Saturday, November 27, 2010

Carrots, Cranberries, and Blueberry Beer

I have so much about which to write! Without further hesitation or introduction, the recap of our our blessedly bountiful Thanksgiving menu:

Cardamom Bread
Seitan "Turkey" and Rice Dressing with Portabella Mushrooms
Mushroom Herb Gravy
Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans with Walnut-Cherry Vinaigrette
Classic Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Sauce with Blueberry Lager
Pecan Pie
Sweet Potato Pie

Each year, our Thanksgiving menu gathers together a balance of traditional dishes, the ones we always know will be on our family's Thanksgiving table, and the new dishes that delight in the opportunity to experiment for the festive occasion at hand. When I took over the majority of the family cooking duties as a young teenager, our Thanksgiving menu became very Irish. I'm not entirely sure why my passion for Ireland fixated so intensely upon Thanksgiving, but for the majority of my latter childhood, soda bread and "sunshine" mashed carrots and parsnips graced our table holiday. I put leeks and cabbage in the mashed potatoes, and gazed longingly at the velvet hills and rocky cliffs in my Irish cookbooks as my mother patiently arranged the table setting and remarkably said not a word despite our total lack of Irish heritage.

To this day, carrots and parsnips are mandatory on our Thanksgiving menu. Just this year, though, I allowed myself to modify our adopted Irish Thanksgiving tradition just a bit, when I read of a roasted carrots and parsnips recipe in Cooks Illustrated. The dish turned out incredibly, of course - everything Cooks Illustrated creates is flawless, and all vegetables simply become 100% better when they're roasted. Oh yes, and the recipe contains rosemary, too, which is my favorite herb - and always readily available thanks to The Giant Rosemary Bush presiding over our back garden. The prep is a breeze, simply entailing slicing the root veggies into strips (there are somewhat terrifyingly detailed directions in the Cooks Illustrated magazine on exactly how to achieve the proper-sized slices, but I'm not quite as fussy as the Test Kitchen recipe authors, and was content with simply making slices of uniform size), tossing with a bit of herby-butter, and into the oven to caramelize into roasted perfection.

One recipe I always create anew for Thanksgiving is cranberry sauce. Each year my mother fixes a blessedly enormous batch of classic whole-berry cranberry sauce, which our entire family adores, and I set out to make the most unusual cranberry sauce/relish/chutney I can concoct. This year, I made one with beer. Anyone who's attempted to count the number of versions of beer bread I've posted over the years can attest to my fondness for inserting beer into any sort of foodstuff. Including cranberry sauce!

Because holidays are a time for traditions... and for giving heartfelt thanks for the bounty in our pantry, which allows us to create delicious new experiments too!

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Rosemary

(Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, November 2010)

1 lb parsnips
1 lb baby-cut carrots
4 T SmartBalance Light or butter, melted
1 T finely minced fresh rosemary

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
~ Slice the parsnips into approximately the same size pieces as the baby carrots. If any of the baby carrots are especially huge, slice them in half length-wise.
~ In a large bowl, toss the parsnips and carrots with the melted SmartBalance Light (or butter) and the rosemary. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
~ Scatter the carrots and parsnips in a single layer across a large baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with aluminum foil, sealing the edges well.
~ Bake, covered, for 15 minutes.
~ Remove the aluminum foil covering, and bake for another 15 minutes.
~ Stir gently, and bake for 15 more minutes - until the veggies are very tender and golden brown around the edges.
~ Serve warm!

Cranberry Sauce with Blueberry Lager

(Adapted from Cooking Light November 2010)

12 oz Wild Blue blueberry Lager
1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
12 oz fresh cranberries

~ Bring the blueberry lager to a boil in a medium saucepan.
~ Stir in the sugar, orange zest, and cranberries, and adjust the heat to a simmer.
~ Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened but the cranberries are still somewhat intact - approx 15 to 18 minutes.
~ Transfer the mixture to the fridge, and serve chilled!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pan-Searing in the Mountains

Where have I been the past few days? We just spent the most romantic, magical, relaxing, dreamy, rejuvenating (OK, I'll cease with the adjectives already) getaway weekend at a cabin in the mountains!

Each morning we rose early, donned scarves and gloves against the chill wind, and hiked up mountains!

Feeling invigorated, invincible, and wholly alive, we returned to our cabin each afternoon to soothe pleasantly sore muscles in the hot tub, snuggle on the porch, and gaze across the awe-inspiring views.

And we cooked, of course, with the kind of joy that comes with knowing for one rare moment one has nowhere to rush off to, no pressing chore, just the peaceful pleasure of chopping vegetables and turning a saute-pan in the most Zen-like setting imaginable...

