Vegan “French Fries and Champagne”
Indian-Spiced Sweet Potato Wedges with Dipping Sauce

Indian Spiced French Fries and ChampagneYield: 4 appetizer servings (6 wedges each)

A couple of nights ago, I had “French Fries and Champagne” for dinner.  Don’t judge.  I’m a widow in need of the occasional comfort food…and, besides, I had kale, carrots, and fruit earlier in the day.  I only ate a few, so a friend and fellow-widow is coming over tonight to join me for a bike ride and leftovers.

Driving home the night before and listening to “Out of the Box,” Paul Shughru’s award-winning “new music” show on our local NPR affiliate, WHRV, he played The Hot Sardines “French Fries and Champagne.”  And that nostalgic 40’s-infused suggestion was all I needed.

To arrive at my version–which is roasted, not fried–my imagination went to favorite champagne food pairings, especially Indian or Thai with my all time favorite, Prosecco.  Thinking that an Indian flavored dry spice rub would be easier to create than one with Thai flavors–which seemed to rely more on fresh herbs that would burn at the high roasting temperature–I decided on sweet potato wedges with a golden Indiean spice rub mixed with Panko bread crumbs for a bit more crunch.

For a dipping sauce, any Indian chutney whisked into vegan sour cream or vegan yogurt (if you can find an unsweetened version, which we can’t in our area) is perfection, perhaps with a a few sprigs of cilantro on the side, if you’re a cilantro-lover.

In truth, I don’t actually recommend only french fries and champagne for dinner…at least not often.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut in half lenghtwise, then crosswise, then each section cut into 3 wedges to yield 12 wedges per potato

Pinch of sea salt

1/4 to 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons any vegan chutney (mango, mint, cilantro, etc., found in supermarkets or Indian/International markets)

4 tablespoons vegan sour cream (or vegan plain yogurt or mayo if you prefer)

Garnish: fresh cilantro sprigs, if desired, and champagne, Prosecco, or other sparkling wine

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Drizzle baking pan with olive oil, add potato wedges, toss lightly to coat, sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt, and toss again.  Roast for 20 minutes, stirring or turning about ever 6 or 7 minutes.  Meanwhile combine bread crumbs in a small bowl with ground coriander, cumin, garlic and onion powders, smoked paprika, turmeric, and black bepper.  Remove potatoes from oven, sprinkle with bread crumb and spice mixture, stir to coat, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes, stirring after 5.  (Note: if you prefer your potato wedges really crispy and caramelized, roast them for 25 to 30 minutes before adding the crumb mixture and roasting another 10.) Meanwhile, prepare dipping sauce by whisking together chutney with vegan sour cream in a small bowl.  Remove potatoes to a serving bowl or platter–I like to use a parchment paper- or napkin-lined plastic “burger basket”–sprinkle with any crumb mixture that remained in the pan and serve with dipping sauce,  fresh cilantro sprigs, if desired, and champagne.

Indian Spiced French Fries and Champagne--aerial

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Vegan Black Forest Smoothie
(Cherry & Chocolate)

Black Forrest SmoothieYield: 2 servings (or 1 big one if you are really hungry and in need of hydration)

This is what would happen if cherries and chocolate had a nutritious love child…

I love Black Forest Cake and, when I discovered some chocolate cake crumbs in the fridge–from hollowing out cupcakes for a caramel filling–,I knew I would use them to top a Black Forest Cake-inspired smoothie for breakfast.

When I make a smoothie, I always use frozen fruit to achieve my favorite creamy texture.  So, because frozen dark sweet cherries were significantly more calories and less nutrition than the cherry-berry blend, I purchased athye latter.  I actually had fresh cherries in the fridge, but didn’t want to pit them, so I just used them as part of the tantalizing garnish.

Also, because I wanted a bit more nutrition and can’t be necessarily trusted to get it at another meal–lately I’ve wanted “French Fries and Champagne” for dinner (be sure to check out my post about this tomorrow or Saturday)–I added a lot of fresh baby kale.  That likely masked the cherry flavor a little but preserved the beautiful color, so I boosted the flavor with a few maraschino cherries.

