Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cupcakes

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes are packed full of rich chocolate, tangy strawberries, and creamy vanilla coconut buttercreamYou never need a reason for a cupcake, but, a birthday is a perfectly good one if you’re really looking for an excuse. We celebrated my mom’s birthday recently with a wonderful dinner at a new to me Indian restaurant, Indigma, which I highly recommend if you’re in or around the Baltimore area. They have a vegan and gluten free menu in addition to an extensive offering of traditional and modern Indian dishes.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes are packed full of rich chocolate, tangy strawberries, and creamy vanilla coconut buttercreamDessert was, of course, cupcakes. More specifically, chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes. They are packed full of chocolate flavor with both cocoa powder and chocolate chips. Strawberry jam in mixed right into the batter, giving fruity flavor to every bite. The simple vanilla-spiked coconut oil buttercream rounds out these cupcakes, perfectly balancing the rich chocolate and tangy strawberry. Top with cacao nibs for a bit of crunch, or fresh strawberries for a lovely pop of color. Better yet, use both!

Strawberry jam, in addition to lending wonderful flavor and texture, takes place of a big portion of the oil that’s generally found in cupcake batter. Coconut oil makes for a beautiful looking, and even better tasting frosting. It is just as rich and creamy as a traditional buttercream. I promise nobody will miss the butter – in fact, they might be happier without it!

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes are packed full of rich chocolate, tangy strawberries, and creamy vanilla coconut buttercreamChocolate Covered Strawberry Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream

Cupcakes

1 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup strawberry jam*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chocolate chips
12 teaspoons strawberry jam, divided*

Cacao nibs (optional)
Fresh Strawberries (optional)

Coconut Buttercream

1 cup coconut oil at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons almond milk, plus more if needed

For the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or line with paper muffin liners and standard 12-cup muffin tin.

Combine almond milk and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl. combine coconut sugar, sunflower oil, strawberry jam, and vanilla extract. Pour in almond milk mixture and stir until incorporated.

In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Pour in wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each muffin liner about 3/4 full. Drop a teaspoon of strawberry jam into the center of each muffin liner.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool in tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Buttercream

In a medium bowl, beat coconut oil with a hand mixer until it begins to get fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating well between additions. Add vanilla extract and almond milk and beat for another 3-5 minutes, until the buttercream is light and fluffy.

Once completely cooled, spread about 1 tablespoon of frosting over each cupcake. Garnish with cacao nibs or fresh strawberries, if desired.

Store in an airtight container, unrefrigerated (without strawberries), for up to 5 days.

*Notes:  Any flavor of jam or other fruit puree may be substituted for strawberry jam in an equal amount. Do not use Dutch processed cocoa powder, as the cupcakes will not rise properly.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes are packed full of rich chocolate, tangy strawberries, and creamy vanilla coconut buttercream

Is cake a must for you on birthdays? I personally am not a cake fan (though frosting is a different story). I much prefer creamy, spoonable desserts like avocado chocolate mousse, or just a really good piece of chocolate. Clearly, chocolate is required. If cake isn’t for you, either, what are your favorite birthday treats?

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes are packed full of rich chocolate, tangy strawberries, and creamy vanilla coconut buttercream

Bakery Style Blueberry Muffins with Sunflower Streusel

IMG_4970Sometimes, you just need a good muffin. And as wonderful as homemade baked good are, there’s something about muffins from a bakery that homemade muffins rarely seem to capture. Do you ever miss that towering muffin top with its irresistibly crunchy edges? I sure do!  There is good news, though. I have a solution, and it’s much more simple than you might think.

The secret here is the baking temperature. Generally, when we bake muffins, the temperature of the oven is set to a steady 350°F -375°F for the entire baking period. If we set the oven temperature very high initially, say 450°F, and lower it after a few minutes, we’ll get that big, crunchy domed muffin top that the bakeries have been keeping for themselves all these years.

