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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Go Ahead . . . Mocha My Day

 Caramelizer Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting
My love of the Oregon-based coffee chain Dutch Bros. is no secret. It is probably my biggest vice . . . at LEAST a 3 times weekly at $4 for each 20 oz. drink vice. In the summer, when I'm on campus on a daily basis, I sometimes hit up the Bros. twice a day. I drink coffee at home, sure. I LOVE coffee. It's not even just the coffee itself, but the morning ritual around the coffee. Sitting quietly in my kitchen or office when no one else is awake, and having the time to sip at my highly caffeinated beverage while I prep for class, check e-mail, and go over what I need to accomplish for the day. The Dutch Bros. have contributed to my success. I swing by the shop on the corner on my way to the office. I go EARLY - sometimes before 7:00 am. And there they are - smiling, perky, and they always know my drink. The employees are mostly college students . . . good-looking and friendly college students. It's all part of the brand . . . the ladies are (for the most part) tall, curvy, brunettes and the dudes are athletic and charming. ALL of the employees flirt a little with the customers - I'm sure this, too, is part of the brand. While the "interest" they take in my life is likely only part of the job, I don't mind. The friendliness, the drink I crave, a little good-natured flirtation, and all for only $4 - sure, I'll play along. A few minutes here and a few minutes there over several years, I do get to know these kids like a get to know my students . . . some of them actually are my students. Around the holidays I like to bring the Dutch crew some baked treats (they are college kids after all) and this year, at the end of Week 10, I put together some special Dutch-themed cupcakes for my favorite Dutch Bros. and Dutch Lady-Bros. The Caramelizer is my favorite drink (a chocolate and caramel mocha) . . . and now it has been immortalized in cupcake form.

Ingredients
- 2 c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 c. sour cream
- 2 eggs 
- 2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder, divided
- 2 sticks butter, room temperature
- 1 c. hot water
- 4 c. powdered sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2-4 Tbsp. cream
- 24 individual caramel candies (unwrapped)

 
MOCHA CARAMEL CUPCAKES
Preheat the oven to 350˚ and line a standard-size muffin tin with liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside. Dissolve one Tbsp. of the espresso in the hot water. In a large mixing bowl blend together sugar, eggs, and sour cream. Add the dry ingredients and mix together until the batter is light and fluffy. Add the hot espresso and mix to combine. The batter will be fairly thin.

Fill each cupcake liner 2/3 with batter then bake in batches for 15-18 minutes, until the cupcakes are cooked through and springy. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. While the cupcakes are still warm, gently press an unwrapped caramel candy into the center of the cupcake. The caramel will melt slightly.

ESPRESSO BUTTERCREAM
In a large bowl, beat together butter, vanilla, and remaining Tbsp. of espresso powder with an electric mixer. When the all the ingredients are combined, slowly add the powdered sugar - about 1/2 a cup at a time until you get the the consistency you want. The frosting will be a little dry. Slowly add cream, about 1 Tbsp. at a time until the frosting loosens up and becomes thick, creamy, and spreadable. Frost the cupcakes when they have cooled completely. Eat. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Mighty Sword

Soy and Jalapeno Marinated Swordfish with Sesame Roasted Potatoes and Greens
After seemingly endless fish dishes for the past several weeks, what is this temporary pescatarian to do? I really love salmon. I mean, ours is a truly passionate affair - but there are only so many times I can make it for my husband before he opts for Burger King instead. Enter the mighty swordfish - a surprisingly mild and "meaty" fish. It doesn't flake like salmon or cod and instead offers an almost chicken-like bite. I found a couple of lovely steaks at Trader Joe's and decided to make use of my recently invigorated garden greens. This was a good meal for two. Quick to make and light enough for our recently warmer and sunnier evening hours, but still extremely satisfying. Pairs great with a chilled glass of Pinot Gris . . . mmmm!

Ingredients
- 2 5-7 oz. swordfish steaks
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1" chunks
- 1 small Yukon Gold or similar potatoes, quartered
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- a couple of handfuls of fresh garden greens (arugula, baby lettuce, etc.)
- 1 tomato, sliced

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and diced jalapeno pepper. Place swordfish steaks in a shallow dish (such as a pie dish) and season both sides with salt and pepper. Pour soy sauce mixture over steaks and cover evenly. Cover dish with plastic wrap and allow fish to marinate in refrigerator for at least one hour. (A great way to plan ahead is to whip up the marinade in the morning before work - when you get home, dinner is only about 25 minutes away!)

