August 2009


While I don’t have any plants plying me with pounds and pounds of zucchini right now, it is one of the veggies I can count on scoring cheaply at the farmers market. So it’s time to jump on this zucchini bandwagon. From regular ol’ zucchini bread to zucchini Babka to zucchini fritters, there’s a lot to do with the humble squash. But you know what’s the best Saturday morning post-farmers market option? Zucchini cinnamon rolls, my friends.

Like zucchini bread, zucchini cinnamon rolls are sweet and spicy and cinnamony and ooey-gooey frosted deliciousness. I’d say they’re healthy–all that green–but, well, any nutritionist would call me out on that. They’re good for the soul, though, and that’s what really counts. I really don’t know what else to say about them besides go and make them right now.  No really, right now.

Happy weekend everyone!

Zucchini Cinnamon Rolls

adapted from Katie & VeggieBoards

For the dough:
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
1/4 c warm water
3/4 c zucchini, grated (my food processor slightly pureed it, which worked great too)
1/4 c soy milk
1/4 c Earth Balance, melted
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 T vegetable oil

For the Filling:
4 tbsp granulated sugar
4 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp chilled Earth Balance, cut into small pieces

For the frosting:
About 3/8 (3 oz) of a container of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
1/4 c Earth Balance margarine, softened
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine the warm water with the yeast and whisk together with a fork, let stand for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, soy milk, melted Earth Balance, and sugar in with the yeast, and lightly mix. Sift in the first two and a half cups of flour, salt, cinnamon and ginger, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Take the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and use it to flour the top of the dough and your surface a tablespoon at a time, as needed to keep the dough from getting sticky as you knead it. Knead the dough for about ten minutes, the dough will be elastic but soft and still a little sticky to the touch without being floured. (Or use the dough attachment on your mixer and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to form a soft, sticky ball.)

Place the dough in a large bowl coated with oil, turning to coat the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down; cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

Combine the sugar, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in margarine with a fork until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Roll the dough into a 12 x 10-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Sprinkle with brown sugar mixture. Roll up the rectangle tightly, from the long side, pinch seam and ends to seal. Cut roll into 12 (1-inch) slices. Place the slices in a 9-inch square or round baking pan coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 25 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Bake the rolls for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 15 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, beat together the Tofutti cream cheese, Earth Balance, vanilla, powdered sugar, and salt. Once the cinnamon buns have cooled enough to eat, frost each bun individually.

Makes 12-14.

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Oooof. Well, after my stay-cay love affair with Roanoke, things took a turn south this week (and not south to Georgia which, let me tell you, I would have loved). To put it plain, my tires were slashed Monday night. Thankfully, it wasn’t Atlanta and I wasn’t parked outside a bar and then mugged/raped/murdered/whatever, it was Roanoke and it was just some deranged neighborhood kid (at least that’s who I’m thinking it was–why else attack the oldest/crappiest car on a block filled with Volvos & Mercedes???) who has nothing better to do than to go around town and slash tires. So the whole ordeal was nothing more than a pain in the arse and expensive. But if they ever catch who’s responsible…I’m gonna bust his/her ass. Seriously. I’m a grad student–you think I had $300 lyin’ around to replace perfectly good tires?

So the tire-slashing-thing kept me from hiking yesterday which put me in a sour mood. The Peaks of Otter awaited! Instead I spent the morning talking to my insurance company, joining AAA, and sitting around at the local National Tire & Battery store. Luckily dealing with insurance companies and car mechanics makes one hungry, so the bagels I’d made the day before to take on my hike came in handy as a quick lunch option post-tire replacement.

I’d been wanting to try my hand at bagels for awhile, Celine’s kagels are definitely on my to-do list, but I knew I wanted something with a kick, something that excited my palate. Thus the fiesta bagel was born. I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I probably saw it on a blog elsewhere, but my thought process at the time was, “make bagels” and “add salsa to said bagels.” The end result? Some pretty darn good bagels. I wish I’d had more salsa on hand (I’d recommend using 1/2 cup salsa instead of 1/4 and adjusting the water down to 1/2 c), but overall I was pleased with the little heat and the orangey color. They make me smile, and that’s about all I need these days!

