Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Birthday Cake

The Mr. celebrated a birthday recently, so we had his usual favorite, White Chocolate Cake with Strawberries. This year's cake featured white sponge instead of Italian Cornmeal (which is really fantastic; you should try it!), and uses my perfected recipe for White Chocolate Buttercream, which appears in the forthcoming Cook, Eat, Thrive.

I served it on a milk glass platter, which sets off the white frosting and strawberries so well. Red and white gingham napkins would be a perfect touch, too. I have an extensive collection of milk glass, found at thrift shops and estate sales, and I'm almost hesitant to mention this, because it betrays my extreme granny sensibilities. But there it is. I collect milk glass and jadeite, and wear hats to church, and take tea in the afternoons.

Happy Birthday, love, you're 30. And I'm 86.

Miss One enjoys birthday cake

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cook, Eat, Thrive is on!

I was happily surprised the other afternoon when, over lunch at my favorite vegetarian restaurant, my girlfriend remarked that she'd seen my cookbook on Amazon. I nearly spit out my tomato coconut curry. How was this possible? I hadn't even seen it! But there it is: Cook, Eat, Thrive: Vegan Recipes from Everyday to Exotic, out in January 2010 and now available for preorder.

From the Amazon blurb:
"Encouraging chefs to savor the cooking process, this collection of recipes provides distinctive meals using fresh, flavorful ingredients. Drawing from a variety of influences, this lively compendium features a diversity of innovative vegan dishes, ranging from well-known favorites such as Buttermilk Biscuits with Southern Style Gravy and Barbecue Ranch Salad to more exotic fare such as Palm Heart Ceviche and Italian Cornmeal Cake with Roasted Apricots and Coriander Crème Anglaise. Offering a wider culinary horizon with internationally inspired dishes, this reference is ideal for creating cuisine that allows people, animals, and the environment to fully thrive. With planned menus for all occasions, clear symbols for recipes that are raw, low-fat, soy-free, and wheat-free, and a section on making basics like seitan and nondairy milks, this is an essential handbook for those interested in cooking the very best vegan food."

Can I tell you how thrilling that is?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Au Revoir, Microwave

I don't speak proper French--culinary French is another story--but it's the default fancy language, and I need to give a proper sendoff to the appliance who has reheated countless stews and brightened afternoons with its jaunty "ding!" It's summer now, and I'm eating so much fresh produce, there's just no reason it should have such a prominent place in my kitchen. I'm sorry.

So, in the interest of more counter space and non-irradiated reproductive organs, the microwave is now relegated to the basement. Bon jour, mon ami.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Raw Lemon Bars

When the Denver-based company Larabar was recently purchased by General Mills, I took a long look at why I buy the food I do, and where it comes from. Larabars are delicious--and presumably local--but their parent company engages in some business practices I don't want to pay for. Instead of looking for another product to buy, I decided to just make my own.

These sweet-tart lemon bars are easy to assemble, relatively inexpensive, and made of raw, whole foods. Use organic ingredients, and vary the fruits and nuts used for a variety of flavor combinations.

Lemon Bars

1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup shredded dried coconut
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup dates (8-12 soft medjool)
up to a few tablespoons lemon juice
dash vanilla extract, or seeds scraped from 1" of vanilla bean (optional)

In a food processor, combine almonds, cashews, coconut, and lemon zest until in medium crumbs; some will still be fairly coarse, and this is okay. Add dates, and process again until the mixture comes together and begins to make a ball against the sides. Add a few teaspoons lemon juice and/or vanilla, if desired, to make for easier blending.

Press the mixture into a 9" x 4" or 9" x 5" loaf pan that has been lined with plastic wrap, smoothing the top. Place in the refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour, then cut into squares or bars. This recipe will make 25 smallish, kid-friendly squares perfect for anytime you or the little one need a snack.

Pressed into a tart pan and topped with thinly-sliced strawberries arranged in concentric circles, the bar makes a great raw dessert, too.

You can vary the amounts a bit, adjusting for extra soft dates or different nuts, or add different fruit and spices for other flavors--I love using hazelnuts and adding 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder (or raw Cacao powder) for Nutella balls...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Composed Asian Salad

I would really like to get better at meal planning, that strange segment of life populated by women who manage the home, who have extensive to-do lists and document their cleaning routines in great detail, and who scrapbook. But I am not much of a planner. And when I'm shamelessly laughing as a toddler dances in cat food, or running off to teach a yoga class (as was the case tonight), I realize quickly I'm just not that sort of woman.

