Hot Cross Buns

IMG_4423 IMG_4424It is not just a nursery rhyme…it is a Good Friday treat! These Hot Cross Buns are warm, fluffy, sweet and spicy!

It’s corny but I like making special holiday foods and this is my third attempt at Hot Cross Buns. I had two fails using other recipes but I based these on Vegan Monologue’s Dinner Rolls which I have made successfully in the past. (I also make her Aztec Bread which is super yummy.)

The funny thing is that neither I nor my husband have ever had a Hot Cross Bun so we don’t actually know what they are supposed to taste like. We agree that these are delicious so I must have done something right!

Note: I decided to serve these warm which meant piping the icing crosses while the buns were still warm. Plus, my 4 1/2 year old son was the official cross maker so they have an ooey-gooey look to them which I think adds to the deliciousness!

Buns (makes about 14)
1 packet yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 fresh nutmeg, grated
The zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup raisins
Water, for brushing

Glaze
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegan brown sugar

Icing
1/2 cup vegan powdered sugar
2 teaspoons water or lemon juice

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand 10 minutes.  It should bubble and foam.

Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, zest and salt into the bowl of the stand mixture and mix together.

Whisk the oil, maple syrup and 3/4 cup warm water together.

Pour the yeast mixture and the maple syrup mixture into the flour. Add the raisins and mix with the paddle attachment of the stand mixer. When combined, switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add extra flour, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems too wet. It should still be sticky.

Place dough in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise about one hour or until it’s doubled in size.

Deflate the dough by punching it down (fun!) and then divide into quarters. Then divide each quarter into 3 to 4 buns, trying to get the buns about the same size. Toss a little flour on a clean surface and roll the dough into balls. Place them into a round metal pie pan, starting at the periphery and working your way into the middle.

Preheat oven to 375. Cover and let the buns rise again for 15 minutes.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the tops are browned.

While buns are baking, make the glaze by bringing the water and sugar to a bubble over medium heat. When buns come out of the oven, brush with glaze. Then brush with the glaze again.

Make the icing. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in the lemon juice or water. Use two teaspoons but add more if it’s too thick for piping. Drop the glaze into a piping bag (or a plastic baggie and cut a hole in the corner).

After the buns have sat for 5 to 10 minutes and pipe a cross over each bun.

Happy Easter everyone and enjoy these buns hot!

Book Report: Dave Loves Chickens

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“Dave Loves Chickens” is a new illustrated children’s book by Carlos Patiño. That little blue monster from another planet is called Dave and he loves chickens! He can’t believe that people here on Earth eat animals, like chickens, and call it meat.

I was once one of those people and when my eyes were opened – through the power of reading books – I became a staunch vegan. This book is designed for children to have that same “a ha” moment.

“Dave Loves Chickens” is easy to read and brightly colored with lots of great illustrations. It rhymes – which is always fun for kids – and it has some great facts about chickens like that chickens are relatives of the Tyrannosaurus Rex? That was my son’s favorite part.

I have come to believe that humans are not designed to eat the flesh of other animals, that we are not born that way. The conditioning is so strong and it starts so early from our parents telling us to eat this or that, that most of us don’t have a chance. Who really would ever want to eat a chicken if they knew their real deal? Or better yet if they ever actually met one and gave him or her a hug? In it’s own way, “Dave Loves Chickens” tells kids the real deal in a positive, non-threatening, advocating-for-the-animals kind of way.

And Dave doesn’t just love chickens. He loves all animals and this is just the first in a series of books to educate us. As Dave says, “all living things have a right to be free!”

For our vegan family, this was a fun book to read and we give it two thumbs up!

Baked Creamy Spinach & Leeks

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This is part of a recipe from Veg Kitchen’s Nava Atlas. She makes a Passover matzo/potato gratin with this creamy spinach and leek as the layered filling. Personally, I just like the filling. It is like a cross between creamed spinach and spinach artichoke dip but it is better than both of them!

