Whole grain caramel apple hand pies

Whole grain caramel apple hand pies

I’m sitting in the dining room of our guesthouse in Reykjavik right now, listening to Sigur Rós and watching the rain as it splatters against the 15 foot window while the wind blows something fierce. Thom’s upstairs taking a nap because, unlike someone, he didn’t get to sleep for (almost) the entire flight. I slept from 20 minutes after we took off until 20 minutes prior to landing – which I owe, in large part, to reserving the aisle and window seats. Not a single person on that plane decided to book the seat between us (which I was hoping would happen, but wasn’t counting on it), so that meant I got to lay across the entire row and catch some zzz’s. Rather, I got to curl up in the fetal position across two seats, with my big head resting against Thom’s thigh. For reasons beyond me, he let me get some necessary shut eye even though he was unsuccessful in falling asleep in the one-of-four rows that didn’t have reclining seats because someone didn’t pay attention to the fact that they booked the seats directly in front of the emergency exit.

I owe him. Big time. Especially because when we arrived in Reykjavik at 7 this morning, well-rested me was ready to hit the ground running and, although I’m sure he would have much rather slept the entire day, he accompanied me as we covered a decent part of the city on foot. We ate and we drank, and after polishing off a big ass beer just shortly after lunch, we decided to head back to the warm house so he could finally get some much needed rest.

So the good news is, we’re back in Iceland (!) and I couldn’t be happier. The other good new is that I’ve partnered with the Grain Foods Foundation to bring you some whole grain goodness this holiday season. Because I’m fairly certain that each of us would benefit from adding a few more wholesome ingredients to our diets, especially this time of year. So in attempt to keep us from defaulting to recipes that rely on the heavily processed stuff, I’ve created one that you can feel good about taking to your holiday celebrations. One that not only includes whole grain flour, but ingredients that are far more nutritious (not to be confused with healthy) than their processed counterparts (sup coconut oil + sucanat). If you’re looking for some other whole grain holiday recipes, how about mini pumpkin pies, caramel apple crumb pie, gingerbread bundt cake, or speculoos swirl brownies? Each recipe is made with with spelt flour, but feel free to substitute whole wheat flour (or a combination of the two).

And this is where I leave you with hand pies. Because there’s a sleeping man who wanted to be woken up about 20 minutes ago and two bellies that need to be filled with food. And booze.

Solid coconut oilBraeburn + GrannyCaramel sauceWhole grain caramel apple hand pies in the makingCaramel applesWhole grain caramel apple hand piesWhole grain caramel apple hand piesWhole grain caramel apple hand pies in the makingWhole grain caramel apple hand pies ready for the ovenWhole grain caramel apple hand piesWhole grain caramel apple hand pies

Notes: Feel free to use any combination of your favorite whole grain flours. If you’d prefer to make empanadas half-moon hand pies, I suggest using a round cutter at least 3 3/4″ in diameter. If sticking to the round pies, you can use a cookie cutter up to 3 1/2″ in diameter, but I prefer my hand pies on the smaller side so I used a 3″ cutter. If you don’t have any experience making coconut oil pie crust, I highly recommend taking a good look at this recipe and trying to familiarize yourself with the technique. It’s not difficult, but takes a different approach than most pie crust recipes.

This post is sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation. All opinions are my own.

WHOLE GRAIN CARAMEL APPLE HAND PIES

Crust
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup whole spelt flour
2 tablespoons sucanat
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted
12-14 tablespoons water, ice cold

Filling
1 tablespoon sucanat
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, optional
2 medium apples suitable for baking, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup easy caramel sauce

Topping
2 teaspoons almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla cane sugar

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, and salt. Slowly drizzle in the coconut oil, one tablespoon at a time, using your fingers to gently toss/press the coconut oil into the flour. Once you’ve added all the oil, continue mixing with your fingers (20-30 seconds), rubbing the mixture between your fingers until the mixture resembles sandy meal with a few larger clumps. Transfer bowl to the freezer for 15 minutes then remove and use your fingers to squeeze the crumbs and break down the hard clumps of coconut oil. Drizzle in the water, four tablespoons at a time, and mix with your fingers (the same way you were mixing in the oil). Repeat until you’ve added 12 tablespoons of water, then add the remaining two tablespoons as needed (I typically use somewhere between 13 and 14). Once all the water has been added, gently knead the dough (10-15 seconds) (do not overwork it) then divide and flatten into two disks. It may feel a bit dry, but don’t worry about that as it will soften as it rests. Wrap dough in plastic and let sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. If you plan on making the pies later, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, but will need to reach room temperature before rolling.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling by combining the sugar, starch, and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the apples and lemon juice, then add the tapioca mixture and toss until apples are evenly coated. Do the same with the caramel sauce. Transfer caramel apples to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 30 minutes. If you’re using caramel that is super runny, you may need to chill the mixture in the freezer, instead – otherwise assembling the pies will be a total mess.

