Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cheezy Baked Breakfast Potatoes

This is basically a veganization of the old-school potatoes au gratin many of us grew up eating. It's quite amazingly "cheesy," and made an excellent brunch on a lazy Sunday. 

Cheezy Baked Breakfast Potatoes
~ 6 medium potatoes, sliced in very thin rounds (about 1/8" if you can manage it)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced 
~ 1 large yellow onion, diced
~ 2-3 tbsp.oil or margarine
~ Salt and pepper
~ 1 tsp. marjoram
~ 3/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1 3/4-2 cups plain, unsweetened nondairy milk
~ 1 tsp. chili powder
~ 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
~ Paprika for garnish   

~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit, and grease a baking dish or casserole.
~ In a beaker, whisk together the nutritional yeast, milk, and chili powder, and set aside.
~ In a skillet, sauté the onion and leeks in the oil over medium heat until softened (about 5-7 minutes).
~ Layer half of the potato slices in the bottom of the greased baking dish, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of marjoram.
~ Layer the onion/leek mixture on top of the potatoes, and sprinkle on 1/4 cup of fresh parsley. 
~ Pour half of the nooch/milk mixture over the whole business, then layer on the remaining potatoes, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, the other 1/2 tsp. of marjoram, and a few more grinds of salt and pepper.
~ Cover with the remaining nooch/milk mixture, dot with a tbsp. of margarine, sprinkle with paprika, and bake uncovered at 450 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour,  or until the potatoes are tender and the sauce is bubbling, browned, and lovely. Serve hot.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

These are the sort of old-fashioned, straightforward blueberry muffins that one would like to find in the kitchen upon arising, nestled cozily in a wicker basket atop a gingham-draped table. This is particularly true right now, in the bleak midwinter. When the wind is whistling around the house, and the snow is piled up to unprecedented heights, a little taste of summer can go a long way towards reassuring us that the ice will melt, the grass will reappear, and summer will come again. (Right?)

Blueberry Muffins
~ 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
~ 1 cup plain rice milk
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
~ 1 tsp. vanilla
~  The zest of 1 lemon (or 1/2 tsp. lemon extract, if you prefer)
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 2.5 cups flour
~ 4 tsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ 2 cups blueberries

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large beaker, combine the first 7 ingredients (sugar through vinegar), and mix thoroughly.
~ In a separate bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients, then add the blueberries and give them a good stir around to give them some grip in the batter.
~ Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix with a rubber spatula until combined; don't overmix or your muffins will be tough!
~ Spoon the batter into prepared muffin tins; you want each cup to be nearly full (I got 15 muffins from this recipe, but your mileage may vary).
~ Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. Eat warm or at room temperature, with jam, margarine, or all by themselves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

MacGyver Risotto

I'm calling this MacGyver risotto because it started out as one of those "I haven't been shopping in almost two weeks and am down to some wilting asparagus, a cup and a half of rice, and a handful of other stuff" meals. 

Fortunately, the rice was Arborio, and a quick Google led me to a recipe for asparagus risotto that looked like just the thing; all I had to do was eliminate the parmesan cheese, and sub margarine for the butter. I also added some extra seasonings, and threw in a handful of frozen peas towards the end to make things more interesting. 

I think the key to this dish's success is to cook and puree some of the vegetables at the beginning, then add them to the risotto in the last few minutes; this had the effect of suffusing the whole with the essence of asparagusness. (Next time, I'm planning to try it with roasted red peppers. You could also stir in a little fresh lemon juice if you like; I didn't happen to have any on hand.) 

Anyway, once the eight remaining carrots were roasted, and the half head of leftover kale sauteed with some garlic, we wound up with an excellent dinner. And I didn't have to use a single paper clip!

