Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pretzel Time!

Pretzels are one of my favorite things about the world. As a teen, my friends and I would get them at the mall, guilt-free, before calories were a thing. There is nothing quite like them. Do these pretzels really need an introduction? Let's just say, if someone tells you they don't like soft pretzels, don't trust that person.

For many, soft pretzels seem like too much work to tackle on their own. On a weeknight. But for me, I began making these at 8:30pm on a Tuesday, and I still have enough Tuesday left to blog about them. You can too! I'll show you:

Make your dough! The dough is basically a pizza dough, but with more yeast. That yeasty flavor is essential to an authentic American-mall pretzel. Normally I mix the yeast and the sugar together, then add the hot water, and then hover over the bowl, standing and watching until the yeast starts exploding. I call them yeast fireworks. It's really fun to watch. Does anyone else do this?? This time, I let the yeast bloom while I ate dinner, which took as long as an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia takes to watch. When I came back to check on it, it had tripled in size. After I kneaded it all together, I must say, this was the finest dough I ever made. You know when you're dough just feels right? Not too sticky, not too dry, and you barely have to push when you knead? Model dough. This dough has 4 cups of flour, 1/3 cup sugar, some salt, with the yeasty mixture.
Let it rise in a bowl with a little olive oil for 1 hour.

This recipe makes 12 6-inch pretzels. For gigantic hockey game-style pretzels, just cut the dough into 6 pieces instead of 12. To make a pretzel, roll a ball of the dough into a long rope, about 20 inches long. 

 Bring your hands to the ends, and make a heart shape. Now, twist the ends around each other two times. Press the ends to the edge of the pretzel to stick. Repeat! 

Maybe before you start rolling your balls of dough out, make your baking soda bath. This bath is essential for pretzel-making. One time I accidentally skipped the dunking process for my last 4 pretzels and they came out like pretzel-shaped breadsticks. They were good, but they were NOT pretzels. The bath is just a quart of water boiled with a handful of baking soda dissolved into it.

Carefully pick up each pretzel and dunk it in the baking soda bath. Let it soak in the bath for 10 seconds or so, and remove it with a slotted spoon.

The pretzels are all activated now with their rich, shiny coating. They look a little bubbly, but that's okay, it's the baking soda. Try not to drip too much of the water onto the baking sheet, because it makes the pretzels hard to get off the sheet after they are baked. I may or may not have done that tonight...

Sprinkle with salt! Any salt will do-- be it fleur de sel or table salt. I accidentally bought this huge bottle of coarse grain sea salt instead of fine ground one time, so I figured this would be the perfect occasion to make use of it. Plus, I'm way to punk for fleur de sel...

I guess you want about 1/4 teaspoon salt per pretzel? You decide. I've had pretzels that were too salty before and never has a greater travesty occurred. The pretzel, so perfect and doughy, became inedible. What a waste of a pretzel (and salt)! So take it easy, you can always add more.

Bake them at 400ºF for NINE minutes. Ten is too long, eight is too short. Let them cool for 5 minutes, then move them to a wire cooling rack. They will be beautiful and look something like this:

Behold, the first miracle you performed since dinner.

And you're done! Pretzels are before you! You can have at them straight up, or you can dip them in an assortment of things. I am a mustard person, but I've been known to dip them in almond butter, chocolate, pasta sauce, hummus, barbecue sauce, vegenaise...

Sweet mustard or Spicy mustard? Can't decide? Make it both! Try this 3 ingredient Sweet & Spicy mustard sauce that is comprised of ingredients any normal vegan will have in their house: 1 cup yellow mustard / 2 tablespoons sriracha / 2 tablespoons agave nectar
Put them in a vitamix and then eat it. If you don't have a vitamix, perhaps you have a whisk? No? A Fork? A fork will work too.

Enjoy everybody!!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tomato & Garlic Pie

Happy Vegan Mofo everyone! I am late to the party after a very lengthy holiday weekend complete with very lengthy travel. But I made it, a little late, but I'm here, and I've got a suitcase full of tomatoes. Let me explain.

I have this little old Italian customer who comes in pretty regularly, and he always brings us something from his garden. He talks for a while about what he's growing and what's coming up next week, and I listen even though I have no idea what he's saying. I get bits and pieces, like ".....Arugula, Radicchio..." but his Italian accent is too cute to understand. Any way, check out this tomato he brought us! It's about 2 pounds and looks like a pumpkin.


