January 14th, 2013 § § permalink
Sometimes, a falling leaf is like a butterfly. On its way to its respectable death it dances and twirls, peaking into and out of the setting sun. I saw this very thing on a winter walk.
The image was so haunting, I still dream about those deadly butterflies. In my dream, I was walking into a forest full of those fluttering wings – beautiful moths and butterflies moving unnaturally slow. The trees were made of them and I could see them clustering and fluttering like butterflies do. When I came upon the butterfly laden trees, I could see them attempting to escape. They struggled but could not move. A giant spider crawled up to them and began weaving its fatal trap. All the butterflies were slowly succumbing to their doom. I woke up.
Last autumn, I went with my boyfriend to watch him film monarchs. They are quite splendid creatures and they cluster like heavy fruit on trees, if fruit could quiver. In the coolness of the last moment of sunlight you can see them moving their wings in order to warm up. A foreign tourist was going about collecting the dead butterflies and hiding them in his plastic tupperware.
My dreams seems so unfamiliar to me now but I can trace a lot of their imagery from my recent past. I wake up in sweat and confusion. I wished they felt less consequential.
For the past three years, I’ve made floral arrangements for my boyfriend’s mother on New Years Day. It’s a treat for me, and I enjoy it immensely. I love flowers and plants and I surround myself with them so infrequently. This year I made a series of small arrangements out of fresh kumquat stems and purple artichokes. I collected the kumquats after the arrangements were in need of refreshing for another event. I couldn’t bear throwing them out so I candied them and sealed them in my new Weck jars.
Preserving & Candying Kumquats
Adapted from Tart and Sweet
3 lb of kumquats (halved*, deseeded)
1 vanilla bean
2 c sugar
2 c water
+ Sanitize your glass vessels of choice by boiling them in hot water for 10 minutes. You should be able to make 5 half-pints with 3 pounds of fruit. Place 1 star anise and 1 cinnamon stick into each jar.
+ Boiling kumquats helps to remove the bitterness of the inner flesh. In a small pot, placed your 3 pounds of halved kumquats and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil and then drain the fruit of the bitter water. You need to repeat this two more times to properly remove the bitterness and soften the fruit. Divide your fruit into the five jars.
+ Meanwhile, prepare your simple syrup. Scrape the beans from the vanilla pod and boil it with the water and sugar for two minutes to dissolve the sugar.
+ Pour the syrup into your jars, leaving 1/4” headspace. Seal and process* for at least 10 minutes.
+ Serve on ice cream, creamed oats, or just eat from the jar with a large spoon.
+ I was tempted to make beautiful coins of candied kumquats but they all fall apart after boiling for three times. All of the delicate rounds fell apart. I recommend keeping your kumquats halved.
January 10th, 2013 § § permalink
I’m in search of simple. Usually, my day-to-day kitchen adventures tend to be quick and straightforward – then I come on here and show a few glimpses of something special and idealized. It’s usually not how I cook. Also, I wanted to share this as a precursor to something more complex and sweet (for Monday). After that it’s going to get especially Asian on this blog, for a month or so.
Tonight, however, I am making some socca. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve been to Nice, but if I were to go, I’d eat this three times a day. Socca is a pancake made from chickpea flour. It’s been blogged about a million times, though I never would have believed how amazing it was if I hadn’t made it myself. It’s savory and filling – something that’s hard to achieve in vegan dishes. Everyone loves socca, trust me.
There are of course a million variations for making socca, but my usual accompaniments are these: caramelized red onions, sautéed red bell peppers, and capers. Be sure to mix the batter well in advance for better digestion – I think it also makes a better tasting socca! You can top them with anything from butternut squashes to kale or even a fresh salad. Tonight I am serving this with a golden, chunky borscht and a simple baby kale salad.
1 c. chickpea flour (it is best to use flour made from cooked chickpea – or make it yourself)
1 c. 2TB water
1TB Olive Oil
1 ts. salt
pinch of ground cumin
Toppings: 1 caramelized red onion, 1 sauteed red bell pepper, 1 TB capers
+ Mix socca batter and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes. You can use this time to prep your toppings.
