In the Kitchen is a series created to inspire others to cook more for themselves. It’s an effort to make healthful eating attainable in a zero-plastic way. It’s an ode towards the one life hack that keeps us well on our financial track. Hoping to slow people down this fast-paced track, I suggest giving up the dine-out and to-go habit, even for just a day a week. Some recipes are meant to be shared with your community, lest it be two or twenty. Others, more decadent and perhaps meant entirely for yourself. In either case, these are some of our tried, true, and favorited.
In this summer’s heat, there are times when the best dessert involves staying as far away from the ovens as possible, even if you ARE a bread baker. In fact, especially so. I came across this recipe in Kinfolk Table and was drawn to the simple ingredients used to make a such a luxurious dessert. I was happy to find that the ingredients are staples commonly found in a pantry, and that the preparation would take about 5 minutes of my time. Just my style. As an added bonus, the presentation requires nothing more than a couple of whiskey cups or water glasses and a smattering of sliced almonds (both for looks but also as an added layer to mouth feel).
We’ve been spending the last few days on our patio set, sweating in shorts and a tee, engorging ourselves on this perfect summer’s treat. Plus, didn’t we determine we would choose chocolate??
1/4 cup raw almonds, sitting in water for 10 minutes and strained
1 heaping tablespoon of raw cacao powder
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 large banana, frozen and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons raw honey, agave, or pure maple syrup
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of sea salt
Cold water, as needed
Blend together the softened almonds, cacao, avocados, banana, honey, cayenne, ginger, and salt in a blender until smooth. I had to keep scraping down the sides of the blender to make sure that all the almonds and bananas were incorporated.
Add water 1 tablespoon at a time to adjust the consistency to taste.
Topped with sliced almonds. Serve immediately, while cool.
Conversely, make the mousse ahead of time and store in the fridge. This is a great dessert to make for a large group of people. Serve with blueberries for an even more elevated dessert.
Notes: The original recipe called for hemp seeds instead of almonds and 2 tablespoons of cacao powder. I used almonds because that’s what we had in the pantry and 2 tablespoons was just way too much (gasp!). It also says it serves two, but neither of us were able to eat that much mousse for dessert, surprisingly.
As we delve deeper into this sustainable, zero-plastic, less-waste, bread-baking, grain-preserving journey, we keep finding little ‘windows’ (as my friend Heather called it) into different ways of approaching life. Prior to pursuing a more eco-friendly lifestyle, our choices regarding the food industry stemmed from the most frugal of options. Ergo, hardly were our choices supportive of our planet’s well-being, let alone our own well-beings. As we age and start to see the consequences of such choices, we have been attempting to spin our compass needle to something a bit less, destructive(?) Needless to say, efforts have been made in consuming more healthy options, this recipe included. Aligned with my mantra of less is more, a minimalist approach to a simple recipe for a very versatile dish. Adapted from Kinfolk Table. This we eat alone as a salad, or as a side dish with broiled salmon. Upon first make, we eat it warm, but second helpings are eaten cold, straight from the fridge.
8 oz. of feta cheese, purchased from the Olive Bar, cut into small cubes
1.5 cups Roma tomatoes, diced
0.5 cups of mixed black and green olives from the Olive bar, pitted
0.25 cups chopped fresh herbs, such as oregano, rosemary and thyme
0.25 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup barley
2 cups water
2 ripe avocados diced into 0.5 inch cubes
16 oz. artichokes, cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 cups fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Turn the oven on to 390 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the center of the oven.
While the ovens are pre-heating, combing feta, tomatoes, olives, herbs and olive oil on a foil-lined baking sheet and toss until mixed. Bake for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the barley and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer the barley for 20 minutes or until tender. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a salad bowl.
Add the avocados, artichokes, cucumber, basil and lemon juice to the barley and toss to combine. Stir in the feta mixture. Season to taste. I add a dash of red pepper flakes to get a little bit of a kick.
When it comes to birthday celebrations, I am a firm believer in home-made cake. Anyone can go to the store and pay for a cake, but it will likely be missing some of the magic. There may be some joy in the tippy-toeing over counters and selection of icing color, but there won’t be that love and care delicately (or not so delicately) folded into the flour, tucked underneath the frosting. I think the best presents come in the form of chocolate cookies made from scratch, so it just follows that the cake must also come from human hands, not a machine. All the better when it’s from someone dear.
