Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday, August 25th

Tonight was all about the tomatoes, with the goal being to enjoy wonderful tomatoes, but not be tomatoed out by the end of the night. That's the challenge of any Special Guest Ingredient Night. Do it up just right...not too much and not too little. And I think we did better on that front tonight than at corn night 4 weeks ago. Here's what we had...

Brie and Sun Dried Tomato Crostini--this was easy and quite delightful. I love the taste of slightly melted brie, and have certainly had it on bread, but never in a crostini. And this crostini had sun dried tomatoes instead of the fresh ones, and while I think that either would have worked, this way was quite nice. A good starter to just about any party where you've got food being passed since you want to eat these hot. So hot that I give them a score of 6.5 bucks.

Gazpacho--I tend to like gazpacho but I didn't love this one. It wasn't bad but there was absolutely nothing to recommend it, besides all the fresh veggies (since that's what it's all about). I think that there was too much garlic and too much onion for my taste, and it was all a tad too finely blended. I do tend to like blended soups but it seems a shame to lose most all the texture of not only the tomatoes but cucumbers and peppers too. Sadly, I can only give it a score of 2.5 bucks.

Mothership Tomato Salad--strange name given by a strange man, Jamie Oliver, but quite a right on salad. This should not be tried with anything but the best tomatoes, and we had them straight from Jennifer Snyder's farm (thanks, Jennifer!). As such, it was a delightful dish, and so simple. Something about the tomatoes sitting salted really did the trick, and it would be super accompaniment to just about any summer meal. I give it a score of 6 bucks and it could go higher in a non-tomato-rich environment.

Creamy Polenta, Lentils, Chard, and Mushroom Ragu--this was a great dish when done at Danielle Sakamoto's Guest Chef Night nearly four years ago, but sadly less good tonight. It wasn't bad, but each element was not perfectly done. I should say that this is one of the most complex--if not the most--that we've ever done at Frugal Foodies, and the group did an outstanding job to get this beast on the table. It's a four layer operation, which each layer requiring a fair amount of pre-cooking. Bottom layer were lentils which were a tad undercooked. Next layer was chard which was cut a bit too large and not de-spined. Above that was a creamy polenta which was solidly done, and then it was all topped off by the wild mushroom ragu layer which could have used a bit less moisture and more seasoning. It is an impressive dish altogether but the taste didn't match up to the visual presentation, so I'm giving it a score of 4 bucks, but with huge upside if you're up for the challenge.

Bruno's Tomato Confit with Rice Pudding--if scores were given for the element of surprise, this one would be off the charts. A dessert with tomatoes that turn out tasting smooth, sweet, and vanilla-y? Hard to imagine, but that's what we had. The rice pudding was good, and with a bit more of something, could have been great, and the tomato confit (whatever that means) atop it was unforgettable. I really recommend trying this recipe--and the confit could be used on lots of things if you're not a fan of rice pudding--because it's just such a unique treatment of tomatoes. All in all, I give it a score of 6 bucks.

Overall--not a bad night at Frugal Foodies, and also not the best that this blog has seen. A total meal value of 25 bucks. The food seemed to be well-received by the crowd tonight, and I will say that the dishes were some of the prettiest we've had in a while, so maybe I'll post some of the pictures that people took. In the meantime, here are the recipes:

Brie & Sun Dried Tomato Crostini

Adapted from www.finedinings.com

2 T pine nuts

1 loaf baguette bread, sliced ¼ inch thick

1/3 cup Brie cheese
2 sun dried tomatoes (packed in oil), finely chopped
1 T oil

2 T Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated

1 T fresh parsley, chopped finely

1 small garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 T fresh basil, sliced

1. Place pine nuts on a baking sheet; broil 2 to 3 minutes; remove from heat; set aside.
2. On the same baking sheet, broil one side of bread slices 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Slice the brie into 1/8 inch slices and place one slice on each piece of bread. Broil in oven for 1 minute or until the brie is slightly melted.
4. In small bowl combine the tomatoes, oil, parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato mixture atop the brie. Top with sliced basil and toasted pine nuts.
5. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6


Adapted from www.simplyrecipes.com

6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 purple onion, finely chopped

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped

1 sweet red bell pepper (or green) seeded and chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons sugar

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

6 or more drops of Tabasco sauce to taste

1 teaspoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
4 cups tomato juice

1. Combine all ingredients. Blend slightly, to desired consistency.
2. Place in non-metal, non-reactive storage container, cover tightly and refrigerate, allowing flavors to blend.

Serves 8

Mothership Tomato Salad

Adapted from Jamie Oliver and the Food Network

2 ¼ lbs mixed ripe tomatoes, different shapes and colors
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch dried oregano
Red wine or balsamic vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
1 fresh red chili, seeded and chopped

1. Depending on the size of your tomatoes, slice some in half, some into quarters and others into uneven chunks.
2. Put the tomatoes into a colander and season with a good pinch of sea salt. Give them a toss, season again and give a couple more tosses. The salt won't be drawn into the tomatoes; instead it will draw any excess moisture out, concentrating all the lovely flavors. Leave the tomatoes in the colander on top of a bowl to stand for around 15 minutes, then discard any juice that has come out of them.
3. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl and sprinkle with the oregano.
4. Make a dressing using 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, the garlic and the chili.
5. Drizzle the tomatoes with enough dressing to coat everything nicely.

