Jack O’Lantern Sandwich Cookies

Jack O’Lantern Sandwich Cookies

I didn’t intentionally theme this month based on sandwich cookies, but would that really upset anyone? Sandwich cookies are one of the best desserts – especially when they’re this cute! These Jack O’ Lantern Sandwich Cookies are one of my absolute favorite childhood Halloween memories. I grew up helping my mom make them, and to this day I think they’re one of the most delicious treats I know how to make. The cookies are firm without being crunchy, and they have that wonderful sweet, buttery flavor that evokes a cross between a sugar cookie and a perfectly baked shortbread. Filled with a classic vanilla buttercream frosting, they become the kind of sandwich cookie that packaged cookies only dream of being.

The beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t require any crazy cookie decorating skills. All you have to do is use a great pumpkin cookie cutter (perhaps while you watch The Great Pumpkin), and a knife to slice little triangles in the dough for the eyes and noses of your jack o’ lanterns. A yellow buttercream goes between the cookies, so it looks like the jack o’ lantern has a lit candle inside – no extra skill work required. I like these cookies sans mouths because I think they’re elegant in their simplicity, while still looking fun, and most importantly, delicious. Halloween baking always has the potential to go to a very goofy, over-the-top place, where treats look festive, but not necessarily appetizing. It’s one of my baking mantras to never sacrifice how mouth-wateringly edible something looks in the name of making it look cute.

There are a few things you should know before you make these cookies. The first is that the dough does require time to chill, so plan accordingly. The dough itself comes together in all of about five minutes, so you can make a batch now and be ready to cut and bake it tonight. The second is that these cookies are fairly fragile, so one or two will break no matter what you to do. You’ll want to eat these broken ones immediately, which is fine, since broken cookies have no calories. It’s a well-known scientific fact. That said, as long as you handle them gently, and frost them with the cookie laying on a flat surface, too much breakage won’t be an issue. You can also roll your dough out slightly thicker than the 1/8 of an inch that I usually go for to yield sturdier cookies.

 

Halloween theme aside, this cookie recipe is like the holy grail of roll-and-cut cookie recipes: easy to whip up, buttery without being too soft, crisp without being crunchy, and perfect for all forms of cookie decorating because it’s endlessly versatile. You can use food coloring to make the dough and frosting any color of the rainbow, and cut it into just about any shape you desire. I use this recipe to make Christmas cookies, and heart-shaped cookies for Valentine’s day. You can also substitute any flavor frosting or even a chocolate ganache for the filling, or just bake the cookies a little thicker and top them with frosting and sprinkles – no sandwiching required. Jack O’ Lanterns are easily my favorite way to use this recipe because Halloween is the best, but I won’t blame you if you find yourself loving this recipe for beautiful frosted Christmas cookies instead!

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Jack O'Lantern Sandwich Cookies

Ingredients

Jack O' Lantern Sugar Cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 12 drops yellow food coloring
  • 4 drops red food coloring
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder

Vanilla Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided use
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 2 dashes salt
  • 10 drops yellow food coloring
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Make the cookie dough: cream together butter and sugars. Beat in the yolk, and red and yellow food colorings.

    2. Stir remaining ingredients together, and add to butter mixture. Mix well. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.

    3. Roll dough to 1/8" - 1/4” thickness, and cut into pumpkin shapes with a cookie cutter. Using a small, sharp knife, cut triangle eyes and noses on half of the pumpkins. You can also draw curved lines with the tip of a knife on the surface of the cookies, to mimic the ridges on a real pumpkin - just be careful not to cut all the way through the cookie.

    4. Bake at 350° F for 8 - 10 minutes, or until the edges are just barely, or just about to brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

    5. To make the frosting, cream together butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla, salt, and milk. Stir in remaining powdered sugar. When sugar is completely incorporated, add food coloring and stir until frosting is uniform. Optional: Whip in a stand mixer on high speed, to yield more fluffy, voluminous frosting.

    5. When completely cool, spread the non-face pumpkins with the icing, and top with the pumpkins with faces. DO NOT try to press the top cookies down to make the icing squeeze up through the cut-outs - it will just break the cookies.





Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich (Wedding) Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich (Wedding) Cookies

A year ago today, I married Bobby. It was truly the best day I could ever have imagined, but the planning was incredibly stressful. I did a lot of the detail work myself – I made the invitations and a lot of the centerpieces, which, looking back, I don’t really recommend. I would have enjoyed the planning process a lot more, if I’d been a little more hands-off. One DIY thing that I highly recommend is doing baked goods for wedding favors. But not just any baked goods: these peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookies are absolutely perfect in every way. They’re delicious (we got SO many compliments on them), they freeze very well, and they’re that wonderful combination of salty/sweet, chewy/crunchy – and they look super cute in little boxes, tied with ribbon.

I asked my mom to make the favors for my wedding, partially to save money, and partially to send guests home with a favor that they would actually enjoy having. The wedding best favors are edible, tasty, and of course visually pleasing, and you can personalize them with a simple tag or sticker added to the packaging. We decided on peanut butter and chocolate for the cookies, since I chose a white chocolate raspberry wedding cake – something Bobby would have absolutely no interest in eating. And if you read my last post, you know that peanut butter and chocolate is the only flavor combination in the world, according to Bobby. We were inspired by Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Ganache Sandwich Cookies from Two Peas & Their Pod, and didn’t do a lot to change the look of the cookie itself, because they really are stunning. But the original version wasn’t exactly what I was looking for flavor-wise, or make-ahead-wise, so we had to do some serious recipe experimentation.

The first task was finding a peanut butter cookie recipe that was stiff enough to sandwich without falling apart, but soft enough to give when bitten into, so the frosting wouldn’t squish out the sides. It also had to freeze well, so it could be made ahead of time – I can’t imagine how we would’ve pulled this off if my mom hadn’t been working on them in the months leading up to the wedding. After rounds of testing, with different brands of peanut butter, flourless vs flour-filled dough, (The version we made is not gluten-free, but the original is, so give it a look if you want something gluten-free) and different levels of sweetness, we settled on our cookie, and got to work creating the fillings. We loved the way Two Peas & Their Pod did it, piling on a sweet creamy peanut butter filling and a rich chocolate ganache, but needed to experiment with them to make sure the flavors went perfectly with our peanut butter cookie. The thing about chocolate and peanut butter is that you have to be very careful with the balance of sweetness/saltiness/bitterness to keep the flavor from being cloying or bland. We used my brothers as taste testers, and had them try so many combinations that they actually started joking about wanting to eat anything but wedding cookies. They’ve gotten over it, I think, because the batch I made for this post got eaten in all of two hours, once I’d finished photographing it.

