Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sea Bean Cakes with Lemon Aioli

I saw them. I just never picked them up. They were right there next to the mushrooms. I think maybe I was distracted by the blue foot, hen of the woods, or the fresh chanterelles. I'm talking about sea beans. They are a funny-looking little vegetable that reminds me of coral in form. The flavor is intense; they taste like the sea. The briny, bright flavor is a great addition to the vegetarian cook's bag of tricks. Here I pair the seafood-like texture of king oyster mushrooms with the seafood-like flavor of the sea bean to create a delicious vegetarian version of a crab cake.

1 cup king oyster mushrooms (diced)
1/2 cup sea beans (diced)
1/4 cup fresh parsley (minced)
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 tbsp mayo
1/4 green bell pepper (small dice)
1 egg (beaten)
3/4 cup bread (torn into small pieces)
1 1/2 cups panko or cracker crumbs
olive oil
Cook mushrooms in a frying pan over medium heat for a few minutes until tender then set aside to cool. Fold all of the ingredients except the panko together in a large mixing bowl. You want it to be light so don't over work it. Portion mixture with an ice cream scoop, roll in panko, and pat into a flat disk. Repeat. Set cakes on a tray and place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. This will help them stay together as they cook. Fill a non-stick frying pan with about a 1/2 inch of oil and place over medium heat. Remove cakes from the freezer and pan fry in batches until golden. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 a lemon into a 1/4 cup of mayo, add pepper, and mix. Serve this on the side of the sea cakes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cilantro Almond Soup

It's nice to see my girl Ruth Reichl land squarely on her feet. After Gourmet ended, I knew I would miss her, but now, I am glad to be able to watch her new series, Adventures with Ruth. I mention this because I saw her make a version of this soup on the show last week when she was in Mexico. I thought it was something really weird, something I'd never made before, so of course, I had to try it myself. Using cilantro as a base and not just are garnish -- what? Really? The result was surprising in that it tasted like a very flavorful cream of broccoli soup. Click HERE for her recipe. Below is my vegan version of the soup.

Cilantro Almond Soup

2 leeks, roughly chopped
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 bunch of cilantro, blanched and shocked
2 tsp. flour
1 Not-Chick'n bouillon cube
handful of fresh spinach
1 tbsp. olive oil
juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
sliced green onions and Mexican hot sauce for garnish

Sauté the leeks in olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes. Next, push the leeks to the side of the pan and put the flour and tbsp. of olive oil in the middle. Stir to create your roux. Let it cook for 3-5 minutes to get rid of the raw flour flavor; you'll start to smell the toastiness that indicates a good roux. Add top of cilantro, almonds, bouillon cube, and spinach with just enough water to cover. Using an immersion blender, blend all ingredients until very smooth. For a more sophisticated soup, you can strain it, but I like it kind of chunky. Garnish with dots of hot sauce, a squeeze of lime, and thinly sliced green onions.

Vanilla + Lychee Lemonade

The can of lychees hid in the back of our crowded cupboard for an inordinately long time. I thought about them; I had a vague idea to add them to champagne one day when something celebratory was called for, but it just never happened.

Lychees are funny, flowery, perfume-y little things. Stripped of their tough outer layer, they look a little transparent and a lot naked. It's best to blend them up and add a couple of flavors that enhance their oddness. Lemon and vanilla worked well and created a new flavor that you can't find even in the best juice aisle.

Vanilla + Lychee Lemonade

1 can of lychees
Half a lemon, juiced (thin slices reserved)
Squeeze of agave
2.5 ounces of vanilla vodka

Strain lychees and discard the syrup. Blend them with about 1/4 cup of water until smooth. Pour the lychee juice, lemon juice, agave, and vodka into a shaker with ice. Shake and pour into two glasses, and add a very thin slice of lemon so it floats. This is a great way to start the weekend.

Fresh Lychees

Monday, February 15, 2010


Yes, we realize that it is absolutely freezing cold outside. Yes, it's a fact that it's only mid-February, and regrettably, spring still seems imaginary at this point. And, horror of all horrors, we've resorted to using fleece door pillows to block all icy drafts from outside. (Even our dog finds that unacceptable -- she has secretly torn apart two out of three of them.)

But...popsicles are eternal. And we are back to making them with a vengeance. We're cooking up a little plan for relief once the heat rushes back into town and makes itself known through October. Here is a preview of our test flavors:

olive oil honeycomb

strawberry + cherry balsamic

banana + sunflower seed

Our Valentine's Day Tradition

To Start

To Continue

Kombu and Miso Soup with Fresh Spinach

Sushi Two Ways: Enoki Mushroom with Cream Cheese

and Seared Shiitake with Pickled Carrots

To Finish

Dark Chocolate and Frangelico Fondue

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Smokin' Grilled Romaine Salad with Roasted Romas & Ricotta Dumpling Croutons

This is the first time I've ever set off the smoke alarm making a salad. However, this is no regular salad. This is a warm, smoky salad that works perfectly as an entrée on a cold night. I got this crazy idea to play around with the classic components of a cold salad by using heat and smoke to transform them into something completely different.

I choose roma tomatoes and romaine lettuce because I knew both ingredients could take some heat without wilting and falling apart. Next I decided to make dumplings for the top rather than croutons. I thought dumplings would be richer and more filling than croutons -- plus the creamy texture paired nicely with the crunch of the romaine.

Makes two servings.

For the salad:
4-6 roma tomatoes (blanched, peeled, and halved)
4 sprigs of fresh oregano
1 whole heart of romaine lettuce (split lengthwise)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
parmesan cheese

Toss tomatoes together with a few tablespoons of olive oil and the fresh herbs. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. I roasted the garlic for the dumplings at the same time. Pop the tomatoes under the broiler for a few minutes to get some color on them before serving. Get a cast iron grill pan screaming-hot on your stovetop. Dress romaine with equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Grill each piece cut-side-down for a few minutes or until nicely charred. This is where a lot of the nice smoke flavor comes from. You will know you're doing it right if the smoke alarm goes off right in the middle of making this.

For the ricotta dumplings:
1 small head of garlic (roasted until soft)
1/2 cup ricotta
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
olive oil

Mix roasted garlic, ricotta, egg, and salt until well incorporated. Fold the flour into the cheese mixture. The more you mix it the tougher the dumplings will be so be judicious about it. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pat dough into a 1/4-inch thick cake on your floured work surface then cut into 1/2 inch cubes using a pastry cutter or butcher knife. Drop the dumplings into the boiling water and keep an eye on them. Once they float to the top, they are ready to be removed and drained. For a crunchy texture, sear them in a hot pan with some olive oil for just a few minutes.

To plate this dish, place a piece of grilled romaine next to a few roasted tomatoes. Top that with some fresh ricotta dumplings, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and a little grated parmesan cheese.

Salad will never be the same.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tapioca Pudding Wars

Tapioca is so simple to make, but you can do so much with it. I secretly like boxed instant tapioca, and I make it often -- especially when my sister and my niece are in town. We had it after the pho and bahn mi lunch TCV cooked in their honor on the day they headed back to the Northwest.

(Honestly, I disdained tapioca when I was growing up and even deemed it 'fish eyes'. Oh, how tastes can change over time!)

So, here's the key tapioca question: from the box or the real thing? Usually I am of the mind that from scratch always trumps a shortcut, but recently, I decided to put the two types of tapioca head to head and judge on taste alone.

The whole tapioca pearls from the cassava plant have to be babied. You will not be eating tapioca in 20 minutes if you use these needy granules. First, they require an overnight soak in water. Then you heat the soaked tapioca with milk, and you have to separate the eggs next. Finally, it's time to add the hot milk mixture to the yolks, and the yolks to the milk and cook it all together until it thickens. So my question this week all of this really worth it? Does all the extra labor and time make a difference?

No. I've decided that it really doesn't matter. The 'real' tapioca pudding I recently labored over for a day and a half sat in my fridge. I avoided it and finally threw most of it out. The texture was too heavy, too eggy, and too weird. The measure of a good dessert in our house is simple. If it is still around the next day, something's wrong with it.

You can have a simple vanilla tapioca with nutmeg on top or make a dark chocolate or citrus version. I like it slightly chilled and with a little nutmeg and sugar on top. I just made it using coconut milk, and that was a nice twist, too.

Grab a little red box of tapioca (it's in the pudding aisle, usually hiding in plain sight way up on the top shelf) and follow the recipe on the back. It's a surprising comfort to make something that tastes so good and takes such little effort.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Vegan Pear-Ginger Olive Oil Crumble

I like how pears ripen quickly but then stay pretty good for a while. I stuck a couple of them in the fridge and soon decided to make little creme brulee dishes of crumble. These are vegan due to the use of olive oil margarine, which complemented the olive oil drizzle on top before baking.

The filling:

3 Bosc pears
3 Granny Smith apples
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 pieces crystallized ginger, minced
pinches of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg to taste

Peel apples and then pears. (I like to cut off the top and bottom in order to stand them straight up to peel imperfectly -- a little skin left on here and there is fine -- and then I cut off four sections to dice. You want to end up with rustic chunks the size of a bouillon cube.) Pour in half the lemon juice and stir to prevent browning as you go. Mix the rest of the lemon juice with cornstarch and add it. Sugars, ginger, and spices can be incorporated next.

The crumble:

1/4 cup olive oil margarine for dishes and to chop up in crumble mixture
1 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. raw sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
olive oil

Butter the dish or dishes you will use, add filling, and set aside. Mix together all other ingredients except olive oil and sprinkle it on top of pears and apples in your dish. Drizzle with olive oil and bake crumble at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until it's cooked down and top is light brown. You could top this with Greek yogurt or soy ice cream, but we just had it plain in all its gingery, spicy glory.