Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pistachio-Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

:Last night I made a test batch of the Pistachio-Cardamom Shortbread Cookies I read about on Holy Cow.  They were so good, I am going to make them again this weekend, perhaps twice!  I like how the recipe uses a combination of shortening and oil, splitting the difference between rich/buttery and cheaper/(?)healthier.

I didn't change much, but since I didn't have whole wheat pastry flour (which is more finely ground than regular whole wheat flour), I used a mix of whole wheat and white flours.  I also used more salt.  And, I needed to bake them a bit longer than asked for, even though I used non-insulated baking sheets and small cookies.

Edit 11/2/10: I used rosewater instead of plain water to mix with the cornstarch, and it was just the right amount--this is a yummy variation!

Pistachio-Cardamom Shortbread Cookies

1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 c white flour
1 tsp cardamom powder
1/3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c (4 TB) zero-trans-fat vegetable shortening (I used earth balance)
1/2 c (8 TB) canola oil
2/3 c sugar
2 TB of cornstarch mixed well with 2 TB water (or 2 TB rosewater)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pistachio nuts, powdered fine in a food processor or spice grinder, and a few whole ones

1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine dry and wet separately.  Then, add dry to wet.  Then, mix in ground pistachios.
3. Form dough into 1-in balls.  Place on baking sheet; flatten slightly, then press a pistachio into each cookie.
4. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until cookies begin to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before moving from baking sheet.  Makes about 2-3 dozen.

Eggplant-Lentil Stew, plus some simple salads

I'm now playing catch-up with the blog: over a week ago, I started with with a recipe for "eggplant and chickpea stew" in Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East and North Africa.  Some changes to this recipe: I blackened the eggplant again, used lentils instead of chickpeas (which meant they still needed to cook), changed around some more of the cooking method, omitted the veggies I didn't have, and added lemon juice at the end.

I think I should have used more lentils.  The eggplant got bigger as it stewed, and took over the dish.  Still, there's someting nice about having lentils as a protein-texture "accent" rather than it being a lentil dish.  Nutmeg, cilantro, and lemon, as well as the smoky flavor of the eggplant, made a dish that would have seemed pretty bland into something special (n.b.: the nutmeg and cilantro were in the original recipe).

Eggplant-Lentil Stew

1 eggplant
olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 c lentils, rinsed
1-1 1/2 c water
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 TB cilantro, minced
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Blacken the eggplant by cooking it directly over the medium flame on a gas stove, turning every 2 minutes, for 10 minutes.  Or, bake in the oven, sliced in half, poked with a fork, and placed flat-side-down on an oiled baking sheet, at a high temperature for 20-30 minutes.  Allow eggplant to cool, then peel off skin.  Discard skin; coarsely chop eggplant, and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Cook onion several minutes, then add garlic and bay leaf.  Cook another minute or so, then add lentils, water, nutmeg, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are cooked.
3. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, stir in lemon juice, and enjoy, perhaps served with bulgur.  Serves about 4.


I also made two other salads: one was lentils and roasted red peppers, with lemon, onion, etc.; the other was steamed chard with lemon, mint, and cilantro.  Both were refreshing but not life-changing.  Also pictured: Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cookie Invasion Continues, Shows No Sign Of Abating

This is the twentieth cookie recipe I've posted in--oh, hey, exactly one year.  And there are at least a few more I have blogged about without posting the recipes.  Another way to think about it: over ten percent of my posts are about cookies.

I just knew this "Cowboy Cookie" was going to be good.  Every single recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar has turned out nearly perfect, and this one seemed like a killer combination.  With its coconut-oatmeal combo, this time paired with chocolate and nuts, it's actually like a different version of the oatmeal spice (garam masala) cookies I can never get enough of.  Upon looking at the actual recipes, they're even more closely related than I had thought.

So why are they not quite as awesome?  The dough was really hard to handle until I added a lot more liquid; then I had to chill the dough in order to work with it.  The flavor profile, though tasty, was a little flat, and the texture a little tougher--they went from undercooked to almost biscuit-like.

I'm comparing the two recipes, and it appears that, first, the ratio of flour to chunky-other-stuff is slightly less floury in the cowboy recipe.  Strangely, though, there's less liquid in the garam masala recipe, which nevertheless holds together better.  This leads me to one reluctant (though unsurprising) conclusion: sometimes cookies are better when you use solid shortening instead of oil.  What's amazing is that this totally hasn't been true for the other cookies I've tried from this cookbook.

Next time, I'll adjust the recipe to use 1 c earth balance instead of 2/3 canola oil.  I'll probably reduce the soymilk in the process.  For the moment, the recipe I posted below includes cinnamon, more vanilla, and more salt, which really spruced up the flavor.  And, like my instincts told me originally, you can't really go wrong with a cookie that has chocolate chips, nuts (oh yeah, I changed these from pecans to walnuts), and coconut.

I baked these cookies twice this week, and what follows is the revised recipe I tried the second time.  I also tried flattening the cookies, as the recipe calls for, which helped them bake more evenly, I think.  The photos are from the first run.

