My Mad Foray into Vegan Cooking


Thanks to a very fortuitous introduction, I recently met the author of this excellent Cookbook, For the Love of Vegan Cooking, Deb Gleason.  She and her lovely partner came over for a garden tour and we had some wide-ranging discussions on cooking and gardening, with a focus on Hawaii, where they have just bought a home. It was only while talking to them that I discovered they were vegans.  Ah well, so much for my Lilikoi shortbread bars.  

Additionally, it came out that Deb was an author, not to mention "a former Homicide Detective, turned certified holistic nutritionist."  From dealing with death to better living, you might say.

Not to say that I have any plans for changing over to vegan cooking.  However, having that repertoire available is very helpful, for everyone these days. I'm sure we're not the only ones who have recently met  vegans.  Rather than be stymied over what to fix them for a meal or simple appetizer, I now have some delicious choices handy.  Actually, it was the second time this has happened in the past year.  Both times I broke out some of my Limoncello.  And, chips are vegan.  

From the Publishers: "With more than 100 delicious plant-based recipes, For the Love of Vegan Cooking will show you that veganism is not a rejection of culinary abundance, but instead a celebration of flavors, textures and tastes that are sure to delight. For the Love of Vegan Cooking puts the power of real, healthy food in your hands with comforting and deeply nutritious meals, desserts, drinks, and snacks that will make your mouth water in the best way. This book also includes two bonus sections to tickle your creative juices. Learn how easy it is to make creamy and delicious cultured cashew cheese, and to brew your own fizzy, probiotic packed kombucha.":

Not to mention, her gorgeous photography!  So, choices are always good, beginning with what to cook for myself and Bob, in order to give Deb's recipes an immediate, practical application.  

The Crispy Potato Skins with Walnut Meat, Mango Salsa & Cashew Sour Cream was a perfect choice, as there are really four recipes involved, as you might notice from the title. I was especially eager to try making some cashew sour cream.  

It sounded so good, creamy, yet nutty.  And, it was.  As well as being easy, peasy!  Toss 4 ingredients in the blender and ka boom! Sour Cashew Cream.

The next item on the menu was Walnut Meat.  Composed of walnuts, olive oil and some seasonings.  Another very quick fix in the food processor. Toss and process. A tasty filling that would also be excellent in my Pacific Spinach wraps.

Then there was Deb's Mango Salsa, just right for all the ripe mangos, which I've had on hand since the beginning of our Hawaiian mango season.  And the extra will be perfect with my curry tonight.

Finally, you bake the potato, crisp up the skins, stuff with walnut meat and top with the salsa, sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro.  I used culantro as it is a tropical perennial, an herb growing pretty continually around here. 

Sooo good!  We both enjoyed our potatoes, and all the delicious components as well.  What a great texture, flavor and color combination!  Now there are some other intriguing recipes in this book that I want to try.  Deb's Roasted Vegetable Lasagna with Spinach Ricotta and Cashew Cream.  Oh Boy!  And, the Peanut Powered Pad Thai.  Then the desserts!  How about a Chocolate Fudge & Peanut Butter Swirl Ice Cream Pie?  I could go on and on, as so many of her dishes look absolutely too tempting.  Deb's beautiful photography certainly helps.  It's stunning!

I'll be linking this post with the April edition of Foodies Read Challenge, hosted by Heather, and with Weekend Cooking, hosted by the Intrepid Reader, Marge.


Ups and Downs of Where I Come From


Our Cook the Books Club selection for February/March is Where I Come From, Life Lessons from a Latino Chef, by Aaron Sanchez.  This round hosted by myself, and it has to be said, I was inspired right from the start.  On the first page of his Introduction, Sanchez states: "There is nothing about the food of Mexico that is dull or muted  - Cinnamon. Chocolate. Chile  Earth.."  

