Sunday, 31 May 2009

from Florence, with love: warm farro salad

Every year I get to go to Florence for work, which rocks. Florence is an excellent place to spend a week working and eating... I rarely eat out here, for a simple reason: I stay next to the central market, and like to spend time cooking with the spectacular fresh ingredients available in spring. This year I did the usual pasta (picci, which is rarely found outside Tuscany, and which I love, but I also love that it's something that is still a local food) and fresh porcini, but that's not really something you need a recipe for. However, spelt is big here. I especially like whole spelt berries, or farro. You can use them like rice, or wheat berries, or small pasta. You can make rissotto with them, which I highly recommend. They're super yummy chewy. Also, spelt seems to be the only concession to "whole grain" made here. Everything else (the bread, the pasta, the rice) is white. This year, I also happened across some fresh canellini beans (which practically melt in your mouth), and there were little zucchini flowers everywhere. Oh my. I made this, and it was perfect. It's very simple, and relies on having good, very fresh ingredients. In other words, no, you can't substitute canned tomatoes, cheap-ass olives, or dry parsley. (You can, however, use dried beans). Make this when you can get excellent tomatoes that were picked ripe, and get damn good olives. If you can't find zucchini flowers, use barely-steamed mangetout or fresh green peas.

-1 c farro, cooked (gives about 1.5 cups)
-1 c fresh cannelini beans

-8 zucchini flowers
-2 ugly but perfectly ripe summer tomatoes, chopped
-2 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 c parsley chopped
-a few spicy olives in olive oil, or if your olives are in brine, some good olive oil to drizzle plus a dash (only a dash) of hot pepper. This isn't a hot dish per se. The pepper just adds a very subtle edge. Very. Subtle. Exercise restraint, gentle reader, and you will be rewarded with a lovely lovely layering of flavours. Too much chili, and you'll overwhelm everything, which would be a shame.
-salt and pepper to taste

Cook the spelt berries/farro in plenty of boiling salted water for about 10 mins. At the 10 minute mark, add the beans. Somewhere between the 15-20 minute mark both should be done. When the farro and beans are done, add the zucchini flowers for about 30 seconds, and then pick them out with a fork and put them aside (you want to just barely cook them). Drain farro and beans. Return them to the hot pot, but don't bother turning the heat back on. Stir in all the other ingredients, and serve, topped with the zucchini flowers. Oh, and when I say "some olive oil", I didn't add any. I was just using olives preserved in oil. So if you're adding, I'd say 1 tsp or so for the whole recipe. Or you could just leave it out.

singing: a love song to ugly tomatoes that i made up on the spot.

Saturday, 23 May 2009


Omelettes! Who doesn't like these. Really. The possibilities are endless in terms of fillings. Vegan omelettes are typically made only of tofu. I like tofu, but find an entire plate of it a bit... much. Also, adding chickpeas (even in the form of flour) to anything is a good move in my books.

A note on omnisubs. I don't bother trying to imitate what an eggy omelette would taste like. I don't know that I'd remember anyways. I try to create something that is yum in it's own right, and that vaguely fills the same category as the omnifood for which I named it. And if I were naming this accurately, I'd call it "better than eggs". In so many ways.

For 4 people worth of basic omelette:

1 c chickpea flour (gram flour)
water to form a batter (about 1.5 cups)
1/2 tsp salt (black salt works best)
1/2 c arrowroot
splash vegan worcestershire sauce
4 tbs white miso
tarragon to taste (I used about a tsp)
1 tsp baking powder

mix all this together to a thin batter and let stand 30 mins.

puree in 1 block silken tofu. This will be a pretty thick batter, about the consistency of pudding. It should *just* be at the point where you need a spoon to help it spread around the pan.

just before cooking stir in
1 tbs apple cider vinegar

To cook. Spray a pan with olive oil. Let pan get nice and hot, and then pour in your omelette. Drop the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until cooked through. You can add fillings as the omelette is cooking. Here I've added some brocolli and olives and vegan cheese (I'm not a big fan of commercial fake cheezes, but I do like me some of the stuff from the Uncheese Cookbook. You could also use my bloo pate.

