Let’s Turn Up the Heat

It’s summer! I love summer. Summer means gorgeous produce I only get a few months out of the year – corn and tomatoes and peaches and nectarines. Summer means it stays light until late and the days feel like they might go on forever. Summer means bundling up in my warmest scarf and wool socks, turning the oven up to 450, and huddling beside it in my unheated kitchen. Wait, what? Oh, I should have mentioned, this is summer in San Francisco. It is, in fact, colder here in the winter than it is in the summer. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get damn cold here ‘twixt May and September.

This has also been a very tired summer for me. Since finishing up my first year of grad school, there has been a distinct increase in bed days and rest days. No problem, that’s what that 450 degree oven is for.

Two ears of corn on a green plate, sprinkled with nutritional yeast, with a shaker of nutritional yeast next to the plate.

It started with the corn. I love corn. My favorite way to eat summer corn is in fresh corn polenta. But that requires me to shave the kernels off the cobs, which involves a bowl and a knife and stuff. Too tired. I could steam it, but I have a bad habit of putting things on to steam and then getting back into bed, having one of my famous memory blips, and coming back far too late to find a scorched, dry pot. Consulting my trusty copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (love that “what do I do with this vegetable?” section in the middle!), I learned that corn can be roasted. IN THE HUSK. Here are the steps: Turn oven to 450 degrees. Take corn ears out of CSA box. Lay corn ears onto oven rack. Come back in 15 minutes (give or take, if you space out it’s cool, they are far from burning). Give a little tug and all the husk and silk come gently off at once. WOW.

Two ears of corn sprinkled with nutritional yeast, with a grey cat sniffing at them while standing on a red and white checked tablecloth

As an experiment I tried sprinkling it with nutritional yeast. It was pretty great. And I wasn’t the only one thought so! Miss Violet went absolutely bananas. She’s usually pretty good about not being on the table. She might jump up to check something out, but if I say her name or give her tail a little whack she’ll jump down right away. She knows she’s not supposed to be up there. But this time I had to forcibly remove her, picking her up off the table, with her struggling the whole time to get back to the nutritional yeast-covered corn. A little internet research seems to indicate it’s okay for cats to have (or very good for them, depending on the source) so Miss Smushyface was ultimately distracted with a little saucer of her own so I could eat my corn in peace.

A white bowl with chunks of zucchini, roasted and thickly sprinkled with herbs.

I had such a good time with the corn that I tried some zucchini next. My favorite way to eat summer zucchini is Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Garlic and Mint but that requires slicing the zucchini thinly, searing it a few pieces at a time in a pan, flipping and searing more, then repeating until all the slices have been cooked. Mint must be chopped, lemons must be squeezed, garlic must be minced. My new method: Chop zucchini into chunks. Toss with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence. Put in a parchment-lined baking dish (or rimmed baking sheet) for ~45 minutes or until your desired texture. WOW.

I also tried this with some russet potatoes and cauliflower that came in my box. I don’t have a picture because we ate it too fast. Disher said it was one of the best things he’d ever put in his mouth. I have to concur. Roasted cauliflower is amazing.

So I have my new summer formula. And as an added bonus, it helps keep the house warm on those foggy damp summer nights.

Summer Roast Corn

Fresh corn, still in its husk

Preheat oven to 450. When oven is heated, lay corn on oven rack. Let roast for 15 minutes. Remove corn and, using some sort of heat protection on your hands, pull away the husk. All the silk and husk will just slide right off. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast if desired.

Summer Roast Zucchini

Fresh summer zucchini

Preheat oven to 450. Cut each zucchini lengthwise down the middle, then cut across into 1-inch chunks. Toss with a little olive oil (I use a 1 1/2 teaspoons for 4 zucchini), salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Roast zucchini 45 minutes to an hour, or until meltingly tender and browned.

Summer Roast Potatoes and Cauliflower

Potatoes (I’ve tried Russets and Yellow Finn)
Cauliflower

Preheat oven to 450. Cut veggies into small pieces. Cauliflower florets around 1 inch, potatoes around 1/2 inch. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Roast veggies 45 minutes to an hour, or longer, or until tender and browned.

