Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Preserved Lemons

preserved lemons 069_thumbPreserved lemons are often described as one of the signature flavors of North African cooking, adding a salty, citrus note to pilafs, tagines, and stews. I haven't been to Morocco or Algeria or Tunisia (yet!), nor have I ever tasted preserved lemons, but the latter will change in a few weeks. That's when this quart jar of lemons, salt, and spices will come to maturity, and I'll pretend I'm sitting down for a bowl of lentil tagine with preserved lemons in Tangier or Casablanca. How's that for budget travel?

Organic lemons are preferred for this, because the peels are the ultimate ingredient, and that's where pesticides can concentrate in non-organic lemons. Some preserved lemon recipes call for nothing more than lemons and salt, and some include lots of spices and sweeteners. I took the middle path, with lemons, salt, and spices, but no sweetener.

After sterilizing a wide mouth quart jar and lid in boiling water, I filled the jar with layers of sea salt (a half cup!), quartered lemons, and spices including cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, a cinnamon stick, and black peppercorns. If this works out, I'll post the actual recipe in a few weeks...I don't want to lead anyone astray in the meantime :) After filling the jar with lemons, I squeezed the juice of the extra lemons into the jar, until all of the lemon quarters were submerged in lemon juice. I used about two pounds of lemons in total. Now I'm shaking the jar every day, to keep the salt and juice mixed. The pickled lemons are rinsed of much of the salt before eating, so don't be freaked out by that half cup of salt.

This is sort of a recipe in progress, so I'll be back in a few weeks with the results, and hopefully a fabulous Moroccan recipe to showcase these guys. Meanwhile...

preserved lemons 065_thumb[1][1]

I've meant to make the tempeh sausage pastry puffs from Vegan Brunch since the first time I opened that book, but felt like they deserved a special occasion. I don't think Monday Night Football qualifies as a special occasion, especially when the Vikings lose, but I went ahead and made these last night anyway. They're delicious, with a spice mixture including fennel seeds, sage, thyme, red pepper flakes, and mustard seeds giving them a definite sausage vibe. Great served with mushroom gravy.

preserved lemons 043

Another cookbook winner, this is a take on the Pad See Ew from Vegan Yum Yum. The greens are yu choy, which is pretty close to Chinese broccoli. The rice noodles here are kind of interesting too - Thai noodles called "Rice Flake" on the package. They look like flat cut-up squares of dry spring roll wrapper, but when cooked they roll up into cylinders. I was entertained (it's winter), and the noodle tubes are nice vehicles for the sweet and spicy Pad See Ew sauce. Yu choy is harvested fairly young, so even the stems are pretty tender after a quick stir fry.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cremini and Oyster Mushroom Pizza Rolls


Whenever we bring food home for the holidays, or to work or a potluck, we are ambassadors from vegan land. Our diplomatic duty is to show that vegan food isn't weird or bland or covered with alfalfa sprouts. Not to diss alfalfa sprouts, but they have their place. Vegans know we eat awesome food, but there are still some pretty powerful mindsets to overcome. My entry at Christmas this year will be these pizza rolls, inspired by this post at Bitten, Mark Bittman's blog at the New York Times.

The post is by Annemarie Conte, one of the blog's contributors. Many of the comments asked about making vegetarian or vegan versions of the rolls, which were heavy on mushrooms but also contained cheese and pork. I kept the mushrooms, but added sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and capers. You could dress these up with all kinds of things - vegan cheese, cooked spinach or other tender greens, olives, marinated artichokes, etc. Anything you would like on a pizza. I just used what was on hand.

I chopped the oyster and cremini mushrooms to tiny bits in the food processor, and sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil for about five minutes. Next I added finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic, and two teaspoons of capers. Saute for a few minutes more, until the mushrooms release most of their moisture and the mixture is very fragrant. After cooling for a few minutes, spread the mushroom mixture on a prepared rectangular sheet of pizza dough. I'll probably use a home made dough next time I make these, but I was in a convenience mood and used Pillsbury pizza dough, which is vegan :) After topping the dough just as if you're making a pizza, roll it up and press the edges together. I baked the roll at 375 for about 20-25 minutes, and served the slices with a good pasta sauce. The rolls are plenty good on their own, but the sauce is a nice addition.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sesame Long Beans with Five Spice Tofu

tofu beans plate

This dish came about as I was fiddling with two different recipes over the weekend. I made some roasted tofu last night, inspired by a tofu technique from Chow Vegan which uses paprika to give the tofu a striking red coating. The tofu cubes are oven roasted on parchment paper, which is helpful in two ways: first, the spice mixture tends to stick better to the tofu rather than the baking dish. Second, by using a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper instead of a smaller baking dish, there's more space between each tofu cube, which helped them brown nicely. (tofu recipe below)

