FOOD! AND! WINE!

I never thought I’d get to say this, but I have a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine! On page 94 and 95 of the March issue, to be exact, and my name is in the magazine not once, but TWICE! This issue, The Cooking School Issue, highlights six of the best new cooking schools in the country, and the beautiful Heirloom Kitchen, where I’ve been keeping busy the last few months teaching classes, is featured! I love being a part of the Heirloom Kitchen family – and it’s no surprise that they were singled out amongst the top cooking schools. In addition to a breathtakingly beautiful space, top of the line equipment, and a thoughtfully curated inventory of kitchen goods and housewares, the owners Neilly and Judy are great people to work with. They’ve consistently encouraged me to think outside the box when it comes to class menus and because of their support, I’ve pushed myself to develop – and teach – a number of recipes that I’m extremely proud of. This is one of them. F&W

I remember when I was brainstorming menu ideas for a vegan class I led in February of 2014 (pre-baby!), and thinking that I wanted to do a whole-foods based empanada. But was it even possible to make an empanada dough (essentially a pie dough) without animal products, and without “fake” animal products like vegan “butter” or shortening? I thought back to my vegan sweet potato challah recipe and wondered if together with coconut oil, sweet potato might work. Well, I can’t say I succeeded right away, but after a few attempts, (happily gobbled up by my trusty taster/husband), I got the combination just right to make a tender, but sturdy crust. For the filling, I wanted to go tempeh all the way. Tempeh is tofu’s hippy uncle, who definitely doesn’t get as much play. But when crumbled, it really has a satisfying “meaty” texture, and with the chipotle sauce and oregano, it becomes a savory and slightly spicy filling for the sweet dough.

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Sauce-wise, I thought it would be funny (and yummy) to serve these vegan empanadas with chimichurri, since chimichurri is typically served with grilled meat. This version adds chopped avocado, which lends an extra creaminess and sweetness that plays well with the tempeh filling.

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Even though I knew it was coming any day, when my husband walked in with a stack of advance copies sent from the offices of Food & Wine, and I finally saw my name in print, it was possibly the most exciting moment of my food life! My friend Tia (who also happens to be published in F&W, and therefore knows the thrill) was over and had the foresight to snap the above pic of me FLIPPING OUT (See the gesticulating blurry hand!? The pulsing forehead vein!? The maniacal smile?!) when reading the article for the first time.

It’s been a whirlwind since it came out, and I’m so grateful to all the friends and family reaching out to congratulate me after seeing it. I’m so thrilled they chose my recipe, and that it got me posting here again! In the coming weeks and months, I hope to be posting more recipes that I have developed over the past year plus. I am definitely still cooking – I just have been doing some other things too (see below), which are taking precedence over the blog at the moment. I hope to be able to get more posts out, and also small short posts to just connect my kitchen to all of you a bit more often.

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For those of you in NY and NJ, I want to invite you to take my next class on March 14th at Heirloom Kitchen. Featured in this month’s Food & Wine ;) I’m teaching “Vegan Weeknight Meals from a Well-Stocked Pantry“, which will cover my basic list of what to stock in your pantry and fridge so you can come home from a long day and cook delicious, healthy meals – easily – with what you have on hand. After we tackle some of those recipes, we gather around Heirloom Kitchen’s beautiful farm table and share in a meal…There might even be a guest appearance from you know who!

Where have I been? Good question!

I so wanted to get this out yesterday so it would be exactly a year since my last post, but alas, over a year has passed since I last updated this site (a year and one day!). I wouldn’t usually make excuses for that kind of absence, but in this case, the excuses are great ones, so I will share. I want to!

1) We moved. Granted it was just to an apartment upstairs in our same building, and granted we didn’t even have to truly pack (can you say millions of trips with Ikea bags up and down in one-flight elevator trips?!) but it was a move nonetheless. And moves are tough. And when the kitchen got packed up, we ordered a lot of take-out.

