Truffled Vichyssoise with Video Demo!

Let me tell you something, it is HOT in Tel Aviv right now.  Not that I ever had any doubts that summers in Israel were anything less than scorching, but after spending a year in the climate controlled comfort of suburban New Jersey, weeks on end of 90+ degree weather (fahrenheit, or about 32C for the rest of the world) with upwards of 70% humidity can be a bit of a shock to the system.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the summer, days spent on the beach, cool drinks, warm nights, and everything that comes along with it, but it also means regularly trying to find ways to beat the heat without the benefit of 24/7 air conditioning.  This mostly involves well-placed fans, icy cold drinks, and meals that taste good cold.

Last week, I decided to try out a box of vegetables delivered fresh from an organic farm in the area.  I’ve always loved the idea of CSAs and vegetable co-op boxes, as it forces me to get creative, and eat a greater variety of vegetables than I normally would choose of my own volition.  Our box, which was delivered directly to my kitchen, included such goodies as arugula, parsley, onions, scallions, leeks, a winter squash, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Upon seeing the bounty of alliums and roots, I knew I absolutely had to make vichyssoise, otherwise known as cold potato leek soup.  There weren’t quite as many leeks as I would have liked for the soup, so I supplemented with some regular onions, which I slowly caramelized with a ton of minced garlic in order to deepen the flavors of the soup.  I then added white wine, cubed potatoes, and lastly the leeks, which I cooked just long enough to soften, in order that they keep their bright, fresh flavor.  To round it all out, I pureed the veggies, then added a few pinches of truffle salt, a bit of truffle oil, and a can of light coconut milk.  The deep, heady aroma of the truffles counterbalances the bright punch of the leeks and white wine, while the coconut milk softens all the flavors, and brings them together in a smooth, velvety soup.  To help cool it down more quickly, I dropped several ice cubes into the cold soup, rather than thinning with water, but we were so hungry for dinner that night, that we ate it while it was closer to room temperature than chilled.  Of course, after chilling in the fridge overnight, it was even more heavenly, and the perfect meal for a hot summer’s day.

Making vichyssoise tonight! This week I ordered a box of organic vegetables from a farm in the area, and it included a ton of potatoes and leeks, so naturally I couldn't resist turning them into soup! Of course, it's so hot here, that it worked out even better to make a soup that's meant to be eaten cold. In order to add more flavor, I caramelized some onion and garlic as the base, then added the leeks at the very end so they just softened up. That way the soup retains the bright, fresh flavor of the produce! #vegan #whatveganseat #vegansofig #veganfoodshare #veganlife #veganlifestyle #plantpower #paleofriendly #kosher #pareve #soup #summer #fresh #local #healthy #eatclean #dairyfree #french #israel #telaviv #personalchef

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Truffled Vichyssoise

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 7-8 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 cups white potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • salt
  • 4 small leeks, cleaned and sliced (not including the dark green part)
  • 2 tsps black truffle salt
  • 1 tbsp white truffle oil
  • 1 16 oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a large pot over medium-low heat, add the olive oil, onions and a pinch of salt.  Sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, until they’ve released their juices and are translucent.  Add the chopped garlic, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. The onions should be a deep caramel color, but take care not to burn them.  Add the potatoes to the pot, then deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any bits of onion that may have attached themselves to the pan.  Add water to cover the potatoes, and another generous pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.  Add the sliced leeks to the pot, and stir.  Cook about 10 minutes, until they’ve softened but are still a bright green.  Remove from heat.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and velvety.  Stir in the truffle salt, truffle oil, and coconut milk.  Adjust the seasoning and let cool.  If it’s too thick, you can add some water until it reaches your desires consistency, or add several ice cubes, which will help it cool down faster.  Serve chilled.  Garnish with sliced scallions if desired.

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The Last Supper: Polentils and Broccoli

As my penultimate day in Israel transitioned into my ultimate Israeli night, I realized that despite wanting to enjoy the many delicious vegan meals on offer in Tel Aviv (before setting off on my European adventure), I had a lot of food left in my kitchen that needed to be used up.  I also had the good fortune to already be spending my time with friends who needed feeding.  After a quick stop at the corner store for some supplemental fruits and veggies, I devised a plan to use up the abundance of herbed polenta chilling in my fridge, as well as the garlic and lentils that had been generously given to me by a friend several months ago (I preferred to save personal food items such as these for when I had guests, so that I didn’t incur the wrath of my ever temperamental roommates should I share anything hailing from the communal pantry).  Earlier that morning, I had begun my polenta experiments, attempting to both pan-fry and bake the starchy squares.  Baking was the clear winner, from the ease of execution , to the crispy exterior.  The pan-fry used too much oil, inducing a veritable volcano of grease, while failing to achieve a crisp and golden outer crust.  That morning, I served the polenta with a sauce of succulent caramelized onions and creamy techina (because I didn’t have quite enough onions to serve them alone).  This style of polenta preparation had the potential to be not just an upscale snack or brunch, but also a deceptively fancy dinner.

