Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Vegan Blue Cheese

5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 – 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.

Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.

With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.

Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

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Classic Wedge Salad

Blue Cheese Dressing:

1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot, mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.

Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve right away.

Makes 4 Servings

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Munch Madness

Considering the fervor surrounding Superbowl festivities and all associated opportunities for eating and drinking, it’s surprising that little of that enthusiasm seems to carry over for March Madness. Speaking as an uninformed observer, it strikes me as an even more promising excuse to indulge, being spread out over a number of weeks with numerous chances to try new celebratory snacks. It’s hard to resist the classics, especially when you have limited time to pull out all the stops, but when you can dabble with different recipes for each match, even fair-weather sports fans can get into the spirit. That’s where I come in.

Top picks for any appetizer bracket will always include dips. Guacamole is the reigning champ these days, but hummus, queso, artichoke and spinach, and good old salsa are definitely contenders. That said, my bet is going to the underdog this round, the old-school favorite that doesn’t get its fair due these days. Sour cream and onion has proven its worth in all variety of savory bites, though its influence usually ends at the dusty bag of potato chip crumbs.

More substantial than those thin crisps and less messy than any dipping situation, sour cream and onion arancini elevate the proven allium medley into a self-contained appetizer worthy of a special occasion. Whether or not that happens to include hollering at the TV while baskets are made or missed is entire up to you.

Jasmine rice, tender and aromatic, is my unconventional selection in this particular baked rice ball. Mahatma Rice sources the very best grains from Thailand; a commitment to quality that’s evident in every bite. Naturally, it pairs brilliantly with Asian flavors, like the subtle nuances of lemongrass, cilantro, chilies, citrus, basil, and coconut milk, but is versatile enough to support any seasonings. Find Mahatma Jasmine Rice using their store locator, and your efforts will be paid off in spades of flavor.

Crisp on the outside, creamy and rich on the inside, you could be fooled into thinking that this was every bit as decadent as the original inspiration. Believe it or not, these arancini are actually baked, not fried, and pack a powerful punch of protein thanks to the addition of homemade tofu sour cream. Dehydrated onion flakes take the place of a breadcrumb coating, enhancing the allium aroma and lending a deeply toasted taste at the same time. You’ll even score some bonus points for having a naturally gluten-free option, too!

Whether or not you’re into basketball, you can’t lose with such delicious savory morsels on your team.

This post is sponsored by Mahatma Rice, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Sour Cream and Onion Arancini

1 1/4 Cups Mahatma Jasmine Rice
2 1/2 Cups Reduced Sodium Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/3 Cup Pureed Silken Tofu*
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Mochiko (Glutinous Rice Flour)
1/2 Cup Dehydrated Onion Flakes

*Depending on preference and availability, you could substitute Greek-style vegan yogurt instead.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.

Combine the rice and vegetable stock in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Cover and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for 15 – 18 minutes, until all the liquid has absorbed and the rice is tender. Keep covered to finish steaming and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a medium skillet over moderate heat on the stove and begin the warm the olive oil. Once shimmering, add the onion and garlic, stirring periodically. Season with salt and continue to saute for another 10 – 15 minutes, until aromatic and lightly golden brown. Transfer to the pot of rice.

Mix in the nutritional yeast, onion powder, black pepper, lemon juice, mustard, silken tofu, and scallions next, stirring thoroughly to make sure that the seasonings are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the mochiko last.

When the rice is cool enough to handle, use an ice cream scoop and lightly moistened hands to roll out approximately 1/4 cup of the mixture for each arancini. Toss gently in the onion flakes, pressing lightly to adhere and completely coat the outsides. Place the finished arancini on the sheet pan and lightly spray all over with oil.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.

Makes 16 – 18 Arancini

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Love is in the Air, and in the Kitchen

Now that the salty, savory extravaganza of Super Bowl Sunday is out of the way, Valentine’s Day looms large on the horizon as our next big food affair. Though terminally single, I’ve come to enjoy the event as an opportunity to show friends and family that I care, inevitably in the form of something edible. Though my best suggestions do skew heavy on the chocolate, there are still many lovely, lighter options to cleanse your palate. While you still have time to plan, take a peek at some of my favorites that have hit the blog in years past.

