October 29, 2012

Recipe: Roasted Peppers with Sicilian Tempeh Stuffing



So, I've been sitting here, staring blankly at my computer screen, trying to craft some pithy-yet-drool-inducing way of luring you into this post, and unfortunately it's just not happening today. Writer's Block: 1. Joy: 0. So I'm going to skip all that and say it to you straight:

These stuffed peppers are delightful and should absolutely make their way into your mouth as quickly as possible. 

This is due in part to finding lovely sweet (mini!) peppers, which roasted in the oven are a home run in and of themselves, but mostly due to the fact that the stuffing turned out perfectly. I should perhaps feign humbleness, here, but I'm not going to. This stuffing is can't-stop-eating-it awesome. I was playing around with a Sicilian flavor profile and stumbled upon the best combination of flavors a stuffing has ever seen. Miso gives the stuffing a salty richness reminiscent of parmesan, capers give a briny bite, and red pepper flakes provide a subtle kick. To ensure the herb-y goodness so associated with stuffing, I turned to rosemary and.... wait for it.... fennel pollen.

Let's take a moment to discuss fennel pollen. It sounds all fancypants, but fennel pollen, while rare in most kitchens, is as tasty as it is versatile. It tastes of fennel in a manner completely distinct of fennel root or fennel seed. I love the way Peggy Knickerbocker (um, best name ever) described it in Saveur. Peggy would like us to know that fennel pollen has a "heady, honeylike herbaceous aroma", is "intoxicating", and believes that "if angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it".

If that's not a strong sell, I don't know what is. A couple caveats: fennel pollen is pricey and a bit hard to find, but 100% worth the cost and effort. You can find it in local co-ops with spice bulk bins, specialty herb/spice shops, and even health stores (it's also an effective nausea cure). Quality online sources like Zingerman's, World Spice Merchants, and Amazon are helpful if you can't find it locally.

I served the stuffed peppers with a side of saffron cous cous and peas, but they're quite filling and can be enjoyed with a simple salad for lunch or a light dinner.

Roasted Peppers with Sicilian Tempeh Stuffing
serves 4

4 sweet bell peppers (or 6 mini sweet peppers)
1 (8 ounce) package tempeh, crumbled
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional oil for drizzling
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon fennel pollen
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon mild white miso
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed well and chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using full-sized peppers, slice off the top of each pepper and scoop out the seeds. If you're going the mini-pepper route, slice in half length-wise and remove the seeds. Set aside.

Bring a skillet over medium heat and simmer broth and crumbled tempeh until tempeh has absorbed the broth (about 5-10 minutes). Add oil, onion, garlic, rosemary, fennel pollen, and red pepper flakes to skillet; saute until onions are softened (feel free to deglaze the pan with a spoonful of water to capture all the nice brown bits on the bottom of the skillet). Once onions are soft, remove skillet from heat and stir in the miso and capers until evenly combined. Add the breadcrumbs and mix until stuffing is well-combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Scoop stuffing into the peppers, filling each pepper generously (a mound of stuffing peeking over the top is fine). If you have extra stuffing, place in ramekins or a small baking dish, like so:



Drizzle tops of stuffed peppers (and extra stuffing, if you have it) with olive oil and bake 45-50 minutes for full-sized peppers or 30-40 minutes for mini peppers. The peppers should be tender and carmelized on their edges, with a golden, crisp stuffing crust. Serve warm.

October 24, 2012

Recipe: "Everything" No-Knead Bread


This is a riff on the classic "no-knead" bread recipe developed by the brilliant Jim Lahey of Sullivan St Bakery. If you've not yet tried Jim's genius technique, please do! It's a fantastic way to delve into the world of bread baking without freaking out over the intricacies of proper kneading, proofing, and rising. This how-to video from the New York Times is a nice introduction to the simplicity and easy-going-ness of the no-knead technique.

That easy-going quality means tweaking this recipe is a breeze -  Jim Lahey himself has turned one simple recipe into two best-selling cookbooks. I have a host of flavor additions that I'm planning on trying out in the future, but I started with a play on one of my favorite carb indulgences: the everything bagel. I have a love affair with everything bagels. They lure me in with their confidence - why would I ever need to eat any other bagel when everything I need is baked in to this one? Sesame? Check. Poppy seeds? Check. Salt, onion, and garlic? TRIPLE CHECK. I mean, come on - who can resist that much savory deliciousness? 

