Tofu FUN: Marinated Tofu Salad with Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette

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Tofu is FUN, and so are leftovers!

Ok, here me out.

Part of being a food stylist means I am oftentimes left with some of the craziest leftovers. Normal, wonderful people have ketchup and chicken breast and maybe a stray Chinese take-out container in their fridge. I have quail eggs, bonito flake puree and beluga lentils.

And you know what I realized? That’s kind of awesome. I mean- I am the first to admit that I hate leftovers past two days old. Spaghetti on day 3? It reminds me of my days at the Samford (university) cafeteria and let’s just say- I can’t go there (spaghetti, day one; manicotti, day two; shepherds pie, day 3; sloppy joes, day 4….you see where this is going).

But weird, random ingredients piling up in my pantry and/or fridge that haven’t been cooked yet? We can work with that.

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Which brings me to this month’s focus- vegetarian recipes that attempt to use what I already have on hand. I’m thinking that if this goes well, I may just capitalize on it for months to come- highlighting some of the cool shoots I’ve been working on and sharing with you the ingredient leftover recipes. Let me know if this interests you!

On to tofu.

My inspiration for this salad came from my current favorite cookbook- Tokyo Cult Recipes– and their tofu salad. I noticed that the tofu they used was raw- as in not fried, roasted, or stir-fried- just all by it’s lonesome, right there on top of raw salad greens and veggies. My tofu-hesitant self was thrown. But also intrigued…so here’s what I learned.

Tofu 101: Huge shoutout to this article by the Kitchn for the helpful info! I highly recommend checking out the post if you are interested in learning more!

  • Tofu is a staple of Asian cuisine. Lots of people in Asia are super healthy. So I interpolate some connection there.
  • Tofu is made of soybeans and called bean curd! The difference in the two types of tofu comes from how much water is pressed out of the curd.
  • The more water you press out of tofu, the firmer it becomes and the longer it takes to cook. No water pressed = silken tofu; water pressed out=regular tofu.
  • Silken tofu is a beautiful thing; light and creamy, it ranges in texture from extra soft to medium to extra firm. It’s perfect for smoothies, puddings, salad dressing and sauces!
  • ***BAKING TIP ALERT*** Silken tofu can be used as an egg substitute in baking!
  • Regular tofu is also a beautiful thing. I used it in this spicy sweet tofu stir fry and it’s easier to take on the flavors of what you are cooking when you work with regular tofu. To keep it crispy and light, it helps to press even more water out of the tofu before cooking using a cast iron skillet and lots of paper towels (which you can read more about in that recipe).

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This week’s recipe uses silken organic tofu from Trader Joe’s as well as the Trader Joe’s Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette (which I dig). It’s SUPER simple to put together, will sincerely impress your vegan and vegetarian dinner guests and leaves you with leftover tofu to eat the next day that tastes EVEN YUMMIER.

Here’s to tofu love- and never being intimidated by leftovers!

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Spicy Tofu Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette (Recipe inspired by Tokyo: Cult Recipes Tofu Salad)

The only prep required in this recipe is marinating the tofu overnight in a pre-made, spicy peanut dressing. Once the tofu is marinated, just assemble your veggies, soak the red onions if you want less of a bite, and voila! Lunch!

Serves: 6

Time: Overnight marinating plus 15 minutes assembly time

What You Will Need:

  • 19 ounces organic silken tofu, drained and cut in half lengthwise (so it forms two thinner planks)
  • 1/2 cup Trader Joes Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette plus additional for drizzling
  • 5 ounces organic mixed salad greens
  • 1 carrot, peeled then thinly shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 1/4 cup roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
  • 2 jalepenos, sliced
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

What You Will Do:

  1. Pour 1/2 cup dressing over tofu halves in 8 by 8 inch baking pan, making sure to coat the top and sides of the tofu well with dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge overnight.
  2. When you are ready, assemble the salad! Create a bed of salad greens, then top with one or two tofu planks. Add carrot ribbons, almonds, red onion, and jalepenos.
  3. Right before serving, drizzle with additional dressing to taste. You can either serve the tofu plank(s) whole and allow guests to slice, or go ahead and slice it into pieces for easy serving.

 

 

 

 

Popcorn Recipe Round-up + Taste-Testing a Teriyaki Beef Steak

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Friday is here!!!

This week I decided to throw caution to the wind (literally, the wind noise in the video I am sharing adds something, ummm special, to this week’s post) and share Jake and I’s attempt at taste-testing road trip snacks. Round 1- Jack Link’s beef steak, teriyaki flavor.

 

HAH! As you can see, we edited out much of our arguing about the ranking system for snacks; I said we should start with the flavor of a wet noodle thrown against a gas station wall as 1; he said that actually would be quite flavorful, so we landed on packing peanut as 1 (?) and a cold Snicker’s ice cream bar after a long summer day as a 10.

Also, I seriously doubt meat glue actually exists (I have the blog! I get the last word! HAH again!)

Ok, moving on! It has been such a fun month of popcorn recipes. I sadly only have one bag of SkinnyPop left at our house, and all of the recipes I’ve made have been eaten. So, just to keep this party rolling, I compiled a list of the Internet highlights so you can have more popcorn fun. Thin mint popcorn, popcorn snack mix, pizza popcorn, YES TO EVERYTHING!

