Hash Brown Bake for MSV's Third Anniversary

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Let's begin with a confession: I created this recipe for Thanksgiving. I know that's a holiday nearly two months away, and this post is for MSV's third anniversary, but bear with me. I also know that Thanksgiving is about as insensitive and manufactured a holiday as you could dream up, but my family celebrates it. I think most holidays here get uncomfortable. Folks in the U.S. fire up the grill and crack open the brews on Memorial Day. We hit big sales at big box stores on Labor Day. National holidays are meant to recognize dramatic parts of our history, yet it's perfectly human to want to gather with friends and family when those of us lucky enough to get it find free time.

I don't think the dominant U.S. culture is particularly good at gathering with people to remember and recognize. We're trained to be optimists and told we're masters of our destinies. When someone tells us their troubles, we're prone to insist the silver lining is bigger than the cloud. Instead of recognizing, we "celebrate," with decidedly upbeat connotation. Jovially celebrating dramatic parts of our history gets inappropriate pretty fast.

To be honest, I do love Thanksgiving as a celebration of fall harvest and as a way to ease the long nights. It helps that it's a food-centric holiday, and my hobby is cooking, and I get to prepare the big meal for my small family. Most of the time, I cook for myself. In a way, I cook for you guys here on MSV. But people need people, and actually serving food to people means something to me.

I took over Thanksgiving hosting duties in my late twenties because one year neither my mother nor my boyfriend's mother, the traditional preparers, wanted to cook. I thought skipping it sounded like a bummer, so I offered to host. I've done it for years now, but I went vegan a few years in, and I'm firm about not cooking animal products in my home. The lack of tradition allows me to tweak the menu annually for variety, and also to figure out what plant dishes everyone likes best. That means by Halloween, I'm fretting about a centerpiece for late November.

My hosting dinner started out with really low stakes. I was just trying to make sure we didn't miss out on a day most of the people we knew were digging into full tables. But I'm testing early this year because this Thanksgiving feels like a bigger deal than it has been in the past.

My boyfriend's mother, Shirley, died in early September after many tough years of living with pulmonary disease. I knew her as a selfless woman who always made me feel welcome in her home (no small task when dealing with someone as lousy at conversation as I am). Even though we weren't legally family, I never doubted that she considered me part of hers. She accepted both me and my relationship with her son and genuinely appreciated them as they are, even if the shape of those might not have been easy for her to understand. She went to her grave without knowing what practicing veganism means, though I'd been doing it for nearly four years at the time of her death. And that my boyfriend and I aren't married after the better part of a decade together is probably a fact that seemed strange (possibly even wrong) to her, but one that she never asked me to answer for.

Shirley kind of hated Thanksgiving, at least in the time I knew her. Occasionally, I feel badly that I probably forced her to keep celebrating it. We might have let the whole thing drop, and I suspect that would've been all right with her. A decidedly fussy eater in general, she once announced over a holiday meal she had prepared that she hated holiday food. But her family loves it.

I didn't host Thanksgiving last year. Shirley struggled once a year with weak lungs to climb the two flights of stairs that lead to our apartment, and she'd understandably had enough of it. She instead searched out one of the buffets in town where we all went together, and I made a spread for my boyfriend and me the next day. Now, given that fall is here, one of the ways my boyfriend and his father have talked about looking ahead and spending time together in the wake of Shirley's death is planning to gather once again at our home for the Thanksgiving meal.

One of the dishes Shirley made for special occasions was a potato casserole, heady with saturated fat, topped with breakfast cereal flakes, and greeted eagerly by everyone in the family (except me, with the incomprehensible diet). I'm not going to try to make it. She liked that casserole. It was one of the few things she did eat off a holiday table(*). It would seem misguided, even ghoulish, to me to try to recreate her casserole. I'm setting this table for people I care about who are in pain. It's important to me to recognize that in whatever small way I can. But I can't quiet the urge to commemorate her when it comes time for me to host my family, and I tend to respond to life with food.

So instead I've worked out a potato dish of my own that I hope will serve a similar function to Shirley's casserole. This one keeps it simple and adds creamy fat through foods I'm comfortable working with, almond meal and soy milk. And as a replacement for the beloved thinly sliced herbed potatoes from Veganomicon I used to make for Thanksgiving, it's much quicker to throw together, a definite bonus when you're putting together a large spread. It also takes one convenient cue from Shirley's casserole by using pre-cut frozen potatoes. Though nontraditional, it's nevertheless a rich and comforting dish. It can't do a thing about the death of a family member. But it's what I need to cook right now.

This is MSV's third anniversary, and I'm grateful you guys are all here for it. In the weeks leading up to this, I persisted in testing a cake to post for today, but I finally had to admit it felt forced. A classic marker of festivity doesn't fit here right now. This fall for my family isn't really about celebration. It's more about recognizing and remembering. We have things to regret and things to be happy for. This year, fewer of us will do just that around a full table.


(*Another was biscuits, which I always made sure to include for her. Note I'm updating that recipe this year to substitute vegetable shortening for half the nondairy butter, which makes a dramatically more tender biscuit. I always used it as an omnivore, but eventually skipped buying it. I recently splurged on the shortening for a gift batch and was shocked at the difference. Sorry I fell down on those biscuits in the last few years, Shirley. You deserved better.)

Creamy Hash Brown Bake

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serves 6-8

1 cup unsweetened soy milk

1 cup blanched almond meal

1 clove garlic

1 TBSP nutritional yeast

1 TBSP lemon juice

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt, divided

1 lb frozen hash browns (look for a brand that contains nothing but potatoes)

3 TBSP panko crumbs

Heat oven to 375.

