Flavor Your Life

It’s one of the most common cooking staples across the globe, found in even the most sparsely populated pantries and in the hands of extraordinarily reluctant cooks. Olive oil’s ubiquity is owed in large part to its accessibility, as a vast number of brands have become available in recent years. Such a vast range of options should immediately suggest that not all oils are created equal, yet few shoppers pause to think about the origin of those original fruits before popping a sleek new bottle into their carts. For such a beloved, indispensable ingredient, there sure is still an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there.

Inspired by the Flavor Your Life campaign, supported by the European Union, Unaprol, and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, the goal of debunking common misconceptions resonated with me in a powerful way. Moms Meet provided a bottle of Zucchi Extra Virgin Olive Oil to demonstrate the difference, but I’ve long been a devotee of quality European olive oils even without that delicious perk.

Let’s not beat around the olive tree, and get down to business. It’s time to talk about the top olive oil myths that need to be put to rest, once and for all:

You can’t fry with it.

Contrary to the single most frequently perpetuated false fact, olive oil has a 400-degree smoke point and can hold up beautifully (and tastefully) to the task of deep frying. Raising the heat beyond that temperature will only result in burnt food no matter the carrier, so keep a thermometer clipped to the pot, tend it carefully, and your taste buds will be rewarded.

Only extra-virgin will work in dressings.

Though there is a drop of truth in that statement, extra-virgin is merely a title bestowed to the very top grade of oil, cold pressed; extracted without heat or chemicals. That isn’t to say that other grades are of any lower quality. If anything, their flavor has a lower impact, which might actually be a welcome quality if your vinaigrette has bold seasonings that would otherwise obliterate the delicate nuances of a top grade oil. On the reverse side of the spectrum, this more neutral palate could be a benefit for baked goods where you don’t want such a savory note to shine though.

Kept in a dark, cool place, it should keep pretty much indefinitely.

Those volatile oils would beg to differ! Like any other fresh food, it should be refrigerated, and for no more than 6 – 8 months, ideally. It does go rancid at room temperature, although most people are so accustomed to using sub-par varieties, they may not realize the truly superlative, ephemeral nature of the genuine article.

Terroir is only for wine.

Extra-virgin is top shelf quality, but bottles bearing that designation manifest that grade through a wide spectrum of flavors. The greatest contributors to taste are the types of olive trees (cultivar), the region (which affects climate and soil) and time of harvest. Early in the harvest season, under-ripe fruits produce oils that are greener, more bitter and pungent. By contrast, olives harvested towards the end of season are over-ripe, resulting in a more mild, sweet, and buttery character. Other variables can yield oils that skew more nutty, peppery, grassy, floral, and beyond.

Considering the incredibly varied range of options being produced in all corners of the European continent, this is just the tip of the iceberg. A full education on this essential ingredient can be gleaned with just a dash of culinary curiosity, and a pinch of knowledge from the Flavor Your Life campaign. Eating better starts with cooking better, and there’s no substitute for quality components.


Powered By Plants

Meet the new “power lunch,” and breakfast and dinner, too. Before you reach for the takeout menus, reach to your bookshelf, pull out Gena Hamshaw‘s latest masterwork, Power Plates, and you’ll undoubtedly discover a meal that’s far tastier, healthier, and just as fast as delivery.

It’s not rocket science, which is exactly what good food is supposed to be. Gena works from her background as a certified nutritionist to compose balanced meals across the board, which means a solid serving of protein, carbs, and fats, of course, but steers away from complex meal plans or confusing macros.

Arguably more important from an eater’s standpoint, that same approach to crafting dishes with a complementary range of elements extends to the overall flavor; spicy, sweet, and savory tastes all meld together harmoniously for that perfect balance in every bite.

Pulling from everyday staples you probably already have in the kitchen, there are no obscure ingredients that will have you running all over creation to hunt down. Case in point, the moment this glossy new text landed on my doorstep, I flipped through those crisp pages and immediately set about preparing the first recipe that jumped out at me. Apple Ginger Muesli, a cold but bold counterpoint to the usual breakfast oatmeal, was both a hearty and invigorating morning meal. Emphasizing a diverse range of textures with crunchy almonds, tender apples, and creamy oats, there wasn’t a boring spoonful from start to finish. Some sort of strange alchemy occurs by letting the mixture sit overnight, transforming the blend into something elevated beyond the mere sum of its parts. This will no doubt become an indispensable breakfast especially as the weather grows warmer.

