Lazy Days

Writing a cookbook all about 10-minute recipes has made me the laziest cook ever. I’ve often said that it’s spoiled me for regular dinnertime prep, reducing me to infantile tantrums if anything should threaten to spill over that arbitrary time limit. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I’ve been known to throw down a spatula mid-stir and plunder the cupboard for a bowlful of cereal instead, too hungry or impatient to complete the absurdly simple task. Just like the increasing efficiency of technology has eradicated our tolerance for lag, knowing just how quick a meal can come together creates a terrible intolerance for long, drawn out steps towards food fabrication.

For anyone else who knows that struggle, I’d like to introduce your to my easiest, fastest recipe yet, possible to slap on the table in 3 minutes all told. No arduous chopping, sauteing, baking, grilling, poaching, or advanced techniques required. If you can open a can and operate a microwave, you can feed yourself very well indeed. Truly, it’s so simple that it’s barely even a recipe, to the point that I hesitate to share this quick fix as a formal preparation. Considering how many times it’s saved me from the daily dinner dilemma, however, it seemed like a worthwhile idea to share.

Beans. Salsa. Spices. Heat and eat. It’s not fancy fare, but it’s a healthy bowl-in-one and deeply satisfying. Even a bare-bones sort of pantry should be able to accommodate without advanced planning, especially when you look at the ingredients with a flexible perspective. Simple as it is, the beauty of this basic formula is that it’s infinitely adaptable to any type of beans or seasoning you can scrounge up. See the end notes for more inspiration, but don’t be afraid to depart from the beaten path; make it your own and embark on a new flavor adventure.

Instant Fiesta Soup

2 (15-Ounce) Cans No Salt Added Pinto Beans (Undrained)
1 1/2 Cups Salsa
1 1/2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

For Topping (Optional):

Diced Avocado
Thinly Sliced Chives or Scallions

Toss the beans, aquafaba and all, into your blender along with the salsa and spices. Blend until mostly smooth but with a bit of texture still remaining, as desired.

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high, until steaming hot all the way through; about 4 – 5 minutes. Alternatively, a single serving into the microwave for 2 minutes and store the rest in the fridge, sealed in an airtight container, for up to a week.

Ladle into bowls and top each with avocado and chives or scallions. Dig in!

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

Variations:

On less lazy days, cook your own beans from scratch! Simply use about 3 cups total and either 1/2 – 1 cup of the aquafaba or vegetable broth, to reach your desired consistency.

To simply switch things up a bit, consider using black beans instead of pinto.

Make it an Italian-inspired soup by using white beans and marinara sauce in place of the salsa, plus a generous handful of fresh or dried herbs (heavy on the basil and parsley, please!)

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Don’t Chicken Out

Back in the day, creamy chicken ramen was my jam. I grew up downing bowls of the stuff when I was too picky to accept the mere suggestion of a green vegetable on my plate. Heck, I even lost my first tooth while hastily slurping down those long strands of salty noodles! Now I realize that this style has a lot in common with tori paitan ramen, which has very rich and creamy broth, usually created from long-simmered chicken bones. Lowbrow instant noodles can’t compare to the depth and delicacy of the real thing, but poultry needn’t apply to forge an authentic flavor in a fraction of the time.

Be it mental malaise or a physical flu, this is the kind of soup that will cure what ails you, or at least provide a serious serving of comfort through it all. Such simple flavors are universally appealing; it’s the ramen that could very well unite a nation. The two keys to success are high quality stock options and superlative noodles, since there’s no where to hide these key players with such few ingredients in the mix. In a perfect world, you could make your own vegetable stock and reduce it down to a concentrate to replace the 1/2 cup of water, and go through the full process of making alkaline noodles from scratch… But for a quick fix, you really can’t beat this kind of instant ramen gratification.

Vegan Paitan Ramen

3 Ounces Dry Ramen Noodles (Straight or Curly)
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Water
2 Teaspoons Tapioca Starch
1 Teaspoon No-Chicken Broth Powder or Paste
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1/2 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
Thinly Sliced Scallions (Optional)

Begin by setting a small pot of water on the stove to boil and cook your noodles to al dente, as directed by the instructions on the package. Drain thoroughly when ready.