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils Photo by Steven Winston

Crispy polenta cakes, topped with brilliant broccoli and two scoops of delectable lentils
Photo by Steven Winston

Inspired in part by a paté I’d had at lunch the day before, I wanted something similar to top the polenta.  While the paté I’d consumed for lunch consisted of a combination of mushroom, cashew and walnut blended to smooth and creamy perfection, I only had lentils (and no blender), which luckily lend themselves exceedingly well to the base of a vegetarian paté.  In order to add depth and richness to the lentils, I opted for roasted garlic, with its silky texture and sweet, deep garlic flavor.  To heighten the effect, I also threw an onion into the oven, and roasted it until it was also soft and sweet (way easier than traditional caramelization I might add).  With the lentils and polenta, or dare I say ‘polentils’ covered, it was time to turn my attention to the meal’s main vegetation, fresh broccoli.  While I am normally a big fan of crispy roasted broccoli, I wanted something bright and crunchy to offset the polentils, so I quickly braised the florets with garlic, white wine and lemon juice, infusing the stalks with tons of flavor, without roasting them to death.  It was the perfect ending to an incredible eight months in Israel, shared with good friends (and some good wine).

The cook at work, documenting before dinner Photo by Steven Winston

The cook at work, documenting before dinner.
Photo by Steven Winston

In order to pull this meal off relatively quickly, I recommend making the polenta the night before (or even several days in advance).  Then the day of, all you have to do is pop the polenta in the oven with the garlic and onion, and let the squares bake while everything else cooks.  I would put the lentils in to boil next (and don’t salt the water until they are cooked, otherwise they will take longer).  Should you decide to cook the lentils in advance, warm them gently before mashing.  To my American readers, sorry for the metric measurements, but I followed the initial cooking instructions given on the bag of Italian polenta, which was in grams and liters.  Feel free to follow the given instructions for whichever brand you buy, and rather season according to my suggestions.

Hebred Polenta Squares

  • 500 g Italian coarse ground polenta
  • 2 liters of water
  • 1 tbsp each: dried thyme, oregano, and basil
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil

Bring water to a boil and salt generously.  Slowly add the polenta, whisking steadily in order to avoid lumps.  Ad the herbs and adjust the salt.  Cook for about 50 minutes, stirring frequently, until polenta is soft, very thick, and creamy.  Pour into a greased pan (or two if necessary, I used a long foil loaf pan, as well as a 9×13 in loaf pan), and let cool until firm (preferably overnight). Cut into 2 in squares that are about an inch thick each.  Preheat the oven to 400 F (~250 C).  Lay polenta squares on a greased baking sheet and bake until slightly brown and very crispy, about 30-40 minutes

 

Mugging for the camera. Photo by Steven Winston

Mugging for the camera.
Photo by Steven Winston

Rustic Roasted Garlic and Lentil Paté

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2c brown or green lentils
  • water to cover
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F (~250 C).  Cut off the top of the head of garlic, leaving a small amount of each clove exposed.  Place on top of a sheet of foil and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Wrap the garlic well with the foil, and place in the oven.  Repeat with the onion (no need to slice off the top).  Roast both the garlic and the onion until soft and caramelized, about 30-50 minutes.  It is ok if one takes longer than the other. In the meantime, place the lentils in a medium-large pot with 3 1/2c of water.  Simmer over medium-low heat until very soft, about 30 minutes.  Do not salt the lentils until they are done cooking, or else they will take much longer to soften.  When the lentils are done, add the garlic and chopped roasted onion (both should be similar to a paste, but the garlic you will only need to squeeze out of the skin, the onion might need a little more coaxing), plus 3 tbsp of olive oil.  Mash together until mostly smooth (or throw it in a food processor, especially if you want it completely smooth), adding a little extra water if necessary.  Taste for salt and adjust the seasonings.

