Sunday, January 8, 2012

New terrain

Scorched earth: healthy chocolate fallen souffle cake

My family just celebrated my father's 69th birthday. My dad is a wonderfully gregarious and generous man. An innovative thinker, sophisticated eater and cook. He has crafted a host of signature dishes that have burned into my memories. Much like myself, he is emotionally connected to food. He has a number of favorite meals, some of the most near and dear to him are the ones created by his mother who has long passed on. I can relate to this because many of my all time favorite meals were the ones made by my dad, who did most of the cooking in my family when I was a child. He is an excellent cook, and has excellent and particular taste in food and beer. For all of his birthdays and special occassions, I go out of my way to provide him either with a splendid meal or beverage and this year was no exception.

No longer living at home makes making dinner for my dad next to impossible so I usually stick to a dessert or two and my mom orders in. My dad loves Indian food. This year we got take out from my new favorite restaurant -- Banjara. If you haven't been there, I heartily recommend dropping everything and going there right now. It is nothing short of excellent.

I typically make a special dessert for everyone in my family for their birthdays. They all have different favorites. My dad has a particular taste for raspberry and rhubarb -- a favorite combination of his mother who used it in everything from pies to marmalades made famous through his fond memories. He also loves dark chocolate. He is not a fan of anything that is overly sweet so this year I made two desserts mild in sweetness. 

Crumbling for rhubarb

There are a lot of family celebrations in my family these days, so it seems we are always eating dessert. I have been possessed by the thought of making great tasting but healthy desserts. But not everyone shares my open mind. Often when you tell someone that the cake they are about to eat is mostly made of beans and bananas, they tend to get a little nervous and spend the entire time they eat it, trying to taste those strange flavors and textures. So this time I was careful to announce the mysterious ingredients post-consumption. They enjoyed the particularly healthy cake that I made quite a bit, but my sister would have preferred it cold to hot. The crisp I made, however, was devoured instantly. I make a good crumble. The crumble I made this time around was healthier than usual and worked out very well indeed if I do say so myself. It is gluten free and could easily be made vegan by replacing the very small amount of butter with vegan margarine or shortening. 

The cake, much like the black bean brownies I made last week, was very different when eaten cold the next day (today). I ate it for breakfast because as far as baked goods go, it is remarkably good for you. It is gluten free. It is flour free. It is high in protein. It is naturally sweetened and far less sweet than any cake I've every made before. I'm tempted to say that it is better for you than a bowl of oatmeal -- well, maybe without the chocolate chips.

Chocolate Souffle Cake: Ready for the inferno

I served the cake hot out of the oven  with a little Coconut Creme Anglaise (recipe follows). I ate it again, alone, cold from the fridge. I like it both ways. If you don't enjoy banana flavor, eat the cake cold from the fridge. If you do enjoy banana flavor, eat it hot out of the oven. 

My dad had a great meal and dessert in the end, and everyone liked the cake, so I hope you do too! I think it may be my new favorite dessert, if only because it doesn't make me flush the way most desserts do. I find the natural sugar in it quite tolerable and the flavor and texture delightful. It also won't leave you feeling too full or weighed down by greasiness.

Bon Apetit

Fresh out of the oven and as cracked as Arizona


Part I:
2 -15 oz cans black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 heaping teaspoon organic baking powder
2 organic frozen bananas
1/2 cup organic maple syrup
1 MINIATURE CAN organic coconut milk
2 teaspoons organic cinammon
1/2 cup Ghirardelli cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

Part II:
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites beaten to firm peaks

Part III:
1 large handful organic dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 Farenheit.
Blend all ingredients before eggs in a bowl with a hand blender until very smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Blend in egg yolks until very smooth.

Beat egg whites in a separate small bowl until they form firm peaks. Fold in beaten whites a little at a time into the chocolate batter. Pour into a 9inch non stick baking pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top of cake is just set and slightly springs back to the touch.

Serve hot with coconut creme anglaise for hot souffle-like mousse cake. OR serve chilled for denser silky chocolate cake. If you don't like banana flavor, serve chilled.

Coconut Creme Anglaise

1 can organic coconut milk
1 organic frozen banana
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon organic cinammon
1 capful organic maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pour the coconut milk through a fine mesh seive into a bowl. Scoop out the solids into a separate bowl from the seive and scrape down the fatty liquid as much as possible off the seive into that bowl. Add as much of the creamy solids and a little of the coconut water to the creamy bowl. To that bowl add the remainig ingredients and blend until smooth with a hand blender. Whip the mixture with an electric hand mixer until as frothy as you can get it. Chill in fridge until ready to eat. OR freeze for an hour before serving as mock-ice cream. Take out of freezer and stir up with a fork or spoon or hand blender to blend in any crystallized parts with the creamy parts.

