Category Archives: vegan

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream, St. Patrick’s Day, and Racism

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
                                  -WB Yeats

Apparently I only make cupcakes with booze in them.

A Missed Opportunity…

car bomb ingredients; kaluha has been dropped from most people's version. image from Sgt Mac's BarA friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.

An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.

…to Offend Someone?

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.

No longer available, unclear if that's due to complaints or not. I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”   

The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.

The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**

Disclaimer: the lepruchan on the bottle is not meant to represent all Irish people or all people named Steve who have nieces and/or nephews, nor to imply that all Irish people or Uncles Steve wear green suits habitually or drink or even *like* Stout beer brewed in the style associated with Ireland, although it's not exclusive to Ireland, nor should it imply that they like any other kind of beer or alcholic beverages much, or at least not any more than anyone else does. Back to the subject of cupcakes after the jump…

*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?

**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is.

Boo, Crystallized CaramelThey were reasonably pretty before the drizzle. Alas.

Instead of something Irish Cream-related, the third element in the original recipe I followed was a brown sugar caramel. Unfortunately, it crystallized and got clumpy before it was cool enough to drizzle. I followed the recipe exactly, even though I had misgivings, knowing how finicky caramel can be. But the recipe didn’t mention washing the sides of the pot with water or making sure you stop stirring at some point, and the brown sugar made it hard to go by visual cues. So, if you want a smooth, pretty amber drizzle instead of something vaguely excremental, I’d try another recipe—perhaps this one if you wanted to keep it vegan. The agave nectar probably works like the corn syrup that helps prevent crystallization in many normal recipes. Or you could amp up the Irish Whisky flavor by subbing that for the bourbon in a recipe like this.

Verdict

Honestly, these basically tasted like chocolate cupcakes with super-sweet vanilla buttercream. The flavor of the stout in the cake part came through a little, but the whiskey barely at all. So although they certainly sound like they’re in the spirit of the coming holiday, their “Irishness” might require some explanation, a bit like a bad Halloween costume. If I make them again, I’ll frost them with a meringe-based buttercream flavored with Irish Cream and drizzle them with a different caramel recipe, probably spiked with Irish whiskey. And maybe I’ll call them “Grandfather bomb cupcakes.” 

Recipe: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Buttercream (from Chef Chloe)

Ingredients:

with no extended butter-creaming or egg-beating, this is one of the easiest cupcake recipes I've ever madeCupcakes
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stout beer (I used Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
ButtercreamJameson or Powers or whatever your favorite Irish whisky is would also work fine here
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine, at room temperature (vegan if desired)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons milk (vegan if desired)
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Irish whiskey
Caramel
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup margarine (vegan if desired, like Earth Balance)
  • 4 teaspoons milk (vegan if desired)

Method:

For the cupcakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line regular cupcake pans with 14-16 liners (I used 14 as called for, but they overflowed the cups a bit and then sank, so I would do 16 next time.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter may be lumpy—that’s okay. Don’t over-mix or you’ll get too much gluten development and they’ll be tough and/or they’ll be flat because you deflated some of the leavening that begins as soon as the baking soda mixes with the liquid and acid.

3. Fill the lined cupcake tins between half and two-thirds full. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

slightly fallen. probably means the cups were filled too full.

For the buttercream:

1. Beat the shortening or margarine (or other solid fat at room temperature) until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined. Add the milk 1 Tablespoon at at time until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the whiskey, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve the desired taste. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until very light and fluffy.

2. If your cupcakes also fell, you can level the top with frosting if desired. To decorate with a soft-serve style swirl, transfer the frosting to a piping bag or zip-top bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe in a spiral, starting on the outside edge and working towards the center.

3. Dust the top with cocoa powder if desired—I put about a teaspoon of cocoa in a fine mesh sieve and then hold the sieve over the frosted cupcakes and tap the side of the basket with the spoon.

It's possible that I undercooked or overcooked the caramel? Based on this recipe,it's impossible to tell. Really, just don't use this part of this recipe, please.For the (gritty, crystallized) caramel:

1. Combine the brown sugar, margarine, and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it  comes together.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.

3. Let cool slightly and transfer to a ziptop bag and drizzle over the cupcakes.

Vegan White Chocolate Truffles: Defense Catering, Part I

the matcha powder made the green tea ganache more solid than the almond-orange ganache 
Green Tea and Almond-Orange White Chocolate Truffles

I catered a luncheon before my defense because it gave me something to pour my nervous energy into. Also, I like feeding people. Also also, doing the cooking myself enabled me to make sure there were options for people who prefer vegan or gluten-free food.*

First up: dessert.

I kind of like how you can see the green a little bit where the white chocolate coating is thinner I used the cheap plastic molds and was afraid they'd be harder to deal with than the flexible silicone ones, but the truffles popped right out when the molds were inverted.

Challenge #1: Vegan White Chocolate

Vegan white chocolate is hard to come by. You can get vegan white baking chips, but they’re usually made with hydrogenated oil rather than cocoa butter, just like the white candy coating that was often labeled “white chocolate” before 2004. Since then, only products consisting of at least 20% cocoa butter can be sold as “white chocolate” in the U.S. and the only other fat can come from milk—none of that hydrogenated oil nonsense. Many premium brands have 40%+ cocoa butter, so they’re basically just like premium milk chocolate without the chocolate liquor.

I’m not a fan of white candy coating, and I suspect that white chocolate’s lousy reputation owes primarily to a residual association with the flavorless, waxy, oil-based, pre-2004 “white chocolate.” The difference between oil-based white candy coating and cocoa butter-based white chocolate is as stark as the difference between chocolate-flavored hydrogenated palm and soybean oil (like the coating on candy bars like Whatchamacalit) and real chocolate made with cocoa butter (like Ghirardelli squares).

Green tea just does not go with milk or dark chocolate for meIf I had to pick one kind of chocolate to eat for the rest of my life, gun to my head, it would be dark and bitter—something like 70% cacao, barely sweet. But especially when I’m making homemade candies, I’m deeply grateful for the unique properties of white chocolate. It’s softer, creamier, and has a much more delicate chocolate flavor. It really lets the vanilla in chocolate shine, which I love. It also pairs beautifully with flavors that tend to get overwhelmed by chocolatlier chocolates, like green tea, blueberry, jasmine, and any citrus other than orange.

I’ve only found one company with national distribution making vegan white chocolate: Organic Nectars in Hudson Valley, New York. They use cashew and coconut milk in place of the dairy. However, one of the Amazon reviews said it was excessively sweet, possibly because there’s more sugar than cocoa butter in the final product. Also, it’s expensive: 1.4 oz bars are normally 3 for $17 (though currently discounted to $10.27). Cocoa butter itself is far less expensive (you can get a pound for just under $10 and organic for $16)** and the other ingredients—sugar and milk powder—are even cheaper.  Bittersweet blog implied that making your own at home was pretty easy—just melt some cocoa butter and whisk in powdered sugar and milk. So I decided to try it.

