Sending Home the Bacon

What do you get for the man who has everything? More importantly, what do you make for the man who isn’t particularly thrilled by birthday cake, lives on the opposite side of the country, and would never so much as drop a hint about any particular wants or needs? This is the conundrum I face every time my dad’s birthday rolls around. Proving that the ones who give the most are terrible at accepting the same kindness, he’s notoriously impossible to shop for, even when it comes to the most basic necessities. Appreciative of the gesture, he will always accept the typical gifts of shirts, books, and ties with grace, but really, you shouldn’t have. Really.

The only thing I know for sure is that my dad loves music, obscure movies, and ever-so-slightly burnt popcorn to enjoy with both. I have strong memories of working diligently upstairs in my room, only to smell the distinct aroma of toasted, vaguely blackened kernels wafting through the air, and I’d know it was time to take a break. That meant it was 9:00, our designated TV hour, which always came with a heaping handful of his homemade snack mix. Crowning this simple blend was a generous shake of bacon salt, the curiously vegetarian seasoning with a smoky, savory edge. It was a comforting routine, and one that I still miss almost three years since moving out.

If I can’t be there to share the flicks and snacks in person, then I had to find a way to send an edible understudy.

Vegans are making everything into bacon these days, from eggplant to coconut, but my unique blend goes back to a classic mixture of meaty tempeh and deeply umami mushrooms. It’s a simple yet remarkably satisfying seasoning that adds an extra punch to any dish, not just freshly popped corn. Think french fries, avocado toast, veggie burgers, roasted Brussels sprouts, corn on the cob, bar nuts, and so much more. It could quickly become the new savory staple that you suddenly can’t live without, even if you’ve never tasted the “real” thing.

Birthdays come and go, but the opportunity to treat loved ones to a special delicacy is fleeting. This successful, universally appealing formula may just be an ideal gift for equally discerning recipients in your life, too.

Bacon Salt

3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke
1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 8-Ounce Package Tempeh
1/2 Cup Sliced Cremini Mushrooms
1/4 Cup Dried, Sliced Shiitake Mushrooms
1/4 Cup Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and set aside an 8 x 8-inch baking pan.

Stir together the soy sauce, liquid smoke, maple syrup, oil, nutritional yeast, paprika, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Crumble the tempeh as finely as possible and toss it in, along with the mushrooms. Mix thoroughly, coating the pieces.

Pour everything, including the excess marinade into your waiting pan. Bake for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, stirring every 15 – 25 minutes or so to keep the entire batch cooking evenly and preventing it from burning. The edges can go from soft to scorched surprisingly quickly, so standby and keep a close eye on it the entire time it’s in the oven.

Cook until brown all over, dry to the touch, and highly aromatic. Be aware that your kitchen may smell like bacon for the rest of the day, but I would hardly consider that a problem.

Let cool completely before transferring to your blender or food processor along with the salt. Pulse until the pieces are completely broken down. Strain through a fine mesh sieve if you would like a particularly even grind and re-blend any remaining large pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Makes About 1 Cup

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Cake of a Different Color

Sneaking vegetables into desserts has long been a practice of conniving parents, trying to feed their children a daily dose of greens by any means necessary. “Cauliflower cake” sounds like yet another attempt at disguising the trendy brassica as a sweet treat, smothered in chocolate or coated in sprinkles, perhaps, but it’s actually a delight for the dinner table.

Inspired by a recipe from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi, what this mad genius calls a cake could really qualify as a highly vegetative frittata. Heavy on cheese and savory fresh herbs, such a universally appealing combination could make even the pickiest eaters open up and ask for seconds. My interpretation of the concept is a radical departure from the original, however, utilizing a green pea-based batter to replace the eggs, continuing the color scheme with green cauliflower, and punching up the flavor with a more spring-y punch of dill.

The tantalizing taste of this unconventional entree is matched only by its versatility. Need a make-ahead breakfast? Prepare it the day before and you can have it on the table first thing in the morning. Casual lunch, or fancy brunch for a crowd? Serve slices with a leafy green salad and plenty of mimosas on the side. Romantic dinner for two? Bake single servings in ramekins to really impress your date. Leftovers are just as satisfying if eaten cold- If you have any, that is.

