Gratitude After The Storm | Melanie daPonte

As Palm Beach County recovers from the disastrous effects of Hurricane Irma, there are  so many still without power, so many who haven’t returned from wherever they fled to find safety. Palm Beach Gardens was spared the worst of the damage, once again dodging a devastating bullet.

In my neighborhood I’ve watched the lights come back on painstakingly slow, one street at a time…until finally came our turn, last night around 6 p.m.

I ventured out this morning for the first time after three days without electricity, television or internet.  Tree branches and debris are piled neatly along the city streets where almost all the traffic lights are back in working order. There’s a long wait at the railroad crossing, something is holding up the train. But I don’t care. I’m just happy to be here. The sun feels warm on my skin. After spending days inside a humid house, it’s a revelation.

My local Whole Foods Market is back up and running, almost fully stocked. Life feels back to normal. Almost. I pick up a few things and then stop by the library to return my books. The parking lot is packed with cars. As busy as I’ve ever seen it. Familiar faces mingle with refugees from nearby towns. A cool place to relax for awhile. I find a nice new stack of hold items ready to pick up. My usual mix of cookbooks, novels, music and movies.

Everywhere I go today the vibe is one of calm, almost reverence. People are polite, helpful. Yielding to let the other pass. At Publix the woman bagging my perfectly ripe avocado, my organic bananas, my fresh cilantro, asks me how I am doing.

“I’m feeling so grateful today.”

“Me too,” she smiles.

The cashier nods in agreement.

“Would you like to donate a dollar to the hurricane relief fund?”

“Yes! Can you make it five??”

Incredibly fortunate. Incredibly humbled.

Incredibly grateful.

Gluten-Free Carrot Cake with Vanilla Buttercream | Melanie daPonte

Yes, all you gluten-free vegans, you CAN have your cake and eat it too! They said it couldn’t be done, but here it is–a delicious, moist, sweet carrot cake, that tastes in my opinion, even better than conventional.

Here’s the secret–superfine brown rice flour. I know it’s pricey, but trust me it’s worth it. The texture is light, not the least bit grainy like regular brown rice flour. I purchased a 3 lb. bag through Amazon.com for about $15.

Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

from “Gluten-Free Vegan Cupcakes” by Audrey Snowe

1 cup plus 1 tbsp. Superfine brown rice flour

1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. Potato starch

2 tbsp. Tapioca starch

1/2 tsp. Xanthan gum

2 tsp. Baking powder

1/4 tsp. Salt

2 tsp. Cinnamon

1/2 cup Almond milk

1 cup shredded Carrots

1/3 cup Orange juice

1/4 cup canned pureed Pumpkin

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded Coconut

1/2 cup chopped Walnuts

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1 tbsp. Maple syrup

2 tbsp. Canola oil

1 cup sugar

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 12 muffin cups. Whisk together dry ingredients except sugar and set aside. Combine all wet ingredients well then add the sugar and whisk until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the DRY into the WET ingredients careful not to over mix.

Fold in the nuts, coconut and raisins, if using.

Scoop batter in muffin cups with an ice cream scoop. Bake in the middle oven rack for 20 minutes–using the toothpick test. It should have just a bit of crumb adhering to it. Be careful not to over bake.

Meanwhile prepare the frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Recipe courtesy Isa Chandra Moskowitz

1/2 cup Non-dairy margarine

1/2 cup Shortening

1/2 cup Powdered sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Vanilla

1/4 cup Non-dairy milk

Pinch of salt

Method:

In a large electric mixer bowl with paddle attachment, cream the shortening and margarine together until smooth and well combined. Next, incorporate the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, until well blended. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl so there are no lumps hanging around later. Beat in the milk and vanilla with a pinch of salt until smooth and fluffy.

Makes plenty of frosting (about 4 cups) for 12 cupcakes with some leftover for next time. This frosting freezes very well in an airtight container. Just make sure it is completely thawed before using.

Savory Breakfast Bake | Melanie daPonte

I woke this morning dreaming of the perfect breakfast combination in one dish: Tasty tofu scramble, smoky tempeh bacon, sautéed mushrooms, spinach and melted cheez on top of a fresh layer of sweet, moist cornbread.

I think I nailed it with this recipe. Delicious and filling–this is a great dish for a lazy Sunday brunch and the leftovers freeze well for reheating on a busy weekday.

