Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Raw Chocolate Cups with Blueberries and Cashews

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One of my favorite ways to use dried blueberries is in a homemade granola, but they also taste fantastic with chocolate and raw cashews. I've made another version of these before, and they are impossibly rich and decadent, and look adorable when set. Let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving to allow the chocolate to slightly soften.

makes 9 mini cups
1/8 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1/2 TB brown rice syrup
pinch of coarse sea salt
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted (divided)
2/3 cup vegan cocoa powder, divided (I used Ghiradelli brand)
2 TB raw agave syrup, divided

Place the raw cashews into a small food processor and crush into a coarse powder. Add in the dried blueberries, brown rice syrup and salt, then pulse again until the mixture forms one big blob. 

Scoop out a heaping 1/2 tsp of the mixture. Roll it into a small ball, then flatten it between your palms. Make sure that the size of the disc is small enough to fit into the mini baking cup with a little space around the edges. Repeat until you have 9 discs.

Melt 1/3 of the coconut oil in a small glass measuring cup. Whisk in 1/3 of the cocoa powder, then add in 1 TB of the raw agave syrup. Taste the mixture and add more agave if you want it sweeter.

Lay out the baking cups onto a flat plate, then pour the chocolate into the baking cups. It's important that you only put enough chocolate into the bottom to just cover it. Place into the freezer to set for about 10 minutes. Remove from the freezer.

Place the discs on top of the hardened chocolate. Repeat the steps for making the chocolate, then pour that over the tops of the discs until they are covered completely. Place in the freezer to set for another 10 minutes.

Store in the refrigerator, and allow the cups to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before eating for the best taste and texture. 

You can also sub dried cherries, figs, dates or other dried fruit for the blueberries here. Macadamia, almond or hazelnuts can be subbed for the cashews as well.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kale, Pearled Barley and Faux Roe Stack with Sweet Soy Glaze

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I've had horrible insomnia for the past couple of weeks. Some nights, my mind wanders to innocuous places, and the tiniest thing is blown up into a super stress-filled drama in my head. Other nights, I am perfectly content, yet still can't seem to get to sleep. So I'm either tossing and turning, getting up to read at 3 a.m., stressing about something ridiculous or staring at the ceiling, bored to death. The other night, I had an especially hard time falling asleep, so instead of letting my mind wander to thoughts that would keep me awake, I willed my mind to do something more constructive and creative, which led to assembling a new dish for the blog in my head. I began thinking about this particular recipe, then dissected and reconstructed it—and the recipe here is what I came up with.

This turned out to be a fabulous dish that only looks like it requires a lot of work. The faux roe and sweet soy glaze can be made the night before, the pearled barley goes straight into the rice cooker and the lacinato kale only requires a quick and easy saute. Assembly in a ring mold isn't really necessary for the dish, as the flavors all work together well on their own, but it does make a nice presentation at the end.

for the faux-roe

3 medium-sized beets, finely diced
4 cups water
OR one bottle of prepared beet juice, unsweetened, like Biotta
1/2 cup amaranth grain, rinsed

for the sweet soy glaze
2 TB dark sesame oil
1 TB grated fresh ginger
1/2 TB grated fresh garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake
3/4 cup raw agave syrup
1/4 tsp xantham gum (not completely necessary for this recipe—if you don't have it, the glaze will still taste good.)

for the pearled barley
3/4 cup pearled barley
2 cups water
1 TB rice vinegar
1 TB sugar
1/2 TB salt
2 TB black sesame seeds

for the kale
1 tb sesame oil
2 cups of lacinato kale, cut chiffonade
1 TB white sesame seeds

To prepare the faux roe:
If you are using prepared beet juice, skip to the next paragraph. If you are using fresh beets, place them with the water into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mash the beets with a potato masher, then strain. Reserve the beet pieces for pickling or roasting later.

Bring the beet juice to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add in the amaranth and whisk well. Boil, uncovered for about 25 minutes, whisking occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. (The amaranth should be slightly al dente—do not overcook.)  Then, place the cooked amaranth with any leftover liquid into the refrigerator to cool and soak overnight.

About an hour before you want to assemble the dish, strain out the beet juice, and set it over a bowl to drain more. Slightly press on the top to get some of the extra moisture out.

To prepare the sweet soy glaze:
Heat the sesame oil over low heat. Add the ginger and garlic. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add in the rest of the glaze ingredients, except for the xantham gum, and bring to a very low simmer. Allow to reduce for about 40 minutes, lowering the heat if the simmer increases and stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and whisk in the xantham gum. Strain out the ginger and garlic into a container, then place it into the refrigerator. It will thicken slightly as it cools.

To prepare the pearled barley:
Place the barley and water into a rice cooker, and cook on the white rice setting. In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar and salt. Set aside.

Once the pearled barley is done, transfer it to the bowl with the vinegar sugar and salt. Stir to combine, then sprinkle it with the black sesame seeds. Stir again and allow to slightly cool.

To prepare the kale:
Heat the sesame oil in a saute pan over medium-low heat. Add in the kale and allow to soften and brighten for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with the white sesame seeds.

To assemble the stack:
Lightly grease a food ring mold. Divide the kale and spoon it into each of the molds. Press down firmly over the entire surface. Next, spoon the pearled barley mixture up to the top of the mold. Press down firmly, refilling it as needed. Once everything is tightly packed, press down on the top of the barley while pulling the ring up slowly and straight.

Next, spoon the faux-roe over the top of the stack. Top with microgreens if desired, then spoon the sweet soy glaze over the top. Serve immediately.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Maifun Noodles in a Toasted Sesame-Ginger Broth

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Fresh ginger and toasted sesame oil simmering together smells better than anything else I can think of. I love to use it as a base for soups but I've also used it here, along with a few other ingredients, to create a simple sauce for dousing over maifun noodles. This is a perfect weeknight dish that can be served as is for a light dinner or topped with one of the tofu preparations below for a little more protein and bulk.

1-2 TB dark toasted sesame oil
a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of your thumb), minced
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
8-10 fresh shiitake caps, sliced thinly
1 TB mirin
1 TB soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp raw agave syrup

sriracha or hot chili oil, to taste
1 cup homemade stock or Imagine brand No-Chicken broth

4 oz Maifun Noodles
chopped thai chili peppers, sprouts, black and white sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Heat the sesame oil in a medium-sized saute pan over low heat. Sprinkle the minced ginger into the oil and allow to soften for a few minutes. Add the garlic to the oil and allow to soften for a few minutes more, stirring occasionally. Then scrape the sesame oil, ginger and garlic into a bowl and set aside.

Increase the heat to medium and add a little more oil. Throw in the sliced shiitake caps and allow to soften for a few minutes. Add back in the reserved sesame oil, ginger and garlic.

Increase the heat to medium high, then add in the mirin and allow it to sizzle, then add in the soy sauce, rice vinegar, agave and sriracha. Stir to combine. Add in the broth and stir again. Bring to a low simmer, then reduce the heat back to low immediately.

Bring a separate pot of water to a boil. Throw in the Maifun noodles, then stir with chopsticks. Allow to boil for 4-5 minutes, then drain the noodles.

Distribute the noodles into bowls, then drizzle with the sauce and top with the mushrooms. Garnish with chilis, sprouts and sesame seeds, and serve with a side of tofu, if desired.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Vegan Sawmill Gravy and Biscuits with TVP-Shiitake Hash

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One of my favorite parts about this blog is putting together unusual or seemingly incompatible ingredients and flavors, then seeing what happens. This typically works out in the end, but sometimes I end up with a bit of a mess that is far from what I envisioned an ideal end result would be. When I first started putting this white gravy recipe together in my head, I thought that there would be a good chance this would fall into the failure category—but instead was thrilled that this tasted amazingly close to what I remember eating on a regular basis years ago.  

