The Adventures, Disasters and Redemption of Bravo!

Let me just preface this post by saying that the review of this poor vegan cookbook was doomed from the start…

It arrived a few weeks ago. I was thrilled to receive a copy to review and left it on the counter-top and meant to give it a proper read through once I put the littles to bed. When the house was quiet, I went to retrieve it and it wasn’t there. No biggie, things often disappear in this house- only to resurface at some later point. Like clockwork, a few days later, while doing doggy doo doo duty in the yard I spied it beneath the kids playset. It was warped with water damage from the sprinklers and the edges were a bit chewed on by my dog, but otherwise it was perfectly legible and usable. I could blame my toddler or my dog, but I really think it was a conspiracy between the two of them.

I LOVE Ramses story, he was an overweight, worn out chef that was presented with an opportunity to work as Executive Chef at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California. This particular health center happens to focus on a very clean, plant-based diet. Ramses calls his food SOS Free (no sugar, oil or salt). I also figured out that the book is pretty much gluten free as well. As you can imagine, Ramses experienced his own personal transformation once he adopted the same diet he was preparing for his clientele at TrueNorth. He lost weight, gained energy and vitality.

The cookbook is formatted well, is easily searchable and has many excellent suggestions for adding flavor to food without the evil trinity mentioned above. There are plenty of color and black and white photographs too, which I find extremely helpful in a cookbook.

Unfortunately I must have been having an off day in my kitchen when I decided to do some major recipe testing. I made the Coconut Vanilla Granola (page 36,) and the fixins’ for Black Bean Tamale Pie (page 106)  which included Tamale Dough (page 34) and Black Bean Stew (page 98). At the end of the day I also made the Orange Cinnamon Rice Pudding (page 125).

So, the Coconut Vanilla Granola, was pretty good but didn’t completely knock my socks off. (I have super high expectations from calorie dense food, even if it doesn’t contain sugar or oil). It had a really long cook time (1.5 hours, due to the amount of liquid in the recipe), I also found that the amount of granola (more than 10 cups) really needed two large rimmed baking sheets that needed rotation in the oven instead of the one recommended in the recipe. It surprised me however, by being even tastier on day 2.

Oh man, where do I start with the Black Bean Tamale Pie? The beans were somewhat lackluster, but this is more likely due to my inability source epazote and kick my very real salt addiction (something discussed here on this page on the TrueNorth site, under “Adjusting to the Diet“) then a recipe flaw. I stuck to the no salt rule though and ended up adding 2 t. crushed red pepper flakes for an additional kick. The tamale dough on the other hand was a complete disaster. It was more like a runny pancake batter than a hearty tamale dough. I tried to rescue it by turning it into cornbread instead, but the cornbread baked up like a bitter-tasting brick. I don’t like to throw things away in my kitchen, but the whole shebang ended up in the garbage. A very sad event.

At 10pm I made a last-ditch effort to make something really tasty out of the cookbook. This is where the Orange Cinnamon Rice Pudding comes in. Since I didn’t want to stand around for another two hours while it cooked, I dumped everything in my crockpot, gave it a taste (absolutely delicious) and went to bed. Of course fate would have it that it was burnt to a crisp the next morning. My poor crock pot may never be the same.

Not wanting to blast a fellow plant-based diet lover, I emailed Chef Ramses Bravo and told him about the tamale dough. (the other failures were all my fault) I wanted to know if the measurements in the book were wrong. Almost immediately, he sent me back this very helpful reply.

“Hello Somer, Thank you for the interest in my book, I really appreciate it. As for the tamale dough recipe, you are correct in that the amount of broth should end up at 4.5 cups after reduction. It should not end up however like pancake batter. The blended sunflower seeds should have a paste consistency. It should not be watery at all. When we make it here at True North it is very much like regular tamale dough. We actually use the same batter to make tamales or the tamale pie. When we make it for tamale pie the end result is somewhat thick, it is not meant to be fluffy. Tamales do come out fluffy, but that’s because they go in the steamer. I’m not sure if this helps or not, I hope it does. You can always email me with any more questions you might have. By all means, review the book as you experience it.”

So, afterwards, I’m standing in my pantry trying to figure out what the heck went wrong, I’m typically fairly competent in the kitchen despite what you might think while reading this post. A light-bulb went on in my head.

Duh Somer, everything in your pantry is in glass containers and NOT labeled. You mixed up the masa harina for the finely ground corn meal.

Anyone who has worked with either flour knows that one is much more absorbent than the other. Hence the pancake batter issue.

Back to the drawing board.

