Tuesday, September 20, 2011

vegan strawberry chocolate chip ice cream

Dessert in the Desert

Ever since the start of this year's summer fruit season, I'd been waiting impatiently for an opportunity to try a delicious-sounding recipe for vegan strawberry sherbet I'd seen on the blog Gluten-Free Goddess. However, I didn't actually get the time to experiment with it until much closer to the end of the summer. My expectations were high, but unfortunately the sherbet turned out to be disappointing. The vanilla flavor of the store-bought hemp milk I used was a bit off, I don't love the taste of agave syrup, and my ice cream maker was not cold enough to freeze the concoction in the Las Vegas summer heat. All of this resulted in a funny-tasting, strangely-textured dessert in which the strawberry slices and chocolate chips sunk to the bottom. I started to brainstorm ways to improve it and came up with this creamier version. If you're still able to find some fresh strawberries at the supermarket, this recipe is definitely worth a try.

1 pound organic strawberries
3 T. lime juice
3 T. raw honey
1 cup plain, unsweetened almond milk (Make your own! Here's how.)
1 can coconut milk
1 cup cane sugar (a little less is okay too)
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chunks

Wash and slice your strawberries, then combine them in a bowl with the lime juice and raw honey. Stirring occasionally, allow the berries to macerate over the span of a few hours in the refrigerator.
In a saucepan, combine your almond milk and sugar. Warm over medium heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add your coconut milk and vanilla extract, stir to combine, then store covered in the fridge for several hours until very cold.
Once your strawberries have had time to break down and gain a syrupy texture, transfer them to your blender and puree until smooth. Store the pureed strawberries in the fridge until you are ready to make the ice cream.
Combine the strawberry puree and the milk mixture. Pour the ingredients into your machine and allow it to work its magic. Add the chocolate chunks when the ice cream starts to solidify, just a few minutes before the churning is complete.

Helpful Hints:
1. You don't have to make your own almond milk. Homemade almond milk is vastly better tasting, but also more time consuming (yet not as difficult as you might think!). Check out our previous post for instructions.
2. Although it sounds like a nice idea, I find that leaving the strawberries in slices makes them get in the way of the ice cream maker's inner workings, and they also detract from your ice cream enjoyment because they freeze as little icy chunks. This is why I suggest the puree method.
3. Put your can of coconut milk in the fridge in advance so it will already be cold, to cut down on your waiting time.
4. WholeFoods sells miniature dark chocolate chunks that are perfect for this use. You can also chop up a chocolate bar instead, or just use regular semi-sweet chips.
5. If it's 110 degrees in the desert summer heat and 84 in your kitchen, your ice cream may have trouble freezing (just hypothetically speaking, of course...). My recommendation: Set your freezer to a few degrees colder than usual while you're freezing your ice cream maker canister (-2 Celsius / 28.5 Fahrenheit). Make sure your ingredients are ice cold and work quickly once they're out of the fridge.
6. Don't have an ice cream maker? It's not as extravagant as it might sound. Bed Bath & Beyond sells a simple Cuisinart model for $59, and if you use one of those ubiquitous 20% off coupons they're always sending in the mail (which NEVER expire, by the way, despite the date marked on the bottom), that's $47. Amazon sells them for $49 with free shipping.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

master tonic

More than usual this winter, I have had to put a lot of effort into resisting the cold and flu bugs that are going around. A couple of times I did get sick for a few days, but much more often I have been on the verge of getting sick, and knew that I needed to give my immune system some extra support.

This was my situation yesterday. Last week I had a cold for a few days, and then was feeling better, but on Friday I was around a coworker who was coughing a lot, and woke up Saturday feeling vulnerable again, with some irritation in my throat. So I headed to Whole Food's to stock up on some natural remedies, even though I had spent a significant amount of money just the week before. I was going through them quickly! Scanning the shelves, I was weary of the cash I have been spending on these fancy pills, syrups, and lozenges.

