Monday, November 30, 2009

More Thanksgiving Recaps, More Dreena

I don't know if you noticed, but I basically made my entire Thanksgiving Day meal from Dreena Burton's cookbooks. Because she's awesome. Or, at least, her blog is awesome and now that I'm finally cooking from her books instead of simply drooling over them, I'm finding that her recipes are awesome too.

I made several desserts, but this one, from Vive le Vegan! was my favorite:

Gingered Pear Crisp ---hit the hyperlink for the wheat-free version

Pear base: 
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp arrowroot powder
5 fresh pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks (roughly 4 1/2 cups)
3 Tbsp dried cranberries
2 - 2 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 - 1/4 ground cardamom
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp allspice

1/2 quick oats
1/4 ground oats (grind oats in the food processor)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 almond slivers (optional)
1/4 unrefined sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 F. For the pear base: in a large bowl, combine the maple syrup with the arrowroot and stir until arrowroot is dissolved. Add the remaining pear base ingredients and toss throughly until well combined. Transfer to a lightly oiled 8x8 baking dish. In another bowl, combine all the topping ingredients, and use your fingers to work the mixture until just crumbly. Sprinkle the topping over the pear mixture, distributing evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden and a little bubbly. Serve hot or warm.

I made a few alterations to our crisp: I left out the almond slivers, I used raisins instead of dried cranberries, and I used grapeseed oil instead of canola. Also, I prepared this dish the day before, cutting up the pears, measuring-out the dry ingredients, and then didn't combine the wet/dry and base/topping until the next day. It was really easy to mix everything together and pop the dish right into the oven as we sat down to eat so that after dinner we had a warm, fresh-from-the-oven dessert to eat, topped with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Yum!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

How 'bout some Hummus?

 Here's a new-to-me recipe, made on Thanksgiving (or, actually, the day before, but for Thanksgiving) that was wonderful!

Dreena Burton's Cannellini Bean Yam Hummus from Vive le Vegan!

1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans
3/4 cup cooked yam
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 - 1 tsp chipotle hot sauce
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (garnish)

Combine all ingredients except pine nuts and cilantro into a food processor and puree until very smoothe, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times throughout. Once smooth, add the pine nuts and puree just a little, leaving some texture (or blend smooth if you like it that way). Season to taste with extra sea salt and pepper and chipotle sauce, if desired.

I didn't use any pine nuts, so I imagine my finished hummus was a bit different than it was supposed to be, but it didn't need the pine nuts for texture and the taste was great: creamy and only mildly beany (cannellini beans aren't as POW as chickpeas are) with a bit of heat from the chipotle sauce.

A great dip for pita chips or crackers!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I'm More "Moron" Than "Moroccan"

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a quiet family gathering with just one extra setting at the table, making prep very calm and relaxing. Perhaps that was the reason I decided to go against the grain.

You know how they say to never never never try a new recipe on a big day? Well, I am so stupid awesomely confident that I was sure only good things (versus complete and total failure) were in store for me. Ahem.

Well, hello there, Complete and Total Failure! Fancy seeing you here. How are your kids:  Embarrassment and Egg-on-Face?

I cooked several new recipes for this year's table, and I'll blog about each individually, but I figured I'd get the worst result out into the open first thing. It was our main course. I know, I know.

I need to say right up front that I'm sure it wasn't the recipe. It was me. I know where and when I went wrong,  and I'll point it out. 

From Dreena Burton's Vive le Vegan!

Moroccan Chickpea Patties served with Ginger Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4-5 Tbsp pure maple syrup
2 1/2- 3 Tbsp tamari
1-1 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients in bowl and stir to mix well.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 medium clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil (for puree)
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp sesame seeds 
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil (for frying)

In a skillet over med heat, heat the oil. Add the fennel, salt and pepper and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook for another 5 mins. Remove from heat. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas with the garlic, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, salt, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon and puree until the mixture becomes smooth (scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed). If still a little chunky, add a touch more oil or water and puree again until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the fennel/red pepper mixture and green onions. Stir through to combine well. If you have the time, refrigerate for at least an hour (the mixture will firm up and be easier to shape). Mix the breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, and sea salt and pour onto a plate. Take a mound of the chickpea mixture (roughly 1/3 cup) and form patties, then dip both sides in the breadcrumb mixture. In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and fry the patties for about 7-9 minutes on each side, until lightly browned (flip only once or twice). 

