Monday, January 29, 2007

Cookies are Made for Friends

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The best cookies are ones you make for, and with, friends. Ruby and I took a recipe that my pal Shannon in Boston sent me and added a few more crunchies: dark chocolate chunks Ruby cut from a thick block, cut up dried but soft figs and toasted pecan pieces.

First, preheat the oven to 375 F.

Whisk well together:
2-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat on high until creamy in a stand mixer or electric hand mixer:
1 cup margarine, room temperature is key

Then add as you beat on high until fluffy and peaks form:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 egg substitutes (1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with 1/4 cup warm water)

On low, add and mix just until combined:
The mixture of flour, baking soda and salt

Fold in:
1/4 pound dark chocolate chunks
1/4 pound figs, chopped and stemmed
1/4 pound toasted pecans, chopped or broken

Form into balls and bake on a sheet pan until they just start to crispen, about 9 to 11 minutes. They'll continue to bake a bit as they cool.

I highly recommend this recipe as fabulous. The cookies go well with Monte Xanic 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot if for no other reason than this smooth wine being the only kind from Mexico that I recently found. I think all who've tasted these cookies agree: They didn't taste the vegan we added.

Photos: Christopher Brunn

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Like Family with Satya and Amod: Shredded Sautéd Sweet Potatoes and Chutney Sandwiches with Chai

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Satya juicing sweet potatoes for pulp

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Amod starting to sauté grated sweet potatoes

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Grated sweet potatoes, just about done.

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Satya on sandwiches with tomato, coconut and mint chutneys

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Amod and Ruby

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Satya grating ginger for a second chai

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Satya's chai, with tea floating

In India, the potatoes we made are shredded into fine strings, like the potatoes Amod, Satya and I once ate at Lao Sze Chuan. Strings are better, but Amod told me that they're too much work. He suggested Satya juice the sweet potatoes instead, keeping the pulp to sauté. We tasted the chalky juice and Amod joked that without it, the potatoes would be a low-carb meal.

Rich Golden Shredded Sweet Potatoes

For the potatoes, sauté whole cumin seeds in olive oil until they darken, then add chopped jalapeños (a local adjustment from how you'd do it in India), add a few moments later, after the jalapeños soften, add shredded sweet potatoes with a pinch of cayenne. Cover with low heat, giving it a good bottom-scraping stir every 5 or 10 minutes, until dark and golden. Salt to taste when the flavors start coming out, about halfway through.

Amod told us that these potatoes are one of "my favorite dishes," and that they take a while to cook but he loves them; Satya added, especially long if you have to grate the potatoes by hand. Amod likes to experiment with Western spices - they're subtler, he told me - so he used cayenne instead of the red chilies you get in India. In the meantime - while we were witnessing history making in the potatoes, as Amod joked - we stood around drinking wine, sipping Amod's smooth, rich and perfectly sweetened chai, relating consumer value to responsible economics in the spirit of Amod's MBA program, eating chutney sandwiches Satya made, and nibbling on roasted nuts that would have been brilliant with crushed dried curry leaves and hot pepper. The potatoes were nothing short of amazing, with a well rounded but subtle sweetness and deep flavor all the way through. Satya agreed, "This is brilliant." Amod's an amazing cook. The ingredients quite add up to what we ate; it's a lot of serious technique and patience.

Chutney Sandwiches

The chutney sandwiches came on white bread (the only kind you find outside specialty shops in India), loaded with mint and coconut chutneys and filled with sliced tomato.


Grate fresh ginger into water that's heating on the stove. Add sugar and tea leaves (just a little chai, this kind is strong, Amod reminded). After the tea has had time to brew, mix in soy milk and cover with a plate until hot. Strain to serve.

The Finish

We sat at the table, next to injera that Satya and Amod picked up on one of many trips to Shan's. Satya made us a second round of chai and we chatted. Now, make sure you have Satya's latest CD to listen to while you're cooking.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Olives and Olives with a little Gnocchi

Olives and Olives with a little Gnocchi_4.jpgIf you love olives and starch, this one's for you.

Serves 1
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered and sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons hummus, preferably with Kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup or so of Kalamata olives packed in brine, pitted and chopped
  • About 1/2 pound vacuum packed gnocchi
  • 1 splash of your favorite hot sauce

Olives and Olives with a little Gnocchi_3.jpgSauté the onion in enough olive oil to coat until tender on medium. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil for the gnocchi. When the water boils, add the gnocchi; when it floats, drain it, saving a bit of the water. Into the pot of onions, mix in the chopped olives and a small splash of their brine, hummus, hot sauce and enough olive oil to loosen it all up into a runny paste. When the gnocchi is finished, add them to the pot of onions with enough of their water to make it all come together very smoothly.

Olives and Olives with a little Gnocchi_2.jpgThe dish has a bit of the texture of hummus, and packs the sharpness of Kalamata olives all the way through. It's a pretty quick cook up, but if you find yourself with extra time or a bored guest, snack on small tastings of miso and red wine while you cook.

Photos: Chris B.

