Saturday, July 28, 2012

Truly OMG Crispy Chewy Gluten-free Vegan Pizza

I never believed it was possible until today.  No more biscuit dough.  No more crisp cracker.  No more crust held together with egg whites (not vegan!).  Nope.  This is something reminiscent of a crunchy, chewy baguette, which requires a good, hearty bite and lots of work from strong jaws to break down.  And that's exactly what I like in a pizza crust.

Something about the work involved makes this extra satisfying to me.  A crust that disintegrates in your mouth just doesn't feel substantial, and one that's as crisp as a cracker only feels like a snack.  This was a meal.  Two pieces and I was done (and that was pushing it.... but it was soooo good).

The secret was in the combination of ingredients and technique.  I didn't have a recipe, so I scanned the web for others' experiences making gluten-free dough, and I settled in on one with the fewest and most common ingredients, found on  No requirement to grind your own flour, no teff, quinoa, or sorghum flour which are expensive and sometimes hard to find.

Start by proofing your package of yeast in a bowl of 1 1/2 cups of warm water.  Add 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp sugar and wait till it bubbles.

Then stir in your dry ingredients:  2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Bobs Red Mill 19549 Baking Flour Gluten Free)), 2 tsp xanthan gum, and 1/4 tsp sea salt.  The mixture was a little wet, so I let it sit for about 5 minutes since xanthan gum absorbs liquid as it sits.  But this didn't, so I added about another 1/2 cup of flour till it pulled away from the sides of the bowl and came together in a loose ball.  I still needed to generously dust my hands with flour when I pressed the dough out into the pan, and it still kinda stuck to my fingers like glue (sorry, no photos of that).

As for technique, there was no need to knead, let rise, punch down, or rise a second time (although I do kinda miss that part, but being that I'm impatient, I didn't mind not having to wait).  This was ready right away.

The most important trick I learned was from which had the best recommendation ever:  cook it on a cast iron skillet.  Blogger Jessica Verma recommends placing the skillet in your oven while it preheats for 10-15 minutes while you're making the dough.  Then, when your dough is ready, pull the hot skillet out of the oven, flip it over, and stretch your dough out on top.

I didn't trust my flipping skills with a hot pan (those things are SO darn heavy!), so I just pressed my dough out in the pan deep-dish style.  The dough recipe I used was enough for 2 pies, so half of the ball fit perfectly in the skillet.

Then I baked it at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes, until it got slightly browned.  (My kitchen kinda smelled all yeasty like fresh-baked bread at this point.)

While it was in the oven, I sauteed some zucchini and red onion in a pan, and made a simple sauce with a can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, garlic, fresh basil, and sea salt.

I poured the tomato sauce on top of the crust, added the sauteed veggies, topped it all off with a couple handfuls of Daiya shredded mozzarella, then popped it in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, just to compare, I pressed the other half of the dough out onto an oiled cookie sheet.  I topped this with the remaining sauce and veggies.  I placed this in the oven for about 15-20 minutes.

The result?  Well, as I mentioned, the iron skillet was phenomenal!  Crispy, chewy, golden brown, and the flavors came together perfectly.  And just look at that crust!!

Had I only used the cookie sheet, I would've been underwhelmed. It was good, but nothing compared to the iron skillet version.  Look at that.  Not even close.

So, for future reference, when making pizza at home, if you don't have a baking stone, pull out your heavy skillet.  It will be worth the effort, and you'll get a little workout in the process.

This pulled away perfectly from the skillet, and crunched when I sliced it.

Another angle of supreme deliciousness.

A dinner of pure love.  Leftovers to dream about.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Harvest Saute

When I looked inside my fridge this afternoon, it was empty, except for a sad little lonely zucchini, so I figured it was time to do some grocery shopping to find something to go with it for dinner.  But it was sunny out, and there was nothing on the agenda, so I decided instead to stop by the community garden.

I'm glad I did, because a fellow gardener was there harvesting a bed full of potatoes which he was happy to share.  He also said I could help myself to the hot peppers - don't mind if I do!  These are the kind that turn red and eventually dry into hot pepper flakes which I'll be using later in the season.  The stringbeans were also in abundance, so I filled a bag with a motherlode that will last me all weekend.  The row of lettuce leaf basil was absolutely gorgeous and so thick it was like a hedge.  I picked a couple of bunches because you can't go wrong with basil.

