Super Easy, Super Amazing Vegan Sunbutter and Coconut Cups

Once you’ve gone “all the way” with your sunbutter like my hot night of passion, or even just had a quickie by picking up a jar at the market, you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level and dress your little sunbutter up in some chocolate! This goes for coconut too, though, it holds a completely different, more platonic, place in my heart.

I made both of these bad boys over the holiday break and gifted (I know that Alex is going to cringe when he reads me using “gift” as a verb, but I stand by this use as it’s now perfectly acceptable—the dictionary confirms this, thank you very much) my co-workers with a variety of chocolate goodness that you can read more about here. These little buggers were a serious hit with my co-workers so it’s safe to say that they’re as good (if not better) than your standard peanut butter ones. And, really, the options of what kind of nut or seed butter you want to use are limitless so play around with a particular filling that knocks your socks off.

General recipe ingredients and guidelines for making your way to any sunbutter or coconut lover’s heart:

Ingredients

Chocolate

  • 4 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

Sunbutter Filling

  • 1 cup creamy sunbutter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Coconut Filling

  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup,  agave syrup, or other liquid sweetener of your choice.
  • Mini muffin tin (I found mine at Sur La Table)
  • Mini paper cupcake/muffin cups (Found these at Sur La Table as well)

Directions

Mix Filling: For both, stir together all filling ingredients in separate small bowls and set aside.

Melt Chocolate and Assemble: Melt the chocolate chips and vegetable shortening in a small heavy bottom pan over the stove until completely smooth. With a mini spoon, other small utensil, or paintbrush paint the inside of the paper muffin cups with the melted chocolate. Make sure to coat every nook and cranny so that there are no holes. Place the cup in the muffin tin so that it retains it’s shape. Once you’ve coated as many cups that the mold holds with chocolate, place the pan in the freezer for 3-5 minutes until the chocolate has completely hardened. Remove from the freezer and spoon the sunbutter or coconut filling into each of the cups. Then cover each cup with your melted chocolate.  Refrigerate until hardened. They can be stored this way for several weeks (and probably months, but they’re not likely to last long enough to test that theory). Also, I had to do many batches since my tin only held 12 cups at at time and I didn’t need to remelt my chocolate through all of it, but if your chocolate does harden before you’re finished simply go ahead and remelt it.

Yield: Varies depending on the size of your muffin cups.
Coconut filling recipe inspiration credit: Elana’s Pantry

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Christina Does Sunbutter

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of nut butters. I love ’em all. In fact, I publicly proclaimed my love of the nut in it’s buttery form years ago here. And this is still true today—my unwavering love of nut butters has not changed; however, this love has evolved. It has evolved to include a cousin of the nut, seeds, and just like nuts, there a a lot of them out there, from the more standard sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame to some newcomers (in the sense that you can find them on your standard grocery store shelves) like hemp and chia.

The seed that I became enamored with a couple years ago is the beloved sunflower, particularly in it’s butter form called sunbutter. Even after a few years into our relationship we’re still going strong. Though, we have had our ups and downs like when I consumed an entire jar in a single day and had a massive bellyache, or that time when I consumed heaping amounts every single day and started to develop a weird sensation on my tongue whenever eating it so we had to go on a break for a while. Thankfully those dark lonely days only lasted a few months. And through all of that, we’re now in a really great place. So great that I decided it was high time to try making some from scratch myself.

On my walk home from yoga on Friday night I stopped by Whole Foods and picked up some plain organic sunflower seeds and got busy in the kitchen. It was a date—a totally giddy-like-friends-who-are-just-starting-to-get-to-know-each-other-on-a-new-level kind of date. And let me tell you, the results of that date are awesomesauce. The chemistry was purely magical. I suggest you too give it a go! Here’s how you can move on to a deeper level in your relationship with the sunflower seed and how my Friday night romp ended up:

Ingredients:

  • plain, unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds
  • sweetener of your choice (agave syrup, maple syrup, cane sugar, etc.)
  • salt
  • cinnamon or any other interesting flavors you might want to add to the mix
Roasting: The first step is toasting the seeds in a dry skillet or oven for a few minutes. When they’re brown, but not too dark, quickly remove them from the pan. Some will be darker than others—they won’t all toast evenly and that’s A-ok! Just make sure you don’t over toast them otherwise you might end up with a bitter sunbutter. You’ll want to transfer the seeds into a dish or on a plate to cool down and you’ll want to do this right away to prevent them from cooking longer in the hot pan. This is how mine looked post-toasting. Once we got the basic get-to-know-you conversation out of the way, we could then move on to the fun part.
Dirty Dancing:  You then need to start grinding your seeds like a couple of college students at their first frat party. Throw caution to the food processor and turn it ON. After a short amount of time it will start to look crumbly, but that’s just because it’s nervous.

