The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of businesses to rethink how they do business.
When restaurants closed and wholesale orders dropped off, Skull & Cakebones owners Yauss Berenji and Sascha Biesi knew their model for running the vegan bakery and wholesale baked good company near Dripping Springs wasn’t going to work in this new food economy.
In the first weeks, they offered curbside pickup, but after employees expressed unease with the continued contact with customers, Berenji and Biesi started toying around with an idea they'd been wanting to explore for a while: at-home baking kits.
"It's been something we've been wanting to do for at least two years," Berenji says. "This just lit the fire under our (expletive)."
They are now selling baking kits for pancakes, scones, cakes and, soon, biscuits. Each kit includes dry and wet ingredients, plus instructions on how to combine and bake them. Biesi has also been shooting tutorial videos for the company's Instagram page.
In addition to many of their signature desserts, which are also available for delivery, Skull & Cakebones is also selling a French toast kit and cupcake kits with a bag of frosting and a jar of sprinkles, as well as grocery staples such as overnight oats, cookie dough, salad dressing, a veggie broth powder, Barton Springs flour, yeast, vegan mayonnaise and a brisket-inspired tempeh from Hearty Vegan.
Skull & Cakebones has also teamed up with Torchy's Tacos to offer a vegan shrimp and barbacoa taco dinner that includes vegan shrimp, jackfruit barbacoa and cashew-based queso.
They are offering delivery locally on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and shipping throughout the U.S. on many items. For more info, go to skullandcakebones.com.
In other good vegan news, the Tarrytown market Rabbit Food Grocery has been busier than ever since the coronavirus pandemic struck, says co-owner Jessica Morris, who opened the store in 2012.
Morris says that customers previously came to the store at 2425 Exposition Blvd. for the specialty vegan items they offered, but not the fresh produce or pantry staples. "We never sold dry beans or rice, and now we go through a case every three days," she says.
Several notable vegan eateries are now selling some of their products at Rabbit Food Grocery. Arlo's is selling ready-to-cook versions of its popular vegan burgers, "bacon" and mac-and-cheese in the frozen section, and Possum Pizza is making take-and-bake versions of its pizza. Morris says both businesses had never sold their products directly to customers through a retail outlet but plan continue to do so even after the pandemic is over.
The store has also added grab-and-go meals from vegan eateries including Bistro Vonish, Bruja’s Brew and Counter Culture, who have been closed during the shelter-in-place order. When Vegg Catering’s weddings and events canceled, they started making family meals that are now available at the Tarrytown grocer, too.
The store also sells baked goods from local bakeries Capital City Bakery, Celeste’s Best and Happy Vegan Baker, which all usually sell at coffee shops and restaurants.
Morris says they only let four people in at a time to comply with physical distancing guidelines, but that creates a calm shopping environment. The best days to shop are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, she says. They get fresh produce delivered on Wednesdays, she says, and partner companies are making deliveries every day.
"It’s honestly been amazing," she says. "The entire vegan community has come together to try to keep these businesses afloat."
Morris says she hopes to soon start carrying even more products from local restaurants, such as Bouldin Creek breakfast or Beer Plant barbecue sauce. Morris is considering adding in-house delivery, but for now, people can place orders online for pickup.
"Every day I try to look at the bright side," she says. "I think this is going to change how people grocery shop in the future. It won't be as crazy, but people are going to want to get delivery and curbside more in general."
Make your own tempeh
Since we’re talking about vegan essentials, I came across a recipe for making your own tempeh using an Instant Pot. It’s from Kathy Hester, author of a new book called "Gluten-Free Vegan Cooking in Your Instant Pot" (Page Street Publishing, $21.99).
Hester uses the pressure cooking function of the Instant Pot to cook the black beans quickly, but the low-temperature fermentation of those beans happens on the yogurt function, the lowest heat setting on many multicookers.
Mine doesn’t have a yogurt function, though, but tempeh only requires a temperature of around 88 degrees, which is what my kitchen feels like right now. Local homebrew stores carry tempeh starters and you can also buy them online.
Easy Homemade Tempeh
Making tempeh is easier than I thought it would be. The trick is to make sure you don’t cook the beans too long and that they are completely dry before you add the vinegar and starter to them. Please note that fermentation can take longer than it’s "supposed" to, but as long as you start to see the white mycelium continue to grow, then it’s working. You’ll need a 6-quart or 8-quart Instant Pot for this recipe.
Using pasteurized vinegar helps keeps the bad bacteria at bay, while allowing the mycelium to grow. It may look like your tempeh went bad when the white spores turn black or gray. This will most likely happen if you ferment too long, or it may just occur around the holes you poked in the bags. It’s safe to eat as long as it’s not moldy and it doesn’t have a bad smell.
— Kathy Hester
6 cups water
1 pound dry black-eyed peas
1 tablespoon white vinegar or pasteurized apple cider vinegar (Not raw or homemade)
1 packet tempeh starter culture, such as Cultures for Health
Add the water and black-eyed peas to your Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Release the pressure manually.
Drain and rinse the cooked beans. Strain the beans to make sure they are as dry as possible so the culture can do its job. I put two layers of paper towels or clean dish towels on two large cookie sheets. Then carefully spread the beans into as close to a single layer as you can. Cover with another layer of paper towels or a clean dish towel.
Let the beans sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. I carefully roll the layers up to get out the last of the moisture. You don’t want to squish the beans.
Transfer the beans to a large, very clean bowl. Add in the white vinegar. Using a rice paddle or large wooden spoon, mix well without smashing the beans.
Add the tempeh starter culture and mix well; the culture needs to be as evenly distributed as possible.
Take two quart-size freezer bags and poke holes about 1 inch apart all over the bags in a grid format. You don’t want the holes to be huge, so use a toothpick or metal skewer to make them.
Place half the bean mixture into each bag. You want to take up half the freezer bag and make it about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick.
Add the rack to your Instant Pot. Carefully, place the bags in without overlapping. In an 8-quart Instant Pot you can lay both bags flat, but in a 6-quart you will need to angle them a little.
Press the yogurt setting and set for 48 hours; make sure the lid is vented, or you can use the slow cooker lid if you have one. Note: You may need to repeat this step when you check on your tempeh.
Check the beans after 12 hours to see if you can see any of the white mycelium. You may only see specks at this point, but don’t worry. Turn over the packets.
Check every 12 to 24 hours and flip. When the beans are solid and held together by the white spores, the tempeh is done. This can take 36 to 48 hours or more.
You can stop the culturing by placing the tempeh in the fridge. You can store it just like this for up to 10 days.
Not planning on eating it all in 10 days? You can freeze your tempeh, too. You just need to do one more step. Place each tempeh cake into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove, dry and place in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. It will freeze for up to 12 months.
— From "Gluten-Free Vegan Cooking in Your Instant Pot" by Kathy Hester (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)