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Vegan Spinach Cannelloni

July 7, 2014 Print this page

Do you see all of that cheese in there, from the ricotta inside to the mozzarella on top?! There is no way this thing is vegan. But it is. And you don’t miss the dairy or regular pasta at all in this cannelloni: it’s just as cheesy, indulgent, and flavorful as its heavy Italian counterpart.

Ingredients

Prep Time 1 hr
Cooking Time 30 min
Total Time 1 hr 30 min
Yield 6 servings

1 recipe of Basic Tomato Sauce, or 2 1/2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce

1 recipe of Vegan Ricotta Cheese

2 cups of spinach, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon of olive oil

12 gluten-free lasagna noodles or pieces of thinly-sliced zucchini

1 recipe of Vegan Mozzarella Cheese

Directions

Prepare the tomato sauce and set aside to cool slightly.

Prepare the ricotta cheese.

Rinse and dry off the spinach. If you got big leaves, chop it up a bit–if you got baby spinach, don’t bother.

Heat up the olive oil in a small saucepan, and when hot, add the spinach. Saute just to slightly wilt, only a minute or so, then immediately remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl or plate and let cool to room temperature–you can speed up the process by putting it in the fridge.

Once your spinach is cool, place it over a fine mesh strainer in the sink and squeeze out as much water as you possibly can. Then, transfer it to a cutting board and chop into smaller pieces. Stir the spinach into the ricotta “cheese” and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once bubbling, add in the lasagna noodles–I used brown rice because I tolerate it well and there are just three ingredients (rice, rice bran, and water). Use whatever noodles float your boat–or substitute thinly sliced zucchini, if you’d like. 

Here’s the trick: cook your pasta for ONLY five minutes. This ensures that it’s pliable but still not cooked on the inside. Your cannelloni will be spending 30 minutes in a hot oven, so you want to leave the pasta very al dente to prevent it from becoming a mushy mess later on.

Once the five minutes are up, strain the pasta and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Prepare the mozzarella cheese.

It’s now time to assemble! Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take out a 9 x 13 dish and pour (approximately) 1 cup of your prepared tomato sauce on the bottom. Use a spatula to spread it out.

To roll the cannelloni, take one lasagna noodle and lie it flat on a clean surface. Add a large scoop (about 2-3 tablespoons) of the prepared vegan ricotta “cheese” and use the back of a spoon to spread it out. It should cover 3/4 of the noodle, not the entire thing.

Then, using a good amount of torque, roll up the noodle with the filling inside. Place it seam-side down in the dish with the tomato sauce and repeat with the rest of the lasagna noodles.

The cannelloni should fit snuggly in the dish.  Cover the top with another cup and a half of tomato sauce, then use a small spoon or ice cream scoop to put the vegan mozzarella “cheese” over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce is bubbling. To get the cheese on top to be golden-brown, brush it with a little olive oil and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.


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Spinach Cannelloni (gluten-free + vegan)

July 6, 2014 1 Comment Print this page

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Do you see all of that cheese in there, from the ricotta inside to the mozzarella on top?! There is no way this thing is vegan.

But it is.

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That’s right. I made not one, but two different kinds of vegan cheese for this recipe. Sheer madness. And you don’t miss the dairy or regular pasta at all in this cannelloni: it’s just as cheesy, indulgent, and flavorful as its heavy Italian counterpart. The best part is that after you’re done with dinner, you’ll feel full, but not greasy or sluggish like after sitting down to a decadent ristorante meal. That’s the magic of cashew cheese: tastes great and feels great going down.

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Originally, I wanted to make stuffed shells…but I couldn’t find gluten-free or even whole wheat ones anywhere, and I looked at three different supermarkets! Sure, there were brown rice shells on Amazon, but I wasn’t willing to shell out $11 for a meager box of pasta when it would cost a third as much in the store.

Instead, I re-strategized and picked up a box of brown rice lasagna at Whole Foods and sought out to make cannelloni, one of my mom’s favorites when she and my dad go out for Italian food. I haven’t eaten the “real thing” in years, so I thought it would be fun to try.

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A word of caution: this recipe does take some time to assemble. There are lots of components, and proper timing is crucial. I recommend making the two vegan cheeses and the tomato sauce beforehand for quick assembly on a weeknight; if it’s a weekend or you have some free time, by all means do this all in one sitting.

But I promise you…the result is so worth it. Yum.

Ready to become an Italian-yet-vegan god/goddess? Let’s get started.