I hadn't cooked long beans (a.k.a. yard long beans) before, but picked some up at Fargo's Asian and American Market. These long beans - close relatives of black-eyed peas, by the way - weren't quite a yard, but still pretty lanky. I cut them into thirds.

raw long beans

Sesame Long Beans

This recipe features all things sesame, at least in my kitchen, with dark sesame oil, tahini (sesame seed paste), and white and black sesame seeds for garnish.

10 to 12 long beans, ends trimmed and cut in thirds

1 tbsp. peanut oil or other vegetable oil

1 tbsp. dark sesame oil

1 tsp. sugar

1 tbsp. tamari or other good quality soy sauce

1 tbsp. tahini

1/4 cup water, sake, or white wine (I used wine)

Black and white sesame seeds, 1 tsp. each

Over high heat, stir fry the beans in the oil (you can get by with less - I tend to be generous with oil). Mix the sugar, tamari, tahini, and water or wine in a small bowl, and add to the beans after they begin to soften. They cook quickly, so this is just around 3 or 4 minutes on medium high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, for another couple of minutes, just until the sauce thickens. Let cool a minute before serving, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Roasted Five Spice Tofu

Paprika is the dominant spice here by quantity, but a little Chinese five spice powder goes a long way, and that's the flavor you'll notice. I made a slurry (for lack of a better term...slurries never sound very appetizing) with 1 tbsp. peanut oil, 1 tsp. tamari, 1 tbsp. Hungarian paprika, and 1/4 tsp. five spice powder. Coat the tofu cubes evenly in the oil-spice mix, and roast on parchment paper at 400 F for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

You can make your own five spice powder - it contains Sichuan peppercorns, anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel - but I use a prepared blend from the store.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cheesy Mac and Ginger Tea (comfort food and drink)

mac cheez ginger tea 004

Winter arrived with blunt force this week, and the long semi-hibernation of the upper midwest begins anew. I’ve turned to a couple of my favorite comfort food standbys to cope. This time of year at work means catching up on all our remaining outside jobs of fall, even though it’s been below 0 F most mornings. Before and after work it's dog time, though they're tougher than I am regarding the cold. After our walks I spend much of my time inside just being grateful I’m no longer outside. Mac and cheese and ginger tea keep me from feeling too sorry for myself :)


The cheesy macaroni above is an amalgam of lots of vegan recipes, with a cheesy sauce of nutritional yeast, vegan cream cheese, tahini, miso, lemon juice, non-sweetened almond milk, and the rest of the usual suspects. I prepared the pasta and sauce, then mixed in a can of tomatoes and a bunch of fresh spinach, and baked it for about a half hour. The result was a really nice hotdish, or casserole, or whatever you like.


Ginger tea is another reason to make peace with winter. It’s super easy – just chop fresh ginger into coarse bits, then boil it in a few cups of water over a medium flame for 20 minutes or so. Strain it into your mug, and it’s pure bliss. I often add a little agave nectar for sweetener, and in the bottom shot I mixed in about a tbsp. of pomegranate juice.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Somali Sambusas

I found out about sambusas just a few weeks ago, at Fargo's new International Grocery store. They have home-made sweet breads and other Somali specialties, and were very generous with free samples, so they've earned a fan here :)

Their sambusas - Somalia's samosa, you could say - looked good, but had a beef filling. I was curious to make my own, and found a very nice recipe at My Somali Food. That recipe is also for beef sambusas, but I just substituted cooked lentils and was on my way. Browned onions, garlic, scallions, and green chile, along with generous shots of cardamom, cumin, and coriander, make the lentils something special. Here's my recipe, heavily borrowing from My Somali Food:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups cooked and drained brown lentils
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 chopped green chile (I used one serrano pepper)
2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. cardamom powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Wrapper dough
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp. olive oil
2/3 cup luke warm water
1/2 tsp. salt

I made the filling and wrapper the night before assembling and frying, just so the filling was cool and the dough had rested. For the filling, saute the onions in oil for about five minutes on medium heat, until they start to soften. Then add the garlic, chopped serrano pepper, and scallions, and saute for a minute or two more. Add all of the spices, and saute another minute, just until they become toasted and fragrant - you'll know :) Add the cooked lentils and fresh cilantro at the end, give it a stir, and remove from heat. Cover and let sit a couple hours or overnight. I lightly processed it all in the food processor at the end, which helps the lentils stick together and makes the filling easier to work with.

