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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 31: SpooOoOOooOOoOoky Baked Jack-o’-Lantern

I don’t really DO Halloween, but I had a notion on how to zhush up something I like to make so it’s Halloween-y: I baked a whole red kabocha squash (which has a tasty tender skin you can eat, but looks suitably pumpkin-esque) with the guts scooped out a small hole in the top, then filled it with black forbidden rice and carved out a jack-o’-lantern face.

The rice was cooked with ⅓ coconut milk along with water, cinnamon sticks, a bay leaf, and a pinch of salt, so it smelled sweet and spicy and tasted almost as good. Stuffed in a baked squash, I could slice it up for a beautiful plate of black rice and orange squash. This isn’t a meal on its own, though, not really: to go with the squash and rice, I went with a Thai inspiration and made tofu paht prik king, a nice simple stir-fry with red curry paste and green beans. Yum.

(If I’d had a slightly bigger squash and bought or made green curry paste instead, I’d have put the curry in the bottom of the squash so it’d leak out of the jack-o’-lantern mouth like vomit. I KNOW, ADORABLE. BUT ONLY ON HALLOWEEN.)

And that’s it for VeganMoFo. *sniff* If you like what I’ve been doing here, follow me on Instagram or subscribe to my weekly weirdo newsletter. I don’t know how often I’ll keep blogging like this, but I’ll definitely keep cooking. Hope you do, too.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 30: This Might Not Look Like YOUR Thanksgiving Prep…

…but my traditions are a little different. Look, Thanksgiving is one of the more problematic holidays, but it’s also become one of my favorites. As a kid, I wasn’t a huge fan of the menu: turkey is bland, mashed potatoes and gravy are fine, and I would’ve eaten my weight in pumpkin pie and whipped cream, but everything else? No, thanks. So as an adult, and adult who decided she wanted to HOST Thanksgiving after moving away from family, I moved away from all that autumnal Americana and treated it as an excuse to cook my ass off and make stuff I wouldn’t otherwise bother making. The menu became a creative exercise; the cooking, bonding and fun with my mom and others.

A key part of our tradition has become figuring out where we want to cook every year. We’ve dabbled in Mediterranean-inspired fare, done a full day of cooking and eating Japanese food, one thing after another; there’s been Indian food, soul food-inspired, and Italian. We don’t claim any deep knowledge of these cuisines, but we enjoy learning about the flavors, ingredients, and techniques–especially if they’re already vegan (or vegan-friendly). We try new things but make use of local, seasonal produce. We have an overflowing list of things to incorporate into our cooking for the next year, and recipes we shortlisted that didn’t make the final cut to try later on. But mostly, we enjoy the process–then we enjoy the food. It’s a good time.

This year, my mom and I both thought we’d like to try making tamales, which has always seemed like an intimidating project. Tamales on their own don’t make a complete meal, however, so we’d like to create a Mexican-inspired menu that isn’t comprised of the usual suspects (tacos, enchiladas, etc.). To that end, I picked up a new cookbook: Decolonize Your Diet, which takes a health-focused, culture-honoring approach to the traditional cuisine of the authors’ families.

While I’m still contemplating the menu – I think we’ll be a small group this year (though if you’re reading this and you’re in or near the Bay Area and in want of a plate of food this holiday, drop me a line) – I figured I’d take this opportunity to try at least one recipe from this super interesting cookbook. I might not make it for Thanksgiving, but it’s still trying something new, in the spirit of how I celebrate that day.

What I made was their cauliflower ceviche with homemade blue corn mini-baked tostadas. It was kind of like a cross between a salsa and a tabbouleh, served almost like a personal nacho chip with avocado (this is a terrible description, but it was tasty).

I’ve made corn tortillas many times in my handy tortilla press, and I have a stash of blue corn masa harina with which to make many more. I imagine, whatever my menu includes, I’ll have that opportunity. And I’m grateful for it.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 29: Supper’s Destiny Is to Take Root Among the Stars

Not sure how you’d quantify “historical figure,” but to my mind, any person who is (1) influential and (2) no longer living fits, so my choice is the late sci-fi/fantasy author Octavia E. Butler.

I have no idea what she liked to eat. I’m not a scholar of her works, just a fan. Parable of the Sower is among my favorite books; its fictional religion, Earthseed, resonated with me while the dystopian future it comes out of feels disturbingly real and plausible. And while I doubt she’d actually be keen on eating something lifted from her writing, it was the place I was able to find inspiration: “The destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars.”

