Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bunny Breakfast

I've always loved breakfast. Typically, I break my sleep to a growling tummy and a taste for something comforting and wonderful. And though I typically favor more savory goodies, like tofu scramble or nutty oatmeal, sometimes I want pancakes and soy bacon.

You might think whipping up pancakes to be an involved delight, but it's really not. In fact, with the pancake mix I use (Arrowhead Mills, multi-grain) you just add a little milk or water and some oil.

I like to get creative and throw in some kind of nuts, fruits and a little agave. Be creative. In the autumn I love a bit of pumpkin puree and pecans. Today I had almonds and blueberries, and in summer I love strawberries and bananas.

It was a real downer to learn I'd run out of maple syrup, so I created my own topping with some Earth Balance, agave nectar, a touch of vanilla and more frozen blueberries. This was really delicious, paired with my Lightlife soy bacon (really "bacon-y," with no chemically taste).

When I do have real maple syrup I typically mix it 50/50 with agave so that my blood sugar won't spike, leaving me in a pancake-coma about an hour after I eat.

Another great thing about these can make up a bunch and freeze them. So, if you have children they are amazing. I know my niece and nephew like having small cakes they can hold and dip. I can make up a bunch of these and freeze them in baggies. Works perfectly!

Eating a good breakfast, high in complex carbs, fiber and a little good fat is huge in keeping you energized for the day. And for me, these pancakes are a perfect solution for breaking my morning hungries!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dinner Party - All Dressed Up

One of my favorite quotes is, "Teach that which you want to learn." And my yoga teaching career was a perfect expression of this. I maintained a rigorous practice for about 5 years, but wanted to deepen my spiritual understanding and journey. So, I started teaching what I knew to others. As my classes at University of Mississippi grew (I once had 70 students!) so did all the questions. I would go back to my teachers and ask, and learn and share. It's a continuous that really never ends, even now that I'm not actually supporting myself by teaching yoga.

Such is my path with food. I have not always loved food. There have even been times I thought of food as the "enemy." But, once I recognized the connection between food and so many other things, culture, relationships, peace, customs...I was hooked. And so now, I share what I know, and I am constantly learning.

When I first volunteered to host a vegetarian dinner, I assumed I'd be planning, cooking and serving the entire meal. As a professional "planner," this made me very happy. But soon anxiety struck. This was going to be expensive. I didn't know most of the people who would be at my dinner, thus had no idea what they liked to eat. My travel schedule was extremely hectic.

Soon, the organizer explained this would be a pot-luck. I could either send recipes to everyone, asking them to make something, or I could just let everyone bring what they wanted, within the parameters. The organizer would bring all the wines. All I really needed to do was vacuum, have dishes and utensils, and 8 chairs.

This evening turned out to be a blast. I did vacuum, but also made two really wonderful dishes. Tal Ronnen's Quinoa Makki Rolls are to die for! The beautiful, lacy quinoa is used in place of rice, which gives a slightly different taste and texture, but also adds protein. Included in the filling are Cajun portobella mushrooms, avocado, and this wonderful spicy sauce made with Vegenaise.

My second creation was a bit more adventurous, as most things from the Millennium cookbook, The Artful Vegan, are. I made the Caramelized Onion and Morel Rolls with Truffled Beet Salad and Pinot Noir Reduction. Don't let the name fool you. It was worth every single step, and could easily be served as a main meal, as it was very filling. Though Chef Eric Tucker's recipes always scare me, they are broken down, step-by-step, and always push me in techniques and ingredients I might not have used before. And the beauty is, once you have the recipe down, you can change it up, take short cuts, and make it your own.

Some of the dishes guests brought to share at my party included:

Black Bean Stuffed Bell Peppers
Edamame Salad
Kale Salad (this included a wonderful "Ranch-like" dressing made with garlic, lemon juice and avocado)
Moo-less Chocolate Pie (apparently Alton Brown's recipe - I ate the left-overs while watching a mooovie)
Roasted Eggplant with Peppers and Onions
Feta & Herb Vegetable Terrine

So, not all these were vegan, but so unbelievably good. I was the ONLY person at my dinner party who was vegetarian, but everyone commented on how full they were, and that if they could eat like this more often they would. The good news is, they can!