  1. Lucky Charms Popcorn from a Night Owl Blog! Lucky Charms marshmallows + kettle corn + candy melts

Samoas Popcorn

2. Samoas Popcorn from Something Swanky: Popcorn + Caramel + Toasted Coconut + Shortbread Cookies + Chocolate

3. Pizza Popcorn from Naive Cook Cooks: Popcorn + GREAT spices + Tomato Paste + Parmesan + Fresh Basil

Crab Boil Popcorn4. Crab Boil, Ramen and Everything Bagel popcorn from Food Network  Popcorn + 50 FLAVOR OPTIONS!!!

Smitten Kitchen popcorn mix5. Popcorn Party Mix from Smitten Kitchen Popcorn (instead of chex) + Butter + Seasonings + Nuts + Pretzels + Bagel Crackers

Last, but certainly not least….

Thin Mint Popcorn

6. Thin Mint Popcorn from Lolly Jane Popcorn + Crushed Thin Mints + White Chocolate + Green Food Coloring

And, ok, one more- you know I can’t resist a food video!!

Alright, there you are, my fave internet popcorn recipes and an awkward beef steak tasting video full of wind noise.

LOVE YOU GUYS!! Happy weekend XOXO

 

 

Spicy Buffalo Wing Popcorn + 5 Best Ethnic Food Spots in Nashville

 

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안녕하세요!

Those symbols translate to “hello!” in Korean. Why, you may ask, am I greeting you in Korean when clearly this week’s recipe is about as American as they come?

So glad you asked!

Because this week, I want to encourage us all to get outside of our collective foodie comfort zones (and languages). After finding this week’s spicy popcorn recipe from The Whole Bite (and her FANTASTIC tip about cooking spray in the bowl before you toss the popcorn and caramel sauce), I knew that it was going to be a different type of week for the blog. One where I challenged myself to do something a bit wild. To stray from the more straightforward recipes of the past two weeks and go on a bit of a culinary adventure into SPICY CARAMEL. You heard me- spicy, buttery, caramel, sauce.

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The revelation of adding hot sauce to caramel caught me so off guard- and inspired me so much- that I knew I had to make it. It also kicked me into a adventurous food mood that I have yet to shake. Jake and I made kimchi chicken thighs twice this week. I’ve visited two Asian restaurants that embraced such fantastic flavor (Chiang Mai sausage and Sambal chili paste at one; life-changing kimchi, fried rice cake and jjampong at another) I couldn’t help but be inspired.  I’m going out for pho tonight.

Must. Have. Flavor.

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In the spirit of adventure, I want to challenge each of YOU to experience food in a new light this week. Just like SkinnyPop embraces all kinds of flavors with their popcorn (helloooo dusted dark chocolate and jalapeño), I would love to see us all embrace new flavors on our plate.

Also speaking of food adventures, as I promised in my video, here are my Top 5 Ethnic Food Spots in Nashville:

1. The Woodlands At the Woodlands, you can experience both a piece of paper masala dosa the size of a small shark and chana datura, a fried bread the size of a sting ray, with, oh my word, all the paneers and curries. Plus, every food photo on Yelp makes my mouth water. Tip: Order everything! Seriously, I’ve never eaten anything at Woodlands I didn’t enjoy.

2. VN Pho  One of the older ladies who owns VN Pho once gave me the LAST egg custard roll she had for FREE even though it was meant for her cousin; she just wanted me to taste it (or, I was so enthusiastic about dessert I may have scared her a little). Either way, the family that owns VN, and the people who work there, are the sweetest and you will love them. TipLife-changing beef & seafood pho!

3. Sichuan Hot Pot and Asian Cuisine If you are in the mood for a steaming bowl of broth with a large pork bone anchoring the center, topped with lamb, mushrooms, taro, lettuce, onions, more mushrooms I can’t identify and the most delicious Asian sauce selection I’ve encountered in Nashville, then this is your spot. Plus, you get to control the heat and length of time you add ingredients to the broth- each table has burners for every two seats-ensuring that you will a.) most likely burn your tongue, but b.) it will be completely worth it.  Tip: Use ALL the sauces!! Seriously, get a round tray and pile those little bowls up.

4. Bajo Sexto: My husband and I had the most relaxing afternoon we’ve had in a long time at Bajo Sexto- and didn’t intend to. In fact, we were there shooting food photos of the restaurant, but in a wild turn of events, had about an hour between places to go. So, we sat down, drank a Mexican Coca-cola, and enjoyed the tastiest roast chicken, fried fish taco and beet salad I’ve had. OH MY WORD that pollo!! Crispy, salted skin with salsa pasilla-I crave it still.  Tip: Order the baja fish taco. Actually, order three.

5. Korea House: Oh, Korea House. When our neighbors invited us to join them for a date there, I had NO IDEA how worth it the line we stood in was. Not only have I been eating on my spicy seafood stew for three days because I don’t want the flavors to end, their hot sake, potato pancake and pickled cucumbers were addictive. Tip: Arrive early; order #40 with a side of bimbibap.

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So, I issue you all, my awesome readers, a food challenge this week. Make this fantastic, spicy buffalo wing inspired popcorn. Follow it up with a flavor-filled trip of your own. And if you do make the ambitious adventure a reality, I want to hear ALL about it in your comments below.