When you’re ready to assemble the pies, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a flat surface with parchment paper and generously sprinkle with flour. Unwrap one of the discs of dough and roll it out until it’s about 1/8″ thick. Using a round 3″ cookie cutter, cut the dough and transfer the rounds to a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Collect scraps and roll out the dough again, this time into a slab about 1/4″ thick. You should have a total of 14-16 rounds (but don’t worry if you have less). Remove the caramel apple mixture from the refrigerator and place a spoonful of it in the middle of each 1/8″ thick round. Take the 1/4″ thick rounds and gently stretch each one with your hands to make it a bit larger (this will ensure the round completely covers the filling) and use it to sandwich the filling. Gently press along the edges to seal in the caramel sauce then use a fork to completely press the edges of each round. Trim the scraggly edges with a pair of scissors, if desired. Using a toothpick, prick holes in the top of each pie (if you don’t do this, they might explode). Brush with almond milk then sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Bake at 350˚F for 20-22 minutes. While the first batch of pies are baking, repeat the process with the second slab of dough. When pies have finished baking, transfer to cooling rack and store, loosely covered at room temperature, for up to five days. Reheat as needed.

Yield: 14-16 3″ pies

How to make coconut oil pie crust

How to make coconut oil pie crust

First things first: You need to throw everything you know about making butter-laden pie crust out the window.

Finished? Let’s proceed.

Coconut oil pie crust is one of those things that kicked my ass the first couple of times I attempted to make a pie crust with something other than (vegan) butter and (non-hydrogenated) shortening. It wasn’t until I was scraping my third or fourth trial into the trash that I had an AHA! moment and realized I was doing it all wrong. I can’t stress this enough: coconut oil is not a butter substitute, and to treat it as such will make you a little crazy; it’s not some magical replacement that you can swap with the fatty, creamy stuff and end up with the same result. Compared to butter, coconut oil is an entirely different ingredient on nearly every level, and your approach to creating (most) coconut oil recipes will need to veer slightly from the normal path of development.

If you look around the internet for coconut oil pie crust recipes, you’ll notice they all incorporate coconut oil akin to how one would incorporate butter: while it’s hard and cold, and with a pastry cutter or two knives. But we’re not going to go that route because I found working with cold coconut oil to be a complete pain in the ass (and coconut oil ≠ butter, remember?). We’re also ditching the pastry cutter (and knives) so don’t even think about using one because we’re sticking to our trusty hands. They’re going to get caked with crumbly dough pieces and, yes, you’re going to have to wash them about half a dozen times but I promise your dry skin will be worth it in the end.

Some of you are probably wondering, But Ashlae, why would I make coconut oil pie crust when there’s a perfectly suitable vegan version of butter available at the grocery store? Because the palm oil industry has been linked to deforestation, climate change (I mean, what isn’t?), loss of biodiversity, habitat degradation, species endangerment, etc. After watching this film last spring, I made the decision to drastically cut my use of vegan butter (and any product containing unethically sourced palm oil) because money speaks, yo.* I’ve also been working on a (coconut oil-based) vegan butter substitute of my own, but unfortunately I’ve been unsuccessful in developing a recipe that works in pie crusts. Hopefully that will change someday soon because I’m getting reaaaaally tired of testing butter recipes. And wasting entire jars of coconut oil, in the process.

A little bit about this pie crust: it’s sturdy, flaky (yep, flaky ass pie crust without butter), and flecked with good-for-you whole grains. Basically, you should ditch whatever pie crust you were planning on using for Thanksgiving and use this, instead. Actually, you should use it forever.

*And because I understand the hypocrisy of pointing out the environmentally destructive aspects of the palm oil industry while still doing things like buying shit that’s made in China or not always supporting my local farmer, there’s this. But just because everything we do is unethical (read the article) doesn’t mean we can’t take steps toward putting an end to those bad habits that can easily be changed. Like those that perpetuate the unsustainable palm oil industry.

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Notes: I’ve made this recipe with whole wheat and spelt flour, but if you’d prefer one or the other, you can sub all or nothing. If you want a crust made with all purpose flour, that recipe is here. One of the things you need to pay attention to is when I say to use cold ingredients, chill the bowl, etc. These are not optional steps, they are crucial. I’ve made this pie crust a number of ways (with solid coconut oil, cold water instead of ice water, room temperature flour, etc.) and yes, the method drastically changes the end result. If you don’t have a scale, you may struggle with this recipe as it uses exactly 170g of flour. I’ve gotten 1 1/4 cups of whole grain flour that weigh 150g and others that weigh 180g – which may create a problem if you don’t pay attention to the texture of the dough while it’s coming together. If you don’t have a scale, just add the coconut oil in smaller increments (I add it in four parts where as you may want to add it in five or six, possibly stopping before adding the entire measurement).

COCONUT OIL PIE CRUST

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup refined coconut oil, melted and cooled
6-7 tablespoons water, ice cold

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flours, sugar, and salt. Transfer the bowl to the freezer and freeze for 15 minutes. Once the flour has chilled, slowly drizzle in the cooled coconut oil, one tablespoon at a time, using your fingers to gently swirl the coconut oil then pressing the mixture between your thumb and four fingers until the coconut oil has been evenly dispersed (if you’re confused about the latter method, watch this video) (but don’t make fun of my double jointed fingers). Repeat process with remaining coconut oil. The mixture will be sandy for the first couple of tablespoons but, once all the coconut oil has been added, your mixture should look like fifth and sixth photos above. If it doesn’t you either didn’t let your coconut oil cool properly (it doesn’t have to be cooled to room temperature, but should not be hot) or mixed a bit on the aggressive side. If your mixture looks like aforementioned photos above, transfer it to the freezer and set a timer for 15 minutes. In the meantime, clear your work area and prepare the ice water.

