If I were to channel a Southern Living or Martha Stewart magazine article, I would say today’s recipe, Spicy Grilled Pear and Spinach Salad, is a delight to the senses. The preparation is effortless and the presentation would make a beautiful addition to a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.
But seriously, here’s how it really went down. It is a well known fact that my family hates fruit anywhere near their salads. I would have to blindfold them to get them to try this recipe. I, on the other hand, love salads with fruits. So I prepared this just for me as my lunch.
First I prepare the vinaigrette but my whisk is in the dishwasher so I simply shake it up in a covered bowl. Done! Next I core and cut the pear. Unbelievably, I have a corer so I tried it out, but it left the core in the pear so I just popped the core out of each slice. Perfect! I prepared the marinade in a small bowl as directed but no way could I get the pears coated in there so I scraped the marinade out with my finger (spatula also in dishwasher) and straight into a ziploc bag and threw in the pears. That works.
Ok wait. I don’t own a grill pan so how will I get the desired grill marks?? You got it – 14 degrees outside and I’m wiping snow off the grill and firing it up. I will have grill marks! I lay the pears all out and wait two minutes as directed. No grill marks. Ok fine. Two more minutes. No grill marks. This went on for 14 minutes. Once I saw a faint grill mark appear I placed them on a plate and went inside. Looking at the photo now, I may have been imagining the grill mark but I was freezing!
Finally I got to arrange it all on the plate and decided the photo should be taken in the snow. Once I brought the plate back inside, there was snow all over the bottom, so I tried to wipe it off and almost dropped the whole beautiful plate right in the sink. Story of my life! Almost!
I have to admit that, while crunching on the smaller pears as I waited at the grill, I wasn’t sure about this recipe – that is until I tasted all the flavors together, including the toasted almonds. Incredible! Seriously incredible! So far I have really liked every recipe. But then again I have not chosen one with tofu yet. Stay tuned!
Note: Links to each installment will be added to the bottom of this post as we go along.
Why would an omnivore with a vegan-phobic family decide to do a Julie and Julia style challenge through The Blooming Platter vegan cookbook?
Simple! I decided I was tired of planning dinner every night and then deciding what to choose for the token vegetable on the plate – usually frozen or canned and then quickly microwaved just before serving. I just want to give the veggie equal footing with the other options on the plate. Am I crazy to hop scotch straight to vegan? Maybe just a little but here goes!
Since the book is divided into seasons, I decided to start with winter. I counted up 37 recipes and 39 days till spring. Unfortunately I will not be making my way through the soup section and I will tell you why. As a kid my family struggled financially and there were times we had nothing except the soups that people were kind enough to make for us. I will be forever grateful for their generosity, but I just don’t eat soups now.
I chose my recipes for the next week and went shopping. It’s no secret I would much rather shop for, well, anything except groceries. Yes even auto parts! And yes it was excruciating finding ingredients. I looked for a scallion for 20 minutes. I called home to ask my husband what exactly a scallion might look like. He was no help. I asked a gentleman next to me and he referred me to his wife who was so sweet and led me straight over to them without a trace of pity in her eyes.
Ok on to … Walnut oil??? There’s such a thing? An hour later I was done. Thankfully.
My recipe tonight was Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette. I started by following the directions about how to slice the cauliflower, fully expecting mine to be in crumbles on the cutting board but surprisingly they were beautiful. I kept reading and looking for the difficult part but there wasn’t one! It’s hard to screw up whisking oil, vinegar and mustard. And crispy capers!! Who knew??
I always avoid eating capers because I have no idea what they are (still no clue!) but crisp them up and you seriously no longer care what they might be–they are that good.
Overall I liked this recipe. My son said he would not have eaten it without the capers and my husband added ghost pepper seasoning–but then he adds that to everything. Biggest score of the night: no one knew it was “vegan”!!!
About a year ago, I purchased Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner. Last week, I invited one of my vegetarian foodie friends, Trish Pfeifer, over to try out a couple of recipes…with disappointing results…except for our own Homemade Vegan Ricotta (pictured at right)!
I love the cheeses that I have created both for my blog (search “cheese”) and The Blooming Platter Cookbook, but I was intrigued by the promise of Schinner’s meltable and sliceable cheeses, as I am not a big fan of market varieities, even Daiya. Her photos make the cheese look like the real deal.
My Search for Rejuvelac
Many of the cheeses I was interested in called for “rejuvelac,” a liquid made from sprouted grains. I am busy, like everyone I know, so I knew that the number of times the grains must be rinsed, the water changed, etc., not to mention the days necessary for the grain to sprout, were deal-killers for me. So I thought I would purchase it but, alas, not so much. No one in our area carries it, but I found it online from Herbspro.com. It arrived sometime the week of July 7 while I was away–after ordering it on June 26–and it arrived wrapped in bubble wrap in a brown paper box though it was clearly marked “Perishable–Keep Refrigerated.” Oh, and the shipping for 2 bottles, which together cost $9 and change, was $20! I had decided to splurge for the sake of research.
