Friday, December 24, 2010

Latkefest 2010 - Vegan Latkes Three Ways

I saw a latke recipe a couple of days ago (from The Girlie Girl Army; you can find the original here), and thought, well, I've got some time tonight...

Using that basic recipe as a base, I came up with some non-traditional latkes that use this classic Hanukkah treat as an inspiration, but are made to take more of a starring role in a meal. Here's what I came up with:  

Apple-Parsnip Latkes with Ginger Spread
Bubble-and-Squeak Latkes with Beer Mustard
Horseradish Jicama Latkes with Applesauce

Instructions are at the very bottom, with ingredient lists under each title. I hope you all enjoy these... they are the first original recipes I've included, so I'll appreciate your feedback. I tend to cook by sight and feel (and smell!), so I wrote the recipes after making the latkes, but I'm pretty confident in the proportions. Still, if things start to look funny to you, go with your gut and adjust amounts as you think is best. Enjoy!

Apple-Parsnip Latkes with Ginger Spread

3 potatoes, grated and drained
1 apple, grated and drained
1 medium to large parsnip, grated and drained
1/4 c. grated onion, drained
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt

Serve with a ginger spread or jam - the one by The Ginger People is my favorite.

Bubble-and-Squeak Latkes with Beer Mustard

3 potatoes, grated and drained
1/4 of one small cabbage, chopped finely
1 small white onion, grated and drained
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt

Serve with a pub-style beer mustard, though avoid using too much, as it will overpower the latkes. As a bit of background, Bubble and Squeak is a British dish with a base of potatoes and cabbage, traditionally prepared with leftover vegetables from a roast. Click on the link above for the Wikipedia entry...

Horseradish-Jicama Latkes with Applesauce

3 potatoes, grated and drained
1 medium jicama bulb, peeled, grated and drained
4 tsp. freshly grated horseradish
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt

Serve with an unsweetened applesauce.

For each of these recipes, get as much water out as possible from the grated ingredients. Heat a thin layer of canola oil to between medium and medium-high in a cast-iron pan (I tried first in a stainless pan, and the latkes adhered instantly, leaving me literally stabbing them with a spatula and chanting "Die! Die! Die!").

Form your latke mix into little patties, and place several quickly into you pan. You'll need to have plenty of room to scoot them around in the pan - I did about 5 at a time. As soon as you've got them all in the pan, push them around with the spatula to make sure they don't stick. Doing this as soon as possible seems to be key to keeping them from sticking, though continue to move them periodically as they fry. Keep an eye on them and flip them when they are browned, usually after several minutes. Replenish the oil as needed, but make sure that it gets back up to the right temperature before you put in the next batch. When they're done, drain them on paper towels. Keep them in a warm oven (about 275) if you need to as you finish the batch. Serve hot.

I was talking to a friend at work today about these, and he said, "I wonder how little Jewish grandmothers would feel about vegan latkes?" I hope they'd like the idea, since leftovers could be served with either a meat or dairy kosher meal... At any rate, they're delicious, and who complains about good food?

For other latke recipes and info, visit the Foodista page on latkes, linked below...


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mexican Chocolate Christmas Cupcakes

I'm not much of a dessert person, but I bought Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World recently for someone for Christmas, and I dipped in to it a little myself and got slightly carried away. Cupcakes are kind of enchanting - small, sweet, self contained, prettily decorated, promising just enough indulgence - and I went a little crazy. I made marzipan poinsettias to top them and gave them to friends for Christmas.

I started with a recipe from Vegan Cupcakes, and after several test batches, here is my adjusted recipe for Mexican Chocolate Cupcakes:

1 c. coconut milk
1 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
1 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. canola oil
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp corn flour (like Maseca Masa flour that you can buy at your local Mexican store)
1/4 c. almond meal
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. ground cinnamon, depending on how much you like
1/8 tsp ground cayenne (or more, if you like - I don't know that I'd exceed 1/4 tsp., but I haven't tried that much yet)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin pan with cupcake liners. Whisk together coconut milk and flaxseed, allow to sit for 10 minutes. In another bowl, sift together all-purpose flour, corn flour, almond meal, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne. (You can make the almond meal yourself to save some money - just drop almonds into boiling water, then pull them out after about a minute and drop them into ice water, then pull them out after a minute. The skins should pop right off - then dry them well and grind them in a food processor or spice grinder. Presto - almond meal). Whisk sugar, oil and vanilla into coconut milk mixture. Gently add wet ingredients to dry. When blended, fill each cupcake liner to 3/4 c. full, then bake 22-25 minutes. After you put the cupcakes in, don't even open the oven until at least 22 minutes have passed, then test for done-ness. Cool completely before icing.