Speaking of warm weather, I can’t wait for picnic season when I can bust out this Zucchini Pesto Pasta Salad for al fresco dining. In all honesty though, you could just as easily serve this dish hot without detracting from its herbaceous charm. The pesto alone is a keeper, an ideal blend of fresh basil and walnuts, with a touch of nutritional yeast for that extra savory something. You could spread it on toast (or even cardboard for that matter) and be just as happy.

Soup is my go-to quick fix when I don’t have a plan for dinner or much to pull from the fridge, which is why the Lemony Lentil Soup was an easy win. Although originally written with an addition of kale, I made a quick substitution with frozen spinach with great success. No need to go grocery shopping and nearly instant gratification! Bright citrus perks up the standard stew, a small tweak on a familiar theme that yield a big flavor payoff. Thank goodness I always keep lentils on hand, since this is one that I want to eat on repeat, and I have a feeling that you will, too.

New cooks should find the instructions approachable, infused with Gena’s warmth and no-nonsense advice. Those with more experience should take inspiration in their unpretentious sensibility, with an eye to seasonal, fresh combinations. Nothing in here screams “VEGAN” from the rooftops; it’s just delicious, and just so happens to be plant-based.

Having had the pleasure of photographing her earlier cookbook, Choosing Raw, I expected delicious compositions with thoughtful, sage advice, but these results exceed my lofty expectations. Each beautifully illustrated page sparkles with potential, promising nothing short of a stellar experience in every meal. It would be a crime to keep such a treasure to myself, which is why I’m thrilled to share a copy of Power Plates with one lucky reader! To enter this giveaway, get the details below, and let me know in the comment section which recipe(s) jump out at you first. Do you have a game plan together to hit the ground cooking? You’ll want to be ready, since even a casual glance through this cookbook will make you hungry.

Power Plates Cookbook Giveaway

In case you’re already clamoring to get into the kitchen and start cooking, I don’t blame you. Gena has kindly stepped in to help soothe those hunger pains by providing her recipe for that stellar lentil soup I enjoyed so much. Bon appetite!


I usually add more than the suggested amount of lemon juice to this highly nutritious soup, but that’s because I’m a lemon fiend. No matter how much lemon juice you add, this soup is packed with plant protein and wholesome ingredients and will do your body good.


1 1⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces (225 g) white mushrooms, sliced
1 1⁄2 teaspoons dried thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) dried green, brown, or French green lentils
4 cups (950 ml) low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups (475 ml) water
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and
cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the garlic, mushrooms, and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and have released their juices.

Stir in 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and the thyme, rosemary, pepper, and lentils, then pour in the broth and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover partially, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Stir in the kale, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Serve piping hot.

Reprinted with permission from Power Plates, copyright © 2018 by Gena Hamshaw. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Not-So-Secret Supper Club

There’s no sign out front. No two menus are ever the same. Walk-ins are not accepted. One would be hard pressed to call this arrangement a “restaurant” by the traditional definition, and yet the chef plays to a rapt audience, selling out tickets for almost every dining session. Bay area natives will likely know this poorly kept “secret” supper club well, striking up the band with Sound & Savor for over 13 years now. My first experience in this elusive underground establishment left a lasting memory, filled with the warmth of community as well as good food, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Attending dinners and classes almost as often as they’re offered, Chef Philip Gelb and I became fast friends in the process.

Known as much for his confidence with spice as his finesse with more delicate flavors, Phil has a style that doesn’t fit well into any predefined category, unafraid to cook to his own beat. Now he’s sharing that same approach with voracious eaters abroad, with the release of Vegan Underground: Improvisations on World Cuisines.

The contents transcend superficial cultural boundaries, seamlessly merging the defining characteristics of multiple distinctive cuisines into a brand new culinary adventure. Venturing boldly into unexplored territory, these recipes remain approachable, familiar for their original roots, recalling all the best flavor notes from high to low.

