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December 25, 2013

Peanut Butter-Chickpea Blondies with Dark Chocolate Chips

The cookie exchanges held by Food Bloggers Los Angeles and by my craft group have become a big part of my holiday tradition here in Los Angeles.  I missed both of them this year, as they were held on the same day as a final for my psychology class.  Hoping beyond hope that my schedule would change, I prepared in advance anyway.  I was even able to find a friend in one of the groups to take my cookies for me and bring back a plate, so I was able to participate de facto with the craft group.  But what I've most enjoyed was the fellowship and festive spirit of the parties themselves, so my friends were dearly missed.

Each year I like to try one new recipe, though it wouldn't be Christmas without a few family traditional cookies.  In keeping with my new health studies at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I searched far and wide for healthy cookie recipes this year.  Still working with limited space (especially counter space) in my kitchen, I was particularly looking for a bar cookie that I could make with ease in a single pan.  I was also gifted with a small used food processor recently so that opened up a lot of new possibilities for me.  I came across a post by Ambitious Kitchen that fit the bill.  Their Chickpea blondies are packed with protein but taste like the best peanut butter cookie I've ever had.  The ingredients just fit into my three-cup food processor, and the 8x8 baking pan size allows me to have a treat without being overwhelmed with the yield.

I was proud to take this to several different groups this year, including the seniors at the rehab facility where my good friend is an activity director.   It felt good to know I was providing a small seasonal treat that was good for the body as well as the soul.

Peanut Butter-Chickpea Blondies w/Chocolate Chips
Recipe by Ambitious Kitchen

Cooking Spray
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup all natural almond butter or peanut butter
1/3 cup pure maple syrup or agave nectar (I used honey, making this recipe non-vegan)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup vegan (or regular) chocolate chips plus 2 tablespoons sea salt, for sprinkling

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray 8x8 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  1. In a food processor, add all ingredients except chocolate chips and process until batter is smooth. Fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips, I like to use dark chocolate because it has less sugar but it's up to you. Note:
    Batter will be thick and super delicious, so you could actually just eat it on it's own!
  1. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. (The batter
    may stick to your spatula, so I like to spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray first.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and edges are a tiny bit brown. The batter may look underdone, but you don't want them to dry out!
  1. Cool pan for 20 minutes on wire rack. Sprinkle with sea salt then cut into squares. Makes 16 blondies.
I also added an egg to the batter, making it more cake-like, but not vegan.
You can use your favorite nut butter, just make sure it’s all natural.
Feel free to add in other things according to your dietary needs like nuts, dried fruit, or other types of chocolate.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 bar (1/16th of recipe) Calories: 120 Fat: 6g Carbohydrates: 13.5g Sugar: 6.9g Fiber: 1.8g Protein: 3.5g

October 13, 2013

Lentil-Pumpkin Vegan Loaf with Tomato-Balsamic Glaze

The part of transitioning to a healthier diet that is most difficult for me is celebrating my holiday traditions.  Well, that and having to eat vegetables.  I became vegetarian as a child in the early eighties, long before "fake meats" and meat substitutes.  I taught myself to detest the odor of meat, let alone flavor.  So when told something has "real meat flavor" I am automatically put off.  Therefore, my holiday entrees generally center around pasta, such as a lasagne.  

In my quest to learn how to cook and to eat more vegetables, I have been experimenting with a few veggie loaf recipes.  But I don't generally like the texture of beans either.  This recipe for a lentil-pumpkin loaf satisfies all my concerns:  the pumpkin masks the taste of the beans, and the mushrooms add an extra meaty texture.  The walnuts add a "holiday" flavor and crunch.  The sweetness of the tomato-based glaze makes it palatable to even my sweet tooth. 

This is actually the first time I've ever cooked beans myself (though of course I ate them as a kid).  It helped to do most of the prep the night before I wanted to make this dish.  I also added a few new-to-me ingredients to my pantry:  nutritional yeast and liquid smoke.  The nutritional yeast adds a nutty, cheesy taste to a vegan dish, while the liquid smoke, though used in small amounts, adds that meaty Umami flavor.   

