Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho, full stop, summer is over

September 30, 2010 § 7 Comments

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

I just completed a power cooking session: 3 courses in a full two and a half hours, which  produced the following:

1st course: Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho
2nd course: Brussels sprout casserole
3rd course: Plum tart w. homemade coconut chocolate truffle ice cream (ice cream was made the night before)

So, there are a few things I realized: first, power cooking is a serious stress reliever! Two, don’t turn the oven on if you’ve got two things to bake and neither is anywhere near completion! The rest are nuances of the dishes. I was not a fan at all of the brussels sprout casserole, and will post it as a FAIL in the upcoming days, with details as to why. Next to come will be the recipe for my plum tart and homemade coconut ice cream!! So check back for that in the near future or sign up for the updates!

To kick it all off, tonight I am posting the watermelon-tomato gazpacho for my friend who needs cold soup!!…and for all the poor folks suffering in California from the heat wave. This is a great first course because it combines all the ingredients of a watermelon salad, but pureed so that it’s just easier to eat, and you can serve it to your friends who are short on teeth this way =)

There was nothing original added on my part here (this was a learning exercise for me, taking on the challenge of dishes I’ve never done before, but mainly it was all about my tart, the beauty). I used the recipe from Good Housekeeping (link), which is pretty solid as is. As far as flavor goes, there’s not much I would change, but watermelon paired with other ingredients is new to my palate, and I’m going to have to think about it a little more thoroughly as I eat my way through the rest of life. I would serve this as a dessert to an uber health conscious crowd (or gluten free, vegan, etc.). Otherwise, as a first course I believe it’s a nice opener, a little unusual, but still good, which is just the way I like my food. The only difference here is that I adapted the recipe to make two servings:

Watermelon-Tomato Gazpacho
(adapted for serving size from Good Housekeeping, makes 2 servings)

2 cups watermelon cubes
1/3-1/2 cup cubed cucumbers (adjust according to how bland you like your food, less cucumber => stronger tomato/watermelon flavors)
1 + 1/2 roma tomatoes
about 10-12 good sized basil leaves (picked from my plant, I usually just take whatever the poor thing can bear to give me)
the juice of one lime
pinch of salt
green onion for garnish (one stem chopped should do it for two bowls)

Puree the watermelon cubes. Pour into a large bowl. Then puree the remaining ingredients (cucumber, tomato, lime juice, basil, salt). Incorporate this into the watermelon mixture.

Note: if you like your gazpacho a little chunky, don’t puree the mixture too thoroughly.

Sweepstakes: Foodbuzz sponsor, Concannon Vineyard is giving away $20,000 to host a family reunion (but in the details it looks like they’re just handing over a check). You can enter here, and find the details and official rules here.

Pan seared tofu fillet on a bed of ginger carrot salad (Vegan)

September 28, 2010 § 6 Comments

pan seared fillet of tofu served over ginger carrot salad

I used to find Iron Chef difficult to watch because of the cutting of the fish heads and sometimes live animals being slaughtered. My interest piqued when the show’s producers decided to present a special vegetarian episode. There was also a spinach episode way back with Cat Cora (maybe?) that featured spinach mac & cheese. What’s not to love about that??!! So, Chef Michael Symon now does a show on the Cooking Channel that breaks down three courses from an Iron Chef episode. Again, if you’re sensitive to seeing dead animals, this program is not for you. But if you can kind of put that aside, he relays inspiration and creativity through breaking down the amazing out-of-the-box Iron Chef dishes in steps.

...for sure the 2nd best thing I've ever made, taste wise

It’s one of these episodes that served as the inspiration for this dish. He performed the operation on a fish (tearsob, Cat??!) but the whole time it just looked like a little white piece of silken tofu. And all I could think was, how am I going to recreate this dish in my own kitchen (minus the fish of course). I also recommend shows like these (there are also instructive videos on Bravotv.com that break down the winning dishes from Top Chef…love chef Voltaggio’s video on Kevin’s unique version of the Singapore Sling which won him Top Chef!!!) for presentation, which is parallel to outlining. When you have an approximate for presentation of your main ingredient, the rest is fill in the blank, e.g. hmm, I need a base of unruly vegetables, etc.. 

