Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Opposite of South Dakotan Food: Vegan Coconut Pancakes with Tropical Fruit Salsa

My sister, brave soul that she is, moved to South Dakota last summer and while I helped to drive her out there, I had to turn around and fly out the next day so never really got to experience her new home.  There was of course other road trip scenery to be experienced along the way, but I'm back for the long weekend to see everything Rapid City has to offer.  Bless her - I couldn't live somewhere that is an arctic tundra for 10 months out of the year.  Coming from upstate New York, she's rather used to it by now and luckily she has an amazing 3-bedroom house for which she pays far less than I do for my portion of a 3-bedroom New Jersey apartment with no laundry or parking.

2010 Sight-Seeing
We've certainly had our fair share of steak, potatoes, and cheese-covered things the past few days (indeed, more on that later), so this breakfast was both the opposite of everything else we've been eating in South Dakota as well as a nod to the 80 degree sunny weather we're missing on the east coast this weekend.  And it's also a special occasion for my sister to use up the fancy organic ingredients (coconut/coconut milk/coconut oil/agave) that she's been stock-piling from various trips to Las Vegas and Denver.  And I can't think of a better meal to have during a 50 degree thunderstorm.

These pancakes are much denser and less fluffy than your refined-flour IHOP variety to be sure, but have a fantastic spice and coconutty texture that you're not going to find in a Rooty Tooty Fresh N' Fruity (which is worth looking up on Urban Dictionary, but which I will not link to for my mother's sake).  You can swap up the fruit in the salsa for anything ripe and sweet, but do keep the banana since it adds a nice  creaminess that almost makes you forget that these are vegan.  As you can see, everyone was a fan.

Vegan Coconut Pancakes with Tropical Fruit Salsa
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Total time: 1 hour (All active time, but I'm sure it would be a lot less with a griddle instead of tiny pans)
Makes 20 pancakes (6-8 servings)

  • 2 1/2 cups (300g) whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup (25g) flaxseed meal (optional)
  • 1 cup (75g) unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 14 oz can (400mL) light coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cup (350mL) warm water
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • vegetable (or coconut) oil
  • handful of chopped and toasted cashews (optional garnish)

  • 1 1/2 bananas
  • 3 kiwifruit
  • 1 mango
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar (or maple syrup)

For the fruit salsa:  Quarter bananas lengthwise, then chop into 1cm ish pieces.  Chop kiwi and mango into similarly sized chunks.  Add all fruit to a small bowl with agave and stir.  Can be made up to 2 hours ahead of time, refrigerated.

For the pancakes:  Preheat oven to 250F (120C).  Mix all dry ingredients (whole wheat flour through salt) in a large bowl.  Mix coconut milk, agave, vanilla, and warm water in a smaller bowl.  Add the liquid bowl to the dry bowl and mix until thick but pourable.  Add additional warm water if batter is too thick (we added another 1/4 cup or so).

Heat a griddle (or multiple frying pans) to medium heat and melt a small pat of coconut oil (or use a small amount of veg oil).  Add batter to the pan in 1/4 cup lumps and spread out with a spoon into a circle.  Cook 2-3 minutes until bubbles appear on the surface and the bottoms are golden-brown, reducing heat if browning too quickly.  Flip and cook until the opposite side is golden-brown (another 1-2 minutes).  Move pancakes to a baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm.

Top pancakes with fruit salsa, chopped nuts, and additional agave/maple syrup to serve.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

3 New Ways to Gussy Up Your Booze

This past week's weather was rainy and generally crap, so I got to daydreaming about sipping cocktails outside at 8pm while the sun was still up.  Soon enough,  I know!  But until then, I will enthusiastically drink indoors and at least try to make it more interesting.

What I have on hand:  cheap whiskey, nice gin, cheap red wine

is turned into: Easy Mint Juleps, Raw Ginger Gimlets, Poor Lady's Sangria

by making fridge staples for rapid cocktail preparation: Mint Simple Syrup, Raw Ginger-Lime Cordial, random bits of fruit

Mint Simple Syrup
Never make a drink that requires muddling?  Fear not, I hate it too and refuse to do any more work for a drink beyond opening and pouring (even corkscrews are a stretch).  Infusing the mint into the simple syrup gives it a great flavor without the mess of muddling or the green bits sticking in your teeth.

Makes 300mL, enough for 10 drinks
Total time: Overnight (Active time 5 minutes)
  • 1 cup (225g) sugar
  • 1 cup (240mL) water
  • 3/4 bunch of fresh mint (reserve remainder for garnish)
Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Rub the bunch of mint between your hands (bruising it) and add to the saucepan.  When the sugar has completely dissolved, remove from heat.  When completely cool, transfer to the fridge to sit overnight.  Strain out mint leaves before using.

