Monday, December 5, 2011

Sardine and Avocado Sandwich


So, where did we leave off, oh…three months ago? That’s right – that kind-of-sort-of-vegan thing. Well, suffice it to say that my efforts for healthfulness in that journey were not met with success, and for a variety of reasons I have chosen to depart from a mostly-vegan diet. Though many of my meals are still vegan, and I think that it is a truly admirable and healthful way of life, it’s just not right for me, right now. Though I’ve reverted back to my fish and cheese and egg-eating ways (oh runny yolks, how I missed you), I haven’t been as quick to jump back on the totally-omnivorous track, though perhaps that will come. Phew, now that that’s off my chest, we can proceed.

This little meal here I think serves as a wonderful bridge between my last post and what I imagine for those in the future. While fishing practices for certain species have vastly degraded the environment and left certain fish on the verge of extinction, sardines are an exception and a great sustainable choice, as they’re abundant and have high reproductive rates. Not only that, but those little buggers are healthy as hell, boasting awesome amounts of omega-3s and essential proteins, and since sardines are low in the food chain, the mercury levels in sardines are much, much lower than their big-eye tuna brethren. Eat your sardines from a can and you’ll receive an added bonus: the teeny little bones, which can barely be detected, are a great source of calcium. Oh yea, they're cheap too.

Now I realize what I’m proposing may be a bit of a hard sell. But before you balk at the mere idea of sardines, hear me out. Canned tuna is eaten with vim across this country – and I maintain that canned sardines should be too. Though they’ve gotten a bit of a bad rap from their former status as a recession-friendly food (and, fine, their stink), there are many who take great joy in eating them straight from the can with some mustard and crackers. There’s even an entire blog devoted to them. If the idea of straight tin-to-cracker sardine consumption sounds a bit intense for you, let me propose something a bit more dressed-up, which should calm some fears about the fishiness and “ick factor” of sardines. I can find little fault in a meal of sardines, dressed in a mixture of sherry vinegar, lemon and parsley. Add some avocado and delicious bread, and you have an open-faced sandwich that’s pretty damn good all around.

This sandwich idea comes from Alton Brown, who hailed it as his diet savior – and that makes total sense – this is a meal that is balanced, healthy and totally satisfying. And because sardines are oily fish, the sandwich has a certain richness while still feeling virtuous. So go on, embrace the sardine.

Sardine and Avocado Sandwich

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches
Adapted from Alton Brown

I usually use one tin per two open-faced sandwiches, though bigger appetites may want to use the whole tin; the leftover sardine mix stays well in the fridge and makes the second sandwich a breeze to prepare. I have used both oil- and water-packed sardines with success. If you use water-packed sardines, be sure to add some oil to the mix, about a tablespoon or so will do, though do note that the oil from the tin lends great flavor to the sandwich. I like to add a little bit of Dijon mustard and onion, but both are entirely optional. Alton recommends brushing the bread with the sardine oil before toasting – I think this is unnecessary.

1 tin sardines
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, additional for garnish
1.5 – 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (if you don’t have sherry vinegar, substitute lemon juice, but the sherry really does add a very nice touch)
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, or to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon onion
2 slices of bread (I like using a whole wheat sourdough; try to pick a bread with a good bite, as opposed to sandwich bread)
½ ripe avocado
salt and pepper to taste

If using oil-packed sardines, drain the oil from the tin into a bowl. If using water-packed, drain off and discard the water and add one tablespoon of olive oil to a bowl. Add the parsley, sherry, lemon zest, and, if using, the mustard and onion to the bowl. Add the sardines and mix to combine, mashing a bit if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside for a few minutes to allow the flavors to combine (in the refrigerator if not using for more than an hour).

