Thursday, December 4, 2014

Be Still, My Beeting Heart

Ah, nothing beets beet puns. Not beeting a (dead) horse (or any of that matter--I like my animals!) I could go on for days, but I won't...since I actually want to keep you here, dear reader.

Musical treats before we begin can be found here.

Before I go on, I want to speak on the Spartan conditions you see pictured in most of my posts. Yes, T2 and I often dine on a filing cabinet while sitting in camping chairs. Notice, however, the lovely tablecloth I now have on top of the filing cabinet. Spartan chique! Tres chic!
Oh, and if you are wondering who T2 is, that is the benefactor of my lovely company and foodifyings. You all should also find a volunteer to try out all of your cooking/company, too. I assure you--no one turns down free food and it will also encourage you to rise to greater culinary heights, without turning you into one of those annoying people who can't stop talking about their "love."

Speaking of "my love," begin by listening to Sharon Van Etten's "Our Love."

My heart beets with a sanguine fervor for one thing--beets. Since beets are also really healthy for your blood, you can better appreciate my cunning word play.

Beetsacado Crostinis

1. Take one avocado and mash it up. Add salt and pepper and enough lemon juice to taste (this also prevents the avocado from oxidizing. Mmm, sexy chemistry.)

2. Roast some baby beets or regular beets in the oven. I wrap each one in tin foil and bake at 425 for about 15 mins. Peeling is a cinch after.

3. Assemble crostinis by doing a layer of avocado and a layer of diced beets on a slice of toasted bread.

4. Crucial step invented by me: find pomegranate molasses to drizzle beets with. Trust me. I will be buried in fan mail for this step alone (I wish). Chiffonade some basil and even more crucial, *smoked salt* on top of all this.

Speaking of smoking, ever since I found out my friend Clare and her hubby have a smoker, I have forced them to adopt me so I can make everything smoked. Below you see me smoking some Greek olive oil infused with rosemary. The fumes clearly make me giddy!

I served the beetsacado crostini with some black-eyed pea hummus with smoked Spanish paprika. Recipe for that one is forthcoming, but considering I totally invented the recipeoff the top of my head, you might as well do the same :) But I promise a recipe, fret not.

Moving on to more beets. If you read my blog a lot, you know of my obsession with all things Tunisian. So below, I present to you the so-called Tunisian pink salad, which is a riff on this. The way you will know you did that one right is...if you flushed beet purple with sheer delight, you did it right! No. But the way I was taught to gauge how ready it is if it is "glistening."

Tunisian "Pink Salad"

Boil: beets, potatoes, and carrots. Mash all of them together. Non-vegan option: hard boil two eggs and mash those in there, too. Next, add some vegan mayo (which tastes better than regular, I promise) and some harissa. Mix all of these. Add some really good olive oil; chop some cilantro finely and add it. Enjoy with a nice crusty loaf of bread and olives. Mmmmmediterranean deliciousness!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gluten-Free, Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins and S-Pear-Tacular Kombucha

Thank you, polar vortex, for bringing some winter weather our way. As an Eastern European-for-life, winter time is easily one of my favorite seasons. But who can't use a little sunshine even in the dead of cold :)!? Begin by listening to this suave summer jam:

Now, let us discuss baking. If you have read any of my previous entries, you know my general disdain for pedantic stuff like measuring, along with my other truisms like "studying is for fools." Yeah, marinate on that one for a bit :) I do my cooking organically and that schmecipes. But that also means that people always come at me with "I bet you can't bake though."
I do beg to differ, my friends--turns out my inventions are not limited to the world of savory treats alone. But before we start talking about baking, let me take a moment to take a pro stance on probiotics (ha, I could go with these puns all day long...crickets). I want to talk about kombucha. You see, I have been brewing kombucha for years now. I have a veritable kombucha colony--it is called Tonebucha because it is so good, it makes you sing :). I have been crowned the kombucha queen of Arlington (at least in my own head). I love my kombucha SCOBY babies so much, I have even named them--allow me to introduce you to Amir, Samir, and Zubair! Yes, they look like sheikhs so this is how they earned their monikers.

