Do the Monster Munch

There’s certainly no shortage of sweet treats this time of year. Mountains of glittering, foil-wrapped candies adorn office desks and kitchen counters alike, tempting passersby to indulge at every turn. Though the abundance of goodies excites my sweet tooth, the wide range of offerings all too often prove disappointing to my taste buds; throat-searing sugary centers enrobed in waxy chocolate coatings are more common than not, each morsel putting on a festive facade to mask its flat flavors. Time and again, each new crop of bewitching confections fails to satisfy. Stop the madness, I say! Step away from the shiny packages and seek solace in a far more satisfying popcorn snack experience.

Matcha Munchies Green Tea Popcorn Snack

Popcorn, the crisp, fluffy kernels that boast an impressive serving of fiber in each handful are the savior of peckish healthy eaters everywhere. This workhorse snack provides the perfect blank canvas for a Halloween treat that’s a far lesser evil than those frightful mass-produced candies.

Tinted a monstrous shade of green thanks to the bold addition of green tea powder, each bite of this popcorn snack recipe rings with the complex interplay of sweet and bitter tastes, each in perfect harmony. Crunchy clusters of pumpkin seeds round out the mix with a subtly nutty flavor. Drizzling dark chocolate over the top really gilds the lily, but for an event as flamboyant as Halloween, it seems appropriate to pull out all the stops.

Matcha Munchies Green Tea Popcorn Snack

Though little trick-or-treaters may not appreciate this more mature, sugar-coated delight, that only means there’s more of this delicious popcorn snack to go around for the rest of us. It may appear to yield an intimidating amount of glorious green kernels, but don’t you dream of reducing the recipe. Not even the most sour ghost or ghoul could resist its wicked charm.

Matcha Monster Munch

6 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn
1 Cup Pepitas
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Matcha
1/4 Cup Brown Rice Syrup
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
4 Ounces (About 3/4 Cup Chopped) Bittersweet Chocolate, Melted

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and lightly grease a jelly roll pan or any rimmed baking sheet. Combine the popped corn and pumpkin seeds in a large bowl and set aside.

In medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar, matcha, rice syrup, melted butter or coconut oil, and salt. Whisk vigorously to break up any small clumps of matcha before proceeding. They can be tricky to disperse, especially in hot liquids, so don’t be afraid to really beat the mixture up while you have the chance. Set the pan on the stove over medium heat.

Periodically stir as the mixture heats up, until the sugar has dissolved. Once it reaches a full boil, stop stirring and allow it to cook at a lively bubble for 5 minutes. Don’t rush it!

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Working quickly but carefully, pour the hot sugar syrup over your bowl of popped corn and gently stir to coat. Transfer the entire thing over to your prepared baking pan, spreading it out into an even a layer as possible, and move it into your oven. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour.

Let cool completely before drizzling all over with melted chocolate. Allow the chocolate to fully set before breaking the popcorn into large clusters. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for 3 – 4 days, maximum.

Makes About 7 Cups; 6 – 8 Servings

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Dumpling Diplomacy

What defines a dumpling? Is it the dough that sets the category? Does the filling play a role in this determination? Would something intangible, something as abstract as cultural origin have greater influence?

This is the question that lingers after watching the comical debate play out on the final episode of Ugly Delicious, a throw down between Italian stuffed pasta versus Asian dumplings. Though the two schools of thought seem crystal clear a first, peel back the wrapper a bit and it becomes more difficult to know where to draw the line. If you put cheese inside of wonton skins, do they become ravioli? Would that classification change if they were boiled, fried, or steamed? Some will undoubtedly be offended by this question, many more will have a strong, irrepressible knee-jerk response, but what I really want to know is whether or not that makes it any less delicious.

Ultimately, that’s the whole point that David Chang is trying to make in this mock trial. The concept itself is deeply flawed and fraught with controversy, considering the immense cultural diversity that each region encompasses, but still, it made me think. How could I merge the two schools of thought into one single bundle of joy, both a peace offering and a tribute to both sides? Extending an olive branch somewhat literally, olives played an important role in the final fusion.

