Velvety Chocolate Almond Butter Coins

velvety chocolate coins

Velvety Chocolate Almond Butter Coins
makes 16

1/2 cup 70% dark chocolate chunks (could use chocolate chips or chopped chocolate)
1/2 cup almond butter
1/4 cup coconut butter

1. Prepare a mini muffin tin with 16 paper liners.

2. In a double boiler (or microwave) melt chocolate chunks.  Remove from heat and stir in almond butter and coconut butter until totally blended.  If they aren't blending easily, heat gently.

3. Take about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and pour into each of the muffin cups.  Chill until solid in the fridge or freezer and keep cold until serving.

Smoky Corn, Tomato and Chard Soup

smoky corn tomato and chard soup

Smoky Corn, Tomato, and Chard Soup
serves 4 (freezable too)

Soup tends to be a cold weather food so you don't often see it made with super summery ingredients.  (Unless we are talking about chilled soups in which case...gross.)  But soup can be a great way to cook up the abundance of produce that can accumulate in your fridge or garden in the summer.  This soup combines summery produce like corn, zucchini, and greens with pantry staples like canned tomatoes, beans, and spices.  If you want to improvise a similar soup based on what you have in your fridge now, check out my Building Flavor Guide, which will show you the correct order to add ingredients to your soup pot to ensure a great complex flavor!

1 yellow onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 zucchini, chopped into 1/2" pieces
2 earns of corn, kernels removed
1 15-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups-ish water
1 bunch Swiss Chard, chopped (can use stems or not)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot.  Add onions and celery with a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes, letting them soften.  Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds more.  Add smoked paprika, cumin, and coriander and stir.  Add zucchini and saute for 2 minutes more.

2. When vegetable mixture is fragrant and beginning to soften, add corn, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, black beans, and enough water to make it soup-ish, about 2 cups.  (Vegetables will continue to release water so it will get more liquidy, not less, as it cooks.)  Let cook for at least 10 minutes but as long as you want to help flavors meld and develop. 

3. After soup has simmered, turn off heat and fold into chopped Swiss Chard.  Taste and season for salt and pepper.  Serve on it's own or garnished with avocado, tortillas, tortillas chips or a sprouted grain roll.

Black Bean Pasta with Corn and Kale

black bean pasta recipe

Black Bean Pasta with Corn and Kale
serves 3-4

One of my new favorite packaged products on the shelves now is legume-based pasta.  From red lentil to chickpea to black beans (shown here), different bean flours are used instead of refined white flour to create versatile pastas that are high in protein (about 21g per serving) and high in fiber (about 50% of your RDA).  The higher-end brands (like my favorite Tolerant) will usually be purely bean flour and the more moderately priced ones (like Ancient Harvest Pow!, shown here) are a mix of bean and grain flours like quinoa and brown rice.  Use them like you would any other pasta, keeping in mind that they often taste a little sweeter and have less "bite" than traditional white pasta.  

1 8-ounce box of black bean pasta
drizzle of olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of red chile flake
3 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 bunch lacinato kale, shredded or chopped
salt and pepper to taste
garnish: pecorino romano, olive oil and/or lemon zest

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook according to package directions (the black bean pasta I used cooked in about 5 minutes).  Drain and rinse pasta lightly in water to remove excess starch and halt cooking.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet and add a drizzle of olive oil.  Saute garlic and red chile flake for 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add corn and saute 2 minutes.  Add kale and saute 2-3 minutes more, until kale is wilted.  If the mixture is very dry, add a splash or two of water to get it going.

3.  Gently stir in pasta and season the whole mixture with salt and pepper.  Garnish with grated pecorino romano (or lemon zest), and a drizzle of olive oil and serve.  

