Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blue Cornbread Muffins

In Austin, we were served blue corn in the form of cornbread and even gorditas (A Mexican dish, pictured at bottom of this entry). I have had blue corn tortilla chips before, as they are relatively easy to find. But I had never seen blue corn flour/meal where I live, so I had never cooked with it before. So, in Austin, I bought some blue corn meal. I really wish I had bought more, as I think I have a new obsession! Wow, it is so good!
These muffins were so delicious. The recipe was very easy, and it was printed on the back of the bag.

Blue Corn Bread Muffins
adapted from Arrowhead Mills

1 cup Blue Corn Meal
1/2 cup pastry flour (OR: 1/4 cup spelt flour plus 1/4 cup barley flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup (OR agave nectar OR honey)
1 egg (or make vegan by using 1/4 cup of egg substitute)
1 cup milk (OR rice milk OR soy milk OR water)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients. Beat egg and stir in milk and sweetener. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Pour batter into six large muffin cups (either oil the pan first or use paper liners).
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden on top.

Above is a lunch I ate at Mr. Natural in Austin. On the far right is a gordita made with blue corn flour. By the way Mr. Natural is a fantastic place with great authentic-tasting completely vegetarian (mostly vegan) Mexican food along with baked goods made with all natural ingredients, no sugar, and whole grain flours. Their whole wheat vanilla conchas and their dark chocolate muffins are crazily good!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Vegetarian Pozole

In Austin, we ate a meal at Casa de Luz, a vegan restaurant, where we were served pozole as one of the courses. It had been so long since Pedro or I had eaten pozole. Pozole is a very traditional Mexican dish; it is hominy stew. I decided to try to make some upon returning home to Florida. It turned out fabulous, shown above. I didn't have a vegetarian recipe, but it still turned out, substituting pinto beans for the pork.

I used dried hominy and beans instead of canned, as I don't mind taking time to cook. I know shortcuts are useful to many people, so canned hominy and beans are very tempting time-savers. But, to me, a big part of the appeal of eating pozole is getting the pleasure of smelling it simmer for hours on the stove. The aroma is unbeatable. Anyway, if using dried hominy, it is best to soak it either overnight or for at least six hours prior to starting to cook the dish. Above I show soaking the hominy in room temperature water. I started soaking at about 7:30 am and I started simmering the pozole around 2:30 pm. The dish was ready to eat by 5 pm.

Vegetarian Pozole
serves about 8 servings

2 cups dry hominy
1 1/2 cups dry (uncooked) pinto beans, carefully inspected for rocks and debris
water for soaking and for simmering

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
3 guajillo chiles, stem removed, seeded, de-veined, and torn into small pieces
3 ancho chiles, stem removed, seeded, de-veined, and torn into small pieces

1 28oz can of organic chopped tomatoes (fire roasted are great if you can find them)
Mexican oregano, at least 1 teaspoon, or more to taste
a pinch of ground cloves
salt to taste

Optional ideas for Garnishes:
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped radishes
lime wedges
chunks of avocado
Mexican crema or sour cream
minced red onion, blanched briefly to take away the bite
chopped green onions
thin strips of crispy fried tortillas
finely shredded cabbage or lettuce

Cooking instructions:

1. Soak the dry hominy in water at least 6 hours or overnight. Theoretically you can also soak your pinto beans at the same time, in a separate bowl. I live at sea level, and I find I never need to pre-soak my beans. But, when I lived in Michigan, I always had to soak them. I'm not sure if it has to do with elevation or the freshness of the beans I have available to me now.

2. After soaking, strain and rinse away the soaking water. Add both the hominy and the pinto beans to a large pot with plenty of fresh filtered water to cover, keeping in mind that the beans and hominy will almost double in size and absorb water as they cook. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover and simmer until tender. The hominy should swell and then burst open. They will become soft but will have some chewiness. The pinto beans should become very soft, and not feel chalky or crunchy. This can take anywhere from two hours to four hours, depending on many things, such as how fresh the hominy and beans were.