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Spicy Buffalo Wing Popcorn (Recipe from The Whole Bite, which was originally adapted from BonAppetit.com)

This simple caramel sauce is delicious; all you have to do is watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn. Also, Chelsea’s tip about making sure you spray the bowl with cooking spray before you toss in the caramel is a must- as is her tip about washing the bowl soon after you use it! Lastly, make sure you also have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go. I don’t want anything to stand in the way of your popcorn joy:)

What You Will Need:

  • 1 4.4 ounce bag SkinnyPop, original flavor
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce (I used Texas Pete)
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

What You Will Do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the sugar and 1/4 cup water to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Boil 10-12 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally until the caramel takes on a dark amber color. *Make sure you watch this process; I wasn’t paying attention and let mine get a bit too brown. It was still yummy though!
  3. Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in butter and hot sauce with a long wooden spoon. Don’t be alarmed when it starts to bubble and foam! That’s a good thing! Return to the heat and boil 3 more minutes (or less if you are like me and cooked it a bit hot on the front end).
  4. Remove the caramel from heat and stir in salt, chili powder and baking soda.
  5. Working quickly, pour hot caramel over popcorn and toss to coat. Spread popcorn into an even layer on prepared baking sheet and bake 20-25 minutes until dry (the caramel will not be hardened).
  6. Let cool (DONT TOUCH IT!!) at room temperature, then break it up into large clusters.  Seriously, don’t touch it until it’s cooled or your fingers and tongue will burn off.
  7. ENJOY!!

Vegan Cheesy Popcorn + 5 Ways to STAY MOTIVATED!!

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It’s cheesy, it’s vegan and it’s AHHHMAZZING.

LET’S GET MOTIVATED!! ***

That’s right, this week’s recipe is fantastic. As in, so fantastic, that when I served it at a party recently my girlfriends could NOT get enough. Then my husband started eating it, I jumped in, and before we knew it our fingers were orange, popcorn crumbs were all over the floor and the bag was, sadly, almost empty.

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You see, I have a lifelong love of cheddar cheese popcorn. It all started with cheddar cheese balls. Do you know the kind I am talking about? They came (maybe still come?) in a blue can that you have to peel back the metal can opener layer to access (it’s very hazardous, but I believe preserves the freshness).

I learned to be very careful at that stage- overzealousness as a seven year old can cause injury-in order to fully immerse myself in the glorious smell of pseudo cheddar cheese and the neon, powdery goo left all over my face.

It eventually escalated to the bagged version, of which I have a complete weakness for. Road trip snack? Cheddar popcorn. Movie night? I was that person who bought the microwavable popcorn, cheddar flavor. Youth group snacks? You guessed it.

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Oh, but NOW, the beauty of SkinnyPop. Not only do they have a White Cheddar flavor (which is delicious, trust me, I’m an expert;) ) but the Original flavor transforms beautifully if you are looking for another non-dairy cheddar option. Plus, you don’t have to soak the raw cashews overnight to create that spicy cheesy flavor! In fact, I bet this cheese powder would also pair well with the white cheddar flavor- like a double hit of cheesy goodness!

This week’s inspiration comes from Vegan Family Recipes. Vanessa is a popcorn GENIUS and this vegan cheese popcorn is totally crave-worthy. Plus, she has a TON more vegan recipes where this one came from-have you ever made vegan chocolate cake with vanilla coconut oil frosting?! I am intrigued!

For today’s version, I just made a few tweaks to her original recipe, mixed in SkinnyPop, and added my own hit of onion, garlic,and cayenne. It’s SO EASY, all you have to do is shake the homemade cheese powder up in the bag. Voila! Let the snacking begin…

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Vegan Cheesy Popcorn (Recipe adapted from Vegan Family Recipes)

This easy, weekday popcorn recipe is as simple as making the cheesy powder and tossing it in the SkinnyPop bag! Plus, NO overnight soaking of cashews to create a great, cheesy flavor!

What You Will Need:

  • 1 bag SkinnyPop original flavor
  • ⅓ cup raw cashews
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons (10g) nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

What You Will Do:

  1. Make the cheese powder! Put cashews, turmeric, nutritional yeast, corn starch, cumin, salt, onion and garlic powder, and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a fine powder forms- don’t pulse too long or you will start making nut butter!
  2. Open popcorn bag, then toss about 3/4 of the powder into the SkinnyPop bag.
  3. Dance like you mean it and shake that bag up! Taste, and add more powder if you like! ENJOY!

 

***PLUS This week’s Video: 5 Tips to STAY MOTIVATED!! Video points are outlined below for you A++ students who like to take notes and things of that nature. :)

