29 September 2010

Overcoming the Crumble

I recently shared my less-than-pleasing experience attempting to bake a batch of would-be biscotti.  Upon reader suggestion, I've since chosen to refer to the cookies as "biscotti crumbles," which aptly describes the results.  The flavor was there, but the structural soundness was not.

Fast-forward to this afternoon: day who-knows-what into a California heatwave that has decided to hush what were apparently premature celebrations of autumn's arrival.  (Nothing quiets my harvest time joy like stepping outside to go for an early morning jog, only to find that the usual crispness in the air has been replaced by the muggy beginnings of what would become easily the hotness day of the summer.)  The heat must be affecting the functioning of my neocortex, because despite the high temperatures--yes, it has cooled down noticeably since that first insufferable day, but not enough to fully dismiss summer--I illogically risked further torture by baking biscotti today.  I simply wanted to take a last shot at the biscotti recipe I'd been tweaking since that initial fail.  Fortunately, I think today's bit of suffering paid off.  The results weren't perfect, but I quite enjoyed the resulting flavor combination and the fact that the cookies remained largely intact.  
Almond Cardamom Biscotti (printable recipe)
Yields 16 cookies

1/3 c freshly-squeezed orange juice
3 T milled flaxseed
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp orange zest
1 1/3 c spelt or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/3 c cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c raw almonds, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then lightly oil.

Mix the orange juice and flaxseed until viscous, then whisk in oil, extracts, and zest.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon.  Add cornmeal and mix to combine.  Add the wet mixture, and mix just until combined.  Stir in almonds until distributed throughout the dough.

On the prepared baking sheet, form dough into roughly a 3" to 4"x12" log, and flatten slightly.  Bake for 28-30 min, until the dough just begins to turn golden brown.  Allow to cool for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and carefully transfer dough to a cutting board (I simply slid the parchment onto the board).  Starting at one end and using a sharp, heavy knife, make roughly 1/2" cuts on the diagonal; press downward in a single, swift motion to slice the dough, rather than a lateral, sawing motion.  You should get approximately 16 slices .  Return cookies cut side-down to the baking sheet.  Bake cookies for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool.
These cookies are just mildly sweet, with a pleasant blend of citrus, almond, and spice.  The nuts and cornmeal add wonderful texture.  Admittedly, they aren't the sturdiest nor most dunk-worthy of biscotti, but in my humble opinion, their somewhat delicate crispness is nonetheless suitable for a crunchy accompaniment to coffee or tea.  In any case, this is where I'm leaving the formula for now, although any recipe under my surveillance may be prone to further adjustment, no matter how reliable.  But I'll leave the baking for a cooler day.

28 September 2010

Cooking with Wine

I'm no wine connoisseur, but I do occasionally enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner or while winding down at the end of a long day.  Usually, sharing a bottle with friends ensures that there won't be anything left to take care of later, but I recently opened a bottle only to enjoy a single glass that night, with little expectation that anyone would drink his or her way through the remainder in the following day or so.  Averse to waste, I began to think up alternative uses for the newly-opened red.  I can't recall having cooked with red wine before, but I knew that it was frequently used for robust, meaty applications, or dishes at least containing beef stock.  Of course, I wasn't about to cook with anything animal-based, but the concept of having complementary elements (in flavor and strength) was something I could further contemplate.  And as a vegan cook, I'm accustomed to attempting to mimic familiar flavors without the use of animal products.

