Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Festive Summer Shortcakes

Summer doesn't really start in Maine until the Fourth of July. June is still too cool for swimming, and beach traffic is slow. Next weekend marks the start of our short season: eight weeks of heat, humidity, and hiding from the tourists.

Fortunately, the arrival of my least favorite weather coincides with Maine strawberry season. Smaller and sweeter than berries shipped from California, Maine berries taste almost like honey.

These easy shortcakes are perfect for a Fourth of July barbecue. They're the traditional biscuit variety, with a touch of nutmeg flair. All three components can be made ahead of time. For a really decadent summer treat, try vanilla ice cream instead of whipped cream.

Red, White, and Blue Shortcakes
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma: Desserts (The Best of the Kitchen Library)

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegan margarine
6 tablespoons vanilla soy milk

3 cups fresh berries (mixture of strawberries and blueberries)
2-4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
coconut cream (solids from a chilled can of coconut milk)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease a cookie sheet.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add margarine and beat at medium speed until small crumbs form. Stir in soy milk and form dough into a ball. Dough will be sticky.

Divide dough into fourths, and pat into 1-inch thick rounds. Place a few inches apart on baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes, until bottoms of cakes are lightly golden. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a wire rack.

While cakes cool, rinse and slice berries. Toss with powdered sugar and lemon zest and set aside.

With electric mixer on high speed, whip coconut cream and remaining powdered sugar until fluffy.

To assemble, slice cakes in half horizontally. Spoon berry mixture and whipped cream over bottom half and replace top of cake.

Serves 4.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tried & Tasted: Hooked on Heat

Last month I reviewed FatFree Vegan Kitchen's Quick and Easy Potato Soup for Tried & Tasted, a blog event created by Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen that encourages food bloggers to use and write about each others' recipes.

When I saw that June's T&T host, KC of Kits Chow, had chosen the Indian home cooking blog Hooked on Heat, I couldn't pass up the chance to try some fiery recipes.

I began with Meena's Garlic Tofu Noodles, a quick, easy comfort meal that took only twenty minutes to prepare. To make it vegan, I substituted rice noodles for the egg noodles (my love for sticky, translucent rice noodles cannot be overstated). I also substituted Sriracha for Sambal Olek; I already had five kinds of hot sauce in my refrigerator and didn't want to buy another.

What I like about this dish is its convenience. It's a pantry-item feast: the only thing I had to buy was cabbage. The noodles' salty garlic flavor wasn't as tangy and exciting as Vegan Dad's sweet 'n hot noodles, but the recipe didn't call for a cup of sugar, either. Shredded, lightly stir-fried cabbage leant the dish richness and texture. Next time I'd go with almost half cabbage, and throw in some shredded carrot and bean sprouts at the last minute for crunch. Green onion and lime juice dressed up the leftovers without much effort. When things get busy, I'll definitely revisit this quick, adaptable noodle recipe.

Next I tried Chilli Tofu with Beans and Bok Choy. Anything with bok choy and chili is a winner in my book. This dish featured the contrasting textures of chewy fried tofu and crunchy cabbage and green beans. The slightly blackened tomato and seasoning gave it a sweet, smokey flavor. The age and potency of your chili powder will determine the level of heat; I'll add more next time. My tofu didn't turn out as saucy as Meena's, probably because I made it in a pan instead of a wok and had to cook it longer.

Some of the Hooked on Heat dishes contain meat, but there are many vegetarian and vegan recipes. This site was a great find. I look forward to broadening my Indian home cooking, using Meena's insider knowledge as a guide.

Look for the June Tried & Tasted round-up on Kits Chow in early July.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Coco-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream at MF&L

I cleaned out the vegetable drawer last weekend with some turnip, kale, and lentil soup, a sweet broccoli and cabbage salad, and this ice cream, made with a large bunch of fresh mint.

It's incredibly rich, and easy to make if you've got some of this herb laying around. I posted the recipe on the Maine Food & Lifestyle blog.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Orange Julius's Vegan Cousin

Do you remember back-to-school shopping with your mom at JCPenney? Afterward, you'd lean on the big brick planter, set down your bags of elastic-waist cordouroys, and savor that food court delicacy, the Orange Julius.

Frothy and creamy, but with more vitamin C than a milkshake, the Julius was a treat you could enjoy without guilt, as long as you didn't mind whole milk, eggs, corn syrup, and artificial flavoring. Throughout the 80s, you could even add a raw egg, for extra protein and delicious salmonella.

