Saturday, January 31, 2009

Happy 3rd Blog Birthday to me

Yes! It's Albion Cooks 3rd Birthday today!

Thanks to all my readers. I'm looking forward to another creative year!

Over the last year, I really feel I've gained confidence experimenting with new combinations and ideas. Here's a few favorites from the last year that reflect that, while remaining simple and easy to prepare:

Cauliflower, Kale & Olive Soup

Beet Carpaccio

Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes & Pate di Fiori di Zucca

Tamale-Stuffed Mini Peppers

Roasted Red Pepper & Red Lentil Soup

Brussels Sprout Pizza (Vegan)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Creamy Watercress Soup (Vegan)

I love the combination of a mild creamy soup with the peppery freshness of watercress added right at the end. This is a vegan adapted variation on two creamy watercress soups:

  • Speckled Watercress Soup

  • Portuguese Potato & Watercress Soup

  • The first was made with butter and milk and pureed the watercress. The second added half & half to the mix, but left the watercress leaves whole.

    In place of the butter, milk, and half & half, I used olive oil, earth balance, cauliflower and a little cashew cream to reproduce the creamy base. This vegan version produced a slightly more grainy appearance, but the creaminess was mild and flavorful and a wonderful contrast to the fresh peppery greens.

    Creamy Watercress Soup (Vegan):

    1 leek, mostly white, rinsed and cut in to1/4 " slices
    I russet potato, peeled and diced
    1 TBS Earth balance
    1/3 cauliflower head, cut into small florettes
    1 clove garlic, minced
    8 oz vegetable broth
    8 oz water
    pinch of salt and pepper
    2 TBS cashew cream
    1 bunch watercress, leaves only

    Saute the leek in the olive oil for 4-5 minutes. Add the earth balance and potato and cover. Cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the cauliflower, garlic and water. Add the salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Add the cashew cream. Heat over low heat and add the watercress leaves. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and use the immersion blender to puree the watercress. Adjust seasoning and serve.

    For another vegan watercress soup, check out this recent post flavored with napa cabbage:
  • Napa Cabbage &Watercress Soup
  • Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    What Am I?

    This was the first time I'd seen these edible greens for sale at the Farmers Market.

    A tough one! Anne is the winner as she guessed a legume. These are fava greens! They are delicious raw! Sort of fava bean-like, but with the freshness of what tastes like a freshly picked runner bean. Succulent tasting.

    I was going to saute them, but that seems a shame given their lovely taste raw. Now I'm think salad or in dumplings with tofu.

    Stay tuned!

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Mushroom Cooking Class at Millennium

    Before I start my post on another wonderful Millennium cooking class, I want to honor this very special day. Thank you, President Barak Obama. What a speech that was! I'm so glad I lived to see this day.

    OK, back to the food!

    I have really been looking forward to attending Executive Chef Eric Tucker's Mushroom class for a number of reasons. First, Eric is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about mushrooms (he's a member of the Bay Area Mycological Society and has a chanterelle tatooed on his arm) and I was excited about being educated beyond my portobello standard. Second, I got to attend the Saturday morning Farmers Market with the group (part of the class I rarely get to attend due to Saturday family obligations). Third, I missed last year's class because I didn't sign up in the first 24 hours of this super popular class (thanks to a friend's tip, I was first this year!) Fourth, on New Year's Day I made a snap decision to transition from vegetarian to a 90%+ vegan diet (a more planned approach might have been wiser, more on this later).

    This was my 9th cooking class at Millennium (see the end of this post for links to previous classes), a gourmet dining experience that just happens to be vegan. I learned this class that the majority of the restaurants repeat business comes from non-vegetarians. I think that really says something about amazing food they serve!

    Above, Chef Eric at the SF Ferry Building Farmers Market at the Far West Funghi store choosing and educating class participants about the mushroom selections on offer.

    Below, chanterelles and abalone mushrooms (yes, I know, you can read!)

