6/30/2014

vegan coconut rice pudding with strawberry jam

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Okay. We should clear the air from the beginning here: rice pudding IS. MY. LIFE. I'm talking about your super traditional, heavy-on-the-cream, sugar-cinnamon-sprinkled, ate-it-for-three-straight-weeks-in-Athens type. There is nothing better.

Until now.


Hopefully my very Greek aunt (and dad, for that matter) don't take this to be total blasphemy, but: the British are coming. In the form of Jamie Oliver's Jamie At Home cookbook, a follow-up to one of my favorite cooking shows ever casted and one that every proper cook should own, meat-eating or otherwise. It's got something for everyone.


The whole point of this recipe is to highlight the star of the show: fresh summer strawberries. Oh my heavens, there's nothing like them. And believe it or not, I think our season for this year is already coming to a rapid close. Which is a huge bummer, but all the more reason to preserve what's left of these ruby-hued beauties into sweet, beautiful jam. Jamie knows what's the what.


For this recipe, you'll need:

1 pound strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup of sugar (seems like nothing at all, but trust me, it's all you need)
2 1/2 cups coconut milk (full fat will taste better, let's face it, but do whatever feels right)
3 1/2 ounces medium grain rice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Toasted coconut chips for topping, like these from Dang (optional)

To get started, add your hulled strawberries to a large bowl. Sprinkle your 1/4 cup of sugar on top and squish together with your hands. That's right: squish together. With YOUR HANDS! Watching Jamie do this in the strawberry episode of Jamie At Home is amazing, such a crucial element to his hands-on (GET IT?!) cooking style. Love it. Of course, if you're a little daintier than Jamie or I, you can always give them a good smash with a fork or a potato masher. The point here is to get the sugar as dissolved as possible before adding your fruit to the heat.


Once you've smashed up your berries in whatever way works best for you (hands hands hands), add them to a medium sauce pan on medium heat. Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, being careful to scoop off the excess foam every five minutes or so. (The reason to scoop the foam is mainly that it can affect the shelf life, but also the flavor, of your jam. If you plan on using your jam within the week and don't mind the foam, let it simmer freely.)


Meanwhile, add your coconut milk, rice, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon to a second medium saucepan. Bring to a quick simmer, lower the heat and attach your lid, allowing to cook for about 30 minutes. Give it a stir every now and then to check the consistency, but if you've had rice pudding before, you know what to watch for: or, as Jamie aptly describes it, "creamy and oozy." Perfect.

If you can time it right, both of your amazing mixtures should be ready around the same time. If your jam reaches its perfect jammi-ness before your pudding is ready, remove from the heat and set aside. You don't want to eat boiling hot jam, anyway.


When the rice is done and your kitchen and entire home are smelling like a masterpiece of dessert heaven, scoop your warm pudding into wide bowls and top with the strawberry jam. You could stop there, but I wouldn't recommend it: adding a few coconut chips to your dish for crunch (or if you aren't worried about the vegan factor, as per Jamie's suggestion, crushed meringue cookies) will take it from so good to I've-lost-the-ability-to-speak amazing.


What I love about this is the very mild sweetness of the rice itself. All that beautiful, summery flavor comes from the jammy fruit, which is so good for other uses (if it makes it there, that is) like morning toast and over yogurt.

I'm totally making this again. Peach jam? Fig jam? I'm going to go jam-pudding crazy.



6/23/2014

cinnamon raisin bagels

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Ah, the fresh bagel. Even a bad bagel can't be that bad if it's fresh. Well, I don't know, but there's something about the hot out-of-the-oven effect that's pretty hard to deny. Even though I've tried my hand at bagels before and started out with a fancier flavor, on my second attempt I decided to go with a classic that I've always loved: cinnamon raisin. Even though an everything bagel has my heart with the salty-garlicy-seedy texture, there's something about a warm, cinnamon raisin bagel that speaks to my soul.


