Sunday, January 13, 2019

Personal Apple Streusels

They're not technically pies, since they don't have a crust, but I won't tell if you won't. 
I'm a big fan of eating seasonally. Apple season starts in the fall, and extends into early winter. Apples don't do well when frozen on the tree, and most apple trees here in North America are prolific and will give more than enough to you should you have one of your own. Be warned, though, they are prolific to the point of problematic.

One of my husband's favorite arguments against me planting an apple tree in our garden is the childhood memory of the two apple trees he had from age 9 to 19 in a little house in Columbia. You need to have two apple trees if you have one at all, as they tend to cross pollinate with the wind. He, his brother, and sister all would be put to work during apple harvest season to peel and make apple butter, apple sauce, etc., by their mother. If they did not, the fruit would fall off, rot, and ferment. If the fruit would ferment, they would have stray animals in their yard that would essentially get krunk on these fermented fruits. Squirrels, he tells me, were the funniest, but they were never funny enough to justify the presence of the drunken hornets.

Years later, I asked him why they couldn't just pick all the apples at once and keep the ones you didn't want to process in the cellar, he said that it was too much trouble. When I asked what he meant, he told me that if apples touch each other or are stacked on top of one another, they'll go rotten. Upon further research, I find that this is true. Apples are not social fruits, so it's best to wrap them each individually in paper and store them in a cool and dry place. I read once that folks would store apples tightly in barrels and even sink them in lakes under the ice, only to retrieve them later. (I have no idea if this is true, some guy told me while I stopped for gas while driving through Ozark country. Nice guy.) There's a ton of folk knowledge for how to store apples for long periods of time, but most of us in the cities don't need to worry about that. That being said, if you buy in bulk, it's good to know that you're able to store fruit in your basement or garage, properly stored, for long periods of time.

I consider apples a winter fruit because they keep so well in the winter months. Most dried fruits are obviously considered a 'winter' fruit, but many of my 'seasonal cookbooks' use squash or apples in their baked goods because of factors like this. Squash, apples, carrots, and other root vegetables keep well in root cellars, so therefore they're ideal for the winter. I live in the Northern Hemisphere, which means that it's currently winter.

This is my 150 year old silver maple! This photo has not been edited at all. 

We got a big snow over the weekend of a 9"-12" accumulation, and we're expecting another big snow next week as well. When things snow, all I want to do is bake. I don't know if it's some kind of deep psychological reasoning that makes me associate snowfall with "MUST BAKE NOW"or if I just want my house to be warm from the oven, but when the snow falls, my oven goes on.

My husband loves apple pie, but since I didn't have enough apples for a whole pie, I did this version. I hope you like it!

Personal Apple Streusels 
yields two

  • Two apples of your favorite variety, the firmer the better. I had Sugar Bee apples, but you can check out info on varieties here
  • 3 Tbsp local honey
  • 2 tsp coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/4 c oats
  • 1/4 c coconut sugar
  • 4 Tbsp (2 oz) lard or vegan butter (or dairy butter, whatever you like/have)
  • **chopped walnuts or dried fruit, as needed
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. The flour, oats, sugar, and fat are your streusel elements. All you do is mix these items together with a spoon, pressing the fat into the dry ingredients until it's sort of crumbly. Keep this in the fridge while you work with your other stuff. 

Do you like my argyle socks? 
Slice off the top of your apple. Using a spoon or apple corer, dig out the insides and discard the tough core and seeds. Keep the rest of the insides and put it in a separate bowl along with the sugar, honey, spices, and salt. You can core out as much as you like, but I think that it's safest to leave at least 1/2" of apple in around the skin. The point is that you're tossing the insides of this apple in your sugar/filling mixture. If you like, you can add raisins, dried cranberries, or dried currants. You can also add any kind of chopped nut that you like to either the filling or the topping. My favorite nuts with apples is the noble black walnut. Either way, please taste as you go to make sure that this is the amount of sweetness that you want. If so, add more sugar! If you'd like it a little spicier, feel free to mix it up. When you're happy with the flavor profile you've created, fill your apples back up with the nice filling you've made and top it with your cold streusel topping. Please be generous! 

I had a little spillover, but that's fine. I snacked on it when it came out of the oven. 

Mine baked for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, but you check yours at 30 to make sure that the apples are soft and the filling is bubbling. You always want to make sure that your apple pies (be they personal or a large one) are bubbling, as that's when you know the pectin will be activated and that the internal temperature is at least 212 degrees. 

Remove from the oven and drizzle with a little more honey. You can serve this with a sour cream sauce, some vanilla nice cream (vegan ice cream) or some whipped cream. I like to eat this warm, but there's no reason you can't make a lot of these ahead of time and serve them to a large party. They're quite impressive yet nonthreatening on a plate. Something like this would be perfect for a small dinner party, and the cleanup would be a snap. After all, the dessert is self-containing. 

Thanks so much for reading! If you try this, please comment below and tell me how my recipe went for you. This is an awesomely quick dessert that's so easy and delicious. It encompasses the flavors of apple pie without having to do a big amount of dough. Let me know what you think. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

In addition to pancakes, I'm addicted to two other things: steak, and macaroni and cheese. My @Instagram is full of all three of those things!

A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Sorry, vegans - I'm not ACTUALLY one of you, but I do have a severely lactose intolerant husband and I'm both east Asian and Jewish so I really shouldn't be eating much dairy anyhow. It's really easy to cut dairy out of your home cooking entirely, and because of my husband's dietary restrictions I don't even have any in the house. No milk, no cheese, no butter, no sour cream. Because of this, any vegetarian meal at home that we consume is automatically vegan.

Just so everyone is clear: Vegan = no animal products.