  1. 01-sugar-spice-4-mrDaily ritual-I have a ritual I do almost every morning: coffee+prayer. I meditate on my purpose for the day, think about what I want to accomplish, and talk to the Lord about my schedule. Taking time to center myself and focus on my purpose for the day really makes a difference! I’ve learned that my heart motivation actually matters more to me than the physical result of my labor. Granted, this mindset is still a work in progress, but a simple daily ritual helps me stay focused. Simply put: do something every day that centers you and reminds you of your purpose.
  2. Beauty– Ingest beauty! I’m such a lover of beauty- magazines, flowers, art history books- all of them speak to me. Take in, feast, meditate on what it is that you want to project out into the world. I think Proverbs says that “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” I ponder on beauty because it makes me feel like I am coming alive. Whatever that is for you- do something every day that makes you feel creatively alive.
  3. Community & Friends– The best way I know to stay encouraged is to connect to my community. “No man is an island” rings true here. I want to be intentional about sharing what’s going on in my life, but also about hearing what matters to the people I love. Maybe there is someone on your heart today. Check in, say hello, ask them how they are! You are NEVER alone. Sometimes when you are in a freelance or solitary work position it can feel UBER insular, but I promise, that’s not the truth! You were made to be part of a bigger picture and bigger world- to impact the people around you.
  4. 01-sugar-spice-2-mrGratitude– I have to daily remind myself to stay grateful! I know when I am pursuing big dreams and passions (for me it’s food styling, the blog, having a family) sometimes I become so forward thinking that I forget to be grateful for the moments I have now. Comparison can enter our hearts when we are thinking about the big picture, too- but comparison is the thief of joy!! Let’s just forget comparing ourselves to other people because THESE are the moments we have;  they are a GIFT and they are beautiful.
  5. Lists– I know this sounds super simple, but list-making really makes a difference. I love checking things off of a list! Granted, I am more of a type A personality, but if you run your own business, or simply don’t have someone patting you on the back for productivity, a list holds you accountable and helps me feel accomplished. It’s your way to say “Way to go SELF! I see the progress I did make today.”

 

GF Coconut Chocolate Popcorn + 5 Ways to Love People with Food

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Hey, hey, hey- it’s time for a popcorn party!

That’s right, it’s a brand new month, which means a brand new batch of POPCORN recipes are rolling out! This month, we’ll have a gluten-free (#darkchocolate), vegan (#cheezz), and Southern fabulousness version, all involving the delicious, oh-so-wonderful original flavor of SkinnyPop popcorn.

This week I’m also sharing 5 ways to love people well with food! (Clue- #caffeine and a potential fruit basket is involved in this video).

I mean, who knows what could happen on Luv Cooks this March? Nashville spring is in the air, one daffodil is blooming in our yard, AND Jake and I have been out back scraping plaster off surfaces to prepare brand new looks for y’all. Did I mention we used copper spray paint?

I know, impressive.

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Going along with the wave of this fresh creativity, I briefly considered making each of these posts about reliving my popcorn memories. However, I realized these posts would be few and far between as they revolve around one of three topics: 1. My father’s passionate speech on the lack of actual lard in our movie theater popcorn; 2. My husbands fear of cracking his tooth on kernels at the bottom of the bag; 3. The time I almost caught our kitchen on fire (well, one of several times) trying to make kettle corn.

And instead of re-telling the horrific story of torching sugar in a paper thin, hand-me-down aluminum pan on a gas flame, all-the-while attempting to “SAVE THE CORN!” by shaking the pan vigorously, coughing on smoke and rushing the pan to our front porch in Alabama, I decided to forgo that story.**

This week’s recipe is way sweeter and WAY simpler than my kettle corn fiasco thanks to the beauty of SkinnyPop! Their popcorn is so tasty, and the brands they represent are delicious.  Have y’all had Oatmega bars? They are ahhhmazing. Anyway, never one to shy away from passionate opinions on snack foods, I am oh-so-happy to turn this into a series of posts for you guys!

So, here we are with this month’s focus, and recipe. It’s party time, and, in true Luv Cooks fashion, I have already taste-tested each of this month’s variations on my friends. Every single one got a thumb’s up!

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I also want to mention the inspiration for this chocolatey goodness, the UBER fun blog Salty Canary. I took Andrea’s chocolate and coconut popcorn recipe and tweaked it just a tad. Y’all- Andrea is precious and a genius attorney. Her site is so colorful, has all sorts of shades of pink, and I couldn’t help but stumble upon her cookie milkshake roundup. Those iced animal cookies, oh my gosh, surely those are Paleo? 😉

This is the easiest, girls night/Emmy night/date night popcorn I’ve ever done (thank you Andrea, you popcorn genius!!). All you need is a bag of SkinnyPop, dark chocolate with a bit of oil, a microwave, and bagged coconut. DONE.

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Gluten Free Salted Chocolate and Coconut Popcorn (Recipe inspired by Salty Canary!)

This easy, quick weeknight-or special occasion- recipe is perfect for a girls night, family night, or just you-and-Netflix night. In fact, the only cooking step involves a microwave. Score!

What You Will Need:

  • 1 bag SkinnyPop, original (4.4 ounces)
  • 1 3.5 ounce Lindt 70% dark chocolate bar, broken into large pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup toasted coconut chips*
  • A few pinches coarse sea salt

What You Will Do:

  1. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Spread entire bag of SkinnyPop evenly across parchment.
  3. Melt the dark chocolate and vegetable oil for 30 seconds in the microwave on high. Stir. Microwave again at 15 second intervals until smooth.
  4. Drizzle chocolate on popcorn in an excitedly sporadic fashion. Top with sweetened coconut and coconut chips.
  5. Sprinkle with sea salt and allow chocolate to harden at room temperature. Enjoy!!

 

 

*You can either sprinkle the coconut right out of the bag onto your popcorn, or toast it to your liking in a small sauté pan on medium heat. Just watch the coconut so it doesn’t burn! Like kettle corn, it can turn on you in an instant. #flashbacks

**I believe that there is actual footage of this wreckage in the recesses of ancient Instagram posts. If you do go on this search, please be aware that I had no idea what I was doing with Instagram back in the day. Actually I still don’t. Hah!

