Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Holiday Picture Show

Homemade currant cakes from a friend in Pennsylvania.


"Bear claws" (no actual bears were harmed).

Salad with spinach, grapefruit, avocado and pomegranate seeds in a cranberry vinaigrette - served alongside tamales.

Birthday cupcakes.

Dutch apple pancakes.


Moroccan Green Bean Tagine from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, served over pearl couscous.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Not-So-Veg Saag Paneer at the British Bulldog

On my first visit to the British Bulldog, I was pleased to find that their menu featured both traditional pub fare and Pakistani dishes. I tried and really liked the saag paneer ($9.50) -- chunks of cheese cooked in a spinach curry, served over seasoned basmati rice, with cilantro chutney and pita on the side. While some saags are too creamy for my taste, the emphasis in this saag was on the spinach and the spices.

Unfortunately, on my second visit, I found small but unmistakable chunks of lamb in my saag. The restaurant's menu states that lamb and chicken are available for an additional cost, but in this case, it appeared that the lamb and saag had been cooked together. It's a shame, because it was fun to eat saag in a pub atmosphere, and because the British Bulldog is close enough to downtown Denver to be a convenient workday lunch spot.

The British Bulldog does have some other vegetarian offerings -- including a veg burger ($6.50) and cheese quesadillas ($5.95) -- but none of the choices are as interesting as the saag.

The British Bulldog
2052 Stout Street (corner of Stout and Broadway)
Denver, CO 80202

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sweet Potato Home Fries

While I like sweet potatoes, a whole potato sometimes seems like too much to eat in a single meal. It's funny how quickly that same potato disappears once it's been turned into home fries...

I served my sweet potato home fries with creole-spiced black eyed peas and garlicky kale. Because the peas and kale had very distinctive seasonings, I decided to keep the fries simple, tossing them in blend of canola oil, salt, and pepper. If you are looking for seasoned fries, consider this recipe -- involving coriander, fennel, oregano and red pepper -- at Kalyn's Kitchen.

I left the potato skins on; of course you could peel your potatoes first if you prefer.

2 medium sweet potatoes, washed
2 teaspoons canola oil, plus a little additional oil to brush the baking sheet with
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.
Lightly brush a nonstick baking sheet with canola oil.
Trim the ends from the sweet potatoes.
Cut each potato in half length-wise.
Place one potato half cut-side down on cutting board, and carefully slice the potato into long thin strips.
Place the strips into a mixing bowl, and repeat with the three remaining halves.
Top potatoes with the canola oil, salt and black pepper.
Toss to coat, using your hands.
Place the potato strips in a single layer on the baking sheet.
Bake 20 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully turn the potato strips over.
Bake another 10 minutes, or until potatoes are bubbly and the thinest strips are crisp (watch carefully at this stage, as the potatoes can very quickly go from bubbly/crisp to burnt!)
Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Creole-Spiced Black Eyed Peas

This weekend, I'm falling back on a simple recipe for creole-spiced black eyed peas, which I served with kale and sweet potato home fries.

2 cups cooked black eyed peas
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 roma tomato, washed and diced
1 teaspoon creole seasoning (such as Lucille's), divided*

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon creole seasoning and cook until the onion is tender (about 5 minutes).
Add the tomato to the skillet and cook another minute.
Add the peas to the skillet, along with 1/2 teaspoon of creole seasoning.
Stir, adjust seasonings and serve.

Serves 4-5.

*my seasoning mix contains salt, so I don't use any additional salt in the recipe.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Azuki-Chocolate Brownie/Pudding

I was intrigued by the black bean brownies that Heidi Swanson posted about on 101 Cookbooks. What would brownies made using puréed beans in place of of flour be like?

Before I tell you about the bean brownies that I made, I have to admit that, instead of following the original recipe exactly, I tweaked things to accommodate my appetite and the ingredients I had on hand. I knew that I would never manage to get 45 brownies out of an 8 x 11 pan -- if disciplined I might manage to eek out 9 servings -- and so I reduced the amount of butter and sweetener in the recipe. Since my version contained less melted butter, I used brewed hazelnut coffee instead of the dried instant coffee called for in the original recipe, to balance out the liquids. I also switched out the black beans for azuki beans, which are used to make the sweet red bean filling in my beloved daifuku manju, and which I happened to have in my pantry.
The result? Kind of a brownie, kind of a baked pudding. Surprisingly (and pleasantly) spongy. Does it taste like beans? Actually, no. The flavor is all chocolate.

While I previously refrigerated an "Indian" pudding before serving, I have to admit that I ate some of this brownie/pudding right out of the oven - delicious - and think it's best served warm. Good with ice cream, just like a traditional brownie.

2 cups cooked azuki beans
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces chocolate (I used about 7 tablespoons of dark chocolate chips)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brewed hazelnut coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Brush an 8 x 11 baking dish with canola oil.
In a food processor, blend the azuki beans with the agave nectar and salt until smooth.
Transfer the bean mixture to a large mixing bowl.
In a glass measuring cup or a small glass bowl, microwave the chocolate and butter for 1 minute 30 seconds.
Stir the chocolate and butter until smooth, and add the coffee and vanilla.
Blend the chocolate mixture into the bean mixture.
Add the eggs to the chocolate-bean mixture, and stir to combine thoroughly.
Pour the batter in the 8 x 11 pan and bake for about 45 minutes.
Increase the temperature to 350 F and bake an additional 10 minutes (the brownie/pudding should be well set).
Remove from oven and serve warm, or refrigerate to cool completely before serving.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tea Embassy: Mexican Winter Rooibos and Almond Cookie Tea

While I was picking out gifts for others this holiday season, I decided to get a treat for myself, too: two of my favorite teas, which happen to come from the Tea Embassy in Austin, Texas. I discovered the teas (and the Tea Embassy) while living in South Texas a few years back. While I'm glad to be back home in Colorado, I have missed the tea.

The first is Mexican Winter Rooibos: a rooibos herbal tisane (or "red tea") blended with orange, cinnamon, coconut, chili bits and red pepper. It smells fantastic and tastes delicious, especially with a little honey.

The second is Almond Cookies Green Tea: organic green tea flavored with almond and coconut. "But, doesn't it have that strong green tea taste?" No, it actually really does taste like almond cookies. Which is probably why, whenever I place an order, I get a call from the Tea Embassy telling me that they'll need a few extra days to fill it, because they're currently out of the Almond Cookies Tea. But, it's worth waiting for, and it never seems to take that much longer, anyway.

Tea Embassy
(orders are taken through their Tea Treasures website, here)
900 Rio Grande Street
Austin, TX 78701

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lentil Soup

This lentil soup features tomatoes, spinach, and tomatoes, in addition to the usual carrots and onions. It has become my favorite way to make lentil soup. The recipe is a veg-ified version of a recipe for lentil stew, involving ham and chicken broth, that was published in Cooking Light in 2002.

Good with a crusty bread and some cheese, or on its own.

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
dash red pepper flakes (optional)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups veg broth, and one cup water
1 cup dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 carrot, washed and grated
2 bay leaves
1 to 3 cups chopped spinach (I vary this ingredient, based on the amount of spinach that I have on hand, and it always turns out well)
3 medium sized potatoes, washed and diced
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Heat olive oil and red pepper flakes in a stockpot over medium heat.
Add onion and garlic, and cook about 5 minutes (until the onion is soft), stirring often.
Add water, broth, lentils, bay leaves and carrot to the pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.
Add potatoes and spinach to the pot.
Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.
Add tomatoes, basil, thyme and black pepper to the pot.
Simmer 10 minutes.
Discard bay leaves and serve.

Note: if using a low-sodium broth, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the soup at the same time as the tomatoes and seasonings.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gado Gado

We're only a couple of weeks into the holiday season, but I've already been feeling a bit overloaded in the decadent food department: pie, leftover pie for breakfast, corn fritters, chocolate bread pudding, and rich bread-pudding-like french toast. It's all been delicious, but I needed some veggies to balance things out.

Gado gado is an Indonesian salad. It really delivers in the veggie department, while also providing a wide array of textures and flavors, and a good amount of protein. I've gotten into the habit of eating the salad mid-winter, when I need a little color and diversity in my diet. Apart from the recipe for the peanut sauce, which I follow pretty closely, it's really more of a general guideline for assembly: vary the fruits and vegetables, and amounts of specific vegetables, to meet your tastes.

If serving to a group, set out bowls with each ingredient, and allow each person to assemble their own salad to meet their tastes. Because the salad is served at room temperature, the rice, tofu, eggs, and steamed veggies can be assembled in advance.

I get about 5 servings from the recipe below.

Salad Ingredients
1 cup rice, cooked, along with 1/4 teaspoon tumeric, per package instructions
5 ounces spinach, washed and gently dried
2 cups cabbage (I like to use red cabbage for the color), washed and finely chopped
handful green beans, washed, ends trimmed and lightly steamed
1 cup steamed broccoli
2 carrots, washed and grated
1 red (or yellow, or orange) pepper, washed and diced
Diced fresh pineapple
3/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted (set your toaster oven on its lowest setting to avoid burnt coconut!)
8 ounces tofu, diced and baked
3 hard boiled eggs, shelled and chopped
Other options: steamed bean sprouts, steamed cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas, diced apple, diced orange, substitute diced potatoes for the rice...

For each serving of salad:
Place a bed of spinach on the plate/bowl.
Top with the rice.
Top with veggies, tofu, eggs, pineapple and coconut.
Ladle peanut sauce over the salad to taste (recipe below).
Add the green onion and ginger toppings (recipes below) to taste.

Peanut Sauce Ingredients

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 generous teaspoon grated ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (cider vinegar will also work)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash red pepper flakes

Whisk together all ingredients but the hot water in a medium sized bowl.
Add hot water bit by bit, whisking to combine with the peanut mixture
Add more water if the sauce is too thick, and adjust seasonings to taste.
Serve at room temperature (whisk one last time just before serving).

Green Onion and Ginger Toppings
3/4 cup scallions, washed and chopped
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon canola oil

Saute ginger in oil, over medium heat 1-2 minutes.
Remove ginger from pan.
Saute green onion 3-4 minutes.
Place in small bowls to serve.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Homemade Hazelnut Chocolate Truffles

After reading about Elena's homemade orange chocolate truffles, I thought that it would be fun to try making homemade truffles myself. I knew that I wanted to use hazelnuts, because they blend so nicely with chocolate, but I wasn't sure what to do about the unsweetened cocoa powder, which tends to be too bitter for my tastes. Rhubarb suggested using cacao nibs, and gave me some to try in the recipe. I think they lend a nice chocolately flavor to the truffles.

Rather than rolling the truffles in cocoa powder, I ground a few additional nuts in the food processor to create a hazelnut coating.

Vegans delight - these truffles are dairy-free!

1/2 cup cacao nibs*
a generous 1/2 cup raw hazelnuts, plus 1/4 cup for the coating (3/4 cup total, or about 1/3 pound)
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash salt

Place 1/4 cup hazelnuts in a food processor and blend until they have a sand-like quality.
Remove the ground hazelnuts from the food processor, cover and refrigerate until later use.
Place cacao nibs and 1/2 cup hazelnuts in a food processor, and again blend till they have a sand-like quality.
Add the almond butter, agave nectar, vanilla and salt to the food processor, and process until smooth.
Scrape the truffle mixture out of the food processor and into a bowl; cover and refrigerate two hours.
After about two hours...
Set out a piece of wax paper or parchment paper, to place the finished truffles on.
Remove the truffle mixture and ground hazelnuts from the refrigerator.
Roll 1 teaspoon of the truffle mixture between your hands to create a ball.
Roll the truffle ball in the ground hazelnuts to coat, and place on the parchment or wax paper.
Repeat until all of the truffle mixture has been used.
Refrigerate until serving.

I get 18 truffles,
and have enough ground hazelnuts left to coat a whole 'nother batch. (I put the leftover ground hazelnuts in the freezer to save them for later.)

*If you can't find cacao nibs, substitute chocolate chips.