2) We renovated the new apartment, including an amazing new kitchen and bathroom. It was pretty awesome to design a kitchen from the walls out and I have to say, I got my dream kitchen! I am hoping to share with you what and why we decided to use for cabinets (Ikea), shelving (Advanced Tabco), countertops (custom stainless steel), appliances (Jenn-Air and Bosch), and flooring (wood), since I found posts like that super helpful when we were researching and planning our renovation, but for now, I will just share this cool fish-eye picture.

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3) Even though I had a fancy, beautiful new kitchen, I wasn’t cooking for the greater part of the fall after we moved in because…I was pregnant (!!) annnnnnd sick all the time.  I honestly couldn’t even THINK of cooking or eating the things I normally love. I subsisted on rice cakes, Puffin cereal, saltines (I clearly had a texture thing) and cut up oranges. I guess at one point during the  pregnancy I baked a pie. See evidence below.

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4) You know what’s coming next, right? Now we have a baby!!! The most beautiful baby boy in the whole entire world who was born this Spring, and who keeps me out of the kitchen because I spend the greater part of every day squeezing his cheeks and talking to him in a voice that is higher than the top of Mariah Carey’s vocal range. There is some cooking is happening, like on CSA night, but not a ton. Or at least not a ton of cooking that requires two hands. And I’m OK with that. He’s the best.

5) Finally, I’ve put off posting because the blog needs work. I’ve been wanting to do a redesign for a while now, and I also have a major spam problem, which needs a lot of attention, and some sort of security-fix. I think we’re probably going to migrate the blog to a different platform – that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, right?

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However, over the past year I’ve also done some pretty awesome cooking things, although it hasn’t been reflected on this site. I offered a series of cooking classes at an amazing kitchen store in Old Bridge, NJ: Heirloom Kitchen. If you live anywhere near there, you should check them out! They offer cooking classes and demonstrations and have a wide assortment of well-curated cooking and baking supplies. I’ve also done a few cooking demonstrations, and have been working more on my recipe development and food photography.

All that said, I’m hoping to be updating this site more regularly, but for now, until I get my new-mama act together, I’ll be cooking one-handed while the other hand squeezes my son’s cheeks.

(I do update my instagram and Facebook pages with more frequency than this blog. I also occaisonally tweet.)

Whipped Almond Coconut Cream with Balsamic Strawberries

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You have to go get a can of coconut cream. Like, right now. Seriously. Go buy it, put it in the refrigerator, and then you can sit and finish reading this post, because there will already be a can of coconut cream in your fridge. I mean, who doesn’t like strawberries and cream, right?! Well, yes, except there are a whole bunch of people that don’t eat dairy, so what about that? Well, last summer the vegan blogosphere was bustling with chit-chat of whipped coconut cream. Pins started pinning, instagrams starting ‘gramming, and people started talking – “Did you know?! Coconut cream can be whipped into whipped cream,” they’d say. Well, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it one bit, so I sat that one out. Until… I came across a can of coconut cream a few weeks ago, and remembered all the people that swore it could happen. And since it was the beginning of strawberry season and I had just received my first quart of berries from our CSA, and I just had to know: was whipped coconut cream really possible?

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The answer is not only yes, but yes AND it’s freaking delicious! Sure it takes some planning to have a can of coconut cream lurking in the back of your fridge, but you’ve already taken care of that part. (And if not, GO!  Just buy one and throw it back there, and you won’t notice it until that day that your vegan friend or lactose intolerant cousin or paleo co-worker comes by for dinner. You’ll have an “ah-ha” moment, find that can, and rock this dessert. They will love you for it.)