When I brought my haul back home, I wasn't sure how it would all come together.  A tomato based sauce?  Curry?  Instead, I opted for something incredibly simple, which at first I thought might be bland and boring, but because the veggies were so fresh, the minimal ingredients really let the summery flavors shine.

This is my incredibly quick, easy, and surprisingly delicious recipe for a summer saute that can be used as a side dish, or in my case tonight, as a perfect dinner.

Summer Harvest Saute
2 all purpose potatoes, cubed
2 big handfuls of stringbeans, trimmed and cut in half
1 large zucchini, cut into half moons
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 Tbl olive oil
1-2 Tbl Earth Balance margarine
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
sea salt
fresh basil

Place potatoes in a pot of boiling water and boil until fork tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove and drain.  Add stringbeans and boil for 5 minutes, or until soft.  At the risk of overcooking the stringbeans, they soak up the sauce and taste surprisingly buttery if cooked beyond the bright green stage.  Drain and set side.  Meanwhile, in a large pot, saute zucchini and onions in a pan with olive oil on medium low heat.  Cook approximately 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until soft. Add the margarine and Dijon mustard, then turn off the burner and let the heat of the pan melt the margarine.  Stir together to form a sauce and season with sea salt.  Garnish with a chiffonade of fresh basil.    


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of Musical Forest Cafe

Word is out in the southern Connecticut vegan community that there's a new vegetarian restaurant in town, and I finally had a chance this afternoon to seek it out.  Imagine driving along nondescript Route 5 in North Haven, strip mall after strip mall, interspersed by gas stations and fast food joints, and then suddenly you come upon a bright green yard sign proclaiming:  "Vegetarian & Vegan Cafe."  Wait, WHAT??!!  This would probably have caused me to do a double-take and drive off the road had I not been on the lookout for it.
Instead, I safely turned into the parking lot of the Music Center which is where the Musical Forest Cafe is located.  If I hadn't known there was a cafe inside, I would have been very confused.  Needless to say, if you drive up and see teens in t-shirts and Converse hightops carrying guitars and amps, you're in the right place.

There was a nice homey vibe here that made me wish I was a teenager learning to play guitar because I'd think it was The Coolest Thing Ever to have a vegan cafe right where I take lessons. The owner, Mark, is very friendly and accommodating, and is open to ideas since they've only been open for 2 weeks and he wants the place to be successful. 

The menu is basically a veganized cafe menu with burgers, grilled cheese, paninis... I had the empanadas for a little variety. There was also a curry dish which I probably would've ordered if I hadn't made curry for lunch. Everything comes with a choice of 2 sides (pasta salad, black bean salad or coleslaw) - I took 2 slaws because I wanted some veggies, and Mark gave me a free sample of today's special which was Jumbalaya. 

Everything was good, though I might've added some more seasoning to the empanada filling. I appreciated the hot sauce that came with it.  Next time I have a curry craving, I'll be sure to go back.  I was informed that there will soon be vegan desserts available, including Carrot Cake and gluten-free brownies, which I will also have to give a taste test very soon.  

Thanks, Mark, for adding another vegan dining option to the New Haven restaurant scene!

Monday, July 23, 2012

This week's yumminess

Ooo... the stringbeans are tumbling off the vines and into the Well on Wheels kitchen this week.  That, plus zucchini, broccoli, and peppers make this week's menu feel particularly warm and summery.

Cream of Broccoli and Kale Soup

Cajun Tempeh with Scalloped Potatoes and Stringbeans

Chili Spiced Black Bean and Brown Rice Stuffed Zucchini with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Peppers, Onion, and "Sausage" on Baked Polenta 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Raw Summer Party Menu

This weekend I had the honor of creating a raw tasting menu and doing a raw food demonstration for the Active Wellness 3rd anniversary celebration.  The theme was health and wellness, and I wanted to incorporate seasonal flavors such as basil, parsley, and tomatoes for familiarity, but with a raw twist that would surprise guests.

