March 31, 2013

Minestrone | Gratitude

My husband made a big pot of minestrone soup loosely based on a recipe he found on the Forks Over Knives website. He made some substitutions like carrots and turnips instead of fennel and zucchini, kale instead of Swiss chard. He also added wine and herbs, and used GF pasta. We garnished it with whole pumpkin seeds and roasted brussels sprouts. It was satisfying and delicious.



Sometimes we just need a gentle reminder to appreciate what we have. A member of my women's group shared the video with us, and now I'm sharing it with you. (Thanks, Kathy.) Another member of the group pointed out that "the east Indian woman included in the video is Vandana Shiva, a scientist and champion of sustainable agriculture in India, who opposes Monsanto and others who push genetically modified seeds in India, causing much harm to local farming and farmers."

March 23, 2013

Banana chocolate chip muffin cake (GF)

I'm still playing with my Bob's Red Mill Gluten-free Flour mix, which from all I've read, can be subbed one-for-one in most wheat-flour-based cake and cookie recipes, to turn baked goods into gluten-free treats. So far so good. However, I'm discovering that I actually like mixing up different flour combos, and using the pre-packaged mix is not nearly as much fun. Being someone who likes things to be easy, this isn't what I expected, but also being someone who likes to be in control, it makes sense. I like to decide for myself what kinds of flours to use and how much starch to include. That said, I still think this is a very handy product that seems to work really well.

For many people, the goal of vegan baking is to make something that can't be distinguished from a non-vegan product — equally decadent, equally delicious, able to fool omnis. There's a place for that, and I respect it, and occasionally I even bake with that goal in mind. I don't think we need to deprive ourselves in exchange for caring about animals and the planet. When baking gluten-free, the goal is trickier to achieve but basically the same — fool everyone into thinking they are eating  a fabulous, gluten-filled, non-vegan treat, regardless of  how much fat and sugar needs to be added. I'm always impressed and filled with admiration when I see others' successful results.

But, I've been vegan so long, and my tastes and ideas have changed so much, that I'm less concerned with making something exactly like its "normal" counterpart, than I am about making something that tastes great and has a pleasing texture and appearance. It may be entertaining to create a vegan dessert that perfectly mimics its non-vegan predecessor, but do my desserts always taste exactly like a familiar omni dessert? No. Do I care? No. In cooking as in life, it's OK to be different. I prefer that most of the sweets I make be reasonably healthy, whether it's for dessert or not. Not every dessert has to be "decadent." Actually, I kind of hate that word a little. I don't mean to deny anyone their decadent vegan desserts — I'm just not that into them. Never was. As a child I always wanted the piece of cake with the beautiful sugary flower, but only because it was pretty. I never ate it. In fact, I usually didn't eat more than a bite or two of the cake.

I know that things taste sweeter to me than to most people, and even when I add extra sweetener to a cake or cookies to please others, they still often perceive it as less sweet than they are used to, though not necessarily in a bad way. I often get comments like, "I love this. It isn't too sweet. Deserts are always so sweet." I like desserts that are modestly sweet and not overly rich.

Baking GF has been really interesting. I can now turn out GF baked goods that people really seem to enjoy, but there are certain aspects about GF baking that still have me bothered. I don't like the large quantity of empty-calorie starches that go into so many recipes and flour mixes, and I don't like xanthan gum. As far as I can tell, xanthan gum is perfectly safe to use, so I'm just  weird. But so is xantham gum ... weird.

GF mix on the left, whole wheat flour on the right, both from Bob's Red Mill

Though I don't know the exact flour-to-starch ratio in Bob's Red Mill GF Flour Mix, it doesn't appear to be too bad as far as empty calories go. In comparing it to regular whole wheat flour, it actually has fewer calories and fewer total carbohydrates, though it has more sugar and less protein. A few people who left comments on the Bob's Red Mill Web site hate the taste, and while it does taste fairly nasty raw, once it's baked I think it tastes really good. It's a very easy and convenient way to bake GF, but like I said, mixing flours is fun.

