Tough Cookies

Christmas isn’t for everyone. The forced merriment and artificial optimism, sour memories that fall short of Hollywood-produced nostalgia, stressful family gatherings topped off by unnecessary expenses; it’s enough to make the most joyful person into a real Scrooge. Even the most committed holiday reveler would struggle to maintain the same level of enthusiasm in this harsh reality. You know what is for everyone, though?

Cookies.

Chocolate cut-out cookies, to be precise, will never disappoint. With a batch of homemade cookies, you can express how you really feel about the holiday season without coming off as a miserly curmudgeon. No one ever said they had to be decked out in colorful sprinkles or intricate icing, so why not keep it simple, classic, and versatile?

This particular recipe may just be a new staple in your repertoire. You’d never know that they’re gluten-free or vegan by their soft, toothsome texture or rich cocoa flavor. The dough comes together quickly, rolls out like a dream, and never judges you for your low spirits.

Like any good cookie dough, this one is as versatile as Christmas carols are grating.

Easily change up the flavor by switching out the extract.

A few tried-and-true additions include:

  • Peppermint extract
  • Almond extract
  • Orange zest or extract
  • Instant coffee powder
  • Coarse or flaky sea salt

No cookie cutters? No problem!

You may need to cut back on the snark without such clear messaging, but you don’t need to forgo a sweet treat altogether. Simply roll out the dough as instructed, then use a sharp knife, pizza cutter, or fluted pastry cutter to slice squares or rectangles of any size. Think of this approach as the dessert equivalent of making crackers, if that procedural reference helps you visualize the steps.

Don’t succumb to the Christmas crazies. Celebrate at your own speed, even if that means staying home and keeping holiday content completely off the program. Just don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re at it. Holidays come and go, but a good recipe for chocolate cut-out cookies is forever.

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Ube On My Mind

If pumpkin is for autumn, ube is for winter. Replacing subdued, smokey orange with bold shades of purple, there’s no denying that the vibrant hue alone is a huge attraction. Naturally sweet with subtle hints of vanilla and toasted nuts, ube is the clear winner when it comes to dessert. Start your annual holiday cookie platter with Ube Thumbprint Cookies, glistening like jewels in a sea of browns and whites, for a stand-out homemade gift that no one can refuse.

What is ube?

Let’s start by clarifying what ube isn’t. Ube are different from taro and purple sweet potatoes, despite the common misconception. Ube are yams, most commonly found in Filipino cuisine and particularly popular in desserts. Their vivid magenta pigmentation creates brilliantly colored treats, and as such, can be found as powdered and liquid extracts. Fresh ube can still be tricky to find in the US, which is why ube extract comes in handy for all your essential baking needs.

While most commercial ube extract does have added artificial flavoring, it’s the easiest, most accessible way to add that unmistakable essence whenever and where ever you crave it. When it comes to recipes with a delicate balance of dry and liquid ingredients, it’s the best way to infuse the goodness of ube without throwing off the texture.

What else is ube extract good for?

Once you have a bottle, the potential for ube extract is endless. It’s particularly well-suited for use in:

  • Ice cream
  • Frosting and icing
  • Candy
  • Lattes
  • Cheesecake
  • Pudding and custard
  • And of course, cookies!

When it comes to cut-out cookies, these are the GOAT. Easy to make, shape, and bake, this dough is a dream to work with. More importantly, the soft, tender bite and balanced sweetness makes an ideal base for any festive flavors. Beyond the ube base, put your own personalized finishing touch on each batch with any jam, marmalade, or fruit preserves you fancy. Mix and match to make every bite a little bit different!

A few fruit flavors that pair particularly well with ube are:

  • Mango
  • Apricot
  • Guava
  • Orange
  • Pear

Put a flavorful twist on tradition this year and invite ube to your cookie swap. It won’t take long before it becomes the life of the party.

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Pull Yourself Together

There are few universal truths in life, but I know this to be true: Everyone loves pizza.

Pizza is quite possibly the world’s most perfect food. Between the crispy yet chewy crust, savory-sweet tomato sauce, and gooey cheese, it’s easy to understand the appeal. While some may dispute the ideal approach to each individual component, no one will disparage the overall concept. Even as it shape-shifts into different forms, that fact remains unshakable.