Hosting this pot luck was a GREAT opportunity to share my truth and knowledge, while pushing myself to answer a few out-of-the-box questions AND learn from others. I can't wait to do it again, and hope you will be inspired to give it a try.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Freeze and Squeeze

For the record, I am NOT a tofu enthusiast. Never have been. However, after many years of tolerating the wiggly, somewhat chemically tasting stuff that is tofu, I discovered freezing and squeezing. Sounds like an infomercial tag, doesn't it?

I don't exactly know how this all works. I guess I could figure it out were I to think about it long enough, but seriously, do I want to think about tofu for longer than the time it takes me to write this post? No.

Slice an extra-firm tofu block into 1/2" slices and place on a cookie sheet lined in parchment or waxed paper. Freeze for several hours, or overnight. Mine typically turns kind of pale yellow.

Remove the tofu from the freezer and allow to thaw. It's great if you are moved to transfer the tofu to a paper towel or dishtowel, but in a pinch I've done it on the same cookie sheet.

When the tofu thaws it will become super porous and more "chewy," or dense. I'm not sure using dense and porous to describe something is really accurate, but it's what comes to mind. In any event, it changes the consistency, and to me, makes the flavor less funky. It also opens up all these little nooks where marinade can come to roost. So, create something yummy and throw in your spongy tofu for a swim.

Also, this makes tofu so much easier to pan fry, but also to BBQ or put on a skewer. Go ahead, give it a shot. It might change your life!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lingering Winter Gnocchi

Gnocchi with Acorn Squash Sauce(serves 4-6)

1-2 med. acorn squash
1 spring or white onion, trimmed
6 small fresh sage leaves

12 oz. shitake mushrooms, cleaned
canola oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. Earth Balance
3 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 Tbsp. minced thyme
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp. Earth Balance
1 pkg. gnocchi
salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 slices soy bacon, cooked crispy (optional)
2 Tbsp. minced chives
1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half, place cut –side down in a baking pan, along with cleaned and peeled spring onion. Put about ½” of water in pan. Cover pan with foil and place in oven. Cook squash for about 30-45 minutes, or until it is tender. Take out of oven and let cool. When it’s cool you’ll scoop the “meat” from the squash then place in blender with chunked roasted onion and vegetable stock. Add fresh sage, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth. Set sauce to the side.

While squash is roasting, trim away the tough stems from the mushrooms and cut the caps into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Heat a thin film of canola oil in a medium- large skillet, until the oil begins to smoke. Add the mushrooms and salt and saute for about a minute. Add the Earth Balance, shallots, thyme, and pepper, then toss and saute until the mushrooms are cooked (3 to 4 minutes). Drain the mushrooms on some paper towel.

Wipe out your skillet and add a little olive oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the Earth Balance. When this is browned, divide the gnocchi in half and cook in batches, adding more olive oil and E.B. after the first ½ is done. The gnocchi should be browned on all sides, which takes about 2-3 minutes for each batch.

Add the squash sauce, mushrooms, and chives and heat. Spoon the gnocchi and vegetables onto the plates. I actually fried up some soy bacon (I like Lifelight) and crumbled it on top for serving. So yummy!

Karyn's on Green

I'm so excited, I can barely contain myself. Last night the sweetest man invited me to dinner. When he said we were going to Karyn's latest addition, I was thinking casual, dark, and snugly. Karyn's Cooked is where we had our second or third date and it was so cozy. So, I was a little nervous when we pulled up to this very chic, glass, minimalist establishment. I probably should have dressed a little nicer.

Though the decor at Karyn's on Green is haut and the menu is artful, the service and company were that same "comfortable/cozy" that has become synonymous with Karyn's. Boy, was I happy AND appreciative. It was a good night for me and my date.

