Chef Fran Costigan

Vegan Carrot Apricot Muffins

Fran Costigan's Vegan Carrot Apricot Muffins

On a dark and rainy day here in New York City, I decided to reset my baker’s pantry. I’ve been very inspired by the students in the first Essential Vegan Desserts Course at Rouxbe, who’ve been doing the same.

I do keep a list of ingredients  inside the cabinet doors, but when times get busy, I get forgetful, and anyway, pantry shelves need periodic cleaning, right?  Among the items I’d forgotten about was an unopened bag of dried apricots. These apricots are sulfite-free and were quite dark, and as the bag was about a year old (I label and date everything!), and they were pretty dried out. I saw also a few 4-ounce containers of organic unsweetened applesauce. I pulled  both of the items onto my butcher block mixing counter where, earlier I had put 3 carrots and a portobello mushroom. Next to the butcher blog I keep a lazy Susan with baking powder, soda, salt, extracts. And next to it was a jug of real maple syrup from Pete’s Sweets.

I wanted to bake. Muffins. Away went the mushroom and out came a muffin tin.

I knew I had a recipe in More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally for muffins that used carrots, apricots and applesauce, so I decided to play with the recipe. I got 12 large standard muffins that were not too sweet, rather low oil, and very good. Not the prettiest for sure, but tasty and very moist. Just the thing to enjoy with an almond milk latte and The Crown on Netflix.

These muffins are not only delicious, they’re quite nutritious, too. Dried apricots are rich in dietary fiber, potassium, iron, and antioxidants, and they’re great for a quick energy boost. Carrots are nutrition powerhouses – they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they’re known to help fight cancer, improve vision, and protect the heart, among other things. I felt pretty good about eating one (or was it two?). There is a box in the freezer now so I can pull one out, defrost, even warm or toast this muffin on the next rainy day, or a sunny one… Enjoy!

Fran Costigan's Vegan Carrot Apricot Muffins

Carrot Apricot Muffins

Moist and nutritious, low oil muffins

Makes 12 standard muffins


  • 2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) unsweetened sulfite free dried apricots, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup water or apple juice
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons finely powdered whole cane sugar
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup, Grade A dark or dark amber
  • 4 ounces, about 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup any nondairy milk
  • 3 tablespoons any neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces / 1 cup firmly packed peeled and shredded carrots, about 3 average carrots


  1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Oil the top and cups of a 12-cup standard muffin tin.
  2. Soak the apricots pieces in the water for 15 minutes, or until they are plumped. Drain the apricots in a small strainer set over a measuring cup and reserve 2 tablespoons of the liquid for the batter.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients in their containers to aerate. Measure using the dip, overfill, level method. Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the pastry flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir with a whisk to sift the ingredients into the bowl. (If any small bits remain in the strainer, add them to the bowl.)
  4. Whisk to mix and aerate.
  5. Whisk the maple syrup, applesauce, soymilk, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and the 2 tablespoons reserved water in a separate medium bowl until well blended. Pour into the dry mixture, and whisk until the batter is smooth. Stir the carrots and drained apricots into the batter.
  6. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin, using about 1/4 cup for each, filling each cup about almost to the top of the cup.
  7. Set the muffin tin on the upper rack. Immediately reduce the oven to 375°F. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the muffins look set and golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of a few muffins comes out clean or with just a few moist but not wet crumbs.
  8. Cool the tin on a rack for 5 minutes. While the muffins are cooling, carefully loosen the dome of the muffin from the top of the pan. After 5 minutes, run the offset between the muffins and the inside of the cups, and lift each onto the rack to cool completely.
  9. Store loosely covered in a container or tin for a day. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 2 months. Defrost uncovered.
  10. If you like shinier, sweeter muffins, brush the top of each with maple syrup or dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Recipe adapted from More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, (Book Publishing Company 2006 by Fran Costigan)


Who doesn’t want to know more about Aquafaba, the magical egg replacer? I bet you do! Join me tomorrow, December 1st noon PST, as I interview cookbook author Zsu Dever for a Rouxbe Essential Vegan Desserts Live Event. It is free and open to the public but you need to register here:
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Surviving the Holidays with Heather and Jenny from Spork Foods

This month, I am so pleased to introduce Heather Bell and Jenny Engle who are the Spork Food sisters. Heather and Jenny live in LA and I am in NYC, but we run into each other regularly at food shows and other events, as the sisters are food ambassadors for several of my favorite food companies. If you are in the LA area, or planning a trip, do try to book a class at their super cooking school in West Hollywood. Also check out their newest cookbook, Vegan 101. I am so happy that these super talented women have taken the time out of their very busy lives to be this month’s Interesting Woman in Vegan Food. Read about Heather and Jenny, find a recipe, and enter the giveaway to win a copy of their wonderful new cookbook. Thank you Heather and Jenny!