 

Brownie Recipe Round-up + 5 Fridge Must-Haves!

Brownie Prep!
Brownie shot from Food Faith Fitness blog!

Lovelies!

Today is a fantastic day. You know why? Because, BROWNIE RECIPES! As you know, I share a deep, deep love for brownies, wish they were a part of the food pyramid (*awkward! I realized this no longer exists, hah, as you can see in my Luv Cooks video for the week) and I have a unique ability (some say it could be considered an athletic ability) to relentlessly daydream about recipes. Caramel, pecan, peanut butter, spicy chili, coconut, dark chocolate, cookie dough- name the add-in, I’ll eat it. Well, unless it contains cricket flour. But that’s for a whole other discussion.

Rest assured that none of this week’s recipes involve cricket flour-and oh my geez MY STOMACH IS GROWLING thinking about these!!

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  1. Coconut Almond Skillet Paleo Brownies– WHAT?!! Do you SEE these photos? I am seriously going to make a surface like that as soon as I can. Stunning! And how cute is Taylor?!

Bailey's Brownies

2. Bailey’s Brownies– I am a sucker for Bailey’s, and that cream layer on the top?! Dreamy! This recipe and photo from Spend with Pennies looks delicious!

Brownies 2!

3. Yammie’s Flourless Crunch Marshmallow Brownies I was literally so excited about these brownies that I clicked to open them three times from Pinterest. They have: peanut butter, Rice Krispies, chocolate, marshmallows, more marshmallows…

Salted Caramel Brownies!

4. Salted Caramel Brownies– My mouth is now watering. Something Swanky is the cutest site! Full of so much color, fun, and mad dessert love. My kind of gal!

Tiramasu Brownies!

5. Tiramisu Brownies: You had me at COFFEE BROWNIES! These photos and recipe by Broma Bakery are so beautiful, so lovely, and so perfect for breakfast. And dessert. And a snack. And really anytime you feel you need a tiramisu brownie.

Also this week- The 5 Things I Keep in My Fridge!! Because who doesn’t like to spy in other people’s refrigerators? **

**Note: Cleary there is often MORE than five things in my fridge. Especially if I am prepping for a food shoot (normally I am banging my head against a shelf in my freezer during that time; Lord send us a double fridge!).  But on a weekly basis, Jake and I have developed some staples that keep us going and on a (somewhat) healthy track. After all, what is a routine if you don’t have easy access to coffee bombs?:)

So, here’s our list in a non-video form:

Fruit is a fridge staple!
Fruit is a fridge staple!
  1. Almond milk: I love unsweetened vanilla almond milk! I drink it all the time with cookies; add it to my cereal, and smoothies, and to powdered peanut butter. I also sometimes substitute the unsweetened original flavor for dairy in soups! It’s a good swap if you need it. We buy ours in the three-pack from Costco.
  2. Yogurt: Whole milk, plain yogurt has become a fridge staple for us. I love Stonyfield Organic whole milk yogurt and my current FAVE thing to do with yogurt is stir in some powdered or regular peanut butter, cocoa powder, a bit of stevia and cinnamon, and voila! It’s like a pseudo peanut butter cup.
  3. Green apples: Green apples cold from the fridge are the best! I chop them up, toss them with cinnamon, add them to oatmeal, dip them in peanut butter- lots of fiber and possibilities there.
  4. Eggs: We also get a 24 count flat of these from Costco! My favorite use is to soft-boil them. Just lower eggs into boiling water, cover, and then take your pot off the heat for about 8 minutes. Rinse the eggs under cold running water and peel. The centers are beautifully runny and fabulous on toast and in broth or with Asian food.New-Year-Smoothies-063

5. Coffee bombs: Y’all know how passionate I am about Ladybird Provisions and their coffee bombs. They are a part of my coffee routine on the daily and I try to always have stacks of them in the fridge! The smoothie above was made with a coffee bomb in it:)

Happy weekend everyone! May your tummies, and fridges, stay full!

 

 

Peanut Butter Swirl GF Brownies + Baking in a Cast Iron Skillet

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Morning my lovelies!

I hope your week has been full of joy and fabulousness. Mine has been a bit crazy, as my husband threw his back out yesterday, our dog had to go to the vet and have an X-RAY OF HIS STOMACH because he swallowed our bathroom drain, my husband’s favorite baseball hat, and the back end of two of my razors, and our dishwasher almost fell out of the wall.

Yep! I know what you are thinking, bless our hearts! Praise the Lord we made it!

Now, as part of this month’s one recipe four ways series, it is finally time for me to give you a full-throttle indulgent recipe that is the epitome of comfort food. If you’ve had a stressful week (#puppies #hubbies #life) then this is the PERFECT way to unwind. Baking is my stress therapy, and these brownies, along with a glass of white wine and Jane the Virgin episodes- that’s a pretty perfect wind down on a Friday night.

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Also this week I discovered the awesomeness of BAKING in my cast iron skillet. Cue childhood drama and/or a bit of a back story on my relationships with cast iron skillets:

Growing up in the South, one’s relationship with the cast iron skillet was, and still is, a status symbol. Inevitably, you invite your neighbor/Southern friend over to eat at your house and, very politely, albeit inconspicuously, said person would start to wander around your kitchen, eying your cookware, looking for your skillet- only to judge it’s state of readiness to fry a piece of bacon or chicken at a moment’s notice. Seasoned and ready to go? You obviously know your way around a biscuit.