I'm not sure what kind of tree or plant could support this heavy tomato ... 

I really am disappointed with the produce I bring home from my local market. I often can't get tomatoes that aren't pink or already rotten-looking. But luckily, I was able to score a ton of tomatoes from my customer and made a fresh tomato sauce with them. I used some of my second round of tomatoes to make this tomato & garlic pie! Observe.

It's more like a deep-dish pizza, or a savory pie than a pizza, but it is reminiscent of a tomato pie I recently got in Philly, where the tomatoes and garlic just sang. There was pretty much nothing else on the pizza, save for some crushed chili flakes. So that pizza was my inspiration behind this pie.

I'd been wanting to try making pizza in my cast-iron pan, and thought maybe this would be a good first pizza to test it out with. It definitely turned out to be a fork and knife affair, but I'd do it all over again for that breadstick crust. It was as simple as pizza's get but very satisfyingly uncluttered. We've all had pizza with just too many toppings, and this is sort of the antithesis of a combination pizza that we all had growing up. 

Mainly, it was a tribute to summer and its tomatoes. I wanted to do something with these tomatoes that I knew I simply couldn't do with canned or even the ones I occasionally grab from my neighborhood's bodega-like supermarket. They only come but once a year, after all. It's a basic pizza dough, but I like to double the recipe for one dough so that I can get that breadstick-like quality to the crust. The recipe is almost too simple to share, but in the spirit of vegan mofo, I'll write it out right quick. 
Until tomorrow,
KZ Out <3

2 balls of pizza dough, or your favorite pizza dough recipe doubled.

about 15 fresh average-sized tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup basil, chopped
7-8 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cornmeal or semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1-2 teaspoons chili flakes, depending on your heat threshold

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the chopped tomatoes. 
Stir on medium high for about 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes have broken down a bit, and the sauce is less chunky. 
Add the salt, pepper, and chili flakes and turn off the heat. Set aside while you roll the dough out.
Preheat the oven to 500ºF. 
Dust the bottom of the pan with the cornmeal so that it's evenly distributed on the surface of the pan.
Roll the dough out so that it's about 2 inches wider than the pan. I have a 12" skillet, so I rolled the dough into a 14" circle.
Carefully place the dough onto the prepared pan, and allow the edges to overhang. Don't move the dough around too much at this point, because the cornmeal is a barrier between the dough and the pan, and helps it not to stick.
Now, carefully fold the overhanging edges over and press against the side of the pan so that they stay in place. Now, using the back of a butterknife, seal the overhanging crust by pressing lines around the pan. (See picture!)
Now add your fresh tomato sauce into the center of the pie. Sprinkle the garlic around the top, adding extra chili flakes is desired. 
Bake at 500ºF for about 15 minutes or until crust is nicely browned.
Let cool about 10 minutes, then sprinkle with the chopped basil. 
Slice and serve!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vegan Stuff In Florida!

People always say that Florida is a terrible vegan state. They might be right about that... but in my experience, Florida is where I eat the best food that I will eat all year.
My fiancé's dad lives on the Southern Gulf Coast, has a beautiful house, a boat on the water, and a serious knack for cooking Italian food. He's one of those great members of your family that will literally eat anything-- never questions what you put in front of him, just eats it and enjoys it. You've got to love omnivores that are close to you, especially the ones that don't criticize your diet, lifestyle, or cooking! In fact, they love your cooking, and that's exactly how he is. 

On this year's annual trip down to visit my fiancé's dad, he cooked us some amazing dinners-- beginning with a giant batch of fresh homemade tomato sauce. I helped, so I was allowed to know the secret to his success. Hint: it includes more heads of garlic than the Lernaean Hydra.

We did have pasta almost every night. But each night we mixed it up with an assortment of veggies, so I didn't feel too bad about eating all the pasta my heart desired-- though, when do I ever?

On the third or fourth night, I cooked! I made mashed potatoes in lieu of pasta (just once), and sautéed some mushrooms in marsala wine and served them over the potatoes. Alongside, I roasted some butternut squash and Alex's dad made his famous greens and beans-- the best thing on Earth.

I began each morning with some avocado toast with Alex's sister Mia, a fellow vegan. It was magical.

Sometimes with coffee, sometimes with OJ...