So, back to the banana muffin cake. I call it muffin cake because it has a texture that reminds me of muffins — kind of soft and springy. I just love sinking my teeth into it — maybe too much. In addition to trying out the flour mix, I've been experimenting with two things — using ground flax seed instead of xanthan gum, and using a hand mixer instead of a spoon or whisk. The flax seed I read about here, and the mixer I read about here. Using a hand mixer definitely improved the rise, and the resulting texture from the flax seed (and maybe also from the mixer) is very pleasing to me. If I had a stand mixer I would definitely use it, but my little hand mixer seems to be working well. Even when I think I already know how to do something, it never hurts to look around to see what someone else has to say. Using the mixer, especially, has made a big difference.

I'm still having a problem with sinking chips, which is why I added some to the cake top as soon as the cake came out of the oven. I mixed the chips with some flour before stirring them by hand into the beaten batter, but it didn't do the trick. Next time I'll try arrowroot. I really have to figure this out since I add chocolate chips to a lot of what I bake. I also am not sure why the cinnamon and ginger are so barely there — perhaps they are overwhelmed by the garbanzo flour. In any case, I'm pleased with the cake and happy to share it with you. The first time I wrote a cake recipe I was about 12, and the result tasted exactly and horribly like soap. This is much better.

Banana chocolate chip muffin cake
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed 
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 2 cups GF flour mix (Bob's Red Mill GF Baking Mix)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (evaporated cane juice)
  • 1 teaspoon GF baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon GF baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 medium very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup oil (organic canola)*
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2/3 cup of non-dairy chocolate chips plus some extra
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Oil a 9-inch square baking dish.
  1. Place ground flax seeds in a small bowl and stir in the water with a fork. Place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes but up to an hour.
  2. Place lemon juice in a one-cup glass measuring cup and add enough almond milk to make one cup. Set aside.
  3. In a small dish, mix the chocolate chips with a tablespoon of the flour and set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.
  5. Mash up the bananas, still in their skins, with your fingers. This makes it easier to incorporate them into the cake mix. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, oil and banana. (You may have to mash the banana a bit with a fork before using the mixer.)
  6. Beat in the flax mixture and vanilla. 
  7. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat. Add some of the curdled milk and beat. Continue adding flour, then milk, until it's all in. You may have to scrape down the bowl once or twice.
  8. When all ingredients are added, beat for about one minute.
  9. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top and gently swirl them in with a knife.
  10. Place the dish in the center of the oven.
  11. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is lightly golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry.
  12. Place the dish on a wire rack to cool. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the top, trying to avoid having chips touch the edges of the dish.
Serve from the dish while still slightly warm.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

*I was actually planning to use olive oil in the cake but the organic extra virgin olive oil I have right now is the kind with a peppery after-bite, and I wasn't sure how that would work in a cake. So, I used organic canola oil. Rapeseed, from which canola oil is extracted, is nearly all GMO, so if you want to avoid GMOs, buy organic.

March 19, 2013

Mounds of carrot salad (with smoky orange dressing)

I've noticed a trend on my facebook page lately where people are posting photos of items from the past with a request to 'like' the photo if you recognize what it is. The intention is to route out all the boomers on facebook and create a camaraderie of sorts — I guess. OK, I admit it, I'm old enough to be your mother; I recognized the ice cube tray with the handle. Woohoo. In spite of the fact I never click "like" on any of the photos, I now have a little "guess what this is" game of my own. Does anyone know what my post title refers to? Yes? No?