For the base (can’t remember what Symon used), I decided to make a carrot salad. I just had carrots lying around and have been wanting to make a carrot salad for a while. I decided to go Asian, just in staying true to the tofu. So, the carrot salad is infused with hot chili sesame oil, ginger and garlic. 

Ginger Carrot Salad
Measurements are approximate, the quantities here will make about 2 plates (as shown above) 

1+1/2 shredded carrots
1 tsp grated ginger
1 clove of grated garlic
1 stem of green onion finely chopped
1 tbsp of sunflower seeds
3 tbsps of hot chili sesame oil (if you find you need a bit more oil, fill in with sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil)
salt and pepper to taste
juice from half a lime 
 
Mix. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate. You will love this. The aroma will hit you in the face and you’ll have a hard time not eating it all on the spot. The longer you let this marinated mixture sit, the stronger the flavor will be. 

Pan seared tofu fillet in ‘butter’ lime sauce
1 pkg silken tofu
tempura mix
corn starch
all purpose flour
oil for the pan
salt and pepper 

2 tbsp earth balance
grated lime peel (the shavings from one lime is enough)
salt and pepper 

This process may be a bit difficult to translate. I started by cutting the tofu into fillet-like pieces (see picture). Then, thoroughly dried each piece in a paper towel. I created a mixture (unknown quantities, just a little of this and that) of corn starch (probably a tbsp), flour (probably two tbsps) and tempura flour (equal parts as flour). I coated each of the tofu pieces in the dry mixture (see picture), then put them into an oiled frying pan on medium heat (the pan should already be warm), adding salt and pepper to taste to each side. Once both sides were cooked w. a golden brown finish, I set them on a cooling rack and added the butter and lime peel to the pan to create a sauce. When serving I spooned this sauce over the tofu fillet, which I served over couscous (see below). Hope you enjoy. This was definitely one of my best so far. Bar is raised now!! 

Review: Muzita Bistro in San Diego

September 27, 2010 § 4 Comments

This was my first foray into Ethiopian food. I kept hearing good things regarding the vegetarian angle, and wanted to try it for a long time. For the ambiance and the yelp rating, we settled on Muzita Bistro in the University Heights neighborhood of San Diego.

We ordered every vegetarian option, with the three main dishes being the Tofu Silsi, Shiro (ground chick peas, very much like hummus but much more oily and with a tomato kick), and the Kantisha Kilwa (a vegetable dish). The food is brought out family style. Each order is combined on one large plate, which is how Ethiopian food is generally presented (although, I don’t like when restaurants insist on doing this!!!). This will pose a challenge if you go with carnivores but don’t specify to keep the vegetarian portions separate. All of the food kind of congealed together, and was topped with a very uninspired wilted salad of romaine. This was all placed on one large piece of injera bread.

Amazing Injera

Now, this injera bread is amazing. I’ve never had anything like it. It’s light and fluffy and closely mimics what it must be like to eat a thin sponge. If not for this novelty, the night’s evening would have been a bust, I’m sorry to say. The Tofu Silsi lacked flavor and wasn’t cooked in any way special. People who often cook with tofu tend to know that you can’t just throw a thick sauce on cubes and then serve. This leaves you with two distinct flavors in your mouth: 1) whatever the sauce is and 2) bland tofu. This, I’m sorry to say is what you get with the Tofu Silsi here. The Kantisha Kilwa vegetable medley had a bit of a spicy kick to it, and was the only item to go mostly unfinished at our table.

Shiro

The Shiro was another savior for the night. The dish came in a bowl separate from the congealed rif-raf in the middle of our table (pictured here). Perhaps the separation contributed to maintaining its strong distinct flavor, which was much like an oily hummus infused with tomato sauce. It was very tasty. We followed up with each of the vegetarian sides which were less memorable. The flavors are reminiscent of Indian cooking. There is the similar strong presence of the tomato base present in Ehthiopian fare. The problem here was that each of the components lacked a distinct pride of flavor, kind of like everything was cooked in the same pot.

