Healthier Holiday Foods: Thanksgiving Edition

It’s coming. The great big Thanksgikuhmas. We will be doing a lot of celebrating, and I assume many of you will be as well. I want to make it clear, despite our occasionally ascetic sounding screes about food in the modern world, Big Sis and I both do really love to eat. And most of all we really love to eat with family and friends. Over the years we’ve found that it is particularly helpful to have an arsenal of healthier foods to either create a super buffet out of or to bring as a contribution to someone else’s meal to help decrease the likelihood that we will not only overeat but we will not have any nutrition whilst we do that.

If you are leaning in a similar direction, or are just trying to stay out of elastic waisted pants this winter, you may find these suggestions helpful as part of your holiday scene. I’ve leaned in the Thanksgiving/Harvest/Fall flavor profile direction for this post since Thanksgiving is coming up so very quickly. I’ll try to offer some similar assistance during the later cold and dark time of December. For now, let’s all go make some hand turkeys and be grateful for friends and family, for our health, and for bountiful and delicious choices!

Starters

 

1. Mixed Grain Bread

2. Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

3. Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup

Sides or Veggie Banquet Fare

4. Naturally Sweet Sweet Potatoes

5. Creamy Non-Dairy Mashed Potatoes

6. Bulgur PIlaf with Pine Nuts and Cranberries

7. Creamed Kale 

8. Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

9. Waldorf Saute

Desserts

10. Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

11. Sweet Potato Crusted Apple Pie 

12. Cranberry Apple Pecan Crunch

Sesame Whole Wheat Pancakes with Honeyed Oranges

It’s been a long time since I made pancakes around here. I noticed that having added chocolate chips a few times, the expectation from the little people became increasingly chocolate chip focused. They also, as a result of growth spurts, were a lot hungrier in the morning, and the need for speed was a driving factor in my pancake break. The lovely thing about taking a pancake break is that when you start to make them, everyone is happy to wait, very flexible about the kind of pancakes you make, and oh so excited to eat breakfast. And they didn’t even know how good they were going to be…

These pancakes were fantastic. Light and flavorful. Warm and comforting. The perfect platform for some chopped oranges with a little honey.

Sesame Whole Wheat Pancakes

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  • 3 c white whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c chickpea flour
  • 1/3 c corn meal or polenta (oats would probably work too)
  • 1/3 c sesame seeds
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • fresh grated nutmeg to taste (I use a microplane)
  • 6 T coconut oil
  • 1/2 c applesauce
  • 1 mashed ripe banana
  • 3 1/2 c coconut milk (or whatever kind you like)

Honeyed Oranges

I believe you can do this with any oranges. Personally I used clementines because we love them and I had them to hand. These “measurements” are really unimportant – do it how you like.

  • 4 small oranges
  • a 1/2-1 t honey

Procedure

If you have not pre-heated your pans via some overnight magic, I strongly suggest you do so first thing. Turn the oven to 300 (or so) and place oven safe pans (I use well seasoned cast iron) in the oven to warm). Why? See my full pancake method explanation here, or just take my word for it. Mix the dry ingredients. Gently heat coconut oil to liquify it. Mix the applesauce, banana and milk. Add these to the dry ingredients and stir until mostly combined. Add liquid coconut oil and stir to combine. Let rest for at least 10 minutes.

While the batter is resting, chop oranges into bite sized pieces. If you wanted to be really fancy, you could supreme them, but I rarely feel like being that fancy, especially in the morning. Drizzle with a small amount of honey and let sit. I used 4 clementines (very small) and less than a teaspoon of honey, just for reference. You should use what you like and prepare to taste.

After batter has rested, drop it by 1/4 c measure into warm lightly oiled pans. Wait until bubbles form and gently turn. Marvel at the beautiful color. Serve to hungry hordes with the oranges and watch breakfast disappear. Absolutely delish!

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Sweet Potato & Lime on Your Chip?

Basically, I’m beginning to think that sweet potato is like chocolate….. there seems to be very little that does not benefit from the addition of sweet potato.  I try to always keep some on hand because in and of themselves they are a great addition to any meal as a simple side (or with the addition of some walnuts a breakfast!).  Pop a sweet potato (or 4) in the oven if you have time, or the microwave if you don’t and 4 – 40 minutes later you have a delicious and healthy side that is even better with a little cinnamon sprinkled, a little coconut oil drizzled, a little salt scattered, yum.

