Thursday, July 29, 2010

Achiote Seitan Tacos with Yemeni Tomato and Cilantro Salad

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The chicken-style seitan in these soft tacos gains a deep red color and distinctive flavor from a marinade with achiote, also known as annatto. For a little achiote illumination, here’s Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking:
“It is the seed of a bush, Bixa orellana, native to tropical America, and is much used in various cooked   dishes from southern Mexico to northern South America. The bright red-orange pigment bixin is found in the waxy coating of the seeds, and readily changes into a number of chemical variants that are different shades of orange, yellow, and red.”
I don’t know of anything else that makes things such a dramatic red as achiote. Whole seeds are commonly available in Mexican markets, where you can also find prepared achiote seasoning mixes. I used the latter here, though I’ve experimented a couple of times with achiote seeds. Achiote seeds are very hard, so you need to spend some quality time with a mortar and pestle, or a serious spice grinder, to make a fine powder for marinades or rubs. Whole seeds can also be sautéed in a little olive, corn, or peanut oil and strained out, making a brilliant red oil for drizzling wherever you like.

Besides it’s use as a flavoring and colorant, achiote paste is used in some indigenous South American cultures as a body paint and hair coloring.  I have a story about that, but I’m here today to talk about tacos.

Using prepared achiote seasoning, these were really easy. I just mixed a spoonful of achiote mix with some olive oil, water, and sherry vinegar, and soaked about a cup of chicken-style seitan strips in the marinade for an hour or so. Fry the marinated seitan for just a few minutes, until the pieces lightly brown, and you’re there.
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 The idea for this tomato and cilantro salad comes from my kitchen calendar, the 2010 International Calendar produced by the RPCVs of Wisconsin - Madison. Each month features a beautiful photo and basic cultural information, like recipes! Yemen is featured for July, and inspired me to use some fresh cherry tomatoes to make banadura salata b’kizbara, which also includes fresh cilantro, lemon juice, chili peppers, and olive oil. Despite the distance between Yemen and Mexico, those flavors sounded right at home in a taco.
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That’s it for food today. I still have high hopes to get back to posting on a regular basis, but summer heat leaves me less than motivated in the kitchen. On my evenings and days off, the pups and I tend to wander off someplace we can go swimming - temps have been over 100 F on a regular basis. Otter and Maya have never been big swimmers, but the California sun has changed that. Otter turns 10 sometime this summer, and I thought she gave up swimming a few years ago. She’s back, and sometimes does laps around me in the swimming holes of Chico Creek. Maya has been afraid of water past her knees for most of her three years, but is turning into a comfortable swimmer.
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 Here's Otter keeping cool.
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And Maya, in one of the swimming holes in Chico Creek Canyon north of town.  Taking this picture made me think about how nice a waterproof camera would be.  This concludes the “bragging about my awesome dogs” section of the blog.

Finally, if anyone is curious, I’m completely loving my new job. I’ll be back here soon with some photos of our friends at Farm Sanctuary.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sopes with Porter-Glazed Black Beans, Guacamole, and Pineapple Salsa

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Corn masa flour is one of the cornerstones of Mexican cooking, and appears in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, from tamales to tortillas to empanadas. Sopes are another member of the family, essentially thick corn tortillas with a raised lip around the perimeter, which acts as a container for any filling you like.

I found a brand of sopes (pronounced so-pays) with no preservatives at a market in Chico, so knew I had to give them a try. It was also an excuse to make beer-glazed black beans with Sierra Nevada Porter, inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I live just a few blocks from the Sierra Nevada brewery, and wanted to try their porter, but drinking dark beer in 90 F weather doesn’t have much appeal. To me, porters and stouts are for fall and winter. Consuming said beer as a saucy glaze for black beans, though, sounds like a pretty good idea.
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 You could use canned black beans for this, but whenever I’m making something specially flavored I strongly prefer cooking my own dry beans. In my cast iron frying pan, I sautéed a half cup of diced white onion, with a few cloves of crushed garlic, in corn oil. When the onion begins to brown, add 2 or 3 cups of cooked and drained beans, along with a 12 oz. bottle of porter, 1 tbsp. molasses, and 1 tbsp. ancho chili powder, along with salt and pepper. Use whatever chili powder you like - or none at all - depending on your heat preference.

