Vegan Birthday Cake Protein Shake

One of my most popular posts to date is the Pumpkin Spice Protein Shake that I created as a sort of healthy dupe to the omnipresent pumpkin flavored madness that descends upon us every Fall. I love making protein shakes in the morning- they're quick, filling, and depending on what you put in them, pretty darn nutritious. All in all, not a bad way to start the day.

But I have to admit, protein shakes can get pretty boring if you just stick to the same old tried and true combinations, so I wanted to try out another recipe that would elevate the protein shake from blah to bomb. Enter the birthday cake protein shake.

I've seen cake batter milkshakes out there that look sinfully delicious, so my challenge was to capture that essence in a healthier protein shake. Most rely on boxed cake mix to achieve the cake flavor and ice cream for the creamy frozen factor, so to give it a healthy makeover I subbed vanilla protein powder and a touch of vanilla and almond extracts for that cake-like flavor, as well as frozen banana (a wonderful nondairy alternative to ice cream). I'll admit that the sprinkles are not the most nutritious way to kick start your day, so feel free to skip if you're a stickler, but all those colorful little specks peeking out through the shake just add the perfect festive touch, don't you think?

Everything in this shake is vegan, even the whipped cream if you opt to make a coconut milk version. With a good dose of protein and potassium all for around 200 calories this is a smart breakfast choice that will make you feel like a 6 year old whose mom just let them lick the batter off the spatula.

1 sliced, frozen banana
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 packet vanilla protein powder (I love Tera's Whey)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. rainbow sprinkles
fresh whipped cream, for garnish (use coconut whipped cream to keep it vegan!)

1. Add all ingredients except sprinkles to a blender and blend until well combined. Add sprinkles and pule 2-3 times to incorporate.
2. Pour into a glass and garnish with whipped cream.


Chicken Ragu with Kalamata Olives

After a few recipes that lean towards the sweeter side of things, I figured it's time to turn the tables over to something savory. And anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to savory, pasta is my main squeeze. I've been making a rendition of this Chicken Ragu I found in Food & Wine for my clients lately. They just flip for it, and so do I.

There are a few of things about this dish that I think are fantastic. First, pappardelle is way up there on my list of favorite pastas, second only to Bucatini- which I love so much that I named my cat after it, so yeah, my love affair with noodles is not to be taken lightly- and this rich, hearty sauce stands up perfectly to the thick, wide, glorious ribbons.

Second, the olives. They absolutely make this dish. Every time you get a briny bite of kalamata it's like a little explosion of flavor and you instantly get the feeling that without it the dish would be left lacking something. You definitely don't want to skimp on the olives.

Lastly, this ragu is vaguely reminiscent of something my mom used to make for us when I was younger, a recipe she got from an Italian co-worker made with dark meat chicken, sundried tomatoes, spaghetti and herbs that we affectionately referred to as "Leanne's Spaghetti," which became such a hit that it quickly earned a coveted spot in our dinner rotation. Now I don't expect anyone else to relate to this besides my family and I (and possibly Leanne, wherever she may be), but I think it's that sense of nostalgia- that incredible way that a dish can transport you back to your childhood days- that I really enjoy about this Chicken Ragu...and about food in general. And that's something I think everyone can relate to.

adapted from Food & Wine
serves 4-6

1 red onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. skinless bone-in chicken thighs, fat trimmed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp. sage, chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sherry wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
3/4 lb. pappardelle pasta, cooked to al dente and drained
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

1. In a food processor, combine the onions, fennel, celery, carrot and garlic and pulse until very finely chopped.
2. Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot (preferably cast iron). Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the pot. Sear on both sides over moderately high heat until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a platter.
3. Add the vegetable mixture to the pot and season with salt and pepper; cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are softened and just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms, rosemary, sage and tomato paste and stir to combine. Add the vinegar and cook for a few minutes until reduced by half, then add the sherry and cook for a few more minutes until reduced by half.
4. Add the broth and tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pot. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for about 1 hour.
5. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let cool slightly, then shred the meat, discarding the bones, and stir it into the sauce along with the olives.
5. Season the ragù with salt and pepper and toss the pappardelle with the ragu. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.


