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Party Animals No. 46: Thanksgiving 2016

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The all-vegan MSV Thanksgiving table for 2016 went a little something like this:

To welcome our guests, a version of this spiced pear and ginger cocktail. Totally lovely. This'll definitely show up on the MSV entertaining table again. (Also, I went a little bananas and made botanical drawings to accompany all the items.) Get my (slightly simplified) version of this great cocktail here.

Tofu-pecan loaf and fluffy biscuits (same as last year).

A lackluster citrus and green bean salad that I'll replace next year. Win some, lose some.

Cranberry relish, same as ever.

A first stab at horchata cheesecake that decidedly needs more tests. Still tasted good, though.

And, finally, the pleasant surprise of the year. I tweaked my regular dressing to streamline the process. I replaced the corn bread (which I used to bake a day or two before) with store-bought prepared polenta, replaced the figs (which I used to soak and chop) with already-small currants, and took the walnuts down just a bit. The result is totally dreamy and a little more harmonious than my old dressing. This couldn't have worked better. I seriously recommend this recipe over the old one. The polenta's creaminess adds an unbeatable textural improvement that I refuse to do without from here on.

______________________________________________________________________________

If you got a long weekend, I hope it was lovely.

MSV subscribers (you can join their ranks if you haven't already) got a little note about this in their emails, but I'm taking this week off, leaving the blog quiet for now while the East Tennessee communities try to work through this week's damage in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and nearby towns.

See you again soon.

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Dead Simple Polenta and Herb Gratin

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Creamy, comforting, a little rich but not greasy, seriously fragrant, and seriously easy to throw together, this wildly handy and tasty polenta gratin is likely to be on heavy rotation all fall and winter long. It gives big return for simply slicing, whisking, pouring, and baking.

The trick here is taking advantage of prepared polenta. You'll dress it up with dried herbs (making this a fabulous pantry recipe), soy milk, and almond meal. Admittedly, making your own polenta in advance will probably make this taste even better, but this recipe about convenience. The effect is obviously different from a traditional potato gratin, but you still get lots of creamy, carb-y goodness with a fraction of the work.

This will effortlessly round out any simple meal, like a green salad with some beans or tofu for protein. Or serve it with scrambled tofu and baked apples for brunch. And it will be right at home on any big fall holiday table, if you happen to have one of those coming up.

Dead Simple Polenta and Herb Gratin

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serves 4-6

18 oz polenta (1 prepared tube)

3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk

1/4 cup blanched almond meal

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

rounded 1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt (plus additional for finishing)

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp dried rosemary

pinch crushed red pepper

freshly cracked black pepper

Heat oven to 375.

Slice polenta into thin (scant 1/4-inch) slices and arrange in an overlapping spiral pattern in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish (shallow, app 9"x12"). Whisk together measured salt, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and red pepper. Pour slowly and evenly over polenta. Sprinkle top with a pinch of additional salt and add freshly cracked black pepper, to taste. Bake until polenta is lightly crusted and bubbly, 35-40 minutes.

If desired, finish under broiler to give the top a golden brown finish in spots. Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Lavender Apricot Butter

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Sunny apricots, seriously fragrant lavender, orange zest (and juice) all make this apricot butter floral, sweet, and overall incredibly handy to have in your refrigerator.

A good fruity condiment turns a muffin into a treat and ordinary sandwiches into lunches worth lingering over. Bonus: this apricot butter is really easy to make. It simmers away on its own while you do whatever you like. Give it a puree, and you're set for days.

Lavender Apricot Butter

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yields about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup unsweetened, unfiltered apple juice

3 TBSP dried lavender

1 orange

heaping 1/2 cup dried apricots

Heat apple juice until hot, but not boiling. Add lavender, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let steep 30 minutes. Strain and discard lavender.

Meanwhile, take one teaspoon of zest from the orange and add it to a small pot. Juice orange into a measuring cup. If needed, add enough water to yield a half-cup of liquid. (If you recover more than a half-cup of juice from the orange, reserve excess for another purpose.) Add orange juice to pot along with apricots. Cover pot with a clean kitchen towel and set aside.

When apple juice is ready, add to pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Carefully transfer apricots and remaining liquid to a wide-mouth pint jar and puree with an immersion blender. Let cool completely, covered loosely with a kitchen towel, before refrigerating.

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Vegan BLT Grits

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Today, a grits recipe that's easy enough to put together on any given morning (thanks to quick-cooking grits) and fun enough to serve guests for brunch.

You'll start with grits (or polenta) and add richness with soy milk and almond meal, then add interest to all that creamy starch with a good helping of freshly cracked black pepper. It's really that simple to turn out satisfying grits (that don't sit like a brick in your gut).