Bring the bean and beer mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat to a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until the beer has almost completely evaporated, leaving the beans in a thick sauce. I found the flavor almost a little too bitter at first, thanks to the porter, but that seemed to go away as the beans sat for a while after cooking. After the flavors mingled for a while, the result was a rich dark sauce - beer gravy, if you like - slightly sweet from the molasses, with just a hint of chili heat from the ancho powder.
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 While the beans are resting, fry the sopes in a little corn oil if you want a crunchy exterior, or simply warm in a dry frying pan. If my toaster had come along on the move, that’s what I would have used to make these - I think toasting would be perfect, since they are firm enough to survive a toaster, and would nicely brown on either side.

From here, use any fillings you like in tacos or any other Mexican food - salsa, guacamole, vegan cheese or sour cream, seasoned greens or mushrooms, roasted veggies, olives, baked tofu, etc. I made simple guacamole with cilantro and fresh lime juice, and another simple salsa, with tomatoes, lime, green onions, and pineapple chunks. The bright, sweet taste of pineapple or other citrus fruit is a welcome contrast to the porter sauce.

Like any customizable foods - sandwiches, pizza, tacos - these would be great for a party or cooking with friends. Just get a bunch of good fillings together on the table, fry or toast a few sopes, and let everyone make their own to their liking.

Here’s a simple sope with beans, to give an impression of the saucy porter glaze.  A light Mexican beer like Corona would be perfect with these, especially in summer.  Salud!
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P.S.!  I recommend everyone head over to The Crafty Kook right away for a beautiful video (with perfect musical background) from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  For those not keeping score at home, that's where I'm from, and TRNP is one of the treasures of the state.  Very cool, River - thanks for the memories!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Beet Green Frittata with Beet and Potato “Home Fries"

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  When you think of great breakfast food, beets may not be the first thing on your mind. I’ve been picking up a couple of nice bunches of beets every week at the farmers market, and they were welcome in this weekend breakfast of frittata and something like home fries.

Tofu frittata really captures the flavor and heartiness of a traditional baked egg frittata, and is a great vehicle to sneak a bunch of greens into breakfast. I used greens from a half dozen red and pink beets, sautéing the chopped greens in a little olive oil and minced garlic just until they wilted down.

This frittata is pretty simple, and like all of my frittatas and omelets, owes much to Vegan Brunch. In a large bowl, mix the following: lightly cooked greens* (about 1 cup), one 14 oz. block extra firm tofu, 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce, 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, a little pinch of thyme, a pinch of black salt powder**, and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. Mash everything well with a fork or your fingers, and bake in a lightly oiled dish at 375 F for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned on top. It can be served right away, but tends to hold its form better if allowed to cool. I sprinkled a light dusting of smoked Spanish paprika on the cooled frittata.

Since the oven was on anyway, I roasted beets and red potatoes at the same time, wrapping them in foil. This next step is optional, since roasted beets and potatoes are fine as is, but I finished them with a light fry in a little oil, just to give the potatoes a bit of browning and crunch. Season the potatoes & beets with salt and black pepper.

If you wanted to make this even easier, you could bake the potatoes and beets - thinly chopped as to cook evenly - right into the frittata, for a close vegan relative of the classic Spanish egg and potato tortilla.

One final note - I made all of this the night before, with a super easy breakfast in mind the next morning. The frittata especially benefits from the few hours of resting - it may be reheated if you like, but I think it tastes great at room temperature or even cool right out of the fridge. Serve with ketchup or hot sauce, or fresh salsa romesco if you really want a treat.  (I list the ingredients on the link - not the quantities, but it's easy to figure out.)

By the way, thanks SO much to all of you who've left such kind comments about my recent move out here!  I'm still trying to catch up on everyone's blogs, but I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and general good feelings about it all.  Thanks everybody :) 
* - I used beet greens here, but you can use just about anything - spinach, chard, broccoli, kale, collards, bok choy, etc.
** - Black salt powder is available at Indian markets, and makes tofu taste like eggs. Honest.  Thanks again to Vegan Brunch!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Roasted Tomatillo Soup with Nopalitos & Mushrooms, and Daiya Cheddar Quesadillas

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 The weekly routine here in Chico isn’t complete without a bike ride downtown to the Thursday night market. Cherries and new red potatoes are coming into season, joining the mountains of strawberries, fresh herbs and flowers, Asian greens like bok choy and Chinese broccoli, and more. One of the new items last week - new to me, at least - were cactus paddles (nopales or nopalitos in Spanish.)  Here they are now:
 Whenever I have a question about traditional Mexican cooking or ingredients, I turn to my copy of Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen, one of a handful of cookbooks I packed for the move. Bayless recommends roasting or grilling cactus paddles, and the recipe I knew I needed to try was a tomatillo soup with mushrooms and nopales. My version was a quick and simple adaptation, mostly because I lacked a few traditional herbs and chilis.

