Best Flippin’ Vegan Brownies

vegan brownie 1

So, after a long break from blogging… I’m back. And what is it, I hear you ask, that had the ability to pull me out of my deep, dark cave of procrastination? The humble brownie. Well, I say “humble”… but this version would fit better in the “rich”, “decadent”, “noble”, “exalted” categories. Oh, and did I mention that they’re gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free?? That’s right: they’re healthy!! That little fact alone justifies me having made a double batch of these puppies not once, not twice, but thrice in the past week!! Usually, I’d simply wave my “research” flag while making such a confession… but they’re so good (and sooooo healthy!!), I don’t even care if you judge me for my week of over-the-top-brownieness!!

vegan brownie 3

I think I’ve had this recipe saved on my computer for a while, but it’s taken me until now to make them. I found it on a blog by Meg Kat, but I think she’s stopped her food blog now. (I found the page here when I was looking for the original post.) In her recipe, she says to use “oil”. The first time I made these, I used canola oil. Seemed like a common brownie ingredient. But I wanted the texture of the finished product to have a little more density… it needed some oomf!! So, the second time I made these, I used coconut oil (Hubs softened it in the microwave for me before adding it to the rest of the ingredients, just to make sure it blended in evenly). Bingo!! The brownies were still moist, but had a whole new level of gooey fudginess. (Excuse me while I mop up my drool!!)

I must admit, I was surprised to see cornstarch in the ingredients. I was nervous this would make them turn out a little too cakey… so I substituted half the cornstarch for extra cocoa. The major benefit of doing this? They came out really dark and chocolatey!!

The only other change is that I used brown rice flour instead of white rice flour, simply because that’s what I had in the house.

vegan brownie 4

Oh, and whose idea was it to set the standard pan size for brownies as 8 x 8?? Who makes brownies in such a small pan with a view to sharing them?? Maybe that’s the point… maybe all you 8 x 8 brownie pan peeps are secretly eating them when you’re home alone, destroying all the evidence before family, roomies and/or house guests come home!! All that to say, I doubled the original recipe and baked them in a 7 x 11 pan. They still come out pretty shallow. If I wanted to make a 9 x 13 batch, I would probably quadruple the original quantities. (To make it clear, the quantities below have already been doubled from the original recipe, so I’d double this for a 9 x 13 blow-out.)

Anyway, enough with the kitchen commentary… go make the best vegan, gluten-free brownies you may ever eat… and if you need any more convincing, just talk to my friends Ben, Matt, Phil, Bernie or Heather… or, needless to say, the Hubster!!

vegan brownie 2

Best Flippin’ Vegan Brownies
(Serves 2-12 people, depending on how generous you’re feeling!!)
(From Meg Kat, with some tweakings…)

2/3 cup brown rice flour (or whatever your fave gluten-free flour might be)
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli semi-sweet)

vegan brownie 61.  Preheat the oven to 350F and grease/line a 7 x 11 pan.
2.  In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda and salt, making sure to get rid of any lumps.
3.  Add the applesauce, oil and vanilla, and stir until everything is combined into a lovely, yummy, gooey mass of brownie batter. Taste, just to make sure it’s OK.
4.  Stir in the chocolate chips, taste to make sure it’s still OK, then transfer it all to your pan.
5.  Bake for 30-40 mins, depending on how well you like your brownies to be cooked through.
6.  While they’re baking, use the time to clean your bowl and utensils… with your tongue!!

These taste great while still warm… they taste great at room temperature… gosh, they even taste great straight out the fridge!! Enjoy…

vegan brownie 5

Nut-Free Chewy Granola

Um… OK. I’m trying not to be too frustrated with myself right now. Believe it or not, I had drafted this post back in February – I just hadn’t got around to finishing it and posting it (what the blazes have I been doing for the past 6 months to justify that??!!!). I finally sat down just now to upload the photos and post it… and in the process, poof!! Everything vanished. I have no idea what happened. I didn’t delete anything… I didn’t type over anything. But all my text was gone. Not happy. Not happy one bit.