Summer Squash Spice Muffins

summer squash muffin

Anything you can do with zucchini, you can do with yellow summer squash, both of which are abundant (perhaps a little too abundant) in the summer.  Typically, I turn summer squashes to something savory like pasta, zoodles, or grated zucchini cakes, but here I turned a little grated squash into Paleo-style muffins.  Almond meal and coconut oil make them higher in fat and lower in carbs than typical muffins, keeping you fuller longer and helping you avoid a sugar high.  I tend to avoid making or creating baking recipes that require lots of precision or specialty ingredients (even if they do turn out perfectly) so I stuck with basic ingredients here, but feel free to experiment.  These will turn out ultra-moist and juicy as well as denser and less crumbly than a typical muffin.  

Summer Squash Spice Muffins
makes 6 muffins

dry ingredients:
1 cup, packed almond flour (this is finer than almond meal and will turn out better)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

wet ingredients:
1/2 cup grated summer squash (or zucchini), patted dry with a paper towel
2 eggs
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

mix-ins:
2 tablespoons raisins or dried currants

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Line a muffin tin with 6 muffin liners.

2. Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Whisk together with a fork.

3. Combine all wet ingredients in a different large mixing bowl.  Whisk together with a fork.  

4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, folding together with a rubber spatula until just mixed.  Add in raisins or any other mix-ins.  

5. Immediately, fill muffin cups 2/3 full (you will get a lot of spread on top if you fill them fuller--this recipe won't puff up as much as traditional muffins).  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick can be inserted and removed with nothing sticking to it.  Let cool in tin for 5 minutes then cool on rack for another 15.  
 

Spicy Sesame Black Kale

spicy sesame black kale recipe

Spicy Sesame Black Kale
serves 2-3

Kale went from boring to exciting to boring again.  With this recipe, I wanted to liven up this cruciferous vegetable staple with some of my favorite Asian seasonings including tamari and gochujang sauce.  The sweet flavor of maple syrup (and the gochujang if you use it) help counteract the bitterness in kale.  Sesame seeds add a little texture and calcium to this side dish.  I love the pop of both black and white.  If you can't find gochujang, use sriracha or your favorite hot sauce.  

drizzle of avocado or grapeseed oil
1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon tamari (soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
salt to taste
Asian hot sauce to taste (I like K-Mama Gluten-free Gochujang Sauce)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1. Heat a large saute pan and drizzle in oil.  Add lacinato kale and a generous sprinkle of salt and begin to wilt.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl or mug, combine maple syrup, tamari, dijon mustard and toasted sesame oil together and whisk with a fork.  Drizzle over greens and stir.  Let cook 1-2 more minutes.  If greens look dry or raw, add a teaspoon or two of water.

3. Taste for salt and plate.  Drizzle with hot sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  

Peanut Butter Cookie Bites

peanut butter cookie bites

Peanut Butter Cookie Bites
makes about 20

I’m a terrible baker, but give me some dried nuts or seeds and a food processor and watch out!  These are pretty addictive considering they taste like a dessert even though they make a great pre- or post-workout snack. Don’t get too eager and eat them too quickly—I promise they taste best chilled.  My favorite part of these cookies is the cute cross-hatch so don't skip that step!

1 cup dry-roasted almonds
1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter (use the best! I like MaraNatha Hint of Sea Salt)
1 cup medjool dates, pitted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Pulse the almonds into a fine meal in the bowl of the food processor.  Add the peanut butter, dates, vanilla, and salt and puree until well-combined.  It will be thick and not 100% smooth.

2. Take heaping teaspoon sized amount of the “dough” and roll into a ball.  Pinch down onto a flat surface and using the tines of a fork, make cross hatches just like you would for a peanut butter cookie.  Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.  These should last a week or more in the fridge in an airtight container.

Muscle Recovery Beet Juice

muscle recovery beet juice

Muscle Recovery Beet Juice
serves 1

After getting a particularly rough massage to loosen up trigger points in my legs and feet, my massage therapist suggested that I have beets or beet juice to help my muscles recover.  Beets are being used in a lot of sports performance beverages because of their supposed ability to improve muscle power by improving blood flow to muscles.  The research is mixed on their effectiveness for this specifically, but I figured having a boost of folate, potassium, and antioxidants from beets could do me no harm.  Typically beets are juiced with something sweet like carrots or apples, but here I used cucumber to make the whole beverage less sweet and to add some post-massage hydration.