I created this Julius taste-alike while trying to use up dry, out-of-season oranges. It's got calcium, four kinds of fruit, and no kinds of artificial flavor or food-borne illness. Easy, sweet, and healthy, it is my breakfast love of the moment.

Orange Mary-us Citrus Smoothie

1 banana
1 seedless orange
4 ounces vanilla soy yogurt (or silken tofu)
1 cup frozen mango
1 cup frozen pineapple
1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Makes 4 cups, breakfast for two.

See one of my earliest posts for more smoothie ideas.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Busy Downtown Bangor

Downtown Bangor's Outdoor Market has returned for the summer, with jewelry, crafts, food, and music available from 5-8 on Thursday evenings through July. Market dates and a list of performers are here. I'm so disappointed we missed the Elvis impersonator!

Last night we picked up a loaf of Breadbox Bakery's sticky cinnamon bread and some Fieldstone Farms spiced apple preserves, made right up the hill on French Street.

Breadbox also had some deliciously crunchy homemade sesame crackers and garlic hummus.

Need a wooden spoon? The seller said each one takes him three hours to carve.

Sleepy downtown Bangor is trying to wake up for the summer. If you're in town, come spend a rainy Friday evening drinking cheap martinis, listening to jazz, and visiting local artists at tonight's downtown art walk. If you're not in Bangor, you could still do those first two things from the comfort of your own living room. Either way, enjoy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Veggie Burger Recipes at Maine Food & Lifestyle

Tired of gray, flavorless veggie burgers from the freezer section? I've posted recipes for Spicy Black Bean Burgers and Curried Lentil Burgers (like the one you see above) at Maine Food and Lifestyle. Please visit me there!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: Chicago's Soul Vegetarian East

It's good to be back home in Maine, where people stop to let pedestrians cross the street, and nobody judges me for wearing crocs in a restaurant. Spending last week in Chicago, I realized that while I love the pace of the city, I'd rather live amongst Mainers. They're expert at keeping to themselves, and unlike city dwellers, they aren't likely to care if you have the new iPhone.

I have to write one last Chicago post, to talk about Soul Vegetarian East. Lately, I'm bored with vegetarian restaurants. If you skim my recent restaurant reviews, you'll see I've been disappointed by bland, soggy, unimaginative meals that, instead of winning converts, only confirm suspicions that vegan food is weird. Soul Veg was a pleasant surprise: instead of the same worn-out hippie fare, they serve southern-style soul food, bursting with flavor.

I'm always overwhelmed when I can order anything on the menu, so I left myself to the cook's discretion and ordered the pre-set dinner. For $11, it was a lot of food. I started out with cornbread and a sweet, smokey orange-lentil soup. Ravenous from a day of touristing, our friends ordered onion rings and fried mushroom appetizers. These were pretty standard, but I could have eaten a quart of the hot, tangy dipping sauce.

My dinner plate was piled high with corn on the cob, kale, potato salad, and barbequed seitan ribs. I loved the rich southern-style greens and juicy seasoned corn, and the potato salad was just right: creamy and cool, with crispy pickles and celery. I couldn't eat all the seitan (a little too much wheat gluten for one sitting), but I savored every drop of sauce. I haven't been able to enjoy barbeque without worrying about ingredients since I was a kid, and the experience made me giddy.

As if this weren't enough, Soul Veg also makes incredible desserts. My coconut cake was as light and delicate as angel food, with sweet, gooey, blissful frosting. I also tried lemon pie topped with whipped cream. It tasted exactly like classic lemon cream pie, with no eggs, cream, hydrogenated oil, corn syrup, or weird health food flavor. Hallelujah! How do they do it?

The restaurant is classy and welcoming, with friendly staff and walls decorated with African artwork and photos of jazz musicians. Unfortunately, while we were walking back to the car somebody intentionally sped up through a mud puddle, soaking us with filthy water. I don't have pictures of this gorgeous feast because luckily, I'd left my camera bag in the trunk. This was my first trip to Chicago and I don't know the neighborhoods, but I've read that the area near the restaurant is relatively safe; certainly the streets were clean and the houses kept up. Soul Veg is a Chicago vegan institution, and I've never heard of anyone else having an incident. If you go (and you should), just be aware of your surroundings.

Soul Vegetarian has locations in other cities, and I would go out of my way to visit any of them. It is truly the most unique, delicious vegan restaurant I've ever visited. I give it a glowing four chickpeas.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Vegan Enchiladas and Dessert

We ate at the infamous Chicago Diner Friday night, but didn't get any pictures in the small, loud, neon-lit dining area. The menu emphasizes tofu and seitan versions of meat dishes, with plenty of wings, burgers, and country-fried steak.