So…  as I try to laugh this off as “one of those things”, let’s try this again. Oi oi oi…

I never used to be much of a granola fan. It always felt like I had a mouthful of cardboard crumbles in my mouth that tasted of nothing other than… well, cardboard. But in my constant pursuit to find healthy snacks that both Hubs and I enjoy to make and eat, I thought I’d revisit the “granola” idea. It seems like such a versatile food item. If you have a great version of the final product, it’s wonderful eaten on its own as a snack… especially on road trips… although it’s helpful to wear one of those pelican bibs to catch all the bits that miss your mouth as you drive over bumps and sink holes!! It’s also great with ice cold milk poured over it for breakfast or a late night snack. Or how about sprinkled on top of applesauce or my Slow-Roasted Balsamic Strawberries (shameless plug!!), with a dollop of Greek yogurt for a healthy dessert? Gosh – I’m getting hungry!!

So, since the options to dress it up or down seemed limitless, I started looking for a granola recipe that might inspire me.

Enter Sylvie from Gourmande in the Kitchen. I’ll spare you the countless less-than-average recipes that I tried, and will simply say that Sylvie is a genius!! She deconstructed granola and came up with a wonderful list of ingredients that gives you the BEST granola I’ve ever eaten!! I don’t want to steal her thunder, so pop on over to her site to read why you should use two different kinds of oats, why it’s good to include fruit puree, what the benefits are of using both a liquid and a sugar sweetener, blah blah blah… It’s worth the read!!

To make things a little more challenging when it comes to me finding a granola recipe I like: I have a nut allergy. Most nut-free recipes make up for it by adding seeds of all shapes and sizes… but there are some seeds I can’t eat, and the rest of them I don’t like!! (Can I hear “high maintenance” coming from the chorus line??!!) However, the beautiful thing about granola is that you can find the base recipe that works for you, and then you can add whatever the heck you want to after that!!  Well, folks, without further ado, let me present to you my favorite base recipe…

Nut-Free Chewy Granola (makes approx 1 gallon)
(From Gourmande in the Kitchen, with some tweakings…)

2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
2 cups Rice Krispies (if you can get the brown rice variety, do it!!)
3/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp kosher salt or sea salt, divided
2 cups dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
2 cups sultanas or golden raisins
1 cup coconut, shredded or flaked, sweetened or not, toasted or not (there are no rules!!)

  1. Preheat oven to 300F and move racks to upper and lower thirds of the oven.
  2. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (not foil or wax paper – ask me how I know!!) and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the two oats and Rice Krispies.
  4. In a smaller bowl, mix together the applesauce, agave, sugar, oil and vanilla until well blended.
  5. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix thoroughly to ensure that all the dry ingredients are coated.
  6. Sprinkle 1 pinch of salt over the mixture and stir to combine. Repeat twice more.
  7. Divide the mixture evenly between the two baking sheets. At this point you can either squeeze small clumps of the granola together and space them apart on the cookie sheet to allow air to circulate around them… or you can spread the mixture out in a thin layer and use a scrap of parchment paper to lightly press it down with your hand (this is what I do).
  8. Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the granola is dry and turning golden. (It will continue to crisp up once it comes out of the oven.)
  9. Allow to cool for 5 minutes… and then tip into a large bowl. Add the chopped chocolate, raisins and coconut and gently turn everything over to evenly distribute the add-ins, breaking up the large chunks of granola as you go. (The raisins tend to soften the granola over time, so feel free to add those later if you prefer.)
  10. Allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Enjoy on its own, drenched in milk, or sprinkled on fruit, yogurt or ice cream. Yum!!

Unsweetened Hot Apple Cider

I must do better with my blog.
I must do better with my blog.
I must do better with my blog.
I must do better with my blog.
I must do better with my blog.
I must do better with my blog.

