An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Rawkstar Apple Pie

It’s one thing to follow a recipe, trying to imitate the work of a talented chef, and quite another to enjoy their interpretation straight from the source. At best, you might be able to seek out a particular restaurant, but even then, it’s unlikely that the chef will actually be in the kitchen, carefully chopping the onions or searing the tofu destined for your plate. That’s why it was such a treat to see Chef Lisa Brooks-Williams herself in action, demonstrating a selection of her inspiring raw dishes.

Chef Lisa wears many hats, working as a personal chef, caterer, and teacher throughout the bay area. Committed to proving how easy a healthful, vegan diet full of whole foods can be, her raw apple pie is a perfect example of how flavor and nutrition are seamlessly combined into one crowd-pleasing dessert. Sweet but not saccharine, spices emphasize the natural autumnal essence of the apples, complemented by a creamy cashew sauce. Although the timing is perfect for the upcoming holiday season, I wouldn’t hesitate to whip one up any time of year.

Lisa’s Raw Apple Pie with Almond Crust and Maple Cream
Adapted from Chef Lisa Brooks-Williams


2 Cups Raw Almonds
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
10 Pitted Dates
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Water
1 Tablespoon Coconut Sugar (Optional)

Apple Pie Filling:

2 Pounds Fuji or Gala Apples, Quartered and Cored
2 Pears, Peeled and Cored
2 Tablespoons Ground Psyllium Husk
2/3 Cup Dried Currants or Raisins
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Maple Cream:

2 Cups Raw Cashews, Soaked for 2 Hours and Drained
1/2 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Cup Water
1 Whole Vanilla Bean
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Salt

For the crust, place the almonds, cinnamon, and salt in the food processor and pulse until the nuts are ground. Add dates and coconut sugar (if using) and pulse once more until the dates are finely chopped and incorporated. Add 1/2 teaspoon water or more for a moister crust, if desired. Set aside. Note: Moister crusts are easier to press into a pie plate or pan. However, a more crumbly consistency works better for this recipe.

For the filling, place the apples in the (rinsed and dried) food processor and pulse until chopped into small pieces. You may need to process your apples in two separate batches, depending on the size of your food processor. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Place the pears, salt, spices, and vanilla extract in the food processor and blend until completely smooth. Pour the pear sauce over the chopped apples. Add the psyllium husk and currants, stirring gently to makes sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Allow the mixture to rest for 20 minutes to gel.

For the maple cream, place the entire vanilla bean, cut into smaller pieces, into the blender along with the water and maple syrup. Process until the vanilla bean is completely broken down. Add the soaked cashews, spices, and salt, and blend until completely smooth and creamy. Add more water if the consistency is too thick.

To assemble, press the crust into a pie pan or casserole dish to make more traditional slices, or crumble into individual serving glasses to make parfaits. Spoon the filling on top, and finish each serving with a dollop of maple cream. For a full pie, chill thoroughly for at least two hours for best results when slicing.

Printable Recipe


All Carrots, No Sticks

My love for carrots has been well documented since birth. Although I have no recollection of the incident, I’ve been told many times over that in my earliest stages of infatuation with the orange root, I came down with a legitimate case of carotenemia. Against my typically paper-white skin, I can only imagine what a glowing, golden orb of a baby I must have been! Perhaps it’s for the best that there are no lasting memories (or photos) of this to haunt me.

Now well into my twenties, I’ve learned to rein in my carrot cravings, but they’re a constant staple in my life. A vegetable crisper without at least a pound of the crisp taproots is truly empty, as far as I’m concerned. Typically eaten without any ceremony, cooking, or even basic preparation, it’s still dangerously easy to take their unique flavor for granted.

Naturally sweet, pure carrot juice is a real treat on a hot summer’s day. Although we’ve technically arrived on autumn’s doorstep, the heat is still going strong, and it just might take more serious measures to keep cool. That’s where this impossibly, laughably simple granita comes in. Little more than pure pressed carrots and a pinch of fresh mint, even the sweetener could be considered optional, depending on the flavor and intensity of your juice.