You'll jazz the whole bowl up with finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, fresh chives (that admittedly stretches the L in BLT pretty far, but it's worth it), and—best of all—a dose of stovetop coconut bacon. The recipe is adapted from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, but where she gives instruction for a huge batch, the one here—provided you have access to a non-stick skillet—allows you to make small amounts fresh whenever you feel like it, without bothering with the oven. Additionally, it turns up the salty punch just a touch by using shredded coconut instead of flaked. More surface area means a smaller garnish goes a long way.

Vegan BLT Grits

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serves 2 generously

For the grits:

1/2 cup quick-cooking grits (or polenta)

1/4 cup blanched almond meal

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk

1 1/2 cups water

To serve:

2 TBSP drained sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, finely chopped

2 TBSP snipped chives

Coconut Bacon, recipe follows

Begin by making the coconut bacon and set aside while you prepare the grits.

Whisk together grits, almond meal, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Combine soy milk and water in a pot over high heat. When it begins to steam, begin whisking while pouring the grits mixture into the pot in a thin, steady stream, whisking all the while. When all is incorporated, be sure the mixture is bubbling, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook five minutes, covered, carefully whisking the bubbling mixture once each minute.

Meanwhile, chop sun-dried tomatoes and snip chives.

When grits are ready, divide among two bowls. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes and chives. Serve at once, topping the bowls with coconut bacon at the table, as desired. The coconut should be added only just before serving, as the steam from the hot grits will soon turn the coconut from crisp to chewy.

Coconut Bacon

yields 1/4 cup, adapted from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

1 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

1/2 tsp liquid smoke

1/4 tsp maple syrup, grade B preferred

1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. In the skillet, combine tamari, liquid smoke, and maple syrup. The second it begins to boil, sprinkle coconut over and stir until thoroughly mixed. Continue cooking for a few minutes—stirring every 20-30 seconds—until coconut absorbs all liquid, the skillet becomes dry, and coconut just begins to crisp in spots. Your nose is your best guide. When it smells deeply toasted and just shy of burning, quickly remove from heat and immediately transfer to a plate, spread out in a single layer. Coconut will continue to crisp as it cools.

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Autumn Fattoush-Inspired Salad with Tahini-Dijon-Herb Dressing

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This is such a simple but totally lovely—and seriously satisfying—salad. Start by combining only a few elements that play very well together: fresh romaine, mild and hearty chickpeas, vegetal and crisp celery, plus sweet and crisp apple. Meanwhile, chop a small pita loaf and toss the chunks with za'atar and and olive oil, then throw them under the broiler until crispy.

Finally, there's the dressing. It comes together in a snap with an immersion blender, and contains a whole lot of flavor: tahini, lemon, Dijon-style mustard, garlic, and parsley (or chives). It's a fabulous dressing for this salad, with its emphasis on fresh ingredients. (You may want to use the dressing regularly on your other green or grain salads, but keep in mind that it's both acidic and salty, so avoid adding particularly salty or pickled ingredients to your salads before testing it out all together.)

Autumn Fattoush-Inspired Salad with Tahini-Dijon-Herb Dressing

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serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side

For the salad:

2 romaine hearts

1 15-oz can chickpeas

2 medium stalks celery

1 medium sweet apple, such as Honeycrisp

For the pita croutons:

2 small pita loaves (scant 6-inch-diameter), cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp za'atar

pinch fine sea or kosher salt

For the dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

2 TBSP lemon juice

2 TBSP water

1 TBSP Dijon-style mustard

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup tightly packed parsley leaves [see variation note, below]

Chop romaine hearts into thin strips. Add to serving bowl. Drain and rinse chickpeas in a fine sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly. Meanwhile, chop celery thinly and cut apple into 1/2-inch dice. Add to serving bowl.

Heat oven broiler. Toss pita cubes with olive oil. Sprinkle za'atar and salt over top, then toss again. Thoroughly toast cubes on second rack from the broiler until crisp, watching very carefully to avoid burning.

Use an immersion blender to puree all dressing ingredients in a wide-mouth pint jar until smooth. Add chickpeas and crisped pita to serving bowl. Add dressing and toss salad until thoroughly combined. Serve at once.

[Variation: as desired, substitute all or part of the parsley with roughly chopped fresh chives.]

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Smoked Tofu Salad Sub

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Your lunches are totally covered. Sunny October afternoon picnics, too. And thanks to commercially prepared smoked tofu, this satisfying baguette sub couldn't be easier.

Start with your smoked tofu, grate it, add a good bit of plain nondairy yogurt (Kite Hill or Silk recommended), and season that with lemon juice, cornichons, and capers.