Many folks go on to make this synonymous with no animal suffering. I disagree with that, as the ideology - although I'm sure is well-intended - does have some issues. Honey, for example, is considered to be not vegan. Here's the thing, though - harvesting honey from bees doesn't harm them at all, and any beekeeper will tell you that. Furthermore, if you buy local honey it'll help you immensely with your seasonal allergies. Not to mention all the jobs you'll help create by buying honey from your local beekeepers, but more beekeepers often means more bees.


  • If you ever find a wild hive that's come on your property, call your local apiary instead of an exterminator. Eight out of ten, they'll come and harvest that hive for you, free of charge, and will not kill the bees! The other two times, they'll give you the resources and phone numbers you need to call to get those bees off your property without harming the bees.

 What is harmful is all of the agave we're consuming. Agave is a plant that grows in Mexico, and the amount that we're harvesting is harming bats, who depend on the nectar to survive. Bats consume a ridiculous amount of insects, including mosquitos which both carry disease and are a plague on this planet. Bats are good! Please, eat honey and skip the agave - save the bats.

As you can see, veganism is a dietary choice and not necessarily a moral compass. There are many reasons to go vegan! And here, we're going to have some vegan macaroni and cheese. It's 100% dairy-free for my lactose-intolerant people, and totally pareve for my observant Kosher Jewish followers. You know what that means? You can have this with meat!

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
serves 8
  • 1 lb pasta, cooked in salted water for 6 minutes until a hair harder than al dente (you'll be cooking it in the oven again, so it's okay if it's under-cooked)
    • Furthermore, you don't have to only use macaroni. You can use shell pasta, strascinati, penne, fiori, you name it! I do recommend using something that's not totally long and thin, though, as you'll want something sturdy for the oven. 
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance (you can also use coconut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 can plain coconut cream (do not use the sweetened version, or this will taste like someone kicked you in the teeth and said "f*ck you")
  • 1/4 c tofu sour cream (Tofutti is the best)
  • 3/4 c vegan cream cheese (tofutti and daiya make my favorite kinds)
  • 2 c cheddar-style vegan cheese shreds (Follow Your Heart and Daiya make the best cheeses)
This is your base recipe for the sauce. You can add more "cheeses" if you like, or substitute the cheddar-style for mozzerella style or pepperjack style. The beautiful thing about macaroni and cheese is that it's so incredibly versatile and you can add almost anything you like to it. Here is a full list of my favorite things you can stir in to your mac when you're ready to bake:
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  • Roasted brussells sprouts
  • Caramelized onions or leeks
  • Peas, fresh or frozen
  • Roasted squash, such as acorn squash or any kind of pumpkin
  • Braised winter greens (kale, mustard greens, etc)
  • Shaved asparagus
  • Spinach, fresh or cooked
  • Fresh herbs 
    • Dill
    • Savory
    • Tarragon
    • Parsley
Have I stirred other things into mac and cheese? Things like chopped chicken, beef sausage, roasted beets or cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes from my garden, chopped green beans and more? Absolutely! Those things up in that list, though, are my favorite things, and I encourage you to make this into a full meal by adding whatever you like. 

To make this simple dish, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a casserole dish, either one large one or two medium-sized ones. I love using this recipe because it can feed a large amount of people, but if it's just my husband and I then I will separate them into several dishes so we can cover, refrigerate, and bake off at a later date when I'm feeling a little lazy. 

Melt your butter in a thick-bottomed saucepot on a medium flame. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until just barely soft and brown. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk it together until it's smooth. You'll want to lower your flame just barely until it's all sort of simmering, and cook this roux for at least five minutes. Open your can of coconut cream and add, bringing the flame up to medium-high. Bring this to a boil, whisking constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Add in your cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Sprinkle in your cheddar-style shreds, whisking constantly, a little at a time so as not to allow clumps. You may also add your fresh herbs at this stage, but it's up to you. 

Drain your pasta and toss with a little oil, and return it to your cooking pot. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat. It is now that you will add whichever mix-ins you like. The one in the first post at the top of the page has pumpkin, caramelized onions, and bok choi. Last month, I made one with peas and carrots. Just a few days ago, I made one with plenty of parsley and frazzled leeks. The point is: be creative!

I actually had some dairy-free cheese slices in the fridge so I thought it'd be fun to
add torn pieces of those throughout to get extra 'pockets' of cheesey goodness.

If you like a little extra crunch, you may crumble up some potato chips or crackers from your pantry and sprinkle on top, as well as some vegan parmesan shreds, extra cheese, panko bread crumbs...whatever you like! I don't always have panko bread crumbs in my pantry, but my husband is addicted to potato chips so I like to crush them up and put them on the top. 

You may bake the amount you need and put the rest of the dishes in the fridge to have at a later date. No matter what, you'll bake at 350 for 30 minutes from cold and only 20 minutes if you're baking this dish from hot. Serve hot, straight out of the casserole dish, and share this meal with a friend. While it is a wonderful thing to love one's own company, I am of the mind that it is unhealthy to eat alone. A good meal should be shared, so invite your neighbor over for food and get to know them. Or, you know, just post a picture of the mac and cheese on Facebook and see if any friends want to pop in. 

I hope you get out there and enjoy making mac and cheese. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sunday Morning Pancakes

*heavy breathing*
Happy New Year, my little tchotchkes! So good to see you all, out there and reading and ready to go! 2018 was a crazy year for a lot of people, but it was easily the best year of my life without debate. I got married to my best friend and with that came seeing all of my family and friends that I hadn't seen in such a long time. Plus, I got to prank my husband with a giant t-rex costume on our reveal. This year was amazing, and I thank the year for all I've learned.

2019, Mrs. S will see you now. And Mrs. S is ready for this year, and all that it will bring. Do you know what we're starting our year out with in our house? The celebratory breakfast, of course! Pancakes.