IMG_4967Bakery Style Blueberry Muffins with Sunflower Streusel

Makes 6 jumbo “bakery style” muffins, or 12 standard size muffins*

Blueberry Muffins
•3 cups all purpose flour
•1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon baking soda
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
•3/4 cup coconut sugar
•2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
•1 1/2 cups vegan yogurt (I used vanilla coconut milk yogurt)
•1/2 tablespoon molasses
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•1/4 cup almond milk
•1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen and thawed blueberries

Sunflower Streusel

•1/4 cup room temperature coconut oil
•1/3 cup coconut sugar
•1 cup rolled oats
•1/2 cup sunflower seeds
•1/4 cup whole wheat flour
•up to 2 tablespoons non-dairy milk

For the streusel:

Combine coconut oil, coconut sugar, oats, sunflower seeds, and flour in a small bowl, and mix together with fingers until mixture is crumbly. Add non-dairy milk, as needed, until you achieve a sandy texture. Set aside while you prepare the muffin batter.

For the muffins: 

Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly grease or line with paper liners one jumbo muffin tin.

In  a large bowl, mix together flour baking powder, baking soda, and salt until everything is evenly distributed.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, coconut sugar, flaxseed, yogurt, molasses, vanilla extract, and non-dairy milk until homogenous.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix by hand, with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, just until incorporated. Do not overmix. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour the batter into prepared muffin tin of choice, filling almost to the top. Sprinkle streusel over the top of each muffin.

Bake at 450°F for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 and bake another 26-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in muffin tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely (or just to avoid burning your lips off).

Notes: For standard size muffins, bake at 450°F for 5 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375°F and bake for an additional 18-20 minutes.

IMG_4965Are you a fan of the crunchy muffin top? Or do you prefer the bottom of the muffins? What about the flavor? I’ve always been a blueberry fan, though I wouldn’t refuse a muffin if there were chocolate present.

Chocolate Chia Brownie Bites

Chocolate Chia Brownie BitesI. Love. Dates. Probably a little bit too much, but I suppose it’s better than going through bags full of Sour Patch Kids and gummy bears (childhood favorites) every day. Some people try to convince me that they don’t like dates, but I never believe them. Who doesn’t like creamy, caramelly, sometimes even butterscotchy morsels of goodness? Nobody. Unless they’re crazy. And even if, by some great anomaly, they don’t like dates in their naked form, then they’ll surely appreciate them when they’re morphed into rich, chocolatey brownies.

Chocolate Chia Brownie BItesWith powerhouse ingredients like dates, chia seeds, cocoa powder, lucuma powder, and coconut, these brownies are more than just dessert. I like to eat a couple of these before climbing, a workout, or a run. The natural sugars in the dates provide a quick burst of energy that’s ready to use right away, while the chia seeds, full of fiber and protein, give these bites a bit of staying power. The ancient Incan civilization, it is said, used chia seeds as one of its main sources of energy. Cacao powder is notoriously high in antioxidants, and lucuma, which comes from Peru (and is, apparently, more popular in ice cream form than chocolate or vanilla) provides us with plentiful beta carotene, and a rich maple flavor.

Trust me when I say that these bites will beat out any store bought energy bar, every time, at a fraction of the cost. You’ll want to eat the whole batch in one sitting (though they’re quite filling, so I doubt you’ll be able to).

Chocolate Chia Brownie BitesChocolate Chia Brownie Bites

Ingredients

•2 cups packed pitted dates*
•1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
•1/4 cup chia seeds*
•1/4 cup raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder)*
•1/4 cup lucuma powder*
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
•2 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
•cocoa powder for dusting (optional)*

Place dates, coconut, chia seeds, cocoa powder, lucuma powder, and optional (though recommended) vanilla extract in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the ingredients come together in a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pulse in chocolate chips if desired.

Remove mixture from food processor a tablespoon at a time and roll into balls. Place onto parchment paper and dust with cocoa powder if desired. Alternatively, you can press the mixture into a parchment-lined pan, then cut into bars or squares.

Notes: Any moist variety of date will work here. I used a combination or Medjool, Barhi (my absolute favorite – they literally taste like butterscotch), and Deeglet Noor. Nuts.com has a large selection of dates with great descriptions for each. My chia seeds and cacao powder also come from Nuts.com. If you don’t have lucuma powder, you may use an additional 1/4 cup of cocoa powder in its place. I use Nativas Naturals lucuma powder, which can be found here. Other ideas for rolling your bites in: shredded coconut, hemp seeds, cacao nibs, and sesame seeds would all complement the brownie bites well.