MacGyver Risotto
~ 1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1/2" pieces
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk (or broth)
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1.5 cups arborio rice
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. basil
~ 1/2 tsp. tarragon
~ A few good grinds of black pepper
~ 3/4 cup white wine
~ 4-6 cups vegetable broth (I'm currently all about the Better Than Bouillon "No Chicken" flavor)
~ 4 large scallions, chopped
~ 1/2 cup frozen green peas

~ Steam half the asparagus pieces until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water, then place the cooked asparagus in a food processor, add the soy milk and nutritional yeast, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
~ Put the broth in a medium saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer. 
~ In a large, deep, nonstick skillet over medium heat, combine the oil and 1 tablespoon of the margarine. Add the garlic and cook about one minute.
~ Add the rice, basil, tarragon, and black pepper; cook, stirring, until glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. 
~ Add the white wine, stir, and let the liquid bubble away; now add the salt.
~ Begin adding the warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring continually. Each time the stock has just about evaporated, add another 1/2 cup.(NB someone should be bringing you glasses of wine/refreshing your cocktail during this part of the process.)
~ After about 15 minutes, add the remaining asparagus pieces and the scallions,  continuing to add stock as necessary. 
~ In about 5 minutes, taste the rice; it should be tender, but still have a bit of texture or "bite." (It could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage.)
~ Stir in the frozen peas and the asparagus/soy milk/nooch puree, and cook another minute or so.
~ Remove from heat, and stir in the remaining 1 tbsp. margarine. Stir briskly, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

O, You Beautiful Dal

Oh, you beautiful dal, you great big beautiful dal.
Let me put some rice about you; 

I don't want to eat without you... 

This is one of the best dals I have ever made, which is sayin' summat. It came about in the ordinary, organic fashion - i.e. based on what was already in the kitchen - but I'm glad I took the trouble to jot things down during the process, because the finished product was so good that it will certainly be appearing again. (In fact, it's got "company food" written all over it, so future dinner guests: start getting excited!)

Chana Dal with Kale and Coconut
~ 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 tbsp. panch phoran 
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin seeds, black mustard seeds
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 heaping tbsp. each: minced garlic, freshly grated ginger
~ 1 tsp. each: chat masala, cumin, fenugreek, chili powder, salt 
~ ½ tsp. turmeric
~ 2 large carrots, sliced lengthwise and then into half-moons
~ 1 10 oz package mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups)
~ 1.5 cups chana dal (yellow split peas)
~ 1-2 dried red chili peppers, chopped fine 
~ 1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
~ 1 14 oz. can regular coconut milk
~ 1.5 cups water
~ 1 smallish head of kale, chopped 
~ ½ - ¾ cup fresh, chopped cilantro (optional, but awesome)

~ In a colander or sieve, rinse and pick over the dal, then place in a bowl and cover with cold water; allow to soak for at least an hour (the longer the better).
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat and and toast the panch phoran, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds until they begin to splutter and pop (about 1-2 minutes; you might want to cover the pot for this part).
~ Add the onions and cook about 3-4 minutes, until softened.
~ Add the garlic, ginger, and dry seasonings; saute for another minute or so.
~ Stir in the carrots and mushrooms, and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Drain the chana dal, then add it to the pot along with the chopped red chilis. Stir to combine, and cook another 2 minutes 
~ Pour in the coconut milk and 1.5 cups of water; cover the pot, and bring to a boil.
~ Reduce heat to low, crack the lid a few inches, and cook for 50-60 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so to prevent sticking. (If it looks thicker than you'd like, you can add a little extra water, but remember that we're not making soup!)
~ Add the chopped kale and cook for another 10 minutes.
~ Stir in the fresh cilantro, taste for seasoning, and serve hot over basmati rice.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gobi Manchurian

Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
Mark Twain
You can say a lot of things about cauliflower (no, really, you can!): it's nutritious, versatile, and loaded with fiber. One word that might not spring immediately to mind, however, is "exciting." This may have something to do with its complexion, which is admittedly rather pale and wan in comparison to its more popular cruciferous cousin, broccoli. It may also have something to do with memories of childhood dinners in which it featured as a bland, overcooked, mushy white mass, adorned with nothing more than a little butter and salt. I confess that the only presentation for which my youthful self could summon any enthusiasm was in a cheesy casserole, where the vegetable was smothered in a thick, creamy sauce, topped with breadcrumbs, and baked. (And even then, I preferred it when prepared with - you guessed it - broccoli.)
It was only when I was introduced to the wonderful world of Indian food that the scales fell from my eyes and cauliflower's many possibilities became apparent. Roasted, as part of a curry, fried as pakoras, or encased in a dosa, this former wallflower becomes something else entirely, and today's recipe is a case in point. If we agree with the esteemed Mr. Clemens that cauliflower has been to college, then this is what it looks like after it's been to graduate school (and rocked it). 

