Vegan Chocolate Chip Cream Scones

Vegan cream scones

I can’t believe I never thought about doing this– simply substitute the heavy cream in a traditional cream scone recipe with coconut cream, and voila! Vegan cream scone, 100% as fluffy and light as the original.

In fact, I think it’s even tastier– the coconut milk lends a hint of subtle sweetness and makes it creamy without being cloying. It doesn’t taste coconutt-y outright, and you wouldn’t know it’s vegan unless you asked.

To make the whole process simpler, I made them as drop scones and it was perfect. Less than 30 minutes from craving to reward, great for hungry Sunday mornings, when you’ve been dreaming of donuts and that oatmeal just looks cruel.

Vegan cream scones

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cream Scones
Makes 6 big scones
Adapted from Art of Dessert

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 ¼ cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. In a mixing boil, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
3. Pour in coconut milk; gently mix to form a dough; stir in chocolate chips.
4. Drop large scoops (¼ cupfuls) onto a greased baking sheet 2 inches apart.
5. Bake 15-20 min, or until golden brown. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container after it’s completely cooled. Reheat in toaster oven.

A number of things

A number of things have occurred since we last spoke.
I’ve moved from the Greatest City in the World

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to one that’s not half bad.

Charles
I’m a student again,
and also a research assistant at a pretty exciting place.

Most notably, my new home comes with the dreamiest kitchen you’ve ever met:
Good morning from my new kitchen  #ibelieveinathingcalledlove
which means, I’ll be cooking a lot…
especially since it’s my favorite way of dealing with stress.

Ciao!

Salted Caramel Brownies

Salted caramel brownies

Hello, old friend– long time, no see! I promise I’ll get back to writing to you more soon. But for now, a recipe– both salty & sweet, just like my feelings about leaving my Alma Mater.

Salted Caramel Brownies
Makes 1 8″ pan, cut into 16 squares (they’re very rich!)

Fudge brownies are pretty much perfect as is but the addition of salted caramel makes them heavenly. My suitemates have been clamoring for the recipe for a week now, so I caved and am back to blogging. These are especially good chilled– really like candy, almost.

Mark Bittman is one of my favorite chefs and his formula for brownies is my go-to-recipe: so simple it’s child-proof, fudgy and sweet with crackly tops. I also love that they don’t use cocoa powder, which I never seem to have lying around.

Nota bene: best friend’s mother, who is an amazing cook, made this huge bowl of homemade dulce de leche– pretty much the most addictive substance on earth. If you don’t have such luck in friends, and are short on time, you can buy it premade– or make it yourself.

Ingredients:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

about 1 cup dulce de leche, or however much 1 12-oz can of sweetened condensed milk makes

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. These are sticky, so either line the pan with aluminium foil and grease it or nonstick parchment paper (or else serving will be a nightmare!).

2. Combine the stick of butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or microwave them in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium for 10-second intervals, stirring after each.) When the chocolate is just about melted, remove the saucepan from the heat (or bowl from the microwave) and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (or use the bowl you put in the microwave) and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and the vanilla if you’re using it.

4.Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Carefully pour caramel over the top and gently spread with a spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt, then gently pour the rest of the batter over the top. Sprinkle again with a bit of sea salt over the top.

5. Bake 35-40 min, or until center is set (these take a lot longer than regular brownies but don’t let them burn!).

This is the hard part– cool for a good long time so that they’re firm enough to cut. When brownies are cool, lift them out of the pan by the foil or parchment, place the whole thing on a cutting board, and cut into squares with a serrated knife, dipping in between cuts in hot water (they’re super sticky, no joke!).

Enjoy :)

Persimmon Goat Cheese Salad

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the Persimmon Tree

A few years ago, when I was a grumpy senior in High School, the beloved Magnolia tree in our backyard, source of pink blossoms, rambling branches to climb, and many childhood memories passed away. In its place, my parents went to an Asian nursery and brought back a Persimmon tree.

The tree was thin, crooked, and distinctly budget. Maybe there was some haggling involved. I didn’t like it. I wanted a cherry tree, with fluffy pink blossoms. I wanted an apple tree, something that smacked of wholesomeness and Americana. Instead, my parents got something “Oriental”, that I argued had no retail value when the time came to sell our little house and yard (a low blow, since both my parents and I are firmly attached to the idea of growing old in the same place).

