Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burger Imposter

Recipe: Dana's "Totally OK" Veggie Burgers

I have an extreme hatred (too strong?) for meat-free products masquerading around as meat dishes. For instance, Upton's Natural's, a Chicago-based company, has made a small fortune packaging things called "Ground Beef-Style Seitan" and taco salads and buffalo chik'n wraps sold with a dapper mustachioed man on the packaging encouraging all the hipster vegans out there to purchase it.... (I used a runon sentance to highlight the extend of my anger.) Perhaps part of my anger is directed at the fact that many of these prodcuts contain soy, which I cannot digest without reacting like that one scene in Bridesmaids--you know the one I'm talking about. (Although a closer look at Upton's products suggests that their products contain hardly any soy, while other brands definitely do.)

Another concern is the hipster doofuses, a term used by my mother and coined by Seinfeld, that purchase the products, as I do not want to be associated with that kind of person. The new hipster is the antihipster after all.

And lastly, if you're a vegetarian you should eat more vegetables not tofu or wheat gluten that's pretending to be something you gave up. Vegetarians should celebrate vegetables, not mourn their losses. Plus most of that food is so proccessed, you hardly recognize where it came from. Take a look at the ingredient list on your soy tacquito or buffalo chik'n wrap and see if you can find all the ingredients in your cupboard. If you can't make it yourself (or with a trained cook in your kitchen) I fundamentally disagree with eating it.

That said, I'm not trying to knock Upton's, they do a pretty good job with their products, and their ingredient list is short and free of perservatives. There are a lot of companys that don't do this kind of cooking well, frozen chik'n cubes and soy mayonaise does not a chicken salad make, and it can ruin the eating experience for the consumer.

On the other hand, the veggie burger is perhaps the one exception to my no meat substitute rule. The veggie burger is, afterall, a staple of vegetarian cooking. Whole Foods makes a couple great ones, that are made from beans and grains, and they can actually be a filling and healthy meal. Plus, beans and grains aren't really meat subsitutes so I can be sure that they are soy-free.

I still perfer to make them myself though. This recipe, while it has a long ingredient list, is actually pretty tasty. I still want to play with the texture (less on the mush, more on the crunch), but the flavors are there. Maybe it isn't the perfect subsitute for that juicy, chargrilled, piece of hamburger that you could be eating, but for a veggie burger it ain't bad.

Dana's "Totally OK" Veggie Burger

1 cup barley
4 cups veg stock
1 cup kidney beans, dried
1 red pepper, small diced
1/2 red onion, small diced
2 carrots, peeled and small diced
1/2 cup shittake mushrooms, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup almond flour toasted
2 TBS hot sauce
1 TBS Worchestshire
1 TBS Smoked Paprika
1 TBS dried Oregano
Salt and Pepper To taste

1. Heat a sauce pot over high heat. Add barley and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring the barley around constantly. Add vegetable stock and reduce heat. Cook until barley is tender and most of the stock has been absorbed.
2. Place kidney beans in a pot and add water until the water is 2 inches above the beans. Cook over medium heat until beans are extremely tender, about one hour.
3. Saute onions, peppers, carrots, and garlic in a small pan with a little bit of oil over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Heat same pan with some oil and cook mushrooms over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated out. Add to carrots, peppers, and onions.
5. Once beans and barely have finished cooking place in a food processor and blend until smooth. Place in a big bowl and mix with cooked veggies and seasoning. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Preheat oven to 400. Parchment and oil a baking pan. Form burgers into 1/3 pound 3 inches in diameter patties. You should make about 6. If you have a mold use that.
7. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Remove and enjoy with a toasted bun, some pickles, ketchup, mustard, and a beer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gluten-Free Fad or Treatment?

Recipe: Lemon Financiers with Blackberry Jam

Sometimes I participate on a website called Food52. It's a really great resource for home cooks, food bloggers, and anyone looking for great recipes. They also have weekly contests where users can submit recipes that fall under certain themes or use certain ingredients. For instance last week's recipe was "Your Best Street Food."

