Delicious food, photographed badly

I’m trying not to let my perfectionism and general loathing of food photographed under less-than-optimal lighting conditions get in the way of telling you about yummy things to cook and eat.

It is hard, though. I don’t like coming to this page and seeing photographs taken under fluorescent light, which is what tends to happen when I cook a dinner that doesn’t yield enough leftovers for a photoshoot in natural light the following day. But hey, I don’t like coming to this page and seeing I haven’t updated it for two weeks, so compromises must be made.

Tofu Triangles with Rich Peanut Sauce on a bed of steamed spinach

So on to some scrumptious eating. A recipe that has become a well-loved standard in my repertoire comes from Nava Atlas’ great book, Vegan Express. (Another one of my Christmas treats.) The meals in this cookbook truly are fast to prepare, and each recipe is accompanied by several suggestions for other recipes from the book with which to pair it, making it a great “turn off my tired brain and just follow directions” cookbook. I cooked up a batch of her Tofu Triangles in Rich Peanut Sauce and served them over steamed spinach for a perfect healthy, satisfying meal. There’s something about the combo of Thai flavors (in the peanut sauce) and steamed spinach that I’ve always loved, and this was a perfect way to enjoy them together.

Avocado Pesto Pasta and Roasted Broccoli with Lemon Zest

Next up is Avocado Pesto. That’s right, you heard me. It’s pesto. With avocado. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before? Now that I know, I don’t see a reason to eat any other kind of pesto ever again. Avocado and lemon is already one of my favorite combinations, and adding fresh basil and pine nuts and garlic takes that combo to a ridiculous new level. Then you put it on Tinkyada brown rice pasta, one of the greatest inventions of the modern age, and pair it with The Best Broccoli of Your Life, and you end up with the most hyperbolic meal known to mankind. In other words, quite tasty. I will be making this again. To say the least.

So there you have it. Bad lighting and indifferent composition (“And what does this piece say to you?” “It says whoever took this photograph was starving and ready for dinner.”) will be no obstacle to bringing you nummy reports from the front lines of vegan, gluten-free cooking!

Quinoa pickle bowl

After my sushi party I had a couple of special circumstances to address. The first was that I was totally wiped out from the party, both from the frenzied prep and the epic experience itself. The other was that I had a ton of leftovers, but not the kind that lend themselves to easy munching. The sushi rice had disappeared before the party even ended, so afterwards I found myself with a fridge full of Japanese side salads and sushi fillings. Mainly pickles.

Some of the stuff that ended up in bowls in my fridge:
Carrots simmered in sake and mirin
Shitake mushrooms simmered in soy sauce and Shaoxing cooking wine
Takuan (pickled daikon radish)
Japanese cucumber pickles
Gobo (pickled burdock root)
Steamed sweet potato
Shiso leaf
Ground toasted sesame seeds
Pickled ginger
Cucumber sunomono (thinly sliced cucumbers in rice vinegar)
Goma ae (cooked spinach with sesame seeds)
Mung bean sprout salad

Situation B turned out the be the perfect solution to Situation A. For days after the party, I’d make a big batch of quinoa in my rice maker and then, when it was done, throw in a ton of chopped sushi fillings, pickles, and giant spoonfuls of cucumber, spinach, and bean sprout salads. The dressings from the salads served as sauce for the quinoa, the sweet, sour and salty flavors from the pickles brought the whole dish to life, and the colors were phenomenal. Plus shiso makes everything taste extra-special and magical, to my taste buds at least.

So, not so much a recipe as a serving suggestion/solution for what to do after a giant sushi party leaves your fridge full of Japanese pickles. Quinoa pickle bowl was so good and kept my mouth so interested that I basically lived off of it for days!

Cali-Mex Feast

Last night, according to my menu plan, I was supposed to make Raw “Pasta” Puttanesca from The 30-Minute Vegan, using zuchinni strips as the “noodles.” But I’d had Salade Nicoise the night before, and Epic Salad the night before that, and I was beginning to feel the early warning signs of vegan, gluten-free crankiness. You know, the unsatisfied feeling you get when you haven’t had anything substantial pass between your lips in a few days? It’s not hard to eat satisfying, filling meals that are vegan and gluten-free, but it’s all too easy not to, as well.

