Thursday, October 4, 2012

(Vegan) Mac and Cheese

I love mac and cheese.  I'm a huge fan of all the bougie versions that have invaded fine dining.  My favorite versions are spicy, very cheesy, and egg less.  At some point, I concocted this spicy version which I still love.  Since Liam and I still can't eat dairy, I've been experimenting with various vegan recipes to concoct one that tastes pretty good.  I've made cheese sauce with daiya cheddar and it was ok, but not really that great.  While daiya is much more palatable than rice or soy "cheese," it's overwhelming as a sauce.  Last night, I made a vegan mac and "cheese" that Brad deemed "the best one so far."  It's loosely based on The Best Vegan Mac and Cheese in the Entire World .... Seriously.  You may want to try that recipe instead, but my version has less fat, less salt, more tofu, and the smoky-bacony taste of smoked paprika.

Smoky Vegan Mac/Cheese/Peas

1 box elbow macaroni (cooked per package directions)

Sauce ingredients
16 oz firm tofu.  (As always, I uses twin oaks tofu.)
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup nutritional yeast 
1/2 cup water or unsweetened soy milk
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
2 Tbs smoked paprika
1 Tbs Adobo seasoning

1 cup frozen peas
 OR 1onion/poblano pepper/1-2 jalepenos/2 tomatos (see below)

1/4 -1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. While your pasta is boiling, put all of the sauce ingredients into a food processor and puree until a smooth thick paste.
3. Spray a glass 9x11 pan with cooking spray
4. Drain the pasta and combine with the sauce and 1 cup of frozen peas directly in the baking pan.
5. Sprinkle pasta with panko and bake till golden brown (20-30 minutes). Makes 8 very large pieces.

I was cooking for Liam's palate as well as mine and Brad's so I did the classic mac/cheese/peas and added hot sauce to my portion directly. I think a spicy version would work well. In that case, you'd sautee a diced onion, 2 tomatos, in 1 Tbs olive oil with a diced poblano and a diced jalepeno.  You'd add the sauteed veggies instead of the peas.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Welcoming Fall with Winter Squash, Fennel, Tofu, and Kale

I haven't blogged about food in a very long time, so long that my 5 minutes of food fame are long over and no one is reading this blog. I have been, of course, cooking this whole time, but I've been limited in my endeavors by the arrival (about a year ago) of my baby boy.  He has a whole bunch of food intolerances (dairy, nuts, coconut) that have impacted my culinary adventures.  As a breastfeeding mom, I've also had to eliminate these delicious foodstuffs from my diet.  At first I found the whole thing mildly depressing and became somewhat disinterested in food, but then I realized it was an opportunity to participate in my own personal Top Chef-style challenge. There are lots of delicious things I've made this year that I failed to write about, but I'm committing to a blog post a week for the next 6 weeks.

So without further adieu ... it's starting to feel like Fall in central Virginia.  I've got a great new teaching gig at Randolph-Macon College so I'm in an Autumn kind of mind.  Since I had a beautiful Red Kuri pumpkin lying around, I thought I'd embrace the season and cook up something delicious, healthy, and hearty.

Squash-Tofu Bake with Israeli Couscous

1 medium-sized winter squash.  Try a new variety, that's how I ended up with the Red Kuri.
Olive oil
1 lb extra-firm tofu with pressed dry and cubed into small pieces  [Virginians, I always buy Twin Oaks tofu.  It's even more delicious if frozen first]
Canola oil
1 Fennel bulb sliced
1 shallot minced
2-4 cloves of garlic smashed and chopped
Sweet white wine [I used Moscato]
salt [I used Himalayan pink salt]
1/2 tsp Beau monde seasoning (optional)
2 bay leaves
lemon juice
1 chili pepper chopped finely (optional)
1 head of kale chopped coarsely

Israeli couscous or quinoa prepared according to package directions.

