Monday, February 25, 2008

Height Eats' Immunity Soup

This was a sickly weekend, which is why I put down more than one post. My daughter and I were both sick, and my husband was going by the name Florence N. As such, I decided he should make me the immunity soup from Heights Eats. We did make a few changes. I had read about Chickpea Noodle Soup in the Veganomicon, so we added pureed chickpeas. We also added turnips and parsley root. As with Heights Eats, we had no astralagus root. (Go to their post for a discussion of this ingredient) Finally, we didn't use salt, but instead added salt preserved Meyer lemon (1-2 tsp). The soup was delicious, and I do feel a little better today, so panacea it might be.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sweet Potato Waffles

Belle was under the weather; it is starting to be her hobby. She wasn’t very hungry all day, so I finally enticed her to eat by making third generation sweet potato waffles. They are third generation in that the recipe originated in Vegan with Vengeance and was then updated by Spice Island Vegan and then I made it but changed it—took out the margarine and then only used 2 t brown sugar. The result was savory and yummy. Topped them with cream cheese and almond butter. They were a dinner treat for a sicky.

nami-nami Beef Stew

I have a new resolution—even if I don’t have time for a long-winded post, I will write up something quick—just so I can get the dish up. So, while I would like to write about how enticing the culture of Finland seems (at least through movies) or about how Bar Cento moved me to cook with beer, I really just need to go to sleep. But, I wanted to post this meal—Finnish beer stew. The original recipe was eaten in a fantastically romantic setting. (Read the original post from nami-nami.) Ours was eaten while watching Anthony Bourdain in Jamaica—that part was a little jarring. We decided to use tiny potatoes as we had them and we added carrots. Great recipe, thanks nami-nami.

An Embarassment of Glasses: A Beer Paired Meal at Bar Cento

I hate to drive. More accurately, I love to be driven. As such, my husband is always the designated driver, which is severely unfair because I don’t really drink much either. (This really makes me seem like a terrible date, huh?) So, when I read about Chef Sawyer’s Beer Dinner, I knew it would be a great topsy-turvy night. It was a 7 course food and beer pairing event.
It was held in the back room that connects Bier Markt to Bar Cento. Its wood paneling, track lighting, and deep red flowery rugs give the feel of a den, which served the masculine menu well. The appertivo was a beautiful sour champagne (Cantillon Kriek)—beautiful for both its taste and color. I love sour, citrus, lemon, sweet tarts, pickles, vinegar…so the appertivo was up my alley. But, for my husband, he couldn’t taste any flavor but sour.
Then the pairings began with pretzels and popcorn. My only complaints were that I wished there were more of each and I wished that the pretzels were on the table when we arrived. Cheeky chef Sawyer left tubes of Thomy mustard on the table for the customer to apply at will. I really could have eaten the whole tube. (In fact, my husband entertained stealing it, but as I had introduced myself to the chef, it would be embarassing for him to know that this was the blogger who also dabbles in petty theivery.) Nonetheless, to start a $50 tasting menu with beautifully crafted low-brow fare really sets a tone; this will be a fun and surprising meal.

The tongue in cheek menu meant to work on memory and substitution—that which you remember only different. There was double entedre/ in joke nature to the meal; that is to say, reading the menu, one expected something, and then when you received the dish, and then reread the menu, you got the joke. And, in fact, this humor really added to the experience for me. Beer is not stuffy; why should its tasting menu be?

Honestly, there seems no way that this restaurant could be stuffy. The staff is so normal, in the best sense of the word. In fact, the evening struck me as proof of the chef’s business sense. He came out after every course and spoke to the diners. His demeanor was slightly self-effacing yet confident and interested in his customers. His staff was responsive, respectful and interested. Clearly someone at the establishment, assumably the manager and chef/owner, focus on service—because every staff member I have met there was excellent. And, during the evening of the tasting, there were plenty of them milling around, if only to deal with the embarrassment of glasses that continued to multiply on our table.

