The Recipe Blog

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.

Next:

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.

Rhubarb-Ginger Witbier Cocktail

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Let's get breezy. With Witbier.

Dose fizzy, creamy, warm weather-ready white wheat beer with vodka and a hit of rhubarb-ginger syrup to add sweetness, gentle tang, and just a hint of spice.

Brighten the whole thing up with lemon juice, and done. You have a seriously inviting beer cocktail that goes down way easy, ready for any weekend hangout with pals that kicks off at high noon, or for a low-key happy hour at home.

Rhubarb-Ginger Witbier Cocktail

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1 oz vodka

1/2 oz chilled Rhubarb-Ginger Syrup, recipe follows

5.6 oz (or 1/2 can) white wheat beer (such as Wittekerke or Harpoon White UFO)

1/2 oz lemon juice

In a rocks glass, combine vodka and syrup. Add beer, then lemon juice, and give a stir.

Rhubarb-Ginger Syrup

2/3-3/4 lb rhubarb stalks cut into 1-inch slices (about 2 cups)

3 oz fresh ginger root, sliced (about 2 3x1-inch pieces)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low steady simmer and let cook, undisturbed, 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let stand 15 minutes. Strain, pressing the solids a bit to extract extra liquid. Let cool thoroughly before chilling.

Lemon-Poppy & Herb Smoked Tofu-Salad Sandwich

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Today, a little love note to smoked tofu. (And tarragon, but that comes in a minute.) Warm weather begs for cool, protein-packed salads that can be kept on hand for quick sandwiches that provide easy nourishment at any time of the day. For that, it's hard to beat the ease of grabbing a pre-seasoned pack of tofu.

This salad really takes advantage of three store-bought convenience items: the smoked tofu, of course, and also a big dollop of plain nondairy yogurt seasoned with dijon mustard. You'll set those off with heaps of fresh and fragrant stuff: parsley, tarragon, cucumber, lemon zest, and, finally, lightly toasted poppy seeds.

Grate, chop, toast, stir, and you have lunch for days. Grab a half-loaf of pita, a bagel, or a couple slices of your favorite wheat bread. Whatever you have on hand will work and makes for a surprisingly sophisticated, dead-simple meal.

Lemon-Poppy & Herb Smoked Tofu-Salad Sandwich

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serves 4, adapted from Tartine Bread

1 tsp poppy seeds

zest of 1 lemon

3 TBSP plain nondairy yogurt(*)

1 TBSP dijon mustard

12 oz smoked tofu (such as Soy Boy brand), grated

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped

1 bunch parsley, tough stems removed (about 1 cup loosely packed), chopped

4 large sprigs tarragon, stems discarded (about 1/4 cup loosely packed leaves), chopped

sandwich loaf slices, halved bagel, or pita, plus tender lettuce leaves, to serve

Add poppy seeds to a small dry skillet over medium heat. Toast, tossing constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn.

Combine poppy seeds, lemon zest, yogurt, and mustard in a small bowl. Put grated tofu, cucumber, parsley, and tarragon into a large mixing bowl. Add dressing and toss thoroughly. (Salt, if needed—this will depend on your brand of tofu.) Can be served immediately, but benefits from an hour in the fridge to allow the flavors to mingle.

When ready to serve, spoon salad onto bread, then sandwich. Press down with one hand and cut in half (compressing helps the sandwich hold together—not necessary if using pita).

(*Whole Soy Co. or So Delicious brands of plain yogurt are recommended. Because of the bitterness of the poppy and pungent nature of tarragon, the unsweetened variety is not recommended for this dish.)

Strawberry-Radish Tartine with Radish Top-Pea Pesto

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This colorful tartine is a lovely way to celebrate the delicacy of spring while still getting sufficiently fed. Spicy little radishes paired with sweet strawberry slices showcase spring's first colorful fruits. Meanwhile, put those grassy radish leaves to work by balancing them with sweet peas and a dose of chives to make a bold pesto that's gentle on the wallet (gentler than basil pesto, anyway) and big on flavor. Crusty bread delivers it all in comforting, yet elegant-looking, style.

The tartine makes a satisfying snack, but is easily made part of a well-rounded meal when served with a bowl of lentil soup.

