Collaborative Magic

There are some people that you just vibe with in the kitchen, and in life. My friend Alanna (aka The Bojon Gourmet) is one of those incredible souls for me. Aside from being a solid pal, she also happens to be an incredibly gifted photographer and baker — a classically-trained pastry chef, in fact — and has her first cookbook coming out in April (which you can pre-order here!). For our first cooking date of the year, we decided on Curried Singapore Noodles with Crispy Tofu Winter Veggies. My mouth just started watering as I typed that. You'd never guess this flavorful crowd-pleasing dish (featuring the most incredible curry powder by Spice Society) is vegan and gluten-free, but y'all know that's how we roll!

When you start with bright, fresh, and colorful produce, how can you go wrong? We picked our favorite winter veggies and went to town.

We had such a blast styling this shoot together. Alanna's gorgeous collection of bowls, spoons, and tea towels (her prop game is on-point) combined with my badass nonstick skillet and newly realized hand modeling potential set us up for an afternoon of SUCCESS!

For years, I've been developing a recipe for my dream crispy tofu. Many fails led to a foolproof recipe that I use way too often. Actually, let's be real: I never measure anything and wing it each time so it's semi-hilarious that it took this collaboration for me to actually write down the holy grail. Well, actually, SHE wrote it down while I added stuff to a bowl and ranted. Maybe this is a sign I should better document my everyday recipes? :) It all starts with a perfectly balanced salty/sweet/spicy marinade and some time in the fridge. Click through to Alanna's post for the recipe. 

Did I mention Alanna's cat, aptly named Catamus, is an amazingly ridiculous creature and totally welcome distraction? I took periodic breaks to photograph him with my Minolta film camera. Expect many Catamus photos once those are developed. Now for...

I got sidetracked by cats — story of my life! Okay, back to the food...

And more hand modeling! Noodle hand modeling to be exact...

And then it all came together...by this point, we were drinking Ginger Kombucha Pimm's Cups that we concocted. And giggling a lot.

And then we gorged ourselves.

Pure collaborative magic. In a pretty bowl. Click through to The Bojon Gourmet for the recipe!

Lemons For Days

If you had access to a never-ending supply of organic citrus like lemons, mandarin oranges, Meyer lemons, and even the super-awkward but incredibly fragrant Buddha's Hands…what would you do? If you're anything like me, the answer is bake excessive amounts of goodies. Some friends of mine live on a mountain just outside of Napa, where fruit trees are overflowing with goodness. I recently visited to harvest some of this beautiful citrus! 

Our sweet little helper, Jules, poses with some of the stash!

Our sweet little helper, Jules, poses with some of the stash!

Buddha's Hands win for strangest fruit. 

Buddha's Hands win for strangest fruit. 

 While I was there, I also snapped a few quick photos of this cute family.

Spencer, Jessie + Jules.

Spencer, Jessie + Jules.

Jessie in the garden.

Jessie in the garden.

My lemon-themed baking frenzy began with a few dozen Lemon Meltaways using a recipe adapted from Southern Living Magazine. They turned out really beautifully, and YES, they absolutely do melt in your mouth!

Never worked with batter like this before. It was light and fluffy as a cloud...

Never worked with batter like this before. It was light and fluffy as a cloud...

These little gems are rolled in powdered sugar when still warm from the oven.

These little gems are rolled in powdered sugar when still warm from the oven.

The bulk of the citrus harvested was donated to a friend, but with what I squirreled away for myself, I whipped up a handful of lemony vinaigrettes for salads, drank endless tea with lemon and local honey, and froze juice in an ice cube tray for easy hummus-making in the near future. My sister made preserved lemons for use on pizzas and pastas. Now that our stock from this pick has depleted, I luckily have a little Meyer lemon tree of my own in our front yard, and its crop is nearly ripe! Looks like my lemon obsession is here to stay — loving it, and sharing the bounty with my friends and neighbors along the way!

 

Pumpkin + Black Bean Soup

The maple and oak leaves are vibrant in hues of deep orange, bright yellow, and fire red. The chilly evening air is laced with the scent of freshly lit fireplaces and wood burning stoves. The many cans of pumpkin line the aisle end caps at Whole Foods. It's fall y'all, and I'm stoked!

