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Friday, September 30, 2011

Sloppy Joes ~ not your kiddie version

Sloppy Joes

when i was a kid living with the gparents, i bought my lunch. the public school system provided a decent lunch, i thought. granted, at home fare was vietnamese food, so american food was a treat. grandma being the math dictator that she was, she would leave my lunch money in a brown bag and the onus was on me to take the proper amount of change out every morning, bringing home any change in the afternoon and whatever was left for the last day of the week should be enough. this is called Lessons in Budgeting. this was a lesson i did not take to. what ever nickels & dimes were left over i would spend after school at the ice cream truck, buying candy. there were some Fridays i didn't have lunch, unless i took whatever left over lunch the school had, which i never did. budget jackass i was, hand out taker i was not.

sloppy joes were a treat. (i was also pretty partial to the tuna melt. cheap food was my jam back in the day.) they still are a treat. i don't do the manwich thing anymore, dw doesn't like canned stuff (something about blah blahs in the cans) so i attempted the grown up version this week before a highly anticipated matt nathanson concert. the flavor wasn't what i remembered from childhood -- it was much spicier -- not messy in the least but very enjoyable. plus, extremely quick to put together.

Not So Sloppy Joes

1 lb organic, grass fed ground beef
1 medium red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 6oz can of tomato paste
generous tsp cumin
generous tsp chili powder (i used super spicy)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt/pepper to taste
dash of sugar to balance the tart of the paste

in a large pan, heat up a bit of oil. saute the veggies until fragrant. add in the ground beef, breaking up the pieces, brown thru. throw in the rest of the ingredients. i also added about a can's worth of water to loosen the mixture up a bit. when thick to desired consistency, serve on toasted buns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cookie Monster Cupcakes

Cupcake Contest
Cookie Monster Cupcakes

about a year ago i entered a cupcake contest, one that i fretted over, planned for for weeks and drove poor nuria up the wall with different ideas, as well as made two cupcake stands, only to have the event be cancelled due to jackassery unknown reasons.

so whatever, this year was better as it was organized by Rachel of Coconut & Lime. i don't know all the specifics but her intern/assistant Jillian was fantastic with answering questions, Whole Foods donated cupcakes, plates & utensils, and Bluehill Tavern was kind enough to host the event. for more information hit up Charm City Cupcake Camp.

the turnout was quite impressive. my friend Nancy's stepdaughters brought Butterbeer cupcakes and decorated their creations with Harry Potter faces or symbols. They took home the Most Original prize. my biggest competition was the Angry Birds creation, it was very professional looking, the details were impeccable. but in the end, i took home the Best Decoration honors.

i won't lie, i was aiming for placement (go big or GO HOME), ideally for best taste (but lost to a blueberry+bacon concoction) and the fact that i was up against such a gorgeously executed cupcake like the Angry Birds one had me sweating. i texted bigK in a panic.

i should also mention that dw was a judge, tho he was of no help to me prior to the event. Mr. Morals & High Ethics could barely taste my cream cheese frosting for fear of being unfair, the only way i knew my frosting was ok was because he didn't make a face or throw it up. one of the judges did think my cookie monsters were boxed cake, he set her straight; the only thing i did not make were the cookies. i used my blue velvet cake recipe + cream cheese frosting, dyed the coconut flakes blue, the eyes were made with candy melt discs + black gel icing.

next year, i have my eyes on Best Taste overall, and for the Dairy Free category.

forgive the first collage, i took those snaps with my phone.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cinnamon Swirl Bread - dairy free

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

i've made this bread before, with the addition of autumn apples and dairy products. for this recipe, i used almond milk and vegan veggie margarine. that's really all i have to say. oh, and that we ran out of eggs so i didn't have an egg wash, as a result, there are gaps between the layers. so technically, this recipe is dairy-free and completely egg-less, but still pretty good. this was our breakfast for the week.

in the meantime, it's finally the weekend again. i'm entering a cupcake contest again (remember last year when they cancelled on me at the very last hour? thankfully it's being organized by someone much better suited for the role), dw is standing in as a judge and then we're jetting to an evening wedding for a dear Broad immediately after. dw is going to have a FULL saturday! :)

happy weekend friends.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

hippie falafel


i used to hate falafel. i love it now. why, you ask?