Pancakes are very important in our house. And why shouldn't they be? They're easy, they're easily tailored, and incredibly cheap to make. My grandmother made awesome pancakes, and it was something that both my dad and I would like to make on holiday mornings, or lazy mornings when we had the option of taking a nap immediately after breakfast. Anybody can make a pancake! It's one of those basic things that I suppose I take for granted. Please forgive me, now, for I'm going to go on one of those annoying 'food blogger' tangents on why pancakes have such an emotional tie for me. Scroll down if you want to skip it, as the recipe title is  - as always - bolded. TL;DR - I take pancakes for granted.

Some time ago, I treated this kid to breakfast, who was from a very unstable home and was in a very unstable living situation. I couldn't do much for her, but sometimes what people need in this situation is a moment to sort of check out and get a taste of normalcy. She seemed uncomfortable in the restaurant I'd chosen, which was one of my favorites. We sat at the bar, where my friend S works, makes the drinks for the restaurant, and acts as a server for that section. The girl, who was 16, asked if they had any pizza. I thought it was unusual, but kind of cute.

"Sweetie, this is a breakfast place. They have breakfast foods here."

"I have pizza for breakfast."

"Don't you want to try something else? They have great omelettes here, or pancakes if you're feeling like something sweet."

"Do they have regular cheese?"

I didn't know what she meant by 'regular' cheese, but I learned in my non-profit work that this was code for 'something I'm used to.' I took the menu and pointed out all of the cheese options for the omelettes; gouda, gruyere, aged cheddar and more... She didn't know what any of them meant. When I said 'Parmesan' she sort of piped up and asked if it was the stuff in the can.

"Why don't you try the pancakes?" I suggested. "The chef here's great, and he makes a good pancake. They're big, though, so you should only get them if you're hungry. Are you hungry?" She nodded. S, my friend, winked at me and got her an order of pancakes while she got me my regular toast and jam with coffee. I had a big day at work and I didn't want to be slowed down by too hefty a breakfast.

S and I chatted for a little as I watched out of the corner of my eye as this half-starved girl wolfed down these pancakes.

"Do you like them?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, they're gucci." (I assumed this meant 'good' with the new kids' speak.) "They're way better than the microwaved kind."

This single, seemingly innocuous statement somehow hit me in the face very much like someone had taken a fully-grown catfish by the tail and whacked me across the cheek with it. I had heard of folks never having homemade roast turkey or homemade pasta before, but homemade pancakes??

I asked her "You don't ever do pancake breakfasts at your house? Your parents never made them?"

"They don't cook; they're too busy smoking." I didn't know what she meant, but I understood well enough. I asked if I could see her notebook; she let me, so I found a blank page and wrote down my basic pancake recipe. Not long after, the chef - who is a friend - came out to say hello.

"Chef, this kiddo just gave your pancakes the best compliment I've ever heard," I said, nodding pointedly to my new friend beside me, who had also never had fresh-squeezed orange juice before. I watched her face as she watched the juice be squeezed out of the fruit, right into the pitcher for S's mimosas. I asked if we could have a small glass of that for the kid, and of course S obliged, like the kind and beautiful soul she is.

"Oh yeah?" He asked. "Let's hear it."

The girl said "They're way better than the microwaved kind!" she piped up happily. Chef laughed, feeling rather chuffed.

"What's better than that, right?" he asked me.

"Not a lot," I said. He and I both have been in the culinary industry a long time, and I think we both knew all too well what kind of situation this girl was in. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think it's a general fact that the culinary industry attracts a certain type of person, which is to say it's the type of person that enjoys and/or is used to a certain type of abuse. In my time, I've had line cooks from broken homes, some had drug habits and some were fresh out of prison. You see a lot of that in professional kitchens; cooking is sort of one of those jobs that is truly open to anyone and a place where anyone from any background can be safe and free to work and start anew. Some of the finest chefs I've ever worked with came from the most horrible and toxic of backgrounds. Chef and I exchanged a look, having a good idea what she was going through, and I think we both understood.

We later sent her on her way, off to school, and I haven't seen her since, but I do think about her and that comment almost every time I have pancakes, which is quite a lot. B and I have pancakes just about every Sunday morning. If you look at my instagram, you'll see videos of pancakes and me pouring pancake syrup all over the aforementioned pancakes.

And, honestly, a lot of pancake moneyshots. 
Pancakes are a simple and basic staple that everybody - be they chef or home cook - should have in their pocket. You can go crazy as you like with them, but it's best to keep it simple if you're just starting out. In my research for this book that I'm writing, as well as my work with others of a different background, I'm learning more and more that really none of us get a universal experience of the world and of growing up, and it's absolutely nobody's fault.

I recently got married and I decided to check out, which is the next step after The "cooking 101" section is truly mind-blowing for me, chock full of things that I take for granted and things I - very wrongfully assume - that everybody knows how to do. "How to cook corn." "How to cook polenta." Every step I take is truly showing me how lucky I was and how unusual it is to have a family that cooks the way my family cooks. I've had to make some adjustments to pancakes considering my husband is super lactose-intolerant, but this is the basic pancake recipe that we use every Sunday, Christmas, and New Year's morning.

