Friday, May 28, 2010

Coconut Apricot Muffins

I often search in vain for a recipe until I finally get impatient and go about experimenting without any instructions.  Very often, this ends in a less than tasty dish.  But sometimes, the result is a pleasant surprise.
I didn’t measure any ingredients, so I can’t provide a recipe for these coconut apricot muffins, but that’s okay because they aren’t perfected by any means.
I love the flavor combination, though, and the texture is moist and yummy, if ever so slightly heavy… but, they are muffins, not cupcakes. I used whole wheat pastry flour, peach preserves as a sweetener, almond extract, dried apricots, and shredded coconut.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rice Porridge - A Macrobiotic Meal

I'm no trained macrobiotic chef, but as far as I know this is a macrobiotic meal.  I've mentioned before that I eat a macrobiotic diet much of the time - though definitely not all the time!  A macrobiotic diet, in very short, is about foods that make you feel calm and good all over.

These foods also help you lose weight. :-)  What woman doesn't appreciate that?

Another "kind diet" recipe, the porridge consists of cooked brown rice and chopped dried apricots, simmered in water for 15 minutes, and topped with chopped basil, toasted seeds, and a chopped umeboshi plum.

This is my very favorite sort of food to eat in the whole world.

It's so subtle, yet so interesting, the combination of distinct, intriguing flavors and textures.  The soft brown rice, fragrant apricots, tangy plums, toasted seeds, and fresh herbs...  This food is good for your soul.

Obviously, I feel very passionate about food and this particular type of food.  On the side is steamed bok choy, an absolute staple.  Any steamed greens will do though.  Collards are some of my favorites.  Steam them, top them with a little olive oil and ume vinegar and some sesame seeds.  The entire meal is like a gentle hug!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna

Turned out fantastic.  The secret to great vegan lasagna - or any lasagna - is to layer it with great ingredients - each layer should be delicious enough to eat on its own with a spoon.

You can prepare all the layering ingredients in advance, even the day before if you want.

Layer cooked noodles with tomato sauce, basil-walnut pesto, creamy roasted eggplant and zucchini (coat slices in olive oil - I coated mine in sundried tomatoes in oil - and bake at 350 for 30 minutes),
and sauteed mushrooms.  Bake the lasagna at 375 for about an hour, until the crust begins to brown and all the flavors are melded and baked into a yummy, lovely, layered square of perfection.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oatmeal Raisin Almond Butter Cookies

I made up this recipe using the principals from Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio: Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.  You can listen to an NPR interview with Michael here.

I don't own the book, yet, but I am dying to get it.  Basically, there are ratios behind cooking that, if you're familiar with them, can free you from a cookbook a little more often, and allow for more experimentation.

For example, to bake bread, the ratio of flour to water tends to be 5:3.  That's 5 parts flour, 3 parts water.  Plus a little yeast and salt of course.

Add fat (like oil or butter) and you get pie crust.  The pie crust ratio is 3 parts flour : 1 part water : 2 parts fat.  Add a little sugar, and you've got a sweet pie crust.  Leave out the sugar in favor of herbs, and you've got a savory pie crust.  And so on.

The cookie ratio is 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part sugar.  Using this ratio, I created a recipe for oatmeal raisin almond butter cookies.  My only complaint with my recipe is that the cookies aren't chewy; their texture is closer to a sort of crispy shortbread.  When I eat oatmeal raisin and/or nut butter cookies, I want them chewy!  But I've had this complaint with most vegan cookie recipes I've tried.

Having eaten chewy vegan cookies, I know my goal is obtainable.  So there will be MUCH cookie tweaking to come!  Does anyone know how I can make my vegan cookies chewy?  If so, please share.  I've used canned pumpkin before with good results.  But these are not pumpkin cookies.

Here's my recipe, and I hope to revisit it after more experimentation.  The flavor was great - all my cookies are missing is a little chewiness.

One more thing: I used agave nectar and molasses in place of sugar.  I always use agave nectar in baking.  I love its smooth, buttery sweetness.  But when you substitute sugar with agave nectar, remember that for every 1 cup of sugar you omit, you should use 3/4 cup of agave, and reduce all other liquids by 1/3.

