Saturday, June 25, 2011

Banana Raisin Muffins

Well. Today marks the first full year since my mother passed away; to say that the past twelve months have been a strange, sad, bittersweet, illuminating, mind-expanding, and soul-searching time would be to say nothing original or particularly insightful. It is enough to mark the occasion, and to reflect upon and appreciate the past, even as we look ahead to the future. So in that spirit, I give you what my mom was always so good at providing: FOOD. This is essentially my take on my mom's classic banana bread, veganized and interpreted as muffins (although you can also bake it in a loaf pan; it will just take another 15 minutes or so in the oven). To those who knew her, such an assertion might be seen as silly and/or impossible, given my mother's belief that all baked goods should include the maximum quantity of butter and/or eggs, as a matter of principle. On the other hand, I am pretty much a professional at this sort of thing by now, and I think the fact that a dozen muffins lasted less than 24 hours amongst my kids (historically, perhaps the greatest fans/consumers of my mother's banana bread) speaks for itself.

Banana Raisin Muffins

~ 2 cups all purpose flour
~ 1/2 cup brown sugar
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: baking soda, cinnamon, salt
~ 1/4 tsp. each: allspice, nutmeg
~ 3/4 cup raisins
~ 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
~ 2-3 very ripe bananas, mashed
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy (or other non-dairy) milk

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg), until thoroughly combined.
~ Add the raisins and walnuts (if using), and toss to coat with the flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, mix together the bananas, oil, applesauce, and milk.
~ Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add the wet ingredients.
~ Combine thoroughly, the spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.
~ Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baked Pasta Florentine

Cassio: I humbly thank you for't.
I never knew a Florentine (pasta)
More kind and honest.
~ Othello, 3.1.43-45

While it is true that - in this particular case - "Florentine" is really just a fancy way of saying "with spinach," the fact remains that this casserole is not only kind and honest, but delicious and filling; it was the perfect dinner on a recent, unseasonably cold and rainy evening. Of course, " vouch this is no proof, Without more wider and more overt test," so you'll want to try it out for yourself. But it's very sobering to think of the tragedy that might have been avoided, if Desdemona had spent less time listening to Iago and more time thinking about pasta!

The dinner made, the meal is to ensue;
That pasta's yet to come 'tween me and you.
(Good night.)

Baked Pasta Florentine

~ 1 lb. pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions (I used fusilli)
~ 1 cup raw cashews
~ 2 cups vegetable broth
~ 2-3 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 large onion, diced fine
~ 1 tsp. each: paprika, marjoram, onion powder, dried mustard
~ 1/2 tsp. salt (optional, depending on how salty your broth is; I use Better Than Bouillon, and don't add any salt)
~ 1/2 tsp. turmeric
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ 1 tbsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. each: Marmite, hot sauce
~ 1 cup nutritional yeast
~ 3 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 16 oz. package chopped, frozen spinach
~ 1/2 - 3/4 cup panko crumbs
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance, melted
~ 1 tsp. paprika

~ Bring the vegetable broth to a boil, then add the cashews, cover, and allow to soak for at least an hour. After they have cooled, puree the cashews and broth in a food processor until completely smooth. Set aside.
~ In a large, deep pot, melt the margarine and saute the onion over medium heat until very soft, about 10 minutes, being careful not to let them brown.
~ Add the dried seasonings, mustard, Worcestershire, Marmite, and hot sauce.
~ Pour in the pureed cashew mixture, then gradually begin adding the nutritional yeast, stirring constantly.
~ Add the soy milk, and continue cooking about 7-10 minutes more, until the sauce has thickened a bit.
~ Stir in the chopped, frozen spinach, and combine thoroughly. Cook another few minutes, until the spinach has wilted and become incorporated into the sauce.
~ Remove from heat and mix the sauce with the cooked pasta.
~ Coat a 9 x 12" casserole with cooking spray, and fill with the pasta mixture.
~ In a small bowl, combine the panko, melted Earth Balance, and paprika. Sprinkle this mixture over the pasta, cover the casserole with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 425, and bake another 10 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Egyptian-Style Red Lentil Soup

Cleopatra: Give me some music; music, the moody food
Of us that trade in love.
Or about some soup? Soup, the tasty food
Of us that feed on lentils.
~ Antony and Cleopatra, 5.1.1-4 (sort of)

Okay, I added that last part. But that's what she might have said, because even the serpent of old Nile must occasionally have fed herself with something other than delicious poison. And what could be more welcome at the end of a long day of intrigue, seduction, and spectacular barge outings than a hot, nourishing bowl of soup? This one was inspired by the version served at Zooroona, an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant in Kalamazoo, MI (where we frequently attend the annual Medieval Congress), and I have to admit that I pretty much nailed it on the first try. Unlike most lentil soups, this one is pureed until mostly smooth, and the usual earthy flavors are brightened with fresh parsley and lemon juice, making for a hearty but surprisingly light repast. Or as Enobarbus might have put it,

...other soups cloy
The appetites they feed: but this makes hungry
Where most it satisfies.

So the next time you have immortal longings in you, forget about ordering that basket of asps and whip up a batch of this fine Egyptian cookery instead. That way, you shall have the fame - minus the unsightly snakebites - and a damn fine dinner, too!