    I loved the pure white abalone mushrooms! So here's a gratuitous close-up:

    And, who could resist these stunning fractal romanesco:

    The class brought together another wonderful group of students - vegans, vegetarians, and non-vegetarians all teamed together to get busy in the Millennium kitchen and make some really great food. The almost instant comradery that develops from being part of a class team that tackles half of the recipes or variants of recipes is a really cool thing. Sure, we get a package of typed recipes at the beginning of class, but they are really just guidelines. We adapt and improvise as we go along, which is why the classes are such a great learning experience.

    Below, a killer tatsoi salad with mandoline thin carrots, lobak (green daikon), and marinated mushrooms with a lime dressing:

    A totally unique-tasting Huitilacoche Soup with a roux base and rice milk:

    (Huitilacoche is a black fungus that grows on corn, also known, less attractively, as "corn smut".)

    Candy cap empanadas (dried candy cap mushrooms which are maple-like are ground to a fine powder and included in the dough), filled with mushrooms, nuts, olives and either sun-dried tomatoes or currants with sides of marinated red onions, pumpkin seed-grapefruit salsa and cilantro sauce:

    So that was lunch! We then went on to make...
    Abalone mushroom dengaku over silken tofu with a delicious porcini broth, topped with scallions and black and white sesame seeds:

    From one o'clock: rich mushroom bolognese, bread with Oregon white truffle "butter", sweet potato risotto, romanesco and mushroom salad with tofu skin, nettle polenta and just darned good sauted mushrooms in the center:

    This incredible salad, topped with a peanut sambal, was definitely worthy of a close-up!

    And, although we always make dessert first, lastly candy cap blondies with truffle sorbet! I was dubious, but wow!

    After we're out of the kitchen for round two, participants enjoy a leisurely dining experience of the second half of the class food in Millennium's wine room, with wine, beer, soda and water. It's a great opportunity to relax with your fellow classmates. Thanks to Eric, assistants Thomas, Jenn and Veronika, and owner Ann for another wonderful cooking experience.

    I bounced off a few of my concerns two weeks in to my sudden adaption to a vegan diet. Although I was elated to loose 6 pounds in the first two weeks, I'm now experiencing split nails, hair loss and dry skin. I was thinking lack of protein, but the vegans told me, it's not a lack of protein, it's a lack of fat. I looked up the symptoms of inadequate fat in the diet and they were right! Alas, today I woke up with itchy dry skin and little red bumps on my face :-(. I plan to indulge in some high quality guacamole tomorrow and I know some may say that the redness is a sign of detoxing, but I'm vain and I want it to go away! I welcome any comments on similar experiences and solutions.

    Here's links to previous 8 posts on Millennium cooking classes. Enjoy!:
  • Holiday Cooking Class

  • Fall Harvest 2008

  • Indian Summer

  • Southern Comfort Cooking Class

  • Spring Cooking Class

  • Fall Harvest Cooking Class

  • Chiles Class

  • Tomatoes Class
  • Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Brussels Sprout Pizza (Vegan)

    This is my first vegan pizza and I wanted it to be luxurious. While you have to like Brussels Sprouts to appreciate this recipe, you don't have to compromise on taste eating a vegan pizza.

    I've wanted to make a pizza with Brussels Sprouts ever since Eric mentioned the idea to me. So when colleague D. turned me on to a recipe for Brussels Sprouts Chiffonade from a local newspaper before Xmas, my first thought was that would be good on a pizza. I adapted the recipe and added a rich cashew cream based sauce and chanterelles to make my firt vegan pizza a luxury. The great thing about this rich pizza, it's indulgent but you won't feel "weighted down" by it!

    It's certainly worth noting that vegan cooking takes quite a bit more effort and planning than vegetarian cooking. My clean kitchen is a complete mess, but I ate well and feel light as a feather!

