Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Tofu Dilemma

I never much liked tofu or tofu products but I had heard from others that they think it cause their thyroid problems. When I told people that I had started eating vegan they commented “but, oh, don’t eat soy, it is not safe”. No, no, I don’t like it anyways I replied. But then, with pressed, marinated and grilled tofu I suddenly started to like it (proves the point that most things are delicious once prepared well). The added effect is that I feel much more energized when exercising, I have more endurance and recover better without feeling weighed down. So, there is my dilemma now: is it safe to eat more tofu? There are so many studies out there, but I am skeptical and always wonder who really funded a study. With government-supports industries the push does not always go in the direction to what is most healthy, but most supported (corn syrup, anyone?). I don’t want to end up with thyroid disease, so I wonder what to do.
Any thoughts? Opinions? concerns? Experiences?
light tofu

Monday, May 30, 2011

Finally. A day of summer.

May consisted of 3 1/2 weeks of rain and temperatures in the lower 50s. Last week brought the first days of sunshine, which I used to finish the garden, and today, finally abundant sunshine, temperatures in the upper 80s, a good degree of humidity and a holiday. I packed up my bike and headed to Acadia National Park. Acadia NP is located on Mount Desert Island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge in Trenton. Mount Desert is how everyone imagines Maine: beautiful fjords, coves, white cottages and an expansive terrain of mountains with hiking trails, carriage roads, and lobster places. 

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My bike ride took me to Jordan Pond house via the carriage roads. My plan was to have lunch at the restaurant, outside on the lawn with a beautiful view of the pond and the ‘bubbles’ and a popover. But alas since it was still raining until yesterday the lawn area was too soggy, and the benches and table had not been placed on the lawn yet. Bummer. So, I biked back to my car, and went to option 2: Bar Harbor. 

jordan pond maine   (see the bubbles?)

Bar Harbor has beautiful shops, great outdoor restaurants and many old-fashioned ice cream parlors. First order of business was stocking up on olive oils and balsamic vinegars at Fiore! Fiore is a store with a large selection of artisan olive oils, vinegars and other specialties likes sea salts and dips. What I like most about Fiore is that I can taste the different varieties, and I think especially with olive oils you never know if you like it if you don’t taste it first. This time I got a Garlic Olive Oil, Herbs de Provence EVOO and Meyer Lemon olive oil, and a fantastic new Honey Ginger White Balsamic Vinegar with quite a bite to it. Looking forward to grilling with these! 

 fiore Bar harbor maine fiore Bar Harbor

Walking off the olive oil samples and up an appetite I took a stroll through the main shopping street. One of my destinations is often a wood store, which sells only items made from wood like decorative ducks, beautiful salad bowls and kids toys. How adorable are these ‘prehistoric pull toys’? 

prehistoric wood toy wood toy

And then it was finally time for ‘lunch’ at 4pm: a golden and red beet salad with goat cheese at Rupununi. Looks like they still had to break in the chef, because the beets were undercooked, and no goat cheese to be found. Quite disappointing. Well, it was the first good day of the summer, and all the waiter/waitresses were on summer jobs and new, too. Anyway, sitting in the warm sun after a satisfying summer day ? --- priceless.

rupunini beet salad

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chickpea Arugula Salad

I felt like a Wholefood market salad bar chef today making this salad: crunchy peppery arugula, velvety smooth chickpeas with a smooth vinaigrette. It is great on its own or as a side on a salad platter.

  • 1 TB dijon mustard
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 1/2 honey
  • 1 ts crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 small garlic cloves, microplaned
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 cup arugula salad, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chickpeas, cooked

Whisk the ‘vinaigrette’ (dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, red pepper flakes, olive oil, salt, pepper) so that it has a smooth consistency. Mix in the chickpeas first to coat them, and then fold in the arugula. Serve!

chickpea arugula

Early summer blossoming

Memorial weekend…. the sun is still playing peek-a-boo, but it warmer and the flowers in my garden start blossoming for the season. Rhododendron do really well in the acidic soil of my garden, and I have several gorgeous plants in my favorite colors: hot pink, deep purple and dark red. The lilacs also bloom and it looks like I might have 1 or 2 lone peaches this year.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Attack of the Killer Mint