I picked up a product called Cyclone Cider Herbal Tonic, and realized that it is very similar to a simple tonic that my friend Jon has concocted for years at home, and occasionally shared with me. I decided that it was time I learn how to make my own, and I ditched Whole Food's and went to the regular grocery store to get my supplies.

This tonic is made of very common ingredients, but it is very powerful. These are the roots and vegetables that have throughout human history been used to destroy harmful bacterial or viral infections, to increase circulation, and to alleviate congestion. It is no surprise that people have found ways over time to incorporate these medicinal plants into their everyday cooking, and that they are so ubiquitous today.

Equal parts garlic, ginger, horseradish, onions, and hot peppers (preferrably cayenne but it doesn't matter much), are grated, or chopped fine, or pulverized, and placed in a jar. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar is poured over this mixture to cover, and then the brew is left to steep for a while; a week or two, or a month, or longer. The important thing is to shake the container every day or two. The liquid is strained off into another container, and is ready to be used. The photo below shows my new bounty.

I filled four 32 oz Mason jars, and expect to end up with 64 oz of the tonic. I paid about $20 for the ingredients, which means I will end up paying 31¢ per ounce. The similar formula I saw at Whole Food's was $15 for 2 oz, and $25 for 4 oz! And the truth is that most natural supplements at health food stores are within a similar high price range. I am planning to see if this formula can do the job for me and save me a small fortune from now on.

If you would like more information, below is an excellent YouTube tutorial on how to make the Master Tonic. I wish you great health!

Monday, January 3, 2011

winter miso soup

With such frigid weather in the whole country right now (it snowed here in Las Vegas last night!), I am inclined to share a recipe that has warmed and soothed me many times in recent weeks. It is a hearty, rich miso soup that showcases sauteed onions and healthy vegetables of your choice. If you like French onion soup, but like me never indulge in it because it is way too rich (and not vegetarian/vegan), you should consider this option, because it offers a reminiscent fullness of flavor.

Most people have tried miso in soups at Japanese restaurants, but perhaps don't know much about it. It is a fermented flavoring paste that has been used in Asia for thousands of years. Typically made from soybeans, miso can also be made from other legumes or grains, or a combination. There is a true art and inventiveness to miso production, and each variety has its own distinct color, texture, and flavor. And miso is incredibly healthful. Since it is a fermented food, it has live enzymes which help digestion and assimilation. It is high in protein, contains vitamin B12, and in general it is considered a very healing, tonic food that promotes longevity.

In restaurants that serve miso soup, I find it is always the same. The same brown color paste is used, and it is always served with raw tofu and green onions. Of course, the traditional preparation should be respected, but miso is very adaptable and creativity is rewarded. Luckily, if you go to the health food store, you will likely find quite a few varieties to experiment with; like white, red, or yellow, and barley or rice varieties. Make sure that whichever miso you choose is unpasteurized. The photo below shows the ones I have right now.

A good rule of thumb is to take advantage of lighter miso in warmer weather and darker miso in cold weather. So for the soup I made today I went straight to some of Stefanie's black Hatcho Miso. As for vegetables, I like to use spinach, and I am really a big fan of mung bean sprouts in my miso soups lately. So I prepared a few days ago by sprouting some mung beans in my sprouting tray. You will see from the photo that these don't look much like the mung bean sprouts they sell at the grocery store. Those sprouts are grown to a much longer length, and the hulls are removed. From what I have read, sprouts actually have maximum nutrition when the tails are short. So I use them at that point. Hulls are removed because they can start to rot over time, but this isn't something that is going to happen in the couple of days needed to grow short ones. (By the way, if you are interested in sprouting, you should try it. It is very easy. You don't need a fancy tray either.)

So for the soup, I use these sprouts, onion, and spinach for my vegetables. I use the dark miso, and I add a dollop of sesame butter for creaminess. Stefanie taught me that miso should never be boiled because the beneficial enzymes are fragile and will be destroyed. So in the recipe you will see that the miso is mixed in to the soup pot at the end.