Strawberry-Radish Tartine with Radish Top-Pea Pesto

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For the pesto:

1/2 cup tightly packed radish leaves (from about a half-dozen radishes)

1/2 cup frozen (or fresh) shelled green peas, thawed

1/4 cup loosely packed chives (~1/4 oz)

1/4 cup shelled pepitas

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small-medium clove garlic

2 tsp red miso

To serve:

sliced crusty bread

thinly sliced radishes

sliced strawberries

Blend all pesto ingredients until thoroughly combined. Spread pesto onto bread, and top with radish and strawberry slices.

Grilled Veg Bread Salad with Savory Parsley-White Bean Dressing

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It's here! Knoxville's 2015 Market Square Farmers Market starts up this weekend, and not a moment too soon. The early markets are bursting with greens, lettuces, and sprouts, and as lovely as all those things are, there's still room to supplement with veg from larger grocers until the rest of the rainbow springs from East Tennessee soil. So here's a salad for just that.

Grilled crusty bread and vegetables add deep comfort when set against fresh lettuces, sliced cucumbers, and sprouts. To finish off the salad and tenderize the gorgeously yeasty bread chunks is a bright, satisfying dressing made hauntingly savory from miso and capers, plus made creamy from a generous addition of white beans. It also makes a killer sandwich condiment, of course.

Grilled Veg Bread Salad with Savory Parsley-White Bean Dressing

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serves 4

For the salad:

4-5 oz tender lettuce of choice, washed, dried, cored, and chopped

4 large sprigs dill, stemmed

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

green sprouts of choice, to taste

4 tsp oil, divided

4 slices crusty bread from an eight-inch boule

handful sugar snap peas

2 carrots, sliced diagonally

1 small red pepper, chopped into 1-inch chunks

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices

For the dressing (yields 1 1/3 cups):

1 cup white beans, such as navy or Great Northern (rinsed and drained if using canned)

1/2 cup water

1 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cube

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1 cup loosely packed parsley (about 1 bunch, tough stems removed)

2 TBSP olive oil

2 tsp drained capers

2 tsp red miso

Combine lettuce and dill in a serving bowl and top with cucumber slices and sprouts. Set aside.

Heat a countertop electric grill with a closing lid, which you'll use to cook everything in batches. Brush 2 tsp oil onto bread slices and grill until marked and gently toasted before chopping into bite-size pieces. Meanwhile, add 1 tsp oil to a small mixing bowl. Add peas and toss to combine. Grill in a single layer until crisp-tender with sear marks, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Toss carrots in the same mixing bowl and grill 3-5 minutes. Add another 1 tsp oil to mixing bowl and repeat with pepper and zucchini.

To make the dressing, blend all ingredients until smooth. If making a day or two in advance, refrigerate until ready to use.

Top the lettuce in the serving bowl with the grilled veg and bread, toss thoroughly with dressing, and serve at once.

Spiced Potato-Pinto Hash with Lemon-Dill Yogurt

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Let your spice rack do the heavy lifting in this hearty bean dish, and you have a dead-simple, highly flavorful plate of comfort and nutrition. Add to that the unbeatable ease of frozen cooked potatoes, and all you need is the energy to stir, chop a little pepper, and slice a couple scallions. Easy brunch, hello.

This recipe alone feeds two generously, but you can stretch it into a meal for more by tucking this mixture into warm corn tortillas and adding a green side salad.

You may notice the recipe doesn't go easy on the seasoning, but it'll all make sense once you spoon on the cool, creamy, and gently zippy yogurt. It's not the kind of condiment you'll want to eat off the spoon, but the good news is, that's not what condiments are for. And this one is a golden potato's best friend.

Spiced Potato-Pinto Hash with Lemon-Dill Yogurt

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serves 2 generously

1 TBSP oil

1 lb frozen red potato skin-on wedges (or other variety—look for a brand that contains nothing more than potatoes, oil, and salt; if you can find plain frozen potato wedges or dice, go for that)

1 small red pepper (or half of a large)

2 scallions

1 15-oz can pinto beans (preferably reduced-sodium)

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp ground cayenne

small pinch ground cloves

small pinch ground cinnamon

Lemon-Dill Yogurt, to serve, recipe follows

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add potato wedges in one layer (as much as possible). Let cook, undisturbed, five minutes (but let your nose be your guide—if you have smaller bits, it may not need the full five). Flip wedges. Let cook another 4-5 minutes, and flip again. Repeat until all wedges are golden, about 15 minutes total, or longer, if needed.

While the potatoes cook, measure out the spices into a small bowl and set aside. Trim pepper and chop into small dice. Slice the white and green parts of the scallions.