Rhubarb-Raspberry Millet-Oat Crumble
A better crumble...

Rhubarb raspberry crisp with millet-oat topping

Berry Filling Recipe
1 package frozen raspberries (I use Stalbush organic)
1 package frozen rhubarb (I use Stalbush organic)
1/4 cup organic light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinammon
3 teaspoons organic butter
squeeze of 1/4 large lemon

Combine all filling ingredients in baking dish of choice. Break up the butter into little bits and distribute evenly throughout. Top with "crisp" and bake at 350 F for 20-30 minutes.

Crisp recipe
1/3 cup ground wild brown millet
2/3 cup organic quick cooking oats
1/3 cup organic oat flour
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup organic dark brown sugar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp vegan margarine
2 tsp organic ground cinammon
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract

Mix all "crisp" ingredients together to a crumbly consistency in a medium sized bowl using a fork. Top "filling" with "crisp" and bake until top is slightly brown and fruit bubbles red at the sides of the pan.

Serve hot with ice cream or cream or Coconut Creme Anglaise.

Why can't vegetarian food be elegant?

Easy answer. It can. 

I recently became very interested in incorporating fish-like flavors into vegan and vegetarian dishes. I am in the process of creating a soy-free vegetarian fish stick recipe. What can I say? I miss fish sticks. But in the meantime I wanted to test out whether beans could adopt a fish flavor with the addition of variuos seaweeds, and sure enough, they can.

So, what can beans and seaweed combine to simulate in a tasteful way? Pate of course. 

Salmon pate has been a favorite snacking item of mine for as long as I can remember. It is sweet, salty, savory and creamy in one teaspoon. What's not to love? Even though I still eat fish, I eat it a lot less than I used to. I also rarely eat it at home anymore -- its become more of a meal out option. I do, however, eat and prepare beans at home all the time. So, knowing that beans lend an incredible silkiness to dips and spreads, I set out to discover if beans could transform into a mock-fish pate. 

The pate I made has a subtle fish flavor, a voluptuous creamy texture and a hint of sweetness. It is cheap and easy to assemble and made mostly of items you may already have on hand (the seaweeds may be the exception to this but they are relatively easy to buy). 

This spread would be excellent on crackers or as a dip for vegetables or chips. 

If you want to transform this into a sliceable pate, rather than a smooth paste, you may want to slightly gelatinize it using a bit of agar agar or another vegetarian gelatin replacer. I wasn't so picky as to bother.

The seaweed in this recipe makes it extremely healthy for you as it is an excellent source of iodine (great for thyroid function) and a host of essential vitamins and minerals including potassium, Vitamin B12 and B6.
Seaweed is also known to have anti-cancer properties.

If you don't eat much seaweed, be warned that the smell of DULSE is quite strong when you open the package and take a whiff, but the taste in this dip will be quite subtle. You can always add less than my recipe calls for and add in small amounts until you reach the desired flavor you are after.

Enjoy this recipe within a few days of preparing. Store in an air tight container in the fridge.

Fish-free pate

1 can organic cannellini beans
The juice of 1/2 organic lemon
2 sweet gherkin pickles
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon Braggs (or tamari, or soy sauce)
2 teaspoons Kelp seaweed granules (or to your taste, more will enhance fish flavor)
2 tbsp Dulse seaweed granules (or to your taste, more will enhance fish flavor)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon organic ground cinammon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tbsp mayonaise or veganaise
1 tbsp organic canola oil, or other mildly flavored oil

Blend all ingredients in a mixing bowl with a hand blender until very smooth. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Serve chilled with crackers, vegetables, chips or crostini.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Polenta for the next generation: corn-free.

Gluten-free and Corn-free Millet Polenta with Pecorino and Goat's Cheese

Corn. It is a hot topic in the food world at the moment. The astounding vegetable has come along way since its discovery. The versatile crop has seeped into nearly every packaged food known to man in its various incarnations. With its widespread popularity, thanks to its astonishing versatility, comes equal amounts of hatred. Many people have developed serious corn allergies in recent years. This is due to corn's omnipresence in packaged foods and its over-processed nature. In that way it is very similar to soy; another vegetable crop that has dominated the food world. 

