Monday, January 25, 2016

Super-Versatile Crispy Tofu Cutlets

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Makes 4 cutlets
Time: 45 minutes

Crispy tofu cutlets are easy to make, super versatile and get along well with any carby side and warm or roasted vegetable you put next to it. This recipe is super basic and is meant to be tweaked around with as much as you like. (See a list of serving suggestions below.) All are great, but I highly suggest serving these cutlets alongside a mound of mashed potatoes and gravy—it's easy comfort food at its best!

14-16oz super firm or firm tofu, cut into 4 slabs
1/2 cup white rice flour (plus more if needed)
2 TB Ener-G, whisked with 1 cup water 
1 1/2 cup panko crumbs (plus more if needed)
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
a few dashes of pepper
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly mist a baking sheet or large cast iron pan with oil, set aside.

Set up three wide and shallow bowls in a line in this order: Bowl one: white rice flour. Bowl two: Ener-G/water. Bowl three: panko and spices.

Place one slab of tofu into the white rice flour and press until evenly coated, tapping off any extra. Next, give it a quick dunk into the Ener-G/water mixture, then transfer to the spiced panko mixture. Press the tofu into the crumbs until coated, pressing panko onto any exposed areas with your fingers. Place onto the greased baking sheet or cast iron pan and repeat the process with the rest of the tofu slabs. 

Mist the tops well with cooking spray and place in the preheated oven (I placed mine on the top rack) for about 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden. Remove from the oven, flip, give the tops of the tofu as well as the bottom of the pan or sheet another solid mist of oil, then bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until golden all over. Serve immediately.

Serving suggestions:

For a meatier cutlet: Prepare the tofu (super-firm is best) in advance by cutting it into 4 slabs and place into the freezer and allow to freeze completely. Thaw it. Once the tofu is thawed, press all of the moisture out of it. Then set up a glass pyrex with enough vegetable broth to cover the slabs. Refrigerate until ready to use. No need to press the tofu again before breading it. 

For a fishy cutlet, add 1 tsp each of dill and Old Bay seasoning to the panko mixture. Serve with vegan tartar sauce, or make your own by combining pickle relish with Vegenaise. Goes great with french fries and vegan coleslaw.

For a spicy cutlet, add a few pinches of cayenne or habanero to the panko mixture. Serve with sriracha or gochujang combined with Vegenaise to taste.

For an Asian-style cutlet, season the panko mixture with 1/2 tsp Chinese Five-Spice and a little extra black pepper OR mix with Chinese spicy mustard and Vegenaise to taste and serve with rice or noodles. 

For a Southern-style cutlet, serve with vegan BBQ sauce or gravy and a side of mashed potatoes or vegan mac and cheese.

The panko mixture is really versatile and can take on any kind of spice you like, such as rubbed sage, za'atarberbereras el hanout or chana masala, etc. for example. Serve with whatever sides and vegan sauces you prefer.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

CROSSROADS by Tal Ronnen | Review, Recipe + Giveaway! [closed]

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Vegan food on its own is not inherently boring. But if a chef doesn't know how to prepare plant-based food correctly, he'll repeatedly churn out boring vegan dishes as an afterthought. This not only perpetuates the notion that things like undressed lettuce and tomatoes is an acceptable vegan meal, but it's also a completely missed opportunity to create some really fantastic, inspiring food for those who love to eat. That's why the world needs great plant-based chefs like Tal Ronnen of Crossroads Kitchen in West Hollywood, who are revolutionizing the way plant-based food is prepared and perceived.

Tal Ronnen's cooking has been a great source of inspiration to me in my own kitchen for the past several years. His first cookbook, The Conscious Cook, showed me that blending raw cashews with water makes something called cashew cream (sounds super simple now, but several years ago, that was new, mind-blowing, life-changing information!) and slicing king oyster stems can make a pretty convincing vegan scallop. His tight plating, insane knife cuts and ability to make any plant shine on a plate keeps me constantly intrigued by his workSo when I heard that Chef Tal was coming out with a second cookbook, CROSSROADS, which shares the same name as his refined but relaxed restaurant, I was very excited to see what kinds of dishes it would include. 