When I worked at Zingerman's, good everything bagels were easy to come by - I worked in the "Bread Box", for goodness sake. I was literally surrounded by fresh, chewy, bagels for 8 hours a day. Living in Seattle is a different story - what Seattle calls "bagels", I call "bagel-shaped bread". True bagels are like the freaking food unicorn of the Pacific Northwest. To date, I've only found one place that offers an honest-to-goodness bagel, but for the well-being of both my waistline and my wallet, I only indulge occasionally (plus, part of me just doesn't trust a bagel place with NO TOASTER - I mean, what the heck is that?). 

So, when it was time to bake our next loaf of bread, I decided to everything it up. I added sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, onion, and salt to the dough and let it rise overnight. Once the loaf was shaped, it was given a healthy coating of the same mixture to develop a classic everything crust. I really like the one-two punch of everything flavor - the intense salty-savory bite of the crust is echoed more gently in the interior. This bread is great simply toasted and topped with nondairy butter or olive oil, but it also makes a killer sandwich and pairs with soup like a dream. You might say it's got everything going for it.

"Everything" No-Knead Bread
A play on Jim Lahey's Classic No-Knead Bread Recipe

Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoons onion powder

Topping:
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Follow Jim's method, whisking the seeds and spices for the dough into the dry ingredients before adding the water. Mix together the topping and use instead of cornmeal/bran for the "dusting" step to create the classic flavored crust. Be generous with the topping - it's the best part, after all!

October 22, 2012

Recipe: Curried Butternut-Coconut Bisque


I know blogs and restaurants everywhere are offering up autumnal soups of the pumpkin and squash variety, but that's for two good reasons:

1. Winter squashes are perfectly in season.
2. Squash soups are freaking delicious.

Pureed winter squash creates a silky soup with a ton of sweet-yet-vegetal flavor that screams "Fall!". That's because pumpkin and butternut squash are the unofficial ambassadors of fall food, along with freshly picked orchard apples and cloudy apple cider. And donuts. Ah, donuts... but I digress. Today is not about donuts - today is about squash soup!

In an effort to introduce a little variation into the squash-soup-around-every-corner scene we've got going on, I gussied up this soup a bit. Curry powder and ginger give the soup a more savory backbone than traditional pumpkin pie-esque additions like cinnamon or cloves, while maintaining the expected notes of warming spice. Apple cider's hit of sweet is balanced by a healthy dash of smoked salt, and coconut milk's fatty goodness rounds everything out into a rich pool of yum.

Curried Butternut-Coconut Bisque
serves 6

1/2 of one large or 1 small butternut squash
1/2 of one large or 1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional drizzle for roasting squash
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt
1/2 cup apple cider (apple juice would be fine as well)
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons vegan bouillon paste (light broth/"chicken" style) or 1 1/2 vegan bouillon cubes
1 can light coconut milk
1-2 teaspoons lime juice, to taste
salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Rub squash interior with a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place cut-side down in a rimmed baking dish (I line mine with parchment for easier clean-up). Fill baking dish with enough water to cover bottom with 1/2 inch water. Transfer to oven and roast until squash is softened, about 1 hour (you should be able to easily pierce the squash with a fork). Remove from oven, turn cut side up, and let cool.



While squash is cooling, bring a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium heat and saute the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add the curry powder, ginger, and salt, stirring to coat onions. Add the apple cider, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot, and simmer cider until reduced by half. Remove from heat.

Add the onion and cider mixture to a food processor or blender. Scoop the squash flesh from the rind and add to the onion and cider mixture. Remove the center from the blender top/ feed tube of the processor to allow steam to escape, cover opening with a dish towel, and puree the mixture until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer puree back to pot and place over low heat. Dissolve bouillon in warm water. Add bouillon broth and coconut milk to the pot, stirring to combine with puree. Simmer soup for 10 minutes or until heated through, add 1 teaspoon lime juice, and taste for seasoning. Add additional lime juice, salt, and pepper as needed.

While the soup can be served immediately, the flavors come together best after resting for at least a few hours to overnight, making this a great make-ahead soup for a busy day's dinner or a week's worth of lunches.

October 19, 2012

Weekly Round Up

Christopher Kimball insists cooking is not creative. Mkay, buddy. Then how do you explain all the mind-blowing entries in the Vegan Chopped Brunch Challenge?

Did you know that the now-iconic whisk owes much of its popularity to Julia Child?

I'm in the market for a new pepper mill, and I'm torn between one that's pretty and one that's super-functional. Thoughts?