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All you need to make this magic happen is a sturdy stand-mixer or hand-mixer. When you open the can of coconut cream, you’ll notice it hardened up quite a bit, scape it all our into your stand mixer’s bowl, and start to whip up on high speed. You can’t use light coconut milk here for same reason that you can’t whip skim milk into whipped cream. The fat is what helps the cream thicken up. I like to add a touch of ground vanilla and ground almonds while it’s mixing because coconut and almonds are one of my favorite combos, but you don’t have to add the nuts. If you don’t have ground vanilla, vanilla extract works too. If you whip the cream and transfer to the refrigerator, it will re-thicken to a mousse-like consistency. I haven’t tried yet, but I feel like this might work well as a cream layer in a layer cake. I’ve eaten both versions with strawberries, and I think I prefer the just-whipped-up consistency better, but yogi’s choice.

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I’ve been enjoying this bowl of pillowy coconut with strawberries macerated for a few hours with a drizzle of super-quality balsamic vinegar and some chopped basil. Then, to serve, I like to get all fancy-like and layer the berries, the cream, some sliced almonds and top with a basil garnish. Dairy-free summery summerness.

Welcome Summer with Vegan Cashew Pesto

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Whether it’s wafting over from your garden (oh I wish I had a garden!), or from your CSA box (in my case…), or even from your grocery store (when all else fails!) – I’m sure we can all agree that the sweet scent of fresh basil is THE smell of summer. Although basil can be used in so many ways, from topping off a summer sandwich, to muddling it into a favorite cocktail, to kicking up a simple stir-fry, pesto sauce is really basil’s time to shine. Classic pesto is made from just five ingredients: basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano cheese (often seasoned with 2 extra ingredients, The S&P500, as Matthew calls salt and freshly cracked black pepper).  And while pesto classico is definitely delicious, I’ve found that this vegan version, which relies of soaked cashews in lieu of the parmigiano cheese is a great alternative if you are avoiding dairy. I’ve used this spread on grilled pizza, on sandwiches, and when I’m feeling particularly fancy, on slices of zucchini crostini for a gluten-free hors d’oeuvres.

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This cashew pesto is such an easy spread, which can be whipped up in no time and modified to be more creamy or garlicky or basil-y depending on your mood (or what’s stocked in your kitchen). I add a squeeze of lemon for a touch of acid and a dab of miso to round it out with umami richness. If you don’t have miso in your fridge, feel free to add a dash of tamari or soy sauce – it won’t be exactly the same, but you will get a similar umami-ness.

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To begin, soak the cashews. I never measure anything, I just fill a small jar or bowl with raw cashews and cover with just boiled water. I soak them for as long as I have time – sometimes it’s only 10 minutes, and sometimes it’s overnight. Yes, the resultant pesto is creamier when you soak them longer, but it’s still super-tasty when you do a quick soak. In other words, don’t be held back from making this recipe if you only have a few minutes to soak.

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Once the soaking time is up, drain and add the cashews, a handful of fresh basil, a clove of garlic, a scant teaspoon of miso paste, the juice of half a lemon and blend in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the food processor, and start blending again, adding olive oil in a stream while blending to create an emulsion. Once the sauce has become the consistency you’d like, taste and season with salt and pepper. The spread keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

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I LAvocado You.

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I used to be terrified of avocados and coconuts. A child of the early nineties, I was raised during the peak of the “all-fat-is-bad-fat” phase epitomized by low-fat Snackwell’s cookies. It was only in the past few years, truly, that I’ve been able to fully embrace these plant fats without feeling guilty, and I now I’m sure to eat plenty of plant-based fats throughout the day. Nothing says plant-based-good-fat like avocado, with it’s pale, creamy, rich flesh, and now that I’m 100% in the #teamavocado camp, it seems that there’s no place avocado hasn’t creeped in to my cooking. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, avocado is sweet, cooling and moistening. This might explain why my mother once saw a man on the subway open an avocado and methodically rub the flesh onto his face over the course of her trip downtown. Everyone loves avocados…even in their purest form…even on their face! While I don’t — or should I say haven’t YET – enjoyed avocado directly on my skin, I often do enjoy the sweet, nourishing fruit simply. Here are some ideas to get you out of the guacamole rut. Not that there’s anything wrong with guacamole and in terms of ruts it’s probably the best one to be in, but there’s so much that’s right with other preparations of avocados that it just wouldn’t be good to keep it all to myself.