I emailed the company to ask if the product only needed to be refrigerated after opening. They responded promptly that they “weren’t trained on the products” and provided the manufacturer’s contact information, also in CA. I called and was told that absolutely the product must be refrigerated every moment of its life and that I should throw it out and contact Herbspro for a refund. Easier said than done. I called and had to give my phone number to the person who answered who sent an email to shipping who would be in touch, though they weren’t there at that time (and it was mid-morning even in CA). I told him, after our brief conversation, that I had absolutely no confidence that anyone would call me back, though he assured me. And, guess what? No one did.
So I called back about 4 p.m. PST and got the same man to whom I explained why I was calling. He transferred me to “shipping,” where the phone rang interminably until I hung up. I called back for a third time and this time the phone was answered by a woman who knew exactly what was going on with the product–she knew it should have been shipped in a cold pack–and issued a refund. However, as I explained, they need to ship it with a signature required because I was out of town for a week and, even if it had been shipped cold, it wouldn’t have been when I returned home to open it.
Without any Rejuvelac, I was forced to choose cheeses that didn’t call for it, which limited our options significantly. One also can’t purchase unsweetened plain vegan yogurt here and choosing recipes that didn’t call for it would have, again, limited our options down to almost nothing. The amounts of yogurt called for were small, though, so I bought some plain sweetened yogurt and hoped for the best with Schinner’s Cashew Cream Cheese. I also selected Farmer’s Cheese (really, a ricotta), which only called for soymilk, vinegar and salt. THe latter also involved actual dairy cheese-making methods, which I wanted to try.
Schinners Farmer’s Cheese/Ricotta–A Dud! (my SUCCESSFUL recipe follows at the bottom)
Our first attempt at Schinner’s”Farmer’s Cheese” was a complete flop. We added the vinegar to 200 degree soymilk exactly as instructed and watched as beautiful curds formed and then watched as they just as quickly melted, leaving us with nothing but a pot of warm milk. The problem with this recipe is incomplete instructions. She never says to remove the pot from the heat after the vinegar is added. She just says to add the vinegar and that curds will continue to form over the next 10 minutes. Ten minutes, we assumed, of cooking, since NOWHERE did she say to remove the pot from the burner, nor to turn it off.
I decided to look up homemade dairy ricotta recipes online and both that I consulted said to remove the pot from the heat as soon as the vinegar is added. That worked beautifull and we were thrilled with our results. But, Schinner’s yield says 2 cups and ours was 1. Because both online dairy recipes called for dairy milk and cream, we thought we should perhaps compensate for the lack of cream in some way. So the third time we made it, we reduced the milk by 25% to 6 cups, but kept the amount of vinegar the same at 1/4 cup. We saved milk and got the same beautiful results–a yield of 1 cup–with no vinegary taste. The only other change was not to let the curds form over the course of 10 minutes before pouring the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, but 1, as one of the online dairy recipes instructed.
Schinner’s Cashew Cream Cheese–A Disgusting Dud!
“What could go wrong?,” we thought. Afterall, I have made plenty of nut cheeses. But what I haven’t done is make them with live yogurt cultures AND leave them to cure, ripen, or whatever at room temperature as instructed in the book. The cheese was tasty–albeit not very similar to cream cheese–as soon as we took it out of the food processor. But as it sat for the recommended amout of time, it started becoming a bit foamy–not the consistency of cream cheese at all–and tasting spoiled. Schinner notes that the longer the cheese is left out, the “tangier” or “sharper” it becomes. It was not tangy or even sharp to our palate–as a vegetarian, I loved stinky cheese and Trish still does–rather it began to taste fishy and spoiled.
Because we wanted a firmer product, we weighted ours in a cheesecloth-lined colander and, as instructed, left them out for even more hours, at our respective homes. The results were completely inedible, as in gag-reflex inedible. I even tried salvaging mine with sea salt, pepper and olive oil. But, no good. Plus, I’m not sure if they would have made us sick if we had been able to choke them down. Honestly, they were disgusting and we both, independently, threw them out in our outdoor waste bins.