Yesterday morning I went online to find out if Trader Joe’s sells brined olives of any sort (I had to make a Two-Buck Chuck run and figured I’d grab some olives for the Puttanesca at the same time) and came across a curious blog called Cooking with Trader Joe’s. As far as I can tell the women who write it are unaffiliated with Trader Joe’s, although they have also written two cookbooks about cooking using ingredients found at everyone’s favorite food emporium. I started scrolling through their recipes, fascinated, until my attention was arrested by a delicious-looking pile of goodness called Tamale Bake. The recipe for Tamale Bake called for three zucchini… the very zucchini I’d been planning to slice up into fake, raw, cold noodles. The idea of something hot, filling and gooey immediately trumped fake, raw, and cold. I jotted down the ingredients and took my list to TJs.

As promised, I was able to find all of the ingredients for Tamale Bake at Trader Joe’s, though I didn’t need zucchini since of course that was what I was trying to use up from my box. I bought the soy chorizo and the bottled enchilada sauce (WARNING: it contains FLOUR, as does, apparently, most traditional enchilada sauce – wtf?), found two cans of black beans and picked up some sliced mushrooms and a can of sliced black olives. But when it came time to get the two tubes of precooked polenta, I balked. It was FOUR dollars for two tubes. I can’t remember how much bulk polenta costs at Rainbow, but it’s certainly not four dollars for a couple of cups of dry polenta. Before I realized how easy it is to make polenta in the rice cooker, I might have treated myself to the convenience of the tubes, but I have no excuse now for not making it from scratch.

I assembled my Tamale Bake, which was both easy and convenient, and while it was in the oven I pondered proper accompaniments. I’d just received a beautiful little watermelon in my box, as well as some lovely peaches that needed to be eaten right away. I decided to start with the yummy Mexican snack of chile and melon, so I sprinkled slices of the watermelon with chili powder. I also made a gorgeous fruit salad with watermelon, peaches, and grapes from my box and strawberries and blueberries from TJs. I rounded out the meal with a salad of CSA lettuce, Persian cucumbers, green onions, and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) with an avocado-lime-cilantro dressing. I improvised the dressing based on several others I found online and it ended up way too sweet (curse you, agave nectar!). I liked the concept a lot but I’ll need to keep working on the execution.

Nothing was authentic, of course, but as a native Californian who grew up eating California Mexican food, I do feel I have a certain amount of leeway in improvising “Cali-Mex”-style dishes. And what could be more Cali-Mex than a pseudo-Mexican meal involving locally, sustainably grown veggies and soy chorizo? When the timer went off and I pulled my tamale bake out of the oven, I felt I had a winner on my hands. And I was right – it was delicious, filling, a bit healthy, and very, very satisfying.

Tamale Bake
This recipe is slightly adapted from a recipe from the blog Cooking with Trader Joe’s. It would make a fabulous potluck contribution and makes wonderful leftovers.

2 cups dry polenta
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (I used a red onion)
4 zucchini, sliced
Sliced mushrooms (I used a “bag’s worth” from TJs)
1 can sliced olives
1 package Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo (unlike most meat subs, does not contain any gluten!)
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained
1 cup Enchilada Sauce (TJ’s contains flour – a nice thin red salsa, which they have at TJs, could be a good substitute)
1/4 cup cilantro (optional)

In a rice cooker, combine 2 cups dry polenta and 1 tsp salt with 6 cups water and cook on “white rice” setting. Test for doneness, and stir thoroughly when finished. (You can also cook polenta with the same proportions in a pot.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Saute onions for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until they begin to soften, then add zucchini and cook 5 minutes longer, until zucchini is tender.
Lightly grease a 9″x13″ baking pan with Earth Balance. Spread half the polenta on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on half of: the chorizo (remove it from its plastic casing!), black beans, sliced olives, onion/zucchini/mushroom mixture, and enchilada sauce or salsa. Spread another layer of polenta on top and then sprinkle on remaining half of ingredients.
Bake for 30 minutes until casserole is piping hot. Sprinkle cilantro evenly on top.

