Peppery cashew cheese

In this post I’ll be showing you how to make your very own homemade cashew cheese. It’s the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s table!

This super-easy, hard-to-mess-up recipe is endlessly variable – I’ve made a black pepper version here but you could easily omit the pepper and add fresh or dried herbs or your favorite ground spices (try smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, curry powder etc.).

Peppery cashew cheese

Makes around 1 cup of spreadable cheese.

Cashew mixture

  • 1 cup (100 g) unroasted, unsalted cashews
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon miso paste (white for a milder cheese, brown for a stronger flavor)
  • 4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder or flakes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons crushed black peppercorns
  • soy sauce or tamari to taste (optional)
  • herbs for garnish (optional)

Agar-agar mixture

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon agar-agar powder

Equipment needed: food processor with S-blade and (ideally) plastic wrap.

Begin by soaking the cashews in water for at least 8 hours (or even up to 24). If you’re in a hurry you can alternatively use 3.5 oz. (100 g) prepared cashew butter without any sugar or other additives and skip to the step where you add the lemon juice and other ingredients.

When the cashews are done soaking, drain and rinse them and transfer them to the food processor.

Add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast, miso paste, garlic powder, onion powder/flakes, crushed black pepper and olive oil.

Process everything together, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Taste to see if the mixture is salty enough for you. If not, add a bit of soy sauce or tamari, blend thoroughly and taste again. Adjust the other seasonings and ingredients to taste, if needed.

In a small saucepan, bring the 1/4 cup water to a boil and add the agar-agar powder. Reduce heat and simmer for at least one minute (to activate the agar-agar), stirring constantly.

Immediately add the agar-agar mixture to the cashew mixture and blend. Scrape down the sides and blend some more to ensure that the agar-agar gets combined into all of the cashew mixture. Transfer into a large ramekin or two or more smaller ramekins, ideally lined with a bit of plastic wrap (I didn’t have any when I made this, but it makes the cheese much easier to unmold and also keep fresh). If you don’t use plastic wrap, oil the inside of the ramekin to be able to remove the cheese more easily later.

Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the agar-agar to set.

Unmold the cheese onto a serving dish, smoothing out the top and sides as needed with a knife as if you were applying frosting to the side of a layer cake. Garnish the top with additional crushed black pepper or nutritional yeast or the herbs you have used if you’ve made a different version.

Serve with crackers or slices of baguette and some fresh fruit (grapes, figs, sliced apple or nectarine, etc.).

Something I really love to have with cheese is a fruit chutney of some kind, such as this accidentally vegan one from Marks & Spencer.

Variations: instead of pepper, you can use fresh or dried herbs or any other seasonings you like (smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, curry powder, etc.). Garnish with more of the seasonings – a dusting of paprika could make it particularly appealing. Experiment with larger or smaller quantities of the other ingredients (miso, nutritional yeast etc.) to tailor the cheese to your own personal preferences.

Black scalloped plate by Masakazu Yoshida
Cheese knife by Laguiole

pancakes

All pancakes great and small

I don’t have a long and elaborate story to go with this recipe (for once!) so let’s just get to it, shall we?

This is your standard, basic, garden-variety vegan pancake recipe. As the title of this post suggests, you can make the pancakes any old size you feel like. Regular sized pancakes are always great on a weekend morning, but tiny ones that can be eaten as pancake cereal, or alternatively served to your cat and/or Barbie doll, are fun too.

Basic pancakes

Makes around 10 medium-sized pancakes, or many more tiny ones.

1 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup cold water

Equipment needed: large frying pan, griddle or electric crêpe/pancake maker.

Place all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Add the oil and water and whisk until just combined (be careful not to overmix). At this point, if you have not done so already, you can begin heating your frying pan, griddle or electric crêpe/pancake maker.

With a ladle or large spoon, pour a bit of batter onto the heated surface, trying to make all the pancakes the same size. In the photo above, the ones on the right look larger but this is mainly an effect of iPhone photography.

When the batter has become bubbly and opaque, flip them over. I like to use this long wooden crêpe-turning device. Allow to bake for another minute or two until the bottom side is done, then transfer to a plate and cover until all the pancakes are done. If you like, you can keep them in your oven heated to a very low setting.

Serve with yogurt, fruit and maple syrup.

To make tiny pancakes, prepare the batter as directed above but drop tiny amounts onto the heated surface using a teaspoon.

Since they’re so little, they’ll bake faster than regular-sized pancakes, so you will probably need to begin flipping the first ones before you have covered the whole surface with mini-pancakes.

To serve as pancake cereal, place in a cereal bowl and cover with a milk of your choice.

To stick with the pancake theme, you may wish to top them with some maple syrup. Berries or chocolate chunks might also be nice.

Enjoy!

Variations: add chocolate chips or chunks to the batter or place thin banana slices onto the batter after pouring onto the griddle. Mix some cocoa powder into the batter for chocolate pancakes.

Risotto of the seven seas

This recipe started with my discovery of the seaweed Himanthalia elongata, which is commonly known as “sea spaghetti” in English and “haricot de mer” in French. It’s found on the shores of the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the northeast Atlantic Ocean from Scandinavia to Portugal. 