The Food Bloggers' Los Angeles monthly meeting gave me the excuse to try this recipe before the holiday season.  We've had a pumpkin-themed potluck before, so it was fun to do something innovative and new for this meeting.  It was also fun to do a savory main dish rather than a sweet dessert.   The meals at our FBLA meetings are often my only home-cooked meals prepared by another now that my family lives states away, so I really look forward to our group both for the company and the food.  We had about ten members show up at this meeting, actually a small group for most of our get-togethers.  The synchronicity that comes into play with no planning involved is astounding:  though our group may be as large as thirty people, there is never any duplication of dishes. 


Lentil-Pumpkin Vegan Loaf

1 cup uncooked Lentils
1-15 oz. can plain Pumpkin
2 1/2 cup Vegetable Stock, divided
1 cup chopped Walnuts
1-4 oz. can Mushroom Pieces, diced
1 medium Onion, diced
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. Nutritional Yeast
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
2 tsp. Liquid Smoke
2 tsp. fresh Thyme
2 tsp. fresh Rosemary
1 Tbsp. Salt
1 cup Oats
1/2 cup Whole Wheat or GF Flour

2 Tbsp. Balsamic
2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
1 Tbsp. Mustard
1/2 tsp. Salt

Sort and rinse lentils.  Bring 2 cups low-sodium veggie stock to a boil, then add the lentils and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Keep partially covered and cook until very soft, about 20-45 minutes.  Add a little more liquid if needed.  Allow to cool completely.  [This step can be done in advance.  I like to do it the night before.  Also, I crush the walnuts by putting them into a ziplock bag and using a rolling pin to break them up.]

In a large bowl, mash the cooked lentils and pumpkin together.  Add walnuts, mushrooms, onion, garlic, and all other ingredients except oats and flour, mixing thoroughly.  Add the oats, then the flour, until you have a consistency close to cookie dough.

Press into a greased 8x8 dish.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk together glaze and spread evenly on top of the loaf.  Bake about 45 minutes or until the loaf is cracked and glaze is dark.  If cooking in a small oven, cover with foil for the first half of the baking time.  Allow to set for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

October 12, 2013

Chocovivo Chocolate Tasting

ChocoVivo's process explained.

Another really cool activity in Los Angeles sure to please any foodie is an artisanal chocolate tasting  in a boutique chocolate factory at ChocoVivo in Culver City.  You can sample ChocoVivo's taste test menu on a walk in basis during normal open hours for just $5.   I was lucky enough to join in on a private lecture and tasting after-hours with an extensive talk from the owner and chef Patricia Tsai. 

Dark chocolate is a heart-healthy "Superfood."  Ms. Tsai uses it in its pure, unrefined form along with whole herbs and spices to make exquisite drinks and bars.  I was in heaven at her boutique, billed as the first Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Factory in Los Angeles. 

A demo grinder in the restaurant for up-close viewing.

Our luscious tasting board.

from the top down, 75% Cacao, Almonds & Sea Salt, Hazelnuts & Sea Salt, Macadamia & Coconut, Shangri-La (Black Sesame & Gogi Berries), and Mayan Tradition (Cinnamon & Hot Spices)

Proprietess Patricia Tsai spoke on chocolate sourcing and production.

A raw cacao bean.

The kitchen at ChocoVivo where the magic actually happens.

Meetup participants enjoying the event.

Cacao nibs

A dried cacao pod; the beans must be broken out from within a pod like this.

The actual grinder used at ChocoVivo.  The ingredients are pushed through up to five times to make a bar.

Rustic necklaces of cacao beans are also available for purchase.

