Wordless Wednesday: The Meat of the Matter

Root Marrow

Rack of Glam

MVP Meat

Braised Meatballs

Jack’s Seitan Ribs

Breakfast Sausage

Ribbony Seitan Bacon

Recipe testing for Fake Meat by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Hot Tots

So bad that they’re good; unwanted scraps that everyone can’t get enough of; terminally uncool to the point of being a new trend. Tater tots live in a world of conflicting extremes, forever at odds with themselves and the public at large. We have Ore-Ida to thank for the innovation in 1951, when new French fry cutting technology gave birth to immaculate shoestrings while leaving mountains of potato slivers and small pieces in its wake. That excess became the foundation of tots as we know them, formed and fried into something entirely new.

Any kid growing up in the 90s had more than their fair share of the crispy potato bites, piled up on cafeteria trays and smothered with ketchup, in lieu of any other vegetable-like matter. I remember my first encounter in first grade, when I got to the front of the line and found the paper boat of tots before me. These weren’t the thick potato wedges I wanted, and not even the smooth mashed potato puree that I tolerated. With great trepidation, I took a microscopic bite, chewed once, chewed twice… And spit it into the trash. For the rest of the day, I languished in the nurse’s office, convinced I was sick, and that those demonic tater tots had done me in.

Drama aside, I came to learn after many years that tots were not all bad. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. Consistent, reliable, affordable, and ageless, they’re an accommodating neutral base for toppings and dips of all types. Now that Millennials are “grown up” and seeking solace in their kitchens, tater tots are finally reaching their full potential. No longer reject spud shards but genuinely worthy starters and snacks, I, too, have come around to the ways of the tot.

That said, I don’t crave them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to try them, nor are they my first, second, or third choice on a menu. It needs to be something really special to catch my eye… Like the cauliflower tots served at Better Half Coffee & Cocktails here in Austin. These savory nuggets are square, fried to crispy perfection, and served alongside a silky purple beet ketchup. Sadly, they’re not vegan thanks to the generous application of eggs and cheese, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind after one visit. They certainly made a more lasting impression than the date I was on at the time.

I could sell these as a healthier, lower-carb option that’s naturally gluten-free and higher in protein, but this isn’t about getting the most nutritious snack. Let’s be honest: No one eats tater tots for the health benefits, so caulitots shouldn’t try to be anything other than delicious. That is where they truly excel. The outsides are browned to a satisfyingly crunchy finish, while the interiors remain moist, creamy, and slightly gooey thanks to the inclusion of vegan cheese shreds.

For a recipe worth more than nostalgic value, caulitots truly elevate the humble bar snack to a new level. Though you could serve them with regular old ketchup, BBQ sauce, plant-based honey mustard, or even ranch dressing, give the beet ketchup a try, at least once. It’s better than your average dip, and these upscale tots deserve the best, as do you.

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Hard Seltzer, the Easy Way

It’s no exaggeration to say that every company out there making anything vaguely resembling a liquid is now making hard seltzer. The Saturday Night Live sketch is so hilarious because it’s true, and you know what? I would legitimately purchase a variety pack including Men’s Jackets or Belts and Ties as flavor options. In fact, I have casually dropped cans of “Yard Darts” and “Skinny Dipping” into my basket as if those were on par with commonplace Lemon-Lime.

This profusion of hard seltzers can be chalked up to a number of intersecting trends. Alcohol sales shot through the roof during the height of pandemic lock downs, but most people weren’t trying to get smashed before noon. Lower ABV drinks have seen a resurgence as a more moderate choice, less intoxicating and more refreshing, perfect for a wide variety of occasions. Flavored sparkling water was already on the rise as a healthier alternative to sugary soda, so this extension of the concept appealed to the population that wouldn’t be as likely to crack open a heavy, high-calorie dark beer.

For me, a standard 12-ounce can of hard seltzer is the perfect serving size. It’s reasonable to drink in one sitting so leftovers won’t go flat, and is just potent enough to provide a comfortable buzz. Most 12-packs include four different flavors to keep things interesting, without having to commit to just one taste. Even if you get stuck with Jiffy Lube hard seltzer, it’s never so bad that it’s completely undrinkable.

That said, we can still do better. Hard seltzer is made from fermented cane sugar or malted barley, which is converted to alcohol. This takes special yeast and enzymes, just like wine-making. However, for even better and more consistent results, who said we need to go through all that rigmarole from scratch?

Here’s what you need:

Sparkling water and vodka. That’s it! You can use plain water and straight vodka to completely control the flavors through added extracts, fruit juice, or purees, or use infused options for one or either to make it even simpler.