2 small beets
1/2 English cucumber (so you can use the peel)
1-inch piece of ginger
juice from 1/2 lemon

1. Using a juicer, juice beets, cucumber, and ginger.  Add lemon juice, stir and serve

 

Black Pepper Peas and Roasted Asparagus

black pepper peas and roasted asparagus

Black Pepper Peas and Roasted Asparagus
serves 2-4 as a side dish

To make this ultra-springy side dish, I used my quick-roasting asparagus method.  Instead of roasting for the 20-25 minutes that most recipes call for, I only roast them for 6-10 minutes depending on the thickness.  I find this keeps them sweet and vegetal but also crispy and easy to cut through.  Longer cooking times make asparagus too stringy for me to enjoy.  The sauteeing of the peas is really to defrost and season them, which happens very quickly.  I add the rice vinegar to the peas to give them a little tart punch.  Keep in mind that acidic ingredients like vinegar will turn bright green vegetables an army green (see photo).  If you are serving this at a dinner party, add the vinegar right before serving if you want to keep that glorious green color fresh.

for roasted asparagus:
1 bunch asparagus, 2-3 inches of woody stems trimmed off
drizzle of grapeseed oil
sprinkle of salt

for black pepper peas:
dollop of ghee or drizzle of olive oil
pinch of red chile flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
salt to taste
loads of black pepper

1. On a parchment-lined sheet tray, toss asparagus with oil and salt and roast for 6-10 minutes at 450 degrees.

2. While asparagus is in the oven, heat a medium skillet.  Add ghee or oil and saute red chile flake and garlic for 30 seconds.  Add peas, water, and rice vinegar and saute until peas are warm, about 2 minutes.  Season generously with black pepper and salt.

3. Top asparagus with peas and serve.  Serve alongside a protein or add edamame, fava beans or cooked quinoa to make a vegetarian entree.  

Sweet Potato Noodles with Chickpeas and Greens

Sweet Potato Noodles with Chickpeas and Greens
Serves 2-3

To make noodles out of vegetables, you can use a vegetable peeler or a special piece of equipment called a spiralizer. (Find my go-to spiralizer on the Resources page)  You can create long noodles from hard vegetables like beets, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, kohlrabi, celery root, and even broccoli stems.  And sweet potatoes--my favorite!  While I know some of us (myself included) often dread extra prep steps in recipes--everything from using an extra pot to having to clean the blender--I have never met anyone who doesn't find making veggie noodles fun! I like these best sauteed in oil for a few minutes with a splash or two of water.  You get the perfect mix of tenderness and bite that way.

1-2 large sweet potatoes
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups of dark leafy greens like spinach or bok choy, chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon of tamari (soy sauce)
Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste

1. Prepare the sweet potato noodles: Peel sweet potatoes.  Use a the small noodle setting of the spiralizer to make noodles or use your vegetable peeler to shave long strips the length of the sweet potato.  Cut if necessary so they aren’t too long and set aside in a bowl.

2.  Heat a large skillet and add oil, ginger, and garlic and saute for 30 seconds.  Then in 2 batches saute sweet potato noodles until they just begin to soften.  Add a splash or two of water and a sprinkle of salt. Saute for about 2 minutes.   Repeat with other batch and remove to a serving bowl.

3. Next, saute leafy greens and chickpeas with tamari and Sriracha for 2-3 minutes.  Remove to serving bowl with sweet potato noodles and toss to combine.  Serve with extra tamari and sriracha.  Add cashews, sesame seeds or fresh herbs like scallion or cilantro if you like.