All this baby needed was a couple of tablespoons of chocolate syrup–Hershey’s is vegan, but use melted vegan chocolate if you prefer–; a little extra sweetness for which I use a powdered stevia; an optional boost of omega-3 fatty acides with some flaxseed meal; and a pretty garnish of fresh cherries, another drizzle of chocolate syrup, cake crumbs, and two cute paper straws from Target.

The two straws were just for looks mind you…I shared with no one!

2 cups soy or other non-dairy milk

2 lightly packed cups baby kale leaves with tender stems

1 cup frozen cherries and berries (less calories and more nutrition than frozen dark sweet cherries, but use them if you prefer)

2 tablespoons chocolate syrup or melted chocolate (Hershey’s syrup is vegan)

6 maraschino cherries, stemmed

2 tablespoons powdered stevia (or your favorite sweetener to taste)

Optional: 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

Garnish: fresh cherries, a drizzle of chocolate syrup and, if desired, chocolate cake crumbs

Place all ingredients except garnishes in a blender or, my preference, a Magic Bullet, and blend about a minute or until smooth.  Serve in Mason jars or glasses, garnished as desired, with cute paper straws.

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Vegan Smoky Grilled Asparagus and Chickpea Salad
in Raddichio Cups

GrilledAsparagus and Chickpea Salad in Raddichio CupsYield: 4 to 6 servings

I am constantly seduced by produce and, once I return home, scramble to make sure it doesn’t meet a soggy end in the bottom of the hydrator drawer.

Most recently, it was big, bulbous, juicy bell peppers–a red, orange, and a yellow–and asparagus.  The can of cannelini beans I thought I had in the pantry turned out to be garbanzo peans (chickpeas), but that was just fine as a protein.  Being a fan of creamy beans combined with something juicy and crunchy, like cucumbers or bell peppers, I knew I would add one of the bell peppers.  But I wanted an earthy flavor to contrast with the neutral-flavored beans and the almost sweet snap of the bell pepper.  Grilled asparagus!

Then all my salad needed was a binder.  I happen to love mayonnaise, especially the low-fat variety of Vegenaise.  This creamy white base was perfect for me, but if you prefer an oil and vinegar-based dressing, by all means; you just won’t get the same bind unless you emulsify it really well in a food processor or blender.

To boost the fresh tasting flavors, I added a bit of basil chiffonade leftover from a Thai soup the night before.  And for a burst of brightness, the juice of half a lemon, though you could use the zest if you only wanted the lemony flavor without the astringency.  Finally, because I had chickpeas and not cannelini beans, I added a little hit of sumac, though if you don’t have it and can’t find it at an international or Middle Eastern market, it is not a deal breaker.  But it imparts a little more earthy lemon flavor and a hinit of red color.

To add a note of pleasing bitterness and to contain the salad without need of bread or a cracker, raddichio leaves proved to be the perfect little cups.  Plus, for both reasons of nutrition and aesthetics, I like to enjoy as many colors of vegetables as I can all at once, so the deep red-violet brought its beauty and healthful benefits to the party.  The perfect party hat?  A few chopped smoked almonds.

1 bunch slender asparagus, trimmed, grilled, and cut into 1-inch pieces (I trim about 1/3 of the bottom of the stalk, and grill in an indoor grill pan lightly sprayed with nonstick spray for about 8 to 10 minutes, turning every every few minutes, as I like it quite caramelized.)

I 15.5 ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

1 orange bell pepper, diced

1/4 to 1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise

Juice of 1/2 large lemon

1/2 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

About 2 tablespoons basil chiffonade (stack leaves, roll rightly, and cutinto very thin slices)

4 to 6 Raddichio leaves

Garnish:: about 4 to 6 tablespoons coarsely chopped smoked almonds

Combine all beans and vegetables in a medium bowl.   Make a well in the center, add remaining ingredients, except raddichio and smoked almonds, whisk together and then begin to incorporate into beans and vegetables until all are coated evenly.  Dividie and serve in raddichio leaves garnished with about 1 tablespoon of chopped smoked almonds.

 

 

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Vegan Lemon-Espresso-Lavender Cookies
with Chocolate Chunks and Hazelnuts

Lemon-Espresso-Lavender Cookies with Chocolate Chunks and HazelnutsYield: 8 very large cookies (about 4 1/2 inches in diameter)

This Thursday is my yoga instructor, Angela Phillip’s, birthday. But, after yesterday’s class, I won’t see her until next Saturday.  So I decided to make her this stack ‘o scrumptious cookies and gift her with them early.