One appreciates such simplicity when life is complicated by school and work and, well, life.  As a result of all the complications, lately I have not been very adventurous in creating whole new entrees.  (Or in posting – thank you Little Sis for picking up the slack!).  I hate receiving an unenthusiastic, “Oh,” or “Again?” when I answer queries about dinner.  But I have found that a great way to inspire new combos when I am uninspired is to try a new sauce or dip.  Pour or spread something flavorful on old standbys and suddenly it’s like a whole new thing.  I think dips are particularly nice because they also fill the bill with veggies or Ezekiel bread as a snack, or as a way to make a sandwich very special. Combine this idea with my love of sweet potatoes and I could not pass up this recipe that I found in an old issue of Vegetarian Times (I’m a little behind in my non-school reading!!). This sweet potato dip is rounded out in terms of flavor, consistency and protein content with some white miso and in terms of flavor with lime and ginger.  Simple, delicious and it was scooped onto tortilla chips and added to a tortilla with cheese and salsa in it’s debut in our household.

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Miso-Lime Sweet Potato Dip (from Vegetarian Times)

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. white miso paste (soy bean paste available in the refrigerated section of some groceries – also great for making miso soup!)
2 Tbsp. lime juice (I think next time I’ll cut down on the lime juice just a tad – maybe 1.5 Tbsp)
1 tsp freshly grated ginger (Freeze your fresh ginger root and it becomes very easy to grate and lasts a good long time!)
1/2 tsp lime zest for garnish (optional)
salt and pepper (optional)

Cook the sweet potatoes until very soft.
Cool until you can touch them then cut into chunks with skin on and toss in the food processor
Add the other ingredients and process until smooth.  You may have to add a little water – I added about 2 teaspoons – to desired consistency.

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Then dip, spread, slather and put it anywhere that might change the “Oh,” or “Again?” into, “That sounds interesting,” and eventually, “I like this!”  My son ate his in a tortilla with cheese and salsa.

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I was thinking the addition of some black beans (just open a can on a busy night!) would have been perfect.
Mr Bigg Sis and I complemented the last of the leftover chicken soup with the dip and chips.  Really made those last 2 bowls of chicken soup more interesting!

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If you would like to try some dips or sauces to easily add interest to the same old same old…. Here are some more to try! Happy Dipping and Spreading my friends!

Nutty Lunch Dip

Lemon-y Hummus Sauce

Cheddar Cheesy Cashew Ball / Spread

Easy Artichoke Dip

Orange Hummus

Bean & Green Spread

Prune Cardamom Sauce

Healthy Bechamel Sauce

Berry / Thyme Sauce

Happier Caramel-la Dipping Sauce

 

 

 

Kicking the Asian Rice Up a Notch

 photo IMG_0940.jpgWe eat a lot of Asian styled meals around here. Our varia-bowl approach to eating works particularly well with Asian flavor profiles, and well Mr. Little Sis and I just love Asian food. Ms. Picky Pants, however is not a fan of rice. We’ve used quinoa, noodles, amaranth, polenta. We’ve done all that. But let’s face it, rice is cheaper than ALL that. So, while reading an issue of Vegetarian Times, I stumbled onto a new rice preparation that I thought was worth giving a go. Combined with a new sauce, we had a hit on our hands, at least for a couple of rounds. She is a changeable little thing.

The beauty of this rice prep is that you can use leftover rice and it’s largely hands off. You simply put it in a pan in the oven, wait, and bam, you have rice that is slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, the perfect foundation for any rice friendly food you can think of. Continue reading

Oats, They’re Not Just for Breakfast

I told you a week or so ago (okay, it could have been last year, I have no idea) that I had become intrigued by the fact that people the world over eat some form of porridge and that they have it for lunch and dinner. Let me tell you what time of year is a good time for porridge for lunch and dinner – the time where it’s starting to give you lots of reason to believe that this winter may just well be as cold as the last, when leaves are crunching under foot (and blasting by in 40 mph gusts), and you’re digging in your sock drawer for that special pair you actually slip over other socks when things are really bad (just me?). I am a fan, a convert, and a chilly advocate of savory porridge.

 photo IMG_0915.jpgOur last porridge attempt was polenta, because I knew the mediterranean leaning would make it more approachable for my crew. This time I decided to go a little more full-on porridge by using oats.  In this preparation an ‘oats risotto.’ Let me confess right here that pretty much anything with ‘risotto’ in the title will get my interest, add oats to it and I’m downright intrigued. This particular oats risotto had mushrooms, walnuts and leeks. The original recipe can be found on this little treasure trove for those trying to increase their plant-based intake (or decrease their other), Meatless Monday. Continue reading

Keeping it Together When the Plan Falls Apart

I’ve shared with you that I’m not necessarily the best meal planner. When I said that, I didn’t really give you the whole picture. The truth is that with planning our culinary landscape, there are a variety of points in the process that can go wrong. 1) No plan at all; 2) an incomplete plan; 3) an unrealistic plan; 4) no grocery list; 5) an incomplete list; 6) an inefficient shop and finally 7) a culinary fail.  Any concerns you have about making something yucky should really take low priority in your worries about food. If you get through to 7, you’ve really run a marathon in my book.