After 15 minutes, remove the mixture and break up any big, hard clumps with your fingers. You don’t have to get all of them, but get as many as you can. Be sure not to spend more than two minutes breaking up the clumps or else your mixture will need to go back in the freezer. Drizzle in the ice water, two tablespoons at a time, gently mixing with your fingers (like in the video linked above). After adding six tablespoons of water, get in there with your hands and start trying to form the mixture into a ball of dough. You may need to add a bit of the seventh tablespoon, or the entire thing. Work the dough into a ball and shape it into a smooth, flat disc. The dough is going to feel tough and dry, but it will soften as it rests. Tightly wrap disc in plastic and flatten until there is no air space left in the plastic wrap. Let rest, at room temperature, for 30 minutes then roll out into a large circle for pie crust. If you don’t want to make the pie crust right away, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours (or frozen for up to two weeks), but will need to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. Frozen dough will need to be moved to the refrigerator overnight, then allowed to rest at room temperature as stated above.

If you’d like to bake the dough, (I’ll be sharing a recipe soon) (get your caramel sauce ready!), you’ll want to bake hand pies at 350˚F for about 20 minutes. For an 8-9″ pie, bake it according to the pie you’re making (make sure you cover the edges of the crust after 15 minutes). If you want to use this for an 8-9″ pie that uses a filling that doesn’t need to be baked, fill the crust with pie weights and bake at 375˚F for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly golden. If you want to make an 8-9″ pie crust with lattice, you can double the recipe.

Yield: Enough dough for one 8-9″ single pie crust or 8 3″ hand pies

Overnight pumpkin spice cinnamon roll loaf

Overnight pumpkin spice cinnamon roll loaf

I’ve been sitting on this cinnamon roll recipe for far too long. Since April or May, I think. And I’m just now getting around to sharing it with you, which I think speaks volumes about my dedication to this space (oops/yikes/sorry).

Given the fact I thought I had perfected this recipe way back when, you could say my ego was a little big when I started photographing the development before actually retesting it. In my defense, I went through a number of cinnamon roll trials months prior and I wasn’t going to waste time or ingredients on even more testing when I was certain I had the magic combination written in my notebook. But what do you know? The Universe decided to humble the shit out of me by making sure those cinnamon rolls did not turn out. And when I anxiously pulled the pan from the oven, I let out a heavy sigh when I realized they were separating from their tightly wound innards. This should not happen. Cinnamon rolls should always be fat and sticky and there should be absolutely no crevices in them. None. And should you stumble upon a recipe with aforementioned crevices, you should avoid it like the plague. You should also avoid recipes that promise a magic start-to-finish shortcut because nothing good comes out of a half-assed cinnamon roll making process except.. half-ass cinnamon rolls.

Let that dough rise, yo.

Pumpkin pureeCalifia FarmsPumpkin spice cinnamon rolls in the makingDough on the riseOvernight pumpkin spice cinnamon roll loaf

I sat on the couch that afternoon, in the midst of cleaning the house and critically analyzing my song choice for a Best of The National playlist (if you have a favorite NTNL song, please leave it in the comments), trying to figure out where the recipe went astray. There was a pot of orange vegetable soup (squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.) bubbling on the stove and a half eaten jar of unsweetened applesauce sitting on the bookshelf. Four different scented candles burning in the living room and a pile of particulate waste waiting to be swept off the floor. There were mismatched socks, pajama pants that were so old they no longer fit, and hair that hadn’t been washed in two days. This is what recipe development looks like over here, folks. And I regret to inform you that it’s nothing short of a disaster.

After looking at the recipe and comparing the steps, I was at a loss and decided the redevelopment would have to wait. So I got up and grabbed the warm loaf with my bare hands and threw it into the garbage. As it slipped from my fingers, the heavy bottom began to stretch and that’s when I realized: it’s not the recipe. IT’S NOT THE RECIPE. IT’S NOT THE MOTHERFUCKING RECIPE! The loaf was underbaked. And so I did a victory slide across the floor in those mismatched socks (one of which I’m pretty sure I pulled from the dirty laundry because that’s what happens when it’s 5AM and your feet are cold and you can’t find the match to the sock you had on when you fell asleep) and then I cleaned up the house, got out of my pajamas, and went on a trail run with one of the most kind and generous and hilarious human beings I’ve ever known.

When I got back from running off my frustration, I remade the cinnamon rolls, stuck them in the fridge, and when they turned out perfectly the next day, I biked two thick slices over to her house because that’s what you do for good people who take care of you – you take care of them, too. Or you, at the very least, tell them thanks with what her significant other said was “Cinnabon x20″. I decided it’s the highest of cinnamon roll compliments considering you can’t go into many shopping centers without encountering a Cinnabon. So there’s that. And here’s a recipe for what might be the most delicious cinnamon rolls to come out of my kitchen.

Happy almost-end-of-the-week, you guys.

