Sunday, December 30, 2012

Falafel

Don't ask me why, but I have never made falafel from scratch before.  Considering that this was something we ate often at home; a "staple", you would think it would not take me 47 years to finally try to make this on my own.



They were really good, far better (and really just as easy) as anything that comes out of a box. I used canned chickpeas for convenience as the family is traveling on vacation week but when I do this again (and  will)  I will cook the chickpeas myself (and probably incorporate fava beans as well).  If you have not made falafel from scratch before what are you waiting for?

I served them in multi grain pita bread with chopped onion, tomato and cucumber, shredded lettuce and tahini sauce with a side of tabbouleh salad.

Falafel

3 15 oz cans chickpeas rinsed and drained
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, rough chopped
3/4 cup fresh parsley, rough chopped
3 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp cumin
4 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying (I used grape seed)

Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup lemon juice (or more)
4 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse until the mixture turns into a thick paste. 

Place about 2" of oil in a sauce pan and heat to 350 degrees.  Form the chickpea paste into balls and deep fry for about 5-7 minutes until golden brown on all sides.  Remove from oil with a spider or slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

To make the tahini sauce mix all ingredients in a food processor.  The quantities above are approximate, add lemon juice to the desired taste and consistency for the sauce.

Serve in pita bread with your choice of topping and tahini sauce if desired.

Makes about 12-18 falafel depending on how large or small you make them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Linzer Cookies

I have never had a Linzer cookie before.  Baked goods with jelly or jam in them are not usually my favorite. I don't usually go for fruit filled pastries or jelly doughnuts. Just not my thing, I guess.



I recently wanted to make some cookies to take to a friends holiday party. Not being much of a baker I tried to find a recipe that would be easy to veganize. I came across Ina Garten's recipe for Mini Linzer Cookies and decided to try it mostly because it seemed pretty easy. It was.

The cookies were good, and pretty.

You can see mine were not minis, you might call them maxis...no one complained but you can make them any size you want. The amount of jam in the recipe assumes a smaller cookie.

One tip: make sure the butter is softened to room temperature before you start. If the butter is cold this will not work.  Trust me, I learned the hard way.

Linzer Cookies

3/4 pound (3 sticks) vegan butter, softened
1 cup organic unbleached sugar
1 tsp organic vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups unbleached organic all purpose flour
3/4 cup raspberry jam
Confectioners sugar for dusting

In a stand mixer add the butter and sugar.  Beat until just incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. If you do not have a stand mixer you could use a hand mixer.

In a large bowl sift the flour. Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly add to the butter and sugar mixture. Continue to mix on low until the dough starts to come together.  Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and place on a sheet of plastic wrap. Form it into a disc with your hands, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for thirty minutes.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Roll the dough gently on a flat, floured surface unti about 1/4" thick.  Cut cookies using a cookie cutter.  With half of the cookies use a smaller cookie cutter to cut out the center.  This will serve as the top half and allow the jam to show through.

Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes or until the edges start to brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to fully cool .  Once cooled spread some jam on the solid cookie half. Place a cut out cookie half in some confectioners sugar and then place the flat sice on top of the solid cookie to form a sandwich.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Dragon Keeper- A Book Review

I don't like zoos.  Even as a kid I realized that it was wrong to deprive animals of their natural habitat.  Seeing a cheetah with little to no ability to run, or a polar bear living in climates where temperatures can get up to 100 degrees just always felt inherently wrong.  Trapping wild animals and holding them captive for entertainment purposes seems not fair or justified.



And, while I don't like zoos, I do believe that most zookeepers love their animals and do everything they can to keep them happy, healthy and content. Meg Yancy, the central character in The  Dragon Keeper, is no exception. In fact, she just may be too attached to Jata, the Komodo Dragon she tends to at the fictional Zoo of America.

When Jata gives birth to three hatchlings, a seemingly impossible event given Jata has never mated with a male, Yancy becomes obsessed with the care of Jata and her hatchlings.  Though romance and drama sometimes divert Yancy's attention she remains foremost committed to the dragon and her hatchlings.  Through her relationships with her boyfriend, her Father, her coworkers, the zoo's veterinarian who cares more for his own career than the animals and briefly, the media, we see that Yancy is far more skilled in relating to animals than to other human beings.

