Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ramen and Stealin'

Because who doesn't love Japanese noodle bowls and Beastie Boys? We've been getting our ramen on in a big way lately and as far as comfort food goes it may actually be surpassing mashed potatoes with miso gravy. The basis of ramen is the broth which is known as dashi, chinese wheat noodles, often hand made, make up the noodle portion and toppings seem to be wide open but often consist of chopped pork or chicken, green onions, seaweed and egg. Traditionally dashi is made with soaked edible seaweed and bonito flakes but we like to keep our ramen bowl user friendly for our vegan pals and include this meal in our ongoing food competition with each other known as "vegan challenge". We cheated a bit with our dashi by starting with a light flavourful vegetable stock, then introduced soaked wakame seaweed and dried shitake mushrooms. The broth was simmered for about half an hour then strained. Taste the broth as it cooks down and adjust seasonings as needed with a bit of tamari. The stock is then returned to the stove and brought back to a simmer before adding udon noodles. Udon are the fresh, fat white noodles that seem a little wormy. Get over it, they're delicious...for worms. The noodles only require about five minutes to cook, then you can portion them into heated bowls and top off with the broth. Erin opted to deck her ramen out with roasted corn and mushrooms, deep fried tofu, bean sprouts, purple cabbage and rapini. It was amazing to say the least and the vegan ramen bar has been set pretty high. The weapons of choice for eating such a dish are chopsticks and wonton soup spoons. If you're anything like us, be prepared to make a big slurpy mess as you eat this dish.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Delayed Valentines Dinner

Erin and I have always had a competitive spirit when it comes to cooking. We especially enjoy challenging each other with potential ideas for the upcoming cookbook.
Valentines day is usually the holy grail of food challenges but, since we were working on that Hallmark holiday and then forced to lounge on the beach in Maui for ten days, the meal had to be postponed. We call it "vegan challenge" and this over the top tofu, mushroom, cassava chip stack (I wanted to call it "Poseidon's demise" but got shot down) places her well ahead of the pack (and by pack, I mean me). The gauntlet has officially been thrown.
Listing the ingredients for this meal would probably take two pages and preparation time is around ten hours (slight exaggeration). So, I'm just going to list the elements of the meal with some quick instruction and you can decide for yourself if you think you have it in you to even try to emulate this culinary Picasso. Erin served this as a small entree plate but I could also see it getting paired down as a beautiful plated appetizer. I will say this, the flavor pairing was amazing and sampling one or both of the surrounding sauces in conjunction with a fork full of the main attraction resulted in a different bite every time and leaves you begging for more. Alright, I admit it...I ate two.
O.K, here's what's happening: working from the bottom up we have wilted pea shoots followed by purple kale chip crusted tofu, roasted brussel sprout petals, sauteed oyster mushrooms with preserved lemon and cassava chips. The accompaniments on the plate, which I would like to refer to as "the monkey and the weasel" but would get too much flack from the vegan community, are walnut and roasted pepper relish and green harissa. I think I eluded to the fact that this meal is created strictly for advanced foodies and anything less than a ninth level wizard shouldn't even be reading this. 
The pea shoots were quickly sauteed in a hot pan with sun dried tomato oil and seasonings. Purple kale was tossed in pistachio oil, za'atar, smoked paprika and olive oil before being toasted in the oven @ 300* for about 20 minutes or until crisp but not burnt. These chips were then crushed and used to coat the tofu which had recently spent the last four hours just lounging in vermouth, stout mustard, cider vinegar and bourbon maple syrup (what a lush). The kale crusted tofu was then baked @350* for 20-30 minutes, flipping the patties halfway through. The brussel sprouts were carefully pulled apart and tossed in olive oil and sea salt before being lightly roasted at 300* for 15-20 minutes(until they are a bit crispy but still green). Oyster mushrooms were sauteed in a hot pan with olive oil and chopped preserved lemons and a bit of white wine. Cassava, aka: yuca, aka: tapioca root, aka: about a dozen other names is a starchy tuber that once peeled and sliced thinly on the mandolin was shallow fried and lightly salted. The relish was made from toasted walnuts, roasted red peppers, chopped orange and zest with chili flakes, fresh herbs and olive oil. The green Harissa was made with roasted pasilla peppers, cilantro, mint and parsley, preserved lemons and olive oil. Now I need you to reproduce all of these steps simultaneously and present this stack in an artful manner before it gets cold. Go.
Did I mention that this was a high maintenance meal? It really shows you how the vegan challenge has progressed over the years and the one-upmanship has been elevated to dizzying heights.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sweet Cabbage Pickle

The use of "fresh" pickles in recipes is very popular these days and for good reason. Pickles made to be stored for years in your pantry are delicious but bare no resemblance to the flavor and texture of the vegetables before they were processed. Not to say that we don't like pantry pickles, on the contrary, we wouldn't dream of having a grilled cheese sandwich without Nana's pickles. The idea of fresh pickles includes a still somewhat crisp texture and briny flavor before all of the ingredients have a chance to meld with each other and become one. These pickles can also be stored in the fridge in a sealed jar for weeks or processed and sent to the pantry to "serve time" with the rest of the preserve family.
I'm really partial to eating these pickles on the day that they are made because of the still present crunch of the cabbage and the somewhat strong flavor of toasted mustard seeds. The independent flavors will begin to marry more and more in the following days after the pickles are made. We've been using this sweet cabbage pickle on everything and still keep finding new recipes where it shines. It currently resides on the two new tostada cup appetizers on our menu and it's been seen topping curries, soups, perogies and salads in our day to day cooking. Hopefully you'll find new and exciting ways to use it as well. Happy pickling.

1# Red or green cabbage. Thinly slice across the spine.
1/2 C. Coarse salt.
2 1/4C. Cider vinegar
1C. Water
1/2 Oz. Bourbon
2C. Sugar
2Tsp Black peppercorns
5 Bay leaves
2Tsp Brown mustard seeds.

Toss cabbage with the salt in a colander and allow to drain in the sink for 2-3 hours. Rinse cabbage very well to remove the salt. Cabbage should be quite wilted at this stage and quite salty tasting. If the salt is still too much for you then continue to rinse under cold water. Dry cabbage with paper towel. Prepare brine by simmering vinegar, water, bay leaves and peppercorns for about 1/2 hour or until reduced by almost half. Strain and add the bourbon and mustard seeds to brine. Allow to cool slightly and pour over cabbage. At this stage you can allow the pickle to cure for a couple of hours before eating it "fresh" or pack into sterile jars with tight fitting lids to be stored in the fridge. We have yet to process a batch for long term storage since we like it fresh so much.

Did you know that the humble cabbage is a powerful antioxidant, a rich source of vitamins K and C and a high source of fiber, not to mention countless other health benefits. You're a bit of a super food aren't you cabbage.