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Notes: If you want to use spelt or whole wheat flour, knock yourself out. But take note that they’ll be a bit chewier than the kind made with the all purpose variety. Feel free to swap the pumpkin puree with the sweet potato variety, or the sucanat with brown sugar. Due to the amount of sweetener in the creamer, I’ve reduced the sugar measurement in the rolls to 1/3 cup, but if you want to use unsweetened almondmilk (which I had success with) (both varieties are pictured here and you can’t tell the difference, can ya?), increase the sugar to 1/2 cup. If you don’t want to make these rolls in a loaf pan, you can make traditional overnight cinnamon rolls in a square baking pan. Just skip the flattening step and cut the rolls into 9 even pieces. If you want some really unhealthy French toast, slice the loaf into 2″ thick slices and pan-fry away. Oh, and the swirly innards.

This post is sponsored by Califia Farms. All opinions are my own, and I think Califia rules.

OVERNIGHT PUMPKIN SPICE CINNAMON ROLL LOAF

Dough
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 105-108˚F
1/4 cup refined coconut oil
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup Califia Farms original almondmilk creamer
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 3/4 cups unbleached flour, divided

Filling
1/2 cup sucanat
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons refined coconut oil, melted

Glaze
1 1/2 cups powdered cane sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons Califia Farms unsweetened almondmilk

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl; set aside. Add the water to a small bowl and gently stir in the yeast; add pinch of sugar and set aside until foamy (15-20 minutes). In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the oil then stir in the sugar and pumpkin puree just until warm; about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the creamer then let cool for 15 minutes. Add the salt and 3 1/2 cups of flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment; mix for 5-10 seconds. Pour in the pumpkin and yeast mixtures and mix on medium-high speed, scraping down the sides as needed. If the dough is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl after the flour has been incorporated, add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, as needed in 1 tablespoon increments, until the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing on medium speed for 4-5 minutes then remove dough from bowl and knead with your hands for 1 minute. Transfer the dough to the prepared mixing bowl, cover with plastic, and store in a warm part of your house for 90 minutes, or until doubled (if there isn’t a warm place in your house, heat the oven and set the bowl next to it).

Line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper then lightly spray with oil; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the sucanat, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves; set aside. Line a flat surface with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour. Roll the dough out into a 22×16 rectangle. Use a pastry brush (or the back of a spoon) to apply the coconut oil then sprinkle with sugar mixture. Starting at the long end, roll the dough into a log then press it firmly with your hands to flatten it out (it should measure roughly 22×4 – if it doesn’t continue pressing or rolling with your rolling pin until it is). Cut into segments about 3″ wide then line in loaf pan. Cover pan with plastic and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature then place in fridge to chill overnight (or you could bake them at 350˚F for just over 30 minutes).

The next morning, when you’re ready to bake the rolls, bring a pot of water to a boil. Place a baking sheet (or shallow baking pan) on the bottom rack in your oven and fill it 3/4 full with the boiling water. Remove cinnamon rolls from the fridge, remove the plastic, then place them in the oven, on the rack above the boiling water. Close the door and set a timer for 40 minutes. This step is necessary and will not only help the cinnamon rolls to rise, but will help to liquify the coconut oil before baking.

After 40 minutes, remove the pan of water and the cinnamon rolls. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Brush the tops of the cinnamon rolls with the almondmilk (if desired) then bake at 350˚F for 32-34 minutes, or until golden. Remove loaf (along with the paper) from pan and set on a wire rack to cool for at least an hour.

While the rolls are cooling, prepare the icing by stirring together the sugar, cinnamon, and almondmilk. Drizzle over cooled cinnamon rolls and serve. You can store the cinnamon rolls in an air tight container for up to three days.

Yield: 6 thick or 12 thin slices

My favorite spots in Denver

View from Pavilions

Since well before we left for Europe last summer, I’ve been dodging emails about doing a guide to Denver because THIS IS A BAKING BLOG, GUYS. But I finally gave in and compiled a list of all my favorite spots in the Mile High City. Having lived here for five years, I pretty much know this place like the back of my hand but am always so excited to stumble upon something new – which is why this guide will be a work in progress (meaning when I find an awesome coffee shop or a great dinner spot, I’ll update this post to reflect new discoveries).

One of my favorite things about Denver is that it’s a highly walkable city, meaning a car isn’t all that necessary unless you’re opposed to mass transit or biking to the grocery store. If you’re coming to the city from DIA, skip the rental car and take the AF bus to Union Station. From there you can get around using the (fairly reliable) public transit system, B-Cycle, or Uber. We rely on all of the above but prefer biking now that Denver’s installed a number of bike lanes. 99% of the places on this list are within walking or biking distance of the city center, which is important considering we don’t have cars and only rent one when we absolutely need it (like when we go to the mountains).

Unfortunately we don’t have any experience with local hotels, but we’ve heard great things about The Oxford, Teatro, The Brown Palace, The Crawford, and Hotel Monaco. If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, there’s a Sheraton, Embassy Suites, and Hyatt downtown but, if I were you, I’d skip the hotels and just find a place on Airbnb. We used the service for 95% of our accommodations in Europe (and actually just booked a place 10 minutes ago) and can’t imagine traveling any other way. I recommend staying in the Business District (upper downtown), LoDo (lower downtown), LoHi (lower highlands), Capitol Hill, or Cheesman Park (where we live). Baker, Washington Park, Five Points, or RiNo (River North) would be great options if you have a car.

