May 22, 2014

Recipe: Edamame Jalapeno Soup

Moving across the country presents a number of challenges. One of the biggest (at least for cooks like myself) is realizing you have just a few weeks to use up your perishable food. The well-stocked refrigerator and freezer you've so carefully maintained suddenly go from wonderfully convenient to huge pain in the tuchus. I suppose you could just make peace with things and toss a bunch of food, but the wastefulness of that prospect just kills me.

Instead, I've been dutifully cooking my way through as much food as possible. It's kind of fun, really - like my very own game of Chopped. I imagine Ted Allen saying, "What can you make with frozen edamame, cashews, limes, and a bunch of slightly-shriveled jalapenos?". Well, Ted, I will be making a delicious pureed soup. And no, Scott, it will not involve raw red onions.

I was a little concerned that the firm texture of edamame (young green soybeans) wouldn't blend into a perfectly smooth soup, but a quick Google search turned up a number of examples proving otherwise. Heidi Swanson suggests straining this edamame soup, but I didn't find straining necessary with mine. Simmering the beans in the soup broth softened them nicely, and after that all it took was a couple minutes in my trusty KitchenAid blender to turn out a velvety-smooth soup.

Despite being a spur-of-the-moment recipe, this Edamame Jalapeno Soup is great. The edamame packs 16 grams of protein into each serving, making this an excellent high-protein vegan lunch or dinner. Removing the ribs and seeds from the jalapenos takes the heat level down to a gentle warmth and really lets the flavor of the pepper shine through. A handful of cashews adds richness, a dash of cumin lends a smoky note, and a bit of lime juice wakes up all the flavors. Move or no move, this recipe's a keeper.

Edamame Jalapeno Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces jalapeno peppers (about 4 peppers)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound shelled edamame beans (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup raw cashews
1 quart vegetable broth (I used 4 cups water plus 2 teaspoons vegetable bouillon paste)
1 tablespoon lime juice

Cut the stems from the peppers, then slice peppers in half lengthwise and remove seeds and ribs from the interiors. Finely chop the peppers.

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the peppers and onions in oil for 5-7 minutes until beginning to soften, then add the garlic and cumin and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the beans, cashews, and vegetable broth. Cover with lid and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes or until beans are very tender.

Transfer half of soup to blender and blend for 1-2 minutes until completely smooth (remember to remove the center portion of the lid and cover with a towel to allow steam from the hot soup to escape); transfer from blender. Blend remaining half of soup. Return blended soup to pot over low heat and add lime juice. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Serve with a dollop of vegan sour cream or plain yogurt if desired. Soup will keep in fridge for 1 week.

May 15, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Steel-Cut Oatmeal (Steel-Cut Oats Porridge)

Bodies handle stress differently. When I get stressed, I lose my appetite for healthy foods. This usually results in my falling back on a small number of "comfort foods" that are actually junk food (salty takeout, fatty pizza, all desserts ever) until my stress reduces and the desire for real food returns. As you might have guessed, planning a cross-country move and selling our house in a short number of weeks is making me mighty stressed.

In an attempt to keep my diet on track, I've been starting my mornings with a bowl of oatmeal. Not just any oatmeal, however. I've been making a veganized version of Megan Gordon's steel-cut oatmeal from her wonderful book, Whole Grain Mornings. Oatmeal has always been a breakfast workhorse, one of those unexciting-but-good-for-you dishes you eat because you should, not because you wake up craving it. But Megan's oatmeal is different. Megan's oatmeal is, dare I say it, crave-able.

Sautéing the uncooked oats in a bit of nondairy butter perfumes the oatmeal with a toasty aroma and amplifies the pleasant chew that steel-cut oats are known for. After toasting, the oats are simmered in a 3:1 mixture of water and nondairy milk seasoned with a touch of sugar, vanilla, and salt. What you end up with is perfectly cooked, luxuriously creamy oatmeal (or "porridge", as Megan calls it).

The consistency of this lovely oat porridge is risotto-like, with magical starch-infused "cream" lending an illusion of richness despite the recipe's scant amounts of butter and milk. I make a batch, pop it in the fridge after it's cooled, and reheat servings in the microwave for stress-free, nutrition-filled breakfasts all week long. A bowl of these creamy oats topped with a pile of fresh berries and a drizzle of maple syrup is just the thing to fuel me through a day of crazed, move-related shenanigans.