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My interpretation of this as a meal: homemade five seed sourdough bread with roasted root vegetable soup (geddit? seed to root?? oh fine), with a garden saute to make it a meal. Simple, maybe, but healthy and garden-to-table – well, if I had a garden – something Lauren Olamina might’ve had in her Earthseed community.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 28: For Brunch, I’d Rather Be In Mendocino

I’m having a hard time right now, in life. I frequently daydream about things I’d like to be doing with time and money I don’t have. A common imaginary trip? Mendocino, California–particularly the Stanford Inn. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting it a few times now, and it is my happy place. Cozy rooms. Beautiful scenery. Charming town. Relaxing amenities. And, oh, the food. Vegan everything, especially the breakfasts.

While I can’t make it up to Mendocino right now, I can try to recreate one of their signature breakfasts: Grilled polenta, braised greens, and cashew sauce. Plus a side of tempeh.

For the tempeh and greens, I made a quick marinade with lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and a splash of liquid smoke, diluted a bit with water. I used half in a pan with shredded cabbage and baby spinach (what I had on hand) and the other half in a skillet with sliced tempeh and a few shakes of red pepper flakes. Cashew sauce was based on the “savory” recipe from The Kitchn. And the polenta I cooked ahead of time, then poured into a square baking pan to cool and solidify into something I could slice and pan-fry. (It was not perfect, though. Damn slices didn’t brown well and broke up when I flipped ‘em. Oh well. Next time, I’ll leave it to the professionals.)

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 27: Recreating & Overcomplicating A Gross Childhood Favorite

I loved mac and cheese – from the blue box or nothin’ – with cut up hot dog and peas as a kid. Because my palate was garbage. Though I have revisited mac and cheese since going vegan – so many variations, so little time – I never bothered with veggie dogs because blech. Processed bland crap. Hard pass.

For today’s prompt, I thought, I’d get as close as possible to that thing I made on lazy days off, but homemade. Even the cheese powder, FFS. The Homemade Vegan Pantry has a serviceable cheese powder recipe with finely ground cashews that’s combined with nondairy milk and simmered quickly for a suitably runny, salty sauce; Super Fun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook has a “smoky dogs” veggie dog recipe, which is rather like the steamed seitan and beany snausages I make all the time. 

I made a half recipe of veggie dogs, then sliced up and pan-fried one of them to put on top of my mac and cheese (with peas). It was just like childhood, only not.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 26: NO SOGGY BOTTOM on My Ice Cream Roll

What’s not to like about The Great British Bake-Off (known as The Great British Baking Show on this side of the Atlantic)? It seemingly exists in a world where the biggest worry a person can have is “Will these people like the thing I made?” They’re surrounded by generally well-meaning fellow home bakers in a pretty tent in the middle of an impeccably maintained countryside estate and doing something they love. Jesus, if fucking only.

I don’t generally do spectacle desserts. Who am I trying to impress, really? The Internet? Who cares?! I’d rather bake a fruit crisp or apples, something humble, that’s simpler, healthier, and just as tasty as an elaborate but finicky pastry or artfully decorated cake. But I do love the IDEA of fancypants desserts! So I thought about something that’s been on GBBO that’s close enough to my wheelhouse to make, and ended up with the ice cream roll.

Now, if I wanted to be really Bake-Offish about it, I would’ve made the ice cream and the jam from scratch, and I certainly could’ve, but it would require a much bigger investment in time and ingredients than I wanted to make for a dessert I don’t really have a reason to be making outside of this blog. It was worthwhile, however, to read up on baking a veganized fatless sponge.

Man, that is a DIFFERENT cake batter, but it worked! Whipping aquafaba full of air for leavening and carefully folding in the flour to avoid deflating it is quite the feat. Not hard, exactly, but not cooking 101 either. It turned out rather beautifully. I doubled the recipe (linked above) and baked it in a smallish shallow baking sheet (about 9” x 13” x 1”), let it cool completely, then smeared an entire jar of raspberry jam on the inside. Next I scooped about half or two-thirds of a pint of Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, dark chocolate flavor, and used some plastic wrap to help me roll it up into a tight roll, wrap it up, and stick it in the freezer to firm up.

A key part of any “showstopper,” of course, is the decoration. Being me, I didn’t want to do anything too complicated, but I figured a chocolate drizzle, some toasted almonds, and fresh raspberries would liven it right up.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 25: This One Goes Out My Good Friend

One of my favorite people is a vegetarian who’s a picky eater. I’m gonna guess a significant chunk of my cooking repertoire would not appeal to her palate. But we’ve definitely got a few favorites in common: Falafel. Fresh corn tortillas. And gnocchi.

Her dad, she tells me, is the gnocchi maker in her family. I’m certain mine isn’t as good as what his doubtless well-practiced hands make, but I have made a decent enough version. And, as it’s in her honor, I’m serving it simply–sauteed in a little vegan butter and olive oil with fresh thyme, lemon zest, and garlic. (If I were actually able to make it for her this time, the seasoning might be a bit different. But those are things I had on hand that seemed like they’d rock my fresh, handmade gnocchi. And they did.)