Meanwhile, whisk together the non-dairy milk, water, starch, instant broth, and soy sauce, beating the mixture vigorous to ensure that there are no clumps of starch remaining. Pour everything into a small saucepan and place on the stove over medium-low, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened and bubbles break with regularity on the surface; about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add in the vegan butter, and stir until melted and smoothly incorporated.

Toss the noodles in the sauce, transfer to a bowl, and top with scallions if desired. Slurp away without delay! This dish does not keep well nor get better with age.

Makes 1 Serving

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Weather or Not

Mentally battered by an assault of inclement weather warnings, you’d think the general public would have staged a revolt against all forecasters at this point. The anxiety and stress piles up faster than the foretold falling flakes, thanks to the added hype that always comes with incessant social media repetition. Nine times out of ten, expectations don’t match the reality of the climate outside, but the hysteria is sure real. So much as suggest that there might be anything less than blue skies and people will turn out from all corners of the earth to wrestle that last roll of toilet paper out of your hands at the grocery store. It’s like a battle of life and death, to secure a stockpile before the world ends, regardless of the pitifully low probability of even flurries.

This is a phenomenon I’ve become somewhat immune to in the generally mild atmosphere of the bay area, but that same illogical impulse still grips me when I’m least expecting it. Rain is the new snow around here, since it appears so rarely and thus cripples unsteady drivers and fragile public transit systems that don’t know how to cope. I still feel the pain of all those back east, hunkering down for a brutal nor’easter right now, undoubtedly hurtling through their local markets as if their shopping carts were assault weapons.

As darkening skies approach, what’s going into your basket? What are the staples that immediately make the cut as sustenance to hold you through those difficult times (maybe even hours!) when the roads are too intimidating to traverse? Practicality is not my strong suit, and so the parade of groceries marching down the conveyor belt at checkout is typically laughable. Peanut butter, bread, frozen peas; sure, those are wise investments. But the random assortment of chocolates, half-priced hummus, and impulse buy mini gnocchi? Those are perhaps a bit less crucial for long-term survival. I would not fare well if ever faced with a real lock-down emergency.

Luckily, my unreasonable yet well-meaning instincts have led me to create some incredible combinations out of those curiously assembled ingredients. Those mini gnocchi, for example, caught my eye as ideal comfort food when the going got rough, and they didn’t disappoint even when the forecast did. There’s never been a better time to indulge in such a recipe, although I can’t say that there would ever come a bad time, either.

Lavished with a buttery cream sauce made of typical pantry staples, it could very well be the new face of emergency rations, despite its less urgent origins. Dauphinoise potatoes typically layers thinly sliced spuds in a casserole concoction, but since pasta keeps longer and is almost always on hand, gnocchi struck me as a natural extension of the concept. In more dire times, or healthier mindsets, I realized that swapping out the dumplings for simple legumes like chickpeas could make for an equally satisfying, comforting side dish, too. It’s all the same starchy, savory, subtly salty flavors which meld into an effortless indulgence in the end.

If you haven’t already gone through the throes of panic-induced grocery shopping, may I make three quick suggestions? 1) Make a list. 2) Avoid the candy aisle. 3) Write in mini gnocchi as a necessity, no matter how silly it may appear at first glance. You’ll thank me for this later.

Gnocchi Dauphinoise

1 Pound Mini Potato Gnocchi
1/3 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Gently separate the mini gnocchi and toss them into a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. They’re so small that they don’t need to be parboiled before baking.

Toss all of the remaining ingredients into a high-speed blender and pulverize on the highest setting until perfectly silky smooth. If you’re using a machine that has a bit less torque, soak the cashews for at least 4 hours in advance before blender, to make them a bit softer and easier to emulsify. Blend for a full 6 – 8 minutes, until the mixture is steaming hot.

Pour the cashew cream all over the waiting gnocchi before easing the dish into the oven. Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the gnocchi are fork-tender and the liquid is thick and rich. Top with freshly chopped parsley, if desired, and serve bubbling hot.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings as a Side; 2 – 3 Servings as an Entree with Salad

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Fountain of Youth

In a business as ruthless and cut-throat as the restaurant industry, it’s a well known fact that few fledgling establishments survive beyond a single year. Such depressing statistics are far from shocking when you consider the cost of rent, rising prices for food, and aggressive competition on all sides. That makes the longevity of a place like St. Francis Fountain truly remarkable, speaking volumes of the menu, of course, but also the fiercely loyal following it’s created over the past one hundred years in operation. Yes indeed, first opened in 1918, this little slice of Americana has beaten the odds for a century, with no signs of fading away.

