March 25, 2010

Smaller than a breadbox, bigger than a muffin

We're living in a rented house for an indefinite period of time, and I don't want to accumulate "stuff" which is why I should stay away from the kitchenware section of Goodwill. Should. Should. Should. But I don't. I'm drawn there like my dog is to waste baskets, just "looking" in case there might be something interesting. Recently while I was there, I saw a NordicWare mini bundt pan. "Well I certainly don't need that," I thought. "No. Certainly not." I looked. I touched. I walked away.

Standing in the clothing department, vaguely shifting sweaters on a rack, my mind kept going back to the pan. Next thing I knew, I was standing in the checkout line holding it, feeling justified (it was only $2.99!) though slightly guilty, as other people stopped to comment on my find. Oh it's a cute pan, all right.

As soon as I got the pan home I washed and dried it, and set about proving I would use it. I made my version of this apple-cranberry cake, making a few substitutions that I wanted to try. I replaced 3/4 cup of flour with 1/2 cup of almond meal and 1/4 cup of coconut flour (and added 1/4 cup more liquid). I used 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice and dried cranberries. For the topping I mixed a small amount of lemon juice and powdered sugar to drizzle over the tops. And yes, the mini bundt cakes were cute and delicious.

And now I've used it again, because there's something irresistible about mini-bundt cakes. I've baked a variation of the apple cake — an orange-flavored cake with chocolate chips. I used an organic orange, because though I use organic fruit most of the time, I always like to use organic fruit if I plan to eat the skin. I used a similar flour mix to the one I used for the apple cake but if I didn't already have almond meal and coconut flour in the pantry, I would just use white whole wheat. I like my cakes to have some body, especially bundt cakes, rather than be all light and airy, so sometimes I add alternative flours. I also appreciate when the dessert offers more than just a pretty face. Almond meal and coconut flour add to the nutritional profile, as well as the taste and texture, but feel free not to use them. The cake will work perfectly with just flour. (Click here for more information about coconut flour.)

Before I post the recipe, I want to mention my microplane zester. Using this tool makes me feel like I could zest all day and never get tired. Zip, zip, zip, and the zest is in a fluffy pile. I love this tool, and if you don't already have a zester, this is one you might consider. (It doesn't make long shreds for garnishes; you'll need an old fashioned zester with a single row of little holes, for that.)

Orange chocolate chip cake

Dry ingredients
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice (raw sugar)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon Indian black salt (or plain salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup non-dairy chocolate chips
Liquid ingredients
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce or non-dairy yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (if you're not using coconut flour, use only 1/2 cup of juice) I zested and juiced one orange, and added frozen OJ to get the full amount of juice needed.
  • 3/8 cup soymilk
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest (from one orange)
Preheat oven to 350˚ F and grease pan. I used a mini-bundt pan but you could also use a 9" x 13" pan or a regular 6-cup bundt pan. If using a bundt pan, grease with a mixture of equal parts margarine, oil and flour.
  1. Sift or whisk the dry ingredients except for the chocolate chips, in a large bowl. Stir in the chips.
  2. Whisk the liquid ingredients except for the zest, in a medium bowl until smooth and thick. Stir in the zest. (It will look a little curdled)
  3. Fold the wet mix into the dry until incorporated. Don't over mix.
  4. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Bake about 35 minutes for a single pan or 20 minutes for a mini-bundt pan. Test with a toothpick.
  5. Cool 9x13 pan on a rack and serve from pan. For bundt pans, place a rack over the pan and invert to release the cake. I let mine cool about one minute before inverting.
  6. For bundt cakes, make a glaze, if desired by whisking together until smooth, one tablespoon orange juice and enough powdered sugar to form a thick but pourable glaze. (Drizzle about one teaspoon over each mini-cake.) Or, melt chocolate chips over hot water and drizzle a chocolate glaze onto cakes. For topping a 9x13 cake before baking, click here for topping suggestions.

