Make Room for Mushrooms

Cornbread has near universal appeal, although the particulars can be quite controversial. I’ve clumsily fumbled my way through this timeless debate before, the perpetual feud between the sweet and the savory, typically erring more on the sweet side of the fence. Given my penchant for pastry, this should surprise exactly no one, especially considering the fact that it took me over 10 years of recipe development to finally launch a cookbook of full meals, not just desserts, upon the world. Now, older and at least a little bit wiser, I realize there’s room on the table for both sorts of a-maize-ing dishes.

Not just savory but full on umami and sparkling with warm spices, this new approach may just hold the key to cornbread harmony, or at least win over a few more fellow sweet-toothed bakers like myself. A bold departure from my typical approach, I found inspiration from the Mexican flavors in BLENDABELLA, a ready to eat seasoned mushroom mix. Tempting as it was to just open up a jar, insert a fork, and call it a day, those tender portabella pieces combined with tomatoes, peppers, and plenty of piquant chili powder were a perfect addition to this humble side.

Tender, fresh corn kernels would be another welcome inclusion, but honestly, there’s no need to get all dressed up and fancy for soulful home cooking like this. Each bite resounds with a comforting warmth, amplified by the natural, earthy richness of everyone’s favorite fungus.

Here’s hoping that critics will be equally compelled by this divergent take on cornbread, since I’m entering the recipe into the Summer Blogger Recipe Challenge! For more information and inspiration, check it out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. BLENDABELLA Mushroom Blends are available for purchase online. (Please note that the Rustic Tuscan variety contains dairy, but both the Zesty Mexican and Coconut Thai Blends are 100% vegan.)

Where do your loyalties lie in the great cornbread debate? Sweet or savory? Simple or spicy? Or… given this new path to explore, downright umami?

Umami Mexi-Cornbread

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Coarse Yellow Cornmeal
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Zesty Mexican BLENDABELLA
1 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet or round baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, paprika, and salt. Stir in the BLENDABELLA and toss to coat thoroughly with flour. This will help prevent all those luscious mushroom pieces from simply sinking to the bottom.

Separately, whisk the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil to combine before adding these wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Mix with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together smoothly, although a few errant lumps are just fine to leave be.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan, smoothing out the top and lightly tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown on top and edges just begin to pull away from sides. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy warm or at room temperature for the most savory satisfaction.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Sweet and Sour

Without sourness, there could be no sweetness, and vice versa. Experiencing one creates the perspective necessary to appreciate the other, to truly recognize the full spectrum of flavors between the extremes. Finding balance between such starkly contrasted tastes is rare, but highly sought after judging by the popularity of the sweet and sour sauces found splashed across every generic Chinese takeout menu in America. Something about that acidic twang and its sugary foil brings us back for bite after bite, no matter the vehicle, be it protein or vegetable. Asian cultures don’t have a monopoly on this culinary game, though, despite their domination in the field.

Italian agrodolce has a sharp yet sugared character all its own, typically created by a combination of a vinegar reduction and dried fruits. It’s great as a glaze for an entree, like pan-seared tofu or tempeh, or tossed with fresh pasta for a side, but today I’m using it to kick off a party with a wallop of bold flavor.

Everyone’s favorite vegetable du jour, cauliflower, comes in a full spectrum of colors far more brilliant than the average white floret would suggest. Roasted with just a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper, the simplicity of that preparation is hard to beat, but you can easily step up your starter game with this stellar sauce. In this unconventional approach, briny capers join the fun to turn the dial to 11, but finely chopped green olives could make a fabulous, more mild understudy.

My favorite serving suggestion involves bread. Wide open planes of thick toasted bread or more dainty slices of baguette, first smeared with cashew ricotta for a rich, creamy base which elegantly cuts through these sharp contrasts.

If you’re not crazy about pairing fruit with savory vegetables, I hear you. I too would have given this combination the side eye not long ago. Suspend disbelief long enough take a chance; unlike the cloying and syrupy renditions of sweet and sour that turned me away in the past, this one, like life itself, is all about finding beauty in balance.