 

I don't know why there was a towel on his head. Photo by Steven Winston

I don’t know why there was a towel on his head.
Photo by Steven Winston

White Wine Braised Broccoli

  • 1 crown od broccoli, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • salt

Place a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and warm for a minute or two before adding the garlic and crushed red pepper.  Sauté  until just fragrant, and add the broccoli, wine wine, lemon juice and salt.  Let simmer for about 5 minutes, until broccoli is cooked, but still a vibrant green.

To assemble:

Place a polenta square on a plate, add the broccoli, and then a large dollop of lentils. Serve and repeat.

The diversity of reactions to this dish were certainly amusing.  All of my dining companions that night were certified meat eaters, and each claimed a different part of the meal as their favorite.  Two of the boys were amazed by the heartiness of the lentils, and continued to exclaim their surprise that a meat-free meal could be so satisfying.  Monica, my only other female companion that night, couldn’t get enough of the succulent, flavor-infused broccoli, and Steve (also our brilliant photographer for the evening) kept going back for more polenta. I couldn’t have asked for a better last night in Tel Aviv.

Fluffy Vegan Matzoh Balls

Oh matzoh balls; the quintessential Passover delicacy. For the past few years, I’ve been on a quest to create the perfect vegan matzoh ball. The first recipe I tried used tofu—which I prefer not use being Ashkenazi—to replace the egg. The matzoh balls definitely held up well, but I found them to be rather dense, and I would have preferred a matzoh ball with a fluffier consistency. But then, it was no matter, since I was just excited to be eating matzoh balls for the first time in several years.

20140414-134004.jpg
My next attempt at vegan matzoh balls saw the tofu replaced with flax seed, but I found the density to be about the same. So the year after, I eschewed matzoh balls altogether, and made a potato leek soup instead. I had all but given up hope that I would one day make a matzoh ball that was vegan, kitniyot free, and fluffy.

Enter flax foam.

A few innovative individuals took it upon themselves to experiment with different ways of using flax seed as an egg replacer. Rather than simply grinding the flax and mixing it with water, they boiled the flax to extract a thick gel, which looked an awful lot like egg whites. They then whipped the flax “whites,” and either folded them into recipes in order to add airiness, such as mousse, or (in whatever consider a stroke of genius) created vegan meringues. I followed these developments through this thread, and thought, hey maybe this would work for matzoh balls. I set to work, boiling and straining the flax, freezing the goop, and whipping it into a light and fluffy mass. I then used the whipped flax in a traditional matzoh ball recipe I found in one of the many Pesach recipe books my mom has floating around.

The results were perfect. I rejoiced in the eating of a light and fluffy matzoh ball that didn’t disintegrate in broth (and tasted great to boot). I served my matzoh balls in an herb scented mushroom broth, but really they can go in any kind of broth you like.

Fluffy Vegan Matzoh Balls

  • 1/4 c flax goop
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 3 tbsp of water
  • 1/8 tsp salt (I prefer Indian black salt to add just a touch of egginess
  • 1/4 c matzoh meal

Combine the group flax seed with the whipped flax “whites”. Gradually add the matzoh meal, stirring gently until well combined. Let rest for 10-20 minutes.

In a large pot, heat some vegetable broth or salted water until boiling . Wet hands with cold water, and form the matzoh mixture into small balls. Gently drop each ball into the boiling liquid, and then cover and simmer about 20 minutes. I wouldn’t recommend cooking the matzoh balls in the soup you plan to serve them in because they will soak up a lot of liquid.

Remove the matzoh balls from the cooking liquid and serve in your broth of choice.

Chag Pesach sameach (חג פסח שמח)!

Grandpa Maurice’s Famous Mushroom Paté

For the longest time, my grandfather’s mushroom paté, or as we usually call it, “mushroom stuff” was pretty much the only way I’d swallow a mushroom, and only after it was doused in salt.  Mushroom stuff as my grandfather made it was a combination of sautéed mushrooms and onions, mayonnaise, and a hard boiled egg.  While this is certainly an acceptable vegetarian take on chopped liver, converting even liver fans like my dad’s side of the family, it definitely wasn’t vegan.  Additionally, replacing the egg and mayonnaise on Pesach is considerably more challenging, than if I were adapting it for any other time of the year.  First, for the egg, I decided to use soaked walnuts, in order to give the paté a the same kind of body that the egg brings.  I’m not the biggest fan of walnuts, but they do have a lighter texture and slightly more neutral flavor than hazelnuts, pecans, cashews (all of which I otherwise prefer).  To replace the mayonnaise, I went for the flavors of mayo, namely, fat in the form of olive oil, and some tang, in the form of red wine vinegar.  For a little extra “eggy” punch, I like to season the paté with Indian black salt (kala namak), which tastes exactly how I remember sunny side up eggs…because I also used to douse my egg yolks in salt.

