Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vegan triplet pasta feast

This weekend was the celebration of Best Friends Day 8. To ring it in right, one of my best friends came to town and as we always do when she visits me, i made a huge dinner for her and all our friends. It was hot, and at one point i was using all burners, the oven, a fan and a food processor at once-- and blew a fuse! a first in my kitchen- and a slight badge of honor. Thank goodness for my pizzalicious sister and her friend for coming to my rescue as impromptu sous chefs- and for letting me bark orders at them as i cooked myself in the heat of my kitchen, fried my blender motor, blew fuses, and ran out of counter and sink space so fast i contemplated using the floor.

I love nothing more than to cook for a crowd. I love to cook for my friends and family, and it is one of the rare instances when i am social and friendly- completely natural and in my element. it lately seems like its pretty often that dinner for four turns into dinner for 8 in a few short texts.

I'm flattered by the fact that people think a seat at my table is a good bet- and it seems like I've never got a shortage of neighbors the minute that garlic hits the pan, and that familiar smell wafts through the house and neighborhood. This is normally true--except for last night, when i had so much leftover food i used just about every tupperwear container i had. I still had about 16 people in attendance- but it was clear that i had over cooked- even by my standards, and coming from my background, i was embarrassed by this showing of yummy vegan excess. But in the end- my friends and my friends friends' were seemingly happy and well fed, and no one ever complains about eating too little right?

My friend whom we were celebrating is vegan, and as is our tradition, whenever she visits i cook for her and our friends. I knew i wanted to do pasta, and i thought it'd be great to figure out how to veganize something really comforting, and cheesy. I had been quizzing all my chef friends, and foodie buds alike on how to best make a vegan alfredo sauce. i kid you not, i probably got 9 separate answers on how to make it best-- and was so overwhelmed in the grocery store, that i scratched the whole thing, and decided to play it safe and make something i know, and let the grocery store produce section inspire me. Sorry i forgot to take pictures- there was much eating and drinking involved.

Pasta Triplets
Butternut squash "Cheddar" shells
Penne with Popeye Pesto
Bow Tie Pasta with Dueling Vegetable Marinara

Butternut Squash "Cheddar" Shells
The butternut squash cavatappi, featured earlier this year on this blog was a perfect candidate for veganizing a dish, and it is something i love to make and eat. the orange of the roasted squash really looks like cheddar cheese, and the sweet and garlicky sauce is a real crowd pleaser.

I substituted 4 ounces of tofutti vegan sour cream, and 4 ounces of vegan cream cheese for the goat cheese listed in the original recipe. The roasted butternut squash sauce was quite a bit thicker than usual for some reason ( i guess the vegan cream cheese and sour cream really seized the mixture) i added about 4 times the normal amount of pasta water to the mixture than usual to thin it out, and used traditional medium sized shells - since i had a coupon.

Penne with Popeye Pesto
This deliciously green dish, usually served with a hard Italian cheese is equally good when the lemon and almond mixture steps up to the plate. Pesto to me screams summer-- when you just have to use all that basil before it turns. The sweet yet full flavor of the almond butter against the licoricey and grassy flavor of the spinach and basil is bright and light with just a hint of sharpness from the garlic and lemon. Perfect hot or cold, this dish would be an excellent side, and the pesto is great on boiled potatoes, as a sandwich spread when mixed with a little veganaise, grilled with tofu, in eggs, or on just about anything. I always make a little extra, and freeze some of my larger batches so I'll have a little summer-- even in the winter time.

3 cups baby spinach (packed)
1 cup basil, cleaned (packed)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 cloves garlic
1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook pasta in salted boiling water until aldente.
in a dry pan over medium heat, toast the nuts (separately). once the almonds have toasted lightly, add them to a food process er with a tablespoon of oil and a little salt. Process the almonds until they are smooth like peanut butter. Remove the almond butter from processor and set aside. In the same processor add the basil, spinach, garlic, lemon juice, zest and toasted walnut pieces, pulse while drizzling in oil slowly, until the mixture is thick. Stir in almond butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

add the pesto to hot pasta, and serve immediately. if the mixture is too thick, you can add pasta water, or a little extra oil, but i like to add a little vegan margarine for some extra flavor and some shine.

Bow Tie Pasta with Dueling Vegetable Marinara
The two kinds of mushrooms provide beefy texture and an excellent counterpart to the tender and slightly crisp white and green asparagus. This dish makes for such a hearty bowl of pasta, you won't miss the cheese, and you won't be able to decide which asparagus or mushroom wins.

1 bunch thick green asparagus- peeled, and re bundled
1 bunch white asparagus- peeled, and re bundled
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
6 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned
6 ounces oyster mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped roughly
1 large jar of premium quality marinara sauce- i used trader joe's tomato basil pasta sauce
Olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook pasta in salted boiling water until aldente. reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus for about 4 minutes. shock the asparagus in and ice bath, and slice each bunch into thirds.
Slice shallots thinly, mince garlic. In a large pan over medium high heat, drizzle enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. heat the olive oil, and saute the shallots and garlic. once they have turned golden brown, set aside. Slice mushrooms finely, and in the same pan you cooked the shallots and garlic in, add more oil to coat the bottom of the pan and bring to medium high heat. saute the mushrooms and keep stirring. don't salt the mushrooms yet, or they'll sweat. when the mushrooms are golden brown, add the sherry and deglaze the pan. once the alcohol has cooked off, add the roasted red peppers, sauteed mushrooms, blanched asparagus, and marinara sauce. stir well and add salt and pepper to taste. bring the sauce to a simmer, then add to hot bow tie pasta and toss well. add some of the reserved cooking liquid if needed

Sunday, August 9, 2009

channeling julia

So my sister and a friend went to see Julie & Julia on Saturday. I was supposed to have them over for my waffles, but realized that i didn't have any flour, and lacked the amount of enthusiasm that it takes to put on clothes and leave the house, so we settled for a movie instead. It was great. I've read the blog years back, and then read the book, and was pretty stoked to see a movie based off of 2 great books, directed by the totally hilarious Nora Ephron. I had high hopes, and they were met and exceeded.

