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To say that I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately would be putting it lightly. Silly little oversights have punctuated the last couple of days, spicing up the mundane routine with strange surprises sprinkled here and there. Dirty dishes some how find their way back into cupboards, unwashed; recipe components are completed, and then forgotten until the meal is fully devoured; days seep through my fingers like water, obliterating a once rigid posting schedule. Nothing to be alarmed about, but it’s clear that running on autopilot is not serving my needs particularly well lately. “Pea-brained” would describe the situation quite nicely, and not just because of my increasingly dimwitted mistakes. Spring is on my mind, driving me to the point of distraction. Longer, brighter days captivate me while simultaneously throwing off my finely tuned rhythm, and the influx of fresh, vibrant produce easily overwhelms my senses. What to eat first? Where to go, what to do? Every winter seems interminable, so when it finally relinquishes its icy grip, it feels like a brand new world out there.
The best cure for seasonal disorientation is immersion, so let’s jump right in and celebrate the other reason for my pea-brained state: Peas! In all their green glory, this simple salad combines snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas to showcase their myriad textures, flavors, and shapes. The rather silly, rhyming title doesn’t fully do this combination justice, but was unavoidable thanks to the matcha tea-infused dressing, lending equal parts bitterness and sweetness to the blend.
In case you’re suffering from an equally pea-brained daze, a heaping helping of this bright, fresh homage to the humble pea might just be the antidote.
Three Pea Tea Salad
6 Ounces Snow Peas, Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal
4 Ounces Pea Shoots
8 Ounces Raw English Peas
Green Tea Dressing:
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Tablespoon Yellow Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1/2 Teaspoon Matcha Powder
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
I think you can already see how this one should come together, but in case you need someone to hold your hand, here’s the rundown: Toss the sliced snow peas, pea shoots, and English peas together in a large bowl. Separately whisk together all of the ingredients for the green tea dressing, beating the mixture thoroughly until smooth. Pour it all over the vegetables, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately!
Makes 3 – 4 Side Dish-Sized Servings
Timing is everything when it comes to food reviews. Trends are as unpredictable as the weather, turning the latest and greatest innovations into old-hat just a month down the road. This unstoppable phenomenon has never been more clear to me as I flip through old files, discovering half-baked reviews from products first sampled almost a year ago (!) now. Where did the time go, and more importantly, why didn’t I share this gem sooner?
Daiya is practically a household name a this point, a pivotal player in the vegan cheese game. No other dairy-free shreds have achieved mainstream approval, nor prevalence, quite like their white and orange strands, initially making a splash back in 2009 as the very first meltable option. Not content to just ride the wave of this immense success, they’ve continued to innovate ever since that great success, unleashing cheesy goodness throughout countless other prepared foods. Their latest offering to cheese-loving dairy detractors shines just as brilliantly: Slices, imitating the flavors of cheddar, swiss, and provolone.
Provolone-Style slices were the only variety I could get my hungry mouth around at the time, but considering their culinary potential, the other two are worth seeking out for a second round. These are not fine cheeses you’d want to eat cold, plain, or otherwise uncooked. Surprisingly fragile and prone to crumbling straight from the package, the flavor doesn’t impress right off the bat. Borderline bland, with a subtle sweetness, these slices are definitely not meant for topping crackers. Where they really come to life is under a hot broiler, melted down to gooey, creamy, and yes, stretchy sheets. Mild but with a pronounced tang and satisfying salty accent, they’re appropriately rich, imparting an addictive sort of decadent fattiness upon any dish. Though it didn’t seem like a winner at first, I found myself increasingly taken with this simple cheesy pleasure. In fact, my tasting notes conclude with the declaration that the provolone option is the “holy grail of vegan cheese.” Overenthusiastic hyperbole aside, these are darned good slices.
But of course, I would never recommend eating them outside of a hot dish, which is why I heartily endorse the equally savory, slightly indulgent cheesesteak sandwich pictured above. Soy curls soaked in umami-packed mushroom broth make up the “meat” of the matter, tossed with lightly charred onions and roasted peppers, all smothered under a blanket of that prize-worthy provolone cheese. Altogether, it’s the kind of dish you could use to convert meat-lovers, cheese-lovers, and generally picky omnivores alike. So go ahead, give in to your cravings because now it’s effortless to keep them vegan!
