Marinara Pasta Sauce for Grown-ups

Marinara and pastaThis isn’t your run of the mill marinara sauce that gets trotted out to kids as a standard in restaurants all over the U.S. The sun-dried tomatoes and black olives make this somewhat more sophisticated.

1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan margarine, olive oil, or oil used to store the sun dried tomatoes
1/2 large or 1 medium sized onion, finely diced
2 large cloves garlic
1 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes (crushed in tomato puree also works)
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, minced
1/2 cup black olives, drained and cut in half
1-3 tbsp of sugar, depending on tartness of the tomatoes

Marinara sauce

This sauce is good with pasta and as a pizza sauce, if you’re looking for something a little different.

Warm the fat in a large saucepan, then gently fry the onion over a medium low heat, until it has completely softened and started to brown (~10-15 minutes)

Add the garlic, and allow to warm through for a couple of minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients, and simmer for 30 minutes until the tomato chunks have started to disintegrate, and the sauce is thick and rich.
Check seasoning, and add more sugar or salt as necessary.

SouthWestern Salad

South Western SaladSunshine! Spring is showing its face here in the Pacific NorthWest, and it is far too warm to resist the urge to make salad, today. I’ve made variations of this salad over the last year, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that less is more when it comes to the dressing for this flag-bearer of a salad. Here we have the quintessential SouthWestern ingredients, all dressed in little more than the sharp floral flavors of fresh squeezed lime. If you love avocado the way we do, add an additional one (in cubes) to the salad before using the final one to decorate the top. I’ve not given a quantity for the chili, as different chilis have such a variation in heat, and different people have such a variation in desire for heat. You should add enough chili to just feel the heat, here, but not overpower all the other flavors. I’ve been using 1-3 tsp of minced, fresh/frozen Hatch chilis, which seems to be about right for my family.

1 cup frozen sweet corn, defrosted
2 14oz tins of black beans, drained
minced fresh chili, to taste
2 spring onions, cleaned
7-8 small red/yellow/orange bell peppers
3 salad tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 a fresh lime (or more, to taste)
1 small head cos/romaine lettuce
1 large avocado (or 2, if your budget copes with it)

Mix the corn and black beans together in a large bowl.

Stir the minced chili into the beans.

Slice the spring onions on the diagonal into 1/2″ pieces, and the bell peppers, and tomatoes into cubes.

Mix these into the corn and beans, stir in the chopped cilantro, and dress with the lime juice.

Rip the bigger leaves of the cos/romain lettuce into bite-sized pieces and form all the lettuce into a bed in a large (or individual) bowl/s.

Pile the bean mixture onto the lettuce bed, decorate with the avocado, and squeeze some additional lime over the top, if desired.

Serve as is, or with tortilla chips or in GF tortilla shells.

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

I’ve recently got the curry bug, again. Here on the western side of The States, even up here near Portland, Oregon (which prides itself on its cuisine) good curry isn’t really available. The problem with curry is finding a blend of spices that appeals. Cooking the curry itself isn’t difficult, but many curry powders rely too heavily on cumin (a relatively cheap spice), in my opinion, which has left me searching for blends that please.

Warmly spicy and intensely flavored, this tomato based curry pairs well with sweet mango chutney, and plain, boiled, rice.

aubergine curry

One thing you’ll notice about this recipe is the huge variation in oil that is suggested. For a home-style (and healthier) curry, use the lesser amount. For a rich, indulgent, restaurant style dish, use the greater amount. Aubergine has a reputation for absorbing all the oil in a pan in seconds flat, but it will absorb much less oil when it cooks (and consequently leaves oil in the pan to cook the spices) if it has been salted before cooking and the oil is sizzling hot when the aubergine is added.

1 aubergine (eggplant), cut into 3/4″-1″ chunks
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 – 1/2 tsp crushed dried chilies
1 tbsp – 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 large onion, thickly diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
14-16 fl oz (2 cups) tinned tomatoes
2 – 6 tsps sugar (optional – to counteract acidic tinned tomatoes)

Put the aubergine (eggplant) cubes in a bowl, and sprinkle with the salt. Allow to sit for up to 1/2 hour to soften and draw out some of the juices.

Gather the spices together in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan, over a medium/high heat.

Drain the aubergine (eggplant).

Wait for the oil to get hot, then add the onions and aubergine (eggplant), and cook (stirring occasionally) until both are soft. (~10 minutes)

Add the garlic, and allow to warm through.

Sprinkle the spices over the veggies. Stir.

Add the tomatoes, cover, and cook until they have broken down into a sauce (~15 minutes), and the oil starts to glisten on the surface.

Taste, and add extra salt (~1/4 tsp) and/or sugar to taste.

Serve hot with cooked rice.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip CookiesAlthough I’m more focussed on savory meals, it does seem wise to have at least a handful of trusted recipes in my repertoire for sweet indulgences.

This makes about 24 two inch cookies.