Technically, you can stop right there, grab the crackers, and call it good. Or you can sandwich it up with romaine and top with salt, pepper, oil, red wine vinegar, and thinly sliced red onion. Totally classic presentation with a blissfully flavorful convenience item. Meet your new favorite protein-salad sandwich.

Smoked Tofu Salad Sub

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serves 3-4

For the smoked tofu salad:

8 oz smoked tofu, grated, such as Soy Boy brand

5 oz plain nondairy yogurt, such as Kite Hill or Silk brand

1 6-inch piece celery, thinly sliced

4-6 cornichons (1 to 1 1/2 inches each), finely chopped

2 tsp drained capers

2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

To serve:

baguette loaf

romaine leaves

red onion, sliced into paper-thin half-moons

olive oil

red wine vinegar

fine sea or kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

Stir all tofu salad ingredients together.

To serve, cut off a desired length of baguette and split in half lengthwise. Line bottom slice with romaine. Spoon tofu salad on top, pressing down a little to aid cohesion. Top with onion, to taste. Drizzle oil over top, add several dashes red wine vinegar, and finish with a gentle sprinkle of salt and a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper.

Note: for travel, toast cut sides of bread before assembling. Will keep well, wrapped, for a few hours.

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Dead Simple Pear Tart for MSV's Fourth Anniversary

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Four years of MSV! I hope you're as jazzed as I am. Let's eat dessert. And let's not spend too much effort making it.

In fact, ease has been a major theme on MSV over the past year. When I started MSV, I had been vegan for only a year. This blog gave me a place to direct my energy and figure out a new way of eating. I had endless patience—enthusiasm, even—for experimentation.

Four years later, I have less patience, but more experience. I still screw up in the kitchen, of course, but I generally have a better sense of what works for me. One thing that hasn't changed in these four years is my fundamental preference for freshness, but the way I pursue that now looks much different than the way I did it back then. Now I'm much more focused on offering everyday foods, stuff you can take for lunch—important tools to help people keep plants at the center of their diet. And though the protein question is sometimes tossed around as a tiresome inquiry, I don't mind taking the question at face value and answering it two weeks out of the month, or whenever I come up with a good answer.

That's the public part of the way I've come to shape this blog. Privately, I'm a little more focused on working pleasing food into my life rather than making food my main hobby. That means spending less time in the kitchen without sacrificing pleasure by recognizing that sweet spot of low effort and high return.

Enter this lovely pear tart. Pie dough actually isn't a big deal. Once the sleeves are rolled up, there's nothing to it but to do it. And the end result is so good. But for some reason, I dread the idea of making it. And so this dead-simple shortbread-style press-in crust (you may have noticed) has become my go-to crust. It's rich, it has a wonderfully firm texture that shatters satisfyingly under tooth, and it takes stunningly little effort to make. I add cornmeal for a little texture and extra flavor, and because I never stop putting cornmeal in all my baked goods for a little texture and extra flavor.

This really is designed to scratch the pie itch without having to touch the rolling pin. To do that, you'll essentially marry a tart with a fruit crisp. The crumble topping is lovely and effortless, but the flavor and richness is bolstered by the addition of almond flour. For the filling, thinly sliced pears are tossed with apricot jam to give the fruit that, well, jammy quality that's usually achieved in a pie by baking fresh fruit with starch under the top crust. Buy the best apricot jam you're willing to spring for, and you're all set. Here's a tip: choose the least expensive apricot jam with apricots listed as the first ingredient. For the best flavor, skip anything that lists sugar first.

And there you have it. Easy enough for your kids to help you make it (if you have those), and good enough to entertain with.

Here's to four years! I can't thank you enough for being here.   —Amanda

Dead Simple Pear Tart

Print the recipe

serves 6-8

For the crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/3 cup melted refined coconut oil

For the filling:

2 medium just-ripe green pears, thinly sliced

1/4 cup apricot jam

2 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch fine sea or kosher salt

For the topping:

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup blanched almond meal

1 TBSP turbinado

1 TBSP melted refined coconut oil

pinch fine sea or kosher salt

Heat oven to 375.

Begin with the crust. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Add coconut oil and mix until sandy and uniform. Press into a 14x4-inch nonstick rectangular tart pan. Bake 13-15 minutes. The crust will go from done to burned with speed, so watch—and smell—carefully.

Meanwhile, toss filling ingredients until uniformly coated. In another bowl, stir all topping ingredients together with a fork until uniformly coated.

When the crust is done, remove from oven and reduce heat to 350. Add pears evenly to crust. Sprinkle topping over pears. Bake until pears are tender and topping is golden, 17-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool in the pan. Remove tart pan sides after tart has cooled. Serve at room temperature.

