Thursday, May 30, 2013

A preserving first: plain ol' strawberry jam for #CanItUp

It's strange but true. Until this month, I had never made strawberry jam. All these other kinds (and more), yes—but somehow good old-fashioned strawberry had slipped past me.

Thanks to the monthly Can It Up challenge on All Four Burners, I made it finally happen.

Of course at first I started consulting my cookbooks, and pinning up a storm with all kinds of flavor variations in mind. But ultimately I was seduced by the simple goodness of the strawberry, and chose to leave it unadulterated.

I was initially planning to go with Strawberry Rose Geranium, but couldn't bring myself to harvest half of the blossoms on my small plant, and something inside was telling me to just go it plain.

I basically used this recipe from Marisa at Food in Jars, sans the vanilla bean. Above is what it looked like after macerating in the fridge for 2 days. Then it was to making jam! I even busted out a strawberry apron for the occasion.

After that we ate jam. (Sometimes French breakfast has to happen). The man of the house is always complaining I don't make "regular enough" jams, but based on the fact we're almost through the second jar that didn't seal (wait, I though I hated when that happened...), clearly going with the straight stuff was not a mistake.

There is always more jam that can be made, after all.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cook the Books 2013 - Tender goodness from Nigel Slater

This month's Cook the Books assignment was Tender by Nigel Slater. I loved this tome of a cookbook and its somewhat non-standard presentation; think part gardening diary, part ode to the seasons (the moody photos especially), part personal narrative, and a lot of enticing recipes. Organized alphabetically by type of produce, he starts each chapter discussing the specific vegetable in both the garden and in the kitchen. The section (when applicable) on varieties was always interesting and informative to read, but I think my favorite feature was the list of seasoning recommendations for that specific vegetable. From herbs and spices to best oils and accompaniments, I felt like this piece showed a lot of his cook's personality, and was plenty useful and inspiring—and I definitely found some things I wouldn't have thought of, but that make perfect sense.

The lineup of dishes served up this month was modest, but across-the-board satisfying.

Chickpea patties with beet tzatziki

I broke in my new food processor (first full-size one I've ever owned) making the chickpea patties! They took a bit of finessing in the pan to get right, but in my opinion the key is to not make them too big, and to let them cook long enough on the first side to crisp and firm up so you can flip them without them coming out a crumbly mess.




The color and flavor boost from the grated beet "tzatziki", with additional salt and lemon, is what really made this shine for me.

Chard with olive oil and lemon

First-ever time that I boiled chard. Of course really it's just blanching, but still I was surprised at this preparation, not least at how much I liked it. So I busted out a new technique and a new tool in the kitchen this month!

A pilaf of asparagus and mint (sans the favas)

I saw favas all over early in the month, but by the time I was looking for them to cook with, they were nowhere to be found. So I made the spring pilaf without them and still loved it. The aromatic spices added great dimension, but I cut down the butter called for by about 1/3, and still found it a bit heavy for the dish. In fact, there were a lot dishes in this book that called for heavy cream or a lot of butter, it kind of made me laugh. Of course that tastes good! Maybe the difference of the UK still being cold in spring came into play, but veggies I would think of as lending themselves to being lighter often had a lineup of heavy ingredients. Still, come cold nights, I could definitely see myself turning to some of them. Again, this one I felt like was really elevated by the yogurt sauce, so don't skip it.

Check out some of the dishes Grow & Resist and Ohbriggsy cooked up, and as soon as it's up I'll post the recap of everyone's menus.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Swapper Profile: Micah + Vegan Tater Tot Hotdish Recipe

Hooray for Micah and Vegan Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Swapper community meet Micah! Micah has an infectious sense of humor and fun, and through his terrific variety of creations, you may already know him from the swap. His treats are always vegan, always tasty, and have included Chocolate Dipped Mango, Vegan Chocolate Chunk Biscotti, Assorted Crackers (Caper + Sea Salt, Green Garlic, Lemon + Red Pepper) and more. Also, I do believe Micah deserves credit for introducing one of my favorite swap trends: homemade cocktails for the potluck. Back in August last year, he brought a gingery summer fruit bourbon concoction that clearly set the pace...our last swap had three kinds of cocktails on offer. Way to go Micah (a toast in your direction). He loves biscuits and baking and veganizing as he goes, and he shares his recipe for Vegan Tater Tot Hotdish below. I'm feeling Minnesota already.

Name: Micah

Vegan recipe blog: Big Mike's Eats 

Hometown: Bernal Heights, San Francisco, via Saint Paul, Minnesota

Profession (optional): Attorney

How did you first get involved in food swapping? How long ago?
I went to my first SF food swap in spring 2012 and was immediately hooked.  I found out about the swap through a random google search for local food events.

What did you make for the last food swap and what inspired your choice?
I made vegan chocolate chunk-almond-cinnamon biscotti. Biscotti is my go-to for any food sharing occasion because I can make it with anything I’ve got lying around in the kitchen, and everyone’s happy when there’s more biscotti in the world. Except the gluten free folks, but I’m working on that!

Bags o' biscotti!
 What’s your favorite thing about swapping?
It’s an even tie between the excellent people and the excellent loot. The only thing better than heading home with an armload of spicy pickled carrots, homemade bourbon vanilla, and foraged cherry jam is hanging out with the awesome and hilarious people who made those gems.