In a quart jar with an immersion blender, blend milk, almond meal, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp salt.

In a shallow medium baking dish, spread hash browns evenly. Slowly and evenly pour milk blend over potatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 tsp salt and panko crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over potatoes.

Bake 40 minutes, until creamy throughout and browning at the edges. Switch to the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top. Serve hot.



Dead Simple Za'atar-Spiced Tempeh Flatbreads

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So homemade soy yogurt has been happening around here. It's good stuff, and it works a humble kind of magic in this simple, generous wrap, where it's mixed with prepared hummus (like from these folks at area grocers or from your favorite corner falafel joint) to add creamy texture and mellow that potent dish out a bit. Next, slice up some tempeh, toss it with za'atar, and throw it on the countertop grill (or stovetop griddle).

Chop a little cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and parsley for one last gasp of summer produce. Finish it with a good dose of lemon, and say hello to a seriously satisfying wrap, easy enough for lunch and substantial enough for a dead-simple dinner.

And don't skip wrapping your flatbread with parchment or foil. It ensures all your filling stays in the flatbread, where you want it, instead of on your plate. Unwrap it little by little as you eat.

Dead Simple Za'atar-Spiced Tempeh Flatbreads

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serves 4

12 oz tempeh (1 1/2 8-oz packages)

1 1/2 TBSP olive oil

1 1/2 TBSP za'atar

1/2 cup hummus (preferably one not shy with the garlic)

1/4 cup plain (or unsweetened) nondairy yogurt

16 cherry tomatoes

1 small cucumber

small handful parsley

4 7-inch flatbreads (or pita loaves)

1 lemon, cut into four wedges

Heat a countertop electric grill (or a griddle on the stove).

Lay the block of tempeh in landscape position (with the long end toward you), and cut it in half. Cut each half in half. Cut each quarter into four equal slices. Repeat with other half-block of tempeh. You will have 24 slices.

Add oil and za'atar to a mixing bowl. Add tempeh slices and gently toss with hands until evenly coated (some will break—don't sweat it). Arrange tightly on the countertop grill in one layer and close the lid. Cook until golden, about 10 minutes. (If using a griddle, flip halfway through cooking.)

Meanwhile, cut cherry tomatoes in half. Chop cucumber into small dice. Roughly chop parsley.

When the tempeh is done, transfer to a plate and carefully wipe off grill. Cook each flatbread on the grill a few minutes each, until softened and showing some grill marks.

To assemble, place a piece of foil or parchment halfway down your plate. Place a flatbread on top. Spread three tablespoons of the hummus-yogurt mixture vertically along the center, leaving one inch at the top and bottom. Add six slices tempeh, eight tomato halves, a quarter of the cucumber (about two tablespoons), and parsley. Give a generous squeeze of lemon, fold the sides over, and fold the parchment or foil over that, twisting at the bottom to seal. Serve warm.



Lemon-Thyme Potato and Chickpea Hash

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Cooking a satisfying meal isn't always as simple as throwing a bunch of lovable things into one skillet, but today we get lucky. Both well balanced and deeply comforting, this mix of hearty chickpeas and tender potatoes offers high reward with low effort all in one skillet.

Brown the potatoes with salt and thyme, stir in the chickpeas, then top the whole thing with garlic and lemon. The heat does the rest of the work, and you have time to whip up a pretty green side dish to round out the plate. Shown above is a side of seared green beans topped with cubes of salty, smoky eggplant, all given a squeeze of lemon. It made for a great plate.

Red potatoes are recommended for texture and contrasting color next to the chickpeas, but feel free to use a gold or fingerling variety, if that's what you have around. Either way, don't reduce the oil called for in the recipe. Even if you use a nonstick skillet, the oil in the recipe is needed to keep the hash from becoming dry.

Lemon-Thyme Potato and Chickpea Hash

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serves 2 generously

1 TBSP plus 1 tsp olive oil, divided

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 lb baby red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained well, but not rinsed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lemon, sliced

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes, thyme, and salt, and stir to combine. Let cook, undisturbed, 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, toss, and let cook another 8 minutes, tossing only every 3-4 minutes. The potatoes should be well browned.

Make a well in the center of the skillet and add the remaining teaspoon oil. Add chickpeas and let cook, undisturbed, 2 minutes. Toss everything in the skillet together, then sprinkle on the garlic evenly, and top with the lemon slices. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, undisturbed, until potatoes are tender, 10-12 minutes. (The moisture from the lemon and keeping the pan covered should prevent everything from sticking, but if you run into trouble, use water a tablespoon at a time to scrape loose any stuck bits.) Discard lemon slices, stir in freshly cracked black pepper, to taste, and serve hot.



Tofu, Smoky Eggplant, and Avocado Sandwich, AKA The "Hello, Sunshine"

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Tender tofu, intensely salty strips of eggplant, and rich avocado all come together on sourdough to make a deeply satisfying vegan breakfast sandwich. Before sandwiching, you'll top the whole thing with freshly cracked black pepper for heat and lemon zest for brightness. Irresistible. You'll likely find yourself eating it for lunch and dinner, too—it's way less fussy than the recipe might make it look.

The eggplant comes from this totally great Vegetarian Times recipe from a few years back, in which thin eggplant slices stand in for cured ham. Around here, it's a go-to for anything that could use a blast of salt and paprika.

