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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

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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

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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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Molasses, Oat, and Cranberry Breakfast (or Snack) Cookies

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If you're not a molasses fan, maybe just come back next week. The rest of you now officially have a new breakfast item in rotation. These guys could not be easier to throw together, they're sweet and a little sticky without being sugary, and they make nice, big servings that will keep you satisfied until lunch (especially when paired with a glass of plain soy milk). Plus, you get a dose of iron from the generous amount of molasses in these cookies and fiber from the oats. Meanwhile, dried cranberries make the perfect sweet-tart foil to that deep, dark syrup.

You'll get nine large cookies from this recipe, which means you can nibble on one minutes from the oven and still have enough to get you through a full calendar week of breakfasts. They're tender and cakey stored at room temperature. Kept in the freezer, they become chewier, and you don't even have to thaw them before chowing down (though, naturally, you can, if you prefer a warm breakfast). Can you say cool, instant breakfasts all summer long? Yeah, you can.

Molasses, Oat, and Cranberry Breakfast (or Snack) Cookies

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yields nine large cookies

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup blanched almond meal

1 TBSP psyllium husk powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

1/4 cup turbinado

1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients (oats through salt) thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add cranberries and stir again.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients with a fork. Add wet ingredients to dry. Spoon dough into nine mounds on prepared baking sheet. Use your hands to press them down and clean up the edges.

Bake 15 minutes. Let cool five minutes (do not skip this step) before transferring to a wire rack. Let cool an additional 10-15 minutes to let fully set. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature for a softer, cake-like cookie or in the freezer for a chewier texture. (Cookies can be eaten straight from the freezer.)

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Hominy, Poblano, and Potato Enchiladas with Spiced Black Bean Sauce

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Get ready to have a new favorite meal. And for any meal—these guys can handle it.

Golden hominy and (convenient frozen) potatoes combine to make a comforting, fluffy filling seasoned with a generous dose of garlic and contrasting little strips of gently piquant poblano pepper.

Top the whole dreamy thing off with a dead-simple black bean sauce seasoned with cumin, coriander, Mexican oregano, and a touch of smoke, and a big, fat platter of dinner is ready in under half an hour. Just make sure you have some leftovers to reheat for breakfast.

Hominy, Poblano, and Potato Enchiladas with Spiced Black Bean Sauce

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serves 4

To assemble:

12 6-inch corn tortillas

For the sauce:

1 15-oz can black beans, undrained

1/2 cup water

1 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cube

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp Mexican oregano

1/4 tsp mild chile powder, such as ancho

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp liquid smoke

1 TBSP olive oil

For the filling:

3 TBSP olive oil

6 large cloves garlic, minced

6 scallions, thinly sliced, divided

2 large poblano peppers, trimmed, seeded, and cut into thin 2-inch strips

2 15-oz cans yellow hominy

1 1/2 cups frozen hash browns (look for a brand that contains nothing but potatoes)

2 TBSP nutritional yeast (optional)

freshly cracked black pepper

salt, to taste

Heat oven to 350.

Blend all sauce ingredients, except oil, until smooth. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat, add sauce, and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and hot. Reduce heat to low and cover.

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

While the tortillas heat, prepare the filling. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, white and firm green parts of onions (reserve tender tops for garnish), and poblano strips. Cook five minutes, stirring frequently, until pepper begins to soften.

Meanwhile, drain hominy well. Add hominy and potatoes to the skillet, top with nutritional yeast, if using, and a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Continue to cook until the peppers are tender, the whole mixture is hot, and the flavors have melded, about 7 minutes. Add salt, if needed (since canned hominy is already quite salty).

When the tortillas are ready, 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. Add filling, roll up and place seam-side down on a serving dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas, working quickly.

Taste the black bean sauce and adjust salt, if needed. Pour bean sauce evenly over assembled tortillas. Garnish with sliced scallion tops. Serve at once.

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Dead Simple Red Wine-Fig Syrup

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Three ingredients and occasionally stirring a pot are all that stands between you and this dreamy condiment. Red wine and figs make a rich and complex pairing that you can use to punch up any meal of the day.

Pancakes, ice cream, and pastries would all be happy to go for a swim in this syrup, but don't hesitate to work it into salad dressings or sandwiches, too. First one to try roasting Brussels sprouts in it, let us all know how it goes.

Crackers or toast spread with Kite Hill cream cheese (which provides a nice canvas to show off the syrup's color) absolutely beg for the stuff and make for an instant treat.

If you're feeling a little more ambitious, use the red wine-fig syrup to marble a batch of gently sweetened almond pate. This small tower was a recent take-along to a pal's housewarming (more on almond pate towers at a later date if all goes as planned). Good stuff.

Dead Simple Red Wine-Fig Syrup

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3 cups red wine, such as Zinfandel

1/2 cup fig jam

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

Bring all ingredients to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a low, steady simmer. Let cook down, stirring occasionally, for about an hour—give or take—until the mixture is reduced by two-thirds. Let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Syrup will continue to thicken a bit when chilled.

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Party Animals No. 47: Big Ears Brunch 2017

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Big Ears brunch, 2017 edition! (Past years: 2014, a tiny peek at 2015, and 2016.)

