Archive for December, 2008

Carrot Cake + Yogurt Glaze


I love visiting my family in St. Louis for lots of reasons…I get to see mom, dad, brother and sister – and dog and cat!  The lazy suburbs are a nice break from the constant go-go-go of New York City.  I get to spread myself out over an entire house rather than a teeny apartment. And I get to bake for a whole group of people instead of just myself!

This last point, my friends, is a very important one.  You see, it’s just me and my roommate at home in NY.   And since she’s not a big fan of sweets – I know, what?! – and I probably shouldn’t eat ALL of what I make by myself, I’ve got to spread the wealth of my oven around to Dan and my friends to make sure every last goody is eaten while it’s still deliciously fresh.  This is where the practical girl in me takes over.  I tend to shy away from baking things that aren’t easily dividable and transportable – it’s always cookies and muffins instead of cakes and pies.  Baking for the family in St. Louis, these little details are non-issues.  Freedom!

So…you can imagine my excitement when I asked my sister what she wanted for our Christmas Eve dessert and she replied without hesitation – carrot cake!  A CAKE!  Hooray!  Apparently she has recently discovered a special fondness towards carrot cake and her college winter break would not be complete without it.  Fine by me!  But I wanted to do a little something different, of course, so I topped the cake with a yogurt glaze instead of the traditional cream cheese frosting.  And to make sure the cake really soaked up that glaze, I poked holes all over it and let the yogurty sweetness ooze in.  I also did a bit of lightening up by using applesauce instead of oil and egg whites instead of some whole eggs.


Here’s my Yogurt Glazed Carrot Cake recipe, adapted from Baking With Agave Nectar‘s carrot cake:


3 cups grated carrots

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

3/4 cup agave nectar

2 eggs

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

Yogurt Glaze:

1 1/2 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together carrots, coconut, agave nectar, eggs, egg whites, applesauce and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until well blended.  Pour batter into prepared cake pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool in pans. 

While cakes are cooling, prepare yogurt glaze by mixing together Greek yogurt, agave nectar, vanilla extract and salt.  Once cakes cool, poke holes in them using a fork and remove from pans.  Drizzle half of yogurt glaze over cake #1 and sprinkle with half of the walnuts.  Place cake #2 on top of cake #1.  Drizzle remaining glaze over cake and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.  Note: You may want to do this over a wire cooling rack with something underneath to catch the dripping glaze.  Makes for easier clean up! 


The tip of a cake slice is the best part!

The cake got the approval of the fam!  It was perfectly spiced and super moist, especially where the yogurt glaze seeped into the poked holes.  And that glaze complemented the cake wonderfully.  It was nice and light but still flavorful – I actually thought it tasted a lot like cream cheese!

Are you a carrot cake fan?  What’s your favorite baked good with a vegetable star?  


Non-Hydrogenated Butter Substitute + Shortening

gourmet-butter-1In attempting to make my baked goods as wholesome and nutritious as possible, I do what I can to avoid butter. It’s not that butter isn’t all natural, but it does have quite a bit of saturated fat and cholesterol – and every little bit counts when trying to healthify a sweet treat! So instead, I try to look for or create recipes that use vegetable oil – much lower in saturated fat and no cholesterol – for the fat.  This usually works great.

But sometimes a solid fat is better for what you’re making.  In baking, solid fats – like butter – can do things liquid fats – like oil – can’t.  They hold air bubbles when beaten and set back up again after being heated and getting melty in an oven.  These properties affect the texture of your baked goods and are the reason most experts don’t recommended substituting a liquid fat for a solid fat and vice versa.

So when only a solid fat will do, I go for a non-hydrogenated butter substitute or shortening.  They’re lower in saturated fat than butter and are completely free of cholesterol.  Awesome.  But “non-hydrogenated” is the really special part. Most butter substitutes or shortenings are made with partially hydrogenated oil, which is just code for trans fat.   “Non-hydrogenated” means these guys have zero trans fat.  Whoo hoo!

I’ve had great results with Earth Balance products.  They make vegan buttery sticks and natural shortening sticks.  Both are made from a blend of soybean, palm, canola and olive oils – the buttery sticks just have additional flavorings to make them taste…buttery!  Spectrum also makes a non-hydrogenated shortening from palm oil.  That one comes in a tub.

Do you have a favorite butter substitute?

Merry Christmas!