There are a few reasons this eggplant is so adored around here. Tempeh can be difficult to slice thinly and needs a long-ish marinade to really soak up flavor. (It also works best fried, which is kinda gross in a kitchen without ventilation. Like the MSV kitchen.) Coconut bacon is beyond convenient, thanks to industrially produced dried coconut flakes, but it does taste of coconut. Which is fine, until it's not.

Eggplant, on the other hand, is notoriously thirsty, which means it takes on a bunch of flavor in only minutes. And knowing your end result needn't be super-chewy or crispy (i.e. not calling it "bacon") means there's way less pressure to nail a specific texture. Letting the eggplant be eggplant and, well, seasoning the hell out of it is all you need. Especially when paired, as here, with tofu, which already gives you good texture. Oh, and while the link calls for grilling, don't worry, the oven does just fine.

So dig in, already.

The "Hello, Sunshine" Sandwich

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yields four large sandwiches

For the eggplant, adapted from Vegetarian Times:

1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb), trimmed and peeled

1/4 cup olive oil

2 TBSP reduced-sodium tamari

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

2 TBSP grade B maple syrup or brown sugar

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

For the tofu:

14 oz extra-firm tofu, drained

2 TBSP nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

To serve:

8 sourdough slices, toasted

sliced avocado

freshly cracked black pepper

zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tsp)

Whisk together all eggplant marinade ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside. Use a vegetable peeler to slice the eggplant into long strips. When you hit the seedy center, rotate the eggplant. Continue all the way around. (Reserve the center for another use.) Add eggplant to the mixing bowl and toss thoroughly—tongs work very well for this. Let marinate 10 minutes, tossing every few minutes to ensure even coating.

Heat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Meanwhile, prepare the tofu. Heat a large nonstick griddle (or skillet) over medium heat. With the tofu in landscape position (long end toward you), cut it into 8 even slices. When the griddle is hot, carefully add the tofu in a single layer, without touching. Whisk together the nutritional yeast and 1/2 tsp salt, sprinkle over the tofu, and let cook, undisturbed, 5-6 minutes. Flip the tofu and cook another 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. (If you use a skillet, you may need to work in two batches.)

Lay the eggplant strips onto the prepared baking sheet one at a time in a single layer—hands work well for this. Bake 10 minutes, flip with the tongs, and bake another 5-7 minutes, until the surface has dried out a bit and the edges are browning.

To assemble, lay a toasted slice of sourdough, untoasted side up, and layer on two slices of tofu, a few eggplant strips, and avocado. Add freshly cracked black pepper, to taste, and sprinkle on 1/4 tsp of lemon zest. Sandwich and serve.



Sweet Corn and White Bean Spread

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It's no secret that garlic, lemon juice, and fat make pureed beans a sure hit. And you'll find all of those items in this spread, too, but the end result is something decidedly understated, and pretty lovely.

Rather than stopping at the usual suspects, those ingredients are instead pureed with a generous portion of sweet corn, which you'll saute (with the garlic and shallot) before processing with white pepper to add a touch of warmth to the mild, sweet mixture. It's a terrific reminder that bean spreads and dips can showcase a variety of flavors, not only the most dramatic spices in your cabinet.

Try it slathered on a good bread or paired with crudite. Or both.

Sweet Corn and White Bean Spread

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serves 4-6, adapted from Food & Wine

2 TBSP olive oil

2 cups frozen (or fresh) corn kernels

1 large shallot, roughly chopped

1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped

1 cup cooked canned white beans, drained, but not rinsed

2 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Heat oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add corn, shallot, and garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook for two minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, until shallot is tender, another 7-8 minutes. Deglaze pan with 1-2 TBSP water, as needed, let water evaporate, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, place all other ingredients in a food processor. Carefully transfer cooked corn mixture to processor and process until fairly smooth with some visible corn bits, pausing to scrape down sides as needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled.



Black Bean, Lime, and Herb Salad Crostini

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Start with a convenient can of earthy black beans, then stir them into a deeply fragrant pile of shallot, parsley, basil, and carrot.

Toss the whole thing in a blissful blend of red miso, fruity olive oil, and a big shot of lime juice. What you get is a dead-simple salad to pile atop toasted slices of crusty bread, which make a gorgeous foil for the assertive dressing. The whole thing is colorful without being fussy, and is hearty yet fresh and undeniably zippy. For the biggest lime punch, serve the dish immediately. Alternately, make it a few hours in advance to let the flavors come together and the lime mellow a bit.

Black Bean, Lime, and Herb Salad Crostini

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serves 4 as a small course or 2 as a main

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

1 tsp natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 tsp salt

2 TBSP water

1 carrot, cut into small 1/4-inch dice

1 15-oz can black beans

1/2 tsp red miso

1 small garlic clove, minced

juice of 1 lime

2 TBSP olive oil

1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves

1 small shallot

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

bread slices from about half a baguette

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. Add carrot dice and let marinate 15-20 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Drain and rinse the black beans. Set aside in a sieve to let drain thoroughly.

In another small bowl, whisk together miso, minced garlic, lime juice, and oil. Set aside.

Chop well the basil and parsley. Add it to a mixing bowl. Finely chop the shallot and add to herbs. Add drained black beans.

Drain carrots and add to the mixing bowl. Give the dressing another whisk and pour in. Toss thoroughly and add a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

Toast the baguette slices and serve immediately. Alternately, salad can be assembled a few hours before serving.



Party Animals No. 36, Reader Request No. 1: Tomato Head's Strawberry Cream Pie (and MSV's Dead Simple Cream Cheese Pie)

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A couple weeks ago, local television station WBIR posted a recipe for Strawberry Cream Pie from Tomato Head owner Mahasti Vafaie, and an MSV reader requested a vegan version.

