Friday, March 30, 2012

Vegetable and Chickpea Gratin

I'd like to say that I'm fairly committed to eating locally and in season. You know, squashes, sweet potatoes and hearty greens in the winter. Lettuces, asparagus, and peas in the spring. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and berries in the summer. Pumpkins, apples, potatoes, and such in the fall. Ok, honestly, I'm not that committed. I eat avocados and lemons from California on a daily basis. And I've bought raspberries in December. Oh well. At least I can attest to fresh produce being in the peak of its flavor when it's grown locally and eaten in season. It just can't be beat. And I'm so looking forward to the warm weather coming when I know that I will be eating almost 100% local. I mean, I live just a block away from a ginormous farmers market and a 30 minute ride from pick-your-own-everything farms. Upstate New York isn't so bad.
 I'm fully aware that this recipe is made with summer vegetables that aren't quite in season yet, but I was dying for these flavors of summer. As with all of my produce I buy, I made sure that the vegetables were organic. This dish is reminiscent of a ratatouille, but with some added texture from the chickpeas, plus a dusting of high quality Parmigiano Reggiano cheese makes it a bit more decadent. I know it will taste a thousand times better in the summer when all of the ingredients will be from local farms. But for now, it does the trick to get me super excited for the warmer weather coming so soon. So excuse me, but I'm off to go make something with asparagus and peas. Happy Spring!

Vegetable and Chickpea Gratin (from Williams Sonoma Vegetarian)

1 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
3 Asian Eggplants (slender), cut into 1 inch cubes
3 small zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small yellow onions, quartered
1 large red, yellow, or green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small can whole peeled Roma tomatoes (14 1/2 ounce can), drained of liquid and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup vegetable stock
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons dried basil or 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme 
2 tablespoons dried oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. In a large pot, cook the onions and peppers with a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the eggplants, zucchini and continue  to cook until just starting to soften, about 10 minutes longer. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute longer.

2. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, red pepper flakes, basil, thyme, oregano and cooked chickpeas. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 375. Pour the vegetable mixture into a 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Bake until golden and bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Quinoa Burgers

I've been a vegetarian for about eight years and I've never made veggie burgers. Nor have I eaten very many. Crazy right? I mean, the veggie burger is like the only thing that non-vegetarians think we eat. It's usually a lame veggie burger that's on the menu at restaurants that don't typically cater to vegetarians. Or you're at someone's house for dinner or a party who isn't used to making veggie-friendly meals and they say they can run out to the store to buy some frozen veggie burgers for you. No thanks. I'll just munch on the raw veggie platter and have some salad.
I'm not one of those vegetarians that crave fake meatballs, soy hotdogs, tofurky sandwiches, and microwavable veggie burgers. See, the thing about those types of foods is that they're loaded with artificial  stuff (very rarely do they actually contain a fair amount of vegetables) and they're highly processed. They're not even close to a real food! I steer clear from any of that stuff.
But these little patties are just lovely. Made with sweet potatoes, black beans, and quinoa, they're completely vegan and gluten-free. No scary ingredients. Lots of flavor and nutrition. I served them with some homemade guacamole, homemade salsa, and a nice big green salad.

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Quinoa Burgers

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup cooked quinoa (1/2 cup dry quinoa will yield 1 cup of cooked)
2 cups cooked black beans
half of a red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced finely
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
half of a yellow or red bell pepper, chopped finely
handful of chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
a few tablespoons of chickpea flour (or whole wheat flour) as needed to bind the mixture

1. Put the sweet potato chunks in the basket of a vegetable steamer and steam for 7 minutes or so, or until they are soft enough to slide a fork into them easily. Put the softened potatoes in a mixing bowl with half of the black beans and mash them with a potato masher. It's ok if there are a few chunks. You may now preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In another mixing bowl, add the cooked quinoa, the remaining black beans, onion, garlic, sunflower seeds, bell pepper, cilantro, salt, and spices. Stir to combine. Add the mashed sweet potato and black bean mixture to the quinoa mixture plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix very well.