 

Green Smoothie Cubes

green smoothie cubes

Green Smoothie Cubes
makes 1 tray of cubes

This isn't so much of a recipe, more of a technique that I use to preserve almost wilting leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, and collards.  Don't limit yourself to the quantities listed--just use this as a guidepost.  Keep in mind that the more bitter your greens are (like collards or beet greens), the more intense your cubes will be and the less cubes you'll want to add to a smoothie.  Spinach and kale will be the most mild.  I'd stay clear of really intense or spicy greens like mustard, arugula, or even mesclun.  Once the cubes are frozen, you can pop them out of the trays and store in a glass container or ziploc bag in the freezer.  Use 1-3 in a smoothie, depending on how green you like it. 

2 cups leftover greens like spinach and kale
1/2 cup cold water
juice from 1 lemon

1. In a blender, blend greens, water, and lemon juice until smooth.  Your blender may need a little extra water to get it going but try to add as little as possible.

2. Pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze completely, at least 4 hours.  Pop out the ice cubes and store in the freezer.  

Maple Cayenne Walnuts

Maple Cayenne Walnuts
makes 1 cup

I use this maple-glazing technique to jazz up good-for-you nuts and seeds that I don't necessarily like totally plain.  It allows me to hit my sweet craving while giving my body a snack that has more good fats and substance to it.  I only use 1 tablespoon of maple so that the walnuts are barely glazed, but if you want more of a coating, double the maple.  Watch your fingers when you remove the walnuts to a plate--the sugar gets very hot and will stick to and burn those little piggies.  Use a spoon to remove.  

1 cup of walnuts
1 tablespoon maple syrup
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cayenne

1. In a non-stick or cast-iron skillet, toast walnuts on low heat for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally.  Drizzle maple syrup over walnuts and toss until maple evenly coats walnuts, getting into all the nooks and crannies.  Let sizzle for a minute or two then sprinkle with salt and cayenne.  Remove to wax paper or a plate to cool completely.  Store at room temperature in a covered container.

 

Chocolate Almond Butter

DIY Nutella - Chocolate Almond Butter

Chocolate Almond Butter
makes almost 2 cups

Nutella is a pretty solid mood booster, except if you accidentally look at the ingredient list.  Expecting to find cocoa and hazelnuts listed first, you'll be kind of bummed out to see Sugar and Palm Oil instead.  The good news is that nut butters--even the chocolately kind--are incredibly easy to make at home!  You'll know you'll have something fresh with top-notch ingredients and you can customize it to your preferences (for example, I prefer almonds to hazelnuts and dark chocolate to milk).  Almonds are a great source of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, which can lower your "bad" cholesterol and help regulate your blood sugar.  This blend was made up of what I had on hand so I actually subbed in about 1/2 cup of walnuts for some of the almonds.  Still delish.

2 cups of almonds
1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

1. In a food processor, pulse and puree the almonds until you have almond butter.  This will take 5-7 minutes.  Stop every minute or two to scrape down the sides.  The almonds will get gravel-y, then almost dough-like as they form a ball, then finally will turn into a creamy--and warm--nut butter.  Let it go longer than you think you need to.

2. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or microwave.  Once almonds are creamy, add melted chocolate to the food processor, along with vanilla and sea salt and puree until smooth.  Transfer to a mason jar and leave at room temperature for 1-2 weeks.  

Chocolate Hemp Protein Shake

chocolate hemp protein shake

Chocolate Hemp Protein Shake
makes 1 shake

Gritty protein powders gross out my tongue and I only recommend them to clients that have very specific dietary or protein needs.  Most people do not need processed powders in the diets!  However, if you eat mostly plant-based foods and have the need for an on-the-go beverage rich in protein and other nutrients, I think you'll love this whole foods-based protein shake.  I combine a full serving of hemps seeds with almond butter to get a shake with 18 grams of protein.  The hemp and almond butter also provide good fats in the form of monounsaturated fatty acids and Omega 3s.  The fats and fiber from the dates and banana will help keep you fuller longer and help keep your blood sugar from spiking.

