The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook: Nisha Vora Chicago Book Signing

Instant Pot Jamaican Jerk Jackfruit Tacos (recipe from the Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook)

In her debut cookbook The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook: Wholesome, Indulgent Plant-Based Recipes, Nisha Vora, the popular food blogger, photographer and content creator at Rainbow Plant Life, shows how to quickly put together delicious and nutritious dinners in an instant pot pressure cooker. A proponent of exciting, beautiful and tasty vegan cuisine, Vora, a graduate of Harvard Law School, left her law career behind and created Rainbow Plant Life, a vegan Instagram account, blog, and YouTube channel. Her colorful and easy-to-use cookbook features 90+ vegan and wholesome recipes made in the Instant Pot. Vora also includes:

  • Plenty of gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, and refined-sugar-free recipes (80-85% of recipes are gluten-free) 
  • An in-depth guide to using your Instant Pot, including troubleshooting tips and cook time charts
  • My vegan pantry staples and essential cooking tips 
  • Full color design with my signature vibrant food photography
  • A little wit and humor peppered in between detailed, step-by-step recipes

Here are a few recipes from the book.

Instant Pot Vegan Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

Serves 4

Vegan, Gluten-Free


12 ounces dried rice noodles, dried rice sticks, or banh pho*


2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral, high-heat cooking oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and halved

4-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced

3 cardamom pods, lightly smashed with the back of a knife

3 whole star anise pods

4 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1⁄2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 Fuji apple, peeled and cut into large chunks

1⁄2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon coconut sugar

2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps (5 to 6 ounces)

8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (you can substitute water for up to 4 cups)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste


1 (6- or 8-ounce) block baked tofu, cut into cubes (I used a five-spice flavor, which went really well with the other flavors)

3 scallions, sliced on the diagonal

1 cup Thai basil leaves, torn up

1 cup cilantro leaves, torn up

2 limes, cut into wedges

2 cups bean sprouts

Thinly sliced hot chile peppers or Sriracha

*You can find pho noodles in well-stocked grocery stores or any Asian market. They come in various thickness, ranging from 1⁄16 inch (narrow) to 1⁄4 inch (wide).

Place the dried rice noodles in a large bowl, cover with warm water, and soak until the noodles are pliable and opaque, 30 to 45 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse them to remove excess starch. (Alternatively, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package.)

Meanwhile, prepare the Broth: Select the Sauté́ setting on the Instant Pot and, after a few minutes, add the oil. Once the display reads “HOT,” add the onions and ginger slices, cut side down. Do not toss and allow to cook until charred and deeply browned, about 4 minutes.

Add the whole spices (cardamom pods through black peppercorns) and cook for 1 minute, stirring the mixture frequently. Add the apple, cilantro, tamari, coconut sugar, and shiitakes. Pour the vegetable broth and/or water on top and stir to combine.

Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook setting at high pressure and set the cook time to 15 minutes.

Once the 15-minute timer has completed and beeps, allow a natural pressure release for

10 minutes and then switch the Pressure Release knob from Sealing to Venting to release any remaining steam.

Open the pot and, using oven mitts, remove the inner pot. Carefully strain the broth into a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl (discard the solids). Season the broth with 1 teaspoon salt, stir, and taste. Add more salt as needed.

Place the cooked rice noodles in individual bowls. Pour over the strained broth and add the baked tofu cubes. Top the pho with the scallions, basil, cilantro, lime wedges, bean sprouts, and chiles or Sriracha.

Chinese Takeout-Style Tofu and Broccoli

Marinated Tofu

1 (14-ounce) block extra-firm tofu

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

2 teaspoons Sriracha or similar chili-garlic sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 teaspoons rice vinegar (also known as rice wine vinegar)

Ginger-Chili Sauce

1⁄4 cup reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

1⁄4 cup agave nectar or coconut nectar (or maple syrup, but that will have a more robust, less neutral flavor)

2 tablespoons water

1 1⁄2 tablespoons Sriracha or similar chili-garlic sauce

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 1⁄2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated or finely minced

For Finishing:

1 1⁄2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral, high-heat cooking oil

2 medium heads broccoli, cut into small florets (about 4 cups)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

White rice or brown rice (for serving)

Marinate the tofu: Drain the tofu and cut into 4 slabs. Place the tofu on a cutting board lined with paper towels. Place more paper towels on top of the tofu and weight them down with a few heavy cookbooks or a heavy skillet filled with a few cans of beans. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or ideally 1 hour, changing the paper towels in between to drain all the moisture. Cut the tofu into 3⁄4-inch cubes.

Place the tofu in a gallon-size zip-top bag and add the tamari, Sriracha, sesame oil, and vinegar. Toss to combine and let the tofu rest in the marinade for 5 minutes, massaging occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the ginger-chili sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the tamari, agave nectar, water, the Sriracha, sesame oil, vinegar, and ginger until well combined.