Happily, it isn't particularly complicated, but it's a touch fussier than the original, since you'll chill a can of coconut milk for a day in order to skim off the thick cream before assembling (a bit more on that below). In terms of actual assembly, it's every bit as simple as the original. If you aren't familiar with shopping for some of these foods, there's some detail here to prepare you.

Starting with the crust, Oreos, Newman-O's, Joe-Joe's—none of these chocolate-and-creme sandwich cookies contain dairy or eggs, so the crust is adjusted simply by using refined coconut oil.

Both Tofutti and Kite Hill brands of nondairy cream cheese worked in this recipe. (I can't recommend any other nondairy cream cheeses I've tried.) Kite Hill has a lighter texture and a more mild, fresher, and saltier flavor. It's also more expensive and only carried by Whole Foods. It's distinct and rather lovely—if there's one nondairy cream cheese to spread alone on a bagel, Kite Hill is it. Tofutti brand tastes less fresh, but a bit richer. The texture is aces, and it works great as a recipe component, like in this pie, where its stronger flavor holds up well to the coconut cream.

For the coconut cream, Trader Joe's brand canned coconut cream is the cheapest, easiest route. Once the can is chilled, you'll find nearly the whole can comes out cream, whereas with Thai Kitchen brand, you'll need two chilled cans of coconut milk in order to get enough coconut cream for the recipe. Note that Trader Joe's brand does taste more strongly of coconut. That flavor—quite assertive once the filling is mixed—will mellow a bit over the course of the pie setting. Thai Kitchen brand will provide a more subtle effect throughout.

An option for the (slightly) rushed or coconut-averse is this dead-simple no-bake vegan cream cheese pie. It's just the thing when you have a casual gathering to attend, and you can't be bothered to think much about, or work too hard at, your contribution.

With extra cream cheese and a little yogurt to fluff everything up, it's not as rich as the Tomato Head pie but has a lightness that's perfect for the warm months. It, too, uses a blissfully easy cookie crust. The pie above was taken to a party last June. A friend hosted a group viewing of a U.S. Men's National Team game during the 2014 men's World Cup, and she put together a classic suburban "all-American"-style cookout menu. Enter this red, white, and blue number to help her out with her theme.

In this version, a round springform pan is lined with parchment around the sides before adding the filling, then peeled off after setting, so there's no side crust. Naturally, make the version you prefer.

Tomato Head's (Vegan) Strawberry Cream Pie

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adapted from Mahasti Vafaie, via WBIR

20 Oreos

1 TBSP melted refined coconut oil

8 oz nondairy cream cheese (Tofutti or Kite Hill recommended)

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

1 cup loosely packed coconut cream (from 1-2 cans full-fat coconut milk, chilled for 24 hours)

Topping ingredients and all recipe instructions can be found on the original recipe—use the stand mixer for the airiest texture.

MSV's Dead-Simple No-Bake Cream Cheese Pie

7 oz Mi-Del brand ginger snaps (or other cookie)

1/4 cup melted refined coconut oil

16 oz nondairy cream cheese (Tofutti recommended)

1 TBSP lemon juice

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 cup plain nondairy yogurt (Whole Soy Co. or So Delicious recommended)

2 pints mixed fresh berries, marinated in 1 TBSP orange liqueur or balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes, to serve

In a food processor, process the cookies to fine crumbs. Add oil and process until evenly coated. Transfer to a 9-inch round springform pan, sides lined with parchment. Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Wipe out the processor well and add cream cheese, lemon juice, and sugar. Process until very smooth. Add yogurt and process until smooth, ensuring the sugar is fully dissolved. Add to prepared pan, smooth the top, and chill 8 hours. Remove side piece of pan, gently remove parchment, and serve, letting each diner top their slice with marinated berries, to taste.



Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

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A jar of sun-dried tomatoes provides plenty of character alone, but that and half an hour gets you a deeply dreamy condiment you'll never stop reaching for. Rich and potent, a little goes a long way, and makes a table of munchies feel like a treat.

Start with the tomatoes in oil, and use that heap of flavor to fry onions, the tomatoes, and paprika, then sweeten the mix with a little brown sugar and bourbon. Simmer, puree, and grab the crusty bread.

In the unlikely event you get tired of using it as a spread, add a spoonful to your favorite hummus, other bean puree, or tofu spread to liven up your routine.

Sun-Dried Tomato Butter

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yields about 3/4 cup

8-oz jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil with herbs

1 small yellow onion (or half a medium-large), thinly sliced

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 TBSP turbinado (or brown sugar)

1/4 cup bourbon

1/2 cup water

Drain the tomatoes and reserve the oil. Heat 1/4 cup reserved oil (save the rest for another purpose) in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions, reduce heat to medium-low and let fry, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomatoes. When the onions begin to brown, add tomatoes, paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook another 3 minutes. Add sugar and cook another minute, stirring, to combine well.

Increase heat to medium. Add bourbon and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low to maintain a steady simmer. Let simmer, covered, 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. (At no point will your mixture reduce so much that it's in danger of sticking, but check every five minutes and give it a stir.) Remove from heat and let cool a minute.

Carefully transfer mixture to a wide-mouth quart jar and puree with an immersion blender. Let cool completely before storing in the fridge.



