June 21, 2008

Lemon-syrup soaked hazelnut cake

We have a rain garden in the back yard that has been suffering from neglect. We acquired this garden as part of a neighborhood rain garden initiative that was funded through a grant. Our neighborhood lies in a watershed that drains to a nearby system of lakes, and the intention was to keep rain water from washing directly into the lakes. We did all the labor of digging and planting the garden, and the plants were donated to us through the grant. Because I didn't personally select the plants the way I usually do after much studying and pondering, I was unfamiliar with most of them, and found that I couldn't recognize them or even remember what they were the following spring. Not wanting to pull out the "real" plants, some of which were grasses, I pretty much let everything grow except obvious weeds like dandelions.

Finally, last weekend I decided that the rain garden looked really bad, and I bought a few new plants for it and set about removing the extensive number of wild violets that have taken up residence. My body was in the garden pulling weeds but my mind was far away, and the thought that my gloved hand had encountered something unusual was only the faintest speck of dust drifting past my brain. Suddenly, three very large mice ran across my foot and into the yard screeching, "eeek, eeek,eeek." They weren't the only ones screeching eek!

What does this have to do with lemon cake? Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Unless you can see the connection between weeding the garden and weeding the house. I've been digging through piles of saved stuff trying to recycle or put away as much as possible. In the course of pile sorting, I came across some old Natural Health and Vegetarian Times magazines, and just had to read through them to see if there were any good recipes. This one for lemon cake caught my eye, and I decided to make it for my son's birthday instead of the usual layer cake. I found it in an Aug. 2002 Natural Health magazine. (Of course, it's a bit changed.)

This cake tasted just like I imagined it would - moist and sticky and lemony. It's sweet and satisfying. The recipe called for honey for the glaze and I used agavé syrup, but it didn't really thicken like I thought it would. I recommend using maple syrup instead, and letting it cool slightly before spreading onto the warm cake. If you use agavé, expect the topping to be fairly liquid. (It thickens as it cools.) I also used Brazil nuts instead of hazelnuts because I had them in the house. (And you don't have to skin them) When I make this again I'll try hazelnuts. And I sprinkled unsweetened shredded coconut over the top of the cake and served it with berries.

Lemon-syrup soaked hazelnut cake
4 ounces raw whole hazelnuts (about 1 cup), skinned (see bottom of page)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated cane juice, divided
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (organic lemon)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 ounces vanilla soy yoghurt
3 tablespoons maple syrup or brown rice syrup

1. Preheat oven to 350.˚ Spay an 8-inch non-stick round cake pan with oil. (or use parchment paper and oil in a regular round cake pan)
2. Place nuts, cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a food processor and process until nuts are finely chopped. Remove mixture to bowl.
3. Place oil and 2/3 cup granulated cane juice in processor and process until smooth. Add zest, 1 tablespoon juice and yoghurt and pulse to blend.
4. Add nut mixture back into processor bowl and pulse about 5 times until just combined.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool cake on rack for 10 minutes.
5. While cake cools, combine 1/3 cup water, maple syrup, remaining 1/3 cup granulated cane juice and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice in small saucepan. Bring to a low boil over low heat and cook until syrupy, about 5 minutes. (This took longer than 5 minutes with agavé syrup) Invert cake onto platter and coat the top and sides of warm cake with syrup until it soaks in. (I let some soak in and let some stay on top.) Let cool completely before cutting. Cake can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for up to 5 days. (I made my cake the night before I needed it and covered it with an inverted bowl. It was too sticky to wrap.)

For useful information on skinning hazelnuts click here.
For more information of the benefits of eating hazelnuts click here.
For more information on the health benefits of consuming nuts, click here.
For information on the difference between hazelnuts and filberts, click here.
Now, I hope all this clicking hasn't driven you nuts!

Note: I just made ths cake again and used Brazil nuts. I think I'm always going to use Brazil nuts. It just seems like too much trouble to skin the hazelnuts. Maybe I should change the name of this recipe!

June 18, 2008

Rabbit-free lettuce

This is not a cooking post. It's a post about growing lettuce when you live in a rabbit warren. Seriously, growing lettuce was a real challenge when I tried to grow it normally, in the ground.