Sometimes on sourdough, sometimes on a bagel...

 One night we went out for Mexican food and got several margaritas. They are a once-in-a-while thing, but damn, frozen margaritas sure are one of the best pleasures in life. These are both for me, of course, followed by at least two more...

This is Brodie! We were babysitting for him while his mom was away. Brodie is a Husky-Border Collie mix and he is 14 years old, though has the spirit of a puppy. He is the sweetest, most friendly dog I have ever met. We had all met Brodie many times before this and this year he definitely seemed a bit older, a bit slower, a bit more tired... He still loves eating underwear just as much, though... It's sad to see Brodie get older and have a harder time enjoying his life, but he was easier to cuddle this time and he barked and jumped up a lot less. Poor Brodie... We love him and hope he enjoys the rest of his days. 

The last day of our visit I made some soft pretzels, a Florida tradition we started a couple years ago. I made twelve. They were gone in one hour. I love soft pretzels and so does everyone else apparently.

We also took the opportunity on our last day to go nuts and make tons of amazing food. My contribution was grilling and marinating veggies! I also managed to knock my glass of wine off the side of the grill and shatter it on the pavement. So I contributed that too. The squash has some dried tarragon, oregano, and thyme with salt and pepper, the portobellos are all different: one is teriyaki, one is marsala, one is balsamic and the other is olive oil with salt and pepper. I sliced and grilled some onions too.. you know, for thrills.

So here's the thing... We also made a whole other dinner too....

And ate both of them... 

And so we each had two plates in front of us that looked like this...

This is a beautiful view at dusk from the back door to his house. It's really such a beautiful place. We were definitely spoiled there. I look forward to going every single year, for the food, the fun, the drinks, the dog, the view, and especially for the nice time I spend with family. The best vacation I could ever ask for!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vedge Restaurant

You guys I finally went to Vedge! I had been wanting to go here for so long, especially after seeing their chef Rich Landau compete (and win!) on Chopped. I also saw his feature in VegNews, and knew I had to try this restaurant. After our first foray into fine dining the previous weekend at Charlie Was A Sinner, I felt we were primed and ready for a Vedge experience. The experience was more than just dinner. In fact, it's best not to show up to this place famished, lest you will go broke. We had eaten a light dinner about 3 hours before our reservation for that reason exactly. Though it was pricey, it was an amazing experience way beyond what we would call "a great dinner." Let me explain:

Since we had our Sunday (or Saturday) best on, I figured I would kick things off with an original house cocktail. This was El Diablo De La Mora, made with tequila, lime, housemade ginger beer and blackberries. I was pleasantly surprised at how big it was. I paid the same for a cocktail at Charlie and got a teeny tiny little sipper. So I was really happy with that decision.

The waitress recommended we get 3-4 plates per person, and we, as usual, ignored her advice and ordered 4 plates to share. I tried to choose strategically to accommodate Alex's picky tastes, and get something I knew he would enjoy. But I would have been pleased with anything on the menu, I'm sure. The first course we chose was the Heirloom tomatoes, with whipped basil on toast. It was super balanced and had a type of cashew-basil cheese spread. It also came with some oil cured olives which made the flavors and salt really pop. After each bite I got a nice salt taste left lingering behind, balancing out the sweet tomatoes and fruity olive oil. I dug it.

For the entrees, we chose the Grilled Seitan and Spicy Grilled Tofu. Both of these dishes were unlike any tofu or seitan I have ever tasted before. The tofu was so tender and flavorful. It had a gochujang bbq-style sauce that I loved, and a yuba crackling. It also had a miso sauce and a little salsa, so there was a great balance of flavors and textures in this one. No one would ever have a bad thing to say about tofu if they were served tofu like this. 

The seitan reminded me of tender grilled chicken, but much much better than I ever remember chicken being, seeing as how I never liked it as a child. It was flavored with Za'atar spices (my fave) and came with a small pile of super tender swiss chard. I loved this dish so much. It had a frothy tahini sauce with some pickled turnips, really tying in the mediterranean flavor theme. These are dishes I'm sure my meat-and-potato-loving dad would totally enjoy.

