Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday, September 22nd

Tonight at Frugal Foodies was all about the melons, and I think that we had five different types that we prepared. One of the challenges of a Special Guest Ingredient night, as I’ve mentioned before, is trying to have all the dishes taste sufficiently distinct as to not bore the senses. Not sure if we were up to the challenge on this front, but everyone did leave full, if not bloated. And what was nice is that all of these recipes were on the easy side, and required almost no stove time so we had a bit of extra time to make some melon art, which was a fun diversion. As for the food, many of the dishes were missing something, though I didn’t always know what it was. Here’s what we made:

Cucumber Melon Soup—this was a nice opening dish, not too sweet, not too tart, but needed a tad of something so as to not be confused with a smoothie. Someone suggested wasabe another suggested mustard, but I’m not a fan of either, so I think I might have tried cayenne or something along those lines. As is, I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Watermelon Salsa—who would think to make a salsa out of watermelon? Not me, but it’s the dish that I found the most captivating, even though it was missing something as well. In this case, I think that it could have used a bit more spice and salt, but more importantly, it could have used more time for all of the flavors to blend. But the watermelon really worked for me, and I’d suggest playing around with the recipe and coming up with something really lovely. I give it a score of 5.5 bucks.

Melon Salad with Lime and Mint—I remember this salad being much tastier when we made it a few years back. Today, it tasted under-flavored, and I’m not sure if this was due to the melons or to not enough mint or lemon/lime. But I found it disappointing, in fact the most disappointing dish of the evening. I give it a score of 2.5 bucks.

Herb-Marinated Fresh Mozzarella Wraps—another dish with a fair amount of promise that fell a little short for me. While the elements were all strong, even considering the quirky combination of fresh cheese, asparagus, olives, and cantaloupe, it needed more flavor, so I’m thinking that it could have been much much better with a more flavorful cheese like feta, or with some balsamic in the seasoning, or maybe both. As is, it was an entirely fine but forgettable dish, so it can only be scored as 4 bucks.

Casava Melon with Coconut Milk—this was our “dessert” but it was one of those dishes that didn’t seem too desserty. I added some sliced almonds to mine to give it some crunch but it was still missing something. I liked the coconut milk and the toasted coconut, but maybe it was the cassava melon that didn’t excite me. In any case, I give it a score of 3 bucks.

Overall—tonight’s menu didn’t really work for me as an overall performance, and I think that I’d only be inclined to make one of the dishes—the salsa—again. But I think that I got my fiber for the day, and it wasn’t a bad meal by any stretch. In all, a mildly disappointing 20 bucks in all, but I think that this was more about melon overkill than anything else. Now for the recipes…

Cucumber Melon Soup

Adapted from www.perfectentertaining.com

2 cups honeydew, chopped
2 large cucumbers, chopped
8 ounces plain yogurt
2 T fresh lime juice
Freshly ground white pepper

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.
2. Pour the mixture through a sieve to strain out any chunks of seeds and peel.
3. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
4. Cover and chill the soup for at least 30 minutes and up to 5 hours before serving.

Serves 4

Watermelon Salsa

Adapted from www.perfectentertaining.com

3 C diced watermelon (or other melon or mix of melons)
½ C finely diced bell peppers
¼ C sliced scallions
2 T lime juice
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T minced jalapenõ peppers, or to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir well
2. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 6 hours before serving.
3. Stir before serving.
4. Serve with chips or as a condiment for a main course.

Makes about 4 cups

Melon Salad with Lime and Mint

Adapted from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, by Edward Espe Brown

½ lb melon
Juice of 1 lime
2 T white sugar or maple syrup
15 to 18 mint leaves, sliced into narrow strips (about ¼ C)

1. Cut the melon open and remove the seeds. Use a melon baler or remove the rind and cut into chunks.
2. Combine the lime juice and sugar or maple syrup, and toss it with the melon, along with a couple pinches of salt. Garnish with the mint leaves.

Serves 4-6

Herb-Marinated Fresh Mozzarella Wraps

Adapted from www.myrecipes.com

¾ cup (3 ounces) diced fresh mozzarella cheese
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 T chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 T chopped fresh chives
1 T chopped fresh oregano
1 t olive oil
½ melon, sliced into spears
16 asparagus spears, steamed and chilled (about 1/4 pound)
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and chill for an hour.
Arrange 2-3 spears of melon and 4 asparagus spears on each tortilla. Spoon about 1/3 cup cheese mixture over the asparagus, and roll it up tightly.
Cut wraps at an angle and serve.

