Chef Fran Costigan

Vegan Cruise to Panama

New-Ad-May-LargerMy expectations for last year’s Vegan Cruise to Alaska with the Vegan Cruise Planners, The Vegan Zombie, Vegan Black Metal Chef, and Miyoko Schinner were very high, but still I was amazed when they were exceeded. Alaska has been on my bucket list after watching the film Chasing Ice, although I was not sure a if cruise was for me. Let me say now–underscore and all caps–that any cruise offered by Franci and Curtis, who are the Vegan Cruise planners, is a guaranteed unparalled cruise vacation for anyone. The ship was gorgeous, the service was top rate, the seated and mini meals and parties were so good, but the scenery was the star. I cried the entire time we were in Glacier Bay, overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of the glaciers. (Yes, signs of global warming are apparent.) And, as tends to be the norm on vegan vacations, close friendships were made. The 2016 Vegan Vacation at Sea to Panama sails from Ft Lauderdale to Panama, Oct 30th to November 9th!


East Coast meets West Coast on Vegan Cruise to Alaska

East Coast meets West Coast on Vegan Cruise to Alaska

We will be sailing away on what will be an unforgettable vegan voyage to the Panama Canal with Vegan Cruise Planners and a group of interesting vegans and those who are not yet vegan.  I’ll be joining Brian the Vegan Black Metal Chef, they guys we know as The Vegan Zombie, and looking forward to meeting award winning author and raw chocolate maker, Laurel Anderson on this sure to be memorable voyage. Our group will have our own dedicated dining room and servers for meals. Small snacks and mini meals are always available too–you’ll be glad for ths ship’s fitness center! Last year’s private vegan shore excursions were awesome, and I’m excited to learn what’s on for this time. Friendships will be made organically as we dine and play and talk together.


Panama Map from iStockSailing dates are October 30th through November 9th, 2016, and we’re departing from and returning to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We’ll spend 7 nights on Holland America Line’s luxurious ms Zuiderdam while visiting the beauty and warmth of the Caribbean and Panama Canal. Ports of call for the trip include Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Curacao, Panama Canal, Gatun Lake, Panama, and Costa Rica. Guests will enjoy creative cooking demonstrations from both myself and the other vegan chefs in the ship’s state of the art Culinary Arts Center, and we’ll dine on delicious vegan meals custom prepared for our group by Holland America Line’s culinary staff. We’ll also have exclusive private vegan shore excursions, as well as private vegan parties and social events. You’ll make lifelong friends and have an unforgettable time!


Pic of Us for Mail Chimp CampaignsFranci and Curtis, Vegan Cruise Planners, are your exclusive booking agent for the Vegan Vacation at Sea 2016. (You cannot book into our group with another agency or direct with the cruise line.) Registration is now open. Reserve your spot on Vegan Vacation at Sea 2016 with a refundable deposit of $350 per passenger. Booking now assures you of getting the stateroom you want, and final payment is not due until July 15th, 2016.

We do anticipate selling out, so if you’re ready to join the fun call us at 800.253.1984 or use the easy online registration tool:


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Vegan Sugar

Vegan Sugar

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “There is no holy grail of sweeteners.” Simply put, if something is too good to be true, it isn’t true. Organic, vegan sweeteners are less processed than granulated white sugar and liquid corn syrup, but they are still that sweeteners that are meant to be used in moderation. (And don’t get me started on artificial sweeteners that are chemicals!) Desserts are welcome treats and can be made better. Sugar alcohols, stevia too, behave differently from granulated sugars, and often contribute off taste, or digestive upset, or just not work. The liquid sweeteners, maple syrup, agave, molasses, rice syrup, sorghum syrup, have different properties and flavors and they are not interchangeable in batter based desserts.

I get so many questions about sweeteners, especially the granulated ones we call sugar. Here’s the deal: sugar is needed to make  batter based desserts that taste good and have a good crumb. Use the right one and in the smallest amount you can without compromising the dessert. That’s what I do. When a sugar-free dessert is what’s appropriate, choose fruit!

Granulated Sweeteners
Vegan and organic sugars are not filtered through bone char or bleached, like conventional white sugar, so it ranges in color from off white to light beige and in size from fairly fine to very fine. However, as the crystals of these sugars are always larger than conventional white sugar, I generally specify grinding them before using them in cake recipes. Beet sugar is never filtered through bone char, but I don’t use it since beets are a highly GMO crop.

My favorite brand of organic, vegan, fair-traded sugars is Wholesome!, but there are many others in the marketplace, including store brands like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

When granulated sugar has been ground to a super-fine consistency, it is known as Caster Sugar (UK) or Superfine Sugar (US) or Bakers Sugar

To make your own Caster Sugar (or Fran Sugar” )

  • Put 1 cup granulated sugar in a high-speed blender or 1/2 cup in a conventional blender, or larger nut of spice grinder. Repeat until you have made a quantity. You will have more sugar by measure than you started with so using weight is appropriate.
  • Pulse until it reaches a super-fine, but not powdery consistency.
  • Let the sugar settle for a few minutes.
  • Store in jars or any airtight container and use in place of the finely ground, superfine, or caster sugar called for in your recipe.