Green Cauliflower Cake

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Pound Green Cauliflower, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Fresh Dill, Chopped
1 3/4 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak or Plain Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 (7-Ounce) Package Follow Your Heart Garden Herb Cheese or Any Mozzarella-Style Vegan Block Cheese, Finely Diced
2 1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth
1 Tablespoon Wholegrain Mustard
Fresh Parsley, Minced (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan.

Place 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet and set over medium heat. Add in the onion and sauté until softened and aromatic. Add the garlic and cauliflower next, cooking until very lightly browned. Turn off the heat and let the vegetables cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the dill, green pea flour, baking powder, kala namak, and black pepper, stirring well to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. Toss in the cubes of cheese, ensuring that they’re thoroughly coated in the dry mixture to make sure that they stay suspended in the cake, rather than just sink to the bottom. Add in the cooked vegetables next, tossing in the same fashion. Whisk together the broth, mustard, and remaining olive oil before pouring the liquid mixture into the bowl, stirring well to incorporate.

Transfer to your prepared springform pan, smoothing out the top and tapping it lightly on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving; it’s best enjoyed warm or at room temperature, rather than hot.

Slice and garnish with fresh parsley, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Dancing in the Rain

Predictably unpredictable as always, springtime in San Francisco meaning blazing hot days of sunshine, followed immediately by the shock of hail, and endless vacillation between floods and droughts. Winter is usually the rainy season, but all bets are off as weather across the globe grows more extreme. Though fleeting, each sudden downpour puts a serious damper on business as usual. If you’re on foot, you’re liable to drown before reaching your destination, even if it’s just across the street. If you’re lucky enough to have a car, get cozy because traffic will be at a standstill as hapless motorists try to contend with the unmanageable conditions. A real rainy day like this calls for staying in by all means possible, for the sake of safety and sanity.

That means you had better stock your pantry and be prepared to make a meal of whatever you have on hand. Soups and stews are my go-to solutions for just such an occasion; anything in the fridge, freezer, and pantry can meld together in some sort of harmonious fusion, and with an ample spice rack, you’ll never risk flavor fatigue. Cook once, eat twice, thrice- or as many times as you can stand it.

Contending with another drenching rain one recent afternoon, sheer luck and serendipity yielded one of the most brilliant, prismatic brews I’ve had simmering on the stove in many months. Boldly magenta, or perhaps violently violet, purple potatoes, black quinoa, and red cabbage join forces to create a stew of a different hue. Delicious as it is visually stunning, I knew right away that this was no average stone soup, setting to work recording my recipe for future reference. Only in hindsight to I see the uncanny connection to Prince, whom we remember for his untimely passing exactly two years ago tomorrow.

I’d like to think that this simple bowl of comfort might be a small way to celebrate, rather than mourn such a vibrant life. It doesn’t need to be raining out to enjoy such a blend, but it certainly does make for a comforting complement to the weather. As Prince has said, “Honey I know, I know, I know times are changing.
It’s time we all reach out for something new,” so go ahead, shake up the usual routine and give it a try.

Purple Rainy Day Soup

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
4 Cups Shredded Red Cabbage
1/3 Cup Black Quinoa
2 Medium Purple Potatoes, Peeled and Diced (About 1 Pound)
1 Bay Leaf
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Red Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Rosemary, Crushed
1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1/2 Cup Frozen Green Peas

Place the olive oil in a large stock pot and set it over medium heat on the stove. Saute for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add in the garlic and continue cooking for another 5 – 10 minutes, until aromatic and lightly browned. Incorporate the shredded cabbage in handfuls, allowing it to wilt down slightly before adding more. Follow that with the dry quinoa, potatoes, and bay leaf.

Whisk the miso paste into the stock until smooth before pouring the mixture into the pot. Bring the mixture up to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer for 25 – 30 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender and the quinoa is fully cooked. Season with black pepper, rosemary, and vinegar, adjusting to taste if needed.

