April 28, 2012

Polenta Bites

These are an easy make ahead side dish that can be served multiple ways.

Polenta Bites

The basic recipe:
Bring 4 Cups of water and a pinch of salt to a boil.
Gradually wisk in 1 Cup corn grits (polenta)
Reduce heat to simmer. Stir in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil.
Simmer for at least 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
It will still be pretty loose.
Carefully ladle into the cups of a standard muffin tin.
Let cool and then refrigerate for a couple of hours.

(1) Peppered and Crispy To make crispy polenta cakes, preheat oven to 375. Oil a baking sheet. Pop the chilled polenta cakes out of the muffin tin. Arrange them on the cookie sheet. Lightly spritz with oil. Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper (and an additional pinch of salt if desired). Bake for 30-40 minutes until the cakes crisp up.

(2) Soft and Sweet These can also be served cold soft and sweet. I like to leave the filled muffin tin in the refrigerator overnight, then pop the cold cakes out into a little bowl and drizzle with maple syrup to eat with breakfast. Fair disclosure: neither my spouse nor my son likes them served cold. Both prefer the cakes either warmed briefly in the microwave to be served soft or crisped in the oven as described in variation (1) above.

April 24, 2012

Pea Dip: So Versatile, So Green

A friend of a friend cooked dinner for us in Portland on Saturday night. I was wowed by a delicious green dip she served with cheese and crackers as an appetizer. Double wowed when I realized the simplicity of the recipe. Triple wowed when someone at the table used it as a sort of sauce for the roasted cauliflower served with the main course.

Pea Dip

Roughly chop and saute one onion.
Thaw two bags of frozen peas.
Toss them in a food processor with the onion.
Puree to a consistency similar to hummus.
Garnish with a bit of finely grated Parmeson or other firm salty cheese (or just a pinch of salt to make it vegan).

The color was gorgeous. The flavor reminded me of a bright pea soup I prepared last summer when we had access to fresh peas (with similar ingredients and technique, but cooked longer and thinned with stock). The pureed peas tasted great with the gluten free almond crackers served before dinner (like hummus but lighter, brighter and fresher) and also great as a dressing for the roasted cauliflower she served with the main course. It kept well overnight and was equally delicious with leftover cauliflower the next day. I am definitely adding this to my summer rotation.

April 14, 2012

Basic chocolate pudding

Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding

1/3 Cup sugar 
3 Tablespoons cocoa
1/4 Cup cornstarch
pinch salt
2 3/4 Cups milk
1 Tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
optional: dash of cinnamon

How to:
Stir together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, salt and optional cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir in milk. Bring to boil over medium heat. Boil, stirring, until mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Let cool briefly and serve warm. Or cool to room temperature, refrigerate and serve cold.

Variations for extra depth of flavor: Use Hershey's Special Dark cocoa. Add a pinch of ground cardomom with the dry ingredients the start.

April 9, 2012

Purple pudding

This pudding has a lovely color and thick satisfying texture. It keeps well enough to suitably make a day ahead. But you can also make it on a whim (like I did tonight) because it calls for ingredients I often already have in the pantry.  

Purple Rice Pudding (with dates)


1/2 Cup Chinese black rice
1 1/4 Cups half and half (or milk for a lighter dish)
2 Tablespoons sugar (brown or white, both work. or honey if you prefer)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (use orange if you don't have a lemon)
small piece of stick cinnamon (or a pinch of ground, if you don't have a stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 Cup chopped pitted dates

How to:

(1) Use a saucepan to bring 1 1/4 Cups water to a boil with the rice. Decrease heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Do not drain any extra water.

(2) Add the dairy, sugar, half of the lemon zest, the cinnamon and vanilla to the rice. Return to a boil, stirring several times. Decrease the heat and gently cook for 15 more minutes, stirring occassionally. It will still be a bit soupy. 

(3) Remove from heat and then stir in the dates and the rest of the lemon zest.

(4) Let cool a bit and serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: If you are making it ahead, transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Then cover and chill. You may need to add just a splash of milk to loosen it before serving.

This is a stripped down version of a lovely recipe from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals that calls for using rosewater infused dates -- something I would never do because I particularly dislike the flavor of rosewater. If you do like rosewater, then soak the dates in a teaspoon of it while the rice is cooking. 

April 8, 2012

Roasted Red Peppers

I sometimes need to remind myself that roasting peppers really is easy. And delicious.

I've tried it lots of ways (using a grill, dangling them dangerously with tongs over the open flame on my stove top). This method, which I learned from The Best Recipes in the World, has been the easiest for me.

Roasting Red Peppers

Rub several whole clean red bell peppers with a little oil.
Turn on your broiler and place the upper rack high up close to the heat source.
Put the peppers on a foil lined roasting pan or heavy jelly roll pan.
Slide the pan under the broiler.

Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the peppers every few minutes (as each side browns).
When all sides are darkened and they are beginning to collapse, pull the pan from the oven. U
Use the foil that was lining the pan to wrap up the peppers to sweat them a little.

Let them sit until they cool enough that you can handle them.
Then slip off the skins, remove the seeds and tops.

You can then eat them right away or keep them in the fridge for a couple of days.
Serve with a little salt, a drizzle of oil and very little bit of vinegar.

Cavolfiore Soffocato - Smothered Cauliflower

This is a stripped down version of a great recipe from the Mediterranean Vegetables  cookbook. Roasting cauliflower in a sealed pan sweats the vegetable to release its own moisture and cook without additional water for a great texture. This simple version  calls for just two ingredients: cauliflower and oil. It is a particularly easy vegetable side dish for a dinner with roasted meat, when you'll already have the oven on anyway. This cauliflower also keeps well and can be served the next day at room temperature drizzled with a little more oil.

Cavolfiore Soffocato

1 head cauliflower. Trim and cut into 6 wedges.
Toss in a large baking dish with 1/4 Cup olive oil.
Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil so the steam can't escape.
Bake at 350 until tender, about 1 hour.

Note: The original recipe called for tossing the cauliflower a second time with a pinch of salt and the crushed threads of a pinch of saffron, which gives the vegetable a lovely flavor. It also called for tucking 10 or so green pitted olives in with the cauliflower before roasting. That is a tasty preparation, and one you should try. But my family also likes the smothered cauliflower plain, so don't avoid this recipe just because you don't have saffron on hand or aren't a fan of cooked green olives.

April 7, 2012

Cranberry Quick Bread

This is one of the first quickbread receipes we loved back when we were avoiding wheat (along with several other foods). We aren't avoiding nearly as much these days, but I still like this recipe.
Cranberry Bread (from the Sophie Safe cookbook):
3 Cups oat flour
1 Cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tablespoons oil
3/4 Cups orange juice
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Cup cranberries (roughly chopped)
Mix dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients. Stir in cranberries by hand. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 for one hour.
Note: This recipe is naturally vegan and soy free. It is easily gluten free if you use gluten-free oat flour.

(Hot) Chocolate Cookies

These cookies have the dense texture of snickerdoodles, but a completely different flavor -- rich and chocolately with a hint of cinnamon and a cayenne kick.

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

For dough:

½ C canola oil
1 C sugar
¼ C maple syrup
3 Tablespoons milk (original recipe calls for nondairy milk alt)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (original recipe calls for one vanilla, one chocolate)
1 + 2/3 C all-purpose flour
½ C cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
Original recipe also calls for ¼ tsp salt (we omit)

For topping: 1/4 Cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon

How to:
Mix wet ingredients and sugar. Add dry ingredients. Mix into a pliable dough. Form into walnut-sized balls. Pat dough balls into sugar topping to flatten into 2 inch discs.  Place on cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.