Before yoga, though, I had a meeting with my attorney about my late husband’s estate, so I took him a couple too as a “thank you” for meeting me on a Saturday (though I’m sure that half-hour was billable).  This coming week is h*** week with exams and graduation all piled up on top of each other and there were documents I needed to sign, so a Saturday meeting was necessary.

But what kind of cookie to make within the vast cookie universe?  Last Sunday, a neighbor with whom another neighbor-friend and I get together every few Sundays–and who is decidedly not a cook–gave me some culinary lavender that someone had given her.  So, I knew I wanted to use it.  And I had some hazelnuts leftover from another recipe (though any nut would be delicious), some chocolate chunks and dark cocoa powder because I just like to keep them on hand, and some espresso powder.  All of those ingredients sounded compatible and tasty together, but I felt they needed a little something to brighten the flavors.

I had a lemon, but that seemed odd until I rememberd that, in some establishments, a dimunitive cup of the dark bittersweet elixirknown as espresso is often served with a fragrant shave of lemon peel.  There seems to be no conclusive answer as to whether this practice is authentic to Italy nor as to its origin.  Some speculate that espresso cups were wiped “clean” with lemon peel during WWII or that the lemon oil, rubbed around the rim of the cup, detracts from poorly roasted or extracted espresso. Regardless, it looks pretty, and, as inspirations go, was just what these cookies needed.

Not only will you love their flavor: complex, subtle, and not-too-sweet, but the texture.  As Angela broke one of the behemoth cookies into pieces for each member of the class at the end of our practice, she practically squealed, “Oooh, these are the perfect texture!”

Angela with Cookies on Her HeadFirst, though, she had to pose with the wrapped stack of them on her head like a yogi crown.  To package, I simply placed each cookie on a large muffin liner, stacked them, and tied them, wrapped them with plastic wrap, and tied it with raffia before slipping them inside a gift bag.

1/2 cup vegan butter

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar (I use demerera)

2 to 3 tablespoons culinary lavender (sold in bulk at health food stores, Whole Foods–I think,–etc.)

1 tablespoon cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s dark chocolate)

1 tablespoon espresso powder (or very finely ground coffee beans)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

Zest of 1 large lemon

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

Up to 1/4 cup non-dairy milk (I use soy or almond)

3/4 cup vegan chocolate chunks or chips

3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with Silpat (silicone baking sheet) or or parchment paper.  In  bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  On medium-low speed, beat in lavender,cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, vanilla, and lemon zest, just until combined.  Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time on low speed, alternating with 1 tablespoon of non-dairy milk at a time if necessary, to make a soft-firm dough.  Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary and when completely combined, stir in chocolate chunks and hazelnuts on low speed.  Using a 1/4 to 1/3 cup measure–or an ice cream scoop–scoop out 8 mounds of dough onto prepared baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between cookies.  Press with fingers to about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick, or about 4 1/2 inches in diameter.  Cookies shouldn’t be touching, but they won’t spread much during baking.  Bake for approximately 15 to 18 minutes or until set and just starting to brown.  Remove from oven and let cool completely on pan.  Store in an airtight container or package for gift-giving.

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Vegan White Gazpacho with Green Grapes and a Twist
A Spanish Favorite My Way

White Gazpacho 2(To go straight to the recipe, please scroll down.)
At cocktail hour on Friday evening, the only thing that kept me from setting upon the ravishing vegan Spanish repast prepared by Juan and Barbara Gelpi for their daughter, Amalia’s, high school graduation party like an aunt at a picnic was a hot yoga class two and a half hours later.  So, while I treated myself to only the tiniest tastes of most everything, including a little sangria, I felt completely satisfied when I left.  

Since declaring this the Year of the Mini-Meal upon my husband’s untimely death in July, I prefer to eat this way anyway, letting my eyes consume what my stomach once did. And, besides, when I am less focused on devouring food, I can enjoy all of the other aspects of a party: the conversation, the setting and, in this case, a private mini concert by the brilliant and multi-talented Amalia accompanying herself on baby grand as she did dynamic justice to Nina Simone’s, “Feeling Good” before other guests arrived.