To roast the potatoes, preheat the oven to 425˚F and line a baking sheet with foil spritzed with cooking spray. Toss together potato chunks with garlic powder, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, sesame seeds, and salt and pepper. Spread potatoes out evenly on prepared baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20-25 minutes until the potatoes have become soften and slightly browned on the edges. Remove from oven.

To assemble and complete the meal, divide greens and tomato slices among two plates and top with equal portions of roasted potatoes. To sear the fish, heat butter and remaining Tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, arrange fish in pan, reserving marinade. Sear for 2-3 minutes, turn over and sear the other side for 2-3 minutes. The fish should be lightly browned and still opaque in the middle. Remove fish from heat and tent with foil while you prepare the pan sauce.

While fish rests, lower heat to medium and pour reserved marinade into the remaining oils in pan. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. The sauce will bubble and thicken quickly - about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Top each plate of greens, tomatoes, and potatoes with a swordfish steak then divide pan sauce amongst portions and pour over the fish. Eat up! It's good!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cassoulet . . . You Say?

Vegetarian Cassoulet
Our book club (or as my husband likes to call it - "drunk club") typically chooses a rather tasty title. We are all foodies as well as readers and enjoy gathering together over a meal and wine with our book. We have read many "food books" (Michael Pollon's Cooked or Julia Child's My Life in France come to mind), but even when the book is not a specific chef biography or book about "food culture" - we enjoy preparing a meal somehow connected with the chosen text. Our most recent choice was the Christopher Moore's comic quasi-historical romp through the late 19th century Parisian art scene, Sacré Bleu. Obviously this put French cuisine on the menu . . . wine, cheese, bread, etc. As host this time around I decided to make the main dish, but my Lenten vegetarianism posed a challenge to create something hearty and somehow culturally relevant to the novel, but also meat-free. A slow-cooked cassoulet seemed right, but these rich bean stews are traditionally cooked with ample quantities of sausage and any number of other varieties of animal flesh. I came up with this rich tasting version which is filling and hits all the right flavor notes. It is also easily made vegan by substituting the butter for the toasted breadcrumbs with olive oil. It was an enjoyable meal - perfect to feed a crowd.


Ingredients
- 1 lb. dried cannelini beans (soaked in water overnight and drained)
- 2-4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. tofu Italian sausage ("soy-sage"), sliced into disks
- 4 medium leeks (white and light green parts), rinsed and chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 sticks of celery, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
-  several springs of fresh thyme, oregano, and parsley tied up in an herb sachet or herb infuser
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 c. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 c. dry white wine - such as pinot gris
- 28 oz. whole tomatoes and their juices
- 1 qt. vegetable broth
- salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 small handfuls finely chopped parsley
- 2 c. of dried breadcrumbs
- 2 Tbsp. of butter (or olive oil)
In a large, heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven), heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium. Add sliced "soy-sage" to oil and brown gently, turning occasionally with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to overcook.

Remove browned "soy-sage" from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Add 2 more Tbsp. if pan has become dry. Add chopped leeks to hot oil and stir gently, cooking until leeks begin to soften, season with salt and pepper and add carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium 5-7 minutes until vegetables are soft and fragrant. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Turn heat to medium-high and add tomato paste and sugar to vegetable mix. Cook, stirring constantly for one minute. Then add tomatoes and their juices, bay leaves, herb sachet, beans, wine, and broth. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low (or low depending on your range) and allow mixture to simmer gently for 2-3 hours, until beans become soft and cooked through. (You may need to add more liquid as the mixture cooks if it starts to look dry. Check and stir periodically.)

Sometime in the LONG process of slow-cooking, toast the bread crumbs by melting butter (or heating olive oil) in a medium pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and one small handful of chopped parsley and stir gently over heat until the breadcrumbs become toasty and caramel-colored. Remove from heat and set aside.

When the beans have softened (most of the liquid should be soaked in at this point, but the mixture shouldn't be "dry"), heat the oven to 350˚F.  Remove the herb sachet and bay leaves from the pot and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the browned "soy-sage" and remaining chopped parsley to bean mixture and stir to combine. Remove from heat and sprinkle evenly with toasted breadcrumbs. Bake cassoulet in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. It goes great with crusty bread and wine!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Easy Appetizing

Smoky and Spicy Curried Eggplant and Red Pepper Dip
I LOVE eggplant. This versatile nightshade family member with its exotic purple skin and sweet, tender flesh is central to a variety of tasty vegetarian recipes. I was on a curry kick when I threw together this easy rich-tasting (vegan) dip for a party a couple of months ago. I was smart enough to make a double batch and then added coconut milk to the leftovers and used it as the sauce for a slow-cooked chicken curry later in the week. Oh beautiful eggplant . . . I salute you for all you've given to me!

Ingredients
- 1 large eggplant, ends trimmed off and cut into 1" cubes
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- pita chips or flat bread for serving

Preheat oven to 400˚ F. Line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with foil and spritz lightly with cooking spray. Arrange prepared vegetables on baking sheet (it's okay if they overlap a little as you will mix them up periodically when they roast). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, curry, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper flakes. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. of olive oil.

Roast vegetables in oven for about 40 minutes until they become soft, brown, and caramelized. Stir them occasionally as they roast with a pair of tongs.

Once they have cooked through, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place roasted vegetable in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a rough paste forms. With the machine running, slowly pour the remaining olive oil into the mixture and allow to blend until smooth. Season with additional paprika, curry, pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. You can make it as spicy as you like! Serve at room temperature. So, so good! Enjoy with pita chips, flat bread, or sliced raw vegetables!

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Three Bs

Sweet and Smoky Beans with Beer and Bacon
I love beans. I could eat them every day and never get bored. Flavorful, versatile, and budget-friendly, beans are a nutritional home run! They are naturally low in fat, protein-packed, and full of iron, folate, fiber, and B vitamins . . . and did I mention they are delicious? One of our household goals in 2014 is to be more budget-conscious (particularly where trips to the grocery store are concerned) and beans are a great staple to include in the rotation. Slow-cooked with an inexpensive cut of meat or as the backbone to a tasty vegetarian chili, these little babies will keep our bellies and wallets full.  I was craving something a little sweet, a little spicy, and very meaty the other night and came up with this delicious winter dish. Using a coupon and timing the sale just right, I got a hold of an organic pork tenderloin for less than $5 and added some of my pantry ingredients. It wasn't exactly a "quick" dinner, but it was easy and delicious. Slow cooking inexpensive cuts is a great way to get tender,  flavorful meat on a budget. While I cooked it over low heat in my Dutch oven, this could easily be made in a Crock Pot. Coming home to hot dinner? Yes please!

Ingredients
- 1 lb. dried pinto beans, rinsed then soaked overnight in cold water 
- 6 slices smoky bacon, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chopped chili peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 pork tenderloin, cut into 2" chunks and sprinkled with salt and pepper
- 1 onion, peeled and roughly riced
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 20 oz. of ale (I used a sour cherry ale - worked great, but use what you have/like)
- 3 c. chicken broth
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
- 2 Tbsp. ketchup
- 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
- juice from 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- sour cream, avocado, tortilla chips or crusty bread for serving

Cook bacon in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat begins to render. Remove from heat with slotted spoon and add olive oil to pan. Using tongs, arrange pork chunks in a single layer in hot pot. Allow meat to brown on each side (about a minute per side). Remove from heat and add chopped onion. Stir onion in rendered bacon fat and olive oil until it begins to soften slightly, about 3 minutes. Then turn up heat and pour ale into the pot. Deglaze the pan, scraping up browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Return bacon and pork chunks to pot. Drain beans from their soaking liquid and rinse in cold water. Add beans to pot with chicken broth, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, mustard, ketchup, chilis in their sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, brown sugar, and paprika. Stir all ingredients to combine and raise the heat to high.

Once the mixture starts to boil, partially cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow beans to simmer for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. (You will find after about the first hour the meat will become tough . .  don't despair! The connective tissues will break down and the meat will become incredibly tender with more time and low heat.)

After the first hour and a half, check on the meat and beans, give it a good stir and season liberally with salt and pepper. Taste. Return the pot to heat and allow it to simmer an additional half hour or so. Check again, at this point he meat should shred easily with a wooden spoon - shred meat chunks and remove from heat.

Serve up with sliced avocado and sour cream if desired. (Matt had his with a little grated cheddar cheese - also yummy!) It's great with bread or tortilla chips! Feeds a hungry army of eaters! Beer . . . beans . . . AND bacon . . . what's not to like?



 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Veggie Tales

Kale and Pepper Stir-Fry with Orange-Ginger Salmon
My book club is currently reading Michael Pollan's Cooked. Pollan, I will point out, is a very engaging writer and, so far, the book has been an enjoyable read. His central thesis, lamenting the apparently dying kitchen arts, however, is absolutely preaching to the choir of our food-obsessed club. I have very little interest in consuming bad food, and I find so much "fast food" is simply "bad food." I like to take the time and care to cook a good meal I know will taste good. I want to eat good food, and honestly, what I cook at home usually tastes better (and is less expensive and healthier) than I would typically get eating out. So why bother? There's a great line from one of my favorite movies, Ratatouille, uttered by the menacing food critic, Anton Ego to Linguini: "I don't like food - I love it! And if I don't love it, I don't swallow." So rarely does a fictional character capture my feelings so precisely. I absolutely LOVE food, but I am not going to bother ingesting crap just because it's there when there are so many delicious and nourishing options I can easily make myself. Does this way of life come with challenges? Sure. It takes planning each week and a willingness to give oneself over to the delightful rhythms, sights, smells, and textures of the time in the kitchen. I have come to find food-planning and preparation relaxing, a welcomed stress-relief at the end of a day. I look forward to it. Preparing dinner for me and my husband while sipping a glass of wine and listening to music is bliss. I see this "work" or "chore" as a expression of creativity and love for my family. But I am realistic - I get it. Really. I work a more-than full-time job, my schedule can be erratic and demanding (especially when I'm directing), there are always meetings, chores, laundry, animals to take care of, and errands to run. Spending hours each evening simmering complicated sauces or slow-roasting a juicy cut of meat would be lovely . . . but that simply isn't an option for "everyday" cooking. Many evenings things need to be fast and easy. But that doesn't mean defrosting a microwavable lasagne or ordering a pizza. Enter . . . the stir-fry. Packed with veggies and quality protein, versatile, and FAST. Stir-fry is so easily tailored to one's taste and dietary needs - a little lime juice and fish sauce and it's Thai-style or heavier on the ginger and more soy sauce, it's got a Chinese flair. It's whatever you want it to be! Tonight's Orange Salmon with Sesame Kale came together simply because those were the fresh ingredients I happened to have in my fridge. As far as creating a go-to stir-fry arsenal, check out the Asian section of your supermarket and do a little experimenting. Swapping one ingredient for another is a perfect way to keep your pallet engaged - just keep elements within the same flavor-realm - acid for acid or aromatic for aromatic. Prefer rice to buckwheat noodles? Go there! Don't like salmon? Try chicken instead, you crazy maverick! The point is to have fun and to satisfy your appetite! Yum.

Ingredients
- 2 6-7 oz. salmon fillets
- salt and pepper
- juice from one orange
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce, divided
- 1 Tbsp. grated garlic
- 1 Tbsp. grated ginger
- 1 tsp. hot Chinese mustard
- 1/2 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 6 c. chopped fresh kale
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 3 oz. soba noodles, cooked and drained, lightly rinsed in cold water
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced
- 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
In a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, grated ginger, grated garlic, mustard, Sriracha, and olive oil. Season salmon filets on both sides with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Lay fillets side-by-side in a shallow dish and cover with orange juice mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for 20 minutes - 2 hours.

While the fillets marinate, chop remaining veggies and cook noodles. Rinse noodles in cold water and set aside. Whisk together 1 Tbsp. cooking sherry and remaining soy sauce and set aside.

After fillets have marinated adequately heat 1 Tbsp. of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in two separate, heavy pans. (This takes a little coordination, but it is possible to cook two things at once.)

In one pan combine garlic, jalapeno, and pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add chopped red bell pepper and stir over heat until pepper begins to soften slightly. Add kale and soy sauce-sherry mixture to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until the kale is bright green and slightly tender. Remove from heat, toss with cooked noodles and sesame oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place salmon fillets in second pan, reserving marinade. Sear until a slight crust appears on outside of fish, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove fillets to a plate, turn up heat and add remaining sherry to the pan. Deglaze pan by scraping up bits with a wooden spoon. Splash reserved marinade into the hot pan and mix together to make a very quick pan sauce. Remove from heat.

Divide veggies and noodles between two plates and lay a piece of salmon over each. Pour pan sauce over fillets and garnish plate with avocado slices and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. So, so good!