There used to be an early, manual food processor advertised extensively on television, and the sideshow-like presentation both annoyed and amazed me. Also, I think I secretly wished I had one of the devices, being a young kitchen-device-hoarder in the making. (Now, of course, I'm a reformed kitchen-device-hoarder.) The hand-cranked machine in question  made "mounds of carrot salad." For some reason, the phrase stuck in my head. It took a while, but after much Internet sleuthing, and a lot of infomercials for Ronco Veg-O-Matics and other salad-making devices, I finally unearthed the source of the mounds of carrot salad — the Popeil Kitchen Magician. I don't know why the massive carrot piles struck me as so funny when I used to see the commercial on TV, but I found the idea of mounds of shredded carrots bizarre and hilarious. Why would anyone want to create mounds of shredded carrots? Hahahahaha. Little did I know that one day I might be creating mounds of carrot salad myself. Ahem. Who knew? Especially in the warmer months, when I bring out the spiralizer, it's not unusual to find mounds of carrot salad in my kitchen.

(BTW, I also discovered a fascinating history about Ron Popeil, the inventor and multimillionaire salesman behind the Ronco products that appeared (and still appear) in TV infomercials. The Kitchen Magician isn't mentioned in any of the Ronco or Popeil articles, but I think it was one of their products. Anyway, Ron had a very traumatic childhood, but in early adulthood he discovered his ability to invent unique products and sell them, eventually amassing a huge personal fortune. If you're interested in a quirky rags-to-riches story, click here.)

If you're just interested in carrot salad and great dressing, read on. I've been making carrot and cabbage salads with orange dressing for a long time but have never shared it because I never used a recipe — just threw things in a measuring cup, put a salad together and voila. I've made it twice recently for company, and both times I was asked for the recipe, so I finally measured, and am posting the results. The salad ingredients change depending on what's in the fridge, but usually contain some crisp things like green and/or red cabbage, celery, carrots, maybe radishes, romaine or baby greens. The dressing stays the same. Yesterday it was "mounds of carrots" with cabbage, along with a few sliced radishes. You could add apple sticks or satsuma segments to heighten the sweetness of this very refreshing salad. The salad benefits from marinating in the dressing a bit, so it can be made a couple of hours ahead and kept in the fridge. It's also great freshly made.

Carrot and cabbage salad with smoky orange dressing
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (more or less, to taste)
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons frozen OJ concentrate (I used organic)
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • water
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil (optional if you are oil-free)
  • 4 medium carrots, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • about 3 cups finely cut green cabbage
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  • 3 to 4 halved and thinly sliced radishes
  • handful of raisins or dried cranberries
  • sprinkle of pumpkin seeds
  1. Place the turmeric, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, OJ and vinegar in a one-cup glass measuring cup, and stir together with a fork.
  2. Add enough water to make 1/2 cup, and stir.
  3. Add the olive oil, if using, and stir.
  4. Combine the carrots, cabbage, green onions, radishes and raisins in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the veggies and toss to combine.
  5. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and a few extra raisins.
Use apple sticks or satsuma segments instead of raisins.
Use red cabbage to replace some of the green cabbage.
Add shredded romaine.
Add baby greens.
Use toasted pine nuts instead of pumpkin seeds.
Add chopped parsley or cilantro.

Note: The last time I purchased smoked paprika, I had a choice between "sweet" or "hot." I bought both, but used the sweet in my dressing. Maybe I'll try the hot next time.

This post is being shared on Wellness Weekend.

March 15, 2013

Dough-flinging kitchen monster | Kitchen toys

I started out writing a "kitchen toys" post about my new hand mixer and bowl, but I started reminiscing about a mixer mayhem from the past, and couldn't resist sharing. (The new stuff is at the bottom of the post.)