From Trinidad doubles to fiery mapo tofu, crispy fried okra to pistachio-walnut ice cream, the diverse range of delicious options promises appetizing options for all palates. Ramen remains a particular favorite of mine, and it’s a true pleasure to finally see other perennial crowd-pleasers like the green gazpacho and polenta peach cake in print.

Capturing the photos for this fresh compilation, I was lucky enough to experience these meals in person, as cooked by the master, but I can vouch for this home cook’s translation as well. Since not everyone, locals included, are lucky enough to snag seats for these limited engagements, I’m absolutely thrilled to give away a copy of Vegan Underground to four readers! Enter through August 10th by commenting below: Have you ever been to an “underground” restaurant, or have you dreamed of starting your own? Tell me about your experiences and ideas! Log your submission on the official giveaway page, and find additional ways to improve your odds there, too.

For as many cookbooks flood the marketplace every year, there are none that can match the creativity and sheer passion found within these pages. You won’t find Vegan Underground in mainstream bookstores or on Amazon.com, so don’t miss your chance to own a copy today.

Flipping Over Pancakes

The greatest traditions of excess are born from their polar opposites, of fasts or famines, celebrating, repenting, or simply surviving. Shrove Tuesday carries that torch with unmatched enthusiasm, having evolved into an unrestrained eating and drinking bender, theoretically in preparation for the 40-day Lenten fast ahead. Pancakes are the star of the menu because historically, the fresh eggs and milk already on hand would spoil during that time of abstention, so the only reasonable thing to do would be to make massive amounts of flapjacks and throw a huge party, naturally. How this simple predisposition to thriftiness evolved into the revelry and debauchery of modern day Mardi Gras is a whole ‘nother story.

Those same concerns of preventing food waste certainly aren’t of primary concern for current festivities, but the universal love of pancakes has kept the practice alive. A simple sort of decadence, pancakes are as easy and uncomplicated as they come, making themselves right at home on the fanciest and unfussiest of tables alike. Regardless, it always feels like a special occasion when diving into a fluffy short stack, buttery and sticky with maple syrup. Despite their humble nature, countless cooks still find the prospect of flipping the perfect pancake rather daunting- Myself included. My own personal pancake disasters are too numerous to recount, but particularly infamous misadventures include scrambled pancakes, pancakes that are both raw and burnt at the same time, and pancakes flipped perfectly… Outside of the pan and literally into the fire.

For this Pancake Tuesday, I decided to seek advice from a master. Sitting myself down at Saturn Cafe with full view of the open kitchen, a few key elements for pancake perfection became clear.

1. Consistency matters. This means two things, actually: The viscosity of the batter is essential for the right texture. Too runny and you’ll get crepes. Too thick and you’ll get doorstops. Your best bet is a ratio of approximately equal parts liquid to flour by weight. The other component to this concept is that you should be consistent in your delivery. Use a ladle or measuring cup to dose out the same amount of batter every time, and space them an equal distance apart. Don’t forget to allow sufficient space to flip!

2. Take it slow. Pancakes already cook quickly so there’s no need to rush things. Keep the heat closer to medium-low to prevent them from burning on the outside before cooked all the way through. Look for the surface to be covered in ruptured bubbles before proceeding.

3. Add in, don’t mix in. Goodies like nuts, fruits, and chocolate chips are often the spotlight ingredients of truly decadent pancakes, but like any celebrities, they should arrive fashionably late to the party. Mix-ins stirred directly into the batter with sink to the bottom, creating some scantily clad pancakes. Wait until they’re about halfway done cooking before sprinkling your starlets on top, keeping them evenly distributed and at the center of attention.

4. Keep it on the down-low. When it comes time for the dreaded flip, don’t try anything fancy. Don’t expect to toss those little flapjacks in the air like pizza dough and don’t pretend that you can flick the pan forward to succeed without a spatula. Check to make sure that they’re ready by peeking underneath first. If the bottom is evenly golden brown, you’re good to go. Make sure the spatula is completely underneath and supporting the cake and keep it as close to the pan as possible when you turn it over. Be firm but gentle. Don’t slap it down forcefully, unless you’d like to redecorate your kitchen walls with raw batter.

