Chow Down

Does anyone else get bummed out by Trader Joe’s cat cookies? It’s not that they’re disappointing in flavor- Far from it- But that they’re blatantly speciesist. Printed on every generous tub are the words “For People!” with no mention of our feline friends. They’re inspired by, shaped like, and named for cats, and yet these highly esteemed creatures are clearly excluded from indulging alongside us. It’s a slap in the face (or perhaps, paw to the snout) of the little lions among us. My modus operandi has always been to provide food for everyone to enjoy, regardless of tastes, dietary restrictions, or breeds, so it strikes me as terribly shortsighted of Trader Joe’s to classify such promising morsels in such an exclusive fashion.

The same can be said of “puppy chow.” Typically, this is a crowd-pleasing yet tooth-achingly sweet mix of melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and cereal squares, tossed together to approximate the appearance of dog food. Chocolate is at the top of the list of canine dangers when it comes to feeding, so I have to wonder who was the first person to dream up this combination. What a sadly misleading title!

Carob could make for an easy conversion, but not one that most humans would be particularly enthusiastic about. Besides, the added sugar really isn’t the best fuel for our furry friends. Savory flavors are what this reinvented blend is all about! Peanut butter with an umami kick of liquid aminos and nutritional yeast meet crunchy corn or rice cubes for a highly snack-able blend, no matter your breed. Feel free to spice things up for your own tastes with a generous dose of sriracha, smoked paprika, or chili powder, but keep it on the side for more sensitive puppy palates.

Although the temptation to immediately chow down straight from the bowl will be high, please mind your manners. There’s no reason to eat like an animal.

Savory Puppy Chow (For People AND Puppies)

1/4 Cup Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
4 Cups Corn or Rice Cereal Squares
1/3 Cup Toasted Coconut Shreds or Flakes
1/2 Cup Oat Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast

Place the peanut butter, coconut oil, liquid aminos, and vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Toss with the cereal, coconut, and oat flour in a large bowl until the squares are evenly coated. Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and nutritional yeast last, stirring gently to cover the pieces without crushing them. Serve warm.

Makes About 4 1/2 Cups

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Spring Things

Cherry blossoms. Butterflies. Misted, dewy mornings. Song bird serenades.

These are the things that spring is made of.

Fava beans. Asparagus. Rhubarb. Soft green herbs. Morel mushrooms.

These are the things that spring tastes like.

The promise of these things are what make winter worth enduring, no matter how brutal or seemingly interminable those frigid, forbidding days of darkness become. Slowly but surely, that veil of frost will be lifted to reveal to reveal tender green shoots emerging from quickly thawing earth, revitalized after such fitful slumber.

At long last, all signs point to spring here on the west coast, although that’s not quite the case nationwide. It’s hard to imagine blizzard conditions elsewhere while strapping on sandals to greet the day.

Should these early days of April fall short of expectations, don’t despair. One particular taste of spring is still easily accessible even if your local farmers market remains barren. Fresh peas are an exquisite treat, verdant and shockingly sweet straight out of the pod, but frozen are no terrible sacrifice in a pinch. Roughly mashed into a chunky spread with bright mint and lemon accents, the simple combination is enough to make any residual memories of winter melt away, even if the snow refuses to follow suit.

This combination of rich almond-based ricotta and bright pea puree on a slab of hearty, seeded bread is actually a limited-edition menu item on offer at Nourish Cafe right now. In case you can’t hustle in before the season comes to a close, it’s an easy recipe to make at home for a taste of spring that everyone can enjoy year-round, worldwide.

Spring Pea Toast

Minted Pea Pistou:

1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, Lightly Packed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Lightly Packed
3 Tablespoons Garlic Oil
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Pound (3 Cups) Fresh, Blanched or Frozen, Thawed Green Peas
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

For Assembly:

4 Thick Slices Toast
1 Cup Vegan Ricotta
1/2 Cup Fresh Peas
Pea Shoots or Sprouts (Optional)
Edible Flowers (Optional)

Place the mint, spinach, garlic oil, and lemon juice in your food processor and blend until the leaves are all broken down and the mixture is fairly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the container as needed to make sure everything gets incorporated. Add in the peas, salt, and pepper, and pulse until spreadable but still slightly coarse.

The pea pistou can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 – 4 days.