It was 1976 — before many of you were born — and I was young and newly transplanted to Wisconsin. I was living in a lakefront cottage in a rural town about five miles from a small city of 6,000 people, and about 20 miles from Madison. It was the first and only time in my life that I lived outside a city. I'd lived in big and medium-sized cities, and I wanted to see what it was like to live in a small town. Behind our house was a narrow road, and on the other side of the road was a state park. I could cross the street, climb a hill, and be on the prairie trail. It was peaceful and somewhat isolated. Our house was part of a ring of homes around a lake, but don't start picturing lakeside mansions — the homes were mostly very modest. Many, including ours, had been built as summer homes but were now "winterized."  The reason I put "winterized" in quotes, by the way, might have something to do with the fact that in our cottage the heat vents were on the ceiling, and heat rises, you know. We were on the floor where it was cold, and the crepe soles of my shoes were always frozen solid in the morning. Also, the uninsulated water pipes froze, giving us the opportunity to learn that the plumber was also the town's mayor. There were many other features that made us unwilling to spend two Wisconsin winters in the house, but I'll save that for another time.

I was subbing in Madison, but no one had called me to work one day so I decided it would be a perfect day to bake bread. The plan was to get the dough rising, then shower and dress. I got the great idea to mix the dough in my old stand mixer, and with all the ingredients added and the mixer churning away, I turned my back for just a minute to clean up some of the kitchen clutter. When I looked back at the mixer, the gluten had obviously been activated and anarchy was unfolding as dough flew in every direction, and at the same time was also being sucked up the beaters into the machine. I raced over to stop it, and was attacked by wads of glutenous dough. I unplugged the dough-flinging  monster, and desperately tried to pull the sucked-up dough from the machine. It was awful; the stuff I was able to pull out was covered with black grease from the motor, and there was so much dough on everything in the room and on me, I started to wonder if I'd somehow been transported to an episode of I Love Lucy. I wasn't laughing, however.

Then someone knocked at the kitchen door. Holy crap. I was pretty sure it was my next-door neighbor, Lois, and while I didn't look forward to having her see me in the state I was in, I didn't want to be rude, so I reluctantly, with dough-covered hands, opened the door. But it wasn't Lois, it was the pastor of the Lutheran Church, welcoming me to the neighborhood and inviting me to come to church on Sunday. Remember, my kitchen and I were covered in bread dough, I was wearing pajamas, my hair was wild, and I was very agitated. The pastor looked worried. "This isn't a good time ," I said, gesturing towards the kitchen. "The mixer just sucked up my bread dough and I can't seem to get it out." He went on with his talk, though he seemed a bit nervous, and kept eying the kitchen.

I really needed him to leave. I was wearing pajamas, for heaven's sake. "I'm not a Christian," I said. The look on his face told me I'd made a mistake, but it was too late to take it back, and besides, it was true. I needed something more definitive but maybe less confrontational, and like I said,  I needed him to leave. I told him I was Jewish.

"Oh. Well. That's OK," he said. "The Jews have accomplished some really good things. I was afraid you were a heathen." He may have used a word other than heathen — maybe he said nonbeliever — but that's what he meant. Mercifully, he prepared to leave. I thanked him for coming, took all his literature, promised to read it, then went back to the disaster zone to pick gluey dough from every surface. It was a scene I never want to be in again.

I eventually got a new stand mixer, but I really didn't use it much. When I was a vegetarian I may have whipped cream once, and perhaps beat egg whites for meringue once, but  I pretty much mixed everything by hand. I didn't bake a lot except for bread. There was a fabulous cake icing I made with maple syrup and egg whites that required the mixer, but once I became vegan, that wasn't an issue.

Lately, though, I found myself wanting a hand mixer. And so I bought myself a gift. I have to say I love it, and have already used it several times. I wish it were a little more powerful, but I think it will be OK — it's so lightweight, quiet  and easy to use, and it has a true low-speed setting so it doesn't throw ingredients around the room like some mixers. I really wanted a red one but I think the mixer may be a discontinued model, and black was all I could find. It's a KitchenAid Ultra Power 5 speed hand mixer. I haven't tried it on cookie dough, yet, but I'm hoping it will be up to the task.

