Monthly Archives: April 2019

Some Thoughts on Cooking Oils

IMG_3222Fats are important! They absorb flavor, can add flavor, distribute heat, provide a mouth feel, and generally add satisfying notes to everything we cook.

There are high-heat oils and low-heat oils (smoking points), flavorful oils and neutral. Simply put, the oils you use when cooking, baking, and finishing can make a world of difference in your dish.

The challenges are even greater for vegan cooks, we don’t have meat to add fat or moisture and animal fats are very specific in texture, density, and heat-resistance. Getting a vegan dish “just right” requires some fiddling with fats.

Here are some of the Cooking Oils and Fats I have in my Pantry and how I use them:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Probably use this the most and you really must buy the “Extra Virgin” standard. EVOO is a medium-high heat oil. Good for a quick sauté, but anything more and I’ll fortify it with a little Grape Seed Oil (see below). Of course use EVOO in all salad dressings and when finishing pasta salads and when cooking Italian, Greek, or in any Mediterranean style. I like mildly fruity, so Whole Food’s Spanish Olive Oil is my go to. And please don’t cook pancakes with it.

Really Expensive EVOO: I don’t buy this. I will usually have a small bottle on hand that someone gave to me as a gift or I’ll pick one up for an important dish or dinner party. Essentially, if you buy a decent 10 buck EVOO, that’ll do for most finishing needs. These delicate Olive Oils have low-smoking points and will burn easily, so best not used for cooking.

Flavored EVOO: Hard Pass. Flavor your own damn oil!

Grape Seed Oil: My oil for high-heat pan cooking and extended sautés or caramelizing. I also use Grade Seed Oil often to fortify EVOO for things like Tomato Sauces where you’re sautéing first, but want the fruitiness of EVOO carrying the flavor or spice.

Coconut Oils: Remember this…Virgin Coconut Oil tastes like coconut…Refined Coconut Oil does not. Refined coconut oil is a nice high-heat oil, you can use it to fry, but there are cheaper alternatives for that, but if you cook too high with unrefined coconut oil, you’ll start to burn the residual fruit left in and burnt coconut is nasty. In it’s natural semi-solid form it can be used in baking and pastries almost like a butter alternative. I like to use Virgin Coconut oil in cookies and Thai Food dishes.

Toasted Sesame Seed Oil: A must for Asian dishes, but this is a finishing oil, don’t cook with it! The “Toasted” part is very important…adds a nutty nose and flavor. Be careful not to buy just Sesame Seed Oil without the “Toasted.”

Canola Oil: I have a big jug of this under the counter. I fry with this, bake with it, and use it when i need a nice neutral oil in volume. I use canola when cooking my Mexican, Asian and Indian dishes. I feel like it can make a dish oily though and make your lips feel greasy (?!?) so don’t go crazy.

Cooking Sprays: I use these mostly for baking – I have a Canola (neutral) and an Olive Oil Spray (very little flavor).

There are a lot more out there! Avocado Oil is big and trendy and fortunately for everyone everywhere Truffle Oil seems to be crawling back under the rock from whence it came.

I hope this offers a good, simple overview!

Enjoy!

 

 

Smokey Maple Shiitake Bacon

Prep time: 15 minutes/Cook time: 40 minutes

Marinating time: 1-2 days

Shiitakes are an excellent blank slate for flavors and just the right structure to crisp and crumble when baked, provided you add a measured amount of fat and salt.

There are quite a few recipes out there for this excellent plant-based alternative. Most of the others have a little less wait time and use fresh shiitakes. My recipe adds a considerable amount of marinating time and uses dried shiitakes. I use dry for three reasons, they tend to pick up and hold the flavors better, they’re pre-sliced nice and thin, and they’re sooooo much cheaper!!! Head to your local Asian Market and you can pick up an 8oz pack of dried, sliced shiitakes for a couple bucks.

