Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What I Ate: Vegan Enchiladas

I don't normally eat vegan but I am in a book club and one of the members is vegetarian and another member can't eat cheese, so I try to make something everyone can eat.  Usually, this translates directly into salad, but I wanted to try something different.

I have been experimenting in making roasted tomatillo/anaheim pepper sauce for a couple of months now and I stumbled upon this Green Enchiladas recipe when I decided to try a dish without cheese.  It's spinach and mushrooms wrapped tortillas with a roasted tomatillo sauce and cashew cheese on top.  The "cheese" for the dish is roasted poblano pepper/cashew cream spread on top after the dish has been baked.  Cashews soaked in water and then blended up seem to be the go-to item for any vegan dish requiring a cream or a cheese.  It tastes pretty good but cashews are awfully expensive.  When I make this again, I may just skip the cashews and just blend the poblanos with a lowfat sour cream and call it good since I am not vegan.

The secret weapon in this recipe is roasting the peppers.  Roasting peppers may seem difficult, but it is a super easy way to add fabulous taste to a dish.  I myself don't like to have to turn peppers under the broiler or over a grill to get them all black; you do have to watch it constantly.  But I read about a great trick in Cook's Illustrated: cut the peppers in half and seed them before hand and then put them cut side down on your baking sheet.  Then when you stick them under the broiler, you just have to put on a timer for 10 minutes or so.  It works great.  You still have to peel them but if you stick them in a brown bag for a few minutes as they are cooling, it makes the process much easier.   Then you throw the roasted peppers in the food processor with whatever else you need in a sauce and you have perfect yumminess every time.

I modified her recipe a bit by using a lot more mushrooms--portabellas specifically because I wanted big pieces--and roasting anaheims with my tomatillos for the sauce.   I also microwave my tortillas to soften them because dipping them in the sauce is messy and doesn't always work.  I made another batch on the side with ground turkey spiced with chile powder and cumin along with the mushrooms and spinach and that was really tasty. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Best Gluten Free Brownies (Not Kidding)

 True story:  A dear friend of mine is allergic to wheat.  Like seriously allergic to wheat.  It is pretty easy to have him over for a dinner party but I always feel at a loss when it comes to dessert.  A few weeks ago we had a big lawn party and I decided to go crazy and I bought a very expensive gluten free cake from a local, fancy bakery that specializes in gluten free and vegan desserts.  My husband picked up the cake and once he had it home, I eagerly opened the box to discover.....they had decorated the cake with Oreos.  Really, people?  I tell you 8 times the cake needs to be gluten free and you decorate it with Oreos????  In the end we were able to serve him a big piece from the top part not covered with the cookies, and the cake tasted delicious and not too un-cake-like at all but I am still ticked off about the lack of oversight in a $50 cake.

I had been meaning to perfect a gluten free dessert on my list of 38 Things I Want to do Before I Turn 39 and this was the final straw that made me actually do it!  I decided to stick with one of my all time favorites: brownies.  I had seen and baked brownies and chocolate cake with black beans before and I decided to mess around with some recipes online.  Mostly they all come out tasting like black beans, or as my husband puts it, "Like some weird hippy thing--" and not at all like delicious brownies.  With a little experimentation, this batch earned his stamp of approval. 

Best Gluten Free Brownies

1(15.5 oz) can rinsed black beans
3 large eggs
3 Tablespoons oil
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee
pinch salt
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon ultrafine baker's sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 oz. 70% Cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (Or the best bittersweet chocolate you can find)
1 Tablespoon cocoa nibs (see note at end)

Heat oven to 350F.  Grease one 8 x 8 baking dish. 
Combine all ingredients except 1 oz chopped chocolate and cocoa nibs in bowl.  Blend well with immersion blender.  Alternately, you can blend it all up in a food processor.  Either way, make sure those beans are pulverized.  Stir in chopped chocolate and pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle batter with cocoa nibs. 
Bake 30 minutes and just try and let it cool before you eat them.  Cuts easily with butter knife. 
Note: Cocoa nibs are the shelled cacao beans that have been roasted and broken up but are unsweetened and without extra added cocoa butter.  Some are labelled Cacao nibs. They are crunchy and have a subtle coffee bean flavor.  You could skip this or add nuts instead, but I like the extra flavor punch they give to baked goods.  I used Theo's Organic Cocoa Nibs.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We've Been Flocked!

Yesterday a couple showed up at our house and "flocked" us.  It's a charity thing for my dad's Rotary group.  You donate money to charity and get a house of your choosing flocked.  He chose our house.  It's pretty neat and makes me want to have someone else's house flocked too!  You can see how eco-friendly (read: lazy) we are by letting the grass die instead of watering it.   

Vincent is confused about the flamingos, but loves the dead grass.  

He spends a lot of his time rolling around,

acting like a goof ball.  A hippo-sized goof ball. 

Moneypenny is not impressed. 

Finally, Vinnie ends the morning by photobombing Moneypenny.
  Moneypenny is still not impressed. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

What I Ate: Vietnamese Salad

Anytime is the perfect time to eat Vietnamese food, but summer is an especially good time because of the importance of using fresh ingredients.

Vietnamese salad has many variations but in general you start with cold cooked rice noodles and add lots of fresh veggies like cucumber, cilantro, mint, and green onions.  I like to add carrots, tomatoes, radishes; anything fresh in the fridge is open for consideration.  Usually I will top it with grilled pork or chicken but here I chose plain and simple tofu.  Side it with a nuoc cham dipping sauce made from garlic, red chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, a touch of sugar, plus water, and you have a perfect summer supper!  You can added chopped peanuts on top for crunch and more protein.  Yum!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Opera for All

I had the great pleasure of seeing the opera Turandot at the Seattle Opera two days ago.  Puccini's Turandot is about a princess that relishes her freedom being unmarried and kills her suitors if they can't answer her three riddles.   She meets her wit's match in the unknown Prince.  I've mentioned before how much I enjoy opera and so I might as well say it again.  It's part musical, costume drama, symphony, sculpture, performance art, humor, dancing, acting, singing, and poetry all rolled into one.  And Turandot is also pretty violent.  (OK, artistic violence, but in spirit it's as violent as any action picture.)  So you can't say opera is boring or all sappy love stories and such. 

I was struck that I needed to say more about opera after reading an article in the New York Times today about How Hollywood Films Are Killing Opera.  Basically, the article points out how a few movies like Moonstruck and Pretty Woman have made the American viewer think that real opera can only be serious and traditional and thus has stopped opera houses all over the country from trying anything new or innovative because the masses won't come to anything they don't think is real opera.    
 I both agree and disagree with this premise.  Moonstruck went a long way to making me interested in opera to begin with, only it took a couple of decades and more money in my pocket to finally get to go see any opera.  The price is one of the main reasons in keeping people away from it.  But really, when you see the sets and the costumes and all the actors and musicians that take part, you realize how cheap the tickets really are.  Stop and think, how much do people pay for Madonna and Paul McCartney tickets?  At some point in my early thirties, I lost interest in going to concerts and staying up all night in clubs but I still longed for rich cultural experiences and opera has helped to fill that need easily. And maybe in New York opera is all fancy pantsy and intimidating but at the Seattle opera I have seen Crocs and polo shirts and dog collar necklaces and Birkenstocks as well as full on suits and fancy strapless gowns.  You can take it to whatever level you want.

As a newbie to opera (I have only seen four.), I find myself wanting to see a lot of the traditional "classics" just as the article states.  And I don't think this is wrong.  But the more opera I see, the more interpretations I want to see and the more variety I want to see.  And as I looked over the Seattle Operas current season, I caught myself thinking I wasn't interested in the unknown operas and that we really needed to see Cinderella and La Boheme.  But I am still a beginner and need to pick and chose carefully where I spend my opera dollars.  Hopefully next season I will be able to get season tickets and then I will get to experience a larger range.   I also have a fantasy of traveling the world to see different versions of the Barber of Seville, my first and favorite opera so far. 
If you have a chance to see opera, don't turn it down.  You may be surprised how much you like it.  And do research.  Read up on the opera or listen to it beforehand if possible.  The more you know, the more you can appreciate and enjoy. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Oskar's New Favorite Thing

 Oskar says, "I'm from Wales! I am supposed to be where it is cool and overcast, not 91 in the shade!"

I must be getting used to the heat that has been slowly creeping upwards the last 2 weeks.  I feel warm in my office, but not that uncomfortable.  (My office is in the northeast corner of the house, which doesn't hurt one bit.)  Our downstairs is definitely more comfortable.  I foresee some movie watching down there tonight!
If I wasn't going to a wine tasting shortly, I might just change into my bathing suit and jump into the pool with him.  There's always tomorrow which is supposed to get up in the mid 90's and I am volunteering tomorrow at the Grand Theater and there is no A/C in the lobby.  Ouch.  Time to whip out the paper fan to take with me.  Stay cool, people!

Roadtrip Portland: Part 2

 After our Mississippi Street dining and shop, we headed over to the Pearl District to visit the Museum of Contemporary Craft.  I was mostly interested in viewing what was on sale in their gift shop but when we saw the show was a retrospective of Oregon artist Betty Feves, we were intrigued and decided to see the show.
Not very knowledgeable on ceramics in general, I had no idea who Betty Feves was.  Turns out she was pretty interesting.  She created a large body of work, particularly in the 1950'2-1970's, and was important in several ways.

First, she experimented with creating large scale pieces.  And I mean large ceramic sculptures, taller than me.  She worked both figuratively and abstract.  Not many women were working large scale in ceramics at this time.  

Secondly, she worked and thrived in Eastern Oregon, a basic wasteland for art and ceramics, especially mid-century.

Third, she created her own glazes from natural materials.  It is very easy to see where her influences come from if you have ever seen the landscape in Pendleton.  

I appreciate retrospectives where the artist has dabbled and evolved their style through many mediums and designs.  They showed jewelery and paintings along with her ceramic sculptures and vessels.  Unfortunately the show's last day was the day we were there (lucky!) but the shows opening this month at MOCC make me think I need to schedule another trip down to Portland soon! 

Next up after the museum, we headed to Cacao, a chocolate boutique and drinking chocolate cafe.  And, no, I do not mean hot chocolate or Mexican hot chocolate, although it is similar.  I mean drinking chocolate.  Which means whole milk and rich, high cacao content chocolate with just a touch of sugar and spice added if desired.  Here I am drinking a 2 oz cup of the spicy drinking chocolate alongside a caffe macchiato (espresso with foam).  Heaven.

After Cacao and the Museum of Contemporary Craft, we hoofed it over to the Hawthorne District for shopping and drinks.  (Note: When I mention to people I am going or have been to Portland, most people ask if I went on the train.  The train is nice if you are going to stay downtown or have lots of cash to spend on taxis or lots of time to spend on mass transit.  Want to see the interesting parts of Portland in a weekend?  Drive.)

Lots of people love Powell's Books in the Pearl District but they don't realize that there are several different locations specializing in different themes.  On Hawthorne they have a Crafts and Garden and Cooking shop.  Talk about things to see and buy forever!  We spent a lot of time browsing and I ended up buying Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I made my girlfriends each buy a copy of My Life in France by Julia Child.  I'm serious, I picked 2 copies off the shelf and said, "Here, you must buy and read this and if you don't we are no longer friends."  Not quite like that, but close.  It's a good book.

Next, we drove down to the end of Hawthorne to try out the Sapphire Hotel which is really just a bar, not a hotel.  And we could have walked, but it was warm out, and, hey, we had a busy itinerary.  A friend of mine has been recommending this place forever and wow, was it worth it.  They had a make-your-own Manhattan and Martini menu where you could pick out the bourbon or gin, respectively, along with which vermouth.  Classy. 

Then we had to hustle back to check in at our hotel and get ready for dinner.  We ate at Andina Peruvian in the Pearl district which I had gone to before but my friends had not.  Think loud and busy and delicious and it is amazing how sexy a chef can make qunioa or corn look on a plate!  My photos didn't turn out due to poor lighting so you'll just have to check it out for yourself. 

