze. Gluten-free wasn’t a buzzword back in those days, either, but hey, we’ve all moved on, haven’t we? I know I have…I’ve evolved enough that the meal I drink most nowadays is a green smoothie for breakfast. And I now realize one can eat Nutella in ways that don’t involve licking it off the spoon. At least sometimes. Ahem…

No ramekins? No problem. Use small, oven-safe coffee cups or bowls.

Nutella Cakes (Gluten Free, Kinda High in Protein)

Yield: 3 to 4 small cakes. Depends on the size of your ramekins or whatever small, oven-safe bowl you bake them in. Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (could use gluten free flour of choice, or if GF isn’t a concern, regular flour should work here, too. I like coconut flour because it’s rich, and has a lot of protein and fiber)
  • 1/2 cup Nutella (Thank you Costco, for keeping my Nutella costs in line; if vegan is a concern, find a vegan chocolate hazelnut or almond butter)
  • Splash of milk of choice (amount can vary…start out with a Tablespoon)
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips plus a Tablespoon or two extra

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  As oven heats, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour and milk. Mix lightly until pasty, but still pliable. If too dry, add in a bit more milk.

2. Add in Nutella and stir until combined.

3. Fold in chocolate chips.

4. Spoon mixture into small ramekins (fill them 2/3 to 3/4 full). Top each cake with a few reserved chocolate chips. Bake for 15 minutes. (Check for doneness after 10-12 minutes, by poking a knife or a fork into center of cakes). Personally, I like my cakes a bit undercooked and gooey, and hey, it’s safe to do that here, because there are no eggs in this recipe.

BRIA’S NOTE: If vegan and/or gluten free are of concern, be sure to double check all your ingredients’ labels. Can bake one at a time. Keep the remaining dough, covered, in the fridge. Load up a ramekin and bake when desired/as needed. Because we all need chocolate sometimes, yes? Plus, the one little dessert at time is a very college-like thing, isn’t it?

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Chocolate and banana is a winning combo any day.

Dunno about you, but the recent events in the Middle East, combined with the relentless weather we’re having here in New York City, make me want to crawl under the covers and hide, preferably with a delicious, comforting dessert in hand.  Alas, hibernating isn’t really an option for me, or for most of us, I imagine.

But we CAN have a luscious dessert every now and then when we desire escapism. As my English Lit prof used to say, “Why the hell NOT?”

Maybe a chocolate cherry trifle made with leftover chocolate cake?

Or how about a creamy, dreamy pudding parfait? Yeah, sounds good to me right about now. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to bust out my parfait glasses. But. . .

Making pudding from scratch certainly not my thing. In the immortal, hyperbolic words of my friend Denise, it “ruins my life.” Yeah, safe to say that custard making and I don’t get along. Ugh, I simply hate making custard. It always breaks or curdles on me, and frankly, I have limited patience for endless whisking, or for recipes that take too much time.

Avocados are the surprise ingredient in the easy, fast, chocolate pudding element of today's recipe. Vegan chocolate pudding? Yes, it does exist, and it's easy to make.

Luckily, when in the mood for something custard-y, I’m not above using instant pudding and have figured out, via my blogging friends, a fast, healthy way to make a chocolate pudding that involves nothing but the blender and a few ingredients you likely have on hand already: avocados, cocoa powder, bananas, a bit of liquid, and sweetener. It’s a pudding that’s actually quite healthy. It’s full of good fats from the avos and chocolate is healthy in moderation. (Yes, you read right: avocados and chocolate, so read on!)

The bananas in the chocolate pudding give it sweetness, so go easy on the added sweetener (taste as you go).

Milk Free Banana Chocolate Pudding Parfaits with Cardamom

Ingredients

  • Banana pudding mix (3.5 ounce box; check ingredients for milk if this is a concern)
  • Coconut milk in the amount prescribed by the pudding box directions (usually 2 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom powder (optional)
  • 2 small, ripe avocados or 1 large avo
  • 1 medium banana
  • 4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Sweetener, options include: agave, maple syrup, date syrup, simple syrup. (Start with a Tablespoon and add more to your taste as needed. If using liquid stevia, start with a drop or two, then work your way up as needed.)
  • Chocolate chips or shavings for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh banana slices for garnish (optional)
  • Whipped topping for garnish (optional; use non-dairy if you’re staying milk-free)

Directions

1. Make banana pudding according to package directions, adding 1/2 of the cardamom powder to the mixture as you blend. Place in the fridge to chill for at least 5 minutes while  you make the chocolate pudding.