March 21, 2010

When is no choice the perfect choice? Sutra

Sutra is now closed. In what seems like another lifetime, my husband and I spent three weeks camping in Italy, Austria and the country formerly known as Yugoslavia. It was kind of our honeymoon. The reason we were in "Yugoslavia" was because we were sometimes traveling with another couple, the husband of which was a draft-card burning, rabble-rousing, SDS member who was researching the working conditions of factory workers in Eastern Europe, and was hoping to visit factories there. (Did he visit factories? I don't think so.) Whatever the reason we ended up there, it was beautiful and fascinating, and we loved our travels in that country. Anyway, we met up with our friends in Dubrovnik, and, taking a break from the tenting life, were eating out in a fairly fancy restaurant — cloth tablecloths and all. I was the first to order from the very extensive menu, and as I started naming my choices, each one was met with a statement from the waiter proclaiming, "sorry, we don't have that today." After three or four failed options, I finally said nicely, "Why don't you just tell us what you do have." Pointing to the menu he said, "we have this, this and this." It certainly made our selection process easier. (We weren't yet vegetarian on this trip or our choices would probably have been limited to bottled water.)

Now that we've been vegan for such a long time, I'm used to limited menu choices — grateful for ANY choices, sometimes. But we recently had dinner at a restaurant where we had NO choices (they will accommodate allergies, special diets), and it was heaven. It was perfection. We had dinner at Sutra in Seattle. Sutra is a tiny box of a restaurant with simple furnishings and bare-bones but cheerful atmosphere that serves a four-course, prix- fixe menu of exquisite, vegan food of the highest standards. Every presentation was gorgeous, and every bite blissful. The menu changes often, and reflects the seasonal availability of organic, local ingredients, with utmost respect paid to issues of sustainability and eco-responsibility. A prix-fixe menu is offered because it "respects food of the moment, [and] eliminates the need to stock, and most likely waste, food that may not be ordered." The food was prepared and served with love and grace, and we enjoyed every morsel.

Unfortunately, even with my fastest lens on the camera, it was too dark to photograph the food in the manner it deserved, and I was forced to use a flash, which isn't the most flattering way to photograph food. Next time I will sit at the bar where the light is much better.

We started the evening with roasted sunchoke kaffir lime and toasted pecan soup, with a pickled rhubarb, navel-blood orange and radish salad. I'm having trouble coming up with words to describe the mellow yet complex flavor of the perfectly creamy soup so let's just leave it to your imagination. I pine for all the sunchokes I didn't roast and make into soup instead of adding them to the compost.

The second course was miner's lettuce, Asian pear, tri-colored carrots and fried fiddlehead ferns served with wild-foraged blackberry habanero vinaigrette, and finished with toasted black sesame seeds. Oh my.

Course number three was cashew cheese, carnival squash and luna pumpkin stuffed into nettle mung bean crepes with smoked morel-sage demi-glaze served with wild-foraged wood sorrel, and finished with a balsamic reduction. I can only sigh at the memory.

For the fourth course, dessert, we enjoyed chocolate-(made with Theo's Madagascar chocolate), coconut-rose ice cream and raw cacao nib brittle. Rich and creamy — a perfect finale.

As they say on Lost, "we've got to go back."

March 16, 2010

Chewy or fluffy? And does size really matter?

It's almost Passover, and this will be the first time in many years (maybe 25 years!) we aren't sharing a Seder with two vegetarian families in Wisconsin. We've been getting together for such a long time, I don't even know how to do it without them. When we first started this tradition, there were 14 of us, including small kids, plus extra people who invariably got invited. And as the kids got older and went to college, they sometimes brought friends. We used to put tables together that extended from the dining room into the living room to accommodate all the guests. Over the years as our kids moved away, the group grew smaller, but still we always got together. Now we've moved away, and things will be different this year.

This year we'll have all the members of our immediate family plus my husband's mother and sister. I'm starting to think about the menu, and how to divide the cooking. And I'm trying to get a handle on vegan matzoh balls, since matzoh balls are traditionally dependent on eggs. Not all the members of our long-time Seder family were vegan, and the person who always made the soup made traditional egg-based matzoh balls. At home for my family, I made a vegan version with varying degrees of success.

