Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Peach Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette

It's late June, so I've got lots of two things: lettuce and strawberries. Here's an easy but exciting salad for a hot summer day.

I've posted the recipe at Maine Food & Lifestyle. Visit me there!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cooking With POM Wonderful

I usually steer clear of food fads. Isn't eating a varied plant-based diet enough? Can increasing consumption of any individual food really prevent or solve health problems? I'm skeptical of marketing that presents a product as integral to a healthy lifestyle.

Lately there's been a lot of hype about antioxidants, molecules that purportedly prevent cell damage and reduce cancer risk. Juice company POM Wonderful claims that pomegranates are the "antioxidant superpower", higher than other fruits in phytochemicals, substances that protect plants from pests and ultraviolet radiation. While many people have jumped on the pomegranate bandwagon, I usually take these miracle food claims with a grain of (sea) salt. Wild Maine blueberries also contain a heck of a lot of antioxidants, and they're grown within 30 miles of my house. Is pomegranate juice so superior that it's worth paying $2.99 for an 8-ounce plastic bottle shipped all the way from California?

But free pomegranate juice? Yes, please. When POM Wonderful offered to send me a few bottles to try out and play around with, I couldn't pass them up. As with any product sent to me for review, I figured if I liked it, I'd say so, and if I didn't, I'd say nothing.

At first I just drank it, as a midmorning pick-me-up. It's juice for sipping, not gulping; its tart flavor falls between wild blueberries and unsweetened cranberry juice. Other members of my household found it too tart, but I believe that any food that hurts a little is good for us, so I drank the juice with gusto.

I had peaches in my fridge, and I couldn't help but think they would be perfect paired with pomegranate. Since last weekend was warm, I experimented with sorbet.

I used this recipe for the pomegranate sorbet, and followed these basic guidelines for making sorbet out of fresh peaches. The combination of sweet and tart quenched my sweet tooth on a hot afternoon.

I'm certainly not the first to dream up this flavor pairing. I based these baked peaches with pomegranate sauce on a recipe I found at The Gluttonous Vegan.

The peach is warm, soft, and sweet, and the puckery pomegranate sauce begins to solidify when it hits the frozen ice cream. This dessert looks elegant enough for a four star restaurant, yet it takes less than 10 minutes of active cooking time to throw together.

You can tell my mind is fixed firmly on the freezer, since the next thing I concocted was a pomegranate hot fudge:

Nothing more than 8 ounces of pomegranate juice plus 3 ounces of melted dark chocolate, this sauce packs a grown-up bittersweet flavor that is not for the faint of heart. If you favor dry red wines with lots of tannins, you'd like this. It solidifies when chilled, so you can either reheat it or use tiny scoop to make intense dark chocolate-pomegranate truffles.

Occasionally I do eat foods that are not ice cream. I used one bottle of juice to make a pomegranate reduction balsamic vinaigrette, and drizzled it over a salad made with fresh CSA veggies:

I followed this recipe, and I'd recommend cutting back on the salt or increasing the sugar.

Whether its health benefits live up to the marketing or not, POM Wonderful's intense flavor and deep magenta color make it lots of fun to cook with. I haven't become a devotee, but I can see buying it occasionally for a treat. Because pomegranates are so popular right now, there are lots of recipes out there to explore.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gluten-free! Whoopie!

Saturday June 26 is the first official Maine Whoopie Pie Day. Recently whoopie pies have joined the mainstream; as the cupcake craze faded, these portable frosting sandwiches were last summer's trendiest dessert. Ten years ago, the term whoopie pie was still largely unknown outside of Maine; I went away to college in Massachusetts and was shocked to find my that classmates, even those from New England, called them "moon pies" or "black-and-whites," and snickered at my use of the term whoopie. My husband, who is from the west coast, had never heard of the dessert, and had to be informed that it is sort of like a puffy, hamburger-sized oreo.

The "bread" of the true Maine whoopie is the darkest possible devil's food, lighter than a cookie but denser than cake. The frosting is a simple blend of vegetable shortening and confectioner's sugar that melts on the tongue, immediately washing the brain in dopamine. Some people (heathens) prefer a frosting made with Marshmallow Fluff. You'll find whoopie pies served in nearly every bakery and diner throughout Maine, and sold, wrapped in plastic, beside every gas station cash register. The trouble is that none of them are vegan or gluten-free (the cake portion of the whoopie pie is usually made with eggs). I parted ways with the whoopie pie years ago, but I held on to the memories.