This is not to say that the staff didn’t clear the glasses in a timely manner, but instead that we couldn’t complete or release our beer glasses before the next course. The meal was served at a leisurely pace. My husband finished the first beer quickly, actually, before the popcorn from the pretzels and popcorn course came out. After this, he became slower, deliberate in his beer drinking (and fuller), but we couldn’t really let the server take away half-finished glasses. (I only tasted the beers and turned my glasses over to him.) But, our approach really allowed us to appreciate the gradual changes in beer from lighter to heavier, from crisper to bolder.
The best pairing to me was in the second course-the Coney Island Crudo. The beer was a Jolly Pumpkin BAM, Saison Sour Ale from Michigan. The beer lacked the color of the sour appertivo and, after one or two sips, my husband and I were left unsatisfied. Then the food pairing came out. The crudo was oyster, clam and scallop with radishes, Tabasco, horseradish mayo, and mignonette (pink peppercorns and champagne) on the side. This course changed my feelings for the beer completely. It is not that the beer lost its sour, but instead that the undertones of the beer served as a counterpoint for the seafood (sort of as citrus elevates seafood.) I did not prepare a little salad of radish and mignonette upon my seafood though, because there was no need, and instead ate the radish and accompaniments after consuming the seafood. The mignonette was very tasty on its own. The course that we are still talking about was the third. Beer-battered quail (beer paired with beer) and a wonderful remoulade, which even drew in someone who doesn’t enjoy mayo. It was a sort of an Ohio nod to a pub fish and chips. This course was paired with a flavorful Orval Trappist Ale. (My husband and I did praise God for the Trappists by the end of the evening, by the way.) The batter was so scrumptious I would have eaten a cardboard box covered in it. While this was in part because of the texture of the batter, but it was also because the course was served PIPING hot and perfectly salted.
The next course also featured the great state of Ohio, but in this case its bovines. The hand-ground steak tar tar was a little difficult for some of the diners because on texture. Sawyer said he had meant to keep it coarse in order to maximize the beefy flavor. For me, the course was a little difficult in terms of presentation. It was paired with cornichons. I have always loved them with beef and use them in gravy for pot roast. There were also diced pepper and potato gaufrettes (crinkle cut potato chips). But, the focus of the plate was the sort of brown mass of tar tar. My husband had some amusing characterizations about its appearance, but suffices it to say, this course really could have used a ramekin in which to confine the meat. But the flavor and texture were really enjoyable. I spread the meat on the chips and added some cornichon. Yum. I would have finished the course, but ran out of chips. This course also had the beer that I would most likely order on its own. A man who I came to assume was Dr. Brian Kelly, the beer guy, told us that loving the beer, Brother Thelonious, was philanthropic because the California company gives a portion of its proceeds to a jazz foundation.
The next course, braised meat pies, had a bistro feel with its use of beef cheeks and boudin noir. The crust was buttery yumminess. My husband loved this course and felt that the criss-cross of dough was just the right amount to set off the flavorful meat. This was paired with a La Chouffe that was good but frankly a little alcoholic for me.
The next course was a Trappist love-fest—“Three Monks Beer & Cheese Fondue.” It was this course for which the in-joke on the menu was the least successful. I am a cheese lover and a fondue enthusiast. As such, I anticipated a small bubbling pot of cheese. In fact, I half expected the communal table concept in which a small fondue pot, 70s style, would be shared amongst the patrons. Instead, we received a cold cheese fondue with a buttery rusk , a beer-marinated shallot, and chunks of poached pork shoulder. The tasty shallot could not redeem the course. The meal was then completed with gingered blood oranges & dates, which my husband ate in a quiet moment of contemplation.
In total, I felt the evening was so enjoyable. The service, food and libations made for rich but casual conviviality. I know that next month there is a tasting with wine—but I am looking forward to another beer tasting.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Vegan Rhubarb Cupcakes

Rhubarb. It was such a pretty bright red color when I saw it in Heinen’s. I had just read in something or another that it was in season in February and then there it was just sitting there in the grocery store. I grabbed a stack without really thinking about what I would do with them. At home, I thought about displaying them in a glass vase like flowers. In the end, I came across the recipe in Coconut and Lime. I had to make a gift for a friend, so I made one batch of her recipe and one veganized recipe for Belle. The recipe was easily and fast—even a novice baker got the desired results. If I make them in the future I think I will make a sort of rhubarb sauce that I will fold into the batter so that I get a marbled red color through the cupcake.

I wanted to make a festive box of pink goodies for my friend, as it was the week of Valentine's day, so I also made some pink meringues. I made a simple syrup and added rhubarb. I folded the red syrup into the meringue. The result was a lovely dusty pink. My husband ate an army of these tiny meringues and said the rhubarb flavor was faint and tasty.