After seeing it in an Instagram friend’s feed (merci Frédéric!), I bought some myself without knowing what I would do with it. Then one day, I happened to have some leftover rice and made a sort of impromptu faux risotto by mixing in some white almond butter and adding a few forkfuls of the sea spaghetti. The combination was really nice, so I experimented further by making another risotto using the proper technique and adding mushrooms, onion and garlic.

What you see here is a perfected version with cherry tomatoes thrown in for color and a burst of fresh taste. The sea spaghetti contributes a “sea” flavor without being overly salty or fishy, and its notes pair very well with the garlic. I recommend getting this seaweed in a jar rather than the fresh kind that’s usually packed with a great deal of salt, as it can be challenging to get enough of the salt off.

By the way, which seas are the seven seas? Opinions vary (who knew?), but I freely admit here and now that the expression doesn’t really apply to this recipe, since sea spaghetti is not found on the shores of all that many seas. But it sounds catchy, doesn’t it? So let’s overlook that detail.

Risotto of the seven seas

  • 3.5 cups (828 ml) low-salt or diluted vegetable broth
  • half a medium onion
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, to taste
  • 7 oz (200 g) mushrooms, sliced
  • olive oil
  • 1 cup short-grain rice (arborio or “sushi rice”)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons white almond butter or cashew butter
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) sea spaghetti seaweed (Himanthalia elongata), preferably from a jar rather than fresh (which can be too salty)
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • herbs to garnish (parsley, basil or chives)

Begin by washing and slicing up your mushrooms and mincing your onion and garlic. In the ingredient list above I said 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, but the ones I had were really small so I used more than that.

Sauté the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, in a large skillet over medium heat. There’s no need to any oil because they will release juices as they cook.

While they’re cooking, prepare your vegetable broth. It should be warm or room temperature, not cold. You’ll be adding it to the rice in a later step. I recommend low-salt or diluted broth because the sea spaghetti will also add some saltiness, and with full-strength broth you could have too much salt in the dish.

Once the mushrooms have become soft (and shrunk quite a bit), add the onion. After the onions are translucent, throw in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Deglaze the mushroom mixture with a few tablespoons of white wine. Once the wine has been fully absorbed, transfer the mixture to another container and set aside.

Rinse the rice and add to the skillet to toast, stirring often. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Once the grains are a bit translucent and smell a bit toasty (without becoming browned), you can deglaze the rice with a bit more wine.

Begin adding the broth in small amounts, stirring often, allowing it to become absorbed by the rice each time before adding more. Eventually, the rice will plump up and become soft. It took about 25 minutes for me but could be a bit less or more for you. You might also end up with some extra unused broth (don’t be tempted to use it all if the rice is already done, as it could become mushy).

Mix the white pepper and nutritional yeast into the rice. Feel free to use more of the yeast than what’s specified – it adds a cheesy flavor so it just depends how much of that you want.

Now incorporate the white almond butter or cashew butter (you want a light-colored nut butter here). It should be runny – if not, mix in some warm water to dilute it before adding it to the rice. This will make the risotto nice and creamy.

Add the mushroom mixture and sea spaghetti and stir gently to incorporate them into the risotto, taking care not to break up the seaweed too much. Cook for a few minutes more to ensure that everything is warm (the sea spaghetti doesn’t really need cooking per se, just warming up).

Last but not least, cut some cherry tomatoes into quarters and stir them carefully into the risotto without smooshing them too much, then turn off the heat. The heat of the risotto will warm up the tomatoes sufficiently.

I couldn’t decide whether to serve it in a regular old bowl or my new Bordallo Pinheiro cabbage-leaf serving dish. So here are both!

However you opt to plate it, this is one delicious risotto. I hope you try it!

The Irish Portuguese sandwich

The other day I was thinking about beautiful sunny Lisbon (one of my favorite cities) and that brought back memories of a strange but delicious sandwich I once ate there.

It was 2011 and over the past year I’d been transitioning to a vegan diet. At that point I was already about 99% vegan, with occasional small exceptions for things like chaussons aux pommes (which we happily can now get in an excellent vegan version in Paris at Maison Landemaine).

Anyway, in those days, when I traveled I never knew if, where or when I would find vegan food, but I was determined to try all the same. There were a couple of vegetarian restaurants in Lisbon already, but they were a certain distance from my hostel and on my first day I couldn’t stray far from it due to a work project I had to finish up on the hostel computer (yes, I had to work during part of my vacation… that’s the freelance life).

It was lunch time when I first arrived in the city, and I strolled through the streets in search of food, feeling not especially hopeful. I had passed by a number of clearly meat-centric places and was realizing I would probably have to go to a grocery store for some hummus and crudités when I spotted an Irish pub. Experience had already taught me that no matter where in the world they are, English, Irish, Scottish and Australian pubs tend to always have at least one vegetarian/vegan food option on their menu, in keeping with the customs of their country of origin.

The Irish waitress at this Irish pub told me they had something like a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) but with peanut butter instead of the B. I must have made a face or furrowed my brow because she quickly added, “It sounds strange but it’s actually really good!” I decided to be open-minded and give it a try.

Sure enough, it was surprisingly yummy. The crunch of the lettuce and freshness of the tomato went quite well with the peanut butter, which is not really that different from bacon when you consider its rich flavor and saltiness. There was also raw onion and something that elevated it to a whole other level of yumminess – capers!

