Sunday, March 29, 2009

Defacing Vegetables, One Cupcake At A Time

I woke up this morning with a hankerin' for something sweet. I thought of making pancakes for breakfast, but shelved the idea for the sorry truth that pancakes for one is just a sad endeavor. Too much effort for one woman's sweet tooth. Cupcakes, on the other hand... well, I can pass those off with the good intent of sharing my vice with others.
I tried to make Massaman curry awhile back with the intent of blogging about it. The results were not worth the story. But I recreated the flavors in these cupcakes with pretty decent results. Coconut, sweet and savory spices and a crunchy touch of peanut will remind you of your favorite Thai takeout and a South End bakery rolled in one. They're a grown-up treat, kind of like a foodie's upgrade of carrot cake. Flavorful, you bet. Healthy... not even Karl Rove could spin that lie. These guys are heavy and indulgent and, unlike the potato chip slogan of yore, no one can eat more than one. But sometimes the flavor alone is worth the calories.

Curried Sweet Potato Cupcakes

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons plain soy yogurt (or two flax eggs)
1 cup grated sweet potato (a medium-sized sweet - not a monster)
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (half a lemon's peel)
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about the length of your thumb)
grated lemon peel and ground peanuts for garnish

Coconut Icing
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup soy margarine
3 tablespoons (scant 1/4 cup) coconut milk

Preheat oven to 375F.

Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: canola oil, maple syrup, coconut milk and yogurt or equivalent egg replacer. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, adding about one third of the mix, whisking gently, then repeating until they're incorporated. Add the sweet potato, lemon peel and ginger and stir until just mixed.

Line a cupcake pan with twelve cupcake papers. Fill with the batter about two-thirds full. Bake for about 20-23 minutes or until the cupcakes are springy when touched and/or a knife or toothpick comes out clean when poked through the middle. Remove from the pan adn cook for about twenty minutes. To make the icing, simply beat the ingredients together until smooth. You may need to add sugar or coconut milk to get the right consistency, just stiff enough. Try chilling the icing for half an hour or so if it won't set. Ice the cupcakes and top with the peanuts and lemon peel. Makes 12 li'l cakelettes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Turkey Gangs, Tempeh Pangs

Important matters first:


Brookline is notorious for its wandering gangs of turkeys. I think they're all part of the same gang - they all where the same red dangly thing under their beaks. Sources tell me they call it a wattle. Like the Crips, they've got a signature walk, too - they call it a waddle. These turkey-gang jokes doin' anything for ya? Anyway, Brookline is collectively unaffected by their presence. Last year I was on my bike waiting at the light on the corner of Longwood and the Riverway while I watched a turkey lazily sip from a giant puddle in the road not three feet from my tire. I desperately looked around, pleading with my eyes: "Is anyone seeing this?" If they did, they didn't care. I thought it was adorable, though I guess I'm lucky it didn't wind up and charge me - these B'line Turks have a penchant for attacking passers-by (for serious).

Anyway, this was the scene next door to my apartment yesterday at 7:30am. Had a not literally just rolled out of bed, I'd have gotten better pictures. But these hoods were trying to sidle their way through the gates of the luxe apartments. Was I witnessing some sort of Tony/Maria romantic rendezvous? All I know is the real drama is in what's not pictured - a basketball-sized hawk that was perched directly above these birds, repeatedly dive-bombing the interlopers. Police on the scene dispelled the violence within the hour (again, for serious).

After all that nature-drama, my human affairs hardly seem so important. But for the record, it's been a busy month. Too busy to cook, actually, and too busy to write about... not cooking. But I've been socializing (gasp!), working on some other projects, and applying to grad school, which has made for a lot of eating out and taking out. I've missed my kitchen. I got back to the pots and pans the other days and made of a dish with pretty much the last of what was in my fridge and pantry before the grocery shopping threat entered Code Orange. Tempeh had been kicking around aimlessly for awhile, and I had a jar of chutney that's been with me at least since my move from Dorchester. I can't remember why I bought, or what prompted me to buy something so out of character, but its flavor was desperately needed in the wake of NOTHING ELSE TO COOK WITH. Though not as healthful and a bit too fussy for my usual tastes, it made a pretty darn tasty main dish. I was never a fan of tempeh (its worst incarnation is the form of tempeh bacon... ew...) but lemme tell ya, the boiling step opened up a whole new world. It softens to texture and flavor like a dream. Me and the Big T, we're friends now.

Mango Chutney-Glazed Tempeh

1 8-oz package tempeh
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
pinch of cumin
dash of hot sauce
1/2 cup jarred chutney (like Major Grey's, or I had Trader Joe's stuff on hand)
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375.

Take a shallow pot or saucepan and fill it with enough water to cover the tempeh. Bring the water to a boil, add the tempeh, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the water, remove the tempeh, and cut into strips.

Whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, cumin and hot sauce. Pour over the tempeh (a shallow baking dish works well here) and marinate for 20 minutes. Bake the tempeh for twenty minutes on one side, then turn and bake for another ten minutes.

While the tempeh bakes, whisk together half the water with the cornstarch. In a saucepan over very low heat, add the chutney. When it start to melt, add the water/cornstarch mixture and whisk in quickly. Stir almost constantly over low heat, gradually adding the rest of the water. The glaze will thicken and turn shiny. Whisk in more water if it thickens too much. Serve over the tempeh. I made a meal of this with a side of dal and naan. Some sliced mango here would be ridiculously good.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

High Noon At The Lentil Saloon

This is my favorite thing to happen to lentils since daal. Growing up in a small town, well shoot, we didn't tamper much with legumes and the like. I was craving the flavors of cumin, tomato and oregano, though I've honestly never been a big fan of the usual suspects in chili (though I stand by my Sweet Potato Chili recipe). Canned kidney an pinto beans, though endlessly convenient, always come with a metallic mask of flavor.  I had the idea to make a pot of chili with lentils filling in as the beans, and after poking around a little on the interwebs, I found out that even country folk have a place for lentils in their kitchens. This big ol' pot sustained me through a murderous stretch of work. I ate it every night when I get home, and yes, even took some in tupperware containers for dinner during night shifts, sustaining the bemused grins of my coworkers. But hell, I'm proud to still be the girl who brings her own lunch.

Lentil Chili

1 cup lentils (I used black, but green, brown, beluga - all the same and delicious here)
3 cups water
1 onion, diced
1 or 2 carrots, chopped
a couple stalks of celery, chopped (including the leaves if they're still attached)
4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
pinch of sea salt
splash of olive oil

Heat the olive oil over medium in a big ol' pot. Add the onion and saute until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the carrots and celery and cook for about five minutes, until the carrot starts to soften. Add the lentils, water, diced tomato, chili powder, and cumin. Crank the heat up and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally so the lentils don't stick. Season with a pit of salt and be very happy. Makes a good 6 bowls.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

(Critterless) Food for Thought

"[F]or all our focus on the cost of moving food, transportation accounts for barely one-tenth of a food product's greenhouse gas emissions. Far more significant is how the food was produced—its so-called resource intensity. Certain foods, like meat and cheese, suck up so many resources regardless of where they're produced (a pound of conventional grain-fed beef requires nearly a gallon of fuel and 5,169 gallons of water) that you can shrink your footprint far more by changing what you eat, rather than where the food came from. According to a 2008 report from Carnegie Mellon University, going meat- and dairyless one day a week is more environmentally beneficial than eating locally every single day." 
Roberts, Paul. "Spoiled: Organic and Local is So 2008." Mother Jones, March/April 2009.
There is no simple resolution to query "what should I eat?" Every time I think I've come to a conclusion I can live with, I come across yet another study or anecdote that tells me I'm steering all wrong. That once-coveted "organic" label is now maligned by tales of the unsustainable global journeys our soybeans take to salmonella creeping its way into some of our most recognizable "health foods." Roberts' article takes a hypodermic needle to our local bubble. It's hard, real damn hard, to stay optimistic in this climate of defeat. So while the article quoted above doesn't give me much cause to dance barefoot in the street, it did offer some buoyancy in its message. I'm encouraged by other folks who report on gravitating towards a plant-based diet. Looking for inspiration, or to give society one last chance before taking refuge in a cave and subsiding on lichen and gall?  Take Mark Bittman's "'vegan till 6'" plan, or Becky's Lenten vegan pledge, or this bloggah-from-down-undah's vegan test-drive

Sunday, March 8, 2009

At YEAST I Tried (Hey-Ooo!)

I wish this hiatus were interrupted by some exquisite culinary development or profound sociological rumination. I also wish I could walk in heels without looking like a four-year-0ld playing dress-up.

I spent a good part of last week researching and yes, baking yeast-based breads. It was a brave new world and a frightening undertaking for me. I've never baked bread at home; frankly, the prospect always scared me. The idea of a fungus feeding off of sugar in a bowl, amassing its strength and doubling in size like The Blob - only to be baked in a home oven into an edible end-product - has always freaked me the hell out. I also remember my sister baking bread at home in her early twenties, only to have to clean a veritable Niagara of dough from my mom's kitchen counter. Not for me, thanks - until about a week ago, during our first March snowstorm (I believe we're due for another three inches tomorrow - climate change conspiricists take note). I dug out some active dry yeast packets that I've been holding on to for my gestative moment of bravery, read up on some techniques and recipes, and five hours later, behold! I had three loaves of astonishingly not sucky whole wheat bread, studded with oatmeal, flax- and sunflower seeds. Now, I feel like the "my first loaf" post is... well, frankly, it's hack. Wanna show me a slideshow of your baby's first steps while you're at it? So I declined to write about it. Ok, but since I'm on the topic, here's the dough, risen, living and bubbly as a high school chem petri dish:

So my bread was decent, especially for a first try. I got brave... I moved on to pizza dough, using white whole-wheat flour. This is where my research got dicey and befuddling. Feed the yeast for an hour; let it sit overnight. Keep the dough warm; stick it the fridge. Keep it unadulterated; throw in herbs and oil. Wha-wha-whaaat? I wanted to scrap the idea, but my undying love for pizza won out in the end.