Rusted and/or hidden from site? Good luck with your future.

But a great cast-iron skillet is a bit like having a puppy. It requires a good amount of care, training, and persistence to function at peak performance.*

CUE Bigbsy (our puppy) and I’s YouTube video here!

That’s why baking in a cast iron skillet is pure brilliance. I first learned about all the reasons why this is awesome from Serious Eats‘ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and his book The Food Lab. This has become my BEST cooking and food styling resource- it is one of the best purchases I’ve made in my career as an at foodie girl boss. I highly recommend it.

Kenji explains that cast iron’s specific heat capacity is lower than aluminum (what some cookware is made of) and because it is so dense you get double the amount of heat retention (for the same size pan). Which means- the pan DOESNT COOL DOWN when you add food to it. Other pans may drop in temperature up to 300 degrees, but cast iron should stay at about it’s original temp. In other words, your cornbread, pies, rolls, even brownies- get a crisp, evenly browned crust around the batter. Also, if you have an ahem, older…. oven like myself it’s ability to maintain heat even when your oven temp fluctuates is awesome. It ensures that even if the temp sways, your dark, fudge brownie crust will not.

These are all great things! However- here is the trick with cast iron. Until a great layer of seasoning has built up in your pan, things (baked goods, eggs, vegetables) will stick to it. So you have to take lots of care, especially when baking, to make sure the surface of your pan is properly greased.

And this leads me to this week’s recipe from @thekitchn. This is why their team knows what they are talking about and are brilliant in baking. They understand a Southerner’s pride in their cast iron skillet and the science of proper lubrication on the cooking surface. In their gluten-free skillet brownies, you melt the butter in the cast iron skillet, THEN use that butter to prepare the pan’s surface and stir into the batter. Perfect.

So, in the spirit of all things warm and Valentinesish (yes, that is a word), I want to encourage you to whip out your cast iron pans this weekend as  they are the BEST way to feed your guests a bunch of brownies while they are still hot.

Peanut-Butter-Swirl-Skillet-Brownies-026In fact, choose to invite those people over who may be eying your cookware, looking for a skillet. They’ll be surprised to find that you thought ahead- and, at the end of the meal, pulling your skillet brownies out of the oven pretty much qualifies you as a cast iron rock star.

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Peanut Butter Swirl Skillet Brownies (adopted a bit from The Kitchn Speculoos-Swirl Brownies)

This brownie is amazing on two levels: first, it utilizes a cast iron skillet for baking, which ensures an evenly crisp brownie crust and fudgy center. Second, the bake time is around the 35 minute mark, and you can wow guests at the end of the meal with a dessert everyone can dive into.

What You Will Need:

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup almond flour, sifted
3/4 cup peanut coffee nut M&M’s (Any M&M will do, but the coffee flavor is fun here. If you are concerned about gluten contamination, you could do the standard M&M just in case!)
2 heaping tablespoons peanut butter (Nutella or almond butter would be awesome too)

What You Will Do:

  1. Melt the butter in an 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet over a medium heat.

2. Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl, leaving a film of butter on the pan (make sure you swirl the butter around in the pan to evenly coat the surface and a bit of the sides).

3. Whisk the cocoa powder into the bowl with the butter. Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla, and whisk until well combined.

4. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, then sift in almond flour through a strainer (this avoids lumps). Whisk well. Fold in the M&M’s.

5. Pour the batter into the pre-greased cast iron skillet.

6. Melt the peanut butter on high for 30 seconds; stir, then 15 more seconds, until it is runny. Drop dollops of the melted nut butter over the top of the pan, from around the rim to the center of the brownies. Using the pointed tip of a steak knife, gently swirl the speculoos into the brownies, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise, and making swirls too- really any way you feel!

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test the brownies by inserting the tip of your steak knife into them to make sure the tip comes out clean.

8. Either serve the brownie in scoops to your guests and top with ice cream, or allow to cool completely before cutting into wedges and eating. ENJOY!!!

*This example, and all of the verbiage on cast iron cooking and science, taken from The Food Lab!! Can’t say enough about that book!

4 Ingredient PALEO Brownies + Brownie Eating Philosophy

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It’s Friday, it’s Friday! That is a cause for celebration. And, we get to take the celebration up another notch because YES it’s time for brownie recipe number two!

This week’s brownie recipe is a huge treat because this has been the best way to get me to eat protein powder during the week (in a dessert) and Gimme Delicious, this week’s recipe creator, is a healthy brownie genius.

Did I mention, like her site says, these treats are also gluten-free and vegan? So everyone can get in on the party!

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And as some of you know, healthy eating does not come naturally to me. I grew up in a Southern household, which means that the four main food groups were casseroles, pretzel salad (yes, this counted as a vegetable), sausage and/or bacon, and Cocoa Puffs. Those were the glory days.

But now that I am a bit older, I’ve realized that it’s probably better to practice some balance in my everyday life. And for my hubs and I, eating Paleo during the week has been the easiest transition for us. It involves meat, of which I am a fan, and lots of vegetables, of which my hubs is a fan, and sweet potatoes. Which I love. So, it works!