Last week we threw a birthday party for my mother-in-law. We hosted a dinner with both our parents and the grandparents, gathering around a table of freshly baked brioche buns, home-made turkey patties, and fresh produce in that construct-your-own-hamburger kind of way. Obviously, I baked a cake for celebrations sake, one that I think is worth sharing. The recipe itself isn’t my doing. I must admit that I stole that from The Kinfolk Table, a book that we saw sitting on the shelves of an AirBNB in Melbourne and one that I am currently going through, trying one recipe a week. All have been wonderful additions to my stash of recipes, but none have been as fitting or fantastic as the Hummingbird Cake.
The Hummingbird Cake is the type that one reserves especially for birthdays. Don’t ask me about the name, because its source is left unknown. It has all the special-ness without, say, the fuss. It can be whipped up in a jiffy, and the steps can be broken up around the gift-wrapping and the house-decorating. The ingredients are easily accessible year-round, and the decorating is made easier by the handful of pecans scattered on top to cover the frosting technique. In other words, it’s newbie-baker approved.
I made a few alterations to the original recipe, but the basics still stand. I knew it was a doozy when my roommate ate half of the excess cake that I had sliced off in order to produce flat cake layers. She said it was the best thing she’s ever tasted, and diligently ate away at the left-over cake crumbs, sans icing. I knew it was a killer when our 82-year old grandma exclaimed, “I would literally DIE for this cake” after her first bite. Someone who just survived a recent-knee surgery shouldn’t be making jokes like that. The true test, however, was when our picky grandpa who does not even eat CHEESE or anything more adventurous than beef and potatoes finished his entire slice without a word. That alone says enough.
For me, I think it holds a hint of a memory that is buried in the recesses of my happy, unhealthy childhood. Mornings spent with my mama’s banana bread in hand, or cutting into a fresh pineapple cake. Also, there’s nothing as sentimental as the way my mother-in-law’s eyes lit up when she saw that I had baked her a birthday cake, and the way three colorful candles looked alit atop. The birthday song sung by everyone in the room in the dim kitchen lighting really set the tone for this cake and what was once reserved for someone else’s family’s traditional birthday cake now became one of our own.
May all your birthday cakes be baked by someone you love, for all the future birthdays to come.
For the cake:
28 g unsalted butter at room temperature
460 grams Bob’s Red Mill Pastry Flour
350 grams bananas
400 grams granulated sugar
3 grams baking soda
3 grams ground cinnamon
6 grams salt
3 large eggs, beaten and at room temperature
360 milliliters vegetable oil
227 grams crushed pineapple
7.5 milliliters vanilla extract
255 grams organic pecans, chopped
For the icing:
227 grams cream cheese at room temperature (equivalent to one 8 oz packaged cream cheese)
113.5 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
454 grams confectioner’s sugar
5 milliliters vanilla extract
For the cake:
I make this cake with two layers, and icing in the middle. I use two 9-inch round cake pans in order to achieve this, and spray the insides with coconut spray. Preheat ovens to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven. It is here that you will bake off both pans.
Finely chop the bananas. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until you no longer see any specks of dry ingredients. Fold in the bananas. Stir in the pineapple, vanilla, and half of the pecans. Reserve the other half of the pecans for topping the cake.
Divide the batter equally between both pans, ad set them on the middle rack. Bake, rotating halfway, for a total of 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean. Transfer the cakes to racks and cool in the pans for ten minutes before inverting out. Inverting too soon can compromise the structure of the cake. After cooling, invert them directly onto a rack and cool for at least one hour.
After the cake has cooled, trim off the excess on the tops of the cake, to get nice flat cake layers.
For the icing:
While the cake cools, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Decrease the speed to low and add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla gradually. Beat until light and fluffy, about another three minutes.
To assemble, start with a bottom cake layer. Spread the frosting on top of it and sprinkle with some pecans. Then stack the second cake layer on top. Ice the cake on the sides and the top with the rest of the cream cheese frosting using a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining pecans on top of the cake, to cover a newbie frosting job.