Roasted Rainbow Cauliflower Agrodolce

2 Pounds Purple, White, Green, and/or Orange Cauliflower Florets (About 3 – 4 Small Heads Total)
6 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Cup Jumbo Raisin Medley or Golden Raisins
1/4 Cup Sherry Vinegar
1/4 Cup Capers, Drained
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper together until thoroughly combined and evenly seasoned. Arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet, or divide between two baking sheets if needed. Place in the center of the oven and roast until golden brown and fork tender; about 20 – 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the vinegar, capers, and raisins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until all the liquid has absorbed into the fruit.

Toss the roasted cauliflower with the vinegared raisins, along with the minced parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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Printed, Published, Imperfect

Every time a book is published, print set to dry and locked in place for all eternity, a certain number of errors and omissions are inevitably sealed in at the same time. Some are more egregious than others, but any blemish on a beloved manuscript is hard for any passionate author to accept. Luckily, it seems that nothing untoward was baked into the cake for Real Food, Really Fast, but what wasn’t included feels like a terrible personal failing that’s hard to accept.

Somehow, despite best scrupulous proofreading and tireless testing, my Samosa Gnocchi managed to miss the last call and got left behind on the digital cutting board. Though simple in their final format, those spicy potato dumplings went through the gantlet and back to achieve perfection, making it an even greater shame that they couldn’t join the party.

Luckily, it seems as though the book is on track for many more re-printings to come, and in the meantime, I’m happy to share these spicy morsels to celebrate such success. In fact, Real Food, Really Fast has been selected as a featured ebook until May 23rd on Amazon.com which means you can snap up a digital copy for the fire sale price of just $1.99. If you haven’t poured over these pages yet, now is your chance to do it on the cheap!

Samosa Gnocchi

Plain potato gnocchi are about as exciting as white bread, which is why they rarely showed up on my dinner plate before I considered that baseline as just a blank canvas to build upon. Fix them up with a pinch of curry powder, for example, and you could consider each starchy sphere as merely a naked samosa, stripped of its deep-fried pastry shell. Akin to dried pasta, packaged gnocchi make fast work of this preparation, lending a toothsome bite to each chewy orb. As a brilliantly spiced side dish that could complement a wide range of proteins or simple stews, you’ll never accuse this humble spud of being bland again.

1 (16 – 17 Ounce) Package Potato Gnocchi
1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
1/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 1/2 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed
Mango Chutney*, to Serve (Optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and pop in the gnocchi, using a spatula to gently break them apart. Cook just shy of al dente as the dumplings will continue to soften in the curry sauce. In some cases, this might amount to only 1 or 2 minutes in the water, so keep a close eye on the process and test frequently by poking the pieces with a fork. Drain and rinse with cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.

In a medium saucepan, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat and add in the par-boiled gnocchi. Spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan as evenly as possible, and resist the urge to stir for about two minutes, allowing them to dry and very lightly toast. Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, both spice mixtures, and salt before pouring them into the pan. Turn down the heat to medium-low, mix thoroughly, and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes longer, until the sauce coats the gnocchi nicely. Toss in the thawed peas and serve with mango chutney on the side, if desired.

Makes 3 – 4 Servings

*There are more types of chutney on the market than there are days in the year, from creamy coconut to fiery habanero varieties, but one of my favorites is made from mango. You can pick up a jar of it at most grocery stores these days, but you can also throw together a quick version at home, if you have an extra couple of minutes to spare.

Quick Mango Chutney

1 1/2 Cups Diced, Frozen Mango
1/2 Cup Diced Tomato
1/4 Cup Diced Yellow Onion
1/4 Cup Golden Raisins
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

Place the mango and all ingredients in a microwave safe dish, stir well, and heat on full power for 4 – 7 minutes. The fruit should be softened, syrupy, and well-seasoned. This chutney will keep well if stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes 2 Cups

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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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Red is the New White Rice

History tends to repeat itself and predictably, what’s old is new all over again. Dubbed one of the hottest food trends emerging for 2018, ancient grains are being lauded as the latest superfood darlings that you’ve never heard of. Though the exact varieties are novel additions to the daily American diet, their roots go far deeper than the inexplicable attraction to all things rainbow-colored or bacon-topped. In fact, these staples are more commonplace than peanut butter and jelly. Triticale, einkon, freekeh; their names sound like snippets of poetry to the lyrically-inclined ear, and their flavors are equally enchanting. Distinctive in character, they fell out of favor in the early years of the industrial food revolution, when refined consistency (read: homogeneous blandness) was the benchmark of sophistication. All things earthy, coarse, and distinctive fell by the processing plant wayside.