I baked the vegan ones in little brioche pans so that I could discern the difference easily. Belle loved them. They had a sort of muffin consistency with a sour bite. For hers, I served them unfrosted, but I think next time I will make a rhubarb tofutti cream cheese topping for hers. After all, it is so cute to watch her lick and then relick her lips.

Now, I am not much of a baker because I hate to measure. It is the first time I have improvised a baked good. I tried to measure what I used, but in the end, I put it a small dollop of apple sauce (about 2 t) and I know that I didn’t use the full ¾ cup of flour—I used in between ½ cup and ¾ cup flour. Precision is a skill I will learn.

Vegan Rhubarb Cupcakes--Wait for an updated correctly measured recipe (hopefully next week)

(a combination of recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, the Schoomed Food blog, and Coconut and Lime)

Ingredients:Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with nonstick spray

Mix dry ingredients:
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients
1 TB apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup diced rhubarb
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup oil
1 t apple sauce, unsweetened

Add the wet to the dry and beat in a blender. When combined fill the muffin tins halfway up and bake 10-12 minutes in the convection oven (or a little more in a regular one.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nonna's Lasagna Pats and Braciole

This was an exceptional eating month for me. In fact, should it have been even day longer, I would risk getting gout. Actually, as it is a leap year, so there is still a chance. I have been eating multiple course meals frequently this month. Though, with all that eating (plus Belle and working) I haven’t written about all of these meals but I shall. (I did write about the kaiseki-style meal.) The first, and I know my favorite, was the one lovingly created by my husband last week. We were having guests over for dinner and my husband decided to recreate a family meal that he had never actually eaten.

My husband was raised on the East Coast outside the reach of his large extended Italian-American family that lived in Ohio. This means a lifetime hearing about Italian food interspersed with moments of actually tasting his family specialties. His grandmother had left Italy, because it needed to be left—that is if you felt that you needed to eat and support your family. Whole villages left Italy at the beginning of the twentieth century and reformed anew in America. Like so many immigrants, for his Nonna, America meant hard work and small quarters, but also, eventually, prosperity. The providence of this success resulted in many children and grandchildren who would come to equate pork chops, meat ravioli, meat balls, and roast beef with her love.
How do you build a meal that you have not tasted and also only know third hand? Luck and sense-intuition. My husband used the Big Night cookbook (Stanley Tucci’s family recipes), and then improvised. He knew that he wanted to make braciole. The meal is to be served with homemade pasta as the first course, the meat as il secondi, and then a salad, before a finish of cheese. We had hoped to start dinner at 6 so that Belle could join the adults for food. Sadly, parenthood has stolen our watches and we no longer do anything on time or as planned. We ended up serving the antipasto of cheeses and salamis, all from Gust Gallucci’s, and finished cooking while the guests milled amongst themselves. (Martha would cringe.) Luckily, my husband had decided to break the bank with many, many cheeses and a few meats. There was a Piave Vecchio, Sicilian Fresh Pepato, and Spanish Romao.

We also ended up serving the next three courses (pasta, secondi, and salad) together. In having the party, we were hoping to entertain rather than serve, as Nonna would have. No one cared. The pasta was the best my husband had made—it was smooth but with a bite. The braciole was tender and rich. I was responsible for the roasted potatoes for the secondi but I got lost making dessert (lemon, orange and blood orange tarts) so instead we had baked potatoes tossed with Meyer lemon, olive oil, and kosher salt. Really people only ate the potatoes to prepare themselves to eat more of the meat. We also had a plain arugula salad with fennel, meyer lemon supremes, orange supremes, grapeseed oil and black pepper. Dinner was wonderful. Who knows how it was supposed to be, but I thought my husband got it right.
My husband never ate enough food according to his Nonna. As a new mom, I am starting to adopt the “food pushiness as love attitude” that his Nonna practiced (perfected.) So, there was not just stilton with mango and ginger for dessert, but also three types of tarts and chocolate cake from Heinen’s. That the guests left dazed and full proves to me that it was a great meal.

