Crunch Time

“Mmm, raw broccoli, my favorite!” …said no one, ever.

Despite being well aware of this and sharing the general sentiment myself, still I set forth mowing down a crown of fresh, green, utterly uncooked broccoli with aplomb. Sometimes you’ve gotta go with your gut, and mine was telling me to embrace the grassier, fresher side of this ubiquitous staple. Something about the crunch, the more herbaceous, slightly pungent bite was calling to me.

Pairing that assertive flavor with an equally bold, punchy dressing was necessary. Hot, peppery mustard, bearing a subtle burn right in the back of the throat, kicking the sinuses like a good dose of horseradish, would do just the trick. Taming the flame with the sweet contrast of maple syrup and chewy morsels of dates brought everything back into satisfying harmony.

Fold in some crisp pieces of smoky meatless bacon, nutty toasted pepitas, and a little extra pepper for good measure, and you’ll start craving the raw cruciferous vegetable too.

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Challah at Me

Everything has meaning. Everything has a purpose.

Woven into the smooth, elastic strands of dough that compose a loaf of lovingly braided challah bread is a taste of history. Surviving centuries of strife, passed down by word of mouth like folklore, it’s more than mere sustenance, yet hardly given a second thought beyond the customary blessing, if that. Even I was surprised to learn that the term “challah” isn’t necessarily defined by the rich, eggy, soft, and sweet crumb that immediately comes to mind. Any bread that’s sanctified for Jewish observances, from high holidays to regular old week days, can be challah.

That’s only the beginning of my true challah education. Visiting the Chabad Jewish Student Center at UC Berkeley prior to Shabbat one day, I was greeted by the sight of overflowing bowls of dough, the smell of yeast and flour wafting through the windows, perfuming the whole neighborhood.

Traditionally, seven essential ingredients compose the tender crumb we all know and love: water, yeast, sugar, oil, flour, and salt. Eggs, though frequently included to represent renewal, are not actually a necessary staple. That’s right; I wandered into this enclave of busy bakers to find about a hundred pounds of “accidentally” vegan challah dough at my disposal.

As explained by den mamma Bracha Sara Leeds, all while deftly kneading and twisting strands of the soft dough into elaborate braids, each ingredient can be linked back to the tenants of Judaism itself.

Water, the single most important, omnipresent component, represents the Torah. Just as we cannot live without water, we also cannot live without this guiding scripture. Bringing life and nourishment to all, it represents generosity and kindness. Like water, we want kindness to be infinitely abundant, flowing freely through our lives.

Flour is sustenance, the foundation to build a life on, physically and emotionally through our relationships with family, friends, and the community at large. We must feed these relationships as we must feed ourselves to maintain a healthy, happy, stable existence.

Oil is included to represent anointing, or sanctifying, to signify this loaf as being special, holier than your average daily bread. Oil enriches our lives, making particular moments, or meals, a bit more special.

Sugar stands in for all the sweetness in our lives, of course, but in this case also represents faith. With faith (in the future, in ourselves) comes sweet rewards. Fear not the sugar! Though challah is certainly classified as a sweet bread, it’s always well-balanced, to be served with equal enjoyment with toppings as diverse as jam or hummus, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Yeast provides leavening, of course, allowing the dough to rise, grow, and expand. Whether that means growing in terms of our character, rising up above challenges, or expanding to reach our full potential, it only takes a small push to get started. Yeast is only a tiny piece of the recipe, yet completely transforms the finished loaves.

Salt, used sparingly but in fair measure, represents discipline or criticism. As difficult as it can be to accept, it’s necessary for contrast and proper perspective. Salt can also signify purification, removing toxins from the body, and anything that is toxic in our lives or minds.

Arguably the most ingredient is one absent from any written recipe. Patience, while kneading, waiting for the dough to rise once, rise twice, and again while baking, is indispensable. Have patience for yourself; don’t rush the process to reap the greatest rewards.

It’s my pleasure to share this simple, yet deeply nuanced, meaningful approach to challah for World Bread Day. As my 13th contribution to the effort, I wouldn’t miss this event for anything. Though I wish I could break bread in person with everyone in the blogosphere, I hope that sharing this little morsel of history might provide a bit of virtual nourishment, at least.

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Sweet Success

Tuesdays don’t get much love. They don’t mark the beginning or end of the week. They rarely host holidays or days off. Aside from Taco Tuesdays, who looks forward to the day after Monday with any sort of enthusiasm?

Book authors, that’s who! For reasons still unknown, Tuesdays are when new releases hit shelves, both physical and digital, for all the world to see. Theories abound but still no consensus for the origin of this weekly book birthday. I’m not about to enlighten you with a brilliant new explanation, but I do want to light a few candles for this particular upcoming Tuesday… Especially if they’re on top of a Lemon-Lime Sunshine Bundt Cake.

Sweet Vegan Treats, my sixth cookbook baby, will officially be born tomorrow! Pre-orders have already started shipping, but now you’ll be able to find copies in brick-and-mortar stores, and maybe even your local libraries, if you ask nicely enough. Every book has been a labor of love, but this particular collection of recipes has been a long time coming. To anyone craving a bit of sweetness in their lives, for breakfast or dessert, quick or complex, this one goes out to you.

Put on your party hats and and cut yourself a thick slice, because I’m getting ready to take these treats to the streets! Join me in real life for the grand release party at my favorite cafe, Timeless Coffee in Oakland, CA, Friday October 18th from 5 – 7pm. Get a taste of the treats within while raising a glass (of iced oat milk latte) to even great delights soon to fill your own kitchen.