The first time I made vegan matzoh balls, I used the recipe from the PPK and it worked beautifully. They disintegrated a little but I still managed to have some very tasty dumplings in the soup. But for some mysterious reason, the next two times I made them, they completely fell apart, and I had nothing. I swear, I followed the recipe exactly. (Yes, I know you have to refrigerate the dough.) Yesterday I tried a recipe from "The Vegan Table" that depends on ground flax seeds to replace the egg. The balls didn't fall apart, and they tasted OK but were small, slightly gummy and weird when they first came out of the pot. I put them into the freshly made, hot soup, and left them for a couple of hours. When we ate the soup for dinner, both my husband and I thought the matzoh balls tasted delicious. The taste and texture had improved dramatically, though large and fluffy they were not. I loved their chewy texture, but wonder what the non-vegans and non-vegetarians will think. (Note: The matzoh ball dough is rather stiff and dry, and that's the way it must be for a successful result.)

The soup stock was based on a simple dashi (using 6 cups water, 8 dried mushrooms, 1 piece kombu, soaked four hours) to which embellishments were added with abandon — a splash of this and a little of that. Mirin, brown rice vinegar, tamari, granulated onion, granulated garlic, two large cloves of minced fresh garlic, salt and pepper, dried dill, a pinch of turmeric and four large carrots went into the soup. It looked like chicken soup, and tasted fantastic. I just hope I can create something similar for our family gathering.

I intend to try Isa's recipe again to see if I can get it to work, and then decide which matzoh balls to use for the Seder. Any suggestions?

For vegan Passover macaroons, click here.


Day-glo bread insides revealed

Get out your sun glasses. Several people wanted to see the inside of the too-yellow bread from my last post, so here it is in all its golden glowing glory.


52nd Street Tofu House

This is a plate of take-out Korean food from 52nd Street Tofu House. They have a vegan menu (as well as the regular menu) but just because a place has vegan food doesn't mean you should go there. The food was OK but not great. We had two combo plates — tofu and veggies and gyoza with broccoli. I actually prefer the frozen gyoza that my son buys at the Asian market near his house. The tofu dish was decent but the potato dish that came with it was sickeningly sweet, and neither my husband or myself chose to eat it. We may give this place another chance and actually eat there, since take-out isn't always the best way to judge a restaurant.

March 11, 2010

Eggplant salad with ume-tahini dressing

The salad as served on an 8" plate to company.
We recently had friends come for dinner and I planned an Asian-inspired meal with seitan and broccolini in a sweet and sour sauce over rice. I wanted to have a salad first, even though raw vegetables aren't usually found on Asian menus. I wanted the salad to have some connection to the main course so I looked through a Japanese cookbook, and found a recipe for eggplant salad — just eggplant, no greens. It had a dressing similar to one I used to make when I was following a macrobiotic diet and I was using many traditional Japanese condiments, like umeboshi. I decided to pan-grill (in a regular cast iron pan since I don't have a grill pan) the eggplant and serve it at room temperature on top of salad greens, with a umeboshi-tahini dressing and toasted sunflower seeds.

Some people blanch when they see "weird" ingredients like "umeboshi paste" listed in a recipe. It sounds so exotic and obscure. But is using umeboshi really so different from using all the other wonderful foods and condiments we've adopted from other countries? It's just another powerful flavor source that's good for your health as well as your palate. Look at all the Mexican foods like chipotle in adobo, or salsa verde, or Middle Eastern foods like felafel or tabooli. At one time they were considered exotic and strange.

The dressing.
Umeboshi plums and paste are made from a very small, round fruit closely related to the apricot, that is pickled with salt and shiso leaves. You can buy them whole or as a more convenient-to-use paste. It may seem expensive but it goes a long way, and I don't buy it very often. It has a salty-sour taste that goes especially well with the bitter flavor of tahini. (I even have a fabulous recipe for tofu cream cheese that uses umeboshi and tahini.)