Hi!! I know, I know… it’s been eons since I’ve posted. Sorry. It’s been a hectic 7 months. It all started going slack back in the summer when I went full-time with my job and any “spare time” became a rarity. Then we got new laptops… which is a FABulous thing, obviously… but my photo software wouldn’t transfer and then I got into all sorts of shenanigans with Adobe (imagine that!!)… blah blah blah. Anyway, I could throw out some incredible reasons for my silence… but I’ll spare you. Just know that I’m back and I’ll try to do better this time!! :D

I thought I’d launch back into things by sharing my apple cider recipe that people keep asking me for. Now, I must confess, I don’t really like hot drinks. Apart from mulled wine. Of course. But I can’t stand coffee. And even as a Brit, I don’t touch tea (sorry to burst anyone’s bubbles of stereotyping!!). Hot chocolate is nice if I’m in the mood for it, but I find it so sweet. I tend to feel a little gross after downing a mug of the stuff. So, in these cold, wintery months I need something that tickles my taste buds. OK, so I realize that a lot of us reading this aren’t necessarily experiencing a cold winter – it’s in the 70s outside here in Memphis and it’s still February!!

But we have had a handful of cold mornings… honest!! So, hot cider has become my breakfast staple these days. Partly to warm me up in the mornings. But mostly out of sheer laziness!! I can put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes, take it in the car with me and drink it at my desk (yes, I have to wait AGES for it to cool a little!!).

Over the years I’ve spent here in the US, I’ve tried all sorts of cider products. I have a fundamental problem with the shop-bought varieties, actually two fundamental problems: 1) they’re too sweet, and 2) this country’s total obsession with cinnamon. Wherever there are apples, there’s cinnamon. And cider seems to be no exception. In fact, the cinnamon has a more prominent position in the flavor hierarchy than the apples when it comes to hot apple cider!! Maybe the drink should be re-named? “Cinnamon Cider”. “Hot Cinnamon Drink with a hint of Apple”. Anyway, I digress…

Since there are so few ingredients in this drink, you really do notice the difference when you use good quality juice. For the apple juice, make sure you use cloudy or unfiltered juice. None of that translucent stuff that looks like unhealthy pee. Not good. I often use Simply Apple, just because it’s easy to get at the local store and because I know it has a strong apple flavor that can stand up to the other ingredients. But I also love those big 1 gallon glass jugs with unfiltered “apple cider” in them. Just make sure it doesn’t have anything added to it already (ie. spices or sugar). The orange juice I use tends to be Simply Orange – again, it’s so convenient. I buy the “medium pulp” version. “No pulp” seems wrong to me… after all it’s from an orange for goodness sake!! “High pulp” is fine, but I just don’t like that amount of “bits” floating around my hot apple cider. (Having said all that, you could just juice your own fruit. I have no doubt this would make an incredible version of the drink. However, I make so much of this stuff, it would cost me a fortune in fresh fruit!!)

For the spice, I use ground allspice (or Jamaican allspice in some stores). It has a wonderfully warm flavor… not too overpowering, not overwhelmingly present (unless you use too much, of course!!). And that’s it. Not a hint of cinnamon in sight!! Now, the spice may be a powder, but it won’t dissolve. Don’t expect it to. It may surprise you to know that I can sometimes have purist tendencies(!!), so at one point I tried to strain the infused juices through cheesecloth before bottling, in order to leave the “sediment” behind. What a faff!! I only tried it once and that was enough. These days, I’m fine with the spice being in my drink. It makes life so much simpler and doesn’t affect the drinking experience one bit!!

One more piece of important info: there is no added sugar in this recipe. Hurrah!! There really is no need to sweeten apple cider – whether it’s drunk hot or cold. No more sticky lips syndrome after drinking from your adult sippy cup… know what I mean?!!

So, give it a whirl and let me know what you think…

Unsweetened Hot Apple Cider (makes 11 cups)

8 cups cloudy/unfiltered apple juice
3 cups good quality orange juice
2 tsp ground allspice

1. Pour both juices into a large pot.
2. Add the allspice and stir (don’t panic when the allspice appears to just rest on the surface!)
3. Cover, put over medium heat and allow to simmer (not boil) for a while, stirring occasionally. (How long you heat it for depends on whether you forget about it or not – like I tend to do!! I often let it simmer for an hour or so.)
4. Turn off the heat and allow to steep (covered) for a wee while longer.