And speaking of monikers, imagine my utter delight at winning a kombucha naming contest! Barefoot Bucha had a contest to name their latest flavor--I drank it and within less than 10 seconds came up with S-Pear-Tacular :) So from now on, when you buy your kombucha on tap at Whole Foods, you can smile knowing you "know" the person who named it!

Here you see me enjoying the fruits of my labors. Look at that golden delicious hue! Luminous. I do believe I am in love!

Now, time to make some delicious golden muffins to defy the cold clutches of winter!

Toni's Gluten-Free, Poppy Seed Lemon Muffins

2 cups sorghum flour
1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar (ground up in a coffee grinder till it is fine)
1 T baking powder
2 T poppy seeds
1/2 t salt
3/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
rind and juice of an entire lemon
1/4-1/2 cup melted coconut oil
2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1t cardamom

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Place in oven and bake for 23-27 min or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mulukhiya--One Green You Definitely Will Not Find in Whole Foods

Let's start this post in our typically seditious fashion by watching this video of a Cote D'Ivoire cacao farmer who has never tasted chocolate though he has spent his life growing cacao beans. Two takeaways for me: one, profound sadness over the fact that due to colonization and oppression, many (most?) people all over the world will never get a chance to benefit from the fruits of their labor. Much akin to the construction workers in Mumbai who literally live in the construction sites of luxury buildings they will never set foot in again, too many people are ground up in the machine of consumption. On the other hand, this also brought a smile to my face if only in the sense of that despite the hardship, they were still able to smile and enjoy this, albeit small, sensory experience and smile about it.

Food for thought, literally.

Since this entire post is North African in theme, let's continue by listening to this:
And this:
Let's talk mulukhiyah. Mulukhiya is the Corchorus plant, or jute, whose leaves are used in North African cooking. A bitter plant, it grows rather mucilaginous when cooked. If you had to look that word up, bone up on your GRE vocab, boys and girls :) While on, look up masticate, macerate, and mucus. Good :) Basically, the plant becomes slimy, like okra, when cooked--you will even see slime trails when you stir it with your spoon. Appetizing, I know. But you don't care about that! Why!? Because it is incredibly good for you! Health over everything--the leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamin and minerals! Heck, you feel healthy just looking at it. Stop whining and eat your greens!

As my friend Erin says, the Tunisian mulukhiya is "the best-tasting motor-oil-looking food I have ever had."

Now, usually, mulukhiya is prepared with a lot of meat, oil, or generally non-vegan-friendly ingredients. I took it upon myself to fix that.

Toni's Kidney Beans and Mulukhiya

Go to your local Middle Eastern store. Stop grumbling--just do it. If you keep shopping at grocery chains, you will never learn how to cook. There, I said. Gauntlet is thrown down; what! :)

The mulukhiya is sold frozen and for a whopping bank-breaker of $2. Gasp!

The way I came up with this version is from constantly making rajma. The process in this case actually matters a lot. I use a pressure cooker. You should really consider investing in one--saves a lot of time.

Soak kidney beans overnight, changing the water a couple of times. On the next day, in a pressure cooker, put both the kidney beans and the solid frozen rock of the mulukhiya inside with some water. Cook for maybe 5-10 minutes. In another pan, start caramelizing/browning very thinly-sliced ribbons of onions. Add some garlic after they have caramelized. Add cumin and coriander powders. Also, see if you can find some Aleppo pepper or what Whole Foods calls the "tagine spice blend." Another crucial ingredient--dried small lemons, often used in Persian cooking. If you cannot find those, use some lime--rind and juice. Some salt.

Once the kidney-mulukhiyah mix is ready, add the onions, etc. to it and cook all of this on a low temperature for a good while. This will definitely get rid of any sliminess, I promise.

Next, time to make some bulgur! You see, there is bulgur, and then there is bulgur...and well, then there is also Bulgar, like me, and vulgar too :) The bulgur in question is a Turkish bulgur. It is definitely not the kind used to make tabbouleh salad--the grains are significantly bigger and fatter. Now that you are at the Middle Eastern store, go ahead and get that too (see how I did that. Heh). It, too, is a whopping $2.69.

