The Real Food Journal

Matcha Pistachio Halvah “Eggs” For Easter or Anytime

Sesame-Pistachio Halvah Easter Eggs

Creamy Halvah Covered in Dark Chocolate, mmmm

My Halvah Surprise

The last thing that I thought I would rediscover in Amsterdam would have to be halvah. On my recent trip to the city of Canals and VanGogh, I was wandering from shop to shop, just checking things out, when I happened into a place called Sum Sum. There, loaves of smooth, velvety halvah were beautifully displayed, and the staff shaved off sample bites upon request. The place was packed with enthusiastic samplers. Suddenly I was all-in on halvah, sampling creative flavor combinations, all of which melted in my mouth. Cinnamon Orchid, Whisky, or Matcha Halvah sound appealing? Yes, please.

halvah in Amsterdam

Sampling halvah at Sum Sum in Amsterdam

Stop Forgetting Halvah!

I have to admit, I had kind of forgotten about halvah. Joyva halvah appears in the Kosher section of the store every year for the holidays, and I think, maybe I will get that again, some time. Years ago, one of the vegetarian places I worked in made a version of halvah that wasn’t cooked, just honey and sesame stirred up and chilled, and it was pretty gooey.

I figured it was something you had to grow up eating to really crave. Let’s face it, there are so many options in the sweets department, why would you opt for something dry and crumbly?

Until I walked into this little shop in Amsterdam. And I knew I had to start making halvah.

Sum Sum in Amsterdam sells all kinds of halvah

The Halvah on display at Sum Sum in Amsterdam

Easter Halvah

Since Easter is upon us, I decided to make my halvah into the shape of eggs. I based the recipe on one by Michael Solomonov, but I made my own tahini, and as long as I was at it, decided to make it half pistachio. The green of the pistachios would amp up the green of the matcha, and taste delicious, too. Dipping it in chocolate would give it Easter candy appeal, and a sprinkle of pistachio or sesame covers up the fact that I didn’t temper the chocolate.

If they last long enough for anyone to care.

It’s Not Hard to Make Your Own

If you don’t want to make your own tahini, buy an organic one, not the thin, smooth kind. I love Joyva and the other Middle Eastern brands because they are smooth and runny enough to drizzle, but for this, you want the thicker kinds.

Cooking the syrup requires a candy thermometer, so make sure you have one before you start.

Halvah is a fantastic treat, and meets my standard of having some real food in it as well as sugar. Sesame and pistachios are nutritious food. These eggs could probably qualify as energy bars, if you compare their stats.

Matcha Halvah Easter Eggs

Dipped in Chocolate and sprinkled with pistachios or sesame seeds

We eat peanut butter and chocolate together all the time, why not try a sesame and chocolate treat? These cute little bites will convince you to get into halvah. If you can’t make the trip to Sum Sum, make your own.

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Matcha and Pistachio Halvah Easter Eggs

These easy to make candies combine sesame seeds and pistachios with matcha tea for a bright green version of halvah. Instead of the usual loaf of halvah, these can be scooped and shaped while the dough is warm, then dipped in chocolate for an Easter candy. If you don't want to make the sesame-pistachio butter, use 1 1/2 cups of thick tahini.

Course Dessert
Servings 36
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup raw pistachios
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon matcha powder
  • 2 cups organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate melted
  • pistachios for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a Vitamix or other blender or food processor, place the oil. In a small saute pan, spread the sesame seeds and place over medium heat. Swirl for about 5 minutes, until the seeds are fragrant and toasty. Transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with parchment for the finished eggs.

  2. Add the cooled sesame seeds, pistachios and pinch of salt to the blender. Secure the lids and use the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades as you start at Speed 1 and increase slowly to 5, then up to high, as the mixture starts to become nut butter. Keep pressing until a smooth paste is produced.

  3. Scrape the nut butter into a stand mixer fitted with a batter paddle and add the matcha powder. Set the speed on low and mix, then turn off.

  4. In a 1 quart pot, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan and swirl the mixture as it cooks, lowering the heat so it boils but doesn't boil over.

  5. When the syrup reaches 240 F, take off the heat. Turn on the stand mixer to medium speed, and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl. Beat in all the syrup, then raise the speed to beat for about 20 seconds.



