Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

The end of the year snuck up on me! Hell, this whole year snuck up on me. I was inspired by Janet to do my own little year-in-review for this blog.


The flavors/textures of the year were smoky, creamy, herbal/foraged, and sour. Forgive any lack of parallelism there.

Chipotles, dried and en adobo, rocked my world this year in a number of dishes, with smoked paprika, liquid smoke, and flame-roasting also playing important roles. Highlights: butternut squash bisque with flame-roasted chilies and turnip chips and pumpkin chili.

My blender and I became closer than ever, as I refused to buy an immersion blender while continuing to explore new pureed soups, including spicy mushroom-ginger soup, green lentil soup with curried coconut oil, and my two new favorites: Janet's creamy broccoli dal and my own roasted broccoli and potato soup. I also discovered some delicious new spreads, including ginger-lime-wasabi-edamame hummus and the amazing caraway havarti beer-cheese spread I made at Thanksgiving. I also made almond milk for, surprisingly, the first time ever!

I started the year very interested in foraging edible things around LA, incorporating them into pestos and jams, and (best of all) infusing them into liquors and oils. Sage-infused whiskey remains my favorite; there was also a lovely lavender vinaigrette.

I've long admitted that I am an "acidity monster," always wanting to add one more squeeze of lemon juice or wine or vinegar to a dish than others might deem wise. 2012 did not mark a change in this habit. Lemon juice is one of my most essential ingredients, and it makes this lentils-and-greens soup, adas bil hamud, one of my favorites of all times. Lemon rind, saffron, and olives made the mediterranean roasted tofu pungent while roasting made it chewy and succulent, and tamarind was the magic ingredient in the incredible spicy and sour eggplant with tempeh and green beans.


Over the past few years, I've raved over puuy lentils, kala namak, berbere, and za'atar. This year, though, it seems like the strongest trends in my cooking were also some of the most mundane. My favorite dishes this year overwhelmingly feature broccoli, potatoes, and/or mushrooms. In those creamy broccoli soups (above), in the two amazing potato salads I made this summer--Armenian, with mint and lemon; and new potatoes with asparagus and shallots--and in the two exquisite mushroom-potato curries I tried, these simple, cheap, and nutritious vegetables really shone. As the above list also suggests, lentils are probably a close fourth.


Sometimes (though less often, I think, than in years past), I enjoyed making something a bit more complicated. Two other recipes I'm quite proud of (one half-mine, the other direct from a cookbook) are: sausage florentine with tofu steaks and hollandaise sauce and apricot rugelach.


I know that I posted far less frequently this year than in years past. I had thought that this was due to the rest of my life (academics, relationships) taking precedence, but looking back over what I chose to cook in 2012, I can't help but wonder if these different parts of my life actually took rather similar paths this year. I am still a curious, learning person, but I am also becoming more comfortable with my own strengths, my own preferences, and my own voice.

Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Roasted Broccoli Potato Soup

Non-vegans may not know this, but it's easy to make a creamy soup. Puree any soup long enough, and it will seem like it has some kind of dairy in it. But adding potato? Instantly creamier.

Otherwise, this soup isn't too different from this roasted broccoli/split pea soup. Here, though, I used bay leaf and thyme instead of cumin and turmeric, and I added some roasted garlic cloves.

Two surprisingly controversial ingredients. Nutritional yeast adds a great nutty/cheesy element to the soup, but it's pretty strange on its own. You might want to completely stir it in before serving.

And thyme... for a while, I thought I'd just gotten a bad batch. But after several batches, I've realized that thyme smells very strange to me. Some googling confirmed that I'm not alone in feeling like thyme smells like mold. In small amounts, though, I still like it; there's just a critical threshold it's important not to cross. #toomuchthymeonmyhands

Again, comfort food: not always so pretty. But this is one of the best things I've had all year.

