My “new recipe a week” Top 25

By Friday, February 5, 2016 1 , Permalink

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos, credit Kirsten Akens 2015

I honestly can’t remember when I started my “new recipe a week” project. It was an Instagram thing for me before I started recording them anywhere else, and that’s been going for a few years at least.

While I haven’t hit every single week, I realized when looking back over my Pepperplate recipe list, that I’ve hit way more than I thought I had. (Some weeks I’d miss, but some weeks I’d try two or three. I think it’s all balanced out in the end.)

Of the 100-plus new recipes I’ve given a shot over the past couple of years, 25 of them were yummy enough to stick around. Thanks to a couple of friends who’ve asked, I’m sharing that list with you today.

I’ve divided the dishes out by categories. Note: because I’m vegetarian, you won’t find any meat on this list. It’s also worth saying that lots of these dishes are also vegan, gluten-free, or easily prepared one of those ways.

I do have about a dozen cookbooks I still page through, and I love grabbing them from the library and skimming, but more and more, I head online to find recipes.

My favorite sites include:

  • 101 Cookbooks: Heidi Swanson’s site is easy to use, and, since she’s also a photographer and traveler, beautiful. I have never cooked anything that completely flopped from her recipes, and I have both of her cookbooks as well. (The few recipes that haven’t been winners for us have been due to taste.)
  • My New Roots: Sarah Britton earns the title of recipe queen, in that, of all of the new recipes I’ve tried, it’s her Big Comfy Sweet Potato dish that I’ve cooked over and over again, not only for my family, but for dinner parties. You’ll find the recipe link below.
  • Food52: Food52 can be hit or miss, mainly because it’s a community recipe site. That said, I’ve found that if you stick to recipes that have received tons of likes, or that are contest winners, you’re usually good to go. And they’ve got an awesome blog for foodies. Really great cooking resource.

OK, on to my top 25.

Main courses

Big Comfy Sweet Potatoes: The dish I mentioned above. OMG. SO yummy.

Wintery Mushroom, Kale and Quinoa Enchiladas: I’d never made my own enchilada sauce until this. And it was excellent.

Heidi Swanson’s Baked Oatmeal: Yum. Just yum. Great for breakfast, brunch, and morning potlucks.

Open Face Egg Salad Sandwich: I prefer chives to dill in this. Whatever you do, don’t overlook the garlic step. (This is actually a Heidi Swanson recipe from one of her cookbooks, reproduced on a blogger’s website.)

Refried Beans with Cinnamon and Clove: I placed this in main courses because I use them as a taco salad base. This recipe makes a TON, so use a big pan and be prepared for leftovers. Side benefit: it makes your house smell yummy.

Broccoli-Basil Mac and Cheese: Use delicata squash! So much easier!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos: More yum. (Pictured above.)

Asparagus and Brown Rice: Love this, but make sure you rinse the chickpeas really, really well.

Cheese-Crusted Eggs: Super easy.


Lime Peanut Coleslaw: Good side to the Big Comfy Sweet Potatoes, if you’re wanting something else or having a group.

Carrot-Dill-White Bean Salad: I could eat this all day.

Farro Kale Salad: Use non-sweetened dried cranberries if you can.

Garlicky Greens: Garlic makes everything better. I’ve made this with kale, spinach and chard. All good.

Cherry Tomato Cous Cous: Makes a ton, so good for lunch leftovers.

A Simple Tomato Soup: Such an easy homemade soup. I pour over brown rice, add a dab of coconut milk cream, and top with toasted slivered almonds.

Roasted Carrot Soup: The only bad thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t make much.


The Life Changing Loaf of Bread: OK, it hasn’t changed my life, but it’s rather good.

Olive Oil Granola: The best thing about this recipe is that you can alter to the nuts and seeds you prefer. Just keep the ratios in mind. Great over yogurt.

Maple Syrup Scones: I love these so much.

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies: I love these even more.

Other Sweets

Fudgesicles: Good anytime, probably best in summer.

Crisp Raw Apple Pie: This. Pie. Is. Brilliant. Vegan. GF. Raw. And seriously brilliant. I use pomegranate, and I don’t use the Wild Orange Oil.

Alicia Silverstone’s Crispy Brown Rice Squares: Kids love these! Adults love these! I love these!

Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary: Perhaps an odd mix of flavors, but really tasty.

Salted Maple Honeycomb Candy: Mmmm. That’s all.

Questions? Let me know in the comments! And happy cooking!

Why I love to bake

By Tuesday, June 9, 2015 0 , , , Permalink

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies from 101 Cookbooks, photo credit Kirsten Akens 2015

Last week I found out that a friend, who has been lactose-intolerant for many years, learned he is now gluten-sensitive — and will find out soon if he’s actually gluten-intolerant.