  6. Use a small (1 tablespoon-sized) scoop to scoop the warm dough onto the parchment lined pan. Dip your hands in cool water and use your palms to roll each portion into an egg shape, then place back on the pan. Chill for an hour or overnight.

  7. Melt the chocolate and dip the eggs, and garnish with chopped pistachios and a sprinkle of matcha, if desired. Chill until set. Store, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.

Recipe Notes

You'll need a blender to make the butter, a stand mixer, a small scoop for forming the dough, and a parchment lined pan.

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Need Comfort Food? Noodles with Peanut Sauce Hits the Spot

Comfort Food is Noodles in Peanut Sauce

Comfort me with noodles

Some Days You Need Comfort Food

Sometimes the World is a hard place. There’s nothing like a trying day to send me to the refuge of my kitchen, looking for something that will make me feel better. And if you ask me, comfort food is a bowl of noodles with ever so comforting peanut butter all over them.

Slightly chewy, slippery noodles, studded with tender tofu and barely cooked vegetables become ever so easy to eat with a gloss of peanut sauce. Unlike everything else that happened in your day, you kind of can’t mess this sauce up, just stir the peanut butter sauce in a cup. It’s dependable, it has your back.

All you need to do when you walk in that door is put on a pot of water for the noodles and crank up the oven for the tofu. Then go change into your relaxing clothes while everything gets warmed up. If you are really crunched for time, you can always use a can of mock duck, or even some pre-baked tofu. But making it yourself is very low labor, it just takes a while in the oven.

I find that baking tofu instead of frying it is so much easier, uses less oil, and doesn’t lead to an oil spattered stove top the way that frying does. I am hooked on Wildwood extra firm or sprouted tofu, because they are so firm that you couldn’t press any water out of them if you wanted to. Just blot, cube, toss with oil and seasoning, and into the oven. As long as the oven is on, roast the broccoli to give it a little char and intensify the flavor.

Soft Cubes of Tofu and Creamy Peanut Sauce Make Comfort Food

A little Cilantro For a Citrusy Herbal Note

While the tofu and broccoli roast, you can blanch the radishes and carrots, and stir up the simple sauce. Peanut butter always makes me feel happy, like I’m a kid again, curled up with a spoonful of peanut butter and a good book. I’m sure that the definition of comfort food is unique to every individual, and set in childhood. That may be so, but noodles have to be high on everyone’s list.

Peanut butter is such a staple in my kitchen, I can hardly go a week without making a new batch in the Vitamix. I keep roasted unsalted peanuts in the freezer so I can stay ahead of my peanut butter needs. It’s an inexpensive source of protein, fiber, and good fats, and can go savory or sweet without missing a beat.

Throw together Comfort Food with Easy Peanut Noodles by Robin Asbell

So Tired, So Hungry…

Of course I’m all over a whole wheat noodle, too, to get the goodness of whole grains on the plate in minutes. Flat linguine and fettucine are easy to find in whole wheat or even GF whole grain varieties, and they do a pretty good stand-in for an Asian udon or other wide noodle.

So go ahead, comfort yourself with noodles. These will make you feel good from the inside out.

Whole Wheat Peanut Noodles with Turmeric Tofu
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Whole Wheat Peanut Noodles with Turmeric Tofu

Servings 6
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces extra firm tofu cubed
  • tamari
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric
  • dark sesame oil
  • 1 bunch broccoli cut in florets
  • 1/4 large black radish julienned
  • 1 large carrot julienned
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brewed tea
  • 2 tablespoons honey or sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 3/4 cup toasted peanuts chopped
  • 12 ounces whole wheat fettucine
  • cilantro
  • Sriracha sauce

Instructions

  1. Boil a large pot of water for cooking the vegetables and noodles. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Spread a drizzle of sesame oil on a sheet pan and place the tofu on it, sprinkle with turmeric and tamari and toss to coat. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway. Spread the broccoli on a pan and drizzle with sesame oil, toss to coat. Roast for 20 minutes, until browned.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, green tea or water, red pepper and fresh ginger. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Blanch the remaining vegetables in the boiling water: drop in the carrots and radish for one minute, then scoop out with a slotted spoon or small strainer and let cool. Cook the pasta in the same water according to package directions, about 9 minutes. drain the pasta, shaking it to drain well.