When the potatoes are golden, add pepper and scallions to the skillet. Stir to combine and let cook while you open the beans. Rinse them in a sieve, shake off excess water, and add to skillet. Add spices. Stir to coat and let cook, stirring frequently, until peppers are beginning to soften and the beans have warmed through, about 3 minutes. Serve warm with lemon-dill yogurt at the table.

Lemon-Dill Yogurt

yields 1/2 cup

1/2 cup plain nondairy yogurt(*)

1 tsp dried dill

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Stir all ingredients until well combined. Chill until ready to use.

(*Whole Soy Co. brand yogurt is strongly recommended. If you can't find that, So Delicious is a good substitute. For both brands, either the plain or unsweetened varieties should work.)

Party Animals No. 34: Garlic-White Wine Almond Pate

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This week, another almond pate variation. This one packed with garlic, lemon, and white wine. Like its sweet counterpart in that post, this one's thoroughly addictive smeared on crackers or muffins, which is just how both were served at the 2015 Big Ears Brunch. (Which I had intended to blog about, but, for reasons not worth typing out, had to toss the idea of documenting with any care. Which is a shame because it featured some totally fabulous beet-lentil sliders made by a generous pal.)

So not only does the molded pate work as a star on a table of munchies, it can also do heavy lifting in a supporting role for a main dish. It works on sandwiches and begs to be crumbled into a salad. If you're in the mood to gild a lily, there should be no reason you can't knead crumbles into biscuit dough before baking.

For a simple way to really highlight this luscious spread, serve it on a bagel or as a tartine topped with herbs and veg for an any-day lunch worth lingering over.

Or expand that idea just slightly for something you can serve to guests by whipping up a tart crust and spreading the pate down before topping with herbs and any lovely thing you can grab—sauteed mushrooms, grilled asparagus or broccolini, or oven-dried tomatoes. Bake it off, pour some wine, and you're entertaining with ease.

Similarly, it makes great pizza.

It's fabulous to be able to mold the pate and serve it on a plate, but the good news is, if you don't need the firmer texture or an impressive presentation, you can skip chilling the pate before baking. That means no planning ahead. Blend, spoon into a ramekin, bake, and it's ready to go.

That works particularly well for this greens pie. Mixing the softer pate fresh from the oven into a mix of baby spinach and baby arugula allows the heat from the spread to wilt the greens just a bit before spreading the whole gorgeous shebang on pizza dough.

If green things on pizza don't work in your house, rest assured that topping a generous layer of pate (about a quarter-batch per 10-inch pie) with canned fire-roasted tomatoes and herbs makes a beautifully rich, salty, satisfying pie. And just imagine what substituting fresh tomatoes will do for the whole thing this summer.

Garlic-White Wine Almond Pate

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adapted from here (post includes credit links)

150g blanched almond meal

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup water

3 TBSP sunflower (or olive, or canola) oil

2 large (or 3 small-medium) cloves garlic

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

Heat oven to 350.

Blend all ingredients with an immersion blender until smooth.

For a softer spread, divide evenly between two 10-oz ramekins. Bake 40 minutes, until puffed and golden brown on top. The spread can be used immediately as a pizza or tart base before baking, or let cool before serving on a tartine or crackers.

Alternately, to mold, line two 10-oz ramekins with a double layer of cheesecloth. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins, fold cheesecloth over, and chill for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight. (In a pinch, chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.) Use the cheesecloth to lift the pate from the ramekins, carefully transfer to an oiled baking sheet (without cheesecloth), and bake for 40 minutes, until golden. Let cool thoroughly before serving.

Spicy Lentils with Tomato, Heart of Palm, and Green Olives

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The genius Oaxacan tradition of combining mild peppers and briny green olives is here turned up a notch in heat and used to flavor a pile of comforting, nourishing, and affordable brown lentils. If you're sensitive to heat, feel free to substitute part of a poblano pepper for the jalapeno, or (for the more traditional route) use half a banana pepper. Add a chunk of crusty bread, and you have dinner. (And a serving of simply dressed salad greens, if you're feeling ambitious.)

Heart of palm adds texture and a bit of brightness. If you're looking to save money, try substituting chopped boiled cauliflower, but you may want to add a bit more lemon juice. Or to better suit chilly weather, substitute cooked cubed potato. Any way you tweak it, you get a heap of protein in a comforting, tomato-infused pot that feeds a crowd, or keeps you in easy-to-pack lunches all week long.

