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Party Animals No. 54: Vegan Hot Sipping Caramel for MSV's Fifth Anniversary

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MSV has turned five, my friends. Thanks ever so much for being here. To recognize the occasion, I'll just pause to mention that this blog remains a labor of love. There are no ads here. I come back week after week, driven by the deeply held beliefs that cooking tasty food for yourself has tremendous value and that many of us can thrive without centering our diets around exploiting creatures that can and do suffer. I can only hope I've helped some other people come to the same conclusion, even if only for one meal.

Five years—more than 250 weeks—of trying to accomplish that very thing feels worthy of light celebration. So! Let's toast to all those chickpeas gone by, shall we? And since we have a milestone on our hands, let's toast with something extra rich—namely, sipping caramel.

This is a simple and extraordinarily satisfying adaptation of the hot sipping caramel recipe from Anu Apte via Imbibe. I started with that sweet, decadent template and started loading in flavor accents. You'll use coconut milk with its dreamy richness in lieu of the dairy products used in that recipe. Coconut isn't the first thing you'll taste in the drink, though its flavor does come through, and if there was any doubt that it plays fabulously well with the toasted notes in caramel, worry no more. In fact, I'd argue that even if you consume dairy products, I suspect you'd be better served by making this switch.

That leaves nothing to tinker with but the booze. The original recipe calls for calvados, which is probably delightful, but felt a little on the nose for my current mood. To make the whole thing a little more obviously complex, in goes a jigger of Branca Menta. (If you aren't familiar, it's a bitter herbal liqueur with a decided sweet mint character—far more approachable than most amari but far more complex than creme de menthe.) Then to really gild the lily, you'll add a little dark rum to your whipped coconut cream garnish to loosen it a bit and complement the lighter sugar and mint flavors. That may sound like a lot, but it goes down easy (and pleasingly boozy).

When the weather finally turns cool, you know what to do.

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Vegan Coconut Hot Sipping Caramel

Print the recipe

serves 4, adapted from Anu Apte via Imbibe

1 1/4 cups full-fat canned coconut milk, such as Thai Kitchen brand, divided

2/3 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 TBSP coconut oil (use unrefined for a hint of extra coconut flavor)

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk

6 oz Branca Menta

4 TBSP Rum-Whipped Coconut Cream, recipe follows

Warm 3/4 cup coconut milk over low heat in a small pot. Meanwhile, heat sugar in another pot over medium heat, stirring very frequently, until melted and deeply golden, about 7 minutes. (Be very careful not to let either pot become too hot—if either begins to boil, you'll end up with hard candy stuck to your pot instead of silky caramel. The coconut milk should only be warmed, and if the sugar starts getting hot, reduce heat to avoid boiling.) Stir warmed coconut milk into melted sugar along with coconut oil and salt.

When the caramel sauce is ready, add remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk along with soy milk over medium heat. Stir to combine. Add 1 1/2 oz Branca Menta each to four mugs. Continue to warm the caramel mixture, stirring very frequently, until heated to your liking. Divide among mugs and stir to combine. Garnish each with one tablespoon rum-whipped coconut cream and serve at once.

Note: caramel sauce can be made days in advance and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use. To serve, warm chilled sauce with milks until the mixture is silky and uniform and proceed with recipe as written.

Rum-Whipped Coconut Cream

yields about 2/3 cup

1 can full-fat canned coconut milk, such as Thai Kitchen brand, chilled 24 hours

2 tsp powdered sugar

1 TBSP dark rum, such as Myers's Original Dark

Scoop firm cream off the top of the can of chilled coconut milk and add to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add sugar and rum and whip with the whisk attachment until fluffy.

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Party Animals No. 53: Fig Paste, Fig Syrup, and Instant Pantry Entertaining

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We have some catching up to do, don't we? Let's get to it.

I missed two weeks in a row, which is a first on MSV. It's a bummer but couldn't be helped. First, briefly, there's a cat in the MSV house feeling poorly.

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What's more, that cat feeling poorly is nearly 18 years old. Yeah. I don't wanna talk about it.

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Additionally, I have been busy with Libacious. Specifically, we had a couple of jobs that wanted a bunch of original development—much more than would usually go on. First, there was a masquerade murder-mystery birthday party for 12 and 13-year-olds at Westwood, complete with pomegranate sours shaken up for the kiddos. I was not about to miss the chance to design something to pour into a coupe glass for this event.

Also, I got to wear a masquerade mask.

 photo by Casey Fox

 photo by Casey Fox

So much fun.

That was overlapped with/immediately followed by serving the signature cocktail for Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum's Green Thumb Gala. Meet the Barn Raiser.

There's a bunch of stuff in here: Assam tea spiced with allspice, black pepper, and cinnamon; fig-turbinado syrup; lemon juice; vodka; orange bitters; and orange blossom water—all garnished with sage leaves pinned to dehydrated orange slices and star anise.

I built the Barn Raiser from scratch, beginning with a single cocktail and scaling it all the way up to 380 servings. It was both nerve-racking and ultimately confidence-boosting, and, happily, brings us to today's recipes.

The fig-turbinado syrup is totally lovely. It obviously works in drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), but you can also drizzle it over vanilla ice cream or use it to jazz up breakfast.

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New waffle recipe coming very, very soon, by the way.

What's more, when you finish making the syrup, you'll have some rehydrated figs on your hands, which means you're only moments away from a seriously dreamy batch of fig paste.