The sauce on my chorizo enchiladas was deliciously spicy, overwhelming the flavor of the crumbled seitan sausage. The black beans and rice on the side were filling but bland, and tasted a bit like canned tomatoes. I took the opportunity to try vegan sour cream and Teese, the Chicago-made vegan cheese bloggers are raving about. The sour cream was a convincing facsimile, but sour cream was never anything to get excited about in the first place. The Teese melted in the oven, but re-solidified on the plate, and the plastic flavor took me back to chewing on Barbie's feet in the bathtub.

I would order the enchiladas again, but skip the cheese entirely. I'm a carbohydrates girl, so I'm not pining for cheese. If grains had feelings, though, I'd have a hard time.

The carrot cake and variety of cheesecakes looked heavenly, but I had no room left for dessert so I took a chocolate chip cookie home. It was fluffy but bland, not as good as the Vegan with a Vengeancebatch at home.

I'd love to visit Chicago Diner again and try other dishes. Everything on the vegetarian menu can be made vegan, so four chickpeas.

It's not quite time for strawberries in Maine, but there were plenty of fresh Michigan-grown berries at Thursday's Daley Plaza farmers' market. I bought two pints and ate them with Vanilla Coconut Bliss, the softest, creamiest, best store-bought vegan ice cream I've tasted.

Bleeding Heart Bakery was there, too, so I picked up a chocolate chip cookie, banana fudge brownie, and a little something for my cupcake-loving hostess. The soft cookie was perfectly golden and sweet, but man, they weren't kidding about the banana in the brownie.

More soon from Chicago!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Visiting Chicago

I'm staying with friends in Chicago this week, left to my own devices while my husband attends a conference. Aside from weather delays and a strange toddler in the boarding area who licked my leg, the trip from Maine was uneventful.

I love the challenge of orienting myself in a new city, building a mental map of its layout and public transit, noticing how the people move. I've heard Chicago is a great place to be vegan, but all I can report on so far is this soy chai. We're keeping it frugal for now, cooking portobellos and pea shoots at home until this weekend when we'll check out The Chicago Diner.

I spent yesterday walking Chicago's tourist route, from the top of the Hancock building and down the shopping streets to Millenium Park, where visitors use the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (known as "the bean," though it's shaped more like a red blood cell) to photograph themselves taking a photograph.

Back in Maine, there's plenty of room and plenty of time for everyone to get where they're going. When I lived the city, I had to learn the unspoken rules of urban pedestrian life: walk quickly and decisively, stay out of the way, and do not look at anyone directly. Traveling up Michigan Avenue during rush hour felt like a fast, precise game of pinball, the steel marble dodging to avoid opening doors, weaving around strollers, perfectly timing a jump between oncoming taxis. I cursed the oblivious lumps who stopped to talk in the middle of the sidewalk, halting my progress. I've learned how to go about my business without interrupting the flow of the crowd. I glance around at the swiftly moving feet and think, I am in this club. Do I belong in the city?

Where is vegan utopia? Is it a metropolis, with a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, a dozen vegan restaurants, and ethnic markets full of exotic spices? Or is it a small community where you grow your own salad, make pickles and trade them for loaves of your neighbor's homemade bread, and let the dogs run wild in grass that smells of deer and turkeys? I'm pretty sure it's one or the other, and not somewhere in between. When you live in the suburbs you spend your life driving between Lowe's and the Cheesecake Factory.

I love the rush and anonymity of the city, but I also love leaving my windows open at night, waking up to bird noises, and noticing what the weather does to trees.

For now, a city visit is enough. If you have suggestions for the rest of my stay, let me know.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: Silly's in Portland, Maine

In tenth grade I got my drivers license and began spending most of my free time in Portland, shopping for CDs and frequenting the $4.98 vegan buffet at Little Lad's. So how did I overlook Silly's? I'd never heard of this vegan-friendly East End institution until I moved north, two hours away from the falafel, pizza, and desserts I might have devoured as a teenager.

Though the restaurant serves meat and dairy, Silly's makes vegans and vegetarians feel welcome. The thoughtful, creative vegan menu got my mouth watering, so while we ran errands in Portland last weekend we made sure to stop in for lunch.

The shaded, kitschy backyard garden was busy on a Saturday afternoon. Our table offered a prime view of flowers growing in a polka-dotted bathtub. A family of sparrows arguing in a nearby tree drowned out most of the nostalgic 80s music.