Juan, a surgeon, is of Cuban decent and, while everything he and Barbara cook is inspired, his deft hands may be particularly at home with Spanish and Cuban food, improvising with as much skill in the kitchen as Amalia does at the piano. Many new traditions have arisen since Joe died.  One favorite is joining forces with the Gelpis every few weeks, alternating houses, to cook fairly technical, but relaxed, vegan meals together because we all really love cooking, not just tossing together a few ingredient.  Paella, gumbo, pigeon pie, and crabcakes have been on recent menus.

Eggplant and Chickpea SaladHearts of Palm CevicheAt last night’s party, golden sangria and desserts–Barbara’s silky chocolate pie, a cake, and a cheesecake topped with a glistening fruit pinwheel–were set out on the breakfast room table.  Sliced and spreadable cheeses (all from Whole Foods), Marconi almonds roasted with paprika, three kinds of black and green olives, and a luscious white gazpacho lined the kitchen buffet.  And a veritable groaning board of “meats,” salads, and savory pastries covered the dining room table (which is usually covered with beautiful quilts that Barbara, also a doctor, creates for charity): spinach and puff pastry squares; a carrot, an eggplant and chickpea, and a tomato salad; hearts of palm ceviche; roasted red pepper and goat cheese crostini; meatballs in a tomato-based sauce; chorizo (really cripsy on the edges like I like it); and two of Juan’s special potato tortillas made with Follow Your Heart egg substitute.  Because families have been known to split over whether onion should be included in a tortilla, he made one each way.

Black Olives and Paprika Marconi AlmondsI couldn’t begin to choose a favorite dish, though I had to steer clear of the ceviche as I am wildly allergic to avacado.  (How cruel, right? Allergic to this staple of the vegan diet.)  Pretty high on the list, though, was the little chilled shot glasses of white gazpacho served with green grape halves.  In fact, I was so smitten that I purchased what I needed for my own version, based on Juan’s quickly recited list of ingredients, while on my Saturday morning post-yoga Whole Foods shopping spree.

In truth my “white” gazpacho is more of a pale spring green.  One reason is that I can’t bear to remove the nutritious skin from most vegetables, so I left it on the cucmber.  The other is that, though I had purchased fresh fennel for another dish, I used some of the licorice-y fronds in the soup for a beautiful pairing with the hint of sherry.  By all means, if you want a nearly pure white soup, peel the cucumber and perhaps only use the fennel fronds as a garnish, or omit them entirely, though I love the flavor.

Cheesecake Topped with Fruit PinwheelThis version of white gazbacho is made with soaked bread and my bread selection was based entirely on wanting to dip a little pretzel loaf in the cup of vegan lentil soup I purchased from the prepared foods bar at Whole Foods. But the remaining pretzel loaf was delectable in the gazpacho.  Yet, virtually any plain bread would do.  Just avoid breads studded with seeds, nuts, fruits, garlic, rosemary, and the like.

For the milk, I purchased unsweetened almond, as I wanted to play up the flavor of the actual almonds, which are also soaked add pureed into the soup.  What I didn’t realize until I got home, though, is that I had purchased “vanilla” unsweetened.  Afraid I had blown it, I tasted a little, and the vanilla was so barely-there subtle that I went with it.  My thinking was that vanilla notes would be more appealing than sweet ones and I loved it.  Regardless, be sure to use plenty of sea salt to awaken all of the flavors.  The soup shouldn’t taste salty, but one of the secrets of restaurant food is adequate salt.  Finding the sweet spot of just the right amount of salt makes magic out of the mundane.

In terms of processing the soup to pureed perfection, I didn’t time how long I let the motor run.  But it was however long it takes to slip off to the ladies room, wash my hands, and return to the kitchen.  Maybe 3 minutes?

This soup is so perfectly creamy, yet light, that a cup or bowl would not be too much.  But it does look irresistably fetching garnished and served up in chilled shot glasses, arranged on a tray.