Chocolate Chia Brownie BitesAre dates a regular part of your diet (please say yes!)? What are your favorite power foods?

Double Chocolate Mocha Oat Squares

double chocolate mocha oat squaresToday I want to talk about snacks. We’ve talked about snacks before, but not all snacks are created equal. The best kinds of snacks (in my opinion) contain chocolate. Double doses of chocolate (or even triple, if you like). What makes chocolate taste better? Coffee. Just a little bit, to deepen the flavor. And vanilla, because I like it (don’t you?). Sea salt, too, because what goes better with chocolate than sea salt?

double chocolate mocha oat squaresThis is one of those recipes that I created as I went. I had no clear end in sight when I walked into the kitchen, outside of the fact that I needed a new snack. And that a portable snack would be most ideal. Apparently, I was in the mood for chocolate, because that’s the first item I grabbed off the shelf, shortly followed by oats, another staple ingredient, and freshly made sunflower seed butter (which has also seen a lot of use around here lately).

double chocolate mocha oat squaresThese bars are dense and chewy, full of wonderful texture, and completely satisfying. Melty chocolate complements crunchy sunflower seeds and chewy rolled oats. A hint of coffee gives these bars a complex flavor and makes them a bit more mysterious than your average granola bar. They’re great for a pre-workout energy boost, quick breakfast (chocolate for breakfast, yes please!), or even drizzled with extra chocolate as a dessert for your Superbowl party this weekend!

double chocolate mocha oat squaresDouble Chocolate Mocha Oat Squares

Makes 16 bars

Ingredients

•1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
•1/4 cup brewed coffee*
•1/2 cup unsweetened, unsalted sunflower seed butter*
•1/3 cup turbinado sugar
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1 cup rolled oats
•1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
•2 tablespoons cocoa powder
•1/4 cup chocolate chunks
•2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line with parchment or lightly grease an 8 inch square baking dish.

In a small bowl, mix together the ground flaxseed and coffee. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sunflower seed butter, turbinado sugar, and vanilla extract. Stir with a wooden spoon until homogenous, then pour in the flaxseed mixture and stir until completely incorporated.

Pour in the salt, rolled oats, flour, and cocoa powder, and mix until well incorporated, using your hands if necessary. The dough will be slightly crumbly. Mix in the chocolate chunks.

Transfer the dough to the prepared baking dish and press down firmly, creating a 3/4 inch thick layer of dough. Sprinkle sunflower seeds on top and press into the dough.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until edges are just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Notes: To give these bars a triple dose of chocolate, use my chocolate sunflower seed butter. If you do not wish to use coffee, an equal amount of a coffee substitute (such as Teeccino or Dandy Blend), or non-dairy milk may be used. If you use non-dairy milk, the bars won’t have the mocha flavor, but will work just the same.

double chocolate mocha oat squaresWhat are your favorite chocolate snacks? Do any of them do double duty as a dessert (or breakfast)? Does anyone of other great ideas for Superbowl snacks?

double chocolate mocha oat squares

Cheesy Sun Dried Tomato White Bean Spread

IMG_6656

As you well know, we’re big fans of beans in this household. Whether roasted into crunchy snacks, mashed into burgers, baked into brownies, or blended into dips and spreads, beans are one of the most versatile kitchen staples I can think of. As such, they make a rather large appearance in my diet.

I am a condiment fanatic, and as such, I am always in search of something new to put on my condiment plate (yes, I have a dinner plate, and a condiment plate – it’s important). Hummus makes an appearance on quite a frequent basis, recently with a hefty dose of roasted garlic and carrots. I wanted something a bit creamier this time, though, and great northern beans were the perfect fit.

The sun dried tomatoes lend a slightly sweet element, while the garlic adds just enough heat.  A bit of nutritional yeast rounds out the flavor, making this spread not only cheesy, but quite savory.

I’ve only eaten it as a vegetable topper so far, but I can imagine this spread doing quite well as the base for a pizza, or even stirred into pasta and other grain dishes for an extra kick of flavor and creaminess.