Cowboy Cookies

2 c quick-cooking oats
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 c canola oil
2/3 c sugar
3/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/2-1 c nondairy milk
1 TB ground flax seeds
2 tsp vanilla
1 c shredded coconut
1 c chocolate chips or chunks
1 c toasted walnut pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In one bowl, combine dry ingredients through cinnamon.  In another bowl, combine wet ingredients through vanilla.
3. Fold dry ingredients into wet ones.  Then fold in coconut, chocolate, and nuts.  Don't over mix.
4. If dough refuses to occur, add soymilk sparingly as needed until you can squeeze cookie-sized (for me, ping-pong-sized) balls of dough into being.
5. Place dough balls on cookie sheets, with almost 2 inches of space.  Flatten slightly with hands or a cup.  Bake 14-16 minutes until edges and bottoms start to brown.  Then, allow to sit outside oven on baking sheets before doing anything else with them.  Makes about 4-5 dozen small cookies, or 2 dozen large ones.

Indian Feast Pt. 4: Pear Chutney

This chutney is so beautiful!  The bright yellow from the turmeric, the sheen from the oil, and the little round black mustard seeds, all call to mind jewels.

Although the chutney mostly smells like pear, its flavor is much more complex.  I tasted pear, then mustard, then fennel, in that order, followed by a little bit of heat (which builds up with consecutive bites).  This is the first time I've felt really positive about using black mustard seeds, and I think it's partly because I've been burning them up until this point.

I got the recipe from Vegan Thyme, and I followed it pretty closely.  I did, however, halve the mustard and the salt, and double the lemon juice.  The chutney still doesn't taste explicitly lemony, but I think adding more juice at the end helped cut the sweetness a bit.  Before that final move, however, I was worried that the chutney was too runny, and so I boiled it a bit longer with the lid off in order to evaporate some more of the liquid.

Pear Chutney
(from Vegan Thyme)

3 pears peeled and chopped into 1/2"
juice of 1 lemon, divided
2 TB canola oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
fresh ginger (about two inches long), chopped up
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground
3/4 c water
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground tumeric
1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
4 TB sugar

1. Peel, core, and chop pears.  Pour half the lemon juice over them and set aside.
2. In a medium sauce pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat.  Add mustard and cumin, and cook (partially covered) about a minute.  Add ginger, fennel, ground fenugreek, and water.  Be careful!  Hot oil, water, etc...Simmer mixture, covered, over low heat for 15 minutes. 
3. Remove lid; add remaining spices, salt, sugar, and pears.  Simmer 20 minutes more.  If chutney seems particularly liquidy, cook a bit longer.  Then remove from heat and allow to stand.
4.Stir in remaining lemon juice before serving or canning.  Serves about 4-6 as a condiment.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Indian Feast Pt. 3: Hyderabad Cauliflower

I was really excited about the authentic-fusion character of this dish (and I use both those words very self-consciously).  In Indian Home Cooking, Suvir Saran talks about how this dish is a mixture of southern Indian flavors (especially the coconut and the cilantro) and northern/Mogul cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, etc.  And it really all does work together here.  The dish does not photograph well at all, but it tastes really wonderful.

This recipe was very saucy, and the sauce was delicious.  However, I think the recipe might have been geared towards a larger cauliflower.  As it was, half of the coconut milk called for was more than enough.  Even reducing the coconut milk, as well as the oil, this was a silky, rich dish.  The cauliflower achieved a texture that was soft and almost melty, and the cinnamon, cardamom, and shredded coconut all suggest "sweetness" as well.  Then again, the mint, cilantro, and ginger add refreshing brightness.  There's not very much heat in this recipe--just enough to bring out the flavors, but not so much that you'd think, "it's spicy."

I almost never cook with red onions, but both this recipe and the one for baingan bharta called for them.  Are they milder?  Or simply prettier?

Some final notes: I omitted the mustard seeds and curry leaves.  And, you really need very small florets of cauliflower--these need to be bite-sized, remember.

Finally, I really liked how front-loaded the cooking is: you have to make two "pastes" before really starting, and then most of your prep work is done for you.

Onion-Coconut-Cardamom Paste; Green Chili Paste

I've totally failed to take a decent-looking photo of this dish, but you can look ahead to my next post for another shot of all these dishes together.

Hyderabad Cauliflower

onion-coconut paste:
 1 large red onion, chopped
1/4 c shredded coconut
2 pods cardamom
2 TB water
green paste:
1/4 c mint leaves, chopped
1/4 c cilantro leaves, chopped
1 hot green chile, chopped
1 TB water
2-3 TB c canola oil
2 1-in pieces cinnamon
4 pods cardamom
4 whole cloves
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp nigella seeds
1.5-in piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small (bite-sized) florets
1 c coconut milk
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 TB chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a small food processor, blend together ingredients for onion-coconut paste; set aside.  Then blend together ingredients for green paste; set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat oil, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, and nigella over medium heat.  Cook several minutes, then add onion-coconut paste and 1 tsp salt.  Cook 5-7 minutes.
3. Add ginger and garlic; cook 3 minutes.  Add cauliflower; cook 5 minutes.
4. Add coconut milk, ground cumin, cayenne, and green paste; cook 5 minutes.  Then add garam masala; cook 3 minutes more.  Garnish with cilantro.  Serves about 4.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Indian Feast Pt. 2: Baingan Bharta

I remember Arhia telling me once, years ago when we were cooking partners, that she really liked burnt foods because growing up her family cooked in a wood-burning (?) oven that often cooked unevenly.  The burnt taste, therefore, tasted like home and family.