This week, however, users were asked to submit their best gluten-free recipe. Gluten-free foods are fine for someone who has celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance, but there are many people (especially those who shop at my workplace), who eat gluten-free foods as part of some fad diet, confusing gluten with carbohydrates or believing that gluten-free is healthier somehow. Those are the people that give a gluten-free diet a bad name. The overprotective parent types. The yo-yo dieters. The uninformed health nuts.

I have no reason to eat gluten-free. But I have friends who cannot digest it. Who cannot eat cookies, or beer, or delicious yeasty breads without feeling ill. So as a cook, I can provide them delicious foods that do not contain anything that's going to make them sick. Not food that taste like cardboard. Or food that looks like cardboard for that matter.

I submitted a recipe for financiers to the contest. Financiers are delicious little almond teacakes, traditionally a rectangle shape, meant to look like little bars of gold. They are perfect snacks for tea parties or other dainty eating, but they also make great after work (or school) treats. This recipe is particularly light, moist, chewy and flavorful a perfect treat to make for your gluten-free friends.

Lemon Financiers with Blackberry Jam

1/3 cup rice flour
1/3 cup almond flour
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
3 egg whites
4 ounces butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon

1. Preheat oven to 340.
2. Sift together rice flour, almond flour, and confectioner's sugar. Place into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Froth egg whites with a whisk and place in the center of the well.
3. Heat a saute pan over high heat. Add butter and turn into beurre noisette. Allow the butter to melt and come to a boil. Constantly move the pan around until the milk solids have turned a golden brown color. Remove from heat and cool slightly before adding to the center of the well. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk dough together to form a smooth paste.
4. Butter a rectangular or boat shaped tartlet mold (I used a round one, so whatever you have around the house is fine. Place on a baking sheet. Fill tart molds about 3/4 of the way full, using a portion scoop or a tablespoon.
5. Place in oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the paste has set. Remove from mold and let cool on a wire rack.
6. Once financiers have cooled, place jam (recipe to follow) in a piping bag using the smallest tip. Place tip into bottom of financier and pipe a small amount of jam into each cake, about 1/2 teaspoon. Garnish cakes with more confectioner's sugar. Cakes are best eaten the day of.

For the Jam:
1 pt. blackberries
Zest and juice of one lemon
3 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup honey

1. Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until the blackberries have softened and the juice has thickened.
2. Remove thyme sprigs and place the jam in a food processor or blend with an immersion blender until smooth.
3. Place in an uncovered bowl until ready to use.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Grow Your Food

Recipe: Farmer's Market Quiche

Farmer's Market Quiche
I planted my first garden a few weeks ago. Well technically not my first garden. I had an herb garden last summer, which did pretty well considering my thumb's serious lack of green. But that little garden was composed of planters and starter plants so I didn't have to think so hard about it. This year I actually dug soil out of the ground and threw some seeds in there and hoped for the best. Thank god it was such a cold spring, because I started digging a little late. Anyways, the seeds have been in gestation for a few weeks now and I can actually watch the progress. My carrots are doing the best but I have yet to see progress from my beets or the spring mix.

Fresh picked vegetables are my ultimate choice for eating. Lettuce will never taste as tender, carrots will never be as sweet. The longer the veggie is out of the ground worse the taste gets. Not that store bought vegetables are bad, but they are much much better fresh. I'm sure my carrots will turn out fine, but for the rest of my diet I will turn to the professionals. Which means, this summer I will be a frequent shopper at the farmer's market.

Purple and green asparagus and green garlic
I especially love the Green City Market because of the variety and quality of the produce and the great artisan products for sale. That is not the say that the other markets around town don't have the same stuff, but the first time I saw a purple carrot or radish with a tie-dye design was at the Green City Market. It's so much fun to wander around and look at all the familiar and rare produce. I get more inspiration from the veggies at the farmer's market than I do anywhere else. It refreshes my point of view and I get a jolt of creativity any time I shop there.