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We’ll first start off with this simple tomato sauce: in a medium saucepan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add 1/2 of an onion, diced finely. Saute until slightly browned, about 5 minutes, then add 1 large clove of crushed garlic. Stir to incorporate and add 1 tablespoon of dried basil, 1 tablespoon of oregano, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of thyme, along with a generous pinch of salt.

To the onion, garlic, and herbs, pour in 1 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 1 14 ounce can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, and 1 6-ounce can of tomato paste. I love the combination of regular and fire-roasted because it gives the sauce a little heat without it being overwhelming, and it nicely compliments the tomato flavor.

Bring the tomato sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes, then taste. Chances are, your sauce might taste a little acidic; I recommend adding a pinch of unrefined cane sugar or coconut sugar just to balance it out. Sounds weird, but it really works!

In the blender or with an immersion blender, blend the sauce until few bits of onion remain. Set aside until ready to use.

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Meanwhile, rinse and dry off the equivalent of approximately two cups of spinach. If you got big leaves, chop it up a bit–if you got baby spinach, don’t bother.

Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan, and when hot, add the spinach. Saute just to slightly wilt, only a minute or so, then immediately remove from the heat. Transfer to a bowl or plate and let cool to room temperature–you can speed up the process by putting it in the fridge.

While the spinach cools, make the ricotta “cheese” inspired by this recipe: in the bowl of a food processor, blend 1 3/4 cups of soaked raw cashews with 1/2 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pulse until everything is well-blended but NOT smooth, about 1 minute. It should be the texture of “real” ricotta cheese and there should be no big pieces of cashew. (That’s just gross.)

Once your spinach is cool, place it over a fine mesh strainer in the sink and squeeze out as much water as you possibly can. Then, transfer it to a cutting board and chop into smaller pieces. Stir the spinach into the ricotta “cheese” and set aside.

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Now is a good time to bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once bubbling, add in 12 gluten-free lasagna noodles–I used brown rice because I tolerate it well and there are just three ingredients (rice, rice bran, and water). Use whatever noodles float your boat–or substitute thinly sliced zucchini, if you’d like.

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Here’s the trick: cook your pasta for ONLY five minutes. This ensures that it’s pliable but still not cooked on the inside. Your cannelloni will be spending 30 minutes in a hot oven, so you want to leave the pasta very al dente to prevent it from becoming a mushy mess later on.

Once the five minutes are up, strain the pasta and rinse well with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside for now.

If you want to, make some vegan mozzarella “cheese.” You can follow my recipe here with step-by-step photos here.

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It’s now time to assemble! Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take out a 9 x 13 dish and pour (approximately) 1 cup of your prepared tomato sauce on the bottom. Use a spatula to spread it out.

To roll the cannelloni, take one lasagna noodle and lie it flat on a clean surface. Add a large scoop (about 2-3 tablespoons) of the prepared vegan ricotta “cheese” and use the back of a spoon to spread it out. It should cover 3/4 of the noodle, not the entire thing.

Then, using a good amount of torque, roll up the noodle with the filling inside. Place it seam-side down in the dish with the tomato sauce and repeat with the rest of the lasagna noodles.

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Please ignore the iPad in the back.

The cannelloni should fit snuggly in the dish. That’s what you want! Cover the top with another cup and a half of tomato sauce, then use a small spoon or ice cream scoop to put the vegan mozzarella “cheese” over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through and the sauce is bubbling. To get the cheese on top to be golden-brown, brush it with a little olive oil and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.

Voila! Hard work, but oh my gosh, INCREDIBLE.

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What is your favorite Italian dish? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!


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Vegan Strawberry Milkshakes (plus strawberry almond milk + ice cream)

April 16, 2014 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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YES.

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DOUBLE YES.

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TRIPLE YES.

Have you ever gotten a craving for something–be it a dessert, an entree, a breakfast item, whatever–and then realize that you’ve NEVER had the dish before? For some reason, that happens to me. A lot.

So, the first Friday of April, I was sitting around my house, thinking about the chemistry test I had just taken that was deemed “ajdsflahdsfuhaedh IMPOSSIBLE” by my classmates. And suddenly, it hit me.

I wanted a strawberry milkshake.

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Then I realized that I had never had a strawberry milkshake before. Like, what?

I can’t even explain it. Sure, I had a few chocolate, vanilla, and black-and-white milkshakes back in the day, but strawberry?! Nope, nada, never.

