Monday, January 2, 2017
I'm slowly transitioning to a vegan diet after nearly a decade of vegetarianism, and I've been using the holiday break to stock the fridge with some basic staples: milk, butter, yogurt, coffee creamer. The plan is to eat up whatever non-vegan food we have left in the house--there isn't actually a ton to begin with, as we're out of eggs and we already eat lots of vegan foods--and then not replace it when it's gone. I'm definitely not one of those people who believes that to be a "real" vegan or vegetarian, you need to eschew versions of those carnivorous or omnivorous foods that you loved before. I'm moving toward veganism for ethical and environmental reasons, not taste ones. I love all kinds of foods (quite literally--the only foods I dislike are sea urchin and caraway), non-vegan ones very much included, so my vegan diet includes lots of versions of the foods I ate as an omnivore, including meat and dairy alternatives.
I've already got great meat alternatives in my repertoire, both store-bought and homemade, but I'm less experienced at replacing the dairy in my diet. I've made my own nut milk in the past, but never non-dairy yogurt or butter. I've also never made a vegan coffee creamer with which I was really satisfied. This is one of the reasons that I love cooking vegan food--a new challenge!
I made a first batch of vegan butter, using Miyoko Schinner's recipe, last week. It has a slightly off taste (I think from the sunflower lecithin? or the soy milk?) that I'm not loving, but texture and creaminess wise, I'm a fan. It's just 1.5 cups of refined coconut oil, 1/4 cup of grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup of soy milk, 2 tsp sunflower lecithin, and a decent pinch each of kosher salt and turmeric blended together and then frozen. Next time I'm going to try it with my homemade yogurt in place of soy milk to replicate a cultured butter, and add a decent splash of butter baking essence for flavour, and see where we get.
I made a first batch of non-dairy yogurt last week that I was pretty happy with (a carton of vanilla soy milk thickened with a teaspoon of agar and then cultured with a packet of Cultures for Health vegan yogurt starter), but this time around I'm again using a recipe of Miyoko Schinner's from The Homemade Vegan Pantry, this time for thick yogurt. It combines unsweetened soy milk with blended cashews, a bit of agar, and a bit of cornstarch, which you cook until thickened, then cool and culture. The base was delicious pre-culturing, so I'm excited to see what I get when I pull it out of the Instant Pot in a few hours.
The last two things I made today were coffee creamer and milk, both of which start out as the same recipe. I blended a cup each of soaked cashews and almonds with four soaked dates, four cups of water, and a pinch of salt, then strained it through a nut milk bag. Two cups of the milk went into a saucepan with an 1/8 teaspoon of agar and a 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch. I cooked it over medium heat until it thickened up a bit, then stirred in a splash of vanilla--that's the creamer. The remaining two and a half cups of milk went into one of my Ikea milk bottles, where I topped it up with a cup and a half of water to make a total of four cups of almond milk. That will keep for a about a week, and now my fridge is stocked.
The last thing I'm doing this afternoon is figuring out what to do with the leftover almond-cashew pulp from my milk making--it's delicious and still full of goodness, so I want to repurpose it. I'm looking for some new sandwich spread ideas, so turning into something cream cheese-y sounds lovely. I'm also a big fan of all things snacks, so these rosemary crackers also sound delicious. So many options!
I was feeling a bit nervous as December wound down about making the transition to veganism in the new year. But now that I'm doing it, and approaching it from the perspective of adding new delicious, nutritious things to my diet rather than taking things away, the nerves are gone. I have a history of disordered eating that tends to be triggered by rules and restrictions on my eating, so I'm going to approach this the same was as my vegetarianism: something that I do because it makes me feel better about myself and my impact on the planet and the other animals on it, and something that is both flexible and forgiving.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Despite loving to cook and eat, I really only cook once a week, on Sundays. The dude and I are both busy people, and by the time I get home from work the last thing I want to do is start chopping onions. So instead, on Sundays I make a few big batch recipes and some bits and pieces that can be combined into other meals (often by adding toast + a fried egg). Dinner time is more about reheating or repurposing than starting from scratch, and that's very comforting when it's dark and cold outside and I'm hungry. Here's what this week in Sunday eats looks like:
- One-pan Mexican quinoa
- Roasted turnips, carrots, and onions (to eat on their own or puree into soup)
- Hasselback potatoes with rosemary and garlic (to eat with Fieldroast sausages)
- Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce (for eating with pasta and lentils)
- A pot of beluga lentils (see above; broth will probably go into the turnip/carrot soup)
- Kohlrabi and apple slaw with fennel seeds
We've gone back to having a large CSA bag delivered every other week from Fresh City Farms, and last week's bag included two big kohlrabis. I first encountered this knobbly stranger when I lived with Sonia, whose repertoire of Russian recipes from her childhood in Moscow included lots of kohlrabi. Instead of adding it to the pan of roasted veg I was prepping at the same time, I decided to make something brighter and fresher that highlighted kohlrabi's sweet pepperiness with the addition of apple and fennel seeds. The dressing is just a thinned out homemade mayonnaise and please don't let that scare you--it takes all of one minute, and if you're using the immersion blender, it's impossible to screw up.