I cried The. Whole. Time. Like many foodies, Julia Child has a special place in my heart. JC (i can call her that because we're buds in my head) reminds me of everything i loved as a kid, and everything i love as an adult. She makes me miss my grandma, and makes me want to be better, try harder and work smarter.

When i was young, my mom was busy working, and going to school, and so relied on school to occupy us kids. So during the summer we'd take turns spending some time with our grandparents, help my mom out with the burden of single parenthood, and also help keep us out of trouble- at least for a little while. For a whole glorious month every summer, i would get dropped off at my favorite place on the planet to act like a single child- even just for a little while.

My grandpa and i would take long morning walks around the neighborhood, play checkers and watch Price is Right. My Grandma and i would cook every meal for him together, go to the library and read, watch Julia Child and ballroom dancing competitions on PBS. I have watched Julia Child on PBS since i can remember it seems like. I remember a particular episode where she showed us all the various sizes of lobsters. I must have been 12 or 13, just before i turned into a sulky and petulant pre teen, and before i thought i was too cool to watch PBS. I thought she was incredible. Fearless. Touching these angry, waving and snapping lobsters like they were mere bunnies. Throwing them around the cutting board, and muscling them into place. I wanted to be like that and i wanted to be her.

I have a distinct memory of sitting on my grandpa's shoulders on a vinyl couch with a zebra print cushion, and fashioning his white hair into a mohawk while learning the intricacies of pate choux. I remember my grandma's 70s mushroom wallpaper in the kitchen, and the smell the stove would make when we went to light the pilot with a match.

Grandma slept in rollers, smelled like powder, and was the very picture of a 50s housewife. She was the prettiest thing i had ever seen, and her bureau was a wonderland filled with jewelry, trinkets, and a big pink piggy bank that she let me count on her bed. Together every day, we made typical southern American food, fried chicken.... biscuits... cakes and pies. It was like magic watching her cook, and i loved that she always asked grandpa to open all the jars.

Watching Julia Child being so masterfully portrayed by the amazing Meryl Streep made me want to cook and love and celebrate all that I am. Because so much of what and who I am today are because of 3 incredible women, my mom, my grandma, and Julia Child.

Tarragon Rotisserie Chicken in the style of Poulet a la Broche, page 242 in Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, edition 21.
A very good friend of mine spotted a *set it and forget it* style rotisserie cooker for $10 at a yard sale, and like the very good friend that she is, she bought it for me and set it beside my car door. My friends know me well. This chicken would be perfect for company, or just a couple friends. Perfectly moist, with a crisp brown skin, it sure hits the spot.

1 packet fresh tarragon- 1/2 packet chopped roughly
2 lemons, 1 zested and cut in half, other just cut in half
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons room temp butter
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1 5 pound organic chicken

In a bowl, mix together the chopped tarragon, lemon zest, salt, butter, pepper, and herbes de Provence with a fork until well combined. set aside
wash and dry the chicken, and loosen the skin from the meat of the breast, legs/thighs and back. massage the chicken all over with the butter mixture, inside the cavity, under the skin, etc and put tarragon stalks and cut lemons inside. Truss the chicken well(page 237 in MTAFC). Put the chicken on the spit, and set your rotisserie for the size of your bird-- generally about 12-15 minutes per pound, or tested with an instant read thermometer to 160 (temp will reach at least 165 after 10 minutes of resting).

after you let the bird rest for 10 minutes- carve this way making sure to carve off a little of the breast meat with the wings-- "the way the French do" according to JC.

Pommes de terre de persil (Parsley Potatoes)
Simple and comforting, its hard to resist this simple side dish.

1 bag baby yukon gold potatoes- or yukons cut into quarters, scrubbed, skins left on
1/2 cup minced flat leaf parsley
4 tablespoons butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste

in a large pot, fill with cold water and add potatoes. bring to a boil, and boil until done. potatoes are done when the tip of a paring knife inserted into a potato comes out with little resistance. drain potatoes well, and add back to hot pot. pour over melted butter, add parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Les Haricots Verts Indiens ("Indian" Green Beans)
I've been making a variation of these green beans with different curries and spices over the years, and garam masalla has been my favorite. these crisp little green beans are easy to make, and magically, taste better the next day, so i like to make extras, and add to salads, put on sandwiches, or just snack on them cold.

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
2 shallots, sliced thin
2 teaspoons garam masalla spice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1o grinds fresh pepper
extra virgin olive oil to coat

pre heat an oven to 400. on a large heavy cookie sheet (if you've got the flimsy sort-- you may want to use a roasting pan so it doesn't warp in the oven) add green beans, garam masalla, salt and pepper and a light drizzle of olive oil. using your hands, toss the beans well, and add more oil if you need to. the beans should just be lightly coated. roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Beans should be just lightly browned, and still have a nice crispness to them.

Pepper is "helping" in the kitchen