Insomnia, Brought to You (ahem, ME) by Bloom Bake Shop

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As I write this, it’s 5:33 AM and I haven’t slept yet. It’s not because I’ve returned to my college-era night-owl ways, it’s not because I was feverishly working on some craft project, and it’s certainly not because I really enjoy all-nighters and the exhaustion they bring on the following day. No, it is because of this:

Top-down view of a big mug of coffee in the left-hand side of photo. In the right background is a small white rectangular platter with two cupcakes and a blondie.

My downfall.

Oh, coffee. You taste so, so good, especially when you’re lovingly brewed in a French press. But you are so, so dangerous to a small gal like me, a little lady with no caffeine tolerance to speak of and an idiotic “It’ll be okay!” attitude when she downs a big mug of you at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Clearly, it was very much not okay. After two hours of tossing and turning in bed, I slipped out and headed to the living room. As S and Moria slumbered, I curled up on the couch and finished reading A Feast for Crows. Then I tried to sleep again, this time on the couch. When that failed, I opened up the ol’ laptop and set to work sprucing up my LinkedIn profile, overhauling my resume, and researching housing options on the east coast. (I’m not on the job hunt right now, but I want to be prepared.) I Facebooked a fellow insomniac friend and invited her to visit me in Madison. I ate an apple. I Pinterested. And then I realized that I ought to prepare my post for tomorrow, so here I am.

Coffee isn’t the sole cause of my sleepless night, though. No, this fella probably played a part:

In the foreground is a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting. In the background are a blondie and another cupcake, this one with a lighter frosting.

Sugar overload!

These beauties come from Bloom Bake Shop, a truly adorable little shop just a few minutes from our apartment in Middleton. Bloom boasts an impressive vegan selection, most of which is gluten-free. Now, let it be known that I’m not gluten-free – I quite enjoy gluten in all its forms. So when S and I first stopped at Bloom a few months ago and noticed that all their vegan options available on that day were also GF, we were disappointed. We’d been burned by GF vegan baked goods before, and we didn’t want to repeat that crumbly, grainy experience. But we gave Bloom a chance, and I am oh so glad we did. Bloom blew my expectations out of the water. You would truly never, ever guess that any of their baked goods are vegan or GF, never mind both. Everything is always moist, sweet, and perfectly spiced. I’m pretty much in love with all of their offerings.

Yesterday, we got a carrot cake cupcake with maple-spice frosting, a blondie, and a chocolate cupcake. The chocolate cupcake is called Be Decadent, but that name could really apply to any of these baked goods. They are incredible. That blondie is most definitely one of the most sublimely delicious treats I’ve ever purchased; it hits the perfect balance of seeming under-baked (i.e. chewy and delicious) without being at all heavy or gooey. I can’t rave about these desserts enough! They are most definitely “sometimes foods” – they’re insanely sugary and clearly full of oil or Earth Balance – but I think they’re worth every unhealthy bite for the joy they bring me.

Close-up of the chocolate cupcake. It has a small frosting flower on top.

Sweet.

Not only does Bloom create beautiful, delicious desserts, but it’s also one of the most delightful little shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of entering. Every bit of decor – from the distressed wood cabinets to the old-timey display case to the pastel KitchenAids that are visible from the street – fits together perfectly, creating an environment that sits firmly on the unpretentious side of shabby-chic. The space is small, with a single table and two chairs, but floor-to-ceiling windows let in lots of light and counters by the window create additional seating options. It’s exactly the sort of place you want to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon, sipping coffee and nibbling sweet treats. And the staff is singularly lovely, friendly and just as charming as you’d expect someone who works in such a blissfully sweet environment to be. Next time I’ll be sure to bring a different lens for my (fine, S’s) camera so I can capture the interior – you want to see it; I promise.

If all that weren’t enough to make you love Bloom, there’s this – they source many of their ingredients locally and use organic, fair-trade foods when possible. And they do all their vegan and GF baking first thing in the morning in a dedicated area of the kitchen. Be still, my heart!

Clearly, I’m enamored. So enamored that I can’t even stay angry with that coffee for keeping me up all night. It was worth it.