Indeed, with a little research and experimentation, I found a tasty way to use up some of that wine.  I was inspired by several dishes involving red wine, mushrooms, and beef stock.  It appeared fitting to combine those components for a sauce, using a vegan substitute for the beef stock and incorporating other elements to round out the dish.  I proceeded along those lines, cooking up a batch of red wine-braised mushrooms that I found can be eaten with pretty much anything starchy, such as pasta or bread.  Oddly enough, I am not usually very fond of cooked mushrooms--or mushrooms in general, although I do prefer the texture and flavor of raw mushrooms over cooked--but I had no issue with this dish, finding the results quite to my liking.  Miso adds savory richness to supplement the lack of beef stock and add depth to the sauce, which can be cooked down to one's preferred thickness.
Red Wine-Braised Mushrooms (printable recipe)
Yields approximately 4 servings

8 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 c onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 T white miso
1/2 c water
1 c red wine (I used syrah.)
2 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low flame.  Mix the miso with the water in a small bowl and set aside.  When the pan is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, just until translucent.  Add the mushrooms and garlic, cooking until the mushrooms begin to brown.  Reduce the heat to low, then add the miso mixture, wine, maple syrup, and thyme, stirring to combine.  Allow the contents of the pan to simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated; for a saucier result, don't simmer it as long.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot with pasta, bread, rice, potatoes.  Enjoy!

26 September 2010

Hints of Green

It has not been a particularly eventful food week for me.  For one reason or another, cooking and kitchen experimentation were of low priority, reflected in the obvious lack of variety gracing my plate whenever mealtime rolled around.  Leftover dishes or components of leftovers carried me through the week, all similar in that they contained some sort of leafy green, be it bok choy, cabbage, spinach (the most ubiquitous of the three veggies), or a combination.  In lieu of more interesting fare, I share with you the types of green-infused eats I've nonetheless (repeatedly) enjoyed these last few days.

Tofu with baby bok choy and Napa cabbage
Preparation of this Chinese-style dish, like much of what I cook on a whim, involved little more than simply combining items that needed to be used up with other ingredients from the fridge and pantry.  I blanched the bok choy and cabbage in lightly salted water and a touch of cooking oil.  The tofu was lightly pan-fried with ginger, garlic, vegetarian oyster sauce (made from mushrooms), sambal oelek, shoyu, and black pepper.  I added the blanched greens to the pan, threw in chopped green onion, and warmed everything through.  It was a hearty and savory dish with a tiny kick--good with plain, steamed rice, although I found that it's perfectly tasty on its own, too.

Miso soup with spinach and satsumaimo
I hardly tire of soup, especially when the air is crisp and chilly.  Miso soup, that simplest and in my humble opinion, one of the most satisfying of broths, is no exception.  I've long forgone the oatmeal-for-breakfast routine in favor of miso soup most mornings, if not at least for lunch.  Basic components involve miso, water or konbu dashi, and green onion, but I try to switch things up now and then.  With the reemergence of satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato) at local farmers' markets, I felt compelled to add a few chunks of the roasted tuber to my soup, along with spinach and a sprinkling of shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice).  The added veggies made the reliably belly-warming soup that much more filling.

Refried beans and blanched spinach
I tend to prefer whole beans over refried, but then again, I had already cooked up pinto beans for lack of black beans, and I wanted to try the recipe for Refried Beans from 500 Vegan Recipes anyway.  I had never attempted to make my own refried beans up until that point, and thought it just as good a time as any to ring in another "first."  The recipe was simple, very easy to follow, and yielded a thick batch of refried beans that weren't nearly as greasy as other prepared versions I've tasted--a plus for my off-and-on digestive issues and mental block for particularly fatty edibles.  Due to the aforementioned preference for whole beans, I removed some of the beans prior to mashing the rest, then added them back in, which gave the refried beans more texture.  A few dashes of hot sauce brought the heat level to my liking, although the beans were already delicious in their mild state.  I had been eating the dish with rice for much of the week, but mixing a hefty scoop of it with some leftover chopped, blanched spinach has proven an adequate alternative to its usual grain pairing.

I have some dishes in mind that I've been meaning to attempt, so perhaps more interesting food will appear here in the near future... In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy the rest of the weekend!