1) Preheat oven to 400.  Peel squash, remove seeds, and cube.  Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 15 minutes.  Rotate squash and bake for 15 more minutes. [If you have a picky-eating little person, reserve some squash for them at this point]
2) Heat about 1/4 cup canola oil in a large saute pan.  Fry tofu till light golden brown, but not crunchy.  [If you have a picky-eating little person, reserve some tofu for them at this point].
3) Add shallot, garlic, bay leaves, and fennel to pan.  Season with Beau Monde, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue sauteing. Deglaze pan with about 1/2 cup wine. 
3) Scrape contents of saute pan into a dutch oven or covered baking dish, stir in roasted squash, splash another 1/2 cup of wine over the whole mess, cover and put in the oven.
4) Meanwhile, prepare your Israeli couscous or quinoa. 
5) In the same saute pan, heat about 1/4 cup olive oil.  Saute chili if using, add kale and cook just till it wilts.  Splash some lemon juice over the kale to enhance it's brightness.
6) When the couscous and kale are done, take the squash mixture out of the oven.  Add the kale to the dutch oven combining so that all of the flavors layer and serve with the couscous. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Superbowl Chili

For some reason, I associate chili with the Superbowl and so I found myself craving it all weekend. Even though we had plans to hang out with friends and eat gourmet food during the actual game, I ended up making us Chili and Corn Muffins (I used Betty Crocker's classic from-scratch recipe) for lunch. All I can say is that this chili might be my new favorite variety.

Superbowl Chili (Serves 6)

1 bag dried small red beans
2 cubes veggie bouillon ("Not Beef")
2 bay leaves
1 dried chipotle pepper
Soak 1 bag small red beans in cold water for 2-3 hours.
Dump beans into a nice tall pot filled with enough water to cover, plus 3 inches of water. Add a couple of bay leaves, 2 cubes of veggie bouillon (I use "not beef" for extra richness), and one large dried chipotle pepper. Turn on high and get a nice rapid boil going. Let boil for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to med-low and simmer till beans are tender but not falling apart. (About 1 hour).

2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion - finely diced
2-3 large cloves of garlic- minced
2-5 green serrano chilis - minced with seeds (I used three and this wasn't spicy enough for us)
4 parsnips - peeled and finely diced
1 28 oz can organic diced tomatoes

2 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
Hot Sauce (I used Belizean style habenero hot sauce)

In a large saute pan, heat oil and saute onions until caramelized. Add parsnips, garlic, and chilis. Saute until golden. Stir in cumin and cocoa powder. Sautee until fragrant. Turn off heat. When beans are ready - tender and broth has reduced. Scoop out chipotle pepper and bay leaves. Add veggies and diced tomatoes with juice into pot of beans. Turn up heat to get a boil going, and then reduce heat to medium and cook 15-20 minutes until flavors have melded together. Season with hot sauce to taste.

Serve with sour cream, grated cheese, and corn muffins.

Yum - I just had leftovers for lunch :)

The most amazing birthday cake (that I ever made)

I'm a pretty good cook, but I generally suck at baking. I'm way too experimental to ever follow a recipe and I never have everything that one needs to complete said recipe, so I wing it! And winging it never seems to work in baking, though it is mighty successful in regular cooking.

In the last few months, I've decided to become a better baker. It started with my immediately successful production of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread (as popularized by Mark Bittman) in December. So I decided to make Brad, a guy who really doesn't love sweets, the birthday cake of his dreams. Since Brad likes English toffee a lot, I wanted to find something that had the richness of chocolate and the salty-sweetness of caramel. I was lucky enough to find this recipe and I think this will be my go to birthday cake forever.

A couple of tips:
1) I used parchment - it was revelatory. I will never bake a cake without parchment again.
2) I baked and cooled the layers and then drizzled the caramel in between. I then boxed this up and took it to my in-laws for the weekend with my prepared ganache in a tupperware. I thought that the caramel would keep the layers together, but it still slipped around and got cock-eyed. Next time, I would use toothpicks and then remove before frosting.
3) The icing was super hard after chilling for two days, so I tried to patiently bring it up to room temp. The impatient, ADD kid in me got bored and ended up nuking the icing in the microwave for about 30 seconds. I then stirred in 1 Tbs of milk and voila - perfection. I spread a think layer all over the cake, so it looked more like a birthday cake, then the drippy-ganachey look in the photo on the recipe site.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip-Cranberry Cookies

I've been craving sugar like crazy lately - over Christmas, I consumed thousands of calories (tens of thousands?) of Ghiradelli Filled Chocolate Squares, Toblerone bars, and my mom's amazing peppermint brownie things (which I believe to be laced with crack because they are that addictive). Since my insane desire for all things sweet seems to be ever increasing and I have no desire to either a) weigh 500 lbs or b) slip into a diabetic coma, I decided to bake a "healthier cookie" today. And the cookies that I came up with are totally delicious, so delicious in fact that I am blogging about them after almost a year of blogging about cooking (despite the fact that I cook every single day)!

