Thursday, July 19, 2018

Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos

Cooking vegetarian has always been easy for me. I eat some fish and fowl, but don’t really miss those flavors when meals are meatless. Dabbling in entirely plant-based cooking, however, sometimes feels like new and different territory. Arriving at creamy textures without cream or milk or butter, using substitutes for eggs, and giving dishes good savory, umami flavor without cheese has been a fun learning process. One of my favorite, recent, vegan experiments was revisiting the carrot dog fad as pigs in a blanket. So, I was delighted to practice more plant-based cooking with the new book The Wicked Healthy Cookbook: Free. From. Animals. Chad and Derek Sarno are self-proclaimed plant pushers. I like that, and I might be a bit of a plant pusher myself. They encourage readers to eat 80% healthy and 20% wicked, and they offer lots of big-flavor ways to achieve that with the recipes. The beginning of the book lays out good lists for kitchen equipment and pantry ingredients as well as tips for cooking success. There are also charts for healthy alternatives to sugar, salt, and extracted fats. The recipes take you from appetizers to bowls to comfort food, desserts, drinks, and more. The King Satay with Spicy Peanut-Ginger Sauce involves searing the king oyster mushroom stems before skewering them for the satay. The Cashew au Poivre Torte with Basil Parsley Pesto is a nut-based cultured cheese that’s topped with crushed pink peppercorns and a white balsamic reduction. There’s an introduction to sourdough starter, which I loved seeing, that’s followed by a recipe for sourdough pizza dough with a few topping suggestions. I was also intrigued by the pasta dough made with silken tofu rather than eggs. There’s a lot to enjoy here whether you’re in the mood for Kale and Avocado Salad with Wild Rice, Grapes, and Toasted Seeds or a Mac and Cheese (made with a plant-based sauce) Bar with several toppings. I was previously familiar with how meringue can be made with aquafaba or the liquid from a can of chickpeas. I haven’t tried it yet, but I want to. And, I had heard good things about using jackfruit to achieve a texture similar to shredded meat. After reading the pages about homemade tortillas and then seeing the Jackfruit Carnitas Tacos recipes, I knew where I wanted to start cooking from this book. 

Green, unripe jackfruit has a mild flavor. Here in Austin, it is available fresh and pre-cut into chunks. A whole jackfruit is large, and buying chunks is more convenient. But, the chunks I found would need to be peeled and seeded. It’s also available peeled and chopped in pouches in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. However, the pouches I found contained flavored jackfruit, and I wanted to flavor it myself. I opted for canned, peeled, and chopped jackfruit. It comes in a brine and needs to be rinsed and drained. Then, seeds were removed, and it was chopped a little smaller. The spice rub from the book included minced garlic, paprika, granulated onion powder, chipotle powder, ground coriander, and salt. The spice rub was added to the drained jackfruit and mixed by hand while breaking up the pieces a bit more. It was left to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour. Next, minced onion was sauteed in a Dutch oven, and the marinated jackfruit was added. Vegetable stock was added next with orange juice, lime juice, oregano, bay leaves, and chipotles in adobo. It was brought to a simmer and then left to cook over low heat for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, I made some fresh tortillas. I loved the idea of the cilantro tortillas in the book made with pureed cilantro leaves and jalapeno, and I added some arugula leaves as well. The puree went into the masa mixture, and tortillas were pressed and cooked on a griddle. The taco toppings included shredded cabbage, tomato, jalapeno, and fresh salsa. 



The jackfruit took on great flavor from the spice rub and cooking liquid mixture and was a good texture for a taco filling. I’m so glad to have gotten to know this ingredient. I don’t know yet what direction my plant-based cooking experiments will lead next, but the Cauliflower Mornay Sauce for pasta is a contender. This book will give me lots of ideas and inspiration.