We felt full enough after the first 3 courses that we decided we'd better skip a 4th course and head right to dessert. It took us longer to make up our mind over which dessert we wanted than any of the savory courses. It was between the yuzu cornbread and the chocolate uber chunk. Chocolate ultimately called our names and won us over. It was served in a pretty interesting way, with a tiny parfait jar, then stout ice cream, and then a fudge-topped cookie. I immediately thought of my dad again when I ate the stout ice cream. It was such a pronounced stout flavor! A lot of stout ice creams have like a thimble-full of stout in the whole batch of ice cream, and you can barely taste anything but sugar. But this stout was so assertive and undoubtably stout ice cream!

The fudgey cookie was good too, tasting kind of like the crust to a chocolate tart or pie. I guess you were supposed to take a bite of the parfait, then the ice cream then the cookie, so that you get the creamy, the cold, then the crunchy texture pattern. I think they would be good any way you decided to eat them.

The parfait was out-of-control good. It had all the notes of creamy, salty, sweet and crunchy. Nothing could make it better.

I definitely think Rich Landau is a vegan magician and Kate Jacoby is a mystical vegan fairy creature. This was the best meal at a restaurant we have had to date. Was it expensive? Yeah. It was pricey. But I'm not going to eat here every day. I've got a vegan diner in my neighborhood for that (whaddup Champs?!). This is for special occasions, and for a very different kind of experience. You don't come to a place like this to stuff your face. I thought critically about each bite and wanted to learn something from it. They are building something much more than dinner at this place when they make your plates. It's a real work of art-- carefully composed, painstakingly balanced and perfectly executed art. I can definitely appreciate that, even if you pay a little more. People are saying that Vedge is one of the best restaurants in the US, not just one of the best vegan restaurants. I, no doubt, agree. Vedge made me think about food, vegetables, and the art of cooking in a completely new light. Hopefully I reference all I have learned from eating here while I make my own dishes at home, and put a shred of what they put into each of their dishes into my own. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Dramatic Summer Reading and Philadelphia

As I've told you all before, I was once a young and stubborn teen who refused to wear shoes in the winter, would only wear clothes that were either ripped or covered in paint, rebelled against anything I saw unfit, punched boys who said girls couldn't be punk, longed for the summer, swore I would move to California the second I could and never come back... 
I still have stubborn roots, but feel like I've done a 180º as far as longing the summertime, and California? Well, that ship has sailed. I choose my battles a little more meticulously nowadays, try not to punch any boys-- even misled ones. Let's be real, everyone knows girls can be punk. But punk is a mindset, not an article of clothing or a haircut. I think I've come to terms with that in my old(er) age. The most glaring difference I see about myself now in comparison to myself at 16, or even 21, is that I almost dread the summer now. It's hot. I have to work. I have to walk in the heat. I don't get to go to the beach, or spend my nights hanging out on the front porch too late, or swim in my friends' pools, or sleep until noon. I think after college, the difference between summer and winter vanished. It no longer signifies a break in the calendar or a time for vacation. I hide my once-beautifully-tanned skin in hoodies and zip them to hide my palest face since childhood. I haven't gotten over it, but it's the way I am-- and those who fight nature often lose. Tonight I found myself enjoying summer for the first time through its food:

Deviled Kale Salad from Salad Samurai accompanied some basic BBQ tofu and a macaroni salad, an old favorite of mine. Maybe this will be the summer food my children will one day grow up and crave, and think of summer while they eat it.
Besides dramatically notating my feelings on myself vs the summer season, I have also recently visited Philadelphia! Alex is staying there for several weeks this summer for work, so I spent a brief 36 or so hours this weekend visiting. He gave me an epic vegan food tour, and this was only part one, since I'll be back there again before he leaves. He took me to brunch at Mi Lah, and got setian and waffles. Now these are some serious waffles. They have a nice cinnamony flavor that was super shiny when paired with maple syrup. I liked that it came with a pile of bok choy. I'll always eat a pile of bok choy over a pile of fried seitan-- but that's just me.

I got the Masa Corn Cakes. I became instantly pleased when the plate was put in front of me based on the amount of avocado that was on my plate. They understand that my satisfaction with their restaurant is measured mainly in how much avocado they are willing to put on my plate. The corn cakes were gold, too.

I really miss Yards, you guys. I think the Philly/NYC rivalry is too strong for NYC to carry it. I haven't had it in over a year. I made up for it this weekend... I prefer not to recount how many I had. But coming down to the river and sitting in a picnic chair with some Yards is exactly what I came to Philly to do. Mission accomplished, my friends.

