Raspberry cocopane pastries

Necessity truly is the mother of invention, as I learned last month when I wanted to make my annual vegan galette des rois (see my matcha version for more details). As soon as the first of January rolls around, everyone in France is seized with the desire to make one of these frangipane-filled pastries, which require a sizable quantity of ground almonds. If you don’t happen to think of it ahead of time and buy your ground almonds before the end of December, you may be out of luck. I was, at least, on the day I went out to get mine… all three stores I tried were out of stock even though it was past the middle of the month.

Ordinarily, I might have given up at this point, but I was determined to make the dessert to serve at my Biden-Harris inauguration viewing party (well, not really a party since there were just two of us, but it felt festive!) because I had a plan to make it BLUE. Yes, blue, in honor of the Democratic Party’s color. And it struck me that grated coconut could probably substitute quite nicely for the almonds and would also accommodate the blue spirulina I planned to use as a natural food coloring. It worked out really well, and I realized I’d inadvertently invented something new, which I am calling “cocopane” (as in coconut frangipane; pronounced “coco pan”).

So for this month’s recipe, I decided to experiment more with this new filling and to try pairing it with a fruit. I initially thought of banana, but then since it was to be a Valentine’s recipe, I decided to use something pink instead.

These lovely turnovers would make an excellent romantic breakfast for you and your Valentine – whether they’re human or a furry friend – but could also serve as a dessert. They’re best enjoyed soon after baking, so if you plan to have them as an after-dinner treat you could prepare them earlier in the day, up to the point where they would go into the oven, but then chill them in the fridge, preferably in a sealed container so the dough doesn’t dry out.

Raspberry cocopane pastries

Makes 4 turnovers

  • 1 prepared flaky pastry crust (keep refrigerated until the last moment)
  • 3/4 cup (50 g) dried grated coconut
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened liquid coconut cream or canned coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen raspberries (or raspberry jam)
  • 1 teaspoon additional white sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C) and mix together the grated coconut, cornstarch, sugar, liquid coconut cream (or canned coconut milk) and melted coconut oil. If you can’t find coconut cream/milk, another unsweetened liquid plant-based cream (such as soy or rice) will do.

You now have a bowlful of “cocopane” and it should have the consistency of a moist paste. If your mixture is too dry, add a bit more coconut cream/milk, and if it’s too wet, add some more grated coconut.

Now for the raspberries… I used frozen berries and allowed them to thaw on the counter for a few hours. I then strained out the juice they released while thawing and mashed the berries lightly with a fork. I added about a teaspoon of white sugar, but you could use less or more according to taste. If you can’t find berries, you could always use prepared raspberry jam or compote (in this case, do not add sugar).

You can use the raspberry juice later as a food coloring, for example to make a pink frosting as in my Valentine’s cookie recipe or to color almost anything else pink (the juice will keep in the fridge for a few days).

Trace a few circles onto the pastry, either with a paper template or an upturned bowl. I made mine 5.5 inches (14 cm) in diameter, but the size will depend on the size of your pastry. I then pieced together the remaining pastry bits to make a fourth circle. Alternatively, you can cut the pastry into four parts and fold each one over for a more triangle-shaped turnover.

Place about a tablespoon of the cocopane onto one half of each pastry circle, leaving a border around the edge. Be careful not to overfill.

Now add some of the crushed raspberry mixture on top of that.

Fold the pastry circle over until the edges meet.

Now seal the edges firmly with a finger or thumb to ensure that they don’t come apart while baking. Some cocopane and raspberry mixture may be left over when all your pastry circles are filled (they make a nice topping for plain yogurt).

Place the pastries onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes in your preheated oven.

They’re ready when the tops are golden brown. As you can see, the one at the back left didn’t have a good seal because some of the raspberry mixture overflowed while I was closing it. The one at the back right was made from the pieced-together pastry scraps so did not stay completely together… Luckily, the powdered sugar dusting is a remedy for small flaws like these!

Allow the pastries to cool for a few minutes, then dust the top with some powdered sugar. I like to put mine through a small sieve to ensure a fine consistency.

And there you have some lovely, freshly baked raspberry cocopane pastries… the perfect thing for a very romantic Valentine’s Day breakfast!

Crunchy and flaky on the outside, soft and fruity on the inside.