Although I don't really like eating burnt things, I do love the smell of smoke.  And I think it's for similar reasons: I have really positive associations with it.  Campfires and cookouts are happy, special occasions.  Even other kinds of smoke get me: the smell of grilling meat (seriously) takes me back to Senegal and its dibiteries, and often even cigarette and pot smoke (neither of which I partake in) trigger memories of parties and concerts past.

Smoky food is good not just because it tastes like smoke, however, but also because that kind of roasting concentrates and transforms other flavors in the food as well.

Until this post, whenever I made food that called for blackened or roasted vegetables, I'd do it in the oven, as in the case of this baba ganoush post.  But last night I finally tried the stovetop method, which had always struck me as needlessly dangerous.  And oh! it's so much better.

No two eggplants are not on fire...

Yes, that is an eggplant making direct contact with fire.  I put the gas on medium and turned the eggplant about every 2-3 minutes for 10 minutes.  So, so good.

Fire aside, was this a dangerous meal?  Bell pepper, and tomato, and eggplant, all vegetables proven to cause inflammation, send macro folks and arthritics running.  Also, does smoking the heck out of a vegetable increase the amount of nitrosamines or other harmful stuff in it?  I know liquid smoke was controversial for a while, but it's used in such small amounts, it seems negligible.

Do your worst, burnt eggplant; nothing will keep me from getting to you.  This was the dish whose deliciousness really made me want to cry.  The intense smokiness of the eggplant finds faint echoes in the cardamom and cloves of the garam masala I used.  After this taste, the next most prominent is a mixture of quite spicy and slightly sour, a flavor that feels kind of tightly wound, almost fizzy, on the tip of your tongue.  Although the recipe only calls for 1/2 a chile, it's spicier because you add it at the end, after most of the cooking is done.

Strangely, the red onion never really got soft.  I don't think I shorted the cooking time, but it ended up still crunchy.  Now, the eggplant is already perfectly cooked before you add it, so the slightly crunchy onion is not exactly a problem--in fact, it gives the dish a fresh feel that it usually doesn't seem to have when I've had it at restaurants.  But it's a little different.

It's also pretty: purple onion, red tomato, and green chilies and cilantro all decorate the otherwise "meh" color of the eggplant.

Besides reducing the oil, I followed Saran's recipe in IHC quite closely, but I also roasted the tomatoes (in the oven, not on the stove), mostly to remove their skins, which seemed unnaturally shiny.  A step that, had I made it to the farmers market yesterday, would not have been necessary, but one which probably added to the overall deliciousness.

Baingan Bharta

1 large eggplant, roasted, cooled, and peeled
2 TB canola oil
1-in piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 red onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TB unsweetened coconut
1 TB ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 medium tomatoes, roasted and skinned (optional), and chopped
1/2 fresh hot green chile, chopped
2 TB chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. After it is roasted, cooled, and peeled, dice and mash eggplant.  Set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat oil and ginger over medium high heat and cook 30 seconds.  Add onion and salt and cook about 10 minutes (or perhaps longer).
3. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds.  Add coconut; cook 1 minute.  Add coriander, cumin, garam masala, and cayenne; cook 1 minute.  Add a tablespoon of water; cook 1 more minute.
4. Add tomatoes and eggplant; cook 5 minutes.
5. Stir in the chile, half the cilantro, and the lemon juice.  Add salt to taste.  Garnish with remaining cilantro.  Serves about 4-5.

Indian Feast Pt. 1: Sweet Pepper Fennel Biryani

Once again, these blog posts seem to come in a sort of drought-flood pattern.  I think it's because the very same multitasking that made me so anxious when I was working in cafes (as a server, not a cook) is actually really fun when I am just cooking for myself.  Why make one recipe when you can make four?

Sweet Pepper Fennel Biryani (below) ~ Baingan Bharta ~ Hyderabad Cauliflower ~ Pear Chutney

Most of the spices I used last night!

There's also a pleasure and a functionality to making things that "go together," at least to my untrained palate.  I'm guessing that the combo of three dishes I made (besides the chutney) is a bit more geographically incoherent than might be ... oh, don't use the a-word ... typical?

That said, this was easily

some of the best food I've ever made.

The flavors were so complex, interesting, refreshing, comforting... it was so good, I wanted to cry.