Who or what most influences your cooking?
Being Minnesotan. As a vegan, I feel like there’s a lot of unchartered water. I’m obsessed with adding to the vegan recipe canon by updating the cultural foods I grew up with by making plant-based versions. Midwestern comfort food is my preferred food genre, which for my childhood meant a big mishmash of Jewish, Northern European, Scottish, Norwegian, and local standards.  I’ve veganized a lot of foods that only a Minnesotan could love, like scotch eggsWelsh rarebithaggislutefisk, the Juicy Lucy (an outside-in cheeseburger), stoviesHungarian goulashdeep fried cheese curds, and the penultimate Minnesotan delicacy, tater tot hotdish.
I’ve also built up a hefty arsenal of veganized Jewish comfort foods, which is especially handy around Hannukah and Passover, when vegans can feel trapped between ethics and observance. I’ve covered a lot of the classics: loxkugelmatzoh ball souplatkesbeef brisketPassover macaroons, and the like, but I’m still working on the perfect vegan challah. It’s my white whale.
 I’m basically a split personality cook; when I’m veganizing a classic comfort food, I have no shame about junk food. Minnesotan food traditions are based on pantry staples like boxed soup mix and canned vegetables, and whole foods versions just don’t hit the mark, in my experience.
When I’m making new recipes, though, I try hard to focus on whole foods and local, organic ingredients.  My boyfriend is also a vegan food blogger, and he’s much more committed to whole foods, so he’s an excellent influence. I’m a bad one, as there’s an endless supply of biscotti and cake in the house.

What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
Parchment paper makes my world go ‘round. Silpats are a more sustainable, reusable option, but parchment paper can be cut to size and composted so there’s no cleanup. I can’t stop dipping random foods in chocolate, so parchment paper makes candy infinitely easier remove after hardening, and parchment paper removes the need for both oil and cleanup when baking cookies or roasting vegetables.
In case parchment paper isn’t tool-like enough, I’ll also big up my dowel rolling pin (with tapered ends and no handles), which I bought when I was eighteen and working at a posh cooking supply store. A dowel pin gives a person so much more control when rolling out dough, so you can make ultra thin crackers and wrappers for dumplings, wontons, or knishes.

Micah's crackers from a past swap
Your current flavor or ingredient obsession?
Blood oranges and sweet limes! Their seasons are just ending now, and I’m a little heartbroken. I had never seen either of these darling citruses when I lived in Minnesota, and I’ve been schlepping home about ten pounds of fruit from the Alemany Farmer’s Market each week that they’ve been available. Sweet limes are gorgeous eaten plain; a strong, clear lime flavor, but as sweet as an orange. Sweet lime juice and chili pepper flakes over sautéed collard greens is pretty great. Blood oranges are absolutely beautiful and a little bit tart; I use them for mimosas and chocolate chunk biscotti.

Biggest food surprise?
That carrot greens are amazing.

If the Rapture came tomorrow, what would your last meal on earth be?
Everything that I could find, dipped in dark chocolate. And champagne.

When I'm not in the kitchen I'm...
Blogging about being in the kitchen, painting, doing weird collaborative art projects, or playing chess. Sometimes I go to work, too. 

Favorite local food experience:
Making brunch with friends every Saturday after the Alemany Farmers’ Market. We scoop up whatever weird, adorable produce is in season and build brunch around it, like nettlepesto + baby turnip pizza.


Prep time: about an hour
Yield: one large casserole dish, about 8-10 servings
Preheat oven to 425f
- 1 32 oz. bag tater tots (I use Ore Ida- reliably vegan)
-1 finely chopped onion
-1 12oz. package of vegan ground beef (Smart Ground original veggie protein crumbles from Lightlife)
-2 tsp garlic powder
-sea salt and pepper to taste
-1 ½ c. vegan creamy portabella soup from Imagine foods
-1 14oz can or bag of frozen French cut green beans
- ¼ c. daiya cheddar shreds (for the gooey insides)
- ½ c. daiya cheddar shreds (for the crispy top)


1. Bake tater tots at 425 for about 20 minutes or until golden and firm- you want them nice and crispy inside the hot dish, but don’t let them brown- they’ll finish baking when the whole hot dish is assembled. 
2. While the tater tots are baking, chop the onion finely
3. Heat 2 tbs canola oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, then 
5. Add the package of vegan ground- crumble it into the pan, and fry the onions and ground together with the garlic powder, a pinch of salt, and a few cracks of fresh ground pepper for about 8 minutes or until veggie ground is cooked through
6. Pour the 1 ½ c. mushroom soup into the pan and continue to cook and stir over medium-high heat until well mixed and the soup has cooked down a little, about six minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. It should taste vaguely like beef-a-roni. In a good way. The best way. 
7. Scoop the onion-ground-soup mixture into a large casserole dish
8. Open and strain your 14 oz. can of French cut green beans, and spread them evenly over the layer of onion-veggie ground-soup
9. Sprinkle approximately ¼ c. of the cheddar daiya over the green beans
10. Make an even layer of the baked tater tots over the green beans. If there are any very soft parts, make sure they’re facing up
11. Bake at 425f. for about 15 minutes so tater tots can get crispier
12. When tater tots are golden brown and firm, remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining ½ c. daiya shreds evenly over the top. Place back in the 425f. oven and bake another 15-20 minutes until the daiya shreds on top are lightly browned and crispy.
13. Serve hot! 

Reheating note: You can cover leftover hot dish with foil or in Tupperware and refrigerate, but when it’s time to reheat, bake it in the oven or toaster oven (350f for about 10-15 minutes, or until tots are crispy again). The tater tots will get soggy in the fridge, so you need the dry heat of an oven to get them nice and crispy again.

Micah's Tater Tot Hotdish at the swap