While most people think of carrots as lowly vegetables, good for little more than filler on the dinner plate, I would implore you to open up your mind- and mouth- to greater carrot consideration. It’s remarkable what a little bit of time in the freezer can do to transfer this pure orange elixir into a bona fide dessert.

Carrot Granita

2 Cups 100% Carrot Juice
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar or 3 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced

What follows is so simple that it can hardly even be considered a recipe. Simply combine all the ingredients and stir until your sweetener of choice has fully dissolved. Pour the mixture into 9 by 13-inch baking pan and place on stable, flat surface in the freezer. Allow it to rest for half an hour.

Use a dinner fork to scrape any ice crystals that have begun to form on the sides and bottom of the pan. Place the pan back in the freezer and repeat this procedure, scraping and mixing every 20 – 30 minutes for a total of 3 – 4 hours.

Once mixture is thoroughly frozen, you should end up with light, fluffy flakes that look like dry orange crystals. Scoop into glasses and enjoy right away.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


Frozen Corn is the Cure

Gathering up my bags and grocery list, I stepped out of my enclosed oasis of air conditioning and into the midday sun. Slamming the car door shut and turning to go, I suddenly found myself caught. It wasn’t unusual to find my shirt, or purse, or even hair entangled in a closed door, but when I looked down to the source, I was unprepared for what I saw. Oh… Shit was the only clear thought that passed through my mind upon discovering that it was, in fact, my right thumb being held captive, fully enclosed in the not only latched, but locked car door.

Forget about that quick, routine grocery run. Although it took a moment for the pain to register, it roared into clarity the moment I finished fumbling to extricate myself. Gritting my teeth and marching into the store, passing through the produce and going straight to the freezer aisle, I grabbed the first thing I found that might stop the swelling: Corn. Nature’s first aid, frozen corn, in all of its icy glory. Of course, I still completed my shopping, the bag of frozen corn draped stiffly around my mangled digit.

No bones were broken and miraculously, no blood was spilled, but the thumb remains black and angrily inflamed well beyond its usual size even five days later. Traditional pain killers have proven ineffective at best, incapacitating at worst, and so at the end of the day, I find myself curled up in bed with yet another bag of frozen corn wrapped around my smashed finger. It’s the only thing that brings any modicum of relief.

All of that is to say that I have found myself with a considerable stock pile of corn, both frozen and fully thawed after serving as overnight ice packs. Giving their all for the cause, these kernels exhaust their typically toothsome structure along with their magical healing qualities, making for some rather mushy bags of corn pulp in the morning. Sending them off in a blaze of glory, the best way I’ve found to appreciate the service of these vegetables is in a golden puree of rich, summery soup.

The term velouté typically refers to a silky-smooth sauce, but in this case, it was the only term that seemed sufficient to describe the creamy, luscious texture of such a full-bodied soup. Thickened not with added starches, gums, or flours, its the bulk of the corn itself that creates this winsome quality. It’s a good thing I’m so fond of this blend, served both piping hot and thoroughly chilled, because it looks like there will still be a lot more where that came from… At least until my thumb is on the mend.

Roasted Corn Velouté

1/4 Cup Olive Oil, Divided
5 Cups Corn Kernels (Thawed if Frozen)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Small Onion, Diced
4 Small Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Medium Yellow Pepper, Diced
3 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, tossing until the corn is evenly coated. Spread the corn mixture out evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring at the 10 minute mark, until the kernels look lightly toasted.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and begin to saute the onion. Introduce the garlic and yellow pepper next, stirring frequently, until all of the vegetables are golden brown around the edges. Add in 3 cups of the vegetable stock along with the lemon juice and 4 cups of the roasted corn, and let everything simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes.

Transfer everything into a blender and thoroughly puree, until perfectly smooth. Add cayenne pepper to taste, and the final cup of vegetable stock if you’d prefer a thinner texture. Stir in the remaining cup of roasted corn before serving.