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Dead Simple Warming Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup

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This brightly colored bowl really puts the potato back in sweet potato. Leaving the skin on the sweet potatoes here emphasizes their earthy quality over their sweetness, and spiking the pot with two chile powders adds a lovely warmth in the back. Nutritional yeast, a touch of garlic, and a bouillon cube add extra savory notes. To bump up the protein, plus add texture and visual interest, toss in a can of black beans at the end. (And to bump up the protein even more, you'll puree in a can of chickpeas.)

In the end, you have a simple, comforting, portable (tip: store leftover soup in mason jars), everyday meal that contains a bunch of stuff that's good for you (and a ton of it, too). And the only thing you have to chop is a couple of sweet potatoes. How's that for everyday eats?

But if you want to take an extra minute to whip up a little coconut bacon to sprinkle on top while the soup cooks, no one would question you.

Dead Simple Warming Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup

Print the recipe

serves 10-12

8 cups water

24-26 oz sweet potato (2 large), cubed

1 15-oz can chickpeas (or white beans), drained

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 clove garlic

1 Not-Chick'n bouillon cube

1 tsp ancho powder, or other mild chile powder

1/2 tsp cayenne powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 15-oz can black beans

Add all ingredients, except black beans, to a soup pot over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a strong simmer and let cook, covered, 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse black beans in sieve. Set aside to let drain well.

When the potatoes are tender, remove pot from heat. Carefully puree the soup with an immersion blender until very smooth. Return pot to heat, add black beans, and heat until beans are warmed through. Adjust salt, if needed.

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Savory Tarragon and Black Pepper Loaf

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If you find yourself regularly wishing savory snacks were as easy to grab on the run as sweet ones, today's recipe is going to help you out.

This simple savory quick bread is dense, moist, and seriously tasty. Fresh tarragon lends it fragrance while freshly cracked black pepper gives it heat. A touch of sugar both takes the edge off the tarragon and pulls out the flavor of the modest dose of cornmeal you'll throw in.

The loaf makes a great snack all on its own and plays extremely well with fruit jams. If you're in search of an easy meal, it also makes a really lovely tartine with Dijon mustard, seared tempeh, fresh apple slices (hello, fall), and a little arugula. And probably any other open-faced sandwich you can dream up.

Savory Tarragon and Black Pepper Loaf

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yields 8 servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

1 TBSP baking powder

1 tsp psyllium husk powder (optional—assists binding)

1 TBSP finely chopped fresh tarragon

1 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

1/2 cup plain soy yogurt, such as Silk brand

1/4 cup canola oil

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

Heat oven to 350. Oil a 9x5" loaf pan.

Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and psyllium husk powder, if using. Stir in salt, pepper, and tarragon.

Separately, whisk together milk, yogurt, oil, and sugar. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just until combined. Transfer batter to loaf pan and bake 43-45 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack, 10 minutes. Carefully and gradually work the loaf loose from the sides and bottom of the pan with a very thin metal spatula. Turn out onto wire rack and let cool. Leftovers should be wrapped tightly, but keep well for several days at room temperature.

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Maple-Pecan French Toast

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September: sounds like fall, still feels mostly like summer. And this indulgent brunch dish is the perfect solution to your new cravings. All the bread, maple, and nuts associated with the cooler season without turning on the oven.

Start with a couple thick slices of sourdough, cook 'em up, and finish the whole thing off by taking an extra few minutes to put together a seriously luscious maple sauce packed with a pile of crunchy toasted pecans. So good. And so perfect for easy entertaining.

Maple-Pecan French Toast

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serves 2

For the French toast:

2 TBSP chickpea flour

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch salt

1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk

2 tsp coconut oil

2 half-inch-thick slices sourdough, such as Knoxville Sourdough

For the maple-pecan sauce:

2 TBSP chopped raw, unsalted pecans

2 TBSP maple syrup (grade B preferred)

2 TBSP full-fat canned coconut milk

1 TBSP turbinado

1 tsp coconut oil

pinch fine sea or kosher salt

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Dry toast pecan pieces for several minutes, tossing frequently, until very fragrant.

Meanwhile, measure out chickpea flour, cinnamon, and salt into a wide bowl. Measure out all maple sauce ingredients, except pecans, into a small sauce pan. Set aside.

When pecans are toasted, transfer to a small plate to let cool. Return skillet to heat. Add two teaspoons coconut oil to skillet. Whisk milk into chickpea flour mixture. Press bread, one slice at a time, into chickpea batter, pressing each side in for 10-15 seconds. Carefully add bread to hot skillet. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until golden. Reduce heat to medium-low, flip, and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to plates.

While French toast cooks, bring maple sauce ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat immediately to medium-low and let simmer, stirring very frequently, until thickened, but still loose enough to pour, 3-5 minutes. (If you're not sure how thick to make it, err on the side of the mixture being too thin so you don't wind up with candy stuck to your pan.)