Caramelized Banana Shortcake with Whipped Cocoa Creme Fraiche

I've been making these caramelized banana shortcakes for ages now, and I love how excited people get when I serve it to them. There's something about taking a traditional dessert and giving it an unexpected twist that just knocks people's socks off.

The traditional dessert I am referring to of course is the beloved American dish known as Strawberry Shortcake that we all know (and have had about a bajillion times). And for the purists out there who don't like to mess with a good thing, I hear you. I'm certainly not saying there's anything wrong with Strawberry Shortcake. I had the doll, I get it.

But sometimes you just can't find any good strawberries at the store, only the sour, underripe kind, or worse: the slimy, mushy, about-to-turn-moldy-as-soon-as-you-get-them-home kind.

And sometimes you just wanna push the envelope a little and try something new.

That's how this piece of yumminess was born. I use the same biscuit recipe that I use when I make strawberry shortcakes because they're the best I have found- no sponge cake for this girl. It's actually a cream scone recipe from Joy of Baking and they turn out flawless every time. Dense and buttery yet somehow still light, and the perfect amount of sweetness (i.e. not too much). Definitely make extra to have with butter, jam and a cup of tea the next morning. Fancy.

The rest is easy. I swapped macerated strawberries for luscious caramelized bananas, kissed with a touch of rum. In lieu of plain or sweetened whipped cream I went for a whipped cocoa creme fraiche, but I have also paired these with a cocoa Kahlua whipped cream in the past, and I don't think you need me to tell you how delicious that is!

Layer it all up in a bowl or ramekin like I did, or split the biscuits and serve it up sandwich style. If you're thinking how good this would be drizzled with warm chocolate sauce, I can tell you from experience that you're on the right track.

makes about 6 servings
for the cream scone biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream

for the cocoa creme fraiche:
1 cup creme fraiche
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
2-3 tbsp. Confectioners sugar

for the caramelized bananas:
5-6 bananas, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. dark rum
Ground cinnamon, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Blend the cubed butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or fingertips until coarse crumbs form. In a small bowl combine the milk or cream, egg and vanilla. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and stir just until combined.
2. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough gently a few times. Pat into a 7 inch round and cut the dough with a 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter. Spread the rounds evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with cream or milk.
3. Bake for about 15-18 minutes or until lightly browned, then remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
4. While biscuits are baking, caramelize the bananas and make the whipped cocoa creme fraiche. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the banana slices and cook, turning them occasionally with a rubber spatula until they begin to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and continue cooking for another minute. Stir in the rum and cook until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 1 minute.
5. Combine the creme fraiche, heavy cream, cocoa powder and confectioner's sugar in a bowl. Whip using an electric whisk or mixer until stiff peaks form.
6. To assemble, divide the caramelized bananas between small bowls or ramekins. Top with biscuits and dollops of cocoa creme fraiche and dust the top of each dessert with ground cinnamon.


Meyer Lemon Rose Bars with Candied Rose Petals

It's already starting to feel like Springtime here in Santa Barbara, as evidenced by my slightly sunburned shoulders after a long bike ride over the weekend. What lovely parting gift- and a gentle reminder from me to you to always put on sunscreen, people! Over the last couple of days I've also planted some colorful pansies in the yard, gotten up bright and early for a morning hike with the girls, dusted off the grill and started dining al fresco again. I've even gotten a head start on my spring cleaning- I guess you could say the time change and warmer weather have put quite a spring in my step!

These bright and sunny lemon bars were also inspired by the coming season, but I didn't want to make your typical, run of the mill lemon bar. I definitely wanted to incorporate some sort of twist, so I used wonderfully mild Meyer lemons instead of regular lemons, and added rosewater and a garnish of candied rose petals for a delicate floral element. How perfect would these be at a bridal or baby shower? Or brunch. Or a tea party. Or anytime really.

