recipes, food snaps, and travel musings

Monday, May 28, 2007

Return from Hiatus

Every once in a while some well-intentioned friend or relative will ask me "hey, how's that cookbook coming along" and after thinking 'what cookbook?' and 'like I don't have enough to do' I remember that I've been neglecting my VGML blog.

So, I made some Sunday Night Pizza. I know I promised to disclose the secret to my gooey cheese sauce, but I got inspired by the Urban Vegan's use of the Tofu-Basil Ricotta recipe from the VwaV on her arugula pizza. So inspired, that I headed in that same direction for my own delicious pies.

Actually, there were two pizzas made. One recruited a combination of veggie sausage, leek, tofu ricotta, basil, toaster-bag-roasted red pepper, mushroom to make a big, tasty mess (see left).

The other pizza involved tomato, arugula, red pepper, garlic, green olive, tofu ricotta, and was only slightly less messy to eat.

This was one of my favourite Sunday night pizza sessions to date. Maybe because last night we were going for an over-the-top feast, so we cooked up a dozen faux-chicken drumsticks to go with the pizza. See the picture (right) for the drumsticks before they are soaked in marinade, basted, and baked.

The marinade is the key to their succulence. If you let them swim around in a simple warm marinade (whisk 1 tsp vegan "chicken" broth, 1 tsp light miso, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 Tbsp dry sherry, and a few drops of hickory smoke flavour into 2C boiling water) for an hour or two, they can be basted and baked (30 minutes at 450F) to uncanny resemblance to the real thing.

I decided to spice up the usual recipe by adding a liberal sprinkling of Blair's Jersey Death Hot Sauce to the barbeque sauce I used to coat the wings. I swear I only added about 6 drops of the stuff to the jar, and I even added a couple spoonfulls of agave nectar and sweet ginger paste to balance it. But when I shook it up and tasted it, I found that the spice level had increased alarmingly.

It says right on the bottle "not to be used without dilution" - and I believe them!

(Which is not to say that I haven't tried putting a drop of the hot sauce directly on my tongue... My -faulty- rationale was: "okay, it's the hottest death sauce sold by this new mexico store that sells 300 kinds of hot sauce. I've never found my personal limit for hot sauces ... this seems like a perfect way to find that personal limit, right?")

While I don't feel like I've yet hit the peak of my spice tolerance (there was no loss of consciousness, or permanent nerve damage), the sauce earned my respect with its fierceness. And judging by its potency after dilution, this bottle should last me until I graduate.

On a Sweeter Note:
For a friend's party the other day I made pistachio-chocolate bark with a spicy kick that hits you about 5 seconds after you take a bite. I don't regret shelling out for a pricy bag of 'stachios, because I think I've found a new favourite chocolate. Sooo easy to make.

Pistachio-Chocolate Bark (with a bite)
2 cups belgian chocolate discs
1.5 cups raw, shelled pistachio nuts
1/2 tsp mexican chili powder
1 tsp peanut oil
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper, divided

In a double-boiler over medium heat, slowly melt the chocolate, stirring ocasionally until completely melted. Be careful not to introduce any moisture to the bowl, or the chocolate will "seize" and become clumpy.

Meanwhile, toss the pistachios with the chili powder and oil, and 1/4 tsp of ground cayenne. Add the remaining 1/4 tsp cayenne to the melted chocolate, and stir well to combine.

When the chocolate has cooled slightly (2-3 minutes), gently fold in the pistachios and pour the mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper spread on a lightly-greased baking sheet. Cool in the fridge until completely hard, then break into 1" squares and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I've been busy

And not just busy cleaning oil out of the burners on my electric stove, but "real" busy: dealing with assignments, abstracts, reports, and other mundane, non-edible things in life.

When I'm so very busy, sometimes I let somebody else do the cooking. That's a good sign that I've gotten to an unprecedented level of busy.

But the results can be surprisingly excellent. Take Sunday, for example. I spent the afternoon at a friend's bridal shower/baby shower (yes, she's multi-tasking too...) and I had been up until 4am the previous day making a batch of very photogenic, if entirely undocumented, chocolate-blood orange cupcakes.

Exhausted from the party, and staring down the barrel of a long night of homework, I let Five do the cooking for once.

Beer Battered "Fish" 'n Chips with Minty Mushy Peas

1 350g block tofu, sliced thinly (~1/4" thick), and in triangle shapes

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 12oz can beer (Boddington's works well, as would another pub lager)

1 tsp kelp powder, whisked into
1 cup cornstarch

4 large Russet potatoes, chopped up like french fries
3L vegetable oil (canola or corn oil are good choices)

Tartar Sauce
1 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 Tbsp dill pickle, chopped finely
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp lemon vodka (you can substitute 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 Tbsp vodka)
1 Tbsp wasabi (if using powdered wasabi, reconstitute 3/4 Tbsp powder in 3/4 Tbsp cold water)
1/2 tsp lemon zest

1) Press the tofu between clean tea towels, under a few pounds of cookbooks for about one hour. If you've never done this before, expect it to release a lot of water, but be a much tastier in the final dish.

2) While the tofu is pressing, soak the potatoes in cold water for at least one hour. Drain, and dry well using a clean tea towel. You should have used up most of your tea towels by now.

3) During that hour, feel free to make the tartar sauce. Leave it in the fridge until you're ready to eat. You can also spend your hour trying out the beer, to make sure it's... fresh. Just make sure you have at least one can left when you're ready to make the batter.

4) Make the batter: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, white pepper and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the beer until well blended and smooth. If the batter looks thicker than pancake batter, add a 1/4 cup more beer (you should have lots on hand, right?) or water. Put the bowl of batter in the fridge - the colder it stays, the better.

5) Preheat oven to 200F. Take out a big cookie sheet, cover it in newspapers (>8 pages deep), and place some of your cooling racks on top. Hopefully you have cooling racks - you make cupcakes, don't you?? If you don't, a metal steamer basket or colander might work, if it is oven-safe.

6) Heat oil in a deep pot to 275F. A candy thermometer clipped to the side of the pot is a good way to get there accurately. If the oil smokes, take it off the heat and don't add any food until it has stopped smoking. Reprimand it harshly.

7) Working in small batches, add potatoes to the pot of hot oil and cook until soft but still pale. Remove potatoes and drain on the rack/cookie sheet aparatus. Keep them warm in the oven.

8) Turn up the heat, and bring the oil temperature to 350F. Lightly dredge tofu (where did you put it? look under the cookbooks!) in cornstarch and kelp powder, and then dip in batter, coating evenly. Carefully add battered tofu to pot and cook until golden, turning once. Remove tofu and drain on the same rack in the oven.

9) The last step! With the oil still at 350F, refry the potatoes for a few more minutes, until golden and crisp, then drain on the newspaper again.

10) Serve your oil-drenched meal with sea salt, malt vinegar, lemon wedges, tartar sauce, and whatever beer you still have left in the fridge. Listen for the seagulls.

Wait, what about the mushy peas? Well, we forgot too, until the last minute.

Minty Mushy Peas

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 green onion
1 handfull fresh mint
200g frozen peas
1 Tbsp vegan margarine
salt and pepper

In a small soup pot, heat oil and add onion and mint. Cook for a few minutes, then add peas, cover and cook for five minutes on high heat, until peas are done. Stir in margarine, mash it up like crazy, and season to taste.

Kudos: The recipe for the beer batter and the chips is courtesy of Cooking with Booze by Ryan Jennings & David Steele. We changed it in a few ways, but they deserve some credit. The mushy peas are courtesy of Jamie Oliver, with some small changes.