Finish the dish: Select the Sauté́ setting on the Instant Pot and let the pot heat up for a few minutes before adding the grapeseed oil. Once the display reads “HOT,” use a slotted spoon or fork to carefully transfer the marinated tofu to the pot. Cook the tofu for 1 1⁄2 minutes undisturbed. Use a spatula to flip and cook the tofu until it starts to brown on all sides, 3 to

 4 minutes total. Add the ginger-chili sauce and stir to combine. Select the Cancel setting.

Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook setting at high pressure and set the cook time to 3 minutes.

Once the 3-minute timer has completed and beeps, perform a quick pressure release by carefully switching the Pressure Release knob from Sealing to Venting.

Open the pot. Add the broccoli florets to the tofu and stir with the sauce to combine. Secure the lid and set the Pressure Release to Sealing. Select the Pressure Cook setting to low pressure and set the cook time to 1 minute. Once the 1-minute timer has completed and beeps, carefully perform another quick pressure release.

In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch with 1⁄4 cup water, whisking until combined without any lumps. Select the Sauté́ setting and press the Sauté́ button again until you reach Less heat. Add the cornstarch slurry to the Instant Pot and gently stir to combine. Cook, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve the tofu and broccoli over rice.


What: Nisha Vora A Talk & Demo with Nisha Vora

When: Sunday, July 21 at 2 to 4 p.m.

Where: Read It and Eat, 2142 N Halsted St., Chicago, IL

Cost: 1 Ticket + 1 Book $44.26; 2 Tickets + 1 Book $64.26; Book Only


FYI: (773) 661-6158;


The Food in Jars Kitchen: 140 Ways to Cook, Bake, Plate, and Share Your Homemade Pantry

“If you’ve got some stuff in your pantry, let me show you the possibilities of what to do with it,” says Marissa McClellan, author of The Food in Jars Kitchen: 140 Ways to Cook, Bake, Plate, and Share Your Homemade Pantry (Running Press 2019: $15.91 Amazon price). “That’s what I’m really trying to do, to open the door for people to show there’s a world of cooking and flavor possibilities in the world of preserves. Home cooks often feel they need to have permission before trying something new and I’m working at freeing them up from those confines.”

Compound Butters

McClellan, who has been food blogging at since 2005, describes her newest cookbook as a departure from what she’s done before. Her previous books have included Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces and Naturally Sweet Food in Jars.

“It’s not just a canning book, it’s the ideal book for people who love to put food up in jars,” she says, “it’s designed to answer the question what to do with it after you made it.”


For someone who writes and cans prolifically, you might expect McClellan to have been putting up food forever but though she did a little food canning with her mom when young, she didn’t get serious about it until 13 or so years ago.

“I made a batch of jam, I knew how to do it, but I didn’t know a lot of the rules,” she says. “To me it was just a really great way to save produce. Then I started writing about it, I didn’t have any baggage from the past so I just approached writing as you would a cooking class. Then I was doing more and more canning and writing more about it and realized that there wasn’t much information about making small batches with unique flavors instead of large batches of highly sugared fruit jams.”

Marissa McClellan

When it comes to canning, McClellan likes to stretch people’s boundaries say by developing a recipe for asparagus berry jam.

“When it comes to flavor combinations for preserves, I start thinking of categories,” she says. “My goal is to include a category for every moment of the day—no matter the time of day—lunches, desserts, cocktails and then what sounds good. My book is also very personal. I was able to incorporate a lot of recipes from my family—my great aunt, we called her an appetizer hobbyist, she’d make appetizers ahead of time just in case she was invited and other members of my family.”

Adaptable Chutney

For those who want to learn more about putting food up and what to do with it afterwards, on the first and third Mondays of the month at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT, you’ll find McClellan offering free, live canning demos over on the Food in Jars Facebook page.

Aware of readers’ budgetary restraints, McClellan always makes suggestions for substitutions and also want to support her followers.

“I demonstrate how to make a seasonal recipe and answer all your questions, “she says. “I built my whole career on trust with my readers who believe in me and want good quality.”

Jammed Glazed Nuts

The following recipes are reprinted with permission from The Food in Jars Kitchen © 2019 by Marisa McClellan, Running Press

Compound Butters

 Basic Compound Butter

Makes 1 ¼ Cups Compound Butter

8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 to 5 tablespoons jam, marmalade, chutney, relish, or finely diced pickle

½ teaspoon flaky finishing salt

Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a flexible paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the butter is distributed throughout the bowl. Reduce the speed to low and add the preserve 1 tablespoon at a time as the motor runs. Add the salt and increase the speed to medium for a few final seconds.

When the butter and preserve are well integrated, turn off the mixer. Taste and make sure you’re happy with the flavor intensity. If not, add a bit more of the preserve. Just take care not to go beyond 6 tablespoons of preserve, because the butter will break if you ask it to hold too much additional product.

Spread a length of plastic wrap on your countertop and scrape the compound butter into the plastic. Form the butter into a log and wrap it tightly. It will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For longer storage, place your plastic-wrapped butter in a resealable plastic bag and freeze for up to 6 months.

Below are some tasty variations on this theme.

Marmalade Compound Butter

Add 4 tablespoons of Seville orange or lemon marmalade and ½ teaspoon of flaky finishing salt. Serve with pancakes, biscuits, or scones.