A couple of little side notes before you try these out: first of all, when it comes to your candied rose petals, make sure your roses are unsprayed and free of any chemicals- no one wants to eat flower preservatives, am I right? I purchased some organic roses from the farmers market, which were even less expensive than those at the flower shop, so in my opinion that's the best way to go.

Also, I adapted this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa's traditional lemon bar recipe and simply added in my rosey hints to make it mine. Ina's recipe calls for a 30-35 minute baking time but I found that my lemon bars set much sooner, so I changed the cooking time to 20-25 minutes in my recipe. Best to keep an eye on them if you try this out, and good luck!

makes about 12 squares
for the candied rose petals:
Petals torn from 2-3 unsprayed roses
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/2 cup caster sugar (superfine)

for the crust:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 tsp. salt

for the filling: 
6 eggs, room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp. lemon zest
1 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
3 tsp. rosewater
1 cup flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1. To  make the candied rose petals, place caster sugar in a small bowl, brush petals on both sides with egg white and dip in the sugar, shaking to remove excess. Place petals in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and allow to air dry for 2-3 hours.
2. For the crust, add the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on medium speed until mixture becomes light and fluffy.
3. In a separate bowl combine the flour and salt. Reduce mixer to low and add flour and salt to the butter until just mixed.
4. Gather dough into a ball on a well-floured surface, then press with fingers into a 9 x13 inch baking sheet, bringing the dough 1/2-inch up on each side of the pan. Place pan in freezer for about 15 minutes, then bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
5. For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosewater and flour until smooth. Pour over the cooled crust and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the filling is set.
6. Cool to room temperature, then cut into squares, dust with confectioners' sugar and top with candied rose petals.


Butterscotch Budino with Salted Shortbread Crumble

So the other day I shared this cute little dessert with friends at Olio Pizzeria, an upscale pizza joint in Santa Barbara with cracker-thin pizza crusts and a killer lineup of Italian wines by the glass. Mmmm, vino, I could go for a big glass of Sangiovese right about now...but I digress.

Aaaanyway, I didn't think much of it at the time, but I haven't been able to get that butterscotch pudding off my mind since that day, which did I mention was way back in November? Yeah. So you know this dessert is that good if it has literally been haunting my dreams for the last four months. Now this is fairly typical of me, to order something in a restaurant and then go off and make my own version of it at home...but why it took me this long to get around to it beats me, and I'm certainly kicking myself for it because I could eat this until the cows come home.

What stood out most to me about Olio's budino di zucchero di canna was that it had a salty bite that balanced out the rich sweetness of the pudding perfectly. If I remember correctly it came from a layer of salted caramel sauce, but I skipped the caramel for my version and instead I made a simple salted shortbread crumble, because I wanted a little bit of crunch (and also because I was lazy and didn't want to caramelize sugar a second time).

I'm not kidding when I say you need to make this. And you know what else you should do? Layer all the ingredients together parfait style in a mason jar, because who can resist anything sweet that comes in a mason jar? It's equally if not more delicious, it's exactly what I did with my budino leftovers and it was so freakin cute.

makes about 4 servings
for the pudding: 
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup water
3/4 tsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. dark rum

for the toppings:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp. confectioner's sugar
3-4 shortbread biscuits
1/4 tsp. flaky sea salt

1. Mix cream and milk in large bowl. Whisk egg, egg yolks and cornstarch in medium bowl.
2. Stir sugar, water and salt in a medium sized pot over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Swirl the pot occasionally but do not stir, and brush down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush. Boil until mixture turns dark amber in color and has a thick, syrupy texture, about 5-7 minutes.
3. Immediately whisk in cream mixture (mixture will bubble) and whisk constantly to dissolve the caramel bits. Bring mixture to a boil (keep an eye on it to prevent the pot from boiling over!) then reduce heat to medium.
4. Gradually whisk half of the hot caramel mixture into the egg mixture, then add entire contents back into the pot. Whisk over medium heat for a couple of minutes until the custard boils and begins to thicken. Remove from heat, then add butter and rum, stirring to incorporate.
5. Pass mixture through a fine mesh strainer and divide into 4 small bowls or mason jars. Refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours.
6. To make the whipped cream, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream with the confectioner's sugar in an electric mixer and whip until smooth peaks form. Crumble the shortbread biscuits by pulsing them in a food processor until large crumbs form, then transfer to a bowl and stir in flaky sea salt.
7. To assemble, top puddings with dollops of fresh whipped cream and a sprinkle of the salted shortbread crumble, or layer ingredients evenly in mason jars.