3. While the pozole (hominy stew) is simmering, prepare the chili sauce that will be added later to flavor the dish. To make it, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan with medium high heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic and chiles and saute at least five minutes or until the onion is soft. Then, ladle at least two cups of the broth from the pozole pot into the chile pot. Bring the chile mixture to a boil and simmer for at least fifteen minutes, pictured above.

4. Pour the simmered chile mixture into a blender and carefully blend until it becomes a smooth sauce. Set aside.

5. When the hominy and pintos are soft and well cooked, add the chili sauce and the can of tomatoes. Season with oregano and salt to taste, and add the ground cloves. Simmer for about a half an hour [uncovered] to develop all of the flavors.

6. Serve in bowls and garnish to your liking. It will taste even better the next day, so be sure to refrigerate the leftovers or freeze for future lunches.

I made some blue cornbread muffins to eat with our pozole, and they went together wonderfully. [Update: recipe for the blue cornbread muffins is here.]

DaVine Foods in Austin

How can anyone pass by the Enchanted Forest (that's really what they call it!) and not stop? It is certainly worth it. Within the Forest, in Austin style, DaVine Foods serves its meals from trailers. But the food is far from ordinary. It is locally-grown organic, mostly vegan, gourmet cuisine.

DaVine Foods is new to the Austin trailer scene. It has been in this location just over a month. But word of mouth is spreading fast from what I could see. They serve breakfast through dinner with a nice variety on the menu. The trailer above is where orders are placed and where most of the food is prepared.
The red trailer is where they make their very popular pizzas. The crusts are made of organic sprouted grain flours, very high in protein.

Above is their Sprouted Seed Waffle Burger. I have seen it referred to as a waffle falafel. It is baked in a waffle iron. We ordered ours with the works, so it contained a bun made of sprouted wheat and was filled with sliced beets, the waffle, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and onions. It possibly also had salsa, but I can't remember, and I can't tell from the photo. In any event it was delicious. It came with a side of carrot and celery sticks with homemade hummus.

We also had the Mock Tuna (also called Nut Pate) Hemp Bread Sammich. It came with the same side. I didn't get a photo of it, but it was super too. It was just added to the menu, and they already sell out every day. I can see why.

They have more than sandwiches and pizza on the menu. They even have complete macrobiotic meals. It is quite an experience, like being in a past era but also the present at the same time.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Crepes in Austin

By strange coincidence, last month I mentioned Flip Happy Crepes in Austin, Texas in this blog. I had never been to Texas, unless the Houston airport counts, and I had no plans to visit. But, this month an unexpected opportunity to go to Austin came my way, so I went. So of course I had to visit Flip Happy. Above is shown the ambiance: the vintage trailer with its pink awnings, the assorted tables, and the unpaved parking lot where it all takes place.

Yummy! They were scrumptious! What else can I say? There were savory and sweet crepes. Several vegetarian options. Above is the tarragon mushroom, wrapped like a burrito. It contains the tarragon mushrooms, caramelized onions, spinach, tomato and Gruyere cheese.

This one is a dreamsicle crepe, as it contains a swirl of lemon curd and vanilla pastry cream with fresh berries on top. It was the special crepe of the day.

And this is their caramelized banana, Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and dark chocolate sauce crepe. The whole experience at Flip Happy put a big smile on my face!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vegetarian Masa Recipe for Tamales

Here is an alternate recipe for vegetarian masa for tamales. This recipe will make a bigger, more party-sized batch of tamales, depending on how big or small you make them.

You can vary this recipe by adding some extra ingredients to the masa itself. For example, you could add some corn kernels to the mixture and/or some chopped roasted onion or chiles (poblano would be great or your favorite - I would recommend removing the seeds first).

Another variation would be adding a filling to the middle of the tamales, as shown in my Bean and Cheese Tamales. Instead of topping the cooked tamales with salsa, you could put the salsa in the middle of the tamale with beans or cheese. Really, it's up to your imagination.