Remove sauce from heat, stir in toasted pecans, and divide sauce over French toast. Serve at once.

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Currant, Orange, and Rosemary Spread

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This fruity treat will spoil you forever for store-bought jams. The sweet stuff—complex, sticky currants and orange juice—gets a tasteful (and tasty) assist from woodsy fresh rosemary, bitter and fragrant orange zest, and a little black pepper for a touch of warmth. It all makes for an uncommonly lovely fruit spread. (First person to try it warm on ice cream, please let everyone know how it goes in the comments.)

It's fabulous on its own with any baked good you have lying around. It can also add a layered sweet note to tofu and avocado breakfast sandwiches:

And it makes seriously seductive peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No joke.

Currant, Orange, and Rosemary Spread

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yields about 1 1/3 cups

juice of two oranges

zest of half an orange

8 oz dried black currants (about 1 3/4 cups)

2 TBSP finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Juice the oranges (after zesting half of one). Add enough water to the juice to get a total of one cup liquid. Add it, along with all other ingredients, to a small pot over medium heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Let simmer 30 minutes, covered, stirring every 10 minutes. Mixture should be thickened, but some visible liquid should remain.

Carefully transfer to a mason jar and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Let cool completely before storing in the fridge.

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Tempeh Pate with Olives and Capers

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Earthy, nutty tempeh and briny olives make a great match. This pate is a perfect example. Green olives, Kalamata olives, and capers combine with quickly steamed tempeh for a dead-simple spread that becomes more than the sum of its parts. (Naturally, the better your olives, the better the dish.) Finish it off with finely chopped fresh red pepper for a little color and crunch.

You can obviously spread this on crackers to your heart's content, but it's also quite nice on a slice of plain or spinach lavash. Apply a generous amount (about a third of the recipe) to a slice, roll it up, and slice it into little pinwheels with a sharp knife. Munch.

Admittedly, this recipe is pretty fabulous on the second day, but it's so tasty straight from the food processor that you may need to make a double batch to make it last that long.

tempeh pate with olives and capers detail.jpg

Tempeh Pate with Olives and Capers

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serves 3-4

8 oz tempeh

1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives

1/4 cup pitted green olives

1 TBSP drained capers

1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup diced (1/4-inch) red bell pepper

Steam tempeh 10 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse the olives and capers in a fine sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly. When the tempeh is done, set aside to let cool a bit while you chop the bell pepper.

Carefully transfer tempeh to food processor. Add oil, lemon, oregano, and garlic powder. Process until smooth (for tempeh). Add olives and capers. Process until olives are very finely chopped, pausing to scrape the sides, as needed. Add bell pepper and pulse to combine. Serve at once or chill until ready to serve.

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Dead Simple Lemon-Pepper Tofu Spread

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Tofu on bread makes up a lot of easy dinners in the MSV house. This particular spread is a favorite for a couple of reasons, though. First, lemon and freshly cracked black pepper are a lovable combination that never gets old.

Second, there's pretty much always tofu and lemon hanging out in the kitchen, which means this mellow and simple spread can be on your plate pretty much any time you decide you feel like blending up a batch. And then you have leftovers.

This spread eats just fine on toast all alone (or crackers, if you need even more convenience), but the cool creaminess of the tofu, brightness of the lemon, and heat of the pepper are even better topped with, say, a little greens quickly sauteed with smoked paprika or smoked salt. With multigrain toast, that's a lot of satisfying flavor piled deep into a blissfully unfussy meal.

Dead Simple Lemon-Pepper Tofu Spread

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yields about one pound

1/2 cup pepitas, roasted and lightly salted

14-16 ounces firm tofu, drained

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

2 TBSP lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Process pepitas in a food processor to fine crumbs. Add tofu, salt, and lemon juice, and blend until very smooth, pausing to scrape the sides as needed. Stir in lemon zest and black pepper. Adjust salt, if needed (particularly if you use unsalted pepitas). Flavor is best after chilling for an hour or so, but can be used immediately.

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Cherry Tart with a Dead Simple Salted Chocolate Crust

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This guy is gonna sell itself. Grab your dark cherries, season them a little on the stove, then pile them into an entirely lovable chocolate crust—with little hits of salt strewn throughout—that just happens to be the very definition of forgivable.

And because glossy fruit begs to be paired with creamy things, take a minute to whip up a combination of nondairy cream cheese and silken tofu for a dreamy effect that's stiffer than whipped cream, but fluffier than cream cheese. It's a really handy combination, and you can likely expect to see it here again in other applications.

Top the whole thing with fruit, swirl it around for a nice presentation, and you'll be one happy summer camper. And because you need to make this tart in advance, anyway, it's a seriously easy way to entertain.