When you’re ready to assemble, toast the bread. Mash the avocado half in its skin and divide between the two slices of bread, spreading the avocado evenly to cover the bread. Divide the sardine mixture evenly between the two slices of bread, spreading it out over the avocado. Sprinkle sandwiches with additional parsley and finish with a squeeze a lemon. Then, enjoy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pasta with Creamy Vegan 'Alfredo' Sauce

So I had been working a lot. Like, a LOT. And when I wasn't working, I wasn't able to muster up the energy to write a post. My weeks this summer pretty went like this: work, work, sleep (a little), work, work, deposit self on beach, work (sometimes on beach), sleep (a little more), work. In the little time I had in between, I was reading. A lot. Too much, some (cough, boyfriend, cough) might say.

All of this reading, coupled with an over-reactionary stomach these past few months, has led me to make some changes in my diet. Big time changes. As in, no meat or dairy, kind-of-sort-of-vegan changes. I mean, I love me some cheese, though it has admittedly always weirded me out that we are the only species on earth that eats milk of other mammals intended for their young. Sick. Though cheese is delicious.

Now I don't think I can say that I'll be shunning meat and dairy forever, but I can see myself significantly restricting my intake of both for the near and not-so-near future. While I don't know that I could forever say goodbye to smoked salmon, I think I'd be doing both myself and the environment a favor by largely limiting the amount of animal products I consume. And I'm not going to put pressure on myself my placing a label on my diet. I'm not going to declare that I "am" anything, and then set lofty expectations for what I (or others) think my diet should comprise. If I want to be a "kind-of-sort-of-vegan, who sometimes eats smoked salmon, or lobster rolls or finds herself at a really great restaurant and wants to enjoy a meal sans dietary restrictions", so be it.

And honestly, it's been kind of fun. It's really exciting to get into the kitchen and wing it sometimes. To try to create really exciting meals without the crutch of bacon fat or the richness of eggs. This hasn't been about trying to recreate the non-vegan dishes I love: the macs & cheeses, the bacon egg and cheese sandwich because honestly, I don't miss them. I have not eaten a single slice of Tofurkey (nor do I intend to) - substituting meat and dairy with overly processed soy is not really going to do my body much good. This for me has been about creating foods that are delicious in their own right, but that are easy enough to digest and don't make me feel bloated or tired afterwards. But once in a while, only a creamy pasta dish is going to satisfy, and for those times, I'm glad I found a few vegan 'alfredo' sauce recipes to mash together into one. A garlicky, saucy alfredo facsimile that I felt not only not bad about eating, but great about eating.

Pasta with Vegan Alfredo Sauce

Adapted from here and here

The cashews lend this sauce a nice, creaminess, and together with the tahini and nutritional yeast give the dish a boost of protein. Nutritional yeast is a great resource for vegetarians and vegans, since it is one of very few non-meat sources of vitamin B12, and it has a vaguely cheesy taste. The sauce comes together in a blender, food processor or a magic bullet in a snap and needs just a couple of minutes of warming and thickening in a pot with the pasta, making this a very weeknight-doable meal.

I'd recommend only combining the pasta and sauce that you plan on eating at that time; if there are leftovers, the sauce and pasta / vegetables are better stored separately and reheated together in the pot when you're ready to eat the rest of what you've prepared. Once combined, the dish doesn't reheat as well, though if you have sauced pasta left over, adding a bit of almond milk when reheating will restore some creaminess to the dish.


4 ounces pasta (I used whole wheat rotini)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup chopped frozen broccoli
1/3 cup raw cashews
2 garlic cloves
3 T nutritional yeast
1 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
1 T lemon juice (I added a bit more after tasting it)
2 T non-dairy buttery spread, such as Earth Balance
1 T low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 T tahini
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 tsp paprika
lots of freshly ground black pepper (or to taste I guess)


Cook pasta in well-salted water in a sauce pot. About two minutes before the pasta is to be al dente (don't cook it all the way in the water, since it will continue to cook a bit once the sauce is added), add the peas and broccoli to the pot with the pasta. Cook until the peas and broccoli are bright green and cooked, making sure not to allow them to get mushy. Drain the pasta and vegetables in a colander and return to the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, add the rest of the ingredients to your blender or magic bullet and blent until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Add sauce to the pot with the pasta and vegetables and heat over medium heat. Allow the sauce to thicken and heat through, stirring frequently. Top with a few turns of freshly ground pepper and a dusting of paprika.