IMG_6676Cheesy Sun Dried Tomato White Bean Spread

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

•1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes and drained*
•1/4 cup unsweetened, unsalted sunflower seed butter*
•2 tablespoons warm water
•1/2 teaspoon sea salt
•1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
•1 1/2 cups great northern beans (rinsed and drained, if canned)
•3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

In the bowl of a food processor combine the sunflower seed butter and warm water. Process until a creamy mixture forms.  Add the rest of the ingredients and process until a homogenous mixture forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Notes: Save the tomato soaking water to use as a base for soups, to cook grains in, etc. If you only have salted sunflower seed butter on hand, begin by adding just 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and adjust as necessary.  An equal amount of cashew butter or tahini may be substituted for the sunflower seed butter.

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Looking for other cheesy ideas? If you haven’t had Gena’s “Pizza Cheese” yet, I highly recommend giving it a try.

In more of a saucy mood? Angela’s “Quick and Dirty 5 Ingredient Vegan Cheeze Sauce” is just what you’re looking for.

What are your favorite ways to add a cheesy flavor to your meals? Any other favorite “cheese” recipes out there?

Recipe Roundup

I spend hours upon hours reading blogs, scouring the internet for recipes and idea, and writing lists (so many notebooks full) of what I want to make next. But, I just realized, I’ve not shared any of these wonderful finds with you! So here it is, my first recipe roundup!

These “Thinnest Oatmeal Cookies” from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks look just wonderful. Her recipes are always simple twists on the classics, and have never failed to produce amazing results.

Source: Healthful Pursuit

I was never a fan of chocolate turtles in the past, but over the years I’ve developed a slight addiction to pecans, chocolate, and dates on their own. Leanne’s version of the classic candy looks wonderful!

Source: Have Cake Will Travel

I’ve had gingerbread on the mind lately (gingerbread biscotti, anyone? or maybe some chewy gingerbread bars?), and the more forms I can turn it into, the better. Celine’s gingerbread granola looks like the perfect treat for when cravings hit.

chocolate maple granola overheadHow about some more granola – granola clusters to be more precise. Sally has made some wonderful looking maple almond granola clusters here. If those two granolas don’t catch your eye, try my my Chocolate Chunk Maple Granola with Coconut and Dates yet. You won’t be disappointed!

These Sugar ‘n Spice Dipped Pumpkin Pretzels from Healthy Happy Life look too good to resist. Regular cinnamon sugar pretzels are hard to beat, but I think Kathy did it here!

What are your favorite recent recipe finds? Do you have any favorite cozy winter meals or snacks? When it’s cold outside, I just want to stay in the kitchen and bake up my own storm (since, apparently we won’t be getting any snow storms here in Maryland).

Protein Packed Apple Cinnamon Quinoa Muffins

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Whenever Justin and I go on trips, homemade snacks are a must. The more portable, the better. If I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, I get very stressed and it’s quite difficult for me to enjoy myself. As such, I generally bring a selection of homemade bars, granola, dried fruits, nuts, and some sturdy veggies, like carrots, to keep us going. I decided to change up the routine this time and go with a muffin. They’re portable, come in their own bite sized portions, and are small enough to throw in my purse on the go. I had some apples in the fridge that had seen better days, so into the batter they went. Nobody will be able to tell the difference once they’re baked into these enticing muffins. A big tub of cooked quinoa sat in the fridge, as well, just threatening to go off before I returned, so into the batter it went, too. The quinoa provided great texture and kept the muffins from drying out. As an added bonus, our muffins now have a nice dose of protein to help you through long days spent on your feet. A handful of nuts for texture, and a healthy dose of cinnamon for good measure round out this satisfying snack.

IMG_6624Apple Cinnamon Quinoa Muffins 

Makes 12 Muffins

Wet Ingredients
•2 tablespoons flaxseed
•1/4 cup water
•1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk or other non-dairy milk
•1/4 cup coconut sugar
•2 tablespoons melted coconut oil*
•2 tablespoons creamy cashew butter*
•1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

Dry Ingredients
•2/3 cup whole spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
•1/4 cup almond meal
•1/4 cup brown rice flour
•2 teaspoons baking powder
•1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1/3 cup cooked quinoa*
•2/3 cup diced apples (I used gala)
•1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or or line with paper muffin liners a standard 12 cup muffin tin.

