Thursday, March 31, 2011

Broccoli, Red Pepper and Rice Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce

This was last night's "throw together" dinner.  I had a skimpy stalk of broccoli, a hefty bunch of green onions, and the ends of a red pepper that needed to be used.  The red and green color combination was the perfect inspiration for a noodle dish, so I decided to pull it together with my favorite "go to" sauce made with peanut butter, tamari, toasted sesame oil, red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic and lemon.  Ahhh... success!  So simple, yet oh so satisfying.

Totally raw

The last week of my "Healthy Cooking in a Hurry" class featured a totally raw menu, which made for a really quick and easy dinner since there was no waiting around for things to cook.  I like nights like this, even when it's cold outside.  We started with some Spicy Jicama Fries seasoned with nutritional yeast and chili powder.  I think this is one of the best flavor/texture combinations for addictive snacking, since there's sweet and crispy from the sliced jicama, spicy and salty from the chili powder and sea salt, and a little bit of savory from the nutritional yeast. I'd probably toss regular oven fries with this mix, and maybe popcorn, too.

The entree was Stuffed Red Peppers with Romesco (a savory pate made by pureeing soaked cashews and sundried tomatoes with some special seasonings) topped with Spicy Sprouts and a side of Field Greens Tossed with Dijon Vinaigrette.  Yeah, again, the flavor combinations can't be beat.

For dessert I made a Chia Pudding with Fresh Kiwi, Bananas, and Raspberries.  I've become addicted to this tapioca-like treat, and really, when all you have to do is stir a bit of seeds with some almond or soy milk, then add agave syrup and a pinch of salt, why would you slave over a hot stove stirring tapioca for 30 minutes?  I wouldn't.  This one's gonna be popular once the weather warms up.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Healthy Cooking in a Hurry

Tomorrow begins week #3 of the West Hartford Adult Education class, "Healthy Cooking in a Hurry."  In 3 hours we cook a three-course gluten-free vegan menu using seasonal ingredients.

For the first week, the theme was purple, gold, and green in celebration of "Mardi Gras."  This included a lovely salad made with purple cabbage, green cabbage and carrots.

The entree was Tempeh "Fish Cakes" with Remoulade on Field Greens.  Dessert was a twist on the traditional King Cake made as cookies decorated with purple and gold icing and a sprinkle of crushed pistachios.

Week #2 came right before St. Patrick's Day, so the menu included vibrant green recipes.  We started with a Minted Cream of Asparagus Soup which everyone agreed you'd never believe was vegan.

The entree was Cornmeal Crusted Tofu Cutlets with Mushroom Gravy and Colcannon.  Colcannon is a traditional Irish recipe made with mashed potatoes and chopped greens.  It's a great way to sneak in a little healthiness that you'd never noticed once it's chopped finely and mixed all together with creamy potatoes. It was one of my favorite sides on last week's menu.

The main ingredient for dessert was bright green Granny Smith apples which transformed into a delectable gluten-free vegan version of my grandma's Lithuanian Apple Cake (not quite Irish, but warm and comforting, and a perfect ending to this homestyle meal).

Tomorrow night is Week #3, which will include a recipe I tested this weekend for Chocolate Peanutbutter Cupcakes.  I'm really excited to make these again because they came out pretty close to perfect:  rich and chocolatey but not too sweet, perfect light and spongey crumb, and creamy peanut butter frosting.  These could become a regular feature in the Well on Wheels kitchen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cooking from the PPK (sort of)

That's "Post Punk Kitchen," as in vegan chef extraordinaire Isa Chandra Moskowitz's cramped Brooklyn kitchen.  Not that I was there... but her Cast Iron Stir-fry with Avocado, Basil and Peanuts recipe magically transported me to her vegan headquarters when Well on Wheels stirred up dinner for friends this weekend.

I chose this recipe because of all the colorful ingredients (look at that rainbow in the pot!), the complimentary flavors (spicy ginger & red pepper flakes, sweet veggies, salty tamari... and oh, that hoisin), and the intriguing textures of crunchy peanuts combined with creamy avocado (coincidentally, one of my favorite sushi fillings).

My modification to the recipe:  I cubed the tofu, marinated it in tamari and toasted sesame oil, then baked it in the oven until golden brown and slightly crispy.  It takes a little longer this way, but then there's no crying because the tofu stuck to the pan and turned into an unintentional tofu scramble.

I'm really loving this method of tossing the veggies directly into a hot pan coated with a little peanut oil.  No need for a wok - you just cook what fits in the bottom of the skillet, transfer it to a bowl, then move on to the next batch.  Once everything has had it's moment in the heat and has been cooked to perfection, you return everything to the pan, saute your garlic and ginger, then add your sauce.  Stir it all together and test it for tasty goodness.  

Serve it with some brown rice and your lovely garnishes and this makes the perfect centerpiece for your dinner party.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pan-fried Tofu and Broccoli with Tahini Gravy and Colcannon

Tonight's dinner was a little more creative than most (believe it or not, last night's feast was rice puff cereal) as I had some leftover colcannon from cooking earlier in the day.  What's colcannon you ask?  Well, it's a traditional Irish side dish of mashed potatoes mixed with some chopped greens, usually cabbage, but I made it with Lacinato kale today.  Perfect for St. Patrick's Day, nonetheless.