22 September 2010

Learning Experiences

It is probably reasonable to state that I have spent much of my life in the kitchen.  As a child, my mother was the head cook in our family's household, preparing homemade (or semi-homemade) snacks and meals with apparent ease.  Naturally, she wanted to spread her lifelong affinity for cooking to her children, so my sister and I were inducted as our mother's apprentices before when even realized it; she taught us the basics, so that our hesitant use of an Easy-Bake Oven as kids eventually developed into more confident wielding of kitchen knives as teenagers.  As adults, my sister and I still cook regularly in our respective kitchens--years of practice and trial-and-error well under our belts--each nurturing the shared love for cooking first instilled in us from those early experiences.  Improved cookware handling skills and the bit of kitchen intuition that goes along with them are certainly bonuses.

That said, my kitchen intuition only goes so far, and I am not averse to admitting that despite feeling that many of the things I cook can be considered successful and generally enjoyable, I've produced my fair share of cooking failures (at the very least, something not to my own liking).  Normally, I opt to share my successes rather than failures, but frankly, the last few days' worth of kitchen time has not necessarily produced anything that noteworthy.  Also, I believe that mistakes are necessary components of learning and developing skills.  So here is a glance at my latest fail, from the particularly precise realm of baking: biscotti.

I've made biscotti on multiple occasions--those crunchy, twice-baked Italian cookies only enhance my coffee addiction--so this time around, I decided to try to branch out and make own version.  The flavors and ingredients were inspired by a couple preexisting biscotti recipes and another cookie recipe that my sister-in-law particularly enjoyed.  My version was meant to be a fusion of all three cookies, and in the process of forming the dough, all seemed well.  The high volume of almonds--I consulted Veganomicon's Anise Almond Biscotti for proportions--was of some concern, as I've found previously that higher nut content tends to increase crumbliness, but the dough seemed a little wet nonetheless, so I kept the measurement as-is.  I suspect that ignoring my initial doubts contributed to the textural issues that followed; my biscotti were indeed crumbly, even after having allowed the uncut log cool for a complete half hour before slicing, leaving a great deal of crunchy bits along with broken cookies.

Despite their problematic texture, the biscotti were flavored nicely; they weren't too sweet nor overwhelmingly spiced.  However, I still want to make adjustments not only to the flavoring, but also the general composition.  Improving the binding to prevent the cookies from falling apart will be my first priority in tweaking this recipe.  Hopefully, further experimentation will result in a recipe worth sharing at some point.
For now, I leave you with something more positive to counterbalance all of that disappointing experience: pretzels! It's clear by now that I love baking and devouring them.  The recipes I've used so far have also proven rather reliable.  This time, I made the Soft Pretzels from The Joy of Vegan Baking, using bread and whole wheat flours, boiling the pretzels in water and baking soda, and baking at a higher oven temperature.  Those chewy twists were just the thing to offset my failed biscotti attempt.

20 September 2010

More Noodle Love

So last time I talked about my attempt at making Vegan Dad's fresh noodles, I had not yet prepared any proper sort of dish; I only tasted the noodles lightly dressed in garlic oil--a tasty treatment, but also a very limited means of showcasing the egg noodle vegan facsimiles' sturdy but tender texture that makes them so versatile.  I did, however, end up working more with these handmade beauties.  Here's a look at the results.

Along with his recipe for the noodles themselves, Vegan Dad posted a fabulous-looking recipe for this traditional Polish dish of cabbage and noodles.  I would have consulted it, but by the time I decided to make the dish, I was already rather hungry and decided to wing it.  My spontaneous, simplified dish included Napa cabbage, vegan butter, onion, garlic, caraway seeds, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and of course, the homemade noodles.  Although the haluski didn't look quite as lovely as Vegan Dad's version, the noodles held up beautifully and it was all quite delicious.  It reaffirmed my belief that the simplest dishes can be some of the most comforting.

Vegetable Noodle Soup
This was a wonderful vegan substitute for old-fashioned chicken noodle soup.  My animal-free soup was a hodge podge of ingredients, many of which needed to be used up: more flax noodles (cut short) and cabbage, pinto beans, firm tofu, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, vegetarian chicken broth, salt, and pepper.  It was hearty, but not too heavy, and yet another comforting dish.