The biryani the least so; in comparison, it seemed a little bland, but it was still interesting and satisfying.  I don't usually go out of my way to make rice dishes, but I was once again seduced by the opportunity to use fennel in a new and interesting way.  The earthiness of the tempeh and the spices, and the sweetness of the long-cooked peppers and onion (especially combined with the fennel), make for a very pleasant savory flavor.  Given the different colors of peppers, it's also very pretty (despite what the last photo, with its wilted cilantro, might suggest).

For this casserole-type dish, I began with Suvir Saran's recipe in Indian Home Cooking, but I made a half-recipe.  I halved the mustard seeds, doubled the garlic, and used brown basmati rice (and changed some water amounts and cooking times accordingly).  I didn't have the tomato chutney the recipe called for, so I added some sugar and some curry powder; on reflection, the slightly-less-spectacular nature of this dish might have been my fault.  Finally, I added a bunch of tempeh along with the bell peppers towards the end.

The assembly is simple: you parboil some rice while in a skillet you make the everything-else mixture.  Then you layer rice and vegetables and bake it.  As with other oven dishes, it's great for entertaining because you can prepare everything ahead of time and bake it just before serving.


Sweet Pepper Fennel Biryani

spice powder:
1/2 TB coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 of a whole dried chile, broken into pieces
5 c of water
1 c brown basmati rice
2 TB canola oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 whole dried chilies, broken into pieces
1/2 large onion, diced
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers (any colors)
2/3 a block of tempeh, steamed (optional) and chopped into 1/2-in cubes
1 small tomato, chopped
1 TB sugar
3/8 c (6 TB) chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1. Combine all the ingredients of the spice powder, grind, and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, combine water and rice, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes.  Drain rice and set aside.
3. In a large skillet, combine the oil, cumin, and chilies over medium high heat; cook 1-2 minutes.  Add onion and salt; cook about 5 minutes, until onion is softened.  Add garlic; cook 30 seconds, then add spice powder and cook 30 more seconds.  Add the peppers and the tempeh and cook several minutes, until tempeh begins to brown.  Add a few tablespoons of water and continue cooking about 6 more minutes.  Add the tomato, curry powder, and sugar, and cook 5 minutes more.  Add salt to taste.
4. Preheat oven to 350*.  In an 8-x-8 baking dish, spread about 1 c of cooked rice.  Then spread half of the pepper mixture over that.  Then sprinkle about 2 TB of cilantro.  Then 3/4 rice.  Then remaning vegetable mixture.  Then 2 TB cilantro.  Then rice.
4B. Or, if you're more of a visual person like me:
5. Cover dish with foil.  Bake for 35 minutes, and let stand 10 minutes more.  Sprinkle with remaining 2 TB cilantro, and serve.  Serves about 4.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Macro Crack

I have just returned from one of the best vacations ever, visiting friends Myer and Arhia, and quite a few others, in Boston.  The first night I got there, Myer made me a bunch of pasta with steamed tempeh, strips of nori, and a special tamari-tahini sauce that he and Arhia call "macro crack."

Because I miss them already, and because it was delicious, and because I didn't have any fresh veggies in my kitchen, the first meal I made when I got home was a recreation of this same dish.  Macro crack tastes phenomenal on pasta (as well as many other things, like popcorn, for example), and nori (the sea vegetable you use for making sushi rolls) adds great taste and texture: sometimes it's crunchy, but sometimes it's chewy!

Macro crack bears a close family resemblance to the amazing miso-tahini sauce about which I have blogged before, and it's no surprise: both miso and tamari are salty, nutty, fermented soyfoods that meld perfectly with creamy tahini.  I am not sure which one I like better.

As Myer's recipe explains, macro crack is good on just about everything.  It's particularly nice on bitter greens, which is unsurprising, given I've already tried variations of it on kale, and on brussels sprouts.  One evening this week, we branched out, putting it on popcorn (which tasted amazing, but was really messy) and pizza.  When we ran out of salsa, we also began dipping tortilla chips in the leftover sauce, and it tasted like nacho cheese dip from heaven.

For more details and ideas on macro crack, I'd best refer you to the original expert source (seriously, check this document out!).  But, it's basically: 1 part tamari (accept no substitutes) to 2 parts tahini; mix until thick/creamy (this is important), then add water to achieve desired consistency.  Myer's recipe, which calls for 1/2 TB tamari and 1 TB tahini, serves 1 or 2, depending on what you use it for.  In the dish below, I also added a lot of red pepper flakes.

Whole Wheat Rotelle with Steamed Tempeh, Nori Strips, and Macro Crack

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fudge Cookies

Today I also made these fudgey cookies from a recipe on Bread without Butter.  I ended up following the recipe exactly, as all the things I would have changed--using flax as an egg replacer, adding almond extract, subbing in whole wheat flour--were already that way!  A kindred cookie spirit, perhaps?  Of course, I did make smaller cookies.  Almost across the board, anyone's 2-dozen-cookie recipe usually yields 3 dozen when I make it.