I recreated the sandwich back home in Paris after this trip, eventually perfecting it with the addition of tofu. Although it’s not at all Irish or Portuguese, it has stayed “the Irish Portuguese sandwich” in my mind, although I suppose it could also be called a PBLT. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try?

By the way, as someone with a fiery passion in her soul for beautiful tiles, I’ve been in love with Portugal since my first visit there in 2008. Even many house façades are tiled! If you too love tiles and patterns, I highly recommend a visit to this lovely Iberian nation (don’t miss the Museu Nacional do Azulejo or National Tile Museum).

Anyway, back to our recipe…

The Irish Portuguese sandwich

Makes 1 sandwich

  • 2 slices of bread
  • 3 to 4 ounces (80 to 100 g) firm, pre-baked tofu, plain or smoked
  • Peanut butter
  • Vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 medium tomato
  • Half a small onion (yellow, white or red)
  • Capers
  • Lettuce

First of all, to more effectively get into the spirit of this post, fire up some fado music. Next, slice up the tofu and place in a frying pan over medium heat to brown on both sides.

While you wait for the tofu to be ready, spread one piece of bread with mayonnaise and the other with peanut butter. When the tofu is browned, place it on the peanut butter side. This will make the peanut butter get warm and melty, part of what makes this sandwich so good.

Top the peanut butter and tofu with slices of tomato and onion, then add as many capers as you like. Now place the chopped lettuce on the slice of bread with the mayonnaise and put your sandwich together!

Serve with some salad, chips or fries depending on your mood.

So good!

Is your tummy rumbling yet?

It’s delicious whether you happen to be in Lisbon or your own city! If you’ve finished listening to the other link above, try some Madredeus and Lisbon Story by Wim Wenders.

Variations: Try with smoked tofu! And experiment with sundried tomatoes in place of fresh ones, if you’re making this outside of tomato season.

Deet’s blue lime cheesecake

One year ago today, fans of Jim Henson’s highly original 1982 film The Dark Crystal received a rare and wonderful gift in the form of a brand-new 10-part series exploring the back story to the film’s events. I somehow had never seen the original film, so quickly remedied that and then immersed myself in the wonderful world of Thra. This rather magical albeit hard-to-locate land (all we know is that these events transpired in “another world, another time”) is home to a number of creatures, from the hobbit-like Podlings, elf-like Gelfling and vulture-like Skekses, plus a range of cute but sometimes dangerous animals. All is well as the first episode opens, each of the seven Gelfling clans contentedly fulfilling its specific functions without cooperating overmuch with the others. But it soon becomes clear that trouble is brewing – a mysterious purple blight affecting plants and animate beings alike has struck the land. The threat it poses, and the mysteries behind it, prompt a number of the Gelfling (and one daring Podling) to embark upon a quest to save the planet they call home.

Although mostly live action, this series benefits from judicious touches of CGI that were not possible in the 80s. As a result, the puppets are more lifelike and the settings more realistic-looking, helping to make you feel that this is a real place and that you are there too. In addition to its visual beauty, the series conveys values that are now more important than ever in our real world, such as female empowerment and intergroup unity.

Take a look at the trailer to get a better idea…

One of the most endearing Gelfling characters, Deet, lives with her family deep underground in the Caves of Grot. This world untouched by the sun is home to a delicacy – a luminescent blue moss that grows along the cave walls, providing both light and nourishment to the Grottans and other subterranean creatures. Eating it has the side benefit of making you glow for a little while.

In the happy days before her world was turned upside down by the Darkening, Deet would often bake her signature dessert for her fathers and brother: a lime cheesecake with a pinch of gloss moss. It was somewhat exotic because not all the ingredients were native to Grot – to make the filling, Deet would gather limes and coconuts that had rolled down into the cave entrances from the surface world.

To celebrate the anniversary of the show’s release, I decided to reproduce her cake as faithfully as I could. The result is pretty tasty, even for humans (as confirmed by my testers, Holly and Raphaël). It’s like a very beautiful and exotic key lime pie. And it can be enjoyed even by those who don’t eat dairy products or eggs – since there are no cows or chickens in the land of Thra, Deet’s cake is accidentally vegan. 😉

If you don’t manage to find any glow moss, you can use blue spirulina instead. It’s kind of a pricey item, but a little goes a long way and it can add beautiful color to a range of items including smoothies, nice cream and bread! It might even make you glow – eat your cake with a mirror handy to find out (results may vary).

Blue lime cheesecake

Crust:

  • 1 and 3/4 cup (165 g) crushed vegan speculoos cookies (23 Lotus brand cookies, which are accidentally vegan) or substitute graham crackers + 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon nondairy milk of choice

Filling:

  • 1 and 1/2 cup (350 ml) unsweetened soy or almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons agar agar powder
  • 1 can (14 oz/400 ml) full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) white granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice (about 6 small/med. limes)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 teaspoons blue spirulina (or substitute liquid blue food coloring)

Garnishes:

  • Berries
  • Lime slices
  • Mint leaves

Begin by making the crust. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Grind the cookies or graham crackers up in a food processor, or alternatively crush them finely by hand with a sturdy drinking glass or jar, as I have done here. If some larger pieces remain, that’s fine.

Incorporate the coconut oil and milk until you have a moist, sandy consistency. Press into the bottom of a springform pan (mine was 8 in./20 cm in diameter) or the bottom and sides of a pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside until the filling is ready.