So here goes ...

Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip-Cranberry Cookies, loosely adapted from the back of the Craisins package (which is totally a phrase I never expected to write)

Makes 30 cookies (121 calories each, 5.9 grams of fat, 2.0 grams of protein, 7.1 grams of sugar, 1.1 grams of dietary fiber)

2/3 cup unsalted butter chopped into chunks (approximately 1 stick plus 1/4 of a stick)
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cup white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs flax meal (optional)
2/3 cup Craisins or other dried cranberries
2/3 cup Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Using a Kitchenaid or other mixer, mix the butter and sugar until smooth-ish.
3. Add eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon to butter/sugar and mix until smooth.
4. In a regular mixing bowl, stir together the flour, oats, salt, baking soda, salt, and flax meal.
5. With your mixing running, slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet until combined.
6. Use a wooden spoon, add the craisins and chocolate chips into the mix stirring until well distributed.
7. Drop cookies onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 11 minutes.

These cookies don't have a ton of butter, so they stay the same shape as when dropped. They are pretty chewy and not that sweet. (Pictures forthcoming)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scalded Fingers, or how to make Käse Spätzle

On Friday late afternoon, after weeks (no, months), I finally completed a draft of my history chapter. It's certainly not perfect, but it's 50 pages of something. For those of you following the never-ending dissertation project, you'll understand that this is a monumental achievement for me. Getting a draft of the history chapter written means that I can turn back to my ethnographic material and start working on another chapter, it also means that it is food-blogging time!!!

Originally, I had asked if people would prefer to read about Dal with Mustard Greens or Chile Rellenos with Black Beans (the few people that cared said Dal)! Well Dal will be forthcoming, but today I'm writing about Spätzle, glorious Spätzle, since that's what I made for dinner yesterday. I'm also going to include a few photographs. [Please note, these photographs are UGLY. As I have stated before, I am terrible at food photography - the lighting is never right, my food always looks gross and lacks color, blah, blah. I only take good photos of kids and sunsets; also I only like taking photos of kids, sunsets, and buildings.] Ok, there you have it a photo of a some gorgeous schoolkids in Mwanza and sunset at Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar! Just kidding, there are some UGLY food photos below to meet the requests of readers who want some visuals to go with the blogs. For people like me, avert your eyes!

So what was this entry about again? Oh yeah! Käse Spätzle. First off, never ever say Shpaytzel, the word is pronounced Shpaytzluh. Lately, I've heard the "zel" pronunciation too often (including on Top Chef) and frankly, it's driving me insane. Spätzle, for those who don't know and didn't click on the wikipedia link above are German/Swiss/Austrian egg noodles/dumplings and one of my favorite examples of German cookery (and also one of the few vegetarian items in traditional German cuisine). As a kid in Bonn, Germany, spätzle was sometimes served as a starch to go with some kind of meat gravy (like Goulash). Spätzle are good this way and I sometimes cook them with a mushroom goulash. However, Brad does not really love spätzle with goulash and as you will see below, I need Brad to make spätzle.

Importantly, Brad really loves Käse Spätzle, the gooey combination of homemade noodles, carmelized onions, and gooey cheese that I consider the German version of mac-n-cheese. I fell in love with Käse Spätzle when my parents lived in Munich during my college years. Because of all the entertaining they did as diplomats, they employed this criminally-insane chef from Swabia (I'm not kidding, but most people who know me are totally bored of the story, so you'll have to believe me). As a classically-trained chef, he typically prepared gourmet food, but he would sometimes make Käse Spätzle (a Swabian dish) as a low-brow kitchen dish.