Roasted Broccoli Potato Soup

olive oil 
pinch salt 
2-3 heads broccoli, broken into bite-sized pieces (reserve stems)
1 potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 more cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chili, minced (de-seed for less spicy)
broccoli stems (from before), chopped
6 c stock/water
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp thyme

nutritional yeast (optional)

1. Heat oven to 375*. Toss the broccoli, potato, and 3 cloves garlic in olive oil and salt. Roast about 30-40 minutes, then remove from oven.
2. In large saucepan, heat olive oil. Saute onion until soft, then add (fresh) garlic and chili. Saute a few more minutes, then add reserved broccoli stems as well as roasted ingredients. Stir a few times, then add stock, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until veggies are soft.
3. Allow to cool, then puree in blender. Return to pot, reheat, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, with some nutritional yeast stirred in (if desired). Makes about  10 c.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Peanut Sauce

I'm a big fan of bootleg peanut sauces. I even get my "I hate cooking" friends to make them. All you need, I say, is peanut butter, plus 1) spicy, 2) salty, and 3) sour. If you use sriracha, you've covered all three bases.

I liked that this sauce also used toasted sesame oil and molasses. And the idea that you could use apple cider vinegar in place of citrus is interesting, and it makes sense (in a pinch, I've done this with hummus). But overall, I found the rawness of the garlic and the ginger to be a bit too much. I might use garlic powder instead; it also blends better. Overall, it's nice to have a few new peanut sauce tricks up my sleeve.

Peanut Sauce (on steamed tempeh and veggies)
(adapted/via taste space)


2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c peanut butter
1/2-inch segment of ginger, chopped
1 TB chopped onion
1 TB tamari
2 TB apple cider vinegar or fresh lime juice
1 TB dark molasses
1 TB toasted sesame oil
salt, to taste
3 TB water

BLEND!, adding water until you reach your desired consistency. Makes about 3/4 c.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Red Thai Curry with Potatoes, Mushrooms, and Tofu

Fast red curry: sauteed onion, garlic, ginger, celery, carrots; added tofu, mushrooms, parboiled potatoes, splash of tamari; simmered in mixture of coconut milk and curry paste.

Yum. Mushroom and potato love each other.

Red Thai Curry with Potatoes, Mushrooms, and Tofu

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cream of Mushroom Soup

The downside of freezing food is that sometimes this negatively affects the flavor and/or texture. The upside, though, is that the time elapsed makes you a much more objective judge of your own cooking. I made this cream of mushroom soup a few months ago for a casserole that never happened. More recently, I've been cleaning out the freezer and decided to thaw this one out. In the process of freezing, the cashew cream had sunk to the bottom, being heavier than the rest of the soup, and the whole thing was a bit chunky. Almost despairing, I blended the thawed soup. And it was fine!

More than fine--it was delicious! A rich but silky texture, an earthy--but slightly tangy (Worcestershire sauce)--flavor... Thanks, Julia of the recent past!

Since I have this vegan Worcestershire sauce, I should figure out more things to use it in. Such a unique flavor... any ideas? I know my stepsister puts it in her guacamole, but besides meat marinades, what else is it good for?

Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup with Cashew Cream

1/2 c raw cashews
1/2 c water
2 TB olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB vegan Worcestershire sauce (vegan please)
3 c vegetable broth

about 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

salt to taste

1. Blend cashews and water until smooth. I prefer to soak them ahead of time.
2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil. Saute onions for a few minutes, then add garlic and saute for a few more minutes. Then add mushrooms, soy sauce, and Worcestershire and cook until mushrooms are soft and juicy.
3. Add stock and simmer 15+ minutes.
4. Turn off heat. When soup is cool enough, blend it until very creamy. Stir in cashew cream and serve hot. Serves about 4.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Roasted Beet and Apple Soup with Coconut Creme Fraiche

For how many unusual spices and vegetables are in this soup, I would have thought it would be a bit more interesting. Still, this was an easy, pretty, and tasty first course for Thanksgiving. A few quick notes: I roasted the beets to bring out their flavor. I would have liked texture creamier--despite all the pureeing, slightly uncooked apples never got very smooth. And lastly, this recipe made a lot. I multiplied the recipe by 2.5 to make ten servings, and I think it made about 16. Frozen beet soup 4 evaaaaaaaaa!

