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!

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!

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.

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!