21 May 2007

Mmm, potatoes...

Breakfast food is such a delightful type of cuisine. One of the essentials, of course, is potatoes. Potatoes make an excellent base for a veggie breakfast burrito (using this recipe, in fact, with some scrambled eggs and a little salsa or pico de gallo), or you can cut right to the chase with some hash browns or homefries. I don't usually feel like grating up potatoes first thing in the morning, so I go with homefries instead.

Now, homefries are like snowflakes: no two people make theirs quite the same. I like mine with a little kick to them, and made in a cast-iron skillet. Pepper aficionados could add diced red and green bell peppers or even a jalepeno. Serve with plenty of salt, pepper and ketchup. Mmm...

serves 2 generously, 3-4 as a smaller side

2 T canola or vegetable oil, or butter
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
4-5 medium potatoes, diced

crushed red pepper
fresh ground black pepper
fresh ground sea salt

Heat the oil/butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the garlic and onion about 3-5 minutes, until onions are turning pearlescent. Add the potatoes and stir to coat.

Spice according to taste; I use ~ 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. cayenne, ~ 1 tsp. red pepper, ~ 1/4 tsp. black pepper, ~ 1/2 tsp. salt, ~ 1/2 tsp. oregano and ~ 1/4 tsp. rosemary. Mix up thoroughly with the potatoes to evenly spice.

Fry, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are done, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

19 May 2007

Let's Hear It For Down Home Cookin'

On a recent trip to Dallas, I had the best oyster po'boy of my life. And considering that we spend time every year on the Outer Banks of NC, that's really saying something. It was just the right amount of oysters, the breading was tasty but didn't try too hard, and they had a sort of spicy French dressing on it. Yum. Dallas has some great restaurants, to be sure. My foodie friend Pam asked me how my trip was (I was at a conference) and I ecstatically described every meal.

There's still plenty of down home cooking available to vegetarians, especially those of us steeped in North Carolina tradition. Breakfast, of course, is an all-essential meal when you're talking good home cookin'. I'm still trying to perfect my recipe for pancakes, but will definitely post my recipe for angel biscuits soon. They're fluffy and buttery, just like a good biscuit should be. (Actually, our hotel in Dallas had great biscuits on the continental breakfast buffet.) In the meantime, since I have to look up those recipes and I remember the following one, here's a never-fail, super-easy recipe for French toast.

French toast was actually the first thing I ever learned how to cook, with my mom on weekend mornings. This recipe is adapted from the one she taught me, to include less lactose - and more powdered sugar!

Ann's Favorite French Toast
serves 2

2-4 slices bread per person
1 egg (buy free-range and organic!)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
powdered sugar (~1/3 cup)
2 T butter

Start 1 T butter in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Stir the egg with a fork, in a bowl wide enough to hold the bread (flattish works best). Add the cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla and stir until thoroughly mixed. Soak both sides of the bread in the mixture for several seconds, then place on the skillet. Cook until golden brown and smelling delicious. Repeat with each slice of bread; cut toast in half, arrange on the plates and sift powdered sugar to your preference over the slices. Fresh strawberries are great on the side; and of course butter and maple syrup as desired.

07 May 2007

Blackened Fish Seasonings

One of the great things about Colorado is that even though it's a land-locked state, you can find some tasty, fresh trout fillets at your local grocery store. Over the weekend, we made some awesome blackened Steelhead trout that turned out well enough to be post-worthy! This recipe is fast, easy and yummy. I paired it with baked potatoes and some steamed broccoli; nothing fancy, but very satisfying.

Notes on the recipe:
It was rainy and cold, so instead of putting the fillets on the grill, we "grilled" on the stovetop using this cool, cast iron griddle/grill piece that's flat on one side and has ridges on the other.
This would be a good marinade/seasoning for any red fish - trout, salmon etc. Could also work for catfish or probably any blackened fish.
If you can't find Smoked Tomato dressing, French would work as well.
Spices should be used according to taste; the quantities listed below are an approximation only.

Smokey Blackened Trout

Trout fillets for two people

1-2 Tablespoons Smoked Tomato dressing

3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp basil
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (can substitute regular paprika)
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp Northwoods Fire seasoning (if you haven't discovered Penzey's Spices yet, check them out!; you can substitute any smoky-flavored grill seasoning mix)
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Heat grill to medium/medium-high. Wash fish and pat dry.

Brush smoked tomato dressing on top of each fillet. Combine spices thoroughly in small bowl, then brush on top of the fillet.

