Cooking Class

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Cooking Class: Vegetable Paella

img_4279Before adopting this plant-based style of living, I considered myself a pretty good cook. I never had any formal chef’s training, but I didn’t let that get in the way of a culinary challenge. I always got great pleasure from sharing a meal with family and friends. Most times, the meals were just wholesome, everyday dishes handed down from my mom and grandmother. And once in a while, the meals were “epic”. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for something delicious and different. An image of Paella must have crossed my laptop because this is what I’ve been dwelling on. I recall making a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine many years ago that falls under the “epic” category. I made this one time when my parents came to visit and I still get a warm feeling remembering how much they enjoyed it. I decided to borrow the Cook’s Illustrated technique and added a few tricks of my own. The basic preparation is to make a “sofrito” of onions, garlic, and tomatoes; add rice, stock, wine, red bell peppers and other vegetables. The sofrito is cooked on the stove, then the rest of the ingredients are added and cooked in the oven. I chose to use artichoke hearts, cremini mushrooms and peas as my add-ins. What’s nice about this recipe is that it is versatile. You can keep it simple by just making rice, bell peppers and peas; or you can experiment with different vegetables.  A popular version of paella is made with seafood, so I might use oyster mushrooms or king oyster mushrooms and add some nori seaweed dust for a little taste of the sea. Chickpeas or fava beans would make a nice addition as well. Whether you consider yourself a novice or an accomplished cook, this recipe for Vegetable Paella is within your reach. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Paella Vegetables

Paella Vegetables

Vegi-curious Paella

Olive oil, as needed (optional – see note)
1 can whole artichoke heart
Smoked paprika
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into ½” slices
8 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cut in half
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained and minced
2 cups medium grain rice (Valencia, Goya, Canilla)
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
3 cups light vegetable broth (or Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken stock)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 dried bay leaf
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt to taste
Fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain artichoke hearts and cut into halves or quarters. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and set aside.

Lightly coat a Dutch oven with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally until skin begins to get charred (about 3 to 4 minutes).Transfer to baking sheet along with artichokes.

Re-coat Dutch oven with oil if desired and add the mushrooms. Cook on medium-high, stirring often. You want to cook just long enough to brown the exterior of the mushrooms but not cook them completely (about 3 minutes).Transfer to baking sheet along with artichokes and peppers.

Re-coat Dutch oven with oil if desired and add onions. Cook over medium-high heat until softened; add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in tomatoes and continue cooking until tomatoes start to darken and thicken, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir until grains are well coated. Add broth, wine, bay leaf and salt and bring to boil. Cover Dutch oven and place on rack in the lower third of the oven. Cook until the rice absorbs almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Scatter peas on top of rice; then arrange pepper strips, artichoke hearts and mushrooms on top of peas. Cover and return to oven for another 10 minutes.

*Note: you can omit the oil and cook the vegetables using water, about 2 tablespoons at a time.

If “soccarat”, the browned rice on the bottom of the pan, is desired, place Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot for even browning. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

25 Oct 2016

We Have No Bananas: Baked Plantains

Baked Plantains for Almond Milk Yogurt

Baked Plantains for Almond Milk Yogurt

Plantain — is it a fruit or a vegetable? Technically, it’s part of the genus Musa, which also contains bananas. However, plantains are starchier than bananas and not as sweet. A staple in Central and South America and the Caribbean, a popular way to serve plantains is as side dish of fried tostones or maduras. I’ve had them prepared this way once or twice. It’s basically a sponge for oil. Plantains have several health benefits as they are high in fiber and contain potassium; vitamins A, C, B and the minerals iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. Why ruin a good thing by cooking them in oil? Well, you don’t have to. Bruce learned about this method of baking plantains from Chef Ramses Bravo at the True North Health Center. It’s as easy as:

One: Buy a few plantains and let them ripen until the skin is completely black. You can start off with whatever shade is available — green (least ripe); yellow (almost ripe); black (ripe and ready).

Two: Place on a rimmed baking sheet or a piece of aluminum foil with it’s edges turned up. (You’ll want to catch every gooey drop of plantain syrup that oozes from the plantain.) Bake at 350F until the skin splits open (see picture below), about 15 minutes.

