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vegan cupcakes

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Cupcakes & Cocktails

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Berries

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Berries

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Mike and I hosted a Cupcakes & Cocktails party for Memorial Day and not surprisingly, he was in charge of the cocktails and I was in charge of the cupcakes. For his part, he infused vodkas (and gins, I think? I dunno — this wasn't my area) with ingredients like mint, black pepper, dill, cucumbers, basil and jalapeños. I personally haven't had a drink in 2016 but the crowd drank up his concoctions and seemed to love every sip.  

S'mores Cupcakes and Banana Split Cupcakes

S'mores Cupcakes and Banana Split Cupcakes

There was nothing "healthy" about this party, and I for one think there's some value in that. We're in another cycle where a lot of news sources are picking up stories about "the dangers of clean eating"  that suggest a rigid adherence to healthy eating leads to orthoexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating right. I've written in the past about the problems I have with these types of articles, which I think unfairly link clean eating with eating disorders when in fact the disorders are a result of overzealous rigidity and not the clean, healthy lifestyle I know and love. The lifestyle I know promotes balance and moderation, not severity. 

Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes

Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes

I think the best way to counter this popular view of clean eating as something dark, dirty and dangerous is to live a balanced life in which food is never the enemy. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet, we empty our kitchen compost daily. I am the queen of whole grains and there's nothing I love more than a good tempeh or tofu. Nine times out of ten, I'll choose salad over fries. I'll choose water over soda. These daily choices make it so much sweeter on those days when I do go for the fries or the brownie or the root beer float or the nachos. I have those days too. They're infrequent and therefore they're special. I enjoy them without guilt or shame, which is how I think life should always be enjoyed. 

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

So maybe I fight back by making cupcakes. This is my way of showing the world: here's something I love. It's not particularly healthy, but I made it with my own hands and it tastes good and it brings me joy to share it. And I know my husband gets joy from sharing his fun cocktails, which also have no nutritional value but have the effect of bringing people together and offering refreshment on a hot, sunny day. And I know we'll eat salad for lunch today and everything balances out. 

Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes

Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes

I am obsessed with food in the sense that I spend a lot of time thinking about it, shopping for it, preparing it, and eating. I love finding delicious recipes. I love playing around with seasonal produce. I love discovering the flavors and textures my tastebuds respond to most. And though I spent my younger years being obsessed with food in a less healthy way, I now refuse to play the game that requires me to feel bad or guilty for eating a certain type of food or equate my self-worth with the items on my plate. There are times in life when you just want to eat a cookie and I refuse to believe there's anything wrong with that.  

Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cupcakes

Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cupcakes

So I make cupcakes. Sometimes I make really healthy cupcakes, the kind where I swap sugar for mashed banana and oil for avocado or unsweetened applesauce. Other times I make the full-sugar, full-fat, fully loaded versions. I think there's value in both. More than anything, I think there's value in gathering with friends on the patio on a warm day to enjoy food, drinks, and company. In fact, I think experiences like that are the most valuable thing in life. 

Eat cupcakes. Eat kale. Ride your bike all morning and sleep all afternoon. Order the salad instead of the fries. But every once in awhile, order the fries instead of the salad. Ditto for dessert: satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit at the end of your meals. Then one day, go for the ice cream sundae. Enjoy every bite. This summer, enjoy the heck out of corn on the cob and fresh watermelon and big fruit salads and spinach and artichokes. Equally enjoy an ice cream cone or salt water taffy or s'mores here and there. 

Look around. Notice the people with you. Notice the environment you're in. Notice your mood. Notice your comfort level. Are you with people you love? Are you enjoying the scenery? Are you happy? Are you content? This is what matters. Whether you had a "perfect eating day" or you scarfed down cupcakes at a party, this is always what matters.  

P.S. Even those these weren't particularly "healthy" cupcakes, they were all vegan and six out of seven of them were gluten-free. I hate excluding friends with food restrictions from enjoying the foods I make and I love experimenting with ingredients to try and make dishes that work for everybody. 

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My Ideal Food Day (AKA My Birthday)

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This was my birthday breakfast sandwich from Next Level Burger. It contains a whole grain English muffin, tempeh bacon, organic tofu, tomato and spinach.

Last year for my birthday, I gathered a group of nearly thirty people and rang in my new year at a pizza parlor and bar. I stuffed myself with pizza and beer, made homemade cupcakes, and had a great time. This year I was exhausted. After a whirlwind year that included a wedding, honeymoon, and two overseas trips, all I really wanted to do was lay low and relax. No party. No big get-together. Just a simple day. So that's what I did.

But simple or not, one thing was for sure: I wanted to eat good food. And I wanted to eat good food all day long. I wanted every piece of food that passed my lips on my 34th birthday to be something I LOVED. So I made it so. I started with a fresh tempeh and tofu breakfast sandwich that tasted so good, I didn't miss the egg or greasy cheese I typically pile on that type of sandwich. Once I got off to such a fresh, clean start, I wanted to keep the delicious food train rolling all day.