And happy holidays!

Gotta love the *NSYNC Christmas carols.  Could do without the screaming fans though.

I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends!  Things have been super busy these last few days… I escaped the NYC snowstorm and made it home to St. Louis in time for my brother’s college graduation.  I celebrated my brother’s graduation.  I helped my brother move home from college.  I did all of my Christmas shopping.  I wrapped all of my presents.  I made 6 trips to 3 different grocery stores.  I baked a carrot cake for my family’s Christmas Eve dinner.  I cooked Christmas Eve dinner.  I opened presents with my family… And tomorrow we head to my grandma’s to continue the festivities with the extended fam!  I love Christmastime.

Wishing you a peaceful, joyful, happy day!  I’ll be back soon with more baking fun!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Thumbprints


I heart chocolate.

I heart peanut butter.

I know, I know, we all know this by now.

Lucky for me, my favorite holiday treat combines these two loves – Peanut Butter Blossoms.  You know the ones.  The crumbly, peanut buttery cookie with the sweet sugar coating and slightly melted chocolate kiss pressed right into the top.  YUM.  They’re on my Grandma’s cookie platter every holiday season and are always the ones I grab the second I walk in her door Christmas day. After giving her a big hug of course!

Fun fact – Peanut Butter Blossoms were the Pillsbury Bake-Off winner in 1957.  Hoo hoo!


Here’s my adapted recipe:

1/4 cup non-hydrogenated shortening

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1/3 cup turbinado sugar

1 egg

1 tablespoon skim milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup grain sweetened chocolate chips

2 tablespoons natural peanut butter

Preheat the oven to 375*F.  In a large bowl, beat together shortening and 1/2 cup peanut butter until well blended.  Add turbinado sugar and beat until fluffy.  Beat in egg, milk and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix together white whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and blend until combined. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheet.  Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each dough ball.  Bake for about 8 minutes.  Note: You may need to press the indent in again when the cookies come out of the oven.  Mine stubbornly popped up a bit in there!  While the cookies are cooling, melt together chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons peanut butter.  Fill cookie indents with melty goodness.  Makes 20 cookies.


They’re so cute!  Like little buttons.

These cookies are so soft!  And the chocolate-peanut butter filling is sort of truffly in texture once it cools.  It wasn’t all that peanut buttery though.  I think next time I’ll up the peanut butter to chip ratio or just melt the chocolate chips themselves to make the filling.

Do you have a favorite memory of Peanut Butter Blossom cookies?  


Evaporated Cane Juice + Unrefined Powdered Sugar

sugarcane-1Sugar, sugar, do do do do do dooo…

You know you love Archie comics.

Well, I know I do.

Speaking of sweet things, here’s another sweetener option that, like turbinado sugar, is also made from the sugar cane – evaporated cane juice. 

Well, to be totally accurate, turbinado sugar is a type of evaporated cane juice – it’s made through evaporation after all!  Its distinct large, bronze crystals have just earned it a special name. 

There are actually a number of different types of evaporated cane juice – Sucanat, Rapadura, Demerara, milled cane, ahhhh!  It can make picking one out kind of confusing.  Let me share what I’ve learned after many grocery trips and package comparisons and internet searches…

All evaporated cane juice is produced from freshly cut sugar cane that has been pressed to extract its juice. And all evaporated cane juice is created when that juice is boiled off to leave behind sweet sugar goodness.  The biggest difference between the different types is how much sugar cane molasses they contain.  The more molasses, the less the cane juice was processed.  You can generally figure this out by how dark – molasses-filled! – or light – not-as-molasses-filled – the sugar is.

But wait!  The fun doesn’t stop there!  Evaporated cane juice can also be ground to a super fine powder to create unrefined powdered sugar.  A little cornstarch is added to prevent caking and it’s good to go.

Unrefined powdered sugar has a honey-gold color and a richer flavor than white, refined powdered sugar because it still holds on to some of the sugar cane’s molasses.  It also retains some good vitamins and minerals. 

Check out Wholesome Sweeteners and Billington’s for a selection of evaporated cane juice and unrefined powdered sugar.  In baking, they can be substituted cup for cup for their refined counterpart.

Do you have a favorite type of evaporated cane juice?  

Blogger Secret Ingredient: Peppermint…Wrap-Up and Winner!

