Alternative Baker // Pistachio Lime + Matcha Snowballs

It's been an insanely busy few months trying to balance a ton of work and travel, the Napa Valley harvest season, home life, and the arrival of my sweet little five-week-old nephew, Arthur. Amongst the craziness, I took a little break to celebrate my friend Alanna (aka The Bojon Gourmet) and her much-anticipated debut cookbook! From the distinct viewpoint of a classically trained pastry chef, Alternative Baker explores dessert making with gluten-free flours and lesser-known grains.

I had the pleasure of recipe testing in the development stage of this cookbook, and I also helped Alanna out with the copy on the back cover! One of the recipes I tested was the Pistachio Lime + Matcha Snowballs, and they're legitimately one of the best cookies I've ever consumed — flavor, texture, sweet to salty ratio...they're simply PERFECT. I'm a total cookie snob, so that statement holds some clout. I decided to bake these babies again for Alanna's cookbook release party last weekend — be sure to keep scrolling down past the recipe for a few of my favorite moments from her big day!

Together, Alanna and I have had many cooking collaboration wins (herehere, and here to name a few), survived a truly cursed road trip (she touches on it here), and experienced countless non-cursed and totally awesome adventures (like here). She's a good egg, I'm lucky to know her, and I couldn't be more proud of her for creating this insanely beautiful cookbook. And I'm not just saying all of this because she's my friend! Her otherworldly talent and work ethic are apparent from the moment you open Alternative Baker. Alanna has the ability to make gluten-free desserts sexy...in fact, I enjoy most of her spins on classics more than the originals.

Okay, okay, now let's talk about these crazy colorful cookies. There's a great deal of fresh grated lime, which has the most intoxicating scent. I swear I didn't want to wash my hands for like an hour after I zested! Combined with fresh chopped pistachios and matcha, the dough is citrusy, nutty, and sweet all at once. I am a weirdo and think this flavor combo creates an uncanny similarity to my favorite childhood cereal: Fruit Loops. 

Before the cookie balls go into oven, they're rolled in their first round of powdered sugar.

Once they come out of the oven and cool completely, they're rolled in a second round of sugar, followed by a dense sprinkling of matcha powder. Sinful and unique, these gems are the star of any potluck or dinner party. Trust me, I've tried 'em out at a few.

Pistachio Lime + Matcha Snowballs

From Alternative Baker by Alanna Taylor-Tobin
*Makes about 32 1.5" cookies*

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) organic blonde cane sugar
  • zest from 3 large limes (about 4 packed teaspoons/8 g)
  • 1 cup (125 g) blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 cup (55 g) oat flour
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) tapioca starch
  • 1 tablespoon (4 g) matcha, plus extra for sprinkling the tops
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (125 g) raw pistachios, chopped semi-fine (1/8-1/4" pieces)
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 3/4 cup (90 grams) powdered sugar

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF (175ºC). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and add the lime zest. Mix on low until the sugar is moistened, 1-2 minutes. Add the almond, oat and tapioca flours, matcha powder, salt, and chopped pistachios and stir on low to combine, 30 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and mix on medium-low until the butter is completely rubbed into the dough and the dough comes together in large clumps, 3-5 minutes.

Sift the powdered sugar into a shallow bowl. Form tablespoon-sized 1" balls of dough and roll them in the powdered sugar, knocking off any large clumps. Place the balls on the baking sheet spacing them at least 1-inch (2 cm) apart. Bake the cookies until puffed, cracked and slightly golden, 14-18 minutes. The cookies will be soft at first but will crisp up when cool.

Let the cookies cool completely on the pan, then roll each one a second time in the powdered sugar. Dust the tops with a bit of matcha pushed through a small strainer. They will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week.


Alanna's cookbook release party was hosted by Sarah aka Snixy Kitchen in her cute home in Richmond. I was excited to finally meet some of Alanna's family members and a few blogger folks in person (like Todd from Honestly Yum), hang with dear friends I don't see often enough (like Amisha aka The Jam Lab and Asha aka Food Fashion Party), and to try out a few other delicious dishes from Alternative Baker. Alanna even autographed some books for the hungry crowd ;)

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Purchase a copy of Alternative Baker at your local bookstore or here. Or buy 20 of them, like I did, and give them to everyone you know because it makes an amazing gift!

Sweet 'n Savory Squash Soup

I took a day off yesterday! To me, a real day off must include at least two out of three of the following: pajamas worn all day long, no work emails answered, a glass of wine before 5 pm. Happy to report that I nailed it across the board (okay okay, maybe I still answered like a handful of work-related emails). When I posted to Facebook that I made this soup, my friend and former boss, Margot, commented "I'm not completely sure you understand what taking a day off means." To me, cooking is a relaxing and very creative process...it's the opposite of work, so I relish in it on the rare occasion I have a whole day to play in the kitchen.

