Thursday, September 29, 2011

Superfast Sundried Tomato Sauce

A few nights ago, my son came into the kitchen in search of a quick something for dinner. At the time, I was assembling that "Taboulesque" salad I mentioned a few days ago, and my wife was sautéeing some freshly harvested zucchini and yellow squash.

The idea of pasta with tomato sauce was floated, to a slightly better than tepid response, but as it turned out, we had no tomatoes (believe it or not). We had already put the water on to boil the pasta (brown rice pasta, that is), so I had to think fast. We had no pesto either, but I did happen to have about a cup of sundried tomatoes (the dry, unmarinated kind). I threw them into the blender and added some hot water, a vegetable bouillon cube, garlic, salt, a little EVOO, and a couple sprigs of fresh oregano. I whipped it all to a smooth consistency, and that was it; three minutes flat.  All that remained was to heat the sauce in a pan and grind in some black pepper.

When the pasta was firmer than my wife likes it, and not as firm as I like it (that's marriage for you), I drained it, keeping just a dribble of the cooking water, and sloshed it around in the sauce.

Marcella Hazan has famously--and snobbishly, frankly, although truthfully--accused Americans of using too much sauce on their pasta. I believe she would have approved of our starch-to-flavor ratio on this one occasion.

I don't eat pasta often (even the brown rice variety), so maybe the novelty of it influenced my enthusiastic response, but I think it's safe to say that everyone was glad we made a lot of this dish. I had no intention of photographing, or even mentioning this sudden addition to the meal, but after the first couple of bites, I whisked my plate away and fired off a few shots. As you can see, we had it on the same plate (infamia!) with my wife's delicious sautéed squashes. Heavenly.

A quick note about brown rice pasta, for those who may not have heard me rant about it: I've tried several substitutes for the real thing--the refined wheat pasta that is universally adored, but now widely shunned for one (good) reason or another. Whole wheat pasta is a wholesale loser (don't even try it). Quinoa pasta is a marginal contender, but it stops short of convincing me, and of course it does fall apart. Brown rice pasta has virtually identical properties to the world's favorite (or perhaps, as I said, it's been long enough since I've had the real thing, I don't mind the minor inconsistencies). At any rate, this is an excellent stand-in, and I'm not easy to impress, so there. We used fusilli, which are among the lest forgiving shapes, and they held together flawlessly.

Proud owners of Speed Vegan will most likely know about this sauce, because it's basically a form of "Sundried Tomato Paste" from the "Jump Starts" section of the book, with a little vegetable broth added. The recipe in the book goes something like this:

Sundried Tomato Paste
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
A terrific thing to have around for a number of uses, you can add this to sauces, soups, and dips for added flavor and complexity. Use it as a sandwich spread. Add a little hot broth for a quick, light pasta sauce.

1 jar (4.5 ounces drained weight) marinated sundried tomatoes, thoroughly drained
2 teaspoons minced garlic (or pressed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cup water, as needed

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree thoroughly.


Monday, September 26, 2011


As summer continues to wind down, the garden continues to yield its luscious gifts. Each day, when I look at the tomato, pepper, squash, and other plants, I'm astounded by their rapid growth, the changing colors of their ripening fruits. I imagine that if everyone could only see this mysteriously unfolding act of nature as the selfless nurturing of all things that it truly is, all arrogance would dissipate, replaced by a profound reverence and gratitude.

We'll move whatever plants we can indoors and continue growing throughout the winter, but the bright, kinetic profusion of summer will be gone until next year.

This may seem sad, but the last days of our summer crop are more celebratory than anything else. Just the other day, I made a salad from almost-all homegrown produce. It began as a tabouli, because we had a planter full of parsley that desperately needed harvesting. Then, as I went about the usual tasks, something happened; the kitchen gods derailed my plan. I began cutting cucumbers and tomatoes, and then I decided to add a few bright green peppers. By this point, I just didn't have the heart to muddy the vibrant colors and crisp, juicy textures with any grain whatsoever. So, after folding in a bunch of finely cut scallions, I stopped.

