Fudgy Peanut Butter Banana Bars (V)

IMG_1930This quarantine has sparked endless conversation, a popular one of which involves the discussion of everyone’s “new normal.” The sudden, jarring shifts in daily routine and atmosphere and social outlets forced by this pandemic have naturally resulted in the need to adjust–and cope. Everyone has been affected by this situation in some way, regardless of whether they’ve physically suffered from the virus itself.

Sheltering-in-place was not an effortless transition for me. Of course, I realized how fortunate I was when so many were not–I was healthy, able to pay my bills, living in an apartment  with roommates I loved. However, in time, I also had to accept that it was okay–vital, actually– to acknowledge that quarantine was hard. Is hard. You see, I had grown quite fond of normal–my old, worn-with-age, tried-and-true normal, the one in which I had a daily job and specific tasks to complete, the one that allowed me to make random stops at my friends’ homes or grab last minute groceries three times in the same week. As a dancer, I am used to physically expelling energy for hours every day, and as a recipe blogger, I’m accustomed to wandering aimlessly in stores, brainstorming potential baking plans. Being an artist, I felt uniquely stifled by the restrictions; the lack of places to expel my creative energy quickly became overwhelming and translated into many anxious, seemingly unproductive days (as well as a few random sketches and a LOT of walking).IMG_1851

After a week or so, I was beginning to feel a bit more comfortable with the changes. Per the suggestion of my counselor, I began planning out a schedule for each day, a strategy that made a massive difference in the way I approached the sudden surplus of time that almost everyone experienced. With more moments of mental clarity, I was also able to address some specific sources of anxiety for me. One of them, I realized, was my food. In an attempt to adhere to the social precautions everyone adopted, I had ordered my groceries through a delivery service. However, with demand unbelievably high, it was about a week before I received them. This left me with six days of eating whatever pantry items I could use to concoct a meal, and, more often than not, they were all various types of carbs. My diet consisted of around  20% oatmeal, 20% peanut butter, 10% absolute randomness, 50% homemade sourdough (okay, not really complaining about that), and 0% vegetables (anyone who knows me knows that was pure torture). Within just a few days, I realized how frustrated I was, how much my body craved the balanced diet it was used to receiving, how it was affecting my mood. Arguably the most shocking affect, though, was that I, the maker of all things sugary, even started to lose my craving for desserts. Perhaps now you can understand just how dire those few days seemed.IMG_1939

Thankfully, I write to you from the other side of that battle–never have I been so thrilled to see a bag of green beans in my life. That week of upheaval in my kitchen was a reminder for me of just how important it is to fuel both our bodies and our minds, especially in times of trauma. When so many factors in our lives are shifting, maintaining a level of nutritious eating can be an incredibly grounding practice, whether or not you generally prioritize a healthy diet. Not only that, but in the midst of a viral outbreak, supporting your immune system is particularly important! That’s why, when creating this recipe, I kept three things in mind:

  1. I wanted the recipe to be “healthy,” in the sense that it offered some sort of nutritional/energy value.
  2. I wanted the recipe to be accessible–I’ve been doing a “quarantine series” on my blog that revolves around ingredients most people always have on hand.
  3. I didn’t want the recipe to taste like a “healthy” recipe: dessert is my specialty, after all, and I know first hand the need to indulge! Especially when you’re tackling a new normal.

So, I immediately grabbed peanut butter and bananas: one of those food pairings that was, I think, unarguably meant to be. My initial recipe development was slow and, quite honestly, frustrating. Though it’s been over a month, I still sigh at the lack of variety in my cabinets: I absolutely love both peanut butter and bananas, but I felt like they were rather cliche among nutritious recipes. For a moment, I allowed my unattainable dreams of inventive, exotic flavors to stall my progress. And, as I always do when I’ve run into “baker’s block,” I called my mom. IMG_1953

Thankfully, my mother is the perfect deliverer of sympathy…when it’s due. In all other cases, she tells me exactly the harsh truth I need to hear, and she holds an impressive success rate of steering me back towards the task I’m aiming to complete. This was no exception. Upon listening to my whining about being forced to use bananas again, she replied with her characteristically precise advice: “So? Do something different. Your whole point of quarantine recipes is to reinvent things!”