A bookseller's blog records handwritten recipes forgotten between book pages. These remind me of my grandma's collection of recipe cards.

Are you in Seattle this weekend? Hit up The Book Larder on Sunday for an author talk with Adam Roberts of The Amateur Gourmet - his book "Secrets of the Best Chefs" sounds awesome.

Have an amazing weekend!


October 17, 2012

Roasting on a Rainy Afternoon (Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad with Golden Pinenut Pesto)

Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad
Fall has finally come to Seattle, and I am enjoying it like the autumn-loving freak that I am. Now that there's a chill in the air and rain has returned (after all-but-abandoning Seattle for months), I'm happily rocking my boots and sweaters, enjoying the smell of the leaves, and taking advantage of the final few weeks of farmers' market harvest. That last bit means I have a fridge full of awesome vegetables, which is great. But... my new job means I don't have a lot of time to cook them. So when I saw Tamar E. Adler's video on cooking a week's worth of vegetables in one afternoon, I decided to give it a go. Basically, you hit up the farmers' market and focus on veggies that roast well - root and cruciferous vegetables, squashes, and the like. Conclusion? Why in the world have I never done this before? It is freaking brilliant - you toss everything in a crazy-hot oven, let them go for 30-60 minutes, and prep vegetables that will be uncooked (greens, etc.) during the cooking time. If you want, you can use the time to make dressings or other meal components as well. Then you pack everything up into tupperware and toss it into the fridge for easy access the rest of the week.

This week's vegetables included a head of cauliflower, a bunch of beets, and half a butternut squash (left over from the Vegan Chopped Challenge), so I put on an episode of Chopped (What? I was still in the zone!) and got to work. The oven was preheated to 400 degrees and the cauliflower, beets, and squash were washed, cut, tossed with olive oil/salt/pepper, and placed in baking dishes.

Vegetables prepped for roasting
Then into the oven they went, sizzling away and developing the caramelization that makes roasting so great. The cauliflower was tender after 20 minutes, while the beets and squash stayed in for about an hour. Everything came out amazing, and while I only had time to complete one meal (the cauliflower salad), having the beets and squash pre-cooked is going to make finishing the beet salad and squash soup later this week a breeze.

Roasted Cauliflower

So, onto the cauliflower salad. The dish is inspired by my favorite appetizer at La Medusa, a "Sicilian Soul Food" restaurant in our neighborhood. They serve an amazing gratin with roasty cauliflower florets, golden raisins, and pinenuts smothered in un-holy amounts of spicy butter and parmesan. The flavors are phenomenal. So I stole them and put them in an equally phenomenal salad healthy enough for a week of lunches. The pinenuts and golden raisins turned into an unconventional pesto spiked with rosemary and red pepper flakes. Fluffy quinoa was tossed with the cauliflower for texture and protein, turning the salad into a hearty entree. I like it best warm or room temp, but by all means feel free to enjoy it straight out of the fridge. It's not the most beautiful food I've ever made - the paleness of the ingredients gives an impression of blandness that's far from accurate - but it is a perfect salad to enjoy on a chilly fall day.


Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad with Golden Pinenut Pesto

Cauliflower:
1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and black pepper

Quinoa:
1/2 cup quinoa, well-rinsed
1 cup water
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt

Golden Pinenut Pesto:
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup pinenuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons mild white miso
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or heaping 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

toasted bread crumbs for garnish (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a large rimmed baking dish, toss the cauliflower florets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast cauliflower for 20 or so minutes, flipping the florets about with a spatula half-way through to get even caramelization. Once cauliflower is done (tender all the way through, but not in any way soft), remove from oven and let cool. I suggest erring on the side of slightly underdone, as the cauliflower will continue cooking even after you take it out of the oven.

While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare your quinoa. Toast the rinsed quinoa in a dry saucepan over medium heat for a few minutes, until most of the residual rinsing water has evaporated and the grains have separated from each other and become a bit golden. Add the water, nutritional yeast, and salt, cover the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer quinoa, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat, but keep covered and allow quinoa to steam for 5 minutes. Fluff grains with a fork and set aside.

While the quinoa is cooking, you'll have just enough time to make your pesto. Rehydrate the raisins in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until plump and soft, then drain. I recommend reserving the water when draining the raisins - you'll want this on hand in case your pesto needs a bit of thinning. In the meantime, toast the pinenuts in a dry pan over low heat until fragrant and lightly golden. Once the raisins and pinenuts are ready, toss them into a food processor or blender along with the olive oil, lemon juice, miso, rosemary, and red pepper flakes. Pulse to combine until an evenly incorporated, but textured sauce forms - remember, you're making pesto, not puree. If the pesto is too thick, add water a teaspoon at a time to thin it out.