1 banana
2 medjool dates, pitted
3 tablespoons of hemp seeds
2 tablespoons of natural almond butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup ice
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

1. In a high-powered blender, combine all ingredients and blend until very smooth (It may take a few minutes for the hemp seeds and dates to get totally smooth, but they will.)  Serve immediately or store in a jar with a lid in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Butternut Apple Soup

Butternut Apple Soup with White Beans and Garam Masala

Butternut-Apple Soup
serves 2-3

I love the simplicity of a simple pureed soup for dinner.  My go-to way to make a meal out of it is to blend white beans and/or coconut milk with the vegetables to add protein and fat.  This recipe doesn’t use the entire cans of beans and coconut milk (sorry, but trust me on this) so feel free to freeze the remainder to use another day.  Coconut milk freezes well in ice cube trays so you can pop a frozen cube into a soup any time.  Serve plain or garnish with chives, yogurt, or chopped nuts.

drizzle of olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 red-green apple (like a gala), cored and sliced
1 teaspoon garam masala (or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
4 cups vegetable stock or water
1/2 can of white beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup canned coconut milk (optional)
juice from 1/2 lemon
salt to taste

1. In a large pot, heat drizzle of oil and sauté onion and apple until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Don’t cheat this step—this is where all the flavor comes from.  Stir in garam masala and let cook for 30 seconds.  Add squash, white beans and coconut milk and cover with just enough vegetable stock or water.  Let simmer until squash is totally cooked, about 20 minutes.

2.  Puree soup in a blender with lemon juice and salt until smooth.  You want the consistency to be just thinner than baby food.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve plain or garnished with herbs or yogurt.

Black Bean Brownies

black bean brownies

Black Bean Brownies (vegan and gluten-free)
makes 9

Black beans might seem an unexpected ingredient in brownies, but their soft texture is actually the perfect vehicle for chocolatey fudginess.  Be careful not to overcook these—they will get kind of rubbery.  My advice if you are sharing these with friends: tell them there is a secret ingredient and make them guess, revealing your secret only after they’ve fallen in love with these healthy treats.  

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dark or bittersweet chocolate chips
pinch of sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Buzz up rolled oats in the food processor until they form a rough flour. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the chocolate chips to the food processor and blend for a couple minutes until very smooth.

2. Add most of the chocolate chips and pour into an oiled 8x8 baking pan.  Top with extra chocolate chips and flakes of sea salt (optional) and bake for 15-17 minutes. You want the center to still be soft—it’ll firm up as it cools.  Cool for 10 minutes before cutting.

Warm Couscous and Brussels Sprout Salad

warm couscous and brussels sprout salad

Warm Couscous and Brussels Sprout Salad
serves 3-4

Cooking up a quick pot of chewy, Israeli couscous is a great way to use up odds and ends from your fridge.  It takes about 15 minutes and has a nice neutral taste that can pair with just about anything.  I use a little sheep's feta in this recipe, but you can feel free to omit and substitute kalamata olives for that same salty and briney bite.  Similarly, if you are gluten-free go with a grain like millet or quinoa.

1 lb brussels sprouts, cut in half vertically
drizzle of avocado oil (or other high heat oil)
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 garlic clove, minced
couple handfuls of baby kale or spinach
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sheep's feta, crumbled

1. Drizzle brussels sprouts with grapeseed oil and sprinkle with salt.  Lay on a parchment-lined sheet tray and roast at 450 for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy.

2. Meanwhile, in a small pot, heat a drizzle of olive oil and toast dry couscous until lightly golden, about 2 minutes.  Then add 1 1/4 cups of water.  Bring to a simmer and cover and cook until water is absorbed, about 12-15 minutes.

3. Take a skillet and heat another drizzle of olive oil.  Add minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds.  Add and stir greens until just wilted, about 2 minutes.  

4. In a serving bowl, combine couscous, brussels sprouts, and wilted greens.  Season with the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and plenty of black pepper.  Top with crumbled sheep's feta.
 