Which brings us to a note on instant entertaining, in case it helps anyone. Lots of tips you find online for items to keep on hand for surprise guests involve animal products, so it seems worth noting that a vegan platter does not have to be a chore. I hosted a business meeting on short notice (with Libacious' wildly talented graphic designer, Tricia Bateman), at which I knew we'd be having some special celebratory cocktails all the way from Edinburgh (brought back, thoughtfully, by my business partners).

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And I never feel entirely comfortable serving drinks without something to nibble on. I had only about 20 minutes to get something onto the table. If I'd had just 15 or 20 minutes more, an almond pâté log would definitely have been the savory spread on the table, but them's the breaks.

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Clockwise from left: lemony chickpea, artichoke, and red pepper spread; two cracker varieties; fig paste; and rosemary mixed nuts.

The artichoke hearts, chickpeas, and red peppers all came straight from the pantry to combine with olive oil, lemon-infused grapeseed oil, a little lemon juice, salt, and dried herbs. That's it. The mixed nuts were purchased roasted and salted. Then there was nothing left to do but briefly toast them on the stovetop with a small amount of olive oil and fresh rosemary.

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Tiny crispy fried rosemary needles are hopelessly irresistible, you know.

And, finally, the fig paste. I grabbed a handful of rehydrated figs from the comically large batch on hand from syrup testing and blended it up with a little brandy, dried sage, orange exract, and a touch of orange blossom water (since the figs absorb syrup, not just water, the mixture is plenty sweet already). The whole thing still tastes like spreadable figs, but the additions give the paste a very subtle depth that keeps it from being one-note.

For instant entertaining, you do not have to have pre-soaked figs on hand. Begin your preparations by rehydrating figs (or any dried fruit you have in the cabinet). They will soften while you arrange everything else, then you can finish by blending them up into your paste (sweeten gently, to taste).

It's also especially nice baked into fig bars (instant breakfasts!) or dolloped on a cracker atop Kite Hill cream cheese.

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Dead Simple Fig Syrup and Fig Paste

Print the recipe

yields about 10 oz syrup and a scant cup paste

For the syrup:

1 cup water

1 cup turbinado/demerara sugar

1 cup packed dried figs [see Note], roughly chopped

For the paste:

1 tsp brandy

1/4 tsp dried rubbed sage

1/4 tsp orange extract

pinch flaked sea salt

two drops orange blossom water (optional, or substitute with a pinch orange zest)

Begin by making syrup. Heat water and turbinado in a medium pot over high heat, stirring to help dissolve sugar. As soon as it begins to boil, add chopped figs, and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let steep one hour. Strain, pressing gently on figs to extract some of the absorbed liquid. Chill syrup in an airtight container.

To make the fig paste, transfer steeped figs to a food processor bowl. Add all other paste ingredients and process to a uniform paste. Store fig paste in the refrigerator, but it's best served at room temperature and will readily soften if heated briefly in the microwave.

Note: either Calimyrna or black mission figs may be used. The former will give a gentler flavor and sweetness that is particularly nice alone, while the latter will come through a bit bolder and makes a wonderful, traditional-feeling fig bar. Both are tasty, so follow your bliss.

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The Basics No. 4: Lentil and Spinach Stew

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A taste of serious soup weather blew through East Tennessee over the last couple of weeks, which means it's time to share maybe the most satisfying vegetarian staple there is: lentil and spinach stew. It's easy, tasty, comforting, economical, full of protein, and can easily be a pantry dish.

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This version purees a head of oven-toasted garlic, which you'll add into the broth along with a bit of red miso at the end of cooking to give the broth extra depth. The beauty of this method is that the garlic does its thing in the oven while the lentils cook. Which means the only time added by the garlic is peeling the cloves. But, in a pinch, or in the case of low energy, skip the fresh garlic and add a dose of garlic powder instead.

Unless you're feeding a crowd, this recipe makes a ton of leftovers. Keep it fresh by playing with side dishes and toppings. Fresh cantaloupe is especially nice on the first day. Try it with a fresh, crusty loaf on the second. Toast up some olive oil and rosemary croutons for a texture switch later in the week. When you're down to the final third, reheat the stew in a dose of olive oil with a minced fresh hot pepper. Then add garam masala and your other favorite curry-related spices (ground amchoor, coriander, and cumin always make for a nice combination) and serve the whole thing over rice.

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Lentil and Spinach Stew

Print the recipe

serves about 8

1 head garlic (about 10 large cloves), peeled

1 tsp oil

8 1/2 cups water, divided

1 lb small green (or brown) lentils

1 lb frozen chopped spinach

2 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cubes

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tsp dried marjoram

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 TBSP red miso

salt

freshly cracked black pepper

Heat oven to 400. Toss peeled garlic cloves with oil in a small baking dish or pie plate. When oven is ready, let garlic cook until just tender and light golden, about 15-20 minutes, watching very carefully toward the end to avoid burning. (If the garlic burns, the whole pot of stew will taste bitter.)

Set aside one half-cup of water and add remaining eight cups to a dutch oven or soup pot, then heat on the stove over high heat. Add lentils, spinach, bouillon cubes, nutritional yeast, marjoram, and paprika. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, or as needed to maintain a steady, strong simmer. Leave covered and cook until lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

When lentils are tender and garlic is ready, add remaining half-cup water to a small food processor (or use a wide-mouth mason jar with an immersion blender) along with garlic and miso. Blend until smooth. Stir into pot until thoroughly combined. Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

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Party Animals No. 52: Dinner with Pals ftr Almond Pâté Log Crostini

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Almond pâté is a tried and true entertaining dish around these parts. It's a dead-simple, totally tasty way to swiftly change nearly any given omnivore's mind about what vegan food can taste (and look) like. Turns out, if you replace the liquid in the recipe with a little extra-firm tofu, you get a rich, salty dough stiff enough to be shaped into a log and rolled in all kinds of great garnishes.