From here you can serve it immediately… or, since I make so much of it, I allow it to cool and put it back into the juice bottles ready to stick in the fridge… microwaving mugs-full of it on an “as needed” basis. (FYI, I have no idea how long it keeps!! I’ve had some last for several weeks and it’s tasted totally fine…)

Enjoy!!

(Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I’m not receiving any kickbacks from the “Simply” line of juices unfortunately. I really do love their products!!)

Sea Salt and Rosemary Crackers

… because what else are you going to do with that leftover pastry?!!

Whenever I make a pie or tart of some description, I always have leftover pastry. I lovingly wrap it in cling film and dutifully stick it in the fridge… and I have every intention of using it. Honestly. I do. But more often than not, it gets shoved to the back of the chilly abyss behind the leftover egg whites, the tub of Philadelphia cooking creme (have any of you tried that fabulous stuff yet??), and the half-sandwich that no one wants to take responsibility for… and I end up feeling guilty as I toss it into the trash a week later.

I have childhood memories of my dad breaking leftover pastry dough into little pieces and tossing it onto the lawn for the birds to eat. Not sure what the deal is with our feathered friends here in the US, but they’ve done nothing but turn their beaks up at my generous offerings. Hence the need to come up with something far more satisfying to use up the doughy remnants…

A week or so ago, I made a little somethin’-somethin’ that needed a pastry shell. It was a savory, cheesey pie… so I made my own pastry and added a handful of grated parmesan to the dry ingredients… just because. I was suddenly inspired to roll out the leftover dough, brush it with a beaten egg, sprinkle it with whatever caught my attention, and slam it in the oven for 20 minutes. Woo hoo!! Success!! Yummy while still warm; yummy at room temperature. Yummy dipped in hummus; yummy just as they were.

Between me, Hubs and Moeks (mum-in-law, visiting from South Africa), they didn’t last long. And you know what? They were so good, I’d make some pastry for the sole purpose of having a batch of these sitting around!!

Here are some notes that might be helpful…

•  If you only have shop-bought pastry/pie crust in the house, that will totally work. You really need to give these a try. If you’re making your own pastry, try adding a handful of grated parmesan to the dry ingredients for some extra cheesey-ness…

•  Don’t skip on the “beaten egg” part. This gives the crackers a lovely golden color when they’re cooked… but, more importantly, it makes the seasonings stick to the pastry. (I can’t stand it when I buy crackers that have “stuff” on them, but it’s all fallen off in the packet by the time I open them!!)

•  You can sprinkle whatever you like on top. Be creative. Hubs and I love sea salt and rosemary, so that was my default. But I also made some using one of my favorite seasonings: Tone’s Rosemary and Garlic (I buy mine from Sams, but you can also get it from Amazon and other online stores). How about a sweet version (but maybe leave the cheese out of your home made pastry!!) with cinnamon sugar on top? You get the idea…

•  Cut the uncooked pastry into bite-sized squares after it’s been sprinkled and before you put it in the oven. The pastry will shrink during cooking, which means you have a sheet full of neat and tidy, ready-cut crackers. (If you wait until it’s cooked before cutting, the crackers may crumble in the process.) Using a pizza wheel for this makes life really simple.

This couldn’t be easier…

Sea Salt and Rosemary Crackers

shortcrust pastry (also known as “pie crust”)… not puff pastry
beaten egg
sea salt or kosher salt (not the massive crystals… just the medium ones!)
dried rosemary (I use the crushed stuff to avoid the sensation of twigs in my mouth!)
grated parmesan  

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until it’s approx 1/8 inch thick, and carefully transfer it to a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  3. Brush a thin layer of the beaten egg across the whole surface area of the pastry.
  4. Sprinkle a layer of salt across the pastry, followed by a generous sprinkling of rosemary, ending with a light dusting of parmesan.
  5. Using a pizza wheel, cut the pastry into bite-sized squares.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, keeping an eye on them and pulling them out when they’re golden brown on top.
  7. Eat.
  8. Make more. :D

Smoked Salmon Kedgeree

Erm… hi.

