Monday, August 29, 2011

Stuck inside during a hurricane, dreaming of Mexican fiestas...

So it's Monday morning, post-Hurricane Irene, and I am deeply grateful that our neighborhood was spared from the destruction faced by other areas in her path. Other than some tree limbs and other debris in the streets, there was very little evidence where we live of her passing through at all. I am also grateful that because I woke up early Saturday morning to cook a ridiculous amount of food in case our power went out, we have plenty of leftovers and I might not need to cook again the rest of this week!

At any rate, because of the hurricane, we stayed inside all weekend long which was actually really relaxing and wonderful. And while we did have plenty to eat, I was still dreaming of the incredible vegan tamales that we were treated to at my friend Patricia's house a couple weekends ago. Patricia & her man Neil are always raving to us about this place Nixtamal, which is in Corona, Queens, and I'm pretty sure they go there on at least a weekly basis for (non-vegan) tacos. But when Patricia & Neil moved into their new home recently, they invited us over for a housewarming dinner and we got to sample some all-vegan, off-the-menu tamales, thanks to the lovely Shauna from Nixtamal who was willing to make these for us (and for another vegan friend at the dinner).

What can I say, other than that these were AMAZING and the best, most authentic tamales I have ever had? Nixtamal is all about making their own masa for their tortillas and tamales (fascinating description of the process here) and trust me, not only does this result in a much healthier product, but you can truly taste the difference. Because they make their own, their masa is naturally gluten-free and free of preservatives, lard/shortening, salt, and MSG. They taste like pure corn, which is exactly what they should taste like. Shauna, if you are reading this, thank you so much for making these, and PLEASE PLEASE add these vegan tamales to your menu. I guarantee that if you have these on your permanent menu, the vegans will trek any distance to Corona to eat them!

The tamales were filled with rajas, which are simply strips of roasted chilis cooked with onions and seasonings (not to be confused with these, which are a different kind of rajas). Check out these beauties:
Platter of vegan tamales, waiting to be unwrapped like gifts under the xmas tree.

Vegan tamale topped with spicy green chili salsa

Vegan tamale topped with less spicy red salsa
I lost count of how many tamales I ate, but just when I thought I had reached my fill, Patricia brought out this platter of vegan taco fillings, also courtesy of Nixtamal. Like a trooper, I rallied and somehow found room for tacos too.

Vegan taco fillings, from top: Mushroom (corn fungus) with fresh corn & herbs, sauteed zucchini & squash, and verduras (sauteed mixed vegetables)

Taco #1 filled with pinto beans and mushroom/corn mixture
Taco #2 filled with black beans, verduras, and guacamole
And if you thought the fiesta ended there, well you would be wrong. Knowing that there was a Mexican theme to the evening, I came armed with the Tres Leches cake from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Terry Hope Romero's Viva Vegan! Have you made this recipe? If you have not, order this cookbook right now and make this cake immediately. It's the kind of recipe (of which there are a few, in Viva Vegan!) where you have to plan ahead. I made the cake and the soaking syrup the night before the party, so the cake would have time to absorb it all, and then made the coconut topping the morning of the party, still giving it a few hours to chill and set in the fridge before going. The result is an unbelievably moist, sweet, sticky, coconutty, lemon & orange-scented cake so full of goodness that nobody would ever suspect that it was vegan. I got really nervous right before we served it because 1) I had never made this recipe before, 2) the vegans were in the minority at the party, and 3) one of the dinner guests declared himself a huge fan of Tres Leches Cake, so the pressure was really on to impress. And did it ever!

Vegan Tres Leches Cake, topped with fresh berries

So my deepest gratitude goes out again to Patricia, for being the most gracious hostess with the mostest, to Shauna, for the incredibly delicious tamales & tacos that she made vegan especially for us, and to Terry for giving me an amazing recipe that made my friends think I was some kind of genius in the kitchen. And to Irene, for not flooding us, or breaking any windows, or wreaking any other kind of havoc on our apartment. Muchas gracias damas!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We went to Foodswings. We ate. We rejoiced. We planned the next visit.

So just last night I got around to uploading a bunch of photos from my phone. It always amazes me how many pictures of food I have on there... it's basically hundreds of pictures of food and my dog. Sometimes of my dog eating food. maybe I need to get a new hobby.