And now? Well, it’s 6:07 and I’ve been pretty productive. Let’s just say that I’ve got a household full of Sims who are calling my name. ;)

What’s your favorite indulgence? Where do you go to chill out and eat delicious treats?

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Harvest Party!

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S and I threw a party last night. Not a wild rager (as if), but a genteel affair, with a small crowd, lots of lively chatter, and a healthy amount of fawning over my pup. We called it a Harvest Party, and as such, our menu of nibbles was inspired by the season. Behold!

Small table decorated with gourds and filled with lots of food - stuffed mushrooms, various dips, mini cupcakes, candied nuts, and more.

The spread.

S and I spent a good while creating our menu and preparing the food, and we put together a respectable spread. We had:

  • Spinach-artichoke dip (from a recipe S found online) with cracker-chips and French bread
  • Stuffed mushrooms (from Urban Vegan)
  • Candied mixed nuts (from Vegan Food Gifts)
  • Pumpkin-cream cheese dip (based on this recipe, although I made a very similar one two years ago) with graham crackers and apple slices
  • Mini pumpkin-chocolate chip cupcakes (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)
  • Peanut butter-filled pretzels (…from Costco)
  • Tapenade (from a recipe S found online) with French bread

We also offered seasonal drinks (pumpkin ale! mulled cider with optional boozy add-ins!) to round out our guests’ dining experiences. Everyone raved about the food – the dips and stuffed mushrooms received the most compliments – and nobody even commented on its veganness. Delicious vegan food win! But really, how could you go wrong with hearty foods like these:

Closer view of a bowl full of spinach-artichoke dip and a platter of stuffed mushrooms.

Savories.

…and sweet delights like these?

Close-up of a plate full of mini pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins. In the background is a bowl full of a creamy pumpkin-cream cheese dip.

Sweets!

Our decor certainly helped set the scene as well. Can you see that autumnal table runner in the corner? My mama made it for me last year, and I love it! I contributed my own handiwork by setting out our glassware on some linen/cotton napkins I sewed and embroidered last year, and of course I made the little labels for the food. We completed the mise-en-scene with a playlist carefully crafted by S, my man of many musics. The party was a delightful way to spend a Friday night, even if we didn’t get to bed until – gasp – nearly 1:00 AM… hence my late-morning post. ;)

How do you feel about themed parties? Totally fun to plan, or not worth the effort?

What’s in the Box? Summer 2012 CSA Week Ten

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Well, it’s finally happened. S and I received our very last summer CSA share yesterday. Sigh. I really shouldn’t complain, though. Our “summer” share lasted halfway through October, which is nearly a month into autumn. Not too shabby. Neither were the contents of our box:

Basket filled with squash cabbage, sweet potatoes, and more. In front are two bags, one of spinach and one of carrots.

Root veggies galore!

Although the pickings aren’t exactly slim, they’re surely not as numerous as they have been in weeks past. What this box lacks in variety, however, it makes up in, um, volume. There’s some weighty produce in there! Including this little guy, who escaped my original photo:

Close-up of a round yellow squash streaked with dark green.

Squashy.

So – what’s in the box? (Other than a WHOLE LOTTA CARROTS!)

  • Bok choy
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Cippollini onion
  • Garlic
  • Red cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Sweet dumpling squash
  • Sweet potato

…yep, it’s definitely autumn. :)

As usual… what should I make with my haul? 

S and I already enjoyed a curried carrot soup, but there’re still lots more veggies to eat!

Curious about what other folks are getting in their CSA boxes this time of year? Check out the What’s in the Box? link party for this week!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pancakes

I’ve decided that mini chocolate chips are pretty much the greatest invention since, um, regular chocolate chips. First of all, they’re a tiny version of something that’s usually large(r), which automatically makes them awesome in my book. My irrational love of tiny things aside, they’re just so darn useful when you want a bit of chocolate, but regular sized chips would add be intrusive or ill-fitting. For example, if I’d put regular ol’ chocolate chips in the raspberry-banana soft serve I made the other day, they would’ve been annoying to eat – y’know how chocolate chips harden in ice cream? Yeah, I hate that; I don’t like crunching while eating ice cream. The mini chips, however, aren’t big enough to necessitate crunching when frozen; you just bite into them, release their chocolaty goodness, and that’s it! Perfect.