And with the surprising pleasure of just a few seasoning ingredients on hand, we turned out the most fabulous pan-seared tofu-steaks and pork chops, paired with the simplest of dipping sauces...

Pan-Seared Tofu-Steaks and Pork Chops

2/3 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup almond milk
1 T lemon-pepper seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb boneless pork chops OR 1 lb firm tofu
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup low fat canola or olive oil mayo
1/4 cup sweet Thai chili sauce
Hot sauce

~ Place 1/3 cup cornstarch in a shallow dish.
~ In another shallow dish, stir together the remaining 1/3 cup cornstarch with the breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.
~ In a shallow bowl, stir together the almond milk, lemon-pepper seasoning, and garlic.
~ If you're using the pork, cut 1/16" cross hatches into the surface of the pork chops on both sides. If you're using the tofu, press it dry and cut down the long side into 1" thick slices.
~ One slice/chop at a time, dredge the pork or tofu in the cornstarch, then dip in the almond-milk mixture until well coated, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture, patting off any excess. Transfer the slices/chops to a baking sheet, and allow them to sit for 10 minutes.
~ While they're sitting, make the dipping sauce - whisk together the mayo, sweet Thai chili sauce, and hot sauce to taste.
~ In a large skillet over a medium-high setting, heat the canola oil, then sear the pork chops or tofu - 3 to 5 minutes on each side for the pork, and 3 minutes on each side for the tofu.
~ Serve immediately, passing the sauce on the side!

May the magic of the mountains always be with us...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cake Batter Cookies

Daylight savings time has arrived (quite some time ago now, yes, but I'm still in the process of recovering). Like many people, I drive to work in the morning surrounded by solid darkness 365 days of the year, regardless of imposed time changes, and at this fateful time of the year I now begin driving home at night under a blackened sky as well. For the remainder of the winter, for 5 days out of the week, I will be largely unable to see the sun. It is perhaps understandable, then, that I anticipate daylight savings time with all the enthusiasm of an impending arrest warrant.

Unable to protest by hibernating, I plan on baking with great enthusiasm. Baking has a remarkable ability, I find, to chase away any sort of chill or gloom with the cozy scents of rising yeast and warming cinnamon. Not just desserts, of course - healthful goods of all sorts shall emerge from our kitchen this Fall and Winter. I anticipate becoming best of friends with with yeast and spending quite a bit of quality time with the ground flax seeds always inhabiting our pantry. Cornmeal, quinoa, graham flour - the possibilities abound for whole grains to frolic in our mixing bowls as the moon shines through our windows during the coming months. Yet, one certainly cannot neglect desserts, either... For when your amazing friend and guest-blogger Kathleen and her boyfriend Paul reveal to you the secrets of cake batter cookies - cookies with the light, fluffy texture of miniature cake clouds - you rush into the kitchen and begin baking immediately...

Cake Batter Cookies

3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 + 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup light, nonhydrogenated vegan margarine (such as SmartBalance Light)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 T olive oil
1 cup miniature chocolate chips (dark, 60% cacao ones if you can find them)

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Stir together the self-rising flour, all-purpose flour, and turbinado sugar, and set aside.
~ Melt the vegan marg, and set aside to cool to room temp
~ Wisk together the melted vegan marg, beaten eggs, vanilla, and olive oil until well combined.
~ Stir in the flour mixture until just combined. If it seems too wet and loose, you may need to add a little extra self-rising flour, depending on the humidity of your climate.
~ Fold in the mini chocolate chips.
~ Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes - until the cookies are just set. Allow them to cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Enjoy, perhaps with a bit of vanilla ice cream? Or perhaps some cake batter ice cream... ;-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pepper Steak/Tempeh with Mushrooms

Last week I attended a doctor's appointment in the depths of central downtown Atlanta, and on my way home I was fortunate enough to drive right by my favorite International market, which also happens to be Atlanta's largest international market and most certainly the biggest international market I've ever visited! Darkness was drawing close and I was racing traffic, so I just had time to venture through the produce section (with a couple of additional detours, of course), but this was certainly sufficient to leave me tingling with the thrill of discovery and fairly bouncing with joy over my selections.

After all, how could one not be overjoyed when presented with two pounds of mushrooms for only two dollars??!!

And just look at the size of this gorgeous squash! I can only imagine how large the entire squash must have measured, and I'm quite grateful that someone had the forethought to partition it into portions already beautifully poised for households (rather than, say, entire dormitories).