We put three cookies in each favor box, which meant we had to make about 300 of them – 600 peanut butter cookies to sandwich together. Starting about two months out from the wedding, we made the peanut butter cookies and the fillings in large batches, frosted and sandwiched them,  and then froze them. We weighed the dough and the exact amount of frosting that went on each cookie so they’d be perfectly uniform. They keep so well in the freezer, even with the frosting, that when they defrost they taste and feel like they were baked that morning. They’re little peanut butter and chocolate miracles. We put them in favor boxes the evening before the wedding, straight from the freezer. Since the frosting was rock-solid, they were easy to package neatly, and they defrosted perfectly overnight.

The process of making tons of these cookies wedding-perfect is time-consuming and repetitive and demands attention to detail and lots of freezer space. It would be monumentally more difficult to execute for a very large wedding, especially if you’re not already an experienced baker. That said, these can be made literal months in advance – so you’ll have plenty of time to practice, and the effort yields superbly satisfying results. The recipe I’m posting here is scaled to make about 36 sandwich cookies, as opposed to 300, so the concept is perfect for smaller events as well. If you don’t require perfection and uniformity, you can skip weighing the dough and fillings and the results will still be completely delicious. It’s my plan to make these every October 8th for the rest of my life…and freeze a bunch and save them to eat later in the year, because why not? They will always remind me of the most wonderful evening, being surrounded by my friends and family, wearing my princess dress, and marrying the love of my life. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a cookie, but I there’s no cookie better suited than these.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich (Wedding) Cookies

This recipe is heavily adapted from Peanut Butter Chocolate Ganache Sandwich Cookies from Two Peas & Their Pod

Ingredients

Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups flour 300g
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 14 Tbsps butter 198g
  • 1 cup sugar 200g
  • 1 cup brown sugar 215g
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsps peanut butter 284g
  • 2 eggs

Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting

  • 2 Tbsps peanut butter 32g
  • 1 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 Tbsps powdered sugar 25g
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp milk
  • 1 cup powdered sugar 125g

Chocolate Ganache

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 85g
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 Tbsps salted butter 56g
  • 6 Tbsps cocoa 30g

Instructions

  1. Make the cookies: stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cream the butter with the two sugars, and then cream in the peanut butter. Stir in the eggs.

    2. Chill the dough at least 4 hours, or overnight. Roll into 18 g balls, and place on baking sheet. Press the balls with the back of a fork to create a criss-cross pattern on the tops. Chill dough balls while preheating oven to 350 degrees (or while previous tray is baking). Bake for 7 minutes, 40 seconds; turn tray, bake for 2 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

    3. Make the peanut butter frosting by adding all of the ingredients to a mixer in the order listed, and beating until well combined and fluffy. 

    4. To make the chocolate ganache, heat the heavy cream in the microwave for 25 seconds. Pour over chocolate chips in a heavy bowl. Let sit 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Melt the butter, stir in the cocoa until smooth. Combine the two chocolates. Allow to cool to room temperature.

    5. To assemble the cookies, place 8g of ganache (roughly 1/2 Tbsp) on one cookie, and 16g of peanut butter frosting on another cookie. Press the two cookies gently together. 

    Cookies will be good in the freezer for up to a year, but will be at their best quality if used within 4 months of freezing. 





 

 

Bobby’s Surprise 30th Birthday Dinner (and Reese’s Cake)!

Throwing a surprise party is not for the faint of heart. All the planning and subterfuge is exhausting, particularly when you’re virtually incapable of asking for help. I had planned to go all out with a huge party for Bobby’s 30th, but then realized that I had neither the money nor the will to pull that off, so I changed tack – I threw him a surprise dinner with all of his closest friends. It was easy to switch since I realized this early enough, and a small gathering fit his personality better than a giant blow out would have anyway – thank goodness for my sanity.

I made a dinner reservation at The Smith in Penn Quarter, DC, which is an incredible spot. It’s got a very bright, lively atmosphere and the decor is all subway tiles and huge, open windows. It’s very New York cool. The food and drinks are great too – for cocktails I like the “Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em” because I’m a mezcal fan – it’s fruity and smoky and perfect for a warm summer evening. I didn’t take a lot of photos at dinner because I’m just plain bad at remembering to do things like that. I get caught up in the moment and somehow always regret not having photographic evidence – there’s got to be a sweet spot between living in the now and capturing it for later, but I haven’t quite found it yet.

. ……  

I had our friends go to the restaurant and get seated, and then I brought Bobby a few minutes later. We walked in, and I made a bee-line towards them. Bobby followed, confused of course, because we hadn’t even asked for a table, and then realized what was going on. If you’ve ever thrown a surprise party, you’ll know what a pleasure it is to see all the planning finally come together. I turned around to watch Bobby’s face break into a huge grin as everyone shouted “Surprise!” Or, more accurately, I think they shouted “Bobby!!!” – I was a little distracted at that point, overwhelmed with sheer relief that we’d pulled it off. There was lots of hugging and Bobby shouting “Holy shit! You guys tricked me!” Some of our friends live a few hours away, so it was especially nice to be reunited with everyone for such a fun occasion.

After dinner, we went to the hotel suite I’d booked, so that we could have a few more drinks – and cake! – without spending all of our money. Spending all of your money on drinks at bars in DC is absurdly easy to do if you start too early – pre-gaming is the only way to avoid it. We toasted to Bobby, and to turning 30, and to all being able to celebrate together, and watched him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. The cake I made was always going to be a Reese’s cake, because as far as Bobby is concerned, there is no other flavor profile worth his time. When you’ve been with someone long enough, and made a good number of peanut butter and chocolate birthday cakes, you have to stretch a little to make the concept seem fresh and exciting. Thankfully, there are more than a few ways to cake a Reese’s, and the internet led me to this beautiful cake from Life Love and Sugar. 

I didn’t realize at the time that I was going to post this as anything other than a quick Instagram, or I would’ve taken a better picture!

