Monthly Archives: November 2013

Vegan Baking: Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

It was a rainy, chilly weekend. The kind of weather that is strange and unusual for the desert. It was the kind of weather where you just want a fluffy comforter, a warm body to snuggle, and something hot for your belly. I really do love these kinds of days and miss them dearly since moving to the desert. So I cherish every moment of rainy moodiness that I can get. Instead of hibernating and doing these things, I decided to bake since baking fills a home with warmth and cozy feelings and really there’s nothing like the smell of fresh-baked goods floating through your home. My desire for baked goods was strong and after exploring my pantry I decided on Mint Chocolate Cupcakes.

Why? Well, we are entering that festive time of year where we say goodbye to our pumpkin favorites and say hello to chocolatey goodness (at least according to Starbucks and the massive change over in seasonal beverages.) In my zone, I created these lovelies without really paying attention to the process. They are incredibly moist and so minty fresh you don’t feel like you need to brush your teeth. I tried this recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s and Terry Hope Romero’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. The best part about this is that you don’t need any specific recipe to make these. You can take any old chocolate cupcake recipe and just add about a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and call it a day. If you are adapting a chocolate cupcake recipe to make it vegan, remember to substitute the milk for an alternative like soy or almond and to find a vegan binder. The binder for this recipe happens to be canola oil, which is probably why they are so moist.

Unfortunately, my decorating skills are not up to par, it’s something I am working on. I seem to have misplaced my pastry bags so I kind of globbed this icing on with a decorating spatula. I also had some issues mixing the food coloring for the frosting. Sometimes I need to stop day dreaming about my future Vespa riding adventures in the mountain towns of Italy and pay attention to what I am doing.  Always remember, made from scratch, not out of a box, will always give you superior flavor. I will reiterate this often, Snuggle Friends, because it is a tried and true tradition for me. You are allowed a little more flexibility with ingredients when you bake from scratch. For example, feeling a little bit crazy? Try different flours and see what happens. Get your kitchen creativity going and try some experiments!

Oh yeah, crazy with some polka dots!

Oh yeah, crazy with some polka dots!

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The Ocean at The End of The Lane Review

Hello Star Shines,

Thank you for tuning in to The House of Snuggles’ very first book review! It is my hope of hopes to supply you all with a fantastic reading and resource list. For our first review, I thought I would start off with some recreational, light reading.

This week’s review is for Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is his newest work and let me say, he did not disappoint.

In a nutshell, this is a fantasy type story about a man’s memory of his youth. Set in Sussex, England, a young boy is drawn to an old farmhouse at the end of the lane and the three strange ladies that live there. In a series of dark, mystifying events we are shown that even the smallest events can have the greatest effect on our lives and how things, especially people, are not always what they seem.

In the typical Neil Gaiman fashion, this story is an easy read. It grips you from page one and is a page turner right up until the end. This is a relatively short book which I easily read in a day. Check it out and let me know what you think!

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5 Ways to Feed Your Brain

Neil Gaiman is always a good read.

Neil Gaiman is always a good read.

Here at the House of Snuggles, we not only believe in creating a healthy bod but also a healthy mind. So instead of sharing a nom nom food post with you all today, I decided to go a little abstract and talk a minute about feeding our minds. We get so tied up in the day-to-day interactions that we often neglect one of our most important aspects about being human and that’s exercising our mind. So I encourage you to put down your phone,turn off the t.v and shut down your computer (after reading my blog, of course) and take about an hour a day to unplug, recharge, and get out of that hazy, brain funk. You know what I’m talking about.

It’s easy and I’m here to help you.

1) Meditate and do yoga. Get in touch with your spiritual side. I know many of you might be skeptical but just try it. The calm and relaxation that you will feel afterwards will get addicting, I promise.

2) Let’s get physical! Go run, or walk, or jump up and down for a half hour. Your body needs exercise and so does your brain. Get the old, stagnant, yucky feelings out and get those good mood juices flowing. Don’t know where to start? It’s ok, check out Pinterest for some suggestions.

3) Play mind games. I’m not talking about manipulating your neighbor, those are the bad kind. I’m talking about crossword puzzles, math problems, or sudoku. Anything that stimulates problem solving and critical thinking. These kinds of puzzles help prevent neurodegenerative diseases.

4) Read, read, read. I mean it, pick up a good book and get involved in a great story. Don’t like to read? I don’t want to hear it. There is something for everyone out there. Here are some suggestions: read Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, both are page turners and your imagination can create a way better movie than anything Hollywood would put out. Or pick up a book and learn something, maybe a new language or skill.