Failure: White Chocolate with Raw Sugar

I decided I should use raw sugar, whizzed in a food processor until very fine, to avoid any non-vegan sugar bleaching agents in regular powdered sugar. I knew that would make it less white, but “golden chocolate” didn’t sound like such a bad thing. I was so wrong. Even though I processed it as fine as I could, the sugar wouldn’t dissolve, no matter how much I stirred it. I put the mixture back on the heat, hoping to melt the sugar, and ended up scorching the chocolate. Even before that, the mixture seemed to be breaking, like melted butter, so I doubt it would have set up smooth and hard like chocolate is supposed to (commercial manufacturers often add lecithin as an emulsifier for exactly that reason).

hard to tell in this shot maybe, but that is definitely not emulsified chocolate and this is what scorched chocolate looks like.

I wasn’t sure if the problem was the fineness of the sugar, the lack of cornstarch (added to powdered sugar to prevent clumping), or something else entirely, so I decided to do a few, small experimental batches:

Numbered in chronological order--the stove is to the right, so it went from closest to farthestThe left and center are the color you would get using unbleached sugar Test #3, Test #2, and Test #1

Test #1: 1 oz cocoa butter melted and mixed with .33 oz soy milk powder, .88 oz powdered sugar, and 1/3 vanilla bean (the original Bittersweet blog recipe).

Result: Looked similar to tempered white chocolate, but the texture was a little grainy. Seems like the milk powder doesn’t dissolve fully in the cocoa butter.

Test #2: .88 oz raw sugar cooked with 1 oz water and .33 oz soy milk powder until melted and removed from the heat, 1 oz cocoa butter added and allowed to melt, and a pinch of powdered soy lecithin granules and vanilla bean whisked in (based on a recipe from Vegsource)

Result: Texture was smooth, but it never set up. Apparently 1:1 cocoa butter: water is too much. Good flavor, though.

Test #3: .88 oz raw sugar cooked with 1/2 oz water until dissolved and just beginning to caramelize, removed from the heat, 1 oz cocoa butter added and allowed to melt, .33 oz dry milk powder and a pinch of soy lecithin whisked in at the end.

Result: Good flavor, but grainy and a little greasy to the touch. Graininess seems to be from sugar re-crystallizing, not from milk powder.

None of them were great, honestly. I thought about abandoning the project at this point and finding some other small, portable, vegan sweet to make. But I’d sunk too much time and cocoa butter into this project to abandon it. So I decided to use a variation on the Test #2 method for the ganache, which wouldn’t need to set up firmly anyway. And I used the Test #1 method for the coating chocolate. But if you really want a smooth, hard vegan white chocolate, I suggest ordering it from Organic Nectars.

Challenge #2: Vegan Ganache

Ganache is usually made by heating cream just until it simmers and then melting chocolate in it, with liquor or flavoring optional. I decided to sub cashew cream for the dairy cream—made by soaking cashews overnight, blending them with some water, and straining them through a fine mesh sieve. I whisked the vegan milk powder, powdered sugar, and vanilla bean seeds into the cream over medium heat until they dissolved. Then, I removed the mixture from the heat and added the plain cocoa butter, stirring until it was melted. That worked beautifully: totally smooth, creamy, vegan white chocolate ganache.

pre-soaking post-soakinga smooth, thick, white cream--just gritty before straining, but I'll drink this as is. straining out the solids it's not quite as smoth as dairy cream, but pretty close. can be thickened by heating. makes great sauces and ice cream, too.

I added LOTS of matcha, going for as intense a green tea flavor as I could get.

Putting It All Together:

I flavored half of the ganache with 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 teaspoon orange extract and the other half with 1 1/2 tablespoons of matcha (green tea powder).

I made another batch of white chocolate using the Test #1 method and rather than letting it set, I used it to fill candy molds 1/3 full, and then used a small candy brush to paint the sides of the molds. This took a little trial and error: immediately after filling the mold, the chocolate was too runny to coat the sides, but if I waited too long it would harden at the bottom and be difficult to spread. What worked best for me was to fill 4-5 molds with the liquid chocolate, and then go back and paint the sides of each one in the order filled. I put them in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes to harden fully. Then, using a pastry bag, I filled each shell 2/3 of the way with ganache. I let that chill for 15-30 minutes, and then piped more white chocolate on top, using the brush to push it to the edges to seal the filling.painting the moldsthe disposable pastry bags are genius for candy making. no more trying to get solidified chocolate out of the more expensive bags!

I repeated that with dark chocolate, which I melted in a double boiler. Rather than worrying about tempering it perfectly, I added a tablespoon of vegan shortening, which really doesn’t affect the taste or texture much but does ensure a smooth, dark coating with a good snap to it. Again with the painting, chilling, filling, sealing, and more chilling. When they were done, I inverted the molds onto a towel—some of them took a little twisting and shaking to come free.

All in all, I think using the molds was easier than hand-shaping and dipping each one, which I’ve done in the past. I’m actually not sure the white ganache would have set up enough to roll by hand—the matcha helped firm up the green tea ganache, but the extracts made the other one quite soft. If you want to make these and plan on shaping them by hand, it might be a good idea to cook the cashew cream down a little before adding the chocolate and avoid liquid flavorings.

the dark chocolate was much smoother for painting; possibly because of the soy lecithin in it topping the filled truffles

*I decided not to try to accommodate low-carb/paleo dieters because no one I know here is on that particular bandwagon, and trying to do vegan + low-carb makes my head hurt.

**For the failed batch and the test batches, I used the kind you can buy in 1-oz tubes at most pharmacies. For the truffles, I used a pricier “fair trade organic” brand from Whole Foods. Both said “for external use only,” but also claimed to be “100% cocoa butter with no additives,” which is a 100% edible substance. I have eaten at least two truffles-worth on multiple consecutive days with no ill effects. Ochef thinks the “food grade” business re: cocoa butter is just marketing, as it invariably costs more and they’ve also had fine results with the typical pharmacy brands. If you’re worried, buy the “food grade” stuff.

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Truffles
(makes approximately six dozen truffles. consider halving recipe.)

  • 1 cup whole raw cashews
  • 1 cup water, plus more for soaking
  • 16 oz. vegan chocolate for filling (see recipe below for white chocolate)
  • 10-12 oz. vegan chocolate for coating (any kind you like)
  • 1/4 cup cognac, brandy, or liqueur (optional; recommended for dark but not white/milk chocolate especially if shaping by hand as it will make the ganache very soft)
  • flavoring (optional): 2 teaspoons flavor extract, 1/2 teaspoon food-grade essential oil, 2 Tablespoons herbs, dried flowers, tea, or citrus zest (infused in the cream), 1 1/2 Tablespoons flavored powder like matcha

1. Cover the cashews in cold water and let soak overnight. Roasted cashews will have a stronger flavor—if you want the truffles to taste like cashew, use them instead. Raw cashews will make a rich, neutral cream.