However, we are all for the weekend splurges, so get ready because next week’s recipe is going to be a party in a pan!

But for this week, and the every day, I highly recommend these paleo brownies. They only involve FOUR ingredients (which you probably have in your pantry right now), have a quick bake time, and taste fudgy and nutty, with the addition of the almond butter. I threw a little coarse kosher salt on top for that salty/sweet combo that heightens the cocoa powder flavor.

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AND check out this week’s video for my current brownie eating philosophy:

There you have it my loves! Paleo brownies. Next up, the Southern/homestyle/splurge version. Happy weekending!

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4 Ingredient Paleo Fudge Brownies from Gimme Delicious 

These gluten-free, vegan, and paleo brownies are the closest I have come in gluten-free baking to that cake-y, yet fudgey, consistency I love in a decadent brownie. With only four ingredients (well, five counting the sea salt on top), you probably have all you need in your pantry right now!

What You Will Need:

  • 2 cups mashed banana (about 6 medium, overripe bananas)
  • 1 cup almond or cashew butter
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate protein powder
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • coarse kosher salt, for topping

What You Will Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a dark metal, 8 by 8 baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the mashed bananas and nut butter and use a fork to whisk until fully combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the protein powder and cocoa powder.
  3. Pour batter into a greased pan, and gently smooth the top with your spatula. Top with a smattering of coarse kosher salt.
  4. Bake for about 25-27 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cover the leftovers and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  6. I highly suggest enjoying these with a tall glass of vanilla nut milk! Soooo good!!

Month of BROWNIES!! This week: Vegan Chocolate Chip

 

Vegan chocolate chip brownie close-up
Vegan chocolate chip brownie close-up

Y’all!!!

It’s February!! My second favorite month of the year (second only to December=Christmas), which means it’s the time of the year where we ALL get to celebrate my favorite thing in the entire world: love.

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That’s right- the mushy, flowery, glittery, pink-red-and-white everything kind. My heart is for celebration and hospitality, and this is the time where we get to take a second, think about the people in our lives we adore, and write their names on Valentines in gold sparkles. It’s the time to bust open the craft kit, pull out that glitter pen, and get to gluing my friends! It’s also time to treat show yourself some love. AND, as I’ll show you this month, with food (my preferred love language) it can look however you choose! Whether it’s vegan, Paleo, Southern/homestyle, or a inspiring list of recipes from the interwebs- you are going to be inspired to get your brownies on.

Let’s also discuss briefly my deep, abiding, let-me-send-you-a-Valentine level of affection for brownies.

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Oh brownies. The reasons why I love this dessert could take an entire post, but for your sake’s I’ll keep it short. First, you are made almost entirely of chocolate. More than likely your recipe involves a combination of a few levels of chocolate- a fat (oil, butter, nut butter), cocoa powder (the darker, denser, and higher quality, the better) and a binder of some sort (eggs, flax eggs, bananas, coconut flour), with chocolate chunks either topped or stirred inside. In fact, the simpler, less-ingredient recipes I’ve tried have tended to be my favorites.

And speaking of favorites, this recipe, by Beaming Baker, is one of my favorite vegan brownies. EVER. These dense, chocolate squares have a beautiful balance of texture and richness from the coconut oil and cocoa powder, and a pure level of sweetness from the maple syrup. This recipe also uses flax eggs (Bonzai Aphrodite) and whole wheat flour as the binders, which is super healthy.

Also, y’all- check out her DESSERTS! Oh my gracious, beauties!

So, my loves, my readers, my friends. Enjoy the start to your month of love! I want to hear about all the ways you plan to enjoy it in the comments below:) You can reach me on Facebook and Instagram too.

For me, this week’s love looks like these brownies, a giant glass of cold almond milk, and a lazy Saturday with this book.

Much luv!!

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Best Vegan Brownies by Beaming Baker **

This is the best, most fudgey and delicious vegan brownie I’ve EVER tasted!! It’s fantastic, only has a 30 minute bake time, and is pure delight served warm with a cold glass of almond milk.

What You Will Need:

  • ¼ cup natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup organic dark brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • ⅓ cup pure golden maple syrup
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons melted butter flavored coconut oil
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 flax eggs (2 tablespoons ground golden flaxseed + 6 tablespoons water whisked together, set for at least 15 minutes in the fridge)
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup vegan chocolate chips
What You Will Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray an 8×8 dark metal baking pan with olive oil spray.
  2. Prepare your flax eggs by whisking together 2 tablespoons ground golden flaxseed and 6 tablespoons water. Cover, and put back in the fridge to set for at least 15 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and hot, melted coconut oil. Whisk until it resembles caramel (This process is easiest if you do it right when the coconut oil is hot and melted! Otherwise get ready for an arm workout!)
  4. Add cocoa powder in ¼ cup increments, whisking until shiny and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in vanilla extract and salt. Stir just a few times to gently incorporate.
  5. Add flax eggs, whisking until well incorporated. In thirds, whisk in the flour. As the batter gets harder to whisk, switch to folding with a rubber spatula. Fold until well incorporated and no flour patches remain.
  6. Pour batter into pan, and spread to the sides of the pan. Using a rubber spatula, smooth batter into an even layer. Top with chocolate chips.
  7. Bake for 30 mins, or until a knife inserted in the brownies comes out relatively clean. Cool for 1 hour, or until completely cool. (I put mine in the freezer to speed up the process; I couldn’t wait!) ENJOY!!

