These “Peeps” that I created–which I think look more like Toucans!–were inspired by “Ugly Ducklings” sold at a local Mediterranean restaurant called Azar’s.
I wanted to take the store-bought ones to an Easter dinner on Sunday, but the restaurant was closed and I could find no recipe, so I decided to “wing it,” so to speak. Fortunately, the ingredients are few.
I’m so glad I did, as they are super simple and so unique! I apologize for not having them ready to share with you in advance of Easter, but they are nice for spring in general, and certainly next year!
Resting in decorative cupcake liners and tucked, along with softly colored wooden eggs, into their straw nest, they looked peepin’ adorable and were also a rave in the taste department!
They seem especially appropriate for spring, but the ingredients are pretty season-less, so enjoy all year when a festive presentation and a little decadent bite is in order.
Approximately 1/2 cup (or slightly less) almond paste (I purchase it in a can on the baking aisle of the grocery store)
16 pitted dates, opened out (be sure to use fairly moist ones)
1-9 or 10 ounce package vegan chocolate chips
8 whole roasted and lightly salted cashews
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. Using your fingers, mold a scant tablespoon of almond paste into an egg shape. Moisten your fingers if your paste seems dry. Then press into one of the dates, pressing another date over the top to encase the almond paste inside, forming an egg or bird body shape. Continue with all remaining dates and almond paste. Cover and refrigerate them for about a half hour. Melt chocolate in microwave in a narrow deep bowl for ease of dipping. (For 9 to 10 ounces, I have found that 1 minute on full power, a slight stir, and then 20 to 30 seconds at full power, followed by a good whisking works in my microwave.) Pierce each date-almond paste ball with a toothpick. One at a time, dip them into the chocolate, covering completely, and place on prepared baking sheet. Remove toothpicks and “patch” hole with a dab of melted chocolate if need be. Then, one at a time, dip half of each cashew into the chocolate and attach it to the top of each “body,” slightly toward one end, with the cashew “beak” curving into the body and touching at each tip–chocolate toward the center–so that it is secure. Refrigerate for a half hour or until chocolate is hardened. Arrange as desired and serve.
Note: you will have some chocolate left over, but when it gets low, it is difficult to coat the date-almond paste balls.
The weather has been like no other winter here in Eastern, VA, so, while I made these pears quite a while ago, sunshine and my schedule did not coalesce until yesterday for me to photograph or I would have posted well before now so that if you, too, were gifted with a box of Harry & David Pears, you would have a new and delicious way to serve them.
It was a gift of these pears sent also to my parents by my cousin (he sent mine much later due to a snafu of some sort) and my mom’s craving that resulted in this recipe. The cream-cheese orange filling makes them extra special and extra pretty.
Hopefully, now that the winter holidays are well behind us, you can enjoy this recipe with the crop of summer pears.
Hey, did you know those Harry & David pear crates make ideal tree ornament storage boxes?
Pears and Red Wine Reduction:
6 large pears (about 8 ounces each), halved lengthwise, stemmed and cored using a melon-baller or small spoon
2 cups Burgundy wine
1/4 cup sugar
1 large orange, zested (reserve zest), halved, and then sliced into 1/2-inch slices
3 cinnamon sticks
Combine wine and sugar in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pears, cut side down, and then tuck orange slices and cinnamon sticks between them. Bring to a simmer and poach for 10 minutes on one side; gently flip, and poach 10 minutes on the other side. Arrange in a serving dish or on individual plates or bowls, cut side up. Place a dollop of filling in the hollow left when the core was removed, drizzle with Red Wine Reduction, and serve.
Vegan Cream Cheese-Orange Filling:
8 ounces vegan cream cheese such as *Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Reserved orange zest
In small bowl using a fork, mash together cream cheese and sugar. When almost smooth, incorporate vanilla extract and zest.
*You can also find this recipe HERE on the Tofutti website!
For our 10th anniversary, my husband and I took a Mediterranean Cruise, one of a number of life-changing trips to that magnetic part of the world from where his family hails (specifically, the Abruzzo region of of Italy). I fell in love repeatedly, including with Santorini.
My dish, created especially for the Yummy Food-Canarias Recipe Competition, is an ode to one of the most memorable and simplest “meals” I have ever eaten. We had spent the morning touring an ancient archeological dig on the island and had stopped at a cliffside vineyard overlooking the stunning atoll. There, in the wind-whipped courtyard, we were served wine, of course, accompanied by crisp fresh cucumber, olives and tomatoes. That was it. Simple perfection.
Since it is January and tomatoes are not in season, I chose instead to celebrate the cucumber and the olives, adding my beloved figs and pine nuts plus a little lemony brightness along with herby dill-scented cannelini beans for protein . The result is a simple little Mediterranean-infused bite-size meal.