Mix the dough ingredients well, and let it rest at least a half hour or overnight as well.

The rest is easy, as long as you're careful while frying. Roll golf ball size pieces of dough out very thin - between 1/4 and 1/8 of an inch, if you can, and cut them in squares. Place a heaping spoonful of lentil filling in the center of each square, like this:

This dough is fairly moist, so you should be able to seal it just by pressing firmly, without fussing with water or a water/dough paste. I pressed the edges together and trimmed them with a scissors, making a neat, sealed triangle.
That's about it! I fried these in a half inch of canola oil in my cast iron pan, about 4 at a time over medium-high heat. A deep fryer is a better option, and they would be nice baked too.

And now for something completely different. From deep-fried and spicy to sweet and mostly raw, this is the cashew-cranberry cheesecake from the Nov/Dec 09 Vegetarian Times. It's straight from the magazine, though I subbed agave nectar for honey...there might be a little maple syrup in there too. I brought these home for Thanksgiving - my mom loved them, which is a good endorsement. The cranberry topping is awesome, and my mom couldn't believe there wasn't cream cheese in the filling.All the cashews make this recipe a little pricey, but it's worth it for company or a holiday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sweet Potato dog biscuits, and people food

My two dogs - big Otter and little Maya - are big fans of home-made dog biscuits. Many dog treats include stuff that reminds me why I went vegan in the first place, like "animal digest." That kind of blew my mind when I first saw it, but it's a common ingredient in many products.

There are lots of good companies that make vegan and vegetarian dog treats, but they can be a little pricey. My standby solution is a peanut butter biscuit recipe, but this time I used half sweet potato and half peanut butter. It was an experiment - Otter and Maya love their peanut butter, but they gave these sweet potato biscuits two paws up.

Here's the recipe, really easy with a food processor:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or 1/2 cup roasted sweet potato, or a 1/4 cup of each)
1 1/2 tbsp. molasses (optional...I'm out of molasses too)
3 tbsp. canola oil
1 cup liquid, more or less (I use half non-dairy milk, and half water)

1. Combine everything except the water-milk mixture in food processor, and process until fine and crumbly. Keeping it running, add the liquid little by little, just until the biscuit dough balls together and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

2. Roll dough out until it's about a half inch thick, and cut with your favorite cookie cutter. I bake these at 375 F for about 25 minutes, flipping all of the biscuits halfway through so they brown on both sides.

Readers without companion animals may not be with me any longer, but if you stuck around, here's some people food. A couple of Isa recipes, from Vegan Brunch and Vegan With a Vengeance, plus my first experiment with sourdough bread.

The VB omelette recipe always makes me happy, here stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and Tofutti mozzarella slices. Tofu and chickpea flour, with some seasonings, and you'll never miss eggs again.

Here's a plate of Jerk Seitan, from VwaV, along with coconut-lime rice. Still one of my favorite recipes from VwaV.

Making sourdough starter is cool, just because it's fun to do things you're not supposed to do, like letting food sit around and ferment for a few days. This sourdough rye is from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Georgian Cilantro & Apricot Sauce

I learned about this sauce from the Republic of Georgia from an episode of The Splendid Table a few weeks back. Guest Martha Rose Shulman was talking about all kinds of wonderful cilantro based sauces, and included this recipe, adapted from Dara Goldstein's The Georgian Feast.

This versatile sauce features lots of cilantro and parsley, along with walnuts and dried apricots, soaked in boiling water and left overnight. Dried fruits like dates, raisins, figs, etc., almost always offer other cooking possibilities when they're rehydrated. I thought these dried apricots looked nice after spending the night in a jar filled with boiling water, almost doubling in size.

Soaking the apricots is the only advance step in this easy recipe, and your food processor or blender does the rest of the work. Here's the ingredients, listed in the order in which they were processed...I think it helps to do the garlic and walnuts first, to make sure they're finely ground before adding the rest:

4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1 cup dried apricots, soaked overnight (or at least a few hours) in 1 cup boiling water
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 bunch (2 cups or so) fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 bunch (about 1 cup) fresh parsley
5 tbsp. walnut oil
reserved soaking water from apricots

After processing everything else in your blender or food processor, add the soaking water until the sauce reaches the consistency you like. I left mine a little thick, like a pesto.