Then I was at a party last year and the host had a huge urn filled with lettuce in her garden. She was doing it because it looks incredibly cool to have bright green lettuce growing in a giant pot, but I'm doing it because the rabbits haven't learned to climb, yet, AND it looks incredibly cool to have lettuce growing in a giant pot. We have tons of lettuce now, and it's clean, too.

June 16, 2008

Sweet and tart carrots

We had company for dinner last night and my husband and I shared the cooking. He made Bolivian cabbage and potatoes and wok-seared tofu. I made curried coconut corn soup, basmati rice in the rice cooker, steamed carrots with champagne vinegar and lovage dressing, and chocolate banana cake. Everything but the soup and carrots has appeared on this blog (the tofu is in other recipes) and the carrots, little orange bursts of flavor, debut tonight.

I wanted an easy, colorful and delicious veggie to round out the plate, and I thought why not carrots? Their bright orange color would look good with the green cabbage and white (yes, I admit it was white) rice. Plus you can get them in a bag already washed and peeled. My husband was supposed to make them and he's not such a great cutter, so I thought he could just get a bag of baby carrots and slice each one in half lengthwise. Anyone can manage that, right? He did that, but then he couldn't think of what to do with them. I remembered a salad dressing I made some time ago that would be perfect to dress up the carrots. It's tart and sweet and I got the great idea to add finely shredded lovage to the dressing. Lovage has a sharp, slightly bitter taste similar to celery leaves, and is very refreshing. It perfectly balanced the vinegar and crystallized ginger and its deep green color looked really cool on the carrots. I had some of the leftover carrots for lunch today and they were fantastic. I'm going to make some ahead of time for a brunch we're having so they can marinate overnight.

Sweet and tart carrots
  • one pound of ready-to-eat baby carrots
  • 3 Tablespoons orange muscat champagne vinegar (or rice vinegar or wine vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons natural soy sauce, shoyu or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger pieces
  • several lovage leaves, celery leaves or mint leaves
Make the dressing.
  1. Mix the first six ingredients in a small bowl. Finely cut the leaves and add to the bowl.
  2. Slice each carrot in half lengthwise.
  3. Steam carrots in a small amount of water until tender-crisp, or however you like them.
  4. Arrange the carrots in a dish and pour the dressing over.

About the lovage. I have no idea why I originally planted lovage. I like growing herbs and probably thought it sounded like a cool plant to grow. It's been growing for about 15 years - faithfully coming back year after year with no help whatsoever from me. Some years I even forget to eat any of it. This year it has reproduced itself, and has appeared in another garden spot much more convenient for picking. Such a clever plant. It grows about three to five feet high and I find it rather attractive and tasty. It tastes a lot like celery.

June 07, 2008

Chewy chocolate chocolate chip cookies

I used to be far more conservative about using fat and sugar in baked goods than I am now. If a recipe had more than 1/4 cup of either of those ingredients, I wouldn't make it. As you can imagine, my baked goods were utilitarian, at best. Actually, I liked them, but other people regarded them as "healthy." (Overheard at an event to which I contributed cookies, "those look healthy. I think I'll try these instead.") I still think I'm better off with simpler desserts, but I give in now and then for special (and not so special) occasions. I enjoy baking things that look and taste good to friends and family, though I still try to keep things as healthy as I can.

Anyway, my husband made these cookies (He's getting so domestic. I didn't even ask for cookies!) from Post Punk Kitchen and they were electrifyingly good. Like little sparks of electricity with every bite. Real killers. He SAYS he only used 1/2 cup of oil and only 1 cup of sugar but who really knows. He may have said that to calm me since he knows I hate adding lots of oil and sugar to food. Or he may have sensed my presence watching over him as he measured out the oil and sugar, and truly cut back. I can't say for certain. I'll have to make them again myself to find out. They were the darkest chocolate cookie I've ever seen and REALLY good. You can make the original recipe or try a more conservative version a la husband. (He used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. I would have used whole wheat pastry flour but the white whole wheat worked great. And he used sucanot for the sugar.) You can find the recipe here.

These clematis are growing in my garden.