Enough about ice cream, though. Mini chocolate chips have another place where they shine – pancakes. Pumpkin pancakes.

Bright blue cloth with a white plate and a stack of seven thin, orange pumpkin pancakes. Scattered around them are a few mini chocolate chips.

Like 99% of the food blogosphere, I’ve been putting pumpkin into everything lately. Cookies, coffeecinnamon rolls, other things that begin with C… they all get pumpkin-ified. So when I was home sick yesterday and wanted to make myself pancakes for breakfast, it was pretty much a given that they’d include pumpkin. And when I realized that I could add mini chocolate chips, well, that’s when things got really crazy. Pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes? Oh yes. They happened. And the mini chips were perfect – they added just the right amount of melty chocolate without overwhelming the pancakes or making them seem too dessert-y. Not that dessert for breakfast is a bad thing, of course. ;)

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Ingredients
(makes 10 – 15 smallish pancakes)

1/2 C whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 C non-dairy milk + 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Heaping 1/2 C pureed pumpkin
2 T vegetable oil
Scant 2 T vegan cane sugar
1/4 C mini chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, add the vinegar to the non-dairy milk and whisk until it’s frothy. In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients except the sugar and mix well. Add remaining wet ingredients and sugar to the vinegar-milk mixture and whisk until it’s well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined – do not overmix! (Keep the chocolate chips aside for now.) If you have time, put the mixture in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before cooking.

Spray a nonstick pan with a bit of oil and heat on medium. Add batter to the pan in 1/4 cup measurements, or your measurement of choice, and drop a few chocolate chips on top of each pancake. If the batter is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of water to the bowl of batter and gently mix until it’s more liquidy. Cook pancakes until they start curling around the edges or bubbling in the middle and then flip. Cook for another 2 – 3 minutes and remove from pan. Continue until you’ve used all the batter.

Note: I like my pancakes on the slightly undercooked end of the spectrum. Cook your pancakes until they’ve reached your preferred level of doneness

Similar photo to the previous one, but it's taken from a slightly lower angle.

Mini chocolate chips, y u so cute?!

These pancakes might not have cured what ailed me (I’ve still got a pesky sore throat), but they sure did brighten my day!

What’s your favorite application for mini chocolate chips?

Baby Poop on Rice

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There comes a point every MoFo where it starts getting dark too early to take natural-light photos after work, and although I want to prep during the weekend and have beautiful photos to parcel out throughout the week, suddenly it’s Monday night and I haven’t prepared anything for my Tuesday morning post and my dinner, well, my dinner is just not appetizing.

I mean. It is appetizing, in the it-tastes-good sort of way. But it’s not appetizing in the it-looks-good sort of way. In that sort of way, it majorly fails. Because what it does look like is baby poop. Goopy, spinach-y baby poop.

So it’s Monday night and I’m faced with a choice. I could forgo a photo and share a (horror of horrors!) image-less post. Or I could subject the internet at large to a picture of a dish I fondly call Diaper Contents on Rice. Because my distaste for image-less posts is marginally larger than my distaste for unappetizing photos, I’m going with the latter option. I hope I don’t regret it when I wake up tomorrow, look at my scheduled post that’s gone live, and see infant diarrhea on my beloved blog’s home page.

Bowl of white rice topped with a mushy pureed spinach mixture; it's dark greenish-red and has a few visible potato chunks.

See?

I’m so sorry.

Baby Poop on Rice is really =a modification of the Spiced Spinach with Paneer from Anupy Singla’s Vegan Indian Cooking. S did most of the cooking for this one. We left out the “paneer” (aka tofu) and added potatoes instead. We also had nowhere near the suggested amount of spinach, which might explain why our puree was more brown than vibrant green. I know it’s hideous, but trust me – it was really good. Vegan Indian Cooking is a gem – S’s mom got it for him for his birthday, and everything we’ve cooked from it has been great. Singla offers creative, accessible takes on traditional Indian food, and nearly every recipe appeals to me.