Vegetarian Masa for Tamales
makes approximately 24

4 cups masa harina (corn flour formulated for making tortillas or tamales)
1 tablespoon tamari or shoyu or soy sauce
2 cups vegetable broth, divided
warm water to incorporate if needed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or 2/3 cup shortening

Directions for mixing if using olive oil:

Mix the oil and soy sauce and 1 cup of the broth. Pour into the masa and mix with your hand to incorporate. Then add the extra cup of broth bit by bit until the masa dough is soft and moist. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, add more warm water until the dough is very well hydrated and holds together.

Directions for mixing if using shortening:

Whip the shortening in a stand mixer until fluffy. In a separate bowl, add the soy sauce to one cup of the broth. Bit by bit alternate adding the masa harina and the soy sauce-broth mixture to the shortening, beating to incorporate. With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the last cup of broth until the dough is unified and well hydrated. Add more warm water if necessary to hydrate thoroughly.

Keep the dough hydrated while forming the tamales by covering with a damp towel.
See Bean and Cheese Tamales for assembly and cooking instructions.

Note that the tamales may need to steam for an hour and a half to completely cook.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bean and Cheese Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa

Yesterday was Mexican Independence Day, and I was craving tamales, so that was as good of an excuse as any to make them. Tamales are a bit labor intensive, so normally I make them on special occasions. Also I typically make a big batch and freeze the extras if I am not making them for a party. Yesterday though, I only made small batch of a dozen.

The reason I was craving tamales was because of the September issue of Gourmet Magazine. It has some wonderful looking grilled tamales on the cover, and the entire issue focuses on Latin American cuisine. If you haven't seen the issue, I recommend checking it out. Not many of the recipes are vegetarian though. The cover tamale recipe, for instance, contains lard. But, I think I could adapt the recipe to be vegetarian. It would certainly be worth a try, as it looks delicious.

1. To make corn tamales, the first thing to do is to soak corn husks in warm or hot water for at least thirty minutes, usually longer is needed. The husks need to be well hydrated and pliable. I soak mine in my sink and put a dish drainer on top to keep the husks submerged, seen above. Note, I soaked way more husks than I needed out of habit, forgetting I was making a small batch.

2. While the husks are soaking, prepare the tamale filling, if you are going to use a filling. I used refried black beans and shredded cheese. There are so many ways to make vegetarian tamales, and I will share more recipes in the future.

3. If you don't have access to a tortilleria where you can buy freshly made masa dough, you can make your own tamale dough. Actually, making your own masa may be the only way to ensure that it is vegetarian, as tamales commonly contain lard. Below is the recipe I used for these 12 tamales. [Click here for an alternate vegetarian masa recipe for a bigger batch]

Masa for Vegetarian Tamales
makes 12

1 cup masa harina (I used Maseca brand corn flour)
1/2 cup yellow corm meal (I used Arrowhead Mills brand organic)
1 cup (low sodium if possible) vegetable broth
1/2 cup warm water (or more if needed for the right consistency: dough should be well hydrated)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Nama Shoyu or Tamari or low sodium Soy Sauce

Keep masa covered with a wet towel so it doesn't dry out while forming the tamales.

4. Now put water in the bottom of a large steaming pot, set in the steaming basket, cover, and put it to boil. When the water starts boiling, turn to low and keep simmering, covered.

5. To make the tamale bundles: take one corn husk at a time out of the sink, rinse if needed, and set down on work surface. Place two spoons of masa on the corn husk and pat down to form a rectangle. Place one or two spoons of filling in the middle of the masa. See photo above. Then fold the long ends of the corn husks to the center over the masa, and when the sides meet, the masa will enclose the filling. Then fold the short ends of the husks toward the center of the bundle. Tie the bundles closed with either strips of torn corn husks or with string. I find it is easier to use string. Really you only need to put the string around the fattest part of the bundle.

6. As you make the tamales, you can either keep them under a wet towel so they don't dry out, or you can just place them one by one into the steam pot. I usually just keep adding them to the pot. Be sure not to burn yourself as the steam escapes.

Here you can see I am putting tamales into my steam pot. Some of the bundles are secured using two strings to make a perfect rectangles. Others I only tied a string around the fat bottom portion of the tamale and left the top flap unfolded. Either way works, as long as the tamale is sitting in the basket on its end that is secured. This is to make sure the tamale dough won't fall out of the bottom of the corn husk.