Party Animals No. 35: Smoked Tofu Sandwiches & Blueberry Crisp Bars for Dinner with Pals

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When your friend with the smoker suggests a summer potluck, it's tofu time. My pal smoked the two pounds I brought: one to take home, and one to tuck into MSV's own banh mi-style sandwich to eat and share on site. Because smoked tofu isn't nearly as rich as the eggplant in that recipe, it was necessary to cut back on the acid in the condiments a touch. Only half the chile sauce went on, and a couple extra tablespoons of oil went into the herb spread. The crowd seemed to approve.

What the crowd loudly approved of was dessert. Flipping through the trusty old second-hand copy of The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook while planning yielded this casual and delightful blueberry number. And it was already vegan (if you choose a nondairy milk for the milk).

These bars are sweet without being sugary, the blueberries take center-stage, and, happily, they're dead-simple to make. But the real genius is combining fresh and dried berries in the filling. During cooking, the fresh berries get soft and glossy and get you that sticky little corner piece pictured above. Meanwhile, the dried berries stay intact, plumping up and tenderizing into adorable, perfectly round bits that retain a touch of chew. So smart. Make a note.

Back with a new recipe next week. Until then, happy cooking out.

About the Party Animals posts: these posts contain brief mentions of other people's vegan recipes—and/or house-created vegan recipes—for special occasions, be they big, small, casual, or dressed to impress.



Puy Lentil and Potato Salad with White Wine-Shallot Sauce

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This salad is totally handy, and fabulously nourishing. Creamy little bite-size potatoes and earthy green lentils are balanced by acid and complexity from the wine sauce. A shot of parsley and chives finish it off.

You'll make the three elements separately, which makes the recipe look fussier than it really is. The lentils and the sauce both simmer while the potatoes roast, and the sauce finishes while the potatoes and lentils cool a bit. Be prepared to spend up to 45 minutes in the kitchen, but it's all light lifting.

This eats well warm, but it's also great chilled. Which means you can consider the time you spend on this a session of batch cooking. Store leftovers in the fridge so you can spoon out a serving, add a side of fresh fruit, and have one seriously satisfying instant meal.

Puy Lentil and Potato Salad with White Wine-Shallot Sauce

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serves 4-6

1 lb gold bite-size potatoes (or fingerling or other potato cut into generous 1-inch dice)

3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 cup dried Puy lentils

4 cups water

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water

1 tsp all-purpose flour

1 TBSP chopped parsley

2 TBSP chopped chives

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Heat oven to 400. Toss potatoes with 1 tsp oil and cook until tender, about 30 minutes, or as needed, tossing every 10-15 minutes. When ready, transfer pan to a rack to let cool a bit.

Meanwhile, bring lentils, 4 cups water, and thyme to a boil in a covered pot. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a strong simmer. Cook, covered, until tender, 20-25 minutes. When tender, drain well, and transfer to a heat-resistant mixing bowl. Set aside.

While the lentils simmer, heat 2 TBSP oil over medium heat in a small pot. Add shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to the low side of medium-low to maintain a steady simmer. Let simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (while you check on the other elements and chop the parsley and chives).

When the sauce has simmered 10 minutes, whisk together the remaining 2 tsp oil and 1 tsp flour. Add to simmering sauce, whisk to incorporate, and cook an additional five minutes, stirring frequently, to let thicken slightly. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, chives, and salt.

Add potatoes to the mixing bowl containing the lentils. Add sauce and toss thoroughly. Adjust salt, if needed. Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm or chilled.



Tomato Tart with Dill and White Bean-Dijon Puree

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Does anything capture summer better than tomatoes and a chilled rosé? In any event, add rich dough, a little spice, and fresh herb, and you're more than set for sunny afternoons, rainy evenings, and whatever else summer throws your way.

This tart is a simple riff on the classic french tart featuring tomatoes with a dose of strong mustard at the base. Here, dijon mustard is pureed into white beans to add a little creamy comfort and satiety.

Shown is a thin serving of the most irresistible pie dough that never fails to please a crowd around here (substituting an equal weight of Earth Balance will do fine—no one complains, promise), but the only problem with the otherwise unimpeachable tomato tart is trying to keep solidified fat cold in the heat of a July kitchen. This is the time of year rolling your dough out between wax paper can be a life-saver (or that olive oil crusts can come rushing to the rescue), but if you have a store-bought crust you like, consider this the perfect time to make a swap for convenience.

Tomato Tart with Dill and White Bean-Dijon Puree

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serves 4-6

tart dough of choice, rolled out to a 10-inch, 1/8-inch-thick circle

3/4 cup cooked white beans, drained

1 TBSP dijon mustard

1-2 TBSP water, as needed

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

3 small, ripe tomatoes, trimmed and sliced

2 TBSP fresh dill, plus more for garnish

Heat the oven to 375.

Lay dough in a 9-inch tart pan and rest in the freezer while the oven heats. Par bake as needed, depending on the dough you're using, but do not let it brown, keeping in mind that the dough is rolled rather thinly (reduce directed baking time, as needed).

Meanwhile, puree the beans and mustard with 1 TBSP water. Add a little additional water, if needed, just to make the pureeing go smoothly. You should still have a thick mixture at the end, but it should seem more creamy than paste-like. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Have your tomato trimmed and sliced 15-20 minutes before assembly to let the tomato slices give off a bit of extra liquid while they wait.

When the dough is ready, spread the bean puree evenly over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle dill evenly over the puree. Add tomato slices in a spiral pattern, letting them overlap slightly, and top with a pinch of salt. Bake until tomatoes begin to shrivel and the crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Garnish with fresh dill before serving at room temperature.



Ginger-Cherry-Mint Tequila Smash

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Tequila time.