Relish or Pickle Compound Butter

Add 4 to 5 tablespoons of well-drained pickle relish or finely chopped pickle and ½ teaspoon of flaky finishing salt. This butter is a really good addition to meat and fish. I occasionally tuck a pat into the middle of a burger when I’m feeling indulgent and I like to roast salmon fillets that are liberally dotted with this butter (using a dill-flavored pickle makes it an even better match for fish).

Preserved Lemon Compound Butter

Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of diced preserved lemon. No need to add salt here, as preserved lemons are quite tasty. This is another butter that is really great with fish, or as a finishing element when you’re pan roasting chicken or pork. It manages to be bright, salty, and rich all at once.


Makes 1 cup pesto

I make pesto with herbs, such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, as well as flavorful, tender greens, such as arugula, mustard, or young kale.

This formula should work regardless of what kind of green you’re using as your base. A combination of greens is also nice, particularly if you’re trying to stretch a bundle of herbs. As far as the nuts go, I like to use walnuts, cashews, blanched almonds, or pine nuts.

2 cups packed greens or herbs; tough stems removed

½ cup nuts, toasted

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 garlic cloves

½ cup olive oil, plus more if needed to top

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the greens, toasted nuts, Parmesan cheese, and garlic. Pulse until a paste begins to form. Remove the lid and scrape down the bowl, if necessary.

Once you’ve gotten to a chunky paste, slowly stream in the olive oil with the motor running and process until well combined. Taste and add the salt and pepper to taste.

Use the pesto immediately, or pack it into 4-ounce freezer-safe containers to preserve for a longer period of time. Top the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent freezer burn and discoloration. It will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 year. 

Jam-Glazed Nuts

Makes about 4 cups

Recommended Preserves: Choose preserves that you’d like to eat on a peanut or almond butter sandwich. My absolute favorite jam to use is pear vanilla, but grape is also wonderful.

1 pound raw almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, or pecans (or a combination thereof)

6 tablespoons jam or marmalade

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ teaspoons flaky finishing salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a large, dry skillet, toast the nuts over medium heat, stirring frequently so that they don’t burn. In a small saucepan, melt the jam and butter together. When the nuts are looking lightly toasted and are smelling nutty, pour the jam mixture over the nuts and toss to coat. Spread the toasted nuts on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, checking regularly, until the bits of glaze have started to brown.

Remove the nuts from the oven and dust them with salt. Let them cool completely so that the glaze has a chance to harden and adhere. Once cool, break apart any nuts that are stuck together.

Store the finished, cooled nuts in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

 Adaptable Chutney

Makes 3 pint-size

This chutney will work with apples, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, pears, or plums. I typically peel the apples and peaches before stirring them into a batch of chutney, but all the other fruits can keep their skins. Remove the pits and cores as needed.

4 pounds fruit, prepped and chopped

1 medium-size yellow onion, minced

2 cups golden raisins

1 ¾ cups red wine vinegar

2 cups packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon mustard seeds (any color is fine)

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 ½ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Combine all the ingredients in a large, nonreactive pot. Bring to boil over high heat and then lower the heat to medium-high. Cook at a brisk simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring regularly, or until the chutney thickens, darkens, and the flavors start to marry.

While the chutney is finished, remove the pot from the heat. Funnel the chutney into the prepared jars, leaving ½ inch/1.25 cm of headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process the filled jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

When the time is up, remove the jars and set them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When the jars have cooled enough that you can comfortably handle them, check the seals. Sealed jars can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 year. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly.

Follow McClellan’s blog at


What: Marissa McClellan cooking class and talk

When: Friday, May 10 from 6:30-8:30 pm.

Where: Read It and Eat, 2142 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL

FYI: (773) 661-6158;

Pizza City: Steve Dolinsky’s Homage to the Best Pizza Town in the U.S.

              Call it pizza love. In 2017, according to PMQ Pizza Magazine, Americans consumed 45.1 billion dollars’ worth of pies. But what’s the best place for pizza? Steve Dolinsky, a James Beard award winning food writer known as the “Hungry Hound,” podcaster and food tour operator, decided to prove there’s no better place for pizza than Chicago, its suburbs and five collar counties.

He shares his results in Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town (Northwestern University Press 2018; $24.95), a user-friendly guide to  all things dough, sauce and toppings divided into chapters on pizza categories:: Tavern-Style (Chicago-Style Thin), Thin, Artisan, Neapolitan, By-the-Slice (New York-Style), Deep-Dish and Pan, Stuffed, Sicilian, Roman and Detroit-Style and last, but not least, Overrated. Dolinsky than includes photos and information about each of the 101 places in the book as well as the five best in each category. Maps included show where the top pizza places are located in case you want to hit the road.

              It was a tough assignment and Dolinsky often ate pizza at three different places in a day. In all he visited 185 locations (not all made the cut), consumed massive doses of anti-acids, and, to keep his weight gain at a minimum, practiced portion control and doing yoga sculpting daily.

              Dolinsky’s inquisitiveness about Chicago food isn’t limited to pizza.  He’d already written “The 31 Essential Italian Beef Joints in Chicago(land): for his Website and also visited every place in the city that served Vietnamese pho so he was used to massive samplings of the city’s favorite foods, but he had other reasons as well.