To assemble the toast, layer on a thick schmear of vegan ricotta on each slice of bread, followed by the pea pistou and topped with fresh peas, pea shoots, and edible flowers if desired. Savor a taste of spring, no matter the weather outside!

Makes 4 Servings

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Go Fish

More than half my life has been spent as a vegan, cleaving my personal story into two distinct pieces. Childhood, before any sort of food awareness or appreciation, and all the rest, a more conscious consumer and supporter of all things cruelty-free. The split was quick, concise, but not entirely as clean as it sounds on paper. Though it began with an exploratory affair with vegetarianism at first, there was one big issue that held me back from diving into the deep end: Fish.

Yes, I was a strange one indeed. No meats nor cheeses gave me particular pause, but fish, and only raw fish at that, beckoned me back to the dark side. Sushi topped my list of favorite foods, from simple buttery slices of ahi tuna sashimi to the slippery tangles of octopus salad, topped with slivers of bonito dancing in the breeze, no crudo could turn me off. Landing squarely at the top of that list was salmon nigiri, a mildly briny sensation that has yet to be matched in the plant-based sphere of alternatives.

That’s why I must admit that after 15 years, I’ve begun to indulge once again.

That briny, savory flavor, toothsome yet slippery, silky texture that simply can’t be imitated is a truly luxurious sensation. Those fatty coral-colored slabs that top tender mounds of rice instantly brought me right back to my pre-vegan days of indulgence. One bite and I was won back to the dark side.

You see, I went vegan because I opposed animal cruelty, not because I hated the taste of animal products. Why should I have to suffer too? Besides, it’s said that fish in particular lack a properly developed neocortex, which makes them incapable of feeling pain. Though it’s true, there’s no way to definitively confirm this since I don’t speak the language However, I can rest assured that my own oceanic feast didn’t suffer one iota…

Because it’s all made of melon!

April Fools to anyone who was tricked by these convincing slabs of sashimi, but there’s no fooling around with the truly impressive results from this recipe. Building upon my incredibly popular tuna poke, I sought out the powers of marinated melon once more, opting for unripe cantaloupe for subtle sweetness and a beautiful orange hue. Small tweaks to better suit the flavor nuances seal the deal for salmon lovers abstaining from eating seafood.

While retail solutions for ethical oceanic edibles still lag behind mainstream demand, this homemade formula will quickly and easily quell any residual cravings. As a reformed fish-fancier, take my word for it!

Sushi, sashimi, poke, and salads; all are enhanced by this new approach to fishless satisfaction. Add a touch of liquid smoke to fix up an effortless dupe for lox, or try enhancing the brine with dill and lemon for that essential gravlax experience.

There are plenty of other fish in the sea, so let’s keep it that way. There’s no need to cast a line out in hopes of a bite again!

Fish-Free Salmon Sashimi

1 Small, Unripe Cantaloupe
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
4 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Sauerkraut Brine
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Tablespoon White Miso Paste
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Sheets Toasted Nori, Roughly Torn

*To make lox or smoked “salmon,” add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, to taste.
*To make gravlax, add 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill and the zest of half a lemon.

Cut the cantaloupe in half, scoop and out discard the seeds. Slice those halves into four wedges each, carefully “filleting” the fruit to remove the peel. Place all 8 cleaned wedges into a large, shallow container.

Place the remaining ingredients into your blender and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth. Pour this marinade all over the melon, making sure that all pieces are fully submerged. You may need to move things around so that you have complete coverage.

Seal the container and place on a flat surface in your freezer. Allow the whole thing to fully freeze; at least 12 hours, but ideally 24 or longer. If you want to save the “salmon” for a later date, just leave it at this stage until you’re ready to serve it.

To continue preparing your fish-free feast, allow the tuna to fully thaw either in the fridge or at room temperature. Drain away the excess marinade. You can save this and reuse it if you like, since there’s no potential bacterial contamination like you would get if using raw meat. Thinly slice the edges as desired for sashimi, or cube for “salmon” poke!

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Munch Madness

Considering the fervor surrounding Superbowl festivities and all associated opportunities for eating and drinking, it’s surprising that little of that enthusiasm seems to carry over for March Madness. Speaking as an uninformed observer, it strikes me as an even more promising excuse to indulge, being spread out over a number of weeks with numerous chances to try new celebratory snacks. It’s hard to resist the classics, especially when you have limited time to pull out all the stops, but when you can dabble with different recipes for each match, even fair-weather sports fans can get into the spirit. That’s where I come in.