Spicy Lentils with Tomato, Heart of Palm, and Green Olives

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serves 6-8

1 TBSP olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 jalapeno, stemmed and finely chopped (seeded, if desired)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted, if possible)

2 1/2 cups water

1 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cube

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/8 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 1/2 cups dried brown lentils

1 cup canned/jarred sliced heart of palm

1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, drained

1 lemon, halved

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion begins to brown, 3-5 minutes.

Carefully add canned tomatoes with juice and deglaze pan. Add water, bouillon cube, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, and stir to help cube dissolve. Once dissolved, add lentils, and stir to combine. Cover, bring back to a simmer, reduce heat to low (being sure to maintain a simmer), and cook until lentils are tender, 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse heart of palm in a sieve and set aside to let drain well before chopping into small bite-size pieces. Roughly chop green olives.

When lentils are tender, remove from heat. Stir in heart of palm and olives. Squeeze half the lemon over the pot, and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Pastrami-Spiced Portobello Sandwich with Caramelized Onion-White Bean Spread

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This might sound like a lot of trouble for a sandwich, but the major parts require only sporadic attention. The hardest part is washing the food processor after you're done.

Your reward for that bit of effort is thick-cut, peppered-up mushrooms paired with dijon mustard, sauerkraut, and a hearty white bean puree made sweet from the addition of a heap of caramelized onions.

You'll have a lot more bean puree than you'll need for the sandwiches, which means, happily, you'll have it on hand for any crackers, crudite, or grilled sandwiches you might feel like munching on over the next few days.

Pastrami-Spiced Portobello Sandwich with Caramelized Onion-White Bean Spread

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serves 4

2 yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced

4 TBSP olive oil, divided

generous pinch fine sea or kosher salt

12 oz thickly sliced (about 3/4 inch) portobello mushrooms

1 1/2 TBSP freshly cracked black pepper

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp smoked salt

1 15-oz can Great Northern beans

1 TBSP balsamic vinegar

4 whole wheat buns, cut sides toasted

dijon mustard

sauerkraut

Heat a skillet with 2 TBSP of oil on the low side of medium-low heat. Add sliced onions, cover, and cook, stirring and scraping every five minutes or so until deeply browned, about an hour. (Reduce heat as needed if onions threaten to burn.)

Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 and lightly oil a roasting pan.

Whisk remaining 2 TBSP oil with all spices, pour over mushrooms in a large mixing bowl, and gently toss to combine (it will coat a little unevenly, but will settle out when you toss them in the oven after the mushrooms release their juices). Transfer mushrooms to pan and sprinkle on any spices that fell to the bottom of the bowl. Roast 40 minutes, tossing well after 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse beans well and set aside in a sieve to let drain thoroughly. Add to a food processor when the onions are almost done.

When the onions are ready, add balsamic vinegar and use it to deglaze the pan one last time before removing from heat. Add onions to processor and process until smooth. Set aside to let cool a bit while you toast the buns.

To serve, spread dijon mustard on bottom bun, add one quarter of the mushrooms, then top with sauerkraut. Spread bean mixture on top bun, sandwich, and serve immediately.

Dead Simple Red Bean, Collard, and Hominy Soup over Rice

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Brothy, nutty, warming, satisfying soup without touching a knife? Check. This dish a symphony of textures: tender greens, creamy kidney beans, and plenty of chew from hominy and rice. It all rests in an unassertive medium-bodied broth made savory and decidedly nutty from peanut butter and red miso, two potent ingredients added here in small quantities.

Serving this over brown rice will echo and deepen the nutty flavor, but feel free to use another variety to play with the dish's perfume.

Dead Simple Red Bean, Collard, and Hominy Soup over Rice

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serves 4-6

5 cups water

2 no-salt-added vegetable bouillon cubes

8 oz frozen chopped collards

freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

1 15-oz can kidney beans

1 15-oz can white hominy

1 TBSP smooth peanut butter (look for a brand that contains nothing but peanuts)

2 tsp red miso

1 TBSP rice vinegar

cooked brown rice, to serve

Begin cooking rice according to package directions.

To make the soup, in a medium pot, bring water to boil with bouillon cubes, stirring to dissolve. Add greens and black pepper. Bring back to a boil. Cook, uncovered, at a high simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans and hominy in a sieve. Set aside to let drain while the collards are cooking. After the first 10 minutes, add beans and hominy, and simmer, uncovered, another 10 minutes.