Through her experience of caring for Jata and her hatchlings, Yancy learns that in life, as with wild animals, not all things can be controlled. This is a skillfully, well researched story that will keep your attention from the very first page.  The book will entertain you, but more importantly make you question the ethics of keeping animals in captivity. 

"Every captive life is a deprived life."

A stunning first novel by Mindy Mejia, this is well worth the read and would make for some interesting book club discussion.  


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Arancini (Rice Balls) and The Vegg

Arancini, or Rice Balls are a family tradition. We grew up eating them, and it seems that have resurfaced within the family as some of my cousins have been making them again.



Our families recipe consists of ground beef and pea stuffed arancini- clearly not vegan. And of course the egg used to bind them? Not vegan, either.

For some reason I became inspired to try a vegan version of this family tradition. Substituting the ground beef is easy, as is the Parmesan cheese but the egg yolks called for to bind the rice? Not as simple.  The Vegg to the rescue!

I was recently offered the opportunity to try The Vegg- a vegan egg substitute developed by Rocky Shepheard of State College, PA.  The timing of the offer to sample this product was near perfect- it really simplified my dilemma in terms of how to make an entirely vegan rice ball!

Not only does The Vegg behave like egg yolks, it looks and even smells like egg yolks!  Thanks, Rocky for the chance to sample this great product- I cannot wait to try Hollandaise sauce!

Anyway, back to the Rice Balls.  I will tell you this recipe should come with a warning-- it is aof a pain to make but it does taste delicious.  It took me a lot of trial and error to be able to cook these so they did not fall apart.  I tried to pan fry them as opposed to deep frying them and let me tell you- it does not work (as evidenced by the huge pile of rice and filling I had to retrive out of the pan (it did make a nice rice casserole, though that is for another post).

So, if you are afraid of deep frying, don't bother!  If you are OK with a little decadence once in a while, especially if Arancini is a tradition in your family, give it a whirl!

Oh, and one more really cool thing about The Vegg?  The proceeds go to Compassion Over Killing.  Sweet!

Arancini (Rice Balls)
1 lb cooked white rice, cooled to room temperature0
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb meatless ground crumbles (such as Boca)
2-3 tbsp plain tomato sauce
15 oz frozen peas, thawed
Equivalent of 4-5 egg yolks, using The Vegg's preparation directions
1/2 cup vegan parmesan cheese (my recipe below)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp non dairy milk (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut)
1 cup (or more) plain bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

Vegan Parmesan Cheese* 
Mix the following in a food processor:
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup raw cashews
Salt to taste

Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the crumbles, season with salt and peper and cook until heated through. Add the peas and 1 tbsp tomato sauce, stir and set aside.

Place rice in a large bowl add the egg yolk equivalents, vegan Parmesan cheese, the other tbsp of vegan Parmesan and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.  Mix well.

To assemble the rice balls use an ice cream scoop. Pack the scoop with the rice, make an indent with your thumb and then push the rice out of the scoop.  Place on a platter with the indent side up and fill with the ground crumble mixture.  Scoop some more rice into the ice cream scoop and pack well. Push out of the scoop place on top of the filled portion on the platter to form a ball.

I found that the the more firmly you pack the ice cream scoop with rice the better the balls will stay together when frying.  It will also help to pick up the ball and ensure the rice is firmly packed  by using your hands to press it together gently.  Repeat until both the rice and filling mixtures are gone.

Mix the 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 tbs non dairy milk together and whisk.  Using a brush or your hands coat each ball with the mixture and then roll in the bread crumbs.

Fill a pot with enough oil and heat over medium high heat.  Be sure you use enough oil that the rice balls will be completely submerged.  When the oil is hot gently drop the rice balls into the oil using a spider. Allow to fry a few minutes until golden brown all over.  Remove from the oil using a spider- be gentle- they are rather delicate!  Place on paper towels to drain.