  4. In the pasta pot, place the noodles and drizzle the peanut sauce over them. Toss to coat. Serve topped with tofu, broccoli, and carrots and radish. Sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro. Drizzle Sriracha on the carrots and radish.

Traveling? You Need Packable Snacks. Bring Airplane Cookies!

Almond-Hemp Airplane Cookies-Packable Snacks

Ready for The Trip!

If you follow me on instagram, twitter or facebook (and why wouldn’t you be?), you know that I’ve been traveling. But before I left, I made sure I had packable snacks for that looooong flight to Amsterdam.

Travel Should Be Fun

Aah, travel. Getting there should be half the fun, but often, it’s kind of a drag.  Whether you are taking a road trip, or heading to the airport, you need to be prepared. Reading material, an ipod, a good neck supporting pillow, and packable snacks are essential.

Jump To Recipe

Foraging in an Airport, Hungry and Tired

There’s no food-lovers dilemma quite as awful as being at the mercy of the food court at the airport. Some of them have gotten better, but unless you know for sure, you can’t bank on it. My hometown hub here in Minneapolis does a pretty good job, and I’ve found a few nice things to eat in places like Portland and San Francisco. And yes, Schipol has a lovely bakery with sandwiches and smoothies, among other things. But I’ve been stuck in a few airports where I had hours to kill because of a delay. To fill the time and get some exercise, I dragged my bag with me to every single food source in the place, scouting for edibles. In a big airport, this can mean covering some territory, using my dormant hunter-gatherer skills. It came down to a choice between a sit down meal of hot, greasy food, or making due with a bag of nuts and some popcorn.

Plan Ahead With Packable Snacks

It was that kind of experience that trained me to plan ahead. Sure, there should be some granola bar or something in the newspaper shop, but even those are questionable. I want something all whole grain, naturally sweetened, organic, and packed with real nuts and seeds.

So I make Airplane Cookies.

Airplane Cookies are Packable Snacks

A Stack of Snacks!

Make Your Snacks Meal-Worthy

Since I like to grind fresh flours and nut butters in my Vitamix, I put fresh Kamut flour and almond butter in these cookies. You can, of course, use pre-ground Kamut or whole wheat pastry flour, and almond butter from a jar, and they will still be fantastic.

I chose to put them in muffin cups, instead of a classic cookie format, so that they would have more soft middles than crunchy exteriors. They stay fresh longer this way, and don’t break in your bag.

Big, chunky hunks of almonds and walnuts, dark chocolate chips, and hemp seeds provide some delectable protein and good fat to keep you nourished and happy. Chocolate is a health food, and eating a few ounces per day is like taking a delicious, energizing dose of antioxidants.

Packable Snacks, Airplane Cookies

A Little Dark Chocolate Makes It All More Fun

One Tip to Make it Neater in the Heat

If you are traveling in a hot car, you might want to skip the drizzle of chocolate on top- hard experience has taught me that liquid chocolate on my hands while driving is a little too messy. Just stick with the chips inside and you will be fine. They will melt and give you a really sensuous chocolate experience.

Packable Snacks for Anytime, Airplane Cookies

Drizzle Melted Chocolate on Top

With these easy, packable little treats, you can sit back and wait for the attendant to bring the beverage cart, then enjoy your homemade goodies while everyone else makes do with dry pretzels and junk food assortment packs.

You’ll be glad you made real food packable snacks, I promise.

 

Almond-Hemp Airplane Cookies
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Airplane Cookies

When you travel, you need some good snacks, to avoid falling into the trap of eating airport food. These whole grain, nut and seed filled cookies are just the kind of whole foods treat that will energize you, nourish you, and delight you!

Course Snack
Servings 12
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 1 cup whole Kamut or kamut flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil melted
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds
  • 2 ounces very dark chocolate for drizzling

Instructions

  1. If you are grinding fresh flour, do that first- place a scant cup of whole kamut in the Vitamix container, secure the lid and select Variable Speed 1. Turn on the machine and gradually increase the speed to 10, then high, and grind for 1 minute, then pour the flour out on a plate and let cool.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the almonds on a sheet pan and toast for 10 minutes, let cool.

    Lightly oil a 12 cup muffin pan and reserve.