Speaking of pesto, this evokes a classic basil pesto, but cilantro is the dominant flavor, and the pureed apricots lend both a citrus taste and a velvety texture. You could use this just about anywhere - I spread it over grilled marinated tofu, with roasted sweet potaotes, steamed broccoli, and some rice. After the photo, I just blended everything together, with the cilantro-apricot sauce smothering everything in sweet Georgian goodness.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Raw Breakfast Cakes, and Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

Today's theme is brown, lumpy food that tastes way better than it may look. I promise.

I based the breakfast cakes above on Ani Phyo's coconut breakfast cakes in Ani's Raw Food Kitchen. They look like veggie burgers, but the idea is pancakes...they might be prettier if I had used golden flax seeds. The basic recipe also includes coconut oil, which is expensive but worth it, especially if you use it sparingly. Banana pieces, blueberries, maple syrup, and walnuts are worked into the "dough," and sprinkled on top.

Since flax cakes may seem aggressively health-foody, you might think the taste or texture suffers for it. Happily, they're really light, and the maple syrup and bananas combine for a silky smooth texture. Not at all gritty or chewy, which I'd expected.

Chasing away any thoughts of eating raw are these black-eyed pea fritters, from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen. They're brown, they're lumpy, and they're great. They also include peanuts, and are crunchy and spicy and greasy in the best possible way, as the soaked black-eyed pea and peanut batter nuggets are deep-fried in canola oil. I had these with a sweet and sour Thai mango dipping sauce.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Books and other good ideas

This evening I picked up Jonathan Safran Foer's new book about ethical vegetarianism, Eating Animals. I just heard about it this weekend, so in my expectation and hope that it's as good as its advance reviews, I thought I'd pass it along.

Maybe it's just my selective consumption of pop culture and fleeting optimisim, but I really believe we're in that transitional time when a social justice movement is moving from punchline to something that can't be marginalized any longer. It's like the Gandhi line - first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Since I'm off food and talking about authors I like, here's another one. Karen Armstrong is leading a project called Charter for Compassion, which will be unveiled on November 12. It's an admirable effort, calling on people of all faiths - and no faith - to affirm that all of the great cultural traditions share at their core a call for compassion. Shame it's taken us a few millenia to agree on that, but better late than never.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Carrot Gnocchi with Basil Pesto

Gnocchi, the tender little Italian dumplings, usually consist of cooked potatoes and flour. I see winter squash gnocchi here and there, but hadn't thought of making gnocchi with carrots until I saw the recipe in Marcella Says... , from Italian cooking jedi master Marcella Hazan. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, since boiled and especially roasted carrots develop such a sweet, squash-like flavor.

Hazan found carrot gnocchi in Friuli in northeastern Italy, and compares them favorably to pumpkin gnocchi in Venice. I adapted the recipe to omit an egg yolk, some cheese, and butter. The gnocchi binded well without the egg and cheese, and olive oil was an even match for the butter.

I first boiled the carrots until very soft, then sauteed them with onion in olive oil, until the onions were lightly browned and the carrots beginning to brown. Then they're pureed in a food processor, scraping the sides several times to make as smooth a puree as possible. Carrots aren't quite as amenable as squash or potato to pureeing, so it pays to put a little time into it.

The carrot-onion puree is seasoned with a little salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Make a gnocchi dough by adding tablespoons of all-purpose flour until you have a very soft dough. I got by with about six tablespoons.

Hazan's method for cooking these was new to me too. First the gnocchi are boiled like dumplings for just a little while (she calls for only a few seconds, but I left them in for a minute or so), and then plunged in ice water. You do this a few gnocchi at a time, which keeps the boiling water from dropping in temperature. After they're all boiled, they're tossed with olive oil and sage leaves, and baked for about 10 minutes in a 400 F oven.

Here they are out of the oven. I coated them with a pesto of fresh basil, lemon juice, walnuts, and sun-dried tomatoes. The contrast of sweet gnocchi with the lemony basil pesto was memorable, until I make my way to Friuli someday :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ginger and Maple-Roasted Veggies & Tempeh

I've been roasting all kinds of vegetables the past few days, one of the few good things about all the rain and cold we've been putting up with lately. I approach roast vegetables the same way I usually make soup, in that it's less about having a plan and more about using whatever odds and ends are on hand. Either way, you just cook them all together until all the flavors are mingling and getting along nicely.

