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Archive for the ‘Vegetable-Centric’ Category

This morning, the sun’s golden rays graced New York City with the first true day of Spring. Donning a summer dress & flip flops, I pranced out of my apartment eager for the first taste of 75+degree weather. As I took in the sights of scarlet red tulips, golden daffodils, and pretty-in-pink magnolias blossoming all around us, I stared in amazement at this seemingly sudden arrival of Spring. Surely this transformation didn’t happen overnight, but when one has been as absorbed in work as I have been in the past few weeks, it’s easy to let the world slip past you in the blink of an eye.

It was at that moment when I decided to reclaim the balance in my life, to make sure that I pay proper attention to things I love and enjoy – cooking up a storm, blogging up a bigger storm, curling up with a good book, and taking the time to just be.

My balance comes from my freedom to unleash my creativity, to draw inspiration from things I see, hear, smell, and taste, and create something that I can call my own. So it is with the same explorer’s attitude  that I cook up this Korean-Mexican fusion with Korean Pajeon pancakes, and Latin-flavored fillings and sauce. The flavors are nothing foreign to me, but the combination of smoky, spicy veggie fillings wrapped inside a rice-flour crepe-like pancake instead of the usual corn-flour tortilla introduced a new refreshing twist to an old favorite.

Recipe:

This is a 3 part recipe, which may seem daunting and complicated at first glance, but once you get the prep work out of the way, it’s very straightforward and easy to put together.

For the Pancake:

Ingredients:

  • Instant Korean Pajeon pancake mix – follow directions on measurements of mix + water
  • Or if you have time, 1/2 cup allpurpose flour, 1/2 cup rice flour, 3/4 c seltzer water, 1 egg, salt & pepper. (Notes: The rice flour gives it that transparency and lighter texture, the seltzer water makes it fluffier – found this tip from various bloggers and the kitchn)
  • a small bunch of scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cucumber, shredded
  • 1/2 carrot, shredded
  • 1 handful of cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp of soy sauce, more or less depending on your taste

Directions: Mix the batter together until well integrated and texture is smooth. Throw in the veggies and herbs, soy sauce, and in batches, spoon out batter onto an oiled frying pan. Spread out batter so it is about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick, turn heat to medium-low and when batter sticks together, flip to the other side and cook until pancake is crispy and gives off a golden brown hue.

For the Veggie Filling:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pkg of cremini or portabella mushrooms, sliced about 1/4 inch (you can play around with different varieties like shitake, chinese black, button, enoki, morel and oyster)
  • 2-3 medium sized carrots, peeled and diced roughly 1/2 inches thick
  • 2-3 medium sized zucchinis, diced into 1/2 inch thick medallions
  • 1 bell pepper (red, green, orange, or yellow), cut into strips that are about 2 inches in length and 1/2 inch in width
  • 14 oz can of diced tomatos
  • 1-2 handful of Morningstar Veggie crumbles (this is optional, but I love the texture they add)
  • Salt & pepper
  • A pinch of the following dried herbs: Rosemary, Oregano, Parsley, Basil

Directions: Saute the veggies, starting with carrots, which are the hardest to cook. At this time, I also add in the diced tomatoes to help flavor the carrots. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, then add bell peppers and cook for about 2-3 more minutes, then add the zucchini, mushrooms, and veggie crumbles last. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, adding in salt, pepper and herbs until veggies are cooked through and well-flavored

Chipotle Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of Chipotle en Adobo sauce (you won’t need to use it all)
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1-2 tsp paprika
  • 1 dash of champagne vinegar

Directions: Take out 1-2 chipotles out of the can of chipotle en adobo sauce (plus a few spoonfuls of the thick sauce itself). I find these extremely spicy so you should only need a couple to get that smoke and spice into the sauce. Finely chop the chipotle, or process in a small food processor. Mix it into the tomato sauce, add paprika and the vinegar and mix well.