Every time I hear a story like this, I cringe a little inside.

I love to bake.

I love to eat what I bake.

I love to share what I bake.

I can’t imagine having to completely give up any one item when it comes to eating. (I am vegetarian, but that’s by choice.) And gluten is a hard one, in particular, when it comes to baking.

So that’s why, sometimes when I bake, I experiment.

I play with flax eggs for my vegan friends.

I test out assorted flour mixes for my GF friends.

I make cakes out of hot wings, carrots, celery, and ranch “frosting” for my friends who really prefer meat to baked goods. (True story, as horrendous as this thought is to me.)

What I like most, really (aside from the eating part of the baking), is gifting someone with a surprise muffin, or scone, or cookie that is exactly to their dietary needs and taste preferences.

It’s probably the connection — typically over sweet treats, though any food will do — that I love (and crave) most.

The connection, and the resulting smiles.

So in light of my friend’s situation, I baked tonight. I pulled out an oldie-but-goodie, already vegan, cookie recipe, exchanged the whole wheat flour for a GF pastry flour blend and the old-fashioned oats for GF oats … et voilà.

Warm cookies.

Instant smile.

Deeper connection.


Tonight’s recipe — one of my all-time favorites — comes from the incredible Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks. I highly recommend her website. A good 95 percent of recipes I’ve made from there have been excellent.

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Note: this is the original recipe as found on 101 Cookbooks. It’s already vegan/dairy-free. If you want to make it gluten-free, simply exchange the flour and the oats with GF options. I used Bob’s Red Mill products in both cases, easily found at most natural foods stores.

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unrefined (fragrant) coconut oil, warmed until just melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1. Preheat oven to 375F degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oats. Add the nuts and carrots. In a separate smaller bowl use a whisk to combine the maple syrup, coconut oil, and ginger. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

3. Drop onto prepared baking sheets, one level tablespoonful at a time, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake in the top 1/3 of the oven for 10 – 12 minutes or until the cookies are golden on top and bottom.

4. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

I made my own ginger beer. You can too.

By Monday, April 13, 2015 0 , , Permalink

Ginger Beer Cooking, credit Kirsten Akens 2015

I love all things ginger, but I’m a particular sucker for ginger beer. As a part of my “40 before 41” journey, I wanted to learn to make what seemed to be a fairly easy non-alcoholic drink.

A friend of mine who concocts the ginger beer (of which I’m quite fond) for a local bar agreed to show me the ropes (and pass along his basic recipe), and so last fall I spent a morning helping him with a fresh batch — which mostly meant chopping and squeezing a whole lotta citrus, and watching him stir a humongous vat of the stuff.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to making a gallon of my own. It was an easy process and so I’m here to share the details of what I did with those of you who might also be aspiring ginger-beer-makers.

Ginger Beer

Basic Ingredients

325 grams of ginger juice, or 1.5 lbs whole ginger

1 lb. raw or white cane sugar

1/4 lb. of honey

3 limes

Champagne yeast (I used Red Star Pasteur Champagne Active Dry Wine Yeast, purchased at a local homebrew shop for about $1.50)

Bottles: Reusable flip-top cap style — I used four 34 oz. ones from IKEA, but eight 16 oz. ones would work too


1. Juice your ginger, or peel and chop the whole pieces.

2. Boil ginger, sugar, honey and lime with a 1/2 gallon of water (for an hour if ginger pieces, 5 minutes if ginger juice).

3. Fine strain liquid, add water up to 1 gallon and shake to mix.

4. Fill each bottle, making sure to leave some room at the top. For each 16 oz. of liquid, add about 25 granules of champagne yeast.

5. Seal securely, shake well, and store in a warm, dark place for 48 hours.

6. After 48 hours have passed, refrigerate immediately to stop the carbonation process.

Drink, and smile. Or mix 4 ounces of ginger beer with 1.5 ounces of rum, pour over some ice, garnish with lime, and smile even more through your first housemade Dark ‘N’ Stormy.

A few additional notes:

• I used a juice extractor to juice my ginger. I’m not sure whether the bother of the machine was more or less work than peeling, chopping and then using cheesecloth to fine strain would have been, but I’d probably stick with the juicing process if I did it again.

• My bottles did not explode, but I hear that they can, so store your bottles carefully with this potential in mind.

• My ginger beer had quite the kick to it. At times, so much so, it made me cough. There are all sorts of possible reasons for that — from the ginger itself, to the type of honey, to things I’m sure I know nothing about. Next time, I’ll probably try lowering the amount of ginger just a wee bit, and maybe play with limes and lemons, but it is a bit of a crapshoot.