If my oddly dark photo of baby poop-esque puree doesn’t appeal to you, well, I don’t blame you. But trust me – it tastes better than it looks. I swear.

What’s your best ugly-but-delicious food?

Sunday Sundae: Banana-Raspberry Soft Serve

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Yesterday was a cold, rainy, grey day. I spent most of it curled up on the couch, either with a book or my iPad, and always with my pup. My hair was an absolute terror, I never changed out of my flannel pajama pants, and I had zero intention of leaving (except when I took Moria out to go potty). So when a big ol’ craving for fresh fruit hit, I was stymied. Should I give up my day of utter laziness and journey forth in the rain to procure fruit? Or should I ignore my craving and hope to satisfy it with the last of the Raspberry Truffle Brownies? As I unhappily contemplated my choices, another option popped into my sleepy head – banana soft serve. I might not have had any fresh fruit, but I most certainly did have a whole bunch of bananas in the freezer, just waiting to be processed into a sweet, creamy treat.

When I opened the freezer to retrieve my bananas, I spied a half-full bag of raspberries, left over from the brownies. I knew they’d make the perfect addition to my soft serve, so into the processor they went, turning my treat a gorgeous shade of fuschia-pink. I topped off my concoction with a small handful of mini chocolate chips and a few whole raspberries and called it a sundae.

Close-up of a bowl of pink soft serve with mini chocolate chips and frozen raspberries on top. The bowl is placed on a blue cloth and there's a small silver spoon to the left of the bowl.

Almost as good as plain fruit!

If you’ve never made banana soft serve, you’re really missing out. It’s incredibly simple and incredibly rewarding. All you need are frozen bananas, really, but you can add additional flavors if you’d like. For this batch, I used about two frozen bananas (which I’d broken into chunks before freezing), half a cup or so of frozen raspberries, about a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and maybe a tablespoon of maple syrup. After a couple of minutes in the food processor, the soft serve was a perfect creamy consistency.

Happily, the bright, fresh flavors totally satisfied my craving and tickled my taste buds. I never even had to take off my pajama pants. ;)

Similar photo to the previous one, but this one is taken from a bit further away.

A sundae on Sunday.

How do you feel about banana soft serve? How do you satisfy inconvenient cravings?

Potluck Photo Phail + Brownie Success!

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Well. Yesterday I said I’d have potluck pics to share today, but… well. I don’t. It was partially a failure of nerves on my part that prevented me from whipping out the camera and snapping away, but not totally. There were only eight or nine of us there, and our dishes were spread out on a counter and a side table. They just wouldn’t have made for very enticing photos. I suppose I could’ve photographed my plate, but… well. I didn’t.

I did, however, photograph my contribution before S and I left for the potluck.

Close-up of a blue plate piled high with three thick, fudgy brownies. They have noticeable bits of raspberry, and there are a few raspberries surrounding them on the plate.

Undeniably fudgy.

I made the Raspberry Truffle Brownies from the PPK. They were everything I’d hoped they would be, based on Isa’s enticing introduction and the heaps of praise in the comments. They’re incredibly thick and fudgy and oh-so-rich. And – somehow! – they’re at least somewhat healthier than your average brownie recipe. As written, the recipe contains no oil, just applesauce and raspberry fruit spread. I’ll admit that I replaced just a bit of the applesauce with vegetable oil because I often find oil-free baked goods to be a tad dry and crumbly, and I didn’t want my potluck contribution to disappoint. Next time, though, I’ll trust Isa and go oil-free.

The recipe also calls whole-wheat pastry flour. Another admission here – I replaced some of that flour with unbleached all-purpose. I know, I know. But I’m so wary of dry baked goods!

If you make these, please do take them out when they’re slightly undercooked! They’ll harden up if you don’t, and you don’t want them to be remotely dry. I took them out early, but the edges were still a bit crumbly and the slightest bit dry. No matter, because the middle pieces were perfectly moist and fudgy and soft. After cooling overnight and then spending an hour or two in the fridge, they were ready for me to slice ’em up.

