Sunday, October 24, 2010

Easy Peasy Green Pea Soup

#1. I'd like everyone to know that my grandmother would have been 102 today (she made it to 90). So please join me in giving it up for Beatrice (Kirby) White, who survived two world wars, raised a family through air raids, rationing, and post-war austerity, and lived long enough to have a slew of great-grandchildren, and to see England go from the days of the rag and bone man with a horse-drawn cart to the internet age. Not too shabby.

#2. I confess to stealing this soup from Nigella Lawson, with whom my grandmother had absolutely nothing in common beyond being English. That said, I have a longstanding fascination with Ms Lawson: so plummy, so self-parodically posh, so plushly...upholstered. You just have to love someone who swans around the kitchen in a cashmere cardigan, licking spoons, sticking fingers into dishes, and cooing about her luscious, voluptuous custard while managing to stay impeccably groomed. The best part is the by-now signature closing shot in which she creeps down to her darkened kitchen in some variety of slinky peignoir, and proceeds to eat cheesecake or bread pudding or cold mashed potatoes straight out of the refrigerator as the credits roll. You have to admit that the woman has style.

One rainy afternoon, home on the sofa with a miserable cold, idly channel-surfing and drinking hot lemonade with whisky (don't knock it until you've tried it), I was delighted to stumble upon Nigella Express. I happily settled in - along with Lucy the Wonder Dog, who's also a fan - to watch the Domestic Goddess dabble her perfectly-manicured digits about in whatever happened to be on the day's agenda. This particular episode was all about things that can be made quickly, including an intriguingly simple pureed soup made with frozen green peas.

My cold decided to hunker down for the week, and a few days later I gave it a whirl for lunch, albeit with some fairly significant changes. Because on closer consideration (sorry, Nigella!) the original was pretty boring, consisting as it did of water, peas, scallions, and a few tablespoons of pesto. BUT. It had definite potential, so I increased the amount of scallions, used fresh basil and parsley, subbed broth for water, and added coconut milk and a dash of hot sauce to make things more interesting. The result was delicious, quick, and easy as one could possibly desire: fifteen minutes from start to finish for fresh, hot, homemade soup! Pretty impressive, especially when one is shuffling around in pajamas and slippers in a Sudafed-induced haze.

Easy Peasy Green Pea Soup
~ 2 cups vegetable broth
~ 3 cups frozen peas
~ 3 scallions, sliced
~ 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
~ 1 tsp. kosher salt
~ Juice of one lime
~ 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
~ 1 cup coconut milk (lite or full fat; we know what Nigella would do!)
~ Shot of hot sauce, if you like

~ In a medium-sized pot, bring the vegetable broth to a boil.
~ Add the frozen peas, scallions, parsley, salt and lime juice, then cover and return to a boil.
~ Lower the hat to medium, and allow everything to - as Nigella puts it - "bubble together" for 8 minutes.
~ Remove from heat, stir in the coconut milk, basil, and hot sauce, if using. Puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender (just be careful to avoid splatters).
~ Serve hot to chase away the sniffles.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I've been making a version of these muffins since Hector was a pup; as mini-muffins, they've long been a staple of school Halloween parties and bake sales, as well as a nice treat at home. They're relatively healthy, not too sweet, and very adaptable (you can easily substitute raisins or chopped pear and/or apple for the chocolate chips, and they're every bit as good). Best of all, they taste like the very distillation of autumn, and one of the nice things about muffins is that they are fast, so you get a lot of bang for your baking buck. Whip up a batch of these early in the morning, and I guarantee your kitchen will feel - and smell! - like a much happier place, even on a school day.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
~ 1¼ cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed
~ ¼ cup canola oil
~ ¼ cup maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. blackstrap molasses
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 2 cups pureed pumpkin or winter squash (1 15 oz. can)
~ 2 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger
~ ¼ tsp. each: nutmeg, allspice
~ ½ cup chopped walnuts
~ ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (Trader Joe's and Ghirardelli's are both vegan)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and spray a nonstick muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ In a bowl or beaker, combine the soy milk, apple cider, and flax seed; whisk together for a minute or so and allow to stand for about five minutes.
~ In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and dry seasonings.
~ Add the nuts and the chocolate chips and toss to coat (this will give them some grip in the batter, so they won't sink to the bottom).
~ Add the canola oil, maple syrup, molasses, vanilla extract, and pumpkin puree to the soy milk mixture and combine thoroughly.
~ Make a well in  the center of your dry ingredients and fold in the pumpkin mixture; stir to combine.
~ Spoon the batter evenly into your prepared muffin tin and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. (Ovens vary wildly, so keep an eye on them!)
~ Allow the muffins to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool at least 10 minutes before diving in.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Freaky Harvest Lasagna