It’s winter time and citrus fruits abound. Sweet, juicy, and bright, the perfect contrast to gray weather and chilly bones. Hence, just the right time to share an orange infused latte recipe (‘cuz it’s been a while), as inspired by our favorite local coffee shop, Hopper and Burr’s, Cafe Nico.
This drink has it all. It starts with orange peels, simmered and candied with sugar and water to create a lusciously subtle homemade orange simple syrup. Nothing like a little zest to give you that early morning kick, much appreciated after an invigorating 6 am yoga session. A few teaspoons (plus or minus a dash) coat the bottom of a shallow mug, or better yet, a small 4 oz. glass, followed by a rich and creamy espresso pull. Currently at our house, we have the Decaf Sumatra Mandheling from Portola Coffee Roasters, with dark fruit, earthy, chocolate, and herbal notes, or the Karinga AB, also from Portola, with black currants, melon, lemon-lime, and herbal tones. The latter imparts an additional layer to this citrusy drink. To round everything off, we sprinkle the top of the espresso pull with a dash of cinnamon, to add warmth to the winter season. If you are feeling up for it, I would mix in some orange zest with the cinnamon prior to adding it to the coffee. Off course, the drink wouldn’t be a latte without a little bit of steamed milk. I find that the ratio of a 4 oz glass allows for equal parts orange syrup and steamed milk, which is my preferred combination. The latte will appeal to those looking for just a hint of orange zest. Whether you choose to drink in one gulp or in tiny sips, it is sure to take you to the warmer summer days ahead.
Tools You Need:
There are a few gadgets that you will need in order to make a Cafe Nico at home. These are some of our gadgets that we are impartial to.
Scale – I own this one, because it weighs heavy-enough things for bread-making as well. I also like this because I can toggle between grams and ounces. Mike has this one that he uses for coffee exclusively, which is what we mostly use when measuring coffee bean and water weight. It is especially useful since it has that timer, essential to latte pulls and drip-coffee!
Grinder – The grinder plays a huge role in the quality of your brew (or espresso, or latte, or what-have-you). We used to just live with the results of a sub-par grinder, until last Christmas, when our gift to each other was a high quality grinder that has been spewing out delicious pours ever since.
Espresso Machine – We humbly have a simple espresso machine, which also makes it affordable for the newbie or occasional coffee drinker. One day, we would love to up to a Marzocco (I dream of white), but until then, this espresso machine of ours makes some great espresso shots.
Tamp – Mr. Debtist has been dreaming of upgrading our tamp to, say, one that actually fits. Just recently, we did just that and it has done wonders for improving the quality of our espresso shots. This is the one we own. I love the look of it, but more importantly, the feel too, as it’s got a nice weight.
Portafilter – We upgraded to a bottomless portafilter over a year ago. The biggest pro is that it allows us to check for the evenness of our tamp, ensuring that the coffee is well distributed under the correct pressure, and thus improving our shots to a more even pull of espresso. All that jargon to say, it makes for a tastier and more consistent shot of espresso.
18 g of coffee of your choice, pulled as an espresso shot
Steamed milk of your choosing, the original recipe calls for half – and – half
Cinnamon (a dash)
Orange zest (optional)
Prior to making the coffee, I would pre-mix some orange zest (if using) with the cinnamon. The last thing you want to do is allow the coffee to cool while you scramble for this mixture. You want it to be prepared with a mesh strainer set aside or placed in a shaker for easier sprinkling.
Place 4-5 teaspoons of homemade orange simple syrup at the bottom of your cup or glass. This is the part that allows you to control how citrusy and sweet the drink actually is. Mr. Debtist prefers only 3 teaspoons, whereas I almost always do the full five.
Pull your espresso shot OVER the simple syrup. I use 18.5 grams of coffee ground at the setting of 6A using our Baratza grinder, extracted for 25 seconds to pull 1.5 oz of coffee.
Sprinkle the top of the espresso with a dash of your cinnamon mix.
Steam milk, and top off the drink.
Allow this drink to get you through the winter. Summer is coming.
I am one who is all for making things from scratch, sometimes in an effort to reduce pre-packaging waste, and other times for the sake of being creative. Simple syrups are one of the pantry items that I urge people to make at home. Why? Because the name itself implies its simplicity. It only requires, water, sugar, and whatever taste you want to infuse into the syrup. Once made, these syrups are perfect additions to coffee, cocktails, and baked goods. Today, I share with you this orange simple syrup recipe, which we use to make Cafe Nicos in the winter months.