Braised Chicken with Fennel, Shallot & White Beans

Finally, a little rain in these dry parts! It's much needed, and as grateful as I am for a little downpour I'm even more so for the chance to whip up some fantastically comforting cold-weather dishes. You know, the kind that simmer away all day, filling your house with irresistible savory scents? One pot dishes like soups and stews have been few and far between lately since winter seems to have skipped right over us in "endless summer" Cali. It's difficult to get into a winter state of mind in Santa Barbara, even if it is February. I mean, who wants to break out the crockpot when it's 70 degrees outside?

So I'm making the most out of these next few rainy days and busting out the comfort food all-stars. Tonight I'm going old school and making a homemade mac & cheese with hot dogs. Yes, sometimes I like to get a little trashy in the kitchen. Don't judge. This is edible nostalgia at its best. 

But before that it was this homey chicken dish, slowly braised in white wine with silky shallot halves and velvety white beans in every bite. It's the kind of dish that will make you feel like that snowman in the Campbell's Soup commercial who comes in from the cold and sips on hot soup until he melts back into a little kid. I know you feel me.

serves 2
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 chicken quarters (leg and thigh)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. cubed pancetta
4 shallots, peeled and halved
2 carrots, chopped
1 small bulb fennel, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine
2 cups chicken broth
1 14 oz. can canellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp. parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

1. Heat the oven to 300°. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken skin side down in the pot and sear for about 5 minutes on each side until skin turns golden brown, then transfer to a plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium and cook the pancetta in the same pot until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain.
3. Add the shallots, carrots and fennel to pot and cook in the pancetta grease, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown and soften, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook cook for an additional minute or so.
4. Add bay leaf and wine and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen the brown bits. Continue cooking until the wine is reduced by half.
5. Add the broth and white beans and return the chicken and pancetta to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven.
6. Braise the chicken for about 45 minutes or until the meat is tender. Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a serving platter, reserving sauce in the pot. Discard the bay leaf.
7. Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat until reduced to about 1 cup. Stir in the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley.


Dungeness Crab & Corn Chowder

First thing's first. Today my blog hit a little milestone: it reached 20,000 page views! In some ways that's a small number when you consider the fact that other sites exceed that many page views a day, but then I try to picture 20K of anything- people, dollars, jelly beans...and my mind is kind of blown. It's mucho, you guys.

So I just wanted to put a great big THANK YOU out into the world to anyone who has taken a moment out of their day to pop over into my world for a bit and take a look at what's cooking in my kitchen, which today happens to be a hearty, zesty, yummy (and spicy if you're all about the Cholula like I am) Crab & Corn Chowder.

It comes together in a flash with tons of seafood flavor thanks to the fresh, succulent, Dungeness crab I purchased at the seafood counter (precooked, so no messy shells to deal with). Feel free to dress this chowder up however you'd like, it would be heavenly served up in a sourdough bread bowl, but I'm partial to a sprinkle of crisp, green scallions and a healthy dousing of hot sauce. 

makes about 1 1/2 quarts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4-6 baby red potatoes, diced
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Old Bay or other seafood seasoning blend
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups whole milk
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
8 ounces cooked lump dungeness crab
2 tablespoons scallions, thinly sliced
Hot sauce and lemon, to taste

1. Heat a stock pot over medium heat and add oil and butter.
2. Add potatoes, celery, onion and bay leaf to the pot and season with salt, pepper and Old Bay. Sauté until onions and celery soften, about 5 minutes.
3. Add flour to pot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in broth and milk and bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until soup thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes.
4. Add corn and crab meat and simmer soup for another 5 minutes.
5. Remove bay leaf before serving. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with hot sauce, a squeeze of lemon and sliced scallions.