Popsicle Mania

I recently (re)acquired the popsicle molds of my childhood, replete with little straws built in the bottoms for enjoy every last dribbly bit. This act of engineering genius (coupled with the stifling heat) has sparked a popsicle renaissance in our freezer. My first recipe came more by way of necessity than inspiration—several nectarines were swiftly turning to unappetizing mush on the counter, but lo-and-behold, when whizzed with some agave and lemon juice they turned into scrumptious chucks of frozen summery goodness.

Next came the berry-rose pops. Some sad looking strawberries met a glorious end when coupled with frozen raspberries, a bit of hibiscus teas, agave and a touch of rosewater. I strained the pulp to get the seeds out and into the freezer they went. Delicious! Though terrifying to eat near anything white.

Then I tried mixing up some super-sweet cantaloupe with lime juice, coconut water and a little fresh ginger. Delicious, sweet, tangy, slightly spicy awesomeness.

Emboldened by success, I have been putting just about anything into these molds of frozen perfection (because when you are sweating while sitting still, inside, with several fans going, pretty much anything sounds better if it’s frozen). A mixture of almond milk and melted mint chocolate resulted an icy, refreshing nouveau-fudgesicle. Kombucha pops were less of a success (not a strong enough flavor ) but the were cold, so not all was lost.

Future flavor combinations may include:

+ Raspberry yogurt swirl

+ Orange Cremesicie

+ Toasted Coconut

+ Banana (with mini-chocolate chips?)

+ Strawberry & plum

+ Kiwi

+ Blueberry lavender

+ Chai

+ Strawberry mint lemonade

+ Fresh Pineapple

+ Sour Cherry

+ Café au Lait

+ Mango Lassi

+ Watermelon

+ Peaches & cream

+ Grapefruit

Any and all other suggestions will be tried and fed to my intrepid taste-tester!

Full of Beans

As all of you who are in Boulder can testify, this has been a weird summer weather-wise. It’s been in the mid-nineties and muggy for weeks on end. Aside from making me lethargic and grumpy, the oppressive heat is also making me feel mighty uninspired in the kitchen. That’s not all bad though. As I’m not feeling as inclined to try new recipes or spend hours (or any time at all) slaving over the stove, let alone firing up the oven, I’ve been focusing my culinary energy on the basics – beans, grains, simply-prepared veggies, smoothies (yes, they are their own food group)…

As a (mostly) vegan that eats (mostly) whole foods, I eat a lot of beans. For years I’ve felt less than stellar about canned beans- the BPA, the excess packaging, the extra expense. But actually getting my act together to soak and boil a big pot of dry beans was always a little intimidating. A couple of weeks ago I just bit the bullet and loaded up on dry beans at the store instead of canned. Despite the fact that my first batch (black-eyed peas) expanded more than expected while soaking and caused the jar they were inhabiting to ooze water all over the kitchen counter, I have deemed the experiment a successful one. I love the alchemical transformation through which these dry hard lumps from the bulk bin transform into swollen, soft little bits of deliciousness—their flavor is much more pronounced than the canned variety. And it sure is nice to just leave the pot on the stove to simmer without having to be in the same room. Once cooked and cooled, I’ve been loving having a mess of beans in the fridge to throw into salads, fill burritos or mix with rice. I’ve been doing much the same thing with various grains – quinoa, brown basmati rice, millet, barley. They are great to have on hand for substantial but light salads and quick lunches.

Amidst the cooking hiatus, I have crafted a couple of recipes that were remarkably delicious – maybe even warranting turning on the stove/oven (?)

Barley Summer Salad with Fennel & Chard (loosely based on the “Dill Basmati Rice with Chard ” recipe from Veganomicon)

2 cups cooked (& cooled) barley

1 cup cooked (& cooled) du Puy lentils (or other beans)

1/2 of a large fennel bulb, diced

1 small sweet onion, diced

1/2 of an English cucumber, seeded & diced

1 handful raisins

2 Tbs. minced fresh dill

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. black pepper

Good olive oil and red wine vinegar (in whatever proportions you prefer)– start with about 2 Tbs. vinegar and 1/4 cup oil.