              “People say Chicago has the best pizza, but I didn’t really think that anyone had done any research on this scale, that there hadn’t been a deep dive into pizzas,” he says, noting that he considered it an unparalleled lifetime quest in the city’s illustration pizza history. “I didn’t realize how massive of an undertaking it would be.”

              Like any scientific study, there were rules. Dolinsky created what he called the Optimal Bite Ratio (QBR) with points given for crust, sauce and the quality of the sausage and pepperoni as well as the application and mouthfeel of the cheeses.

              Here’s just a smattering of what Dolinsky learned. While most of the U.S. prefers pepperoni as a topping, Chicago likes bulk sausage, which probably harkens back to the days of the stockyards. Media outside of Chicago often confuses deep crust pizza and stuffed pizza (the latter which Dolinsky mostly disdains). Deep crust pizza, while one of Chicago’s wonderful inventions, is rarer than one might think though outsiders think it’s the real Chicago thing. Notice how when you travel, a Chicago-style pizza place means deep dish. but Dolinsky says it’s the Tavern-Style or Chicago-Style Thin, square-cut pie that Chicagoans love—the kind with middle pieces in the center with no crust handles that my brother and I used to fight over when we were kids.

              For those who want the full-Dolinsky treatment, he also runs pizza walking tours starting in May. The tours meet at Lou Malnati’s (1235 W. Randolph St.), a 7-minute drive from The Loop and showcases four different styles of pizza. Highlights include a traditional Chicago deep-dish, an only-in-Chicago Roman al taglio, a classic Neapolitan and a Sicilian slice. Included in the tour price is a custom souvenir lanyard and badge good for discounts and deals. For more information, visit

              If you can’t wait for a tour or to learn more, on Thursday, January 31 from 7:30-9:30 pm EST, Steve Dolinsky will be teaming up with the chefs from Pizzeria Bebu for a pizza–making demonstrated, followed by a tasting. Steve then will give a lively presentation on how he went about making the choices for the book.

Where: Read It & Eat, 2142 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL. For ticket prices and more information, (773) 661-6158;

In the meantime, here’s a deep dish pizza recipe from Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, rated among the top by Dolinsky and a favorite in Chicago for over 40 years.

The Malnati Classic

20 ounces pizza dough

Olive oil, for the pan

12 to 16 ounces mozzarella cheese, sliced

12 to 14 ounces 90-percent lean Italian sausage, casings removed

10 to 12 ounces seasoned Roma tomato sauce, maintaining chunks

2 to 3 ounces grated Parmesan

2 to 3 ounces grated Romano cheese

Special equipment: a round steel baking pan

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Allow about 20 ounces of your favorite yeast dough to rise. You may do this if you have a proofer, or simply leave it at room temp for about 2 hours.

Oil a round steel baking pan with a few ounces of olive oil. Press the dough on the bottom and to the sides of the pan, being careful not to tear it. Holes in the dough will create a soggy crust. Pull the dough up the sides of pan to 1 to 1 1/2 inches high.

Place the mozzarella evenly across the dough. Top with the sausage, making sure to get the sausage all the way to the sides.

Cover with the seasoned tomato sauce, spreading evenly and maintaining the chunks of tomatoes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and then the Romano.

Bake until the crust and the grated cheese turn golden brown, and the crust is firm yet flaky, 30 to 40 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of Lou Malnati’s, Chicago, IL.

The Vintage Baker: More Than 50 Recipes from Butterscotch Pecan Curls to Sour Cream Jumbles

VintageBaker-HiRes-IMGS23I’ve been doing some major remodeling on my condominium including getting rid of the orange—and yes, it really was an orange sherbet color–Formica countertop (I kept waiting for this 1960 trend to come back in style but when it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, out it went), tearing down walls and pulling up carpeting that had seen way too many spills by my daughter and her friends including the time she did some sign painting inside. Believe me, that did not work out well.

During all this renovation, I had to pack up just about everything in the condo including all my kitchenware and though the project was just going to take a couple of months–well, you know how that goes—I am just beginning to unpack boxes.

One of my latest discoveries is my KitchenAid stand mixer, which I really, really missed. Opening the box that contained the mixer, buried under a bunch of other stuff, coincided with my friend Joyce Lin sending me a copy of The Vintage Baker: More Than 50 Recipes from Butterscotch Pecan Curls to Sour Cream Jumbles by Jessie Sheehan (Chronicle Books 2018; $24.95). Sheehan, who worked as a junior baker at Baked, a bakery in Brooklyn, New York, was also an avid collector of vintage recipe booklets (there’s one included in her cookbook) and The Vintage Baker is based upon those recipes, albeit with Sheehan’s adaptations to modernize them.

She did so by adding such intriguing twists as making her popovers using pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper as well as black pepper and rum in a butterscotch pie and mixing thyme in the ladyfinger recipes she used in creating her own take on the classic Charlette Russe, layers of cookies or ladyfingers, cake and a cream filling.