2. Drain the cashews and place in a blender or food processor. Add just enough fresh water to cover. Blend until very smooth.

3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth.

4. Heat the cashew cream in a medium saucepan.

Optional step: If you want to flavor the truffles with any herbs, flowers, or teas, add them to the cream. Bring to a simmer, remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs/flowers/tea/zest if using, and bring to a simmer again.

5. Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted and very smooth.

6. Add the liquor or liqueur and any other liquid or powdered flavorings, if using. Taste and adjust if necessary.

6. Shape

For hand-shaped truffles: Chill the ganache in the fridge for 30 minutes or until firm enough to scoop. Using a mellon-baller or two teaspoons, make balls approximately 1” in diameter and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Chill those for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the coating chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Either follow careful tempering temperature guidelines and reserve some of the chocolate to use as “seed” crystals or add a tablespoon of shortening. Let cool slightly. Remove the ganache balls from the fridge and roll gently between your hands to make them smooth (using gloves if desired). Using two spoons or a dipping fork, quickly roll each one in the cooled, melted chocolate and transfer them to parchment or waxed paper to set.

For molded truffles: Melt the coating chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Either follow careful tempering temperature guidelines or add a tablespoon of shortening. Fill molds 1/3 of the way with melted chocolate. Paint the sides. Chill for 5 minutes, or until hard. Fill the hardene shells 1/3 of the way with ganache and chill for 30 minutes. Either paint or pipe more melted chocolate on top to seal the filling.

Recipe: Vegan White Chocolate
(45% cocoa butter)

1 oz sticks are usually about $1 each at most pharmaciesFor 16 oz: 

  • 7.2 oz cocoa butter
  • 2.4 oz vegan milk powder (like Better than Milk)
  • 6.4 oz vegan powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

For ~36 oz:

  • 16 oz cocoa butter
  • 5.3 oz vegan milk powder
  • 14.2 oz vegan powdered sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans

13 sticks, unmolded into a pot1. Gently melt the cocoa butter in a microwave in 10 second bursts or in a double boiler. Cocoa butter will melt at 90F and burns at a much lower temperature than completed chocolate, so watch it carefully and stir frequently. Once about half the butter is melted, you can remove it from the heat and just wait for the rest of it to melt.

3. Add the powdered sugar, milk powder, and vanilla bean seeds and stir until smooth and combined.

4. Pour into a mold or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let sit until hardened (approximately two hours at room temperature, or 15-30 minutes in the fridge).

Spicy Ginger Peanut Stew and a Soup Swap: Take That, Michigan Winter!

Actually, that's sunflower butter b/c I ran out of peanut butter. Same idea, though. Incidentally vegan (which is not incidentally my favorite kind of vegan)

Soup Season is ON

I think the worst thing about January in Michigan is knowing even after we survive it, we still have to deal with February. Would you like some soup? I would like some soup.

I first discovered this recipe sometime during the year or two I ate (mostly) vegan. In many ways, it’s just a standard vegetable soup. It starts with garlic & onion, and then you add some vegetables—it doesn’t really matter what kind. Top with canned tomatoes and enough broth to cover, cook until the veggies are done, season with salt & pepper to taste, and that should be pretty tasty, even if you don’t add anything else. But it’s probably nothing to write home the internet about.

You can add more nut butter if you want something really peanutty. I like it better with just a little.It’s the three elements in the name that make this something worth sharing—a hefty scoop of cayenne pepper, a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh ginger, and a few heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. Together, they transform this from just your average vegetable soup into a spicy, hearty, creamy stew. A hint of coconut, which you can get either by sweating the veggies in coconut oil, adding some coconut milk with the nut butter, or garnishing the soup with a sprinkle of unsweetened dried coconut curls adds another layer of flavor and richness, but it’s also great without the coconut.

To make it more filling, I sometimes add potatoes or rice. In this batch, I used sweet potatoes because I think they’re especially nice with ginger, cayenne, and coconut. Sometimes I throw in a bell pepper or some hearty greens. Carrots would be a welcome addition, too. I actually have a hard time thinking of anything that wouldn’t be good in this—cabbage, peas, corn, winter squash, white potatoes. And although I’ve never tried it, I imagine it would also be good with some beans, shredded cooked chicken, or diced ham if you wanted to add more protein or had leftovers hanging around that you wanted to use up. 

Apparently 2 big onions, a whole head of cauliflower, two heads of broccoli, 4 sweet potatoes, and 5 cans of diced tomatoes is kind of a lot of vegetable matter. Filled 3/4 of my biggest pot, and took over 10 cups of liquid, in addition to the tomato can juice, to cover.This is a 12-qt pot so as written below it makes ~8 quarts of soup?
Easily scaled down—the original recipe makes 4-6 servings.

Swapping Soup

I usually make a giant batch of this once a year and then freeze it in pint jars or 2-cup screw-top tupperware containers, which usually last me through the winter. However, thanks to the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers—especially Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts who hosted the swap—this batch got magically transformed into six different kinds of soup: 

It's like a Michigan winter survival kit!

Clockwise from the top left, that’s Cheddar and Potato with Canadian Bacon (by Bee of Good Food Michigan), Curried Red Lentil Soup (by Mary of A Million Grandmas), a Potato & Sausage soup with lots of fresh dill (by Shayne of Fruitcake or Nuts), my Spicy Ginger Peanut soup, a Corn Chowder with Red and Green Bell Peppers (by Sarah of Una Buona Forchetta), and a Winter Stew with Pork, Beans, & Greens (by Yvonne of Wool and Water).

We tasted them all, along with drinks & bread provided by Shayne and mint chocolate chip cookies from Bee—all of which were delicious—and then filled the containers we’d brought with the leftovers. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea. It would be a great thing to do on a regular basis with a group of friends with similar food preferences/restrictions.

I’ll link to their recipes when/if they post them. Here’s mine:

Recipe: Ginger Peanut Stew (adapted from VegWeb)
makes enough for a crowd, halve or see VegWeb for a smaller amount

  • 4 T. coconut oil (or any neutral cooking oil)How many great recipes start just like this: mince some garlic and/or ginger, dice an onion...
  • 1 head garlic
  • a 2” piece of ginger (about 2 T. minced or grated)
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 head cauliflower*
  • 2 heads broccoli*
  • 4 sweet potatoes*
  • 5 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 6-10 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 t. cayenne (depending on your heat tolerance, you might want to start with 1/2 t. and add more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter**
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or unsweetened shredded coconut to garnish (optional)

*can substitute any diced vegetable for the cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potatoes; add slow-cooking things like root vegetables and winter squash first; hold back on anything you want to remain tender-crisp

**I prefer crunchy, but creamy will work too; you can also substitute any other nut or seed butter you like.

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.

2. Peel and mince or grate the garlic and ginger finely and add them to the oil.

3. Dice the onion and add it to the pot. Stir to coat and let cook while you chop the other vegetables (or, if using pre-chopped or bite sized things, just let them cook for 5-10 minutes until they’re soft). The heat was on a little to high when I started so by the time I got done dicing the onions, some of the garlic & ginger had browned. But at least it didn't burn. Starting something over becasue you burned the garlic is so depressing.Potato cubes need not be perfect, just as long as they're all roughly the same size they should all cook through in the same amount of time

4. Peel and dice the potatoes, if using, and any other root vegetables or winter squash into 1/2”  cubes and add to the onions. Repeat with the cauliflower and broccoli, or whatever else you’re putting in the soup.

Everything chopped and in the pot--it takes me about 40 minutes to throw it together and is ready to eat in just over an hour.5. Sprinkle the veggies with cayenne, stir well, and let cook 3-5 minutes. The onions should be turning golden, if not continue cooking, stirring occasionally until they are.

6. Add the canned tomatoes with their liquid and the water or stock, using more water or stock if necessary to cover the vegetables.

7. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked to your liking. 

8. Stir in the peanut butter and the coconut milk (if using), and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coconut oil, but no coconut milk in this batch.

Curried Squash Fritters with Ranch Raita

I guess this is like South Indian-Southern American fusion?

This is basically a South Asian-inspired summer squash fritter redux. Instead of an egg and whole wheat flour batter seasoned with Old Bay, I used a chickpea (or gram) flour batter seasoned with homemade curry powder, similar to pakoras or bhaji. That incidentally makes this recipe vegan, gluten-free, and grain-free, for anyone who cares about things like that. You could prepare them just like the first version—shaped into patties and griddled until cooked through. However, this time, since I was making them for a party, it seemed like an appropriate occasion for deep-frying.

My primary goal when I’m deep-frying anything, batter-coated or not, is crispness. I want the outside to be crunchy, not soggy or greasy, and I want the inside to be cooked through without any chewy or mushy parts. The trick is getting the temperature of the cooking oil right for the size of the object being fried.

bonus: deep-frying really repairs the season on your wok if it's getting a little torn up

Small fritters (about 2 tablespoons of batter) cook through in about 4-5 minutes, so the goal is for the outside to be golden-brown on the outside by that point but not before. If the oil is too hot, they’ll get too dark too fast and to keep them from burning, you may have to pull them out before the inside is done. That means that even if they’re crispy when you pull them out of the oil, by the time they’re cool enough to eat they’ll be soggy and the insides will still be mushy. If the oil isn’t hot enough, they’ll either fall apart or absorb too much oil, becoming greasy and leaden by the time they’re brown.

Generally, you want the temperature of the oil to be between 345-375F, although that varies somewhat based on the type of fat, what you’re cooking, and your altitude. I usually don’t bother with a thermometer and just try to figure it out through trial and error. Typically, you want the oil to be bubbling but not smoking, and whatever you’re frying should sizzle when you put it in. If something is browning too fast for the inside to cook through, turn the heat down. If there’s no sizzle, or it takes too long to brown, turn the heat up. Just like with griddle cakes, the first one (or two) might not be perfect, but you should be able to figure it out within a few tries. I suppose with no garlic, ginger, or cilantro, and cream instead of yogurt, this really isn't a raita at all...except for the cucumber and onion

Since the batter had some heat to it already (although that ended up being less discernable after frying), I decided I should make some kind of cooling condiment, and ended up deciding on something similar to a classic raita that I hoped would evoke classic Ranch dressing. I started by thickening some cream by letting it sit in a jar overnight with about 1 T. buttermilk, which turned out the consistency of a thin yogurt, just like Alton Brown said it would. I combined that with some grated and drained cucumber and onion and seasoned it with dill, a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, white pepper, and just a pinch of MSG. If I’d known how mild the fritters would be after deep frying, I probably would have added a diced jalapeno or chipotle in adobo as well, but it was pretty good even without any heat.

giant pattypan squash from my garden, which was so big I had to scoop out the seeds like a pumpkin, and an assortment of squash from Needle Lane Farms

Just like the first version of squash fritters I posted, this is a great way to use up summer squash. Salting and draining the squash not only prevents the batter from getting watery, it also really reduces the volume of vegetable matter. I managed to turn all the squash pictured above into about 5-6 cups of shredded squash, which I was able to use up in a single batch of fritters. Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you may want to halve the recipe, but it’s still a pretty good way to get rid of a lot of summer squash at once, and turn it into a main attraction.

Recipe: Curried Zucchini Squash Fritters (adapted from Pakora (Bhaji) Recipe: Spicy, Deep-fried Chickpea Flour Dumplings’>Indian Vegetarian Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium-to-large summer squash (zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, yellow squash, etc.)
  • 3 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 small to medium onion (or half of a large one)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 T. chopped cilantro or parsley
  • 2 1/4 cups chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • curry powder: 1 dried hot chili pepper, 1 t. cumin seeds, 1 t. coriander seeds, 1 t. whole fenugreek, 6 cloves (bud only), 6 peppercorns, 1/2” cinnamon stick (or 1/8 t. ground), 1 t. ground turmeric
  • a pinch of baking powder
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 2-4 T. oil for griddling OR about a quart of canola, peanut, or vegetable oil for deep frying (or lard, clarified butter, or coconut oil if preferred)

1. Grate the squash—much faster in a food processor, but especially if you’re halving the recipe, I guess it wouldn’t take that long with a mandoline or box grater.

before draining, probably ~12 cups of squash

after draining, barely 6 cups

2. Put the shredded squash in a colander (or two), sprinkle the salt over it and toss to coat evenly. Let drain for at least 10-15 minutes and then press out as much moisture as possible. (You can do this a day or two in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to make the fritters.)

3. Toast the cumin, coriander, and fenugreek in a small skillet until fragrant and beginning to brown. Grind along with the chili pepper, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and turmeric in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle until fine.

toasting the seeds blending with chili, cloves, cinnamon and turmeric; this is basically the same curry powder I make when I make dal

4. Mince the garlic, and jalapeno (if using) in a blender, food processor, or with a knife. Add the onion and puree (or grate).

in a classic pakora, onion is usually cut in larger pieces and serves the role the zucchini plays in this recipe, more like onion rings; however, in this recipe the onion becomes part of the batterall the batter ingredients

5. Add the chickpea flour, rice flour, curry powder, baking powder, and water and blend or stir until smooth. Add more water if necessary until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter, or a very thick cream.

