Cooking with Nigella

I love a summer vacation, and this summer, I am ensuring I have no shortage of these little respites. My first this season was to visit friends and family on the west coast. While I still had a couple weeks of teaching left, I hauled my laptop with me and made sure that I only worked when necessary, the rest of my break reserved for wine tasting, reading and relaxing.

During my time on Vashon Island visiting my friend Carolyn, I partook in the indulgence of reading several of her cookbooks. One never has time or thinks of reading them-- reaching for them only when it's time to plan a meal or make dinner. But for me, there are few relaxations so satisfying as reading through a culinary tome cover to cover. Carolyn's collection showed preference for a few particular writers, Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson. After reading several of each gourmaven's works, I found myself drawn to Lawson's books the most. Her writing style is so charming, and her recipes draw you in with their quirky word choices and sumptuous descriptions. I snapped pictures of my favorite recipes from Nigella Bites, Nigella Express, and Feast.  But as I packed up to head home from my journey, I realized these semi-illegal (fair use, I hope??) photo-ops would not be enough for me, the insuperable cookbook collector.  So I ordered and quick-shipped a book from the beloved domestic goddess that would arrive just in time for my summer break: Simply Nigella. I've been cooking from it lots in the last week, and I've been truly waiting to have one of the recipes not turn out well...but it's yet to happen. (There's a Lemon Pavlova in the oven at the moment, though...so perhaps this will be it.)

Here are a few highlights:

Avocado and Cucumber Salad

Chicken and Wild Rice

Simple Roasted Radishes

Potato Hash with lots of Red Peppers

What I'm most enjoying about with Nigella's recipes is that they are accurate. Maybe she and I have the same stove (doubtful), or maybe we have the same oven? In any case, I have found that following her directions to the T makes everything come out like it looks in her delightful pictures. For example, when she indicates one should beat egg whites into satiny peaks...they do in fact look a bit like satin that has ripples in it. And when the recipe says to add the eggs one at a time to the hash and cook for 5 more minutes, that is truly when the eggs are ready and at their best for gooey, runny dipping with the potatoes.

While I have some time on my hands (trying to actually take a hard-earned summer break this year), I have a bevy of recipes that I'd like to try. Between bouts of lakeside relaxing, that is. Cheers.


Three Bean Salad

While I was visiting my friend Carolyn on Vashon Island, near Seattle, we spent a lovely day on "the watch" (the upper deck) reading, watching the mountain and chatting. Carolyn made this great salad for lunch, a recipe from Mario Batali, and I thought it might be perfect for a birthday party I attended last weekend. I couldn't find the recipe she used at the time, so I just did my best to make a good vinaigrette and added what I remembered from the salad I ate with C. I think this salad is perfect for spring and summer-- filling (lots of protein!), refreshing, and light.

Here's what I put together:

3/4-1 lb green beans, blanched
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup arugula
1/3 c. toasted pine nuts

2 T olive oil
3 T champagne vinegar
2 T cashews
1 t dijon mustard
1 t honey
1 clove garlic roughly chopped
pinch of stevia or low-cal sweetener (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

3 T sparkling water

Blanching: Bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare a large bowl of ice water. Remove tips from the beans. Add some salt to the boiling water, and add the green beans. Boil for 3-4 minutes-- test one. It should be a little soft but still have some crunch. This is a key texture to me. When they are ready, strain and place in  ice water to immediately stop the cooking. You can let them hang out there if you are doing something else.

Toasting: Place the pine nuts on a cooking sheet (I do this in my toaster oven). Preheat to 350. Cook the nuts for 5 minutes and then turn off the oven heat. Let them sit until they are quite fragrant, checking them often, about 10-12 minutes.

Dressing: Combine oil, vinegar and cashews. Whiz in your blender (love the bullet!) until completely smooth. Watch out for chunks. While they're sometimes fun, for this salad, not so much. Once smooth, add the dijon, honey, garlic, stevia, salt, and pepper. Whiz again. Finally, add the sparkling water and stir with a spoon (to keep some of the bubbles).

Salad: Drain, dry and chop the green beans into 1 inch pieces and combine in a salad bowl with the cannellini beans and chickpeas. Add the arugula and pine nuts and mix these ingredients together. Toss lightly with the dressing, trying not to break up the cannellini beans too much. I like to re-chill this one for 15-20 minutes before I serve it, but Mr. Batali suggests letting it sit at room temperature. I think chill enhances that nice crunchy texture of the blanched green beans...but he says the room temp makes the flavors in the beans and dressing more punchy. Up to you, I suppose!