First things first: We were blown away by the cocktail menu. I believe a Sazerac to be the test for an accomplished mixologist, and I was not disappointed. My date was feeling a bit more creative and opted for The Southside. Although I didn't take a taste, it looked like a really inventive margarita. I guess he liked it as he went through more than one.

And the menu was amazing. I'm a big fan of restaurants who offer small and large plates, as I can't eat a lot, but I want a lot (does that make sense?). I started with Wild Mushroom Risotto. It was ...well, it was a really generous portion, for a small plate. And it was rich and creamy, with big chunks of wild mushrooms. I gobbled down about 2/3's before remembering to save room for dessert.

My date started with a chopped salad that I did manage to taste. It was incredible. There were big chunks of cucumbers and squash and all sorts of other vegetables. These were tossed with the perfect vinaigrette. My mouth is actually watering right now, just thinking of his salad. Not bad, huh?

For our main course, I went with the Caesar salad, and he opted for the Shepherd's Pie. Both may seem a little ordinary, but think about it...both are classics, with very distinctive tastes, and could be difficult to pull off vegan.

My salad was perfection. The taste was totally in keeping with a traditional Caesar, but with little bits of olive powder. And my dates shepherd's pie was totally traditional, but anything but ordinary. It had that perfect brown gravy, and was loaded with browned seitan, and oodles of vegetable chunks...all topped with browned creamed potatoes. Perfect.

And, of course, there is always dessert with me. Our Banana's Foster was a combination of several exquisite elements. Any one of these would have made a fabulous dessert, but combined, it was and over-the-top-banana-sensation! Vanilla-bean ice cream, with little coconut cookies and some rum-braised bananas, and others that were dehydrated or roasted or something that made them very banana-y and crisp.

I'm still excited about Karyn's on Green. It's been over 24 hours and still...the thought makes a smile come over my face. What a great restaurant! What a wonderful man who always considers my passions and my commitments when making plans for us. I have the biggest crush...on the guy and on risotto! If you're in Chicago you MUST try Karyn's on Green (or Karyn's Cooked or Karyn's Raw)! IF you live here, go early and often!!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring Crops

It's spring, and in addition to that making me another year older (and wiser and healthier and more savvy!), that means great flowers and great vegetables. And there are many vegetables that come out for a short time, in the spring months, that we're not accustomed to using in our culinary creations. I challenge you to google one or two of these and try a new recipe:

1. Green Garlic
2. Dandelion
3. Lovage
4. Fiddleheads
5. Morels (one of my very favorite things in the world!)
6. Fava beans (another fav, and they go into summer in some areas)
7. Baby artichokes

Now, I want to share some of my favorites.

Spring Onion Soup
serves about 4 as a main course

1 bunch of spring onions (mine had 3 decent sized stalks), tough tips removed and rinsed well, then roughly chopped. Make sure to include some green bits of stalk
1 cup diced potatoes (I used Yukon gold as that's what I had)
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance
1 Tablespoon light olive oil (no need for the expensive stuff)
1 box of vegetable stock, or about 4 cups
salt and pepper
truffle oil and chervil as a garnish

Place soup pot over medium heat and sprinkle with salt. Then drizzle oil and Earth Balance. Add onions and toss to coat with oil. Toss in the potatoes, pour on stock, and cover for about 45 minutes - an hour. Add water if liquid gets too low. Turn off heat and let cool for a bit. Either puree batches in a blender, after soup has cooled a bit, or use a hand mixer to blend. I drizzle each bowl with a bit of white truffle oil and some springs of chervil.

Spring Garden Salad
(this is inspired by a recipe from Gourmet Magazine)
serves 6

Salad Dressing

1 1/2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in a jar and shake until emulsified, or blend with hand mixer or traditional mixer. If using the later appliances, drizzle the oil in slowly while mixing.