The first year in our yard, the squirrels ate nearly all the blossoms. They bit off many thin twigs and branches, leaving a massacre on the grass. What was left turned into small hard fruits, and the wrist-thin trunk sloped to one side.

I went to school. I didn’t call very much, and I forgot about our tree and our backyard.

But my parents took care of the tree and it grew into a beautiful little thing. Now it bears dozens and dozens of fruit– more than a couple of empty-nesters can eat. The pretty orange persimmons hang like Christmas globes on the small but staunch tree.

By nature there are two types of persimmons– astringent types, which unless utterly ripe to the point of bursting, leave a nasty “furry” feeling on the tongue, and non-astringent types, which can be eaten at any stage of ripeness, always lovely and mild. Our little tree is non-astringent. The fruits are always sweet.

Every Thanksgiving now my parents bring a bucketful to my aunt and uncle’s house, and I take the leftovers back to school. When my mom was a child, persimmons were big and squishy and plentiful and overlooked as a poor man’s fruit. Everyone wanted red American apples and bananas that were yellow. The grocer would say, these bananas have been on a plane– now, have you been on a plane? because a little chinese girl isn’t much more than a banana. Now, I savor them, a day at a time, to make the harvest last.

Each one reminds me of my parent’s love and my roots– that I am not as american as apple pie, but that the fruit is sweeter still.

Persimmon Goat Cheese Salad
Persimmon goat cheese salad

Goat cheese is (was?) trendy, but in my opinion its value is very hit-or-miss. Because of its tanginess, it goes best with sweet, fruity flavors. Here, the combination of sweet persimmon, tangy creamy cheese, and acidic balsamic is perfect. I like it even better than that restaurant favorite combo, beets-and-goat-cheese.

Serves 1

  • 2 c mixed spring greens
  • 1 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 T toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 fuyu persimmon, *peeled*, sectioned, slightly soft
  • 2 T balsamic vinaigrette (or less, to taste.)

Put greens in a salad bowl, and top with segmented persimmon. Crumble on the goat cheese and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Drizzle just enough vinaigrette to cover the top leaves– you want it to be very lightly moistened, and the strong acidity will overpower the delicate fruitiness.

Enjoy, with thanks.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins

Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins

Forget Pumpkin Spiced this-and-that: when fall rolls around, there’s exactly one treat that I’m craving: and that’s a fresh Cider Donut at the Greenmarket on a crisp Sunday morning. There’s always something apple-cheeked and wholesome about greenmarket cider donuts, despite the fact that they’re deep fried: after all how could I say no to this little bite of autumn, and supporting local farms?

But what’s a girl to do on the four other days of the week when the market’s not there?

Make her own fall-flavored donuts: no frying necessary. Move over, Apple Cider Donuts: make way for Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins
Recipe Adapted from Kirbie’s Cravings, a lovely food blog
Makes 1 dozen

These treats really capture the taste and texture of Cider Donuts, without the hassle of deep-frying, and with a pumpkin twist. The process is easy and fun: perfect for a Fall Break baking project, Columbia students!

Muffins:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup fat free milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree

Coating:

  • 2 tbs butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and generously grease a muffin pan with butter.
  2. In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients except for sugar.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix all remaining muffin ingredients.
  4. Slowly stir in wet ingredients to flour mixture.
  5. Bake for approx 20 min, or until muffins are lightly browned and firm.
  6. Meanwhile, mix together sugar and cinnamon for topping.
  7. When muffins are cool enough to handle, pop them out of the tin, and for each “donut”, dip the top in melted butter, and roll around in cinnamon sugar. Check out the video for a demo!
  8. Enjoy warm or room temperature.

Sunny Harvest Soup

Butternut bean and orzo stew

After a long cold day, I wanted to make a soup that reminded me of Thanksgiving and comfort– minus all the hours of preparation and food coma from overly rich dishes. How could I capture the essence of the holidays using what little frugal and vegetarian ingredients I had?

Food is steeped in tradition and family, but it is also a science, and psychological one: satisfying our cravings often have to more with our attachment to certain special flavors and textures rather than the entire dish.

Holiday dinners always seem to be centered around some sort of roasted bird– be it turkey or chicken, and surrounded by winter vegetables (roots and squashes). But it’s not really about the fowl: after all, we might eat sliced turkey in our subs and begrudgingly cold chicken for supper.