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This particular dish was inspired by a roasted grape and beet salad from New Vegetarian featuring medallions of dairy cheese rolled in pistachio crumbs. One very successful little almond pâté experiment later, and there's no doubt about how to substitute for anything similar in the future. My log was rolled in not only pistachio crumbs, but also pink peppercorns for flecks of rosy color and a little extra spice.

For the crostini that went to dinner, toasted baguette slices were topped with baby arugula tossed in an apple-ginger dressing (straight from that salad recipe in New Vegetarian), then topped with slices of the almond pâté log and finished off with tender roasted grapes. So nice.

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Almond Pâté Log with Pistachios and Pink Peppercorns

Print the recipe

yields about 16 servings, adapted from here (post includes original credit links)

1/4 cup roasted and salted pistachio meats

2 tsp pink peppercorns

150 g blanched almond meal

1/2 cup crumbled extra-firm tofu

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 TBSP canola or grape seed oil

1 small clove garlic, peeled

1 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Heat oven to 350.

In a food processor, process pistachios to medium-coarse crumbs. Add peppercorns and pulse a few times to break up gently. Spread mixture out onto a pie plate and set aside.

Wipe out processor bowl, wipe off blade, and reassemble. Add all remaining ingredients to processor and process until smooth. Lay out a piece of aluminum foil large enough to roll the log in. Remove processor blade, scrape off, and use your hands to scoop dough from processor bowl. Shape into a log roughly two and a half inches thick and six inches long. Roll log slowly in pistachio crumbs, pressing down very gently as you go to encourage cohesion, then use your hands to pat the mixture onto the exposed ends (and any missed spots you may have). Transfer to bottom edge of foil, roll up, fold in ends, and bake 40 minutes.

Note that the log is softer when warm. If you prefer to spread the pâté, serve a little warm. To slice, let cool before serving. To get the very cleanest slices, chill before cutting. Best served at room temperature, give or take.

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And there was dessert. Here, the German apple cake from The Joy of Vegan Baking, wherein sliced figs were swapped for the called-for sliced apples. The very gentle sweetness of this cake is one of the reasons I love it, but for entertaining purposes, it could've used a little drizzle of something to help it feel more decadent. Pretty nice, nevertheless.

And that brings us right into meteorological fall. Expect more celebrations of that soon.

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BBQ Tofu-Pecan Loaf Sandwich with Pineapple and Smoky Tahini Sauce

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Technically, this recipe should be called BBQ-sauced tofu-pecan loaf sandwich. Now that that's out of the way, what you really need to know is that this sandwich is so much fun. Big and messy and savory and meaty and juicy, and so, so easy.

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The tofu-pecan loaf looks fussy, but it really isn't. Process a few things in the food processor, stir it up with the dry ingredients, and the slow cooker takes care of the rest. Which means all you have to do for dinner is whisk together two quick sauces and grill a few rings of pineapple.

The BBQ sauce, by the way, is a total shortcut sauce from the pantry. It gains a little depth from being added to the slow cooker toward the end of cooking. The pineapple adds a welcome dose of fresh sweetness to the whole thing. Did I mention easy and fun?

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BBQ Tofu-Pecan Loaf Sandwich with Pineapple and Smoky Tahini Sauce

Print the recipe

loaf adapted from The Vegan Slow Cooker

For the tofu-pecan meatloaf

1 cup water

1 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein) 

1 lb Twin Oaks brand extra-firm tofu [see Note]

1/2 cup pecans

3 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, roughly chopped

1/2 tsp liquid smoke

1 cup oat bran

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

For the BBQ sauce

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tsp turbinado (or brown sugar)

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

1 tsp molasses

For the smoky tahini sauce:

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

2 TBSP lime juice

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

To assemble

sourdough

grilled pineapple rings

Boil the cup of water in a small sauce pan, remove from heat, and stir in TVP. Let sit 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly crumble tofu into the bowl of a food processor. Add pecans, sun-dried tomatoes, tamari, and liquid smoke. Process thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oat bran, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, basil, oregano, marjoram, and salt. Stir to combine, add tofu-pecan mixture, and use your hands to thoroughly combine. Add rehydrated TVP and mix again until incorporated. Press mixture firmly into a lightly oiled slow cooker and cook on low for 6-7 hours.

Half an hour before serving, whisk together all BBQ sauce ingredients. Spread over top of the tofu-pecan loaf, replace lid, and let cook 30 minutes, undisturbed.

Meanwhile, whisk together all tahini sauce ingredients and set aside. Cut your pineapple into rings and grill until you have dark sear marks, but the pineapple is still firm—it will take only a few minutes. (A countertop electric grill is just fine, or sear rings just until golden on both sides in a skillet or griddle.)

When the loaf is ready, sandwich and serve.

Note on tofu: Twin Oaks brand is significantly denser than other brands of tofu. If it's not available to you, purchase two blocks of the firmest tofu you can, press them for 30 minutes, then weigh out a pound.

 

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Polenta and Black Bean Enchiladas with Tomato Sauce and Avocado

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All my cornmeal lovers, today is your day. Fluffy polenta, earthy black beans, a spicy tomato sauce, and creamy slices of avocado all inside a warm hug of corn tortillas: what's not to love?