Thus, in honor of World Bread Day, I present to you pizza bread like you’ve never seen before. Forget the juvenile cafeteria fare that the notion may evoke and brace yourself for the ultimate pizza experience reconfigured as a generous loaf. Accordion-Style Pull-Apart Pizza Bread takes notes from monkey bread as an irresistible finger food, translates it into savory terms, and then flips it on its head for the final grand presentation.

If you want to impress friends, this is your new party trick. Though it may look complicated, it takes little more effort than shaping a standard loaf of bread. Divide and conquer, rolling out small sheets of dough piece by piece, then reassemble the whole thing like Frankenstein’s monster, but far more attractive. Tomato sauce gets baked right in for complete coverage so all you have to do is add cheese and toppings, then slap it together. There are no points awarded for cleanliness, so get in there and have fun!

The trick is knowing your spacial limitations. There is no loaf pan that I know of designed precisely for such unconventional culinary experimentation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find creative solutions. I quickly ran out of dough before my standard 8 x 4-inch pan was filled, which ultimately came at my benefit. Simply tuck in the open end using foil as a brace and insert a ramekin with water for support. Now, you have both the perfect package and a built-in steam bath to help it rise to even greater heights.

What else can you add to your pull-apart pizza bread?

I’m glad you asked! Like the classic, fillings are as limitless for toppings. Dig into any of your favorites, such as:

  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Sliced olives
  • Diced red onion
  • Plant-based pepperoni, sausage crumbles, or bacon
  • Sauteed mushrooms
  • Diced bell peppers
  • Fresh basil, parsley, or scallions
  • Baby arugula or spinach
  • Diced pineapple

The only way you can go wrong is if you don’t try it in the first place. Even bad pizza is pretty good, and I can assure you, this one far exceeds all expectations.

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Holy Sheet! It’s a Book Release!

From pandemic pet project to printed and published, it’s been quite a journey bringing my ninth cookbook into the world. Born at a time when life came to a screeching halt, when the very future of cookbooks in general was in jeopardy, it seemed like the absolute stupidest thing to pursue.

Between supply chain issues, shortages, and grocery delivery mishaps, I couldn’t even count on having adequate ingredients to follow a simple recipe, let alone develop another hundred of my own. Let’s not forget that dinner parties were off the table, so there was little need for large format meals generally set to feed anywhere from 6 – 12 at a time.

The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet: A Plant-Based Guide to One-Pan Wonders

Still, I persisted. Not out of optimism that things would get better or some greater vision of the future, but for a lack of it. In a time of unprecedented tragedies one after another, this was all I knew how to do, the only thing that provided any modicum of comfort. By cooking, crafting photos, creating my own narrative, I could escape that reality just outside my kitchen door.

Chickpea Pan Pie

The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet is a genuine pandemic baby, venturing forth into the wilderness of civilization for the first time with wide eyes. For all the delays, near misses, gambles, and standard publishing frustrations, I think the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Now that we’re gathering together again to break bread, these are the recipes I subconsciously created as a victory lap. This book could only exist in this particular moment.

Low-Country Broil

Getting down to the brass tacks here, The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet is a down to earth guide for turning out complete plant-based meals using a standard, no-frills sheet pan. Blending nostalgia with a taste for adventure, wholesome ingredients with indulgent flavors, easy prep with stunning results, it’s everything I craved but couldn’t otherwise find. Veganism is finally taking off as a mainstream movement and sheet pan cooking is all the rage, but why had no one combined the two yet? I took that personally.

Nacho Mamma Loaded Tortilla Chips

Thank you for everyone that made this possible. Book #9 is every bit as incredible as book #1, given the particularly volatile nature of the publishing industry these days. Who knows if this will indeed be the last, but even so, I’m proud of everything inside these pages. I hope they can bring comfort and joy to your table, too.

Dashboard Cookie Confessional

Ever since I was a little kid, it’s something I wanted to do. Young and naive, I couldn’t wait to grow up to have such freedom and access. Now that I’m an adult, I’m finally making my inner child proud: I baked cookies inside my car.

As temperatures began to exceed 100℉ on a regular basis, I knew this was my time to shine. Finally, I have my own car, live in an environment that’s somewhere between the depths of hell and the surface of the sun, and am still crazy enough to do it. If you’ve always wanted to open up your car door and step into your own mobile oven, here’s what you need to know.

