Eat your vegetables….for dessert

Eat your vegetables…for dessert

My family loves baked goods. Seeing how appreciative they are whenever I make desserts, I’m tempted to make them all the time. If it weren’t for my pesky nutrition based conscience, I’m certain that I would! Fortunately, I’ve started to collect some healthier dessert recipes that I can feel good about making (and EATing!) regularly. The most adventurous of these healthy desserts? Chocolate….wait for it….zucchini muffins!
I can’t take all of the credit for this recipe. I was inspired by, and modified, a recipe I discovered on the Spark People forums here:

Zucchini Chocolate Muffins

  • 2 c shredded zucchini
  • 1.5 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c cocoa
  • 3/4 c Splenda baking sugar substitute
  • 1.25 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/2 c fat free vanilla yogurt
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 tsp vanilla + a splash more (I love vanilla so I always add a tad more than called for)
  • 2/3 c mini chocolate chips

Step 1

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While it’s warming up, you can grate your Zucchini. Two medium sized squash will yield the 2 cups that you need for this recipe.

grate zucchini using a cheese grater

Step 2

Combine all of your dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, Splenda baking, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg (if you like it, like I do. You could also try a pinch of allspice if you prefer).

Step 3 

If a little vanilla is good, a little more must be better, right?

Combine your wet ingredients: yogurt, egg whites, vanilla 

Step 4

Add your grated zucchini to your wet ingredients. This is where you’ll really start to wonder if any of this will amount to anything. Hang in there! 

Step 5

Add the zucchini mix into your dry ingredients. Stir until the all the dry ingredients have incorporated into a moist, but stiff, batter.

Yup, that’s really zucchini and cocoa powder. You can do this. It’s gonna work!

Step 6

Add 1/3 cup of chocolate chips to your batter. You’ll start to feel hopeful again, because anything with chocolate chips is good. Even zucchini! 

Chocolate chips = magic

Step 7

Spoon your batter into your lined muffin tin. Sprinkle the rest of your chocolate chips on top of each little muffin in the making. 

Ready to bake

Step 8

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick placed into the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

See? It all worked 🙂

Step 9

This is the most important step of all. Do NOT eat them right away. Seriously! Why? When these muffins first come out of the oven, they taste a little, well, green. Like zucchini. But if you have patience, as the dough cools, something really unexplainable happens. Every bit of zucchini essence disappears and you’re left with a delightfully chocolatey, spicy, sweet muffin. Serve with a little cool whip and you’ll be quite pleased with yourself. I know I was 🙂
I think this recipe allows itself a lot of variations. I’m sure with a little effort, I can figure out a way to make it vegan (banana as an egg substitute, perhaps?) and possibly gluten free (oat flour should work just fine). If you happen to try a variation on the theme before I do, I’d love to hear about it. 

Roasting – Fast & Slow

Roasting – Fast & Slow

Roasted vegetables are delicious. The inherent sweetness brought out by the high temperature of the oven combined with that smokey blackened char on the vegetables’ edges makes for an irresistible combination. 

Roasting in the summer can be a little too hot, at least in California, so I tend to roast the most in the winter like I am now. Still, I wondered if I might be able to find a way to roast more quickly and efficiently to avoid keeping my oven on high for so long. With this goal in mind, I set out to do a head to head roasting trial using my traditional slower method and a sped up stovetop assisted version.

First, I set out to roast Brussels sprouts, the fast way. To make this dish you’ll need:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil (the regular kind, not extra virgin)
  • 1-2 tsp kosher salt 
  • 1-2 tsp ground black pepper 
First you’ll want to preheat your oven to 450 degrees. This can take a while and once you see how good these vegetables look, you won’t want to wait any longer than absolutely necessary, I’m sure of it.

Slicing Sprouts – halves & quarters

Start out by running your sprouts under cold water and peeling away any damaged leaves. This shouldn’t be too many, maybe 1-2 leaves per sprout.
I slice off a bit of the browned bottoms of the sprouts, too.
Next step is to slice them into bite sized pieces – halves for small sprouts and quarters for the larger ones.


Salt & pepper your sprouts


When you’re all done chopping your sprouts, toss them into your skillet. I prefer to use a cast iron skillet.

They generate high heat in an even distribution and can be placed directly into the oven. Just make sure your skillet is pre-seasoned otherwise they take a while to properly cure. 

Next you’re ready to season your sprouts directly on the stovetop. Drizzle your olive oil over them and toss. Next add your salt and ground black pepper to taste (1-2 tsp of each). 


See how nicely they’ve browned in the skillet?

Next you’ll cook your sprouts in the skillet on the stovetop until the pale green surfaces start to brown. 