  3. If making nut butter, grind that by putting half a cup of almonds in the Vitamix and securing the lid, then inserting the tamper. Select Variable Speed 1 and star on low, then gradually increase only as long as the nuts are engaged with the blades, tamping. Grind until smooth. Chop the remaining almonds and reserve.
  4. Place 1/2 cup almond butter in the Vitamix and add the coconut oil, maple syrup, non-diary milk, flax, vanilla and almond extract. Secure the lid, select Variable Speed 1 and turn ont he machine, gradually increase the speed, using the tamper if necessary, and blend well. Reserve.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the kamut flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Stir until well mixed. Scrape the contents of the blender into the bowl and stir to mix. Fold in the reserved toasted almonds, walnuts, chocolate chips, and hemp.

    Measure 1/4 cup portions of dough into the muffin cups- it's easier if you oil the measuring cup. With damp fingers, press the dough down evenly.

  6. Bake for about 25 minutes, until there is light brown around the edges, but the centers are still very soft. Cool on racks. Melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle on the tops of the cookies, let cool. Pack in heavy zip-top bags or wrap in waxed paper. Freeze for up to two months.

Recipe Notes

In this recipe I used the Vitamix to grind the fresh kamut flour, and to make almond butter. Then I mixed the wet ingredients in the blender, since I was already using it. Of course, you can make this with pre-ground flour and almond butter, and mix it by hand. Just blend the wet mix in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon.

In a Hurry? Make Edamame Hummus With Lime

Use Edamame to make a delicious Lime-Infused Hummus

Edamame Hummus Tartine

If you are hungry and tired, and just want a quick and delicious meal, look no further. All you need is a bag of edamame in the freezer and a few other fresh ingredients. This creamy, sprightly spread takes only a few minutes to make, and once you have it, you have a meal, or two, ready to go.

I know that you probably have a favorite hummus, a go-to when you are shopping in a hurry. But you don’t want to get hummus fatigue. You need to mix it up. This Edamame and Lime Hummus is just the thing, with just enough of a twist to keep it interesting. But it still embodies the nutty, tangy truth of hummus.

Sprightly Edamame Lime Hummus Makes a Great Tartine

Slather with hummus and pile on some fresh tomatoes and parsley

There is a myth floating around, that edamame is just an immature soybean, picked before it turns into the yellow soybean that we use to make tofu and soymilk. If you’ve ever had whole yellow soybeans, or even soy nuts, you know that they are very different from edamame, smaller, firmer, and much beanier tasting. They are also hard to digest, and that is why you usually eat them as tofu, tempeh, or soymilk, which have been cooked and prepared in such a way as to be easy to assimilate.

In truth, edamame is a very different variety of soybean, bred for centuries in Japan to create a bean that is tasty enough to eat as a snack. That’s why it’s served at sushi bars, boiled in the pod. The texture of edamame is quite a bit firmer than a typical bean, giving it an appealing crunch.

Edamame is a good food to add to your rotation. For complete nutrition info, click here. Like all beans, edamame is a fiber-rich, high protein plant food, rich in all sorts of beneficial vitamins and minerals. But above all, it is really a tasty little bean. I find that people who find tofu a little too foreign will embrace edamame much more readily, especially in this hummus.

Edamame and Lime Hummus Tartines for Lunch or Appetizers

Any Season of the Year, For Lunch or an Easy Appetizer

I used the Vitamix to make mine, but you can also use a food processor. Just grind the edamame and garlic together in the food processor bowl until very smooth, then add the tahini, process, then add the remaining ingredients. It won’t be as velvety smooth as it is in the blender, but it will still be nutty and tangy and incredibly satisfying.

(Watch me convince a skeptic with another version of edamame hummus.)

So schmear, slather and spread your hummus on some hearty whole grain bread, crackers, or chips, and make sure to sprinkle on some veggies. Knowing it’s good for you only makes it more delicious.

 

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Edamame and Lime Hummus

Take a break from your usual hummus and try this creamy green one, made with protein-rich edamame and a sparkle of lime.