Cherry Tart with a Dead Simple Salted Chocolate Crust

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serves 6-8

For the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (to measure, spoon in and level off)

1/4 cup cocoa powder, such as Equal Exchange brand

1/3 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 cup refined coconut oil

For the cherry filling:

1 lb pitted dark cherries, frozen or fresh

2 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

juice of half a lemon

2 TBSP quick-cooking tapioca

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the creamy filling:

6 oz firm silken tofu (half of an aseptic pack)

4 oz nondairy cream cheese, such as Tofutti brand

2 tsp natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp lemon zest

Heat oven to 375.

Begin with the crust. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Add coconut oil and mix until sandy and uniform. Press into a 14x4-inch nonstick rectangular tart pan. Bake 8-10 minutes. The crust will go from done to burned with speed, so watch—and smell—carefully. Transfer pan to a wire rack to let cool.

Prepare the cherry filling. Combine cherries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let cook until cherries have released their liquid and begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat slightly (to avoid splashing) and add tapioca. Cook, stirring frequently, five minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside to let cool a bit.

Finally, prepare the creamy filling. Puree all ingredients until very smooth.

When the crust has cooled, add all but one-half cup of cherry filling. Dollop and smooth creamy filling over the top. Dollop reserved half-cup of cherry mixture over that, and swirl with a chopstick by making infinity marks up and down the length of the tart. Chill at least a couple of hours before removing tart pan side piece and serving. During this time, the cherry filling will become more sliceable and the flavor of the creamy filling will come together. Fillings will continue to firm up over the next six to eight hours.

Tart will keep in the fridge, covered, for a few days.

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Rosemary-Dijon Tempeh Sandwiches with Sauerkraut and Smoky Tahini Sauce

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There are big flavors everywhere you turn in this tempeh sandwich.

Starting with the protein, there's not really any subtlety with the tempeh here. No gently enhancing its characteristics. Instead, you'll hit it with a good dose of Dijon-style mustard and fresh rosemary, plus a little tamari and sugar. The result is robust and heads straight for your pleasure center with no careful tasting required. Look at that gorgeous stuff.

Next, you'll add sauerkraut. It may already seem like there's a lot of acid piling up, but remember that between the tempeh, tahini, rosemary, and wheat bread, you have a lot of earthy and bitter elements in here that can stand up to the vinegar. The tahini gets a generous addition of lemon, but in the context of the sandwich, it keeps things bright without being sour (that's what the sauerkraut is for, of course). Along with the lemon, a nice sprinkling of smoked paprika is all you need to make this dead-simple tahini sauce your new favorite sandwich condiment.

Come fall, you may want to eat little else.

Rosemary-Dijon Tempeh Sandwiches with Sauerkraut and Smoky Tahini Sauce

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makes 2 large or 4 smaller sandwiches

For the tempeh:

8 oz tempeh

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP Dijon-style mustard

1 TBSP water

1 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tsp natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the tahini sauce:

2 TBSP tahini

2 TBSP lemon juice

2 TBSP water

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

To serve:

sauerkraut

wheat bread

Begin by preparing the tempeh. Turn the block on its thin side and carefully slice in half. Leaving both halves still stacked, place the block back in landscape position (long end toward you), and cut in half. Cut each half on the diagonal to make eight triangles.

Place tempeh triangles in a dish in a single layer. Sprinkle a generous pinch or so of salt over them and repeat with freshly cracked black pepper. Whisk together oil, mustard, water, tamari, rosemary, and sugar. Pour slowly over tempeh and spread it out to cover the surface entirely. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let marinate 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, carefully whisk together all tahini sauce ingredients until smooth.

When tempeh is ready, heat a nonstick pan over medium heat until hot. Shake excess marinade off tempeh (there won't be much) before adding each triangle, marinated-side down, into the hot pan—it should sizzle at once. Let cook, undisturbed, four minutes (less if you start to smell danger of burning). While cooking, use the small amount of extra marinade to lightly coat the bare side of the tempeh while it cooks—proceed carefully, as the pan is hot and the oil can sputter. Flip tempeh and cook another four minutes, or until golden on the underside.

Assemble sandwiches, using a generous spoonful of tahini sauce for each, and grill or press until bread is crisp and golden. Serve at once.

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Party Animals No. 45: Lemony Potato (or Bean) Salad

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First, let's attack the obvious: this post is about potato salad, but eagle-eyes out there may have noticed that isn't potato salad up there, but rather chickpea salad. Despite not being made with potatoes, it's good stuff.

