Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Practically Vegan

A winter farmers market can be really bleak – after all, January is not exactly a harvest time here in the mid-Atlantic. While the Union Square Farmers market had a lot of interesting fare last weekend (whole wheat sourdough baguettes, red lobsters, hot Elk broth), beyond a few wispy bunches of upland cress, the only produce to be found was of the “good storage” variety: shallots, onions, potatoes, apples, and carrots. Carrots are a pretty hearty vegetable, but will turn on you eventually, especially if you cop-out and buy pre-shredded carrots at the super marche (hey, they are a great convenience food and perfect for sprinkling over a salad). Thankfully, carrot cake can be a shredded carrot’s savior, especially in recipes like the one originally published in the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, which calls for you to cook the carrots (so a little slime doesn’t make a huge difference in the end). Made as is, the cake is vegan and pretty virtuous, and perfect in a “It’s January and I am still trying to stick to New Year’s Resolutions” kind of way. But of course, I made my own modifications making the end result low-fat vs. no-fat, in other words, practically vegan. And although some may consider these more like muffins than cupcakes, a schmear of brown butter cream cheese frosting makes them an acceptable treat* any time of day. *Except for those who actually are vegan.

Practically Vegan Mini Carrot Cakes Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts Even with baking powder as a levener, these cakes don’t pouf too much, so either fill your muffin tins to the brim or call them mini cakes instead of cupcakes. Makes 12 mini cakes (about 100 calories each, sans frosting). Ingredients 1 c. shredded carrots 1/2 c. pineapple chunks (canned and drained, fresh or frozen) 3/4 c. water 1/4 c. Splenda brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla Dash of cinnamon 1 egg, lightly beaten 1 tablespoon butter, melted 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil 1 ½ c. flour (I used King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat) 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon of baking powder Dash of salt 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional) Method Combine first five ingredients (carrots through dash of cinnamon) in saucepan; bring to boil and then turn down heat and simmer for five minutes. Using an immersion or standard blender, pulse to break down any large pineapple chunks or carrot strands, taking care not to puree mixture completely. Cool carrot mixture (the longer the better, ideally overnight). Stir egg, melted butter and oil into carrot mixture. In a large bowl, combine remaining dry ingredients (flour through walnuts, if using). Add wet carrot mixture to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon batter into muffin tins prepared with cooking spray. Bake at 300 for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out dry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Salvaging a “Meh” Recipe

We’ve all screwed up a recipe to the point of making it inedible – accidentally going overboard with the nutmeg in a b├ęchamel sauce, burning tortillas (two of my most recent mishaps). But what about when food is still edible but missing that zing or element that makes it worth the calories? Luckily, the power of the Internet can save the day. I recently made two “meh” recipes – Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Sheppard’s Pie and Roasted Banana Bars from Cooking Light. Admittedly, I made my own modifications, but the end products were largely ho-hum and not worth writing out below. Online reviewers to the rescue! Had I read the RR recipe reviews before making the dish (as I am typically wont to do), I would have learned that 9 out of 10 reviewers find it bland and tasteless. I had tried to amp up the spice level with poultry seasoning and a can of turkey gravy (I used ground turkey as the base), along with liberal amounts of salt and pepper, but it was not enough. So, taking a cue from reviewers, added extra Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes and rosemary. But perhaps the best suggestion was to add a healthy amount of shredded cheddar on top of the mashed potato layer. Was it the best casserole ever? No, but cheesy potatoes can salvage almost anything. The banana cake was a prize winning recipe, but in an effort to cut calories, I originally decided not to bother with the frosting. But the reviews won me over and the browned butter cream cheese frosting was the best darn part of the dessert. Moral of the story – the next time you make a recipe, remember to read the reviews and take the time to leave a comment yourself. Someone with a “meh” dish will thank you for it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Someone Else's Cooking: Talulah’s Table

I really like Yelp. In the old days, I would have searched chowhound.com or citysearch.com for restaurant recommendations, but these days, it’s all about Yelp, despite the fact I have never posted a review on the site myself. So when planning a trip to Longwood Gardens over the holidays, I searched Yelp for top-rated restaurants in Kennett Square, small town southwest of Philadelphia. While the local Mexican place received high marks, Talulah’s Table came in at number one – and this article in Conde Nast’s Portfolio sealed the deal. Talulah’s, started by two Philadelphia restaurateurs, boasts one of the country’s hardest to secure dinner reservations. With just one nightly seating for 12, it’s no wonder. Even Ko seats more than that (although they start taking reservations one week in advance vs. Talulah’s one year). Luckily, lunch is easier to come by. Just grab a sandwich or salad from the case upfront, or wander toward the back to the store for prepared food by the pound (or, in the crab cakes and potpies, by the item!). Place your order and wander back to the coffee bar to grab a mocha or browse the shelves lining the room for a must-have gourmet grocery item. Then grab a seat at THE table and wait for your lunch. Although portions were on the small side, the dishes I sampled packed a punch. Lunch for three, including: two mochas, a chicken pot pie, a crab cake, a side order of brussel sprouts with walnuts and a small serving of porcini pasta salad came to about $35.
Talulah's Table
102 West State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348
610 444 8255

