January 31, 2013

Cooking class with Michael Natkin from Herbivoracious: Mexican cuisine

Red posole with beans (Pozelo rojo de frijo)

Last night we bid adieu to January with a cooking class by cookbook author and blogger, Michael Natkin, from the blog Herbivoracious, and cookbook of the same name. This post is about the class, but since the recipes were from the book, it's also a peek into what you can expect from Michael's cookbook as well.

Although Michael is vegetarian and not vegan, the class was billed as vegan and gluten-free. Michael has been receiving much praise for his beautifully photographed book, and the food we enjoyed last night was both artful and delicious. In his cookbook introduction he says, " I propose to bring you a collection of vegetarian recipes that are so full of flavor, so pleasurable to make and eat, and so satisfying that, if you are an omnivore, you won't give a second thought to the fact that they contain no meat. If you are a vegetarian, you'll be able to greatly expand your repertoire of everyday and special-occasion dishes."

The food Michael cooked in class was very fresh and appealing, and I found links to all of the recipes we sampled, so if you are intrigued by the photos and descriptions, you can give the recipes a try. All were relatively easy to make.

Jicama, radish and orange salad

We started our evening with jicama, radish and orange salad. It was a very simple and refreshing beginning to the meal. Michael cut the oranges into "supremes" then squeezed all the remaining juice from the leftover orange halves into a bowl. He kept the segments and juice together, and used all of it in the recipe, unlike the directions on his blog which only call for some of the juice. If cutting the oranges into supremes is too fancy for you, you could just divide them into segments and add a little orange juice if needed. (Cutting the oranges into supremes separates the flesh from all the membranes, making for a more tender orange segment.) This would be a perfect accompaniment to a spicy dinner. You can add a bit of olive oil if you like.

Next we had red pozole with beans, which is pictured at the top of the post. It was quite wonderful, with a rich, satisfying broth, beans and hominy, and an interesting variety of toppings including corn chips, avocado, shredded cabbage, and sliced radishes. In spite of the complex flavors and impressive appearance, the soup was really easy to make (using canned beans and hominy), and would be suitable for a weekday meal or as part of an easy company dinner. The one difference I noted between the blog recipe and the class recipe was in class we used 3/4 cup of tomatoes.

The main course consisted of grilled tofu and pepper tacos and arroz verde. The taco was so delicious and the rice was very beautiful with a gentle flavor. The rice was very easy to make, and the taco was a little more work but still not too hard. Michael cooked the tofu and zucchini for the taco on a cast iron grill pan — something that's been on my wish list for a while — and it had a great, almost smoky flavor and nice grill marks.

Differences I found between the blog recipe and class recipe: makes eight tacos, 2 teaspoons of tamarind concentrate instead of achiote, 2 teaspoons of cumin, lime juice added at the end if needed. (A note about tamarind paste — different brands have different consistencies and you may need to microwave it for a few seconds with a tablespoon of water to get it stir-able. We have a jar of Aunt Patty's organic tamarind paste and it's very easy to work with.)

The tortilla on my plate is a Rudi's gluten-free tortilla, which I thought was perfect in taste and texture. Other people had more authentic corn tortillas (no ingredient list) but frankly, I thought mine looked better! I encourage you to give the recipes a try, especially the pozole.


In other news

Miss E has a brand new baby brother, and we're all thrilled!

January 16, 2013

Little pumpkin tarts

We attended a party recently where the hosts were very kind to their vegan guests, and made sure there was lots of beautiful, delicious food to eat. I'm actually skipping the dinner and moving right to the dessert, because I was so impressed with the mini pumpkin tarts that were served.

There was also an impressive, mouthwatering bowl of dark vegan chocolate and a large platter of fruit for dipping, but the tarts! They were so cute and so yummy and they made me think about my mini tart pans and how I should use them already.

Not only were the tarts delicious, pretty and vegan, they were also gluten-free and grain-free! Jen made them, and they were perfect little gems — delicate, flaky crust, light, creamy pumpkin filling and whipped coconut cream topping. I've got the recipe for you.

Jen made her tarts in silicone muffin cups, pressing the dough part way up the sides. She put the silicone cups into a muffin tin so the shells would keep their shape while baking. I don't have silicone bakeware, but last summer I bought a set of eight mini tart pans at a garage sale. The tins are approximately 4-inches across the top, 3-1/4-inches across the bottom, and 3/4 of an inch high. They are in great condition and I've always wondered why — did the tart shells stick and refuse to come out after they were baked so the previous owner only used them once? I was pretty sure that's what would happen. I made half a recipe and carefully pressed the pastry dough into the pans. I had enough dough to make the shells go about halfway up the sides of six tart pans. I first oiled the pans, then pressed the dough carefully into the fluted sides, making sure all the edges were fairly even and the same height.