I decided to pair it with tofu because I had some in my fridge and thought it would make a nice contrast to the mash.  Normally, I bake my tofu after marinating it in tamari and toasted sesame oil, but since I was feeling impatient and hungry after a long hike, I decided to pan-fry it.  This requires a hot skillet (non-stick works best), and enough oil to coat the surface.  After sizzling on the first side for about five minutes, I flipped it over and splashed a little tamari on top.  I let this cook another 5 minutes or so or until it was lightly browned and crispy.  I set the crispy tofu aside, then moved on to the broccoli.

I added just a touch more oil to the pan, dropped in the broccoli (after testing one floret to be sure it was hot and sizzling first), sprinkled it with a pinch of salt, then let it cook until browned.  Really.  You want some browning because that brings out the natural sweetness.  (trust me - it's unbelievably delicious).  If you've ever had toasted kale chips, broccoli cooked with this method is just as addictive.

After removing the broccoli, you'll have bits of brown stuff stuck in the pan which you won't want to go to waste.  So mix together some water, tamari and a little cornstarch, then pour it into the hot skillet to deglaze all that goodness.  Stir it together until it gets thick, then whisk in a little tahini for richness.  Pour this silky gravy over the tofu and serve with your reheated colcannon.  Dinner served in less than 30 minutes (and gone in about 5).  

Sunday, March 13, 2011

White Bean Burgers

Anyone familiar with vegetarian food has probably had some version of a bean burger, usually made with black beans and/or lentils.  For lunch the other day, my mom made a twist on this traditional recipe by substituting white beans and I have to say, it was a great success.  (see Robin Robertson's excellent Black Bean and Walnut Croquette recipe if you'd like to give the original a try.)

She cooked a potato, then mashed it along with the beans and some shredded carrot and onion.  Since I can't eat gluten, she omitted the bread crumbs and I suggested using corn starch instead for the binder.  These came together well after refrigerating for about a half an hour before being friend in the pan.  I served mine on top of a bed of lettuce and topped it with a generous squeeze of spicy brown mustard and relish.  It was the perfect lunch!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

India House

I'm always eager to try an Indian restaurant wherever I travel, so when I was in Northampton, MA the other night, I ventured into this cozy little spot on State Street, right next to Fly by Night Furniture (which has been there over 20 years).  At 6:00, India House was packed, and they don't take reservations.  So, I gave my name and patiently stood shoulder to shoulder in the foyer for 20 minutes along with all the other hungry guests.  This gave me time to ponder the menu, which was not only extensive, but also noted that the kitchen caters to those with special diets, such as gluten-free and vegan.  I wondered excitedly, could this possibly be my first chance in years to eat bread with my meal?

It was.  Though slightly more dense and chewy, Alka's Punjab Paratha was a gluten-free vegan version loaded with flavor from the clay oven and crispy edges, and topped with a light chiffonade of fresh herbs.  It was nonetheless perfect for soaking up the sauce from my entree.

I always try to order something I can't find elsewhere for my main course, so this night I decided to try the Vegetable Kofta Saag, a twist on the usual Saag Paneer which is curried spinach with cheese cubes.  The kofta are light vegetable dumplings, made with a gluten-free batter of chickpea flour, then pan-fried until crisp.  They soaked up the pureed spinach sauce nicely, which was also happily vegan.

I was also pleased to find that I could sample a dessert here, as there was a warm coconut soup on the menu.  The coconut milk was pleasantly soothing on a crisp night, and the shredded coconut and chopped pistachios added even more richness along with their crunch.  As this was my first experience at India House, I'm already dreaming of a return visit, perhaps on a weeknight where the wait is not so long.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

This week's menu

This week's theme was variety.  I was working with a core menu of seasonal ingredients, but had clients with different food preferences.  Because my menus can be customized to suit individual tastes and dietary needs, I was able to make modifications to each dish while also maintaining a balance of delicious flavors, colors and textures.

One entree was Baked Tofu with Curried Butternut Squash Risotto, Toasted Coconut, and Brussels Sprouts.  The risotto is a heavenly, almost decadent, accompaniment to this meal and while one of my clients enjoys its creamy, coconutty taste profile (as do I!), another client requested something lighter, so I made a Mashed Butternut Squash instead.

Another entree this week was Triple Green Tofu made with Asparagus, Green Beans, and Broccoli.  For my client with an aversion to green beans, I substituted zucchini.  Anything green in this stir-fry works well, since it all gets tossed in a sauce spiced with red pepper flakes that adds a refreshing little kick.

The last entree was Broccoli Rabe, White Beans and Marinara with Fresh Basil on Baked Sundried Tomato Polenta.  I like polenta as an alternative to the ubiquitous pasta, and I think the sundried tomatoes add a nice tanginess.  Bitter greens are the way to go as we transition to a new season!

Mashed potatoes and gravy

To me, mashed potatoes and gravy is the epitome of comfort food.  When that cold wind is blowing outside, inside I'm dreaming about something warm and soothing.  So it was the other night when wind gusts nearly blew me off my back porch.  Even though the snow is rapidly vanishing, there's still a chill in the air as winter makes way for spring.  This meal took the edge off.

For a little variety, I boiled a turnip and some garlic along with the Russet potato, then mashed them all together with soy milk and Earth Balance.  The gravy included some sauteed crimini mushrooms and shallots, and was thickened with tahini.  ahhh... divine.