Here's another combo that I made but didn't take a photo of (which makes something akin to a spanish tortilla). Mix these into the batter before cooking: cooked cubed potatoes, onions, tomatoes, olives, steamed chopped and drained greens, dash of smoked paprika, chopped jalopenos.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

garlicky spring risotto

A friend gave me a splendid bag of fancy-pants arborio rice. This is what happened when I got home. This is tastes like the filling of stuffed vine leaves, only in the form of risotto! So exciting! The leftovers are great wrapped in vine leaves (how shocking). Failing that, they're also great wrapped in any leafy green. Or eaten straight out of the container cold. I might have done that today at lunch.

Confession: I love fresh fava beans. LOVE. However, they take for frikkin' ever to shell, so I'm secretly glad that fresh fava bean season is mercifully short, because otherwise I'd have a pretty serious time problem on my hands.

1 c arborio rice
1c white wine
hot veg stock or water

2 stalks celery
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbs cumin
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2-1 c fresh fava beans (broad beans)
1/2 c fresh mint, chopped
a few sprigs fresh dill, chopped
juice of 1 large lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Usually I use brown rice, but for this, brown is a bit heavy, though it could work if you wanted to use this as a stuffing for peppers or something. Meh. Serve this with olives and a simple tomato salad.

General instructions for risotto are here. For this one, prep the rice (ie, rice, wine, stock) in a nice heavy bottom pan. While the rice is cooking, shell the fava beans. When that's done, get going on the celery and garlice: In a separate pan from the rice, saute the celery and garlic on medium heat in a splash of wine. Once they're translucent, add cumin and zucchini, drop the heat and cover. Add fava beans at end (a minute or two before the rice is done. Mix the rice into the veg. Stir in the mint, dill and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.

springtime music: dance me to the end of love, by leonard cohen, for my plum.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

spicy coffee cake

Before going to bed on Friday night, I usually set up some bread dough, usually green tea twirly buns of some sort. That way, I can have warm bread for breakfast on Saturday. Then, one Friday, tragedy struck when I found myself without matcha (which takes some planning to come by in Scotland). I did, however, have a whack of bananas that were past their prime. This bread has quite a kick and tastes like strong, sweet coffee with ginger and cardamom, like they serve in one of the lovely Sudanese restos in town. This is a very dense loaf, and the texture is somewhere between yeast bread and quick bread. Despite the sugar and bananas, this bread isn't sweet. That last sentence will make sense once you look at the list of spices. If you want sweet bread, add about 1/2c sugar and scale back the ginger and mustard (but don't leave out the mustard entirely until you've tried it, trust me). I don't want sweet bread. I want spicy bread. It is spectacular with orange marmalade. And it's better the second day, after all the spices settle in.

3 bananas, mashed
1/2 cup soy yogurt or 1/3 c. okara diluted with enough water to make 1/2 cup goo.
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup agave (or sugar)
3-4 tbs orange flower water
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 heaping tbs ground ginger
1 tsp ground dry mustard
2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch cloves
2 tbs - 1/4 cup espresso powder (I just use normal espresso, not instant. the grind if fine enough that it doesn't make the bread grainy)
1/2 tsp salt (I used vanilla salt)

about 2.5 cups strong whole wheat flour (bread flour, not pastry)
1 package yeast (2 tbs)
+ about 1.5 cups more to knead in ( I used ww spelt)

Mash first group of ingredients together. Mix yeast with the 2.5 c flour (I used quick yeast, which you add directly to flour, otherwise, go through the appropriate rigamarole of proofing your yeast in some warm water + sugar, and just add a bit of extra flour). Mix yeast flour into mash. Knead in the rest of the flour. continue kneading and adding flour until dough is as wet as possible without still being sticky. Form into a round loaf and place in a bread or cake pan that you've sprinkled with cornmeal. Spray the top of the loaf with olive oil. All of the spices are going to just about (but not quite) kill the yeast, and the bread rises slowly so this does best if you let it rise overnight on the counter (my kitchen is fairly cool). You don't have to cover the bread. It's very moist, and the oil will keep it from drying out. Then again, I live in a very undry country, so this might not be true if you live in, say, Arizona. Use your judgement.