Serves 4

Casava Melon with Coconut Milk

Adapted from www.perfectentertaining.com

8 ounces coconut milk
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
4 cups cubed casaba melon
¼ cup toasted shredded coconut
Additional lime zest for garnish (optional)

1. Mix together the coconut milk, lime juice, and zest in a large bowl until well mixed. Add the melon and toss well.
2. Chill for at least one hour, and up to three hours.
3. Garnish with the toasted coconut and lime zest and serve.

Serves 6

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tuesday, September 8th

This week was our vegan week, and many of you may know that I fear veganism. I’d like to be vegan, seems like a good thing to do for the body and for the planet, but it just seems so hard, and not altogether tasty. Add to this the fact that we had an attendee that ate no onions or garlic, so we were basically doing Sattvic vegan dishes. In other words, lower your expectations. Here’s what we had:

Orange Carrot Sunflower Salad—I’ve been meaning to use up some sunflower seeds that were given to me, and this was a good salad for doing so. I thought that it was a pretty good salad, though a bit on the sweet side. Very orange with the carrots and oranges, and it worked as a decent side salad. Not great, don’t think that I would make it again, but I give it a score of 5 bucks.

Pistachio and Grape-Studded Quinoa Salad—this was the better of the two salads for me, and I would make it again, with a few adjustments. Quinoa is really a great grain, as it’s not only versatile, but packed full of protein. This “miracle grain” actually has the amino acid structure of milk and is one of the few non-animal products that’s a complete protein by itself. In any case, this salad combined quinoa with grapes, cucumbers, and pistachios and was quite nice. I would have replaced the grapes with currants or another dried fruit, but the grapes were nice, and I give it a score of 6 bucks.

Chickpeas with Spinach—I expected this dish to have an Indian feel to it, but it really didn’t. Not sure what kind of feel it had, as I’ve forgotten the flavor already. The dish was fine but totally forgettable, which is not a compliment for an entrée. I would have liked much more complex spicing, and then it might have been a significantly better dish. As is, I give it a score of 4 bucks.

Sesame Broccoli—this was my least favorite dish, and I’m not sure if it was more about the broccoli being a bit undercooked or about the flavoring being unflavorful. It was one of those dishes where I just had no desire to finish what was on my plate. I do think that others liked it, but I didn’t at all, so the best score that I can give this dish is 2 bucks.

Chocolate Mint Chip Cake—I’m happy to report that for the second month in a row, I’ve been happily surprised with a vegan dessert. This one was chocolaty, minty, and a very satisfying dessert that didn’t seem to suffer from its veganitude. I should say that the group preparing this dish dramatically undercooked the dish, and I’m not sure if it was more a pudding or a lava cake, but it wasn’t as the recipe maker had intended. But it was still good and I give it a score of 5.5 bucks.

Overall—like last month, not a bad meal for being vegan. I think that we had a well-balanced menu and I wasn’t hungry an hour later. In all, the total score was 22.5 bucks, and that’s not bad for being vegan, Sattvic, and all for eight dollars. Now for the recipes…

Orange Carrot Sunflower Salad

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

½ C apple juice
2 T tahini
1 T maple syrup
1 T apple cider vinegar
Pinch of cinnamon
2 C carrots, shredded
1 orange, peeled, cut into segments, and each segment cut into three pieces
1/3 C currants
¼ C sunflower seeds
¼ C freshly chopped parsley

1. In a blender or food processor, combine the apple juice, tahini, maple syrup, vinegar, and cinnamon, and process for 1 minute or until smooth and creamy.
2. In a bowl, place the remaining ingredients, pour the dressing over the top, and toss gently to combine.
3. Store in the refrigerator.