Allow to cool slightly and serve.

*Note: this makes more than the recipe calls for. Save the rest n the refrigerator for use in other recipes. The recipe I used for the vegan Parmesan cheese can be found here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Peppermint Patties

I am finally getting into the holiday spirit. I am well on my way to completing my shopping and am starting to feel relaxed enough to spend a little time in the kitchen preparing some holiday goodies.  My most recent adventure is vegan peppermint patties- but with a twist.  These are all dressed up for the holidays.



I used to keep the mini York Peppermint Patties in my freezer- they are great as a frozen treat. Since going vegan I have stopped keeping them in the house and have occasionally lamented their frozen minty goodness.  That is until today.

I recently saw this recipe online for rainbow peppermint patties.  I figured it would easy enough just to use green, red and white to make them a perfect Christmas treat. I was right. And guess what? They are just as good frozen as the original York Peppermint Patties were!

Christmas Peppermint Patties

5 cups confectioners sugar
3 tbsp light corn syrup
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
Red and green gel food coloring (I used Wilton which according to the company are vegan)
16 oz vegan chocolate chips, such as Ghiradelli Semi Sweet

In the bowl of a stand mixer (if you do not have a stand mixer you could use a hand mixer) add 4 1/2 cups of the sugar, the corn syrup, water, vegetable shortening and peppermint extract.  Beat until just combined.

Remove the dough and turn onto a board that is sprinkled with the balance of the sugar.  Knead the dough until it becomes a smooth ball.  Divide the dough into three equal pieces and add red food coloring to one and green to the other.  Knead the balls to incorporate the color.  Divide each ball in half again. You should end up with two of each: white, red and green.

Roll each ball into a snake shape. Place each between two sheets of parchment paper and roll them out into about 1/4 inch thick rectangular shapes with a rolling pin.  You will end up with six sheets of dough.  Be sure to make them wide enough to roll lengthwise (this link provides a nice tutorial with visual representation of the process).  While still in the parchment paper place the sheets in the refrigerator for about fifteen minutes to cool.

Once cooled remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Gently remove each sheet from the parchment paper and stack them on top of one another so that the colors alternate. You should have six layers in all: white, red, green, white, red green.  Trim one end of the stack lengthwise in  order to get a clean edge.  Gently roll the dough lengthwise and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for one hour.

When the dough is frozen remove it from the freezer, unwrap it and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Turn the roll slightly with each cut so the round shape is maintained.

In a double boiler melt the chocolate.  Using a dipping fork (if you do not have one a meat fork works well) to dip the dough into the chocolate.  Shake off the excess gently and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet.  Once all are dipped place the baking sheet in the freezer for the candies to set.

Enjoy frozen, refrigerated or at room temperature.

To store, separate the candies between sheets of wax paper in order to ensure they do not stick.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Curried Red Lentil Soup

Quite some time ago my daughter and I took a heart healthy macrobiotic cooking class with Christina Pirello of Christina Cooks. During the class, she made a curried red lentil soup that my daughter absolutely loved.



Since today was a bit of a foggy, gloomy morning soup sounded like a good idea. Given what I had on hand in both the fridge and pantry this soup seemed like a good idea.  I did not follow the recipe exactly (when do I ever?).  I did not have canned diced tomatoes so I opted for a little more liquid and tomato paste.

I also try not to cook with water for savory recipes. Whenever it seems appropriate I use vegetable stock- I find you get a better depth of flavor and a little extra nutritional kick. Just adjust the amount of salt you use based on your veggie stock- some can be pretty salty (which is why I make my own).

This came out great and warmed our bellies on this gloomy fall day.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

1 cup red lentils, rinsed well
1 tsp avocado oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add the onion and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Saute until softened- a few minutes.  Add the curry powder and stir.  Add the celery and carrot and continue to cook a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and give a quick stir to incorporate, and the add the lentils, bay leaf and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for about 35 minutes until lentils are tender and creamy.

Serve garnished with cilantro if desired.