To make the filling, begin by grating 1 tablespoon of lime zest (before cutting the limes). I grated two limes to get this amount. Then squeeze the limes until you have the right amount of juice (it took six limes for me). Get the coconut milk, sugar and agar agar out so you’ll be ready to add them when the time comes.

Spirulina is actually a seaweed, available in a powder form as you see here. It doesn’t really have any noticeable flavor unless you eat a bunch of it on its own… mixed into a cheesecake as in this recipe, it adds nothing but color and nutrients (it’s a superfood with a high protein content). I got it at Aujourd’hui Demain in Paris but you should be able to find it online too. You can alternatively use the standard green spirulina for a different effect, or liquid blue food coloring, mixing in a few drops at a time to achieve the right shade of blue.

In a saucepan, whisk together the milk, arrowroot powder and agar agar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer, stirring constantly for around 5 minutes. Next, incorporate the coconut milk and then add the sugar, lime juice and zest and blue spirulina.

When I made this, I added the spirulina straight to the hot filling mixture and it got a bit clumpy, so next time I would try mixing it with the lime juice first. If you do get clumps, crush them against the side of the saucepan with a heat-safe spatula to break them up.

Once the spirulina is fully incorporated, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and let it cool on the counter for 30 minutes or so, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours so it can set.

Now slice it up, add some fanciful garnishes inspired by the land of Thra, and invite your favorite Gelfling friends over to enjoy it with you.

A kind friend lent me a wonderfully rustic Gelfling-style plate and I made this “Hup spoon” from a recyclable bamboo picnic cutlery set.

Is my crystal infected by the Darkening? o_O

Enjoy! If you make this and post it to social media, be sure to tag @rd.violet so I can see it. 🙂

Variations: use green spirulina instead of blue, or make it another color altogether.

Nut butter cake

Followers of my Instagram page will know I’ve been making a lot of nut butter loaf cakes lately – I find they make a really good breakfast item, especially with a lower amount of sugar (a half-cup or less). But they’re also tasty enough to be served at a tea party, especially if topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a drizzle of simple chocolate icing (cocoa powder + maple syrup).

Below is a recipe for an all-American (lol) peanut butter version that can easily be adapted with a different type of nut or seed butter such as hazelnut, pistachio, cashew, sesame seed or sunflower seed. Take a look at my almond cake and sesame cake recipes for some ideas.

And if you’d like to fancy things up, you can always bake the batter in a round cake pan. For a layer cake, double the ingredients and divide the batter between two round cake pans, and use more of the nut butter, mixed with some powdered sugar, as the filling. Certain flavors also go well with fruit: try white sesame with slices of apple or pear on top. Scroll to the bottom of this post for some ideas.

Peanut cake

Dry ingredients:

  • 1½ cups (188 g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar (add up to ¼ cup more for a sweeter cake)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Liquid ingredients:

  • 1 cup (236 ml) cold water
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) neutral-tasting oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar or apple-cider vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 heaping tablespoons peanut butter

Optional garnish:

  • salted peanuts and/or extra granulated sugar

 

Nut butter cake 1

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Combine all the dry ingredients except the salted peanut garnish in a large mixing bowl.

Nut butter cake 2

In a smaller container, combine the liquid ingredients, adding the peanut butter last.

Nut butter cake 3

Whisk everything together thoroughly until the peanut butter is completely blended into the rest. If you’re using a very thick peanut butter, you may need to add a bit more water.

Nut butter cake 4

Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth (be careful not to overstir).

Nut butter cake 5

Pour the batter into a loaf pan (oiled or lined with baking paper) and top with salted peanuts and a sprinkling of granulated sugar. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 30 to 35 min.

Nut butter cake 6

When you take it out of the oven, stab the cake in the middle with a toothpick to make sure the inside is fully baked. If it comes out with batter on it, bake for an extra 5 minutes, then test again. When it’s done baking, allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it, or the slices may fall apart.

Nut butter cake 7

Enjoy as is or with some vanilla yogurt and/or fruit.

Some variations: black sesame topped with nectarine slices and toasted almond slivers (left), white sesame and walnut topped with apple slices and sesame seeds (top right) and white sesame and topped with apple slices, sesame seeds and powdered sugar (bottom right).

If you try one of these nut butter cakes and share a photo on Instagram, be sure to tag @rd.violet so I can see! 🙂

Honey-mustard caramel corn

MailleOne day, for reasons I no longer recall, I visited the website of Maille, a famous French mustard brand and national institution of sorts (its history going back to 1747). I noticed that it offered a number of recipes that call for mustard, including desserts! This naturally intrigued me and I began looking for something to veganize. I settled upon their honey-mustard caramel corn, a fun item that’s halfway between a dessert and a snack. And it was pretty good! I made it at my parents’ house, which provided me with an immediate test panel. The results of this two-person population sample were conclusive: it was a hit! Or rather, my mom loved it and my dad wouldn’t try it at all, but that doesn’t count since he might very well have liked it if he’d just given it a chance. Right?

The French recipe is already very nearly vegan, with the exception of the honey. Elsewhere on this blog I’ve already shown you how to make a fantastic apple honey, but failing that you can also look for one of the ready-made vegan honeys that have been popping up here and there, or even a ready-made vegan honey mustard.