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Sometimes I do nothing more than mash ripe avocado up with whatever herbs I have on hand, salt and fresh black pepper, olive oil, a bit of chopped shallot and/or garlic and throw it all on some bread. Voila, avocado toast! It’s a great snack, or light meal when paired with a salad or bowl of soup. It’s filling, and you can riff on this base in a bunch of different directions: cumin and sliced tomato to add a south-western flair, ginger and sesame oil for an asian avocado spread, or tarragon and olives for a Provencal twist.

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Other times, avocado works as a nice, rich garnish when merely sliced atop a plate of food. In the case of the meal above, warm millet and a spiced lentil/tofu patty was topped with sweet, cooling avocado and slightly bitter dandelion-green tahini. All together, the meal delivered a balanced flavor profile which, without the avocado, might have been a too harsh with the spicy patty and all. The next time you feel like your dish needs a little creamy love, throw on some thinly sliced avocado and marvel and what just a little of this magic fruit does to your plate and palate.

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Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a creamy avocado dressing that I use over steamed vegetables, as a dip for crudité, or as a spread on sandwiches. In the Sustainable Pantry style, I use in whatever is around like herbs, garlic, and often preserved lemon, in addition to lemon juice or rice wine vinegar and olive oil. Into a large jar everything goes, along with some water, and I blend with an immersion blender. Once the sauce is smooth, it stores for a few days covered in the fridge, and can be thinned out with a drop of water or lemon juice if it thickens up in the fridge. It’s kinda like vegan mayo, and not to sound too hippy or anything, but it is delicious on a tempeh sandwich. Groovy, man!

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But here’s the thing that’s gonna blow your mind: YOU CAN HAVE AVOCADO FOR DESSERT! I was introduced to this delicious, vegan chocolate avocado pudding at my friend Melani’s house last summer, and I’ve been making it ever since. The pudding is “raw” so you don’t have to turn on the stove and schvitz over milk to make a custard base, which is a major plus in this heat – oy vey! The chocolate comes from raw cacao powder, which is so chock-full of antioxidants that eating this avocado pudding is basically the same as taking a multivitamin. To sweeten it up, you can use either maple syrup or soaked, pitted dates which I prefer. Once made, the pudding lasts a week to 10 days in the fridge, but I highly doubt it will keep that long!

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The ratio I use is 1 ripe avocado, 1/4 cup cacao powder, one tablespoon ground vanilla (you can use a bit less vanilla extract if you don’t have ground vanilla), maple syrup/soaked dates to taste, and a pinch of salt. This all goes into a Cuisinart/food processor, and is blended up until smooth. I usually use about 6-7 dates per avocado, soaked in just enough hot water to cover for a couple of minutes, then drained and added into the blended (reserve this sweetened water to thin the pudding if needed). One addition I’ve made to Melani’s original is to add a bit of coconut milk – about 1/4 cup or so, which makes it oh so creamy, and oh so good-fatty, and oh so delicious. Top with berries, or shredded coconut, or just eat from the food processor with a spoon, as is my custom.

A few more avocado tips:

  • Store unripe avocados out on the countertop until the hard, rough skin darkens and thins, and the flesh becomes soft. At this point, store in the refrigerator until used. 
  • When opening an avocado, half it and use the non-pit side first; the side with the pit still in keep stay longer. Spritz some lemon juice on the open surface, which helps prevent oxidation – the browning of the avocado flesh from exposure to air, and wrap in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
  • To open and pit an avocado, cut around the large pit lengthwise and twist the avocado open. Hit the heel of your knife into the pit, then twist the knife so the pit comes out of the avocado and remains on your knife. Then, hit the knife on a cutting board with the heel/pit hanging off the side, and the pit will come right off the knife (have your hand or a garbage under the pit to catch it – these things are pretty slippery.)

What do you do with avocados?