September 2009


It’s blustery! I can’t get over how perfectly fallish it is. Down south we never got many fall days–just a hint of one here and there–but it seems like wind and chilly weather and beautiful skies have settled in the mountains.

On Sunday I went for a short little tromp up Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County. Up there on the ridge the world is a lot clearer and cooler than here in the valley. The sky was an intense deep blue and the wind was whipping me around, the valley perfectly green and stretching for miles–I could have stayed on top for hours, if not for the elderly ladies who seemed to take over the crest. They were cute, but kinda loud.

Every day I’m more and more amazed at how much I love it here. Maybe not the town so much, but the whole area. Every time I hop in my car and drive somewhere it’s like I’m on vacation–everything is new, even when it isn’t. Even though I go the same places every day, it feels like a new experience each time. And what’s not to love about mountains and good people and a crazy amount of small-scale organic farms constantly pushing beautiful, fresh produce into my hands? I have 10 lbs of apples chilling on my counter right now. I can’t wait to tear into them.

Along with apples, however, it’s squash season too. And on Saturday when it rained all day and was chilly and wet and I just wanted to snug up into some blankets and sleep the afternoon away (which I did, actually), I also wanted to roast my way to contentment. Quinoa stuffed acorn squash, anyone? I used the squash as a vessel for whatever I had lying around–quinoa, caramelized onions, sun dried tomatoes, kale from the backyard (I’m going to weep when the kale is gone, but word on the street is I have in on a winter supplier, hooray!), fresh figs, and orange juice. Oh, and the acorn squash of course. All I did was cut it in half, roast it, cook some quinoa, caramelize some onions, saute the kale, and mix the stuffing together with Ricki’s orange fig sauce. Then I popped it back in the oven and let it bake for a little while longer–heaven in a squash.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash
1 tbsp olive oil
salt
pepper

1/2 c quinoa, cooked
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil

4 leaves of kale, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil

6 sun dried tomatoes, chopped

1 recipe Ricki’s Orange-Fig Sauce

Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side-up in a baking dish and drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil on top of the halves. Use your fingers or a pastry brush to coat all the flesh. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on top. Roast for 45 minutes or until the squash begins to get tender. Once tender, set aside but leave oven on.

Meanwhile, caramelize the onion in 1 tbsp of olive oil over low heat–this will take 30-35 minutes. Be careful not to burn the onion. Once caramelize, set aside.

In the pan that you caramelized the onion in, heat 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, saute for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the kale, saute until tender, 3-5 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the quinoa, caramelized onions, kale, and sun dried tomatoes. Add 1/2 the recipe of the orange-fig sauce. Toss to coat everything. Spoon the quinoa mixture into the squash halves, cover with two small pieces of aluminum foil, and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Let cool for 5-10 minutes, then drizzle with the remaining orange-fig sauce.

Serves 2.

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It’s one of those weekends–rainy, gray, and a smidge chilly. Perfect mountain weather, if you ask me. Well, by mountain weather I mean staying inside and looking out at the mountains weather. And when you’re inside looking at the mountains and listening to the rain tap down on the roof it’s the perfect time to make a batch of brownies.

Thankfully Lindsay over at Happy Herbivore had an autumn brownie itch to scratch and just posted this recipe for pumpkin swirl brownies. I’d made a similar batch last year, but this time I knew I wanted the brownies to be thick, cakey, super pumpkiny, dark dark dark, and gluten free. I was also too lazy to swirl the brownies, just combined everything together in one bowl, but wow, these suckers are good all mashed up like that–exactly what I needed for a blanket wrapped, porch sitting, coffee drinking rainy day.

Dark Chocolate (Gluten Free!) Pumpkin Brownies

adapted from Happy Herbivore

4 oz semi sweet baking chocolate
1-15 oz can pure pumpkin
1 c unsweetened applesauce
2/3 c plain soy yogurt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 c raw sugar
1 c light brown sugar
1 1/2 c all purpose gluten free flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp granulated salt

In a double boiler (or in a makeshift one created by placing a frying pan over a pot of boiling water), melt the chocolate. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, applesauce, yogurt, melted chocolate, vanilla, and sugars. In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ones and combine (no lumps!).

Oil an 8×8 baking dish and spoon the brownie mixture into the dish. Smooth out the top with a spatula.

Bake 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean and the sides of the brownies have peeled away from the baking dish sides.

Allow to cool 15-30 minutes before slicing!

When you first move somewhere, there are a few important things to find out: when is garbage/recycling pick-up, where is the closest liquor store, where is the breaker box for the house, etc. Something I added to that list was more of a prayer: “please god, let there be Asians in Roanoke.” It’s not a race thing, it’s a grocery store thing. It’s an I-can’t-get-by-without-rice-noodles thing. Thankfully my prayer was answered the way I was hoping it would: a firm, definitive, there-are-actually-several-stores yes.

I didn’t go as crazy as last time, but I did pick up several packages of rice noodles, some rice cooking wine, some curry pastes, and a couple other little things. Checking out the assortment of non-gluten flours–plantain, sweet potato, cassava, to name a few–really got me thinking. I might go back to pick up a few bags and try them out with other more traditional gluten-free flours. The cassava might work really well in bread, actually!

So when I got home I wanted to make something quick and easy with the veggies I had on hand: various kinds of Asian eggplants, purple bell peppers, and thai peppers. I remembered Lazy Smurf’s Pad Kee Mao from a few months ago, and that sounded pretty darn tasty, so I figured I’d riff on it. Comforting with the right amount of heat, there was nothing too special about the dish, just that it was just what I wanted. Plus I got to use up some more basil and a tomato from the garden, so that’s always a good thing. Feel free to use up whatever you have on hand–carrots, mushrooms, tofu, broccoli, etc. All of those would taste great with the hot and soy-sopped rice noodles!

Thai Basil Eggplant

1 package of rice noodles, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 small Asian eggplants, cut into rounds
2 small purple bell peppers, cut into strips
2 thai chili peppers, deseeded and minced
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
1 bunch of basil leaves, washed and patted dry

3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp mushroom soy sauce (dark)
(if GF use 6 tbsp Bragg’s Amino Acids)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp veg broth powder or 1 bouillon cube

Mix together the soy sauce, mushroom sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and veg broth powder in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a wok, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and cook until they turn translucent. Add the garlic and thai chili peppers, cook for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers and eggplant, cook for 2-3 minutes, until the eggplant begins to become tender and brown on the outside. Add the tomato and cook for 1 minute more.

In batches, add the soaked rice noodles to the wok and stir them in completely (I like to use tongs to do this). Once the noodles are fully incorporated, add the sauce. Make sure everything is covered in the sauce, add the basil, and remove the wok from heat.

Serves 4.

Happy Autumn everyone!  I can’t believe it’s finally fall–I even crunched over some golden sycamore leaves earlier today.  The dogwoods are purpling, the goldenrod is blooming, and the sun even peeped out a bit today (maybe we’ll get some vibrant blue skies soon!).

This evening for dinner I wanted to celebrate the season, and what better way than with some locally foraged Chicken of the Woods mushrooms?!  They were back at the farmers market this past Saturday so of course I had to pick up a few.  Determined to outwit the all-too-easily dried-out fungi, I did a quick search for braised chicken recipes.  One of the first ones I came across was this one from Food & Wine Magazine: Braised Chicken Thighs with Sauerkraut.  Delicious sounding, no?  Maybe a little more “wintery” than “fallish,” but, hey, the mushrooms and apples and carrots are in-season so that makes it an autumn dish to me.  Plus anything with cabbage or sauerkraut gets a two-thumbs-up in my book.

Braising the mushrooms worked out perfectly–they turned out moist and tender, exactly what I was hoping for–and the sauerkraut is absolutely delicious.  It’s tangy and earthy and sweet, just like autumn!  Even when the mushrooms aren’t in season, I’m keeping this recipe in my repertoire.

I hope everyone’s enjoying the beginning of the season, and don’t forget, Vegan MoFo 2009 starts October 1.  Head over to Kittee’s site for more details and to sign up!

Braised Chicken (of the Woods) with Sauerkraut

adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

4 Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced in half
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 1/2 c drained and rinsed sauerkraut
1/2 c vegetable broth
1 tsp spicy brown mustard
5 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp olive oil

In a large deep frying pan or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the Chicken of the Woods mushrooms with the 1/2 tsp salt and the pepper. Cook in the pan or dutch oven for 2 minutes, flip, and cook another 2 minutes, until browned on each side. Be careful not to overcook the mushrooms–you just want a light sear. Remove from the pan/pot.

Add the onion, carrot, and apple to the pan. Cook over medium heat, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the sauerkraut, broth, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, the mustard, juniper berries, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. After the sauerkraut has cooked for 20 minutes, arrange the mushrooms in an even layer on top and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, until tender.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan and discard the bay leaf. If too much liquid remains in the pan, raise the heat to moderately high and cook until slightly thickened. Serve the sauerkraut topped with the mushrooms.

Serves 4.

Sometimes things happen that are beyond serendipitous. This weekend was one of those things; or maybe the verb was was it was, the happened part. I’m not sure–it was mostly just serendipitous. Roanoke is full of such good people and I’m constantly surprised and amazed at the goings-on and the folks involved in the goings-on. Friday night was the Star City Alley Cat which I raced in, and which was also my first alley cat in two years or so, and it was just one big party on two wheels. I met tons of new people, got lost and then found my way back (hooray, I’m learning the streets!), attempted to skate down a half pipe (mostly just fell on my arse), swung on a trapeze, drank a shot of white vinegar (surprising not as bad as you’d think), and just had a good time all around. Afterward was the inaugural Starbomb which is modeled after Portland’s Zoobomb (Mill Mountain has a zoo, and a giant neon star, on top of it). Let me tell you, riding down a several mile mountain on a little kids bike with a banana seat and coaster brakes is harder than it looks. But oh. so. much. fun. It’s just wonderful to meet crazy, friendly, bike-obsessed people in this little sleepy mountain town. Things are happening here and I get to be a part of it. For the first time, I feel like there’s a reason why I’m here, and that is oh so comforting.

Part of the weekend also involved me trying out my hand at gluten free baking. Don’t worry, I’m still gluten addicted, but I’ve reason to experiment and, after grabbing some just-picked Golden Delicious apples from the farmers market to go with my Granny Smiths, I figured “why not a pie?” This time I used the Bob’s Red Mill all purpose gluten free flour for the crust, which worked out ok in the end, but I’m really dissatisfied with the crumbly nature of it. I prepared the crust like I would any pie crust, but rolling it out was a nightmare. The only thing that saved the attempt was the parchment paper I just picked up from the store. At least by rolling it on top of parchment paper I could transfer the crust to the pan. There’s just got to be a recipe out there that doesn’t crumble. Quinoa flour was mentioned. Any thoughts?

Thankfully the pie was delicious–sweet, but not too sweet, tart, spicy, and, yes, crumbly, but in a good apple crumble kind of way. Most recipes call for more sugar, but I like my pies to really highlight the fruit. So if you like your sweets a bit sweeter, I would add a 1/4 cup more of agave nectar. And to roll out the crust? Well, it just took a lot of patience, some water dribbled on the pastry, and tons of gluten free flour coating the rolling pin.  (Oh, and sorry I don’t have a sliced pie picture–we ate it before I remembered to get a shot!)

Gluten Free Apple Pie

adapted from Melinda’s Martha’s Apple Pie

For the pie pastry:
2 1/2 c all-purpose gluten free flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 c Earth Balance
1/4 to 1/2 c ice water

For the filling:
2 tbsp all-purpose gluten free flour
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, sliced
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1/2 c agave nectar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add Earth Balance, and use a pastry blender to blend until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add ice water slowly, while gently stirring with a spatula just until dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Be careful not to over-work the dough. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, roll out pastry into two 1/8-inch-thick circles to a diameter slightly larger than that of an 11-inch plate. Press one pastry circle into the pie plate.

In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice, spices, and flour. Toss well. Spoon apples into pie pan. Trim edges of crust to make neat circle, with top slightly larger than bottom. Seal by gently folding top layer around the edge of the bottom shell and pinching edges with fingers and thumb to make a pretty fluted edge. Cut several steam vents across top.

Bake until crust is brown and juices are bubbling, about 1 hour. Let cool on wire rack before serving.

First of all, cute cat overload: Mistoffelees on laundry day, happily ensconced in the clean sheets and pillows waiting to be be put on my bed.  Sure, a tad bit cross-eyed, but he’s a looker.

Ok, now onto the food.  I’m just going to say it, this sandwich is orgasmic.  I kid you not.  It’s so simple, so deceiving in its simplicity, really, but when you take the first bite it whomps you over the head.  So you ask, what just happened?  Then you take another bite.  Then it sinks in: you’re eating the best damn sandwich of your life.  Is it like the Trifecta?  No, not really.  I think it’s the simplicity that gives it the kick–local, fresh, and homemade–I pretty much cried when I’d finished it.  So beautiful, yet so fleeting.  So thank you, dear folks with Good Food-Good People for talking me into buying one of the last heirloom tomatoes of the season; thank you Beth, the gardening half of my dear land-couple, for planting tons of kale in your backyard, kale which I can now eat; and thank you, Luisa, for posting a recipe for bread that would make my house smell like Christmas because, darn, after that review I knew I had to make it.

