Chef Fran Costigan

Vegan Tacos Guest Post, Recipe and Giveaway

Vegan Tacos Cover

I’m happy to be hosting Jason Wyrick, author of Vegan Tacos, on his blog tour today. He’s here to share his tips on the essential components of a good taco as well as a cocktail that pairs well with any Mexican food. My son-in-law, a skeptic and omnivore, who LOVES chilies, didn’t believe a book on vegan tacos was possible. He looked at the cover, shook his head and said, “Well, ok, I give him credit but a whole book on vegan tacos?” I said, “Rob, not only is this book filled with vegan versions of traditional tacos, and unusual fusion tacos too, it’s a treasure trove of information about types of chilies and how to use them, the origins of this cuisine, and much more.”

What happened next was delicious weekend fun. I made the Grilled Lime Margaritas with Mesquite Smoked Salt--the optional chili in the glass for Rob but not in my daughter’s or mine. Rob took his margarita and the book to the porch and I watched him read it cover to cover.  He asked if he could keep my copy! I directed him to the giveaway, as Jason has been kind of enough to share a copy of his book for one lucky blog reader. Just follow the instructions at the bottom of this post to enter for a chance to win.




From Jason:

The Four Essential Components of a Good Taco

When I talk about making tacos, I talk about building tacos. That’s because tacos are a multi-component dish. From the tortilla to the filling to the salsa to the toppings, each component is layered one on top of the other to create a complex, engaging experience with every single bite. Understanding what each of those components is and how they work will help you make your own killer tacos! While each of these components is important, some are more important than others. I’ve placed them in order of importance for you, so you can create the best taco experience possible. Now read on, taquero!

The Tortilla: The tortilla is the foundation of every taco. It’s the first component you hold in your hand and it’s the first component you taste. Without a tortilla, there simply is no taco. That’s why, unless I am serving a lot of people, I make my own tortillas. If you can find fresh masa (I purchase mine from one of my local Mexican markets), it only takes a few minutes to make fresh tortillas and it is totally worth the effort. There’s nothing like holding a warm fresh soft corn tortilla in your hand. You can also make your own masa from the dried ground corn called masa harina that is often found in big bags of many grocery stores and it doesn’t take that much longer to make your own masa than if you purchased it premade. If you need, or simply want, to purchase premade tortillas, look for ones that are made fresh daily (again, probably at a local Mexican market.) Trader Joe’s has a decent handmade white corn tortilla, as well. I just strongly urge you not to get those dried, cardboard tasting tortillas so common at most markets because then the foundation of your taco will taste like, you guessed it, dried cardboard. Not fun! If you are using premade tortillas, make sure you take the time to warm them so they become pliable and the flavor of the corn can develop.

The Filling: The next component is the filling, which is the heart of your taco. The filling should be the most substantive part of your taco and it should be the predominant flavor. When you are making your filling, think about all the ways you can add flavor to it. My favorite way to do that is by using chile sauces and powders, but I’m also a chile addict. Other great ways to get more flavor into your fillings is by grilling them, or browning them at a fairly high heat in a pan. I often gravitate towards mushrooms when making taco fillings because they absorb flavors well, they brown nicely, they’re hearty, and they can typically withstand the rigors of the grill or the high heat of a saute pan. When you are making your own filling, don’t be shy with the flavorings. If you’re not sure if you’ve got enough flavor in your filling, add more spices, add more salt, brown the filling more. It’s a rare instance when more flavor is a bad thing.

The Sauce: A few tacos have the sauce cooked right into the filling, like with BBQ tacos, but the sauce component is usually comprised of salsas, crema, guacamole, and other, well, saucy things. Sauces are important because they help tie all the flavors of a taco together. They also typically add acidity to a taco, whether that’s from the lime juice in guacamole or salsa, or the sourness from vegan crema. Most sauces are salsas, and they usually add heat, as well. My go-to sauces are salsa verde and chipotle salsa. These salsas are very versatile and it’s rare that a taco is not improved by a big spoonful of one of these delicious salsas!