In a large bowl, combine the roasted cauliflower and cooked quinoa. Add the pesto and toss to coat the salad. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with toasted bread crumbs if desired.

October 14, 2012

VEGAN CHOPPED: Fall in your Face Sticky Buns (Butternut-Popcorn Flour Buns with Rosemary-Cinnamon-Apricot Filling and Apricot-Rosemary Caramel)

UPDATE: I won the "Favorite Baked Good" award in the Vegan Chopped Brunch Challenge! I could not be more excited! Many thanks to Isa and everyone who's stopped by the blog - this is awesome.

Fall in your Face Sticky Buns

So, first off, my apologies for abandoning the blog for a shame-inducing 76 days. Oy. That's what summer's-end vacations followed by a new job does to me, apparently. But I'm back! And I brought presents - I've got several catch-up posts in the works and today we're making STICKY BUNS!

Sweet lord, do I love sticky buns. My mom used to make killer pecan rolls as a Christmas morning brunch treat, thus beginning my obsession. But even without a nostalgic trigger, how can you NOT love a sticky bun? It's a cinnamon roll that's been smothered in effing caramel sauce and roasty-toasty nuts. They beg to be eaten in a messy, finger-licking manner between slurps of hot coffee. They must be eaten in the presence of family or friends... you know, people who love you in your less-than-glamorous moments. Because sticky buns aren't meant to be eaten in polite bites, they are meant to be inhaled. So prepare yourself for a moment of glorious, uninhibited gluttony. We're making sticky buns.

Vegan Chopped Ingredients Basket

These buns are brought to you by the third round of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Chopped Competition. The first two rounds were for an entree and dessert, keeping in the standard Chopped routine, but this round Isa is mixing it up with BRUNCH! This Vegan Chopped challenge is to craft an extraordinary brunch item using the following four ingredients: butternut squash, popcorn, fresh rosemary, and apricot preserves. I was actually pretty pumped when I saw this basket, since apricot and rosemary is one of my all-time favorite combinations (I make a kick-ass Apricot-Rosemary Pan Sauce that will make a blog appearance in the future). I wanted to make a single brunch item that married together all the required ingredients into an autumnal flavor profile - something that tasted like fall in your face. Sticky buns were the answer. Apricot-rosemary caramel and roasted squash seeds would become the topping, butternut squash would flavor the tender popcorn flour (!!!) dough, which would be brimming with apricot-rosemary-cinnamon filling.

I can hear you wondering about the rosemary and cinnamon combination. But it really, really works. Cinnamon and rosemary are equally assertive flavors that pair surprisingly well together, almost melding into an entirely new flavor when mixed - earthy, pungent, spicy, resinous, and sweet. Does this have something to do with the fact that both are tree-harvested ingredients (cinnamon is bark, rosemary is pine needles)? Maybe. Regardless, they make a killer combo for sticky bun filling, especially paired with the gooeyness of apricot preserves. Yum.

What's that? You also wonder what the heck I'm talking about when I say "popcorn flour"? It's crazy-simple, really. I learned about popcorn flour when I worked at a bakery in Ann Arbor and we started making foccacia with a mixture of wheat and house-made popcorn flour. Popcorn flour is an old-school "during hard times" ingredient that was typically used to lessen amounts of higher-cost wheat flour in recipes (used in a one-to-three ratio with wheat flour), but it's really a great ingredient regardless. Cutting wheat flour with popcorn flour results in a super fluffy, airy baked good. Which makes sense, because the flour itself looks and feels like finely ground tasty styrofoam. To make popcorn flour, pop 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels (I put the kernels in a brown paper bag and pop them in the microwave), let cool, and grind in a food processor for 5 minutes. Sift the flour in a sieve - whatever makes its way through is your popcorn flour.


Homemade Popcorn Flour
So, to review: we're making sticky buns for an imaginary competitive brunch. Said sticky buns will taste like autumn jumped into your face. Let's do this.