As I was using the mixer, I couldn't help but notice that none of my mixing bowls were exactly right. The one that was large enough was too wide, and the one that was shaped right was too small. So, the second kitchen toy I bought myself was a five-quart mixing bowl with a silicon, non-slip bottom. It makes using the mixer so much easier. It is an ExcelSteel 298 5-Quart Stainless Steel Non Skid Base Mixing Bowl.

I really do try not to accumulate too much stuff, including kitchen stuff, and I try to buy second-hand whenever feasible, but every so often, I just can't resist getting something I want. Have you bought any new kitchen accessories lately?  Do you have a weakness for kitchen tools and gadgets?

P.S. The banana bread pictured throughout the post was made with my new mixer and is gluten-free and xanthan gum-free. I thought it was really great, but I'm not finished getting the spices just right. Also, the chocolate chips sunk to the bottom and I've got to fix that before I share the recipe. Any thoughts on that? This is a mildly sweet muffin-like bread that I'm really enjoying. Today it was my breakfast.

March 12, 2013

This is breakfast?

Why, yes. Anything can be breakfast. And if you are breakfast resistant like I can be sometimes, why not just eat what you feel like eating instead of forcing yourself to eat a traditional breakfast food, or worse, avoiding the whole breakfast thing. Eating a good breakfast is really important, and I know that, so when the cereal/fruit thing doesn't appeal to me, I eat something that may be weird, but as long as it's nourishing and appealing, then why not? If I want broccoli and Shan tofu over rice with a spritz of sriracha, that's what I have. I can't tell you how often I crave broccoli in the morning, but we always have a big bag of it in the fridge so I can accommodate my desire. Sometimes oatmeal just seems gross and broccoli sounds delicious.

When I saw a pudla post on Cakemaker to the Stars, I thought I was too lazy to make these delicious savory pancakes for breakfast, even though she insists the pancakes are for lazy people. Yes, I love chickpea flour pancakes in any form and in any language — socca, besan jo chillo, pudla, cecina — but like I said, I'm resistant to cooking in the morning. Morning is when I'm most likely to use the microwave. But, I just happened to have a bag of shredded cabbage, sliced radishes and green onions leftover from the previous night's salad, so mixing chickpea flour and water with some already prepared veggies and spreading the batter on a griddle seemed doable even for me. It was so good I made some the next day, too.

If I'm in the mood for a more "breakfasty" meal, I might go with Bob's Red Mill creamy buckwheat cereal, cooked with raisins and sprinkled with cinnamon, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and frozen cherries — or whatever fruit appeals to me at the moment. Sometimes the fruit might be kalamata olives.  Creamy buckwheat cereal has been my standby breakfast for much of the winter.

I didn't photograph yesterday morning's breakfast — leftover jicama, cabbage, radish and satsuma salad. What do your typical, or more unusual breakfasts look like?


Miss E and her little brother

Everyone wants to be part of the new baby team — especially when it involves lying in front of the new gas fireplace!

March 07, 2013

Chloe's Vegan Desserts — review and recipe

If you've ever wished for a desert to impress your non-vegan friends and family, or if you, yourself, are pining for the sweets you used to enjoy before you became vegan, this book was written for you. I never was much of a dessert person, and can't think of anything I miss, but even I was impressed by my results when I tried two of Chloe's recipes. I practically fainted when I saw my cookies come out of the oven, they were so beautiful, and gasped when I tasted one, it was so extraordinary. All my anti-fat-and-sugar rants went down the drain. Maybe a little fat and sugar at the right time and place isn't such a bad thing. Maybe.