Earlier this week I stopped by Frank's Bakery on State Street in Bangor. They recently added a selection of gluten-free products, and though I was prepared for disappointment, I hoped I would find something that didn't contain eggs. Incredibly, Frank's offers more than a dozen gluten-free items, including breads, rolls, pizza crust, cookies, cakes, and pie. They're all made on site and frozen. Most of them are made with eggs or dairy, but I was able to walk away with a loaf of millet bread and, incredibly, a couple of whoopie pies. My excitement and disbelief were such that if they hadn't been frozen, I probably would have eaten both whoopie pies right there in my car.

Now get this: They taste like the real thing. No weirdness. No grit. They taste so much like the whoopie pies of my youth that only today, after not getting sick, do I really believe they are gluten-free. Frank's Bakery, you have given this pregnant woman back her whoopie pies, just in time for picnic season, and for that I will never be able to thank you enough. (Incidentally, the millet bread is better than anything I've found at the grocery store. It's light and airy and makes great toast. Frank's serves lunch, and I can't wait to stop in for a hummus and avocado sandwich on millet.)

So along with the rest of the world, I'll be able to celebrate Maine Whoopie Pie Day this Saturday. Dover-Foxcroft will host its annual Whoopie Pie Festival, but as it's emceed by the Marden's Lady, I plan to stay well away. If you'd like to bake up some vegan whoopies of your own this weekend, try these recipes from two of my favorite bloggers, Hannah Kaminsky and Allyson of Manifest Vegan. Eat outside, get frosting on your face, and celebrate summer like a real Mainer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review: Hannah Kaminsky's Blondies and Brownies

When Hannah Kaminsky of BitterSweet asked me if I'd like to review her new ebook, Blondies and Brownies, I made sure I had permission to modify her recipes in order to make them gluten-free. Since different gluten-free flour blends yield drastically different results, your success with these recipes may vary.

I began with the Double-Chip Peanut Blondies (though mine were actually single-chip: vegan white chocolate chips get expensive when you have to pay shipping and handling). To replace Hannah's all purpose flour, I mixed three cups' worth of Gluten Frida Mix from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, which amounted to a little more than three cups of rice, tapioca, almond, and quinoa flours, plus some ground flax seed. I added one and a half teaspoons of xanthan gum for good measure.

Because of the xanthan gum and my bulky flour blend, the final batter was almost too thick to mix; I had to add a quarter cup of water. After 35 minutes in the oven, the brownies smelled like roasted peanuts, and the edges were dark. I allowed them to cool for several hours, but when I finally attempted to slice them, I wished I'd waited: everything underneath the top crust still resembled a thick batter. The next day the blondies were perfectly sliceable; you really do need to wait until they're completely cooled.

These blondies have a great sweet and salty peanut flavor, with highlights of gooey melted chocolate. The recipe calls for unsweetened apple butter, and because mine was heavy on the cinnamon, that flavor shone through, too. Next time I make these, I'll use a lighter gluten-free flour blend.

Next I tried the Browned Butter Pecan Praline Blondies. These fancy things require some planning ahead: you have to make candied pecans (the recipes calls for a microwave, but my stovetop worked just fine), and the browned "butter" needs a few hours in the fridge to solidify.

This time I used a Self-Rising Flour Blend from Living Without magazine, a mix of sorghum, rice, and tapioca flour with xanthan gum and baking powder. Gluten-free baking tends to be dense, so I figured the extra leavening wouldn't hurt. The batter was thinner, with a consistency that seemed just about right for brownies. Unfortunately, after 40 minutes in the oven the edges of the batter were dark brown while the center still jiggled. I thought maybe the brownies would firm up overnight, but the next day they were still sticky and uncooked and had to be thrown away. Maybe the flour mixture was wrong for this recipe, or maybe it required more time in the oven at a lower temperature. Not all gluten-free flour blends are created equal, and in this case my misguided choice ruined an afternoon's baking.

Though I had a freezer full of peanut butter blondies and a trashcan full of pecan goo, there was still one more recipe I wanted to try: German Chocolate Brownies. They were a good candidate for de-glutenizing, since the recipe called for one cup of coconut flour, one and a half of cocoa powder, and only one cup of all-purpose flour. This time, I used a version of Karina Allrich's Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix, a blend of brown rice and quinoa flours, cornstarch, and xanthan gum.