The eggplant was cubed, soaked, patted dry, pan-grilled and cooled to room temperature before hitting the greens. The dressing was drizzled over all, and the salad was topped with toasted sunflower seeds. (I'm going to put in a plug for the Bob's Red Mill sunflower seeds I recently purchased. Maybe I was just lucky but these are the smallest, freshest, sweetest sunflower seeds I've ever bought. They're delicious raw or toasted and I love them.) I made enough salad for four people but the ingredients are flexible so use whatever quantities you wish. The dressing is very flavorful and goes a long way, but if you like your salad loaded with dressing or want leftovers, you can easily double the recipe.

The salad (missing carrots) served in a big bowl to me for lunch.
Eggplant salad with umeboshi-tahini dressing
  • 1/2 medium eggplant (cut the whole eggplant in half lengthwise)
  • avocado or olive oil
  • salad greens
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, toasted in a pan
  • 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup or maple syrup or 1-1/2 teaspoons brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water, more if needed
  1. Cut two 1/2" thick steaks from the eggplant half. Cut each steak into 1/2" cubes and soak the cubes in water for 10 minutes. This is supposed to get rid of bitterness. Drain the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Place about 1 tablespoon of oil into a cast iron (or other heavy) pan and heat. Add the eggplant and brown on one side over medium heat about five minutes. Turn and brown the other side. Remove eggplant to a plate and let cool to room temperature while you make the dressing.
  3. Place the umeboshi, tahini, lemon juice, sweetener and water in a small dish or measuring cup. Mix to a smooth and creamy consistency. Add more water if necessary to achieve a creamy dressing that will drizzle from a spoon. The amount of water depends on the texture of your tahini.
  4. Toast the sunflower seeds.
  5. Place the salad greens on four individual plates or bowls. Divide the eggplant into equal portions and mound in the center of the greens. Artfully arrange the carrots. Drizzle dressing over all. Top with sunflower seeds.

Day-glo bread and other misc. stuff

Here's a bread to which I added turmeric to give it a golden hue (and because it's supposed to have so many health benefits). It actually came out a lot more golden than I expected, and looks kind of weird. (I haven't photographed the inside but believe me, it's BRIGHT.) It tastes good, though. It's got rye flour in the dough for a little extra flavor, and sesame seeds on top.

I've been making English muffins from my no-knead bread dough, and having sandwiches for breakfast. I'm trying to eat more in the early part of the day and less at night, and these hearty breakfasts seem to really stick with me. I've found that a thinner muffin bakes up more successfully so pat your dough to no more than 1/2" thick. This particular sandwich had a veggie burger, avocado, English cucumber and Russian dressing. Just looking at it now gives me hunger pangs. I've also had muffins with cannelini beans, avocado and salad greens. My current vat of day-glo no-knead dough seems a little too wet for successful English muffin making, so I'm using it for regular loaves. The muffin above was made with the previous batch of dough, which explains its normal hue.

This is kablooey — a tester recipe for Celine and Joni. It is kind of like tabooli but made with buckwheat.

March 07, 2010

Pop pop popcorn popper

It seems silly to spend too much time thinking about popcorn, but ever since I found myself popcorn-maker-less, I've been devising ways to make my favorite snack without actually buying another hot air popper when I already have one — even though it's far, far away in another state. I tried microwaving it in a paper bag, popping it in a stainless mixing bowl and making it in my wok. The microwave was disappointing, and I gave it up. The bowl, once I adjusted the amount of oil and salt, worked well but required aluminum foil, which seemed wasteful. Plus it was awkward holding and shaking the bowl. The wok wasn't bad, once I learned to spread out the kernels in a single layer instead of a pile. But there was still the pan-shaking and the slowness. My son, who is very picky about his kitchenware and cooking, kept telling me that the Whirley Pop he got at Goodwill (brand new and still in the box — he's lucky that way) was the best way he's ever found to pop corn.

The next time I was at Goodwill I found one, but it was in someone else's cart, and, well, good manners forced me to leave it there. Recently, I found another one at Goodwill and this time it was on a shelf! The inside was perfectly clean — much cleaner in fact than it is now — though there was a little oil residue on the lid, but I handed over my $2.99 and took it home. I cleaned it up, did a little Internet research into the fine points of using a Whirley Pop, and got popping. My son was right — this IS the best way to pop corn.