Washoku – five colors, five tastes

“Five tastes, or go mi, describes what the Japanese call anbai, the harmonious balance of flavors – salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy – that ensures that our palates are pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed.” — Elizabeth Andoh, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen

I haven’t posted a washoku meal for a while now. I began my exploration of the Japanese “harmony of food” by attending to the five colors (red, yellow, green, black, and white) on my plate. Then I turned my attention to the principle of “five ways,” which encourages the cook to incorporate several different cooking methods in preparing the meal.

Today’s lunch focused on inclusion of the five flavors. I had sweet from the corn in the polenta and the mirin-sake-tamari-shitake broth in which the carrots had been simmered. Salty came from the miso in the goma miso dressing and spicy from the red pepper-yuzu condiment sprinkled on the broccoli. I made a little salad of radish, hijiki, black sesame seeds, and rice vinegar which pulled in bitter and sour notes to complement the rest of the meal.

Five colors were also represented – red from the carrot and radish, yellow from the polenta, green from the broccoli, black from the hijiki and sesame seeds, and white from the radish – as were five cooking methods – simmered carrots, steamed broccoli, dry-roasted sesame seeds in the goma miso sauce, and the radish salad which was somewhere between pickled and raw.

I had wondered if the polenta, which is fairly neutral but still tagged as “Mediterranean” in my mind, would go well with the Japanese flavors of the carrots and broccoli. As promised by washoku, however, somehow the radish salad, with its crisp texture and bright flavors, created a kind of flavor bridge that pulled the whole meal together, and indeed I found my palate “pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed.”

Goma Miso Dressing
This is one of my favorite sauces. I can rarely resist ordering goma ae (goma miso sauce over cooked spinach) at Japanese restaurants. I hadn’t realized how easy it is to make at home!
Recipe is from Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen .

1/4 cup white sesame seeds
2 T. sweet, light miso
Scant 1/4 cup dashi (I used my mirin-sake-tamari broth instead)
pinch of salt, if needed

Heat a small, heavy skillet (dry, without oil) over medium-high heat and add sesame seeds. Stir with a wooden spatula or gently swirl pan occasionally. In about a minute the seeds will begin to darken and you’ll smell them – remove from heat and continue to stir seeds in pan for another 20-30 seconds. If the seeds look in danger of scorching, put them immediately into the food processor. (The seeds may pop quite a bit – I like to cover my pan with a splatter screen while roasting the seeds.)

Process still-warm seeds in a food processor until all the seeds have been evenly crushed. Add a tablespoon of the miso and two tablespoons of the broth and pulse until combined. Taste and adjust sweetness with salt, if needed. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl, add the remaining miso and broth, and pulse until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup, which was way more than enough for three large stalks of broccoli.

Chiles rellenos

When I graduated from college I moved back to the Bay Area with my boyfriend, who was from Minnesota. He’d only ever lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and I would be totally mortified when he mispronounced the double-l in Mexican food. Unfortunately for my tender 22-year-old sensibilities, chiles rellenos (as in “chilis re-LEN-os”) was one of his favorite foods. Eventually through my gentle (?) corrections he learned to speak Cali-Mex with the best of us, and could cringe right along with me when his parents came to visit and totally mispronounced all those Js and LLs.

The lovely pasillas are in the back left corner of this photo from the farmer's market

I’ve never been that into chiles rellenos myself. They’re just so heavy on the cheese and the fried.  But the other day at the farmer’s market I saw these incredibly gorgeous, shiny, firm Pasilla peppers and they just cried out to be stuffed. This notion was a pretty radical departure for me since a) I hate peppers, especially cooked peppers and b) I hate stuffed vegetables of all kinds (squashes, tomatoes, etc.). But I found myself putting three of those pretty peppers into my shopping bag nonetheless. I decided I wanted to make chiles rellenos, although the fact that in their traditional form they are basically peppers stuffed with huge hunks of cheese and dredged in an egg-and-flour batter did give me pause on the whole vegan, gluten-free front.

