Monday, July 25, 2011

Indian-Spiced Fresh Mango Sorbet with Grilled Pineapple & Coconut

Chances are, where ever you live, it has been insanely hot lately. In NY, it's been brutal. Like 100° with high humidity kind of brutal. This is bad enough for regular people, but couple that kind of heat with being pregnant, and the result is me...well, complaining. A LOT.

Needless to say it's been too hot to do much cooking of any kind. The thought of turning on my oven makes me want to die. We've been eating lots of sandwiches and cereal. Exciting, I know. But the only time I really want to step foot in my kitchen is to stick my head in the freezer for a few blissful seconds. And pull out the vegan ice cream.

Ice cream and summertime goes hand in hand, as does, apparently, ice cream and pregnancy. People keep asking me if I've had any cravings, and I guess that ice cream (the vegan kind, of course) is about the only thing I've really been eating a lot more of lately. Between visits to Lula's I've managed to put away more than my share of the many So Delicious flavors, including the mini ice cream sandwiches which I only recently discovered (why do they make them so SMALL?), and I've even been putting my own ice cream maker to use.

Food & Wine recently had an ice cream sundae slideshow that totally spoke to my ice cream cravings and inspired me to try out this recipe. Actually, I ended up with a combination of two recipes: I put the toppings for this Caramelized Pineapple Sundae with Coconut together with this Fresh Mango Sorbet for a refreshing, slightly spicy, exotic and delicious creation.

I will post the instructions below for making the mango sorbet in an ice cream maker. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can certainly mix up the ingredients as instructed and put them in a container in the freezer. I have never experimented with doing it that way, but if it all ends up cold and delicious, then it's a success, right?

Indian-Spice Fresh Mango Sorbet with Grilled Pineapple & Coconut
(Mango Sorbet recipe reprinted from here. Grilled Pineapple & Coconut Toppings from this recipe.)
makes about 3 1/2 cups sorbet

For sorbet:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup apricot jam
2 large, ripe mangoes—peeled, pitted and chopped (about 2 cups)

For toppings:
fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2 inch rings (I recommend 1 - 2 slices per sundae)
vegetable oil or spray, for grill
shredded coconut, lightly toasted in a toaster oven or skillet
Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, unsweetened coconut milk, sugar, crushed cardamom pods, cloves and minced ginger and bring to a simmer over moderate heat; simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 25 minutes. Strain the mixture into a bowl and stir in the apricot jam.

2. Puree the chopped mango in a blender. Add the spiced coconut-milk mixture and blend thoroughly. Transfer the coconut-mango mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour.

3. Scrape the spiced coconut–mango mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Keep the mango sorbet in the freezer until ready to serve.

4. Brush the pineapple rings with oil or spray your grill with cooking spray. Grill pineapple over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until the pineapple is lightly charred and softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer the rings to a work surface and cut into bite-size pieces.

5. Top mango sorbet with pineapple pieces, toasted coconut flakes, and a sprig of fresh mint. Eat. Imagine yourself lounging at a tropical resort. Enjoy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nasturtium: a plant genus; an extraordinary dinner; a celebration of vegetables

I've been online acquaintances with Chef Scott Winegard for a while now, after I became obsessed with his gorgeous Tumblr site showcasing his vegan creations, and have been eagerly awaiting a chance to finally get to attend one of the Nasturtium dinners that he puts on with his partner Elena Balletta. It seemed like every time one came up, I was out of town, had some other event already planned, or was otherwise unable to make it. Finally the stars and planets aligned, I made my reservation for last night's dinner, and what followed was nothing short of magic.

Fig. Marmite. Dill.
The six course (seven, if you include what came at the end along with the check) started off with this elegant amuse-bouche consisting of a fresh fig slice atop a marmite sauce with a sprig of fresh dill. I admit I was a little nervous when I saw "marmite" in the description, but the sauce was very subtle. I would have never thought of putting these flavors together, but the combination really woke up our tastebuds and we knew immediately that we were in for an exciting and surprising culinary experience. Plus, fresh figs are simply one of the sexiest ingredients I can think of. The texture, the color... I don't know how else to describe it but to say that the meal was off to a sexy start.