If you’re looking for a solid date night, dinner and a movie (at the Mayan or Esquire) is always a fantastic option. Or the Clyfford Still Museum followed by dinner and drinks at Cuba Cuba. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, go for a stroll downtown (through Larimer Square) and then for a drink at the MCA rooftop cafe or for happy hour crêpes at Crêpes ‘n Crêpes. You could also go for a walk through Cheesman Park then make a stop at Cafe Max for drinks and dessert. If you’re looking for a wild night out, the Cruise Room, Thin Man, and P S Lounge are all good spots for drunken shenanigans.

If you have any favorite places I’ve left off the list, please include them in the comments so I can check ‘em out.

Denver from DMNSUnion StationLarimer SquareUntitledMCATifamadeOlinger15th and BlakeGoorin BrothersHoho from WatercourseSteam Espresso BarPearl Street Pumpkin PatchCHARDThe EsquireCorner BeetCorner Beet to goDENVERCheesman ParkLoDoThe MarketLarimer SquareHazel & DeweyIronwoodPotager

GOOD EATS

I should note that only a couple of these restaurants (City O’ City and Native Foods) are 100% vegan. All the others are more than willing to accommodate a vegan diet even when there isn’t anything sans-animal products on the menu. To help make your life easier, I’ve broken these down into categories (early morning grub, comfort food, etc.). Although many of these places fit into more than one category, I’ve placed them in the one that I feel is most fitting. 

EARLY MORNING GRUB
Snooze – The King of Breakfast. No person in their right mind visits Denver and doesn’t go to Snooze. Get there before 7AM to avoid the morning rush.
Jelly Cafe – If you’re staying in or near Capitol Hill, Jelly is a great breakfast/brunch spot with a few vegan options.

CAFES
Cafe Max – Great place for a swanky date night. The owner is a delight and the espresso drinks are incredible.
The Corner Beet – Vegetable heavy eats, fresh juices, caffeine, and the most adorable green chairs.
Weathervane Cafe – The owners are the sweetest people you’ll ever meet and the food is downright delicious (oatmeal, sandwiches, etc.) and reasonably priced.
Wooden Spoon – Delicious coffee and top-notch sandwiches. Thom says they make the best breakfast sandwich in town.
Cafe Bar – The patio is perfect for brunch or a late night snack.
Paris on the Platte – Big tables, coffee, sandwiches, bagels, etc.

ON THE FLY
The Market – This is one of my favorite places in town and, when we lived downtown, I used to go here damn near every day.  Their coffee isn’t anything worth writing home about (in fact, stay away from it) but they have a chocolate selection that makes my inner fat kid go crazy. They also have delicious deli style food and their hummus sandwich (add avocado spread and spicy mustard) is pretty much the sandwich of my vegetable-heavy dreams. Look for Stefan, dude knows how to make a good sandwich.
Modmarket – My favorite “fast” food in denver. Located on 16th Street Mall, they serve up super veggie loaded eats and an affordable price.
Tifamade Cantine – Tiffany makes a mean ass sandwich but she’s closed for the cold season.
Native Foods – A lot of processed vegan food, which isn’t really my thing, but their macro plate is my go-to.
Illegal Pete’s – There is one thing you should know: Illegal Pete’s > Chipotle. For $4, a kids burrito bowl will fill you up.
Pho-natic – A lot of locals will tell you if you want good pho, go to Federal Boulevard. That’s true, but if you want pho that’s MSG free (uhh, me), go to Pho-Natic. MSG is fucking gross.
Bubu – Quick and healthy rice bowls (brown rice, white rice, or rice noodles) right in the middle of Larimer Square. The SoCal bowl is my favorite.

LAID BACK
Vert Kitchen – Easily one of my favorite spots in town. They serve breakfast and lunch, but at $4 for a hearty portion of almond milk oats with fresh fruit, I’m a huge fan of their early morning eats.
True Food – I always (ALWAYS) get the TLT. I dream of their kale salad. And kale-aid.
Ethiopian Restaurant – Not the most creative name, but this place cooks up some of the most delicious and authentic Ethiopian food you’ll find this side of the Rockies. The restaurant itself is outdated and can be rather warm in the summer, but the food more than makes up for it.
Mercantile – Their veggie sandwich (with white bean hummus) could give my favorite sandwich at The Market a run for it’s money.
Govinda’s – Hare Krishna-vibes, FYI. Some people are freaked out by that or pissed that the food is essentially Indian without the spices. It’s delicious and that’s all that matters.
Pizza Fusion – A social enterprise that helps to rehabilitate the homeless while serving up thin-crust pizzas made with fresh, organic ingredients. Definitely not your typical greasy slice of pizza, but it’s appreciated by those of us who prefer something a bit more nutrient dense.
Pinches Taqueria – Their name translates to Fucking Tacos and they have delicious fucking tacos so you should go.
Crêpes ‘n Crêps – One of our favorite places for an impromptu afternoon date. Happy hour crepes are the perfect size and only $5! Their normal batter is not vegan, but the gluten free variety is.
Hapa Sushi – Although it doesn’t hold a match to Sushi Den, it’s some of the best sushi you’ll find in the downtown area.
Watercourse Foods –  Vegan comfort food, y’all.