Icebox Experiments: Lunar Eclipse Kaiseki

I have been thinking about where seasonal eating and living in Cleveland intersect since I read Mark Bittman’s Jan 23 Minimalist column. In it, he says, “The days when late-fall vegetables had to last through the winter are long gone, but eating summer vegetables in midwinter doesn't make much sense, as most people recognize now.” (Emphasis mine) For some people, Mexico and other destinations have negated seasonality; for others, environmentalism, food politics, elitism, and/ or taste have reignited/ issued the call to seasonal eating. But, what does all this mean in practice? What does a Clevelander, who does not live on a farm and fears botulism too much to can food, eat in the middle of winter? If you searched by blog, you will find that I use carrots & onions extensively. I love winter squash in, well, winter. Some seasonal fruits, citrus, can hold with them other environmental problems. (Beware, there are cases of clementines coming very fast towards Cleveland from Spain burning lots of carbon along the way.) That is the problem—one solution, or one stance, causes another problem. Local but not organic; seasonal but large carbon load. Where are the right choices? I don’t think anyone has the “right” answer, or more accurately, all answers (and answerers) come with them their own agendas. So, in Cleveland, in winter, you do your best—walk by the asparagus, buy the red peppers once in a while (because the lack of diversity in the seasonal diet can be depressing.)

The awakening national consciousness about food production and having summer veg in the winter has triggered the American memory of the seasons. Sometime in the 20th century we forgot the connotations of preparation and preservation that the words (and concepts) spring and autumn had. This awareness of the seasons is acute in Japan and China, where blossom viewing and moon viewing are points of celebration and eating. I have been in Asia for mid-summer’s festival—the joy and tradition are palpable.

When my husband called and said he would like view the lunar eclipse with me, after working late, it felt like the perfect time to recreate the feeling of moon viewing—if slightly out of season. (Sorry Bittman, I am inherently insensible.) In full disclosure, I was also inspired by a meal at the restaurant Ame in San Francisco, a sort of Japanese fusion place that is a slice of heaven. And, I had been reading a cookbook called Kaiseki recently. So, while Belle slept, and my husband worked, I attempted to turn my bare fridge into a five course moon-viewing meal.

Kaiseki and moon-viewing are two separate things. Moon-viewing parties celebrate the harvest moon in the Autumn; rice dumplings and cracked eggs are commonly part of this celebration. Kaiseki is the meal that is associated with a Japanese tea ceremony. The tea ceremony, a manifestation of Zen Buddhism, is just as much about meditation, performance and ritual as it is about tea. The rarified culture of the chanoyu, way of tea, includes with it an appreciation of aesthetics, from the serving dishes to the food. Food might be as simple as a mochi sweet to a full meal. A typical kaiseki meal has many courses, and the consumption (and creation) of the meal could be considered a meditation. The courses might include a small amuse, a sashimi course, a warm course, a vinegared vegetable, and rice course. My meal was more likely an evocation of the concept of kaiseki and the seasonal meal—I had 5 courses with no fish or even rice.

I wanted to focus on citrus as the flavor that unified all the elements—this is the season and the pantry was replete with an assortment. My love of citrus has softened as my stomach and taste buds have aged, but I still enjoy good citrus once in a while. For the acidic first course, I made a fennel slaw with meyer lemon supremes, black pepper and olive oil. In homage to the tradition moon-viewing dumplings, I used rice flour to make small dumplings filled with apple and turnip pouched in vegetable & white wine broth. For the broiled course, I grilled pears and served them with manchego and honey. For the substantial part of the meal, I made an egg pouched in water and white wine served with julienned fennel, carrots and fennel infused salami. For dessert, I also wanted to summon up some of the food from Ame. He had a great buttermilk panna cotta, and I thought about making a buttermilk/ condensed milk rice pudding. Instead, I made a simple plate of condensed milk and brown sugar topped by Satsuma orange supremes. (I remade this meal this dessert this evening but put everything under the broiler—it became a nice remake of the 50’s grapefruit.)

When my husband came home, the eclipse has already started. We stood and watched the moon for a while, and then began dinner. I had my husband’s dinner on a large tray. Like a Japanese tea hostess, I had eaten prior to his arrival, and I sat quietly as he consumed each dish. Between courses, we snuck out in the cold for a gaze, and then returned to our seasonal citrus meal. Not quite moon-viewing, not quite seasonal, but lovely nonetheless.

Icebox Experiments: Baby Tapas

I have been traveling for work until the night before last, and my heart broke with longing to see Belle. I rushed home from the trip keen to see the baby—but also to make her dinner. Apparently in my four days away she had a high starch, low diversity diet. There were vegetable offerings (green beans and rice were dinner last night), but nothing drew her in. Spoiling by her grandparents was a likely contributing factor in her disinterest in dinner, but my husband also mentioned that he finally understood the difficulty and thought required in creating dinner each night.

