Saturday, May 31, 2008

Artichoke Stems

As cookiecrumb points out, it's pretty cool that my readers so quickly ID'd this photograph as artichoke stems. Thanks to all who responded!

It seems to be all the rage right now to sell globe artichokes with a foot of their stem still on - they were everywhere! A good friend told me she'd purchased some and had been instructed to keep the stems on and cook them in the oven in a large pan of water with sliced lemons, covered with foil. The results of this were disappointing. Not only did they take hours to cook, they browned unattractively, and only tasted OK.

Having jumped on the bandwagon and purchased my own artichoke and stem, I decided to pick the brain of a local Italian chef. He instucted me to remove the stem, peel it, and boil it and warned me that the stems would take a lot longer to cook that the artichoke. I boiled my enormous artichoke in my soup pan with lemon wedges, with the sliced stem thrown into the water. The stems indeed took quite a good 30 minutes extra cooking.

The outer part of the stem is too fibrous to use, but the inner part is really quite good. Circumstances led me to keep my cooked stems in the fridge too long to really use, but my guiding chef told me the interior of the stem makes a good salad.

I'd love to hear how other's cook the stems and what they use them for. Please leave your guidance/ideas in the comments!


Friday, May 30, 2008

What Am I?

What am I?

I haven't done one of these in a while and they're always fun!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Millennium Cooking Class: Southern Comfort Foods

Southern Comfort Cooking was the focus of today's cooking class at the gourmet vegan San Francisco restaurant: Millennium. Taught by Eric Tucker, Millennium's executive chef, this was certainly the heaviest vegan menu I've ever worked on!

We did two opposing versions of Gumbo soup. The Ze Herb green version (above) was a chlorophyll fresh mix of pureed greens, fava beans, green herbs and hijiki sea vegetable. The taste was pure green goodness. The smoky tomato based version below included paprika, vegan sausage and okra, served with a wedge of lemon (the lemon made a huge difference). Both soups involved the traditional roux base of a gumbo and both were excellent.

Prepare yourself for this one: Oyster Mushroom Po Boys! Corn flour and sesame coated deep fried oyster mushrooms (if you've eaten at Millennium, you know to ALWAYS order the deep fried oyster mushrooms!), on freshly baked baguette rolls with tofu mayo/remoulade, olive and rosemary tapenade, tomato, red onion, and lettuce. I'm not big on sandwiches, but this was just incredible. It brought together the creamy, crunchy, salty, and fresh into a messy, super indulgent sandwich:

I got to make the tofu mayo remoulade. Silken tofu, miso, lemon juice, and olive oil mixed with chopped capers, roasted red peppers, pickle, dill, and parsley. This was so creamy, tasty, and indulgent that it has really inspired me to try other silken tofu spreads:

Incredibly, after eating the Po Boys, there was "round 2". Giant red onions, roasted with rosemary, and stuffed with ettouffee. Here's Eric's beautifully plated version:

Ettouffee means "to smother" and describes a Cajun dish served over rice. We made two versions of morel mushroom ettouffee: one smoky, rosemary-based version with tempeh and one with a mirepoix of carrots and fennel, deep fried "bacon" tofu and rich cashew cream. Both were rich and achieved a meaty heartiness of flavor that was pretty amazing. The sweet roasted red onions were the perfect vehicle for the ettouffee. Here's my plate, which also includes the dirty rice and smoky greens:

Eric showed us how to make an impromptu green bean chow chow with some left over mirepoix, raisins, and chili:

We also had some quick pickled okra with red onions and rosemary:

And then, of course, there was dessert. We went for total decadence here, inspired by the brownie-sundae building dessert Eric had featured at the Southern Comfort dinner last week. Brownie with coco cream, over-the-top rocky road ice cream (one version with peanut butter), rice crispy treats covered with chocolate, peanut butter rice crispy treats, and brandied apricots:

Are you feeling full just reading about this meal? I had to take a lot of mine home (after the Po Boy, I was done for the day. Ok, except for the ice cream).