3. At this point, you may need to add some type of flour. I only needed to add a tablespoon of chickpea flour, but the water content of the sweet potatoes will vary and you may need a bit of flour to help everything stick together.

4. Form the mixture into 1/2-1 inch thick patties and gently place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes on one side, then remove them from the oven and flip each burger over. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Serve with salsa, guacamole, or whatever else you'd like.

Makes 10-12 burgers 

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mast Brothers Chocolate

I had quite the foodie experience on Thursday. We were visiting Manhattan and decided to take a stop over in Brooklyn to grab a bite to eat and do some vintage clothing shopping. But what I really was looking forward to seeing in Brooklyn was the incredible chocolate boutique, Mast Brothers Chocolate. I'd seen their chocolates before at a local coffee shop in my hometown, but I was super excited to go to the place where the chocolate is made on a daily basis. The experience was perhaps my favorite part of the day. I got to see chocolate being hand wrapped in beautifully designed paper, whole cacao beans being poured from giant burlap sacks, and read the descriptions of the various types of chocolate that was for sale. But best of all, I got to taste the marvelously crafted chocolate and discover the flavor differences between chocolate made from beans from all over the world. It was truly amazing.
The video above is a glimpse at the super cool brothers who started the business and the chocolate factory in Brooklyn. And definitely check out this video on their website. It's really awesome.

 What I love about Mast Brothers chocolate is that they buy directly from small organic cacao farmers in different parts of the world for a fair price. They then craft the cacao into beautiful bars in small quantities, paying meticulous attention to every detail. The paper that the bars are hand wrapped in is designed by local artists. The boutique itself is beautifully and simply designed (just check out their website to see some pictures). To them, chocolate making is an art, and this is shown in every way possible.
 The chocolate isn't exactly cheap at seven dollars a bar, but we couldn't help ourselves and I felt good about my purchase, knowing that this hand crafted chocolate was procured and created in the most sustainable way possible. And it is so amazingly delicious. We had a hard time deciding which bars we wanted to buy. We settled on the crown maple bar, which was 73% cacao and sweetened with maple sugar from maple trees in the Hudson Valley (where I'm from). The other two bars were exotic chocolate from Madagascar (72% cacao) and Peru (75% cacao). I had tasted these at the boutique (along with many others) and fell in love with their complex flavors.  I know the next time I'm in the Brooklyn neighborhood, I will stop in and buy a few more.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Oatcakes from Super Natural Everyday

Want a nice and healthy portable snack? Or just an excuse to bake something really tasty that's not too sweet? Then I highly recommend you give these oatcakes a try. They're from one of my favorite cookbooks, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson, also the writer of one of my favorite blogs, 101 Cookbooks. While these oatcakes look like muffins, they are much more dense, with a crunchy exterior and hearty interior. The maple in them gives them a fantastic complex sweetness and I love that they're made with entirely whole grains. As Heidi says, they can stand up to an entire day tucked inside a purse without falling apart. Nice!
These are great right out of the oven, but also lovely eaten by themselves when you're on the go. They were also awesome lightly heated and slathered with some strawberry jam or a bit of butter. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Oatcakes (from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson)

3 cups rolled oats (not instant oats)
2 cups whole spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup flax seeds
3/4 cup walnuts
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil
1/3 cup unsalted butter (preferably organic pasture butter)
3/4 cup pure maple syrup (I'm a huge fan of the rich maple flavor of a local organic Grade B syrup)
1/2 cup natural cane sugar (I omitted the sugar and used all maple syrup, because I love maple syrup)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (preferably local free range organic eggs)

1.  Preheat oven to 325 with a rack in the top third in the oven (that's what Heidi said to do). Butter a standard 12 cup muffin pan (I used coconut oil).

2. Combine oats, flour baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts in a large mixing bowl.

3. In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, and sugar and slowly melt together. Stir just until the butter melts and sugar dissolves. Do not let mixture get too hot.

4. Pour coconut oil mixture over oat mixture. Stir a bit with a fork, add the eggs, and stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough. Spoon the dough into the muffin cups, nearly filling them.

5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until the edges of each oatcake are deeply golden. Remove pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges of the cakes and tip them out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 12 oatcakes

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