In addition to coffee on the hot end, there were four chilled drinks on offer:

  • pineapple-carrot-chamomile juice topped with sparkling water
  • blueberry-mint Bellini
  • apricot-ginger Bellini
  • ginger shandy made with Harpoon UFO White

All four garnished with a lime wedge (easy peasy).

The main focus this year was breads and things. There were biscuits with tempeh-walnut patties (not pictured), everything bagels, wheat toast, and pecan-raisin toast.

And the toppers, from right to left:

No one went hungry.

There were also some fork foods to round out the table. On the left is a fruit salad of mixed grapes and halved strawberries tossed with a little oil, a dose of apple-chamomile molasses (the best fruit booster, by the way—adds tart and sweet in one go), and finely chopped mint. On the right is a dish of black beans and tomatoes simmered with cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and Mexican oregano. Into a giant baking dish they went. The top was studded with slices of polenta, which were brushed with a mix of olive oil, nutritional yeast, and kala namak before baking. Hearty and comforting and seriously spiced. Finally, a big bowl of this potato salad was served, but with roasted cauliflower florets substituted for the potatoes (with all the bread on hand, potatoes seemed a bit much). Parsley for the herb. It was a hit, as ever. Seriously, take that salad to the next party you go to.

So there you go. This was decidedly a generous vegan brunch. And a great festival.

Back next week with a new recipe. Thanks for reading.

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Smoked-Tea Baba Ghanoush

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The popular spread known in the States as baba ghanoush—that sikly puree of eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon, and oil—has been primarily a restaurant experience for me. In Knoxville alone, there were generous bowlfuls garnished with streams and lakes of oil at Ali Baba's Time Out Deli (RIP). There were tastes stolen from a friend's order at Yassin's Falafel House (later learning, alas, there's a touch of dairy yogurt involved). Then there's the stuff from Holy Land Market.

Paprika and liquid smoke can do a lot, but maybe not everything. Having nothing but an electric broiler in the MSV kitchen to char eggplants, knowing I'll never bring myself to load in the oil the way restaurant owners will, and having known Holy Land's exquisitely smoky spread, at-home baba ghanoush has always felt pointless. Until now.

Thanks to Kathy Hester's smoke-infusing method from the deceptively humble-sounding Tea-Scented Tofu(*) recipe from The Vegan Slow Cooker, satisfying baba ghanoush can happen even in electric-only kitchens with no access to an outdoor grill. The smoke-infused eggplant, thanks to a spin in the slow cooker with a dose of Lapsang Souchong, takes on such a deep, seductive flavor that you can get away with surprisingly little added oil and still come out with a gorgeous spread.

Side note: the same method works on sun-dried tomatoes, too. Oh, yes, it does. (Calling all bagels.)

This spread may not look like much, but it's seriously worth it. The eggplant keeps everything silky, the smoke (the smoke!) infusion ensures the eggplant can stand up to the bold flavors of tahini and fresh garlic. Lemon lightens it all up. The unique flavor of the tea adds a touch of je ne sais quoi. It wouldn't hurt to make a double-batch.

Smoked-Tea Baba Ghanoush

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yields about 1 3/4 cups, adapted from The Vegan Slow Cooker and the kitchn

1/4 cup loose Lapsang Souchong

1/4 cup brown rice

1/4 cup turbinado

1 1/4 lbs eggplant, trimmed, and cut into large dice

2 small cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup tahini

3 TBSP lemon juice

2-4 TBSP olive oil (or to taste)

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Line a slow cooker crock with foil. Add tea, rice, and sugar, and stir to combine. Place a small metal adjustable steamer basket (wrap the feet in foil, too) into the cooker. Place eggplant cubes into steamer basket. Cover and cook on high two hours. Reduce heat to low and cook two hours more.

Place all other ingredients in a food processor. Carefully add eggplant and blend, adding oil as desired to loosen. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

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Apple-Chamomile Molasses

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A long time ago, I made a pile of syrup made from nothing but unfiltered apple juice. This week, we improve upon it. And in a reasonable quantity.

The pure apple syrup is totally good, but there's a brunch coming up in the MSV house, and it's going to feature condiments in a big way. So to add complexity to something already yummy, look to sunny chamomile.

The result is tart, sweet, and a little floral—in short, a total dreamboat. It's a wildly handy liquid sweetener to keep on hand because (dare I say it?) sometimes you don't want what you're making to taste of maple.

To put it to work, an easy place to start is a big slice of toast topped with Kite Hill ricotta (or plain nondairy cream cheese), pear slices, and roasted and salted pistachios. Drizzle the syrup over all that goodness and buckle up for a dead-lovely breakfast. Or snack. Or whatever.

Apple-Chamomile Molasses

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yields 1 - 1 1/4 cups, adapted from here

1 gallon unfiltered apple juice, such as Field Day Organic brand

1/4 cup dried chamomile

1/4 tsp pure orange extract (optional)

Add chamomile to juice and let steep, refrigerated, overnight.

Strain juice and discard chamomile. Add strained juice to a pot, add orange extract, if using, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high to maintain a steady boil. Cook about one hour, or until reduced to eight to 10 oz. Reduce heat as needed as the syrup reduces to maintain your steady boil. (To measure your reduction, pour a cup of water into the pot before beginning and mark the level on the end of a wooden spoon.)

The syrup will continue to thicken a bit as it cools, and, at this level of reduction, settles at a thick, pourable syrup consistency (it does not get as thick as molasses) when stored in the refrigerator.

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