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Dead Simple Lemon-Pepper Tofu Spread

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Tofu on bread makes up a lot of easy dinners in the MSV house. This particular spread is a favorite for a couple of reasons, though. First, lemon and freshly cracked black pepper are a lovable combination that never gets old.

Second, there's pretty much always tofu and lemon hanging out in the kitchen, which means this mellow and simple spread can be on your plate pretty much any time you decide you feel like blending up a batch. And then you have leftovers.

This spread eats just fine on toast all alone (or crackers, if you need even more convenience), but the cool creaminess of the tofu, brightness of the lemon, and heat of the pepper are even better topped with, say, a little greens quickly sauteed with smoked paprika or smoked salt. With multigrain toast, that's a lot of satisfying flavor piled deep into a blissfully unfussy meal.

Dead Simple Lemon-Pepper Tofu Spread

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yields about one pound

1/2 cup pepitas, roasted and lightly salted

14-16 ounces firm tofu, drained

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

2 TBSP lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Process pepitas in a food processor to fine crumbs. Add tofu, salt, and lemon juice, and blend until very smooth, pausing to scrape the sides as needed. Stir in lemon zest and black pepper. Adjust salt, if needed (particularly if you use unsalted pepitas). Flavor is best after chilling for an hour or so, but can be used immediately.

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Cherry Tart with a Dead Simple Salted Chocolate Crust

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This guy is gonna sell itself. Grab your dark cherries, season them a little on the stove, then pile them into an entirely lovable chocolate crust—with little hits of salt strewn throughout—that just happens to be the very definition of forgivable.

And because glossy fruit begs to be paired with creamy things, take a minute to whip up a combination of nondairy cream cheese and silken tofu for a dreamy effect that's stiffer than whipped cream, but fluffier than cream cheese. It's a really handy combination, and you can likely expect to see it here again in other applications.

Top the whole thing with fruit, swirl it around for a nice presentation, and you'll be one happy summer camper. And because you need to make this tart in advance, anyway, it's a seriously easy way to entertain.

Cherry Tart with a Dead Simple Salted Chocolate Crust

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serves 6-8

For the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (to measure, spoon in and level off)

1/4 cup cocoa powder, such as Equal Exchange brand

1/3 cup natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 cup refined coconut oil

For the cherry filling:

1 lb pitted dark cherries, frozen or fresh

2 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

juice of half a lemon

2 TBSP quick-cooking tapioca

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the creamy filling:

6 oz firm silken tofu (half of an aseptic pack)

4 oz nondairy cream cheese, such as Tofutti brand

2 tsp natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp lemon zest

Heat oven to 375.

Begin with the crust. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Add coconut oil and mix until sandy and uniform. Press into a 14x4-inch nonstick rectangular tart pan. Bake 8-10 minutes. The crust will go from done to burned with speed, so watch—and smell—carefully. Transfer pan to a wire rack to let cool.

Prepare the cherry filling. Combine cherries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let cook until cherries have released their liquid and begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat slightly (to avoid splashing) and add tapioca. Cook, stirring frequently, five minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside to let cool a bit.

Finally, prepare the creamy filling. Puree all ingredients until very smooth.

When the crust has cooled, add all but one-half cup of cherry filling. Dollop and smooth creamy filling over the top. Dollop reserved half-cup of cherry mixture over that, and swirl with a chopstick by making infinity marks up and down the length of the tart. Chill at least a couple of hours before removing tart pan side piece and serving. During this time, the cherry filling will become more sliceable and the flavor of the creamy filling will come together. Fillings will continue to firm up over the next six to eight hours.

Tart will keep in the fridge, covered, for a few days.

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Rosemary-Dijon Tempeh Sandwiches with Sauerkraut and Smoky Tahini Sauce

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There are big flavors everywhere you turn in this tempeh sandwich.

Starting with the protein, there's not really any subtlety with the tempeh here. No gently enhancing its characteristics. Instead, you'll hit it with a good dose of Dijon-style mustard and fresh rosemary, plus a little tamari and sugar. The result is robust and heads straight for your pleasure center with no careful tasting required. Look at that gorgeous stuff.

Next, you'll add sauerkraut. It may already seem like there's a lot of acid piling up, but remember that between the tempeh, tahini, rosemary, and wheat bread, you have a lot of earthy and bitter elements in here that can stand up to the vinegar. The tahini gets a generous addition of lemon, but in the context of the sandwich, it keeps things bright without being sour (that's what the sauerkraut is for, of course). Along with the lemon, a nice sprinkling of smoked paprika is all you need to make this dead-simple tahini sauce your new favorite sandwich condiment.

Come fall, you may want to eat little else.

Rosemary-Dijon Tempeh Sandwiches with Sauerkraut and Smoky Tahini Sauce

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makes 2 large or 4 smaller sandwiches

For the tempeh:

8 oz tempeh

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP Dijon-style mustard

1 TBSP water

1 tsp reduced-sodium tamari

1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tsp natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the tahini sauce:

2 TBSP tahini

2 TBSP lemon juice

2 TBSP water

1/4 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

To serve:

sauerkraut

wheat bread

Begin by preparing the tempeh. Turn the block on its thin side and carefully slice in half. Leaving both halves still stacked, place the block back in landscape position (long end toward you), and cut in half. Cut each half on the diagonal to make eight triangles.

Place tempeh triangles in a dish in a single layer. Sprinkle a generous pinch or so of salt over them and repeat with freshly cracked black pepper. Whisk together oil, mustard, water, tamari, rosemary, and sugar. Pour slowly over tempeh and spread it out to cover the surface entirely. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let marinate 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, carefully whisk together all tahini sauce ingredients until smooth.