Yield: 24 canapes or 8 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, minced
1-15.5 ounce can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup loosely packed finely chopped fresh dill
16 dried Calmyra or Mission figs, stems removed, halved (I like to use 8 of each)
1/4 cup brine-cured pitted black and green olives, drained (I like some that are a little spicy)
3 ounces toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon tamarind syrup (you may substitute pomegranate syrup or agave nectar)
Zest of 1/2 large lemon
Garnish: fresh dill sprigs
Cucumber slices (or toasted bread rounds/crackers)
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high. Add onion and a pinch of salt and pepper and saute, stirring frequently, until onion begins to turn golden, about 8 to 9 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent scorching. Add garlic and saute, stirring constantly, for another minute. Stir in beans and remaining tablespoon of olive oil, partially mashing the beans with the back of the spoon. Add dill and remove from heat.
Process figs in a food processor, pulsing until coarsely chopped. Add olives, and continue pulsing until both are finely chopped. Add pine nuts and pulse a few more times or until all ingredients are very finely chopped. Add syrup, lemon zest, and additional salt and pepper if desired, and pulse just to combine.
Serve a spoonful of the beans topped with a spoonful of the tapenade on cucumber slices, toasted bread or crackers. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.
Alternative serving suggestion: spread the beans into a 1/2-inch thick disk on a serving plate, spread the tapenade over the top, garnish, and serve with cucumber slices (or toasted bread/crackers).
This recipe is a three-fer and may require a quick nip into the grocery store, so I wanted you to have a time to procure the ingredients before Christmas arrives because this little nosh packs big flavor and is exactly how my family prefers to eat on Christmas Day. Or you might even want to serve it tonight for Christmas Eve with your favorite beverage or imbibement.
Back in the day, my family loved a big feast. Now we nosh. But, regardless, this tri-level treat will be lovely alongside whatever else you serve.
My special Toasted Pumpkin Seeds don’t absolutely have to go on top, but I love nuts and seeds, so if a (wal)nut plus a (hazel) nut is good, a nut plus a seed is even better. Therefore, you can just put out a bowl of the seeds for nibbling, then stand back and watch them disappear.
Along those lines, any one of the three parts of this stacked appetizer has a multitude of uses, so let your imagination and the rest of your menu be your guide.
May you have exactly the kind of holiday you need!
Somehow it happened yet again this year: Thanksgiving is only one day away!
I saved the sweetest for last: this simple crisp with a twist in the form of the Chai spices in the streusel.
It goes together in a snap and disappears even faster.
Fresh raw kale is the base of this lovely salad chock full of lightly caramelized dried fruit and smoked almonds, all glistening from just the right amount of a savory-sweet-tart pomegranate vinaigrette. The most virtuous dish on the Thanksgiving table may just be the tastiest too!
I served this salad last year and, though the whole menu was scrumptious, I typically don’t duplicate. But this dish made the cut and I will be serving it again!
Yield: 8 quesadillas
Different, but not bizarre, this quesadilla celebrates the cozy flavors of fall.
2 large apples, halved, cored and cut into 12 wedges each
8 ounces tempeh (I use Trader Joe’s “3 Grain” variety)
2 teaspoons soy sauce (I use a lite variety with less sodium)
1 teaspoon dry rubbed sage or a tablespoon minced fresh sage
Optional: 1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 cup Quick Vegan Cashew Cream (Recipe Follows)
1/2 cup water
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 6-inch wheat tortillas
Optional: 1/2 cup caramelized onions
Garnish: dollops of vegan sour cream or additional Quick Vegan Cashew Cream, fresh sage or rosemary sprigs, roasted pepitas
Grill lightly salted apple wedges in well-oiled grill pan over medium high heat until tender and nice grill marks develop, about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet. Crumble tempeh into the skillet, add a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring frequently, until golden brown in some places, adding about a teaspoon of olive oil if it appears to be drying out. Add soy sauce, sage and optional rosemary, and continue sauteing until golden throughout. Stir in balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, Cashew Cream, and water, and heat, stirring, until mixture comes together. Remove from heat and add additional salt, if necessary, and black pepper to taste. Transfer filling to a bowl or carton and wipe out skillet.
To make quesadillas, heat another tablespoon of olive oil in skillet over medium high. Place 1/8th of filling on half of each tortilla, top with 3 slices of grilled apple and optional 1/8th of caramelized onions. Fold other half of tortilla up over the filling and toast, 2 quesadillas at a time, in skillet for a couple of minutes on each side or until golden brown. Keep warm. Repeat with more oil as needed and remaining tortillas, filling and apples. Serve garnished as desired.
Quick Vegan Cashew Cream:
2 cups raw cashews
2 cups simmering water (heated stovetop or in microwave)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Place cashews in a heat-safe bowl and pour simmering water over. Let stand, covered, for a half hour. Drain and reserve 1 1/4 cups of water. Process cashews with sea salt and garlic powder until a thick past forms, about a minute or two. Reheat water and, with motor running, stream in 1 1/4 cups or enough to reach desired consistency. Serve as is, flavor as desired, or cover and refrigerate for use at a later date.