Combine all the ingredients and mix with dressing. Let chill for at least one hour for optimal deliciousness. It’s even better the next day.

Sour Cherry Cornbread Cobbler (makes 4 -6 servings)

Filling:

2 cups lightly-sweetened pie cherries (sweetened however you prefer until palatable, but still tart)

2 small apples, peeled and grated

2 heaping Tbs. cornstarch

Squeeze of lemon juice

Biscuit topping:

2/3 cup cornmeal

1 1/3 cup Pamela’s gluten-free baking mix (or regular flour)

1 Tbs. baking powder

pinch of sea salt (add another if using flour)

1/2 sunflower oil

1/2 cup almond milk

1 spoonful coconut oil & 1 spoonful brown rice syrup, melted

  1. Heat oven to 400 F. Grease a pan (a large loaf pan should be perfect for this amount).
  2. Mix together the all of the filling ingredients and pour into the pan.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients for the biscuits. Drizzle in the oil and mix with a fork. Drizzle in the milk and stir until mixture just comes together.
  4. Drop spoonfuls of dough on top of the cherry filling, more-or-less covering it. Brush or drizzle the top with the coconut oil/ brown rice syrup mixture.
  5. Bake for about 20 – 30 minutes until the top is golden and crusty. Mmmmmm!

Mmmmmayo…

Memorial day served as a perfect bookend between spring and summer this year. The wind and drizzle have been replaced by gloriously warm sunny days. The absolute highlight of the long weekend was laying in the sun on our “porch” (roof) and blasting Bob Marley to drown out the abysmal musical taste of our frat-boy neighbors—a quintessentially summery activity. Of course summer also brings the urge to cook less, picnic more and feast on such delicious things as sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad. And what do these beacons of summer have in common – mayonnaise, of course! I’ve never been a big fan of conventional mayo—the eggy aftertaste was always a bit too off-putting, but I do love just about everything you can make with it. Just about everywhere now you can find a couple of brands of vegan mayonnaise for sale, generally based on tofu. Veganaise, one of the most ubiquitous offering is really very good. I was doubtful that I could match its texture and flavor at home…but I had to try!

And, if I may toot my own horn *toot!*, I must say my mayo absolutely blew theirs out of the water. I can barely resist eating by the spoonful. Considering my success using blending silken tofu in my hollandaise sauce, I decided to take the same approach with TPC’s standard mayonnaise recipe. I blended it as smooth as possible to begin with and then also used my immersion blender when adding the oil to ensure silkiness throughout. I ended up needing to add significantly more tofu that I originally anticipated, based on my egg to tofu approximations in the hollandaise. I think the fact that mayonnaise using liquid oil instead of melted “butter,” which has much more of its own body as it cools probably accounts for this. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the recipe:

12 oz. (1 box) organic firm silken tofu
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. ume vinegar (If you’ve never heard of this stuff, try it immediately. Its salty, sour, fruitiness is unbelievably good in just about anything! )
1/2 tsp. prepared dijon mustard
1 cup organic sunflower oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
 
  1. Combine the tofu, water, vinegar and mustard in deep jar. Set on top of a damp towel (to keep the jar from sliding around when using the blender).
  2. Blend with an immersion blender until as smooth as possible.
  3. Dribble in the oil with your blender running.
  4. Once all your oil has been added blend a few more second until perfectly smooth and glossy.
  5. Add a little salt, to taste, if necessary.

Some ways to use your mayo:

  • Combine with crumbled tofu, capers and mustard for “Egg” Salad
  • Combine mashed chickpeas, diced celery and apples and curry powder for a fabulous sandwich filling
  • Mix mayo and siracha sauce for homemade bahn mi or as a dip for veggies.
  • Make vegan BLTs with temphe “bacon” (marinate with smoked paprika, maple syrup and soy sauce and saute with plenty of oil)
  • Potato salad – nuff said
  • Coleslaw (my favorite is green cabbage with sweet onion, red pepper, carrots & caraway seeds)

Excuse me while I go salivate over more ideas….