The last time I went I picked up some beautiful and tender purple asparagus, fresh and crinkly spinach, and fragrant green garlic. I had no idea what I was going to make, until I brought it home and examined my bags. In the end I decided to make a quiche. It seemed like the perfect way to join the three ingredients in a way that allows their flavor to shine.

Farmer's Market Quiche

For the crust:
6 oz flour
3/4 tsp salt
3 oz chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
2 tsp water

1. Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add butter and rub into the flour using your fingertips. Mix together until the flour looks like breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center.
2. Whisk eggs and water together. Pour in the middle of the flour mixture. Mix together to form a soft dough, working from the inside of the well outward.
3. After the dough has just come together place on a floured surface and lightly kneed the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes before using.

Slicing up green garlic
For the filling:
4 (or about 2 cups) eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
4 stalks asparagus, green or purple or both, sliced into 1" pieces and blanched
Good handful of spinach
1 stalk green garlic, minced
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

1. Roll out dough to 1/4" thickness. Place in a greased pie pan (about 9" in diameter). Trim off extra dough from edge. Crimp edge of dough and place in oven. Par cook for about 10 minutes.
2.  Turn oven down to 300. Whisk eggs, cream, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper together until fully mixed. You can use a blender for this if you choose. Lightly saute green garlic in olive oil in a small pan. Arrange asparagus, spinach, garlic and cheese in par-cooked dough. Pour quiche mixture over the vegetable mixture.
3. Place quiche in oven and cook until eggs have set, about 30 minutes. To test place a small skewer or toothpick in the center of the quiche. If it comes out clean, the quiche is done. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Blues

Recipe: Jicama Apple Salad

Today is Memorial day, the official start of summer. It is a blazing 90 degrees outside and sunny, the perfect day for a Start of Summer Barbecue Party. I'm sure all of you are putting together menus, getting on the sunscreen, firing up the grills, and partying like you've never partied before. But, I will be spending today in a windowless room, working over a stove, or dealing with irate customers, basically doing the exact opposite of celebrating. I don't, however, want to miss the start of summer so I decided to make a slaw to enjoy as a reminder of today's holiday. Maybe that's a cruel thing to do to myself, like a reminder of all the fun I'm missing, but I'd rather celebrate the start of summer at work than pretend it isn't happening.

I chose to make a slaw out of jicama and apples. Jicama is a really strange vegetable. It is shaped like a rutabaga or a turnip. The texture is crisp like an apple, but the flavor is bland like a potato. It is best eaten raw in salads and slaws, but then again I've never tried to cook it. To tell you the truth, I'm not much a fan of the ugly ole' jicama. I don't even think it has much nutritional value. I do, however, like to give a second chance to veggies I dislike so I decided to cook with jicama this week. 

This jicama slaw is a good way to impress your guests with your creative culinary skills. Also, it's super easy, super cheap, and super delicious. SUPER. So if you're invited to a BBQ today and still haven't thought of something to bring along, run (RUN) to the store and put together this slaw. Remember to think of me as I'm sitting in a hot windowless room wishing I was noshing on BBQ like you.

Jicama Apple Slaw

1 large jicama, peeled and thinly julienned
1 apple, thinly julienned
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1/4 green cabbage head, shredded
1 cup plain yogurt
1 jalepeno, minced and seeded
Zest and juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix prepped jicama, apples, cilantro, and cabbage together.
2. For the dressing, whisk the yogurt, jalepeno, lime zest and juice, sherry vinegar, and salt together until smooth. Toss jicama mixture and dressing together. Serve immediately.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Taco Taco Taco

Recipe: Corn and Black Bean Tacos

I have to be honest. I really had no inspiration for this recipe. No good memories to share, or interesting topics to write about. I've been running around like a chicken lately (and eating chicken), so I threw this dish together because it was healthy, cheap, and pretty tasty.