And here's where I went wrong:  I added just a tad too much of each of the liquid ingredients (rather than a scant amount I let the measuring spoons overflow a bit) and then, even though the mixture in the food processor seemed quite smooth I went ahead and added additional oil anyway. I don't know why, because she mentioned it, I guess. And then, because I'd mismanaged my time (we were less than an hour from dinner time) I was not able to leave the mixture in the fridge for an hour as recommended but only about 10 minutes. 

The result? I was trying to form, coat, and fry patties out of a chickpea & fennel mixture the consistency of really soupy mashed potatoes. REALLY soupy mashed potatoes. It didn't work well. Nevertheless, I fried up the mush as best I could and served them at our table: in a heap of random fried pieces versus the golden browned patties I had been imagining. They looked, well, they looked gross. But they tasted good (if you could manage to scoop them up onto your fork). And the dipping sauce (which, of course, became a pour-over-the-food sauce since the "patties" weren't about to be dipped into anything) was very tasty.  I will attempt this recipe again on another day, being careful to measure correctly and leaving myself enough time for the mixture to firm up in the refrigerator.

Lesson learned. I will not try and cook a new recipe--at least not for our main course!--on a holiday ever again. (Wait... is my husband's birthday considered a holiday?)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let's Talk Tradition

When I read a cookbook that says things like "You'll love my recipe so much you'll never again buy pre-made store bought such-and-such!" I generally don't believe them. Because I'm cheap and lazy and will SO want to buy such-and-such again instead of making it!

But in this case, the cookbook was right. Homemade cranberry sauce is fabulous. It's so tasty and easy that I will never buy that gross jelled (or filled with stems "whole") canned stuff again. Ever. I promise. (It's been three years so far, so that's impressive, no?)

Um, so yeah, I've made this recipe for the past two Thanksgivings and I made it again today. Which means it's not a new untested recipe and doesn't exactly fit into the rules of this blog challenge. But it's my self-challenge and my blog so I'm going to post it anyway.

Directly from Dreena Burton's fabulous cookbook Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, I present to you:

Traditional Cranberry Sauce 
Makes 4-5 servings (about 1 cup)

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

In a pot on medium-high heat, combine the first three ingredients and bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have broken down. (Reduce heat if sauce is sticking or simmering too rapidly.) Once sauce has thickened, taste test, and add balsamic vinegar for a touch of sourness if desired. Serve warm or chilled.

Seriously, go make it right now for Thanksgiving--it's not too late!  (Madisonians: Willy St. Co-op has organic, locally grown cranberries in stock!)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Biscuits for the Bin

And for my 10th post: a flop.

To accompany this week's Blonde Lentil Soup I whipped up a batch of biscuits. Or, rather, they whipped me. Any way you view it, I ended up with a bruised ego.

I remember the biscuits of my childhood: puffed to perfection, flaky, soaked in margarine (yes, we northwesterners then proudly cooked with Marigold), and yummy to the tummy.

My pre-teen self believed it was my own cunning hand that consistendly turned out beautiful biscuits. Nothing to do with the recipe or ingredients, just my own my brilliant ability to measure and stir. To cut-in the shortening. To turn the dial on the oven.

Apparently not.

Perhaps my magical biscuit abilities have dissipated over the past twenty years, but those I made this week were bad. Not bad enough to immediately throw out, mind you. We did choke them down, bathed in butter and soaked in the lentil soup. But they were not good enough to keep around, even though there were many left after dinner. They were flat, burned on the bottom, and dry. Unappetizing.

