Vegan Pumpkin Flan with Pepitas–
A Twist on Thanksgiving Tradition

pumpkin-flan

After my husband, Joe passed away, I joined with friends–old and new–to create a number of new traditions, among them in–home dinners with all-in gourmet cooks, Juan and Barbara Gelpi.  How fun to, as of September, fold my extraordinary new partner, Bob, into the mix.

Most recently, we convened at the Gelpi’s lovely home to cook and consume a delightful fiesta of homemade pico, guacamole and chips with Coronoas shots of tequila (for Juan and me–my first in my entire life, late bloomer that I am), tortilla soup with roasted pepitas–veganized from a recipe my mother got from the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas–Juan’s seitan mole over herbed rice, homemade tortillas, and, for dessert, Barbara’s apple-oatmeal crisp and my flan.

I adapted it from a recipe I found online, adding the pumpkin, spice, and more agar to make sure it set properly with the additional liquid from the pureed pumpkin.  I also tinkered with the caramel to make sure my preferred sugar–demerera–dissolved.  The results were a huge carnivore-approved hit: absolutely delicious with an incredible texture.  The genius of this recipe, for which I cannot take credit, is to create a cold custard that sets up beautifully, rather than a baked one which is very tricky when no eggs are used.

Betsy’s Pumpkin Flan

For the Caramel:

1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use demerera)
1 to 2 tablespoons water

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and let dissolve  for a few minutes. Then place over medium heat, stirring until melted. The demerera will already be golden in color, but if using granulated sugar, cook until golden. Pour into the bottom of 6 ramekins.

For the Custard:

2 cups plain soy milk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon agar-agar flakes
1/2 cup firm or extra-firm silken tofu (I used firm)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use demerera)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt

Pour the soymilk into a medium saucepan and sprinkle with the agar flakes. Let sit for 10 minutes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until the agar has dissolved.  Don’t worry if the milk breaks and separates. It will come together in the food processor.

Place the tofu, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and soymilk-agar mixture in a blender and blend until very smooth. Pour into the ramekins over the syrup, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours.To remove from the ramekins, run a knife around the edge of each and dip the bottom in hot water for about 15 seconds.  Invert a desert plate on top and turn out.

pumpkin-flan-partially-eaten

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The VERY Best Vegan Brownie–Seriously!
“Bob’s Brownies”
The Perfect Hybrid of a Chewy AND Cakey Brownie

best-browniesAfter spending most of my vegan life trying to perfect a recipe for chewy, fudgy vegan brownies, along came Bob.  His preference is for cakey.

My tasty solution was to meet somewhere in the middle.  I have removed my other “best” brownie recipe because this one tops it by alot.  For the easy recipe, scroll to the bottom of this post.  For the backstory, keep reading.

I am so ashamed that I have seemingly ignored The Blooming Platter since August 12.  This is becoming the same-old-asking-for-forgiveness song.

However, you have been on my mind.  My latest excuse is a good one; I hope you’ll agree.  First, there was my art exhibiton, “Losses and Linkages” at the World Trade Center in Norfolk, VA, on which I had worked for a year.  It broke all records, I was told, opening with 250-300 people in attendance. What a beautiful, humbling, once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing experience.

Second, though, you may recall that I had plunged into Match.com in July, a year after my husband’s passing, and the results were, well, we’ll just say “mixed.”  Indeed I met some very nice, handsome, interesting men–including some I knew or knew of outside of Match, but didn’t know were “available”–yet I experienced none of that magical chemistry.  Eclipsing all else, including what we’ll just call one “bridge” relationship, is the rejection dished out on both sides…wow.  Of course, I only remember what was served up to me, including ghosting which, I’m here to tell you, is a “thing.”

To make a very long story short–which I may decide to share at some point–I “found” Bob the Sunday night after my show opened (September 16) during a window of a few hours when he lost his mind and thought he might be ready for Match.  By Monday morning, he had realized that he wasn’t ready to date and had “hidden” his profile.  But he had responded to me, so we could still email each other through the site.  I had nothing to lose, so I asked if he had removed his profile because I had reached out.  He quickly responded that, no, it was not me, it was him, and–after I shared my frustration with men who verbalized their belief that I wasn’t “ready to date”–offered his real name and his cell phone number in case I wanted his male perspective on online dating.  I did send him a follow-up text which read something like, “Thank you for your kind offer, but I won’t be reaching out to you because you have made your position very clear.”  However, after school, I checked my phone, and there was another message from him.  Several days of intense texting ensued with my thinking all the while that we were just going to be texting “friends,” yet realizing I wanted to meet this man.

Within a week, we had decided that, indeed, we should meet, first schedulinlg a date for the next Sunday and then, because we couldn’t wait, later that Saturday after my evening plans with a girl friend.  After three dates in two days–including to The Chrysler Museum for an artist’s talk and an interview I needed to conduct (Bob busied himself elsewhere)–the rest is, as they say, history. We have been together every day since.  I’ll leave it at that, but suffice it to say that we are in a deeply committed, loving, and fun–if fast forming–relationship.  Learning how better to love this amazing man is one of the great joys of my new life.  But it hasn’t left a lot of time for my beloved blog.