When tempeh is ready, heat a nonstick pan over medium heat until hot. Shake excess marinade off tempeh (there won't be much) before adding each triangle, marinated-side down, into the hot pan—it should sizzle at once. Let cook, undisturbed, four minutes (less if you start to smell danger of burning). While cooking, use the small amount of extra marinade to lightly coat the bare side of the tempeh while it cooks—proceed carefully, as the pan is hot and the oil can sputter. Flip tempeh and cook another four minutes, or until golden on the underside.

Assemble sandwiches, using a generous spoonful of tahini sauce for each, and grill or press until bread is crisp and golden. Serve at once.

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Party Animals No. 45: Lemony Potato (or Bean) Salad

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First, let's attack the obvious: this post is about potato salad, but eagle-eyes out there may have noticed that isn't potato salad up there, but rather chickpea salad. Despite not being made with potatoes, it's good stuff.

This potato salad came along to a backyard hangout a couple weeks back, and there was no plan to mention it on MSV. Not that the recipe isn't nice, but it's pretty straightforward: potatoes, celery, capers, lemon zest, and whatever herb you have lying around (the original recipe calls for basil, but it was parsley for the potato version for the party, dill with the chickpeas shown here). It's a long-time favorite in the MSV house and goes with pretty much anything, which makes it a great side to bring when you're planning on playing a quiet supporting role at a pal's gathering. But on the way out the door, the compliments started piling up. The host asked what was in the dressing. The answer is olive oil and lemon juice, plus a little dijon and sugar. That's it.

It's a good lesson for vegan cooking and entertaining. It's easy (and sometimes fun!) to sweat substitutes, but never forget that a little extra olive oil and lemon go a long way.

Naturally, the next step was to put together a protein-packed version. Relying on the convenience of canned beans, there's not a bit of heat to apply, and this recipe couldn't be easier. Or handier to keep in the fridge. Munch on it as-is, or tuck it into wraps or pitas with summer veg and sprouts. Leave the chickpeas whole or mash them up to make them easier to turn into sandwich filling. Try it with different beans, lentils, or tempeh.

So get the recipe. For the party, the recipe was doubled, using about four pounds of potatoes. For the chickpea version, make the recipe as directed using two cans of beans rinsed and well drained. You may not need all the dressing for a bean version, since beans aren't as starchy and absorbent as potatoes (but you may want to use it all, especially if you're making it as a sandwich filling—follow your bliss), but you won't be sad to have a little extra dressing in the fridge for whatever. You'll also need less salt for beans. Otherwise, you don't need any help getting this dead-simple side onto your plate.

Back next week with a new recipe.

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Lemon Creme Fruit Salad

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If your heat wave is anything like the heat wave in the MSV neighborhood, you're more than ready for this recipe.

This fresh fruit salad features lovely little blueberries and sweet red grapes stuffed into a wedge of cantaloupe, finished off with fresh mint. But not before being tossed in a creamy mix of equal parts coconut milk (for richness) and silken tofu (for a little protein-based structural assist). You'll mellow those two distinct flavors out with—what else?—sugar, lemon, and a little vanilla.

Serving the little guys in the melon wedge accomplishes three things. First, it looks beautiful. Second, it saves you melon-chopping time. Finally, you get great big unadorned scoops of melon just garnished with the creme-coated sweet small bites. That interplay really is nicer than just tossing everything in a bowl, so don't feel strange about treating yourself to a fancy presentation that saves time and boosts flavor.

Serving this with grilled zucchini planks crusted with panko crumbs and almonds won't steer you wrong for a blissfully low-key and summery meal at any hour, but if you keep a batch of chickpea salad on hand, you'll have a protein-packed accompaniment that means pulling whole meals straight from the fridge. No sweat.

Lemon Creme Fruit Salad

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serves 2

half of 1 medium ripe cantaloupe

generous 1/4 cup fresh ripe blueberries

generous 1/4 cup red grapes, halved

2 TBSP chilled Lemon Creme, recipe follows

fresh mint, finely chopped, to finish

Seed cantaloupe half and cut in half to make two large wedges.

In a small bowl, toss blueberries and grapes with creme. Spoon into melon wedges and sprinkle mint on top, to taste. Serve immediately.

Lemon Creme

yields a generous 3/4 cup (300 mL)

4 oz firm silken tofu (preferably water-packed)

1/2 cup chilled coconut cream

2 TBSP plus 2 tsp lemon juice

2 TBSP natural cane sugar (evaporated cane juice)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients until smooth, ensuring the sugar has dissolved completely. Chill several hours before using, preferably overnight.

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Party Animals No. 44: Cantaloupe, Ginger, & Chamomile Sparkling Agua Fresca

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Hello, dreamboat.

This unbelievably gorgeous cantaloupe concoction can treat you and yours on a quiet Tuesday evening, or it can be served to guests, be they longtime friends or strangers whose socks you'd like to knock off.

In case you've ever thought sweet, juicy cantaloupe wasn't quite floral enough, you can press the gas here by adding chamomile. But don't worry, you'll never feel like you're drinking a meadow. The dilution of the fruit with club soda, combined with the addition of gently spicy ginger, breezily balances everything out. You'll steep ginger in the chamomile syrup and also blend a smaller quantity of fresh root into the melon puree for a nice, well-rounded effect.