The dessert was a nice end to the meal. A pot of chocolate, not quite literally, more along the lines of a small tea cup with a thin layer of chocolate and an overflow of whipped cream. Though the whipped cream was good, and fresh, it didn’t take away from the disappointment of realizing it was going to take a serious dig to get to the good stuff at the bottom. It did inspire the idea that I should spend some time eating in my own kitchen and maybe on experimenting with different flavors of truffles.

Order the Shiro with Injera and follow with the Pot au Chocolate and you will enjoy your meal. Skip the rest!!

FAIL: Do not bake pudding!

September 26, 2010 § 6 Comments

So, I thought I’d be adventurous. We have some fresh plums this week and I wanted to make a multi layer dish. A balsamic plum concoction on top of a pudding cake drizzled w. the balsamic syrup and basil, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. That was my plan. The pudding cake didn’t really work out. I tried a few variations. In keeping with a vegan restriction, I used soy milk with the pudding powder (the box clearly states that soy milk won’t allow the pudding to rise), thinking that when mixed with flour and baking soda/powder it might work out to give me something a bit denser/gelatinous. Instead I got an inedible gelatinous (yes, what I was going for minus the inedible part) thing that couldn’t be pried from my dish, even though it had been greased sufficiently. The cakes were cooked in a water bath. I’m open to suggestions, if the readers have any. I’m aiming to revisit this somehow. I’ve got plums that I need to turn into magnificence!!!

Apple French Toast Cups (Vegan)

September 25, 2010 § 6 Comments

Apple french toast cups

Just in time for Saturday morning breakfast!!… I’ve been seeing a lot of bread pudding postings these days. They look so gooey and wonderful, and since I’ve never tried bread pudding, I thought I’d take a shot at it. I came up a bit short of pudding, and instead was left with a variation on french toast, which I love anyway, so my taste sensations were still very happy with the result. It was kind of a french toast cup, a less fattening version of bread pudding I suppose, and I used a high grade maple syrup instead of sugar, because I’m all about lowering the sugar intake wherever you can …and, with apples layered in, because it’s always a good idea to stick a fruit in a dessert so that you can get your 5-a-day!! I already have some ideas about how to redo this, making it more custard-y.

Apple French Toast Cups
(double this recipe to make 6 individual cups)

5 slices of bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I like to mix whole wheat and sourdough)
1 apple (cut into small cubes)
1 cup of soy milk
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp of high grade maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 cup of chopped walnuts for topping
Earth balance (enough to coat the cups, and also to sautee the apples)

In a frying pan, sautee the cubed apples in melted butter. Add the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, cinnamon, maple syrup and vanilla extract.

Butter the individual cups. Layer half of the cubed bread on the bottom of the cups. Add a layer of the sauteed apple (as pictured). Finish with a final layer of bread cubes. Pour the liquid mixture into the cups and top with the crushed walnuts. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

The reasons that this doesn’t quite turn into bread pudding fall to two major categories:
1) Lack of custard-y filling. My idea for redo-ing this is to add maybe 4 tbsps of instant vanilla pudding in place of the eggs.
2) The baking method. Here I didn’t bake my cups in a water bath. That’s the shortcut that makes this easier to execute.

This is a less fattier version of true bread pudding, but that is a result of the vegan ingredients. I believe that if the instant pudding works as I expect it will, the difference where fat content is concerned will be minimal.

The future of Food

September 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

As the last season of open doors for paying customers comes to an end at El Bulli on Spain’s Costa Brava, Master chef Ferran Adrià already has a plan for the future, and he’s discussed it widely. In the past week two magazines I randomly picked up profiled the Master chef, and magazines from somewhat opposite ends of the spectrum I should add: Vanity Fair and Bloomberg Markets. The overarching message seems to be two-pointed:
1) to publicize the last days of the restaurant, a seemingly zero net benefit effort since the restaurant is already completely booked and Chef Adria doesn’t price gauge (he charges well below what the market would bear for the chance to sit in the privileged seat of one the restaurant’s last patrons, 35 courses for $340), and
2) to publicize a class in culinary science at Harvard University, set to commence this fall.

