Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread (or Muffins)

With ingredients like pumpkin, cornbread, maple syrup, molasses, and walnuts, it's like: how much more New Englandy could this quick-bread be? And the answer is none: none more New Englandy.

Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread (or Muffins)
~ 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
~ 1 1/4 cup cornmeal
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, marjoram, baking powder
~ Dash mace
~ 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 14 oz. can pumpkin puree (scant two cups)
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened almond or soy milk
~ 1/4 cup each: canola oil, maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. blackstrap molasses

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and coat a loaf pan (or muffin tin) with coking spray.
~ In a large bowl. sift together all of the dry ingredients, adding then walnuts last and tossing them to coat with then flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients (pumpkin through molasses).
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and fold in the pumpkin mixture. Combine thoroughly, but don't over-mix.
~ Transfer the batter to your greased pan or tin, and bake at 350 degrees fahrenheit for circa 45 minutes (20-25 for muffins), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the pan about 10 minutes before transferring to rack to cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spicy Pan-Asian-Inspired Soup

This recipe owes its inception to one of those cold, damp autumn afternoons when the temperature inside the house is nearly identical to that on the outside, but it's too early in the season - and you're too cheap - to turn on the furnace. I decided that soup was probably our best defense in the circumstances, and something complex and spicy suited my agenda better than a more western "comfort" approach like potato-leek or mushroom-barley (also excellent, but not what I was seeking).

So I basically dove into the kitchen and deployed a bit of everything from the Asian section of my spice rack: Thai flavors, Indian flavors, Chinese flavors, Vietnamese flavors, you name it. It's all in there, it's all good, and the combination will make your house smell amazing, your tummy feel happy and loved, and your nose run just enough to let you know it's working. So leave that thermostat alone for a little while longer, and warm yourself up from the inside with some soup.

Spicy Pan-Asian-Inspired Soup
~ 2 cans light coconut milk (about 4 cups)
~ 4 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1/2 tsp. saffron threads
~ 1 tsp. each: red and green Thai curry pastes
~ 1 tbsp. coconut oil
~ 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 2 fat cloves garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. grated ginger
~ 1 carrot, cut into 1/2" matchsticks
~ 1 small red bell pepper, diced
~ 1/2 lb. extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes
~ 1 tbsp. each: soy sauce, hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, garam masala, five spice powder
~ 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
~ 6 scallions, thinly sliced
~ 1/2 lb. chopped, frozen spinach, thawed

~ In a large beaker, combine the coconut milk, broth, bay leaves, saffron, and curry pastes. Microwave on high for a few minutes until hot but not boiling (you can also do this in a pot on the stove, obviously). Cover and set aside to seethe.
~ In a large pot, melt the coconut oil, add the sesame oil, and saute the garlic and ginger over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds.
~ Add the carrots and bell peppers, and cook about two minutes before adding the tofu, soy sauce, hot sauce, and dry seasonings. Stir to coat and cook another minute or two.
~ Add the mushrooms and continue cooking about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until they've given up most of their liquid.
~ Add the sliced scallions, cook for about a minute, and then pour in the coconut milk/broth mixture.
~ Cover the pot, bring just to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
~ Stir in the thawed, frozen spinach and cook 5 minutes more. Remove the bay leaves and serve hot.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin, Apple, and Walnut Muffins

My kitchen is full of apples, but not as full as it was about a week ago, when we came home from a local orchard with an enormous quantity of Golden Delicious, Cortlands, Mutsus, and Macouns. In the days since then, I've put them to use in a variety of ways both sweet and savory, including today's maximum-bang-for-your-minimum-buck standby: muffins. This version features a combination of classic seasonal signifiers, and I promise that the mere smell of them baking away in the oven will remove any lingering doubt that decorative gourd season has officially arrived.

Apples and nuts, and pumpkin cut from rind!
Bring through my lips to my awaken'd mouth
The triumph of a bakery! O Fall,
If muffins come, can pie be far behind?