The Bulgur-aian

Saute shallots in olive oil. Add turmeric and fresh thyme. Add the bulgur and let the grains brown a little bit. At this point, you could put in some mushrooms or some red pepper paste or ajvar or roasted garlic or truffle powder (if you fancy) or really experiment with anything extra. Add water enough to cover the bulgur by at least two fingers of depth (very scientific measure, I know). Put on a really low heat and cover with a lid. It will be done when all the water has been absorbed.
All I can say about this is that even the pickiest eaters (and there are many) love this--I am talking skateboarders, graffiti artists, both... :) So, bulgur--for the Banskies in your life. :))

Finally, end with a sorghum-date cake. You would probably say, "Toni, this does not look appetizing!" My retort would be, "Umm, what do you expect for a gluten-free, vegan, low-fat and low-sugar dessert!" But in all seriousness, for being ridiculously healthy, this is not half-bad. I "invented" it because I love sorghum!

2 cups sorghum flour
5-6 dates (chopped)
a splash of orange blossom water
1-2 tsp. cardamom
the rind and the juice of one Meyer lemon (sweet lemon)
about 1/2C almond milk (unsweetened)

If the mix is a little too dense, add a little water. Bake at 375 until the top is set.

On the side, have some home-made bread with zaatar. Will tell you about how I always make my bread from scratch next time :)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pan Con Tomate and Bulgarian Banitsa

Greetings, folks. Let's begin with a message we can all get behind:
And as proof that I like my subversive activities thoroughly riotous, here is a shot of my large arsenal of fireworks for the 4th of July:
Before we move on to the regularly-scheduled culinary delights, check out my latest article where I up to my usual Martha Stewart meets Marla Singer cultural pokings :)
And since we are talking about hipsters, natch, let me tie this in to talking about tapas. The latest "in" thing amongst the prison-tattooed masses are the small bites that have long moved past their originally Spanish roots to essentially mean exorbitantly-priced appetizers. I say we replace tapas with the new item du jour--dim sum is, at least, significantly more substantial and forgiving on your wallet.

Pan Con Tomate, usually priced at $7 a plate, is ridiculously easy to make at home. All you need is good bread, garlic, and a good tomato.
Slice bread; toast it in the oven. When you take it out, rub a garlic clove all over it (trust me when I say I could live on this and this alone. Bread and garlic. The life for an Eastern European). In a little bowl, take a nicely-ripened beefsteak tomato and grate it. There should be no skins--only pulp and seeds. Of course, if you are a real food snob, you could always make tomato concasse, but...whatever, Martha! Add salt and pepper. Assemble the pan con tomate by just spreading the tomato mixture on the bread. Maybe drizzle with good olive oil (that's like the "good" living room--for guests only!) Yes, that simple! "Trust the T :)," as my friend Frank would say.
And in segueing over to my Bulgarian recipe, allow me to share some photos of Bulgarian tomatoes I had the pleasure of eating. Al fresco national pride indeed :)

To further get you into a Bulgarian state of mind, watch this absolutely delightful trailer:

Then proceed with the Bulgarian Justin Timberlake to get amped for your cooking exploits:

Now you are ready to make some banitsa! Opa!

There is no Bulgarian dish that is loved more than the banitsa (well, maybe the shopska salata is a close second). All of our Slav neighbors have some version of it; the Greeks have spanakopita and the Turks have burek.

So--on to Toni's Vegan Banitsa. My poor Grandma is probably rolling in her grave reading this very thing, but I invented a vegan banitsa, sans feta cheese, butters, milk, or eggs. Crazy, you say. Indeed!

1. Chop some green onions (the poor man's leeks, as I like to call them). Toast some walnuts in a pan and chop them. Super crucial step--add zaatar! Zaatar is a spice blend quite akin to a Bulgarian table salt blend called chubrica. This basically makes the dish. Add good olive oil and make the oleo.

2. Take phyllo dough sheets and take about two sheets; maybe drizzle a bit with olive oil and start to do layers. The top layer should be phyllo with olive oil on it.
3. This is super crucial--make criss-cross knife cuts into the whole thing so the slices are in place. Bake the whole thing at 350 until it starts to get a tad bit brown on top; no more than 5-10 minutes. Then take a bottle of sparkling water and pour it over the whole banitsa, making sure it gets through the cracks. You will likely use about 1/2 to 3/4 of the bottle. Throw it back in the oven and bake until the whole thing is set--maybe 15-20 mins. max.