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

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


Fine and Funky Fresca

Saying that Texas gets hot during the summer would be like calling the Pluto a “little bit chilly,” as it spins around outer space to the tune of -180° C on a good day. Despite being better suited for the tropics than the arctic, nothing could have prepared me for the crushing heat that settles in like a thick blanket by midday, every day without fail, refusing to abate even after the sun has long since abandoned its post in the sky. Whereas Hawaii has trade winds to push the offending humidity to the side every now and then, so much as a gentle breeze can be tough to come by around here. What’s even more ominous and vaguely alarming is the fact that it’s technically not even summer yet. The locals all give a knowing, far away stare and a nod whenever the subject comes up, as if to say, “You just wait.”

Unprepared for but not altogether unhappy about the extreme climate, I would still much rather be too hot than too cold, so the intensity of the daily highs is just a part of life. After the morning bath in sunscreen, proper hydration is the only way to cope. It’s impossible to drink enough water, which is why it’s critical to make those bottomless glasses as appealing as possible.

Enter the agua fresca. Traditionally augmented with a generous dose of sugar, it turns out that simply using perfectly ripe fruit makes it unnecessary to further gild the lily in that department. Chasing after flavor rather than pure sweetness, my interpretation of the fruit-based beverage may look downright swampy, but trust me, the flavor is all bright, light, and refreshing watermelon goodness. While the added nutritional punch from a handful of spinach is to blame for the deceptive color, it ultimately acts as a silent partner in this successful production.

Although I may not stick around long enough to experience the true terror of a full-fledged Texan summer, I know that with a pitcher of this cool, fruity blend by my side, I’ll be prepared for any of the heat or humidity that awaits me back home.

Minted Melon Agua Fresca

1 – 2 Cups Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed
1/3 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves, Packed
4 Cups Cubed Seedless Watermelon
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 – 1 Cup Cold Water
Pinch Salt (Optional)
Ice, to Serve

Pull out your blender and add the spinach and mint into the canister first, followed by the watermelon chunks. Begin blending on a low speed, just to start chewing up all the leafy greens at the bottom. Drizzle in the lime juice and 1/2 cup of water to help keep things spinning, and slowly turn it up to a high speed. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth. It may take a bit longer for machines with a bit less power to process through all the greener, so be patient and don’t rush this step.

Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve or nut milk bag, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard any remaining pulp. Add more water if desired. Pour over ice and enjoy immediately. Stay cool, everyone!

Makes About 4 Cups

Printable Recipe


Market Fresh

Saturday mornings are the highlight of every week, bearing the promise of exciting adventures around this fine city, without arduous classes encumbering an already overloaded schedule. No matter where the day takes me, each new exploit always begins in the same place: The Ferry Building farmers market, arguably the most renowned year-round source for fresh produce in San Francisco proper, drawing locals and tourists alike. It would be easy to make a full meal of the generous samples, ranging from buttery avocados to sweet dark cherries, but there’s so much more than just fruits and vegetables on offer. Time your visit correctly and you’ll cross paths with some inspiring bay area chefs, freely divulging secret recipes thanks to CUESA‘s Market to Table program.

Featuring the season’s best and freshest offerings, it’s always a treat to see what the innovative food luminaries in the area bring to the plate, and even better when you can get a free taste. The Plant Cafe is a common stop on my market trips, since their Embarcadero outpost is a mere two piers away, so I was especially thrilled when reigning chef Sascha Weiss appeared on the demo schedule.

Presenting chickpea panisse in a whole new light, Mr. Weiss has elevated the concept from french fry-alternative to an elegant plated hors d’oeuvre. Piled high with tender asparagus and mushrooms singing with umami flavor, the whole composition is a shining example of why eating fresh and seasonal is always best. That said, if you make just one part of this dish, it must be the pistachio-pea purée. Somewhere between a pesto and a sauce, the richness of the nuts boosts the sweetness of the tender peas to create a creamy, sublime experience. Rather than reaching for the standard hummus, I think I’ll just call this a dip next time a snack craving hits.

