Tuesday, November 25, 2014

GO Veggie! - A quasi-sponsored post

I used a disclaimer on several posts in the past months because I’d made certain recipes using GO Veggie! lactose-free products that had been sent to me for free by the company. It’s high time I elaborated on that! Late last summer, I got an email on behalf of GO Veggie! asking if I was interested in receiving free samples. I had bought their plain and chive & garlic cream cheese substitute before, but that was pretty much it. I read the email over and realized that they had products I’d never tasted, like a strawberry cream cheese substitute, and some that I’d never even seen in stores. So I decided to accept their offer and expected to get some flavored cream cheese and maybe a few other things. I didn’t think about it for a while, and one day when I came back home from the dentist, the Engineer said, “I don’t know what you did, but you got a visit from the cheese fairy while you were out!” Look at everything we got!

That’s a block of cheddar, a block of mozzarella, a container of grated parmesan, three kinds of cream cheese (plain, strawberry, and chive & garlic), four kinds of grated cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, a cheddar and pepper jack mix, and a cheddar and Monterey jack mix), as well as seven – count ’em, seven! – kinds of sliced cheese (smoked provolone, pepper jack, cheddar, mozzarella, cheddar with jalapeño, American, and Swiss). I tasted them and I think this is relevant to the blog, as these are all products that can come in handy for people who are lactose-intolerant. Just to be clear, though, while I got all these products for free, I am not actually getting paid to write this review.

I haven’t seen all these products at my grocery store, so you might have to go to specialty stores or talk to your grocer to try some of them. Keep in mind that while they are lactose-free, they are not all dairy-free or vegan, so they are not suitable for people with dairy allergies, for example. As this page on their website explains, GO Veggie! products have some advantages over dairy and over many dairy substitutes, like fewer calories, less fat (no cholesterol and no trans fats, actually), and more calcium. And, of course, they’re lactose-free.

For those of you who are interested: the cream cheeses are dairy-free (casein-free) and soy-based; they are also vegan and kosher. In addition, the following products I got are dairy-free (casein-free), soy-free, vegan and kosher: shredded mozzarella, as well as sliced American, cheddar, mozzarella and pepper jack. The other products are made with soy and do contain some form of dairy, though not lactose. (This may go without saying, but just to be safe: always check the label before eating something if you have an allergy, because sometimes companies change recipes or suppliers or packing plants, so the information here may be out of date eventually.) GO Veggie! also makes products that I did not taste, so I can’t speak for those, but there are alternatives not mentioned here if your food restrictions prevent you from trying them (such as a dairy-free grated parmesan substitute).

Let’s do this methodically, shall we? For the blocks of cheese (cheddar and mozzarella), I am not fond of eating them straight. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever had vegan cheese that I enjoyed eating raw like that, so for me, a lactose-free dairy cheese is a better choice. (Though to be clear, these GO Veggie! blocks of cheese were not vegan because they contained some dairy; they just tasted vegan, if that’s a thing.) That being said, I grated them and used them in a mac and cheese: it was very good! The Engineer, the Little Prince and I all approved.

As for the grated parmesan, it wasn’t as good as real parmesan, but it was definitely on par with parmesan from a green can; it also smelled remarkably similar! I use it to top dishes, like the spinach and ricotta crêpe lasagna I made. This cheese isn’t vegan either, but the website says there is another dairy-free one. However, I only recently realized (or was reminded?) that real parmesan isn’t even vegetarian, as it contains animal rennet; GO Veggie’s grated parmesan is vegetarian, as far as I can tell.

For the sliced cheeses, I had the Engineer test the spicy ones in his sandwiches. Of the pepper jack cheese, he said that it had a weird texture, but it grew on him. Of the cheddar with jalapeño, he says that he likes it and that it adds a nice kick of extra heat to his sandwiches. I tasted the smoked provolone in a grilled cheese sandwich and liked it, as it satisfied cravings. The American cheese was somewhat bland and didn’t get me excited, but I could say the same about the dairy version, too. I tried some sliced Swiss raw in a sandwich and did not like it; it tasted better when grilled, but I still prefer the real thing (as it is lactose-free anyway). I had some of the cheddar in a quesadilla, and it was okay. To be a little different, I tried the sliced mozzarella on a croquet-monsieur; it was alright, though it didn’t melt as well as I would have liked. (In the pictures below, the white cheese is the smoked provolone, and the orange cheese is the American.)