For the past few years, I've been trying to perfect a creamy seasonal soup. This pumpkin and black bean soup always makes me feel warm and cozy, and it's super filling — main dish status for sure. The protein from the beans and the cashews (yes, cashews) help make this a healthy and hearty vegetarian meal the whole family will love. A few notes: I prefer some full beans in my soup, so I add in one can after the rest of the soup is blended with a Vitamix (or blender). Feel free to blend the second can of beans for a velvet-smooth version. Also be sure to check out topping options listed at the bottom of this post…I've tested them all and swear these combos will make you adore this soup even more.

Don't be scared off by the lengthy list of ingredients that follows — most are key ingredients you should consider keeping on-hand in the pantry and fridge anyway. Plus, the great thing about soup (especially blended soup) is that in general, you can throw in whatever you've got and swap one ingredient for another without much consequence. For example, if you're out of onion but you've got shallot…or you're out of broth but you've got bouillon paste or cubes. Heck, I've even switched out black beans for pintos once in a moment of desperation. Have a red pepper you need to use? Extra tomatoes? Throw 'em in! It'll only make the overall soup more flavorful. Just remember, if you add more solid ingredients you may need to compensate with a little extra broth or water prior to blending.

Ingredients:

1-2 Tbs. olive or grapeseed oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 tsp. cumin
3 tsp. ancho chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic, chopped
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1/2 bottle pumpkin beer OR 1/4 cup white wine or sherry
1 - 32 oz. box low-sodium vegetable stock (OR 4 cups filtered water + 4 tsp. Better Than Bouillon
1 Cup water
2 - 15 oz. cans no-sodium black beans (OR soaked dry beans if you've got the time, but canned works just as well)
1 - 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 - 16 oz. can pumpkin
1 handful raw cashews (about 1/2 cup)
3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
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Hot sauce, to taste (I use Sriracha)
Smoked salt, to taste
1 Tbs. white miso (I use Organicville sweet miso

Directions:

  • In a large pot, sauté onion and carrots in oil on medium-low heat for a few minutes. Add in spices, bay leaf, and garlic, continue to cook for another minute or two.
  • Deglaze the pan with whatever alcoholic bev you're using (note: pumpkin beer is the best seasonal option here, but work with what you've got!) and be sure to scrape up all the delicious little bits from the bottom of the pan. 
  • Add in broth/water and bouillon, extra cup of water, one can of drained and rinsed beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, cashews, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Seasoning break! At this point, the soup, though full of goodness, won't have a ton of flavor due to lack of salt. Very sparingly add some hot sauce and smoked salt (plain old sea salt works fine, but smoked salt adds an amazing depth of flavor) little by little until it tastes about right. Still won't be QUITE there yet, so don't panic.
  • Remove your bay leaf (or don't…sometimes I forget and honestly it really doesn't make a difference).
  • Transfer half the soup into a Vitamix (or blender) and blend until very smooth (up to two minutes). Add the creamy half into a bowl and set aside. Add the rest of the unblended soup into the Vitamix and repeat. Add all of the fully blended soup back into your original pot.
  • Add the remaining can of black beans and the white miso and stir. Bring soup back up to a simmer and allow to rest for 10-20 mins.
  • Final seasoning break! Need more salt? If it tastes salty enough but is lacking in flavor, consider more balsamic vinegar, hot sauce, or miso. Miso, made of fermented soybeans, is an "umami" flavor bomb and can transform a soup or gravy at the last minute. I've also added more bouillon at this stage (if your soup isn't already salty enough and needs more flavor).
  • Toppings. This is the magic moment! Here are some Emma-approved topping options for this soup:
    • A dollop of greek yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche;
    • Chopped green onions;
    • Fresh herbs (like chives and parsley);
    • Crispy shallots;
    • Red pepper flakes;
    • Pan-fried shaved brussels sprouts;
    • Buttery croutons made with day-old bread, chopped rosemary + thyme, and sea salt.