Yeah, there is syrup in here. That might mean this isn't technically an agua fresca, since it breaks the basic formula of fruit + turbinado + water + blender + cold, but it really drinks like one, light and refreshing enough to feel like you (wish you) could knock it back all day long. And while making the chamomile-ginger syrup adds one little step to the process, never doubt that it is absolutely worth it.

And if all that isn't enough, there's also the texture. Leaving the cantaloupe pulp in the drink gives it a really lovely body.

Cantaloupe, Ginger,  & Chamomile Sparkling Agua Fresca

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yields 1 generous quart

For the chamomile-ginger syrup:

1/4 cup turbinado

1/4 cup water

1 TBSP dried chamomile flowers

2 oz ginger root, sliced

For the fruit puree:

22 oz fresh, ripe cantaloupe, about half of one small-ish melon

1/4 cup lime juice

small piece peeled ginger root, 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide (see Note)

To serve:

20 oz thoroughly chilled club soda

Begin by making the syrup. Combine turbinado and water in a small pot. Heat over medium heat, and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chamomile and sliced ginger. Cover pot with a clean kitchen towel and let syrup steep one hour.

Meanwhile, cut the rind away from the cantaloupe flesh and discard. Cut melon into one-inch cubes and add to a large mason jar—you should get two cups. To the jar add lime juice and peeled ginger. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender (see Note). You should now have a total of 1 1/2 cups puree (if you don't, you may need to add more or less club soda before serving). Chill.

When the syrup is ready, strain and discard solids.

Add cantaloupe puree to serving pitcher along with syrup. Stir well. Add club soda, stir again, and pour over ice. As the agua sits, the pulp will settle. Stir again before pouring if not serving all at once.

Note: immersion blenders with notches for liquid flow will tend to trap any ginger hairs, allowing you to puree the ginger piece without prep (other than peeling). If your immersion blender doesn't have notches that trap these hairs, or if you use a different blending apparatus, you may prefer to finely grate the ginger with a microplane zester before adding it to the cantaloupe and pureeing to avoid hairs in the finished product.

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Dead Simple Savory Zucchini Waffles

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This tasty, wildly handy, fuss-free little recipe is nothing more than a lazy fritter batter—stuffed with fresh grated zucchini—cooked in the waffle maker, where it won't heat up your kitchen in July. And isn't that pretty much everything your kitchen needs from summer?

Also, don't let the fork in this post fool you: you can definitely eat these guys with your hands for a snack.

On top of the deeply comforting flavor of seriously toasted wheat flour, there's a touch of extra protein here and a wonderful savory quality from chickpea flour. Relying on a heap of Old Bay seasoning ensures this recipe couldn't get any easier, which is the most important thing. Once you grate your zucchini, everything's a total breeze. Additionally, the Old Bay makes these guys enticingly salty (maybe serve them with a green salad) and spices them, of course, while the celery seed gently reminds you there's a bunch of veg in there. It's nice to play the zucchini up a little instead of trying to camouflage it entirely.

That said, now who's ready for a sweet chocolate zucchini waffle recipe?

Dead Simple Savory Zucchini Waffles

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yields about 18 waffles

2 very large zucchini (about 1.75 lbs total weight)

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 TBSP Old Bay seasoning

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cups water

Grate zucchini into a large mixing bowl.

Heat waffle maker.

Add all other ingredients to the mixing bowl in the order listed, and mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

Pour 1/4 cup batter into waffle maker for each roughly four-inch square waffle. Cook until steam no longer emanates from the closed machine, about ten minutes, or until crisp, golden, and cooked through. Toast leftovers to re-crisp before serving.

Note: Due to the large quantity of zucchini, the interior will remain a bit creamy when hot, but that's different from uncooked batter. If needed, use a tester to ensure no wet batter remains.

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Creamy Lemon Orzo Salad with Chickpeas and Fresh Zucchini

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This breezy pasta salad is what happens you have an abundance of zucchini (hi, summer), a limited amount of patience, and a need for loaded-in nutrition that eats well for lunch and dinner.

Chickpeas provide protein and heft, the fresh thinly sliced zucchini is a light element with gently crisp texture, and the sauce is made from blended tofu to really pack in the protein and other good stuff. Lemon juice and zest brighten the whole thing up. Fluffy, mild white orzo makes a particularly nice canvas for these summery flavors, but if you can't give up your whole wheat pasta, it should still make for a pile of seasonal and convenient meals.

Creamy Lemon Orzo Salad with Chickpeas and Fresh Zucchini

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serves about 6

1 lb dried orzo

15 oz firm tofu, drained

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 small clove garlic

1 tsp lemon zest

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 15-oz can chickpeas

1 medium zucchini

Cook pasta in unsalted boiling water for seven minutes, or until tender but firm.

Meanwhile, combine tofu, oil, lemon juice, basil, salt, and garlic in a food processor. Process until very smooth, about a minute, pausing to scrape the sides as needed. Stir in lemon zest and pepper.

When pasta is done, drain well and transfer to serving bowl. Add tofu puree and mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

While pasta cools, drain chickpeas in a fine sieve. Set aside to let drain thoroughly. Slice zucchini into very thin half-moons. Add both to serving bowl and toss to mix. Taste, and adjust salt to taste.

Fluff the whole thing again before serving slightly warm or at room temperature. Bring chilled leftovers to room temperature before fluffing and serving.

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Balsamic Onion Tofu-Pecan Meatball Sandwiches

Time to get out the slow cooker and satisfy your summer vegan meatball cravings.

As if tofu-pecan meatball sandwiches weren't lovable enough, today's version mixes in blissfully savory and sweet bits of onions cooked with balsamic vinegar. It's a breezy shortcut to seriously satisfying flavor. Keep those big flavors coming by topping it all with spicy mustard and tangy sauerkraut.