Thanks, mom. I realized that I’d momentarily let this chaos of pandemic snatch the one thing it could never completely steal from me–my creativity. At once, the seemingly mundane task before me became a challenge (anyone who knows me also knows that the only thing I like more than peas and carrots is a challenge). With this competitive energy fueling me, I worked all day to develop a recipe, not hindered at all by the involvement of ingredients that I’d once considered overused.IMG_1869

That’s how I ended up with these bars. They’re partially inspired by my recent discovery of the magical taste of fried bananas. To make them, I decided to pan fry my bananas with maple syrup before baking them into the bars, a decision that added an especially powerful caramel sweetness. This flavor, along with the salty creaminess of peanut butter, provided a satisfying balance that I further nuanced with cinnamon and allspice. They even have protein powder in them for an extra nutrient boost. To finish them off, I handed off the apron to readers! You can pick from the list of toppings to add crunch and flair to your own batch.

I’ve come to a myriad of conclusions over the last few weeks, some more complicated than others. One of the most troubling dilemmas was learning how this pandemic would affect my identity as an artist. Through time, restlessness, phone calls with mom, and bananas, I’ve finally grasped at the answer: it doesn’t. An artist doesn’t ever stop being an artist. You can remove a dancer’s stage, an actor’s set, a vocalists’ studio, but–as we’ve all witnessed through daily inspiration like this magazine– they won’t stop creating. This pandemic has robbed the world of physical touch, millions of jobs, and a staggering number of lives. So, I encourage you to hold tight to what it can never infect. As we all endure this time of collective grief and turmoil, I hope you can devote time to allocate rest for your mind; to feed your body with what it needs; and to keep making art.  Sending love and prayers to everyone.

My heart, O God, is steadfast,
    my heart is steadfast;
    I will sing and make music.

Psalm 57: 7

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Fudgy Peanut Butter Banana Bars (V)

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup protein powder (vanilla or chocolate)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • about 3 medium bananas, sliced into about 1/2 inch slices
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 TBSP + 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp oil (I used extra light olive oil)
  • Optional Add-Ons: toasted nuts, sea salt, toasted coconut, dark chocolate chips, banana/plantain chips, drizzled maple syrup, melted chocolate

Instructions

  1. Place oil and 1 TBSP maple syrup in a skillet over medium heat. When it starts sizzling, carefully place the banana slices in the pan (it may splatter).
  2. Cook until brown/caramelized on one side, and then flip to cook the other side. Remove from heat, mash in a bowl, and allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease a square baking dish.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together almond milk, 1/4 cup peanut butter, and 1/4 cup mashed fried banana together.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, protein powder, baking powder, 1/4 salt, allspice, and cinnamon.
  6. Gradually add the flour mixture to the almond milk mixture, whisking after each addition, until it’s completely incorporated. Pour into the baking dish, and smooth the top with a spatula.
  7.  Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 22-24 minutes. Allow to cool.
  8. While it bakes, make the topping: mix together remaining 3/4 cup mashed fried banana, 1/4 cup peanut butter, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp syrup, and a pinch of cinnamon (Be sure the banana has cooled).
  9. Once the base is cool, spread the topping evenly over the base, covering it completely.
  10. Finish the bars with your choice of add-ons, and chill in the fridge before slicing. Enjoy!

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April Fool’s Primanti Bros. Sandwich (V)

APRIL FOOL’S!!!

IMG_1441I did not, in fact, post a meat-filled sandwich on my very vegan blog. This is actually a tiny dessert!

Did you fall for it?? I must say, it was very difficult for me to pull off. Not the actual creation of the “sandwich”–that part went surprisingly well! Oh, no– it was the secret-keeping part that I struggled to handle! The moment I posted that picture, I went into instant panic, excitement, and anticipation:

 

I feel so rebellious! I’ve never lied on my social media before…

Wow, people believe it. This is exciting.

Ah, geez, I hope no one unfollows me for posting this picture on a vegan Instagram…Maybe I should just take it down.

How will I sleep tonight knowing I’m so close to doing the big reveal??