Although it's technically still summer, the next wave of seasonal produce is becoming available in the Napa Valley and therefore my brain has moved onto fall recipes! When I saw beautiful acorn and butternut squash at the market, I knew immediately what I wanted to do with them. You see recipes for butternut squash soup and acorn squash soup, but why are they never mixed? I decided to find out if I could develop a simple but flavorful soup with minimal active cooking time so I could knock out some cleaning and cat snuggling in between. I slow-roasted the squash with shallot and garlic, which made the house smell like Thanksgiving, and in turn had me smiling all day long.

Then, I decided to cheat a bit by cutting out the step I would normally do as a base for most any soup — sautéing onions in butter until they're caramelized. I figured since I had all the roasted shallot and garlic already in the mix, maybe I could get away with this and keep it vegan at the same time. Overall, it worked really well but I did notice some depth missing, so below you'll see the addition of a raw clove of garlic a few other umami flavor add-ins like tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. It more than makes up for the difference, and adds a great savory balance to the sweetness of the squash and cinnamon components. 

Sweet 'n Savory Squash Soup

Ingredients

  • To roast:
    • 1 small acorn squash, halved and seeds removed
    • 1 small butternut squash, halved and seeds removed
    • 4 shallots, whole and peeled (for larger shallots, break them apart and only use 4 pieces)
    • 4 small garlic cloves, whole, crushed, and peeled
    • 1/2 C + olive oil (I like California Olive Ranch)
    • Sea salt + pepper
       
  • To throw into the immersion blender:
    • 4 Cups vegetable stock (equivalent to one box)
    • 1 tsp. vegetable base Better than Bouillon (you could also use one bouillon cube)
    • 2 tsp. tomato paste
    • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/2 cup coconut milk (unsweetened soy milk, heavy cream, or cow's milk work just the same here)
    • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or a few shakes of hot sauce)
    • 1 small clove garlic
    • 1 tsp. dried rubbed sage
    • 2 tsp. dried thyme
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • Sea salt to taste (you'll likely need more than you think)
       
  • For the seed topping:
    • 1/4 toasted pumpkin seeds
    • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
    • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes (find my all-time fav right here)
    • A drizzle of good olive oil
       

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the halved squash top-up on an aluminum foil or parchment-lined baking sheet. Add one clove of garlic and one shallot (or shallot piece) into the centers of each half, then drizzle with about two tablespoons of olive oil. Be sure to drizzle most into the centers of the squash, but also along the rims so the entire thing gets a bit of an oil bath for roasting! Sprinkle flaked sea salt and fresh cracked pepper over each. Roast approximately one hour, until they start to brown and a fork easily slides into the thickest part of the squash. Let cool enough to handle. Throw the roasted shallots and garlic into an immersion blender. Using a spoon remove the squash from the skin, and add it all directly into the blender. At this point add all the rest of your ingredients (except for the seed topping of course!) into your blender. Note that due to varying sizes of squash, you may need to do two rounds of immersion blending...for me, everything fit perfectly into the Vitamix, but play it by ear and split into two batches if needed. Be sure to hold the top on securely as you blend on high for 1-2 minutes until very smooth and creamy. If it seems too thick, add a bit of water or more milk. Transfer the soup into a large pot and bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. At this point, add your finishing touches aka salt + pepper to taste, and possibly a dash more hot sauce or spices, depending on your preferences. 

In a small bowl, combine your seeds and red peppers flakes. Add your desired portion of soup into each bowl and garnish with a good swirl of olive oil followed by a handful of seed mixture. Ta-da: Fall in a bowl! Makes 6-8 servings, depending on how big your bowls are. Lastly, pssst the flavors in this soup only get better overnight so leftovers for tomorrow's lunch are a must!

Heirloom Tomato Tart

The past two months have taught me many, many things...but to sum it up: time flies, life is precious. I've lost loved ones, had great triumphs and failures, worked way too hard, finally took a VACATION, nested, and welcomed my baby nephew into the world (TODAY!). Amongst all the crazy, we must pause and make time for the art of slow living, and for me, that means tending to my garden and cooking and baking from scratch. I've basically realized something big. Regardless of my work schedule, unpredictable shoot times, and umpteen commitments, carving out a few hours each day to create something wholesome and delicious that utilizes fresh ingredients from my garden and the farmers market is essential for my quality of life. Sometimes this means running on six hours of sleep so I can accomplish a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, and I'm perfectly okay with that! It took me a while to land here, but I'm glad I saw the light.

The tomatoes in my garden have been going nuts over the past week — but mostly just the cherry varieties. Great for sautéing and roasting for sure, but not ideal for tarts. Luckily my dear friend & client Jennifer of Herb Lamb Vineyards gifted me some of her beautiful and super-juicy heirloom tomatoes from her vineyard's hillside garden. My first instinct was to make a savory mustard and tomato tart! I created the tart crust on the fly, knowing that I didn't have an hour to let it rest in the fridge. As luck would have it, it turned out exactly as I'd hoped — crumbly, salty, sweet, wonderful...and I'm so excited to share this summer recipe with you all.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Ingredients

Tart Crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons milk (I used 1% cow's milk, but have also used unsweetened soy and almond here)

Filling (adapted from The New York Times):

  • 2 large ripe heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • 4-5 Tablespoons farmers cheese or goat cheese, depending on how cheesy you want it!
  • salt + pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped herbs: thyme, basil, chives, parsley (any or all!)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
     

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. To prepare your crust, toss all ingredients into a bowl and mix until just combined — it'll be crumbly, and that's fine! You may need to add another few teaspoons of milk if it does not pull together immediately. Dump dough into a 9-inch tart pan and press it with your fingers around the bottom and sides until evenly formed to the pan. Poke the bottom of the dough all over with a fork, then pop into the oven for 15 minutes. The crust should be a light golden brown.