5) Ok, here’s actually something you ingest. Make sure you get plenty of omega-3s. Your brain loves fatty acids,especially omega-3, in fact it needs them to support proper function. Omega-3s are mostly found in fish but try these vegan alternatives to fish: walnuts, kidney and pinto beans, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin and flax seeds.

Cuddle Snuggles with a furry friend also helps too.

Cuddle Snuggles with a furry friend also helps too.

Nothing too hard, right? Alright my little star shines, go make it happen! Along with adequate nutrition, relaxation and sleep, you should see that your alertness and brain power will improve with time.

The Super Snuggle Pantry: Vegan Pantry Staples

It occurred to me that some of you out there might need a helping hand in the kitchen. Well, I’m here to be your support, to help you learn, experiment and broaden your kitchen confidence. So first things first, lets talk about pantry staples. In order to rock a healthy, plant-based lifestyle, you need a rock star pantry. Your pantry is going to be your little personal staple army, standing by and ready to be called into action to make incredibly tasty food. Sounds exciting, right? I know I’m excited. So let’s get this magical journey started.

First, I’m going to start off with canned goods. Keep in mind fresh is best. Now chant it. Is it ingrained in your brain? Good. Canned goods are alright to use in a pinch. I try not to use these very often since some cans can leach toxins into your food and that’s not very snuggly. I try to get organic when possible but when the budget is tight and mama bear is hungry, I’ll take what I can get.

  • Beans- Be it black, kidney, pinto, or chickpeas canned beans are convenient if you want beans but don’t have time to soak
    Whole Foods Market, Vegan Pantry Staples, black beans, garbanzo beans, tomatoes

    Look at salt and pepper shroomies being all cute and happy.

    and make dried ones. Now get whatever your heart desires but the ones that I have listed are my favorites and I usually have a can or two on hand just in case I need them.

  • Tomatoes- Keep at one can of crushed, diced  and whole tomatoes, as well as, tomato sauce and tomato paste on hand. These items are handy when tomatoes are out of season and you want to whip some pasta sauce, soup, or tasty rice.

Next, is your refrigerated staples. Most of these have a long shelf life and the ones that don’t are items you will use frequently enough that you’ll probably need to replace them every time you go grocery shopping.

  • Condiments- First things first: ketchup and mustard. These are pretty self-explanatory and most kitchens have them. They also have a decently long shelf life. I know this is another personal preference but mayo is also quite handy especially if you are feeling like some faux egg salad or like to dip your fries in mayo (don’t judge, its delicious) Earth Balance has the best mayo hands down. I’ve tried everything else and their olive oil mayo is by far the best.
  • Milk Alternative- I usually use almond, I find it had the mildest flavor, the best texture, and more budget friendly than coconut milk. It goes great with cereal and works really well in any recipe calling for milk especially baking. Here’s a health statement for you: I know alternative milks are scary for some of you. Try it and see which one you like best. Coconut is awfully tasty but is not to cost effective. I personally am not a fan of soy or rice but to each his own.
  • Tofu- Tofu is bland and pliable which means  it has great potential to be anything you want it to be. You can make an awesome scramble to use up odds and ends in your fridge or mold it into some tasty meatballs. In another post I’ll cover the type of tofu and how they should be used but for now make sure to get organic, non-GMO, medium and firm tofu since you’ll probably use those the most. Soft and extra firm are good but are for more specialized dishes.

On to herbs and spices. This is where the fun is. Experimenting with seasoning is a great way to transition to a more plant-based diet. Since I have a very large spice and herb supply I am only going to cover a few here. These are the ones I use the most and are the most basic. I totally support experimenting with more exotic flavors though. If you’re short on cash, you can get some of these in bulk at an ethnic food store and only buy what you need as opposed to a whole jar.

Herbs and Spices, vegan pantry staples, cumin, red peper flakes, oregano

Fresh and dried are always friends.

  • Herbs-basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme.Try to use fresh when you can but dried is handy and keeps for longer.
  • Spices- cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, and cayenne. I honestly use cumin and cinnamon the most. Both are crazy diverse and can be used in any number of dishes.
vegan baking staples, cinnamon, spices

Sugar and spice and everything nice? Damn, straight!

Baking requires a few more staples since there are quite a few basics that go into whipping up breads, cakes, and other pastries.