PUT ON A NICE SHIRT
Euclid Hall – My little brother works here, so I may be bias, but this place is delicious. There isn’t much for vegans but, if you ask, they’ll probably throw something together for you. The best vegan meal I’ve ever eaten came out of Euclid Hall’s kitchen (but so did one of the worst, so there’s that). They make a damn good drink.
Root Down – They also have a sister restaurant, Linger, but with Root Down as an option we don’t make it over there that often. They’ve opened a new location at DIA meaning Root Down on the go or literally right before you leave town.
Sushi Den – Ask anyone where you can find the best sushi in Denver, and 99% of them will point you to Sushi Den.
Potager – Slow food right in the heart of Capitol Hill. Vegans, call ahead. And be prepared to drop some $$$.
Izakaya Den – RAMEN.
Cuba Cuba – A lot for the carnivores and a few options for us plant based eaters. No lard in their beans, ye-yeaaaah!
The Populist – Their menu isn’t vegan friendly but if you call ahead they’re usually more than happy to to accommodate dietary restrictions.
Next Door – I’ve been twice and always go for their roasted veggie salad and tomato soup. And bread. Lots and lots of bread.

COMFORT FOOD
Vine Street Pub – Burgers and beers and community style seating.
Lucile’s Creole Cafe – Not much for vegans but if you’re down with grits, collards, and oats, you’ll be golden. Also: Bloody’s.

Soy latte from Bardo

COFFEE

If you look up a guide to the best coffee shops in Denver, you’ll notice I left more than a few of them off this list. That’s because a) some places try way too hard and b) I don’t need to be reminded that pour over is superior to filter when I just want some motherfucking caffeine. Snobby coffee ain’t cool, y’all.

FAVORITES
The Bardo Coffee House – This is my go-to coffee shop in Denver. The atmosphere, coffee, and employees are all fantastic. And their website is the jam.
Steam Espresso Bar – One of the most delicious cups of coffee you’ll find in the city. Located south of town, but it’s more than worth the trip.
Europa Coffee House – Bring your favorite book and stay a while.
Novo Coffee – The 6th Avenue location is my go-to (but the downtown location is great, too). The coffee is top notch and the tunes are always pleasant.
Corvus Coffee – Three words: HOPS COLD BREW
St. Marks Coffee House – I spend a lot of time here doing work. So do other people. Definitely the place to head if you plan on being plugged in but not necessarily the best spot to cozy up with a mug of coffee and your favorite book.
Huckleberry Roasters - They roast some mad-delicious coffee beans.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
Crema – This place is a hipster mecca but I can’t deny the fact that they serve a damn good cup of joe. The baristas are always so pleasant.
Denver Bicycle Cafe – Have a cup of coffee (or a beer) and get your bike tuned!
Pablo’s Coffee – They now have two locations in Capitol Hill but the one at 6th & Washington will always be my fav. No wifi.
Little Owl Coffee – I lived right around the corner from this place and made the mistake of not going until right before we moved. Their drip coffee is nutty and earthy (and delicious), but the space is tiny.
Stella’s Coffeehaus – Whenever I’m procrastinating reaaaally hard, I’ll ride my bike down to South Pearl Street and hit up all my favorite places. Stella’s included.
Hooked on Colfax – Another great place to get shit done.

Sweet Potato Cinnamon Roll

SWEET TREATS

Sweet Action Ice Cream – Insanely creative ice cream flavors and they always have a couple of options for the vegans.
Little Man Ice Cream – Not as good as Sweet Action but they have some damn delicious vegan options (chocolate salted oreo, anyone?).
Beet Box Bakery – Delicious vegan baked goods made from scratch erryday.
City O’ City – Their breakfast kicks major ass but their desserts are where the magic happens (which they get next door from Watercourse Bakery).
Voodoo doughnuts – The line is ungodly long and not worth it (in my opinion) (Thom says otherwise), but if you can squeeze in early morning (before 9AM), get yourself a pink box filled with doughnuts and savor the shit out of them.

Union Station

DRINKS

Thin Man – This is probably my favorite place to grab a drink in town. Thom says the red lights are offensive but I dig the vibes and the bartenders and the fact that they infuse their own liquors.
Work and Class – It can be loud and packed like sardines, but their drinks are top notch and not overly sweet.
P S Lounge – Totally divey and funky. If you find yourself on East Colfax, pop in for a drink or three.
The Cruise Room – Go during the week as it gets pretty loud/packed during the weekend. Enter through the Oxford Hotel.
Green Russell – Libations cost an arm and a leg, but this is usually where we go when we want to put on something fancy and have a seriously intimate date night.
Linger – Mostly a restaurant, but I prefer a drink on their rooftop patio followed up with dinner at their sister restaurant, Root Down.
Three Lions – Futbol pub with a great beer selection. Thom says don’t eat the food.
Great Divide Brewery – Non-traditional beers in an interesting neighborhood. Food isn’t available but there are usually food trucks outside.
Prost – German biergarten with homemade brezeln (!!!!!). Thom’s favorite brewery. My favorite place to eat brezeln.
The 1up – Strong drinks and cheap arcade games.