Icing (this is genuinely impressive - the heft and richness is fabulous):

1-12.3 oz package of extra-firm silken aseptic tofu (like Mori-Nu)
1/4 c. plain (full-fat unsweetened) soymilk
2 Tbsp. agave or maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-12 oz package of semisweet chocolate chips

Crumble tofu into blender, add soymilk, agave and vanilla. Puree until completely smooth, set aside. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler, cool 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chocolate to tofu and blend until combined, then transfer to a covered container and chill 1 hour.

I like cake better than icing in general, so I just spread the icing on top of the cupcakes, and using that amount, the above recipe will ice well over 2 dozen cupcakes. If you were piping the icing on to the cupcakes with a pastry bag, it wouldn't go quite as far, but I still think that you could get almost 2 dozen.

If you wanted to make the marzipan poinsettias, you'll need marzipan, red food coloring (gel works well - it makes less of a mess and adds less liquid), and pearl or silver dagrees. Cut off however much marzipan seems appropriate to you, then cut it into smaller pieces (just to make it easier to mix in the food coloring). Squirt some food coloring over the marzipan, and knead it in. Roll the marzipan into a log, then divide into 12 pieces, or however many cupcakes you have. Take one piece, and divide it into 6 little pieces. Roll each piece into a teardrop shape, then squish into a flat petal shape. As you make your petals, transfer them to a piece of wax paper so that they don't stick to anything while you work with them and assemble your poinsettias. Use a toothpick to put a line down the middle of each petal. Once you have 6 little petals, take 3 and arrange them into a trefoil shape, pressing their fat ends together a little. You can also use a q-tip to wet the ends to help them stick together. Next, carefully press the remaining 3 petals on top of your base, with each new petal pointing in between the two below it. At this point it may be particularly helpful to wet the part of the underside of the petal that will be touching the petals below it. Once your poinsettia is assembled, gently wet the center of each flower with your q-tip and place some dagrees (however many look best to you) in the center. Press each in to the marzipan gently with the end of a toothpick. Store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Canadian Vegan Thanksgiving

My best friend comes from a family who thinks her eating habits (she's vegetarian and studying nutrition) are bizarre and, frankly, not to be trusted. She has to deal with comments like, "So you won't eat chicken broth? You're really going to be that strict?" all the time, and it makes me sad. She's been such a major influence on my own decisions about food that I hate to see her go through that, and it makes me really grateful to have a family that is so understanding (and who love her like she's their own, too). Her husband is vegetarian also, and his family struggles with it as well, so the three of us invented Canadian Vegetarian Thanksgiving last year, and this year we went vegan.

Canadian Thanksgiving takes place on the second Monday in October, making it the first holiday on my fall calendar. Each year, we've gotten together to plan our menu in advance, then prepared the meal in their tiny kitchen with only minimal bumping in to each other. This year was a great success, and we even timed it well enough to have all the food out at one time.

Canadian Vegan Thanksgiving Menu

Cornbread dressing
Mushroom gravy
Sauteed yellow squash and zucchini
Spicy butternut squash soup

Cranberry sauce
Tempeh-pate-stuffed mushrooms
"Grit-Style Tofu" from The Grit Restaurant Cookbook

Grit-Style Tofu
This is a great way to quickly prepare savory, filling tofu, so here's a non-copyright-violating version - heat a little bit of oil in a large pan (not huge, but larger than you need for the amount of tofu you're using). Saute chunks of extra-firm tofu until golden brown, turning often. Sprinkle lightly with soy sauce (I tried tamari once, but it is very strong and I wouldn't suggest it for this recipe), then saute some more. Remove from pan, drain excess liquid, wipe out pan, and start process again. Make sure the oil is very hot before you add the tofu, then saute a second time until well browned, turning often. Sprinkle with a little more soy sauce, to taste, then begin to sprinkle nutritional yeast, turning the tofu, until it's as coated as you want it. Serve hot.

Incidentally, the tofu goes really well with gravy - though, in all fairness, there's very little that doesn't. There are hundreds of great vegan gravy recipes out there, from soy-sauce-based brown gravies to flour-based white gravies. Both are good, but I'm more of a white gravy person. I like to start by toasting flour in a dry pan and working my way by taste from there. Mushroom broth is a great addition, though it's hard to make enough of it from your standard package of dried wild mushrooms. I'm sure canned veggie broth would work well, but I love the mushroom flavor. Black pepper works well with mushrooms, and a standard Thanksgiving herb combo like rosemary-sage-thyme is classic. Nutritional yeast will add richness, as will plain soy milk (even 'original' flavored ones taste too much like vanilla for me, so keep an eye out for plain).