    I made about twice as much Brussels Sprout Chiffonade as was needed for the pizza. Although they are yummy alone, I'd love to hear any of your ideas for combos, salads,etc using this recipe.

    1/2 onion, thinly sliced
    1 TBS EVOO
    pinch salt and pepper
    8 oz Brussels Sprouts, stemmed and cut into thin ribbons
    1/4 cup white wine

    Preheat the oven to 350.
    Cook the onions slowly in the EVOO until soft. Turn up the heat to medium and add the Brussels. Saute for 3 minutes then add the wine, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Finish in the oven (about 10 minutes).

    3 chanterelle mushrooms, thinly sliced
    1 drizzle EVOO
    Quickly Saute.

    1 order pizza dough (I used Il Fornaio - vegan)
    Brush dough with EVOO and cook at 450 on pizza stone for 5 minutes without topping.

    Base sauce:
    1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
    1 tsp EVOO
    S & P
    1/8 cup white wine
    1/8 tsp fresh sage
    1/8 tsp fresh thyme
    1/4 cup cashew cream (use 1/2 cup raw cashews blended with 3/4 cup water)
    water as needed to reach desired consistency
    Cook the shallots in EVOO for a few minutes. Add the fresh herbs, S&P, and 1/2 the wine and cook until shallots are soft. Add the cashew cream and rest of the wine and cook until thickened. Puree whole sauce to a smooth consistency. Add water as needed to get right thickness.

    After cooking the pizza crust for 5 minutes, take it out of the oven and top with the cashew cream sauce, Brussels topping, and Chanterelles on top. Drizzle with a little more of the sauce. Cook for 4 minutes. Sprinkle with pine nuts and cook 3 more minutes. Enjoy!

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Oyster Mushroom "Abalone"

    I bought a lot of fresh produce today at the Farmers Market. I couldn't resist a lovely bag of super fresh oyster mushrooms, although I've never cooked them before and only had them deep-fried at Millennium.

    Then I found this wonderful and easy recipe for Oyster Mushroom Mock Abalone, along with a number of other promising recipes at The Oyster Mushroom Page on the Mycological Society of San Francisco's website.

    Flour, dried herbs (I used Herbes de Provence), garlic, salt, and pepper create a light coating for the mushrooms, which are then quickly sauteed, and topped with lemon juice.

    I don't know if they taste like abalone, but they made a delicious afternoon snack! Highly recommended.

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    Tofu Yu Spicy Veggie Wrap

    One thing I've discovered on my quest to eat vegan is that there aren't a lot of really tasty vegan convenience foods out there. But these amazing "Spicy Veggie Wraps" or "Tofu Spirals" as I think of them from Tofu Yu are absolutely amazing! The wrap is flat tofu, filled with veggies and a spicy soy bean paste that is out-of-this-world. I can't recommend this item enough. It's the perfect protein side to a healthy vegetable soup or salad.

    Tofu Yu also make delicious vegan meatballs, tofu pasta, flavored tofu, and vegan cookies. I discovered them at our local Wednesday Farmers Market. Alas, only currently available in the San Francisco Bay Area (check here for locations and distribution), with superior tasting and healthful products like these, I predict successful expansion.

    That Wednesday Farmers Market can't come soon enough for me!

    Thursday, January 08, 2009

    Cream of Portobello Mushroom Soup (Vegan)

    If you love mushrooms, this is a superb and easy-to-prepare soup that you're really going to love! And, although it tastes like it has rich cream in it, it's vegan (thanks to cashew cream!). Consider this recipe for your next dinner party! It has a rich, indulgent taste that's designed to impress or, at least, shake off the winter blues!