Use Protection

  • Metal baking sheets are the best conductors of heat, but that goes both ways. Place a kitchen towel, pot holder, or trivet underneath so it doesn’t melt or burn the interior of your car.
  • Line the baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent the cookies from sticking. A silicone baking mat will absorb too much heat to be effective, and aluminum will reflect too much and cause the edges to get too crispy.
  • Likewise, use a pot holder whenever moving the sheet because it will be hot.

Placement and Timing Are Important

  • Make sure you park your car in direct sun to maximize those UV rays.
  • Start baking when the sun is at its peak; usually around noon or 1:00pm.
  • While your cookies will bake in any position, I found it was most effective to place the baking sheet directly on the dashboard, as close to the windshield as possible. Barring that, the next best place is the trunk, as long as you have a glass window in back too.

Turn Up The Heat

  • Keep the windows rolled up and the doors closed. Any time you open them or break the seal, you’re letting the heat drop.
  • It needs to be at least 95℉ (35°C)outside to attempt this with any level of success.
  • Keep a thermometer inside your car to monitor the temperature, and place it somewhere that you can see it without getting into the car.
  • The interior needs to reach at least 160℉ (71°C) to “bake” effectively.
  • Cooking time will vary, since this isn’t a regulated heat source. Expect it take anywhere from 2 – 5 hours for the cookies to set. They may not brown as much as you’d normally expect, but should be firm enough to pick up and no longer shiny on top.

Recipe For Success

  • While any recipe can technically work, simple drop cookies are your best bet, since they’re more forgiving with variable times and temperatures. A cookie with a high butter to flour ratio is more likely to end up greasy, which means that chewy wins the battle over crunchy for this round.
  • Size does matter. My usual cookies use about 1/4 cup of dough, which took roughly 3 hours to bake while it was 104 degrees outside. You can expedite the process by making smaller cookies, especially if it’s not as hot in your neck of the woods.
  • Vegans have the added benefit of being able to eat semi-baked or even raw cookies without fear. Look ma, no raw eggs! That means every attempt is always successful, with or without an excessive heat warning in effect.

The beauty of car-baked cookies is that you’re using a completely renewable, entirely free energy source while saving electricity inside your home! No need to blast the AC after cranking up the oven, which can add up quickly.

The only thing better than sinking your teeth into warm, gooey, homemade cookies on a hot summer day is getting to enjoy that freshly baked aroma for weeks to come. Hope you don’t drive hungry!

Flour with A-Peel

Did you know that it’s possible to make flour out of America’s favorite fruit? That means it’s naturally gluten-free, grain-free, paleo, and keto-friendly. Now that’s bananas- Literally!

Green banana flour has been slow to take off in the US but has a ton of potential waiting to be unlocked. I was fortunate enough to get a sample of the stuff years ago, so I’ve been experimenting and learning through those trials, finally arriving at foolproof recipes worth sharing. It’s quite different from wheat, so don’t try just swapping it out 1-for-1.

Case in point; this early attempt was supposed to be a classic loaf of banana bread. The darned brick refused to rise, remaining as dry as a desert, condensed into a single bite.

How can you substitute banana flour for wheat flour?

Since banana flour has such a high starch content, you can use 25 – 30% less banana flour than wheat flour if adapting more conventional recipes. Otherwise, you’ll want to increase the liquid accordingly.Made from unripe, green bananas, this flour is high in starch which makes it very absorptive.

What does banana flour taste like?

It has a fairly neutral flavor, so it won’t taste like sweet, ripe bananas by itself. It’s ground very finely to create a smooth, almost silky texture when thickening liquids, and dense, regular crumb in baked goods.

With the right balance of liquid, fat, leavening, and a good dose of patience, the best, most banana-filled bread is absolutely within reach! Learning from my mistakes, I was able to craft a rich, moist, and tender bundt filled with every form of bananas I could get; banana flour, banana chips, and of course, fresh bananas. Each slice is sweet but not sugary, brightened with ginger and zesty orange juice for an invigorating finish.

Consider banana flour as an alternative to coconut flour or cassava flour, two other tropical, starchy powders with textural properties. It can be eaten raw, blended into smoothies in small doses, but is much more enjoyable when cooked, if you ask me.

I’ve also found banana flour to be an incredible ingredient for more savory preparations… But I’ll have to tease you with that idea for the time being. Stay tuned for part two of my banana flour exploration.

Banana flour can still be challenging to find in some parts of the US. If you can’t get it locally, you’ve got plenty of options online. It’s worth seeking out to make such tasty treats that can accommodate almost any dietary restrictions.

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