June 30, 2014

Turkish cooking class with Sureyya Gokeri

My plate.

I've posted about taking cooking classes at PCC (our food co-op) before, and as in the past, we really enjoyed both the instruction and the food in our latest class. Over the course of the two hour class period, Sureyya made four dishes — all gluten-free and vegan — that would be spectacular served to guests, but were definitely easy enough for everyday fare. Because she was cooking for such a large group, some of the food prep for the class was done ahead of time, but all of the actual cooking was done in class. I haven't actually tried to prepare the dishes at home to see how the 30-minute claim holds up, but it seemed pretty doable to me.

The Middle Eastern classes taught by Sureyya Gokeri are probably our favorites, both because Sureyya is a great teacher and a great cook. Not only do we learn to make the recipes she has selected for the class, but she verbally throws in loads of other recipes and hints that add to the information already in our class booklets. And the food is always spectacular.

The first dish made and consumed was gavur dagi salatasi — salad with olives and black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas don't require soaking before being cooked, and once the cooking water comes to a boil, they cook in about 20 minutes, making them ideal for a 30-minute dish. They were combined with wonderful flavors like pomegranate molasses, green olives, arugula and walnuts to make a fantastically delicious salad. I love salads where some of the components are cooked and warm, and some cold and raw. And, Sureyya told us that warm foods soak up the flavors better so it's better to add warm beans to salads.

Highlighted at the center of the plate is muceddere — brown lentil and rice pilaf with caramelized onions. Brown lentils are different from other lentils in that they stay firm after being cooked, rather than cooking down to a soft and creamy consistency. The ingredient list for the pilaf is rather short, and contains no exotic ingredients, unless you consider allspice and parsley exotic. Yet, the flavor was amazing.

At the left side of the plate you see ful akhdor — a dish of artichokes, fava beans, and almonds. Although the fava beans Sureyya used in class came from a can, she showed us how to choose and use fresh favas, if we found them at the farmers market. The pods that look all brown and weird are the ones to buy. This was another easy recipe that came together really quickly and tasted much more complicated than it was.

On the right is patlican mousakka — cumin-scented spicy eggplant in creamy tomato sauce. Although the other items on the menu were Turkish, the mousakka is from Afghanistan. Sureyya used regular large eggplants for the dish because that's what was available at the co-op, but she recommended using the small, thin Japanese or Italian eggplants for better flavor. She also advised us to buy the hardest eggplants we could find because she said they have the fewest seeds and the best texture. She also said that the only time she soaks eggplant is if she's cutting it ahead of time and doesn't want it to darken after being exposed to air. The eggplant was cooked with lots of spices like cumin, turmeric, coriander and cinnamon. It was delicious.

To finish off the meal we were served havuc koftesi — aromatic carrot and nut bonbons. The photo makes the bonbons look much bigger than they were — probably the size of a golf ball. Because the dessert was gluten-free and didn't contain flour, Sureyya used gluten-free graham crackers which she turned into crumbs. I was a little dismayed to find that the crackers contained honey, which I prefer not to eat. I was pretty full from the other foods so I didn't miss having dessert at all. I think I'd look for an alternative to graham crackers for these — maybe almond flour or coconut flour.

Sureyya and her family own a great little restaurant called Cafe Turko, located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. I've never been to Turkey, but I've been told that eating at Cafe Turko is like walking into a cafe in Turkey. The decor, and the import store within the space makes it feel like you've entered an entirely out-of-the-ordinary place. We really love eating there, and if you're in the Seattle area, I recommend it. There are lots of vegan and gluten-free choices, and the Gokeri family will make you feel right at home.

June 25, 2014

Sodastreams and Vitamix blender jars

Quite a number of months ago I got a sodastream, but I held off talking about it until I had formed an opinion, and then, it became such a part of everyday life that I forgot to mention it. It's time to talk about how often we use it and how much we like it. We make at least two large bottles of carbonated water every day, and we're totally in love with this little contraption. But before I say anymore about the sodastream, I'll tell you how we happened to get one.

I'd kind of always wanted one but couldn't justify buying and storing another kitchen appliance. We almost never purchased mineral water anyway, unless we were having company, so why add to the kitchen clutter when we didn't need to? In spite of my reservations, I still occasionally thought about asking the sodastream company for a sample to review, but never got up the nerve.