7. Let the tamales steam, covered, for about an hour. Make sure there is always water in the bottom pot as they are cooking. Add more water to the bottom if needed. Sometimes it can take an hour and a half to completely cook them.

8. You can test if they are done by taking one out of the pot and opening the corn husk. You don't need to untie the strings, they will slip off the ends if you push them off. If the tamale holds together and isn't sticking to the corn husk, it is done.

9. Serve in the corn husks, and let your guests unwrap the bundles as they eat them. They will stay warm that way. Top them with your favorite salsa if desired. I used tomatillo salsa.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Kansas City Color

A few more photos of Kansas City. Above and below are some charming houses. The one below is part of the campus of The Kansas City Art Institute.

Above and below are examples of the many well preserved old neon signs that I saw throughout the city.

By the way, our next trip planned is Austin, Texas. If anyone has any vegetarian-friendly recommendations for restaurants, artisan bakeries or any gourmet or culinary-related stores, etc, please share!

More Kansas City

I had no idea what to expect visually before landing in Kansas City, as I had done very little research. There were some excellent museums. Above is the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, modern, shiny and angular. The other (bigger) art museum, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, has two buildings and a big outdoor sculpture park. One building is an older neoclassical and the other is a new modern wing that opened this summer. The modern wing was a wonderful building to be in, with great natural light inside. Unfortunately I don't have photos.

A few blocks away is Brush Creek with pretty bridges, walkways, and parks, seen above. On the same creek is a shopping and entertainment district, seen below, that was architecturally modeled after the Spanish city of Seville. It is called Country Club Plaza, but I heard the locals refer to it as The Plaza and even just Plaza. It has many blocks of stores, restaurants and bars. I couldn't figure out if it was too much like being at Disney or if it was charming. I will say I spent much longer walking around there than I thought I would when I first parked there. So, that says something. It all looked brand new, but with further research, I learned that it was actually designed in the 1920s.

Photos of Kansas City

I don't usually do this on this blog, but I am going a bit off topic to share a few photos of Kansas City. I admit, the only reason I went there was because it was a mostly free trip due to business Pedro had to do there. It was not a city I would have purposely planned a trip to visit. I think it is because of that I feel I owe it to Kansas City to admit that I had misjudged it. Kansas City was actually a very nice place to visit. Above is the skyline view from our hotel window.

Kansas City is known as the City of Fountains, as no other city besides Rome has more. And it's true, you practically can't go two blocks without seeing water spew out of something. But, Kansas City could also have been called the city of statues, murals, public art, public places or even architectural preservation. There was a wide variety of architecture throughout the city. Above is (I think) an Art Deco building.

Above is part of one of many murals I saw. I also saw a lot of very well done graffiti.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Great Bakeries in Kansas City

Since Pedro and I have a new interest in bread, we made sure to visit a few bakeries when we were in the Kansas City area. One was Artisan Francais, which was located in Kansas. The apricot tart, above on left, brought back memories of my time as an exchange student in France, as my host family often bought them. Pedro especially enjoyed the almond pear tart, pictured above and below.

Below is a loaf of their Lavender Herbs de Provence bread. The crust and crumb were quite good. The one thing that was distracting was that the herbs tended to be in large clumps, rather than evenly distributed. Maybe it wasn't supposed to be like that.

And below, in the paper bag, is their country bread, Pain de Campagne.

There was a bakery we would have loved to visit, Fervere, but it wasn't open the days we were visiting. Luckily though, the restaurant next door to it, The Bluebird Bistro, served their bread with our meal. So we got to try the Pain au Levain, which was deeply flavored, absolutely excellent. The Fervere Bakery itself is a work of art, as seen on their web page. If only I had been able to sample all of their breads...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blue Koi Noodles and Dumplings in Kansas City

Pedro and I have been in Kansas City. Our favorite restaurant of the ones we tried was definitely Blue Koi Noodles and Dumplings. The food was superb, and we'll be fondly remembering our two meals there. I have a big weakness for vegetable dumplings, and the ones they made at Blue Koi were terrific, pictured above. Below is a noodle dish called Ants on a Tree. Despite the less than appetizing name, it is incredibly tasty.