We ate this alongside slices of dark rye bread from Harbord Bakery--sans caraway, which I can't stand--slathered with cream cheese and shingled with slices of cucumber.
- 2 medium kohlrabi, peeled and julienned
- 2 small, crisp apples, julienned (leave the peel on)
- 1 tbsp whole fennel seeds
- 1 whole egg
- 1 fat clove of garlic
- a big pinch of salt
- grapeseed oil
- a lemon
- a splash of water
- put the kohlrabi, apple, and fennel seed in a large bowl
- crack the egg into a big mason jar; add the garlic and salt
- with an immersion blender, blend until the garlic is completely pureed
- slowly drizzle in grapeseed oil with the blender running until the mayonnaise is thick
- squeeze in the juice of the lemon and a splash of water; blend again to create a thick dressing
- toss the slaw with dressing and serve
Image credit: Tom Major, cc
Thursday, March 26, 2015
This recipe is for that time of year when spring seems to be around the corner, but mittens are still necessary and the curbs are still slushy. A whole bunch of green veg are bolstered with the chew of plump pearl barley and parmesan rind, and brightened with white whine and lemon. Since I last made this, I've gotten in the habit of adding a big spoonful of white miso to my soups not long before serving--you don't taste it, per se, but it adds that addictive umami that soups based on vegetable broths can sometimes be lacking. A sprinkling of nutritional yeast into the broth at the same time would also be a good addition.
2 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup white wine
10 cups of vegetable broth
1 large piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 medium Valentina or Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 small broccoli, stems cut into 1/2 inch dice, crown broken into small florets and reserved
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, stem and tips cut into 1 inch pieces, tips reserved
12 brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into 3 vertical slices
1 cup frozen edamame
zest and juice of a lemon
kosher salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and salt. Sauté until lightly golden, 10-15 minutes.
- Add barley, stir to coat in butter and cook until slightly translucent at the edges.
- Add wine and boil until reduced and syrupy, scraping up any brown from the bottom.
- Add stock, simmer for uncovered for 10 minutes.
- Add Parmesan rind, potato, broccoli stems, asparagus stems, and brussels sprouts. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
- Add asparagus tips, broccoli florets, and edamame. Bring just back to the boil, then reduce to a bare simmer.
- Add zest and juice of lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
Image credit: swxxii, cc
Thursday, February 19, 2015
I'm not exactly sure why I've been hankering to try making Christina Tosi's Corn Cookies from Momofuku Milkbar for awhile now. Maybe the fond memories of going shopping for freeze-dried food at Mountain Equipment Co-op with my dad before Girl Guide camping trips? Whatever the reason, I bought a couple of bags of freeze-dried corn at MEC eons ago, with intentions of making these cookies, and just never got around to it. Which wasn't a big deal, because freeze-dried corn ain't going anywhere.
But then it was Family Day and we were headed to my parents for a taco party. Never one to show up somewhere empty handed, and feeling like corn cookies would be a nice sweet ending to a Mexican fiesta, I got to work. A little blitz in the blender, a little (a lot) of creaming, a little stirring, and these bright yellow babies were ready for the big time.
