Easy banana date shake recipe (vegan-friendly)

Every time I go to Palm Springs, I always tell myself I’m going to order a date shake. It’s a sweet and creamy milkshake with lots of nutritional value that gets most of it’s flavor and sweetness from dates. Date shakes are synonymous with the Palm Springs and the surrounding desert area. Makes sense since dates have been growing there for over 100 years. Hard to believe the “Date Capital of the World” is just a two hour drive from Los Angeles.

But if you can’t make that drive out to Palm Springs, you can make your own date shake at home. I actually made this one for breakfast the other day and it’s very easy to make – especially, if you have a Vitamix. The photo below shows you the ingredients I used – yes, just four ingredients! You can actually get away with three and make it vegan since the yogurt is optional. I wanted some tanginess with my date shake so I added some Noosa honey yogurt.

date shake ingredients

Banana date shake ingredients.

Banana date shake recipe
(Serves one person)

1 banana
1 cup almond milk
4 medjool dates pitted and diced
1/2 cup vanilla or honey flavored yogurt (optional)

When you have your ingredients, put it all into your mixer. I put mine in my Viamix and mixed on high for about 30 seconds. If you want your shake to be thicker, you can use a frozen banana and add 1/4 cup of ice.

The result is a light and frothy shake that is less sugary than the recipes that use ice cream or gelato. Plus, it’s easy to make this vegan-friendly since the yogurt is optional and you’re using almond milk instead of regular milk.

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Easy chocolate covered strawberries recipe [vegan friendly, RECIPE]

I’m going to a 4th of July BBQ and I volunteered to make dessert. I asked if there were any dietary restrictions and my friend said it would be great if I could make something vegan-friendly. I said yes without thinking. But later I realized most of the stuff I make uses butter or eggs so I couldn’t use my go-to dessert recipes. But then I realized, dark chocolate is vegan – just read the label though because some name brands can skimp on the cocoa and add milk… more on that later.

chocolate dipped strawberries

The recipe doesn’t take a long time to make and it’s a great dessert for groups. You don’t need serving spoons or knives – just pick it up and eat! Best part, you just need 2 ingredients to make it:

  1. 12 oz. chocolate chips (semisweet chocolate) – read ingredients to make sure there aren’t any animal products in the chocolate
  2. 2 dozen medium sized strawberries

I admit I read every bag of chocolate chips in the baking aisle in the store. Interesting bit is that not all semisweet chocolate chips are made the same. The ones that were more inexpensive had some milk or dairy mixed in but the more pricier chocolate chips didn’t and I assume it’s because it had a higher cocoa content. I ended up going with Guittard real semisweet chocolate but the Ghirardelli all natural semisweet also works if you can find it in stock at your grocery store.

So you have your goods, now what?

  1. Wash your strawberries and dry thoroughly.
  2. Lay a clean sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  3. Get a pot and fill it with water halfway and put it on the stove with medium heat. Get a metal bowl and put it on top. I have a bowl that’s slightly bigger than the pot so it sits nicely on top and doesn’t sink into the water. Don’t use glass or plastic.
  4. Put the chocolate chips inside the bowl and get a wooden spoon to stir s the chocolate melts. Use a wooden spoon so it won’t scratch your bowl like metal or plastic spoons.
  5. Once the chocolate has melted, turn off the stove and grab your strawberries.
  6. Dip your strawberries halfway and swirl in the chocolate. Lift up and let the excess chocolate drop off and place the strawberry on the parchment paper that’s on the cookie sheet. Once you’ve put it there, don’t move it around or you’ll have a chocolaty mess.

Once you’re done, let it cool outside for about 15 minutes then put it in the fridge for a couple hours. In less than 3 hours, from start to finish, you’ll have your chocolate covered strawberries for your party!