Serves 4-6

Creamy Polenta, Lentils, Chard, and Mushroom Ragu

Adapted from the November, 2005 Danielle Sakamoto Guest Chef Night

This is a complex four part recipe served in layers. Not for the faint of heart.

Creamy Polenta Ingredients
9 C milk
3 C water
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 T butter
1 ½ T kosher salt
6 C polenta
1 C warm water for loosening polenta before ready to serve
3 T oregano, finely chopped
1 ½ T thyme leaves
1 T rosemary
4-5 oz grated Fontina cheese

Polenta Instructions
1. Combine milk, water, garlic, butter and salt in a large heavy saucepan or stockpot. Bring to a boil. Gradually add polenta, whisking until smooth. Reduce heat to low. Cook the polenta until it is creamy and thick, stirring frequently, about 35 minutes.
2. Add more milk or water if polenta is too thick.
3. Right before assembling, add water if necessary to loosen up the polenta. Add the chopped herbs and cheese. Add extra herbs and salt to taste and assemble.

Lentils Ingredients
4 cups lentils
6 large shallots, peeled and cut in half
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, lightly smashed
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
4 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons of kosher salt

Lentil Instructions
1. Pick over, rinse, and place in a large saucepan with water to cover by 1 ½ inches. Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook the lentils at a bare simmer until they are just tender but not mushy; do not allow them to boil or they will become tough, about 25-30 minutes. If necessary, replenish the water so that it stays 1 inch above the top of the lentils. Halfway through the cooking time, stir in the salt.
2. Remove from the heat and drain. Remove and discard the shallots, garlic, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves.

Chard Ingredients
7 bunches of chard,
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Olive oil

Chard Instructions
1. Stack several similar size leaves together and cut off the stems and the lower thick ribs. Now cut into thirds crosswise.
2. Rinse and leave the chard pieces wet.
3. Heat a large sauté pan with olive oil, sauté in batches until leaves are tender; add a little water if necessary to complete cooking.
4. Place cooked chard into a colander and press out excess water. Adjust the seasoning and add a little olive oil.

Wild Mushroom Ragu Ingredients
2 C boiling water
2 ½ C dried wild mushrooms
3 lb fresh wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, cremini, oyster, in any combination
1 C sun-dried tomatoes
5 t olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1+ C dry red wine
4 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ t dried thyme
2 28 oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
2 t of sugar
1 t kosher salt
Freshly ground black peppers
Italian parsley, chopped

Ragu Instructions
1. Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms and tomatoes in a bowl, cover and soak until softened, at least 15 minutes.
2. Wipe the fresh mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel. Trim off the tough stems and discard; roughly chop.
3. Combine the olive oil, onions, and garlic, sauté until translucent.
4. Meanwhile, scoop the dried mushrooms and tomatoes into a strainer, reserving the soaking liquid (strain the liquid). Rinse them under cool water to remove any grit and press them with the back of a spoon to squeeze out the water. Coarsely chop them and set aside.
5. Pour the soaking liquid into the saucepan with the onion. Add the red wine and thyme and boil for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring 5 minutes over moderate heat. Stir in the canned tomatoes and their juices, the chopped dried mushrooms and tomatoes, the sugar, and salt. Partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are tender and the Ragu is thick, about 15 minutes.
6. Chop the fresh parsley for assembly.

Assembly Instructions
Cover the plate with a flat bed of lentils.
Take the sautéed chard leaves and make a ring in the middle of the flat bed of lentils. Place the polenta in the ring of chard.
Top the polenta with the mushroom Ragu and chopped parsley.

Serves 15-18

Vegan version of Polenta
9 cups of broth
3 cup of water
3 cloves, garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ T kosher salt
4 C polenta
½ C warm water for loosening polenta before ready to serve
3 T marjoram or oregano, finely chopped
1 ½ T of thyme leaves
1 T rosemary

Bruno's Tomato Confit with Rice Pudding

Adapted from www.cuisine.com/au

6 large, ripe and firm tomatoes
2/5 lb sugar
½ cup water
1 vanilla bean
1 strip orange zest (colored part only)
1 cardamom pod, bruised
1 quart soy milk
1/6 lb sugar
Pinch salt
1 vanilla bean, split
1/3 lb short-grain white rice

1. Remove calyx from tomatoes. Cut a cross in the opposite end and plunge into boiling water for a few seconds. Lift out with a wide skimmer and plunge the tomatoes into very cold water. Drain, remove skins, quarter, and cut out the jelly and seeds to leave 4 well-shaped tomato sections from each tomato.

2. Dissolve the sugar in the water. Add the vanilla bean, orange zest and cardamom pod, and bring slowly to simmering point. Drop in the tomato quarters and keep the syrup just below simmering point for about 15 minutes. Cool for a few minutes in the syrup and then lift the tomatoes out on to a paper-lined rack resting over a plate to catch any drips.
3. Meanwhile, bring soy milk to a boil with sugar, salt and vanilla bean, then pour in the rice and stir until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until rice is completely cooked. Allow to cool somewhat.
4. Serve the tomato quarters in the centre of a plate of warm rice pudding, with a little of the tomato syrup drizzled over and around.