In the morning, heat your oven to 250C. Bake uncovered at 250 for 10 mins, then cover, drop the heat to 220, and bake for a further 15-20 mins. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Eat!

Monday, 11 May 2009

jumping on the bento wagon

...Well.. not really. I always brought a lunch to school, right through to the end of studenty days (which extended into my late 20s), and now I bring a lunch every day to work. Wanna know a secret?: I hate having to eat out at lunch. Hate it. It's almost invariably expensive, boring and never as yummy as what I could bring myself. Here's a standby for what I make when I don't have any leftovers from the night before. Also, when I just need a spud. Because sometimes one just needs a spud, ya know? Since a potato stuffed with something (think baked potatoes and beans) is pretty much the best simple lunch ever, here's a take on it that has veg and is a bit lighter than baked potato and beans, and is also good cold: a nice big spud, cut in half and boiled in water to which I've added soy sauce and a bit of sake. Said spud is stuffed to within an inch of it's life (and my lunchbox) with grated carrot salad: 1 obscenely large (and incidentally, obscenely shaped) grated carrot, 1 chopped scallion, about 1/2 cup of chopped seaweed (I used multicoloured, but anything will do), 2 tbs chopped pickled ginger, a few frozen edamame (they thaw out by lunchtime), salt, pepper, some vinegar from the pickled ginger, a splash of shoyu, and some toasted sesame seeds.

Also, I got onto this whole Health Blogger Network thing. I'm not sure what will come of it. I don't really think I'm a health blogger per se. I cook vegan food. I cook pretty much without fat and I use whole foods, tending towards lots of veg, grains and legumes, rather than processed omni subs such as vegan cheese or ice cream or other junk food. Frankly, I think this tastes *better* and is more satisfying than pretty much anything processed or pre-made that I can buy. I make treats, but they are very much treats, and with me, they almost invariably end up being chocolate. I do the first (the vegan bit) because I think it's the only ethical way to live and the second because I rather like being alive and being able to live in my body and that means taking care of myself. I'm 30-something now, and want to still be doing science, writing, riding my bicycle, cooking, travelling to places that cars just can't go, and generally raising hell when I'm an old lady. And more immediately, I want to keep feeling good now. Since I'm lucky enough to not have any major health problems, I want to be able to fully enjoy all the cool stuff that I can experience, such as getting up in the morning and stretching like a cat, running in the sun (and rain), walking on my hands, climbing big hills and looking down at beautiful landscapes, reading good books, hearing music, getting into interesting conversations, and having lots of sex. I think that my life, and my enjoyment of it, is worth the time and effort of cooking food that 's good for me and that I like eating. So, I don't generally wince at spending money or time on food. Being ill or constantly tired also costs money and time, so I look at what I do in my kitchen as an investment as well as a source of immediate amusement. I cook yummy fun food because, as I just said, I like being alive and happy, and yummy beautiful food is exciting and gives me great pleasure. I love cooking. I love eating. I love feeding the people I love. So, if there are any new readers, welcome to the kitchendancing cave. I hope you find stuff in here that will amuse and delight you.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

it's not easy being green.

Green is the colour of spring. It's the colour of so many things.... and if green has a taste, this is it. I love foraging for edibles (though I actually didn't pick these myself). Wild garlic, nettles, berries, mushrooms... yum. And there's something extra yum about food that is a) free and b) seasonal and so precious. This soup is dead easy, so long as you don't touch the nettles. I used a cunning combination of chopsticks and scissors to remove them from their stems. If you lack chopsticking skills, I recommend gardening gloves.

Nettle soup.

1 onion or leek, chopped
1 large spud, cubed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
cover with either lightly salted water or broth, and boil until soft

when the spuds are cooked through, add
1 cup of parsley, chopped
2 cups of nettles, leaves only (don't chop them, just dump them directly from the colander into the soup, then wash off the colander immediately lest any of the diabolical little stinging hairs be left behind)
let this simmer for a few minutes

Blend! Blend! Blend! Reheat if you need to.

Off the heat, add
1/2 cup of okara or soy yogurt
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
juice from 1 lemon
2-3 tbs of white miso

Eat, preferably while listening to Kermit the frog sing "It's not easy being green"