Roasted Beet and Apple Soup with Coconut Creme Fraiche

2 medium beets
2 TB  olive oil
1 c onion, chopped
1/2 c carrots, diced
1/2 c celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 granny smith apples, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 c white wine
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
6 c vegetable stock
coconut milk to garnish

1. Roast beets in oven at 375* for 40 minutes. Allow to cool, then peel, cube, and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery; saute 5 minutes over medium low heat.
3. Add garlic, apple and ginger. Then add wine and spices. Saute for 3 minutes.
4. Add cubed beets and stock. Stir well and bring to low simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Turn heat down and let sit for 20 minutes before pureeing in the blender. Serve hot, with coconut cream drizzled/swirled onto soup. Serves 4-6.

Monday, December 10, 2012

(Non-)Vegan Pseudo-Cannibalism

I just read about this London butcher that a month ago was selling animal meat carefully sculpted to look like human body parts. Cf. my posts on witches' fingers cookies and pozole. I'm sure there's something brilliant to be distilled from all this craziness, but I'm pretty burned out on thinking this week... another day!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mashed Cauli/Pots

Why is comfort food so often unpretty? Even when it's delicious?

For Thanksgiving, my friend Jamie brought a mashed cauliflower dish and a raw carrot cake. This tasty cauliflower dish ended up going really well with the mushroom gravy I'd made. Like I've said before, making traditional ethnic food of the generically white peoples of middle America is often a change of pace for me. It hadn't even occurred to me that mashed cauliflower and gravy were a predestined pairing!

I remade the recipe this week to get some photos of it, and to use up a cauliflower that had been lurking at the back of my fridge through it all. I threw in a potato I had as well, so it really tastes like both vegetables equally. I ended up using a bit too much liquid for my tastes; next time I'll try to keep it a bit more solid.

Mashed Cauliflower and Potato (with Mushroom Gravy and Braised Tempeh Cutlets)

Mashed Cauliflower (and Potato)
(adapted from choosing raw)

olive oil
1 shallot, minced
3 garlic, minced
pinch salt
pinch thyme
1 potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 cauliflower, cut into pieces
1/2-1 c water
optional: nondairy milk or creamer

1. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil. Saute shallot and garlic over medium heat with a pinch of salt.
2. When shallot and garlic are soft and fragrant, add thyme, potato, and cauliflower. Stir once, then add water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are quite soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. In a blender, puree it all, adding extra water only as needed. Return to pot, reheat, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve hot. Serves about 3.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Caraway-Havarti Beer Cheese Spread

Apparently there's such a thing as beer-cheese spread.

This cashew cheese spread, similar to this one, was fantastic. The flavor and texture were superb, and it really does taste cheesy, due to the fermented taste of the beer. I'm getting pretty excited about the challenges of cheese--I've jumped on the bandwagon and ordered Artisan Vegan Cheese--and figuring out what kinds of textures and flavors create 'cheesiness.' Some more experiments are forthcoming.

As for this recipe, I'd make very few changes... I found it hard to get the spread really creamy, and I think soaking the cashews ahead of time would help immensely. I also found myself adding more lemon juice to balance out the flavors.

Caraway-Havarti Beer Cheese Spread
(from the blooming platter)

2 c raw cashews, soaked a few hours, then drained
2 TB nutritional yeast
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1 tsp miso paste
3 TB unsweetened soymilk
3/8 c beer
1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 TB caraway seeds
accompaniments: crackers and fresh apple slices

Place all ingredients except caraway seeds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Process several minutes or until quite smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Add caraway seeds and pulse a few times to combine.  Scrape into a crock or other airtight container and store in the refrigerator.  Allow to warm slightly at room temperature before serving, as it will spread more easily. Makes about 2 cups.