Balsamic Onion Tofu-Pecan Meatball Sandwiches

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see [Note] on yield , meatballs adapted from here

For the meatballs

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

2 TBSP olive oil

generous pinch fine sea or kosher salt

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 cup water

1 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein) 

1 lb Twin Oaks brand extra-firm tofu [see note on tofu]

1/2 cup unsalted pecans

3 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, roughly chopped

2 TBSP reduced-sodium tamari

1/2 tsp liquid smoke

1 cup oat bran

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 tsp celery seed

To serve

sandwich/burger buns

stone-ground mustard

sauerkraut

Heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add diced onion and generous pinch salt. Cook until onions have released their liquid and begin to turn translucent, about five minutes. Add balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, stirring/scraping the pan frequently, until onions are deep in color, another five to seven minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Boil one cup water in a small sauce pan. Remove from heat, stir in TVP, and let sit 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, roughly crumble the tofu into a food processor. Add pecans, sun-dried tomatoes, tamari, and liquid smoke. Process well, until uniform with no large chunks of pecans. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine oat bran, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Stir to combine, add the tofu-pecan mixture, and mix thoroughly (hands are best). Add reconstituted TVP and onions when cool enough to handle and mix until incorporated.

Form meatballs, place them in a lightly oiled slow cooker and cook on low 4-5 hours (you may need 5-6 hours for golf-ball size). Alternately, bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, until warmed through and golden.

Note on yield: recipe yields 36-40 ping-pong size meatballs or 26-30 golf-ball size. Sandwiches will require 3-4 meatballs per bun, depending on bun size.

Note on tofu: Twin Oaks extra-firm is exceptionally dense. If you use a different brand, look for super-firm, or press your extra-firm tofu for 20-30 minutes, then weigh it out for the recipe.

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The Brew Mot (Pilsner, Grapefruit, Gin, and Elderflower Cocktail)

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Summer cocktails around here are supremely inviting. Something you feel like you could drink all day. That's mostly accomplished through a very light touch on the hard stuff and an emphasis on citrus. Today's cocktiail is no different.

MSV presents the Brew Mot. Essentially, it's something like a vieux mot re-imagined as a shandy. The result is heavenly. It's gently fizzy, bright and floral, and includes a little hit of Knox Whiskey Works' really nice gin. It begs to be sipped poolside. Or anywhere else it's hot.

Brew Mot

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4 oz fresh grapefruit juice

1 oz gin, such as Knox Whiskey Works

3/4 oz St. Germain

1/2 oz simple syrup

4 oz chilled German- or Czech-style Pilsner

Fill a pint glass (or a large Collins glass) a little less than half-full with ice.

Fill a cocktail shaker half-full with ice. Add grapefruit juice, gin, liqueur, and simple syrup. Shake to chill and strain into glass. Top with cold beer and gently stir.

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Dead Simple Chipotle Black Bean-Tempeh Tacos with Fresh Strawberry Salsa

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These half comforting and spicy, half crisp and fresh tacos are a great solution for any old day when you don't want to spend too much effort on cooking, but still feel like taking a minute to run your knife through something fresh and fragrant (hi, cilantro).

The title pretty much lays it all out here. You got your handy can of earthy black beans, your block of nutty tempeh, and you'll throw those into a pan with a good dose of chipotles en adobo—for maximum flavor with maximum convenience—and some garlic cloves. Load that into warm, soft corn tortillas and finish them off with what is essentially a pico de gallo with the tomatoes replaced with spring strawberries and the jalapeno omitted, since you already have plenty of that in your base. Dinner is served.

Dead Simple Chipotle Black Bean-Tempeh Tacos with Fresh Strawberry Salsa

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yields 6-8 tacos

1/4 cup finely diced white onion (from about half of one small onion)

juice of 1 lime

2 TBSP olive oil

8 oz tempeh

1 15-oz can black beans

2 chipotles en adobo, plus 1 additional TBSP adobo sauce

3 cloves garlic, crushed

8 oz fresh strawberries

1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro

fine sea or kosher salt

to serve, 6-8 warm corn tortillas

In a bowl large enough to hold the fresh salsa, combine diced onion and lime juice. Set aside to let the onion mellow while you prepare the filling.

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

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is just warm enough to sizzle mildly when a piece of tempeh is added to it (not too hot), carefully crumble the tempeh finely with your hands into the pan. Let cook about five minutes, tossing only every couple of minutes to let the tempeh brown. Meanwhile, seed and finely chop chipotles en adobo.

Add crushed garlic cloves and chipotles to the pan. Cook another two-three minutes, tossing only every minute, until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add adobo sauce and drained beans. Let cook until hot, stirring frequently—this should only take a couple of minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

While you warm the tortillas, trim strawberries and chop into half-inch chunks. Chop cilantro. Add both to the onions and lime along with a generous pinch of salt. Stir well.

To assemble, discard garlic cloves before dividing black beans and tempeh among tortillas, then top with strawberry salsa. Serve immediately.

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Party Animals No. 43: Lemon and Herbes de Provence Almond Pate

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Listen up. Today's almond pate variety should be every vegan's first lesson in savory vegan entertaining. Or savory omnivore entertaining, for that matter. Unless you have an almond allergy (sorry, folks with almond allergies), there's little excuse not to have this creamy, rich, flavorful spread in your pie hole at every party you ever attend from now on. It's seriously gorgeous. And, thanks to store-bought almond meal, blissfully easy to make.