The cactus was surprisingly simple to prepare, especially since the vendor had removed the thorns. All I did was rinse it, cut it into chunks about an inch square, and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I roasted the pieces for about 20 minutes at 375 F, in the same pan as about a half dozen husked and rinsed tomatillos. After about 10 minutes the nopales and tomatillos began to soften and release their moisture, and I added about a half dozen peeled garlic cloves to roast with them for the final 10 minutes.

After roasting, the tomatillos were soft and lightly browned, and the nopales were tender and juicy. They have a taste all their own, but I was reminded of a cross between roasted green peppers and good sour cucumber pickles, with a twist of lime juice.

Reserving the nopales in the roasting pan, I removed the tomatillos and roasted garlic and let them cool for a few minutes.  They're then pureed in the blender with a little vegetable stock and water, and salt and pepper to taste. The resulting soup base was tart and tangy, with warmth from the roasted garlic and a pleasingly creamy texture.

Everything else came together in minutes. About a cup of sliced cremini mushrooms were sautéed in olive oil and a little salt in the soup pot for a few minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the tomatillo soup base to the pot, and stir in the roasted cactus paddles, keeping the soup over medium heat just until warmed. I mixed in a little fresh cilantro at the end, and garnished it with red pepper flakes and more cilantro. If you have fresh limes or vegan sour cream on hand, they would be naturals here too.
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 The soup was tangy and richly flavorful on its own, but pairing it with simple quesadillas made it special. I stuffed corn tortillas with Daiya nondairy cheddar cheese, and warmed them in a dry pan for just a few minutes, until the cheese melted. I’m pretty sure Daiya is the cheese substitute many vegans have been waiting for - it tastes great, and most importantly it melts.  I've been using it everywhere.

The flavor combination of cheddar quesadillas with this soup was strikingly similar to one of my favorite dishes at Mexican restaurants - cheese enchiladas with green sauce. Dipping the quesadillas into the soup brought back fond memories of those meals.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Goodbye Fargo, Hello Chico

 I’m starting this post about changes with a final picture from my place in Fargo, North Dakota, which has been home for most of the past seven years. This is Maya, who I still call the puppy, though she turns three this summer. Time goes by a little faster every year. Maya’s chair was one of the last things we moved out of the apartment, and I think that’s when she sensed something funny was going on.

So what has been going on, and why did Maya lose her favorite nap spot? I have a new job, at Farm Sanctuary in California! This is something I’ve thought about for a long time, after interning at the California shelter two years ago, and visiting again for a couple weeks last spring. I was hired in March, but was grateful to have enough time to wrap things up in Fargo during April and spend time with family and friends before leaving in early May. I just finished my second week of work here - I’m a caregiver assistant - and I’m loving the job, which I expected.

I assume most of you are familiar with Farm Sanctuary, but if not check out their web site, which is linked here. The California shelter, with rolling hills and the Coast Range on the western horizon, is a beautiful place, and I feel pretty lucky every morning I go to work there.

Though it’s nice to be in northern California, leaving North Dakota was hard. Fargo is a wonderful place, and if you don’t believe me go visit sometime, though maybe not in January. The Fargo-Moorhead area has been showing up at or near the top of all kinds of livability and environmental reports in the past few years, and three major universities and significant communities of new Americans create a cultural atmosphere you might not associate with North Dakota. I don’t mean to go all Chamber of Commerce on you here, but I won’t leave Fargo without giving it a big hug. Fargo rocks.

Of course, I said my goodbyes to family and friends in person, so I won’t elaborate here. If you’re reading, thanks for everything, and I hope to see you out here sooner or later! I’m especially missing my 3-year old nephew Lucas, who has been my buddy in Fargo and an inspiration to all of his extended family. His attitude and energy light up wherever he is, and I hope to see him again soon.

I’m living in Chico, in an upstairs apartment in an older house. The neighborhood is full of huge shade trees, and I share a giant fenced backyard with my downstairs neighbors. There are dogs everywhere - woohoo! - so I couldn’t have hoped to find a better place for Otter and Maya.