1 tsp. sesame or olive oil
1 onion, sliced thin
1 cup of spinach, chopped coarsely, and 1 cup of mung sprouts
an equal amount of thinly sliced vegetables of your choosing
2-3 cups of broth or water (use low or no salt broth, since miso is salty)
1 or 2 T. miso (with strong Hatcho Miso, I use 1 T.)
1 T. sesame or another kind of nut butter (optional but highly recommended)

In a medium saucepan, saute onions in oil until they begin to turn translucent. Add the other vegetables, and saute until tender. Add the broth or water and the nut butter, cover, and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove a few tablespoons of broth from the pot and mix well with the miso. Stefanie suggests using the magic bullet for this step if you have one. Turn off the heat under the pot and then add the miso mixture. Cover the pot and let the soup sit for a few minutes so the miso gets warm before serving. Serves 2.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a veggie thanksgiving

After a lot of excitement and anticipation, a lot of recipe hunting, and a few days of planning and hard work, I am happy to share that my little Thanksgiving dinner went really well this year. It was a small party, with just me, my mom, and her boyfriend. With even that few people, it was tricky to think of what might please all of us, and also fit in with our individual dietary plans and restrictions. I felt most comfortable going a vegetarian route, but when I also started looking for low-fat options, I realized that vegan dishes were my best bet. So I managed a totally vegan dinner, and it was actually delicious!

I can't take all the credit though. I used an amazing resource online. The New York Times this year published a whole series of excellent articles on vegetarian Thanksgiving ideas and recipes. Everything included is very fancy and festive. I used three of their recipes and they were perfect. Take my advice and bookmark this link that shows all the recipes in one place, or better yet, print the recipes you like just in case they don't stay posted forever.

Here is my menu:

From the New York Times Well's Vegetarian Thanksgiving
  • Cranberry Chutney: A standing mixer is used to very slowly macerate the fresh cranberries in this chutney. They retain their texture and acidity more than they would if cooked.
From Gourmet Magazine
  • Green salad: Lettuce and spinach leaves, blanched asparagus, roasted beet slices (chilled), some home-grown sprouts, sliced radishes, tossed in Bragg's Healthy Vinaigrette.
A few notes just in case you make any of these dishes yourself:
First, I used Earth Balance in place of butter everywhere that it was needed. It is really similar in taste and consistency, is non-hydrogenated, and has half the saturated fat. Next, if you make the stuffed portobellos dish, I recommend French lentils since they stay firmer and don't break down to mush like the red lentils. If you make the potatoes and gravy dish, the recipe suggests that you leave the skins on the onions when making the stock. I have been making vegetable stocks from scratch for a long time, using my vegetable scraps from cooking, and I had a major breakthrough when I started removing the onion skins. Though they impart a lovely red color to a stock, they ruin it with a harsh bitter taste. The gravy is also a little on the thin side. Next time I would add some more flour.

You may be wondering about dessert. (Major sigh). Dessert was a flop. My plan was to do a vegan pumpkin pie. I thought this would be so incredibly easy. I suppose I was spoiled living in Humboldt County, CA where the Co-op up makes a vegan pumpkin pie that is so good, it doesn't taste different than a traditional recipe. I don't think I appreciated this feat. Now I do. I tried 3 pie recipes. The first one I think called for way too much silken tofu, because the pie filling became a really pale color. And it didn't taste much like pumpkin anymore. I had plenty of time so I decided to try again. I found another tofu recipe, but by then I had serious doubts about tofu so I decided to hedge my bets and also try a recipe that uses a milk of your choice (I used almond milk) and cornstarch. The former one actually had a greenish cast from the tofu; I don't know how that is even possible. And the latter never set up in the middle, even though I let it sit in the fridge overnight. So those ended up in the trash. (If anybody reading this knows the recipe from the Co-op let me know.)

Fortunately we had a lot of big laughs over the pies, so it wasn't bad at all. It was a fun time. I hope everyone else had a great experience too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

guilt-free holiday cookies

At last it is that most special time of year when it is time to get into holiday baking. I just love the traditional recipes of late fall and winter, usually so comforting and rich with warming spices. Most of the last month I had to take a break from the kitchen because I was off participating in a long meditation course in Washington State. Some of you may have noticed my absence. Well, it was a most fulfilling experience for me, but I did miss baking so much. Especially since I had looked at a whole bunch of great recipes right before I left. I need to remind myself not to do that again! But of course these were waiting for me when I returned home.

