I may or may not have googled "how to survive a long dark winter" the other day. I normally love Fall, but after struggling through said long dark winter last year, coupled with a tough first year of grad school I am dreading busy schedules, early sunsets, and the closing of Chicago farmer's markets this Fall. Towards the beginning of August I totally panicked, thinking I had not taken advantage of summer the way I should have, and filled my calendar with summer music and film series in the parks, food festivals, and long family walks with pumpkin. We've been savoring this weather and biking all around the city for date nights in neighborhoods far from our own.
We've become religious about our Saturday morning farmer's market trips. I think I bought close to 10 pounds worth of peaches last week, blanched them, peeled them, sliced them, and then froze them. I've been adoring Chicago summer, humidity and all. I worship these warm summer nights and hours of day light. Seriously, the summer can't end, I haven't even made zucchini bread yet!
This pasta is light, summery, and creamy but dairy-free. Once you've soaked the cashews it comes together so easily and celebrates the simplicity and freshness of summer produce. We've been buying zucchini in bulk for what feels like pennies every week at the farmer's market and this veggie-heavy pasta is the perfect way to use them all. It also just so happens to be packed with plant-based protein (thank you nuts) and reheats great.
Adapted from: The Kitchn
1 cup raw cashews, soaked 4-8 hours
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 oz angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds zucchini, diced
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
large handful of basil
1/4 cup shelled pistachios (optional)
salt + pepper to taste
Combine soaked cashews, water, nutritional yeast, and salt in a blender and blend until completely smooth and creamy. Set aside - note, this step can be done up to two days in advance.
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, followed by the garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes until garlic has softened then add in the zucchini and toss to coat. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until the zucchini has softened and released some of its liquid. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Once the water is boiling add the pasta and cook until al dente (keeping in mind angel hair cooks very quickly). Reserve about half a cup of pasta water, then drain, and add the pasta to the sauté pan and top with the cashew sauce (you probably won't use all of it), and toss over low heat. If it looks to thick, use pasta water to thin. Then top with zucchini and toss. Add in lemon zest and juice, basil and pistachios. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!
A couple weeks ago I celebrated my three year "veggiversary" and made these cupcakes to celebrate. I had been teetering on the edge of vegetarianism for years before taking the plunge. My junior year of college I studied abroad in Italy and convinced myself I could subsist on pasta alone, attempting to limit the amount of meat I consumed. I continued when I got home that summer in New York but constantly felt weak and shaky. I had no idea what I was doing, and ate a diet of almost exclusively some version of cheese and white carbs, and quickly went back to eating meat regularly.
Fast forward a couple years and I had moved to Los Angeles, possibly the world's mecca of health food with incredible accessibility to nearly any fresh fruit or vegetable you could imagine, and things had slowly begun to shift. I'd learned how to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as mains while letting meat serve more as accents to the meals we ate at home. My OCD-tendencies hated all the hand-washing and careful counter and cutting board wiping that came with cooking raw meat, so before we knew it, meat became something we only enjoyed on weekend date nights.
Then on May 21st, 2013 I casually decided to watch the movie Vegucated while eating lunch at home between teaching yoga classes. I'm not going to lie, seeing the conditions of animals on factory farms made me sick to my stomach, so sick I figured I'd give this whole vegetarian thing another try. I thought to myself if I can make a real impact on the lives of animals with minimal effort on my part, why wouldn't I? I craved meat a bit in the first few weeks, I ate a lot of pasta with vegetables, and peanut butter sandwiches. I remember being so excited when I calculated how much protein I actually needed based on my weight and exercise level (it's less than you think). I soon learned how to incorporate beans and protein-rich whole grains like quinoa into nearly every dinner at home, and am proud to say I now resort to pasta only a couple times a month! But overall, it's become seamless, it's not something I think about except when I'm out at a restaurant. And it's forced me to become exponentially more creative in the kitchen, develop a greater appreciation for foods of different cultures, and a fierce love for homemade black beans.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every dollar we spend is a vote we cast in a world we choose to support. Money speaks volumes, especially in an economy and political atmosphere like ours. So of course I get the appeal of eating meat, I ate it for nearly 24 years, but I think by making small changes in our meat consumption like reducing it to just a couple days a week or seeking out meat from animals who didn't spend their whole lives suffering on factory farms, or maybe taking the plunge and giving it up altogether we can really make a difference in the lives of animals.
Also these cupcakes! They're vegan and they are unbelievable, fresh, summery and the perfect way to celebrate my three year anniversary with all foods plant-based. Enjoy.
Makes 12 cupcakes
Adapted from: Food52
For the frosting:
1 can coconut cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup powdered sugar
For the cupcakes:
1 cup + 1 tablespoon almond milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, packed (from ~ 3 lemons)
1 1/2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender buds, + more for garnish
1/2 cup coconut oil, in solid form
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Prepare the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer) whisk together the coconut cream, vanilla, lemon juice and zest until smooth. With the mixer on low gradually sprinkle in the sugar and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Taste and adjust adding more sugar or lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate while you make the cupcakes. (Note: the frosting can be made up to 2 days in advanced).
Make the cupcakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a cupcake pan with 12 liners, then lightly spray the cupcake liners with oil (I use trader joe's coconut oil spray).
Combine almond milk and lemon juice then set aside. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set aside. In a small prep bowl, mix together the sugar, lemon zest and lavender until moist and fragrant.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer) cream together the solid coconut oil, vanilla extract, and the sugar mixture until smooth and creamy. Add about a third of the flour mixture, followed by a third of the milk mixture, repeat allowing the batter to incorporate between additions until all of the milk and flour mixtures are incorporated into a smooth batter.
Divide the batter equally in the cupcake pan and cook for 20-24 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
Top the cupcakes with frosting and sprinkle with lavender. Cupcakes store best in the refrigerator and keep for 3-4 days.
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.