As the sun recedes and daylight begins to fade for the final time this year, it’s natural to reflect back on 2015, for all the good and bad that’s come to pass. Although there’s little sense in dwelling on the downfalls and defeats of 2015, I can’t help but at least pay homage to some of the sad losses seen by the bay area dining scene. We’ve lost a few gems in the vegan restaurant community, as is to be expected with such difficult professional endeavors. Before moving on to more celebratory subjects, I want to pay my final respects to a few of those fallen in the line of food service.
Source – Best known for their burgers and classic American menu, Source filled a need for cruelty-free comfort food in the SoMa area. Pizzas were also outstanding, topped with everything from buffalo “chicken” to beefy taco fixings and every veggie in between. Not one red sauce joint in town has come close to replicating those fearless flavor combinations so far.
Nature’s Express – Billed as a natural alternative to fast food, the service may have been prompt, but the bill of fare far surpassed the greasy standards of any mainstream establishment. Affordable, healthy wraps, sandwiches, and salads made it a breeze to grab a good meal on the go.
Herbivore Divisadero – Succeeded by two remaining outposts, one in San Francisco proper and one across the bay in Berkeley, the fact that there’s still a chance to enjoy the classic lentil loaf and gigantic salads makes this loss a little bit easier to swallow. It’s just a shame to see the family shrink, making their solid offerings even slightly less accessible.
Cafe Gratitude – The last remaining Northern California location of this beloved old-school vegan institution is the most recent departure on this list. Having closed their doors a mere day ago, the juicers may very well still be warm, the smell of freshly pressed kale still lingering in the air. Even in the short amount of time we had together, Cafe Gratitude effortlessly captured my heart with its colorful bowls of “I Am Terrific” pad Thai, made with kelp noodles and raw almond sauce. That dish is one that I will miss above all the rest, that makes all other cravings pale in comparison.
It is with a heavy heart that we must bid these businesses adieu, but hope for a brighter, and even more delicious New Year shines brightly on the horizon. Many new openings promise to invigorate the industry with a wide array of fresh vegan options in the months to come.
Mimosas are typically the stuff of brunches, weddings, and fancy celebrations the world over. Even the word itself rolls off the tongue with a jubilant flourish, sparkling as brightly as the effervescent alcohol within. Most spiked drinks don’t hold any temptation for this teetotaler, but champagne is one boozy beverage that I would make an exception for and drink without any further garnish. So light, so inoffensive, it’s more symbolic than it is a memorable taste sensation. To refuse a slender flute of champagne is to abstain from the party, to turn down a glass of merriment and good cheer. Simply watching the bubbles stream upwards, breaching at the meniscus in rapid succession, makes me feel as though as I could just as easily begin to float, too.
Mimosas have such a unique, delicate character that it doesn’t typically translate well to dessert interpretations. Sure, you can call it a “mimosa cake,” but I promise you it will only taste like oranges. Instead of baking it into submission, I wanted a simpler approach that kept the essence of the drink intact, conveying that same celebratory sentiment with just a little added sweetness.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant dessert for either New Year’s Eve or Day that required less effort. Chewy pearls of tapioca mimic the bubbles of the original inspiration, adding a creamy custard element to the traditional tipple.
The only catch is that you’ll need to remain clear-headed enough to start preparing this recipe in advance, as the tapioca pearls need ample time to soak and soften. Worst comes to worst, you can toss the soaked pearls into the fridge and let them chill out for up to a week. If you forget to cook them altogether and just end up drinking the bottle of champagne straight, well… I certainly won’t judge. There’s always next year.
Mimosa Tapioca Pudding
3 Tablespoons Large Pearl Tapioca
1/2 Cups Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cups Champagne*
1/3 Cup Orange Juice
1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 – 3 Mandarin Oranges, Segmented
Fresh Mint Leaves (Optional)
*For a non-alcoholic treat, try substituting either tonic water or plain kombucha.
Place the tapioca pearls in a medium bowl and cover with ample warm water; at least 1 cup. Cover and let soak overnight, or at least 8 hours, before proceeding.
Drain and rinse the soaked pearls thoroughly. Place them in a small saucepan along with the non-dairy milk, champagne, orange juice, zest, sugar, arrowroot, and salt. Whisk vigorously to break up any clumps of starch that may form before turning on the heat to medium-low. Slowly bring the liquid up to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking and burning on the sides or bottom of the pan.
Once the mixture is rapidly boiling and significantly thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Divide the hot pudding between 3 – 4 champagne flutes and let cool to room temperature before transferring the glasses into the fridge. Chill thoroughly, at least three hours, and top with mandarin orange segments and fresh mint before serving, if desired.
Makes 3 – 4 Servings
Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.
This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.
Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.
Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!
No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!
Though it’s a quality often possessed by the most delicious meals and one that I passionately embrace in my daily menu, ugliness can be the kiss of death for a new recipe. Creations so unsightly that no amount of careful prop styling nor Photoshopping can disguise, countless innocent dishes have met their end, sacrificed in the name of vanity and not in good taste. For this conceit, I must apologize, my dear readers. It’s a personal shortfall that I couldn’t look beyond a bad photo shoot for so many homely, but tasty, pursuits.
Thank goodness for recipe tasters. Even when I’ve written something off as unexceptional, imperfect, and most commonly of all, unphotogenic, there are passionate eaters in my life outspoken enough to rescue those edible gems from certain doom. One of the most “famous” cases was that of the Frankenstorm Pie; quickly thrown together without any recipe at all, it was only due to the begging and pleading of the recipients that it was even recorded in any format to begin with, let alone make the final cut for the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.