2. In a blender, place flesh of avocados, chunks of banana, cocoa powder, remaining cardamom powder, sweetener (if using), and a splash of coconut milk or water to help things blend. Now blend until smooth. Add more cocoa powder if you need to thicken. Thin it out with liquid if needed. Test for sweetness, and add more sweetener if needed.

3. Make sure banana pudding is set and “scoopable” with a spoon. Once it’s set, in a decorative parfait glass, layer puddings in alternating layers, starting with chocolate pudding first (it is denser than the banana pudding). End with a layer of banana pudding, then top with garnishes of choice, if using. Settle in under the covers or on the nearest couch, and enjoy.

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Fesenjan is a beloved Iranian pomegranate-walnut stew. It can be made with chicken, duck, or without meat. What you see above is a version made with mushrooms and chickpeas, a departure from the classic recipe. Note my greenery "garnish" isn't really edible ;-) This is my fast, 15 minute version of khorest fesenjan.

Yes, you read right. A 15-minute version of beloved Persian koresht fesenjan.

What??????

For the uninitiated, it’s a stew of ground walnuts, pomegrante molasses, and, often, chicken. It has a sweet and sour flavor that might sound weird on paper, but tastes oh-so-good on the palate. It also has a bit of a reputation: a rep as something that takes a good while to cook.

We chatted about this recipe on here before:

But today’s offering is a quickie take on the slow-cooking classic. Over the weekend, a reader, Almaz, and I were chatting on Facebook. She loves the blog and had such kind words of encouragement for me. I was really touched. So I asked her if there was anything in particular she’d like me to post about. She jokingly (I think), said “15 minute fesenjan.” I immediately thought about a slow cooker version, that potentially could have only 15 minutes of hands on time.

Then today, while tinkering around in the kitchen, I realized a truly fast fesenjan, made in 15 minutes from start to finish, IS doable. If you have the following, already ready:

  • Pomegranate PASTE or MOLASSES (pre-thickened, you see!)
  • Ground walnuts.
  • Pre-cooked chicken (if using).
  • Pre-cooked rice (if serving over rice). Or you could use quick cooking rice. (Not as tasty as homemade, but just sayin’)

So here we go. Don’t blink, guys, or else this recipe will be over before you know it:

15-Minute Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Approximately 4-6 servings. ( The nuts make this a very rich dish.)

Ingredients

  • Neutral cooking fat of choice (butter, grapeseed oil, etc)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 cup pre-ground walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses or pomegranate paste (can find on Amazon)
  • 10 ounces of mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1 14-16 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed (optional)
  • 1 cup of pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (such as leftover roasted chicken)
  • Honey, sugar, or agave nectar to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Over a low heat, heat oil or butter in a Dutch oven.

2. As fat warms, dice onion.  Add it to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. (Chopping the onion very small will help it cook through faster).

3. As the onion cooks, slice mushrooms (if using) and drain and rinse chickpeas (if using).

4. Lower the heat, and add walnuts to the onions. Toast walnuts lightly, turning often, for 30-60 seconds, or until you smell a hint of fragrance. Immediately add in spices, and cook for about 30 seconds more. Turn heat off.

5. Add in the pomegranate molasses/paste, stock or water. Stir well, then add in any of the following that you’re using: chicken, mushrooms, chickpeas. Put the heat back on, then increase heat to high until stew boils. Drop the heat down to low.

6. Cook for 5 minutes more, until mushrooms are cooked through and chicken, if using, is warmed through. (You can cook this dish longer if you wish, up to half an hour, but the shorter cooking time works if you’re in a hurry).

7. Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you want it sweeter, add in sweetener of choice, stir, taste. Repeat until you’ve reached your idea sweet-sour ratio.  Serve over rice of choice and enjoy.

That’s IT!

Enjoy it over rice of your choice.

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Hot cocoa with some chai spices thrown in . . .a joyful morning delight.


In my world, few things make a morning more tolerable, maybe even a tad joyful, than a steaming cup of homemade hot cocoa. I actually somewhat look forward to the cold winter mornings for this very reason. Perhaps this means I need to investigate the possibility of getting a life, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with being amused by the smaller, simpler pleasures, right?

Community garden in Harlem that I spotted on a recent walk. Sadly, this sliver of property, sandwiched in between brownstones, is for sale. I wish it could stay as it is–a wonderful seasonal space.