Serves 2.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beer Pancakes

About once a weekend I cook my wonderful boyfriend breakfast, or brunch, or whatever you'd like to call the first meal of the day that usually happens no earlier than 1 p.m. This process typically starts with a variation of an exchange in which I ask him what he'd like for breakfast, I tell him I can make him whatever he'd like, suggest a few things, and then make my way into the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, I only offer to make meals that can be assembled from items that I already have on hand - the first meal of the day is not the time to go out for groceries, is it? (Let's not dwell on the fact that I have to merely cross the street to arrive at a more than serviceable grocery store, okay? Thanks.)

So imagine my displeasure when, after Robbie took me up on an offer of chocolate chip pancakes, I opened my fridge to find myself entirely out of milk, of any sort. No cow, almond or coconut milk, and definitely no buttermilk. Though he (probably) would have been happy with anything (edible) I put in front of him, because that's just the kind of guy he is, I didn't want to let him down.

But I recalled reading a Dear FloFab column in the Diner's Journal that revolved around a secret recipe for pancakes, and whether it was right for someone to insist on being given an old family recipe for pancakes that the question poser was given by her aunt on her deathbed, and is now the only person in the family in possession of the recipe. [Though now that I'm searching for this column I can't seem to find it anywhere, but I'm fairly secure enough in my sanity to say I read it at some point; maybe it just wasn't FloFab? Anyone?]

Scrolling down past Florence's pithy reply (how I love reading her responses to these questions), I came upon the comments. Many of them. And instead of responding to the question posed, instead of chiming in on the merits of keeping such a thing secret, the commenters to the post took turns guessing what that secret recipe might have hidden within it that it creates what must be the world's greatest pancakes. One of the commenters piped in: "beer!" Which makes sense, in a way, since beer contains both yeast and carbonation, which helps keep things light and fluffy, certainly an attribute when it comes to pancakes. I use seltzer in my matzoh balls to help keep those from becoming too dense, so the same logic would seem to apply to pancakes. And while I had zero types of milk in the fridge, I had no less than four types of beer. Problem - potentially - solved.

So I turned to Google, and found a few different recipes for beer pancakes, which I cobbled together. I used part whole wheat flour in part because I felt its nuttiness would play nicely with the malty undertones of the beer. And it did. The pancakes were light, but crispy around the edges, with faint yeasty notes in the backdrop that played surprisingly well with the chocolate chips.

What type of beer you should use will depend on how prominently you'd like to feature it in the taste. A cheap light beer will interfere less with the taste of the other ingredients, but will still provide a noticeable beer flavor. On the other hand, a nice rasperry lambic would work quite nicely as well, providing fruity notes that would play well with blueberries or chocolate chips in the batter. Regardless, once the bottle's open, you might as well finish it up. It's brunch, after all, and is brunch really brunch without booze?

Whole Wheat Beer Pancakes
Adapted from Multiple Sources
Serves 2

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, separated
1 cup beer (I used a cheap light beer, since I didn't want the taste of beer to be too prominent)
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional, but why not)
1/4 good quality cup chocolate chips (optional, blueberries would also be good, especially with a fruity beer)

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the egg yolk, beer and butter and whisk to combine. Don't overmix - it's okay if there are a few lumps.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg white with a hand mixer or whisk until soft peaks form. Add a bit of the egg white to the batter to lighten it before folding in the rest, being careful not to deflate the egg whites. Fold in the remaining egg whites to combined.

Note: if you want to skip this step, you certainly can, but I think separating the eggs results in wonderfully light pancakes. If you want to forego whipping the whites, just don't separate the egg and beat it lightly before adding it to the mixture with the beer and butter.