Egyptian-Style Red Lentil Soup

~ 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onion
~ 1 cup each: diced celery, carrot
~ 1 large potato, cubed
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tsp. each: cumin, dill
~ 1 tsp. each: sweet paprika, smoked paprika
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, turmeric
~ 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
~ A few grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 2 cups red lentils
~ 1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley
~ 4 cups chopped, fresh baby spinach (or 1/2 lb. frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
~ 8 cups vegetable broth (I recommend Better Than Bouillon's "No Chicken" flavor)
~ 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 2 tsp. za'atar
~ Extra parsley and lemon wedges to serve (optional)

~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oil and saute the onions, celery, carrots, and potato over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and the dry seasonings, and cook another minute or two.
~ Stir in the lentils and the broth, and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour (stirring occasionally), until all the ingredients are very soft.
~ Add the baby spinach and fresh parsley and cook until just wilted.
~ Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the lemon juice and za'atar and puree with an immersion blender until mostly (but not totally) smooth. If it looks too thick, add a little water until you have the consistency you want.
~ Reheat the soup and serve hot with a sprinkle of parsley and lemon wedges. (A few glasses of "the juice of Egypt's grape" wouldn't come amiss, either; you know Cleopatra would have wanted it that way!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Banana Blueberry Pancakes

These sweet, fluffy pancakes are not only an excellent use of the overripe bananas that always seem to accumulate at this time of year, but a perfect summer breakfast (especially if you get up and make them early, before it gets too hot to eat anything). I'm pretty generous with the blueberries, but you can adjust the amount to your own taste. Served with Earth Balance and maple syrup, a stack of these babies is guaranteed to satisfy all of your hungry piggies, big and small.

Banana Blueberry Pancakes
~ 1.5 cups all purpose flour
~ 2 tbsp. corn starch
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, cinnamon
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ 2 very ripe bananas, mashed until smooth
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy (or other non-dairy) milk
~ 2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and stemmed

~ Preheat the oven to 200 degrees fahrenheit and place a nonstick baking sheet inside.
~ In a large bowl, sift together the flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the bananas, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and milk.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add the wet mixture, and stir to combine. (If the batter looks too thick, you can add up to about another 1/2 cup soy milk to thin it.)
~ Coat a skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat.
~ Add the batter by large spoonfuls (I usually do just one at a time). As the pancake begins to set around the edges, sprinkle a handful of blueberries into the batter. When the surface begins to bubble, flip the pancake and cook another minute or two on the other side. Remove the cooked pancake to the baking sheet in your warm oven and continue until the batter and blueberries are used up (you may have some extra berries left over).
~ Serve hot with Earth Balance, maple syrup, and maybe those extra blueberries.

Friday, June 3, 2011

(Not Elvis Presley's) Memphis BBQ Tofu

Sorry to have been such an infrequent poster lately; things have been busy, and thus not super-conducive to blogging. I have been cooking, but we've had a bunch of parties, graduations, and cookouts to attend, so it's mostly been garden variety, crowd-feeding stuff like pasta and/or grain salads that get thrown together with no thought of measuring, quantifying, or other types of rationalization. But today I have an actual recipe, and it's a pretty good one, too: a sort of happy mash-up of Vegan Dad's Memphis BBQ Tofu and my own Sweet & Spicy Tempeh Wings, improved by the addition of some whisky.

Now, I realize that there may be some who find a certain degree of incongruity in the idea of a Memphis-inspired "dry rub" for pressed bean curd, but I feel constrained to point out that A. it's really more a flavorful coating than a "rub," per se, to be applied before the tofu gets pan-seared, doused in smoky, boozy sauce, and baked until sticky and delicious; B. my version includes nutritional yeast, which confers upon it unimpeachable hippie street cred; and C. it's totally pig-friendly, which is more than can be said for more "traditional" renditions. So fire up the stove, crack open the Jim Beam, and let's cook us some tofu!

The Tofu
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1 tsp. each: smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper
~ Oil or cooking spray

~ Slice the tofu in half horizontally, then divide into eight equal slices (this should give you 16 pieces). Pat dry.
~ In a shallow dish, combine all the dry ingredients, then coat each piece of tofu thoroughly with the mixture. Set aside for at least 30 minutes (I made the sauce during this time).
~ Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and coat with cooking spray or a very thin layer of oil. Cook the tofu for about two minutes on each side, until you get a nice sear on the outside. Remove to a plate.

The Sauce
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 medium onion, chopped fine
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: smoked paprika, chili powder,
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 2-3 tsp. hot sauce (or to taste)
~ 1 tbsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1/3 cup maple syrup
~ 1/3 cup ketchup
~ 1/4 cup bourbon

~ In a saucepan, heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until softened.
~ Add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and raise the heat to medium until the mixture bubbles.
~ Reduce the heat to low and cook another 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened (if it gets too thick, you can add up to 1/2 cup of water, but remember we want a coating for the tofu, rather than a lake for it swim in).

And now...
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a baking dish with cooking spray.
~ Arrange the fried tofu pieces in the baking dish, and then pour on the sauce, flipping them over to coat.
~ Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, turning the tofu over once or twice to make sure the sauce gets cooked on. Ovens vary, so keep an eye on it; it's okay if the sauce gets ever so slightly charred around the edges, but you don't want it to burn.
~ Serve hot with the accompaniments of your choice. (We had ours with mac & cheeze and creamed spinach, for that old-school, south of the Mason-Dixon vibe: highly recommended!)