Thursday, May 27, 2010

Carrot and Chickpea Soup with Coconut Milk

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Soups are great for the on-the-go lifestyle. I think Campbell's figured that out much earlier than I did. That's probably why it's making millions and my blog has generated a whopping 53 cents. I haven't figured out what to do with my new found fortune. Maybe something flashy, like shiny quarters (TWO) and a few (THREE) brand new copper pennies. Anyways, I digress...

I don't mean that people should go and get one of those soups in a bottle or a can. VB bought portable handheld gazpacho (see how ridiculous that sounds?) on impulse several months ago and it was absolutely disgusting. I couldn't get that horrible taste out of my mouth for hours. Soups are still good for busy people who like real (not canned) food. I find it pretty easy and quick to whip up some delicious soup after work. I can chop some veggies and toss them in a pot and let them simmer while I do other things. It's not much harder than buying gazpacho from Big Lots, but it tastes infinitely better.

Last night, I made this vaguely Indian-inspired carrot soup with coconut milk (emphasis on "vaguely"). So easy and delicious -- sweet, creamy with a little spicy finish. For this soup, you'll need:
  • 1 big (or 2 medium) leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cups of carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of a 15-ounce can of chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock
  • salt to taste
Start by sweating sliced leek in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Cook until fragrant, about a minute or two. Add carrots, chickpeas and vegetable stock. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots are soft. Stir in coconut milk and season with salt. Cook for another 5 minutes. Use a stand mixer or a hand blender to puree the mixture until smooth.

The soup has a nice mild sweet flavor, but just as you think you've tasted all the soup has to offer, the heat from the cayenne pepper kicks in and adds another layer of interest. Serve with bread for dipping or just a spoon.

Guaranteed to beat any handheld soup device that you can find at Big Lots or you get all the proceeds from this blog!!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Amador County Wine Tasting

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A few weeks ago, we visited Amador County (of the greater Sacramento area) for a weekend of wine tasting. Amador County grows some different varietals than other Northern California regions, so we had a very different wine tasting experience than our previous trips to Napa, Somona, or Russian River Valley. Here are some pictures, in no particular order with little or no significance. I didn't take that many pictures -- sort of got hammered as the afternoon progressed. Oops.

Old truck outside of Cooper Vineryards.

Old vines at Vino Noceto.

Half fell into the water while trying to take this shot. Like I said, hammered!

Amador City, the view outside of our hotel.

Main (and only) Street, Amador City -- an old gold mining town.

Kitty at the back patio of the hotel. We saw lots of cats over the weekend; most of them didn't care to be photographed.

Another picture outside of the hotel.

Old wine barrel at Sierra Vista.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Corn Parfait Gratin with Tofu

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I used to be a pretty avid Food Network viewer; it was on my television constantly. I would spend most of the afternoon watching Ina and Giada, and sometimes even Rachael Ray (but NEVER Sandra Lee... she scares me). Lately, I've gotten bored with Giada's manicured nails, perky boobs, and her claw hands that make the same gesture for creamy, crunchy, chewy and every adjective that ends in a y. Even Ina has gotten on my nerves with her baggy shirts in only blue, black or white and her annoyingly overused catch phrase -- "now, how bad can that be?" Well, Ina, it can be pretty bad sometimes.

Until my cable company starts carrying the Cooking Channel, I'm finding culinary inspiration from an old familiar source -- Jacques Pepin's "More Fast Food My Way" on KQED. Sure, watching an old man cook in a low budget studio while speaking in an indecipherable French accent doesn't feel particularly compelling or inspiring at times, but I appreciate his simple, fresh and straight forward approach to food. He's often seen drinking wine while cooking; it's something that many of us do at home, but never seen on the clean cut Food Network shows. I certainly appreciate how "real" it all feels -- not glamorous, primed or pushed-up. I've definitely cooked more often with a wine glass in hand than with perfectly manicured nails.

This corn parfait gratin recipe was adapted from a Jacques Pepin recipe. You can watch him demo the recipe here, starting at the 2:20 mark. I substituted three eggs with a block of tofu and added miso and nutmeg for flavoring. The result was a very tender and flavorful gratin. For this recipe, you'll need:
  • 4 cobs of corn, husked
  • 1 cup of half and half
  • 1 block of tofu
  • 2 tablespoons of miso
  • 1 healthy pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • grated Parmagiano Reggiano or Swiss Cheese
  • salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a food processor, first process corn to gritty paste consistency. Then add tofu, miso, nutmeg, flour and salt. Process again until well mixed. While the processor is on, stream in half and half. Pour the mixture into a greased 9 x 11 oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the mixture is golden, puffs up and pulls away from the pan. Let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

This gratin tastes like delicate sweet corn. I opted for regular moo juice over soy milk to reduce the soy flavor in the final product. It still tastes faintly like soy, but not overtly so. The texture is delicate and more tender than egg based custard. In any event, tofu tends to be more forgiving than eggs -- using tofu reduces the likelihood of overbaking.