Servings 4
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime zest
  • 10 ounces shelled edamame thawed
  • 1 clove garlic smashed
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil, paprika, parsley for garnish
  • 6 slices rustic whole wheat bread
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes sliced

Instructions

  1. In a Vitamix, combine the water, olive oil, lime juice and zest, then add garlic and edamame. Secure the lid and start on low, then gradually increase the speed. Use the tamper and Add the tahini and salt and process again to mix, adding water if needed to puree smoothly. If the mixture seems too thick, drizzle in water with the machine running. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and parsley.

  2. For tartines, toast 6 large slices of whole wheat bread. Spread with hummus and top with sliced tomatoes and parsley.

Kamut-Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney- Whole Grain Riot of Flavor

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney

The ever-evolving tradition of bringing a basket of breads to the table at restaurants is often a quandary. The reason you are there is because you are hungry, so it’s very easy to dig into a basket of warm rolls and ruin your appetite. On the other hand, the breads offered are often so mediocre that it’s easy to say no. Not so with my Kamut-Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney. It’s made with freshly ground whole grains, for even more appeal.

Because the bread basket that I can’t pass up is the one at the Indian restaurant. Hot naan, paratha, poori, and kulcha are just too intoxicating for me to save my precious appetite. It’s a good thing curries make good leftovers, because I blow it on the breads every time.

So for a treat, sometimes I make naan at home. It’s so easy to use my Vitamix to make freshly ground whole grain flours, and then show off their flavor in a simple flatbread. It’s a bit of work to roll them out and griddle them, so I serve a simple chickpea curry or even dal alongside and call it a meal. The banana chutney is exciting enough to entice you to fill up on naan, I promise you.

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney

A Riot of Flavor!

Whole grain naan are usually made with a special whole wheat flour called atta. It’s a finely ground, lower-gluten whole grain flour, also used for chapati. I’m so smitten with my freshly ground kamut flour that I wanted to buzz up some for this. Kamut is lower in gluten than hard wheat, but higher than soft pastry wheat. A cup of chickpea flour adds a protein boost and cuts the amount of gluten in the mix overall. Sweet potato gives the breads some sweetness, and a lovely orange tint.

They are not as fluffy and stretchy as the white flour naan at my favorite restaurant, but they more than make up for it with fresh whole grain flavor.

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney by Robin Asbell

Perfect for Dipping

The banana chutney is a riff on a more traditional one. I added crystallized ginger for a sweet and peppery kick, as well as the many magical things that ginger does for my body. Ginger is warming, aids in digestion, and boosts your immune system, so the fact that it tastes great only makes me love it more. Of course, I had to put fresh turmeric in, for even more color, flavor and anti-inflammatory punch.

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney by Robin Asbell

Spicy, Sweet and Sour Chutney and Flatbreads

Griddling the breads requires a heavy griddle or cast iron skillet. I happen to have a fantastic cast iron pizza pan from Lodge and I used that, slicked with a little coconut oil.

Kamut-Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney by Robin Asbell

After the first flip, on the Lodge Cast Iron Pan

You can also use whole wheat flour for these, just start with 2 1/2 cups of flour and adjust with more flour or more water, the dough should be soft enough to handle easily.

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney

Warm, chewy bread with tangy bananas and crystallized ginger

For a bread basket that you won’t feel guilty about devouring, make these tasty whole grain naan. With the banana chutney on top, it’s like having a party in your mouth.

Kamut and Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney
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Kamut-Chickpea Naan with Banana Chutney

Freshly griddled whole grain flatbreads are a treat, and with this sweet and spicy banana chutney, they are a spectacular appetizer or side dish.

Servings 4
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 2 cup whole kamut or 2 1/2 cups kamut flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup mashed sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt dairy or non-dairy
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil plus more for griddling
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 large scallion chopped, divided
  • 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 large jalapeno chopped
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoons cayenne
  • 1/2 cup crystallized ginger chopped
  • 2 large ripe bananas sliced

Instructions

  1. For naan: Grind the kamut in the Vitamix dry grinding container, the pour into a large bowl to cool. Add the chickpea fllour, yeast, salt and sugar and mix well. In a cup, stir the sweet potatoes, yogurt and coconut oil. Stir into the flour mixture, switching to kneading when it gets hard to stir. Knead until smooth and well mixed. It should be soft and easy to handle, if necessary, add a little water to make it softer, or flour if it is sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover, let rise for an hour.
  2. While the dough rises, make the chutney. In a small pot, warm the canola oil over medium heat and add the white parts of the scallions, turmeric, mustard seeds and jalapeno and cook, stirring. Cook until the onions are softened the seeds pop and turn grey. Add the sugar and vinegar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the salt, spices and ginger and stir for a a minute to soften the ginger, then add sliced bananas. Stir until the bananas are starting to dissolve but not completely mashed. Take off the heat and adjust seasonings.

  3. To finish the breads: Smear some coconut oil on the counter and dump out the dough, then divide in 8 pieces. Form each into a disk and put on the counter to rise, covered with a towel. Let rise for half an hour, then roll out on the oiled counter into 8 inch circles. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and pat to press them into the dough. Let them rise for another 15 minutes.
  4. Put a griddle or large cast iron pan over high heat for 3 minutes. Transfer dough pieces to the hot pan, cooking for 1-2 minutes per side, flipping as they brown. Reduce the heat to medium as you go and the pan is fully heated. Transfer to a platter to cool.

    Serve hot naan with chutney.

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Throw a Spring Brunch, with Lemony Pear Cake

Lemony Pear Cake with Almonds by Robin Asbell

Go Ahead, Take a Bite!

Aaaah, Spring! Time to clear away the old and move forward with new growth. It’s also a good time to get social, and stop hibernating inside. A brunch, or even a tea party with some delectable, lemony pear cake is just the thing.

These days, I’m not staying up late and partying. In fact, I’m starting to think brunch is the best party to throw. It’s early, it’s easy, and all the busy, vital people you know can probably pop by for a cup of tea and a late breakfast, can’t they?

Back in my restaurant days, the brunch shift was it’s own little world. It was seen as an easy, kind of relaxed time, when the kitchen was full of slightly hungover people, serving equally hungover people out in the dining room. Somehow, delivering pancakes and coffee felt gentler than cranking out dinner. We turned the music down a little and served comforting, rejuvenating food.

Now, I just want to see my friends and share some tea and cake. The relaxing vibe can stay, and if anybody is hungover, well, so be it. Mimosas are optional, but if it works, go for it. They go well with the lemony pear cake, or even these scones.

You might even want to make these lemony cupcakes.

Lemony Pear Cake with Almonds

So Moist and Full of Goodies

The key to this cake is a sparkling jolt of lemony tartness, summoning up the sunshine that is starting to pour in from above. Peel off those wintry layers, physically and mentally, and clear your mind.

Of course, I see a cake like this as a way to eat some fruit and nuts, and even a little whole grain, all transformed into a decadent treat. You have the options of using aquafaba or eggs, depending on what you are into.

Lemony Pear Cake with Almonds

Drizzle with Caramel Sauce

It’s a dead simple easy cake, with no whipping or folding, just a simple stir and bake. Making the caramel sauce involves cooking sugar, but it’s really easy, too. Just boil it til it turns caramel colored, then get it off the heat before it burns. Add the coconut milk off the heat, gradually, so it doesn’t boil up and out of the pan. It’s a great little sauce, if you have leftovers you can pour it over ice cream or dip apple slices in it.

Lemony Pear Cake with Almonds by Robin Asbell

Tender Cake with Lots of Pears and Almonds

If I can inspire you to have a brunch with friends, or an afternoon tea, I hope you will make this cake. We all need the spiritual nourishment of spending time with people we enjoy. What could be better than serving them good food, good conversation, and a hot cup of tea?

Lemony Pear Bundt with Almonds
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Lemony Pear Cake with Almonds and Caramel Sauce

A moist, rich cake, studded with soft pears and crunchy almonds, and a drizzle of sweet and salty caramel sauce.

Servings 8 servings
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream from the top of the can
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 2 large eggs or 2/3 cup aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup organic brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup whole almonds coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups chopped pears
  • powdered sugar for garnish

Instructions

  1. First, make the sauce. In a 2 quart saucepan combine the sugar and water. Stir over medium high heat until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to high and don't stir, just swirl the pan over the heat. Heat the mixture until the bubbling liquid turns from champagne colored to an amber-caramel tone. Take off the heat and immediately, carefully pour in coconut milk a bit at a time, being careful because it will boil right out of the pot if you rush. Put back over the heat, stirring, add salt and cook over medium heat to dissolve all the cooked sugar that formed lumps when the coconut milk went in. When smooth, take off heat and transfer to a pouring cup.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a bundt pan.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, stirring to combine thoroughly. Stir in zest.