I had plans for some left-over roast chicken, Chicken Enchiladas, which I usually top with a decent brand of canned green chili enchilada sauce.  Horrors!  But slightly doctored up, when I'm not in a hurry.  In this instance I thought, yes, I have the chocolate, which we actually grow and process, I have the cinnamon, ditto, and the chilies are in the sauce. Viola!  We'll go with that thought.  I first pounded some roasted, ground cacao in my big, trusty mortar, with a bit of cinnamon, added some cumin and sautéed the spices for a few minutes in earth.  No, ha ha, bacon fat.  Stirred in minced onion and then garlic, after that I added it all to the sauce, which was now taking on the color of muted chocolate.  But, nothing dull or muted about the taste!! Transformed by those iconic spices of Mexico.


Cooking With Dandelion & Quince

I was checking out a new wine store in town yesterday, and spotted this cookbook on a shelf.  Dandelion & Quince by Michelle McKenzie. Just couldn't resist! The photography was beautiful, the recipes unique and experimental, with wonderful combinations of little used fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Definitely my sort of book.  And one I will be giving as gifts.

There are so many things I want to try.  Which goal, however does require assembling some ingredients not usually on my list. Burdock... yes, I've seen it in the market here, also known as gobo.  It's popular in Japanese cooking. Though I had no idea as to its flavor profile, possibilities and excellent nutrition. Cardoons?  No, we don't see them in Hawaii.  But, learning from her techniques, we can substitute with things that do grow here.  Experimentation is the note of the day. Opening ourselves up to new ingredients and ways of combining them.

From the Publishers notes:

"Dandelion and Quince features plant profiles—from dandelion to quince—for over 35 uncommon vegetables, fruits, and herbs available in today's markets—with over 150 recipes that explore their flavors.


Gumbo Z'Herbes for Eat Joy


Our current Cook the Books Club read has been Eat Joy, Stories and Comfort Food, edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, and this December/January round hosted by fellow Hawaiian co-host, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen

Of course, with any compilation of essays, by various authors, there are going to be some you love, some you really like, a few you don't get all that excited about, and some you might skip over, if not actually dislike.  There were enough here to make for an enjoyable read, to open up a door of understanding with uncomfortable subjects, some new information, and a bit of just good humor.  The first story one I read, No Alzheimer's in India, by Antoine Wilson,  definitely came under the category of humor, as well as new information, which, when I did some research, was actually backed up by medical science.  We all need more turmeric in our diets.

Lovely to have variety and a bit of spice in our reading as well as eating, something to nibble on in between times is a good palate cleanser.  It must be said, many of the recipes were included as illustrative, not meant to be especially wonderful in themselves.  From the Publishers: 

"This collection of intimate, illustrated essays by some of America’s most well–regarded literary writers explores how comfort food can help us cope with dark times—be it the loss of a parent, the loneliness of a move, or the pain of heartache 


A Minestrone to Love in The Summer Villa

Chic lit I suppose, but enjoyable all the same, with good themes and endings.  The Summer Villa, by Melissa Hill brings three young women together in a picturesque, though somewhat run down villa on the Mediterranean sea in Italy.  They are all running away from something in their lives, hoping a change of scene will help.

Six years later, they meet up again, still escaping from what now, once again,  look to be impossible situations; and lives run amuck.  

From the Publishers:

"The Irish Times #1 bestseller! Three women. One summer reunion...

Villa Dolce Vita, a rambling stone house on the Amalfi Coast, sits high above the Gulf of Naples amid dappled lemon groves and fragrant, tumbling bougainvillea. Kim, Colette and Annie all came to the villa in need of escape and in the process forged an unlikely friendship.

Now, years later, Kim has transformed the crumbling house into a luxury retreat and has invited her friends back for the summer to celebrate.

But as friendships are rekindled under the Italian sun, secrets buried in the past will come to light, and not everyone is happy that the three friends are reuniting... Each woman will have things to face up to if they are all to find true happiness and fully embrace the sweet life.

An epic summer read about food, friendship and the magic of Italy,"

I thought a pot of minestrone was the perfect food image for this yummy novel, things thrown together, from past meals, to create something better in the final mélange.  To a base of homemade stock, I added two sorts of leftover pasta, one with pesto clinging to it, moringa leaves, some tomato paste, pieces of duck breast, chickpeas, carrots, onion, garlic and celery.  I added thyme, parsley and sage from my garden, with a jolt of Worcestershire, and was amazed at the fabulous flavors in the end result. Recombining some old leftovers make a new and wonderful Minestrone!