Yes, I’m ridiculous. Then again, it doesn’t take much to excite me when I’m spending every day in my apartment! I realize that this recipe isn’t exactly on track with my recent “quarantine-friendly” posts, but I hope that it gives you a bit of entertainment, especially those who need it most right now! Looking forward to everyone’s reaction to this and also to the abundance of pranks that will certainly result from everyone’s down time 🙂

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter
    and your lips with shouts of joy.

Job 8:21

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April Fool’s Primanti Bros. Sandwich (V)

STRAWBERRY FRUIT LEATHER “MEAT”

Ingredients

  • strawberries
  • sweetener (if needed; I used liquid Stevia)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 140-150°F.
  2. Puree strawberries and sweetener until smooth.
  3. Spread onto a plastic or parchment-lined baking tray.
  4. Bake until desired texture is reached, 6-8 hours.

MINI LOAF CAKE “BREAD”

**Makes 4 mini loaves**

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 TBSP vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 TBSP sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup “buttermilk” (1 tsp vinegar mixed with enough room temperature almond milk to make 1/2 cup; left to sit at least five minutes)
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease and flour four mini loaf tins.
  2. Cream butter and sugar with paddle attachment of a stand mixer on medium speed.
  3. Mix in corn syrup and vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Begin adding the flour mixture and the “buttermilk” to the butter mixture, alternating between each and mixing after each addition until everything is incorporated.
  6. Divide batter between the four pans, and bake until very light golden brown on the outside, about 50-55 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool completely before slicing. If you plan to make the trick sandwich, it’s helpful to freeze the loaves first! Makes for easier cutting, and the cake softens (it will develop a crust when it first cools after baking).

FRIED BANANA “FRIES”

Ingredients

  • banana
  • maple syrup
  • vegan butter

Instructions

  1. Slice the banana thinly.
  2. Melt a spoonful of oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Add a spoonful of maple syrup.
  3. Remove pan from heat, and place banana slices in pan.
  4. When they’ve caramelized slightly, flip them.
  5. When the other side has cooked, remove from heat.
  6. Slice into thin “fries.” (If you do this, they will be rather difficult to work with, but patience is a virtue :D)

APPLE SLICE “CHEESE and TOMATOES”

I think you can figure out that one 🙂

SWEETENED COCONUT FLAKES “COLESLAW”

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Tropical Layer Cake

IMG_9443Disclaimer: I’m writing this at a time of night when I’d normally be listening to sappy music or journaling, so you’ll have to excuse any emotional rants that develop (and typos).

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh. Well, that’s a bit of an incorrect summary–I wrote about the horrible goodbye after my family’s Christmas visit to Pittsburgh.  That empty feeling that I get when I’m separated from them certainly hurts for the moment, but thankfully we have no choice but to eventually move on from the sting of leaving each other and resume our individual lives: mine here, my sister’s in Columbia, and my parents’ in Charleston.

Still, there are just some things missing each time I make the transition from family-time to “independence,” things that I don’t always realize I long to have when I’m on my own. One of them is family dinner. I don’t mean to mislead you into thinking we’re a family from a picture in the 1950’s unit of your Social Studies textbook, sitting around a nicely set table at 6 o’clock every night. In fact, we rarely had the time to eat at a normal hour for many of the years I lived at home, and living room dinners became frequent. But just the occasion of all being in a house (not an apartment), all sharing a prepared meal (not whatever I threw together for myself), and intentionally doing it together (instead of whenever it fits in each person’s schedule)–it’s so different.

This weekend I was blessed to experience just that–a dinner that was truly a family-away-from my family night. A group of us came together to prepare a surprise meal for a family that generously hosts frequent dinners for us in their home. We each tackled a dish (you can guess what I was in charge of), came a couple hours early, cooked together, and spent the evening enjoying each other’s company. I think that cooking and eating food together is one of the most rewarding activities to share with friends and family, and the evening was certainly a testament to that.

In the middle of our meal, I was struck by this sudden swell of gratitude. (I say sudden because it was abrupt enough to pull me away from my candied pecan brussel sprouts, which is no easy task). I was honestly a bit overwhelmed with the feeling. Being a young adult is hard. Ballet is hard. Figuring out life away from home is hard. I often find myself, especially with my long-time struggles with injury, projecting my insecurities onto others. I allow myself to imagine that my coworkers and friends see me as weak or invaluable as a dancer, that the only reason they spend time with me is because of my job in the company. It’s been a sort of self-inflicted isolation that unfortunately causes me feel distant from the community that I cherish so dearly. But that night at dinner, those negative, untrue thoughts didn’t threaten to ruin my night.