This one includes brussels sprouts, apples, turnips, red bell pepper, sweet potato, mushrooms, and tempeh. After tossing everything in olive oil, it's roasted in a glass baking dish at about 375 F, with aluminum foil over the pan for the first 30 minutes. Removing the foil for the last 30 minutes or so allows for good browning...it's basically steamed for the first half hour, then roasted in dry heat for the last half hour.

Seasoning can be very simple - a little salt and pepper, along with the oil, and it's great. On the other hand, I also like adding some assertive flavors, since roasted veggies usually become sweeter and more mellow. This entry included grated fresh ginger, a half dozen whole garlic cloves, some fresh sage leaves, maple syrup, and a tbsp. of balsamic vinegar.

Tofu scramble is one of the joys of being vegan. Nutritional yeast, black salt, and turmeric transform crumbled tofu into scrambled eggs, and a bunch of fresh veggies make this look as vibrant as it tastes. It's almost November, and I'm still eating fresh cherry tomatoes, as the ones I picked before freeze are still holding up inside.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rosemary Cannellini Beans

I've made this a few times over the summer and fall, since I have a little rosemary plant in the garden...it's one of the final garden survivors after multiple freezing nights, along with my sage and Italian parsley plants. I've been covering them with winter coats over a wire frame every night, but I think we're losing the fight. Everything else is done and pulled out.

This is super easy, and usually a lunch time meal. Fresh rosemary leaves are tossed into a pan with lightly fried garlic in extra virgin olive oil, then the drained beans are tossed in and cooked just until they're warmed through. It's sprinkled with coarsely ground bread crumbs, also fried in a little olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt, and splash a little more olive oil on the final product. I like to sprinkle a tiny bit of lemon juice on this too. This is worth it for the fragrance alone - rosemary is pretty subtle tasting, but the smell is wonderful - you know you're eating real food.

It's been raining, snowing, and chilly all week, and it caught up with me when I caught a little cold a couple days ago. That was my cue to make vegetable soup with kale and dumplings, and I'm feeling much better now. These dumplings are just flour, Earth Balance margarine, and water, mixed to the consistency of a slightly gooey bread dough. Added to a hot pot of soup, they're cooked for about 10 minutes on a low simmer.

I made this a little while back, but forgot to include it here. On the left are cumin-spiced oyster mushrooms, and on the right sauteed green pea shoots with tamari and sesame oil. I've just discovered pea shoots this summer, and I'm a big fan. They taste like fresh green peas, with the texture of spinach, so they cook in just minutes. In the middle is fried marinated tofu, with a tamarind glaze from Vegan Yum Yum. Here's the tamarind recipe from the VYY blog, also in the cookbook.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Smoky Spicy Spanish Seitan Sausages

I think seitan is an acquired taste for some people, but it lends itself to some delicious creations, especially when coming up with meat analogs. When making seitan, or other patties or sausages featuring wheat gluten, I like using bold spices and flavors. These don't mask so much as outshine the taste of straight wheat gluten, which I'll admit isn't the top reason to go vegan.

With that approach in mind, I intentionally went into high gear with the spices in these sausages. They're close relatives of the chorizo recipe in Vegan Brunch, with a heavy dose of smoked Spanish paprika, aka Pimenton de la Vera. I even used a little liquid smoke, which I'm usually not very crazy about, ever since a traumatic episode with a pot of chili. That's when I learned that a little liquid smoke goes a very long way, and a lot of liquid smoke will ruin a pot of chili beyond any hope of repair. I'm coming back around to appreciate it in certain recipes, though it should be used drop by drop. Maybe even with a syringe :)

Here's my ingredients:
1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten flour
1/3 cup chickpea flour
3 cloves garlic, finely minced, or ideally grated with a microplane
1 cup water (or vegetable broth, if you have some)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika
1 tbsp. tamari, braggs, or soy sauce
1 tbsp. hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp. cayenne powder
1/8 tsp (just a couple drops) liquid smoke
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sea salt

The easiest way to do these is with two bowls. Mix the flours and nutritional yeast flakes in one bowl, and the grated garlic, water or broth, oil, tomato paste, and spices in another bowl. When both are well combined, mix together and stir just until all of the flour is incorporated. Divide into four equal portions.