Side note to the person this is about: Falafel with avocado sometime soon? Been too long.

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#VeganMoFo Day 24: What Is A “Hors-e D’uv…ruh”?

ALTERNATE TITLE: Ain’t No Party Like A Brown Rice Sushi Party ‘Cause A Brown Rice Sushi Party Is…Healthy?

Folks, I am not a party person. Making a million tiny things for dozens of well-clad individuals engaging in small talk and enjoying cocktails? I DO NOT DO THIS. I host approximately one dinner a year–Thanksgiving–and attendees are mostly family members who enjoy cooking, so half our time is spent simply cooking our brains out, for fun, then eating it until we realize we planned and prepped at least one too many things. And few of these things are finger foods. So much work for something you’re just gonna pop in your mouth! Psssh!

Arguably things like fresh rolls and sushi are this kind of food, though, and I’m no stranger to making them. You can create a whole meal around it! Perhaps that is beside the point, but I gotta justify my food resources somehow!

I usually make brown rice sushi because, well, I always have short grain brown rice on hand, but not so much white sushi rice. It’s more filling and healthy, anyway. Today I made four rolls:

  • Artichoke heart + avocado + cashew
  • Avocado + roasted trumpet mushroom + carrot + black sesame seeds
  • Baked tofu + beets + microgreens
  • Roasted trumpet mushroom + tofu + avocado

My sushi technique is…not perfect, but it’s still a solid finger food. For a party of one. (OK, two, but I appreciate your pity.)

I’m also coming down with a cold, so miso soup was a necessity.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 23: What, Exactly, Distinguishes “Fancy Food” From Everyday Food?

My guesses? 1. Ingredient quality, and 2. Presentation.

But I went ahead and looked for something showy from the Crossroads cookbook anyway.

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This beet salad with apple, Kite Hill ricotta, walnuts, microgreens, and balsamic vinegar is super pretty and super tasty. I did NOT make it as sweet (or complicated) as their recipe: toasted walnuts instead of candied; plain balsamic vinegar instead of an agave-sweetened reduction. I don’t care for salads that are too sweet, and the textures and flavors of the base ingredients offered plenty on their own. And they’re all fancypants organic, locally grown, blah blah blah. (I suppose the vinegar could’ve been a fancier kind, but it’s our go-to not-too-cheap balsamic anyway.)

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I did like their method of cooking the beets: in a sort of light brine with peppercorns, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and a little vinegar. The aroma and the taste are really nice and mellow.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 22: Wheat Berries, It Turns Out, Are A Little Tricky

For today’s “unconventional” grains prompt, I wanted to make a freekeh salad from Vegan for Everybody, but freekeh was no longer available in my local Whole Foods’ bulk section. So I picked up some wheat berries instead.

The last time I attempted to experiment with this grain, they turned out very dry and firm and just generally not tasty. But America’s Test Kitchen has a good track record of explaining how to make this kind of thing right, so I followed their advice and made the wheat berry salad with spinach and oranges (+ red onion, chickpeas, mint, and a zesty sherry vinaigrette). It turns out the secret has something to do with precisely how well-salted the cooking water is: they say it’s 1½ teaspoons of salt, no more, no less, to a full 4-quart kettle of water.

Though the resulting grain is not soft enough to substitute the usual rice and quinoa, it was tender and chewy enough to make up the base of a tasty entree-type salad. And while the recipe didn’t suggest doing so, I opted to combine the dressing, spinach, and wheat berries (which I’d made ahead and refrigerated) in a warm metal bowl over boiling water to heat these components and–most importantly–gently wilt the spinach.

It’s a simple recipe and, once you’ve cooked the grains, it comes together in a snap. Chalk it up to another win for that cookbook.

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 21: Potatoes Are Stupidly Craveable

I have thought a lot about what to make for this prompt: potato soup? potato pastry? potato pizza? potato casserole? baked potato? potato salad? potato tacos?

Here’s what it is: the potato is that character actor who pops up in half of everything you love, and one day, has an important guest star turn or surprising, off-kilter lead role that lands them among a bog-standard set of award nominees. When they win, they give a heartfelt, teary-eyed speech but don’t have to be played off–humility in tact. They’re in it for the craft, after all.

Now, for me, I love a potato with texture – a well-seasoned oven fry or roasted wedge – and just a hint of funk. Russets are fine and all, but a knobby fingerling’s got personality. Nothing wrong with your average white-fleshed tuber, but there’s magic in the ones that slice up pink and purple (just please, no green).