Fiesta Bagels

adapted from Celine

1/2 tbsp (6 g) active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 c warm water
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c bread flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/4 c salsa
hot sauce to taste (I added 6 splashes)

Add the yeast and salt to the warm water. Allow to proof for 10 minutes or until foamy.

In a large bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer) combine the flours, salsa, and hot sauce. Add the yeasted water and mix until a ball forms.

If kneading by hand, turn out the ball of dough onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is soft and pliable (but not overly sticky). If using a stand mixer, use the dough attachment and knead at medium-low speed for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary until a soft, pliable ball of dough forms.

After kneading, place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a moist towel or plastic wrap, and leave in a warm (but not hot) place to rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough. Divide it into 4 equal pieces and shape balls by pulling at the dough from the sides onto the bottom, to cloak. If the dough retracts when you try to shape it, give it 5 minutes to rest until it cooperates.
Insert your thumb in the center of each dough ball, and twirl dough around it until the hole reaches about 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) in size.

Let rest for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a couple of large baking sheets with parchment paper, a silicone baking mat, such a Silpat, or grease them with a little oil.

Once the bagels have rested, place 4 bagels at a time in the saucepan, and let boil for 1 minute in all, flipping them over after 30 seconds: try to avoid having them get too close to one another. Scoop out bagels with a slotted spoon. Place on prepared baking sheets. Repeat until all bagels have been boiled.

Bake for about 24 minutes, one sheet at a time, until the bagels are golden brown and sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. Let cool on a wire rack.

Yield: 4 bagels

So I’ve reached week 2 of my in-home vacation (i.e. the first real break of the summer for me) and it’s going great. So great that I’m not really accomplishing anything that I need to. But I’m letting myself sit back and relax because who knows how relaxing grad school will be. (smile) So what have I done since Saturday? Well, Sunday morning I woke up super early (ok, I realize 7:30 am isn’t that early, but for a weekend it is!) and rode my bike downtown to practice yoga at Uttara. The ride was wonderful because no one was out and about yet, and although it was the first time I’d practiced in a long time (read: two years), the pain and effort were worth it. My instructor, Shannon, was really helpful with her hints, and the class size (only 5 people) made it easy for me to center on my positions and my breathing. The studio, Uttara, is one of the most beautiful and peaceful yoga studios I’ve ever practiced in: second storey of an old brick building downtown, windows all around, light-filled, beautiful view of the city and mountains. I’m hoping the schedule stays the same because I’d love to make this a part of my routine.

Other vacation activities include meeting up with bike folk and riding around town Sunday evening (I now know how to bike to Target!), watching really bad chick flicks on Netflix streaming, and riding down to the Grandin Theater last night to watch Julie & Julia (finally!). The movie really was as good as everyone said–Meryl Streep’s impression of Julia Child is spot on, and, I’ll admit it, I totally got teary eyed with the two couples (Julia & Paul, Julie & Eric) in love and their food-centered life. I can’t remember exactly what the quotations were that set me a’cryin’, but if someone ever said they loved me using cooking-centric words I’d melt on the spot. Melt. Like butter, or Earth Balance, I suppose.

Before I went to watch Julie & Julia, however, I cooked up a darn good dinner. If only I’d had a Paul Child to share it with… Anyways, I whipped up some basil polenta, garlicy swiss chard, and sauteed chicken of the woods mushrooms. The chicken of the woods mushroom is incredible! It’s chickeny–no really, it is. The texture is exactly how I remember a chicken breast and the taste is completely convincing–even my omni roommates agreed. I slightly seared the mushrooms in olive oil and didn’t do anything else to them–this preparation left them a bit on the dry side. If I were to do things differently I would make a reduction of red wine or balsamic vinegar and drizzle that on top of the plate. Just a little juice would help. I’m hoping to find the mushrooms again at the farmers market this weekend because I’d love to play with them some more, but who knows what the vendors will have on hand. But really, you’ve got to find some of these shrooms–they are everything I’ve been missing in life!

