Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vegan Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

Let me start off today by saying that I suck at following recipes.  In the past few years, I have gotten into some bad habits when cooking savory meals. On the rare occasions when I do actually use a recipe, I will glance at it, figure out basic proportions, and then proceed to completely ignore the recipe.  This isn't a big deal when making savory meals because you can taste as you go along, but because baking is based on formulas and chemical reactions, it can cause some problems.  I have been extremely lucky so far.

When I made the recipe, I didn't intend it to be vegan.  It became vegan when I forgot to add the eggs and replaced the whole milk with rice milk.  It didn't burn, implode, or fail to rise, so I decided to keep it vegan.  At the bottom of the recipe, I will provide directions to de-veganize it, but it really isn't necessary.

3 3/4 cup Pastry (or All-Purpose) Flour
1 1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 1/2 cup Unflavored Rice Milk (Unflavored Soy or Almond are also fine)
1 1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Chopped Fresh Rosemary
3 Tbsp Lemon Zest (I got bored with measuring and just zested 3 lemons)

Mix all of the ingredients together and pour the batter into a 9"x11" baking pan.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes or until done (it took nearly 35 for mine).

The cake is soft and very moist.  Because I live alone, I had a lot left over.  After forcing a large quantity on my classmates, I cut it into squares and froze the left overs.  Unlike most cakes, this cake stayed relatively soft in the freezer, and I was just able to eat the frozen squares for dessert for the next few weeks.  It also heats up remarkably well in the microwave.  Often baked goods will harden and dry around the edges when subjected to microwave torture, but this cake stayed pliable and moist and was warm after only 30 seconds.

**The de-veganized version replaces the Rice Milk with Whole Milk and adds three eggs. **

Monday, May 30, 2011

Road Chicken

On this Memorial Day, I'm going to break my prohibition of meat related topics and discuss something near to my heart.

Nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania, near Laughlintown and Idlewild on Route 30, is a little place that we like to call "road chicken."  Road chicken is not its name.  As far as I know, it doesn't have a name.  Hell, it doesn't even have a building, but that doesn't make the food any less delicious.  Road chicken is just what my family calls any place that cooks and sells chicken at a roadside bar-b-que pit.  When approaching road chicken, it is possible to see the plumes of smoke from a mile away.  At this point, it is a good idea to roll down your windows to allow the smell to permeate your car. 

It is unclear how the gentlemen who run this stand create the magic that can make the mouth of a vegetarian water, but they do.  As far as I can gather, the process involves marinading or brining the chicken in some sort of vinegar mixture (probably salt, pepper, vinegar, and water) before tossing it on the flame.  An intricate ballet of flipping ensues as the chicken slowly cooks.  At some point, through skill and experience, the head cook deems that the chicken is ready for a bath and it is placed in a basin full of vinegary liquid.  This extra step ensures that the chicken is extra tender and moist.  It rests in its bath until it is time for it to be wrapped in aluminum foil and sold.

The wrapping process is undertaken by a man whose age can only be estimated as very, very old.  During busy times (i.e. any time that road chicken is open), the line can line span the parking lot that houses the pits; however, nothing can rush the man who wraps the chicken.  The care that he takes is mesmerizing.  He carefully grasps a breast, thigh, and leg with a set of tongs and places them on a piece of pre-cut aluminum foil.  Then he gingerly wraps the chicken completing the process by twisting the foil around the end of the leg.  Every year I worry about the old man, but he persists.  If I reach half his age, I hope I still have his tenacity. 

So, you have been in line for half an hour, and you have placed your chicken order.  This is the time to make a difficult decision: do you get the cole slaw?  For me, this is the only decision since giving up chicken three years ago, but it is perfect blend of blissfully tangy vinegar, mayo, and cabbage.  Pair it with an orange soda or root beer, and it is truly worthy of being a meal in itself.  Absolutely wonderful.

At this point, you can proceed to your car to travel to your final destination, or you can choose to eat at one of the four picnic tables to one side of the lot.  On a beautiful summer day, eating at the picnic table is a pleasure, and there is something primal about tearing the chicken apart with your bare hands.  Unfortunately, this is also problematic because road chicken has no bathrooms.  This isn't that much of a problem, however, because it is a good excuse to visit the Pie Shoppe in nearby Laughlintown.   