Hollandaze

As the weather has been decidedly northern European this past week (cold and drizzly), I fought the urge to simply hide under the covers and whipped up two of the richer sauces I’d been putting off during the warm spell: Hollandaise and Brown Sauce. Upon my first perusal of TPC, hollandaise made me nervous. After all, isn’t it supposed to be notoriously finicky, even with out substituting any of the ingredients? But, onward I pressed, in the name of (vegan) science. My bravery paid off—I was rewarded with a slightly obscene amount of smooth, rich, beautifully-emulsified egg and butter-free hollandaise.

Per TPC’s instructions, I began with 1/3 cup of cider vinegar. I boiled it with a few peppercorns and a pinch of saffron, for color (my addition), until reduced to 1/4 cup. In the finished sauce, I found the vinegar to be a bit too pungent. In the future, I would reduce the vinegar further or use fresh lemon juice instead. I decided to substitute blended organic firm silken tofu for the eggs in this recipe, since their role is largely textural. I used roughly 3 rounded tablespoons in place of every egg, or about 2/3 cup for the whole recipe. Since eggs expand when heated, it’s necessary to use a greater volume of tofu than egg called for in the original recipe, as it remains at a constant volume. I blended together the tofu, vinegar and saffron (the peppercorns were strained out) with my trusty immersion blender until silky smooth. I then began to drizzle in the melted butter (1 1/4 cup), which was actually Earth Balance in my case. I debated using the more traditional whisking method to incorporate the butter, but I wasn’t sure how well the tofu would act as an emulsifier, so I deciding to err on the side of blending the living &$*! out of it instead. While not included in TPC’s recipe, I’ve seen many other recipes include a bit of dry mustard to act as extra emulsifying insurance as well —something to keep in mind.

In this case, my ingredients and methodology all got along famously and finished with just a pinch of salt (since EB is already salted) and about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, my lovely sauce was ready to serve. I was shocked by how authentic the sauce looked, tasted and felt. The saffron provided a gentle yellow hue (less vibrant than an egg-based version, but still satisfyingly associative) and the flavor was virtually indistinguishable from a traditional hollandaise. I’d even go so far as to say I preferred the flavor of this sauce as it didn’t have that vaguely unpleasant overtly eggy aftertaste that is often present in a traditional hollandaise. Paired with toasted english muffins, tofu rounds sauteed in olive oil, wilted spinach and roasted tomatoes, my hollandaise completed a scrumptious dinner of Tofu Benedictine, so named for the Benedictine order,  one of the earliest proponents of vegetarianism in Europe. Last night, I spooned some of the leftover sauce onto a pile of steamed asparagus – eaten none-too-neatly with our fingers, it was absolutely delicious —easily the highlight of the meal.

A few days previously, inspired to use my chanterelle brown stock to make brown sauce, aka gravy, I decided to make a springtimey shepherd’s pie. The sauce began with a typical roux, cooked until golden brown, at which time you add the stock and cook until smooth and rich-tasting. I used 2 TBS oil to 3 TBS flour, but found the sauce a bit thin. For a thicker result, I would recommend a bit more roux, just keep the proportions of oil to flour the same. In my case, I stirred a couple of spoonfuls of mashed potatoes into the finished sauce to thicken it, which worked fine for this application but certainly resulted in a slightly more “rustic” result. I also added in about a cup of caramelized crimini mushrooms for good measure = good move. I boiled some russet potatoes until soft, mashed them (with a pastry blender, which worked remarkable well, if you don’t mind scorched knuckles), and stirred in a healthy dose of homemade raw oat-milk, Earth Balance and salt. The oatmilk was a revelation here; it’s rich neutral character paired perfectly with the potatoes. These were without a doubt the best mashed potatoes—ever. I also prepared a pan full of diced cauliflower, green beans, green peas and garbanzo beans seasoned with fresh thyme, salt and pepper. I poured the gravy over the veggies and topped with a (thick) layer of potatoes, dotted with a bit of extra EB. It baked for about one hour at 350 until golden on top and cooked through. It proved a wonderfully cosy dinner for a rainy evening, and the leftovers were just as good – at least so O tells me (they weren’t around for long).