Bump the oven down to 350 degrees. Spread the mustard on the bottom of the crust. Place the sliced tomatoes onto pieces of paper towel to dry them out slightly — heirlooms are sometimes a little too juicy, so dehydrating them slightly is important! Pat the top lightly with another paper towel. Layer the sliced tomatoes on top of the mustard in a circular motion, slightly overlapping, until evenly covered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs and cheese together in a bowl until smooth, then pour the mixture over the tomatoes. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Place into oven for 30-35 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes before popping in out of the pan, sprinkling with fresh herbs, and cutting.

    The Chico Chai-cino

    Have you ever fallen in love with a chai? I have...

    Sarah Adams, the owner of Chico Chai, is responsible for my locally-brewed organic chai obsession. This bosslady also happens to be a delightful gal who is sustainably focused in business and in life. In the interest of reducing plastic waste from her company, she just introduced refillable glass bottles for their strong brew chai concentrate. The concentrate itself is perfectly in balance — mildly spicy, mildly sweet, never short in deliciousness. In celebration of Chico Chai's packaging makeover, I thought I'd create a little cocktail and raise a glass to Miss Sarah! Special thanks to my girl Alanna for introducing me to Nocino, a liquor derived from green walnuts, which gives this simple shaken cocktail a little something special! 

    Chico Chai-cino

    Ingredients
    1/2 cup almond milk (I like Pacific brand unsweetened vanilla)
    4 Tablespoons spiced rum
    2 Tablespoons nocino liquor
    2 Tablespoons Chico Chai Strong Brew chai concentrate
    2 drops hazelnut OR almond extract
    The tiniest pinch of sea salt (I like Jacobsen Salt Co.)
     

    Directions
    Combine all the ingredients together in a mason jar over a few cubes of ice (or even better, use crushed ice). Put the top onto the mason jar and shake like heck for a few seconds. Pour through a strainer into a fancy lady glass. Or for all y'all with cocktail shakers: you're smart, just use that ;) Note: minor separation will likely occur due to the nature of almond milk.

    Makes two cocktails.

    Grilled Asparagus + Tofu Summer Rolls

    It's official...happy spring! In my opinion, there's no better way to welcome this vibrant time than cooking with oodles of bright, in-season veggies. As you may have gathered from my Instagram feed, this blog, and my portfolio, I'm pretty infatuated with fresh vegetables and I strive to practice and support the farm to table movement every day. 

    Tofu side rant. I pretty much have a bowl of it marinating in my fridge at least once a week. It's a staple in my quick lunch stir-fries and salad bowls, and the perfect companion for burritos and thai peanut noodles. Don't worry, I've done my research on soy (here's a fairly comprehensive history via Bon Appetit from 2014) and it's perfectly fine to consume in moderation. In fact, it's been proven time and time again that soy actually decreases the risk of cancer and diabetes across the board in both men and women, and normal consumption could actually lower your cholesterol. I always choose organic non-GMO tofu — my favorite brands are Wildwood and Hodo. When prepared properly, tofu is easily one of the most delicious, protein-packed, and versatile readily available ingredients.

    Okay, let's get down to business: I absolutely adore stuffing my face with summer rolls this time of year, but I make them very infrequently. Why? They're somewhat time-consuming, require a fair amount of ingredients, and mastering the rolling technique takes practice. All of this said, the hard work always pays off! Alanna and I set out to refine our current summer roll recipes and together managed to create possibly the best roll of my life! When our powers combine...

    This recipe is just gorgeous — everything from the flavor-bomb marinade and dipping sauce to the perfectly grilled asparagus and tofu.

    And the colors! Spring personified. 

    When Alanna and I cook and shoot together, it's a true collaboration. Usually, one of us has an idea about a recipe we want to perfect...then we decide on ingredients, and tend to figure out assembly and technique along the way. It's all very organic (only like a little pun intended). We often play off of each others' style concepts or shot ideas and always utilize our collective hand modeling skills for one another! It's an inspiring creative process that surefire ends in consuming copious amounts of homemade food and at least one (or three) lady cocktails with a dear friend.

    Guys. Big news. Because of this shoot, I can now effectively roll a summer roll like nobody's business! Exciting, no? Click through to Alanna's incredible blog, The Bojon Gourmet, for the recipe and more behind-the-scenes stories that make me laugh out loud.