  • Baking Powder is a leavening agent but more acidic than baking soda. What does that mean? When baking powder is in a baked good and then moisture and heat are added, the chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide and causing the item to rise.
  • Baking Soda is sodium bicarbonate and when added to an acidic ingredient (such as yogurt or chocolate) and moisture it will release bubbles of carbon dioxide and cause the baked good to rise under higher temperatures.
  • Extracts- Vanilla, almond, lemon. Add amazing flavor to anything they are added to. It is important to get extracts not flavoring. They are two completely different things and in my experience, the extract has better flavor. Good quality extracts are expensive but it’s super easy to make your own. Try this one, it only requires vodka, a vanilla bean, a jar and some patience.
  • Shortening- This is technically a fridge staple, especially if you get something organic. I use Earth Balance since it’s vegan.
  • Sugar- Vegan white, brown, powdered. All are important for a sweet concoction. Trying to cut out sugar? Great! you can also use agave nectar and stevia in baking.
  • Flour- All-purpose white flour works for pretty much everything but if you are trying to fine tune your skills like moi, then have whole wheat and pastry are also good ideas.
  • Cornstarch-A very diverse ingredient. Is used as a thickening agent in liquid dishes but is also handy for some baked goods as well.
vegan pantry staples, baking staples

This is a power team to make all sorts of delicious treats.

Oils. Oils add fats and flavor to your cooking. Don’t be too afraid of these fats, these are mostly the good ones.

  • Olive- Food of the Gods. At least in my humble opinion. Make sure to get a high quality olive oil. You can use this to saute or just as a dip for crusty Italian bread. Just don’t over heat it, olive oil doesn’t handle high heat well.
  • Vegetable- This oil is very versatile and can be used in cooking as well as baking and it’s cheaper than olive oil.
  • Coconut- Coconut oil is all the craze these days touting a million health benefits. It adds tropical flavor to anything you cook but is also pretty hand in a baked good as well. It can stand fairly high temperature so experiment and see what you can do.
  • Grapeseed- Grapeseed oil is great for salad dressings. Light and airy, makes leafy greens all the more yummy.
  • Peanut- Great for frying and in Asian dishes. It adds peanutty flare to anything your heart desires.
  • Flax- DO NOT COOK WITH THIS SUCKER. This oil is incredibly healthy but does not play well with heat and should be purely used for salad dressings.

Sundries. You know the grains, pasta and dried stuff.

  • Rice- jasmine white rice, brown, wild. Brown is the healthiest but it takes a long time to cook and if you don’t cook it right can be kind of gross. I usually reach for jasmine rice when I’m feeling lazy since it cooks quickly and goes with pretty much anything.
  • BeansBlack, kidney, pinto, chickpea- again solely based on preference but get whatever you like.

    Who spilled the beans

    Who spilled the beans?

  • Pasta- Fusilli, spaghetti, linguine, shells. Having a variety of pasta on hand can help with whipping up any type of quick dinner.
  • Seeds- Pumpkin, sunflower, flax, chia. Seeds are incredibly healthy for us and should be added to leafy greens to aid in digestion and absorption of vital nutrients.

Finally, some vinegars.

  • Balsamic- My favorite. I use it as a marinade and salad topping.
  • Apple Cider- Apple cider vinegar is featured in many home remedies and touts amazing health benefits. You can use it in your beauty routine, in a daily health concoction or add it to any salad dressing or marinade.
  • Red Wine- Also wonderful for salad dressing.
  • White- Probably the most diverse staple you can have. Buy a big ass jug of it. You can use it to clean and to cook with. It’s amazing. To go over the many uses, I’ll have to write another post devoted solely to white vinegar.

Again a lot of these are personal preferences that I shared with you to give you an idea on how you should stock your rock star pantry. So adapt this list to your life and what you will use. Even if you aren’t plant-based, this is a good starting list to stock up your kitchen and take control of diet and healthy eating habits.

Vegan Cooking: Pumpkin Soup

It's important to wear protective gear when chopping pumpkins.

It’s important to wear protective gear when chopping pumpkins.

I had received a beautiful little pumpkin in my Chow Box. Perfectly symmetrical with an intense orange hue and barely any blemishes on its skin. I let it sit on my counter so I could admire its beauty. Then finally came the day that I had to do it. I had to cook my prize. Devastating, for someone who appreciates the beauty in plants, but that sucker needed to get into my belly.

I started by preheating my oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cutting my orange orb in half. I scooped out the seeds and saved them because I’ll roast those later. Then I drizzled a light amount of olive oil on each half. Placing them face down on a baking sheet,  I placed my beloved pumpkin into the oven. After about an hour, the flesh was soft enough to be pierced by a fork. I let it cool and then proceeded to scoop the flesh into my food processor to blend into an awesome purée.  This pumpkin produced 4 cups of purée which might be an overwhelming amount for some but it was a challenge for me. You see, there are a bunch of ways you can sneak a little pumpkin puree into your everyday life. Try adding it to oatmeal, soup, stew or chili. Use it as a substitute for a portion of the oil when baking breads and muffins. Add it to yogurt (haven’t tried this yet but sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it?) Also you can try to make pumpkin spice hummus (I bet you didn’t think of that, now did you?)