A hunk of fresh, homemade bread was the perfect accompaniment for the soup.  I grabbed a hefty piece of Vienna Bread, created from a slightly modified version of the recipe in Peter Reinhart's amazing tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I made my version egg-less and substituted the dairy butter with vegan butter.  I made both the regular version and one with the mottled topping (i.e., Dutch crunch); both loaves were soft and flavorful, thanks to the use of pate fermentee, but unfortunately, my mottled topping didn't attain the intended mottled look.  Despite the odd appearance, the bread was a tasty way to satisfy my carbohydrate needs and a wonderful vessel to sop up soup broth.

17 September 2010

Big Bowl of Sweetness

What could be better than something warm and soupy on a chilly day?  Add comfort food and dessert to the description, and it's sure to warm a belly or two.  Well, it works for me, at least.

Ginataan happens to be a soupy, comforting, dessert-worthy creation, courtesy of the Philippines.  The name actually refers broadly to food cooked with coconut milk, but the version to which I'm referring is what first introduced me to the term ginataan: a sweetened coconut-milk based concoction including saba (a type of plantain), sweet potato, bilo-bilo (glutinous rice balls), sago (tapioca pearls), ube (purple yam), and langka (jackfruit) that is eaten as a dessert, hot or cold.  I only had a few of the aforementioned ingredients on hand when I decided to make this easy dish, resulting in a simplified version that still ended up suiting my tastes.
Ginataan (printable recipe)
Yields 4 to 6 servings

1 13-oz can coconut milk, divided
1/4 c water
1/4 c raw sugar
2 saba or plantains, peeled and chopped
1 small satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato), cooked, peeled, and chopped
3 T tapioca pearls (I happened to have black ones, but the color doesn't matter.)
1/4 c mochiko (glutinous rice flour)
Additional water to be combined with mochiko

Cook tapioca pearls in boiling water for 10 minutes or until tender.  Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine half the coconut milk, water, and raw sugar.  Stir and heat over medium-low, until the sugar is dissolved, the increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil.  In a small bowl, combine mochiko with just enough water to form a stiff but pliable dough.  Divide the dough into 12 balls, then drop them gently in the boiling liquid.  Boil the rice balls gently for 10 minutes or until tender, then remove them and set aside.  Add the remaining coconut milk, reduce heat to medium, and add the saba.  Cook just until soft (a few minutes), then add the sweet potato, rice balls, and tapioca.  Allow everything to heat through, then remove from heat.  Serve warm or chilled.

As I mentioned earlier, the sweet type of ginataan often includes purple yam and jackfruit, but I omitted them due to lack of availability.  Of course, you can certainly add them in--as well as whatever else you may fancy--for even more chunky goodness.  I am most accustomed to eating ginataan chilled, but it's also wonderful warm, just after being made.  For cool weather comfort, it makes more sense to go for the latter method of consumption, but it really is a treat either way.  I encourage you to try both and enjoy!

15 September 2010

Noodle Love

There was a time in which I practically lived off pasta.  It's so easy to throw together a noodle dish--with myriad potential combinations of the type, shape, sauce, and add-ins--that I defaulted quite often to this vague but satisfying starch-fest on a plate.  It made for many cheap, quick "homemade" meals for a busy (sometimes lazy) university student.  Noodle-based dishes of varying culinary styles still frequent my cooking repertoire, because sometimes they're the perfect things for quelling serious comfort food cravings.

I have always wanted to try my hand at making fresh, homemade noodles of some sort, so when Vegan Dad recently posted a recipe for eggless "egg" noodles, I knew fresh noodles were in my near future.  It worked out perfectly, too, because I had some unused soy creamer nearing expiration, once intended for ice cream that just never happened.  While a pasta roller would have been convenient for my noodle venture, I unfortunately don't own one; I went the old school, hand-rolled and -cut route.  It was a little tedious to flatten the stiff dough out to ideal thinness using a rolling pin, but with some patience and a little muscle, it worked out fine.
Once dried and cut, I boiled only a very small amount of noodles and decided upon dressing them simply in order to sample the flavor of the noodles themselves.  I heated just a bit of extra virgin olive oil with crushed garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes, then tossed in the boiled and drained pasta.  A squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped parsley finished my pasta sampling. It turned out to be a tasty few bites; the flax-soy creamer combination resulted in something very reminiscent of egg noodles--sans eggs, of course.  Homemade noodles were certainly worth the time and effort that went into making them, so I encourage you all to experience the process for yourselves sometime, if you haven't already.