Much of my time has been spent trying to figure out how to feed vegan foods to this carnivore that he will actually like.  He could never be accused of eating the healthiest diet, so I started with daily vitamins.  But I also bake weekly treats.  Here, I offer “Bob’s Brownies.”  Even if they weren’t baked with a huge helping of love, as mine are–and yours too–they would be delicious.  Enjoy!

1 cup all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat for everytihng)

I cup granulated sugar (I use demerera)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Hershey’s dark chocolate variety; but use any unsweetened cocoa powder)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola, but any with a neutral flavor is perfect)

1/2 cup applesauce

1/4 cup non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened soy)

1 nteaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (or your favorite nut; my favorite “nut” loves walnuts)

1/2 cup vegan semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (optional)

1/2 cup coconut chips or shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  *Grease an 8-inch baking pan with non-stick spray and, if desired, line with an approximately 4-inch wide strip of parchment paper, and spray again. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center and add the oil, applesauce, non-dairy milk, and extracts.  Stir or whisk to combine, about 50 strokes.  Fold in nuts and optional chocolate chips and coconut chips or shreds. Transfer the batter into the prepared baking pan, gently smoothing the top, and bake approximately 37-40 minutes or until the center is set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow the brownies to cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

*Note: parchment is optional; you will have no trouble removing thee from the pan whether you use it or not.

These brownies are pretty and glossy even when still in the pan.
These brownies are pretty and glossy even when still in the pan.

 

 

 

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Tomato Jam–Simple as (Tomato) Pie!

Tomato Jam

Yield: 2 pints (4 cups)

Please forgive me for ignoring my precious blog and all of you.  You’ve been on my mind…

As the year anniversary of my husband’s death approached (July 30), I found myself struggling a bit emotionally.  It didn’t help that, right about the 11-month mark, I began to feel a deep longing for a romantic connection, a concept that had been repulsive up until that point.

There were signs–if you believe in that kind of thing–that it was time to move on in my romantic life [I literally found heart shaped items on the ground in front of me (jewelry, a red felt pouch, etc.)] and, at the suggestion of a friend, joined Match.com.  That could be the subject for many posts, though probably not on a recipe blog.  But, suffice it to say, I have been more than a little distracted for a month, though a vacation last week provided some much-need perspective.

So, instead of a treatice on my looking-for-love life, I offer my tomato jam.

Of late, all of my gardening friends are sharing what appears to be their bumper crops of tomatoes this year: golden pear, cherry, big boys, heirlooms, and more.

Finding myself disappearing under the bounty, but not wanting the fruits of their labors to spoil and go to waste, I wanted to make a batch of something that would use a lot of the tomatoes, produce a manageable quantity–perhaps that I could give as gifts–and not require a lot of my limited time.  So, salsa was out.  I love it, but way too much chopping.  And I rarely eat pasta, so tomato sauce wasn’t the answer either.

Since my husband passed away (and since I joined Match!) I’ve lost 12 pounds and my appetite has gone on holiday.  So I find myself mostly snacking these days–healthy snacking–and love pretty little bites of contrasting tastes and textures.  You know, layers and dollops of this and that.  In the mix there has to be something that packs a little punch, like squirting mustard on a (vegan) hot dog.  So, the idea of a tomato jam occured to me, different than a catsup or a chutney.

I simply tossed tomatoes, onion, and garlic in the food processor and then transferred that mixture to a saucepan with sugar, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and smoky paprika (for an extra layer of flavor), simmered it for about a half hour, and added about a tablespoon of fresh basil for a hint of freshness at the very end.  A little bit sweet, it is outstanding served with something a little salty and tangy like a Treeline or Heidi Ho brand vegan cheese on a crunchy cracker or crispbread of some type.

Normally, I wouldn’t post a photo of a recipe in which I hadn’t cleaned the rim of the serving vessel, but I had forgotten to photograph it at home, traveled yesterday evening to another town for a picnic with it, and realized I needed to snap a quick shot just as we were about to dine, so this is the best I could do.

I didn’t properly “can” it using a water bath–no time for that–instead, I simply put it in a clean jar, wrapped a strip of salvaged wrapping paper around it to hide the label–not time to remove it–and tied it with a bit of twine for a cute, casual gift presentation.

Enjoy one of the tastiest gifts of summer!

4 pints (8 cups) tomatoes of any color, including mixed (grape, cherry, larger tomatoes cut into chunks–whatever you have!)