Powdered Sugar and Confectioners’ Sugar

  • Both are granulated sugars that have been completely pulverized into a very fine powder. They are not interchangeable though, because confectioner sugar has a small amount of cornstarch or tapioca starch added to keep the sugar from clumping together.
  • Do not substitute either for regular or superfine sugar

Okay, then what is Whole Cane Sugar, a.k.a. whole cane juice, evaporated cane juice, or dehydrated cane juice? This is cane sugar with all of the molasses from the sugar cane intact, which makes it a good substitute. Grind whole cane sugar to a powder before using so it will dissolve in baked goods and other desserts. Depending on the size of your blender, grind 1 to 2 cups at a time. (Do not be alarmed at the dust that rises when you open the blender lid.) You can grind the sugar ahead of time and store in an airtight container. Sift before using. Note that jaggery from India, piloncillo from Mexico and Latin America, and rapadura from South America are forms of non-granulated whole cane sugar. I don’t recommend grinding and using them in recipes since their moisture content is variable. I use organic fair trade Sucanat from Wholesome!. More detailed information about whole cane and other sweeteners is found on pages 21 through 23 in Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts.

Coconut Sugar (or coconut palm sugar) is a sustainable sugar made from the sap of the coconut palm tree flower. Its flavor reminds me of a mild brown sugar with caramel overtones that I have come to appreciate, particularly in coconut-based desserts. Make sure to buy palm sugar from a reputable supplier, as much of what is sold in Asian markets contains a blend of fillers like white cane sugar. Grind to a powder in a blender before using and store in an airtight container. It is less strong tasting than whole cane sugar and quite lovely. Your light colored batter-based desserts will be darker when this sugar is used.

Maple Sugar is evaporated maple syrup and was for many years the only sugar I used. But as my desserts have become more refined, I reserve this sugar to use in maple-forward desserts or as a garnish. Grind to a powder in a blender if coarse, and store in an airtight container. It is less sweet than organic cane sugar, and quite a bit more expensive. Your light colored batter-based desserts will be darker when this sugar is used.

I appreciate the subtle flavor that organic, less refined sugars add to a recipe, unlike white sugar that is just sweet. Lately I favor coconut sugar when darker color doesn’t matter. What are your favorite granulated sugars?

Wholesome sugarI have a signed copy of my book Vegan Chocolate and bags of Wholesome! Cane Sugar, Coconut Palm Sugar, and Sucanat for one lucky winner. Follow the instructions below to enter. U.S. residents only, please. Contest ends at midnight on Tuesday, May 24th. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Vegan Sicilian Sweets

Vegan Sicilian SweetsOn Sunday, March 6th, I co-hosted a tasting of authentic vegan Sicilian sweets, as well as savory food, that just happened to be vegan. I had a great time veganizing some traditional Sicilian desserts. The pistachio paste was already vegan, which is often the case with Italian foods. Thanks to Gretchen and Pascale of Tierno Tours, we also sampled foods and wine from the region. It’s May now, and I wanted to write again about the amazing trip to Sicily that I have planned with Gretchen, Pascale, and Donna of Green Earth Travel. You don’t have to be vegan to come spend 8 days with me – October 6-14, 2016 – in Sicily but if you are, you sure won’t be worrying about the food. And if you aren’t, you sure will be well fed, too!


oranges and fennel

Photo of Blood Orange and Fennel Salad courtesy of Vegan Travel Club

For the March event, Gretchen of Tireno Tours made calzones, caponata – which is an eggplant-based dish well-known in Sicily, and one of my all time favorite dishes – a simple salad of oranges and fennel. Pasquale, her partner in life and business, told us about the region’s red wine.


Crema Pistacci (Pistachio Nut Spread)

Creama Pistacchi

Pistachio Nut Spread

This recipe is based on Sicilian pistachio nut paste. The color is rather like split pea soup but the taste is pure Italy. I so excited to make this in Italy with the legendary Sicilian pistachios. I’m thinking Crema Pistachio Gelato!

Yield: 1 cup


  • 8 ounces shelled, raw, unsalted  pistachios (start with 16 ounces)
  • 5 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, more if needed to adjust consistency.


  1. Process the pistachios in a food processor until very fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the sugar, salt and olive oil. Process until a smooth and almost runny paste is achieved. This can take up to 10-12 minutes in a standard food processor.
  3. Spoon into a clean jar with tight fitting lid. Refrigerated, this spread should stay fresh for a couple of weeks. Trite maybe to say, but it will never last.
  4. Use as you would any nut butter. I served it on untested baguette slices and popped a plumped dried cherry on each. I served some on gluten free crackers too.


Brutti Ma Buoni Photo courtesy of Vegan Travel Club

Brutti Ma Buoni Photo courtesy of Vegan Travel Club

Mocha Hazelnut Chocolate Meringue Cookies
My newest creation and I am beyond excited. The recipe will be shared at some point, but not yet. This cookie is chickpea meringue based and contains hazlenut flour, chocolate, and espresso. Light as a feather in texture, with a great, assertive taste.


pudding cup

Photo courtesy of Vegan Travel Club

Budino al Ciccolato Cannele di Modica Azteca, a.k.a. Cinnamon Chocolate Pudding
Chocolate from Modica is very famous, and for me it is a puzzle. Why is Aztec style chocolate found to this day in Italy, and made as it has been for millennia? We will find out on our tour when we visit the oldest chocolate shop in Modica and the Chocolate Museum



Mini Gluten Free Brownies

Bocconicinidi Brownie senza glutine

Gluten-Free Brownie Bites
Did you know that gluten free is very normal now in Italy?


Chocolate Blood Orange and Sesame Truffles. Photo courtesy of Vegan Travel Club

Chocolate Blood Orange and Sesame Truffles. Photo courtesy of Vegan Travel Club

Chocolate Blood Orange and Sesame Truffles
These are my my Chocolate Orange Sesame Truffles, but as Blood Oranges are found in Sicily, I subbed its juice for standard orange juice.


I hope you will join me in Sicily this October as we explore the region. For more information or to book your trip, visit the Vegano Italiano website:



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