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These guys take just a touch longer than MSV's other easy enchiladas because, hey, that's the price you pay for tomato sauce, which needs a little extra time to cook. The bright side is that there's still very little effort. Since the sauce is blended, you roughly chop the bits for the sauce and let your food processor take it from there.

The rest is pure convenience: canned black beans join up with grated prepared polenta to warm up in a skillet. The liquid from the beans (and heat, of course) will soften the polenta, and the final result is a pillowy filling soft enough to stay fluffy, but stiff enough not to ooze out of your tortillas. It's not much to look at, and the textures aren't as varied as you'd normally expect, but it works. Brunch doesn't get much more comforting than this.

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Polenta and Black Bean Enchiladas with Tomato Sauce and Avocado

Print the recipe

serves 3-4 (yields 9 enchiladas), sauce adapted from Enchiladas

For the sauce:

1 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes, quartered

2 serrano peppers, stemmed and halved (seeded and trimmed, if desired, to reduce heat)

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro

4 scallions, divided

1 no-salt added vegetable bouillon cube

1 TBSP olive oil

1/2 cup water

1/4-1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt, to taste

For the filling:

1 TBSP olive oil

1 18-oz tube prepared polenta

1 15-oz can black beans

freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

To assemble:

9 six-inch corn tortillas

sliced avocado

chopped cilantro, optional

sliced scallion tops, optional

Heat oven to 350.

Begin with the sauce. Add tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cilantro, white and firm green portions of scallions (set tender dark green top aside), and bouillon cube to a food processor. Blend until smooth. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat and add sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes—the mixture will turn deep red. Add 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, another 20 minutes. Salt to taste.

Meanwhile, divide tortillas into three stacks of three. Wrap each stack securely in foil and heat in oven for 20 minutes.

To prepare the filling, heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Grate polenta into skillet and spread out. Let cook, undisturbed, for two minutes. Use a wide plastic spatula to flip polenta. Continue to let cook, flipping every couple of minutes, until fluffy and heated through, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, use the lid of the bean can to drain off excess liquid. Do not drain further. Add beans to skillet, add black pepper, to taste, and salt, and flip the whole thing a few times to combine. Continue to let cook, flipping every couple of minutes, until beans are hot, about five minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

While the tortillas and sauce finish, chop scallion tops and cilantro to garnish, if using, and slice avocado. To serve, carefully open a foil packet (leave remaining stacks wrapped until you're ready to work with them) and take a warm tortilla from the top. Place a generous spoonful of filling just off-center, fold over, and repeat with remaining tortillas, working quickly. Pour or spoon sauce over top, garnish with scallions, cilantro, and avocado, and serve at once.

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Dead Simple Smoked Tofu Salad Sandwich (for Summer)

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Granted, you don't actually have to reserve this tasty mix of smoked tofu, shallot, and cornichons for the warm months, but the salty and savory salad begs to be topped with fresh produce and served open-faced. Think sliced radishes, spicy greens, or—of course—nice big slices of tomato.

Grated smoked tofu gives great flavor and texture, and plays extremely well with finely diced shallot and briny little pickles. Dress it all up a bit further with a touch of Dijon and dill, and breezy summer lunches are no sweat at all.

Dead Simple Smoked Tofu Salad Sandwich (for Summer)

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serves 2-4

8 oz smoked tofu, such as Soy Boy brand

1 shallot, minced

5 cornichons, thinly sliced (about 2 TBSP)

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon-style mustard

1/2 tsp dried dill

1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Grate tofu into a mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients and stir to combine. Serve at once or chill until ready to use.

 

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Espresso-Bourbon Tofu-Peanut Butter (Breakfast) Mousse

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Tofu mousse might not sound like a great idea to a large-ish chunk of the population—especially in the post-aquafaba world—but done with care, it's a totally fabulous idea. Especially for summer breakfasts. It's cool and creamy and fluffy, pairs well with fruit or can be eaten on its own, and can be made in batches in a total snap, so it's just sitting in the fridge waiting for you on any given morning. And it's seriously satisfying, thanks to a good dose of protein from both silken tofu and peanut butter, the latter of which also adds a satiating helping of fat.

Peanut butter, vanilla, a touch of bourbon and lemon, and instant espresso powder all team up to make a flavorful, protein-packed breakfast or snack. You can easily turn this into dessert by adding a cookie (and if your sweet tooth is on the modest side, you may find it weekday dessert-ready as-is). Feel free to thin the whole thing out with coconut milk to transform it into a decadent drizzle over brandy-warmed dates for an honest-to-goodness dessert you could even serve to guests. Yep.

Espresso-Bourbon Tofu-Peanut Butter (Breakfast) Mousse

Print the recipe

yields about 2 cups

12 oz silken firm tofu (from an aseptic pack)

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (look for a brand that contains nothing but peanuts)

1/4 cup maple syrup, grade A: dark color and robust flavor strongly recommended

2 TBSP lemon juice

1 TBSP bourbon

2 tsp instant espresso powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

Puree all ingredients until smooth.

Can be served immediately, but it benefits from chilling for at least 30 minutes to one hour before serving, in terms of both flavor (as the flavors mingle, the espresso will mellow) and texture (the mousse will firm up and become fluffy).