The issue with making the cake was that, although I’ve made plenty of cakes in the past, I am in no way a professional at decorating them. I don’t think I understood crumb coats at all until about two years ago. Two days before the party I was at Michael’s buying a cake turntable so that I could attempt to frost this all-important 30th birthday cake with those pretty, intentionally textured, Instagram-worthy sides. After a little trial and error, and a batch of  peanut butter frosting that separated for some frustratingly unknowable reason, it was done, and I’m definitely not mad at how it turned out. It’s gratifying to know that the hours I’ve spent watching cake frosting videos on Insta have contributed to my life in such a tangible way. I’m not including the recipe here because I didn’t change anything about it – follow the link above for directions!

We did a little bar hopping later in the night – checking out Cuba Libre to make fools of ourselves attempting to salsa dance, and then heading to a couple of much quieter places near Chinatown. Our friends are all in that stage of life where they’re getting married or buying a house or getting a new puppy, so we had a lot to catch up on. A little after one we all piled into an Uber to pay a visit to Mr. Abe Lincoln. The DC monuments at night are breathtaking in a way that they never are during the day. There are little-to-no crowds, and everything is lit up with spotlights. It’s incredibly peaceful, and a perfect way to wind down the night, after you’ve spent a lot of time in noisy bars. You can walk down along the reflecting pool to the WWII memorial, and revel in the warm summer air – sans the sun making you all sweaty and 8,000 other tourists hurrying you along. If you’re like us, you’ll bring a “water bottle” with you to keep your buzz going – just a suggestion.

When we were all too hungry and tired to continue our impromptu tour, we returned to our hotel to stuff ourselves with pizza (shout out to Papa John’s for being open until 4am) and more cake, and eventually pass out. The surprise went exactly as planned, and the whole night was relaxing and fun, and about as unpretentious as you can get in a city full of hipsters and politicians. Bobby has said over and over that he truly had no idea that the surprise was going to happen. I never realized I was so sneaky. Even if you don’t have sneaky plans to throw a surprise dinner/party anytime soon, make sure you check out that Reese’s cake – and definitely see the monuments at night if you’re in town.





 

 

 

Sriracha Shrimp Skewers with Pineapple

Sriracha Shrimp Skewers with Pineapple

Since I’m in “do summer things” mode, I’ve been super excited to experiment with some grilling recipes. Now that we’ve been getting the occasional cool-but-not-too-cold summer evening, I’ve been obsessed with eating outdoors. Dinner straight from the grill is one of those magical things that you can only do when the weather permits, so it’s important to take advantage of those clear, golden evening hours whenever possible.

My favorite grilled foods are shrimp and pineapple, so figuring out what to make was a no-brainer. But I wanted to create a marinade for the shrimp that would knock anyone’s socks off. Recently, I bought a bottle of Sriracha for the first time in about a year. It was one of those things where I ate too much of it, and then couldn’t stand it for a long time. Now that it’s back in my life and I remember how wonderful it is, it only made sense to put it in my marinade. I added it to some pineapple juice, garlic, salt, ginger, and coconut milk. I can’t explain why – please tell me if you know what crazy science is at work here – but coconut milk and pineapple juice make the shrimp take on this tender, buttery texture. I’d never realized that I wanted shrimp to melt in my mouth until I cooked them in this marinade, and now I don’t know how I went without it for this long. Don’t worry if you, like me, abhor the flavor of coconut. I promise – cross my heart, hope to die – that you cannot taste it on the shrimp. Coconut milk doesn’t even smell like coconut.

I let my shrimp marinate for maybe 30 minutes before cooking it, and it picked up amazing flavor. It’s mildly sweet and salty with just a tiny kick from the Sriracha and ginger. The pineapple juice gives it a citrus-y flavor that works beautifully with the ginger, and of course makes it pair perfectly with the grilled pineapple. I like this recipe because it doesn’t take a million years to prepare and you can cook for a lot of people at once since you’re doing it on the grill.  You can make rice and big pitcher of lemonade/sangria to go with dinner while the shrimp is getting all delicious in the marinade, and let the grill heat up while you preparing the skewers.

I discovered throughout the process of testing this recipe is that skewers are a million times easier to cook if you only put one kind of food on them. Trying to cook skewers with shrimp, pineapple, and zucchini chunks – and make sure that everything cooked evenly and properly – was just annoying. Maybe there’s a secret I don’t know about the art of the kebob, but threading meat and produce on separate skewers just makes sense. You don’t have to worry about uncooked shrimp touching pineapple where it won’t get enough heat (my main concern), and you don’t have to cut your pineapple and zucchini to precise shrimp-sized pieces so they’ll cook evenly with the shrimp.

If you don’t like grilling or you don’t like shrimp, don’t worry – You can cook the shrimp on the stove with similar results, or you can use the marinade on chicken. I cooked some chicken in it, and made bowls for dinner a few days ago with rice, Sriracha yogurt, sauteed zucchini, and crushed pita chips, and it was delicious. However you use it, this marinade will make your food taste like summer – especially if you have dinner outside on the patio, with a cold drink and you favorite people. And if you really want to take it over the top, you can always have Balsamic Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream for dessert. Just a suggestion.




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Sriracha Shrimp Marinade

Servings 4 servings

Ingredients

Shrimp Skewers

  • 1 1/2 lbs raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 2 Tbsps sriracha
  • 2 Tbsps coconut milk (I used canned coconut milk)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger

Pineapple and Zucchini Skewers

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 2 cups pineapple chunks - about 1/2 a fresh pineapple
  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp fresh black pepper

Instructions

  1. Note: Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before use.

    Combine all marinade ingredients in a shallow bowl. Place shrimp in the marinade and stir until all of it it well coated. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

    2. Slice pineapple and zucchini into bite-sized chunks. Season the zucchini with olive oil, salt and pepper. Thread onto skewers, leaving a little space between each piece. 

    3. Pre-heat the grill. Thread shrimp onto skewers, keep separate from those with the pineapple and zucchini.

    4. Cook skewers over medium-high heat on grill until shrimp curl and turn pink/lose transparency. Pineapple and zucchini should cook until tender - about 4-6 minutes on direct heat, and then move to a section of the grill with indirect heat to continue getting soft. Sprinkle the cooked shrimp with dried parsley, if you're feeling fancy. 