It appears that we are not the only ones who met with some disappointing results when usuing this book. Though the 4- and 5-star reviews far outweigh the 1-stars, I read some of the latter who share my concerns. My advice would be to 1) make MY version of Vegan Ricotta, and 2) if you are still tempted to purchase the book, read a few reviews, and then do so fully informed. *Evidently, a lot of people are achieving fine results with the recipes in the book. However, this ain’t my first culinary rodeo, I can follow a recipe with the best of ’em, and still didn’t achieve edible cheese. I gave the book to Trish to give to her niece who lives near DC, can hopefully obtain rejuvelac there and, perhaps, have better luck with the rejuvelac-based recipes. I am left believing that there must be something about working with live cultures and probiotics that is far more variable than the level for which this book takes into account.
*Another vegan cookbook author friend reports that the Meltable Mozza from the book is nice. One of the reviews on Amazon, however, reports that it didn’t work. Buyer beware.
The Blooming Platter’s Homemade Vegan Ricotta Cheese
6 cups unsweetened soymilk
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Line a strainer or sieve with 2 thicknesses of culinary cheesecloth (not the hardware store variety), available at some grocery stores, at kitchen shops, and online. Place strainer over a deep bowl (I used my Kitchenaide mixing bowl) so that the bottom of the strainer won’t be suspended in the milk as it drains, or you can just pour off the liquid as it collects. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, heat milk and salt over medium-high heat to 200 degrees, stirring occasionally. Stir in vinegar, remove from heat, and very gently stir as big fluffy curds form and separate from the liquid (which would be whey in dairy cheesemaking). After about 1 minute, pour mixture into prepared strainer and allow to drain for one hour. It will be soft at this stage and can be refrigerated and then enjoyed like this. Or you can create a firmer cheese, as we did, by gathering up sides of the cloth, twisting, tying with cord, and hanging from your kitchen faucet or from a wooden spoon set across the top of your deep bowl as I like to do (to keep the dogs out of it!). Let draindrain for about 8 to 12 hours, unrefrigerated. Carefully remove cheese from the cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate. Note: use the drained off liquid to water your plants!
It is my distinct pleasure to be the “Author of the Day” for the 3rd time on Cookstr, “The World’s #1 Collection of Cookbook Recipes Online.” Once again, I am so grateful and humbled!
Please visit their home pagewhere, as they told me, “…your name and photo will be the first thing our visitors see when they click onto the site.” On a continual loop inside the box are features like “Top Picks,” “Recipe of the Day,” and “Author of the Day.” If you don’t see it right away and have time to wait just a minute, me and my recipe for Sassy Springtime Rolls will come back around!
Cookstr was founded in New York City in 2008 by Will Schwalbe, together with Katie Workman, Art Chang and the Tipping Point Partners team. The Author of Send,Will left his job as SVP and Editor in Chief of Hyperion Books to found Cookstr.
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Here are a few additional reasons to visit Cookstr besides sharing in my 15 minutes, or rather 24 hours, of fame:
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The warmest of thanks to Cookstr and to all of you for your support!
This just in from the Shameless Commerce division…
I just received this email tonight from Cole Williams, a gifted former Advanced Art student, who now attends college at VCU and I couldn’t have scripted a better marketing message…
“…Anyway, the reason I am emailing you is to express my appreciation and admiration for your wonderful cookbook- The Blooming Platter. My aunt who lives in California is a vegetarian and a WONDERFUL cook whom I share many recipes and ideas with, and I decided to get her a copy of your cookbook for Christmas. It arrived and while flipping through it I fell in love and decided I needed a copy for myself! I have been doing an increasing amount of cooking in the past few years (especially lately- it’s the cheapest way to eat in college) and eat a largely plant-based diet. The recipes on TheBloomingPlatter.com and in your cookbook give me a lot of inspiration as they are very healthy (an important aspect, to me) and don’t compromise on flavor one bit. I’m especially fond of the Thai/Asian style dishes as well as anything with fall vegetables- I absolutely love winter squash. I thought I would like to let you know that your ideas are impacting young minds!”
If you don’t have time to read this review, I’ll cut to the chase: I would certainly purchase for myself or as a gift this colorful little book of diminutive treats baked and served in canning jars. But, lucky me, I received a complimentary review copy. Available as a paperback or on Kindle, it will delight all the bakers on your holiday list.
Perhaps known best for her blog, www.nomnomnomblog.com, Peters is also the author of four cookbooks, including Have Your Cake and Vegan Too. Her casual, peppy, and conversational writing style makes for a fun, quick read of Vegan Desserts in Jarsfront material and both its chapter and individual recipe introductions.
Don’t be surprised by how thin this little paperback is. At only 124 pages, it nonetheless serves up some 75 tempting recipes and lots of tantalizing color photos. I, for one, appreciate a small focused cookbook. Over my years of cooking, I have found that it is the rare cookbook from which I have made more than a handful of recipes. And, other than my Joy of Cooking, which fit the bill as an introductory cookbook covering all the basics when I was a kid, I tend to shy away from encyclopedic tomes.