The stuffed mushrooms were a major success, and you can find the recipe for them in my Aug. 29th blog. I made them again for real Thanksgiving, as well as citrus collard greens with golden raisins and roasted Sweet Potatoes Anna, a variation on Pommes Anna, in the French tradition - though, without the traditional copper pan and fancy heavy lid to flip the potatoes, mine never made it into the solid cake form that is the goal. Click on the link above for a recipe that doesn't require the crazy pan - it's not vegan but, you know, just substitute Earth Balance or some other vegan margarine. The ingredients are incredibly simple, but the magic is in the technique.

One thing I really love about French cuisine is how much effort they'll put into a single dish - the best type of potato with the correct amount of firmness, the appropriate type of butter - you have to respect a culture so passionate about food that someone invented a kind of pan solely for Pommes Anna - one that can be flipped repeatedly in the oven to help the potato slices form a solid cake. While I have been known to tirade against appliances that can only be used for one thing (Electric jar opener? Really?), when it comes to the Pommes Anna pan, I'm amazed at the pure devotion of it. A more accessible example is the crepe pan, which has shallow sides which make it easier to flip and remove a crepe without tearing it. One excellent excuse for buying a crepe pan is the versatility of crepes themselves - but more on that later.

Next up, Mexican Chocolate first foray into desserts. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Emily's Bachelor Pad Chili Pasta Bowl

I work in a restaurant, and while it isn't the most exciting, challenging, or stable employment, it has its benefits. One of the major ones is that I get to revel in other people's creativity. Our daily specials are created to feature local produce and often pull components from other cuisines - wonderful sauces, from the classic French buerre blanc to the North African chermoula to Greek tzatziki - paired with local squash, house-made falafel, fried green tomatoes, or anything that sounds good to Robert, the creator of our specials. Working with someone so knowledgeable (he recently told me where to find pumpkin noodles) and with such good taste has taught me so much, and if nothing else, I've learned you can put any damn thing on a pizza. Even chili. Even pasta.

But it's not just those of us working in the culinary industry who like to experiment with food; every once in a while I serve someone who comes up with something really interesting to order. The other day, we were serving chili, and an older woman who had come in with her son and his girlfriend asked me timidly if there was any way we could put some of the chili on some pasta....and I thought, yes! Why didn't I think of that?

I did, technically, but not because I was being inventive like she was. A couple of months ago, I found tofu shirataki noodles at the store, and bought them out of morbid curiosity about their strange texture. I  was never very motivated to eat them until one day when I was home from work with nothing to eat and quite hungry. I am very bad at waiting to prepare food when I'm hungry, and I often end up eating a course of triscuits dipped in vegenaise while I make dinner, but that night I used my big-girl willpower and looked through my kitchen to see what I had to make. I had noodles, and I had one freezer-burned veggie burger, and some tomato paste, and it just grew into something beautiful

Emily's Bachelor Pad Chili Pasta

Just wing it with the measurements...

Shirataki noodles
Left-over veggie burger(s)
Chopped red pepper
Chopped tomato
Chopped onion
Tomato paste
Balsamic vinegar
Bragg's liquid aminos or soy sauce
Liquid smoke
Olive oil

Drain the noodles and set aside. Put a little oil in a saucepan and begin to saute the onion and pepper. Turn down the heat and add the veggie burger and cook, breaking it up as you go. Add olive oil, tomato paste, and some water, and mix slowly. Add balsamic vinegar, Bragg's, liquid smoke, and tabasco to taste and mix, cooking down, and continue to break veggie burger up to the right consistency. Add water if needed to reach the right consistency. Toss with noodles and consume with gusto.

As a side-note, a little sauteed tempeh sprinkled with soy sauce works nicely if you don't have a left-over freezer-burned veggie burger. Tempeh is also a great addition to Cajun-style bean and rice.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What do you feed someone you need to impress?

Recently, my brother brought his girlfriend home for a visit. We'd met her before, but I hadn't really had a chance to get to know her at all. I wanted to make her feel welcome, so I decided to prepare a late lunch for all of us on Sunday out of a new cookbook I'd just gotten, The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook by Tanya Petrovna. I selected a tempeh pâté, a caesar salad, and "Le Benedict Florentine" sandwiches. I never made it to the salad, because I got so wrapped up making the sandwiches, which were very labor-intensive for the output. In between marinating and baking tofu, preparing the Hollandaise, steaming asparagus, and frying the fake canadian bacon, I prepared the pâté, which turned out to be the real star of the meal.