The Toppings: These are the accent pieces of a taco and the right topping will take a good taco and make it a great taco. Toppings are the components that add little pops of flavor or texture, the ones that fill in the gaps in your taco experience. Is your taco missing some crunch? Add in a crunchy topping like peanuts or fried chiles. Does your taco need some heat? Minced serrano chiles are perfect for sprinkling on top. Acidity? A squeeze of lime or vegan queso fresco will bring your taco to life. A few cuts of cilantro, a couple slices of carrots escabeche, three or four slices of pickled onions, or even a couple cloves of roasted garlic are all examples of fine taco toppings.



Grilled Lime Margarita with Mesquite Smoked Salt

Margaritas are great when they are made with fresh lime and good alcohol. It’s a classic drink that’s now part of the Mexican experience. I wanted to change things up a bit and make something a little darker, a little more mysterious and alluring. That’s what the mezcal and the smoke are to me. It permeates the entire drink, from the char of the grilled limes to the smoky mezcal to the shot of smoked salt on the rim of the glass. You can, of course, forgo grilling the limes and just use regular salt and good tequila blanco to make the classic margarita, but I hope you find the smoky version I created here to a sultry companion to your tacos.

Makes 4 Drinks


  • 8 large limes, cut in half diagonally (see note)
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 4 shots mezcal or tequila reposado or añejo (I used reposado tequila)
6 tablespoons (2 shots) Cointreau or other good quality orange liqueur
  • Mesquite smoked salt
  • Sprinkle coarse sugar
  • Option: Make it spicy by placing a dried chipotle meco at the bottom of each glass


I cut limes in half diagonally because it exposes more surface area of the lime to be grilled and it also makes them easier to juice.


Grill the limes until they develop blackened char lines. This will take about 5 minutes. Ideally, you should do this over a wood fire, but you can still do it with a gas grill. Flip the limes over and grill the round sides of the lime halves. This will further cook the lime and mellow out the flavor. Juice the limes into a pitcher or a bowl. Keep the lime rinds Stir the agave into the lime juice until they are thoroughly combined. Mix in the shots of mezcal and Cointreau. Take the inside of the juiced lime rinds and rim 4 margarita glasses. Sprinkle mesquite smoked salt and just a touch of sugar around the rim of the glasses. Add the margarita mix to the glasses and serve. This should be served at room temperature and not over ice, which does not play well with the smoky components.

From Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. ©2014 Jason Wyrick. Used by permission from Vegan Heritage Press.


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The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook Review, Recipe and Giveaway

Reverse and Prevent Heart Disease Cookbook Cover

To quote T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and Karen Campbell, Director of the Center for Nutrition Studies, “The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook is great cookbook for treating and reversing heart disease as well as a wide variety of other ailments and diseases. Try these recipes and see for yourself what a fantastic difference they can make for your health. Dr. Esselstyn’s amazing accomplishments are backed up by Ann and Jane’s health enriching recipes.”


I had the pleasure several years ago to “work” with the awesome Esselstyn family after Dr. and Mrs. Esselstyn’s son, fireman and professional triathlete Rip Esselstyn called to inquire about getting the vegan Chocolate Cake to Live For, which he’d seen on the cover of my 2006 book, More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, for his upcoming wedding. I had just seen the New York Times front page feature about how Rip convinced his firemen brothers in Austin, TX to go vegan to one of their own lower his dangerously high cholesterol. I was not alone in being intrigued. So were publishers, and the result was Rip’s first book, the Engine 2 Diet. I recognized the Esselstyn name in the Times story. I’d presented at conferences where Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. MD, surgeon and author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, the patriarch of this remarkable plant-pushing family, was featured. If you’ve seen the award-winning film Forks Over Knives, you’ve met Dr. Esselstyn, Rip and Ann.


But back to the wedding: Rip said his mom Ann was in charge of the food and to expect her call. And so began what was remains for me to this day, one of the most delightful adventures of my vegan baking life. Ann is widely considered the Julia Child of plant-based cuisine and she is as much fun ans she is knowlegable. The same can be said of the entire family.


It was decided that each table of guests, at least 10 I think, would have its own single layer glazed chocolate cake (an early version of the Chocolate Torte to Live For, updated in Vegan Chocolate) and Rip and Jill would cut a layer cake. I finished the cakes onsite and was invited to the wedding, which was simply amazing. My cakes are made using unsweetened cocoa and at least 50% whole-wheat pastry flour. (I used 100% whole-wheat pastry flour for Rip and Jill’s cakes. The wedding buffet followed SOS (no salt, oil, sugar) as prescribed by  Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and The Engine 2 Diet, other than the cake, which did contain some maple syrup, a small amount of fat, and teeny bit of vegan sugar. A caterer, non-vegan as I recall, prepared the food, from Ann and Rip’s recipes and the mostly non-vegan guests gobbled everything up — including, I am happy to say, the cakes. I made the rehearsal dinner treats too, as a gift, following SOS, which is to say, that recipes can be adapted. I did just that to make the Minty Frozen Chocolate Balls in Ann and daughter Jane’s enticing new cookbook.


Frankly, I didn’t expect the chocolate balls, which are made entirely with cocoa and not chocolate – no oil, no salt – to taste as good as they did, or to be as hard to resist as they were. I did make a few minor variations, which I have noted in the recipe. Whether you wish to follow the Esselstyn’s program absolutely, as many people do––former president Bill Clinton and actor Samuel Jackson, who endorsed the book, among them – or ‘lean in’ , the point is to eat more plants, whole foods, not fun foods. Then, you might have a once in a while treat, made to please your palate. The fact is, once you start eating clean, your taste changes. My personal mantra is to eat green and clean and then, assuming you are healthy and comfortable with doing so, save room for a once in a while treat. Rip included a recipe for my no sugar added, high percentage, no sugar or fat added Chocolate Truffles in his follow up cookbook: My Beef with Meat. These Minty Frozen Chocolate Balls are less indulgent, but no less yummy!


Frozen Chocolate Balls

Minty Frozen Chocolate Balls



  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • ⅓ cup pure maple syrup, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 tablespoon chocolate balsamic vinegar or Mandarin Chocolate balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets or any Grape-Nuts-like cereal


  1. Blend all but the oats and cereal together in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Add oats, and mix well.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper.
  4. Put Kashi Nuggets in a small saucer with sides or a small bowl.
  5. Using the big end of a melon baller or a small spoon, scoop up little wet, sticky chocolate
  6. balls one by one. Drop them in the Kashi, and with a spoon or with your fingers, gently cover
  7. the surface of the ball with nuggets. Carefully place them on the parchment paper (you may
  8. find it easiest to use your fingers). Flatten the balls slightly with the back of a spoon. Freeze.
  9. Remember to serve frozen or when they are just beginning to thaw.

Reprinted from The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2014, Ann and Jane Esselstyn.


Here are my variations and notes:

I used mint oil, which is much stronger than the extract in the recipe. If you do the same, add it drop by drop so the mint does not overpower. Ditto, if you were to use orange oil, which I did for test two. (The orange flavored chocolate balls were my favorite.)
Mixing the oats rtI did not have Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets or Grape Nuts in my pantry, but reasoned that if certified gluten-free oats were used and the wheat coating omitted, we’d have a gluten free recipe, easy peasy. The balls did need a coating though and a crunch. I used about 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, mixed with a teaspoon of good-for-us cinnamon to dust the chocolate-banana-oat mixture and then rolled them in heart healthy omega3 rich, crunchy chia seeds.

Chocolate Balls RT
I ate quite a few while I was rolling the not-as-messy-as I expected balls. Maybe that was because I froze the mixture first, and then defrosted it in the refrigerator, just until it could be shaped. I suggest working with half at a time. The photo shows bigger rounds than I made. 30-35 is more like it for walnut shaped rounds.