 

 


Balsamic Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream

Balsamic Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream

I’m very big on doing seasonal activities because I think those are the times that I stop and really appreciate the present. Making and eating ice cream both seem like perfect ways to relax and spend a little time really enjoying summer before the insanity of fall/holidays/back to school, etc. come rushing towards us. Not to mention it’s the perfect way to impress guests at summer parties. I can’t think of anything more wonderfully extra than scooping up some homemade ice cream at a barbecue or pool party.

Ice Cream Dishes from Crate and Barrel

Ice cream is one of those things that seems difficult to make, but I think that’s just because it requires several hours and special equipment to do it right. Most people (myself included, until just recently) are perfectly happy buying their ice cream in tubs from the store – making your own in this day and age can feel something akin to churning your own butter! But what are you to do when you think of an amazing ice cream concept that you can’t buy? Well, first you get an ice cream maker. I got this one and it works absolutely beautifully. It’s a little on the pricey side, but it’s easy to use, easy to clean, and does a great job. It’s an especially good investment if you want to make unique flavors or you’re looking to create healthier treats by controlling the sugar you’re putting in.

A while ago, I bought some cherry balsamic vinegar from Secolari, a specialty shop in Columbia, Md. And when I got home, I put some of it on chocolate ice cream because the man at the store told me to. I don’t always do what people at stores recommend, but this guy seemed to know his stuff. Suffice it to say my life was changed forever. I go through phases where the only dessert I want to eat is ice cream, but the usual flavors can get pretty boring. Cherry balsamic vinegar on ice cream re-energizes it in a whole new way. It adds a warmth and slight savoriness to the flavor that is anything but dull. I decided it was time to take those flavors and create a brand new, swirled Balsamic Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream and I am so glad I did.

For the base of my ice cream I started with Alton Brown’s Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe, from Good Eats. By itself it’s near perfect, although I did add the tiniest pinch of salt to help the chocolate-y flavor really stand out. Then, I cooked fresh cherries with a little sugar and a good helping of the cherry balsamic vinegar to create the sauce I wanted to swirl into the ice cream. I’m not going to lie to you – this ice cream is basically irresistible. It’s like a perfect chocolate covered cherry translated into something even more decadent. It’s not so heavy on the balsamic that kids won’t like it – although the second time you make it you could definitely add more to amplify the flavor contrast.

The balance of ice cream to cherry balsamic swirl is just right, so you’re not overwhelmed by the cherry parts, but you’re not digging through your container searching for them either. The small cherry pieces in the sauce get kind of chewy when frozen, giving every bite a really wonderful texture. Of course I couldn’t just well enough alone and enjoy this ice cream But not just any hot fudge – salted chocolate hot fudge. If you like salty-sweet things then this is essentially compulsory – the sweet ice cream with the tangy cherries and salty-sweet sauce is nothing short of magic. I made my sauce from scratch, adapting this New York Times recipe. It’s very quick and easy to make and tastes so much better than the stuff you get out of a jar. I actually hadn’t made my own hot fudge before this, but I don’t plan on going back.

Creating this recipe has cause me to fall down an ice cream rabbit hole of sorts. Realizing that I can make any flavor of ice cream that I can dream up exist in just a few hours is weirdly surreal. I always knew that was possible, but making a big batch of any ice cream you want at home seems too good to be true. Thanks goodness for What a wonderful thing to discover mid-July.  DC at this time of year is incredibly humid and very hot so it’s important to eat ice cream almost every day in the name of keeping your sanity. That’s the real reason I’m sharing this recipe and encouraging you to go buy that ice cream maker. I want to help save your sanity. I’m just trying to make the world a better place.

I suddenly have new-found respect for ice cream parlors.




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Balsamic Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream

Chocolate ice cream recipe very slightly adapted from Alton Brown's Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe.

Salted hot fudge recipe slightly adapted from Doris's Salty Hot Fudge Recipe, by Kim Severson in the New York Times.

Ingredients

Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar 250g
  • 2 tsps vanilla exract
  • 1 tiny pinch salt

Balsamic Cherry Swirl

  • 8oz fresh cherries
  • 2 Tbsps sugar
  • 2 Tbsps water
  • 3 Tbsps cherry balsamic vinegar

Salted Chocolate Hot Fudge

  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Instructions

Balsamic Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream

  1. Note: This recipe does require an ice cream maker - Makes 1 1/2 Quarts

    Whisk together cocoa and 1 cup of half and half in a sauce pan over medium heat, until combined. Stir in the rest of the half and half and the heavy cream. Bring to a simmer. 

    2. Whisk egg yolks until they're slightly lighter in color, and then gradually stir in the sugar. When the cream mixture begins to simmers, remove from heat and temper into the eggs and sugar by adding a little at a time until 1/3 has been added. Pour everything in the bowl back into the sauce pan and stir until well combined. Return the pan to the stove over low heat. Stir frequently, until the mixture thickens and reaches 175 degrees F. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. 

    3. Pour the mixture into a large, shallow dish, and allow to sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract, and transfer the dish to the refrigerator or freezer, covered loosely with paper towel until it reaches 50 degrees F or below - This usually take around 2 hours. You can leave it overnight, but once it cools to 50 degrees, cover the dish tightly. 

    4. While the ice cream mix is chilling, make the balsamic cherry sauce. Pit and quarter the cherries and add to a sauce pan with the sugar. Let cook for 8-10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally until the cherries soften and release a lot of juice. Add the water and balsamic vinegar and cook for an additional five minutes. The mixture will thicken some as it cooks, but should remain fairly thin. Pour into bowl and chill in the fridge until you are ready to use it. This sauce can be stored in an airtight container for about a week, so you can prepare it ahead of time. 

    5. Churn the ice cream. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and process according to the directions for your machine. Add your tiny pinch of salt just before turning on the ice cream maker. While churning, place a 9 inch loaf pan in the freezer. 

    6. After about 25-30 minutes the ice cream should look like soft serve. At this point, turn off the machine and remove the loaf plan from the freezer. Scoop about 1/5 of the ice cream into the pan, and spread it into an even layer. Top with 1/5 of the balsamic cherry sauce, and continue working in layers like this until you're out of ice cream and sauce. Cover the pan with foil and freeze for at least 2-3 hours to let it solidify. 


Salted Chocolate Hot Fudge

  1. Melt together the butter, and unsweetened chocolate in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add cocoa, sugar, and heavy cream, and stir until the sauce is completely smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in salt and vanilla. Pour over your favorite ice cream. 