I felt loved. Appreciated. Not just because I’m a dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Maybe a little bit because I make a mean cake. 🙂 But mostly because I am part of a family-away-from-my-family here. And that makes Pittsburgh just a little more like home.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

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(Forgive my lack of photos–this was a spontaneous recipe and was eaten before I could get pictures!)

Tropical Layer Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup almond milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1/2 cup fresh mango puree, separated, room temperature
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup Malibu rum (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh, diced pineapple
  • 1 batch vanilla swiss meringue buttercream (Just leave out the vanilla) https://waltzoftheflours759559643.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/my-first-grownup-cake/
  • solid part from a 13.5 oz. can of coconut cream
  • toasted coconut

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ cake tins with parchment paper, and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
  2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and both sugars on medium speed.
  3. Add each of the eggs in, mixing on low-medium speed between each.
  4. Mix in milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.
  6. Begin adding both the flour mixture and 1 cup of the mango puree to the butter/sugar mixture, alternating between the mango and the dry ingredients and mixing after each addition until both are completely incorporated.
  7. Pour cake batter evenly between both tins.
  8. Bake until knife inserted in the center of cake comes out completely clean, about 40 minutes.
  9. Remove cakes from oven, and allow to rest in pans for five minutes. Then flip them out onto a cooling rack (drizzle with Malibu rum if desired), and leave to cool completely.
  10. Make the swiss meringue buttercream, or if you’ve already made it, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip on low-medium speed until fluffy if needed. Whip in coconut cream, using the entire solid portion of the can or until the desired flavor is reached.
  11. Mix diced pineapple into the remaining 1/2 cup mango puree until all pineapple is coated.
  12. Assemble: Trim domed tops off cakes. Spread a layer of coconut buttercream on first cake. Top it with pineapple/mango mix, and then place the second layer of cake on top. Cover both cakes with buttercream, and press toasted coconut around the entire outside of cake.
  13. Pipe designs as desired on top of the cake, and top with another ring of pineapple/mango mix if desired. Serve immediately.

 

Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

IMG_8683I’m becoming more and more convinced that I should seek out an aspiring stand-up comic because my life is an endless supply of joke material. To truly recruit your investment in this plan, I think I’ll drop you right into the peak of my Tuesday afternoon–though peak is most definitely a poor word choice. Allow me to set the scene…

I’m sitting straddle in the corner of my kitchen floor, mismatched oven mitts on both hands; my sopping wet hair is wrapped in a drooping towel (a towel that I cannot adjust because of the oven mitts); my lunch, which I’d just finished making, sits in the microwave getting cold; a wet, uncooked loaf of bread is laying on the stove; a broom and a shoe box full of broken glass accompany me on the floor; and I’m hunched over inside our oven, which is also laden with shards of glass. This scene remains relatively unchanged for the next twenty minutes.

Now, for the sake of literary suspense, I’ll back track to that morning. I’ve just received a text from my orthopedist, informing me that he can squeeze me in that day if I come ASAP. So, realizing that the office gets busy quickly, I speedily wash my dishes, brush my teeth, spray myself with an ungodly quantity of perfume to compensate for the lack of a shower, glumly look at my makeup I know I won’t have time to use, and call a Lyft–oh yeah, my car is broken…again. I slide into the backseat, only mildly flustered and  distracted by the fact that I hadn’t even had time to make my bed.

The driver doesn’t say much…for the first minute, that is. Soon, a dramatic squirming pulls my wandering mind back to the front car seat–this man has unbuckled his seat belt and is hastily removing his coat, explaining over the beep of the seat belt alarm that “This is too much for me right now.”IMG_8698

Feeling the subtlety of his masculine display abruptly disappear along with his outermost layer, I silently chuckle as he tosses the coat onto the passenger side and then immediately dons a thick knit beanie. I watch as he completes his presentation by slouching back casually into the seat and glancing in the rear view mirror to assess my response. Doing my very best to avoid locking eyes with him, mostly because I realize I’d likely fail to keep a straight face (and Lord knows how some men interpret a simple smile), I check my phone for nonexistent notifications. I absentmindedly start to bob my head to the music playing from the front of the car, but when I see Mr. Macho perk up–not too abruptly as to break his cool–I realize my mistake. “You like this?”