Stay tuned for coming attractions: homemade vegan mayonnaise and tomato sauce, among other wonders…

Brown stock, white sauce and grey days

Last week, when it was still a bit cool out, I made up some brown stock, using dried chanterelle mushrooms instead of veal bones. It was great – rich and deeply flavored. I was astounded at how much body and depth of flavor I was able to achieve just using the mushrooms. The method was virtually identical to the white stock I’d made previously: begin with 1/4 cup of oil, add the mirepoix and cook. However, in this case, you cook the mirepoix until it is deeply caramelized, adding a few tablespoons of tomato paste near the end and letting that brown as well. Then add the salt and about one gallon of water. Then simmer away for at least an hour. Then strain and it’s ready for use. I salvaged the strained veggies and added back a little stock to make a quick soup – couldn’t let those delicious chewy little chanterelle nuggets go to waste! 

Unfortunately, on the cooking front, (fortunately, on all other fronts) the weather over the past week or so has been gorgeously sunny and warm. Not so good for making rich sauces, as was on the cooking agenda. I’d planned on progressing through TPC more-or-less in order, as the recipes tend to build on each other – stocks are turned into sauces, sauce bases into soups, etc, but I’ve revised that plan a bit. Soups during the summer is just not going to happen. But, I would still like to finish off the sauce section before moving on. On that note, I was very happy when I woke up yesterday to find it cold and rainy! And again today!

Yesterday evening, I threw together a dairy-free béchamel sauce. The concept is really quite simple—just using a dairy free milk instead of cow’s milk. The technique is identical to that of the velouté, just using milk instead of stock. I’d been thinking of trying it weeks ago, but I couldn’t settle on a non-dairy milk that seemed workable – coconut had too much of it’s own flavor, same with soy, rice was too thin, etc. Then, I fortuitously stumbled upon this recipe for homemade oat milk the other day. I gave it a shot and lo-and-behold, I soon had a quart of rich, but extremely neutral tasting, oat milk. I whipped up a basic roux with some flavorful olive oil, added the oat milk and let simmer, stirring often, with a couple of cloves of garlic. Just before serving, I pureed it with my immersion blender for incorporate the garlic and added a bit of pepper and nutmeg. Served over whole wheat pasta with spinach and kale and topped with a few red chili flakes it was the perfect rainy day meal – creamy, rich and comforting, but still much lighter than it’s dairy-laden inspiration. Béchamel now in my arsenal, I’m plotting a vegan moussaka…

I’m hoping the cool and the grey will hold out for another day or so, so I have time to try out a basic brown sauce with my chanterelle stock. Then only the (more sunny-weather-friendly) mayonnaise, hollandaise and tomato sauce remain!

Veloutè: a riot of beige

There is really no getting around it- veloutè is just about the least photogenic food ever. I’ve spared you from having to gaze at what looks like a big ol’ pot of wallpaper paste. But, unappealing as it may be, it sure does taste good. Veloutè is just about the most basic sauce in the classical repetoir. It consists of a blond roux combined with a white stock, and sometimes a bit of extra seasonings. From this jumping off point, you can turn it into any number of other Escoffier-approved sauces, but I decided to keep this one as simple as possible for the sake of science.

Roux is one of those things that seems a lot more complex than it is. Similar to stock, technique and proportion is really they key. Begin by heating 2 parts oil, then add 3 parts all-purpose flour. Don’t mess around with different kind of flours – since the gluten content varies, you’ll also have to adjust the oil ratio and cooking times – just don’t go there. Then cook gently, stirring so it stays smooth and doesn’t form a crust on the bottom. Cook for about 5 minutes, until as TPC eloquently instructs “it looks like smooth wet sand.” Then slowly add in the stock (homemade, of course :-)). Strive for something of a temperature differential between the stock and roux. Hot stock and cool roux or visa versa, but nothing too extreme or it will make it hard to combine. After each addition of stock, whisk till smooth and then add a bit more. Repeat…many many times. Add any flavorings at this point – I used a little white wine, a few clovers of garlic and few peppercorns. Either use a bouquet garni or be prepared to strain the sauce before using. Then simmer the concoction for about 30 minutes or until the roux no longer tastes “raw” – basically it should have no lingering papier–mache aftertaste or gritty texture. It should in fact be nice and rich and velvety, which is the meaning of it’s name in French.

