Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Green Fennel Salad

I've promised myself that this year I will learn to like fennel. Not for any real reason, just because it seems like something one should enjoy. I was going to make it into a creamy potato-fennel casserole, but didn't feel like putting in so much effort.

Instead, I decided to make it into a nice healthy salad to go with my turkey. Healthy is good today, since I binged a little bit last on hot wings and french fries at an Irish pub with the girls. 

For this salad and unfamiliar ingredient, I used a little trick I like to call "inspired by the color __" to give me direction on things to pair with fennel. The same-color-veg method works great with soups, and it worked here too. Everything in it is green - right down the the dressing of lime juice and olive oil (technically, olives are green, right?).

This salad goes great with turkey or chicken - try a bite with a little of everything

Spring Green Fennel Salad
A crisp and tart salad, inspired by the color green
Serves 2

¼ C fresh lime juice
¼ C extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 green apple, sliced thin
1 small cucumber, sliced thin
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
¼ C fresh cilantro, chopped
½ C shelled pistachios, toasted
sea salt & black pepper

lettuce leaves for serving

Whisk together lime juice and olive oil - adjust amounts if you like it more or less tart. Toss all ingredients together and serve on lettuce leaves.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

East Meets Easter: Deviled Egg Summer Rolls

Once I learned to make summer rolls, I knew it was only a matter of time before I started asking myself: what else can you stuff inside a rice paper wrapper? This morning, as I was peeling some boiled eggs for breakfast, I thought, why not make some deviled eggs? Once they were stuffed and on the plate, inspiration hit me. Why not stuff them in a summer roll?

Forget that I was hungry, there was more important work to be done.

I'm pretty proud of myself right now. These are really really good. My friend Bess came over for lunch and I tested them out on her. She agrees, they are amazing.

So, if you're looking for a new twist on deviled eggs for your Easter party, these would be a great conversation starter. It's also a way to use up those leftover deviled eggs next Monday - but who the heck EVER has leftover deviled eggs? From my experience, they don't stick around too long.

Deviled Egg Summer Rolls

Basic Deviled Eggs:
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 T mayonnaise
salt & pepper

Summer Rolls:
6 round rice paper wrappers
12 halves of deviled eggs
4 large Boston lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried
2 medium carrots, julienned
2 medium pickles (Claussen) sliced lengthwise
1/2 C fresh cilantro
1/4C chopped raw cashews
6 scallions, cut into 3" lengths (use green tops only)

Mustard-Soy Dipping Sauce:
2 T soy sauce (low sodium)
2 T dijon mustard
2 T rice wine vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp hot sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot
1/4 tsp Emeril's Essence spice mix

1. Prepare deviled eggs by slicing the hard-boiled eggs lengthwise and scooping the yokes into bowls. Add mustard, mayo, salt and pepper to the yolks and mash together with a fork. Spoon into the egg halves.

2. Prepare summer roll ingredients and arrange a work space with a pan of water and a cutting board. 

3. Soak a wrapper in warm water until it softens, and lay it on the cutting board. Place a half leaf of lettuce near bottom half of wrapper and layer with carrot, pickle, cashews, cilantro. Place long scallion tops toward the center of the wrapper. Top with 2 egg halves. 

 4. Roll the wrapper up burrito style by folding up the bottom edge up over the egg filling and folding the sides over. Continue to roll away from you. Cut in half and store in a container with moist paper towels (and refrigerate) until ready to serve.

5. Prepare the sauce: whisk together all of the sauce ingredients and serve topped with chopped green scallions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Summer Rolls, Thai Hummus and Coconut Curry for a Party

Tofu Summer Roll
This year, we've begun hanging out more with our neighbors, and through them, meeting more people in the area. I think all of us are enjoying our little neighbor parties more and more. It's so easy to go up a few floors, or across the street, especially with the horrible cold and stormy weather we've been having for months.

Saturday, as we were hosting the neighbors, someone coined the phrase building "U.N." party. That's because another thing we all happen to have in common is that most of us, or one of our spouses, is not from this country. I think last night there were 3 of us born in the US and the other 7 grew up elsewhere.

One good thing about our U.N. party group is that pretty much everyone eats just about anything. Last night I decided to make a few Asian dishes. With all that, and what people contributed, we had more than enough food (and alcohol). Here's what I put on the menu:

Thai Peanut Pumpkin Hummus with Pita Chips & Carrots
The pumpkin hummus was easy - you just throw it all in the food processor. Except, peeling the chickpeas is no joke! It took like an extra 20 minutes to try to sqeeze 28oz of them out of their skins in a bowl of water. But it was smooth, spicy and delicious, and I hope I can freeze it because I made way too much.