Ok, so you get it, right? I love this stuff. Please don't buy the store-bought stuff. It's not very good. If you want to try this recipe, invest in a cheap spätzle maker or if you have money to burn and have a lot of cupboard space, you can buy a spätzle press. If you are insane and don't want to purchase any items to try my recipe, you can use a colander.

While the recipe for Spätzle is dead simple, the process is deadly and involves finger-scalding. I really hate having my fingers scalded, so Brad typically does the really hard work. Yay Brad! And now the how-to:

1. Get out your tallest pot and fill it half way with water, add a 1/2 tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, mix 3 cups of flour and 3 eggs together. I use my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook. As the dough starts to come together, add 1/2 cup water mixed with a 1/2 tsp sea salt. At this point, the dough should be coming together into a tacky, stiff dough. Add more water (maybe 1/2 cup) to get the dough to this consistency. You can also add some finely chopped fresh sage (maybe 2-3 Tbs) to the dough.

3. Get out your spätzle maker/press/colander and spray with cooking spray. This is Brad's tip.

4. Pack some of the dough into the spätzle maker/press/colander and rest over the boiling water. Depending on which tool, you are using, press or grate the spätzle through the holes and into the boiling water.

5. As the spätzle rise to the surface, use a slotted spoon to pull them out of the water and place them on a baking sheet.

6. Continue until all the dough is used up, cursing under your breath as the steam burns your hands and your knuckles become raw.

7. Periodically, drain the spätzle in a colander and then return them to a dry baking sheet. You want them to be really dry before using them.

Note: If they are really dry, spätzle can be frozen them flat in a ziploc bag.

Once the spätzle are done, you can use them as a starch with any kind of meat that you like or you can make Käse Spätzle (which is what you should do)!!! Insert these steps into the directions above.

1B-6. After putting the water on to boil, half and then slice two onions into thin strips. Melt 3 Tbs of butter in a large sautee pan and add onions. Lower the hear and stir the onions occasionally allowing them to caramelize. Add water if necessary to continue the goldening of the onions. Preheat oven to 400

8. Grate 6 ozs Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheese. [I had neither last night, so I used Dubliner which worked really well. An aged Gouda would also be nice].

9. Place dry spätzle into a baking dish. Toss with 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp white pepper.

10. Layer cheese over the top of spätzle, then scatter buttery onions over the top of the cheese.

11. Bake at 400 for about 35-40 minutes. The onions should be slightly browner, the cheese should have melted and be turning golden brown

I typically serve Käse Spätzle with braised red cabbage to complete the German theme. Last night, I was working with a nearly empty fridge, so I concocted a quick and tasty accompaniment. After removing the onions from the frying pan, I added a Tbs of olive oil. In the olive oil, I sauteed a sliced leek and two carrots (sliced into rounds). I added a package of halved mushrooms and continued sauteeing all of the veggies until brown. I then added a 1/2 Tbs smoked paprika, some salt and pepper, and a few shakes of Cavender's Greek Seasoning (a spice mix that I find addictive). I then deglazed the pan with about a half cup of red wine. As the red wine was simmering, I added a half a bag of frozen mustard greens and cooked the veggies until the frozen greens were warmed all the way through. These veggies were not very pretty, but the smokiness of the greens and paprika added a nice foil to the cheese.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adventures in a DIY Kitchen

Prompted my dear sister-in-law Rosemary, I'm taking a few moments away from my real writing project to do this blog entry on my DIY distractions.

If you've ever hung out with me in my kitchen or opened our fridge, you've probably seen the 2 large green Tupperware containers jam packed with onion peels, rotting vegetables, carrot ends, and so forth. My husband, Brad, is one of the greenest people I know and has trained me to be a compulsive recycler and composter. As I cook, I toss my veggie ends into the green containers which get refrigerated until full and then get tossed into the composting bins in our backyard. I rarely am the one who actually disposes of the compost (ask Brad), but apparently my daily trimmings get turned, transferred from bin A to bin B, and eventually end up fertilizing our little urban organic garden. The little urban organic garden features raised square foot boxes and two rain barrels, in addition to project compost. In addition to the obvious benefit of the compost itself, we only have to take out our trash about once a week. Without meat and rotting veggies, the trash fills up with eggshells and the few containers that can't be recycled.