If you’re hosting a party, set up a DIY hard seltzer bar with a variety of options for guests to mix their own. This way, they can also control the intensity of the alcohol, better accommodating both non-drinkers and heavyweights.

Here’s the magic formula:

  • 14 Tablespoons (7 Ounces) Sparkling Water
  • 2 Tablespoons (1 Ounce) Vodka (35% ABV)

= 1 Cup / 8 Fluid Ounces with 4.5% ABV

That’s roughly equivalent to most hard seltzers on the market. You easily have the advantage over the competition though, because it’s infinitely scalable and much less expensive in the long run.

If you want to go au naturel, cut the sparkling water with half fruit juice or puree, like peach nectar, apple juice, or tropical punch, both for taste and sweetness. That’s usually enough for me, but if you have a real sweet tooth, a drop of liquid stevia will help take off the edge.

If you’re a hard seltzer aficionado, what’s your favorite flavor? For upscale indulgence, I do love a bracing cucumber-basil lemonade, but by the same token, I still wouldn’t turn down Desk if you offered it.

Cakes of Biblical Proportions

Some cookbooks are more aspirational than inspirational. You know the sort; heavy, hard covers with glossy photos splashed across the pages. If not for the text, they could qualify as art projects, printed and bound for posterity. Laid out deliberately in plain view for guests to notice, appreciating your good taste, such things are pure beauty have plenty of value all the same.There’s a place on every well-appointed bookshelf for recipes dedicated to 10 minute meals and entirely unobtainable food porn.

On rare occasion, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a cookbook that fits both descriptions. Filled with lofty pastry goals that look like the stuff of sweet dreams, yet written in such a way that you could genuinely recreate these edible sculptures in real life, Sara Kidd bridges that gap with her groundbreaking release of The Vegan Cake Bible.

Deserving of culinary worship, these are not your mom’s bake sale tray bakes. We’re talking Caramel Swirl Bundt with Nougatine, Almond Sponge with Caramelized Apple & Ginger Meringue Buttercream, Vanilla Malt Marshmallow Birthday Cake, and beyond. By including a full breakdown of each individual component, you can easily mix and match to create the unique combination you’re truly craving.

Roast Carrot Cardamom Cake

It’s not just a set of instructions, but a full education that could rival the popular virtual pastry courses offered by highly esteemed culinary schools. We’re talking about the nitty gritty behind food science, shedding light on why ingredients interact the way they do, creating unique textures and flavors to better harness that power. Sara won’t leave you hanging when it’s time to stack things up, with tips and tricks to build sound foundations for towering cakes, no matter how tall. Naturally, plenty of time is given to decorating skills that go beyond a basic piping bag, creating treats as beautiful as they are delicious. There’s even a chapter about transporting your cakes when it’s party time!

As a certified Old Vegan™, I wish I had such a complete guide when I was blindly mashing bananas into everything, hoping and praying the results would be reasonably edible. Never could I have even imagined these feats of cake mastery, made accessible to anyone bold enough to call themselves a Baker. Though initially daunting, I promise, these luscious, layered creations are within your reach.

What’s even more incredible is the unbelievable number of gluten-free options all throughout these colorful pages. Her Gluten-free Vegan Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and American Buttercream is a case in point, which she generously granted me permission to reprint here. However, I don’t think my little recipe card could do it proper justice; there’s so much more description within her original post, that I must implore you to make that one extra click to get all the info.

While you’re over there, don’t miss Sara’s full archive of sweet recipes, videos, and even baking classes for hands-on experiences with the master herself. Anyone even remotely interested in sweets will relish such an indispensable resource. Treat yourself, or someone you love, to the gift of truly incredible vegan cakes today.

Coming Up Roses

Time after time, across the years for decades, if not centuries, surveys have shown that recipients always prefer sweets over flowers on Mother’s Day. No contest here; whether we’re talking about a classic box of chocolate or a more elaborate dessert, appetites tend to win over aesthetics.

What if there was a way to get the best of both worlds? Give your mother and all the maternal figures in your life an edible bouquet this year, even if you’ve been sleeping on the event. These quick treats will have you seeing the situation through rose-tinted glasses. Simply wrap up apple slices infused in blushing beet syrup with flaky puff pasty for a beautiful treat that will blossom in the oven.

Versatile enough to present as a breakfast in bed, surprise midday snack, or nightcap to end the day on a high note. Just a little bit of effort goes a long way, in both baking and family relations.

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