Sunday, February 28, 2010

Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower, prepped and ready to roast.

The March issue of Food & Wine offers some great ideas for serving familiar foods with an ethnic flair. I often roast cauliflower, but it never turns out quite as soul satisfying as this version which appears in a section called Thai Recipes for Health and Happiness, recipes by Su-Mei Yu, chef and owner of Saffron in San Diego.

With an intro that briefly explains Thai traditional beliefs that the world is made up of four elements: water, fire, earth and wind, the author of the article, Emily Kaiser, using some of Yu's recipes, gets right into examples of how the key to balance and physical health lies in cooking and eating the right ingredients based on the weather.

While the section covers more than just vegetables, it was the vegan recipes that caught my eye. Particularly the roasted cauliflower. There's also directions for a roasted mushroom dish that I plan to make soon.

For some great ideas to add some spice and new life to everyday meals, check out the current issue of Food & Wine. The emphasis this month is on healthy cooking. Word is getting out, isn't it? Many of us are wising up. What we eat or don't eat will greatly affect our health and wellbeing.

This spicy roasted cauliflower is a far cry from the blah 'health food' of yesteryear!

Yu roasts the cauliflower with spices and serves with slivers of kumquat, shallot and fresh cilantro. I breezed along with no shallots and no kumquats yet still had a fragrant, spicy rich dish.

Toast coriander seeds and white peppercorns until fragrant. Allow to cool, transfer to spice grinder then grind to powder. Mix spices with minced garlic, turmeric, crushed red pepper and olive oil, then toss with cored and separated cauliflower florets cut into one inch pieces.

Spread out on baking sheet and roast at 400° for about 25 minutes. Season lightly with salt and then add chopped cilantro, thinly sliced shallots, and chopped kumquats to serve. Check out the March issue for complete details and more great recipes.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Little Lettuce Wraps
As an appetizer, mid-afternoon snack or salad course, lettuce wraps are a fun change from the same old, same old mixed salad. Cups of crisp Boston lettuce are perfect for rolling around other fresh crisp vegetables. These are simple — incorporating slivers of sweet red bell peppers and snow peas dressed with a lively Satay Sauce, courtesy of Angela Elliot's fabulous little volume, Alive in 5. I'm sure I've raved about Angela in the past and even sung the praises of her Satay Sauce.

Angela's printed instructions for the sauce calls for freshly squeezed orange juice. I personally like the tart taste of lemon juice instead, and add a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar to the mix as well. Mixing a few great ingredients in a little bowl produces a fabulous dipping sauce in minutes. It's a simple combination of tahini sauce, miso, citrus juice, nutritional yeast powder, a bit of agave and a dash of tamari and the kicker - cayenne.

Adding Alive in 5, a little volume of raw gourmet meals, to your recipe collection will give you the 'go to' resource to help produce great ideas quickly. Angela's instructions are five minute wonders.

Light and lovely - fresh veggies with a saucy dip!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stuffed Red Peppers
Lundberg Farms' mahogany rice is a favorite of mine. An interesting blend of black and cocoa colored rices that cook up chewy with a rich, almost meat-like, flavor. This rice makes a wonderful vegan base for stuffing vegetables.

I cooked the rice according to package directions; 1:2 rice to water ratio. After 45 minutes the water was absorbed and the rice was tender yet chewy. Meanwhile, I diced, then sautéed a medium yellow onion, 2 carrots, a stalk of celery and 2 cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil.

As the vegetables softened, I added half a dozen chopped button mushrooms and a few minced black olives (5-6). A dash of water kept things from sticking as the veggies cooked and then covering the sauté pan for four or five minutes allowed them to steam a bit without having to add any extra oil.

When the carrots in the mixture were crisp tender, I combined the veggie mix with the rice. This is a forgiving recipe. Add spices or flavorings or other vegetables which appeal to you. For a hint of Mexico, a bit of cumin, oregano and some chili powder would be nice. For an Italian flair, a tablespoon of tomato paste, a bit of Italian herb mix and perhaps a dash of red wine instead of water for sautéing and steaming the veggies. So many options!

I cut the peppers in half lengthwise and stuffed them with the rice mix. I like a sweet and sour tomato flavored sauce with stuffed vegetables. A simple technique is to use a small can of tomato sauce and add a pinch or two of brown sugar and some vinegar.

I had a bit of homemade tomato soup in the fridge. I extended it with some veggie broth to make a full cup and added a teaspoon of raw sugar and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. Tasted good to me, and I knew it would cook down and mellow out as the peppers baked. Using a cup of vegetable broth alone would be fine, too. The peppers need moisture as they roast. The drippings are great at serving time— spoon some over each pepper.