From all indications so far, Chico rocks too. On Thursday nights throughout the summer there is a street fair/produce market downtown, that attracts big crowds of happy looking people. The fruits and veggies are abundant, varied, and cheap, so I’m already a big fan of the Thursday market after two visits.

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll remind you that this blog is usually only about food. So let’s get on with it. My cooking has been pretty basic so far, since I’m rebuilding my kitchen and pantry. In honor of simplicity and the Thursday market, here’s my Thursday Market Salad. Everything is fresh and local - avocadoes, phenomenal strawberries, walnuts, sweet peas, and spring greens including chard, spinach, and a few types of lettuce. The dressing is sherry vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, salt, and a little sugar.

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Here’s some nachos, with beans and guacamole. The chips are topped with Daiya cheese, which I’ll have more good things to say about in my next post.  Like I said, we're keeping it simple.

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 I can't break in the new west coast version of my site without a couple of pictures of Otter and Maya exploring their new environment.  I think they'll enjoy the break from winter, but it's a little harder to find open spaces nearby to run around off the leash.  I'm sure we'll figure that out soon enough.  Here's Otter looking for fish, or maybe at her reflection, in a Chico creek.

 One more of Otter and Maya for the road.  I think they like it here.

Thanks for making it to the end of a longer than usual post, but we had some catching up to do.  Speaking of, I'm looking forward to catching up with all of your amazing blogs that I've been following the last couple of years.  Until next time, goodbye from rainy NorCal!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bistro Asparagus Twists from American Vegan Kitchen, & Primal Strips vegan jerky

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This will be a quick post, but I couldn't keep these puff pastry-wrapped asparagus twists to myself.  They're from American Vegan Kitchen, by Tamasin Noyes.  Tami does the Vegan Appetite blog, which never fails to feature awesome vegan goodies.  The cookbook is exceptionally well done, and delivers on it's promise of "delicious comfort food from Blue Plate Specials to homestyle favorites."  I've also made the sweet garklicky ribz, and a fabulous non-meatloaf from this book.

This asparagus recipe is fairly simple, but looks and tastes totally elegant.  Asparagus spears are blanched and then wrapped in strips of puff pastry brushed with mustard, and baked.  There's a good dipping sauce to go with these too. 

I've become a big fan of Primal Strips vegan jerky, since the nice folks at Primal Spirit Foods sent me a sample pack a couple weeks ago.  There are six flavors - my favorites are the teryaki and mesquite lime, though they're all really good.  Some are seitan-based, some soy, and the "Hot and Spicy" version is made with shiitake mushrooms, which is really creative.  I was a big jerky fan in my younger days, so this is one more food I'm no longer denied, though I've long since lost the idea that eating vegan means "denial" in any way.  These are great, and have been my staple afternoon snack since I received them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Feijoada (E.A.T. World: Brazil)

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 Feijoada is Brazil's take on one of the world's great food pairs - rice and beans.  In it's traditional form, feijoada (pronounced fay-zwah-duh) usually contains meat, and judging by recipes online, lots of it.  Since vegans know a thing or two about rice and beans, there are lots of recipes out there for vegan or vegetarian feijoada.  I based this on a recipe in American Wholefoods Cuisine, my go-to old school veggie cookbook.

Everything here is pretty straight forward - long grain brown rice is cooked in water and tomato juice, along with a dried chili pepper and bay leaf.  Black beans are seasoned with onion and garlic, and another couple of dried chilis.  The greens are collards, also simply prepared and seasoned with a little salt and some chopped onions.

I was surprised by the great flavor the orange slices added, mixed with the rice and beans.  Plus, they just look pretty as a garnish.  At the bottom left is a spicy onion salsa, made by blanching sliced onions in boiling water for a few minutes, and marinating the drained onions in fresh lime juice and hot pepper sauce.

One of the classic Brazilian flavors I didn't incorporate here, but would like to try, is farofa, which is coarse ground, roasted cassava or manioc flour.  This post from SHIFT Vegan has a nice pic of feijoada with farofa.  If you want more Brazilian food, don't miss The Crafty Kook's trip to Brazil from earlier this winter!

I don't bake nearly often enough, so when I do I like to share it here :)  I was cleaning my fridge this afternoon, and found black cherries and some cranberries in the freezer, so made this pie from The Joy of Vegan Baking.  Yum.