Honestly, the popper looks like a piece of junk — it's so thin and lightweight you'd expect it to burn up with the kernels — but it works just as the Whirley Pop Web site says it will. You turn a little wooden handle in the lid, that's connected to a thin thingyjig that sweeps the kernels around the bottom of the pot so they don't burn. It takes no time at all for the corn to start popping, and within two or three minutes it's all popped fluffy and tender. I love it. You can pop the corn with as little as one teaspoon of oil so you're not adding that many calories. I had to do a little adjusting of the metal latches and spinner of my used popper, but it works perfectly, now. So, would I abandon my old Presto Air Popper? Probably not. It's easier, and I'm profoundly lazy. But, duh, I might just get used to this whirley-thing.

I made a batch of no-knead bread dough (basic recipe in "Healthy Bread in Five" subbing 1 cup potato starch for one cup unbleached, 2 teasp. yeast, 2 teasp. salt) and made some of the finished dough into an English muffin. Used a cast iron pan and it was ready in under 10 minutes. It tasted just like an English muffin, only better!

Here's another of my "big bowl" lunches. It consisted of broccolini, mushrooms, dried tomatoes, soy curls and rice noodles in the last of the dashi. I could eat this every day, except maybe the soy curls. I like soy curls, but not every day!

March 02, 2010

Dreaming in color | daikon soup variations | crochet

Daikon, shiitake and buckwheat soup
I always dream in color. Sometimes my dreams are so vivid I wake up not knowing where I am and what is real. I used to remember more of my dreams, and at one time kept a dream journal to document the weirdness. Now I hardly ever remember my dreams, but recently I woke up disturbed after a particularly vivid one, and recounted it to my husband who suggested I write it down. Here it is, open for interpretation.
I was in Australia with my husband and youngest son, and we were headed off to tour a scenic area. We were in an underground train station, and I became separated from them — couldn't see them anywhere, and was feeling a little panicky. The station was packed with people trying to board the train, and the doors closed before I could enter the car. Suddenly the doors opened again and I rushed in, convinced they had boarded and would be inside. They weren't there but I hoped to find them when I got off at our destination.

The inside of the car looked exactly like the worn-out buses I used to ride to high school, with cracking leather upholstery and a bench seat stretching across the back. It was packed with people but there was one space open on the rear seat, so I went to sit down. A young woman who seemed to know the other people on the seat came and squeezed in beside me. She and her friends were all laughing and talking in a language I didn't understand but somehow I knew that the seat had been hers — she had just left it for a few minutes to talk to friends. The seating was ridiculously tight and uncomfortable so I got up and worked my way to the front of the car. I was worried about missing my stop (15th and 45th Street!) so asked the conductor for help. I got off at my stop but my family wasn't in the station. I tried to use my cell phone to call my husband but I couldn't seem to press the right numbers. I kept messing up. Suddenly I was accosted by a man who tried to steal my phone. I told him I really needed it but he demanded I turn it over, and I asked if I could make one last call. While the thief was distracted I ran out of the station with my phone, into the city.

I wandered around and discovered a craft fair where a woman was selling small sculptures, each with a thin, reddish twig attached. I was thinking that the sculptures weren't too great, when someone approached me and whispered that there existed a certain worm that had four stages of life, and one of the stages was a reddish twig. I asked the sculptor if the twigs would turn into live worms but she didn't answer — just murmured something and smiled enigmatically. I walked away.

I needed to find a bank to change U.S. dollars into Australian dollars so I could take the train back to where we were staying. After I got directions and headed towards the bank, I tried to call my husband again and reached an operator. I learned that because we were using U.S. cell phones, an operator had to place the call. The operator knew us (though I wasn't exactly sure who she was) and was very friendly and helpful, and she placed the call for me but my husband still didn't answer. I tried calling my son but he didn't answer either.