Fall in your Face Sticky Buns
(inspired by Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk's recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, which was adapted from Cooking Light)

DOUGH:

2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup butternut squash puree
1/4 cup nondairy milk
2 tablespoons nondairy butter, melted
1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup popcorn flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
additional all-purpose flour for kneading
oil to grease rising bowl

FILLING:

3 tablespoons apricot preserves
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons popcorn flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

TOPPING:

seeds from one large butternut squash, cleaned and rinsed
1/3 cup raw pecans, chopped
salt and oil
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup nondairy butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

You'll be using the butternut squash in two ways: the flesh will become a puree that flavors the dough, and the seeds will be roasted and added to the caramel-nut topping. While your oven is preheating to 400 degrees, prep the squash.  Slice the squash in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Separate the squash goop (that's a technical term) from the seeds, give them a nice rinse, and toss with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt in a small baking dish. Bake the seeds for 10 minutes before adding the chopped pecans into the mix (add a bit more salt, too), and bake 10-15 more minutes until golden (remember to toss the mix around every 5 minutes or so for an even toasting).

Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds and Pecans
 While seeds are in the oven, drizzle the interior of one half of the squash with oil and place cut-side down into a rimmed baking dish filled  1/2 inch water. Roast until flesh is soft (I poke it with a fork to check), 45-60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop flesh out and puree in a food processor until smooth. Measure out 3/4 cup of puree for the dough, reserve remaining puree for another use.

In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and water. While the yeast blooms (5 minutes), add the flours, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk to combine. In a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, mix together the squash puree, milk, melted butter, and sugar. Add bloomed yeast and water mixture and mix briefly to combine. Replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook and add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, using the stand mixer's low setting to knead the dough for 10 minutes. During the 10-minute kneading time, add a spoonful of flour and scrape down the sides as needed until the dough is smooth, elastic, and slightly sticky to the touch (I added 6 spoonfuls of flour to mine). Grease the bottom and sides of a large bowl with a drizzle of oil and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover bowl with a dish cloth and let rise in a warm (85 degrees or so) place free of drafts until doubled in size (about 45 minutes). I stuck the bowl in my turned-off oven, which was still a bit warm from roasting the squash earlier in the afternoon. While dough rises, prep your filling and topping (just stir each set of ingredients together in small bowls and set aside in refrigerator until needed).

Once dough is doubled in size, punch down, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll your rested dough into a 10x12 inch rectangle on a floured surface. Spread filling on dough (leaving 1 inch on sides) and roll dough into a log, pinching seam to seal. Cut log into 12 1-inch rolls.
Dough spread with Rosemary-Cinnamon-Apricot Fillng
Smear the bottom of a round 9-inch baking pan with the topping mixture, then tuck the rolls into the pan. Cover and let rise for 25 minutes or until doubled in size (During this time, preheat your oven to 375 degrees). Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn out the hot buns onto a plate, drizzling tops with any caramel-y goodness left in the pan. Let cool for a few minutes, then go to town.

Sticky Buns turned out onto plate


Sticky Bun and Coffee







July 30, 2012

Kung Pao Tofu and Noodles

Kung Pao Tofu 

A few months back I made a batch of homemade Kung Pao sauce using this crazy-simple recipe from Ming Tsai of "Simply Ming". I only ended up using half of the batch, so I transfered the rest to a small tupperware container and popped it into the freezer for another day. Almost six months and one move to a new house/much snazzier freezer later, the sauce remained. Lonely. And forming ice crystals. Clearly the time had come for me to pay some attention to the abandoned container of saucy goodness. I rummaged through the fridge and came out with a small head of cabbage, some carrots, and a block of super firm tofu. A brief pantry browse turned up a box of rice noodles and some sesame seeds. Not necessarily the traditional components of a Kung Pao dish, but sure to be delicious all the same. Plus, Ming is all about new takes on traditional Chinese cuisine, so I'm sure he'd be cool with it. I tossed cubes of the tofu in cornstarch seasoned with garlic, onion, and ginger powders, then pan-fried the coated tofu in a large pan filled with 1/4 cup of oil. I found it helpful to fry the tofu in two batches, and prepared a cooling rack with a layer of paper towels to let the fried tofu drain while I completed the rest of the dish.

After the tofu was done, I quickly stir fried the cabbage and carrots (both super thinly sliced) in the remaining tofu-frying-oil until tender-crisp. Back in went the tofu, followed by the thawed Kung Pao sauce. I'd intended to toss the rice noodles (which were soaked in hot water until al dente and drained) with the saucy tofu and veggies, but I didn't end up having quite enough sauce for that to work out. Oh, well. Instead, the naked noodles were placed into bowls like a little nest and smothered in Kung Pao yumminess and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. I don't know about you, but I'd say that sauce is looking pretty flipping happy.