I recently invited some friends over for dinner, and it seemed a good time to try one or two of Chef Chloe's desserts. I figured if it didn't work out I could blame Chloe, and if it was a success, I could share the credit. There were eight of us, and although the recipe for chocolate cream pie was for a nine-inch pie, I decided to use my eight mini tart pans to make individual desserts. Chloe provides a gluten-free option* for most of her recipes, and although there was a gluten-free suggestion for the crust, I decided to make my own gluten-free crust with almond flour and sorghum flour. I followed the directions exactly for the filling, but deviated a bit on the whipped cream, using just two tablespoons of powdered sugar instead of 2/3 cup, and adding a spot of vanilla. I have my limits on how much sweetness I can stand, and for me, the lesser amount of sugar was plenty. Sorry to say, I completely forgot to decorate the tarts with shaved chocolate, as directed in the recipe, but never mind — the tarts were exceptional even without it— rich, creamy, chocolaty and satisfying. My guests included vegans, vegetarians and omnivores, and I can tell you there wasn't a crumb of this dessert left on anyone's plate. The ooos and aaahs were a testament to Chloe's skills.

The week before the party, I made a batch of chewy ginger-molasses cookies, then froze them. I pulled them out for the party in case anyone didn't want a tart. (Ha!) At first, my guests claimed they were too full to eat any more; the cookies looked so professional, everyone thought they were store-bought. Trust me, I'm not a professional when it comes to baking, and my cookies NEVER look this good. Thank you Chloe! When I said I had made them, people began to sample them, and they were quite a hit. My cookies look a little different from the ones in the book — maybe because I made them gluten-free.* Mine spread and are flatter. The taste was wonderful and the fragrance intoxicating; the cookies are fabulous, and I don't think anyone would suspect they were gluten-free or vegan.

Chloe's Vegan Desserts is a beautifully produced book with recipes for everything from cakes, cookies, bars, pies, mousse, ice cream, gelato, pudding, and panna cotta to rich dessert drinks of every kind. Pumpkin whoopie pies? Coconut sorbet with cashew brittle? Black and white cookies? Yes, they are all here. You can find everything from homey cookies, to gorgeous cakes for special occasions, and there are beautiful photos to illustrate almost every recipe.

*The book is not written as a gluten-free dessert book, but Chloe says most of the recipes can be made GF by substituting gluten-free flour for the wheat flour, and she notes at the bottom of appropriate recipes how to make them gluten-free. She specifically recommends Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour. I'd never used Bob's Red Mill GF flour mix before, but in the spirit of following Chloe's recipes as she suggests, I purchased some. I have to say, it worked really well, and it was so easy. Many of the recipes are naturally gluten-free, and require no changes. In addition to GF baking, you can also easily bake soy-free with Chloe's recipes.

The publisher of Chloe's Vegan Desserts, Atria Paperback, has given me permission to reprint the recipe for chewy ginger-molasses cookies. I recommend the recipe highly. I think once you try the cookies, you may just want to buy the book.

Chewy Ginger-Molasses Cookies
Excerpted from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts; makes about 34, 2½-inch cookies
"These Chewy Ginger-Molasses Cookies have the perfect balance of sugar and spice. Molasses gives them soft and chewy centers, which I prefer over traditional crunchy ginger snaps. Plus, ginger aids in digestion, making these the perfect after-dinner cookies!

Make-Ahead Tip: cookie dough can be made in advance and kept refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to one month."

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine
  • 3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two or three large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
  3. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat margarine, sugar, molasses, and water until well-combined. Slowly beat in the flour mixture. Scoop about 1 rounded tablespoon of dough at a time, and roll the domed part of each scoop in sugar. Place them onto the prepared baking sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on the pan.
Makes about 34, 2-1/2-inch cookies.

*For a gluten-free alternative, substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour plus 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum.

Note: When I made the cookies with Bob's Red Mill GF flour mix, the dough was pretty sticky and I had a hard time getting the cookies the same size, but I noticed that as the dough rested, it became much easier to shape into balls. If you make these as a gluten-free version, I suggest letting the dough sit about 10 minutes before shaping, or even pop it into the refrigerator for five minutes. Form the dough into balls and dip into the sugar, flattening slightly. Leave plenty of room between the balls because the cookies will spread. It would have been helpful to have a few tips on baking gluten-free other than just to use gluten-free flour and xanthan gum.