While we were there, I spotted this little guy (girl?) down at our feet. I made my friends move out of the way so I could capture this photo. He was pretty. It's probably a girl, but..

I also spotted this tag on a heavily-tagged portion of concrete on a bridge. Go Veg!

For dinner, we went to Charlie Was A Sinner, a fancy restaurant I hadn't heard of before. Upon our arrival, I realized how fancy it was, and that I'd never actually been to a fancy restaurant before. They had tapas plates, which are basically little plates that cost the same as big plates. They recommend 2-4 plates per person, but for an average money-spender, the budget is more like 4 total. They specialized in cocktails, so I figured I should probably get one. I got the "Hasty Tasty" which was marquis de la tour, moscato grappa, monbazillac, and frozen grapes. I don't know what any of those things are, I was just reading them off their website. It was pretty good but very small. I don't know what I was expecting, but I'm a beer girl at heart.

Our first course (shared small pate) was chilled melon gazpacho. It was brought out with the melon balls and avocado slices in the bowl, then the waitress brought the chilled soup out in a small carafe and poured it over the top. It was very fancy, despite my pictures of it. It was super balanced, with really nice peppery notes, and lightness from the melon and lemon. There were also very tiny fennel croutons that added a tiny crunch. Plus avocado. This was probably my favorite of the four.

We got the chickpea fries that were served with a lemon aioli. These were voted least favorite of the four unanimously. They just weren't crisp enough, which didn't give them a clean enough bite. They felt heavy and chewy, and there just was simply not enough of the lemon aioli to balance the heavy fried part, which is a shame because I think a bit more lemon would have helped elevate them.

 The Jenga tower arangement, however, was appreciated

The next plate was the Tofu & Bean Sausage with parsnip puree and caramelized onion. Some kind of onion gravy with whole grain mustard. This was really good. It tasted like a real meat-and-potatoes kind of dish, ergo, it was Alex's favorite. I think all the flavors were balanced perfectly, and reminded me of a Thanksgiving dinner.

We got the Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sorbet for dessert. It was really good, moist cake. The sorbet was good and not icy, as sorbet often can be. Underneath there were some macerated strawberries, which were great with the brownie-like cake. It seemed like they abandoned their attempt to fancify this dish, and just went for serious chocolatey goodness. It was awesome.

Sunday morning we went to P.S.&Co. for breakfast. It was a nice space, with good lighting. They did mostly raw stuff, which is great for breakfast. 

Nice Ambiance

Iced coffee has been saving my life this summer. I usually don't even listen when they tell me how much it costs, because it's too hot for me to care, and because it's too expensive to want to listen! What gives? They had iced coffee, and house-made Brazil Nut Milk to pour into it. I am usually a black-coffee kind of girl, but when will I ever get to have fresh brazil nut milk ever again? Probably never. So I turned my coffee this color with it.

They had a bunch of fresh coconut yogurts with different toppings, and I couldn't decide which one to pick, so I had the girl behind the counter choose for me, and she chose blueberries :). 

It was unlike any yogurt I've ever had. It was so fresh tasting, like someone really broke out and messed with one of those coconut jackhammer godforsaken kitchen gadgets that spews sticky coconut water all over yourself and your kitchen. Someone did that for me. And the freshness was amazing. It had a nice light finish, I think maybe some lemon was in there too. YUM.

I picked up this Tofu Quinoa Quiche, which looked cute and adorable and I love quinoa for breakfast these days, so I rolled with it.

It was dark quinoa on the bottom, then a layer of tofu-broccoli quiche, then a puree of butternut squash on top. It was really a perfect breakfast. It was small, but very filling. I left feeling like I had the most vegan breakfast of all time. Also, the most delicious while being healthy breakfast of all time.

Philly is really cool, you guys. If New York City and Philadelphia were two real vegan girls in their mid twenties, they would be best friends and bring overnight bags and have weekend getaways in each others' cities. NYC would have bleach blonde hair and band T-shirts with tattoos and wear her headphones all the time, and Philly would look a little more Classic-college girl with a Brown side-braid and pierced ears with studs, but also have a messenger bag with Compassion Co. pins along the strap, and have a bottle of kombucha in her left hand while she texted with her right. These girls would be different, but have much to learn from each other, and also much to share with each other. And now I've personified two vegan cities and made them best friends. World peace has been achieved. The Antichrist has just been revealed.