This version doesn't contain as much acid as MSV's garlic-white wine almond pate, but gets brightness from lemon zest, and is a little extra creamy from the addition of soy milk.

Toss in some complexity from woody and floral herbes de Provence, and you're all ready to triple the recipe and use a nine-inch springform pan to mold it so you can haul it to your next warm-weather party to feed a crowd(*). Everyone (without almond allergies) will adore it.

Or just make a single batch for days of indulgent snacks just for you and yours. That works, too.

(*The freezer shortcut offered in the instructions is not recommended for so large a wheel. Instead, refrigerate in the cheesecloth-lined springform pan four hours. Pull back the cheesecloth covering the top, invert onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, remove pan sides, then pan bottom, then peel off cheesecloth. Bake about 55 minutes.)

You can munch this at any temperature, but it's best slightly chilled (so leave it in the refrigerator until you're ready to walk out the door if you're taking it to an event). A little time out of the fridge lets the flavors wake up a bit while the last remaining chill keeps the natural sweetness of the blanched almonds from dominating.

But that's a minor detail. The important thing is that you make it. So good.

Lemon and Herbes de Provence Almond Pate

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serves 4-8, adapted from here (post includes credit links)

150g blanched almond meal

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk

3 TBSP olive oil

1 small clove garlic

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1 TBSP herbes de Provence

1 tsp lemon zest (from about half a large lemon)

Blend all ingredients except herbs and lemon zest with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in herbs and lemon zest.

For a softer spread, heat oven to 350. 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 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.)

Heat oven to 350. Use the cheesecloth to lift the pate from the ramekins, carefully transfer to an oiled (or parchment-lined) baking sheet (without cheesecloth), and bake 40 minutes, until golden.

Let cool thoroughly before transferring to the refrigerator. Best served slightly chilled.

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Strawberry-Tempeh Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parsley Dressing

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Strawberry season! If you're interested in finding a way to put your brilliantly red gems to work outside of eating them straight from the basket, there's always pasta salad.

Start with the nicest strawberries you can get your hands on.

You'll leave the berries in the biggest chunks to really accentuate them. Their sweetness will contrast the earthy tempeh (which you'll cut into smaller dice) and grassy scallions. The tempeh is also balanced by a seriously lemon-forward dressing packed with not a little parsley and a bit of pepitas blended in for additional body.

Give those bold flavors a soft, welcoming bed of orzo to sink into, and you're all set.

Strawberry-Tempeh Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parsley Dressing

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serves 4

For the dressing:

2 TBSP hulled raw, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

3 scallions, white and tender green parts roughly chopped, tops reserved for the salad

1/4 cup tightly packed parsley leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 TBSP lemon juice

2 TBSP water

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

For the salad:

8 oz tempeh

8 oz dried orzo

8 oz fresh strawberries, rinsed and dried

Fill a pot that can also hold a steamer basket with enough unsalted water to cook the pasta. Place the whole block of tempeh in a steamer basket, place into the pot (leaving enough room underneath for the water to boil), and cover. Bring to a boil over high heat.

While the water heats, puree all dressing ingredients (using only the white and light green parts of the scallions for the dressing) until smooth. There will still be flecks of parsley left—the focus is to get the pepitas well blended so that the dressing isn't chunky. Set aside.

When the water boils, carefully remove the steamer and add pasta. Replace steamer and cover, ensure the water comes back to a boil, and reduce heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a steady boil. Cook 8-9 minutes.

While the pasta cooks and the tempeh steams, trim and halve the strawberries (leave smaller berries whole). Slice scallion tops into 1/4-inch-thick rings. Add both to a serving bowl.

When pasta is done, transfer tempeh to a cutting board and drain pasta thoroughly. Add pasta to serving bowl, pour the dressing over, and toss everything.

As soon as tempeh is cool enough to handle, cut it into scant half-inch cubes. Add to serving bowl and toss everything again. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

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Cinnamon-Chipotle Prune-Orange Compote

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Hello, sugar and spice. Simmering prunes with an orange, plus a little maple syrup and brandy gets you a predictably sweet mixture ready for all your favorite carbs. Adding cinnamon and chipotle gets you a more complex treat with seductively warming qualities.

Spoon it over vanilla ice cream, spread it on pancakes or waffles, or for a truly dead-simple and gorgeous breakfast, pan-sear some prepared polenta slices in a little coconut oil. Serve the compote on top with a sprinkle of toasted pepitas to cut the sugar and add contrasting texture.

Cinnamon-Chipotle Prune-Orange Compote

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serves 4-6

1 cup water

1 cup pitted prunes

1 TBSP maple syrup (grade B preferred)

1 TBSP brandy

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp chipotle powder

1 orange

In a small pot, combine all ingredients except the orange. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low to low, as appropriate to maintain a steady simmer, and set a timer for 45 minutes.

While the pot heats, use a paring knife to remove peel and pith from the orange. Discard. Working over a bowl to catch the juices, slice alongside membranes to release segments. When done extracting segments, gently squeeze the remaining membrane to extract any juice from the pulp that clings to it before discarding the membrane. Add orange segments and juice to the cooking pot and cover again.

Stir mixture every 15 minutes (reduce heat if this is not frequent enough). At the first stir, the prunes will have swollen. At 30 minutes, stir and carefully break the softened prunes up with a wooden spoon. After about 45 minutes, the prunes will have broken down further and the remaining liquid will have reduced to a thick syrup. Remove from heat. Serve warm.

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Versatile Lentil, Green Bean, and Kidney Bean Salad with Orange-Walnut-Dijon Dressing

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So many nice things on one plate. Much of it packed into the dressing, so let's start there. Puree an orange, some walnuts, and a good spoonful of Dijon mustard to get everything moving in the right direction.

