Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten Free)

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Back in February, when the weather was still cold and snowy, we decided to throw a winter chili party. We figured that it would be a great way to get everyone together and shake away the winter blues with some warm chili and lots of wine. We invited our friends who live in the city and made two big batches of chili: a Moroccan beef chili with raisins (that I will share with you at some point) and Steve’s vegetable chili. As always we made too much and had chili in the freezer for weeks afterwards. But it was worth it. The party was a hit. Everyone loved the food and, more importantly, the chance to hang out with everyone and catch up (or in some cases, meet for the first time).DSC05126

When it came time for dessert, I wanted to give people a couple of options. So, I made my mom’s pasta flora and for the second option, I decided to try a recipe I had bookmarked months before and was always curious about. It’s a recipe for brownies that uses only ground almonds and no flour at all (so it’s naturally gluten free). I’ll be honest, I didn’t think they would come out that great but I was really wrong. More than one person at the party (including myself) proclaimed them some of the best brownies they’ve ever had. They have a deeply rich chocolate taste and they’re chewy with a crackly top. The almond flour gives them a pretty unique texture that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in a brownie before. And the best part? They are made in a single bowl with just a wooden spoon (or sturdy spatula). DSC04984

Almond Flour Brownies (Gluten Free) – Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 9 large or 12-16 smaller brownies

Note: This recipe is all about the cocoa you use. Choose a good brand (like Valrhona) of  cocoa.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-process or natural
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups almond flour
3 large eggs
Flaky sea salt for topping (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8″ square pan or 9″ round pan; either should be at least 2″ deep. Place parchment paper in the pan, letting it overhang on both sides, to make it easier to remove brownies.

Place the sugar, butter, and salt in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for about 2 minutes, stopping it every 30 seconds and mixing it with a wooden spoon or a very sturdy spatula.

Add the vanilla and cocoa to the sugar mixture and using the wooden spoon or sturdy spatula, mix them well. Add the baking powder and almond flour and mix with the spoon/spatula until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be getting quite thick.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the eggs to the sugar/cocoa/butter mixture and use the spoon/spatula to mix them until the batter becomes looser and shiny.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges. Sprinkle a few flakes of flaky sea salt on top (optional).

Bake the brownies for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is set and the middle still feels a little wobbly when you touch it (the edges will be more set). A cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center will come out with wet crumbs.

Remove the brownies from the oven and cool them for about 15 minutes before cutting. Once the brownies are cool, cover them tightly with plastic. Store at room temperature for several days or freeze for longer storage (they are delicious straight out of the freezer).

Korean Beef Stir Fry

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I never jumped on the Sriracha bandwagon. I know that everyone loves putting it on top of and inside everything but I’ve always found it a little too bland flavor-wise and too aggressive heat-wise. I have a bottle in the fridge but I rarely use it. So, I was happy to start seeing articles this year about the “new Sriracha,” the “hottest ingredient,” the “sauce of 2016,” all of them referring to gochujang, which I’ve used and loved for a while now.DSC04861 Gochujang comes from Korea. It’s a condiment made traditionally with fermented soybeans, red chili, glutinous rice, and salt. It’s the stuff they put on bibimbap, if you’ve ever had it. It’s medium to very spicy (depending on the brand), mildly sweet and earthy. It’s the kind of condiment you taste and taste again and every time you discover something else in its flavor profile. There are several brands in the U.S. and you can find it at most grocery stores. I really like the Mother In Law’s Kim Chi brand of of sesame gochujang (in the photo above). But I’ve used other brands and all have been good. DSC05111

While you can use gochujang with pretty much anything, it pairs really well with beef. In this recipe, I make a quick marinade for thinly sliced skirt steak and put it in the fridge up to 8 hours, or leave it for 30 minutes on the countertop. Then I stir fry it quickly in a hot pan and it’s done. You can serve it on rice or noodles (in the photo below it lies on top of rice noodles) and add whatever you might have as an accompaniment: sliced carrots or cucumbers, mint leaves, red onion slices, and pretty much anything pickled (in the photo below, I added some pickled yellow beets). It makes a quickly prepared but really satisfying meal.