So far I have tried two holiday cookie recipes this season. The first ones, shown in the above photo, are called Coffeehouse Hermits, from a cookbook of Stefanie's called Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. This cookbook is mind-blowing. The recipes are so creative and all look so delicious; it doesn't surprise me at all that it has a 5-star rating on Amazon.

Hermits are very old-fashioned simple cookies. They are soft and molasses flavored, and studded with raisins. I have fond memories of these cookies from when I was little and my mom would buy us the Archway brand. I remember clearly the shop where she would pick them up by the train station near our house on Long Island. Well, these modern vegan hermits are even more delicious. A really nice sophisticated touch is made by the addition of coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, so I used a coffee substitute. These beverages, such as Pero or Cafix, are made from roasted grains and roots like barley, chicory, beetroots, and dandelion roots and I think they are so satisfying and shamefully underrated. If you are interested, they are in most supermarkets in the coffee aisle.

The recipe for the hermits is below. It is pretty straightforward. The one thing I found though is that they don't last long. After three days at room temperature in a sealed bag they started to dry out. If you aren't going to get through them very quickly, I suggest freezing some of them soon after cooling, to defrost later.

The second cookie recipe I tried was found when I went to the website for Post Punk Kitchen, the group responsible for the Vegan Cookies book described above. They have a ton of great recipes on there, so I tried one for Pumpkin Oat Cookies. Those are in the photo below, and the recipe can be found at this link. I can not stress enough how delicious these cookies are. I may never make regular oatmeal cookies again. My mom actually just called a couple of minutes ago to tell me that they are out of this world.

Lastly, I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are spending it in the company of people you love. If you want some laughs to get into a celebratory mood, check out one of my favorite websites, Cakewrecks:When Professional Cakes Go Horribly, Hilariously Wrong. They just posted a series of Thanksgiving cake photos that are really funny.

And here is the recipe for hermits:

½ cup canola oil
2 cups strong thick black coffee, cooled to room temp
1/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground ginger
A generous pinch finely ground black pepper
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dark raisins

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, coffee, molasses, and sugar until thick. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt. Fold in the dry ingredients till almost completely moistened, then fold in the raisins till a soft dough forms.

2. Chill the dough in the refrigerator (no need to remove from the bowl) for 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. After dough is chilled, lightly moisten your hands and divide the dough in half. Form it into two logs on top of the parchment paper, each measuring about 13 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide. Leave 3 to 4 inches of room between logs as the dough will spread when baking. Sprinkle the tops of logs with additional sugar and gently press into dough.

4. Bake 24 to 26 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and the logs feel slightly firm. Cracked tops are fine, even traditionally desired with this cookie. Allow the logs to cool for 15 minutes, then with scissors or a sharp knife, slice the parchment paper between the logs in two. Gently slide each log with its parchment paper onto a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the logs into 2-inch-wide slices, using a single downward motion with the knife. Carefully move each slice onto wire racks to complete cooling.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

mulligatawny soup with homemade almond milk

Saffron is such a gorgeous color, and stands out beautifully against the white of our homemade almond milk

     On a visit to my hometown in Pennsylvania, I noticed that my father-in-law had checked a cookbook out of the library entitled Splendid Soups by James Peterson. What an inspiring book! As I browsed through it, I was excited to discover a recipe for mulligatawny soup, because I had tried various versions at Indian restaurants and had often wondered how to make it myself. Once back in Vegas, Katherine and I got together and embarked on a mulligatawny soup adventure. It began at the local farmer's market, where we picked up the produce we needed for the recipe, as well as a beautiful loaf of artisan whole wheat bread and a bag of wild mache to use for a side salad. Then we headed home and spent a few hours preparing and enjoying this delicious lunch.
     This soup has a secret, magical ingredient... homemade almond milk! Sure, you can use supermarket almond milk, but as we found out, it's not only really fun to make your own, but the homemade variety tastes about a thousand times better. It was so unbelievably delicious, I could barely wipe the smile off my face. I have to admit, though, I didn't try very hard. Smiling cooks make good food, after all... or so I've heard.
     The following is the recipe as we made it. We didn't stray far from the original, changing only a few minor details.