Just before serving these yummy treats, hit “play” on this video:

Variations:

  • Use another type of fruit (cherries, apricot, apple or banana come to mind).
  • Color the cocopane blue with blue spirulina before adding the raspberry (your result will undoubtedly be a bit purple) or green with matcha.
  • Add a bit of rosewater to make a raspberry-rosewater version.
  • For a frangipane version, use ground almonds instead of grated coconut, and substitute soy cream and canola oil for the coconut cream and coconut oil.

Brazilian carrot cake

In all my years eating (American) carrot cake, it somehow never once occurred to me to put chocolate on it. But when I discovered that such a thing existed in Brazil (bolo de cenoura com calda de chocolate in Portuguese), it made nothing less than perfect sense to me. Here’s my vegan version of this tasty treat – try it for yourself and see what you think! An actual Brazilian has sampled this and from what I could tell, he approved. 😉

Traditionally, Brazilian carrot cake doesn’t contain raisins or walnuts, but I couldn’t resist adding them for nostalgia reasons (they’re totally optional though and can be omitted without the need to change the other ingredients). For the chocolate topping, I made a simple glaze from cocoa powder, maple syrup and a bit of salt. I recommend mixing up the glaze and applying it to the individual slices just before serving them, so the amounts given for the glaze are for two pieces of cake. You can double or triple this as needed however, if you’re making this after the Great Pandemic of 2020-2021 is over (fingers crossed it doesn’t last longer) and you actually have nine people eating this together in one place.

Carrot cake

Makes one 8 x 8 in. (20 x 20 cm) cake

  • 1 packed cup (150 g) grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) applesauce or other fruit compote
  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) neutral-flavored oil
  • 2 teaspoons apple-cider or white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)

Begin by grating up your carrot into a medium or large mixing bowl. If it’s organic, you can just scrub it with a vegetable brush rather than peeling it. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).

Next, add your applesauce or other fruit compote to the bowl. I actually used apricot sauce (compote) as that’s what I had on hand, without it changing the flavor of the cake in particular.

Grate a bit of lemon zest to add some brightness to the cake. I used 1/4 teaspoon, but you could add a bit more if you’re partial to a lemony flavor.

Now add all the other ingredients apart from the flour, and stir thoroughly to combine.

Finally, add the flour and stir gently until just combined (be careful not to overstir).

Transfer the batter to an 8 x 8 inch (20 x 20 cm) baking dish lined with baking paper or oiled. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into various parts of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s ready but if there’s some batter sticking to it, give it another 5 minutes and then test it again.

The nice thing about baking paper is you can just lift the entire cake out of the baking dish and put it on your countertop for easier cutting. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes or so before cutting or you might not be able to make clean cuts through it.

I cut mine into nine pieces, each measuring about 2.5 inches (6 cm) square. Now you’re ready to mix up some chocolate glaze!

Chocolate glaze

Makes enough glaze for two pieces of the carrot cake.

  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (add more for a thinner glaze)
  • tiny pinch salt

You can hardly find a simpler recipe… just put these three things together and stir! At first the maple syrup will not seem to mix into the cocoa powder, but keep persisting and it will suddenly become a frosting/glaze. If you want it to be thinner and more drippy, add a bit more maple syrup.

Apply the glaze in whatever amount you like.

And there you have it!

Time to take a bite…

Looks moist and yummy. But how will it taste?

Two thumbs up! Even Brazilian-approved!

And as you may be aware, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! This dessert may not seem very Valentine-y at first glance, but stick a heart on it and it suddenly is. 🙂

Tikka masala tacos

In the years since my move to France, I’ve often missed the contact with Mexican culture that you get living in the United States. While attending university, in both Wisconsin and California, I supported myself working as a restaurant server, and in our downtime would often chat with the cooks. No matter what type of restaurant it was, in the Midwest and on the West Coast alike, the kitchen staff was invariably 95% Mexican, and I ended up learning not only lots of things about these immigrants’ lives and experiences but also a good deal of Spanish too (pretty easy, since I already knew French).

I recently happened upon a Netflix show that brought up lots of nostalgia for me: Genteified, which tells the story of urban displacement, or gentrification, and the ways it affects the lives of a fictional Mexican-American family living in Los Angeles.

The comedy-drama, which debuted in 2020 and is supposed to have a second season at some point, follows the adventures of Casimiro Morales, who runs a taqueria, and three of his grandchildren: Erik, who helps out at the shop, budding artist Ana, and Chris, who works in the kitchen of a swanky restaurant and dreams of earning a culinary degree in Paris.