Wait a month before you make this recipe and use fresh corn. I caved and used frozen (yuck!), but I was really craving tacos and corn tacos especially. Whatever. I can't be a winner every time.

So eat and enjoy my friends. This was a throwaway post, but definitely not a throwaway recipe.

Corn and Black Bean Tacos

For the Sauce:
1 large jalapeño
4 fresh tomatillos, husk removed
Juice of 3 limes
2 TBS cilantro, minced
1 TBS hot sauce of choice
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400. Place jalapeño and tomatillos on a sheet pan and roast for 15 to twenty minutes or until soft. Place jalapeño in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove skin and seeds from jalapeño.
2. Place tomatillos, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, and hot sauce in food processor or blender. Blend at a high speed until sauce is smooth. Season with a little salt and pepper. 

For the filling:
1 cup black beans
1/2 onion, small diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 cup frozen corn, thawed or preferably 1 cob of fresh corn, in husk
1 large tomato, diced
1 avocado, sliced before serving
Corn or flour tortillas, as many as you want!

1. Place black beans in a large pot with onion and garlic. Fill pot with water, or until there is 2 inches of water above the beans. Cook over medium heat until beans are tender, about 1 hour.
2. Roast corn in same oven or if using fresh on the grill. For fresh corn roast in husk until soft about 20 - 30 minutes. If using frozen about 10 - 15 minutes.
3. Mix together the cooked black beans, corn, tomato, and tomatillo dressing. Serve hot with warm tortillas. Garnish with fresh avocado slices and cilantro leaves. Enjoy with a nice cold margarita and some crunchy tortilla chips.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Healing Qualities of Cheese and Beer

Recipe: Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup and Homemade Pretzels

Before I get on with my post, I need to mention the upcoming nuptials of one William the Prince and Catherine Middleton which occur tomorrow at exactly 4 AM. I am excited, yes, as any good American girl would be. There will be pretty dresses (and one extremely pretty white dress), beautiful hats, flowers, famous people (hello Elton John), and of course delicious delicious food (with the exception of the wedding cake... fruit cake? gross.) Many people have been doing posts on what to eat for Royal Wedding Parties (scones! tea! cookies!), but as I probably won't be getting up in the middle of the night to watch some handsome guy and pretty girl (His and Her Highness) tie the knot (if it were at 9 AM that would be a whole other story), I am just going to get on with business as usual.

It has been a horrible spring here in the midwest and all this bad weather gets me thinking about soup. I realize that most of my posts begin with some musing about the weather or changing of seasons but that is how I decide what to eat most weeks. Anyways, I haven't seen the sun in weeks and maybe part of it is due to the fact that I work in a windowless room all day but also it has been raining a lot. On days (weeks!) like that I want to laze around the house eating hunks of cheese and sipping on beer, as most people would (and no "Sconnie" jokes, please).  There is something wonderful about a nice piece of cheese that gets me excited. Think about it, cheese is a mixture of the culinary and the scientific. Who first thought to eat fermented milk? It's really a miracle that we eat it at all. But, the flavors can be so complex and deep and interesting in a nice piece of cheese, that I often find myself having a Ratatouille moment when I eat it. Its such an easy way to brighten a little spot in my day.

Forget pairing cheese with wine! A good Wisconsin girl like myself would reach for a beer to pair with cheese. That combination, of beer and cheese, turns a really terrible day into a good one. Well, maybe I am being a little overly dramatic, but a really good pairing can push me over the edge sometimes. I, then, remembered that there is such a thing as beer cheese soup, thus combining all of my favorite things for a rainy day, and I decided to make it.

What pairs well with beer cheese soup, you ask? A nice soft pretzel! When I was younger I was amazed that you could make things at home that you usually bought at the store. For instance, I grew up on canned pasta sauce and the first time I had it homemade was a huge revelation. From that point forward I tried cooking all sorts of things that I usually purchased (cookies, breads, cream puffs....), and dragged my friends in the projects too. I think this is one of many reasons why I ended up as a professional cook. In any case, homemade soft pretzels are something my friend and I would make to pass the lazy summer afternoons. We would get the dough made, and then turn on Ever After while the yeast kicked in. Once we shaped the dough in to the first letter of all our friend's names and then hand-delivered the gifts. Nothing says love like a hand-shaped pretzel.