Toss in the frozen peas and simmer just until thawed and hot all the way through. Serve right away while piping hot!

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Chow Down

Does anyone else get bummed out by Trader Joe’s cat cookies? It’s not that they’re disappointing in flavor- Far from it- But that they’re blatantly speciesist. Printed on every generous tub are the words “For People!” with no mention of our feline friends. They’re inspired by, shaped like, and named for cats, and yet these highly esteemed creatures are clearly excluded from indulging alongside us. It’s a slap in the face (or perhaps, paw to the snout) of the little lions among us. My modus operandi has always been to provide food for everyone to enjoy, regardless of tastes, dietary restrictions, or breeds, so it strikes me as terribly shortsighted of Trader Joe’s to classify such promising morsels in such an exclusive fashion.

The same can be said of “puppy chow.” Typically, this is a crowd-pleasing yet tooth-achingly sweet mix of melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and cereal squares, tossed together to approximate the appearance of dog food. Chocolate is at the top of the list of canine dangers when it comes to feeding, so I have to wonder who was the first person to dream up this combination. What a sadly misleading title!

Carob could make for an easy conversion, but not one that most humans would be particularly enthusiastic about. Besides, the added sugar really isn’t the best fuel for our furry friends. Savory flavors are what this reinvented blend is all about! Peanut butter with an umami kick of liquid aminos and nutritional yeast meet crunchy corn or rice cubes for a highly snack-able blend, no matter your breed. Feel free to spice things up for your own tastes with a generous dose of sriracha, smoked paprika, or chili powder, but keep it on the side for more sensitive puppy palates.

Although the temptation to immediately chow down straight from the bowl will be high, please mind your manners. There’s no reason to eat like an animal.

Savory Puppy Chow (For People AND Puppies)

1/4 Cup Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
4 Cups Corn or Rice Cereal Squares
1/3 Cup Toasted Coconut Shreds or Flakes
1/2 Cup Oat Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast

Place the peanut butter, coconut oil, liquid aminos, and vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Toss with the cereal, coconut, and oat flour in a large bowl until the squares are evenly coated. Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and nutritional yeast last, stirring gently to cover the pieces without crushing them. Serve warm.

Makes About 4 1/2 Cups

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Griddle Me This

Every dog has its day, and so, apparently, does every food. If I observed every national “holiday” assigned seemly at random to all the various dishes and ingredients on currently listed on the calendar, this blog would become nothing but a giant red-letter day reminder. National Grilled Cheese Day, however, deserves a special mention. Today, like any other day that ends with a “y,” is the perfect time to butter up two thick slices of your favorite bread and stuff them to the point of bursting with any gooey non-dairy decadence your heart desires. Such a sandwich is a staple across the globe, beloved by all and easy enough for even the most novice cooks to whip up with confidence. It was even one of the first foods I managed to create for myself in my tween years, before cooking or even eating roused my enthusiasm. Sure, back then it was plain whole wheat bread and florescent orange slices of unmelting crayon wax that passed for vegan cheese, smashed and warmed into submission via an electric sandwich press, but a strong attachment to the concept still took hold.

Thankfully, we can do better- So much better, and with barely any additional effort. That’s why the sandwich in particular is truly worth celebrating. Even in its most fanciful, fully decorated formats, it will still be piping hot and ready to enjoy in a matter of minutes, at most.

The cheese itself remains a slightly controversial subject, with diehard fans taking sides either for or against various mainstream options, but the good news is that now there are actually options, and scores of them! If you’re not up to the task of starting from scratch, even your average big box store in middle America will carry at least one reasonable alternative to get your grill on. Daiya is perhaps the best known, with shreds, slices, and blocks of many flavors, with their new cutting board shreds leading the pack. Follow Your Heart does indeed remain close to my heart, offering some of the most diverse flavor options that range from pepperjack to provolone. So Delicious is still more of an ice cream powerhouse than anything else, but their classic shredded cheese options are making quite a splash on the savory side of the grocery store. Chao is best known for its smooth, creamy melt and unique coconut/tofu base. New on the scene is Culinary Co, still a bit difficult to track down but fantastic eaten hot or cold, which is quite a feat for most dairy-free cheese. Similarly, Parmela shreds are found in very limited markets, but worth buying in bulk should you manage to locate a good supply. Violife is making a big splash with its US release, once available only overseas but now taking the North American market by storm. Truth be told, this is but a tiny nibble at the larger feast of non-dairy gooey goodness, but we haven’t even begun to dig into the actual savory additions!

