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Hiatus

March 10, 2011

Alas, I have finally given in to the fact that I am on creative hiatus until this last full semester of grad school is complete. I am so easily sidetracked, I often get inspired but remind myself I must wait until this portfolio is complete. Believe me, there have been several times when I start compiling a recipe and notes, and take some pictures of things I’ve just cooked or baked, then realize if I start I won’t stop! As soon as the semester is finished I will get out my ever growing list of projects to complete or begin, books to read, recipes to try, movies to watch, stories to write, crafts to create, etc., etc. Until then, may the force be with you. (p.s. my mum took that picture at the Phoenix Zoo.)

So many recipes, so little time

June 24, 2010

I’ve made so many tasty thing the past couple weeks, but a few things have prevented the sharing of said yummy things. A) Big guy signed up for an SLR camera class at the local community college and wanted his fancy cam back. B) Summer session for grad school started therefore loads of reading and analyzing. C) I’m easily distracted. D) Actually, that’s it. Let me list the goodies I’ve made and inspire you to do the same…

Sloppy Janes (Jane is Vegan and from Portland, Joe is from Texas, or Wisconsin, both states like their meat)…

Vegan Lemon Curd- when my mom and I would go to tea at Abbey Gardens (RIP) I would eat the lemon curd with a spoon.

Martha Stewarts 1-2-3-4 cake (which included said vegan lemon curd)- essentially I used her structure, yellow cake, lemon curd, vanilla buttercream-y icing, and berries, then veganized it all.

Pad Thai- Jay’s favorite. I made it twice in the past two weeks because the first time I forgot which recipe he liked better. That wasn’t it.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins- I adapted recipes from the Babycakes cookbook. Grated lemon zest on top before I stuck them in the oven even! I felt like a pastry chef. Sigh.

Also made some boring foods that I clearly can’t remember. Yesterday I went to MOM’s and found a chocolate/peanut butter gluten free vegan cereal! I was so excited I think I giggled out loud. In the middle of the cereal aisle. I loved Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs. Now I can enjoy them again. Best part? The name: Leapin’ Lemurs! Other amazing gf/v find of the week: Ener-g English Muffins. The consistency is a bit like biscuits and taste delicious. Ate toasted with pb&j, and with Sloppy Janes. Also found out they make burger buns– to go with the Sunshine Burgers!! **side note: In the latest novel by Libba Bray, Going Bovine, the main character has a brief stint working for Buddha Burgers. While having a conversation with my mum while reading the book she mentions, “oh I found vegan burgers, they’re called Buddha Burgers, you know, like the Buddha?” “No kidding?” I say, “That’s really funny because in this book I’m reading, the dude works at Buddha Burger.” (I really said dude. Yes I’m older than 18) So then I looked up Buddha Burgers, to see if I can find them anywhere, and apparently there are two burger joints in Tel Aviv called Buddha Burger. Who knew?!

While I was making the Sloppy Janes, the mother-in-law called to ask what I was up to.

“Oh, just making dinner.”

“What are you making?”

“Sloppy Joes.”

Silence…

then I remember, she probably doesn’t know what that is!

“Well, people who eat meat make them with hamburger. They cook it, then mix it with tomato sauce and spices and eat it on buns. Oh– kind of like Pav Bhaji!!”

“Ooh, I see. Pav Bhaji?”

“Yeah kind of like that, except not as many vegetables, and no Indian spices. So I guess not really like it at all. Same consistency and you eat it on a bun.”

I’m the best at describing food. I think she got it once I realized I could actually relate it to something she eats. Funny though, when you think about it, that I found a similarity between an all-American dish and an Indian dish.

Pav Bhaji is really tasty and does actually have a similar feel to Sloppy Joes/Janes. It’s easy to make too and the seasoning packets can be found at any Indian market. Probably at the “regular” grocery store too, or natural foods store. Check out the Rasoi Magic recipe/packets for Pav Bhaji.

This weekend is the American Library Association Annual Conference. I’m going. It’s my first time going to a convention like this. I’m super excited but nervous at the same time. It will most definitely be insane. Crowded. CRAZY. But fun. Speaking of Libba Bray– she was the 2010 winner of the YALSA Michael L Printz award for Going Bovine. I decided I am going to the program/reception where she’ll be speaking along with the honor book authors. Sadly I haven’t read anything by the other authors. I don’t have much time as of late except for listening to books. After I finished Going Bovine, I read Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor’s travel memoir Traveling with Pomegranates. I wasn’t sure what I would think of the book, but ended up loving it. I think I called, texted or emailed my mum everyday to tell her to read it. Interesting look into their mother/daughter relationship and their search for spirituality and themselves. Now I’m listening to Michael Scott’s The Necromancer. Book 4 of 6 of the Nicholas Flamel series. I had been anxiously and impatiently awaiting the audiobook to be processed in the library. Finally it arrived and I started listening today. Already so good. I am in the process of reading The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan on my Nook, but that’s slow going. I spend more time in my car, which is why I can go through 3-4 books a month by listening. Sad I know. Jay says I’m a cheating librarian for listening to books. I beg to differ.

Hey, wait. This isn’t a book blog! This is a cooking blog!

So this weekend I may try to post something about the vegan/gluten free food I find in DC. Before I was gluten free I knew where I could find good vegan food, but the gluten free factor just makes it a whole new game of hide and seek. Or a treasure hunt.

Mutter “Paneer”

June 2, 2010

I’ve had it in my head for a while now that it would be possible to create a vegan paneer dish. First I had thought of making Malai¬† Kofta (literally cream dumplings), which is essentially pan fried balls of paneer, vegetables and spices in a creamy tomato sauce. It is one of my favorite dishes to get at Akbar in Columbia (MD). If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant you’ll have noticed how heavy and greasy the food is. That was another goal of mine– to create restaurant style Indian food that was kinder to your heart. I have to clarify though, most home made Indian food, like my mother and sister in law’s, is not the same as the kind you’ll get in a restaurant. They still use oil, and lots of it, but in smaller doses. My sister-in-law converted to olive oil a few years back and we’ve been working on switching her mother to it as well. The vegetarian Woodlands in Langley Park (MD) provides a light side to Indian restaurant fare, unless you get Gobi Manchurian. (Side note: Gobi Manchurian is Indian-Chinese, spicy, battered and fried cauliflower with spicy Indian and Chinese influenced spices. Jay’s favorite.) Woodlands is also a different kind of Indian cuisine, South Indian, whereas Akbar is North Indian.

I usually think about what I’m going to make for dinner on my drive to work in the morning. I knew I wanted some Indian food, but we weren’t going to the in-laws. I debated whether I should attempt malai kofta, but didn’t feel like making the balls, then frying them, them making the actual dinner. Another dish that I like is Mutter Paneer. Mutter (peas) Paneer (cheese) is very close to malai kofta except the cheese is cubed and fried. Much easier in my mind than making koftas. I had everything except serrano chilies and tomato sauce so I stopped by the market and spent under 3 bucks– I also bought a bag of frozen peas and then realized I had some already, oh well.

Next question is, where am I going to get the recipe. Hooray for housewarming parties– a friend of ours, who happens to be Indian, gave us 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. This is one massive cookbook, 809 pages of Indian goodness. It covers “curries” with meat and fish, vegetables and paneer, legume and rice (biryani). There are spice blends, appetizers, side dishes and breads. He even covers metric conversion, a glossary of ingredients, and mail-order sources for spices and legumes. In short, if you want to learn to cook Indian food this is your bible. In my quest for veganized-restaurant-style Indian food little did I know that the secrets would be in this book. I never expected an Indian chef to include vegan solutions. Iyer does offer vegan solutions, with a bit of sarcasm, but I’ll get to that in a bit. First we’re going to fry the paneer, I mean tofu.

I had Wild Wood Plain Sprouted Super Firm Tofu in the fridge. I drained it and pressed it just a bit with my hands between paper towels. Next I cut it into around 1″ cubes as per Iyer’s paneer specs. Since I didn’t want to deep fry the tofu I used his pan-fried instructions: Heat 1/4 cup canola oil (I used extra virgin olive oil) in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cubes in a single layer and cook, turning them occasionally, until all sides are honey-brown and crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Make sure you watch the cubes as you cook, I left one side to cook too long and it got extra crispy. According to Iyer fried paneer can be refrigerated in a bowl of water for up to a week, changing the water daily. Cubes can be frozen (in a freezer-safe bag!!) without sitting in water for up to 2 months. I’m assuming this can be transferred to tofu, but I have not tried it yet.