Add peanut butter and miso to a small bowl. Ladle out half a ladle of broth (1/4 cup), add to peanut butter and miso, and whisk until smooth. Remove pot from heat, stir in the slurry, then stir in vinegar. Adjust seasoning, if needed. Serve hot over rice.

Roasted Black Bean-Portobello Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

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One dressing, one pot, one pan, and you get one lovely little dinner salad. Light but satisfying—a nourishing blend of crisp and fresh ingredients combined with the comfort of warm, roasted bits—this simple green salad is first a feast for the eyes and begs to be served alongside a slice of crusty bread (topped with hummus or pesto, if you happen to have some on hand).

Once you've grated your ginger, you'll whisk it into a dressing, using half to roast a gorgeously meaty mix of sliced mushrooms and cooked black beans. Meanwhile, quickly steam broccoli and red pepper to bring out their natural sweetness and to bring the broccoli to a seriously vibrant green. Toss, top, and dig in.

And since dinner only took about half an hour, you have plenty of time for an after-dinner stroll in the stunning mid-March weather (once it rolls back around, that is).

Roasted Black Bean-Portobello Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

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serves 2

2-inch knob fresh ginger

2 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP rice vinegar

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

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/8 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

6 oz thickly sliced (about 3/4-inch thick) portobello mushrooms

1 15-oz can black beans

1 small broccoli crown, torn into small bite-size florets

1 small red pepper, trimmed and sliced

2.5 oz (one good handful) spring mix or tender salad greens of choice

additional salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans and set aside in a sieve to let drain well. Use a microplane zester to grate 1 TBSP of ginger, and add to a small bowl. Add oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic powder. Whisk. Pour half of dressing into another small bowl, setting the other half aside, and whisk in tamari.

Add mushrooms and black beans to a pan. Pour tamari-spiked half of dressing over and bake 25-30 minutes, tossing well after the first 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add broccoli florets to a steamer basket. Top with red pepper slices. Steam just until broccoli turns bright green, 3-4 minutes. Shock in cold water and set aside to drain.

Add half of the remaining dressing to salad greens. Toss well. Top greens with steamed veg and drizzle with remaining dressing. Portion greens onto serving dishes and top each with mushroom-bean mixture. Top with a pinch of additional salt, if desired, and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

Blueberry-Lemongrass Almond Pate

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First, credit where credit is due. Years ago, Vegetarian Times published this recipe, and Maple Spice posted a wildly convenient update taking advantage of store-bought almond meal to save us all from blanching and peeling and ensuring those of us without high-speed blenders could join the creamy fun.

If you aren't familiar with the basic recipe there, it's highly recommended. It's a big, dumb, entirely unsophisticated, totally genius dish—food designed to head straight for your pleasure center with no thoughtful tasting required. It's a household favorite, a vegan classic, and makes even the otherwise dullest vegetable sandwich seriously satisfying.

But today, a pretty little plate that puts that dead-simple recipe to work in a gently sweet direction with luscious results. Blueberries are first briefly cooked to tease out vibrancy.

Meanwhile, a little sugar, lemon, and lemongrass are added to almond meal to sandwich the blueberries. The lemongrass used here is dried—a gift from a friend—but don't let that stop you from making this if you can't locate it. It will be entirely lovely without, or sprinkle a touch of lemon zest in if you prefer to add a touch of something in its stead. All it takes is a quick blend, chill to firm it up, bake it off, and prepare to be fed and happy. And you should definitely feed this to anyone and everyone you care about.

It's lovely alone on a plate with crackers, fresh fruit, and a more salty/garlicky offering like hummus or baba ghanouj. No one could fault you for spreading it on a waffle. (And it would be shocking to find out this didn't work gorgeously on a grilled sandwich with tempeh bacon.) It's a winner any way you spread it.

Blueberry-Lemongrass Almond Pate

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serves 4-8, adapted from Vegetarian Times via Maple Spice

1/2 cup frozen or fresh blueberries

3 TBSP lemon juice, divided

3 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice), divided

75 grams blanched almond meal [see Note]

1/4 cup water

1 TBSP vegetable oil, such as canola or sunflower

1 tsp dried lemongrass (optional)

generous pinch fine sea or kosher salt

Combine blueberries, 1 TBSP lemon juice, and 1 TBSP sugar in a small pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until berries break down (the mixture will still be chunky) and are thickly glazed, 5-7 minutes.

Blend all other ingredients, including remaining lemon juice and sugar, with an immersion blender until very smooth.

