Sunday, August 30, 2009

Grandma's Borscht

As much as we would like to always eat vegan, we have stumbled into a few obstacles:

1) Sudden cravings for Wisconsin cheese
2) Passover

and the newest one,

3) Tamar's Grandma's recipes.

In respect for my Grandma Lydia's cooking - cherished in the Hellman family clan- I cannot get myself to start finding substitutes for the eggs and dairy in her recipes. So as I start to run through my grandma's 1,000+ recipes in the coming months, veganism will have to be temporarily pushed aside, hopefully not for more than a few hours at a time...

We picked up beets from our CSA last week, and knowing that my grandma's borscht is legendary, we decided to tackle her recipe. Like many of my grandma's recipe notecards, this one needed a little deciphering:

One thing was easy to understand: the heart in the corner meant this was a Hellman family classic.

We used Grandma's recipe as a guideline. We had fresh beets and no sour salt (I didn't even know such a thing existed until wikipedia explained it to me). To be honest, we didn't really measure anything as we went along - we relied on constant taste testing. So following is our recipe, based on the above, but it should also be used only as a guideline, depending on your own taste.


1 lb beets (about 3 beets), peeled and shredded - thank you, Cuisinart.
1.5-2 cups water
1/4 cup greek yogurt
2 tsp lemon juice
Garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper to taste

Bring beets, water and some salt to a boil on medium heat, add spices, and let simmer for a few more minutes so that beets are tender but still crisp. Take beets off the heat, and let cool for 10 minutes. Stir in yogurt, lemon juice and additional seasonings to taste.

Best to refrigerate for an hour before serving. Though in our case, I think we lasted for about 15 minutes before we gave in and ate. In keeping with our polish neighborhood cuisine, we ate the borscht alongside store-bought mushroom and sauerkraut pierogies.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vegan Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Squash "Blossoms" are a really great versatile shell for stuffing, and more importantly, act as the eponymous donor to the finest supper club in all of Brooklyn (the Mayim Bialik Supper Club, of course). The blossoms have a very light flavor, while adding a wonderfully tender and subtle outer skin. This stuffing recipe is very easy, inexpensive, and delicioso.

Tofu Filling (vegan)

1 package of flavored extra-firm tofu pressed and drained* (we used garlic and pepper)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (use more as needed)
1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper or paprika
1/2 tsp liquid smoke

After the tofu has been drained and pressed, mash well until there's a mostly smooth consistency with small chunks throughout. Add nutritional yeast and stir. Continue with other ingredients, tasting small amounts throughout to ensure the balancing of flavors.

Stuffing the blossoms was tricky. We thought we could use a makeshift "pastry bag" (which was a sandwich bag with a small hole cut out on the bottom corner), but turns out using your fingers works best... Once they're stuffed, spray a frying pan with some cooking spray and fry the blossoms for about 1.5 min on each side. Season with a little salt and pepper.

This recipe can have endless variations, so if you find one that works and tastes good, please share.

*Greg's 15min drained and pressed tofu works wonders if you don't have time to wait: Take one clean cloth or paper towel and place it on a plate. Fold the cloth/towel into a square and lay the tofu on top so it sits about 1 inch in all directions from the outer edge of the folded cloth/towel. Take a second plate and flip it so the top-side is facing down and then place it on top of the tofu. Now use a heavy object (ie phone book or whateves) and gently place it on top of the second plate so a balanced pressure is upon the tofu. After 10min remove cloth/towel, drain bottom plate, and squeeze out excess water from cloth. Replace towel and repeat pressing for 5 more min.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Late Summer Vegetable Delight

Last night we got a little fancy. We picked up yet another round of corn and zucchini from our CSA this past Monday and made zucchini and corn risotto with a side of vegan stuffed zucchini blossoms. Greg was in charge of the flower filling, so I'll leave that blog post for him.

As for the risotto, ugh. So good, but such a pain in the butt to make. Maybe it's the brand of rice we bought? We have no clue. But for some reason, every time we make it, although it's totally worth it at the end, it takes forever and our arms get sore. We decided to conquer the beast once more, thinking maybe this time it will actually take us less than an hour. It didn't.

Zucchini and Corn Risotto (vegan)

1/2 medium size onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1.5 cups arborio rice or risotto - for some reason rice labeled arborio rather than risotto tends to be cheaper, but it seems to basically be the same thing?
1/4 cup white wine
5 cups vegetable broth, heated
Corn kernels from one stalk corn (cooked)
1 medium size zucchini, chopped
1 TBSP Earth Balance
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat up two swigs around the pan of olive oil over medium heat and toss in chopped onion. Sautee for 4 minutes or so, until onion soaks up some of the oil (but not all). Add rice and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and stir on and off for about a minute or so, making sure the rice doesn't stick to the pan. Deglaze (Tamar's favorite cooking action word!) the pan with white wine and let alcohol cook off for about a minute while - yes, you got it - continuing to stir the contents of the pan.