July 15, 2012

VEGAN CHOPPED: Coconut-Rice Lace Cookies filled with Mango Custard and Beet-Hibiscus Coulis... and a Beet-Hibiscus Mojito on the side


It's time for another round of the Post Punk Kitchen's Vegan Chopped! The challenge? Create a delightful dessert featuring the following ingredients: 

1. Mango
2. Red Beets
3. Unsweetened Dried Coconut
4. Crisp Rice Cereal

Not a bad basket, really - all the items can easily go "sweet". Even the rogue vegetable thrown in the mix, red beets, have a natural sweetness - albeit shrouded in the earthiness that beets are known for. I wanted to do a fun, light, and pretty summer dessert with these ingredients. I started by making a lace cookie - a thin, delicate crisp of caramelized buttery goodness, full of crunchy texture thanks to coconut flakes and crisp rice. This was my first attempt at making lace cookies, and all things considered, I think I rocked it. Sure, there was a brief substantial moment of panic when the vegan butter separated in the pan and the cookie batter oozed pools of fat throughout their time in the oven. But after a few minutes cooling, they were fine. More than fine, really. Damn near perfect. And now I know that lace cookies need less fat than Bon Appetit says they do. I also know that a Swiffer broom makes an excellent shaping device for lace cookies. See?



















Now I had a batch of adorable curved cookies, which looked like extra-delicious miniature taco shells. This is where my brain goes, "Dessert Tacos? Why not? Choco-Tacos are awesome, right?". So I whipped up a rich mango custard to fill my adorable dessert tacos. To top it off, I made a Beet and Hibiscus coulis (that's fancy French for "thick sauce"). Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say. Hibiscus? With beets? Trust me, the combo is delicious. Dried hibiscus flowers can be found at your local hippie-store of choice in the bulk section, and you want to buy them. They're shockingly versatile, and add a unique sweet-tart flavor that is only vaguely "floral". In addition to the hibiscus flowers, the coulis has a bit of lime juice and rum, which tie into the flavors of...

The Beet-Hibiscus Mojito. Or as Daniel dubbed it, the Hibeetscus Mojito. Because a mojito is a taco's best friend. Into the standard mix of lime, mint, and rum went a heaping spoonful of the coulis, which turned the drink a gorgeous shade of magenta. All told, a fun, light, and pretty summer dessert.



















COCONUT-RICE LACE COOKIES
adapted from Bon Appetit

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup crisp rice cereal
6 tablespoons nondairy butter ***next time, I'll try just 4 tablespoons***
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Follow the method for this recipe, subbing the  above amounts of coconut flakes and crisp rice for the almonds and oats, agave nectar for honey, and omitting the salt. Once the cookies are out of the oven, check them every couple of minutes for the magic moment when they are cool enough to stay intact but warm enough to be pliable. Once the moment arrives, shape the cookies into a curved "tile" (or as I call it "taco") shape by gently forming the cookies around a narrow curved surface such as a rolling pin or a Swiffer broom handle covered in parchment.

MANGO CUSTARD

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup boiling water
10 ounces frozen mango, thawed
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup powdered sugar

You'll first want to soak the cashews in the boiling water for about an hour, until the cashews are plump and softened. While the cashews are soaking, puree the mango and coconut milk in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer the puree to a saucepan. Over medium heat, add the powdered sugar to the puree, whisking until thickened. Remove puree from heat.

Once the cashews are finished soaking, drain the water and puree the cashews into a super-smooth paste using a food processor or blender. Scrape down the sides every so often to make sure there's no grainy texture in the cashew paste. Once smooth, add the mango-coconut puree to the cashew paste and puree the mixture until, you guessed it, smooth.

Here's the annoying-but-oh-so-necessary part of the process: straining the custard. It will take about 5-10 minutes, but the result is worthwhile - a MUCH creamier texture, free of any mango or cashew fibers. Transfer the custard to a large sieve and position the sieve over a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, force the custard through the impossibly tiny holes of the sieve. It will take some muscle. Halfway through, you'll want to give up, but remember the victory of super-smooth vegan custard and PERSEVERE. In the end, you'll be left with silky custard-y perfection in the bowl, fibrous leftovers in the sieve, a smile on your face, and an arm cramp. Reward yourself with a spoonful of custard. Refrigerate until completely cool.

BEET-HIBISCUS COULIS

1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers
1 bunch (5 medium) red beets, peeled and diced
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon spiced rum

Steep the hibiscus flowers in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Transfer the hibiscus water to a medium saucepan, straining out the flowers themselves. Add the beets and sugar to the hibiscus water and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until the beets are softened. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a blender. Add the lime juice and rum before CAREFULLY (center lid removed and covered with a dish towel to release steam) pureeing the hot mixture until smooth. Refrigerate until cool.