Serves 8-10

We've Been Yelped!

This is kind of a cool plug for Frugal Foodies...


Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Solo

August 25
This Weekly Yelp brought to you by Eat Real Festival
Pull up a chair, it's time to feast
away in the East Bay!

We've all had those moments of sublime taste bud glory, when the undeniable urge to stick a heaping forkful into any nearby mouth – just to share that foodie bliss – takes hold. Utensils take aim, 'cause this issue of the Weekly Yelpdishes on the finest communal tables and group-friendly spots this side of the water!

Name your cuisine type, and the East Bay's got it. For starters, hightail it over to Havana's "long table" and snag a seat next to Joe C for Cuban-style comestibles, like "plantain halibut and glazed pork chop." It was in the mango mojitos, though, that Maura K's liver found a new best friend. Can anyone say "half-priced Mojito Mondays" en Español?! In Temescal, tap into tapas with a lively, neighborly meal atBarlata. Katie C had no shame tracking down the server trailing aromas of garlic shrimp to secure a sizzling serving for her table. Atta girl Katie, sharing is caring!

Take a peek over Nique F's shoulder at A Cote in Oakland, and you'll see a big Mediterranean bowl of "little orange steaks swelling in their purple shells," aka mussels that "will change your life! Make friends at the bar, sit at a community table, or get your own private nook" and slurp away! Or, get your grill on a la Frank L at K-BBQ institution, Ohgane;nothing promotes group bonding like hot meat and beer, right? Well, maybe faith, which brings folks from far and wide to gather together at Fremont's Buddhanusorn Temple on Sundays. There, Kati H watches traditional dance, visits with monks collecting alms and devours the best pad thai in all the land: "They make it fresh in front of you!" Omm, nom, nom...

Leave it to Berkely to stir up that sense of community withFrugal Foodies, an organization that invites people in various homes around the city to rub elbows in the kitchen and create elaborate meals centered around one ingredient all for eight bucks! Kathleen W's description says it all: "This is what Iron Chef would be like... but with a lot more wine." Now that's a surefire way to make new buddies! Indeed, "drinking lubricates conversation," declares Melissa B, three bubblies in at gorgeous, new Lake Merritt hot spot, Lake Chalet. Two-sided community bar? That's just double the trouble!

Looking to get your group on? Check out Talk!
(A Word from Our Sponsor)Celebrate delicious, local food...

Eat Real Festival puts the spotlight on Bay Area street food August 28th-30th

The Eat Real Festival is a free, three-day celebration of delicious food taking place in Oakland’s historic Jack London Square. Buy from your favorite street food vendors, pick up a ticket for the Beer Shed and sample from among the 30-something microbrews, or shop for local produce and artisanal snacks. In between the good eats, enjoy chef demonstrations, bands, films, food competitions, and more, for free. Proceeds from the event benefit People’s Grocery, La Cocina and Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

The Eat Real Festival: putting the food back in fast!

Top Yelpers

See who's been mouthing off this week!

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Wilson C.
Be satisfied with your opinions and…
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Kirsten L.
Who brought the dessert?
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troy m.
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Alex D.
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Deana I.
Cupcakes make people happy!

Picks of the Week

Reviews we liked this week.
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Maggie H. on Camino
"I am just charmed by Camino.

I live in the neighborhood and am so glad to have such a treasure close by.

The inside is gorgeous. Sitting opposite someone at one of the large redwood tree tables is a *bit* far, so it isn't the most intimate experience, but the communal tables can make for some…"
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yuriko b. on Little Sheep Hot Pot
"I never thought soup could be so good! Besides the fact that this place smells like straight up spices and 99 Ranch, it's pretty good, anyways, it clears up your sinuses! Both the original and spicy soup bases are good, however, I prefer the extra kick so the spicy base is just perfect. There's a…"
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Max A. on Cafe Colucci
"Mmmmmmm, I could eat at this place every week and be happy for a long, long time.

I am sadly allergic to tomatoes, so the number of vegetarian items I can eat from the vegetarian menu here is pretty small. However, everything I've tried: buticha, meat combo, and kitfo are all excellent. There are…"

Fresh Lists

The newest of our users' favorites.
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A Big Helping of Family Yelping
"A list of experiences I have had with my folks (Toni M. and Alan L.) ...This family who eats together, Yelps together!"
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good for groups*
"what can i say? i like eating with friends!

* group = 6 people minimum"
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Dining Family Style
"Places with the ambiance to celebrate life with the community you belong to."
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Good for Groups
"Places to go if you are dining with 6 or more friends."
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Good for Groups
"Places that will accommodate your posse!"

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tuesday, August 18th

Last night was a Guest Chef Night (and a benefit night for DiversityWorks, www.diversityworks.org), and I have to say that I was a bit skeptical about the menu before we started cooking. Normally when I don't think that a menu is going to go together so well, I let the guest chef know and try to push the menu in a particular way. But last night's guest chef was Jennie Chuang who was serving in this role for her fifth time. She was actually the first-ever guest chef at Frugal Foodies and is consistently loved by her guests, so I said nothing about how well I thought empanadas would go with three salads and some chocolate chip cookies.