I’m so grateful I gave these recipes another chance. What a difference a day can make!

Orange-Cinnamon Rice Pudding

recipe used permission of Book Publishing Company

4 C. unsweetened apple juice

1 C. short grain brown rice

Zest and juice from 1 orange

1/4 C. raisins

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1/t. alcohol-free vanilla extract

2 C. unsweetened soymilk

1/4 C. almonds, toasted and crushed

Method: The book calls for cooking this on the stove-top, which is too difficult for me while chasing a three year old. I pulled out a different non-burnt crockpot (you know you’re a Mormon when you have crockpots in four different sizes). I added all ingredients except the soymilk and vanilla. I cooked it on high for three hours, then stirred it, turned the heat to low and added the soymilk. I cooked it on low for another hour and then turned it off and added the vanilla. Chill for 8 hours or overnight before serving. This recipe was insanely good!

Tamale Dough and Method

recipe used permission of Book Publishing Company

9 C. vegetable broth (preferably homemade)

1 t. granulated garlic

1 t. granulated onion

3/4 C. sunflower seeds soaked in cold water for 3 hours (I used cashews, I was out of sunflower seeds)

4 C. masa harina (NOT corn meal people)!

2 1/2 t. baking powder

3/4 C. raw tahini (I used up all my tahini trying to make the first batch so I used raw cashew butter), which I think solved the bitterness issue of the first doomed batch.

Method: Put the broth, granulated garlic and granulated onion in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Let cool until lukewarm. You should have about 4 1/2 cups of liquid.

Drain the sunflower seeds (or cashews) saving 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Put the seeds in a food processor and process into a smooth paste, adding the soaking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.

Combine all ingredients using an electric stand mixer (I used my food processor with the dough blade), mix for five minutes or so until dough is nice and fluffy and combined.


I filled the tamales with the leftover black bean stew from the night before, but you could use vegan refried beans, lentils, or whatever floats your boat. I’m thinking about fajita veggies and pepperjack cashew cheez next time, AND THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME. Wrap them up in corn husks and steam in a steamer basket for 60 minutes. Serve with salsa. I couldn’t wait and ate mine directly out of the husks. Unbelievably delicious, without any of the dryness issues I encountered last time I tried to make tamales without refined oil!

p.s. my husband doesn’t even like tamales (Australians have a hard time appreciating real Mexican food). He worshiped these.

A special thanks to Ramses Bravo for his time and to the Book Publishing Company for giving me the opportunity to review this book. Despite my kitchen failures, (again, all my fault!) I highly recommend it and hope that it will help me break my own salt addiction! I can’t wait to try ALL the salad dressings, the Breakfast Potatoes, the Tortilla Soup, the Mango Banana Pie and more!

See even more on Chef Bravo’s Facebook page here!

ETW: Cafe Supernatural & my copycat recipe!

The night before my birthday we got a babysitter and hit the town. I sometimes forget how awesome life is with just two until three seems more awesome than five and I wonder what the two of us alone would be like…

I digress. Upon hitting the town, or rather just after we walked out the door, we did as all good married couples do and looked at each other and said, “Huh, what do you want to do?”

“I dunno, leaving the house was a good first step. You hungry?”

“Come to think of it, yeah. Did I eat yet today?” (That was me, if you couldn’t tell – the bottomless pit.)

And then we ended up (after wandering around Trolley Square for 15 minutes) at Cafe Supernatural. Just FYI, so as to spare you the random phone call asking where they are – it’s on the west side, outside of the main building adjoining a yoga studio.  Cafe Supernatural is Chef Ian Brandt’s fourth plant-based venture, following after Sage’s Cafe, Vertical Diner, and Cali’s Natural Foods.

The atmosphere was pleasant, though it made me wish I was going to a yoga class as people came and went. It’s a walk-up and order, sit down and wait kind of place, nice enough without being too pretentious. The menu is relatively small, probably half cooked and half raw, but the brevity didn’t help me decide. So, after telling her I was starving and a nursing mom, upon the recommendation of the girl behind the counter for heartier options, we got the Machu Picchu and the Mesa Azul, and a ginger lemonade. We ordered our Machu Picchu with potatoes AND quinoa (I know, we’re rebels), just so we could try them both. From the menu:

Machu Picchu

Steamed potatoes or quinoa served with steamed seasonal vegetables and roasted chili cashew cream sauce 8.75

Mesa Azul

Two blue corn winter squash tamales with pumpkin seed-tomato mole and baby greens 9.75

Like any good food paparazzi reviewer, we snapped a few shots with the phone. (Why do I always feel so dorky when doing this?) And we were about to eat when the girl behind the counter stopped by our table to mention that I shouldn’t eat the husk on the tamale. Come again? And she was dead serious, and I thought that was hilarious. She was sincerely concerned that I might try to eat the dry papery thing on the outside of sweet succulent goodness. Did it often happen that people tried to eat the husk and she hadn’t warned them and felt bad? Had they been sued? You laugh, but I went to law school and that’s not too far fetched.