Tempeh Pâté from The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook by Tanya Petrovna (paraphrased)

1 8-oz block of tempeh, cut into about 8 pieces

Combine:   1/3 c. soy sauce or liquid aminos
                  2/3 c. water
                  1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger (you can keep a ginger root in your freezer for use any time)
                  1 clove garlic, chopped

Saute tempeh pieces in a little bit of oil until brown, turning until browned on all sides. When they are finished cooking, pour soy sauce mixture over them and let it simmer for a couple of minutes, turning so that the tempeh pieces absorb the mixture evenly. Pull them out, drain if needed, then chop as finely as possible. Then, combine with:
                        1/4 c. vegenaisse
                        1/2 c. chopped green onions
                        1/2 c. chopped dill (dried is fine, too - probably about 1-2 tsp?)
                        1/4 tsp. sea salt
Mix with a spatula; then, if you want a smoother texture, blend with a stick mixer or food processor.

One delightful thing to do with this pâté is to make little puff pastries, or "French Love Bites" as they are charmingly named in The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook. I made those for brunch this morning along with the plain pâte, and both were completely devoured. Even the most conservative eater in the group grudgingly came back for seconds and thirds.

And yes, my brother's girlfriend loved it, too.

I have a little bit of history with stuffed mushrooms. When I was in high school, I worked for a caterer, and when there were left-over crab-stuffed mushrooms, I would pop those babies like candy. Later, on a first date, I ordered stuffed mushrooms that were bathed in some heavenly sauce, and I was so enraptured that my date suggested I "get a room." Suffice it to say, I have high standards when it comes to this particular dish. I used the leftovers of my last batch to make a sample batch of stuffed mushrooms. I had some baby portobello caps laying around, and I wiped them (I'm sure you all know this, but don't wash mushrooms...ever....which is why it's good to buy organic ones. Just wipe them down with a towel) and removed the stems, then chopped and sauteed the stems with garlic and olive oil, then added them to the pâté with some homemade bread crumbs to bind, then stuffed the mushrooms and baked them in an oiled pan for 15ish minutes at 375ish... and they were miraculous. I ate THEM ALL. Well, I gave one to my roommate, but I ate the rest. Don't judge.I'm sure there are lots of delicious ways you could tweak this recipe to stuff mushrooms, puff pastry, etc. No doubt substituting sage and rosemary would be delicious with a higher concentration of bread crumbs (fresher bread, rougher cut); I would even like to try something with some snap, like a bit of olive or caper. The richness of the pate should balance even relatively strong flavors with moderate to high acidity, but I'll report back when I've tried that.

Moving on, the "Le Benedict Florentine" sandwiches worked out well. Some credit for that belongs to my dad, who is quite a good baker, and I used thick, toasted pieces of his rich white bread to anchor this mix of textures. One problem I had was that the marinade for the tofu was too strong, or I marinated for too long, or just cooked it for too long (at such low temperatures, the tofu never changes consistency, but just absorbs more marinade and releases more water, distilling the flavor). The sandwich is composed of lemon-garlic marinated tofu, Hollandaise, steamed spinach or asparagus (asparagus! asparagus! It's so much more dramatic looking and holds up so well), fake canadian bacon, tomato, and some nice sturdy bread. Of all these, the only one worth reporting to you is the Hollandaise.

Hollandaise Sauce from The Native Foods Restaurant Cookbook (paraphrased)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 c. soymilk (plain, unsweetened)
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. turmeric
pinch white pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
cornstarch, arrowroot, or kuzu for thickening (more on this later...)

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute shallots until translucent and lightly browned. Put shallots in a blender with 1/2 c. of the soymilk and blend well. Pour back into the pan and whisk in other ingredients, except for your chosen thickening agent. Mix 1 Tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot with 1/4 c. water, then add little by little, stirring until thickened.

The only problem that I had with this recipe was that I tried to use the same amount of arrowroot as the recipe required of kuzu, which was too much, giving my Hollandaise a slightly jelly-like consistency. Take it easy with the thickener, add gradually, stirring consistently. Then drizzle over something delicious and serve hot. I'll be on the hunt for more uses for this classic tangy-creamy sauce, and I'd appreciate your thoughts...

Tempeh Pate

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Polenta-Crusted Tofu with Balsamic Caper Pan Sauce

The first recipe I chose from Gourmet was Polenta-Crusted Chicken with Balsamic Caper Pan Sauce, from the January 2009 issue.