For the dressing, I pounded a little garlic with salt in a mortar until it formed a mushy paste. Then I worked in a little fresh lemon juice, followed by a fair amount of Bija "Old Grove" Greek extra virgin olive oil (from 600 year-old trees!), and a little Udo's DHA Oil. Simple, like nearly all great dishes. Not a true tabouli, but surely taboulesque in character.

Persephone's thoughts may be wandering now, deciding what to pack for her underworld sojourn, but the glory of summer is still on our plates, and I'm in no mood to mourn. I'm gathering the last glowing bits and feasting, joyfully, enthralled with every sapid mouthful.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Best In Show

It seems like I've been on vacation. Last weekend I went to the VegFest in Portland, where I presented recipes from Speed Vegan to a packed house on Saturday and near-full house on Sunday. That, of course, was the highlight for me (along with completely selling out of both my cookbooks!), but there were other perks. I got to meet a lot of wonderful people, catch up with old friends, and sample some new products.

Top of my list were some new flavors of Theo Chocolate--from a truly excellent company based in Seattle. I admit I was already in love with their products, having tried them at Expo West a couple of years ago--and many times since. I like their name (from "theobroma," the botanical name for the genus of trees to which cacao belongs; it means "food of the gods."). I also like the elegant, whimsical design of their packaging, their ethos (high standard, fair trade, non-GMO), and their creative approach to chocolate making. I've enjoyed many surprising flavors and combinations from artisan chocolatiers, but few that shine through when mass produced. Every single one of Theo's chocolates is impressive, from their single origin 91% cacao from Costa Rica (ooh baby), to their mint--a simple enough, standard flavor, but made with both spearmint and peppermint essence and ground vanilla bean (wow).

It's hard to name a favorite, but the "Fig, Fennel and Almond" bar was truly inspired. Won a gold medal of some kind. The fact that figs are among the sexiest fruits imaginable no doubt gave it an unfair advantage over the other contestants, but often that's what winning is all about.

Another stellar product I sampled was a show-stopping "Marionberry Ice" served up by Kevin Bell, the proprietor of Oregon Ice Works, a single-location shop in Portland. Rarely have I tasted a commercial product with such a potent, small-batch intensity of flavor. His other two offerings at the show, coconut milk-based coffee and vanilla, were also delicious. If you're ever in Portland, you'll want to make the effort to locate Kevin's shop and see why I'm praising his stuff! (Sorry, no photo; I couldn't bring a sample back with me, and I didn't have the presence of mind to snap a shot with my iPhone).

Next, in no particular order--I'm just listing the products that genuinely surprised me--was a raw cracker called "Dr. John's Vita Crisp."

Now, I love raw food, and I understand how beneficial it is, but for the most part I've found raw food products a bit on the hippie-rubbery side. No aspersion on hippies (or rubber), but let's face it, there are some people out there who will eat anything they believe to be "good for you," regardless of how unpleasant it may be to get it down. I'm not one of them. Many raw foods I've tried have had, shall we say, serious pleasure deficits, the main two of which seem to be in the area of flavor and texture.

So it was a pleasant surprise to bite down on these cracker-crunchy, full-flavored raw treats. Made from (all organic) celery, carrots, onions, flax seeds, sprouted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, raisins, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, turmeric, and "other spices"--the latter apparently the only ingredients that create the four very distinct flavors--these healthful snacks are freaking spectacular. That well-researched combination of fat, salt and sugar that makes people overeat junk food is present here, but from natural, whole, organic, raw ingredients. So it's totally okay that they're downright addicting!

Then I wandered over to the "Wilderness Poets" booth, where I sampled some of the freshest-tasting nut and seed butters I've ever had. I met the proprietors, John and Mika, who have that starry-eyed look I've come to recognize as genuine passion--the unstoppable thrill that drives true craftsmen and artists. John introduced me to a couple of food items I'd never come across before: "Jungle Peanuts" and "Incan Berries" both from the jungles of South America. Apparently, the exotic-looking "jungle" peanuts are naturally low in aflatoxins (the allergen to which some peanut-sensitive people react adversely). They have a mild, non-fatty, pleasant flavor, and for some reason their unique reddish stripes made them especially appealing to me. John and Mika combine these and other superfoods in their "Wild Mixes," so-called to differentiate them from the standard old trail mixes. Sweet people, terrific products.