Good thing that I kept my mouth shut. The menu was all about "going on a picnic" and it worked together just fine. Not sure if that was simply because all the dishes were good, and good food goes well with good food, or if everything really complimented everything else. But there were almost no left-overs--and we made plenty--so everyone ate a lot and was eager to take food home. That bodes well for any night at Frugal Foodies. So here's what we had:

Corn, Cucumber and Tomato Salad--this wasn't bad but was my least favorite dish of the night. I attribute this to the fact that we've had lots of corn dishes of late, and some nice fresh salads. With this said, it was an excellent complimentary dish and the fresh raw corn was really tasty. I give it a score of 4.5 bucks.

Classic Potato Salad--talk about a dish for which I had low expectations! I'm not a fan of potato salads, and especially ones with mayonnaise. In fact, I almost never keep mayonnaise in my house, and might have this jar for the next year. But this salad was really really really good. Besides the flavoring, I think that what was key was that everything was cooked perfectly. The potatoes were absolutely just right, and the quantities of celery, pickles, and red onion really hit the mark. Whenever I make potato salads these days, I always try to shake it up with pesto, sundried tomatoes, etc, but after this dish, I may go back to the classics. I give it a score of 6 bucks.

Cold Sesame Noodles--I've also had this dish quite a few times since both Jennie and Oded Hilu make it a lot. It's a solid dish with the noodles, vegetables, and garnishes, but what really makes this salad for me is the great dressing. I really love it. I'm not a big fan of jicama but it adds crunch to the recipe and the other veggies--matchstick red peppers and snow peas--are super. I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Picadillo Empanadas with Cornmeal Crust--Jennie described this as 'a vegetarian dish that even meat-eaters love as much as its meaty equivalent'. And I think she was right. I'm not a meat eater, so I can't say for sure, but the TVP was incredibly meat-like, and wonderfully flavored. So you've got all this wonderful flavor made into a faux meat pie, and the pastry component--a flaky cornmeal--would also make a lovely pizza dough. Jennie broke all Frugal Foodies rules by making the dough ahead of time--and it was a good thing that she did since we had a couple of no-shows and were short on time--and the result was a beautiful pocket treat (I should add a photo of these once I get one). The only thing that I would change about this recipe would be to add more raisins, or more olives, or something to give it just a bit more of a kick. Still, I highly recommend this dish, and give it a score of 6.5 bucks.

Chocolate Chip Cookies--this is basically the Mrs. Fields recipe, or at least has the foundation of it--oats blended into a flour--and they were tasty but something was not perfect about them. Perhaps they were a bit overcooked or a little too runny, and it cost it a buck. With this said, I wish I had more to eat right now and give it a score of 5.5 bucks.

Overall--so as you can see, a very solid meal that had all above-average dishes. If I were going on a picnic and had lots of time, maybe I'd make many of these dishes, along with a fruit salad, and impress not only my date but myself. You really can't go wrong with this menu, and the total score of 27.5 bucks certainly bears that out.

Now for the recipes...

Corn, Cucumber, and Tomato Salad

From the Guest Chef night of Jennie Chuang, August, 2009

4 T olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar or lemon juice
3 small clove garlic, minced or smashed
1 large sweet red onion
6 ears corn, really fresh
4 smaller cucumbers
6 tomatoes
1 t salt
2 T fresh basil, mint, cilantro, or parsley (optional)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, and salt.
2. Cut the onion about thumbnail size.
3. Shuck corn and cut off kernels into a large bowl. Peel, seed, and dice the cucumbers, and add to the bowl. Core and dice the tomatoes, add to bowl.
4. Dress with dressing and garnish with herbs.

Serves 12

Classic Potato Salad

From the Guest Chef night of Jennie Chuang, August, 2009

30 small Yukon potatoes
5 eggs
1/3 c total red wine vinegar AND sweet pickle juice
3-4 stalks celery, chopped into 1/3 inch pieces
1/3 c sweet pickles, chopped
1 ½ T sweet red onions, finely chopped
3 T parsley, chopped
1 T Dijon mustard
¼-½ c mayonnaise
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Place potatoes in a pot of water over high heat. Once the water has been boiling for 10 minutes, add the five eggs to the pot. Continue boiling until the potatoes are just done and not mushy. Pour hot water out and dunk into cold water until cool.
2. Drain and peel eggs and potatoes.
3. Cut potatoes into ½-¾ inch cubes and splash vinegar and sweet pickle juice on them. Set aside.
4. Chop the eggs, celery, pickles, onions, and parsley and combine in a large bowl. Add the potatoes.
5. Mix together the mustard and mayonnaise and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 12

Cold Sesame Noodles

From the Guest Chef night of Jennie Chuang, August, 2009

Dressing Ingredients
¾ c sesame seeds
Peanut oil
2 shallots
1 clove garlic
1 T toasted sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
¼ c rice vinegar
¼ c sugar
1 t chili paste
¾ c water

Noodle Ingredients
12 oz fresh thin Chinese egg noodles
1 c snow peas, blanched and thinly sliced
1 red pepper, julienned
1 c jicama, julienned
1 c scallions, chopped
(you can substitute whatever veggies you like for taste and/or color)