Slow-Cooker Eggplant Coconut Curry with Jasmine Rice
The eggplant curry I've made before, and this time I doubled it. Again, way too much food! Everyone liked it though, when I served it at 11pm when it was finally done!

Shrimp Summer Rolls - still just as good the next day!
Fresh Summer Rolls with Seared Tofu or Seasoned Shrimp

I've eaten many summer rolls, both good and bad, and this was my first attempt at making them at home. I stopped at the Korean grocery on 32nd street after work one night to grab the rice vinegar, rice paper wrappers and rice vermicelli. It was a lot like making sushi, which I used to do often - kinda fun. But just a very time consuming process with marinating the tofu and seasoning and cooking the shrimp. I started the process around 1pm and finished by 6:30 - including marinade time.

Only three things, and many common ingredients - but it was so much work!

The rolls turned out great though, because I made sure each ingredient was flavored and that I used plenty of fresh herbs that are the key to a good summer roll. It's a mish-mosh of recipe sources, but here's how it goes:

Fresh Summer Rolls
*Tip: if making both tofu and shrimp, do all the tofu first, replenish ingredients and then continue with shrimp. This way you will not contaminate the ingredients for the vegetarians. Plus, learning to roll with the tofu strips is easier than shrimp.
Thai Seared Tofu (VEGAN version) (follow recipe for tofu prep and cooking, but I only used 1 package)
Boston Lettuce, washed and leaves torn into big pieces
Rice Vermicelli, cooked and drizzled with rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt mixture
Roasted Peanuts, chopped
Julienned Carrot
Julienned Cucumber (seedless)
Fresh Mint, washed and leaves removed from stems
Cilantro, washed and broken into leafy stems
Basil, washed whole leaves
Rice Paper Wrappers

Emeril's Spring Roll Dipping Sauce (I skipped the fish sauce, carrot and cilantro)

Start early to marinate and sear the tofu, and cook the shrimp. Assemble a work station with a tray large enough to hold the rice wrappers, a clean work surface like a cutting board, and bowls of ingredients in the order to be used. 

Summer Roll Work Station
Assemble the spring rolls one at a time by submerging the wrapper in the tray of warm water and holding it down for almost a minute. You'll feel the wrapper change texture from stiff to pliable, and remove it as soon as you feel it loosen up. 

Layer ingredients across bottom of wrapper
Place the wrapper carefully on the work surface holding it from the top and laying it down bottom to top, very carefully. Layer ingredients on the bottom/closest side of wrapper as follows:

1. Lettuce - about half of a leaf
2. Vermicelli noodles
3. Peanuts
4. Cucumber and Carrot (lightly salted with sea salt)
5. 2 strips of Tofu (cut into french fry sized strips)
OR 4 Shrimp halves (medium or large, each sliced in half)
6. 4 small leaves of mint
7. 2 medium basil leaves
8. Sprigs of cilantro (leave the stems, they add crunch)

Peel the bottom of the wrapper up over the filling with thumb and two fingers, while using the other fingers to hold the filling in place. Press the wrapper over filling and squeeze to tighten the roll - poke any filling that protrudes out the side back into the center. Fold the sides up and continue to roll like a burrito, very gently. 

Cut in half and store in a container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Place a damp paper towel in the container to keep moist. Serve with dipping sauce.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Breakfast Quesadilla

Today I am getting ready for some neighbors coming over for dinner. But first, I decided to make a big solid breakfast quesadilla to hold me over for the day full of errands. You wouldn't think I would want to cook, clean up, cook again, and clean up again... but I guess that's just what I do on weekends.

Breakfast Quesadilla
You will need:
Shredded Cheddar
Sour Cream
Hot Sauce

Prepare filling and toppings: salted sliced tomato, 1/4C shredded cheddar, sliced avocado drizzled with lime, chopped cilantro and beaten eggs.

Spritz a pan with non-stick spray over medium-high heat. Quickly add the eggs to the hot pan and cook until firm. Season with salt and pepper, and flip them to quickly cook the other side about a minute. Remove to a plate and re-spray pan with non-stick.
Place a tortilla in the hot pan and top with the egg and cheese, and half with tomatoes.
Once cheese melts, fold quesadilla in half and cook another minute or two.
Slide the quesadilla onto a plate, cut in half and top with avocado, tomato, sour cream, cilantro, salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Black Bean and Cheddar Jack Ravioli with Warm Tomato Topping

I had the opportunity to experiment with a lot of new foods over the past few months. This is solely due to the fact that my husband had a rental car part-time for work, and we were able to make the drive to Fairway in Redhook (the REAL grocery store). They have so many uncommon and hard-to-find items, and just a generally great selection of specialty products at fair prices.