White GazpachoVegan White Gazpacho with Green Grapes and a Twist

Yield: approximately 8 cups

2 cups bread torn into bite size pieces

2 cups whole or slivered blanched, skinless almonds

2 cups unsweetened almond milk (believe it or not, vanilla unsweetened is just delicious)

1 large European seedless cucumber, peeled or unpeeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (I prefer unpeeled)

1/4 cup fennel fronds and tender stems

2 large cloves garlic, halved (use roasted garlic if you prefer less pungency)

1/4 cup dry sherry (you can begin with less if you’re not too sure abou the shrry)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Garnish: finel chopped fennel fronds and green grape halves

Place bread and almonds in a large bowl.  Scald milk in a saucepan on top of the stove or heat for 2 minutes in the microwave and pour immediately over bread and almonds.  Let soak for an hour, pressing solids down into milk every so often.  At the end of the soaking time, place cucumber, fennel, garlic, sherry, vinegar and a large pinch of sea salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor.  Process for a couple of minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary, until smooth.  Add bread, almonds, milk, and another pinch of salt and pepper and process for about 3 minutes, again scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, or until very creamy and smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Be sure to add plenty of salt to amplify the flavors, though the soup shouldn’t taste salty.  Garnish with finely chopped fennel fronds, if desired, and green grape halves. If serving in a shot glass, I like to spear a grape half on a cocktail pick and rest across the rim of the glass.

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The Blooming Platter’s Betsy DiJulio Invited to Give Cooking Demo at PETA’s Leadership Weekend
(and a ringing endorsement for my Tofu Egg Salad)

Food(For the Recipes, scroll down about half way to the links.)

Not many things would make me grocery shop and cook for four hours on a Friday night with a fever, congestion in every passage from my neck up, and a cough that would cause mothers to gather their children to their skirts.

But a cooking demonstration for PETA donors was one of them.

I am fortunate to live basically in the back yard of PETA’s East Coast headquarters, located in Norfolk, VA.  A resident of the neighboring city of VA Beach, I am even more fortunate to have been asked to give a cooking demonstration for 45 of their major US donors on Saturday, May 14.

Those individuals in the group who don’t reside in our area flew themselves to Norfolk to join local donors where they were treated to a weekend of information sessions from upper level PETA executives, wonderful vegan meals, comfy lodging, my cooking demonstration, and more.Betsy Squeezing a Lemon
I cannot say enough positive things about both the PETA’s East and West Coast staff, how they welcomed me, and how they worked together seamlessly to run a tight ship.

Arriving a bit early to their sunny office building moored along the riverfront, I was met by the loveliest, professional, but relaxed and helpful women and men who made my job easy.  We loaded a cart, efficiently developed a serving plan, and everyone slid right into their roles.  The most challenging aspect of the whole presentation was finding somewhere to attach the lavalier mic on my rather skimpy dress, discreetly covered by a sweater, I should hastily add.

Betsy Food ProcessingThe demo took place on a stage in a meeting room, supported by a cracker jack AV team, for the hour just before lunch, so I didn’t want to prepare anything sweet or that would conflict with their tasty vegan bento boxes from Kotobuki on Colley Avenue in Norfolk.  The PETA staff members, who have plenty of these demos under their belts, steered me away from hummus–it’s so ubiquitous as to have become the Pasta Primavera of vegan hors d’oeuvres–and anything with the misunderstood mushroom.  So they enthusiastically agreed on the most popular recipe on my entire website: Tofu Egg Salad with its “dark secret” (of Indian black salt that tastes and smells exactly like boiled eggs) on thin slices of rye party rye bread and my very springy dill-scented Smoky Grilled Asparagus and White Bean Spread on rice crackers.  Both, I am humbled to report, were big hits, especially the egg salad.

Betsy SmilingI am similarly gratified that my demo was so well-received.  One of the staff members shared that they have presented many of these and that they are often “dry,” but that mine wasn’t.  I have to admit that I was a bit relieved, as I had come down with a fever after school on Thursday, worked Friday still with a fever because progress report grades were due, rallied to grocery shop and prepare ingredients Friday night (missing my beloved candlelight yoga class) and half a day Saturday.  Afterwards,  I drove straight home, climbed into bed and stayed there until Monday when my fever finally broke.

But the show had to go on and it was completely worth it.

A big thank you to PETA and to my contact, Megan Eding.