Easy Mint Julep
This is the ratio I like, not too sweet or over-the-top bourbony, but feel free to tinker to taste here.  Most recipes don't include club soda, but I find it gives a much needed lift to a potentially syrupy drink.

Makes 1 drink
  • 3 big ice cubes
  • 1 oz (30mL) Mint Simple Syrup
  • 2 oz (60mL) bourbon/whiskey
  • 2-3 mint leaves
  • club soda
Pour Mint Simple Syrup and bourbon over ice in a lowball glass (or, fine, a plastic tumbler, though it's not what Don Draper would do).  Bruise mint leaves between your hands to release flavor and add to the glass.  Swirl it all around and top with club soda.

Image via Nytimes Magazine

Raw Ginger Lime Cordial
I do everything the New York Times tells me to when it comes to drinks, for better or for worse.  This beats the pants off of Rose's - more tart and spicy, less sweet with a darker, less nuclear color.   You could also use this mix for an excellent margarita.

Adapted from The New York Times Magazine
Makes 250mL, enough for 6-8 drinks
Total time: 48 hours (Active time 20 minutes)
  • 4 large limes
  • 1/2 cup (115g) sugar
  • 3.5 oz (30g) fresh ginger
Rinse the limes in warm water and dry.  Remove the zest using a microplane or vegetable peeler, leaving as much of the white pith as possible.  Juice the limes into a non-reactive container with a lid (I used a glass jar formerly containing peanut butter).  You should have between 3/4-1 cup of juice.  Grate the ginger using a microplane* and add to the jar along with the zest and sugar.

Cap the jar and give it a good shake.  Allow the mixture to sit for 24 hours in the fridge.  Strain the zest and ginger using a fine mesh strainer.  Let the cordial sit for another 24 hours to cure before using.

*To save yourself at least 15 minutes, blisters, and swearing, the original recipe recommends chunking the ginger and liquefying it in a food processor with some of the lime juice.

Raw Ginger Gimlet
Makes 1 drink
  • 3 big ice cubes
  • 1 oz (30mL) Raw Ginger Lime Cordial
  • 2 oz (60mL) gin
  • lime wedge
 Pour cordial and gin over ice, stir, and squeeze a big lime wedge to serve.

Sangria image via Epicurious (the real thing didn't last long enough for a photo)

Poor Lady's Sangria
This isn't a recipe so much as an impressive concoction I threw together to make a $5 awful bottle of wine taste sensational.  The underlying lesson is don't give up hope on your skunky Little Penguin - you just may have the right tools to fix it in the fridge.  If you don't have time to make the simple syrup, a few tablespoons of sugar/honey/maple syrup would also do the trick.

Makes 1-6 drinks
  • 1 bottle of cheap red wine (do not pay more than $8) 
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 orange
  • a few chunks of cantelope
  • 1 oz (30mL) Mint Simple Syrup (or to taste)
 Pour the bottle of wine into a large pitcher.  Add the juice of the lime and orange, then cut the fruit into thin slices and add to the pitcher along with the cantelope.  Start with 1 oz (30mL) of simple syrup, taste, and keep adding until it tastes like something from the local cantina.

Friday, May 13, 2011

White Chocolate Almond Biscotti

 95% of the time when I make a batch of cookies, I subtract at least two minutes from the suggested baking time.  Why?  Soft, chewy, gooey, and delicious cookies are almost always way better than the careful-don't-crack-your-teeth kind that I always associate with interminable meetings, eating them just because they're there.  I've also found that the crunching action and associated crumb clean-up helps you stay awake in the mid-afternoon slump.  But an enjoyable cookie eating experience it is not.

And until recently I thought that biscotti, crunchy by definition, also fell into this undesirable category.  What I didn't consider, however, is the hot-beverage-dunk/transformative-phase-change factor in which the biscotti become wonderfully soft, warm, and melt in your mouth after they are dunked in tea or coffee.  A similar hot-beverage-dunk/transformative-phase-change factor turned me onto plain donuts 20 years ago and I've never looked back (except for Boston cream of course).  Anyone remember when plain donuts used to be made with a bonus dunking handle?  Apparently this dates me.

Anyway, the genius of biscotti is two-fold: the oblong design ensures that the cookie exposed to moisture is limited to a bite size, and the double baking process ensures that it doesn't immediately suffer from the inedible mushiness that befalls your average vanilla wafer.

So I have a new appreciation for biscotti.  They probably won't surpass my favorites, but they certainly have a place at 3pm with a cuppa. This recipe is only lightly sweet so you don't feel like it's too much of an indulgence.  They're also gorgeous with a white chocolate drizzle, last for weeks in an airtight container, and make a great gift for all the moms in your life when paired with chai concentrate.  It's really giving the gift of an afternoon break and relaxation, which is basically the same as a spa gift certificate without the associated cost or anxiety.