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of the cookbook for review. I was not paid to write it. All opinions are my own.

March 04, 2013

Roasted sweet potato paté

A couple of months ago I had the good fortune to dine at Vedge in Philadelphia. Everything was excellent, but one dish stood out to my taste buds, and I was transfixed by the flavor. It was a sweet potato paté, and as I ate it, my brain was on overdrive trying to distill the ingredients so I could make it at home. When the waitress came by to ask how we were enjoying everything, I told her I loved the paté and asked her what was in it.  I asked nicely, mind you. "Chickpeas," she said with a sweet smile. Well, duh. Thanks, I guess.

I've made the paté several times in the last two months, and I think I've finally got a version I love. I don't know how it compares to the original, but I don't really care anymore because this one is so good, and I mean good, that it works for me. It's not hard to make but does require some attention to detail, but if you try it, I think you'll be pleased. OK, I'm being modest — this paté is fabulous and you should make it.

Roasted sweet potato paté
  • 1 medium sweet potato, washed and ends removed (1+ cups packed)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half from end to end)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas, canned or home-cooked, drained)
  • 1 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon truffle salt
  • fresh ground black pepper (generous)
  • olive oil for roasting
  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F
  2. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Place the potato, onion, garlic and chickpeas on the pan. Drizzle the onion, garlic and chickpeas with a little oil.
  3. Put the pan in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the time is up, remove the garlic (it should be softened) and reset the timer for 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the onion. You want it to soften and caramelize a little but not burn. At the end of the 20 minutes it should be done. 
  4. Remove the onion and check the chickpeas. If they are starting to dry and color a little, they are done. You want them roasted but not too hard. Carefully remove the chickpeas with a large spatula.
  5. Continue cooking the sweet potato until it is soft, about 10 more minutes. If the potato is still hard, you can cut it lengthwise and place it cut-side down, to roast a little longer, until it is soft.
  6. Toast the sunflower seeds. You can do it in a pan on the stove, stirring constantly until they begin to smell toasty, or you can turn the oven down to 350˚ when the potato is done, put the seeds into a baking dish, and bake for about five minutes until they are toasted. Watch them and don't let them burn.
  7. Now that everything is roasted and toasted, it's time for the food processor. Add the sunflower seeds and process until finely ground but not ground into butter. Add the chickpeas, parsley and salts, and grind. Add the sweet potato, onion, peeled garlic, vinegar, liquid smoke and black pepper, and purée until smooth. You may need to scrape down the processor bowl a few times. 
  8. The paté will be quite stiff. You can pack it into a decorative container and refrigerate it until serving time, or serve it warm, as is. Serve with crackers, or on small sourdough toast rounds. Or serve with raw carrot and celery sticks.
So really, this is not such a big deal to make — you're basically putting everything into the oven to roast, then puréeing it all in a food processor. If you use parchment paper or a silpat, there's not even much to clean up. If I'm having a bunch of people over for dinner, and don't want to feel stressed out with a ton of cooking, I make a couple of things the day or night before, and this is one of those things that is great made the day before.

Truffle salt may not be in your pantry. I was gifted a small two-ounce jar, and when it's gone I'll definitely be replacing it. It's a little expensive but you use a very small amount so it lasts quite a while. Mine is called Truffle Queen 10% concentration, it's from Italy and distributed by La Buena Tavola Truffle Café in Seattle. It's very potent and makes the paté more amazing, but if you don't have any, just skip it. But, seriously, a little touch of truffle salt will make you happy. I swear. (I have another kind of truffle salt that tastes just like regular salt. You have to get a good one that smells and tastes like truffles!) Get yourself some truffle salt and use it sparingly so it lasts a long time.

I'm also trying to think of a flavor other than truffle salt I could add to the paté that will be as dramatic in flavor but not in cost. Next time I make the paté, I'll give it a shot.

This post has been entered in Wellness Weekend.