  4. In large bowl or a stand mixer, beat eggs or aquafaba, oil, vanilla and almond extract until well combined. Add to egg mixture and stir to blend. Stir in pears and nuts.
  5. Scrape batter into the bundt pan. Smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with only moist crumbs attached. Cool 10 minutes on a rack before carefully covering with a cake plate and flipping to remove the pan.

    When cooled, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with sauce.

Bowl Food with Kale and Turmeric-Cashew Dressing

Kale Bowl with Quinoa and Turmeric Dressing by Robin Asbell

Lighten Up with Bowl Food

Spring is in the air, tantalizing us with the prospect of baring a little skin to the sunshine. If the thought of shedding those layers has you feeling self conscious, it may be time to commit to a bowl food re-set.

You see, while I never DIET, I do occasionally notice the scale inching a bit in the wrong direction. That’s when it’s time to double down on eating healthy bowls. Follow the bowl model, and pile up a bunch of filling whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and you’ll find it easier to pare down a little.

Add some exercise, and you’re on your way.

For this gorgeous bowl of food, I wanted to make put my fresh turmeric front and center. So, I tossed some in the cauliflower with smoked paprika and roasted it to tender perfection, and then I put some turmeric in the creamy cashew dressing.

I’ve written lots about the health benefits of turmeric, here with a recipe for dal, and here in a juice for healthy skin. Nourished skin will look better in a tank top, right?

Fresh Turmeric Roots

Beautiful Fresh Turmeric

To keep me interested in my bowl food, I went for lots of textures and flavors. The turmeric coated cauliflower is smoky and spicy and tender, as is the roasted sweet potato. Kale and red cabbage give us lots of crunch and color.

For a complete meal, you need some protein and fat, and cashews in the dressing as well as on the bowl have plenty. The creamy dressing and crunchy nuts add more textures and flavors.

Bowl of Cashews

Creamy or Crunchy, Cashews Rule

Of course, kale and quinoa are superfoods. Sliver the kale thinly, so it will be easier to chew. I used red quinoa, but you can use what is easiest for you, white, three-color blend, whatever is on hand. The protein and fiber are both perfect for keeping you full while you re-set the scales.

All the gorgeous color is not just enticing, but good for you. The pigments that make turmeric golden, kale green, red cabbage purple, and quinoa red are all antioxidants. As long as we are eating well, we might as well protect every cell from the inside out.

Kale Bowl with Quinoa and Turmeric Dressing by Robin Asbell

Feast On Color!

Welcome Spring, by feeding yourself tasty, invigorating bowl food. You’ll feel great!

Kale Bowl with Quinoa and Turmeric Dressing by Robin Asbell
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Kale Bowl with Quinoa, Spicy Cauliflower and Sunny Cashew Dressing

This is a big bowl of everything you need for dinner right now.

Servings 4 servings
Author Robin Asbell

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup raw cashews soaked
  • 2 cups cubed sweet potatoes
  • 4 cups cauliflower florets
  • 2 tablespoons fresh turmeric divided
  • 1 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt plus a pinch or two
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup red quinoa
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 clove garlic peeled and chopped
  • 1 bunch lacinato kale stemmed and sliced
  • 1 wedge red cabbage slivered
  • 1 package enoki mushrooms trimmed
  • 1 cup roasted cashews unsalted
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Instructions

  1. First, soak the cashews for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight, then drain and rinse.
  2. Heat the oven to 425 F. Spread the sweet potatoes on one sheet pan and the cauliflower on another. Drizzle about half a tablespoon of olive oil on each pan. On the cauliflower, sprinkle half of the turmeric, the paprika, and half of the salt. On the sweet potatoes, sprinkle the pepper and a pinch of salt. Toss each pan to mix well.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, then test the cauliflower, it should be tender and browned, take out to cool. Test the sweet potato, it may need another 10 to become tender. Let cool.