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I went to Harlow for lunch and ordered the special, which was a a sweet potato and veggie hash with tempeh, pepitas, scallions and jalapeño cashew cheese. I knew this would be a good birthday because after I ordered the cashier said, "Ooh, you're lucky, that's the last one" and immediately went to the board and erased the description of it.

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I'm all about indulging my sweet tooth on special occasions, so after lunch we went to The Maple Parlor and I loaded up on vegan soft-serve carrot cake ice cream and as many fun vegan toppings as I could fit in my bowl, including gummy bears, chocolate chips, sesame cracker bites, graham crackers, sprinkles, berries, ginger and pieces of waffle. I'm a big fan of Maple Parlor because they cater to all kinds of diets: vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, you name it. I generally stick to the vegan offerings when I'm there because they're delicious, though I've heard from good sources that the non-vegan options are great too.

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Things only got more delicious as the day went on. We went to dinner at Harvest at the Bindery and ordered a four-course small-plate meal that was honestly one of the best meals I've ever had. Between my parents, husband and I, we split cornbread, grilled chickory, pumpkin romesco (pictured), veggie chips, corn cake, sun choke gratin (pictured), lonesome whistle grits, grilled mushrooms (pictured) and mushroom trumpet BBQ. Not one dish disappointed. My non-veggie family was impressed. To me, this was plant-based eating at its finest. 

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This was followed by chocolate hazelnut pie that was delivered by our waitress with a birthday candle and a sweet speech. "Before you make your wish," she said, "here's my birthday present to you. Think about that one thing you're going to put into the world this year. It has to be something that ignites you, something that makes you come alive. It has to be something that brings you joy. It has to be something only you can do. And whatever it is, you have to commit yourself to doing it." Such a lovely moment provided by a stranger. 

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Of course there was still room for cake when we got home. My darling husband made my new clean vanilla cupcakes with macadamia-coconut frosting, which we topped with strawberries for a deliciously satisfying food finale. 

All I wanted to do this birthday was eat good food. Thanks to all I've gone through in the past year, my definition of "good food" has changed. In the past I would have wanted cheesy pizza. Heavy pasta. Cake loaded with sugar. Buttery popcorn. Fried jalapeños with cream cheese. French fries. Lots of wine. The works.

This year I still wanted "the works" but I wanted ingredients that would make me feel GOOD instead of making me feel bloated or giving me a headache or making me want to take a nap. My mission is not to be the food police. I don't ever want to tell people what they should or shouldn't eat. If eating Cheetos makes someone feel good, I think that's wonderful. But I've learned a lot about my body. I know what foods make me feel good. I know what foods make me feel terrible. And though I still think life wouldn't be life without at least a few of the terrible foods thrown in, I'd much rather spend the majority of my days eating clean food that fuels me, energizes me, doesn't weigh me down, and makes me happy to be alive. So this year on my birthday, I celebrated this awesome revolution in my relationship with food. I proved to myself that healthy and delicious can be synonymous and I enjoyed every bite.

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Clean Vanilla Cupcakes and Other Updates

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I have a lot I want to talk about on this blog in the next few weeks. First of all, I went on my honeymoon to Morocco and enjoyed the most magical week of my life. I have lots of stories and photos to share soon.

Secondly, my transition back into real life since returning from vacation has been rough. Jet lag had me in bed at 9 and up at 5 almost every day last week. Portland's weather has me down and I've felt generally unmotivated after the high of being away. I'll go into more detail about this soon too.

This week, I'm trying to get my mojo back. My 34th birthday is coming up on Saturday and I have two big wishes: 1.) to eat white cake and 2.) to use clean ingredients for this cake.

Enter ifoodreal.com, where I found this Clean Eating Vanilla Cupcake recipe. I made a few small tweaks to veganize it and cut down on sugar, but in general this recipe is ready to go as-is. It also couldn't be simpler: you just combine the wet ingredients, add and combine the dry ingredients, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. It makes 12 big cupcakes as 207.3 calories apiece or twice as many mini cupcakes. 

WET INGREDIENTS:

1/4 c coconut oil at room temperature
2 large eggs (instead I used 2 T ground flax seed mixed with 5 T water)
1/2 c maple syrup or raw honey (I used 1/4 c maple syrup and 1/4 c mashed banana)
1/3 c unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c milk (I used a coconut-almond blend)
2 t vanilla extract

DRY INGREDIENTS:

1 3/4 c + 2 T whole wheat or spelt flour (I used whole wheat)
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt (I always skip the salt when I'm baking)

Let me tell you: the batter tasted exactly like white cake. After they baked the banana flavor came out more, so it tasted a little less like a cupcake and a little more like a muffin. It was still good though. If you're not into banana, skip it and stick to the maple syrup or honey.

For the icing, I used this four-ingredient Coconut Macadamia Frosting from Minimalist Baker. This is all you need:

1 3/4 c macadamia nuts
2 1/4 c shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 t vanilla extract
4-6 T powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake the macadamia nuts on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes (or just throw them in with the cupcakes for the last 10 minutes). 