4 T. ghee (you can also use unsalted butter or Earth Balance margarine or coconut oil if you're vegan)
2 medium-size carrots, chopped
2 medium-size onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 medium-size waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups vegetable broth plus 3 cups water
1 cup tightly packed spinach leaves
1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight and 1 cup water (or about 1.5 cups store-bought almond milk - original, unsweetened)
1/4 tsp. saffron threads, soaked in 1 T. water for 15 minutes
2 T. ghee (or unsalted butter or vegan margarine)
4 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 T. finely chopped cilantro leaves
salt and pepper

Melt the butter (or ghee, margarine or oil) in a 4-quart pot over medium heat and add the carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the onions start to turn translucent.

Add the broth and bring the soup to a medium simmer. When the vegetables are soft and can be crushed easily against the side of the pot with a spoon, about 20 minutes, add the spinach leaves and simmer for 2 minutes more.

While the vegetables are cooking, use the almonds and water to make almond milk (see below for instructions).

Puree the soup in a blender or through the fine disk of a food mill. If you want the soup to have a smoother texture, strain it through a medium mesh strainer. Add the almond milk and the saffron with its soaking liquid.

Combine the ghee (or butter or margarine) and curry in a small sauté pan. Stir over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until you can smell the curry. Add this mixture to the soup.

Stir in the coconut milk and the cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and serve.

We garnished our soup with a quick pour of coconut milk and a sprig of cilantro, and had a hearty slice of toast and salad tossed with vinaigrette on the side.

Make your own almond milk!
The extra effort is entirely worth it, in my opinion.
You can use the milk for this and other recipes, but you can also use it for your cereal or in your tea, or any other way you might use dairy milk.
Soak a cup of raw almonds overnight. Cover them amply with water, because they will bloat up and the top ones won't be soaking anymore unless you use extra water. When you wake up in the morning, change the water. When you're ready to begin, squeeze each almond between your thumb and index finger, and the skins should pop right off. Once you get the hang of this technique, it's very easy work. Then, simply blend the almonds with a cup of water in a blender, until smooth and creamy. You may need to add more water, a little at a time, to achieve the desired consistency. Next, pour the almond pulp into a nut milk bag or onto a double layer of cheese cloth over a bowl. Close the bag, or gather the sides of the cloth, and start squeezing it until almond milk begins to drain into the bowl. This process is amusingly reminiscent of milking a cow. You can store your almond milk in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days until you're ready to use it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

chinese tea ceremony

A pastime I want to share with you that delights me immensely is setting up a proper Chinese tea service. This is according to a tradition in China called gong fu cha, which translates to "tea brewing with great skill." I was first introduced to Chinese tea a few years back, when I started hanging out with a couple of good friends of mine, Chris and Jon, who at that time shared a house in the High Desert. Chris had a couple of bricks of a special tea from China that I was not very familiar with, called pu-erh. He had crafted a wonderfully rustic low table out of wood in the Asian style, and we spent many visits sitting there having conversation and making pot after pot of this tea in a little porcelain tea set. I became hooked, and back at home I began reading a pile of books about tea from the university library, and ordering tea supplies directly from China through eBay.