By some small miracle and number of very vocal recipients, one of last year’s holiday gifts was rescued from a similar fate. Inspired by the traditional rum ball, these potent little treats may be sorely lacking in the beauty department, but the flavor sure won’t leave you wanting. Spiked with a heady dose of both mint and coffee liqueurs, they were originally dubbed “Boozy Peppermint Mocha Balls,” but the only way I could think to improve their image problem was to further finesse the moniker, at the very least.
Just think of these little morsels as the adult version of a peppermint mocha latte in candy form, and for maximum enjoyment, don’t waste too much time admiring their good looks… Or lack thereof.
Spiked Peppermint Mocha Bites
2 1/2 (12-Ounce) Packages Peppermint Joe-Joe’s or Mint Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (30 Ounces Total)
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup (6 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Kahlua or Any Other Coffee Liqueur
1/4 Cup Creme de Menthe or Any Other Mint Liqueur
Place the minty sandwich cookies of your choice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “s” blade, and pulse until very finely ground. Don’t worry about a few larger pieces; the extra texture is a nice addition. Introduce 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, instant coffee, and salt next, pulse briefly to incorporate.
In a microwave-safe dish, combine the chocolate and maple syrup, and heat for 60 seconds. Let stand for another minute before stirring thoroughly, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Add the liquid chocolate into the food processor along with both liqueurs. Pulse again until the mixture is more or less homogeneous, with no particular dry or wet patches.
Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each bite, roll firmly but gently into a ball between your palms, and toss in the remaining cup of confectioner’s sugar to coat. Repeat until all of the cookie mixture is used up, and work quickly; it becomes increasingly difficult to shape as the chocolate cools. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, or in the fridge for up to a month… If you can manage to ignore them for that long.
Makes 5 – 6 Dozen Bites
Far from the revered fine dining palaces of San Francisco, where hype and hyperbole are the most popular items on offer, an ordinary studio in the heart of Oakland plays host to an distinctly different, refreshingly sincere, and entirely immersive eating experience. Don’t call it a secret supper club or a pop-up restaurant, because this twice-monthly meeting of food and music has been making headlines for years, and it’s not about to disappear anytime soon. Born from the recklessly creative mind of chef Philip Gelb, this musician with a passion for cooking set up shop in pursuit of unifying these two pursuits. Each dinner comes not only with a carefully crafted menu of edible delights, but a unique musical performance selected to complement the meal, satiating the voracious audiophile as well. Sound & Savor is an on-going dinner series offering hands-on culinary classes and private catering in addition to these unforgettable evening events.
Hannukah is NOT the time to embark on some radical new low-fat diet. No matter where you believe lipids belong on your own personal food pyramid, oil is hero of this holiday, and the substance we all celebrate. From the oil in the miraculously burning lamps to the oil frying our food, the stuff has left its gloriously greasy residue all over this joyous event. This is the one rare time of year that we’re implored to ignore conventional nutritional advice and fry, fry again.
That’s not to say that just any old grease ball on a plate will suffice. Typical holiday fare turns starchy potatoes into crisp latkes and yeasted dough into jelly-stuffed sufganiyot. Dessert is where things get interesting, as the number of acceptable permutations for those requisite oily cakes hovers somewhere in the thousands. Latkes, on the other hand, are either right (however your grandma made them) or wrong (everything else.)
So on this occasion I throw caution to the wind along with another decadent treat into the vat of angrily bubbling oil. If there ever was such a thing as a “healthy” doughnut, laughable baked versions notwithstanding, it would unarguably be one made of a vegetable.
Inspired by their naturally alluring rings, simple sliced delicata squash stand in for the carbohydrate portion of the program, replacing the predictably dense dough with tender, subtly nuanced, pumpkin-like flesh. Far more flavorful than the bread-based default, it wins the battle for ease of preparation as well; the thin green skin needn’t be peeled, so just slice, remove the seeds, and you’re well on your way to an entirely new sweet holiday sensation.
Lightly battered and graced by a crunchy coating of simple cinnamon sugar, it’s hard to believe that such decadent treats are little more than plain squash rings dressed up in their finest. While you won’t fool any vegetable haters into confusing these for traditional doughnuts, you may just win them over.
Take it one step further still with a luxurious glaze of apple cider icing, redolent of the orchards on a brisk fall day. Reducing the cider does take a bit of patience, but every extra minute is well worth the wait. These dainty iced doughnuts are always the first to disappear.
1 Medium (A Little Over 1 Pound) Delicata Squash
3/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
3/4 Cup Water
Neutral Oil for Frying, such as Rice Bran or Canola
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
2 Cups Unfiltered Apple Cider
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
To begin, fill a large saucepan about 1/3 full with your neutral oil of choice and heat to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry your delicate before slicing it into 1/2-inch thick rings. Clean out the inner guts and seeds by either scraping it with a spoon, or using small round cookie cutters to punch out the stringy innards.
Prepare the batter by simply whisking together all of the dry ingredients before slowly adding in the water. Whisk just until the mixture is smooth. Separately, stir together the cinnamon and sugar topping in a medium bowl, and set aside.
For the glaze, place the apple cider in a small sauce pan and simmer until it has reduce to a mere 1/4 cup. Add in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar, stirring until perfectly smooth and lump-free. Set aside.
When the oil has come up to the right temperature, dip the delicata rings into batter one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Carefully lower them into the hot oil, cooking no more than two or three at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Let them cook undisturbed for about a minute before turning, flipping them frequently from that point onward to monitor browning. When the rings are evenly golden brown all over, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer them to a wire rack. While still warm, toss them individually in the cinnamon sugar, if using. If using the cider icing, let the donuts cool just until you can comfortably handle them, and gently dip the tops into the prepared glaze.
Best eaten as soon as possible!
Makes 10 – 14 Doughnuts