Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gochujang Queso + Sweet Potato and Kidney Bean Quesadillas

Time: 10 minutes for the queso, plus 40 minutes for the quesadillas
Yields: about 1 1/2 cup queso, makes 2 large quesadillas

After watching a show on Food Network that featured Roy Choi who runs Kogi, a Korean BBQ Taco Truck in LA, I was inspired by his story, his passion for cooking and altogether unique vision. A few days later, while making a batch of vegan queso (more on that in a minute), I decided to pull out the tub of gochujang from my refrigerator with the intent to combine them together. I scooped up a generous amount of the thick red paste, plopped it into the steaming hot vegan queso and gave it a whisk which yielded a bright neon orange sauce. 

But how did it taste? Gochujang queso is a nicely balanced dip that clings beautifully onto tortilla chips or drizzled over quesadillas. It delivers a spicy kick of heat that's tempered by the richness of the vegan queso, and finishes with a little flourish of umami that makes you want to keep scooping it up. 

Back to the queso. A couple of years ago I made a vegan quesco blanco dip with full-fat coconut milk and coconut vinegar, with tapioca flour added for stretch and agar to firm it up just enough to a queso consistency. It was startlingly similar in texture and flavor to the dairy-based version I used to eat years ago and missed. Since then, I've drizzled it over sweet potato quesadillas or scooped it up with tortilla chips, and it's fantastic.

Here I've combined mashed sweet potato and crushed peanuts with kidney beans and corn, and finished with some crispy sauteed shallot rings, quartered cherry tomatoes, scallions and fresh cilantro. A drizzle of the gochujang queso adds a tiny smack of heat that pleasantly builds without burning out your taste buds.

for the gochujang queso
1 recipe vegan queso dip
1/4 cup gochuchang

for the quesadillas (also tastes great with tortilla chips)
3-4 cups cubes sweet pot
1 cup kidney or black beans, rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
2 tsp olive or canola oil
2 shallots, sliced into thin rings
4 large soft tortillas
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup crushed peanuts
1-2 scallions, chopped
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
lime wedges, optional
vegan sour cream, optional

First, prepare the vegan queso (recipe here). If you like spicy, add in 1/4 cup of the gochujang and add more as desired, whisking until smooth. If you are not sure, start by adding one tablespoon, adding more as desired. Cover and set aside or place into a small crockpot to keep warm.

To prepare the quesadillas, place the cubed sweet potato into a steamer basket. Add a few inches of water into the bottom. Cover and steam over medium-high heat until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Place the kidney beans and corn into a skillet and give them a little saute over medium heat until warm, then transfer to a bowl. Add the oil to the same pan and throw in the shallots. Saute until golden and slightly crispy, then remove from the heat. You can just leave them in the pan.

Mash the sweet potato. Lay two soft tortillas onto two plates, and distribute the sweet potato evenly over the top. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then sprinkle the crushed peanuts over the top. Next, add the kidney beans and corn, then the crispy shallots, scallions, cilantro and tomato.

Place the remaining two tortillas over the tops, press down slightly, then cut each into four pieces using a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Serve immediately with the gochujang queso and, if desired, the vegan sour cream and lime wedges.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page | Review + Giveaway!

While cookbooks typically tell the reader exactly what to cook and how to cook it, cooking reference books usually function as a guide or supply an idea that can be shaped by the cook. In The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, Karen Page's emphasis is on the latter, and she has successfully created an amazing culinary reference guide through careful research, a clear passion for ingredients and extensive interviews with notable chefs. TVFB's focus is on providing successful flavor pairings, taking into consideration taste, aroma, texture and seasonal availability. From açaí to zucchini blossoms and everything in between, Page breaks them down, giving an in-depth overview of more than a thousand ingredients that provides a starting point or inspiration for both the new and seasoned cook.

Take, for example, shiitake mushrooms. They are one of my favorite ingredients based on their versatility, umami flavor and meaty texture. I always tend to think Asian or, um, bacon, when i have them on hand—and it usually stops there. But TVFB  has allowed me to up my shiitake game by recommending complimentary pairings like brandy, avocado, Kaffir lime leaves, yuzu and cayenne, and cross-referencing them with thousands of other ingredients throughout its 500+ pages. For food nerds and obsessive recipe developers like me, this opens up countless opportunities for creating new dishes and rethinking old ones—exponentially expanding and enhancing the creative process.

But Page's guide isn't just for experienced or seasoned cooks. It's also for new cooks who may not have any idea where to start or who may not be familiar with certain ingredients ... or that some ingredients even exist. Because ingredients are expertly cross-referenced, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible can easily turn into sort of a culinary Choose Your Own Adventure, and it's easy to get pleasantly lost flipping around while learning about how flavors and textures can potentially and successfully work together.