Finally, we have some good weather! Sunshine, warm temperatures, warm enough to run around in capris and tees, but not too hot for doing so some work in the garden. A few years ago, I put in a new seated area in the back of my garden, being inspired by those beautiful gardens Crate and Barrel photographs their lawn furniture in. I removed trees and brush, planted lawn and flowering pants, and laid a stone floor with a mix of natural Maine stones and decorative stones from, well, Home Depot. I loved it. For about one season. Then, there was the attack of the lawn and not much was visible of the stone floor anymore. This year I dug up the stones again and did what I should have done in the first place: put weed blocker underneath. Lawn is similar to mint – it seems to take over the world where it is not supposed to. But unlike mint the lawn sometimes does not grow where it supposed to, and you’re busy fixing those bare patches on the lawn. Naughty, naughty.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Vegan Rhurbarb Strawberry Crisp

When rhurbarb is in season there is only one thing to pair it with: sweet fresh strawberry and a crispy crumble on top, warm out of the oven. To keep portion size under control, I made individual servings in small, but tall ramekins. Each one was filled to the brim with the fruit mix and topped with a bit of the rolled oats and almond meal mixture. After baking, the fruit mix shrunk to have the ramekin, but the kitchen smelled fabulous and of course, I had to eat one, hot out of the oven. Heaven!
Fruit mix:
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup fresh rhubarb, cleaned and cut into small chunks
  • 1/2 tart apple, small dice
  • 1 TB organic sugar
Crisp Topping:
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 TB almond meal (basically ground non-blanched almonds)
  • 2 TB flour (any kind)
  • 2 TB brown sugar
  • 1 TB earth balance, at room temperature
  • 1/2 ts vanilla extract
In a bowl, mix the fruits with the sugar. Fill into 4 small ramekin. Set aside. In the same bowl, mix the dry ingredients, and with a fork knead in the butter. Distribute on top of the 4 ramekin. Since there is little butter and no baking powder the crisp will not rise, but it will still be a sweet crunch on top of the fruit mixture. Bake at 400F for 35min. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream or… straight up!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vegan Mushroom Soup

The consistency of this mushroom soup reminds me of the Campell Creamed Mushroom soup, however, it is made from scratch, only with healthy ingredients and it is vegan. And delicious.
  • 1 white onion, small diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 TB grapeseed oil
  • 1 cup of fresh mushroom (e.g. portabella mushroom, shitake, oyster, etc.), cleaned and sliced
  • 1 cup of dried mushroom (e.g. shitake, porcini, and/or oyster)
  • 1 spring of thyme
  • 1/4 cup unflavored almond milk
  • 1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas
  • 1 ts vegetable bouillon
  • optionally: more water, depending on wanted consistency
  • salt, pepper to taste
For garnish: more fresh mushroom sauteed in olive oil, salt and pepper and some feta crumbles.
Reconstitute the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of boiling water for about 10min. Heat a pot with the grapeseed oil and fry the onion and garlic until translucent, then add the fresh mushrooms. Saute the mushroom until they are slightly browned. Now, add the dried mushroom with the soaking liquid. Stir and combine well. Bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat to a medium-low simmer. Add the thyme, bouillon, almond  milk and the chickpeas. Simmer on medium-low for ca. 30min. Let it cool, and then puree in a really good blender (e.g. vitamix) to get a creamy, smooth consistency. Reheat, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve with sauteed fresh baby bella mushroom and feta crumbles (optional).
mushroom soup

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mexican Lentil Mix, Take 2

After I made the lentil based taco filling the first time, I became infatuated with it. It tastes rich and flavorful and is similarly versatile as hummus: it can be used for taco, quesadillas, in sandwiches, as a dip with tortilla chips and even in with pasta. Typically, I do not have cooked beluga lentils on hand, to I came up with a second version, which includes cooking the lentils and the taco filling in one step. Also, instead of ancho chili powder, I used 2 dried ancho chilies that I reconstituted with hot water and pureed. This version is even more flavorful.
Beluga lentil taco filling, version 2 (lazy version):
  • 2 dried ancho chilies
  • 1 cup of boiling hot water
  • 2 ts olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, microplaned
  • 1/2 cup dry beluga lentils
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 1 fresh hot chili pepper, minced
  • 1/2 ts bouillon
  • 1 ts ground coriander
Destem the ancho chillies and then hydrate the ancho chilies in 1 cup of boiling hot water for about 10 min. Pour chilies with the soaking water into a blender, and blend til smooth. Set aside.
Heat a pot heat the olive oil, and saute the onion and garlic in the oil, until lightly browned. Add the dry lentils, tomato paste and a 1/2 cup of water. Stir so that the tomato paste distributes well and add the ancho chili paste. Add the hot pepper, bouillon and spiced. Bring to a bubble, reduce the heat to a low simmer, and simmer for about 60 min until the lentils are tender. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Fill into tiny phyllo shells, top with hot sauce, feta cheese and bake for 10min at 400F in the toaster oven. Enjoy!
phyllo shells with spicy lentils