I had basically zero expectations about what these would taste like when I started baking. I wasn't sure if they would be good or just odd. So when I took my first bite of a cooled cookie, I was entirely blown away. These tasted unlike anything I'd ever had before, and yet like so many things that I love--buttery popcorn, corn on the cob dripping with butter and salt, creamy polenta, the fragrance of tortillas fresh off the press. There's something about the pulverized freeze dried corn, which is just so corny, that makes the butter flavour sing, get big and gutsy and completely addictive. (I made a batch of really very good Cook's Illustrated chocolate chip cookies later the same week, and their butteriness--despite containing basically the same amount--was wimpy in comparison.) The leftover cookies stayed at my parents, and I've been getting text messages all week containing little more than groans of pleasure. These are good cookies, worthy of making just for snacking, but even better (I'm betting) as Christina recommends you use them, as the bread in a strawberry ice cream sandwich.
The packages of freeze-dried corn I bought at MEC, two of them, added up to about 55g of corn powder. Rather than buy a third package and have bits left over, I subbed in 10g of masa harina, which I keep on hand for making tortillas, and for making polenta taste extra corny. Don't feel like you need to do the same, but keep in mind that the recipe is forgiving if you don't come up with precisely the amount of corn powder you need--sub in some masa, fine cornmeal, or more of the corn flour.
Go find yourself some freeze-dried corn and get on these. I promise you'll want to.
Christina Tosi's Milkbar Corn Cookies
225g unsalted butter, cold or at room temperature
300g raw cane sugar
225g all purpose flour
45g corn flour
10g masa harina
55g freeze-dried corn powder (two packages from MEC, blitzed in the blender or food processor until completely pulverized)
3g baking powder
1.5g baking soda
6g kosher salt
If your butter is cold, beat it in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment for a couple of minute, until it is softened and fluffy, before adding the sugar. Cream together butter and sugar using the paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes at medium speed.
Add the egg, raise the speed to medium-high, and continue beating for 7-8 minutes. Yup, you heard me right.
In the meantime, get your dry ingredients together and line 4 half-sheet pans with Silpat or parchment paper. When the egg-butter-sugar mixture is finished beating, at which point it should be light and fluffy, add in the dry ingredients and mix, still using the paddle attachment, on low speed just until combined. Using a sturdy spatula, give the mixture a stir right down to the bottom to make sure that there are no uncombined pockets of flour or corn sitting at the bottom.
Using a standard ice-cream scoop, portion out balls of dough onto your cookie sheets, maximum 6 per sheet, 4 to be safe (these are BIG cookies). Tosi says that the recipe will make 13-15; I made exactly 14. Flatten the balls slightly, then place the dough balls in the fridge for at least an hour. We have an unheated sunporch and very little room in the fridge, so I put mine out there.
About 40 minutes into the chilling time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the cookies for 18 minutes, or until the edges are faintly browned but the rest of the cookies are still bright yellow. Mine took exactly 18 minutes, but yours might take a minute more or less.
Let the cookies cool on the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. These are cookies that are better cool than warm, and very good with a glass of milk.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
I was in Vancouver for a conference last weekend, and by the time I got home and got over my jet lag, it was already Friday and we hadn't eaten a single meal at home all week. I pulled myself together enough to make spaghetti and meatballs for Friday night dinner (despite the temptations of pizza, which are great), and it was exactly right to be able to sit on the sofa watching the new season of The Fall with bowls in our laps and sauce on our chins. But this morning, I wanted eggs something fierce despite the fact that I knew we were out of eggs, and I made Alexis promise that we'd go out for breakfast just as soon as I'd had a cup of coffee. And wouldn't you know it--when I went to get the milk from the fridge, as if by magic, there were a dozen eggs on the shelf. I'd asked him to buy some and completely forgotten.
And so I got to do exactly what I wanted after so much travel and restaurant food--make breakfast in my very own kitchen and eat it in the sunshiny dining room with my feet in my new husband's lap. I started with nothing more than a few glugs of sunflower oil in a big frying pan and a couple of handfuls of little white potatoes, diced. As they sizzled and started to get a little golden around the edges, I decided to add in the white parts of a good bunch of green onions, plus some diced shiitake mushrooms (they were what I had), some kosher salt (more than you think you need), and a fat pinch of chili powder. Once the potatoes and mushrooms were really golden, the potatoes crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and the onions sweet, I pushed them all to one side of the pan and sprinkled on a small handful of grated sharp cheddar. While it melted, I cracked a few eggs into the other side of the pan and let them sizzle. I toasted some bread, sliced a big juicy orange, and made some more coffee while the eggs were finishing. With the addition of lots of butter and jam to the toast, and some finely sliced green onion to the potatoes, breakfast was done.