HIBEETSCUS MOJITO

This is more to taste than a hard-and-fast recipe, but here's the gist. In your glass of choice, add 10 or so mint leaves, a hearty squeeze of lime juice, a tablespoon each of the beet-hibiscus coulis and simple syrup, and a handful of crushed ice. Muddle the ingredients briefly to bruise the mint. Pour in an ounce or so of white rum and top off the glass with club soda. Garnish with slices of lime and, because it's cool, use a length of frozen beet stem as your stirring stick (seriously, it works).







June 27, 2012

RECIPE: Grapefruit Ginger Scones



Did you know that grapefruit and ginger were destined to be BFFs? That's right. Long ago, the Universe looked about and said, "Hey, you know what would be cool? If this bodacious citrus fruit and this gnarly-looking root tasted AWESOME together." Apparently the Universe sounds like Keanu Reeves in the 90's. Who knew? Regardless, when it comes to grapefruit and ginger, the Universe was dead on.

How, you might ask, did I get turned on to this particular tidbit of the Universe's infinite knowledge? Through the wonders of the internet, that's how. You know, the man-made version of infinite knowledge (and porn). While exploring my favorite food blogs, I came across a mouth-watering scone recipe on Joy the Baker. Let me just take a moment to say how consistently fantastic Joy's blog is. Not only does she have the best name ever, she is a baking goddess with a quirky sense of humor who takes a mean food photo (PLUS she's vegan-friendly). Check her out.

So Joy the Baker gets me hooked on the idea of "Grapefruit Honey Yogurt Scones". Except, you know, all veganized and stuff... which means removing the honey and yogurt features... which leaves you with "Grapefruit Scones". Still yummy-sounding, but not in the "I-must-have-these-now" kind of way I was hoping for. Thus began a search for other grapefruit-y recipes to use as inspiration. Before too long, I landed on a promising tea bread by the folks at Vegetarian Times. The "grapefruit-ginger" combination sounded intriguing, the "tea bread" bit not so much. I ran off to the store to buy crystallized ginger and soy yogurt for a new recipe I christened "Grapefruit Ginger Scones".

These scones are... how should I put this delicately.... utterly kick-ass. I love them. I ate too many exactly the right number of them. And then I ate one more. The recipe came together beautifully, turning out bakery-worthy delights shrouded in a crunchy sugary crust. With each bite, sweet-tart grapefruit bounces off spicy ginger, rounded out by nutty whole wheat flour and a splash of agave nectar. Yep. You want to make these.

Grapefruit Ginger Scones
adapted from Joy the Baker

Ruby Red grapefruit, 1, zested and segmented (Confused? Here's a how-to segment citrus video!)
natural cane sugar, 1/4 cup, divided
white whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup
all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup
baking powder, 1 teaspoon
baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon
salt, 1/4 teaspoon
organic canola oil, 1/4 cup
plain soy yogurt, 1/2 cup
agave nectar, 2 tablespoons
chopped crystallized ginger, 1/4 cup
non-dairy milk (just a bit to wash the tops of the scones)

First up is making some fancy-pants grapefruit-scented sugar. Take the zest from your grapefruit and combine it with the sugar in a happy little pile on your cutting board. Smush the heck out of the pair using the back of a spoon until the sugar turns a light grapefruit-y hue, signaling that the oil of the grapefruit zest has permeated the sugar (that's good). Set aside for the moment. Chop the grapefruit segments into bite sized bits and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the grapefruit sugar, pulsing a few times to combine. Using the feed tube of the food processor, slowly pour in the oil while pulsing to create a crumbly, sandy mixture with pea-sized bits of dough beginning to form. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, form a well in the middle, and add the yogurt, agave nectar, grapefruit segments, and ginger.  Use a fork to combine the wet ingredients with the dry, being careful not to overmix. The dough will be quite sticky. Don't freak out.

Prepare a clean surface (I like to use a silpat on the counter) with a good sprinkling of flour and turn out the dough. With floured hands, quickly form the dough into a circle approximately 8 inches across and 1 inch thick. Cut the dough circle into 6 triangles and place on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment. Brush the top of each scone with a bit of milk, followed by a healthy layer of the remaining grapefruit sugar. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 17 minutes, until the scones are a rich golden brown. Cool for at least 10 minutes before enjoying.