Don’t Give Up: Keep grinding and its nerves will subside, it’ll become more relaxed and start to form into a creamy paste.

Keep Grinding: Don’t let the screams of the food processor fool you, it’s not done until both parties are satisfied. You really have to be patient with it and it will eventually loosen up to become a smooth operator like this. This foreplay lasts roughly 7 to 10 minutes before you’ve gotten the sunbutter to the right drippy consistency. And if your food processor starts to whine about the massive workout you’re giving it like mine did, you might want to give it a short break. You don’t want it to die pre-climax and be left with a mealy, unfinished sunbutter.

Any Accoutrements?: Right at the sunbutter’s peak consistency, I then added some salt, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Oh. My. God. Just when I didn’t think it could get any better I totally lost it. This is the thing about being on a date with your own sunbutter—you can completely customize the additions to your liking. Maybe you like the paler agave syrup? Or maybe you too prefer the complex flavors of maple syrup? Or maybe you like both at different times? Or a little of both at once? You totally get to choose when you make your own!

At this point, Alex arrived home and walked in on me in such a post-coital haze that I forgot to snap more photos, but you probably don’t want to see me shoving it in my mouth. So that’s pretty much how it went down on Friday night in my house.

Serving: For me, I truly love my sunbutter straight up with a spoon (like the picture below), but I also enjoy when it dresses up in some sexy outfit like bread or crackers from time to time.

Anyone else this crazy about nut and seed butters? Or am I the only nut-case like this? Pretty please tell me that’s not true!

Homemade Curry Powder

Nothing beats a warm curry dish on a cool winter evening. And nothing beats curry powder like homemade curry powder. Seriously, ever since I started making my own curry powder 9+ years ago, I’ve not once purchased a store bought blend. Even when I’ve been in a time-crunch and realized I was almost out of the stuff, I’ve either reworked my meal plan or sprinted to the store to purchase the missing spices. It’s just that much better. Also, making your own curry powder allows you to customize the spices to your own liking, whether that be spicier or sweeter or cardamommier curry—you get to choose.

So try it out! Trust me. Once you make your own you won’t go back to store bought either. Plus it’s very easy and super quick (total time is ~5 minutes) to make.

    • 1/4 cup coriander seed
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns
    • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
    • 1 tablespoon cardamom pods
    • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (Does fenugreek smell like butterscotch to anyone else? Or is it just me?)
    • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (2-3 inches worth)
    • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
    • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric

Roasty Toasty: (This is one of the reasons homemade curry powder is so amazing—and I have a feeling that most commercial producers skip this step.) Place the coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumins seeds, cardamom pods, fenugreek seeds, and cinnamon stick in a dry skillet. Toast them over medium heat, stirring and shaking the pan for about 4 minutes until they become fragrant. Transfer the spices to a plate and let them cool for a few minutes (make sure to do this right away so that they don’t continue to cook in the hot pan.)

Grinding: Place the roasted spices in a coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. I suppose you could do this by hand as well using a mortar and pestle; though, a coffee grinder will be way more efficient.

Pour and Mix:  Pour the powder in a bowl and stir in the ginger and turmeric until they are well incorporated.

*Makes approximately a 1/2 cup of curry powder

Storage: Store the curry powder in an airtight container in a dark place. It will last for a good 6 months without compromising the amazing flavor.

Gifting: Also, homemade curry powder makes a wonderful gift (and this is when Alex tells me I’ve gone a bit overboard and am getting too Martha Stewart-y, but I see nothing wrong with that 🙂 )

Vegan Chocolate Covered Cherries

This holiday season marked my first foray into making chocolate candies. I must admit that once I get an idea into my head, it’s very easy for me to get so carried away that I have to spend serious energy reeling in my mind that has left the gates at a pace far too fast for a marathon. Sometimes my mind can go in so many directions thinking of all the possibilities and things I want to do that I become physically exhausted just thinking of it all. Then I become paralyzed and don’t do anything because if I can’t do everything, why even do one thing? And then once I’ve thought so much about actually doing it, it almost feels like I have already done it. Does this happen to anyone else or is it just me?

I’ve noticed that this can happen to me when planning major events like moving, a wedding, and lately I’ve even noticed this happen in November when the Christinamas Monster shows up. It’s like I feel the need to recreate every experience I’ve had of every Christmas past into each Christmas, which is insane and completely impossible.