Three: When the skin splits and the contents start to bust out, remove the plantains from the oven and enjoy as is.

Baked Plantain

Baked Plantain

If  you’re looking to “complicate” your meal prep, you can top off your baked plantain with some non-dairy yogurt and granola as a breakfast treat; enjoy it as a dessert with chia pudding; or serve it alongside your favorite bean burger.

So healthy, so sweet and so simple. You have no bananas? Then try baking some plantains today. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

02 Oct 2016

Some Like It Hot: Thai Red Curry Paste

Red Thai Curry Paste

Red Thai Curry Paste

Curry Paste Ingredients

Curry Paste Ingredients

I’ve developed quite an appetite for Thai and Indian food since I began my plant-based journey.  What I like about food from Asia is that many of the dishes traditionally have more focus on vegetables and grains and less on meat and dairy. One of my favorite meals is vegetable Thai curry made with curry paste and coconut milk. There’s something about these aromatic flavor components that is oh so savory and seductive. In an effort to support Bruce’s effort to eliminate sodium from his diet and still be able to enjoy Thai curry, I was determined to come up with a no-salt-added recipe for Thai curry paste. (All of the ones I have access to have a lot of sodium.) There are different types of Thai curry, ranging from yellow to green to red — red being the hottest. My first attempt at the red turned out too green and I didn’t care for the flavor. Not one to back down from a culinary challenge, I tweaked the recipe and came up with one I can be happy with. Actually, it’s hard to “tweak” Thai curry paste since the main ingredients are hot Thai chilies that can overpower the other ingredients. A few words about the other ingredients: You can find fresh lemongrass at an Asian market (I’m trying to grown some this summer) and some markets may even sell frozen, minced lemongrass. Galangal is a root that looks like ginger, but has a bite to it. The galangal and dried lime rind can be purchased on-line. You can slice the galangal into 1/4″ slices and freeze it for several months in a freezer bag. It’s not necessary to peel the galangal when you’re ready to use it. Can you omit the galangal or use fresh lime rind instead? Probably, but there are certain recipes that I try to keep authentic as possible and this is one of them. You can refrigerate the paste for about one week or freeze in ready-to-use portions (1 to 2 tablespoons) for future enjoyment. So, now what do you do with your very own Thai curry paste? Find a recipe for vegetable Thai curry (I like the one from The Vegan Table cookbook). Or you can try my recipe for Thai Curry Red Lentils that will appear in my next post. Until then, thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Red Thai Curry Paste

  • 40 (2- to 3-inch-long) Thai dried hot red chiles, halved and seeds discarded
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted in a non-stick skillet
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted in a non-stick skillet
  • 1 fresh lemongrass stalks, 1 or 2 outer leaves discarded (1/3 cup)
  • ½  teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh or thawed frozen galangal
  • Dried lime rind (processed in spice grinder to yield 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro stems
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic

Place all ingredients in a mini-chopper and process on high, adding water (about 4 to 6 tablespoons) to desired consistency.


23 Apr 2016

Pumpkins are for Porches and More: Pumpkin Doughnuts

Pumpkin Doughnuts

I love this time of year when summer starts to fade into fall. The leaves are already falling in our yard and our squash and melon vines are starting to brown up. Pretty soon, you’ll see mountains of pumpkins in every size, color and shape in local farm stands. I always buy a great pumpkin for my porch. But pumpkins aren’t just for porches. I like to buy as many small pumpkins (about 8″ in diameter) as I can to make homemade pumpkin puree. It’s so simple and the taste of freshly baked pumpkin is so worth it. Just cut the pumpkins in half, scoop out the seeds and place cut-side down on a shallow baking sheet. Bake in a 350F oven until soft. Let cool, scoop out the flesh and puree in a food processor. You can use the puree now or freeze it in plastic containers or freezer bags. I use pumpkin in a lot of baked goods, much the same way you would use applesauce. It’s a good way to reduce the amount of fat in a recipe while giving a nice, moist texture to baked goods. I’ve used it in smoothies, pumpkin pie and custard, loaf cakes, cupcakes, brownies, doughnuts and pumpkin pancakes. The pumpkin also contains fiber and antioxidants, so there’s no need for a guilt trip this morning. These Pumpkin Doughnuts get an extra pumpkin punch with the addition of pumpkin butter. If you don’t have it on hand, you can substitute applesauce or apple butter. I dipped the cooled doughnuts in Alton Brown’s doughnut glaze substituting cashew milk for whole milk. (If you want more of an icing to drizzle, simple reduce the quantity of milk.) Delicious with a glass of almond milk or a cup of coffee or tea. So pick up a pumpkin for your porch and a few more for your pantry. Then bake up a batch of Pumpkin Doughnuts and make it a Vegi-curious day.

