Love is in the Air, and in the Kitchen

Now that the salty, savory extravaganza of Super Bowl Sunday is out of the way, Valentine’s Day looms large on the horizon as our next big food affair. Though terminally single, I’ve come to enjoy the event as an opportunity to show friends and family that I care, inevitably in the form of something edible. Though my best suggestions do skew heavy on the chocolate, there are still many lovely, lighter options to cleanse your palate. While you still have time to plan, take a peek at some of my favorites that have hit the blog in years past.

Whoever said that you can’t win friends with salad never sat down to a plateful of lovingly carved heart-shaped strawberries atop tender artichoke hearts, crisp endive, and buttery spears of hearts of palm. Yes indeed, my Heart-Felt Endive Salad is all that and more, living up to the name in more than one way.

This Roasted Red Pepper Soup is quite the blast from the past, so pardon the terrible photo! Though the recipe itself is nothing earth-shattering, the technique of swirling tiny sour cream hearts can be applied to any smooth, pureed soup you care to serve. A little extra effort goes a long way, so you can effortlessly score some extra brownie points by taking a minute to go all out on the garnishes.

Moving on to the main event, Blushing Beet Pierogi are a more subtle way of showing that you care. In hindsight, I wish I had cut these little potato and pasta pouches into the shape of hearts to reinforce the theme, but you can learn from my mistake! Do it up right and really wow your loved ones!

Starting with something light for dessert, fluffy and refreshing Frozen Strawberry-Balsamic Souffles are ideal for those with a penchant for fruity treats. Each ramekin presents a bright, bold contrast between sweet and sour, hitting all the high notes with nary a boring spoonful from start to finish.

When words fail, say it with cake. Show your heart with a stunning slice of Hidden Heart Wild Blueberry Cake. For a truly impressive unveiling, bring the whole cake to the table and cut it right in front of your beloved. Sure, it’s a bit more intricate than your average pound cake, but the extra effort will be worthwhile for the lasting impression those sweet shapes will leave.

Okay, you’ve waited long enough; steel yourself for the chocolate onslaught. Let’s start simply with Cherry Hot Chocolate Spoons. Don’t lock yourself into just one flavor destination though; consider this a guideline for further exploration. Try adding in a touch of orange zest, or using freeze-dried strawberries instead of cherries. Take out the fruit altogether and stir in some peppermint extract and crushed candy canes for an extra breath-freshening bonus (hint hint!)

Flourless Chocolate Cake is a classic, and though predictable, it never gets old. Dark, rich, and decadent, this version is for chocoholics only. The real danger is that it’s so easy to whip up, you may not be able to contain your love to just one special occasion for indulgence. Try it once, and it could easily become an everyday affair.

Keep your cool with another frozen treat: Pomegranate Ice Cream Pops. This quick fix novelty is simply blended and thrown into silicone molds, no churning necessary. Leave out the lollipop stick to make frosty chocolate-covered truffles, or throw that creamy pomegranate base into any popsicle mold you might have on hand. As long as you don’t omit that crisp chocolate shell, you can’t go too far wrong.

Of course, if all else fails, just bake a pan of brownies and call it a day. No one would be mad at that.

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In Loving Memory

Talk about a turbulent year. 2017 has generated more sensational headlines than the past decade altogether, and even with mere hours left on the clock, I wouldn’t count it out for churning up some new controversy yet. Eager to move ahead straight into the new year without looking back, leaving those lackluster memories far in the past, it’s essential to hit pause, resisting the relentless push forward, to reflect on just those low points. For perspective, we can better appreciate when things are genuinely good, and for knowledge, to prevent those same mistakes from being repeated once again.

In this case, I wanted to take a moment and say a final farewell to some of the dearly departed vegan establishments that we’ve lost in San Francisco in the short span of 12 months. While it’s a grueling industry where failure is much more common that success, especially in the long term, it feels particularly poignant to see so many personal favorites close their doors, despite the immense talent, support, and passion in the kitchen.