Line an 8-oz ramekin with a double layer of cheesecloth. (A closed nut milk bag may also be lain into the ramekin, but the softer cheesecloth will give you a neater mold.) Spoon half the almond mixture into the ramekin, spreading and smoothing the mixture into the mold with the back of your spoon. Spoon the berries on top, leaving a small border, then finish with the almond mixture. Smooth the top, and chill at least 3 hours, or as long as overnight.

Heat oven to 350, and oil a cookie sheet. Use the ends of the cheesecloth to lift the pate out of the ramekin, remove the cheesecloth, and transfer to the prepared cookie sheet. (Alternately, if your pate seems a bit soft—the longer the chilling time, the less likely this will be—simply invert it onto the baking sheet and then peel the cheesecloth from the bottom.) Bake in the center of the oven until just golden, 35-40 minutes. Let cool before serving.

[Note: This works out to approximately 3/4 cup, plus 2 TBSP. Weighing is strongly recommended, as the final consistency (read: creaminess) will be affected with too much or too little almond meal. Weighing the meal will provide more consistent results.]

(Double Brandied) Breakfast Fig-Walnut Cinnamon Rolls

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Let's be clear: don't make these for dessert. They're something like the British scone of cinnamon rolls, low-key and firmly in the breakfast arena of sweetness. But you can bump up the sugar factor by drizzling on some extra glaze, which is thin and spiked with a touch of brandy.

What you get with these instead of a syrupy filling is a thicker, deeply aromatic and satisfying blend of black figs, buttery walnuts, a hit of brandy, and, naturally, cinnamon. Your biggest challenge while making these will be resisting the filling long enough to spread it on dough.

Speaking of the dough, it's the very definition of cooperative. And streamlined, to boot. With only five dough ingredients, and this much aromatherapy, your late-winter breakfasts are covered. Make a batch on the weekend (or whenever you have time to let dough rise), and pop the leftovers in the freezer to grab on any given morning. Feel pampered all week long.

(Double Brandied) Breakfast Fig-Walnut Cinnamon Rolls

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yields 8 rolls

For the dough:

1 1/3 cups full-fat canned coconut milk, at room temperature

2 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 TBSP active dry yeast

1/4 tsp salt

3 cups all-purpose flour

For the Brandied Fig-Walnut Paste:

1 cup dried black Mission figs, stems removed

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts

1 TBSP brandy

1 TBSP turbinado (or brown) sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 TBSP full-fat canned coconut milk

1 tsp brandy

Begin by preparing the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk, sugar, and yeast. Proof 10 minutes. Add salt and flour (flour should be measure by spooning flour into measuring cup, then leveling). Mix with paddle attachment until a slightly sticky dough comes together that can be kneaded. Switch to dough hook and knead until smooth and springy, 3-5 minutes.

Lightly oil a mixing bowl, add dough, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let double in size (this could take anywhere from 45-90 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen).

While the dough rises, prepare the fig-walnut paste by simmering figs in water, covered, for 10 minutes. Grind walnuts to a fine meal in a coffee grinder. Combine figs with any remaining liquid, walnut meal, brandy, sugar, and cinnamon in a quart jar and puree with an immersion blender. Set aside.

When the dough is ready, punch down and transfer to a floured surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Oil a cookie sheet. Roll dough into a 12"x12" square. Heat the fig paste in the microwave for 1 minute to soften (it firms up as it sits), and working quickly, spread the mixture evenly over the surface of the dough with the back of a spoon. Roll up, pinch closed, and cut into 8 even slices. Transfer to prepared cookie sheet, cover again with the kitchen towel, and let rise until puffed and roughly doubled, 30-45 minutes (or longer, if needed).

Heat oven to 375. Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped. Meanwhile, whisk together glaze ingredients. Let cool 5-10 minutes and serve with glaze.

Roasted Carrot Quesadilla with Spiced Pinto-Sweet Potato Puree

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Today is a total root veggie delight. Start with carrots quickly roasted with coriander, then puree a chunk of nutrient-rich sweet potato with irresistibly meaty pinto beans and three kinds of chiles (of the dried and ground variety, for maximum convenience).

Top all that with a little onion and cilantro, throw a deeply comforting grilled flour tortilla in the mix, and you have a tasty, easy, totally sunny weeknight dinner. Or weekend breakfast.