The body of the salad isn't much more complicated. Sit a steamer basket atop the pot you use to cook your lentils to gently tenderize the green bits while the lentils simmer away. Turn to the convenience of canned kidney beans to add contrasting color and texture. By the time the lentils are drained, you're ready to assemble.

This eats best after chilling for several hours, so naturally, it's a fabulous cold lunch salad. But it's not too shabby warm, when searing or grilling some slices of prepared polenta for a garnish adds a seriously satisfying finishing touch that makes this feel complete enough for dinner. Not to mention it makes the whole thing awfully pretty.

Versatile Lentil, Green Bean, and Kidney Bean Salad with Orange-Walnut-Dijon Dressing

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serves 3-4

1 cup dried brown lentils

4 cups water

1 dried bay leaf

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt, divided

6 oz green beans, fresh or frozen

1 cup cooked kidney beans, drained

1 orange

1/4 cup raw, unsalted walnut halves

1 TBSP Dijon-style mustard

1 tube prepared polenta, optional

In a medium pot that fits a steamer basket, combine lentils, water, bay leaf, thyme, garlic powder, and 1/4 tsp salt. Insert steamer basket, cover pot with lid, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium, add green beans to steamer basket, and cover. Cook until beans turn bright green, just a few minutes.

When beans are ready, remove steamer basket, and cover lentil pot with the lid again. Shock beans in an ice bath and pat dry with a clean towel. Set aside to let dry further. Reduce heat on the lentils to medium-low and continue to simmer, covered, until tender (requires a total of 25-35 minutes). While the lentils cook, rinse kidney beans in a fine sieve and set aside to let drain thoroughly.

To make the dressing, use a paring knife to remove peel and pith from the orange. Discard. Working over a bowl to catch the juices, slice alongside membranes to release segments. When done extracting segments, gently squeeze the remaining membrane to extract any juice from the pulp that clings to it before discarding the membrane. Puree orange segments and juice with walnuts, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, and mustard.

When lentils are done, drain well. Let cool a few minutes. Toss lentils, green beans, and kidney beans with dressing. Chill until ready to serve. Alternately, if serving warm for dinner, grill or pan-sear half-moons of polenta until a crust forms on the outside and the slices are creamy on the inside. Divide the salad among plates, then top each serving with seared polenta.

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Apricot-Basil Chickpea Salad on Baguette

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You can never have too many chickpea salad sandwich variations. This one's a little fussier than the last one (which, by the by, is currently MSV's second most popular post ever), but only a bit. And it really sings of warm weather.

You have your chickpeas, of course, plus sweet and sunny dried apricots, fragrant basil, verdant scallions, rich and crunchy almonds, and a creamy yogurt base combined with a heap of lime to hug the whole lovable thing. Add a baguette, and who could resist?

So here are the fussy bits. Do take a few minutes to toast the almonds. It makes a lovely little difference, boosting the savory side of your nuts (in a pinch, use roasted unsalted almonds). Second, you can technically dig in right after assembly, but the salad benefits from a rest in the fridge. There are several bold flavors here—apricots, basil, and all that lime—and they get to know each other a little better and settle down after an hour or so. The bonus here is that this makes a great traveling sandwich, be it for sunny picnics or florescent-lit desk lunches. Finally, use the baguette. Again, with these bigger flavors, a couple leaves of romaine aren't the ideal accompaniment. This salad does best with a dreamy crusty bread that can absorb its personality.

Otherwise, you chop a handful of things and have instant lunch for days.

Apricot-Basil Chickpea Salad on Baguette

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serves 4-5

2 15-oz cans chickpeas

1/4 cup raw, unsalted almonds, roughly chopped

3/4 cup plain or plain unsweetened nondairy yogurt

1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

1/4 cup lime juice

1/2 tsp celery seed

1/2 tsp sweet paprika

1/4 tsp garlic powder

5 medium scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced

heaping 1/4 cup dried apricots, cut into thin strips

1 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

generous 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste

1 long baguette

Drain chickpeas. Rinse well in a fine sieve and set aside to let drain thoroughly. Prep everything that needs chopping now to give them time to drain.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Dry toast chopped almonds a few minutes, tossing very frequently, until fragrant. Transfer to a plate to let cool.

Whisk together yogurt, basil, lime juice, celery seed, paprika, and garlic powder. Set aside.

Transfer chickpeas to a mixing or serving bowl. Mash roughly with a fork or potato masher. Add scallions, apricots, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine. Add yogurt mixture and toss thoroughly. Adjust pepper, if needed.

Ideally, let salad chill for an hour before serving to allow the flavors to mingle. Serve sandwiched on baguette.

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Tofu Muffins with Sweet Corn and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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Portable protein! And they're seriously sunny.

There may be a slight obsession with tofu pie in the MSV house. A frequent dreaming about finding a tofu pie that might make sense to everyone at the brunch table, even quiche-loving omnivores (if you've already found this, please get in touch). A day when the easiest daytime entertaining option is finally open again. But until then, there are these little guys, totally solving savory breakfast on any given weekday. And you don't even have to share.

They're easy, tasty, blissfully tofu-y, shored up with chickpea flour, and studded with sweet corn kernels and flavor-packed sun-dried tomatoes. They're quite soft and moist fresh from the oven, so be sure to let them cool before digging in for the best texture. In fact, you might be happiest if you just treat this strictly as a session of batch cooking and wait until the next morning. They eat great cold or at room temperature.