Muesli prepares for Winter Bike to Work Day - Jan 19

Muesli to Prepare for Winter Bike to Work Day - Jan 19.jpgBiking anywhere on a cold Chicago winter day can be great fun once you get moving, so long as you've had a solid breakfast and wear your tightly woven dress shirt to lock in the heat. Here's my suggestion for breakfast before meeting at this year's Winter Bike to Work Day, this Friday, January 19.

The Food

Muesli - uncooked rolled oats and fruit
Mix in a bowl:
2 handfuls of rolled quick oats
1 small hand of chopped fruit, fresh or dried
1 small hand of chopped nuts
Soy milk, enough to cover

I like the oats soft and moist, so I soak them with the chopped fruit and nuts overnight in soy milk and loosen it up in the morning with more soy milk. The fruit imparts a very smooth sweetness to the oats when sitting with them for so long. Feel free to heat it up on the stove, too, if you'd rather kick off a cold morning with a hot belly.

Preparing Muesli to Prepare for Winter Bike to Work Day - Jan 19.jpgIn this case, I used dried Calimyrna figs because they looked like softest at the grocer, but plump fresh in-season figs are always tops. Use raisins, dates, or whatever you can easily find. For nuts, I gently chopped up dry roasted almonds that I had keeping fresh in my fridge.

The Cycling Party

From 7 to 9 a.m. Jan. 19, the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation will welcome bike riders to Daley Plaza, Dearborn and Washington, for this annual event, serving hot chocolate and Eli's Cheesecake. There's also a free raffle for prizes from the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. More info.

Preparing Yourself

Last night I cycled home in the cold, but it was quite fun and not the painful experience some might have thought it to be. If you still feel shy, think about a phrase I once saw in a photo of T-shirt on a roller derby woman: Pain is weakness leaving your body.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thinking of Mao Po Tofu, For Dan

For Dan, who Loves Lao Sze Chuan even More Than I Do

Szechwan peppercorns.jpg My roomie Liz's pal Joselyn gave us a ziplock full of Szechwan peppercorns (also known as prickly ash, she said). This was the overflow of a bag twice larger that she picked up in Chinatown Square. Just lick one, and then spit it out, she instructed in the spirit of the fourth grade teacher she is. Don't eat the whole thing, she warned. I licked it, but I didn't feel anything - perhaps it was the nightcap I'd just had - so I bit in and chewed. A few seconds later, my mouth wasn't burning. It felt like the pepper was opening all of the pores on my tongue in the most amazing way. My mouth seemed to water uncontrollably and my facial expressions went wild.

Influence of Mao Po Tofu.jpgImmediately, I thought of Lao Sze Chuan's amazing bowl of Mao Po Tofu - a flavor explosion in the mouth. My pal Dan and I have been going mad over it ever since Lao Sze Chuan became a donor and a stop on our second Veggie Bike and Dine. I claim no knowledge of authentic Chinese cooking, let alone Szechuan style, or even to have ever seen a Mao Po Tofu recipe or overheard an ingredient from one; but I was still inspired and feeling a bit restless in the kitchen, so I went to work. I blended ten of the peppercorns with copious amounts of olive and peanut oils, a little spoon of miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, a pinch of sugar and a bit of water. After sautéing sliced onions and mushrooms, I added cubed firm tofu and the blended mixture, brought it to simmer, covered it, and let it go on low for ten minutes. It was savory, but not much like the mao po tofu I remember.

I'm once again inspired to research into the land of authenticity to discover perfectly developed recipes. Joselyn told me that the Szechuan peppercorns are friends with string beans, caramelized with sugar cooked in a pan unflipped, and that they also like to be ground and put into bread. I see more adventures ahead.

Thanks, Dan and Joselyn!


Photos: Chris B.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Leftover Noodles in Leftover Tapenade

Leftover Noodles in Leftover Tapenade.jpg It took just ten minutes. The cold pan took cold noodles and cold tapenade to sizzle under a medium flame before being topped with fresh oregano, basil and parsley. The noodles had been cooked, tossed in tomato and taken home from what was left of a cooking session last weekend with my pal Oakley; the tapenade left from last night's tempeh; the fresh herb pieces from last Sunday's brunch at John and Noel's courtesy of Michelle R.; and some baby broccoli left from last night, too, and eaten cold.

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Photos: Chris B.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tempeh on the Go

Tempeh Sandwich.jpg As I rolled in my apartment, I opened an 8-ounce block of tempeh and placed it in a small frying pan on the counter. I poured what was left of a bottle of Pinot Grigio, about 1/2 cup, over the tempeh - stored in the fridge for just this type of occasion. Then, I poured 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and another tablespoon of tamari (soy sauce is quite fine, as is another type of oil) right over the tempeh to soak in the flavor.