4 Teaspoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Thinly Sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, Roasted and Thinly Sliced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Tablespoon All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Reserved Mushroom Broth
1 Tablespoon Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
3 Hoagie Rolls, Split and Toasted
9 Slices Provolone-Style Daiya Cheese
Begin by placing the dry soy curls in a large bowl and covering them with warm mushroom broth. Let them soak for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the soy curls are fully re-hydrated and tender. Pour off but reserve any excess liquid.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and saute, stirring often, until aromatic browned around the edges. Add the bell pepper, oregano and pepper and continue cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted and soft; about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir to coat. Gently pour in 1/4 cup of the reserved broth along with the soy sauce, bringing the mixture up to a simmer. After another two minutes, remove the pan from the heat.
To assemble your sandwiches, divide the soy curl filling between your three toasted rolls and lay three provolone slices on top of each. Run them all under the broiler for about 2 – 3 minutes, until the cheese is perfectly melted and gooey all over. Dig in immediately!
Makes 3 Sandwiches
This spring has been a temperamental one, no doubt about it. Gardening ventures have been unsurprisingly stymied by unexpected cold fronts and unreliable rains. Even so, by mid-May, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of visible progress out there in the vegetable patch. Nearby friends boast impressive flowers and a few hearty vines, bearing the promise of a fruitful harvest soon to come. All we have are chives. But oh, what lush, long, and prolific chives we have! Shooting up faster than they can be mowed down, these edible weeds are beginning to present a real threat to the surrounding plant life. Choking off sunlight for the smaller sprouts while edging closer into their territory, they’re the only things that seem to be thriving in spite of the elements. Even after plucking a bushel of the slender green blades, a whole field still remains to be eaten, so it’s high time those chives get put to proper use. If the other seedlings are ever going to break through the earth, I had better start making space!
Initially whipping the fine onion grasses into a basic pesto formula, it dawned on me that I had no idea what to do with it next. Should I just spread it on bread and call it a day? Would it be better mixed into pasta? Still in the teeth of final exams, complicated preparations were out of the picture, which brought me to my favorite default option: Soup. Keep it chilled for those warmer days or throw it on the stove the next time a frost warning comes along, since it tastes just as bright, fresh, and comforting either way. The whole thing comes together in a matter of minutes, and since it utilizes a bare minimum of ingredients, it’s the perfect spring soup, no matter how pitiful the growing conditions.
Chive Pesto Soup
2.5 Ounces Fresh Chives
2 Tablespoons Prepared or Finely Minced Fresh Horseradish
1/4 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
3 – 5 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 3/4 – 2 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Cups Cooked Beans*
1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
*I used one 12-ounce package of Trader Joe’s Melodious Blend, which includes green garbanzo beans, red lentils, and brown lentils. Any blend or single varietal will work just as well though! I would recommend either white beans or regular chickpeas as my second and third choices, personally.
Snip the chives into short 1-inch lengths and toss them into your food processor. They need to be broken down somewhat before you start to blend, because I find that the long pieces will just wrap themselves around the motor without getting chopped otherwise. Add in the horseradish, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice as well. Pulse the machine repeatedly to combine. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically, ensuring that everything gets incorporated. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified and fairly smooth. It doesn’t need to be a perfect puree, since a bit of texture will add more body to the soup, but make sure there are no remaining whole seeds or long strands of chives remaining.
At this point, you can transfer the pesto to a jar and save it for up to a week, if you’d like. To proceed with the soup, place it in a medium pot and whisk in 1 3/4 cups of the stock. Stir in the beans and salt, to taste. Adjust the amount of liquid if you’d like the soup to be slightly thinner. Either chill for 1 hour before serving for a more refreshing bowlful, or pop it on the stove for about 5 minutes to heat through, to serve it warm.
Makes 3 – 4 Servings
For someone who loves making layer cakes, my decorating skills are fairly deplorable. Sloppy, crumb-flecked swaths of frosting make up the base of every creation, a veritable ocean of sugary waves caught in a tsunami, leaping higher and rougher with every turn of the lazy Susan. Carefully fitted piping bags save me from utter embarrassment, covering up the worst of my frosting offenses, but even then my ability to create edible art is severely limited. Seashell borders? Simple rosettes? Done and done. Anything fancier and you’re out of luck. I can’t begin to recall how many grand plans for grand, sky-high layer cakes have turned into plain little cupcakes because of these shortcomings. The basic swirl is one technique I’ve managed to master after eight years of practice.
Naked Mint-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (The “Before” Shot)
Considering my difficulty in this edible art form, I don’t know why I didn’t investigate different options sooner. Fondant has seen a huge rise in popularity over the years thanks to reality TV; every bakery special enough to get a slot in prime time seems to specialize in the stuff, peddling what seems to be more fondant than actual cake. Now it’s a startling rarity to find a wholly buttercream-covered confection, especially on the large scale. That said, it needn’t be as intimidating, as difficult, or as tasteless as detractors [myself included] frequently grouse.