These cookies were pretty good, but given the proliferation of chocolate cookie recipes out there, they weren't my favorite.  Although I LOVE molasses and peanut butter, in this recipe they felt like flavor adulterations rather than accents.  Who knew I was such a purist?  Still, the texture of these cookies is really good, and they're actually sort of healthy, as far as chocolate cookies go.  :)

Fudge Fix Cookies

1/4 c vegan butter
2 TB unsalted peanut butter (I used salted and then added less salt)
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/3 c molasses
1 TB milled flaxseed
3 TB warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c rolled oats
1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, mix the flaxseed and water well, until viscous.  Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream vegan butter and peanut butter.  Add brown sugar and molasses, and mix until well-combined.  Add flaxseed mixture and the extracts, and mix well.
4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir the dry mixture into the wet, until just combined.  Gently stir in oats and chocolate chips.  Drop dough in approximately two tablespoonful amounts, one to two inches apart, on prepared baking sheets.  Flatten the dough mounds slightly, then bake for 10 minutes.  The cookie tops should no longer look glossy, with the interiors still soft and gooey.  After removing the cookies from the oven, allow them to remain on the pans for five minutes to firm up a bit before removing them to wire racks to cool more.  Makes 2-3 dozen.

Mung Beans with Greens and Panchphoran

Working through more recipes in Indian Home Cooking, I made this dal with greens a few days ago.  I was particularly attracted to it because of the spice blend, Panchphoran, which was unfamiliar to me.  But these spices, especially combined with broccoli rabe (which was my choice--the original recipe called for spinach), were just too bitter for my taste.  Still, with different spices and/or greens, this could be a really satisfying and nourishing dish.

I used this somewhat random recipe for Panchphoran.  I'd love to know if anyone has a recipe that differs much from this one.  Also, the recipe calls for you to use whole dried chilies, which I found did not actually make the dish spicy--you'd need to chop or grind them up to get more heat out of them.

Mung Beans with Greens and Panchphoran
(adapted from Indian Home Cooking)

1 TB canola oil
1 c split mung beans, rinsed
1/2 tsp turmeric
3-4 c water
1 bay leaf
1/2-1 tsp salt
2 c packed greens, washed, trimmed, and finely chopped
2 TB canola oil
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds 
3 whole dried red chilies, broken up
juice of 1 lemon

1. Heat oil over medium-high heat.  Cook mung beans and turmeric several minutes before adding water, bay leaf, and salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
2. Add spinach.  Simmer some more.
3. In a frying pan, fry up oil, seeds, and chilies, for 1 or 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.  When cool, stir in lemon juice.
4. Add oil and spices to the lentil mix.  Serve hot.  Serves about 4.

Chinese Noodles | Indian Carrots | Kale from who knows where

I'm leaving town on Tuesday for nearly a week.  So the deciding factor in cooking today was, "what vegetables do I need to get rid of?"  I'm not sure if this was fusion or cacaphony, but it actually tasted great together.  I usually really try to make things that will harmonize with and balance each other, but tonight was slightly more accidental.  Still, ginger and cumin helped tie things together, while textures complemented each other.

First, I made these noodles, which seemed too simple but ended up fantastic.  Toasted sesame oil and nori both have a sort of conclusive! nutty element to them that ties everything else together.  I used more nori and actually more everything than originally called for (by using less pasta), and it was great!  The only thing is, I'm getting less and less fond of raw garlic in my old age.  I've reduced the amount of garlic by quite a bit; it goes a long way.

Cold Chinese Noodles with Nori Strips

6 oz whole-wheat spaghetti (or similar)
1 TB toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1 TB seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic-chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 inch fresh ginger root, cut fine (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2-1 clove garlic, minced very fine
2 sheets seasoned or plain toasted nori, cut with scissors into small strips

Cook pasta according to directions.  Rinse and cool.  Toss with remaining ingredients. Serves about 3.


In case anyone was confused, "great" and "grate" do not share etymological roots.  That is also to say, there is nothing great about grating vegetables.  It's a pain in the ass that can quickly become a literal pain in the finger if you don't watch what you're doing.  I recently bought a box grater after an adult lifetime without owning one (and doing just fine!), and now from time to time I subject myself to this.

After making several vegetable recipes in Indian Home Cooking, I've come to the conclusion that I don't really like the frying-mustard-seed-in-oil-before-doing-anything-else thing.  I'm an adventurous eater, but it's a really bitter flavor that I just can't get down with.  So I skipped it here.  And, I amped up some of the other flavors.  Oh, and since I'm trying to clean out the fridge before I leave for Boston for five days, I threw in a tomato as well.  This was a pleasant, if not life-changing, side dish.  Carrots are sweet, and cumin and lime are refreshing!

Carrots with Cumin and Lime

1 TB canola oil
1/2-in piece ginger, finely minced
1/2 hot green chili, finely minced
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 large carrots, washed and grated
tomato, diced (optional) 
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lime

Heat oil in a large skillet.  Fry ginger, chili, and cumin several minutes, then add carrots, and cook until slightly browned (about 5 more minutes).  Add tomato and lime juice and salt to taste.  Serves about 3.


Yum!  This was a really, really good variation on my go-to kale.  The photo, I know, looks sort of "blah" but the harissa--which, again, contains chilies, caraway (!), coriander, cumin, mint (!), garlic, and tomato--has only gotten better since I made it last week, and it made the kale really great.