Unfortunately, the party is over. This may be the first and last time we have a simple dinner of ready-made artisan ravioli from fairway. We no longer have a rental car, and my husband will again be travelling far and wide for work. I'll miss him - but I'll also miss our Fairway trips for the selection of olives, cheeses, hummus, and especially the reasonably priced frozen faux-meats.

The last Fairway item lingering, besides the fresh basil that has survived over 2 weeks in a glass of water, was a box of black bean cheddar jack ravioli with blue corn pasta. I was reserving these for an easy weeknight meal, and waiting for the mexican mood to strike.

Tonight was the night, when there were no other options for cooking. I made a simple topping of warm tomatoes cooked with butter, olive oil and cilantro. I topped my plate with a dollop of sour cream, and my husband of course covered his almost entirely with crushed red pepper flakes. They were so delicious, I would absolutley buy them again. But sadly, I don't know where I'll be able to find them now.

Warm Tomato-Cilantro Topping for Ravioli
1T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2C (or more) Fresh Tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 C cilantro, chopped (or use basil for a more traditional Italian flavor)
Salt & Pepper to taste

After adding your ravioli to boiling water:
Heat a small cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter and oil. When butter is melted and starts to sizzle, add the garlic. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, and add the tomatoes and cilantro. Stir together, cooking about 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 

You're looking for the tomatoes to be about half-broken down - after they begin to release their juices, you only need to cook them another 1-2 minutes. The process moves much more quickly than you might anticipate, so keep watch over the pan the entire time.

Spoon the mixture, along with pan juices, over the ravioli. Garnish with sour cream or red pepper flakes, and fresh cilantro if desired.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Crazy Red Lentil Soup

I managed to come down with some awesome cold virus this week. It started as a tickle on Sunday, a dry allergy-ish cough on Monday, and a heavy-chested disoriented fever on Tuesday morning. It's been so damp and cold here in NYC. I though rest, tea and soup were knocking it out, but now it's up in my head and I fear an ear infection is coming on. What a week. Complain, complain, complain. 

No complaints about dinner tonight, though! I finally had enough energy to cook tonight, and with my head and ears feeling congested I wanted something healthy, hot, flavorful and a bit spicy. It came out pretty good - a little kick, a little sour. Don't worry, I haven't lost my sense of taste - my husband had two big bowls. 

It looks like a lot of ingredients, but everything is easy to prep, and you really just throw it in a pot and cook it - no big deal. You could take or leave many of the things below, and still come out with a pretty good soup.

Crazy Red Lentil Soup
Approx. 6 servings, 30-45 minutes

2 T olive oil
2 tsp unsalted butter
½ C leeks, cleaned and chopped
½ C onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp ground cayenne
½ tsp adobo seasoning
4 carrots, sliced
1 green apple, peeled and diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
4 C “no-chicken” or vegetable stock
1-1/2 C water
1-1/2 C red lentils
½ C lemon juice
½ C cilantro, chopped
3 strips veggie bacon, cooked and crumbled
salt, pepper and cayenne to taste

1. Sauté onion and leeks in olive oil and butter for about 5 minutes over low-medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and cumin seeds for another 3 minutes.

2. Stir in cayenne, adobo, carrots, apple, tomato, stock and water. Bring to a boil and add lentils. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes.

3. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Add lemon juice, cilantro and veggie bacon. Remove from heat and set a few minutes before serving. Serve topped with excess bacon and cilantro.

Monday, April 4, 2011

NYC Vegetarian Food Festival Recap

Terry Hope Romero "Vegan Latina" cooking seitan tacos
Yesterday I took the opportunity to visit the first ever NYC Vegetarian Food Festival in Chelsea. My husband and I showed up around noon and skipped a line of at least 1000 people. So glad I bought VIP tickets from LivingSocial! We heard the wait was over 3 hours - and people were willing to wait! Even better, there was a line at least 200 deep for the Cinnamon Snail Vegan Lunch Truck outside.

The organizers of the festival could not have anticipated such a high turnout for the event, because the Altman building space was absolutely too small for the approximately 5000 people busting down the doors. This was both good and bad news. On one hand, you had to push your way through gawkers to the tables to get yummy samples, and then had to jockey for space to raise your elbows to eat them. But how could you really be mad? After all, so many people interested in vegan/vegetarian food is just a wonderful thing.

I would have taken more photos to share with you, but it was just too crowded to get a shot. Plus, I found it super annoying that so many people were hogging space at the tables to take 5 million photos, probably for their little blogs. Like, be considerate to those who actually want to learn and try new things! If you want to see photos of all the lovely goods go to these sites:

NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on MetroMix

NYC Vegetarian Food Fest on PIX 11 News (my husband is in the shot at 1:55, lookin' for some eats)

Many of the tables had samples to try, and I have to say, vegan sweets have come a long way. Others are just plain getting creative. Some of the best we tried were:

Goodie Girl Caramel Popcorn - yum!