Southern Brunch

The components of a successful Southern brunch are fairly simple: family and friends, good food, vibrant colors, and a whole lot of BUTTER. This past week, my mom-in-law, Mimi, and ten-year-old niece, Gracie, visited us from North Carolina. Mimi grew up in both Chatham County and Durham, NC, where her mother made homemade biscuits three times a day, each and every day, throughout her childhood. She inherited recipes, traditions, and kitchen necessities (like a three-generations-old cast iron pan), and so naturally she's a fantastic cook — one who rarely follows a recipe and can't help but add just a little more butter. Imagine Martha Stewart's ingenuity (but disregard the insider trading) combined with Paula Deen's Southern food knowledge (but disregard…well everything else) — you get the picture: the woman knows her way around a kitchen.

When Matt and I moved from the South to the West, the availability of authentic Southern foods dissipated a bit, as did our desire to cook up our favorites: buttermilk biscuits, cheese grits, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, etc. So, this family visit was the perfect opportunity to let Mimi spoil us with her prized "cat head" biscuit recipe (because they're "bigger than a cat's head!") along with a few other brunch favorites.

But first, Mimi and I wanted to make a tablecloth for our al fresco occasion. Because you won't find brunch on a naked table anywhere in the South (especially at Mimi's house). We picked one of my favorite pieces of vintage material and got to work.

Mimi, skillfully stitching up our vintage tablecloth.

Here's the menu we ended up with: Mimi's cat head biscuits with fresh nectarine jam (made from my backyard tree!), scrambled eggs with minced garden herbs, cheese grits, and garlicky tomato and arugula. We invited my sis, Jen, to partake in the fun, poured some French Press coffee, and had a great time enjoying our backyard brunch! Scroll down a bit for Mimi's biscuit recipe.

In progress table...
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Mimi's Cat Head Biscuits

1 ½ cups White Lily Self-Rising Flour
1 ½ cups Swans Down cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½  sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups buttermilk (or, if in a pinch, you can substitute 3 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraîche into heavy cream here)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

  • Combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.
  • Rub the butter and shortening into the flour mix until the mixture resembles course meal.
  • Gently stir in the liquid until just combined.
  • Gather mixture onto floured parchment paper and fold mixture like a letter (in thirds).
  • Sprinkle with small pieces of cold butter in between folding layers. Fold only two or three times.
  • Using a biscuit cutter, cut out your biscuits and place them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
    • *Notes from Mimi: Try not to twist the biscuit cutter — they won't rise correctly. Also, don't refold once they've been cut — simply reshape extra pieces to the large form. And lastly, avoid touching the mixture too much!
  • Bake 20-25 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown on top and baked all the way through.

Speaking of good cooks, the day after our brunch, we had the good fortune of chatting with one of the world's best — Chef Thomas Keller. We were walking through The French Laundry garden and he happened to be doing the same!

Mimi was so beside herself that directly after shaking his hand she said "you're like a God to me!" and he so graciously replied "well, thank you." Gracie, who loves to play sous chef when we cook, got a kick out of the chance meeting as well. I'd call this a good weekend in Wine Country!

Vegan Charcuterie

After writing about my recent visit to Gather Restaurant in Berkeley (here), I felt inspired to create my own vegan charcuterie plate. Christina was my partner in crime for this culinary adventure, and for a first-time attempt, we thought the results were fairly legit!

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Of course our presentation wasn't as impressive as theirs, but I assure you, it was tasty! I should also note that we made up the majority of these combinations on the spot, utilizing the seasonal ingredients we had on-hand.

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What you're seeing:

  • Endive leaves filled with black lentil, cucumber, red pepper, walnut, and lemon tahini.
  • Breakfast radish, herbed hummus, cashew cream, and flaked sea salt.
  • Sliced Fuji apple, pickled red onion, baby arugula, chili and crushed garlic infused olive oil.

Recipe // Cashew Cream

1 Cup organic raw cashews
1/2 Cup filtered water
Salt

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the cashews in a colander and place them into a bowl. Cover them with fresh filtered water. Let cashews soak for at least two hours (but up to eight hours).
  2. Drain soaked cashews, then combine them with 1/2 cup fresh water in a Vita-Mix or blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If the sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon of water to thin it out and pulse a while longer. Add salt to taste.

I sometimes add garlic, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, or fresh herbs to the base recipe…just depends on what you're going for! You can use this sauce as a cheese substitute in a variety of vegan recipes, including mac & cheese, pizza (to drizzle on after baking), and salad dressings (I highly suggest the vegan ranch dressing).