Next to the Wilderness Poets, I saw "Solstice" snack bars laid out for sampling, and almost walked past them, having tried many similar-appearing bars that turned out to be bland at best, or just plain awful. Something about the people standing behind the table made me stop and give them a chance. The first one I tried was astonishingly good--light, crunchy, slightly gooey with chocolate, sweet with goji berries, and very flavorful. I seem to remember there was puffed quinoa in the mix, but now it's all a blur and I don't see it mentioned anywhere in the literature I brought home, or on their website.  At the end of the line of sweet treats, there was one savory bar called "Thai Fusion." My first thought was, "Uh-oh. here's where it gets weird." I was so wrong. It was like eating Pad Thai or Mee Krob, in a snack bar; sweet, spicy, crunchy and gooey, with all the subtle aromatics inherent to Thai dishes. Brilliant, period. Reiner Bohlen, the ring leader, was quite engaging and we chatted for a good while. I was so glad I stopped and took a chance on the "Solstice Goji bars."

The usual drill for me at VegFests like this one in Portland is straightforward: arrive, shop, prep samples, sleep (a little), prep some more, pack, schlep to the venue, set up the demo, present, answer questions, sign books, repeat. I thoroughly enjoy doing this, because I meet a lot of people and (so far) I'm very well received. This time two things were different; 1) I came a day earlier and got most of the prep done well in advance, and 2) my presentations were earlier in the day, so I had a lot of time afterwards to walk the show and visit with people. It was so much more fun this time around, but either way, all in all I have to say I LOVE WHAT I DO!!!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Western Slope Peaches

Every September since I moved to Colorado, I've gotten a case of organic peaches from Rancho Durazno in Palisade, on the western slope of the Rockies. My sister-in-law knows someone who knows someone who owns this farm, and she takes orders. These are some of the most outrageously delicious peaches in the world. They feel quite firm, almost unripe, but as soon as you bite into them, juices gush down to your chin and luscious peach-essence explodes in your mouth.

Part of the beauty of having an abundance of these gems is that I don't mind taking a few and cooking them. A full case is virtually impossible to consume in the normal way before they begin to spoil, so we end up freezing some, making tarts, sauces, ice cream, and sorbet.

My publisher called me yesterday--right after I got back from Toronto--and asked if I'd be up for getting on a plane to Portland tomorrow, to present at the VegFest there on Saturday and Sunday. Of course I agreed. So off I go, first thing in the morning. Then I realized that the remaining half-case of peaches would probably not survive until I get home on Monday; tonight I roasted some.

I cut a few in half, removed the pits, and lay them cut-side down in a glass baking pan. Then I split a Tahitian vanilla bean and scraped the seeds over them. I cut the bean into four pieces and scattered them around. Then I took four stalks of fresh lemongrass, sliced them thinly and added them, letting the slices gather in the spaces between the peaches. I had a little simple syrup made with evaporated cane juice left over from making daiquiris last week, so I added that, along with a splash of peach schnapps and a slug of white rum. I added just enough water to bring the level up a bit more than half-way to the tops of the peaches and placed the dish in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes.

After letting them cool just a bit, I pulled the skins off and placed three halves in each dessert bowl. spooning the reduced liquid over them. The lemongrass and vanilla had just lightly infused the fruit, and the roasting had enhanced and enriched the peach flavor. There just isn't anything like fresh seasonal fruit of any kind, but western slope Colorado peaches are beyond sublime. I think I'll pack a few for the trip and see if they pass security...

I guess that's it until next Monday. If you're in the Portland area, stop in at the Veg Fest. I'm on at 12:30 on Saturday and at 11:00 Sunday morning.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Little Food For The Hungry Ear

I just got back from Toronto, which may well be the most multicultural city in the world, where I spent four days sharing my food and ideas with hundreds of people. I also got to eat and enjoy other people's food--including the best Ethiopian food I've had to date (at "Rendez-Vous" on Danforth in Greek Town). On Saturday night, after my presentation at the Toronto VegFest, a friend invited me to the world premiere of the new documentary, "Vegucated." 