Putting it all together:

Option 1: Spoon in the filling into the pajeon pancake, roll it up and place it upside down on a dish, repeat until you fill an entire casserole dish, drizzle with the chipotle sauce

Option 2: (My preference because it’s more fun) Lay a piece of the pajeon pancake on a plate, fill will the veggie filling, drizzle with the chipotle sauce, and then roll it up like a burrito and eat right away

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There was a time in my earlier twenties when I shed my structured, organized life in exchange for spontaneity. During that time,  the thrill-seeker in me longed for adventures and allowed myself to be seduced by the unknown. Each weekend brought about endless possibilities; each work project offered the promise of exotic travel locales. I loved that I didn’t have to report my whereabouts to anyone, and could pick up at a moment’s notice if Jetblue was offering flight deals.

As I cultivated that relationship with myself over the years, I have also come back full circle to my original roots. Naturally a Type A planner,  I’ve come to embrace the new routines of my more settled life. Work, weeknight dinners with the girls, indulging in Gossip Girl and American Idol, dragging myself to the gym, and then….welcoming home my man every Thursday night as he dependably lands in Newark Airport at 9:36pm.

Weekends still offer exciting variations of dinner parties, birthday gatherings and double/triple/quadruple dates, but the one “couple tradition” we hold very near and dear is our lazy Sunday of gym, laundry, catching up on HBO shows, and enjoying a simple meal of leftovers or a creation inspired by ingredients leftover from the week.

This succotash features corn and zucchini as the star ingredients. While it may not be the most traditional, the crunch of fresh veggies drenched in creamy sweetness will transport you into a world of ease and relaxation. It takes but minutes to put together and it’s exactly what we needed to wind down the weekend and welcome in another busy week at work.

Sunday Succotash Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups of corn kernels
  • 1-2 zucchinis, cut into 1/4 inch disks
  • 1 red/yellow/orange/green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 handful of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of fat free half & half OR 2 tbsp of creme fraiche + 1/4 c. of veggie broth
  • 1 – 2 tsp soy sauce
  • (optional) fresh basil, cilantro, or parsley – whatever you have in your fridge, or substitute with dry herbs

Lazy Sunday Instructions:

  1. Throw all the ingredients into a frying pan and stir fry until all veggies are just cooked, about 5-7 minutes (doesn’t get any easier than this!)

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As a child, I could never contain my excitement every time Halloween rolled around. I loved the mystery of not knowing what candy “swag” I would find in my bag at the end of the night, visiting the houses with the most terrifying Halloween lawn decor, and the costumes lovingly (though perhaps not skillfully) made by Mom.

20 some odd years later, this excitement has not faded, but my anticipation for candy has been replaced by an eagerness to brew up new spooktacular recipes, the lack of horrific suburban lawns has been made up by my proximity to the NYC West Village Halloween Parade, and the role of costume seamstress has passed on to me, making me realize that Mom was a much better costume maker than I ever will be.

To get ourselves in the mood for the fright-fest, I conjured up a few savory Halloween delights to start our night:

Cauliflower Miso Mashed Skulls (the orange edition)


Eye of newt, and toe of frog:

  • 1 full cauliflower head
  • 2 carrot fingers (peeled)
  • 3 tbsp of miso paste “blood”
  • 1/4 cup milk of a cow
  • eye and lips of nori (a sheet of sushi seaweed)

Round about the Cauldron Go

  1. Chop the cauliflower head and carrot fingers into pieces and drop into scalding, boiling water
  2. Boil and torture the head and fingers until soft and tender.
  3. Drain liquid, and add salt & pepper. Mix with a spatula.
  4. Transfer the ingredients into a blender or food processor, add in miso paste and milk and puree until desired smooth consistency is reached
  5. Shape the mash into skulls and bones.
  6. Take the sheet of seaweed, and with a small knife, cut out circles (for eyes) and thin strips (for a “X” shaped lip).
  7. Serve warm

