Saturday, December 30, 2006

Food for 3 Days in the Grand Canyon

Thanksgiving 2006
Grand Canyon National Park

Planning for three days in the Grand Canyon isn't as involved as planning for six days of backcountry hiking like last year; but I still minimized my meal planning to Cliff Bars and couscous dinners, plus leftover raisins and nuts. Gladly, my bro Jon brought curry powder and olive oil and our pal Johnny had his candied trail mix. Dad made sure we didn't get nuts on trail mix.

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Couscous (per serving)
in a heat-safe lightweight camping bowl
1/2 cup couscous
handful of raisins
handful of pine nuts
slivered toasted almonds

mix in and let sit five minutes or until soft and fluffy:
1 cup hot water (heated by a Jetboil or another camping stove)
one splash of olive oil (packed in a leakproof Nalgene bottle. Thanks Jon.)
two dashes of curry powder (from Jon)
salt, to taste (really tastes great after sweating it out all day)

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Candied Trail Mix
I think Johnny's trail mix rocked us all. Johnny wouldn't describe the exact ingredient listing when I tried to capture him on video, but he did conjure memories of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as he joked "no comment," and that his lawyer had advised him not to comment. My notes from last year say Johnny's trail mix included chocolate covered covered espresso beans, caramel corn, dark chocolate chunks, dark raisins, golden raisins, cashews, almonds, and fig pieces melted together in a one-liter Nalgene bottle by a day's heat.

After hiking out, we deep fried homemade donuts in our hotel room.

photos: Chris B.

Sherry's Vegan Truffles x 3

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I ran in to my pal Sherry at Bleeding Heart Bakery's garage sale this morning, and I cycled home with some vegan truffles from her: two coconut curry, two vanilla coconut topped with macadamia nuts, two with almond butter topped with almonds, and all of them dipped in chocolate. The curry burned so well but the almond was the richest, with a little snap of bitter. All of them were thick and rich, just as truffles like to be. Lovely. Absolutely lovely.

As Sherry (part owner in the Handlebar) told me, and the Chicago Reader reminded us all about on the front page of their section 2, if you don't already have plans for New Year's Eve, you can get tickets for dinner and drinks at Handlebar Bar and Grill's New Gear's Eve to benefit the Bloomingdale Trail project that advocates turning an old above-street rail line into a 3-mile bike and pedestrian trail through the heart of Chicago.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Seitan Burritos with my brother Jon

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Seitan Burritos

Saute until tender in a hot pan on medium with enough olive oil to coat:
One diced leek
One diced onion

Mix in:
1/2 pound chopped portobello mushrooms
8 ounces tempeh, very thinly sliced

Cook stirring occasionally until dry but not burnt, then deglaze by mixing in:
1 good splash of leftover wine
1 splash soy sauce

Heat tortillas on an open burner, then fold around filling, sides first.

You might remove the dark gills from underneath the mushrooms before making a light colored sauce to avoid darkening it, but they balance out the color nicely in this dish. Too often tempeh is undercooked. Adding it early on is key to making it soft and tender. Whatever you do, you can cook this up while sipping red wine with either stuffed Spanish green olives or tastings of miso.

Christmas Eve's Vegan Shepherd's Pie

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My brother Jon had flown in from Durham for Christmas with our parents, and we both hopped on Metra from Chicago to spend Christmas Eve with them in a suburb. Before breaking from family dialog for the theater to see Casino Royale (my second time), we made a vegan version of the sherpherd's pie to pop in the oven after the movie.

Vegan Shepherd's Pie
Sauteing in a hot pan of olive oil on medium:
2 medium carrots
1 celery stalk
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
8 ounces tempeh
1 handful each of chopped sage and basil (or whatever herbs you have on hand)

When soft and tender, stir in:
Two splashes of soy sauce
   (just enough to brown the tempeh and flavor it up)
One splash of any wine you may have open

Cook until liquid has evaporated, turn off heat and cool.

Bring two large potatoes cut into 2-inch pieces in a pot of water to boil. As Mom told us, drain the potatoes when they're extremely soft and tender. Then mash with salt, pepper and olive oil. Thaw frozen peas in a bowl of water, then drain.

In an oiled pie pan, pat down the tempeh mixture in to one layer, cover with the peas followed by the mashed potatoes. Bake at 350 F until warm in the center.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Deep Fried Family Style: I couldn't possibly eat more. Unless it's deep fried.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

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Deep frying took this Family Style to the next level. Mike's second deep fryer, arriving halfway through the night, made it even more fun. As he walked up the stairs to my third floor apartment, he told me he could smell the oil by the first landing. And it was awesome.