  4. While the veggies roast, cook the quinoa.

  5. In a Vitamix or other blender, place the lime juice, water, garlic, drained cashews, the remaining tablespoon of turmeric, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Secure the lid and select Variable Speed 1, then gradually increase to 10, then high. Blend until creamy, scraping down as needed.
  6. In each wide, low bowl, arrange 1/4 of the kale, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, quinoa, red cabbage, enoki mushrooms, cashews and cilantro. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

Happy Pistachio Day! Try My Pistachio Matcha Blondies on for Size

Pistachio-Matcha Blondies by Robin Asbell

Pistachio Butter and Matcha make these Bars irresistible

National Pistachio Day is February 26th

I remember the first pistachios I ever laid eyes on. They had bright red shells, and had arrived around the holidays. As a kid, the color of the shells drew me like a magnet, and I just had to get a handful of this new, exotic nut. Cracking open the hard shells with my teeth, I remember thinking that they were kind of sweet tasting, and not crunchy like other nuts. They were probably a little stale, to be truthful.

But I soldiered on, risking my dental health as I pried apart those technicolor shells. When it was all over, I noticed that my fingertips were tinted pink, stained by this magical red nut that was actually green inside. I wanted to do it again.

I now know that the red dye was a trick used by the nut sellers of that era, used to cover up their bruised, cracked and often rancid product. Back then, they were coming from Iran, and were the worse for the journey.

The Politics of Pistachios

In a strange, political twist of fate, Jimmy Carter stepped in. During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, he put a ban on pistachios from Iran for one year. When that year ended, Iran dumped low cost pistachios on the US market, to keep the nascent American pistachio business from taking off. California growers persisted, until the Iraq war in ’87, when the US was suddenly willing to shut Iranian pistachios down again.

Fast forward to now, US growers harvested 830 million pounds of pistachios in 2016. Nobody is dyeing the shells anymore, and you can find shelled, raw, roasted and salted pistachios in most produce departments. It’s been an American success story.

A Healthy Indulgence

Little did I know, back in that red shell era, that pistachios are one of the most healthful foods you can eat. With more protein and less fat per calorie than most other nuts, they are full of fiber that keeps you full and satisfied. The fats or the good, monounsaturated kind, and pistachios lower bad cholesterol and raise the good. A small handful gives you all the Vitamin E you need for the day, and some B-vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Pistachio-Matcha Blondies by Robin Asbell

Bursting with pistachio flavor, these blondies will disappear quickly…

The green nut even has lutein and zeanthin, the antioxidants that protect your eyes from macular degeneration.

All the better for seeing these delicious blondies fly off the plate!

Pistachio-Matcha Blondies by Robin Asbell

Underbaked just enough to be soft and gooey

For these decadent bars, I used my Vitamix to make pistachio butter, then mixed it into the batter. You can always use a food processor, too, it will just take more stops to scrape down and grind again. I love the way that the pistachio and matcha combine to give it a really exotic, rich flavor. Matcha in the glaze lets the sweetness of green tea shine through.

Pistachio-Matcha Blondies by Robin Asbell

A stack of pistachio flavor

So celebrate National Pistachio Day with a lush, crunchy treat. You’ll be taking good care of yourself while you savor every bite!

Pistachio-Matcha Blondies by Robin Asbell
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Pistachio-Matcha Blondies

Pistachios Star in these crave-worthy bars.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon matcha tea
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 cup raw pistachios divided
  • 1-2 teaspoons oil for making nut butter
  • 4 ounces butter or buttery sticks margarine softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs or 2 Tbs ground flax whisked with 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • GLAZE
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon matcha powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk or almond milk to thin

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment, letting the paper hang over the edges at two sides. Use a little of your butter or margarine to grease the pan and paper. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, matcha, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a Vitamix or food processor, grind half of the pistachios to butter, adding the canola oil as needed to make a thick paste. Scrape into a bowl and let cool.
  3. In a stand mixer or with an electric mixer in a large bowl, beat the softened butter or margarine. Add the brown sugar and beat until fluffy, scraping down a couple of times. Beat in the eggs or egg replacer and vanilla, and scrape again. Beat in the pistachio butter. Mix in the flour mixture, stopping to scrape the sides when it is mixed, then add the remaining pistachios and chocolate chips.
  4. Spread the batter in the pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden and crinkled, but the center is still a little raw. Cool on racks.
  5. Use the parchment to lift out the blondies and cut them 4 x 4 into 16 squares.

 

 

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