October 7, 2013

Fun Fall Foods with Miss Kitchen Witch

Mulled Spiced Cider
While I've long been a home chef, I tend to have a narrow repertoire.  One of my personal goals since beginning Institute for Integrative Nutrition has been to experiment with new ingredients and learn to cook better for myself from scratch, so that I can model for my clients the benefits and ease of home cooking.
I've discovered a great source of cooking classes in Miss Kitchen Witch!  She's teaching three-hour vegan demo classes for only ten dollars each Sunday at the Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena.  The discounted rate is for paying in advance via paypal.  Her calendar can be found on her facebook page.  Our class this weekend was "Fun Fall Foods" and included a full meal's recipes.  On the menu was a mulled apple cider, brussels sprouts in a pistachio-cranberry pesto, a lentil-squash loaf entree, and baked apples for dessert.  I posted her event on an IIN forum and was excited to have a classmate join me.  It's fun to feel that I'm making friends through my studies, even though the course is an online study.

Miss Kitchen Witch is entertaining and approachable.  She encourages questions, and fills time with conversation as she cooks.  She gives background and sources on ingredients I don't yet have in my pantry, explaining the uses and why you should stock a particular item as a regular pantry staple.  I have added to my shopping list: liquid smoke (recommended from at Smart and Final), nutritional yeast, Better Than Smoke in the vegan beef broth version, and raw turbinado sugar.  Miss Kitchen Witch is also very knowledgable about food issues, and willing to discuss, but not dogmatic in pushing her views or positions.  One thing I learned this weekend is that most sugar is processed with bone char.  I'm better educated on the brands available that are vegan and not processed in that way.  She also recommended an ethnic market in Thai Town, Bang Luc market at 5170 Highland Blvd, so I'll have to have a field trip in the near future.  My favorite from the class was the baked apples for the sweetness, but the brussels sprouts were also excellent--and this compliment comes from someone who doesn't typically enjoy savory veggies, so it's a high mark!

Rosemary Pesto Brussels Sprouts
Vegan Glazed Roast with Gluten Free Gravy
Baked Apples with Caramel

October 4, 2013

Photo Essay: the Getty Villa

A friend's visit to Los Angeles recently gave me the excuse to visit a local treasure I'd never explored:  the Getty Villa.  While I've been to the regular Getty, this off-site location houses the Getty's Roman, Greek, and Etruscan treasures.  

The Villa went through a major renovation just a few years ago and was the talk of the town, but because I didn't know exactly where it was, and timed tickets are required, I haven't made it out there until now.  Tickets are requested online free of charge, and the only payment required is a per-vehicle parking fee.   Having seen it in person, the Villa is absolutely worth the investment in planning and time.  In fact, it's difficult to take it all in in a single visit.  I'll be sure to go again the next time I entertain guests.

There are docent-led garden tours and architectural tours hourly.  Inside, one can check out an iPod with an ID as deposit, and listen to self-guided art tours.  While most of the art is pulled from the permanent collection, there are traveling exhibits as well.  My friend and I unknowingly timed our visit well:  the traveling exhibit right now centers on glass! 

The Prometheus Wheel is the focal point of an open-air ampitheater

Beautiful frescoes on the ceiling

Venus, Roman, AD 100-200

Fountain in the Inner Peristyle

Relief of an African Elephant, Roman, AD 79-96

Wall fountain in the East Garden

Center fountain in the East Garden

Bronze waterspout in the East Garden

Mosaic wall fountain in the East Garden

Strawberry bush in the East Garden

Wall frescoes in the Outer Peristyle

Grape arbors providing shade cover

Bearded Irises in the Outer Peristyle

The Outer Peristyle, looking east towards the building

Fountain in the Herb Garden.  Love the colorful leaves of the lilypad!

Looking down the length of the Herb Garden

The fountain in the center of the structure, near the ampitheater, features a wall of flowing water

The Outer Peristyle, looking west toward the Pacific ocean.

Benches and pathways in the Outer Peristyle

Architectural columns and finials in careful detail

The temporary exhibit, Ancient Glass and techniques.  Mind blowing to think how old these pieces are and all they have survived!

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