I walked away and let the flavors set in. After fifteen minutes, I flipped the tempeh. Fifteen more minutes later, I put the pan with soaking tempeh on the stove, turned the fire up to a mild simmer and covered the pan with whatever top would fit. After about 10 minutes, I flipped the tempeh and tossed a few pieces of baby broccoli, which served up quite well besides the tempeh atop olive tapenade (without anchovies) coated toast. The olive oil from the tapenade soaks into the bread so when you take a bite, the oil squishes back out and is all quite lovely. If the liquid dries up during cooking, just add 1/4 cup or so of water under the cover. This prepares so quickly that if you have store-bought tapenade, you could spend less time in the kitchen than it'd take you to write up this text about it. Don't forget to pick up some of Trader Joe's peanut toffee with dark chocolate to finish it off with; it's vegan, and it's amazing - perfectly brittle and sweet like the inside of some candy bar.

Photo: Chris B.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Arline Takes Care of Us with Eggplant and Olives

Arline's Table_2.jpgArline took care of Dan and I tonight. Olives updated from simple brine to the postmodern olive oil and thyme awaited us on the table with sautéed tofu under a sauce of sesame oil, Vegenaise, mirin, ginger, and other fabulous ingredients. I was excited to hear that Arline is a big fan of Vegenaise. As we drank wine and snacked, Arline flash boiled spinach and topped it with sesame seeds and sesame oil to satisfy Dan and I as she continued. Arline was onto eggplant "fresh from the Vietnamese grocer", that she made up perfectly with spice, not shallow and sharp, but smooth and deep like the soul of the person who prepared it. It came along side "the darlingest baby bok choi you've seen in a long time."

Midway, we ate dessert: baklava from Sultan's Market. Tears dripped from my eyes thinking about the two glorious people I just had eaten with all the way cycling home - or at least until I got my bicycle on the rack on the front of a bus. It was bitter cold, but my eyes weren't listening to my warmth inside.

Arline's Table.jpg


Photos: Chris B.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ad Hoc Brunch: Dosas Wrapped Around Potatoes

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Nothing's quite like rolling into your pals' place with their key to get going on breakfast - especially when the key sticks, you don't realize it works and you have to buzz up anyway. Tomatoed potatoes and dosas were this afternoon's delight. This menu was made completely ad hoc, and claims no authenticity whatsoever; we used just what we had on hand (except the box of brewed coffee John bought). Still, I must thank my good pals Satya and Amod, and my old colleague Manoj, for showing be how to make dosas like they've done back home in India. They were my inspiration today and it worked out lovely. As Noel and I were at the stove, and Noel figured lime juice would be the perfect addition to the potato tomato combination, he interjected, "I like where this is going;" and I don't think anyone was arguing.

Grab the dosas as they are hot and ready, use them to scoop up the potato filling and eat up. If you're at John and Noel's, eat with freshly sliced ripe avocado while standing under the tandem bicycle hanging on pulleys from the ceiling.

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Dosas (Indian Crêpes)
Night Before:
Soak 2 cups dhal overnight covered in water in the fridge.

Day of, blend (in batches if needed):
Soaked dhal
6 garlic cloves
1 onion
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, smashed or ground
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, smashed or ground
pinch of salt
About 1/2 cup olive oil
Enough water to make this batter runny enough to pour smoothly on the griddle

Pour on to a hot, oiled griddle on low heat and swipe with a spatula to make very thin. Flip when the sides crispen and the top appears dry.

Cooking at John's. Noel with an Onion at the End for Crispiness..jpg

Boil until tender:
6 potatoes, cubed

Pan fry in hot oil on medium:
4 onions, French cut (very thinly)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch of sugar

When onions are crispy, mix in:
2 tablespoons sumac
a few pinches of salt
1 cup roasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon mustard seeds

When the mustard seeds darken or start to pop, smash in the potatoes and mix in everything else; heat until hot:
Boiled potatoes
26-ounce box or jar of tomatoes
Juice of one lime
1 onion, French cut (added at the end to finish with a crunchy onion)
salt to taste

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photos: Chris B. and Liz H.
more photos

Black Shake Breakfast: Cocoa, Tahini and Banana

Black Shake Breakfast: Cocoa, Tahini and Banana.jpg

Just before going to cook brunch with some pals, a thick and rich snack was in order. I blended:

1 cup soy milk (more if needed to make thinner)
1/4 pound (peeled weight) banana, peeled, sliced, then frozen (about 2 medium bananas)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Dutched cocoa powder
2 tablespoons tahini

Preparing the banana over 1 day in advance to freeze is key to the shake's thickness. Tahini imparts a smooth creaminess; switch to peanut butter when you want that favorite chocolate peanut butter taste. If you really want to kick it up a bit, add a pinch of cayenne. My only regret: I didn't make twice this amount.

photo: Chris B.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Liz's Grandma's Mung Bean Pancakes

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photos: Chris B.

My amazing roomie Liz finished reheating her grandma's left over mung bean pancakes in the oven, just as I rolled back in from a run. The bindae duks (Korean) were quite hearty - and vegan - combination of sautéed onion, kim chee and garlic mixed in to a batter of mung beans, soaked and blended with water in to paste. Liz's ad hoc savory sauce - of tamari, lemon juice, rice vinegar, freshly grated ginger and sriracha chili sauce with a pinch of sugar and sesame seeds - made these pancakes irresistible. Liz told me, "my grandmother is such a good cook. She's awesome." And from what I can tell, she is absolutely right.

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Liz's grandma (center), photo: Liz H.