For ideas for what to watch while munching on this caramel corn, scroll to the end of this post and you’ll find a list of some of my favorite lesser-known films.

Honey mustard

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) mild mustard of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons vegan honey (see my recipe here)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

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Whisk the four ingredients together in a small bowl.

After using 3 tablespoons for the caramel corn recipe, you can serve the rest as a dip for pretzels or crudités, or incorporate it into a salad dressing.

Honey mustard caramel corn

  • 3 tablespoons honey mustard (see recipe above)
  • 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (95 g) unpopped popcorn kernels, or 15 cups popped
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) peanuts or mixed nuts (optional)

Equipment needed: large stockpot with a lid to make the popcorn in (if making on the stovetop), oven for baking the caramel coating into the popcorn

popcorn

First, make your popcorn, either on your stovetop (for instructions, click here), in a microwave or using a fancy popcorn popper, if you have one. Do not add salt or any other seasonings.

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Preheat your oven to 200°F (100°C). Combine the honey mustard, melted coconut oil (melt it beforehand so you can easily measure the amount needed) and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium, stirring often, until the sugar has melted, about 3 or 4 minutes.

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Turn off the heat and add the baking soda (the mixture will suddenly bubble up and grow) and whisk for 30 seconds or so.

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With the popcorn in a large bowl, slowly add the caramel mixture, stirring constantly. It is VERY helpful to do this with the help of a second person – one to pour and one to stir.

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Continue stirring, the idea being to coat all the popcorn evenly. If you’re using nuts, this would be a good time to add them. But if you forget you can throw them in at the very end (they just won’t stick to the popcorn).

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Once you’ve coated it all, transfer the popcorn to a large baking dish, preferably large enough that you can stir the popcorn during the baking process without any kernels falling overboard.

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Bake at 200°F (100°C) for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. The goal with the baking process is to dry and harden the caramel mixture so that the resulting caramel corn is nice and crunchy. Depending on your oven, this may take less or more time than it did for me.

The French recipe strangely doesn’t include this baking step, which is probably just an oversight or the result of not testing the recipe before publishing it.

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Serve and enjoy! Store any uneaten caramel corn in a container with a tight lid to keep humidity out.

No idea what to watch?

If you’re fresh out of ideas for what to watch, check out my suggestions for some older or lesser-known but excellent films.

Goodbye Again (1961) by Anatole Litvak. Paula Tessier (Ingrid Bergman) is a 40-year-old interior designer who for the past five years has been the mistress of Roger Demarest (Yves Montand), a philandering business executive who refuses to stop seeing other women. When Paula meets Philip (Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame), the 25-year-old son of one of her wealthy clients, he falls in love with her and insists that the age difference will not matter. Filmed in English, Goodbye Again is set in Paris and based on Françoise Sagan’s novel Aimez-Vous Brahms?

Le Pays des Sourds (In the Land of the Deaf, 1992) by Nicolas Philibert. This French documentary is a beautiful homage to deaf culture, providing an unsentimental look into the daily lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals from all walks of life. The little-known film was featured in a number of international film festivals and won a Peabody Award.

Secrets & Lies (1996) by Mike Leigh. Hortense Cumberbatch, a successful black middle-class optometrist in London who was adopted as a child, has chosen to trace her family history after the death of her adoptive mother. After being warned by public officials about the troubles she could face by tracking her birth mother down, she continues her investigation and is baffled to learn that her mother is white; she does not resent this fact and wants to know more about her past.

Shall We Dance? (1996) by Masayuki Suo. Shohei Sugiyama (Kōji Yakusho) is a successful salaryman, with a house in the suburbs, a devoted wife and a teenage daughter. He works as an accountant for a firm in Tokyo. Despite these signs of success, however, Shohei begins to feel as if his life has lost meaning and falls into depression. One night, coming home on the train, he spots a beautiful woman with a melancholy expression looking out from a window in a dance studio. Shohei decides to take lessons to get to know her better, and his life changes once his classes begin.

Little Senegal (2001) by Rachid Bouchareb. Aging Senegalese man Alloune (Sotigui Kouyaté) curates a slavery museum in his home country. Spurred by the reaction of curious patrons, Alloune is inspired to find the descendants of the people brought to the United States during the slave trade. So he travels to America, eventually landing in New York and meeting up with his cab driver nephew, Hassan (Karim Koussein Traore), Hassan’s girlfriend, Biram (Adja Diarra), and storekeeper Ida (Sharon Hope), who might be Alloune’s distant relative.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) by Mike Leigh. Thirty years old and single, primary school teacher Pauline “Poppy” Cross is free-minded, high-spirited and kind-hearted. When Poppy takes driving lessons for the first time, her positive attitude contrasts starkly with her gloomy, intolerant and cynical driving instructor, Scott. He is emotionally repressed, has anger problems and becomes extremely agitated by Poppy’s casual attitude towards driving.

La Femme aux 5 Eléphants (The Woman with the 5 Elephants, 2010) by Vadim Jendreyko. This touching documentary offers a glimpse into the life of translator Svetlana Geier, an elderly Russian woman who for years has been working with a German translation partner to produce a German version of five major works by Dostoyevsky into German, her “five elephants”. As we see her work, we learn her life story and in particular the reason behind the passion that drives her to translate these novels.