Oatmeal Raisin Almond Butter Cookies:
1 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 c oats
3/4 c canola oil
1/3 c agave
1 Tbs blackstrap molasses
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c almond butter
1/2 c golden raisins
1/2 c almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together.  Stir in oats.  Pour in oil, agave nectar, molasses, vanilla, and almond butter. Stir to combine. Stir in raisins and almonds. Spoon onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Let cool before transferring.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Australian Bakery Cafe

This morning, I made a stop by the Australian Bakery Cafe.  There are two locations, one in Marietta Square, and one in East Atlanta.

What you see above is the second half of my very yummy "apple slice."  I didn't allow myself to eat the whole thing - yet - because I also bought and finished a veggie pastie. :-)

Australian Bakery carries a variety of unique pastries and pies.  It's owners, Neville and Mark, opened the bakery to introduce these Australian goodies to the American market.

The bakery also carries unique, imported packaged items.  Like this can of mushy peas I bought.
I love trying foods I've never tried before!  Neville asked me what I planned to do with my mushy peas.  Naturally, I had no idea.  So he gave me a few suggestions, including using the peas as a sandwich topping or a side, like some people use coleslaw.

He also explained to me the process of making the peas, which includes dehydrating and then reconstituting the peas.  Apparently, they all must be harvested at the same time, so they need to be used or preserved as quickly as possible.  Thus, mushy peas.

Upon googling "mushy peas," my brain started churning with new, creative ways to use my can of peas.  I thought I'd heard Nigella Lawson talk about mushy peas before, and sure enough, I found this recipe.

Of course, as soon as I decide what to do with my mushy peas, I'll share with you!

Heirloom Tomato Sandwiches

I didn't take the time to make these as tidy as they could be. But they're delicious, all the same. Tomato sandwiches are such a classic southern summer food. Now that tomatoes are in season, expect to see tomatoes in every other post. For these, I used sourdough bread. I used a glass to cut even circles out of the bread and heirloom tomato slices. I stirred fresh lemon juice and chopped basil and cilantro into vegenaise, and spread it on the bread, topped it with the tomato, some S&P, olive oil, and more chopped herbs. We dipped these in a little balsamic vinegar on the side for an extra treat.

These were an appetizer to stave off hunger while the macaroni and cheese was baking. I think that if put together a little neater (which is EASY to do, I was just in a hurry), these would be such a cute party appetizer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Perfect, Fluffy Biscuits

I have the PERFECT vegan biscuit recipe. You can make plain biscuits, or you can doctor them up as I've done tonight, with kalamata olives, fresh rosemary, and sun-dried tomatoes. I make these biscuits all the time - though usually plain, and usually for breakfast - and people go crazy over them, every time... as long as I don't try any funny business, like adding ground flax seed. Adding savory ingredients like olives, rosemary, and sundried tomatoes is a great way to make these dinner-appropriate.

Perfect, Fluffy Biscuits:
2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 - 3/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp Earth Balance shortening (makes for a fluffy biscuit - but for a still-fluffy, and more buttery biscuit, just use all butter)
2 tbsp cold Earth Balance butter (make sure it is really cold)
1 cup soy milk with 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (to make it like buttermilk)

(chopped kalamata olives, fresh rosemary, and sundried tomatoes are optional)

Preheat the oven to 450.

Use a whisk to blend first 4 ingredients in a metal bowl. Place the bowl in the freezer until the flour mixture is cold. Add shortening first, then cold butter, using your fingers to blend it just a little. Don't overblend. The butter will be like little balls in the flour. At this point, if you're going to add special ingredients such as chopped olives, rosemary, and sun-dried tomatoes, add them. Add the milk and stir until just incorporated. Don't over-stir. The dough will be super sticky!! More than you think it should be. Turn over onto a floured surface, and with floured hands form into a ball and pat down gently so that dough is 1-2 inches thick.  Don't overpat!  Use biscuit cutters (or glasses) to cut biscuits. Don't twist the cutter as you go down - just press it straight down. Put the biscuits touching on a pan (this helps them to rise) and bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

The key here is, don't overwork the dough. Handle it as little as possible. Keep the butter and dough cold. Have the oven preheated so you can stick them in asap while they're still cold. This ensures a light, fluffy biscuit.

Red Lentil Stew

I LOVE lentil/bean/pea soups. I adore them. For three reasons.

1. They are super healthy.
2. They are super easy.
3. They taste fantastic.

I’ve made split pea soup and various lentil stews with the same basic principles you’ll find in the recipe below. Add or subtract whatever vegetables you like. I used red lentils here, which turn yellow when cooked. But you can use green lentils, or yellow split peas, or whatever you like.