Creamy Steel-Cut Oatmeal (Steel-Cut Oats Porridge)
Adapted from Whole Grain Mornings (Megan shared a version of the recipe here)
Serves 4

1 tablespoon non-dairy butter or coconut oil
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
1 cup non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt*
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

*If using nondairy butter, add 1/4 teaspoon salt; if using coconut oil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt

Bring a good-sized saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Once butter is bubbling, add oats and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant (about 5 minutes).  Add water, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla to the saucepan and increase heat to medium-high and partially cover the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until the oatmeal is creamy and oats have a tender bite. Be sure to stir oatmeal occasionally while simmering and keep an eye on the heat as the oatmeal has a tendency to boil over with little notice. Cool for a few minutes before serving as desired (with milk/maple syrup/fruit/nuts); oatmeal can also be refrigerated and then reheated in the microwave with a splash of milk to thin it if needed. 

May 14, 2014

We're moving!!!

Taking our first walk through Central Park

We're 5 months into 2014, and so far it's been a year full of curveballs, milestones, and chapter-endings. We took an amazing last-minute trip to India, I turned thirty, and my wonderful nanny job of 2+ years came to a close when the family relocated to California. The latest development? In two weeks, Daniel and I are moving to New York City.

Last month Daniel was offered a job opportunity he couldn't pass up, so we decided to throw caution to the wind, pick up our lives in Seattle, and move clear across the country. The last few weeks have been…. Well, "insane" is putting it lightly. We flew out to NYC and found an apartment in 48 hours, which, if you know anything about NYC real estate, is the very definition of insanity. But we did it! We found an adorable (read: tiny), sunny apartment on the Upper West Side. Soon I'll be sharing recipes that have been cooked in a kitchen approximately the size of a postage stamp. Hey, if Deb can do it, so can I.

Truth be told, I've wanted to live in New York City since I was a little kid. I don't know when that idea popped into my head, but somewhere along the way I became enamored with NYC.  It's not a unique goal, moving to this iconic American city in pursuit of your dreams. People have done it for generations, with varying degrees of success. And that whole dream-chasing thing? That's exactly what I plan on doing. Pursuing food writing as a career will be difficult, but I'm going all in.

My cynical self is side-eyeing the "follow your dreams" mantra of my wide-eyed youth, but I'm trying to quiet that voice. I've listened to it far too often over the past few years, to no great effect. It's time for me to cultivate the hopeful voice that's been drowned out; to resuscitate my confidence and positivity. So as we close the "Seattle" chapter of our lives, I'm choosing to close the "My life isn't what I'd like it to be" chapter as well.  Because, friends, that chapter was long and rambling and just WENT NOWHERE. What will the next chapter hold? I'm not entirely sure. But I hope you'll stick around for the ride. 

March 18, 2014

Recipe: Homemade Vegan Funfetti Cupcakes

So, a funny thing happened over the weekend... I turned thirty. And, as "milestone" birthdays sometimes do, this particular birthday has spurred many moments of life evaluation, grieving, and general emotional despair. Let's just say the last month has been challenging, and move on to tastier and more uplifting subjects. Let's talk about cupcakes.

Is there anything more cheerful than a Funfetti cupcake? I don't think so. There's a reason Funfetti is the unofficial-official cake of birthdays - it's damn difficult to bum out about turning another year older when there's a rainbow of edible confetti bits in each and every bite of cupcake goodness. It's that inescapable cheerfulness that makes me return, year after year, to the loving, perky embrace of Funfetti cake. 

This year I abandoned my trusty box mix and made homemade Funfetti cupcakes. Why haven't I done this before? Old habits die hard, I suppose. But it turns out that making your own Funfetti cake is embarrassingly easy. Here's the breakdown:

1. Make your favorite vanilla cake batter.
2. Fold in a few tablespoons of multi-colored sprinkles.
3. Bake.

See? One little jar of sprinkles is all that stands between you and the happiest birthday cake in all the land. The vanilla cake recipe I used is adapted from the Golden Vanilla Cupcake recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. A couple tablespoons of coconut oil add a round richness and intense moisture to the cupcakes without making them taste "coconut-y" (we don't want to steal the sprinkles' thunder). The best sprinkles to use for Funfetti cake are "jimmies" - thin, elongated sprinkles - which melt easily into happy little rainbow dots once in the oven. My guess is you could try nonpareils or small shaped sprinkles (stars, discs, etc) as well, though I've not tested that theory myself - if you give another sprinkle variety a try, let me know how they worked in the comments!

Chocolate Stout & Funfetti Cupcakes (recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

Homemade Vegan Funfetti Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes

For 100% vegan sprinkles, be sure to check the label for "confectioner's glaze", an animal by-product that many vegans avoid. Some stores (like Kroger/QFC) happen to have vegan sprinkles, but if your local store doesn't, you can find vegan sprinkles at an online vegan grocer like Pangea.