Lightly Seared Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms with Basil Polenta and Garlicy Swiss Chard

1 c polenta or coarse cornmeal
4 c water
1 tsp salt
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
fresh pepper to taste

2 large chicken of the woods mushrooms, thoroughly cleaned and patted dry
1 tbsp olive oil

1 bunch swiss chard, cleaned and chopped (stems included)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil

In a medium sized sauce pan, bring the water and salt to a boil. Slowly stir in the polenta/cornmeal and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir every 5-7 minutes to eliminate clumps and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in olive oil, basil, and pepper. Set aside.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until warm. Add the mushrooms. Cook 4 minutes on each side until lightly seared and tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the same saute pan warm the remaining teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the chard stems, saute for 2 minutes. Add the chard leaves and saute for 4 minutes or until tender.

Serves 2 (and, as I said earlier, add a sauce or reduction of some sort to keep everything moist)

Let’s just have another “oh my goodness I love western Virgina” gush moment for a minute.  Just look at those veggies!  And all procured two blocks from my house!  Local, organic, fresh, absolutely beautiful: what’s not to love about this town?  Sure, it was pouring rain (I ended up driving instead of walking, sigh), but I counted five or six farm stands along with the sprouted grain bread maker, the cheese monger (who chided me for not eating cheese–it was an awkward conversation because he was such a nice old man and I hated breaking his heart), and some other little vendors.  I love the Floyd farmers for selling together at one big table–sharing market space is such a great idea because you can feature more produce at once and everyone wins because more customers visit the lush and varied tables.  Come to think of it, I need to go check out Floyd soon.  I’ve been reading Fred’s blog for several years now and the area seems so welcoming and beautiful.

Okra, Zucchini, Purple Cabbage, Chu Chu Eggplants (small purple ones), Thai White Ruffle Eggplants, Hungarian Pimento Peppers, Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Ok, so now that we’ve covered the awesome veggies, onto the recipe.  So I didn’t hike McAfee’s Knob without some sustenance, I’ll have you know.  In fact, I stayed up later than I should have the night before (which is why I overslept) in order to make some snacks for the trail.  Being the bread fiend that I am, I knew I wanted something carby and substantial–I mean, trail mix is nice, but I like something to chew on–so, given the time constraints I decided to make pita bread.

Now, I made pita bread regularly a couple of years ago, but the recipe never turned out quite right.  I was never able to get fluffy air pockets and the pita always seemed dried out after a couple of days.  This time I decided to go with The Fresh Loaf’s recipe because it looked easy and foolproof (two things I certainly believe in).  I subbed some whole wheat flour of AP flour, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T.  Every little pita round turned out perfectly: each poofed up in the oven and then when deflated and cool, each was soft and yeasty, slightly chewy–essentially exactly what I wanted out of the bread.  Slathered in peanut butter and apple butter, the whole wheat yeasted goodness was just what I wanted while I lounged on the edge of a rock outcrop and surveyed the Virginia valley.

Perfect Pita

adapted from The Fresh Loaf

1 1/2 c All Purpose flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp dry active yeast
1 1/4 c water, roughly at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil

Add the yeast to the warm water and sugar. Allow to sit for 10 minutes until foamy.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flours and salt. Stir in the olive oil and yeast water.

If using an electric mixer, use the dough attachment and mix at low speed for 10 minutes.

If kneading by hand, turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, roatating the dough 90 degrees with each stroke.