Thanks to the kindness of Yolli, I was granted the gift of a few goodies to play with. Instantly, I was drawn to the enigma that is ready-to-roll fondant. Some contain gelatin, but those featured in the shop clearly list ingredients and even go so far as to label themselves as “suitable for vegetarians.” Though homemade vegan fondant is certainly possible, I wouldn’t venture to say that it’s either quick or easy. These colored rectangles of sugar dough take a huge amount of hassle out of the equation.
Even with the aide of meticulously designed fondant cutters, my first few flowers were laughably bad. I can’t say that practice made perfect, but I quickly saw the results improve with every additional petal. Most surprising of all was the flavor: Not dreadful! Sure, it’s mostly sweet and bland, but not nearly as loathsome as so many pastry aficionados claim, and quite enjoyable once dry and crunchy. Consider me a convert.
I would hardly consider myself an expert after just one attempt at sculpting, but there were a few tips that stood out in my mind as helpful hints to share with prospective sugar crafters…
- Start small, stay small. Especially when you’re modeling individual pieces, rather than working on a big sheet to cover a cake, the key to fondant success is to only work with as much material as you can fit in your hand at one time. For all six flowers I created, including all of their multiple layers, a scant marble-sized piece was more than enough to do the job. Excess fondant dries out quickly, especially once rolled thin, making it crackle when re-worked and generally difficult to manage. After about 3 – 4 hours in a dry place, the pieces will completely harden like air-drying modeling clay.
- There is definitely such a thing as being too thin. Roll out the sheets of fondant to perhaps a millimeter or two thicker than you’d like the final piece to be, because you’ll be stretching it subtly as you shape it. It may not sound like a lot on paper, but when you’re dealing with such fragile pieces, it makes a world of difference. This is especially true of bigger sheets that are used to blanket an entire cake. Corners and edges put a lot of stress on the plasticized sugar, so allow those pieces much greater girth than you would want for finer, smaller ornamentation.
- Allow yourself plenty of time. Estimate that it will take at least an hour longer than you’d prefer, and then you might make a closer estimate of what sort of time is require to complete the job. Patience is critical; rushed sculpting is guaranteed to look sloppy, no matter how experienced the sugar artist is.
- Be liberal with your use of confectioner’s sugar. Rather than flouring your counters before rolling out, it’s vital that the fondant is rolled out in confectioner’s sugar to prevent it from sticking to the counter. Excess sugar is easily absorbed into the dough, leaving no trace of the white powder in the end. Going too lightly on the application will lead to a sticky, frustrating mess. Don’t forget to dust the top of your fondant rounds, the rolling pin, and any cutting tools, too.
- Toothpicks are your best tools. Keep plenty of them on hand to help punch out shapes that cling to the insides of cutters, carve out subtle impressions on leaves, and poke indentations or holes, depending on what you want to craft. They’re cheap, accessible, and helpful in any project. You don’t need to go out and buy a whole arsenal of specialty stamps and cutters; small cookie cutters work just as well, and provide a greater range of shapes in general.
- Just try it! I’m terrible at sculpting, no two ways about it, but practice, sticking with simple shapes, and not over-thinking the process can create some sweet results.
National Salad Month may not get the same fanfare as other, more decadent food holidays, but it’s about time that all changed. After all, salad isn’t limited to the sad, pale iceberg mixtures most of the country associates with the word. Salad can truly be a mixture of anything, nebulously defined only as a mixture containing a specified ingredient served with a dressing. Restrictive? Bland? If you think salads are boring, then you’re just not tossing them right.
Truth be told, I would have had no idea that salads got a whole calendar month of celebration if not for the friendly reminder sent out by Driscoll’s and California Endive Farms. Salads of some variety make an appearance on my table every single day, so their offer of free greenery and berries was one I couldn’t resist.
Hemming and hawing over the best way to feature these ingredients without going with the typical endive boat presentation, it seemed an impossible task to pin down the perfect salad composition, considering the endless options. Ultimately, it was a combination of Mother’s Day approaching and the realization that I had a whole lot of heart[s] that inspired this dainty combination. Hearts are a surprisingly common ingredient in my kitchen once I began to riffle through the pantry, found in the form of artichokes, hearts of palm, hemp, and the endive itself. A bright, punchy, yet delicate dressing of grapefruit and cayenne gives the salad some kick, without smothering the vegetables’ subtle nuances. Of course, the “cherry on top” is actually a strawberry in this case, cut into sweet heart shapes.
