Friday, January 31, 2014

Seaweed is the New Kale: Arame with Tempeh

Kale is so 2013. Seaweed is the new kale.

In the weird world that I alone inhabit.

But if you want to have an incredibly satisfying vegetarian dinner that will make you forget about winter, that will infuse you with minerals and give you superpowers, that will make your kids sad and inspire them to beg for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and that will remind you of when you--billions of years ago--were a creature swimming in a salty ocean, then please join me in celebrating arame, a lovely, edible weed of the sea.

Arame with Tempeh
Serves 2 as a main dish

8 ounces tempeh, cubed
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 bag arame (7.6 ounces)
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 or 4 carrots, cut into matchsticks
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce

Soak Arame in a bowl of cold water while you start preparing the dish.

Heat 3 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large skillet and brown tempeh, turning occasionally, for 10 minutes or so. Scoop browned tempeh pieces out of the skillet with a slotted spoon, trying to keep as much oil in the pan as possible. Set tempeh aside.

Add onions to pan with a small pinch of salt and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add carrots and cook 2-3 minutes.

Drain arame (reserve soaking water) and add to skillet on top of onions and carrots. Add tempeh cubes on top of arame. Cover with 2 cups of the soaking water, add 3 tablespoons soy sauce, bring to a gentle simmer and cover.

Cook undisturbed for 15 - 20 minutes, until liquid has mostly cooked off and everything is tender. Cook uncovered for a few minutes if necessary to finish cooking off liquid. Taste and add 1 more tablespoon of soy sauce, if you want to.

Serve on a bed of greens, or garnished with lots of parsley or green onions.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Here You Come Again, Ottolenghi: Green Pancakes with Chili Lime Butter

Maybe you were there too; gliding on roller skates across a shiny wooden floor, eyeing that guy with the white comb sticking out of his Wranglers' back pocket, swooning over Dolly Parton's sublime voice and ridiculously catchy song.

I am talking about this song. "Here You Come Again." Betcha can't listen just once. I can't.

It entered my bloodstream when I was ten and it circulates there still. Approximately every seven years I get re-obsessed with it and I have to hear it, over and over and over again.

During one "Here You Come Again" mania, way pre-Spotify or anything remotely like it, back when a song could be hard to come by, I couldn't seem to find a copy of it anywhere. It was driving me crazy. But I got lucky: my friend Jon, a DJ, took pity and found the song in his radio station's stacks of vinyl. He endeared himself to me forever and always by making a cassette with only "Here You Come Again" on both side A and B. I listened and flipped, listened and flipped, until I could finally move on with my life.

I guess I'm kind of a freak. I do tend to get very, very fixated on things.

If you knew me in 1978, you may remember how many times I saw Grease. I am not going to publish the number. Let's just say fibs were told to certain parents. Lunch money was squandered. Several days of sixth grade were lost forever.

If you knew me in 1988, you might remember the lengths to which I went to get my underage self into the Rathskeller in Boston to see my favorite band, The Volcano Suns. There was a purchased driver's license and a black wig. There was a lot of makeup involved--eyeliner, especially. I got in. And it was worth it, it was so so worth it.

It's been a long time since I donned a wig for any band, but last year I fell in love with the recipes of chef Ottolenghi, my very first chef-crush. I betrayed my adoration of Ottolenghi here on this blog, making his ratatouille, his shakshuka, his garlic tart, his ravioli. I thought I was moving on with my life, after all that.

Then I made these, and I think it's fair to say he waltzed right in the door, just like he'd done before, and wrapped my heart around his little green pancakes with chili lime butter.

Surrender has its benefits. Just listen to Dolly's outro, "...and here I GO." And then listen to it about twenty more times. While eating these pancakes. And you'll understand.

Green Pancakes with Chili Lime Butter
Adapted from a recipe in Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 3

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
Grated zest of one lime
1.5 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
8 or 9 ounces spinach, washed and dried
1 cup self-raising flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2/3 cup milk or unsweetened soy milk
6 green onions, finely sliced
1-2 green chiles, thinly sliced
1 egg white
Olive oil or coconut oil, for frying

Put stick of room-temperature butter in a bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until creamy. Stir in the zest, lime juice, salt, pepper, garlic and chili. Once it's all blended together, you can roll it into a log and wrap in plastic wrap, or press it into a ramekin.

Cook the spinach with a tablespoon or so of water for 1-2 minutes, until wilted. Drain well, squeeze out water, and chop. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, whole egg, melted butter or coconut oil, salt, cumin, and milk. Whisk until smooth. Add green onions, chillies, and spinach and mix well.

Whisk the egg white in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter.

Heat a little olive oil or coconut oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Ladle in 2 tablespoons of batter and press down gently. Cook each pancake for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden-green. Repeat until batter is used up.

Serve with chili lime butter on top. Ottolenghi says that leftover butter is good on a baked sweet potato. I haven't tried it, but he is absolutely certain to be right. He's always right.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Red Velvet Underground Cupcakes: Hey, Lou Reed

Lou Reed died over two months ago and I am still reeling from the full-blown body blow of the loss. "Fuck," I wrote on Twitter, to my long longtime friend and musical collaborator John Strohm: "Fuck. Lou was everything." "Exactly," he wrote in reply, and maybe there's nothing more to say about it.

Yet I feel an intense longing to say something more, a need, really, to pay appropriate tribute to this most looming idol of mine; my inspiration, my ideal. Lou. Lou. Lou.

I have read the heartfelt and potent tributes of others; blog posts, essays, magazine articles, all more eloquent than anything I could write, many of them expressing aspects of my very feelings better than I can express them myself. I especially love this one by Will Sheff - that bit about being on tour with his band, driving across the desert, listening to "Sister Ray," and how it changed something in him. I get it. I sat in that van too.

