Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cooking binge

Every other weekend, my kids go to their dad's house and Ben and I often travel. Sometimes, however, we stay at home all weekend with no social plans and I go on a cooking binge.

I *love* it when this happens.

This weekend, everything is ripe and the garden is burgeoning and the farmer's market is, too. So, this is how I spent my weekend.

First, I went out to survey our apple trees. Yes, the red delicious and yellow delicious look pretty ripe, if spotty (we don't spray them).
I picked a big bowl, used my apple peeler-corer-slicer from Pampered Chef, and layered the slices in the crockpot with fresh lemon juice, raw sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some water. Cooked on low for about 8 or 10 hours and voila--I have applesauce. Yum.

While the apples simmered, I pondered an eggplant parmesan recipe when I just happened to be looking at the blog What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat, Anyway? I had a globe eggplant from my CSA share and a big bag of Roma tomatoes plus lots of sweet peppers, so I imagined a delicious homemade marinara over a round of fried polenta about the same size as a disk of eggplant. And a tofu disc?  Three delicious crispy circles over a bed of homemade marinara. 

But first, a cocktail. Nectarines are getting soft so I put them in a blender with lime juice, orange juice, the rest of the nectarine jam I made last week, white tequila, and ice. That'll do.

Next, I set a big pot of water to boil. I blanched all the tomatoes (about 4 pounds), then dunked them in ice water, peeled them, squeezed the seed-jelly into the bucket for the compost pile, and chopped up the tomato meat.

I sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, then added chopped sweet peppers, all the tomatoes, and the rest of a batch of homemade pico de gallo I made the other day, just so it wouldn't go to waste.

While the sauce simmered, I surveyed the eggplant parm recipe. Yikes, I need to deep fat fry these? I rarely if ever do that, but in the spirit of Cooking Binge Weekend, I clipped a thermometer to my skillet and poured in about 2 inches of canola oil, then set the heat to medium-high.

I made my three dishes: flour with smoked paprika, salt, and pepper; cornstarch slurry; and bread crumbs, which I made by toasting and grinding up the rest of a loaf of sourdough bread I had on the counter (which I purchased at The Bread Garden.) I dipped a slice of eggplant in the 1-2-3 dishes and then dropped it into the oil when it was heated to 375 degrees. What a fantastic sizzle! It turned golden brown almost instantaneously. I flipped it with tongs, then lifted it out and put it on paper towels. I repeated with the rest of the slices (I had salted them first, by the way), and then I took my two rounds of tofu (extra firm, drained, cut into circles with the edge of a small pyrex ramekin) and breaded and fried it, too. Gorgeous. Finally, I fried slices of herbed garlic polenta. I was pretty proud of myself, looking at all those beautiful golden-brown crispy disks.

I cleaned some butter lettuce and put that in a bowl with vinaigrette for a side, then put a ladle of sauce on each plate and arranged a disk of eggplant, a slightly smaller disk of tofu, and an even slightly smaller disk of polenta over the top. Sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley from the garden, it was pretty gorgeous. And the eggplant? All I can say is, Yum! Ben doesn't usually care much for eggplant, but he thought this was great. Deep fat frying really can work miracles. With the salad and a Red Stripe, it was a fantastic dinner.

Just before bed, I took the applesauce out of the crockpot and put it in a jar.

Surely, that's enough cooking for one weekend, you must be saying to yourself. But wait! What about Sunday?

I woke up thinking about the extra tofu I had--about a pound. I sat out on the deck with my coffee and browsed through my new favorite book, Vegan Brunch. Isa's recipes never let me down. The pesto scrambled tofu with grape tomatoes recipe caught my eye. I have a big basil plant in the garden, plus a lot of ripe orange cherry tomatoes. Close enough. The only problem: no pine nuts. However, I just happened to have the perfect amount of leftover raw hazelnuts from making Isa's Not-tella (vegan version of Nutella, from Isa's last book, Veganomicon) last week, so I used those. This was the absolute best pesto I have ever made, including the kinds I've made with cheese back in the day.  It all came together quickly, resulting in a beautiful tender savory delicious breakfast. On the side: Russian bread from my CSA baker, toasted with EB and the applesauce I made yesterday.