Little sweet potato tarts

After the shells were baked and briefly cooled on a metal rack, I held the edges of a pan, pressed gently on the back, and the perfect little shell popped right out! Five more perfect little shells and, grinning with glee, I prepared the filling.

Although Jen's tarts were wonderful, I made a couple of changes to the recipe. Instead of all almond flour, my shells were half almond and half sorghum. And, instead of pumpkin, the filling was made from baked sweet potato. I used a solidly-packed half cup of potato (one medium potato) for six tarts. It was creamy and delicious, but not as airy as the pumpkin purée. The topping was made from coconut cream, as in the recipe, but made in a food processor because I don't have a mixer. I was quite pleased with the tarts and recommend the recipe to you.


Intentions ...

Instead of resolutions, this year I have an intention. I intend to create two pieces of art per month. Here's my latest collage. It was made as a gift so I couldn't post it until the recipient had received it. It's made from home furnishing catalogs but that's all I'm going to say. It's 15 by 20 with a three-inch mat.

January 11, 2013

What to do with leftover, leftover chili that won't go away

About a week ago, my husband made black bean chili and sweet potato casserole* in the slow cooker. It was his first time using the slow cooker, and he followed a recipe from Robin Robertson's book, Fresh From the Vegan Slow Cooker. It was spicy and tasty, but I've found that Robertson's serving sizes are very generous, and even though I love having leftovers, after a certain amount of chili chomping, I just couldn't face another bowl. We were going to freeze the leftover leftovers, but never got to it, when thankfully I remembered a favorite recipe from the olden days. I can't remember what cookbook it was from though I have a vague memory of the author and cover, but maybe it will come to me as I type.

The dish was made with leftover chili — we certainly had no shortage of that — and was topped with a recipe for cornbread. Cornbread. Last year, as you may or may not recall, I went gluten-free to deal with some digestive issues that had been plaguing me for as long as I can remember. (As you might assume from the first paragraph that my memory isn't all that long, I assure you my memory on this subject is quite intact.) While I am no longer 100% gluten-free, my cooking and baking still are, and I eat only small amounts of gluten elsewhere. Cooking GF didn't require much of a change, but baking — ha! Baking at first seemed impossible, and I ruined a lot of things, but after following recipes and getting a feel for GF flours, I've been able to actually bake a few successful items just playing in the kitchen. I didn't use a specific recipe** for my first attempt at GF cornbread, but it was a success, and it turned the chili into a whole new dish that we enthusiastically enjoyed eating. Even the new leftovers were appreciated. (Yes, I mean it.)

You can use any kind of cornbread — GF or regular — to make this. Spread the hot, juicy beans in a casserole dish, and spread a recipe of cornbread batter over the top. The batter should be soft enough to spread easily, so if the batter you're using is stiff, add some extra liquid. Bake in a pre-heated 425˚ F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cornbread tests done.

*The recipe calls for thinly sliced sweet potatoes, which were unappealing to me in the finished chili. Maybe it's because my husband doesn't slice things "thinly." In any case, I prefer the potatoes to be in a small dice, which may not work well in the slow cooker. To remedy the potato issue, I chopped up the potatoes before I placed the chili in the casserole. I did it right in the storage dish without removing the slices and without apparent harm to the beans. If I'd thought of it, I also would have added some frozen corn before placing the chili into the baking dish.

**Cornbread recipes usually have one cup of cornmeal and one cup of flour. For the cup of flour I used millet flour, almond flour and a small amount of tapioca starch. (I find I'm using less and less starch in baking.) I didn't use xanthan gum. There was also sweetener, baking powder and baking soda. The liquid ingredients included almond milk, soy yoghurt, and oil.

January 08, 2013

Fine dining at Vedge in Philadelphia

autumn squash pierogies, chanterelles, madeira, hazelnut picada

During the winter holidays we spent a week in Philly visiting relatives and friends. One of the highlights was a dinner we shared with my brother at Vedge.

spicy grilled tofu, gochujang, edamame, smoked miso, yuba cracklin

I'd read that Vedge was more than just a great vegan restaurant — it was a fabulous restaurant, regardless of its unique cuisine. I'd have to agree, the food at Vedge was pretty remarkable. It was all glorious, fresh, real plant-based food.

braciole: smoked eggplant & cauliflower, Italian salsa verde, cured olive

Vedge is a small-plate restaurant, and our server recommended we order three dishes each. You can take a look look at the menus to see the selection of plates they offer. We chose items from the small plate menu and the dirt list. The three of us shared all the plates so we each got to sample nine dishes. If I go again, I think I may get my own three plates. Having just a bite of many dishes is exciting, but a little frustrating.

