Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Adventures of ET—Elfin-Terrestrial

You know, EVERY WEEK, The Elf says to hers-elf—I’m gonna write on this little blog all week and NOT be found on Sunday without a word yet entered. And EVERY WEEK, we find that we have NOT managed to do that. BUT—that doesn’t mean we’ve been slothful in the kitchen. Far from it! This week was full of new adventures in Elfin Cookery and some old favorites that are tried and true. So here we go!
First up, we concocted a tofu scramble that really cleaned out the refrigerator. Using sliced fresh jalapeños, green cauliflower, fresh zucchini and squash from a neighbor’s garden, ‘shrooms, red onion, slices green olives, and some great very firm organic tofu, we ate off this for several days.

 Every Wednesday is baking day for The Elf as we are preparing for a big fundraiser for our favorite NO-KILL Animal Shelter here in the Jackson Area…and we mean the Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi (ARF/MS). We are baking 3” cookies to sell and donate to ARF/MS. Hopefully, we will sell out and raise some good dough (pun intended!). Here we have our favorites of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip followed by Oatmeal Walnut Raisin. For the next couple of Wednesdays, we will go to a new combo of Oatmeal CherryCraisin and Coconut.

And, another recipe we make at least once a week at the Elf’s House is Boiled Peanut Hummus!! We LOVE the stuff. Just made up a new batch yesterday…it would be the perfect food if you didn’t have to peel the peanuts!!

And our BIGGEST adventure of the week was our first attempt at Rhea Parson’s (The ‘V’ Word) ‘V’ Meat…Gluten-free plant based meat alternative. 
Since most of the plant-based meats such as Seitan use a product called Vital Wheat Gluten, folks who are gluten sensitive just miss out. Prepared properly, seitan is a superb plant-based meat. The Gentle Chef uses it quite a bit in his recipes for Shredded Chikun and the Bacun that we seem to make every week.
Well, first of all, Rhea was at the ready via e-mail to assist with any questions (and we did have some) so The Elf wishes to thank her for the support and guidance.
Since the recipe calls for quite a number of ingredients, we wanted to make damn sure that we had them all before undertaking this recipe. And wouldn’t you know, two ingredients we did not have that we THOUGHT we did were ARROWROOT and SOY FLOUR! Dang it. But, thanks to a trip to Rainbow Co-op, we got them without difficulty.
We divided the ingredients up into the dry, which were Amaranth Flour, Soy Flour, Pea Protein (I had NEVER even HEARD of PEA PROTEIN!!), freshly ground black pepper and guar gum.

The next batch of ingredients we named ‘seasonings’:  nutritional yeast, ground flaxseed, kosher salt, paprika (whew! Thank goodness for the paprika discussion last week), onion powder, garlic powder (we had garlic big), dried oregano, ground cumin, and ground coriander. That little plastic cup at the top of the onion powder is the majority of the seasoning ingredients measured out.

The wet ingredients consisted of ‘beef’ broth (we used vegetable bouillon flavored with a couple of drops of Gravy Master and Liquid Smoke), tomato paste, vegetable oil (we used Grapeseed oil), and coconut aminos. The rolled oats were included with the wet ingredients because they were ‘cooked’ in some of the beef broth early on.

All of this eventually winds up as a dough of sorts and we’ll be completely honest, when we first combined things to form this dough, we thought we’d done something wrong. BUT! After kneading it for a bit, damn if it didn’t come together as a really nice dough. 

We divvied it up into cutlets and steamed for about 20 minutes.

. And following that, we were quite sure we had screwed up again…because the end result just did not have the consistency we expected—great flavor though! So we contacted Rhea, sent her some pics—only to have her calm our fears by saying that it looked pretty good for a first elf-fort. Here’s a shot of ‘V’ Meat with some sautéed onions. 

So, we will definitely try this recipe again and maybe try shaping the dough into sausages and steaming them a bit longer.
Trying out new things is a treat and we have the utmost respect for those folks who put in the time, energy, expense, elbow grease, thought and creativity to come up with recipes that folks like The Elf can follow. We have one in the works RIGHT NOW that we hope to share with you next week…IF it turns out like the recipe indicates. Keep your fingers crossed.
Last week we introduced a new feature to our little blog called ELFERT SPICERY and this week we are taking a look at a spice that is used a LOT in vegetarian/vegan cooking—and this is TURMERIC.

Using Wikipedia we found out a lot about this very popular spice. Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. It is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes. Indian traditional medicine, called Siddha, has recommended turmeric for medicine. Its use as a coloring agent is not of primary value in South Asian cuisine.

Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes, but is used in some sweet dishes. In recipes outside South Asia, turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich, custard-like yellow color. It is used in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.
 Most turmeric is used in the form of rhizome powder; in some regions, turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food. Turmeric leaves are mainly used in this way in areas where turmeric is grown locally, since the leaves used are freshly picked. Turmeric leaves impart a distinctive flavor.

 Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric is also used fresh, like ginger. It has numerous uses in Far Eastern recipes, such as pickle that contains large chunks of soft turmeric, made from fresh turmeric. From the site, we get a good description of the differences between fresh and dried/powdered turmeric.
 Fresh Turmeric

Fresh turmeric rhizomes (often called roots) look similar to ginger, a close relative. Like ginger, fresh rhizomes have a livelier flavor than dried. Turmeric's bright orange flesh is earthy, peppery, and slightly bitter. Depending on how tender or mature it is, you may want to scrape off the peel before using it. Like ginger, turmeric may be cut into coins, matchsticks, or cubes; grated with a microplane or cheese grater; and juiced or thrown into smoothies.

 Fresh turmeric may be found in the produce section of well-stocked grocery stores, health food stores, and Asian and Indian grocery stores. Choose firm rhizomes and avoid soft, dried, or shriveled ones. Store fresh turmeric in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or airtight container for a week or two, or freeze it for several months.
Dried Turmeric

 Dried turmeric is made by peeling, boiling, and drying the rhizomes, which are then sold whole or ground. Turmeric loses some of its essential oils and pungency in the drying process but it can still provide warmth and color. For the best flavor use whole fingers and grind them as needed using a microplane or spice grinder.

When purchasing dried turmeric look to ethnic and specialty spice shops that often have fresher stock and faster turnover than regular grocery stores. Aroma is often a better indicator of quality than color, which can vary from yellow to orange. Store dried turmeric in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

It was interesting to find out (via Wikipedia) that the pronunciation of turmeric typically treats the first ‘r’ as silent, making is sound like ‘too-mer-ic’. That’s interesting because it was only recently that The Elf even NOTICED that first ‘r’ and ALWAYS thought it was spelled TUMERIC!!
So, we will once again endeavor to have some work done on this blog during the week but who knows!! We do know that we are pretty sick of the heat and have August yet to go! We hope you will stay cool and relish in the garden produce that is such a bounty this time of year. Gosh, that makes The Elf want some watermelon! Til next week, y’all breathe deep, eat plants, laugh a lot and love life.
The Elf

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Wizard of Elf

This will be a remarkably short blog this week…we’ve actually had a bit of a let-down with the hiatus from Susan Voisin’s FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe-ing and felt kinda at loose ends. Not to worry, though…we’re getting’ our groove back and the week to come looks to be a pretty intense one.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t been cookin’ up a storm but just doin’ a LOT of things we have been familiar with and shared many times. Here’s a picture of the Bacun that we inhale as its cooking--both with our noses and our mouths! (SO GOOD!) 
And a double batch of it ready for the oven.

 Saturday night found us at Anjou Restaurant; this place never disappoints.  This week, they prepared a luscious entrée salad with extra avocado and hearts of palm.  The Elf threw on some sautéed Chikun Shreds and had a divine dinner!!

 On tap this week will be our elf-fort at Gluten Free Plant-based Meat (“V” Meat) from anther really cool blogger/recipe-er, Rhea Parsons and The ‘V’ Word. We finally located all the ingredients and will now be able to give this a go.
We guess that the MOST fun we had this week was being a guest on SuperTalk MS’s The Linda Allen Show. Y’all may recall we’d been on another show on SuperTalk MS called The Paul Gallo show back in the winter. Well, Ms Linda called us not ago and asked if we’d come back on. We wanted to make sure we went with vegan food to sample, so we prepared the Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Tacos with Spicy Chipotle Sauce (see last week’s blog for the link). In addition, we sautéed up some Chikun Shreds and made a fresh Peach/Cherry Crumble. Since The Linda Allen Show is later in the day (9:30-ish), we felt pretty comfortable taking an early brunch for folks to sample. The picture is The Elf getting her microphone adjusted.

For those of you who might be interested, here’s a link to the show.

Just a heads up, the first portion of the show (about 20 minutes or so) is an interview with a guest who had been to see the last concert of The Grateful Dead in Chicago; it's a great interview, so enjoy that as well.