Veg-icurious Pumpkin Doughnuts

Makes 11 to 12 large doughnuts

Special equipment: doughnut baking pan

  • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk, warmed in microwave
  • 1/2 cup fresh or canned pureed pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin butter
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two mini doughnut pans or two regular sized doughnut pans with coconut oil.

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, milk, pumpkin, pumpkin butter, brown sugar and melted coconut oil.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift the dry ingredients together. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  3. Using a pastry bag, fill the doughnut tins about ¾ the way full.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350F or until they gently spring back when touched. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before carefully using a butter knife to remove. Place on cooling rack for another 10-15 minutes.




07 Sep 2015

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait: Raw Almond Cheese

Almond CheeseI came across this recipe for Raw Almond “Cheese” a while ago and was reluctant to write about it, for a  few reasons. And, there are a few reasons why I decided to write about it today.

One: When you say the word “cheese”, people get all optimistic and think that plant-based “cheese” will taste like dairy cheese without the harmful effects. It doesn’t; and the sooner we accept that fact, the sooner we can embrace nut “cheeses” into our lives.

Two: It used to be so easy to go to my favorite artisan cheese shop and pick up a few wedges of cheese. There aren’t any good sources of tasty vegan cheeses where I live (and probably not too many in the rest of the country for that matter.) What this means is that you have to make it yourself, which takes some time, a bit of patience and a high-powered blender. Once you find a recipe that you like, it’s well worth the effort.

There are two reasons I’m writing about almond cheese today. First, it’s tasty. For me, that’s reason enough to make it. Second, it will make another appearance in the near future in my post about Grilled Baby Eggplant with Almond Cheese (so get moving). Third, you can get creative and use it in so many other recipes.

Raw Almond Cheese doesn’t require any special culinary skill, but this is where the patience comes in. In a nut shell, you soak raw almonds overnight; add some garlic, lemon juice and water; whirl in a food processor or blender; let sit overnight, then place in a dehydrator if you have one. (If you don’t have a dehydrator, simply air dry the wheels in your refrigerator for a few days.) The “cheese” comes out slightly grainy, but very tasty. I liken it to Boursin Gournay cheese that is often sold in the dairy aisle. I like to coat the wheels with cracked pepper or fresh herbs like dill or tarragon. Spread it on crackers with a nice white wine before dinner or with a glass of Prosecco or late harvest Riesling for an after-dinner cheese course. Smear it on grilled vegetable sandwiches or crumble it on salad. (Hmmm, I’m already thinking about some homemade potato and cheese pierogi.)

Good things come to those who wait, but why wait to make this tasty Almond Cheese? Thanks for stopping  by and make it a Vegi-curious day!

Simple Almond Cheese

Makes 2 wheels of cheese

• 2 cups almonds, soaked, drained and skins removed
• 3/4 cup water
• 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
• 6 tablespoons lemon juice
• 2 cloves garlic
• pinch Himalayan Salt (try adding 1 tbsp. miso paste)

Soak almonds overnight in water. Drain and pop off skins. Place all ingredients in food processor or high-powered blender. Process until smooth. This will take a bit of time, don’t rush. Place nut mixture in cheese cloth or butter muslin and tie with butcher’s twine. Suspend inside a deep plastic container and place lid on top. (The idea is to allow the liquid to drain while preventing the surface to dry out.) Let set at room temperature for 24 hours.You can refrigerate the cheese at this point. If you want it more firm, form into two wheels (about 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick) and place  in a food dehydrator for 6+ hours (at 115 degrees) to form a rind. If you don’t have a dehydrator, place the cheese on a cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and air dry in the refrigerator for a few days.