All in all, I had a delightful, uplifting experience. So inspiring.

I'll get back into the kitchen this evening, but first I want to share some food of a different kind--one that we ingest through our ears, to nourish our humanness. I've been a fan of "Playing For Change" since they first began their songs-around-the-world project--uniting peoples and cultures through the universal language of music. I think you'll like it.

Seeing human beings all around the world harmonizing with one another, expressing the timeless feelings common to all of us, I'm in awe of the oneness and beauty of the human heart. Despite all our differences and the things that divide us, at our core we are one great being of longing, hope, love, and gratitude, breathing in billions of uniquely expressive forms.

This is their latest piece; the other two are my all-time favorites.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Salad of Pea Shoots, Endive and Fennel

I'm off to Toronto, where I'll be presenting some cooking demos at various venues, including the Toronto VegFest, at Harbourfront. I had some very fresh pea shoots that I knew would never last until I get back on Monday night, so I had to think fast.

I also had a most interesting heirloom tomato that was beyond ripe, a fennel bulb, a perfect yellow pepper, a couple of Belgian endives, and a few other odds and ends. Here's what I came up with:

I cut the endive, the pepper, and half a red onion into thin strips, sliced the fennel thinly, and combined them all in a bowl with the pea shoots. For the dressing,  I pounded a handful of fresh basil and two cloves of garlic in a mortar with a little Celtic salt until it formed a frothy green juice. Then I ground in a bit of Dijon mustard and peach-infused white balsamic vinegar until well blended. Pounding and swirling away, I added the last of an excellent bottle of EVOO, made from picholine olives, in a thin stream. The smell was intoxicating, and the taste of the silky emulsion was, well, certainly worth all the pounding and grinding.

I cut the tomato into slices a little thicker than a quarter-inch, and lay two slices on each plate. Then I added the basil vinaigrette to the vegetables in the bowl and tossed them until thoroughly coated. I made mounds of the salad next to the tomato slices and drizzled some of the remaining vinaigrette all around. Then I added some very coarsely chopped brazilnuts and a few twists of the peppermill.  At the last minute, I threw a light sprinkling of chardonnay smoked salt across the tomatoes.

This one came together so fast, I really didn't have time to question what I was doing, or how it would all work. Clearly, the kitchen gods were in a good mood and generously guided my hands. This was an inspired salad--one of those things that just happen--and both my wife and I devoured it without saying a word.


A Red Slaw Wrapped in Avocado

My son walked into the kitchen while I was assembling this salad for the photo and asked me, "Are you pioneering this?" I had never heard him use that expression, but I liked it a lot.

Yes, when I'm not lazily repeating the past, or following blindly in the footsteps of others, I'm definitely pioneering. How do I know? It's a feeling--a sense that I'm stretching the envelope, finding yet another expression, widening the world I exist in as an artist. And that thrills me. Sometimes I discover later that someone somewhere has come up with basically the same invention, but this doesn't detract from the experience of blazing a new trail and making my imagination into a tangible reality.

I actually made the central part of this salad a couple of days ago, as part of a multi-course dinner for a guest. It didn't quite measure up to the other dishes--we all agreed--and I'd been thinking of possible ways to make it work. It had plenty of flavor, but it lacked richness and depth. The slaw consisted of grated beet and carrot, and thinly sliced red pepper, Tuscan kale and red onion, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Today I decided to, you might say, finish this salad. I packed the slaw into a ring mold, set it on a plate, and then lifted the ring away. I knew it needed some richness and a contrasting texture, so I cut some very thin strips of avocado and used them to wrap the molded slaw. Then I covered the top with sunflower sprouts, allowing some to drop around the perimeter. For a final touch, I placed a few drops of 18-year-old balsamic around the plate and scattered pumpkin seeds over the dish.

You don't realize sometimes, just how needy a dish is until you've taken the necessary steps to complete it in a fashion befitting its potential. This salad was a world apart in flavor, textural interest, visual appeal, and sheer pleasure, from the acceptable but non-spectacular slaw it had been just two days before.