After the dough has been kneaded, place the ball in an oiled bowl and cover with a moist towel. Place in a warm (but not hot) location (I like to use my oven if it’s turned off) and allow the dough to rise for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size.

When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it’ll be easier to shape.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. You should be able to roll it out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. If the dough does not stretch sufficiently you can cover it with the damp towel and let it rest 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.

Open the oven and place as many pitas as you can fit on the hot baking surface. They should be baked through and puffy after 3 minutes (I was able to fit 2 in the oven at a time on the baking sheet).

Allow to cool, the serve or store!

One of the best things about living in Roanoke, to me at least (the folks over at Blog Roanoke might have other opinions!), is the fact that a mere 20 minutes (yes, twenty minutes) from my driveway lies the Appalachian Trail. Back in Georgia I used to claim to love hiking and backpacking. The claim was true enough, but I was only able to hit the trails once or twice a year. I was car-free for 3 years so getting to the mountains was a bit difficult. While the AT starts in Georgia–Springer Mountain represent!–I honestly haven’t explored much of it in the six or seven years since I bought my first backpack. Starting today all of that is going to change.

I had hoped to meet some bike folks on the Tuesday Night Beer Ride, but given that the website said that the ride would be canceled if it rained one hour prior to departure, I decided against pedaling down to the Transportation Museum to see what was up. I think I need to get my bike arse back again to begin with anyway. I slacked the last few months in Georgia–public transportation was less stressful for me at the time–so I need some breaking in of certain parts of my body before I do a 15 mile ride.

Anyways, so since I didn’t hit the road last night I decided to hit the sack relatively early and wake up relatively early to go on a 7 or 8 mile hike. The logical choice? McAfee’s Knob, of course! The trail head is literally only 20 minutes from my house, so even though I overslept I managed to start hiking just a little after 8 am. For a Wednesday morning the trail was fairly trafficy–3 folks passed me while I ascended and I passed 3 groups while I hiked down. Maybe classes haven’t started for public schools yet? Maybe people in Roanoke just know how to live the good life? Who knows. But I had a few nice 1 minute chats about the weather and the view though.

Overall I would grade the trail as moderate on a scale of easy to strenuous. There were a few steep climbs, but they were fairly short and spaced out by practically flat stretches. I don’t know if I’m just in ridiculously good shape or if the trail wasn’t all that hard, but I was able to keep a fast clip the whole way.

After crossing the road to get to the northbound section leading to McAfee’s (a difficult crossing given the curve in both directions and the semi trucks barreling around said curves), the trail surges upward away from the road. After a quick ascent the path flattens out until you reach the actual trail head. From that point onward you climb up, then get a flat, climb, then a flat, and so on and so forth. Eventually the trail descends into a nice, cool, shady trough and you can refresh your water bottles a fresh spring if you so desire. After 1/10th of a mile or so you cross a gravel road (wonder where it heads?) and then climb steadily towards the top of the mountain and McAfee’s Knob. Again, however, this ascent is interspersed with slight downhill and flat sections. The final ascent is the steepest and longest, but it’s nothing that would tucker anyone out too much if said person is relatively in shape. The path is also wider and more groomed at this point. The boy scouts and AT Conservancy have really done a good job maintaining the trail. There are wooden walkways built up over rocks to ease passage and the white blazes were obvious and plentiful. It would have been impossible for me to get lost and that’s quite a feat!

And finally, the view at the top. The only thing I could think when I popped out of the trees was “holy crap, I live here?” From the rock ledge (or knob, I suppose) the mountains stretch on for what seems forever. Houses and churches and cows dot the grassy valley and to the left you can see the city of Roanoke. Or maybe just Salem–I’m not super clear on the geography yet. It’s a city and I’m going to call it Roanoke. I reached the knob at 10:15 am, so the view was still clear. I stretched out near the edge of one of the rocks and watched a hawk surf the air for a bit, the climbed around to view other sections of the valley. If nothing else, the cool breeze is worth the August hike–it’s ridiculously muggy here in the valley.