Watch Jessie Sheehan on TikTok

“My go-to chocolate-chip cookie recipe is full of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and I was over the moon to discover how frequently cookies with cereal surfaced in my booklet collection,” Sheehan writes in her introduction to her recipe for Cornflake Macaroons with Chocolate Drizzle, noting that a recipe from “55 Recipes for Hershey’s Syrup” (1945) formed the base for her macaroon. “Adding salt to the batter proved essential–so many of these original recipes don’t call for salt. I drizzled the cookies with chocolate after baking, rather than combining it with the batter, allowing these cornflakes to truly shine.”VintageBaker-HiRes-IMGS7Rediscovering my KitchenAid stand-mixer made me so happy that I made several of the recipes from Sheehan’s book. Here are a couple that hopefully you’ll enjoy baking as well including one for an old fashioned ice box cake.


Cornflake Macaroons with Chocolate Drizzle

3 egg whites

½ cup granulated sugar

1½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon table salt

2½ cups cornflakes

1½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and continue whisking until thoroughly combined and thickened. Fold the cornflakes and coconut into the egg whites using a rubber spatula. Once combined, and using your hands, crush the cornflakes in the bowl, mixing all of the ingredients together, until the mixture stays together when you squeeze it in your hand. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. The mixture will be much easier to scoop once it has been refrigerated.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop 1 to 1½ tablespoons of dough with a small cookie scoop or measuring spoon, making sure to really pack the batter into the scoop/spoon. Place on the prepared pan and bake for 23 to 25 minutes, until nicely browned. Sprinkle with the sea salt and let cool. Place the melted chocolate in a zippered plastic bag, cut a very tiny hole in one corner of the bag, and drizzle the chocolate over the cookies. Let the chocolate harden before serving.

The macaroons will keep in an airtight container on the counter for up to 3 days, but they get less crunchy with each day.

Coconut-Chocolate Icebox Cake with Toasted Almonds

3 (13 1/2-fluid-ounce cans full-fat coconut milk

1/2 to 1 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

9 ounces crisp chocolate wafer cookies

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Place the cans of coconut milk in the coldest spot in your refrigerator upside-down and leave them there for 24 hours. This will allow the coconut cream in the milk to solidify and separate from the liquid.

Line a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap that hangs slightly over the sides of the pan.

Flip the cans of coconut milk right-side up, open the cans, and, using a rubber spatula, carefully scrape the solid coconut cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Save the liquid for another purpose. Add the almond extract and confectioners’ sugar, and whisk on medium speed until smooth and thick. Add the heavy cream and whisk on medium-high speed until the cream holds stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Add the toasted coconut and fold it into the cream with a rubber spatula.

Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread a thin layer of the whipped cream on the bottom of the lined pan. Cover as much of the cream as possible with a layer of wafers, filling any gaps with broken wafers, to create a solid layer of wafers.

Continue layering whipped cream and wafers until you run out or reach the top of the pan, ending with a layer of wafers. Gently cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 to 8 hours, or preferably overnight. If you have whipped cream left over, store this in the refrigerator along with the cake.

Remove the cake from the refrigerator prior to serving and peel off the plastic wrap. Place a serving plate over the pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Carefully remove the pan and plastic wrap lining and, if using, thinly spread the remaining whipped cream over the sides and top of the cake. Re-whip the cream if it looks too soft to spread. Sprinkle the cake with the toasted almonds, lightly pressing them into the cake.

Using a serrated knife, cut the cake into slices and serve. The cake will keep, lightly wrapped with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


When buying coconut milk, gently turn the can up and down in the store to make sure the contents sound full and solid. If it sounds watery and seems like the can is filled only with liquid, grab a different one.


What: Author Talk Jessie Sheehan: The Vintage Baker

When: Sep 17 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Read It & Eat, 2142 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL

FYI: 773-661-6158;

For more information:

The Vintage Baker

Jesse Sheehan

Author Talk with John Coletta: Risotto & Beyond

On June 7, John Coletta, author of Risotto & Beyond: 100 Authentic Italian Rice Recipes for Antipasti, Soups, Salads, Risotti, One-Dish Meals, and Desserts (Rizzoli 2018) will be at Read It and Eat! talking about his recently published book on risotto, one of the most traditional dishes in Italian Cuisine and yet the least explored. Coletta, a restauranteur and chef, will also be presenting a selection of rice-based tastings. His book, with its wonderful photographs, contains 100 authentic dishes and demonstrates how to bring the full range of Italian rice cooking into our home kitchens. Dishes range range from the familiar such as arancini, crochettes, risotti, soups and rice puddings to the more exotic like rice salads, fritters, bracioli, and gelatos. Attendees will get to take home a 500 gm tin of Acquerello Rice, a prized Carnaroli rice from Vercelli in Piemonte (retail value of $22), considered the best rice for making risotto.RisottoandBeyond_p062

Chilled Rice Soup with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped prosciutto fat (see note below)

½ medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped to make 2/3 cup

1 stalk celery, finely chopped to make 2/3 cup

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh

1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt1

teaspoon finely ground white pepper

1 cup Arborio superfino rice

Just over ½ ounce Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated to make ¼ cup

3 cups halved thin-skinned cherry tomatoes or blanched, peeled, and chopped plum or Roma tomatoes

1 bunch basil, leaves only, roughly chopped to make 6 tablespoons


Finely ground sea salt and white pepper

1 cup cold vegetable broth

2 cups quartered thin-skinned cherry tomatoes

1 bunch basil, leaves only, roughly chopped to make

6 tablespoons, plus ¼ cup chiffonade of basil leaves or small clusters of Genovese basil, for garnish

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

Place the butter, olive oil, and prosciutto fat in a heavy-gauge stockpot over low heat, stirring until the butter melts and the fat becomes soft and translucent but not browned. Add the onion, celery, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften but are not browned.