One night I was sitting in front of the TV flipping channels — something I rarely do — but there I was. As I flipped, a sodastream came into view on what turned out to be HSN (home shopping network), and I started watching. The $65 price seemed awfully low, and I was waiting for the catch, but there didn't seem to be one. I had no intention of succumbing to the "call this number" refrain but I said, half jokingly, to my husband, "you should call and buy a sodastream." Much to my shock and surprise, he did, and it arrived a few days later with every flavoring substance in existence. The carton of flavorings is still in the basement, but the sodastream sits on the counter and is used at least once per day.

In case you don't know what a sodastream is, it carbonates water to make a homemade version of sparkling water, seltzer, mineral water, fizzy water — whatever you like to call it. It takes up barely any room at all, and doesn't require electricity — only a carbonation canister that can be exchanged for a full one when empty ($15). The canisters are refilled, so there isn't any waste, and because we continually refill the same bottles, we're not adding to the plastic stream. It came with two large bottles and two smaller ones, which the instructions say to replace after two or three years. We love it, and use it all the time. My husband likes to squeeze lime into his sparkling water, but I like mine plain. Occasionally I'll add lemon and a few drops of stevia, but mostly I drink it straight.

The warning you see on the label says to only carbonate plain water. You must add any flavorings after the carbonation process, or risk an explosion. I know this can really happen because I know someone who didn't read the instructions. (That would be you, LW.)

I timed how long it took me to make a bottle of carbonated water, and it was a total of about 20 seconds — 10 seconds to fill the bottle and 10 to add the gas. If you'e in the habit of buying carbonated water, a sodastream might be a useful kitchen tool.

While I'm talking about kitchen additions, here's a little splurge I'd been thinking about for a while and finally gave in to. One inconvenience of a Vitamix 5200 is the tall jar. I love my Vitamix dearly, and would be lost without it, but the jar isn't the easiest thing to empty — especially if it's loaded with a smaller quantity of thick, or sticky stuff. I found myself not making certain recipes because I didn't want to coax smaller quantities from the jar. I'm lazy, I know, but it was bugging me. I kept wishing the company would make a shorter jar.

One day while at Costco, watching a Vitamix demo (so I could get a sample of the ice cream at the end), I noticed a short jar. After talking to the demo guy, I learned it was a grain jar, which I didn't want. He handed me a different container that he said was a short version of the regular jar, not a grain jar, at a special Costco price. Note that even a 'special price' for a Vitamix part is ridiculous when compared to other blenders, but it was 1/3 less than the price on the Vitamix Web site, and I really wanted it.

I intended to keep the short jar in the cupboard and bring it out for certain small-quantity recipes, but since buying the short jar, I've put my old one away. The new one seems big enough for everything I make, and if it's not, I can always get the old jar out of the cupboard. It feels like I just got a new blender, and I'm very happy with it.

Have you splurged on any kitchen items that have really turned into great, useful additions to your cooking tools?

June 21, 2014

Fremont Solstice Parade 2014, and a smoothie

Blueberry-mango version

The first day of summer in Seattle was uncharacteristically warm and sunny — perfect weather to start the new season. Blue skies, sunshine, 77 breezy degrees, and the annual Fremont Solstice Parade all promised to make the day special. I started the day with my current favorite smoothie.

Into the Vitamix goes one banana (not frozen), 1/2 cup of frozen cherries OR blueberries, 1/2 cup of frozen mango OR pineapple, two tablespoons of chia seeds, 1/2 of a small organic lemon, a handful of almonds and one cup of filtered water. All of the frozen fruit I used was organic fruit that I found at Costco. As you can see there isn't any kale or spinach or chard, but if that's what you want, just add it. I like fruit.

The Solstice parade starts out with the nude bicyclists, and it's a joyful jolt of hilarity. Most of the riders are thoroughly and creatively painted, but some are just ... naked on a bike.

The riders seem to be having a lot of fun, and they interact with the appreciative crowd. There's lots of shrieking and cheering, and sometimes verbal exchanges.

One beautifully decorated woman asked as she went by, "does riding a bike make my butt look big?"

Some of the costumes involve more than paint, as you can see in the turtle, above. I only take photos part of the time because I get so caught up in just watching.

What parade would be complete without a wizard or two?

Or a specialized costume.

After the nude cyclists — and there are hundreds of them — the bands, floats, singers and dancers take over. None of the floats are allowed to be motorized so they have to be pulled and pushed by people.

There are gigantic, spectacular creatures made from paper, as well as more "traditional" rhythm bands and musical groups. There are always pointed political performances as well.

Did I mention the dancers of every stripe?

And the fabulous singers?

I gotta tell ya, the sixties live on in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle!

June 16, 2014

Dips for dads — and don't forget the cake

We celebrated Father's Day at our son and daughter-in-law's house where we had a delicious brunch. We had tofu scramble from Isa Does It (reviewed herealong with roasted potatoes and sweet potato fries. And a giant container of Washington State cherries.

I brought two contributions to the meal, both made before 10 a.m. Sunday morning. If I was able to get the two dishes made by 10, you know they were easy to do — early morning isn't my favorite time to cook. I had just seen the Life Affirming Nacho Dip from The Oh She Glows Cookbook (reviewed here) over on Vegan Eats & Treatsand I knew I had to make it. It's rich and creamy, highly satisfying, really easy, really delicious, pretty, contains no added oil, and I recommend it. I liked it so much, I did a search and found a link to the recipe so you can make it, too. Or you could buy the book. In fact, these two cookbooks are currently the most used at our house. You can find the recipe by clicking here.

In addition to the dip, I also made the blueberry-strawberry-lemon quick bread that I wrote about in my last post, and once again it came out perfectly. That's three good results in a row — definitely a keeper. (recipe here)


My strawberry patch

I have a small strawberry patch — really small as you can see by the harvest so far. But, I'm not daunted by the meager return. Maybe some day the little patch will surprise me. In fact, I should go outside right now and see if there are any berries!

June 12, 2014

Blueberry-lemon quick bread — GF or not

Blueberry-lemon version.

The Fire and Earth Kitchen folks, who recently taught a cooking class at my house (read about it here), just posted a recipe for blueberry breakfast bread on their Web site. The texture looked very appealing, and even though I don't usually eat cake for breakfast, I was immediately attracted to the recipe. Please don't misunderstand me here, I'm not saying you shouldn't eat cake for breakfast, just that I usually don't. Or didn't. The fact is, I baked a pan on Tuesday, and another one today. I shared some of the Tuesday cake with Miss E, her baby brother and their mom, but there was a lot left, and now there isn't. I think I ate cake for three meals a day, along with other food of course, but my husband is out of town, so it has fallen upon me not to waste the cake. And I didn't.

The crumb. Do you see the crumb?

I made the bread again today because I was tampering with the recipe and wanted to test a small adjustment before I posted it. I didn't have enough blueberries left, so I made up the difference with 1/2 cup of cut-up strawberries, and I liked it even better than the plain blueberry. But here's the most interesting thing about the bread — it can be made gluten-free without any additions like flax eggs or xanthan gum. The texture is perfect, and the taste is excellent. I rarely, if ever, use xanthan gum anymore, but I've never tried baking a cake without something like chia or flax. In fact, I've been doubling up the flax to improve my results. So, gluten-free bakers, why did this work?

Blueberry-strawberry-lemon version. Just look at the rise! Doesn't it look good?

I'm also still obsessed with adding lemon to my baked goods, and by that I mean whole chunks of lemon, skin and all. I add it with all the wet ingredients to my Vitamix, and blend it smooth. I don't know if a regular blender would purée the lemon as well as a high speed blender, so if I were using a regular blender I'd just add the juice and zest of 1/2 lemon. I measure the liquid by putting the lemon into a measuring cup and adding enough almond (or other) milk to make one cup.

I have to admit that the original recipe is simpler — so easy in fact that I actually remembered all the ingredients. I do like my version a lot, though.

Berry-lemon quick bread
based on a recipe from Fire and Earth Kitchen for
blueberry breakfast bread
makes one 9"x9" pan

  • 1-1/2 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour 
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup oat flour 
(2 cups of wheat flour can be used instead of the other flours, if you aren't baking gluten-free. I haven't tried it but F & E Kitchen says yes, and I trust them.)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt (1/4 teaspoon or less)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 small organic lemon, seeds removed, plus enough almond (or other) milk to equal 1 cup (see story) OR juice and zest from 1/2 small lemon plus enough almond milk to equal 1 cup
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used avocado oil)
  • 1.5 cups fresh blueberries or 1 cup blueberries plus 1/2 cup strawberries cut similar size to blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil 9"x9" pan. (I used a glass baking dish.)
  2. Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. 
  3. Add all wet ingredients plus the lemon, if using, to a blender jar and blend until smooth. 
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, scrapping out the blender. Mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Add half the berries and fold in. 
  6. Place the batter into the greased pan and spread the remaining berries evenly over the top. Press in gently, so they still show on top.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for about 45 minutes before serving. Can be served warm or cool.
I'm making the bread again to bring to a Father's Day brunch.