Pumpkin, Apple, and Walnut Muffins
~ 2.5 cups flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 2 small, tart apples, diced
~ 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
~ 1 cup pureed pumpkin
~ 3/4 cup plain, unsweetened almond milk (or a little more)
~ 1/3 cup maple syrup
~ 1/4 cup canola oil
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 2 tsp. sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl and sift well.
~ Add the diced apple and chopped walnuts and mix well to coat them with the flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, almond milk, maple syrup, canola oil, and vanilla extract and stir until smooth.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually add the pumpkin mixture, stirring with each addition until all the ingredients are combined.
~ Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin tin, and sprinkle the tops with the sugar/cinnamon mixture.
~ Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
~ Allow the muffins to rest in the pan about for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Barley and Lentil Pilaf

I love barley. I love its chewy, nutty, homespun-tasting earthiness. I love it in bean soups, in vegetable soups, and in "meaty" stews. I love it as non-rice risotto. I love it in its greatest and noblest form: beer. And I love it as the basis for this simple and delicious pilaf, which can serve as a main course, or as a side dish in a more elaborate meal. This is one of those times when it pays to get some high-quality barley from a specialty market or health food store, because you really want to taste the grain, and old, hard, stale barley just won't cut it. I made this pilaf to accompany this dish, which I'd originally planned to serve with short grain brown rice; finding we were out of the latter, I decided to experiment with what was on hand. And I'm really glad I did, because the end result was a definite keeper, and one I'm happy to share with you here.

Barley and Lentil Pilaf
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/2 small onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
~ 1 stalk celery, diced
~ 1 small carrot, diced
~ 1.5 cups pearl barley
~ 1/2 cup brown lentils
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, Adobo seasoning
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, cumin
~ 1 large bay leaf
~ 4 cups water

~ In a medium-sized saucepan, saute the onion, celery, and carrot in the oil for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the barley, lentils, and spices, and cook another minute or two, stirring, until then barley gives off a toasty smell.
~ Pour in the water, cover the pot, and raise the heat to high. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook 25-30 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Remove the bay leaf, fluff with a fork, and serve.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tofu, Apples, and Leeks in a Gingery Cream Sauce

Today's recipe is the quintessence of autumn, and it's also one of my favorite home-cooked (by me) meals. In fact, I'm going to come clean and confess that I was so impressed with myself while eating it that I kept wriggling in my seat and making immodestly appreciative yummy sounds, because this is honestly like something you'd get in a restaurant.

There's a good reason for that, because it was loosely inspired by a dish I enjoyed at a local seafood place years ago (when I still ate ocean critters) featuring scallops, apples, and a cream sauce with maple and ginger. I love the combination of sweet and savory, and with a bushel of freshly-picked apples cluttering up the kitchen, I wanted something besides the usual pies and muffins, and decided to give this idea a shot.

And holy moly: what a success! It looks like - nay, it is - several steps, but it actually comes together pretty quickly, and if you want to use multiple pans everything can be done concurrently, aside from marinating the tofu. Even doing them all separately, I had dinner on the table about two hours after first conceiving the idea, which is relatively speedy for a meal that feels as high-concept (yet cozy) as this one. I served it with barley and lentil pilaf, which was a perfect combination of tastes and textures, but brown rice or another whole grain would also do nicely.

The Tofu
~ 1 14 oz. package tofu, drained and pressed
~ 2 tbsp. each: soy sauce, apple cider
~ 1 tbsp. each: maple syrup, canola oil
~ 1 tsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (I used Frank's)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: ground ginger, sage, garlic powder
~ Dash each: cinnamon, cayenne

~ Slice the block of tofu vertically down the middle, and then cut each half horizontally into thirds. Slice each of these in half on the diagonal so you have 12 triangular pieces. (I hope that make sense; I promise the mathy part of this enterprise is now over.)
~ Mix the remaining ingredients together and pour into a large, shallow baking dish.
~ Arrange the tofu pieces in the pan, and flip them over to coat them with the marinade. Allow to rest for at least an hour (most of the liquid will be absorbed).
~ Heat a non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and cook the tofu pieces for 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the cooked tofu to a dish and cover to keep warm.