DAM

STUFF TO DO

Clyfford Still – This is one of our favorite museums.. of all time. The paintings are incomparably stunning and the space itself is out of this world beautiful (fine lines and poured concrete, anyone?). Go during a weekday because there’s a chance you might have the place to yourself.
Museum of Contemporary Art – The art can be a bit eccentric, but that’s ok because the rooftop cafe more than makes up for the art that sometimes has you scratching your head, wondering what the fuck is going on. But isn’t that the beauty of it?
Museum of Nature and Science – Because science is cool. Go to the planetarium. And then go to the rooftop and have a look at that sweet view of Denver.
Botanic Gardens – Because nature is also cool and there’s a Chihuly exhibit there until November.
Jazz in the Park – Limited to the summer months, but if you’re visiting June-August, grab a blanket and bring a bottle of wine.
Mayan Theatre – This is one of my favorite theaters in town. It doesn’t show a lot (err, any) of the Blockbuster films, but they’re always showing a couple of good flicks. Not to mention, their popcorn is delicious and they have nutritional yeast topping.
The Esquire – Another fun place to catch an indie flick. They sell Divine chocolate at the concession stand. Just sayin’.
Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret – If you’re not put off by boobie tassels or half-naked, dancing women, I highly recommend a night at the cabaret.
Denver Flea – Local vendors, food, and lots of craft booze.
First Friday – Various art districts put on an event every first Friday, year around. Wine is available, usually for purchase, but if you go to the right galleries it’s free. The Santa Fe Art Walk is our favorite.

Tattered Cover LoDo

BOOK STORES

Tattered Cover – My favorite book store in the city. They have two locations, one in LoDo and the other in City Park. You should visit both.
Kilgore Books – Lots of signed novels from notable authors. Penned after Kurt Vonnegut’s alter-ego, Kilgore Trout.
Bookbar – A bookshop for wine lovers.
Capitol Hill Books – Don’t be put off by the sketchy location/exterior.
Fahrenheit’s Books – A great used book store on Broadway. The employees are always super helpful and down to chat about their favorite reads.

Ironwood

SHOPPING

Hazel & Dewey – Jenna, the owner, is a real gem and has a shop filled with some of the most beautiful kitchen fixings.
Garage Vintage – Vintage galore. Their sister location is across the street, so don’t miss it.
5 Green Boxes – Their original locations (there are two of them) are on South Pearl Street, but they recently opened a store in Denver’s revamped Union Station.
Ironwood – Plants, jewelry, crystals, etc. Despite being small, Ironwood packs a punch – I could get lost in there for hours.
REI – In the event you forgot your outdoor gear or just want to go climb the rock wall.
Goorin Bros. – Fancy a good quality hat? Look no further. Most hats are $100+ but the quality and service are worth it. Say hi to Larry.

Savory Spice Shop

GROCERY STORES/MARKETS

If you rent an apartment, chances are you’ll want to stock it with a bit of food and cook at home a couple of nights.

Natural Grocers – Whole Foods quality, King Soopers prices. I do a majority of my shopping here.
Marczyk – The prices are outrageous for most things ($8.99 for my favorite almondmilk) (insane), but they’re one of the few places that carries Askinose chocolate. They also have a great natural soda collection and delicious made-to-order sandwiches.
Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market – May through the end of October.
King ‘Queen’ Soopers – Your normal, everyday grocery store.
Christkindl Market – German Christmas market downtown from 21 November-23 December.
Pacific Mercantile – The place to go for all your Asian food necessities like nori, mochi balls, and coconut milk.
EVOO Marketplace – If you like olive oil, you shouldn’t miss this place. Their oils are top of the line (and the prices reflect that).
Savory Spice Shop – Hella spices, sugars, vanilla beans, etc. Their Indian spice section cannot be topped.
Argonaut – Biggest booze shop in town.

Native Roots Dispensary

GANJA

I’m not all that into the herbal stuff (although I’m also not opposed to it) but my brother is (heh, HI DAD) so he sent me a short list of his favorite dispensaries. If you plan on getting your ganja on, make sure you consume it before you leave as it cannot be taken out of the state (and law enforcement doesn’t fuck around if they catch you trying). Dispensaries close by 7PM. Also, if you haven’t done them before, I do not recommend trying edibles here – just smoke that shit. 

Fox Street Wellness – ORGANIC POT.
Native Roots – Heads up: the wait on the weekends can be insanely long.
Good Chemistry – Funky place off Colfax with helpful employees and a straight forward menu.
LoDo Wellness – One of the most popular (and affordable) spots in town.

RockiesIn the RockiesUntitledSand Dunes National ParkSand in da shoesOn top of Star DuneView from Mt. SneffelsElk in Rocky Mountain National ParkGlacier Gorge Hike

DAY TRIPS

You’ll probably want to get out of the city for a bit and explore the mountains. Mt. Elbert is the highest 14er in the state and also the easiest to climb – so if you’re been looking to do a 14er (and are acclimated), that one will be right up your alley. If you’re looking to summit two 14ers in one day, you can do Grays and Torreys if you hit the trailhead by 7AM. We arrived around 8:30 but are pretty quick getting up the mountain and don’t recommend arriving that late unless you know you are, too. St. Mary’s glacier has a pretty rewarding view and only a moderately steep incline. You can’t go wrong with any of the hikes in Boulder or Rocky Mountain National Park.