For salad

2 med. beets
1 lb sm. new potatoes scrubbed well
1 tsp. olive oil
All kinds of spring greens, such as baby lettuces and baby arugula, mescalin (about 10 cups)
4 c. baby spinach
1/3 c. lovage leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 c. fresh chervil
1/3 c. fresh tarragon leaves
20 organic, edible flower petals

Preheat oven to 400. Wrap scrubbed beets in foil, with a drizzle of olive oil, and place on upper rack of oven. Roast until tender, or about an hour. In same oven you can chunk potatoes up, toss with more olive oil and a bit of salt (I also add a splash of inexpensive balsamic) and spread on a baking sheet. The potatoes might only take about 30-45 minutes. They should be golden, with little crispy bits.

When beets are tender, take out, and under running water, slip off their skins. This is a messy business, so try to keep it all contained in the sink.

Cut potatoes into slices and add to beets along with all greens and herbs. Add vinaigrette and toss gently to coat. Dice beets and sprinkle around top. I don't toss these too much as it turns the whole salad into a big pink mess. Might consider using a different, lighter colored beet in the future.

Sprinkle blossoms on top and serve immediately.

Spring Vegetables over Leek Pancakes
serves 6

1/2 lb. fiddleheads, cleaned (see below)
1/2 lb. "baby" veggies (I found squash, eggplant and bok choy)
1/2 lb. baby carrots, trimmed (real ones w/ greens attached. not that crap you get where the carrots look like Vienna sausages from a can)
3/4 c. shelled fresh peas (if you can't get fresh don't bother)
1/8 c. Earth Balance
1/2 lb. pearl onions, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, peeled, and trimmed
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 lb. fresh morels, washed, patted dry, and trimmed
3 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
1 1/2 Tbs. minced fresh mint leaves
1 large garlic clove, pressed or minced

Heat a medium pot of water, with a dash of salt, until boiling. Drop in the fiddleheads for 4 minutes, or until brighter green, then transfer to cold water bath to shock. Last, transfer to towel and dry. Do the same to the rest of the vegetables. The only reason I don't do them all at once is the fiddleheads wouldn't take as long as the eggplant or squash, thus would become mush and sad.

In a large heavy skillet combine 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance, onions, herbs, 1/4 cup of the broth, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the morels, halved lengthwise or sliced crosswise, and 1/2 cup of the remaining broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the morels are tender. Add the fiddleheads, the squash, the carrots, and the remaining 1/4 cup broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 1 minute. Add the peas, the parsley, the mint, and the garlic, simmer covered, for 1 minute, and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons Earth Balance. Discard the bay leaf and season the mix with salt and pepper.

To clean fresh-picked fiddleheads (from Gourmet Magazine):

If you buy fiddlehead ferns at a farmer's market or grocery, they may already be cleaned. But if not, rub off the dry brown casings by hand or put the fiddleheads in a wire salad basket and whirl the basket outdoors to remove the casings. Let the fiddleheads soak in a sink half full of cold water, changing the water several times to remove any grit or casing particles, and drain them. The fiddleheads keep, covered and chilled, for 1 week.

Leek Pancakes

3 1/2 c. grated russet potatoes, patted dry as well as you can
1 leek, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise and washed really well
1/4 cup all purpose flour
egg replacer to equal 1 egg (follow directions)
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 275°F. Mix first ingredients in large bowl to blend. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, drop pancake mixture by 1/4 cupfuls onto skillet. Using spatula, gently flatten. Cook about 2 minutes on first side, then flip and cook until done through. Transfer pancakes to baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil to skillet as needed. Transfer pancakes to plates and serve with vegetable mix poured over.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Good Stock

I have mentioned before, but it bears repeating; I come from a good gene pool. It's a total lottery win for me. Nothing I deserve or earn, but pure grace. Most of my relatives are amazing cooks. They all appreciate great food.

So, it's in my DNA to be a food enthusiast. As a child, I was never forced to settle for McDonald's or sub-par school lunches. I've never considered paper napkins suitable for a sit-down meal at my table. And, by god, you will have bread with my meals AND finish with something sweet.

All of these little bits are often attributed to my "Southerness," and that is likely part of it. And being here in New Orleans, and smelling the smells that have been familiar to me from the time I can even think about eating and drinking (I was drinking coffee-milk from a blue willow teacup at about 2 years old) I'm certainly wanting to know how I can bring all this good food back with me, to Chicago.