Anyway, back to the food. It was fantastical, delicioso, and marvelous – the kind of food that just feels good to eat. But, it had the same problem that Omar’s had, that I was still very, VERY hungry afterward. Two small tamales and a salad (both extremely delicious, mind you, and I would eat them again in a heartbeat) did not a sufficient meal make. Nor did a bit of quinoa, veggies, potatoes and a luscious cream sauce. I wish my meal had been 50% bigger. So, again, we found ourselves elsewhere – Whole Foods this time – looking for a second dinner.

I’ve heard that as we get older, our need to eat reduces (my neighbor told me that today), or maybe we’re supposed to order an appetizer and dessert too, or maybe I’m just so accustomed to “other” restaurant’s meals that I want MORE! Either way, I’ll still probably go back and order those tamales with that amazing mole again. I think about them in my sleep.

But, after what I did tonight, I probably won’t go back for the Machu Picchu, because I recreated it for a fraction of the price and I can eat until I’m full.  And it made enough to feed our new plant-based neighbors (score!). And it will go into the regular rotation because, even with my kids, I think it took me just over 30 minutes to make (plus cashew soaking time), everyone ate it and loved it, and it felt so, so good to eat.

The Machu Picchu Knockoff

  • Assorted Seasonal Vegetables, steamed
    • I used 4 carrots, 1 summer squash, half a bunch of broccoli
  • Thinly sliced potatoes, steamed (I used those ever-present garden ones, probably 10 or so, not quite 1/4″ thick)
  • 3 + c. cooked Quinoa (I started with 1 1/2 c. uncooked and used the open pan-1/2 to 1″ of water above-simmer until cooked method)

Cashew Chili Cream Sauce

  • 1 to 1 ½ c. raw cashews, soaked in water for at least a few hours
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 T nutritional yeast
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 ½ c. veggie broth (I used 1 t. vegetable base + 1 ½ c. water)
  • Salt, to taste

Drain the cashews, tossing out the water. Place all ingredients in blender and rip until smooth. Cook over medium heat to thicken for a few minutes, stirring regularly or it will burn. Taste, adjust seasonings, and try to not to eat it all. I found that enough salt was the key to making it ever so amazing.

To serve: top cooked quinoa, vegetables and potatoes with cashew chili cream sauce and eat. And eat. And then as you’re putting it away, lick the spoon, scrape the bowl, etc. And you’ll still have enough for lots of leftovers.  Or for the neighbor that just moved here from another continent whose stuff hasn’t arrived yet and is hardcore plant-based. I am SO excited to get to know them.

A Week in the Raw

It’s Tasty Wednesday Tuesday and many of you all ready know that I live in Utah, what you may not know is that my particular city should be named “Kidville”. There are literally over a thousand children in my subdivision. It’s fabulous and all the kids are always out and about riding bikes, playing at the parks and sharing lots and lots of germsWe get sick more often since moving into this neighborhood than we ever have before. Vomiting, colds, flus, pink eye, rsv, Montezuma’s revenge, you name it, we get it. There are a few nasty bugs going around at the moment and we caught them too :/ so in an attempt to strengthen my immune system and help me heal faster, I have been eating entirely raw for the last few days. I’m planning on eating raw for the rest of the week. I have to say that I don’t think I would be surviving otherwise. Raw foods provide far more nutrients than cooked and give the body more energy. I wish I was cool enough to eat raw all the time, but I’m not, and frankly, I like cooked food, a lot. However, I think eating “high-raw” is sustainable and really good for our bodies.

It’s not really that hard and you don’t need a half-naked Juliano cookbook to do it either (I used to own that book, some of the photos are….well, Juliano nearly in the buff, shopping, playing in the ocean, but not cooking, because that would just be gross).

I’m juicing, eating lots of fruits on their own, making big ol’ salads with raw dressings I whiz up in my blendtec. I’m more than a little obsessed with chia seeds too at the moment, maybe it’s because I recommended Born to Run to a friend, then  I had to start re-reading it again myself because it’s awesome.

