Thursday, May 25, 2006

Asian Noodles with Ponzu Sauce, Millennium style

Before I post the Asian Noodles dish recipe, I want to share how I came about making this dish. Recently, I bought 2 new cookbooks: The Millennium Cookbook and Artful Vegan from the Millennium restaurant by Eric Tucker and colleagues. These 2 cookbooks are not for beginner vegan cooks. The recipes are quite extensive and the ingredients used are very extraordinary. The restaurant itself is extraordinary, I heard, although I have never been there myself (planning to be there someday). I thought I already cook gourmet meals but compared to the way I cook, this restaurant really prepares super gourmet meals. The chefs are professionals in the vegan culinary world which I entered only on the edge of it, I think. I can’t imagine what my mother-in-law who lives in the midwest would say if she reads these cookbooks. She said that she enjoys my blogs but doesn’t know half of the ingredients I mentioned in my blogs. These cookbooks use all the ingredients I use and much more. I think vegan culinary world stands on itself as a vast world with no limit. Really, there is no limit of what you can do with fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, and nuts. A lot of people just don’t know what to do with them but these professionals do.

The ingredients they used that I have never heard of before are like honshimeji mushrooms, mizuna green, black quinoa, and rose geranium (hhmmm…where would I get this). I thought I know a lot about food and culinary world but actually I don’t compared to these professionals. They don’t just use carrots, potatoes, and cabbage like the day-to-day cook in an ordinary family kitchen. They also have an advantage to be at a great location, Northern California, and have a direct contact with local organic farmers who deliver variety of vegetables and fruits, fresh, all year long.

The way Millennium chefs combine fruits and vegetables in making a dish is also amazing. For example, like their salad called Ruby Grapefruit, Avocado and Pickled Red Onions with Baby Spinach and Grapefruit Mojo Dressing, wow, what a name and the picture looks very appealing in this book. Many cookbooks have appealing pictures but the recipes are terrible. However, reading the recipes, I think, I can count on them. The key is to use good quality organic fruits and vegetables to make the recipe right and to adjust the 4 or 5 basic flavors (saltiness, sweet, sour, spicyness, and maybe the 5th flavor: umami or savory) in the recipe to your liking. Everyone has a different degree of each flavor. Eric Tucker, the main Chef, invited his readers to make adjustments and I will do so.

I picked a pretty simple dish for the first time from these cookbooks. The other recipes are not this simple. I have to admit that I appreciate their creativity in combining the ingredients together. The restaurant has an evolving menu which means the dishes they serve are not always the same and they depend on seasonal produce delivered by local farmers (maybe few items in the menu are rotated). According to Eric, the chefs of Millennium conduct a ‘virtual cooking’ where they meet and discuss what they want to do with the vegetables and fruits they received. They have a riffing or jamming with the stuff they have in the kitchen to create the restaurant’s next day menu. It is sort of like musicians composing new songs together. How fun! As their cookbooks reader, I am enjoying reading their creations, singing a new song page after page (although I am not familiar with some of the notes). I didn’t see vegetarian shepherd pie or vegan sloppy joe or tofu pot pie in their cookbooks. I sang those songs before and it is time for me to sing new tunes.

Printable Recipe

Ponzu Sauce
(Adapted from The Millennium cookbook, my changes are in italics)

4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger
2 stalks fresh lemon grass, mostly white parts, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
¼ cup dry sherry, dry white wine, or nonalcoholic wine
2 cups water
1/3 cup tamari soy sauce
½ cup brown rice syrup

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Let cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Asian Noodles with Ponzu Sauce(Adapted from The Millennium cookbook, my changes are in italics)

¾ pound dried soba or udon noodles
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. Fresh shiitake mushrooms or other mushrooms, sliced thin
1 head broccoli sliced into small flowerettes
1 red bell pepper, sliced in thin strips
7 oz. Baked teriyaki tofu (store bought)
Note: I use store bought baked tofu to be simple, the original recipe uses smoked tofu
enough ponzu sauce to cover the whole dish ( about 1 1 /2 to 2 cups)
drizzles of sesame oil (optional)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Cook the soba or udon noodles in salted water for about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and cool noodles.

In a large pan or wok, saute the garlic in oil for 30 seconds. Add the shiitakes, broccoli, bell pepper, and tofu. Saute an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Add the ponzu sauce and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and toss the noodles with ponzu sauce and vegetables. Drizzle some sesame oil and sesame seeds before serving.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Quinoa salad with Mango-Lime dressing

This post is, similar to my previous post, a re-creation of Native Foods salad dish that I love . In Native Foods, it is called Ensalada Azteca which is a popular dish in this restaurant. I order this dish as the weather gets warmer in Southern California but I have to admit that I also eat it in winter time (if there is such a thing called winter in So Cal). I don't mean to take away Native Foods business but I thought, hey, not everyone can go to Native Foods so I hope they don't mind that I re-created their dish in the Internet. I changed the recipe so it is not exactly the same.

This salad is very refreshing due to the sweet pungent taste of Mango-Lime dressing. It is also very healthy because it has all the ingredients that are very nutritious for your body. The main ingredient is Quinoa (considered as one of the most perfect food). The other ingredients are chopped green lettuce, Jicama salsa, avocado, Mango-Lime dressing, roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), currants/raisins, and chipotle chili powder.

If you have a Native Foods cookbook, the salad recipe is called Mecca Azteca Salad on page 167. I followed this recipe but made changes to it. Here is what I did:

Cooking quinoa: Rinse 1 cup dry quinoa in cold water and let water run through it several times. Drain well. Toast dry the drained quinoa in a sauce pan for several minutes until they become dry and toasty. Add 2 cups water or vegetarian broth and 1/4 tsp. sea salt. Let it boil, then set the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the water is absorbed. I kept the cooked quinoa in a tupperware in the fridge until serving time.

Making Jicama Salsa: Combine 1 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 1 1/2 cup peeled and chopped cucumber, 1 1/2 cup chopped jicama, 1 cup chopped red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional), 4 Tbs. lemon juice and 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. sea salt. I kept this salsa in the fridge until I am ready to assemble everything together. I actually kept it in the fridge for the whole week last week and enjoyed the salad all week long.

Making Mango-Lime salad dressing: I changed the recipe of Native Foods Mango Lime Vinaigrette to a lower fat version and add more ginger to it. Put 1 cup chopped fresh or frozen mango, 1/4 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, a pinch of xathan gum (optional), 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp sea salt, and 3 tsp. grated fresh ginger in a blender. Then, run the blender and puree until smooth and runny like a salad dressing, adjust by adding water as necessary. This dressing is so delicious and tastes like honey mustard dressing, sort of. I kept this dressing all week long in a glass jar.

What's left to do is roasting pumpkin seeds which is very simple. I buy raw pumpkin seeds from the bulk bin and then roast them dry on a non-stick frying pan until they are a little bit browned and crackling. I usually keep roasted pumpkin seeds in a jar to be sprinkled on salads.

Here is the picture of the ingredients of the salad (from top left, clockwise): roasted pumpkin seeds, currants/raisin (I supposed dried cranberries will be good too), jicama salsa, fresh organic avocado, cooked quinoa, and mango-lime dressing.

I chopped 1/4 avocado and mixed it with 1 cup of jicama salsa for 1 serving (just before assembling). To assemble the salad, all week long what I did was bam...bam..bam.. and VOILA, I can eat after only a 5-minutes preparation: start with chopped green lettuce on the bottom the bowl, then add a layer of cooked quinoa, then add a layer of Jicama salsa with avocado in it, drizzled with Mango-Lime dressing, and sprinkled with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), currants/raisins, and chipotle chili powder. Dig in and yuuumm!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Portabella "Sausage" Burger...and Vegan Shoes

Our favorite vegan restaurant is definitely Native Foods, Costa Mesa. We live only about 10 minutes (freeway drive) from it. We visit this restaurant so often about once or twice a week. Yes, we are Native Food addicts. There are 4 Native Foods restaurants in Southern California and they are planning to open more. In this blog I will share how I reproduced their dish, Portabella "Sausage" Burger, at home

Before I start talking about this dish, I want to take this opportunity to share about the new vegan store called Humanitaire that was just opened. About 20 feet away from Native Foods front doors, we can hop into a vegan store that sells vegan shoes, handbags, belts, make up, T-shirts, jewelry, etc. etc. All items they sell are sweatshop-free stuff. How cool is that? It is hard to get vegan shoes on-line because I can't try it on. Vegan shopping was really not my priority but now it is getting up there because of this store. I bought 2 pair of shoes in 1 visit. Ouch! If you live in Southern California, please drop by.

One of my favorite dishes in Native Foods is the Portabella "Sausage" Burger. It is a grilled "sausage" seitan topped with balsamic glazed portabella mushrooms, Italian salsa, pesto, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, and green lettuce. The flavors of the items in this sandwich just burst into your mouth and the combination of the flavors is a match made in heaven.

Many times I thought about recreating this dish at home. I finally did it. I started by roasting garlic in my onion/garlic baker(pictured). If you don't have one, I recommend it. If you don't want to buy one, you can roast them in a roasting pan, covered with foil. You can roast whole garlics or individually peeled. I live so close to a Korean market who sells peeled garlic by pounds so it is so convenient to buy peeled garlic and roast them at home. I put 1 cup of peeled garlic, 1/3 cup of olive oil, 1/4 tsp. sea salt, and 1/4 tsp. dry red chili pepper, mixed them all together, then baked in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. I put a lot of oil on purpose (sometimes I use 1/2 cup of olive oil). The purpose is to save the oil after I drained the roasted garlic. I called it garlic oil and used it for cooking other stuff. Garlic olive oil is ultimately delicious.

Here is the picture of the ingredients I put in this sandwich. They are (from top left clockwise) balsamic vinegar glazed sliced portabella mushrooms, Italian salsa, caramelized onion, and basil and walnut pesto. It took time to make these although each one was easy. It was well worth it though.

I also make my own seitan sausage, adapting Bryanna's Soy and Seitan 'Pork' Tenderloin with my own sausage spices. The recipe will probably be in the next Vegan Feast since Bryanna has asked me to submit it as a Reader's Recipe. Making the balsamic vinegar glazed portabella mushrooms was easy. I sliced portabella mushroom and sauteed them with garlic oil (from roasting the garlic) until the mushrooms were darkened and all the juices were almost gone. Then, I added 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon soy sauce to the pan. The juices evaporated right away and the mushrooms were glazed.
Making the caramelized onions was easy too. Again, start with the garlic oil, I sauteed sliced onions in it and cooked them slowly until the onions were translucent and darkened. I also added a little bit of soy sauce (about 1 tsp) and 1 tsp. maple syrup. The Basil and Walnut Pesto was also easy to make. Put about 2-3 cups packed fresh basil in your food processor, add about 1/2 cup toasted walnuts (or pine nuts), add 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil, add some roasted garlic (about 6 to 8), salt to taste, 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon light miso, then, run the processor or pulse it until a pesto paste is form. For the Italian salsa, I combined chopped tomatoes, chopped kalamata olives, chopped roasted garlic, chopped parsley/fresh basil, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Pictured above is how the sandwich was assembled. On the bottom half of the bun , I put caramelized onions, then the grilled seitan "sausage", then topped with glazed portabella mushrooms, then piled with Italian salsa, then topped with basil and walnut pesto. On the top half of the bun was chopped green lettuce.

Combine, squeeze, and bite into it! Hhhmm hhmmm hhmmm hhmmm! In one bite, you said 4 hhmmms, it must be good, DH said. It was very very good. It is definitely cheaper to make it at home and is very satisfying to know that I can reproduce it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

We live for this Vegan Chocolate Cake!

I made this cake for my husband’s birthday. It is a vegan chocolate cake with chocolate tofu cream filling and frosted with chocolate ganache. When it comes to eating cake, my dear husband (DH) demands CHOCOLATE, CHOCOLATE, and CHOCOLATE! None of those cakes with fruits or vegetables in it! We had a long discussion about his birthday cake. I don’t make much desserts at home to avoid gaining weight so every chance I have I want to try a new recipe from my cookbooks. I wanted to try a carrot cake recipe that my friends suggested from Vegan with a Vengeance (VwaV) cookbook but he said not for his birthday cake, he wants CHOCOLATE! So I thought about trying the Raspberry-Blackout Chocolate Cake with Ganache-y Frosting from VwaV. No, there are raspberries in it!, he said. Ok, I guess, he likes heavy-loaded pure chocolate and chocolate only, so CHOCOLATE it is! Although he let me put raspberries for decorations, there was no raspberry in the cake.

DH is a chocoholic and needs to go to a chocoholic anynomous meeting, I think, if there is such a meeting..and…I am a vegan cookbookoholic myself that I have tons of cookbooks; therefore, fortunately, I am able to find the ‘perfect’ chocolate cake I haven’t tried yet for his birthday cake. I bought Great Good Desserts Naturally! by Fran Costigan a while back and haven’t tried even one recipe from it. The cake recipe I tried was named ‘The Chocolate Cake to Live For’ and the filling is plainly ‘Chocolate Tofu Cream.’ This cake uses Dutch processed cocoa which is perfect because DH likes this kind of chocolate. We both don’t like the light color Hersey cocoa type but love semi-sweet dark chocolate of any kind.

This chocolate cake was soooo gooood! It melts in your mouth. It is the perfect title for it too since DH wants to live to 100 years if I make this cake for his birthday year after year. The chocolate tofu cream was so simple to make and so so delicious. The consistency was just perfect, too! All in all, it is the best vegan chocolate cake I have ever made. Really! When it comes to making a vegan chocolate ganache cake, I had a lot of practice because of DH. I recommend this cookbook to anyone and will buy her new cookbook: More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally. I just can’t wait.

The frosting I used was the Ganache-y Frosting and the white squiggly on top was the Royal Icing, both from Vegan with a Vengeance. The only thing I did different than what the recipe suggested, I poured the hot chocolate ganache on top of the refrigerated filled cakes instead of waiting for the ganache frosting to become a spreadable consistency (refrigerated for 1 hour) to frost the cake. Then, I tilted the filled cakes to right and left to make the hot ganache flows down the sides of the cake. This makes a perfect smooth and glossy frosting after it is refridgerated for about 1 hour. This is my trick to make a beautiful cake without spending money at the cake decoration classes. I practiced doing the squiggly decoration on a wax paper and was doing ok enough to add the icing on the cake. After all, DH didn’t care much about the squiggly thingy.

BTW, I have been perusing Vegan with a Vengeance cookbook a lot lately and visited Isa Chandra’s website. Check out these cupcakes pictures: Fauxstess cupcake with squigglies on top and Isa Chandra's vegan cupcakes. Aren't they beautiful? This is where I got the idea for the squiggly decoration. I will definitely buy her new cupcakes cookbook and make the cupcakes with squigglies on top someday.

Before I end this long blog, I want to share a few tips of baking a cake. I learned these tips from others and from practicing making Chocolate Ganache cakes, you know for who! I think I am qualified to give a class of ‘How to make a perfect vegan Chocolate Ganache cake’ by now since this is the only vegan cake that I can make perfectly, thanks to DH.

First of all, I learned about from Bryanna. It is not a vegan website but is loaded with information about baking. Preparing the baking pans is a crucial step in baking cakes. I use the Baker’s grease suggested by this site which you can buy at the cake supply store but it is easy to make at home: mix well an equal amount of vegan shortening (like Spectrum), canola oil, and unbleached flour. For baking cakes, I still use a parchment paper for the bottom of the pan and then use the baker’s grease on top of it. You don’t need to flour the baking pans with this grease. THIS is the benefit and it works like magic. I usually store my baker’s grease in the fridge and take it out to a room temperature before I prepare my baking pans. It actually works for baking just about anything and not just cake. I used it to grease my corn-shaped cast iron muffin pans and the corn-shaped muffins didn’t stick to the pan at all. I have had a great success using this baker’s grease and never gone back to oil and flour my pans anymore.

Second, buy the Cake Magic Baking Strips ! It is well worth it. Have you ever bake a cake and then the cakes have a hump in the middle and then you have to use a knife to level it out before you frost it? I really hate that! It takes a lot of work to prepare the cakes before frosting it and then I have cake crumbs all over. This magic strips really work well. I enjoy watching my cakes baking in the oven and rising evenly. I have even levels cakes coming out of my oven all the time now. You can make your own at home buy cutting old kitchen towels, wet them with water, and then wrap them around your cake pans with safety pins. I tried that too but didn’t like the frayed towels around the cake pans. I am afraid that the cotton strings will end up in my cake. So to avoid so much trouble I bought these magic strips for $6.95 in a kitchen store near me. It can be reused again and again.