As always, we had a great time talking about how we decided to go ‘plant-based’, tips for folks who are thinking of changing their eating habits from unhealthy to LESS unhealthy, stories of folks who had dramatically altered their poor health by going totally plant-based, grocery shopping ideas and suggestions and discussing the food we’d brought to eat. One of the other guests on the show actually said she was not a big fan of chicken but really did like the Chikun.
We are starting a new little feature on this little bitty blog…“ELFERY SPICERY!” Each week for, well who knows, we will explore the various spices we use a LOT in our plant-based cooking.  There is no rhyme or reason to our selection process except that we will go into The Elf’s spice stash and pick one at random, research it and share information. Some spices will be well known and some more obscure.  We came to this idea by way of reading recipes that call for certain spices/herbs that may have different strengths, intensities, or whatever and questioning exactly what we should use.  Case in point is our very FIRST spice—paprika. Many recipes call for paprika; and you are probably aware that paprika comes in a variety of intensities and types. So, without further ado, welcome to our ELFERY SPICERY--PAPRIKA!! We researched several sites on the internet but settled on this one that seemed to have pretty concise and interesting information. 
Paprika is a red powder that is made from grinding the dried pods of mild varieties of the pepper plant known as (Capsicum annuum L.) The pepper plants used to make this spice range from the sweet Bell pepper to the milder chili peppers. The Paprika peppers originally grown were hot. Over time, they have evolved to the milder varieties. In Hungary there are six classes or types of paprika ranging from delicate to hot. The peppers also range in size and shape depending on where they are grown. Some are grown in Spain, Hungary, California and other parts of the U.S. The most commonly produced paprika is made from the sweet red pepper also called the tomato pepper.

Paprika powder ranges from bright red to brown. Its flavor ranges from sweet and mild to more pungent and hot, depending on the type of pepper used in processing. Sweet paprika is the standard. It is mild in flavor. The hot paprika gives your taste buds a jolt. Both varieties are generally carried in most supermarkets. If you cannot find hot paprika in your local supermarket try gourmet stores.

Hot, sweet, smoked, plain, Hungarian, Spanish – what are the differences between types of paprika?

• "Regular" or "plain" paprika
Most of the paprika sold in grocery stores is simply labeled "paprika." Its origins may be Hungarian, Californian, or South American, and it is sometimes mixed with other chiles like cayenne. This paprika tends to be neither sweet nor hot and is a suitable garnish for things like deviled eggs or wherever you want some color.

Paprika is considered the national spice of Hungary and it appears in the country's most celebrated dish, goulash. Hungarian paprika is made from peppers that are harvested and then sorted, toasted, and blended to create different varieties. All Hungarian paprikas have some degree of rich, sweet red pepper flavor, but they range in pungency and heat. The eight grades of Hungarian paprika are különleges ("special quality"; mild and most vibrant red), csípősmentes csemege (delicate and mild), csemege paprika (similar to the previous but more pungent), csípős csemege (even more pungent), édesnemes ("noble sweet"; slightly pungent and bright red), félédes (semi-sweet with medium pungency), rózsa (mildly pungent and pale red), and erős (hottest and light brown to orange). In the US, what is marketed as Hungarian sweet paprika is usually the édesnemes variety.

Although generally less intense that Hungarian paprika, Spanish paprika can range from dulce (sweet and mild) to agridulce (bittersweet and medium hot) to picante (hot), depending on the type of peppers used (round or long), whether the seeds are removed, and how they are processed. In Spain's La Vera region, farmers harvest and dry the chiles over wood fires, creating smoked paprika or pimentón de La Vera. Smoked paprika should be used in paella and dishes where you want a deep, woodsy flavor. Here are the various paprikas in the Elf’s Spice Drawers…so you can see we have a bit of everything.

 If you have a recipe that calls for paprika without specifying which kind, you can usually get by with using Hungarian sweet paprika. But also consider what type of color, sweetness, pungency, or heat you'd like to add and experiment with the wide world of paprika varieties!  (Elf Note: We have been able to find sweet, bittersweet, and hot smoked paprika at Fresh Market. Our preference is the bittersweet unless recipes specify otherwise.)
We look forward to learning about the different spices and herbs and being able to share information with y’all. Plant-based and/or vegan doesn’t mean tasteless and boring, does it now?
And that’s it for this week. As the doldrums of summer set it, the lure of fresh produce is even more enticing with things like ice cold watermelon, cantaloupe, seasonal fruits and salads with fresh tomatoes. Enjoy them while you can because in a few short months, we’ll be wishing we had them all back!!
So, til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants, laugh a lot and love life.
The Elf