I tried the shredded mozzarella on pizza, and I was really impressed because this cheese mot only melts, it stretches! I thoroughly approve. It was great in tacos, too. The Engineer ate the cheddar and pepper jack mix; he liked it in sandwiches, and it baked up very well in biscuits, too. I used the cheddar and Monterey jack mix in a Mexican lasagna and I couldn’t even tell it wasn’t real cheese! I used shredded cheddar in an omelet, and it was good, though nothing unexpected by that point.

Finally, the cream cheeses: I’m including an image sent by GO Veggie! with ideas for different flavor combinations – I never got around to trying them, mostly because I rarely serve hors-d’œuvres like that, but some of these combinations looked really good to me. I enjoy the chive & garlic one on crackers mostly, or on a bagel for lunch, but it isn’t the kind of thing I like for breakfast. I think it would also be really good in a savory dish like a lasagna that calls for cream cheese. As for the plain cream cheese, I compared it with Daiya’s version, and I preferred GO Veggie! because it wasn’t as sweet. Sweet is fine if you’re making frosting for a cake, for example, but when you just want plain cheese on a bagel, I prefer a more neutral taste. The strawberry cream cheese is made with soy, and when eaten by itself, the soy is really obvious, but it was great on a sesame bagel! It also had the consistency of real cream cheese, so that was good. I used both the plain and strawberry cheeses in frosting for rhubarb cupcakes, and both worked really well.

In conclusion, I really liked discovering all these new products, because it gives me new lactose-free options for my cooking. I hope the same is true for you after reading this post.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Because we can't say no to apple cake

I know, I know. I’ve told you about apple cakes before. There was my ”stout” apple cake, Bubbie Gilda’s apple cake, French apple cake, and apple tart cake. And I’ve got a few more up my sleeve. But somehow I made another one, slightly adapted from Sweet Amandine, and it was good enough that I decided to keep the recipe… The Engineer also approves and says that it has a good, dense crumb, with brown sugar that you can taste without being overwhelmed by it. He also likes the crystallized sugar on top, as do I. I’m changing the cooking time slightly below, as I would have liked to test the cake 5 minutes earlier than I did. I also changed the flour a bit, replaced some of the oil with applesauce, and omitted the nuts, obviously. Enjoy!

1 cup whole wheat flour (see note directly below)
½ cup all-purpose flour (I used 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour in all)
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup applesauce
¼ cup vegetable oil (I used safflower oil)
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups peeled, cored, and thickly sliced apples (I used a Envy, but your favorite combination is fine)
1 Tbsp. demerara sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. Set aside.

Dump the packed brown sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and unpack it with a fork. Add the oil, and use the fork to moisten all of the sugar. (If you skip these first steps, the brown sugar will get pressed up against the sides of the bowl instead of mixing with the oil.) Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. After five minutes, add the eggs and the vanilla, beating after each addition, then continue beating until the mixture is creamy.

Add the dry ingredients into the sugar, egg, and oil mixture and stir by hand until just combined. Fold in the apple slices. It will look like a lot of apple and not enough batter, but it all works out in the end.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, sprinkle with demerara sugar if you'd like, and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

5-Minute Vegan Pancakes

For some reason, I was certain I had a vegan pancake recipe here, but I can’t find any. That’s an oversight on my part, I suppose! I had only taken a perfunctory picture, because I really thought I had these on the blog already – I’d have made more of an effort otherwise. Vegan pancakes come in very handy for many reasons, not least of which is allergies. They’re also easy to make! The recipe below is from Food.com, and it’s the one my friend Jen made last SummerFest. I followed the recipe as written, and the only downside to these is that I could taste the baking powder too much, so I might try it with less next time, even if that means a flatter pancake. When we were at the cottage, though, Jen followed the recipe and the pancakes did not taste off at all. I got a yield of 7 pancakes, so I assume a yield of 6 to 8 is reasonable for the recipe as written below.

