Not long ago some acquaintances were raving about some protein bars that happen to come from Sweden. I will eventually get around to experimenting with making some approximation of those… but in the interim, doing my customary recipe research, I found a recipe for vegan chocolate protein ‘bliss balls’. I’m always looking for vegan stuff to try as well as gluten-free options (and this can be gluten-free too as long as your oats and protein powder of choice are GF). I’m not big on “protein bars” or snacks or what have you, but I know they are popular with many, so here’s my first foray into this world. Very easy, requiring no baking at all – just a bunch of ingredients thrown into a food processor and a tiny bit of mess when you roll them.
Vegan chocolate protein bliss balls (recipe)
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup oats
46-50 grams vegan chocolate protein powder
1/3 cup packed, pitted and chopped dates
about 1/4 cup almond milk (or water)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, if desired
Throw everything into a food processor. Blend until you have a thick, smooth paste that you can easily roll into balls. You can then roll this in some coating (I used unsweetened cocoa powder). Store in the fridge. I think I made about 24 from this recipe.
I really can’t tell you what these taste like – I have never tried them and I am a bit too disgusted by dates to even put one of these in my mouth to find out if it’s edible, so I will have to rely on others to give me a verdict.
While I had been sort of hoping to veganize my standard dark chocolate mini tart recipe, I sort of ran out of time and made the regular ones. I changed the recipe just slightly from the old one I’ve shared before.
I mailed some of these to an office where most of the employees are distributed, so a lot of employees miss out on the final results. One employee misread the label on these as “farts” rather than “tarts”, giving him a small chuckle – that was as sweet as my shared baking ended up being for him.
Dark chocolate tarts Tart shells
1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs (or 1 cup cookie crumbs and ½ cup ground hazelnuts).
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
The change I implemented here was simply throwing whole Oreo cookies into my food processor and making them into crumbs. I didn’t fool around looking for some other chocolate cookies or removing the middle filling of the Oreo. This might have made the final shells more structurally sound.
Preheat oven to 190C. Lightly spray muffin tins (regular size or mini ones, as I usually use) with nonstick spray (I usually do not use the spray because the mixture uses a lot of butter; I did use some non-stick spray this time because I was not sure that keeping the filling from the Oreos in the mix would not stick to the pan).
Mix the cookie crumbs (and ground hazelnuts, if you are using them – I did this time) with the melted butter and sugar. Press the mixture into the muffin tins. Bake approx. 5 minutes in preheated oven.
While baking, prepare the filling. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 160C.
10 to 10 ½ ounces of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) – 280 to 300 grams
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
3 tablespoons honey (flavored honey can be nice here)
1 egg, beaten slightly
The difference this time is that I used only heavy cream and no milk in the exact same proportion (so 1 1/4c cream – minus all milk).
Over a double boiler (or glass bowl over a pan of boiling water) mix chocolate with milk and cream. Stir until chocolate is melted and fully mixed together with cream and milk (smooth consistency). Stir in honey.
Slightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually stir a small stream of the melted chocolate mixture into the egg, whisking the egg and chocolate together the whole time (to temper to make sure the egg does not become like scrambled eggs). Do this with just some of the chocolate until enough chocolate has been mixed with egg to ensure that the egg will not cook. Then add the egg-chocolate mixture to the bowl of melted chocolate.
Spoon the chocolate mixture into the chocolate tart shells. Bake 25 minutes, cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from tin.
I will post later with all the recipes and reflections on this, but here are some images of all the baked stuff I made this weekend – my last big bake, I do believe. I set it all up in the office and feel very… free.
Getting the big Halloween bake all set up in the office
So a few weeks ago I decided to make spicy black bean soup, and I went way overboard on the spice because I made something that was inedible. I made it edible, eventually, watering it down with water, broth and coconut milk, but it was still so incredibly spicy that I was eating less of it at a time than I normally would as a serving, meaning that it lasted far longer than it should have.
Now, wanting a more palate-friendly version of the soup, I tried again, shying away from the several teaspoons of chili powder the original recipe called for, and I am happy to say this was perfect and has kept me in delicious soup for days.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 diced red onion (any kind of onion you like will do, though)
1 or 2 diced carrots, depending on how much you like carrot
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups vegetable stock
2-3 containers of black beans (drained)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 container (about 15 ounces/425g or so) stewed tomatoes
Heat oil, cook onion and carrot on medium heat for five to ten minutes, add garlic, cook for another minute. Keep stirring. Add spices (except black pepper). Stir and cook for about a minute. Add vegetable stock and 2 containers of black beans and the pepper. Bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes and other container of beans together in a blender and add to the pot. You could experiment here and add more beans to the blend (for a thicker soup). Stir while cooking for about another ten minutes.