The brownies turned out incredibly rich and almost as dense as fudge (there's no leavening agent, so I assume this was intentional, and not the fault of my flour). They're deep, dark chocolate with a hint of cinnamon. The topping, made with coconut milk, margarine, shredded coconut, and toasted pecans, is easy to whip up and hard to resist. I could have eaten it all with a spoon, but I dutifully spread it across the brownies. After a few hours, these cut into squares easily.

These recipes are just a sample of what you'll find in Hannah's ebook. She takes the concept of brownie in a dozen directions, using everything from lemon to salted caramel to avocado. The recipes are easy to follow and accompanied by yummy photos. If you're baking gluten-free, experiment with flour blends; you'll find that some of the recipes are more conducive to adaptation than others.

If you're craving something rich and sweet, give Hannah's new collection of Brownies and Blondies a try!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My New Rainy Day Comfort Food

I was spending a lazy Saturday watching PBS when Lidia's Italy came on. Lidia drank wine, she sliced polenta with a string, she kissed people on both cheeks. I don't usually get excited about Italian food (not enough cumin), but when she returned to her kitchen studio and whipped out two bunches of kale, I sat up and took notice.

First Lidia made polenta (with bay leaves? good idea!), and then she sautéed the kale in bacon fat. "That could be dinner if you added white beans," I said. And sure enough, she added white beans! Did I feel clever. Once the polenta was thick and bubbly, Lidia scooped it into a shallow dish and topped it with the kale, beans, and bacon. The dish, Lidia's Polenta with White Beans and Black Kale, took less than 20 minutes to prepare. It had such potential as an easy, healthy staple meal, I knew had to veganize it.

First off, there's no need for bacon. Olive oil and lots of fresh garlic lend the kale and beans a flavor that's just as rich and interesting. Soak and cook your white beans ahead of time with some salt and bay leaves if you like, or retain the weeknight gourmet aspect of this meal by using canned beans. Lidia uses black kale, also known as Lacinato and dinosaur kale, but regular old curly kale is fine. Fiddleheads, if you can find them, would be outstanding in this rich, garlicky dish. A drizzle of really good, peppery olive oil is the perfect finishing touch.

Polenta with Kale and White Beans
(adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy)

3 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
⅔ cup yellow polenta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 packed cups kale, roughly chopped
½ cup low salt vegetable broth or water
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
½ teaspoon salt (reduce if broth is salty)
high quality extra-virgin olive oil (to drizzle)

In a medium saucepan, boil water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and bay leaves. Pour in polenta, whisking to ensure no lumps form. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cover. Stir frequently.

While polenta cooks, warm 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds, just enough for the garlic to become fragrant but not begin to brown. Add kale and toss with garlic (this is easiest with tongs). After 2 minutes, when kale has begun to cook down, add broth, beans, and salt. Sauté another 5-6 minutes, uncovered, until most of the liquid has boiled off.

After 20 minutes, the polenta should be thick and creamy. Remove bay leaves and scoop into shallow bowls. Top with kale and beans. Drizzle additional olive oil over kale if desired.

Serves 2.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Things Have Been Slow Around Here Lately...

Here's why:

Look! It's waving its bony little hand at you.

Between the fatigue, the morning (and afternoon, and evening, and middle of the night) sickness, and the intense food aversions, I haven't been up to anything special in the kitchen. Plain and starchy is where it's at. Can a person survive (and grow tiny human bones?) on rice cakes, bananas, and Peanut Butter Panda Puffs? Apparently.

Now that those lousy symptoms are mostly gone, I'm hoping to get back into the swing of things as my CSA and farmers' market come back to life. I'll probably be taking some time off at the end of 2010, but until then, it's time to get some veggies in this kiddo!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fire Up the Grill

There are few things cuter than an old-fashioned charcoal grill. Since Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer (even if our temperatures are still in the 50s), we uncovered our little Weber and grilled up tofu with Brown Sugar Jalapeño Barbecue Sauce, corn on the cob, and potatoes. I'm working on a recipe for grilled potato salad, but the weather hasn't been cooperating this week. A hint: skewer and parboil your potatoes before tossing them on the fire to brown. This ensures they cook all the way through.

What are your favorite vegan foods for the grill?