1 cup flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup soy milk
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Set a stove element with a pan to medium heat.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

Add the soy milk and vegetable oil to your mixture. Mix until smooth.

Now the pan should be ready for your batter, so spoon one pancake’s worth of the mixture into the pan.

Flip when you see bubbles in the middle of the pancake and the edges are looking stiffened. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pumpkin Ice Cream

You remember last fall’s attempts at pumpkin ice cream, right? I talked about them here and here. I tinkered with spices and custard base, but the problem was the consistency: too hard once in the freezer for more than a few hours. So I upped the fat content, I used coconut milk with guar gum, and I tried adding arrowroot starch after tempering the yolks (arrowroot which, by the way, worked for me before, and that’s how it’s done in The Vegan Scoop for just about every kind of ice cream, including pumpkin). Still, I didn’t get the consistency I wanted. I’m wondering if that’s just the way it’s meant to be – it is, after all, a downfall of many homemade ice creams, even non-vegan ones with sour cream. According to Serious Eats, the only thing left to do would be to replace some (or all) of the sugar with liquid sweetener such as corn syrup. But you know what? I’ve made this a half-dozen times already and I’m tired of tinkering with it, especially since the arrival of a cold front makes me want warm food, not ice cream. So the following is my pumpkin ice cream, inspired by a Herbivoracious recipe. I made it last month and loved the taste. Just remember to take it out of the freezer 10 to 15 minutes before you want to eat it. I might try liquid sweetener if I make it next year, though do report in the comments if you try it! You could also use 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice instead of the spices below.

1 cup pumpkin purée (canned is fine; I used Farmer’s Market Organic, and it was delicious)
1 14-oz. can of coconut milk with guar gum (such as Thai Kitchen)
1 cup coconut cream (NOT cream of coconut, NOT creamed coconut)
2/3 cup sugar (up to ¾ cup if you want it sweet)
1 pinch of salt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. allspice
6 egg yolks (ideally from pasteurized eggs)

Whisk together the pumpkin purée, coconut milk, coconut cream, sugar, salt and spices in a saucepan. Heat and whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks. Gradually pour some of the coconut milk mixture over the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and coconut milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard if needed, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly.

Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions, Israeli Couscous and Date Relish

This recipe had been sitting in my inbox for 2 ½ years already. The story behind it is that my mother’s colleague from work at the time heated his lunch in the microwave, and it smelled so good that my mother asked for the recipe, then shared it with me. But it’s one of the longest recipes I’ve seen, and it just seemed so daunting that I didn’t have the heart to make it (and neither did she). But last month, my mother came to visit us for several days, so we made it together. When I wrote it down on that week’s menu, I wrote “Complicated Chicken”. I might as well have called it This-(Damn-Well-)Better-Be-Good Chicken, but in the end, the original title is more descriptive. I’m not exaggerating when I say this: the spice mix is prepared the night before so that the chicken marinates overnight, and then that evening’s preparations took us 2 ½ hours. That’s 150 minutes of non-stop cooking by two fully capable adults (though, to be fair, we did have to entertain the Little Prince at the time as well, and after a little more than 2 hours, we started a Baby Einstein video for him to keep everyone sane).

You know the old adage that the degree to which children like dinner is inversely proportional to the time you spent making it? It turns out it’s absolutely true. The Little Prince hardly touched his dinner the first night. On the second night, however, when all we had to do was reheat it, he had an almost voracious appetite and really liked the dish. As for us, we thought it was very good, but not enough to go through the trouble of making it all again the same way. The recipe below contains a few modifications that we implemented (such as omitting the chile de arbol or not putting plastic wrap in the oven, for God’s sake). Next time, however, we would bake the chicken in a Dutch oven, with half as much broth and fewer vegetables (the fennel, for instance, was surprisingly washed out and could probably be omitted). You could also use a small fresh tomato instead of leaving most of a can of tomatoes unused. My mother would prefer regular couscous, to soak up the sauce better, but I prefer the texture of pearled couscous. It’s not that any of these steps is complicated per se (couscous is easy; the date relish is stupid-easy; the saffron onions take a while, but are not hard), but all together, it’s too much for one cook on a weeknight, especially if kids are involved.