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Grilled Eggplant and Onion Sandwich with Hummus and Arugula

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This hard-working little guy is shaping up to be the official MSV sandwich of summer 2017. And for good reason. Toothsome eggplant goes for a quick swim in a simple savory marinade, yellow onions are grilled and finely chopped for a sweet contrast to the smoky eggplant, and the whole thing is finished with gently spicy baby arugula and a creamy dose of hummus for extra flavor and satiety.

It's a great easy dinner warm off the grill(*), but good news: this sandwich eats mighty fine cold, too.

(*indoor electric in the MSV kitchen, of course, but feel free to take it into the backyard, if you have one of those)

Grilled Eggplant and Onion Sandwich with Hummus and Arugula

Print the recipe

serves 4

3 TBSP plus 1 tsp olive oil, divided

2 tsp Dijon-style mustard

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

2 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

4 three-inch-wide, half-inch-thick slices eggplant, from one small globe eggplant

1 sweet onion, peeled and cut into half-inch-thick slices

fine sea or kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper

1 tsp lemon juice

baguette

1/4 cup prepared hummus

baby arugula leaves

In a shallow dish that fits the eggplant slices snugly in one layer, whisk together 3 tablespoons oil, mustard, vinegar, and tamari. Place eggplant in marinade in a single layer. Marinate 10 minutes, flipping halfway.

Meanwhile, heat a closing countertop electric grill. Toss onion slices with remaining teaspoon oil with a generous pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste. Place in a single layer on the hot grill, close the lid, and grill 6-7 minutes, until fragrant, with deep golden grill marks—rotate the slices after a few minutes so that you get sear marks running in both directions across the surface of the onion. When done, carefully transfer (tongs work best) grilled onions to a food processor bowl.

Give eggplant one last turn to coat generously with marinade and carefully place on hot grill in a single layer. Close lid and cook until tender and just a bit charred, 3-4 minutes—it will cook quickly since by this time, the grill pan is quite hot. Remove from grill.

While eggplant cooks, chop onions finely in processor. Stir in lemon juice and set aside.

Cut baguette in half lengthwise and cut off four six-inch segments. Divide onions among the bottom half of loaves. Cut each eggplant round in half and place two half-moons side by side atop the onions. Add arugula. Spread each top half of loaves with a tablespoon hummus. Sandwich and serve at once.

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Party Animals No. 51: Libacious (Soft) Launch Party

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So, hey, I started a cocktail catering company, Libacious, with my friends Casey Fox and Jesse Mayshark. And we threw a party. And I made food for it. (With no pictures. I know!) But there are lots of cocktail and people photos taken by the wonderful Holly Rainey.

But first! The drink menu:

The Vicki Brown's Planter's Punch was my baby and was served with a really pretty ice ring (stuffed with orange slices, lime slices, and wee rehydrated rose petals) that I can't believe I didn't take a picture of. I guess that's what the new-business butterflies do to me.

The food table:

  • Smoky almond pâté with crackers
  • Mixed root chips
  • Dried apricots and cherries
  • Garden ceviche ("Ceviche de Vegan" from Pure Vegan)
  • Sliced peaches roasted with chamomile-apple syrup topped with vanilla whipped coconut cream

Lotsa lovely people drinking lovely drinks:

There are more photos on our site, of course.

As you may have guessed, I've been busy with this. The idea is that Libacious won't affect MSV. One of the reasons I publish only once a week is that it's a not-terribly-demanding schedule that I can maintain over a long period of time—come what may, more or less. And I've pretty consistently maintained that schedule with only a handful of missed weeks over the years, through stresses big and small. But I'd like to ask you to bear with me if I happen to miss a week. It's been a turbulent spring and summer in ways both exciting and trying. And I'm deeply human.

For now, though, thanks bunches for reading. And if you're in the Knoxville area, check Libacious out. We'd love to help you throw a killer party. You can also get a peek at our service by attending the McClung's All That Glitters: A Gilded Age Cocktail Party. There will be sequins, oh, yes.

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Pesto-Swirled Polenta with Fresh Tomato and Lemon-Pepper Chickpeas

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How to build a killer brunch in three easy steps. Step one: swirl pesto into polenta/grits.

Step two: lay a fat slice of a gorgeous, seriously ripe tomato on top.

Step three: add a final dose of seasoning—not to mention texture and protein—by adding a handful of chickpeas cooked with lemon zest and freshly cracked black pepper.

And dig in.

Pesto-Swirled Polenta with Fresh Tomato and Lemon-Pepper Chickpeas

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serves 2 generously

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

1/4 cup blanched almond meal

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt (plus additional for chickpeas)

1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk

1 1/2 cups water

2 tsp olive oil

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

zest from half a lemon

2 TBSP Classic Vegan Pesto Genovese, recipe follows

1 ripe good-quality tomato

Whisk together polenta, almond meal, and 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl. Combine soy milk and water in a pot over high heat. When it begins to steam, begin whisking while pouring the polenta 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, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add drained chickpeas, pepper, lemon zest, and generous pinch salt. Cook chickpeas, stirring occasionally, until chickpeas are heated through and the flavors have melded a bit, about five minutes.

Divide grits between two serving bowls. Swirl a tablespoon of pesto into each. Top each with a half-inch-thick slice of tomato and finish with the chickpeas. Serve at once.

Classic Vegan Pesto Genovese

yields about 2/3 cup 

2 oz basil, leaves only, from two large bunches (about 1 cup of tightly packed leaves) 

1 clove garlic

2 tsp red miso paste

1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts) 

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

Puree all ingredients until smooth.

