Thursday, December 29, 2011

Savory French Toast (or Got My Mojo Workin')

I've really been enjoying getting back in touch with my kitchen mojo this past week or so, and the (temporary) leisure has awakened my (temporarily) dormant urge to experiment. Today's brunch/lunch was a perfect example, because it's something I've been wanting to try but for which I have had neither time nor energy: French toast that isn't sweet!

When it comes to breakfast foods, I rarely see the appeal in sugary things if there's a savory alternative. Don't get me wrong; I like a stack of pancakes with maple syrup just fine, but I'll get a whole lot more excited if those are potato pancakes or (better yet) black pepper biscuits with gravy. Every time we go to a place that does vegan brunch - of which there are increasingly numerous examples these days, thanks be to god - there's a plethora of French toast offerings featuring stuff like berry sauces, whipped cream, and (what??) chocolate chips, but there's a conspicuous lack of a savory version of this ever-popular breakfast staple. So it became apparent that if I wanted such a thing, I had to make it my own damn self.

To my knowledge, the closest non-sweet analogue is a dish served in the UK made from stale bread soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried in butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper. They call it by the refreshingly straightforward name "eggy bread," but since my version is ovum-free I've opted for "savory French toast" despite its cross-Channel spirit. The beauty of this is its versatility: we had ours with sautéed mushrooms and Hollandaise sauce (recipe below), but it would be great with asparagus, garlicky greens, roasted tomatoes, or anything you please. Then again, it would be fine served as is, or as an accompaniment to roasted potatoes, baked beans, stewed tomatoes, or tofu scramble. Bon appétit!

Savory French Toast
Ingredients
~ 1.5 cups plain soy milk
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, paprika, marjoram, dry mustard
~ A few generous grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. corn starch
~ 1 cup chickpea flour
~ 8-10 slices stale or lightly toasted baguette
~ Canola oil or cooking spray

Directions
~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the bread and whisk thoroughly. The batter doesn't have to be totally smooth, but everything should be well combined. Place two slices of the bread in the batter and let it sit for a few minutes.
~ Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray or a very thin coat of canola oil.
~ Add the soaked bread to the pan and cook on each side for about 3-5 minutes, until miraculously brown and crispy; as you cook the soaked slices, put two more in the batter to await their turn in the pan.
~ Adding more oil or cooking spray as necessary to prevent sticking, continue until all the bread is cooked, transferring the finished slices to a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven.
~ Serve hot as is, or topped with sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, leafy greens, or whatever you like. If you're feeling fancy, you might also drizzle on a nice sauce like this hollandaise (think of it as the new maple syrup).

Hollandaise Sauce
Ingredients
~ 3/4 cup raw cashews
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy (or other non-dairy) milk
~ 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, turmeric, dry mustard
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tsp. tarragon
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ Juice of 1 lemon

Directions
~ Heat the soy milk almost to boiling, add the cashews and the saffron threads, and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
~ In a food processor, combine the milk/cashew mixture, the nutritional yeast, salt, turmeric, mustard and pepper. Blend thoroughly until smooth.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat, then add the garlic and tarragon. Saute briefly before adding the flour to make a roux.
~ Raise the heat to medium, then begin gradually adding the blended milk/cashew mixture, stirring continually.
~ Cook about 5-7 minutes, continuing to stir, until heated through and thickened; if the sauce gets too thick, add a little water to thin it out to the consistency you like.
~ Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and serve hot.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Neo-Classic Green Bean Casserole

I'm baaaaack! Having successfully completed my first semester of PhD School (as we like to call it), I'm now on break for a few weeks, which allows me to feel totally justified in rattling some pots and pans. This is A Good Thing, since A. I love to cook and have really missed it, and B. Christmas dinner happens at our house. So, like this multi-tasking lady about to baste what appears to be a levitating Tofurky, I donned my pearls, cocktail dress, and festive holiday apron to reassert Absolute Sovereignty over the domestic space. (Except that my festive apron reads, "Come, woo me, woo me; for now I am in a holiday humour, and like enough to consent." It's also a full rather than half-apron, because I am a slob.)

This year's menu included maple glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, mushroom gravy, Field Roast in puff pastry, and - something new! - green bean casserole. Now, having grown up in these great United States, I could hardly have reached adulthood without being aware that many people consider this an indispensable part of a holiday meal, but it never appeared on the table when I was growing up. (Ditto for those canned sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.) In fact, until yesterday, I'd never even tasted green bean casserole because, with all due respect to the makers of Campbell's Soup, French's Fried Onion Rings, and whatever other packaged foodstuffs comprise this seasonal delicacy, it sounds kind of gross.

So obviously I had to make it, right? But what I had in mind was a sort of bionic green bean casserole. I wanted to make it better than it was: better, healthier, less...canned. I hunted around online a bit, and finally settled on two recipes as general models: one from Martha Stewart and one from someplace I've already forgotten, which doesn't really matter since I'm constitutionally incapable of following a recipe to the letter anyway. Basically I got some ideas for proportions, cooking times and temps, etc., and then made it taste the way I wanted. And guess what? The way I wanted turned out to be excellent! So excellent, in fact, that what started as a quixotic, semi-ironic twist on an American "classic" will very likely be making future appearances on my own British/Greek/Canadian holiday table. And not a can opener in sight. God bless America, and God bless us, every one! (NB that the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows will in all likelihood remain unexplored territory, because I mean damn.)

Neo-Classic Green Bean Casserole

The Filling
Ingredients
~ 2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and snapped in half
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellas)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, sage, marjoram
~ 1 tbsp. vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 2 cups mushroom gravy (homemade is always good, but Imagine brand is vegan if you can't be arsed)

Directions
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray.
~ Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes; set aside.
~ In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and the beans, return to a boil, and cook 5 minutes, until they are bright green but still retain a bit of crunch.
~ Drain the beans in a large colander and transfer immediately into the ice bath to stop them from cooking. (This is called "shocking," and I imagine it must be as applicable to the green bean experience as it is for those crazy feckers who go skinny-dipping every New Year's Day.)
~ Drain the beans again and set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the margarine and sauté the onions over medium heat about 4 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, mushrooms, the seasonings, and the Worcestershire sauce. Cook another 6 minutes or so, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid.
~ Add the flour and the nutritional yeast, stir to coat, and pour in the gravy.
~ Add the cooked green beans, combine thoroughly, and remove from heat.
~ Transfer to your prepared casserole and make:

The Topping
Ingredients
~ 1 medium onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1 cup panko crumbs
~ 1/4 cup vegan parmesan (optional, but nice)
~ 1 tsp. each: paprika, parsley

Directions
~ Toss the onions with the flour to coat.
~ In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and fry the onions in batches, turning frequently, until crisp and golden (not brown!). Remove to paper towels to drain and cool.
~ In a food processor, combine the drained, cooled onions with the remaining ingredients; pulse a few times until blended.

And now....
~ Sprinkle the topping evenly over the green bean mixture, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbling.
~ Remove the foil, raise the heat to 425 and cook another 5-10 minutes, until the topping is lightly browned. (Watch to be sure it doesn't burn.)
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest a few minutes before serving.