Of all the nice things about summer produce, one of the nicest has to be the pleasure of fresh fruit in your cocktails. Or spiked soda, which is really kind of what you have here. Either way, don't even think about turning on the stove to make a custom syrup. Hot days call for breezy, tall, cool ones, and not too much sauce. Thank heavens for ginger beer.

But probably not the ginger beer up in that shot. It wasn't until the second bottle of the pack was on its way to the recycling bin that I caught the giant list of ingredients on the front label announcing its non-vegan nature. Never stop reading labels, apparently.

To complement the spicy ginger beer, sweet dark cherries and fresh mint pair with a little lime and sugar to stand up to a swim with a serving of golden tequila. It makes for a seriously festive-looking drink begging to be handed to a friend.

Ginger-Cherry-Mint Tequila Smash

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2 sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted (plus another whole, for garnish, optional)

2 medium mint leaves (about 2 inches in length each)

1 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 oz lime juice


2 oz tequila anejo

6 oz ginger beer

In the bottom of a Collins glass, muddle the cherries and mint until the cherries are pulpy and the mint is well bruised, but mostly intact. (Alternately, use a mortar and pestle and transfer the mix to a glass. You'll lose a touch of flavor, but that's life.)

In a small bowl, stir the sugar and lime juice until the sugar is dissolved. Fill the serving glass three-quarters full with ice. Add the sweetened lime juice, then pour in tequila. Top with ginger beer, stir, and garnish with a cherry, if desired.



Smoky Cilantro-Mint Vinaigrette (with Dead Simple Summer Veg)

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It's July, and fresh produce is falling out of our collective ears in East Tennessee. It's not difficult to fall haphazardly into the makings of a great salad. Chop the veg, slice some fruit, toss in a handful of toasted nuts or seeds, or don't.

But what we can all always use is another bold vinaigrette to punch up the easiest of summer dishes, meaning you can do your simplest cooking of the year with big rewards.

Fruity, lemony, and showcasing the haunting combination of cilantro and mint, this dressing already has quite a bit going for it before you finish it with smoked salt. The smoke remains subtle, but adds surprising depth. Use the best fruity olive oil you can afford.

To serve the loveliest summer squash effortlessly (pictured at the top of the post), toss half-inch-thick slices of summer squash (allow one squash per person) into a nonstick pan over medium-medium-high heat, sprinkled with a touch of garlic salt (a generous pinch per squash). Let brown on both sides—about three minutes per side—plate, and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Hello, summer.

Or grab your tomatoes, trim the tops, scoop out any big pockets of seeds you catch, and spoon in the vinaigrette. Pop it all under the broiler for about ten minutes and serve with any grain you like for a gorgeous summer lunch. Soft or firm polenta or grits (crispy little cakes, anyone?) work their charms especially well with the juicy, herbed, warm tomatoes, but whatever's in the cabinet will likely do.

First one to try it on grilled corn on the cob wins.

Smoky Cilantro-Mint Vinaigrette

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serves 2-4, inspired by The Plaid Apron

3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

1 TBSP lemon juice

2 TBSP finely chopped cilantro leaves

1 TBSP finely chopped mint leaves

1/4 tsp applewood smoked salt, or to taste

Whisk together all ingredients. Adjust salt as needed.



Pistachio Pesto-Dressed Haricots Verts with Grilled Peaches

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Peaches and pistachios make a dead-stunning combination for summer, especially when those peaches are tossed on the grill. (Even if that grill is electric.)

And to make the most of summer's abundance, turn to pesto. Garnishing the salad with chopped pistachios announces their presence and adds texture, but using them in your pesto in place of pignoli will really load in the pistachio flavor. Toss that basil-packed sauce with thin green beans steamed until vibrant green, and you have just the savory thing to accompany quickly caramelized little peaches. For the best results, choose peaches that are just at the edge of ripe and still a bit firm.

Once your green beans are trimmed, you're looking at only about 15 minutes to put together a beautifully balanced salad that's a total feast for the eyes and a celebration of texture. To shave a little extra time off of your prep, feel free to make the pesto in advance. Either way, keep this one handy for the next time you're entertaining friends, or anytime you're in the mood to pamper yourself with warm-weather produce.

Pistachio Pesto-Dressed Haricots Verts with Grilled Peaches

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serves 4

1/2 cup raw, unsalted shelled pistachios, divided

2 oz basil leaves (about 1 tightly packed cup)

1 clove garlic

2 tsp red miso

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

12 oz trimmed thin green beans

4 small-medium ripe but firm peaches, halved and pitted

Toast 1/4 cup pistachios in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently, until fragrant and beginning to darken in color, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a small plate to let cool.

Add a few inches of water to a medium pot fitted with a steamer basket and bring to a boil, covered, over high heat.

Meanwhile, blend the basil, garlic, miso, remaining 1/4 cup pistachios, and oil to make a thick pesto. Set aside.

When the water is boiling, add green beans to steamer, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Steam until still crisp and vibrant green, 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. Chop the toasted pistachios and set aside. When the beans are done, shock them in the ice bath and transfer to a clean kitchen towel to let dry.

Heat a closing countertop electric grill. When the grill is hot, add peaches, cut-side down, and close. Cook until fragrant and caramelized on the sear marks, 3-4 minutes.

Toss green beans with 1/4 cup of the pesto (save the rest for another purpose) and arrange on plates with two peach halves per plate. Garnish each plate with 1 TBSP chopped pistachios and serve.