It’s fun to play around with the flavorings of hot chocolate. Like my Persian Hot Chocolate–dark chocolate infused with cardamom and saffron. Here are my tips on how to make the perfect cup:

  • Always use the highest quality cocoa powder (or nibs, or whatever) you can find. Droste’s is a good brand that costs a bit more, but I find worth it.
  • Go with unsweetened if possible. Just try it! Dark and unsweetened is my personal favorite. You can always add sweetness to your taste. Who knows, you may come to love, as I sometimes do, a cup of unsweetened hot cocoa.
  • Use milk for a rich and creamy taste, but definitely consider dairy alternatives. Some of my favorite hot chocolate “base” milks are coconut milk, hazelnut milk, almond milk, and rice milk.
  • Have fun and get creative flavoring your drink. Take a hint from coffeehouses. Mint mocha? Mint hot chocolate!  Hazelnut flavoring? Hazelnut hot choc. Chai Latte? How about a Chocolate Chai Latte? In fact, let’s do that now:

Hot Chocolate Chai Latte

For one serving:

  • 8 ounces milk of choice
  • 2 generous Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 Chai tea teabag OR a quarter-sized chunk of fresh ginger, a few black peppercorns, and a cinnamon stick (or a teaspoon of cinnamon powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract (optional)
  • Sweetener of choice (stevia, sugar, etc)

Directions:
1. Warm a non-reactive sauce pan under low heat. Add in chocolate and lightly “toast” for 20-30 seconds over low heat to bring out the flavors.

2. Add in one-third of the milk and whisk until chocolate is lump-free and well-dissolved into the milk.

3. Add in the rest of the milk and whisk again. If using the teabag, add it in now. Or, add in the fresh ginger, peppercorns, and cinnamon. This allows the spicy flavors to infuse.

4. Do not boil, but cook on low heat until the edges of the milk start to bubble.

5.  Stir in vanilla (if using) and remove from heat. Pour into serving cup of choice.

6.  If using sweetener, sweeten to taste and enjoy!

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There wasn't much of this Persian Eggplant Dip left to photograph, but I did my best.

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. Here’s a recipe my dad shared with me verbally on a recent visit. It was inspired, in part, by the eggplants then growing in the family garden.

Our conversation went something  like this:

Dad: “You know what you can do with this eggplant? Take a whole eggplant and roast it in  the oven.”

Me: “Do you have to poke holes in it? You know, to let the steam escape?”

Dad: “No, just let it roast really well until it starts to cave in on itself. You might have to turn it over once.

Then cook some onions in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. Then you add in some garlic. . .”

Me: “Do you add any spices to the onions and garlic?”

This is the type of eggplant growing in the family garden, and this is the type I used back in New York to make the Persian Eggplant Dip recipe my dad had shared with me on a visit this summer. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Dad: “No, just salt and pepper. Anyways, you cook the onions and garlic until they’re soft. Then you can add in a little bit tomato and cook that for a minute.

Then you cut the eggplant, take out everything, and mix it in with the onion and garlic. Cook it until. . .let it get warm.

You can eat this like a dip with some cheese and bread [My dad loves cheese and bread. To the point that they make their own].

Or you can even have this as dinner. You can eat it cold, too. “

Me: “Wow, that sounds really easy and healthy. But like it would be really satisfying too. “

Dad nods in agreement, and I’m thinking, “New blog post. Score!”

So yes, that’s the recipe. I suspect that second to leaning recipes by doing, the verbal passing down of recipes is historically the second most common way recipes are passed down through the generations.

More specs:

Oven roasting temp? 400-425 F worked well for me.

Length of roasting time? For 2 medium eggplants, start with half an hour. Turn them over at 15 minutes.

Goats on the farm. There's only one goat who my dad milks, because she is no longer nursing but still producing milk. That one goat yields about a gallon of milk a day. Udderly ridiculous. They use the milk to make yogurt and goat cheese.

How long to cook the onions? 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic in the last few minutes so that it doesn’t get bitter or burn. Alternately, you can smash is pre-roasted garlic at the last minute if you have some on hand.

Optional Extras? Garnish with fresh herbs of your choice. I mixed in a few dollops of goat cheese in a fromage homage to the goats my fam keeps. They make their own goat cheese from their milk.  I avoid dairy for the most part, but definitely enjoy a few smidges of goat cheese when I visit the fam. It’s sooooo good and fresh!

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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.  I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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As the seasons shift, so do my eating and cooking habits. Some days I don’t cook at all–relying on smoothies, salads, and chilled soups for sustenance. The “Big Oven” gets the summer off, unless there’s a cake or cookie or entree I just can’t force bake in the toaster oven. With the summer equinox fast approaching, I’d begin to notice the reappearance of gorgeous yellow squashes at the farmer’s markets. Last week, I grabbed a couple, figuring I’d grill them or eat them raw (I like to dip them in hummus). But they sat there for a day or so, beautiful yet uninspiring. Until I read a post on zucchini kuku by my amiga over at My Persian Kitchen.

A closer look!