Savory Breakfast Bake

Ingredients

Tofu Scramble:

(recipe courtesy http://www.ppk.com)

14 ounce pkg. extra-firm tofu, drained and crumbled

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. Olive oil

2 tsp. Cumin

1 tsp. Dried thyme

1/2 tsp. Turmeric

1 tsp. Salt

3 tbsp. water

1/4 cup Nutritional yeast

Freshly ground black pepper

______________

Cornbread Layer

¾ cup Soy milk 1 cup Whole wheat pastry flour 1 cup Corn meal 2 tbsp. Masa Harina ½ cup Apple sauce 1/4 cup Maple Syrup ½ cup Earth Balance margarine, softened ¼ tsp. Salt 1 tsp. Baking powder dash Baking soda

2 tbsp. Nutritional yeast

Indian Potato Samosas | Melanie daPonte

I love Indian restaurant food, especially those tender, flaky pastry pockets filled with savory filling called Samosas. Most restaurants deep-fry these little treats, but I prefer them baked at home without that all that oil.

I do not enjoy fussing around with from-scratch pastry dough, so I thawed some frozen whole wheat piecrust I had hanging around from the holidays. It was easy to just cut out the circles, fill and bake.

This recipe is a tasty complement to a curry stew and the filling is delicious as a side dish on its own.

Potato Samosa Filling

Recipe courtesy The Captious Vegetarian http://www.captious.wordpress.com

4 medium-sized potatoes 2 – 4 Tbs. oil 1 medium-sized onion, peeled and minced 1 cup defrosted frozen peas 1 Tbs. peeled and grated fresh ginger 1 fresh hot green chili, minced 3 Tbs. finely minced cilantro 2 Tbs. water 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. ground coriander 1 tsp. garam masala 1 tsp. ground roasted cumin seeds 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper 2 Tbs. lemon juice Instructions: Boil the potates unpeeled and whole. Meanwhile, chop and measure out all the other ingredients. When the potatoes are tender, drain and let cool. While the potatoes cool, heat the oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over a medium flame. Add the onion, stirring and frying until it turns a light-brown color.

Add the ginger, green chili, cilantro, and water, and simmer gently for a few minutes, until the skillet starts to dry out.

Pumpernickel Bread | Melanie daPonte

Bread baking can be a fun way to spend a few hours at home, especially during the winter months. It can also be a grounding, therapeutic practice–helping us slow down and become more present in our daily life.

This recipe yields what my Nana would have referred to as a “good dark bread”. She was always delighted to find a fresh loaf at the bakery, the darker and more fragrant the better. As a child, I couldn’t appreciate the rich, full flavors of the rye flour, molasses and caraway seeds. But, over the years my palate has come to look forward to complexities of flavor like those in a dark coffee or imported chocolate.

This is an old-world style recipe that calls for basic ingredients. The project time is long, about 3 hours—but, like I said, if you have the time and you’re feeling ambitious, you will be rewarded with a rich, tasty bread sturdy enough for your favorite sandwich or just a little spread of margarine or jam.

Pumpernickel Bread

Recipe courtesy Elizabeth Yetter via About.com Bread Baking

1-1/2 tbsp active dry yeast 1-1/2 cups warm water 1/2 cup molasses 4 tsp salt 2 tbsp shortening 2 tbsp caraway seed 2-3/4 cups rye flour 3 cups bread flour, about

Preparation:

Souper Easy Tom Yum Soup | Melanie daPonte

This recipe comes right off the label of my jar of Tom Yum paste. Sometimes I just want something good and I want it fast. How fast? Try about 5 minutes.

Tom Yum Soup

2 cups water

3 tablespoons vegetarian Tom Yum paste (most Asian markets carry this)

1-1 1/2 cups fresh chopped vegetables of your choice (I choose broccoli every time)

Extras (optional)

Frozen vegetable dumpling

Leftover grilled tofu, cubed

Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add vegetables and simmer covered about 5 minutes, until tender. Add any extras and stir to heat thoroughly.

Add Tom Yum paste and stir until completely dissolved and soup is heated through.

I just adore the flavor of Tom Yum–the blend of salty, spicy and sour combined with the aromatic lemongrass is a real go-to comfort food for me. I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it often.

Clean Out The Fridge Yakisoba | Melanie daPonte

In case you haven’t noticed, comfort food is the name of the game at my house this week. And carbohydrates take main stage as we inch closer and closer to that moment when hurricane Irma takes a swipe at our little corner of south Florida.

We expect a loss of electricity by tomorrow, so tonight was a good time to clean out the fridge. I rounded up all my pre-chopped salad veggies leftover from our lunch prep and put together a quick sauce to pour over the sautéed veggies and noodles for a delicous dinner that will taste great as a cold salad later when the air conditioning goes out!

No strict ingredient measurements here. It’s mostly about the method with this dish.