You can also experiment with what you throw into the soup. If you like red or green bell peppers, chop some up and throw them in at the beginning with the onions and carrots. If you like spice, you could always chop up and throw in some jalapeno. Maybe you like corn – “liberate” some corn from the cob or throw in a drained can of corn. It’s up to you. Similarly, at the end, if you like a creamier soup, you could also add some coconut milk or cream/milk as well.
It was great when newly made but the leftovers the next days were REALLY good because the flavors had a chance to develop and the base of the soup got a bit thicker.
I had broccoli, Herrgård cheese and pretty much nothing else. I decided to make a savory pie from it – hoping the coconut milk wouldn’t add too much “sweetness” to the flavor. I also did not want to make a pastry crust that required being rolled out, so here’s what we ended up with.
The pics don’t make it look too appetizing (photography isn’t my thing) but it’s bloody well yummy.
Preheat oven to 200C
1 head fresh broccoli, steamed and chopped
Steam your broccoli for about five minutes (until tender), chop it up and set it aside.
½ cup grated cheese (I used Herrgård because it’s what I had but cheddar would be great)
¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ cup melted butter
Mix cheese, flour, salt and mustard and add the melted butter in until just combined. Press into a pie tin. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
1 tablespoon butter
1 chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cream, half-and-half or coconut milk (that’s all I had on hand)
½ cup cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs, slightly beaten
Melt the butter in a skillet, sauté the onion for about five minutes. Whisk in the flour, cream/coconut milk, salt, nutmeg and cheese until you have a kind of roux/sauce. Cook about one minute. Mix in the broccoli. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the beaten eggs. Pour into the prepared crust.
Bake for 15 minutes at 200C.
Remove from oven and reduce heat to 190C while you sprinkle a bit of extra cheese on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes.
When I hosted a guest at my place recently, I made my own paneer hoping to make this experimental pseudo-Indian dish. I always overestimate how much food I will need when people visit. I plan for breakfasts, lunches and dinners but prepare such elaborate breakfasts (a nice way of saying that I overdo it in a big way usually – even though I get better all the time), no one wants lunch.
Finally I got around to making this potato-paneer filling for red peppers, cooked in a tomato-curry sauce, accompanied by basmati rice and fried onions. Oh, how I love onion rice.
How did I do this? Well, I started a few days ago by making paneer. How do you make paneer? It’s pretty easy.
1 liter milk
1/8 cup lemon juice
Cheesecloth for straining
Put the liter of milk in a heavy saucepan, stirring every couple of minutes while you wait for the milk to come to a boil. Once it reaches boiling point, remove from heat and add the lemon juice in slowly until the milk completely curdles.
Line a strainer with the cheesecloth and drain the milk-lemon mixture. The liquid will drain away and you will be left with the thick curdled milk. Twist the cloth tightly and squeeze repeatedly from different angles to ensure that the liquid completely drains.
Turn the cloth over and place about one kilo of weight on top of it and leave for several hours to really make sure the liquid drains. This will create a solid paneer block, which you can use immediately or refrigerate for a few days – be sure to cover with water in a container if you are keeping it to ensure it does not dry out.
Now you can cut it into cubes, as many recipes call for, or use it the way I used it in my potato-paneer experiment.
potato paneer spice filling mixture
Boil four small, peeled potatoes until soft. Mash them together with one cup of crumbled paneer. Mash in the following mixture of spices:
¼ teaspoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon cumin powder
¼ teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste
Mash all of this together and then hollow out a couple of red peppers, discarding the insides and seeds and slice rings you can fill with the potato-paneer filling.
Pepper rings, ready to fill
Filled pepper rings, ready to grill
Set aside the filled pepper rings while you prepare the easy curry sauce and sauté the onions for the rice. (Prepare the rice at the same time in a separate pot.)
Nothing like onions the spice up rice
For the curry sauce… there is no exact recipe here, and you can adjust spices and heat levels to your own taste buds. I erred on the side of too spicy this time, but it was still quite tasty.
2 tablespoons oil
1.5 chopped onions
1 tablespoon garlic-ginger paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/8 teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper (I accidentally added far more than this)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
about 20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
about 1/2 cup of tomato passata
salt and pepper to taste
Sauté the onion for about 20 minutes on low heat, add the ginger-garlic paste and heat through. Add the spices. After a minute or two, add the tomatoes and passata. Let cook for about five minutes on low to medium heat. Add a tablespoon or two of cream or coconut milk. Puree in a small food processor and return to oven-safe cast iron skillet to keep warm.