Kuku, you ask? Why yes, it’s an Iranian omelette that’s a perfect marriage of veggies, spices, and convenience. It’s sort of a cross between a frittata and a souffle. Without, of course, the souffle drama. Because you know that in the kitchen, I do not do drama. Well, at least not deliberately ;-)  I figure there’s enough inherent drama and suspense in cooking and baking as it is.

As for kuku, it’s the perfect summer dish, because it travels well and tastes great hot, warm, or even cold. It’s filling but not heavy.  You can bake it in the oven, or cook it on the stovetop. This time, I used my toaster oven, which worked perfectly and kept the Big Oven out of play, and from heating the house.

So I decided to base my efforts on the recipe from My Persian Kitchen, but with my yellow squash rather than zucchini. And as I was tinkering around in the kitchen, I noticed a lone sweet potato, left over from the colder months, sitting there kind of looking sad. “I wonder if that grating that sweet potato and using it in this kuku would taste good. I bet it would.”

So that’s exactly what I did, and in the process, found a new dish to love. A dish that perfectly straddles the shift between spring and summer, and could easily straddle the shift between summer and fall, for that matter.

Kuku (Iranian Omelette) with Summer Squash and Sweet Potato

2 teaspoons cooking fat of choice (netural oil, ghee, butter, butter substitute, etc)

1 onion, medium dice

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 large garlic cloves, finely grated

2 summer squash, grated (no more than a pound of squash before grating)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated

salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Add cooking fat to a cold skillet (skillet I used was an 8-inch cast iron skillet by Lodge). Heat over medium low.

3. Add in the onions and saute, stirring often, until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add turmeric and garlic to onions and saute for another minute or so.

4. Add in the grated squash and sweet potato. Add salt and pepper and mix.  Cook until softened and the moisture is absorbed.

5.  As the vegetables are cooking, whisk the eggs and baking soda together with either a hand whisk or a fork. If you desire a more yellow color for the egg mixture, add another pinch of turmeric and stir well.

6. Allow the veggie mixture to drain and cool (I used a colander and a bowl to catch the drips underneath, plus patted the mixture several times with a kitchen towel to further push out excess moisture).

7.  Clean out the skillet, regrease with cooking fat or cooking spray of choice. In a large bowl, mix together veggie mixture and eggs, then pour it all into the skillet. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes (my kuku was done at 25 minutes, but your mileage may vary due to variation in the moisture of the mix). You’ll know it’s done when a knife or fork inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Just a little tahini-red pepper-cumin dressing that I whipped up in a blender, but it's an oh-so-tasty way to dress a salad.

We’ve talked before about how I eat a lot of salads. Love them! So dressing them properly and deliciously is of the utmost importance. Dressing a salad isn’t so different from dressing one’s self, I suppose. Now I’m much more foodie that fashionista any day, but there are indeed parallels when it comes to this dressing business.

Dressing a salad with a tasty, inviting option reminds me of donning a gorgeous outfit paired with the perfect accessories. Sometimes the accessories even steal the show and garner the most compliments!

As for accessorizing my salads, I avoid the bottled stuff unless I’m in a situation where there’s no practical way to make my own dressing. Even the best bottled dressings don’t hold a candle to a good, homemade dressing, IMHO. Fighting words? Maybe!

Check out the accessories I chose to go with this outfit--gold heels and some fun bangles. Nope, wasn't going for the minimalist look that night at my friend's traditional Afghan wedding!

Yeah, dressings usually have fat, but can be good fat, especially in moderation and if the dressing motivates you to eat more salad and veggies. Here’s my latest salad dressing creation, with it’s brick-red color and the bold flavors of mellow tahini, sweet red pepper, and earthy cumin give it that Middle Eastern vibe I love so much. It has a hint of spice and a pleasant smokiness in the background.

Oh, and I even snuck in some super healthy flax seeds, which are great for, among other things, the skin and digestive system. Cuz I’m stealthy healthy like that ;-)!

You can bet we’ll be whipping up a batch of this brick red beauty this weekend at the Yoga retreat I’m hosting.

For now, mas-salama and shanti, ya’ll!

Tangy Tahini Red Pepper and Cumin Salad Dressing

In a blender, combine:

4 Tablespoons tahini paste

2 Tablespoons flax seeds

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional, but worthwhile, as it gives a subtle cheesy flavor

2 large garlic cloves

3 scallions, chopped, or 2 Tablespoons of onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon of paprika

1 teaspoon red pepper paste, or 1/4 of a fresh or roasted red bell pepper

1 teaspoon of cumin (more if you want!)

Squeeze of lemon (optional)

Water for blending

Salt and pepper to taste (optional–I found I didn’t need any!)

1. Put all ingredients except water into the blender. Add enough water so that everything can move around when the blender’s on. Add more water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

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