Below is an item from the appetizer section of the menu, Crispy Tofu with Awesome Sauce. It is very aptly named. I took the photo after we had eaten many pieces of the tofu, so the serving size given was actually much larger. The restaurant was comfortable, with a great decor in primary colors, and a friendly staff.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chocolate Nut Cookies

First, an update on my weight loss. I am now down at least 30 pounds! I am not on a diet, but I have changed my eating habits. I have been losing weight at a very slow, but steady, rate, and it has been an enjoyable process for me. I love the way I eat!

Since I am not on a diet, I am still eating foods that people could consider not diet friendly. Like desserts. I don't have any scientific explanation for why I am still losing weight. But, I have been doing things differently than I did in the past. For example, especially with desserts, now I make recipes that produce smaller batches, and I willingly eat smaller servings. The last time I made brownies, the pan lasted 6 days, and I was about to throw out the last pieces, until I sent them with Pedro to work. I had never seen brownies at risk of going stale before in my life.

Another thing I have been doing when making desserts is using only whole grains and unrefined sweeteners. I have been using maple sugar, pure maple syrup, date sugar or agave nectar as sweeteners, and since they are all very expensive, this has helped a lot in my making and eating desserts less often! And, believe me, it is not easy to make baked goods that have a satisfying texture and moistness without refined ingredients. I have been pretty unhappy with most of the recipes I have been experimenting with. I am finding that the vegan dessert recipes I try may be much lower in fat, but they are too sweet or don't have the feel or texture I want. With more experimenting though, I may have luck finding a balance of high nutrition and lower sugar and lower fat.

Here's a recipe for cookies that I am happy with so far. The cookies are definitely not low fat nor low calorie, as I used real eggs and real butter and lots of nuts, etc. But on the other hand, because of the fat and calories, a small serving is satisfying. The original recipe I referred to for inspiration was vegan and made use of egg replacer and soy margarine. I haven't experimented yet with other methods for reducing the fat in this recipe.

Chocolate Nut Cookies
makes 18 to 20 cookies

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup (or to taste) maple sugar or date sugar (or other sugar in dry crystal form)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup barley flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
up to 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (use a variety of chopped nuts: almonds, pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, etc: up to one cup total combined)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with nonstick mat or parchment paper.
2. In mixing bowl, beat together well the butter (softened first if mixing by hand, or cut first into small cubes if using a stand mixer), maple sugar, egg, vanilla and sea salt.
3. In another bowl, combine the flours, baking soda and cocoa. Add to wet mixture and combine. Stir in nuts and chips.
4. Form batter into 18 to 20 balls (or you could try to flatten, but I haven't tested this). Place balls two inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.
5. Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms begin to brown. It's hard to tell on such a dark cookie if they are brown on the bottom. Another way to test is to try to pick up a cookie (careful not to burn yourself). If it holds together and isn't too squishy, it's done. I find 15 minutes is exactly right. If over baked, they will dry out too much.

Note: I find they are the most crisp the day they are baked, before being stored. After they stored in a container, they get softer and crumble easily. They're still good though!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Whole Wheat Bread

I haven't posted anything in weeks and people are wondering what happened to me! I am fine! I have been enjoying cooking the recipes I have already posted. So I haven't had any new recipes to share. I wish I could say I had a new recipe to share now, but at the very least I can share these photos and some experiences I have had with making bread.

We have purchased a few bread baking books recently and have been absorbed in studying them. Pedro is especially taken with the process of making bread. Above is the first loaf we have attempted from the recently published book, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. The loaf tasted very satisfying. It involved a rather lengthy process. We had to first make a wild yeast starter which took five or six days to develop. But now that it is developed, we have what is called a mother starter which we can keep and feed and use over and over whenever we want to make bread. Pictured below is our whole grain mother starter:

Anyway, we have been learning a lot about the art of bread making and are really enjoying it. We have a lot more to learn and a lot more experimenting to do. We will even be taking some bread baking classes in the near future.