Now put the stuffed pepper rings under the grill and brown them and warm them.
Add the pepper rings to the sauce and heat on the stove or the oven.
Fluff the rice and add the fried onions on top.
The finished products
Having completed this experiment once, I know where I went wrong and where I can improve. My next guest will benefit from my learning…
Long, long ago, in an era long before the internet existed and everyone had five devices to search for internet content, including recipes, people exchanged recipes on little designated notecards made just for recipes. Or they collected recipes and published them in books. Some were generalist in nature, some were very specific (for example, vegan desserts, which, contrary to what some might say, are not only sorbet related, or vegetarian Indian cooking).
I must have gone through many phases of wanting a collection of recipe books because… well, over the years I accumulated a whole lot of them. Everyone around me – grandmother, mother, parents’ friends, etc. – also had recipe books aplenty. It never struck me that is was not necessary. Back when I started my own collection, it was kind of necessary because, as I said, there was no internet then.
Moving from country to country, lugging hundreds of (and it used to be over 1000) books along with me, though, it all seemed like too much. Especially as each year saw the internet grow and its cornucopia of content overflow, it made no sense to carry around books I had cracked open maybe once – and never once used to cook with.
That said, I still have a stack of these books and these will be the next things with which I part as I go on shedding extraneous layers of my life.
When I finally came out of hibernation and baked, I ended up making nine different things to take to my office. I had a list of more things than that but was so slow in the baking process that I was not even sure I would manage to make the nine things I did. But here is the recount and all the recipes, for those who care:
May 18 skewed my blog statistics in a big way. As someone who manages a very niche, limited-reach blog for a corporation in my professional life (obviously not THIS blog), this sudden and brief explosion was an interesting look at what immediately drives traffic (a retweet from a famous person). Or rather what won’t. The corporate blog gets readers, and the number of readers and subscribers grows slowly but steadily. It is such a specialized area that it is not as though it would ever get the kind of readership that even my personal blog gets – and my personal blog is all over the place – personal, lacking in a theme or point and not actively trying to drive anything. It started as a baking/recipe blog when my colleagues (whom I had stuffed to near-death with cookies and cupcakes) demanded recipes. It evolved into a dumping ground for my thoughts and commentary on television, news/current events and all manner of other nonsense. Even if my personal blog had a steadier stream of traffic than my work blog (makes sense because the randomness of my personal blog means that all kinds of Google searches, from Mobutu Sese Seko to white chocolate macadamia cookies, from the benefits of telecommuting, to pictures of brown sugar cupcakes piled high with mounds of maple Swiss meringue buttercream and candied bacon. might lead someone to my blog), I never achieved any great reach.
on the bacon bandwagon
Until today, my personal blog’s best stats never reached more than 250 visitors – and that was when I was baking a lot and posting recipes and pictures of cakes. In the absence of that, I maybe get 30 or 40 visitors. I am not that concerned with the statistics on my personal blog – I write it for my own sake and if someone else gets there and likes it, or even doesn’t like it, that’s fine with me.
But this morning, which has felt like a neverending night now that Swedish near-endless light nights are here, I posted an article about how I finally watched the witty and insightful Inside Amy Schumer, despite the misleading, one-dimensional Comedy Central ads for it that had so long turned me off. I posted about the blog via Twitter, which was retweeted from Schumer’s own account, which then led to what is for me an unprecedented avalanche of activity. Suddenly my phone was chiming: ding ding ding ding ding ding because, thanks to Schumer’s devotees (a more pleasant word than “followers”), people were retweeting and favoriting my original tweet. (Yes, I am perfectly aware of how asinine this sounds. A non-Millennial person describing the tweet and retweet process like it’s really serious business just sounds funny – even if it does have its own importance. It’s just not the be-all, end-all.)
But more than that, the link to the blog in which I wrote about changing my mind about Amy Schumer’s show made the blog statistics skyrocket. In a couple of hours, there were well over 1,000 visitors. The downside is that this opens the door to a lot of unprovoked criticism from complete strangers. But then yeah, the world’s full of haters, and that is completely fine. I hate a lot of stuff too. It is also easy to have a knee-jerk reaction (no emphasis on “jerk” or anything) – as I did to the ads, and as the commenter had to my post. But I am sure we are both cool enough people in our real lives.