Whoever said that you can’t win friends with salad never sat down to a plateful of lovingly carved heart-shaped strawberries atop tender artichoke hearts, crisp endive, and buttery spears of hearts of palm. Yes indeed, my Heart-Felt Endive Salad is all that and more, living up to the name in more than one way.

This Roasted Red Pepper Soup is quite the blast from the past, so pardon the terrible photo! Though the recipe itself is nothing earth-shattering, the technique of swirling tiny sour cream hearts can be applied to any smooth, pureed soup you care to serve. A little extra effort goes a long way, so you can effortlessly score some extra brownie points by taking a minute to go all out on the garnishes.

Moving on to the main event, Blushing Beet Pierogi are a more subtle way of showing that you care. In hindsight, I wish I had cut these little potato and pasta pouches into the shape of hearts to reinforce the theme, but you can learn from my mistake! Do it up right and really wow your loved ones!

Starting with something light for dessert, fluffy and refreshing Frozen Strawberry-Balsamic Souffles are ideal for those with a penchant for fruity treats. Each ramekin presents a bright, bold contrast between sweet and sour, hitting all the high notes with nary a boring spoonful from start to finish.

When words fail, say it with cake. Show your heart with a stunning slice of Hidden Heart Wild Blueberry Cake. For a truly impressive unveiling, bring the whole cake to the table and cut it right in front of your beloved. Sure, it’s a bit more intricate than your average pound cake, but the extra effort will be worthwhile for the lasting impression those sweet shapes will leave.

Okay, you’ve waited long enough; steel yourself for the chocolate onslaught. Let’s start simply with Cherry Hot Chocolate Spoons. Don’t lock yourself into just one flavor destination though; consider this a guideline for further exploration. Try adding in a touch of orange zest, or using freeze-dried strawberries instead of cherries. Take out the fruit altogether and stir in some peppermint extract and crushed candy canes for an extra breath-freshening bonus (hint hint!)

Flourless Chocolate Cake is a classic, and though predictable, it never gets old. Dark, rich, and decadent, this version is for chocoholics only. The real danger is that it’s so easy to whip up, you may not be able to contain your love to just one special occasion for indulgence. Try it once, and it could easily become an everyday affair.

Keep your cool with another frozen treat: Pomegranate Ice Cream Pops. This quick fix novelty is simply blended and thrown into silicone molds, no churning necessary. Leave out the lollipop stick to make frosty chocolate-covered truffles, or throw that creamy pomegranate base into any popsicle mold you might have on hand. As long as you don’t omit that crisp chocolate shell, you can’t go too far wrong.

Of course, if all else fails, just bake a pan of brownies and call it a day. No one would be mad at that.

It’s Easy Being Cheesy

Dear Mr. Chester Cheetah,

I take issue with your early assertions on the degree of difficulty one might encounter attempting to become properly cheesy, whether it was in regard to humor or flavor. Though the remark was somewhat ambiguous on that point, it was poignant enough to remain a prominent reference point in modern culture over three decades after the initial statement, misinforming generations of ignorant eaters. For this, countless have been deprived of full cheesy satisfaction. Respectfully, I would request that you retract this proclamation, post-haste.

Sincerely,

Hannah Kaminsky

My friends, you’ve been misinformed all these years. I’m sorry for anyone that’s been deprived of their full inalienable rights to cheesiness due to the confusion, but I’m here today to put an end to that grave injustice.

Cheese doodles, cheese puffs, cheesy poofs or any variation on the name have been a mainstay in American snacking practices since their invention in the 1930’s, yet few people have successfully recreated the same crunchy, crispy treat in their own homes. Big manufacturers would like us to believe that only specialized equipment can create that distinctive snacking experience, but it’s not so! The truth is, you just need to use your noodle and get a little bit creative.

Inspired by the Tresomega Nutrition’s Blogger Recipe Challenge, I found that the unique blend of whole grains and starches found in their gluten-free pasta could create a perfectly hearty yet light crispness with just a little bit of experimentation. Their unique composition is what will make or break the recipe, so you do want to source out the genuine article for best results.