Baking seasonally: Martha Stewart’s Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies [RECIPE]

Cooking seasonally comes easy because there are so many great fresh vegetable recipes out there. But baking (more specifically cookies) can be a bit hard. Often times, recipes ask for dried fruit. Right now, strawberries are in season and I’ve been scouring my cook books and the web for a recipe that called for fresh strawberries – not as a cream or preserve for a cookie sandwich or dehydrated bits but actually integrating strawberries into the cookie.

I ended up finding this simple recipe by Martha Stewart for Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies that used fresh strawberries. I thought it would be perfect for a potluck I was going to. I bought some fresh local strawberries – pick a package with smaller strawberries because they tend to be sweeter than large strawberries.

I like this recipe because it doesn’t use unfamiliar ingredients. It’s everything you can find at your local grocery store and you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money. The ingredients:

  • Fresh strawberries
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice (squeeze from a real lemon – tastes better)
  • Course salt
  • Baking powder
  • Unsalted butter (COLD BUTTER!)
  • Heavy cream
  • Sanding sugar for sprinkling (optional)

I actually didn’t use the sanding sugar because I’m trying to cut down excess sugar in my food and it still tasted good – actually, I think the extra sugar would have made it too sweet. Make sure your dough IS NOT  smooth – you want to make sure it’s crumbly and lumpy. They key to this recipe is to use cold butter, don’t leave it out. The reason is if the dough is too pasty it will be hard to mix in the strawberries. The crumbly mix will make it easier to fold in the strawberries – you don’t want to beat it in or it will get masked up. Spoon about a tablespoon on your parchment paper on the cookie sheet and form into a circle. When it’s all done it will look like this:

You know when it’s ready because the edges are slightly brown and the strawberries keep their shape. These cookies should be eaten in 24 hours because you don’t want the strawberries to dry out. I brought them to a potluck dinner and they were all eaten.

Can’t wait to make these again!

RECIPE: Strawberry-Shortcake Cookies

Bacon + eggs + cheese + biscuits = brunch [RECIPE]

Brunch is one of my favorite meals of the day. And when you can brunch with a group of friends – it’s even better. This past weekend, my friends and I created a Facebook event and invited everyone to bring a dish. The hardest thing was to find a place large enough to accommodate us. We chose the picnic benches bear Trails Cafe in Griffith Park. This way, folks could buy a hot cup of coffee or go hiking afterwards. The event was a success! Friends from LA and OC gathered around an entire picnic table chock full of food from Porto’s Bakery, Susina’s Bakery, and homemade goodness.

I typically bake something sweet but this time around, I decided to bake something savory. I found a recipe for Bacon-Cheese-Pull-Aparts (see end of blog post). It combined all the flavors I love for brunch so I couldn’t resist. Also, it only has six ingredients:

  1. Egg
  2. Milk
  3. Cheese
  4. Bacon
  5. Pillsbury Grands dough
  6. Green onion

When you mix the contents in a bowl, do it gently so you don’t flatten the biscuit dough. TIP: Use a wooden spoon because it’s more gentle on the dough than a metal spatula. Follow the directions and put it in a glass baking dish that has been greased — I used butter and flour.

I baked my dish about 28 minutes – I closely watched it to make sure the tops were golden brown. Plus, I knew it was ready because my house smelled like brunch (bacon, eggs, and cheese).

bacon eggs cheese biscuits recipe

The dish is best served right out of the oven. My dish was warm when it got to the potluck but quickly cooled because of the commute. I would definitely make this again!

RECIPE: Bacon-Cheese-Pull-Aparts

Baking gluten-free almond macaroons [RECIPE]

This is my second attempt trying to bake almond macaroons. The first time I did it, it turned out pretty bad so I didn’t even bother taking photos. I recently found a recipe that I posted on my Pinterest board for chewy almond macaroons from Saveur. I love almonds and it’s gluten-free and vegan-friendly – which is a safe dessert to bring for potlucks if people have aversions to certain ingredients.