**This recipe is by Demeter, I just made a few tweaks:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s SMOOTHIE recipe inspirations + Freelance Success Lesson #1

 

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My friends!!

It’s Friday, it’s been an awesome month of January Luv Cooks smoothies, but now it’s time to end the month with an internet recipe round-up. Yeehaw, this word sounds a bit like a cattle call, but it’s actually going to be my monthly recipe secret inspiration stash I’d like to share with YOU!

Here’s my “Top 5 List” of the yummy smoothies left up for you to discover yourself.  Comment below and tell me what you think!!

  1. Banana, Coffee, Cashew and Cocoa Smoothie from Bon Appetit Bananas, cold brew coffee, cashews and cocoa powder: YES.
Coconut-Blueberry smoothie from Bon Appetit!
Coconut-Blueberry smoothie from Bon Appetit!

2. Coconut Blueberry Smoothie by Bon Appetit: Creamy coconut milk, frozen blueberries, mint leaves, honey… (sorry, I was daydreaming about this one).

3. Vegan Vanilla Milkshake Smoothie by Pop Fitness: This smoothie inspired me to start putting silken tofu into my morning routine. SO good, so much vanilla, so much creaminess, yummmmmm.

Spinach-Avocado Smoothie with Grapefruit by Epicurious!
Spinach-Avocado Smoothie with Grapefruit by Epicurious!

4. Spinach-Avocado Smoothie with Grapefruit by Epicurious: This smoothie TOTALLY intrigues me. Plus- look at their food photography! Hello, this is AMAZING.

Peachy Chia Chai smoothie by Epicurious!
Peachy Chia Chai smoothie by Epicurious!

5. Peachy Chia Chai Smoothie by Epicurious. Ok, you had me at chia chai!! I love the way chia seeds thicken a smoothie, plus the spices of chai (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves) with frozen peaches sounds increddiblleeee.

Also, as part of our Luv Cooks effort to post every Friday, I think that it’s time for me to start passing along a little something extra to you guys every month. Every month I’ll plan to share a work/life/entrepreneurship lesson of sorts; a way to encourage you guys and make your life better! I’ll honestly share from my treasure trove of business and styling mistakes in an effort to encourage all of you to pursue your dreams! You were MADE for this abundant, creative life!

And sweet readers, know that I come to you completely humbly with these words of advice. When I began food styling all I had was a dream, a prayer– and a fierce, fiery desire to prove to everyone that we don’t have to live like the status quo. My favorite quote of all time is Helen Keller’s:

“Life is either a grand adventure or nothing else.”

Let’s LIVE that adventure everyone. It’s our destiny.

With that said, here it is, drumroll on lesson #1! In order to succeed as a food stylist/artist/creative entrepreneur, I believe you must have one quality above all else.

GRIT.

No, this is not the Southern side dish that I love to boil with whole milk and garlic cloves, then once it’s soft and rich, top with warm butter and cheddar cheese.

This is the OTHER kind of grit. The internal kind. It’s the gumption, the integrity, the strength, the resolve, the FIRE inside of you that REFUSES to give up until you accomplish your dream. It is a KEY determining factor  to your life success, no matter the field.

In Angela Duckworth‘s TED talk that will rock your socks (it has almost 10 million views, #lifegoals), Angela says “GRIT is passion and peserverence for very long-term goals. GRIT is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future. Day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working REALLY HARD to make that future a reality.”

 

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Angela says. Or as Forbes magazine says it, “Optimism + Confidence + Creativity = Resilience = Hardiness =(+/- )Grit.”

Y’all- in our social media driven world, sometimes it looks like people just arrive places. They show up on the coolest photo shoots, with the coolest celebrities, rocking the coolest outfits. We think it was luck, or chance, that they got there. Or, like I struggle with sometimes, we think it’s the universe’s way of telling us we weren’t cut out for the big time like they are.

BUT THIS is a LIE!! Run screaming from this deception!! This voice does not tell you the TRUTH!

The truth is, as I have learned from YEARS of pushing my spirit, body, and my mind to go past my comfort zone- that a thriving, growing business IS NOT instant. Your triumphant success, whatever that looks like to you,  most likely will not happen in a year, or two years; it might take five. But that is OK. Because food stylists- like many stylists and other talented professionals I know- recognize that we are in this for the long haul. We are working for the long term goals, influence, and the 10,000 plus hours it takes to become an expert and walk in the quality and strength of our work.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be an expert. I want to work hard and diligently and rest my head on the pillow at night knowing that I gave it my best. And that attitude- that “Wow, today may have sucked, but tomorrow I live to fight another day and accomplish my dream”- THAT is grit. Like Angela says, people with grit DON’T believe that failure is a permanent condition.

And GRIT is the mindset that all of this hard work is worth it. It will pay off in the end. It honors what we were made to accomplish.

So everyone- pluck up. YOU’VE GOT THIS. Pursue why you were put on this planet. And if you feel discouraged- well, I say you make a big bowl of cheesy grits (or blend up a smoothie) and rest in the fact that you gave it your all, and you WILL live to fight again tomorrow. And because you stuck with it, you WILL be a success.

LOVE YOU DEARLY my readers. Happy weekend!