The result tastes almost exactly how I remember Grandpa’s paté tasting.  It’s even good enough, that some years my mom has just asked me to make a larger batch, so that she doesn’t need to take precious time away from cooking other elements of the meal to make a batch of the original.  My version is punctuated by the sweet richness of the fried mushrooms and onions, mixed with a little tang from the vinegar, all married together in a smooth and creamy dip.  It’s perfect for spreading onto matzah, whether it’s as an appetizer, at your seder, or a part of your mid-Pesach lunch.

A Very Shtetl Pesach.  Fiddler On The Roof cast (including shtetl Ashley front and almost center) at Columbia University, April 2010

A Very Shtetl Pesach. Fiddler On The Roof cast (including shtetl Ashley front and almost center) at Columbia University, April 2010

Grandpa Maurice was far from vegan, but he always appreciated good food. I like to imagine he would be proud of my interpretation.  He died a little bit before I really started cooking for myself (which was also when I went vegetarian), so I never really got to share my culinary creations with him, but I love that I can still enjoy food he made for us, even if it is adapted to fit my lifestyle.

I’m giving quantities for a fairly small amount of paté, but this recipe is very easily increased.  It also does not need to be super precise, so feel free to play with the seasonings according to your tastes.

Mushroom and Onion Paté

  • 1 pint white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 large white or yellow onions, sliced
  • 1/4 c raw walnuts, soaked for a few hours or over night
  • 4-5 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp kosher for Passover red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp black salt (or to taste)
  • black pepper to taste

Preheat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, and sweat slowly for about 5-7 minutes until translucent.  Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until the mushrooms have cooked down, and the mixture is golden brown and fragrant.  The volume of vegetables in the pan should be considerably reduced from when you started.  Let cool at least 10 minutes.  Add the mushroom and onion mixture to a food processor.  Drain the walnuts, and add them as well. Begin to chop the mixture in the processor, and stream in the oil and vinegar while the machine is running.  Add the salt and pepper, and pulse again to combine.  Taste for seasoning.  The mixture should chopped very, very finely, and should be fairly smooth (but not entirely pureed).  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sorry I have no pictures of this, but I will say, while it’s completely delicious, it’s not the most photogenic dish out there.

Vegan Passover (פסח טבעוני)

As Passover creeps ever closer, my usual worries begin to take hold. What will I eat, where will I eat it, what do I do about cleaning my kitchen etc, etc. What was once one of my favorite holidays has become the bane of my vegan existence. I used to actively look forward to cleaning the kitchen with my parents, despite being a rather messy child (now as my friends can attest, I apologize for having a messy room if I’ve left out one shirt). I would get to explore the deep mysteries that were hidden in the attic when my dad allowed me to come up with him to bring down the Passover dishes. Even now, I’m hit with a nostalgic whiff of excitement whenever I open the pink plastic box containing the dairy dishes, as I remember how special it felt to use something that we only saw for one week a year. Even better than the attic and the dishes though, was waking up the morning of the first night to find the kitchen completely covered. The counters were covered in plastic, the stove and sink in foil, while the table had a pink tablecloth. To my young eyes, it was like entering into another world; the alternate universe of Pesach land (never actually gave it that name).

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake with Cashew Cream

Raw Strawberry Cheesecake with Cashew Cream- April 2012

As for the food, I loved all of the homemade, traditional Pesach food we would eat throughout the week. I also loved a simple piece of matzoh spread with real butter (not margarine…Pesach margarine is actually quite gross) or cream cheese. After the kitchen was cleaned and covered, I would spend the rest of the day helping my mom prepare food for the seder that night. We would fry up pounds of mushrooms and onions, to be used in everything from “mushroom stuff” (mock liver) to farfal (matzoh based stuffing). My mom would make chicken soup from scratch, and then shortly before the seder, add big, fluffy matzoh balls. It’s funny to recount this now, but one of my favorite dishes to help make was the brisket. It’s not that I was ever an ardent meat lover (though mom’s brisket was one of my favorites), but her recipe called for browning the meat in brandy before going in the oven, and really, what child wouldn’t like lighting a pan on fire.