I should have quit while I was ahead.

I won't even bother with the details of how I made the dough, as I Frankensteined my way through a number of techniques and recipes. Um, that's mostly likely my first problem. The dough looked sketchy (ahem, not stretchy) after I let it rest, but I was so excited for my cheap-and-seasonal toppings idea that, like any seasoned explorer in uncharted territory, I forged ahead. My delicious homemade tomato sauce went on the dough, followed by medallions of sweet potato, thinly sliced white onion and some minced watercress. I was met by a sense of foreboding when I opened the oven door. The crust looked brown and mealy; the edges were no doubt burned (though the topping held out nicely. I reluctantly took a bite, and...oh man...ew. Besides all the structural failures, can we talk about salt? I abhor an overly-salty bite; in fact, pretty much anyone who has sampled my cooking keeps a dish of salt strategically nearby (a precaution to you blessed few who have confessed to trying my recipes). Here she is, my test-tube baby:
There's a "Mildly Spiced Vegetable Burrito" from Trader Joe's in the oven for me now. Sigh...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beards & Barley

First, a little salute to the food community. We all know Brooklyn is cool - infinitely cooler than Boston. Newbury Comics is great and all, but then there's Sound Fix in Williamsburg. Henrietta's Table in Cambridge runs an outstanding farm-to-table outfit, but Franny's in Park Slope just makes the whole endeavor homey and sexy. And, as it appears in last Wednesday's Dining section of the Times, their men tote way radder beards than their New England brethren (with apologies to all the bearded boys in Boston I know). Ok, so the article has nothing to do with Boston, and really little to do with facial hair. But if you haven't read it, stop reading this nonsense now and follow that link up there. It's that important. I was genuinely inspired by this profile on all the hard-earned and heart-felt food crafting that's happening in the borough, and would love to see more of it here. It's happening to a certain extent; I think there's a whole enclave of us here in which "'every person you pass has read Michael Pollan.'" If you or a friend or coworker that person in our bed Saturday morning is doing out-of-the-ordinary food crafting, I want to hear about it. Patissiers, chocolatiers, underground restauranteurs, home-brewers unite!

Mmm, speaking of home-brew, that leads me to barley. The star of the recipe in this post. It's chewy, it's poppy, it's subtle but hearty. It's hard to go wrong here. Barley is a whole grain (well, see below), which we know means it's healthful, but I won't get into that here. I'm a BA, not an MD. What I am is broke, son, and whole grains in bulk are cheap cheap cheap. After I did my taxes and found out that I owe more than I spend I groceries in six months, I 1) dragged myself out of the fetal position from under the kitchen table, and 2) hit the pantry to make some serious comfort food. I'm still working on those winter reserves, and fortunately, I have a good stock to work with. Wild rice, black rice, oats,, barley!

When buying barley, try and stay clear of the pearled stuff. Pearled = processed, a removal of the outer hull that contains the bulk of the fiber, vitamins and flavor. Look for whole hulled barley. Ugh, here comes that nutritionism argument again. I diminished my veggie rations for this, but it's a great way to use up what's dwindling in your fridge. Roasting then pureeing veggies creates a soup that's outrageously rich in flavor without the fuss of seasonings. In fact, all I added was salt and pepper, letting the roots sing their flawless five-part harmony. You can use any combination of roastable veggies here, though I especially like the zingy pizazz of the celery root in this melange.Roasted Vegetable and Barley Stew
1 cup whole barley
2 1/4 cup water
2 parsnips, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
1 celeriac, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 rutabaga, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 white onion, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
6-8 cups veggie stock, water or a combination

Bring the 2 1/4 cups water to a boil. Add the barley, return to a boil, cover, and simmer for 50-55 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Add all the veggies except the potatoes to a large roasting pan. Toss with the olive oil, maybe toss in a bit of salt for good measure. Roast 30-40 minutes until the veggies are browned and pierced easily with a fork, stirring a couple times throughout to avoid burning.

Add the roasted veggies to a large stockpot. Add the potatoes and veggie stock/water and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Puree with a blender, immersion blender or food processor for about five minutes, or until smooth. Add the barley and there ya go. Serves 8.