Technically speaking, Gobi Manchurian is not so much an Indian dish as an example of "Indian Chinese" cooking: the adaptation and appropriation of Chinese seasonings and techniques to suite Indian tastes (and available ingredients). The boffins at Wikipedia tell us that this hybrid cuisine was  developed by Chinese immigrants living in Calcutta, and that this particular dish is "entirely a creation of Chinese restaurants in India, and bears little resemblance to traditional Chinese cuisine. It is said to have been invented in 1975 by Nelson Wang; Wang described his invention process as starting from the basic ingredients of an Indian dish, namely chopped garlic, ginger, and green chilis, but next, instead of adding garam masala, he put in soy sauce instead." 

All I can say for certain is that this the best use I have ever found for cauliflower - including Mom's cheesy casserole - and I think you will agree. My one and only complaint was that it disappeared all too quickly: a fault which can be easily remedied by doubling the recipe. So what are you waiting for? Eat your educated cabbage; it's good for you!

Gobi Manchurian
The Cauliflower
~ 1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
~ 1/3 cup chickpea flour
~ 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1/3 cup corn starch
~ 1 tsp. garlic powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: chili powder, cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 1/2 cup water
~ Canola oil for frying

~ In a bowl, sift together the flours and all the dry seasonings.
~ Add the soy sauce and water and mix to make a batter.
~ Cook the cauliflower pieces in salted, boiling water for about 3-4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, then pat dry and set aside.
~ In a deep frying pan or wok, heat about 1 inch of oil  over medium-high heat.
~ Working in batches, dip the cauliflower pieces in the batter, then fry until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. As each batch is cooked, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
~ Now that all the cauliflower has been fried, you can make...

The Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped fine
~ 1 heaping tbsp. each:  minced garlic, freshly grated ginger
~ 3 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 2 tsp. hot sauce (or to taste)
~ 1/2 cup tomato paste
~ 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 1 cup water

~ Drain all but about a tablespoon of the oil from the wok, and sauté the onion over medium-high until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and ginger, and cook another minute or two.
~ Stir in the soy sauce, hot sauce, tomato paste and sesame oil; combine thoroughly and cook for about a minute.
~ Gradually add the water, stirring constantly, and continue to simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning (you might want a little more hot sauce).
~ Return the fried cauliflower to the wok and stir into the sauce; cook another minute or two to make sure it's all coated and everything is hot. Serve immediately, as a first course, a side dish, or all on its beautiful own on a bed of fluffy rice; if you like, you can sprinkle on a little extra grated ginger and/or chopped cilantro for garnish.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Timpano, or "Mambo Vegetaliano"

This quixotic enterprise began with a conversation about "the best food movies," which included Babette's Feast, Eat Drink Man Woman, Ratatouille, and Like Water for Chocolate. But no such list would be complete without Big Night, featuring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci as Italian immigrants running a small Jersey Shore restaurant in the 1950s. (The brothers are named Primo and Secundo,  and the restaurant is called "Paradise," but I'll refrain from drawing any Dante or Milton-related parallels. Go watch the film; then we can talk!) 

I won't spoil things by giving  away the whole plot, but suffice to say that food - its quality, preparation, and the vast number of things it evokes and represents - sits squarely at its emotional center. The climax is a huge, elaborate dinner party prepared in anticipation of the restaurant's most famous guest, Louis Prima, from whom a word of praise could save the brothers' struggling business and their shot at the American Dream. 

Among the multiple courses prepared for this feast is Timpano di Maccheroni, an outrageously baroque concoction named for its resemblance to a drum (if you hadn't already figured that out). The dish consists of multiple layers of pasta, sauce, sausage, meatballs, and cheese, encased in a pastry dome and baked. (Full disclosure: one traditional recipe also features sliced hard-boiled eggs, but that would have made me gag even as an omnivore so we're going to forget all about it.)

While we were discussing the film, it occurred to me that a veganized timpano might be an excellent project for a snowbound afternoon. We've had no shortage of those in central Massachusetts, so an occasion presented itself almost immediately. I did a little research, laid in supplies, and lo: within a few hours, the daunting task was accomplished. 