Red Lentil Stew:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 big cloves garlic, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
1/2 carton button mushrooms, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp freshly-ground fennel seed
1/2 tsp freshly-ground cardamom
2 carrots, sliced on the bias
1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
handful of fresh herbs (like cilantro, parsley, and/or basil), chopped

Heat a large pot with olive oil on med-low. Test a piece of onion; if it sizzles when you drop it in, add all the onion. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Don't touch it or stir it. Let it do its thing. It's not gonna burn. After 5 minutes, give it a little stir, then let it sit again. Once the onions are soft, add the garlic, celery, and peppers. Let it cook another few minutes until soft.

Now, add the lentils, spices, and water to just cover. Scrape up the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan with the spatula. Bring to a boil, reduce to low, cover and let simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. You'll most likely have to add a little more water if the soup starts to get too thick, but you want a stew-like texture, so be careful to only add enough water to cook the lentils. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the carrots, mushrooms, and peppers and cook, covered, until soft.

Remove from heat, and add the apple cider vinegar, fresh herbs, and salt & pepper to taste.

The stew is excellent served with rosemary-olive biscuits, above.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Trust No One?

Whhhaaattt? This article frustrates me!

The trusted Amy's brand burgers contain the poisonous chemical hexane. I've never heard of it. But surely Amy wouldn't deceive me.

Interestingly, a brand called "Helen's Kitchen" is hexane-free. :-) I've had Helen's thai curry frozen dinner and it was quite delicious for a frozen dinner.

Basil Walnut Pesto

I regret that I don't have a prettier picture of the pesto, because it really deserves a nice picture in natural light to show off its green color. You'll just have to trust me. The pesto gets the highest possible rating from me. The pesto is Alicia Silverstone's recipe for basil pesto, which you can watch her make here, as part of her artichoke, mushroom and leek crostini (I've made this in its entirety, and it's fantastic, simple, and a great party appetizer as you can make the toppings in advance).

I used walnuts instead of pine nuts, this time. Alicia's recipe stands out from other pestos because the ume vinegar gives it a richer, tangier kick. It's delicious! But if you would like a cheesier tasting pesto, this one is good. As always, you can use almost any nut or leafy herb you like.

Basil Walnut Pesto:
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp ume vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil

Process the ingredients in the food processor, adding the olive oil through the feeder once the other ingredients have been blended.

The pesto is excellent served with Alicia's mushroom & leek saute and artichoke spread, on crostini. Or, it's addictive on its own, with Italian bread for dipping.

Fennel Salad

I used a vinaigrette for this fennel salad that consisted of honey, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and salt & pepper. I wasn't happy with the vinaigrette; it was too salty and overpowering. I think I will rinse the leftovers with cold water. I've done this before with other salads I coated with too much vinaigrette, and the result is always a refreshing salad with just enough of the flavor from the residual vinaigrette.

But for this salad, I will next time use only lemon juice and maybe a little olive oil. I also will omit either the tomatoes or the oranges, depending on whether I want a more acidic or sweeter salad.

For now, the salad contains:
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
slices from 2 oranges
1 small carton cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small jalapeno pepper, diced with seeds
2 T chopped fennel fronds

I normally don't provide a recipe if I'm not 100% satisfied, but I want you to know what was in it, and maybe you can play around with it yourself. I have a feeling that after I rinse this salad and have it for lunch tomorrow, I'll have changed my mind. :-)

Tempeh Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Sandwiches

Most people love the flavor combination of bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise on bread. It's called a BLT, but it should actually be called a BLTM, in my opinion, because I think the mayo is essential.

Anyway, I make these with homemade molasses wheat bread and tempeh bacon. You do miss some of the crispiness of the bacon, if you don't know how to fry well like me - I know there's a way to make tempeh crispy but I haven't achieved it.

Still, I think the flavor of the marinated tempeh strips is actually much tastier than actual bacon. Not only are these delicious, but they're super fast, especially if you have a loaf of homemade bread in your freezer... or some storebought bread would work just as well I bet. :-) I know most people don't go around making their own bread these days, though I bet more people would if they knew how easy it was!!