Back in the day, a Moosewood recipe for Tamale Pie used to be one of my staple recipes. It was great to bring to potlucks because it was vegetarian, filling, and always super popular. I’ve thought about it often over the years. First when I went gluten-free I thought about what a drag it would be to make the cornbread topping GF, and then once I went vegan it seemed impossible – the dish would just be too dry and not nearly gooey enough with no cheese added. But this recipe takes care of all of these dilemmas and more! Which makes it a perfect dish to submit to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays – all the indulgence of a favorite dish, with none of the ingredients I can’t or don’t want to eat. Check out the other great indulgences this week for more inspiration!

While I’m at it, this is a perfect and pretty submission for Tasty Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table! Tuesdays are a big day for food round-ups, it seems!

Avocado for breakfast

It’s always fun to see what search terms bring people to my blog. One of the most enduringly popular phrases that leads people to In My Box is “spinach for breakfast.” Well, I don’t seem to get spinach in my box anymore, but instead these past few weeks have been all about “avocado for breakfast.” Avocados have always been a treat, something to be savored and parceled out, but we have been in the heart of major avocado season, and my CSA box, the farmer’s market, and Rainbow have just been overflowing with beautiful, ripe, local(ish) avocados. And in the midst of this unprecedented avocado glut I’ve discovered that the beautiful, precious avocado is the brilliant answer to all my vegan, gluten-free breakfast needs.

Fatty, filling, and flavorful — avocado turns a collection of  dairyless, gluten-free ingredients into a satisfying meal.

It all started with the breakfast burritos. Breakfast burritos are one of my top, top foods. (I know I have a lot of top foods but really, this time I mean it!) But this month I have elevated the vegan, gluten-free breakfast burrito to its highest form. It all started with these amazing Gluten-Free Teff Wraps from La Tortilla Factory. These things are serious flour tortilla impersonators. They’re flexible, light, chewy, roll without cracking, and brown beautifully in a pan. (My favorite burritos have that browned, crispy exterior to contrast with their soft, gooey interior.)

First I lightly brown one side of the wrap in a cast iron pan with no oil, and then flip it over so the browned side faces up. Then I just throw in anything that seems yummy. A thick smear of refried beans, a stripe of soy cream cheese, some sweet potato chunks maybe, or some leftover rice bowl with dandelion greens or even steamed broccoli. Top it all off with salsa and several slices of perfectly ripe avocado, leave it in the pan until the outside is golden and a bit crisp, then roll it up and eat it while moaning with pleasure. Sounds pretty amazing, right?

Then, inspired by Vegan Express by Nava Atlas, a cookbook I’ve been reading as part of my quest for simple, easy meals, I started making what Atlas calls “big quesadillas.” It’s like a breakfast burrito… only with no rolling! Brilliant, eh? Daiya cheddar vegan “cheese” was on sale at Rainbow this week so I decided to try it out, so I’ve been adding it to my quesadillas alongside my avocado, which I have to say really does make cheese irrelevant. (Plus, :-8******* That’s the “vomit” emoticon Duck invented for me. I am not a fan of Daiya. You know how American cheese tastes like the plastic version of cheese? Well, Daiya tastes like the plastic version of American cheese. And it doesn’t even melt very well. Ugh.)

Into every avocado-for-breakfast life, a little rain must fall, and one day I inevitably ran out of my precious teff wraps. No problem! That merely inspired my new, new favorite thing: Soft-cooked polenta, warm, mixed thoroughly with mashed avocado, a few squeezes of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. It’s seriously the best thing ever, and so ridiculously simple. I invented it when I made a batch of polenta for breakfast and discovered to my total surprise that Earth Balance can indeed go bad. (I do think that tub had been in there since January or so.) I wanted something to add that little kick of smooth, fatty mouthfeel to the polenta, and so of course I turned to my best friend and constant companion. Look what a lovely shade of green the polenta turns! And the lemon sets the flavors off beautifully. It’s a true FASS meal, with fat from the avocado, acid from the lemon, salt from the salt, and sweet from the cornmeal.

So the next time you’re wondering what on earth to eat for your vegan, gluten-free breakfast that will be satisfying and delicious, turn to your friend the avocado! (And don’t worry about that whole fruit-made-of-pure-fat thing – read this article, The Avocado Advantage, and all your worries will melt away! Just like a delicious mouthful of perfectly ripe avocado…)

Spin the wheel, make a salad!