because: on my 29th birthday i was dumped at a middle eastern restaurant, over a plate of greek salad (mine) and falafel (his). i've had a truce with falafel for awhile, tho decidedly not with that jackass fellow, may he rot in hell forever.

in recent months, while attending the various farmer's markets in the city, dw introduced me to the hippie falafel stand. it is amazing, and i have to tell you, baltimore boasts some excellent already-prepared food stands at their markets. but this particular stand. effing amazing.

the falafel itself is standard, plump, fried to a golden crisp on the outside, but juicy and tender inside. it's the condiments that do it for me. they add seasonal veggies AND fruits, throwing in blueberries or fresh peaches, drizzled with honey, sriracha AND tahini sauce. it's a hot mess in a tortilla wrap but the flavor in the mouth after the first bite? it's a revelation. and finally, just recently, a reality.

i first made these last week, with canned chickpeas. dw inhaled TWO in one dinner sitting and had it again for lunch the next day. the lighting was off so i didn't snap pix but he consumed it so fast and eagerly that i decided to make them again over the weekend, this time with dried beans. the recipe calls for soaking of 24 hours and then baking for 20 or so minutes. i found this method made for a very difficult mixing process, they would not shape properly for me despite adding water and flour. with a bit of coaxing, it worked out but still, i wonder if canned is just the better option. dw disagrees. he thinks next time we should boil the beans for about an hour after the 24 hour soak. it's an option. because seriously, these are effing amaze-balls. them hippies. they know how to throw a party.

adapted from the nervous cook

2 lbs dried chickpeas, uncooked, soaked 24 hours
1 tsp baking soda
parsley, chopped*
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsp cumin
cayenne pepper*
salt & pepper to taste
oil for frying

tortilla wrap
shredded cabbage
sliced avocado
sliced apples
vinegar onions
tahini sauce

*for the parsley and cayenne pepper, i did not measure. it was whatever parsley i had leftover and i just tipped the spice jar over and gave it a healthy shake.

preheat oven to 400F.

process everything in food processor, pulsing until they come together.

if it doesn't stick, add up to 1 TBL water and 1/2 TBL AP flour. eyeball it according to consistency.

form the balls, i think i made up about 16.

then i part-fried them in a bit of oil, to create a crispy skin all around. then i baked them further in the oven for 25 minutes.

serve in tortilla wraps, topped with whatever condiments you want or have on hand. i used apples, avocado, vinegar onions and drizzled the entire mess with tahini, honey and sriracha. the crunch of the apples and onions gives it something special and that touch of honey brings it all full circle. i promise.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

DSC_0007 Lamb Meatballs

dinner in our abode is a simple affair. it's a duty dw & i switch on. for today's post, it was dw's turn to make dinner while i lazed about in the living room, reading voraciously from my android. see, it was his fault. i came home in a tizzy that afternoon, talking at 500mph about some random YA book called Blood Red Road that i just had to read, but i had a whole list of other books to get thru on my Kindle, even tho he was in the midst of using it to read I am Number Four; PLUS, i have the actual physical book The Clan of the Cave Bear to finish. and well. next thing i know, he had downloaded the ebook for me on my android and i was sitting happy, and quiet, on the couch while he worked his magic in the kitchen. i don't deserve him.

Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

1 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup finely chopped small red onion
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground allspice
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 egg
Vegetable oil, for frying

preheat oven to 350F.

from what i could see, dw just put everything in a bowl, mixed it all together with his hand, formed balls and then fried them up until golden brown on the outside. he put the balls into a casserole pan and let them continue to cook in the oven for another 20 minutes or so.

meanwhile, he made the tomato sauce. we're lucky, his old boss hooked him up with fresh tomato sauce and a few ripe tomatoes.

tomato sauce:
Used pan with oil and meat drippings
Sauteed a sliced red onion and three cloves of garlic
Added generous 1 teaspoon each of cumin, allspice and generous 1/2
teaspoon of cinnamon
Stirred in half jar of tomatoes and reduced.
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Served meatballs and tomato sauce over white rice.