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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Summer Corn Soup

There was a time when I lived to shop. Nothing was better than spending a day immersed in clothing, shoes, and accessories to try on, compare, and decide what to take home. At some point, I became much lazier about shopping. Now, I’d much rather open several tabs in a web browser to compare and decide and order online. But, one thing that would make me want to shop in person is the prospect of a great lunch or dinner as part of the outing. Have you ever dined in a department store or clothing store? I have a couple of times. In both cases, the restaurants gave a feeling of providing for your every need. You can shop awhile, take a break, have a snack or a meal, and everything you could want is right there. That sense of generous hospitality was evident in the new book The Freds at Barneys New York Cookbook by Mark Strausman of which I received a review copy. The book is full of crowd-pleasing dishes from Freds, the restaurant inside Barneys, that can now be found in the Madison Avenue, Chicago, Beverly Hills, and Downtown New York stores. In creating Freds, the goal was to give visitors the feeling of being “in the midst of the bustle of life” and in the “warm, inviting center of that particular universe.” The food is intentionally uncomplicated and comforting with salads, sandwiches, and soups that happen to be fashionably presented to suit the surroundings. There are also Italian classics, brunch dishes, dinner entrees, and desserts. Everything is carefully prepared despite the volume of food that’s served each day in these restaurants. And, all of the recipes from the Belgian fries to the stocks and sauces are included here. I think I would have a hard choosing from the menu. From the salads alone, I would be hard-pressed to choose among The Palace Warm Lobster Salad with Freds Bistro Dressing, the Beverly Hills Asian Chicken Salad, and the Vegan Salad with Salsa Verde Vinaigrette. Then, with multiple variations on club sandwiches and the turkey sandwich topped with Russian dressing and slaw on an onion roll, I couldn’t decide. Or, should I order the crab cakes, Grilled Hen of the Woods Mushrooms in a Balsamic Glaze with Arugula and Shave Parmesan, or the Upper East Side Filet of Sole with Sauteed Carrots? The same issue would happen with the soups. There’s New Jersey Summer Heirloom Tomato Soup, Lobster Bisque with Saffron Aioli, and Freds Gazpacho. I had some fresh corn from my CSA, and that made my decision for what to cook first from the book much easier than ordering from the menu would be. Summer corn soup with local corn, potatoes, and onion was a great choice. 

You could keep this soup completely vegan by using vegetable stock and olive oil and skipping the butter and cream. I did use homemade vegetable stock and olive oil, and shucked corn on the cob was cooked in it until tender. The corn was removed and left to cool, and chopped potatoes, onions, and celery were added to the stock. The corn kernels were cut from the cobs, and the cobs went into the stock to add more corn flavor while the other vegetables simmered. After about 35 minutes, the corn cobs were removed, and the corn kernels were added to the soup. The soup was then blended in batches to make a smooth puree. The puree was returned to the stockpot, and here cream or milk or almond milk can be added. I had some creme fraiche on hand and used that. The pureed soup was heated through with the creme fraiche mixed in, and salt and pepper were added to taste. 


In the Soups chapter, there’s a mention of garnishes and how they add an important “little something” with flavor and texture. I went a little crazy with the garnish here and used some roasted cubes of pattypan squash, chopped fresh tomato, a few corn kernels I set aside, and ribbons of fresh basil. If possible, the garnishes made the soup even more summery. The corn flavor was like a bowl of sunshine as it was. Now, when I shop in a web browser, I can whip up something from this book and still enjoy the mix of shopping and great food. 

Summer Corn Soup 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Freds at Barneys New York Cookbook

This creamy soup is a recent and very popular addition to the Freds menu. It can easily be adapted to be vegan without losing the creaminess that makes it so satisfying. Chef’s tip: Freeze some of the water when you cook corn and use it in the stock for this soup. 

Serves 4 

2 quarts Vegetable Stock or Chicken Stock 
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (can substitute olive oil) 
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt 
6 ears fresh summer corn, husked and cut in half 
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced 
2 yellow onions, diced 
2 stalks celery, diced 
1 large leek, white part only, trimmed, well-washed, and diced 
1⁄2 cup heavy cream or 1 cup whole milk (can substitute 1 cup almond milk) 
Freshly ground black pepper 

Place the stock, butter, and salt in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the corn and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the corn from the stock, set aside to cool, then use a sharp knife to shave the kernels off the cobs. Set the kernels aside, but do not discard the cobs. Return the pot with the broth to medium-high heat. 

