Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review

Well it's that time of year. Time to welcome the baby new year - Hello 2013! - and bid adieu to 2012. I don't know about you dear reader, but 2012 was a douzy for me! So much change, so much growth, so much love and great food! I'll raise a glass to more love, ease, light, and joy in 2013!

Instead of seeking out the top visited posts, I choose my favorites for the year, and here they are, in order of the day - breakfast to dessert. Enjoy with lots of hugs!

As with so many foods this past year of going vegan, I have been converted to eating foods that I was never a big fan of like pancakes. The first time I made these Pillowy Puffy Vegan Pancakes I was SOLD! Maybe it's the fun chemistry of making them without eggs or the fact that the secret ingredient is apple cider vinegar (and vinegar is one of the loves of my life), but I couldn't get enough of these!

Having spent most of my college years in the South, I learned to worship at the alter of good biscuits: flaky, spongey, airy, mouth-watering delicious. Add a breakfast patty in between and you could lead me by the nose into molten lava and I'd go willingly! Discovering these Vegan Buttermilk Sausage Biscuits and the referenced faux sausage recipe was nothing short of a culinary miracle. No fake meat from the store ever again!

Mushrooms are not an ingredient that inspire so-so responses; people either love them or hate them. Being a fairly recent convert to the lover side, I am a fanatic and have been known to pay obscene amounts of money at the farmers' market for gorgeous mushrooms. Luckily, this dish of Pan Roasted Mushrooms with Wild Rice can be made with cremini mushrooms, easily foraged from your local grocery store!

 Eggplant and barley are two of my favorite ingredients and ones that I love to write about since so many people seem stumped when it comes to using them creatively. Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad is one of those dishes that people will be shocked at how much they like it. So don't take it personally when they react that way, it's the salad, not you!

When it comes to exploring a new cuisine, I follow the traditional route as close as possible to get a sense of the how the food developed - ingredients indigenous to a specific region, noting how seasons shape pairings, and understanding how abundance and ease of gathering ingredients informs the prevalence of particular food stuffs. This dish of Stovetop Corn and Roasted Poblanos couldn't be more traditional, marrying two of the key staples of Mexican cuisine, corn and chilies.  A match made in heaven!

Following along the Mexican theme, 2012 was the year I finally made Red Chile Tamales; that in itself made it a banner year! Intimidating, yes. Worth it, absolutely! This recipe is for both pork and vegan (tofu) tamales, so everyone can join in the fun. The key to making tamales is the advance prep, including making the pork or freezing the tofu for best texture in the tamales. Plan ahead, invite a friend or two over to help assemble these bundles of joy, and you will not regret one single moment of this delicious endeavor!

Tempeh is an ingredient that has taken a while to inch into my repertoire, until I discovered Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes. Inspired by Maryland crab cakes, these tasty morsels not only won rave reviews from the most omni of omnivores, but finally cracked the code on tempeh for me. Piping hot or cold leftovers, these nuggets of gold will have anyone eating out of your hand and begging for more!

"Lentil meat" was one of the revelations of 2012 for me. Who knew the modest legume could bring such joy! Until discovering its entree potential, it had almost always only been found in soup or Indian dal. Liberation! With these Spicy Lentil Lettuce Cups I sauced them up and served them Asian style in their own lettuce cups, reminiscent of my favorite Chinese dish of tofu lettuce wraps.

Here's another vegan makeover of a classic, Chickpea Parmesan, using my favorite legume to create a gorgeous cutlet for slathering on lots of red sauce and cashew cheese sauce. Be forewarned, this will create culinary rapture, so be sure to be seated while eating!

While preparing to make this gorgeous Vegan Grasshopper Pie, I learned that there are places that deep-fry grasshoppers and eat them like popcorn! So to be clear, no grasshoppers were harmed in the making of this pie! Another important note, said with pride, is there is no artificial food coloring used to green the pie - that's baby spinach leaves ground into the filling!

 Limoncello, the lemon zest infused sweet vodka of Italy, is one of those things that I like to make more than I like to drink. All that changed when I made Limoncello Macaroons! These blew my mind despite my severe lack of a sweet tooth! Boozy desserts are always a fun choice but imagine the tang of lemon, the creamy sweetness of sugar icing and the crunch of coconut macaroons!

The other dessert that swept me away this year was this Vegan Caramel Flan. Simple and elegant, easy and foolproof. This is the kind of dessert I adore for dinner parties! Impressive to look at, delicious to eat, and easy to make ahead of time! You need this in your repertoire now!

And that is my top 12 for 2012. I hope you enjoyed this virtual feast! Raise a glass to a glorious past year and all of the delicious, nourishing, and enlightening meals and food gatherings to come!

Happy New Year and Hugs to All!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Raw Berry Tart

I have only dipped my toe in the raw food waters, mostly making desserts. My intentions are to make some entrees, soon. But for now, raw desserts like this berry tart are not only simple but quick to make, so what's not to love!

If you haven't discovered the magic of soaked cashews then now is the time. Soaking the cashews softens them so that when placed in a blender with other ingredients they become a paste that is malleable in so many ways. Here they serve as the basis for the fruit "custard".

If you look at other recipes for raw berry tarts most of them will include a sweetner of a sort, but I prefer to let the berries speak for themselves. And if fresh berries are too dear for your budget, frozen ones work just as well and are often sweeter. Just increase your cashews by 1/4 of a cup since frozen berries seem to have more liquid in them.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thai Curry Creamed Cabbage

Oh, the lowly green cabbage. It isn't colorful like red cabbage or crinklely like Napa cabbage or juicy like Chinese cabbage. But when you cook it just right, it's the best comfort food around.

Especially when you pair it with coconut milk and some nice warming spices like a red Thai curry. Stir it into some quinoa and we're talking pantry magic like you haven't seen cabbage make in such a long time!

Red cabbage is often my first choice in raw salads for the color alone. But green cabbage cooks up better because when it is gently sweated or sauteed, its sweeter side opens up, like a beautiful flower embracing your taste buds. Adding the coconut milk just makes this side dish silky and smooth; the kick of the Thai curry simply ensures that you don't fall asleep at the table as you get all comfy and warm!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate

Brussels Sprouts get so much love at Thanksgiving - everyone is so excited to make some dish with them for the big feast. But I often wonder if they're like the new pair of shoes that lose their allure after that night of heavy partying? Never for me, but just in case you haven't had any since the Feast night, here's an offering well worth trying.

This recipe comes straight from Eats Well With Others, unadulterated. If you haven't visited with Joanne of Eats Well With Others, well high-tail it over there now! Yes, leave my blog and go check it out. Not only is her food killer (and her photos insanely drool-worthy) but she's an amazing writer, hysterical tale-teller, and all-around amazing human being. Ok, go now and we'll see you when you come back...

Welcome back! So back to Brussells Sprouts. I love pomegranate anything and when I saw that this dish had both the seeds (AKA avils) and pomegranate molasses, it was a match made in heaven. If your family/friends/random dinner party guests claim to hate the "bitter" taste of Brussels Sprouts, bring on this dish. Sweet and tart, crunchy and earthy, what's not to love!

A word of caution. In my preserving fervor I deseeded several pomegranates and froze the seeds. They froze just fine and lost no flavor, but in defrosting they lose their jewel like transparency (as seen in Joanne's photos as opposed to mine.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tortilla Soup

Tomatoes and corn are defining ingredients in Mexican cooking and they come together perfectly in the deceptively simple and delicious tortilla soup. Using a few Mexican specific ingredients - fresh serrano chiles, canned diced chiles and a smoky chipotle chile - creates a complexly flavored soup that you can make in less than 30 minutes. Add avocado, cilantro, and the crunch of corn chips and it's a party in your mouth!

If you have canned tomatoes, chiles, and chick peas in you pantry, then this is super quick meal that comes together in minutes! Add your favorite salad and some extra chips and you have a full meal that is healthy but tastes decadent. Don't skimp on the garnishes, they really make the soup!

Tortilla Soup
(serves 4)

1/2 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can diced green chiles
2 cups canned tomatoes
2 fresh serrano peppers, minced
1 chipotle in adobo (without the sauce)
1/2 cup cooked chick peas
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
5 corn chips plus more for garnish
1/2 avocado, cubed
cilantro, minced

Saute onion, garlic, serranos and canned chiles in olive oil until translucent. Add celery, chipotle, and cumin and cook another 4-5 minutes until vegetables begin to stick to the pan. Add tomatoes, chick peas, and oregano and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 15 minutes until well melded. Add 5 chips, broken up, and cook another 5 minutes to soften chips. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Add in 1 tablespoon minced cilantro and then puree in batches in a blender or use a hand held blender. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with corn chips, avocado and more cilantro if you like.


Recipes currently inspiring me:

Spinach and Feta Casserole at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice
Gingerbread Biscotti at Flavors of the Sun
Raw Brownie Bottomed Cheesecake at Spa Bettie

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wild Mushroom Pasties

I love dough, bread, crust, you name it. Put shortening/oil/margarine/whatever together with flour and some salt and water and I'll eat it. Wrap it around something mouth watering like sauteed mushrooms and I'll probably knock down your 80 year old grandmother to grab the last bite!

These particular stuffed morsels are called "pasties" after the Cornish Pasties that are sold all over England and it is how the dough is made that qualifies them as such. Instead of cutting the shortening into the flour, it is melted in boiling hot water and then the flour is added to it along with salt and some baking powder. The result is an incredibly flaky crust that boggles the mind.

(By the way, I am well aware of the sniggling from the peanut gallery since the term "pasty" has a different connotation on this side of the pond! Us cooks who are focused on the origins of food will simply ignore the giggles!)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Raw Kale Salad with Sundried Tomato Cashew Dressing

If you have yet to try a raw kale salad, what's the hold up? Even if you think you do not like kale, give this salad a try. With a little forethought, you can have a creamy dressing that is healthy and tasty too!

The basis of most raw kale salads involves squeezing lemon juice over the raw leaves and allowing the natural acid to wilt the kale down. At minimum, allow the kale to wilt for 15 minutes, but you can also refrigerate it and allow it to wilt over night. For the dressing, I use cashews that have been soaked at least 8 hours in water, pureeing them with a few flavorful ingredients to create a creamy, dairy-free delicious dressing. It looks and taste like a gourmet vegan restaurant, but you can do it so easily at home. And isn't that always a bonus!

For this iteration I tossed in some sundried tomatoes to add a little zip to the dressing. Be sure to use the ones packed in oil; loose packed dried ones are too hard and even rehydrated ones are too wet and soft and will not blend well.