Yes – I realize it’s been a while. Sorry. But with Big Birthdays, the end of the school year, graduation festivities, road trips, weddings, photo editing assignments, blah blah blah, it’s been tricky finding time to come up for air, let alone being creative in the kitchen!! But I think I’m back in some sort of vague routine, so let’s see if I can keep this up a little longer than before, huh?!!

I’ve been wanting to post something that isn’t a cake or dessert, but I was struggling to get inspired. Which is kinda strange since Hubs and I eat non-cake/non-dessert things all the time!! Anyway, we had some friends over for dinner on Friday… and as we started cooking our favorite “kedgeree”, I declared this to be the next thing to share… and I do so in honor of my friend Harriet, who requested this as her first meal after coming home from hospital when her little boy Nemo was born. It’s that good!!

If you’re not familiar with kedgeree, the basic information is that it is a curry dish that traditionally features rice, fish, butter, parsley and boiled eggs. But you can shimmy the ingredients up to match your tastebuds and/or what you have to hand. There are no rules. And it’s a great way to use up leftovers.

My favorite curry paste…

It’s also a great way to introduce yourself (or your non-curry-eating friends) to the taste of curry. I used to cook lunches for a college here in Memphis… and it became a favorite amongst staff and students, some of whom had never had curry before. And PLEEEEEASE don’t be put off by the smoked salmon. I’ve had evangelistic fish-haters love this dish, and then compliment me on how nice the chicken tasted!! (I bet you’re dying to know if I told them what it really was, right?!!) I also know people who don’t like smoked salmon, yet they eat this quite happily.

 

Having said that, more than once we’ve switched the smoked salmon for tilapia, fresh salmon or chicken breast (each cooked and flaked), and they were all very tasty versions. But we always come back to the smoked salmon as our fave.

Couple of other things worthy of a mention:

• All of the quantities listed below are as accurate as I could get them as Hubs happily threw the next thing in the pan (he doesn’t believe in measuring, even when I’m trying to write our creations down!!). It’s easy to make it once, though, and then jiggle quantities according to your taste (eg. hot/mild curry, more/less butter, etc).

• Be creative with add-ins!! We substituted baby spinach for the parsley in the original recipe, mainly because we wanted some kind of leafy veggie in there. But how about golden raisins (aka sultanas)? … shredded coconut? … orange bell peppers? … even the classic boiled eggs (eewwww!!)? The list is endless!!

I’d love to hear how any experimenting goes…

Smoked Salmon Kedgeree (serves 8-10)
(From BBC’s Good Food, with some tweakings…)

3 cups / 21oz / 600g rice, uncooked
2 sticks / 8oz / 200g unsalted butter, cubed, divided
4 tbs olive oil
3 tbs hot curry paste
2 tbs cumin
2 small onions, finely chopped
18oz / 500g smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
3 limes, juiced
4oz / 112g fresh baby spinach

  1. Add the rice to 6 cups of salted water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked. Remove from the heat.
  2. Grab the largest household skillet you can lay your hands on (mine is 14″/36cm across and 3.5″/9cm deep) and melt half of the butter in the olive oil until it starts to sizzle.
  3. Stir in the curry paste and cumin, allowing the fragrant spices to tickle your nasal passages!!
  4. Add the chopped onion and cook until softened.
  5. Stir in the cooked rice, making sure it’s all covered in the yummy, buttery, curry liquid, and ensuring that it’s thoroughly heated through.
  6. Add the smoked salmon and spinach to the pan, together with the remaining butter, and try to distribute it all evenly throughout the dish.
  7. Gently stir in the lime juice right at the end in order to give the dish a fresh zing.

Serve in warm bowls if possible, since it can cool down rather quickly.  It can also be served at room temperature… but this should be an intentional decision, not an accidental one!!

Enjoy!!