Try coating the cheese with crushed peppercorns, fresh dill, tarragon or other herbs before dehydrating.


15 Jul 2015

Learn to Cook Old School: Lentil Soup

Old School LentilsWe’ve had some chilly days in Delaware last week, so I wasn’t quite ready to put the stew pot away for the summer. I asked Mom to make the Lentil Soup that her mother always made. I don’t know about your grandmother, but Grandma Pauline didn’t own a single recipe book. Everything was in her head, hands and heart. This is how I first learned to cook. If you can boil water, you can make this Lentil Soup. All you have to do is open a bag of lentils, throw in a few cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of tomato paste, add water, salt, pepper and parsley and turn on the heat. You don’t even have to chop the garlic. Can it get any easier than that? (Well, maybe take-out is easier but it won’t be as tasty, healthy or satisfying knowing that you made it yourself.) You can make it as soupy or thick as you like. You can mix in some cut spaghetti or ditalini, or serve it over rice. Lentil soup freezes well, so don’t be afraid to make a big pot. If you insist on following a recipe, I’ve put one together for you to use. Make a pot of Lentil Soup and make it a Vegi-curious day!

Lentil Soup

Makes 2 quarts (6 – 8 servings)

1 pound dry brown lentils
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
1 – 2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt, pepper, parsley to taste

Optional: ¼ to ½ pound of cooked pasta (cut spaghetti or ditalini)

Place all ingredients in saucepot. Cover with plenty of water. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and cook until lentils are soft and liquid is thickened, adding more water as needed. When done, mix in pasta.

Note: do no mix in all of the pasta as the leftovers will absorb any liquid and become soggy.



11 Jun 2015

Baked Pumpkin Custard

Pumpking CarvingPumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin bread . . . these are a few of my favorite things at this time of year. For the past month or so, I’ve been buying small pumpkins at various farm stands. Small pumpkins, ranging in size from 8” to 12” in diameter, are perfect for homemade pumpkin puree. I prefer homemade over canned pumpkin because it has a sweeter, more natural flavor. The hardest part is cutting the pumpkin. This year, I bought some stubborn pumpkins. I tried a butcher’s knife, a large serrated knife and a cleaver and still couldn’t break through the outer skin. As I do anytime I have a dilemma requiring a specialty tool, I asked Bruce if he had any ideas. He suggested I try a saw used for cutting PVC pipe and boy did that make short work of those pumpkins. (Now why didn’t I think of that?) When you’ve successfully cut the pumpkins, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until the flesh is soft (start checking it after 30 minutes). Let the pumpkin cool, scrape from the skin and process in a food processor. You can use immediately or store in the freezer for about a year, which will bring you to the next harvest. By this point in the post you’re thinking that’s a lot of work, but I really do prefer the taste of freshly baked pumpkin puree. Don’t let this deter you from making my Baked Pumpkin Custard; you can always use a can of pumpkin puree.

This Thanksgiving, I’m making baked pumpkin custard instead of pumpkin pie. My recipe calls for silken tofu. Without any eggs or milk fat, I was concerned that the custard would come out grainy instead of creamy. I recalled making custards that involve using a technique called “bain marie”, which literally means “water bath”. By immersing custard-filled ramekins in a baking pan filled with water, the custard cooks gently and does not form a rubbery crust. See this video for a demonstration of this technique.
I used ½ cup ramekins, but you could use smaller or larger ones and adjust the cooking time accordingly. What’s nice about this recipe is that it’s simple enough to make any day of the year or you can dress it up for the holidays by garnishing with some spiced pecans. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pumpkin CustardBaked Pumpkin Custard

12 oz. extra firm silken tofu
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp. molasses
¾ cup+ 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 2 tsp. bourbon
½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice or any combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves

Prepare six ½ cup ramekins and bain marie by placing a clean kitchen towel in the bottom of a large baking dish, then arrange ramekins on top of the towel. Puree all ingredients in blender. Pour into ramekins., then fill baking dish with boiling water being careful not to splash water into custard. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let sit in bain marie until cool enough to remove ramekins.
Makes six ½-cup ramekins.

19 Nov 2014

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