Lesson for me: Never ignore the food's subtly whispered messages. Pay attention, and take it all the way to completion. Don't stop until it sings clearly, unabashedly.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pollination, Food, and Life

This short clip from the film, "Wings of Life" by Louis Schwartzberg, reveals the little-known, seldom seen support system on which our life fundamentally relies:

Creatures that feed and frolic in the flora, spreading pollen; the movement of pollen that somehow manages to reach its intended destination; the proliferation of plants that feed all living things--a splendid display of color, sound and movement, choreographed spontaneously with unparalleled grace and beauty.

Can you imagine? This incredible dance is what makes our entire food system work. Each of these tiny, fragile creatures, merely by pursuing their individual needs, participates in the nourishment of all other creatures. That's not even counting the many wingless creatures, in the ground and in the foliage, that play unique and irreplaceable roles in the grand design. What a world we live in!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Summer Garden Salad

Yesterday a chilly wind blew through our open windows and doors,  relentlessly all day, presaging fall's inevitable approach. It's warmer today, but the span of daylight is shortening, and summer is definitely on its way out.

The good news is that we still have plenty of produce coming forth from the garden--life's uncompromising messages of love--zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes of various shapes and sizes.

You think you work so hard to make this possible, digging, building, planting, watering, yet nothing anyone can do will guarantee the bounty that just magically appears--sweetly, eloquently, perfectly.

There's a line in the I Ching that says something like, "The host attracts the guests by his willingness to receive them." I can't think of a more appropriate way to state what a gardener does than comparing it to a host's preparation for his guests, especially that pre-welcoming empty space he creates, that only the guest can fill. Full disclosure: I'm not a gardener; my wife is, but the small part I've played in creating our garden has given me this insight.

As summer begins its downward trajectory, I feel more than ever the urgency to enjoy its last fruits--the irreplaceable ones that come from where I live, from just outside my window, and not by boat and truck from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Soon we'll have to bring our herbs and lettuces indoors again, restarting our "bathtub garden" for the cold months ahead. But for now, I'm savoring every mouthful of our open-air garden's last vernal blush.

I composed a salad yesterday, using some of our cucumbers, peppers, and different types of tomatoes, along with a few items from our local Natural Grocers. It was one of several versions I like to make of the simple Israeli salad, this one with a Lebanese-inspired dressing (I hope the two factions will see in this a bridge, and not an affront!).

It only took a few minutes to cut and combine cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, red onion, avocados, and cilantro, in a bowl with garbanzos. I dressed the salad with a light "taratour" sauce, made by pounding garlic and salt together in a mortar to a smooth paste, and then working in fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and Udo's DHA Oil, forming a thin emulsion. Then I added spoonfuls of tahini, stirring and pounding until smooth and creamy. I love using a mortar. It's like going back to the dawn of civilization.

I had never made a salad with different varieties of tomatoes before (how could that be possible, after cooking for 30-plus years?), but the combination was an added dimension of pleasure. The larger ones I had cut into juicy bite-size pieces, whereas the cherry tomatoes I left intact to explode between our teeth. The taste differences were also remarkable. You can't really tell from the picture at the top, but that slightly lighter color tomato in the center is actually a gorgeous orange, as it appears in the shot of the salad. And it's not just the color; the taste of that orange tomato is unbelievable--as different from the red ones as a Pink Lady apple is from a Granny Smith.

How often it is, at times like these, that I hear in my head Louis Armstrong's baritone, "...and I think to myself, what a wonderful world!"

Ooh, yeah.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Garnet Yams and a New Flavor for Quinoa

I saw the most endearing carrot-thin yams at my local Natural Grocers this week, and I just had to get some. Normally, like most people, I roast yams; it's easy, it works well, and the light caramelization they acquire that way adds wonderful flavor. But these little things seemed to be clamoring for a different sort of treatment, and I've never been one to ignore a vegetable's expressed wishes. Eventually, an idea came to me that I thought might work.