Encuentro is the establishment I find hardest to let go of. If you had asked me before, I would have easily placed it on my list of top three restaurants in the bay area, if not first place to begin with. Few fine dining establishments exist for those that eschew meat, dairy, and eggs, but you would never even consider what wasn’t present on the plate here. Execution was on par with that of any Michelin-starred restaurant, in my opinion, but without the pretension that goes along with such a lofty award. Fancy but not fussy, I can’t recall a single bad meal here. Generous platters of tender sweet potato gnocchi and dark, devilish chocolate cake will forever haunt my memory. The dream is not yet dead, though, as the otherwise vacant store front still plays host to periodic pop-up events.

No No Burger shocked fans when they announced the end of their glorious but shockingly brief run. After transitioning from an infrequent pop-up to a daily staple at the SoMa StrEat Food Park, the future seemed bright, especially considering the nearly universal rave reviews for their juicy meatless patties and decadent toppings, deeply savory and indulgent enough to satisfy the cravings of even the most staunch omnivores. Many considered their burger to be the bright spot in a dark, murky landscape of mediocre vegetable-based hockey pucks, leaving a gaping hole in the dining scene between the ultra meaty Impossible Burger and old-school bean burgers.

Photo from Elyse T. via Yelp

RAW – A Juice Company was so much more than just juice, contrary to the name. Offering a rainbow of produce painstakingly crafted into living cuisine, you couldn’t go wrong with a plate of raw lasagna or an abundant acai bowl. Judging by the active Facebook page, though, we may just see the next chapter to this story taking place in the topical islands of Hawaii. Only time will tell when, or if, these fresh finds will resurface.

Seed + Salt had a whole lot of heart for such a tiny place. Wedged into a storefront the size of a bread box in the Marina, not even the limited seating could detract from the experience of eating in. Fully gluten-free in addition to being vegan, eaters of all stripes could find sweet and savory treats to enjoy. The chickpea frittata, served solo, in a breakfast sandwich, or sliced atop a bountiful plant-based Cobb salad, was always hard for me to resist. It’s a simple yet satisfying entree that has inspired many attempts at replication by myself and others in the know.

The Plant Cafe, while still an apparently thriving business with no less than six bustling outposts under its belt, including one in the highly desirable SFO Terminal 2 space, has shuttered both the Burlingame and waterfront Embarcadero establishments. Citing the usual battery of labor shortages and skyrocketing rents, it’s just a relief that their light, healthy fare will still be available for visitors and locals alike. Their impeccably well-balanced grapefruit and avocado salad remains the highlight of any trip that necessitates a stop at the airport. If you find yourself at any of other sit-down cafes that offer a full menu of brunch choices on the weekends, you can’t go wrong with the pesto tofu scramble, either.

Photo by Celiac Community

3 Potato 4, once a small franchise with three locations scattered about the bay, has slowly been shuttering those outposts one by one. The last holdout was in the Pleasanton Stoneridge Shopping Center, but without any warning or confirmation, that store seems to have gone dark mere weeks ago. Dedicated to spreading the spud love, their simple menu offered an array of baked fries and sauce, with seasonal soups, plus soft serve to finish on a sweet note. For comfort food without all the grease and guilt, it was hard to beat this accessible, affordable option. Here’s hoping that the tides turn and this outage is but a brief blip in business as usual.

To these fallen friends that we leave behind in 2017, I’d like to raise a toast- Piled high with avocado, of course- And wish their proprietors all the best on their next big idea. May they find this fork in the road ultimately as fulfilling as the meals they once shared.

Freshly Pressed

Now that we’ve covered the hardware, it’s time to talk pressure cooking software. Run the scripts on any of these effortless, almost instant culinary programs for guaranteed success. It doesn’t take any sophisticated hacking to get into this system; this high-tech gateway to faster, healthier meals is already unlocked without password protection. From breakfast to dessert, there’s never a bad time to turn up the pressure. As seen on Mealthy.com, my most recent delicious downloads are just the beginning.

