Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blueberry + Blackberry Crumble (Vegan)

Blackberry Blueberry Crumble (Vegan)
Serves 8
(Adapted from a recipe in Vegetarian Times. I radically reduced the sugar, decreased the flour, increased the oats and pecans, and substituted coconut oil for canola oil).

5 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar. Don't leave this out! It makes a weirdly big difference.
1 quart blackberries (about 4 cups)
1 pint blueberries (about 2.5 cups)
1 tablespoon sugar (or 2 if berries are very tart or you have a major sweet tooth)
11 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup melted coconut oil + a little extra for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Whisk together 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in small bowl.

In a large bowl, combine berries with syrup/balsamic mixture, sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer to baking dish.

Whisk together 8 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, oats, pecans, and brown sugar. Drizzle in melted coconut oil and mix with fork or fingers until crumbly. Spread evenly over berries.

Bake 30 minutes or so, until fruit bubbles and topping is lightly brown.

Serve with vanilla "ice cream" or vanilla ice cream.

Also amazingly good for breakfast. Teenagers might even get out of bed in the morning for this.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vegan Blueberry Peach Pie

Sometimes forces converge, and I start producing a lot of pie. When I'm in a heavy pie-making phase, it becomes no big deal to whip up a ball of pie dough, roll it out, throw in some fruit/sugar/thickener, slap a crust on top, and there you have it. I happen to be in the mode right now, mostly inspired by the heavenly good fruit that's in season - it seemed like a good time to teach Henry how to make pie crust.

But the problem is, my confidence makes me bossy in the kitchen. I barked out orders at Henry - put ice cubes in a glass, fill it with water, put it in the freezer. He was quiet, annoyed. I let him take over pulsing the shortening into the flour and jumped down his throat when he, instead of pulsing, just ran the food processor. "No!" I shouted, "Don't over-mix it!"

"What's the difference?" he grumbled.

"I have a great idea," I snapped, "Why don't you teach ME how to make pie crust."

Oh dear. This wasn't going nicely at all. I mourned for the days when my kids believed what I told them, instead of doubting every single thing. But isn't this the adolescent's raison d'ĂȘtre? And really, wasn't I the problem here? Sometimes I worry that Henry is right on the brink of wanting nothing to do with cooking lessons, that one day I will push him irretrievably away.

"Look," I said, "I don't know why, but the crust needs these pea-sized lumps of fat to be flakey and delicious. Why don't you research it, and let me know."

Relieved, he ran to the computer. I proceeded, rolled out the crust, made the filling, while Henry shouted into the kitchen about air pockets and flakiness. Later he shouted in about using cold vodka in the crust. "What?" I said. "It's from that magazine with the bow tie guy," he said.

And so it went, a long distance cooking lesson, harmoniously yelling back and forth between rooms, a big improvement over bickering side-by-side.

Crust is the hardest part of making pie. When peaches and blueberries are amazing, the less you add to the filling the better. This is a pie I've been making for at least a decade; it has evolved to include fewer ingredients, less sugar (and maybe next year will include vodka). I dream about it all year. The window for making it is small, 3 or 4 weeks, maybe, so don't delay - there is such a thing as too late, when it comes to blueberry peach pie, and other things.

Vegan Blueberry Peach Pie

12-ounce basket blueberries (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 medium peaches, peeled and thinly sliced (slice over a bowl so you don't lose the juice!)
4 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Double Crust Pie Dough:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (cold - keep it in the fridge or freezer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening (I use the non-hydrogenated kind) or 1/2 cup shortening + 1/2 cup coconut oil, semi-solid
8 tablespoons ice water

Preheat oven to 400

To make crust:
Measure flour and salt into food processor and pulse several times to combine
Add 1/2 cup shortening in tablespoon-sized blobs and pulse 6 times. Add remaining 1/2 cup shortening in blobs and pulse another 6 times. There should be uneven, mostly pea-sized lumps in the mixture. Look it up.

Transfer mixture to mixing bowl and add ice cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, using a fork to gently blend. You want to add just enough water for the dough to come together, not a drop more. Sometimes I only end up using 7 tablespoons, sometimes I use the whole 8, you just have to pay attention.

Gather dough and knead quickly and lightly into a ball, divide the ball into two roughly equal halves, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator to rest while you prepare the filling.

To make filling:
Gently combine all ingredients in a large bowl.

To assemble:
Roll out one of the dough balls into a circle between two sheets of parchment paper, peel off top layer of parchment and fit into a 9-inch pie pan.

Transfer filling to pie.

Roll out remaining pie dough and cover pie. Pinch edges together and shape edges. Cut slits for steam vents. Cover pie with aluminum foil.

Bake covered 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake approximately 10 minutes more, until fruit bubbles and crust is lightly brown.

Wait at least 2 hours to eat. So very, very much better the next day, if you can wait.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bore Your Kids and Clean Your Fridge: Salad for Dinner

I gave Henry and Jonah a cooking (uncooking) lesson in how to make salad a substantive meal, something I know a thing or two about - in the past, my announcing that we are having salad for dinner produced sad little faces all around, so I've developed some tricks.

Trick #1: Protein. Tofu cubes, hard-boiled egg, chickpeas, whatever. Ideally more than one kind. Otherwise everybody is hungry and grumpy ten minutes later.
Trick #2: Something carby: Grated beets, leftover roasted potatoes, chunks of bread.
Trick #3: Something creamy: avocado, goat cheese, you know what I mean.
Trick #4: Something crunchy: Toasted seeds, croutons, radishes, etc.
Trick #5: Some special treat that you adore, so you don't feel too virtuous/deprived: For me, it's marinated mushrooms or really good olives or both.
Trick #6: Pull out the stops on salad dressing. My mom used to make the best salad dressing, a 50/50 blend of ketchup and mayo that she called "Russian." I loved it. My kids are not fans, but they love my balsamic vinaigrette with herbs. The point is, make it really, really good.