Perhaps it was because my parents suspected that there were no actual strawberries in the fluorescent-pink shakes presented to booths of fellow customers at diners and Swanky Frank’s, a hot dog place we used to go to on occasion. Perhaps it was because whenever I was presented the opportunity to have a frozen dessert, I’d immediately go for the option with the most amount of chocolate. Perhaps it was just because the universe planned that this would (and should) be my first strawberry milkshake ever.

Whatever the reason, this craving was no accident: these strawberry milkshakes were the BOMB.

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Of course, being the kind of girl I am, I didn’t just go to the store, buy strawberry ice cream, and put it in a blender. Nope. I made my own strawberry almond milk AND strawberry ice cream, then blended them together and topped with coconut cream and freeze-dried strawberries for a sweet, refreshing vegan treat. It did take some work, but I promise: it’s worth it.

I’m going to take you step-by-step and show you how to make this shake from the bottom up: then, all what’ll be left to do is to serve it to all of your friends, regardless of their health and food preferences.

First up: let’s make strawberry almond milk.

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Soak 1 cup of raw almonds in enough water to completely cover them for 24-48 hours. The longer you soak the almonds, the creamier your milk will be, especially if your blender can be very grumpy (like mine).

Drain the almonds and discard the soaking water.

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Blend with 3 1/2 cups of fresh water, 2 cups of fresh (or frozen + thawed) strawberries, 2 tablespoons of honey (or your preferred liquid sweetener), 1 small vanilla bean, and a pinch of salt.

Once the almonds have been well-pulverized, pour the milk into a nut milk bag or an old pair of pantyhose (it’s weird, but I swear it works) and squeeze out as much liquid as possible into a cup or container. Discard the leftover nut pulp or use in smoothies, crackers, or as a dip for fruit.

Your milk should be creamy, just a little sweet, and a lovely shade of light pink.

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Yum is right! You could drink this milk on its own…it’s seriously good.

Ice cream time!

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In the bowl of a blender, combine 1 1/2 cups of cashews (soaked overnight, or for at least 8 hours) with 2 1/3 cups of coconut milk, 1/2 cup of honey (or preferred liquid sweetener), 2 1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 heaping tablespoons of arrowroot powder, and 1/4 cup of melted coconut oil. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer to a medium saucepan.

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Bring to a boil over medium heat, then immediately strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large glass dish.

Meanwhile, give your blender a quick rinse–no need to clean it thoroughly, you’re going to use it again soon–and set aside to dry.

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In a large skillet over medium heat, combine 3 cups of strawberries (fresh or frozen and thawed) with 1/4 cup of honey, 1/4 cup of water, and a pinch of salt. Using a wooden spoon, break up the strawberries as they cook and bring to a boil. Cook until at least a third of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Carefully transfer the strawberry mixture to the blender. Puree until completely smooth…

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…then push through the same fine-mesh sieve you used before into the glass dish with the ice cream base.

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Using a spatula, mix the base and the puree until well-combined and homogeneous. It should be a light pink color with no lumps or clumps.

Let cool in the freezer for 2-3 hours, or keep in the fridge overnight, if you’re feeling patient. (Which I NEVER am.)

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When you (and the ice cream base) are ready, put them into an ice cream machine and freeze according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Once well-aerated and creamy, transfer to a glass or metal dish and freeze until solid, about 8 hours or overnight.

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Now, you are officially ready to make your milkshake. I suggest investing in an invisible fence because I do believe it will bring hoards of boys (some of them unattractive and unpleasant) to your yard.

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In the bowl of a blender, combine 2 cups of frozen strawberries with 1 cup of the strawberry almond milk you made earlier. (If you didn’t have the time or energy to make the strawberry almond milk, just use regular almond milk.) Blend on high until a frosty puree is formed, adding more almond milk if necessary to ease the process along.

Now, it’s time for your ice cream. Add in about 2 cups of the strawberry ice cream you made and, with a spatula, incorporate it by hand into the blended strawberries. Give it a quick wiz in the blender just to incorporate all of the ice cream; you don’t want it to become too thin, though.

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If you’re feeling extra-fancy, whip up some coconut cream. To make it, simply pour off the liquid of a can of coconut milk left in the fridge overnight, then whip on high speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes.

Line the rim of your desired glass with crushed freeze-dried strawberries, then pour in some of the milkshake mixture. Top with a dollop of coconut cream and more crushed freeze-dried strawberries.

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Craving satisfied.

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What’s your favorite flavor of milkshake? Leave me a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!