If you don't have Vegan Brunch, the trick to making these is to form them into vaguely sausagey shapes, then wrap fairly tightly in aluminum foil. I steam these in a vegetable steamer in my soup pot, first bringing the water to a quick boil, then steaming over very low heat for about an hour. While they're cooking they expand into the aluminum foil rolls to form perfect cylinders. Pretty neat.

I made a couple of rice dishes with sausage chunks lightly sauteed in olive oil. The first is sort of a no-bake version of a baked Mediterranean rice and tomato recipe. Seitan sausages, fried onions, garden tomatoes, Italian parsley, and white rice. Sprinkled with a little more extra virgin olive oil, smoked paprika, and sea salt, and it sounds pretty good to me.

This is the same rice and seitan base, with fried onions, pistachios, and plump raisins that were soaked in hot water. I'll call it a pilaf, as it's seasoned with ground cumin and coriander, and has a sort of Middle Eastern feel. I love soaked raisins in savory dishes, because they're these sweet, juicy little surprises amid the all the spiciness.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cherry Tomato and Olive Pizza

If this looks suspiciously similar to my previous post, it's because I had a fair amount of leftover dough when I made focaccia a few days ago. I'm calling this one a pizza, but it's the exact same dough recipe and baking time. One handy trick I learned baking these is to finish the pizza/focaccia by carefully removing it from your pizza pan, and baking it for the final 3 to 5 minutes right on the oven rack. This ensures a crispy, crunchy, deliciously golden-brown bottom crust.

I'm savoring this one, because it contains some of my last cherry and green zebra tomatoes, along with chopped kalamata olives and oregano. I have a few tomatoes left outside, but I know it's going to freeze soon...we might even get a little snow tonight, which I'm in complete denial about.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Focaccia with Portobello Mushrooms and Crispy Sage

My job was rained out today and yesterday, which hasn't happened for months. Although it's pretty early in the fall to start having rain or snow days, I can't say I don't love the idea of a surprise four-day weekend :)

Since I knew I'd have some time on my hands, I decided to bake bread. I also have a beautiful sage plant in the garden, so this focaccia recipe from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's The Italian Country Table looked like a good idea. The recipe calls for 30 fresh sage leaves, fried to a light crisp in olive oil, and topping the bread along with mushrooms and garlic.

I've made focaccia a couple of times before, but this was my favorite. It might be because of the accidental mix of flours - using what I had on hand in half-empty bags, this contains whole wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, and spelt flour. This was absolutely delicious, especially straight out of the oven, and accompanied with Kasper's recommendation of a little red wine. If only every day was a day off.

I'll steal a paragraph from Lynne to close out - she has a wonderful way of presenting food in a cultural context that somehow makes the results even more enjoyable:

"So what is focaccia? In my Italian dictionary, similar words reveal an intriguing pattern. Focolaio means focus, hotbed, center of all. Focolare is hearth, fireplace, home and focus. In Italy, they say, "I return to my hearth," when telling of going back home. The word focaccia can embrace all low breads and tarts, leavened or unleavened, that are baked on a griddle like a pancake, baked in shallow pans buried in embers on the hearth or baked in the oven."

- from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rosetto Kasper

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Buttercup Squash & Sage Ravioli (with Roasted Garlic & Walnut Sauce)

We're in that nice seasonal window when the gardens are still producing, the farmers markets are still rolling, and it's cool enough at night to turn on the oven and roast some veggies. Last night I roasted a bunch of garlic, a dozen beets, and a buttercup squash. I like doing this with a bunch of vegetables on the weekend, so they're easy and convenient for lunch and quick suppers during the week.

Today I used about half of the squash to make ravioli. Instead of making my own ravioli wrappers, I cheated and used gyoza wrappers. Gyoza or won ton wrappers lend themselves nicely to making ravioli, even though it's not exactly traditional. Just be careful to read the ingredients, since many brands contain eggs.

This ravioli filling was a fun balance of sweet and savory - natural sweetness from the roast squash, countered with roasted garlic, lots of fresh sage leaves, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. That's a walnut and roasted garlic sauce on the ravioli above - I wasn't crazy about the sauce's color, but it had great flavor.

Here's the breakdown, starting with the squash filling. These quantities made me about 15 ravioli:
1 1/2 cups of roasted buttercup (or any other sweet) squash
4 or 5 cloves of roasted garlic
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp ground peppercorn medley (optional - I just bought a McCormick peppercorn medley grinder, with a few different peppercorns, coriander, and allspice - good matches for squash)
12 to 15 fresh sage leaves, minced (or 2 tsp rubbed dry sage)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1. Mash the cooled squash and garlic together with a fork - it doesn't need to be completely smooth, just well combined. Meanwhile, saute the fresh sage leaves in the olive oil, just for a minute or two.