Hitting the Books No. 4: Simple Entrees from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen

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This week, a dip into (an old edition of) a non-vegan, totally classic cookbook just snagged from the second-hand bookseller's shelf: Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.

Again, decidedly a cookbook for omnivores, but one that honors beans and masa and masa and beans. To wit:

Talk about a crowd-pleaser. And the book itself is pretty lovely, too.

As tempting as it is to pour a whole bunch of oil into the pot and fry up some puffy masa, that's a hot, stinky, and delectable chore for another day. In fact, much of Mexican Kitchen involves a few separate processes per recipe. They look to come together smoothly with only minimal multitasking (and the notes helpfully provide make-ahead options throughout), but right now just isn't the time for ambition on any level in the MSV kitchen.

So today, two entrees that are low-demand and high-reward. The flavor construction is elegant and the textures deeply comforting, which makes for a winning combination for the home cook.

First up, black bean chilaquiles (the full dish, slightly more appetizing in appearance, is at the top of the post). Cook your beans, toss in tortilla chips, and there you have it. The core of the dish is entirely vegan, and it's garnished with chipotle, avocado, and Mexican Thick Cream. (Bayless's instructions for Thick Cream are the precise at-home creme fraiche mock-up ones I learned in my omnivore days.) Pictured here is a vegan experiment that showed great promise but ended up a bit underwhelming. You may see it again in the future if it works out. For a mystery-free version, thinned vegan sour cream, a little extra avocado, or a drizzle of poblano coconut sauce could easily replace the called-for dairy garnish.

The revelation in these chilaquiles, however, were the beans. Chipotles en adobo are frequently used as a bold addition to condiments—they're a generously flavorful shortcut. But used sparingly in a pot of beans (cooked from dried), they provide a surprisingly subtle, yet robust depth that likely forever changes the way beans get made around here. Seems obvious, and yet.


One of the great things about this book is Bayless' candor about the inherent corruption involved introducing a dish from one culture to another, especially for the home cook. He's clear about these being translations. So if this one is a cinch for a kitchen in the U.S., why not a vegan kitchen in the U.S.?

Here we have a tofu scramble, but this mixture of tomatoes, poblanos, onions, and garlic would also be gorgeous, naturally, over white beans. It's fairly lean, so extra avocado on top along with the cilantro really rounds it out. (And to stray from the recipe and stretch the dish, this also works tucked into warm corn tortillas.) The book offers an optional shortcut using canned tomatoes, which will do in a pinch, but freshly roasted will make the plate sing.

Back next week with a new recipe. Until then, happy reading.

About Hitting the Books: You know that shelf in your house with all the great cookbooks you don't get to nearly as often as you'd like? Yeah, there's one of those over here, too. The Hitting the Books series allows for occasional opportunities to dig into that shelf and highlight some handy cookbooks.



Cantaloupe, Elderflower, & Thyme Sparkling Wine Cocktail

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It's officially hot outside, but you don't have to take it lying down. Chill the bubbly, sniff out a good melon at your nearest grocer, and prepare to show those summer temperatures who's boss.

Floral is the name of the game here, but not just from the liqueur. The classic combination of St. Germain elderflower liqueur and dry champagne (though here, any dry sparkling white wine that's tasty and inexpensive—even a lightly effervescent vinho verde) team up with another gorgeous and fragrant pairing: cantaloupe and thyme. In fact, if you've never made an agua fresca with cantaloupe and thyme, put that at the very top of your to-do list for the warm months. But today, we drink. And how.

Cantaloupe, Elderflower, and Thyme Sparkling Wine Cocktail

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1 small sprig fresh thyme

4 oz dry sparkling white wine or vinho verde

1 oz St. Germain

1 oz cantaloupe puree (instructions follow)

lemon wedge

Bruise the thyme with the back of a spoon, and add to serving glass. Measure out sparkling wine and pour over thyme. Add liqueur and cantaloupe puree. Mix with spoon used to bruise thyme. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and serve.

Cantaloupe Puree

yields 1 cup

1 heaping cup 1-inch cubes cantaloupe flesh

1 TBSP turbinado

Add ingredients to a quart jar and blend with an immersion blender until very smooth. Check yield, and, if needed, add another cube or so of cantaloupe and blend again until you have a full cup of puree.



Dead Simple Sweet & Spicy Johnnycakes

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If you can get yourself in the mood for a little variety and temporarily suspend the notion that simplicity is most of the magic of Johnnycakes, then we can have a charming little breakfast.

You'll still get the core Johnnycake experience of crunchy cornmeal and irresistibly toasted edges under maple syrup, but you'll also enjoy a bonus of sweet raisins, gently warming chile powders, and fragrant pecans. Fruit and spice make everything nice.

This recipe makes two short, satisfying stacks, but you should have no problem doubling the recipe if you need to feed more folks. Or halving it to feed one, for that matter.

And of course, these are way easy to put together. Prunes also work gorgeously here if you have time and energy to cut them into small bits, but raisins and store-bought pecan pieces keep you from having to chop anything at all, making this nicely garnished plate a total snap.

Dead Simple Sweet & Spicy Johnnycakes

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yields 6 app. 4-inch cakes

1 cup cornmeal

2 tsp turbinado (or brown sugar)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp table salt

1/4 tsp mild chile powder, such as ancho, or a blend

1/8 tsp chipotle powder

1/2 cup raisins

1 cup unsweetened soy milk (plus more, if needed)

3 TBSP chopped pecans

2 tsp coconut oil

maple syrup (grade B preferred), to serve

nondairy butter, to serve, optional

Heat a nonstick griddle (or large pan) over medium heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together cornmeal, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and chile powders. Add raisins and stir. Measure out milk and set aside.