Fun Note:  A couple of weeks after the demo, I received this lovely email from Barry M. from Baltimore who were in attendance:

Hi Betsy,

We attended the PETA Leadership weekend in Norfolk and were at the cooking demonstration you gave.  I was so excited about the tofu egg salad recipe because I used to love egg salad and had given up eggs years and years ago.  I couldn’t wait to get home, order the black salt, and try out your recipe. I got the black salt on Amazon.com, whipped up a batch using Hampton Creek mayo and the result was spectacular.  Even my spouse Tom loved it, and he is a picky eater when it comes to vegan eating.  This recipe will now be a permanent addition to our cook book binder and we can’t wait to share it with our non-vegan friends and fool them – they won’t know the difference and I’m sure will enjoy it as much as we do.

Thanks so much to giving that demonstration and sharing this wonderful recipe.  Looking forward to checking out more recipes on your web site and trying them out.

Sincerely,

barry m

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Vegan Roasted Middle Eastern Tri-Color Carrot-Beet Spread (and a plug for Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine’s article about Whole Foods and John Mackey)

SideYield: approximately 1 cup

(for recipe, please scroll down)

Before my husband passed away in July, I never shopped at Whole Foods due to the expense, but it has become a little treat I give myself.

In some ways I find those activities and events that are exactly the same in his absence–like grocery shopping–more emotionally challenging even than the birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.  Perhaps it’s because I steel myself for the latter, shaping them in a way that plays to my strengths and minimizes my vulnerabilities.

But a couple of parties in both November and December required trips to Whole Foods.  The first was Joe’s posthumous birthday party that his sisters and I hosted at Total Wine for which we supplied the food (and decided that tapenade layered over hummus was our favorite new obsession).  He had purchased a wine tasting at a silent auction, but we never used it, and this seemed the perfect occasion.  The second event was my my annual all-girls Christmas, Chanukah, Curry & Cakes Party & Swap.  Joe wasn’t a part of it, but he always put in an appearance to everyone’s delight.

With my dear friend Donna Reiss in town to help me–emotionally and logistically–prepare for the fete, we chose a vegan menu that required a trip to Whole Foods.  With fond and tender memories of our outing, I decided that grocery shopping was a bit more bearable in the more “curated” environs of a store like WF who embraces, at least to some degree, my values. (Somewhere my museum curator friends just felt a stab in their sides because they deplore the way the word “curated” has been conscripted for marketing everything from groceries to jewelry to housewares.)

Vegan Health & FitnessSpeaking of Whole Foods’ values, the June 2016 issue of Vegan Health and Fitness Magazine (which I purchase at Whole Foods), includes a really thorough, fair, and balanced article about John Mackey, Whole Foods’ co-founder and co-CEO, who is controversial to some because, though he is vegan, his store is not.  Still, both editor Brenda Carey’s “Letter” and the article (on p. 52) make a convincing case for why Mackey should be applauded rather than derided for the compassionate and conscious changes he is helping bring about in the food production chain.

Now, I go most Saturdays and sometimes during my planning block at school to stock up on lunch items.  Sometimes I go with a list; most often I just respond to the aesthetics of the produce and purchase what catches my eye, figuring out what to do with it later.  I usually create new recipes though, occasionally and shamefully, I let some of it go to waste and end up composting it.  I would claim that it is because I am not accustomed to shopping and cooking for one, but who am I kidding?  I didn’t shop or cook for Joe in recent years, as he was a committed and unapologetic carnivore who eschewed most vegetables for more meat.  It’s more the case that I don’t consume nearly as much food as I used to.

But this carrot-beet spread is perfect for a mini-meal, as is my preference these days: healthy, beautiful, tasty, and satisfying.  It is worth trying to find the pomegranate or tamarind syrup and the sumac at a Middle Eastern or international market or even online.  But if you can’t, I provide substitutions below.  Sumac bushes produce red berries that are dried and ground to a powder that is used in Middle Eastern cuisines.  The flavor is lemony, but mellow, rounded and a hint earthy.  Lemon zest is a fine substitute, but definitely with zingier flavor notes. Similarly, maple syrup or agave nectar will contribute the desired sweetness and texture to the spread, but not deliver quite the desired authentic flavor of the Middle East.