This potato salad came along to a backyard hangout a couple weeks back, and there was no plan to mention it on MSV. Not that the recipe isn't nice, but it's pretty straightforward: potatoes, celery, capers, lemon zest, and whatever herb you have lying around (the original recipe calls for basil, but it was parsley for the potato version for the party, dill with the chickpeas shown here). It's a long-time favorite in the MSV house and goes with pretty much anything, which makes it a great side to bring when you're planning on playing a quiet supporting role at a pal's gathering. But on the way out the door, the compliments started piling up. The host asked what was in the dressing. The answer is olive oil and lemon juice, plus a little dijon and sugar. That's it.

It's a good lesson for vegan cooking and entertaining. It's easy (and sometimes fun!) to sweat substitutes, but never forget that a little extra olive oil and lemon go a long way.

Naturally, the next step was to put together a protein-packed version. Relying on the convenience of canned beans, there's not a bit of heat to apply, and this recipe couldn't be easier. Or handier to keep in the fridge. Munch on it as-is, or tuck it into wraps or pitas with summer veg and sprouts. Leave the chickpeas whole or mash them up to make them easier to turn into sandwich filling. Try it with different beans, lentils, or tempeh.

So get the recipe. For the party, the recipe was doubled, using about four pounds of potatoes. For the chickpea version, make the recipe as directed using two cans of beans rinsed and well drained. You may not need all the dressing for a bean version, since beans aren't as starchy and absorbent as potatoes (but you may want to use it all, especially if you're making it as a sandwich filling—follow your bliss), but you won't be sad to have a little extra dressing in the fridge for whatever. You'll also need less salt for beans. Otherwise, you don't need any help getting this dead-simple side onto your plate.

Back next week with a new recipe.

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Lemon Creme Fruit Salad

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If your heat wave is anything like the heat wave in the MSV neighborhood, you're more than ready for this recipe.

This fresh fruit salad features lovely little blueberries and sweet red grapes stuffed into a wedge of cantaloupe, finished off with fresh mint. But not before being tossed in a creamy mix of equal parts coconut milk (for richness) and silken tofu (for a little protein-based structural assist). You'll mellow those two distinct flavors out with—what else?—sugar, lemon, and a little vanilla.

Serving the little guys in the melon wedge accomplishes three things. First, it looks beautiful. Second, it saves you melon-chopping time. Finally, you get great big unadorned scoops of melon just garnished with the creme-coated sweet small bites. That interplay really is nicer than just tossing everything in a bowl, so don't feel strange about treating yourself to a fancy presentation that saves time and boosts flavor.

Serving this with grilled zucchini planks crusted with panko crumbs and almonds won't steer you wrong for a blissfully low-key and summery meal at any hour, but if you keep a batch of chickpea salad on hand, you'll have a protein-packed accompaniment that means pulling whole meals straight from the fridge. No sweat.

Lemon Creme Fruit Salad

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serves 2

half of 1 medium ripe cantaloupe

generous 1/4 cup fresh ripe blueberries

generous 1/4 cup red grapes, halved

2 TBSP chilled Lemon Creme, recipe follows

fresh mint, finely chopped, to finish

Seed cantaloupe half and cut in half to make two large wedges.

In a small bowl, toss blueberries and grapes with creme. Spoon into melon wedges and sprinkle mint on top, to taste. Serve immediately.

Lemon Creme

yields a generous 3/4 cup (300 mL)

4 oz firm silken tofu (preferably water-packed)

1/2 cup chilled coconut cream

2 TBSP plus 2 tsp lemon juice

2 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients until smooth, ensuring the sugar has dissolved completely. Chill several hours before using, preferably overnight.

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Party Animals No. 44: Cantaloupe, Ginger, & Chamomile Sparkling Agua Fresca

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Hello, dreamboat.

This unbelievably gorgeous cantaloupe concoction can treat you and yours on a quiet Tuesday evening, or it can be served to guests, be they longtime friends or strangers whose socks you'd like to knock off.

In case you've ever thought sweet, juicy cantaloupe wasn't quite floral enough, you can press the gas here by adding chamomile. But don't worry, you'll never feel like you're drinking a meadow. The dilution of the fruit with club soda, combined with the addition of gently spicy ginger, breezily balances everything out. You'll steep ginger in the chamomile syrup and also blend a smaller quantity of fresh root into the melon puree for a nice, well-rounded effect.

Yeah, there is syrup in here. That might mean this isn't technically an agua fresca, since it breaks the basic formula of fruit + turbinado + water + blender + cold, but it really drinks like one, light and refreshing enough to feel like you (wish you) could knock it back all day long. And while making the chamomile-ginger syrup adds one little step to the process, never doubt that it is absolutely worth it.

And if all that isn't enough, there's also the texture. Leaving the cantaloupe pulp in the drink gives it a really lovely body.

