Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Young Japanese Knotweed Crisp & Blueberry Maple Ice Cream
because it just so happens that sometimes a vital component of dessert can be found in a riverbed

So, it seems that the inevitable day finally comes when you find your arms overflowing with japanese knotweed that you recently wildcrafted near local roadsides and ponds. And you stumble home with it all, and you enter your front door only to trip over a cat and spill the stalks this way and that, and you suddenly find yourself becoming quite invested in searching for recipes that will utilize lots of the stuff in an incredibly appetizing way. 

This is an exaggerated re-hashing of the situation at hand, with the words "cat" and "stumble" added to grab your attention, of course. The truth of the matter is that my friend Simon recently brought home a bag filled with japanese knotweed he had harvested. And we needed to do something with it. What happened next is history. Delicious and well documented history.

Japanese knotweed is an incredibly invasive species, which can be a blessing to anyone hoping to utilize it, but a nightmare for someone who regularly thinks "oh dear, i wish that stalky bamboo-like plant wasn't there, and i wish it wasn't multiplying as it is." You can decide what camp you are in, how about that! If you choose to be indifferent towards good ole polygonum cuspidatum, your life will probably see no alterations at its existence and slow invasion of the entire planet. And if it does happen to invade your world, try making jam out of it! Isn't jam great?

So, Simon is an all around rad human being, a sentiment I am at great risk of being branded "a broken record" for repeating yet again. But he is also a plant medicine knowledge geyser, because that is a really common term that is used to describe those who have studied the field of botanical medicine extensively. Wildcrafting herbs and plants for use in medicinal tinctures, teas, and in this particular case, fruit crisp desserts, is his scene, and I am slowly learning things here and there when I can about plant species, what is good for what, where to find things growing, and how to treat and harvest the plant when you do find it. This recipe is his brainchild! In fear of botching some information, I will await a real-time japanese knotweed description/run-down (if it is to happen) from Simon, and spare you all my horrible memory's remnants of discussion.

These ingredients made for two huge pans of crisp. Half the recipe if you're feeling shy, feeling like you just don't have enough japanese knotweed, or if you're just plain scared of excess. 

8 cups cut up japanese knotweed
8 cups cut up strawberries, pears, apples, whole blueberries all mixed together
3 cups oats
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 grade C maple syrup (can substitute A or B, but really, let's be honest. C is tops.)
1 rad mixtape made with love and a great ear for all things music, to be played throughout the process

For the blueberry maple ice cream:

2 cans coconut milk
a bunch of blueberries
a bunch of grade C maple syrup (to desired sweetness/flavor)
some vanilla

Let's begin! It is so simple! You are already impressed with yourself!

To make your ice cream, follow the more specific directions a few entries below, and also cruise down there to hear me rant and rave about ice cream makers, give you my personal ice cream history, see a picture of me on Cheryl's shoulders, and to see a more decadent ice cream recipe. This one is rather simple, and simply incredible! Mix all those above ingredients together until you think they're in good shape. They'll be a beautiful lavender if you've played your cards right! Pour the mix into your ice cream maker. Churn away. Freeze a little more. Eat. Rejoice. Repeat the process until your family intervenes. 

Grade C maple syrup is the stuff dreams are made of, okay? I say this with no hesitation. A subject of some controversy, it is difficult to find, not not legal for the sugarhouse to label and sell as "grade C", and therefore must be found where it can be found. Our local source gets it delivered unlabeled, and labels it at the store, to our excitement. Find Grade C soon, taste what you've been missing, if you indeed have been missing it.

And if you don't want ice cream, don't make it! Use your agency, okay? The crisp will still taste fantastic. And here it is:

Get your young japanese knotweed all cut up. It should be harvested when it is 6 inches tall. it will taste like a mild rhubarb, and we sort of used it as such!

Mix all your fruit and berries together after they are all cut up.

Mix the knotweed and fruit together in the pans. 

Cover them with the oats, add vanilla, cinnamon, and maple syrup! Mix it all together with everything else!

Throw it in the oven! Bake it at 350 degrees for about an hour. As long as you think it needs, really. 