The recipe calls for just a few ingredients:

  1. Almond paste (do not use marzipan)
  2. Superfine sugar (aka Baker’s Sugar)
  3. Salt
  4. Amaretto liqueur
  5. Powdered sugar

I’m not going to lie, almond paste is pretty expensive. I bought mine for a little under $7 for 7 oz. This recipe calls for 18 oz. Next time I may try to make my own almond paste if I have the time – or shop around for a beter deal (but I doubt I will find anything better). Here’s how it looks after the ingredients were all mixed and they were put on the parchment paper on the cookie sheet.

You’re supposed to take the macaroons out when they have turned golden however, mine took a long time to turn golden and when it did, the macaroon shape flattened to look like a cookie – it didn’t look like the one that Saveur posted.

DO NOT use regular granulated sugar. The recipe calls for “superfine sugar” which is something between the consitancy of granulated sugar and powdered sugar. I was going to buy the superfine sugar but it was almost $5 for a carton and I only needed 1/2 cup. I did some research online and apparently, you can put granulated sugar in the food processor for a couple minutes or until it gets really fine.

Granted the look of the almond macaroons didn’t look like I had expected BUT it tasted great. There was a little caramelization on top and the cookie was dense and chewy. Even though the base of the recipe is almond paste, the almond flavor didn’t overpower the cookie – it was subtle and sweet. If you have tips to make this dessert better, please share your tips with me! I’d really appreciate it.

If you’re willing to give it a try, here’s the RECIPE for chewy almond macaroons.

Slow cooked shredded beef tacos [RECIPE]

I had a gathering at my place not too long ago. I wanted to make some food – something easy for a large group. I remembered shredded beef tacos my friend Marc made years ago in a slow cooker. I emailed him and he gave me the recipe. It was SO simple I had to read it over again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Best part about a slow cooker is that you throw all the ingredients in and wait about 6 to 8 hours, and your dish is ready. Take a look at my tacos:

I bought the tortillas from Huicho’s Bakery, a local bakery and tortilleria in Los Angeles. I got there right when the fresh corn tortillas had just been packed. When the cashier handed me two bags, they were both warm and I put my nose to the bag and the smell of maize seeped out – I inhaled. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you stop by  your local tortilleria and pick up a bag of fresh tortillas – it’s not expensive and the taste is 10 times better than the prepackaged stuff you buy at the grocery store that’s been shipped from miles away. Plus, you can support your local business!

Here’s the checklist of things you need for shredded beef tacos.

  1. Tortillas
  2. Cilantro and onions – I bought some cilantro and onions from the farmers market and chipped them up and put it in a bowl as a side for the tacos.
  3. Limes – I cut up lime wedges for folks to squeeze on their tacos.
  4. Mexican cheese – I bought queso fresco and crumbled them up so people could top off their tacos.
  5. Hot sauce – Tapatio is my hot sauce of choice.
  6. Shredded beef (see below for recipe)

The shredded beef is a simple recipe. I didn’t really use measuring spoons – just seasoned to the eye and didn’t over do it. But hopefully you’ll be able to find the right combination for yourself and experiment.

  1. Meat – Buy a large chuck roast and trim the fat. Then cut the meet into 4 pieces and put into the slow cooker.
  2. Garlic – Add 5-6 cloves of garlic (I put in 8 because I’m a big fan of garlic).
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Beef bouillon – dissolve it in 1/2 cup of water and drizzle it over the meat.
  5. (optional) My friend Marc also recommends serrano peppers too if you like it spicy. I didn’t add the peppers for my taco.

Set the slow cooker to LOW and leave it in for about 6 -8 hours. Mine were done a little after 6 hours. You know it’s ready when the meat is tender and falls off each other. Do not set it to high or leave it in too long because the mean will get tough and rubbery.

If you want a shredded beef taco recipe with more direction and recipe I found this one, this one, and this one.

This was a simple recipe that everyone enjoyed and it was easy to prepare. Looking forward for my next taco night!

Celebrating National Pie Day – Jan 23 [recipes]

I know most folks observe March 14 as Pi/Pie Day but the official National Pie Day is January 23. Last year, I baked a baked a lemon tart – this year, I went more of a traditional route and made mini bite-sized pies and a whole pie.