We beer-battered and fried asparagus, Spanish manzanilla olives stuffed with minced pimiento, sliced zucchini, sweet and russet potato slices, and chick peas - salted and sprinkled with ground sumac (like Semiramis puts on their fries). And more asparagus. Did we want more asparagus? "Oh god yah", one said. We deep fried French toast in a non-beer batter. As one of my pals told me, deep frying bread, now you're really speaking my language. We finished with homemade donuts, donut holes and apple fritters.

Donuts used the same recipe from our hotel room donut session, except for spelt flour and potato starch and Mike's pinching out of the centers. Claire's Mom's apple fritter recipe made vegan - with Noel's differently sized apple pieces for, as he put it, a better mouth feel - bursted with the irony of fresh healthy apples inside a crispy oil-laden dough. As for how these tasted from the non-vegan original version, Claire put it, the apple's seemed more caramelized here. As they came out, someone excited, "it keeps getting better and better." And yet another told us, "I didn't know the donuts could be topped."

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For all Deep Frying
Flip whatever you're frying when it's brown on the sides. It shouldn't stick to the bottom. And space the items out so they don't stick to each other. Mainly, just listen. As Noel noted, deep frying is very auditory; you can really tell what's happening. The oil should be hot enough so it starts to brown and float up in a minute or so. If not, make sure the fryer has stayed on; the magnetic safety releases on deep fryer power plugs easily pull off. With our two deep fryers, we blew a circuit breaker near the end of the night. And went through about 4 liters of oil.

After frying, drain in a colander over paper towels, pat dry with towels, or put in a warm oven to dry. Whatever you do, don't get any water in the hot oil.

Beer Batter Recipe
2 cups chick pea flour (makes it stick like eggs would)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
12 ounces (1 bottle) good quality beer

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French Toast Recipe
1/4 cup flax seeds, ground to a fine meal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cashew butter (or 2 tablespoons ground cashews)
3 good shakes of ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
enough soy milk to make it just a bit runny

Thick cut bread (get an uncut loaf at your local bread shop and cut it thick yourself and it'll be even fresher)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Dip bread slices (cut smaller pieces for appetizers) in to the batter, then in to the deep fryer (or on an oiled pan in a non-deep fry session). I remember Frank telling me, "that French toast is out of control it's so good." And someone else saying, "this is unbelievable .. wow."

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Claire's Mom's Apple Fritter Recipe, rewritten and modified vegan

1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons baking powder

Combine in another bowl, then add to flour mixture:
1/3 cup soy milk
1 Ener-G Egg Replacer
1/4 cup apple sauce

Mix in to flour mixture:
2 apples, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon margarine

powdered sugar for dusting

Form and deep fry small donut hole sized balls.

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Mike suggested using the batter for over fake cheese formed in to cheese sticks. Perhaps we'll fry this next time, but in the meantime I might take his suggestion to make saganaki - with brandy to light on fire and lemon juice to put it out.

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photos: Chris B.
more photos

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

5-Minute Gnocchi in Hummus Sauce

5-minute gnocchi with hummus based sauce

My roommate, Liz, and I had just returned from after work wine shopping and I was hungry for a quick homemade meal; I just didn't feel like cooking one. I had effortlessly bicycled the short trip from Lincoln Park to Wicker Park with 12 bottles of wine in a pair of Dutch style bags on my bicycle (available in the US through The Dutch Bicycle Company). The bottles clinking started another biker talking with me. As we rode together, we realized we knew some of the same people. Liz took the bus and came just as I was unloading. After the wine was upstairs, food was in order.

Tonight was one of the rare times when I neither wanted to go out for food, cook nor eat something directly from the cupboards. This is when a package of vacuum sealed gnocchi really comes in handy. Just dump the gnocchi in a pot of boiling water and wait for them to float up in about 2 to 3 minutes. Liz drained them and brought them back to the pot. We mixed in plain soy milk, olive oil, hummus and baby bak choi from Growing Home at Green City Market. It was marvelous and in a few minutes, my stomach was full.

photo: Chris B.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Deep Frying Homemade Donuts in a Hotel Room on Thanksgiving

I had deep frying homemade donuts on my mind ever since I started out at Chicago's O'Hare airport to jet to Thanksgiving 2006 at the Grand Canyon with my family. My brother, my dad, our pal John and I were about to spend three days hiking in the Grand Canyon (my photos, my brother's photos) while Mom took tours of the South Rim. When we rolled in to Phoenix and some of us went to REI for camp stove fuel and last minute gear, I walked across the parking lot to another store to buy a deep fryer.