2. Add in the rest of the spices, and salt to taste. Mix well and set aside.

3. Making the ravioli is simple once you do a couple. First, have about a half cup of water on hand - you'll use this to dip your fingers in, then use your fingers to moisten and seal the edges of the pasta. Place a heaping spoonful of squash filling in the center of one gyoza or won ton wrapper, being careful not to smear squash on the edges.

4. Moisten and seal the edge of the wrapper all around, then crimp together tightly in order to seal them well. If they're not well-sealed, you'll know when you cook them. You can crimp them any way you like - I used a fork on the first one below - top left - but decided to just use my fingers and crimp them all the way around like gyozas. This turns the ravioli into little bowls, which work as little basins to hold a bunch of sauce. This wasn't planned, but seems like a good idea in hindsight :)

5. You can cook these in boiling water, but I just sauted them in a little olive oil on the flat side. Then add just enough water to cover them about halfway, and cover the pan. Kept on medium heat, this steams the ravioli - the advantage over boiling is that they move around less, and are thus less prone to breaking apart or coming unsealed.

The walnut sauce is a lot easier. Just put these ingredients in a blender or food processor:

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup raw walnuts
5 cloves roasted garlic
3/4 cup flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water (or pasta water if you boil the ravioli)

And blend to make a smooth sauce. If it's not combining down, add a little more water. I warmed this in a sauce pan just before serving, but there's no need to cook it. Toss the sauce with the ravioli, and enjoy! These are sort of labor-intensive, but worth the trouble.

Here's a bowl of chili I made earlier this week. It's with some leftover guajillo chile sauce from the previous post. I was trying to think of ways to use it up, and then the obvious one hit me. It's a bean and seitan chili, with garden tomatoes and a healthy shot of guajillo sauce.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guajillo Chile Enchiladas, Two Ways

I'm not yet ready to fly solo when making sauces with dried chile peppers, so I had my copy of Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen on the counter for this one. Yesterday I made my first sauce with guajillo chiles, and I was skeptical at first about what I was getting myself into. Before cooking, the sauce of guajillos, garlic, spices, and broth was unpleasantly, almost painfully hot, and I had that feeling that I'd just wasted a bunch of ingredients. I kept right along with the recipe though (and Bayless warns about the perils of raw chile heat), and after a half hour I had seared and simmered the sauce down to something impressive. It was thick, a beautiful brick red, and had fantastic flavor. Still hot, but in a great way. It mellowed while cooking in some kind of magical, alchemical way, and turned into something special.

I made an enchilada filling of tempeh, spinach, mushrooms, onion, and garlic. First I fried a crumbled 8 oz. package of tempeh in hot oil until it was browned and starting to get crunchy. I removed this from the pan, and sauteed the mushrooms, onions, and garlic, along with a little ground cumin, until everything was soft and fragrant. The raw spinach and browned tempeh went back in, and cooked just until the spinach was wilted down.

I took two approaches to making the enchiladas. The first photo above is a little trickier, and messier, than the second method. To make those enchiladas on top I quickly dipped corn tortillas in the guajillo sauce (completely cool by now), then fried them in hot canola oil for just a few seconds on each side. This sort of sears the sauce into the tortillas, but I found they were really fragile to work with...might have been the brand, which is a very soft tortilla. These were really tasty, and I loved how the sauce is fried into the tortilla. On the down side, it was kind of a mess to make these, and I got tired of torn tortillas.

The second method is much easier, and like enchiladas I've made before. Corn tortillas are stuffed with a little filling, rolled up, and packed into a baking pan on top of a little chile sauce. Extra chile sauce is poured over the top, and I baked them for just 20 minutes or so at 400 F. This was really good too, but not quite as exciting as the top version. I think I would go to the trouble of making those for company or a special occasion, while the simple oven version is good enough for every day enchiladas.

This guajillo sauce really is something though - worth a try if you're curious, and it's fun to watch the transformation of the sauce. The final product is something you can really be proud of, and it tastes really authentic.

Here's a couple more for the road. I picked up the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook last week - I love her site, and the cookbook has all of the quality and gorgeous photos as the blog. My humble little spelt flour pancakes look pretty ho-hum, but it's a great pancake recipe. I sort of fell in with the maple syrup, as you can see.