So in this chocolate making experiment, I averted a head’splosion by narrowing down my creations – I decided to stick with four different types of fillings and three different molds for this first time. I had to assure myself that I can always do more in the future – all of the possibilities and ideas don’t have to be done right this instant, Christina!

Also, the reason for this experiment was to treat my co-workers with something sweet for the holidays so I ended up creating a little tin to package them up as well. Here’s how it all turned out:

If it wasn’t super obvious, for each tin I cut out pretty pieces of paper to fit the top and then glued them with rubber cement like so:

Ok – onward to the recipes!

Chocolate Covered Cherries

  • 30 maraschino cherries (About  1 10-ounce jar)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (= 4 1/5 teaspoons) Earth Balance, softened (my 1.5 Tablespoons was approximate and it worked fine)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup (also an approximate 1.5 Tablespoons)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
  • 1 (or more) chocolate cherry mold

Cherry Prep: Drain the cherries, remove the stems, and then pat them dry with paper towels. Set aside.

Buttercream/Sugar Dough: In a small mixing bowl combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt. Mix and then knead until smooth. It may take a few kneads to get to this state and don’t be concerned if it seems crumbly at first – it will eventually come together.

I covered the ball with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator as I was preparing other candies, but I don’t think it’s necessary to do this. You can move right on to covering the cherries.

Buttercreamed Cherries: Take a small piece of the sugar dough—enough to cover a cherry—and wrap it around a cherry. You want to make sure the cherry is completely covered, but also make sure it’s a thin layer so that the cherry will fit inside the mold. Proceed with the remaining cherries and then place them on a loosely covered plate in the refrigerator.

Chocolate and Putting it All Together: In a microwave or heavy saucepan, melt the chocolate chip and shortening until completely smooth. With a paintbrush (or small spoon) paint the inside of the mold with the melted chocolate. Once you’ve completed every cherry in the mold, place it in the freezer for 3-5 minutes until hardened. Remove from the freezer and place 1 cream-covered cherry in each piece of the mold. Cover each cherry with the remaining chocolate. If your mold has less then 30 cherries you’ll need to repeat these steps. Refrigerate until hardened. They can be stored this way for several weeks. Bring to room temperature for a day or two before serving so that the buttercream inside can soften.

Final Words: My last comment about these is that I only had issue with a couple of the chocolates not coming out of the mold perfectly and losing their tops in the process, but that was due to a few of them having a too thin shell. After experimenting with thickness, I realized that as long as I created a reasonably thick chocolate coat on the mold (but not too thick because you have to leave room for the cherries!), I was golden.

Adapted from Taste of Home Best Holiday Recipes from 2008.

Ok – writing all of this out has exhausted me for now so I’m going to have to come back later to lay down the deets of how I did the sunbutter and coconut cups. Stay tuned!

Chinese New Year Flower Fair

The beautiful weather will not let up. We’ve had nothing but warmth and bright sunny skies for months and there isn’t a cloud or drop of rain expected in the forecast. I know the skiers in Tahoe aren’t happy nor are the farmers who depend on winter rain to irrigate their crops through the dry summer months. But this girl? Nope. You won’t find her complaining. No siree.

Today was another one of those glorious days and I spent the late morning through afternoon with my brother and his fiance. We spent most of this time chatting about their upcoming wedding plans interspersed with browsing for items that could potentially be used during the ceremony and reception. Our first stop was the SF Flower Mart, which Martha Stewart Living claims to be the “best flower market in the country.” And, crikey! I would totally believe it. Since I knew not of it’s existence before this morning my mind was devoid of any preconceptions, which likely made it even more impressive, which is to say that it totally blew me away – the volume, variety, and number of shops was astounding. Apparently this is where florists, and even stores like Whole Foods, come to buy their flowers wholesale to sell to consumers.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of it (next time!), but after a quick detour to the Ferry Building for lunch and picking up fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market we stopped in Chinatown where they were having the annual Chinese New Year Flower Fair and this is where I felt compelled to whip out my camera and snap a few photos.

When we were approaching Grant Street and after seeing the sheer number of people flooding the streets I knew I needed to take a photo to remember this:

Holy cats that’s a lot of people, right?! It looks just like I remember China or even Istanbul. Come to think of it, I took a very similar photo in Istanbul a couple years ago. After digging it up – here it is:

Personally, I love it. I love the energy that people coming together can create.