The only comment on the Amy Schumer blog entry, in fact, was a negative one, basically laying into me for my “judgmental, accusatorial” observations about an ad. But, as I commented back (and I think we’re cool now), most of our judgments and decisions are kind of “split second” in nature – especially to ads. They are meant to appeal to us on some level, get our attention and in 30 seconds to make us want to do something, consume something, watch something or buy something (I won’t even use as strong a word as “persuade” since it’s more like advertisers tease and tempt with an elevator speech – so shouldn’t it be a bit more tempting, somehow?). Of course, I don’t know who the target audience was with the Schumer ads, but it’s not me – and that’s fine. But I still had to see them, and I made a judgment that watching the show might not be the best use of my time. Or that it would be as crass and shallow as the ads made it seem. That is no judgment of the show itself or Amy Schumer. And my writing about it was more like, “Hey, I was completely wrong about this – and the two people who read this blog and generally trust my opinions on these matters should know it. Watch Inside Amy Schumer!”
With a fleeting moment of greater reach, you simultaneously become a lightning strike (gone in a flash) and a lightning rod.
I suppose a celeb retweet or starting/being part of a trending topic is the sort of thing that one has to get to gain some traction. Even if, for example, in this case, it is a bunch of clicks – not “traction”. We all know it but there’s no way to predict whether any social media activity will lead to anything. Visitors to my personal blog are nice – but much like in the corporate blog environment, it’s not like they stuck around and read other things. And for personal writing, it doesn’t matter. I write what I write, I post it online and to a limited extent in social channels, but I am not writing for an audience or to achieve something.
But for the corporate writing, you sort of want to extend the reach – establish yourself as a thought leader – but you cannot do anything to damage your credibility or try to somehow get that reach artificially. It doesn’t work and won’t hold anyone’s interest. For instance I could try to steer the corporate blog in a direction where “celebrity surgeons” (is there such a thing other than the odd Dr Oz and some plastic surgeons who show up on makeover shows??) somehow feel compelled to retweet the content, but while that might extend reach for a day, it is not delivering quality or longevity or even the target audience we’d want to reach.
In a kind of related area…
“Data data data – you cannot make bricks without clay…” –Sherlock Holmes in TV show Elementary
All this discussion of statistics should lead to an action plan on how to take advantage of statistics and visitor data to guide future blog content – “give the readers what they want”. At least this is true for the corporate blog – consumer/user/customer responsiveness and centricity is really the only way to ensure continued growth for something like this.
I have been participating in a Coursera/Wharton Schoolonline class about marketing, and this week was all about customer-centricity. Since I work a lot with the ideas underpinning “taming Big Data” to gain customer insights in my freelance work, the whole idea of customer focus as one of the only real ways to differentiate makes a lot of sense – and customer data (overload) is the key to giving users what they want.
Never mind that I am totally distracted listening to the professor, Peter Fader, deliver his lectures, because he sounds too much like Bob Odenkirk – so I am supposed to be looking at a PowerPoint slide describing a couple of case studies of companies that have put customer data to good use, but it’s like I am hearing Saul Goodman explaining customer centricity to me. (And Saul Goodman arguably did put his customers first, sometimes to his own detriment and at his own peril.)
This customer-centric, data-driven approach is finally taking root in all kinds of business segments and industries. As Fader pointed out, direct marketing has always used data to target customers – but now, in the digital age, this data is readily available to almost everyone (I won’t get into the ethics of data collection, privacy, etc. except to say that while it’s great for businesses, it’s creepy for customers – see a recent article about a pregnant woman and Princeton professor who had to go to insane lengths to hide her pregnancy from advertisers, retailers and the Big Data machine.) At first companies like Google and Amazon tapped into user data because it’s in their DNA – I have spent a lot of time looking at how old-style, traditional publishers who lost both revenue and subscribers in the big digital shift are now taking back control their data (they had ceded a lot of it to third parties who started taking an ever-larger share of the pie from them) to target their website visitors, readers, subscribers with content and advertising that is highly personalized. And just today I saw a news report about a museum in London that has begun to use all kinds of data collection (traditional and digital) to continue to attract visitors. As the report stated, “Research is a key part of the museum’s arsenal.”
The application of data and personalization is the next logical step, but I wonder about the quality and longevity of this too. Collecting, analyzing and applying user data can only go so far before people feel as though someone is always looking over their shoulder. I cannot help but wonder if that sense of Big Data infiltrating one’s life will start to feel too much like Big Brother and begin to change and influence consumer behavior?