I grew up in the southern part of the United States, where white (sawmill) gravy and chicken-fried steak was served everywhere. I ate it all of the time, although I never exactly knew or thought about what chicken-fried steak really was. And although I would never consume an animal-based version of this dish ever again, I do have good memories of eating this rich and creamy gravy smothered over a fresh homemade biscuit. The best part was how this gravy kind of soaked into the middle of the biscuit, while the outside of the biscuit remained crisp and golden. This gravy achieved the same thing here, and I loved every single bite of it. 

for the hash
3/4 cup homemade stock or Imagine brand No-Chicken broth

1/2 cup TVP
1 TB olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 shiitake mushroom caps, minced
1 tsp dry rubbed sage
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried basil

2 tsp soy sauce 
a few dashes of liquid smoke
salt and pepper

for the gravy
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, then rinsed
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp coconut vinegar
2 TB Earth Balance
2 TB flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup Imagine brand No-Chicken broth
1/2 cup soy or almond milk
Freshly cracked and coarsely ground back pepper

Fresh homemade vegan biscuits (I used Bisquick and unsweetened almond milk)

Place the broth into a small saucepan and add in the TVP. Heat over medium-low until until it starts to simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the TVP to sit for about 10 minutes.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized skillet. Add in the shallots and saute for about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Allow the ingredients to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Next, add in the TVP and stir to combine. Simmer until most of the moisture has evaporated, then add in the sage, fennel seeds and basil. Stir again. Add in the soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust any seasonings as needed. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting.

To make the gravy, place the soaked and rinsed cashews into a blender with the vegetable broth and coconut vinegar. Puree until smooth.

In a medium-sized saute pan, melt the Earth Balance over medium-low heat. Add in the flour and stir to combine.

Transfer the cashew creme to the pan and stir well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add in the broth. Add in the almond or soy milk as needed to thin it out to a desired consistency. 

Simmer for a few minutes more, then serve immediately with the hash and freshly made biscuits.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Socca Pizza Crust with Caramelized Shallots and Kale

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Chickpea flour has the ability to morph into amazing things, like soccapanisse and soccatatta. Depending on the prep, it can be light and airy, with a faux-eggy quality or dense and rich, which a texture similar to polenta. Here I've combined chickpea flour and water to create a slurry, which I then drizzled into a super-hot preheated cast iron skillet, then baked to produce a pizza crust. 

This idea certainly isn't mine, so what makes the pizza slice you see above and below unique are the toppings. I've caramelized shallots with sprinkles of vinegar for about 25 minutes, then finished with a squirt of raw agave to balance out the bitterness. I spread that onto the almost fully baked socca crust, layered it with lacinato kale cut this way, then finished with some Daiya and oil cured olives. I finished it in the oven for a few minutes more to produce a perfect sized pizza that was a snap to make and delicious to eat.  

Makes two, eight-inch pizzas
for the crust
1/2 cup chickpea flour
3/4 cup water
a few dashes of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme, finely chopped
1 TB olive oil

for the toppings
1 TB olive oil
2 1/4 cups shallots, halved and thinly sliced
1 TB rice vinegar
1 TB raw agave syrup
1/2 cup lacinato kale, sliced chiffonade
Daiya shreds, mozzarella style
6-8 oil cured olives, pitted and roughly chopped

Whisk all of the crust ingredient together in a bowl. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 450. Place a clean and empty cast iron pan into the oven to preheat as well.

To caramelize the shallots, heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the shallots, then distribute them evenly across the surface of the pan. Do not touch or stir them for about 5 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to medium low, then stir the shallots. Sprinkle with a little rice vinegar, then allow the caramelize a bit more for about 10 minutes. Drizzle the raw agave over the top, then stir a bit more to distribute. Add the rest of the vinegar and allow to caramelize a bit longer, until a nice deep golden color is achieved. Remove from the heat.

