Fat of the Land

The original “liquid gold” was not a processed cheese food. The true gilded elixir is every bubbie’s secret ingredient, the indescribable element that always made her matzo balls better than the rest. A staple of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, schmaltz is made from rendered chicken fat cooked with onions. Even in the height of the farm-to-table cooking craze when duck fat fries were all the rage, this humble grease never gained more attention. To this day, I have yet to see a single vegan alternative offered. In a world where we have plant-based ghee, browned butter, and niter kibbeh, I’m not asking, I’m demanding: WHY.

Vegan shmaltz is everything you want as a cooking catalyst and nothing you don’t. It’s free of cholesterol, completely kosher, full of flavor, and won’t leave your kitchen smelling like a barnyard for a week. As a nice side benefit, you’ll end up with a tidy pile of caramelized onions to lavish over meatless burgers, toast, scrambles, pasta, and anything else that could use a little umami assist.

Step up your matzo ball game by making this easy swap to replace the bland vegetable oil originally called for, but don’t stop there. Anywhere you might use melted butter, try using schmaltz instead. It will open up a whole new world of riches, bathed in a golden glow.

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Unsolved Mysteries

Making something out of nothing is my favorite kind of practical magic. Frugal to a fault, I’m not above trying unlikely combinations for the sake of avoiding another trip to the store. Sometimes this leads to lamentable meals, like the time I tried using breadcrumbs instead of oatmeal. However, more often than not, I’ll find new favorite worth replicating, even when I have a full arsenal of ingredients at my disposal.

This is very well aligned with the spirit of Depression-era cooking. No waste, no regrets. That’s why when I came across the legend of Mystery Pie, I was immediately charmed. It strikes me as a combination of chess pie or vinegar pie plus mock apple pie, being made with little more than sugar and miscellaneous filler that somehow transforms into a rave-worthy dessert. Better yet, this one doesn’t even need a separate pastry crust to hold everything together.

Whipped egg whites traditionally fill the gaps, but aquafaba does the trick for a plant-based fix. Add crushed crackers and crunchy nuts plus a splash of rich vanilla, and that’s it. It doesn’t seem like it will end well, yet it manages to exceed all expectations.

Perfect for unexpected guests when the pantry is running low, or simply trying to keep things uncomplicated when it comes to shopping or prep, this is a good mystery to solve.

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Be Still My Beeting Heart

There’s a lot wrong with Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t take a serious heartbreak to see through the thinly veiled marketing ploys or pushy PR blast to see it for the Hallmark holiday that it is. Terminally single, I’ve railed against it, mocked it, and ignored it throughout the years, depending on my level of cynicism.

This time around, however, I’ve found a new perspective. Don’t worry, I’m no less of a pessimist, but there’s more than one way to go about this concept. Ultimately, Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of love, and I’m all for that. Love can take many forms, beyond classic romantic love. There’s platonic love for your friends, familial love for your parents; love is love. No one love is lesser than any others, and yes, you can absolutely celebrate self love, too.

Pasta is my love language. It sounds mundane, and for the most part, it is. Dried pasta is a cheap, ubiquitous, reliable staple that’s always on hand for a last-minute meal, haphazardly thrown together at the end of a long day. Homemade pasta, however, is a different story. It’s every bit as affordable, takes only a few extra minutes of labor, and a little more advance planning, but those tiny extra steps pay off in huge dividends. Exactly BECAUSE dried pasta is so easy and accessible, anyone that cares enough to start from scratch clearly cares. It’s a small gesture that says, “I want you to have the best. I want you to enjoy something that I enjoy. I want to make this exactly to your tastes.”

If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. Even if the noodles are too thick or misshapen, these pretty pink strands could melt the iciest hearts with one bite. Roasted heart-shaped beets make the affection poured into this dish obvious, because life is too short for secret admirers. Don’t cover it up with heavy sauce, either; a touch of olive oil, a few dollops of dairy-free ricotta, garlic, basil, and lemon zest is enough.

There’s no wrong way to express your love. Let’s take back Valentine’s Day and celebrate what’s really important. Love is care, love is kindness, and sometimes, love is pasta.

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Let It Snow

It’s the icing on the cake, the spoonful that helps the medicine go down, but sometimes, it’s better when sugar doesn’t instantly disappear from view. Rather than hiding in the background, doing all the heavy lifting behind the scenes, certain recipes can benefit from a delicate dusting of powdered sugar, gracing the surface of crackle-top cookies, coffee cakes, and flaky pastries like freshly fallen snow.

Sucre neige, also known as “snow sugar,” is scientifically formulated to be impervious to moisture or temperature. That means it won’t melt or dissolve on top of doughnuts, cookies, fruit tarts, and or any sweet treat you can throw at it. A light sprinkle will look as fresh as a pristine mountain peak, even after a day in the sun. Though it looks identical to conventional confectioner’s sugar, it’s made from dextrose rather than sucrose, which is considerably less sweet. The tiny particles are coated in a thin layer of palm oil, which acts sort of like a culinary raincoat. Titanium dioxide is usually added to keep it shining bright and perfectly white.

Considered a specialty item found in professional restaurant supply stores rather than the average supermarket, it’s frustratingly difficult to find at a moment’s notice. Happily, there is a way to make your own! It won’t have quite the same refinement as the impeccably processed commercial variety, but it will contain considerably fewer chemical additives, and cost a good deal less. Now you can have a brilliantly white Christmas, any day of the year.

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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!