Christmas Chocolate Clusters

November 11, 2009

christmas clusters

Guilt-free chocolate indulgence

This is a slight variation of my award-winning Trail Mix Clusters recipe. It won Honorable Mention in a healthy chocolate contest and was published in Healthy Cooking Magazine, December/January 2009, p31.

I often make a batch of these and eat one or two clusters a day without guilt, knowing I am getting my heart-healthy nuts, chocolate, and fruits in a delicious morsel.

I had some dried strawberries that I substituted for the dried blueberries in the original recipe, and I used almonds instead of pecans, for a different flavor (and also because I didn’t feel like digging through my stuffed fridge looking for pecans!)

Christmas Chocolate Clusters
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped cashews
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped dried strawberries
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Mix together nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and coconut.

christmas clusters mixins

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the colorful and festive-looking mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruits. Too bad the chocolate covers all the vibrant colors.

Heat chocolate chips in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir to melt. (You can also melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler.)

Add to the fruits and nuts. Stir well to combine.

Drop by spoonfuls onto a nonstick cookie sheet. Refrigerate until firm. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Pretty much any combination of fruits and nuts has worked well so far, as long as you maintain some sweet and some sour in the fruit mixture; otherwise, it gets too sickly sweet.

This makes about 48 clusters, so if you have the willpower to eat only two a day, they will last you approximately three weeks.

Bet you can’t eat just one!

Vegetarian Halloween Party Food

October 31, 2009

The vegetarian Halloween party was a hit. Despite a few “WHAT are we eating?” comments throughout the evening, all the guests were great sports and tried everything. In fact, despite being so full after the appetizers that they only ate a small portion of the main course, everyone finished all their dessert….

I mentioned some of this in yesterday’s post…The vegan Coagulated Blood Dip and Mummified Skin Flakes (aka beet dip and pita chips) were a hit, as well as the Stuffed Roaches (dates filled with a vegan cream-cheese-like mixture and dipped in fake bacon bits.)

My friends very artfully laid out vegetable slices and strips to create this Skeleton Platter, which I served with my vegan ranch dip, renamed Moldy Brain Dip. Find the recipe here. Lip-smackingly delicious, and cute, too!

halloween party part two 003

Skeleton Platter with Moldy Brain Dip

“Eeyoo,” my friend said, as she ladled out the Pond Scum Soup. I had her pipe soy yogurt on top to create the spider web appearance, and next time I looked, she had consumed all of it. So it obviously tasted just fine.

I had another friend (who loves deviled eggs) work on these Devil’s Eyes. He put an olive in the center of each one and piped ketchup to create blood vessels. Not a great picture, but you get the idea.

devils eyes

Devil's Eyes, aka Deviled Eggs

The main course–Chunky Cat Barf and Steamed Maggots with Spider Web Bread was also eaten, albeit sparingly.

But I think the two standout dishes (if you had to choose two; they were all devoured with equal amounts of gusto) would have to be the Pumpkin Smoothies and the Black Widow Spider Cakes.

Vegan Pumpkin Smoothies
1 cup yogurt or soy yogurt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup sugar or other sweetener, or to taste–depends on the sweetness of your pumpkin and the tartness of the yogurt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup water–you may need to add more
1 tray (=2 cups or 16 ice cubes) ice
Blend in a blender until smooth. Adjust sweetener and water as necessary.

For the Black Widow Spider Cakes, I used a basic vegan cake recipe, and tried to do a vegan molten chocolate lava cake using the method explained by Bryanna Clark Grogan.

Basically, you make a filling, freeze it in ice cubes, then put them into the center of the batter and bake. The cake batter cooks into cake; the filling thaws into ooze.

I made a filling of berries cooked with cornstarch and a small amount of sweetener, water and lemon juice, and froze them in an ice cube tray. I put them into greased custard cups and oven-safe tea cups, then poured the cake batter over them.

