My dad’s side of the family lives in El Paso, Texas. We've visited every couple of years for as long as I can remember. There isn’t much in El Paso but it’s proximity to Juarez means it has some pretty excellent Mexican food. We've been going to one particular family-runned restaurant called Avila’s for decades. I have such fond memories of going there with my immediate family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. As a kid, I remember staring in wonder when my dad told me his mole had chocolate in it. I remember thinking chocolate steak, gross!
As a kid (and who am I kidding, as an adult too) our favorite was always the sopapillas, these puffy, deep-fried hollowed Mexican doughnuts. We’d poke a hole in the corner and pour in as much honey as possible. It was always a delicious mess. The last time I went they began offering cinnamon sugar covered sopapillas, but I still prefer the original. Every meal ended with sopapillas, a dessert we never seemed to be able to find after we headed back to southern California. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had even heard of them, which to my brothers and I, made them feel even more exclusive and special. They were our best kept secret.
Every meal ended with sopapillas but every meal also began with chile con queso. Sharp white melted cheddar with soft roasted green chilies. We’d slather it on tortillas and eat it with chips. Most of the time we ate so much chile con queso that we were full before the meal got there, but that didn’t matter because everyone knew it was the best part anyway. And as delicious as it was, this queso is nothing like that.
The first time I made this queso over Super Bowl weekend, I promptly texted my dad and his siblings “vegan queso!”. My dad's side of the family is hispanic and they know a thing or two about good Mexican food. I got a range of reactions and even some suggestions from my chile obsessed Uncle Mike. So I applied said changes and the result is something even my Texas family members could appreciate. It’s creamy and spicy and full of green chiles and fresh pico de gallo, and although you’d never know it, it’s completely vegan. Trust me, you won’t miss the cheese one bit, or even be able to tell it’s missing.
Makes about 3 cups
Adapted from: Food52
1 large tomato, seeded & diced
1 jalapeño, seeded & diced
1/4 large red onion, diced
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 4 hours
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see notes)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 4-ounce can diced green chilis
Notes: 1/4 teaspoon cayenne makes this dish mild, 1/2 teaspoon makes it pretty spicy. I recommend starting with 1/4 teaspoon and adjusting from there.
Make the pico de gallo, in a small bowl toss the tomato, jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, and green onions with 1 tablespoon lime juice and set aside.
In the bowl of a blender blend the remaining tablespoon of lime juice, cashews, chili powder, paprika, nutritional yeast, water, salt, cayenne, and tomato paste until completely smooth. Adjust to taste, adding more lime/cayenne if needed.
Reserve a scant 1/4 cup of the pico de gallo. Stir the remaining pico de gallo and the green chilies into the queso and top with the reserved 1/4 cup.
The number one thing I hear in response to my love for cooking is always how stressed cooking makes people feel. People often associate cooking and childhood memories around it with a stressed out parent struggling to get the big meal out on the special holiday. And to that, I say, I totally get it.
Michael Pollan, whose documentary series I just started watching on netflix, talks about how the entertainment industry plays on this stress by making cooking shows that portray cooking as something better left up the pros (iron chef anyone?) and the food industry has been telling us we're too busy and too stressed to cook for years so that they could valiantly come in and save the day.
The first time I made these granola bars, my vitamix died mid-blend of homemade almond butter. And as I was trying to figure out what the hell was wrong I burnt approximately $15 worth of pistachios that I had just spent 20 minutes shelling. I slammed the pan of burnt nuts down on the counter, yelled at my husband about how next time will be paying extra for store-bought almond butter and pre-shelled pistachios and screw the fact that I was trying to be responsible and save money because look where it got me! Then I slammed the door of our bedroom and put my legs up the wall for a couple deep breaths.
So yeah, I totally get it how cooking can be stressful. That's one of the reasons I prefer to cook alone without a time limit and without a crowd to please, and preferably with a good playlist in the background. As ocd as I sound, I need to start with an immaculate kitchen, and clean as I go, even if it takes longer. This, by the way, drives my husband nuts. But my kitchen is my workspace, and a clean kitchen takes away stress and makes the whole cooking process much safer, trust me.
Somehow after picking out the black nut pieces, these bars came out just as I imagined. They're adapted from one of my favorite food blogs, Cookie and Kate, and inspired by my favorite larabar flavor, lemon! I'm such a sucker for tart, springy lemon. The bars are bound together with a combination of nut butter and honey and packed with so much protein and fiber they could almost qualify as breakfast.