I have been having a BSI blast over here!  To spread the joy, I thought I’d share some things I learned from hosting Blogger Secret Ingredient: Peppermint:

Chocolate and peppermint are the perfect pair.

Everyone loves a truffle.

Peppermint extract will be in my pantry from now until forever more. It’s seriously amazing – go try it!

I had a fantastic time collecting and reviewing everyone’s recipes this week.  And making my own Chocolate Peppermint Chewies!  You guys showed a lot of creativity and made my decision quite difficult!  Thanks a million to everyone who participated. Now before I announce the winner, let’s just take a look at all of the deliciously minty submissions:

Andrea @ bella eatsPeppermint Eggnog Scones

Beth @ Biggest Diabetic LoserPeppermint Marshmallows

Becca @ Bites of the DayCarrot, Strawberry + Peppermint Salad; Peppermint Truffles

Bridget @ Peppermint Pizzelles

Katie @ Good Things CateredPeppermint Truffles

Heather @ Hangry PantsPeppermint Bonbon Cookies

Jessica @ Johnstone’s Vin BlancCandy Cane Brownie Lollipops

Krista @ Krista’s KravingsPeppermint Snack Cake

Megan @ Megan’s MunchiesDark Chocolate Mint Fudge

Jessica @ See Jess RunDolmas; Greek Yogurt Dressing/Tzatziki

Melissa @ Trying To HealPeppermint Bark

Mel @ A Taste of LifeChocolate Mint Truffles

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 12-oz bag dark chocolate chips (I usually use Ghiradelli)

2 teaspoons Peppermint Schnapps

1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepot, heat cream until just simmering.  Place chocolate chips in a large bowl.  When cream is hot, pour over chips.  Add peppermint schnapps.  Mix until chocolate is melted and smooth. Cover and chill for 4 hours or until set.  Once set, place powdered sugar on a plate.  Roll 1 tablespoon of chocolate mix into a ball and roll in powdered sugar. Chill balls in a single layer. To store, place sheets of parchment paper between layers so they don’t stick.  You can also replace powdered sugar with cocoa powder.

Catherine @ Stevia + SpiceMinted Summer Salad

2 cups watermelon, seeded and cubed

1 cup heirloom tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped

1/2 cup sweet purple onion, diced

1 teaspoon grapeseed oil (or similar mild tasting oil)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 bunch fresh mint (about 1/4 cup), cut into ribbons

In a medium bowl, mix together watermelon, tomato and onion. In a separate, bowl whisk together oil, lemon and honey. Stir in mint, being careful not to bruise the leaves too much. Pour mint dressing over watermelon mixture and toss gently to coat. Best served at room temperature and would pair nicely with grilled chicken or flaky white fish.  May be used as a fresh salsa topping or just a savory-sweet side.

Liz @ VeggieGirlCookies + Cream Muffin-Cakes

1 cup whole wheat (or gluten-free all-purpose) flour

1/2 cup all-purpose (or gluten-free all-purpose) flour

1/2 cup unrefined sugar (I used turbinado sugar)

1/4 cup cocoa or carob powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup chocolate or carob chips

8 vegan chocolate + peppermint cream-filled sandwich cookies (I used Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s), crushed

5 tablespoons applesauce

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup non-dairy “milk” (I used hempmilk)

3 additional vegan chocolate + peppermint cream-filled sandwich cookies, each broken into fourths

Preheat oven to 350*F.  In a large bowl, combine flours, unrefined sugar, cocoa/carob powder, baking soda, chocolate/carob chips and crushed Joe-Joe’s and mix well.  In a small bowl, combine applesauce, pure vanilla extract and non-dairy “milk” and mix well.  Add ingredients from the small bowl to the large bowl and stir mixture until fully combined.  Pour batter into a one-dozen-sized muffin tin (lined with cupcake liners) and gently press a cookie-segment on top of each muffin-cake.  Bake for 22-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Makes 12 muffin-cakes.

So many wonderful recipes – how’s a girl to choose?!  After thinking and thinking, I made my final decision based on three criteria:

1. Originality – I looked for something I hadn’t seen before.  Something that stood out from the other recipes.

2. Festivity – Since I choose peppermint to express my holiday LOVE, I wanted a recipe that really celebrated the season.

3. 100% Homemade – Original recipe.  From scratch.  I’m all about making things your own!