Roasted Carrot Quesadilla with Spiced Pinto-Sweet Potato Puree

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serves 4

1 lb carrots, peeled, trimmed, cut into thirds lengthwise (halved, if small), and cut into 4-inch strips

1 TBSP olive oil

1/4 tsp ground coriander

generous pinch fine sea or kosher salt

8 oz sweet potato (1 small or half of a large), cut into 1-inch dice

2 15-oz can pinto beans, drained well, but not rinsed

1 TBSP lime juice

1 tsp mild chile powder, such as ancho

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp chipotle powder

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

4 10-inch flour tortillas

thinly sliced red onion

chopped cilantro

Heat oven to 400.

Toss the carrots with oil, pinch salt, and coriander. Roast until tender but not soft, about 20 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Add sweet potato dice to a medium pot and cover with water by a couple of inches. Cover, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and continue to cook, covered, until tender, 15 minutes. (Reduce heat further if needed to keep the pot from boiling over.)

Meanwhile, add beans, lime, chile powders, and 1/2 tsp salt to a food processor. When the potatoes are done, drain and add them to the food processor. Process until thoroughly combined and fairly smooth, stopping to scrape the sides as needed. The mixture will remain rather thick.

Heat a closing countertop electric grill (alternately, bake in the oven or toast on a griddle). Spread about 3/4 cup of the bean mixture over a tortilla, leaving a 1-1 1/2-inch border (to avoid seepage). Add roasted carrot strips to half, and top the carrots with onion and cilantro, to taste. Fold tortilla in half and grill, press closed (press only gently on the grill cover when closing, and do not apply further weight) and cook until crisped and browned, 5-7 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before eating, as the filling will be very hot.

Grilled Vegan Cobb Salad Sandwich

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Bring your appetite. Taking advantage of the lightness of vegetables on a sandwich can be thoroughly tasty, but this many-layered gem is seriously satisfying, fit for any deli menu. Fun for lunch or dinner. And don't rule it out for breakfast, either. If your coconut is prepared in advance, this beautiful and flavor-packed sandwich comes together in minutes.

There's a thin slab of simple grilled tempeh to add substance, but satiety here is really loaded in from three other sources: mashed avocado, smoky coconut strips, and a quick spread made from store-bought almond meal (with a little kelp added to bring an undertone of funk). The coconut strips here were made from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's new edition of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, a copy of which you can still enter to win right over here. Add to all that layers of refreshing tomatoes, romaine, and chives, and heaven comes on sourdough.

Grilled Vegan Cobb Salad Sandwich

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serves 2 generously

4 oz tempeh (from an 8-oz block, halved crosswise)

1-2 tsp olive oil

4 slices sourdough from a roughly six-inch boule

Almond-Kelp Spread, recipe follows

flesh of 1 small avocado

generous 1 TBSP minced chives

pinch fine sea, kosher, or flaked salt

freshly cracked black pepper

4 romaine leaves, washed and dried

about 1/2 cup coconut bacon, or to taste

1 medium roma tomato, sliced crosswise into 8 rounds

Heat a countertop electric grill. Turn tempeh on its side and carefully slice in half to make two thin slabs. Brush each top with a little oil and grill five minutes, grill closed, until golden. (Leave grill plugged in.)

Meanwhile, spread about 2 tsp of almond-kelp spread on two slices of bread. Set aside. Roughly mash avocado in a small bowl and spread on the remaining slices of bread. Sprinkle chives over avocado and top with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste.

Chop romaine into shreds and place atop avocado and chives. When the tempeh is ready, place it on top, followed by coconut bacon, then tomato slices. Sandwich, grill—pressing gently on the lid to compress—and serve.

Almond-Kelp Spread

1/2 cup almond meal

1/4 cup plain soy milk

3/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 TBSP rice vinegar

1/4 tsp kelp granules

Whisk together all ingredients until creamy and thoroughly combined.

Hitting the Books No. 3: A Giveaway: Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The 30-Day Vegan Challenge

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MSV's first giveaway! If you're not already familiar with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, this book is a fine introduction. Creator of the extensive Food for Thought podcast, Colleen has been advocating for years and has the body of work to prove it (The Joy of Vegan Baking alone is arguably the most powerful piece of advocacy ever created).