More important are the spices: things like sage, thyme, and dill, and the textures: warm, soft, tender.

These are the senses I tried to mimic. Using the three Sisters we learned about in kindergarten (sweet corn, hearty beans, and squash cooked till it melts in your mouth), plenty of thyme and dill (common bird roasting spices), and tiny sweet onions, plus an umami kick from soy sauce, I think it nails comfort on the head.

Sunny Harvest Stew
Feeds 4 normal eaters or 2 Sophies
Cook time: about an hour

Ingredients:

  • ¼ butternut squash
  • ½ can sweet corn (I love Trader Joe’s!)
  • ½ can white beans
  • 1 cup frozen (or fresh) pearl onions (from Trader Joe’s as well)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp dill
  • 2 splashes soy sauce
  • salt, pepper
  • T olive oil
  • ½ c orzo
  1. Put the onions in a large pot with a splash of water some soy sauce. Cook over medium heat till soft.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the squash into 1-inch chunks. Add this to the pot, along with all remaining ingredients except for orzo.
  3. Stew, covered, for about 30-40 min, or until everything’s nice and soft, and then stir in orzo.
  4. Cook for 8-10 minutes more, until orzo is al dente and some of the stock is absorbed.
  5. Serve with freshly ground pepper.

Remembering a Feast at Summer’s End

olives
Originally published on my writing blog.

Nowadays it is conventional to believe that emotional eating is unhealthy, but the truth is that emotions are so strongly mixed into every ingredient of a meal that the two are inseparable.

Why is it that our memories of eating are often so much stronger, more vivid than our memories of anything else? First-grade strawberry birthday popsicles. Peanut-butter-and-jelly, half thrown away. Turkey for Thanksgiving, and then cold turkey the whole week after. I don’t remember, really, what dress I wore to the birthday; I don’t remember what I did after lunch in the cafeteria, and I can’t recall that year whether or not Grandma was at our house.

It’s not simply that perhaps I have an irregular preoccupation with food; there are for certain a great deal of people with less interest than I in cooking and dining, but then again also a great deal with more. Eating combines the physical with the social, with which the emotional is undeniably inextricable. Food memories are persistent because they involve strong stimulation of all five physical senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching) all centered around a social function or a cultural dictation; eating a meal is both an event and an action and an indication. The food we eat (along with the food that we do not permit ourselves to consume) form little landmarks in our lives.

On a cloudy, chilly, groggy Friday like this, I pull out the warm memory of a feast at summer’s end. It nourishes my soul. It grounds my mind. It pulls me from the dark, floating, philosophical clouds above, to the concrete, Epicurean joys of physical Earth.

Apple Sharlotka

Apple Sharlotka

This cake couldn’t be simpler to make and tastes simply divine! Perfect for the fall season, especially holiday gatherings (Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving). With no butter, it also makes a great breakfast :) The hardest step is waiting for it to bake!

Note: This is ⅓ the size of the original recipe, perfect for a family of four (make a larger one for a gathering, and add 10-20 min. baking time).

Apple Sharlotka
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes a small cake, serves 4

  • 2 medium apples (I used golden delicious)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/3 t vanilla
  • 1/3 c flour
  • butter, for greasing

1. This couldn’t be simpler. First, preheat oven to 350F and thoroughly butter a small round cake pan (I used a four-cup pyrex glass dish).
2. Peel and core the apples. Then, slice it into small chunks: I cut each apple into quarters, then made thin slices. Put the apples in the bottom of the pan.
3. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg. Add sugar and vanilla; beat till thick and smooth. Beat in the flour, gradually.
4. Pour batter over apples, and press it into the nooks and crannies. You don’t really need to mix it in, just make sure it’s not all floating at the top.
5. Bake for about 50 min, or until the top is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted comes clean.
6. Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Back-to-School-Recipe: Butternut Squash Tacos

Butternut & Bean Tacos

Fall is here, back to school: in my final year of college! Unbelievable, isn’t it, how close I am to wrapping up my undergraduate degree (hopefully)?

Anyhow, with cooler weather comes great tennis (I hope y’all are watching now! Go Rafa!) and the need for warm food. Squash season never disappoints, and I’m a huge fan of butternut.

Here’s a quick and easy meal (that can be made vegan easily). Requiring few ingredients and few dollars, it’s perfect for back to school. Go now, cook!