Last night, I brought it to my mother’s for the seder and we baked this creamy creation in two of these little dishes. There was not a single piece of spinach left. Everyone (read: all of the non-vegans) loved it and couldn’t get over the vegan creaminess!

Note: Leeks vary in size. This is the big, or as my son would say gimundo, leek I used in the recipe but use whatever you find in the store. Just remember, cooking is not an exact science and it will be delicious no matter what!

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1 big leek, white and pale green parts, about 2 cups
1 bunch of fresh spinach, about 4 cups
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
Pinch salt and white pepper, to taste

Cashew Cream *
1/2 cup raw cashews **
1/2 ripe avocado
The juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup of water

* There may be more cream than you need for the dish. See notes below.

** If you don’t have a Vitamix, soak the cashews overnight or cover with a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes.

Drain the soaking water and place the cashews, avocado, lemon juice and water in the Vitamix and let it rip until it is smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Chop the leeks and clean really well. Add a few tablespoons of water to a sauté pan and drop the leeks in. Add a pinch of salt. Cook until super soft. Add more water if necessary.

Clean the spinach really well and chop it up. Add a little water to the leeks and then add the spinach. Wilt it down completely.

Chop the dill and sprinkle it over the spinach leek mixture. Add about half of the cashew cream and mix really well. Add more if you think it isn’t creamy enough or save the rest for another dish.

Serve it warm right out of the sauté pan or bake it in a 350 for 30 minutes or until it is heated through. Enjoy!

My New 7 Vegetable Soup

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I used to make 7 vegetable soup with potatoes. I have since refined my recipe and skip the tubers. Why you ask? Well, my Vitamix is so powerful that it turns potato soup into glue and since we love our soups pureed I switched it up. This soup is super delicious and full of goodness especially when topped with matzo balls! Just in time for Passover tonight.

1 onion
6 carrots
3 stalks of celery
3 parsnips
8 baby turnips or 2 regular size turnips
1 gigantic leek or 2 regular size leeks
2 cloves of garlic
4 cups of water
Fresh dill, as much as you like
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Parsley and dill, for garnish

Prepare your mise en place by roughly chopping the vegetables into roughly the same size pieces.

Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water into a big soup pot and add the onions. Cook on medium heat until the onions start to soften. Add the rest of the vegetables and the rest of the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and add the dill.

When everything is soft, turn the heat off and let sit for a few just to cool off. Transfer into the Vitamix or blender or use an immersion blender. Puree as much as you like.

Pour back into the pot and reheat or refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. Serve topped with fresh dill and chopped parsley and/or matzo balls. Enjoy!

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Passover: Matzo Balls v2

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It’s Passover! I am so happy to be making this proven recipe for matzo balls. If you remember, three years ago when I started this blog, I went through a series of experiments using all kinds of ingredients to create vegan matzo balls. The last attempt was the worst. The matzo balls completely dissolved upon hitting the boiling water. I was about to give up when I found Nava Atlas and her site VegKitchen.com. Nava is an amazing cook, blogger, and cookbook author and her recipe for matzo balls saved me!

My friend Frank and his wife Sandra dropped of a Christmas present at our apartment this year: Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas. When I went through the book, I found a different recipe for the matzo balls. Nava omitted the packaged matzo ball mix and instead uses plain matzo meal dressed up with a little onion and garlic powder, salt and pepper. No more extra sodium and more homemade! Right up my alley. She has also posted the new recipe on her website.

I made 24 matzo balls from this recipe!

Note: if you are making these ahead of time, reheat in a warm oven, not the soup, or the matzo balls may start to fall apart!

1 cup quinoa flakes
2 cups boiling water
1 cup matzo meal *
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 teaspoon each onion powder and garlic powder, or more to taste
1/8 teaspoon salt and white pepper, or more to taste

* Use matzo meal in the package or do what I did. Break up about 8 sheets of matzo (I used organic whole wheat) and place them into the food processor. Process until fine. Sift through a fine mesh strainer for really fine meal.