It’s the extra little touches that go a long way, so although it would taste just as good with plain old strawberry slices, take an extra two minutes to show mom that you care.
Heart-Felt Endive Salad
4 Red and/or Green Endive Hearts
1 14-Ounce Can Quartered Artichoke Hearts, Drained
1 14-Ounce Can Hearts of Palm, Drained, Halved or Quartered if Large
4 Red and/or Green Endive Hearts
1/2 Cup Fresh Strawberries, Cut into Heart Shapes
1 – 2 Tablespoons Hemp Hearts
Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
2 Tablespoons Grapefruit Juice
2 Teaspoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
Prepare the dressing first so that it’s ready to go when you are. Simply whisk the grapefruit juice, maple syrup, and mustard together in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking vigorously to emulsify. Season with salt and add cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.
Cut off and discard the woody bottoms, separating the leaves of the endive. Toss them into a large bowl along with the artichokes and hearts of palm. To cut your strawberries into heart shapes, begin by slicing them in half, and then cut a triangular notch out of the top. You can further shave down the sides to round them out if desired, but that starts to get a bit fussy, if you ask me. Add the berries in as well, along with the hemp hearts. Drizzle in the dressing, toss thoroughly to combine and coat all of the vegetables. Finish with the fresh herbs, roughly tearing the basil leaves if large. Serve immediately.
What initially looked like a terrible tragedy, a loss of incomprehensible proportions, turned out to be happy accident in the end. It was an average day, punctuated by various chores and assignments, with a considerable grocery shopping expedition in between. Distracted by all the to-dos and a rapidly shrinking timeline, something was bound to get overlooked. It’s just a sad shame that it had to be the ice cream.
Tucked haphazardly into the fridge and not the freezer, hidden slightly behind a bushy clump of kale, there it remained for a full day before my grave error had been realized. By then it was far too late, the previously frozen dessert fully liquified into a pale white puddle, sloshing around freely within the container. Re-churning the mess in my ice cream maker did cross my mind, but no doubt the texture would never be quite the same. Immediately searching for a solution, loath to think that such a precious treat would be wasted because of a careless mistake, my thoughts turned to the possibilities of a little kitchen alchemy. Melted ice cream is no more than non-dairy milk, sweetener, and some sort of thickener, so why couldn’t it function as such in another application?
Proving that the sum is so often greater than its parts, this humble pie requires a mere seven ingredients, from crust to filling, thanks to the convenient combination neatly packed up in the form of vegan ice cream. Strawberries and cream are a classic duo in the first place, and they truly shine together in this brilliantly simple ode to spring. The only baking required is a brief flash in the oven to set the crust, but this can be further simplified with a ready-made rendition if you’re especially pressed for time. Even more impressive than this recipe’s effortlessly delicious outcome is its versatility, easily adaptable for any season. Swap out the berries for just about any fresh fruit that’s ripe and ready, such as peaches or apricots in the summer, pumpkin puree in the fall, baked apples or pears in the winter; the potential for different flavors is practically endless.
But for now, I’m sticking with strawberry since spring is in the air and berries are on the table. Another serendipitous opportunity to come out of this initial disaster is that it became an ideal entry to the Spring Fling Dairy-Free Recipe Contest hosted by So Delicious and Go Dairy Free. Even if it doesn’t win any prizes, this quick save is definitely a winner by me. With this foolproof formula under my belt, next time, I might even let the ice cream melt on purpose.
Vanilla Cookie Crust:
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 1/2 Cups Finely Ground Vanilla Wafer Cookie Crumbs
Strawberry Cream Filling:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the melted margarine or coconut oil with the cookies in a large bowl, stirring thoroughly to completely moisten every last crumb. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch pie pan and use your hands to press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides. If it’s too sticky to handle with ease, lightly moisten your hands before proceeding. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool while you move on to the filling.
Wash, hull, and roughly slice the strawberries before tossing them into your blender along with all of the remaining ingredients. Puree until mostly but not entirely smooth, leaving a few small chunks of berries intact. If you’d prefer a silkier texture, continue blending until no lumps remain, and pass the pink mixture through a fine mesh sieve, discarding the seeds. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk frequently as it warms up, cooking until it comes to a full boil. Continue stirring vigorously for a full two minutes and then pour the hot filling into your prepared crust.
Tap the pan lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles, and let cool to room temperature. Only then is it safe to transfer to the fridge to continue cooling. Don’t rush this process, since an agar gel that’s cooled too quickly will weep and become watery later on.
Once fully chilled and solidified, slice and serve with additional fresh berries if desired- Or, additional scoops of ice cream!
Makes 6 – 8 Servings