[Almost] Wordless Wednesday: Pierogi Perfection

Plant Base Berlin
Polish Dumplings Workshop
Dieffenbachstraße 68
10967 Berlin, Germany

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Bar None

May I introduce you to your new sweet obsession?

Every baker dreams of instantly whipping up sure-fire hits every time they turn on the oven, and eaters, no matter how adventurous, always crave certain comforting staples. While the internet hardly needs another plain old blondie recipe, it DOES need this one. It’s the one I always turn to for potlucks, for presents, and for random sweet tooth satisfaction, year in and year out. Something with enough staying power to see that many repeat performances in my kitchen deserves greater attention.

Super chewy, surprisingly buttery, and singing with sweet vanilla essence, they’re simply the best rendition of the classic bar cookie that everyone should have in their repertoire. There’s nothing crazy going on here; no complicated preparation, drawn out chilling or baking times, crazy ingredients, or any other shenanigans. Just tender slabs of caramelized brown sugar sweetness, filled with rich chocolate morsels, ready to be devoured in under an hour.

The only element that may give you pause is the cassava flour, but it’s not so scary as it may sound. It’s made from the yucca root, like tapioca starch, but comes from the entire tuber, thus affording it more fiber and nutrition than the later. If you can’t find it, don’t want to hunt it down, or don’t care about making your treats gluten-free, make it even easier by swapping in good old fashioned all-purpose flour.

In closing, I must apologize for making this introduction. If you had any attachments to particular blondie recipes previously, I’m afraid this fresh suitor will prove irresistible, leading to quite the sordid affair. I’m not sorry, however, for the joy it will create once you surrender to such an inevitability.

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You Brew You

Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I stumble into the kitchen and blindly rummage around for sustenance. Sheer muscle memory propels me forward before my brain has fully activated, recharged and ready to begin processing a new day. Coffee is the switch that flips it on, that starts the cycle anew, for me and so many millions, if not billions of other sleepyheads across the globe. How you choose to brew says a lot of about culture, economics, habits, and personal taste, but more attention is paid to the beans than the actual mechanics of making a cuppa. Respectably so, for all their natural nuances, slick brands and designer packages notwithstanding; the bean alone is a weighty decision to contemplate when the need for caffeine overrules all other sensible demands.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to appreciate the method of making coffee itself. Do you use an electric, automatic drip coffee maker like most Americans? One of those ubiquitous plastic models always found in attendance at moving sales year round? Maybe you have more than one, because it never hurts to have a backup. Cheap, easy, accessible, reliable; I’m there with you, friends. There’s nothing wrong with the effortless instant gratification of push-button service, delivering a hot cup of coffee on demand, no questions asked.

When it comes to manual brewing methods, you take control back into your hands, quite literally.

Pour Over (Chemex, Hario V60, Kalita Wave, Clever): Functioning almost exactly like a standard drip machine without the buttons or whistles, there are a number of popular variations on the concept but it all boils down to pouring hot water over grounds, slowly allowing the brewed liquid to run down into a waiting glass below. It takes patience and a steady hand, but no real skill since gravity does all the hard work. Use a medium grind to extract the brighter, lighter, more floral flavor notes without any hint of bitterness. Different models have their own uniquely patterned ridges built in, which will each affect the rate of drainage differently and produce surprisingly distinctive results. Which is “best” is just a matter of preference, so experiment a bit to find what tastes just right to your palate.

Plunger (French Press, AeroPress): Most people are familiar with the French press due to it’s accessibility and wide availability. Simply add grounds, water, steep, and plunge. There are no disposable filters to trifle with and no waste as a result. Detractors grouse about gritty brews or long steeping times, but a properly sealed, well-built device shouldn’t give you any trouble. Because the beans have full contact with the hot water for the entire time, this approach extracts the full gamut of flavors locked within, as well as the most antioxidants and caffeine. Use a coarse ground to enjoy the most robust results in a traditional French press, but fine for an AeroPress, which does use filters to catch any residual sediment.

Cupping Brewer (Rattleware): Uncommon outside of serious barista circles, it doesn’t get much simpler in concept, or more complex in flavor. Grounds and water combine for extended brew times, 10 minutes and beyond, to get every element of the bean to come forward. Grounds float toward the surface, to be skimmed off with a spoon before sipping. Though impractical for multiple servings, it’s an ideal way to truly appreciate a fresh brew with zero waste. Use a very coarse grind and be prepared to stop drinking before you reach the bottom, since most will settle and remain there. It’s impossible to avoid consuming at least some of the sediment, so this stuff is like rocket fuel.

There’s also the stove top moka pot, although I’d argue that this begins to skew into a more hands-off realm where the device does most of the heavy lifting. In fact, there are electric versions available, which always pull in top recommendations from experts, so I don’t trifle with the low tech toys. Siphons, using vacuum pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds, could also fall under this distinction, but they’re more of a novelty than realistic appliance for the average home brewer. Plus, the cost for entry is rather steep- No pun intended.

Across the board, general guidelines for success start with using 60 grams of coffee for every 1 quart of water (yes, you really should weigh it!) and water heated to 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally in a goose neck kettle for easy maneuvering.

How do you do your brew? Go outside your comfort zone and try something new. You may just discover a whole new world of flavors locked within the same beans you already love, and only thought you knew.

 

 

 

Oceans of Inspiration

Culturally inseparable from its crunchy breaded or battered exterior, the default notion of calamari unfailingly involves deep frying. Even adventurous omnivores typically balk at the idea of eating naked squid, approximating both the look and chew of thick elastic rubber bands. That makes it delightfully easy to replicate in myraid plant-based forms; it’s hard to go too far wrong with anything crispy, still hot from a bubbling cauldron of oil, and lightly salted.