Cucumber. Fennel. Almond. Tarragon.
The second course was this beautiful soup. The picture really doesn't do it justice - a light-colored soup in a white dish in a dark restaurant is hard to photograph - but it was truly a work of art. The broth was very delicate, light and creamy, with bits of cucumber, fennel, and almond adding texture and crunch. I'm not even a big fan in general of cold soups, but this was so refreshing and cleansing that I truly loved it.

Butter lettuce. Watermelon radish. Wax bean. Cherry-herb vinaigrette.

Just look at that salad. I mean, just look at it. Salads really have no business being that gorgeous. I mean, they're just asking for whatever happens to them, going out dressed like that. Really though, this salad was such a color explosion on the plate I literally gasped when it was presented to us. The cherry vinaigrette added just the right hint of sweetness to this crispy, fresh, herbaceous dish.

Green tomato. Chanterelle. Polenta. Fresh chickpea.
Here we've built up to one of the warm entrees. I don't know if I can adequately describe to you how summery fresh this course tasted. The polenta tasted simply like fresh summer corn, ground into a thick puree. This was the polenta to which I will compare all other polentas from now on. The green tomato was lightly grilled and topped with grilled corn kernels, chanterelles (my favorite kind of mushroom), and fresh green chickpeas. It evoked summer days of fresh sweet corn and fried green tomatoes, cooking out on the grill... but in this incredibly modern and new way.

Summer squash. Tomato.
Ok, so the simple menu description of "summer squash, tomato" certainly didn't reveal what a carefully composed plate we were to be presented with. There was a squash/zucchini type of fritter, some pattypan squash, a squash blossom, and a delectable tomato sauce to accompany it all. The aroma was incredible, I just held the plate under my nose for several seconds before diving in. A beautiful showcase of the many ways that summer squash may be enjoyed.

Semolina cake. Roasted peach. Basil ice cream.
And now we've reached the dessert course. I love desserts that are not overly sweet (though truth be told, I love the sweet ones too, who am I kidding?) and this was such a perfect ending to a dazzlingly impressive meal. The semolina cake was soft and just moist enough, and the grilled peach puree (it's hiding on the other side of the cake in the picture) was delicious, but the real revelation for me here was the basil ice cream. It was light, refreshing, and the basil flavor was distinctive without being overwhelming. It was such a delicate balance of flavors, as with all the other dishes, and executed perfectly.  It really ended this meal on just the right note.

Blueberry - Lemon balm.
As if we hadn't been spoiled enough, with the check came these little blueberry jelly candies topped with tiny lemon balm leaves. They reminded me fondly of the p√Ętes de fruits I used to buy in Paris. A perfect little bite to send us away feeling delighted and satisfied from such a well-rounded meal.

It was a real pleasure to finally get to meet Scott in person, and he was as I imagined him to be: warm, welcoming, and genuinely excited to present some spectacular vegan food to us. (Hopefully next time I will get to meet Elena too.) If I didn't get this across in my description of the dishes, let me say this about Scott's & Elena's cooking: this is vegan food at its very best. The entire menu was a showcase of the freshest seasonal ingredients, sourced locally from the farmer's market. This was all real food, no processed or faux ingredients to be found. Each dish was simple, meaning a minimum of ingredients/elements on the plate, but presented so artfully and beautifully that you couldn't help but be dazzled. I truly hope that in the near future we might see a real brick-and-mortar Nasturtium restaurant, of which we will be loyal and devoted regular customers. If you live in New York, keep an eye out for one of the next dinners, they are not to be missed!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Perfect Summer Meal: Chef Chloe's Avocado Pesto Pasta

We visited some very dear friends who live up in the Berkshires this past weekend, in Great Barrington, which is a wonderfully charming little town that we simply adore. We had a lovely summer day breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the company. We hadn't seen these friends in a few years, so I think they were momentarily stumped when we reminded them that we were both vegan, but they put together a very lovely lunch with some fresh pesto pasta and plenty of veggies from the local farmer's market. A simple but absolutely delicious lunch, perfect for a summer's day.