Now, bagels are an all-day project. Cancel your plans, hunker down, get used to the heat of the oven, because bagel-baking is a serious business that's more than worth the effort and the wait. You want to begin by making your sponge, which consists of:

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
4 cups bread (or strong) flour, a higher gluten version of all-purpose
2 1/2 cups room temperature water


In the bowl of a stand mixed (without yet employing the mixer itself), hand-whisk your yeast into the 4 cups of flour and then add your water (definitely be sure it's neither hot nor cold, as this will affect your very temperamental yeast and the rise quality). Whisk together to form what will look like a thick, sticky pancake batter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in a dark place for 2 hours. (I like to do my rising processes in the oven, where it's slightly warm which helps promote the dough to rise.) After 2 hours this mixture should be foamy and about doubled in size.


Attach your bowl to the mixer this time and now it's time to prepare your dough. For this, you will need:

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 3/4 cups bread (or strong) flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups loosely packed raisins, well rinsed



Using the dough hook attachment, add your second teaspoon of yeast to your sponge mixture and stir. Add three cups of your additional bread flour, your cinnamon, sugar, salt and brown sugar and stir on a low speed until the dough starts to form a ball. (It will still be pretty loose and sticky at this stage.) Slowly work in your remaining 3/4 cup of flour until the dough ball comes together more completely. Continue stirring and add your raisins. The raisins may reintroduce some stickiness back into the dough and if that's the case, add a bit more flour until the consistency is elastic but not sticky. Allow the mixer to run on low for about 6-8 minutes or until the dough is properly kneaded.


Transfer your dough onto a well-floured surface (definitely flour your hands, too, as the dough will be very dough and pliable AKA FUN). Using a floured dough cutter, divide your dough into 16 even pieces (or you can do 12 if you're into monster bagels, as we all should be). Arrange side by side (but no touching), cover with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes.


While you're pacing around anxiously, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and mist with cooking spray. Now it's time to make these dough balls look like actual bagels. While there's no right or wrong way to do this (I don't think), the easiest is to pinch through the center of each ball with your thumb, making a small dent and gently expanding that hole by rotating to the right (or left, if you're left-handed). It sounds hard until you get through the first few; after that, you're a bagel-forming champ. As you form each one, place them on your prepped baking sheets. Tightly cover each prepared tray with plastic wrap (lightly grease the side that's touching the bagels with some nonstick spray) and let sit at room temperature for another 20 minutes. After, place in the refrigerator for three hours or up to overnight. (THREE HOURS IT IS, PEOPLE -- by now, I was seriously ready for a bagel.)



After these three hours have passed (during which it's best to leave the kitchen or the apartment entirely to distract yourself), preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Get a large (and preferably wide) pot of water boiling. Once the water has begun to boil, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Drop your bagels in (about 2-4 at a time, depending on the wideness of your pot) and boil at 1 minute per side. Place removed bagels back on a well-greased parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all bagels have been boiled. 



Transfer your baking sheets (probably one at a time is best) to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. After the first 5, rotate your baking sheet 180-degrees and bake for another 5 or until golden brown on top. Remove and repeat until all your bagels are baked. 



The kitchen will smell INSANE. These are so good that they don't even need any sort of topping or schmear (I know, bagel blasphemy), but seriously. I mean you probably can/should use some cream cheese like every good New Jersey girl does. All I'm saying is, if you didn't, they would still be amazing. They also freeze like magic for those busy mornings when you want a breakfast that's fast and delicious and not cereal out of the box. Just pop in the toaster and it's just like they came out of then oven all over again. 







6/16/2014

kale pesto pizza with fresh asparagus + heirloom tomatoes

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We've been having some serious luck with our latest pizza stone. And though I might have totally jinxed it by just saying that, it's true: we've been tip-toeing around it's über-sensitive feelings in hopes that it will keep delivering that pizzeria-worthy crust that we know and love so well. (Without unexplainably shattering, both literally as well as our hopes and dreams for pizza.)

Well, couldn't you just go get pizza, then, you may ask? We could, and we do, but as great as inhaling a fresh-as-hell East Coast pizza can be, there's something to be said for creating your own version of awesome in the form of kale-almond pesto and fresh Jersey vegetables.

That, and we didn't have enough tomatoes to make a traditional sauce. Happy accidents, what a world.