I took their recipe from Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure: book two (1978):


2 cups white flour
4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 to 2/3 cup cold milk

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slice the butter while it is very cold, add it to the dry ingredients, and cut it in with a pastry blender or two knives until ti si in bits the size of split peas. The texture of this mixture should be a little more coarse than that of a short-crust mixture before the liquid is added.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup cold milk over the flour and butter, and stir it in quickly with a fork. Add only as much more of hte milk as is necessary to make the dough hold together.

Gather the dough up into a ball, working it together with your hands very briefly, and then roll it out 1/2 inch think on a floured board. Cut out small rounds and place them on ungreased baking sheets. If you aren't going to put them in the oven immediately, chill them in the refridgerator until ready to bake.

Bake the bicuits in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until puffed and lightly browned on top. Serve with butter.

Make about 20 biscuits.

This is one recipe I followed to the letter, with no substitutions. I don't know if it's just a rotton recipe (it's certainly not an overly complicated one) or if it was my sadly lacking baking skills again (see my not-so-great Gingerbread Apple Pie attempt), but I probably won't attempt this exact recipe again.

If any of you have used Anna's recipe and found it to be a great success, let me know. Or don't. Because if you do then I'll know that it was me that was the flop.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When life gives you lemons...

...make lentil stew!

It's not intuitive, no.

I don't remember why I was stockpiling so many lemons. But there they were Wednesday night, begging to be used for something spectacular. (Note: lemonade is not spectacular--it is disgusting.)

I thought briefly about plopping them into a bowl and dubbing them our new centerpiece; however, after considering that the cats chew on everything and not relishing the idea of soggy moldy lemon pieces spit out across the dining room, I focused on this blog's challenge.

I remembered reading an interesting recipe involving lentils (check) and lemons (triple check). After searching through several books' indexes I found it again, nestled away in what surely is one of the most famous vegetarian cookbooks:

Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure

You know the one. Cute line drawings, intriguing recipes, and several references to the social smoking of marijuana (she wrote the book while in college. in the 70's. Hello.).

Blonde Lentil Soup <--- click here to see the official recipe via Google Book

My slightly altered version:

Make 5 cups of broth (I had homemade broth in the freezer--go me!)

2 onions
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp lemon rind, grated
1 bay leaf
1 cup dried yellow lentils
juice of 1 lemon
sweet basil
salt & pepper

Saute the onion and garlic in the butter. When the onions begin to turn brown, add them to the broth along with the lemon rind, bay leaf, and lentils. Let it cook for about 40 to 60 minutes, adding water to maintain the same consistency. Now add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, a little crushed sweet basil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let it simmer another 20 minutes or so and serve.

The dish was described as "exotic," and I suppose it was. You don't normally think "citrus-y zest" when you're slurping up legumes. But maybe you should.

My verdict: awesome dish. And it wasn't just me, the baby girl adored it too (she ate a ramekin full). My husband wasn't as thrilled, but I suspect it had more to do with the fact that dinner was 90 minutes late (the world's best time manager I'm not) than how it tasted; he told me he wasn't a fan of lemony stew but then ate three bowls. I'm chalking his grouchy food comments down to his being out-of-his mind starved.

Because I'm telling you: it was good.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fearless Feasting

I found a recipe over the weekend and knew I had to try it because (1) we usually have all the ingredients on-hand and (2) it looked super easy. I was not afraid! And so I made it today. And of course (1) we didn't have two of the ingredients and (2) it took twice as long to cook as the directions indicated.

That's how it goes, right?

I chose my recipe from Gourmet Vegetarian Feasts by Martha Rose Shulman. I've never used her cookbook before, but paging through it I found a lot of recipes that sound delicious (cold cherry-lemon soup, coucou a l'Iranien [basically a flat omelette with nuts], garlic souffle, curried lentil pate, and many more). Today's dish was one of the most simple in the book.