Add 6 cups water and heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Immediately reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are soft and tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in the rice, cover the pot, and continue to simmer for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the rice kernels are tender.

Prepare an ice-water bath in your sink. You will need this to cool the pot. Remove the pot from the heat. Discard the bay leaves and stir in the cheese, tomatoes, and chopped basil. Transfer the pot to the ice-water bath and cool the soup to slightly below room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.


The following day, taste the soup for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. If the soup has become too thick, thin it to the desired consistency with the cold vegetable broth.

In a small bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, chopped basil leaves, olive oil, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls. Drizzle each portion with olive oil; top with the tomato-basil garnish and the basil chiffonade.

NOTE: If prosciutto fat is unavailable, substitute an additional 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Be careful not to burn

Arancini with Fresh Mozzarella and Italian Parsley (Arancini Di Riso Con Fior Di Latte E Prezzemolo)


ARANCINI; SERVES 4RisottoandBeyond_p090

3 cups Arborio or Carnaroli superfine rice

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cubed

2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt

3 large eggs, well beaten

¼ cup sweet white rice flour

1 small bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, coarsely chopped and lightly packed to make ½ cup

2½ ounces Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano, finely grated to make 1 cup

1 pound fior di latte (fresh cow’s milk mozzarella in liquid, drained and cut into ¼-inch cubes


3 large eggs, well beaten

2 cups fine dry Italian, panko, or gluten-free breadcrumbs

4 to 5 cups high-smoke-point oil (safflower, rice bran, soybean, or canola)

Salsa All’Arrabbiata, for serving or your favorite sauce

Pour 5½ cups water into a medium heavy-gauge saucepan or pot and stir in the rice, butter, and salt. Heat to boiling over medium heat; reduce the heat to low. Simmer briskly, uncovered and without stirring, until the rice has absorbed the water, about 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the eggs, rice flour, parsley, and Parmigiano.

Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Transfer the cooked rice to the parchment-lined dish, smoothing to make level. Bring the rice to room temperature.  (To finish the recipe the next day, cover the rice with parchment paper and the baking dish with plastic wrap; refrigerate. Bring the rice to room temperature before continuing with  the recipe.)

Assemble and fry the arancini:

Using a sharp knife dipped in cold water, score and cut the rice cake into 16 equal pieces. Place one portion of rice in your hand and shape it into a cone; fill with 3 cubes of mozzarella. Close the rice over the cheese and squeeze to shape it into a ball. Place on parchment paper. Repeat until all the arancini are formed.

Place two large bowls on a work surface. Place the eggs in one and the breadcrumbs in the other. Immerse a rice ball in the egg; move it to the bowl of breadcrumbs and dredge until well coated. Place the breaded ball on the parchment paper. Repeat until all the rice balls are breaded.

Pour the oil into a small electric fryer (amount specified by fryer model) or a heavy-gauge pot, ensuring that the oil reaches no higher than 3 inches from the top of the pot. Preheat the oil to 350°F.

Carefully transfer 3 or 4 of the balls into the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Test one to ensure doneness, adjusting frying time as needed. Proceed with the remainder. Blot the fried arancini on paper toweling.

Place on a platter and serve with spicy salsa all’arrabbiata sauce or your favorite red sauce.


When: June 7 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Read It & Eat!, 2142 N Halsted Street Chicago, IL

For more information:  (773) 661-6158;

All Photo credit Kayleigh Jankowski.




Turnips & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen

Southern food meets Mexican food in Eddie Hernandez’s new book Turnips & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen.  Hernandez, the James Beard nominated chef/co-owner of Taqueria del Sol, has written a fantastic cookbook that explores the commonalities of these two cuisines.

Never hesitating to improve upon tradition, Hernandez tweaks classic dishes to make food taste better in such ways as by adding sugar to creamy grits to balance the jalapeños or substituting tomatillos for fried green tomatoes to achieve a more delicate texture. Turnip Greens & Tortillas offers a collection of both recipes and “Eddie’s Ways”–sidebars showing how to make each dish even more special.My Breakfast Muffins (c) Angie Mosier (1)

As an example, Hernandez says Mexicans view bread pudding as a special treat typically eaten only during Lent.