If you or those for whom you cook think they are beet-haters, this recipe, along with some others here on The Blooming Platter, may change their minds.  But, if not, just substitute another couple of carrots.

PatsyRoasted Middle Eastern Carrot-Beet Spread

6-6 to 7-inch carrots, any color (I use a tri-color bunch), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

3 small golden (or red) beets, about the size of a plum or a half-fist, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoon + 1/4 cup olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 large garlic clove

1 teaspoon pomegranate, tamarind, or maple syrup or agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (or lemon zest)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Garnish: 2 to 4 tablespoons of pistachios

Accompaniments: crackers, toasts, green and/or black olives, and finishing salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss carrots and beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous pinch of salt in a large baking pan.  Roast for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender and caramelized to your liking.  Remove from oven, place in the bowl of a food processor with all other ingredients and process until as smooth as desired, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Taste and adjust all seasonings as desired.  Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with pistachios.  Serve with crackers, toast, olives and finishing salt (I use a little salt cellar of coarse sea salt).

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Orange Mini-Cakes with Bourbon-Pecan Caramel & Orange Buttercream–A Memorial Birthday Cake for Mama

Orange Cake with Caramel Filling and Orange Buttercream Frosting 3Yield: 8 mini-cakes (2 1/2-inch diameter)

[for recipe, skip to bottom]

Monday, the day I went live with The Blooming Platter’s fresh new look, would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday. But sadly, she has passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on October 2.  My mother and I were different enough to challenge and occasionally frustrate each other, but similar enough in some of our views–you should have heard us get going on theology–and many of our passions to have long been joined by the apron strings even across the miles from Virginia to Mississippi.

Even in our shared interests, we often took different approaches.  An illustrated essay I wrote entitled, “The Sacred Canon,” was published by Alimentum in June 2015 and paints a picture of my complex mother and some of her culinary dogma in which I took great delight even as it occasionally annoyed me.

I’m not sure that my mother had a favorite birthday cake.  Besides Creme Caramel,  I think her favorite dessert was ice cream–I remember from my childhood that she voted for Baskin Robbins’ “Jamoca Almond Fudge” for family ice cream outings (my sister and I always begged for Dairy Queen)–and she ate a small dish with Hershey’s syrup every night of her life in recent years, sitting with my father in their bedroom, each in his or her blue chair, watching a British mystery, many of which I sent them on DVD.  She claimed she had to have “food” to take her evening handful of pills.

But, I associate her with citrus flavored cakes, possibly because she used to always make an orange cake with lemon frosting for my sister’s March birthday.  So, this year, I decided to create mini-memorial cakes.  I forwent the lemon frosting, though, for an orange buttercream paired with a luscious Bourbon-Pecan Caramel.  I think Mom would approve because, well, she loved her evening cocktail.  She was from that generation, you know?

Orange Supreme Cake MixThe recipe starts with a boxed cake mix because that’s how I got my start baking.  In those days, there were no canned frostings, but rather boxed mixes as well, and I recall them as being superior.  Still nothing beats homemade frosting which is what I include here along with my simple-as-pie, to mix my metaphors, homemade caramel.

Orange Mini-Cakes with Bourbon-Pecan Caramel and Orange Buttercream Frosting

1-18.25 ounce Duncan Hines Orange Supreme Cake Mix

3 tablespoons flaxseed meal

1 1 /2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Zest and Juice of 2 oranges + enough water to equal 1 cup (reserve zest of 1 orange for frosting)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Bourbon-Pecan Caramel (recipe follows)

Orange Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)

Garnish: 8 pecan halves

Grease and flour a 9-inch metal baking pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all ingredients except caramel, frosting, and garnish.  Beat at low speed for 30 seconds or just until combined.  Increase speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Transfer batter into prepared pan, gently smoothing top.  Bake for 24-27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.  Using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter or even a juice glass, cut cake into 16 rounds.  Place 1 in the bottom of 8 muffin liners.  Top each with about 1 tablespoon of the cooled caramel, remaining rounds of cake, another tablespoon of caramel, and piped on or swirled frosting.  Garnish each mini-cake with a pecan half.  Serve or store in refrigerator until serving time.  Remove about 20 to 30 minutes before serving time.