Whereas The Conscious Cook is focused on applying traditional French culinary techniques to meatless cuisine, CROSSROADS shifts its focus over to Mediterranean cuisine, which is a reflection of the food he currently prepares and serves at his restaurant. CROSSROADS is for those who love the process of cooking and delight in the the smells, colors and textures of whatever they're preparing. Dishes like Acorn Squash Ravioli with Kale and Black Garlic Butter Sauce, Grilled Garden Vegetable Lasagna with Puttanesca Sauce, Tortellini with Sun-dried Tomato Ricotta and Sweet Peas and Hearts of Palm Calamari with Cocktail Sauce and Lemon-Caper Aioli guide those who love to cook to produce gorgeous dishes that step outside of the ordinary to create a unique experience at home.

I started off with Chef Tal's Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad with Chili and Cumin (see recipe and notes below), that involves blanching carrots (which I've never done before, but will definitely try again!), marinating in a blend of chilis, red wine vinegar, cumin and a few other components to produce a vibrant and gorgeous dish bursting with flavor and and boasting an amazing array of textures.  

If you'd like to try the recipe yourself, the nice folks over at Artisan Books have not only allowed me to share Chef Tal's recipe below, but are also offering a hardcover copy of CROSSROADS to one lucky reader through this post! To enter, simply:

1. Leave a comment below which includes a favorite plant-based dish you enjoy making (leave an email or twitter handle in case your comment is chosen)

2. Tag two friends in this instagram post

The winner of this giveaway is Holly, congrats! Thanks to everyone who entered!

... or do both to increase your chance of winning! The winner will be chosen at random on Sunday, January 24. Shipping is limited to US/Canada only. Good luck!

Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad with Chili and Cumin
Serves 4

Excerpted from CROSSROADS by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015.

This recipe has sentimental meaning for me—it is an ode to my childhood nanny, Sol. Both of my parents worked full-time, so for the first eight years of my life, my sisters and I were like Sol’s adopted children. Sol came to Israel from Morocco in the mid-1950s, and years later, thankfully, she found her way to the Ronnen household. Her cooking was so different from the food we knew. Sol’s was laced with chilies and spices, and her carrot salad was a mainstay on the table.

She made this dish with sliced carrots and a type of chili pepper that, sadly, isn’t available outside Israel. So I restructured her killer recipe using whole rainbow carrots and guajillo chilies.

1½ pounds small rainbow carrots (about 24), tops trimmed

8 dried red chilies, such as guajillo, stems removed
½ cup red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup micro greens, such as Hearts of Fire (see Note)

¼ cup Rosemary-Fried Almonds (recipe follows) or toasted Marcona almonds, smashed with a mallet or heavy pan

Flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

1. To prepare the carrots: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with water and adding a tray of ice cubes.
2. Blanch the carrots in the boiling water until tender when pierced with a knife, about 3 minutes. Drain the carrots and plunge into the ice bath to shock them—i.e., stop the cooking and cool them quickly; this procedure also locks in the carrots’ bright color.

3. Drain the carrots again. You want them to be relatively uniform in size, so if any of them are large, cut them lengthwise in half.

4. To prepare the marinade: Put a small dry skillet over low heat, add the chilies, and toast for 1 or 2 minutes; shake the pan so they don’t scorch. Break up the chilies and put them in a food processor. Pulse the chilies to a coarse powder; you should have about ½ cup.

5. Put the chili powder in a mixing bowl, add the vinegar, garlic, cumin, kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and whisk until blended. While whisking, slowly pour in the oil in a stream until emulsified.

6. Put the carrots in a mixing bowl and pour in the chili mixture, tossing to coat. Marinate for 1 to 2 hours, tossing periodically.