Here are a couple of raw chia recipes I’m LOVING right now:

Raw Overnight Neopolitan Oats

Holy Crap, it’s like the best dessert ever for breakfast, this is adapted from this much cuter than mine recipe here, but my adaptation is fully raw.

1 C. oat groats (use certified gluten free for gluten free option)

4 T. chia seeds

2 1/2 C. raw almond or raw cashew milk (I used cashew milk, drool)

2 T. raw cacao powder

2 t. raw agave (or to taste)

1 t. vanilla extract (oops, not raw)

2 sliced frozen bananas

4 sliced frozen strawberries

Method: BEFORE YOU GO TO BED: Blend oat groats in blender or grind in coffee grinder until fine. Get out two pint-sized mason jars. Put half  of the ground oat groats in each jar. Add 2 T. chia seeds to each jar, 1 1/4 C. nut milk to each jar and 1 t. raw agave to each jar. Add the raw cacao powder to one of the jars and the vanilla extract to the other. Now you have chocolate and vanilla. Put lids on and shake until well combined. Put in fridge. IN THE MORNING: get out your food processor and put your frozen bananas in it with a splash of nut milk. Process until creamy. Mmms. Remove half of the mixture and set aside. Add frozen strawberries to the food processor and process the same way. Now you have raw strawberry and banana ice creams FOR BREAKFAST. Layer and alternate ice creams, and chocolate and vanilla overnight oats in mason jars or fancy cups. Serve with fresh fruit. I didn’t because I hadn’t been to the store because we were sick and I only had frozen fruit. This should serve 2, but I stretched it to serve 3. I was sorry I didn’t have any leftovers at lunch time.

Raw Chocolate Chia Pudding

1 C. raw cashew milk (you could also use raw almond milk)

3 T. chia seeds

1 T. raw cacao powder

2 t. raw agave

Method: Combine all ingredients with a wire whisk until cacao is fully incorporated. Let sit on the counter top for an hour or so. I thought this would serve two, I also thought I would take a photo before eating it all. Wrong on both accounts.

I have also been growing my own wheat kamut grass, it’s not all that difficult, but since I’m a total novice and nearly killed it because I hadn’t watered it enough, I shall refer you to this post if you so desire to grow your own.  I’m  absolutely in love with it! The juice of the grass gives me instant energy and clarity and I even like it’s grassy taste. You can almost feel the cells inside your body healing when you drink it. Try it, you might like it.

Banana Bread Larabar DIY Recipe & Artisan Bread Pandemonium

It’s Tasty Tuesday where I bring you some of the awesome things we have freaked out over enjoyed in the last week. While I am typing this, I can’t stop thinking about Amanda and that she is very likely to have her baby today even though she would prefer he didn’t come til Wednesday. Sending her good vibes! Funny how in addition to your real sisters, you find soul sisters that you love the guts out of. I’m getting weepy or it’s raining outside or something (Flight of the Conchords silliness) and I’m digressing….

Three ingredients, that’s what I love about larabars! I buy them when they are on sale like hotcakes, they are so simple and pure: Dates, Bananas and Almonds! When they aren’t on sale or I’m feeling particularly crafty…. I make these. If you know anything about Mormons, you may or may not know that we really don’t have horns, but we do stockpile food storage like its going out of style, and that sometimes we end up with items we aren’t quite sure what to do with, enter – freeze-dried bananas, they have a 25 year shelf life and have been getting all lonely and dusty in my storage area, and strangely, they are considered a raw food.  If you don’t live in Utah and don’t have access to affordable freeze-dried bananas in ridiculous quantities, you can always buy them online  or use this recipe here instead. Although my banana ratio is higher and therefore, superior super tasty.

DIY Banana Bread Larabar

1 1/3 C. pitted dates, chopped (measure whole dates into measuring cups, then chop)

1 1/2 C. freeze-dried bananas

1 C. raw almonds

(ok, so there is really 4 ingredients in my recipe)

water

Method: Process dates and freeze-dried bananas in food processor until mixture is fairly fine and crumbly. Add almonds and process until all pieces are pea sized or smaller. Add water, a teaspoon at a time (no more than 6 teaspoons total) and pulse after each addition. The freeze-dried bananas need some re-hydration because they basically turn to powder when processed. How much water you need will also depend on how moist your dates are. Mixture is ready (may still seem a bit dry) when you can pull some of the mixture out and it will stick together when pressed into a ball.