Hairy Spaghetti Squash Monster with Mozzarella Eyeballs

Double Double Toil and Trouble:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 3-5 fresh mozzarella balls
  • 3-5 green  olives, pitted
  • 3-5 black olives, pitted
  • 1 strip of roasted red pepper (or sliced fresh red pepper, or anything that is red and resembles a mouth, such as beets)
  • Morningstar Veggie Crumbles
  • 2 Tbsp Oil of Olive
  • 2 Tbsp Mixed Herb Seasoning (I used a blend of dried rosemary, marjoram, oregano, basil, and tarragon)

Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble!

  1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, rub with herbs and olive oil, and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 min.
  2. Using a fork, scrape off the meat of the squash (once cooked and tender, it will come off easily in strings)
  3. Mix 1/3 of the squash with veggie crumbles to create a worms/maggots in hair effect
  4. Cut off the edge of a green olive (it should be dome shaped with a hole in the middle). Stuff a bit of black olive in the whole and balance the olive on top of a mozzarella ball (repeat to make multiple eyeballs)
  5. Arrange the squash to create a round face, framed with worm-infested hair, stick a couple of creepy eyeballs on top and around, and garnish with a fiery mouth.

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“Summer has come and passed/ The innocent can never last/ Wake me up when September ends”- Green Day

Sometimes I think the Southern Cali in me will never get used to the changing of seasons in the Northeast. If I could, I think I would wear flip flops and sundresses all year round. But the arrival of Fall, with its crisp refreshing chill in the air, was a wake up call for me. I’ve been immersed in my warm bubble of vacation-traveling and nest-building so long that I’ve neglected this little corner of blog haven.

But before I succumb entirely to Fall just yet, I want to share one more dish that to me, captures the essence of summer sunshine – the Ratatouille. Popularized by Remy the lovable rat in the Pixar film, this veggie-centric dish represents everything pastoral, natural, and simply honest about food. There is no fancy work involved, yet every bite bursts with nostalgic flavor that takes you back to that imaginary country cottage in Provence on a lazy summer’s day.

This is my favorite version after numerous experimentation, inspired by the layered aesthetics of the Ratatouille in the film, and incorporating my favorite ingredients.  Smoked mozzarella adds a subtle hit of the unexpected and creates satisfaction as you work your way through the stringy glory; my tomato mixture (which you can’t see) has just a touch of cream to sweeten and a kick of tarragon for warmth; finally the puff pastry crust not only provides a delightful crunch and but holds it all together nicely.

Sneak These Ingredients In:

  • 1 small to medium eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch
  • 2-3 large zucchinis, sliced 1/4 inch
  • 8oz “log” of fresh smoked mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch
  • 2-3 bell peppers, broiled, sweated out, and peeled, then cut into strips
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2-3 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped (or 1-2 tsp dried tarragon)
  • 4-5 leaves of basil, finely chopped, plus some extra for garnish
  • 1-2 tsp of dried herb & spice mixture (thyme, oregano, cayenne, paprika) (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fat free half & half
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar
  • 2 sheets of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets
  • olive oil for drizzling and cooking
  • salt and pepper to taste

Smell it, taste it, devour the RATatouille!

  1. Preheat Oven to 350-375. Defrost the puff pastry sheets and spread over baking dish.
  2. Make the tomato sauce: Cook the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, and garlic over medium heat until sauce thickens. Add water or more paste as necessary. Add in salt, pepper, tarragon, basil and stir. Slowly incorporate the half & half and agave and adjust until you reach the desired balance of acidity and savory.
  3. Precook the eggplant. I find this step extremely important unless you’re using Japanese eggplants which cook more easily. Saute the eggplant slices in olive oil over medium to high heat and flip on other side until cooked and soft.
  4. Spread the tomato sauce into the baking dish on top of the puff pastry. Then layer the veggies and cheese on top (eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, cheese, and so forth).
  5. Drizzle or brush with olive oil and sprinkle the mixed herbs & spice mixture on top.
  6. Bake for about 40-50 minutes until puff pastry is golden brown and vegetables and cheese are bubbly without being overcooked.
  7. Be transported into the French countryside

And on this note, I give Summer one last forlorn glance and spring forward to welcome Fall in all it’s glory. Hello to pumpkins and squashes – can’t wait for what comes next!