The pesto we ate reminded me of this recipe that I had also made recently, Chef Chloe's Avocado Pesto Pasta. It's literally as easy as boiling water, and I love that the sauce doesn't require any cooking. It's luscious, slightly creamy, and the perfect showcase for all those bunches of fresh basil exploding in your garden. Not my garden, because I live in a Brooklyn walk-up apartment without any yard, but you know what I mean. Someone's garden. This pesto was truly fantastic and I love not only the flavor and texture from the avocado but also the nutritional goodness that it adds. Make this for dinner tonight!

Chef Chloe's Avocado Pesto Pasta (recipe published on Chef Chloe's site here)
serves 6

1 pound dried linguini
1 bunch basil leaves (about 2½ ounces)
½ cup pine nuts
2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ of a lemon)
3 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (optional)

1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add pasta and cook to package directions. While pasta cooks, in a food processor, blend basil, pine nuts, avocados, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Drain pasta. In a large serving bowl, toss pesto with hot, freshly cooked pasta and garnish each serving with a basil leaf. For an extra touch of color and flavor, top pasta with sundried tomatoes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's a Crumble! It's a Pie! It's a Blueberry Crumble Pie!

When I saw this recipe in the July issue of Bon Appetit, it was exactly the kind of blueberry recipe I was looking for. Those luscious, purple-blue berries had been tempting me from the farmer's market and we'd been eating them fresh by the bucketful, but I was really craving some kind of comforting dessert that would feature those juicy berries in a cooked form. A crumble pie sounded perfect for summer. And a crumble pie a la mode... could there be anything better?

The only changes I made to the original recipe were to use Earth Balance instead of butter, and I subbed arrowroot for cornstarch, because that's what I have on hand. I have used arrowroot and cornstarch interchangeably in the past without any problem, but I will say that this pie didn't thicken up as much as I would have liked. I don't know if it has anything to do with using arrowroot, but at any rate, it still tasted great despite being a little on the soupy side.

I also used (gasp) a store-bought whole wheat vegan pie crust because I'm a working woman and I'm tired and shit. I will include the directions for making your own if you want to feel all superior with your homemade skills and spend your evenings rolling out pie crusts instead of watching Gordon Ramsay yell at people on MasterChef, but I won't judge you if you put the filling in a store-bought crust too. Your secret is safe with me.

Blueberry Crumble Pie (veganized version of this recipe in July 2011 Bon Appetit)
makes one 9-inch pie

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for surface
1/2 cup chilled Earth Balance or margarine, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 tsp. salt

Filling and topping:
2/3 cup plus 3 Tbsp. sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest plus 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
5 cups (1 pound 10 oz.) fresh blueberries
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. Earth Balance or margarine, melted, cooled slightly

For crust:
1. Pulse flour, Earth Balance, and salt in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining. Drizzle 3 Tbsp. ice water over mixture. Pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 4 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, use the heel of your hand to smear each portion of dough twice in a forward motion to distribute margarine. Gather all 4 dough pieces into a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill dough until firm, at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Dough can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13" round. Transfer to a 9"- 9 1/2" pie dish, gently pressing dough onto bottom and up sides of dish. Fold overhang under and crimp edges decoratively. Pierce bottom of crust in several places with a fork, then chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

3. Line a large baking sheet with foil and place on a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°F. Line crust with parchment paper or foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until crust is set, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove parchment and pie weights. Bake until crust is pale golden, about 12 minutes longer. Transfer crust to a wire rack; let cool.

Filling and topping:
1. Whisk 2/3 cup sugar, cornstarch or arrowroot, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add blueberries and lemon juice; toss gently to coat and evenly distribute. Let filling stand, tossing occasionally, until berries release their juices, 20-30 minutes.

2. Whisk flour, remaining 3 Tbsp. sugar, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Add melted margarine; mix topping with fingertips to blend.

Preheat oven to 375°. Spoon blueberry filling into crust, then sprinkle topping over. Bake pie until filling is bubbling and topping is golden, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cover with foil after 30 minutes if browning too fast. Let pie cool on a wire rack.

I highly recommend serving with a scoop of your favorite non-dairy vanilla ice cream - mine is So Delicious Coconut Milk-based Vanilla Bean!