I'll share the goodness over at Weekend Cooking, hosted by the inimitable and Intrepid Reader, Marge, and with Heather for her January edition of the Foodies Read Challenge.  Please visit, check out all the good food and book recommendations.


Comfort Food, Indian Style, from A Recipe for Persuasion

 The novel, Recipe for Persuasion, by Sonali Dev was a very interesting fictional look at life from the perspective of a recently emigrated Indian to America.  Not at all a typical one however.  The novel's protagonist, is from a royal family, with a dysfunctional upbringing, and the assorted issues devolving from that situation.  She faces her own  unforgiveness and wrong assumptions finally, which is always a benefit to life outcomes.  A bit Bollywood, but still an entertaining, romantic and engrossing story.  The Publishers had this to say::

"From the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors comes another , clever, deeply layered, and heartwarming romantic comedy that follows in the Jane Austen tradition―this time, with a twist on Persuasion.

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen?  Rico Silva, that’s what.

Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster. 


Chicken Tetrazzini and the Red Velvet Cupcake Murder

Just finished another in the charming Hannah Swensen Mystery series by Joanne Fluke - The Red Velvet Cupcake Murder. I'm a sucker for Joanne Fluke books.  If you weren't hungry when you started reading, it wouldn't take long to get there.  A bit of mystery, some romance, and a whole lot of food!  Lots of good recipes are included.  This one is number 16 in her series.  I did review another one of her books, The Blueberry Muffin Murder. several years ago.  Some of us enjoy a long series, when the books are well done, and especially if there's plenty of  food inspiration. Light reading, nothing too deep here.

The Publishers have this to say: 
"This summer has been warmer than usual in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and Hannah Swensen is trying to beat the heat both in and out of her bakery kitchen. But she’s about to find out the hard way that nothing cools off a hot day like a cold-blooded murder. At the grand opening of a local hotel, a police department employee nearly dies falling from a penthouse—and then another woman, with whom Hannah has a less-than-friendly relationship, winds up dead. Hannah is the prime suspect—and to clear her own name, she’s got to find out who iced the victim…
Features cookie and dessert recipes from The Cookie Jar, including Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes and Chocolate Covered Peanut Cookies!"

“Culinary cozies don't get any tastier than this winning series.”—Library Journal

So, for my food inspiration, this recipe is right from the book, Chicken Tetrazzini.  The name just stuck in my brain.   You've got to love the Italian sound of it, and so it went right onto our dinner menu schedule.  After roasting a nice chicken, a few days earlier, these leftovers were on my mind the whole time. 

Chicken Tetrazzini

Starting off with a nicely roasted chicken, seasoned liberally with minced rosemary and garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper., I chopped up some of the remaining chicken.

Serves 4 (more like 6)

1 and 1/2.cups cooked chicken, cut up in cubes

1 1/4 cups spaghetti (1/2 lb)

1/4 cup diced, canned pimento (about 1 small jar)

1/4 of a green bell pepper, diced

1 small onion, diced

dash of sherry (optional)

1 can cream of condensed  mushroom soup

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 teas. salt

1/8 teas. freshly ground pepper or to taste

2-3 cups grated cheddar cheese (or grated Italian cheeses)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup sliced black olives, drained

1 small can Ortega diced green chilies, drained

Break the spaghetti into pieces approximately 4 inches long.  Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water according to package directions.  Drain and rinse.

Place the cooked spaghetti, cubed chicken, pimento, green pepper, onion and remaining ingredients (except half of the cheese) in a large bowl.  Lightly toss everything together with a fork and large spoon.  Spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with cooking oil.  Set it on a drip pan, just in case.  

Transfer the contents of your mixing bowl to the casserole dish.  Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

This photo before going into the oven.  I was thinking a larger casserole dish should have been suggested, but it was fine, barely fit the dish, but didn't go overboard.  The flavors, as it turned out, were spot on.  Really fantastic if I do say so.