it should be noted that he forgot to season the meatballs so it was a smidge bland. if you know me then you know i just took out my soy sauce bottle and i was fine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dairy Free Salted Caramel Chocolate Fudge Cake

Dairy free salted caramel chocolate fudge cake

there's a lot to be said about the people who have been lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy all their life, the main one being: how do you do it?

true, they've been without so they don't know what it's like to be without. but as someone who used to enjoy and heavily indulged in cheese, cold glasses of milk, toast slathered with butter, i'm finding it hard to be without. acceptance is coming around, but before that, there was denial, anger and compromise.

denial that my body would betray me in such a manner.

anger that something so delicious could make me feel so dreadful.

compromise that just a single bite of yummy ice cream would be worth the stomach cramps (it's not).

to be truthful, i don't know if i'm just lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. i could try the lactaid pills but the recent pain free eating makes me reluctant to experiment and find out for sure. instead, i am finding alternatives to the things i used to partake in, one of them being dessert. dw & i enjoyed the long Labor Day weekend by baking. the heat dipped enough that we were able to turn on the oven and spend time in the kitchen without sweating too much. i had my heart set on a grown up cake (making cake pops these last months has been crushing my soul. i am so dramatical!), one that would not only be pretty to look at, but taste good without the upset stomach. dw & i spent a good deal of time dissecting a particular recipe, debating on what alternatives to use, not only based on taste but for health purposes, as well as ensuring it doesn't eff up the integrity of the cake itself. it was stressful but i was determined to make it a success.

*disclaimer: listen, i'm not a doctor, specifically, i'm not YOUR doctor. this adaptation is just an alternative to the full dairy version. i realize that margarine is not good for you, it's one molecule away from being plastic, it's artificial, it's processed... blah blah blah. i haven't perfected non-dairy baking yet, and i suspect i will spend a great deal of time figuring it out. there will be misses. quite a bit of it. there'll be a few wins, hopefully. i'll keep trudging along and with grace, i intend to chronicle the journey. anything i can learn, please do pass it along but if it's just to tell me that i'm being unhealthy, by gawd, i'll just put that in the growing pile of S.T.F.U.



i will say, a slice of this every so often should not hurt you. anything in moderation is good, lead a healthy lifestyle, run 2-3 times a week like i try to, eat your greens and consume whole foods. as my cousin zeke said when i gave him a slice: "It tastes this good, AND I won't be farting later?!"

Dairy Free Salted Caramel Chocolate Fudge Cake
adapted from Sweet & Salty

i doubled the cake batter recipe, creating 3 layers, using 2 8" round pans. one of the pans had more batter than the other, so that i could just slice it into 2 layers. as a result, bake time varied. the lesser batter pan was about 35minutes, while the other pan was 5-7minutes longer. be diligent with checking the doneness. you want the cake to be spongy with just the right amount of moisture but not wet that it runs. trust me.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder (i used rademaker)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup almond milk (i used silk's unsweetened almond milk)
3/4 cup hot coffee (i believe hot water would've been just fine...)
2 eggs lightly beaten at room temp
2 tsp vanilla (i used penzy's vanilla)

Preheat oven to 350F. you can prepare the pans with parchment paper, grease it etc. i didn't bother. it was slightly stressful getting the cakes out but you know, that particular challenge was nothing ...

In mixer bowl, sift all dry ingredients (remember: i doubled the recipe). add in the wet ingredients, except for the hot liquid. i added the hot coffee a tablespoon at a time, only to ensure the eggs did not scramble. it's tedious but worth the step to avoid chocolate scrambled eggs. just saying. mix well, scrape down the sides etc. pour into pans. the batter will be liquidy. don't be alarmed.

Bake for 25 minutes and rotate pans in oven. Cakes are done when toothpick or skewer comes clean–approximately 35 minutes for the pan with less batter, 5-7 minutes longer for the other pan. BE DILIGENT WITH CHECKING.

i cooled these beauties in the pans over night.

Salted Caramel Filling

1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Silk's soy creamer
generous pinch of sea salt
1 1/2 cups Shedd's Willow Run Soy Margarine (3 sticks)
4 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla

make the salted caramel by placing 1/2 cup + 2 TBL sugar and water in saucepan to a boil over medium heat. cook until caramel reaches dark amber, swirl gently. remove from heat, add in the creamer slowly and whisk until smooth. add in the sea salt, allow to cool.