Quinoa Tacos

So, in the name of a good cause, my friend Sarah offered to participate in her work team's fundraising project, a taco lunch for about 250-300 employees of her company. She told me about this weeks ago, and apparently the planners were rolling along with a completely meat-based menu. Thoughtful Sarah spoke up and mentioned that at least 20 percent of that group could, potentially, be vegetarian or vegan, and would (obviously) prefer a non-meat option. I'm so proud! Sarah, being a fine meat-eater herself (one of the low-carb variety, even), still thinks of others-- what a great friend. She offered to provide the vegan option for the event, planning to serve up to 70 people.

When she texted three weeks later to remind me that she needed my recipe for fabulous vegan tacos, I was reminded of the affair and inspired to help her chef it up (as my friend Mich and I like to say). I sent her a recipe, she picked up the goods, and we cooked for a crowd at my place. It was great fun.

After I sent the recipe to Sarah, I was reminded (by her, sort of) that the original recipe I wanted to send was from Appetite for Reduction, a taco recipe with black beans, zucchini and black olives. This recipe is really fantastic...but the one we made was just as good, I think, though more traditional without the olives and without the amazing garlic-yogurt sauce that accompanies the dish. With that in mind, I learned a couple things during this project about cooking for the masses:

  • Simplicity does have a place!
  • If it is close to the same recipe for each batch, it will all pan out in the vat-o-food
  • Not everyone likes jalapeno as much as me...
  • While fresh and homemade is always my preference...taco seasoning really can get the job done in a pinch!
In any case, we had a great time cooking together. Here's what we made. I figure this recipe serves around 10 people 2 tacos each...maybe a little more, depending on the crowd.

1T Olive Oil (or slightly less, if you prefer)
1 c. diced onion
1 T minced garlic
1-2 T finely chopped jalapeno
2 c. chopped mushroom
1 c. small dice zucchini
2 big handfuls of fresh spinach (2-3 cups)
1/2 of a 16 oz can black beans
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 packet of taco seasoning or 2-3 T. of seasoning blend below

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Once hot, add the onion. After the onions begin to look translucent (3 minutes or so), add the jalapeno and garlic. Saute for another minute or so, until it's all very fragrant (sniff it!). Add the mushrooms to the pan. Stir and toss a bit. Let cook until the mushrooms begin to release their liquid. At this moment, add the zucchini and stir. Let it all cook until the zucchini is tender and the mushrooms are totally cooked down, 4 minutes or so, I think. At this point, add the spinach and toss until it wilts a bit. This shouldn't take more than 3-5 minutes, likely on the lower end of that. Once the spinach seems to be wilted or nearly there, add the quinoa and beans. Stir until everything is pretty well combined and reduce the heat slightly if you haven't already.

At this point, you've hopefully decided whether you'll take the easy or more challenging (not really) route. If you bought a package of taco seasoning, add it along with 1 c. water and stir until all of the filling is coated, the sauce/spice evenly distributed and the liquid absorbed. 

If you want to make a taco seasoning from the spices in your cabinet, which I recommend, mix the following together before you begin cooking: 

2 t. cumin
2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. oregano
1 t. garlic powder
2 t. dried onion or 1 t. onion powder
2 t cornstarch or arrowroot (optional, I think...)
1/4-1/2 t. cayenne
1 t. paprika
1 t. salt

This recipe may be slightly more than you need for this recipe...but add as you see fit, starting with 2 tablespoons of the mix and adding more if needed after you mix the first dose in.

Once you're finished, this taco filling is ready to go. Enjoy and please-- for the love of Pete-- serve your tacos with fresh avocado. It's the only way to go! Enjoy...