As the sauce bubbled away, it let off a wonderful aroma, that oddly reminded me distinctly of Maruchan chicken-flavored ramen. The wave of college-age memories this triggered was a healthy reminder of the visceral power of aroma and taste. Interestingly, about 90% of “taste” is really our sense of smell. When O came into the kitchen, he said it smelled just like something his Nana used to make. Once my sauce was done, I very thinly sliced some potatoes and chopped a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme. In a baking dish, I layered the potatoes and sauce, sprinkling each stratum with herbs. Then I baked it in a 350〫oven until cooked through and browned on top. Like the veloutè, it wasn’t much to look at (thoroughly beige) but delicious. I was amazed by how creamy and flavorful it was, entirely devoid of milk or cheese. The leftovers didn’t stick around long either… always a good sign.

Investing (time) in Stocks

Stock. The basis of so many recipes, and yet something of an antiquated procedure in most home kitchens – it certainly has been in mine. I’ve made de-facto stock, as the first step of a soup, often enough, but I’d never taken the time to prepare stock to store for use in other recipes. Even this first, quite simple, recipe made me realize what a departure from my normal cooking style this project will be. Namely, that it will be slow. Particularly in the past several years of being in school or at work more-or-less full time, my cooking has tended toward dishes that could be thrown together quickly, relying on spices or condiments for much of the flavor. Making stock, in contrast, is all about the slow extraction of flavor from the food itself. Different for certain, but also very satisfying. As The Professional Chef (TPC) decrees, good stock tastes not only flavorful but wholesome.

TPC devotes several pages to veal, beef, fish and chicken stock, among other meaty variations, but also includes a recipe for vegetable stock. Vegetable stock, along with chicken and fish, are classifying as “white” or light stocks, as opposed to the heartier “brown” variations. Apparently an extra-rich stock can be made if you use the nasty bits of younger animals, as they have more connective tissue clinging to the bone, which will melt down into your stock making it richer and more”gelatinous” – yum. But stock is really more about technique than ingredients. The only difference between making a meat stock and a veggie version is that you chuck some extra veggies in the pot instead of bones. And so I decided there was no real need to try to make a un-beef stock, as veggie stock can pretty much go wherever the meaty stuff does.

Considering that I will be using this stock only vegetarian preparations, I figured that a mild vegetable stock would be sufficient for most recipes.  But, since veggies lack tendons and cartilage and such to add fat and body, per TPC, I made sure not to skimp on the oil – 1/4 cup per gallon of water. I began with a standard mirepoix – 2 parts onions to 1 part carrot and 1 part celery, chopped in ~ 1/2 inch cubes. After heating the oil, the onions went in first until they began to release their juices. Then I added the carrots until they began to brown, then then celery. After about 10 more minutes on stove, I added more vegetables, the same total volume as the mirepoix. (I think I may need a scale…). TPC specifies that any “non-starchy” veggies may be used. I used some leftover leeks and portobello mushroom trimmings, hoping the mushrooms would contribute a rich flavor. These sautéed for another 10 minutes. Then I added the gallon of water plus ~ 2 teaspoons of sea salt. The whole pot then simmered for about an hour (while I took a bath). I chucked in the flavoring bouquet (a bundle of cheesecloth containing 4 parsley stems, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 garlic clove, a bay leaf and a few pepper corns) about 15 minutes before the end. Finally, I strained the stock through a mesh colander.

The results were good, but not overwhelmingly so. Really, I was a little disappointed- all that work, and it didn’t taste all that different than something that could have come out of a can… But then, sitting overnight deepened the flavor improved remarkably. And the next day, I made polenta with the stock, to see what sort of difference the flavor would make in such a simple recipe – it was incredible! Worth the trouble…I think. I can’t imagine making stock very often, but a big batch every now and then seems like a great way to use up vegetable scraps and its easy to freeze. I may be a convert after all…

Next, I plan on tackling a less-orthodox vegetarian brown stock. Traditionally, the brown color and richer flavor would come from both the meat an from well-caramelized mirepoix and a bit of browned tomato paste. I’m thinking of subbing dried mushrooms for the meat, to try to capture a similar depth of flavor.