1 small white or yellow onion, quartered

4 large cloves garlic, halved

1/2 cup natural sugar (I like demerera)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar (I used a chianti variety)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika (or try another spice like curry powder)

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh basil chiffonade (leaves stacked, rolled, and very thinly sliced)

Place tomatoes, onion, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until pulpy, but textured.  Transfer to a saucepan and stir in sugar, vinegar, paprika, salt, and pepper.  Simmer on medium-high for about 30 minutes, stirring more frequently toward the end to prevent sticking or scorching, until almost all moisture has been evaporated.  It will cook way down to about half the volume.  Remove from heat, stir in basil, and store, refrigerated, in jars or cartons.  Perfect for gift-giving.

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Red-White-and-Blue Salad in Blue Corn Chip “Stars”
(red beans & white hominy with a blueberry garnish)

Red-White-and-Blue Salad 2Yield: 4 servings

When Joe was alive (that would be just last July 4), we weren’t much on traditonal July 4 celebrations.  Without either of our families here, the backyard family BBQ was not part of our repertoire, and we weren’t devoted “beach people,”–though I love to walk/hike on the beach–so Independence Day would not find us picnicing or out on “the boat” with patriotic fare.

But this year, Kelley, a young female attorney from Joe’s office–someone who he mentored and whose work he respected–is becoming a good friend and invited me to her family’s festivities at her father’s in-town lake house.  Wanting to contribute something to the feast, but not quite sure what since I don’t know her family’s likes and dislikes, I had to channel my late mother.  She loved theme food and theme attire for just about any holiday.

Being somewhat of a “lite and healthy” eater, I decided on a protein-rich salad of red beans and white hominy.  When I saw that, based on the photo on the bag, blue corn chip “cups” look like stars, I knew I would make little salad cups.  After I had made them, though, I felt the  “blue” component needed to be more “true blue,” as the chips are so earthy.  I had blueberries on hand, but I was a little skeptical, despite liking fruit in savory dishes.

There was no need to worry, as the berries provide a little burst of juicy freshness that compliments the lime-spiked sour cream-based dressing perfectly.  And if you want a little fireworks on your tastebuds, I think a hint of minced red jalapeno would be just the ticket.

Happy Independence Day!

Red-White-and-Blue Salad

(Best made at least 2 hours before serving.)
Red-White-and-Blue Salad 1

1-15.5 ounce can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1-15.5 ounce can white hominy, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons vegan sour cream (or mayo)

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon Liquid Aminos or soy sauce

1 teaspoon granulated sugar (I use demerera)

1/2 teaspoon stone ground mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Optional: 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast and/or 1/4 teaspoon minced red jalapeno pepper (Seeds and membranes removed), or to taste

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Garnish: Fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

In a medium bowl, combine beans and hominy.  In a small bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients except blueberries, pour over beans and hominy, and toss gently to combine.  Chill for a couple of hours, if possible, to allow flavors to marry.  Serve in blue corn chip “cups” garnished with a fresh blueberry.

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Vegan Cannelini Bean and Pesto Salad with Grilled Onions and Red Bell Peppers
(Delicious as a cracker topping or sandwich filling)

Cannelini Bean and Pesto Salad with Grilled Onions and Red Bell PeppersYield: 2 main dish servings or 4 side servings

Summer is meant for grilling, right?  Yea, no.  At least not at my house.  I’ve never been an outdoor griller, but I do have a much beloved stovetop grill pan that I use year-round.

A craving for caramelized onions and peppers with a bit of protein from some plump little white beans was the inspiration for this salad.  But these ingredients needed something creamy to hold it all together.  A little while back, I had made a beet green pesto–though any flavored pesto, commercial or homemade would be delicious–and decided to fold it into “lite” vegan mayo (I like Vegenaise brand) in a 1:2 ratio for the dressing.  Yum!

The only drawback was aesthetic.  Despite the red bell pepper, the overall color of the salad was pretty brown. Not wanting to add a green vegetable, as its consistency and flavor was just right as it was, I simply chopped up a little cilantro–although other green herbs would work nicely as well–and sprinkled it over the top.

This salad is filling enough to eat on its own, perhaps atop a bed of greens, but I like it on cracker bread for crispy-crunch.  The salad also cries out to be tucked into a wrap or stuffed in a pita pocket.

Regardless, you’ll be crying for more.

Vegan Cannelini Bean and Pesto Salad with Grilled Onions and Red Bell Peppers

1 can cannelini beans (white beans), rinsed and drained

1 onion, halved, sliced crosswise, grilled on both sides for a few minutes over medium-hi, and cut into pieces

1/2 red bell pepper, halved, sliced crosswise, grilled on both sides for a few minutes over medium-hi, and diced

2 tablespoons vegan pesto, any flavor (I used a homemade beet green pesto)

Approximately 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise

1/4 teasoon garlic powder

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Garnish: finely chopped cilantro, chives, parsley, or other fresh green herb

In a medium bowl, gently combine beans, onion, and red bell pepper.  In a small bowl or cup, whisk together pesto, mayonnaise, and garlic powder.  Spoon over vegetables.  Fold together until completely combined, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve over greens, on crackers or toast, or in a pita or wrap.

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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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