Hello! We’re Heather and Jenny, sisters and co-owners of Spork Foods. We own a vegan cooking school in Los Angeles, and we’ve been vegan for close to 20 years – we love it!  We also love Fran, so were excited to be working on this guest blog.

We know the holidays can be tough for many of you that are vegan, and may not have a ton of vegan friends or family to share food (and camaraderie) with during the holidays.  We want to help you navigate these waters!  Let’s use this challenge as a teaching experience, gently informing family and friends about easy swaps and such to make this a Thanksgiving everyone can enjoy.


Our suggestions!

1. Talk to your family beforehand – especially the cook and offer some easy swaps that will make the meal more vegan friendly. Even if they’re not into making the whole family a Tofurkey, at least these swaps can help the sides be something you can enjoy!

  • Try Earth Balance Buttery Spread and Wildwood Soymilk Creamer instead of butter and cream in your mashed potatoes.  They’re going to be so rich and buttery, no one will ever know they’re void of dairy.
  • For stuffing, just look for bread with no dairy products like whey, and use that handy tub of Earth Balance, and you’re on your way to an easy, delicious vegan alternative.
  • Try Imagine brand Vegetarian “No Chicken” Broth.  This stuff works wonders in soups, gravy, marinades, and stuffing.  It has a great garlic and onion flavor, so it’s a 1 to 1 replacement for chicken broth.
  • For salad dressings, try Vegenaise instead of egg-based mayonnaise.  It’s creamy and rich, and many restaurants use it instead of regular mayonnaise because no one can tell it’s vegan.

2. Make a dish that will wow your crowd! It’s very important that the vegan dish that you share with your friends and family during the holidays is so good people start to understand that this way of life can be even more delicious than they thought. Sorry to put the pressure on, but we know you can handle it.  If you love desserts, just peek around Fran’s site and find that one special treat you know your family will love.  If you enjoy savory dishes, try our Velvety Kale Soup with Cashew Cream from our book Vegan 101. It’s rich, full of nutrients, and goes over well with any crowd.  Be sure to make enough to share with your family, because everyone will want to try it.

3. Be proud of your values, and at the same time, be understanding of the fact that your non-vegan family members may not be exposed to all of your knowledge of veganism, or why you live this lifestyle. When you immerse yourself in this world of compassion, and then have to surround yourself with people who aren’t on the same page, it can be frustrating. Try to remember that you don’t have to use the main Thanksgiving meal as a platform to make your vegan pitch. What’s helped us in the past is finding a more quiet time with your open-minded family members who are really willing to engage in an open conversation.

We want to share this recipe for Velvety Kale Soup with a Cashew Cream with you. It makes for a great starter, plus we’re sneaking greens into everyone at the table.

Velvety Kale Soup with Cashew Cream by Spork Foods from their new cookbook, Vegan 101

Velvety Kale Soup with Cashew Cream by Spork Foods from their new cookbook, Vegan 101

Gluten-Free, Serves 4 to 6

Prep time: 18 minutes, Cook time: 1 hour

The Fountain of Youth isn’t really a fountain, it’s a bowl of kale soup. Fully loaded with greens and drizzled with cashew cream, this warming, nutrient-rich dish is packed with antioxidants and fiber—it’s basically nature’s Botox.

