Friday, April 3, 2015

Viva La France!

Fabulous French Onion Soup
Mmmmmmm! So cheesy! So tasty!

Typical Oregon Spring . . . it's 70˚ outside - tank tops and flip flops for all! Just kidding, it's suddenly back down into the 30s, with damp foggy air! After flirting with the idea of bare legs and light summery dresses, I'm back to tights and sweaters. I'm also wanting something to warm me from the inside out. I LOVE French onion soup! It seems so elegant and sophisticated, but it's actually really easy to make and people love it. The only necessary special equipment are oven-proof crocks. I picked up two at the local thrift store for a few dollars last week so I can finally satisfy my craving for this hearty, cheesy soup. I did this batch vegetarian since I'm still in the midst of my Lenten meatlessness. Traditionally, the soup is made with beef broth, so if you're going meat-free bolster up that veggie stock with a little extra sherry for a deeper flavor! One of the other tricks I used, was rather than using a couple of slices of baguette for the topping, I made a batch of garlic croutons so that the melted cheese had more crevices to stick to. Croutons are such a great way to add heft to any soup and make use of stale bread. I included the "recipe" for the croutons, but really, it's just about toasting bread cubes in the oven with some olive oil. This soup recipe makes enough soup for two . . . if you have more mouths to feed, it's easy to double!

Ingredients
- 1 qt. vegetable stock
- 2 large sweet onions, peeled, halved and cut into thin slices
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
-  1 c. garlic croutons
- 1/2 c. grated cheese (I made a blend of gruyere, sharp cheddar, and Parmesan)
- 1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
- salt and pepper


GARLIC CROUTONS
Preheat oven to 350˚F and line a heavy baking sheet with foil. Arrange 4-6 cups bread cubes on the foil in an even layer. In a small bowl mash together 4 cloves garlic with 4 Tbsp. olive oil, whisk in 1 tsp. salt. Drizzle olive oil mixture over the bread cubes and toss together to coat evenly. Toast in oven for about 20-30 minutes until bread begins to dry out and turn golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
SOUP
While the croutons are toasting, start caramelizing the onions. Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I used my round Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add sliced onions and stir to cover with melted butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper and chopped thyme. Once the onions have softened and just begun to brown, lower the heat and allow the onions to caramelize. Stir the onions occasionally as they cook down for 30 minutes or so. They should be very tender, brown, and sweet. Increase the heat to medium high and stir the onions. When the pan is hot add the sherry and deglaze the pan, scraping in brown bits of caramelized onion from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to medium-low and allow soup to simmer for 20-30 minutes until the broth has cooked down and the soup has thickened slightly. Remove pot from heat and turn on the broiler. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle hot soup into oven-proof crocks then top soup with croutons. Sprinkle cheese blend and parsley on top of croutons. Set crocks on a baking sheet and place under broiler for the cheese to melt. (This will happen very quickly, so keep and eye on your oven so that you don't get a bunch of burned cheese.) When the cheese is hot and bubbly, remove crocks from oven and serve! Enjoy being warm and satisfied! 
  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spicing Up Life

Peace in 1944 Vegan Spice Cake
It's certainly been a while since I've posted, but that doesn't mean I have abandoned cooking! This winter term has been dominated by directing a production of The Diary of Anne Frank for Oregon State University. This beautiful production took a great deal of focus, dedication, time, and energy (as all productions do). I was fortunate enough to be working with an extremely passionate and hard working group of students and, I really believe this is a show we can all be proud of. That all being said, one of my tasks through the rehearsal and performance process was baking "Miep's Spice Cake" that is eaten on stage every night. While purchasing a cake is usually the option, we were faced with the dietary challenge of a vegan in the cast. Rather than bother hunting down a suitable (and cost effective) ready-made vegan cake in the store, I developed this recipe. I probably baked this cake twenty times in the past few weeks. Moist and delicious, the cast ate it over and over again. They started asking for the recipe . . . so here it is. I named it "Peace in 1944" cake because that is what the icing was supposed to say. Feel free to omit the icing completely, it's delicious either way. One of the tricks to a vegan cake is finding the right substitution for eggs which act as a binder and a leavening agent. I found this vinegar and baking soda substitution to work very well for this recipe, plus the vinegar adds a slight tang to the recipe.