For this recipe you will need:

Jamie Oliver's pizza dough recipe. (As Jamie would say, it's dead simple, and it freezes beautifully for the next time you want pizza in a pinch. You can even halve his recipe and still have enough dough for two personal pizzas or one larger pizza. Or as Jamie pronounces, "peetzer.")
1 1/2 cups of curly kale, roughly chopped
1/2 cup roasted almonds (8-10 minutes in a 400 degree oven should do the trick)
1 large clove of garlic
5 sun dried tomatoes
Olive oil
1/2 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
5-6 stalks fresh asparagus, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

After preparing Jamie's dough recipe as per his instructions (you'll need to do this about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to make your pizza to give the dough proper time to rise), you can set about making your kale pesto. Super similar to the version I made with the dino kale, this one just adds some sun dried tomatoes for a little extra flavor. In a food processor, pulse your kale until finely chopped but not liquified, about 30-45 seconds. Add your almonds, garlic and sun dried tomatoes and continue to pulse until this additions are chopped but still visible among the greenness of your kale.



Scoop into a medium sized bowl and drizzle with olive oil, about 3 tablespoons. Fold together until it resembles a thick sauce or the texture of a traditional pesto. Add more olive oil if it seems a bit dry and set aside.


When your dough is just about done rising, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. I know, CRAZY, and yes, your oven does have a five-hundred-degrees on its dial, though chances are you've never had to use it for anything else so far. What's awesome about these baking stones is that they absorb that heat and then amplify it even further, giving your pizza (or anything else you may bake on it), that super authentic crispness that you expect and love from pizzas and bakery breads.

Roll out your dough on a well floured surface then transfer your ready dough onto your pizza peel. (It's best to sprinkle your peel with a bit of cornmeal in order to make the transfer easier; insider trick, a bit of dry quinoa will also work.)


Spread a generous amount of pesto on your ready dough, but work quickly: the super elastic dough is perfect for pizza but quickly absorbs any sauce making it sticky and harder to work with/transfer into the oven. Top with your chopped vegetables (and any others you may have handy and choose to use) and quickly transfer to your oven/stone in one swift, professional movement. Or, you know, frantically as you attempt to not lose your dough to unworkable stickiness and/or burn the shit out your hands on the hotass oven.


And now we wait. Not long, thankfully, since said hotass oven will take care of cooking time in about 8-10 minutes. Try to resist the urge to check it too often, as opening the oven door and taking a peek results in losing that precious heat that is making this whole magical process possible (and could also be the reason our other two sensitive stones cracked in half. Who knows).

After 10 minutes, peer in quickly to see if the crust has started to brown around the edges. If so, great. Open the oven further and give the edge of the crust a quick tap. Does it feel firm? Does it bounce back? If so, remove from the oven because this pizza is DONE. If it still feels a little soft or doesn't bounce back right away, keep waiting in 1-minute intervals or until the desired consistency is achieved.


I don't know what to tell you but this pizza was GOOD. So far from traditional but still somehow really authentic tasting. It's gotta be that crust. Jamie always seems to know the way.



6/09/2014

blueberry banana muffins

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Why does it seem like the instant you have a craving for a specific food item that it's suddenly nowhere to be found? And this one, my friends, is a pretty commonplace baked item: the blueberry muffin. I know, right? Even though I do admit I'm a little picky when it comes to flours and how much sugar is added, you pretty much can't walk into any coffee shop/diner/corner store/bakery without blueberry muffins staring you right in the face with an inviting "Eat me!" To which I usually say, sure.


But nope. Trying to loosen my standards just a tad (because sometimes a craving is just a craving and you've got to give in), the only blueberry muffins I could find were roughly the size of my head and coated in excess sugar. As bad as that doesn't sound, I couldn't really justify a 600+ calorie breakfast accompaniment when the easier solution would be to just make my own.


But then of course there's that predicament: coming up with a recipe that is reasonably healthy and tasty enough to quell my yearning. Let's be honest here, it's usually one more than the other ... UNTIL NOW. I present to you the just-sweet-enough banana blueberry muffin. While the banana does add an extra touch of flavor, it's main purpose in this baking excursion is to add moistness/sweetness without a ton of extra sugar. And man does it pull its weight.