Top picks for any appetizer bracket will always include dips. Guacamole is the reigning champ these days, but hummus, queso, artichoke and spinach, and good old salsa are definitely contenders. That said, my bet is going to the underdog this round, the old-school favorite that doesn’t get its fair due these days. Sour cream and onion has proven its worth in all variety of savory bites, though its influence usually ends at the dusty bag of potato chip crumbs.

More substantial than those thin crisps and less messy than any dipping situation, sour cream and onion arancini elevate the proven allium medley into a self-contained appetizer worthy of a special occasion. Whether or not that happens to include hollering at the TV while baskets are made or missed is entire up to you.

Jasmine rice, tender and aromatic, is my unconventional selection in this particular baked rice ball. Mahatma Rice sources the very best grains from Thailand; a commitment to quality that’s evident in every bite. Naturally, it pairs brilliantly with Asian flavors, like the subtle nuances of lemongrass, cilantro, chilies, citrus, basil, and coconut milk, but is versatile enough to support any seasonings. Find Mahatma Jasmine Rice using their store locator, and your efforts will be paid off in spades of flavor.

Crisp on the outside, creamy and rich on the inside, you could be fooled into thinking that this was every bit as decadent as the original inspiration. Believe it or not, these arancini are actually baked, not fried, and pack a powerful punch of protein thanks to the addition of homemade tofu sour cream. Dehydrated onion flakes take the place of a breadcrumb coating, enhancing the allium aroma and lending a deeply toasted taste at the same time. You’ll even score some bonus points for having a naturally gluten-free option, too!

Whether or not you’re into basketball, you can’t lose with such delicious savory morsels on your team.

This post is sponsored by Mahatma Rice, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Sour Cream and Onion Arancini

1 1/4 Cups Mahatma Jasmine Rice
2 1/2 Cups Reduced Sodium Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/3 Cup Pureed Silken Tofu*
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
1/2 Cup Dehydrated Onion Flakes

*Depending on preference and availability, you could substitute Greek-style vegan yogurt instead.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.

Combine the rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Cover and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for 15 – 18 minutes, until all the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender. Keep covered to finish steaming and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a medium skillet over moderate heat on the stove and begin the warm the olive oil. Once shimmering, add the onion and garlic, stirring periodically. Season with salt and continue to saute for another 10 – 15 minutes, until aromatic and lightly golden brown. Transfer to the pot of rice.

Mix in the nutritional yeast, onion powder, black pepper, lemon juice, mustard, silken tofu, and scallions next, stirring thoroughly to make sure that the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the mochiko last.

When the rice is cool enough to handle, use an ice cream scoop and lightly moistened hands to roll out approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture for each arancini. Toss gently in the onion flakes, pressing lightly to adhere and completely coat the outsides. Place the finished arancini on the sheet pan and lightly spray all over with oil.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.

Makes 16 – 18 Arancini

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Calculating the Perfect Pie

Be it custard or fruit, mousse or chiffon, a pie is only as good as its crust. Drawing as much passion as it does ire, the art of crafting the perfect pastry is a contentious subject among bakers and eaters alike. Everyone has an opinion about this essential dessert foundation, ranging from the most minimalist approaches inspired by the sage advice of grandmothers the world over, to high-end culinary graduate specifications that require a firm grasp of the scientific intricacies of baking to appreciate. There’s more than one way to go about the circumference of the dough, but there is one important rule that must be obeyed: Never let the hype go to your head.

When you find a solid formula, stick with it. There will always be new suggestions to explore, such as the substitution of vodka instead of water, or coconut oil as the primary fat, but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

Since Pi Day, March 14th, is right around the corner, now has never been a better time to strengthen your pie making prowess. That all begins with the crust.

What follows is the crust that’s seen me through the stickiest of fillings, the most temperamental of ovens, and the hottest of summers. This “Old Reliable” is a baker’s best friend, capable of standing and delivering anything loaded into it. The ingredients are nothing noteworthy; it’s all a matter of how they’re combined for the magic to happen. Keep everything, including bowls and utensils, as cold as possible so as not to melt the fat. Though a point of contention, I do adhere firmly to the belief that an all-“butter” crust is best. You may lose a little bit of flakiness, but the added flavor and crisp texture is worth that small sacrifice. For a lighter texture, feel free to sub out half of the butter for pure vegetable shortening, and proceed as written otherwise. Do not be tempted to play around with coconut oil or any liquid oils in this one, as the structure simply isn’t built for that kind of tinkering.