When the griddle is hot, add pecans and toast, tossing frequently, until fragrant and beginning to darken, about three minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add coconut oil to griddle. Add milk to ingredients and whisk to combine thoroughly. Use a quarter-cup measure to scoop out scant quarter-cup portions of batter and add to griddle. (If using a pan, you may need to cook in two batches. Add a little extra milk to the second batch before cooking, if needed, as the batter will thicken as it stands.) Cook until the edges begin to darken and bubbles appear all over the surface, about three minutes. Flip and cook another three minutes until cooked through and deep golden on the exterior.

Serve immediately, topped with pecans, with maple syrup and nondairy butter, if desired.



Roasted Poblano Coconut Sauce

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There's a long tradition of combining poblano peppers with a cream base, and for good reason. This version, made with coconut milk, keeps it as simple as possible with gorgeous results. Roast the pepper, blend, and simmer the mixture briefly before letting it chill and thicken in the fridge. What you get for that bit of effort is a condiment that plays stunningly well with any flavors from your kitchen inspired by the food traditions of Latin America.

Drizzle it over a burrito or taco, mash it with beans for a pupusa filling, or pour it over a tortilla casserole—it's greater than the sum of its parts, and does not taste distractingly of coconut. Rather, the rich, fruity nature of coconut milk combined with the gently piquant hit of pepper makes for a sauce that adds seductive depth to the simplest of dishes, and pairs downright dreamily with the acidity of tomatoes.

You can take advantage of that fact by whipping up a little tofu ranchero dish for a sunny weeknight dinner. This version shows off fresh tortillas topped with the requisite salsa and a serving of simple seared tofu. The roasted poblano sauce adds richness and really brings the whole dish together.

For a fully fresh, homemade, low-key brunch for four, make your salsa and poblano sauce a day or two in advance. Sip a mimosa while you chat and make the tortillas. While the griddle is still hot, cook the tofu all in one batch. Munch away.

For a breezy dinner that's even fast enough to make for breakfast, saute a couple cups cooked beans with a couple handfuls of mushrooms (and/or some leafy greens), plus some cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika. Add smoked salt, if you have some lying around. When the mushrooms are tender, and everything's hot, melded, and smells irresistibly robust, remove the pan from heat and stir in a quarter-cup of chilled roasted poblano sauce. Serve with warm tortillas or toast, and finish the plate with a squeeze of lime.

Once you make a batch, you'll have no problem finding lots of other ways to put this stuff to work. And no one will blame you for doubling the recipe next time.

Roasted Poblano Coconut Sauce

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yields 3/4 - 1 cup (about 200 mg)

1 large poblano pepper

1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk

scant 1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Heat the oven broiler with a rack in the top position.

Trim, seed, and halve the pepper lengthwise. Remove any thick membranes. Place peppers cut-side down under the heat sources, and broil until thoroughly blistered, 10-15 minutes. (Check the oven occasionally. If the broiler kicks off, open the door until it comes back on.)

Carefully add peppers to a small brown paper bag, or a small bowl covered tightly with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest 10 minutes. Peel off and discard blistered skins.

Transfer pepper, milk, and salt to a quart jar and blend thoroughly with an immersion blender. Transfer to a small pot, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat slightly to keep a strong simmer, and cook, stirring, five minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, and store in the fridge in an airtight container, where the sauce will thicken, until ready to use.



Sweet Cornmeal Cake with Macerated Strawberries and Whipped Coconut Cream

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Let's savor one last classic strawberry spring dessert before the heat of summer is firmly at the door. And let's do it with a moist, sweet cake that hints at the coming of one of summer's most famous pieces of produce: corn.

A serious dose of cornmeal combined with silky cake flour gives the final product a yielding, but earthy, texture that's a wonderful and substantial foil for juicy little berry bits and rich, fluffy whipped coconut cream. Et voila, a classic dessert gets a personality boost.

The berries are only gently marinated in a combination of bourbon and orange liqueur to tease out sweetness and subtle depth. If you prefer a dessert without alcohol, a little balsamic vinegar, or even just a sprinkle of sugar can be substituted.

Sweet Cornmeal Cake with Macerated Strawberries and Whipped Coconut Cream

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serves 4-6

3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup cake flour (spoon-in-and-level-off method of measurement)

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/8 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp almond extract

8-10 medium-large strawberries, trimmed and sliced

1 tsp bourbon

1 tsp orange liqueur

chilled coconut cream skimmed from one 15-oz can coconut milk

1 TBSP maple syrup (or powdered sugar)

Heat oven to 350.

In a large jar or bowl, combine soy milk and vinegar. Set aside.

Meanwhile, oil and flour a six-inch cake pan and set aside. Whisk together flours, salt, baking power, and baking soda in a mixing bowl.

Add sugar, oil, and extracts to soy milk. Whisk thoroughly. Add to dry ingredients. Whisk just until all dry mix has been incorporated (aim for a dozen strokes or fewer). The batter will be lumpy. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 24-26 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack. Let cool 10 minutes. Use a thin spatula to gently ease the sides of the cake away from the sides of the pan. Turn cake out onto rack, gently turn back over onto its bottom, and let cool.

Half an hour before serving, combine sliced strawberries with bourbon and orange liqueur. Let sit, covered with a clean kitchen towel, stirring every ten minutes, until ready to serve.

Just before serving, whip chilled cream with syrup or sugar. Spoon berries over a cake slice and top with whipped coconut cream.