I formed the recipe into balls instead of bars because it’s simpler, cuter and enables me to control my portions a little better so I don’t eat the whole batch. The recipe made 25 balls. Each has 46 calories, 2 grams healthy fats, 6 grams carbs and 1 grams protein. Store them in the fridge and they should stay fresh for up to two weeks. Pack them in your lunches, have them for an afternoon snack, take them for running fuel, love them.

Have you heard about the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day revolution? Seriously out of control. This bread practically makes itself: you don’t knead it, you don’t double-rise it, you don’t even add any sugar or oil! you make one big batch of dough, put it in your fridge and can use it for 2 weeks for seriously less hands on time then 5 minutes a day!?! I feel like a fake french bakery chef in my kitchen whipping out amazing loaves of bread that are crazy delicious with a lovely crispy crust and amazing large holed crumb interiors. I learned about it from Amanda and Jen’s earlier posts on this blog. Why haven’t I known about this until now?

Here is the master recipe (white) with video demo (must watch to get technique)

Here is the wheat version recipe with video demo

I ended up buying both the books because I have never made such incredible bread in my whole life (and I really make a lot of bread).

The only thing I do different from the recipes above is use this dutch oven method here to bake instead of their traditional stone and steam method. It gave my bread a much better rise then their recommended method and made it even more amazing than before. For troubleshooting visit their FAQ’s page. And buy the dang books! You won’t be sorry! So in love with this bread!

“Tastes Like Nummy Beautiful Butterflies”

Its Somer Saturday! (At least for another few minutes on my clock!)

I don’t have enough brainpower to wax poetic or to conquer the world with more plant-based truths, but I can share a recipe with you, a tasty simple one at that. At our house, we called it dessert, you can call it breakfast, a really tasty smoothie or whatever the heck you want ;)

My 3-year-old, who growls out his sentences and is always wielding some sort of sword or weapon (he actually carries a water gun in his pocket at all times) exclaimed while drinking this: “Mmmm, Thanks MommyIt tastes like nummy beautiful butterflies!” And then I laughed so hard a little bit of the nummy deliciousness went up my nose. Good times.

Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Smoothie

2 C. vanilla soymilk

2 sliced frozen bananas

1 T. cocoa powder

2 T. justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter (can you tell I’m in love with this stuff?)

1 T. honey or pure maple syrup

Blend until smooth. Makes 3  servings. Caution, may cause butterfly deliciousness to come out your nose.

Nuts.

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I don’t know how single moms do it. I don’t know how they feed their family healthy food and stay sane and work and walk the dog and even get dressed in the morning. I do it for a few days every month, and I don’t even have to leave for work (although, it might be easier if I did), and I still wonder when I will hear the door unlock and I can breathe that sigh of relief that my husband is home.
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I’m currently waiting for that key in the lock sound. But his flight was delayed, so here I am with time on my hands. I should be sleeping. But I’m not.
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Instead I want to tell you about some nuts I “roasted”. If you’ve read my posts before, you might know that I’m a big fan of the Community Food Co-op of Utah. One of their monthly offerings is a Nutty Guys four pack, which usually includes four pounds of different nuts or dried fruits. Often, the nuts will be raw almonds. I love raw almonds, but sometimes I get bored with them. I mean, they’re “healthy” and all, but choking them down pound after pound gets boring. And nobody else in our house will eat them that way unless we’re out of absolutely everything else but ground beef.
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I pulled open my trusty “America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook” and figured they had to have something. And of course they did. Only, I sort of modified it, like I modify everything I ever make. And I have to tell you, I think I improved it, at least flavor-wise.
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I’m not sure what happened to getting the stuff to stick. All the yummies ended up at the bottom of the nut holder after a day, so maybe next time I’ll either try more butter, or butter and oil, or just oil. I don’t know, but whatever way, I will be doing this again. And bear with me on this. I have just started using garlic powder and I know real garlic would be better, but in a pinch, I take what I have. It is admittedly, much faster than using the real stuff.
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So, next time you find yourself reaching for pre-roasted nuts, consider this alternative instead, and buy a bunch in bulk and experiment. I know I will be.
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Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Almonds
2 c. raw almonds
1 T. unsalted butter or oil (or more if you really want to make it stick)
1/2 t. dried rosemary
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper (okay, really, a few grinds will do)
1-2 minced garlic cloves or a few shakes of the garlic powder (oh, I cringe just typing it)

Heat butter or oil in a nonstick skillet. Add almonds, dried rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic. Toast the almonds on medium-low heat, stirring often until they are fragrant and the color deepens slightly, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and allow to cool before serving, if you have very, very strong willpower. I do not, so half of mine were gone before they were cooled. Store in an airtight container for a week or so.