With nine chapters, from no-bake treats to cakes, pies, pastry and much more, it was difficult to decide what to bake first for this review. Ultimately, I decided to go fairly basic with ingredients I had on hand and chose chocolate cakelettes. Many of the adorable sweets in this book are made with fresh summer ingredients like berries and peaches. Sure, they are available year-round in grocery stores, but as a seasonal cook, I will make myself wait until summer rolls around again.
I found the “Basic Chocolate Cake” recipe to be a keeper. *It makes 6 cakelettes in 4-ounce canning jars that rise up nice and high begging for a swirl of frosting on their perfect little domes. I had recently purchased a set of 12 canning jars for a few dollars at my local Kroger so I was ready to go when the mood struck. I plan on giving this first batch of festive little treats to the office staff at the high school where I teach. BUT I plan on asking for the jars back so that I can reuse them in the future.
If I were serving these individual cakes at home, I would make as is. However, if making them again to give as gifts, I would probably fill the jars half-full–and make a dozen instead of six–so that I could fit the lids on. They would still be ample desserts, but would be more easily transportable, staying fresh to boot.
Also, my oven seems to bake pretty true to temperature, but I found that I needed to cook the cakes just a couple of minutes longer than the longest baking time specified. The simple wooden pick test will make sure yours are perfect. Perhaps, though, I needed to bake mine a bit longer because I can’t leave any recipe alone, including my own! To this batter, I added 1/4 cup of the new PB2 (powdered, lower fat calorie peanut butter that you mix with water) to the batter and a glug of Creme de Cacao (maybe 1 to 2 tablespoons). Though the recipe was just lovely as published–I tasted the batter, of course–my additions were a delicious twist. So you might keep that in mind when you’re making this (or any) chocolate cake recipe!
Under “About the Author” in the back of the book, I read that Peters “practices lots of yoga.” She’d have to in order to “balance” the calorie damage done from testing the tantalizing treats in this book!
*Note that I just used the book cover as a photo to accompany this review because the lighting for photography is catch as catch can this weekend and my cakes baked up just as shown on the back left, only mine puffed up even higher.
This week, I created a cupcake challenge for my Advanced and AP Art Students.
Entitled, “Hey Cupcake! What’s Up?,” it started on Thursday with them making beautiful sketches of 3 different kinds of vegan cupcakes: 2 from Whole Foods (an Oreo flavored and a peanut butter flavored), and 1 that I made: Red Velvet from the recipe for “Crimson Velvet” cupcakes in the fabulous cookbook: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa (who needs no last name, like Cher or Madonna…or Prince).
My students pronounced my cupcakes absolutely divine as opposed to Whole Foods’ pricey ones that had flavorless, dry cake and grainy frosting. They looked pretty but mine were delicious AND pretty…don’t you think?
So, I just want to put in a plug for the book. I have made and adapted SO many from that book and they never fail! Thanks Isa (Chandra Moskowitz)!
P.S. I’ll post images of my students’ finished artwork soon! But, in the meantime, here is a detail of my teacher sample entitled “She Wore Red Velvet.” Mine is about body image/eating disorder/food obsession. (Topics with which I am only too familiar from my teens/20s…and the residual.) Part of the piece is painted with coffee! I was up working on it after my husband and I went to dinner until 12:30 this morning. Did I earn an A? (Sorry about the image quality…it was taken this morning at 6:20 with my not-so-great ‘Droid camera phone on the kitchen counter!)
The Jerusalem Post is Israel’s best-selling English daily and most read English website. Wow! Thank you, Faye and Yakir.
An excerpt from their article:
“Small oval tomatoes and a chili-seasoned citrus-cumin dressing flavor the roasted corn and black bean salad made by Betsy DiJulio, author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook. She serves this main-course salad on a bed of baby spinach and tops it with spiced toasted pecans. In another summertime salad, she combines corn with diced tomatoes, blackberries, onion and fresh basil, and dresses the salad with lime juice mixed with pomegranate molasses.
To cook the corn for her salads, DiJulio rubs the husked ears with olive oil, sprinkles them with sea salt and roasts them in a 200°C (400°F) oven until just a few brown spots appear; it takes about 15 minutes.”
Vegan Heritage Press, publisher of The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes, among other fine vegan cookbooks, is ushering in spring with a giveaway of my book!
Just follow THIS LINK to the Vegan Heritage Press blog where spring has sprung! You are sure to be seduced by the beautiful colors and fresh ideas for spring meals all from The Blooming Platter Cookbook!
Hurry! The contest ends Friday, March 8, at midnight. And, as of right now, there are already over 60 entrants…Good Luck!