I was looking for a simple crust and simple filling recipe that used fruits in season. Since winter is the time for citrus, I chose Mini Keylime Pies to make for a dinner I was going to in the evening the night before National Pie Day.

The original recipe was actually for one whole keylime pie but I decided to use a mini muffin mold and made mini pies.

The recipe called for a graham cracker crust but I decided to add 1/4 cup of toasted sliced almonds into the food processor to add a nutty and hearty flavor to the graham crackers.

Also, the recipe asks for 5 tablespoons of butter, I suggest using 5 1/2 or 6 so the crust will really stick together and not crumble.

By the way, keylimes are really small – smaller than limes. And when you juice it and even after you bake it – it’s not green. The keylime pies you see at the bakery that are green usually have a couple drops of food coloring. I stood and juiced about a dozen keylimes to get enough juice for the pies.

For the second pie, I decided to use the same exact recipe but substituted the fresh keylime juice with fresh lemons. Here’s the lemon layer filling on the graham cracker and almond crust…

Because I like my pies a little tart, I added an extra tablespoon or so on top of what the recipe asked for and added a little lemon pulp. Be sure to refrigerate your pie to let the filling set.

For the cream part, I just added my own cream. I pixed a cup of white cream, teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a 1 1/2 tablespoon of powdered sugar and whipped it up with a hand mixer. One day I hope I can afford a Kitchenaid mixer. For now, I’ll have to deal with my hand mixer that says it has 5 speeds but really seems to have 1 speed that goes too fast – more food ends up on the counter and on my apron than I anticipate. To spread the cream on the pie, I get a big spoon and put a dollop on the pie and spread it around event.

If you’re thinking about making a citrus pie, better get started because the guy at the farmer’s market fruit stand told me meyer lemons have a couple more good weeks to go. Of course, you’re welcome to use regular lemons too that are off season but there’s something really flavorful and fresh when you use items in season.

RECIPE: Mini Keylime Pies **
** For lemon cream pie recipe, just substitute lemon for keylime. And just whip up some heavy whipping cream (see recipe above). Also, don’t forget to add a little zest from your citrus for some color!

Holidays cookies: Milk Bar, Magnolia Bakery, and a classic snickerdoodle [RECIPES]

This year, I opted out of sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies. I wanted to try something different and ended up recreating cookies from popular bakery recipes… but I did sneak in one traditional cookie: the snickerdoodle. Here are the three cookie recipes and photos of how they turned out. What kind of cookies are you baking this year?

Enjoy… and Happy Holidays to you!

1. Momofuku’s Milk Bar: Cornflake-Chocolate-Chip-Marshmallow Cookie

This popular New York bakery released a cookbook at the end of the year. Flipping through the pages, I noticed the ingredients were simple, however, I did get a bit intimidated because most (if not all) recipes want you to use a stand-up mixer with various paddles – which I don’t own. But I didn’t let that discourage me. And by looking at the photo above, I think I did a pretty good job. These cookies are sweet and salty – my favorite combination for a dessert.

The marshmallows add a great gooey comfort food familiarity to the cookie, the prepared cornflakes ad a great crunch and a gritty textures, and the mini chocolate chips add a hint of sweetness. Definitely use the mini chocolate ships – not your regular sized chocolate chips.

This is a two-part recipe so it does take more time than your average chocolate chip cookie. Why? You have to prepare the cornflakes first and let it cool, then you start the dough for the cookie — then you let the dough chill. This is key because if you don’t want the cookie to fall apart. These are not puffy soft cookies – the cookies will spread and have a nice crunch.

TIPS: I noticed when I was baking these cookies, the ones I cooked on a air cookie sheet turned out better and the ones I cooked on the regular cookie sheet burned some of the cookies. Also, don’t skimp on the parchment paper – this makes it easy to get the cookies off the cookie sheet – don’t forget you’re working with marshmallow and marshmallow can get messy and sticky.