“It is not like any bread pudding you have had in the U.S., but the flavors should taste very familiar—a little like the inside of a cinnamon roll, with the gooeyness of pecan pie,” he writes in his description of Capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding recipe in his cookbook. “The exact ingredients vary with whatever’s in the cook’s kitchen cabinet that needs to be used up, but they usually include toasted and buttered bread, dried fruits, nuts, and mild cheese. My mother often added animal crackers, and I still find their crunchy texture works well in this mixture. Whereas my mother steamed her bread pudding on top of the stove, I bake mine. Instead of being held together by an eggy custard, the pudding is drenched in a warm syrup spiced with cinnamon and cloves that is made by melting piloncillos—unrefined sugar molded in cones and sold in Mexican markets or online—with water. Turbinador brown sugar works just as well. There is deep religious meaning behind the main ingredients: The bread symbolizes Christ’s body, the syrup is his blood, the cinnamon and cloves are the wood and the nails of the cross, and the melted cheese signifies the holy burial shroud. As serious as its message is, the dish is very festive and often served with ice cream and colored sprinkles. This bread pudding is even good for breakfast as coffee cake.”

Also good for Easter are Hernandez’s breakfast egg muffins topped with a tomato-habanero sauce.

Mexican Bread Pudding (Capirotada)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 pound cane sugar, turbinado sugar, or brown sugar

3 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks, preferably Mexican (canela)

6 cloves

8 ounces French bread or 4 bolillo rolls, cut into ¼-inch-thick pieces

4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1½ cups crushed animal crackers

1 cup crumbled queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack cheese

¾ cup shredded sweetened coconut Ice cream (optional)

Colored sprinkles (optional)

To make the syrup:

Combine the sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, and cloves in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat; cover and let steep while you prepare the remainder of the dish.

This step can be done a day ahead.

Heat the broiler to high, with one rack set in the middle of the oven and one 4 or 5 inches from the broiler source. Brush the bread with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the butter. Place the pieces in a single layer on a sheet pan and set under the broiler until lightly toasted, about 1 minute (watch carefully). Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use.

Set the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Brush a deep 8-inch square pan or 2-quart casserole dish with the remaining 1 to 2 tablespoons butter.

Place one-third of the bread in a single layer in the baking dish. Top with one-third of the raisins, pecans, animal crackers, cheese, and coconut. Remove the spices from the syrup and ladle one-third of the syrup over the mixture. Let the syrup soak into the bread for about 15 minutes, then repeat the layering with the remaining ingredients two more times, finishing with the syrup. Let the syrup soak into the bread for 15 minutes.

Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the top of the pudding is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, with ice cream and garnished with sprinkles, if desired. The pudding will keep for several days, tightly covered, at room temperature.

My Breakfast Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

12 large eggs

4½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

4 ounces andouille or other smoked sausage, cut into 24 slices; or left over roasted vegetables

¾ cup grated Monterey Jack or Colby cheese (goat cheese or other kinds of cheese can be substituted)

2 cups Tomato-Habanero Sauce (see below) or use your favorite salsa

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick vegetable spray and set aside.

Whisk the eggs, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl until smooth. Place 2 slices of smoked sausage and 1 tablespoon of the cheese into the bottom of each muffin cup. Divide the egg mixture evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, heat the sauce. Ladle some of the sauce onto plates and top with the egg muffins.

Tomato-Habanero Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

5 to 6 medium tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)

1 habanero or other types of chiles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

¼ cup finely diced onion

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade

Place the tomatoes and habanero in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil just until the tomato skins start to crack. Drain in a colander. Remove the stem from the habanero.

Transfer the tomatoes and habanero to a blender and puree until smooth.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook until the onion is translucent and soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and the stock, increase the heat to high, and boil for 3 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. The sauce keeps for up to 3 days, covered and refrigerated.

The above recipes are from Turnip Greens and Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen by Eddie Hernandez. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Eddie Hernandez will be talking and signing copies of his book on June 3 at 1:30 p.m. at Read It & Eat, 2142 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL. For more information:  (773) 661-6158;







The Spice Diet: Use Powerhouse Flavor to Fight Cravings and Win the Weight-Loss Battle

Sharing his life story and his struggle with food was the inspiration behind Judson Todd Allen’s recently released “The Spice Diet: Use Powerhouse Flavor to Fight Cravings and Win the Weight-Loss Battle” (Grand Central Life & Style 2018; $27). Indeed, when Steve Harvey wanted to lose weight he tuJudson Allen Author Photo_credit Komifotorned to Allen, who helped him drop 30 pounds. Even more impressively, Judson himself shed more than 100 pounds and has managed to keep it off.

“Since I was little, I struggled with weight and telling people about my journey is very empowering for me,” says Allen, a finalist in Season 8 on the “Food Network Star” and executive chef of Taste 222 restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop. “It’s something that many people go through and this book allows me to help others.”

Allen graduated from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and then earned a bachelor’s in food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana. This background gave him a unique perspective on food and later, studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and then traveling throughout Europe sampling a myriad of cuisine, solidified his perspective that the use of spices can create foods so compelling and flavorful that they can overcome our need for sugar and salt.

Citrus such as lime and lemon or lemons zest produce a taste effect that’s similar to salt says Allen, the CEO and Executive Chef of Healthy Infused Cuisine, LLC., a premium cuisine company that provides customized personal, private and event chef services and catering to clients who desire healthier food choices that don’t compromise taste.