If you’re so lucky as to randomly find ready-made vegan calamari while idly shopping around Austin, TX, however, such a rare delicacy demands greater finesse for proper appreciation.

Yes, I’m that oddball who treats grocery stores like museums when traveling, with the added benefit of being able to eat the art if it resonates. Essentially seasoned rings of seitan, it would be easy enough to replicate on your own, but the novelty factor is what sold me. Stripped down and freed of breaded boundaries, the toothsome wheat spirals afforded me the opportunity (and inspiration) to consider a fresher, lighter side to this cruelty-free creation.

Gaining in popularity due to profusion of poke eateries opening up around the country, chuka ika sansai is a traditional Japanese salad made of thinly sliced squid and an assortment of tender vegetables, marinated in vinegar and ginger. Served as a side or a feature in rice bowls, the gently oceanic flavors satisfy a craving for seafood like nothing else.

Tomorrow, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. The importance that our oceans play in everyday life cannot be overstated, and yet rarely do we consider the greater implications of this fragile ecosystem. A vegan lifestyle is the best way to make a positive impact right away, everyday. With so many great alternatives, there really should be more fish in the sea, and fewer on the plate.

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Now Schmear This

Turn any day into a special occasion with little bite-sized cheesecakes, every bit as rich and luscious as a thick slice but quicker, easier, and ideal for a more intimate gathering. In fact, with these beauties on tap, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw a party for one.

I was lucky enough to snag an early sample of Treeline’s new cream cheese and it was love at first schmear. The cashew-based spread is very creamy and smooth, with a finish that tastes clean, buttery, and definitely rich. The flavor is on point; mild, delicately nuanced, both subtly savory and sweet at once. Easily one of the best options on the market so far, no matter your dietary preferences.

It’s not a dead-ringer for dairy, but quite possibly even better. Beyond slathering it on bagels and toast, it works perfectly in recipes. In fact, it excels in baking since there aren’t any additives, stabilizers or gums. Nothing but pure creamy indulgence here in these mini cheesecakes, from crust to cream topping.

Even if you can’t track down the brand, don’t sleep on these tried-and-true classic treats. Get the recipe details over at GoDairyFree.org and celebrate the everyday, any day.

 

 

 

Sticky Situation

So deeply rooted in history, so utterly essential that in many cultures, the word for “rice” is the very same word for “meal,” or just simply “food.” The whole world as we know it could have quite plausibly begun from a single grain of rice. Trying to break down the myriad varieties though, from ancient to modern hybrid, is where things start to get sticky.

That’s exactly what I want to pick apart today: Sticky rice. For starters, sticky rice is distinct from common long grain white rice, and no amount of special preparation will come close to its unique characteristics. Don’t let any blissfully thrifty cooks tempt you into thinking that any overcooked long grains, gummy and swollen with too much water, are even remotely acceptable substitutes. While many types of short grain rice may be lumped together and called “sticky rice,” true glutinous rice is a separate breed. It all boils down to its starchy constitution. Glutinous rice contains just one component of starch, called amylopectin, while other kinds of rice contain both molecules that make up starch: amylopectin and amylose. Amylose does not gelatinize during cooking, which keeps grains separate and fluffy. Without that buffer, you’ll find a range of creamier or downright cohesive results.

Thai sticky or glutinous rice has been the object of my affection and frustration since the very first forkful I enjoyed in Thailand itself. Back at home, understanding the culinary transmogrification happening to turn out such a familiar yet entirely unique staple has been a fascinating, humbling experience.

A medium-to-long-grain rice hailing from South East and East Asia, glutinous rice does not actually contain gluten, but the name refers to the rice’s glue-like sticky quality, which easily binds it into rice balls and cakes. Black Thai sticky rice is simply the wholegrain version, meaning the bran has not been removed. Contrary to the name, it’s actually more of a mottled, deep purple color and has an exceptionally chewy, toothsome bite. Like other unmilled or brown rices, it takes slightly longer to cook than white varieties.

Typically soaked overnight, gently steamed in a special bamboo basket, and painstakingly tended all the while, traditional methods of cooking are as intimidating as they are ultimately gratifying. Every minute of planning and preparation is well worth the effort, but not exactly an endeavor for an everyday meal. If you’re willing to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of almost-instant satisfaction, I’m happy to share a secret shortcut to get those sticky morsels on the table in a fraction of the time.

Use 1/4 – 1/2 cup dry grains per person and bundle them up in a nutmilk bag. Plunge into a pot of boiling water, keeping the top drawn tightly closed and out of the water, as if you were steeping an oversized tea bag. Turn off the heat and let soak for 10 minutes. Bring the heat back up to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Elevate the bag in a large strainer, raise the heat to high, and steam for a final 10 – 15 minutes. If using black sticky rice, soak for 15 minutes and simmer for 25.

Most Americans might be familiar with mango sticky rice, a simple dessert featuring ripe mango slices crowning tender grains in a pool of sweetened coconut cream. The combination is hard to beat, tried and true, but so easily adapted for further flavor sensations. Consider the avocado, if you would, as an alternate fruit to feature. Straying a bit from the beaten path, I played around with this Blue Lagoon Sticky Rice by adding a touch of butterfly pea tea powder to the rich and creamy sauce, since it’s also a native Thai ingredient.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with eating fresh, hot sticky rice straight-up, ungarnished in all its fully fragrant, tenaciously clingy glory.