And then, oh my, oh my, five pounds of black rice!! A new study from researchers at LSU found that the bran in whole grain black rice contains similar levels of antioxidants as blueberries! Fascinating! We've been trying to purchase more black rice lately, but it's alarmingly expensive and usually sold in only small packages. At the international market, however, I found this wonderfully mammoth bag for only $2 a pound! Hooray! Whole grain rice is an almost daily staple in our house, so this was a celebrated find indeed!

Finally, to continue with the rice theme, red rice ale from Japan! It is somewhat amusing how surprised and delighted we were to discover that red rice ale tastes very much like, surprise, rice!

Fast-forwarding to the present, I worked this weekend and Zach had to drive an 8 hour round trip to Alabama and back in one day, so when Saturday night arrived we found ourselves slightly less energized than usual. We toyed with the idea of going out to dinner, but we had two pounds of mushrooms in the fridge...

Hence, a very simple, very peaceful supper.

When you have two pounds of mushrooms, in all their perfection, calling out you to create something, to make art from art, how could one possibly go out to dinner?

Pepper Steak/Tempeh with Mushrooms

1 lb sirloin steak, cut into 1/4X2" thin slices OR 1 lb tempeh, cut into 1/2x2" strips
1 large green pepper, thinly sliced
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 lb button mushrooms, quartered
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 T dried cilantro
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
5 T Hoisin sauce
Low-sodium soy sauce
1 cup dry black rice, cooked according to package directions

~ Season the steak or tempeh to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
~ In a large skillet over medium-high heat, stir-fry the peppers in the sesame oil for 3 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and garlic, and stir-fry for 3 more minutes - until they are tender and begin to release moisture.
~ Add the steak or tempeh and continue to stir-fry until browned (and, in the case of the steak, until it's browned but still pink in the center)
~ Add the green onion and cilantro, and stir-fry for 1 more minute.
~ Reduce the heat to medium, and stir in the Sriracha sauce and Hoisin sauce just until everything has blended and heated through. Season to taste with a small splash or two of soy sauce, and fresh ground pepper.
~ Served warm, over the black rice!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tofu Breakfast Casserole

Some weekdays Zach and I awaken early to sit down to breakfast together, and those mornings have an extra warmth that lasts the entire work-day, filled with the memory of our sleepy chatter and giggled morning stories over eggs and whole wheat toast, or perhaps muffins and fruit salad. On yet other days the need for extra sleep prevails, and Zach might have a smoothie while knotting his tie and I'll pack Greek yogurt and a banana to nibble in the car while navigating morning traffic. Some mornings idealized, some mornings simply realism, but both always shared, always blessedly nourished. The day always catapulted into existence with the simple meal known as breakfast.

Tofu Breakfast Casserole

(Adapted from Elise's Simply Recipes)

4 1/2 cups cubed whole wheat bread
1 lb Morningstar Farms "sausage style" tofu crumbles (found in the frozen section of the grocery)
2 cups shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
10 eggs, beaten
3 cups 2% milk
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9X13" baking pan with cooking spray.
~ Scatter the bread cubes across the bottom of the baking pan.
~ Spread the "sausage style" tofu crumbles over the bread cubes.
~ Scatter the cheese over the tofu and breadcrumbs.
~ Whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, salt, and garlic powder. Pour the egg mixture over the other ingredients already in the baking pan.
~ Bake the casserole for 1 hour, then tent with foil and serve while still nice and hot!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Creamy Carrot Soup

For years, I've been telling myself life is simple. Repeatedly, like a mantra, I would mentally allow my consciousness to echo the belief that life is straightforward, I was just confounding it all somehow.

I've come to believe this is nonsense. Life is complicated. Life comes with bills, overflowing toilets, traffic jams, rude strangers who yell at you inexplicably in the grocery check-out line, more bills, dirty laundry of both the literal and metaphorical sort, cats who have reactions to their annual vaccines, and cars with gear-shift systems that choose to fail at the precise moment you're navigating rush-hour. And this is just if you're fortunate enough to have a toilet and a car. The possibilities for further challenges abound.

And suddenly, in in accepting that life is complicated, I've found comfort, and a measure of peace in my tiny, blessed space. All I have to do is mop up the flood in the upstairs bathroom, wash my hands, and fix the most perfect, most perfectly simple carrot soup.

Life is complicated. Fleeting moments of simplicity, are, well, delicious.

Creamy Carrot Soup

(Adapted from Heidi's 101 Cookbooks)

1 T olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced
3 cloves garlic
3 cups vegetable broth, plus a little more if needed
1 1/2 pounds carrots, cut into 1" pieces
1/4 cup half and half
4 tsp of your favorite Pesto, either homemade or purchased

~ In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute the leeks and garlic until the leeks are limp and translucent.
~ Add the broth and carrots, cover the soup pot, and simmer until the carrots are tender. I've made this soup several times, and I usually let it simmer for at least an hour and a half to let the flavors meld nicely.
~ Season to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Using an immersion blender or a food processor, puree the soup until smooth.
~ Reduce the heat to low, stir in the half and half, and heat through again gently.
~ To serve, ladle the soup into 4 bowls and garnish each bowl with a teaspoon of pesto in the center!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ghosts in the Pasta!