I hope you try it :)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Great Vegan-or-Egg Debate / Eggstravaganza

Brace yourselves for a gasp-worthy revelation--I am not fully vegan. I eat eggs...not that often, but I do eat eggs. Before you scream fowl (puns!), know that I will accept the moniker of egg-eater.

But let me first tell you a little story. I grew up in the lovely little town of Perushtitsa, in Bulgaria. My grandparents, like all other "village peeps," were leading a sustainable lifestyle long before it was in. We had sheeps, goats, chickens, and turkeys...sometimes even rabbits. We had cherry, apricot, and apple trees. We always ate well, thanks to the fruits of our labors. Ever since I was little, I had an especially soft spot for birds and chickens in particular. I remember peeking in their chicken lodge (too fancy to be called a coop :) at night, around 8PM or so, and marveling at them sleeping on their perches. I always wondered how they managed to not fall off. To this day, I still smile inside when I hear "going to bed with the chickens" because I saw it first hand! They looked so peaceful. I also love sparrows. We owe them a lot--they suffer through winter so they can remind us how beautiful birds are. Holy, even. I can't draw to save my life, yet the first time I sat down to try and paint, I painted these two. I guess they had been quietly chirping in my heart, waiting to come out.

All this to say that I love chickens to no end. You might ask then how I reconcile that with eating eggs once in a while...well, despite objections that there is no such thing as an "ethical egg," I am not sure I would agree. Our chickens seemed pretty happy. I like to think that by buying free-range farm eggs, I am on the same tip. But I know I can't call myself "vegan," except that it is a lot easier to just tell people you are practically vegan rather than go into the nuances of your eating habits. Arguably.

So join me on this little leap of faith/flight of fancy for a moment--set aside your cheating-vegan-bashing and read on.
This post is about my fairy godmother; my ITALIAN fairy godmother. Pro tip: when choosing honorary godmothers, choose well. And if you insist she is your fairy godmother long enough, she will eventually relent. My fairy godmother Mary is a culinary queen of unparalleled skill. She also loves Shakespeare. And used to wind-surf. And make chocolates. And visit Japan. And Bulgaria. World, lucky for you (since I am lucky to call her my godmother), I will share much of her savory savant-ness in this blog.

You will benefit from my self-inviting myself (nothing new for us Bulgarians) "na gosti"--i.e. cooking lessons :)

Pro tip: presentation, presentation, presentation. Thankfully, I have excellent knife skills, if I do say so myself--humble, aren't I?

Take a look at what a little cutting on the bias can do; dainty and lady-like, no? Will take your vegetables from blah to va-va-voom. The carrots are cooked with fennel--because same family vegetable go well together. We also made a celeriac root and nectarine salad (with white balsamic vinegar)--so simple. Just boil the cubed celeriac and assemble.

Moving on to cookings. The key to the most beautiful scrambled eggs is...drum roll...slow, lowish heat and ridiculously fresh eggs with beautiful *orange* yolks. They look like smiling suns to me, in my heliocentric Toni way :)
You don't need cream or milk or water to create fabulous scrambled eggs. Just don't overcook; take your time.

I have been consistently and insistently obsessed with these next ones--Jose Andres-style scrambled eggs. First step is to caramelize onions (if you don't know what that is or think it involves sugar, get off my blog now! Just kidding.). The key is to have equal parts onions and eggs. Crucial. Don't overcook, again.
And for the grand finale, lemon chess pie. I love lemons and I love chess--I have managed to beat my 13 y.o. Bobby Fisher chess prodigy of a brother three times now (the little rapscallion has beaten me more times than I can count). Whoo hoo. At any rate, I will one of these days figure out how to make this pie sans eggs and present you with the recipe, hand-written by me no less. The pie crust on this one is darn nigh divine.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hail Seitan!