Anyway…for the purpose of this post, I just made myself a roasted potato wedge snack to use up some fingerlings. Consider it a pilot episode, suggestive of greater things. Spend a little more time, and it could’ve been patatas bravas, breakfast hash, pizza topping, burger side…whatever. But my heart isn’t in it, today, to make the production. Simple isn’t bad. Especially with potatoes.

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#VeganMoFo Day 20: Deconstructing the Stuffed Pepper

The cauliflower puree is roasted cauliflower blended with a little porcini broth, garlic, olive oil, nooch, and salt and pepper. I think roasting it made it come out more brown than white, which is less visually appealing, but oh well! Roasted cauliflower tastes good!

To meet today’s “deconstruction” challenge, I needed to think of a dish that was “constructed” enough in the first place to recognize… and, ideally, not merely “deconstruct” into a bowl. And also not copying a restaurant dish I like with “deconstructed” in its actual name.

So I thought on it and landed on the stuffed pepper. Now, I don’t have any particular affinity for a stuffed pepper – they seem difficult to eat and look very ‘70s kitsch – but it’s a format that would be easy to play with. I needed the bell pepper, a filling, and maybe a sauce. (Hello, the name of the blog is Vegans Need Sauce, after all.) I decided to simply grill slabs of bell pepper and use it as the serving medium for some kind of vegan ball.

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Enter: the beet ball.

It’s got beets, nuts, chickpeas, porcini mushrooms, and plenty of herbs and spices. It’s baked. It’s easy. Perfect.

Then the cooking liquid from the dried mushrooms became the base of both the sauce and an element of the roasted cauliflower puree I made to go on the side. (It’s the swoosh. I got fancy.)

I tried to make the sauce green – to balance out the red balls and yellow pepper, natch – by pureeing porcini broth with parsley, fresh thyme, garlic, and the leftover chickpeas, but it cooked out more beige. Oh well. Fresh chopped parsley to the photographic rescue! The sauce was simmer with sherry, red wine vinegar, a little cornstarch, and nooch to thicken and season it.

The cauliflower puree is roasted cauliflower blended with a little porcini broth, garlic, olive oil, nooch, and salt and pepper. I think roasting it made it come out more brown than white, which is less visually appealing, but oh well! Roasted cauliflower tastes good!

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Food Blog Vegan MoFo

#VeganMoFo Day 19: My Boyfriend Thought Five Ingredients, Max, Was A Really Tough Challenge, Pfffft

OK, it is though.

I went through a few ideas before landing on this one: baked sweet potato with a sheetpan bake consisting of brussels sprouts, red onions, and chickpeas, plus balsamic added to the permissible oil-salt-pepper seasoning.

Ooooh, what I wouldn’t have given for ONE MORE ingredient spot so I could use friggin’ garlic. BUT NO, I DID NOT CHEAT.

Mmmm. Easy, and not a bad result.

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#VeganMoFo Day 18: I Don’t Have a Cute Title for Double Chocolate Biscotti With Pistachios

I was going to make chocolate cupcakes, but I forgot to chill the coconut milk I intended to use for the icing, and I simply didn’t feel like making cupcakes. So I used the Kitchen Sink Chocolate Biscotti recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and mixed in chocolate chips and shelled pistachios. I know. Cool story, huh?

CROSSCUT SHOT, MID-BAKE. AHHHHH.

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#VeganMoFo Day 17: A Little Goes A Long Way (In This Case, 2 TB of Mirin Goes Halfway to Japan)

I generally don’t drink. I don’t care for beer, hate wine, and am disinclined to mix my own drinks or frequent bars. It’s just not my thing. I do keep a couple bottles of inexpensive wine, sherry, and – aha – mirin just for cooking, though. So today let’s talk about mirin!

It’s a sweet rice wine. I don’t believe it’s commonly used as a beverage, certainly not in the form sold in most US supermarkets, but it is a pretty common ingredient in sauces and marinades that take some cues from Japanese cooking.

Today I used it to make a teriyaki sauce, where it lends its characteristic sharp sweetness to the saltiness of soy sauce and bright, punchy fresh ginger and garlic. Well, OK, and there’s actual sugar in there, too, but whatever. Plain sugar in teriyaki sauce would not be the same!

The teriyaki sauce became the base for some baked tofu, of course, but that’s not all! I spooned a little into a pan with a little water, rice vinegar, and 1” pieces of kabocha squash and let it simmer. I mixed a few more spoonfuls with some ground-up black sesame seeds to make a thick, tangy paste to stir into steamed chopped kale. This trio of mirin-tinged delights found themselves in a bowl with short-grain brown rice, avocado, scallion, and more black sesame seeds for a delightful teriyaki bowl dinner. Mmmm, mmmm.