Once your oven is preheated, remove the cast iron pan using a thick potholder. Add about 1/2 TB of oil to it, then tilt to distribute. Pour half of the chickpea slurry into the pan and tilt again to distribute. Place back into the oven to bake for about 8 minutes. Remove it again with a pot holder, and sprinkle half of the shallots on top, then the half of the kale, then the Daiya, and top it off with the olives.

Bake for an additional 4-5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Coconut-Chickpea Crepes with Smoky Herbed Mushrooms

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One of my favorite shows on the Cooking Channel is My Grandmother's Ravioli. If you haven't already watched it, here's the premise: the host of the show, Mo Rocca, goes to a different home of a grandmother and/or grandfather each episode and learns how to cook some of their signature dishes. Along the way, he learns about their past, how they developed a love for cooking and then meets some of their neighbors and family members towards the end of the episode for a sit-down dinner. It's less of an instructional cooking show than it is a glimpse inside the lives of families who have consciously and enthusiastically made food and signatures dishes a part of their own distinct culture and history.

So what does this have to do with the photo above? After watching an episode that highlighted a couple who made manicotti with crepes instead of pasta, I decided I wanted to try to make a crepe as well. As I watched the host attempt to make them, I wondered: can a crepe be easily veganized? Spoiler alert: the answer is yes. And with Nemo on its way into Boston, I decided I had some time to create my own version of a crepe made with chickpea flour as the base. 

After making one batch that tasted bad, one that tasted good, but wouldn't crisp correctly along the edges, then one more that was too thick, I finally nailed it with the right ratios of chickpea flour, seltzer water, tapioca flour and a little emulsified coconut milk. I then stuffed them with some mushrooms in a creamy and smokey sauce, similar to the sauce I developed for this recipe. The crepes were perfectly crisp along the edges, with a nice softer texture towards the middle, which complimented the smoky and nicely textured mushroom filling inside. I liked it so much that I not only ate it as a late lunch, but also again as a dinner the same day.    

for the filling:
1/2 TB olive oil

1 large shallot, cut in half, then thinly sliced
10 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced
2-3 garlic gloves, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 or 3 TB coconut milk (skim the heavy part off the top of the can)
1 tsp coconut vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

for the crepes:
1/2 cup coconut milk 
3/4 cup fizzy water
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 TB tapioca flour
1 TB nutritional yeast (optional)
a few dashes of salt

olive oil, for sauteing
chopped fresh parsley, for serving

To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized saute pan over medium-low heat. Place the shallots into the pan and saute for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the mushrooms, then place a lid over the top. Increase the heat to medium and allow the mushrooms to sweat for 4-5 minutes. Remove the lid and slightly lower the heat to allow some of the moisture to evaporate, about 4-5 minutes more. Add in the garlic and saute for an additional 2 minutes. 

Add in the thyme and paprika. Stir well. Scoop off 2 or 3 tablespoons of the coconut cream from the top of the can. Reserve the rest of the canned coconut milk for the crepes. Add it to the pan and allow it to melt. Stir to combine, then add 1/2 tsp of coconut vinegar to the pan. Taste and add another 1/2 tsp if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep it over the lowest heat setting possible while you make your crepes.

To make the crepes, pour out the remaining coconut milk into a bowl. Stir it until the thin and thick parts are thoroughly combined. Measure out 1/2 cup of it into another bowl, then add in 3/4 cup of seltzer water. Whisk vigorously, then add in the chickpea and tapioca flours, nutritional yeast and salt, then whisk again.

Heat a clean non-stick circular pan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Spray with a little cooking spray or oil, then quickly pour a thin layer of the batter into the middle. Pick up the hot pan immediately and tilt the pan around so it is evenly covered. Return the pan to the heat and allow it to cook until the edges are slightly golden brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip it over with a spatula, then cook for only 1-2 minutes more. This should make about 4-5 medium-sized crepes.