Sunday Morning Pancakes
  • 1 c AP Flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 c soy/almond/hemp milk
  • 1 tsp of brandy extract (You can use vanilla if you like, but I think this goes best with the real maple syrup that we use. You can use rum, too, for holidays!)
Whisk the egg, sugar, oil, and extract until all combined. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir a few times with the whisk, and then add the 'milk' about a third at a time, stirring gently between additions. Scrape the sides of the bowl with the whisk when all of the 'milk' is added and stir until everything is combined. Lumps are fine, I assure you. You'd like it to be just a hair thinner than you normally would think a pancake batter would be. Now, here's the trick:

*Rest your batter for at least 15 minutes. You'll ideally want 30, but I doubt you'll want to wait that long. Then again, it might take you that whole 30 minutes to get your kids/husband/self dressed. I don't judge. The point is, though, that you'll want to let the batter rest and you want to do this for two reasons: one, to hydrate the flour, and two to let any gluten that may have formed to relax. This is, in essence, a quickbread, so you'll want to not have any big tunnelling or for them to be too tough. You can also help alleviate this by giving yourself a hair more insurance with half a teaspoon of white vinegar. This is another reason why buttermilk pancakes are so prevalent - the acid in the buttermilk plus the fat equals a super tender and nice pancake. Science!

Heat up your griddle or pan. I have a cast iron griddle that was a wonderful gift from my auntie from my wedding registry. It's taken me quite a bit to get used to it, as it's stretched over two burners and does have some hot spots. The trick is that you turn on both burners to a medium flame and let the entire cast iron skillet heat up for at least 10 minutes, and test with a few droplets of water to see if it's hot. Use a paper towel and some canola oil to rub and/or season your skillet as it's heating. It's one big piece of metal, so the heat will distribute evenly, once you give it enough time.

Once I'm ready to cook and know that my husband has pants on (our dining room has a big open window, so the neighbors will see if he doesn't), I turn on my oven to 200 degrees F to keep warm, and put a ceramic plate on the inside to hold my pancakes, as I tend to cook 3 or 4 at a time.

See this? This is the color you're looking for!
Once you think your griddle is hot enough, take a spoonful of your batter and test it. You'll want to cook it until bubbles form and stay in tact around the edges, but the middle is still a little liquid. If you turn it over and it's too pale, then your heat is too low. If you turn it over and it's too dark, then the heat is too high. If you turn it over and the color is a nice golden-brown, you've got the heat just right!

Using a disher (I like the 2 oz size, but you can use what you like), scoop out your batter onto the hot griddle. Scoop as many on as you feel comfortable for your space, making sure that you're not crowding them to the point that they either run into each other or you can't easily flip them over. Each pancake will take approximately 30 - 45 seconds to cook per side, so it really is fast food. Hold each one in the oven, nice and stacked high, until all of your batter is done.

Okay, YEAH, I sometimes put rum in my pancake batter. The booze cooks off. And how dare you judge me.
This recipe makes 8 - 10 pancakes, size-dependent. I like the classic shortstack, but if you like the silver dollar sized, be my guest! These are your pancakes and you get to decide what that means. I always have a little extra batter so I make a tiny one for my dog. He's 136 lbs so one pancake isn't going to hurt him, and it's okay if he has some slathered with some coconut oil, for his fur and joint health.

Now that you have the basic recipe in hand, you can create all sorts of recipes! Use this simple recipe and method to create all sorts of things. Here are some variations that I personally have tried.

  • Cornmeal pancakes
    • Substitute 1/2 c of the flour for yellow or blue cornmeal, and let the batter rest for 5 minutes longer than you might initially let them sit for.
  • Red velvet pancakes
    • Add red food coloring, increase the liquid by 2 Tbsp of "milk", and add 1 tsp of good dark cocoa powder
  • Chocolate chip pancakes
    • When you put your pancake batter on the griddle, sprinkle a few chocolate chips around the top so that the batter cooks and rises around them before you flip!
  • Blueberry pancakes
    • When you put your pancake batter on the griddle, immediately place blueberries into the batter and allow them to cook up and around them before you flip
  • Vegan pancakes
    • Substitute the egg for one mashed overripe banana
I hope you've enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for bearing with me while I reminisce. It's the first day of a new year and I'm feeling sentimental. I'm going to resolve to write at least one post per week, and have already scheduled that in my daily planner.

Do you do New Year's resolutions/goals? Let's hear them in the comments! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Lucky Charms Pie

I think I was supposed to be a stoner. I think whatever deity made me just
sculpted 90% of a stoner and forgot to flip the final switch. 
I have no idea what this is and I frankly don't even want to talk about it. I have no idea why it worked out or how in the world it even crossed my subconscious, but it did. Strap in, my tchotchkes, because you're going to learn how to make one of the craziest pie recipes I've ever made. It's not really crazy because it's got some wild technique that I've invented - it's just....wild. Like, who in the world would ask for a Lucky Charms Pie? My subconscious, that's who.

Several days ago I woke up thinking of a Lucky Charms Pie. Somehow, it was in my dream the night before. It was such a weird dream, but I didn't tell my husband about it because I couldn't recall the actual plot of it. Fast forward through the day and it was easily one of the worst days at work in memory. I don't want to talk about it, so don't ask, but just know that I was already emotionally drained from returning home from Tucson after my great-grandmother's funeral. I basically didn't have it in me... And more and more was happening, even after the work day had technically ended. I was throwing things at this point and my husband asked me if he could do anything for me. I was so mad I couldn't think, so I just asked him to go get me a soda or a crunch bar or some kind of sweet, textured thing while I cooked dinner. He came back with sodas, a crunch bar, some OJ (for him) and a box of Lucky Charms. Naturally, I burst into tears.


It was like a sign. The Gods of the Good Kush wanted me to make this stupid pie. I was already up to my elbows in tortellini, though, so of course I wasn't going to make it tonight. I did, however, have the perfect opportunity to do it the following Sunday when I was having a brunch/dinner with my friends.

See, my friend had never had mimosas before. As a Crowned and Anointed Basic Bitch I couldn't let this stand, so I bought some cava and some pulp-y orange juice for the mimosas. I thought about making french toast but since we'd be meeting around dinner time I figured I'd make a quiche. And since I was making pie dough already...