Salad dinners are an excellent way to clean out the fridge of all the ingredients you thought you were going to use last week, but it was way too hot to cook. They are also a fine way to bore your teenage sons, should you choose to give them a long lecture about how to make salad a complete meal. "Neat," they might say, before changing the subject and cleaning their plates.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Summer Comes Undone: Coconut Chocolate Popsicles

Everybody is at work or camp, except me, and I made coconut chocolate popsicles.

And yes, I ate two...

while I listened to this song, really loud, twice: The Summer - Yo La Tengo

Coconut Chocolate Popsicles
Makes 5 big popsicles

1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (not low-fat, come on)
1 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks
1 tablespoon or more cocoa powder
1 tablespoon or more maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Heat coconut milk in a saucepan on medium heat until it bubbles a little. Add chocolate chips or chunks and whisk to melt and blend. Whisk in 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, and vanilla. Make sure it's all smooth and combined, turn off heat, and taste. Add more cocoa powder or maple syrup if you want.

Cool ten minutes or so, whisk again, pour into popsicle molds, and freeze at least four hours.

Save some for the others if you can.

Monday, July 15, 2013

That Summer Feeling: Coconut Milk Creamsicles

1. Summer has been busy, and we've had fewer cooking lessons, which has led me to a neat trick for getting kids to make food: put them absolutely in charge of something. I taught my oldest son Jonah how to make simple, no-knead bread and boom, he's bread man. In actuality he has yet to produce a single loaf on his own; he has a demanding summer job and, well, it's a little hot for baking, but if anybody in this family is going to make bread it will be Jonah. He owns bread.

Henry owns popsicles. I bought cheap rocket ship molds and handed them over. "I don't care what's in them," I told him, "just make sure we have a few popsicles in the freezer at all times."

It's been amazing. He's made orange/pomegranate/lemon juice popsicles, camomille tea with honey popsicles, root beer popsicles. He shows no signs of slowing.

2. It there any more perfect summer song than That Summer Feeling by Jonathan Richman? (Do you long for her or for the way you were?)

3. When did summer stop being stretched out, lazy, sweet, and become accelerated, jam-packed, intense? Out of my last eight summers, I have moved five times. Summers that didn't involve a move saw me starting a new job, leaving an old job, finishing grad school. Some years it was everything, all at once.

So here I am again, collecting boxes, raising dust, purging possessions. What do I even have anymore to rid myself of?

Thoreau:  Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped.

And here I am again, haunted by that summer feeling, longing for a day of loafing; the cool of the pond, the smell of the lawn. It looks like this year won't bring much loafing, but next year will be different. Next year, with God as my witness, I will reclaim summer. This year, I will at least have a creamsicle.

Coconut Milk Creamsicles
Makes six rockets

2/3 cup canned, full-fat coconut milk
1 1/4 cup orange juice (no pulp, unless you're into that kind of thing)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk ingredients together, pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Remembrance of Pizza Past: Spinach Ricotta Pizza

It was the most perfect and delicious piece of food I have ever eaten, a slice of spinach pizza with big globs of ricotta cheese, draped over my arm, funneled into my mouth as I walked down the street on a hot July night, after soundcheck and before a gig, the last one I would ever play (but I didn't know that, at the time) in New York. My friend Faith, walking next to me, was unfazed by my obscene outbursts of ecstasy, neither disturbed not surprised by my vehemence. "It's true," she said, when my language turned religious, "New York pizza is manna from Heaven."

Several years later I would find myself in Nottingham, England, stuck downtown after work and before an evening writing class, starving to death, craving spinach ricotta pizza. "I'll grab a slice somewhere," I thought, stupidly, forgetting what country I was in. I walked the streets in vain, finally landing in front of a travel agency where I stared at a poster of the New York skyline and wondered if my best plan would be to buy a plane ticket, fly to New York, and get a slice.

Of course what I really needed was a time machine.

And many more years later I find myself here, in an apartment in Evanston, another hot July night, on the edge of the second best pizza city in America, but further removed than ever from that two dollar dinner that I can't shake. My drumming days are over (in fact, my drums are for sale on eBay at this very moment) and lately I've been making pizza. I've made about ten spinach and ricottas in the past month. The recipe is evolving, getting better, getting closer, but it's like Zeno's Dichotomy Paradox (thanks, Henry) -- I'm moving toward a destination I will never reach.

Spinach Ricotta Pizza
Makes one 16-inch pizza (serves 3-4)

1 recipe pizza dough (I'm still really liking this one).
1 cup pizza sauce (homemade or store-bought, but make sure there's some oregano in there)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cups, loosely packed, baby spinach (or try a combination of spinach/arugula/basil)
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 scant cup ricotta cheese

Prepare pizza dough and set aside to rise.

If you're making homemade sauce, make it while the dough rises.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet, add garlic and spinach and cook 1 minute or less, stirring constantly, until spinach is wilted. Strain and gently press out liquid. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 500. Oil 16-inch pizza pan. Press dough into pan. Brush with remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

Bake crust five minutes. Remove from oven. Spread sauce over crust (it will be a thin layer, that's what you want), spread spinach/garlic evenly on top of sauce and cover everything with mozzarella. Return to oven for five minutes.

Remove from oven, add ricotta, using a teaspoon to distribute globs evenly over the pizza. Return to oven for five more minutes.

Serve immediately. For best results, eat while walking down the street with people you love during one of the happiest weeks of your life.