Eventually I had to hike back to the car so I get could get home and theoretically do some work. The work never happened (I took a nap instead), but I’m so glad that I pushed myself out of bed this morning. I’ve decided from here on out that I’m going to hike once a week for as long as possible. I need to take advantage of these crazy things called mountains while I’m here. My plans also include some backpacking in North Carolina in October, but for the most part I’m going to try to stick to Virginia and West Virginia–there’s just so much here!

Greetings from Roanoke everyone! Yep, I moved this past weekend (which explains the lack of posts). It was long and stressful and my back, arms, and legs are all moaning “what the crap did you do to me,” but I’m here, sitting in my bed, with only one more box to unpack tomorrow morning. I think I’ll celebrate with some french toast. (smile)

But what did I cook before I left? Just a little Doen-Jang-Jji-Gye, or, as is easier to remember and pronounce, Soybean Paste Stew. It was the perfect meal for a week marked by packing all my pots, books, spices, and dishes into boxes since it requires only one pot, very little knifework, and simple yet flavorful ingredients. Like the Korean Tofu Soup I made back in April, the Soybean Past Stew relies on Asian pastes, fresh vegetables, and tofu. All in all, the soup took about 20 minutes to make and fed me for four meals–just what I needed before I hit the road and headed north!

Soybean Paste Stew

adapted from Migi’s Kitchen

1 sheet Nori
3 tbsp soybean paste
1 tsp red pepper paste
3 c water
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 zucchini, sliced into half moons
2 handfuls of shitake mushrooms (I used 9 small ones)
1 pack of enoki mushrooms (separated)
1/2 lb of firm tofu, diced in 1/2″ blocks
1 jalapeno pepper (garnish)

Make the soup base by bringing the nori and water to a boil. Add the soybean paste and pepper paste, stir to incorporate, and lower the heat to a simmer.

Add the onion, cover the pot, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and mushrooms, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the enoki mushrooms and tofu and simmer for 2 minutes.

Garnish and serve!

Remember those sinful cookies I mentioned last week? Well, I think I’ve had enough “healthy” meals (read: 2) to justify posting them now. (smile)

Thus I bring to you the vegan Oreo Cookie Cookie.  I didn’t realize Oreos were vegan until twoish years ago. I was in Pittsburgh for the annual bicycle cooperative conference Bike-Bike, drunk off my arse (we’d done a flaming drink demo in the living room earlier) and lamenting the presence of mostly cheesetastic goodies on the dining room table. Then, because I was drunk and reading everything, I picked up the package of Oreos, read the ingredients, and then screech-whooped out of joy: vegan! It was a good night. Now I don’t understand *why* they’re vegan, the Kroger brand ones aren’t, but I’ll take it. Sometimes bad junk food happens to good people. And that’s what you call a good thing (take that Martha Stewart).

So the other week when Baking Bites (I think it was Baking Bites…?) posted a link to Sugar Cooking’s Oreo Cookie Cookies I knew I had to make them, and quick. I mean, it’s wrong, totally wrong, to make a cookie out of cookies. The sugar content in these puppies is ridiculous (I haven’t dared to calculate it yet). But the result? Oh my lord the result. So chocolatey they’ll put any craving to rest, these cookies are moist and chewy and crunchy and soft and, dare I say, perfection. Even my mother, the ultimate cookie-in-cookie skeptic claimed they were delicious. I recommend eating them fresh out of the oven with a glass of soy milk. Yup, they’re that classic.

Oreo Cookie Cookies

adapted from Sugar Cooking

1 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 c Earth Balance, melted
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 c apple sauce
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
10 oreos, crushed

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together the melted Earth Balance, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla and applesauce until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

Add in the crushed oreos. Beat on low speed for just a few seconds to break up the oreos in the dough.

Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough in 1-2 tbsp balls onto the baking sheet.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

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