An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Beat the Heat

Summer rages on, turning enclosed cars into rolling ovens and frying the delicate petals of spring flowers to crispy brown ribbons. Temperatures on the east coast look comparatively mild by sheer numbers alone, but it’s the humidity that really beats one into submission. Dry heat is more manageable even in the extreme; it doesn’t seem to cling or weigh so heavily, adding insult to injury under the radiating sun. Spending more time out west has certainly increased my tolerance for the heat, so even though the daily highs regularly score higher than those in Honolulu lately, it doesn’t seem as insufferable as years past. Clearly, not everyone feels the same.

Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with this sort of climate, racing from one air conditioned oasis to the next, dreading any time spent out in the unforgiving elements. This guy took that inclination to the next level, craftily sneaking into the very coldest place in the house. If this heat wave keeps up, I know a few other creatures in this house, both big and small, that might tempted to crawl in there with him.

Seal amigurumi pattern from ABC Crochet by Mitsuki Hoshi.


Veni, Vidi, Videri

Why do people save the best for last? As one of those people, I’m not sure I can fully explain the compulsion to leave the very best bite for the end of the meal, or my favorite song for the end of a playlist. This very same impulse to delay gratification seems to get me in trouble at times, particularly when the end is not something clearly defined. Such is the case for many product reviews, languishing on my to-do list simply because the item in question was so good, I want to reserve it as a final reward. In realistic terms though, this just means that the post never gets written because an active blog never ends. That’s the only excuse I can come up with for explaining why these stellar chocolates remained without a proper feature for over two years.

Packaged lovingly with handwritten, individual numbers, one could easily mistake these for jewelry boxes rather than containers for edible treats. Crafted in small batches in Raleigh, North Carolina, Videri is one of the few American bean-to-bar operations. Not all of the offerings are vegan, but the dairy-free options will not leave you wanting. Defined by a clean, crisp snap and smooth melting texture, even a small square promises to satisfy the most voracious chocoholic.

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is an instant winner. Large flakes of salt are easily visible on the underside of each bar, immediately hitting the tongue with a strong saline hit. This serves to balance out the overall sweetness beautifully, while eliminating any bitter notes typically associated with dark chocolate.

Classic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao is the everyday sort of treat that goes well with everything. Slightly woodsy with notes of raisin, the complexity packed into this little bar reminded me of tasting a fine wine.

90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate is a seasonal special, and one that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of while you still can. Dry, with a pleasantly bitter edge and slightly tannic aftertaste, this bold bar is not for the timid. Crushing sugar cravings without piling on the sweetness, these powerful chocolates became my secret weapon for vanquishing a snack attack.

Gifted with this wealth of cacao goodness, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into the kitchen for a bit of sweet experimentation. Especially in the heat of summer, peppermint patties are one of my favorite treats. Best stashed in the freezer for full cooling effect, I love the way the chocolate shell shatters upon impact, revealing a soft, creamy center with minty fresh flavor. The only thing that could be improved is perhaps the ratio of chocolate to peppermint, which is why I decided to flip the classic patty inside-out. Now, a solid chocolate center is graced by a blanket of white peppermint coating, allowing the chocolate to truly shine.

Inside-Out Peppermint Patties

Chocolate Centers:

6 Ounces 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

Mint Coating:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) 100% Cocoa Butter
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil

To form the centers, place the chopped chocolate and corns syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate until set; about 1 hour.

Roll the chocolate disk out to about 1/4-inch thick and use 1-inch round cookie cutters to punch out the candy pieces. Should the chocolate dough become too soft or difficult to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding. Once all of the center are cut, stash them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar and mint oil, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved.

Pull out your semi-frozen patties and dip each into the mint coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, allowing the coating to set. This top coat is thinner than the standard pure chocolate shell, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified.

Makes 30 – 34 Patties

Printable Recipe


Making Prepared Meals Personal

As a father of two young boys and a busy entrepreneur living in San Francisco, no one understands the daily struggle of getting nutritious, satisfying meals on the table better than Jesse Miner. Inspired by the desire to find a balance between family time, work, and conscious eating in his own life, Jesse applies that very same motivation to his in-home personal chef service. Offering plant based meal plans, cooking classes, and catering for special events, he’s been perfecting his skills over many years of success, to unanimously rave reviews of happy customers.

During the six years that Chef Jesse contributed recipes to VegNews magazine, I had the great fortune of getting to know him and his culinary delights by way of freelance photo assignments. Although I was still the one preparing the dishes and styling them to look “camera ready”, it was easy to taste the skill that went into developing these remarkably nuanced flavor profiles. I will never forget the epic dill-infused savory waffles paired with beet compote, for example. That is what my breakfast-in-bed dreams are made of, to this day.

Having the opportunity to finally eat food directly from the master, at long last, was one of the highlights of my recent trip to the bay area.

Drawing global inspiration from his worldly travels, Korean lettuce wraps radiate warmth from a generous coating of spicy gochujang. Sticky rice is the platform for those sultry soy curls and the whole bundle gets wrapped up in crisp lettuce leaves, creating a fun eating experience for any day of the week. While these components may take a considerable amount of planning and labor to bring together, Jesse does all the heavy lifting here, delivering each element packed with care and ready to go.

A hearty bowlful of this Italian chickpea stew would be a satisfying one-dish meal on its own, but delicate stalks of garlicky broccolini and lightly grilled polenta triangles turn the whole mix into a truly show-stopping dinner. Polenta is something I rarely think to prepare for myself, so it was a real treat to get Jesse’s rendition as a delicious reminder.

Jesse’s own description of this fresh composition reads like soft core food porn. “Plump red strawberries mingle with crunchy golden brown hazelnuts, crisp pink and purple-hued radishes and delicate baby greens in this colorful salad.” This deceptively simple combination of vegetables, fruits, and nuts positively bursts with fresh flavors. It’s a side dish that won’t play second fiddle to any main course, without overpowering the other bit players.

Generously offering a small taste of his work for those not lucky enough to reside in San Francisco to take advantages of his services, Jesse has provided the secret formula. It showcases his skill at balancing flavors and textures, while keeping the end results remarkably uncomplicated.

Strawberry, Radish and Mixed Greens Salad with Candied Hazelnuts and Miso Dressing
By Chef Jesse Miner

Candied hazelnuts
1 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

Miso Dressing
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Salad Ingredients
8 cups mixed baby greens
1 bunch easter egg radishes, thinly sliced
1 pint strawberries, de-stemmed and sliced

1. Heat your non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add hazelnuts to the pan and dry toast, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown and skins flake off, approximately 10 minutes. Pour toasted hazelnuts into a bowl. Once hazelnuts have cooled to the touch, rub them between your fingers to remove and discard as much of the skins as possible. Heat your non-stick sauté pan once again over medium heat. Return skinned roasted hazelnuts to the pan along with the maple syrup, olive oil and salt. Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid boils and reduces to thick syrup evenly coating the hazelnuts, approximately 5 minutes. Spread hazelnuts into a single layer on a parchment-lined plate and cool at room temperature. Once completely cooled, break apart and store hazelnuts in an airtight container until serving.

3. Whisk together white miso, rice vinegar, grapeseed oil, agave nectar and sesame oil.

4. Toss greens and radish slices with miso dressing and divide between plates. Garnish each salad with strawberries and candied hazelnuts.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


Instant Ice Cream Gratification

The only thing worse than suffering through a sweltering hot summer day without air conditioning is trying to survive those same conditions without any ice cream in the house. It’s entirely possible that one can make do without such convenient modern amenities that would help abate the heat, but only if generous amounts of frozen, creamy treats are kept close at hand. Ice cream makes even chilly days more bearable, so going without a single tub of the cool confection is tantamount to criminal insanity. For those with limited equipment and limited patience, there have been few solutions to this conundrum outside of an impromptu grocery trip. Thankfully, non-dairy alternatives are no longer the anomaly in mainstream markets, although homemade ice cream will still beat out anything prepackaged any day of the week.

This recipe today goes out to all those ice cream fiends without ice cream machines. Plenty of low-tech methods exist for fabricating frozen treats without fancy machinery, but let’s be honest: Few people, myself included, care to fuss with scraping ice crystals or tossing around a plastic bag of ice cubes all day, just for a few bites of sweet satisfaction.

Your icy irritation ends here. All you need is a freezer, four ingredients, and an appetite. I would wager that you’ve already got two out of three already covered.

The ingenious CocoWhip by So Delicious is the secret ingredient that makes this sweet act of alchemy possible. Providing light, scoopable structure without any further agitation, the same results can also be achieved with good old whipped coconut cream, but starting with a ready-whipped and exceptionally stable base makes the process infinitely easier.

As luck would have it, So Delicious recently launched their Snackable Recipe Contest, so it would have been crazy for me to hold onto this treat any longer. Besides, as much as I love cooking, summer is meant to be enjoyed, not spent in the kitchen. Whip up this effortless ice cream base and go play; you’ll have a delicious dessert waiting for you when you return.

No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

2/3 Cup Vanilla Coconut Creamer
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 9-Ounce Package Cocowhip

In a large bowl, stir together the creamer, agave, and vanilla. Add in one small scoop of the Cocowhip, stirring to incorporate and begin to lighten the mixture. Introduce half of the remaining Cocowhip, folding it carefully into the liquid, keeping the airy structure as intact as possible. Repeat with the last portion of Cocowhip, leaving a few streaks in the mixture if need be; it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.

Pour the ice cream base into a loaf pan or air-tight container and carefully move it into your freezer. Allow it to sit, undisturbed, for at least 6 hours before serving.

Printable Recipe


Silent Sunday: Sweet on Austin

Zombie Sundae (with Chocolate-Chai and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream) from Sweet Ritual

Austin Cream Pie Donut from Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwich (with Chocolate Chip Cookies) from Moojo

Currant Scone and Iced Chai Tea from The Steeping Room

Chocolate-Dipped, Coconut-Covered Frozen Banana from Bananarchy

Birthday Cake Cupcake (Strawberry Cake with Almond Whipped Topping) from Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop

Nada Moo Vanilla Chai Sundae, Ice Cream Social Hosted by Counter Culture

Chocolate, Carrot, Lemon, Coconut, Cookie Dough, and Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Sugar Circus

Dreamsicle Cupcake from Capital City Bakery


A Better Bistro

“Elevated cuisine” is not the bill of fare one might expect to come out of a shoe-box of a food trailer parked in the outskirts of east Austin, and yet Bistro Vonish seems determined to defy such preconceived notions. Redefining the category of fine dining through the lens of a classically trained vegan chef, Craig Vanis isn’t your ordinary line cook either. Propelled by a basic desire to feed others and express his creativity, his true inspirations are diverse, interwoven into the tangle of modern food politics and nutrition. “Food touches everyone, more than just micro nutrients,” he explained to me over a plate of three sisters ragu, a vibrant melange of summer vegetables crowning crispy seared polenta cakes. Clearly, none of this philosophy clouds the flavors in world-class dishes like this one, presented with equal flare on the ever-changing menu.

In sharp contrast to his current surroundings, Chef Craig first found himself in Texas to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer in the oil fields. Laid off after the 2009 economy collapse, that marked a turning point that began in Houston kitchens and ultimately led him back for professional training at the Natural Epicurean School in Austin. This complex path is perhaps what gives the food at Bistro Vonish such a clear and unique voice; there’s no one else with the same formative experiences, and certainly none quite so fervently determined to pursue their passions in the food industry.

Showcasing more than just impeccable cooking skills, the local, organic, seasonal produce dictates the daily offerings. Weekend brunches are a distinct treat, featuring pillowy french toast with homemade fruit syrups, and savory tofu scrambles that would put a plate of eggs to shame.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg, and only the start of greater aspirations for Bistro Vonish. Chef Craig plans to expand into a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant as soon as possible, enlivened with tempting menus that echo the successes of supper clubs past. While it will be difficult to wait for this upcoming new chapter in the Bistro Vonish saga, Chef Craig was generous enough to share his recipe for Grapefruit Panna Cotta; a sweet finale to tide us over until the next meal.

Photo by Craig Vanis

Grapefruit Panna Cotta
by Chef Craig Vanis of Bistro Vonish

1 (13.5-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Agar Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Grapefruit
1/2 Cup Grapefruit Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
6 Ounces Silken Tofu
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Simmer the coconut milk with the agar powder and sugar for approximately 10 – 15 minutes, to thoroughly cook and dissolve the agar. Blend the simmered liquid with the rest of the ingredients until creamy and smooth. Pour into lightly greased molds or ramekins to set; at least three hours or until firm. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Gently remove from molds and serve with the accompaniments of your choice. Suggestions include candied and fried sage, orange liqueur syrup, and tuile cookies.

Printable Recipe


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