Cheese, Bread, and Tomato Casserole
Serves 6-8

  • 4-6 slices whole wheat bread
  • 8 onces Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme, dried or fresh
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • pepper, freshly ground
  • sea salt to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 2-quart baking dish or souffle dish.
  2. Layer bread, cheese, and tomatoes in that order, two layers each in prepared baking dish.
  3. Beat together eggs, milk, wine, thyme, mustard, pepper, and salt. Pour over cheese, bread, and tomatoes.
  4. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until puffed and browned.

I didn't have any thyme so I used tarragon and basil. And we were out of wine, and I probably could have just skipped the 2T, but I substituted some apple cider (I don't know why. Made me feel crafty or something).

How did it taste? Great! In fact those 6-8 servings disappeared into the bellies of just two adults and one-year-old. How long did it actually take to cook? Just shy of 90 minutes. I don't know what was going on, but there was a persistent runniness that took forever to cook out. Combination of cheese and egg and tomato or something.

Would I make it again? Yes. It was quick to put together and tasty in a simple, cheesy, egg-ish way. But next time I'll count on cooking it for an hour (checking on it after 45 mins).

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Savor the Flavor

What happens when you have only a few of the ingredients a recipe calls for but you make it anyway? Sometimes it may be a flop, but this past week I called it dinner!

If you ever watch PBS, Christina Pirello, author of Cooking the Whole Foods Way, has a face you may recognize. Her cooking show and website are called Christina Cooks. Since I don't have cable and thus don't have the Food Network, I rely on public broadcasting for my TV cooking needs. And she's a cook who generally delivers.

I bought her cookbook where I buy nearly all my cookbooks: a second hand shop. It's the very best place to find interesting editions, and it's a super big bonus if the previous owner has made notes in the margins (I love finding those!). In this case, I nearly passed the book over because of her weird picture on its cover. Which is ridiculously unkind of me, and, thankfully, my "!" cookbook obsession overcame my Mean Girls moment.

Christina's story is an amazing one. She was diagnosed with terminal leukemia at 26 and given less than six months to live. Searching for her own cure she came upon macrobiotic food, began cooking-up a wholesome food storm, and 16+ years later she's healthy and well. The doctors called it spontaneous regression and told her she was lucky--Christina called it the power of healing foods and considers herself a new woman, down to her very cells.

However you choose to view her recovery, you must admire her enthusiasm for wholesome cooking. In the introduction she writes, "Develop an understanding of food and how ingredients work together, and cooking becomes an act of pure joy. How can the act of nourishment be anything but?"

I was scanning recipes this weekend, wondering what I'd do with the leeks and root vegetables we had piling up in the fridge (I swear, you put three beets in the crisper and suddenly there are 10 of them!). When I first came across Christina's recipe for roasted veggies I figured I couldn't make it: I didn't have the same mix of vegetables she called for. But after another look, I realized that her directions indicated that "any firm, hearty vegetables will serve nicely," and decided to go for it.

My version of her recipe:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Drizzle olive oil into a large roasting pan.

In pan place large, irregularly-cut pieces of
potato, with skin
beets, with skins
leeks, white part only
onion, peeled
kohlrabi, peeled
rutabaga, peeled

Drizzle Bragg's (you could use soy sauce) over the vegetables.
Bake for an hour, covered.
Serve over rice.

Her recipe had called for mushrooms, brussels sprouts, parsnips, leeks & daikon, but I don't think we missed out by using what we had on hand. What was probably key to her recipe that I didn't have: kombu (I thought there was still some left but it must have been tossed) and reduced balsamic vinegar. Next time we roast veggies I hope to have both on hand.

I know what you're saying. Roasting vegetables isn't really using a recipe. Especially when you totally change the sauce that was called for! Well, remember, I'm still a newbie cook and since we were able to eat and enjoy this meal and I'd referred to a cookbook along the way, I'm calling it a success and need to post it. Plus, according to Christina, we shouldn't "be trapped by recipes," which may be ironic for a cookbook author to write and her blogging reader to quote, but doesn't make it less true.

the call of the cookbook

Can you hear its siren song?