Cantaloupe, Ginger,  & Chamomile Sparkling Agua Fresca

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yields 1 generous quart

For the chamomile-ginger syrup:

1/4 cup turbinado

1/4 cup water

1 TBSP dried chamomile flowers

2 oz ginger root, sliced

For the fruit puree:

22 oz fresh, ripe cantaloupe, about half of one small-ish melon

1/4 cup lime juice

small piece peeled ginger root, 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide (see Note)

To serve:

20 oz thoroughly chilled club soda

Begin by making the syrup. Combine turbinado and water in a small pot. Heat over medium heat, and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chamomile and sliced ginger. Cover pot with a clean kitchen towel and let syrup steep one hour.

Meanwhile, cut the rind away from the cantaloupe flesh and discard. Cut melon into one-inch cubes and add to a large mason jar—you should get two cups. To the jar add lime juice and peeled ginger. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender (see Note). You should now have a total of 1 1/2 cups puree (if you don't, you may need to add more or less club soda before serving). Chill.

When the syrup is ready, strain and discard solids.

Add cantaloupe puree to serving pitcher along with syrup. Stir well. Add club soda, stir again, and pour over ice. As the agua sits, the pulp will settle. Stir again before pouring if not serving all at once.

Note: immersion blenders with notches for liquid flow will tend to trap any ginger hairs, allowing you to puree the ginger piece without prep (other than peeling). If your immersion blender doesn't have notches that trap these hairs, or if you use a different blending apparatus, you may prefer to finely grate the ginger with a microplane zester before adding it to the cantaloupe and pureeing to avoid hairs in the finished product.

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Dead Simple Savory Zucchini Waffles

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This tasty, wildly handy, fuss-free little recipe is nothing more than a lazy fritter batter—stuffed with fresh grated zucchini—cooked in the waffle maker, where it won't heat up your kitchen in July. And isn't that pretty much everything your kitchen needs from summer?

Also, don't let the fork in this post fool you: you can definitely eat these guys with your hands for a snack.

On top of the deeply comforting flavor of seriously toasted wheat flour, there's a touch of extra protein here and a wonderful savory quality from chickpea flour. Relying on a heap of Old Bay seasoning ensures this recipe couldn't get any easier, which is the most important thing. Once you grate your zucchini, everything's a total breeze. Additionally, the Old Bay makes these guys enticingly salty (maybe serve them with a green salad) and spices them, of course, while the celery seed gently reminds you there's a bunch of veg in there. It's nice to play the zucchini up a little instead of trying to camouflage it entirely.

That said, now who's ready for a sweet chocolate zucchini waffle recipe?

Dead Simple Savory Zucchini Waffles

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yields about 18 waffles

2 very large zucchini (about 1.75 lbs total weight)

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 TBSP Old Bay seasoning

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cups water

Grate zucchini into a large mixing bowl.

Heat waffle maker.

Add all other ingredients to the mixing bowl in the order listed, and mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

Pour 1/4 cup batter into waffle maker for each roughly four-inch square waffle. Cook until steam no longer emanates from the closed machine, about ten minutes, or until crisp, golden, and cooked through. Toast leftovers to re-crisp before serving.

Note: Due to the large quantity of zucchini, the interior will remain a bit creamy when hot, but that's different from uncooked batter. If needed, use a tester to ensure no wet batter remains.

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Creamy Lemon Orzo Salad with Chickpeas and Fresh Zucchini

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This breezy pasta salad is what happens you have an abundance of zucchini (hi, summer), a limited amount of patience, and a need for loaded-in nutrition that eats well for lunch and dinner.

Chickpeas provide protein and heft, the fresh thinly sliced zucchini is a light element with gently crisp texture, and the sauce is made from blended tofu to really pack in the protein and other good stuff. Lemon juice and zest brighten the whole thing up. Fluffy, mild white orzo makes a particularly nice canvas for these summery flavors, but if you can't give up your whole wheat pasta, it should still make for a pile of seasonal and convenient meals.

Creamy Lemon Orzo Salad with Chickpeas and Fresh Zucchini

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serves about 6

1 lb dried orzo

15 oz firm tofu, drained

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 small clove garlic

1 tsp lemon zest

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 15-oz can chickpeas

1 medium zucchini

Cook pasta in unsalted boiling water for seven minutes, or until tender but firm.

Meanwhile, combine tofu, oil, lemon juice, basil, salt, and garlic in a food processor. Process until very smooth, about a minute, pausing to scrape the sides as needed. Stir in lemon zest and pepper.

When pasta is done, drain well and transfer to serving bowl. Add tofu puree and mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

While pasta cools, drain chickpeas in a fine sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly. Slice zucchini into very thin half-moons. Add both to serving bowl and toss to mix. Taste, and adjust salt to taste.

Fluff the whole thing again before serving slightly warm or at room temperature. Bring chilled leftovers to room temperature before fluffing and serving.

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