It's on those evenings that I toss together whatever vegetables I have with different dressings, and serve them simply over crisp lettuce. Tonight's version was raw broccoli tossed with peanut sauce, sesame mushrooms, and spicy cucumber touched with shiso.

The whole issue of composed salads deserves a long and thoughtful treatment, accompanied by several recipes and great photography. But in the interest of giving them some due, I'll just post what I did this evening. Amounts are approximate; erring either way won't make much difference here.

For the spicy peanut broccoli:
1/2 small Thai pepper, seeded and minced (jalapeno, or a generous pinch of dried Italian pepper, are fine substitutions)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root, or 1/4 teaspoon dried ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar or maple syrup
1/4-1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 pound broccoli, chopped into 1" florets

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk all ingredients together except the broccoli. Add broccoli, and toss to combine. (You'll see this dressing in various incarnations; it's one of my favorites, and its versatility is unsurpassed.)

For the sesame mushrooms:
1 8-ounce package mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2-1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon black or plain sesame seeds, or a combination
generous pinch Arame or Hijiki seaweed

Toss everything together. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes for the mushrooms to soften and release a bit of liquid.

For the shiso cucumber:
1 cucumber, diced into 1/2" pieces
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Shiso Fumi Furikake*
generous pinch dried Thai or Italian pepper (a small dash of cayenne would do fine here)

*Shiso Fumi Furikake is a Japanese condiment made from salt and shiso leaves, and can be found in most Asian groceries. In its absence, a bit of seaweed would give the dish what it needs.

To serve:
Chop 1-2 smallish heads of romaine, red leaf, or any good lettuce, and toss into a large, shallow bowl. Top with spicy peanut broccoli, sesame mushrooms, and shiso cucumbers, leaving each in it's own mound atop the lettuce. Offer leftover dressing on the side, or just pour it over the salad, and serve.

Other combinations could replace or add to the little salads above: avocado, celery, soy sauce, and thin strips of bell pepper, mandarin oranges, green onions, and ginger...there are loads of possibilities when it comes to composed salads, and that's why they're so wonderful.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sautéed Greens with Summer Squash and Cashew Chévre

I take great pleasure in composing meals from nothing but vegetables: garlicky roasted asparagus, carrot noodles in spicy peanut sauce, salads featuring perfectly fresh ingredients assembled in unique ways. It's not that I have anything against grains or beans, it's just that when there's such an amazing range of produce, ingredients once considered staples begin to seem superfluous.

These are the sorts of meals I make most, using the vegetables I've picked up at a farmer's market or whatever arrives in my weekly organic delivery box.

This week's co-op boasted some real gems: tiny beets, buttery yellow Summer squash, and collards on which water beads up in such perfect, mercurial spheres it seems to defy the laws of physics altogether. Together, this perfect produce created a really wonderful balance of bitter earthy and meltingly mild flavors.

Sautéed Greens with Summer Squash and Cashew Chévre

1 pound yellow Summer squash, sliced into ¼" half-moons
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound greens (I use a combination of beet greens, kale, spinach, collards, and chard) stems intact, roughly chopped into ¾” pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon lemon zest (about ½ a lemon)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup Chévre
cracked black pepper, for serving

Steam the Summer squash until fork-tender, about 4-6 minutes.

While the squash steams, heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the oil and garlic, and sauté for 1 minute. Toss in greens, zest, and salt. Continue to cook, stirring constantly. The greens will wilt slightly right away, but keep stirring until they turn a deep emerald, about 4 minutes.

To serve, evenly distribute the greens over a large shallow platter, and mound high with steamed squash. Top with dollops of Chévre, and sprinkle with cracked pepper. The cheese will begin to melt and warm through slightly, and this is just as you want it. Serve immediately.

Accompanying the greens were steamed baby beets, tossed in a mixture of balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh thyme. They look like terrifying jewels, but oh! they were delicious, I promise.

And--since meals don't feel complete to me without a salad--a simple toss of romaine lettuce, cucumber, and raw pumpkin seeds, laced with chili-lime vinaigrette.

So, that's the usual around here: simple, unpretentious stuff made with great ingredients. It's my everyday food. What ingredients do you have in abundance lately? And what simple things are you making?