Rescue Chocolate - Pit Bull Peanut Butter was like a peanut butter cup. 100% of profits benefit animal rescue organizations.

Coconut Bliss dairy-free ice cream was super creamy and delicious (particularly the cherry).

Raw Ice Cream Company - Mint Chip and Cinnamon Vanilla - thicker than dairy, but creamy and satisfying. Made from cashews, coconut and agave.

Liz Lovely vegan cake-like cookies like snickerdoodle and german chocolate were delish. And they're from my state (VT), so it's cool.

We didn't get to try Beyond Sushi from Esprit Events, but it looked really fun and colorful. It would make a fun conversation piece for a party.

The real highlights for me were the demos and speakers. We watched Vegan Latina Terry Hope Romero cook up some beer-marinated seitan tacos with cabbage slaw and yogurt dressing that looked awesome. Seems like a spunky fire-cracker, that one. Maybe I'll go take a workshop with her at Brooklyn Kitchen someday. If I ever make it to Williamsburg, which I can't seem to warm up to.

I hadn't planned on listening to "Doc Rob" Dr. Rob Streisfeld speak about "Functional Fermented Foods", but we caught the second half of his session and surprisingly learned a whole bunch about the goodness of bacteria-rich fermented foods. I'm beginning to understand the usefulness of kimchi, miso soup, and sauerkraut in balancing the digestive system. I might just check out his book "Healthier Ever After". I really don't read much, but I might. (Supposedly he has free chapters on his Facebook page.)

Fun Facts from Doc Rob:
1. Did you know the Japanese drink miso soup at breakfast to balance their PH levels? I bet that would help my acid reflux problem!

2. Probiotics are great, but know the specific strains you're getting. There are a lot out there, and some have not been sufficiently studied as they are not normal for the human body. He said that is a great place to learn more. He also said that PREbiotics are pretty bad for you, as they are mostly made from a fiber filler that will take down even the good bacteria in your body. Better to eat lots of fruits and vegetables for fiber.

3. Liquid multi-vitamins are the easiest to digest for a stressed GI system, and absorbed into the system better than pills.

4. "A" blood types do better as vegetarians than meat eaters. I'm A+! So is my husband! Imagine that? Hmmm. This is because "A" blood types require more digestive support and supplements, including fermented foods. Explains a lot of my issues. Gonna get myself some cool 'kraut.

The learning didn't stop there. We stayed to listen to the keynote speaker, Dr. Neal Barnard, whom everyone seemed to know and adore. Yeah, the lady next to me was swooning a little. He was an upbeat and persuasive presenter, whose most recent claim to fame is his "21-Day Vegan Kickstart" plan for health and weight-loss.

Dr. Barnard outlined studies where people switched to vegan diets and reaped numerous benefits such as long-term weight-loss, reduced blood sugar, normalized cholesterol, reduced re-ocurrence of cancer and increased energy. Even migraines and arthritis can be improved by giving up meat and dairy, since certain proteins in them trigger anti-bodies that attack the joints in our bodies. (More info on "Vegan In Vogue").

Long story short, Dr. Barnard's message is that a vegan diet (fruit, grains, legumes and vegetables) is beneficial and confirmed so with scientific facts. Our food consumption has changed and increased over the last 100 years. Higher meat, cheese and dairy consumption fueled by a push by the USDA has lead to a plethora of related health issues such as diabetes and obesity. Cheese pizza is as much to blame for these problems as meat, since animal fats sit inside our cells blocking sugars from being processed properly. Cheese pizza happens to be my #1 favorite food, so looks like it's gonna be a tough road to health for this girl!

But Dr. Barnard says to take small steps and try things a little at a time. One good point is that when you don't eat something for a long time you lose taste for it - like when you switch from whole milk to low-fat. I gave up fries for months and when I had them again they tasted like paper. Until I had them 2 more times and they started to grow on me (literally) again. Same with steak - I really just don't care about it any more, and it's been a while since I had a "give me a steak now or I'm gonna punch somebody" moment. Yay me.

There are so many new vegan and vegetarian products out there, along with information and organizations looking to spread the health. With the phenomenal turnout at the first ever NYC Veg Food Fest, it looks like the demand is even greater than the above supply. I appreciate and commend all involved, but I hope next year brings a larger venue with a higher capacity to engage the masses. People are starting to take control of their health and are inspired to change for the better, so the vegan food industry has no where to go but up.

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