Place fillet skin side down on grill. Let cook for about 6 - 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Flip fillet and grill another 5-8 minutes or until it's blackened to your satisfaction. Flip fillet again, test for doneness by flaking with a fork, and if it's not done yet, let it cook longer on the skin side.

04 May 2007

Fluffy Cranberry Almond Scones

I just baked the lightest, fluffiest scones of my life. I've been searching for the perfect scone recipe for a long time, and I think I've finally gotten it by crossing recipes from two of my favorite cookbooks. At last!

"Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", by Deborah Madison, is an absolute must for any vegetarian kitchen. Williams-Sonoma's "Essentials of Baking" is likewise a key reference for anyone who wants to hone their baking skills. It offers challenge for the intermediate/advanced baker as well as easy to follow instructions with pictures that are actually helpful. (Totally unsolicited reviews, y'all. They're just that good.)

A few notes on the recipe:

  • If you're using sweeter ingredients, you'll want to reduce the amount of sugar in your dough, using a minimum of one tablespoon.
  • I actually used about 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder. You could vary this more, down to 2 teaspoons, depending on how dense you like your scones. This recipe is certainly lighter than traditional scones.
  • One of the original recipes was a currant cream scone recipe, and the other was a ginger cream scone recipe (with crystallized ginger). There are a million other add-ins you could try. Dream up various combinations of your favorite dried fruit, chocolate, and nuts.
  • Both original recipes called for cream rather than whole milk, but I decreased the dairy intensity and they still taste great.
  • It's generally helpful to have your eggs at room temperature when baking.
  • If you aren't using almonds in the recipe, replace the almond extract with the same amount of vanilla extract... or mint, if you wanted to make double-chocolate mint scones (mmmm).

Fluffy Cranberry Almond Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the topping
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk plus 1 tablespoon for the topping
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 425° F (high altitude 450°). Line a half-sheet pan or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Lightly mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives, until the mixture looks like meal. Mix in the cranberries and almonds.

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk and almond extract. Stir into the flour mixture just until evenly moistened. (I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.) If the mixture is sticky, add a little more flour just until the dough doesn't stick to your fingers.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently form it into a ball. Pat the ball into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 wedges with a sharp knife (floured if needed). Place the wedges 1 inch apart on the baking pan. Brush with the tablespoon of milk, and sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar on top.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. If you're not sure how golden brown to go, just wait until it smells irresistible, remove from oven and let cool slightly. Serve warm, with butter if desired.

02 May 2007

My Weird Diet

No, no, vegetarianism isn't weird. My diet is, though. Allow me to explain.

My weird diet is largely the result of being lactose-intolerant and somewhat selective about observing this restriction. In brief, I eat the dairy products that I enjoy, while my allergic aversion to items like milk, yogurt, sour cream and cheese makes me literally want to barf at the very smell. I will cook using the blacklisted items (except cheese), albeit sparingly, since the finished meal doesn't smell icky. I will also cheerfully go to town on some ice cream, butter or eggs, none of which smell nauseating.

This discrepancy makes my brother absolutely nuts. It makes my husband only slightly nuts, but my brother, who is nicknamed Cheese-Boy, is probably going to be frustrated by my diet for the rest of his life. In vain do I point out that this leaves more cheese in the world for him to consume. It does no good to suggest that he got all the cheese-loving genes for both of us. I think sometimes big brothers just need to be driven nuts by their little sisters.

So, because of my partial dairy aversion, when I announced to my mom at the tender age of 14 that I was now a vegetarian, she did what moms do best: she worried about me. She consulted a nutritionist who agreed that most vegetarians get important nutrients from cheese. And Mom did what moms are entitled to do: she put her foot down, saying I could be a vegetarian if I chose, but that I needed to keep eating fish so I could get enough protein. I acceded.

So I'm a fish-eating vegetarian who hates cheese. Nice, eh? If you're not a vegetarian, you're probably wondering what's left, what with the whole mercury-fish thing. I think it can be difficult for people to conceptualize other diets. I think that because of the number of friends that have invited me to their home with the caveat, "Although I don't know what you're gonna eat. What do you eat?"

Thankfully, there are lots and lots and lots of other vegetarians out there, some of whom eat fish, some of whom even dislike cheese. Once, while working as a cashier at the awesome health food co-op Weaver Street Market, in Carrboro NC, I actually met someone who had the exact same diet I do. I practically fell over, I was so astonished.

The important thing to remember is - not by sheer coincidence - also one of my favorite things about cooking. Every recipe can be adapted to your tastes. So even if you disagree with my diet, I hope you'll find some yummy tidbits on this blog to enrich your own culinary life.