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!

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 known 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!

Crispy Buffalo Califlower Wings

So, a lot of recipes for vegan wings soak something in a spicy goop and throw it in the oven or a vat of hot oil. Honestly, with wings, now that I’m vegan, I’d rather have something crispy and spicy with a zippy, layered texture, not some crap that’s supposed to remind me of those slimy, fatty, animal parts served up by tight-shirted amateur sex-workers. These cauliflower wings satisfy your taste buds without all the exploitation! The first time I made this recipe was late at night after a few drinks, so you know it’s gotta be good!

Spicy Califlower Wings

Preheat oven to 425º

1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets

1 1/4 cups plain non-dairy yogurt

1/2 cup Buffalo Wing sauce (I use Red Hot)

2 shakes of tabasco (more to taste)

1 Tbs Kosher salt

1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (no dairy)

Preheat your oven to 425º. Toss the cauliflower florets with half the Kosher salt and spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, in a large bowl, mix the yogurt, wing sauce, tabasco, and Kosher salt together.

Remove the cauliflower florets from the oven after 15 minutes and dump the warm florets into the bowl with the yogurt mixture. Toss well. Like really well. Make sure that all the nooks and crannies are well coated.

Next, a two-handed move, while tossing, sprinkle the cup of bread crumbs and coat well.

Return immediately to the parchment-lined baking sheet and return to the 425º oven for 20-25 minutes.

If desired, toss with a little more buffalo sauce and/or serve with vegan blue cheese dressing or vegan ranch, and crispy celery sticks!

 

Enjoy!

Vodka is Vegan

Normally I’m with Ron Swanson and feel that “clear alcohols are for rich women on diets” and for disinfecting wounds, but I’ll make an exception for a well-made Bloody Mary. “Well-Made” is the key here though, most of those sickly tomato juice concoctions you get at brunch with grandma aren’t worth the ice that’s chilling the glass.

Speaking of glasses, I use highballs with 1 1/2 oz vodka with a Tajin rim – I’m not a fan of the tall glass because you can’t stir it up as you drink it. Worse yet, if you sip it through a straw, you’re getting a mouthful of pepper and horseradish. All-in-all this recipe is not that spicy, kick it up if it suits you with the cayenne or Tabasco. Garnish with whatever, celery, skinny carrots, cucumber, or bell pepper sticks…toothpicks of cherry tomatoes, pickled okra, and olives work too. If you have people over, make a couple of these jars ahead of time and put the jars out on the table with a bottle of good vodka and a selection of garnishes. Shake it up and mix it up! Whatever you do, don’t forget the cornichons

Mason Jar Bloody Mary Mix

In one mason jar with lid add,

2 tsps horseradish

2 tsps apple cider vinegar

2 shakes of vegan Worchester sauce

10 twists white pepper and 10 twists black pepper (1/2 tsp each)

Shake (or 2) of cayenne pepper

1 shake of garlic powder

1 tsp smoked or Kosher salt

1/2 tsp celery seed (not Celery Salt)

4 dashes of Tabasco

Juice of half a lime

Fill the jar with good quality Tomato Juice or V8 and shake

Pour over 1 1/2 oz of good quality vodka and ice in a highball glass rimmed with Tajin, stir and garnish.

 

Enjoy!

Vegan Risotto

Prep time: 15 minutes /Cook time: about 45 minutes/Total Time: 1 hour

I’ve been making risotto for almost 30 years and my first attempt was a crunchy miserable mess. Then I found Craig Claiborne’s simple basic recipe in the New York Times. It’s great because no matter what “kind” of risotto you want to make you can use this as your base and fold in the other ingredients at the end of the rice’s cook time.

Note: Please use a decent quality short-grain Arborio rice. Even in full-fat dairy versions, the creaminess of risotto comes from the starch of a perfectly cooked grain, not from the butter, cream, or cheese.

Veganization: Instead of butter I use olive oil at the beginning and Earth Balance to finish. I choose to not replace the Parmesan cheese, but you can add ¾ cup of plant-based parm at the end…fold it in with the Earth Balance. Of course, vegetable stock replaces chicken stock.

(Recipe based on The New York Times Cookbook, Revised Edition; Harper & Row, 1990; pps 536-7)

 

2 cups short-grain Arborio rice

5 cups Vegetable stock (I usually use a 4 cup box and add a cup of water)

4 Tbs Olive Oil

¼ cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves finely chopped garlic

½ cup dry white wine

1Tbs Kosher Salt

1 tsp dried thyme

½ tsp white pepper

to finish:

1 pinch saffron treads

4 Tbs Earth Balance or other vegan butter

 

In a medium sauce pan heat the stock to just below simmering. Keep hot and close at very low heat.

In a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, and salt. Cook until soft. Add the rice, thyme, and pepper. Stir well to coat and mix and continue cooking for about a minute or two to toast the aromatics and brown the rice bran. Boost the heat and pour in the wine – stir quickly to release any stuck bits on the bottom of the pot and lower the heat to medium to medium low. At this point the wine should be about gone.

Next, ladle 1 cup of the hot stock into the rice (Fun Fact: Most kitchen ladles are ½ cup), and stir to combine. Adjust the heat to a slow simmer. The rice should be absorbing the stock slowly and you should be stirring it gently. The 1st cup of stock should absorb pretty quick and you’ll see the starches thicken up. This is when you add another cup (2 ladles) of hot stock and stir to mix. This time the stock should absorb a little slower. You do not need to stir constantly, but I wouldn’t leave the kitchen. Make yourself a cocktail or empty the dishwasher. It’s important to remember that you’re cooking rice, but slowly, a little bit of liquid at a time, and with the lid off. Repeat adding the warm broth when needed, gently stirring, waiting a little and stirring a little.

About 30 minutes after you added your first cup of stock, you should be adding your last. (Slow cook time, plus the heated stock, plus the upfront toasting, helps break down the bran of Arborio rice into creamy starchy goodness.)

Once you add the last of your stock, keep the flame steady at medium heat, and stir well. Add the vegan butter and crush and add the saffron threads and fold in. Turn heat off and cover. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Adding in ingredients like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, pine nuts, vegan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, herbs, or any combination should be cooked separately and folded in at the end or served on top or at the side.

In the summer, I’ll lighten this recipe up with fresh lemon juice, herbs, and seasonal steamed or grilled veggies…in the winter I’ll keep it warm and rich with mushrooms, nuts, hearty greens, and finish it with port.

 

Makes 4-6 servings

 

Enjoy!

Tofu Scramble

Prep time: 5 minutes /Cook time: 8 minutes/Total Time: 15 minutes

 

Half a block of Extra Firm Tofu, drained under weight

4 Tbs grape seed or other high-heat oil

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp kosher salt

Pinch of sugar

Splash of rice wine vinegar

 

½ Red or Green Bell Pepper

½ cup Red or Yellow Onion

 

Weight and drain your tofu (I use an inexpensive tofu press) and crumble into, for lack of a better term, “scrambled egg size” pieces. In a bowl, toss the crumbled tofu, oil, spices, sugar and vinegar together and let it marinate for about 10-15 minutes while you chop your bell pepper and onion.

Tofu Scramble 2

Crumbled and seasoned tofu for Scramble

With a little oil and kosher salt in a non-stick skillet, sauté the onion and bell pepper on medium-high heat until softened but still colorful (about 3 minutes). Then add the marinated tofu, stir and toss to heat, combine, and brown. This will be take about 5-6 minutes, adjust your heat as needed but it should be consistent around medium heat.

This will make about 3 servings and is great in breakfast burritos and sandwiches, or just alone with some nice toast and coffee!

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!