So – we had brownies and S’s slaw at the potluck. Clearly that wasn’t all we ate! Other attendees brought lasagna, macaroni salad, Chickpea Cutlets (from Veganomicon), a creamy cashew-butternut squash soup, and veggies and ranch dip. For dessert, there were two cheesecakes, one plain and one with a blueberry topping. Between those cheesecakes and my brownies, we were all stuffed full of delicious food by the time we left.

Very similar picture to the first, except this one is taken from a slightly higher angle.

One more time.

These brownies are definitely going on my Impress People at Potlucks list! One attendee said that this is the kind of food that makes him want to eat until he’s sick. You and me both, pal.

What’s your go-to potluck contribution?

Sneak Peek Saturday: A Hint of Things to Come

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S and I were busy bees last night! While I whipped up a sweet treat you’ll surely see soon, S sliced and chopped his way through a couple of gorgeous cabbages.

Wide shot of a clear plastic cutting board. In the foreground is half a purple cabbage. In the background is a pink chef's knife and lots of green cabbage, some in wedges and some sliced thinly.

Cabbage massacre!

Neither my baking project nor S’s mound of cabbage was consumed by us last night, though. No, we were preparing for our very first all-vegan potluck! A group of vegans (and vegetarians) from work is getting together today for a lunchtime potluck full of vegan yumminess today. I’m bringing a dessert and S is bringing a cabbage and carrot slaw with a creamy poppy seed dressing. Here’s his big bowl o’ cabbage waiting to be dressed:

Close-up of a big plastic bowl filled with thinly grated cabbage.

Cabbage of many colors.

I’ll share my dessert tomorrow or Monday, and as long as my nerves don’t fail me this afternoon, I’ll also have photos galore of our potluck eats. I’m still not totally comfortable with performing food photography in front of relative strangers, but I’m going to go for it today. Maybe. Hopefully. :)

What’re your thoughts on public food photography?

Friday Favorite: Tofu Balls!

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Not six months ago, I shared a delightful discovery: tofu balls, despite their unappealing name, are really good. Like, really, really, really good. So good that when S reminded me of them a couple days ago, I couldn’t get them out of my head and just had to make up a batch last night. As usual, they didn’t disappoint.

Small white plate with a mound of spaghetti, bright red pasta sauce, and three small "meat"balls.

Balls!

This time around, I chopped the onion finer than ever, and I definitely noticed that the balls held their form much better than in the past. I also substituted panko for about 1/4 the amount of breadcrumbs and added lots of dried basil, oregano, and garlic powder. We ate them with spaghetti, a locally produced pasta sauce, and a very simple salad. And by “very simple salad” I really mean “romaine lettuce shredded and thrown in a bowl.”  The romaine was a fast-wilting holdout from our most recent CSA share, but it perked up after an ice water bath and a vigorous turn in the salad spinner. The only thing that would’ve improved this meal was some thick, crusty bread, but alas – we had none. No matter; it was still a quick, satisfying weeknight dinner.

What’s your favorite vegan meatball recipe?

Spice Cake + Cream Cheese Icing = Perfection.

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I am a sucker for cream cheese-based frostings. I think the traditional carrot cake + cream cheese frosting pairing is a match made in foodie heaven – the slightly tangy bite of cream cheese is the perfect complement to the smooth sweetness of carrot cake. I very much appreciate opportunities to use cream cheese in a sweet capacity.

So, as I flipped through my cookbooks a few nights ago to find an easy dessert to bake while S and I watched a fascinating documentary, I was delighted when I realized that the Spice Cake in Joanna Vaught‘s sadly out of print Yellow Rose Recipes had a simple cream cheese icing. I still had half a tub of Tofutti left from my pumpkin cinnamon rolls, so I was good to go. I whipped the cake up in no time, making just a few modifications, and had the icing ready and waiting when it was cooled. The results were perfect.

Close-up shot of two rectangular slices of a thick, moist cake with gooey cream cheese icing on top.

Curse these nighttime photos and their horrible lighting!

This might be my new favorite cream cheese + cake pairing. Joanna’s spice cake is moist and light, with a perfect crumb and a judicious amount of, um, spice, and the cream cheese icing is the perfect companion. S and I couldn’t help but go back for seconds, demolishing about half the cake in a single evening. Perfection.

What’s your favorite dessert combination?