Many of you know how much I love my Bay Area Local Foods Wheel, a gorgeously illustrated and super-handy contraption that spins around to show you what foods are currently in season. Sometimes, when I’m in need of menu ideas, I’ll check in with my food wheel and see what’s coming in hot off the farms in order to use that for inspiration.

So a couple of weeks ago I gave my wheel a twirl over to April and found (to my surprise, actually) that avocados and grapefruits are both currently au courant. (Do you like how I basically just said “currently current” but got away with it by putting one of them in French?) So I decided to make a recipe from one of my first and favorite cookbooks, Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites, called Spinach Avocado Grapefruit Salad.

I had briefly perused the ingredients before going to the store, but when the time came to actually crack open the cookbook and make the recipe, I was a little shocked. The salad has no real dressing! Just a tiny bit of olive oil and a clove of garlic! Avocados and grapefruit are all very well and delicious, I thought to myself, but eating piles of unseasoned raw spinach doesn’t sound very appealing. But then I figured, Moosewood knows what they’re doing. They wouldn’t print a salad recipe with no dressing unless it really makes sense when you eat it. So I gave it a shot.

And boy am I ever glad I did! I sort of vaguely remember what else I had for dinner that night (some sort of soup, was it?) but the star of the show was clearly the salad. The flavors were so bright, so fresh, so utterly delectable. And for those of my readers who are a little quicker on the ball than I am (you always know whodunnit it your mysteries, too, I bet), you can all shout it out together: Avocado + grapefruit + olive oil + garlic = creamy + acid + fat + garlic = the best salad dressing ever, obviously! This salad is so simple it dresses itself. Could there be anything better?

Self-Dressing Spinach Avocado Grapefruit Salad
This recipe is from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites. I have added my usual overzealous detailed directions for certain parts.

5 oz fresh spinach
1 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 grapefruit
1 avocado (preferably Hass)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a very small bowl.
Stem and rinse the spinach. Spin or gently pat it dry. Tear the large leaves into smaller pieces but keep the small leaves whole. Put the spinach in a large bowl and toss with garlic and olive oil. Set aside.
Peel, seed, and section the grapefruit. (That means pull off the membraney stuff on each section and just use the fruity inside part.) The grapefruit sections will probably tear into smaller pieces as you are taking the membranes off, and that’s fine. The other sections you can leave whole or tear into smaller pieces as you prefer. (I like bite-size pieces as you can see above.)
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Carefully use a knife to slice the avocado into 1-inch slices, slicing vertically, while it is still inside its peel. Then slice horizontally once or twice, depending on how large you want your pieces to be. Use a large soup spoon to carefully scoop the already cut avocado pieces from their peels. Add them, along with the grapefruit, to the bowl of spinach.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss lightly, and serve immediately.
Also tastes great the next day, so if you have leftovers, save ’em!
Serves 4.

I meant to submit this to the fantastic soup and salad blog event No Croutons Required, because this month they wanted salads featuring ingredients from the allium family. This was a perfect recipe because the garlic features so prominently, as one of only five ingredients! But I missed the deadline, so sad! The reason I’m telling you all this is to say that if you want to check out more fabulous alliumy soups and salads, you should check out the No Croutons round-up!

Raw raw raw!

Farmer B has left for the East, and only the farm gods know when we’ll meet again. She left us the best possible gift to remember her by, however – a huge bag full of farm-fresh produce. Tiny sweet peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and enormous amounts of curly kale. Duck and I spent the day with her before she boarded her train and we all decided to check out the Grand Lake farmer’s market for the first time. That impressive market, which is quite a party with live music, slides for the kids, and stands with prepared food of all kinds, yielded up Japanese eggplants, dry-farmed tomatoes, mountain blueberries, and perfectly ripe avocados, among other treasures.

We may still be mourning the loss of our favorite farm girl, but a body’s got to eat, right? It’s been robust at mealtimes for the past couple days, with my Cafe Gratitude-style rice bowl and Duck’s buckwheat soba with portobella mushrooms and zucchini, so I wanted something very light tonight. I wanted kale salad.