The Leeks and Apples
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 large leeks, sliced thin
~ 2 large apples, quartered and sliced into thin crescents
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, white pepper

~ In the same skillet, melt the margarine over medium heat and cook the leeks for 2-3 minutes, stirring to break them into rings.
~ Add the apples, salt, and pepper and continue cooking 12-15 minutes, until soft and slightly browned (add a splash of water or - better yet - apple cider if it starts to stick).
~ Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.

The Ginger Cream Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. fresh, grated ginger
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, English mustard
~ Dash each: cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. maple syrup

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat and saute the ginger for about 30 seconds.
~ Add the salt, mustard, cinnamon, turmeric, flour, and about 1/4 cup of soy milk. Cook for another 30 seconds or so to make a roux.
~ Gradually add the maple syrup and the remaining soy milk, stirring constantly, and continue cooking over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until slightly thickened.
~ Remove from heat.
~ To serve, arrange the tofu and the apple-leek mixture over rice, barley, or other grain, and ladle the sauce over the whole business. YUM.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes with Spinach

Scalloped potatoes is one of those ur-comfort dishes: just the name conjures up images of a lipsticked, be-pearled, and manicured mom bustling around in an apron while dad reads the paper in his armchair and Buddy and Sis keep busy with whatever the hell Buddy and Sis do, before they're all called to the impeccably set (on a weeknight!) family table.

Of course, the reality - then as now, in all likelihood, although it wasn't necessarily reflected in popular culture - is that everyone is running in opposite directions, and the dining room table, if it even exists, is more apt to be covered in unopened mail, neglected projects, and random crap than a tablecloth, china, and silverware. In fact, there are days when mealtimes feel (and maybe even look) like this:

(I assume her martini glass is obscured by the smoke.)

But even if our daily lives bear precious little resemblance to those of the Cleavers, the Nelsons, or indeed the Huxtables (who had two careers, five kids, and an improbably tidy house), a dinner featuring scalloped potatoes makes everything seem just as it should be. My updated take on this old-school classic uses pureed cashews for creaminess and protein, with some spinach thrown in for color and a gesture towards "vegetables" without undoing that podgy vibe so important to a dish like this.

Because you know what? It's never too late to have a happy childhood, and there's no better place to start than with a great big pan of golden, bubbling carbohydrates!

Creamy Scalloped Potatoes with Spinach
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for at least an hour
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 small onion, diced
~ 1 fat clove garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh sage (1 tsp. dried)
~ ½ tsp. white pepper
~ Dash mace
~ ½ lb. frozen spinach, thawed
~ 2.5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
~ 5 large Yukon gold potatoes, sliced very thin (about 1/8” inch)
~ 1/2 cup breadcrumbs or (my recommendation) crushed Ritz crackers 

~ Grease a 9 x 13” baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the margarine and cook the onions over medium heat until quite soft, about 10 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, sage, salt, white pepper, mace, and spinach. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted.
~ In a food processor or blender, puree the drained, soaked cashews with the soy milk and the nutritional yeast until smooth.~ Add the pureed mixture to the onions and spinach, combine thoroughly, and cook about 5-7 minutes longer.
~ Ladle about a scant cup of the sauce into the bottom of your greased casserole, and line the pan with half of the potato slices, making sure they overlap without any gaps.
~  Pour half the sauce over the potatoes, and then layer the remaining potatoes over that. Pour on the rest of the sauce, smooth with a spatula, and sprinkle breadcrumbs or crushed crackers over the top.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Remove the foil, hit the topping whit a shot of cooking spray, and cook about 15 minutes longer, until browned and bubbly.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.