    This sauce will keep for at least a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad

Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad

There are two important things to understand about this recipe for Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad. The first is that it’s hilariously American, as is the case with all of my recipes that approach cuisines from other countries. The second is that it’s absolutely delicious regardless of authenticity. The inspiration for this concept came from my first experience with a crispy rice salad at Doi Moi in D.C. Their food is Southeast Asian, and so delicious – I definitely recommend a trip if you’re near 14th street. Their crispy rice salad involves fermented pork, which I have never worked with before, so I decided to combine the concept with something a little more familiar: orange chicken.

I have wild dreams of someday being one of those people who just throws all kinds of interesting ingredients into a dish without a second thought. I love trying new foods and flavors, and I make a conscious effort to order outside of my comfort zone at restaurants, but sometimes you just have to stick with some of what you know when you’re trying a new recipe concept. The point of that being that the sauce for my orange chicken started with a Panda Express copycat recipe, and I haven’t really done that much to it. I’m okay with that however, as Panda Express orange chicken is a delicious gift from the heavens.

The crispy rice is of course the real standout of this salad, and the whole reason for it’s existence. I didn’t even know that crispy rice was a thing until a few months ago, but the version I made up for this recipe is one of my new favorite things. I started with a recipe from Ayesha Curry which set me on the right path flavor and texture-wise. I flavored mine with Greek yogurt, lemon, dill, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Her recipe calls for crisping the rice in a pan on the stove, but mostly I just kept burning things that way. I found it much easier to get the results I wanted by toasting the rice on a tray in the oven. The result is crisp, slightly chewy, very flavorful rice that clumps together into bites like croutons in the salad.

This salad could easily have gone in the direction of very bad for you but with summer coming I figured I’d keep it light. I use grilled chicken instead of fried, and loaded base of the salad with spinach, broccoli and cucumber, and topped it with some cashews for added crunch and nutrition. I think a variety of textures is what separates a decent salad from a great one – they can get a bit boring if every bite is the same. This salad has a combination of crunchy and chewy and soft components that combine with the bright flavor of the orange chicken, and the lightly spicy crispy rice, to make a pretty perfect meal.

This salad is a perfect start to break away from a typical boring lunch time. You can only eat Caesar salad so many times in a row before you want to stab yourself with your fork. Not that there’s anything wrong with Caesar salad. Crispy Rice Orange Chicken Salad is as always, open to interpretation. I invite you to try it with lemon chicken or switch out the cashews for pecans. Maybe add roasted Brussels sprouts in place of the broccoli. Just promise me that whatever you do, you’ll keep the crispy rice – It’s truly something different and wonderful, and I can’t wait to make it again.




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Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad

Orange Chicken Sauce adapted from Food.com's Panda Express Copycat Orange Chicken 


Ingredients

Crispy Rice

  • 3 cups cooked rice (1 cup uncooked)
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt 61g
  • 2 Tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 tsps red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 tsps dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Orange Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken breast
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil - divided use
  • 1 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)
  • 3 Tbsps soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsps rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup green onion, chopped
  • 2 tsps garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsps cornstarch

Salad

  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 cup diced cucumber, de-seeded
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted cashews

Instructions

  1. Prepare the crispy rice. Stir together the cooked rice, yogurt, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, dill, pepper, and salt until well mixed. Spread into one even layer on a baking tray lined with foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, stir the rice around on the tray, and bake for another 30 minutes. It's done when the top of the rice has browned and the clumps are crispy on the edges and soft inside. Once the rice has cooled slightly, transfer to a cutting board and chop larger clumps into bite-sized pieces. 

    2. While the rice bakes, make the orange chicken. Slice the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and sautee in a skillet over high heat, with a Tbsp of olive oil. Remove to the side. To make the sauce, combine orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice wine in a small bowl and set aside. Using the same skillet from the chicken, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Stir together the green onion, ginger, garlic, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and chili flakes and add to the hot skillet. Cook for about a minute until fragrant, and then add the orange juice mixture. 

    3. Let the sauce come to a simmer, over medium-heat, about 9 minutes. Do not let it come to a full boil. Stir together the corn starch and water, and add to the sauce. Stir gently for an additional 3 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Lower heat and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the chicken, stirring until well-coated.

    4. To assemble the salad, fill a bowl with chopped spinach, diced cucumber, broccoli florets, and cashews. Top with a generous helping of orange chicken and crispy rice. Enjoy!

    Note: Leftover orange sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. 


Cherry Blossom Bites

Cherry Blossom Bites

I live just outside Washington, DC ( seriously it’s a 5 minute drive/Metro ride) – so I have a front row seat to our Cherry Blossom Festival, in March/April, long before cherries hit our grocery stores at reasonable prices. And all the Festival does is make me wish that cherries were in season, because I love them more than just about any other fruit. (Except raspberries, because they’re the best.) Finally, finally, it’s time to celebrate cherries being in season. These Cherry Blossom Bites are an excellent way to use the cherries that are abundant this time of year, especially if you’re like me, and you’ve been buying more than you can reasonably consume on your own.

Cherry Blossom Bites were inspired by a similar hors d’oeurve that was served at the cocktail hour for my wedding last October. They were simple puff pastry, with goat cheese and a sweetened cherry compote on top, and they were lovely. For this recipe, I’ve kept the puff pastry, but I’ve used cream cheese instead of goat cheese.  Cream cheese is less expensive, and more useful to have extra of. You don’t really notice a difference between the two when they’re packed into these little bites. I don’t know exactly what went into the cherries for the version at my wedding, but I used fresh cherries, softened and reduced with a little orange juice, and cloves. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, know that a pot of cherries, orange juice, and cloves heating on the stove smells like absolute happiness.

To add some sweetness and extra crunch, I created a streusel topping using chopped up bits of the leftover puff pastry, combined with sliced almonds and brown sugar. It really takes these bites to the point where they’re a perfect combination of sweet, salty, and tart. They’re a little chewy and plenty crispy, and the overall impact is what I imagine it would be like if you took a really good cheese board and captured all of it’s best parts in a single bite. I’d dare to say these are actually better than the ones from my wedding.