On a personal note, I do not have a corn allergy but I do avoid it whenever possible. I try to steer clear of GM crops in my personal consumption. But, as I have noted above, corn is a difficult substance to avoid these days. Whether its corn starch thickening your prepared mustard or corn syrup stabilizing the salad dressing on your mixed greens, corn has become nearly impossible to avoid. It is in this way that corn and soy are similar. They are as cheap and plentiful and their uses and forms are myriad. As a result they are used everywhere possible. I developed an allergy to soy a couple of years ago when my immune system was compromised by bad seasonal asthma. At the time I was consuming a lot of packaged dressing and sauces, and was a soy-loving vegetarian. Soy was present in almost every meal that I ate. I have no strong evidence, but a strong suspicion that my soy allergy cropped up as a result of over-consumption. Why do I think so? Its not uncommon for people who eat the same foods day in day out to develop allergies and sensitivities to those foods. The rest of my evidence centers around the fact that all the other allergies which I developed at that time were also to foods that I consumed very frequently: tree-nuts; strong herbs; and apples. 

So what does one do when they become allergic to their favorite foods? Well, after the good cry, I pulled myself together and revamped my entire diet. I stopped eating packaged foods. I stopped eating nuts. I swapped apples for pears. I gave up sushi. It was a thoroughly traumatic period in my life, and no, I'm not exaggerating. Since my longstanding offending food detox (I avoided the foods for over a year), my immune system has recovered and I have lost most of my allergies and have been able to gradually reintroduce the foods one by one into my diet.

So, if anyone reading this can relate to it -- my condolences. It is terribly frustrating to become allergic to foods that you love. It is also frustrating to be allergic to soy or corn -- they are in everything! It makes eating out nearly impossible and you can pretty much forget about 'convenient' foods altogether as nearly everything packaged contains some form of corn and soy. I will do my best to offer you great soy and corn-free recipes on this blog for the foods you may be missing most of all!

On that note, its time to start 2012 with a recipe that is innovative, hearty and comforting. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you CORN-FREE POLENTA! This dish is still GLUTEN-FREE.
Millet grits transforming into polenta

Polenta is an Italian dish made from corn grits. It is a comforting corn porridge made both sweet and savory. Today I discovered Millet grits. They look and cook just like corn grits, but faster. With the right complimentary ingredient balance, they are a pretty close match all around. I made a cheese polenta with a sugo (tomato-ragu) sauce to test the waters. I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me.
Sugo Sauce

Millet Polenta with goat's cheese and pecorino and a Sugo Sauce

1/2 cup millet grits
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
black pepper (to your taste) 
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 splash balsamic vinegar
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp soft goat's cheese
1/3 cup grated pecorino
1 tsp organic honey

To serve:
olive oil, black pepper,sea salt, small handful grated pecorino.

Boil the water and half the salt in a small pot. Add the millet and stir. Cover with a lid and turn the heat down. The polenta will be ready in about 10 minutes, be sure to stir it occasionally. In the meantime, start your sauce.

When the polenta is nearly ready (should look like thick cream of wheat) add in your remaining ingredients. Stir lightly so that you retain pockets of the cheeses. Cover.

Sugo Sauce

1 small can crushed tomatoes
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
sea salt
fresh black pepper
1 tsp organic honey

I tend to make tomato sauces in a large stir-frying pan. I never use a non-stick pan.

Heat some olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. If they burn a bit, add a bit of water or red wine and loosen them from the bottom using a spatula or spoon. Add the garlic and saute it as well until fragrant. Add the salt and pepper, a few turns of each. Add the tomato puree. Lower the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add a splash of balsamic and a dash or two of the paprika. Add the honey. Let simmer for two more minutes. Taste. Adjust seasonings to your personal taste.

Serve the polenta in a deep bowl, drizzled with olive oil, a lot of pepper, and some
 grated pecorino cheese. Serve the sauce either on top, on the side of the bowl, or in its own bowl so you can gradually incorporate it into the polenta.


NB: There is likely to be more sauce than you need for this dish. I recommend either making extra polenta (ie/polenta for 2 by doubling that part of the recipe) or reserving the leftover sauce and transforming it into a homemade ketchup.

Leftover Sugo-Ketchup

Leftover Sugo Sauce
1 tsp cinnammon
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp organic honey
organic white wine vinegar (enough to give the sauce a ketchup-like tang (I used about 3 tbsp)

Mix all ingregients together well or blend them together with a handblender until smooth. Store in a small sterile mason jar or jam jar if storing for later.  Or, store in a jar with a tight fitting lid or a tupperware container if you're likely to consume it within a week.