Boil the water.

In a large mixing bowl, cover the quinoa flakes with the hot water and let stand for 3 minutes.

Stir in the matzo meal, oil, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder and mix until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 275 and line a baking sheet. Roll into 1 inch balls. I use my small ice cream scooper to help me estimate the size. Try not to pack the balls too tightly.

Arrange on the baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes carefully turning after 10 minutes. Don’t let them brown!

Drop right into soup or if making ahead of time let cool and then reheat in a warm oven.

Enjoy!

ps. don’t forget this amazing recipe for matzo brei! It is a favorite around here!

Pancake Improv (with Fresh Almond Pulp)

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As I was making a fresh batch of almond milk, my son asked for pancakes. I usually make him the Panana Cakes from The China Study Cookbook but I had just used all of the bananas for my Banana Walnut Bread. I had a nut milk bag full of fresh almond pulp sitting on the counter so I tossed it into the batter as a banana replacement. It worked great! A lovely batter with a nutty flavor. Serve with maple syrup and anything else your people like on their pancakes e.g., bananas, raisins, blueberries, strawberries, more cinnamon, etc.

1 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup fresh almond pulp
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Add the almond milk, fresh almond pulp, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Mix until combined.

Heat a non-stick skillet and add pancakes one tablespoon at a time. I actually heat two skillets so we can all have pancakes at the same time! When little bubbles form on the top, flip the pancakes over. Let them cook on the second side for a minute. Serve and enjoy!

Fresh Nutmeg

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Left: Whole nutmeg
Right: The inside of the nutmeg after grating

Have you ever worked with fresh nutmeg? I never did until I took my Rouxbe.com cooking course. I would normally buy a jar of ground nutmeg and use it in any of my recipes that call for nutmeg like my mother in law’s mini fruit cakes or baked doughnuts. But since I tried the fresh nutmeg, there is no going back. It is really fun to learn new things like this and pass them on to you because how else do we learn these things? (Unless you took a cooking course or your mom used fresh nutmeg!)

What is nutmeg? It is the oval shaped pit or fruit of the nutmeg tree. It is an intense and specific flavor, slightly sweet and sort of a cousin to cinnamon but sharper like pepper. It is hard to describe, but when you smell it you will know it.

I figured since I found out about whole nutmeg you should too! Just grate it with your microplane or a special nutmeg grater into your recipes. Enjoy!

Kale & My New Morning Shake-y Shake

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It’s my birthday month! I will be 44 on the 13th and even though I am getting older in years, I feel younger and more energetic than ever! My diet is super clean, mostly oil and gluten free, and I make almost everything we eat from as close to scratch as possible.

I am giving myself Kale as a birthday present. I am ever expanding my palate and since kale is not my favorite (but oh so healthy) I have found that adding it to my morning shake-y shake is the best way to incorporate it into my diet.

My original shake-y shake was a cup of almond milk, a big heaping tablespoon of almond butter, and 2 frozen bananas. However, in the last six months I have been playing with a variety of nuts, seeds and grains to make instant milk, and superfoods, fruits and sweeteners for variety. I make a different variation every day because the effects of eating a nutrient dense diet are cumulative!

1 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup kale
1/2 cup frozen fruit (e.g., bananas, strawberries, blueberries) *
1/4 cup almonds, brazil nuts or cashew nuts
1/4 cup rolled oats or cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon hemp, flax or chia seeds
1 tablespoon maca, lucuma or goji berry powder
3 pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla powder

Add everything to the blender and let it rip!

* I buy tons of strawberries and blueberries for my son and husband but if they even have so much as a dent or a just slightly soft, they refuse to eat them. I take those and add them to my frozen stockpiles of fruit. For bananas, every week I buy a big bunch, peel them, cut them up and store in the freezer so they are ready to go.

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Here are just some of the nutrients I am digesting in the morning. Can you believe it?