After baking, we turned them out onto a plate upside down and used melted semi-sweet chocolate chips to pipe legs. The heads were made by adding a commercial chocolate truffle (on top a tiny mound of melted chocolate, so it would stay in place.) Although the “guts” didn’t ooze like I had hoped, because I made the filling too thick, it did make the middle of the cakes appropriately mushy and the tartness of the berries complemented the cake nicely.

I got the idea for the spider cakes from this website called “Not Martha.”

Vegan Chocolate Cakes
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together. Spoon over “guts” (optional) into greased custard cups or muffin tins. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Invert immediately onto a plate. Use melted chocolate to create legs and something (truffle, doughnut hole, cookie, mound of melted chocolate) for the spider head.

black widow spider cake

Vegan Black Widow Spider Cakes--fun to make and eat, and cute, too

Beverage was Body Part Punch, made with cranberry and grape juices. I froze a hand made from soymilk and orange juice, to create a realistic flesh color, in a latex glove. Lychees were stuffed with raisins and frozen for “eyeballs”, and a can of peaches was also dumped in for “flesh.”

Despite my worries, the food wasn’t so gross that it stopped anyone from eating it. Thanks to my friends for letting me have my dream of a Halloween party come true, and thanks to all the creative people and cooks out there who come up with these ideas and share them online.

I hope you can take some of these recipes and ideas and use them for your own spooky, fun, and delicious vegetarian Halloween party. Happy Halloween!

Vegan Halloween Party Food

October 30, 2009

Today I made some food ahead of time in preparation for a Halloween dinner party I’m having tomorrow night. Part of the trick is giving food gory names that match the appearance of the dishes.

Coagulated Blood Dip

Based on the idea I found here, I put together a beet dip and doctored it quite heavily. The result isn’t as bloody in color, but it still maintains a greyish-pink hue, sickly looking enough to gross people out, I hope, especially when accompanied by mummified skin flakes (aka pita chips.)

blood dip

Healthy and gross: Coagulated Blood Dip and Mummified Skin Flakes

Another pupu (that’s the Hawaiian word for “appetizer”) that is almost too disgusting to try is Smashed Cockroaches.

Once again, I borrowed this idea from the internet, which takes dates, cuts them open, fills with cream cheese, and puts them on a platter. I veganized it with a cream-cheese-like mixture into which I mixed some chopped walnuts. Because I have some teeny green scallion tops in the garden, I decided to use those to mimic the antennae.

It’s easier if you put the green onions in first, then add the cream-cheesy mixture. And since it was a tad too sweet for my taste as is, I dipped them in vegetarian bacon bits for even more crunch and a nudge toward a more savory flavor.
stuffed roaches
Whoever thought these up was creative indeed. I love how the shape and color of the dates so perfectly matches those disgusting outdoor cockroaches. (If you live somewhere where you don’t have them, be glad!)

And of course, to make them even grosser, I am calling them “Smashed Cockroaches,” because that’s exactly what they look like after you’ve attempted to kill them with your rubber slippers!

Pond Scum Soup
At one point I was growing a plant called “cholesterol spinach,” and I couldn’t even give it away. It had the nasty habit of creating slime when cooked, which is probably what made it so healthy to consume.

One day I made spinach soup with it, but the resulting slimy goo was too disgusting for me to eat. Remembering that, I created this Pond Scum Soup with my most recent “cholesterol spinach” plant, which does not create slime.

I sauteed onion, garlic, celery, mushrooms and spinach, then cooked it with some water and one potato. I blended it and added a lot of lemon juice for a tart, mossy greenish glop.
pond scum soup

The spider-web-like topping is soy yogurt, piped in a spiral. Then I used a chopstick stuck in the middle and dragged to the edge, repeatedly. Wipe off the chopstick after each stroke.

Steamed Maggots and Chunky Cat Barf
Our main course will be rice and curry renamed. I plan to use a couple different varieties and colors of rice, to give it more “what the heck IS that?” appeal.

The curry is the same recipe as in this Malaysian Broccoli And Tofu Curry post. The only difference was I added reconstituted TVP instead of tofu, plus some bell peppers and corn, to give it a more cat-vomit-like look.

chunky cat barf

Pretty gross, huh? heh heh.