Toss the baked macadamia nuts in a food processor and blend into a meal. You may recall that I broke my food processor, so I used a blender. This made things a little tricky but not undoable. Set the nut meal mixture aside.

Throw your coconut into the food processor / blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If you're using a food processor, this could take 5-10 minutes. If you're using a blender, this could take FOREVER. I added water to speed up the process.

Add vanilla and blend and then add powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time until it's as sweet as you want it. I generally like these types of things to be less sweet.

Who says you can't eat your cake and eat it too? White cake and clean baking: what a perfect marriage. This feels like a good first step to getting my mojo back.

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Birthday Treats: A Little of This & A Little of That

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My husband’s birthday was this past Monday and we were in full-on celebration mode all weekend. (This man is worth celebrating 365 days a year, but that’s a sappy post for another day.) When I asked him what kind of treats he wanted, he had very specific requests: cupcakes, cheese, Jelly Beans, and olives. Easy! "Great," I said, and supplemented with chips and salsa, crackers, dark chocolate-covered almonds, and popcorn.

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Here's how it looked all laid out. Pretty, right? But more importantly: pretty simple.

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I'm a devout cupcake maker, so for me the most important part of the puzzle was the cupcakes. My husband chose two flavors: Peanut Butter and Brooklyn Brownie. I always make vegan cupcakes despite not being a vegan because I prefer the way they taste. (I once spent 40 weeks making the 40 cupcake recipes in the cookbook VEGAN CUPCAKES TAKE OVER THE WORLD, so I consider that book my baking Bible.) I toyed with the idea of cleaning up the cupcakes by using less sugar and oil, but ultimately I decided that this wasn't MY birthday and I could go as clean and crazy as I want when it is. I made two tiny healthy tweaks (I used whole wheat flour and homemade peanut butter), but for the most part I left these decadent cupcake recipes as-is. 

You can find the peanut butter cupcake recipe I used at Miss Marzipan.  
You can find the peanut butter frosting recipe I used at Bake and Destroy
You can find the Brooklyn brownie recipe I used at Vegan Bandit
 

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Those are chopped walnuts on top of the Brooklyn brownie cupcakes and blackberries on the peanut butter. 

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Cupcake success!

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The only other homemade element here were the crackers, both of which were THREE-INGREDIENT recipes. The recipes I used for flax crackers and cheesy star crackers can be found in the cookbook SUPERCHARGED FOOD: EAT CLEAN, GREEN AND VEGETARIAN

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For his actual birthday, my husband wanted cheesecake. I thought it would be fun to do cheesecake two ways: a super-light version for breakfast and a more decadent one for dessert. This was how we started our day on Monday. 

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The recipe for these Upside Down Cheesecakes came from FIT GIRLS COOK, a cookbook from Fit Girls Guide. 

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This perfectly-portioned frozen treat was a sweet way to start the day. 

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For dessert, I wanted a show-stopper. So I turned to DELICIOUSLY ELLA for a raw, vegan, gluten-free berry cheesecake. You can find the entire recipe at her site but I'll also go through it step by step below. 

STEP ONE: Slice three bananas and freeze them. Also freeze 1 cup of fresh blueberries (the water content in frozen blueberries is too high, so you'll need to freeze your own.) Soak 2 cups cashews in a bowl of water. You'll need to freeze and soak for at least four hours (I did this step overnight.)

STEP TWO: To make the base layer, crush 1 1/2 cup almonds in a food processor. If your food processor isn't particularly strong, be warned: mine burnt out during this process, even though I was working in small batches. I realized after the fact that I needed to chop the almonds into small pieces  before adding them to the food processor to prevent this. R.I.P., yet another food processor. After crushing the almonds, add 2 1/2 cups dates and blend until a sticky dough forms. Press the mixture into a greased cake pan and put in the freezer. 

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STEP THREE: Now it's time for the middle layer. Supposedly you're still using a food processor for this step, but if your food processor died like mine did you've switched to a blender. In your blender, combine 2 cups soaked cashew nuts, 2 frozen bananas, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/3 cup apple juice, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Combine until smooth and creamy. Remove the base layer from the freezer and add 3/4 of the middle layer to the top before freezing again. Reserve the last 1/4 of the mixture to be combined with the top layer. You'll need to freeze the new mixture for at least 20 minutes.

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STEP FOUR: After waiting twenty minutes, combine the remaining 1/4 of the middle layer mixture with 1 cup freshly frozen blueberries, 1 cup strawberries, 1 frozen banana, 4 dates, 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Blend until smooth, pour over the middle layer, and put the entire cake back in the freezer. Freeze for at least two hours. Remove from the freezer and let it thaw for a few minutes before serving.  

It's a time-consuming project, but so worth the delicious effort. 

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We also got in some good physical exercise this weekend since my husband wanted to go cross-country skiing. Physical activity, clean treats,  a few not-so-clean treats thrown in, and a lot of quality time with my sweetheart: that's my idea of a perfect birthday weekend. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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