Chai Latte Steel-Cut Oatmeal

When you need an extra energy boost in the morning, start with this hearty breakfast option that will power you through the busiest of days. Steel-cut oats are nutritional superheroes by themselves, but when infused with whole black tea leaves, they take on even greater powers. Warm spices mingle to evoke the flavor of a comforting cup of chai, creating a dish that is as delicious as it is invigorating.

Carrot Cake Oatmeal

Have your cake and eat it for breakfast, too! Satisfy your sweet tooth while fueling yourself for the day with a hearty bowl of lightly spiced and tender oats featuring the sweetness of classic carrot cake. The combination is so compelling, you won’t even realize you’re getting an extra serving of vegetables for breakfast.

Butternut Squash Soup

Playing off the natural sweetness of butternut squash, fiery spices elevate the humble gourd to all new culinary heights. Coconut milk tames the flame and rounds out the entire creamy combination, yielding a perfectly balanced blend with minimal effort. If you have a pressure cooker and a few pantry staples on hand, you’ll have an unbeatable bowl of soup in no time.

Golden Lentil Daal

Get that golden glow with this hearty lentil daal, infused with a bold, bright punch of turmeric! The whole thing is ready in 30 minutes from start to finish and bursts with fresh, spicy flavors.

Cinnamon Applesauce

Once you see how quick and easy applesauce can be made in a pressure cooker, you’ll never want to buy it at the store again.

Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Meet your new side dish savior. No matter what you’re serving for the main course, these charming little potatoes are a fool-proof way to round out the meal with flair. In fact, depending on the situation, they may just steal the show!

Mulled Red Wine

Mulled wine is one of the true treats of cold-weather season. Using your pressure cooker to mull the wine means you won’t have to worry about over-reducing the wine while simmering and losing volume.

Simple Vegetable Soup

Whether you’re a devoted vegetable-lover or are still struggling to embrace them, this is the soup for you. The beauty of this blend is that it’s infinitely flexible! Use any vegetables you prefer or have on hand to adapt it to your taste. Just aim for somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 to 8 cups of chopped vegetables total.

Apple Crisp

Dig into meltingly tender spiced apples with a comforting brown sugar and oat topping in record time. Using a pressure cooker instead of a conventional oven speeds up the process so you can skip the labor and get straight to the love.

Fire-Roasted Tomato Soup

Could there be anything more comforting than a big bowlful of velvety tomato soup? How about a creamy option without a single drop of dairy? Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix, blending to an impossibly luscious consistency. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove.

Multi-Mushroom Risotto

Have you heard that risotto must be painstakingly stirred nonstop until you feel like your arms will fall off? No longer! Let the pressure cooker do the work to get dinner on the table in mere minutes. Mushrooms are so rich in umami flavor that they need little culinary intervention to shine. A variety of wild and cultivated varieties unlock an earthy, savory depth that will taste like it took all day to develop.

Spiced Apple Cider

When temperatures begin to drop, turn up the heat with this cozy drink that will warm you from the inside out. Skip the sugar for a more complex, nuanced brew with much more to offer than simple and bland sweetness. This seasonal treat keeps both kids and adults coming back for one glass after the next.

After scrolling through those quick fix temptations, are you feeling the pressure yet? What are your quick cooking staples so far?

On An Upward Spiral

Well beyond the realm of raw noodles, the simple spiralizer is capable of greater culinary feats than most might realize. Truth be told, until just a few months ago, I had never ventured beyond the original “spaghetti” blade, blissfully spinning in circles without knowing that a whole new world of textures and flavors lay just within reach. As if making up for lost time, I’ve been churning out different coiled vegetable creations one after another, fueled by a hunger for experimentation.