I conjure up the blandest, most strictly polite response I can: “Yeah, it’s nice. It has a good beat.”

You would have thought that he’d written the song himself and that I’d just presented him with a Grammy. He smiles widely and immediately educates me on the genre of rap-reggae fusion to which I’ve just been exposed. As if I’d begged him to please allow me to hear more of this music, and as if it is a breach of Lyft policy for him to do so, he offers “I’m going to let you hear something.” 

I stop a sarcastic “Really?? Thank you!!!” before it escapes my lips and instead fake interest in an obnoxious song that is growing louder from the speakers. Eventually, I tire of this false engagement and turn my attention back to my phone. After a few seconds, I notice him looking at me in the mirror once again. Despite his one-handed steering and slumped posture, I can see something in his eyes, just a slight hint of panic–he realizes he’s lost me. Scrambling to regain his false sense of influence, he changes the song, grasping once again for my approval. Understanding the ironic power I hold over this macho individual, I start gently bobbing my head again, pretending not to notice his look of satisfaction; it has become a game, tampering with his (excuse my cliche) fragile masculinity. 

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I play my role for the rest of the ride, feeling his glances constantly assess my emotion and constantly contradict his attempts at nonchalance. I must commend his ability to adapt–when an especially shaky moment arises, he proactively gains control of the situation by switching from left to right slouch, or by demanding my attention with the sheer virility of slowly scratching his beard. Thankfully for his emotional stamina, the ride only lasts a few minutes longer, and he drops me off at the door of my orthopedist. I thank him and shut the door, finally able to laugh without risk of breaking character. It’s hard to believe that only the first couple hours of my morning have passed. 

After a lengthy appointment and a much tamer ride back to the apartment, I jump at the chance of getting the shower I’d skipped earlier. I’ve learned, after much trial and error, the perfect ratio of hot and cold water that produces the longest-lasting comfort for a shower (one comes to learn these unique arts when living in a nineteenth century building). Sometimes, though, no amount of mastery can prevent the chilling spritz from coming too soon. This is one of those days, of course. I feel my muscles begin to clench as the last bit of warmth from the shower head runs down my still soapy legs and down the drain. In a panic–I am an utter wimp when it comes to cold–I brush off the remaining bubbles, fumble for my towel on the bathroom rug, quickly pat myself dry enough to yank on clothes, and then wrap my frigid hair up away from my shoulders.

After a few minutes, I make my way to the kitchen, where I’ve been anxious to bake a loaf of bread that I’ve left to rise overnight. I’ve been working on creating a crispy crust on my bread, and one method of doing this is to place a pan of boiling water on the oven floor to create steam, which in turn helps a crusty exterior develop.

**Now, I’d like to prematurely defend myself by saying that this thing I’m about to explain, I’d done it before–idiotic or not, it had taken place without disaster in the past, and I like to think that’s at least a fraction of an argument for my case. You can be the judge.IMG_8694

So, I boil a tea kettle of water and moisten the top of the bread dough to prepare it for baking (another strategy to help with crust). I slide the tray with the bread into the oven above the pan I’ve placed on the bottom rack to create my steam. Lastly, I grab the tea kettle and pour the boiling water into the clear…glass dish. The glass dish which immediately explodes upon contact with the scalding water. By the grace of God, the hundreds of shards manage to avoid my body entirely, instead decorating the inside of my oven and the floor in a dangerous layer. I’m frozen for a moment, waiting to realize that I am dreaming or somehow very confused. Nope.

And here we are, back to the floor of my kitchen on Tuesday afternoon. With the help of a broom, vacuum cleaner, and shoe box, I managed to clean up all the glass eventually, though I always see the glimmer of a few stray pieces when I open my oven door now. Kind of Christmas-y, I guess! The rest of that day was far less entertaining, which, as you may assume, wasn’t the worst outcome. All I can say is that I’m learning constantly how to embrace those days when I feel like a silly cartoon character who gets struck by lightning and then steps on a mouse trap and then gets squished under a giant’s footstep. My roommate, a writer, even fantasized my life as a writing exercise in which you’re told to insert the character into as many unfortunate, inescapable situations as possible. That’s certainly far from my actual life–I’m so very fortunate. But I do experience plenty of face-palm incidents; and, if I’ve given you a chuckle at any point in this saga, well then I guess they aren’t for nothing. I may be dreading my next ridiculous misfortune, but I’m very much looking forward to sharing whatever it is with you!