And if you are one of the many Sriracha fans, I saw a gochujang-flavored Sriracha bottle at the store the other day, though I’ll be sticking to plain gochujang for us.

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Korean Beef Stir Fry

Ingredients:

1 lb skirt steak, sliced into thin strips against the grain
1 tablespoon gochujang
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions:

Combine gochujang, ginger, garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, maple syrup, and soy sauce in a small bowl and mix until combined. Place thinly sliced beef in a large resealable plastic bag (or a medium bowl) and pour marinade on top. Using your hands, massage meat to make sure it’s all coated with marinate. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes, or chill up to 8 hours.

Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high until oil is shimmering. Remove half of meat from marinade, letting excess drip back into bag, and cook in a single layer without moving until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Toss meat and continue to cook, tossing occasionally, until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil and remaining meat.

Serve over rice or noodles. Top with any combination of the following: sliced carrots (pickled or not), sliced cucumbers, slices of red onion (pickled or not), mint leaves, and other pickled vegetable.

Blueberry Coconut Cake

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One of my favorite cooking challenges is using up food that’s about to expire or go bad, in ways that are unexpected or inventive. Last week, my challenge was tricky. I had blueberries that were almost past their prime, shredded coconut that had expired a month ago but seemed fine (I keep it in the fridge, which keeps it fresh longer), and some coconut yogurt that was about to expire. DSC05079

That last one is interesting. It’s a yogurt made with coconut milk, using probiotic bacteria, just like with milk-based yogurt. I had bought it for my vegan friend Lisa who was visiting us, but she didn’t finish it. I tried eating it myself but I found it too rich for my taste, a little like eating thickened coconut cream. So I figured that I could put all three together in a cake. Since I had the coconut yogurt, I decided to adapt the yogurt cake recipe that I love and really amp up the coconut flavor with the shredded coconut. I tasted a single blueberry with a little bit of coconut and found them compatible, so I threw the berries in as well.DSC05082

The result was delicious. The cake is tender and not too sweet. It has a delicate coconut flavor that’s expanded by the toasted coconut topping. The blueberries add a little tartness and a beautiful color contrast. Not only did I not have to throw anything out, we ended up with a breakfast treat that we devoured the next morning. If you can’t find coconut yogurt, you can use regular whole-milk yogurt. It won’t have as strong of a coconut taste but it will still be delicious.DSC05098

Blueberry Coconut Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (135g) blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened), plus 2 tablespoons for topping
3/4 cup coconut yogurt (not coconut-flavored yogurt; if unavailable, replace with whole milk Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 9″x5″ loaf pan with a little vegetable oil and cover with parchment paper leaving some overhang on both of the long sides.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Add blueberries and stir with a spoon.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, shredded coconut, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Fold in dry ingredients and blueberries just to blend.

Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut on top. Bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. If coconut topping is getting too brown, cover with tin foil.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack and let cool completely.

Carrot Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing

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I went to Cyprus last week and spent it with my family. It happened to be both my sister’s birthday and mine, the first time I was there to celebrate my birthday with them since I left 26 years ago. Unlike here in the U.S., when it’s your birthday in Cyprus you are the one who treats people to drinks or dinner. So my sister and I took everyone out to their favorite restaurant, a Syrian restaurant, where the waiters all have stories of their families back home, or what is left of it. It’s hard to reconcile the delicious salads and dips they place in front of you with the place of death and destruction they come from.

It also happened to be Greek Orthodox Easter week while I was there. It’s a different kind of celebration in Cyprus, less commercial than in the U.S. (there’s no Easter bunny or bonnets to be found), more traditional and somewhat religious. At midnight on Saturday, people go to church to hear the “good news” and receive the “holy light” on their candles, to bring it back and bless their home. Groups of young men explode fireworks (every year some lose fingers, hands, or lives) and light up a huge bonfire behind the church “to burn Judas”, though no effigy is ever burned. On Friday, the day before, my parents got an alert from the home security company that outdoor furniture was being stolen from homes, to be used on Saturday night’s bonfires. As I said, somewhat religious.