I plan to serve it with Roti Jala, Net Bread, just like I did before. But we’ll make it at the party, since it tastes best when fresh, retaining a crispiness along with chew. I’m going to call it “Spider Web Bread,” because the lacy appearance is close enough to spider webs to match the Halloween party theme.

It will be interesting to see if the food tastes less delicious when given such disgusting names. I’ll post again after the party and let you know how it all went.

Stay tuned to see my “Body Part Punch” and “Black Widow Spider Cakes.” Mwah ha ha!

Spooky Food Ideas

September 13, 2009

Halloween is only 49 days away, and yes, I’m counting! It happens to be my favorite holiday, and I realized I’ve never had a dinner party for it. Not that I am overflowing with ideas for spooky edibles.

Of course, the internet came to the rescue. There were the typical severed fingers as bread or cookies, which I’ve done before, and bloody punch, with a floating frozen hand (fill a glove, tie off the end with a rubber band, and freeze.)

I’ve made a Japanese-flavored dish of udon noodles and sliced shiitake, in a soy-flavored, dark brown broth, which I called “Slug and Worm Stew.” The chewy texture of the shiitake was just enough to make you think twice as you started to chomp. But that’s been it.

After scouring the internet for ideas, I now have more ideas than I need, including some that are far too disgusting or gory to use, such as the bleeding heart cake, which gushes blood when you cut into it, or “turds” (even if they were made of chocolate!)–eeyoo!

On the other hand, stuffed cockroaches (dates with a crunchy cream cheese stuffing–the crunch really makes it seem like guts–) sounds doable, although I will need to veganize the cream cheese part of it. There were a couple of dips and spreads with disgusting names. After all, it’s all about presentation.

What is bound to kill your appetite more: “Red Bean Dip” or “Coagulated Blood Dip”?

Which would you rather sample: “Vegan Cheeze-Filled Dates” or “Smashed Cockroaches”? Heh heh.

Okay, back to the labORatory…Igor, Come!

Happy Easter!

April 13, 2009
Yes, these hot cross buns were definitely better than store-bought

Yes, these hot cross buns were definitely better than store-bought

Quality Control: Healthier Hot Cross Buns
I made a batch of my hot cross buns today, adding 1/4 cup of chopped apricots for some fruity variety. I used my winning recipe, posted here and below.

The dough was stickier than I remember it being last year, but perhaps that was due to the humidity we’ve had recently. “March winds and April showers” is no cliche around here.

I added 3 TBS extra flour as it mixed in the bread machine, in order for it to become a ball, rather than a shapeless mass. Even so, when I pulled the dough out to form balls and place them on cookie sheets, the dough stuck to my hands.

But I dampened my hands and proceeded with the recipe. No worries, Mite! The finished buns were fragrant and moist, studded with chewy bits of cranberry, raisin, ginger, and apricot.

I used orange juice in the icing, since the orange that I had taken the zest from for the recipe was now naked and staring at me. But I think it makes the icing just a tad too sweet. Better to stick with the lemon juice that the recipe calls for. The tang of the lemon provides a nice balance with the sugar in the icing.

When my omnivore father took a bite, he remarked, “Mmm, better than the ones I bought from the store.”

“Of course!” I replied. “You can’t even compare them. These are lower in fat and have whole wheat flour, flaxseed, soymilk, and lots of fruits. And they are much more moist and fresher tasting.”

Hot Cross Buns

1-1/2 cups warm soymilk
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter, softened (or substitute a vegan margarine)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons grated lemon or lime peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached flour
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast (or 2-1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger

3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
2 to 3 teaspoons lemon juice

Place all dough ingredients in a bread machine. Select the dough setting (check dough after 5 minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed).

When the dough is ready, use moistened hands (if the dough is sticky) to divide into 16 portions. Shape each into a ball. Place 2 inches apart on two baking sheets coated with cooking spray.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to cool on wire racks.