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Black Bean-Stuffed Avocado over Sweet Corn Puree

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Avocado lovers, is this ever the composed salad for you. The warm and the room-temperature and the firm and the creamy bits all play so well together, and it's really simple to put together. Even though it's nothing terribly fancy, it's a great dish to entertain with.

So, grab some perfectly ripe avocados, pour in some earthy blacked beans spiced with cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika. Top with fresh tomatoes and chopped herbs. Now serve the whole rich, spiced, juicy, and fresh thing over a puree of corn cooked with a little shallot and good dose of coconut milk for the best summer meal ever.

Don't forget the chips and salsa on the side.

Black Bean-Stuffed Avocado over Sweet Corn Puree

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serves 4

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, trimmed, halved and very thinly sliced

2 cups corn kernels, frozen or fresh

fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk

2 15-oz cans black beans, drained (but not rinsed)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

4 ripe avocados

flaked sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

chopped cherry tomatoes, to taste

chopped fresh cilantro leaves, to taste (for variations, substitute basil, dill, or parsley)

Heat oil over medium heat in a small pot. Add shallot and cook about three minutes, until it begins to turn from white to golden. Add corn kernels and a couple of generous pinches salt. Cook, stirring frequently, two minutes. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is tender, but not too soft, and the flavors have come together, about five minutes. Remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend the mixture to your taste. (If the mixture is too thick after blending, add water by the tablespoon until you reach your desired consistency. Gently reheat.)

While the corn cooks, open the cans of beans and pour the liquid off the top (do not drain in a sieve). Add beans with all liquid remaining in the cans along with cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika to another pot over medium heat. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring regularly, until the beans are heated through, the flavors have melded, and the liquid is gently bubbling and has thickened into a nice sauce, five to seven minutes. (If the liquid is evaporating too quickly, or if there wasn't much to begin with, reduce heat, and add a tablespoon or three of water.) Salt to taste, if needed (generally, the liquid from the can of beans you didn't rinse off will provide enough salt).

Halve and pit the avocados. Use a spoon to gently scoop each half from its skin.

Divide the corn mixture among four plates. Top with two avocado halves. Sprinkle flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper over the avocado. Spoon the beans over top, and finish with tomatoes and cilantro (or other herb), to taste. Serve at once.

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Party Animals No. 50: Saturday Brunch with Pals

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Just a quick Party Animals post this week to run over a recent vegan brunch. The potato-iest, herb-iest meal of the day.

I was hosted for brunch by good pals, and they provided some really tasty grits and greens for the center of the meal. To help out, I brought bubbly for Bellini (and back there in the corner is some cucumber-lemongrass syrup as a modest gift for the hosts).

These are the easiest potatoes ever. The freezer was holding a good amount of potato salad leftover from the wedding party. Threw that in a pan and roasted it up.

For protein, tofu and zucchini muffins. These are kind of a variation on this recipe (I hope to share more about a version of these muffins soon-ish). They're flavored with lemon zest and dill, which is a really great combination for brunch.

And, finally, if you're gonna rush tomato season (which I clearly am), this is how to do it: tuck some little garlic slices into roma tomato quarters, place them in a pan, douse the whole thing with herbes de Provence and some olive oil. Roast for a couple hours at 300, and done.

As ever, thanks so much for being here. See you next week.

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Tempeh Tacos with Warm Corn and Poblano Relish

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Way easy and totally tasty, this taco recipe is going to guide you through the warm months in a snap. First, nudge your veggies (diced poblano for gentle verdant warmth, and corn—fresh or frozen, as you have it—for gentle sweetness) toward tenderness by giving them a quick saute. Then bathe them in lime juice and cilantro to brighten everything up.

Follow that up by browning the tempeh with a dead-simple mix of equal parts tamari and rice vinegar. A little turbinado helps the tempeh get nice and tender and balances out its earthier tones, all without taking the time to steam before cooking. This may become your new go-to way to prepare tempeh fast. The result is a totally fabulous protein that will play well in a variety of dishes. (If you're on the fence about tempeh, give this one a try. And let us know how it goes.)

Before you know it, your tortillas are warm and you're digging in.

Tempeh Tacos with Warm Corn and Poblano Relish

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serves 3-4

8 corn tortillas

3 TBSP olive oil, divided

1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)

1 large poblano, trimmed and chopped into small (1/4-inch) dice

2 TBSP lime juice

1 TBSP finely chopped cilantro

pinch fine sea or kosher salt

1 lb tempeh

2 scallions, sliced, divided

3 TBSP reduced-sodium tamari

3 TBSP rice vinegar (unseasoned)

1 TBSP turbinado

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp chipotle powder

Heat oven to 350. Divide tortillas into two stacks of four. Wrap each stack in foil and place directly on oven rack. Heat 20 minutes.

Heat 1 TBSP oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add corn and diced poblano. Cook until crisp-tender, stirring frequently, about three minutes.

Meanwhile, combine lime juice and cilantro in a small-medium bowl. When the veg is done, add it to the bowl, add a pinch salt, and stir to combine. Set aside.

Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 2 TBSP oil in the same skillet. Carefully crumble tempeh into skillet, aiming for small bite-size crumbles. Add sliced white and firm green portions of scallions to skillet. Stir every minute or so until tempeh begins to brown in spots and turns fragrant, three to five minutes. Meanwhile, transfer sliced tender green portions of scallions to a small bowl and set aside.

Carefully add tamari, vinegar, sugar, paprika, and chipotle to hot skillet. Stir to distribute evenly. Continue to cook a few minutes longer, until the liquid in the skillet evaporates, and the tempeh is heated through and browned in spots. Remove from heat.