While I pan-fried the tofu I got the rest of the ingredients together.

Mutter “Paneer:” (My changes are italicized.)

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

3 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 1 1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick)

3 large garlic cloves (I used one HUGE clove)

1 or 2 fresh green Thai, cayenne or serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed (I used 1 serrano, partially seeded)

2 tablespoons canola oil (extra virgin olive oil)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 fresh or dried bay leaf

1 cup tomato sauce (I ended up using 2 8 oz cans, I like sauce)

2 teaspoons Bin bhuna hua garam masala (special masala blend, see below)

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 1/2 cups frozen peas

1/4 cup heavy cream (vegan nut/water mixture, see below)

8 ounces 1-in cube pan-fried Doodh paneer (one package firm or extra firm tofu, cubed and pan-fried)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (I omitted this, Jay is in the I hate cilantro group on Facebook)

First we’ll discuss Bin bhuna hua garam masala. This is a special spice blend from the cookbook. According to Iyer, this is a good alternative for commercial curry powders. Want to know what I thought when faced with creating a spice blend? Oooh, does this mean I can actually use my mortar and pestle?! When my mum came to visit last June we went to a little shop in Old Ellicott Ciy that happened to have some Le Creuset cookware. One item was a stoneware mortar and pestle in Caribbean Blue. Being the kind, giving mother she is she got it for me. Is it sad that the first time I used it was a year later?

Some of the spices listed that were supposed to be in their whole form I substituted with the ground spice.

Bin bhuna hua garam masala:

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds from white pods

2 dried bay leaves

3 or 4 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, to taste, stems removed OR 1 teaspoon ground red pepper

For the coriander and cumin I used a blend my mother-in-law calls dhana jiru. It’s is a blend of both powders. I used 2 tablespoons.

First I ground the peppercorns, cloves and cardamom seeds. This was fun and I was able to grind it pretty fine. Not super fine, but good enough for me. Next I added the bay leaves. Note: bay leaves are hard to grind in a mortar and pestle. I took them out, broke them apart with my fingers and put them back in. I then added the red pepper, what the mother in law calls mirchu (please excuse my phonetic spelling). Finally I added the dhana jiru. Apparently this makes 1/3 cup. You can also use a food processor.

Vegan “heavy cream:”

Thank you Iyer for making a note about using alternatives to heavy cream. He does not advise the use of whole or low fat milk. He does suggest a nut/water mixture for vegans/lactose “intollerants” (my emphasis). Puree 1/2 cup raw cashews or almonds and 1/4 to 1/2 cup water until smooth. That simple. I used almonds. He also suggests subbing oil for butter. In the same note he mentions using extra firm tofu for paneer. Way ahead of you dude.

Now to the main event…

Use a food processor to mince the onion, ginger, garlic and chile(s).

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle cumin seeds in oil. This is called vagar, and often times it is done in a separate pan then added to what ever dish you’re making. Most often it includes mustard seeds. Add the bay leaf. Only let these sizzle for 5 to 10 seconds!!! They burn easily. Add the minced onion blend and sautee until mixture is a light brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in the tomato sauce. I used one can first then after it cooked a bit added more. 

Eventually I added the whole second can. Add garam masala and salt. Once the sauce starts to bubble get all over your apron (wear one!) lower the heat to medium. Put a lid on it, partially, and simmer stirring occasionally. After about 5 to 10 minutes you should be able to see some oil around the edges.

Pour in 1/4 cup water and add the peas. Cover, let simmer, stir occasionally. Let simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the peas are heated and have an “olive green” color.

Add the “cream,” “paneer,” and cilantro. Cover and simmer, stirring gently, until the cream and tofu are warm. About 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve!

I made brown rice to serve with the Mutter Paneer. The meal had Jay’s stamp of approval. I think he was surprised it was so good!

Iyer, Raghavan. 660 Curries. Workman Publishing: New York, 2008.

Thank you Rahul for the cookbook!!

Vegan Hypocrite Smoothie

March 14, 2010

Yes, that’s right, the “Vegan Hypocrite Smoothie.” Why? Well, I’m seeing a new doctor who firmly believes in the health benefits of fish oil. Her article on the many health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids is actually very interesting and I highly suggest you read it, although it is definitely geared towards the medical profession. When I wasn’t vegetarian I despised fish. Actually, I only despised eating it, fish are cute. So the thought of taking fish oil really grosses me out, not to mention goes against my beliefs. In the end though, I didn’t stick up for myself and agreed to start taking it. But now that I am I’m regretting it. First of all, I’m being a hypocrite. Second, have you ever tried to take fish oil? The actual oil? BLECK!!! First day I downed 1/2 tbsp. Second day I mixed it with apple sauce. Today I made a smoothie. Here’s the recipe:

Vegan Hypocrite Smoothie

1 cup soymilk (I used Light Silk)

1 cup frozen mixed berries

a handful of almonds

3/4 banana (give the other fourth to your favorite pet rats)

1 tbsp. fish oil

Put all the ingredients in a blender. Blend it up. Drink it down.

Ok, now here’s a non-hypocritical smoothie:

Omega Power Smoothie

1 cup soy milk

1 cup frozen mixed berries

3/4 banana (again, the rats will love you forever)

handful of walnuts (high in omega-3!)

1 tbsp. Barleans Total Omega Vegan Swirl (for more info about the oil blend: fancy pdf brochure)

Put it all in a blender. Blend it up. Drink it down and feel good no fishies were harmed in supplying your body with Omega goodness.

Hear ye! Hear ye!

March 3, 2010

As I’m wondering what gluten-free goods I’m going to order I receive an email from my favorite baking powerhouse, King Arthur Flour. The purpose of the email? The launch of their new gluten-free mix line! Now I know they already had gluten-free items, like the Ancient Grains flour that I’ve been meaning to try, but now they have seven mixes that are certified gluten-free. Bread, pancakes, muffins, cookies, pizza dough, brownies and chocolate cake! Now I know where to turn for an “almost-from-scratch” baking extravaganza! I’ve been a long time user of their scone mixes, which are divine and have a good selection of vegan mixes. Now I need to convince my accountant the necessity of buying $50 worth of baking supplies.

Welcome to the jungle…

March 1, 2010

My goal here is to share my experiences learning to cook nutritious and delicious gluten-free vegan food and my mother-in-law’s top secret Indian food. I’ve been vegetarian for 6 years (with about a dreadful 6 month period of carnivorism) and now have been vegan for 6 months. My husband has been vegetarian his entire existence, and for that entire existence has feasted on homemade Gujarati-Indian food lovingly prepared by his mother.

When we first started dating and I moved to the Baltimore area at 18 to be with him, it seemed as though his mother would keep her mental recipe book under lock and key. Although, as she got to know me, saw how voraciously I ate her food, and realized I wasn’t going to steal her son or her recipes she slowly started to open up her recipe box. The woman has no physical recipe book, it is all in her head. She doesn’t use measuring spoons or cups. Some meals take all day to prepare. Some take longer. A good portion of her ingredients are imported from India either when she makes the trip or when family comes to call. Luckily our area has a reputable Indian grocery, where she gets things like bitter melon, and papdi.

I’ve begun a composition notebook of her recipes, but I’ve only scratched the surface. Sometime I have no clue how to say let alone spell the Gujarati terms for things, so I wing it. Most of the Indian diet is technically vegan, especially if you omit the ghee. My husband and I have made her switch to Smart Balance for somethings, an endeavor she has a hard time with. But, as I continue to learn her craft I will continue to veganize it. And those veganized, although mostly untouched, recipes will be sent on to you. Throughout my Indian food journey I’ll be experimenting on my own vegan/gluten-free creations. I’m slowly working the gluten-free part into my diet, so not everything may be strictly sans wheat. But it will all be tasty. <3

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