Add the corn cobs, potatoes, onions, celery, leek, and cream. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until the potatoes are soft, 35 to 45 minutes. Fish out the cobs and discard. Add the corn kernels to the soup. Using a food processor, blender, or immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (Depending on the size of your machine, you may need to do this in several batches.) Be especially careful as you do this because the soup is very hot. 

If the soup is too thick, add additional stock and heat thoroughly. Adjust seasoning and serve.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Potato Galette with Mexican Mint Marigold

Back in 1994, our very own Central Market grocery store opened in Austin, and it immediately became the place where I do a big part of my grocery shopping. In 1994, I was a graduate student, and my shopping list included more frozen food and quick-to-cook things than it does now. But, I remember walking into this brand-new store with the produce section that meanders on and on and discovering starfruit and taking it home to taste it for the first time. There was so much to explore and taste, and my grocery store expectations have never been the same since. I thought about that as I read my review copy of The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by the Extraordinary Produce of California's Most Iconic Market by Laura McLively. The Berkeley Bowl, in Berkeley California, began as a small, family-run produce shop that has evolved into “one of the nation’s most renowned retailers of exotic fruits and vegetables.” All of the produce continues to be selected by the original owner, Glenn Yasuda, who visits sellers and farmers personally to choose what to order for the store. The new book is a tribute to the variety of foods found there and a guide for using lots of the interesting and seasonal produce throughout the year. The recipes aren’t always traditional to the ingredients being highlighted. For instance, Asian greens may be given a Spanish flavor profile or purple cauliflower may find its way into tacos. But, the dishes are all intriguing. The chapters are grouped by type of produce such as Leaves, Spores and Succulents, and Roots and Tubers. The Spring Chickpea Tabbouleh made with raw chickpeas straight from the pod makes me want to grow my own. And, I want to track down some banana blossoms so I can try the Banana Blossom with Glass Noodles and Crispy Garlic that’s served in the sturdy, outer petals of the blossom. I have some locally-grown, purple snake beans that I’m going to use in a Thai curry tonight, but I can’t wait to bring home more of them to use in the Smokey Snake Beans involving tomatoes and a homemade bbq-style sauce with a recommended side of cornbread. I’ve also marked the pages for Sea Bean and Soba Salad, Aloe Vera and Mango Ceviche in which the texture of the aloe mimics that of fish, and Golden Beet Tamales with Red Pepper Sauce. These days I do still bring a lot home from Central Market, but I try to gather most of the produce I use from local farms. In the spring, potatoes and shallots appear, and I had to try the Potato Galette with Tarragon made with a layer of sauteed shallots. In the book, the galette is made with lovely purple potatoes, and I have found locally-grown purple potatoes here in the past. This time, I went with the red potatoes and shallots on offer at Boggy Creek Farm, and I used my home-grown Mexican mint marigold that has a flavor very similar to tarragon. 

The recipe suggested any homemade or store-bought pie dough, and I did a little searching through my books for a good olive oil dough. I decided to try the whole wheat, tahini, and olive oil dough found in A New Way to Bake: Classic Recipes Updated with Better-for-You Ingredients from the Modern Pantry. Olive oil doughs are so easy to make, and this one was very easy to roll out and shape for the galette. For the filling, shallots were thinly sliced and sauteed in olive oil until caramelized. Chopped tarragon, or Mexican mint marigold in my case, was added. I also added some chopped sage from my herb garden. The dough was rolled into a 13-inch circle, and the shallots were spread in the center. Potatoes were thinly sliced on a mandoline and placed on top of the shallots, overlapping slightly. The potatoes were brushed with some olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and topped with more herbs. The dough was folded over the edges and brushed with an egg wash. The galette baked for about 30 minutes. I crisped some sage leaves in olive oil to add on top of the baked galette. Sour cream is suggested for serving, but I loved the galette just as it was. 