Anyway, this past weekend we met some friends at Foodswings, one of my absolute favorite places to binge on some good ol' vegan fast food. This isn't health food, folks, and my thighs are glad we don't live any closer to this place, but it is SO worth the occasional indulgence. My friend Annie, from one of my favorite blogs of all time Meet The Shannons, has been organizing these monthly Foodswings get-togethers. Among the photos I just uploaded, I found some from our meet-up last month:

This is my Cremesicle milkshake. I am REALLY into milkshakes right now. I think it's a pregnancy thing, because while I enjoyed the occasional milkshake in the past, I go completely ape-shit for them now. I can't get enough. This one is amazing - vanilla ice cream with orange juice. Classic Cremesicle flavor, and the orange juice counts as being healthy, right? RIGHT?

That's Annie, and I think those are the punk fries, topped with cheese & bacon bits. Vegan bacon, obvs. (Do I even need to make disclaimers like that anymore?)

I got the Chick'n Cordon Bleu sandwich: breaded chick'n cutlet, soy ham, & Daiya Mozzarella Cheese with Lettuce, Tomato, Onion & Foodswings Dijonaise.

My husband went for the Chili Cheese Dog combo. I admit I had food envy, which I am prone to. Mental note: next time I should get the chili cheese dogs.

And then there was the feast we had this past weekend:

NACHOS! These nachos were freaking incredible. Actually, our friend Chad, who is one of the cooks there, recommended we get the nachos, and we are so glad we did. Topped with housemade chili, tomato salsa, soy cheddar, and tofu cream cheese, they were easily the best nachos I've ever had. EVER.

I was craving some major comfort food so I went for the creamy mac & cheese combo that comes with 3 "wings." I got one Buffalo Style (no buffalos were harmed), one Southern Fried, and a Sweet BBQ Southern Fried. The BBQ sauce on those is utterly addictive.

My friend Valerie got the Filet of Soul sandwich (Breaded & Fried Mock Fish
Sticks, Soy Cheese & Tartar Sauce w/ Lettuce & Tomato, Onion) which is also one of my favorites, with a side of the disco fries (covered in gravy & cheese). This illustrates one reason why Val & I are such good friends.

And Annie & Dan had an order of the pizza fries. Pizza fries are GENIUS.
Pizza and fries, two of my favorite things, together at last.
So there you have it. Enough Foodswings food porn to last you until, well, probably until next month when we do it all again. It's good to have a month in between visits to work off all that junky food. But to be honest, I'll probably just go track down another vegan milkshake and call it a day.

295 Grand Street
Brooklyn, New York
Phone: 718-388-1919

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes, Y'all

Fried green tomatoes are a quintessential Southern thing, although to be honest, despite growing up with Southern parents, I don't remember ever eating these until I was an adult and made them myself. In fact, I don't remember ever even seeing green tomatoes until I was an adult and discovered them at the farmer's market. We didn't have any farmer's markets in the Virginia 'burbs where I grew up, at least none that I knew of, so it was a while before I learned about a lot of things, like the fact that broccoli doesn't grow with bright orange cheese sauce on it.

At any rate, it wasn't until the past few years actually that I even realized that I enjoyed fried green tomatoes. Being unripe, they are much firmer than regular (ripe) tomatoes, but they get nice and juicy on the inside when you fry them. What doesn't taste good breaded and deep-fried anyway? These really lend themselves well to a vinegary hot sauce, so make sure you have plenty of that on hand. Being the good (half-)Southern girl that I am, I served my tomatoes over some steamed collard greens with some black-eyed peas, jalapeno, and some of the leftover roasted corn salad that I still had in the fridge.

Fried Green Tomatoes (adapted from this recipe)
serves 6

1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
3 tsp. Egg Replacer mixed with 4 Tbsp. water (equivalent of 2 eggs)
2/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs 
1/3 cup vegan Parmesan
1 pound green tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
Old Bay Seasoning, for serving 
Hot sauce, for serving

1. In a medium bowl, season the flour with salt and pepper. Put the "eggs" in another medium bowl and toss the bread crumbs and vegan Parmesan in a third bowl. Dredge the tomato slices in the flour, then coat them in the egg mix, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Coat in the bread crumbs, pressing to help them adhere.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the breaded tomatoes in a single layer and cook them over moderately high heat, turning once, until deeply golden and crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the tomato slices to paper towel–lined plates. Sprinkle with salt and Old Bay and serve immediately with hot sauce. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm Not Crabby Cakes with Roasted Corn-Lime-Jalapeno Salad

I've been doing a bit of freezer/pantry cleanout recently, and in my freezer I discovered a package of Match "Crab" meat that I had forgotten about. Actually, I discovered two packages of it, so I used one and am still deciding what to do with the other one...