Figuring out how to bake these was something of an adventure, because I don’t usually put puff pastry into mini muffin pans. Puff pastry needs room to expand, so it doesn’t end up too chewy or over-cooked. After some trial and failure with a silicone mold, I found that the simplest method was also the best: I cut the puff pastry into 1 1/2 inch squares and just pressed them into the mini muffin pans. No cutting circles or trying to squish them in neatly, which is always a bonus in my book.

The rest of the process for making these is fairly quick – the cherries only need to cook for about 15 minutes, and the streusel can be prepared in the meantime. I made my own puff pastry, but you can speed up the process even more by buying it in pre-made sheets. These would be a perfect, unexpected treat to bring to summer parties and barbecues. They’d also make a great quick breakfast or snack that you can whip up ahead and then munch on throughout the week. They taste like dessert, but don’t have very much sugar added at all – it’s only in the topping – so they still fit into a healthy lifestyle. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.




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Cherry Blossom Bites

Ingredients

Puff Pastry

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup very cold water
  • 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter (do not soften)

Cherry Blossom Bites

  • 28 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp water - divided use
  • 2 Tbsps orange juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 Tbsps brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsps slivered almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped puff pastry bits

Instructions

  1. If you are making the puff pastry: Stir together flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the bowl. Pour in water gradually, while stirring the mixture - add just enough water to get everything combined into a rough dough. You don't want the butter creamed into the flour, you want it to stay in chunks - this is what causes the dough to form those beautiful, flaky layers in the oven.

    2. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface. Form it into a rectangle, and gently roll out until it's about a half inch thick. Fold the bottom third up into the middle, and fold the top third down on top of that. Turn it 90 degrees, add more flour to prevent sticking, and roll it out again. Repeat this process three more times, adding flour as needed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the filling. You can also freeze it for about 10 minutes before using, if your filling is already made.

    Note: While making this dough, you need to work quickly, with very cold water and butter, to prevent the butter from melting into the dough. 

    3. Pit the cherries and cut them into halves or quarters - a mix of both is good. Place in a small sauce pan over medium heat with 1/4 cup water, orange juice and cloves. Stir occaisonally, until the cherries have gotten soft and released a lot of juice. Combine 1 Tbsp of water with the cornstarch, and add to the pot of cherries. Continue stirring until the cherry mixture has thickened, and then remove from heat.

    4. Soften cream cheese in the microwave in a small bowl, so that it's soft enough to be piped, but not melted. Transfer to a piping bag. 

    5. Roll the puff pastry out into a sheet, about 1/4 inch think. Cut 1 1/2 inch squares and place them into two un-greased mini muffin tins. Refrigerate the pans while you make the streusel topping - There should be a decent-sized section of puff pastry left over to use for this.

    5. Spread the brown sugar out on a cutting board, and add a 3 inch piece of the puff pastry. Coat it with brown sugar, and then start chopping it into tiny pieces. The brown sugar keeps it from sticking to itself, and becoming impossible to work with. Keep working until you have 1/4 cup of chopped puff pastry. Scoop this into a bowl with the excess brown sugar. Chop slivered almonds into small pieces and add to the mixture. Stir until well combined. 

    6. Assemble the tarts: Pipe about 1/2 tsp of cream cheese into the center of each square of puff pastry. Top with 1 tsp of the cherries, followed by 1/2 tsp of the streusel topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the puff pastry turn a golden brown. 


Sunshine Curry Crispy Chicken Sandwiches

Sunshine Curry Crispy Chicken Sandwiches

Sandwiches are my favorite food. Hands down, no question – food enveloped in other food is the best way to eat anything. I’m including quesadillas and hot dogs in this category because I love them, but I promise I won’t fight you if you don’t believe they’re sandwiches. One thing I think we can all agree on is that a really good crispy chicken sandwich is one of the best things in life. When I’ve got flavorful breading with a nice crunch surrounding moist, perfectly cooked chicken, all enveloped in a hearty roll with delicious toppings, there is almost nothing I would rather eat.

Marinating chicken in a sour cream mixture is a great way to help ensure that the chicken stays tender through the cooking process. When I was working on my Sunshine Curry Dip recipe, it occurred to me that it would make a delicious chicken marinade, so I plopped a bunch into a Ziplock with a couple of raw chicken breasts, and let it sit overnight to get all delicious. I breaded the chicken and baked it in the oven, because I’m not always up for the process that is deep frying. Not having a deep fryer, I just do it on the stove, and it’s a bit of a mess – really only worth it when I’m making food for people besides myself and Bobby. So, baked crispy chicken sandwiches are where it’s at these days.

It goes without saying that baking something in the oven will never yield the same results as frying it. However, there are a lot of methods out there for baking chicken to get perfectly crispy breading that doesn’t get soggy or fall apart. For this recipe, I dried my chicken breasts with paper towel to remove a lot of the marinade, leaving just enough to help the breading stick. Then I dredged the chicken pieces in the breadcrumbs, set them on a cooling rack, and refrigerated the whole thing for about a half hour. Here’s the really important part: I took the cooling rack out of the refrigerator, plopped the whole thing on a tray lined with foil, and lightly spritzed each piece of chicken with olive oil spray. This method keeps the chicken from sitting directly on the tray, so the breading on the underside doesn’t get soft. Another bonus is that you barely need to use any oil: just a quick spray on each side (flip them gently) was enough for beautiful color and proper crispiness.

For the breading, I put curry powder along with salt, pepper, and paprika into some Italian breadcrumbs, to help the flavor from the marinade really shine through. I topped my sandwiches with avocado mashed with a little lime and cayenne, and a cabbage slaw, which is really just the Sunshine Curry Dip stirred in with shredded cabbage, to give the sandwich a little extra crunch and tang. (‘Crunch and Tang’ sounds like one of those weird animal duos, like a bear who is bffs with a monkey). The tart flavor of the cabbage slaw works beautifully with the mild avocado, and the combination of textures from the toppings and the crispy chicken really make this sandwich a winner.

This concept would be easy to double/triple for a large group. You could just set the chicken out on a platter and let everyone go nuts with the toppings. This idea works especially well for picky eaters. Apparently there are people in the world who don’t want avocado on a sandwich – you really meet all kinds these days. I served these sandwiches with potato chips, but you could just as easily throw a salad on the side, if you’re not trying to completely ruin your diet. Although I mean, the chicken is baked, and cabbage and avocado are involved, so this sandwich is basically a salad all by itself. I’ll leave it at that and let you contemplate if a salad on bread is still a salad. Although your head probably still hurts from trying to decide if a quesadilla is a sandwich.