Express pressed Tofu

To be honest, I am not really a big fan of tofu but lately I found a few good recipes to marinate or fry tofu, and I am always enticed when I try the different varieties at the Whole foods Market food bar like faux chicken salad or curried tofu. So, I decided to invest in a little tool that takes the mess out of pressing tofu (I take any excuse to buy a new kitchen tool ;-)). It is called the Tofuxpress, and works like a charm: remove the tofu from the liquid and place into the tofuxpress container. Place the top with the spring onto the block and attach the sides to the container. It will press down the lid until the tofu block is about half the size and much of the liquid is extracted. It has an additional lid to store the pressed block airtight, if not used immediately. Cool!
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rain. Pause. Resume.

Today, the rain paused just long enough to mow the lawn. The sun will make a return on Sunday, and I wanted everything to be done about the garden so I could head to the coast for a hike. The cats galloped, as usual, into the neighbors’ gardens after staring me down when I came with the stinky, loud lawn mower. After it was all said and done, the edges trimmed, the weeds plucked out of the kale bed and the garden looking manicured and beautiful again, I fired up the BBQ.
Today’s combination was asparagus, mushrooms, summer squash, carrots, fennel, a white onion and smoked tofu. I typically have a large grill pan that covers almost the entire BBQ on the grill. It makes it easy to BBQ veggies, because they don’t fall into the fire. I brushed it with Meyer lemon infused olive oil, which makes the pan extra hot and the veggies sear up and caramelize faster. Also, I saved the cut-off ends of the asparagus, the peel of the carrots and onion to make a vegetable broth, adding a bay leaf and some thyme. Lunch was served, and then…. the rain drops started falling again.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hickory Smoked Tofu and Tempeh Bacon

On the weekend, I had finally the chance to taste the original Lightlife Smokey Tempeh Bacon, after already making my own. Although my own was good, this one blew me away: a much smokier flavor and stronger, steak-like taste. It screamed “I taste like A1 Steak sauce”. Quite ironic, isn’t it? So, I gave it another try using my stovetop smoker. Since smoking is always an adventure (a.k.a. mess), I decided to both smoke tempeh and tofu. This time, I used the Nagoya Light Tofu, which has half the calories of regular tofu, and a Trader Joes all-grain tempeh. The results were well worth it!
Smoked tofu, dry rub:
  • 1 TB paprika
  • 1 TB smoked paprika
  • 1 TB grill seasoning
  • 1  ts garlic powder
  • 1 package Nagoya light tofu
Prepare tofu: cut the block into 8 slices. Place a towel on a surface, line it with a paper towel, arrange the tofu on the paper towel, top with another paper towel and a dish towel. Top the dish towel with a heavy object (a really big cook book!), and drain for about 30min.
Prepare a dry rub with the ingredients above, and rub into the tofu slices. Smoke (see below!).
Smoked tempeh bacon:
  • 1 package tempeh
  • 1/3 bottle of A1 Steak sauce
  • 3 TB sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 4 TB maple syrup
  • 1 TB paprika
  • 1 TB garlic powder (fresh would be great, too!)
  • 1 ts spicy sesame oil
Slice the tempeh into really thin slices. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a large ziplock bag and add the sliced tempeh. Marinate the tempeh for at least 30min.
Smoking (for each batch):
  • 2 TB hickory wood chips, soaked in water for 5 min
  • stovetop smoker
  • tongs
Pour the hickory chips in the center on the bottom of the smoker. Place the little pan and rack directly on the chips. Arrange the tofu or tempeh on the smoker rack. Close the smoker with the lid, and start the heat on medium-high underneath the smoker. After about 2min, smoke should develop. Now, close the lid, and smoke the tofu for about 10min, and the tempeh for about 6min. Turn off heat, open the smoker, and serve smoked tempeh/tofu hot, or cool and serve at room temperature. Personally, I will fry the smoked tofu for more crisp before serving it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Indoor grilling