Luckily after I got home and did some internet searching I found a fantastic-sounding vegan and gluten-free (basically) recipe from Terry Hope-Romero, author of the Latin cookbook Viva Vegan that has been getting great reviews from my fellow vegan bloggers. I ended up making my chiles late one night when I came home jazzed from an evening out. I riffed on Terry’s filling (and was also inspired by this yummy but very vegan-cheese-heavy recipe) until I came up with what I can honestly say ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever cooked. The combination of mashed potatoes, vegan cheese, and nuts was the most delicious, savory, mouth-feel-full concoctions ever made in my kitchen. The batter doesn’t replicate the fluffy egg batter of the non-vegan version, but it provides a great, savory shell to hold in all that goodness.

Super Delicious Vegan Chiles Rellenos Filling (for instructions on how to prepare the chiles and stuff and batter them, see the recipe on Terry Hope-Romero’s blog)

For stuffing 3 pasilla peppers:

1 T. olive oil
2 small red bliss potatoes, chopped into 1-in pieces and steamed
5 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup mixed chopped walnuts, cashews, almonds
1/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or thawed frozen)
3 T. vegan cream cheese
3 T. grated vegan mozarella
juice of one small lime
grind fresh black pepper
salt to taste (it may not need any)

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pan over medium heat. Saute garlic until it becomes fragrant, then add nuts and saute, stirring constantly, until they brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add in corn and saute another 2 minutes. Add in potato, mashing it up and combining it with the other ingredients in the pan.

Remove pan from heat and add cheese, cream cheese, lime juice, and a grind of fresh black pepper and salt to taste (it may not need any salt). Follow instructions on Terry’s blog for stuffing and battering the peppers.

Omigod, you guys!

My friend Mike loves musicals. I’m fairly anti on the subject myself, however I do love my friend Mike. So when he and some other friends were over the other day for a five-hour session of Arkham Horror and I asked him to DJ, I didn’t say a single word as we sat through the greatest musical hits of the last 30 years. One of the catchy, annoying songs we listened to (made more annoying by its catchiness) was the song “Omigod You Guys” from the musical Legally Blonde. (Didn’t know that was a musical? Me neither. Thanks for making me a more cultured person, Mike!) The chorus of the song goes “Ohmigod, ohmigod, you guys!” over and over again. At some point I wrested back control of the speakers and we went back to the depressing, complicated, indie rock no one but me wants to listen to.

A few days later I made some pasta, inspired by two gorgeous heads of radicchio I’d picked up at the farmer’s market. The heads were huge, so I’d ended up searing one and roasting the other. They both came out amazing, but that was a lot of radicchio to eat straight. Plus that day I’d had a sweet potato for lunch so by dinnertime I was starving and wanted something super hearty. I ended up with Tinkyada rice spiral pasta with butternut squash, walnuts, tempeh bacon, a tiny bit of vegan cream cheese, and some of both the roasted and seared radicchio. It looked like it might be kind of plain, not really saucy enough. But when I took my first bite, all I could think was, “Ohmigod, ohmigod, you guys!”

Because ohmigod, you guys! It was like, the best thing ever. Like, my mouth was in serious ecstasy. This was a pasta that shall go down in the annals of history as some of the best pasta ever devoured in my home.

Then about a week later I was making one final summer menu from Fresh Food Fast before returning it to the library. The meal I was making was Fresh Corn Polenta with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes accompanied by a Green Bean, Wax Bean, and Chick Pea salad with Harissa. One of the things I like about FFF is that I can be kind of a robot chef with it – the author details the exact order in which to do the steps for making the two dishes together. So I was just mindlessly following along, prepping veggies, taking corn kernels off the cob, blanching green beans, not really thinking much at all about what I was making or how it would taste when I was through. Just following directions. When everything was finished, I sat down with a bowl of polenta that I’d cooked in the rice cooker with butter and salt and two ears of fresh corn, topped with sauteed cherry tomatoes. I took my first bite of the polenta.

Boom. Ohmigod. Ohmigod, you guys.

Where has fresh corn polenta been all my life? It’s like… it’s like pudding, like corn pudding. It’s dessert and breakfast rolled into one, plus you can put cherry tomatoes on top and then it’s dinner, too! The smell alone had me dancing around like a cat in catnip. Why have I never done this before? I do tend to make fun of dishes that are like “carbs with carb sauce and a side of carbs” so “corn with corn added” is just the kind of combo I would have been dismissive of. At least, I would have dismissed it before. Before the Great Fresh Corn Polenta Conversion. The day upon which all members of this household (that would be me) swore that never again shall a summer of fresh corn go by without making many, many batches of our new overlord and master, Fresh Corn Polenta.

