Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sweet Treats - Coconut, Chocolate & Popcorn

I have a new found love for coconut. Coconut water has now become a staple in my fridge, and I have been keeping an eye out for recipes featuring this versatile product. Not only can you use coconut milk for delicious curries, but shredded coconut is perfect for sweet treats.

I came across these (vegan) Dark Chocolate Coconut Treats and had to make them. 

I used my mini muffin pan to make more of them instead of having them be larger. This worked out well for me because these turned out pretty sweet and I can only handle about two at a time (which is strange, because there was a time in my life where I could probably eat the whole batch in one sitting.

Besides changing the size of the treats, I actually followed this recipe. It was easy enough, only seven ingredients total. I did have to make more chocolate sauce in order to cover all of my mini's.

Here is the recipe from Tasty Yummies. I used dark chocolate mini chunks (70% cacoa). Strangely enough, I couldn't find any %100 unsweetened organic. I also used agave nectar instead of maple syrup. 

Coconut Filling:
2 1/2 cups unsweetened organic coconut, finely shredded
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup (you could use honey, coconut nectar or any other liquid sweetener)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Topping*:
6 ounces 100% unsweetened organic dark chocolate 
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup (again any other liquid sweetener would work)
I started by mixing all of the coconut filling ingredients together in a large bowl. Just make sure it is well combined and then press the mixture into each of the muffin cups. I used a small tablespoon to evenly divide the mixture into the cups. Don't worry about these little things sticking, the coconut oil helps prevent that. 
Put these in the freezer while you are melting the chocolate. I recommend melting using a double boiler (or a makeshift one), but make sure you are stirring and keeping an eye on your chocolate to prevent burning. For a makeshift double boiler, find two pans, one needs to fit easily on top of the other. Fill the bottom pan with about an inch of water and put the dark chocolate and coconut oil in the top pan. Turn on your burner to medium-high and watch as the chocolate melts. Keep stirring until almost all the chunks are gone. I typically take the top pan off the other at this point, and stir till the chocolate is completely melted. Add in the sugary syrup last. 
Get your muffin pan out of the freezer and spoon the chocolate mixture over the coconut bites. Like I said, I had to make more chocolate, this also depends on how thick you want you chocolate vs coconut layers to be. Once you have covered the coconut with chocolate, put the muffin pan back in the freezer for about 30 mins, or longer. Once cold, I transfered my bites to a plastic container and put them back in the freezer to store. Once you want a coconut sweet treat, just be careful to let it sit a little while after you take it out of the freezer because they are pretty hard. I am sure storing them in the fridge would work just as well. 
Peanut-Butter Chocolate Popcorn
After my coconut bites, I had a lot of left over dark chocolate. I looked in my pantry and realized I had a bag of popcorn. Salty & sweet is always a good combination so I thought I would give chocolate covered popcorn a shot. Typically, any sweet popcorn is made with plain popcorn, but mine was just your typical buttered bag kind. (still turns out great, promise). Pop the popcorn as instructed, let it cool in a bowl and make sure you remove any leftover kernels. 
  • 1/4 cup of peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup of chocolate (or to taste)
  • a little less than 1/4 cup of coconut oil
Melt the chocolate using the same method as the chocolate above. It will take a little longer because the peanut butter is a thicker consistency. Once the chocolate is melted, throw in the popcorn and stir. Every piece won't be completely covered, but no need to worry. Put the chocolaty popcorn on a baking sheet and put in fridge. Once cool and hard, transfer popcorn to a container. Keep the popcorn stored in the fridge (if you don't plan on eating the entire batch) because it will melt otherwise. I also added some graham cracker crumbs on top, you could also use powdered sugar or crumbled up cookie or candy pieces or even coconut! I took my leftover popcorn to a little get together and it was definitely a hit. 
Both of these sweet treats are good solo or for parties. They both can easily be eaten in one sitting, but if you don't feel like being a fat kid, the good thing is they will store in the freezer/fridge. Another good thing about these sweet treats is that they are refined sugar free and vegan, and yet I bet you no one would be able to tell. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

All Things Kale

Last night I went to Austin and stopped by Whole Foods (heaven on earth) to grab some much needed groceries. I currently live in San Marcos, where there is no Whole Foods so it's always a treat when I have some time to swing by. Although they tend to be a little more pricey then your average HEB, they carry items that you really can't find anywhere else.

As I was scanning the produce, I came across a bunch of kale. I have never bought kale before, but my mom tends to really like it and I had seen a recipe featuring kale and strawberries, so I thought i'd give it a shot. Since I don't know much about kale, a little bit of research was involved. According to Elanas Pantry keeping kale fresh entails washing it thoroughly, dry it, chop it and put it in a baggie with a cloth or towel.

Want more tips on keeping produce fresh? Check out The Holy Kale blog. My tip is to freeze half of the produce. Usually I slice strawberries and freeze them for future smoothies, and bananas are good for banana frozen yogurt.