“It’s all about balancing,” he says, noting that using spices, herbs, fresh ingredients, cutting out things and using alternatives works when it comes to creating tasty food that doesn’t have unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. “I balance vinegar’s acidity with sweetness using honey or agave. It all gives a level of flavor that keeps you from cravings for salt. One of the things about most diets is you have these cravings and we all know cravings are hard to overcome. If we want to have a healthy life-style change we need foods that we will always want to eat.”

One of the cravings Allen, who was born and raised in Chicago, remembered and wanted to re-imagine was the marvelous food his grandfather, a New Orleans native, cooked.

“One of his favorite dishes is fried fish and grits,” says Allen. “It is only fitting that I re-create the delectable taste of his favorite dish in a healthier version, because he is my inspiration for being a chef. Early on in my attempts to change my eating habits, I figured out the best way to achieve the fried fish effect without the deep-frying and calories. By incorporating healthy nuts with the perfect spice blend and other flavor enhancements, I cracked the code with this recipe.”

Photo credit @wellnessmats

I learned so much from him writes Steve Harvey in the book’s introduction.

“Being able to make a lifetime commitment to healthy eating depended on getting to the root of my issues with food. He showed me how to ‘cheat on my favorite foods by substituting healthy ingredients and spice combinations without sacrificing any of the flavor or texture. He was a stickler for portion control,” he continues. “After a while, I didn’t notice that I was eating less, because my food was so delicious and satisfying.

“A few outstanding dishes left a lasting impression on me. His Special Fried Chicken, which was organic chicken marinated in a crazy blend of spices and crusted with pecans and fresh parsley, looked just like pieces of dark golden fried chicken, but it was baked in the oven in a healthy way. I also appreciated his creativity when he made a healthier version of cornbread, one of my favorites, by using cauliflower, jalapeño, and other ingredients for a comparable yet brand-new experience that was totally satisfying. Given my long days, I really appreciated the snacks, especially his health bars. The recipes are all in The Spice Diet.”

Judson Todd Allen will be cooking and talking about his cookbook at Read It and Eat on Thursday, April 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 CT. 2142 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. (773) 661-6158;

The following recipes are courtesy of Chef Judson Todd Allen

New Orleans Pecan-Crusted Catfish

Serves: 6

Serving size: 1 fillet

Calories per serving: 292

This recipe works with just about any type of fish. If catfish is not your cup of tea, then swap it out for halibut, cod, red snapper, sword fish or salmon.

3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

4 tablespoons Bayou Cajun Spice Blend, divided (recipe below; you can reduce this amount if you have sensitivity to heat)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

6 (5-ounce) catfish fillets or almost any other kind of fish, deboned

Lemon wedges, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the pecans, cheese, 3 tablespoons Bayou Cajun Spice Blend, parsley, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

Place catfish fillets on the lined baking sheet. Brush the fillets with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and rub in 1 tablespoon of the Bayou Cajun Spice Blend. Massage the oil and spice on both sides of the fish.

Spread the pecan crust liberally over the top of each piece of fish.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is dark golden and the fish is flaky and moist. Serve with lemon wedges.

Bayou Cajun Spice Blend

Yield: 1/4 cup

“Cajun cuisine is the food of my ancestors,” says Allen. “I love it. Let the good times roll! When I think about catfish now, I think about this blend. It works well with any white- fleshed fish, shrimp, or poultry, and brings vegetables to life.”

2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons paprika

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

Mix together all the ingredients in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place away from heat and light.

The Ultimate Tuna Salad

Serves 4-6

Serving Size: 1 Cup

Calories Per Serving: 257

3 (5-ounce) cans albacore tuna in water, drained

1/2 English cucumber, diced

1 teaspoon capers, drained

2 avocados, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2” cubes

1 small red onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

3/4 cup sliced cherry tomatoes

2 teaspoons Bayou Cajun Spice Blend (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

In a large serving bowl, combine the tuna, cucumber, capers, avocado, onion, fresh herbs, tomatoes and Cajun Spice Blend. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and toss the salad.

Chef Judson’s Sweet and Sour Dill Pickle Cashews

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon Sour Dill Pickle Spice Blend (see recipe below)

2 cups raw unsalted cashews

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, mix the honey, lime juice, olive oil, and Sour Dill Pickle Spice Blend together. Add the nuts and coat them fully.

Spread the nuts on the lined baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Nuts can be stored in an air – tight container in the pantry for 6 to 9 months, in the refrigerator away from strong smelling food up to a year, and in the freezer for 2 years.

Sour Dill Pickle Spice Blend

Yield: about 1⁄3 cup

Dill and lemon is a familiar combination, and the garlic in this blend adds another layer of flavor. I use it on salmon and delicate fish like sole or flounder. This blend is not overpowering. It’s great in a broth – based soup. It also pairs well with shellfish.

2 tablespoons dried dill

3 tablespoons lemon pepper

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Mix all the ingredients in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place away from heat and light.

Recipes excerpted from “The Spice Diet” Copyright © 2018 by Judson Todd Allen. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.