This happens pretty quickly, so keep an eye on them and toss with a metal spatula every few minutes to make sure they’re not burning. 

You should be done in about 5 minutes.

This step is your shortcut. You’ve developed that tasty crisped edge that takes so much longer in the oven in just 5 minutes!

Now you can place them in the oven and roast them the rest of the way in just 10 minutes.


All done and ready to eat!

After about 10 minutes, your sprouts will be perfectly browned and ready to serve.


Next up, roasted cauliflower!


 Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon and Jalapeño  

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil 
  • 1 tsp kosher salt 
  • 1 lemon (half sliced, the other half for juicing)
  • 1-2 Tbsp minced pickled jalapeño 

Fortunately, the sprouts and the cauliflower both roast at 450 degrees F so your oven should already be set and ready to go if you started with the sprouts.

Now, this may be too elementary for you, but just to make sure we cover our bases, I thought I’d share how I approach a head of cauliflower. It’s a somewhat unwieldy vegetable, after all.

First, I remove the large stem with a sturdy and sharp knife. The stem is tough and you don’t want to slip. I happen to use a J.A. Henckels 8 inch knife.

Removing the cauliflower stem

 Next, you’ll flip the cauliflower over and start paring the florets from the stalk. 

Separating the florets

Once your florets are all separated, you can chop them into smaller bite sized pieces. 

Cauliflower pieces

 Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’re ready to season and roast them.

Drizzle the cauliflower with your olive oil in a large bowl. Toss and then add in your minced jalapeño and sprinkle with salt. 

Add olive oil, jalapeño and salt

After tossing to combine, spread your seasoned florets onto a parchment lined baking sheet. I sliced half a lemon and added the sliced to the pan to infuse some lemon oil during the roasting process.

Ready for the oven


Roast for 20 minutes, toss with a spatula and then continue to roast for 15 minutes more. Squeeze your remaining half of your lemon over the cauliflower just before serving.

Ready to eat!


So which roasting method won? For me, it’s a draw. The quick method with the stovetop head start steamed the sprouts so they were a little softer than with the longer oven only method. That said, they had a delightful sweetness that I think was brought out by that stovetop heat. The time savings were great, too! The oven only method yielded a nice firmness to the cauliflower but took a good bit more time. All in all, you can’t go wrong. Any roasted vegetable, fast or slow, is a winner in my book. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way after trying these recipes out. 







Chicago is for Foodies

Chicago is for Foodies 

Spending last week in Chicago for a conference meant: frigid cold weather (as an Angeleno, anything sub freezing counts as frigid, even if the low 30’s “aren’t that bad” in Chicago), navigating the behemoth building that is McCormick Place and FOOD.

Having struggled to get into the restaurants on my “to do” list last year, I came prepared this time around. My OpenTable reservations were set months in advance. I was taking no chances. In hindsight, as excited as I was to eat my way through the city, I really should’ve taken more photographs of all the Chicagoan eats, but I suppose I was just too busy eating them! Fortunately I was able to snap a few dishes before scarfing them down.

Monday night, just after flying in, we headed to RPM Italian, aka Bill and Giuliana Rancic (of the Apprentice and E! Entertainment fame)’s restaurant. Our group of six started with the truffled garlic bread, zucchini fritti and big eye tuna bruschetta. Never before had I considered truffles on garlic bread. What a delicious discovery! So delicious, that our table had devoured them before I thought to snap a pic! The fried zucchini, sliced thin like potato chips was light and paired well with the aioli dipping sauce. As a vegetarian, I didn’t try the big eyed tuna, but my companions seemed much more interested in the veggie friendly appetizers anyhow. Splitting dishes with a fellow vegetarian allowed me to try both Mama dePandi’s Bucatini with pomodoro and the eggplant parmesan. Both were delicious, the Bucatini rich with garlic and the eggplant smothered in perfectly bubbly melted mozzarella. Only the Bucatini survived long enough for a picture, though.

Mama DePandi’s Bucatini


Our waitress at RPM surprised us after dinner with a complementary assortment of mini gelato scoops in equally mini sized cones. From coffee, to pistachio, lemon, strawberry and coconut, we had something for everyone. Too busy taking a pic, I ended up with strawberry being chosen for me and was relieved to not have to choose and that it was just the right amount of sweet after a filling meal. 