Sauce from part 1 recipe RT
I’m always interested in recipes that happen along the way to a finished recipe. Here I was excited to find the puree that binds the oats: cocoa, maple syrup, almond milk, banana, with a bit of the extract or oil, of your choosing, makes a WONDERFUL chocolate sauce to drizzle on fruit or a special Sunday brunch oatmeal. I am going to ask Ann and Jane what they think about this.
Today my freezer holds a bag of about 15 of naked Frozen Chocolate Balls. I’ll coat them in the crunchy cereal or cocoa powder and chia before serving. I like these semi-frozen best.

Ready to chill RT

I’m really interested in hearing what you think about the recipe as written and any variations you may make. Why not freeze the mixture flat and cut squares. What ideas do you have?


The book has many photos – all full color – and clear advice on setting up, stocking your pantry, and many tips. It reads like Ann and Jane are coaching you in the kitchen. I learned that you can sauté, make hummus, and roast veggies without oil and still eat delicious satisfying food. The Esselstyn family members are healthy, happy, athletic and passionate. The cookbook’s subtitle: Over 125 Life-Saving Plant Based Recipes is worthy of consideration.


I have a copy of the The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter.  Good luck and good eating!


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The Blender Girl Review, Recipe and Giveaway


“Hi, my name is Tess and I am a blendaholic” says Tess Masters, aka, The Blender Girl of the wildly popular website of the same name. Tess just released her first cookbook, also titled The Blender Girl.


As you’d expect from the title, there are plenty of blended beverages in this user friendly book, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to continue to chew your food! There are also recipes for as staples like dips, sauces, and condiments that can transform a simple plate of steamed vegetables, a salad, sandwiches, or other “sink your teeth into it” foods from bland to brilliant. Recipes for savory dishes include Fresh Spring Rolls with Orange-Almond Sauce, Twisted Caesar Pleaser, Spicy Chickpea Burgers with Portobello Buns and Greens, and I-Love-Veggies! Bake. Her desserts are out of this world, with recipes for  such treats as Chocolate-Chile Banana Spilly, Flourless Triple-Pecan Mousse Pie, and Chai Rice Pudding.


The recipes are definitely easy to make, foolproof when you follow Tess’s clear directions, and they are delicious, but I was surprised–in a good way– by the amount of food education found in the book. Nut-milk cheat sheets, soaking and sprouting charts, nutrient guides, and resources for finding ingredients are all in the book. While Tess uses the gold-standard Vitamix blenders, the book lists and compares other brands, including those that are considerably expensive.  Tess assures that any blender will successfully make the recipes in her book.


If you’ve seen Tess do a demo as I have—wow–you know she is a woman who exudes health, vitality, and enthusiasm. Her book, The Blender Girl, is like having Tess cheering you on in your kitchen.


As I make desserts nearly everyday, I am always on the lookout for healthy fruit and veg heavy blended drinks. I was drawn to the Anti-oxidant Avenger by the recipe’s name alone, but the photograph of this jewel tone beverage sealed the deal. I made it and trusted Tess’s promise: “Every recipe can easily be adjusted to your personal taste: add an extra squeeze of this, another handful of that, or leave something out altogether— my recipes are super easy and forgiving, so you can’t mess them up.” I did not have macqui in my pantry so I used a teaspoon of maca instead. The beverage was delicious and good for me.


Antioxidant Avenger

Antioxidant Avenger 

Serves 2


  • ½ cup (120ml) coconut water
  • ½ teaspoon probiotic powder (optional)
  • 1 packet (3.5 ounces/100g) frozen acai pulp, or 2 tablespoons dried acai powder
  • 2 teaspoons maqui powder
  • 2 cups (320g) mixed fresh or frozen berries (1/2 cup each of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries)
  • ½ cup (85g) red seedless grapes
  • 1 ripe pear, skin on, cored and diced
  • ½ teaspoon minced ginger (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest (optional)
  • 1 cup (125g) ice cubes
  • 1 chopped pitted date, soaked

Throw everything into your blender and puree on high for 30 to 60 seconds, until smooth and creamy. Tweak the sweetness to taste.

Tess has been kind enough to give me a book to share with a lucky reader. To enter to win, follow the instructions below. Good luck!

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Recipe and photos reprinted with permission from The Blender Girl by Tess Masters, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

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