The next morning I needed a nice solid breakfast to tweak away the alcohol residues and fuel me for the drive home.  We headed back out to Mississippi to a breakfast place we had eyeballed the day before: Equinox. The service was lousy but it was worth it.  This is a "breakfast pillow."  Think puff pastry surrounding caramelized veggies topped with poached eggs and a pasilla cheese sauce.  Poached eggs are a popular breakfast menu item in Portland.  I wish Tacoma restaurants would take note. 
It's only been two weeks, but I am already thinking it is almost time to head back down there!  I need to make this at least a quarterly event. 

Road Trip: Portland Part 1

A couple weekends ago, I went with a couple girlfriends on an overnight road trip to Portland.  I can't get enough of Portland, which is probably a good thing, because if we lived there I would go broke in about 2 weeks with all the fabulous restaurants, gourmet shops, bookstores, etc.  We were only going to be there for about 24 hours and so we made a pretty tight itinerary.  I am not a huge fan of itineraries but they are certainly useful when you are short on time.

Portland Roadtrip:
-Leave 8:30 AM and Arrive by 11:00 AM.
-Explore Mississippi District (An area I had not been to.)  Have lunch.  Shop.
-Head to Pearl district, go to Museum of Craft and Cacao, a drinking chocolate cafe.
-Head back over river to Hawthorne Street.  Shop at Powell's craft and garden store.  Check out boutiques nearby.  Cocktails at Sapphire Hotel.
-Head back downtown to check into hotel and change for dinner.  Late dinner at Andina Peruvian in Pearl district.
-After dinner drinks at hotel bar.

Phew.  I am tired just writing that.  Well, we stuck to our itinerary like glue and hit all the places we wanted. 
First stop: Mississippi Street.  This is a fun arty street running north-south that is north of downtown Portland but you have to head east over the Willamette river to get there.  Endless jokes as I was driving and trying to park about all the bicyclists and the dangers of hitting one and how we could be in an episode of Portlandia.  If you have seen the show, but never been to Portland, trust me, it's a pretty good satire of the truth. 
 The main reason to hit up Mississippi street was to visit The Meadow.  This tiny shop, the sister store of a larger shop in New York, is tucked into a tiny corner space next to a comic book shop.  Their specialty is salt and chocolate.  I like to use flavored salts in my cooking and this place was recommended by three different people when I told them I was going to Portland for the weekend.  Now that is pretty good word of mouth right there.

What I didn't know was that along with chocolate and salt, The Meadow has a entire wall dedicated to bitters.  I promptly started sampling bitters and completely forgot to buy any salt or chocolate.  Bitters are a (mostly) alcoholic apertif flavored with fruits and herbs and are used in cocktails.  They were marketed as "medicines" during prohibition and now they are still found in the non-booze sections of stores and not subject to alcohol taxes.  Funny, huh?  Anyways, we love to mix up Manhattans and Old Fashioned but more recently I discovered the bliss of a few drops of bitters into sparkling water.  Refreshing perfection.

I ended up buying 4 types of bitters: rhubarb, celery, bitter orange, and a four citrus blend.  Happy.

 The Meadow also sells gadgets to grind your salts.  The top photo is of slabs of salt that you can use as serving platters or even to cook on to add flavor to your food. 

These roasted cocoa nibs were deliciously bitter.  

The wall of chocolate was impressive.  But after my tour of Theo's Chocolate factory, I admit I am a little bit over the thrill of chocolate.  Later when we went to have drinking chocolate, I only had a tiny 2 oz cup.

While in Mississippi we had lunch at Por Que No, a delightful taqueria with a location also on Hawthorne street which I had been to before.  It's a casual taco spot but with very strict rules on ordering before you sit down.  I love that for $3 you can get a plate of spicy cucumbers to start your meal with. 

All three of us ordered their brunch special of potato cakes with poached eggs, beans, veggies, and crema.  Cannot tell you how delicious this was.  I enjoyed iced hibiscus tea on the side.    

Also, I was so excited about one more shop on Mississippi that I didn't take any photos: Paxton Gate.  They are an awesome taxidermy/oddity shop where I bought some glass eyes for my felt sculptures and a carved claw necklace.  Very steampunk.

More posting soon about the rest of the trip!