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Black Cat Cake Pops

October 28, 2013 Leave your thoughts Print this page

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Happy Halloween, everyone…or shall I say, happy MEOWoween.

To tell you the truth, I haven’t experienced a true Halloween in years. In 2011, a massive snowstorm (which my friend dubbed “Snowpocalypse”) hit my town and shut off power for a week, thus cancelling school and rescheduling Halloween, too. I went trick-or-treating with my friends in town and on the first Saturday in November, but it still wasn’t the real thing. Last year, we got hit by Hurricane Sandy, once again leaving us powerless and without school for Halloween. I think I spent the night of October 31st huddled up with five jackets and a blanket in my bed, most likely reading book.

This year, it looks like Halloween might actually happen. Hooray, right? Eh, not really.

Halloween used to be my favorite holiday. Back when I was a real-food rebel, I saw Halloween as the perfect way to get away from my parents’ portion controlling and healthy meals and gorge myself on a boatload of, well, crap. My friends and I would hide up in my room and stuff our faces, eating as much as we could before our parents could get to us. It was satisfying and fun…until an hour later, after the wrappers were squirreled away in an empty box and the stomach ache set in. While all of that sugary chocolate was delicious as I was rapidly chowing down on it, I felt so sick afterwards simply from the amount I consumed. Now that I am more sensible about what I eat,  the fun from Halloween is gone for me. Sure, I could dress up, but I would rather spend costume money on cookbooks or stuffed animals.

So now, I am being the Grinch of Halloween, because really, we’re just fueling America’s rising obesity rates and big corporations who don’t need the extra money. Granted, I’m a fifteen year-old: for kids (and normal teenagers, I suppose), Halloween is awesome and magical. That’s great, but I don’t agree with it. Why can’t we celebrate National Produce Day, where children dress up as farmers, fruits, or vegetables and go from house-to-house to get apples and butternut squashes to take home?

Common, it’s a good idea, right? Am I the only one? Well, National Produce Day will be a thing. ONE DAY. You know, when I take over the world.

Now, this weekend, I was planning on making you guys a cranberry crepe cake or gingerbread; that may happen in the future, but Saturday morning, my plans were interrupted by Giada de Laurentiis, my favorite Food Network chef. She was having a Halloween-themed party…and was making Black Cat Pops, which she immediately announced were “gluten-free.” My ears perked up: I’m always curious when a celebrity chef makes something gluten-free. Usually, it’s just making pancakes or bread or whatever with a store-bought mix, but Giada’s recipe was anything but: there was REAL food! Dried figs, almond butter, coconut oil…it was right up my alley. I immediately turned to my dad and said, “I have to make that.”

This thus began my little weekend project. I went back to the supermarket to get more figs and to Michael’s to get lollipop sticks, then dug through my pantry to find the perfect decorating ingredients. They wound up just as I envisioned: adorable and super tasty! These kitties are great for kids, especially those with allergies: they’re gluten-free, vegan, and can be made nut-free with a few decoration swaps. There’s no added sugar, either: your little one will be eating fruit instead of the refined sugar usually found in candy. What’s not to love? It’s a win-win for both the parents and the children: sweet treats, but in a much healthier way!

Did I mention they’re no-bake, too? SCORE!

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You’re first going to need figs: Turkish ones, to be exact, and 16 ounces of them! (For me, that was 22 figs.) Using a sharp knife, take off the stems (they’re tough and not pleasant to eat) and cube the fruit up into small but not micro pieces. Place them in the food processor and pulse until a ball starts to form, about 30 1-second pulses.

To the figs, add 2 tablespoons of sunflower seed butter (or creamy almond or cashew butter), 3 tablespoons of apple cider (or water), 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder, and a generous pinch of salt. Process until no big pieces of fig remain and the added ingredients have been full incorporated, about 3 minutes.

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Line a large baking sheet (rimmed or not, it doesn’t matter) with parchment paper. Dip an ice cream scoop or large spoon in cold water, then scoop out a little more than a tablespoon of fig mixture. Drop it into your hands, roll it into a ball, and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat until you run out of figs: I made 14 decent-sized balls.

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Stab a lollipop stick deep into the center of every ball. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes just to firm up a bit.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler or a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt 8 ounces of dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Stir frequently with a spatula and remove from the heat as soon as it’s melted.

Take the fig pops out of the fridge. Dunk each one gently in chocolate and use a fork to cover every nook and cranny. Let the excess chocolate drip off over the bowl, then place the fig pop back on the parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining pops, then return to the fridge for 15 minutes so the chocolate will solidify but not completely harden.