It’s been a while since food has made me sit up and take notice like these guys did. I know I’m always raving that this vegetable is the best thing ever, and that recipe is the yummiest concoction, etc., but these were dialed way up. All the way up to Ohmigod levels.

Ohmigod Pasta with Radicchio, Butternut Squash, Walnuts, and Tempeh Bacon
This pasta requires several steps to assemble, so it’s not a quick meal. It is totally worth it, however. I started out this recipe with already cooked radicchio and I also used frozen butternut squash (which is the awesomest thing ever – no peeling or thwacking or roasting required!). But I’m going to assume you are starting from square one.

1 lb hearty pasta, like spirals or a wide fettucini
1 large head raddichio
1 small butternut squash, about 1 lb (or one bag of frozen butternut squash cubes)
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2-3 strips tempeh bacon
2 T. vegan cream cheese (optional)

If you are using fresh (not frozen) butternut squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cube the butternut squash into half-inch cubes. (If you need help with this often-confounding step, here is a great tutorial.) Cut out the base of the radicchio and pull apart the leaves. Toss the squash with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and arrange the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until quite tender. Meanwhile layer the radicchio leaves in an ovenproof casserole dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until tender and wilted.

If you are using frozen butternut squash: Thaw the squash. You can either roast the radicchio in a 400 degree oven as above, or pan-sear it. Either way will be delicious.

Coarsely chop the radicchio into large pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Toast the walnuts, either in a pan on the stove or in the toaster oven (my preferred method!). Cook the pasta and drain it, reserving a cup of the pasta water. (I always forget to do this until it’s too late!)

Heat a large pan with a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Fry the tempeh bacon until it is darker brown and a bit crisp. Use a spatula to break up the bacon into small pieces. Turn the heat down to medium and add in the squash and radicchio, sauteeing for a few minutes.

Combine the pasta, bacon, squash, radicchio, walnuts and vegan cream cheese if you are using it. If it seems too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Eat and enjoy!

Fresh Corn Polenta
Inspired by Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley, but improved upon due to the awesomeness of making polenta in a rice cooker. NO stirring and NO lumps! Just pop it in and let it cook itself!

2 ears fresh, sweet corn, husked
1 cup dry polenta
3 cups water
2 T. vegan butter
1 t. salt

Strip the corn kernels off the corn cobs. To do this, hold the corn vertically, braced on the bottom of a bowl large enough to catch any errant flyaway kernels. Or you could use this awesome technique involving a bundt pan!

In a rice cooker, combine the polenta, water, salt, butter, and corn kernels. Stir to combine. Set rice cooker on “white rice” setting (or the one setting you have if your rice cooker only has one setting). When the rice cooker indicates it is done, stir again to combine. There may be a semi-opaque film on top, but don’t be alarmed! Just stir that back into the polenta.

Eat and enjoy!!! I’ve made this twice in two weeks and all my test eaters (aka guests) have raved about it!

Corn for breakfast

I was lying on the couch, paging through Veganomicon for the millionth time when a recipe jumped out at me, the way that recipes like to do. “Corn pudding!,” I called over to Duck in the next room. I described it to him. “Breakfast!,” he called back. He has been my most stalwart ally in the breakfast struggles – looking out for gluten-free, egg-free, non-cereal breakfast solutions even when it’s the furthest thing from my mind.

Vegan corn pudding

So this morning (er, afternoon… it is Sunday) we decided to give it a try. We have these new (new to us, cast-offs from Duck’s dad) cast iron pans that we’ve been enjoying and getting used to, and I’ve always been so intrigued by those yummy cook-it-in-your-cabin- in-the-woods-style recipes that have you bake stuff right in the cast iron pan. We had to use frozen corn as the days of summer corn have long passed, and happily we had pre-minced some chilis and tucked them in the freezer (a mix of serranos and jalapenos, packaged with foresight into single-chili-sized packets). The other ingredients were cornmeal, maple syrup, cayenne, an intriguingly thick mixture of coconut milk and cornstarch, and a full cup of scallions.