Tonight I dined at Iris, which is located on Peter Street, in this wonderful little cottage-like venue. The walls are a pale green and all the wonderful moldings are stark white. I can't imagine a better spot to have a spring meal than Iris.

When I viewed the menu online I was once again saddened to go to another hot New Orleans restaurant with no vegan options. What would I do if I wanted to go out with omnivore clients and friends? But, I made my reservation and put notes that I was vegan and would appreciate whatever they had or could come up with. This wasn't going to be a weekend-night dinner, and I gave them fair warning.

There actually were quite a few things on the current menu that were vegetarian, and the hostess/co-owner, Laurie Casebonne told me they could do any of the side dishes as a meal, or the chef could create a 3-part tasting entree for $18! Wow...sign me up.

I started with perfect puffs of gnocchi, tossed with braised baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes and what I believe were tiny-baby turnips. This was all tossed with white truffle oil. It was amazing and very filling and I wish I'd only eaten half so I could have gone for dessert, but it was too delicious, so I ate almost all of it.

Next came my chef's trio. The first dish was more baby bok choy, mixed with kale. The braising liquid tasted a bit like ale, but may have been some kind of wine redux. It was paired by smokey beet slices, and drizzled with a yellow pepper vinaigrette (I think).

The second dish was almost a vegetable hash. It was very small chunks of crispy-potatoes, tossed with fava beans, English peas and leeks. I believe he added a little chervil to the mix as well. The potatoes were a bit crispy, like hash, which worked perfectly with the sweet peas and fava beans. I could have honestly said English peas were the only veg I didn't like until tonight.

Last was the most amazing thing. It was small bits of very roasted cauliflower and spring onions. And I swear, I thought they'd put bacon bits in, but realized it was VERY caramelized shallots, which took on this salty-sweet-almost-smokey flavor. The whole business was drizzled in smoked-tomato vinaigrette.

Any one of these dishes would have been perfect with the gnocchi. All three was hedonistic, and is currently causing my ribs to hurt. But I will survive, and I will try my hand at copying Chef Ian Schnoebelen's culinary creations. I hope you are inspired as well.

Bottom line with southern cooking: lots of vegetables, paired with starches. They need fat, which can easily come from healthy sources such as olive oil and nuts. You also want to consider flavor profiles, and pair salt with sweet. I think of Cafe du Monde, and the non-vegan breakfast I'll have in the morning which will mix bitter chicory coffee against sweet, puffy beignets. Have you ever had pepper jelly? Sublime. Eaten a bit of bacon with your bite of blue-berry pancake? This is what I'm talking about.

Now, let me back up a minute and tell you: if you come to Iris for no other reason than to have a cocktail, you'll be hooked. To say mixologist, Alan Walter's drinks are a culinary work of art just seems silly. They are crafted. The drinks at Iris are craft. So I had two. And I would have had more, but they wouldn't fit in my belly, nor did I want a hangover.

The first libation was named Twin Span, and featured lillet blanc, chartreuse, rose, tangerine and lime. The taste was sweet and citrus, and a bit more like dessert than what I should have had before my meal. But really just as lovely as you'd imagine.

My second drink was called "Jolene." Though I know I'm not getting all the ingredients right, it consists of things like pisco (a Peruvian liqueur), cynar (an Italian liqueur, made with artichokes and many herbs), tangelo syrup and homemade pecan bitters. This, to my tongue, was a perfect cocktail. It was fresh, and had a very distinct citrus core, but the aftertaste was more like biting into an entire tangelo....peel and all. It had that bitter bite, mixed with some kind of creaminess, but not rich. It was really pretty perfect. I want it again. Soon.

Please go to New Orleans. And when you do, make your reservations and tell them you would prefer vegan fare. As long as it's not in the middle of Mardi Gras, most chefs are glad to whip something up. And I promise, you'll be so happy you did and so inspired by their new perspective.

I'm going to drift off to sleep now...with visions of river boats, street performers, and elaborate Mardi Gras masques dancing in my head. À bientôt!