The cooking classes I've taken at Millennium have all been great learning experiences. Working on the tofu mayo remoulade has really inspired me to explore working with silken tofu. Making the coco cream, I learned more about working with agar and some new ingredients to me: lecithin and kuzu. Creating the meaty rich ettouffee has me thinking vegan dinner party!

Plus, the classes are just damn fun!! The people are cool and there's a team sense of camaraderie. Thanks to my fellow students and, of course, to Chef Eric and his assistants, Thomas, Adrian, and LeeAnn for another great class!

Here are links to posts on other fabulous cooking classes at Millennium:
  • Spring Vegetable Class

  • Fall Harvest Class

  • Chiles Class

  • Tomatoes Class
  • Monday, May 19, 2008

    Spring Vegetable Ragout

    I always enjoy hearing about the inspiration behind a particular dish. If you read, I'm Mad and I Eat, you'll recognize cookiecrumb as a food writer who clues you in to her latest meal right away, with reference to what's happening in her garden, or the local market.

    This fabulous Spring Vegetable Ragout was one of those tangential dishes. You know what I mean, one that starts with research into one ingredient and then ends up a totally different dish than you were imagining, requiring completely different ingredients and a trip to the store.

    So, here's the story. I recently purchased a bag of flageolet, those French small green oval-shaped beans most commonly associated with cassoulet, really tiny, immature kidney beans with a creamy texture. I was thinking casserole or salad, but looking for pairing inspiration. So I hit the cookbooks and, to be honest, didn't find much inspiration. There was a flageolet and sage sauce in The Millennium Cookbook, but sage wasn't really singing out to me. Suddenly, I thought of Georgeanne Brennan's France: The Vegetarian Table. While I didn't find a recipe for the flageolets, I did find inspiration with her recipe for Spring Vegetable Ragout. So, off to the store, to look for golf size turnips, fresh fava beans, and asparagus.

    This is one of those simple, but enormously satisfying vegetarian recipes that one can adapt to the fresh herbs growing in one's garden.  Although this dish benefits a great deal from salty butter, if you're vegan, use olive oil and up the herbs.

    Spring Vegetable Ragout (adapted from France: The Vegetarian Table):

    1/2 cup of fava beans, depodded and peeled
    1 golf sized turnip, peeled and cubed
    5 baby dutch potatoes, cubed
    6 stalks of asparagus, woody ends removed, cut on the diagonal into 2 " pieces
    1 large stalk green (Spring) garlic, outer skin removed, sliced
    2 TBS salted butter
    4 fingerling carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
    pinch of sea salt
    pinch of black pepper
    pinch of sugar
    1/2 cup fresh English peas, podded
    1/4 cup white wine
    thyme leaves
    mint leaves, julienned
    chives, snipped

    Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the potatoes and carrots, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 mintues. Add the turnip, cover, and cook an additional 4 minutes.   Add the green garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar. Cover and cook an additional 4 minutes. Add the fava beans and peas. Cover and cook over low heat for 6-7 minutes.

    Add the white wine and reduce by 1/3, uncovered. Add the asparagus, thyme, mint, and chives. Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes.

    Friday, May 09, 2008

    Polenta, Spinach, and Mushroom Casserole

    This light casserole really hit the spot! Lots of taste and texture here, with minimal effort. An excellent example of the perfect simple dish.

    Very thin rounds of polenta (I used the premade kind that comes in a"sausage" shape) were fried in a little olive oil and made the base of the casserole. Organic spinach, sauteed with olive oil and a minced garlic clove until wilted, made the next layer. The mushrooms sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper and a little chopped parsley topped the spinach. Finally, a layer of tangy cheese, described only as Italian Table Cheese. Cooked under the broiler for 3 minutes to melt the cheese.

    I really believe the right "dish" makes the food even better. Served in my favorite Napa Style one-serving casserole dish (I paid $7), this was easy, healthy, and pretty.