5. Add the drained squash and chopped cilantro. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to let the chickpea flour absorb as much water as possible. (You can also refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before frying, but take it out of cold storage 30 minutes to an hour before cooking to let it return to room temperature.)

 will be grainy, especially before resting  squash shreds all incombined

6. If griddling, pre-heat the pan over medium-high heat and add about 1 T. oil and turn the pan to coat evenly. Shape the batter into small patties and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and done throughout. Add more oil as necessary to keep the pan lubricated.

If deep frying, heat the oil in a large pot or wok until bubbling but not smoking. Test a small amount of batter—it should sizzle when it hits the oil, and may sink initially, but should rise to the surface of the oil and bubble vigorously. If it doesn’t sizzle or rise, the oil isn’t hot enough. If it gets too dark too fast, the oil is too hot. Adjust as necessary and then fry the fritters in batches, turning so they brown evenly. Don’t add too many to the pan at the same time or they’ll cause a rapid drop in the temperature of the oil.

7. Drain on paper towels. To keep warm before serving, place the fritters on oven racks set on baking sheets in a 200F oven.

Recipe: Ranch Raita (adapted from Alton Brown)

a jar full of slightly-cultured cream; there's a bit of a skin on the top but that mixed in easily. comparable to creme fraiche, but way cheaper.Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 T. buttermilk
  • 1 small cucumber (or a half of a large one)
  • 1 small onion (or half of a large one)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. lemon juice
  • 1 t. dried dill or 1 T. fresh
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of MSG or nutritional yeast (optional)
  • jalapeno or cayenne (optional)

1. Heat the cream in a small saucepan or for about 30 seconds in a microwave on high until it’s just under 100F.

2. Stir in the buttermilk, pour into a glass jar and let sit in a dark, warm place for 24 hrs.

3. Grate the cucumber and onion, salt all over and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Press to remove as much moistures as possible. Combine with the cultured cream.

I grated both the cucumber and onion with a "ribbon" microplane salted and draining; I saved the juice, but then couldn't think of anything to do with it. might be good combined with tomato juice like homemade V8?

4. Add the lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper, and MSG or nutritional yeast if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you want it spicy, add a diced jalapeno and/or cayenne pepper.

CSA 2010 Files: Kale Chips, Chard Chips, Kohlrabi Top Chips

Green Chip Trifecta, clockwise from the bottom left: kale, kolhrabi greens, chard Another victory in the war against greens fatigue

Every week, we get more and more non-leafy vegetables in our subscription share from Needle Lane Farms—now we’re getting cucumbers and string beans and lots of summer squash along with things like cabbage and fennel that might be technically leafy vegetables but aren’t in the interchangeable-cooking-greens category. However, we still get at least one bunch of cooking greens every week too. Left to my own devices, I would probably buy non-spinach cooking greens once or twice a year. And after 9 straight weeks of eating cooking greens every week, I kind of hit a wall. It turns out there’s only so much kale I can take, even if it’s cooked in bacon fat or a cheese-infused béchamel.

And then, I remembered the kale “chips” that I started seeing on blogs last winter. They all alleged that if  you just toss kale with some oil and coarse salt and maybe some vinegar, and then you bake it, it crisps up and becomes crunchy and delicious. It sounded a little too good to be true. After trying it, I’m declaring it half-true.

before baking after about 12 minutes in the oven

Greens treated this way do get crisp—you could easily crumble them to dust if you wanted to—and they taste mostly like the oil and salt you coat them with. But they do still have a lingering bitterness, which could be either a positive or a negative depending on your palate. I like them enough to eat them, and if I had a bowl within arms’ reach, I’d probably snack on them idly until they were gone. I might even pick at the crumbles at the bottom of the bowl. Brian, who is not generally a fan of kale, has eaten them willingly and says they seem like something he’d expect Japanese people to like, probably because they’re a bit reminiscent of dried seaweed. In general, I feel like this a good thing to do with cooking greens if you’re sick of eating them wilted and dressed or stuffed into every frittata or soup or casserole you make, but you’re compelled for some reason to keep eating them anyway.

However, they’re not so good that I’d encourage anyone to run out and buy some greens just to try it. I definitely wouldn’t expect kids to enjoy them, and if you really just don’t like the taste of kale, this probably won’t redeem it for you. 

Working on the assumption that most cooking greens are basically interchangeable, I also tried it with a bunch of kohlrabi greens and a bunch of rainbow chard, and indeed, they all turn out pretty much the same. The kohlrabi tops are a little more bitter and retain a tiny bit more chew, and the chard is a little more delicate, but I wouldn’t want to have to distinguish between the three in a blind taste test. In the future, I’ll try adding a little vinegar or lemon juice or zest along with the oil to counteract/complement the bitterness, and perhaps some chili powder or garlic powder and nutritional yeast or msg. This actually seems like a perfect nootch vehicle and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t think of that sooner.

Since this counts as a “win” (if not a complete trouncing), I think the official record for Me vs. Greens is 9-1-0 in my favor. I’m counting one mediocre batch of bacon kale as a “tie.” Ten more weeks to go.

not to imply that I'm looking forward to the CSA being done; I'm really enjoying it, and one of the main reasons I joined was to be forced to eat vegetables I wouldn't otherwise eat. I'm just...done with kale for a while. if we get more next week, I'll probably blanche it and freeze it.

Recipe: Kale Chips (originally from Dan Barber on Bon Appetit, via about a million other food blogs many of which are listed on Kalyn’s Kitchen)

clockwise from the bottom right: a bag full of kohlrabi greens, a bunch of kale, and a bunch of rainbow chardIngredients:

  • 1 bunch cooking greens (kale, chard, kohlrabi tops, etc)
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1-2 t. coarse or flaked salt (I used kosher)
  • 1t.-1 T. vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
  • chili powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, msg, or other spices (optional)

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F and line several baking sheets with foil.

2. Strip the greens off their stems—I do this by holding the stem in one hand, and making a circle just below where the leaf starts with the thumb and index finger of my other hand and pulling up. The leaf naturally breaks off right about where the stem gets small enough to eat.

3. Tear the leaves into pieces, roughly 2”-3”.  kohlrabi greens and chard on deck, waiting for the kale to get out of the oven

4. Rinse and dry well. I dunked them in a big bowl of water, spun them in a salad spinner, and then sort of patted them down and scrunched them a few times with a paper towel.

5. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and the vinegar and spices if using. Toss to coat.

6. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

7. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until very crisp and just browning in the thinnest spots. 15-18 minutes was about right for the kale and chard in my oven, and the kohlrabi greens took about 20 minutes.

Tofu Clafoutis with Spiced Plums

or should I say "tofutis"? 

I discovered clafoutis a few years ago while looking for dessert ideas for Iron Chef IV: Battle Chickpea. The floofy name is a little misleading—it’s nothing fancy or elaborate, just a sweetened batter of egg, milk, and flour poured over a few handfuls of fruit and baked. I suspect only the reason that the French name has survived (although sometimes Anglophone menus and recipes drop the silent “s”) is that it doesn’t really have an exact analog in English. It’s somewhere between a custard and a cake, but usually has more flour than the former and more egg than the latter. The closest thing I’ve had is the puffy “Dutch oven pancake” or pannekoek sometimes filled with spiced apples. I’ve also seen it described as a “crustless pie” or “batter pudding.”

and given that it's substantially tofu and fruit and chick peas, you can totally justify eating it for breakfastClafoutis differs from pannekoek in that fruit isn’t just an optional addition, it’s the raison d’etre, the star of the show. The traditional version that hails from the Limousin region of France calls for un-pitted cherries, which supposedly impart a distinctive almond-like flavor, probably due to the same chemical found in peach and apricot pits, the source of “natural” almond flavor. They also all contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is Eric Schlosser’s primary example of why “natural” flavors are not necessarily superior—especially in terms of health—to “artificial ones.” According to wikipedia, the name “clafoutis” actually derives from the Occitan verb “clafir, meaning to fill’ (implied: ‘the batter with cherries’).” Apparently in France, when fruits other than cherries are used, it’s called a “flaugnarde” (which comes from an Old French word that means “soft”). But I’m sticking with “clafoutis” 1) because it’s more common in English regardless of the fruit involved, 2) because the etymology isn’t specific to cherries anyhow so as long as you’re filling it with something it’s no less clafir-ed and, 3) because if anything sounds more egregiously French than clafoutis, it’s flaugnarde.

Savvy readers may be wondering what any of this has to do with chick peas, perhaps imagining some sort of horrible pancake studded with whole chickpeas. The reigning Iron Chef I was competing against did actually make a dessert that basically consisted of a chocolate custard studded with whole chickpeas, so maybe that’s not so crazy. But I doubt he’s done that again since the competition. Also, he lost.

I'm not going to write all three variations every time, but of course chick peas also go by the name "garbanzo beans" and the flour is often sold as "gram flour" What I made—and liked enough to make again—was a clafoutis recipe that substitutes silken tofu and some chickpea flour for the eggs. I got the idea from the now-sadly-defunct blog Hezbollah Tofu, which was devoted to veganizing recipes by Anthony Bourdain to spite him for various incendiary slurs he’s made about vegans and vegetarians (the title is a reference to the quote from Kitchen Confidential: “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.”). Sadly, I didn’t save that recipe and none of the other, similar versions I found used chickpea flour, which was the genius of the Hezbollah Tofu version, and not just because it was the secret ingredient I had to use. Chickpea flour is awesome—it’s the basis of the gorgeous crepes called socca or farinata and an addictive crispy-creamy pan-fried polenta-type stuff called panelle. In this recipe, it adds color, flavor and protein to help make up for the absent eggs.

But using the basic proportions in the other recipes and substituting chickpea flour for the regular flour and then throwing in 1/4 cup regular flour when I remembered that there was something preventing the original from being gluten-free, I managed to reconstruct something similar. I’ve never made or tasted an egg-based clafoutis, so I can’t vouch for its verisimilitude. I suspect that the batter is grainier and the final product less fluffy. It does have a faint soya-like nuttiness/bitterness. However, it’s still pretty delicious.  The fruit and flavor extracts mask the tofu flavor pretty well and the texture seems pretty much exactly like the descriptions of traditional clafoutis—thick and custardy, but with more structural integrity than most custards. A bit like French toast or bread pudding or a crust-less quiche.

they were pretty. i was taken in.You can use any kind of tree fruit or berry, although if the fruit is very firm or under-ripe you might want to cook it a little first. For the Iron Chef battle, I used Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and poached in white wine until just fork-tender. If you want to make the traditional version but don’t relish the idea of spitting cherry pits out of your dessert or pitting a bunch of cherries, you could use thawed frozen cherries and a little almond extract (either synthetic or cyanide-laced). For this version, my inspiration for was a bunch of little plums I had purchased, which turned out to be sort of unpleasant to eat raw. They were sort of bland and sour and instead of getting sweeter over time, they just started to develop mold spots and become grainy. I figured cooking them would be one way to add some sweetness and coax a little more flavor out of them.

I found a recipe for spiced plums roasted in orange juice and adapted that basic technique using white wine and a few different spices. The result was gorgeous—richly perfumed with the wine and a vanilla bean and just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. After spooning the plums out of the wine, I reduced the remaining liquid to syrup, which was way more plummy than the plums themselves and I’ve been drizzling that over the clafoutis before serving it. I know every recipe for every tofu-based dessert ever makes this claim, and it’s only sometimes true, but for real: you will not believe this dessert is made substantially from tofu.

they turned more golden as they roasted, and the sauce turned pink, like it leached that pigment out  "rustic" I think is the word 

Recipe: Tofu Clafoutis (adapted from Vegan Visitor and Nom! Nom! Nom! Blog

Fills one 10” pie pan and three 4-oz baking dishes; can be halved for a thinner clafoutis tofu and sugar in the food processor

  • one package silken tofu
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups milk (soy, nut, dairy, whatever)
  • 1 cup garbanzo bean flour (chickpea flour or gram flour) (I may reduce this to 3/4 cup next time since I remembered belatedly that there was also regular flour and it was a little firmer than it needed to be)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour + more for coating baking dish
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t. vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 1/2-2 cups fruit (whole berries or cut up apples or pears)
  • cooking spray, shortening, lard, or butter for greasing baking dish
  • powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 415F. Grease and flour the baking dish(es).

2. Place the fruit in the prepared baking dish. 

3. In a blender or food processor, blend the tofu and sugar until smooth.

4. Add 1 cup of milk and the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Then add the remaining cup of milk and blend.

fruit in the pie panbatter clafir-ed with plums!

5. Pour the batter over the fruit and place in the oven.

6. Bake for 15 minutes at 415 and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 20-30 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown and the center only wiggles slightly when you shake the pan.

7. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, dust with powdered sugar, and serve. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraiche if desired.

poofed

Recipe: Spiced Plums enameled cast iron works well for this because you can transfer it directly to the stovetop, but any oven-safe dish will do(adapted from AllRecipes)

  • a dozen or so small plums, or half-dozen larger ones 
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 3/4-1 cup white wine
  • one vanilla bean (or 1 t. vanilla extract)
  • zest of one small lemon or orange
  • dash of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and/or cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Halve and pit the plums and place them cut-side up in an oven-safe pot or baking dish.

2. Sprinkle the sugar over them evenly and add the wine.

I use the back of a knife to scrape the seeds outand put the bean in a jar full of sugar to make vanilla sugar, which is great for homemade hot cocoa

3. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the pot (save bean for another use). Grate the citrus zest, nutmeg and cinnamon directly into the pot or add pre-ground spices.

  microplanes are so awesome. I don't even remember how I zested lemons before I had one.this nutmeg was whole when I started, so that's about how much I used.