When tortillas are ready, assemble tacos, garnished with reserved scallion tops.

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Black Bean, Strawberry, and Herb Salad

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Strawberry season is nearly over in East Tennessee, but that means it's not quite over yet. There's still a little time to get cozy with spring's first fruits, using herbs and lime to keep everything fresh and invigorating, and black beans as a soft, earthy bed.

Here's how to work strawberries into a light dinner, lunch, or dreamy snack/appetizer for a happy hour at home: grab two cans of black beans; chop up some watercress, cilantro, and mint; add chopped strawberries; and toss the whole thing in a lime vinaigrette seasoned with a little golden rum and ground coriander seed. Just add tortilla or pita chips, and transition into summer like a champ.

Black Bean, Strawberry, and Herb Salad

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serves 4-6

2 15-oz cans black beans

1 pint strawberries, trimmed

1/4 cup tightly packed watercress leaves

1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro

1 TBSP finely chopped mint

juice and zest of 1 medium lime

2 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP golden rum

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground coriander

Drain and rinse beans in a sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly.

Chop strawberries into small bite-size pieces and add to a serving bowl. Chop watercress, cilantro, and mint, and add to serving bowl. Add drained beans to serving bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together all other ingredients. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Adjust salt, if needed. Salad can be served just after mixing, but benefits from resting for half an hour, or up to two hours. Serve with tortilla or pita chips.

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Party Animals No. 49: The MSV Wedding Reception

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So, I got hitched in May to my boyfriend of 10 years. And yeah, I did the food for our (teeny tiny) party. There's so much credit to give out, so let's dive right in.

First, all of these seriously dreamy photos were taken by the totally fabulous Leah Moyers. She improved our wedding day in so many ways, and has made my food look better than it will ever look again. Despite knowing that we devoted a significant chunk of our wedding day's relatively modest budget to her services, I still feel like I owe her so many extra thanks. Also, hey, she's vegan.

Quickly, though this isn't something I normally talk about on MSV, my hair was done by my regular stylist, Emily, who is also vegan, and works at Geo Hair Lab (they do not use products tested on animals or containing animal products). I did my own makeup with Tarte products.

Okay, now for the food! I got tons of support from friends:

My pal Caitlin is responsible for all the stunning calligraphy you see (in addition to being on assist all evening, ferrying food up and down the staircase). Her work elevated the food presentation dramatically.

Friends Casey and Elaine ran the beverages like bosses, including hauling in lovely glassware (and so much more). Elaine—hospitality and ice cream master—also put together the table decor and basically acted as my day-of coordinator. All the great plating, arranging, and everything everything everything was directed by Elaine, and I'll never be able to repay her dedication to putting together a killer party.

This shot demonstrates just how thoughtful my friends were in providing stemware. And also what public speaking is like for me.

This shot demonstrates just how thoughtful my friends were in providing stemware. And also what public speaking is like for me.

I can't begin to list all the credit that's due these folks and others, so just know they totally ran the show, and I had very little to do with any of it once the food was made. Even with the party as small as it was (about three dozen total), this was easily the largest crowd I'd ever cooked for, and I couldn't have done it alone. All I had to do was make the almond pâté tower, the sandwiches, the pickled green beans, and the four desserts. Got them to the church on time, so to speak, and sighed while everyone else took over. I'm a lucky lady.

Pals working while I celebrate

Pals working while I celebrate

Additionally, we asked for volunteers among our guests to pick up food and bring it in to the party (our party was extremely intimate—only the people who love us very best in the world were there, the kind of folks you don't mind asking to stop and bring in some taro chips, if they don't mind). So anything marked store-bought in the menu was generously provided by guests so I had several less things to handle.

And now, the menu:

Hors D'oeuvres Buffet                                                                                                

  • Almond pâté tower (four-tier):                                                                                               
    • top tier: red wine-fig jam marbled (app. 3")                                                                                    
    • third tier: peppercorn-crusted (app. 4")                                                                                            
    • second tier: smoked tea (6")                                                                                
    • bottom tier: lemon zest and herbes de Provence (9")
  • Assorted Crackers (store-bought)                                                                                                
  • Mixed nuts (store-bought)                                                                                                
  • Fresh fruit (from Tomato Head catering)                                                                                         
  • Dried fruit (store-bought)                                                                                                
  • Mixed olives (store-bought)                                                                                                
  • Spiced balsamic pickled green beans                                                                                              
  • Taro chips (store-bought)                                                                                                
  • Greek green salad (from Tomato Head catering)                                                                              
  • Spring potato salad (from Whole Foods catering)                                                                           
  • Buffalo (vegan) meatball sandwiches                                                                                               
  • Smoked-tofu bánh mì                                                                                              
  • Marinated veg & chickpea-salad sandwiches (a variation on this)                                                                                               

Dessert Buffet                                                                                                
                                                                                                

Drinks

  • Cucumber-lime agua fresca (plus another agua)
  • Cocktail: 212 (gin, Aperol, grapefruit juice) topped with ginger beer (and garnished with lemongrass straws—Elaine's seriously gorgeous finishing touch)
  • Coffee from K Brew (they substituted almond milk for the creamer in their catering packs for me easy peasy)
  • beers, wines, cava, water

And, finally, the moment we've all been waiting for, the food photography:

Phew. And <3.

