Christmas in July

Christmas in July is a lot like a half-birthday party. Most people ignore the midway marker, saving their energy for the main event later on down the road, but those who do observe go all out. More than a thinly veiled excuse to eat cake and throw a party on an otherwise mundane day, it’s an opportunity to spread holiday cheer when spirits may be flagging. Of course, cake is a necessary component.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept was originally popularized by writers and photographers hell bent on meeting magazine deadlines. Traditional publications are notorious for their extensive lead times, which means that July is high time to get those winter columns locked in. While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, children splash through sprinklers beneath the summer sun. Feasts are prepared for readers to devour many months later, but right now, what’s one to do with the actual food? Really, the only responsible thing to do is turn it into a full-fledged holiday, lest all that festive effort go to waste.

While it’s still a temporary tease to patient VegNews subscribers, rest assured that this year’s yule log will be epic whenever you can roll it up. Fluffy peanut butter mousse wrapped up in a spiral of salted pretzel sponge cake sets this one apart from the predictable pumpkin spice or gingerbread affairs. A thin coating of whipped coconut cream provides the edible adhesion for thin planks of chocolate bark, making for an impressive finish that anyone can achieve. Flurries of soft confectioner’s sugar stand in for snow, melting away on the tongue, not in the mid-July heat.

Merry Christmas, one and all, now or later! If you’re a good, Santa might just swing by with this sweet treat in six month’s time.

Greetings from Plumland

Named for the dense woodlands of tall and mighty oak trees in the 19th century, come summertime, I sometimes wonder if Oakland should be called Plumland instead. Most of those original oaks are long gone, cut down to make space for the growing city, as pavement invaded the landscape like a thicket of unrelenting weeds. Now it seems like the dominant flora comes in the form of plum trees.

Sprouting along sidewalks and leaning over backyard fences, as if peeking out to say hello to passersby, they go largely unnoticed through much of the year. Just another leafy plant, unremarkable from the next, you might never notice their silent invasion… Until summer hits.

Like the flip of a switch, buds blossom and transform into fruit overnight. Suddenly, fruit begins pelting the streets below with splatters of tiny plum grenades, painting them with a sticky patchwork of yellows, reds, and purples. Even for those with a voracious appetite for the juicy stone fruits, it can feel like a plum-pocolypse, or plum-demic this year, I suppose.

Friends from all corners of the city have been foisting their excess upon me at every turn. Make no mistake, I’m not complaining about such kindness; it’s a truly wonderful problem to have too many locally grown, organic, impeccably fresh plums. I just sometimes kick myself for accepting another five pounds or so, while I still have at least as much threatening to over-ripen in the fridge.

After making a few rounds of plum jam, peppered plum sorbet, a luscious brown sugar plum crisp, Plum Good Crumb Cake, and indulged in untold plain plum snacks, I turned to my reliable Facebook family for help. Suggestions poured in as fast as the fruit, but what really stood out was a suggestion from Craig Vanis, Chef and founder of Austin’s one and only Bistro Vonish. Drawing inspiration from his Czech heritage, he offered plum dumplings (Svestkove Knedliky) without missing a beat. Never having experienced sweet dumplings before, the mere concept was a revelation to me. I had to try it.

Butchering his recipe right off the bat, I wasted no time mangling every last ingredient until it would be completely unrecognizable to any of the chef’s predecessors. My sincerest apologies, Craig. It’s the inspiration that counts, right?

Traditionally made with a potato-based dough, purple sweet potato takes the place of a plain starchy spud for a bit more flavor and of course, a vibrant new hue. Wrapped tenderly around whole plums, it’s soft like pillowy sheets of gnocchi, melting into the juicy, sweet flesh. The pitted plums seemed so empty, so hollow and sad, I couldn’t leave them bare. Refilling the centers with whole, toasted almonds, that crunchy surprise inside added textural contrast to create a more satisfying treat.

For serving, some prefer the dumplings simply tossed with melted butter, while others might add toasted breadcrumbs, poppy seeds, cottage cheese, or my suggestion, cinnamon sugar. Since there’s no sugar in the dough, that sweet finish is just the right touch, especially if your plums have a gently tart twang.

Welcome to Plumland, where everyday is fruitful and the residents are very sweet.

Continue reading “Greetings from Plumland”

Sush-Easy

To anyone who can proclaim to dislike sushi, I can only shake my head in wonder. You don’t like rice? While the term has come to imply raw fish in modern usage, the actual translation of the word only refers to seasoned rice. Mouthfuls of lightly vinegared grains never hurt anyone, so why the animosity? If the paper-thin sheath of seaweed is still too briny for your liking, plenty of alternative wrappings are at your disposal for more colorful, flavorful containment. Beyond the predictable and traditional, there’s a bold new world of fillings to wrap up and roll out.

Let’s start with some Italian fusion with some Caprese Sushi. Mix herbaceous basil pesto into cooked and cooled sushi rice for a bold green backdrop. Press it into place along a paprika soy paper wrapper and line the center with vegan mozzarella, fresh heirloom tomato slices, and sun-dried tomatoes. Roll tightly, slice into a few thick pieces, and drizzle balsamic glaze across the plate before placing your fresh futo maki on top.