I decided to make soup. I made this super basic so you could add anything to it. The makings of soup

  • 1 small onion
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1C pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2C of vegetable broth
  • salt and pepper to taste

First in a medium pot, saute the onion in oil until translucent. Then saute the garlic for about 30 seconds. Then add the pumpkin puree, vegetable broth, salt and pepper, bring to a boil then let simmer for about 10 minutes. Then very carefully blend with an immersion blender. Enough for 2 large servings.

Pair with a leafy green salad and you have an antioxidant party on a plate.

Pair with a leafy green salad and you have an antioxidant party on a plate.

There. Easy. Tasty. Try experimenting with it maybe add some hot sauce or additional squash like butternut or acorn. The possibilities are endless.

Usually on these types of posts I try to give some nutritional information but, guess what? I already posted some information here when I made the pumpkin cookies. Mmmmm, drool.

If you had 4 cups of fresh pumpkin puree, what would you cook up?

New to cooking? 4 Helpful Gadgets

One of my main beliefs that I represent in the House of Snuggles is that making food from scratch with fresh ingredients is more nutritious and tastier than buying food that comes in a box. It’s true and I’m here to help you try it. You only need a few skills to learn some cooking and baking basics to get going and these can be readily learned from any cookbook, Google, or Youtube. As far as kitchen tools go, all you really need is very basic kitchen items such as pots and pans, a cutting board, and some decent knives but there are a few other gadgets that I recommend that do make life a bit easier. So without further ado, I present to you, The Kitchen Fabulous Food Making Team.

The Food Processor

Everybody Salsa!!!

Everybody Salsa!!!

Now I thought I could live without one of these things. Until I kept coming across recipes that highly recommended using one to make life easier. I was like, fuck that, I’m old school and I hate technology. I also already had a blender. That should work the same, right? They do but once you get into the nitty-gritty you’ll see that they do serve different functions. Food processors are more built for chopping and shredding hard food while blenders are built for mixing and pulverizing soft food. Granted both work pretty well interchangeable depending on the models that you have but I’ll tell you, mixing up some salsa in a food processor is way easier than a blender. The wide bowl makes for easier access when blending pie fillings, hummus, and nut butters. I have also used this bad boy to slice and dice veggies for salads in a matter of seconds so it does serve numerous functions.

The Immersion Blender

This little guy is fantastic for soup!

This little guy is fantastic for soup!

Again it was something I thought I could live without. I mean I have a regular blender and it does the same thing right? Well yeah it does, but this is another convenience thing. Immersion blenders make blending soup so much easier (and I am a huge fan of creamy soups) and less dangerous (even though I have been splattered by lava hot soup a couple of times by being reckless and living on the edge). It is also super awesome for making one person smoothies. This Kitchen Aide model comes in a bunch of fun colors and with a personal smoothie cup with a lid so you can blend and run.

The Knives

Kitchen Aide Knife setOK I did always want a beautiful set of knives. Ones that would allow me to chop and mince like a professional (still waiting for those skills to show up). I set my eyes on these babies back when I was registering for wedding gifts. I mean look at how many you get and they have a huge carving knife (which turned out to be really great for cutting watermelon and squash or as a prop for photos for my husband’s Michael Myers Halloween costume.)

The Mixer

Hey there, Pie Bird, someday this will be your show.

Hey there, Pie Bird, someday this will be your show.

I know this isn’t really a cooking instrument and it’s more for baking but it’s the pride and joy of my kitchen. Since I have always been a baker, I have fantasized about my awesome vintage Kitchen Aide Stand Up Mixer and all of the wonderful cookies, cakes, and pastries I would be able to create. I know mine isn’t vintage but once they started coming out with awesome colors I couldn’t resist (Again with the colors, I’m a girl, I know.) This thing has lived up to all of my expectations and more considering it came with three different blades and there are so many more other accessories that you can get, like a pasta thingy and an ice cream doodad attachment.

So here they are, my kitchen team. Buying all of this stuff can get pretty pricey but it’s totally worth the investment. I received these as wedding/birthday/Christmas gifts from my husband (awe insert sappy sitcom music here) because he understands my unnatural obsession with food, the creative process of preparation and my stubborn goal of making almost everything from scratch. I know they are all Kitchen Aide and there may be better brands out there but I just really like everything to match and Kitchen Aide has a pretty freaking good reputation. Next, I’m in the market for a juicer. Anyone have any recommendations?

What are your favorite gadgets?