But there are some veggie bits that I just can't bring myself to compost, because they seem too good to waste. I'm talking about leek stalks, Swiss chard stems, fennel bulb ends and fronds, soggy celery, and herbs that aren't quite fresh enough. So I have a plan B for these items. I chop them coarsely and toss them into a ziploc bag in my freezer. [Ok, all this compartmentalizing of "waste" is sounding kind of bizarre, but given the very high costs of the organic veggies that I buy, everything needs to be used more than once.] When the ziploc bag gets full, I make vegetable stock.

I noticed that I had two full bags of frozen veggies yesterday, so I made stock. Stockmaking is an art and any number of cookbook authors from Deborah Madison to Julia Child prescribe technique for making the perfect stock. Mine is much more simple, but still pretty successful:

Grab a stockpot, throw in 2 tbs of olive oil. Heat the oil. Toss in 2 quartered onions and 3 smashed cloves of garlic. Add some coarsely chopped carrots. Sautee for a few minutes. Gather all frozen vegetable bits (in yesterday's case it was the stalks from two bunches of red Swiss chard, a celery bulb, some celery stalks, fennel fronds, and the base of a fennel bulb). Toss into the pot with 2-4 tablespoons of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add any available herbs (yesterday was parsley and rosemary, though thyme, marjoram, and savory are good.). Then put in as much water as your pot can hold. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a long time. Maybe an hour or so. Turn off the heat, cool and strain. The strained veggies went right into the compost container. Since I'm lazy and don't really care if my sauce is clear or perfect, I strain my stock using a colander over a large salad bowl and usually end up with some herbs in my stock. Once the stock is cool, pour it into large (preferably glass containers). Use in the next couple weeks. You can also freeze the stock, but I go through enough of the stuff, that freezing is rarely necessary. This makes about 4 quarts of stock.

Inspired by the stock production, I made a Japanese-inspire udon soup (loosely adapted from the Japanese section of the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook) for dinner last night. To make the stock more "Asian," I pulled out about a quart and put it back in the stockpot with some chopped ginger, shitake mushrooms, slice green onions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a piece of kombu (a Japanese sea vegetable). Brad found the broth too vinegary -- I was out of Mirin -- which would have tasted better. After the broth had simmered enough, I used a slotted spoon to remove all of the vegetables/ginger. I then quickly cooked each of the following vegetables (separately) in the broth: carrots sliced in rounds, sliced bok choy, chopped beet greens (because they were leftover and were too good for the stock). After cooking each round of veggies, I used a slotted to remove them and keep them in separate bowls. In a sautee pan, I sauteed sliced shitake, enoki, and standard mushrooms, with a chopped heirloom tomato in some sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, I hard boiled then peeled and sliced two eggs. I also cooked the udon. To serve the soup, I place some noodles in a large flat bowl and artfully arranged each layer of veggies over top. I added two halves of each egg and then poured the broth over top. It was a lot of work (and dishes) and was just ok. I'm not sure if I would make this dish again. I felt a bit like Brittany Murphy's character in The Ramen Girl (cute movie) -- everything was technically right, but the dish had no "soul." I'll see how the leftovers taste.

I'm using the rest of the stock -- that is, the non "Asian" variety -- to make Sara M's delicious black beans from the Top Chef cookbook. I'll serve these for dinner tomorrow with some guacamole and my version of chile rellenos. (Sara M. pairs these beans with chile rellenos stuffed with squash, raisins, and rice. I like battered poblanos stuffed with cheese, myself).

So far, instead of writing the you-know-what, I've spent today preserving lemons (organic lemons were on super sale at Ukrops). Preserved lemons make for a wonderful addition to tagines and leafy greens and I've been sort of obsessed with them lately. They take a lot of lemons (2 bags!) to make a medium-sized jar. To make them, boil your jar and lid, juice 3/4 of the lemons, take the remaining lemons and cut 6-8 large gashes into each lemon, rub kosher salt into the gashes, stuff the lemons into the jar, cover with the lemon juice, place jar in fridge, and wait 3 weeks. The lemons should last for 3-6 months.

PS For those who don't already know my beets won! The recipe will be published in the Food 52 cookbook.