This may be an odd topic for Memorial Day, but I thought it was fitting.  Road chicken is a testament to American fortitude.  I have seen them cooking in rain and wind storms, yet every year they return.  It is a local business which provides delicious food for the price of a McDonald's combo meal.  So, next time you pass a road side chicken pit, give them a chance.  You might end up with salmonella, but you might end up with something damn tasty too.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Roasted Fava Beans

Here in the northern hemisphere, summer is approaching and that makes it the perfect time to start thinking about snacks to eat during all of those wonderful outdoor activities.  Since I'm not quite ready to share my fantastic trail mix recipe (the recipe needs some work because I had an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients), I'm sharing a great recipe for roasted fava beans.

This recipe does require use of an oven, which kind of sucks in the summer, but the extra heat is  absolutely worth it. 

Fava Beans
Seasonings (eg. salt, pepper, paprika, or chili powder)
2 Tbsp Olive oil (optional)

Soak dried fava beans for 8 hours.

Drain and rinse the beans.  With a paring knife, remove the black tip of the bean.  Soak the beans for an additional 2-3 hours.

Rinse the beans again.  If any are still hard, they should be discarded.

Roast the beans at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately one hour.  Keep an eye on the beans to make sure that they don't burn.

This is where things get a little tricky.  I actually enjoyed the fava beans naked, but I did season one batch.  It didn't go well.  The seasonings don't stick particularly well if the beans are dry, but if you toss them in oil (either before or after roasting), they tend to get soggy within a couple of hours.  You can get around this by tossing the beans in the olive oil and seasonings right before snack time. 

I also roasted a batch of chick peas.  They needed less time in the oven and let you know that they were ready through a series of tiny explosions.  The shrapnel was a pain to clean up, but they were equally delicious.  If I lower the temperature of the oven, it may solve this problem.

Oh, and a word of warning.  This is a delicious, high fiber snack.... be prepared to the repercussions if you eat too many in one sitting.......

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Soft Pretzel Recipe

Anyone who has been to a hockey game with me knows that I have an obsession with soft pretzels.  They are among my favorite foods and hockey is just not the same without them; however, this is not the only time that I like to enjoy a bit f pretzelly goodness.  As far as I'm concerned, waking up in the morning is a good excuse to enjoy a pretzel.

When I was a kid, The Altoona Mirror printed a fantastic soft pretzel recipe.  It was the perfect combination of sweet and salty.  They were pliable but still had enough bite.  Unfortunately, this prized recipe was lost and my family has been without this recipe for nearly fifteen years.

One day, while living in Pittsburgh, and doing yet another futile archive search for this recipe, I gave up the ghost and decided to recreate the recipe on my own.

I began with a basic internet and recipe book search.  I remembered that the recipe was fairly simple, so I eliminated any recipe with more than a handful of ingredients.  I donned my science goggles and set to experimenting.  After careful combination of the recipes, this is what I came up with.

Lisa's Basic Pretzel Recipe
3/4 Cup Warm Water
1/2 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 1/2 Cup Bread Flour

Boiling Solution (This is for use later)
7 cups Water
1/3 cup Baking Soda

Mix water and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle yeast on top and allow it to rest until it becomes "foamy" (depending on the ambient temperature this takes about 8-15 minutes).

Slowly add the flour and mix well.  As the dough gets more difficult to mix, you can begin to knead the dough on the countertop while continuing to add more flour.  Keep adding flour until the dough loses its stickiness and takes on a pliable but non-gooey texture.  In the past, I have had to add as much as 1/2 cup of extra flour to get the right consistency.  The recipe is very forgiving.  Don't panic about accidentally adding too much flour.  Just keep adding the flour slowly and you'll get a feel for it.

Allow the dough to rise in a large bowl which has been sprayed with cooking spray and covered with a dish towel (20-40 minutes).

Divide the dough into 8 pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a foot long rope and twist these ropes into pretzel shapes.  Allow these doughy proto-pretzels to double in size one more time.  This is a good time to preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare your boiling solution.

Put your 7 cups of water and 1/3 cup of baking soda into a large saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil.  Boil each pretzel in the solution for 30 seconds, flipping half way through.

Bake the pretzels at 450 degrees for 8-12 minutes on a lightly greased baking sheet.  I like my pretzels to be extra dark.  Adjust your baking time according to your own taste.

