Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vegetarian Gumbo

Gumbo is an extremely satisfying winter time meal. It is a thick stew, originating from louisiana, and often made with sausage, chicken, and seafood. Although I cannot attest for the meat version of this dish, the BF loves it, and I can't get enough of the vegetarian version. Even in the vegetarian version, the flavors are so complex, I often stop and think about all the ingredients while I'm eating it. There is the warmth from the vegetable broth, the kick from the spices, and the subtle sweetness from the Worcestershire sauce. To me, this gumbo is even better than what I've tried in New Orleans.

The BF and I have made this gumbo a few times, and although it is time consuming, much of the time is spent just waiting for it to simmer. There is a bit of work making the roux and cooking the vegetables, but after that it is almost 2 hours of just simmer time. I can be pretty impatient in the kitchen, but I will honestly say that this gumbo is worth every minute of preparation is that good!

The original (meat-friendly) gumbo recipe comes from Paula Deen (but suprisingly doesn't have much butter). Below is my vegetarian version.

Vegetarian Gumbo (adapted from Paula Deen, 10 servings)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I omitted this)
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian recipe below)
  • 1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 4 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1 (14-ounce can) diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups frozen sliced okra
  • 1/2 lb tofu, well drained and diced into cubes
1. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour, add 2 tablespoons of butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

2. Return the pot to low heat and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Add the (vegetarian) Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

4. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the tofu. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

5. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions and remaining chopped parsley.

Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce (about 1/4 cup)

1 1/2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses or tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
a pinch of onion powder
a pinch of powdered cloves or pumpkin pie spice

Stir together all ingredients.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

These cookies are seriously amazing. Six ingredients (one of them is salt), no eggs or leavening, and they taste amazing. They are extremely easy to make and too easy to eat. The BF made these to bring to my family back in NY, and I think we will be making these every year now.

Mexican Wedding Cakes (also called Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes; adapted from Joy of Cooking) makes 30 cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted, and finely ground
1 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets.
2. Beat the butter, 1/4 sugar, salt, and vanilla in a large bowl until blended.
3. Stir in the pecans. Stir in the flour until well blended.
4. Shape into 1-inch balls and arrange about 1 1/4 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake each sheet at a time, for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned. Let stand for about 2 minutes, then remove to rack to cool.
5. Roll the cooled cookies in 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I discovered these cookies on Joy the Baker's wonderful website about a month ago. Since then I have made these cookies 3 times. That's saying a lot for someone like me, who gets bored of the same desserts after about...a day. But there's something really satisfying about these cookies. They are soft from the pumpkin, chocolatey from the chips, and cruchy and wholesome from the walnuts - a perfect mix of three great cookie traits.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Joy the Baker) (makes about 14 cookies)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 chopped walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter two baking sheets.
2. Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, mix the butter, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended. Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate it. Mix in the chips and walnuts.
4. Scoop about 1/4 cup mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 1/2-inches apart.
5. Bake for about 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homemade Mascarpone

As part of last month's Daring Bakers challenge, I made mascarpone cheese to fill my cannoli. Homemade mascarpone is really simple, and I think much simpler than homemade paneer (or ricotta). The reason is that mascarpone is made with heavy cream (as opposed to whole milk) so it is much more resilient to heat. The first time I made paneer I burned a whole gallon of milk. Not fun.

These pictures are not so good as I made this at night, but hopefully they will explain the process.

You start with some heavy whipping cream and heat it in a double boiler (I use a make-shift double boiler by placing one saucepan on top of another) until it reaches 190F degrees (this took about 25 minutes for me):

In case you're wondering, yes, that is a thermometer clipped on with a clothespin (the BF's idea). Once the cream reaches 190F degrees, add fresh lemon juice and stir. The cream will eventually thicken, enough so that it coats the back of a wooden spoon:

Let the cream cool for about 20 min. Then pour it in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, and refrigerate. Before the refrigeration, the cream is still well, creamy, and not as thick as you would expect a cheese to be, but don't fret. Refrigeration is key - after a night of refrigeration, you will have mascarpone. And it will taste divine!
Homemade Mascarpone (adapted from Baking Obsession)
Makes about 12 oz
  • 500 ml whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Prepare a double boiler OR make your own by placing about 1-2 inches of water in a saucepan, then placing another saucepan (or bowl) inside the first. The bottom of the second saucepan should NOT be touching the water.

2. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into the top saucepan.

3. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. It will take about 25-30 minutes.

4. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly.

5. Remove the top saucepan from from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Daring Bakers Cannoli...Yes, it's Late

This is my first time posting late for a Daring Bakers Challenge. I'm sorry! I am hoping that my tardy posting will prevent me from getting kicked out of this group that I am actually really honored to be a part of. These are some seriously DARING Bakers. This month (or I guess last month) however, they were Daring Fryers, as the challenge recipe was Cannoli.

Mmm...Cannoli. I remember those little rolls of deliciousness from my school days back in Queens NY. Every once in a while I would walk into my favorite pizzeria on my way back from school, and treat myself to one of these babies. The fried crispy shells filled with white yummy filling (which is what I knew it as back then since I had never even heard of ricotta or marscarpone), speckled with mini chocolate chips. It was heaven! Unfortunately, these "cannoli" I concocted last weekend, were not :( .

I'm not sure if it was my fault or the fault of the recipe (I'm guessing its the former since others had good turnout with this recipe), but my cannoli shells were pretty awful. Firstly, the recipe said to fry for 1-2 min, but doing this caused major burnage for my shells -- so much that I was frying for about 30 seconds tops to make sure they didn't burn. Secondly, they were bland! I tried the suggested recipe for chocolate cannoli thinking chocolate anything has to be good -- but no, they were just chocolate blandness. And lastly, probably the saddest part of this challenge -- my shells did not stay crispy. The morning after they had basically become...tortillas. OK, maybe not as flimsy as a tortilla, but maybe something more like a pita. No joke!

Anyway, my favorite part about this recipe was a homemade chocolate mascarpone filling that I made to fill the cannoli (will post about it next). I was really surprised at how easy it is to make mascarpone at home! I would say it is even easier than paneer (or ricotta), since the first time I did that, I ended up burning the milk. Cream, on the other hand, is much tougher, and requires much more carelessness to burn. YES to burn-resistant ingredients!

Please check out Lisa's fantastic blog for the cannoli recipe. Her cannoli are seriously stunning and I'm sure much tastier than mine!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blondies and My First Award

Wow. I know it has been too long since I've posted. And I've wanted to so much, but really have had no time this last month. I am teaching a class in my university, and I am really enjoying it but it is extremely time consuming. From preparing all the lectures, exams, and home works, grading, and holding office hours, I have found so little time to do other things I enjoy, including cooking. I've made a few interesting things here and there (mainly for Thanksgiving), but they were all either made at night (not good for photos), or eaten right away (too hungry to stop for pictures). So sadly, I have not been able to post, and really, I missed it so much. There is something so exciting about seeing comments on your postings, it really makes it all worth it. Thank you so much to my commenters! You all rock.

A while ago, I posted about whole wheat peanut butter cookies, and a whole wheat challenge where I was baking some of my favorite recipes by replacing some (or all) of the all purpose flour with whole wheat. I got a request from lucysmom for whole wheat blondies, so here they are!

This is the blondie recipe I ALWAYS make. It is fantastic -- the result is a soft, chewy, toffee-flavored, blondie loaded with chocolate chips (I also often put walnuts and pecans). I have always made it with all purpose flour, but a while back I tried replacing all the all-purpose with whole wheat pastry and I seriously cannot tell the difference. I guess the amount of butter and brown sugar in the recipe takes away the healthy tastes of the whole wheat (woot for butter and brown sugar!) If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour, I've also replaced half the all purpose with regular whole wheat and the result was just as good.
A few weeks ago, Memória from Mangio da Sola (a very lovely blog that I read regularly) gave my blog this award.
I am so grateful to her for recognizing my blog. I also really appreciate her generous and thoughtful comments on my blog. Thank you Memória!
In honor of this award, I will pass it on to two other drool-worthy blogs that I like to read regularly: Dolce at Confessions of a chocoholic and Jill at Jillicious Discoveries. Congratulations! :)

Whole Wheat Blondies
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted (preferably on the stove top)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 chopped pecans or walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the brown sugar with the melted butter (I usually do this by hand). Add the eggs and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just incorporated.
3. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Pour into 8x8 in pan and bake for 25-30 min or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.