I wasn’t here to do grocery shopping this weekend, so when it came to making dinner, I just pulled anything from the fridge. I also wanted to spend as much time with the baby as I could, so I tried to figure out something fast. Dinner was started and completed in the 1 hour of naptime. I took out the random assortment of veg from the fridge and couldn’t really think holistically enough to create a unified meal. I knew that I wanted to do stuffed butternut squash. Veganomicon has a great chapter on the mix and match vegetarian dinner. As they say, and I paraphrase, bring the side dishes to the fore—or elevate them to be the meal.

I also knew that I wanted something fun. We had family friends who did theme dinners—fondue night, Mexican night (more Pancho Villa knock off than Bayless), dessert-first night. I loved the idea of having dinner party style meals within the family, where the action of the meal is part of the experience of the food. This is not to say that I plan to be the mother in the movie Mermaids, who only makes appetizers for dinner. The abnormal every day becomes the normal—but when the appetizer night punctuates square meals…

I have never been to Spain, so I only know tapas as the urban small food phenomenon that exists in the States now. While my husband enjoys Spanish (Spain) food, he always feels hungry and cheated for money when we have gone for tapas. Instead, I have had a few tapas parties from Jose Andres' book and Penelope Casas' book. They are a wonderful excuse to lavish olives, pimenton and chorizo on your friends. Of course, Americans as we are, these parties end up with a group of people seated around the table displaying the food, usually the girls, and then boys in the other room, sending someone back and forth to replenish their rations. At least the food is good.

We ended up with purple carrots steamed and then dressed with pomagranate molasses, mushrooms sauteed with garlic, pears sauteed in olive oil and dressed with balsamic, kale sauteed with garlic, tomatoes, red pepper and macaroni. (This dish was heavy on veg and light on pasta. It could easily be made in the reverse and then call it macaroni with kale, garlic, tomatoes, etc. It is sort of like the difference between the blue-green crayon and the green-blue crayon.)

Now, this is all slightly early for Belle. We are just working on spoons. But, I decided to break the rules and have a meal where walking is part of the eating. I made 5 small dishes and poured her a glass of soy milk. (*Note: she did not get the glass pictured, but instead an unbreakable sippy.) The one thing about babies is that promenading in between bites of dinner is their natural state. So, we snacked and ran and snacked some more. In the end, the stuffed squash and sautéed pears were both very successful. The mushrooms were not so loved, but there is time for all tastes.

Stuffed Butternut squash
Roast at 425
1 small butternut squash that has been rubbed with olive oil and pimenton

Sautee in olive oil
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup shitake mushrooms
1/4 diced red peppers
black pepper and salt to taste

After the butternut squash is tender, add the rice stuffing and top with vegan mozzarella cheese and then broil quickly

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Thai is just My Kind of Thai

Why do you go to a restaurant? I was thinking about Nancy’s post about Chinese New Years and the New York Times article about authentic Chinese cuisine. Adventure and the unexpected have become rare in our contemporary wired society. In this atmosphere, it is natural to attempt to stalk the best, the most authentic, the coolest of whatever it is that you love. For foodies, this quest for ideal food means patronizing the best restaurants or even better finding the unknown gems. But, it is not just the food—it is often the status or coolness that this find confers on the eater. These know-it-all eaters, ergh, treat food as if it is an ivory tower. The tone of the New York Times article was exactly that. Since the late 19th century, we stupid Americans have been eating non-Chinese food and the media even supports these misconceptions. The argument is so simplistic and it misses two big points: immigrancy results in hybrid cuisine and restaurants are about their audience. The Chinese have been in America since the 19th century—railroad builders, laundry men and restaurateurs, amongst them. I would think that food that has been made for more than ¾ of a century is a cuisine in and amongst itself. There has to be a Chinese-American cuisine, and while there are some practitioners who are more skilled than others, the good ones should not be disparaged for not being authentic. They are authentically Chinese-American. And, while I would welcome a Shanghai-nese meal, I would also enjoy a meal of perfectly prepared Kung Pao Chicken. Some of us eaters, like Nancy, understand the beautiful in the hybrized. After all, a restaurant is about the audience’s needs and tastes.