In keeping with the fellow-blogger-shout-out-love, I'll briefly mention the fabulous giveaway going on over at Vegan in the Sun.  Check out Taymer's blog for details.  And while you're at it, get ready for the forthcoming release of her cookbook, Caribbean Vegan.  The cover alone is beautiful and based on the recipes I was privileged to test earlier this year, I can tell you that the food is bound to be amazing!

12 September 2010

Using What's Left

As autumn prepares to roll around the corner, so disappears the summer garden's bounty of fruits and vegetables.  But the dropping temperatures aren't the culprits behind the steady dwindling of backyard produce, nor is my greedy consumption of it to blame.  Rather, squirrels and gophers have helped themselves to nearly anything they grew in those modest plots of tilled earth, leaving hardly a scrap for me to enjoy for at least a month now.  I have, in fact, had little homegrown bounty to speak of lately, the peak of early summer zucchini, chard, and kale long past and once-promising heirloom tomato plants proving nearly fruitless.  I hope at least a few persimmons survive to ripen this autumn, because I suspect some clever critters are behind the sudden rarity of immature green fruits that had recently begun to dot the tree branches.

One thing the critters out back haven't touched is the lemongrass.  I had really no clue how to grow it, but liking the idea of not having to purchase stalks from the market, I read up on it a bit and planted a seedling a few months ago to see how it would do, hoping that it would survive.  So far, it's thriving.  I don't think the temperatures around here are ideal for lemongrass to grow more than a few feet tall, so my amateur guess is that the plant is at its peak right about now.  I harvested a few stalks recently and decided to cook up something with them.

The resulting dish combined flavors of lemongrass, coconut, and ginger in a belly-warming, Thai-inspired stew.  The lemongrass is rather subtle--I only managed to utilize a small amount of my harvest so far and was unsure of how much to implement in the dish anyway--but does seem to add a touch of fresh flavor.  For more of a pronounced citrus-like presence, more lemongrass or a touch of lime zest would do the trick.
Green Tofu Stew (printable recipe)
Yields 4 to 6 servings

8 oz super-firm tofu, cubed
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/2 c fresh cilantro, chopped
3 dried red Thai chilies
1 c coconut milk
1 tsp vegetable broth powder, or 1/2 a vegetable bouillon cube, crushed
1 tsp shoyu
1 orange bell pepper (red or yellow are fine), chopped
1/2 c chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 c fresh spinach, loosely packed
1/4 c green onion, sliced
Oil, to lightly grease pan
Additional cilantro and green onion for garnish, optional

In a blender or food processor, process the garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and chilies until finely minced.  Add the cilantro and a bit of the coconut milk, blending to form a paste.  Add the remaining coconut milk, vegetable broth powder or bouillon cube, and shoyu, processing until well-blended.  Place the tofu in a medium bowl, pour over the coconut mixture, cover, and allow it to marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Lightly oil a large saucepan and heat over medium flame.  Drain the tofu, reserving the marinade.  Cook the tofu until uniformly golden brown, then remove from pan and set aside.  Add the spinach to the pan, cook until just wilted (approximately one minute), then drain excess liquid and remove from the pan.  Return the pan to medium heat, then add the bell pepper and green onion; cook until the bell pepper has softened and browned slightly around the edges.  Add the chickpeas and cook for and additional minute or so, until heated through.  Add the tofu back to the pan, then pour over the reserved marinade.  Cook over medium-low until the liquid begins to simmer, then add the spinach back to the pan, and cook until just heated through.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.  Garnish with additional cilantro and green onion and serve hot with rice.  Enjoy!

11 September 2010

Easy Fudge Fix

Although it occurs rather infrequently, I do come across individuals who are rather apathetic toward their own chocolate consumption; they might nosh on the occasional chipper or Oreo, but when it comes to indulging in decadently rich cocoa confection, they can take them or leave them.  That's all perfectly fine, of course.  My sister is one such individual.  She enjoys chocolate in small doses but usually prefers fruity over chocolaty dessert options, rarely purchases fudge or candy bars, and never eats chocolate ice cream (because it "doesn't taste like chocolate"--fair enough).  I have even heard rumors of people who flat-out dislike chocolate, vehemently, even, but I have yet to actually meet someone fitting such a description.  I may not embody the polar opposite, stereotyped "chocoholic," but I must admit, my taste for the chocolate has been lifelong and doesn't look to die anytime soon.  And a gal like me still needs the occasional cocoa fix.

When chocolate chip cookies are a little too tame but I don't feel like making brownies, I like to satisfy that craving for a little decadence instead with fudgy cookies.  The flavor and textural similarities between these and gussied-up brownies actually makes differences between the two treats marginal, but I like to think that there is some variety in my chocolate indulgences.  For awhile now, I have consulted this recipe from VegWeb, but over time have adapted it to the point where my version is rather different from the original.
Fudge Fix Cookies (adapted from a VegWeb recipe) (printable recipe)
Yields approximately 2 dozen

1/4 c vegan butter
2 T unsalted peanut butter (I prefer crunchy)
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/3 c molasses
1 T milled flaxseed
3 T warm water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c rolled oats
1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

In a small bowl, mix the flaxseed and water well, until viscous.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream vegan butter and peanut butter.  Add brown sugar and molasses, and mix until well-combined.  Add flaxseed mixture and the extracts, and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Stir the dry mixture into the wet, until just combined.  Gently stir in oats and chocolate chips.  Drop dough in approximately two tablespoonful amounts, one to two inches apart, on prepared baking sheets.  Flatten the dough mounds slightly, then bake for 10 minutes.  The cookie tops should no longer look glossy, with the interiors still soft and gooey.  After removing the cookies from the oven, allow them to remain on the pans for five minutes to firm up a bit before removing them to wire racks to cool more.

The molasses accentuates the deep cocoa flavor of the cookies, while the peanut butter adds richness and nuttiness.  These fudgy morsels are quite decadent and best served warm, but they are still delicious the next day, if they haven't disappeared before then.  Enjoy!

Having nothing to do with chocolate--although it's just as sweet--Dianne from Singer Eats recently passed along a Most Versatile Blogger Award.  Thanks, Dianne--I'm so flattered!  Recipients are to share seven facts about themselves (if they so choose), so I thought I'd have some fun and keep the ball rolling.  So here are some little extras about me:

1. I am the smack-dab-in-the-middle middle child of my family; approximately 12 years separate me from both my younger brother and older brother, and I'm also flanked in the sibling line by two sisters (one younger, one older).

2. I have a longtime fascination with stringed instruments and have always wanted to learn to play the harp, koto, or sitar.  Unfortunately, despite having several friends with adept guitar- and bass-playing skills, my own have so far not progressed beyond a few guitar chords, partly due to the difficulty of trying to play with short fingers and almost ironic lack of instruction (I'm still shy and proximity is an issue).

3. I minored in Religious Studies at university and earned a B.A. in Psychology.

4. I took three years of German language classes in high school and a refresher course at university, but never reached the point of fluency.  I can still understand, speak, and write some German, but I'm a bit rusty.  I hope to attain fluency someday.

5. I have never been stung by a bee, so I really have no clue whether I am allergic to bee stings.

6. I cried during my first exposure to Bollywood by my freshman dorm roommate several years ago.  I still really like it and will pretty much watch anything starring Shahrukh Khan or Aamir Khan.

7. Maybe due to having lived the vast majority of my life in this coastal town, I get a little nervous when I spend extended periods of time far inland, away from large bodies of water.  For some reason, it is comforting to know that the ocean is nearby.