Stay tuned…

Next, my stocks will be turned into sauces!

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Let the veganization begin!

Since adjusting to being back in the Hometown it has become more and more clear to me that I want to pursue a culinary career. No matter how long or tiring a day I’ve had, I’m always eager to get home to my kitchen to try out a new recipe or whip up a familiar batch of cookies. And while I’ll be the first to admit that many of my interests can be intense, but fleeting, this joy from all things alimentary has been a constant in my life pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ve been concerned that to turn this passion into work might somehow cause it to disintegrate and no longer be enjoyable, but the more I reject the possibility on those grounds, the more I simply don’t see an alternative. To push aside this love and skill of mine would simply be nonsensical.

Of course, coming to this conclusion has only been just the beginning of turning this new direction into a reality. I want start from a fancially stable place, meaning this is not in the immediate future, and, most importantly, I want to find a culinary school that supports my values, as most well-know schools (CIA, Cordon Bleu, etc) tend to have a very strong French/ Classic/ decidedly un-veggie focus. Much research has turned up a couple of options: The Natural Gourmet Academy in NYC and Bauman College, with branches in Berkley and Boulder. Both offer a curriculum based around health-supportive vegetarian and vegan cuisine, with additional units on humane meats. The very fact that these schools are out there is immensely exciting to me. My personal decision to follow a predominantly vegan diet, beginning a couple of years ago, has transformed my relationship with food. The possibility to create and share this sort of food, that is not only delicious but also key in lessening the environmental degradation, human suffering, and lack of personal responsibility that is so rampant in our world, is even more exciting. But, of course, the power of food extends beyond responsibility or health. It’s also about community, comfort, culture and tradition.

In that vein, I’ve dreamt up a fascinating project to dip my toes in the world of culinary education. I have decided to veganize the Culinary Institute of America’s standard textbook, The Professional Chef. There are many fantastic vegan cookbooks out there these days, but I’ve found a frustrating dearth of tomes that focus on the fundamentals of cuisine – the how and why of recipes. Particularly when attempting to adjust or recreate animal-based recipes using vegan ingredients, I find it absolutely fundamental to understand the role each ingredient plays in the dish—are the eggs acting as stabilizers? emulsifiers? adding bulk? moisture? lift? By starting with a book which does focus on these fundamentals, I hope to create my versions of each recipe from the ground up.

I intend to make my way through the techniques and recipes, adapting them to vegan ingredients, as much as possible. There are several chapters focusing on meat, poultry and fish. I will not attempt to duplicate all of these recipes with faux-meats, instead I plan on experimenting with the flavors, textures and techniques, exploring ways to incorporate the appeal of many of these recipes into vegetable ingredients. The same goes for the egg and dairy-centric recipes. That having been said, I anticipate that my approach will evolve with my progress. My goal is to translate much of the tradition, history and science that runs deep throughout the sort of classic Euro-American fine cuisine found in this book, and so many others like it, into a completely new way of thinking about food, health and the environment.

Wish me luck!

~~Please feel free to follow along, share this blog, leave me comments or shoot me an email~~

Honey Teacakes

photo by the lovely and talented Amanda P.

A few days ago I had agreed to bake something for a party but was feeling a little under the weather. Not wanting to make (and inevitable nibble on) something full of sugar for the sake of my immune system, I dug up this recipe I’d been wanting to try for Honey Teacakes.

These delicate little cakes deftly straddle the cupcake/ muffin divide. Served plain, they would make a sophisticated accompaniment to a cup of tea, but slathered with vanilla-bean cream cheese frosting they transform into a luxuriant and unusual cupcake, but still contain no sugar, just delicious anti-bacterial honey. I used clover honey, as it was what I had on hand, but next time I’d use a stronger flavored honey, like wildflower.

