Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Christmas Feast

Yam and Navel Orange Salad
Like many other families, our holiday meals have always been ruled by tradition and habit: not only do we serve the same dishes over and over, the same women prepare the meals year after year. Our table would feature a turkey (ham if we were celebrating Easter), mashed potatoes and gravy, a plain stuffing, deviled eggs, a vegetable tray loaded with canned black olives and pickles, yams covered in sugar, a sweet salad with Jell-O as one of the ingredients, and depending on which side of the family I was feasting with, a bowl of cucumbers drowning in white vinegar. I cannot forget the pies. There are always pies. I have to add that one of my grandmothers is a master pie maker. When Pa was little Grandma Pie Master baked pies and sold them to make extra money.

The prime rib before cooking.
While Z. spent the holiday with his family in the Northwest, I visited the state that I fondly refer to as the Old Country, good ol' Wyoming. This year we broke some traditions. Pa and I prepared dinner. Not only was the venue different, we prepared dishes that showed off each of our respective culinary abilities and tastes in food. Pa  made an amazing prime rib roast that he covered in crushed peppercorns and slow cooked in a braising liquid of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, garlic, and other seasonings. I created the side dishes.

Please pardon the pink plate; it is the only platter in the house.
Grandma Pie Master and I are the only two who love yams and expect them every holiday meal. She always prepared them with lots of brown sugar and covered in marshmallows. I wanted to share another way to enjoy yams. I made one of my favorite dishes from The Choosy Beggars (who by the way, are hilarious), Sweet Potato and Navel Orange Salad. This is a dish of contrasts. I love the tart vinaigrette with the sweet yams which cuts the spiciness of the chili pepper and red onion and the orange sections and juice tie everything together. Pa who hates yams and laughs at me every time I share my love of yams, tried my salad and ENJOYED himself. Try this recipe!

Pa had a recipe waiting for me when I arrived that he wanted to make for our meal. He wanted to make the Pioneer Woman's Brussels with Balsamic and Cranberries. I was more than happy to oblige; I already knew the beauty that is fresh brussels sprouts with balsamic. This dish turned out great. The tart, chewy cranberries were a great addition to the brussel sprouts. I went a step further and added a couple of handfuls of chopped toasted pecans. Excellent!

We had to have pie. Since I was co-leader of this meal, I really wanted to show off a little and make something unusual for my family. I made Guy Fieri's Rustic Pear Tart. My grandma has always added a drizzle of white vinegar to her crust to make it tender so I was drawn to Guy's use of buttermilk rather than ice water. I made a slight change and used half butter and half vegetable shortening. Grandma Pie Master was going to be eating this pie. I had to have a flaky crust, which I did with the shortening but still had the flavor and tenderness of a butter crust. I thoroughly enjoyed the spices used in the pear mixture but I did add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the pears since vanilla and pears is one of my favorite flavor combinations. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Barley Risotto-Style

Barley was on of the first grains after brown rice I purchased when I moved out on my own because this grain was slightly familiar and CHEAP. Well, I did not have a clue what to do with barley and was discouraged by the long cooking time so most of that first package of barley eventually ended up in the garbage can.

This fall after many years of a barley-free pantry I decided to give barley another chance for several reasons. First, barley is still cheap, less than $1 a pound at all the stores in my area. The large, toothsome grain will be a nice alternative to some of my other favorite whole-grains. I know barley still requires an extended cooking time but many of my current favorite meals have a similar cooking time, time is not an issue.

I make my granola with a combination of oats, rye flakes, and barley flakes. Recently, I made a batch of granola with the ingredients I had on hand, which were oats and rye flakes. The granola was good but lacking. Then I made a batch with my three favorite grains. The barley flakes are delicious and I had missed their flavor. Realizing how delicious barley really is, I decided to give the kernels another chance.

I love taking a homely, pedestrian ingredient and applying more elegant or fussy techniques to it. I am only familiar with barley that has been thrown into the soup, adding a pleasant flavor but probably more as a filler. I chose risotto as my first barley recipe for good reason. I knew I could add lots of flavor to this humble member of the grass family.