#1. Check out the date: it's 10/10/10! That only happens...well, now! Let's all take a moment to contemplate the "whoaness" of this moment in time.

Okay, that's enough.

#2. The title of this post was inspired by this seasonal classic at McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

#3. I made this freaky-ass seasonal casserole one bright, chilly October Sunday, inspired by a recipe I'd seen somewhere on the Food Network. Of course, that recipe featured eggs, butter, and several types of cheese, along with the squash. Being vegan and all, we don't use eggs or dairy, nor was there a squash in sight, but I did have a whole bunch of sweet potatoes, so I figured, "Why not?"

And I'm very glad I did, because the result was an unqualified triumph, and made enough leftovers to feed off for a few days, which is always a plus. It looks like a lot of steps, but it actually took less than two hours, because you can make the spinach ricotta and the sauce while the sweet potatoes are baking, and it's a nice way to spend an autumn afternoon. So fire up that oven and make a pan the next time you feel like hanging out for awhile in a nice warm kitchen, because guess what season it is? That's right - it's fall, bitches!

Freaky Harvest Lasagna
The Spinach Ricotta
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in boiling water at least 30 minutes
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, basil
~ 1 10 oz. package baby spinach
~ Fresh black pepper

~ Drain the cashews, combine with remaining ingredients in a food processor, and blend to a smooth, delicious paste. (Easy, wasn't it?)

The Sweet Potatoes
~ 6 large sweet potatoes, pierced with a knife
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk

~ Place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees fahrenheit for about an hour, or until soft.
~ Remove from oven, allow to cool, and remove flesh from skins.
~ In a bowl, mash the sweet potato, salt, and soy milk. Set aside.

The Sauce
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup onion, minced
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, basil, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: oregano, thyme
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ 3 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 6 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ Shot of hot sauce (optional)

~ Heat the soy milk in a beaker or saucepan until almost boiling.
~ In a large, deep skillet or pot, saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the seasonings and cook another minute or two.
~ Add the flour and stir to make a roux, Then begin adding the soy milk, abot a cup at a time, whisking until smooth with each addition.
~ Stir in the nutritional yeast and the hot sauce (if using), and continue cooking about 5 minutes more, until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon.
~ Remove from heat and set aside.

~ 12 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained according to package directions
~ 1 cup panko crumbs
~ Paprika and parsley for garnish

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit
~ Coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ Ladle about 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of the casserole and spread it around.
~ Overlap 4 sheets of lasagna in the bottom of the pan.
~ Spread half the sweet potato mixture over the noodles, followed by half the spinach ricotta and half the sauce. Cover with 4 more lasagna noodles and repeat.
~ Top with one last layer of pasta, then pour the remaining sauce over the whole shebang, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula so that it can ooze down into the layers below while it bakes.
~ Sprinkle with panko crumbs, dust with a little paprika and parsley, then cover with foil and bake 40 minutes at 400 degrees.
~ Remove foil, and bake another 15-20 minutes, until browned and beautiful.
~ Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.
~ Serve hot (ideally, surrounded with an an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables).