Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mediterranean Influenced Bean Salad

Fred is embarking on a new health and fitness journey. Part of his plan is to up his protein intake. In an effort to do all I can to support him (and to limit the possibility of meat being suggested) I am whole heartedly getting on the bandwagon to find veg sources of protein rich dishes. I find my body is happier on a higher protein regimen, so this should be a very good thing for both of us.

After our Mediterranean themed Easter dinner, I am still feeling the glow of love for things Med. Before work yesterday, I needed to throw something quick, filling and healthy together. (I was hoping for Easter leftovers, but there were none to be had). I have to say, working with what I had in the fridge and the pantry, this salad came out quite nicely. It is just perfect for the warm weather here and our eating goals. This one could be easily doubled for a big pot luck too! It screams of spring and of picnic fare. If you are looking for a quick cool treat, this is a great option! I hope you enjoy this one.

Mediterranean Influenced Bean Salad

2 - 14.5 oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, about 1/2 inch dice
2 medium sized tomatoes seeded and diced
1 large cucumber, unpeeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup tightly backed fresh basil, chiffonade
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh, finely chopped)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Get yourself a big old bowl. Throw all of the goodies in and stir to distribute ingredients evenly. This one is best if you let it marinate in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

Serve with sliced baguette. You could also use this as a wonderful bruschetta topping.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Eats and Family Treats

I hope you and yours had a wonderful Easter weekend. I have to brag that we had just perfect weather this weekend. It was in the upper 80's and breezy. I worked most of the weekend, but Sunday I decided to take 1/2 day of vacation and don my apron to make an Easter spread for the fam. Fred got busy filling the plastic eggs while I toiled away in the kitchen.

It is always a fun challenge for me to decide what to make for our crew. Our family and friends are mostly carnivores, but after a couple of years of our vegginess, they have been very receptive to vegan holiday meals at our humble abode. This year my planning began with my ongoing excitement about our mutantly splendid artichoke plant. It is producing a crazy amount of beautiful globes! I picked 10 this week and there are at least 20 more on the plant. Crazy = AWESOME!! This phenomenon will most likely get its own post in the next couple of days. I pulled out and dusted off a couple of books that haven't seen the light of my kitchen in a very long time: Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein and Nonna's Italian Kitchen by Bryanna Clark Grogan.  Both books have wonderful options, but this time I focused on the former because of the ingredients I had on hand.

The artichokes got the royal treatment with Klein's Nicoise Stuffed Artichoke recipe. The stuffing was a delightful combination that included kalamata olives, tomatoes, onions and garlic jammed into our fresh from the garden 'chokes. The stuffed beauties were baked in a bath of white wine and veggie broth. The white wine gave them a lovely delicate hint of fruitiness. The only question I have is why did mother Earth decide to make the hearts so small and the tough leaves so big. It's just seems unfair. I really like this preparation and can see this being a favorite.

I kind of cheated on our other appetizer platter. I used bottled Paul Newman's light Balsamic Vinegarette to marinate the grilled vegetables. I need to use up the bottle and I was a bit short on time. This filled the bill just fine. I marinated fresh red bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, asparagus, baby zucchini and steamed garnet yams. Our lovely daughter grilled them to perfection. Little side note: I have to tell you that when I married Fred, I received a wonderful gift: a beautiful family that I feel so lucky to be a part of. It's always so much fun having both sides of the family hanging out and truly enjoying each others' company. Thank you guy for all of the love :)

Here is the appetizer spread.

Next up was the Greek Lenten Spinach Pie. Hey it was Easter and although I don't partake in the lenten rituals myself, I appreciate food traditions. This was a lovely presentation. We were able to get fresh dill from our garden. The interplay of the dill, the touch of fennel and nutmeg was interesting and quite tasty! I think I should have used a bit more olive oil between the layers, but not a crumb was left.

Our second entree is a family favorite that, if you've been reading for a while, have likely seen before: Gourmet Pasta. It's always a sure fire hit with our gang. It is creamy, hearty and so so so decadent.

The dinner plate

For dessert we were once again treated by our lovely daughter. She is and incredible gourmet cook in addition to being just an awesome person. She loves to create her own recipes, but for this occasion she pulled out a vegan classic: Vegan with a Vengeance. She made the carrot cake recipe from the book (can't remember the name of the recipe) minus the macadamia nuts. I am not usually a fan of the coconut flakes, but this cake is outstanding. It is moist and rich and awesome. She used a bit of Toffuti cream cheese in the frosting and subbed 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour. Check it out! Beautiful.

The luscious middle

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Food Network Friday - Emeril's Cowboy "Chicken" Casserole

This week the FNF crew took on Emeril Lagasse's Cowboy Chicken Casserole. I am an Emeril fan from way back (the early years anyway). His penchant for making decadent and flavorful dishes always made my mouth water. At first glance the ingredient list is a bit overwhelming. It is a huge list of ingredients, especially if you make Emeril's Southwestern Seasoning. As is my nature, I had to up the heat profile for this challenge. I am not going to list out the whole recipe here, because it still needs a bit of work. Honestly, I think this has great potential for being radically modified for my book project, so mum's going to be the word until I get it perfected.

Here it is just out of the oven.

I will tell you that for this first run I subbed Terry Hope Romero's steamed white seitan for the chicken. I subbed pasilla chiles for the green pepper, kept the seeds in the jalapenos, and added roasted Hatch chiles with the seeds in (in a much larger proportion) for the tomato mixture. I modified the seasonings so I didn't have to make the full recipe of Emeril's Seasoning. So while the original premise might have been the same as his original recipe, some delicious detours were taken.

A couple of notes on my conversion experience: first, I didn't have enough liquid left over to properly moisten the tortilla chips. They came out with a rather unpleasant funky texture. I had hoped to use 1/2 Daiya Pepper Jack and 1/2 Cheddar, but when I went to sprinkle on the Pepper Jack, it was moldy (EW), so I ended up using all Cheddar Daiya. At first I thought the filling needed more liquid as well, but it was actually really nice. I loved the spiced up version. I may even add more chiles and jalapenos next time! I made a smaller version and used an 8 x 8 square pan. I cut the cooking time to about 38 minutes. This was so rich and filling, I am betting you could serve about 8 people with the smaller version, especially if you serve it with a salad. This would make a great potluck dish.

Here you can see a nice shot of the creamy spicy filling.

Sorry for no recipe. But I know you creative cooking types can take that original recipe and create your own ridiculously decadent crowd pleasin' casserole from it!I am going to be up for hours I'm so full and I only had a small portion. BURP!!!

I've been having so much fun trying recipes from different cookbooks and doing FNF I haven't been creating my own stuff. I need to get to work on some new original recipes for you! Soon, my patient friends, soon!

Don't forget to check out Tami's wrap up at Vegan Appetite!!!

Last but not least, another shot in the pan.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vining and Dining from the Vegan Table Part 1

Tonight we took our first delicious delve into the Vegan Table. I have to confess I don't yet own this book, but I am certain I will very shortly.

Tonight we had the pleasure of making two recipes from The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. First up were the Tempeh and Eggplant Pot Pies (pg. 206). Now I have to tell you that Fred is hardly a fan of tempeh and I am not normally a fan of eggplant, so I wasn't sure how this selection would be received by either of us. Frankly, I figured we would try a bite and drown our sorrows in Fred's wine selection. Which, honestly is not a losing proposition, because the weather tonight was beautiful for drinking dinner. But I digress.

One of the things I noticed immediately about the recipes is that she gives lots of suggestions (and permission) for options and substitutions. I took her up on this and made a few small changes. I stayed pretty true to the recipe for the pot pies. I only made 1/2 of the recipe because of the afore mentioned dislike of certain ingredients, oh doubter that I am. I added a small carrot. I just couldn't help it. I picked some fresh out of the garden this afternoon and it seemed sacrilegious to leave Mr. Carrot out of the mix. I used the max amount of capers because that's the way I roll. I love their salty piquanty nature. I didn't have ramekins, but I did have some mini spring form pans that fit the bill perfectly. I lined them with parchment paper so no goo would escape.

The recipe was pretty simple to make. I was moving slowly today because I could. I chopped and cut everything before I started as Fred was shopping for the wine and I had no idea how long he'd take. He has a reputation for spending a lot of time bending the ears of the folks in the wine stores and department doing research, a trait I find very endearing. Had I not done the prep work, there was plenty of time to do slicing, dicing and mixing at each phase. The filling probably took about 30 minutes total. I was able to mix up the biscuit dough while it was simmering. The pot pies baked for exactly 15 minutes. OK, this was very tasty! We were both pleasantly surprised by the yumminess of this dish! I thought the filling to biscuit mixture leaned a bit heavy on the biscuit side, but Fred insisted it balanced the stronger flavors of the filling perfectly. The biscuit layer had a really great crumb, texture and moisture content. The filling boasted lots of flavor from the capers, fennel and red pepper. Fred said the fennel made it for him.

The side dish selection for this evening was the Garlic-Glazed Green Beans (pg. 241). I was fortunate to find awesome organic green beans today. I opted to substitute fresh dill from our garden for the marjoram. I also opted to add toasted walnuts. In my opinion these should not be optional. They made the dish pop. I also added minced shallots with the garlic. The first bite I had, I felt was too sweet (I'll probably cut back on the maple syrup next time). But as they cooled down a bit, they achieved a wonderful balance of flavors. Fred thought they were great. I thought they complimented the more piquant spicy flavor of the pot pies nicely. The full recipe states that it is two servings. We made 1/2 the recipe and it was plenty for 2 as a side dish.

Although I don't have my own copy yet, I am really excited to get the book and try more recipes from it.

With Kim's fennel, nuttiness of tempeh, acid in eggplant, spiceness of red pepper recipe I had to find a wine that could hold it's own and not lose it's identity but yet did not want to take first place. The general consensus of the experienced help at one of my favorite wine stores was a chianti but I was unable to find a vegan one. I headed for the youth department where a couple of barely 21 year olds were all over the vegan idea, it was actually fun for my helper. He turned me onto a red Beaujolais from France. Normally Beaujolais are meant to be drunk very young but this particular "2007 Moulin-A-Vent" (windmill) can last up to ten years. At $17 a bottle the berry forward wine was a great buy and complimented the recipe very well.

**Kim's side note on the wine. This wine had definite berry characteristics, but I noticed that with the food a kind of peppery spice showed came out from hiding in the wine. We finished the bottle after the food was gone and it returned to its delightfully light and berry character. This is a great summer wine and very reasonable.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Vine and Dine - Tal Ronnen's Cajun Portobello Sandwich

Fred and I shimmied our way into Vine and Dine with two of my favorite foodies and bloggers Tami of Vegan Appetite and LIz of Cooking the Vegan Books. We also recruited our boyz to join in the fun by pairing wines with our recipe selection. This week Tal Ronnen's Conscious Cook was the book of choice. The Cajun Portobello Sandwich with Avocado and Remoulade (pg. 112) was the recipe of choice. First off, I really must get into the habit of reading recipes in detail before I make my plan. I had a tendency to browse them and miss some important details. I have been trying to eat earlier in the evening and though, "oh, a sandwich, this will be quick and easy." Well, I got the easy part right, but this one takes a bit of time. You have to reduce the marinade/cooking liquid for 20 minutes, then let the mushrooms marinade for another hour. So much for quick. I thought for a veggie type sandwich this one was a bit fussy was the word I kept using. But seriously, more if it was my lack of planning.

We have a serious lack of good bakeries here. It is always a challenge to find that perfect sandwich bread. I ended up using a demi loaf of french bread with pretty good results. I do wish I would have had time to make Tami's Black Pepper Baguette as I think it would have been perfect here. Now, even with all the fuss, I do have to say this was a really good sandwich! I love anything blackened and spicy. Add to that my love of portobellos and this really was my kind of sammy. I made 1/2 the recipe but a full recipe of the remoulade. Quite to my delight, the leftover remoulade actually made a pretty darn good potato salad for our house guest this weekend. I felt quite frugal and all left over savvy. 

Fred made an excellent selection for the wine.Check out his debut wine review.

I admit I had to have help with a pairing of what Kim was going to cook. I finally found "Ramone", who at first sight of me, I think, ran. Visually, people take me as a beer and whiskey guy, so not so. I imagine he thought I was there to kidnap him and take him to Montana to mate with goats. After I had explained myself, I received the best 30 minute wine class ever! 

Ramone pointed out several wines that covered a wide range of compliments. I chose a 2009 Chante Cigale,from the southeast part of France ( appellation Chateauneuf-Du-Pape) that is a blend of four varietals. Ronnen's recipe was light and vegetabaly but yet slightly earthy so I needed a white wine that could hold its own. The different grapes in this wine, combined, bought a minerality, acidity, balance and taste that produced a white wine strong enough to compliment the recipe but yet was exceptionally smooth, mild, and had a srong base. Our dinner had just the right amount of saltiness and spiciness to bring out a surprise in our wine, a smidge of pepper mixed in the white pear forwardness ( that took us forever to figure out!) We were still finding new tastes at the last sip. What a delightful wine for our night! 

Fred and I really enjoyed our first Vine and Dine. It was a great opportunity to pair up food, wine and ourselves in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

PPK Cook Book Challenge - Week 10 - Viva Vegan

Week 10 featured Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan. Yes, I am very late posting for week 10. But no, I didn't want to miss this book. I was a tester for this book what seems like years ago. It is full of fantastic latin influenced recipes. The flavors and textures of Terry's dishes are truly inspired. I love this book not only for its great variety of dishes, but for how well it is laid out. This may sound strange, but the font style and size make it very easy to read when you are flying around the kitchen. You've got to try the Spicy Tortilla Casserole with Pablanos (pg. 142). You might have to take out a second mortgage to buy pine nuts these days, but the pine nut crema is outstanding. I also fell in love with the Tostones with Avocado and Palm Ceviche (pg. 61). I took a bit of a liberty with this recipe. I didn't make the tostones, but served the Ceviche in an avocado half. Heaven!!

I tested many recipes for this book, but I never braved tamale making during testing (or before for that matter). I have to admit, I am not a tamale fan or lover, so to take hours to make something I feel "meh" about, was not on the top of my list. However, I do have a slight obsession with trying cooking techniques that I have not used much in the past. I am not a stranger to tamale making per se. My good friend ML introduced me to the process several years ago. Now SHE knows how to make the tamale experience fun. There are always margaritas and beer flowing at the assembly table. She invites a whole gaggle of women over to make quick work of the assembly. Her delightfully funny hubby Mike made up a special tool for mixing up the masa (think power drill with a strange mixing device on the end). She makes her fillings from scratch and has them ready to go when her assembly team arrives. Her tamales are famous at work, but they are decidedly not vegan.

I had actually purchased the corn husks during testing for the book. Thankfully those puppies last forever. I decided if I was going to do this thing, I would do two different varieties. I chose the Black Bean-Sweet Potato Tamales and the Red Chile Seitan Tamales. I made the Steamed Red Seitan in the morning. Then I made the filling for the black bean and sweet potato version. I had a very bad run at making Terry's chili sauce because I skipped the very important note on rinsing the chiles after they were soft. Talk about bitter. Holy crap!!! The second shot turned out perfect using a combination of Pasillas and Chile de Arbol. Nice heat.

This project was a semi-last minute decision, so I was certain I would be alone in my tamale adventure as I was solo this weekend. You have to love FB! I put a call out and my awesome friend Daphne volunteered to roll with me. We never seem to have time to hang out together, so this was a double bonus. It was a good thing she came. She had to teach me some rolling techniques, as I didn't take the time to read Terry's most excellent tutorial. So we spend several hours assembling, watching Food Network and enjoying some Mexican beer. Oh yeah!!!

The masa dough was really great to work with. Daphne noted that usually she is covered with sticky masa all over her hands and, well, pretty much every where. I mixed up a double batch of the savory masa dough (pg. 188), soaked the husks, and we got to rolling. It took a lot more than an hour to get them to firm up. But firm up they did. I thought they were both very tasty, but for me the Red Chile Seitan were the big winner. The chile sauce was soooo good on them too. We gorged ourselves on a few of the little beauties, Daphne took a bunch home and the rest are in the freezer. I love having back up meals in the freezer. So, in short, this is an excellent tamale recipe, but for me, if I'm going to take on a day long project, I would probably be making up some pierogi or home made ravioli.  But if you are a tamale lover, I highly recommend making these. The texture and flavor are just like the non-vegan version.

Feast your eyes:

Daphne is ready to roll. Here is our assembly line.

In the steamer

Getting Sauced - Tamales and Cooks

Black Bean and Sweet Potato

A little blurry, but here is the Red Chile Seitan Version

Tomorrow: Fred and I are joining Tami and Jim of Vegan Appetite and Liz and Matthew of Cooking the Vegan Books for Vine and Dine. Whence the chicks make a recipe from an awesome vegan cook book and the dudes pair a wine. Then we tell you all about it! This week's recipe was from the Conscious Cook and Fred did a great job with the pairing...until tomorrow!!