I have devised variations of this basic recipe, but I'll talk about that later.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Vegetarian Bacon Mushroom Melt

The Double-Decker Melt.
I thought long and hard what I was going to write for my first food related entry... then I realized that there is really only topic worthy to be my starting off point....

Last week, I had an intense craving for a bacon mushroom melt.  Cravings are odd things.  I have never in my life eaten a bacon mushroom melt.  As I mentioned in the manifesto, (aside from two small transgressions) I haven't even  eaten mammal in 16 years.  Hell, until recently, I haven't even craved meat.

I know that there are some pretty good meat analogues out there, so on my way home from class, I snagged the makings for a vegetarian bacon mushroom melt.

Here are the fixins:
Mushrooms, onion, Cheese Whiz, Boca Burgers, Morningstar Bacon Strips, Pepperidge Farm Deli Flats thin rolls, tomato, and lettuce

The mushrooms and onions were sautéed, the Boca burgers were cooked in a George Foreman grill, and the veggie bacon was crisped up in a frying pan.   When the mushrooms and onions were cooked, I mixed them with my Cheez Whiz to keep everything from sliding around too much.  The first time I assembled this monstrosity, I went overboard and made a double decker.  It was awesome, but a little bit too much.  Three pieces of bread with veggie burger, bacon, and the Cheez/mushroom mixture in between.  When I sat down to eat, I found that the Cheez Whiz had eaten through the bread, and by halfway through my meal, I was left with a delicious, but soggy, lump in my hands. 

Aside from the bizarre chemical reaction between Cheez and bread, the Whiz had a very odd texture that I'm not used to.  It started to congeal and coated my mouth in an unpleasant way.  The ersatz bacon, on the other hand, was surprisingly not terrible.  The flavor was not wholly unlike bacon, and it crisped up nicely in the frying pan.  Even on its own, it wasn't all that bad.  Yes, it isn't bacon, but if you're a vegetarian craving a salted piece pork belly, it isn't a bad approximation of the flavor and texture.

While I'm still on the topic of veggie bacon, I do want to mention that a few days later I made a lovely paella with Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo.  It was missing something, so I put some of the bacon in the left over paella the next day.  It was perfect and really pulled the recipe together.  I won't be eating it every day, but with 18 slices per container, I'm finding that it's nice to have a package in my freezer.

Back to the bacon mushroom melt...  In general, I like veggie burgers.  I'm a little picky because so many of the brands lack the structural integrity to hold together in a sandwich situation, but Boca's All-American Grillers do not have that problem.  They are nicely dense and have a good flavor.  A little time in the George Foreman Grill and they're ready to eat in a jiff.

For the first incarnation of the melt, I only took pictures with my phone and not my camera, so I wasn't able to initially post the pictures; however, it was an experiment that I was more than willing to recreate (on a slightly smaller scale) today.  The first picture shows the bacon before the final assemblage.  The second is the finished meal.  The picture at the top of the page is the double decker.

The Eat at Lu's Manifesto

I like food.  I like food a lot, and I know that this fact does not make me unique in any way.  I love to cook and bake.  I'm a pesco-tarian (aka a hypocrite vegetarian who breaks the rules and eats fish), but I have a lot of difficulty digesting eggs and milk.  I can eat limited quantities of eggs and cheese, but my desserts are often vegan because I just don't keep eggs and milk in my refrigerator. 

In this blog, I'm going to post my own culinary creations and disasters.  I'm also planning to write restaurant and product reviews.  In the last few months, I have been craving red meat - even though I quit eating mammals over 16 years ago - so I'm going to try some of the available meat replacements over the course of this blog.  I've already tried some that I have absolutely loved, and others that left a taste in my mouth so disgusting that it was if Satan himself had defecated on my plate.

I'm currently a grad student in cultural anthropology with emphasis on food and food cultures.  This means two things: I am probably going to be incorporating things that I have learned into this blog and sometimes I eat a lot like a college student.  There are times when I'm eye-crossingly busy and will I eat whatever I can get my hands on (canned soup, ramen noodles, frozen enchiladas).  I hope to write about that too. Being a student, it may be difficult to keep up with my blogging during busy times.  I will try my best, but there will be days when I may not be able to post.

I may be a tree-hugger, but I am not interested in preaching about vegetarianism.  The primary goal of this blog is to talk about good food.  If I inspire you to try some meatless meals, hooray me, but my real hope is that I inspire you to try some GOOD food.

Feel free to offer suggestions, ask questions, and make comments.