The fun doesn’t end after those morsels are devoured, though. For the next few months, you can catch me all around San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley sharing demos for various tricks and tips to make your time in the kitchen even sweeter. Not in the bay area? Never fear! I love any excuse to travel and would love to bring some pastry appreciation to you, too. Let’s bake something great together! Where should I go next?

Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

One week into autumn, and I already feel like I’ve overdosed on pumpkin spice lattes. Granted, my tolerance for the intensely sweet, largely over-hyped drink is far lower than the average enthusiast, but it doesn’t help that it’s already been perking up coffee shop menus while summer was still in full swing. Is it just me, or has the #PSL craze died down a bit this time around? Fewer rants, fewer raves; love it or hate it, I fear we may have collectively reached peak pumpkin spice.

I tease about the fervor every year, but I do still enjoy a strong cuppa myself. The trouble comes when it transforms into other foods and products that should never bear the orange hue. Please, just keep it out of my lip balm, cough drops, and… pet shampoo, at least! Is that really so much to ask?

Still, the overall attraction is undeniable. It’s hard to beat the comfortingly familiar, creamy espresso eye-opener adored worldwide to begin with. Add in an extra dose of sweetness, a touch of nostalgic spice, and the health halo associated with pumpkin itself, to say nothing of the beautiful latte art possibilities, and you’ve got yourself a viral social media hit. When the hype starts to wear a bit thin, though, I have a small tweak that will revive your enthusiasm over the usual brew.

Chai spice, bearing a brighter, bolder palate emphasizing ginger, cardamom, and a pinch of black pepper, makes a strong argument for skipping the one-note cinnamon seasoning typically on standard order. While the most popular (and some would argue original) purveyor of pumpkin spice lattes doesn’t even offer a dairy free option, it’s effortless to whip up a big batch of this spicy pumpkin sauce to flavor not only coffee, but drizzle over ice cream, swirl into cheesecake, and dip into with crisp apples all season long.

Happily, you’ll have plenty to play with, as this recipe does make a big batch indeed. Halve quantities if you must, but once you take your first sweet, invigorating sip, you’ll end up just going back in the kitchen to make more later.

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Fall Back Plan

Wet leaves slap the windshield, leaving teardrops in their wake, smearing across the glass before spreading their wings and fluttering away. Driving through a light autumnal drizzle is strikingly more depressing than a gentle summer rain. Fog obscures the road, blurring signs and stoplights into hazy, shapeless colors. I feel like my whole head is full of damp cotton balls by the time I finally shift gears to park.

Fall is not my favorite season, but by no fault of its own. Signaling the end of summer, it’s merely the messenger, doomed to be shot every year. I shiver as I watch temperatures slowly fall, regardless of how warm it really feels. I storm angrily through piles of leaves, even if there’s only one small mound pushed together on an entire block. The truth is, there’s still a lot to love about fall, and almost all of if it is food.

Do you welcome the arrival of the autumnal equinox with open arms, or reluctant acceptance? One thing we can all appreciate is a return of cozy comfort foods with all their warming spices, hearty starches, and nostalgic aromas. There’s a handful of recipes that always set me in the right mood and remind me, in spite of my irrepressible pessimism: Hey, it turns out that autumn isn’t all bad.

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General Admission

I hope this isn’t like debunking the myth of Santa Claus for ruining Christmas for some sad child, but I have bad news to break, and it’s about General Tso. Oh, no, he was a real person! It’s completely true that General Tso, otherwise known as Tso Tsung-t’ang, was a 19th-century general of the late Qing dynasty. Living on through epic tales of his prowess, crushing revolts, capturing rebels, and cultivating one of the most fearsome army forces in the world, his heroic might knew no equal. Lesser known are his efforts towards civil peace and stability through educated, prosperous citizens.

A complicated, stone-faced man, much remains unknown about the storied general, but one thing is for sure: General Tso had nothing to do with any sort of dish involving deep-fried chicken tossed in a tart-tangy-spicy-sweet brown sauce with broccoli. The eponymous leader never tasted the dish that keeps his name as part of the modern lexicon across the globe. For all we know, he didn’t even like broccoli – Because who’s really going to tell a war lord to eat his vegetables.

Sorry. The truth hurts.

Born in the good old US of A, General Tso’s chicken first appeared in the 1970, given the breath of the wok by a Taiwanese chef specializing in Hunan cuisine, no less. He was just a fan, a real history buff, I suppose, and also an excellent recipe developer. Riffs on this original formula proliferated faster than rabbits, coast to coast, introducing many American’s to their first taste of “Chinese” food.

So, my real point is this: Does knowing that an overweight bearded man won’t come slithering down the chimney at night to force coal into your stockings actually take the joy out of Christmas? Does learning that your favorite takeout might not be 100% “authentic” whatever that means, make it any less delicious?

Not a chance! Now, pass the plum sauce and wonton chips, please.

My take on General Tso’s is a departure from the typical composition. Replacing syrupy garlic sauce with a lighter, brighter soup broth spiked with vinegar and chilies, the results are richly invigorating well beyond greasy takeout. Crisp baked tofu perches at attention atop a coil of buckwheat noodles, tender and toothsome all at once.

One of two new vegan, gluten-free offerings from the JSL Foods line of Fortune Asian noodles, a package of Soba Buckwheat with Shoyu Flavor is the foundation of this unshakable recipe revamp. These new noodles can be found at Albertsons, Von’s, Lucky’s, Safeway, Carr’s, Dierbergs Markets and Cub Foods. Answering the call for their Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge, this fiery, bold, and somewhat sassy little beauty is my proud submission.

I’ve been burned out on contests lately, but I think that my General Tso, revived and injected with new life for more contemporary tastes, can take the heat. Go ahead and fight me for the title! Check out more inspiration from JSL Foods via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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