But today's Hitting the Books installment is specifically about this new edition of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, a valuable resource for anyone looking for guidance in practicing veganism(*). Because it is a practice, and it's vital to talk about it as such to set practitioners up for long-term success. Colleen's approach is emotionally earnest and detail-oriented, and it's tough to come up with too many basic topics she doesn't cover here. There are 30 chapters, for easy digestion at a suggested rate of one per day, each devoted to a specific challenge that arises in changing your diet, like Day 9: Eating Out and Speaking Up; Day 12: The Power of Cravings: Fat and Salt Taste Good; Day 17: Demistifying Tofu: It's Just a Bean!; and Day 29: Keeping It In Perspective: Intention, Not Perfection.

It's also physically substantial, something you'll be happy to hold in your hands, show friends, and keep on your shelf.

And it's pretty gorgeous to look at.

This is a food blog, so recipes will be the emphasis in this post, but this is really a book for reference, bursting with practical information. There's time devoted to not only personal satisfaction, animal exploitation, and social interaction, but also lots of attention to nutrition, giving ample room for people who are interested in eating vegan for health reasons to come on board, featuring details about micronutrient and macronutrient concerns.

On occasion, Colleen's brand—though she's far from alone in her approach—of nutrition advice calls to mind the scene from Arrested Development in which Tobias (David Cross), faking confidence and attempting to save face after trying and failing to open a jar of mayonnaise his wife Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) can't open, drops the jar into the trash and tells her as he saunters out of the room, "You don't need the calories." Sometimes omnivores could be forgiven for thinking vegans are dodging the issue when they ask about missing the pleasures of fatty, salty food and are given a response that involves the dangers of saturated fat.

But that's not to say that Colleen doesn't emphasize choice and moderation, welcome treats, and talk about fat's importance in satiety. She does. Again, see chapter 12. In fact, today's two recipe highlights from the book are proposed answers to common none-too-healthful omnivore hurdles: bacon and cheese. Colleen's suggestion to let go of specific foods and look instead to the seasonings (and textures) that define them to fulfill our cravings is a powerful one—and one that can empower people to cook their own food, to boot. As she says, we season our food with plants. And how.

First up, bruschetta, featuring Herbed Cashew Cheese. The recipe calls for strawberries, and the called-for herb in the cashew spread is basil (with an option to add chocolate shavings to take this beauty deep into dessert territory). Since strawberry season is far away, featured here are apples atop the cashew spread made with chives.

The book calls for making the spread with a food processor, which will leave you with some texture. The styled version in the book really looks to have been made with a high-speed blender, appearing impossibly creamy. Even with soaking and processing for the longest recommended time (four minutes), you can see there's still a touch of grain remaining.

But another of Colleen's powerful, smart messages suggests getting condiments off the spoon and into dishes, where they belong. And happily, the cashew spread atop toasted baguette slices, finished with crisp and juicy apple bits was entirely lovely. Not a single reservation about texture remained. Additionally, the distinctive flavor of cashews, already toned down by the herbs and other seasoning, mellows further in this context. The end result is pretty dreamy. So much so, this spread and apple slices were served in grilled sandwich form (alongside the bean variation of MSV's Dead Simple Winter Tomato Soup) to feed a friend who came over for dinner. Compliments were made, questions were asked. A decided success.

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Next up, Coconut Bacon (which Colleen has generously shared on Instagram). So much fun. With the convenience of store-bought dried coconut flakes, it's tough to think of any way to add comforting, savory flavor to a recipe with less effort. One batch makes a ton.

For those of you cool with coconut, the mildly sweet flavor goes well in pretty much all the places you want fat, smoke, and salt. Case in point: these easy, totally fun little BLT tacos, topped with a quick homemade chipotle mayo. Highly recommended.

For a book that isn't a cookbook, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge still sprinkles a hefty stack of recipes throughout. There's salad, soup, a gorgeous Mexican Chocolate Cake recipe, and a huge list of breakfast ideas (the first few chapters will likely make you crave a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she mentions them so frequently) that accompany the reasons practicing veganism is a good idea, and the ways you might increase your comfort practicing it.

To win a copy of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, simply leave a comment below telling MSV readers about one thing that made eating more plants easier for you. It can be a dish, a cooking method, an ingredient, or a piece of information unrelated to cooking. Whatever it is, share your wisdom. If you don't have a specific revelation, just share your favorite plant food. The contest ends February 28 and is limited to U.S. shipping addresses. Winner will be chosen at random.

Good luck! Next week, you'll get a brand new recipe featuring Colleen's Coconut Bacon (so make a batch before next Thursday). See you then.

(*This post is not sponsored. The giveaway copy was obtained as a reward for my personal contribution to the Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to issue this new edition of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.   —Amanda)