Happily, the quinoa fusilli is available for purchase at Tresomega.com, Sams.com, Amazon.com, and Walmart.com, so there’s no need to hunt and scour grocery store shelves in vain. Technically, any shape would do the trick, but those tight spirals fry up to a perfectly crisp consistency and capture the most cheesy seasoning in every delicious bite.

Savory, salty, and oh so addictive, I daresay these just might beat that misinformed cheetah at his own game.

Once and for all, I’d like the record to state that it IS easy being cheesy, and without any dairy or gluten, either!

Cheesy Pasta Doodles

1 (8-Ounce) Box Tresomega Gluten-Free Organic Quinoa Fusilli
1 Quart Neutral Oil (For Frying)
3/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Ground Golden Flaxseeds
2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika

Begin by bringing a generous pot of water up to a boil. Add in the full box of pasta, stirring to make sure the pieces don’t clump together, and cook for just 3 minutes. You’re not trying to fully cook them yet, so they should still be slightly crunchy on the inside. Drain, immediately rinse with cold water, and spread the noodles out on sturdy paper towels or a clean dish towels. Air dry thoroughly, so that they’re no longer wet or sticky to the touch.

Begin heating the neutral oil in a medium saucepan with high sides over moderate heat on the stove.

Meanwhile, prepare the cheesy seasoning by combining all of the remaining ingredients in your food processor or blender, pulsing until the nuts have broken down into a fine meal. Be careful not to overdo it or else you’ll create a cheesy cashew butter instead! For best results, freeze your cashews for 8 hours in advance to prevent them from heating up too much while processing.

Once the oil comes up to about 375 – 385 degrees, add in a handful of the par-cooked pasta, using a wire basket strainer to push the pieces around and keep them separate. Fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the pasta floats and the vigorous bubbling subsides. The pasta will not become particularly brown, so don’t judge the doneness by color.

Scoop out the finished pieces, drain away the excess oil, and let rest on fresh paper towels or dish towels for about 1 minute. Toss in a large bowl with a hefty sprinkle of the cheesy seasoning, to taste. Repeat with the remaining noodles. Serve right away.

You may have extra cheesy seasoning, which can be saved in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the fridge, or two months in the freezer.

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Bae Goals

It must be something in the water. Perhaps it’s something in the air. Surely, there’s some secret ingredient that separates true bagels from merely ring-shaped buns. What else could explain the mystique behind “authentic” New York bagels, impossible to replicate beyond city borders? Defined more by texture than flavor, burnished crusts lacquered with any variety of seeds and salt give way to distinctive density and chew that enthusiasts laud. A quick dip in a boiling vat of malt-enriched alkaline water is the key factor that makes a bagel more than mere bread, much like soft pretzels.

Simple enough in concept, but intimidating in execution. Traditional recipes call for lye, in all its caustic glory, which is threatening enough to send me straight to the bakery, rather than the kitchen. Bagels were longtime residents on my list of baking goals, growing longer and less likely to be accomplished with every passing year. That was until I joined forces with chef Philip Gelb and lucked into one of his infamous bagel baking classes.

Demystifying the yeasted rings with a no-nonsense approach that anyone with even a passing culinary curiosity could happily jump right into, all fears of failure evaporated along with the rising steam.

Baking soda stands in for the deadly lye, reducing the risk of severe bodily harm right off the bat. Believe it or not, all the rest is fairly standard procedure; a vigorous mixing, resting and rising, shaping, and baking are all that separate you from savory satisfaction. No satanic incantations, obscure tinctures, nor acts of God need apply.

Bagels can take shape either by punching out the centers with a quick jab of the fingers, or rolled into snakes and connected at the ends. Personally, I prefer to poke out the middles as there’s less danger of them coming undone in the bubbling water bath.

Though technically optional, it’s hard to beat the classic “everything” topping, a melange that can include almost a full shelf out of the average pantry, which can make up for almost any other shortcomings. Instantly evoking that classic deli flavor, it’s actually the onion flakes that I find most essential to the combination. All else is flexible, but if you’re truly flummoxed by the proper ratios, you can even buy ready-made blends. Such shortcuts are completely acceptable when you go through the trouble of baking the bagels from scratch, if you ask me.