This is a great make-ahead dish since the galette can sit at room temperature and holds up perfectly. You could serve thin slices with cocktails or larger slices as a meal with a salad. It’s the kind of simple dish that really puts the freshness of the ingredients into the spotlight. This book is going to come in handy for cooking with what’s locally grown and some store-bought, new-to-me produce. 

Purple Potato Galette with Tarragon 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by the Extraordinary Produce of California's Most Iconic Market. 

Fanned out across a flaky pastry smeared with caramelized shallots, this deep royal purple potato is a showstopper. A sprinkling of fresh tarragon and a dollop of sour cream balance the galette’s richness. Serve for brunch or lunch alongside lightly dressed mixed greens. 

Serves 6 to 8 

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil 
4 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced 
1 tablespoon fresh chopped tarragon 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
10 ounces purple potatoes (about 4), unpeeled 
1 9-inch pie dough (homemade or store-bought) 
1 egg, beaten 
Sour cream for serving 

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté on low for 20 minutes, or until the shallots are soft and caramelized. Turn off the heat and stir in half of the tarragon, half of the salt, and some pepper. Set aside to cool slightly. Use a mandoline or a sharp knife to cut the potatoes into 1/16-inch-thick slices. Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Use a rolling pin to roll the pie crust thinner and into a 13-inch circle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the crust on it. Spread the shallots over the pie crust, leaving a border around the edge (about 1 1/2 inches). Starting from the outer edge of the shallots, place the potato slices on top the shallots in overlapping layers, spiraling inward. Use a pastry brush to brush the potatoes with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle the remaining salt. Fold the border of the dough up and over the potatoes, pressing down in loose pleats. 

Brush the exposed dough with the beaten egg and bake for 28 to 32 minutes, until the crust is golden and the potatoes are tender. Sprinkle the remaining tarragon over the galette and serve with dollops of cold sour cream.


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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Edamame Pate Sandwiches with Molasses Oat Bread

I’m trying to remember my first encounter with hippie food. I know that I’d eaten whole wheat bread and home-grown vegetables my whole life, but my first memory of eating food that was created as a countercultural statement was when I was a student at the University of Illinois. There was a little, vegetarian cafe in Urbana called Nature’s Table, and I fell for their garbanzo spread sandwich on whole grain bread. I hadn’t thought about that place in years, but it came back to me as I read a review copy of Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. This book looks back at the origins of what we’ve come to call “hippie food” and how many products that used to be hidden away in health food stores became mainstream. It all might have started in the 1950s in California where optimum health and trust in nature became linked to food choices. Soon thereafter, interest in macrobiotic diets were on the rise and a demand for organically-grown brown rice developed. At first, there weren’t always scientific reasons to back up various nutritional claims, but the idea that food grown without harsh chemicals is better for people and the planet began to resonate in health food circles. Just when industrialized farming was taking off, this nascent call for doing things the old-fashioned way arrived. It was interesting to read how the Lundberg family in California became a leader in growing rice organically. Following the interest in brown rice came the return to whole wheat. White bread became a symbol of the industrial, over-commercialized food system. Recipes for baking whole wheat bread at home began circulating. All the while, more health food stores and cafes cropped up around the country. Health food buying coops appeared as well, and I was interested to read about the start of Austin’s own Wheatsville Coop that is still in business today. Speaking of Austin, all of this also led to Whole Foods Market that started here as well. Hippie food often has a negative connotation as bland or boring in its meatlessness, but it’s come a long way. I’m so glad ingredients like all sorts of whole grain flours, brown rice, and organic produce have gained popularity and can be found everywhere. And, I’m thrilled that we now have so many cookbooks and magazines to inspire delicious ways to use those ingredients. This book and memories of Nature’s Table had me craving a vegetarian sandwich on whole grain bread. I’d just seen the Edamame Pate Sandwich in Clean Eating, and I decided to bake my own bread for it. 

When I read A New Way to Bake, I had marked the page for Molasses Oat Bread, and this was a perfect use for it. It’s an easy bread to make too. Boiling water was poured over some oats, and molasses was added. While it sat, more oats were coarsely ground in a food processor and then added to a bowl with whole wheat flour, bread flour, dry milk, and salt. Yeast was added to the oat-molasses mixture before it was combined with the flour mixture. The dough was kneaded and left to rise before being shaped and left to rise again. Before baking, the loaf was scored, brushed with egg white, and topped with oats. For the edamame pate, thawed shelled edamame were pureed with walnuts, mint, green onion, salt, lemon juice, and a little water. I made a few different sandwiches. Some were made with pea sprouts, some had home-grown arugula, and some were open-faced with just tomato. 

The molasses oat bread was a fitting and delicious vehicle for the edamame pate. It’s been too long since I last had that vegetarian sandwich at Nature’s Table, so I would be able to compare the two. But, I do know that Nature’s Table wasn’t using fresh, local tomatoes on their sandwiches back then, and that gave my edamame sandwich a big boost. Is this modern hippie food? Evolved hippie food? Whatever the label for this kind of eating, I hope the concept continues. 

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Alfajores

Of course, I love trying new baking recipes especially when I get to play with nonstandard ingredients. And, I really love it when I get to try making treats that are sweetened with things other than refined sugar. I bake fewer sweet things than I used to, and I mostly avoid refined sugar except on special occasions. I’ve had some mixed results with this type of baking. A honey-sweetened carrot cake and some maple syrup-sweetened cookies that I baked were really far better on the first day than the second. And, a vegan, date-sweetened caramel I tried didn’t deliver the thrill of traditional caramel. So, I was cautiously excited to try the recipes in the new book Sweet Laurel by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas of which I received a review copy. I wanted to love the flavors, and I really wanted the recipes to work well. After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder, Laurel Gallucci became committed to creating delicious baked good with no grains, gluten, dairy, or refined sugar. She and her friend Claire opened the bakery Sweet Laurel to showcase these creations. They offer “indulgent yet healthful” treats made with the simplest ingredients. No gums, fillers, or soy is used in the recipes. In fact, all the ingredient lists are surprisingly short. The chapters cover quick breads and breakfast treats, cookies and bars, pies and tarts, layer cakes, fillings and icings, and decorating techniques. I quickly zeroed in on the doughnuts with various glazes. They’re baked doughnuts made with almond flour, coconut oil, eggs, and maple syrup, and the glaze options include chocolate, strawberry, turmeric lemon, and coconut butter icing. Then, there are Classic Snickerdoodles, and the only reason I haven’t baked them yet is because I would eat every one of them. The Zesty Lime Pie and the Caramel Chocolate Banana Cream Pie are both strongly tempting me as well. Among the cakes, there are classics like the The Chocolate Cake That Changed Everything that inspired the friends to open the bakery and an old-school Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with pieces of blood orange standing in for the usual maraschino cherries. I couldn’t wait to get baking, and my first recipe from the book was the Alfajores that happen to be vegan as well as grain-free and free of refined sugar. 

There are three parts to this recipe, and each can be made in advance to make the final assembly a bit quicker. First, I made the Shredded Coconut “Powdered Sugar” topping. Rather than sifting actual powdered sugar over the cookies, these are topped with pulverized, unsweetened coconut that looks like powdered sugar. The coconut was blitzed in a food processor until fine. Next, I made the Vegan Caramel filling. I opted to puree the ingredients in a blender for the smoothest possible texture, but a food processor could also be used. Almond butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, dates, vanilla, and a pinch of salt were pureed until smooth. It seemed like a nice, thick mixture for filing the cookies, but next time I will take the suggestion of adding two more dates to make it a bit thicker. The cookies couldn’t have been easier. The dough was a quick mix of almond flour, a little salt, melted coconut oil, and maple syrup. That’s it. The dough was placed between two big sheets of parchment paper and was rolled out to about an eighth of an inch thickness. Small rounds were cut and baked. While cooling, the cookies were dusted with powdered coconut. Once cool, half of them were flipped and topped with vegan caramel before being sandwiched. 

Above, I mentioned some other lackluster, vegan caramel I had tried in the past. This was not that. This vegan caramel had all of the yummy factor I expect from caramel. I could have sat down with the bowl of it and a spoon. Next time, I will make it a little thicker so the cookies can withstand more filling without sliding apart. And, the deliciousness remained for these cookies the second day and the day after that. I can’t wait to bake more things from this book.

Alfajores 
Reprinted from Sweet Laurel: Recipes for Whole Food, Grain-Free Desserts. Copyright © 2018 by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas. Photography by Claire Thomas. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. 

Our favorite coffee shop is just blocks from where we grew up, and one of its featured treats is the alfajore, a melt-in-your-mouth Argentinian sandwich cookie. Traditionally made with shortbread, dulce de leche, and an abundance of powdered sugar, it’s the perfect cookie to pair with a cup of strong South American coffee. In our version, we switch out the dulce de leche for our vegan caramel, and coat the cookies in our coconut powdered sugar. Don’t forget to brew a pot of coffee! 

2 cups almond flour 
1⁄8 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt 
1⁄4 cup coconut oil, melted 
1⁄4 cup maple syrup 
Shredded Coconut “Powdered Sugar” for topping 
Vegan Caramel, for filling 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a small bowl, combine the coconut oil and maple syrup. A little at a time, add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until a dough comes together. 
3. Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll it about 1⁄8 inch thick. Remove the top piece of paper and, using a 1 1⁄2-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until the edges begin turning golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a rack, dust heavily with “powdered sugar,” and cool completely while you prepare the vegan caramel. 
4. Gently spread 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegan caramel onto a cooled cookie, then sandwich together with another cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies and serve. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the freezer indefinitely. 

Vegan Caramel 
We believe our early success has a lot to do with this recipe. There have been vegan caramel super fans since day one (seriously, one guy has a weekly order), and once you try it, you’ll know why. You’ll see it pop up in a few recipes in this cookbook, but we won’t judge if you eat this straight out of the jar with a spoon! Our favorite way of serving it is on top of sliced bananas, or with a piece of dark chocolate. You can buy ours at sweetlaurel.com, but here’s our secret recipe. 

1⁄4 cup almond or cashew butter or puree, storebought or homemade 
1⁄4 cup maple syrup 
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted 
1 or 2 fresh dates, pitted 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract Pinch of Himalayan pink salt 

1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. 2. Transfer the caramel to a glass jar and place in the refrigerator to chill. The caramel will stiffen up in the refrigerator, so if your recipe calls for it to be spreadable, let the caramel sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, and give it a good stir before using. The caramel will keep for about 1 month, refrigerated. 

Shredded Coconut “Powdered Sugar” 
Makes 1/4 cup 

1⁄4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut 
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder 

1. In a food processor, blend the coconut and arrowroot until a fine powder forms. 
2. Sift the mixture over the doughnuts, generously dusting each, then serve.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Strawberry Sorbet

I know what you’re thinking: strawberry sorbet, so what? But wait, this is an exciting strawberry sorbet. There’s a whole lemon in it. And, I don’t mean the juice of a whole lemon, I mean a whole lemon plus more juice. When I read that in the recipe, I knew I had to try it. But before I get into specifics about the sorbet, I have to tell you about the book where the recipe is found. It’s from River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant: A Cookbook, and I received a review copy. I love the story of River Cafe, and congratulations to them on their 30th anniversary. This new book offers a fresh look at their classic recipes and how they’ve been refined over the years along with several new dishes. Regarding the look of the book itself, I fell for it immediately with the pretty, bright pink pages, page edges, and interior jacket color. Artists were asked to draw or paint on a menu, and those works are included in the book. As a fan of Ruth Rogers’ architect husband Richard, I was fascinated to read about the original restaurant space which fit all of nine tables but had large windows that overlooked the Thames and outdoor space for a garden. Richard Rogers created the plans for the space, and Rose Gray’s husband, David MacIlwaine, designed the restaurant logo. They’ve gone through lots of changes over the years and expanded the space, but they still operate as a family business. From the beginning, the intention was to create the “kind of food you eat in Italian homes,’ although neither Rogers nor Gray began as trained cooks. They offered what they knew and liked based on seasonal availability of ingredients. The chapters of the book include Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contori, and Dolci with lots of interspersed photos of the food, the restaurant, and menu art. Every dish looks like a plate of comfort welcoming you to stay a while. I could spend a long lunch enjoying the Zucchini Soup, the Pappa al Pomodoro, or the Summer Minestrone with some wine. The Spaghetti with Lemon and Basil sounds perfect for summer as does the Linguine with Fresh and Dried Oregano with lots of chopped cherry tomatoes. There are risotto, polenta, fish, and meat dishes and simply delicious vegetable recipes like Tuscan Roasted Potatoes with Artichokes. But, I got completely distracted by the desserts. There are very short but interesting ingredient lists. The famous Chocolate Nemesis Cake has exactly four ingredients in the cake itself. The Lemon Sorbet is made with bananas which is intriguing, and the Campari Sorbet with lemon and orange is another one I want to try. Up first, though, was the Strawberry Sorbet while I could get lovely, ripe, local strawberries. 

The recipe as written makes a lot of sorbet. I cut the quantities in half, and it completely filled my ice cream maker. (The recipe below is as it is written in the book.) So, as mentioned, I stared with one whole lemon, and I decided to use a Meyer lemon. It was cut into small pieces, and the seeds were removed. The chopped lemon went into the food processor with sugar and was chopped until combined well with the sugar. Hulled strawberries were added next and pureed followed by the addition of lemon juice. Next time, I would opt to use a blender rather than a food processor because the mixture becomes very thin and seeps out of the food processor. The mixture was chilled and then churned in an ice cream maker. After churning, the sorbet was left to firm up in the freezer for several hours. 

I love lemon desserts and strawberry desserts, and having the two flavors together was ideal. After tasting this sorbet, I wanted to flip back to the start of the sweets chapter and try everything in it. This, like all the recipes here, was a perfect example of how simple can be spectacular. 

Strawberry  Sorbet 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant

Serves 10 
2 unwaxed lemons, roughly chopped 
2 pounds (900g) granulated sugar 
4 pounds (1.8kg) strawberries, hulled 
juice of 2 lemons 

Put the lemon pieces into a food processor with the sugar and pulse-chop until the lemon and sugar are combined. Add the strawberries and purée. Add about half of the lemon juice and stir to mix. Taste and add more lemon juice, if necessary—the flavor of the lemon should be intense but should not overpower the strawberries. 

Pour into an ice-cream machine and churn until frozen. 

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Vegan Queso and Bob Armstrong Dip

I spend a good amount of time talking about the food in Austin, but I can’t think of a simple way to describe it. I can tell you that whenever I’m out of town for a few days, I always look forward to getting home so I can grab a breakfast taco with spicy salsa. It’s been exciting to see the changes in our local food world since moving here over two decades ago. There are so many new flavors and cultural influences in our restaurant offerings now than there were then. And, there’s a full spectrum of quick and easy food from food trucks and casual spots to the creative dishes at fine dining places. I couldn’t wait to read how our city’s food was described and which recipes were included in the new book The Austin Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from Deep in the Heart of Texas by Paula Forbes. Of course, there’s barbecue and tacos and Tex-Mex, and there’s so much more. The recipes are mostly from restaurants both old and new, and a few are from the author. Brisket and carnitas make prominent appearances. But this is Austin, so there are also Tacos de Hongos made with a mix of mushrooms and poblano strips and Butternut and Goat Cheese Chile Relleno topped with pistachio cream and pomegranate arils. The Texas Standards chapter moves from The Broken Spoke’s Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy to Contigo’s Okra with Walnuts. One of the New Austin Classics recipes I want to try is the Grilled Quail with Green Mole from Lenoir. There’s a chapter for Breakfast and Brunch that includes a breakfast taco primer with plenty of information for making your own. At home, I tend to start with corn tortillas and fill them with scrambled local farm eggs and whatever vegetables are in season, but they’re extremely customizable. It’s no surprise to see margaritas and the Mexican Martini in the Drinks chapter, but I was also delighted to find one of my favorite Juiceland orders there as well, the Wundershowzen Smoothie made with spinach, natural peanut butter, and hemp protein powder. There are also salsas and baked goods, and happily the Banana Pudding is a made-from-scratch version from Daniel Vaughn at Texas Monthly. As I was deciding what to cook first, I kept coming back to the Bob Armstrong Dip from Matt’s El Rancho. It’s a classic Tex-Mex restaurant, and queso finds its way to almost every diner’s table. Bob Armstrong, a former Texas land commissioner, was a regular at the restaurant and requested something new and different on one occasion. Queso topped with guacamole and beef taco filling was the new creation served just for him, and now it’s on the menu with his name on it. In the recipe head note, there’s a suggestion for making a vegetarian version with pinto beans instead of beef taco filing. I had just cooked some pinto beans that were stored in my freezer so I liked that vegetarian direction, and then I took it one step further and made a vegan version of queso as well. 

The day I made this, I posted a photo to Instagram and asked if this was an Austin-sacrilege or quintessential-Austin? My defense is that the processed cheese-like product often used to make queso isn’t really cheese anyway, so why not make something completely from plants instead? I did a little searching and found a couple of vegan queso recipes (here and here) to use as starting points. The primary ingredients were soaked cashews and grated potato. My biggest worry was that I was going to end up with an unappetizing color. I added ancho powder and a pinch of turmeric to bring out the reddish-yellowish look of it. To start, unroasted cashews were soaked in water for several hours. A medium potato was peeled and grated. Olive oil was warmed in a saucepan, and diced onion and minced garlic were added. After cooking for a few minutes, the grated potato was added and stirred to prevent sticking. Cumin, ancho powder, granulated garlic, a pinch of turmeric, and a chopped chipotle in adobo were added. Last, the drained cashews were added. Once the vegetables were cooked through and tender, the mixture was transferred to a blender, and a little apple cider vinegar and some water were added before blending to a smooth puree. I let the blender run an extra minute to get it as smooth as possible. The queso was returned to the saucepan to sit over a low simmer to stay warm. Diced red bell pepper, diced roasted poblano, and diced seeded tomato were added. To serve, the queso was poured into a bowl and topped with a scoop of guacamole, seasoned pinto beans, sliced jalapeno, and chopped cilantro.

It’s a happy day in my kitchen when the smells of roasting poblanos, chopped garlic, fresh from the garden cilantro, and sliced jalapeno are mingling in the air. It automatically makes me thirsty for tequila with lime juice. This loaded queso was a meal in itself with lots of chips for dipping. The texture matched that of regular queso, and the flavors hit all the right notes. And, those are just some of the flavors I love in Austin restaurant food and at home. 

Vegan Queso 
Note: The queso recipe in the book includes all the dip components with instructions for the beef taco filling and guacamole. The queso itself, in the book, is made with shredded American cheese. The following recipe is the Vegan Queso I chose to make for a plant-based version of Bob Armstrong Dip. 

3 tablespoons olive oil 
1/4 cup diced onion 
1 cup peeled and grated potato 
3 cloves garlic, minced 
1/2 teaspoon cumin 
1 teaspoon ancho powder 
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic powder 
pinch turmeric powder 
1 cup soaked, unroasted cashews (soak cashews in advance for several hours) 
1 chipotle in adobo, chopped 
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar 
1 cup water 
salt and pepper to taste 
3 tablespoons diced red bell pepper 
3 tablespoons diced roasted poblano 
3 tablespoons diced, seeded tomato 

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the grated potato and garlic, and cook while stirring to prevent the potato from sticking to the pan. Continue to stir and cook until the vegetables become tender. Add the spices, drained cashews, and chipotle and stir to combine. Cook for another two minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender, and add vinegar and water. Puree in the blender until completely smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Transfer the queso mixture from the blender back to the saucepan, and add the diced bell pepper, poblano, and tomato. Heat over a low simmer just to keep warm until serving. For vegetarian Bob Armstrong Dip, serve topped with guacamole, seasoned pinto beans, sliced jalapeno, and cilantro and with tortilla chips for dipping.

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