Any number of vegetables could be used in Barley Risotto-Style. I would always include garlic and some other allium relative, such as shallot, leek, or onion. Shallots or leek are worth the extra cost in this instance. The nuances of their flavors come out in a dish like risotto where onion would be fine but could be overpowering.

If this dish were a side, I would probably not include the beans. This risotto was going to be my dinner so I wanted the protein. White beans would be traditional but I went with kidney beans. I think the kidney bean is under appreciated. Not only are kidney beans a good source of iron, the flesh of the bean becomes very creamy.

The other secret ingredient to Barley Risotto-Style is the white wine. The wine perfumes and flavors the barley with a flavorful brightness that citrus or vinegar cannot provide. I prefer sauvignon blanc for its crisp, bright flavor. In this case, I used a chardonnay I really enjoy that does not have the typical oaky-flavor of chardonnay. Enjoy!

Barley Risotto-Style

6-8 cups water, stock, or a combination
1 cup white wine
1 cup barley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 leek, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
4 oz mushrooms
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish **
  1. Place the water or stock in a small sauce pan, bring to a simmer, and keep warm.
  2. In another larger sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium-low to medium heat. Add leek, carrot, and mushrooms, and garlic. Cook until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add barley and cook until aromatic, about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add wine and cook until wine has been absorbed.
  5. Stir in 1 cup of water or stock at a time, stirring occasionally until the liquid is absorbed. 
  6. Once 4-5 cups of liquid has been added, add liquid 1/2 cup at a time, as needed, until the barley grains are cooked but still firm. The total cooking time may take around 45 minutes or longer.
** If you desire, garnish with freshly chopped parsley. If you would like a creamier risotto, add either 1 tablespoon butter, or 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese, or 1 tablespoon cream, or any combination.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe Review: Pumpkin Cupcakes

Source: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

I think I have had an unconscious obsession with orange food this fall based on how many orange dishes I have made. Or, the most likely case is I like to base my meals around the brightest, most colorful produce of the season I can afford, which in the fall means many of my veggies will be orange.

A friend who eats vegan deserts due to food allergies shared this recipe with me. I love recipes like this because all of the ingredients are already in my pantry, except the milk but there are many options for this. To keep the cupcake dairy-free use soy milk or a nut milk. Other substitutions include fruit juice, apple or orange would be tasty, or water. In my vegan baking experiments, I have occasionally used water instead of milk but I think the milk results in the best product. In my case, I may not always have dairy milk on hand but I always have half-and-half for my coffee. In a bind, I use equal parts half-and-half and water.

The wet ingredients.
I have made this recipe three times with yams instead of pumpkin and loved every batch. To do this, I pricked a fresh yam several times with a fork, cooked it in the microwave until done (the amount of time needed varies with the size of the yam), and let it cool until I could remove the skin. I then mashed the yam with a potato masher. I used 1 cup of mashed yam in the recipe and held onto any leftovers for a different use.

The dry ingredients. From top left going clockwise: cinnamon with nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, whole-wheat flour, and all-purpose flour.

Z. hates yams so he has not tried these cupcakes. He suggested I try substituting the yams with white potatoes. Making potato cupcakes will be my next culinary adventure. Potato donuts are amazing so potato cupcakes should be great, too.

I have included the recipe for my slight adaptation of the Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World Recipe. * is placed next to each ingredient that I have adapted or changed. Also, I did not include the recipe for the frosting recipe. I think this cupcakes are delicious and perfectly sweet without. You will have to get their book to find the recipe. Enjoy!

Yam Muffins, adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

1 cup cooked mashed yam *
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour or 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (my preference!)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon *
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon (I suggest 3/8 teaspoon) salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin pan with liners or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together mashed yam, oil, sugar, milk, and vanilla.
  3. In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Sift the dry ingredients into the yam mixture. Stir until combined.
  4. Fill each muffin about 2/3rds full. Bake about 22-24 minutes, or until done.