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

I made a whole wheat pie crust to work with both the savory and sweet...and because I wasn't really doing anything truly healthy at dinner and we were having booze after, it somehow made me feel better to do a whole wheat crust on this thing. I kept it neutral in flavor so it would work for both. You can obviously use store-bought pie crust but feel free to use my recipe below.

Lucky Charms Pie
yields one ungoldly horror of a pie, 9" across, serves 8

Pie Crust
  • 350 g AP flour
  • 150 g whole wheat flour
  • 150 g vegan butter substitute (or dairy butter, whatever you like)
  • 150 g vegetable shortening
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Rum, as needed
Lucky Charms Cereal Milk
  • 475 ml (or 2 cups) soy milk
  • 1 cup lucky charms plus more to garnish, divided
  • 1/2 c (100 g) granulated sugar + more'll see
  • 1/4 c (31 g) icing/confectioner's/powdered sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Blue food coloring, if desired
First thing's first, you're going to make the pie crust. Start by rubbing the fat into the flours and salt using your fingertips. You can also place your flour in the bowl of a standing mixer with your paddle attachment and adding in all of your fat, stirring until everything is sort of incorporated and the fat looks to be about pea-sized. You can also pulse your pie ingredients in a food processor. Whatever. Everyone has their own way to make pie dough, you can use yours. 

I like to use rum in my pie doughs because it has a genuinely nice flavor and alcohol won't form gluten like water will. I like to have my doughs be rather short, so I kind of like to take every precaution I can to have a nice short crust. Yay! 

Either way, bring your dough together and allow to chill for at least one hour before rolling out. This will make enough dough for two pies plus plenty for decoration, so feel free to cut this recipe in half. I just always make this amount in case I need to make two pies. And hey! It's great to have extra on hand. 

While your pie dough is chilling, make the cereal milk by pouring a whole cup of this yummy marshmallow cereal into your soy milk (you can use dairy milk, if you want - it's your pie) and stir. Get everything wet and let sit for about 30 minutes in your fridge.You don't want to bring your milk to a boil and then infuse it in the hot way, like you would a tea. Just be patient and do it this way. In the meantime, separate your eggs and let them come up to room temperature. You can use all six egg whites, but I only used three since I didn't know how much of a sugar coma I wanted to put my friends into. Besides! You can freeze egg whites perfectly to make an excellent macaron later on.

Use cutters, use braids...use whatever you like! This is your pie.
Once the dough is chilled and rested, please feel free to go nuts with the decoration. You'll be par-baking this crust at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes before baking the custard in with it. This way, no soggy bottoms. We don't like soggy bottoms. I did end up using parchment paper and some baking beads. You can use rice, dry beans, and more - just PLEASE make sure to use parchment paper to line it with first, and poke some holes in the bottom of the crust to allow some steam to vent. Otherwise, this could turn into a big gloopy gross mess. 

After it's baked, turn the oven down to 325 degrees and place the pie pan on a cookie sheet. Then take the cookie sheet and place it in the middle rack of the oven. Go ahead and open up the oven to let the heat come out and pull the rack out about halfway so that the pie is sitting in the oven already. Trust me on this because you'll thank me later. You won't have to walk to the oven with a slippery and hot pie crust with sloshy liquid!

Using a spatula, mix the egg yolks with both the powdered and granulated sugars. I like a spatula instead of a whisk because I don't want too much air in this. Basically, I stir and press to make a smooth sort of custard-looking texture, and this way I won't get a foam on top. I then strain the cereal milk liquid into the eggs, slowly, and stir in until everything is incorporated. Make sure you scrape from the bottom and try not to agitate it too much! Next, add your salt and - if you like - the food coloring. I noticed that the dyes from the cereal turned my milk a faint blue color, and I just felt like going fully psychedelic with this. Again, you don't have to! I just chose to. 

Discard the soggy cereal and strain this entire mixture into a pitcher. Push the rack back, the pie shell directly in to the oven, while sitting on the tray, and pour your custard into the shell. Now simply bake for about 40 minutes, or until the custard is just barely set. My oven took about 40 minutes, but yours might take more or less time. I'd say just check it at 30 and then see.

When the custard shows a slight wobble, in the middle, turn your oven off and open the oven door a crack. Let the custard sit in the oven for another 20 minutes to gently carry-over cook. This will give you a smooth-as-silk finish. If you had bubbles or foam on the top, it might have browned slightly. This is okay, as we're covering the whole pie with meringue later.

Once it's all done with it's pre-cool, remove your pie from the oven and pop it straight in the fridge. I'd let it cool for at least an hour, but give it two if you can. When you're ready to serve, get your mixer ready.

Using a very clean bowl and a very clean whisk attachment for your standing mixer or hand mixer, pop in as many egg whites as you like. The rule for me is that a perfect meringue is about 1/4 c granulated sugar per large egg white. This means that, for three egg whites, I used 3/4 c of granulated sugar. To make a perfect meringue, make sure your equipment is super clean and super dry. I like to have a pot of simmering water at the ready, and set my bowl - egg whites inside - over the heat. Using a whisk, I like to stir in the sugar by hand, whipping gently to foam and dissolve the sugar. Once it's a fairly warmer than body temperature and all foamy and dissolved (I think 160 degrees F/71 degrees C if you want to be precise) remove it from the heat. Then use your electric mixer to bring it up, on high, until the peaks are stiff, glossy, and about tripled in volume. The meringue shouldn't slide out of the bowl at all and should hold its shape. Delicious!