Garnish Ingredients
1 c cilantro leaves
½ c chopped peanuts

1. Toast the sesame seeds. Let cool and grind in a food processor. Sweat shallots and garlic with a little oil and add to food processor. Add remaining dressing ingredients and puree.
2. Cook noodles in boiling water, not allowing them to overcook. Remove and cool with cold water.
3. Place noodles in a large bowl. Combine with remaining noodle ingredients. Top with dressing and garnish with peanuts and cilantro leaves

Serves 8-10

Picadillo Empanadas with Cornmeal Crust

From the Guest Chef night of Jennie Chuang, August, 2009

Cornmeal Crust Ingredients
¼ ounce package (2 ½ t) active dry yeast
1 ½ T sugar
½ c milk, heated to lukewarm
1 large whole egg, beaten lightly
1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly
1/3 c sour cream
5 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 ¼ c yellow cornmeal
¾ t salt

Picadillo Ingredients
1 ¼ cups onion, finely chopped
2 t garlic, minced
2 large pickled jalapeño chilies, seeded and minced, about 1 ½ T
2 t ground cumin
1 T chili powder
1 t crumbled dried oregano
1/2 t cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
2 T vegetable oil
1 ½ c TVP, soaked in hot water and then drained
¼ c tomato paste
28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, including half the juice
1/3 c raisins
½ c plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives (about 4 ½ ounces)
Dried hot red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Proof the yeast with the sugar in ¼ cup of milk for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is foamy. Beat in the remaining ¼ cup milk, the whole egg, the egg yolk, the sour cream, and the butter. Add 2 cups of the flour, the cornmeal, and the salt, and beat the mixture until it forms a dough.
2. Knead the dough, adding as much of the remaining ½ cup flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking, until it is smooth and elastic.
3. Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to an oiled bowl, and turn it to coat it with the oil. Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1 ½ hours and punch it down. (The dough may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. Let the dough return to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.)
4. Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the oil to medium-low, and cook the onion, garlic, jalapeños, cumin, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper, until the onion is softened. Add the TVP and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, stirring to make sure there are no lumps. Add the tomato paste, the tomatoes with the juice, the raisins, the olives, the red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the picadillo, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it is thickened and most of the liquid is evaporated, and let it cool. (The picadillo may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. Let the picadillo return to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.)
5. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time and keeping the remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap, on a lightly floured surface roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick and with a 6-inch round cutter cut each piece into a round. Put about 1/3 cup of the picadillo onto the bottom two thirds of each round and fold the rounds in half, enclosing the filling. Seal the edges of the dough and crimp them decoratively.
6. Transfer the empanadas with a spatula to a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake them in the middle of a preheated 450°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden.
7. Transfer the empanadas to a rack and let them cool.

Make 12 large empanadas

Chocolate Chip Cookies

From the Guest Chef night of Jennie Chuang, August, 2009

1 2/3 c rolled oats
1 ½ c all purpose or unbleached white flour
1 t baking soda
¾ t baking powder
¼ t salt
¾ c (1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c granulated sugar
2/3 c light packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2 t vanilla extract
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Set oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a blender or food processor, grind the rolled oats until they become a fine powder. Set aside.
3. In a bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. In another bowl, mix butter until light, add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture. Blend well before adding ground oats and chocolate chips.
5. Grease a cookie sheet. Roll dough into 1 ½ inch balls, flatten slightly and bake 2 inches apart.
6. Bake 8-10 minutes until brown on top.

Makes 30 3 ½ inch cookies

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just Figured Out...

...why those tofu nuggets tasted so floury. The group that worked on them cut them much much thinner than the recipe suggested (the recipe said 1 inch cubes and these were about 1 inch x 1.5 inch by .5 inch--or even less in some cases). I'll spare you the math, but the result is a higher surface area to tofu ratio--we'll call that SATR--which means more floury. Again, not sure how much of a difference that would have made, but maybe I need to continue encouraging careful reading of recipes that people have never made before. After all, reading is fundamental!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday, August 11th

Today's our first of the monthly vegan nights at Frugal Foodies, which will be the second Tuesday of the month from this night forward. We've done vegan nights before and they've been quite popular so I thought it might be nice to do them once a month. In any case, I opened the night by confidently saying 'vegan nights aren't so hard to plan as long as there aren't other dietary restrictions', and then, as if on cue, one celiac and a few non-onion/garlic people popped out of the woodwork. I say this because we tried to tweak some of the recipes on the fly (though not all), so the resulting dishes that I'm reviewing may not line up exactly with the recipes below. And that's a perfect segue to the disclaimer that this is NOT America's Test Kitchen, and very few of the recipes that come out of this more chaotic kitchen with mostly untrained cooks are exactly what you read below. But for those of you who attend Frugal Foodies (or plan to in the future), please be sure to tell me any of your dietary restrictions well in advance so that menu planning can take all of those into consideration. On to the food...

I should open by saying that I simultaneously would love to be a vegan and I'm afraid of veganism. I think that veganism is the just thing to do vis-a-vis the treatment of animals, efficient land usage, personal health, the like, and it just seems too hard for someone as lazy as I. It would take a lot of work to drop my addiction to dairy products, and I just don't think that I'm motivated enough and certainly not strong enough right now. Perhaps in the future.