Ingredients
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. vegetable oil
- 1/3 c. canned pumpkin
- 3/4 c. flour
- 2 Tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. baking powder, divided
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. all spice
- 1 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly grease an 8" round cake pan with vegetable shortening, dust with flour and tap out the excess. Set aside. In small prep bowl dissolve vinegar with two tablespoons of water. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, sugar, and oil until smooth. Add flour, spices,  salt, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp. of baking powder and whisk together until well combined. Working quickly add the remaining two Tbsp. of baking powder to the water and vinegar mixture. It will bubble. Pour into batter and quickly whisk. The batter should become lighter and fluffier. Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until cake is cooked through. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before decorating and/or eating.
   

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Going NUTS

Sneaky Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
My theory about vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free (or whatever other dietary restriction) cooking is that attempting to force an alternative food to taste "just like the real thing" is ultimately a fool's errand. The best vegan recipes I have found are not the "corn dogs" or "hamburgers" that parade themselves as "healthy" alternatives to scarf down at a barbecue. Instead, it's recipes that make the most of fresh vegan-friendly ingredients for what they are - quinoa-stuffed squash, falafel, spicy hummus, and the like are all satisfying meals that don't need a bunch of overly-processed incarnations of soy and they taste better for it. My challenge here was to develop simply a good cookie . . . that happened to be vegan. Finding a fat-replacement is the easy part here, the trick was finding a suitable non-egg binder that would allow the cookies to remain moist and chewy (as chocolate chip cookies should be). I found there are a variety of easy alternatives, but for this recipe, the best choice was using cornstarch and water. Yep. It was already in my pantry. I did these as plain old fashioned chocolate chip cookies. The coconut taste, I find, is very subtle. As a basic drop-cookie dough recipe this works great! Feel free to substitute the chips for nuts or dried fruit, or for a more coconutty taste add a teaspoon of coconut extract and 1/2 c. of shredded coconut. Enjoy these cookies for what they are . . . you don't even have to tell people they are vegan (unless they ask). They won't know the difference.

Ingredients
- 1 c. plus 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1/2 c. coconut oil
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 4 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 4 Tbsp. of warm water
- 1 1/2 c. vegan chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. In a small bowl, whisk together flour with salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer beat together coconut oil, brown sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch/water mixture until smooth and creamy. Beat in flour mixture in two additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Mix in chocolate chips and make sure that they are well incorporated into the dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange tablespoon-sized cookie dough balls to bake. Bake in batches 8-9 minutes. Allow baked cookies to rest on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Recipe should yield around 24 cookies. Yum!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Nuts About You

Soba and Cucumber Noodle Bowls with Spicy Peanut Dressing
I've been a little bit obsessed with my vegetable spiralizer lately. While this is probably the most ridiculous gadget in my kitchen arsenal, making carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, and squash into "noodles" perfect for twirling around a fork and soaking up sauce is just a lot of fun. The surprising warm spell that hit us this fall made me long for a lighter "summer" meal so this veggie-packed dish seemed perfect. It's tasty, vegan, and quite filling due to the delicious peanut sauce. (If you are lacking a vegetable spiralizer, you can get similar results by slicing thin ribbons of cucumber with a vegetable peeler.) Please note, I tend to like things quite spicy - feel free to omit the jalapeño and serano peppers if they are too much for your pallet.

Ingredients
- 1 English cucumber, peeled and spiralized
- l red bell pepper, seeded and spiralized
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and sliced thin
- 1 serano chili pepper, seeded and sliced thin
- 3-4 oz. buckwheat soba noodles
- 1 avocado, pitted and sliced
- 1/4 c. salted peanuts
- 4-5 green onions, trimmed and sliced
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
-  1-2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- salt
- 1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
- 2 tsp. hot sesame oil


Place spiralized cucumber and peppers and the hot peppers in a mesh colander over a bowl to drain excess water for 20-30 minutes. (You can blot out additional moisture with a paper towel.) While veggies are drying out a bit, make peanut dressing. Combine peanut butter, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, and soy sauce in a blender and process until it is smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and/or soy sauce if desired. Set aside.

Once the veggies have drained, transfer to a dry bowl and toss together with half of the peanut dressing and half the peanuts. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the noodles. Boil the noodles in salted water according to package directions (usually 4-7 minutes). Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Shake out excess water and then lay the noodles out on a clean towel and blot gently to take out even more moisture. Transfer the cold noodles to the cucumber mixture and toss together with remaining dressing.

Divide peanut noodles among two bowls and garnish each with avocado slices, remaining peanuts, sesame seeds, pepper flakes, and green onions. Really really yummy!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Summer's Last Hurrah

Roasted Tomato, Pepper, and Garlic Bisque
I absolutely love going to St. Louis to work. It's a cool city with a great arts scene, some awesome food, and amazing people. But I unfortunately miss out on the best part of summer in Oregon. Late August and early September are a gardener's prime time when the tomatoes are abundant and sweet and the berries are plentiful. While I did miss out on blackberry canning this year, I did come home to find lots and lots of healthy red tomatoes still on the vine. Fall is definitely in the air, but there is still some great produce around to help us transition into the cooler weather and shorter days. This soup recipe is incredibly easy, tasty, and makes great use of garden tomatoes and fragrant herbs. I served it with grilled cheese sandwiches for a simple meal cuddled on the couch with my sweetie on a crisp fall evening. Use those tomatoes . . . you won't have anything that tastes as good until next summer!

Ingredients
- 4 lbs. garden tomatoes, quartered
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2" chunks
- 2 heads of garlic, the top 1/4" trimmed off to expose the tips of the individual cloves
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- salt and pepper 
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 c. chicken broth
- 1 c. heavy cream

Heat the oven to 425˚ F and place heads of garlic (trimmed side up) on a square of foil. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap garlic tightly in foil and place in oven to roast. (Allow the garlic to get a head-start on the roasting for about 20 minutes before roasting the tomatoes and peppers.) While garlic roasts, line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with foil and spritz with cooking spray, quarter tomatoes and seed and slice peppers. Spread vegetables evenly on tray and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chopped fresh herbs. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. 

 After the garlic has roasted for about 20 minutes, place the tray of tomatoes into the oven to roast for an additional 20-30 minutes. Check occasionally - the finished tomatoes and peppers should be lightly browned, soft, and have yielded their juices. The garlic cloves should be brown and fragrant. Remove tray and garlic packet from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before handling.

Once the roasted vegetables have cooled, scrape the tomatoes, peppers, all their juices, and any browned bits into a heavy sauce pan. Squeeze individual garlic cloves into the tomato mixture and discard the papery skin. Add chicken broth and sugar to tomato mixture and heat over medium-high. Simmer soup for about 10 minutes then remove from heat, puree in a blender or with an immersion blender until it is smooth and creamy. Return to low heat and slowly stir in cream. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. (If the soup is too thick, you can thin it out to your liking with a little additional cream or broth.) Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches, croutons, or crusty bread! Yum!

 
 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Do the Twist

Seared Ahi with Soba Noodles, Spiralized Veggies, and Avocado Lime Dressing
So excited to be back in Oregon after nearly a month away working in St. Louis! My husband, my dog, my garden, and (of course) my kitchen have been sorely missed. Upon reacquainting myself with my favorite room in the house, I stumbled upon a little-used tool in my cooking arsenal: the vegetable spiralizer! It's a weird little gadget that looks a bit like a Medieval torture device. In spite of its rather terrifying shape (lots of sharp blades and jagged edges), it is effective in turning and twisting veggies into fun noodle shapes. I threw together this little cold noodle and veggie meal to enjoy a lighter dinner before the weather turns decidedly fall-like. Note that if you don't have a spiralizer, use a vegetable peeler to make ultra-thin ribbons of the carrots, cucumbers, and peppers in this yummy produce-packed meal.

Ingredients
- 2 6-7 oz. ahi tuna steaks
- 3 oz. soba noodles
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. Chinese hot mustard
- 4 Tbsp. soy sauce, divided
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. grated ginger, divided
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar 
- 2 tsp. hot sesame oil
- juice from one lime
- 2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
- 1/2 avocado
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable or grape seed oil
- 1 carrot, spiralized into long noodles
- 1 cucumber peeled and spiralized into long noodles
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced thin
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
- 4 green onions, trimmed and chopped
- 1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
- salt and pepper

SOY MARINATED TUNA STEAKS
In a small bowl, whisk together 2 grated garlic cloves, half the grated ginger, mustard, 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, lemon juice, and olive oil together. Sprinkled both sides of tuna steaks with salt and pepper. Place tuna in a shallow dish and pour half the marinade over it, flip the steaks over and cover with remaining marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (1-2 hours is better.)

AVOCADO LIME DRESSING AND NOODLES
To make the dressing, combine remaining grated garlic cloves and ginger, cilantro, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and avocado in a blender. Puree mixture until smooth and then season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

While the tuna is marinating, slice and spiralize the veggies. Place spiralized cucumber, peppers, and carrots in a colander over a bowl and allow excess water to drain for about 20 minutes (this helps keep the veggies from getting soggy). 

While the veggies are draining, boil the soba noodles according to package directions (about 3-4 minutes). Drain cooked noodles and then rinse with cold water. Toss together noodles with spiralized veggies, and avocado lime dressing.

When ready to cook the marinated tuna, heat vegetable or grape seed oil in a large, heavy pan over medium-high heat. Sear tuna steaks for about 1-2 minutes per side. (It's best rare.) Divide the noodles among two plates and sprinkle each portion with chopped green onions and sesame seeds. Slice the tuna along the diagonal and top noodle mixture with fish. Yummy veggie-packed dinner coming your way!
 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter "Cream Cheese" Frosting
A brief warning now . . . don't judge this recipe by the photo. I don't have my camera at home and had to make due with a dimly-lit shot with my phone. Anyway . . . "Vegan Cupcakes!?! Liz, why on Earth would you do that to a perfectly good cupcake?" Tomorrow is the first read-through for our summer Shakespeare production of Julius Caesar and I wanted to treat the cast to some . . . well . . . treats! Knowing that one member of the cast is a confirmed vegan, I wanted to come up with a tasty option for her to enjoy. As it so happens, a vegan chocolate cake recipe is not hard to come up with. This is springy, chocolatey, and not too sweet. Frosting, in the traditional sense, is a bit more of a challenge. Peanut Butter and Chocolate are a natural pairing (and one of my personal favorites) so here we go. The frosting isn't exactly a "buttercream" but it is good. Unrefrigerated I would suggest using any leftovers for a nice gluten-free fruit dip . . . just in case there are any gluten-free vegans you are looking to treat to a nice dessert.

Ingredients
- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 c. baking cocoa (make sure to find a vegan brand, not all are)
- 1/3 c. vegetable oil
- 1 c. water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 3 c. powdered sugar
- 8 oz. vegan cream-cheese alternative
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 c. corn starch

CUPCAKES
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line standard-sized cupcake tin with liners and spritz lightly with vegetable oil spray. (The recipe makes about 18 cupcakes.) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa, and salt so that the ingredients are well combined. Stir in water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar and then whisk until the batter is creamy and smooth. Divide batter amongst prepared cupcake liners. Fill to about 2/3 and then bake in oven about 20 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack for cooling. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

PEANUT BUTTER "CREAM CHEESE" FROSTING
One of the tricks I ran into with this frosting was that as the "cream cheese" warms to room temperature, it very quickly becomes loose. This may not be all brands, but it was with the one I used. The flavor, however, was quite good. With an electric mixer, beat together peanut butter and "cream cheese" until well combined and smooth. Add vanilla. Slowly beat in powdered sugar one cup at a time until the mixture is thoroughly mixed. Beat in cornstarch and blend until smooth. (The cornstarch helps the frosting from being too runny without adding more sweetness.) Frost cupcakes with a generous dollop of frosting and spread with an off-set spatula. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat so that the frosting holds its form. Yummy for vegans and non-vegans alike.