Monday, March 20, 2006

nut cookies (vegan and non-vegan)

walnut-chocolate nut cookie
let me just get it out once and for all: i am not the cookie eater in this den of cookie jars. which is one reason why my cookies are generally not vegan (obvious disclaimer). although i certainly can and do appreciate a good cookie, they are not my snack food of choice. i have salt-tooth, not a sweet-tooth. i'll take a pretzel or a chip or a briney olive over a cookie any day.

but my man likes cookies. not vegan cookies but "real" cookies. the whole he-man nine yard thing, full of eggs and butter (but not too much butter please) and sugar and nuts and chocolate and the like. so once every couple of weeks i make a batch of cookies for the cookie jar. and since i've been on a deborah madison kick lately i thought i'd try out one of her simple cookie recipes (i was much more intrigued by the cardamom cookies but had no powdered sugar on hand). the following recipe is what i settled on since i had all the ingredients, and i'm glad i did. they've become the most requested cookie of late.

walnut-only nut cookie
the resulting cookies are not too sweet with a nice crispy texture. they are rich but not greasy. i split the batch into two and made one with just walnuts and the other with walnuts and chocolate chips. i preferred the simpler flavor and texture of the nut-only version but both are quite delicate and delicious. they would go well with a cup of hot earl-grey tea on a rainy afternoon.

since i liked these cookies and they don't require any loft, i decided to try to veganize them by substituting margarine and non-hydrogenated shortening for the butter and 1 mashed banana for the egg. the vegan version suffered a bit in texture (not quite as delicate) but had a great flavor and an acceptable texture. i'm going to continue working on this recipe as i think it has a lot of unfulfilled potential. the he-man of the house gave them a double thumbs down, but then again, he would....

nut cookies
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 Tablespoon nut oil (optional - if using oil, reduce butter by 1 Tablespoon)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup finely chopped nuts (walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, pecans, your choice)
1/2 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips (optional-i just use chocolate chips)

cream butter, oil and sugar until light. add egg. add vanilla and salt. add flour, then nuts and chocolate (if using). drop dough by teaspoons onto a cookie sheet (the dough will be quite sticky) and flatten out really thin with the palm of your hand. you may need to slightly dampen your hand to prevent sticking. or you can roll the dough into a compact log shape, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for several hours (or days), removing from the freezer and slicing when ready to bake. i don't recommend doing this for the chocolate chip version as the chocolate chunks make it difficult to slice the dough without cracking it. bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 8-10 minutes. allow to cool on rack.

vegan banana nut cookies
1/4 cup earth balance margarine
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (may omit and use all margarine)
1 Tablespoon nut oil (optional - if using oil, reduce margarine or shortening by 1 Tablespoon)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups flour + 2 Tablespoons
1 cup finely chopped nuts (walnuts or macadamias)

cream margarine, shortening, oil and sugar until light. add mashed banana. add vanilla and salt. add flour, then nuts. drop dough by teaspoons onto a cookie sheet (the dough will be quite sticky) and flatten out with the palm of your hand. you may need to slightly dampen your hand to prevent sticking. or you can roll the dough into a compact log shape and freeze for several hours (or days), removing from the freezer and slicing when ready to bake. bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 8-10 minutes. allow to cool on rack. these might be quite good with a little grated, unsweetened coconut in the batter...

Monday, March 13, 2006

wild mushroom noodles

i love mushrooms. they are so earthy, hearty, dank and soul-satisfying. they lend backbone to otherwise thin vegetarian dishes...the t-bone of the vegetable world. i also love soba noodles with their hummus-y, kinda damp-doggy flavor. together they form a celestial union.

this recipe is from nina simonds book, asian noodles, a beautifully photographed easy to read collection of, yep you guessed it, asian-inspired noodle dishes, both vegetarian and non vegetarian. my guy doesn't like soba noodles, he says they smell like dirty gym shorts, so i prepared his portion using curly noodles. much to my surprise and a little to my annoyance, there was much poaching of the "gym shorts" scented noodles off of my plate. i think i might have growled once or twice. it was that good.

