Honey-Do List

I think we can all agree that the end of year 2020 cannot come soon enough, for all its trials and tribulations. However, I’ll settle for striking a line through the year 5780 for now. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year arrives at sunset tonight. Offering an opportunity for a fresh start, rebirth and renewal, the significance of this holiday feels especially salient this time around.

Apples and honey are practically synonymous with the occasion, expressing edible wishes for a sweet new year. There’s usually a loaf of challah on the table, a lustrous golden crust shining beside tall pillar candles, perfumed with that same nectarous sweetener, too. In celebrations past, maple syrup was the default replacement, and plain bread the only alternative. Now we have truly ambrosial bee-free honey, either store-bought or homemade, and egg substitutes galore.

Rather than simply veganizing the classic round loaf, I felt that we could all use an extra measure of sweetness to rebound from such a miserably bitter 12-month cycle. Honey cake is a common addition to the festive table, but probably not like this one.

Kasutera, the Japanese interpretation of Portuguese castella sponge cake, is the perfect non-traditional dessert for Rosh Hashanah. Light and fluffy, yet still dense and rich, it glows with a golden interior crumb singing with floral aroma. The top and bottom are deeply caramelized from the high sugar content, but the interior remains as bright as a sunny day. Having the opportunity to enjoy such delicacy, tenderness, and indulgence strikes me as an ideal catalyst for a truly sweet new year on the horizon.

Chag sameach! Sweetest wishes for the year 5781!

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Sush-Easy

To anyone who can proclaim to dislike sushi, I can only shake my head in wonder. You don’t like rice? While the term has come to imply raw fish in modern usage, the actual translation of the word only refers to seasoned rice. Mouthfuls of lightly vinegared grains never hurt anyone, so why the animosity? If the paper-thin sheath of seaweed is still too briny for your liking, plenty of alternative wrappings are at your disposal for more colorful, flavorful containment. Beyond the predictable and traditional, there’s a bold new world of fillings to wrap up and roll out.

Let’s start with some Italian fusion with some Caprese Sushi. Mix herbaceous basil pesto into cooked and cooled sushi rice for a bold green backdrop. Press it into place along a paprika soy paper wrapper and line the center with vegan mozzarella, fresh heirloom tomato slices, and sun-dried tomatoes. Roll tightly, slice into a few thick pieces, and drizzle balsamic glaze across the plate before placing your fresh futo maki on top.

Traveling now to the jungles of Indonesia, Satay Sushi is a spicy, crunchy, savory treat that’s even better than anything on a skewer. Turmeric soy paper is the golden foundation for this one, with plain sushi rice cradling shredded carrots, grilled or sauteed meatless chicken, a thick smear of crunchy peanut butter, and everyone’s favorite hot condiment, chili crisp. You could always serve peanut sauce alongside, since I tend to encouraging going at least a little bit nuts.

Back to my own roots in New York City, Everything Bagel Sushi really is everything I could ask for in a mere maki. This one employs a sesame soy wrapper, of course, layered with the standard sushi rice, luscious lashings of vegan cream cheese, crisp cucumbers, minced red onion, dill, and a heavy sprinkle of everything bagel seasoning. Who needs the bread when you’ve got a compact roll ready to grab and go?

Finishing out with the next big blue plate special, Benedict Sushi promises to shake up the brunch routine with style and substance that would make the average English muffin crumble. It all starts with a spinach soy wrapper, rolling up around rice, blanched asparagus, vegan scrambled egg, and meatless ham. Slice and serve with a rich pool of hollandaise sauce for dipping, or dunking, as you see fit.

What’s your favorite way to wrap and roll? Do you stick with the traditional, understated vegetable maki, or shake things up with more unconventional fillings? While it’s hard to argue with the instant gratification of restaurant takeout, I promise you won’t find options nearly so fresh, fun, or fanciful as in your own kitchen.

Popit! for Soba All Summer

Come July, the heat is on. Bare feet scorch on sizzling pavement and even shady trees provide little relief. The only thing that appeals for lunch is either cool, cold, or straight-up frozen. There’s no place for a hot entree on this picnic table.

Luckily, Popit! is here to help! Since both their plastic and glass containers are ideal for advanced prep, you can pull a meal, ready to eat, right out of the fridge. That means you only need to suffer the brief heat of the kitchen once to reap the rewards all week long.