Ahh...satisfaction.  I think I can finally clean up and close the kitchen for the weekend.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Emmett Speaks

I'm proud of my youngest son, Emmett, who got himself on the news at the Slow Food Time for Lunch Eat In this Labor Day in City Park in Iowa City. He's eating my raw blueberry brownies in one shot. Isn't he articulate? Not that I'm biased. Watch the clip and read the article here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Raw Blueberry Brownies

You know what I dislike? (I was going to say hate, but I hate to use that word.) I dislike making something really beautiful and delicious and then realizing, after someone has eaten the very last bite, that I never took a picture of it. Such was the case with my raw blueberry brownies, so you're just going to have to believe me that they were beautiful. Or, make them and see for yourself.

Today I attended Time for Lunch, one of hundreds of Slow Food potlucks around the country where people gathered to support the concept of real food in schools (what a concept). (By the way, during the month of September only, you can become a Slow Food member with any monetary donation, not the usual $60. Interested? Look here.)

Anyway, because this was a Slow Food potluck but I was time-pressed and had to make something fast (ironic), I fell back on an old potluck favorite (at least in my world). (Is it just me, or am I using a lot of parentheticals today?) This is something I make that people just love. They take a bite and look up, mystified. "What is it?" they ask, wide-eyed. "How can it be so good? Is it...bad for me?"

No. No, it's not. And yet, this isn't a brownie you find leftover on people's plates in the trash. This is the brownie that inspires even the most restrained to sneak extra pinches when they think nobody is looking. People want to lick out the pan. It's special, in a sort of earthy-spiritual way. Decadent but nourishing, sweet but wholesome, the best of both worlds. I'm not trying to toot my own horn or anything. I didn't make up the concept of raw brownies. But I do consider myself a raw brownie evangelist.

I've made raw brownies from recipes before but today I thought I would try Bethenny Frankel's useful concept of using what you have instead of following a recipe. That's where I came up with the fancy-schmancy idea of adding the bleuberries. I didn't have time to go to the store, so I looked in my cupboards and refrigerator. I used what I had. Here's what I did.

Soak 2 cups walnuts and pecans for about 30 minutes (longer is good but I didn't have longer). Drain and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 cup mixed dried fruit (I had prunes and dried apricots), 1 cup grated coconut, 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Ghiaradelli), about 1/4 cup agave nectar (I didn't actually measure, and technically I'm not sure if agave nectar is raw?), and about 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Process until smooth. Add more agave nectar or a few tablespoons of water if it's too hard, but you want it pretty hard.

Press into a 9-inch square baking pan rubbed with a little bit of coconut (or vegetable) oil. Press down hard.

In a measuring cup, combine about 1/4 cup agave nectar and a teaspoon or so of cocoa powder. Mix well with a spoon. Adjust cocoa powder or agave nectar amounts until it becomes like frosting. Spread over the brownies. Pour fresh blueberries over the top, covering the brownies in a single layer. Put about 1 tablespoon more agave nectar into measuring cup with just about a 1/2 teaspoon cocoa. Mix to make icing. Drizzle over the blueberries. Chill. I only had time to chill mine for about 15 minutes.

Thick, decadent, rich, nourishing, blueberry-beautiful, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, fruity, absolutely delicious...they didn't last long. And I had some silly idea that I could bring home the leftovers. Oh well. I guess I'll just have to make them again.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Learning from Weakness

Have you ever noticed how, on some days, you feel very strong, and on other days, you feel very weak? Sometimes I can attribute these various states to something I've eaten, how much sleep I've had, or something else obvious. On other days, the reasons allude me. Like yesterday.

I felt weak in my Iyengar yoga class with Nancy Footner at Friendship Yoga. I don't know why. Poses that I've worked on for a long time so they feel more solid and muscular suddenly felt strenuous again. I am hyperflexible but really need to work on muscle strength, and I don't know where all that hard-won muscle strength went. I was like jelly. So of course, Nancy chose me to demonstrate Ardha Chandrasana.

We had just finished doing standing poses focusing on the hip and shoulder and my muscles were already feeling rubbery and uncertain, so as I went up into the pose, my legs and arms trembled with the effort. Still, I could feel how the adjustments were crucial: drawing the shoulder down and back, drawing the muscles of hip of the standing leg down and back, bringing the power and strength to the back of the body to open up the front. I could feel it. I just couldn't do it. Or, I could do it in a way, but let's just say it wasn't pretty. And I don't even want to talk about my ability to balance.