portabella carpaccio, creamy horseradish, pickled cabbage, cornichons

The plates really are quite small, and we each got a couple of bites from each plate. It was a little challenging for me to recognize and match each dish to the menu description after I got home, but I did my best to label our choices.

brussels sprouts, shaved & grilled, smoked mustard

There were a couple of plates I couldn't absolutely identify, and it may be because the menu changes, and by the time I returned home some of the offerings may have rotated. The "dirt list" changes daily, I believe. (update: a reader has helped to identify the previously unnamed plate!) Everything I tasted was beautiful and remarkable. The restaurant was ultra elegant, and very dark, and though I had my fast lens with me, it was no match for the "atmosphere," so I had to resort to the flash because it was flash or nada. You are only getting a bad representation of what the food really looked like. Honestly, I was so excited by the food, if it weren't for my two dining companions reminding me to take photographs, I would have nothing to show you.

roasted baby scarlet turnips coconut creamed kale, basil leaf & seed

When my husband and I go out to dinner for a non-special occasion, we usually tend to be conservative about the "extras" we order — things like drinks and appetizers are the stuff that pads the bill and makes dining out so expensive. But this was a special event, and we didn't hold back.

salt roasted gold beets, avocado, smoked tofu, rye, capers, creamy cucumber

We all ordered drinks — my brother had a craft beer, my husband had wine and I had a cocktail. I almost never drink, but we were at VEDGE, after all, and it was my brother's birthday, and I had to, you know, try everything. For the blog. I had a Kyoto Sour: Momokawa junmai sake, grapefruit, cucumber, agave, lemon. It was just delicious.

roasted maitake mushroom, celery root fritter, smoked leek remoulade

Everything was remarkably excellent, but one of my favorite tastes was a sweet potato paté that was unbelievable. I tried to re-create it when we got home and I made something very delicious, though with a slightly less-firm texture. It occurred to me that maybe I should bake it, and as soon as I'm happy with my recipe, I'll post it. The celery root fritter was also spectacular. As were the brussels sprouts.

wood grilled sweet potato paté, grain mustard, jerk cashews, toast

sticky toffee pudding, pumpkin ice cream
I was really quite full after all the small plates, though my brother wasn't. Since he was ordering dessert, I ordered one, too, to share with my husband. (OK, I would have ordered dessert even if my brother hadn't, just so I could taste it.) My brother ordered the ice cream trio, and I got the toffee pudding with pumpkin ice cream. My brother kept exclaiming about his whiskey ice cream, and how remarkable it was, but I was too enamored with my ultra creamy and perfectly spiced pumpkin ice cream to pay much attention. The pudding was great for a few bites but then became too sweet for me. My husband, on the other hand, had no problem polishing it off.

It's not easy to get reservations so if you know you'll be in Philly and want to go, call ahead — way ahead. We were lucky to get a reservation for three at 8:30 p.m. on a  Thursday night, and it was basically the only reservation to be had for the whole of our visit. (Of course, it was a busy time of year, so this might not be the case at other times.)

The Vedge is not to be missed, though you might want to save it for a special occasion, as it is pricy. For me, just going there is special occasion enough. I can't wait to go back!

January 01, 2013

Happy New Year (eat a little Texas caviar for good luck)

Happy New Year! Wishing you all the best in 2013. Can't hurt to eat black-eyed peas for a little extra good luck.

Texas Caviar
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained, or 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, cooked and drained*
  • 4 scallions, finely sliced
  • 3 jalapenos, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, minced
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped**(opt.)
  • 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground peppercorns
  1. Rinse and drain the beans and place in a bowl with the scallions, cilantro, tomatoes and peppers. 
  2. Put the oil, vinegar, lime juice and salt in a one cup glass measuring cup and mix together.
  3. Add the liquid to the beans and combine. 
  4. Place in a shallow glass (or other non-reactive) dish. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few days. (I marinated mine for 24 hours but sometimes it's much less, and when I'm really on top of things, it's three days.) Mix occasionally to distribute the marinade evenly. Grind some peppercorns over the top just before serving. 
  5. Serve with sturdy chips, like Food Should Taste Good Multi-Grain Chips.

 *To cook dried black-eyed peas: I used the quick-soak method. Place beans in a pot and cover beans generously with water. Bring to a boil, cover and turn off heat. Soak for one hour. Drain the beans and return them to the pot with fresh water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until tender. Depending on your beans, this could take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 45. Don't let them get too mushy. You want them tender but whole.

**I really like Trader Joe's sun dried tomatoes that come in 3 ounce bags. They contain no oil, but unfortunately they contain sulfur dioxide. It's always something, isn't it?