So there you have it.  Now that you know a bit about me, it's time to hear from some of you, should you be willing to participate in award recipient duties (completely optional, of course).  It's difficult to limit the selection to just five, but here goes.  I'd like to pass along the Most Versatile Blogger Award to the following lovely bloggers:

Zoa of The Airy Way
Meeps of Alien's Day Out
Carissa of Coffee & Sunshine
Aimee of theglobalvegan
Kerri of I Eat Trees

I'm a little shy about these things, so if any of you happen to be reading this right now, congrats!  And to anyone else--I've said it before, but it's worth repeating--know that I always very much appreciate that you deem this humble space worthy of your time and attention.  So thanks, everyone--you're all awesome!

08 September 2010

A New Classic

Since my sister returned from a brief trip to Hawaii last month, my family has lingered longer than usual in nostalgia.  The residual effect of that last-minute excursion, still fresh in everyone's mind, prompts my parents to speak more often of fond memories of their island upbringing.  Usually, cravings for the food associated with that time and place are likewise triggered.  During my own childhood, such remembrances of local-style Hawaiian fare translated into many meals involving replications of dishes enjoyed back home.  Those days, as a very picky eater with a taste for mainland American food, I didn't care much for the cuisine my parents loved so much.  Now, my tastes having changed, I am typically rather eager to revisit those very same dishes and adapt them to fit my dietary preferences.

My most recent foray into the realm of island cuisine, like so many since I became vegan, required adapting the classic version of the dish in question.  And with something like Chicken Long Rice--a soupy dish of chicken and thin noodles that made its way to Hawaii via Chinese cuisine--certain substitutions are clearly needed in order to make the dish vegan-friendly.  In this case, those substitutions were easy to make; tofu and vegetable broth replaced the chicken and chicken broth, respectively, instantly turning the old, meaty classic into an equally hearty and delicious dish that might become a new classic in my animal-free arsenal of recipes.  As further departure from tradition, I added greens and carrot to my version for extra flair.  Although the "long rice" portion of the dish is actually a misnomer--saifun (bean thread noodles) are typically used, not rice noodles--I decided to be consistent with the dish's moniker by using rice vermicelli.  In fact, the dish is often eaten along or atop steamed rice.  Saifun would, of course, make a fine substitute for the rice noodles and make serving the dish with rice less redundant.
Tofu Long Rice (printable recipe)
Yields 4-6 servings

8 oz extra-firm tofu, drained and cubed
8 oz thin rice noodles (rice vermicelli; also known as bihon at Filipino markets)
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 tsp fresh ginger, smashed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c green onion, chopped
3 c vegetarian chicken broth (regular works fine)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 c swiss chard leaves (stems removed) or bok choy, chopped
Shoyu, to taste
Oil or water, for sauteeing

In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 c broth, ginger, garlic, and ground black pepper.  Add the tofu and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Fill a large bowl with enough warm water to cover the dried noodles.  Submerge the noodles in the water and set them aside to soften while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat a large pot over medium.  Lightly oil or add a few tablespoons of water, then add the onion and carrot.  Drizzle with shoyu to taste and saute until the onion is just cooked and golden around the edges.  Add half of the green onion and all the swiss chard (or bok choy) and saute until wilted.  Remove to a plate or bowl and set aside.  

Drain the tofu, reserving the broth/marinade.  Using the same pot in which you cooked the vegetables, cook the tofu until golden brown on all sides, adding more oil if necessary to prevent sticking.  Add the broth to the tofu and bring the contents of the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers.  Drain the soaked rice noodles, add them to the broth and tofu, and allow to simmer just until the noodles are tender.  Mix in the vegetables and allow them to heat through.  Top with the remaining green onion.  Serve hot, alone or with steamed rice, and enjoy!