1-quart water (filtered or distilled)
1/2 lb. sugar (granulated)
5 oranges (peel only, sliced)
Combine the water, sugar and orange peels in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir to combine, bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Avoid boiling for too long. Once the sugar caramelizes, you know you have gone too far. I have had plenty a time when I’ve burned my simple syrup and had to start over.
Remove from heat, remove the peels and let the syrup cool. The syrup should be slightly opaque, with no hint of brown. Transfer to a bottle or jar. Store in the fridge for longest life.
When it comes to cooking, I find joy in creating complexity out of the most simple and base ingredients. Take carrots, for example. A boring carrot stick is something you pass by on your weekly grocery run in the produce aisle. Orange, stiff, sometimes with carrot top still intact (in which case, a no-waste carrot top recipe, here). A long ways from extraordinary. But when I think of a well-made carrot cake, my eyes can’t help but twinkle, my mouth salivates. The marriage between sweet, earthy, and spicy undertones signifies a TRUE carrot cake, not disguised by extreme amounts of sugar, as they usually are. The colors of the cake itself remind me of the beauty of fall – orange from the carrots, brown from cinnamon and brown sugar, purple and mossy green from the rye.
Too often, carrot cake is done a disservice. Fatty and sugary sweet isn’t the cake I dream of. If it comes out of the pan shiny, covered in grease and oil, then you know it’s not done right. The texture should be moist, but grainy too. It should be fluffy and crumbly. My favorite way to make it is to keep the carrot shreds long, so that they break up the cake and are featured in their own right, rather than disappear into the flour, overshadowed by bread. With this recipe modified from East of Kitchen, I was able to create such a cake for a Friendsgiving gathering, with plenty of left-overs to boot.
It’s time to do carrot cake justice.
For the cake:
2 cups pecans, roughly chopped
5 cups carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground Rye flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp cinnamon
8 large free-range eggs
2.5 cups granulated sugar
2 cups coconut oil
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease two 9-in cake pans and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper and grease that, too.
In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy, about 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat until the batter has thickened.
With the mixer running on medium speed, add the coconut oil in a slow and steady stream.
With the mixer set on low speed, add the flour mixture, and mix just until combined.
Dump the grated carrots and the pecans in the batter and incorporate with the aid of a spatula.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before removing to a cooling rack. When it is completely cooled, cut lengthwise through the middle with the aid of a serrated knife.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tsp lemon zest
In the bowl of your stand mixer beat the butter and cream cheese on low speed until everything is blended.
Add the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time, with mixer running on low, until everything is incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla and zest.
Refrigerate at least one hour prior.
To assemble the cake:
Place the first cake layer on a serving plate.
Wrap wax paper around the circumference of the cake to create a tall wall to support the building of the cake.
Spoon 2 tsp of milk over the cake. This will keep the cake moist.
Spread a layer of the frosting evenly on top, then place the second layer over.
Spoon 2 tsp of milk, and them spread another layer of frosting.
Repeat with the third and fourth layers. Spread frosting evenly on top. There should be more than a fourth of the frosting reserved for the top layer. Reserve a small amount of frosting for the sides of the cake.
Place the cake into the freezer without removing the wax paper. Let sit in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
Remove the cake from the freezer and remove the wax paper. Ice the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting. Place in the fridge for at least one hour to allow the frosting to set.
The cake should be ready to eat afterwards. If you wish, decorate with sprigs of rosemary stems.
Monday night had us feeling tired after a long work day. Which meant we skipped the Monday night meal prep that usually ensues. We grabbed the left over fried rice from the fridge, and decided to worry about the next day’s lunches later. So when Tuesday rolled around and I was sitting at home, hungry, I was short on meal options for lunch, without the want for preparing. Feeling a bit sleepy, what with the fall weather beckoning both me and the cat back into the comfy bed, I was not about to whip out the cutting board and prepare all sorts of ingredients for a full blown meal.