Isle of Dogs (2018) by Wes Anderson. This stop-motion-animated science-fiction comedy drama is set in a dystopian near-future Japan. The story follows a pack of banished dogs, led by street dog Chief (Bryan Cranston), who helps a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) search for his own dog after the species is banished to an island following the outbreak of a canine flu. Of all the movies listed here, this may be the best known, but I’m so fond of it I wanted to give it a shout-out.

For more film suggestions, check out my list of classic Christmas flicks, which can safely be enjoyed at other times of the year too!

Striped sesame cake

Around five years ago, our local organic stores began stocking black sesame paste, and it wasn’t long before I’d bought some and was brainstorming ways to use it. One of my most successful creations was a black sesame cake, which soon became so popular with my friends that I was making it all the time.

And at one point in the middle of my black sesame period, the workings of fate also brought a sweet little abandoned marble tabby kitten into my life. I didn’t name him for a while, preferring to watch his personality unfold and see what felt best, and in the meantime called him Baby (which I still often call him today). As he grew bigger I saw that the dark gray of his grownup fur was about the same color as a black sesame cake… and so his name was found! I decided to call him Sésame… pronounced say-zahm in the French way.

Today is his fifth birthday, so I thought I would share a recipe for the cake he was named for! And to pay further tribute to him I have prepared it using the zebra cake method, alternating between white sesame batter and black sesame batter. It takes a while to achieve this effect, but it’s very pretty I think. To save time, you can make larger stripes or just use one type of sesame paste for a solid color cake – gray if you use black sesame paste or tan/beige if you use white (plain) sesame paste.

This cake is very moist and has a unique flavor profile. The black sesame has fragrant nutty notes that are nicely complemented by the vanilla.

Striped sesame cake

Black sesame batter

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping soup spoon black sesame paste
  • 2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup cold water

White sesame batter

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping soup spoon white (plain) sesame paste
  • 2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup cold water

Equipment needed: one round cake pan (layer-cake type). Mine is 8 in. (200 mm) in diameter.

Begin by preparing your cake pan by oiling the bottom and sides or placing some baking paper in the bottom (as you can see in the photo, I like to leave a tab on one side to make it easier to pull the cake out). You’ll also need four small bowls – cereal or soup bowls are fine. Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda and salt) for each of the batters in two separate bowls. Then do the same with the wet ingredients (sesame paste, oil, vinegar, vanilla and water). I used a heaping soup spoon of each sesame paste, as shown here. Be sure to mix the wet ingredients well so that the sesame paste is fully diluted.

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Add each wet mixture to a dry mixture and combine until you have a fairly smooth batter. Be careful not to overmix.

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Now take your prepared baking dish and drop a spoonful of black sesame batter onto it, right in the center (if you want your stripes to be bigger, use a larger amount of batter than this).

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On top of it, place an equal amount of white sesame batter. As you’ll see, the bottom batter will spread out underneath it all on its own. Do not attempt to spread it yourself as this could damage the pattern.

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Add another spoonful of the black sesame batter on top of that. Little by little, the batter will spread, forming stripes.

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Keep going until you have used up all of both batters (note: it takes a while). At some point, the center of the design may shift over to one side of the pan, but this is fine. It happened to me twice with this cake, creating the design you can see in the photo below. The inside will still be full of stripes!

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Place in the oven (preheated to 350°F/180°C) for 20-25 minutes.

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Test for doneness by stabbing with a toothpick in various discreet spots (such as any naturally formed cracks). If the toothpick comes out with raw batter on it, put the cake back in the oven for another 5 minutes or more.

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Allow the cake to fully cool before cutting into it. Since it’s quite moist due to the sesame paste, it needs to set a bit or the pattern could get smooshed.

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As you can see, the inside is wonderfully striped and marbled!

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The other side of that same piece looks like this – a bit more marbled than striped.

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Enjoy!

Variations: if you don’t have sesame paste or can’t find the black kind, you can make this same zebra-patterned cake in a chocolate and vanilla (or matcha and vanilla, etc.) version.

 

Lockdown lentils

As you’re already well aware, this is a surreal moment in history, with much of the world’s population on lockdown, under mandatory or recommended stay-at-home orders. Here in Paris, we’ve been en confinement, as the expression goes, since March 17th and we still have a couple more weeks to go.

restons à la maisonAmong other things, this means we have to do most or all of our own cooking at home, using whatever ingredients we can get our hands on. At a time when we’re supposed to keep trips to the outside world to a minimum, what are the best shelf-stable foods to choose? In the panic-buying rush, most people seemed to think of pasta first, wiping supermarket shelves clean of all its forms. As for me (and I don’t know how many others did this, since I went into self-isolation earlier than the rest of the country), the first place I went was the lentil aisle!

Lentils are quite amazing. They’re super nutritious, not only rich in protein, but also B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and potassium. They furthermore have the highest antioxidant content of all legumes and keep you feeling full for a long time – amazingly enough, even after a different meal later the same day! They’re very yummy too.

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I tend to go with dry lentils rather than canned, as they’re less expensive, easier for pedestrians like me to carry home (no water weight), can easily be purchased in bulk (no packaging to throw out or recycle) and take up less room in your pantry.