These latest recipes can all be found on Mealthy.com, a brand new community for cooks passionate about making healthy meals. I’m excited to lend my voice to this fresh collection of recipes that run the gamut from everyday dinners to fancy holiday feasts, bringing together talented contributors from all across the globe. There’s a dedicated vegan category that you’ll definitely want to bookmark for more inspiration, but of course I do have a few favorites. Since I’ve been on a roll with my spiralizer lately, I’ve clearly had a circular focus…



Spiralized Vegan Sushi Bowls

Get all the satisfying flavors of sushi in a lighter, effortless package. Swap spiralized daikon radish for starchy rice and skip the fussy rolling by piling the good stuff into a bowl. Sushi night will never be the same again.



Vegan Tuna Noodle Casserole

Surprise! This tuna noodle casserole features neither tuna fish, nor noodles! Fake out your friends with this unbelievably convincing vegan version of the classic casserole. Jackfruit works with wakame to create a fishy taste and texture, while ribbons of potatoes stand in for the traditional egg noodles. After one bite, even avowed purists may just find that they prefer this modern reinterpretation.



Quick Pickle Curlicues

Instead of a fully fermented pickle, get tangy cucumber strings cured in under an hour! Long curlicues make these perfect for serving over hot dogs or stretched along the side of a plate.



Spiralized Zucchini Frittata

Try this eggless and fresh summery frittata that’s protein-packed with garbanzo bean flour which takes charge here. Add an abundance of zucchini spirals and bake this eggless party into a tender, savory cake. Though you could easily serve it unadorned, the tomato relish truly takes it over the top. Seek only peak produce to make this combination truly sing.



Sweet Potato Praram

Just about anything would be delicious when smothered in a spicy peanut sauce, but this bold blend is particularly invigorating. Sweet potatoes take the place of starchy rice noodles in this completely plant-based entrée, complete with protein-packed tofu for a fully balanced meal in one bowl.



Borscht Ribbon Salad

When it’s too hot to contemplate soup, keep your cool by using your spiralizer to deliver this simple salad recipe. Inspired by borscht, this earthy blend is crisp, tangy, and highly satisfying, no matter the temperature outside.



Spiralized Baked Hash Browns

Crispy, golden hash browns are always irresistible, but difficult to get right when serving a crowd. Make easy work of the task by spiralizing instead of shredding your spuds, and bake the resulting strands in the oven to get the perfect results every time.



Spiralized Root Revelry Salad with Fennel-Herb Vinaigrette

What grows together, goes together, as this earthy salad so tastefully proves. Colorful root vegetables intertwine with sweet-tart dried cranberries and are brightened with the bold acidity of fennel vinaigrette.

I have much more to share that will whirl you right off your feet, so stay tuned for even more spiralized inspiration!

Best of the Booch

Once referred to in hushed tones, it was the health nut’s moonshine, fermented in dark cellars and secreted away from the general public. Authorities railed against its commercial production as controversies erupted over the surprisingly potent alcohol content conspicuously absent from printed labels. Kombucha, the ancient fermented tea, has finally unshackled itself from overzealous legislation and a litany of misunderstandings, bubbling over into mainstream acceptance. Now touted as a probiotic superpower, this fizzy refreshment has a lot going for it, but as far as I’m concerned, flavor should always come first.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of brands are now agitating to come out on top, and over 50 of those are located in California alone. Even for a place as big as the Golden State, that’s a whole lot of booch! Taking into account all of the restaurants offering up various blends on tap and in bottles, you’d be forgiven for losing count. What’s a thirsty kombucha devotee to do when seeking new watering holes that also serve superlative vegan eats?

It is with great pride that I present the highlights from my adoptive hometown, from the east bay and San Francisco proper, in the Kombucha Hunter‘s Kombucha Guide to California. The very best places to find the most bubbly brews just happen to be some of my favorite restaurants to begin with, so it wasn’t hard to whip up some delicious recommendations to contribute. Uncovering gems up and down the west coast, locals and visitors alike will find a bottomless glass of temptations worth traveling for.

The guide is available for free at Lento Market in Echo Park and can be shipped anywhere in the US for a donation of any amount to Farm Sanctuary. Stay tuned for the digital version, coming soon!