Anyhoo, back in my seafood eatin' days, before I faced the facts that crabs are a lot like us, taking care of their young, defending their neighbors, and capable of feeling pain, crab meat was one of my favorite kinds of seafood. For a few years when I was young, we lived in Maryland, where I remember my family getting large buckets of crabs, spreading out a bunch of newspaper, and going to town on them. Even then, although I loved a good crabcake, I was totally grossed out by the ritual of breaking into the crab body and watching people dig past all the guts and gunk to get to the meat. Now that I think about it, there was a lot of foreshadowing of my future vegetarianism, even when I was small.

That's all leading up to say that my discovery of the Match crab meat in my freezer coincided with finding this recipe for Baltimore Crab Cakes in the August issue of Bon Appetit. It was like the vegan gods were giving me a sign. Also in the same issue of BA, I found this recipe for a Roasted Corn salad that I also wanted to veganize. The flavor profiles of the two recipes were quite similar, and they made a great summer dinner combination. I just put a generous squeeze of lemon juice on the crabcakes when we ate them, but you should feel free to serve with a vegan remoulade or any other sauce of your liking. They were absolutely delicious and kept both me and the crabs from being crabby. Both recipes are below.

Vegan Baltimore Crab Cakes (adapted from this recipe)
makes about 8 lg. cakes

1/4 cup Vegenaise or other vegan mayo
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 "flax egg" (1 Tbsp. ground flax seed mixed with 2 Tbsp. water)
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice plus wedges for garnish
1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 jalapeño, seeded, finely chopped
1 package (16 oz.) Match vegan crabmeat
1 1/4 cups panko* or breadcrumbs, divided
1 Tbsp. thinly sliced chives
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
*Be careful when buying panko and make sure to read the ingredients. I have seen some brands that contain whey or other dairy products.

1. Whisk first 7 ingredients togther in a medium bowl. Add Match crab; fold to blend. Stir in 3/4 cup panko or breadcrumbs, chives, salt, and pepper. Divide into 8 equal portions. Form each into 1"-thick patties and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place remaining 1/2 cup panko/breadcrumbs on a plate. Coat cakes with panko. Fry until golden brown and crisp, 3-4 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges.

Roasted Corn Salad with Lime & Jalapeno (adapted from this recipe)
serves 8

6 ears of sweet yellow corn, unhusked
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. (1/4 stick) Earth Balance or other vegan butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño, seeded, finely diced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
1/3 cup vegan Parmesan
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives
2 tsp. finely grated lime zest

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Roast unhusked corn on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until heated through and crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Shuck corn and cut kernels from cobs. Discard cobs.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add corn kernels and sauté until heated through and light-golden in spots, 3-5 minutes. Add vegan butter; stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer corn to a large wide bowl or deep platter; sprinkle jalapeño and crushed red pepper flakes over. Squeeze lime wedges over; sprinkle with vegan parmesan, chives, and lime zest.

Serve your not-so-crabby cakes atop the roasted corn salad with some extra lemon wedges to squeeze over them. Best of all, if you have some leftover crab cakes, you can always put them in a bun and make an incredible sandwich with some vegan remoulade (Vegenaise + sweet pickle relish), lettuce, and tomato. Delicious!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rootin' Tootin' Root Beer Cupcakes

I hardly ever drink soda. I think it might have something to do with the 5th grade science project I did, where I dropped iron nails into different cans of soda to see how fast they would dissolve. I don't remember which soda was the worst, but I do remember that all the nails disintegrated pretty quickly, and even then I was horrified at the thought of what that stuff would do to your teeth and insides. That said, the one soda that I do like on rare occasions is root beer. There's something about that sweet sassafras-y, herbal-y flavor that takes me back to my childhood, to those carefree, pre-science fair days.

When I saw this recipe for Root Beer Cake I thought it sounded fun and kind of retro. It was also a good excuse to buy some root beer. And some vanilla ice cream for root beer floats. Is there anything more retro than a root beer float?

A couple things about this recipe: root beer extract can be pretty tricky to find. The preferred brand is Zatarain's, but chances are you will have to mail order that. I like to go to NY Cake on 22nd St. for supplies, where they have this root beer flavoring. It's a highly concentrated blend of natural oils, so if you use this or something similar you will need to substitute 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon for 1 teaspoon of extract. Another thing that is hard to find is vegan root beer candy, which is not required for this recipe but would be really cute to use for decoration. I found these root beer hard candies and also the Brach's Root Beer Barrels, both appear to be vegan but you'd probably have to order these online. I didn't go to the trouble. And lastly, please try to buy a natural brand of root beer, meaning one without all that nasty high fructose corn syrup. Your body will thank you for it.