Even after the lockdown period is over, lentils will be a good thing to have on hand. They can be kept for a year or two without going bad and are a quick fix when you have nothing else in the house and can’t go out for whatever reason.

For those of you who may be new to lentils, or just haven’t had them lately, I thought I’d share a super easy recipe for lentil soup. I’m calling it “lockdown lentils” in reference to these strange times, but also because it can be modified endlessly to accommodate whatever seasonings you have on hand while locked down. The only two ingredients you absolutely need are lentils and water – everything else is optional! I’m nevertheless including some recommended ingredients and spices that take them to another level. Feel free to substitute other things as needed.

The type of lentil you use is also up to you. In the photos shown here I’ve used green, but you could also use brown, yellow, red or beluga (black) lentils. Note, however, that red lentils become mushy as they cook, so a red lentil soup will be thicker than the one you see here.

To make your lentils go farther, serving more people or stretching out over more meals, serve it over a nutritious cooked grain such as brown (whole-grain) rice, spelt or buckwheat.

Lockdown lentils

Makes 2 servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion (50 g), any color
  • 1 or 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • Half a carrot (50 g)
  • Half a medium to large potato (75 g)
  • 1 cup (175 g) dry lentils
  • 4 cups (950 ml) cold water
  • Half a vegetable bouillon cube or salt to taste
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon each thyme, rosemary, oregano etc.
  • unsweetened plain soy cream or yogurt (optional)
  • fresh cilantro (coriander) or parsley leaves, for garnish
  • balsamic vinegar or soy sauce, to drizzle on top

Equipment needed: wire sieve

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Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a saucepan and turn on the heat to medium-low. Dice the onion and heat it, stirring often, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, dice the carrot and crush the garlic. Add the garlic to the saucepan and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, being careful not to allow the garlic to overheat or stick to the pan.

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Add the diced carrots and continue stirring constantly. After about a minute, add the 4 cups water and stir the vegetables to dislodge anything that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cover the saucepan and turn the heat to high to bring the water to a boil.

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While waiting for the water to heat, place the lentils in a wire sieve and rinse thoroughly. Check through the lentils to remove any rogue items such as tiny twigs or stones.

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Add the lentils to the saucepan and continue to bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to low. Peel and dice the potato and add to the pot, along with the half-cube of bouillon (or salt), bay leaf and other herbs and spices. Stir to combine everything, cover the saucepan loosely and let simmer.

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After about 25 minutes, the lentils should be cooked all the way through and the carrot and potato should be tender. Turn off the heat, stir and taste to adjust the seasonings. If it seems too salty, you can add a bit of extra water. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

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Ladle the soup into bowls. If you like, you can top it with some unsweetened soy cream or soy yogurt (or other plant-based alternatives). Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar or soy sauce over that and garnish with fresh herbs.

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Enjoy!

Variation: omit the potato and carrot and use less water to prepare lentils for use in a salad (I don’t recommend red lentils for this, since they become mushy when cooked).

Icelandic “plokkfiskur” and “geothermal” rye bread

Let’s take a break from current events and go on a little trip to Iceland! One that takes place mainly in our kitchens.

ThingvellirI had the good fortune to visit this fascinating and beautiful country back in 2011, spending a week in Reykjavík with a side trip to see the attractions of the Golden Circle. I loved my time there, and although I haven’t had the chance to go back yet, Iceland has continued to have a special place in my heart. Below are a few more of my photos from that trip (click on any photo to open a slideshow view).

One of the things this tiny island nation is known for is its literary output, with one of the world’s highest numbers of authors per capita (one in 10 Icelanders will publish a book). In the years just after my visit I read a couple of novels by Halldór Laxness (Iceland’s Bell) and Sjón (From the Mouth of the Whale), but I didn’t get to any further Icelandic literature until this past December.

In France, a major general strike began early in December 2019 and lasted nearly until the end of January. This meant very few metros and buses were running, and even when they were, the prospect of squeezing into one and possibly getting crushed by the other sardines did not appeal. So I decided just to lay low and not really go anywhere (except by foot) until it was over. As an introvert, I didn’t see that as much of a sacrifice, especially since it was also pretty cold and miserable outside. Of course, if I’d only known what was to happen just a couple months later, I would have gone out more…

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With my extra free time I began reading even more than usual. I delved into an Icelandic novel I’d found in the street, Heaven and Hell by Jón Kalman Stefánsson, which turned out to be the first in a trilogy. Many parts of this story fit in perfectly with my situation, following solitary characters who had to trudge across hostile frozen landscapes (not totally unlike my 35-minute trudges through December rains and heavy air pollution to reach my Japanese class). But the story drew me totally and completely into Iceland and reawakened my passion for the country. See my review of the book here.

As you know, one of the things I often do when I’m enthusiastic about a book or film is to make a recipe inspired by it! And this was no exception.

I looked online for an interesting Icelandic recipe and found something called plokkfiskur, which is a blend of mashed potatoes, onion and mashed fish mixed with a creamy béchamel type sauce. The dish originally hails from Norway, as do the people of Iceland themselves, if you go back far enough in history. To veganize it, I replaced the fish with artichoke hearts (a very good suggestion by my mom) and wakame seaweed. And if I do say so myself, the result is really delicious! It’s like a very gourmet twist on mashed potatoes, and could be served as a side dish or a main dish, depending on the portion.

