Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health

Posts Tagged ‘vegan confection’


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on September 1, 2013

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Many years ago I remember being bummed out when one of our kids brought a vegan friend over the house for dinner. At that time, it was a big deal because I had no idea of what to fix for them.

Now that I’ve been vegan for 24 years, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Though things have changed considerably over the years, and many people have become pretty darned savvy about what’s vegan and what’s not, there are still some big gaps and big humps for vegans to overcome.

One of the major humps still plaguing vegans is the traditional holiday dinner, when the whole family comes together for the festivities. The lone vegan in a non-vegan family may be one of the lucky ones to have a vegan-savvy family that knows just what to cook to satisfy all tastes.

For the vegan whose family cooks the Standard American dishes for those big holidays like Thanksgiving, the struggle goes on.

That’s mainly why I created the Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook, but it was for me, too. I thought it would be fun to have a whole bevvy of holiday dishes in my repertoire that I could count on year after year and not have to struggle to come up with something special for the occasion.

I figured I wasn’t the only vegan who faced the quandary of what to cook for those special holiday meals–dishes that really stand apart from stuff I cook the rest of the year.


I also wanted to be able to share those special dishes that make the holiday dinners so divinely delicious and so very memorable. Here are a few dishes to stir your curiosity:

carrotwreath copyAlmond Thumbprint CookiesNew Year LogSanta's Favorite Panforte

There’s nothing like a tasty teaser to spark even more curiosity, so I want to share one of my favorite appetizers that appears in the Christmas section of Vegan for the Holidays. Truth is that this recipe is so versatile, it doesn’t have to wait for the holidays to arrive.

Because the ingredients are available year round, Tofu Tijuana Cocktail is a delight even in the middle of July. Actually, it’s a fabulous starter in July when avocados are in abundance and reasonably priced.

Another point of versatility is the inter-play between tofu and chestnuts. When chestnuts are in season, generally from October through December and sometimes January, they ought to be the featured item in this starter. And, if you’ve never ventured into the land of cooking and peeling chestnuts, check out the step-by-step Cooking and Peeling Chestnuts details that appeared in an earlier post Cooking and Peeling Chestnuts.

The thing about chestnuts is their ultra sweet flavor and soft and pleasing potato-like texture. Chestnuts are not like any other nut, yet they are still considered a tree nut, like walnuts or almonds. What makes them so different? For starters, they have a soft and starchy texture rather than a crunchy nature like other nuts. They are extremely low in fat–about 2% rather than the usual 50% to 80% fat in most other nuts. Chestnuts are starchier than other nuts with about 27% carbohydrates, while other nuts range in carbs from 12% to 32%.

When chestnuts are not in season, replace them with chunks of firm tofu and enjoy a delicious starter that looks elegant served in long-stemmed wine glasses or champagne flutes.

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Colorful and inviting, this zesty appetizer comes alive with bright colors, bold flavors, and a glamorous presentation. I created this recipe to spotlight fresh chestnuts, then replaced them with tofu for its ease of preparation. Either way, this is a delicious starter. If you enjoy chestnuts as much as I do, go ahead and substitute them for the tofu and you’ll find they add a pleasant sweet balance to the savory and spicy flavors.

Yield: 6 to 8 servingsTijuana Tofu Cocktail 2copy

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 1/2 cups diced firm tofu, or chopped cooked and peeled chestnuts
1 large avocado, diced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

1. Combine the canned and fresh tomatoes, tofu, avocado, onion, cilantro, lemon juice, jalapeno, cumin, coriander, and salt in a large bowl and mix well.

2. To serve, spoon the cocktail into long-stemmed wine glasses, old-fashioned glasses, or glass dessert bowls and garnish each with a sprig of cilantro and a wedge of fresh lime perched on the rim. Serve with spoons. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve later.

Posted in Appetizers, Celebrations, chestnuts, Cooking and Peeling Chestnuts, Holiday Recipes, Vegan for the Holidays, Zel's Cookbooks | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on March 3, 2011

Once again, the inimitable Chef AJ set the ultimate challenge to her students to create the most delicious ball ever using nuts, fruits, seasonings and spices, and a good measure of innovation and creativity.

The stage was set. The evening had arrived. The judges had cleansed their palates and were readying their taste buds. One could almost feel the electric charge mounting in the cozy room. The crowd was large, the contestants were many and anxiously waiting for the judging to begin. The Great Ball-off was under way!

Sixteen contestants spent the previous week blending pounds of nuts of every variety with all manner of innovative ingredients to present their creations to the panel of judges. Their goal was to win the contest and bring home an autographed copy of my cookbook, The Nut Gourmet. I was privileged to be included as one the six judges of this wild and wacky contest created by Chef AJ to encourage her cooking students to leap into the creative world of the kitchen for some fun and perhaps a little mayhem.

Each of the judges was given a rating sheet and was asked to judge using four distinct categories for their criteria: appearance, creativity, texture, and taste. The challenge was on!

The balls were presented one at a time, beginning with Hawaiian Truffles. Then came Apricot Pineapples, followed by Tricky Treats, Goji Crunch Pop, Mud Bites, Pumpkin Fudgy, and Mommie’s Minty Mounds. Even the names of the balls had an inventive flair as did their presentations. Some were shaped in unique ways, while others were coated with an imaginative array of ingredients to catch the attention of the judges.

When the tasting and rating of all sixteen balls was completed, the judges gathered in a huddle to choose their top three finalists. Full of nutty balls and a little nutty spirit, we quickly came to a consensus.

Taking the top prize was the sister team Melony Jorenson and Belle Temkin with their Old Hairy Belle Peckers that were the sensation of the evening, not only for their exceptional flavor, but also because of their daring, belly-laugh producing, and shocking appearance!

Second place went to Brenda and Doug Cohen for their Helluva Hallava Bitty Balls. Landing a third place was Pam Leelayuwapan with her Goji Berry Crunch Pops.

You, too, can prepare these tasty First and Second Place prize-winning sensations in your own kitchen because the convivial sisters, Melony and Belle, and the husband and wife team, Brenda and Doug, have generously shared their recipe:


1 6-ounce package of dried Bartlett pears
1 cup spiced apple cider

2 cups whole almonds

1 1/2 cups dried figs
1 1/2 cups dried dates
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon caramel extract

Shredded coconut

1. Soak the dried pears in the spiced apple cider until soft. Reserve any liquid remaining.
2. Combine the nuts in the food processor with the S blade and process until they are finely ground. Add the dried figs, dates, nutmeg, and cinnamon and process until well incorporated.
3. Add the vanilla and caramel extracts and process until the mixture has the consistency of a soft dough. If needed, add some or all of the reserved cider to achieve a moist, yet firm consistency.
4. Roll the mixture into balls, then, flatten them out to make a disk. Use a penis cookie cutter or a knife to create the intended shape. Alternatively, use other cookie cutters to create your desired shape. For the finishing touch, dip the surface into the shredded coconut.


1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
2 teaspoons raw cacao or carob powder
1/2 teaspoon maca powder
Dash cinnamon
2 tablespoons yacon syrup or date syrup
1 tablespoon raw tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in the food processor one at a time and process until a cohesive mass forms. Roll into bitty balls and enjoy!

Well, there you have it. These sensational little treats left us breathless and almost speechless!

Posted in almonds, Nut Recipes, Vegan Desserts | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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