Let's start this post in an appropriately Behemoth way:

A couple of months back, I had the idea of starting a black metal yoga monthly event I fondly titled DOOMASANA. With a tongue firmly planted in my cheek (and if you read this blog and know how much cooking I do, you can see why freeing it from chewing duty was a nigh impossible feat), I lovingly dubbed it "yoga to the soothing sounds of Behemoth." And of course, the requisite taglines followed (because I love puns) about "heads will yoga poses," and "exorcizing your inner demons." And etc. and viscera and so on. Well, to my great delight, the event was quite a success which, of course, I measure by how much fun we had. And since it was pleasing to the (Dark) Lord, I decided to do DOOMASANA, The Second Coming. But back to talking about Behemoth and black metal in general. I can comfortably say that my iPod shuffle will often play Slick Rick and Slayer back-to-back. I love drum'n'bass, edm, hip hop, and black metal, but I really, really love Behemoth! You see, Behemoth and some other bands in the scene are a theology/literature/psychology major's wet dream (I am guilty of all of the afore-mentioned). "Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel," is but a snippet of the veritable treasure trove that is the Behemoth opus. Everything is upended and inverted (and subverted)--a Christian mass becomes the vehicle for a very painful "cleansing," complete with vomiting blood, viscera, and being be-thorned--ha! I slay (er) myself! In the end, the girl becomes Gabriel, in a sense. She can blow her trumpets to signal a message not of judgement but of liberation. A new dawn. Or something like that. All this to say that maybe people should stop taking black metal so literally and start it taking it more literature-ally. As Nergal explains, "For me personally, I’ve always related to antiheroes. In most cases they were scapegoats, martyrs and negative archetypes, tools that were used in order to make other people into slaves. To me, Satan stands for everything that is dear to me. I’ve always been very fond of independence and autonomy and freethinking and freedom and intelligence." As someone who has always related to underdogs and DIY, I can certainly respect this.

So, onwards, to Seitan!

Seitan, or as it is fondly called, "wheat meat," is made out of vital wheat gluten. I have not eaten meat for so long that even meaty-looking things don't look particularly appetizing to me (striated flesh might be to blame), but seitan is a go-to for your carnivore friends to enjoy, as well as you. In fact, the above picture was taken at Thanksgiving and, no, that is clearly not my (hairy) hand :) I am a dainty lady, ruffian! And I certainly don't have hairy palms!

Friday, February 14, 2014

T-rific Tunisian Salad And Tuna Pasta

Obligatory Valentine's Day post begins with my playlist, Nobody Loves Me: a Valentine's Day Playlist for the Eternally Single. I still rather enjoy the land war in Russia analogy I used: "The 'dating scene' is much akin to a land war in Russia, in winter—it’s brutal, brutish, unwinnable, and full of casualties." At any rate, Happy Valentine's Day, remembering, "Every day the 14th!" In all seriousness, it's pretty important to keep this sentiment in mind.
I am going to devote some time in this post to talking about cheating, mostly because it is an unfortunate situation I recently had to live through, but what could I possibly say about this other than it is painfully absurd, absurd that it is so painful, and well...just plain absurd!? Sadly, not everything we live through carries lessons--sometimes it's just dumb, grinding pain that baffles as much as it smarts (punny). To quote Jay-Z (yeah, what did you expect from a pragmatic girl like me, Rumi!? :): "the worst pain is the distress; Learnin you're the mistress only after that love gets slain. And the anger and the sorrow mixed up leads to mistrust. Now it gets tough to ever love a-gain." The best analogy I can think of to describe the experience of feeling "cheated on" is like one enormous slipping-on-banana-peel moment--there is nothing in it for you to learn from, there is no, "oh, if I had done this or trusted my intuition or xyz, we would not be here now." There is no, "I wish I were hotter, smarter, cooler," etc. moment either because most of the time the person on the other side is none of those things. And worst of all, the more decorum you conduct yourself with throughout this sordidness, the less appreciation you get for acting this way, ultimately because ease of temperament is confused for lack of concern. I, for one, detest scenes and comporting myself with dignity is paramount. I don't even raise my voice. Rationality is important to me, even though I am a sensitive person. And in the end, if you try to "fix" things, your friends might label you a doormat, be thoroughly confounded by you, all the while you are still left playing a part in one Dante's infernal circle of a mental movie directed In other words, it sucks. But this is all I am going to say about this and I only brought this up because the meal below was made under somewhat happier circumstances and clearly is an aberration from my usually all-vegan posts. Nevertheless, no need to be so Debbie Downer-esque because as Jean Grae put it, "It's still a love song." Life is still a love song :) Let live and let love.