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Sunshine Curry Crispy Chicken Sandwiches

Servings 4 sandwiches

Ingredients

Sunshine Curry Dip (Marinade)

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 6 Tbsps Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tsps curry powder
  • 1 1/2 tsps Sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsps white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 Sunshine Spice Blend

Sunshine Curry Crispy Chicken Sandwiches

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 avocados, mashed
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 4 sandwich rolls

Instructions

  1. Mix together all of the ingredients for the Sunshine Curry Dip. Add about 1 cup to a gallon-size Ziplock bag. Slice each chicken breast into 3-4 large pieces, and add to the bag. Seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight if possible. 

    2. Stir together bread crumbs, curry powder, paprika, turmeric, 1 tsp of salt, and the pepper in a shallow bowl. When you are ready to bread the chicken, remove pieces from the marinade and wipe most of the marinade off - leave just a little to help the breading stick. Dredge them in the breadcrumb mixture until well coated, and set them on a cooling rack. Place the cooling rack in the refrigerator for half an hour, to help the breading set further. 

    3. Remove the cooling rack from the refrigerator, and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Lightly spray each piece of chicken with olive oil cooking spray, and bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, gently flip the pieces of chicken, and give them another spray of olive oil. Bake in the oven for another 8 minutes. 

    4. While the chicken is baking, prepare the toppings. Mash together the avocado, red pepper flakes, 1/4 tsp salt, lime juice, and red pepper flakes, and set aside. Stir the shredded cabbage into 1/3 cup of the leftover Sunshine Curry Dip. 

    5. When the chicken is done, allow to cool slightly, and then build your sandwiches.  

Vanilla Butterfly Cupcakes

Vanilla Butterfly Cupcakes

Cupcakes have been officially “over” for a while now, but that hasn’t stopped me from eating plenty of them. Trendy desserts are very different from trendy clothes, because even after they stop being the “it” sweet treat, they’re still wonderful. Cupcakes will always be endlessly customize-able, and also the easiest way to transport and share cake. No one turns down a good cupcake, so they’re still worth thinking about – even if they’re not the treat du jour like mermaid toast and cookie cakes.

The most overlooked thing about cupcakes is undoubtedly the cake part itself. Everyone gets carried away with cute toppings and frosting techniques, and a lot of the time the cake is a little dry and the flavor is off. I like to bake as much stuff as I can from scratch, but for basic yellow and chocolate cake, box mixes are a great choice. They require much less work than scratch cakes, they yield consistently nice results, and they’re pretty inexpensive.

When I was about 7, I had a Disney cookbook with a cupcake recipe that I made over and over. I loved that book and that recipe, but the cupcakes were terrible. They were dry, dense, and always had pockets of baking soda that never quite got mixed in properly (this cupcake obsession happened way before my mom got a KitchenAid). I had no idea that the cupcakes were so bad, because I just wanted to eat as much sugar as I could get my hands on. Any cupcake can be improved by putting a tub of frosting on it, like I used to. That 7-year-old metabolism was a beautiful thing, and I miss it.

Fast forward 20 years or so, and I’ve learned that baking a good scratch cake requires specific methods of adding and mixing ingredients. The recipe I like for scratch yellow cake is Fluffy Homemade Vanilla Cake from The Spruce, and the only thing I’ve changed is to increase the vanilla extract. The process involves creaming the butter and sugar until they’re fluffy, adding eggs one at a time, and alternating adding milk and dry ingredients until the batter is smooth. It’s more work than opening a box of mix, adding three other ingredients, and letting the mixer go for a few minutes, but it’s worth it. It’s a great recipe if you’re in the market for a scratch vanilla cake, or box mixes just aren’t your jam.

Now that we’ve covered the cake part, I can tell you about the decorations that make these cupcakes special. I actually dreamed them up for my boss’ daughter’s birthday, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. She wanted butterflies on the cupcakes, and I didn’t really have time to run out and buy butterfly decorations. Instead, I found a simple butterfly image online and printed it out to use as a template. I used melted white chocolate to pipe the butterflies onto wax paper laid over the template. The best part? You can be absolutely terrible at piping and still have these come out nicely. Since you place them on the cupcakes piping-side-down, they look smooth and no one knows how much you struggled to stay in the lines. After they hardened, I broke them in half, and positioned the wings in the frosting at an angle, to make them look like butterflies perched on top.

I piped a simple buttercream frosting in the same rose shaped swirl I used for my Upside Down Lemon Raspberry Pavlovas, because I love the idea that the butterflies are sitting on sweet pink roses. The method I used for the butterflies can be used to make just about any decoration you can think of – I think the inspiration was from a Pinterest post about spiderweb cupcake toppers, done a similar way. These cupcakes are perfect for little kid birthdays, but they’re not cartoon-y at all, so they’d also make great desserts for a baby shower or an adult birthday. They’re an especially good option if complicated, cutesy decor isn’t your forte, and people will just love how adorable they are – and how great they taste!

 




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Vanilla Butterfly Cupcakes

Cake recipe adapted from The Spruce "Fluffy Homemade Vanilla Cake"

Ingredients

Cupcakes

  • 2 2/3 cups flour 345g
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tsps vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar - divided use
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 4 drops red food coloring
  • 2 dashes salt

Butterflies

  • white chocolate, melted

Instructions

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside. 

    2. Cream butter in a mixer on low speed. Add sugar and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until fluffy, this will take about 10 minutes. 

    3. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next one. Mix for five more minutes at medium speed, until batter is light and airy. 

    4. With the mixer still running, add 1/4 of the dry ingredients. When it is fully incorporated, add 1/3 of the milk. Continue alternating dry ingredients and milk until everything has been added to the batter. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. 

    5. Pour batter into cupcake tins, lined with cupcake papers. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are golden. 

    6. While the cupcakes bake, prepare the frosting. Cream together butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Stir in vanilla, salt, and milk.

    7: Stir in remaining powdered sugar. When sugar is completely incorporated, add food coloring and stir until frosting is uniform.

    Optional, but highly recommended: Whip frosting in a mixer on high until very fluffy, about five minutes. Frosting keeps well in the refrigerator for several weeks.