2 oz cold margarine
2 oz brown sugar
2 oz sugar (3 oz if you like your cookies on the sweeter side)
4 oz blanched almond flour
4 oz all purpose GF flour
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
1 egg
~1 tbsp rice milk as needed
1 cup dark chocolate chips

DSC_0014Pre heat the oven to 375F.

Blend together the margarine and sugar in a food processor (or by hand with a wooden spoon, if you’re still that virtuous) until fluffy.

Add remaining ingredients (except chocolate chips), and process into a coherent ball. Add a tablespoon of rice milk, if needed to get the dough to come together.

Stir in the chocolate chips, and put 1 tbsp quantities onto a parchment lined cookie tray (9 – 12 per tray), then roll gently to 1/2″ thickness with a rolling pin, or flatten with the back of a wetted spoon.

Cook in the top half of the oven for about 15-20 mins until barely golden around the edges. Remove from the pan, and allow to cool.

Vegan Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a classic comfort food from France: a thick, bean-y stew which clings to your ribs. I had it as a pre-vegetarian teenager, when we vacationed there years and years ago, and was so enamored of it, that when I turned vegetarian, I wanted to retain the ability to eat it.

CassouletWhen I first devised this veganized and simplified version, I was still eating wheat, and instead of tofu, I used 4 large spiced veggie sausages which were utterly yummy here, but much to my frustration were wiped off my menu when I realized I had to ditch the wheat. It took me a fair few years to get around to figuring this gluten free version.

Now, I should point out that ‘normal’ cassoulet not only has meat in it, it also has everything cooked together for quite a long time to cook the beans, tenderize the meat, and form a rich tasting crust. Tofu isn’t going to be improved by a long slow cook in bean juices! It’s quite tender enough, and if anything, it needs to be firmed up, which is why I bake mine first.

If you want to, you can certainly use 1 1/2 cups (~9 oz) dried beans in this dish. Just soak and cook them up according to packet instructions (along with the bay leaf) beforehand, and retain enough of the cooking liquid to cover them by about 1/2″ when adding to the other ingredients.

The tofu can either be fresh, or frozen and defrosted before use. Defrosted tofu has a different texture to that of fresh which releases its water more easily, and may well have a more acceptable texture for those folks who don’t normally eat tofu.

Serves 3-4 people

2 tsp oil or margarine
1/2 large (or 1 medium) onion, coarsely diced
2 cloves garlic
2 cans great northern, haricot/navy, or other small white beans (not drained)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp pepper
salt to taste (depends on how salty your cooked beans are)

~14 oz firm tofu (regular, not silken), drained
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pepper
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F, so the beans won’t cool down too much after being put in.

half cooked cassouletHeat the oil in a dutch oven, and cook the diced onion over medium heat until medium brown (~10-15 minutes). Add the garlic, beans, the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, 1/4 tsp pepper, and enough bean liquor / water to cover by 1/2″. Check seasoning (it should taste slightly under salty at this point). Bring all to a gentle simmer, and transfer to the hot oven (uncovered).

Stir together the tsp of salt, nutritional yeast,  and one of the 1/4 tsp pepper in a large bowl. Add a dash of cayenne, if liked.

Cut the tofu into 3/4″ cubes or chipolata, pat dry with kitchen paper, and use your hands to toss the tofu gently with the seasoning mixture. (Defrosted tofu is particularly delicate.)

Spread the tofu out on a baking/cookie sheet which has been lined with baking parchment, and place in the oven for about 1/2-3/4  hour until starting to firm up around the edges. (This will depend on how wet your tofu is, and how big the chunks are.)

cooked cassouletWhen the tofu is ready (firmed up on the outside and chewy), stir it into the beans, and continue cooking the beans in the oven until the sauce has finished thickening (a total cooking time of about an hour for the beans).

Serve hot with crusty GF bread, and warm fluffy blankets next to a roaring fire.

Mushroom, Quinoa, and Cashew Stuffed Delicata

Delicata squash has a dense, rich flesh, and a thin edible skin, and it needs only a little salt to bring out the flavor, which is excellent. In my opinion, it is at its best when meltingly soft. I first came across it at a wonderful little diner called Our Bar in Washougal, Washington, where they baked the stuff, and tossed cubes of it into breakfast scrambles and vegetable fried rice.

DSC_0001

Stuffed Delicata Squash with Roast Potatoes and (vegan) Creamed, Garlicky, Cruciferous Veggies.

Stuffing the delicata turns them into a vegan, formal dinner center piece. Both my girls gave it the thumbs up … they are very partial to formal dinners with roast potatoes, orange and cranberry sauce, and cashew gravy.

The moist, herby, mushroom stuffing can be made the day before and stored in the fridge until required: a useful trait when there’s a lot of cooking to do! It must be about as damp as you’re going to want to eat it, as it doesn’t dry out much in the oven (and you wouldn’t want it to: quinoa tends to get a bit crunchy and stuck between your teeth if it dries out. Not so good.) If you have any extra stuffing left over after filling the delicata shells, mould it into 3″ round patties, and cook them along side the squash, to eat later as burgers.