This is the dish of which I'm most proud from our Halloween menu, an adaptation of a Bon Appetit recipe from this years' restaurant issue.

Complex without being overly fussy, with a tantalizing variety of textures and a playful lilt to the technique, it's just the sort of dish to prepare for a dinner party, looking posh while sauteing with one hand while sipping your favorite microbrew or glass of wine via the other, making witty conversation amidst it all. At least that's the goal. I can't exactly vouch for the panache of my saute technique, or the sharpness of my wit at the precise moment I was adding butter to a sauce, but I freely confess my pride in this dish - simple, nuanced, textured, light, luxurious. As for the fact that I took a Bon Appetit restaurant dish and dared to adapt it, change it, meld it, alter it in not such subtle ways, well, I like to think of my decision not as hubris but rather as a humble desire for endless exploration... Into the depths of pasta we go.

Ghost Shrimp are Invading the Pasta... aka Penne with Shrimp, Basil, and Parmesan (Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2010)

6 oz calamari
6 oz scallops
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
14 oz whole wheat penne
6 T olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 oz vegetable broth
2/3 cup peas
4 T butter, divided
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup loosely packed shaved Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided
Finely minced fresh basil, for garnish

~ Finely chop the calamari and scallops in the food processor, then set the mixture aside in the fridge.
~ Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain well, rinse with cold water, drain well again, toss with just a little bit of olive oil, return to the cooking pot, cover, and set aside.
~ Heat 5 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper, and saute until the onion is tender but not yet browned. Add the chopped calamari and scallop mixture and stir until just opaque - about 2 minutes. Add the broth and peas, and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in 3 T butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and set aside.
~ Melt the remaining T butter and T olive oil in another skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute until just opaque - approx. 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
~ In the large pasta-cooking pot still containing the pasta, fold in the calamari sauce mixture, the cooked shrimp, and marinara sauce. Heat gently until warmed through. Fold in the Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and basil, just until the mozzarella has melted.
~ Serve warm, garnished with a bit more finely minced basil!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Graveyard Mud Dip and Tombstone Bread

Saturday night we threw a little Pre-Halloween Party with our wonderful friends Emily and Aaron, complete with a Halloween-Themed menu of which I'm rather proud... :-)

Many toasts were made with excellent Belgian Trappist beer, many rounds of Jenga were played,

and despite the counter-intuitive combination record tower heights were reached, and a grand time was had by all!

In an ideal world, I imagine I would prepare holiday recipes twice, both to test them ahead of time and in order to be able to blog about them before the occasion arrives, such that my fellow bloggers might be able to peruse the recipes when thinking of their own holiday menus, but as I always read my blogger friends' archives when looking for holiday recipes anyway... and I can't imagine a universe in which I possessed enough free time to cook for Halloween in the weeks preceding Halloween, I have to remain satisfied with an enthusiastic recap each year. Starting with... our appetizer course and bread! The bread, naturally, was a variation on the beloved beer bread recipe taught to us by Susan of Farmgirl Fare, and was such a success that it was served alongside the soup, salad, and main course... all to follow soon! :-)

Graveyard Mud... aka Wild Rice and Re-fried Bean Dip

1/2 cup wild rice
1 cup vegetable broth
2 cups homemade (un)re-fried beans (I highly recommend making the beans well ahead of time)
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
Minced chives
Baked corn chips

~ In a covered saucepan over low heat, simmer the wild rice in the 1 cup of vegetable broth until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
~ Increase the heat to medium-low, stir in the (un)re-fried beans and 1/4 cup vegetable broth, and stir until heated through, adding an additional 1/4 cup vegetable broth if the mixture feels to thick.
~ Remove from the heat, and stir in the shredded cheddar cheese until melted.
~ Garnish with the minced chives and serve warm, with the baked corn chips!

Tombstone Bread... aka Whole Wheat Beer Bread with Onion and Sesame

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 T raw turbinado sugar
1 T baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup minced dehydrated onion
1/2 cup sesame seeds
12 oz beer (I used Trader Joe's Simpler Times Lager)
2 oz water

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9X5" loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ Stir together the two flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, dehydrated onion, and sesame seeds in a large bowl.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and stir in the beer and water until just combined.
~ Transfer the dough to the loaf pan, and bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm, with butter or herbed olive oil!