I'm having trouble resisting...

A Bountiful Vegan Thanksgiving e-book.

I want it so hard!! But, no, I won't be buying it. I have other books (just check out my sidebar!) and I don't have $10 to spend on a book I can't even hold.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Two Spectacular Sides

One of the couples in the Bradley Class I took whilst pregnant were true foodies. As in, they talked about the importance of finding truly salty sea salt, they only bought a certain kind of cinnamon (Chinese? I don't remember...) and they read books--novel-long, culinary history books--about single ingredients like beans and goat cheese and cod. I admired them so much.

Because food is fun! And choosing the best foods is a joy. I myself just haven't made it a regular success to move all these wonderful exciting joyful ingredients from the grocery or farmer's market to my table. I always fold somewhere shortly after the putting them in the fridge or cupboard and then only see them again during a brief memorial service (just before they're pitched, flushed or composted).

Matthew Amster-Burton, author of "Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater," does not have my problems. He's a Seattle-based food writer, fearless home cook, and father to the epicurious Iris. My Bradley friends recommended his book, and here I am to do the same. Seriously: even if you don't intend to cook from it, please do read it. He's a talented author and his stories about introducing foods and cooking techniques to his daughter (she's four in his last chapter) are hilarious.

I decided to try out a couple of his recipes this week. These particular ones sounded simple, and I needed to use-up the carrots and brussels sprouts from last week's CSA.

I made:
Cumin-Ginger Carrot Coins
Browned and Braised Brussels Sprouts

They were excellent! Though, again, I forgot to take pictures.

We served both along-side frozen enchiladas (well, they were hot when we ate them... you know what I mean!) and while the brussels sprouts, with their dark green flavor, would initially seem the more natural complement to a steamy, cheesy, beany enchilada, the cumin and ginger made the carrots an unexpectedly nice pairing as well.

We did have some leftovers (our daughter did try both sides and seemed to be fine with both, but just wasn't into eating that evening) and we combined the two different sides into one bowl. I was worried about that, but after reheating for lunch the next day was impressed by how well they did, mingled up all together.

Definitely a hit, super easy, and dishes that we will make again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can You Cassoulet?

It turns out that I'm not just addicted to cookbooks, I'm a cookbook whore. I actually bought a cookbook (okay, I admit it: TWO cookbooks!) for myself instead of searching for presents for my daughter's birthday. I cannot not buy one if I hold one. But rather than worrying about my problems, I'll work harder on this blog in a pitiful attempt to justify my doings.

Long live America! (Something patriotic to further endear myself to you and confuse us all about what we were actually talking about.)

I cooked something new this weekend. We had a sudden influx of leeks and onions from our last CSA pick-up and I wanted to do something other than potato leek soup. Not that there's anything wrong with soup, but I wanted to be fancier. I wanted cassoulet.

No, I didn't know what cassoulet was either. In fact, I'm still unsure. I looked it up on-line yesterday and supposedly a true cassoulet always always has meat in it, but this recipe had nada.

But whatever the French would call it, it was awesome. I grabbed my copy of Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (hereto only used a couple of times even though it's teeming with amazing recipes and food tips) and looked in the index for leeks. And what a recipe I found!

Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Biscuits <--click here for recipe

I substituted cannelloni beans for the white navy beans, and rather than fresh thyme I used dried oregano. But no matter, it was great. It took some prep time, I admit, and thus may remain a weekend meal in our household until I fulfill my stay-at-home-mom dream. But it was SO GOOD. Very comforting and hearty. And smelled great. Satisfied both me and my omni husband and my sick one-year-old and gave us leftovers.

If you find yourself with leeks coming out your ears (or potatoes growing from them) or are just looking for a stew--I mean cassoulet--that will create a wonderful aroma as well as stick to your ribs, this is the recipe for you. Mmm-mm good.

(Someday I'll start taking pictures of what I cook. I keep forgetting.)