Mini Gelato Cones

The next morning was an early start with a 6:30 AM 5K to kick off the day. At 23 degrees, this was definitely the coldest weather I’ve ever run in. An international race, there were runners from all over the globe, with those from colder climates better prepared in thermal tights and headgear. I bundled up the best I could in my Nike Thermafit hoodie and hoped for the best. Running in Grant Park along Lake Michigan was beautiful, the sunrise reflecting off the icy cold water. It was also freezing cold. All I could think was that the faster I ran, the sooner I could get back inside and have a hot breakfast (my reservations, of course, made far in advance as my reward). As I finally crossed the finish line 3.1mi later I sped towards my roommate, ready to head for a taxi ASAP. Before I could reach her, though, I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard “Miss! Miss! Your medal!” Frozen beyond my ability to reason it all felt like a hallucination from the cold (does that even happen? Or am I just being LA dramatic in not so dramatic weather?) but sure enough, a race organizer was handing me a bronze medal.


 Somehow, despite feeling like a Popsicle the whole way, I’d managed to run fast enough to place third in the women’s division! Before I knew it, I was standing next to the Gold Medalist from Finland and the Silver Medalist from Colorado, doing my best to smile with my frozen face (ok, this I’m not even exaggerating in the least about as the pictured confirm the left side of my face couldn’t meet the right to form a proper smile. I looked like I had a palsy!)

5K in Grant Park on my trusty Nike+


After taking photos and hailing a taxi, we were finally on our way to my breakfast reward at Little Goat. The Spanish Omelet with cheddar, pickled peppers, masa chips and sour cream with some of their homemade habanero sauce warmed me right back up!

Little Goat’s Spanish Omelet

Rounding out the trip was our much awaited return to Eataly, Mario Batali’s “food amusement park” we’d wanted to revisit since first discovering it last year. This place is really a wonder. From fresh produce to baked goods, pizza and pasta restaurants and a section devoted strictly to FRIED FOOD, you can find everything you want here. We ended up starting with the fried mushrooms – perfectly salty, spicy and fried to a crisp! 

This picture doesn’t do these mushrooms justice!

Next was the Quadrati con Ricotta e Spinaci, a delicious fresh made spinach ravioli with lemon butter sauce and crushed pistachios. This was pretty much all of my favorite things wrapped into freshly made pillows of al dente pasta. I’m surprised I was able to pause long enough to photograph them!

Eataly’s Quadrati con Ricotta e Spinaci

 We could’ve probably stopped there, but with a gelato shop and Nutella bar, that would’ve just been crazy. So we got Nutella crepes like sensible people would do. 

Nutella Banana Crepe at Eataly

I wish I’d taken more photos. Chicago was such a delicious city to visit. Here’s hoping the rumors of an Eataly coming to LA really are true! 

Pressed Juicery

Giving (just a little bit) into the Juicing Craze at Pressed Juicery’s Grand Opening

“greens 3” and “coconut cinnamon”


Pressed Juicery opened a new location in the Americana at Brand in Glendale today. Not yet caught up in the juicing craze that seems to have taken over Los Angeles, I have had limited juicing experiences but figured this grand opening was a good time to check it all out. To celebrate the Americana storefront’s debut, Pressed Juicery gave away free full sized bottles of pressed juice and even more exciting, free juice freezes.

I tried the “greens” freeze while my Mom chose the “roots” freeze. Both were refreshing and surprisingly smooth despite their dairy free ingredients. The “greens” freeze had just the right amount of citrus (it’s not entirely clear to me which of the 5 green juices were frozen to make this treat but several versions contain lemon so that’s probably it) to kick up the flavor from being too, well, green. As a kid I really liked green juices that contained pineapple (how my parents got me to try green juice and actually like it, as a toddler, I’m not sure I understand, but it’s a flavor profile that’s stuck with me). The “roots” freeze was slightly sweeter and had a kick of ginger to liven things up. Alone, I’d probably stick with the “greens” but if I had my druthers I’d pair the two side by side as they played off of each other nicely.

For our juices, we chose the “greens 3” with: kale, spinach, romaine, parsley, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon & ginger, or what I suspect I had in frozen form and the “coconut cinnamon” with: coconut meat, coconut water and cinnamon which tasted like a healthy horchata (another childhood favorite, come to think of it).

Making just about anything FREE makes it at least 100% more exciting but I can honestly say I plan to go back and try Pressed Juicery again for a standard purchase. Will I be handing over $199 for a 3 day juice cleanse? Probably not. I fear I’d be too cranky without solid food (as it is I’m eating popcorn while writing this post, less than an hour after my freeze)! As an admitted frozen yogurt addict, though, I can definitely see substituting the freezes for froyo and feeling great about having a more natural dessert. Looking at the menu, there are a bunch more flavors like vanilla and chocolate that I’d love to try. Pressed Juicery is certainly worth a try. I’ll be curious to know what you think.

Pressed Juicery at the Americana at Brand


“greens” freeze