+ Turn on your broiler. Heat your cat iron skillet on the stove and put in about 1 TB of olive oil. My skillet is about 10 inches so it makes 2 pancakes from this recipe. Once your oil and skillet is hot, pour in your batter and allow to cook while you top it with your desired toppings*. Your batter will get solidified and crispy around the edges. Immediately place your skillet into the broiler to roast. The toppings and pancake will get crispy and nearly burnt – similar to the socca cooked in fiery flames in Nice. Serve immediately.
*If you want to top it off with raw, fresh ingredients, skip this step.
November 19th, 2012 § § permalink
Day 5 of my 7 Days of Thanksgiving posting brings you Grilled Cabbage with Lemons – I can hardly think of a better $2 well spent. I can’t remember when the tradition started, but I’ve always liked making cabbage in its various guises for Thanksgiving. It’s so easy to prep, and I never fret about “messing it up” because it’s 2/$1 at my corner store. It’s purely peasant fare and tends to be overlooked this time of year when everyone makes such concerted efforts to impress. This dish is not the typical cabbage soup of Russian winters or a pickled kraut to sit aside sausages. It’s more like a crispy salad that cleanses your palate so you can feel a little lighter after two plates of heavy food.
I made this a few years ago during my first Thanksgiving in San Francisco. It was the first time I had access to a charcoal grill on turkey day so I turned my typical cabbage dish – shredded and sauteed with pine nuts and soy sauce – into this simple grilled affair. It looked curious and vibrant on the table next to brown casseroles and mashes but it was devoured completely by the end of the night. I had a request for the dish the second year so I think this is my new Thanksgiving specialty. I especially love how quickly this dish comes together in about 15 minutes.
I wanted to test this out on the stove and in the oven since the grill is not an option for everyone and it fried up perfectly on my skillet. I tried the broiler first but it took way too long, but the skillet managed to “grill” the wedges of my giant cabbage in 10 minutes. Not bad. You can also pre-cut and oil the wedges in advance, but it takes no more than a minute for the minimal prep.
Grilled Cabbage with Lemon
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Salt, Pepper, and Olive Oil
+ Slice cabbage into 1.5″ thick wedges and brush liberally with olive oil. Dust salt and pepper onto the cabbage wedges and grill them on a skillet or hot grill until cabbage start to wilt. They will be slightly burned yet still crunchy. Squeeze lemon onto the wedges and serve immediately.
November 18th, 2012 § § permalink
Day 4 of my 7 Days of Thanksgiving posting brings you my main dish! I underestimated my time for this so I brought out a soft box to take some nighttime photos, but I’m not happy with them at all. I hope I make it through to Thanksgiving day. Making/posting everyday is very hard, and I applaud anyone who does that. Pheeewwwwwwww. Did I mention this dish is vegan?
Feeding Vegans can be difficult this time of year. Last year, I made Peter Berley’s roasted seitan but it was quickly eaten by meat eaters who thought it looked like meat – they also thought it was great (I kindly informed them that they had two turkeys and ham, so please stop). This year, I’m making this sausage stuffed squash and hiding it. I tested these on the meat eating men of the household and they approved. Paul even had a second one – he thought it tasted like meat. I migh tadd some celery to this stuffing so I’ll let you know after Thanksgiving how it goes!
I’m not being paid for this endorsement, but here it is. Buy this sausage. I eat it all the time sautéed with kale, garlic and red chili flakes, but now I’m using it as a meaty stuffing. It’s perfectly seasoned and sticky. Wonderful vegetarian products like this is great for thanksgiving when you don’t need to make everything from scratch. Save your efforts for gravy.
Also, I must say, I’m tired of quinoa stuffed acorn squash or anything like healthy grains. It ‘s Thanksgiving! I need something heavy and ridiculous because there’s a digestive that needs to be fed (Wednesday’s Post). The mushroom level in this recipe is a must. If you have to give up eating meat, dairy, and eggs, this is a good way to go.