Molecular Gastronomy: Science and Art, I’d like you to meet my friend FOOD
For those of you who don’t know, (honestly I didn’t either until I saw Wylie Dufresne during the Top Chef season of Richard, the most awesome contestant in Top Chef history!!), there is a restaurant world where science, art and food meet. And, El Bulli is the mecca. Home of a culinary variety known as molecular gastronomy, which experiments with the physical and chemical process of cooking (think decomposition via a mold of strawberry made of various components of the strawberry). These chefs experiment with sensations (‘How our brains interpret the signals from all our senses to tell us the “flavor” of food’, from Wikipedia) and non-traditional methods of cooking ingredients. Each dish tends to focus on one or few ingredients. Many of the courses within the 35-course dinner at El Bulli are composed of vegetarian ingredients, although many also arean’t (think ravioli made of gelatin wrappers).

Vegetarian/Vegan cuisine left in the dust
The scientific culinary discipline which focuses on the exploration of a few or sometimes even one ingredient would seem to lend itself well to vegetarian ingredients. In fact, the days that each of the writers visited, many of the items on the fixed menu were vegetarian: Nori-trias (“Black nori seaweed made crisp and crackly…then folded around sesame butter”), Amaranth with hazelnut oil, Pine nut bonbons (“Racy-looking bitter sweet chocolate globes, each with a single pine nut extending from it like a nipple”), Gorgonzola mochi. So where is all the creativity in vegetarian and vegan food today??!!! There are few restaurants around the U.S. that provide menus a foodie might consider inspired, Millenium in SF, Madeline Bistro in CA and Green Zebra in Chicago come to mind. But, the vast majority do not!!! I have to say, I’m a bit sick of seeing the tofu scramble. I understand, most days as a consuming nature-made machine food in any form will do, being vegetarian only adds to the stress of procuring your meal for the night, but leaders must emerge in our realm of the culinary arts to dispel the traditional notion of boring old vegan/vegetarian. Innovation, whatever that may look like, is a good thing.

Will the vegetarians evolve??
The link to Harvard’s page on the lectures states that, luckily for those of us not based in Boston on the weekdays, the lectures will be streamed live. I will definitely be posting post-lecture recaps. The techniques seem like natural applications for emboldened veggie cuisine, and a worthwhile challenge. While I’m limited by some of the equipment, I’ll spend some time posting on how to inspire creativity in your daily meals, and also attempt some of the more involved creative project dishes. (it’s easy when you break it down, truffles…easiest place to start. infuse with chili, etc…decompose a chile and turn it into chocolate??) What do you think?

Veggie flatbread pizza (easy + low-fat!)

September 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

We found the most amazing flatbread recently. I recently used it in my post about bruschetta. This flatbread is low in fat and is bread-y enough, yet crisps easily when toasted. It is, I have to say, the best flatbread I’ve ever had. We only bought one package on first encounter, but once tasted, we went back (the same day, no exaggeration, and I have to say quite unusual for us) to stock up and fill our freezer. Items such as this are good to keep around in the event that you come home late and have no plans for dinner. I’m beginning to be more conscious about my gluten intake, so this isn’t something I’ll be eating, or cooking with very often, but it definitely is a lifesaver for those nights when you’re famished and just don’t know what to cook. 

Veggie flatbread pizza:
1 large flatbread
1/4 cup pesto sauce (which will serve as the base, although the brand we bought is a pesto flatbread)
1/4 – 1/2 cup grated cheeses (parmesan, mozzarella, gorgonzola, this is simply a matter of preference, as is the quantity)
1 medium sized tomato
1 cup of broccoli heads and stems, cut to small pieces
1 bell pepper 
1/2 cup chopped zucchini pieces
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of cooking oil 

Sautée the garlic in oil on medium heat. Add the veggies. Cook until slightly tender (take care not to over-cook the veggies). Spread the veggies onto the flatbread and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake in a toaster oven on ‘toast’ until the cheese is melted. Eat and enjoy!

Question for the readers: Now that I’ve hit 20+ posts, I just want to find out for the 5 readers out there =) (love you!) how am I doing? Do you like the inclusion of easy meals that aren’t always from scratch (like this one)? And how about the reviews? Any of you out there who would like to see more vegan recipes? I’d love to hear your suggestions regarding how I can make this blog better for you, so please leave your comments. I can’t wait to hear them.

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