1 cup plain nondairy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil (2 heaping tablespoons coconut oil, melted, plus neutral oil to total 1/3 cup)*
3/4 cup natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 heaping tablespoons vegan multi-colored sprinkles ("jimmies")

*To combine the oils: Melt 2 heaping tablespoons of coconut oil briefly in a microwave, then pour into a liquid measuring cup. Pour neutral oil (like sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, or rice bran) into the measuring cup until you have a total of 1/3 cup oil (you'll add about 3 tablespoons neural oil).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep a muffin tin with cupcake liners and set aside. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the milk and vinegar and set aside to sour. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined, then set aside. In a larger bowl, whisk together the oils, sugar, vanilla and soured milk until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until the batter is mostly lump-free. Add the sprinkles and stir briefly to incorporate.

Divide the batter between the 12 cupcake liners (they'll be about two-thirds of the way full) and place muffin tin in oven. Bake cupcakes for 20-22 minutes, until the center springs back when gently touched. Transfer cupcakes to a wire cooling rack, allowing them to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

February 27, 2014

Adventures in India

The past month has been a whirlwind, leaving little time for cooking, let alone blogging. But I'm back! Where have I been, you might ask?


Temple Dancer outside Jagdish Temple

Daniel and I were invited to attend our friend Janak's wedding in Ahmedabad, India. INDIA!!! Apologies for the all caps and multiple exclamation points, but this trip was worthy of both. I have always wanted to travel, and until now have not had much opportunity to do so. Between a tight budget and no paid time off, world travel has always seemed impossible. Daniel and I have worked hard over the last two years to improve our finances - paying off student loans in full, becoming homeowners, and prioritizing our saving accounts. All that hard work made this trip possible. For the first time, I got to fly halfway around the world and visit a country completely different from my own... and it was amazing.

Statue on the grounds of Fateh Garh Hotel

I think I said, "We're in India!" about a million times during our trip, trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was really there. We visited 600-year-old temples and mosques, explored crumbling, brightly painted neighborhoods, and marveled at the grandness of India's second-largest palace. We also saw more impoverished people, stray dogs, and skinny cows than I can count.

Stray dog in Ahmedabad's Old City

We spent the first 4 days in Ahmedabad, celebrating Janak's (amazeballs) wedding and sightseeing before driving 4 hours to Udaipur for more sightseeing (and some much needed R&R) for our final 3 days. Indians know how to throw a wedding, my friends.

Daniel, Janak, and Me before the Wedding

Janak's family was so gracious and helped us plan an incredible trip. Janak's brother-in-law Vishal took us to visit Gandhi Ashram, the 36-acre compound that served as Gandhi's home and headquarters from 1917-1930. I stood where Gandhi lived. That's an experience I'll never forget.

Gandhi's House at Gandhi Ashram

Statue of Gandhi at Gandhi Ashram

Janak's good friend Udbhav accompanied us on a guided tour of Ahmedabad's "Old City", where nondescript doors on crowded streets open to reveal stunning temples and mosques (a clever tactic to protect places of worship from the destruction of conquerors).

Exploring the streets of Ahmedabad's Old City

Jama Mosque in Ahmedabad's Old City (Can you believe this is hidden from the street?)
Ahmedabad is located in the state of Gujarat, which is almost entirely vegetarian (yea!). As such, the care of animals is seen as the responsibility of the people. Stray dogs and wandering cows are fed scraps, and chabutros (tree-like towers with food and water pans for birds) are found throughout the cityscape, built centuries ago when the city's growth replaced much of the area's tree life.

Cows and Dogs feeding on scraps
My favorite Chabutro (Bird Feeding Tower)
We only had a few days in Udaipur, but I am so glad we decided to visit (It's a city of lakes! And palaces! And palaces in the middle of lakes!). City Palace and Lake Pichola will take your breath away (do plan on spending quite a while at the palace - it is MASSIVE).

View from our Boat Tour of Lake Pichola (City Palace in back)

Vlad, Donna, Me, and Daniel in one of City Palace's many courtyards
We stayed in the most amazing hotel EVER, Fateh Garh, a modernized and restored palace (seriously, a palace). It was a total splurge (though Vishal secured us a fantastic deal) but the atmosphere, service, and meals were worth every rupee. I am still in shock that I got to stay somewhere so beautiful.

The View of Lake Pichola and City Palace from Fateh Garh's Pool

Enjoying dinner under the moonlight at Fateh Garh

Me and Daniel at Fateh Garh

I feel like I should have taken more pictures of the food, being a food blogger and all… but I was so focused on enjoying the food and the views that I rarely took out my camera at mealtime. That said, I came home with a TON of inspiration and some new favorite meals. I'm already starting to work on recipes and I can't wait to share with you all!