2 oz of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms – pick through for the larger slices

1/4 cup Brown Sugar

1/4 cup Maple Syrup

1/4 cup Grape Seed oil

2 Tbs Kosher Salt

1 Tbs Braggs Aminos or Tamari Soy Sauce

1 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar

1/2 tsp Liquid Smoke

Rinse your dried shiitakes a couple times with cold water. In a bowl is best. During your second rinse, fill the bowl with water and lift the mushrooms out with your hands (this allows any nasty stuff to sink to the bottom) and place in a clean bowl. Cover with approximately 3 cups of luke-warm (not boiling) water and rehydrate for 45 minutes.

When rehydrated, again lift the shiitakes out of the water and transfer to a nest of paper towels. Using a cheesecloth-lined strainer slowly pour the mushroom liquid into a mason jar or other container for storing. You’re not going to use this liquid in the recipe, but now you have about 2 cups of a light mushroom stock that you can use to cook rice, etc.

Gently squeeze most of the water out of the mushrooms in your nest of paper towels and lay out each shiitake flat in an 8 x 11 glass baking dish. Set aside.

For the marinade, wisk all ingredients in a small bowl and pour evenly over the top of the mushrooms.

Using plastic wrap, carefully cover and gently press the plastic wrap directly on to the mushrooms and marinade and create a loose seal around the perimeter.

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Put in the fridge and let it hang out for a day or two.

When you’re ready for bacon, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle lightly and evenly with kosher salt. Remove the plastic wrap covering and carefully lay each mushroom flat on the salt-lined parchment.

Bake on the middle rack for a total of 30 minutes, you’re going to turn the mushrooms several times and rotate the baking sheet in the oven to ensure even browning, so stay alert!!

Keep a close eye, ovens vary. You may want to crack the oven door a couple times to release the moisture, to stare in wonder, and to allow your sinuses to be filled with plant-based love.

Depending on how crisp you want you bacon, you may want to turn the oven off after the 30 minutes are up and let the bacon hang out in the warm oven for another 10 minutes.

Chop or crumble it, throw it in a tofu scramble, or stack up a vBLT!!!

Enjoy!

Quick Vegan Chocolate Cake

I don’t know who the heck Eva Howes is, but she makes a damn good chocolate cake!

My friend Lisa texted me this recipe:

Eva Howes' Chocolate Cake

Turns out this is her family’s go-to cake recipe and it’s simple and delicious! Passed down, clipped from a newspaper, and glued on and index card…these are my favorite kind of recipes…well worn and well loved. Dairy free, egg free, and you can literally make this anytime from what you’ve already got in your pantry.

As you can see, I made frosted cake squares, but this cake is certainly hearty enough for stacking and frosting. I substituted the 2 cups of water for 2 cup of cold coffee and I used dairy free store-bought frosting (most brands are) but jazzed it up with some shredded coconut tossed in cacao powder!

Enjoy!

5 Easy Recipes as Fresh as Springtime!

When the weather starts getting warm and the buds on the trees are bursting with life (and pollen lol), I notice a definite shift in the way I eat and cook. Flavorful local ingredients begin to appear on the store shelves, farmer’s markets re-open, and I need the right fuel to stoke energy for the longer days and a more active lifestyle. It’s exciting!

These easy fresh grain and pasta salads, full of veggies, are no April Fools – they’re easy, convenient, nutritious! Best of all, you can make these ahead to insure that you have a healthy and quick meal that can fit into everyone’s busy schedule!

 

Farro Salad with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

Prep time: 15 minutes/Cook time: 15 minutes/Total Time: 30 minutes

 

Dressing (prep in a mason jar, cover and shake, let sit for a while while you chop):

1/3 cup Olive Oil

2/3 cup Sherry Vinegar (I’m not a huge fan of oily vinaigrettes)

1 teaspoon each – Tarragon, Thyme, Basil, Ground White Pepper, dry mustard

2 tablespoons Kosher Salt and a couple twists of black pepper

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

Salad:

1 cup of cooked Farro, cooled & drained well

1 lb of cleaned Brussels sprouts, shaved into a thin slaw

5 carrots, small dice or grated

1 lb of cherry/grape tomatoes – slice half, keep half whole

3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1/4 cup chopped yellow onion

 

Make the dressing and cook the farro.