So with all that said, tonight's meal was pretty good...for being vegan. A few of the dishes I liked, a few I liked less, but I feel pretty healthy at the end of the night. All in all, not bad. Now for the reviews:

Fruit and Tender Greens Salad--this was one of the better dishes for me, but I love fresh, juicy fruit, especially this time of year. This salad was chock full of ripe melons, kiwi, apples, and stone fruit, all mixed in with spinach and red leaf lettuce. Perhaps most interesting was the dressing, which looked like a smoothie with its melon and orange base (and one man actually poured himself a glass of it to drink, then tasted the vinegar) and it was quite refreshing. I want to have more of it right now, so I give it a score of 6 bucks.

Triple Grain Spinach and Mushroom Pilaf--I like a good pilaf, full of lots of stuff in it, and this one was pretty good. The three grains were quinoa, millet, and barley, which worked really nicely together, and the spinach and mushrooms were cooked to perfection. I think that the only thing that didn't work for me was the seasoning, and as I review the recipe now, I see that the group did things a bit out of order, and that may well have impacted the flavors. In any case, it was good, but not great, and I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Thai Style Shredded Pumpkin--this dish wasn't bad but I've forgotten about it already--not a sign that I'll ever be making it again. I know that some people really liked it so I'm having a bite of the left-overs right now. Texture is nice, well cooked, but either a bit too much ginger or not enough of something else. Potential is there as a side dish accompaniment to something else. I give it a score of 3 bucks.

Tofu Nuggets--while some people liked it, this dish was the big loser of the night. One vegan said, 'I really think that tofu gives vegetarians a bad name', and while I don't necessarily agree, this dish was no ringing endorsement...on several levels. First, it was a rather involved recipe that made a big mess. When they came out of the oven, the smelled nice and had a nice crunch to them, but they tasted too floury. It's possible that this can be blamed on the fact that they changed the recipe to make it gluten and garlic/onion-free, but I'm not sure that the result would have been great either way. So while this dish has the high-end potential of five bucks, the most that I can give it is a score of 2.5 bucks.

Cherry, Chocolate Chip, and Almond Cookies--desserts rarely disappoint, but I have to say that when I think of baked and vegan, I'm skeptical. But I need to start rethinking my stance since these cookies were really good in taste, texture, and ease of preparation. I would absolutely recommend them to any vegan and maybe, possibly to everyone else. Is it that they were moist and chewy and had both dried cherries and chocolate chips (and don't be scared off by the idea of vegan chocolate chips--nearly all semi-sweet chocolate chips are vegan, including the ones from Trader Joe's)? Maybe so, but I think that I much prefer these to a heavier dessert like a bowl of ice cream or a rich chocolate cake. I feel much lighter and I want to keep eating more and more. I give it a score of 6.5 bucks.

Overall--so, on the whole, not a bad meal, though not a great one either. The total score is 23 bucks, which is a big drop-off from last week, but not every week can be outstanding. At least everyone got their money worth, and we're likely a bit healthier for our efforts tonight. Now for the recipes:

Fruit and Tender Greens Salad

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

Salad Ingredients
1 T lemon juice
1 T water
1 ½ cups Fuji apples or other apple of choice, cored, and diced
2 cups cantaloupe or other melon, cut into balls with a melon baller
2 cups peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 ½ cups kiwi, peeled, cut into quarters lengthwise, and sliced
8 oz. spinach, triple washed, patted dry, de-stemmed, and torn into bite-sized pieces
6 cups Boston or Bibb lettuce, washed well, patted dry, and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup sliced almonds
1 recipe Melon-Orange Vinaigrette (below)

Salad Instructions
1. In a large bowl, stir together the lemon juice and water. Add the diced apple and toss well to thoroughly coat the apples with the mixture to prevent browning. Add the cantaloupe, peaches, and kiwi, and toss gently to combine.
2. In another large bowl, place the spinach and lettuce, and toss them together. Add the fruit mixture and almonds and toss gently to combine.
3. Drizzle a little of the Melon-Orange Vinaigrette over individual servings.

Dressing Ingredients
1 cup cantaloupe, cut into cubes
2/3 cup orange juice
2/3 cup cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/3 cup unbleached cane sugar
½ t salt
¼ t ground ginger

Dressing Instructions
1. Combine all of above the ingredients in a bowl.
2. Using a stick blender, process for 1-2 minutes or until smooth and creamy.

Serves 6-8

Triple Grain Spinach and Mushroom Pilaf

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

6 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed and drained
¾ cup millet, rinsed and drained
¾ cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 t salt
1 ½ cups green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup onion, diced
2 T olive oil
12 oz baby bella mushrooms, washed well, halved, and sliced
1 ½ T garlic, minced
2 T sesame seeds
2 T toasted sesame oil
6 cups spinach, triple washed, de-stemmed, and roughly chopped
1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley
2 T freshly chopped thyme
2 T tamari
½ t freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t cayenne pepper

1. In a saucepan, place 3 cups vegetable stock and pearl barley, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45-50 minutes or until barley is tender. Remove from heat, drain off any excess water, and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, place the remaining vegetable stock, millet, quinoa, and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the grains are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Drain off any excess water, leave the grains in the saucepan covered, and let sit for 5 minutes to allow the grains to steam.
3. In a large non-stick skillet, sauté the green onions and onion in olive oil for 5 minutes to soften. Add the mushrooms and sauté an additional 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sesame seeds, and sauté an additional 2-3 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the toasted sesame oil and all three cooked grains to the skillet, and sauté for 3 minutes to heat through. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to sauté until the spinach wilts. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as needed.
4. Transfer the pilaf to a large bowl to serve.