It was pretty perfect, and it reminded me of exactly why it is I like cooking and feeding people, even if it's just the two of us. Even if it's just me. More of this, please.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
I turned 31 last week. Years beginning in three have been good to me so far. I was born old--being young never felt quite right, as I imagine it doesn't for many of us who are introverted, unathletic, and fond of quiet pleasures--and finally being a grown-up (of sorts) suits me down to the ground. I love the feeling that my mental and actual age match up. I love being in charge of my own life. I love having traded acne for dry skin. I even love my greying temples. But even though I have a house and a pet and a partner and all those trappings of adulthood, I've never grown out of my deep and abiding love for the foods of my childhood, and I never will. Cream of wheat. Soft boiled eggs with toast soldiers. Smoked oysters on saltines lightly spread with mayonnaise. My Dad's chicken Marsala (or seitan Marsala, nowadays). Tetley tea. Waffle and ice cream sandwiches. Frozen yogurt swirled with Smarties and strawberries. Chocolate chip cookies. When it came time for my birthday, I didn't want cake. I wanted chocolate chip cookies. (Alexis, whose birthday is tomorrow, wants croissants--his childhood food).
I've eaten a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my day. If we're really being honest, I've also eaten a lot of raw cookie dough. Je ne regrette rien. My memories of high school are indelibly stained, if you'll permit a little metaphorical synaesthesia, with the scent of really terrible chocolate chip cookies baking in the cafeteria. The dough came in huge plastic buckets, and the cookies it baked into were pale and mushy-soft and greasy and addictive. We would eat them by the stack from oil-stained white paper bakery bags, still hot from the oven, and chased with a carton of chocolate milk. Usually said cookie feast would happen at 8:30 in the morning, while sitting on the floor in the hallway or the chaplain's office that we used as a hangout, dressed in kilts, tights (knee socks on warmer days), and crested sweaters over white button-downs, with pajama bottoms over our tights. I miss those days--and the ability to eat cookies for breakfast and french fries for lunch without guilt--but definitely not the cookies.
The recipe that dominated my childhood was the one on the back of the Chipits bag. It's basically identical to Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies, for my American friends. They're good cookies--faintly crisp on the bottom, soft and gooey in the centre, and easy as pie--a little creaming, a little stirring, little baking. (Aside: pie is not all that easy. Easy as what, then? Easy as a summer morning.) They were one of the first things I learned how to bake on my own. We'd eat them at sleepovers--the bodies of small girls flung willy-nilly down on sleeping bags laid on the brown shag carpet of the basement floor, the struggle to stay awake for fear of missing a piece of vital gossip or a whispered confidence, the contented smile upon waking and seeing your friends vulnerable and sweetly sleeping. And Dad's pancakes, stacks of them. Or we'd munch while watching movies as a family--curled on a cushion at Mom or Dad's feet while they sat on the sofa, shunted there by lack of room or sitting there by choice on days when familial contact felt just too deeply uncool. Or we'd bring them to school for bake sales and class celebrations--were they there on the last day of class when I slow-danced to Aerosmith with Noel in our portable? I hope they were.
But as good as they were--and are--good cookies are not great. All that white flour and inexpensive chocolate makes for fairly bland baking, and texturally, they're hard to time in the oven so that there's the right balance between crisp edges and squidgy centre. I'm not a teenager any more, game to down sugar in whatever form it takes. I want my cookie calories to count. So, with my own kitchen and horizons that expanded beyond the back of the chocolate chip package--when I took control in the kitchen, one of my favourite things about being a grown-up--I went searching for a replacement. Chocolate chip cookies, just a little more grown up. Really great chocolate chip cookies. And I found them, like so many great things (this bread, my favourite way to make polenta, which is in the microwave) in the New York Times.