Tofu Muffins with Sweet Corn and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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yields six muffins, inspired by The Vegan Slow Cooker

15 oz firm tofu, drained

3/4 cup unsweetened soy (or almond) milk

1/4 cup drained oil-packed julienned sun-dried tomatoes

1/4 cup frozen sweet corn kernels

1/2 cup chickpea flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

2 TBSP nutritional yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

oil, for greasing

Heat oven to 400. Generously oil a non-stick six-muffin tin.

Crumble tofu into a food processor. Add milk and process until smooth. Add sun-dried tomatoes and process until well chopped. Add corn kernels and pulse briefly to incorporate.

In a mixing bowl, combine chickpea flour, cornmeal, nutritional yeast, baking powder, salt, and garlic powder. Add tofu mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. (Do not taste-test the batter—raw chickpea batter is foul.) Distribute evenly among the six muffin molds (it will fill them each generously). Bake 30-32 minutes, until a tester comes out mostly clean—moist crumbs are okay, wet batter isn't—and the tops are puffed and golden.

Let cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Run a knife or spatula firmly around the edges of the muffins to unmold. Let cool completely; chill until ready to eat.

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Black Bean and Corn Crisp

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The first thing to know about this crisp is that it's really tasty. Hearty black beans, a pile of sweet corn kernels, and a handful of gently bitter and spicy strips of poblano all get cooked up into a creamy base.

That brings us to the second thing to know about this dish, which is that you'll probably need less of it than you might expect. The heft and creamy texture come from a generous addition of coconut milk, which pairs with everything here like a dream, including the sprinkle of dried sage you'll add to the mix.

You'll top the rich base with a blissfully breezy topping that gets nice and crunchy in the oven and provides the perfect contrast. Speaking of contrast, it's a good idea to serve this crisp with a green salad that features an acid-forward dressing.

And since you'll be relying on the convenience of frozen and canned goods to get this on the table without breaking much of a sweat, you'll still have plenty of time to take a stroll in the spring weather after dinner.

Black Bean and Corn Crisp

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serves 4-6

For the filling:

2 TBSP olive oil

2 medium-large shallots, finely chopped

1 small-medium poblano, cut into thin 2-inch strips

1 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

1/2 tsp dried rubbed sage

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

1 15-oz can black beans

1 can full-fat coconut milk

For the topping:

1/2 cup panko crumbs

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/8 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

2 TBSP olive oil

Heat oven to 350.

Begin by preparing the filling. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots begin to brown, 3-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add poblano strips. Cook another 3-4 minutes, just until the pepper strips begin to soften. Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans.

When the pepper has begun to soften, add corn kernels, sage, salt, and pepper. Cook another minute or two, until the corn has thawed. Increase heat to medium. Add beans and coconut milk to skillet. Bring to a boil and continue to cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened into a saucy mixture just a little thinner than you'd like to serve it—it will thicken a touch further in the oven—about 15 minutes (length depends on which brand of coconut milk you use).

Meanwhile, toss together the topping ingredients until thoroughly combined and coated with the oil. When the filling is ready, add it to a baking dish, top with the crumb mixture, and bake until bubbly and beginning to brown on top, 15-18 minutes. Turn the broiler on for an additional minute or two to brown the topping to your liking.

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Party Animals No. 42: Big Ears Brunch 2016

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Welcome to the recap for the third annual brunch squeezed in around the most unbelievable music festival that rolls up to the MSV front door each year.

The only thing luckier than living in the middle of the action on these weekends is having a friend who brings the main dish to brunch so you don't have to sweat it:

My pal Casey brought these tempeh hand pies: squares of puff pastry stuffed with flaked tempeh spiced up sausage-style. Awfully tasty, and a totally fun brunch main.

But before those (and after coffee), festive drinks:

To the left, peach lambic and rye sangria. Sounds good, right? Alas, this is too sweet for MSV. Even with a particularly spicy rye added, there's just no escaping the cloying nature of Lindemans peach. Live and learn. And stick with raspberry or black currant.

To the right, a frosty pitcher of booze-free pomegranate-black tea punch. Rather nice.

There were also vieux mot makings available, substituting grapefruit for lemon juice since there was a good bit of grapefruit juice left from segmenting these lovelies:

Also on the table, but not pictured (oops) were almond-crusted thin green beans. Nut-crusted vegetables are the best—especially when you can eat 'em with your paws—and they make for a substantial menu item without piling on more starchy carbs. Because there were plenty of those otherwise:

It's time to thank Mollie Katzen for instructing us to toss potatoes in far more Dijon mustard than you'd think was advisable before roasting them up. It works. So well. (Those are only half the potatoes—there's no pan here that fits four pounds in anything close to a single layer.)

And oh yeah, dill. Seriously dreamy.

Finally, the baked goods tray:

That's a jar of strawberry chia jam and a bowl of blueberry cream cheese (frozen wild blueberries simmered in a bit of brandy and lemon juice, then stirred into Tofutti cream cheese—Kite Hill brand was too salty). And so we'd have something to smear all that good stuff on, two types of muffins. To the right are Isa's lemon-poppy muffins (those are roughly regular homemade size, and the others are jumbo because the MSV kitchen can only bake 18 muffins at once). To the left, gluten-free vegan cinnamon-sugar muffins:

Embarrassingly enough, without the finishing sugar. There's supposed to be a sprinkle of turbinado up top to really drive that recipe title home, but it was forgotten, and that's what we get for being human. Still tasty, though (and a successful first go at gluten-free baking for our very first gluten-free guest).