Taking a cue from the cold and overcast late morning air, I instinctively thought to myself, “Oatmeal!” The easiest thing to prepare with ingredients already at hand in the pantry. Additionally, a poor man’s, woman’s meal, and quite in line with slow living. Here, I share with you the barest of oatmeal preparation guidelines. I wouldn’t call this a recipe per say, since every one already knows what making oatmeal entails. Consider it a reflection of what it took to make myself a meal this afternoon.
1 cup rolled oats (we buy ours from the bulk section)
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
A handful of almonds (also from the bulk section)
There was no plastic involved in the production of this meal.
Boil the water on the stove in a medium saucepan.
Once boiling, add the oats. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a total of five minutes.
Remove pan from the heat and add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and almonds. Stir well, to incorporate all the ingredients.
Let sit for two minutes.
Add milk or honey, as you see fit.
If you’re like my grandmother, pour milk into the bowl until the oatmeal resembles cereal … and then some. If you’re like me, eat it plain as can be, enjoying it wholly. It’s a meal that can never be eaten slowly, no matter how late I was running for school. Unlike french fries or chips, the best way to eat oatmeal is by small (tea)spoonfuls . Slowly sneak back underneath the sheets and sidle up next to the cat, staring out into the world outside as you lose yourself in thought; of younger years, of simpler days, of what’s ahead.
The quest for hunger-satisfying meat alternatives progresses as we trudge on through this vegetarian challenge. It has been two and a half weeks, not without relapses. I admit to taking the path of least resistance when I was offered a slice of pepperoni pizza at work, and the chicken empanada did not help either. Although neither I nor my husband foresee a long lasting meatless dining adventure, we have decidedly enjoyed discovering new vegetarian recipes together over the course of the past few weeks.
One such scenario where I miserably failed at resisting temptation was when we went out to our favorite ramen place for lunch. The bowl comes with chashu, and though I gave almost half of it to Mike, I still happily digested the first half before deciding that it was enough. I was brainstorming of alternatives to chashu meat, without getting the vegetarian bowl, when I came across this idea: Chashu donations to lucky Mike, and I will simply order a side of vegetarian dumplings to eat with my ramen. Which then had me thinking about vegetarian dumplings, the makings of which could not wait until the next ramen date. So I embarked on a journey to make my own.
Aligned with my practice of avoiding plastic like the plague at the grocery store, I have given up frozen foods for over a year now, amongst other things. Which also means passing up on extremely convenient, pre-made dumpling wrappers that my mother used to get when I was a child. I had to make these dumplings from scratch. Considering my new baking habit, it wasn’t all that foreign to me to make dumplings using flour and water. Off course, one could go the convenient route, but with Mother Nature in mind, I decided to make this recipe in the kindest I knew how.
While the water is boiling, mix the salt and flour in a bowl. Add the water, and using a stand mixer with a ceramic paddle attachment, mix the water into the flour. It will still be crumbly when you switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough for 7-8 minutes. After kneading the dough, cut the dough in half. Make each half into a round bagel shape but forming it into a ball and then using both thumbs to push a hole through the center. Allow the bagel rounds to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut up all the veggies. Once everything is chopped, heat vegetable oil in a wok. Add cabbage, ginger, and garlic. Stir fry over medium-low heat until cabbage has wilted. Add mushrooms, green onions and carrots, and continue to cook for 5 minutes more. Add soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil to your taste. I typically don’t even add salt and pepper, but you can.
At this time, the dough should be ready. Using a tortilla press, I shape the dough into small rounds. I then make the dough even thinner using a rolling pin, compressing the dough into a very thin, flat disk. Depending on the consistency of the dumplings that you prefer, you can go as thick or thin as you want. Typically, if I am going to fry the dumplings, I go for a thinner wrapper. If I am going to steam the dumplings, I like a thicker piece.
Place a scoop of the vegetable mixture in the center of the dough wrapper, and then fold the dough in half. Wet one edge with water, and then fold the other edge over and over again to create the dumpling design.
You can immediately cook them, but I prefer to lay them out on a tray and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, you can package them in a Tupperware and they can stay frozen for up to a few months.
When we want to cook them, we just toss them on a hot frying pan, or steam them while the rice is cooking in the rice cooker. This time around, we decided to eat them with a bowl of hot ramen, summer nights notwithstanding.