We also argued semantics: is the date condiment really relish? After looking it up, we realized that what defines relish is basically the addition of vinegar. While this condiment isn’t very acidic, the lemon juice might qualify it as relish, so we decided to keep calling it that. In any event, this dish makes about 6 servings, so at least you get leftovers for all the work you put in. And it IS really good.

For the spice rub
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp. paprika

For the chicken
6 chicken legs with thighs attaches, bone in and skin on (we used 8 small pieces)
1 sliced onion
1 sliced fennel
2 bay leaves
¼ cup chopped San Marzano canned tomatoes
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
½ cup white wine
½ cup sherry
4 cups chicken stock
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the date relish
½ cup dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the saffron onions
1 tsp. saffron threads
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. olive oil
5 cups sliced onions (about 1 ¼ lbs.)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the couscous
2 ½ cups Israeli couscous
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the spice rub
Toast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a small pan for a few minutes until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Grind them in a spice mill or a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, combine the ground spices with the garlic, thyme, parsley, and paprika.

Place the chicken in a large bowl; sprinkle the spice mixture over it and, using your hands, toss the chicken and spices together, coating well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

For the chicken
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking, to allow it to come to room temperature. After 15 minutes, season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. (We may have missed this step.)

Preheat the oven to 325 °F.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat to 2 minutes. Swirl in the olive oil and wait 1 minute. Place the chicken legs, skin side down, in the pan and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Every so often, swirl the oil and rendered fat around in the pan. Turn the legs over, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 2 more minutes on the other side. It may be necessary to do this in 2 batches, adding oil if necessary. (Also, as was noted above, I’d do this in a Dutch oven next time and keep using that for the rest of the recipe.) Set the browned chicken aside.

Pour off some of the fat and return the sauté pan to medium heat. Add the onions, fennel and bay leaves. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are lightly caramelized. Add the tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon. Add the sherry vinegar, white wine and sherry. Turn up the heat to high and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the cilantro, give it a stir and then spoon the vegetables into the bottom of a large casserole or braising dish. Arrange the chicken in one layer in the dish, skin side up, and then pour the broth over it. The liquid should not quite cover the chicken. (This was fine in a roasting pan. However, using a Dutch oven and keeping the lid on might allow for the use of only half the amount of broth, thereby avoiding waste later in the recipe.) Cover the dish in aluminum foil, place in the oven and braise for 1 ½ to 2 hours. While the chicken is braising, make the sides.

For the date relish
Toss the dates with the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper.

For the saffron onions
Toss the saffron threads in a small pan over medium heat until they are just dry and become brittle. Be very careful not to burn the precious saffron. (We erred on the side of caution here, especially given that saffron is brittle to begin with! As long as it’s fragrant, call it a day.) Pound the saffron to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, butter and saffron. When the butter foams, add the onions, bay leaf, and thyme, along with salt and pepper. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, as the onions wilt. Turn the heat down to low and cook for another 20 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the onions are soft and sweet. Taste for seasoning.

For the couscous
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook 6 to 20 minutes, until tender but still slightly al dente. Drain the couscous, return it to the pot and toss with the butter, parsley and a pinch of pepper. Taste for seasoning.

By now, the chicken should be ready. To check the chicken for doneness, remove the foil, being careful of escaping steam, and pierce a piece of chicken with a paring knife. It should yield easily and be tender, but not quite falling off the bone. (We used a thermometer to gauge doneness.)

Turn the oven up to 400 °F. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet and return it to the oven to brown for about 10 minutes. Pour half the chicken broth and vegetables into a sauté pan and heat over high heat until it has reduced and become thickened. Pour the thickened sauce into the bottom of a serving dish and pile the crisped chicken on top of it.

The second time I plated this for myself, I put the chicken and sauce on top of the couscous, and I liked that better than when it was next to it. The onions are fantastic and would go well with almost any other dish, too, as would the date relish. If you make it this far, sit back, relax, and enjoy a great meal. Worry about the dishes later.