Italian pasta puttanesca, a bold dish redolent of garlic and punctuated by briny twangs of olives and capers inspired the tomato-based filling to these stuffed savories, but they’re all Asian in presentation. Swaddled in delicate gyoza wrappers and seared to a crispy finish on the bottom, these unconventional potstickers lay claim to no single source, but a harmonious melding of culinary techniques, flavors, and ingredients derived from the world at large. Paired with an herbed olive oil dipping sauce, the eating experience is one that defies definition. All remaining disputes will be forgotten if we could put down our proverbial axes and pick up a set of chopsticks- or a fork- instead.

These potstickers come together in a flash with Twin Dragon Gyoza Wrappers holding everything together. I’m entering this recipe into the Twin Dragons Asian Wrapper Blogger Recipe Challenge held by JSL Foods. Find more recipe inspiration on their Facebook page and Twitter feed. You can purchase JSL Foods Twin Dragon products at Albertsons, Shaw’s, Von’s, Stater Bros, Lucky’s, Food Maxx, Fred Meyer, QFC, Cub Foods, Rainbow Foods, Safeway, Associated Stores, Price Rite, Shop Rite, Winco, Price Chopper and Gelson’s!

If only true world peace was as easily attained as such deeply satisfying, savory results.

Puttanesca Potstickers

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 (14-Ounce) Can Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Pitted Back Olives, Roughly Chopped
1 Tablespoon Petite Capers
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
4 Ounces (1/4 Package) Extra-Firm Tofu
1/2 Cup Fresh Basil, Roughly Chopped
1 Package Twin Dragon Gyoza Wrappers

Olive Oil and Herb Dipping Sauce

2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
2 Tablespoons Petite Capers
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
2 Teaspoons Fresh Rosemary, Minced
2 Teaspoons Fresh Thyme, Minced
3 Tablespoons Nutritional yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black pepper
1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat and add the garlic. Saute until lightly browned and aromatic; about 4 – 6 minutes. Introduce the tomatoes, juice and all, along with the dried tomatoes, olives, capers, oregano, and red pepper. Thoroughly drain and crumble the tofu before adding it last, stirring to incorporate. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until any excess liquid has evaporated. Add the fresh basil last and cool completely before proceeding.

To assemble the potstickers, take one wrapper at a time, keeping the rest of the stack covered with a lightly moistened towel to prevent them from drying out. Place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center, lightly moisten the edges with water, and fold the wrapper in half, pleating and crimping the top to seal. (Here’s a handy visual guide if you’re having trouble.) Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.

At this point, you can either proceed straight to cooking the dumplings, or freeze them for a later date. Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan and store in an airtight container in the freeze for up to 2 months, if desired.

When you’re ready to heat a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. When oil is hot, place enough potstickers in the skillet to fill but not crowd the vessel, pleat-side up. Sear hard for about 1 minute before adding 2 tablespoons water in the skillet. Cover immediately and reduce the heat to medium. Cook covered until the water is evaporated and potstickers are cooked through; about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the dipping sauce by simply mixing everything together in a small bowl.

Remove the cover and flip one potsticker to see whether the bottom side is deeply burnished and crisp. If not, continue to cook until the bottom side turns golden brown. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil and potstickers. Serve hot with herbed dipping sauce, asap.

Makes About 50 – 60 Gyoza and 1/2 Cup Dipping Sauce

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You’re a Peach, My Dear

Few things can match the sensation of biting into a ripe, fresh peach at the height of summer, so juicy that it must be eaten over a sink. Soft fuzz easily gives way to tender flesh brilliantly sweet, floral, and aromatic. It’s a perfect dessert, all by itself, no garnishes need apply.

Sadly but surely, the seasons are marching onward, away from this most wonderful time of year. Don’t miss your chance to indulge in the last of this year’s harvest.

These delightfully chewy cookie bars present another way to enjoy these incomparable fruits, even if the selection isn’t quite as robust. Toasted pecans and fresh peaches, the star of the show, lend these treats a gentle Southern accent. Each sweet square is lightly caramelized through the baking process, ending with a rich, toffee-like flavor.

Southern Peach Streusel Bars

Peach Filling:

5 Ripe Peaches, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Cookie Base and Streusel:

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose or White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Pecan or Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

First, prepare the filling so that it has time to cool. Begin by removing the pits from four of your peaches, and roughly chopping the flesh before tossing it into your food processor along with the sugar and cornstarch. Blend thoroughly until smooth, and then transfer the puree into a medium sauce pan. Set on the stove over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened significantly and bubbles are breaking regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the vanilla and ginger. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan; Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, beat the butter briefly to soften. Add in the brown sugar and thoroughly cream together with the margarine, until fluffy and homogeneous. Sift in the flour, pecan or almond meal, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt, and mix on low speed to combine. The resulting mixture will be rather dry, so with the mixer running. slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, using just enough to bring everything together into a cohesive dough when pressed.

