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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