Pu-erh is made with a broad leafed variety of the traditional Camellia Sinensis plant which we all know so well from our black and green teas. However, this one is compressed, fermented, and the exciting thing is that it can be aged just like a fine wine, for upwards of a hundred years. Below is a picture of the various ways the tea is compressed. On the left is a brick of the ripened leaves. On the right is an opened small nugget or tuocha of the raw pu-erh leaves. You can see that it is more green in color because it hasn't ripened yet. (Since the 1970's, tea producers have learned how to artificially ripen the tea, so even a younger tea can be ripe too.) For me, it was just the thing I was looking for. I have made a strong commitment to a meditation practice that requires a renunciation of alcohol, but this interest in tea provides me the many pleasures available to serious wine enthusiasts. I can study the history and process of the cultivation, and can study the geography of the many regions of China where this plant is grown, essentially traveling and connecting intimately to far away parts of the world from home. Then there are the sensual details. A pu-erh tea is just as rich as a wine with tasting notes. I think of a ripened pu-erh as a big red like a Cabernet Sauvignon. While it isn't fruity, it is robust and has some of the similar notes: earth, roots, muskiness, tobacco, leather. And it has a similar creamy smooth full-bodied mouth feel. I also appreciate raw pu-erhs that are fresh and still look kind of green. These I liken more to a white wine, like a Sauvignon Blanc, with strong grassy notes. The teas are of course not refined like a wine; indeed they are very unrefined and rough, but I am charmed by that primal quality.

So the other part to this is the actual ceremony. I think that Japanese tea ceremonies are much more well-known than the Chinese. As far as I know, and keep in mind I haven't traveled to Asia before, the intention of the Japanese tea ceremony is to achieve the maximum refinement and beauty. This is very different than the Chinese, where beauty is important but the primary goal is to achieve the maximum best tasting cup of tea. It is much more casual, and I think practical. I won't explain all the guidelines, because other websites would do it better (see wikipedia for a good ex.). Above is a picture of my tea table with the various supplies. The vessel for brewing the tea is called a gaiwan, which is traditionally made from a special kind of clay called Yixing (pronounced Yee-shing). The small pots made from this clay are semi-porous, so they absorb the tea over time. It is said that after many years of curing, one can simply pour hot water into the pot, and it will make tea from this residue. Thus, a different pot is needed for each general kind of tea. The pots are very small so the tea becomes more concentrated without oxygen interfering, and boiling water is not only poured into the pot but over the top of the full pot as well, so that it becomes as hot as possible. A special tray is used to catch this extra water. I always find this copious pouring of water is very soothing, like the feeling I get from a fountain. Many different types of cups can be used, but I like celadon cups which are again very traditional. Celadon stoneware usually has a craquelure glaze, so there are these tiny cracks throughout that become darker as the tea stains them. A part of the ceremony is to brush water on these cups before use so the cracks become darker, and to appreciate the pattern which is similar to that of dragonfly wings. The pu-erh tea leaves can be used to make multiple pots of the tea, as many as five or six.

So there is my summary of many of the things I appreciate in this special tradition, at least regarding pu-erhs. I haven't even mentioned my second favorite Chinese tea, oolong, which employs the same ceremony but has different characteristics, so you may see a special post highlighting it someday. Because I know pu-erh isn't widely available, if you have never tried it and are signed up as a subscriber to the blog I would like to do what I can to send you a sample. Just let me know.

Stefanie's comment: I love the fact that Katherine has taken tea appreciation to the next level, savoring it like fine wine. Recently in a travel guidebook I read a Westerner's account of the impatience he experienced in witnessing a Chinese tea ceremony, and I'm sure there are many people who would find it frustrating to take so long to pour and drink a tiny cup of tea. For me, though, it is a reminder to take the time to enjoy life's simpler pleasures more often... and in much greater detail! Sure, you can grab a cuppa on your way out to work or absently sip your beverage while you're plugging away at your computer (not that there's anything wrong with that), but I found that Katherine's description was a beautiful reminder to set my multitasking aside every once in a while and slow down enough to enjoy every aspect of my cup of tea, thereby adding a few minutes of focus to my otherwise overstimulated daily life. And it's such a treat to yourself to do this. Spending an extra 30 seconds to notice the smell, the feel on your tongue, the subtleties of the flavor, etc. could add a significant amount of peace and mindfulness, and consequently, health and equanimity to your day. I hope you'll take Katherine up on her offer and try some of this pu-erh. It's really wonderful.