Guests arrived to a table of finger food:  Dilled Sunflower Seed Pate with Cajun Spice, Cucumber Wedges, and Endive Boats; Portobello Cocktail "Meatballas" in a Cashew Bechamel Sauce; Tomato Carpaccio with Sea Salt, Basil Chiffonade and Parsley Oil.  The flowers are in bloom at my community garden, and they made for a lovely centerpiece, including some particularly intoxicating butterfly bush blossoms.

The demonstration involved the assembly of Flaxbread Mini Pizzas using flax crackers as I base which I had made earlier in the dehydrator.  They were topped with Sundried Tomato Marinara, Kalamata Olives and Cashew Cheese Sauce.

I discovered later that the meatballs also made a delicious topping on the mini pizzas!

The biggest surprise of the evening was the sunflower seed pate.  As guests arrived at the table, several asked what kind of hummus this was.  I had to explain to them not only was it not hummus, but that it was made with sunflower seeds instead of chickpeas.  Another surprise was the Bechamel sauce.  It's smooth, rich, and creamy, but there isn't a drop of milk, cream, or cheese in it.  It's simply the magic of soaked cashews plus a Vita-Mix blender!

The evening ending with a discussion of superfoods and a decadent dessert, hand rolled Coconut Manna and Hempseed Cacao Truffles with Fresh Local Blueberries.  This dessert would appease even the most ardent vegan skeptics.  I enjoyed sharing this gourmet raw menu and introducing people to the incredible taste adventure that uncooked foods can be.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Raw Pizza Flax Seed Crackers

I've been having cravings for crunchy things lately, and since crackers generally are not an option because I can't eat gluten, I figured it was time to unpack my dehydrator and make some flax crackers.  In honor of Vegan Pizza Day, which was this Saturday, June 30, I decided to go with a pizza flavor for the theme.

There are tons of recipes out there for flax crackers, so this is an amalgamation of several.  And really, there's not a lot of science involved, so precise measurements aren't essential, and you can just modify it based on your tastes and what you have on hand.

I was cooking for a client in the morning, so I saved my veggie trimmings:  carrot peel, zucchini ends, kale stems, etc., which I added to the mix, and I also tossed in a couple handfuls of sunflower seeds just cause I like them.  But the base was pretty much this:

Flax Crackers
2 cups flax seeds
4 cups water
1 tsp sea salt

I placed the flax seeds in a large bowl.  In my food processor I combined the water and salt with the veggie trimmings and whirred it together until everything was finely chopped.  To evoke "pizza," I added a handful of fresh basil, 2 cloves of garlic, one small yellow onion, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, and about a tablespoon of dried Italian seasoning.  I combined all of this with the flax seeds, stirred it together, checked for seasoning, then I let it sit for about a half an hour.

The mixture is very liquidy to begin with and you'll think you did something wrong, but don't fret.  Once you let the mixture sit, the flax seeds release their gelatinous quality and everything starts to come together like a dough.

Once the mixture reaches this consistency, you can spread it on your dehydrator sheets.  Use a spatula to spread it out to about 1/4 inch thick.  This amount of "dough" fit on 3 sheets.  Then place the sheets in your dehydrator and heat at 115 degrees for about 6 hours, or until the edges start to curl and release from the sheets.  At this point, you'll need to peel off the sheet, and flip them over onto the tray to continue dehydrating the other side.  This takes another 3 hours or so.

To be honest, I'm not sure of the exact time because I was doing laundry and other housework while these "cooked" and when I was done I took a peek inside and saw that the crackers were also done.  Perfect timing!

I like breaking the sheets into rustic looking rectangles, but if you want more uniform pieces, you can use your spatula to trace lines on your batter once it's spread out on the sheets.  That way, the sheets will break evenly.  It's pretty fun either way.

I snacked on a few right away while they were still warm, then I ate some for lunch the next day with my avocado and Romaine lettuce salad.  This recipe makes a gigantic batch that will probably last one person a whole week.  They keep well stored in a sealed plastic bag or container.

Cruuuuunch and enjoy!