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.

- 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.

- 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!

- 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.

- 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

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.)

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.

- 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

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.

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.

- 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)

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.

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!

- 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!