This brings me to the point of this post. (Long-winded much?) We went to My Thai in Chesterland on Mayfield Road near Chillicothe Road. The restaurant had piqued my interest the other week because it had the loveliest neon “open” sign. It seems likely a silly detail to choose when picking out a restaurant. But, the sign, which was all in lower case d'nealian, signaled to me that someone had taken care to make very conscious choices. If they care this much about their sign, they likely care more about their food.

The restaurant was pleasingly small and intimate. Instead of Thai tourist art, the walls were a deep red and yellow that were vibrant but not oppressive. A couple silk brocade curtains and a rattan ring panels added a subtle exoticism. It was bright and airy; the climate was family friendly, happy, and tasty. In essence, it fit our needs in terms of price-point (teens) and atmosphere. Hell, the restaurant's name says it. It is a restaurant that aims at being "my thai."

It was Valentine’s Day, so maybe the restaurant was busy with the special occasion crowd. But, the restaurant was packed. The wait-staff was young and energetic; they seemed like local high school students. We were meeting my parents for dinner, so we had 4 entrees—Duck Curry, Tofu Yellow Curry, Chicken Eggplant and Beef Sesame. Are these dishes served in Thailand? Maybe not. I don’t know? Does that matter to me? No. I loved the Chicken with Eggplant. It had big chunks of Japanese eggplant that were caramelized and sauced. It was fresh and not over-sauced. The sesame sauce was yummy and not too thick. I am already planning what to eat when I return; and I am tempted to ask Fred Feretti to join me.

Memories: Woolworth

Last night, my husband used the expression “penny candy.” He was not raised in the Great Depression; he just acts like it sometimes. After laughing at him, I started to think about what elements of the early- and mid- century American culture persists today. We don’t go the “5 and dime” anymore, but we do “dial” the phone.

For me as a child, the specter of the Great Depression and World War II, through grandparents and family friends, informed a great deal of my consumership. I frequently heard, “back in my day, we just cut off the burnt piece of the toast…” For my parents, boomers as they are, this must have been an unquietable refrain of their childhood, because now they are a marketers dream. It was not until college that I realized that there was not an electric can opener in each and every household. This ying and yang of consumership helped shape my sense of how much I NEED to own. This introspective turn is to explain that while my grandmother makes every meal she eats (and always makes complicated meals), my mother thinks if it is purchased, it must be better. Though she was a good cook and made dinner every week night, I also ate out most weekends of my childhood. So, if we needed to stop by Richmond Mall and I was somewhat puckish, even though dinner would be in an hour, she would buy me a whole meal at the Woolworth’s.

This was not the ubiquitous Woolworth’s lunch counter. This cafeteria used dark wood, atmospheric lighting, deep-colored carpeting (red, I think) and leatherette chairs to create a Mid-Western rendition of a swank dinner club. You would walk down a long tiled path to get your tray, still damply warm from the dishwasher. And, then you would be able to purchase a meat and two sides—there was always a roast turkey being carved. But, for me it was the roast chicken. Its seasonings of paprika and tarragon was so All-American and comforting. I always paired it with mac and cheese (I think it was the stove-top kind.) I often completed the meal/snack with a bowl of J-E-LL-O.

For an immigrant’s kid, this was the height of American-food as exotic. This is perhaps how I came up loving the high and the low of food.(Who needs therapy when you can blog?) But, thinking about it, it is my guess that few of my friends were eating at the Woolworth’s on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, they would be sitting down for their American food dinners, either prepared from fresh ingredients or from a box.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When a Stew gets Curried: Frozen Tofu Curry

I finally got around to making M—‘s curry. When I told her that today, she said what curry it is a stew. Then I admitted I had turned her wonderful wonderful stew into a curry. It just happened. I was standing by the skillet as the coconut milk simmered and I couldn’t imagine sitting down to stew. I knew my family would love it as is, but I couldn’t do it. So, I changed an already perfect recipe. I added two teaspoons of tamarind dissolved in warm water, a crazy shake of curry powder, only part of the coconut milk, ½ a can of chickpeas and ½ a red paper.

Tea for Me

What are the tangible moments in love? Embraces, kisses, whispers, sure. But, what about those special dishes that you prepared for a loved one? These edible embraces are such sensory manifestations of love. My husband is a wonderful cook. He will retry recipes until they reach perfection. When we met, a tea drinker with a coffee drinker, he began to prefect tea for me. These days, he creates the perfect cup of tea for me every morning, set on my bedside as I awake. Is he not the perfect husband?