When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future

Ecclesiastes 7:14

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Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

Ingredients

FOR EACH TYPE

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 TBSP canola oil

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  • 1 1/4 c light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup coffee, separated
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  • 2 TBSP vegan butter
  • 4 oz. vegan dark chocolate
  • 1 TBSP cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 2 TBSP cocoa powder

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 6 candy canes
  • 5 TBSP vegan butter, melted
  • 2 TBSP corn syrup
  • salt to taste

Instructions

PREPARE POPCORN

  1. For each type of popcorn, put oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Place 2 kernels in the oil.
  2. When the two kernels pop, remove the pan from heat and turn off burner. Pour the rest of the kernels into the oil.
  3. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium heat, and cover. When popcorn begins to pop, leave a slight crack in the lid to release steam.
  4. Allow popcorn to pop, shaking saucepan occasionally, until the pops are a few seconds apart. Remove from heat, and pour popcorn into a bowl.

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper with butter. Spread one batch of prepared popcorn across the baking sheets.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, butter, 1/3 cup coffee, and corn syrup. Stir continuously until butter is melted.
  3. When mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and allow to cook untouched for five minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup coffee, almond extract, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Pour a little at a time over popcorn on prepared trays, and stir to coat entirely. **You don’t want too much excess caramel left on the bottom of the trays–you may have a little extra left in the saucepan depending on how much popcorn your kernels yielded. 
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely on tray, and break apart pieces as needed. 

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  1. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
  3. Pour over popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Sprinkle the cocoa powder gradually over the coated popcorn, stirring until evenly distributed.
  5. Spread onto a flat surface to cool completely.

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  1. In a small skillet, toast sweetened coconut flakes over low-medium heat until browned throughout, stirring continuously. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. (You may want to remove them from the pan immediately to avoid burning)
  2. Combined cooled coconut and six candy canes (broken) in the bowl of a food processor or cup of a Nutribullet. Pulse until fine.
  3. Stir corn syrup into melted butter. Pour over batch of popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Pour candy cane coconut mixture over a batch of popcorn, tossing to coat every piece. Mix in salt to taste.
  5. Allow to cool.

 

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Coconut Pineapple Petite Fours with Mirror Glaze (V)

IMG_6884I’ve anticipated making this dessert for quite a while now, but I hadn’t found a weekend with enough time to make it happen. Until… the blessing by the name of Labor Day showed up! This bake was a real consuming one, and I knew it would be. By that, I mean loads of time, energy, electricity, dish soap, and sugar were consumed in the creation of these petite fours. I could preface it with a disclaimer: no living thing was harmed during the making of this recipe, BUT MY WILL TO ICE ONE MORE BABY CAKE IS VERY MUCH DEAD. By the time I’d finally finished the trial and error of each component and reached the point of assembly, the sight of another itty bitty diamond of dessert–which, under any other circumstance, would have induced a similar reaction as me seeing a puppy–made my stomach sink. It was quite the project, and at 1am in the morning as I hunched over the counter with posture that would have made my pilates teacher wince, the end seemed painfully far from sight.IMG_6862

I’ve been working on another project this week: a new piece of choreography. Though I’m off for the next couple weeks, there’s a show in which many dancers in the company are participating, whether by dancing or choreographing. I knew as a first year professional dancer, my chances of getting to create a piece were slim; so, I decided to take the opportunity! The problem was, I had absolutely no plan: no concept, no music, no cast, not really a single element of a dance piece.