White Chocolate Almond Biscotti
Adapted from

Makes 24-30 cookies
Total time: 2 hours (Active time 30 minutes)

  •  1/4 cup (55g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup (170g) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest (from about 1 1/2 large oranges)
  • 2 teaspoons (10mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 oz (110g) white chocolate, chopped and divided (about 1/2 c of chips)
  • 1/2 cup (80g) dried cranberries or raisins
  • 1 1/4 cups (140g) slivered almonds, toasted

Beat together butter, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and egg white one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt, then gradually add the dry to the wet mixture.  Stir in 3/4 of the white chocolate, dried cranberries/raisins, and slivered almonds.  Cover and chill in the fridge until the dough is solid enough to handle (30-60 minutes).

Pre-heat oven to 325F/165C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Divide dough in two and form each half into a log roughly 3 x 12" (8 x 30cm) and arrange them on the parchment with at least one log's space between the two.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and cool on baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Cut the baked logs crosswise on a diagonal into roughly 1"/2cm slices (you should have about 12 per log) using with a serrated knife in a smooth downward motion to avoid crumbling.  Arrange slices evenly back on the baking sheet and bake for another 15 minutes until golden(er).  Transfer to wire racks and cool completely.

Optional (but looks really cool) white chocolate drizzle:  Melt the remaining 1oz of white chocolate in a double boiler (or microwave) until smooth.  Use a fork to quickly drizzle the chocolate back and forth over the biscotti until evenly covered.  Let stand at room temperature until cool.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Kale Thing, and My Most Requested Recipe

One of the alternate blog names that I tossed around was Kale, Et cetera.  It was under serious consideration until the last minute when I decided that I would be too confused by the double "e" in the web address.

But Kale, Et cetera would have been more than appropriate since it is the one single produce item that I always buy and have on hand.  Love love kale.  It's incredibly tasty, high in fiber and vitamins, and I try to work it into every meal I can.  And unlike spinach and chard which have higher water contents, it stands up well to cooking AND works great raw in a salad.

Behold my go-to potluck dish.  Somehow, despite its lack of chocolate and bacon, I get more requests for this recipe than anything else.  Now, I prefer a potluck meal to a catered one any day of the week since I love seeing what people come up with as a reflection of their personality and background.  However, a disorganized free-for-all potluck lunch will, if unchecked, lead to 90% slow cooked meat dishes and extreme cakes.  Because of this, kale salad has become my go-to dish of choice to add a healthier alternative to the mix.  And in such situations it usually becomes a base for a fantastic trash salad featuring 5 of more different types of meat, if I'm lucky.

Augmented with ricotta, a chicken leg, and leftover moussaka.

You can use any type of kale you can find for this salad.  Tuscan/lacinato/dinosaur kale (the flat-leaf kind) has the nicest texture right off the bat, but it's often tough to find; the curly kind tastes just as good and softens right up if you let it sit dressed for 30 minutes so before serving.  The croutons are a personal touch since I'm always looking for ways to use up stale bread, and when is buttery crunchiness ever a bad thing?  Rounded out with dried fruit, this is delicious, easy, and hits all the bases.

Kale Salad
Adapted from Melissa Clark

Makes one big salad (which is anywhere from 2-8 servings depending how hungry I am)
Total time: 5-10 minutes (+15-20 for the croutons)
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • zest and juice of one lemon (or two limes)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, grated or finely minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup (1oz/30g) freshly grated hard cheese (parmesean, pecorino, or whatever is on sale)
  • big handful of dried cranberries, currants, or raisins (optional)
  • big handful of homemade croutons (optional, recipe below)

Rinse and dry kale well.  Remove tough center ribs, slice leaves into very thin ribbons, and place in a large bowl.

Combine olive oil, lemon juice and zest, mustard, garlic, and salt and pepper in a small jar and shake well.  Toss salad with dressing and cheese (it will keep for a few days in the fridge like this).

Top with cranberries and croutons when ready to serve.

Homemade Croutons

Makes 5-6 cups (okay this is a lot, enough for 10-15 salads, but they keep well in an airtight container)
Total time: 15-20 minutes (Active time 5 minutes)

  • 8oz (225g) stale bread (whatever kind you have, about 1/2 a baguette or 8ish slices)
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup (1oz/30g) freshly grated hard cheese (parmesean, pecorino, or whatever is on sale) 

Preheat oven to 400F/200C.

Rip or slice bread into small cubes whatever size you like and place in a large bowl.  Mix butter, olive oil, mustard, garlic, and thyme in a small bowl and drizzle on the bread until evenly coated. 

Spread the mixture out in a single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and sprinkle on salt, pepper, and grated cheese to taste, adding a drizzle of olive oil if it looks dry.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until brown and crispy.  Store in an airtight container when cool.