Even when I’m planning to make a single-crusted pie, I always use the double-crust proportions, to make the most of my time. The extra disk of dough can be frozen for up to 6 months with no harm, as long as it’s thawed gradually in the fridge before use. That way, you’re always prepared to whip up a pie at a moment’s notice.

Classic Pie Crust
From Easy as Vegan Pie: One-of-a-Kind Sweet and Savory Slices by Hannah Kaminsky

Two Crusts (For a Double-Crust):

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Chilled, Cut into Small Pieces
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2–4 Tablespoons Ice-Cold Water

OR

Single Crust:

1 1/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
6 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Chilled, Cut into Small Pieces
1 1/2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1–2 Tablespoons Ice-Cold Water

The easiest, quickest way to make a traditional pie crust is to get a helping hand from your food processor. Some say this approach sacrifices flakiness in favor of convenience, but I don’t believe that any of my pies have suffered as a result. If you have the equipment, my advice is to use it! Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to combine. Add the margarine and pulse 6–8 times, until the mixture resembles very coarsely ground almond meal. A few small chunks of margarine should remain visible, but nothing larger than the size of peas. Sprinkle lemon juice and the first tablespoon of water in while pulsing a few times to incorporate. If the dough holds together when squeezed, you’re good to go. If it remains crumbly, keep adding water while pulsing, just a teaspoon at a time, until the dough is cohesive.

In case you don’t have a food processor or just don’t want to clean the darn thing afterward, the old-fashioned method is just as effective, if a bit more labor-intensive. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut in the pieces of margarine. A few small chunks of margarine should remain visible, but nothing larger than the size of peas. Sprinkle lemon juice and one tablespoon of water into the bowl and stir well with a wide spatula. Sometimes it can be difficult to get the liquids properly incorporated, so it may be helpful to drop the formalities and just get in there to mix with your hands. If the dough holds together when squeezed, you’re set. If it remains crumbly, keep adding water and mixing thoroughly, just a teaspoon at a time, until the dough is cohesive. Do your best not to over-mix or over-handle the dough, as this will make it tough when baked.

If making a double crust, divide the dough into two equal portions. Regardless of how many portions you now have, shape them into rough rounds and flatten them into disks about 1/2 inch in thickness. Wrap each tightly with plastic wrap and stash them in the fridge. Let chill for at least an hour, or up to a week. To save the unbaked dough even longer, store the pieces in your freezer for up to 6 months. (Don’t forget to label them clearly!)

When you’re ready to roll, lightly dust a clean, flat surface with an even coating of flour. Work on one disk of dough at a time, and coat both sides lightly with additional flour. Starting at the center of the disk, use your rolling pin to apply light pressure while rolling outwards to the edges. Try to maintain the round shape as best you can, turning the dough as needed. It may be helpful to periodically lift the dough to ensure that it’s not adhering to the counter. Keep rolling until the dough extends at least 2 inches beyond the size of your pie pan all around.

Carefully transfer the dough to your desired pie pan, and crimp the edges or decorate to your heart’s content. See page 24 of Easy as Vegan Pie for ideas. At the very least, trim away the excess dough so that only 1/2 inch is overhanging the lip of the pan. Tuck the extra dough underneath itself along the edge so that it’s smooth.

For an unbaked crust, you’re done here! Let the crust rest in the fridge while you prepare the filling. To blind-bake, see page 24 of Easy as Vegan Pie for the procedure.

If you’re making pie with a top crust, roll out the second disk of dough in the same fashion as before, reapplying flour to the counter if need. Use cookie cutters to cut out decorative vents before moving the dough, or simply cut six vents with a sharp knife. Gently place the flattened dough onto the filled pie, centering it as best you can. Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to trim the overhang to an inch. Tuck the excess from the top crust under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together firmly but gently to seal. Bake according to the recipe for the filling.

Makes 1 or 2 Crusts

*Chocolate Pastry Crust: Reduce the flour to 2 1/3 cups and add 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder.

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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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