IMG_0537A side note about the name… plokkfiskur, I read, means “mashed fish” and since there isn’t any fish in my dish I should really call it… plokkþistilhjörtur? (as þistilhjörtu is the word for artichoke). That seems kind of fun to pronounce! But I’m unsure of how the case ending should be handled, and there could be other details I’m unaware of, so for now am just using the original term in those handy quotation marks. So if you’re an Icelander yourself, or just know the language well, please feel free to suggest an alternate name for this dish!

Icelanders commonly eat plokkfiskur with rugbrauð (rye bread), which in some parts of the island is actually baked right in the ground using geothermal heat! You can see how it’s done here:

After some Googling, I learned it was possible to replicate this baking method with hot water in a slow-cooker, or even in a conventional oven inside a large pan of water (much like Boston brown bread). I followed a vegan recipe for it that I found on a blog that has since unfortunately disappeared and made some adaptations of my own. My first attempt at it was quite successful and I was absolutely delighted with the bread, which I have now remade several times. One of the interesting things about it is that it contains absolutely no oil, but due to the cooking method comes out very moist. And although it contains molasses and a bit of sugar, it isn’t a sweet bread. It goes well paired with either savory or sweet things.

I realize you may not happen to have a slow-cooker, or it might not be the right size or shape for a loaf pan (although you can get creative here and use a container of a different shape), so feel free to bake it in a conventional oven or simply use store-bought rye bread. But I wanted to include the recipe here for anyone who wants to attempt this culinary adventure. It follows the main recipe below.

Vegan plokkfiskur

Serves 2

  • 10.5 oz (300 g) firm potatoes, peeled
  • 9 oz (250 g) canned artichoke hearts (weight after draining)
  • 3.5 oz (100 g) white or yellow onion, diced (1 medium onion)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried wakame seaweed
  • 1 cup (236 ml) soy milk plus more if needed
  • ½ bouillon cube
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • small bunch chives

Serve with rye bread (store bought or homemade with the recipe farther below).

Start by peeling and chopping the potatoes. Boil for 20 minutes or until tender.

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IMG_0524While the potatoes are cooking, continue preparing the rest of the ingredients. Dice the onion and sauté them in a little olive oil until translucent (do not allow to brown).

IMG_0526Incorporate the flour, stirring well to coat all the onions.

IMG_0529Add the soy milk, stirring well. Crumble the bouillon into the milk once it heats up, and add the white pepper. In combination with the flour, the milk will form a kind of béchamel sauce. You may need to add a bit more milk than the one cup, if the result is too dry.

Combine the seaweed with a bit of cool water (it will plump up and double in size in a few minutes).

Add the potatoes and then the seaweed to the pot.

IMG_0545Slice the artichoke hearts into quarters and gently incorporate into the mixture.

IMG_0548You now have a delightful gourmet and slightly oceany tasting mashed potato dish! Top with fresh chives after serving.

IMG_0738IMG_0747IMG_0770Icelanders often scoop some of the plokkfiskur onto their rye bread to eat them together.

Geothermal rye bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 1½ cup (150 g) rye flour
  • ¾ cup (94 g) all-purpose wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (236 ml) soy milk
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Equipment needed: electric slow-cooker large enough to fit loaf pan (or a large stovetop stockpot and a container that can fit inside it).

photo_2020-04-06_11-21-08 (2)This bread may just change your life!

Start by sifting all the dry ingredients into a bowl.

Add the molasses to the soy milk and whisk to incorporate it fully. Be sure to do this as a separate step rather than mixing the molasses straight into the batter.

Prepare your loaf pan with a piece of baking paper (or oil the inside well). Fold the molasses and soy milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir only until you have achieved a homogeneous consistency. Be careful not to overstir.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan, and spread it around to an even level. Cover the top with a piece of aluminum foil.

photo_2020-04-06_11-19-36Fill the slow-cooker with boiling water (this one takes 3 liters), or else fill it with water and allow enough time for it to preheat. It is very important for the water to be around 90°C before you add the loaf pan. If the dough is heated too slowly, the baking powder and soda will not be activated and the bread won’t rise. My slow-cooker heats to around 90° to 95° on the high setting, but yours may be different. You can check the exact temperature using a candy thermometer.

photo_2020-04-06_11-19-36 (2)In my slow-cooker, the baking process takes about 18 hours. Since the lid does not form a complete seal, the water evaporates down after a few hours, so I try to time the baking so that I can check it every few hours and refill with hot water as necessary. To check if the bread is done, stick a toothpick in it, both in the middle and the sides. With this method, unlike in an oven, the bread begins baking from the center outwards so the sides and ends are the parts that will not be done if the bread is not yet ready.

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When you have confirmed that the bread is indeed baked all the way through, remove it from the slow-cooker and allow it to cool. Unmold it onto a cutting board and you’re ready to slice and serve it! It can be used with either savory or sweet things – serve it with the plokkfiskur above or with vegan butter and jam.

To learn more about Iceland, I recommend checking out the All Things Iceland podcast, created by American expat Jewells, who also happens to be vegan! She can also be found on YouTube and Instagram. I also enjoy the Stories of Iceland podcast by native Icelander Óli Gneisti Sóleyjarson. And I of course highly recommend reading the authors I mentioned earlier, as well as (one day, when it’s possible) visiting Iceland yourself.