  • It’s hard to beat the umami punch offered by your average sauteed mushroom, but you can one-up that basic approach with silky caramelized onions, a touch of garlic, and to really gild the lily, a pinch of truffle salt.
  • For a little sweet and savory twist, crisp slices of green apple add a crunchy, tart punch to the combination, which goes particularly well with a cheddar shred or slice.
  • Spice things up with a generous handful pickled jalapenos, and take your sandwich on a quesadilla-inspired departure with roasted red peppers, black beans, and tender summer squash.
  • Go green to ramp up the health factor by stuffing your bread with a serious serving of wilted spinach, kale, and/or arugula, and play up the fresh herbs like thinly sliced scallions, parsley, rosemary, oregano, and thyme.
  • Keep it classic with juicy ripe tomatoes, or sun-dried if out of season, and a few crisp slices of meatless bacon if you’re feeling particularly indulgent.
  • Consider a more spring-y approach with grilled asparagus and roasted beets ramping up the vegetable factor, and don’t forget a touch of lemon zest and ground black pepper to brighten the whole package.
  • Make something that an avowed carnivore would crave by loading up on cooked beefy crumbles, finished with a dollop of marinara sauce or fresh pesto.With so many fantastic culinary adventures to embark upon, the most difficult part of crafting an excellent grilled cheese sandwich is simply deciding on the flavor destination! Do tell: what’s your current favorite combination?

Spring Things

Cherry blossoms. Butterflies. Misted, dewy mornings. Song bird serenades.

These are the things that spring is made of.

Fava beans. Asparagus. Rhubarb. Soft green herbs. Morel mushrooms.

These are the things that spring tastes like.

The promise of these things are what make winter worth enduring, no matter how brutal or seemingly interminable those frigid, forbidding days of darkness become. Slowly but surely, that veil of frost will be lifted to reveal to reveal tender green shoots emerging from quickly thawing earth, revitalized after such fitful slumber.

At long last, all signs point to spring here on the west coast, although that’s not quite the case nationwide. It’s hard to imagine blizzard conditions elsewhere while strapping on sandals to greet the day.

Should these early days of April fall short of expectations, don’t despair. One particular taste of spring is still easily accessible even if your local farmers market remains barren. Fresh peas are an exquisite treat, verdant and shockingly sweet straight out of the pod, but frozen are no terrible sacrifice in a pinch. Roughly mashed into a chunky spread with bright mint and lemon accents, the simple combination is enough to make any residual memories of winter melt away, even if the snow refuses to follow suit.

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is actually a limited-edition menu item on offer at Nourish Cafe right now. In case you can’t hustle in before the season comes to a close, it’s an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Spring Pea Toast

Minted Pea Pistou:

1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, Lightly Packed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Lightly Packed
3 Tablespoons Garlic Oil
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Pound (3 Cups) Fresh, Blanched or Frozen, Thawed Green Peas
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

For Assembly:

4 Thick Slices Toast
1 Cup Vegan Ricotta
1/2 Cup Fresh Peas
Pea Shoots or Sprouts (Optional)
Edible Flowers (Optional)

Place the mint, spinach, garlic oil, and lemon juice in your food processor and blend until the leaves are all broken down and the mixture is fairly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed to make sure everything gets incorporated. Add in the peas, salt, and pepper, and pulse until spreadable but still slightly coarse.

The pea pistou can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

To assemble the toast, layer on a thick schmear of vegan ricotta on each slice of bread, followed by the pea pistou and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots, and edible flowers if desired. Savor a taste of spring, no matter the weather outside!

Makes 4 Servings

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