It seems like the subject of Lou has been covered in these past months, saturated, and so why should I write something too? What can I contribute to the voices of mourning?

I wish I could write him a song, instead. Maybe that would make sense, seeing as how Lou's songs altered the course of my life. He inspired me to play music, but not just to be a person who plays an instrument - to be a person in a band, the thing that he presented to me as the ultimate right thing to do in life. Wine in the morning. Breakfast at night. He inspired me to look for the wilder side of things, and maybe I never quite made it to the world I imagined he lived in, or maybe I only glimpsed it now and then, but still he planted a vision in my soul, permanently, and he did it with his songs, with the sound of his guitar, with his voice, with his laugh. Especially his laugh.

Bob Dylan wrote a song to Woody Guthrie. I've been thinking about that song a lot lately. But music has all but slipped away from me - after twenty years of playing in bands I've been on hiatus now for nearly seven years. Although Lou's death did stir in me a dormant desire to write and play again, a stirring that appears to be moving me out of retirement, and that makes me wonder if his death has somehow saved my soul. Still, I can't write a song to Lou. It wouldn't be good enough. It couldn't be.

So, what? No beautiful essay. No glorious song.

Maybe, I thought, I could make him a cupcake.

It would have to be red velvet, blood red, not too sweet, with a dark molten center. It would have to kind of get you high, and kind of turn you on. It would be decadent, not too pure, but not too junky, either, with quality ingredients, and something unlikely hidden in it, like crushed beetle shells, or my own blood, or cherry juice, or pickled plum vinegar, or strong dark rum. It would have to - like a dirty french novel - combine the absurd with the vulgar.

It would have to be some kinda cupcake.

I have made batch after batch after batch. And let's just say: Some people work very hard, and still they never get it right. Just like every drum beat I've ever recorded, like every song or story I've ever written, these cupcakes can't match the vision in my head.

But this last batch came closer. The warm center filled my mouth, the heroic dose of chocolate went right to my head, the red stained my fingers.

So, hey, Lou Reed. I made you a cupcake. It was the best I could do.


Lou was everything.

Red Velvet Underground Cupcakes (Vegan)

1 cup soy or other milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon umeboshi plum vinegar
1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa (not dutch processed)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted and cooled coconut oil OR canola oil
2 tablespoons red food coloring (or use part cherry juice from thawed frozen cherries)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For Chocolate Filling:

8 ounces chocolate (60-70% works well)
1/2 cup coconut creamer or homemade cashew cream (I soaked 1/2 cup cashews for 4 hours and blended them with enough water to make the consistency of thick cream. Really good).

Make the chocolate filling first by warming coconut creamer or cashew cream in a small saucepan, stirring in chocolate until it melts. Set aside to cool while you make the cupcake batter.

Line a cupcake tin with 12 liners.

Mix milk and vinegars in a medium bowl, whisk and set aside for ten minutes to curdle.

Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk well to combine.

Stir oil, food coloring, and vanilla into vinegar/milk mixture and whisk well.

Stir wet ingredients into dry and stir until batter is fairy smooth but don't over-mix.

Fill each cupcake liner 1/2 full. Add a heaping teaspoon of chocolate filling. Cover with cupcake batter so each cupcake liner is about 3/4 or so full.

Bake 18-20 minutes.

Cool completely before frosting (I can never wait - notice my slightly melting tops). Use your favorite cream cheese frosting, or try this crazy recipe of mine. My son Henry says it's the best he's ever had, and I am inclined to agree but it is weird and time-consuming.

Cashew Coconut Frosting

1/2 cup cashews, soaked 4 hours, drained and rinsed
1 can (5.4 ounce) coconut cream
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons agave syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine

Blend cashews and coconut cream in a blender for five minutes or so, until very smooth. Add coconut oil, vinegar, vanilla, agave, and sea salt and blend very well.

Using a stand mixer, beat shortening and margarine until fluffy. Add contents of blender and beat for one minute of so. Put bowl in refrigerator for an hour - it will thicken up, don't worry. Before frosting cake or cupcakes, beat frosting until it is light and creamy. You won't believe how good it is.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hot, Spicy Whiskey Punch for a Snowy Day

My favorite of the winter holidays is New Year's Day. Fresh starts, resolutions, and good-luck foods, this is a holiday I can believe in. Most years I host a New Year's Day party, an easy, casual get-together for family and friends that centers around an evolving menu of good-luck foods; my grandmother's black-eyed peas, a big pot of greens, cornbread, and this wicked and magical whiskey punch that I brew all day and present to my guests as a charm for joy in the new year. 

I don't exactly have a recipe for this punch, and it is a little different every year, which seems appropriate. Here's the general idea - experiment to your heart's content:

Hot, Spicy Whiskey Punch

1 gallon apple cider
3-4 cups orange juice
4 cups water
3-4 lemons, halved, divided
1-2 oranges 
1-2 apples, halved
26 cloves (pretend you're in Waldorf pre-school and stick the cloves into the oranges, it's very relaxing)
4 or 5 cinnamon sticks
1 ginger root, peeled (doesn't have to be perfect) and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (I used a HUGE piece of ginger this year, which made the punch very spicy and everybody loved it)
Honey or maple syrup (I ended up using a little less than a cup of honey)
Irish whiskey

Put cider, juice, water, 2 lemon halves, oranges, apples, and spices in a big pot and bring to a gentle boil.

Simmer 3-4 hours. Add some honey or maple syrup to taste and simmer 1 more hour.

Strain well and return to pot. Juice remaining two lemons and add lemon juice to taste. Add honey or maple syrup to taste, if you need it. Return to gentle simmer (not boil) and keep warm.

To serve: Ladle punch into a cup. Add whiskey (at least 1/2 shot). 

Make a wish.

Happy New Year!