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!

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.

Smokey Vegan Split Pea Soup

My mom emailed me and asked me for a split pea soup recipe a month or so ago. I had always made split pea in the past with a ham bone and didn’t know how I could make one without it that would compare. So I forgot and never emailed her back. I was looking in my pantry last night, saw the split peas and thought, why not? I concocted this recipe for last nights dinner.

I hit the vegan fake meat flavor jackpot! My daughter said “Mom, I thought we weren’t eating meat anymore, why does this have HAM in it?!” HA! My son said, “Good soup Mom” and then ate every bite and licked his bowl….A rare occurance around here! I liked it so much I ate it again for breakfast this morning. Ok, enough bragging, here it is:

Smokey Vegan Split Pea Soup

1 red onion, diced

4 carrots, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large russet or red potato, diced with peel on

1 t. dried thyme

8 C. water
2 T. Better than Bullion’s NO chicken base
1 T. Liquid smoke (yes, it’s vegan)
16 oz. (1 lb) green split peas
1 bay leaf
Water saute the onion, carrots, garlic and potato and thyme in large saucepan with 1/2 C. water until the onion is translucent. Add all the other ingredients. Simmer over low heat with the lid on for 30-40 minutes, until peas are very tender. Remove bay leaf. Serve as is, blend until smooth or pulse a few times with a stick blender (my favorite method) for a slightly thickened but still chunky soup. The liquid smoke really gives it the ‘ham’ flavor! It is much thicker the next day, those peas keep expanding!
This recipe can also be made in a Crockpot. Just stick in all the ingredients and let it cook all day.

Easy dinner – slow cooker to the rescue

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I love a slow cooker for a billion reasons. Okay, maybe not that many because I’m not sure I’ve lived long enough to have a billion reasons for anything. But I like a slow cooker because it eliminates dinner stress. I hate thinking about dinner all day, and then come 4pm when my son is the most wild, trying to put it together. Then I get the “I have to work a little late” call and I start to fall apart.
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Okay, not really. But it’s not as easy as putting something in the slow cooker during naptime and having the scent of deliciousness permeate the house for hours making me insatiably hungry until dinner time.
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This chicken is the easiest thing on the planet, and I have been asked more times than I can count (clearly less than a billion) how I make it. It has five ingredients, one of which is salt. EASY!
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We were lucky enough to make a lot of salsa this summer. It is chunky and yummy and I didn’t add enough salt so it is terrible for dipping chips in. So I pour it on chicken and make chicken tacos to die for. Yes, to die for. Okay. No death. I didn’t mean it.
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This is so easy you’ll be mad you haven’t done it before. And you won’t even call it a recipe I don’t but too many people have asked for it that I am starting to accept it.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

2 to 3 chicken breasts (depending on your family’s needs)
1 pint of salsa (or so, but make sure you have enough to cover the chicken)
1/2 to 1 t. cumin
juice of 1 lime
salt, to taste (taste your salsa and season accordingly. If your salsa is flat, add enough to season the salsa and chicken. If the salsa is salty enough, just enough to season the chicken)

Place chicken in slow cooker and everything else on top. I sort of stir in the lime juice and cumin. Look at the clock. If you need to eat in less than six hours, turn it to high for two hours or so, then turn it down to low. Or just leave it on high if it needs to be ready in four hours. If you’re really good, and you have more time than that, put it on low and let it rip all day.
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When it is time to eat, shred the chicken with two forks and stir it all together. Mmm, so yummy! I usually eat several bites at this point. But for your family, serve on warmed tortillas with your favorite toppings, including slow-cooker beans (black or pinto are the norm, but not the final say, in our family). We like cheese, cabbage or lettuce, sour cream, avocado, corn, whatever we have on hand.
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I promise you, if your family likes food like this (fake Mexican, tomatoes, etc), they will love you. And if they don’t, get better salsa.

What’s on your grocery list?

I’ve been wanting to do something like this for awhile now, so here goes.

Here is the goal: to write a weekly post with a recipe and pictures of something that you would normally buy at the grocery store.

They will generally be basic things, like bread, spaghetti sauce, and yogurt, but you will probably see all kinds of things, like cheese, pancake mix, hummus, salad dressings, etc.

By providing these sorts of recipes, we will hopefully be helping you save money, eat healthier foods with ingredients you are completely sure of and have some control over, save you time and unnecessary trips to the grocery store, and teaching new skills. Look for this at the end of every week, and give these a try. You might just like it.