Serves 8-10

Thai Style Shredded Pumpkin

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

¾ cup vegetable broth
1 T Sucanat
1 T tamari or soy sauce
2 t toasted sesame oil
2 T peanut oil
1 cup green onions, thinly sliced diagonally
1 ½ T ginger, minced
4 cups pumpkin, peeled, and coarsely shredded
3 T freshly chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a small bowl, place the vegetable broth, Sucanat, tamari, and toasted sesame oil. Whisk well to dissolve the Sucanat, and set aside.
2. In a wok or non-stick skillet, heat the peanut oil. When hot, add the green onions and ginger, and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes to soften the green onions. Add the pumpkin and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the reserved broth mixture, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender.
3. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer to a bowl or platter for service.

Serves 6

Tofu Nuggets

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

1 lb firm tofu
2/3 cup soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
1 T lemon juice
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup cornmeal
¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 T dried parsley
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
½ t paprika
½ t salt
1/8 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Wrap the block of tofu in a clean, lint-free towel, place it in a colander, and place the colander in the sink. Place a plate over the towel-covered tofu, them a heavy can or other weight on top, and leave to press for 30 minutes. Remove the tofu from the towel, cut into 1-inch cubes, and set aside.
2. Lightly oil (or spray with a light mist of oil) a non-stick cookie sheet and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the soy milk and lemon juice, and set aside for 10 minutes to thicken.
4. Place the flour on a large plate and toss the tofu cubes in the flour to thoroughly coat them. Remove the cubes of tofu from the flour and set aside.
5. Add the remaining ingredients to the flour, stir well to combine, and set aside.
6. Dip the floured tofu cubes into the soymilk mixture and then toss them with the seasoned flour mixture.
7. Place the tofu cubes on the prepared cookie sheet and spacing them so that they aren't touching. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned, flip over the tofu cubes, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned all over.
8. Serve with a mixture of maple syrup and mustard, ketchup, or other dipping sauce of choice.

Serves 4

Cherry, Chocolate Chip, and Almond Cookies

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

½ cup soy milk, water, or apple juice
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup safflower oil
1 t vanilla
¼ t almond extract
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
¼ t salt
¾ cup vegan chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup sliced almonds

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy milk, maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and almond extract, and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, place both types of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and stir well to combine.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well to combine. Fold the remaining ingredients into the cookie dough.
4. Lightly oil (or spray with a light mist of oil) two non-stick cookie sheets.
5. Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls, spacing them 2 inches apart, onto the prepared sheets.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until cookies are set and lightly browned on the bottom and around the edges.
7. Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
8. Repeat the baking procedure for the remaining cookie dough.

Makes 24-30 cookies

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tuesday, August 4th

The theme for tonight was Fresh from the Garden, and the idea was to take advantage of all the people who'd told me that they'd have an overflow of fruit and vegetables this time of year. Only problem was that people's gardens were not quite as far along as they had expected, so the bounty was a bit less impressive. No worries, Berkeley Bowl came to the rescue to round out the offerings, and we cooked up 6 dishes, plus a bonus fruit salad from lots of amazingly ripe fruit.

Tonight was also a benefit night for the Zion Project, a group with which I did some photography in Uganda. What the Zion Project does is work with 'sexually vulnerable women', which could mean anything from girls and women who have been abused (or are in situations where they easily could be) to sex workers to young woman-led households. They're working in the poorest part of the country, doing some really critical work, and I encourage you to learn about their work and support them in a way that fits your ability. And please don't be scared off by their religious bent. Religion motivates their work, but is not central to the services that they're providing.

Now on to the food. Of the dishes we made tonight, some were brand new, some brought back from the past, and one that we even had one week earlier, since we needed a dish with kaffir lime leaves. In any case, I'll talk about the five that I've not reviewed yet on this site:

Cornmeal Herb Muffins--we made a dairy and dairy-free version of these, and I thought that both were good in a rather sublime way. I think that the cooks loaded these up with oregano, tarragon, and rosemary, and the herb taste was perfect in terms of being enough and not too much. I think that I would have made the muffins much larger, and would have really enjoyed eating them hot with melted butter. Yum. I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Tomato, Onion, Cucumber Salad--this was a great summer treat with really juicy tomatoes and some lemon cucumbers fresh from a local farm. It also has mint in it, but I really couldn't taste the mint, and that was just fine. We didn't take out the tomato seeds, as the recipe suggested, so the salad was rather soupy (sort of like a gazpacho salad, without the spice). I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Honey Dijon Fingerling Potatoes--I think that this might have been my favorite dish of the evening. The fingerling potatoes, some of which I had pulled out of the ground just a day earlier, were perfectly roasted, the honey-mustard sauce was super tasty, and the fingerling potatoes also look really cool. I think it's a great side to many a meal, and would recommend this for anyone who can find fingerlings in their local market--or can grow some in your backyard. I give it a score of 7 bucks.

