Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vegan Pecan-Oatmeal Cookies & Vegan Strawberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookie Bars

A twist on the average Oatmeal Cookie ... I know what you're thinking ... "VEGAN? Ew!" But I must say that these, for me, are tastier than the average oatmeal cookie. The maple syrup and honey adds an extra sweetness. I have spent quite some time perfecting my recipes, and I can promise you that the next time I make them I'll either add or substitute another element. I love using fresh ingredients, such as the pecans and strawberries. It makes healthy taste a little sweeter.

What You'll Need:

1 cup quick-cook rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup maple sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1Tblsp. honey
1/2 safflower oil
1/3 cup petite diced fresh strawberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except set strawberries aside.
3. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
4. Using your hands (and yes, they'll get a little gooey), use a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon of cookie dough, rolling into balls. Place the balls on a greased cookie sheet and flatten just a bit. This should take up about half of your cookie dough.
5. Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until cooked to your liking. I leave in only 8 at the most, as I like my cookies a little more on the chewy side. Place cookies on a rack to cool.
6. While first batch of cookies are cooling, fold in strawberries to the remainder of the dough. Once again, use a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon of cookie dough, rolling into balls. Place the balls, this time, into a greased cupcake tray.
7. Bake 9 - 11 minutes or until cooked to your liking. These should be cooked a little longer than cookies, as they will resemble an oatmeal bar. Place cookie bars on a rack to cool.

Bakers Note(s):
*Before going into the oven, I sprinkle a dash of a sugar / cinnamon mixture onto cookie dough. I use Sugar in the Raw and ground cinnamon.
*I keep my Strawberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookie Bars in the refrigerator and eat for breakfast with some fresh fruit. You can also reheat for a little sweet snack.

These cookies and cookie bars are a healthy, delicious snack that leave you satisfied, yet wanting more. The best part is that since this is a vegan-friendly recipe you can lick the bowl clean!

Vegan Pecan Oatmeal Cookies & Vegan Strawberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookie Bars

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tomato & Arugula Toast w / Smoked Gruyere & Bal-Mustard Vinaigrette

I know it may be a mouthful (in more than one way) but this is a simple and satisfying healthy snack.

What You'll Need:

1 Medium Vine-Ripened Tomato, sliced then halved
3 - 4 slices of Wheat Italian 5-Grain Bread (or your favorite deli bread)
Several sprigs of Arugula, about 1/8 cup
6 - 8 slices of Boar's Head Smoke Gruyere Cheese
3 - 4 tsp. Red-Fat Sundried Tomato & Basil Feta Cheese

 Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette
1/4 cup of Aged Balsamic Vinegar
1/8 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tblsp. Spicy or Deli Mustard
1 tsp. finely chopped Olives (Manzanilla or Kalamata)
1 tsp. olive juice
1 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning
Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place bread on a cookie sheet (or I use the top slotted part of my broiling pan). Lay slices of Gruyere cheese on the bread slices, about 2 slices per piece of bread. Place tomato slices over cheese, again about 2 - 3 slices per piece. Sprinkle about one tsp per piece of bread with the Sundried Tomato & Basil Feta cheese.
3. Bake about 7 - 8 minutes, or longer if you like your toast more on the burnt side.
4. While toast is in the oven, in a small mixing bowl mix Balsamic Vinegar, Mustard, Olives, Olive Juice, dried Italian Seasoning and pepper. Slowly whisk in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
5. Once toast is out of the oven, place sprigs of Arugula on top of toast and then drizzle with Bal-Mustard Vinaigrette.

And there you have it. Simple & Satisfying in 10 minutes or less.

Tomato & Arugula Toast w / Smoked Gruyere & Bal-Mustard Vinaigrette

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking is like an interpretive dance ..

But baking? .. well, baking is a disaster waiting to happen unless you've got just the right moves.

I grew up in the kitchen, helping my mom and both of my grandmothers. When I was a child, we always had dinner at the table, as a family. We had home-cooked meals every night, and weren't allowed to touch our food until a blessing had been said. I was a very picky child. My idea of potatoes were either fries or a baked potato doused in A1 Sauce and bacon bits with a mountain of pepper. The mashed, scalloped and twice-baked would have been the death of me - at least I thought. I'd eat a black eye pea, but not a green one; raw spinach, but not cooked; absolutely no squash, onions, broccoli, peppers or zucchini; and forget anything with milk, mayo or sour cream. When forced to eat any of the above I would present my gag-reflex technique at the table, causing my fellow family members to lose their appetite, leaving me to my baked potato and sweet tea. That technique, while effective, had a short lifespan. The folks caught on, realizing I was faking, and then forced me to eat those disgusting foods. Thankfully I had a legitimate intolerance for dairy, so it wasn't all a loss. Having been raised in a very, VERY large and traditional Southern family I found family get-togethers sometimes very challenging - because there was ALWAYS food involved and boy do they like all the things I swore would kill me.

Over the years my appetite has blossomed. My list of "no-no's" has slimmed and I'm open to try new things, but I think what helped me most in opening up my palate was cooking for myself. Knowing what exactly went into the preparation of my food made me realize that you can take an unpleasant food and make it taste quite delicious. All those years of being told not to play with my food backlashed because playing with my food is what helped me learn how to cook with soul and originality. So I encourage everyone to play with their food, but the old rule is still in play: Wash your hands prior to handling your food.

Now back to my testy friend, baking. Baking is like that science project we all did as kids; the one with the volcanic reaction. If you didn't get it just right, you were left with nothing but a big, disgusting mess. Baking is much like a woman, you don't treat it with extreme caution and calculated moves, she's sure to have her wrath.

While I got the savory down from the maternal side, I got the sweet from my dad. My dad, his dad and all of my uncles have this insatiable sweet tooth. I don't remember a time walking into the kitchen and not finding brownies, rice crispy treats, cookies, homemade ice cream, pecan rolls, cake or pie. And the holidays at the grandparents? Gosh, it was like walking into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, except the gobstoppers were platters of fudge and the chocolate birds were cookies. Had we been bombed and forced into a sheltered life, we'd still be able to survive for days without starving. Dad would let us help him make treats nearly every night - and yes every night because there was rarely a crumb left before bed or after school the following day. I find it funny that throughout most of my teenage years I rebelled against sweets, especially chocolate. These days, while I prefer the savory, I can't pass up on a good piece of cake or a rich piece of chocolate - especially the expensive and imported stuff. Hersheys and Wonka is for the birds. I mean, if you're gonna go for it I feel like you should REALLY go for it.

I just transitioned in the the art of baking several years ago. My dream since my early 20's has been to one day have my very own cafe, where you can walk into the connected book boutique, grab a book, grab a bite and sit, enjoying the best of both. I may still be amateur but I think that (through many, many inedible disasters) I have come a long way. There is no such thing as a failure in the kitchen. Through my trials and tribulations going forward I hope to share with all, some of my greater 'sweet' success stories.

Stay tuned for more stories from 'The Sweet Life'.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bringin' Sexy Back .. To The Kitchen

My dream for quite some time has been to write a cookbook AND have it published, but then I thought to myself, "Self: not only can you share recipes for free, you can publish for free as well!" With a little encouragement from friends I have embarked upon my very first 'cyber cookbook'. I have very unorthodox methods and never measure anything, but cooking is an artform and should always be left up to interpretation.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry.