Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creating the Edible Landscape

It is still freezing here in New England, but my mind is focused on spring and on planting my garden. I'll admit that my husband is definitely the gardener in our family. I may also even sort-of admit to killing a few of our plants by completely forgetting about them. I figure with some better planning, I can be a better gardener too.

So I picked up a copy of The Edible Landscape by Emily Tepe. Here is her advice on "creating the edible landscape". Ask yourself these questions. I found myself nodding along in quiet enthusiasm.

... it's time to take a walk around your yard. Stop in different areas, look around, and imagine what your garden will be like. What do you see in your mind's eye? What shapes? What pathways? How do you imagine walking through? Do you see an entire yard bursting with color and flavor? A border along the fence? Perhaps a few beds here and there sprinkled with colorful lettuces? Stand in the doorway, front or back, and think about what you'd like to see as you step out. Maybe an entry garden along the front walk, welcoming guests with the scent of herbs, the sound of bees hovering around tomato blossoms. Take some time to ponder: How far do you want to go to pick a few fresh veggies for dinner? Do you relish the thought of walking all the way through a fragrant, colorful garden to get to your harvest, or would you rather be able to step right out of the door and gather a few berries for your ice cream or a fresh tomato for your salad? Maybe both.

Emily's 10 Favorite Edibles

I think one of the more serious problems I've had with our garden is that it's pretty far back from our house. We have a very long, narrow backyard and we build our garden in the place with the most sun. What I love about this book is that it offers suggestions for creating mini edible landscapes all over your yard. I love kale. I just never thought about putting it around my tree in the backyard for a great look AND a great taste.

It may be snowy or cold or miserable where you are now, but that doesn't mean you can't get to thinking about how you can use whatever space you have to create a beautiful and delicious garden. Just think about how great your meals will taste with homegrown fruits, herbs, and vegetables.

Happy planning!

PS: If you want to start small (or have a small space), why not try your hand at a cocktail garden? See the video here.


The Edible Landscape
As the fresh food revolution sweeps the nation, more and more people are seeking out delicious offerings from local growers. We have had our fill of tasteless, woody tomatoes from the far reaches of the globe and have begun tasting again—thanks to farmers’ markets and co-ops—the real flavors we remember from childhood.
Inspired by these events, people have started growing food in the most unlikely places, including rooftops, abandoned parking lots, and tiny balconies and backyards on average city streets. Individuals and families are taking up the trowel and discovering that gardening can be fun, fulfilling, and, ultimately, delicious. Far from sacrificing their ornamental flowers, creative gardeners can discover the joy of growing food in beautiful, thoughtful gardens overflowing with both color and flavor.
Creating an attractive and productive garden in your small space might seem impossible, but throughout this book, you’ll see examples of some wonderful things that can be done, from interesting plant combinations to unique structures and planting beds. If you can banish the thought that vegetables and fruits must be grown in rows and open up to the idea that a tomato plant can be a striking addition to your landscape plan, The Edible Landscape will help you explore some ideas for transforming your yard into a feast for both the eyes and the table.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bittersweet Chocolate Pots de Creme Recipe

I'm on a dessert kick this week, so here is yet another simply scrumptious recipe that you're going to want to make again and again.

And be sure to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for your chance to take home an autographed copy of the amazing cookbook that this recipe is from, The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods by Olivia Dupin.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods by Olivia Dupin

The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods

by Olivia Dupin

Giveaway ends February 04, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Bittersweet Chocolate Pots de Creme
Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods by Olivia Dupin

Bittersweet Chocolate Pots de Creme Recipe

Pot de creme, or "pot of cream", is simply a rich, baked custard. Traditionally, these were served in small lidded pots, but ramekins work well here. I go crazy for bananas, so I pair this with a banana whipped cream.


5 egg yolks
1/2 cup (50 g) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup (235 ml) milk
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy cream
4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Chef's tip: For a dairy-free pot de creme, substitute equal parts coconut milk for the milk and cream in this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C, or gas mark 4).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Set aside.

Use a paring knife to split open the length of the vanilla bean. Use the back of the knife (the dull side) to scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean pod and into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the scraped vanilla bean pod, milk, and cream to the saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and slowly bring the mixture to a boil. Be sure to watch the pot because milk and cream will quickly boil over!

Remove the milk mixture from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for 1 minute to let the chocolate begin to melt, and then whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and stream it very slowly into the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go to combine. Be careful not to add the hot milk too quickly or you will cook the eggs.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into another bowl. Ladle the mixture into six 3/4-cup (180 ml) ramekins. Place the ramekins inside a large baking dish, such as a lasagna pan. Fill the baking dish with hot water about halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this is so the pots de creme cook slowly and evenly). Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the center of each custard is set, but still jiggles slightly when you jostle it.

Cool the custards to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve (at least 2 to 3 hours, but up to 3 days).

Yield: 6 servings


The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods by Olivia Dupin

Whether you live gluten-free due to a wheat intolerance or digestive disorder, or because you’re simply looking to eat healthier and lose weight, The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods is your one-stop reference to going g-free naturally and effectively.

Part 1 shows you how to begin a gluten-free diet with ease, with information on everything from how to shop for naturally gluten-free ingredients—many of which you’re probably already familiar—to what to look out for at restaurants and in packaged foods, to how to stock your pantry with the best and healthiest staples. You’ll also learn the keys to following a balanced gluten-free diet, so that you can be sure you’re getting all the fiber and nutrients you need to be your healthiest.

Part 2 includes 100 delicious recipes you can make with ingredients you’d find in any supermarket—no scary, foreign-sounding fillers or other products included. From classic home-style dishes like BBQ Pulled Pork and Soft Tacos, to new favorites like Quinoa Pilaf with Roasted Root Vegetables and Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies, you’ll find countless meals to fit your time, budget, and tastes.

With The Complete Guide to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods, going g-free has never been easier—or more delicious!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Interview with Kathy Hester

Now that the weather is cold, I find myself incredibly obsessed with my slow cooker. Last night I made the most delicious split pea and ham soup using only four ingredients. The house smelled amazing when I got home from work, which is one of my favorite things.

That being said, I thought it would be the perfect time of year to chat with Kathy Hester, the slow cooker queen. Kathy's book, The Vegan Slow Cooker, continues to be one of my go-to books for creating amazing slow cooked delights.

When/why did you decide to go vegan?

I became vegetarian when I was 18, almost 30 years ago. It's been 3 years since I switched to a vegan diet. It's always been an issue of compassion for me, and the more I learned about some of the practices that produce milk and eggs, the easier it was to give them up.

Why slow cookers?
I began my slow cooker obsession when I was in grad school. There wasn't much time to cook between classes and working. Plus, I was far too poor to go out every meal. I cooked for my friends almost every night. I would tell them one ingredient to bring and I would use it in the slow cooker for dinner the next day.
The slow cooker made my budget work and I ate healthy too!

How many slow cookers do you own? Do you have a favorite?

I think I have around 20 right now
I may have a little problem…  After I finish a book I give some away, but somehow more keeping finding their way into my house!

I do have some unusual ones like Hello Kitty, a brown one with owl graphics, as well as your standard one-color slow cookers. 

Adorable owl printed Crock Pot

Kathy Hester's Hello Kitty Slow Cooker

Kathy Hester's Hello Kitty Slow Cooker
My favorites do change but the 3.5 quart Cuisinart and the 3 in 1 Hamilton Beach are always in the top 3. Right now I’m also in love with the 2 ½ quart owl Crockpot slow cooker and the new 4 quart Calphalon slow cooker. 

Have you ever had a slow cooker catastrophe? If so, what happened?

I think overcooking is the easiest catastrophe to have. Sometimes it’s because a new slow cooker cooks very hot and other times it’s because something cooked too long.

When I’m developing new recipes in the slow cooker I try to push them to their cooking limits. There have been a few times that I went way too far and even soaking didn't clean out the crock. Cheryl, my partner and picky eater, had to use Bartender’s Friend and still washed it several times to get the burnt-on goo out of it.

Are there any tips/tricks you can offer for slow cooking?

Watch for instructions that call for a specific size of slow cooker, be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations, remember that some slow cookers can run hot, and watch for different cooking times (recipes can vary). For more tips and tricks, check out this article I wrote for VegCookBook Club.

What is your favorite recipe?

I'm not sure I have a favorite recipe anymore because I’m always working on my next new recipe. But I do love all my oatmeal recipes. 

How do you create your recipes?

Sometimes my inspiration is a single ingredient, a spice like cardamom, ripe in-season strawberries or turnips from my winter CSA. Other times I’m recreating a dish I've had out or when I was growing up. 

Once I have an ingredient, I pick a course and then add in more as I go along. I taste things as I go along, but I also smell them. For instance if I want to add cumin to a dish that already has spices in it, I hold the open jar over the pot or crock and smell them together. That makes it easy to tell if the new spice will blend well or clash. 

I loved your Exotic Cardamom Hot Chocolate (The Vegan Slow Cooker, p. 217). How did you come up with the idea of using your slow cooker to create drinks?

I think I've used it for hot drinks as long as I can remember. I think at first I used it just to keep drinks warm, but then it was easier to make hot chocolate, chai, and even warm alcoholic drinks right in it. I love to make a hot drink in the slow cooker before people come over for dinner or brunch. That way I have more time to 

Warm Pomegranate Spiced Wine 

Warm Pomegranate Spiced Wine
Yield: 2 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time:
70 minutes

Sometimes you need a little something extra to warm you up once winter finally ends up on your doorstep. This has a little red wine and brandy to warm you up from the inside out with some cardamom and cloves thrown in to make it extra nice.

  • ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice (not blend)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ¼ cup apple brandy
  • ¼ cup sugar
Place the ginger, cloves and cardamom pods into a large tea ball or small reusable muslin bag.
Add all the ingredients to a small 1 1/2 to 2 quart slow cooker and cook for about 1 hour on high or until hot.

Alternatively you can cook on the stove top for about 10 minutes.

Slow Cooker Tipsy Mint-Coffee Cocoa
Uses a 1 1/2 to 2 quart slow cooker
Serves 2 to 3

Slow Cooker Tipsy Mint Hot Chocolate

  • 2 cups unsweetened So Delicious coconut milk beverage, or other non-dairy milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, in disks or chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • sweetener of choice, to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon stevia and 1 teaspoon agave.)
Add the coconut milk, baking chocolate, and mint extract and cook on low for 2 to 3 hours. Whisk then add Kahlua and sweetener. Whisk again and serve.

Do you shop farmers' market or grocery store aisle?

I get a CSA year round. In the winter I have a ton of greens and turnips so I add a few things from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. In the summer I get my extras at the farmer’s market

What’s your favorite veggie and why?

I love beets and have ever since I was little. I love their earthy sweetness and the brilliant red color they add to everything.


Kathy Hester lives in Durham, NC with her two cats who would rather not live together, a cute dog with a belly rub addiction, her very own picky eater, a kitchen garden, and more slow cookers than one person should own. 
 She writes, is the vegan blogger for Key Ingredient ( and writes for various publications like Chickpea Magazine. She also teaches vegan cooking classes, has put together a social media class for writers and has more classes in the works.

Be sure to check out her books, The Vegan Slow Cooker and The Great Vegan Bean Book (coming soon!)

The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester

If you want to prepare hot, nutritious, home-cooked meals for your family and friends, but feel like time is never on your side, think again! The Vegan Slow Cooker shows you how to create fresh, nourishing cuisine in just two simple steps, using all the healthiest produce, whole grains, and vegan-friendly ingredients found at your local market or farm stand (or home garden!).

Author and slow cooker expert Kathy Hester, founder of the blog Healthy Slow Cooking (, will show you how simple it is to 1.) Prep your ingredients the night before, in just a few minutes' time, and 2.) Assemble everything in the slow cooker in the morning, right before you head to work.

The results vary from one-dish meals that are hot and ready as soon as you walk in the door to dishes that are ready in less than 3 hours. There are even recipes for staples like bouillon, apple sage sausage, and seitans that you can make once and store in the freezer to use all month long.

From your favorite comforting casseroles to fresh and exciting new stews, and even desserts and quick breads—all veganized!—you find recipes that cover every meal and a wide variety of cuisines.

With The Vegan Slow Cooker you’ll find all the tasty inspiration you need to pull that neglected crock pot out of storage and get start creating compassionate, crave-worthy meals today. Home cooking has never been more easy, or more delicious. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Perfect Italian Buttercream

I made the most heavenly cranberry and white chocolate scones last night (thank you and it got me excited to be back in the world of baking.

Cranberry white chocolate scones
So delicious!
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am focused on mastering new cooking and baking techniques this year and one of the things I've always wanted to perfect is Italian Buttercream. If you're a lover of icing, then this recipe is especially for you.

Let me know how yours turns out.

Italian Buttercream
by Kirsten Tibballs
Excerpted from The Pastry Chef's Apprentice


US Imperial Weight
Metric Weight
1 lb., 5.15 oz.
600 grams
3 cups minus
2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon
5.29 oz.
150 grams
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons
Egg white
13.23 oz.
375 grams
11 egg whites
Unsalted butter
1 lb., 10.18 oz
743 grams
3 1/4 cups

1 gram
1/8 teaspoon
Vanilla extract
.18 oz.
5 grams
1 teaspoon


1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, stir the sugar into the water. Place the pot over medium-high heat. Place the probe of a digital thermometer in the pot.

2. While the sugar mixture cooks, begin whipping the egg whites on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment.

Making the perfect Italian buttercream
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks

3. Do not stir the sugar syrup while it cooks; wash the sides of the pot with a wet brush to prevent crystallization. Boil the syrup until it reaches 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Remove the pot from the stove.

Prevent sugar crystals from forming
Wash down the sides of the pot to prevent sugar crystals from forming

Check the temperature of the sugar syrup
Check the temperature of the sugar syrup

4. Lower the mixer speed to medium-low and pour the syrup slowly into the egg whites in between the whip and the side of the bowl.

Slowly pour the syrup into the whipped eggs
Slowly pour the syrup into the whipped eggs

5. After all the syrup has been incorporated, resume mixing on medium speed and whip until the meringue is cool.

6. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl to soften it, or pound it with a rolling pin until it's pliable. Add the butter gradually to the cooled meringue.

7. Add the salt and vanilla after half of the butter has been incorporated.

8. Continue whipping until all ingredients are combined and the buttercream is smooth, light, and creamy.

9. Use directly or store in the refrigerator until needed. To use refrigerated buttercream, melt a small portion over simmering water and add it to the cold buttercream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip smooth.


1. For chocolate buttercream, add 8.8 ounces (250 g) melted chocolate along with the salt and vanilla.

Chocolate mocha buttercream

2. For mocha buttercream, make a paste with hot water and espresso-grind instant coffee to add to the chocolate buttercream to taste, approximately 2 ounces (57 g), along with the salt and vanilla.

Enjoy! This icing is truly delicious.


The Pastry Chef's Apprentice

For many people, pastries, cakes, chocolates, and sweets come ready to eat right from the grocery store. If they're lucky, a local bakery or chocolate shop satisfies the community's sweet tooth. Few people think they have the skill or the time to tackle something as seemingly complicated and time-consuming as homemade pastries.

In The Pastry Chef's Apprentice, author Mitch Stamm simplifies a culinary school's core pastry curriculum and teaches the reader just how quickly you can go from sifting and stirring to spectacular. The masters featured in The Pastry Chef’s Apprentice teach classic pastry skills, such as caramel, pate a choux, tart crusts, and more, to the amateur food enthusiast. Through extensive, diverse profiles of experienced experts plus fully illustrated tutorials and delicious recipes, the reader gets insider access to real-life chefs, bakers, culinary instructors, and more.

With these new skills—or just the chance to revisit their old standards—everyone from casual cooks to devoted epicures will learn dozens of new ways to take their kitchen skills to the next level.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Questions with a Coworker

Before I begin today's post, I wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS to Sarah K! She is the winner of a shiny, new copy of The Soupbox Cookbook. Let us know how your soups turn out, Sarah. And a huge thank you to everyone who entered. 


Continuing on with Fan Fridays, I thought I would interview one of my coworkers who used three different recipes to create what I can only describe as the most delicious pumpkin pie ever. (And I don't normally like pumpkin pie!) People in our office still rave about this pumpkin pie. That's how amazing it was.

Why did you decide to wow us all with pumpkin pie?

People were dropping huge hints that they wanted pie, but I did it this way instead of from a can because I decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right.

How did you put this lovely pie together?

I used three recipes! Pumpkin puree from Vegan Slow Cooker, crust from How to Build A Better Pie, and filling from The 150 Healthiest Comfort Foods on Earth

Did you learn anything new and exciting?

I thought making the puree would be hugely time-consuming and frustrating, but it was actually the easiest part of the process. The recipe was basically, "Buy a sugar pumpkin. Wash it. Poke some holes in it. Put it in your slow cooker on low for about 8 hours. Remove the gunk and skin. Smash it. TA DA!" And not only was it ridiculously simple, telling people you did the puree from scratch is a great way to impress them with your mad skills. The most useful thing I learned about the crust was to keep it cold. That made rolling it out and working with it a whole lot easier.

How long did everything take you from start to finish?

Not counting the 8ish hours the pumpkins were in the slow cooker, it took me about an hour to make everything (crust and filling, including chilling the crust in the fridge for half an hour) and then about 45 minutes or so for it to bake.

Was there anything that didn't turn out quite the way you expected it to?

Yeah, I'm still trying to figure out an effective way to cover the edges of the crust with foil. My attempts seem to be largely ineffective and the foil strips tend to fall off.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch
I used two sugar pumpkins, which provided enough puree for two pies. The puree freezes very well, so I just saved the rest for later.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch
This is what happens to a pumpkin after about 8 hours in a slow cooker! It literally fell apart when I was taking it out. Removing the flesh is very easy, but it can be messy if you're not careful.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch
The pumpkin was already so soft from the slow cooker that mashing it felt like a formality.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch
Keeping the pie crust cold made rolling it out a lot easier. When the crust did start to get difficult, I just had to toss it back in the fridge for 10 minutes and then everything was fine.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch
The finished, delicious pie!

Want to impress your coworkers with delicious pies? Check out Vegan Slow Cooker, How to Build A Better Pie, and The 150 Healthiest Comfort Foods on Earth for some seriously amazing recipes. And don't be afraid to piece recipes together to come up with something completely your own.

If you have a great recipe or want to chat food, send me an email at and you could be featured next on Fan Fridays! :)

Happy cooking!