For this recipe, you'll need:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Some fresh lemon zest, about half a teaspoon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ripe bananas, mashed (takes about two medium)
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries



Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners (this recipe makes about 12 small muffins) and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together your flours, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. In a separate slightly larger bowl, mix together your sugars, banana mash, coconut oil, egg and vanilla extract. Add your dry ingredients into your wet ingredients in batches, stirring as you go. Once everything is teamed up, fold in your blueberries. (If you decide to go frozen, which I did and it works out great, don't defrost them beforehand as this will prevent color bleeding. Unless you don't mind a zany, purple muffin. In which case: okay.)



Transfer your batter to your prepared muffin tins. If you're so inclined, you can sprinkle the tops with a quick mixture of two tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Totally just an added touch, but just as good without.


Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (the cooked blueberries can be a little deceptive in the toothpick-testing department, so tap the tops of your muffins if you aren't sure. If they bounce back right away, they're done!)


Transfer to a cooling rack for as long as you an stand it. I had five that day, you guys. FIVE. Because that's what a craving will do to you. And they were DELICIOUS.


6/01/2014

vegan black bean quinoa burgers + oven fries

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Summer is all about the barbeque, right? Setting up the grill in the back yard and cooking slowly. Except that we don't have a grill, or a yard for that matter, nor do we participate in the traditional regularly served BBQ fare. Should that stop us from being the burger types? This completely vegan (and completely tasty) black bean take says: not a chance.


With Memorial Day just behind us and the Fourth of July on the horizon (okay, it's a distant horizon, but still), summer is pretty much here. Not to be left out on the festivities, I decided to try my hand at making my own veggie burgers, settling on a black bean version inspired by Vegetarian Times. (I'm not totally against the veggie burgers you can buy, of course, but these days I'm getting a bit more uncomfortable with anything that comes wrapped in plastic or in a box or both. More on this another time.)

And of course, what on earth is a burger of any kind without fries? LONELY, that's what. And fries, magically, don't have to be fried to be any good, as it turns out. Crank up that oven heat (and then retreat to a cooler part of your place, because oven-watching in this weather is a no-go), toss generously in olive and spices and you'll never know the difference.


For the burgers, you'll need:

1/2 cup quinoa (dry)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
6 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Herbs and spices of your choice
Whole-grain rolls

For the fries, you'll need:

4-5 large Yukon gold potatoes, sliced into fry-like spears
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon oregano

First things first, cook your quinoa according to the package instructions (this is also a great recipe to turn to when you find yourself with some leftover grain, as I imagine this recipe could work great with brown rice, couscous, etc.) and set aside. While your quinoa is cooking, toss your potatoes with the olive oil, salt, pepper and other spices. Be generous with the coating, as this is what will give your "fries" their crispness and flavor. Spread onto a single layer on a large baking sheet and pop into a 400 degree oven for about forty minutes, flipping as necessary and rotating halfway through.


Once your fries have begun fry-ing, turn your attention to the star of the burger show: the black bean. The black bean is a pretty versatile little guy, making its way around in both the dinner and the dessert world (black bean brownie, anyone?) To get the flavors really cooking, in a small saucepan begin to sauté your onion and sun-dried tomatoes in some olive oil over medium heat. After a few minutes or when the onions have fully softened, stir in about half of your black beans, salt and pepper, herbs and spices of your choice (I went with cumin, a little red pepper and some garlic powder), garlic and 1 cup of water (or for even more flavor, veggie stock, if you have it). Allow to simmer until most (or all) of the water has evaporated--this should happen in about ten minutes.

Transfer the contents of your saucepan to a food processor and add 1/2 the amount of your cooked quinoa. Pulse until smooth and then stir together with the unprocessed quinoa and remaining black beans. When cool enough to handle, form into patties and place on a well-greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes or until patties are crisp on the pan-side. Flip and bake for another fifteen minutes.

Serve these guys with guacamole (HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS ONE), crisp lettuce and fresh tomatoes. So perfect for a satisfying summer meal.