Kale with Harissa

1 TB canola oil
1-2 cloves garlic
1 TB harissa
1 large bunch kale, de-stemmed and chopped

Heat oil in a large frying pan.  Fry garlic and harissa, then add kale and cook until it turns dark green.  Add water as needed.  Finish with a bit of tamari. Serves about 3.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Caraway vs. Fennel: Round One! | Fried Cabbage with Peas, Lemon, and Caraway | Sausage-Spiked Lentil-Apple Stew

I really only learned to cook when I moved into the McCarthy Co-op House while a student at Lawrence University.  It was here that I learned about Indian and Thai cooking, as well as their late-20th-century hippie dilutions and permutations.  Thus, while I wielded cumin and fresh ginger with confidence and versatility, more "traditional" "Western" ingredients weren't even on my radar.  For example, I never even bought thyme until last year, and sage and tarragon this year.

And, the difference between fennel, caraway, and anise seeds always confused me.  I could always remember that two were more similar to each other than the third, but otherwise, they were all just weird seeds I never used.  Then, when I started getting interested in "sausagey" flavors, I got my hands on some fennel.  More recently, some more unusual Middle Eastern and North African spice mixes prompted me to buy caraway as well (though some also use fennel!).  So, I learn.  Then today I ended up making two (easy! fast!) dishes, one with caraway and one with fennel.

I've been wondering what else to do with caraway.  Googling has turned up a lot of cabbage-based recipes, so I decided to go with that.  I combined two recipes-- a very basic one for cabbage and noodles with caraway, with another one for peas with caraway and lemon.  I got rid of the dairy and the noodles, upped some of the flavors, and ended up with a really delicious and interesting dish.  Fried cabbage sounds really bland and heavy, but cooking it only al dente, and adding lemon and parsley, makes it almost refreshing.  The tastes and textures, therefore, paired really well with the sweeter, heavier stew I also made (about which, more below).  These two would have also been well complemented by a really awesome hunk of bread.

Fried Cabbage with Peas, Lemon, and Caraway

1 big glug olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
4 c shredded cabbage (about half a cabbage)
1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper (to taste)
1 tsp caraway seed
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 c frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 c fresh parsley, chopped

In a large frying pan, heat the oil.  Add onion and cabbage and saute about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften and brown slightly.  Add remaining ingredients and cook a few more minutes.  This would be good served at any temperature.  Serves about 4.


I got the idea for this stew when I was browsing recipes containing cabbage and caraway; some also included roasted apples and sausage.  So this is something like that half of those recipes, de- and re-constructed.

You might not recognize it, but this is actually very similar to the recipe for oats and rice sausage.  I tried to match the amount of apple and lentil bulk to that of the oats and rice in the recipe, and then I kept most of the seasonings and flavors the same.  Lentils have a rich savory taste all their own, and the sweetness of the slightly cooked apples worked really well with the seasonings.  You will probably want to put the apples in only at the end, so they don't get totally mushy.

Sausage-Spiked Lentil-Apple Stew

3/4 c brown lentils
1 1/2 c water
1 1/2 tsp molasses
1 1/2 TB tamari
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried ground sage
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 large apple, cored and diced

1. In a medium saucepan, bring lentils, water, molasses, and tamari to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft, adding water if necessary.
2. Add spices and simmer 5 minutes more.
3. Add diced apples and cook 2-3 minutes more, then remove from heat.  Serves about 3.

Friday, September 10, 2010

S'Mores Cupcakes

A few days early yet, but in a way, this is my blog's first birthday!  After all, today's my friend Amanda's birthday, and it was the cupcakes I made for Amanda's birthday last September that started the whole blog.

Although I feel like my blogging style is still evolving, I've already learned a lot about vegan baking and about new foods and flavors from all over the world.  Looking back at my early posts, I realize I've also figured out a lot about making photos taken with my apparently prehistoric 2005 point-and-shoot digital camera look significantly sexier.  Thinking back also over how much intense personal and academic stuff (growth?) took place since those first cupcakes, I'm rather amazed that it's only been a year.

But onto the cupcakes.  Given several options, Amanda requested these S'Mores cupcakes that I've had on my desktop for ages, and I was only too happy to oblige!  I followed author Kelly's recipe and method, except that I used the chocolate cupcake recipe I'd relied on last year (originally from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, I believe), only adding almond extract like Kelly does.  Why mess with perfection?

For the graham cracker crust, I used the home-made graham crackers from earlier this week, because they were way less sweet than the cinnamon-sugar ones I bought from Trader Joe's and thus probably closer to the ones imagined in the recipe.  Obviously, this isn't necessary.

I processed the graham crackers, mixed the crumbs with sugar and melted earth balance, and pressed them into the cupcake papers.  Then came the cake itself.

For this recipe, you mix soymilk and vinegar and let it sit until it gets really, really thick.  The batter is like chocolate pudding, and it turns out to be a ridiculously moist cake.