Take 2/3 of that dough and crumble it across the bottom of your prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it out into one even layer that will form the base. If you don’t have enough to cover the bottom, you can use a bit more of the dough, but bear in mind that the base shouldn’t be too thick. Bake in your preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, take your chopped pecans, and knead them into the remaining dough to create the streusel topping.

Once the base is ready, remove it from the oven, and evenly spread the cooled peach filling on top. Pit and roughly chop the one remaining peach, and scatter it across the peach jam filling. Finally, use your fingers to break apart clumps of streusel, and sprinkle them over the peaches. Slide the pan bake into the oven, and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes, until aromatic and the streusel is golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 24 – 30 Bars

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Pineapple Express

Reaching for the heavy brass door knocker standing guard at the entry of my childhood home, I never once questioned why it was fashioned after a pineapple. Design flourishes were not the first priority for the architects who constructed this traditional, simple New England colonial; it could have been any other shape, but of all the possible symbols to display to guests, the first thing that they grasp upon arrival, was this tropical fruit.

Representing both status and hospitality in one fell swoop, the prestige of the pineapple is often credited to Christopher Columbus, who brought them back from his voyages as an offering to the Spanish King Ferdi­nand II. Since it was the only edible offering that survived the trip intact, it was the clear winner amongst the bundle of rotting tomatoes, tobacco, and pumpkins. That initial exoticism, impressive appearance, and incomparable sweetness vaulted it to the highest ranks. To have such wealth that you could offer these esteemed specimens freely to visitors instantly spoke of your prosperity, and lightly veiled bragging in the form of faux-generosity.

The symbolism stuck. Scarcity is a thing of the past, but their popularity continues to soar. Now one of the most popular produce picks on the market, retailers predict a pineapple boom is still to come, while the current culture has found all new meaning in the spiky fruits. The full weight of that multilayered meaning may not hit every time we slice into the yellow flesh, peel away the harsh, spiky exterior, and sink our teeth into the tangy fibers. Though the pineapple still enjoys a place of honor in, and outside, many homes, the place where it’s most welcome is the kitchen.

Roasting and caramelizing cubes of pineapple brings out a whole new depth of flavor, while still maintaining its characteristic brightness, and simultaneously concentrating its inherent sweetness. Though it would be no sacrifice to simply eat the results plain, perhaps with a dollop of whipped cream to fancy things up, I was craving a bite of comfort in the form of pound cake. Simple, homey, and undemanding, it really is the ideal house guest, and ideal for serving visitors in turn. The dense, tender, moist crumb sparkles with tropical undertones, enriched by coconut milk and spiked by just a hint of ginger.

Christopher Columbus committed countless terrible, unthinkable crimes in his grand adventures, but at least this one small contribution to history is one we can look back on with pride. The pineapple has earned its place of honor, and continues to flourish in ways the explorer could have never imagined.

Roasted Pineapple Pound Cake

1 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pineapple Puree*
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*To roast the pineapple, peel, core, and dice the fruit before spreading the piece evenly inside a casserole or baking dish. A good amount of juice will be expressed so you need a vessel with fairly high sides. Bake at 400 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 60 – 70 minutes until caramelized. Cool completely before tossing into a blender to puree.

**If you have leftover puree, you can whip up a quick glaze by stirring in brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to taste and cooking it over the stove until the granules dissolve. Drizzle or slather on top of the cooled loaf as desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ginger. Add the pineapple puree, oil, coconut milk, vinegar, and vanilla, mixing thoroughly until the batter is fairly smooth. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps, rather than risk over-mixing and creating a tough crumb.

Bake for 60 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may want to tent the loaf with foil half-way through the baking process if you fear it will turn out too dark. Remove foil as soon as it comes out of the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Vegan Blue Cheese

5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 – 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.

Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.

With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.

Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

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Classic Wedge Salad

Blue Cheese Dressing:

1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot, mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.

Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve right away.

Makes 4 Servings

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