Ayurvedic Chai

Ayurvedic Chai
makes 1 cup

This tea uses warming Ayurvedic spices to help you feel warm and nurtured during the cold, dry part of winter.  If you know your dosha, you can customize your tea to better suit your body type.  Take a dosha quiz here.  Since this tea is intended for Fall and Early Winter, it is perfect as-is for Vatas, since those are the Vata seasons.  Kaphas should use less/no sweetener and can add extra ginger and turmeric for pungency and bitterness.  Pittas can go easy on the warming spices but can enjoy this on a cold winter day.  Kaphas can add black tea to this, although Vatas are better off using Rooibos which is less drying and Pittas should be cautious to not go overboard on caffeine.

1.5 cups of almond milk
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 black peppercorns
3 slices of fresh ginger
1 rooibos tea bag or 2 teaspoons loose rooibos tea
1 teaspoon coconut oil (optional)
Honey or coconut sugar to sweeten

1. In a small pot, heat almond milk with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, and rooibos for 10-15 minutes.  Simmer longer if you like more spice.

2. Strain spices and whisk in coconut oil.  Use an immersion blender to emulsify if you find that whisking doesn't totally incorporate the oil.  This will make it frothy like a latte.  Sweeten to taste and serve immediately.  

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie
makes 1 smoothie

I almost always go green when I make smoothies, but this fall my kitchen has been overloaded with winter squash and sweet potatoes from my CSA.  Combining these leftover roasted veggies with cold pressed, unpasteurized apple cider (another CSA item), I make a smoothie that's unusually sweet for me, but tempered by the addition of turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.  Squash and sweet potatoes are good sources of beta carotene and fiber and are easily interchangeable in a recipe like this.  Don't worry about replicating mine exactly; just use what you have on hand.

1 banana
1 cup roasted sweet potato
1 cup roasted winter squash (I had buttercup and delicata)
2 tablespoons hemp seeds
1/2 inch piece of fresh turmeric (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup apple cider

1. In a high powered blender, blend all ingredients until very smooth, adding more cider or water if necessary.  Garnish with extra hemp seeds and a pinch of cinnamon.  

DIY Vanilla Extract

DIY Vanilla Extract
makes 8 ounces

Any baker worth her bundt pan knows that high quality vanilla extract is the key to robust flavorful desserts, particularly chocolate ones.  I created this batch of vanilla extract with vanilla beans that I bought in India and then promptly forgot about and leftover local vodka that was just hanging out in my liquor cabinet.  You can use any high proof alcohol to create vanilla extract--including rum, bourbon or even brandy--but I prefer the vodka, possibly because it's just what I'm used to.  If you are making these as holiday gifts, let your giftees know they take 6-8 weeks to mature.

2-3 whole vanilla beans
8 ounces of vodka

1. Slice beans vertically to expose the inner seeds.

2. Place vanilla beans in an an 8-ounce mason jar and cover to the top with vodka.  Seal tightly.  Keep in a dark, cool place and shake the jar every couple of days.  The extract will slowly darken and flavor will develop, about 6-8 weeks and a minimum of 4.  You can use the extract straight out of the container or strain into smaller bottles.  

Homemade Mounds Bars

Homemade Mounds Bars
makes 10 fun-size candy bars

In celebration of Halloween, I'm posting a candy bar makeover for one of my childhood faves: Mounds bars!  A combination of coconut and dark chocolate, these mini candy bars are a little more grown up than the store-bought ones.  Since these are wholes foods-based, they need to be stored in the fridge, but are delicious served cold.

2 cups unsweetened, desiccated coconut
1/4 cup coconut butter, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
2 3.5 ounce dark chocolate bars (at least 70% cocoa)

1. Mix coconut, melted coconut butter, maple syrup, sea salt, vanilla extract and melted coconut oil together in a bowl.  Using your hands, form 10 mini bars.  Lay evenly on a wax paper-lined plate and chill in the freezer until firmed up, about 15-30 minutes.

2. In a double boiler (or microwave) melt chocolate bars.  Dip coconut bars in chocolate and remove to another wax paper-lined plate.  Chill in freezer until solidified, 5 minutes.

3. If you have a little leftover chocolate, drizzle a zig-zag pattern on top of the chocolate bars and top with a little flaky sea salt.  Store in the fridge and serve cold.