Basics & Techniques

Red Chile Sauce

This is a simplified version of New Mexican red chile sauce. By using the dried pods of flavorful peppers you’re tapping into a rich, deep, traditional flavor. It’s not a hot sauce but almost a stock that enriches and complement the flavors around it.

This recipe is not complete – This sauce needs to cook. One of my grandmother’s pet peeves was when the tomatoes in an Italian Red Sauce “weren’t cooked” – she could identify the slight bitterness that came from a rushed Sunday gravy. Tomato Sauce needs time to mellow and blend and so does the Red Chile Sauce.

Most commonly, I’ll use this sauce as a replacement for a big can of tomatoes in my Chili recipes. I simmer my chili for a while so it has time to mellow and, oddly enough, intensify at the same time. To use as a salsa, you’ll need to bring it to simmer it to reduce the volume by 1/3 to 1/2, depending on how thick you’d like it. For instance, I use this as an Enchilada sauce and reduce it by about 1/3. For a thicker salsa, I’d bring it down to a cup.

Big dried chile pods are (or should be) cheap and I suggest finding a good international market to find different varieties and a lower price than a ‘gourmet’ market. My favorites are Chile Negro, Guajillo Chiles, and Ancho Chiles. An Ancho Chile is a dried poblano pepper…generally mild, but as with all peppers they can vary in intensity from pepper to pepper. Guajillo chiles are a dried mirasol pepper and have a medium spice and a rich flavor. Chile Negro are the hottest of the bunch and these are the dried version of the pasilla pepper and commonly used in Mole sauces.

I suggest wearing gloves during prep…or not…roll the dice you badass!

Prep Time: 10 minutes / Soak Time: 60 Minutes

4 large dried chiles (Ancho, Guajillo, Chile Negro, or other)

1 clove garlic

1 Tbsp kosher salt

2 Tbs apple cider vinegar

About 2 cups of boiling water

Rinse to clean the whole dried chile. Placing them on a paper towel mat as a workspace. Pull the hard, top stem off – if it doesn’t have a stem, it will still have a pretty hard mass at the top, take that off. Pull open the chile and strip out the seed and veins. Put the cleaned chiles in a glass or stainless-steel bowl.

Cover the chiles with about 2 cups of boiling water and let soak for at least 1 hour.

After soaking, carefully pour the rehydrated chiles along with the soaking liquid into a food processor or high-speed blender. Peel and crush your garlic clove and add that to the blender along with the salt and cider vinegar. Blend well.

Use in a recipe immediately or refrigerate. Will keep tightly sealed in the fridge for about a month.

If you’d like to use this as a traditional salsa or to add a deep, rich, warm flavor to a fresh dish, you should simmer to reduce by 1/3 to 1/2 – otherwise it can taste pretty bitter and raw. In a small sauce pan bring the chile sauce to a boil and then simmer on low, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes or until you reach your desired consistency.

Enjoy!

Roasted Beet Catsup

Prep Time: 20 minutes / Cook Time: 45 Minutes / Refrigeration Time: 2 hours

3 medium/large fresh beets, trimmed, peeled, and quartered

½ sliced red onion

1 peeled garlic clove

3/4 cup of water

2 Tbsp white vinegar

1 Tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce

1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Trim, peel, and quarter the beets. Place them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Let cool.

Slice the red onion and add it to a high-speed blender or food processor. Add the cooled roasted beets, garlic clove, white vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and ½ cup of the water. Pulse the blender and check the consistency. It should be obvious, but you’re going for a catsup consistency…if you’ve arrived, do not add the additional ¼ cup of water, if not, add the remaining water slowly until you reach your preference. Test for salt and sweetness. You’re going to have some variability with this recipe due to the liquid and sugar content of the beets. Do not be afraid to adjust until it’s best for your taste buds. Chill before serving.

Enjoy!

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.

IMG_3175

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!