Yaki-Soba On The Fly

Ingredients:

Soba Noodles

Assorted veggies, chopped

2-4 Garlic cloves, chopped or sliced thinly

Crushed red pepper (optional)

Canola oil

Sesame oil (if you have it)

Yakisoba sauce (recipe follows)

Quick Yakisoba Sauce

(recipe courtesy Nami from justonecookbook.com)

 (Makes ½ cup (8 Tbsp) I halved this recipe and it was plenty for 10 oz soba noodles

  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp vegan oyster sauce (or substitute more soy sauce)
  • 4 tsp ketchup
  • 4 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce

Method:

Heat a big pot of salted water to boiling for noodles.

Meanwhile, heat a good quantity of oil over medium-high heat until a little piece of garlic sizzles when placed in the skillet. We’re talking a good 2-3 tablespoons with about 1/3 being sesame oil if using.

Add garlic and  1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper and fry until golden. Watch this very carefully so it doesn’t burn, but you definitely want some color. Reduce heat a bit, add your vegetables and saute until almost fully cooked (about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, get your soba noodles cooking and add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the starchy water  to vegetables. This water will reduce a bit and help add body and flavor to the dish. Before the water is fully reduced, drain soba noodles and add them directly into the pan, mixing them around together with the vegetables.

When the water is reduced a bit,  turn the heat down to low. Go ahead and pour the sauce over, mixing until heated through. Serve immediately.

Melanie daPonte | Plant-Based Personal Chef

Melanie daPonte

Plant-Based Food Specialist

Serving  100% Plant-Based Meals throughout The Palm Beaches since 2012       

Service includes:
–Client consultation meeting
–Custom menu planning
–Grocery shopping and all food costs
–Time and travel
–Meals cooked in one day (usually 5-6 hours)
–Packaging and cleanup

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: What is the difference between a personal chef and a private chef?

A: A private chef is employed by one individual or family full-time and prepares up to three meals per day. A personal chef serves several clients, usually one per day, and provides multiple meals that are custom designed for the clients’ particular preferences. These meals are packaged and stored so that the client may enjoy them at their leisure throughout the week.

Q: Where is the food prepared?

A: Meals are prepared in the client’s kitchen. On the agreed-upon cooking date, your personal chef brings the fresh ingredients for meals along with their own pots, pans and utensils and prepares the meals on-site. At the end of the cooking period (usually about 5 hours) I leave the kitchen clean and the refrigerator stocked with meals for the rest of the week.

Q: How Do We Get Started?

A.  Fill in the contact form at the end of this page

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Simple Cinnamon Rolls | Melanie daPonte

I love home-cooked breakfast on Sundays. I woke this morning thinking about the other half of a double batch of pizza dough I whipped up yesterday. The dough was what my Nana would describe as “happy”– full of air, fluffy and nearly bursting through the wrap, eager to get into whatever creative plan I would soon hatch.

So inspired, I came up with this delicious treat. The scent of warm cinnamon and buttery brown sugar wafting through the house is irresistible.

Ingredients:

1 batch pizza dough (homemade or store-bought, my whole wheat version shown here)

1/4 cup flour for rolling

1/4 cup dairy-free buttery spread (such as Earth Balance), softened, plus extra for pan

1 big tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup finely chopped nuts

Note: Ingredients amounts are flexible. If you like more cinnamon, by all means, pile it on. That goes for sugar, nuts, raisins, chocolate–whatever you like. You can’t mess this up. It’s your creation!

Method:

Grease a 9 inch cake pan with buttery spread until well-coated.

Lightly flour a clean surface and roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, checking underneath periodically, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.

Spread the margarine to cover the dough to the edges. Sprinkle sugar, cinnamon and nuts evenly and pat down to adhere to dough.

Roll the long side tightly to form a log shape. With a very sharp knife, cut into 1 to 1/2 inch thick slices and place side by side in the cake pan. Brush with additional margarine if desired.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until sugar is bubbly and rolls are lightly browned.

Serve with vanilla glaze if desired:

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

2-3 tablespoons non-dairy milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Blend together well and drizzle over rolls

Dixie Dharma Vegan Restaurant, Bakery and Bar, Orlando | Melanie daPonte

Breakfast at Dixie Dharma              Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

When traveling, we are always on the hunt for vegan eateries and this past weekend was no exception. iPhone technology has been a real game-changer in this regard and driving through the Orlando area we were able to nimbly avoid the Disney-bound traffic and score a real winner in Dixie Dharma vegan restaurant!