Purists will argue until they’re blue in the face about what makes for the best bagels, but this much I know is true: Nothing beats the ones coming out of your own oven, hot and fresh, just barely cool enough to slice. Such beauty needs no further toasting to perfect (perish the thought!) but a thick schmear of hummus or cream cheese never hurts.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2017

I’m delighted to finally share such a delicious victory today for the 11th annual World Bread Day. After so much agita, it’s a joy to finally take this project off my list of lofty goals, and move it onto the list of everyday staples. Don’t buy into the hype- Or the sad, stale carb bombs sold in most grocery stores. Even if you’re not a bagel-fanatic, baking is believing!

Bagels
By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

1 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
4 Tablespoons Rice Malt, Barley Malt, or Agave, Divided
2 Cups Warm Water (105 Degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
Dried Garlic, Dried Onion, Sesame Seeds, Poppy Seeds, and/or Coarse Salt (Optional)

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of malt, and the warm water. Let the yeast proof until the surface becomes foamy; about 5 minutes. Whisk in the salt. Add the whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until incorporated.

Place the dough on a sturdy, clean surface and slowly work in the rest of the all-purpose flour. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Coat the dough with olive oil, place in a bowl, and cover tightly with a clean dish towel.

Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume; about 1 hour, though time may vary greatly due to temperature and altitude.

After the dough has doubled, knead it lightly for 1 minute. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each piece into log and then fold it into a circle, firmly pressing the seam together. Place each bagel on a lightly floured surface, cover with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled; about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place a baking stone inside, if using. Otherwise, the bagels can be baked on a standard sheet pan. In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add the baking soda along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of malt. The baking soda is necessary to properly texture and brown the bagels.

After the bagels finish their second rise, boil each bagel for 1 minute on each side, keeping the water at a consistent, rapid boil.

Now your bagels are ready to bake. If you want, you can top them with any or all of the seasonings your heart desires, patting them gently into the top to make sure they adhere. Transfer carefully to your baking stone or sheet pan, and bake for about 15 minutes.

The bagels are best served within 15 minutes of emerging from the oven!

Makes 12 Bagels

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Dig In

Unless referring to the planet itself, “earthy” is a descriptor of dubious praise. Much like the ambiguous label of “interesting,” such a word can be interpreted in many ways- Mostly negative. Mushrooms and beets can be earthy, and for as fervently as their fan clubs will tout the word as praise, their detractors just as quickly adopt it as evidence for their disdain. Telling someone to “eat dirt,” is a fairly clear insult, on the other hand, although I have no qualms recommending charcoal, ash, or lava for your next meal. Still, the mental imagery of picking up a handful of soil and chowing down inevitably leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

This was the war of words I battled when agonizing on this new recipe’s title. Designed as a celebration of spring, gardening, and new growth, the original title was simply “Dirt Dip.” The dirty truth of the matter is that each distinctive strata was inspired by nature; worms, dirt, pebbles, and grass. Appetizing, right? Perhaps honesty is not the best policy here. Let’s start over.

Bursting forth with vibrant flavors ideal for celebrating the vernal equinox, I present to you my layered garden party dip. A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together. Make sure you really dig in deep to get a bite of each one!

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

Caramelized Onions:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Halved and Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Lemon-Mint Black Bean Dip:

1 15-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed
3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Finely Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Tapenade:

1 Cup Pitted Black Olives
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Garnish:

1/2 – 1 Ounce Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped

The caramelized onions will take the longest to prepare, so get them cooking first by setting a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sliced onion, tossing to coat. Once the pan is hot and the onions become aromatic, turn down the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 45 minutes until deeply amber brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the bean dip by either tossing everything into your food processor and pulsing until fairly creamy and well-combined, or mashing the ingredients together in a large bowl by hand. You want to leave the dip fairly coarse for a more interesting texture, so stop short of a smooth puree if using the machine.

The tapenade is made just as easily. Either pulse all of the components together in your food processor or chop them by hand, until broken down and thoroughly mixed.

Finally, to assemble the dip, select a glass container to enjoy the full effect of your work. Smooth the caramelized onions into the bottom in an even layer, followed by the bean dip and then the tapenade. Sprinkle chives evenly all over the top. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with cut vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips.

The dip can be prepared in advance if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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