If you have flour in the pantry, you could have pancakes for breakfast. The most basic formulas need little more than that to yield ambrosial breakfast treats, to dress up or down as your heart desires. There’s no reason to wait until Fat Tuesday rolls around to break out the skillet, but while we’re all throwing caution to the wind and pouring the syrup on thick, you might as well take advantage of the celebration to indulge.

Cracking the Eggless Code

Through the best of times and the worst of times, wealth and poverty, tofu has always been there. Soft as a pillow around delicate subjects but firm when more support is needed, that trusty soybean block can accommodate the wildest of culinary whims. How many other ingredients can claim such a rich history and vast repertoire of winsome dishes? An indispensable staple beyond just vegan kitchens, tofu has never enjoyed such wide mainstream acceptance before, and yet… Sometimes, simple bean curd won’t quite do. Scrambles, omelets, and fry-ups are top brunch treats, leading both herbivores and omnivores alike still demand more out of their mid-morning meal. Tofu, my dear friend, has finally met its ovoid match.

Follow Your Heart originally rose to fame over four decades ago, pioneering the vegan options for dressings and sandwich spreads, and continues to innovate to this day. The VeganEgg breaks new ground as the only complete whole egg replacer that actually behaves like an egg in both savory and sweet applications.

Tear into the dry mix and you’ll immediately be hit with a wave of familiar sulfurous aroma, the distinct calling card of kala namak. Whisking easily and smoothly into cold water, there’s no need to break out the heavy artillery (or blender) for assistance. The raw mixture may appear awfully thin at first, perhaps even alarmingly so, but all doubts will be instantly erased the minute that golden batter hits a hot skillet. Granted, it takes longer to cook than actual eggs, clocking in at 6 – 8 minutes for a single scramble, it does indeed form soft curds with a slightly bouncy yet creamy texture, easily yielding to the bite. Very mild in flavor, despite the initial aroma, it stays true to form as a good neutral base to build upon.

And build I did. Shakshuka calls for poaching eggs directly in spicy tomato sauce, a classic Middle Eastern preparation difficult to come by with vegan needs. The VeganEgg couldn’t quite hold its form in a pleasing round shape, but firmed up triumphantly in the bubbling red stew. Don’t expect anything as decadent as a rich, runny center, but the overall package is so satisfying, you won’t miss it one bit.

Reviving another previous eggy favorite, Chinese egg drop soup was next on my hit list. Thin ribbons of VeganEgg swim peacefully among the scallions in this simple broth, a flawless dupe for any takeout temptation. Its simplicity makes it the ideal comfort food, enjoyed in sickness and in health, effortlessly converted with a one-for-one swap from the original omnivorous formula.

For greater culinary ambitions, though, I’m delighted to report that tamagoyaki is finally back on the menu again! Lightly sweetened, slowly cooked in a square frying pan, and painstakingly rolled into a savory layered omelet, it’s an essential Japanese dish that can be eaten solo or sliced thin to top nigiri sushi. I haven’t quite mastered the technique, but with such promising initial results, you can bet it’s a recipe I’ll be revisiting, and soon.

But wait- What about dessert, you may ask? Though my approach to baking has never required a straight replacement for eggs, there are definitely a few recipes that don’t quite translate without that essential structure or flavor. Creamy custards such a flan are a perfect example; absolutely doable without any ovoid additions, but not quite the same, and rarely as easy to replicate. The VeganEgg makes the conversion effortless, and adds just the right subtle tasting notes without dominating the dish.

With that immense hurdle cleared, now there’s simply no excuse to reach for any animal products.

Easy Flan for Two

2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Follow Your Heart VeganEgg
1/2 Cup Cold Water
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Finely Grated Orange Zest

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease two 4-ounce ramekins. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar into the bottom of each ramekin and set aside.

In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the VeganEgg and cold water until completely smooth. Make sure there are no lumps remaining before proceeding. Add in the non-dairy milk, vanilla, and zest, and whisk again to combine.

Distribute the liquid mixture equally between the two ramekins, and place them in a larger baking dish. Place this in the oven and pour hot water into the larger dish to reach just about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will create a water bath to more gently cook the custards, and prevent them from cracking as they bake.

Bake for 45 – 60 minutes, until set around the sides and top, but still wobbly much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely before moving to the fridge. Chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. To serve, invert the flans on individual plates, and enjoy!

Makes 2 Servings

Printable Recipe