Monday, June 13, 2011

We're not all 'Crunchy Granolas'

I haven't posted a recipe in forever, and yes, I feel guilty! But I saw this video today and was totally enchanted and had to share. It makes me so happy to see Vegan food being prepared in such a fabulous and fun way (plus it sounds pretty yummy). It's also great proof that not everyone who is Vegan is living some kind of hippie lifestyle. People always make the assumption that if you're Vegan you can only be one way - guess again! We are EVERYWHERE! Mwahahahahahah! Enjoy the Vegan Black Metal Chef - I can't wait to try this Pad Thai!

Oh and don't forget to head-bang furiously!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chana Masala with Basmati Rice

I love, love, love Indian cuisine. Unfortunately even while Indian restaurants offer Vegetarian options, usually an entire section of the menu, they do not often have many Vegan options. Butter (ghee) is a big component in Indian cooking. What to do? Cook at home of course!

Making Indian food can seem daunting, there are complex spice and flavor components and one of the beauties of Indian cuisine is setting out a variety of dishes - a taste of this a nibble of that. When I was 13 I saw Julia Child create an Indian banquet on The French Chef and in those dark days before VCRs let alone the internet I scribbled recipes frantically as she cooked and then I attempted to recreate that amazing spread. It involved a special shopping trip to a store that carried things our suburban grocery store did not - and in fact that we'd never heard of prior to this Indian adventure. Papadums, Bombay Duck, curry powders, cardamom seeds... it was all very exciting. For some reason my parents were actually supportive of this crazed cooking endevor of mine. Possibly because I had previously made a seriously impressive cake (Gateau in a Cage) after watching Julia make it and more likely because my mother was thrilled not to be cooking.

I spent the day in the kitchen with my scribbled notes and my exotic new ingredients and presented a fantastic Indian meal which my parents actually liked! (Except for the Bombay Ducks which smelled horrible once cooked and tasted fairly awful as well - but one bad dish out of 8 or so... that's not bad).

I mention this cooking memory because while I loved doing it and the results were amazingly good - hey, I was 13, had never HAD Indian food and was working off a tv show, nobody was more shocked than me that it was edible! But it did color my thinking about making Indian food at home and in fact from then until now I think I may have made one curry... So I do understand that it can feel like Indian food is just too complex to make at home.

BUT it is not!

Today I whipped together a really respectable Chana Masala with Basmati Rice with cashew and raisins and I did it without a recipe and it took less than 30 minutes. Probably less than 20 actually. So I thought I'd share it here. Because if I can do it - so can you!

Chana Masala

1 biggish onion chopped small
1 clove garlic diced and smashed
splash of canola oil
2-3 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 small bay leaf
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 cardomom pod
2 whole cloves
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup vegetable broth (I used a Tablespoon of Better Than Broth)
sprinkle of pepper
1 can of chickpeas drained

Saute the onions in a splash of oil until they become translucent, then add garlic, spices and tomato paste. Stir frequently so the tomato paste doesn't burn - you want to cook the spices until the flavors meld - 5-10 minutes should do it. Then add the vegetable broth and chickpeas and heat through for a few more minutes. That's it. Seriously.

Basmati Rice with cashews and raisins

1 cup basmati rice
1 1/4 cup water
1 whole Clove
sprinkle of cinnamon (or a stick if you have one)
1 Cardamom pod
1/4 cup chopped raw cashews
2-3 Tablespoons golden raisins
1/4 cup peas (I used frozen)

Super easy. Put everything except the peas into a pot (you want them to stay bright). Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a slow simmer and cover pot. Set a timer for 10 minutes and check - mine was done in 10 and you don't want to burn it. Nothing more annoying than digging burnt rice out of the bottom of a pot. It's done when all the water is absorbed - the rice should be slightly al dente. Throw the peas on top, fluff rice and replace the lid until your Masala is ready.

Rice on the plate, Channa Masala on top - bit of bread if you have it handy, chutney if you like. And then pat yourself on the back for making Indian food at home - you wild International Chef you!

Something I've mentioned here before and I will continue to is that any recipe I post here is simply a guideline - and unless it specifically says don't substitute or something along those lines it should be understood that you should take the recipe and run with it. Get crazy with yer bad self and throw in things you like or have on hand. No need for a special shopping trip - be brave - be bold! What's the worse that can happen? You end up with something that smells like Bombay Duck? Then again you might end up with an amazing cake. (please excuse the poor quality of the following photos - they are scans from ancient Polaroids - just wanted to give an idea of what the Gateau in a Cage looks like)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Squash - Spaghetti Squash!

