In the Palm of My Hands

Glowing like a bold orange beacon in my kitchen, the allure was irresistible. Undeniably handsome, complex yet versatile, and as rich as Croesus, this new infatuation had all the makings of a wild, illicit love affair. Uninformed outsiders would find it shocking or downright offensive, but the truth is far less controversial than gossip may lead you to believe. Palm oil sourced from Malaysia has a lot to offer for the passionate cook, baker, and eater alike.

Mom’s Meet provided me with the opportunity to dig deeper on this topic, shining a light on an incredible ingredient often overlooked by the average American shopper. Malaysian palm oil is sustainably sourced, committed to orangutan conservation, wildlife biodiversity, renewable energy with zero waste, and deforestation avoidance.

Being a tropical oil that’s solid at room temperature, most comparisons are drawn to the latest superfood darling, coconut oil. Aside from the obvious differences in color and flavor, palm oil distinguishes itself in its versatility, with a smoke point of 450 degrees, far beyond that of coconut oil’s 350-degree limit. That makes it excellent for high-heat preparations like frying, grilling, or broiling. Melting at around 70 degrees, the fact that it remains solid at room temperature makes it an excellent substitute for harmful trans-fats in commercial products.

If you thought coconut oil had the movie theater popcorn game on lock, be prepared for a snacking revolution here. Brilliantly buttery yet still mild in flavor, all it needs is a pinch of salt to make bare kernels shine brighter than any rising star on the silver screen.

Once liquefied, Malaysian palm oil can even be emulsified into a golden vinaigrette. Inspired by the Sweet & Spicy Harissa Slaw in Real Food, Really Fast, I tossed my fiery blend with a dab of this orange elixir instead, which was received with positively glowing reviews. That glorious color comes from an abundance of carotenoids, by the way, bearing 15 times more vitamin A than the carrots themselves.

Lest you thought I was ignoring my sweet tooth this whole time, rest assured that rigorous testing proved it a highly qualified applicant for baking operations. Chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven soft, moist, tender, and quite beautiful, if I do say so myself. Sink your teeth into one of these behemoths for a healthier taste of a childhood classic, no dairy nor eggs in sight.

For my final trick, I must admit that my attempt at making a nut-free cheese went terribly awry, but in the wake of that failure came an even greater culinary coup…

Cultured butter, infused with both probiotics and luscious flavor, creamy and spreadable, meltable, and downright delectable. No dairy, no nuts, no gluten, no nonsense. I couldn’t keep it in the fridge long enough to test it on loftier goals like homemade croissants or puff pastry, because with just one smear on the average ear of corn or slice of toast, I was hooked. This recipe alone is enough reason to deviate from the typical shopping list and stock up on a new pantry staple.

Malaysian palm oil deserves a place in every kitchen across the globe, including yours. Undoubtedly, you’ve eaten it before in packaged foods or used it in cosmetics, but have you cooked or baked with it? With a sustainable source close at hand, unleash your adventurous side and try a splash in your next succulent creation.

Palm Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup + 2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Red Palm Oil, Melted
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in the chocolate chips and toss to coat.

Separately, combine the sugar, maple syrup, melted palm oil, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly without over-beating it. Use a 3-ounce ice cream scoop to portion out cookies, and place them with at least 1 1/2 between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so I usually bake about 9 per sheet.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 6 – 8 Large Cookies

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Cultured Butter

1/2 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Red Palm Oil, Melted

Place all of the ingredients into your blender except for the palm oil, and blend until thoroughly combined. While allowing the motor to run on high speed, slowly drizzle in the melted palm oil, allowing the mixture to emulsify smoothly.

Transfer the mixture to a glass container and cover. Let it solidify in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or the freezer for 1.

The butter will be soft and spreadable straight out of the fridge. It melts beautifully and you can cook with it, too! I haven’t yet tested it for baking, but if you do, let me know about it in the comment section.

Properly sealed and chilled, the butter should keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

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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.

Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.

Grab the Melon by Its Horns

Sharply spiked, thorny, and clad in an arresting hue of traffic cone orange, it was clear that this alien fruit was coming home with me from the moment we first met. It was just too bizarre to put back down, despite its pointed protests.

The kiwano, otherwise known as a horned melon, is truly a sight to behold. It becomes even more alluring once cracked open, revealing downright monstrous innards of large seeds suspended in a jelly-like green morass. Best described as an African cucumber, the flavor is quite similar to this familiar vegetable. Some claim to taste notes of banana and lemon as well, suggesting that it would be well suited for both sweet and savory applications. Unfortunately, the truth is considerably more bitter: The gooey mess is impossible to eat out of hand, watery at best but entirely bland at worst, and overall, quite disappointing.

Talk about misjudging a book by its cover!

That said, it has its charm as an exotic garnish, based entirely on its unnerving, almost unnaturally neon hue. Shock and amaze your friends this Halloween by presenting them with a ghastly glass of rice pudding, topped by this exotic produce pick.