So this week, I made my realistic plan, made a list, and then promptly blew 3 meals on the plan by forgetting to buy tomatoes and onions. Who forgets onions? This “I’m going by my plan and my list no matter what girl.” Daggone alliums didn’t make it on the list. We’ve had a full week here at Lake Domestica, so rather than try to fit in another trip to the store so early in the week, I decided to do some quick shuffling.

Moved burritos to later in the week when I already had errands planned, changed the varia bowl to soup in response to sniffly requests and rather than making potato pancakes, which I love but don’t like to clean up, I switched them out for a lovely, easy and super quick Dreena Burton recipe from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan: Everyday Vegan Recipes Worth Celebrating.  I absolutely love this book. Dreena has a site and tons of books and they are full with a great range of recipes. I’ve found things from the simple to the sublime in this book and it always gives a boost to my plant strong repertoire.

 photo dda1ada6-b9a8-4835-aa0d-6c9eb5c61e71.jpgRather than our favorite potato pancakes, we had Ms. Burton’s Potato Squashers. These are essentially the world’s easiest and simplest twice baked potatoes. Rather than ordinary russets, the recipe calls for Yukon Golds. I used Kennebec Whites as that’s what I grew in the garden. They have some of the same qualities as the Golds in that they are a little waxier and creamier than the russets. At any rate, the basic plan is to bake them to tender. To press on them until they give a bit, dress with olive oil and salt, return to the oven at greater heat so that the exposed and olive oiled flesh browns and crisps. Dead easy and fan flipping tastic. 100% approval rating AND would you believe that Ms. Picky Pants actually wants me to pack leftover potatoes in her  Thermos for lunch? Oh my stars, it’s like a dream come true. A simple delicious dinner that my daughter wants to eat as leftovers at school. I swoon.

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We had our potato squashers with sautéed green beans and a big green salad. Mr. Little Sis and I had ours with our favorite potato condiment, malt vinegar. And just so you know how great these were, I’ll share the greatest part of our dinner – the kids skipped the ketchup. Woot! Thanks Dreena!

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The big lesson? When the plan can no longer be executed, do a little shuffling, move things around, make the best of what you DO have, and check in with your most trust worthy advisors. If you do, you might be eating something as delicious as our dinner. :-)

Porridge Got A Bad Rap… Polenta with White Beans and Kale

Pease porridge hot

Pease porridge cold

Pease porridge in the pot

Nine days old.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that I am of the last generation to learn this little gem from 1760. Whenever I hear the word porridge, this little ditty goes through my head. The really interesting part is that pease porridge bears nearly zero resemblance to what most of us think of as porridge these days. Pease porridge is, if I may draw an ill fitting comparison for the purposes of illustration, much more like hummus than like porridge. As I understand it, pease porridge was legumes cooked, mushed and flavored (onions, olive oil, maybe meat if it was available). When we talk about porridge today, what most people mean is a grain cooked in liquid until the two do some magic to make a soft warm bowl that is neither liquid nor entirely solid. Deeply satisfying, warming, wholesome and hearty.

As you likely already know, the Sis sisters are huge fans of porridge in its traditional Western breakfast form – a little sweetness added to cooked grains. We’ve already shared pumpkin apple steel cut oats, chocolate oatmeal, and quinoa porridge, to name just a few. Apparently the Scottish are the kings and queens of porridge, and porridge has starred in a number of culinary competitions, including the recent London Porridge Championships, not to be confused with the World Porridge Making Championships… who knew? All this attention being paid to the production of and the adornment of porridge makes those packets of precut, highly sugared, not really that much more convenient than the real thing oatmeal seem a little, well, lame (more thoughts on reasons to ditch “instant” oatmeal here).

Aside from bolstering my own love affair with oatmeal, this story of the London Porridge Championships reminded me of a historical culinary truth that I keep forgetting before I can implement it in my own kitchen. Porridge can be savory. Oh yes, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore, in fact it never was. Old cookbooks are full of recipes for savory cooked grains for lunch and dinner. We eat a lot of rice around here, and frankly a savory porridge might be just the thing our varia bowls need every now and again. And so I decided it was time for a savory porridge experiment… but how to approach it to best hedge my bets with Ms. Picky Pants?