Serves 3-4

Pistachio and Grape-Studded Quinoa Salad

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

1 ½ C water
1 C apple juice
1 T ginger, minced
2 C quinoa, well rinsed
1 C English cucumber, cut into quarters lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 C seedless red grapes, cut in half
1 C seedless white grapes, cut in half
1 C pistachios, shelled, and roughly chopped
½ C green onion, thinly sliced
¼ C parsley, chopped
3 T raspberry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 T apple juice or water
2 T olive oil
2 T toasted sesame oil
2 t unbleached cane sugar (or white sugar from sugar beets)
½ t sea salt
¼ t cinnamon
Lettuce leaves, for garnishing

1. In a medium saucepan, place the water, apple juice, and minced ginger, and bring to a boil. Add the quinoa, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain off any excess liquid, transfer the quinoa to a bowl, fluff with a fork, and set aside to cool completely.
2. Combine the cucumber, red and white grapes, pistachios, green onions, and parsley to the cooled quinoa, and combine, tossing lightly with the cooled quinoa.
3. In a small bowl, place the remaining ingredients (except the lettuce leaves), and whisk well to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture and toss gently to combine.
4. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
5. Serve atop lettuce leaves or in a bowl lined with the lettuce.

Serves 4 - 6

Chickpeas with Spinach

Adapted from www.sattvicfoods.com

4 T olive oil
1 t asafetida
1 C tomato puree
3 C cooked chickpeas
1 lb spinach, steamed and chopped
1 t salt
½ t black pepper
1 t brown sugar
1 t Italian herbs
Olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley to garnish

1. Heat oil over medium heat. Briefly fry asafetida.
2. Pour in tomato puree and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Fold in chickpeas and steamed spinach. Mix in remaining seasonings. Reduce heat and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
4. Serve hot drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.

Serves 4

Sesame Broccoli

Adapted from www.sattvicfoods.com

1 t fresh ginger, grated
1 T liquid amino acids (like Braggs)
1 T sesame oil
1 T lemon juice
2 lbs broccoli florets and stalks
1 T sesame seeds, toasted
Black pepper to taste

1. Whisk ginger, soy sauce, oil, lemon and set aside.
2. Steam broccoli until crisp and toss in ginger sauce.
3. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and pepper.

Serves 4-6

Chocolate Mint Chip Cake

Adapted from www.veganchef.com

½ C soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
½ C Mori-Nu silken style tofu, extra firm
1 C water
1 2/3 C unbleached cane sugar
1 ½ C unbleached flour
¾ C soy flour
¾ C cocoa powder
1 ½ t baking powder
1 ¼ t baking soda
1 t salt
½ C applesauce
2 t vanilla
½ t peppermint extract
1 C vegan chocolate chips

1. Lightly oil a 9x13 inch pan and set aside.
2. In a food processor or blender, place the soy milk and tofu, and blend for 1 minute. Add the water and blend an additional 30 seconds.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, soy flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the food processor and blend for 1 minute. Add the applesauce, vanilla, and peppermint extract, and blend an additional 30 seconds or more to combine. Add the chocolate chips and pulse 2-3 times to incorporate.
5. Pour into pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Serves 12

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tuesday, September 1st

This night at Frugal Foodies was dedicated to wrapped foods, and there are so many of those out there that it was quite difficult to choose. So I picked a long-time favorite of mine, Aram sandwiches, a more recent favorite of mine, fresh Vietnamese-style spring rolls, and two new recipes. It was important to not confuse the wrapped food species with the stuffed food species, both because I tend to dislike the latter, and simultaneously would like to dedicate a night to that later this year. I guess that’s the kind of guy I’ve become, challenging my dislikes, hoping that with enough exposure and creativity in approach, I’ll learn to love, or at the very least, be very very comfortable with my dislike. Here’s what we had (with link to scoring code to the left of this entry):

Chinese Broccoli Wonton Soup—the group working on this dish worked efficiently. They made some of the prettiest looking wontons, and did it quite systematically. They played nice with each other and even cleaned up well after themselves. That’s why it pains me to say that this was the least edible dish I’ve had since the scoring system began. In fairness, it was a two part dish, the wontons and the broth, and I liked the broth just fine, thought that it tasted subtle and soothing, and the flavoring for me was just right for being what it was, a basic broth. But the wontons, though cooked to perfection had a filling that was more than just off. It was bad. No, it was more than bad. Was it that it had way way too much ginger? Did the chefs get too drunk and not taste their filling? Or more troubling, did they actually like it before they fed it to the masses? I really see nothing in the filling that should have led to this result, and perhaps I’ll try to make this dish myself, just to see if it was the recipe or user error. But in the end, while I’d give the broth a score of four bucks, the overall dish for me was 2 bucks.

Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls—yum! While I love most all things fried, and especially spring rolls, I think that the fresh version of these Vietnamese treats are just outstanding, and maybe possibly perhaps could even top their deep-friend brethren. There’s something about the noodles, tofu, veggies, and mint/cilantro, all wrapped together that’s quite nice, and the dipping sauce for these rolls is to die for. In fact, the dipping sauce alone might have scored a perfect 8 bucks, but the rolls were a bit too loosely rolled and so they didn’t hang together perfectly, making the eating of these a bit of a challenge. But with that said, the whole dish was really strong, and with proper rolling, could near perfection. As it was, I give this dish a score of 6.5 bucks.

Aram Sandwiches—the recipe is called something different, but I think that it’s only fair to speak about the range of Aram sandwiches that were before me, and only a small percentage were of the warm Portabella variety. I don’t think that I had ever had a warm Aram sandwich before and that was a new twist that I think has some nice potential. But I didn’t love that particular recipe, though it certainly wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t nearly as good for me as some of the others, and specifically the cream-cheese based ones, replete with sundried tomatoes, peppers, avocado, sprouts, the like. I really love Aram sandwiches and they are so easy. Pretty close to a perfect dish in terms of taste, ease, and beauty of presentation, and only scores less because the hot version was not outstanding. So, overall, I give this dish a score of 7 bucks.

Berry Roll—please note that we made a vegan version of this recipe, replacing the milk with soy milk and the butter with Earth Balance and I’ve never made the dairy version. For me, vegan desserts can be a challenge, but this is yet another one that passed the test. But can you really go wrong with assorted fresh berries lovingly rolled in dough? I think that this recipe also would have worked out pretty well with frozen berries and what would have really taken it to a whole new level was a spoon of whipped cream or ice cream. Still, it was a solid dish as is, and I give it a score of 5.5 bucks.

Overall—we had highs, we had lows, and as a whole just surpassed the twenty buck mark. This was mostly a product of us only making four dishes, and that’s because wrapped dishes take more time. Not a bad meal overall, and if we could have replaced the wonton filling with something more edible, this whole meal might have been off the charts. But as is, the overall score was 21 bucks. Now for the recipes…

Chinese Broccoli Wonton Soup

Adapted from www.veganyumyum.com

Wonton Ingredients
16 square wonton skins
1 T oil

1-2 t fresh ginger, minced

1 C Chinese broccoli, thinly sliced

¾ C seitan, chopped fine

½ tsp hot chili sauce, more if desired (like Sriracha)

1 t Dijon mustard

1 t tamari or soy sauce

Ginger-Soy Broth
4 C water

5-6 fresh ginger slices

1 T mirin

2 T tamari (or soy sauce)

1 ½ t sugar

2 t rice vinegar

½ t salt, plus more to taste

¼ C Chinese broccoli leaves, packed (or spinach/collards)

1. Begin by chopping the Chinese broccoli very thinly with a sharp knife, from the base of the stem up towards the leaves (just like chopping scallions).
2. Heat a large pan with oil and add the ginger. Once the ginger becomes fragrant, add the broccoli and seitan, stirring well and cooking until the broccoli is bright green and tender-crisp.
3. Transfer the broccoli-seitan mixture to a small bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust to your liking. Set aside while you make the broth.
4. Heat all of the broth ingredients together except the greens in a small sauce pan, until sugar and salt is dissolved and the ginger has had time to infuse into the broth. Taste and add more salt if desired, but remember this is a mild broth that is only meant to be a complement to the wontons. Once the broth has begun to simmer, turn off the heat and toss in greens. Cover and set aside.
5. Place 1-2 t of filling in the center of the wonton. Wet the edges of the wrapper with water (a finger dipped in water works great) and seal into a triangle, removing as much air as possible from the dumpling. Make sure edges are secured.
6. Set the triangle in front of you, pointing up. Wet one of the bottom corners. Hold the corners, one between each thumb and forefinger. Begin to bend the wrapper, as if you were forcing it into a horseshoe shape. Don’t change your grip, and resist the urge to fold the corners over. Bring the two ends together, crossing them slightly, and press to seal. Going from the triangle shape to a completed wonton is one fluid motion. Your dumpling should look like a fun little fish-boat-hat.
7. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Re-heat your broth to steaming, if necessary. Gently lower the wontons into the boiling water and cook until they become translucent, about 2-3 minutes if the wontons aren’t frozen, longer if they are. Remove them from the water with a spider (or other slotted spoon device) and place them into the hot broth.
8. Take care to remove and discard any dumplings that have opened up during cooking. If they open, water gets inside, washes all the flavor away, and you’ll be sad if you serve it or eat it. It will taste like watery mush.
9. Ladle 3-4 wontons into a bowl and add a small amount of broth, enough to half-way cover the wontons. Make sure to get some greens in there, too.
10. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls

Adapted from Heidi Winig’s Guest Chef Night at Frugal Foodies, 7/22/08

Dipping Sauce Ingredients
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp chili paste
1 cup veggie stock
½ cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

Filling/Wrapping Ingredients
½ lb dried rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
24 dried round rice papers
24 large soft red-leaf lettuce leaves (very soft lettuce)
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
Mint leaves
2 containers soft or medium tofu, sliced into 1 x 3 x ¼ inch pieces
Cilantro sprigs

1. To make the dipping sauce, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Add the hoisin sauce, sugar, chili paste and stir well and simmer for 15 seconds. Stir in the stock until the mixture has a thick, creamy consistency. Add the peanuts and let cool.
2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Drain the rice noodles and add to the boiling water. Boil until just tender, about 2 minutes. Pour the noodles into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Drain well and set aside. Toss frequently to keep them from sticking together.
3. Make the spring rolls by laying one sheet of rice paper on a flat surface. Using a pastry brush, brush with hot water and leave it for 30 seconds until they are softened and feel like a wet tissue. Arrange 1 lettuce leaf on the lower third of the round. Add about 2 teaspoons of rice vermicelli, some carrots, and mint leaves atop the lettuce. Begin rolling from the bottom, tightly enclosing the filling with one roll to the middle of the rice paper but no further. Fold in the right and left ends, add the tofu and cilantro, and continue to roll as tightly as possible. Seal the roll with water and set aside.
4. Set the rolls on a tray and cover with a damp kitchen towel until all the rolls are done.
5. Serve with dipping sauce.

Makes 24 rolls

Portabella Aram Sandwiches

Adapted from www.grouprecipes.com

1 large tortilla wrap or flatbread
¾ C Gorgonzola
12 washed and dried spinach leaves
6 thin slices sautéed eggplant
1 large portabella mushroom sliced thinly and sautéed
¼ red pepper cut into strips and sautéed
1 T olive oil

1. Put gorgonzola on wrap and warm until the cheese can be easily spread over the entire wrap.
2. Place the spinach leaves flat on the cheese covering the whole wrap.
3. Do the same with the eggplant slices then add portabella and red peppers then roll very tightly.
4. Bake for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven then cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 2

Assorted Cold Aram Sandwiches

Cream cheese, softened
Tomatoes, thinly sliced
Sundried tomatoes
Cucumbers, thinly sliced
Bell peppers, thinly sliced
Cheese, thinly sliced
Avocado, thinly sliced

1. Open flatbread and sprinkle with a little water.
2. Spread a thin (1/8th inch) layer of cream cheese, hummus, or pesto on the flatbread.
3. Top this layer with other ingredients in stripes across the short length of the bread. Don’t pile vegetables on top of each other but instead make stripes of unique ingredients.
4. With one of the narrow ends in front of you, firmly roll up the flatbread, trying not to break the flatbread. Squeeze the roll gently to hold it in place and set it aside.
5. Once all the rolls are done, slice them about an inch thick using a sharp or serrated knife. Set the cut Aram sandwiches on a serving plate on their sides so that the ingredients can be viewed.

Serves ?

Berry Roll

Adapted from www.southernfood.about.com

2 C sifted flour
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 T granulated sugar
¼ C shortening
¾ C milk, more or less
2 C fresh cleaned and sliced berries
¾ C granulated sugar
1 T butter, cut in several small pieces

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles meal. Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to a ¼ inch thickness.
3. Spread with berries to about ½ inch of edge. Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar evenly over the berries then dot with the butter.
4. Roll up like a jelly roll and seal ends. Place in a greased shallow baking dish.
5. Bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes.

Serves 8