Root Beer Cake (adapted from this recipe)
makes one 9 x 13' cake or approximately 16 cupcakes

2 cups Earth Balance or other vegan butter, plus 1 tsp. to grease pan
2 1⁄2 cups cake flour, plus 1 Tbsp. for dusting cake pan
2 1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup root beer
5 tsp. root beer extract (preferably Zatarain's)
1 1⁄2 cups sugar
6 tsp. Egg Replacer mixed with 8 Tbsp. water (equivalent of 4 eggs)
4 1⁄2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp. vegan creamer

1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease and dust with flour either your 9 x 13" cake pan or your cupcake pans.

2. Sift remaining cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl; set aside.

3. Whisk together root beer and 2 tsp. of the root beer extract in a bowl; set aside.

4. Beat sugar and 1 cup of the vegan butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Mix in egg replacer. Alternately add flour mixture and root beer mixture, waiting for each to be incorporated before adding the next. Mix briefly, then transfer batter to pan; smooth out top.

5. Bake, rotating once, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool.

6. Put confectioners' sugar and remaining butter into a bowl; beat with an electric mixer to combine. Add vegan creamer and remaining root beer extract; beat to make a fluffy frosting. Spread frosting on cake and decorate with root beer candies, if desired.

7. Use leftover root beer to make floats!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer Squash & Tomato Pizza

Sometimes you get a craving for pizza. Sometimes that craving takes you all the way to a neighborhood known as Dumbo, where you are inexplicably willing to stand outside in the heat waiting for half an hour to get into Grimaldi's Pizza for a sublime, no cheese pie with an utterly perfect coal-fired brick oven crust. Call it temporary insanity.

Crazy for Grimaldi's pizza.
Strangely enough, eating pizza this past weekend at Grimaldi's only made me crave more pizza. I wanted something different though, and this recipe I found in Food & Wine seemed like a good way to use up some of the zucchini that I had just bought at the farmer's market. I made a few changes - instead of yellow squash I used green zucchini, I made it on a pizza crust instead of puff pastry, and I substituted a vegan cream cheese for the goat cheese. The end result was really good, something between a pizza and a tart, and was filling without being heavy. Lots of great summer flavors in there, and perfect for when it's not too hot to turn your oven on for a half hour. Even though I made this using a store-bought pizza dough, I do think that this would also be really tasty using the puff pastry as directed in the original recipe. Just make sure to get a vegan (no-butter) brand if you decide to go the puff pastry route. The Pepperidge Farm brand is (accidentally) vegan and widely available.

Summer Squash & Tomato Pizza (adapted from this recipe)
serves 4

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound small yellow squash or zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 Tbsp. prepared pesto* (see note on pesto at bottom)
8 oz. plain vegan cream cheese, softened
1 batch of store-bought pizza dough
1 plum tomato, very thinly sliced
8 small pitted green olives, coarsely chopped
fresh basil, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 425° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the squash and onion and season with salt and white pepper. Cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash and onion are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a strainer and press lightly.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, blend the pesto* with the vegan cream cheese. 

3. Press your pizza dough out evenly on your baking sheet. Spread the pesto cream cheese all over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with the squash mixture. Arrange the tomato slices on top of the squash and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Bake in the lower third of the oven for about 25 - 30 minutes, until the edges are golden and the bottom is completely cooked through. Sprinkle with the olives and fresh basil, cut into squares and serve right away.

Spread the pesto cream cheese over your pizza dough.

Arrange squash or zucchini mixture on top of cream cheese.
Arrange tomato slices on top (this pic was taken after baking).
Close up of all the good stuff.
Cut into slices and enjoy!
*Note on pesto: It is nearly impossible to find prepared pesto that doesn't contain cheese, and since this recipe calls for such a small amount I didn't want to include an entire recipe for pesto here. I whipped up a very small batch of it in my food processor using about a 1/2 cup of tightly packed basil leaves, about a half teaspoon of vegan parmesan, one garlic clove, and drizzled olive oil while it was running until the pesto reached the consistency I was happy with. I know this isn't a real recipe for pesto, but I just kind of improvised it, and I think you can too. I have faith in you.