    8. To make the butterflies, lay a sheet of wax paper over a printed template of butterfly shapes - see the blog post for a link to a good one! Melt white chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds. Transfer to a piping bag, and pipe the white chocolate over the templates. If you don't have a piping bag handy, you can also melt the white chocolate chips in a Ziplock bag, and cut a small hole in the corner to pipe through. Let butterflies harden completely before peeling them off the wax paper, and setting on the cupcakes. 


Vegan Tacos: Buffalo Cauliflower and Green Lentil

Vegan Tacos: Buffalo Cauliflower and Green Lentil

With Cinco de Mayo upon us, it only makes sense to post a taco recipe today. Actually, two taco recipes, because I’m bad at making food decisions. The correct answer to “Which taco recipe should we make?” will always be “All of them.” My friend Amanda, who possibly loves cooking more than I do, posted a pic of these tacos on her Insta recently, and I knew I had to get the recipes. Both are vegan, which isn’t typically in my taco wheelhouse, but we all know I jump at any opportunity to make vegetables taste better. Thank goodness for that, because these tacos are unbelievably delicious, and, you guessed it – healthy. One is green lentil and walnut based, the other has buffalo cauliflower “wings,” and they really do mimic the kind of textures you get with beef and chicken tacos. We dressed them up with guacamole, taco sauce, cilantro, shredded cabbage, lime, and fresh onion, and they tasted like all good tacos do: heaven.

In the past I’ve been skeptical of these so-called “buffalo cauliflower wings,” but then I made them, and tried them in a taco, and they’re great. They’re not quite a dupe for boneless chicken wings, but they’re way closer than I ever could’ve imagined. The recipe for the buffalo cauliflower taco is adapted from Gimme Delicious’ Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings. Baking instead of frying them makes them healthier and easier, although I suppose you could fry them if you wanted to. After baking, we coated them in Texas Pete Wing Sauce, although you could definitely try this with barbeque sauce, if you don’t love spicy food. The cauliflower itself gets quite soft, but the battered outsides get nice and crispy. This makes it feel very substantial in the tacos, and you can almost forget that you’re eating a pile of cauliflower.

The second taco recipe was my favorite of the two, because the flavor was every bit the kind of wonderful, taco meat flavor I wanted. It starts with cooked green lentils, blended with walnuts and spices, and quickly becomes a perfect taco filling that I never would have dreamed up on my own. The spices are a blend of chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper, with a little tomato paste added. Since the lentils and the nuts are all fairly mild, it’s easy to give them a lot of bold taco flavor. I think they hold the flavors from the spices better than beef or chicken ever would, so you don’t need a load of extra sauce on top. You can use a mix of walnuts and cashews if that’s what you have on hand, and I’d guess a different kind of lentil would yield similar results, although I haven’t tested that theory. The recipe for this taco is adapted from Oh She Glows’ Ultimate Green Taco Wraps. She uses lettuce as wraps instead of tortillas, but I love carbs a little too much for that.

You can go crazy with the toppings, and add beans, corn, salsa – whatever floats your boat. We topped the buffalo cauliflower tacos with shredded cabbage, diced onion, cilantro, guacamole, and Panera’s Asian Sesame Dressing, which added a really nice hint of sweetness to the tacos. The green lentil tacos were topped with mild Ortega taco sauce, guacamole, diced onion and cilantro. We used Whole Foods guacamole, because I’m obsessed with it, and it’s honestly cheaper than making your own fresh guac. I’d go so far as to say that I like it more than Chipotle guac, which is really the best recommendation I can give anything.

I plan to repeat these tacos for dinner on loads of nights that don’t happen to fall on Cinco de Mayo. They’re very filling for being mostly veggies, and they’re quick to make. The buffalo cauliflower is probably the most labor-intensive part, and that really just involves chopping cauliflower, stirring together the batter and coating the cauliflower in it, before baking it in the oven. Either or both of these recipes are a perfect addition to any taco night. Meat eaters will love them, regardless of their meat-free status, because they’re packed with delicious flavor and great textures.

We made a whole day of creating this blog post, because tacos are just better with good drinks and friends, (and a vat of guacamole that doesn’t need to be photographed, so you can dive right in). While Amanda and I were making the tacos, Bobby was making sure we had a constant supply of margaritas. What a guy, am I right? I’m not saying margaritas are compulsory for a good taco night, but they’re definitely the cherry jalepeno on top, as far as I’m concerned.

 


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Buffalo Cauliflower Bite Tacos

Adapted from Gimme Delicious' Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 Tbsps garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup wing sauce (I used Texas Pete Wing Sauce)
  • 6 inch corn tortillas
  • shredded cabbage
  • guacamole
  • cilantro, chopped
  • diced white onion
  • Asian Sesame Dressing from Panera, or dressing of your choice

Instructions

  1. Chop the cauliflower into bite size florets. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

    2. In a large bowl, stir together almond milk, flour, and all of the seasonings. Add the cauliflower florets to the bowl and stir until well coated. Spray a baking sheet lined with foil liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the cauliflower onto the sheet and spread into a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and rotate the cauliflower, and then bake for an additional 10 minutes. 

    3. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and drizzle the wing sauce evenly over top. Bake for another 20 minutes.

    4. While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare your choice of toppings for the tacos.

    5.Warm tortillas on the stove or in the microwave, and fill with buffalo cauliflower, and top with guacamole, onion, cilantro, cabbage, and dressing, or whatever suits you!

 

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Green Lentil and Walnut Tacos

Recipe adapted from Oh She Glows' Ultimate Green Taco Wraps with Lentil-Walnut Taco Meat

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups cooked green lentils 3/4 cup uncooked
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp water (add more if it seems dry)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 6 inch corn tortillas
  • cilantro, chopped
  • guacamole
  • taco sauce (I used Ortega, mild)
  • white onion, diced
  • lime

Instructions

  1. Cook green lentils on the stove. Add them to a small pot with 1 1/2 cups water, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes until lentils are tender. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and spread walnuts on a baking sheet lined with foil. Toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Check them after the first 5 minutes, and then keep an eye on them so they don't burn.

    2. Blend lentils, nuts, olive oil, and all spices in a food processor or blender until well combined and a thick paste forms. 

    3. Warm the lentil "meat" up in a pan on medium heat for a few minutes, or just microwave. Add to tortillas with taco sauce, cilantro, onion, guacamole, and a squeeze of lime.