Impressing company with Ethiopian food

My husband made an entire Ethiopian dinner by himself — for company — and it was so good, and I was so into eating, that I forgot to take pictures until it had been demolished. So, while it may have impressed the company, it sure won't impress you. You'll just have to take my word for it that it was excellent and beautiful. He used Kittee's recipes from when I was a recipe tester for her upcoming Ethiopian cookbook, and injera from an Ethiopian restaurant. You'll want to buy the book as soon as it comes out. Seriously.


Who are these tourists?

And when we're not cooking or eating? We're just a couple of Seattle tourists on a boat ride on Lake Washington. 

June 07, 2014

How To Be Vegan

If you've been vegan for any length of time, there have probably been moments when you wished you could pull a book like Elizabeth Castoria's How To Be Vegan out of your pocket and say, "Here, just read this." Times when someone has said, "Eating a vegan diet seems like a great idea but it's just too hard, and I wouldn't know where to begin." Or, "I'd love to invite you to dinner but I have no idea what to cook." Or maybe, "But why would you want to give up so much good food to be vegan?" Or even, that most favorite of all questions, "Where do you get your protein?" Perhaps you just really wish you could politely and helpfully answer these questions better yourself. I say, "politely," because throughout the book, Castoria maintains that it helps the vegan cause more when vegans are nice, than when we puff up and turn into the vegan police. Chapter five is entitled Manners: Don't be a jerk, and that is an ongoing theme of Castoria's book. Be vegan, be healthy, be positive, be nice. I like that.

Another idea that surfaces often is that it's easy to be vegan. Easy doesn't mean you must do it in a day or even a week. It may take some people years to make the switch, but that's okay. She says, "To be vegan you don't have to do anything; you just have to not do one thing. ... stop buying animal products." And encouraging people to not buy animal products, no matter how long it takes, is better than chastising them for not doing it immediately, or for slipping up now and then. To help make being vegan as easy as possible, there's lots of helpful advice about how to shop, where to shop, what to buy, what to eat — how to find plant-based versions of virtually everything you need from shoes and clothing to cleaning products to personal care items to food. There's even a chapter on how to find what you need while traveling.

Eventually, all this vegan stuff comes down to eating good food. Castoria says, "...even if you use the word artisanal frequently enough in conversations about food to be a character on Portlandia — even then, discovering the dizzying depth and delectability of plant-based cuisine will curl your toes." And she is right by your side to help. From sharing a list of the 10 most popular accidentally vegan foods to providing 50 real-food recipes by Robin Robertson so you can put your new knowledge about being vegan to practical use, she is your guide to a wonderful, compassionate lifestyle.

I've been a vegan for a long time, but I enjoyed reading How To Be Vegan, and even picked up a tip or two. The book covers all the basics with clarity and humor, and without ever being condescending. I recommend it.

Elizabeth Castoria is a freelance writer and the former editorial director of VegNews.

full disclosure: A free copy of the book was sent to me for review. I wasn't paid. All opinions are my own.

June 03, 2014

Blueberry lemon flaugnarde, vegan and gluten-free (or not)

Blueberry lemon cake with lemon glaze.

Back in November, I tried to make a desert called a flaugnarde, which is basically a clafoutis made with blueberries instead of cherries. It was a huge failure that I saved by turning it into cake balls (you can read about it here, if you'd like), but it's always bugged me that I couldn't get it to turn out right, because it sounded so good. A clafoutis or flaugnarde is a French fruit dessert that is basically like a flan, from what I understand. Having never had a flan, my understanding is bound to be a little odd, but nevertheless, I'm not going to let a small thing like a complete lack of experience keep me from enjoying what I think a dessert should taste like. So, I tried again, and this time I made something delicious, that may or may not taste like a flaugnarde, but like, who cares? Everyone who has tasted it has wanted more. So take that, flaugnarde. It's not quite a cake — more like what I imagine a firm flan would be like. It's cake-y around the edges, and smooth and custardy on the inside — but not too custardy. Soothing is the word that comes to mind. I've made it twice — one large and one medium. Since the medium has about eight to 10 servings, I think that's the way to go. It's easy to make, too, which I appreciate. It comes together faster than you can say its name.