Then for frosting!  Now that I know that vegan shortening is real!, I was eager to try another vanilla frosting recipe in hopes that it might be a bit stiffer than the one I used last year that only called for vegan butter.  I still don't have an electric mixer--making frosting is really the only time I think about getting one--and I rather like the unpluggedness, at least in concept.

So, this frosting was actually too stiff.  Check it out: a spoon stuck in it stands straight up.  Only when the frosting had been out at room temp for awhile could I make it stay spread out on the cupcake!

So then, eventually, I had frosted cupcakes.

After this, it was easy.  Make some ganache-in-a-bag....

...cut off the corner, do some decorating, sprinkle some graham crumbs, and done!

I multiplied this recipe by 1.5, and it actually made two dozen cupcakes, so this recipe makes several more than your normal dozen.

S'Mores Cupcakes
(adapted from Vegan Thyme)


Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs made from whole graham crackers
4 TB melted vegan butter
1/4 c sugar

Chocolate Cake
(from last year)
1 c soy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 5/8 c turbinado sugar
1/3 c corn oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 c flour
1/3 c cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt 

Vanilla Icing
4 TB vegan butter
4 TB vegan shortening
2+ c powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Chocolate Ganache
1/3 c chocolate chips
2 TB vegan butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Line cupcake pan with papers.
2. Combine ingredients for graham cracker crust.  Put 1-2 TB crust in each normal-sized cupcake.  Use your fingers to press the crumbs down.
3. In a pyrex, combine soymilk and vinegar and set aside for 10 minutes.
4. In one large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
5. In another mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, vanilla, and almond extract.  Then add curdled soymilk-vinegar mixture.  Then add flour mixture to the wet mixture.  Don't overmix.
6. Using a 1/4-c scoop, pour batter on top of graham crust in cupcake tins.  Fill to approximately 2/3 full.
7. Bake cupcakes for 20 minutes.  Then, let them cool for 10 minutes before removing from tin.
8. When cupcakes are completely cool, you can frost them.  For frosting, combine frosting ingredients, adding more powdered sugar as necessary. 
9. Frost cupcakes.
10. To make ganache, heat ganache ingredients in a double-boiler setup (or in a microwave?).  When completely melted and combined, remove from heat.  When cool, spoon the mixture into a plastic bag, then cut off the tip and "pipe" chocolate onto cupcakes.  Finally, sprinkle graham crackers on top.  Makes about 14-16 cupcakes.

Ok.  One final photo!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mushroom-Cashew Pies

Cloudy skies.  Highs in the 60s.  Purchased $9 worth of shortening today.  Let the holiday baking season commence (it's a very long season)!

Pies about to go into the oven!
I've been planning for a long time to make these pies, and if the end of summer is about anything, it's about avoiding your work getting to the recipes on the list on your whiteboard.  I've had a similar thing several times up at trails cafe in Griffith Park (the cafe that was also the inspiration for the lemon lavender cookie).  It's an incredibly rich, savory little thing--the kind of thing you might feel guilty about eating if you hadn't hiked up to the cafe in the first place.

For the filling, I actually followed the recipe from the filling in Walnut- and Mushroom-Stuffed Tomatoes quite closely, but I used cashews instead of walnuts, and I added some nutritional yeast (in some of the pies) at a later step.

I must confess that the filling was made after I got home from a night out... the measurements might be a bit off, but I don't think you can really go wrong; you just risk not having enough filling.

To go with the pies, I also made a huge delicious vat of Mushroom Gravy.  But I've since decided that it might be mushroom overkill to pair this with the pies.  Perhaps.  But do you know what mushroom gravy goes absolutely amazingly with?  Oats and rice sausage.

So.  The filling is delicious; the crust is slightly lethal (but also delicious)--so you could easily use the stuffing (with or without gravy) on its own or stuffed in veggies.


But oh, this crust.  I'd been wanting to try this recipe for Flaky Vodka Pie Crust for months, ever since my friend Starskee brought it to my attention.  In the process of preparing it, I learned an important fact:

**vegan shortening is real!**

I'd just assumed that you either a) used earth balance even though it is too soft to be called "shortening," or b) used a hydrogenated oldschool thing like Crisco.  Much to my surprise, there are several other options!  First off, coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and even looks like Crisco.  Secondly, there are several commercial but nonhydrogenated and minimally processed vegan shortenings: Spectrum makes one entirely out of palm oil, and Earth Balance makes one out of nothing but a blend of palm, soybean, canola, and olive oils.  Of course, there's a double bind when it comes to minimally-processed processed foods: why don't I just buy the oils myself?  For this first run, though, I went with the Earth Balance shortening, and I think it yielded very good results.  And at $3.99 for 4 short sticks, it was an easier decision than a big jar of coconut oil.

This crust is very good.  You can read the original recipe for more info about the amazingness of using vodka.  Although it all makes sense, given vodka's lower freezing point and not-being-water, I'm not sure that the end result was all that different.  I still found the dough a little bit challenging to work with.  I think that it's actually the very large amount of shortening that makes this crust so delectable.