7. To serve: Crisscross the carrots on a platter. Scatter the micro greens and almonds on top and season with flaked sea salt.

Note: Hearts on Fire

Hearts on Fire is a variety of micro greens with garnet-colored veins and stems. They not only give stunning color to a dish but also add a vibrant tart, citrusy flavor, reminiscent of sorrel.


Rosemary-Fried Almonds
Makes 2 cups

Popular in Spain, Marcona almonds are softer and sweeter than regular almonds and have a more rounded shape. Their rich, buttery flavor is due to the high oil and moisture content. Store the fried almonds in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

1 cup expeller-pressed canola oil

1 large fresh rosemary sprig, leaves stripped from the stem and coarsely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
2 cups whole Marcona almonds
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Put a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil, add the rosemary, and stir to infuse the flavor into the oil. Heat the oil to around 300°F. (You don’t need a thermometer for this: Drop an almond into the oil. When it sinks a bit, then floats right back to the top and starts sizzling, the oil is hot enough.) Once the oil is ready to go, add half of the almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and toasted, 10 to 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle them with the salt while they are hot. Repeat with the remaining almonds. Use to top the marinated olives or serve as a snack.

Excerpted from CROSSROADS by Tal Ronnen with Scot Jones (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Vegan Salsa Con Queso

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Makes approximately 2 cups of queso
Time: Less than 30 minutes, plus an hour or two to allow the cheese to set

Earlier this month, I posted a reader feedback survey and got back more than 200 responses from readers. It was great to have such honest and extensive feedback, and I was grateful for your opinions and thoughts. Although lots of it was positive, some of it was tough to hear, but definitely constructive! (That's what I get for asking, ha!) 

One of the resounding pieces of feedback I got was regarding the colors of the blog. When I first customized my template more than four years ago, I decided to go with an olive green and red color scheme to complement the name of the blog. I liked that it felt warm, and distinguished it from other blogs. On the other hand, I know that clean and white is the way to go, but have fought it for some time.

However, after getting such consistent negative feedback on the color scheme, I've decided to make some big changes to the look, feel and layout of this space. I'm a little afraid and sad to change what I consider my comfort zone, but it's definitely time. Stay tuned for a new look in the coming months! ImsoexcitedImsoscared!! 

Moving on! 

One of my favorite indulgences is my vegan queso blanco dip. What makes cheesy dip so good is that it has a good amount fat—and unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk provides a fatty richness that's perfectly smooth and silky. The addition of coconut vinegar neutralizes the coconut taste far better than other other acids like apple cider vinegar or white balsamic vinegar in my opinion, but feel free to select and use whatever you can get.

This recipe adds an entire charred red pepper to add another cheesy dimension to the dip. I did try a batch with prepared roasted red pepper, and I have to say it didn't really work, so it's worth the effort to char a fresh pepper yourself for this application. Once this cheese is cooked, cooled and allowed to set, you can add whatever chunkiness you want to it, or nothing at all. Serve with tortilla chips, on nachos, over a burrito or anything else that loves salsa con queso.

for the base
1 can (13.66 oz.) full-fat unsweetened coconut milk 

1 fresh red bell pepper, charred, deseeded and chopped 
2 TB nutritional yeast
2 TB tapioca flour
1 tsp agar powder
1 1/2 tsp coconut vinegar
1 tsp salt

to finish*
1 tsp vegetable or canola oil
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 small red onion
1 jalepeno, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

*you can add any combination or quantities you'd like to make the vegan queso chunkier or spicier. Or, you can add a desired amount of prepared salsa (drain it a bit) once the cheese has been cooked and allowed to slightly set.

To make the cheese sauce, add all of the base components to a blender, and blend until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan over medium heat and stir the mixture occasionally until it starts to come to a small boil. Continue to stir, maintaining the small boil for about 5 minutes more until it's thick and bubbly. Transfer the mixture to a container and refrigerate for an hour or two to allow the mixture to slightly set up.