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Meanwhile, prepare your decorations: use almond flakes (or pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or large coconut flakes) for the ears and blanched almond slivers cut in half (or sesame seeds, raisins, or mini chocolate chips) for the eyes. For the whiskers, use a pair of scissors to cut some dried guava (you could also use mango) into thin strips, then cut each strip into 4 segments. Make the noses by cutting two or three of the strips into little triangles or squares. You should have 2 ears, 2 eyes, 1 nose, and 4 whiskers for each cat.

To assemble your kitties, stick an almond flake on either side of the lollipop stick…

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…then use a little chocolate to paste on the eyes, whiskers, and nose.

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You could leave it like that, but I thought my cats looked kinda creepy, so I used some more chocolate to paint on pupils and color in some of the ear.

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My black cat, Felix, was very curious about what I was making–so curious, in fact, that he resorted to near cannibalism.

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Repeat with the remaining pops, keeping them as cool as possible so the chocolate won’t melt. I highly recommend keeping the pops you’ve finished or aren’t working on in the fridge or outside, if it’s cold out.

Let harden at a cold temperature for at least an hour before serving. Keep these guys in an airtight container in the fridge: DO NOT keep them at room temperature, especially if you have the heat on! I got intense about preserving my kitties at school: I invaded the world language workroom’s fridge so my cat pops wouldn’t melt before I gave them to my teachers. Bref, the German teacher wasn’t happy.

I think it was worth it, though, don’t you think?

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What is your favorite Halloween treat? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Thanks so much to Giada de Laurentiis for the inspiration. <3


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Black Cat Cake Pops

October 28, 2013 Print this page

Rich, chocolaty, and filled with delectable figgy goodness, this cat cake pops are sure to please anyone this Halloween!

Ingredients

Prep Time 1 hr
Cooking Time
Total Time 1 hr
Yield 14 cat cake pops

FOR THE POPS:

16 ounces of Turkish figs (for me, 22 figs)

2 tablespoons of sunflower seed butter (can be substituted with creamy almond or cashew butter)

3 tablespoons of apple cider (can be substituted with water or apple juice)

1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder

A generous pinch of salt

Lollipop sticks

FOR DIPPING:

8 ounces of dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips

2 tablespoons of coconut oil

FOR DECORATING:

Almond flakes (can be substituted with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or large coconut flakes)

Blanched almond slivers, cut in half (can be substituted with sesame seeds, raisins, or mini chocolate chips)

Dried guava (can be substituted with dried mango)

Directions

Using a sharp knife, take off the stems of the figs and cube the fruit up into small but not micro pieces. Place them in the food processor and pulse until a ball starts to form, about 30 1-second pulses.

To the figs, add the sunflower seed butter, apple cider, cocoa powder, and salt. Process until no big pieces of fig remain and the added ingredients have been full incorporated, about 3 minutes.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Dip an ice cream scoop or large spoon in cold water, then scoop out a little more than a tablespoon of fig mixture. Drop it into your hands, roll it into a ball, and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat until you run out of figs: I made 14 decent-sized balls.

Stab a lollipop stick deep into the center of every ball. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes just to firm up a bit.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler or a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the dark chocolate with the coconut oil. Stir frequently with a spatula and remove from the heat as soon as it’s melted.

Take the fig pops out of the fridge. Dunk each one gently in chocolate and use a fork to cover every nook and cranny. Let the excess chocolate drip off over the bowl, then place the fig pop back on the parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining pops, then return to the fridge for 15 minutes so the chocolate will solidify but not completely harden.

Prepare your decorations: use almond flakes for the ears and blanched almond slivers cut in half  for the eyes. For the whiskers, use a pair of scissors to cut the dried guava into thin strips, then cut each strip into 4 segments. Make the noses by cutting two or three of the strips into little triangles or squares. You should have 2 ears, 2 eyes, 1 nose, and 4 whiskers for each cat.

To assemble your kitties, stick an almond flake on either side of the lollipop stick, then use a little chocolate to paste on the eyes, whiskers, and nose. You could leave it like that, but I thought my cats looked kinda creepy, so I used some more chocolate to paint on pupils and color in some of the ear.

Repeat with the remaining pops, keeping them as cool as possible so the chocolate won’t melt. I highly recommend keeping the pops you’ve finished or aren’t working on in the fridge or outside, if it’s cold out.

Let harden at a cold temperature for at least an hour before serving. Keep these guys in an airtight container in the fridge.


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