Butternut Squash & Bean Tacos (Vegan option)
Serves 2

  • 1 knob (tbsp) of butter or margarine
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • generous sprinkle salt
  • generous sprinkle cinnamon
  • red pepper, to taste
  • ½ butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 cup refried beans (half a can)
  • 2 large wheat tortillas
  • arugula
  • sour cream (optional)

1. Melt butter in a large frying pan over high heat. Throw in the garlic and saute.
2. When garlic begins to brown, stir in the sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
3. Coat butternut squash in mixture and cover pan.
4. Cook, stirring occasionally until squash is tender and caramelized.
5. Meanwhile, in another pan, heat up the refried beans. Also warm tortillas.
6. Serve tacos with a thick layer of beans, generous pile of squash, a handful of arugula, and if so desired, sour cream.

P.S. If you’re a fan of hard cider check out Harpoon’s Pumpkin one! It’s great with squash and all sorts of fall treats.

Harpoon Pumpkin Cider

A Truncated Coffee Tour of Mostly Manhattan

A truncated coffee tour of mostly manhattan

What do a mathematician and a computer scientist in training do on their day off? Drink all the coffee, of course.

Well, not quite all the coffee, as we had only 8 hours and countless choices in this great City where there are thankfully plenty of independent and mini-chain cafes brewing up the good stuff.

Because of time and caffenation constraints, this coffee tour was limited to four shops : Stumptown at the Ace Hotel, Joe the Art of Coffee (Pro Shop), Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea Location), and Blue Bottle (Chelsea).

BACKGROUND AND JUDGING CRITERIA:
I have no formal knowledge of coffee tasting, only that I drink it every morning, and that I love a good cup. A great cup of coffee, to me, is worth every cent and is miles away from that of the Green Mermaid.

At work, we have Stumptown Hairbender Espresso beans, and that’s what I use to make my iced latte every morning, so think of that as the control bean.

During the school year, I frequently drink the house blend at Joe the Art of Coffee on Columbia’s campus, so that’s my standard for hot coffee.

Judging cafes is a little difficult because the quality of the beans is an entirely different animal from how well it’s brewed. Below, I’ll focus on two aspects: the ambiance of the location itself, and commenting on the actual coffee brewed in the store– which is not necessarily a reflection of how good the beans themselves are, although in the best-case scenario, it should be.

Stumptown at The Ace Hotel
The Ace Hotel
20 W 29th St
New York, NY 10001

Ambiance
Crowded, small storefront next to the lobby of the hotel with no seats and a long, busy line. You can take your mug inside the lobby of the Ace Hotel, which is cool, dark, and hip. A little too hip and too dark for a morning cup of joe, in my opinion, but I imagine this would be a sexy place for a late-night rendezvous. But in that case, you’d probably have other plans than caffeinating.

Tasting Notes
We were sort of disappointed by this cup. Since I drink it every morning, Stumptown is very dear to my heart– but service was rushed and a bit sloppy. They do french-press over here, with Costa Rican beans. The cup was lighter than I’m used to (which might be due to personal preference), mildly acidic, and creamy. However, there was a thick layer of bitter dregs from the french press on the bottom of the mug, ruining the last sip. Now, a little bit of sediment might be a good thing, but this was a bit too much grit.

Joe the Art of Coffee (Pro Shop and Columbia University)

Several Locations (see http://www.joenewyork.com/locations/), including:

Columbia University
550 west 120th street (northwest corner building)
new york, ny 10027

Joe Pro Shop
131 west 21st street
new york, ny 10011

Ambiance (Columbia University)
Joe’s a mini-chain, so there are many throughout the City, and Philly, too.
Of the Manhattan locations, this one’s the best for studying: it’s by far the largest one, with some sort of odd modern airplane-hangar design, and decorated with stressed Columbia students. Like most specialty coffee shops, it has a very hipster crowd (how did they manage to do that inside the Science building?).

Ambiance (Joe Pro)
The tiny headquarters shop, filled with pretty gadgets (Chemex? French press?) and equipment behind the counter. As usual, extremely hip (the guy has a full-on mustache, for heaven’s sake), and knowledgeable staff. Not much room nor ambiance for sitting and staying, it’s more for shopping.