Today I'm pretty sore, but in a good way. I don't feel so weak today, either. Maybe yesterday's weakness was because of taking a break this summer, or the day's humidity, or my hormone levels (whatever they may have been), or just because the ragweed is pollinating and I'm a little bit allergic. Maybe there was some emotional or spiritual reason for it. Whatever it was, I kept going through the class and trying as hard as I could, not trying to figure out the reason, just working with the muscles. I feel better for it. My middle back had felt tweaked yesterday before class, and as always, the class put me all back into line. Today, I can still feel, in my body, what I need to do in that pose.

Nancy once said, "You have to go through the hamstrings to get to the soul," and I think about that a lot. Emotion, intellect, spirituality--it all begins in the body. The body is ground zero, and that is where the work begins. The body is your workshop, the framework for a garden that can grow beautiful flowers, but not without first laying down the soil.

I guess I know what I'll be practicing this week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Would Julia Say About Tempeh Bourguignon?

Maybe it's trendy, so de riguer, and not necessarily in a good way. Maybe it's just so obvious. Nevertheless, I really do love Julia Child. When I think about it, who doesn't? Who couldn't? I've lovingly prepared many of her recipes, but after seeing the movie Julie and Julia, I really wanted to try her Bouef Bourguignon recipe. I wanted that yum moment.

The problem is, I'm really not into that whole "eating cows" thing.

Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea: Tempeh Bourguignon! I went on to discover, after a quick google search, that I wasn't really so brilliant, as many others have already thought of this. Even so, I thought I might try it, not looking at any other tempeh recipes, but instead, riffing off Julia. Here's what I did:

Chop a small yellow onion. Saute it in olive oil. Put the pieces in a bowl and set them aside.

Cut an 8 ounce block of tempeh into 12 rectangular chunks. Place these in the freshly oiled pan (without rinsing pan), with enough space between them (like Julia commands) so they will brown, rather than steam. Using tongs, brown the cubes on all sides until golden and crispy. (I had to cook it in two batches, adding the first batch to the onions.) Meanwhile, heat 1-1/2 cups of water until nearly boiling.

Return all the tempeh to the pan and sprinkle it with about a tablespoon of tamari and 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke. Cook, stirring constantly, to coat. Add about 1/4 cup flour and keep stirring, to coat. It will get clumpy.

Add the onions back to the pan along with the hot water and one vegetable bouillon cube (I used Knorr). Stir, scraping up the browned bits. Add 1-1/2 cups red wine (I used Augey Bourdeux). Throw in 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley and 1 bay leaf. Season with a little bit of salt and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil 2 cups of water and pour them over 2 ounces of dried porcini mushrooms (I bought mine from Pacific Crest Foraging during a recent trip to Seattle, when I visited the Port Townsend farmer's market). Soak for about 20 minutes, then drain the mushrooms through coffee filters lining a strainer. Add the mushrooms to the mixture and cook 30 minutes more on low heat. Keep the strained porcini water handy to add to the mixture if it gets too dry. (Mine did.) The sauce should be thick but it shouldn't disappear. After 1 hour, taste and add salt as needed. (I added smoked salt that I also just bought during said Seattle trip, at the Pike Place Market).

Serve hot over cooked noodles or rice, with baguette chunks to mop it all up. Don't forget the salad.

Bon appetit! If you try it, let me know how it turned out.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Post-Yoga Hunger Management

I had a great Anusara yoga class with Rachel Klapper this morning at Heartland Yoga. Fully fortified by my nectarine tart, I was ready for the message: the exploration of the limited and the unlimited within and beyond the self. As so often happens before a yoga class, I had just seen something relevant: Byron Katie's book in a store window, entitled "Who Would You Be Without Your Story?" Moments later, Rachel asked, "Who would you be without your limits?" Within that hour, I confronted the limits of my shoulder injury when I tried Vasisthasana on the left side and realized my shoulder muscles could barely hold me. That pose is hereby on my list for "Poses for the Week." I need to build up that strength. My freedom from limits blossomed in Vrksasana, though--I looked not just up but actually back behind me without tipping over. The pose became a backbend, when it was never a backbend before (at least not for me).

After coffee with three of my most interesting girlfriends, I took the bus home (I'm eco-friendly like that) and was more than ready for another kind of sustenance, of the gastronomic variety. I know this because I spent the whole bus ride home fantasizing about what I would eat. (This is not an unusual past time for me.)

My answer to myself: Two slices of sourdough toast, one with homemade pico de gallo over guacamole, the other with the hummus I made last night, topped with chopped Greek olives, flat leaf parsley, and three perfect basil leaves (thanks Dina!). Now that I'm fulfilled physically and spiritually, I can finish that article that's due today.