Basic Tomato Sauce

Prep time: 15 minutes /Cook time: 90 minutes/Total Time: 2 hours

One of the reasons I started this blog was for my kids. As daring, industrious young adults (mostly vegan and nearly vegan), they wanted a lot of my recipes of the food they grew up on to cook for themselves. They always loved my tomato sauce and I’ve always given them a quick, “Oh, it’s easy, take this and this and cook it together for a while.” When visiting me though, they claimed that it never quite tasted the same, so we cooked this Basic Tomato Sauce together. What I discovered is that “basic” is a qualifier for the sauce, not the skills and timing needed to produce a hearty and rich tomato sauce.

My kids were pretty much looking at the list, dumping the ingredients in a pot, and simmering it for about 30 minutes. While I’m a big believer in “If you use good ingredients, you’ll get a good product,” any recipe is a little more than simply the sum of its parts – I needed to refine my kid’s technique a little bit. See the notes below for hints!

2 28 oz cans of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes (see notes below)

1 28 oz can of tomato puree

¼ cup of high-heat and olive oil mix

1 medium to large yellow onion, chopped

4-6 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed, large pieces

1 ½ cups red wine (or white wine or beer – see notes)

1 ½ Tbs of Italian Seasoning (mixed herbs only, no salt),

OR

(1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp dried tarragon

1 tsp dried basil)

2 Tbs Kosher salt

1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed

1 tsp garlic powder

1 Tbs fennel seed

1 Tbs Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

4 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar – split

Handful of chopped fresh basil, oregano, and parsley (optional)

2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Start with a hot pot. Preheat a 5-7 quart Dutch oven or other large heavy-bottomed pot on the stovetop. Add the high-heat oil and olive oil mix and then add the garlic and onions and sauté on medium heat until they get translucent. Toward the end of the sauté time, add all the herbs and 2 Tbs of the balsamic vinegar, cook with the o & g the last couple minutes.

When the onions, garlic, and herbs are soft, boost the heat and stir. As soon as it’s starting to get nice and hot, hit it with the wine and then lower the heat back down to medium and stir from the bottom to release any caramelization from the pan. This is when I open my cans…so let this simmer down for a couple minutes.

Add the tomato sauces first and stir until mixed. Then turn up the heat to medium high to get this simmering again. Once combined, stir in the puree, keep the heat on medium high and stir and bring back up to a simmer. This is when I usually add a little wine to each of the empty cans and swirl them around a bit, pour that into the pot too.

Adjust the heat and bring the sauce up to a slow bubbly simmer while stirring occasionally. At this point, everything should be smoothly combined, nothing stuck on the sides or bottom of the pot…kinda scrape the sides down and tuck it in by partially covering the pot.

Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 hour.

Turn off heat.

Stir in the rest of the balsamic and 2 Tbs of olive oil and the optional chopped fresh herbs. Cover completely and let rest for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust before serving.

Makes about  10 cups (2 batches)

Recipe notes:

Tomato Sauces – I use mid-quality/priced tomato sauces for this recipe, you can go more expensive, but I wouldn’t go cheaper. You can also adjust the texture of this sauce by substituting your tomato mix, smooth v chunky tomato sauce, the crushed tomatoes option will make the final product a little thinner and lighter, etc.

Wine – Be flexible, generally, I like a cheap Italian red wine for this, but something drinkable. If I’m making a lighter sauce I’ll use white wine, if I’m making something like ‘beef’-a-roni, I’ll even use a beer. If you want to eliminate the alcohol altogether, double the vinegar. You still want that acid.

Good luck and enjoy!

Yes Karen, bread is vegan

I’m not the best baker. I’m a little too “a dash of this and a dash of that” to go it on my own. So that’s why i was really excited to find this perfectly easy recipe for delicious crusty mini-loaves! With only four ingredients and minimal fuss, impress your family and friends with a warm homemade loaf and a kitchen that smells like fresh bread and love

Vegan Mozzarella

Loved this quick and easy recipe for dairy-free mozzarella! One of the key ingredients here is Kappa Carrageenan – I ordered from Amazon.

Tip: Once you add the boiling water – work quickly! it starts to firm up instantly. I poured mine into 8oz ramekins.

Here’s the link to Vegan Blueberry where I got the recipe! Great site! Thank You!