Honey Teacakes (makes 10 cupcakes)

3/4 cup strong chamomile tea
1/3 cup earth balance sticks (or butter) at room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1/2 Tbs. vanilla extract (use something high quality- the flavor really comes through)
1 1/2 tsp. vegan egg-replacer mixed with 1 Tbs. non-dairy milk
1 1/2 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 Tbs. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cloves

1) Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. Line two muffin tins with 10 cupcakes liners.

2) Boil water and pour over three chamomile teabags to make 3/4 cup. Let steep.

3) Mix water and egg-replacer and set aside.

4) With an electric mixer, cream butter until light. Add honey and vanilla and beat throughly. Add egg-replacer mixture and beat until just combined.

5) Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cloves in a bowl. Mix well.

6) With the mixer running, alternate adding 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 of the tea (starting and ending with the dry). Mix until just uniform.

7) Distribute batter into the cupcake liners, filling cups no more than 2/3 to 3/4 full.

8 ) Bake about 10 minutes, until golden on top and toothpick comes out clean.

Vanilla-Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. Tofutti brand “Better than Cream Cheese” (or cream cheese)
2 Tbs. Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (or butter)
honey to taste (at least 1/4 cup)
vanilla extract to taste (at least 1/2 Tbs. plus seeds scraped from one or more vanilla pods)

1) Beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.

2) Drizzle in the honey, tasting until you’ve reached the desires sweetness.

3) Add enough vanilla extract and vanilla seeds to achieve a rich vanilla taste and cute speckles.

4) Chill until ready to frost the cupcakes.

Don’t wait till your sick to try these little gems. Enjoy as breakfast/ afternoon snack/ tea time/ dessert today!

Fancy-Pants Pizza di Patate

Take off your Italian fancy pants (Armani?), and pizza di patate is potato pizza. Yes, pizza with potato as a topping. Potato pizza is one of those things that just doesn’t seem like it should work but somehow does. Like potato-chip sandwiches. It’s actually very common in Italy, and if the Italians say it’s good pizza I think we humble American’t-cooks must defer judgment.

Now for you folks out there (like my mother) who are tsk-ing and saying that’s too much starch! and where’s the protein! I’ll have you know that potatoes are actually one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing particularly high doses of Vitamin C, B Vitamins and potassium. They offer a not-insignificant 3 grams of protein per tuber and have been shown to reduce high blood pressure and elevate mood. This is no big secret. Julia Child even praised the oft-vilified tater as being exceptionally low in calories and nutrient dense in one of her classic cooking shows (before dousing them in butter, cream and cheese… but still!).

My boyfriend discovered its wonders on our recent trip to the boot-shaped-homeland and proceeded to sample just about every variety he could get his hands on, often multiple times a day. Yes, this stuff is that good. Per his expert opinion, I decided to go with a diced potato topping (as opposed to slices) for more texture and potato-y flavor.

To experience its starchy joys yourself, put on those fancy pants*, brush off your Italian, and get in the kitchen!

1) Make or buy pizza dough (or get your future in-laws to make it for you).

2) Oil and sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet or pizza pan. Preheat the oven to 475°F.

2) On a big cutting board or clean counter (without flour!), roll out the dough into a thin rectangle or circle to fit into your pizza-baking receptacle. Pinch the edges to form a slightly thicker crust. Careful transfer to your dough to the sheet/ pan and press to fit. Set aside.

3) Peel and dice about 4 large or 8 small potatoes. I used Yukon Golds, but feel free to experiment with the variety.

4) Cover the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add a teaspoon (or more, or less) or garlic. When just hot enough, add the diced potatoes. Stir a few times, to make sure they will not burn on the bottom. Cover (still stirring occasionally) and cook until tender but not mushy.

5) Drizzle some olive oil over the pizza dough. Spread the cooked potatoes over the dough. Sprinkle generously with sea salt. Top with cheese (vegan cheese, of course) and a couple of pinches of rosemary.

6) Bake for about 10 minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

7) Manga, manga!

*Note: author will not be held responsible for you spilling olive oil all over your Armani trousers