I ate the scones from this batch plain - no butter, no jam - along with a fresh cup of tea or coffee. But... the next time I make them, I may get crazy with a big dollop of whipped coconut cream. Because that sounds amazing. I think the Universe would agree.





June 24, 2012

VEGAN CHOPPED: Portobello Steaks with Bittersweet Blackberry BBQ Sauce, Black Eyed Rutabaga Puree, and Green Bean Salad with Mint Gremolata

UPDATE: What the what? I am super honored to have been named a Runner Up!!!! Many thanks to Isa, Jess, and Katie for judging the competition, and many hats off to my fellow competitors for creating some truly amazing dishes. You can see the full list of Winner, Runner Ups, and Honorable Mentions over on the PPK's facebook page.


Portobello Steaks with Bittersweet Blackberry BBQ Sauce, Black Eyed Rutabaga Puree, and Green Bean Salad with Mint Gremolata 
The many, many hours I've wasted invested watching competitive cooking shows have finally come in handy. Isa over at the Post Punk Kitchen came up with the brilliant idea to do a vegan version of Chopped, a show that challenges chefs to create awesome dishes utilizing a requisite array of ingredients (ranging from head-scratching to WTF in their strangeness) while under the clock. For the first Vegan Chopped, Isa challenged vegan cooks everywhere to create a killer entree in under 40 minutes which included the following ingredients:

1. Blackberries
2. Fresh Mint
3. Canned Black Eyed Peas
4. Bittersweet Chocolate

Yeeeah. Three of the four ingredients are traditionally used in desserts. This challenge is for an entree. Isa, you tricksy little vegan minx. This challenge is crazypants. 

I decided to go for it anyway.

After cooking like a crazy person and turning my kitchen into a culinary warzone (I now understand why so many competing chefs' stations look like a hurricane blew through), my entree was complete. The blackberries and chocolate became a spicy, tangy BBQ sauce that glazed hearty mushroom caps. Black eyed peas got friendly with oft-ignored rutabaga in a creamy, earthy-sweet puree. A classic side of green beans was re-imagined as a cool salad dressed in minty-lemony goodness. It's the perfect meal for summer entertaining, really - a dish that feels both fancy and familiar. We're not reinventing the wheel here. Just making it tastier.

Here's the breakdown of the dish's components (all conveniently gluten-, soy-, and nut-free!):

PORTOBELLO STEAKS WITH BITTERSWEET BLACKBERRY BBQ SAUCE:

Steaks: 
portobello mushroom caps, 4 large, brushed clean and stems removed
olive oil

Saute mushrooms in olive oil over medium heat until tender and caramelized, glazing in BBQ sauce as you go.

Sauce:
frozen blackberries, 1 cup
ketchup, 2 tablespoons
adobo sauce, 1 tablespoon (the saucy goodness in a can of chipotle chiles)
balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon
olive oil, 1 tablespoon
lime zest, zest of one lime
bittersweet chocolate, 2 squares of a 3.5 ounce bar (a little less than 1 ounce)
salt to taste

In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the blackberries until they break down a bit and release their juices. In a blender, puree all ingredients except the chocolate until smooth. Bring a saucepan to medium heat and pour in the sauce, bringing to a simmer. While simmering, finely chop the chocolate. Add chocolate to the sauce, stir until smooth, and taste for seasoning. Remove from heat.

BLACK EYED RUTABAGA PUREE:

black eyed peas, 1 (15 oz) can, drained and rinsed
olive oil, 2 tablespoons, divided
rutabaga, 1 lb, peeled and diced
sweet onion, 1 small, diced
garlic, 2 cloves
unsweetened non-dairy milk, 1/2 cup
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the rutabaga, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon of oil over medium heat until softened and caramel in color (I partially covered the pan to speed the process up, but this still was cooking in the background for most of the challenge time). Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a food processor. Add the peas, milk, and remaining tablespoon of oil. Puree until smooth, seasoning to taste.

GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH MINT GREMOLATA:

green beans, 8 ounces
mint, 1 cup leaves, minced
garlic, 2 cloves, minced
lemon, zest of whole lemon and juice of half 
olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons, depending on your preference
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. In the meantime, fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water (you'll shock the beans in this "ice bath" after cooking). Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until just tender-crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to the ice bath and cool completely before draining. In a bowl, combine the mint, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the green beans with the gremolata and check for seasoning.


So there you have it. Check out all the entries on the PPK Facebook page - winner to be announced on Tuesday!!!!