Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tomato & Leek Confit

All right, my vegan friends, plug your ears and cover your eyes, 'cause I'm about to say something you're not gonna like. There is no substitution for real butter. I'm not talking about the fatty, flavorless sticks that you find at most supermarkets. I'm talking about Plugra, a European-style butter that has an intoxicating aroma and a delicate flavor. It has the power to transform the simplest ingredients into mouth-watering masterpieces.

This morning my friend Kelly and I went for a 5.5-mile run around East Memphis, then joined The Wife and Michael for brunch in our backyard. Michael brought bottle of Prosecco that he mixed with a homemade raspberry syrup which turned the bubbly a beautiful shade of magenta. It was so much fun. The weather was beautiful, and our dogs provided plenty of Wrestlemania-style entertainment. For our meal we had thyme & rosemary scented potatoes (thanks, Michael), homemade mushroom-sage sausage, and cheese grits topped with a fried egg and tomato-leek confit...which brings me back to the butter. 

I'm new to this whole confit thing. I was not even sure what it was until I read about it in Gourmet magazine a few months ago. I did not believe you could confit anything without duck fat, but then I discovered you could do it with Plugra. Thus began my adventure. I have been messing around with recipes since my discovery and have found that an unfussy mix of leeks, tomatoes, Plugra, and time simply can not be beat. Do this:

7 campari tomatoes (peeled)
1 leek (thinly sliced and washed)
2 tablespoons of unsalted Plugra
Everything goes into a pan on the stovetop. Simmer while covered on low for an hour. Remove the lid and raise the temperature to medium. Reduce until thickened. Serve over eggs or potatoes or anything you want to become more delicious.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vegetable & Rice Noodle Soup in a Ginger & Garlic Broth

This hearty noodle soup is a staple in my house. It is as fast as making grilled cheese, but it is packed with good-for-you vegetables. TCV has no problem putting away an entire bowl full of this aromatic soup at lunch or dinner. You will need:

2 cups of water
a handful of rice noodles
2 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
1 rib of celery (sliced on the bias)
1 carrot (halved lengthwise & sliced)
5 small mushrooms (halved & sliced)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
soy sauce or braggs
1 cube of no-salt-added vegetable bullion
3 ounces of seitan
In a pan over high heat, dissolve the bullion into the water, then grate in the ginger and garlic using a microplane. Add a few dashes of braggs and give it a taste. Adjust the seasoning to your liking.  Add the vegetables and the seitan, and then allow to cook for a few minutes until the carrots begin to become tender. At this point add the oil and the noodles. The noodles will generally cook in two to three minutes, but check the package instructions to make sure. Dump the soup into a big bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro and chives. I like to start eating this dish with chop sticks and end by slurping the broth right out of the bowl. Feel free to add any vegetables to this soup that you have lying around. I make it a little different every time.Broccoli, kale, spinach, or edamame would all make terrific additions to this dish. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spinach & Goat-Cheese Phyllo Rolls with Balsamic Marinated Tomatoes

This beautiful dish is easy and fast, however the colorful presentation makes it look like you spent hours in the kitchen. The contrast of the crunchy phyllo and the creamy spinach filling are a perfect complement to the tart tomatoes and bright parsley. You can serve this as an appetizer as I did here, or as a main course with a nice greek salad or rosemary-scented potatoes. You will need the following:

4-5 sheets of phyllo dough
3-4 cups loose packed fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup fresh curly parsley more for garnish
2-3 oz of goat cheese
1 egg
2 cups grape tomatoes (halved)
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Marinate the tomato halves in a mixture of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Place the spinach and parsley into a food processor, and then pulse until finely chopped. Add the egg and pulse a few more times until incorporated. Lay the phyllo dough flat onto an oiled baking sheet and spread the spinach mixture across the top third of the dough. Crumble the cheese evenly over the spinach. Loosely roll the dough into a log. With a sharp knife, slice the log into one-inch sections, and then place upright on the baking sheet. This process is nearly the same as making sushi. Brush the rolls with olive oil, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place rolls into the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the dough is golden in color. Transfer spinach rolls to a plate, garnish with tomatoes and chopped parsley.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Smoked Almond & Arugula Pesto with Danish Blue Cheese on Toast

Starving after working on getting my new downtown photo studio ready for a shoot, I stop into the BP on Riverside Drive and scour the racks of junk food for something that looks even remotely edible. I spot a small package of smoked almonds. I had never thought much of smoked almonds, but since I have become newly fascinated with smoky flavors, I decided to give them another try. It was a revelation. Crunchy, smoky, salty -- like BACON. My mind began to wander thinking about all of the things I could create with these little smoky beauties. I'd love to make a pasta carbonara with them, but first I had to try a smoked almond and arugula pesto:

2 1/2 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
1/2 cup smoked almonds
olive oil

Everything goes into a mini-prep and is blended. I like to pulse the machine so that the mixture does not turn to mush.
We kicked off the weekend with a drink and a face full of this delicious pesto served with danish-blue cheese on toast. I think it would also make a great sandwich on thick-sliced bread with some heirloom tomatoes and blue cheese or tossed with a favorite pasta. 