I stocked up on homemade granola bars before this semester of grad school started, and individually wrapped them in plastic wrap then tossed them in a freezer bag on the door of the freezer. They defrost in about 30 minutes, and warm perfectly in the toaster if you're in a rush. Super filling and totally guilt-free on-the-go-treat that will ultimately save you money and leave you feeling fuller than any store-bought kind. Bring these to work or class and people will be jealous. Just saying. They're pretty awesome.
Yields 12-16 bars
Adapted from: Cookie and Kate
1/3 cup pecans (1.5 oz)
2/3 cup shelled pistachios (1.5 oz)
1/3 cup pepitas
2/3 cup dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
1 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1 packed tablespoon lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt (decrease if your nut butter is salted)
1 cup almond butter or peanut butter (I did half and half)
1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Line an 8x8 (for 12 thick bars) or 9x9 (for 16 thinner bars) inch baking dish with parchment and set aside. Toast the pecans, pistachios and pepitas in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the oats for about 5 seconds until broken up significantly, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Once the nuts & pepitas are toasted add them to the bowl of the food processor along with the dried fruit and run for about 10 seconds then transfer to the mixing bowl with the oats. Add the lemon zest and salt and whisk to combine.
In a small bowl bowl (or liquid measuring cup) combine the nut butter, honey, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and stir until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. I found using my hands to integrate the ingredients into a thick, sticky batter was easiest, but you could also use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. If the batter seems too dry add in another small scoop of nut butter.
Press the batter into the parchment lined baking dish (the bottom of a drinking glass works best for this) then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight. Cut into bars and serve. Bars store best individually wrapped in plastic then stored in a freezer bag in the freezer. Stored this way they should last up to 6 months.
I'm back! And I brought treats!! The hubby came back from being in Abu Dhabi for three weeks, just in time for our two year anniversary. My man got me our wedding cake stand, which I tracked down late one night while admiring our wedding pictures. I topped it off by re-created our wedding cake, complete with chocolate cake, chocolate bavarian cream (with vegetarian gelatin!), and chocolate whipped cream frosting. I snapped pictures, recording measurements, totally intending to share with you guys, then... we had structural failure. I'm talking disastrous failure. Apparently I'm incompetent at leveling cakes. Next year!
We celebrated these past two years by taking off to Sonoma County for a whole week. We brought P, drank wine, and ate fantastic food. I can't wait to share all the details soon. In the meantime, Happy Halloween! What better way to celebrate than with DIY homemade candy.
A couple years back while living in NYC, I developed a deep deep love for speculoos cookie butter at a Waffles and Dinges food truck. Since then, this Dutch delicacy has become pretty mainstream, even sold at Trader Joe's. Have you had it? If not, I have to warn you, it's seriously addicting. I often find myself going into the pantry with a spoon and coming out with the perfect one bite treat that always satisfies that little dessert craving.
These cookie butter cups are like homemade peanut butter cups but better. They are made with dark chocolate and topped with sea salt which makes them totally sophisticated. Candy for adults. Goodbye processed mainstream candy. You've been replaced.
DIY Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups with Sea Salt
Adapted from Food52
Makes about 24 full-size cups
1 pound dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 tbsp coconut oil
3/4 cup speculoos cookie butter
Fleur De Sel*
Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with 24 cupcake liners. Warm chocolate and coconut oil in a double broiler until completely melted. Or microwave mixture 30 seconds at a time, stirring until completely melted. Pour about 1/2 tbsp of melted chocolate into each cupcake liner. Smack baking sheet on the counter 3-5 times until chocolate forms a smooth layer on the bottom of each liner. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Remove liners from the fridge and top each cup with a heaping 1/2 tbsp cookie butter (I used a cookie scoop). Using the back of a spoon, smooth the cookie butter into a flat layer on top of the chocolate base, leaving a tiny border around the edges for chocolate to drip down. Top each cup with just enough chocolate to cover, then use the back of a spoon to smooth the chocolate over the cookie butter, covering it completely. Top with a liberal sprinkling of Fleur De Sel (I wish I'd use more than I did in the photos). Refrigerate for 25-30 minutes until completely set.
*I recently splurged on this, which I used, but you could totally use regular sea salt.