Chop your onion and peeled carrots, slice your Brussels sprouts in half first, then slice thin vertically but at a slight angle. Toast some chopped pecans in a small pan on medium heat – watching carefully and tossing frequently – probs about 4-5 minutes. Be careful!! Pecans burn in an instant and remember to take them off a little earlier than you think because they’ll continue cooking with the residual heat. Chop the pecan and mix all these dry veggies together and let them hang out for a while in a big bowl.

Is your farro drained and cool? Add and mix that in and halve half of your tomatoes and toss. Is it all nicely mixed? Add the dressing and toss again lightly. Serve at room temperature.

Enjoy!

 

Spring Beet Down Pasta Salad

I love using roasted beets in pasta salads because it creates a crazy natural pink color. The green beans and watermelon radishes make this pasta salad a crunchy show-stopper!!

Thug Kitchen’s Spring Beet Down Pasta Salad

 

Antipasto Pasta

Creamy, spicy, and crunchy! Inspired by an antipasto platter, the roasted red pepper, crunchy radicchio, and artichokes and olives make your tastebuds do a little dance!

Rabbit and Wolves Vegan Antipasto Pasta

 

Pho Noodle Salad

Fresh lime juice and light rice noodles make this dish one of my favorties and this is a really easy recipe and will impress the heck out of your friends!

Found this recipe in VegNews, but it comes from Hannah Kominski’s plant-based cookbook Real Food, Really Fast.

Vegan Pho Noodle Salad

 

Avocado Kale Caesar Salad with Everything Bagel Croutons

These croutons are the best!!! I used 1/3 each of kale, romaine, and arugula for a little less fiber…i’m a vegan for crying out loud, i get a bunch already. Paired with a big cup of gazpacho and a glass of white wine…this salad is gonna make you happy!

Vegan Avocado Caesar Salad with Everything Bagel Croutons

 

Sloppy Vegan Joes

As a meat eater I used to make Sloppy Joes from scratch…it’s pretty easy, cheap, and delicious. I’ve been know to buy some frozen ‘crumbles’ and a can of Manwich (it’s vegan) but this is real food made with love, not grocery store convenience, and it’s noticeable in taste and nutrition!

A few years back I was working from home and watching “The Chew” and Michael Symon (his wife mostly eats plant-based) shared this recipe and I scratched it down on an index card. Now cancelled, the show’s website is also gone too so I had to work off my scanty notes, but here’s a pretty good recreation.

2 medium eggplant

2 10oz packages of Cremini/Baby Bella (or button if you must) mushrooms

1 medium onion

4 cloves garlic

1 green bell pepper

1 28oz can chunky tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

¼ cup grape seed oil

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup maple syrup

2 Tbs tomato paste

2 Tbs Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tbs each Kosher salt, chili powder, sweet paprika

1 Tbs cumin

1 Tbs vegan Worchester

2 tsp each garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes

Dash of liquid smoke

 

Chop and prep all veggies in a sugar cube sized dice. In a large heavy pot preheated to medium high, sauté the onion and garlic with the grapeseed oil until translucent. Add half the diced eggplant and stir to coat, then add half the mushrooms. Brown on medium high heat, stirring regularly for about 3-4 minutes. Add the other half eggplant, stir to mix. Then add the rest of the chopped mushrooms. Brown all on medium high heat, stirring regularly for about 3-4 minutes. This step is all about moisture and texture management. (Eggplant is like a sponge and mushrooms are about 90% water…I find they marry well with this little culinary dance)

Add the bell pepper and spices, mix and brown – about another 3-4 minutes

Turn up the heat and add the tomato paste, brown sugar, Worchester, and vinegar – stir and brown – about 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and the dash of liquid smoke (be careful! It’s potent stuff) and stir well. Bring to a heavy simmer and turn the heat back down to a slow simmer for 25 minutes covered – stirring often. Uncover, add the maple syrup, and simmer for another 15-30 minutes, stirring from the bottom often until you reach your desired Sloppy Joe consistency. Taste, adjust, and serve.

Invite friends over! This make a ton! About 12-18 sandwiches

Enjoy!