Spoon some of the mushroom filling into each of the crepes. Sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Whisky-Sriracha Candy

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Makes 12-14 1X1-inch candies
Time: under 30 minutes

After reading this article on Bon Appétit several months ago, I was excited to order a few sriracha lollipops from ThinkGeek, but then read the ingredients and thought—I can just make these myself. I would just need a basic hard candy recipe like this, and then some type of extract or flavoring to compliment and enhance the sriracha flavor. 

After deciding that hot cinnamon extract would be the perfect flavor, I discovered after looking at two separate stores that this ingredient either doesn't exist or is only available online. The only other extracts I had at home were almond and vanilla, so I unscrewed each tiny bottle in one hand with the sriracha bottle in the other hand. After a deep inhale, it was clear that both extracts were completely wrong for this. I then looked through my refrigerator and cabinets, which offered no other options, then strolled into our dining room and saw it ... whisky! I placed both the sriracha and whisky bottles under my nose and inhaled, then smiled. This was it.

This was my first stab at making hard candy, but I found it to be pretty simple. I did expect a hard and glassy result, but these candies are more melty and crumbly, with a texture similar to after-dinner mints. I'm not sure if I did anything wrong, or the whisky or sriracha interfered with the hardening, but I really liked them. They ironically ended up having a flavor very similar to
red hot cinnamon candies—only more intense, and with a little more darkness and depth.

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water
1/8 cup corn syrup
1 TB sriracha

1 TB whisky
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (optional-it will give the candies a glassier appearance)
cooking spray, for the mold

Grease a silicone mold with a little bit of cooking spray or coconut oil. (I used a mold similar to this that I found at IKEA several years ago for a dollar.) Wipe out any extra oil with a paper towel. 

Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Stir with a silicone spatula to combine, then heat over medium high heat. 

Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and insert the thermometer into the mixture, making sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pan. 

Watch carefully until it registers at 300 degrees. Remove it from the heat immediately.

Mix the sriracha, whisky and cream of tartar (optional) together in a small bowl. Then pour into the heated mixture with a silicon spatula slowly—it will steam and bubble immediately. Once it stops, pour the mixture into a glass measuring cup, then slowly pour the mixture into the compartments, filling them 3/4 full. You have to work very quickly during this step, as  the mixture starts to gum up really fast—the first of the 14 compartments I filled hardened very well, while the last two I poured did not. 

Allow the candies to fully harden before removing from the mold. Dust with a little powdered sugar on top if you want. Store in an airtight container.

To get the stuck-on reside out of your pot and measuring cup, just soak them in hot water for 10-15 minutes, then wash as usual.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Vegan Cuts Snack Box Review

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I do not think that there is an actual word invented yet that accurately describes the little jolt of happiness I experience when entering a completely vegan establishment. You see, I am used to going to non-vegan places where the food options are extremely limited, and most of the time lame at best. So when I can go to a place where I can choose anything I want from a menu or pluck anything I want from a shelf—and know that it's all vegan—it's kind of like coming home to a place that knows who I am. 

Vegan Cuts is one of those places. Everything on their site features vegan products from food to body care, to handbags and clothing, and everything in between. I love that Vegan Cuts is actively and effectively helping start-ups, small businesses, and family-owned companies get their name and brand out into the vegan community and beyond

Because the product options are seemingly limitless, there is a little thrill here for vegans, who can browse and purchase completely vegan items that are not only ethically responsible, but also created by innovative and compassionate companies. 

I got that little thrill when I received a Vegan Cuts Snack Box from the company last week to review on this blog. This item, available through their site, contains 8-10 samples of new vegan items every month. 
While it is called a snack box, not everything here is a snack. My box contained the items listed below. Click on each one to read more about the product, pricing, company mission and more. 

The verdict: This was a great little package to receive, and I would definitely order another one for myself or as a gift for that hard-to-shop-for friend. Order one today or visit Vegan Cuts to view more amazing and completely vegan products.