Old Recipes Die Hard

It's been a 3-years long quest for the best vegan mac and cheese recipes. I've probably tried something like 20 different recipes, I'd guess...maybe more. The reason it might not be more, however, is because the first recipe I tried was so good. I don't think I've made that recipe in more than 6 months because I've been trying all these others and have found a couple winners...but today for lunch, I went back to my old standard from Vegan Yum Yum. This recipe has all the important qualities of good vegan mac:
  • creamy and rich 
  • tangy and cheezy
  • thick and well textured

This recipe has all these things, and to make it even better, I usually have ALL the ingredients on hand to make it. Very handy. Not all the best rich foods have tons of butter and cream in them. It's just not true. Aside from the mac and cheese at Local Kitchen, I haven't found a "real" mac that beats the vegan ones I love to make at home. For all you cheese lovers out there, it's not just the cheese that makes life delicious! It's a special combination, I think...the rich, tangy, saltiness of the sauce, the softness of the noodles, the warmth of the dish altogether. Cheese isn't the only tang, and cream isn't the only rich. It's a wonder, but it's true. 

Here's the recipe from VeganYumYum.com:

Mac and Cheeze
Serves 2-3

1/3 Cup Earth Balance Margarine
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 1/2 Tbs Low Sodium Tamari or Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Lemon Juice, fresh
1 Tbs Sweet/White/Mellow Miso
1 Tbs Tahini
1 Tbs Tomato Paste (not sauce!)
1 1/4 Cup Soy Milk
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Pinch Salt
Black Pepper, to taste

Melt the margarine over medium/medium high, add flour to make a roux. Let it cook for a minute or two, until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the Tamari, lemon juice, miso, tahini, tomato paste, and mix up until combined. Add part of the milk and cream it with the other ingredients. Then add the remaining milk. Add the yeast, bring to a light boil, stirring constantly. It should be thickened by this point, and you can take it off the heat.

I usually reduce the margarine quite a bit, maybe 2-3 tablespoons, and it doesn't change the awesomeness. I've also swapped out the tomato paste for Ketchup when I don't have any on hand. I do not add salt. Be creative, I suppose. Pour this sauce, when finished, over 3 cups of cooked rice noodles, spirals or elbows. You can then bake it for 15-20 minutes at 375, topped with breadcrumbs, for super awesomeness.


Sweet potato, 5-spice muffins

I made these muffins today from It's All Good. They are a wonderful option for the celiac and gluten-free inclined among us. Sweet enough, super moist and uber flavorful, I ate one for breakfast and one for lunch. So much for a varied diet! :-/

So the gist here is using the sweetness and moisture of a roasted sweet potato mixed with a standard GF mix and maple syrup, resulting in an excellent crumb/texture and a great taste, thanks to the 5-spice mixture. Usually, GF pastries are pretty heavy and hardened, in my experience. These muffins are neither of these things. They are delightful. When they're warm, they're great...they're also good with a light swipe of Earth Balance. Light enough for a snack, there are something I'll likely make again. 


This Week's Book: It's All Good

Second cookbook of spring is a bit more springy, and I think you'll agree just by checking out the cover. It's All Good, by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen. Admittedly, I've long had a thing for Gwyneth. I think it has been ever since she played in Great Expectations...so lovely, so desirable. She's not that "one person" on my freebie list or anything, though...instead, I think that part of me wants to be Gwyneth. It is so lame. So sick. The good news is, this is pretty much my only celebrity fascination. But still. Am I a teenager? No. But I might have liked GP even then...who knows.

Anyhow, in this book she approaches a limited diet with the same ease and loveliness that she seems to approach everything else she does in public. The book is beautifully designed, with photos and layout that are great for working in the kitchen. What does that mean? The pages are clean, clear and have lots of white space, never more than two recipes on a page, and the instructions are simple and to the point. They don't require rereading. 

The same could be said about the foods in this book. Everything is kept streamlined, which makes sense for an elimination and whole foods diet. While little of what is offered in this book is "new," it does put a somewhat sexy face on minimizing wheat and dairy, and eating more whole foods (and I don't mean GP's face). 

Some of the recipes I will likely never try. This is the first cookbook I've bought in 3 years that includes recipes for meat dishes, and there are 50 pages of those in this book. While there are days that I consider adding fish back into my diet, I'm definitely not there, and it's usually just a fleeting thought (one knows too much...). In any case, the bulk of the book is actually great for vegetarians and vegans. Since the diet supported here cuts out all dairy along with gluten and most eggs, the only thing to watch out for is the rogue egg in a breakfast muffin, but most of the eggs in this book are front and center (like in the "perfect fried egg" or the "egg white omelette"). 