Eat your crisp and ice cream together because it just seems like the responsible thing to do for yourself. We made this at night, and couldn't resist eating it immediately after it was all finished, post-midnight, making it supremely difficult to sleep due to heightened blood sugar and general dessert-y excitement. The leftovers of both came with us to the rooftop of a campus art building a few nights later, to be shared with other friends under the stars. See? Look how romantic this recipe is! Make it right away and watch your life begin in front of your very eyes.

I'll soon need testimonials to back up that last statement.

Monday, March 22, 2010

we all know how important these things are.

I have a lot to say about bagels. I have eaten quite a few of them in my life. I have buried many of them in my backyard due to intense bagel overhauls left over after large "gotta-feed-lots-of-people-oh-what-will-we-do-it-with" community events have come and went. I am guilty of large-scale bagel heists routinely performed at ungodly hours of the morning at an undisclosed campus dining establishment. For these reasons and more, bagels are important to me. So, I figured it was about time I learned how to craft them myself.

A real downer in this situation is that by making bagels yourself, you will be missing out on the trademark sass or charm of a bagel counter employee. I am referring to most New York City bagelries, as the help at the local joints are either too sweet to be charming or too mean to be sassy. Once you've made them, have a friend stand opposite you and fix one for you while they either critique your lack of an umbrella on such a rainy day, or compliment your hair's finesse. Or, both! It will help if they yell. I don't want to think we live in a world where we can't recreate the joys of a NYC bagel shop.

This recipe is from the beloved Isa Chandra Moskowitz's new vegan brunch cookbook, with a few of my own adjustments and embellishments. I am indebted to the lady, always.

You will need:

3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
2.5 tablespoons of dry active yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 teaspoons salt
vegetable oil for the rising bowl
any bagel toppings you want (onion flakes, sesame seeds in this case)

So, to start off, dissolve one tablespoon of the sugar in the water. Add the yeast.

In a separate big mixing bowl, mix together everything else (except the vegetable oil and bagel toppings, and remember to add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar). 

Add the yeast mixture and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is neither dry nor wet, but a good amount of tacky. I busted out my Kitchen-aid mixer to get this job done lickety split. I will be honest and say I don't get as much use out of the thing as I really really should, but that doesn't mean I love, cherish, and respect it any less. If you have one, use it! Get out the dough hook, and after sticking it into your long-sleeve shirt sleeve and pretending it is a deadly weapon, affix it to the machine and get mixing! It doesn't take long, just keep an eye on it and make sure it is all mixing well.

Oil up a bowl and put your dough in it. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it sit for an hour. 

Put a large pot of salted (about 2 teaspoons) water on the stove to boil. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Release your dough after its hour in the oil slammer and cut it up into 12 equal pieces. 

For larger bagels, cut them into fewer pieces. If you'd like tiny bagels (for replicating bagel bites? if you do this please invite me over), cut them into more pieces. 

By hand, roll each piece into a ball, and fold it back on itself with your thumbs until a hole appears in the center. Widen it a bit, until it is a little under an inch wide. 

Isa suggests patting them in the bagel topping at this stage, but I would advise to wait until after the boiling, myself. The water seemed to shove off most of the toppings, and I added more afterwards.

Once your water is boiling, plunk a few of the bagel forms in at a time, however many your pot size will house floating at the top. 

They should pop up pretty quickly and float, but if they don't, just nudge them up from the bottom. Reduce your water to a lighter simmer, and let them boil for one minute on each side, then switch them out for new bagels. Be careful to not burn yourself as you get them out of the water!

Now, put your toppings out on saucers and pat your bagels in them on both sides, or sprinkle them on top. I did onion flakes and sesame seeds, but poppy seeds and garlic and salt and everything would be rad, too! Put jalapenos on top, see if I care! (Again, if you do the jalapeno thing, please invite me over.)

When all your bagels have been boiled and topped to your satisfaction, lightly oil up baking sheets and arrange them. 

Bake them for 20 minutes, or until they have browned nicely. Due to a rather unsuitable oven situation at my house, I neglected mine a touch and they are a little browner than I would have liked. But there's always next time! Let them cool for a half hour and then eat the heck out of them! 

I slathered mine in coconut oil

It is hard for me to not slather everything in my life in coconut oil, so bagels are of no exception. You know very well what you like on your bagels, so go to town with it! I have yet to find a legitimate vegan cream cheese recipe that does not rely on tofu, so I have nothing to share on that front. I know that stuff can be delicious and all (the clouds in my dreams are sometimes made of la bagel delight's vegetable tofu cream cheese), but in all honesty, it all usually just scares me. I mostly stick to hummus when I order bagels out. The bakery's is so stuffed with garlic that after devouring, any possibility of a spontaneous and torrid wedding proposal from a stranger is completely eliminated. And getting proposed to by a vampire? Even less plausible! I take these small victories when I can.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Homemade ice cream!
the possibilities are almost endless. almost.

When I was 15, I obtained my first job working at a local ice cream shop. This job was, incidentally, procured immediately after I made my decision to go vegan. This made my  job very interesting, and provided me none of the perks that one would typically expect of working so closely with the darling frozen confection. Nonetheless, I learned discipline FAST. I also learned how to scoop large quantities of rock-solid hard ice cream into sugar cones like it was nothing at all. And my waffle cones adorned with sprinkles and chocolate? I was so good at making those! All of this being shared, I feel like ice cream and I go way back. I might even vote for it in the 2012 election. 

I was vegan for quite some time before I discovered that there were ice cream substitutes suitable for people with lifestyles like mine. This was very exciting. Ever since then, the world of vegan ice cream has only been advancing. The stuff I used to devour tastes like cold newspaper to me now. Tastes evolve! Mine has me now preferring coconut-based ice cream over most anything else. And why not cut out the middle human and make it yourself?

One of the most fun parts to making ice cream yourself is that you can make any kind you want. Simple or elaborate. Traditional or experimental. The recipe here is for a chocolate peanut butter newman-o variety. 

You will need:

1 can coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
6 newman-os
1/3 cup peanut butter
an additional 2 tablespoons of agave nectar

You will also need an ice cream maker. This is the big investment of the whole make-ice-cream-yourself operation. However, if you eat a lot of ice cream, sit down with a calculator and a pad of paper. Add up your projected ice cream expenses for the calendar year. From here, you will probably come to realize how economical it is to just start making your own! You know a lot about ice cream, after all. You've been eating it for years! Don't let anyone dictate your flavor choices! Yeah, that's right! You're getting all defensive and pumped up now! Also, remember that if you have a pal you can go in on the machine with, it will be that much cheaper. The one we have is around $50, give or take. Shop around, go with what you feel is right!

The ice cream maker we use and that I recommend doesn't use ice cubes. It comes with a mixer bowl that is lined with some mystery freezy stuff. I understand that "mystery freezy stuff" easily describes water, which it could very well be. Anyways, all that is required is for the mixer bowl to be frozen completely before you make up a batch. The perks of this is that you can just keep re-using it! The set-backs?: It can only be used for one ice cream cycle in a given period of time, as the bowl is thawed quite a bit by the end of a batch. The solution? If you are so much of an ice cream fiend that this is unacceptable, buy two machines! Heck, buy three! And while you're buying your fourth, see about getting a new freezer, too. That ice cream has to have somewhere to live!

As always, to give credit where credit is duly due, I learned of making ice cream in this way from my ultimate bff Alan. I was visiting him in Baltimore last summer when he blew my mind by showing me how incredible it is to make your own ice cream from such a few simple ingredients. And Baltimore+summer+ice cream? Surely the best. When I returned home, I was sunburnt from having seen the light. And from being in that light without proper sunscreen provisions. I understood I had to buy an ice cream maker immediately. Cheryl and I wasted little to no time, and we've been happier people ever since.

So, open up your can of coconut milk. The machine I have is big enough to make double this recipe, so if you're feeling into it, double up all the ingredients and make a bigger stash! Mix the coconut milk, vanilla, and agave in a bowl. Whisk it around! Add in your cocoa power, and whisk that until it is all smooth. Add extra of anything that you feel needs to be added to. Taste the mix, see if you'd prefer it to be a little sweeter or a little more chocolate-y. As always, do what you want! Freedom!

When you have your coconut base all mixed up, bring your ice cream maker bowl out from the freezer and dock it onto the ice cream maker. Put the mixer in and the top on, and turn that thing on! Pour in the ice cream base. 

If you have any lamps nearby, or lights beaming into the machine, turn them off for the process. It needs to get good and cold as it churns, and I've found that 100 watt light bulbs can be counterproductive when they're just streaming into your ice cream.

I didn't time this, and I never do. I just keep coming back to the machine periodically to see where it's at. In the beginning it will appear thin, and it will slowly get to be thicker. You will see it pass through looking like a fairly thick milkshake,  until it is thick and full-fledged ice cream, sticking to the mixer. 

While your ice cream is churning, work on some other things. On the stovetop, heat up your peanut butter with the additional 2 tablespoons of agave. Don't let it burn, and stir it constantly. Once it is heated up and somewhat runny, turn off the heat. Save it for later.

Cut up your 6 newman-os! Even add more if you want! Make them pretty small so that they don't get stuck in your ice cream maker's mixer.

When your mixer is looking like it's almost ready to be ice cream, add in those newman-os. Let them get mixed up for a few minutes, as the ice cream progresses further. When it looks like it has gone as far as it can, turn off the machine. Empty all the ice cream into a bowl with the aid of a rubber spatula, scraping the sides down. 

Take your peanut butter/agave mixture, and fold it into the ice cream. In order to maintain a peanut butter swirl, be careful not to mix it too thoroughly. Just give it a few fold-overs, and then leave it alone. 

Scoop it into your freezer container of choice, and stick it in your freezer. I have been known to just eat it then and there, at that stage of done-ness, but if you are after a less soft-servy ice cream, it will need to spend some time freezing. Give it a few hours, and then dig in. Last summer I made a double batch of vanilla the night before for a breakfast feast for our traveling pallies. In the morning I made a huge stack of pancakes, and then got out the ice cream to be piled on top! See? The addition of an ice cream maker to your home can only improve your host abilities three-fold.

When you're ready for it, take it out and treat it as you would treat any ice cream: with simultaneous compassion and ferocity. 

Making ice cream at home is sort of an art. Experiment with both flavors and times. My personal favorite flavors I've made are: peppermint chocolate (add mint extract and chopped up candy canes and chocolate chips!), whiskey swirl (make a reduction syrup out of whiskey and agave, fold it in an already whiskey-ed up ice cream!), raspberry chocolate (add raspberries! add chocolate!), and maple walnut. (use maple syrup as your only sweetener, and add chopped up walnuts!)

Aren't you excited by all these creative options that are suddenly before you? Are you ready to stop being a slave to the supermarket freezer and finally start living? Are you suspicious that I am working on commission for Cuisinart, hoping you will buy their beauty of an ice cream maker after this lengthy pitch? 

I can only hope so.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo!
It is a widely acknowledged fact that I gauge the quality of my days by how many noodles I can manage to consume in them.

Here's the deal, pals. I have been gone for some time from this here food blog, and we're all going to pretend that it is because I have been traveling this little round ball we call earth and collecting recipes and making foodstuffs for every shining face I saw. If you think you've seen me in the last few months, you have not! Fraud! It's all been a hologram! A clever trick of light! Smoke and mirrors! I have been away, okay? Right? This is my only excuse. Now that you have accepted it and forgiven my hiatus, onward. Fettuccine Alfredo!

This is a good recipe. My un-vegan friend Dustin insists that it is the best Fettuccine Alfredo he has ever had, and my sources seem to suggest that Dustin has had his fair share of the dish. This bolsters my confidence in this recipe considerably, and means that when he asked for it specifically to be made for him before he moved to Florida, I obliged. Sort of like a last supper, y'know? That specific batch might have been a touch salty, however. Tears and what not. Friends moving. My life is hard.

This post also has a special perk: The introduction of WINE CATS! I thought better than to make yet again another sister blog (if you have not yet visited my informative book blog, hop to it!), but think it will just make infrequent visits to food cats when appropriate. Which it is today!

The recipe!:

1 lb whole wheat fettuccine pasta
1/2 cup vegan butter OR oil! (if you use oil, step up the salt a touch)
5 cloves garlic, pressed
1 head broccoli
1 onion
4 oz (give or take) mushrooms of your choice
4 cups mimiccreme
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
some pinches of black pepper to taste

I had my trusty sidekick Cheryl with me for help, creative input, and general companionship during this process. To be honest, she is more of a life partner of sorts, and often the foodcats second and equal half, but I am sometimes forced to call her a sidekick for tax purposes. She is the greatest, and I will suggest again that if you don't have her, find someone who looks like her and hold them to unbearably high standards. Either that, or just call her up! Tell her you need help with your fettuccine alfredo or your jigsaw puzzle! She is not guaranteed to come to the rescue, but hey, you tried! 

This is also pretty much how we look all the time. If you see us in town, please alert us of any low awnings or potholes.

Boil water, throw the pasta in. 

I am choosing to not describe the process of making pasta in detail for several reasons. I want to give you an opportunity to humble yourself and ask a pal for help determining when it is done. I also want to give pals everywhere the opportunity to make up a silly illogical way to determine that. I want your dearest friend to lie to you and tell you that to check for done-ness, you put a single piece of pasta in a jar and leave it outside for 3 hours. If it is still there after the time period, then the pasta is and was done. Fair warning: If you call Cheryl, she will tell you just that. Don't let her pull a fast one on you. Also, she will not be able to contain her deadpan for long, so just wait it out.

So, make your pasta. This can be done, of course, while all the other steps are happening too. When it is done, strain it and return it to the pot. Throw some oil or butter in there to make sure it doesn't all stick together. Mix it around until you have reason to believe that it won't stick. Be proud that you have utilized your powers of reason, and that your pasta won't be in one big gob when you go to add the sauce!

Dice up your onion. 

Melt the butter in a saucepan, or put your oil in and get it all warmed up. Sautee the onion until it is translucent! 

Press the garlic cloves into it, mix it all around. You can also dice your garlic, of course, but I have found it hard to ever dice garlic when I have a stellar garlic press handy. 

Dice up your broccoli into whatever size you desire. We went sort of smallish. Larger steamed stalks of broccoli tossed on top of the dish afterwards is a swell idea, too!

After a few minutes with the onion and garlic in the pan, add the broccoli. Cut up your mushrooms! We used the cutest little mushrooms money can buy, brown beech tiny buddies (unofficial name), but you can really use any old kind. 

In the past I've been partial to crimini, but it's really your call. Don't forget to call Cheryl if you need advice.

Put your mushrooms in the saucepan with everything else. 

Now comes the Mimiccreme!

Mimiccreme is great. Really. I sing its praises quite often. I'm sure in a few years I will discover something truly awful about it, as goes for everything ever, but for now, I am holding fast. Mimiccreme rules! It is soy, gluten, and lactose free! It is essentially only water, almonds, and cashews! It is heaven sent! It is what will make this alfredo so freaking awesome. 

When buying Mimiccreme, make sure you get the unsweetened kind! For this recipe, at least. If you want to make ice cream, grab the sweetened stuff. You should be able to find it at your local health food store, but I have found it difficult to locate in some towns. Don't lose heart, ask a store to order it for you, or keep searching around! If things get bad, suggest I start up a Mimiccreme black market, charging a literal arm and a leg for each carton I ship out. What will I do with the limbs, though? What will I do with them? My life is hard.

Measure out your Mimiccreme and put it into the saucepan. Your vegetables will continue to cook in it! Add your nutritional yeast and all the other spices. 

Cheryl is partial to parsley, so she insists on putting it fresh into the recipe, and I can't blame her. 

It would be preferable to put fresh basil and oregano in, too. Oh, fresh basil. It may be clear that I am lamenting the winter months in this way. Life is better when you have fresh basil at arms length in the garden! This might not even need to be said.

Feel so free to adjust all the spices to taste! And add more of them in general! As I have said exhaustively before, I'm a total hack! Just do whatever you want to the recipe! It'll probably still be awesome! Yessss!

So, make your alfredo sauce, and then pour it into your done pasta! The sauce should be sort of thick from its time on the stovetop. Mix it all together. 

Note: gratuitous friendship bracelet view in that last shot! That's right! We have friendship bracelets! It's the 90's! 

Oh, and then plate your noodles! 

Garnish with more parsley, sprinkle more nutritional yeast and black pepper on it, do your worst! The future is yours!

Now for a brief word from wine cats! If you know Cheryl and I well enough, you will know that we are typically saving around 15-18 bottles of wine at any given time. On the few occasions friends have actually asked for this, I have had great fun going through them all and explaining why they need to be saved or what their sentimental value is or where they came from, etc. A large portion of the wine rack is wine from Adair Vineyards, which is the winery/vineyard that the both of us have worked at for about five years now. Marc Stopkie, the winemaker and owner and all around best guy and boss ever, makes the best wine. No exaggeration. I will fight any opposition with cool reason and some sips of his 2004 Frontenac, which is the specific subject of this meal.

2004 Frontenac! Aged in Minnesota oak barrels for three years. We've been harboring some bottles of this on the rack for awhile, and made the motion to drink one. The Frontenac grape is a French-American hybrid grape that was developed in Minnesota. Adair exclusively grows French-American hybrids because they were specifically developed to suit our more cold-hardy climate. And as you'll read below, being committed to using only local fruit, it makes sense to go with grapes who were developed to have a better yield in our growing area. Also, French-American hybrid grapes are so wonderful! The DeChaunac being my absolute favorite, since you were wondering.

Here's the story with Adair Vineyards. Super small business and operation in New Paltz. Marc does vineyard maintenance, makes all the wine, and runs the business. There are few employees (all dedicated, and luckily, us!), and Marc works super super hard. There are 11 acres of vineyard on the property, and any grapes that don't come from our vineyard come from another local vineyard, 4 miles from ours. Marc works pretty closely with them, too. 

a fall sunset on the vineyards

Any fruit that is used for dessert wines (peaches, blackberries, black currants, nectarines!) are also locally grown. Marc is committed to this! He does things as organically as possible, but is not organic-certified. This is something he could tell you a ton about, but what I can offer is this. Some certified-organic vineyard products are, while organic, totally carcinogenic, which he'd obviously prefer not to use. Some natural/non-organic products are safer than the organic counterparts, which means Marc would rather use them! Since the winery is small and all the wine is sold through the tasting room, at farmers markets around New York, and at one store locally, Marc doesn't have to add a ton of chemicals or anything that would be needed if he was shipping the wine great distances or if they needed to sit on store shelves for long periods of time. 

Dustin, Cheryl, and I at a winery holiday event

Also, good news: Adair wine is vegan! While you might not think about it, wine is something that can easily not be vegan. I know, I know, "But it's just grapes!" Alas, part of the filtering process that the wine goes through often involves gelatin, unfortunately. Marc uses a sea-weed based filter, instead. There are alternatives! You can tell if wine is vegan sometimes just by checking the label. It is not so uncommon to find "vegan-friendly" listed on it, especially with organic wines. There are lots of online databases that list what wines are vegan and what are not, too. Also, if you are visiting the winery itself, if the person giving the tasting is knowledgeable enough, they might be able to tell you! If they don't know, however, don't sass 'em too bad. If they haven't had the question before or if the winemaker hasn't imparted the info, they probably won't have any idea. See if you can talk to the winemaker? It can be a difficult situation to figure out, but press on! And know that you can always just go home and drink copious amounts of Adair wine. 

Come visit the tasting room or see us at farmers markets. Mention this post and I'll pour you a little extra of the peach dessert wine. It got "Best of Show" at last year's Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Association awards! We got a silver cup for the tasting room for that! I had a dream of eating cereal out of it, but never could work up the nerve to do it. 

What I mean to be saying is, Adair wine is the best. I'm not saying all this just because I work there, I'm sharing it because the extent to which I believe in and wouldn't mind exclusively drinking Adair wine is perhaps nerdy. Truly local wine that you can feel great about! 

So, after you have made your fettuccine, break out YOUR bottle of 2004 Frontenac that's been dusting up your wine rack for years, and drink it! If you don't have that bottle for some reason, improvise. Whatever you drink with this food will probably be fantastic. I trust you.