    Cream of Portobello Mushroom Soup (Vegan):
    2 tsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
    1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
    2 huge portobello mushrooms, peeled stemmed and chopped
    1 TBS sherry
    1 tsp Nama Shoyu soy sauce
    1/2 large white onion, finely diced
    1 pinch each, sea salt and ground pepper
    1/4 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
    1 cup vegetable broth
    2 TBS Cashew Cream ( recipe follows)
    Sea salt and pepper
    1/4 cup cooked rice, if desired

    Heat 1 tsp EVOO in a saute pan. Add sliced garlic and saute over medium-low heat. Add the chopped portobellos and 1/2 TBS of sherry. Add 1/2 tsp soy sauce and a pinch of sea salt, pepper, and finely chopped fresh rosemary. Saute for 5 minute, then turn off heat.

    In a saucepan, heat 1 tsp EVOO and cook finely diced onions over low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp soy sauce and cook 2 more minutes. Add the mushroom mix, vegetable broth, and water (as needed) and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Puree using an immersion blender

    Cashew Cream (from The Milliennium Cookbook):
    Combine 1/2 cup raw cashews with 1/2 cup water in a blender. Blend. Add up to an additional 1/2 cup of water (blending) until creamy and smooth.

    Stir in 1-2 TBS of cashew cream, cooked rice (if using) and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with fresh rosemary.

    Tuesday, January 06, 2009

    Napa Cabbage & Watercress Soup

    Happy New Year to all!

    This delicious green blended soup was filled with tasty greens: napa cabbage, watercress, and dinosaur kale, made heartier with the addition of potato. It's an adaption of a recipe from the vegan Real Food Daily Cookbook by Ann Gentry. Gentry used uncooked rolled oats to thicken her soup, but I chose the more standard potato. This soup is light, yet provides all the comfort a good soup should. See my adapted recipe at the bottom of this post.

    With a new year dawning, I made a sudden unplanned decision to try a vegan diet for a week, starting on January 1st. I've always said I could never give up milk in my tea and certainly not cheese, but I felt the need for a food challenge. So, here we are on January 6th and, although I cheated by indulging in a couple of leftover holiday truffles, I've stuck to my vegan challenge. It's really been a fascinating experiment. My taste buds have changed and I am definitely tasting my food in a different way. I can't quite explain this, but tastes are much more intense. For example, I had a not unusual breakfast of oatmeal with berries and soy milk (vs. plain yogurt) this morning and my mouth just felt alive with the intense flavor of the berries, the oatiness of the oatmeal. Maybe this is due to pure hunger, but it felt like a good thing.

    I have to admit I had developed a pretty serious cheese snacking habit as the cold weather settled in. When I hadn't planned a meal ahead, I'd just snack on bread, butter, and cheese. Or I'd snack on cheese while I was preparing another meal. Let's just say, it showed. Switching to a vegan diet, I've suddenly had to think about everything I put in my mouth. It has forced me to be mindful of everything I eat. It's certainly made me realize how easy it is to be vegetarian vs. vegan.

    I have to admit, I've been hungry. But I've also tightened my belt a notch! ( a good thing). And I've also felt... well... lighter.

    I'm not ready to take the vegan plunge, but I would like to see my diet in the 90% vegan range. Stay tuned for more insights on this.

    Anyway, back to this delicious soup. Here's my adapted recipe:

    Napa Cabbage & Watercress Soup:
    1 TBSP EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
    1 onion
    1 russet potato, peeled and diced
    1/2 head napa cabbage, cored and chopped
    1 bunch watercress, stems trimmed
    3/4 tsp sea salt
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    1/2 bunch dinosaur kale, stemmed, leaves cut into strips
    32 oz vegetable stock
    water as needed
    3 TBS miso
    chopped basil

    Heat oil in a heavy bottomed large saucepan, and fry onions over medium heat for 4 minutes. Add the potato, cover, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cabbage and cook 1 minute. Add the vegetable stock, watercress, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the kale and additional water, if needed. Cook for another 8 minutes. Take 1 cup of the broth from the soup and dissolve the miso in it. Add back to the soup. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat. Adjust seasoning. Puree the soup using an immersion blender.

    Stir in chopped basil right before serving.