Use a baking dish that will accommodate the stuffed peppers without overcrowding but small enough to allow them to 'hold each other up'. Pour the liquid you choose to use into the bottom and around the peppers - about a quarter to a half inch of liquid is fine.

The peppers roasted, covered for 45 minutes, and then uncovered for another 15 minutes in a 350° oven. I served them with some steamed greens (broccoli rabe) to kick up the nutritional level while adding a lovely color balance and offering the taste buds more to savor.

Friday, February 19, 2010

With an A.L.T. Who Needs Bacon?

The familiar favorite sandwich, bacon, lettuce and tomato has had many incarnations.
I recently read about bacon, lettuce and asparagus, as an alternative. Vegans leave out the pig part and often add some interesting extras. At least I do.

Instead of a salad bowl today, with freshly made whole wheat pita at the ready, I decided to stuff my salad in a pocket.

I thinned some cashew cream with a bit of horseradish and a few drops of rice wine vinegar, then generously dressed diced tomato, red onion, avocado and ribbons of Boston lettuce. A pinch of sea salt, a grind of tellicherry peppercorns and I had a messy marvel!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Grains and Greens

Influenced by Judith Jones' The Pleasures of Cooking for One, I've been on a grains kick. Here's quinoa (keen-wa) simply cooked with a bit of lemon zest and lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Following Ms. Jones' suggestion, I toasted the grains before mixing with water to bake. So simple, yet so good!
Since the oven was on, it was a perfect time to give roasted asparagus a try with a sesame vinaigrette. We're looking at about 30 minutes from start to finish here for a taste tempting meal. Easy to do, extremely simple in its preparation, but there's nothing simple about the complex flavors a few interesting ingredients can deliver.
There are many meat and dairy inclusions in Jones' book. But I like reading recipes regardless, and always come away with ideas that can easily be adapted and applied to a vegan menu. The sesame vinaigrette is a great example. This lively dressing would make a great dipping sauce for vegetarian sushi or summer rolls, an interesting dressing for a cabbage slaw, and it would be equally good if used to liven up steamed vegetables. A simple mix of sesame oil, tamari, rice wine vinegar and (shh...sugar). Easy to skip the sugar and punch it up with something hot, like a sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes, perhaps?
The beauty of Jones' book is she's done all the work of downsizing portion sizes and ingredient lists yet it's easy to double if you're cooking for two.
This is a super book for singles, or couples, to add interest to everyday meals. Getting into the kitchen and actually cooking is a simple pleasure, and almost a lost art, that can even be enjoyed when cooking for one.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grains and Greens
This has been a very cold winter in Florida. With temperatures hovering in the mid to high 30's in Central Florida, it's a good time to experiment with a variety of grains.

I've found that green vegetables and whole grains combined with an interesting sauce or spices makes a satisfying, nutritious meal. Experimenting with grains that we don't normally use expands our menu repertoire, while having the additional advantage of adding a bigger and better variety of nutrients to our daily meals.

This was a quick and easy one bowl meal. Soba noodles (buckwheat) tossed with asparagus and red onion in a lively, spicy peanut sauce. Add a dusting of minced fresh cilantro to give the cooked dish a lively lift.

This was a meal for one. Increase the amount based on how many will be eating!

Half a red onion, cut in small wedges
Handful of young, tender asparagus, cut in 2" pieces

Sauté over medium heat in a little water until crisp/tender. Add a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Meanwhile, cook a portion of soba noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain, rinse and toss with veggies and your favorite peanut sauce. I make a standard peanut dressing using almond butter rather than peanut butter. Remember that peanuts aren't nuts, they're legumes. They also have a reputation for being roasted with mold and contain the insidious aflotoxin.

I posted a green beans and soba noodles dish a couple of years ago based on an inspiration from Heidi Swanson's blog with the directions for making almond dressing.

What I love about a one bowl meal like this is the ease of preparation and the little time it takes to have a delicious, satisfying meal to sit down to. Granted I had the dressing left over from a Thai meal I made the other day. Aren't leftovers fabulous? Even having to whip up a little bowl of peanut dressing, while the veggies lightly cook, is fast and easy.

Notice this dish is oil free. Not fat free, the almond butter is a high calorie food. But it's a good fat and provides the protein that meat-eaters are forever clamoring for.

Lemon quinoa and broccoli are on my mind to make soon. Having browsed through Judith Jones' book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, I'm inspired to work my way through a variety of whole grains, incorporating them into one dish meals with greens. A great project for this chilly winter weather.