I didn't have all the ingredients the kale and strawberry smoothie recipe called for, but as usual, I improvised.

  • 1 Cup coconut water
  • Handful of strawberries, sliced
  • Two handfuls of Kale (stems removed)
  • 1 banana (it was rather large), sliced

The smoothie tasted great. The only downfall was that it wasn't really cold. I'd recommend freezing the fruit first. Freezing fruit is always a good idea, it will keep for quite a while and you can use it in smoothies, vegan frozen yogurt or anything else you decide!

Kale is actually a really healthy green to eat, it has Vitamin K, A and C. It is good for digestion and is rich in eye-health. Clearly, kale is also very versatile, hence this blog post.

With all my kale I also made kale chips. My first batch were fantastic, my other batches definitely failed. :(  For my first batch I didn't really measure anything (which might be part of the problem). I splashed a little bit of grape-seed oil and light sodium soy sauce along with a sprinkle of salt. Had my oven set on 300 and threw them in for about 12 mins. I kept an eye on them and would stir them every now and then. In the middle of the cooking process I realized I had nutritional yeast, so I threw a tad bit on the cooking kale. Once they seemed crispy enough I went ahead and took them out of the oven. AMAZING... I pretty much ate the entire container.

My second batch failed, as did my third. Looks like I need to go buy some more kale....
I had left some kale aside because I had found yet another recipe I was dying to try.  The recipe actually called for chard, but I thought kale would be a nice substitute. Aida Mollenkamp had an amazing looking recipe on her blog, Socca with balsamic mushrooms and wilted chard. I'm not going to go into socca right now, I'll save that for another post. But I would definitely recommend it. 
This dish was probably the tastiest dish in terms of flavor that I have had in a long time. I pretty much followed the recipe Aida provided, but made a few modifications here and there. 
  • Handful of mushrooms
  • oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
While the garlic and oil was heating in a pan I cleaned and sliced my mushrooms. Then I threw them in the pan and got to cooking. The recipe said to add the balsamic later, so I decided to stick with that. I measured out the 2 tablespoons of balsamic recommended by Aida's recipe and sat it aside. 

The multi-tasker in me was also making the socca while all this was happening. I will talk about socca later, because I have a lot to say about it... 

Once the mushrooms looked cooked, I poured them in a bowl and let them sit while I cooked the kale. 
  • 1 cup of red onion
  • splash of oil
  • two handfuls of kale
  • sprinkle of salt and pepper
I cooked the red onion, added the kale and let that sit for awhile. I then decided to go back to the mushrooms, grabbed the balsamic and started pouring. I stopped at about 1 tablespoon because it seemed as if the mushrooms were thoroughly covered, and balsamic can often be overpowering. I didn't use the same amount of mushrooms as the recipe, so this made sense. 

I then had the idea to go ahead and combine all my ingredients together. Great idea... the finished dish was so flavorful, just enough balsamic. 

As you have probably noticed, I don't really like to measure things. I get a general idea but kind of just go with the flow. I know a lot of people think this is nuts, and follow the recipe to the T, but I am always unsuccessful when I try and create the recipe exactly as is. I would recommend everyone try to make a dish without following the recipe. Trust yourself and your cooking skills and get creative. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Raiding the Pantry

I work from home, and sometimes I get ridiculous cravings for food that I don't have available. It doesn't help that recently I have been traveling so much that I haven't had really stocked up at the grocery store. Today I was craving something sweet. In particular, I was craving some chocolate peanut butter cake balls from a local food truck How Sweet It Is. Take note, when I say "some" I mean I was tempted to leave and go buy a pack of six and most likely end up eating all of them.

However, I resisted. Instead I decided to raid what little bit of food I have in my pantry and concoct a sweet treat creation. Keep in mind I was watching an episode of "The Next Food Network Star" where the contestants were placed in a "Chopped" like situation.
If you have never seen "Chopped" i'll give a quick synopsis: Four Chefs  get a basket with weird, crazy ingredients and they have to create an appetizer, main course and a dessert by incorporating each of the ingredients (usually 4). There is more to the show, but for the purposes of this blog, that's all the info you need.
So, Food Network Star/Chopped episode is on, giving me the inspiration to make something totally random of the ingredients I have. I grab the following:
  • peanut butter
  • coconut
  • graham cracker crumbles that I froze forever ago
  • rolled oats
I put all of those in a bowl (didn't measure anything) and combined. Tasted, wasn't totally satisfied so I explored my pantry some more and found some unsweetened cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Put a sprinkle and a splash of those and continued my mixing.

Once I was satisfied with my combination, I rolled them into balls, topped them with more coconut and put them in the fridge. Once the next commercial break hit, I went straight to my peanut butter babies. They were excellent. I am a huge fan of peanut butter, so these little things hit the spot.