Here's my version (not including corrections; this is exactly as I tried it, as close as possible to the original):

Egg substitute, equivalent to 2 eggs
1/2 c. polenta (preferably quick-cooking)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 lb. extra-firm tofu (drained)
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. water
3 Tbsp. capers
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. butter substitute
1 lb. escarole, torn into bite-sized pieces

Blend egg substitute (prepare according to box if a powdered kind) with 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine polenta, flour, and another 1/2 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Dip tofu in liquid, let drip, and then coat in polenta mixture. Heat vegetable oil and 1/3 c. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Cook tofu in batches, turning once, until golden, and set aside loosely covered. Pour off oil and wipe skillet. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, water, capers, sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt and briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and swirl in butter substitute. Toss escarole with about half the sauce, and serve remaining sauce on side of tofu. Gourmet suggests serving with mashed potatoes, and I bet they're right.

And the verdict...

Selected purely because I already had some polenta I've been wanting to use, this certainly wasn't an inspired choice. I substituted tofu for the original chicken and made some other minor substitutions, but nothing that should significantly affect the overall flavors of the dish. It worked out fine, but wasn't amazing. Still, I think the issues it had could be resolved... I wanted to use seitan instead of tofu, but the store didn't have any. I did buy wheat gluten so I could make some myself, though - I'll chronicle that adventure soon. I ended up with a locally produced fine-herb flavored tofu, which was dense and relatively dry, and I thought it would work well in the place of chicken. The dryness turned out to be a good thing, and I'd worry that anything too wet would prevent the breading from adhering properly. The herb flavors were blah, but didn't cause any trouble; the major problem was tofu was completely unsalted, lacking any savoriness (umami...what a great word) to balance the richness of the oil. I'd like to try breading only the flat surfaces and pan-frying them in a great deal less oil, just sort of sear them, to prevent the breading and the tofu from absorbing as much oil as possible.

I couldn't find escarole, so I substituted curly endive, which added a nice texture. Escarole, Belgian endive, and curly endive are closely related, so you should be able to use whichever one you like the look of best. I bet, if you use Belgian endive (which has such a lovely shape) you could very lightly saute them in the pan with the sauce rather than tossing them with it.

Other than the tofu, the only things I had to change were egg substitute for eggs (to bind the crust to the tofu) and butter substitute for butter - by far, the best I've found is Earth Balance.

I think I'll try again with home-made (and seasoned!) seitan, and I will definitely go easy on the balsamic; it was a little overwhelming. I have weakness for sauces, and I tend to use every drop I can get - but if you make this, do your damndest to resist that urge. A light-to-medium coating on the escarole will be better.

This would be a good breading to use elsewhere - it's very crunchy and with a solid black-peppery flavor, and the texture of polenta is an interesting alternative to flakier breading.

One final note - don't freak out when you add the tomato past to the oil - I was convinced I'd done something wrong when I realized I was basically frying tomato paste. After you break it up a bit, it helps to tilt the pan so that all the oil and the tomato paste drip to the bottom, then swish a whisk back and forth through it to blend. Go easy, though, and be careful of the hot oil!

Side-note: my spell-check is convinced that I meant to type "polecat" instead of "polenta".

That would be a very different kind of recipe.

Let me know what you think, what you would change, how you would make it better!

Polenta Info

Escarole on FoodistaEscarole

Friday, August 6, 2010

Who is The Vegan Home Chef?

Is The Vegan Home Chef too pretentious a name for a blog? I wanted something that seemed respectful of food, and something aspirational. I am not The Vegan Home Chef, but I'd like to be... I'm a good cook, but I have two 'real' jobs and a small business, and it takes some determination for me to plan and execute a great meal. I have some good fallback recipes that I use a lot, but cooking is one of my favorite things, and I should be prioritizing the things I love in what free time I have.

I have an idea for a project, inspired by the loss Gourmet magazine, a truly great publication. I unintentionally become a collector of old issues of Gourmet when I found a full year (I think it was 2005) carefully preserved at a yard sale in the parking lot of a church. They were in perfect condition, and it felt a little obscene to see them sitting there on the pavement curling in the heat, and so I paid my $2 and brought them home. At a library sale recently I bought 2009 (minus one month) for about the same amount, and a collection was born.

My goal is to work my way through issues of Gourmet and adapt recipes to be vegan. It will be a challenge, because, God help me, Ruth Reichl et. al do love a stick of unsalted butter and some prosciutto di Parma, but it will be my tribute to the great palates behind one of my favorite magazines. The other is Oxford American. You should check it out.