Like Jim Lahey's bread, the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe achieved cult status seemingly overnight. Billed as the very best in chocolate chip cookies, the recipe came accompanied by a breakdown of the baking chemistry that makes them extraordinary--the flat oval feves, the very specific size, the cold dough that goes straight into the oven. Like Lahey's bread, the major secret to their sublimity is time. What works for bread--a long overnight rise--works for cookies: a long rest in the fridge to age the dough and let all of the ingredients mingle happily. It's no surprise that I, a huge fan of long-rise refrigerator bread baking a la Lahey and Peter Reinhart, would be attracted to these cookies. But being the persnicketly grown up that I am, and able to do whatever I want with a recipe, perfection be damned, I couldn't leave the recipe alone. They might have been Jacques Torres' perfect chocolate chip cookies, but they weren't mine. So here's what I did:
Firstly, I swapped out half of the white flour for whole wheat. Kim Boyce's 100% whole wheat chocolate chip cookies from Good to the Grain are another cult favourite, and I love the nutty bite whole wheat flour gives to my old standby. It also makes me feel better about baking ginormous cookies, and never being able to stop at just one. Being a PhD student and not exactly rolling in dough (unless we're talking actual bread), I wasn't prepared to buy 1 1/4 pounds of pricey Valrohna feves, the flat oval chocolate disks the original recipe calls for. Besides, using that much chocolate made for a cookie that was more chocolate than dough, and I like a bit more balance. I cut the chocolate down to a pound, and for a nice bit of textural variety used half best-quality chocolate chips, and half slivered 70% chocolate from a thin bar. You get thin strata of gooey chocolate layered throughout the dough, but the nice resistant bite of whole chips too. And finally, I changed the shaping method a bit. I don't know if the New York Times bakers have super heavy-duty cookie scoops that us mere mortals don't, and superhuman biceps to go along with them, but there was no way I was going to be able to scoop dough cold from the fridge. It was solid. So I did the smart thing, and shaped the cookies--smaller than the full-sized ice cream scoops the original insists you use, because I like more cookies, because that means more to share--before aging the dough. The nice thing about doing it this way is that you can refrigerate the dough you want to bake straight away (i.e. in 24-36 hours, oh the torture), and freeze the rest. The frozen dough can go straight onto a cookie sheet and into the freezer; straight out of the freezer, they take 20 minutes on the dot to bake, which is a very reasonable amount of time to wait for what I consider my perfect chocolate chip cookie.
Oh, and what perfection they are: crisp, nutty, caramelized edges (the result of that brilliant aging); a squidgy, buttery centre; rich, melty chocolate; and the perfect hint of salty to balance the sweet, especially when you get crazy and dust the tops with a bit of smoked salt before they go in the oven. With cookies like these, who needs cake?
Here's to 31--I'm liking you already.
MY ULTIMATE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Makes about 32 palm-sized cookies
10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) salted butter, at cool room temperature
10 ounces light brown sugar
8 ounces granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at cool room temperature
2 teaspoons best-quality vanilla extract
8 1/2 ounces all purpose or 00 flour (I keep it around for pasta making, but it works wonderfully in baked goods too)
8 1/2 ounces whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
250 grams best-quality bitter-sweet chocolate chips (I use Callebaut)
250 grams best-quality dark chocolate (at least 70%) from a thin bar, slivered
Extra flaky sea salt (or fleur de sel, or smoked salt) for sprinkling
In a mixer (using the paddle attachment) or by hand, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Mix in the vanilla.
If using the mixer, switch to the dough hook. Add the dry ingredients, except for the chocolate and extra salt, and mix just until combined. You'll probably have to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times--make sure that you also get the dry spot that tends to linger at the very bottom of the bowl. The dough will be fairly stiff. Add the chocolate, and mix on low power just until it is evenly incorporated.
Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop large balls of dough, so that the scoop is somewhat overflowing--they should be about the size of an oversized ping-pong ball. Use your hands to shape them into neat spheres, then place them on a parchment or silicone lined sheet pan, leaving a generous space around each cookie so that they have room to spread. Six cookies per sheet is about right.
Refrigerate the dough you want to use soon; freeze the rest for later directly on the baking sheet (you can transfer the frozen dough to a freezer bag once it`s hard). Let the dough age in the fridge for at lest 24 hours; 36 is better, and it can hang out in there for up to 72, which is especially handy if you want to bake batches over several days.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of flaky sea salt or smoked salt; press it in so it doesn't fall off. Bake the refrigerated cookies for 16-18 minutes, the frozen ones for 20--until the edges just begin to turn golden, but the cookies are still soft.
Cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack and cool for a few more. They're best when they're still warm, but they're good even the next day. And really good dipped in milk.