4. Bake for 20-40 minutes or until the plums are the desired texture—less time if you want them to retain their structure, more if you want to turn them into something like a compote or sauce. If desired, you can remove the plums and boil the liquid to reduce it further.

these would be great on their own with ice cream or creme anglaise or in a cobbler, too  I reduced it until it was thick enough that a path remained for a few seconds when I dragged a spoon through it

Alain’s Winter Squash Soup with Homemade Croutons

both garnishes totally optional; croutons obviously also good for other applications, and yeah, i know: clean those plates!  

How I discovered squash soup…twice

The first time I had butternut squash soup—at a restaurant outside of DC c. 2001—it was a minor revelation. Up until that point, I’d only had winter squash in sweet things, mostly custardy pies and spiced quick breads or snack cakes. Even after eating the whole bowl, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I liked it, but I definitely liked the idea of it.

penguin dude back there still needs a name. I'm thinking "Geoffrey"I found a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that involves roasting the whole butternut squash, halved and with the seeds scooped out, along with a whole head of garlic and a couple of onions wrapped in foil, until all the vegetables are tender and slightly caramelized and then pureeing them with just enough broth to make the mixture smooth. That still sounds incredible to me—roasted garlic! caramelized onion! no squash peeling required! But honestly, I never really liked the soup it produced. It was okay, I guess, but I never really wanted to eat very much of it. I’d usually make a fresh loaf of bread to go along with it and that also sounded like the perfect combination, but once I’d consumed as much of the soup as the bread could absorb, I never really wanted to finish the bowl.

So Alain’s soup was another revelation. It was the starter course at an annual Thanksgiving-season dinner party/potluck where the hosts make so much amazing food that everything the guests bring is basically unnecessary and redundant, but it’s all so damn good that the only reasonable course of action is to eat yourself into a Coma of Delicious Regret. And I knew this—I had just watched John pan-fry these giant mashed potato dumplings filled with pulled pork until they were golden and crisp on the outside and Niki had just brought a big pot full of slow-braised red cabbage down from her apartment on the 2nd floor and they had also made all the classic holiday fare—a glistening turkey and fresh cranberry relish perfumed with orange zest and this gravy that involves simmering a whole lemon in the turkey’s juices, which gets served in a teapot because gravy boats aren’t big enough (and which actually had to be refilled before people came back for seconds because everyone just wanted to pour it over everything on their plates). And then there was everything the dozen or so guests had brought on top of that. But I couldn’t help myself—I had a second helping of the soup. 

just after stirring the milk inIt is somehow both velvety rich and ethereally light. Even though I’ve been making it all winter and Brian knows exactly what’s in it, the recent rutabaga incident has made him sort of suspicious, so last night after he tasted a spoonful, he immediately asked how much butter I’d put in it. When I said “None,” he looked more suspicious and said, “Okay, how much oil?”

None. The only fat in the soup is what’s in the milk and the stock—so you could, using a fat-free broth or bouillon and fat-free milk, make it without any fat at all. Alain says that the best milk to use is soy milk, both because the slight nuttiness is a welcome complement to the squash and it makes the soup creamy but even more ethereal. I usually use regular milk because that’s what I have on hand and it’s also delicious. If you wanted something more substantial or decadent-tasting, you could substitute cream or half and half. The only other ingredients are squash, salt and pepper.

And it’s really easy. You do have to peel the squash, but as it turns out, that’s not any more difficult than scooping the flesh out of the peel once it’s cooked—at least for butternut, peeling acorn squash is kind of a pain. To make the peeling easier, you can cut the squash in half and steam it in the microwave it for a couple of minutes with a little bit of water and then let it cool until you can just pull the tough rind away.

garlic, parmesan, and berb croutons

A Swan Song for Stale Bread

I learned to make croutons when I worked at a Baker’s Square during one of my summer breaks in college. Serving house-made croutons wasn’t restaurant policy or anything; we did stock packaged croutons provided by the company and used those some of the time. But we’d also save all the ends of the bread we used for sandwiches and whenever we had a little extra time, we’d make them into croutons. It’s still my go-to recipe for stale bread when I have it, and the croutons it makes are so much better than store-bought croutons that I occasionally pick up a discounted day-old loaf from the store just for the purpose of crouton-making. 

This hardly merits the name “recipe”—it’s more a list of general guidelines: cube the bread, add some fat and flavor, bake until crisp and lightly browned. I always use at least one kind of dried and powdered allium (garlic, onion, and/or shallot), something umami-rich (parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, and/or msg), and some herbs (usually parsley, thyme, rosemary and/or dill). Paprika or pimentón and buttermilk powder also make nice additions. If you want “Ranch” flavored croutons, use buttermilk powder, garlic powder, minced green onion, dill, and msg. Bake in a hot oven (400-450F) for 12-20 minutes, stirring midway through and rotating the pans to promote even browning.

Recipe: Alain’s Winter Squash Soup peeled

  • 1 1/2-2 lbs winter squash (butternut, acorn, sugar pumpkin, carnival, etc.)
  • 4 cups water or broth (I usually eyeball this by filling the pot to just below the steamer)
  • 1 cup milk (soy recommended, but anything goes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of ground sage, nutmeg, or cinnamon (optional)
  • diced green onion to garnish (optional)

1. Heat the water or broth in a large pot while you peel and cube the squash. I put a steamer tray in the pot—that’s not necessary, but I think it makes it easier to get it out to puree it.

halved, mid-way through seed removal and diced into ~1" cubes

2. Steam or boil the squash for 15-25 minutes or until very tender—you should be able to pierce the flesh with a fork without any resistance.

Feb 2010 II 083Feb 2010 II 085

3. Remove the solids to a blender or food processor and puree, adding broth as necessary to make it blend smoothly.

Feb 2010 II 086 Feb 2010 II 090

4. Return to the pot. You could strain it if you wanted to, but that’s kind of a pain and if the squash is tender enough and you blend it well enough, it should be completely silky without straining.

5. Return to a gentle simmer, cover, and let cook another 15-20 minutes. While not strictly necessary, this seems to make the flavor richer, sweeter, and somehow…deeper.

6. Stir in the milk, remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe: Croutons sometimes the loaves are as cheap ast $.50, which makes these So Much Cheaper than store-bought croutons. the ketchup bottle was a temporary olive oil container that failed because it seemed to sort of...seep? it was really oily and gross to the touch.