A traveler's aide representative came out of a building and offered to help me. (I was kind of surprised to see she was someone we know from Wisconsin.) I told her I needed to find a bank and she gave me Australian dollars. Then she walked me to the train station and told me which train to catch. I was very worried because I only had one bar of power left on the phone, and wasn't sure how to get home from the train. I woke up suddenly, and after several moments of disorientation, realized with relief I was in my bed, and wouldn't need to find my way home after all.
Well, I suppose some parts of the dream are about my feeling separated from my home, and stranded in this new city, and my difficulty navigating the streets. But the worms? What are they? Too bad the dream wasn't about daikon or dashi, and didn't take place in Japan — it would have been a better segue into the soup I prepared and would like to share with you. The soup was influenced by the Japanese cooking class we recently took, and the recipe for cooking the daikon comes directly from that class. It's very easy to make and incredibly delicious but may take a little advance planning to make the richest tasting dashi. It's worth it.

Daikon, shiitake and buckwheat soup
To make the dashi:
Soak 8-10 dried shiitake mushrooms (rinsed) and 1-1/2 pieces dried kombu seaweed (wiped off with damp cloth) in 6 cups of water overnight in the refrigerator. When you're ready to prepare the soup, remove the kombu. Gently squeeze out the mushrooms into the stock and remove the stems. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4" strips and set aside.

To prepare the daikon:
  • 1 medium daikon radish, peeled
  • 1 cup dashi
  • 3 tablespoons sake (or brown rice vinegar) (you can buy a cheaper sake for cooking)
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or less to taste)

1. Cut daikon into 2" pieces. Trim off the edges of each cut end so the pieces are slightly rounded.

2. Put the daikon in a pot with just enough water to float the daikon, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and cook, covered, for 30 minutes, until the daikon is mostly cooked.

3. Drain the daikon and add 1 cup of dashi to the pot. Add sake and mirin. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.

4. Turn heat to low and add tamari and salt. Cook until daikon is tender. (easily pierced with a toothpick) Turn off heat and let sit while you prepare the soup.

To prepare the soup
  • dashi
  • 2 to 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick on diagonal
  • 8 to 10 shiitake mushrooms (from the dashi), stems removed and sliced into 1/4" strips
  • 1 to 2 cups 1/2" firm tofu cubes
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat groats, lightly toasted in a pan
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
  • scallions, thinly chopped
1. In a large soup pot, sauté the mushrooms, carrots and buckwheat for a few minutes in the oil.

2. Add the tofu and remaining dashi and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to simmer and cover. Cook until buckwheat is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Add daikon and its cooking liquid.

4. Just before serving, add spinach and stir in to wilt. Check and adjust seasonings.

5. Place in bowls and garnish with scallion. Serves four as first course or two to three as a main course.

The soup was so delicious we had variations of it two more times. My husband made it with buckwheat noodles instead of groats, and cauliflower instead of spinach but it wasn't as good.

We purchased a set of white serving bowls that make perfect large eating bowls so I've been a little obsessed with making dinners in a bowl. Here's a lovely stir-fry with rice noodles and mushroom broth that I made for myself on a night when I was dining alone.

Now, I know this doesn't look good — it looked the same way in person — but it WAS good. It was really good. Maybe it just needs a little parsley or something. I was the lucky winner of a copy of "Vegan Fire and Spice" from Robin Robertson's blog, and this was the first recipe my husband tried. It's red beans and rice casserole made with pinto beans instead of kidney beans. I think it needs the deep color of the kidney beans rather than the bland-looking pintos.

Last but not least, this is me, modeling the hat and scarf I crocheted. It's made from Lion Brand Homespun yarn which is one crazy yarn to work with. I bought this yarn because Bethany from Spotted Devil Cat and His Vegan Assistant made a fabulous scarf with it, and I wanted to make one too. (Of course, mine isn't half as cool as hers.) It does make beautiful stuff but it takes some getting used to working with its crimped texture, and items made with it seem to grow. Seriously, the photo was snapped just before the hat grew past my eyes. :D I wet it and put it in the drier, and now it seems to have stopped growing, but consider yourself warned!