Tempeh BLTs:
Bread, sliced and toasted
Vegenaise, with fresh chopped cilantro stirred into it.
Sliced tomato, with salt and fresh ground pepper
chopped greens (lettuce, spinach, whatever you have)
squirt of fresh lemon juice
marinated tempeh bacon strips, fried or heated in a pan

All you do is assemble your open-faced sandwich in the order of the listed ingredients. Really, really tasty.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stir-Fried Rice

Serves 2

1-2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
equal amount fresh ginger, thinly sliced
crushed red pepper
2 whole dried chilies
1-2 c cooked brown rice (with cooked hulled barley, optional)
1/2 bag baby carrots, cut into matchsticks
1/2 block of tofu, rinsed, drained, and cubed
brown rice vinegar
soy sauce
onion & garlic powders
2 green onions, chopped
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
zest of 1/2 lime, plus wedges
toasted sesame seeds

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper, and chilis occasionally stirring to prevent burning, for a minute or so. Add the baby carrots, cooked rice, and big splashes of soy sauce and vinegar to your taste. Allow to saute, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Finally, add the tofu, onion & garlic powders, lime zest, green onion, and cilantro. Add additional soy sauce/vinegar to taste. Stir to combine and let saute a couple minutes. Top with fresh lime juice and sesame seeds.

This is quick to prepare, and you can use whatever vegetables, herbs, or leftover grain you have in your kitchen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tyler Florence's Black Eyed Peas

Jennifer Morgan pointed this recipe out to me after I made black eyed pea falafel. I knew I would try it eventually, and last night when I was staring at the canisters of beans, trying to decide which ones to soak, I thought of that recipe. I didn't know there was no need to soak the beans, so they got soaked anyway. :-)

My verdict: tasted great, especially with the lemon juice, cilantro, and green onions on top. Chris's verdict: good, but they don't taste like Southern black eyed peas I'm used to.

That might be due to a key missing ingredient in my peas - bacon fat. The recipe calls for bacon fat, but I omitted it. Also, my peas weren't quite as creamy, and I'm not sure the reason for that. Was it the unnecessary soak? Or insufficient cooking time?

If you're looking for a recipe for black eyed peas, I still recommend this one. The reviews are awesome, and I trust Jennifer's recommendation 100%. Next time I cook black eyed peas, I'll use this recipe, but attempt to follow it a bit more closely.

Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed my peas tonight. :-)

Another Helen Story

I wanna work in a sunny kitchen with nice people making colorful, made-from-scratch food and serving it to customers whom I talk to and get to know. I want to lift crates of apples, sweep onion peels from floors, knead wads of bread dough, and leave at the end of the day exhausted and covered in flour and tomato sauce. I want to organize refrigerators, counters, display cases, and pantries so that even the cans of beans are beautiful. I want to give people food that makes them feel good, and educate them on how to make it themselves. I want to write about my experiences every day. I want someone else to write down recipes because I hate measuring.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Emotional Eating

Alright, I'm making myself laugh a little at my melodramatic rock pile. It looks like a picture you'd find in a mental health brochure. But in all seriousness... I hope to look back on my mistakes with humor, understanding, and even gratitude.

For now, I think I’ll have a cupcake. Or five.

There’s no question that the food we put in our body is directly related to our states of mind. When we eat whole foods, we feel better physically and mentally. When we eat crap, well, we feel that too.

But the relationship works in reverse. Sometimes, things happen to us, or we make things happen, that suck. During those difficult times, we seek basic and immediate comforts, like food.

The self-disciplined may push through without so much as a glance towards our liquor cabinets. The weak linger too long on a slippery slope of fudge sauce until we lose our footing and drown in a self-perpetuating pool of chocolate and sadness. And still others find a nice balance of depression-driven indulgence, and have a day or two of Vortex takeout before showering, running 10 miles, and stepping back into the forgiving arms of an arugula salad.

Or maybe, we have been all three. Self disciplined, weak, and somewhere in the middle. And whether our vice is food or something entirely different, we share in common that we’re human beings and not one of us is perfect.

So forgive yourself for the five cupcakes. They aren't worth eating if you're gonna feel mad about it. And as for the stupid thing that made you wanna eat the five cupcakes? Forgive yourself for that, too.

Vacation in Sunny California!

I know I haven't posted lately, and here's why! I've been on vacation in California for the past week. I'm sure this week there'll be tons of posts to come, as we're in need of some home-cooked food after airports, taco stands, and baseball stadiums! :-)