Traveling now to the jungles of Indonesia, Satay Sushi is a spicy, crunchy, savory treat that’s even better than anything on a skewer. Turmeric soy paper is the golden foundation for this one, with plain sushi rice cradling shredded carrots, grilled or sauteed meatless chicken, a thick smear of crunchy peanut butter, and everyone’s favorite hot condiment, chili crisp. You could always serve peanut sauce alongside, since I tend to encouraging going at least a little bit nuts.

Back to my own roots in New York City, Everything Bagel Sushi really is everything I could ask for in a mere maki. This one employs a sesame soy wrapper, of course, layered with the standard sushi rice, luscious lashings of vegan cream cheese, crisp cucumbers, minced red onion, dill, and a heavy sprinkle of everything bagel seasoning. Who needs the bread when you’ve got a compact roll ready to grab and go?

Finishing out with the next big blue plate special, Benedict Sushi promises to shake up the brunch routine with style and substance that would make the average English muffin crumble. It all starts with a spinach soy wrapper, rolling up around rice, blanched asparagus, vegan scrambled egg, and meatless ham. Slice and serve with a rich pool of hollandaise sauce for dipping, or dunking, as you see fit.

What’s your favorite way to wrap and roll? Do you stick with the traditional, understated vegetable maki, or shake things up with more unconventional fillings? While it’s hard to argue with the instant gratification of restaurant takeout, I promise you won’t find options nearly so fresh, fun, or fanciful as in your own kitchen.

Top Notch

Dogs; man’s (and woman)’s best friend. Our constant companions, protectors, and lovable fluff balls. My fur baby is so much more than a mere pet, as I’m sure most dog mamas and daddies would agree, which is why you’ll always find at least one recipe intended for our four-legged friends in each of my cookbooks. Even when I’m tired of cooking for myself, I’ll never get bored of sharing that passion with my little boy, Luka. He’s the kindest critic I know, wolfing down even the craziest creations with gusto. No matter that he would just as soon eat snails off the sidewalk- it’s still a compliment I’m happy to take at face value.

Recently, I was lucky enough to join forces with Wild Earth, makers of innovative plant-based dog food and treats, to introduce a few toppers to whip up for your own canine gourmands.

What’s a topper, and why do you want one? Think of it as a dog’s answer to ketchup with French fries. Sure, the fries are great by themselves, hot and crispy with a light touch of salt, but they would be even better with a velvety pool of ketchup to dip them in. Beyond the immediate gratification of a delicious dinner, though, you’re introducing a rich array of whole food nutrients in every bite. It’s a treat, it’s a condiment, and it’s a multivitamin supplement, all in one!

First up: Fur Baby Furikake! On the Japanese dinner table, furikake is an essential seasoning even more important than mere salt and pepper. Plain white rice becomes a crave-worthy meal with just a sprinkle, and that not even the beginning of its full-flavored potential. Toasted seaweed meets golden sesame seeds and a diverse palate of spices, depending on the blend for this savory staple. Deeply umami, lightly crunchy, and endlessly customizable to suit individual tastes, furikake deserves a place in every pantry.

If your pup is kind enough to share, there’s a universal appeal to this savory sprinkle. When my own good boy isn’t looking, I’ll admit to using this over freshly popped popcorn, warm sticky rice, and even baked tofu.

Puppy Peanut Sauce may very well become a new staple in your pantry, too. Creamy, sweet, salty, savory and sometimes even spicy, peanut sauce is the Swiss army knife of dressings. Every culture has their own distinctive approach, but it always comes down to a small handful of pantry staples. This recipe for Puppy Peanut sauce combines smooth, creamy peanut butter with a well-balanced combination of spices, a bit of sweetness, and just a touch of acid for an infinitely adaptable formula. Even though this might sound like a recipe for us humans, we’re not the only ones that find this indispensable condiment irresistible.

For those with opposable thumbs, you’ll want to keep a firm grasp on this bottle of liquid gold because it sparkles on everything from salads to stir fries, spring rolls to satay, and beyond. Add a touch of heat with sriracha to appease human palates, along with a splash of soy sauce to round things out. Alternately, take it in the opposite direction with a dab of maple syrup, and you’ll have a dynamite dessert sauce for lavishing on top of ice cream, or dipping into with cut fruit.

Sit, stay, get your Good Boy Gravy! What’s the secret sauce that makes homely biscuits remarkable meals and covers a multitude of sins should you burn the roast on Thanksgiving Day? Gravy, that simple, savory sauce, has got your back. By definition, the word itself also means “something additional or unexpected that is pleasing or valuable,” which is an equally appropriate description for this classic pan sauce.

Speed through this recipe by simply blending a can of cooked, drained lentils with the remaining ingredients if you don’t have time to start from scratch. To be worthy of the dinner table, consider adding 2 tablespoons of soy sauce for a bit of an umami boost, and don’t be afraid to dabble with seasonings. Rubbed sage is a distinctive taste that immediately tastes like a fall feast with just a pinch, and a touch of smoked paprika does wonders to warm the overall flavors. Though this batch yields a generous amount for one pup, I have a feeling your good boy (or girl) won’t be the only one tempted to partake.

Fill up your fur baby’s bowl with some serious good eats. Get 20% off your first purchase of Wild Earth food or treats by clicking through my link, and don’t forget to check out those topper recipes on the Wild Earth Dog Blog for a special treat!