Soaking all the nuts (almost) March 2012

Soaking all the nuts, plus dates and sundried tomatoes – April 2012

Pesach was also the very last time I ever ate meat. When I was 14, Take Your Child to Work Day happened to fall in the middle of Pesach, and so I went to work with my mom in order to get off from school for a day. While I had long ago made the decision to go vegetarian, back then, I would ever so occasionally eat a small amount of animal. By this time, those occasions were very infrequent, but being 14 and rather unprepared for a Passover lunch, I was hungry.  After (possible) fierce deliberation, I broke down and ate some of my mom’s chicken salad on matzoh. I’ve learned a lot since then, especially after giving up eggs and dairy, since much of traditional Pesach cuisine is egg based. I’ve been flexing my creativity and finding ways to veganize the traditional foods of my childhood within the confines of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Passover customs, which is to say, without beans or rice.

Beautiful raw lasagna- April 2012

Beautiful raw lasagna- April 2012

I am the first to admit that it isn’t easy, but for those of you looking to do the same, don’t lose hope! I’ve spent the last few years compiling tips and recipes that are super delicious, can be featured at a seder, and are kosher for Passover. In the next few weeks leading up to Pesach, I’ll be posting some recipes, but in the mean time, here is a list of what I usually make:

Herbed Brazil Nut cheese (in bad lighting I might add)

Herbed Brazil Nut cheese (in bad lighting I might add) – April 2012

Seder Stuff

Raw blood orange cheesecake, tastes like a creamsicle! March 2013

Raw blood orange cheesecake. It tastes like a creamsicle! March 2013

Rest of the Week

  • Matzoh lasagna (I’ve also made raw lasagna if you’re looking for something a little bit lighter)
  • Potato Gnocchi
  • Quinoa with Vegetables
  • Salad!
  • Kale Chips

    Potato Leek soup, a nice alternative if you're too lazy for vegan maztoh balls- April 2012

    Potato Leek soup, a nice alternative if you’re too lazy for vegan maztoh balls- April 2012

This year is going to be an interesting Pesach, considering it’s my first in Israel (and without my family). While adapting to cooking here has been incredibly easy, I’m used to relying on my mom’s food processor for Pesach (in order to deal with all the nuts that become a staple when I can no longer eat beans). Additionally, I may be going on a week long Pesach program in Tzfat, where we will be doing our own cooking apparently (yay!), but I have no idea what kinds of equipment and ingredients will be available to me. No matter, every year, I remind myself that now is a good time to really bump up on my whole foods and veggies. Maybe this year will be the year I actually listen.

Vegan Chopped Brunch: Butternut Squash Pierogi

As winter continues to bring frigid weather to the Northeast, I wanted to share one more squash recipe to add to your arsenal before pumpkin season is officially in hibernation. I’m a huge fan of pierogi in general, for any meal of the day, but these make an especially nice fall or winter brunch. I stuff the pierogi with a sweet and savory combination of roasted butternut squash with caramelized onions, enhanced with some rosemary and thyme, as well as some ground hazelnuts which adds just a little something else to the otherwise creamy texture, and nicely complements both the herbs and the squash.

20140311-111026.jpgThis recipe was originally created for Chopped/Vegan: Brunch, an online cooking competition that was held through The Post Punk Kitchen. While it certainly isn’t the same as competing in a live competition, I really enjoyed the challenge of thinking outside the box and creating something totally new. The mandatory ingredients to use were butternut squash, rosemary, apricot preserves, and popcorn. I used both the squash and rosemary in the pierogi filling, then tossed them in a rosemary scented beurre blanc, drizzled with an apricot balsamic reduction and then crumbled some apricot scented hazelnut popcorn brittle, for a hearty crunch and a lot of fun. I’m including the popcorn brittle recipe, but honestly, if it weren’t for the competition, I would have left it out. These would also be quite tasty paired with some sauteed greens, or tossed in a rosemary olive oil instead of the beurre blanc (in the end, it’s all fat).20140311-111003.jpg

Sadly, I didn’t even make an honorable mention, but I’m convinced it’s because my dish wasn’t tasted. No matter, it was gobbled up by my family and coworkers just the same.

I’m also adjusting the recipe here just a little bit by incorporating some mashed potato in the filling. It will help smooth things out texturally, and will cut the sweetness of the squash just a little bit, so it’s more sweet and savory, rather than overwhelmingly sweet. This is also why I’ve cut the cinnamon from the original.

Pierogi filling:

  • 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried rosemary
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • White pepper
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 c ground, toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 large onion, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a large baking sheet, and spread the squash cubes evenly. Season with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and then drizzle with an extra tablespoon or so of olive oil. Place in the oven and roast 30-40 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized. In the meantime, start the onions. Preheat a heavy bottomed frying pan (cast iron skillets are wonderful here) with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and fry gently until golden. While the onions are cooking, place the diced potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, and let cook until the potatoes are tender, 10-20 minutes (depending on how finely diced they are). Remove from heat and drain very well. When the squash is done, place in a bowl with the potatoes and onions, and mashed very well. Season with more salt and pepper, and stir in the ground hazelnuts.

Filling shot

Filling shot

Popcorn Brittle

  • 5 cups popcorn, popped and salted, and crushed
  • 1 c hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c water
  • 3 tbs apricot preserves
  • 1 tbs earth balance
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Dissolve sugar in water and maple syrup in a small saucepan. Boil until the temperature reached 270F. Add preserves and earth balance, then boil to 290F. Stir in the salt, vanilla and baking soda, then quickly stir in the popcorn and hazelnuts. Spread on a greased cookie sheet and cool.

Pierogi dough (adapted from Vegan Brunch)

  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 1c warm water
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Pour the oil and water into a large bowl. Add 2 c of flour and the salt, stirring with a fork until the dough starts to come together (then you can switch to your hands). Sprinkle your workspace with flour, and turn the dough out of the bowl and begin to knead. Add the last cup of flour, a little bit at a time, slowly kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. It’s ok if you don’t use the whole cup, or if you need a little more to make the dough not sticky. Before you roll out the dough, start the balsamic reduction.

Sprinkle your workspace with more flour, and roll half the dough to a thickness of about 1/16 of an inch (so really thin, but not see through). Using a circle cutter (or glass) that’s about 3 inches wide, cut circles from the dough, and place on a lightly floured plate while you cut circles from the rest of the dough.

Fill each circle with a teaspoon or so of the filling. Dip your finger in a little bit of water, and use it to wet the edge of the circle. Fold the dough over the filling, creating a little half moon, and then press the excess air our, and seal the edges with your fingers. Make sure the seal is nice and tight so the filling doesn’t escape into the cooking water.

After the beurre blanc and the balsamic reduction have been started, fill a large pot with water, and bring to a boil. Gently add the pierogi and cook until they float to the top. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon.20140311-110917.jpg

Balsamic Apricot Reduction

  • 2 tbsp apricot preserves
  • 1/2 c balsamic vinegar

Place apricot preserves and the vinegar in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Let simmer until very thick and syrupy, about 7-10 minutes.

Rosemary Infused Beurre Blanc

  • 1/2 shallot
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 c white wine
  • 1/4 c veggie broth
  • 3-4 tbs coconut cream
  • Almost a stick of earth balance

Then lightly sauté the finely diced shallot and fresh rosemary, just until fragrant. Add the broth and wine and reduce until there are only about 2 tablespoons of liquid left. Add a tbs or two of coconut cream. Turn off heat. Finish preparing pierogi. To finish the beurre blanc, stir in the earth balance one tablespoon at a time, until a thick emulsified sauce forms. Balance the taste with some extra coconut cream. Serve the sauce over the finished pierogi and add a little touch of the balsamic reduction and some crumbled popcorn brittle. Devour. Devour some more.

Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

As my newsfeed once again fills with reports of another blizzard hitting NY, I can’t help but think about my favorite snow day activities, namely cooking and baking. Of course one would think I do quite a bit of that already, but back when I was in the city, I more often than not was either eating food from work, or got some sort of take out (also I had a microwave and ate a lot of canned beans…). While even then my budget was fairly tight, I did have some leeway and could better afford to not cook all the time. Here, my budget is next to non-existent (I’m on a special program where it’s not impossible to earn money, but it’s not exactly easy), so I do what I can to pinch pennies, which involves cooking almost every day. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, produce, dried beans, and grains are some of the only things that can really be considered cheap here, so I do what I can to eat as much of those as possible. While veganism is definitely a growing trend (found this article on Facebook today), and vegan specialty items are available (they’re also one of the things I miss the most about NY), they’re completely out of my budget. However, that leaves me to really experiment and master new ways of cooking veggies and beans. My newest project has been, “how many different things can I do with lentils” and thus, Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato Mash was born.

Whole pie, fresh out of the oven

Whole pie, fresh out of the oven

Despite burning about half of the lentils when I initially cooked them (my beans/grain cooking method is to put it on the stove and forget about it until it’s done…which only works if there’s more than enough water in the pot to begin with…and I can’t forget about them for too long), I managed to salvage most of them, and cooked away the remnants of the charred flavor through a combination of luck and soy sauce. The umami flavors in the soy sauce make this pie really succulent, and the combination of the meaty lentils with all of the hearty veggies make this a perfect dish to eat in the middle of a storm (or on a pleasantly cool February evening in the Middle East as I did). I topped the pie with super creamy and delicious mashed sweet potatoes, which were scented with just a hint of the tropics from the unrefined coconut oil I mixed in. It was a perfectly comforting sweet and savory bite.

A little lopsided, but totally tasty

A little lopsided, but totally tasty

Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

Filling:

  • 1- 1 1/2 c cooked lentils (I used a combination of brown, black and red. Use whatever combination you like, though I would advise against using all red lentils as they turn to much when cooked)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large leek, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 large carrots. finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 c mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 c chopped spinach (or other leafy greens)
  • 1/4 c tamari or soy sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh rosemary, lightly chopped
  • white pepper
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

Topping:

  • 1 extra large sweet potato, or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 tbsp oil of your choice (I used a combination of olive and coconut oil)
  • 2 tbsp of cooking water or non dairy milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the leek and garlic and sauté about 5 to 7 minutes until fragrant and softened. Add the carrots and celery and sauté a few minutes more before adding the lentils and the mushroom. Add the soy sauce, rosemary, white pepper, black pepper, and paprika, and let simmer, stirring frequently until all the veggies are soft and the mushrooms are nice and browned.

While the filling is cooking, preheat the oven to 375F. Fill a medium sized pot with cold water, and add the diced sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil of medium-high heat, and cook until tender, about 15- 20 minutes.

When the filling is almost cooked, stir in the spinach and let wilt over low heat for several minutes, while you drain and mash the sweet potatoes, with the oil, salt, and pepper. I generally find the sweet potatoes don’t need additional moisture when they’ve been boiled, but feel free to add the extra liquid if you feel it is necessary. Remove the filling from the heat and pour in a small casserole pan. Spread the mashed sweet potatoes on top, and baked until the top is slightly browned (it’s also possible to just broil the top since everything is completely cooked, but if you do so, watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn). Let cool about 5 minutes and serve.

B’teavon and stay warm!

Any Veggies Will Do (Soup)

I’ve previously called this soup “Clean Out the Fridge Vegetable Soup” which is a little more accurate to the situation at hand when I made this. The process of choosing what to put in this soup mostly consisted of grabbing all the veggies from the fridge that needed to be cooked immediately and layering them into a deliciously tasty (and warming soup). I also bulked it up with some barley (you can use rice if you’re gluten free) and chickpeas. This is a soup with all the comfort of a winter meal that is healthy to boot. The best part is, it really can be made with whatever you have on hand. Feel free to substitute potatoes for the sweet potato, or squash if that’s what you have. Add spinach instead of the cabbage, and maybe some bell pepper instead of the tomato. Really, it’s up to you!

Topped with some techina and cilantro

Topped with some techina and cilantro

Recently, I haven’t been using premade broth in my soups, rather, I’ve just been adding water and seasoning well with herbs, spices and salt. This way, the flavors of the vegetables you use really come through, and you have even more control over the amount of sodium in your food.

Bubbling away

Bubbling away

Any Veggie Minestrone

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 c carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 small to medium tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, quartered (for easy removal. Chop if you actually like celery)
  • 1/2 of a cabbage, shredded
  • 3/4 c chickpeas, soaked and drained
  • 3/4 c barley
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until translucent.  Add the carrot and the sweet potato and sauté another 5-7 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, sautee until slightly reduced, then add the tomatoes and do the same.  Season each layer with a little salt as you go.  Add the rest of the ingredients and the cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about an hour, or until the chickpeas are tender and the barley is cooked.  Adjust seasonings and serve.

Beer, Baileys, and Cupcakes

I’ve gotten a lot of requests for a food blog in the last few years, and I figured the time was ripe to give in to peer pressure.

This is the “Irish Car Bomb” cupcake, named after the drink (I apologize if you find that drink offensive, but I didn’t make it up).  I invented this recipe when I decided to enter the vegan bake-off last February.  I think I applied too late (too late for another cupcake anyway), so I didn’t get to compete with it, but I did make it for fun several weeks later as a treat for my coworkers.  I then improved on the recipe for my friends 21st birthday a few weeks after that.Image

This cake is all vegan, all the time.  In fact, I considered calling this blog “The Olive Branch” because I feel like a plant based symbol of peace of was an appropriate description my cuisine.  Alas, tea, booze and cupcakes have managed to take over, and this is the one that started it all.

This cupcake is a chocolate stout cake, with a Jameson chocolate truffle baked into the center, topped with a homemade “Bailey’s” (or I guess I could just say dairy free Irish creme) buttercream, and drizzled with a Jameson spiked dulce de leche.  I know there’s no tea in these, but in order to get to tea time, I had to go through booze time.

I did adapt the cupcakes into a whole cake recently (yesterday) which made me realize that I’m not particularly fond of making whole cakes. From here on out, I will only be taking orders for cupcakes.  And now, for the recipe.  There are a lot of components, but most of them can be made well in advance.

A note on my cooking: when I cook, I generally tend not to have any kind of recipe, and to just dump things into a pot or pan and see what happens, but I can at least try to guesstimate proportions when I post stuff now.  I do use actual recipes when I bake, so those are easier to provide, though they also still generally involve a fair bit of tweaking.

Dulce de (coco) leche (adapted from Alton Brown):

  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • Irish whiskey (I used Jameson)

Combine the coconut milks, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds into a size pan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the baking soda (the mixture bubbled up quite violently when I did this, so I would definitely lower the heat first).  Bring back to a gentle simmer, and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour, remove the vanilla bean, and then continue to cook until it is a dark caramel color, about 2 hours.  Turn off the heat and incorporate the whiskey.  The thicker the mixture, the stronger you can make it (since you can use the whiskey to thin it out).  Strain through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool. Serve on cupcakes or ice cream (or on a spoon…or finger as was the case last night).  Store in the fridge (I keep mine in a squeeze bottle).

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Irish Cream

  • 1 can of full fat coconut milk
  • 1 can of light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of sugar (brown sugar works too!)
  • 3/4 cup espresso or strong coffee (I used a heaping tablespoon of instant coffee dissolved into 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder
  • Whiskey to taste (about 1 cup, but really, make it as strong as you want it)

Combine the sugar and coconut milks in a pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until just slightly reduced, and stir in the coffee mixture.  Remove from heat and add the whiskey.  Enjoy over ice, stirred into coffee, hot chocolate, soy milk!  Store in the fridge.

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Jameson chocolate truffles (adapted from Chloe’s Kitchen)

  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk, with the cream stirred in
  • 1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, either chips or chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 shots worth of whiskey

Warm coconut milk in a sauce pan over medium heat, until barely boiling.  Add chocolate and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat and add vanilla, salt and whiskey.  Pour in a pie plate or loaf pan and chill until firm.  Form into walnut sized balls, using a tablespoon and freeze until ready to use.  If you want a stronger truffle, I would reduce the amount of coconut milk before adding more Jameson because we want the ganache to set up firm.

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Cupcakes (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I prefer Cocoa Rouge by Guittard.  It has a really deep chocolatey flavor that is exceedingly smooth, rather than bitter)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup stout (I used Brooklyn Brewery chocolate stout. Most Guinness is not vegan in the US)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and fill a cupcake tin with liners.

Combine the milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and let stand (to curdle just a little) while you work on the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Combine the milk mixture with the stout, sugar, oil and vanilla.  Stir together until foamy and well combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, mixing until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Distribute the batter evenly among the cupcake tin, so each is about 3/4 of the way full.  Place a frozen truffle on top of each cupcake, and bake about 18-22 minutes. The cake should spring back lightly at your touch.  It will not be possible to use the toothpick test for doneness because of the truffle, which should have become encased in batter while baking.  Let cool before frosting.

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“Bailey’s” buttercream

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance (I prefer sticks for frosting)
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp whiskey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vegan Irish Cream

Beat together shortening and margarine until fluffy.  Add sugar and cocoa pwder and beat a few minutes longer, until well combined.  Then add the espresso powder, whiskey, vanilla and “Baileys”  Beat together about 5 minutes, until smooth and creamy.

To assemble: either pipe or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.  Drizzle with dulce de leche. Eat and repeat.

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Here’s a picture of the full sized cake version.  Making this was definitely a case of Murphy’s Law, as one thing after another tried to trip me up.  Tweaks I made to convert this include adding more liquid as well as some Earth Balance into the ganache, so as to make it spreadable.  Turned out, even though I loved the consistency, I think I over filled the layers, and ended up with ganache oozing out into the icing, so that’s where the chocolate shavings came in.  The writing was dulce de leche mixed with confectioner’s sugar in order to stiffen it up a little bit.  The birthday boy and friend thought it looked great (though I would have liked to make a cleaner presentation of it), and gave me ultimate praise for taste.

Whew! Well that was quite the recipe typing marathon.  I promise I don’t always make stuff that is this complicated, but I can promise it will always be delicious!