The cake,  just out of the oven.

When the cake first comes out of the oven, it looks like a normal, risen cake, but as it cools, it sinks a little, and takes on a more flaugnarde look. Ha! A cake that sinks appropriately is definitely my friend. The first time I made the dessert I used an 8-inch by 3-inch pan, and that worked great except that the cake was too huge. The next time I used a 7-inch by 2-inch pan and half the recipe, and it was a much better size for a small group of people. (I want to mention that I used and love Fat Daddio's annodized aluminum cake pans, which always work great for me. They don't have a non-stick coating but the cakes always pop right out. (Go to my "veg-friendly shopping" widget to the "kitchen stuff" page 3 if you want to see what I'm taking about. I have three different sizes.)

The BIG cake, with a blueberry glaze.

Cake #1, the BIG cake, had a blueberry glaze, which looked very pretty and added an extra blueberry thrill, but when I made cake #2, I had only enough berries for the cake, so I made a lemon glaze which, though slightly less dramatic, was also delicious. You could also just sprinkle powdered sugar over the top, which may be the more traditional topping.

The secret ingredient in the cake is half a lemon, including pith and skin but not the seeds, which I added to the blender ingredients. Because I used the skin, I used an organic lemon. I have a Vitamix, which just turned the lemon into purée, and if you have a high-speed blender I recommend you do what I did. If you have a regular blender or food processor, juice the lemon and zest the peel instead of blending the whole thing. You might also want to add a teaspoon of lemon extract to amp up the flavor.

I made the cake gluten-free, but you can probably just use whatever kind of wheat flour you like — white whole wheat, unbleached white, whole wheat pastry — if gluten isn't an issue. I don't recommend randomly subbing other GF flours, however, since that's where I got into trouble in November. Another GF flour mix other than Bob's, might be fine.

Blueberry lemon flaugnarde
about 8 servings or more
Preheat oven to 350˚ F

  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened dry shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup oil plus some for the pan
  • 1/2 organic lemon, washed, trimmed and seeds removed (or juice of 1/2 lemon plus the zest - see story)
  • 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flour blend (or wheat flour - see story)
  • 1/2 cup almond flour plus more for the pan
  • 1/3 cup of evaporated cane juice (or your favorite dry sweetener)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  1. Add the flax meal to the cold water and let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Oil a 7-inch by 2-inch round baking pan and sprinkle it with almond flour, tapping to coat the surface well.
  3. Place the banana, almond milk, shredded coconut, oil, lemon in a blender and blend until smooth.
  4. In a mixing bowl, add the GF or regular flour, almond flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon, and whisk together until there are no lumps and everything is combined.
  5. Whip the flax and water with a fork until it becomes viscous. This should take a minute or less.
  6. Scrape the blender contents into the flour mix. Add the flax mix. Mix with a spoon until combined. 
  7. Gently stir in half the blueberries.
  8. Place the cake mix into the pan. Sprinkle the remaining blueberries evenly over the top, and gently press into the batter.
  9. Bake until the top is firm, evenly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Blue is OK!) In my oven it took 55 minutes.
  10. Let the cake cool on a rack for an hour, turn it onto the rack then right-side-up onto a serving plate. Serve warm.
I made the simplest of glazes for the cake. For the blueberry glaze I added about 3/4 cup of blueberries, two tablespoons of sweetener and 1/4 cup of water to a pot, and brought it to a boil. Add one tablespoon of cold water to two teaspoons of arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) in a small dish and mix thoroughly to dissolve. Turn down the heat and whisk the dissolved arrowroot into the blueberry mix. Cook and stir a minute or two until the glaze clears. Pour evenly over the cake.

For a clear lemon glaze, use the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 cup water and two tablespoons of your favorite liquid sweetener (I used bee-free honey) instead of the blueberry mixture. Follow the rest of the directions above. The glaze recipes should be tasted and adjusted to your preference. More lemon? More sweetener? You decide.