Gluten-Free Cinnamon-Sugar Muffins

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yields 12 muffins

170 g white rice flour

35 g brown rice flour

35 g blanched almond meal

1 TBSP ground cinnamon

1 TBSP baking powder

1 TBSP psyllium husk powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk

1/2 cup canola oil

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

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 TBSP turbinado, for topping

Heat oven to 375. Oil a muffin tin.

Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients. Add wet to dry and stir just until combined. Add batter to muffin tin. Sprinkle turbinado on top.

Bake 23-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before loosening sides gently with a thin spatula. Transfer muffins from pan to the wire rack and let cool completely.

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

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Hitting the Books No. 5: Breakfasts from The Vegan Slow Cooker

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Today, a sweet, a savory, and a sweet and savory sampling from Kathy Hester's The Vegan Slow Cooker:

With an eye on moderation and the convenience of setting and forgetting, it might be one of the most practically minded cookbooks on the MSV shelf.

But it hasn't been all roses. Nearly every recipe I've made from this book required an adjustment—most minor, some major. One chance taken resulted in deep embarrassment in front of already-veg-skeptical family when the combination of silken tofu and the suggested vegan cheese produced a great deal of something roughly the consistency of mayonnaise suffocating some potatoes.

But the recipes that have worked have made weeknight meals fun to come home to. And as long as you're comfortable adjusting recipes to suit you, you'll likely find this book a good source of inspiration for low-stress dishes.

And this book is responsible for tofu-pecan meatballs, don't forget. That forgives all other sins.

There's no shortage of tempting entrees, but switching up the breakfast routine is what was needed in the MSV kitchen, so that's what's featured here.

First, let's rip off a band-aid. That hot bowl up top was an enormous waste of food. To start, it needed a batch of sausage crumbles from the book:

These are made from walnuts, brown rice, and vital wheat gluten, which sounded like a very promising ingredient list on first read. But despite high hopes and a generous dose of herbs, this was stunningly bland. (To be fair, Hester compares the flavor to a lite-sounding commercial product I'm not familiar with. I might have been warned.) Sausage is to be spicy, salty, and at least a little greasy, something used sparingly because it's so potent. There's not a whiff of that to be found here.

Things went from bummer to worse when those sausage crumbles were put to work in this sweet-and-savory dish. (The recipes get better, promise. Hang in there.) If there's a more misleadingly alluring title than "Pear and Cardamom French Toast Casserole," then friends, I do not know what it is(*). The recipe notes say it's "similar to bread pudding in texture." You know what traditional bread pudding has? Heaps of voluminous protein and fat to cut the starch. What you see here is bland, gummy bowlfuls of bread mixed with a generous serving of underseasoned "sausage," which itself is partially made of wheat, too. The admittedly delightful pears can't make up for all that gray goop. After some time has passed, the memory of what it was like to try to eat this having faded, I intend to make a pear and cardamom rice pudding, free of bread in any form.

(*NB Several titles are strange in this book. Hester doesn't go out of her way to respect the variety of culinary traditions she borrows from in naming recipes, and there's an overall emphasis on familiarity over precision. This book's tone is pretty much the network-television-newscaster flat American accent.)

Or maybe instead of rice, a nice polenta dish:

You might notice that isn't a slow cooker back there, but rather a stove-top pot. This one can't be blamed on the book: using applesauce containing ascorbic acid (despite helpful directions to check the label for just that) caused the slow cooker batch to curdle. To avoid another failure (and, frankly, another round of washing the slow cooker crock), the same ingredients—minus applesauce—went into a pot and came out rather lovely, indeed.

There are peaches in there and a little fresh thyme, plus my very own favorite secret ingredient for adding richness to savory grits: almond meal (I'll post my grits recipe someday). This one, though simple, is a keeper, and bound to be dressed up with different fruits and herbs as the seasons and moods change.

Finally, a savory breakfast: "Chile Relleno Casserole." It isn't actually advertised in the book as a breakfast at all. But since it's a recipe that cooks on high for 90 minutes instead of on low for eight hours, this one's perfect for lazy weekends. And in the MSV house, savory breakfasts beat sugary ones every time.

A generously seasoned mixture of tofu, cornmeal, and chickpea flour gets layered with roasted poblano peppers (it's like everything on MSV all at once). It's a pretty great blend, and with a tweak or two, will likely make for a nice tofu pie. And happily, the leftovers eat cold like a champ for instant breakfasts any day, which is what I was really hoping for here.

Plus, there's something that doesn't get a lot of use in the MSV kitchen: firm vegan cheese, here Field Roast's Chao Original. Its addition here made the casserole a bit richer than I might feel like digging into on any given morning, but again, not bad for a weekend. To bring this into the weekday routine, it will be worth experimenting with bringing down the seasoning a touch and substituting a layer of spicy salsa instead of the cheese and see if the texture holds (or failing that, maybe a layer of mashed pinto beans). Overall, a nice bit of comfort food.

In short, the recipes in this book could be tighter, but you might find them tough to resist even once you know that. It's great that Hester obviously and repeatedly leaves lots of room for people to adjust the recipes to their tastes, which makes folks more likely to get in the kitchen without worrying too much about nailing everything just so. (This does not excuse that bread casserole—that was tragic.) That said, it would be helpful if I felt like I could adjust the recipe if I wanted to rather than knowing I'd probably have to. But there's tons more to try, and everything's easy enough that even those not-quite-right recipes don't feel like failures, but more like something to revisit soon with a tweak. Some days you just gotta get dinner (or breakfast) on the table.

And if all else fails, there's always tofu-pecan loaf.

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.

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