So far I've found a couple things super delicious in this book. The Green Goddess dressing is great. While I usually do not use much fat in my dressings, I splurged on this one, which is Veganaise based (yes, the book uses veganaise). It's so good. I don't know if I can go back...so far, its my most consistently used recipe in this book. 

I also had good luck with the non-recipe that is Avocado on Toast. It has always been a favorite of mine, but this book suggests adding a swipe of Veganaise underneath the avocado. I do not object. I have had this 3 times in the last 2 days. Do not judge me. I could eat this for every meal for a month and still enjoy it. Ripe avocado, red pepper flakes, Ezekiel bread (don't judge me, Drew). Yes please.

A couple other recipes bear mentioning: The quinoa mixed with browned cremini mushrooms and arugula (another simple delight) was an excellent quick dinner. If you get in the habit of keeping cooked quinoa around, a habit necessitated by my kale salad adventures, it's even quicker, as in 10 minutes. This was an excellent meal that might have been fine on its own, but I added the Spicy Brussels Sprouts to the meal and it was so great. Two greens on a plate seems like excess for some, but for me...it can make up for a happy hour when my greens intake was overrun by a caramelized onion quiche. These were shredded sprouts tossed with sriracha, lemon, and a bit of fish sauce. Very tasty and a bit crispy, which is always good.  (I also posted about a quinoa based breakfast dish from this book here).

Another recipe I mentioned in a previous post, the sweet potato 5-spice muffins, is completely necessary for GF vegans. This was my first baking endeavor with a GF flour mix (I've cooked with a blend before, but not pre-mixed). It was so delicious. The sweet potato was still slightly chunky in the batter, which created these additional pockets of moisture/joy. I ate my first while still warm with a little earth balance (margarine), and couldn't help but go back for a second for an afternoon snack. Very simple, very easy, very tasty. 

One oddly confusing recipe was the shepherd's pie, included in the kids' food section. Perhaps in some far corner of London where GP lives there is a shepherd's pie that is SUPER tomatoey, but in my world shepherd's pie is a nice brown gravy with mushrooms, carrots and celery. Also in that section is a fine idea that I shared with friends to great acclaim, black beans and guacamole tacos. Granted, I stuck with my recipe for black beans, which adds a little cumin, shallot, and jalapeno to the book's version. I've been making these beans for myself for a couple years, and I couldn't see changing my staple. In any case, topping them with a simple guac and serving it up in a tortilla (or mini tortilla bowl!) is a great idea. 

I also plan to try the following recipes: 
  • Pasole
  • Salt Crusted Fish (for company)
  • Frankie's-esque Beet Salad
  • Grilled Corn, Korean Style
  • Millet Falafel with Avocado and Tomato Relish
  • Polenta with shitakes and leeks
  • Banana Date Muffins
Look for posts that feature them in the future! 


Breakfast of Champions (who don't have to work today!)

So I made breakfast this week from a new book which I'll write about next week. I usually opt for smoothies or fruit for breakfast, but I was trying to really celebrate the few days off that I get before the new term begins, so a more sumptuous breakfast was be appropriate. It was so simple it didn't need a recipe, but...I always like to try new versions of great breakfast. 

Sauté some shredded kale, 2-3 leaves, with a clove of garlic and evoo. You can remove the stems, but I was using a pre-chopped bag from TJ's, so I kept them on. Once cooked, season and toss with a bit of left over quinoa (1/2 c or so) and stir fry until it's all hot. Top with an olive oil fried egg, some chopped scallions, and fresh cracked black pepper. So delicious. Utterly satisfying. Utterly simple. 

There is something truly warming about a hot, egg-y breakfast...something I've missed over the last (nearly) three years. I've had a total of about 5 eggs (on purpose) in the last month, and I've mostly really enjoyed them. I had two perfectly poached eggs at Local Kitchen for Easter brunch, a couple truffled deviled eggs after a trip to Chicago inspired me to try this dish, and then the egg for breakfast this morning. It's been fun to reintroduce eggs into my diet. When I first went vegan, I thought this would be my undoing, giving up eggs. It wasn't, incidentally. I didn't miss them at all. I have, however, enjoyed fulfilling my protein quotient with this delicious food on occasion this month, and provided I can continue to find organic and bird-friendly sources of eggs, I'll probably stick with this new plan. Try this recipe. You'll love it!