Vegan Sausage and Mushroom Stuffed Acorn Squash with Mushroom Gravy
6 mini acorn squashes or 3 regular acorn squash, halved and deseeded
1 Gimme Lean Sausage Style (don’t get ground beef style)
1 lb mixed mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 TB sage, chopped
1 spring of thyme, chopped
1/2 c coarse bread crumbs
1 mushroom gravy recipe (I used my basic veggie stock in lieu of chicken)
+ Soak dried mushroom in hot water for gravy recipe.
+ Preheat oven to 350. Brush squash with melted butter and sprinkle a little salt onto the cut flesh. Fill a casserole dish or pyrex pan with 1/2″ water and placed squash cut side up. Bake for 30 minutes.
+ Meanwhile, make the sausage stuffing. Sautee the onion, garlic, and herbs until onions are tender. Add mushrooms and cook until soft. Depending on how large your mushrooms are cut, this might take more than 15 minutes. I don’t let them get too soft because they add to the texture of the stuffing. The less tender they are, the more contrast to your stuffed squash.
+ Mix the cooked mushroom mixture with the Gimme Lean sausage and breadcrumbs. I think a stand mixer might be useful. I did this with my hand, but I couldn’t do anything else until that was thoroughly mixed.
+ Remove the squash from the oven and evenly distribute the stuffing amongst the halves.
+ Bake uncovered in the oven while you finish the gravy. The stuffed squash should be ready by the time the gravy is finished. Check the internal temperature – it should be around 160 degrees.
September 6th, 2012 § § permalink
I’m really late to the bean parade. It’s just that I am a lady if you know what I mean – but there’s one exception, and I will often make such and exception if the cause is beauty. So let me introduce you to the most beautiful bean I know. It is called Borlotti, or cranberry or sometimes even French Horticultural beans despite being quite Italian. I’ve never cooked dried cranberry beans because I will most certainly burn them. I burnt the last batch of dried beans and caused a minor uproar when everybody thought the house was on fire. I have this way of making a mess of the least persnickety things in the kitchen. So, the most convenient solution to this is to gorge on fresh beans while they last. That time is now – the cusp of summer and fall.
Fresh Borlotti beans are like little dinosaur eggs that range from creamy white with little red and pink speckles to solid bright pink; although their coloring is quite fleeting because once you cook them, they all turn white. This is sad, but hey, they taste amazing when fresh. If you’ve eaten dried and canned beans all of your life, this is the time to stop and try some fresh beans. They are creamy and delicate, unlike anything you’ve ever expected from legumes. Plus, they cook in about 20 minutes.
This Tuscan dish is vegan and uses five very simple ingredients: beans, tomatoes, garlic, sage, olive oil. You’ll be tempted to augment it with all sorts of creative and mundane things, but just try it and see what I mean; its comfort is simplicity. All’uccelletto in Italian means “a small bird” so to cook in this fashion is to use the same ingredient, though the bird here is replaced by Borlotti beans. If I ever find myself in Tuscany, I hope an Italian family takes me home and serves me a heaping bowl of this.
1 1/2 c. fresh Borlotti beans*
4 c. roasted tomatoes**
2 TB fresh sage or 2 ts. dried sage
1/4 -1/2 c. olive oil
3 cloves of minced garlic
+ Cook beans in salted water until tender – about 20 minutes, taste for softness. Save cooking water.
+ Heat 1/4 c. olive oil on medium heat and add garlic, cooking until soft. Add sage and stir to heat for about a minute. Add tomatoes and cooked beans and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered for 25 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, adding more oil and reserved water to acquire a nice sauce consistency. I never skimp on the oil…
+ Serve over pasta such as ziti for a vegan meal or as a side.
* You can also use dry beans, just be sure to soak them overnight and cook with more care than I do.
** I roast large batches of tomatoes and keep them in the fridge to use as needed. If you have fresh ones, you can certainly put in 2lbs of fresh ripe tomatoes in lieu of roasted ones.