I ordered the Zoomazoom wrap, which featured falafel fried to crispy perfection inside an enormous white flour tortilla (brown rice tortillas are also available). Thanks to plenty of raw spinach, lettuce, tomato, onion and olives, this falafel wrap felt a little healthier than most. The creamy, mildly spicy sauce was a change of pace from rich tahini dressing.

We shared the Peppakalaspinavegandocious, a colorful pizza with a puffy, filling crust. (Our server repeated the order back to us with obvious joy--he'd been practicing that one.) A creamy basil sauce that tasted like it was made with white beans was hidden beneath spinach, roasted red peppers, kalamatas, garlic and fresh tomatoes. I'd probably skip the sauce next time, because it made the center of the crust soggy, and the garlic and olives drowned out its mild flavor. For a few bucks, you can add Vegan Gourmet mozzarella to any pizza, but with all those vegetables, this one didn't need it.

The best and most surprising part of my meal was a thick, heavenly nutmeg milkshake made with Soy Dream and Organic Edensoy. I'm usually put off by the strangely sweet, beany flavor of soy dairy products, but in this shake I couldn't detect anything weird behind the nutmeg. Silly's has a shake to suit any palate, from classics like coffee and strawberry to the more adventurous cranberry sauce, molasses, curry, and tahini. The chai flavor is next on my list, along with a slice of dark chocolate vegan cake to go.

While vegans can't eat everything on the menu, Silly's has more than enough to keep us entertained and well-fed. Silly's earns a triumphant four on the chickpea scale!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sesame-Ginger Bok Choy Slaw at Maine Food & Lifestyle

Bok choy was all the rage at last weekend's farmers' market. It was on display, as pak choi, at nearly every booth. Pak choi and bok choy seem to be different spellings of the same cabbage; if I'm mistaken please tell me.

Bok choy turns up often in stir-fries and Asian soups, so for my newest post on Maine Food & Lifestyle, I wanted to do something different. Since bok choy is cabbage, and it's almost summer, I decided to make cole slaw. My Sesame-Ginger Bok Choy Slaw is lighter than the creamy side dish that passes for a vegetable at most backyard barbeques. With sweet and mellow Asian dressing, raw bok choy, carrots, sesame seeds, and almonds, it's a fresh, healthy side dish for a summer cookout or picnic. The recipe is here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Neither Israeli, Nor Artichokes

Trying new foods is one of the joys of buying produce at the farmer's market. Since it's still early in the season, most of the plants on offer are leafy greens and overwintered root vegetables.

In May I'd noticed the basket of red, gnarled bulbs labeled sunchokes at the Snakeroot Organic Farm booth, but I was too enamored with rhubarb, asparagus, and spinach to give them much thought. Last week I slept in, and when I got to the market most of the glamorous veggies were sold out. Determined that my trip would not be in vain, I decided to give the funny little tubers a try.

When I got home and searched online for recipes, I was surprised to learn that sunchokes are the same thing as Jerusalem Artichokes. I'd always assumed those were a rare, gourmet artichoke variety (some foodie I am). But Jerusalem artichokes don't come from the Holy Land, and they're unrelated to the spiky green artichokes I know and love. They're the tuber roots of the sunflower plant, and they can either be eaten or planted to grow flowers.

The story is that some Italian brought them home from the New World, and because their slightly sweet, earthy flavor reminded him of artichokes, he called them girasole articiocco, “sunflower artichoke.” In a slow, intercontinental game of telephone, girasole turned into Jerusalem, and the rest is history. "Sunchoke" makes a little more sense, but sounds less exotic and sophisticated.

In stores you'll see pale brown sunchokes that look like a cross between ginger root and a potato. Snakeroot Farm grows a red-skinned variety native to Nova Scotia.

Like other root vegetables, sunchokes are harvested in the fall and available throughout winter and spring, which makes this post laughably out of season. I bought my sunchokes last weekend, but they may be impossible to find again until fall, so bookmark this page for October.

Sunchokes are crunchier than potatoes, with a consistency similar to water chestnuts. They can be grated raw into salads; sprinkle on sunflower seeds, and you're practically eating the sunflower circle of life. Sunchokes are mild, watery, and slightly sweet. They store inulin instead of starch. Because inulin is indigestible, it has minimal impact on blood sugars and it stimulates the growth of friendly intestinal flora (think of them as sunflowers in your colon). For some people inulin causes gastrointestinal discomfort, so if you've never tried sunchokes, start small and see how you feel.

These baked chips are lower in fat than the fried variety, with a nutty, caramelized flavor that stands on its own. I like them with nothing but salt and pepper, though garam masala might make a nice seasoning.