*note: dw doubled the caramel recipe, for ease of use. we now have a small container of the caramel to be used for apple dipping or just plain snacking on...

meanwhile, place soy margarine mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed. keep in mind, the margarine is softer than butter, it won't fluff up. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Wipe the mixer bowl clean with lemon juice, and place egg whites and remaining sugar into bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally and gently until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160° on a candy thermometer. the mixture will smell like egg white omelet. don't be alarmed. just be good about whisking constantly.

Remove the bowl from heat, and place back onto the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. then increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until peaks form. when the bottle of the bowl is cool to the touch, reduce the speak and add the beaten soy margarine, a cup at a time. be sure to mix well and scrape down the sides.

Switch to paddle attachment and flip to low speed, add cooled caramel, and beat until smooth.

Dark Chocolate Fudge Frosting

1/4 cup + 2 TBLs unsweetened process cocoa powder (i used Rademaker)
1/4 cup + 2 TBLS boiling water
1 1/2 cups unsalted Soy Margarine (3 sticks)
1/2 cup confectioners’ (icing/powdered) sugar (*note: i like my icing to be stiff, so i actually added in an additional 3 cups. check your consistency. butter & margarine are two different fats and it depends on how hard you want your frosting to be)
pinch of salt
1 pound (454 g/16 oz) good-quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (i used bittersweet ghirardelli and semi-sweet dark Scharffen Berger)

Combine cocoa powder and the boiling water in a small bowl and stir until it cocoa has dissolved.

In mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the margarine, the icing sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until it is pale and fluffy. make sure it's well incorporated.

Reduce mixer speed to low, and add melted chocolate, mixing until combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Beat in the cocoa mixture until well incorporated.

assembling it was the easy part:

first layer cake, a bit of filling, another layer cake, more filling and then the final layer. any leftover caramel cream (there wasn't any) can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week or for about a month in the freezer. cover the entire monstrosity with the fudge frosting. be generous, because any leftover will be eaten anyway. trust.

key tools to use: lazy susan, off set spatula, and cake slicer. invest people. well worth the money.


for added fun, dw played with spun sugar and created spirals and other random pieces that left us at a loss to how to use properly.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vietnamese Chicken & Cabbage Salad {Goi Ga}

Vietnamese Chicken & Cabbage Salad

it has to be said: i am glad that summer has come to an end. i've lived in hot climates before (um. africa, anyone? southeast asia actually has africa beat...just saying) but the heat these few months spewed sapped me of any energy or motivation. i'm ready to turn the stove/oven back on, tuck into some hearty soups & stews, bake bread with my darling love (we have our eyes set on croissants!) and even finish up some yarn creations.

this particular dish was created, i admit, the cheating way. i did not roast the chicken, i bought it already cooked. it's a perfect summer dish as long as the oven isn't turned on... it's the nuoc mam cham that pulls it together for me, how it coats ever so gently over the shredded cabbage and chicken. then the very subtle touch of the mint along with the crispy fried onions. don't be fooled by how simple this dish is, or that it can only be a warmer months item... can you imagine roasting a chicken in the cold days of autumn or winter, and then shredding it by hand to create this salad, the meat still warm to the touch, your fingers taking the morsels to your mouth more often than adding it to the dish...

i'm looking fwd to it, aren't you?

this is my September entry for Delicious Vietnam, a monthly food event that highlights the wonderful Vietnamese cuisine, created by Ravenous Couple and A Food Lover's Journey. this month was hosted by Phuoc'n Delicious.