It’s the kind of place where some things never change. Wooden booths where young lovers and families of many generations alike convene over classic breakfast fare, no matter the time of day. Nostalgic signage lines the walls, bearing such endearing statements like “we’re glad you’re here” that you can’t help but believe their genuine sincerity. The relentless march of time is evident in the menu, however. The option to have a milkshake made with soy gelato, or scramble platter swapping eggs for tofu, was probably not part of the original plan.

While it’s true, you will find toast in ample supply here, it’s a far cry from the $9 avocado creations assembled for Instagram notoriety; rather, they’re the default side dish to all savory entrees, toasted dry, with a side of vegan butter on the side for all who wish to remain dairy-free. Sourdough seems mandatory for such a classic San Francisco institution, no matter the pairing. In this case, roughly crumbled chunks of tofu slathered in a mild ranchero sauce will cure what ails you, sauteed with as many (or as few) vegetables as your heart desires, scrambled to taste.

Best known for a quirky dish that’s offered as a side but eats like a full meal, the “Nebulous Potato Thing” defies definition, which is part of the appeal. A mountainous pile of hash browns, crisped on the outside, tender and buttery on the inside, arrive at the table like a gustatory challenge. Even the half portion is immense, enough to satiate any reasonable eater for a full day. Spicy pico de gallo is crowned with a generous dollop of creamy guacamole for the vegan version at no extra charge. In this day and age when just the green fruit alone can command sky-high prices, this just may be the bargain of the century.

Like any greasy spoon worth its griddle, pancakes flip onto plates in a diverse palate of fruit flavors. Banana walnut is a real winner, yielding large chunks of toasted nuts and sweet banana in every forkful. Granted, the syrup isn’t pure maple, but it suits the venue for its no-frills, unpretentious sensibility.

Though not explicitly stated, the chocolate egg cream, arguably one of the greatest obscure soda fountain staples, can still get its fizz on with a quick soymilk swap. This may be the only place in the city, if not the entire west coast, willing to serve up this slice of childhood sweetness for alternative eaters. Even if you wake up late, don’t sleep on this option.

Limited hours preclude it from being the late-night haunt of many stoners’ dreams, but every morning, seven days a week, St. Francis Fountain consistently delivers the hits to soothe the hungover and the heartbroken, to feed the community, body and soul.

It’s hard to say what might be coming out of the kitchen in another hundred years from now, but based on its track record, I’d sure like to think that it will be hot, comforting, and easily veganized.

St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

New Year, New Stew

Rubbing the sleep from our eyes as sunlight floods the room, still slightly subdued from last night’s festivities, we all wake to greet the new year: Welcome, 2018! Ripe with potential, the days ahead unfurl before us, bright and gleaming like gems, a treasure to discover along the way.

Encouraged to seize this opportunity for personal renewal, the temptation to reinvent oneself is strong. We’re encouraged to set lofty goals for a “new year, new you.” The hype has grown considerably quieter over the years, thankfully, but still it persists. I’m here right now to say that if you’re still feeling tempted by those invasive marketing tactics, you’re not alone, but you’re already good enough. Smart enough. Pretty enough. Fit enough. Kind enough. If you’re even considering what you’d like to improve about yourself, you’re thoughtful and motivated and intelligent enough to make it happen, if that’s what you really want. But you don’t need to, and you don’t need to pretend to, if you don’t. You’re exactly the same person you were before the sun set last night and the ball dropped at midnight, and that’s exactly who you need to be. You are already the best YOU out there. DON’T throw it all away in an attempt to start with a “new” you all over again.

Understand that in all honesty, I’m saying this as much for you as I am for me, because sometimes it’s easier to see the goodness in others than yourself. That doesn’t detract from my conviction in those words, but further strengthens the sentiment. If you can start to see positivity and have a more optimistic perspective of your world, you can manifest that same light, too.

Motivational pep talk out of the way, let’s move full steam ahead into the best year yet, shall we? Embark on this new journey forward with something hearty, soul-soothing, and utterly effortless in case holiday revelry is still ringing in your ears.