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Today is Burn’s Night, a Scottish holiday celebrating the brilliant poet Robert Burns, most known for his poem Auld Lang Syne. A few posts back, I wrote about New Beginnings, but today, my post is about Endings. Auld Lang Syne is a song often sung to celebrate the New Year, but also sung at funerals to commemorate a loved one passed. As I return from my beloved Grandpop’s funeral in Taiwan, there is not a more perfect night for me to dedicate in his honor my version of Auld Lang Syne, and my twist on the Vegetarian Haggis – the traditional dish served on Burn’s Night.

Haggis:

I encountered the mystifying Haggis during my recent trip to Edinburgh, and what I learned almost made my stomach turn! Haggis, according to Wikipedia ” is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck (heart, liver & lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours.” Thankfully most restaurants serve a vegetarian version, and I was curious to see how they would translate something like this into a vegetarian dish. I was gravely disappointed. What I ate was a soggy, flavorless pilaf, served on a bed of mashed potatos, garnished with oatcakes, and heavily reliant on the whisky sauce to give it flavor (it’s only redemption).

So I invented my own interpretation, taking out the oatmeal altogether, substituting leeks for onions, adding fennel for an added kick of flavor, and throwing in pine nuts for the added crunch. I also served it on a bed of shoyu spinach, and instead of oatcakes, I finished off the dish with a side of jalapeno cornbread. The result, a much more flavorful and healthy version with a combination of complementary texture and taste.

For the Haggis:

  • 1/2 bulb of Fennel, finely chopped
  • 1 medium Leek (use only the white, or pale green tender sections), minced
  • 1.5 cups of Red Lentils
  • 2 Carrots, minced
  • 2-3 Tbsp of Red Kidney Beans
  • 4-6 Mushroom (of your choice), sliced thinly
  • 1-2 cups of Stock
  • 1 handful of Pine Nuts
  • 1 pinch of Tarragon
  • 1 pinch of Oregano
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Butter, to cook
  • 1 Egg, Beaten

For the Spinach:

  • 5-6 oz Spinach, chopped
  • 1 handful of Toasted Sesame Seeds
  • A drizzle of Shoyu (Soy Sauce). (I used Ponzu, which is a citrus based soy sauce – it’s been my favorite Asian cooking sauce lately. The subtle citrus flavor makes the dish light, yet still gives dimension)

For the Cornbread:

  • 1 cup Flour
  • 1 cup Stone Ground Cornmeal
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 stick of Butter
  • 1/3 cup of Xagave Nectar
  • 1 Jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 handful Corn Kernels
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper

Healthy Haggis

  1. To make the Haggis, cook the leeks and fennel in butter until soft and buttery. Add in carrots and saute for a few more minutes until soft. Throw in mushrooms, lentils, beans, spices and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, until lentils are soft but not yet mushy.
  2. Place into an oven-safe dish. Mix in the beaten egg, and bake at 375 for around 20 minutes, until the Haggis Hardens.
  3. To make the Spinach, simply saute the spinach with some salt & pepper, a drizzle of soy sauce, and then sprinkle on some sesame seeds.
  4. For the cornbread. Mix in the wet and dry ingredients separately. Slowly combine the dry and wet ingredients, mix in the corn kernels and jalapenos, stick in the oven at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. 
  5. Spread out a bed of spinach on a plate. Spoon out the Haggis mixture over it, and cut a pieces of delicious golden cornbread on the side!