  • ~6 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2”-1” cubes (that’s about how much one big loaf yields, obviously  sometimes you’ll have less—I usually just eyeball everything anyway but the following amounts offer some general guidelines)
  • 4 T. liquid fat—oil or melted lard or clarified butter
  • 2 t. salt—I don’t use kosher for this because, like with popcorn, you want finer grains that get better distributed and stick better
  • 1 t. ground pepper
  • 2 t. garlic powder or onion powder
  • 1 T. dried parsley
  • 1 t. thyme, rosemary, dill, or a combination
  • 3 T. finely grated parmesan cheese and/or 2 T. nutritional yeast flakes and/or 1 t. msg
  • 1 t. paprika or pimentón (optional)
  • 2 T. buttermilk powder (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400F and line two baking sheets with foil. Spray foil lightly with cooking spray if seasoneddesired—that will help prevent the croutons from sticking to it.

2. Drizzle bread cubes with oil and toss to coat lightly.

3. Add the seasonings and toss to coat evenly. Spread on the prepared sheets in a single layer.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. After 7 or 8 minutes, remove the pans and stir the croutons and rotate the pans so the croutons get evenly toasted and browned.

5. Let cool completely before placing in an airtight container, like a zip-top bag. Will keep almost indefinitely, but best within 4-6 weeks.

 before bakingafter baking

Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote

I decided "Pruney Polenta Porridge" was a little too Precious

The Michigan weather gods have been teasing us with a premature Spring, which is glorious in the way that 50-degree sun can only be north of the 40th parallel. But I know it’s not going to last. Californians might be able to look forward to the first asparagus this month and fresh peas not long after, but here the only things “in season” for months to come are kale and cabbage and trucked-in citrus. So here’s one of my favorite winter porridges, adapted from World’s Healthiest Foods. The polenta offers a nice change of pace from oats and simmering the prunes in orange juice and cinnamon until the sugars begin to caramelize makes a tart, spiced topping that’s both sunny and comforting on cold winter mornings, which I’m sure we still have a few of to look forward to.

And no, before noon, I do not grate my own cinnamon. Don't let that stop you, though. It’s remarkably quick and easy to throw together, largely thanks to the instant polenta. I just toss the prunes, orange juice, and cinnamon in a small saucepan set on high heat and a minute or two after I’m done microwaving the polenta, the compote is ready. If you’re more ambitious than I usually am before noon, you could use regular polenta. Russ Parson wrote recently about a stir-and-bake method method that supposedly produces the “deep, toasted corn flavor of a true long-stirred polenta” without the long-stirring. But instant polenta is a far cry better than instant oatmeal, and for a simple, hot breakfast cereal, it does well enough for me.

The recipe is also endlessly adaptable—you can use different juices, spices, fruits, and/or nuts. The original recipe includes apricots, and I throw them in when I have them on hand. I love  cardamom and almonds in place of the cinnamon and walnuts. Dried blueberries and cherries with nutmeg would probably also be great. Milk of any kind—cow, soy, almond, coconut—can be used instead of the water to make a richer polenta. If you were really hurting for summer, you could make a tropical version by doing one or more of the following: cooking the polenta in coconut milk, topping it with pieces of dried mango and papaya simmered in guava juice with allspice and a piece of fresh (or pinch of powdered) ginger, sprinkling it with shredded coconut and macadamia nuts.

But this is how I usually do it:

Recipe: Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote

  • 4 T. instant polenta
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 5-6 prunes
  • generous pinch ground cinnamon
  • small handful of chopped walnuts
  • 1 T. honey (optional)

    a little blurry from the steam

1. In a saucepan, heat the orange juice, prunes, cinnamon, and honey over medium-high heat.

2. Combine the polenta, water, and salt in a bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until thickened (about 2 minutes).

3. When the juice has reduced to a sauce and is beginning to caramelize and the prunes are softened, pour it over the cooked polenta.

4. Scatter walnuts over the top.

April still can't come soon enough

Artichoke and Roasted Garlic Chick Pea Dip

this picture gives you basically the whole recipe

Belated epilogue to last week’s posts about artichokes: a recipe you can use to test the “sweet” effect of preserved artichokes that’s not the typical, creamy spinach affair. While I was trying to figure out what to call it, I got into a little debate about what counts as “hummus,” hinging on the importance of tahini. I was initially pro-“hummus,” arguing that you can buy “hummus” labeled “tahini-free” (why on earth any sizable number of people would desire tahini-free hummus I have no idea—are there really that many people with sesame allergies? Is it a fat-phobia thing?). But I had to concede that the label implies that hummus would normally be expected to have tahini, and indeed wikipedia defines hummus as “a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.” On the other hand, it also says the full name in Arabic is “حُمُّص بطحينة (ḥummuṣ bi tahnia) which means chickpeas with tahina,” which simultaneously implies that hummus always has tahini and that hummus qua hummus is something separate from tahini.

Ultimately, I decided that the rosemary and artichoke made it sufficiently distinct from hummus to merit a different name, but it’s definitely hummus-like. However, that’s no reason to feel wedded to the chick peas. If I’d had cannellini beans, I probably would have used those instead. Cranberry beans or black-eyed peas would probably work as well. And of course, if you have sufficient foresight, you can use dried beans instead of canned.

The “sweet” effect is definitely more pronounced before you add the acid, but like most bean-based dips/soups, you’ll probably want the acid in there to brighten the flavors. So f you really want to play with taste perversion, try it without the acid first. Let the dip really coat your tongue, give it a minute, and then drink some water. See if it doesn’t taste at least a little bit sweet.

Serve with bread, chips, crackers, cut vegetables, or as a sandwich spread. Makes a little more than 2 cups.

Recipe: Artichoke and Roasted Garlic Chick Pea Dip

  • 1 head garlic, roasted
  • 1 12-15 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 16 oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 3-4 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. kosher salt (might want to start with 1 t. regular salt and adjust to taste)
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • herbs (optional and flexible—I used about 1 t. fresh rosemary and 1 t. dried “Italian seasoning. I wish I’d had about 1 T. fresh parsley; any combination of rosemary, oregano, thyme, and/or parsley, fresh or dried would be great)
  • 1 t. white wine vinegar and/or 1 T. lemon juice 

the lazy person's roasted garlic1. Roast the garlic. Some people say you should slice the head in half and brush it with olive oil or some other kind of fanciness, but I never bother with that. I just wrap the whole head in foil and throw it in a 350-400F oven for 45-60 minutes. If I’m not using the oven for something else, I do it in the toaster oven to save energy. And basically anytime I’m going to have the oven on for 45+ minutes, I throw a head of garlic in too because why not? It’s delicious on its own, just mashed up with a little salt and spread on bread or crackers, and it’s awesome in a million other things—bean dips, composed butters, bread, mashed root vegetables, squash puree, salad dressings. You can do this up to a week in advance and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

2. Once the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel the cloves into a blender or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for 1 T. of the olive oil and the acid.

once it's roasted the peel just falls away

3. Puree, adding more oil or water if necessary to make the mixture smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste, including adding lemon juice and/or white wine vinegar if desired.

not much to look at, but you could pretty it up with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of paprika just like hummus if you were so inclined