This hardcover guide is also packed with a history of vegetarianism and how it's evolved since 3000 BCE through 2013; a section on how we perceive flavor, texture and aroma; and why visual, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of eating are important, as well as what all of those mean. If you are curious and hungry for more, I'm excited that Little, Brown and Company is offering a free copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible through this post! 

If you'd like a chance to win this gorgeous and ginormous hardcover guide, just leave a comment below that includes your favorite flavor pairing, including your email, twitter handle or some way to contact you in case you are the winner. I'm also extending this giveaway on my Facebook page for those who'd rather enter that way. Shipping is limited to the US only. I'll combine all comments from here and Facebook to randomly chose a winner on January 26 ... good luck!


Karen Page is a graduate of Northwestern and Harvard who also earned a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell in conjunction with the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. She is a two-time James Beard Award–winning author whose books include The Flavor Bible

The former Washington Post wine columnist is also the coauthor of What to Drink with What You Eat, which was named the IACP Cookbook of the Year and the Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year and won a Gourmand World Cookbook Award, and the IACP and James Beard Book Award Finalist The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine

She lives with her husband, author and photographer Andrew Dornenburg, in New York City.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Maitake Bacon

Yields: 1 cup bacon
Time: 45 minutes

Shiitake bacon is delicious. But maitake bacon is heavenly. What elevates it a bit from the shiitake version is the umami flavor that's heavily present throughout its soft and pillowy petals. This plant-based bacon is perfect for finishing tofu scrambles, topping off hot soups or chowders, stuffing into a sandwich or serving at brunch. Keep out at room temperature and consume within an hour, although that shouldn't be a problem once you taste it!

1 TB olive oil
1 TB toasted sesame oil
1 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp salt (reduce to 1/4 tsp if you want it less salty)
7 oz. fresh maitake mushrooms (can be found in most Asian grocers or at Whole Foods)
a few pinches of smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with a silpat. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive and sesame oils. Add salt and liquid smoke and whisk again.

Slice off the base of the mushroom (I used two, 3.5 oz. maitake for this). Discard or reserve and freeze the base for making stock later, if you wish.

Separate the fragile spoon-shaped petals with your hands into a large bowl. Pour the liquid over the mushrooms and toss well to coat. Transfer to the silpat and distribute in an even layer.

Place into the oven to bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir around and redistribute into a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a paper towel. Sprinkle with a few pinches of smoked paprika, if desired. Once cooled, they will crisp up nicely. Keep at room temperature and serve within the hour.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Four-Year Anniversary + a Giveaway! [closed]

Has it actually been four years since we started this little blog? Jeff double checked my math and confirmed that yes, it's been four years and 317 posts counting this one, to be exact. In some ways it feel like we just started this blog but, when I look back to posts we did back in 2011, I can see how much we've grown. 

2014 was a crazy, but crazy-good year. The biggest thing that happened this year was our move from Boston to Los Angeles. After living and working in Boston for the past 10 years, swapping the city skyline for the beach has been a big change, but we're settling in and happy to call Redondo Beach home for now.

This area has also been a huge inspiration for the blog. The diversity of the produce I come across is amazing: romanescopattypan squash, zucchini blossomsBuddha's hand, buckets of avocadosmulticolored carrots, super-cheap mushroomsone million varieties of apples, pretty tomatoes and kabocha squash, to name a few. I could also go on and on about the vegan cheese options, but you get the point.

For 2015, this blog will continue to be a fun partnership. Our respective love of recipe development (me) and photography (Jeff) grows with each post, so we're always grateful when you visit, to read what is written and see what has been shot. And if you cook what has been made, I can't thank you enough. I hope you've enjoyed it.

To thank you for being a reader of this blog, I'm hosting an annual giveaway of a newish-to-me cookbook, Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle's Plum Bistro, by Makini HowellPacked with gorgeous photos and breathtakingly beautiful recipes, this hardcover vegan cookbook could live in your kitchen or sit on your coffee table and fit nicely into either spot. How does Tiramisu Pancakes, Cauliflower Bisque with Fresh Fennel, Chimichurri Seitan Steaks, Plum's Smoky Mac and Toasted Chocolate Bread with Cream Cheese and Crème Fraîche sound?

For a chance to win a copy of Plum, just leave a comment below that includes a dish you'd like to see made on Olives for Dinner in 2015. On January 7, I'll pick one at random to post on the blog in the coming weeks. Be sure to leave your email, twitter handle, blog url or some way to contact you in case your comment is drawn. Shipping is limited to US only.

The winner of this giveaway is Eva, congrats! And thanks for the fantastic suggestion for making pad ped, a Thai dish I've never heard of, but am excited to try! Thanks to all who entered and made suggestions.

Thanks again for your support of this blog by visiting, commenting and making the recipes! If you ever have a suggestion, question or feedback, I can be reached at erinwyso [at] olivesfordinner [dot] com. xo