This is another way you can get really creative. Once my cooled pie was ready, I heated the oven to 350 again. I used a piping bag to make the designs around the edges for mine, or at least for half of it, and then dumped the rest on in a pile just to cover the top of the custard. You can really just go nuts on how you want to decorate this, so long as at least half of the meringue is baked. I baked mine for about 5 minutes in the oven, just until the tips were lightly brown. You can also use a torch, if you like! Either way, I baked the custard, piped on some fresh meringue to help stick the garnishes, and then topped my pie with a big fat handful of the Lucky Charms cereal. You can add some white chocolate bits, some chocolate candies, and even some rainbow sprinkles, if you like! Just please don't go too crazy with other flavors. You want to have the real flavor of this crazy cereal as much as possible!

Serve to your friends and watch them begin to giggle like schoolgirls at the taste of this crazy thing...which is straight-up cereal. Hilarious and fun! It's a great treat for a party or for your holiday fun. Speaking of which, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I might just make this crazy thing again for Tuesday. We'll see!

A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Happy cooking and happy eating. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies

There aren't going to be any cute anecdotes about these cookies. These are good and I like them.

I'm going to be short here. I've lost my great-grandmother yesterday. She was 101 years old. I'm going to spell that out for dramatic effect: one-hundred and one years old. I had a grandmother that lived for more than a century. She saw the rise of social justice, she saw the revolutions of the time, she saw segregation end, she saw the rise of the global internet, and she saw approximately 75 grandchildren be born and grow up. It's okay that she's gone. Her funeral is next week so I'll be flying back to my  home town to see my family there and say our final goodbyes. It's unsure if I'll blog next Sunday.

I remember her teaching me how to play chess and then throwing the board away after I beat her for the first time. I remember her playing rummikubs. I remember her showing me how to embroider and cross-stitch. She showed me how to knit once but she really preferred to crochet. I sewed all of my prom dresses and homecoming dresses with her help. I don't remember her baking much, but I do know she had a sweet tooth.

These cookies don't have much to do with her, other than the fact that I developed and perfected the recipe the other day and they brought me some joy. I hope you all feel joy today and I hope you like these cookies, too; because they're good, and I like them.

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies
yields about 24 cookies
  • 125 vegan butter
  • 110 g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 150 g flour
  • 120 g pistachios, ground
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • Pistachio paste** as needed or strawberry jam as needed
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a half-sheet pan with a silicon liner or parchment paper. 

Grind your pistachios in a coffee grinder in pulses along with the salt. You want to make sure that you shake your grinder about a little bit to make sure it doesn't turn into paste or  butter. You can also grind these in a food processor with a few spoonfuls of your flour; it all really depends on what kind of equipment you have. 

Beat the butter and sugar together using a whisk or the whisk attachment of your standing mixer, and add in the egg and vanilla. Use a spatula to add in the flour and ground pistachio mixture, stirring until everything is just incorporated. 

Using a 1 oz scoop/disher, scoop out small balls of dough and place them on your prepared sheet pan. These don't really spread, so don't be afraid to put them close together. You can roll these in your hand, if you like, and press them down just a bit with the bottom of a drinking glass to make them smoother, but I like them to be a little craggy. 

Protip: instead of using your thumb to push the indent into the cookie, use a grape. I took this red seedless grape and pressed it into the dough to make an indentation, and each cookie was uniform because of it. Neat!

Next comes the fun part: filling the cookies! You can either use pistachio paste or strawberry jam. I like both of them, but you can decide what's easier for you. You may also use raspberry but please don't use grape. What's pistachio paste? It's a paste made from pistachios! You can find it at most specialty food stores, but I hear that grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's might even carry the stuff nowadays. You can, however, make your own!

Pistachio Paste

Simply soak a cup or two of pistachios in water overnight and drain and reserve some of the water. Grind it in a food processor with 2-3 tablespoons of cane sugar and a pinch of salt. It should be a little runnier than hummus. You can store this in the fridge, covered, for about 2 weeks. It can be used to fill cakes, make creams and custards and mousses, ice creams, and - of course - fill cookies. 

It only takes a small spoonful for each well, but you don't want to overfill it either way, especially with jams. If you don't have homemade, store-bought is just fine. 

Bake these cookies at 350 for 10-12 minutes, but try not to let them brown too much, otherwise their glorious green color is dulled. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before consuming - that jam is HOT and will burn the roof or your mouth. And you will scream. And your husband will come up from the basement, running at full speed, and stub his toe on the refrigerator. And he'll fall and you'll both end up on the kitchen floor. It will not be cute like those stupid rom-coms that lied to us when we were little. It will be chaos and will hurt a lot. 

These cookies are great for a quick something to snack on. You'll want to double or even triple the recipe, as you'll eat most of them yourself. Seriously they didn't even last a full 24 hours in my house. They're, like, really good. You can use regular butter if you like, but I use Earth Balance, which is my favorite vegan butter that acts and tastes very much like the real thing. Up to you!

Thanks, all! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Easy Challah for Hanukkah

"Challah" at yo girl!
Happy 1st night of Hanukkah, my tchotchkes! I won't go into the whole history of the holiday, nor will I go on a long tangent on why it's the best. I'll just give you the important thing that you need to know to have a successful Hanukkah:

Deep. Fry. Everything.

The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil in that sealed jug meant for their lanterns was only enough for one night, but it ended up lasting enough for eight nights, thus giving the Maccabees time to make more oil. There's actually a big long story along with it, but if you want to have a little fun while learning, watch this.

Yes, I did just show you a clip from "The Meanie of Hanukkah." As far as I can tell, it's all we have in the ways of popular culture. The point is that oil is important, and that's why we eat lots of deep-fried foods.The only real rule is to not mix meat with dairy.