I've been on an angel hair pasta kick for months. Simply can't get enough of it. There's nothing inherently wrong with that... except that I'm not really someone who can eat all the pasta I want and not have it affect me. And by me I mean my weight. Dang those dangerous processed carbs and their yummy goodness!

To pull myself off the pasta train I decided to go to nature's own spaghetti: the awesome spaghetti squash! Of course it doesn't taste like processed pasta, but it allows you to have the same kind of mouth feel, eye appeal and it goes beautifully with things you would typically put on your pasta. What's not to love?

Spaghetti squash used to make me apprehensive because I was always afraid I'd somehow cook it wrong and mess up the strings that make it such a neat pasta alternative.

I'm no longer apprehensive.

It's really very simple to make, and once you've done it a couple of times you'll wonder why you didn't do it before.

To prepare:
Simply cut the squash in half down width-wise (if you've bought a particularly wide one that you can't cut through - you can cook it whole, it just takes a little longer). Put the two halves cut-side down into a baking pan with a couple of inches of plain water in the bottom, pop it into a 350 oven and let it bake for about 45 minutes, or until the skin pierces easily with a fork. If you're cooking it whole you want to slice into the skin in a few spots, or prick with a fork, the way you would with a baked potato.

After you remove it from the oven let it sit for a few minutes until cool enough to handle, then scoop out the innards. Some people stress that you have to flake it with a fork to get the strands to separate, which works, but don't let it worry you - I have pulled out the entire 'meat' of the squash and then separated it outside it's shell and it works just as well. Just be kind of gentle with it and you won't mush up the strands too much. Really.

Then serve it however you would serve pasta!

I did this dish with a quick tomato basil sauce. Just saute some garlic in a saucepan, throw a couple of freshly chopped tomatoes into the pot, add a bit of fresh basil, salt, pepper, some red pepper flakes if you like a little kick and cook it down for maybe 10 minutes. It's that simple. I like to throw a few pine nuts on top for a little extra protein.

The cauliflower and string-beans were VERY lightly coated with olive oil and roasted in the oven while the squash cooked.

This is my new obsession dish. I'm hoping it will keep my pasta demons at bay for at least a couple of weeks. And you know, if you have kids who aren't too fond of squash - they might discover they like it if you make it like pasta! Try it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pita Bread!

A friend of mine has a friend who has a vegan blog: Novel Eats. When he forwarded me the link to this blog the first thing I came across was a recipe for Pita. Well it NEVER occurred to me to make my own pita so I was intrigued. Vegans reading here are probably aware that it isn't always easy to find pita that is vegan, or that doesn't have a ton of preservatives, and when you do find it it's not always cheap.

Well I'm here to tell ya: make your own! It's super easy and fun!

I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here, rather I'll refer you to Novel Eats where there are detailed directions. But I will tell you that rather than bake my pitas in the oven - it's summer, a hot oven isn't something I was in the mood for today - I cooked them on a cast iron griddle on top of the stove and it worked very well.

I also used only whole wheat flour (because that's what I had) and while some comments on other blogs say that whole wheat tends not to 'puff' I didn't have any issues. They puffed, they cooked in only minutes and hello saving the money!

After they cooled I put them in a zip-lock bag... I don't think they'll last long.

Many thanks to Tom-Jim for sending me to Novel Eats!

P.S. Hummus Here and Here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Baked Ziti

I've been hankerin' for baked ziti for weeks, but just didn't have the 'oompf' to figure out how to do it. It's not something I ever made before I became vegan so while I had a vague idea of what was needed I was still sort of at a loss. Yesterday I finally got myself googling for recipes and while I found a few (hundreds of non-vegan recipes, natch) I ended up futzing with what I did find, mostly because I was in the mood to cook and not in the mood to shop so I had to make substitutions depending on what I had in the house. The 'ricotta uncheez' recipe is adapted from Kathleen's lasagna recipe on Vegweb, and while it's not white like ricotta, the texture and taste work really, really well.  I was never a big ricotta fan, but this stuff - I LOVE! 

Most baked ziti recipes are for a huge panful (9X13). Since I only had a half box of rigatoni and one jar of sauce I was forced to make a half portion. Of course, now I'm sad because it came out so good I wish I'd made a huge platter!