You can’t beat it for shock value, but truth be told… You wouldn’t be losing anything in the flavor department if you left out the kiwano. No recipe needed here, as any rice pudding formula will do the trick. However, consider this your warning: While the kiwano does have horns, it certainly won’t bite back.

Egg, Spelled with a “V”

Considering the frequency in which the issue of replacing eggs pops up, for both new and seasoned vegans, it’s surprisingly that few comprehensive solutions exist. There are certainly many methods, fully satisfying the need for egg-flavored dishes or the binding power they bring to baked goods, but there has been no single approach that could claim success in complete egg replication. Let’s be honest here: Mashed bananas are really not like eggs. Delicious in certain cakes, yes, but limited in their utility beyond that. Powdered “egg replacers” gave many confounded bakers a hand in converting family favorites over the decades, but these still had severe shortcomings. Lacking body and flavor, the results were never exactly the same. Such a complex ingredient seemed to have no equal, either naturally or chemically composed.

The Vegg wants to change all that. Claiming to be the “world’s first vegan yolk,” it’s currently the only product that strives to mimic not only the taste of eggs, but the physical properties unique to the yolk. One of its most impressive claims to fame is its ability to make perfectly round spheres, just like you might find in a soft-cooked sunny side-up egg, or the tender center to a poached one, bursting with golden goo when punctured.

I wasn’t nearly so ambitious though. Naturally, my first impulse was to crank up the oven and see what this unassuming powder could do. Using the prescribed 1 teaspoon of Vegg to 1/4 cup water, it’s reassuring to know that a little bit goes a very long way. Undeniably sulfuric in aroma, it was pungent enough to make me do a double-take. Of course, I couldn’t just toss it into any old cookie dough, but an egg-heavy batter that depended on the unique proteins that traditional yolks would bring to the party. After blending the Vegg mixture for a full 10 minutes, it was clear that it would not be whipped. Scratch those plans for sabayon.

Although the cookies worked, they were not the crackled, glossy-topped little numbers I had been pining after. Additional experiments to make a Vegg-based nog confirmed that it was better suited for more savory applications. Drinkable but not quite delicious, consider it an act of kindness that I’m not sharing any photos of the murky, brownish beverage.

Speaking of savory dishes, perhaps you recall the passing mention of my product and recipe article in Laika? Well, that recipe is none other than my Omelette Roulade, a large baked rectangle of Vegg wrapped around an umami-packed spinach and mushroom filling. Talk about a passing the test with flying colors- There may have been a genuine victory dance involved when the eggy sheet was fully rolled. Breakfast and brunch may never be the same with Vegg on hand. A compelling reason for any remaining holdouts to finally go vegan, this perfectly imitates the slightly salty, funky flavor that many fear they will lose when the give up eggs.

Finally, in the ultimate test, I threw down the gauntlet. Carbonara, the classic pasta preparation bearing a raw egg sauce, has proven impossible for decades. Sure, very creative vegan solutions exist, but most renditions end up erring closer to creamy alfredo than carbonara. Topping my glistening bowlful of noodles with homemade coconut bacon, the first bite was taken with great trepidation… But I can assure you, the rest were shoveled down enthusiastically. I may have little experience to base my assessment of the carbonara on, but I can tell you with certainty that A) I’ve never had anything like it since going vegan, and B) I would make it again in a heartbeat.

Linguine alla Carbonara

1/2 Pound Linguine

2 Tablespoons Melted Non-Dairy Margarine or Olive Oil
1 Small Yellow Onion, Finely Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Cup Vegetable Stock
1/2 Cup Plain Vegan Creamer
1 Tablespoon Brown Rice Miso Paste
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Vegg

Fresh Parsley, Chopped
Coconut Bacon, or Any Vegan Bacon Substitute

Cook and drain your pasta according to the directions on the box; set aside.

In a medium skillet or saucepan, heat the margarine or oil over medium heat. Add in the diced onion and saute for about 3 minutes, until softened. Toss in the garlic next, and cook until aromatic and just barely golden, but not browned, all over.

Meanwhile, place the stock, creamer, miso, and pepper in your blender, and briefly blitz to combine. Then, with the motor running on low, slowly sprinkle the Vegg powder into the center of the canister to incorporate. If using a Vita-Mix, aim for the center of the vortex to prevent it from merely sticking to the sides and clumping.

Gently pour the Vegg mixture into the pan of aromatics, whisking to incorporate. Continue cooking, stirring periodically, until the sauce thickens and bubbles break rapidly on the surface. Pour the hot sauce over the cooked pasta, toss to coat, and portion out onto plates. Top with parsley and your “bacon” of choice, and serve immediately. It will continue to thicken as it cools, and doesn’t make for great leftovers. The noodles will glue themselves together after a trip to the fridge, so enjoy right away.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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