My youngest niece decided that her favorite game was to fake-face paint each other, with dry brushes, describing each step so that we could visualize it. Now I’m painting your face green, since you are a frog. And now I’m drawing two big eyes with my brush. We played for hours until I collapsed. She could have gone for a few hours more. My oldest niece, a teenager, showed me the music she listens to and I recognized about 1% of it. She told me that she’d like me to be cooler. I said I’d try.
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Carrot Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing – Slightly adapted from The Bitten Word

Ingredients:

1 tbsp harissa
1/6 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 lb carrots, grated on large teardrop holes or coarsely shredded in a food processor
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 oz feta, crumbled

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk the harissa with the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and whisk again.

In a large bowl, add the carrots and raisins, and pour the harissa dressing on top. Toss well.

Sprinkle parsley and feta on top and serve at room temperature.

Whole Wheat Apple Cider Baked Donuts

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I didn’t grow up with school-provided lunches or even school cafeterias where students sit down to eat. In all grades, school ended around 1:30pm and we all went home for lunch. There was a food vendor in the school that worked out of a small room with no tables and with one single window from which we could order sodas and sandwiches if we wanted them during class breaks.

However, I remember that for a little while when I was in elementary school, we would get a school provided mid-morning snack. I was going to an elementary school that a lot of refugee children attended (from the 1974 war in Cyprus), so the government was providing some food to those schools. It consisted of a giant pot filled with sweetened condensed milk that had been thinned with water to the consistency of regular milk and heated over a gas flame until it was almost boiling. We all brought our own mugs and a teacher would stand next to the steaming pot with a big ladle and fill our mugs with the sweet drink. Sometimes we could even get seconds.

But even better was what came with it. A plump donut, often filled with jelly, and covered in white sugar crystals. The combination of the sweet milk and even sweeter donut was what I looked forward to the most at school every day. Now that I think about it, it must have been a terrible idea to give a bunch of elementary school kids a giant sugar spike in the middle of the morning, expecting them to sit quietly in class afterwards.

Today’s recipe is for a different kind of donut. They are cake donuts that are baked, not fried. They are also made partly with whole wheat flour so they are a little more healthy than your regular fried donut. Nevertheless, they pack a ton of flavor from the apple sauce and boiled cider, as well as the maple sugar and cinnamon. They won’t give you the sugar high I probably got back in elementary school, but they will definitely hit the spot.DSC03569

Whole Wheat Apple Cider Baked Doughnuts – Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes 12 donuts

Note: You can buy donut pans at King Arthur Flour or on Amazon. For the boiled apple cider, I highly recommend the one sold by King Arthur Flour. However, the recipe allows for substituting both the donut pans and the boiled cider if you don’t want to buy them.

Ingredients:

Donuts:
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup maple sugar (you may substitute with brown sugar)
1 cup applesauce, unsweetened preferred
4 tablespoons boiled apple cider; or substitute with 6 tablespoons additional applesauce
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour

Topping:
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup white sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans. If you don’t have doughnut pans, you can bake these in a standard muffin tin; they just won’t be doughnuts.

Whisk together the oil, eggs, sugars, applesauce, boiled cider, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until smooth.

Add the flours, stirring with a spatula just until smooth. Do not overmix.

Fill the wells of the doughnut pans nearly to the rim; use about 1/4 cup of batter in each well. If you’re making muffins, fill each well about 3/4 full; the recipe makes about 15, so you’ll need to bake in two batches (unless you have two muffin pans).

Bake the doughnuts for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. If you’re making muffins, they’ll need to bake for 20 to 23 minutes.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and loosen their edges. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack.

In a medium bowl, mix the 2 tablespoons of cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar. While the doughnuts are still warm (but no longer fragile), gently toss them in the cinnamon-sugar. If you’ve made muffins, sprinkle their tops with cinnamon-sugar.

Pickled Ramps

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There are many ways to know that spring has arrived in New York city. Daffodils bloom and provide some of the first splashes of color in an otherwise still winter grey city. Bradford pear trees do their own blooming, brilliantly white, like a bright memory of the snow that was covering their branches just weeks ago. People seem to blossom too. New Yorkers are happier, nicer, they start to wear colors other than black and dark blue. The parks fill up during lunch time, despite the chill that is often still in the air.