Baby Thali

Even though I have been bizarrely, overly blog-productive this month, I haven’t posted all the meals that I wanted to track. How can that be you ask? Well, we don’t always eat leftovers for lunch. And, we do eat lunch.

On Sunday, I wanted to make a feast for the baby. She was so hungry and I wanted to meet her needs in a pretty way. I have been so inspired by Vegan Lunchbox and Vegan Bento. I am not there yet. Who knows maybe blog called vegan tiffin might be in my future. But, on Sunday, I wanted her to feast, so I made tandoori tofu, quick chole and gosale. The rice was from the day before and the chappati was store-bought. The chole was a big hit. While Belle like the tofu, the spice was a little love for me.

Baby Tandoori Tofu
Marinate the following for 1 hour

1 cup soy yogurt
1 block tofu, sliced into triangles
1 T cider vinegar
1 T garlic paste
1 T ginger paste
1 T ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
¼ t cayenne pepper
¼ t turmeric
1/8 t ground cloves

Use a spoon to brush off some of the yogurt from the tofu. Pan fry in a cast-iron grill pan. Serve warm. (You can simmer and reduce the yogurt with vegetable broth to make a sauce.)

Baby Chole
Saute over medium heat

½ small red onion
1 T tomato paste
2 t ground cumin

When the onions have softened add

½ can organic chickpeas
2 T unsweetened apple sauce
½ cup water
salt to taste

Serve with rice or bread or both

Chaat Potato Salad, Husband Style

Chaat is an Indian snack food. Often eaten on the street, it involves potatoes, onions, tamarind or date sauce, coriander sauce, and an assortment of fried crunchy bits. In essence, it is fried, unhealthy, escapist eating on small stainless steel plates. So, why has chaat not caught on in America? This is after all the land of unhealthy snack food. As the combination of saucy and fried requires immediate consumption, it is not tasty when placed on an Indian buffet—the most common way for most to experience Indian food.

There was a place in Berkeley called Vik’s that made perfect chaat—like Aloo Chaat (boiled potatoes, crunchy disks of fried dough, raw onion, piquant tamarind sauce, and coriander) and Samosa Chole (rich, spicy chickpea stew over a fried samosa). The restaurant was basically a converted garage with plastic spoons and café tables. But it was always packed, and with two or three people behind the counter turning out food to order everything was fresh.

Chaat offerings in Cleveland are singularly unsatisfying, so usually I just dream of the snacks. About once a year, I succumb to my cravings. It involves making two to three sauces, boiling potatoes, and frying stuff. While each of these tasks are easy when taken alone, the sum total of tasks, all for a small plate of food that is available on every street corner in India, smacks of futility. I just read a great post about making pani poori, so in a few months I will likely get up the energy to make chaat.

But tonight, my husband perfected our new short cut—Potato Salad, Chaat style. We made a seriously more mannered version the other day. We had a brown curry on hand, so this would be a great recipe to use up those Indian leftovers. We had store bought mango chutney and a homemade coriander one on hand, but store bought would be fine. The result was tangy, cool, salty, vinegary, sweet and refreshing—this was clearly one heck of a potato salad. It is also my final recipe for the potato contest.

Potato Salad Chaat Style
Combine in a large bowl
2 T finely diced onion
2 T brown curry sauce
3 T vinegar
pinch of salt
¼ cup red pepper diced
1 T & 1 t chaat masala
1-2 t Major Grey’s Chutney
2 T Coriander Chutney
2-3 large baking potatoes, cooked (Ideally still warm)

After everything is combined, let the mixture rest a room temperature for at least 1/2 hour to let the flavors mix. Serve topped with sev (available at Indian grocery stores.)

Chaat Masala
1.5 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ajwain seed
1 teaspoon black salt
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground asafetida
2 teaspoon amchur
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Brown Curry Sauce (This will make enough for a dinner of curried tofu and leftovers for the potato salad)
Sautee in olive oil
3 medium onions diced
1-2 T ginger paste
1 T garlic paste
1 T cumin
2 t turmeric
2 t coriander seeds
1 t cinnamon
1 t red chili flakes or chili powder

When the onions have browned, put in a blender until lumpy but not watery. Return the mixture to the pan and add
1 T tomato paste
½ cup crushed tomatoes.
salt to taste

Simmer until it the tomatoes have blended into the onion paste.