Combine the icing ingredients; pipe an “X” on each bun. Or dip the tops in the icing, or smear it on. Then you’ll have to call them “Hot Smeared Buns.”

Doesn’t have quite the ring to it, though, huh? Oh well. They’re still addictively tasty.

Eggs Good Enough to Not Eat

April 11, 2009
Some of our decorated eggs

Some of our decorated eggs

Several of us were at a friend’s house today indulging in a traditional Easter craft: the Eastern European art of egg decorating, or pysanky.

You begin with a raw egg, preferably white. Using a pen-like tool called a kistka, (not to be confused with the name of the female group that sings heavenly Eastern European harmonies, Kitka) you draw intricate designs on the egg. The tip of the scribe has a tiny metal funnel to hold a sliver of beeswax. Using the flame from a candle, you melt the wax and draw it wherever you want white to remain.

Your egg gets dyed the next lightest color, often yellow. You repeat the wax writing, covering up anything you want to remain yellow on the finished egg. Then you dye it the next darker color, such as orange.

These steps are repeated until you use the final, darkest color, which is often black. By this point, you have gone cross-eyed with eyestrain, and your brain is fatigued from trying to figure out what to color, what not to color, and which color to use next.

This is also the time when your egg looks terrible, covered in a web of wax. But magic is just around the corner…

You place your egg into a toaster oven, just hot enough to melt the wax, but not hot enough to cook your egg, then wipe the wax off. The bright colors and intricate designs of your masterpiece are now revealed.

Barbara's egg

Barbara's egg

Or, at least, that’s the goal. In reality, we had blobs of color where we dropped wax by mistake, areas that we had forgotten to cover, and mishaps, such as cracks that threw all the hard work out the window.

The eggs stay raw and are left to dry. The inner portions evaporate, leaving a light keepsake that can be varnished and used as long as you can keep the bugs away from them and clumsy fingers from dropping them.

Before we knew it, most of the day had gone, but we were left with some very amusing designs and color combinations.

Our sixth grader finished this “sunset” egg and was going to make a second “alien” egg, then got frustrated and played with his guinea pig instead.

Rafe's egg (the other side was black with stars)

Rafe's egg (the other side was black with stars)

The geocaching fanatic of the group wrote out GPS coordinates and some other mumbo jumbo that we “Muggles” don’t understand.

Can you decipher the coordinates?

Can you decipher the coordinates?

Our hostess made an adorable four-part barnyard egg, complete with ram, chicken, rabbit, and ox, which we insisted looked more like a cat. Or reindeer. Or something. But it was cute.

The ram's horns are visible on the right

The ram's horns are visible on the right

I tried to do a Hawaiian floral theme:

Plumeria flowers and heleconia leaves

Plumeria flowers and heleconia leaves

and ended up with an underwater scene once I saw how deep and rich the blue turned out.
My fish egg

My fish egg

We had a great time and vowed to do even better next year. Then we clutched the raw eggs to our bodies and tiptoed home.

Happy Easter!

Healthier Hot Cross Buns

April 1, 2009

When a friend of mine told me she loves hot crossed buns, I set out to make some healthier yet still delicious. The resulting recipe uses less fat than a traditional bun, increases the fiber and nutritional value, and incorporates more fruits. Adding candied ginger gives them a spicy kick and more sophisticated, modern flavor.

She liked the “new and improved” version, so I make a batch just for her every year at Easter time. Lucky dog! (But I keep a couple for myself…shh!)

We’re not the only ones that appreciate this twist on an old classic. The recipe won an honorable mention award in Taste of Home’s Healthy Cooking magazine.

Find the recipe and a mouth-watering picture at their website:

To make vegan hot crossed buns, substitute soy or other milk for the regular milk and use a margarine substitute in place of the butter.

And a special tip: When you form the balls before baking, I like to poke any bits of fruit in with my finger, so they are covered with dough. That way they are less likely to dry out and/or get burned when they bake. They stay moist, soft, and chewy.

Oh, I’m starting to crave some. Good thing Easter is right around the corner!