But the most certain sign that spring is here is the arrival of ramps. Sometimes called wild leeks or wild garlic, they were pretty much unknown to most New Yorkers a few years ago. But they became the ‘it’ food one year and since then they have been arriving in larger and larger quantities every year. They deserve all the attention. They have a distinct garlic scent and flavor but they are so mild they can be eaten raw. The leaves can be added to salads, used to make pesto, or simply sautéed in olive oil for a great side dish. I like to chop them and add them to tomato sauce for pasta.

The stems and bulbs are wonderful chopped and sautéed themselves or sprinkled raw over salads. But my favorite way of eating them is pickled. Left in a sweet and salty brine for a day or two, they transform into irresistible batons of complex flavor. I chop the pickled stems and sprinkle them over pretty much everything: salads, chicken, fish, vegetables. Though I’ve been known to eat some of them straight out of the jar too. They are that good.DSC05077

Pickled Ramps

Ingredients:

About 8oz ramps
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Directions:

Wash the ramps and trim off the roots. Some ramps will have a slimy layer on the stems. Remove it. Cut the ramps in two, where the leaves start and the top part of the stems ends. Reserve the leaves for something else. Place all the stems in a 1-pint jar (make sure they are not packed too tight; leave room for the brine). Add fennel seeds and peppercorns.

In a medium saucepan, add vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour boiling brine in jar over ramps almost all the way to the top, leaving about 1/4 inch (you’ll have some brine left over). Seal jar with lid and let cool. Place in refrigerator.

Ramps are ready to eat after a couple of hours but they are much better after at least 24 hours. Kept in refrigerator they will last for up to two weeks.

Vegan Chocolate Banana Muffins

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Our friend Lisa visited us from Florida last weekend. She’s my formerly omnivore friend who became vegan and broke my heart (though, of course, I still love her to death). We have been friends since our college days and we hung out over the weekend with yet another college friend, Brad, who lives in NY with his partner Denny. Even though we’ve known each other for 23 years, we still never run out of things to talk about. On Saturday, we took the train to the New York Botanic Gardens to see the cherry trees but we were a little too early. The majority of them were still bare, though a few were in full bloom, resplendent in pink and white flowers. We walked around, took pictures and then hopped in a cab to go back to our apartment for Mai Tais and dinner.DSC05041

With everyone’s help in the kitchen, I prepared a full vegan meal that ended up being very satisfying, even for the non-vegans among us. I started us off with crispy broccoli in black vinegar and then served a sweet potato, kohlrabi, and peanut stew, topped with some Korean gochujang paste and crushed peanuts. We finished with freshly baked vegan chocolate chip cookies. I tried the recipe from Ovenly for the first time and though we ended up eating two cookies each, I will just say that I will stick with my favorite non-vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe in the future.

But the real hit was breakfast. I saw this recipe for vegan chocolate banana muffins many months ago on Chocolate & Zucchini and saved it for Lisa’s next visit. I finally made them last Friday and we ate them throughout the weekend. I can’t believe I’m going to say this about a vegan baked good, but these muffins are amazing! They are just dense enough that they feel substantial and not cake-y, but they are delightfully moist and tender. The flavor is pure banana and chocolate, along with some deeper notes from the coconut sugar that I added to the recipe. And the turbinado sugar on top adds a playful crunch to each bite. Altogether, they are really irresistible.
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Vegan Chocolate Banana Muffins – Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

Ingredients:

130 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour
130 grams (1 cup) rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
50 grams (1/4 cup) white sugar
100 grams (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 very ripe bananas, (about 350 grams or 3/4 pound without the skin)
60 ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
60 ml (1/4 cup) virgin and unrefined coconut oil
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (substitute with apple juice if you do not want to use alcohol)
1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar for topping

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 12-muffin muffin pan with muffin liners (or lightly grease and flour the muffin pan).

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, sugars, and chopped chocolate. Stir well to combine. Set aside. In a second medium bowl, use a fork to mash the bananas with the oils, brandy/cognac, and vinegar until thoroughly combined.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones and use a spatula to mix together until no trace of flour remains, without overmixing.

Scoop into the muffin molds, and sprinkle the tops with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned. Let cool on a rack before serving.