Chickpea Panisse with Pistachio-Pea Purée, Asparagus, and Maitake Mushrooms
Adapted from Chef Sascha Weiss of The Plant Café Organic

Chickpea Panisse:
4 Cups Water
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 1/4 Cups Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Whole Cumin Seed, Toasted and Ground
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
Neutral Vegetable Oil, for Frying

8 Ounces Maitake Mushrooms, Cleaned and Halved Through the Stems
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

16 Stalks Asparagus, Trimmed and Bottom 1/3 of Stalks Peeled
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Pistachio-Pea Purée:
2 Cups Sliced Leeks (Washed, Cut 1/4-Inch Thick)
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/2 Cup Shelled Pistachios
1/2 Cup Shelled English Peas, Blanched
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

1 Cup Arugula, Pea Tendrils, or Other Tender Greens
1 Radish, Sliced Very Thin
2 Teaspoons Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to Taste
1/4 Cup Vegan “Goat Cheese” (Optional)

For the panisse: Bring the water, salt, and olive oil to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add the garbanzo flour, whisking so it doesn’t form lumps. Ass the lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan; about 10 minutes. Pour the batter into a greased pan and allow it to cool to room temperature. Slice into desired shapes and pan fry in oil until golden.

For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the sliced mushrooms, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Lay the mushrooms out on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and roast for 15 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. Leave the oven on and set the mushrooms aside.

For the asparagus: Toss the asparagus together with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the spears on a sheet pan or baking pan and roast in the oven until soft but not mushy; about 5 minutes. Set aside.

For the purée: In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the leeks in olive oil until softened; about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden. Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, thinning with water as needed to achieve a purée that is silky-smooth and can be spooned on a plate without turning into a soupy puddle.

To finish: Place 2 – 3 stalks of asparagus on each plate. Top each with a piece of chickpea panisse, spoon some of the purée on top, and add a piece or two of roasted mushroom. Toss the greens with olive oil, sliced radish, salt, and pepper. Add the dressed greens to the plate and crumble a small amount of the vegan cheese on top, if desired.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


Flipping Over Pancakes

A hallowed date with many names, there is all but one antiquated nickname that I can fully endorse, even as a nonsecular participant. Sorry, but the title of “Fat Tuesday” no longer fits the bill for modern times, especially when the moniker of “Pancake Tuesday” can be readily swapped in for a far more appealing and accurate label. Born of religious traditions that involve gorging oneself before the leaner days of lent, the celebratory aspect is the only piece I’m interested in, quite frankly. That’s to say nothing of how the so-called fat pancakes of yore bear little resemblance to the eggless, dairy-free flapjacks that grace my skillet today, which could run circles around those early butter-laden diet bombs. It’s no wonder that revelers would feel compelled to repent after such a gut-busting day of indulgence.

It’s time to leave those feelings of guilt and regret in the past. Pancakes are the star of the day and deserve to shine with fresh flavors, just like this punchy little short stack right here. Fluffy, lightly sweetened pillows that are no pushovers, equal parts flour and cornmeal contribute a heartier texture in addition to a subtly savory cornbread flavor. Juicy raspberries and crisp jalapenos dot the surface of each disk, making every bite both sweet and spicy. Although you could certainly cut one or the other out of the picture to simplify, especially if catering to a strong sweet tooth or salt tooth, the combination is positively invigorating, no matter what time of day you prefer to celebrate your pancakes.

Raspberry-Jalapeno Cornbread Pancakes

2/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2/3 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Fresh or Frozen and Thawed* Raspberries
1 Fresh Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Diced

Additional Fresh Raspberries and Maple Syrup to Serve (Optional)

*If using frozen and thawed raspberries, just bear in mind that your pancakes will take on more of a pink hue overall, due to the excess juices. Try to drain the berries as best you can to mitigate the effects.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, mixing thoroughly to both aerate and combine the ingredients. Separately, mix the oil, non-dairy milk, and vinegar before adding all of the liquids into the bowl of dry goods. Introduce the berries and jalapeno at the same time, stirring with a wide spatula to incorporate everything into the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining, as it’s much better than running the risk of over-mixing and creating tough pancakes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and very lightly grease the bottom. When hot, spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan for each pancake, leaving a good amount of space in between so that there’s ample room for flipping. Lightly smooth out the tops to further round the shapes and even out any central peaks. Cook until bubbles appear all over the surface and the underside is golden brown. Flip with a spatula, and cook until equally browned on the other side.

Serve hot, topped with fresh berries and/or syrup if desired.

Makes About 4 Servings

Printable Recipe


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