Wild Mushroom Noodles
1 T. oil
12 cloves garlic, smashed with flat end of knife and thinly sliced
8 oz. dried chinese black mushrooms
1/2 lb. fresh shitake
1/2 lb. fresh cremini
3 1/2 + T. sake
1 1/2 cups scallions
1/4 lb. dried soba noodles
3 1/2 T. soy sauce
1/4 c. cilantro

Heat oil and saute sliced garlic for about 15 seconds. Add all the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add sake and cook, covered for about 4 minutes until the mushrooms get really juicy. Remove the lid and simmer until liquid reduces by about 1/4 - 1/2. Add scallions and cilantro, remove from heat and toss with noodles. my modifications included: more sake, more cilantro, more mushrooms and thickened at the end with just a tad of cornstarch dissolved in water.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

garlic roasted brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts. having been a freak from a very early age, it comes as no surprise that i've always loved these diminutive little cabbages, ever since i was just a sprout myself. of course it may have had something to do with the fact that, in my home, they were cooked with a leg of rabbit *shudder* which both terrified and delighted me even then. although so tender and tasty and moist, there was something about the flesh of a rabbit and its thin, narrow bones that reminded me, not chicken. cat. felines maximus. specifically i imagined it tasted much like our cranky old calico cat would. junior was her name, and she would nest in my long tangled hair every night. and i didn't want to eat her because i loved her. maybe this was the seed of my vegetarianism...

as i got older and more prone to the meatless way, the rabbit part of the brussels-sprouts-equals good-food equation faded away and i was left with just my green, curley-headed little buddies. usually i ate them steamed with maybe a drizzle of soy sauce and garlic. it was only recently that i discovered the miracle of roasting. having been so happy with my formerly minimalist approach to sprouts it never occurred to me to do anything other than steam them. recently however, i've come across roasted brussels sprouts in "traditional american comfort food" type restaurants and cookbooks everywhere. and i'm a convert. the following recipe has been adapted from the vegan with a vengance cookbook. i'm posting the recipe as written here with my modifications in parenthesis. i usually cut back on the oils and fat and i find the result is still very tasty.

roasted brussels sprouts
1 lb. brussels sprouts, washed and halved
1 Tablespoon olive oil (i use pan spray)
3 cloves garlic, chopped (i use more like four or five!)
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt (i add salt to taste)

toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. remove from oven and add garlic and salt. roast for another five minutes. i modify by generously spraying the roasting pan with pan spray instead of tossing the sprouts in oil and spraying the top once they are in the pan to prevent burning. i also add only half the garlic at the ten minute interval, adding the rest at the end of the baking time raw. yes, raw. this is only for the die-hard garlic fan.

Monday, March 06, 2006

provencal winter squash gratin

another incredibly simple yet flavorful dish from deborah madison: provencal squash gratin. it's hard to go wrong with sweet winter squashes, in my opinion, and as long as they're thoroughly cooked i'm happy.

despite the fact that it's called a gratin this dish is not covered with either a mantle cheese or tiara of breadcrumbs. it is, however, cooked long and low, resulting in creamy and sweet cubes of squash that dissolve at the touch of the tongue. small cubes of butternut squash are tossed with five (yes, that FIVE) cloves of minced garlic, parsley and a bit of flour, salt and pepper, plus a bit of olive oil if you like (i skip this and give the topping a generous misting of pan spray), then cooked in a low oven for two hours. this slow cooking really brings out the sweetness of the squash and mutes the garlic a bit (although it is still quite assertive).

a perfect side dish for a rainy winter evening.

provencal winter squash gratin
2 1/2 lbs. butternut squash
5 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup parsley, minced
salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons flour
olive oil

peel and cut the squash into cubes 1/2 to 1 inch thick. toss with garlic, parsley salt and pepper. toss again with flour. place in a shallow, oiled baking dish and drizzle with a bit of olive oil or pan spray. bake uncovered at 325 for about two hours (until squash is meltingly tender).

Saturday, March 04, 2006

simmered napa cabbage with aburrage

this is an incredibly simple dish that really delivers on flavor. chicken flavor to be specific. and that's not me, the long time non-flesh eater saying this, it's the chicken-sandwich-having man of the house. i, living in a strange, inverted universe, think it tastes kinda like chicken but not really. i mean, i seem to recall chicken having this gamey flavor which is absent in this silky and delicate dish.

four ingredients: sake, konbu dashi, napa cabbage and aburrage (fried tofu puffs). the lynchpin is the konbu dashi. you can make your own by simmering hulking strips of konbu in water and discarding the seaweed, or you can buy the dashi premade. the premade stuff tastes way better and if you've never tried the stuff, it is worth seeking out at least once. i use it for miso soup, all japanese noodle broths and anywhere a bonito stock is called for. the type i use looks like this and can be found in just about any asian grocery store:

i've never bothered to write down a recipe for this since it's so simple and adaptable. the general guidelines are as follows:

in a large pot place about two inches of water and sprinkle in two packets of premade konbu dashi. horizontally cut a nice big head of napa cabbage into two inch slices. place the thicker stem ends in the bottom of the pot with the thinner, upper leaf portions on top. thinly slice one or two aburrage puffs and sprinkle on top. cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. add about 1/4 cup sake, stir and simmer a few minutes longer. the cabbage should be silky soft and just holding together. at this point you may add more water and or sake/soy sauce/ or salt to adjust seasoning. i like to make this really quite brothy since the broth is the best part. serve with a bit of rice floating in the middle.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