A meat menu will often consist of a brisket or a roasted chicken to go along with the latkes and often a green vegetable. A dairy menu can have grilled salmon along with goat cheese and beet risotto or an egg dish with lots of cheese...and don't forget the kugel! Spruce Eats actually has a great selection of ideas for you. You can find my favorite latke recipe right here. If you're feeling fancy, I like to add dried dill. You can also find my easy vegan doughnut recipe right here, which I'll be making tonight to go with my fried chicken. Yum!

Challah is a traditional loaf of braided bread, made with eggs. This is my own version that's super easy, very flavorful, and relatively quick.

yields 1 loaf
  • 500 g AP flour
  • 6 g yeast
  • 1 fat pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g warm water
  • 30 g kosher wine (a splash or two)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil or vegan butter substitute
Combine everything in the bowl of your standing mixer and bring it together using a dough hook. You'll knead for about five minutes, or until it's nice and smooth and is gently crawling up your hook. If you'd like to add anything to your challah, such as sesame seeds or dried herbs, now would be the time. Just let it run for a few turns, just enough to mix them in. Oil a bowl and set your dough in a warm place to double in size. This is call prooving, because you prove that the yeast works. Hah!

Once that time has passed, divide your dough into thirds and braid. When you get to the end, turn - 

Eh? What's that? You don't know how to braid? Oh, dear. Well, here you go! Here's a tutorial on how to braid different kinds.

Now that that's all sorted, pop your bread loaf on a baking sheet and cover gently with a clean tea towel. While it's rising, let your oven come up to 400 degrees F. Prepare an egg wash of 1 egg plus a touch of salt and sugar, and maybe a tsp of water. Let that hang out until that has doubled in size, usually 30 to 45 minutes depending. Gently brush with your egg wash to give that glorious color and bake for 25 - 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F.

Let your challah cool on a rack and serve with your dinner. Enjoy playing with your dreidels and have a great night! Happy cooking, happy eating, and happy deep-frying!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Sorghum Gingerbread Houses

Please ignore the mess in my kitchen. I was up all night baking this thing. 
Every year, I bake a gingerbread house for a little place called the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired. They throw this competition in which local pastry chefs compete in building gingerbread structures in order to raise money for the center. This is one of their signature fundraisers and is a whole heck of a lot of fun to participate in. All of the houses are put up on display and locals can come in, vote for their favorites, and even win these structures in a silent auction for display in their homes, offices, country clubs, and more! Every penny goes to benefit the center. Let me tell you a little bit about it...

The CCVI is one out of eight schools in the United States that aids young children that are either blind or visually impaired. I've been to the school a few times, and they have caring teachers that are there, patiently helping toddlers and young children navigate the world well enough to attend conventional schools in some cases. They offer personalized tutelage, they have parent groups to get together with others, and they're all around good people. The thing I love the best about Kansas City is that there seems to be no shortage of folks that want to help other folks. The city isn't exactly altruistic, but it sure is a place that humanitarians can have their choice of places to volunteer at and make a positive impact on the world.

Let's get onto sorghum, though, shall we? After all, it's in the title of the blog...

This is sorghum. It's a cereal grain that grows tall, like corn, and is native to Africa. Traditionally, much like corn, it's grown as livestock feed, but if you're from the American south, you know all about sorghum syrup and its many uses. Sorghum was - and still is - a cheaper alternative to honey and molasses. The syrup made from the grain is bountiful, and the plant itself is drought resistant, which makes it far more sustainable a crop than sugar cane or corn. The grains can be turned into a sweet and sticky syrup, but also popped like popcorn, cooked like a risotto, and has found its way into the gluten-free market to make as a grain bowl. Ground into flour, with the help of xantham gum, you can make yourself a tasty bread. If you're not trying sorghum, you're missing out.

Molasses, while tasty and recognizable, is a byproduct of cane sugar. I don't need to tell you that cane sugar isn't exactly the most-sustainable thing in the world. By making switches to coconut sugar, beet sugar, and sorghum, you'd be surprised how much environmental impact it would have. I don't have all day to tell you about the corruption in the sugar business, but I can tell you this: sugarcane is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, and it's a much quicker and easier solution to make sustainable switches than to look around for fair trade, sustainable cane sugar. Furthermore, cane sugar has lead to significant losses for the environment, especially in the realm of biodiversity. This, along with many other reasons, is one you should take into consideration before making sugar cookies with white sugar versus coconut sugar, or gingerbread cookies with molasses versus sorghum.

This gingerbread house, like many others, was made with this adapted recipe for gingerbread. I love this recipe because it's very structurally strong, is easy to roll thin while maintaining its integrity, and is still tasty enough to snack on the scraps. It's strong because it has a low amount of fat and no eggs, so therefore will last quite a long time. Best of all, the sorghum makes the dough pliable so you can easily work with it. Shall we?

Sorghum Gingerbread House Dough
yields enough to make one small house - double for a medium house!

  • 112 g coconut sugar
  • 230 g sorghum syrup (I like the dark, but you can use light if you like)
  • 90 g coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or vegan butter substitute
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
    • Use paste, if you can! The smell will be much nicer in the end
  • 350 g AP flour, plus more for dusting
Sift together the flour and spices, then rub in the fat with your fingers. Stir in the remaining ingredients by hand, with a wooden spoon, gently, until everything is homogeneous and well-incorporated. You may use this immediately, of course, but it can set for up to 24 hours at room temperature, wrapped up in plastic wrap, divided in two equal discs. You'll notice that I've omitted any leavening agent - this is because when things like baking powder or baking soda are present in a cookie recipe, they make things rise and they make things soft. We don't want a soft cookie, we want a strong one, nor do we want one that will rise and will change shape on us when baked. 