Finally, a stuffed green pepper. This wasn't especially exciting, but I think it's going somewhere. The idea was to mix cooked quinoa with the flavors of old school cream of mushroom soup. Man, I loved that stuff growing up. It's getting there, but my recipe isn't quite in shape yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hmong-inspired Chik'n & Tomato Stir Fry

Here's the latest reason why I love having a seemingly endless supply of cherry tomatoes this summer. It's adapted from a cookbook I picked up over the weekend, about Hmong cooking in America.

There is a big Hmong population in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and they have wonderful farmer's markets in the cities. It's one of many food traditions where I'm really curious but not very experienced, so I was happy to find this book - Cooking From The Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America - over the weekend. The book is equal parts recipes and cultural history, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

Lots of the recipes are heavy on fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, and Asian greens - sounds good, right? The first thing I made was based on a chicken and tomato stir fry, which the authors say is more Hmong-American than traditional Hmong food from Laos.

Here's the ingredients:
1 tbsp. canola oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled, lightly crushed, and coarsely chopped
6 scallions - I used everything, saving some of the green ends for garnish
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 a package of Morningstar chik'n strips (chicken-style seitan, or any seitan for that matter, would be good too)
20 or so cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. tamari
1 tsp. agave nectar (sugar would work fine too)
lime juice
black pepper

1. Stir fry the garlic and scallions for 2 or 3 minutes in the oil, just until they begin to soften and become fragrant. Add the mock chicken or seitan, reduce heat, and cover for five minutes - just to steam the mock chicken or seitan until it's nice and hot.

2. Add the tomatoes and cilantro, and stir fry over medium heat just until the tomatoes are warm and the cilantro wilts a little bit. There's no need to overcook either, to keep the flavors nice and bright.

3. The original recipe calls for oyster sauce, but I finished this with tamari and agave nectar, mixed with just a couple tablespoons of water. Mix it in at the end, again just until everything is hot - a minute is enough.

4. I added lime juice to complement the fresh flavors of the green scallion ends and cilantro, but it's just fine without. Season to taste with black pepper, and eat immediately - I made some good white rice, which soaked up the flavors beautifully :)

This was worth snapping a photo too - chickpea croquettes from this month's Vegetarian Times, with a Greek-seasoned tomato and cucumber salad. The croquettes include roughly equal parts canned chickpeas and chickpea flour. I'm learning that chickpea flour is good in all kinds of places, and here it takes a star turn instead of a supporting role.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tomatoes and other goodness

If there is any food out there better than a fresh-picked tomato in the sunshine, I would love to hear about it. My tomato plants have been producing ripe fruit for over a month now, and they peaked this past weekend, when I picked a big basket full. My neighbor's have a dozen or so plants too, and they're sagging with huge, ripe, amazing tomatoes. I'll have to do some canning this weekend - I'm cooking with them and of course eating them raw as much as I can, but I can't keep up. What a great problem to have.

Besides the tomatoes, my family gave me a ton of fresh veggies when I was home last weekend. My sister's family has a big garden out in the country, and they gave me a bunch of pototoes, zucchini, these great twisty cucumbers, and peppers. To round things out, my parents gave me some sweet corn, a big bag of carrots and two big bunches of onions. And last week my brother, nephew, and I went down to a cool public apple orchard south of town and filled a couple bags. Needless to say my tiny kitchen is stuffed with veggies, and I'm just trying to keep up with everything at this point.

I'll keep this post to tomatoes, since I think they deserve the most attention, and everything else keeps a little longer. I've been making tomato-based suppers just about every night - there's a pot of marinara sauce on the stove right now. Here's a couple of pics of how tomatoes have been making me happy the last few days:

Another stove-top tomato sauce, over polenta slices. I mixed an ear of sweet corn in with the polenta, along with some fresh Italian parsley and basil.

I'm eating cherry tomatoes all day long. Here they're mixed with a tofu scramble, with some grated carrots and zucchini.

Just about every day, for lunch or an after-work snack, I make a little tomato and cucumber salad. They're the peanut butter and jelly of fresh summer veggies, really loving each other. Here they're joined by walnuts and walnut oil, with just a little sea salt. Walnut oil has a subtle flavor, and naturally complements walnuts really well. I'll have at least one full day off this weekend, so I'm looking forward to spending some more time cooking with the bounty in the kitchen. I know that in January I'll be dreaming of these days :)