When gentrification begins to push the rents in the neighborhood upward, Casimiro realizes that the future of his taco shop may be in jeopardy. Chris tries to help with ideas to attract more customers, one of them being to begin offering exotic new tacos of the day. As you may have guessed, his first one is an Indian-Mexican fusion creation, a chicken tikka masala taco. He makes one for his skeptical grandpa to try, but while Casimiro ends up loving it, the unconventional taco doesn’t appeal to his regular customers.

It sure appealed to me though, and it wasn’t long before I assembled my own version of a tikka masala taco, using vegan “chicken” (once with aiguillettes from Les Nouveaux Fermiers and another time with émincés from Herta) and a tikka masala curry paste I found at Mon Epicerie Paris here in the City of Light. But you can use any kind of vegan chicken, or even tofu, tempeh or seitan, etc. and substitute another red curry paste if you don’t happen to find a tikka masala one.

Vegan “chicken” tikka masala tacos

Makes around 6 large tacos or 12 smaller ones, depending on tortilla size

  • 17 oz (500 g) tomato purée or stewed tomatoes
  • 6.5 oz (180 g) tikka masala curry paste or other red curry paste
  • 10.5 oz (300 g) vegan “chicken” or other vegan protein (tofu, seitan etc.)
  • 6 large or 12 smaller Mexican-style wheat or corn tortillas
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 small head lettuce
  • 2 avocados
  • a few limes
  • fresh cilantro
  • optional: hot sauce, plain vegan sour cream or yogurt

Start by prepping the taco garnishes, dicing the onion, chopping the lettuce and cutting up the avocados (or make a guacamole out of them) and the limes. Set them all out in small bowls so you can put your tacos together quickly once the tikka masala “chicken” is ready.

I used a little more than half this can of stewed tomatoes, and the whole jar of curry paste, but you can experiment with larger or smaller amounts of curry paste depending on how spicy your paste is and how spicy you want to make your sauce.

Break up the whole tomatoes, if using whole stewed tomatoes, and stir in the curry paste until it’s fully incorporated.

These are the vegan “chicken” products I used, for different batches. They’re quite similar to each other, but the Nouveaux Fermiers one is probably nicer (and more expensive). To make the amount specified in this recipe, you’ll need two packages of whichever one you opt for.

Place the “chicken” in a frying pan with a little vegetable or olive oil (shown here is the Nouveaux Fermiers “chicken”). Since the product is already cooked, you basically just need to heat it up and maybe get it a little bit browned.

Now add some of the tikka masala sauce and heat it together with the “chicken” until the sauce has the thickness you like. You might have some sauce left over. Shown here is a portion of just 5 oz (150 g) of the “chicken”, so not all the sauce has been added.

If you’d like to have a creamy tikka masala sauce, mix in a bit of unsweetened soy cream or yogurt at the very end, after you turn off the heat. I didn’t do that here, but will try it another time.

Open the tortilla package at the last moment to prevent them from drying out (shown is the tortilla size I am referring to as “large”). If you want to heat the tortillas before making your tacos, try to do it in a steamer and then immediately transfer them to a plastic or ceramic airtight tortilla keeper like the ones they use at Mexican restaurants. I don’t recommend heating them in the oven or on the stovetop, since they’ll become dry and rigid and will no longer fold properly. You’ll find some more tortilla reheating tips here.

Place a serving of the tikka masala “chicken” along the center of a tortilla and then add your garnishes. Squeeze some lime juice over top and finish with some cilantro leaves. The lime and cilantro make a big difference to the overall flavor of the taco, so don’t leave them out!

If you like, you can also add some vegan crema (sour cream or plain soy yogurt with a bit of tamari mixed in).

I garnished this taco with some spicy green olives too. You may want to drizzle some Tabasco or other hot sauce over the top as well.

Fold up the taco and it’s ready to eat! To keep to the Indian-Mexican fusion theme, play some Bollywood music while you eat. Afterwards, have some chai tea while checking Genteified out.

And for those of you in Paris, I have some good news! Vegan Mexican chefs @veganomexa have been holding pop-up events here and there around the city! I was recently lucky enough to get in on one and enjoy some authentic Mexican tacos and tamales with fillings like jackfruit mole and soyrizo with a green tomatillo sauce. I was in heaven! Follow their Instagram to find out about upcoming events.

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.

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.

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!

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.