Now, let's talk about this Tunisian salad. Start by playing this song from my music column this week first. Chop up tomatoes, cucumbers, cubanelle pepper, onion, and some mint. Squeeze at least half a lemon in, add olive oil, salt & pepper and Sah!!!! I could eat this salad all day, every day.

Next, the tuna pasta I invented, and oh what a felicitous discovery it was! Cook some whole-wheat angel hair pasta separately. In another pan, cook at least 2-3 finely sliced garlic cloves in olive oil, add the key, secret ingredient: 1-2 tsps. of turmeric! Then, add a whole can of oil-packed albacore tuna (for my vegan peeps, omit this step), add some capers, cook all of this. Add a little of the pasta water, squeeze the other half of the lemon in, and add green olives. Some chili flakes, cook the sauce down a bit but not too much, combine with the cooked pasta, and finish with parsley. I promise you--you will find yourself craving this Mediterranean style meal many, many times over. Good eating :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Sorgh Winner--Gluten-Free Sorghum Blueberry Muffins

Start by listening to this song:
Dear readers, we here on the East Coast survived the great freeze by wearing our Yeti pajamas--mine have Yetis on them that say "Rawr." YOLO=Yetis Own; Lovely Ogres. Since my last entry, I also wrote an appropriately frigid-temperature-defying Crossfade Roulette.

 I also made an appropriately subversive Christmas card because Hallmark is lame and I always craft my own cards (taking custom order now so here's your chance to be cool for Valentine's Day ;). Anything less would be uncivilized! And remember--don't take any chances; always mask up when rioting! And this is also why you must watch the documentary The Square for all of your activist, black bloc needs. And now that I have us on the subject of North Africa (don't even ask how long it took me to think of this oh-so-clever segue), I want to talk about sorghum! Quinoa: so 2013. 2014, the year of sorghum, if I have anything to say about it!

As I was going on and on about this in the previous entry, I am not big on recipes. Generally, in the realm of baking, that tends to spell disaster, BUT I can honestly say I totally invented this recipe by eye-balling the consistency of the batter and tasting (added perk of vegan baking is you do not have to worry about a premature death due to salmonella--ha!). I did, however, finally make it a point to measure for you, my dear readers, so you may feel confident in trying this out. Also, whoever said you need apple sauce for vegan baking be jivin'. Ain't nobody got time for fifty million ingredients.

My Tunisian friend Lotfi turned me onto this magical grain, which is used to make something called droh or sorghum cream in Tunisia, and is about as close to ambrosia as it gets for me! I could eat this stuff on the daily--in fact, dreaming about it right now. Imagine my delight then when I found sorghum flour in my neighborhood Middle Eastern store (which also has everything else a girl could want)! It is actually made in India, who much like the smart Tunisian people, also use this super healthy grain. I noticed, however, that you can find this flour in Whole Bucks as well, or at least find the sorghum grain (made by Bob's Red Mill) and grind the flour up yourself in a handy coffee mill. This spurred me to create these incredibly delicious sorghum blueberry muffins, which I also realized are gluten-free since sorghum does not contain gluten. Mind you, I eat plenty of gluten myself--I mean I am Eastern European for Pete's sakes. We eat everything with a side of bread. Bread with a side of bread, too.
So, don't be a sore loser; be a sorghum winner (groan-inducing puns, I has them!)

Gluten-Free Sorghum Blueberry Vegan Muffins

2C sorghum flour
1/3C ground flax seeds=flax meal
2t baking powder
1C unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1/3C water
1t almond extract
2t cinnamon
1t cardamom
1/4C honey
1/4C olive oil
1 container of fresh blueberries (I am sure it would work with frozen too; I have just not tried it, but 1C of frozen is a good measure)

Mix the dry ingredients first; add the wet ones. Don't overstir. Preheat over to 375 and bake for about 20-30 mins. The sorghum has a slightly greenish tint to it--nothing to worry about. If the batter is too dense, just add a little more water.
 I welcome your comments, sorgh winners :)