Auld Lang Syne (Once Upon A Time)

I lived with my grandparents for the first 2 years of my life. Because I am their first grandchild, they threw every ounce of their energy into caring for me and showered me with all the love they had to give. My grandma – the forthright, candid, sincerely outspoken firecracker, and my grandpop – the calm, gentle, quietly agreeable nurturer. I never once saw him lose his temper, and I was told that even in his final days, he never complained of any pain he suffered. To think that I wasn’t able to make it back to see him during his last moments just completely breaks my heart. So here’s to you Grandpop. I hope you know that I loved you very much and think of you in my heart everyday.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne

You gave me your quiet gentle love
With unconditional patience time after time 
You woke up many nights to soothe my cries,
since auld lang syne. 

We two have strolled the country roads
from morning sun till dine
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And now we are separated by heaven & earth
But I will hold on to all you have left behind
For your strength and courage will never fade
since auld lang syne.

*You will never be forgotten. This is an ending for us, but a new beginning for you.

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This is a story of new beginnings, unexpected surprises in life, and the power of love.

As I write this blog post, I am sitting in our newly purchased apartment – a West Village loft that is cozy, majestic and perfect in every way (at least in our eyes). I stretched out many a brain cell trying to determine which dish I should make for the new kitchen’s maiden voyage, and it finally hit me – I am making the dish that started it all.

What is “IT” you ask? Is IT the love Brian and I have found in each other? Is IT the exhilaration and fulfillment I have discovered in this blog? Is IT what started my Experimental Culinary Pursuits? IT is all of the above. You see, on the Valentine’s Day of 2008 I decided to surprise Brian with a homemade lasagna. It was our first Vday together as a couple and I told him that I was going to introduce him to the yummiest food he’s ever had in his life. I guess he agreed, because he said “Wow, this is so good that we should just cook EVERY weekend!” Except for by “we”, he really meant “me”. And so the experiments began. We discovered that shopping the aisles of Food Emporium and Trader Joe was as thrilling as shopping in Bloomingdales & Sephora, that kitchen gadgets could be just as addictively collectible as cosmetics and Wii games, and that Irma Rombauer wasn’t kidding about the Joy of Cooking. All this, culminating into one fateful day in August of 2009, when  Experimental Culinary Pursuits (the blog) came to life, bringing me joy and satisfaction I never knew I could feel, introducing me to an amazing community of foodie friends, and challenging me to be a better cook every single day.

So here it is, no bells & whistles; just one simple delicious dish that changed my life.

Give Love:

  • 1 box of Lasagna Sheets
  • 1 pkg of Baby Spinach (or 10oz frozen spinach)
  • 1/2 cup-1 cup of Ricotta Cheese
  • 8oz Mozzarella or Italian Cheese blend
  • 1 handful of Parmesan Cheese
  • Marinara Sauce (1 chopped tomato, 1tbsp tomato paste, 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, 1 cup red wine, 3-5 tbsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 stick of finely chopped carrots, garlic, onion, dash of tarragon, squeeze of lemon, pinch of salt & pepper, pinch of sugar – all simmered and pureed to smooth or chunky perfection, depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 Eggplant, sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1-2 Zucchinis, sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1 Squash (I used Delicata this time), sliced 1/8 inch
  • 1/2 – 1 Bell Pepper cut into french fry sized pieces
  • Dried Basil Flakes
  • Oil for cooking
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Love (and the oven) Makes the Lasagna Go Steamy & Tasty

  1. Saute all the following veggies (Eggplant, Zucchini, Squash, Bell Pepper) in oil, salt & pepper and some Dried Basil Flakes until cooked. Set aside.
  2. In separate pan, saute Spinach in oil & salt & pepper until wilted and mix with the Ricotta Cheese. Set aside.
  3. Make the Marinara Sauce while you’re at it (see above).
  4. Layer the Lasagna – Sauce, Lasagna Pasta Sheets, Ricotta/Spinach Mix, Lasagna Sheets, Sauce, Veggies, Mozzarella Cheese, Lasagna Sheets, Sauce, Cheese, and finish off with a sprinkling Parmesan Cheese)
  5. Stick it in the Oven and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.

And a Bonus Picture:

This was taken the first night Brian and I met. Yes amazing, I took a picture with a guy at a party when I didn't know if I'd ever see him again? Also, Brian wants me to me disclaim that he was 10-15lbs heavier back then and now looks much skinner and handsome 🙂

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A few weeks ago, my friend Jill, a wonderful (non-blogging!) cheerleader of my food experiments, sent me an message raving about a lovely beet appetizer she had. She described the dish in detail, recalling the flavors she detected, and challenged me to recreate it.

Since I am not one to turn down a challenge, I marched out to buy myself some beets.  I’ve tasted them before, but had never seen them in their uncooked state until that encounter at the grocery store.  And what a monstrosity they were! Unnaturally bright green & red leaves, tentrils-like wisps, and excuse me, are those tails I see? I was a bit freaked out. To make matters worse, the lovely* employees of Food Emporium placed them all the way at the top, and as I reached up to grab a bunch, I was attacked by parade of falling vegetation and an unpleasant wet spray of condensation! Let’s just say I was not off to a good start.

The beets then proceeded to stain my shirt, fingers, knife, and cutting board a stage-blood red. I ran around screaming to Brian “Look…bloooooood” (Ok, so that part was kind of fun). And they took FOREVER to cook! For someone with my impatience, “boiling for one hour” is not something that’s considered fun. But in the end…I conquered the beets. I mean, I BEAT the BEETS! They turned from beast to beauty – and a delicious beauty it is.  Best of all, I stand here alive to chronicle the adventure and recipe.

DSCN0951 photoshopped

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 medium sized beets
  • Agave Nectar (or sugar)
  • Honey
  • Dried Basil (optional)
  • Arugula
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Herbed Cheese (*I had a master plan to make my own from cream cheese, sour cream, chives, and parsley, but the Alouette Garlic & Herbs Spread caught my eye, and upon finding out that it had LESS fat and calories than the light cream cheese, I gave in to my laziness and picked it up. It didn’t disappoint, but I would like to try making it from scratch next time though)

Beet It!

  1. Wash the beets, remove the leafy greens, peel them, and slice them into around 1/4 inch.
  2. Divide the beets in 2 piles.
  3. Boil half of the beets in water sweetened with Agave Nectar for 30-40 min (shh…I microwaved for 15 min instead to save some time – it worked!). They should be tender when forked and slightly sweet.
  4. Toss the other half in a vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, salt & pepper, and basil. Roast in the oven at 350 for about 40 min, turning it over once halfway through.
  5. Toss the Arugula in a the same vinaigrette until well dispersed. Set aside.
  6. After the beets are cooked comes the fun part – Assembly! Prepare a bed of Arugula. Layer on boiled beets, leaving some greens peeping out. With a cake piper (or you can make one by cutting a small hole in a ziploc bag!), pipe the herbed cheese on top of the beets. Now, take the roasted, slightly crispy beet chips and wedge them around the cheese.
  7. And there you have it! A beautiful beet flower that I present to you, my wonderful readers!

DSCN0954 photoshop

Now for the possible variations:

  • Instead of the cream cheese, try feta, goat, or another creamy cheese with bite. Or use mascarpone or ricotta for the texture, but season well with some salty herby flavor.
  • I suspect this can also be made with sweet potatoes or taro.
  • I was pleasantly surprised when some of my roasted beets came out tasting like terra chips! Had I known, I would’ve used a mandoline to slice them even thinner for more crisp.
  • Adding some crushed walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts will add another layer of nutty satisfaction.
  • Instead of honey, try maple syrup (also rich in nutrients).

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