To finish the sauce, warm the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add in the green pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add in the red onion and saute for a few minutes more. Then add in the jalepeno and garlic and saute until softened. Set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to serve it.

Once ready to serve, warm the cheese sauce, stirring it constantly over medium heat until smooth, then add your vegetables or prepared salsa to it until it's well combined. Serve warm or in a small crock pot if desired.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Vegan Dynamite Rolls

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Makes 4 rolls
Time: 45 minutes to an hour to make the rice, plus an hour to make and assemble the sushi

I've cooked and burned rice on the stovetop exactly twice. After the second time, I bought a rice cooker and enjoy that babysitting or destroying rice is no longer a part of the process. $50 well spent! Rice cookers are especially great for making sushi rice because they cook the rice super-evenly for rice-challenged folks like me, help the lazy be who they are (dump rice in cooker, add water to cook, push button, wait, rest and fluff) or keep the sushi-making process low-key and minimally fussy as possible.

To make this crispy and spicy sushi roll, little chunks of succulent king oyster stems are coated and fried to mimic scallop or shrimp, then are doused it in a fiery, creamy blend of sriracha and vegan mayo. Sesame seeds are sprinkled over the rice to add some crunch, and there's avocado in there to help balance the burn. This recipe makes extra mushrooms that you can kind of pile over the top of the sushi at the end before serving—dynamite rolls are supposed to be a little messy! 

for the sushi rice
1 cup sushi rice
1 cup water
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

for the king oyster mushroom
2 cups diced king oyster mushrooms (slice into scallop-sized rounds, discard tops. Slice each round into 4 to 6 pieces), soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes
1/2 cup water, whisked with 1 TB Ener-G
1 cup cornstarch, plus more if needed
plenty of canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil

for the dynamite sauce
1/2 cup vegan mayo (I use Vegenaise)
1-4 TB sriracha, to taste 

to assemble
4 toasted nori sheets
4 TB black sesame seeds (optional)
1 avocado, sliced
chopped scallions, to garnish

To make the sushi rice, place the rice and water into a rice cooker and cook according to the manufacturer instructions. Once done, season with the rice vinegar, sugar and salt and set aside to cool.

To make the mushrooms, place several inches of oil into a small, heavy dutch oven or cast iron pot (I use Lodge's cast iron) over medium-high heat. It will take anywhere from 5-7 minutes for the oil to be ready. While you are waiting, throw a fourth of the chopped mushrooms into the Ener-G mixture and toss to coat. Shake off any excess moisture, then place into the cornstarch, gently tossing with your hands. 

Test the oil for readiness by throwing in a pinch of cornstarch. If it sizzles immediately, you are ready to fry. Shake off any excess cornstarch from the mushrooms and gently lower them into the oil using a skimmer and fry until golden brown, no more than 3 minutes. Transfer the fried mushrooms to a paper towel to drain while you repeat the process in batches with the rest of the mushrooms.

To assemble the rolls, divide the cooled rice into 4 portions. Slide a sushi mat into a large Ziploc bag or cover with plastic wrap. Place one sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the mat. Moisten your fingers with some water to prevent rice from sticking to them, then spread the rice evenly over the nori sheet, leaving about an inch exposed at the top. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of the sesame seeds, if desired.

Divide the fried mushrooms into 4 portions. Drizzle one portion with the dynamite sauce until evenly coated. With the exposed end away from you, form a thin line of some of the mushrooms along the side closest to you, adding a couple slices of avocado. Roll the sushi away from you, gripping the mat tightly but gently. Once rolled, seal the end with water or add a few grains of rice to the end to help seal. Now cut the sushi in half with a very sharp knife (I run the blade under scalding water for a cleaner cut), then each half into halves, then those halves into halves to make 8 pieces. Place onto a serving plate, spooning the leftover mushrooms over the top. 

Repeat this process to make 4 rolls. Finish with chopped scallions and extra sriracha, if desired.