Almonds: manganese, B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, calcium, biotin

Brazil nuts: selenium, vitamin E, thiamin

Cashews: copper, magnesium, zinc

Hemp seeds: Omega-6, Omega-3, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, B vitamins, calcium, fiber, iron

Flax seeds: Omega-3, vitamin B1, fiber, lignans

Chia seeds: Omega-3, fiber, protein

Kale: calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C,  vitamin K, copper, potassium, iron, manganese, phosphorus

Bananas: vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, fiber, potassium, biotin, copper

Strawberries: vitamin C, manganese, fiber, folate

Blueberries: antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K

Oats: manganese, fiber, zinc, protein

Quinoa: protein (all essential amino acids), vitamin E

Maca powder: protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, iron

Lucuma powder: zinc, iron, calcium

Goji berry powder: iron, beta carotene, protein

Dates: fiber, vitamin B6 Vanilla powder: calcium, iron, fiber

And the benefits of all of those nutrients? Fiber, major fiber. (I am regular!) And check this out. All of these nutrients contribute to heart health and cardiovascular support, help prevent cancer, offer antioxidant support, are anti-inflammatory and immune boosting. This is all in one meal. What is your go to nutrient dense meal?

The Famous VegNews Mac ‘n Cheese

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We just came back from a nature walk on our beach determined to collect many of the species of shells that we learned about the other day at the South Fork Natural History Museum the day that we found Treeline Tree Nut Cheese.

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We cross referenced our shells with our Beachcombers guide and this is what we found: oysters, clams, jingle shells, a mussel, a moon snail, scallops, snails, and a sand dollar. Of course, we found some great sea glass for our collection. We feel so educated now and once again in even more awe of Mother Nature. What beauties these little shells are!

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With all of that walking, we needed a big, satisfying lunch and this, the famous mac ‘n cheese recipe that VegNews says “is the best mac ‘n’ cheese on the planet. End of story” delivered. With ingredients that are recognizable by everyone – none of the typical vegan mac ‘n cheese ingredients like nutritional yeast or cornstarch - this recipe is accessible, non-intimidating and super easy.

I made it right before we left and popped it in the oven when we got back. I almost followed the recipe exactly. I left the bread crumbs off the top and sprinkled mine with lots of paprika instead because that is what my mom used to do when we were little. I also left out the black pepper. I figured the cayenne would give it enough of a kick for me and boy, did it. I am a light weight! But if I were to add pepper, I would use white pepper anyway.

The original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt! What?? That is way too much in my book so I added a big pinch. Also, I made this in my Vitamix and I had to add 1/4 cup of water to the Earth Balance mixture to get it going and it still didn’t really go until I added the vegetables. Plus, I was a little concerned about the potatoes because I have been known to turn potato soup into starchy glue in my Vitamix. So, I only let it go for about a minute on a low setting and the sauce turned out perfectly creamy.

The result? A nice crispy top and a creamy sauce with a kick! It is a definite crowd pleaser and a good dish for those non-vegan believers in your life. Check out the recipe and make it for yourself!

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8 ounces pasta (I used gluten free fusillis)
2 tablespoons shallots, peeled and chopped (about 1 big shallot)
1 cup red or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 1 big russet)
1/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 regular size carrot)
1/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped (about 1/4 of a big onion)
1 cup water
1/4 cup raw cashews
A big pinch of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced (about 1 clove)
1/3 cup non-hydrogenated margarine (I used soy free Earth Balance)
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 1/2 of a small lemon)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon paprika (plus extra for the top)

This recipe screams for mise en place so peel, chop and measure. Get the pasta going and preheat the oven to 350.

Place the shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion, and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft.

Add the cashews, salt, garlic, Earth Balance, mustard, lemon juice, cayenne and paprika into the blender or Vitamix and process. Add a little water to get it going, if necessary. Add the softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender and process until perfectly smooth.

Drain the pasta and toss with the blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Turn the mixture out into a 9 x 12 casserole dish and dust with paprika. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy!