Arroz Sin Pollo

January 25, 2008 at 8:53 am (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Derek's faves, Grains, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Nonfiction book review, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Tofu)

This recipe is adapted from a recipe for arroz con pollo in the book This Organic Life: Confessions of an Urban Homesteader, which tells the story of Joan Dye Gussow’s attempts to source the majority of her food out of her own back-yard garden. Some reviewers complain that the book is repetitive, lacks focus, and has an annoyingly self-righteous tone. Although it does occasionally shift into lecture mode, I found it to more memoir than diatribe.  Gussow was a nutritionist, professor, and lecturer before she retired, but this book only briefly discusses that part of her life; instead, it focuses on her life post-retirement.  It’s rare in this youth-obsessed culture  to read about a woman over 60, so I enjoyed that aspect of the book.  I realized I was really curious about what the life of a highly educated and passionate woman is like after retirement. Both I and my mother thought that This Organic Life is a fun and moving memoir. If you enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I highly recommend you pick up This Organic Life, as I enjoyed it even more than Kingsolver’s more recent veggie biopic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seeking recipe: communist chip cookies

January 24, 2008 at 1:08 am (Cookies, Dessert)

My junior year of college I moved into the House of Commons housing cooperative. My first year at the co-op I was responsible for cooking Friday night dinner along with Heather, a rail-thin hyperactive Nia teacher. She was friendly and fun but unreliable, and tended to drift off into her own world while we cooked. I learned quickly that before addressing her in the kitchen I should say her name–“Heather”–wait for her to make eye contact, and only then talk to her. Otherwise she wouldn’t hear a word. Despite her quirks, one thing she did do reliably was bake great vegan cookies. My favorite were these crunchy, nutty, delicious cookies she called communist chip cookies. I gathered that Heather didn’t invent the recipe, it was passed on from co-op generation to generation. The name, however, was a mystery. “Why Communist cookies?” I asked. One theory was that it was because there was a little of everything in these cookies (peanut butter, chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, cinnamon…). Others thought they were called communist because they were developed by a member of the cooperative. Regardless of the proper derivation, they were very tasty cookies. Sadly, however, in the intervening years I’ve misplaced the recipe, and Google seems to have never heard of communist chip cookies. Anyone out there from my co-op days that still has a copy? Or have a recipe for something similar?

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Simple Greek-Style Green Beans

January 23, 2008 at 3:45 pm (Alma's faves, B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Derek's faves, Monthly menu plan: dinner, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe, Summer recipes, Vegetable dishes, Winter recipes) ()

This is a quick but still very tasty recipe for when you’re in a rush. For an even faster recipe leave out the onion and/or garlic, and substitute onion or garlic powder. My 18-month-old (now 2-year-old) always scarfs it up. Read the rest of this entry »

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Hashed root veggies

January 22, 2008 at 11:23 pm (breakfast, My brain, Root vegetables, Starches, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

I love my mom’s recipe for hash brown “omelets”, so when I was staring at the 3 sad parsnips languishing in my vegetable drawer I decided to try making a parsnip hash brown. I added 2 tsp. of olive oil to my cast iron skillet, let it warm up, then dropped in the grated parsnips and distributed them evenly around the pan. When the parsnips were starting to brown I tried to flip the pancake, but it didn’t hold together at all. Maybe parsnips don’t have enough starch, and I should have added a bit of arrowroot or besan? In any case, the parsnips browned nicely and tasted surprisingly similar to potato hashbrowns, except with a parsnip-flavor undertone. I sprinkled on a little nutmeg, which went nicely with the parsnip flavors. I also tried it with ketchup, which wasn’t bad, but it didn’t go as well as with potatoes. I feel like there is some spice that would perfectly accent the parsnip flavor, but I can’t place it. Any suggestions?

A second try:  this time I added 1.5 Tbs. of chickpea flour to 5 ounces of grated parsnips (grated in the food processor this time so the pieces were thicker).  The pancake almost held together, so I think it’s possible with a bit more work on the timing and heat.  I sprinkled my pancake with salt and 1/4 tsp. thyme this time, and it tasted quite delicious–the chickpea flour made the parsnips taste more savory, almost “meaty”, and more satisfying.  I can’t quite describe the flavor but it was definitely transformed.  That chickpea flour is clearly something I need to keep playing around with, as its power to change flavor profiles is impressive.

My friend Katrina made sweet potato hash for me once, and it was similar to the parsnip hash except was more moist (she used frozen grated sweet potatoes). I bet this technique would be a nice way of preparing many root vegetables. Rutabaga hash anyone? Celeriac hash? Anyone tried them?

I was curious how the nutritional content of a parsnip compares to that of a potato with the skin (its closest culinary relative in my opinion), and to a carrot (its closest edible botanical relative).  For the same number of calories (75), they’re surprisingly similar.   All three have about 90% of their calories from carbs, although parsnips and carrots have over twice as much fiber as potatoes (5g vs 5.6g vs 2.2g) and parsnips have slightly less protein than the other two.  None have a ton of calcium (less than 6% in all cases), but all three have a decent amount of vitamin C, and some iron.  The biggest difference is that carrots have vitamin A whereas the other two do not.  I didn’t check all the vitamin and mineral content, just these four, so there might be other differences.

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Hot chocolate: theme and variations

January 13, 2008 at 9:49 pm (Beverage, Cook's Illustrated, Dessert, My brain, Other, Soymilk, unrated)

If you love chocolate, get cold easily, and live in Montreal (in January), then there’s nothing better than a steaming cup of hot chocolate before bed. But a word of warning: don’t buy any prepared hot cocoa mixes. Even the “upscale” sounding ones like Ghiradelli list sugar as the first ingredient.  I understand that sugar is much cheaper than cocoa, but these mixes are just wrong. The “chocolate” tastes more like dirty sugar water than hot cocoa. Make your own mix to keep in the pantry, or just whip together a cup when you happen to get a hankering (or when you’ve just walked home in -10 weather). Hot cocoa seems like such a simple thing to make, and yet there are a surprising number of bad recipes out there.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fennel Salad

January 13, 2008 at 2:44 pm (Salads, unrated, Website / blog)

I really like the idea of a fennel salad, but haven’t yet made a fennel salad I really like. Last week I tried making a salad inspired by this recipe: spanish fennel and orange salad from Cooking Light. Unfortunately, I started off poorly because the orange I bought weren’t the greatest: they were not very flavorful and kind of stringy. I didn’t have red onions, or orange juice, so instead added in some minced preserved lemons. The preserved lemons were a mistake; the brininess and aged flavor did not mesh with the bright flavors of the orange and mint. In general the flavor of the salad was just too muddy–too many different things going on. It needed to be simpler with fewer ingredients. Probably mint and fennel would be a good combo, or coriander and fennel, or orange and fennel, but not orange and mint and coriander… The yogurt didn’t add anything, just muddied up what should have been a salad with a crisp, refreshing texture. The salad wasn’t terrible the first day, but the next day the oranges had gotten totally soggy and pretty unappetizing, and the whole thing was a soupy mess. I had to toss it.

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Vegan French Toast

January 13, 2008 at 2:01 pm (breakfast, B_minus (2.5 stars), Isa C. Moskowitz, Quick weeknight recipe, Soymilk)

I know, vegan french toast sounds like an oxymoron, right? But I had a lot of leftover chickpea flour and was looking for something to do with it, and came across this recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance.

To make the french toast you mix together soy milk and soy creamer (I used all soymilk), cornstarch (I used arrowroot), and chickpea flour (besan) into a slurry. You soak your sliced, stale bread in the slurry briefly, then fry the bread in an oiled cast iron skillet.

The recipe worked surprisingly well. I wouldn’t say it tastes exactly like egg- and butter-based french toast, but it was certainly reminiscent of traditional french toast, and tasty. I mean, how can you go wrong with fried bread? This recipe has basically no nutritional content, so I might be more inclined to use it as the base for a dessert rather than breakfast, but it’s certainly an interesting recipe, that I’d like to work with. If I make it again I’d definitely add something: perhaps cardamom, or cinnamon, or a fruit compote. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I know this recipe has the potential to create a very tasty, and also very interesting dish. I’d like to hear anyone else’s ideas of what to do with this recipe. I’d love some way to incorporate in some vegetables, if possible. I thought it perhaps could be used to make a layered vegetable bread pudding, but I’d be afraid it would get soggy, when one of the appeals of this recipe is the crispness of the bread.

I’d also like to try it without the chickpea flour, not because I think it’s unnecessary, but because I’d like to understand better exactly what role the chickpea flour is serving.

Note that although there’s no added salt in the recipe, I found the french toast plenty salty, I’m not sure why. Where is the salt coming from?

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Carrot Halvah

January 12, 2008 at 10:56 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Derek's faves, Dessert, Indian, Other, Other)

I’ve mentioned previously how much I love sesame seed halvah, and although it is bears only a hazy relationship to the middle eastern sesame dessert, I really like Indian-style carrot halwah as well. Derek adores the carrot halwa at Vatan in NYC, and we’ve tried a number of recipes without much success at replicating it. However, when I saw this recipe in my new cookbook Ajanta, I was certain it was authentic. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kela Raita

January 12, 2008 at 7:40 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Indian, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Sauce/dressing)

Kela means banana (in some Indian language), and although I’ve never heard of it before or had it at a restaurant, apparently banana raita is quite common; at least, I found lots of similar recipe when searching for it on google. This recipe is from the cookbook Ajanta, by Lachu Moorjani. A few friends of mine love the author’s restaurant Ajanta in Northern California, and bought me and Derek his cookbook as a present, along with a lovely box of Indian spices. When I first unwrapped the spice box I was a little concerned that I already had all the spices, but it turns out it contains lots of ones I don’t have: black cumin seeds, black rock salt, dried fenugreek leaves, nigella seeds, dried pomegranate seeds, white poppy seeds… And all the spices are very fresh. What a lovely gift! I looked through the cookbook and picked a few recipes to try first, and this recipe for banana raita instantly caught my eye. It sounded unusual, but easy to make and very tasty.

  • 1 Tbs. oil
  • 2 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 1 dry red chilies, cut into pieces no larger than 1/4 inch
  • 1 banana, peeled and cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1 tsp. ground toasted cumin

Heat the oil in a 1 to 2 quart saucepan. When it’s hot, add the mustard seeds and chilies. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop turn off the heat (should only take about 5 to 10 seconds). Mix in the banana, salt, paprika, and yogurt. Before serving, sprinkle with the cumin. Serve cold.

My notes: I used lowfat yogurt (1.5% fat) and it came out delicious. I also missed the bit about serving it cold, and served it right off the stove: not hot but certainly not cold. Finally, I missed the instructions to dice the banana, and just sliced it, but I liked the big slices. In fact, both Derek and I really liked this raita. The sweet banana and creamy yogurt were a welcome contrast to all the spicy Indian food we were eating, and the black mustard seeds, paprika and cumin give the raita tons of flavor. It was perhaps just a tad salty for my taste, so next time I might use a sparing 1/2 tsp., and if possible I’d cut down the oil since my other Indian dishes usually use a lot of oil. Other than that I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’ll definitely include this recipe in my next Indian extravaganza. It’s also a great recipe for using up very ripe bananas.

Rating: B+
Derek: B

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Sushi beets

January 12, 2008 at 1:34 am (My brain, Root vegetables, Starches, unrated, Vegetable dishes)

I love avocado rolls, but even more than the rolls, I love the holy Japanese trinity of wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger. (Note: don’t confuse the holy trinity with the vegan triumvurate.) In search of a dish to make at home that would be simpler than avocado rolls, I came up with the brilliant idea for sushi beets. The sweetness of the beets is almost, but not quite drowned out by the strong Japanese flavors, but the silky texture is a surprisingly good base for these condiments. This isn’t so much as recipe as it is a cooking concept:

  • beets, boiled or roasted, peeled, and sliced
  • soy sauce
  • wasabi paste
  • pickled ginger
  • lime juice or rice vinegar (to represent the vinegar in the sushi rice)

If you want to make this even more reminiscent of a maki roll, you could garnish with toasted nori strips.

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One week of menus: January

January 12, 2008 at 1:15 am (Menus)

Derek was here last week and we did a lot of cooking, made lots of different dishes, and yet we still ended up eating lots of leftovers. Ours wasn’t necessarily the healthiest menu ever, but we had a lot of fun, and made lots of tasty recipes (as well as some disasters). Here’s what we ate for our meals over the week, to the best of my memory:

Saturday lunch: leftover spinach and mushroom lasagna

Saturday dinner

  • spanish potato omelet with roasted red pepper sauce
  • pan-roasted brussels sprouts w/ yellow pepper sauce
  • fennel, orange, and mint salad

Sunday brunch: sandwiches with seitan o’greatness and italian baked tofu (separately, not together), avocado, mustard, julienned carrots, and spicy yellow pepper sauce
Sunday dinner: roast vegetables (squash, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, …) with thai green curry paste

Monday brunch: apricot millet breakfast cake with warm milk
Monday dinner

  • broiled raclette served with sliced apples and farm bread
  • roast veggies w/curry paste (leftovers)
  • dessert: ice cream with almond hazelnut butter

Tuesday brunch: leek and mushroom spring rolls with fresh mint and thai basil
Tuesday dinner: seitan mushroom stroganoff over pasta

Wednesday lunch: leftover spanish omelet with pepper sauce
Wednesday dinner: dinner at Laloux

Thursday breakfast: more tofu and seitan sandwiches
Thursday lunch: chickpea salad and broccoli cauliflower salad (from the work cafeteria), and clementines
Thursday dinner: leftover stroganoff, sauteed asian greens, and mashed rutabaga

Friday breakfast: millet raspberry almond cake
Friday lunch: shmorgasborg of leftovers
Friday dinner: dinner at Madre

Saturday brunch: more italian tofu / seitan o’greatness sandwiches and celery root salad
Saturday dinner: pizza out
Sunday brunch: grapefruit, tempeh bacon, and leftover celery root salad

Sunday Indian extravaganza:

  • gujarati sweet and sour kidney beans
  • mushroom and spinach saag
  • banana raita
  • basmati rice with black cumin and mung beans
  • whole wheat naan (store bought)
  • carrot halvah

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The Perilous Pleaures of Nut Butters

January 11, 2008 at 1:22 am (My brain, Product Reviews, unrated)

If I haven’t already made this clear, Derek is a peanut butter fiend. He can go through a whole jar in just a few days. He starts off every day with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and he’ll often follow that with several spoonfuls of peanut butter in the afternoon, only to finish the day off with a bowl of ice cream drizzled with peanut butter. (He sometimes gives me a taste and I must admit it is an amazingly tasty combination.)

His is a picky passion, however: he’s tried just about every natural brand of peanut butter there is, and dismisses them all, proclaiming that none lives up to plain old, old-fashioned Smuckers. Even the organic Smuckers he claims tastes inferior. (He’s also extremely picky about the jam for his pb&j, insisting on Smuckers grape jam. To his dismay, Smuckers grape jam apparently does not exist in Montreal, nor anything similar for that matter. If you know of a source, please post a comment. You’ll make Derek very happy. And no, he does not find Welch’s grape jelly acceptable.)

Whoops! Back to the nut butter saga….

A few years ago we discovered almond butter at the East End food co-op, then branched out to cashew butter. Everytime I brought Derek to the co-op he would buy extravagant (or so it seemed to me) amounts of nut butters from the bulk bins. Given his love of nut butters, I decided to surprise Derek with a selection of Quebec nut butters when he arrived in Montreal last week. We tried:

  • almond hazelnut
  • macadamia cashew
  • sunflower seed
  • pumpkin seed
  • hazelnut

The almond hazelnut was a big hit. Given the lack of Smuckers peanut butter, Derek took to drizzling almond hazelnut butter on top of butterscotch ripple ice cream. Although I don’t share Derek’s dangerous infatuation for nut butters, I have to admit that this combination proved to be the best ice cream experience I’ve had in a long time, even better than the gourmet gelatos at Jean Talon or Atwater. We also tried topping the ice cream with plain hazelnut butter but it wasn’t nearly as good as the almond/hazelnut combo. The hazelnut tasted too bitter. However, I know from previous experience that the hazelnut butter goes wonderfully with anything chocolate or cocoa-y.

I’ve already described my love of sunflower seed butter on my blog, but strangely Derek doesn’t care for it. I wasn’t very fond of the Montreal brand either. I still have some of my American sunbutter left though, and love to eat it spread on a banana for a snack.

The pumpkin seed butter was new to both of us. I liked it, but the flavor doesn’t lend itself to eating plain or on bread like other butters. I think it will be good to cook with though.

A word of caution: if you’re not Derek and take more than a week to go through a jar of nut butter, I highly recommend keeping it in the refrigerator, as the natural nut butters (unlike Skippy and Jif) have no emulsifiers or transfats or other preservatives, and go rancid very quickly at room temperature. As I understand, rancid oils are very bad for you, and it’s best to throw them out at the first hint of rancidity. My friends sometimes say they don’t know what rancid nuts or nut butter taste like, and it’s a bit hard to explain. Have you ever been eating peanut M&M’s and gotten a bad one, or one that just tasted weird? It was probably rancid.

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Madre Review

January 10, 2008 at 10:37 am (Restaurant review)

Derek and I went to Madre last week, a contemporary latin fusion restaurant on the East Side of Montreal. The restaurant is pretty tiny, and we kept getting glimpses of the chef cooking in the kitchen, seemingly all alone. The space feels kind of like a long hallway, except there are pleasant Mexican-styled drawings on the walls.

Derek called ahead to make sure they could make me a vegetarian meal. They served me a celery root soup as a starter (the other option was a beet salad). The soup was surprisingly light, I almost think it was vegan. The soup was very simple, just tasted like pureed celery root. It was enhanced by the inclusion of some very flavorful and crisp diced cucumber, and some piquant red bell peppers. It was supposed to contain chorizo, which they left out for me, and that probably would have added a missing dimension. Derek had a “duck ceviche” which he loved, and even I agreed it looked interesting and delicious. The ceviche was seared duck marinated in a spicy amarillo pepper sauce (the bright yellow pepper sauce you get at a Peruvian store). It also had onions, parsnip puree, and roasted corn kernels (dried kernels that you use for popcorn). Definitely a winner. I’d like to try to make something similar (without the duck).

For the entree there was no vegetarian option so the chef made me a homey South-American inspired pasta dish. The dish was a large bowl of cavatelli (which were almost gnocci-like in their chewiness) in a pesto sauce, topped with a sunny side up egg, a bit of queso fresco, and a garnish of pickled beets. It was fine, the flavors went together, but it wasn’t exciting, and wouldn’t look forward to having it again. Derek’s main dish was tasty but not very inspiring.

For dessert there was only one option: a tres leches sponge cake, topped in a mango chutney and avocado ice cream. I liked the chutney but found the cake bland and the avocado ice cream was lacking in flavor (not salty or sweet enough). All in all, we had a similar overall experience to our meal at Laloux (not bad, but disappointing), but Madre’s modest decor and (lack of) atmosphere definitely suffered by comparison.

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Laloux Review

January 10, 2008 at 10:29 am (Restaurant review)

I’ve decided to branch out and include restaurant reviews in my blog. My main purpose for writing this blog has been to help me remember which recipes I’ve tried and how they turned out. It’s also hard for me to remember which restaurants I’ve been to and which dishes I liked; hence, the new section to this blog. I’m going to start with a review of Laloux, a contemporary French restaurant just a few blocks from me in Montreal.

I’ve been to Laloux twice now with Derek. The first time was last summer, and we both really liked it. The food was perfectly executed, and some of the dishes were inspired. We went again last week, and were quite disappointed. Derek was still infatuated with the desserts, but the rest of the meal was pretty dull. Certainly for a vegetarian, the options are slim and I would be hard-pressed to recommend it.

Some dishes of note: The first time we went, I ordered a green bean salad (not on the menu currently) which was simple but delicious–the vegetables were perfectly crisp, and there was an excellent balance of richness and vinegar, without being at all greasy. My entree, a pesto papardelle, was again simple but perfectly executed. The noodles were al dente, the pesto was fresh and flavorful, and it included plenty of perfectly cooked tasty vegetables. For such a common dish, I was surprisingly happy with it. This time we went, there was no vegetarian main on the menu, and the papardelle dish they gave me as a consolation was not in the same league as the previous papardelle. So far, the only non-dessert Derek had that he was terribly enthusiastic about was a scallop carpaccio appetizer, which is still on the menu.

Concerning the desserts, Derek loved all three of the ones that he tried: a chocolate pot-de-creme with caramel and salt, a pistachio shortbread with creamsicle sorbet and cream, and a somewhat bizarre dessert consisting of pecan ice cream, quince jelly, old cheddar, and butter cookies. He felt the last one, while scattershot, was an ingenious reinvention of the “cheese platter” (with nuts, jam, cookies, and cheese). Anyway, he would suggest that you go to Laloux just for the desserts and share a bunch of them (or better yet, to Pop!, the casual wine bar next door, which shares much of Laloux’s menu, including the desserts). Personally, I think the desserts veer too far in the direction of “playful and innovative” at the expense of coherence of flavor, but I can see what he likes about them.

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Pan-fried Brussels Sprouts

January 9, 2008 at 8:39 am (101 cookbooks, Alma's faves, B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Cruciferous rich, Monthly menu plan: dinner, Quick weeknight recipe, Vegetable dishes)

This is my favorite way to cook brussels sprouts. (I still haven’t mastered the art of roasting brussels sprouts in the oven.) Derek and Alma love them too. Even after all these years if I don’t follow the recipe carefully and just try to wing it I still struggle to get them perfectly cooked. But even if they’re a tad under- or over-cooked we still like them. These days Derek usually makes the brussels sprouts for dinner along with scrambled tofu and either brown rice or quinoa. (Or instead of brussels sprouts he’ll pan-fry broccoli or bok choy.) I want to try to make some sort of nut sauce to go with this meal, but I haven’t tried that yet. Read the rest of this entry »

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