I peeled the yams and cut them into discs about an inch thick. Selecting a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate all the pieces in one layer, I brushed the bottom generously with coconut oil. I laid the discs out in the pan cut-side down and dusted the tops with ras el hanout and fine grain Celtic salt. Then I poured in just about a half-inch of water--careful not to splash any on the yams--and added a vegetable bouillon cube, broken into small bits. I placed the pan over high heat and brought the water to a simmer, immediately adjusting the heat to prevent it from coming to a full boil. I covered the pan with a glass lid, which would enable me to monitor the water level.

While the yams bubbled contentedly, I put a small pot of quinoa on to cook in the normal way, with salt and vegetable bouillon. As the water boiled away, the  bottoms of the yams began to caramelize lightly. Soon the quinoa was done, and I added it to the pan, tossing and flipping it all together. I wasn't ready to serve yet, so I covered the pan and set it aside while I made another dish.

Yesterday I picked up a bunch of flawless collard greens, and decided to prepare them my favorite way. Collards take a good while to cook, so what I like to do is braise them with onions, garlic, dried red chile, and tomato. First I heat the pot dry, over a high flame. Then I add a couple tablespoons of coconut oil, swirl it once as it quickly melts, and then add a large onion, cut into wide pieces.

I stir just often enough to prevent sticking, until they begin to color lightly and turn translucent. Then I add seven cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and a dried hot red chile or two, stirring constantly to keep the garlic from burning. Once the divine aroma has reached the neighbor's house and beyond, I add the collards, center rib removed and leaves cut into roughly two-inch squares. As soon as the leaves wilt slightly and the mixture is beginning to dry, I add about a cup or more of chopped peeled tomatoes, along with salt, pepper, and perhaps a tablespoon or more of water. Stirring briskly, I turn the heat down to low. After that, it's just a matter of time, and an occasional stir to make sure nothing sticks. For such a simple affair, this collard dish has amazing depth, concentrated flavor, and delightful textures.

When it seemed the collards would be done soon, I reheated the quinoa and yams. At the last minute, I added a bunch of scallions, thinly sliced, and half a bunch of chopped cilantro. After tasting it, I decided it needed a little more ras el hanout, a dash of cinnamon, and a spoonful of honey (which would be the Moroccan choice, but I used agave, to keep the vegan police off my back*).

I served the two dishes side by side on the plate, and that was dinner. I'm always astonished at how much quinoa I can eat without feeling bloated afterwards. It's like it just disappears. The collards made an ideal partner for it, not only contrasting the colors and textures of the quinoa dish, but providing a neutral counterpoint cuisine-wise--spicy, but with no distinct spices or herbs to nail it down.

I don't know if my Moroccan friends would approve of my blending their culture with Bolivia's, but the taste of this new dish just might have softened a pugnacious stance considerably. We may never know, because my wife and I ate it all, so there is no evidence left on which to indict me in the international court of culture crimes. Trust me, my habibis, it was very good!

* I'm not convinced that honey is necessarily a cruel treatment of bees. Although certainly the industrial production is just as abominable as the factory farming of animals, and the quality of that honey is poor to say the least, I happen to know some conscientious beekeepers who take very good care of their bees, and turn out excellent raw honey.  

Anyone out there want to chime in and give me a rational argument for staying away from even a teaspoon, here and there, of properly produced raw honey?


Friday, September 2, 2011

Fresh Fig Tart

Fresh Fig Tart in a Pistachio Crust
You may have read an earlier post in which I not only raved about fresh figs in general, but at one point, also hinted at a fig tart I was dreaming up at the time. Sadly, there were no figs left when I went back to the store, so I've had time to think about how I would put this new dessert together. It seemed like months went by with nary a fig in sight--although it was more like weeks--and then just days ago I found a flat of large, nearly ripe beauties. Yesterday the ripening was complete, and I made what I'm calling "Fresh Fig Tart in a Pistachio Crust."

My wife was a little surprised that this was 100% vegan, especially given the creaminess of the filling. It's pretty amazing what you can do with plants--what can I say?