care package: triple coconut macaroons and cherry pistachio bark

care package. it just sounds so sweet and homey that even i, cyncial old hen that i am, can think of nary a sarcastic cluck. care pacakge. in my mind's eye i see a pert, flouncy-red-gingham-aproned mannequin-like-woman proundly presenting a steaming casserole at the camera. care package. when i look into the mirror i see a shambling, ragged-sweatpants-clad, coffee-gulping ball of chaos spitting out a stream of profanities while clutching a burnt and blistering finger. note to self: must not look in illusion-shattering mirror while baking.

the only thing better than unexpectedly receiving these little packages of home-baked badness in the mail is, in my opinon, making them. i always imagine the recipient(s) intial look of surprise, followed by a cautious nibble, and if all is successful, ear-burning curses as they lie belly up on the couch like gigantic, half-rotten beached whales.

and so here are the contents of my little obesity-inducing box of love sent to my father and his wife out in the cold, rainy wilds of the pacific northwest. my father and his wife who have just moved in the eccentric, cantankerous, entertainingly (from afar) manic 90-something-year-old, card-carrying member of the communist party given to random bouts of public singing (exclusively american folk tunes). one might not be surprised that they are going through a difficult period of, um, adjustment. an adjustment that awaits many of us as our parents age and we choose not to pack them off to the old folks' home despite years of loudly proclaiming that "the home" is just where they're headed, should they be foolish enough to become feeble with old age.

and as an added golden-years-shattering bonus, insert an adult child and his girlfriend living in the house "temporarily" (and no, neither the child nor the girlfriend refer to yours truly). plus, as if that weren't quite enough, these extra bipends bring along with them three large dogs and one cat, bringing the total cat/dog count up to eleven. beastly, no? is it any wonder poor old pops drives thirty minutes out to town, parks in the lot of fred meyer and huddles in the driver seat, just to get a little quiet time? poor fella, what with the flu and and all. and while i'll openly admit that the image does make me giggle just a little, i am not completely without compassion, thus my little package of care came into being. of course pops claims he doesn't eat sweets but i know better. how many empty bowls of ice cream have i found hidden beneath the claw foot tub?

so if you know someone who could use a little pick-me-up, why not surprise them with an unexpected package? or maybe a *gasp* hand written letter on a cute card just to say hello. that is if you haven't forgotten how to write without a keyboard...

the following recipe is from the folks at cook's illustrated. shredded unsweetend and sweetened coconut are called for, as is cream of coconut. the sweetened coconut can be found in any grocery store, the unsweetened stuff maybe at a health food type store, and for the cream of coconut i recommend going to an asian grocery. you can find the stuff sometimes in the liquor store since it is used for pina coladas, but it's bloody expensive there. at the asian grocery it runs for under a buck a can. for extra prettiness i dipped the bottoms and tops in melted semisweet chocolate.

triple coconut macaroons
1 cup cream of coconut
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

preheat oven to 350. line a cookiesheet with parchment paper and lightly mist with pan spray. whisk the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. combine the unsweetened and sweetened coconuts in a large bowl and toss together. pour the liquid ingredients into the coconut and stir until evenly moistened. chill for 15 minutes. drop heaping tablespoons of batter onto the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. with moistened fingertips, form the cookies into loose haystacks. or you can form them into cool little pyramids, taking care the top isn't too pointy or else it will burn a little and you'll have to cover it with some chocolate! bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. remove to a wire rack after cooling for a few minutes on the pan. at this point you may dip the bottoms and tops into melted dark chocolate and place on waxed paper until the chocolate has firmed up.

this stuff is so easy to make, so open to variation and so durn tasty. many thanks to anne of anne's food for posting the recipe, which i've tweaked a bit. if you'd like to see it as originally written, go here. i think the next time i make this i might put a thicker layer of dark chocolate on the bottom and press in the nuts and cherries while still soft, then add the white choclate once that layer is cool. it would give a more uniform, less rustic appearance.

to make this vegan just omit the white chocolate. i also made one version with semisweet chocolate, macadamia nuts and coconut (the stepmother loooves coconut).

cherry pistachio bark
1 cup dark chocolate
1 1/2 cups white chocolate
1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/4 cup roasted unsalted pistachios, chopped

melt the dark chocolate and spread out about 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick in a pan and allow to cool completely. you can pop it into the freezer if you're in a hurry. then, melt the white chocolate and add the cherries and pistachios. spread this mixture out over dark chocolate and let cool. turn out of the pan and either cut or break into pieces.

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