If you have a case of the rainy day blues spend the day indoors and try out this recipe. Maybe it would have quite the same healing power as it did on me, but you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Soft Pretzels 

I had a little trouble with this recipe (namely the shaping of the pretzel and the par-boiling. (See the ugly looking pretzel below.) I also had some Hawaiian black salt on hand, instead of pretzel salt so that's what I used to season.

Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup

5 tablespoons butter
1/2 leek cleaned and diced
3 carrots, cleaned peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
4 ribs of celery, diced
5 tablespoons flour
2 12 oz bottles of beer, use a pale ale or a lager
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup milk
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ginger powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Garnish with chopped chives

1. Heat beer in a sauce pan bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add vegetable stock and milk and heat.

2. Sweat leeks, carrots, onions, and celery in butter until softened. About five minutes. Stir in flour. Slowly whisk in hot liquids and bring soup to a simmer. Add cayenne, ginger, and paprika and simmer soup uncovered over medium low heat for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Take soup off stove and puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor. Strain into a clean pot.

4. Return to heat and slowly whisk in cheese in small batches, allowing the cheese to melt before adding more. Strain again if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with chives, a glass of beer and a nice soft pretzel.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big Hunk of Veggie on the Grill

Recipe: Cous Cous Salad with Curry Scented Grilled Vegetables

The Grill is a steely masculine piece of machinery. It's hot. It's powerful. It's smokey. Nothing can excited a crowd so quickly or so efficiently like the phrase "Char-Grilled." The Grill pairs well with a hunk of meat, barbecue sauce, and a summer barbecue. But just because it was made to cook meat it does not mean that meat is the only thing you should cook on it.

Summer officially begins the day your grill comes out of the garage and into the yard. It could be a 60 degree day in the middle of February that calls your grill out of hiding, but the calendar date doesn't matter. Once you grill summer begins. Most of my summer memories are filled with grill brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs. Occasionally we would have some veggie side-dishes (corn on the cob, potatoes wrapped in foil, char-grilled butter), but firing up the grill usually meant meat meat, and more meat. Now, as I'm trying to cut back on my so-called meat addiction, I still salivate when I think about the grill. But, I need to find a healthier (vegetable-ier) way to use it.

Grilling vegetables great way to extract a lot of flavor from an otherwise "boring" vegetable. Personally, I hate eggplant, but toss it in some oil and spices throw it on the grill and I'll eat it. Most of the summer vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant) work well on the fact most vegetables work well on the grill. The following salad uses aforementioned summer vegetables mixed with pearled cous cous, arugula, and a curry spice mixture to create a smokey and flavorfully salad sans meat.

Veggies fresh of the grill
Cous Cous Salad with Curry Scented Grilled Vegetables

1 cup Israeli (pearled) cous cous
1 3/4 cup salted water or vegetable stock
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1 zucchini, sliced
1/2 eggplant, sliced
1/4 yellow bell pepper
1/4 orange bell pepper
1/4 red bell pepper
Juice of one lemon
Large handful of arugula

1. Bring salted water or vegetable stock to a boil. Toast cous cous in a hot saute pan for one to two minutes. Once water is at a boil add cows cows and cook until soft, about eight to ten minutes. Run through cold water to cool.

2. Toast curry powder, cumin, and paprika in a dry saute pan until spices are fragrant about thirty seconds. Mix with canola oil and toss with sliced vegetables. Heat grill pan or grill, clean and lightly oil the grill. Cook vegetables a couple of minutes on each side, until vegetables are soft. Cool slightly before using.

3. Small dice grilled vegetables and mix into cooked cous cous. Season with lemon juice and more salt and pepper if needed. Before serving toss in arugula.