RECIPE: Milk Bar’s Cornflake-Chocoloate-Chip-Marshmallow Cookies

2. Magnolia Bakery: Chocolate Crinkle Cookie

For those Magnolia Bakery fans, this is the recipe for their popular chocolate cookie. If you are a chocolate and brownie lover – you will love this cookie. It’s the best part of the brownie – soft center and toasted edges – mixed with the best things about a cookie – easy to transport and no mess! I regret not making more of these.

TIPS: Don’t make the cookies too big because it’s harder to tell when they are ready in the oven. Don’t over-bake these cookies – you don’t want them to be hard and crunchy – the key is to get the center soft and the round edges lightly toasted. And don’t be afraid to be generous when rolling the cookies in powdered suger!

RECIPE: Magnolia Bakery’s Chocolate Crinkle Cookie

3. The classic: Snickerdoodle

I love this cookie because it’s simple and when I smell it baking – it reminds me of winters. You can’t go wrong with cinnamon and sugar… and everything nice. Some recipes ask for shortening and I try to stay away from that because I’m already adding butter – I don’t need all that extra fat.

TIP: A friend told me several years ago the key ingredient is cream of tartar and he was right. What’s cream of tartar? It’s basically potassium hydrogen bitartrate – a byproduct of winemaking and a very fine powder you can find in the baking section with the rest of the spices. It is an acid that helps stabilize the sugar from caramelizing and actually makes the cookie taste creamier.

Try to bake this on the air cookie sheet too because these cookies spread and tend not to burn on the air cookie sheet.

RECIPE: Epicurious’ Snickerdoodle Cookie

Thanksgiving treat: bite-sized pecan pies (recipe)

I was searching for an easy dessert to bring to a Thanksgiving potluck at work. I wanted to bring something bite-sized so it would be easy to eat and serve. Luckily, my search didn’t last long because The Kitchn posted an entry titled: Bite-Sized: 10 Mini Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes.

I wanted to make every single item on the list – I mean, who doesn’t love bite-sized food!? But the one that won me over was the Joy of Baking recipe for Pecan Tassies that The Kitchn linked to. Pecan Tassies are basically bite-sized pecan pies.

The key to this recipe is getting one of those mini-muffin trays that are non-stick and good unsalted butter at room temperature. If you know you’re going to bake these, leave the butter out in the morning before you head out to work so it will be soft enough for you to cook with in the evening.

Also, for the crust, you need to cut out a circle that is slightly bigger than the individual muffin in the tray – I suggest looking at your cups as a cookie cutter and testing out different cups to find the right size – I ended up using a mug and it was the perfect size! I then used a fork to put ridges on them before I poured the sweet sugary pecan pie goodness in.

Note: Every mini-pecan pie was eaten at the potluck. I think this was a successful dessert…. down to each bite!

More bite-sized recipes for Thanksgiving (and the holidays): The Kitchn

Perfect parfait recipe by Angela

I’ve been trying to get in the habit of making breakfast (either to eat at home or take to work when I’m running late). One easy and quick dish is a fruit parfait. Here’s a photo of one of my creations. All you need is yogurt, fruit and granola. Yes, it’s that easy.

In a bowl, I put in :

A dollop of Greek yogurt (I prefer Fage plain yogurt)
A sprinkle of granola (I like Trader Joe’s Just The Cluster Vanilla Almond Granola)
Cut up fresh fruit that is in-season (here I have white peaches, pineapple, blueberries, and strawberries)
Another dollop of Greek yogurt
Top it off with a sprinkle of granola
* For a healthy option, you can add flax seed with your granola

The picture is pretty and the colors are great but it’s even better when you eat it. The greek yogurt has a think consistency that reminds me of mouse which works well with the juicy fruits. I like using plain yogurt because the fruit and granola already have a sweet taste – you don’t want to over do it with the sugar in your yogurt too.

Bon appetit!