Thai Green Beans with Tofu--this was a recipe that I pulled out from three or four years ago, and I remember really loving it back then. I think that the tofu and the beans, along with the sauce and peanuts are a great combination. Only problem this time around was that the beans were not consistently tender (and some were downright tough and stringy) and the group working on these did not trim the beans before steaming them. The tofu also ended up pretty small and I'm not sure if that was because of the way that the group chose to cut it or because the tofu was not firm enough In any case, it wasn't perfect. So I didn't love it tonight (though I did love the flavoring), but I think that with proper beans, proper tofu, and proper preparation, it's a real winner. So while it's got the potential of a 7 buck dish, in terms of its performance tonight, I give it 4 bucks.

Mint Chocolate Cookies--I love mint and chocolate but these cookies were not what they could have been. They weren't bad, but they could have been so much more. They were on the dry side, perhaps because of overcooking, and I really think that they would have been vastly better with whole chocolate chips in them (all the chocolate is melted into the batter). Pretty cool that we used fresh mint instead of mint extract, and I liked the leafy element in the cookies. With a bit more moistness and chunks of chocolate, they could have really gone places, but that notwithstanding, I've got to give it 3 bucks.

Bonus Dishes--we once again made the Corn Ginger Kaffir Lime Soup from one week earlier. And it was again outstanding, though the flavor was a bit different this week. That's one solid soup that should not be missed (7 bucks). And we also made a fruit salad, with the juiciest of fruit, exploding with flavor. Apples, bananas, nectarines, cantaloupe, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, grapes, all bathed in a lemon-lime juice. If you could enjoy fruit this fresh in such a salad regularly, it would score 8 bucks regularly, but I think that we really caught all of these fruits at their peak of ripeness, and the group tonight cut the fruit to the perfect size, the importance of which is not to be underestimated in the fruit salad business. So that's a total bonus dish score of 15 bucks.

Overall--So that's a total meal score of 39 bucks! Wow! I think just about everyone had a great time tonight and the food was well-received. And why not if you're paying $8 for a meal worth nearly five times that much.

Cornmeal Herb Muffins

Adapted from www.epicurious.com

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, minced, or 1 tablespoon dried herbs, ground
¼ cup chopped fresh chives
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted, or cooking oil

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray 10 standard muffin cups (each about 1/3-cup capacity) with nonstick spray.
2. Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and herbs in medium bowl. Stir in chives. In another medium bowl whisk yogurt, eggs, and butter or oil. Add yogurt mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until blended.
3. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups, using about 1/3 cup batter for each muffin cup.
4. Bake until muffins are puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer pans to rack and let muffins cool in pans.
5. Remove from pans and serve.

Makes 10

Tomato, Cucumber and Red Onion Salad with Mint

Adapted from www.allrecipes.com

2 large cucumbers - halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 large tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup coarsely chopped red onion
½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large bowl, toss together the cucumbers, vinegar, sugar and salt. Let stand at room temperature for an hour, stirring occasionally.
2. Add tomatoes, onion, mint and oil to cucumbers and toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Serves 6

Honey Dijon Fingerling Potatoes

2 lbs fingerling potatoes
2 T olive oil
1 T kosher salt
1 T ground black pepper
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1 T chives, fresh, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Wash fingerling potatoes in cool water, pat dry, and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl toss together olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard and honey. Add fingerlings to mixture and coat each potato well. Transfer fingerlings to a 13 x 9 baking dish.
3. Place in oven and bake fingerling potatoes uncovered 25 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.
4. Garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Thai Green Beans with Tofu

4 T Sesame Oil
3 T Garlic
3 T Ginger
¼ C Natural Peanut Butter
¼ C Soy Sauce
¼ C Honey
3 T rice wine vinegar
Cayenne Pepper
1.5 lbs Green Beans
1 lb Tofu
Cooking oil
Peanuts—chopped and toasted

1. Sauté sesame oil with 2T garlic and ginger. Add peanut butter, soy sauce, and honey, and rice wine vinegar. Mix well and add cayenne pepper to taste. Once smooth and combined, remove from heat.
2. Clean and steam green beans until al dente.
3. Meanwhile drain tofu and sauté in oil and remaining garlic. Once tofu is browned, add green beans and continue to sauté for 1-2 minutes.
4. Pour sauce over tofu-bean mixture and garnish with toasted peanuts.

Serves 6-8

Mint Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from www.allrecipes.com

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 C packed mint leaves, minced to a pulp
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup butter, softened, margarine, or oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 C packed brown sugar
3 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Place the chocolate chips and the mint in the top part of a double boiler over medium heat. Stir occasionally until melted and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter (or margarine or oil) until soft. Add vanilla and sugar and mix well. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the melted chocolate. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Add to mixture and stir until well blended.
4. Drop by tablespoon at least 2 inches apart on oiled cookie sheets.
5. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until lightly colored. Let cool on wire racks.

Makes 36 cookies