And the winner is…


Andrea’s scones are so unique!  She really upped the holiday factor by using not only peppermint, but also eggnog, in her recipe.  That deserves bonus points for sure and is what made her submission rise to the top.  Congrats Andrea!  I’ll e-mail you to discuss prize details.

Thanks everyone for a great week! I now pass the BSI fun on to…Catherine @ Stevia ‘n Spice!  Catherine shares both my New York City area code and my love for whole foods.  Plus, she’s made my Espresso Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies and my Crumbly Peanut Butter Oat Bars – that’s the ultimate blog love in my book!  She’s sure to be a great host, so head over to her blog to see what’s in store for the next BSI!

Chocolate Peppermint Chewies

REMINDER – Don’t forget to send your BSI recipes to me by tomorrow, December 14 @ 7:00 PM EST!


I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again.  I LOVE Christmas.  I love the white holiday lights and decorated store windows.  I love Christmas trees with presents piled underneath.  I love family time and the happy and generous feel of the season.  I love Christmas songs and Christmas movies on TV.  I love cozy fires when it’s snowing outside.  Ok…I realize the White Christmas dream doesn’t come true all that often, but it’s how I imagine the holidays to be anyway.  What can I say – I’m an idealist.

If there’s one flavor I love this time of year more than others, it’s peppermint.  To me, peppermint epitomizes the taste of the holidays.  I mean, really, what would Christmas be without candy canes?!  A little less joyful if you ask me. 

To honor peppermint’s reign over Christmastime, I choose it as this week’s BSI.  And I made Chocolate Peppermint Chewies!


Whole Foods makes some chocolate cookies that I’ve been eyeing for awhile.  They have no flour and no butter or oil – basically just sugar, cocoa and egg whites.  I’ve never actually tasted them, but they always look awesome and I thought they’d be great cookies to add a little peppermint flair to.  I found this recipe with similar ingredients, so I decided to adapt it and give it a go. 

Here’s my naturalized, peppermintized version: 

2 1/4 cups unrefined powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup cocoa powder

3 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

3/4 cup grain sweetened chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix together unrefined powdered sugar, salt and cocoa powder.  In a separate bowl, mix egg whites, vanilla extract and peppermint extract.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix with an electric mixer at low speed for 2 minutes – the batter should be shiny and smooth.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Cover bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours or up to overnight.  Preheat oven to 350*F and spray cookie sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.  Drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto cookie sheet.  Don’t flatten and be sure to leave space between the drops – these cookies spread out in the oven!  (Note: I used cooking spray for my cookie sheets and suspect that made them like Slip ‘n Slides for the dough.  I’m thinking using parchment paper instead would prevent major spreadage.)  Bake for 9-10 minutes until tops are glossy and crackly.  Let stand for 3 minutes and remove to cool.  Makes 16 cookies.


Check out those glossy crackles.

I’ll be honest here, I was a little skeptical of these guys when they came out of the oven – they looked all crunchy and stuff!  But my doubt quickly disappeared after a taste test – they weren’t crunchy in the slightest!  The edges are crispy, but still soft, and the middle is fudgy like a brownie!  And the peppermint flavor was a perfect match for the chocolate goodness.  It left my mouth feeling quite refreshed.

What’s your favorite peppermint treat for the holidays?


Turbinado Sugar

sugar-1Agave nectar, maple syrup, honey – really great unrefined sweeteners to use in baking.  All definitely favorites of mine.  But sometimes a liquid sweetener just isn’t the best way to go.  It’s times like these I turn to turbinado sugar.

Turbinado sugar is an unrefined sugar made from sugar cane extract.  To produce it, freshly cut sugar cane is crushed to squeeze out its juice.  The juice is then evaporated and spun in a centrifuge, or turbine – hence the name – where the characteristic large crystals are born.  This process keeps the sugar cane together from start to finish, so in the end, many of vitamins and minerals and natural molasses flavor it contains stay put.

Turbinado sugar is sometimes compared to brown sugar because of its light bronze color and rich coating of sweet molasses.  Like brown sugar, it also tends to hold more moisture – which means moister baked goods for you!  But whereas turbinado sugar’s golden hue and molasses layer are naturally occurring, brown sugar’s are…man-made!  Brown sugar is actually just refined white sugar that has color and flavor added back to it.  Sneaky.