Serves 6-8
1 recipe of the stuffing for Cashew and Mushroom Bake
3-4 delicata squash
oil as needed (~1 tsp per squash)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350-400F (depending on what else you have cooking in the oven).

Wash the squash, then use a hefty knife to cut them in half from stem to blossom end. Use a spoon to firmly scrape out (and discard) the seeds, rub oil over all surfaces, sprinkle lightly with salt, and place (cut side down) on an oiled cookie/baking sheet.

Cook the squash for about 30-40 minutes (or until a fork can pierce the flesh), then turn over, stuff with the mushroom mixture, cover lightly with baking parchment to avoid drying, and continue cooking until the nut mixture is hot (15-30 mins).

Crusty, Vegan, Gluten Free Bread

Cut loafAfter having been in temporary accommodation for exactly a year now, with half to two-thirds of my kitchen in storage, we’re finally looking at moving into a permanent house in a couple of weeks’ time. I’m so looking forward to being able to play in the kitchen again. Amongst other things, I managed to put into storage all my bread tins, so have been experimenting with some glass cookware (that I rarely used before, but somehow ended up taking with us).
Making gluten free bread with eggs is now pretty straight forward, but getting a good rise out of a vegan bread mix has been more challenging.

slice of bread

This slice was cut before the loaf had fully cooled, but note the lack of unleavened bread at the bottom of the loaf!

I was toying with my copy of Gluten-Free and Vegan Bread by Jennifer Katzinger (with which I’ve had limited success) a few months ago, when I realized that the logic that she was using for not waiting for the dough to rise before putting it in the oven, could be applied to what I used to do sometimes with wheat bread. Sometimes, I would only wait until the dough was mostly risen, then put it in a cold (but heating) oven so that the slowly rising heat from the oven caused the yeast to go mad, right up until the point that it got hot enough to cook. Jennifer puts her bread straight into a hot oven, but I wanted to experiment putting the dough into a cold oven, so that it only had 15 minutes of rising before cooking at a reasonably high temperature. It seems to me that we still need a certain amount of yeast action to raise the loaf, but (according to Jennifer) we don’t want enzymes to have time to break down the structure, so we’d best be using lots of first generation yeast instead of waiting for successive generations to build up the CO2 in our loaf. This means that I’ve used far more yeast than I would normally use in a loaf …. and at this rate, using individual sachets of yeast is an expensive proposition. I buy my yeast in 2 lb bags in Costco for about the same money that I’ve seen charged for a 4 oz jar in other supermarkets.

The resultant bread is mildish in flavor (but not bland) with a crunchy crust, and a soft, moist mie the texture of REAL bread (as opposed to the pointless, fluffy-white-nothing of mass-produced ready-sliced modern wheat bread, of which I was never particularly fond). The tapioca starch keeps the texture of the mie soft; the almond flour gives a mild but nutritious aspect; the bean flour is great for nutrition and structure (but tends to be rather strongly flavored which is why I’ve diluted it with other flours), and the teff flour is also nutritiously superior, but with a warming, mellow flavor. I think it’s the teff that gives the slight molasses (not sweet) flavor that my daughter noticed. All in all, I really like this loaf. It isn’t as calorie dense as my much loved almond bread, but has good structure and flavor and isn’t reliant on eggs.

2 tbsp chia seeds
6 oz (1 1/4 cups) tapioca flour/starch or arrowroot
2 1/2 oz (2/3 cup) almond meal
2 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) garbanzo/garfava bean flour
5 oz (1 cup) teff flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp instant yeast
2 tbsp maple syrup

Measure the chia seeds out into a small container, add 4 fl. oz (1/2 cup) of water and put to one side to swell. (Minimum 15 mins. Hot water speeds up the process.)

Into the food processor, put the starch, almond, bean, and teff flours. Add the salt, xanthan gum, oil, and yeast.

Teff doughInto a jug, measure 1 cup of water and the maple syrup.

Once they’re ready, add the soaked chia seeds to the processor (the mixture will have thickened). Start processing the mixture and slowly (~10 seconds) add the water/syrup mixture. Process until the ingredients are fully amalgamated (~60 seconds). Add another tbsp or two of water, if your processor is having a hard time mixing this.

Heavily grease a 2lb loaf pan, scrape the dough into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Cover loosely with a sheet of baking parchment (not foil which increases the cooking time) to avoid over-browning.

Place the wannabe loaf in the oven, then turn on the oven to heat up to 340F and cook for 2 hrs (from cold – this timing is for a glass loaf pan; metal ones apparently lengthen the cooking time).

When cooked, the loaf will have pulled away from the side of the pan slightly. Tip it out, and allow to cool (ha ha … I never manage this bit) before slicing.