For The Soup

  • 1 bulb garlic, top sliced off to expose the cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon neutral-tasting oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt, plus pinch, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus pinch, divided
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced (about ¾ cup)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed and chopped (about 3 loose cups)
  • 1 bunch spinach, coarsely chopped (about 3 loose cups)
  • 2½ cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¼ cup Marsala wine
  • 1 cup soy milk creamer

For The Cashew Cream

  • ⅓ cup unsalted raw cashews
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup soy milk creamer or almond milk
  • Pinch garlic powder
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper

To Prepare The Soup

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Place garlic bulb cut-side down in a heatproof ramekin. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with pinch sea salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, or until cloves are soft.
  3. Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Add butter and onion. Remove 4 or 5 cloves roasted garlic from the bulb and use the blade of a knife to squeeze flesh out of skin into the pot. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add potato, bay leaf, and remaining ¾ teaspoon sea salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add kale and spinach and sauté for about 3 more minutes to wilt.
  5. Add broth, wine, and creamer. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for about 18 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender. Discard bay leaf.
  6. Using an immersion blender, purée soup. Alternately, blend soup mixture in a blender, with middle of lid removed, covered in a clean kitchen towel. Only fill blender halfway at a time, to prevent spillage. Season with more sea salt and pepper, if desired.

To Make The Cashew Cream

In a high-powered blender or food processor, combine cashews, lemon juice, creamer or almond milk, garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper and blend until smooth. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle each portion with cashew cream.


Los Angeles-based Spork Foods ( is a gourmet vegan food company owned and operated by sisters Heather Bell and Jenny Engel. They offer vegan organic cooking classes, chef trainings, recipe development and private chef work in Los Angeles and worldwide. Their cookbook, Spork-Fed, is currently in stores, with a foreword by fellow fans, actors and sisters, Emily and Zooey Deschanel. Their second cookbook, Vegan 101 just launched and can be found online and in bookstores.


Heather and Jenny have a copy of their new book Vegan 101 for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. U.S. residents only, please. Contest ends at midnight eastern time on November 29th. Good luck!


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Vegan Chocolate Banana Pudding

Vegan Chocolate Banana PuddingI need some comfort, and I know I am not alone. I’ll take comfort food. We each have our own, of course, but for me it’s chocolate pudding. My mother made the kind from the box. It had lumps and it had a thick layer of skin but it was among the only desserts mom “cooked”.  Plus, it was warm and chocolately. So, I still think of this as comfort. Make this for yourself and one other friend, or double, triple this 5 minute Vegan Chocolate Banana Pudding.

Bananas are known to help cheer us up. (And no matter where you stand on the election result, clearly with all the upset that is going on,  everyone use some comfort.) Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin. Serotonin is known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier. The vitamin B6 it contains regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood. So, forget the pills and eat a banana. And if you eat it with chocolate pudding, you’ve got a double dose of happy. Why you ask?

Well, tryptophan is also found in small quantities in chocolate. Chocolate also contains phenylethylalanine, which promotes feelings of attraction, excitement, and nervousness and is associated with the initial euphoria of falling in love. It has also been isolated in chocolate. This chemical also acts as an anti-depressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in the brain.

And then there is theobromine, which is a weak stimulant that works alongside caffeine to produce the characteristic ‘high’ that many people experience after getting their chocolate fix.

Enjoy. Be positive. Be compassionate. Be hopeful. Be positive.  Be considerate.

Vegan Chocolate Banana Pudding

Vegan Chocolate Banana Pudding

Makes 1 cup of pudding

Note: instead of coconut milk and water, use same amount any nondairy milk.


  • 1/4 cup granulated cane sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca (do not use arrowroot)
  • 1/4 teaspoon agar powder
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 7 tablespoons water
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 ounces chocolate, chopped or chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Vegan Chocolate Banana Pudding IngredientsSift the sugar, tapioca, cocoa powder, and salt through a wire mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Stir in the agar and then the coconut milk and water.


Whisking Vegan Chocolate Banana PuddingCook over medium-high heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture begins to thicken and is close to a boil. Adjust the heat as needed to get a full boil, but don’t let it be so high that the bottom scorches. As soon as the pudding starts to boil, it will thicken to pudding consistency. Immediately lower the heat and boil gently for 1/2 minute, stirring frequently with a silicone spatula.

Adding bananas and chocolate to Vegan Chocolate Banana PuddingRemove the saucepan from the heat. Add the diced banana and chocolate. Gently stir until the chocolate is melted and incorporated. Stir in the vanilla.


Stirring Vegan Chocolate Banana PuddingSpoon the pudding into a serving dishes. It is ready to eat as soon as it isn’t hot, about 5 minutes, but it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If you refrigerate it, cover the surface with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap adheres to the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.

Serving: Slice the other banana over the top of the pudding and drizzle if you like with some melted chocolate. Eat warm or at room temperature.



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