Baked Ziti Vegan-style

1/2 box rigatoni (if I had ziti in the house I'd have used it, but rigatoni works fine too)
1 26 oz jar Basil Marinara sauce
1/2 package Yves 'ground beef'
5 slices Tofutti Mozarella
sprinkle of vegam 'parmesan'
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Uncheez "Ricotta"

1/2 tablespoon margarine
1 block firm silken tofu, thoroughly mashed
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup soy milk
3 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise 
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon mixed seasoning such as Spike or Mrs. Dash
1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Start by boiling the pasta - take 2-3 minutes off the suggested cooking time. You want it to be al dente because it will cook more in the oven. While the pasta's cooking preheat your oven to 350 and start making the 'cheese'

In a medium saucepan melt margarine then add the mashed tofu, mix add yeast, paprika, salt, mixed seasoning, mustard and mayonnaise, mix thoroughly and saute for 3-4 min. Then add soymilk, lower heat and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pot. After 5 minutes take the pot off the heat and set aside.

For this recipe I used and 8" x 8" pan, if you're doubling the recipe you'll need the more traditional 9" x 13". Lightly grease the pan with some oil or margerine. When the pasta is done drain well and layer half of it into the pan.Top the pasta with enough tomato sauce to cover, sprinkle with about a quarter package of the Yves ground 'beef' and broken up pieces of mozzarella.If you have a shredded cheese use it - it will spread more easily. I just happened to have the slices so I used them. Then take about half the 'ricotta' you just made and layer it on top of everything. This is where I sprinkled on the red pepper flakes, but if you don't like that 'kick' you can leave them out altogether.Follow that with the remaining pasta, 'beef', sauce and more mozzarella to top it off. If you have a parmesan sprinkle - now's the time to use it.
Cover the whole thing with aluminum foil and pop it in the oven for 30-40 minutes. It will be bubbling and the cheese will be melted when it's done.
I didn't try freezing any, since I only made a couple of days worth, but traditionally baked ziti does freeze well and there's nothing here that makes me think this version would be any different.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Baklava - vegan style!

Baklava is one of those desserts that seem so intensely difficult to make that few people try. Trust me: you can do this. Working with Phyllo dough is a little intimidating at first because speed is of the essence to keep it from drying out. But really you don't have to move at lightening speed to do this - just remember to cover the dough with plastic wrap and a damp towel to keep it from drying out, stay calm and breathe!!!

There are two key ingredients that also make Baklava non-vegan 1) Butter and 2) Honey. People swear you need these to make it 'real' Baklava. Guess again. Earth Balance makes insane vegan 'butter' - the taste is all there. They even make one with olive oil now and because my local store had run out of the usual variety I use I tried the olive oil one. I figured olive oil = Mediterranean and this dessert is nothing if not Mediterranean, whether it originated in Turkey or in Greece is up for debate - but not by me! The Earth Balance worked beautifully.

Now the honey issue. Personally I like honey and I use it. I know, I know: scandal. But I would never suggest that because I have no issues with honey that it is something ALL vegans should use. NEVER. It's a personal choice. My choice is to use it. BUT I decided to make my Baklava without honey to see how it would work. It's been at least 10 years since I made Baklava so I was a little bit afraid I wasn't familiar enough with making it to fiddle with recipes, but I gave it a shot. It came out just great! And totally, completely Vegan.

So if you want to use honey, please go for it. IF you are strongly opposed to it, the following may be the answer!

Vegan Baklava
the filling
1 lbs finely chopped nuts (I used a mix of walnuts, pecans and pistachios but any nuts will do)
2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/8 t. allspice
1/4 C. sugar

the crust

1 lbs package Phyllo dough (reserve 6-8 sheets for top layer)
1 C. melted Earth Balance (you may need more or less depending on how you brush it on)

the syrup

1 C. water
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. dark Agave Syrup*
1 T. lemon juice
zest of one large lemon
2 t. Almond extract*
1 t. Vanilla extract

You will need a 9 x 12 pan (or thereabouts) that is at least 2-3 inches deep. You will also need a pastry brush.

The first thing you want to do is make the syrup so it has plenty of time to cool while the pastry is in the oven. This is where the honey usually goes and I replaced it with dark Agave syrup. *(Flavored agave syrup is showing up on the shelves, so it you find one flavored with Amaretto you don't need to use the almond extract because it's in there already.) Normally you would put in about a cup of honey, but using the agave, almond and lemon gives a 'sort of' approximation of honey flavor.

Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to a slight boil cooking until the sugar is fully dissolved. Reduce the heat and add the lemon juice, zest, Agave and extract(s). Cook over a very low heat for approximately 20 minutes until syrup begins to thicken up. Then remove from heat and allow to cool fully - you can pop it into the fridge to cool it that's fine.

Now preheat your oven to 350° and melt your 'butter'.

Prep the filling by thoroughly mixing the nuts, spices and sugar together in a large bowl. Depending on how sweet you like things you can add more sugar here or omit it entirely. Taste the syrup and see if the lemon makes it too tart for you, if it is you want to put more sugar in the nut mixture.

With a pastry brush lightly butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan. Open your package of Phyllo dough, pull out one sheet and promptly reroll the rest and/or cover with plastic and a damp towel. Take one thin sheet of dough and lay it in the bottom of the baking pan. Gently, but quickly brush the dough with melted butter. The end of the sheets of Phyllo will begin to dry out very quickly so you should start at the ends and butter 'in'. And don't worry if you miss a few spots - you don't have to butter every single centimeter. If your sheets are very large you can either cut them or save time by simply laying half over the pan, buttering it and then folding the other half over (giving you two layers of dough very quickly without having to open the towel-covered 'stash') and buttering that portion. Also do not fret if you tear a sheet here and there while buttering - it happens! It will be fine.

Repeat the layering and buttering of the dough until you have between 6-8 layers of dough on the bottom of your pan. If there are edges sticking to the sides of the pan just push them down as they happen with the edge of your pastry brush. The more 'crumpled' the dough is the more it will flake and layer when it cooks - so don't worry that you will mess it up. You won't!

Once you have the bottom layer of dough done take a couple of handsful of the nut mixture and sprinkle a VERY thin layer across the entire pan - covering all the dough. Remember you will be cutting this into small pieces and you want every piece to have full layers of nuts. Now layer another sheet of dough on top of the nut mixture (this is where some tearing can happen because of the nuts - but again - it's fine the next sheet will cover for you!) and repeat the buttering layering process until you have 2-6 layers of dough which you will top with nuts again and continue this process until you are out of nuts. For reference I only did 2-3 layers of dough between layers of nuts and as you can see in the photos that doesn't give you a really defined 'layer' look. So I would err on the side of more rather than less for the dough layers - 2 is the absolute minimum. Just be sure to reserve about 8 sheets for the final top layer of dough so that you get that nice flaky pastry top.

Once you have the top layers done you can pour any remaining 'butter' right on top of the whole dish.

Important step coming up.

You MUST, absolutely MUST cut the baklava BEFORE you put it in the oven. If you miss this step you will end up with one giant baklava and trust me, that flaky crust will not cut well once it's been baked. So please: cut before cooking! And use the sharpest knife you have.

You can cut squares or try angles for a fancier look - either way is totally fine. If it's your first time, you may want to stick to the squares/rectangles because the diamond shape can be a little tricky as the top layers of dough are going to try very hard to slip away from you. Baklava - it's a feisty dessert.

When you are cutting through make sure you go almost to the bottom of the pan but try not to completely cut the bottom layer because a) the syrup will stay IN the pastry if it has no where else to go: if you cut all the way through you'll have a layer of syrup on the bottom of your pan and while that's still fine, it's not really what you want. So cut almost all the way through (do your best). b) You will cut all the way through thoroughly after everything is done.

This is what it looks like before it goes into the oven - after you've cut it.

Same thing - just a closer look (see how some of the top layers have left their assigned seats? that's okay!)

Put the pan into the oven - top shelf if possible to avoid burning the bottom layers - for approximately 50 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown. Give it a quick look after about 30 minutes - some ovens may be quicker and you don't want it to burn after all that layering and buttering work you've just done!

There it is all golden and pretty!

Now take your cooled syrup and pour it evenly all over the top of the baklava right away while it is still hot from the oven. You may get some pops and hisses from the cool meeting the hot, but that's fine. And fun!

This is how it looks after the syrup is poured on. Shinier. Now you must let the whole thing cool fully. Leave at room temperature to do this part of the cooling and don't cover it with anything or it can get soggy. Nobody wants soggy Baklava! Crispy tops is part of the fun here.

After it's thoroughly cooled (a few hours) you can cut all all the way through and serve! However the longer you can let it sit and kind of marinate the better - so if you can wait until the next day that's good. Of course you can do a sampling - just to make sure you like it before you serve it up.... you'll like it.