June 06, 2008

garbanzo cheese

There used to be a Country Life restaurant near our house. (If you're not familiar with Country Life Vegetarian Restaurants, they are a chain of restaurants associated with the Seventh Day Adventist church. I'm not sure of the exact relationship — franchises or independently owned — but in the case of our local Country Life, the restaurant was staffed and managed by members of the church. The restaurants promote the Adventist principle of keeping your body healthy by eating the highest quality food. This generally means vegan. There are other obvious items to be avoided, like alcohol and tobacco, and less obvious ones like cinnamon.)

Anyway, in addition to being the only vegan restaurant in town, Country Life was also very child-friendly. So, being vegans with three young children, we went there a lot. We got to know the managers pretty well and it got to be kind of like going to their house for dinner, except that we had to pay. Our children were never the kind that would be happy with a few bites from my plate. They were all hearty eaters who required full portions of food. They loved going to Country Life with its huge, comfortable room, fireplace and attached store, and where they could order anything on the menu. And they enjoyed the food. I usually ordered the salad bar — a wonderland of fresh salad ingredients with extras like chickpeas, olives and vegan potato salad.

Since the staff were not really professional restaurant people, this was not the sort of place you would go if you were in a hurry. Once we waited so long for our food, and the order was so confused, that they gave us the meal for free. We were quite comfortable with the pace and we liked going there. And even though they were all obviously "working in God's service," they never suggested we actually read the literature on the table, or pressed their religion on us.

The food was mostly familiar-sounding "comfort food," which is why I once got the (stupid) idea to take my parents there when they came to visit. I thought they would enjoy the food even though they weren't vegetarian. My father was not a patient man, but I thought we could all go out and enjoy a leisurely meal together. I mean, we could hang out, have conversation, enjoy each others company. Right? Well, I'll spare you the gory details, but I wasn't sure we'd be welcome again at Country Life after that night. But they were very gracious and understanding, of course, and we continued our visits there until the restaurant closed. (I can assure you we never returned there with my parents.)

We took a series of cooking classes at the restaurant and learned how to make tofu and other stuff and bought a couple of cookbooks. "Ten Talents" by John and Rosalie Hurd is a classic Seventh Day Adventist cookbook that has some weird and interesting recipes. We also have a "Country Life" cookbook, which brings me to the subject of this post. I've decided to revisit some of the old recipes I used to make. Some of the food seemed really good to me back then and I want to see if it still has appeal. I remember making garbanzo cheese and thinking it was so delicious, so I started with that. It isn't hard to make, but takes several days to sprout the beans. And the final step of cooking requires constant stirring for 25 minutes. It didn't seem as great this time around. But the process still fascinates me and the cheese is interesting and slice-able. Actually, I don't know why they called it "cheese." It's more like a garbanzo loaf. Today I wrapped some slices in a burrito with avocado and shredded lettuce and it tasted pretty good. Will I make it again? Maybe; it's strange, but it has a certain something that I find very compelling.

I fried a few slices in a tablespoon of oil until they were browned and crispy, and they were delicious. I gave some to my son, who had been grossed out by the stuff while I was cooking it, and he said it was really good.

Garbanzo cheese
Soak 1 cup dry garbanzos for 24 hours. Sprout for 48 hours. (To sprout, drain the beans and place them in a glass jar or ceramic bowl. Rinse and drain them twice a day. It helps to use beans that are not too old.)

Whiz in blender or food processor until smooth (really smooth):
  • the soaked sprouted garbanzos
  • 1/2 cup brazil or other nuts
  • 1-1/4 teasp. onion powder
  • 1-1/2 teasp. salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup yeast flakes (you know, nutritional yeast)
  • 1/2 cup jarred pimentos
  • 1/8 teasp. garlic powder
  • caraway or celery seed (optional)
Place in double boiler and cook until thick, or cook in a saucepan over low heat, 20–25 minutes, stirring constantly. I used the sauce pan and medium heat because I didn't have the patience for low heat. This stuff burns in an instant and you have to be vigilant. If you keep stirring and scraping the pan bottom, it will cook more easily over medium heat. It gets quite thick. Pack it into a loaf pan rinsed in cold water. I used a 9" square pan because that's what I had. Chill thoroughly before slicing. Try frying some slices for breakfast.

Update: Oh no. I'm addicted to this stuff just like I used to be. Especially the fried version.