A truncated coffee tour of mostly manhattan

Tasting Notes :
This is my favorite mini-chain in the City, in terms of accessibility (they have locations in every major transit area, plus Columbia, to my benefit) and consistently good quality and service. You can always depend on a quality cup of coffee– even when the line goes out the door during midterms time. The house blend is very rich, fruity, and a bit more on the acidic side.

Cafe Grumpy (Chelsea Location)
4 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011
(See more locations: http://cafegrumpy.com/locations)

Ambiance
Beautiful location– very spacious, local art on the walls, and a cute little garden in the back. When we went, it was fairly empty, but it seems spacious enough to avoid overcrowding. There’s a “no-laptop” policy, making for a less stressful environment, and draws more attention to the excellent coffee and delicious, creative pastries. Of course, it’s on the hip side, but more in a Chelsea than Williamsburg way.

A truncated coffee tour of mostly manhattan

Tasting Notes
We chose a cup of the Don Pepe, with notes of chocolate and pineapple. For $4.00, it’s on the more expensive side of things, for one mug of individual drip-filtered joe. The coffee lived up to it’s price tag: there was indeed rich notes of chocolate and pineapple, but most importantly it was very, very clean: they served it in a glass mug, which really helped keep the flavors pure. At the bottom of the cup, you could see the sheen of the coffee oil. They use metal filters here, which I believe leads to a better taste and retention of more of the oil. Recommended.

A truncated coffee tour of mostly manhattan

Blue Bottle Coffee (Chelsea location)
450 W 15th St
(between 10th Ave & 9th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
(see more locoations: http://www.bluebottlecoffee.com/)

Ambiance
This is a little storefront near the highline in the Milk Building. There are a few stools in front of the glass windows up front, and a cool siphon bar upstairs that was unfortunately closed when we got there. More of a pit stop, then a sip-and-stay.

A truncated coffee tour of mostly manhattan

Tasting Notes
We got the 3 African Blend, which they made as a pourover with a paper filter. There was, unfortunately, a mildly-charred aftertaste, accentuated by the taste of the paper cup, and overall the flavor was not as clean. But still, a solid cup of coffee, with rich flavor.

A truncated coffee tour of mostly manhattan

THE WINNER:
Hands down, Cafe Grumpy wins this round. With wonderful individualized service, homemade pastries, plenty of seats, and a cute back garden, it’s hard to beat. The coffee itself was the cleanest and richest cup all day.

BONUS EDITION: COLD BREWS
Variety Café
368 Graham Ave
(between Conselyea St & Skillman Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Neighborhood: East Williamsburg

This one’s not in Manhattan, but I thought i’d throw it in anyway, since it’s my default cafe near my apartment.

Ambiance:
Free wifi, nice tables and benches, outlets, well-dressed hipsters. A great place to get some errands done with a laptop.

Tasting Notes
This hip cafe near the Graham Ave. stop uses Stumptown Beans for their cold brew.
On first sip, the taste is overwhelmed by a strong acidic/sour note– with the sweetness of the beans coming in afterwards. Offending coffee aficionados everywhere, I poured in a little milk to counterbalance the acid.

Note that the cafe is cash-only.

Birch Coffee / 7th Avenue
56 7th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(between 13th and 14th streets)

Many claim that this coffee mini-chain has the best iced coffee in Manhattan– and it’s one of the few to sell it in 64-oz jugs, or growlers, for convenience at home.

Ambiance:
Small, friendly, hip.

Tasting Notes
Birch Coffee’s coffee captures all the essence of summer, and the true spirit of cold brew, in a cup.

Now, that doesn’t mean necessarily it’s my favorite bean, or that even I loved it on first sip– it’s very light, and i’m a fan of strong, earthy brews when it comes to the hot stuff– but it has the cleanest flavor– floral and refreshing– that I’ve sampled. This is the perfect cup for a hot summer’s day– which is what cold brew’s all about.

Other Locations:

UWS
750 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10025

Flatiron
5 East 27th Street
New York, NY 10016
(at the Gershwin Hotel between Fifth Ave & Madison Ave )

THE WINNER:
In a sample size of two, Birch takes the boat. Although, I have a feeling it’d still hold out with more competition!

TO-DO LIST:
The City is full of great cafes, and unfortunately, I didn’t get to review them all in this go. Post your suggestions, in the comments, for future reviews!

Shops that I plan to try and re-try are: The Roasting Plant, La Colombe, Irving Farms and more.

Also welcome: San Francisco suggestions, since I’ll be traveling there at the end of the month.

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