At 6’4″ Zack (in the white cap) looked like a giant among the predominantly Asian crowd. It’s funny, the only times I’ve ever felt to have sizeable stature are the two times I’ve been to China – and I’m only 5’4″, mind you, so I can’t imagine what being in China would feel like for my brother. Though, maybe at that height he wouldn’t notice it because he’s used to towering over people and it’s really only people like me who are usually dwarfed by colossal American’s that notice. Hmmm.

As we made our way through the festival, we ended up taking a side street and went to a market where Zack and Susan picked up some produce:

I love the paper lanterns that line the streets of China Town:

Being a flower festival and all, it’s only expected that you’d see some lovely blossoms and orchids were out in full force. Why, yes, I’ll take one of these:

And one of these:

And something I wasn’t expecting – the streets were teaming with pinwheels! If you were a child under the age of 5 you’d likely be clasping one of these in your hands.

What a fun day exploring the city.

Vegan Peanut Butter Blossoms

Oh, lovely cookies. As a kid these cookies were one of my all-time favorites. I first recall having them at my after-school babysitters and I didn’t even know what they were called (and frankly, didn’t even think to ask…probably because my mouth was stuffed full of ’em) so I always referred to them as “the cookies with the Hershey Kiss in the middle” and even as an adult I still didn’t know what their official name was and it wasn’t until I Googled the phrase “cookies with Hershey Kiss in the middle” that their sweet little name was divulged to me. Lo and behold they’re called Peanut Butter Blossoms! What’s funny is that I don’t recall my immature tastebuds ever detecting there was peanut butter in them so when I started baking these years ago I was skeptical that they were the real-deal from my childhood. However, after my first adult bite I knew they were the delectable treats I’d had from yore.

Onward with how to make these little babies—here is the recipe so that you too can enjoy a scrumptious vegan version of (perhaps) your childhood favorite:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1 egg-replacer egg (I used Ener-G, but you can use ground flax, bananas, etc. Whatever floats your boat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 dark chocolate Lindt bar

1/2 cup (less or more depending on the size of cookie you make and how much sugar you want to coat them with) granulated sugar to roll cookies in

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

By hand or with a stand mixer beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter. Meanwhile beat the Ener-G egg replacer with water in a small bowl (1.5 teaspoons powder to 2 tablespoons water) until thick peaks form. Then add the egg replacer and vanilla to the mixture and mix well.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the Earth Balance/sugar mixture and beat until well blended.

Shape the dough into balls and roll in granulated sugar. Set balls 1 1/2-inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or you could grease your cookie sheet as well.) Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Pull out the cookies and add a chocolate chunk to the center of each. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until the chocolate is slightly soft, about two to three additional minutes. Pull them out of the oven and let them cool for a couple minutes before placing on a cooling rack.

***Lastly, I have to mention that over the holiday weekend I stopped at Spun Sugar in Berkeley and found an awesome chocolate mold that will change my relationship with these cookies for every Christmas here on out.

So next year these babies will actually have a completely vegan chocolate kiss in the center of them. Holy flip! I am stoked for the holidays next year!!!

Exposing Myself to Inevitable Failure

Ever since I loaded some of my 2011 holiday baked goodies and candies to Flickr, I have been overwhelmed with emails asking for recipes. And considering I have been toying with the idea of creating a general blog (aside from my travel blog: Shanghaied Away) that includes food creations, crafty things, Bay Area adventures, random (but hopefully somewhat interesting) musings, and any other arbitrary life happenings – for some time. So thank you to everyone who expressed so much interest in my goodies as your emails have been my catalyst to finally take the plunge into sharing my life with the world.

Back in the day when I worked at Tribe.net, I wrote several blog posts a week and I honestly miss doing that. It forced me to put my thoughts into words, massaging my brain cells into crafting thoughtful life musings. However, after years of not writing, those decrepit brain cells need some serious massaging – like a deep-tissue-feel-like-my-body-has-been-battered-and-bruised massage.

Actually, I think my fear of whether I can even craft a blog post has stopped me from doing this sooner. In the age of Twitter and Facebook I’m not sure I even remember how to write fully formed thoughts that are more than 250 characters long. My mind used to ruminate on all sorts of fascinating things about the world – but I feel like I’ve lost that. Actually, I’m not sure much activity is happening upstairs at all anymore. So sad. Really. My own brain cells are actually starting to bore me and I’d really appreciate if they’d start to stir some activity up there. So needless to say, this blog will be a huge challenge and it might be a total failure. But I guess that shouldn’t stop me from trying, right? Also, I doubt that I’d regret the posts that do make it on this blog so even if the entirety of it ends up in some blog abyss with all of the other unupdated blogs out there, at least I have some posts that I can reflect on in the future. So here she goes – my little fruits of adventure.