05 September 2010

Weekend Eats

Happy Labor Day weekend/unofficial end of summer!  Thankfully, hints of autumn---cooler temperatures, pumpkins, Halloween gear among them--are creeping up ever so slyly, but not without at least one last weekend of summertime grilling weather.  While my family has been firing up the coals for another one of their non-vegan feasts, I've been content to keep my own food-related ventures indoors and animal-free.  Here's just a quick look at two items I threw together sometime during the last few days.

Fresh Fig-Walnut Spread
Fresh figs have been cropping up in groceries and farmers' markets quite a bit lately, and having taken a recent interest in them, I decided to purchase a pound of the California mission variety.  I enjoy their fresh, mildly sweet taste and soft texture, so I usually just give them a good rinse, remove the rigid stem, and eat them plain.  Because the fruits are highly perishable once picked, I immediately began to think of other ways I could eat them. I may try the remaining few in a smoothie tonight or tomorrow morning, but in the meantime, I already whipped up a batch of Fresh-Fig Walnut Spread to use a small portion of my bounty.  I adapted this recipe, replacing the honey with raw agave nectar.  I also used less of the agave so that it wouldn't overwhelm the natural sweetness and flavor of the fresh figs.  The fruity and nutty flavors fit very well.  This quick, simple spread is tasty on toast--it contrasted the briny flavor of olive bread quite nicely--or dip for fresh apple slices, and I'm sure its versatility can be tested with various other snack items, with good results.
Marinated tofu
When I last visited my sister in the Bay, we ate at a little cafe one afternoon that served some tasty vegetarian and vegan sandwiches.  My sister ordered one that included marinated eggplant, while mine had marinated tofu.  I don't think either the eggplant or tofu were actually cooked, but both were flavorful and very tasty.  Eating our sandwiches turned out to be a bit of a messy affair, as the juices from whatever our food was marinated in would periodically drip all over our fingers, leaving little, slightly oily puddles.  When I recently recalled that outing, I tried with some trouble to think of what might have gone into the marinade that made our food taste so good.  Eventually, I decided just to combine a few ingredients and hope that whether the flavor mimicked the tofu I ate in Oakland, that at least it might taste good.

My results weren't spot-on, but the flavor is at the very least familiar, and tasty, in any case.  I didn't include oil in my marinade, because I figured that the water content of even pressed tofu would make the use of oil a bit pointless, and I didn't want to eat greasy tofu if I just ended up eating it cold.  I did, indeed, enjoy some of the tofu right out of the marinade.  I like it alone as a snack, but I imagine it would be delicious as part of a cold sandwich or incorporated into a salad.

Simple Marinated Tofu (printable recipe)
Yields 4 servings

19 oz firm or extra firm tofu, pressed and drained
1 jalapeno, split in half lengthwise
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1 c or more water

Place tofu in a single layer in a shallow container.  In a small, nonstick skillet, dry-toast the jalapeno, garlic, paprika, and chili powder over medium-low heat, just until fragrant (no more than one minute), being careful not to burn the mixture.  Transfer it to a small bowl, then add everything else but the tofu, mixing to combine.  Pour the marinade over the tofu.  Add more water if the level of the liquid doesn't at least reach the top of the tofu.  Cover and let marinade at least one hour.  Drain excess liquid from tofu before eating as-is or cooking.
I also tried a bit of the marinaded tofu cooked.  After gently squeezing some of the excess marinade from a piece of tofu, I cut it in half and browned it in a lightly oiled pan.  I made a sandwich by resting the tofu pieces inside a split whole wheat pan de sal roll, along with blanched spinach that was mixed with a bit of sriracha and shoyu.  Due to its diminutive size, it seemed appropriate to consider my miniature meal something more like a marinaded tofu slider than a full-sized sandwich.  I wasn't too hungry at the time of assembly, so this slider turned out to be the perfect size.  And the tofu still retained the flavor of the marinade, as well as some interior softness, to which the slightly crisped outer surfaces were a nice textural contrast.
So nothing too fancy appeared on my plate during the last few days, but the simple results were satisfying nonetheless.  I'm perfectly fine with the occasional low-key kitchen environment, anyway.  I hope everyone enjoys the waning moments of precious weekend...