Raw Kale Salad with Avocado & Cherry Tomatoes

Specifically, I wanted a kale salad someone brought to a potluck I went to a few months ago, but with my brain fog I can now no longer remember who made it or what it tasted like, just that it was heavenly and I was so surprised and delighted at how tender and wonderful raw kale could be.

So I used the awesome-pants search feature over at Food Blog Search to seek out some kale salad recipes. I found a few different ones, but several of them involved lightly sauteeing the kale, and this quest had become, for me, all about the raw. I found one totally raw salad (with some variation) in three different places. I first read about it on the I Am Gluten Free blog, and then found another version on the Diet, Dessert, and Dogs blog, and finally watched a YouTube video of it being made! By this time I was sold. This isn’t the salad I went looking for, but it fit perfectly with the ingredients I had on hand, sounded delicious, and I was apparently going to get to do something called “massaging the kale.”

I decided to accompany it with a raw beet salad (I used a New York Times recipe as my starting point) and finish it up with a slice of green melon for dessert. (I know, the food combiners, who taught me about eating raw, are rolling over in their wheatgrass patches at my eating melon after a meal…) All in all, a delicious and incredibly colorful dinner.

The recipes are so simple, but I’ll write them out anyways. The part I’ve expanded on is the kale salad directions; every time I massaged the kale my hands would get oily and slippery and then I’d go to pick up a knife to cut open the avocado, etc. and it would be a bad scene. (Somehow the Raw Coach in the video doesn’t seem to have this problem!) So I thought a little guide to what order things should be done in would be helpful. Continue reading

Decadence for breakfast, and lunch, and…

Decadent Breakfast Tacos

My visit to the Kitchen Empress in Michigan revolved a lot around food, as all of our visits (and our individual lives) tend to do. As food enthusiasts who have lived in the East, West, Southwest, and Midwest of this country, and who have taken up long-term habitation in several of the other continents of the world, we swap food tales like foreign correspondents share their war stories.

One morning I was telling KE about this new fondness I’ve developed for tacos (they are a terrific, easy vegan and gluten-free meal, and those are in high demand around my house). She swapped back with stories of beloved breakfast tacos from when she lived in Austin. Breakfast tacos with potatoes in them. I could not stop imagining what that would be like – the soft, warm corn tortilla wrapped around the crisped potatoes and the fluffy scrambled egg.

My last morning in Michigan we finally made my taco dreams come true. Using leftover roasted potatoes, we put together some breakfast tacos that were everything I’d imagined and more. I couldn’t stop thinking about them when I got home.

The other night, I worked well past dinner and so on the way back home Duck and I ended up at midnight at one of San Francisco’s all-night restaurants. We ordered the only things you can order in an all-night restaurant that are both vegan and gluten-free: french fries and a small green salad. These weren’t just any fries, these were “desert fries” (at first I wondered if they were misspelled “dessert fries” and pictured them piled with cherry sauce and whipped cream) with spicy Cajun seasoning. You can only eat so many french fries for dinner, and everyone knows fries make terrible leftovers (not least because you don’t want to be reminded of your dietary excess). But the spectre of the breakfast taco compelled me. I packed our fries up to take home.

And boy was I glad I did. For what followed was more magnificent than I could ever have anticipated.

The one consistent bummer about making tacos has been that the corn tortillas get soggy and fall apart halfway through the eating. Taco trucks and other taco professionals get around this by doubling up the tortilla, but my store-bought tortillas aren’t yummy enough that I want to scarf down a plain double layer of them. So I concocted a plan to deal with all these hurdles, little imagining it would lead me to a breakfast taco so decadent that I had to leave most of it on the plate for lunch, and beyond.

Decadent Breakfast Tacos

Take a small stack of corn tortillas and warm them in a pan until soft. Take two tortillas and sandwich between them a thin layer of Laura Chenel aged goat cheese. In a pan, warm chopped desert fries and crumbled tempeh bacon in a little olive oil. Place these on the tortilla, and top them with a perfectly scrambled egg, sliced avocado, and some chipotle-lime salsa. Close your eyes and savor. It’s okay if it’s too rich to finish in one sitting – the tortilla won’t fall apart while it waits.