Tomato & Kale Sandwich of Awesomeness

1 heirloom tomato, thinly sliced
6 kale leaves, cleaned, deribbed, and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp water
Veganaise
Spicy brown mustard
four slices of Ethiopian Honey-Spice Bread

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the kale, cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly. Add the water and cover the skillet, letting the water steam the kale for 3-4 minutes. Once the kale is wilted, set aside.

Take two slices of the bread and slather Veganaise on both slices. Spread the spicy brown mustard on one slice. Sandwich together half of the tomato slices and half of the garlicky kale. Repeat with the other two slices of bread.

Serves 2.

Yesterday afternoon while I was driving home from campus (as safely as possible since I forgot my license–that’s the problem with using a bike as my main mode of transportation, I leave things in my bike bag all the time), I rolled to a stop at a major intersection. A four lane divided road, a cheap suburbany “Mexican” restaurant to the left, a decent amount of traffic–I could have been anywhere in the Atlanta suburbs. But then, in front of me, up a hill framed by a crystal blue sky dotted by white wispy clouds, a tractor mowing hay rolled past. A tractor! It’s the little things that keep me going here–the sky and the tractors and the mountains. The rest of it, no offense Roanoke, I could do without.

Whenever I need to get away from the suburbanness that is Roanoke, I hop in my car, drive towards a mountain (which is easy to do since I live in a valley), drive up the side of said mountain, find a trail, tromp around a bit, and wallow in the crisp, windy autumness that is southwestern Virginia in September. Sometimes, however, I can’t get away. So that’s when the kitchen comes in handy. Well, the kitchen and the local loot from the farmer’s market. I grab my computer, find a random, “exotic” (I hate that word) recipe, and cook up a storm. Everything is ok then–the town melts away, the stress of grad school dissipates, the fact that I have no money is just a faint memory–and I can face the day, one dish at a time.

This past week I mentally (and palatably) flew away to the Szechuan province of China. Well, I tried to, at least. I’ve been itching to eat some authentic Szechuan cuisine for awhile. There’s just something so appetizing to me about the szechuan peppercorns.  Maybe I’m weird, but sweating my way through a meal sounds great! Plus they add this great citrusy, sweet undertone to the dishes.  Just as a random tidbit, szechuan peppers are not actually peppers or peppercorns, but a member of the Zanthoxylum genus. It’s not exactly a hot or spicy ingredient, rather it numbs your mouth, which then allows the peppers to zing in and heat things up.

The recipe I used for the eggplant was good, but I think you ought to up the amount of szechuan peppercorns. I definitely wasn’t getting enough numbness, and next time I’m going to add some fresh or dried peppers to make things more interesting. But the eggplant was extremely satisfying and everyone in the grad student lounge was lusting after it, so I guess that’s a good sign for an Americanized dish. If anyone has tips about cooking authentic szechuan food, I’d love them! It’s definitely a cuisine I’d love to more about and one of these days, when I’m super rich and famous (ha.), I’ll be able to eat my way through China and try some dishes first hand. Until then, I’ll just be happy with a state-of-the-art (for a house) kitchen and my overflowing pantry.

Szechuan Eggplant

from OregonLive.com

1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (I would recommend using more, to taste)
3 tbsp tamari/Bragg’s Amino Acids
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 tsp raw sugar
1 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb eggplant, cut into 1 inch square pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/4 c finely chopped peanuts
1 teaspoon chili oil
Rice or quinoa for serving (I used red quinoa)

Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the Szechuan peppercorns and cook, stirring constantly, until the peppercorns are aromatic, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully and be sure not to burn them. Transfer the peppercorns to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and process until coarsely ground; set aside.

In a small glass measuring cup combine the tamari, rice wine, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch. Stir until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved; set aside.

Heat the wok over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and when it’s hot and begins to shimmer, add the eggplant and stir-fry until the pieces are golden brown and tender, 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds more. Stir the sauce in the measuring cup once more and add it to the wok. Stir-fry until the sauce is thickened and bubbly, 1 minute.

Remove wok from heat, add the ground Szechuan peppercorns and toss to combine with the eggplant and sauce. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with green onions, peanuts and chili oil, and serve with hot rice/quinoa.

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