Sugar in the Raw is a widely known brand of turbinado sugar and Wholesome Sweeteners makes one too.  When baking with turbinado sugar, I just substitute it for equal parts refined white or brown sugar.  You can sometimes tell the difference, but in a good way!

Have you ever baked with turbinado sugar?



In honor of this week’s BSI, I thought I’d offer up a little peppermint info to serve as education and inspiration.  Don’t forget to submit your recipes by Sunday, December 14 @ 7:00 PM EST.  Can’t wait to see all your minty ideas!

1. Peppermint is a hybrid plant – a cross between watermint and spearmint. 

2. Peppermint grows in shady, moist habitats like stream banks and waste lands.  Waste lands…interesting choice for something that freshens your breath and leaves your mouth feeling clean and tingly.

3. Peppermint flowers are purple and its leaves and stems are hairy!

4. Peppermint seeds sold at stores do not grow into true peppermint, but into an inferior spearmint. Peppermint is actually a sterile plant.  Those tricky seed producers can’t fool us!

5. Peppermint is mainly grown for the oil in its leaves.  It takes about 1 ton of herb to make 7 pounds of oil.  The United States is currently the  largest producer of peppermint oil – making half the world’s supply.

6. Peppermint gets its minty aroma and flavor from the menthyl acetate it contains. But menthol is actually peppermint’s main active ingredient.  It lives in its leaves and flowers and provides the cooling sensation of the herb – what makes it popular in soaps and lotions.

7. Pliny the Elder documented the use of peppermint by the ancient Greeks and Romans.  During feasts, they crowned themselves with its leaves and flavored sauces and wines with its essence.  The Egyptians used it too.

8. Peppermint is sometimes referred to as “the world’s oldest medicine.  It has been used for thousands of years in Eastern and Western practice to treat – ready for this? – headaches, anxiety, pain, muscle spasms, indigestion, nausea, sore throat, colds, skin irritations, bacteria growth, respiratory infections, inflamed tissues, toothaches, cramps and cancers.  Whew! 

9. Peppermint is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A.

10. We all know and love the pepperminty goodness of the candy cane.  But the original candy cane – invented by French priests in the early 1400s – was unflavored, uncolored and straight.  It turned into a cane in the 1600s and finally got its peppermint flavor around 1900.  It got the red and white stripes then too!

Alright, I’m gonna go find some minty gum!

Blogger Secret Ingredient: Week 15

Welcome to this week’s Blogger Secret Ingredient contest!  When Andrea of bella eats [and runs] asked me to host, I was more than happy to accept.  I love seeing the unique recipes everyone comes up with week to week.  It’s like watching a collective blogger cookbook being written!

Before we get into this week’s BSI, let’s do a recap of BSI’s past:

Week 14: Andrea @ bella eats [and runs]Ginger

Week 13: Amy @ Coffee Talk – Walnuts

Week 12: Lindsay @ For the Love of Oats – Pumpkin

Week 11: Melissa @ Trying to Heal – Sweet Potatoes

Week 10: Meghann @ The Inner Workings of a College Graduate – Eggplant

Week 9: Erica @ Itzy’s Kitchen – Pears

Week 8: Gina @ The Fitnessista – Cranberries

Week 7: Shannon @ Tri to Cook – Lentils

Week 6: Sabrina @ Rhodey Girl Tests – Polenta

Week 5: Jenn @ eatingbender – Butternut Squash

Week 4: Andrea + Erin @ Care to Eat – Apples

Week 3: Rose @ On a Lobster Placemat – Mushrooms

Week 2: Heather @ Hangry Pants – Tomatoes

Week 1: Christie @ Sportsnutritionliving – Quinoa

And the BSI for Week 15 is…



It’s the holidays – I couldn’t resist!  What other time of year would this be appropriate?!

So here’s how it works:

1. Make something delicious with peppermint – any form of peppermint you’d like!  Peppermint extract, peppermint candy canes, peppermint chocolates, etc.

2. Link back to my blog when you post your recipe on yours.  Let me know it’s up by e-mailing me at or leaving a comment on one of my posts.  If you don’t have a blog, no worries!  You still count.  Just shoot me an e-mail with your recipe.

3. Please submit your recipe by Sunday, December 14 @ 7:00 PM EST.  I’ll post the winner later that night!

I’m very excited to see the sweet and minty treats you all come up with.  And bonus points from me if you make something with whole grains and unrefined sweeteners!

Now go get busy in the kitchen!


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