My donut daydreams had kicked off at the airport newsstand when I saw a photo of coffee-glazed and sugared donuts in the December 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine. After we arrived Phoenix, when we were enjoying tofu skillets for brunch with our Phoenix family at the Mandala Tea Room, I was on the phone getting a vegan donut recipe emailed to me. We drove to Flagstaff, stopped at Macy's European Coffeehouse, Bakery and Vegetarian Restaurant for vegan treats -including some for the following day's breakfast, and then continued on to the Grand Canyon. Our hike was nothing short of spectacular and very soothing. The canyon gave us new mind-blowing views with every turn. And the canyon let us rest; camp bedtime came when darkness fell, about 5 p.m. When we came up from the hike, we had a night to rest before setting of to make donuts -and the rest of our vegan Thanksgiving dinner- in Flagstaff.

We had rented a hotel suite with a kitchen in Flagstaff for Thanksgiving. After three days in the canyon, we drove to Flagstaff, stopped at the grocery store, and cooked up a feast in our hotel. It was a vegan Thanksgiving of tofu roulade jammed with savory stuffing, roasted kabocha squash, green beans with crispy fried onions, and -of course- the donuts.

Here's a rewrite of the recipe that was passed along to me.

Mix and set aside to proof for 10 minutes:
2 packs active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup tepid (but not hot) water

In a large bowl, combine:
4 cups of spelt pastry flour or white flour
2 teaspoons salt

In a second bowl, combine:
1 cup soymilk
2 tablespoons potato or corn starch
1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup margarine, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add the yeast mixture to the second bowl.

Beat in the flour. If the dough isn't stiff, add more flour (up to about 1/2 cup) until it feels stiff but still sticky.

Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for an hour in a warm spot.

Cutting Shapes
Flour a surface to roll the dough on. Knead 15 to 30 strokes with a pinch or two of flour. Roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick and cut the donuts (but not the center whole) with a glass, cup or ring cutter.

Cover the donuts and let them rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in height, about 15 to 30 minutes; then cut out the centers. Meanwhile, start heating the oil.

Deep Frying
1 to 2 liters soybean, corn or canola oil

If you have a deep fryer, heat the oil according to its instructions. If not, heat the oil in a deep pan on medium for about 20 minutes; if the oil smokes, it is too hot. Always attend the hot oil and keep it far away from any water to avoid fire or an injury that could at the very least ruin the deep frying experience. Drop a small piece of dough in the hot oil. If the oil is ready, the dough will quickly brown and rise. If the dough burns, turn down the heat; if the dough doesn't darken and rise within an minute, turn up the heat and test again after a few minutes.

Slowly and carefully put the doughnuts in the oil using a spoon. When each donut's bottom has nicely browned, carefully turn it over. After both sides have browned, remove each donut and sit it down on a paper or cloth towel.

Stir on low heat to combine and dissolve:
1/2 cup sugar or powdered sugar
enough soy milk or water to absorb the sugar and create a slightly runny mixture
dash vanilla or almond extract

Dunk the donuts in the glaze, or spread the glaze on. Enjoy!

Let the oil cool completely before emptying the fryer or the pot. Then pour the used oil into a container to save or discard. Make sure not pour oil down the drain; it might cause a terrible jam. Fashion a funnel from rolled paper if needed.

The next day long after the wine wore off, it became soberingly obvious just how many donuts at least one of us had eaten. We headed to Macy's for some very tasty soup and sandwiches. Then, before heading back to Phoenix to chill out before flying home, we shipped my new deep fryer so I would have it back home.

Our deep frying could only have been more epic had we done it during our stay in a Phoenix motel before the canyon. Our attempts at sleeping there were incredibly troubled by excessive noise from a raucous drinking crowd occupying all but three rooms of the motel with tailgating filling the parking lot, consolidating their position outside one of our rooms. We could have taken such frying just outside our door.

On my first day back in Chicago, I got a call from my brother who had flown back to his home the day before. He had just bought a deep fryer, and was in the grocery store asking what ingredients to buy.

photos: Jon and Chris B.