When the weather forecast shows 5 days of rain (when it is May and supposedly finally to get warm and sunny), when the cats tiptoe over the wet lawn and hide out under the trees, shivering, waiting to be picked up and carried into the warm again, then it is time for indoor grilling. Today, the grilled vegetables included summer squash, button mushrooms, thick slices of fennel and mache topped off with curried hummus from the farmers market, red pepper spread and BBQ sauce.

 grilled veggies fummus FM

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sunshine in a cup

After a few nice days, the weather is back to a light cold drizzle. If I would be a plant I guess I would be happy about it and grow lavishly, but I am not. But then, there are things to do inside, too, like watching Penny De Los Santos’s online food photography workshop. Since my internet connection is not terribly good today and the voices fade in and out, it is hard to follow the dialog. So, I am also watching “The King’s Speech” on DVD, which is a marvelous movie, and read up on wikipedia of what really happened to George VI. As for sunshine? Well, it came in a cup with hot soup today.
yelllow cup

Friday, May 13, 2011

Changing Scenery

May is a beautiful time in Maine to make the first trip to the coast. The weather is warm and sunny, all the non-bare-survival stores open again for the season, restocked with new items, nature is in sweet green, yellow and white bloom, and yet the tourists have not arrived and will not until Memorial weekend. I headed to Belfast to carouse in some of my favorite stores and restaurants: Chase’s Daily with its James Beard Foundation nominated vegetarian dishes, fresh from their own garden, the Belfast Coop, where I finally located the Smokey Tempeh Bacon, and a beautiful kitchen store (among other things). The tarts at Chase’s Daily looked and smelled extra good today.
Next stop was Castine, a quaint harbor village that was found in 1637, and is home to the Maine Maritime Academy which keeps the town busy in the winter. Once the students leave for the summer the rich people move into their ocean-side summer houses with a landing for their sail boats. I often come to Castine to sit at the ocean and take home some mussels that I plugged myself from the stones on the beach. This time I only found a handful, but appropriate, I guess, once you are vegan.
One of the characteristics of coastal Maine are also the many road-side antique and flea markets, great to rummage and find out about anything, probably rusty. Old bath tubs with claw feet, lamps, lobster buoys, records, paddles, and and and…
My final stop was Ellsworth with the ever well-stocked kitchen emporium Rooster Brothers and their selection of high end foodie items, and finally a dinner a the lovely Cleonice, where I had, appropriate for the season and local, a fiddlehead salad tapas. Headed home in the evening sun, with a first taste of the summer to come. Can’t wait.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Feta Pumpkin Spinach Muffins revisited

It was a warm sunny day, the regular farmers market had started up again with its wonderful mix of produce, artisan cheeses, free range organic eggs and chicken, fresh pressed wheatgrass, fish and shellfish from the coast, and bakery items, most stands with plenty of samples. Last fall I had tried the Appleton Creamery feta cheese for the first time, and it is undoubtedly the best feta I ever ate outside of Greece. Strong, creamy, tart, salt, strong rich flavors. Last fall I made feta spinach pumpkin muffins with the feta, and I waited all winter for the feta to be available again to make these muffins. They are delicious, and freeze well.
horseradish thai orchid
Pictures from the farmers market.
 halloumi cheese appelton
Appleton Creamery Halloumi and Feta.
feta cheese appleton
Feta Pumpkin Spinach Muffins:
  • cooking spray (for the muffin pan)
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 255g cubed butternut squash, cut 1/2-inch cubes (I buy peeled butternut squash)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large handful of fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds kernels, roasted, unsalted
  • 100g cubed feta (full-fat)
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 180 ml non-flavored almond milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 4 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
Preheat oven to 405F / 200C, with rack in the top third. Grease a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside.
Sprinkle the olive oil, salt and pepper over the cubed squash. Arrange in a single layer on a baking pan and bake for 15-20  minutes so that the squash is mostly cooked, but not mushy or dry. Set aside to cool.
In a bowl beat the eggs and almond milk together. Sift the flours and baking powder onto the mix, add in some salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, and mix until smooth. Fold in gently the spinach, sunflower seeds, feta, and all of the mustard. At last, fold in the baked squash.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling each hole 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. Let cool for a couple minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack. 
muffin dough feta pumpkin dough feta muffins