The San Juans and Sangre de Cristos are my favorite mountain ranges in Colorado. They’re a bit of a drive but are more than worth it. If you’re looking to do a 14er in the San Juans, I highly recommend Handies as it’s a class 1 with one of the most rewarding views. As for the Sangre de Cristos, skip the mountains and climb the sand dunes. Just make sure you bring a change of clothes.

Peanut butter cookies with chocolate-peanut topping

Peanut butter cookies

The first dessert I ever made Thom was a batch of peanut butter cookies, delivered on the morning of Christmas Eve, back before we were anything more than coworkers who were somewhat attracted to one another. Those peanut butter cookies also happened to be the first thing I ever baked on my own so, as you can imagine, I was slightly nervous about handing them over to him. I was even more nervous when he opened the bag in front of me, pulled one out, and shoved it into his mouth because all I could think about was how terrible it would be if he thought they were awful. Thankfully, he thought they were the opposite of awful. In fact, he said they tasted exactly like the peanut butter cookies his Grandma Cassidy used to make. Cookies he hadn’t had since before leaving for the army, half a decade prior.

To this day I swear those cookies were the reason for our first date. Which wasn’t really a date. It was more of a Hey my friends and I do this thing at a truck stop every year on Christmas Eve and you should come. But I’m not going to give you my phone number because that would make it far too easy for you to back out. 11PM, there will be a big group of us. Show up if you want. 

I almost didn’t. I drove around in my car, after family Christmas at my Oma and Opa’s, on the phone with one of my good friends (HI LIAM) (found you on the internets, you handsome thing!), waxing poetic about some random guy at work and how I wasn’t going to know anyone and LIAM. AM I OUT OF MY FUCKING MIND? He assured me I wasn’t and stayed on the other end until I parked my rusty 1992 Honda accord and got out. I hung up the phone, walked in (late) to a room full of strangers, and found Thom sitting in the back with the biggest grin on his face and that bag of peanut butter cookies on the table.

To this day, he says if I wouldn’t have showed up he probably wouldn’t have asked me on a real date. To this day I say if he hadn’t liked those peanut butter cookies, I wouldn’t have had the guts to show my face at the truck stop. And although these aren’t the cookies from his childhood (turns out recreating a vegan version is difficult when you forget to document the original recipe) (I tried eight times), peanut butter cookies in any form remind me of our humble beginning; of the days when we were both trying to figure out what the hell we were going to do with our lives and where we were going to make it happen. Little did we know, almost seven years later, we’d be living in Denver and I’d be planning our wedding while he cooks up the plans for post-nuptial travel. It’s kind of crazy and overwhelming to think back to where this all started, and I owe it – in part – to those peanut butter cookies. The ones that reminded him so much of his childhood.

Creamy peanut butterPeanut butter cookies in the makingPeanut butter cookie doughPeanut butter cookiesPeanut butter cookiesPeanut butter cookiesPeanut butter cookiesPeanut butter cookiesPeanut butter cookiesPeanut butter cookies

Notes: If you don’t want to use spelt flour, all purpose unbleached flour will do the trick. Just the same, any gluten free flour (blend) will substitute well, but I prefer oat flour or this gluten free flour blend. If you prefer thin cookies, you can reduce the flour to 2/3 cup but they will be substantially thinner than the recipe below. Coconut oil is pretty crucial to this recipe so do not skip and use oils that are liquid at room temperature. You can use vegan butter in place of the coconut oil but I’ve been trying to minimize the use of it given its not-so-sustainable connection to the palm oil industry. If you prefer thick and chewy cookies, pull the cookies from the oven at the 12 minute mark and allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for 15 minutes. If you’d prefer to omit the toppings, just flatten the cookies using the criss cross fork method. And if you want to mix the toppings into the dough, you can do that, too.

PS – Topping the cookies with pretzel pieces (in place of the peanuts) is also delicious. Just sayin’.

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES WITH CHOCOLATE-PEANUT TOPPING

Cookie dough
2 tablespoons refined coconut oil, solid
1/4 cup non-dairy milk
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup whole spelt flour

Toppings
1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the oil then stir in the almond milk. Cook just until the mixture is warm, but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the peanut butter and sugar using a hand mixer on high speed, for 20-30 seconds. Add the almond milk mixture and the vanilla extract; beat for  about 30 seconds, or until creamy. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix in the baking soda, sea salt, and flour just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes, although 12-24 hours is preferable to give the sugar adequate time to caramelize.

Preheat oven to 350˚F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and, using a 1/4 cup cookie scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, about 4 inches apart, then roll into balls. Mix the chocolate chips and peanuts in a small bowl and take about a tablespoon of toppings and smash them into the top of each cookie. You don’t want to completely flatten the cookies, but you want to flatten them until they’re 3/4-1″ thick. Transfer baking sheet to freezer and chill for 10 minutes. Bake at 350˚F for 14-15 minutes then allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes. Carefully transfer each cookie to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

Before transferring cookies to an air tight container for keeps, put them in the freezer for 10 minutes to solidify the chocolate chips. Cookies will keep in an air tight container for up to five days.

Yield: 8 big cookies