Vietnamese Chicken & Cabbage Salad {Goi Ga}

1 rotisserie chicken, shredded (you can certainly roast your own bird)
head of cabbage, shredded, i used red for the pretty color & because it was available at the market
bunch of mint, rough chopped (can use whatever asian herbs, basil would work great)
pickled red onions (thinly slice onions and douse with rice wine vinegar & a bit of sugar)
roasted peanuts, crushed, to garnish
fried shallots, to garnish (again, cheating because i bought it already fried)
cilantro leaves, (i actually forgot this, much to my chagrin)
shredded carrots, for color if desired

nuoc mam cham/dressing
1/4 cup of water 
2 TBL fish sauce
3 tsp sugar
1 TBL lime juice
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 tsp rice vinegar
chopped chili

i usually double or even triple this recipe to keep in a container in the fridge. mix all the ingredients well.

to serve, lay the cabbage in big bowl. then layer on the chicken, topping with the pickled onions, mints, peanuts, fried shallots, etc. dress with nuoc mam cham, mix well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dairy Free Fig Newtons

Dairy Free Fig Newtons

here's the most important lesson i've learned about going dairy free -- it affects other people too. it's not just about me. it's about making choices of where to share a meal with people who are not afflicted with lactose intolerance but, because they want to hang out with me, or if i'm lucky, because they love me, they will forgo hitting up the city's awesome pizza joint to go to a generic place with a friendlier menu. it's restricting, having to scan menus and ingredient lists. it's something i know will get easier, will probably become second nature, but until i reach that point, i find myself sighing in exasperation. i also find myself feeling guilty.

because it's affected grocery shopping. it's affected traditional baking. traditional buttercream icing is now wrecking havoc as i try to figure out alternative ingredients for the butter and cream. it just never occured me exactly how much i relied on milk and butter to make the ultimate cakes and cookies, how friggin delicious cream cheese icing is and god help me, how difficult it has been for me to accept that i probably can never have cookies dunked in milk again.


take a moment. let that sink in.

i realize it's not the end of the world. this is what one would call a First World Problem. regardless, it's a been an adjustment. and it will be for the most part, a Lifestyle.

i made these fig newtons some time ago, using fresh picked figs. i can't say that i especially loved the dough, it was hard. i wonder if the 2.5 cups of flour it calls for is too much? in lieu of the butter, i used chilled coconut oil and for the tablespoon of cream, i used coconut milk. i will attempt this again, tho with a different seasonal fruit, probably apples.

we've been snacking on these for a week now... i bring a few in to work to nibble on while i sip my tea and dw had a couple last night while he watched tv. it's not the same as the fig newtons i grew up with and truth be told, i did find some that were dairy free at the co-op (thanks paul newman, rip.) it's just nice to be able to make some beloved treats, my way.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Strawberry Basil Coconut Ice Cream with Balsamic Reduction

Strawberry Basil Coconut Ice Cream with Balsamic Reduction

yeah, this is yet another coconut milk-related dish. yes, i know, coconut milk when consumed in huge quantities can be bad. {so's water, it's called drowning.} just to warn you, i have another recipe coming in the next post that uses coconut milk. i spent the entire weekend during Irene's visit using coconut milk in a variety of ways, not feeling guilty, because it doesn't mess up my stomach. i have every intention of holing up in the abode with dw again, experimenting with recipes and using other dairy alternatives (as mentioned: almond, soy & kefir milks). for the sake of availability and money, i'm just doing one alternative at a time.


it's been the most perfect week, temperature-wise. dw hailing from upstate NY loves the bite in the air as we depart for work, i enjoy sleeping with the windows wide open & then getting up at 3am to shut it. it's also the most perfect time for real food: the abundant amount of fruits and veggies. it's making dw giddy.

to close this summer i created a most perfect for my stomach ice cream, using coconut milk, fresh basil, and strawberries picked at the height of the season, frozen ripe, and then drizzled with a balsamic reduction.

Strawberry Basil Coconut Ice Cream with Balsamic Reduction
as inspired by roost.

2 cans of coconut milk (caveat - i skimmed the cream off one can and discarded the water excess & used the entire contents of 2nd can. if you just want the cream, don't shake the can, allow to settle and water to drop to the bottom)
about a cup of strawberries
handful fresh basil
honey, to taste
1 cup of balsamic reduction (2 cups heated in sauce pan and reduced to just 1 cup)

in blender or vita mix, pulverize the strawberries & basil. add in the coconut milk, drizzle in honey to taste. add more basil or strawberries according to what you like in taste & color.

put in ice cream maker & churn according to manufacturer's specs.

drizzle with the reduction.