But.  If the thought of 23 g of fat in just one serving (1/8 recipe) of crust freaks you out, or if you're feeling cheap or lazy, you could definitely use my standby recipe for Basic Oil Pie Crust--it's still plenty rich, but it has . . . um . . . half the fat of this recipe.

In assembling the pies, I followed the lead of Manifest Vegan's recent post on turnovers.  I baked them more or less completely, but I froze most of them for later.  I'll thaw them as needed and then reheat them in the oven/toaster oven at a lower temperature.  Like Hot Pockets, but way sexier.  I might also freeze some of the gravy in those little 1/2-c glad tupperware cups--perfect also for servings of pesto, chutney, or tomato paste.

Filling for Mushroom-Cashew Pie
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 pkgs mushrooms (I used crimini), minced
thyme, dried
fresh parsley, minced
fresh sage (not too much--this stuff is potent!), minced
1 c cashews, chopped
nutritional yeast (optional)
1 recipe pie crust (flaky vodka crust recipe follows; basic oil crust would also work)

1. Heat oil in a large skillet.  Saute onion several minutes, then add garlic, then add mushrooms and saute until everything is soft and juicy.  Add a bit of tamari, and stir in thyme, parsley, sage, and cashews.  Turn off the heat; set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 400*.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. On a floured surface, roll out the pie crust dough until less than 1/4-in thick.  Cut dough into 6-in rounds.
4. On each round, place a little half-moon of filling, leaving a generous margin (see photo).  If desired, sprinkle a spoonful of nutritional yeast over the filling.  Fold crust over and seal the semi-circle by pressing gently around the edges first with fingers, then with fork tines.  Also poke the pies in the middle a few times with a fork.
5. Place pies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tops of pies begin to brown.  Makes about 8 pies.


For the flaky vodka pie crust, I changed only a few things: I used some whole wheat as well as white flour, which tends to suck up more liquid, and I halved the sugar.

Finished product: Mushroom-Cashew Pie in Flaky Vodka Crust
Flaky Vodka Pie Crust
(adapted from

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour (whole wheat pastry flour would be better)
1 TB sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 c cold margarine, cut into 1/4-in cubes
1/2 c (1 short stick) cold vegetable shortening, cut into small cubes
1/4 c cold water
1/4 c cold vodka

1. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Using a fork or pastry blender, cut the margarine and shortening into the flour until mixture resembles coarse sand. Take extra caution that you don't over mix.
2. Drizzle half of the chilled water and vodka over the mixture then gently toss using your fingers. Drizzle the other half in and toss again. Now use the open palm of your hand to press down the dough to compress it. Break up the dough with your fingers and compress it again. Cut the dough in half inside the bowl with a spatula.
3. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap, compress it to a 4 inch disc and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. This dough can be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months for later use.   Makes enough for a top and bottom crust, or for 8-9 turnovers.

Graham Crackers | Home-making

 Graham Crackers!

There are foods that you never think about making from scratch, until you do.  I love the *aha!* moment when people realize that a three-year-old could make hummus for less than a dollar a batch rather than buy the stuff from Trader Joe's that has xantham gum and even whey (!?) in it.

I have plans to make some pretty neat birthday cupcakes later this week that call for graham cracker crumbs, and it was only after picking up an overly sweet, overpriced box of them from Trader Joe's that it occurred to me: graham crackers are made out of really simple ingredients.

[n.b.: I still love Trader Joe's for many other things besides hummus and graham crackers!]

So I made some using the recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (you should buy it!).  Easy, simple, even healthy, really.  Next time I will use a bit more salt and sugar.  But as long as you get them crispy enough, they taste like the real thing.

Can we talk about Sylvester Graham, though?  The father of the graham cracker was a nineteenth-century college dropout who advocated for vegetarianism and eating fewer refined and processed foods--and who was also against the wearing of corsets.  His proto-hippie talk upset the establishment so much that he had to worry about RIOTS by "butchers and commercial bakers" (Wikipedia).


Super badass, right?  A clear forefather of twenty-first-century veg*anism, right?  Except... he was also a Presbyterian minister, and the driving spirit of his campaign was to combat 1) alcoholism (actually, ALL alcohol consumption) and 2) lust (and especially the disease-causing evil of masturbation!).


Continuing the theme of stuff that you can easily make from scratch and it will be better and super cheap, there's always olive oil-sugar scrub.  I'm not really into bath products--the day I realized you can use the same soap for everything was a good day--but if your skin is dry, this stuff is the bomb, and I think you'd pay big bucks for it in a store.  I use it on my legs, arms, elbows, feet, etc.  It exfoliates and moisturizes.  Just put it on at the end of your shower routine, then rinse it off.  After-shower lotion no longer necessary.

Instructions: fill a small container almost to the top with turbinado sugar, then slowly add as much olive oil as you can, stirring it in as you go.  That's it, though I usually add a few drops of peppermint or vanilla extract, or an essential oil like sage, as well.


Herbs drying in my kitchen.  No more throwing fresh herbs out because they're going to go bad!