This is not a difficult dessert to make at all. The hardest part is the crust, and that's a piece of cake (sorry if this sounded confusing). I had made a pistachio version of "Nutty Chocolate Balls" for a demo I presented in Boston, and I'd been keeping a little bag of very fine pistachio flakes and bits in my freezer. It just so happened, I had precisely enough to make the crust (am I lucky, or what?).

As an aside, in that post I did indicate that the fine powder and smaller bits should be strained out before rolling the chocolate balls in the chopped nuts, but not why (I just went back and checked). The reason is that if you don't, then the fine powder will be the first to adhere to the chocolate, and this will keep the larger bits from sticking. This alone would not be a problem, but it's the larger chunks that provide the nutty flavor and pleasant crunch, whereas the powder's influence would be barely perceptible. But in a cake batter, cookie dough or--in this case--tart shell, the powder becomes very effective. So there you go.

Since the pistachio meal was already prepared, all I had to do was combine it with a little palm sugar and coconut oil. Then it was only a matter of packing the mixture into a tart pan and chilling it until firm before baking.

The filling was basically a cashew cream--made by soaking raw cashews in water until soft, draining them, and then whipping them to a smooth cream in a Vitamix blender. I added a little water to facilitate this, along with just a few tablespoons of agave nectar and kirsch. I spread this evenly in the tart shell, once it had cooled.

The smaller you cut the fruit, the better coverage you'll get, meaning fewer gaps where the filing is visible. However, in this case, I simply quartered them lengthwise, both for aesthetics and to maintain the integrity of the fruit. Looks are important, but so is the feeling in your mouth of biting through a piece of luscious fig! Having these elegant shapes to work with allowed for an attractive, almost mandala-like design.

For a glaze, I used a jar of St. Dalfour apricot jam--because it's excellent quality jam, but also because they don't add any sugar to their recipes. I just scoop the jam into a small pot, warm it over a low flame until it melts, and strain out the solids. Then I brush it onto the fruit while it's still warm. As it cools, it congeals to form a lustrous, highly flavorful protective coating on the fruit. Back when I was the head pastry chef at a billionaires' country club in California, they wanted me to use some cheap, tasteless "confectioner's glaze" from a gallon tub. To save money! I just couldn't. Wouldn't, in fact.

Well, that's it. Easy, huh? Look for the recipe in my next book--I don't have a title yet, so keep in touch with my blog and I'll announce it in plenty of time, don't worry!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Attack of the Killer Zucchini

No, don't be alarmed. I meant that in a good way. You see, we planted a lot of squash in our new garden this year, and they surged from the earth in a profusion I never imagined possible, becoming a dense jungle of giant bobbing leaves like bright green elephant ears.

I should have known--my wife has the greenest thumb on the planet. Every single seed she planted grew into a prolific squash producer. It's almost terrifying the way they keep coming--we have to eat fast to keep up with them! Fortunately, we adore zucchini (and all squashes) so this is no hardship--although eating them nearly every day does tend to crowd out some culinary diversity.

Summer also brings succulent sweet corn--although we aren't growing any, so I have to buy it at our local Natural Grocers. One dish we haven't tired of, zucchini with corn, has played many times so far without a complaint. Sometimes the blossoms aren't quite fresh and lustrous enough to add, but this doesn't stop me. The fresh basil alone brings all the elements together and renders this signature summer dish utterly irresistible.

Often we make a meal of only this and a salad--just last night, in fact. Other times, maybe I'll add an element of American-style eating, for the hell of it--like something smothered in barbecue sauce. I was surprised by my wife's enthusiastic response to the chipotle-grilled tempeh I made recently (she really doesn't go for tempeh). The sauce I just jammed together at the last minute, combining some unsweetened organic ketchup, fresh lime juice, a little palm sugar, and a gob of chipotle chile puree (recipe in the "Jump Starts" section of Speed Vegan). I cut the tempeh cake into four slices, steamed them for about five minutes to open them up a bit, then immersed them in the sauce. After they had soaked up a little of the sauce, all it took was a few minutes on the grill to mark them and give them a pleasant charred-smoky flavor. This combo didn't even need much of a salad to make a complete meal.