Baked Sunchoke Chips

Sunchokes (1 large makes enough for 2 people)
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash and scrub sunchokes very well. I find peeling them is not worth the effort because they're so bumpy. Slice sunchokes as thinly as possible, less than 1/8 inch thick.

In a medium bowl, toss with salt, pepper, and enough olive oil to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in center of oven.

How long the chips should bake depends on how thick they are and your preference. Check them every 10 minutes. When thinner chips are browned, thicker chips might still be soggy. I baked mine for 20 minutes, until all the chips were crispy and the thinnest were a little bit burnt. Set them on a paper towel to cool for a few minutes before serving.

They're perfect beside a veggie burger!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

If you can read this recipe, volunteer!

Last night I attended a dinner celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, an organization that provides free basic literacy and English language instruction to adults, families, and the local prison population. The evening featured talks by tutors and students, and even Governor Baldacci showed up.

Why volunteer to teach an adult to read and write? Imagine not being able to read the labels on your medication, the terms of your lease, a ballot, or a note from your child's teacher. Low literacy impacts a person's ability to make healthcare and financial decisions and obtain employment, and parents who don't read or write often pass these struggles on to their children. The problem is more common than you think: low literacy impacts 1 in 5 Mainers.

If you can read, write, and spare two hours a week, you can tutor. You don't have to be a teacher, Literacy Volunteers will train you. I'm on the basic literacy training team for Bangor, so if you want to talk reading comprehension, I'm your gal. For locations of Literacy Volunteers programming in other parts of the state, see Literacy Volunteers of Maine. For programs in other states and around the world, see ProLiteracy.

For last night's pot-luck, I brought the Corn and Edamame-Sesame Salad from Veganomicon and some veganized Mrs. Fields oatmeal-pecan cookies.

I figured there'd be little else for me to eat, so I was thrilled to find tabbouleh and several types of bean salad. Those international students really know how to cook!

Nobody asked for my recipes, but if they had, I could have given them this:

Oatmeal-Pecan Cookies
adapted from Mrs. Fields Cookie Book

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick oats
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) Earth Balance vegan margarine, softened
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chocolate chips
36 pecan halves (optional)

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, salt, and oats.

In a large bowl blend sugars with an electric mixer at medium speed. Add margarine and mix to form a grainy paste. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add flax seed, water, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add the flour mixture, pecans, and chocolate chips, and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. Do not overmix.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. If desired, press a pecan half into each cookie. Bake for 22-24 minutes. Immediately transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Makes 3 dozen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Grandma was such a trendsetter...

I've always been an old lady at heart. I knit, I bake, I watch Agatha Christie mysteries on PBS. I wear LLBean sweaters, and avoid bars and restaurants where crowds of noisy, flashy people my age compete for attention. Pickling and preserving, making jam and decorating it with squares of gingham, seemed right up my alley. Who knew I was so trendy?

As this article in last week's New York Times describes, canning is all the rage among foodies and locavores. It's not just about saving money: as interest in eating seasonally increases, canning is a way to enjoy the bounties of summer farmers' markets all winter long.

First knitting became popular, and now home canning. Old lady is apparently the new cool. Will we see Michele Obama squirreling away sauces made with vegetables from her organic garden?

I began my first canning experiments this weekend, starting with Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I used four pounds of rhubarb bought at Saturday morning's market, zest and juice from a lemon and a lime, and a heap of sugar. (It won't be good for your teeth or waistline, but I dare you to turn down a glass of liquid sunshine in the middle of February.) I got only three pints, instead of four as the recipe suggested. All my jars are tightly sealed, so here's hoping I did everything correctly.

My second go was Eugenia Bone's Pickled Asparagus. Here's an informative step-by-step slide show that accompanies the recipe. My jars are cooling on the countertop as I write. I just heard one of the lids pop, a sign it's formed a vacuum seal, though I won't know for four weeks whether I successfully preserved asparagus or created a botulism colony.

Canning, with its potential for food poisoning, is intimidating, especially if you're clumsy like me and tend to ignore directions. I finally decided to give it a try because the taste of Maine-grown tomatoes and berries in the dead of winter is enough to bring tears of gratitude to my eyes. I'm starting easy, with acidic fruits and pickled vegetables that don't require heating above the boiling point. I bought a pressure cooker for carrots and green beans, and learning to use it without blowing up my house is my next project. I can't wait for strawberries in late June, tomatoes and blueberries in August, and all the jam, sauce, soup, and pie filling I can handle next winter.