Market on South, which houses Dixie Dharma, is a vendor collective, located on the first floor of a small, gray two-story just off the interstate and abutting a picturesque and visibly gentrifying suburb of Orlando. The building itself seems oddly placed alongside an old barber shop with a gravel parking lot alongside, but don’t be put off by the lackluster surroundings. This place is not to be missed.

A small, but clean and cozy interior offers comfy, mismatched tables and chairs, a few booths and a short row of barstools at the counter, overlooking the open kitchen.

Dixie Dharma interior, order counter/bakery          Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

We arrived early, around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. The restaurant was quiet, but the bakery cases were fully stocked with goods from Valhalla  and Valkyrie vegan bakeries.

Dixie Dharma/Valhalla Bakery case                Photo credit:  Melanie daPonte

The cashier was friendly, attentive and fast! We ordered the dirty scramble and the biscuits and gravy along with two hot cups of coffee. While waiting for our food, we perused the various offerings for sale from local artists and artisans displayed on the shelves surrounding the dining room.

Meanwhile, the back of the kitchen bustled with energy as the row of cooling racks filled with fresh-baked cakes and cookies. Every now and then a baker would emerge, producing a huge iced and decorated layer cake to place in the cold display case with a price tag marked $50.

A line of eager patrons started to form as our food was delivered. Young, fit couples, some with baby strollers, many in athletic wear, an occasional smiling grandma in tow, ordered vegan doughnuts and coffee, seating themselves in a happy, relaxed smattering about the place.

Dixie Dharma Dirty Scramble

The food was flavorful with generous portions! The dirty scramble in particular, I think, could have fed two or even three people for breakfast! The coffee tasted smooth and fresh. All in all,  one of the best vegan breakfasts I have ever eaten on the road.

Dixie Dharma Biscuits and Gravy with Maple Bourbon Sausage           Photo: Melanie daPonte

The vibe was so low-key and comfortable I was sure we would return for a late lunch and a few choice baked goods before we headed for home.

Dixie Dharma outdoor seating in front of building         Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

At lunch, the place was really at peak business with a long line waiting up front, but the staff was breezy and professional as they went about taking orders and delivering food to both seated diners and takeout customers.  We shared the chili dogs with ‘tater salad at one of the large picnic tables in the back yard.

Dixie Dharma Chili Dawgs             Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

I can see why Dixie Dharma is famous for their vegan hot dog truck! The dogs were the best vegan franks I’ve ever tasted. I swear you couldn’t tell they were meatless. And the Indian-spiced chili was hearty and wholesome–filled with beans and lentils. A truly substantial meal before our drive back to Palm Beach County.

Saving the best for last, our visit couldn’t be complete without a sampling of the beautiful bakery offerings. There were just too many choices and I had to be reasonable, breaking it down logically. I have to be careful not to lose my head in the face of such a decadent display of sweet vegan goodness!

Although there were so many treats I wanted to sample,  I only had this one shot, so here is my selection:

Bourbon Chocolate Chunk

Thick, sweet bourbon vanilla buttercream chocolate chunk cookie sandwich.

Cake Slice

I fine wedge of chocolate layer cake expertly filled and iced with vanilla buttercream

(like birthday cake)

Lemon Bar

Lemon curd on a shortbread crust with crumb topping

Chocolate Brownie

Dark chocolate brownie, dipped in more melted chocolate

Dixie Dharma/Valhalla Bakery selection              Photo credit: Melanie daPonte

It was a tough choice. Of course we had to try the cookies, and the cake and the buttercream and the brownies. The lemon bar was a wild card and I ordered it simply because I don’t like squeezing lemons and no vegan bakery in my town makes them!

What we didn’t order (this time):  Vegan cheesecake,  fruit cobbler, cupcakes, mini-cream pies, a chocolate-coated ‘Naimo(?)’ bar–which looked amazing, vegan doughnuts, a ‘brookie’ which is chocolate chip cookie dough baked on top of a brownie!! There’s more I am forgetting to be sure.

We we got home we sampled each item and they were delicious! Over time we have learned to manage these multiple item bakery sprees by cutting each item into small portions, say, the cookie sandwich into four quarters, and freezing them on a sheet tray, then transferring to an airtight container. Weeks later (or days) later we can enjoy them again.

Dixie Dharma was a delight. Wholesome, plant-based meals, a uniquely creative menu and presentations, outrageous, professionally-baked desserts, friendly, competent staff. They open at 8:00 a.m. and close at midnight!

We plan to make this outstanding vegan restaurant, bakery and artisan marketplace a regular destination every time we are in the Orlando vicinity!

DIXIE DHARMA WEBSITE