During the simmering phase, add sautéed tofu, boiled potatoes and boiled carrots. Serve with white rice and something acidic like pickled jalapenos or fukujinzuke.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Potato for Every Man, Woman and Child: Rosti Sliders

All the way home today, as my husband focused on the roads, I contemplated the dinner I was going to prepare. I had been thinking about the potato contest and had already had two tries at it earlier this week. Neither was that satisfying. Tonight was to be my night making my clearest expression of potato ardor.

Of course, potato love had to be subsidiary to Belle’s dietary needs. I have been worried about her fiber intake, but I also wanted to create a dinner that would fill her up. We have had some midnight parties in her room this week, and I was hoping that a full belly would prevent hearing the words “mama” in the middle of the night.

The potato is not one of Belle’s favs. She doesn’t mind hashed browns, but mashed & boiled have not been hits. So, my goal was a meal that included maximized the starchiness of potato and then only used fried potatoes sparingly.

I wanted to make Belle sliders. I love the little, the miniature, the scaled down. But, with this meal, I wanted to have all of the accompaniments to the tiny burgers to be made of potato. Actually, the potato was part of every element in the meal—down to the burger. I combined the fries and buns together by making tiny rosti, the Swiss shredded potato cakes. While I broke out the food processor for part of the shredding, I got my husband to cut them very finely. (He has great knife skills.)

The burger was a blend of recipes from a 1000 Vegetarian Recipes from Around the World cooking book, using potato, and my dear Veganomicon. In the latter, the ladies used black beans, but I wanted to introduce Belle to adzuki beans. The result was a surprisingly filling and “meaty” burger. Last time, I made veggie burgers the result was a little watery and I couldn’t get rid of them. This time the result was so good that I didn’t have any left. None for lunch tomorrow, sadly.

I wanted to have topping options for the burgers. We had the Soy Kaas cheddar but I have been meaning to try the bacon recipe from The Vegetarian Compass by Karen Allison. The only way that I could get inari or yuba at Whole Foods was to buy it at the sushi bar. I trimmed them into strips and marinated them in vegetarian stock, bouillon, tamari, and braggs liquid aminos. If I had any nutritional yeast, I would have sprinkled some on the fried yuba. But, the result was very tasty—not bacon, but wonderful. I would also pair it with avocado on a salad.

Disclaimer: While the picture includes tiny fries, a chocolate shake and a top and bottom rosti bun, Belle’s burger was only one bun, burger and yuba bacon. After she went to sleep, I spoke to M— and made some fries, twice fried mind you. If you want to know why you should twice fry them taters, read How to Read a French Fry. And, then I got crazy and tried to make a homemade Frosty. This evening, after the whole adventure, I found out that Frosties don’t actually have potatoes in them. My milk shake was pretty. The shake itself was vegan, but for the picture I topped it with whipped cream. I didn’t love the recipe, because the potato made it slightly gritty. I was going for a milkshake texture without having to buy vegan ice cream. I will clearly have to revisit this recipe.

Vegan Adzuki Burgers
Saute in olive oil

½ small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced finely
1-2 cloves garlic, diced finely
¼ cup brown rice (cooked)

Mash together in a bowl
½ cup adzuki beans (cooked)
¼ cup tofu
¼ cup baked baking potato

Add to the mashed concoction the following :
1 T Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 T Soy Sauce
1 dash Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Herabamare Original Organic Herb Seasoning Salt

Add the sautéed veg to the bowl, mix and then form in patties.

Bake at 375 until medium well. (Broil on high for the last 5 minutes.) Makes 10 sliders (2 inch wide)

Potato Rosti “Buns”


3-5 medium cooked yellow potatoes (I do not peel them)

In a very small skillet placed on medium heat, add olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan (this is not a low fat one) and then 1 palm’s worth of shredded potatoes and salt, stir to mix the oil with the potatoes. Cover the pan. Cook until the edges of the cake look brown. Flip and cook covered. (I had to peak to see if the flip-side is browned.)

Makes 6-10 “buns” (if you are serving them open-faced, then use 3 potatoes)

Chocolate/ Banana/Potato Milkshake—BE WARY THIS WASN’T THAT GOOD

1 cup vanilla soy milk

Dissolve in the warm milk
2 T unsweetened cocoa
1 T raw sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Blend with
1 banana, cut into bite size pieces and frozen
1 T boiled potato