For a complete meal, I served it with a pesto pasta salad using other summer ingredients like basil and heirloom tomatoes. We enjoyed our dinner while watching "Chef vs. City." Don't get me started on that show.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eggless Quiche with Polenta

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I've wanted to make quiche for some time. But VB says 1) its bad for his cholesterol and 2) only girls eat quiche. Unfortunately, those claims are true. Have you ever seen a man order quiche?

I can't change the fact that quiche is girl food, but I can do something about the cholesterol. Here, I've made a quiche with tofu instead of eggs and polenta instead of pie pastry. I do like the tofu part -- it's pretty flavorful and not obviously soy-y. I think the texture can be firmer. Next time, I'll spend more time pressing water out of the tofu -- that should make for a firmer quiche.

I like polenta, but not in this dish. For me, the polenta isn't enough of a flavor or textural contrast from the tofu. I will probably try the recipe again but substituting the polenta with something else.

The recipe calls for "nutritional yeast," which is an ingredient common in vegan cooking but one that I've never used. You can buy it in the bulk section at Whole Foods. It is flaky, smells and tastes pretty much like dry cheese powder. So much so that this morning, I found Tangerine (a.k.a. "Fatty") had dragged the bag down from the counter in the middle of the night and tore through the plastic to get to the cheesy goodness. Even she can't tell it's not cheese!!

You can find the recipe for the eggless polenta quiche here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Potato Chickpea Paratha

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I call this 'paratha', but this bread really defies categorization. Paratha is a kind of Indian stuffed bread, generally filled with potatoes and many spices. I took the idea of paratha and stuffed it with leftover potato chickpea patties with cilantro pesto. It's not a traditional Indian paratha stuffing at all. In fact, I don't really know what it is. Mexican? Italian? Chinese???!?! I have no idea. But I don't feel the need to call it any particular thing. It's just a piece of delicious stuffed flat bread.

To make this bread, you'll need:
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup of semolina
  • 1/4 cup of rice flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil or clarified butter or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup of warm water
First, combine all the dry ingredients and add the fat. Stir so the fat is evenly distributed. Pour in the water and knead until smooth. Let the dough relax for at least 15 minutes. Portion the dough into about 10 equal pieces. Form each piece into small balls and then flatten into disks. Place the desired filling in the middle of the disk. Make sure the filling is warm as it helps to form the bread later. Stretch the dough so that it covers all of the filling and form a ball. Pinch the dough shut. Flatten the bread by pulling with fingers or pressing with the heel of your hand. Resist the urge to use a rolling pin, you will break the dough. Work the dough slowly and gently to stretch it into a flat bread. If your dough breaks, congratulations, you're not perfect. But it's okay, just patch it with some scrap dough. As you can see, mine are still pretty thick. I'd rather have thicker bread than spill all my filling. If you have trouble with this recipe, watch this video.

Place the bread onto a hot non-stick skillet that is lightly greased with some oil. Cook over medium heat until crispy, then flip, about 4 minutes on each side.

I'm very happy with this paratha. It's crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. We paired it some mint chutney, but I think this would be delicious with some pico de gallo too. I still don't know what kind of food this is, but who cares!!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Potato and Chickpea 'Burger' with Cilantro Pesto

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Those with cilantro aversion should probably look away right now, because I've made cilantro pesto. I got the idea from the New York Times article on cilantro haters. I've witnessed cilantro haters in action all my life; my mother spends a significant amount of time picking cilantro out of her food whenever we dine out. I happen to find cilantro inoffensive. I have even grown to appreciate it after years of eating Chinese and Mexico food. Cilantro pesto, as it turns out, does have a milder taste. The combination of cilantro and pistachios is a good one; the earthy nutty sweetness of pistachios makes cilantro taste less sharp and soapy.

You'll need:
  • 2 lightly packed cups of cilantro
  • 1 cup of toasted pistachios
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed
  • 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 celery ribs, minced
Start by processing cilantro, pistachios, garlic and 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a thick, smooth paste. Puree canned chickpeas into a paste. Sweat onion and celery in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Combine onion, celery, cilantro pesto, mashed potatoes, bread crumbs and chickpeas. You definitely don't need an egg in this mixture because it will be thick.

Form patties and pan fry over medium high heat in a non-stick skillet for 4 minutes each side. The serving options are pretty much endless. I think this would be good with some salsa and avocado slices. Here, I made an open faced sandwich with a slice of tomato, some baby greens and a three-and-a-half minute poached egg. We got this awesome raisin and walnut bread from Andrae's Bakery in Amador City, where we spent a wonderful weekend wine tasting. The sweetness of the bread really complements the creamy and nutty patties.