When I saw the small Popit! bread box, also billed as a “lettuce container,” I must admit, I didn’t think about using it as storage for a fresh loaf or salad fixings. One thing came to mind immediately: Zaru soba.

Chilled buckwheat noodles served with a light, brothy dipping sauce is the quintessential summer dish of Japan. Served on a special tray with elevated slats, the mat at the bottom allows excess water to run off, keeping the noodles from getting soggy. With that in mind, I couldn’t see these unique rectangular boxes in any other way. It was simply too perfect to do anything but build a warm weather bento box around that eastern inspiration.

Mentsuyu, the deeply savory dip that accompanies those chewy soba strands, traditionally contains bonito dashi, or fish stock, but is easily veganized by naturally umami dried shiitake mushrooms and kombu seaweed instead. Packed away in a small Popit! snack container, it fits flush right inside the main box. There’s no risk of leakage with those airtight lids locked tightly into place. Perfect for travel and eating alfresco, it also helps prevent messy drips by keeping everything close together.

Lightly blanched spinach is served on the side for a healthy serving of dark leafy greens, enhanced by the nutty flavor of toasted sesame. Tender pods of salted edamame provide all the plant protein you could want in a fun finger food. All together, it becomes a well-balanced, refreshing, and highly versatile meal that will help you keep your cool.

Grab your chopsticks and chill out. Don’t forget to slurp for maximum enjoyment!

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Udon of a New Day

Instant noodles are the staff of life. Globally, they sustain wild swaths of the population, satisfying picky children to discerning adults, proving a quick fix for the hapless homemaker and the harried office worker alike, fitting the bill for both impoverished college students and affluent entrepreneurs. Curly bricks of ramen, dried, fried noodles, make the world go round.

There’s so much more to slurp, though, with considerably fresher appeal. Udon, thick as double-braided nylon rope, make ramen look like limp spaghetti by contrast. Dense, chewy, substantial wheat noodles, it’s hard to improve upon the classic soup base.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course.

With just a bit of quick knife work, cut cubes plunge into bubbling hot oil rather than plain water to meet a crispier fate. Compulsively munchable, savory, and salty, these noodles are more than a last-minute dinnertime staple. Serve them with drinks for a new happy hour hit, pack them up for snacking on the go, or toss them into green salad as upgraded seasoned croutons.

Up until recently the best varieties could only be found frozen, flown in from Japan. Now the edible art form is available in the refrigerated aisle, made right here in the US by Fortune Noodles. Offered with a mushroom seasoning specifically and boldly labeled as VEGAN right across the front, they come out with the perfect texture and balanced yet bold umami broth every time.

Check out more inspiration from JSL Foods via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Plus, if you join the Noodle Club, you’ll be rewarded with a high-value freebie coupon right away at Stater Bros, Safeway, Von’s, Aldi, Lucky’s, SaveMart, Food Maxx, Food 4 Less, or Raley’s.

There will always be a place in my heart, and my pantry for instant ramen, but no one noodle can do it all. Fresh udon makes greater snacking opportunities possible.

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Wordless Wednesday: Omakase

Sushi

Smoked Beet Nigiri: Nitsume sauce, wasabi, shiso, sesame snow.
Carrot Gunkanmaki: ‘Battleship sushi’ topped with roasted carrot yuzu kosho foam.
Asparagus Inside Out Roll: Salt/sugar cured asparagus, avocado, daikon, sprouts, kelp caviar, and spicy aioli.



Abalone Mushroom Sunomono

Shredded and marinated abalone mushroom, accordion-cut cucumbers, wakame, daikon sprouts, and a tosa vinaigrette.

Cauliflower Karaage

Marinated cauliflower fried in a light yuzu kosho tempura batter, and served with yuzu aioli and dusted nori.

Soba Noodle Mazemen

Ramen made with buckwheat noodles, nuka-pickled veggies, charred Tokyo negi, soy-pickled shiitakes, koji-cured carrot, tofu misozuke, and tempura wakame.
Hot dashi, seasoned with a caramelized aromatic tare, poured table side.

Strawberry Matcha Cheesecake

With macerated strawberries and matcha meringue.

Fancy Plants Cafe and Catering
613 W Briar St
Chicago, IL 60657