Murky gruel the color of swamp water is typically the defining characteristic of split pea soup, but beneath the surface lies true inner beauty. Mixing in frozen sweet peas at the very end brightens up the situation considerably, lending both fresh pops of pigmentation and flavor. Unlike most bean soups, no soaking is necessary to tenderize the legumes, cooking quickly into an instantly an creamy, thick stew.

Simple Split Pea Soup

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small Red Onion, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Medium Sweet Potato, Peeled and Diced
2 Tablespoons Reduced-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Cup Split Green Peas
4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary, Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Frozen Green Peas
Salt, to Taste

Heat your pressure cooker on the sauté setting and add the oil. Add the onion and garlic, cooking until translucent and aromatic; about 6 or 7 minutes. Add in the sweet potato, soy sauce, split peas, vegetable stock, paprika, rosemary, and pepper, stir to incorporate, and lock in the lid.

Once sealed, cook on High Pressure for 18 minutes. Let stand for 3 minutes longer before opening the valve to release the remaining pressure.

Stir in the frozen peas (no need to thaw in advance) and season with salt to taste. Give the mixture a vigorous stir to further break up the split peas for a thicker, smoother texture, if desired.

To make this soup on the stove top, without a pressure cooker, simple cover and simmer on low heat for 35 – 45 minutes instead.

Makes 3 to 4 Servings

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Sunshine on a Cloudy Debate

The backlash was so swift and violent, it surprised me, even after years of studiously avoiding any and all comment sections. Immediately, cries of injustice came from the purists; lectures spouted from the health-fanatics; doubts, bordering on outright disgust, resounded among picky eaters the world over.

Risotto made from sunflower seeds? What sort of heresy was this? How could you even call it such a thing, lacking grains entirely, traditional or alternative, and smacking of trendy food revelry? Besides, think of the nutrition!

It wasn’t until I read these complaints, numerous and increasingly frenzied, did I stop to consider how controversial the concept may be. We’ve seen endless twists on classic dishes at this point, spinning some brittle concepts well beyond their breaking point and still happily eating the pieces afterwards. Was this recipe really so malicious?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was simply enchanted. The point that these curmudgeonly commenters missed was that the motive was always to put flavor first. Sunflower seeds have been the backbone of many delicious concoctions, and it’s incredible to see their texture wholly transformed by merely cooking, soaking, or toasting them, to say nothing of the corresponding alchemy of taste. Slowly simmered with aromatics, they soften to a toothsome bite, not quite like rice, granted, but something else genuinely worthy of savoring.

Just the thought of featuring sunflower seeds, an often undervalued bit player, brightened my day, informing my inspiration for the completed meal to come. Naturally sweet, gently earthy carrot juice and turmeric lend a cheerful golden hue, blending with a small measure of the seeds to yield its own creamy base, no dairy need apply. Spring produce still holds sway over my mind and appetite right now, but with summer vegetables already on their way, I’m now plotting the next plate with crisp steamed green beans, halved cherry tomatoes, and perhaps grilled corn kernels instead. It really doesn’t take much to brighten anyone’s day with a comforting bowlful of this avant-garde risotto. Just don’t spoil it by listening to the haters.

Sunshine Risotto

1 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Small Shallots, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Cups Raw Sunflower Seeds
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Cups 100% Carrot Juice
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
1/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
Salt, to Taste
1/2 Cup Fresh or Frozen Peas, Thawed
Finely Chopped Chives
1/2 Pound Asparagus, Trimmed, (Halved if Particularly Thick) and Blanched

Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When it begins to shimmer, add in the shallots and saute until translucent. Introduce the garlic next, stirring well and cooking until lightly golden and highly aromatic. Toss in the sunflower seeds, stir gently but consistently for about 5 minutes before following with the lemon zest and juice, carrot juice, and vegetable stock. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 35 – 45 minutes. The seeds should be tender but still toothsome; al dente, if you will.

Transfer 1/2 cup of the seed mixture to your blender along with the coconut milk, nutritional yeast, miso paste, pepper, and turmeric. Thoroughly puree to achieve a silky, golden custard. Fold this cream back into the main mixture, cook on low for just 2 – 4 minutes longer until piping hot and the puree has slightly thickened to luxuriously coat the whole seeds.

Add salt to taste, if needed. Ladle onto plates, top with peas and chives, and serve with asparagus alongside.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings (2 as an Entree, 4 as a Side)

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