After this, we headed downtown to the recently-reopened Five Spot for dinner. Murphy serves up a delicious vegan pasta primavera for $12 and the house dressing is a lemon-ginger concoction that is not to be missed. There is also plenty of other great stuff for any of your meat-eating companions, so drop by there soon. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pineapple "Cheese" Cake from How It All Vegan (V)

I, The Wife, have not made dessert for TCV and me in about two months, but this week, I am back into it with a vengeance. This weekend, it started with chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting (with dutch process cocoa - a must-have at our house) for Michael's b-day. Today it is the vegan "cheesecake" from Tanya and Sarah of How It All Vegan fame. This cookbook is well-loved with pages falling out, notes here and there, and favorite recipes starred. Can you imagine that this really tastes like cheesecake? However, it is not out to kill you like civilian cheesecake; with silken and regular tofu, blended pineapple, and lemon zest as the main ingredients, it might actually benefit your health instead. It makes us fondly remember that year we were vegan and start to think we really should bake this way more often. 

Pineapple "Cheese" Cake 
(adapted from How It All Vegan)

1 pkg. silken tofu
1/2 pkg. medium tofu
lemon zest from one lemon
juice from same lemon
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. vanilla
dash of salt
1 cup pineapple, finely chopped

Mix all except pineapple in food processor. Pour into mixing bowl. Blend pineapple and then add it to rest of mix. 

Graham Cracker Crust

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. water
dash of salt

Add wet ingredients to dry a bit at a time and stir as you go. Press into bottom of a springfrom pan and pour in cheesecake filling. Bake cake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until firm. Let cool and refrigerate before serving. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fun with Potatoes

Oven-baked cheesy potato logsMini red-potato & horseradish latkes with mexican creamaYam chips with homemade blue cheese dressing

I found these photos of sides and snacks made from potatoes, so I decided to share them with you. You may never look at a boring old potato the same way again. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Easy Ponzu Stir-Fried Veggies (V)

I needed a quick veggie fix this afternoon. Believe me when I tell you that I had no time to be cooking, but I was able to whip up this batch of veggies and rice in no time at all thanks to my new friend ponzu. Ponzu is a citrus-tinged soy sauce that makes everything it touches delicious. I chopped some carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, purple cabbage, a few small sweet peppers from the farmer's market, and celery, and then added some sweet peas to the mix. I poured 3 tablespoons of sesame oil into a pan and allowed it to get hot. I tossed my veggies in the oil, and then added 2 tablespoons of ponzu. When my veggies were just about done, I threw in a cup or two of cooked rice. I transfered the rice and veggies mix to a plate and toped with chopped spring onions. It is better than take-out and much better for you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two Tarts Eat as One

Sorry, I could not resist -- again. It's just too much fun to pun. Well, if that is annoying, then ignore it. What you see is really a leek and king oyster mushroom confit tart with lemon-goat cheese along with an arugula and basil pesto tart with heirloom tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Today was the last day of the Whitton Farms summer CSA, and I got majorly inspired by what was in my bag this week. Thank you, Keith and Jill!

The Wife's tart dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable/canola oil blend
1 cup of ice water
1 generous pinch of sea salt

Throw it all together, stir, and add extra flour to coat and to lessen the stickiness if needed. Roll it on out and let TCV deal with the rest of the prep work himself while you catch up on The Hills, the greatest scripted comedy in television history. 

For the leek and king oyster mushroom confit tart with lemon-goat cheese:

2 leeks (washed and cut into 1/4-inch disks)
2 medium king oyster mushrooms (cut into 1/4-inch disks)
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces of lemon goat cheese
1/2 cup white wine
Melt butter in a large pot and then add the mushrooms and the leeks. Cover and allow to cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. Remove lid and add wine; allow to reduce. Spread thinly on 12-inch tart crust and crumble goat cheese on top.

For the arugula and basil pesto tart with heirloom tomatoes and parmesan:

2 cups arugula leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/8 cup olive oil
1 thinly sliced heirloom tomato
1/2 cup shaved parmesan

Combine pine nuts, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a mini-prep. Next, spread mixture on 12-inch tart crust. Top prettily with tomatoes and parmesan.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, and then brush with an egg wash. Return pan to oven for 5 minutes. Remove and serve warm. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seitan's Hell Fire Hot Wings with Yogurt & Blue Cheese Dressing

I don't usually go for the cutesie names, but seitan's hell fire was too easy to pass up. These wings, made with TCV's homemade seitan recipe, were delicious. The Wife and I nearly wrestled each other over the last wing. I let her win. These things will set you on in a good way. I used Frank's Red Hot sauce because that is the classic hot wing sauce. Here is how I did it:

2 homemade seitan cutlets (sliced into strips)
10 bamboo skewers
1 cup of flour (for dredging)
1 small bottle of Frank's hot sauce
2 tablespoons of butter
olive oil

Slide the seitan strips onto the bamboo skewers, dredge in flour, and arrange on a nonstick sheet pan. Drizzle wings with olive oil and bake in a 450 degree oven until the edges of the seitan are nice and brown. In a large bowl mix the melted butter and hot sauce. Toss browned wings in the butter/sauce mixture and arrange on a plate. 
For the dressing:

2 ounces of blue cheese
2 ounces of greek yogurt
drizzle of olive oil

Mix ingredients until the desired consistency is achieved. Serve dressing with carrot & celery sticks along side seitan wings and lots of beer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Circa's Totally Vegetarian Dinner

We attended Chef John Bragg's Totally Vegetarian five-course dinner at Circa this past Wednesday night. Here's the deal: Chef Bragg did not rely on the old tricks. There was no fried tofu and only one faux meat dish on the entire five-course menu. Instead, he delivered flavor and texture combinations that would be a revelation to anyone, meat-eater or not. Out of the eight friends and relatives at our own table, only two were strict vegetarians, but everyone was freaking out about how great the courses were. In addition, each course was paired with an organic wine from Heller Estates. It was so much fun to take a sip of wine, taste the cuisine, and then the wine again to determine whether the wine was supposed to match the flavor of the food or to contrast with its complex flavor. Everyone loved the sweet potato flan, which was served with a traditional green Mexican pumpkin seed sauce. I enjoyed the 'duck' cassoulet, a rich and substantive mix of beans and seitan with a side of crusty bread. The Wife, dessert-fiend that she is, favored the orange-chocolate crepe. Simply put, it was a three-hour culinary extravaganza. You, too, can experience Bragg's vision and largesse on Sunday nights at Circa through the month of September. Call Circa ASAP for details and reservations: 901.522.1488. 

As we all know, springing for fancy dinners out all the time can get pretty expensive. The key words here are 'all the time' -- and this got us thinking. We love Huey's and Mayuri and Brother Juniper's and Saigon Le and Fino's and Tracks, all excellent, low-key, locally-owned, reasonably-priced everyday places to eat, but we try not to overdo it when it comes to going out to eat. Most days, we aim to prepare three meals a day at home. But the restorative powers of a supernice meal presented by an inspired, talented chef? It's well worth the expense every now and then. Think of all you receive for the cost: looking forward to the new experience, relaxing due to the attentive service that ensures everything's taken care of, committing to memory the new flavors and inventive ideas that you can take home to your own kitchen, soaking up the beautiful atmosphere that surrounds you, and enjoying something unique with the much-loved family and friends who join you. So our idea is this: go for it a few times a year. Consider doing this seasonally; save up and make a point to splurge on an over-the-top meal sometime during the spring, summer, fall, or winter. And anticipate how life will stop for a little bit and allow you a few hours  to enjoy something delicious. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vegetarian Club Sandwich

For lunch yesterday I made a club sandwich, and I'm not even a member. I don't know how I get away with it. This is a delicious way to eat three kinds of fake meat in one compact meal. Here we have some fake bacon, phony bologna, and tofu turkey enclosed in three (1-2-3) pieces of wheat bread. Slap on some vegan mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, & onion. It was some serious belly-filling goodness. Make one for yourself, and then watch Mitch Hedberg's bit on the club sandwich HERE. Your membership card is in the mail.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Slow & Low BBQ Seitan Sandwiches with Purple Cabbage & Green Onion Slaw (V)

I decided to make my own seitan, and as daunting as it seemed, it was not difficult at all. For those who do not know, seitan is a meat substitute originally developed for Buddhist monks. It's made from vital wheat gluten flour, which comes from the endosperm of the wheat berry, the most protein-laden part of wheat. The process takes a while, but the hands-on time is minimal. Also, you get the satisfaction of making your own meat. It is like hunting -- sort of. I read several recipes before coming up with my own to try. You will need:

2 cups of vital wheat gluten flour
1 1/4 cups of strong stock
more stock for boiling (throw some onion & celery in for more flavor)
1 tablespoon of bbq seasoning
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
salt to taste

In a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, mix dry ingredients, and then add the 1 1/4 cups of stock & oil. Mix for approximately 2 minutes.  Allow mixture to rest for 1o minutes. Cut dough ball into 3 portions. Stretch each portion until each is about 1/4 inch thick. Drop seitan cutlets into boiling stock, cover, and cook for one hour.

They will double in size when they're done. They have a very meaty texture that goes well with just about anything. You can use them in the place of chicken or pork in just about any recipe. 
I used mine to make BBQ because I love it. I gave them a good dry spice rub, brushed them with oil, and placed the cutlets on the grill using low, indirect heat and allowed them to cook for about 30 minutes. Then I basted them with my favorite BBQ sauce every 10 minutes for the next 30 minutes. If your sauce has a lot of sugar in it, turn down the heat even lower. Pull the cutlets off the grill, and allow them to rest for a few minutes before chopping them. 

For the purple cabbage and green onion slaw:

4 cups purple cabbage (shredded)
1/2 cup green onions (chopped)
1/2 cup mayo (I like Spectrum eggless vegan light canola mayo)
salt & pepper

Buy some wheat buns or make THESE  from Vegan Dad's blog. Assemble your sandwich by placing chopped BBQ whet gluten on top of the bottom bun, and then a little extra BBQ sauce, and then about 1/2 cup of slaw. You are now ready to rock. This is a colorful, healthy alternative to pork or beef BBQ.