Now for the fun part (it's fun for about 3 minutes, then we start to get impatient, grumpy and hungry).

The trick is to balance the stirring and the addition of the vegetable broth. Add one ladle of broth at a time, continue to stir rice and wait until most of the liquid has been absorbed before adding the next ladle of broth. Some people claim you have to continuously stir, others say you don't. It really depends how motivated you are - we stir, occasionally get tired, walk away to change the song on the playlist, come back to stir... you get the point. As your broth supply dwindles, add the zucchini and corn so that the zucchini starts cooking. Also begin to taste the rice to see if it's getting close to being cooked; we like our rice firm, but not crunchy.

You may use all the broth we say to use, you may use less, or you may run out and start using water - use your bite to figure it out, don't trust us. We had about 4 cups set aside of broth, and ended up having to add about a cup water to finish cooking the rice. It was annoyingly frustrating since it seemed to never end, but there was a turning point during which the rice magically cooked in a matter of a minute or so after we added the last batch of water.

When all is said and done - rice tastes nice and creamy, zucchini is cooked - stir in that tablespoon of Earth Balance and add sallt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baker Boy Lives Up to His Name

Back when we started dating, Greg used to leave me loaves of bread in my mailbox (so much better than getting real mail). Since we've moved away from Madison and the industrial ovens at the Nature's Bakery, I've been awaiting the day that I come home to smell fresh, homemade bread.

Today was the day.

Greg made French bread - without using our bread machine - and served it alongside roasted garlic (from our CSA!), marinated artichokes, and brie. We also had a bowl of leftover cream of broccoli soup, which was even more delicious two days later.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
(adapted from Sunny Anderson's Cream of Asparagus Soup)

1 TBSP Earth Balance + 2 rounds around the pot of olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb broccoli, florets and peeled stems chopped
4 cups vegetable broth (or 4 cups water + 2 MSG-less veggie bouillon cubes)
1 small container greek yogurt (6-8 oz)
1 tsp lemon juice
salt, pepper, paprika

In a large pot, heat oil and EB and sautee (on medium heat) onion and broccoli stems for 3-5 minutes, until onion is somewhat translucent. Add broccoli florets and garlic, and season vegetables with salt, pepper and paprika. Cover and steam for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add vegetable broth, cover, and let simmer for 35-40 minutes until broccoli is tender. Turn off heat, and blend vegetables using either an immersion blender (our tool of choice) or a regular blender. Whisk in greek yogurt and lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste.

Given that we're not gourmet chefs, we had white specs in our soup and occasionally choked on a few broccoli floret remnants here and there. But you know what, it was totally worth it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Quest for the Perfect Hummus

Welcome to our blog! After much procrastination, and numerous photos now deemed useless and outdated, we have decided that this is it - time to launch this blog and start sharing our food creations/disasters/works of fine art.

Tangentialist - is it a word? No, of course not. But Greg one time used it to describe us, two people who cannot hold a simple conversation without getting distracted and going on tangents. Our food has come to reflect this lovely aspect of our personalities, as well. We would love to say that we are vegan, but our Midwestern roots have prevented us from doing so. So while many of the recipes we [hope to] share will be vegan, we do occasionally go on tangents (also interpreted as strong cravings for Wisconsin cheese) and make lactose-filled meals that end up giving Tamar a huge stomach ache.

As the first posting to our blog, I (Tamar) thought I would share a recipe for one of my greatest new loves - Black Olive Hummus. I am on a constant quest to make the perfect hummus, and every time I go back to visit Israel, I am reminded of how far I am from reaching that perfection. Needless to say, this combination of my favorite smear with my favorite snack - because, yes, a can of olives is the best snack - made a quite delicious combination.

Black Olive Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained - but reserve half the liquid
1/2 can pitted black olives
1/4 cup tahini paste
salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and a little za'atar if you're lucky enough to have it

Directions: Pretty simple - put it all in a food processor and use your eyes and taste buds to tell you when it's ready! If it's not as creamy as you would like, olive oil is key. The olives may add a good amount of saltiness, so make sure to add the salt last.

Za'atar is commonly use in the Mideast. I'm sure there are recipes on the web that list the correct combination of spices, but because I am a Za'atar snob, I prefer to buy the brands imported from the Middle East. I found a great Lebanese Za'atar in Whole Foods in NYC.