We prepared everything and then slid the pan into the oven to wait eagerly the 45 minutes until our breakfast would emerge. I was less than impressed when I pulled it out of the oven. It just didn’t have a lot of presence, visually, and looked like it might be kind of dry, like an unpleasant variety of cornbread. But then I tasted it, and it was good – soft, creamy, sweet. It also had a very familiar quality I couldn’t identify until Duck said, “I bet this would taste great with vegan sour cream or yogurt.”

I applied a dollop of goat yogurt and took a bite. There it was! Latkes! The combination of the strong onion flavor from the scallions and the crisp flavor and texture from cooking in the iron pan was so reminiscent of latkes that I had a whole Southwest-Jewish medley dancing its way across my taste buds. Duck and I slathered our next slices with vegan sour cream/yogurt and applesauce and they were fantastic! Probably a topping Isa and Terry never imagined, but those ladies are nothing if not encouraging of eating outside the box.

I’m not going to give you the recipe, because you probably already own Veganomicon, and if you don’t, you might want to give it some serious thought. It’s not the best cookbook I own, or the one I use most often, but it’s so well written that reading it is an awful lot of fun, it’s packed with recipes, all of them vegan, and it is so considerately written, with indications on each recipe to tell you if it’s fast, gluten-free, avoids the use of soy, or can be made from ingredients easily found at any supermarket. So cooks, start your engines and turn to page 151 of your Vcons! This recipe can easily be made gluten-free by use of GF cornstarch (although there is debate about whether such a thing exists) or subbing your favorite GF thickener.

Summer soup

Ah, summer in San Francisco.

I arrived home last week after a long visit to New York. (My trip is one reason this blog has gotten hopelessly out of date!) After a couple of weeks of skirts and sandals and other wispy pieces of actual summer clothing, it was a shock to return to a Bay Area August, full of fog and the kind of grim cold that lingers in the corners of the apartment, even when I have the heater going full blast. It was such a nice surprise that my new flannel pajamas had arrived while I away. Flannel pajamas in August. Only in San Francisco.

But this interesting intersection of season and weather does have one terrific silver lining, and that’s Summer Soup. A nice warm bowl containing all the produce bounty of summer, and a nice chilly day to enjoy it on!

Summer Soup with Vegan Pesto

When I saw how full of produce the fridge and counter were when I got home, I defrosted my most delicious scrap stock as a base (the delicious batch IV stock that Duck couldn’t stop sipping straight), and put together some summer soup. I tend to have trouble making soup without a recipe, trouble that takes the form of lackluster flavor, but I wanted to make a soup that would use up all the veggies I had already, not the veggies a recipe wanted me to use.

I decided to wing it, using red onions, fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, pink potatoes, green cabbage, carrots, and some roasted garlic, and the results were very good. I’m not going to post the recipe here because it was so basic and pretty much all the flavor came from the stock, so this would have been a pretty dull pot of soup if I’d been using canned broth, or even one of my milder scrap stocks. Duck also used some CSA basil and some basil he’s been growing on our front porch to make a puree of basil, garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts (basically, vegan pesto) which we swirled into the bowls of soup individually. As a final touch we served the soup over heaps of steamed quinoa, and had our protein for the day as well.

And though we sat in our chilly kitchen, wrapping our frostbitten fingers around our steaming bowls, at least we could taste the warmth of summer’s goodness on our spoons.

Sweet Corn

The last sweet corn of summer. Three ears yielded a lot of kernels – maybe even more on these cobs than the non-bonus cobs I had a couple of weeks ago. Libby husked and de-silked the stalks. She reported finding corn worms, but this time I was spared interacting with them in person.

Tonight for dinner Libby and I had a beautiful meal of Star Anise Tempeh (from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers), pillowy white sushi rice, a huge green salad (using some of a previous week’s lettuce and radishes and carrots, plus some leftover Nicoise green beans), the Indian Yogurt I’m obsessed with which is a variation of a 5 Spices, 50 Dishes recipe, and our yummy, yummy corn, cooked up with turmeric, mustard seed, dried serrano chiles, parsley, and hint of sugar in a delicious preparation from 5S, 50D.