I'll be sharing all this goodness over at Weekend Cooking, hosted by the Intrepid Reader, Marge, and with Heather for her December Foodie Reads Challenge. I hope you'll visit both and check out all the good food and book suggestions.


Homegrown Truffles for A Paris Tea Shop

My book of the week is Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop, by Roselle Lim.  After reading her debut novel, Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune, which I very much enjoyed, her sequel was next on my list.  As in her earlier book there are sprinklings of clairvoyance, coming to terms with who we are and what we can be, romance and of course, lots of really good food.  Heck,  she goes to Paris, so of course!   Not too deep, but not shallow either.

Vanessa has had the gift, some call it second sight, since she was a child, but is definitely looking that horse in the mouth.  Doesn't want it, can't seem to be rid of it and at the same time is being hounded by her well-meaning family to marry, and get on with her life.  Unfortunately that idea has been  held up by the inconvenient truths she blurts out on dates, which sends them running.

From the Publishers: 

"Vanessa Yu never wanted to see people's fortunes—or misfortunes—in tealeaves.

Ever since she can remember, Vanessa has been able to see people's fortunes at the bottom of their teacups. To avoid blurting out their fortunes, she converts to coffee, but somehow fortunes escape and find a way to complicate her life and the ones of those around her. To add to this plight, her romance life is so nonexistent that her parents enlist the services of a matchmaking expert from Shanghai.

After her matchmaking appointment, Vanessa sees death for the first time. She decides that she can't truly live until she can find a way to get rid of her uncanny abilities. When her eccentric Aunt Evelyn shows up with a tempting offer to whisk her away, Vanessa says au revoir to California and bonjour to Paris. There, Vanessa learns more about herself and the root of her gifts and realizes one thing to be true: knowing one's destiny isn't a curse, but being unable to change it is."

I thought a nice batch of truffles would be a fine accompaniment to the beverages at Aunt Evelyn's new Tea Shop, Promesse de The. Plus, I found out it's National Chocolate Day!  This recipe is a simpler way of using my cacao nibs than the long and involved process of making finished chocolate.  See this post for that step by step illustration. I still haven't bought myself a moulanger, and have been using my nephew's. But for this, no need.  

My Truffles

2 1/2 cups roasted cacao nibs, ground fine (liquefied in my Sumeet Grinder)
1 tablespoon lecithin (added at the end of the cacao grinding - optional)
1/2 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup dates or figs, seeded, chopped (I used 1/2 cup dried pineapple for this batch)
1./2 cup honey or agave nectar, add more if you like things sweeter
1/3 cup peanut butter (or almond, cashew, etc.)
1/4 teas. almond extract

Mix all well and then form into balls on parchment paper.  Chill until firm, then wrap in cling wrap. Enjoy! So, now I won't have to purchase chocolate bars for awhile.  My fix is waiting.  No special excuse is needed, they're good any time of the day.  I brought one in for my granddaughter and she had it for breakfast.  Well, she did have a smoothie too. Personally, I like mine with a glass of wine. A good book on the side.

This post will go over to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Marge the Intrepid Reader, and to Heather for her October Foodies Read Challenge. Be sure to stop by for a visit at these sites for some good food and book recommendations.


Peanut Butter Chocolate Scones for The Secret Book & Scone Society

The Secret, Book & Scone Society is our current bi-monthly pick at Cook the Books Club, hosted this time by Simona of Briciole. In my opinion this is a delightful novel, featuring not only tempting food, secrets and some magic (or call it inspired intuition), but healing and a bit of romance as well. On top of all that the new found friends solve a mystery.  From the Publishers:

"A quirky club in small-town North Carolina holds the keys to health, happiness, friendship—and even solving a murder—all to be found within the pages of the right book…

Strangers flock to Miracle Springs hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain. So when a visiting businessman reaches out for guidance, Nora knows exactly how to help. But before he can keep their appointment, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to earn redemption by helping others. To join, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place. Now, determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cozy bookstore. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over..."