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Clean out, eat in

In today’s New York Times dining section, Mark Bittman has a piece on what should be “in” and “out” of our kitchens in 2009. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to actually use up and clean out my food cupboard (yes, singular! The sacrifices of a small studio apartment) and tiny freezer. Although I am not ready to rename this blog “backofthefreezer.blogspot.com,” I thought I would weigh in on his recs: In the “out” column: Packaged bread crumbs and croutons: Agreed. I recently tossed a four year old can of Progresso Italian seasoned bread crumbs I bought for some unknown reason. I admit, I do have a bit of panko lingering in there but since panko is all about texture of the crumb, and is something I probably could not recreate, I think I will leave it be. Bouillon cubes or powder, or canned stock: Disagree. I like a short cut. I like using boxed broth for soup, and the little packets of gluey broth concentrate (available at Trader Joe’s) when cooking grains. Yes, it’s probably all just sodium and/or MSG, but sue me. Aerosol oil: Um, if this means PAM or PAM-like sprays, disagree. Additives be dammed, cooking spray is a calorie counter’s friend. Bottled salad dressing and marinades: I do like to make my own Asian-style and Caesar salad dressings, but some commercial varieties, especially Newman’s Own Southwest Style, are really good. Bottled lemon juice: Agree! Spices older than a year: Agree! I do love Penzey’s and any excuse to buy a new spice blend. Currently on my shelf are several themed blends, including: Greek, Singapore, Turkish, Northwoods Fire, Bavarian and Herbs de Provence. Dried parsley and basil: Agree about parsley, disagree about basil. I liked dried basil in soups and sprinkled on homemade pizza. Canned beans: Disagree. I am a creature who likes convenience. And Whole Foods’ no salt added line. Imitation vanilla: Agree, although instead of vanilla beans, I recently splurged on a $17 bottle of real, double strength vanilla extract from Penzeys. So worth it. Grated imitation “Parmesan”: Totally agree. Canned peas and other canned vegetables: Except for beets (again, a convenience issue), agree. Tomato paste in a can: Agree. Love the tubes, even if they are $5 a pop at my Whole Foods. Premade pie crusts: Disagree. As we have established, I am not a baker and have not yet made a crust to equal Pillsbury’s, but then again, I really don’t have a need for crust much. Cheap balsamic or flavored vinegars: Is a $5 bottle of balsamic considered cheap? I typically use ultra cheap red wine vinegar and rice wine vinegar on salads any way. Minute Rice or boil-in-a-bag grains: OK, I like what Bittman calls “genuine grains” – quinoa, bulgur – very much but they are rarely substitutes for rice. In my opinion, par cooked brown rice, frozen or shelf stable, is one of the great food inventions of my time. “Pancake” syrup: Agreed! And in the “in” column: Real bacon or prosciutto: Agree, but as you can probably guess, I have ready-cooked vs. “real” bacon in my fridge. When cooking for one, or looking for a slice to add to a grilled cheese, Oscar Mayer Ready Cooked is your friend. Fish sauce: On the fence – have it, rarely use it. Canned coconut milk: Agree. Have it, usually goes into sweet versus savory recipes, like ice cream, or baked rice pudding (sub coconut milk for milk and shredded coconut for raisins in this recipe and it becomes less English and more, I don’t know, Thai?). Miso paste: Disagree – maybe if I cooked more meat? Or liked miso soup? Capers, olives bought in bulk and anchovies in olive oil: Agree! There are some capers and jarred Kalamatas in my fridge right now. Walnuts and pignoli: Agree, but store in the freezer. Dried fruit: On the fence – I recently used up a half pack of dried cherries in Bittman’s Blondie recipe, and do have dried cranberries somewhere in the back. Dried mushroom: Agree, although there are none in my cupboard right now. Frozen shrimp: Agree! Winter squash and sweet potatoes: Agree. I just used some butternut squash I had peeled over a month ago. Once I cut off the slimy parts, it was fine. Really. And I have two additions to Bittman’s list: Irish cut oatmeal and Greek yogurt. When combined in the recipe below with those leftover dried cranberries in my cupboard, they make for a nice breakfast or afternoon snack.

Cranberry Breakfast Bake Adapted from a Cooking Light recipe

Although this was originally a bar cookie recipe, by swapping yogurt for the sour cream originally called for and by cutting the sugar, I think you can get away with eating this warm, right out of the oven, for breakfast and then cut the leftovers into smaller pieces for an afternoon snack (providing there are any leftovers!).
Ingredients Crust: 1 C. Quick cooking Irish oats 1 C. Flour ¼ C. Splenda brown sugar Dash of salt ¼ t. of Baking soda A few liberally shakes of cinnamon, to taste 6 T. Butter, melted 3 T. Orange juice Filling: ½ C. of Orange essence dried cranberries, or regular dried cranberries and some orange zest ¾ C. Greek yogurt 2 T. Flour 1 t. Vanilla 1 Egg white 1 packet of Splenda (optional) Method Combine oatmeal, flour, Splenda brown sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon in medium bowl. Drizzle melted butter and OJ over dried ingredients until they form a kind of dough (may be sticky or may be crumbly, either way will turn out fine). Pat all but ½ C. of the dough into the bottom of an 8 x 8 (or approximate) pan that has been coated with cooking spray. In the same, now empty, bowl, mix together ingredients to form filling, adding extra sweetener if you deem necessary (I like it less sweet). Spread filling over crust, top filling with reserved dough the best you can (I recommend the drop method). Bake at 325 for 30-40 minutes or until edges of filling start to pull away from sides of pan and turn golden brown.