Celebrating heirloom edibles is just a small indication of the healthy food revolution that’s been brewing for years, catapulting one slice of the past into mainstream awareness at a time. Now that the media has focused its lens on grains and pseudo seeds of bygone eras, carbivores the world over have a reason to rejoice. Even those less enamored of the macro-nutrients should be cheered by the greater availability of more diverse options, introducing a bold new palate of colors with which to paint the dinner plate. You needn’t step too far outside your comfort zone to capitalize on this newfound, old-school inclination. Bhutanese Red Rice is just one option that offers a savory departure from the common white variety.

High in fiber due to the residual crimson bran, red rice cooks much faster than the familiar brown grain but retains just as much savory, nutty flavor, if not more.

Visually inspired as always, the stunning burgundy hue guided my recipe experiments as soon as I got my hands on these soft, tender grains. Though I could have easily just eaten a plain bowlful with a pinch of salt, it would be a shame not to pump up the volume on that ruby rice with further red flavoring. Wine was a natural pairing, infused right into the grains as they cook to soften the alcoholic edge but emphasize the deeper, nuttier, grassier notes. Caramelized onions were a given, although now I’m kicking myself for not adding roasted red peppers into the mix as well. Luckily, I have a feeling that this staple crop will now be an essential ingredient in my pantry as well, so there should be many more opportunities to paint the kitchen red.

Red, Red Rice Pilaf

1 Cup Bhutanese Red Rice
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Diced Red Onion
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Whole Cumin Seeds
1 Teaspoon Whole Black Mustard Seeds
1 1/2 Cups Dry Red Wine
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
1 Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Toasted Sliced Almonds
1/2 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed

Rinse the rice with cold water and thoroughly drain. Set aside.

Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Saute for 2 – 3 minutes until translucent before adding the garlic. Turn down the heat to medium low, season with salt, and slowly cook, stirring periodically, until caramelized; about 30 minutes. Add in the cumin and mustard seeds, lightly toasting for 2 – 3 minutes until aromatic.

Introduce the red rice next, sauteing for just a minute or two. You’re not trying to sear the grains, but coat them in the oil and aromatics. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and vegetable stock, scraping the bottom to make sure that nothing sticks or burn. Add in the bay leaf and red pepper flakes, cover, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and maintain a steady, gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, until the rice is tender but still toothsome. Keep covered for 5 – 10 more minutes for any remaining liquid to absorb.

Stir in the almonds and peas last, fluff with a fork, and serve while steaming hot.

Makes 4 Servings

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Treasure Chestnuts

Inspired by the Japanese kuri gohan, the beauty of this side dish is its simplicity, highlighting the seasonal delight that is freshly roasted chestnuts. Harmonizing with the naturally nutty flavor of brown rice, those toothsome grains cling to each tender morsel for an incredibly satisfying bite. Though chestnuts are sadly hard to come by when winter ends, you’ll find yourself craving this combination all year long.

Chestnut Rice

2 Cups Short Grain Brown Rice
2 1/2 Cups Water
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Chopped, Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts (About 20)
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

My favorite way to prepare this dish is in an electric pressure cooker since it’s so crazy fast, but it can just as easily be made on the stove top. If working with a pressure cooker, simply toss in the rice, water, salt, chopped chestnuts, and butter or oil. Lock in the lid and set it to 20 minutes on high pressure. Once that time has elapsed, quick release by opening up the valve to immediately discharge the built up pressure. Stand back and cover with a dish towel to prevent any spray or steam burns. Let the rice stand for 5 more minutes before uncovering.

For stove top prep, combine the water, salt, and butter or oil in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice and chestnuts, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 to 50 minutes, until the liquid has fully absorbed. Let stand for 5 more minutes.

Top with sesame seeds right before serving.

Makes 4 Servings as a Side Dish

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