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Lucky for me, lots of parallels exist between my passions, specifically the way I approach them. I’ve come to understand that a similar pattern in my creative process emerges in both my baking and my choreography. They always begin positively, with a new idea, the promise of an adventure and the excitement of the unknown. I love the feeling of having sudden inspiration for a recipe or a piece of choreography. But after that, the unknown becomes much less exciting and much more intimidating. The reality of how much work has to go into turning that vision into something visible, edible, real–that’s when the curve of my attitude takes a dip. With it always comes the panic of feeling creative block, the pressure of finishing within a deadline, the sting of failed ideas, the fear of whether anyone will even like what I make. It’s this period of work that’s the substance of a project but the most frustrating and often least memorable part of the process.

But I’m a fan of happy endings. Thankfully, then, my pattern doesn’t end in sag, in an eternal plummet to the x-axis. Once the hardest work is almost done–when I’m actually working with my dancers, or putting the final touches on a bake–that’s when things get exciting. And when the end comes, when I take a seat in the audience or behind my iPhone camera; when I relax in the fact that I’ve sent out this brain child out of my nurturing hands and into the world–that’s when the graph of my emotions skyrockets. This week, don’t let the “busy work” of your favorites things take away the indescribable high of seeing them through. Of proudly sharing them. For anyone who needs this reminder: it’s so totally worth it.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

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Coconut Pineapple Petite Fours with Mirror Glaze (V)

Ingredients

CAKE

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 flax eggs (to make 3 eggs, mix 3 TBSP ground flax with 9 TBSP cold water and leave to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk, room temperature

ICING

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream, room temperature (shake can before using)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

PINEAPPLE FILLING

  • 4 cups fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes, chopped (to toast, cook in pan over medium heat, stirring often, until golden brown)

MIRROR GLAZE

  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/4 water
  • 1 TBSP agar agar powder
  • 1/4 cup vegan condensed milk (simmer 1/2 cup almond milk with 1/2 cup sugar until reduced to about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cocoa butter

Instructions

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom of a 9×13 rectangular baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together both flours, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix sugar, coconut oil, flax eggs, and coconut milk. Mix on medium until combined.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to the wet ingredients, mixing between additions until it’s completely incorporated.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in pan; then turn out onto a cooling rack, running a knife along sides of pan before to make sure cake isn’t stuck to sides.
  7. Once cool, wrap in cling film and keep in freezer until ready to use.

FROSTING

  1. Combine shortening and half of coconut cream in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium until combined.
  2.  Gradually begin to add the powdered sugar. When icing becomes too thick, add remaining coconut cream.
  3. Continue until all cream and sugar is added. Add salt, and mix on medium until smooth. Use immediately, or keep covered in refrigerator until ready to use.

PINEAPPLE FILLING

  1. Combine pineapple, water, lemon juice, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until liquid is gone and pineapple is very soft, about 35-40 minutes. Shred pineapple into smaller chunks towards the end of cooking when soft enough. Set aside.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Cut frozen cake into desired shapes; then cut each shape into two layers.
  2. Spread a thin layer of frosting on bottom half of each shape. Dip in toasted coconut, and then place a small chunk of pineapple filling on top of coconut. Place top layer of cake on pineapple.
  3. Cover entire petite four in coconut frosting.
  4. Place assembled cakes in sealed containers in the freezer until ready to glaze.
  5. **Keeping the cakes very cold during this process makes it much easier; don’t hesitate to place them back in the freezer for a while if they become difficult to handle, or freeze and then add a second layer of icing.

MIRROR GLAZE

  1. Place cocoa butter in a heat-proof bowl. Set aside.
  2. Combine water, corn syrup, sugar, and agar agar powder in a small saucepan. Whisk until combined.
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as it’s boiling throughout, remove from heat, and stir in condensed milk.
  4. Pour mixture over into the bowl with the cocoa butter, and whisk until it’s melted.
  5. Divide between bowls and add food coloring as desired.
  6. Place prepared, frozen cakes on a cooling rack set over a baking pan to catch drips.
  7. When warm but not hot (won’t take too long at all), pour glaze over prepared petite fours. If glaze becomes too thick, simply microwave for 10-15 second intervals until it’s a better consistency.
  8. Scoop extra glaze from the pan after you run out, and microwave to reuse.
  9. If you have enough room, set the entire cooling rack in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to allow glaze to set quickly. (This makes handling them easier).
  10. Enjoy immediately, or carefully transfer petite fours to sealed containers and keep in fridge. You can also freeze them and transfer to fridge hours before you’re ready to eat them.

 

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