Making this dish was huge fun, although I should warn you that even with the help of numerous shortcuts (Primo makes his own pasta, sausage, and meatballs - from meat), it was not an endeavor for the faint of heart. Which is to say that if you want to make one, you should probably clear the afternoon. I'll also note that this post takes the prize for the greatest number and volume of meat and dairy analogues in a single recipe, since I'm generally a whole foods kinda girl.

Of course, the results were pretty spectacular, and now that I've done it once, I'm going to plan a whole party around the next one. Think cocktail dresses, skinny ties, Louis Prima on the hi-fi, Campari and soda aperitifs, extravagant antipasti, and gallons of Chianti. Because as Secundo's sleazebag frenemy Pascal so succinctly puts it, "You must bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you! HEY!"

Timpano di Maccheroni
~ 4 cups all purpose flour
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 6 tbsp. very cold margarine or shortening
~ Prepared egg replacer for 4 eggs
~ 1/2 cup ice water

~ In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and margarine or shortening; mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.
~ Add the egg replacer and enough of the ice water to make a soft dough.
~ Knead for a minute or two, then wrap in plastic and set aside in the refrigerate.

Red Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup diced onions
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped mushrooms
~ 4 good handfuls baby spinach, chopped fine
~ 1 tsp. oregano
~ 3 cups marinara sauce, prepared or homemade

~ In a large, deep skillet, sate the onions, garlic, and mushrooms in the oil over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the spinach and oregano and stir until just wilted.
~ Add the marinara and cook another few minutes. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

White Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup each: vegan parmesannutritional yeast
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, basil
~ Pinch nutmeg
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1.5 cups vegetable stock (I used mushroom broth from soaking dried porcini)

~ Combine the soy milk and broth, and bring to nearly boiling in the microwave.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat, then add the flour and stir to make a roux
~ Raise the heat to medium, and gradually begin adding the heated milk/broth mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
~ Add the vegan parm, nooch, salt, basil, and nutmeg. Continue cooking another 5 minutes or so, until slightly thickened. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

~ 1 lb. penne or ziti, cooked and drained according to package directions
~ 1 12 oz. package vegan meatballs, baked according to package directions 
~ 3 vegan Italian sausages, cubed and browned in a little oil
~ 2 cups grated, vegan mozzarella
~ 1 cup vegan parmesan
~ A large, oven safe bowl, generously greased
~ Extra red sauce, for serving (optional)

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Mix 2/3 of the cooked pasta with the red sauce, and the remaining pasta with the white sauce, and set aside.
~ On a large, floured board, roll out the dough into a large, very thin circle (I'm talking about an absolute maximum 1/8" thickness; thinner, if you can manage it. In the film, Primo gets it practically translucent; maybe next time. There should be enough pastry to fill the oiled bowl, with sufficient overlap to cover the top completely. You will probably have some extra, but no worries - just snip it off and discard. Better to have too much than not enough!)
~ Place half the red-sauced pasta in the bottom of the dough-lined bowl, and press down gently but firmly with the flat of your hands. 
~ Arrange half of the cooked meatballs and half of the sausage on top of the pasta, press down again, then sprinkle on 1 cup of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the vegan parmesan.
~ Make a layer of the white-sauced pasta layer, then top with the remaining meatballs, sausage, mozzarella, and parm, pressing down with each layer.
~ Finish with the remaining red-sauced pasta, then press down on the whole mess with your dainty little hands one last time.
~ Fold the overhanging dough over the top and seal. You might want to dampen your fingers a little to do this; you don't want your timpano to leak.
~ Place the bowl on a baking sheet, and cook at 350 degrees for an hour, until the dough is lightly browned and firm to the touch.
~ Remove the bowl from the oven, and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.
~ Cover the top of the timpano with a large platter, and very carefully invert the whole business. Say a little prayer, and then gently remove the bowl from the beauteous, golden dome. Allow the timpano to rest another 15-20 minutes or so.
~ With a long, sharp knife, slice like a pie into individual portions. 
~ Please note that this dish is so ridiculously dense and filling that a simple green salad is really all the accompaniment you could conceivably need to make this The Most Outrageous Italian Meal Ever. That said, you can serve some extra marinara at the table if you like, and a glass or two of Chianti wouldn't come amiss, either.

Ecce timpano!