I settled on polenta photo a313cca6-c072-4607-8036-92e5599d8d40.jpg. I didn’t want to potentially diminish the power of oatmeal in the morning here by having an oatmeal fail. Polenta’s creaminess and corniness seemed promising for my corny crowd. Mediterranean flavors tend to fare well… seemed like a good bet all around. And so, while not perhaps a traditional Scottish porridge, a grain cooked in liquid to creamy perfection is indeed what polenta is. Topped with white beans and kale? Oh yes, please.

I made this delightful dish from Patrice at Circle B Kitchen. I followed the recipe pretty closely (I AM capable, just usually not willing) except that I cut the animal products out of the polenta by replacing the liquids for cooking the polenta with 3 cups of veggie broth and 1 c coconut milk. I also ditched the cheese in favor of a smaller amount of nutritional yeast. Butter gone, olive oil in. Done. Vegan polenta. Admittedly less creamy in fat feel, but still super creamily delish. And the perfect base for white beans with kale. Thanks Patrice, for a lovely dinner and a baby step down the road to porridge for dinner.

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Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils

 photo DSC01007.jpgAs you can imagine, when I find myself in a food rut, I turn to the blogger community for a little boost. I’ve found some lovely meals this way. This find, however, deserves a little more than a “lovely” title. Batter Licker’s Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils were a culinary revelation, and not just because it’s another lentil dish although that may be part of it. ;-)

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working on planning my meals a little more carefully. Big Sis has a great system and is really good about making meal plans and following them. My intentions are good, but in all honestly I usually don’t make it to the finish line on this particular goal. As a result I spend more at the store than I should and I waste a lot of time late in the day coming up with a last minute fix (although some of these have turned out quite well).  In planning, I also provide myself with the opportunity to try to incorporate some new meals using ingredients I already have or know how to work with rather than scrambling at the last minute to follow someone else’s instructions. A few weeks ago Asian Cabbage Rolls made it onto my plan and BOY am I glad they did.

These rolls are warm and satisfying without leaving you feeling loaded up and weighed down. The lentils work beautifully with the Asian flavors. I can’t say enough about how much Mr. Little Sis and I enjoyed this dish. At first glance the dish looked complicated, but really, the only tricky part is making the rolls themselves. The rest of the procedure is pretty similar to making any simple bean dish. The only changes I made to this recipe were ditching the egg (something the original author said she’d do next time), switching out the sugar for maple syrup in the sauce, and decreasing the chile in the sauce in favor of adding it at table for the sake of the little people.

This lovely meal goes something like this. There is admittedly a bit of chopping. And if you don’t have leftover rice and cooked lentils, that needs to be done as well. May I suggest you start the rice first, then the lentils, then the chopping and gathering of other ingredients and preheating the oven. Mark Bittman has rightly criticized the overly organized French method of mise en place, and I suddenly realized, upon finding out what his book was about, that I should have written that a while ago… another missed opportunity. ;-) I digress. The point is, start the longest bits first, then prep the rest. It’s efficient, and still yummy.

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After the chopping and cooking, there is some combining and then the fiddly part, the daggone cabbage wrap bit. I have tried making various cabbage rolls before and had all manner of trouble getting them to roll and stay rolled. I now have a trick, which I will share with you so you don’t curse and stomp in your kitchen. When you choose a cabbage leaf, get a big one that is not torn. Then chop a couple of inches off the bottom where it connects to the head. What you’re trying to do is to get rid of the thickest, toughest part of the cabbage leaf, you know the part that won’t roll. Get rid of it and you know what? They roll. IMagine that. The next part of the trick is to use a kitchen utensil to hold those rolls in place as you create them and place them in your dish.

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There you go. Awesome tricks so you can now make cabbage rolls – Asian ones, Polish ones, Italian ones, whatever you want. Cut the inflexible bit and hold everything in place. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I’ll find it after I eat more of these. Delish!

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Slow Cooker Herbed Beans and Barley

The weather has been doing its transitional season flip flop around here. One week it’s summer, one week it’s fall with a little scent of winter in the mornings. And with the change of seasons comes the change of activities that makes the challenge of family dining a very real one. While I limit my kids to one after school activity, because there are two of them, we are still on a wacky schedule for two of the five weekend nights. Monday Ms. Picky Pants does gymnastics from 5-6 and Tuesdays my increasingly gigantic son plays T-Ball from 6-7. These times bookend our usual dinner time.

Because there’s no way my gentle giant of a boy could make it through T-Ball without dinner, we simply eat early on those days. Monday is more challenging as there’s no way we could eat in time for a 5 o’clock practice. And so, given these complications AND the drop in temperature, there is no better time than now to bring the slow cooker out of the corner cabinet and keep it in semi-permanent residence on the counter. Preparing the meal the night before, or in the morning and letting it cook all day allows us to eat at whatever time and frees me up during the crucial times for chauffeuring and cheering responsibilities (I especially like the cheering part).

Our favorite new slow cooker recipe was an improvisation of mine, a pantry wonder that is sure to become a regular in our house. I’ve used kidney beans because I had them on hand, and because I think they’re so good looking (that’s weird, isn’t it). I imagine just about any bean would work here, although this one time I’d steer you away from lentils as they do tend to mushify a bit and the pearl barley is already providing a creaminess that benefits from a little more substance in the bean department. White beans, black beans, chickpeas would all be great. This dish was so simple and satisfying. The gentle giant just LOVED it.

Slow Cooker Herbed Beans & Barley

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  • olive oil for the pan
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
  • 3 c kidney beans (soaked overnight or quick soaked*)
  • 1 1/2 c pearl barley
  • 5 c veggie broth
  • 1-2 t thyme
  • 2 t red wine vinegar
  • 2 T Bragg’s or soy sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm olive oil in pan on stove. Add onions and celery. Sauté until onions are nearly translucent. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute or so. Place sautéed veggies in crock pot with all the other ingredients. Turn on low. Cook for 5-6 hours. Yes, that’s it. Stir, season to taste, and serve on a bed of deep greens. Spicy fans may enjoy a little hot sauce. I like it both ways. Delish.

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* Quick soaking beans requires bringing the beans to a boil, allowing them to really boil for 2 minutes, and then leaving them in the hot water for an hour, then rinse and use for cooking. They will not be tender as they are not fully cooked yet, but will not be little rocks anymore.

Summer’s End Zucchini Bread

The nights have gone cool, and who can complain at this point in the year? While I confess that the climate in mid-Maryland often leaves something to be desired, a nice fall here really can’t be beat. Our nights are cool, and days are dry with clear blue skies. Perfect time to get the last few harvests of summer veggies.

I’ve gotten the last of the tomatoes, the cukes are dwindling, my butternut squash are hanging on the vine getting a nice protective skin, and I thought the zucchini were done. Then I lifted a few of those gigantic leaves. What I had assumed was the wooden border of the garden was actually a huge and very dark zucchini. I mean HUGE. And two days later – another on a plant that I thought had given up earlier in the summer, but was growing in secret behind another plant. So now I have these enormous zukes.

My favorite trick with zucchini is to shred it and freeze it. I tend to do it by weight, put it in a bag, write the weight on the bag and pop in the freezer. Why by weight? Because my favorite zucchini bread recipe calls for zucchini by weight. So as we move into the cold months, I have my key ingredient already shredded and measured, ready to go. My favorite zucchini bread recipe is based on one I used for years from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. America’s Test Kitchen publications, such as The America’s Test Kitchen New Family Cookbook (this is the new version of the book I have which is no longer in print), are fantastic. If you are trying to improve your cooking skills, there are few more comprehensive resources. The recipes are not intended for restrictive diets, but they are full of real food and I’ve successfully adapted many of them as my own dietary preferences have changed. And what I’ve learned from the authors has been priceless. This zucchini bread is lightly spiced, sweet but not cloying, and deeply satisfying with a cup of coffee, or a mug of tea, or whatever you want to drink.

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  • 1 pound zucchini, shredded and drained (see below)
  • 1/4 c coconut milk (or whatever kind works for you)
  • 3/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/2 c applesauce
  • 4 T coconut oil, melted and let cool but not harden
  • 2 eggs (I used flax)
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 c walnuts chopped and toasted (or if you’re like me you don’t toast, forget to put them in the batter and then put them on top where they will toast in the oven and then think you’re awesome for doing that)

Preheat oven to 375 with rack set in middle of oven. Coat a small loaf pan (mine was 8 x 4, standard is fine, but your loaf will be shorter). Shred zucchini on large holes (I used a food processor)l Place zucchini in strainer. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir to distribute the salt. The salt will pull the liquid out of the veg. Let drain for at least 15 minutes. Wrap a tea towel (or paper if that’s all ya got) around the zucchini and squeeze the remaining water out. Be astonished by the amount of water in that veg. No, you can’t skip that step. Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup, applesauce, coconut oil, flax eggs and lemon juice together in a bowl. Whisk dry ingredients in a large bowl. Fold the zucchini and the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix (yeah, I don’t know why either).

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Scrape batter into loaf pan. Bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean – or until it feels right to you (that’s my test, a little press in the middle with my finger), should be about an hour. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Continue cooling on wire rack for at least an hour, being sure to have a taste while it’s still warm. Super yum.