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White Wine-Braised Chickpea, Tempeh, and Spinach Linguine from the Slow Cooker

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Spring: some days are too hot for the oven, then you're hit with a blustery, rainy day that calls for a bowl of comfort. Either way, this recipe has you covered. Toss chickpeas, tempeh, spinach, artichoke hearts, and blissfully salty Kalamata olives into the slow cooker with a dose of herbs and white wine. Let it cook all day, and there's nothing left for you to do but boil the amount of pasta needed for the meal, and done. Repeat with leftovers, should you have them.

The whole thing depends on the garnishes to really shine, so don't skip them. A generous spoonful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a final squeeze of lemon over your plate are necessary ingredients to add color, intense bits of flavor, and brightness.

White Wine-Braised Chickpea, Tempeh, and Spinach Linguine from the Slow Cooker

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serves 4-6

For the legume-veggie mix:

8 oz frozen chopped spinach

1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives

3 TBSP quick-cooking tapioca

1 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cube

2 15-oz can chickpeas, drained, but not rinsed

8 oz tempeh

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried marjoram

1 cup dry white wine

6 oz canned (and drained) or frozen (and thawed) artichoke hearts, chopped

fine sea or kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To serve:

1 lb linguine

generous 1/4-1/2 cup julienned oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained well

lemon wedges, from 1-2 lemons

Layer spinach and olives into the crock of a slow cooker. Sprinkle tapioca evenly over the spinach. Place bouillon cube in the center of the crock. Pour drained chickpeas in evenly, then roughly crumble tempeh into the crock in small bite-size pieces. Sprinkle in each of the herbs, then slowly and evenly pour wine over the whole thing. Cover and cook on low seven to eight hours.

When ready to serve, stir in chopped artichoke hearts, add salt and pepper, to taste, and cover again. Cook pasta according to package directions. Divide pasta among plates and top with chickpea mixture. Add a generous tablespoon of sun-dried tomatoes to each plate and give a squeeze of lemon juice over the whole thing. Serve at once.

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Party Animals No. 48; Hitting the Books No. 7: White Chocolate Truffles

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Just a short and sweet Party Animals (and a sort-of online edition of HtB) post today to show off these absolutely heavenly truffles. Your food processor turns shredded coconut and macadamia nuts into a rich paste, then melted cacao butter and sugar ride in to smooth it all out. Blissfully, dangerously easy to make.

The recipe comes from Minimalist Baker. The only liberty I took was to finish the truffles in cacao nibs (broken down in the food processor) instead of more coconut, but follow your bliss.

Photograph by Leah Moyers. (More on that later!) Leah also alerted me to this recipe, so three cheers for that lady.

Thanks for reading. See you back here next week.

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Smoked Tofu, Avocado, and Sage-Roasted Lemon Sandwich

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This sandwich relies on the convenience of store-bought tofu, the convenience of nature's perfect condiment (avocado), and takes just about 15 minutes to punch up that lovable combination with seriously dreamy roasted lemons. The result is sure to brighten up any Tuesday afternoon, but feel free to serve this to pals at any casual gathering, too.

Whole-lemon anything is never to be passed up, so when this salad recipe came into view, there was no question that the sage-roasted lemons would be put to work long before tomato season. Totally worth the light effort, these dreamy little lemon slices jazz up absolutely everything. New favorite ingredient.

Smoked Tofu, Avocado, and Sage-Roasted Lemon Sandwich

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yields three sandwiches

1 recipe sage-roasted lemon slices

8 oz smoked tofu, such as Soy Boy brand

1 ripe avocado

6 slices whole wheat bread from a small boule

flaked salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Prepare the lemon slices as directed.

While the lemon slices roast, place each tofu square on its thin side and cut into thirds, so you have a total of six thinner squares. Halve and pit the avocado, divide into eight slices, and scoop out.

To assemble, place two slices of tofu on three slices of bread. Divide the avocado as evenly as possible and place atop the tofu. Sprinkle with flaked salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Add lemon slices, sandwich, and serve at once.

 

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Blueberry Maple-Pecan Breakfast Polenta (or Grits)

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This isn't a groundbreaking combination, but man, is it a good one. The heaven is in the details for this particular bowl: corn in the form of polenta (prettier) or grits (shown), plus toasted pecans—and you should really take the time to toast the pecans—and maple syrup all hug little dried blueberries. Those berries gently plump without breaking down while cooking, making for a wonderful presentation and winning texture.

With quick-cooking grits, this is a ten-minute breakfast. (Yes, you sacrifice texture, and yes, I still recommend them for incredible convenience. Feel free to use the regular sort if you have half an hour to kill.) You can use all that time you saved to linger over the eating of it.

Blueberry Maple-Pecan Breakfast Polenta (or Grits)

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serves 2 generously

1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup quick-cooking polenta or grits

1/4 cup blanched almond meal

1/4 cup dried blueberries

3 TBSP chopped pecans

maple syrup, to serve, grade A: dark color and robust flavor recommended

Combine soy milk, water, salt, and vanilla in a pot over high heat. Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, whisk together polenta/grits and almond meal. When the liquid in the pot 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, add the blueberries. Make sure the mixture is bubbling, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook five minutes, covered, carefully whisking the bubbling mixture once each minute.

Meanwhile, heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Toast pecans, tossing frequently, until deeply fragrant and darkened, being careful not to burn. Transfer to a plate to let cool.

When the polenta or grits is thickened to your liking, divide between two bowls. Top with toasted pecans and maple syrup (start with one tablespoon per bowl). Serve at once.

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