Friday, May 6, 2011

Steamed red potatoes with chive greek yogurt dip

This is one of my favorite simple lunches: steamed small young potatoes and a dip made with Greek yogurt, fresh chives and a minced garlic clove. The dip is similar to tsatziki, the Greek cucumber yogurt dip, but without the cucumber. It has a wonderful tang and garlic onion-y flavor and make the perfect condiment to the mellow potatoes.
Chive Greek yogurt dip:
  • 1.5 cups of unflavored Greek yogurt (I like brown cow and fage)
  • good bunch of chives, finely chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, and microplaned to a mush
  • 1-2 TB water
Mix all the ingredients with a fork and taste for salt and pepper. Serve with steamed potatoes!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Slow-cooked Beef Stock a la Julia Child

It was Marcella Hazan, the godmother of Italian cooking in the US, and Julia Child, who got me into home-made broth, slow cooked for 5-6h on the back burner of the stove, flavor infused by bones, shells, and herbs. The long harsh winter in Maine as well as the relentless academic year left me with a cold to cure, on the couch, with old shows on netflix, and well, a lot of hot beef soup. The plants are slowly bursting to life in the garden, and the lovage plant is one of the first to grow in the spring. Lovage is a leafy green that adds a celery-like flavor to soups or broth, but has a much stronger, sturdier flavor, so the perfect ingredients to stand up to some slowly cooked broth with beef bones. Lovage is also a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory being second only to capers with regard to quercetin. Not that we care too much, but it would be nice to shake this cold!
Slow cooked beef stock:
  • 3 quarts of water
  • 3-4 large beef bones, mostly without meat
  • 1 carrot, peeled, coarsely chopped
  • 3-4 lovage stems with leaves (or 2-3 celery stalks)
  • 1 red onion, peeled, cut in large slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 juniper berries
  • 1 TB pepper corns
  • spring of thyme
In a large stockpot, add the cold water, and all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, and then keep the broth simmering on ultra-low for about 5-6h, covered with a lid. Remove any foam that develops. Strain, discard the vegetables, herbs and bones (a dog might be happily chewing on them!), and cool the broth. If you cool it in the fridge, the fat will solidify and it can easily be removed.
beef soup
Beef soup:
  • home-made broth
  • handful of edamame
  • handful french beans
  • some carrot slices
  • handful of dried porcini mushroom
  • salt, to taste
Heat the broth with the vegetables, and simmer for about 10min until the vegetables are tender but not mushy. The porcinis adds a wonderful extra flavor depth. Serve!
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gearing up for Cinco de Mayo: Lentil-based Quesadillas

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with using lentils, beluga or French lentils in particular, to make ground meat replacements as in Bolognese or taco fillings. Beluga lentils have a wonderful texture when cooked, and keep their tiny shape. And they have this beautiful green-blackish color! I made a very flavorful taco filling, and used it to make a quesadilla for lunch today. I filled a whole  wheat tortilla with some daiya cheese, the lentil filling, hot sauce and salsa, and grilled on high heat from both sides for 3min each. Delicious!
Beluga lentil taco filling:
  • 2 ts olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, microplaned
  • 1 cup cooked beluga lentils (from about 1/2 cup dried)
  • 3 TB tomato paste
  • 1 fresh hot chili pepper, minced
  • 1/2 ts bouillon
  • 2 ts ground ancho chile powder
  • 1 ts cumin
  • 1 ts ground coriander
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, and sautee the onion and garlic in the oil, until lightly browned. Add lentils, tomato paste and a 1/2 cup of water. Heat through and taste for salt and seasoning (I typically use bouillon instead of salt). Time to serve! Happy cinco de mayo!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tempeh Bacon

Gina was raving about it, and then tried to make it herself: tempeh bacon. The store bought variety is only available online around here and it is amazingly expensive. So, I decided to give it my own go. I used this recipe, replacing the eggplant with thinly sliced tempeh. Verdict? Not bad… it is good on the smokey side of bacon with the chipotle pepper and the maple syrup, but a decidedly sweeter note would be even better. Next time, I will add some brown sugar. Once I had marinated the tempeh for about 2h, I dehydrated it in the oven for 1h at 200F with the door open.
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