Now, let's talk about your design. You can print out an easy template online with printer paper, or you can sketch one up on cardboard. You need to be pretty good at math and have some basic engineering skills to draw one up on your own. Or, you know, you can cheat and have your husband (who's good at it because he's an architect, not because he's a man) draw up a design for you. 

This house is based off of pan-Lithuanian/Belarusian architecture, taking inspiration from folksy traditional homes. I rolled out the pieces of dough quite thin, about 3/16", all on parchment paper so it was easy to trace and transfer to a sheet pan. I suggest cutting out the shapes with the raw dough first before baking at 350 for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, take out the cookies and work quickly, for heaven's sake, at this next bit. 

Please label your pieces. This will save you so much heartache and headache in the long run.
Take your template and lay it gently over your cookie. Using a pizza wheel or a small, sharp knife, trim away the edges that have bloomed out and spread during the baking process. This will give you a nice sharp edge! Bake again for another 10 minutes before removing from the oven. Take another sheet pan and lay it very gently atop your baked cookie, only allowing the weight of the pan to flatten out the cookie's surface. Remove the pan and re-trim the cookie if necessary to your shape. Allow to cool completely before you start building with it!

Always mark with pencil, not pen! You can also use edible markers, if you plan to eat it later.

I highly suggest that you use plywood as your base. It's strong, cheap, and readily available at most hardware stores. My gingerbread base was 2' x 2', which was large enough for my house as well as a few added extras for decoration. Consider this, though:

Don't make a gingerbread house that's too big to display in your own home. I suggest that you find a place in your home that you'd like to have your house displayed, measure out the space, and design around that. This house can fit nicely on a side table or atop a chest of drawers. If you'd like a smaller house that can fit on your dining room table, design accordingly.

Slow and steady wins the race. This house took me about 12 hours total.

You're also going to want to have plenty of straight and heavy things to set your walls against. I used soup cans, vases, and bottles of wine to hold my cookie pieces in place while the royal icing dries. I strongly suggest working in batches on this, and building slowly. Don't rush! Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was it built using royal icing. 

Royal Icing for Decorations
  • 1 egg white from a large egg
  • Powdered sugar, A/N
You're going to want an icing that's thin enough to pipe, but thick enough to hold its shape. I suggest using a piping bag without a tip in it for the gluing together, and then use a small, fine round tip to decorate. 

You can start decorations on the pieces you know you'll be needing them on, such as the trim on the front or the side windows. You can also use other tips to create shell designs and comb designs. You can really let your imagination go wild on this! Use plenty of candy, of course, if that's your game. You can also use and modify your own cookie recipes to create design elements for your house. On my house, you'll see:

Ready for voting and judging!

  • Red velvet shortbread cookies (the tiles on the roof and shutters on the windows)
  • Sugar glass (the windows and the lake)
  • Flood-consistency royal icing (the melting snow on the roof)
  • Slivered almonds, tossed in edible gold dust (shimmery rocks and tiles around the pond)
  • White chocolate and pistachio discs (for stepping stones and piped in long pieces for logs)
  • Stiff-consistency royal icing (the icicles, window trim, and more)
  • Homemade marshmallow (the snowy ground)
  • Gum drops and candy canes (for fun!)
You have free range on this one, so use this recipe and these techniques to build the gingerbread house of your dreams. Some planning should go into this, but if you wing it, just remember: it's only cookies, it'll be okay. 

Can you eat this? Sure. Do you want to? I don't you? After you spent all of this time on it? 

Need some inspiration on the gingerbread house of your dreams? Check out Pinterest and Instagram! My skills aren't anywhere near the kind that these trained pastry chefs have, but I still have fun doing them. I highly suggest you have some fun doing them yourself with your kids, your sisters and brothers, your parents, your friends...anyone in your life that you'd like to see have a little fun! 

Unbelievable! I've finally finished! I had other plans for today but I desperately need to shower - I've got icing in places you shouldn't have icing.... but let me talk you through my gingerbread house first! I call it "Pavasaris Ateina", or "spring is coming", to you and me. I had a great aunt that came over for Lithuania and she describes her fine home in autobiography. When she comes to America, she and the rest of her family are subjected to extreme poverty, and she recalls fondly her fine and beautiful home that they once had before it was burned down by the Cossacks. I know it's not the most traditional subject for a gingerbread house, but I would like to think that in the depths of winter is the time in which we need some bright and cheerful hope the most. As they say, It's always darkest before the dawn. I know that we're all tired, but we all need to keep fighting. There is some good in the world and it is worth fighting for. Do you like my gingerbread house? Come and see it at the Webster house, starting tomorrow! It's complete with red velvet shortbread roof tile, marshmallow snow, sugar glass windows, white chocolate stepping stones, and more! And please vote for me! Every single penny donated by voting goes to benefit the children's center for the visually impaired... Or, you know, you could just buy it! Buy it and put it up in your home! See if you can find the hidden gelt... #foodiechats #foodblogger #wannabgourmande #KansasCity #midwestlife #dairyfree #gingerbreadhouse #ccvi #gingerbreadlane #candy #chocolate #gbbo #biscuits #shortbread #redvelvet #candycane #holidaydecor #happyholidays #christmas #parve #pareve #baking #instabake #cookiedecorating #sugar #immigrantsmakeamericagreat #hope #lithuania @ccvi1952
A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

I hope you've enjoyed. If you live in the Kansas City area and would like to see my gingerbread house, please head to Webster House in the Crossroads, at 1644 Wyandotte Street, and snap a selfie with it! You can drop a dollar in the "People's Choice" jar to vote for me, or make a bid on it yourself. Or hey! Make a bid on one of the other houses that are there, if you like those better! I assure you, you won't be disappointed in what you see. My favorite part of this 'competition' is seeing the different interpretations that each chef has on what they think a gingerbread structure should be.

Happy baking and happy eating!