Bourbon Pecan Caramel 

1/2 cup vegan butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup agave nectar, dark corn syrup, or maple syrup

1 tablespoon soy, almond or coconut creamer

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Place butter, brown sugar, agave nectar and creamer in a 2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir until mixture comes to a simmer and then simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes (and no more!).  Remove from heat and stir in creamer, bourbon, vanilla, salt, and chopped pecans.  Pour into a small bowl, and allow to cool.  Cover with plastic wrap gently pressed into the surface.

Orange Buttercream Frosting 

(You will have leftover frosting.)

1/2 cup vegan butter

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

Reserved zest of 1 orange (or 1 to 2 tablespoons dried orange zest)

4 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons soy, almond, or coconut creamer, if desired for consistency

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and shortening and beat on medium speed until fluffy.  Add orange zest followed by 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar at a time, turning off the mixer in between additions, and scraping down sides of bowl.  Thin, if desired with creamer and beat to combine.  Store any leftovers, covered, in refrigerator.

 

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A New Look and a New Beginning for The Blooming Platter

Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning….”
                                                                                          ~Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

A May rose blooming in my garden
A May rose blooming in my garden

Indeed, the autumn of 2015 was a season of beginning like nothing I could have imagined. Both in the loss that precipitated it and in the astonishing expansiveness to which it gave rise.

On July 30, my adored husband, Joe, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from cardiac arrest, followed within the next two months by my similarly adored dog, my constant companion, and my mother, my kitchen accomplice since childhood.

Almost immediately, food took on the symbolism of a quasi-secular sacrament: an outward sign of inward grace. With my appetite, among other things, dealt a mortal blow, thoughtfully prepared and diminutive dabs of this and tiny tastes of that, matched to various occasions, came to represent deepening dimensions of relationships with people, things, and ideas that flowed around and through me. My scaled back approach to nourishing my body proved to be immensely satisfying and perfectly proportioned as I focused more on nourishing my soul.

While my relationship with food, like just about everything else in my life, underwent a shift, I remain as full of curiosity and wonder in the kitchen ever before. I just find that I tend to cook more for others than I do for myself, and that food is less often my raison d’etre than it is an anointment of various aspects of a rich and full life for which I am unceasingly grateful.

But spring is an undeniably hopeful season. So, forced to rethink many aspects of my life, I decided in early 2016 that a Blooming Platter redesign was in order and launched it on this what would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.

I hope you enjoy this new beginning in the form of a lighter, brighter, hipper, and slightly more feminine look and feel.

Yours, gratefully,

~betsyleaf

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Vegan Chocolate Chess Pie
with the Flavor and Mouthfeel of the Real Deal!

Yield: one 8-inch pieVegan Chocolate Chess Pie

I don’t know quite why I got such a hankerin’ for this pie, but I did and the first experiment was an epic fail resulting in an epic oven cleaning.

But this?  This is perfection!

Note: several hours before you plan to bake the pie, prepare the cashews:

1 cup roasted and lightly salted cashews or halves and pieces, covered with hot water in a small bowl and left to soak for 3 hours or until softened and most of water is absorbed, drained (you can use raw cashews, but I think the roasted have more of the desired rich flavor for this recipe)

1 1/2 cups natural granulated sugar (I like demerera)

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons flaxseed meal

4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons plain soy or almond creamer

3 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I like to use Hershey’s Special Dark)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 homemade or purchased 8-inch vegan pie crust, thawed (if frozen), and unbaked  (I used Marie Callender’s for the sake of time, but I much prefer homemade)

Optional accompaniments: powdered sugar, vegan whipped cream, or vegan vanilla ice cream

Optional garnish: whole cashew nuts or pecan halves

Preheat over to 300 degrees.  In a food processor, puree drawined cashews for 3 or so minutes until very smooth.  Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and whisk in remaining ingredients until smooth and completely combined.  Scrape into thawed pie shell and gently smooth top.  Bake for 45 minutes or until set.  Cool on a wire rack, cover, and chill for a couple of hours before slicing and serving plain or with a drift of powdered sugar, a dollop of vegan whipped cream, or a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream.  Garnish, if desired, with a cashew nut or pean half.

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