I also found a box of instant pudding in my pantry. I dusted off some cobwebs and said "Eh, why not." Ok there weren't really cobwebs, but I know that pudding was there for a long time.  I know instant pudding calls for milk, I only drink almond milk, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. Well lo and behold, I only have half the amount of "milk" the directions called for.... so I decided to add just a 1/2 cup of water because I really couldn't figure out or have any other kind of subsitute.

Let's just say that pudding is still "setting" in my fridge. I am not sure if it will be good enough to eat, or if I should even bother eating it. I am not really a fan of instant pudding but I needed to finsih off the rest of my almond milk and that pudding mix probably would have sit in my pantry till, well forever.

So next time you are craving something, take a peak in your pantry and get creative before heading out and spending your money. Don't be scared to just throw some things together. I know that might be hard for some people, but if there are several main ingredients you like, then most likely you will like them combined in one form or another

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Best Rice - EVER

I love rice. Fried rice, sushi rice, brown rice, but for the longest time I could never figure out how to cook the stuff. I'd follow the directions and the rice would turn out to be hard and uneventful. One day, thanks to Pinterest I found the PERFECT recipe to cook (brown) rice. I have tried this recipe with instant brown rice and long grain brown rice. Not sure how well it works for other types. I do things a tad bit different than Kitchen Parade's recipe...
I use pretty much the same measurements
  • 2-1/3 cup water
  • A splash or two of olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cup brown rice

  • First, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. I always forget this step and sometimes have to take my pre-boiled water off the stove for a minute or two.
  • Boil water and oil
  • Put rice in a glass baking dish
  • Pour boiling water over rice
  • Stir around and top with two layers of foil (I usually keep two pieces and re-use them a couple times)
  • Put in oven for 1 hour
  • Fluff with fork
  • Consume or add with your favorite ingredients
I am telling you, baking the rice this way is phenomenal. Usually it makes enough for two meals (my portions are usually pretty large though). The only problem is that some of the rice sticks to the baking dish, but it's usually easy to clean off. I am sure putting some oil on the pan before hand would help this.

My original plan for my rice was to create a modified version of a "cheezy" broccoli - quinoa dish. I had a lot of rice in my pantry so I decided to substitute that for the quinoa. Unfortunately, the store was out of nutritional yeast so my plans had to change just a bit more. I made the broccoli pretty much the same way but omitted the nutritional yeast and used a little less agave nector instead of maple syrup:

  • 1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce (or bragg's Liquid Aminos)
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 head (apprx. 2 cups) broccoli (stalks sliced thin and florets cut into bite-sized pieces)
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic sliced
add more of the ingredients to taste

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees 
  • Add broccolli and other ingredients to a large bowl and toss well, completely covering the broccolli.  
  • Put broccoli on a cookie sheet and roast away for 10 mins
I decided to make my rice a little earlier in the day to avoid the temperature difference in the oven.
The dish may not look like the prettiest thing you have every seen, but the agave nectar and soy sauce give the broccoli a unique flavor. 

This dish overall was quick, easy and quite affordable. 
All prepared while listening to the "Wolf Gang" Pandora Station.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Vacation Indulgences

So, it's been awhile since I have posted, but I have been super busy and I just got back from a mini vacation in Miami, Florida. Miami was nothing like I expected. I visited the lovely Cesar Tobar and he lives in the financial district (Brickell Ave). I loved the location, it was super chill and his condo was literally a block away from the water. While in Miami, I ate. Duh. Saturday morning we poked around on yelp and found this amazing coffee place. Alaska Roasting Company (I think). Amazing lattes. I had a caprese sandwhich there too. For dinner we went to Cesar's favorite Pollos Y Jarros. Even though this place was basically meat, meat and more meat. I was lucky enough to find a salad on the menu that had asparagus, avocado, mushrooms, artichokes and some peruvian corn and cheese. It was amazing. They also had four sauces laid out... so naturally I drenched my healthy salad in god knows what kind of amazing deliciousness. We finished off dinner with an amazing dessert that had some sort of caramel on it, and I think it had peaches. It was so light and melted in your mouth.

While in Miami I decided to look up the Groupons that the city had to offer. Low and behold, I came avcross one for Tabu Bistro, which turned out to be literallly two blocks from Cesar's place. The Groupon was 50% off brunch, including two entrees and two mimos.

OMG. This place was definitely a hidden gem. The design of the little bistro was amazing, the restaurant couldn't have been bigger than my room. Literally, the place probably had 10 tables and most of them were along one wall, with a long booth on one side and chairs on the other. Not only was the atmosphere great, but the food was outstanding, the service as well. 
I had quinoa patties with ahi tuna, and I can definitely admit, this was one of the best meals I have ever had. Unfortunately the mimosa wasn't as good as I would have liked but it was still a nice treat. We finished off the meal with two crepes topped with nutella and fresh fruit. 

Miami was better than expected by all accounts. It was a much needed vacation and I am ready to go back right about NOW.