1. Mix together the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the wet ingredients.

2. In a medium bow, combine almond milk, coconut sugar, coconut oil, cashew butter, and molasses. Stir to combine, then pour in flaxseed mixture and stir until completely incorporated.

3. In  large bowl, stir together spelt flour, almond meal, rice flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until just incorporated.

5. Fold in the quinoa, apples, and hazelnuts until evenly distributed through the batter.

6. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the batter into each muffin liner. The liners should be almost full, as the batter does not rise much.

7. Bake muffins for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes: In place of coconut oil, sunflower oil or another neutral oil may be used. I prefer coconut oil for it’s heat resistant properties. Any creamy nut butter may be used in place of cashew butter, however; the flavor of stronger nut butters, such as peanut butter, may come through in the final product. If you do not have cooked quinoa on hand, an equal amount of quick oats may be substituted.

IMG_6630What are your favorite snacks to bring along on trips? Any other creative uses of quinoa?

Roasted Garlic and Carrot Hummus

IMG_6520Everybody has staples in their diet – there are certain things that we just cannot seem to survive without. One of my most important staple items is hummus, or some other bean-based spread. Really, if dinner time is looming and I’ve somehow overlooked a lack of hummus in my refrigerator, then I’ll have to search the depths of my kitchen for a can of beans sitting lonely on a shelf, or some lentils ready to be cooked. In a moment of complete despair, I once mashed together with a fork (because my food processor was broken) lentils, sunflower seed butter (because I’d run out of tahini), cumin, and some lemon juice. It actually turned out quite well, and the evening was saved.

This hummus is a different story. I had about a day’s worth of hummus left, and needed to add something new to my rotation. The market I usually shop at sells a roasted garlic hummus, which tastes unlike any hummus I’ve ever eaten, but at $5.99 for a small tub, I can’t seem to justify the purchase. Which led me to make my own. With the added bonus of roasted carrots.

Two head of garlic may seem like a lot, but the flavor becomes sweet and subtle when roasted. The carrots caramelize slightly, and maintain a nice, earthy flavor when combined with nutty tahini and warming cumin. Other roasted root vegetables would work here as well (imagine a roasted beet hummus)!

I’m known for eating hummus by the spoonful, but this is a wonderful appetizer served with raw or blanched vegetables, toasted pita bread, etc. It also makes a great protein-rich alternative to salad dressing.

IMG_6466Roasted Garlic and Carrot Hummus

Ingredients

•2 medium heads garlic
•6 medium carrots, roughly chopped
•3 teaspoons olive oil, divided

•2 tablespoons tahini*
•2 tablespoons water
•1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
•1 teaspoon sea salt
•1/2 teaspoon paprika
•3 cups cooked chickpeas*
•Water to thin, as needed

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line with parchment paper or lightly grease a baking sheet.

1. Peel away the loose outer layers of skin on each head of garlic, then cut off the top 1/4 inch to expose the tops of each clove of garlic. drizzle one teaspoon of olive oil over each head of garlic, being sure to coat the top of each clove. Wrap each head of garlic in aluminum foil and place of baking sheet.

2. On the same baking sheet, toss the chopped carrots with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and spread in an even layer. Bake the carrots and garlic for 35-40 minutes, until the garlic and carrots can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

3. Remove baking sheet from oven, unwrap the garlic, and allow to cool at least fifteen minutes.

4. Once the carrots and garlic have cooled, squeeze the cloves of garlic into the bowl of a food processor along with the carrots, tahini, water, cumin, pepper, salt, and paprika. Process until a homogenous mixture forms.

5. Pour in chickpeas and process again until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. You may need to add up to three tablespoons more of water to reach your desired consistency.

6. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Notes: Be sure to stir the tahini before adding it to the food processor, as it tends to separate. For a chunkier hummus, reserve 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the chickpeas and pulse in at the end until just incorporated.

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Are you a fan of hummus, and do you make it yourself? Have you made any interesting variations?

Here are a few of my other favorite hummus variations:

•Angela of Oh She Glows made hummus soup that you can really eat by the spoonful!

•Ashley of Edible Perspective made pumpkin spice hummus, perfect for fall.

•Kristy of The WIcked Noodle put a spicy twist on hummus with this cilantro jalapeño variation.