“Your peanut butter-apple pancakes were righteous!”
He then explained that he had been invited to give a vegan cooking demo and talk at a health food store near him and asked if he could prepare my recipe and print it for the attendees, with a credit and link to The Blooming Platter.
That required no thought at all, only a resounding “Of course!” especially when he said, “One thing I loved about the pancakes is that the PB was not overpowering. I love PB but it blended beautifully.”
I haven’t made my Vegan Peanut Butter and Fresh Apple Pancakes with Peanut Butter Maple Syrup in a while, but he reminded me how good they are; and, with local apples cropping up this autumn in farmers markets everywhere, I thought I should post a link.
What a great way to celebrate the first weekend of fall. Thanks, Gary!
Yield: 8 servings (16 small pancakes)
The other morning, for some reason, I was thinking about pineapple upside down cake and how nicely that translates into pancakes. Suddenly, I had to have pancakes, though I am not much of a breakfast eater, unless I have breakfast for lunch. I didn’t have pineapple, but I did have fresh figs and Vegan Fresh Fig Upside Down Pancakes were born!
The ground sumac– a beautiful earthy red powder derived from a berry of the sumac bush–is used in Middle Eastern and Greek cooking. Since I think of figs in relation to Middle Eastern cuisine, and since I thought that the earthy lemony flavor of the sumac would complement the sweetness of the figs, I chose to add a little to the batter. It‘s not absolutely essential, but it is delicate, delicious, and adds such a special quality. Find sumac in Middle Eastern grocery stores and online.
Sage, too, is used widely in Middle Eastern and Greek cooking and I happen to have quite an abundant crop of it this year. So I decided to garnish the pancakes with some of their most small and tender leaves to add a subtle sage-y flavor. Eaten together, the trio is transcendent!
2 cups white whole wheat flour (this is what I keep on hand, but unbleached all purpose is fine, as is a mixture of all purpose and whole wheat)
1/4 cup natural sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Optional, but delicious: 1/2 teaspoon sumac
2 cups plain soymilk (I used lite, as that’s what I had)
Nonstick spray or canola oil
8 fresh figs, stemmed, halved and sprayed with nonstick spray or brushed with oil
Accompaniments: agave nectar and a sprig of small tender fresh sage leaves (yes, sage!–sounds a little odd, but is delicious with the figs!)
In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients, make a well in the center, add soymilk, and whisk ingredients together until smooth. Heat a large well-oiled skillet over medium high and make pancakes, 3 or 4 at a time, using 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter (they should be about 3 inches in diameter). Cook for about a minute, lay a fig half, flesh side up, in the center of each pancake, pressing very gently. You don’t want to submerge or for the batter to hide the fig when you flip it. Cook for another minute or two or until golden brown on the other side, carefully flip, and cook until set, another couple of minutes or so. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping pancakes warm while you cook the entire batch. Serve pancakes, fig side up, with a drizzle of agave nectar and a sprig of fresh sage. Note: if a very thin layer of the batter has eased over the edge of the fig, just pinch it off to reveal the perfect shape of the fig.
Yield: 1 dozen cupcakes
These may possibly be the moistest cupcakes you will ever put in your mouth!
A pint of fresh figs from a local farm market that needed used fairly quickly resulted in these beautiful confections. The lemon in the buttercream frosting provides a subtle but bright contrast to the cinnamon-scented fig cupcakes, while the brandy flavoring (use real brandy if you have it–my husband forbids me, jokingly–sort of–to use his) accents their ripe, earthy fruitiness for the perfect summer wedding of flavors.
Vegan Fresh Fig Cupcakes
1 cup soymilk (unsweetened or plain)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I have used rice wine vinegar in a pinch and it works just fine)
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (this is what I keep on-hand, but unbleached all purpose is fine)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons natural sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup walnut oil or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
18 to 20 small-medium fresh figs, stemmed, and pureed in a food processor
Vegan Lemon-Brandy Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)
Garnish: 12 fresh fig halves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. In a small cup or bowl, whisk together soymilk and vinegar to make a vegan “buttermilk.” When it curdles, whisk again and set the mixture aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the soymilk mixture, oil, and vanilla extract. Stir just until all ingredients are well combined and no lumps remain. Stir in the fig puree until completely combined. Fill muffin cups no more than 3/4 full and bake for 20-22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack, and then remove cupcakes from tin. Place frosting in a pastry bag (mine came from the Dollar Tree!) fitted with a star-type tip, and pipe on top of cooled cupcakes in concentric circles, spiraling high. Top with a fresh fig half just before serving.
Vegan Lemon-Brandy Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup vegan butter
4 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 tablespoons soymilk (unsweetened or plain)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon brandy flavoring
Zest of 1/2 large lemon
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together shortening and vegan butter. With mixer on low, beat in half of powdered sugar and half of soymilk. Repeat. Beat in vanilla, brandy flavoring, and lemon zest, and then turn mixer to high and whip until creamy-fluffy.