Heat a griddle or a skillet over medium heat and coat with a respetable layer of butter. I find that a little extra butter helps the edges of the pancakes get nice and crispy. Once the bubbles in the butter have subsided a bit, spoon the batter onto the hot griddle or skillet, using about 1/4 cup of the batter per pancake. Dot the surface of the pancakes with chocolate chips or blueberries, if using, pressing down on them gently so that they become slightly submerged in batter. When you see bubbles appear on the surface of the pancakes, about 3-4 minutes, flip them over and cook until done on the other side.

Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar and maple syrup and a healthy amount of bacon if you're hearing the siren song of a salty-sweet breakfast.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oat Bran with Mushrooms, Arugula, Blue Cheese and Poached Egg

I don't know about you, but I found this winter to have been a trying one. It feels like it snowed relentlessly, stopping only long enough for the temperatures to dip far below freezing and turn the city into a sheet of ice. Weather like we've seen this winter beckons for comfort food. For cheesy, gooey, hearty things that stick to your ribs and warm you from the inside. But it's also March now, people! I don't know how this came to be, but apparently we're already two full months into 2011. And though the weather's not quite spring-like yet, before we know it, we're going to be expected to don swimsuits and look like we were utterly and completely unaffected by winter.

This meal is perfect for this time of year. There are few things better in the winter (or ever, really) than a warm, creamy bowl of grits. However, grits are pretty much devoid of nutrition, especially the instant kind. Whole-grain cornmeal and polenta are a little better, but they take a lot of time and patience to cook - not exactly the type of thing you can whip up in a few minutes when you're looking for a quick weeknight meal. Enter oat bran: hearty, quick-cooking, yet retaining all of the nutrients that made it a dieter's darling. And no need for it to be sweet, either. Leave the maple syrup for those times you want waffles for dinner (though some may argue those are better topped with ice cream for dinner, or for any meal...some) and make this into the rich, savory and hearty meal we're all craving right about now.

Listen, I know it sounds weird. But hear me out on this one. It's delicious. Oat bran got a bad rap in the 1980's (or so I hear, anyway), when it was touted as THE HEALTHIEST THING EVER. Its popularity among the health nuts faded, and it became something of a joke. But it shouldn't be, because it's incredibly versatile - and while it might not be the healthiest thing ever, its definitely definitely good for you.

This oat bran is rich and warm, yet won't weigh you down. Strong flavors like blue cheese are - perhaps counterintuitively - great items to use when I'm trying to keep things light. The funkier the cheese, the farther a small amount will go. I used no more than an ounce of the stuff in this recipe, and that includes both what was mixed into the oatbran during cooking and what I sprinkled on top afterwards. It's got protein and fiber from the oat bran, and the arugula not only provides a subtle, peppery pop that really sets off the whole dish, but gives the dish a boost of greenness that will ease your mind and prevents the whole thing from looking too, well, bland.

Mushrooms provide a bit of bite to the dish, banishing images of gruel and textureless slop that might come to mind when oat bran is mentioned. Of course the egg does not hurt in any respect - it's the rare savory dish that is not improved by a poached egg, a runny yolk coating all components and making everything extra good. And it's one of nature's more perfect nutritional packages, conveniently portioned and packed full of protein. Not to mention that poaching is one of the healthier ways to cook eggs, since, unlike scrambling or frying it relies on no added fat. Hard-boiled eggs don't require any extra fat either, of course, but being hard-boiled, they obviously don't offer that whole runny yolk thing.

Oat Bran with Mushrooms, Arugula, Blue Cheese and Poached Egg
Serves 1

1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup milk or water
1/3 cup oat bran
1 cup baby arugula
1 ounce blue cheese (I used a strong triple creme blue, but gorgonzola or really any blue should work just fine)
1 egg
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Fill a saute pan with water and place over medium heat until a simmer is achieved.

While the water in the saute pan is heating, place a small pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the bubbles from the butter have subsided. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occassionally, until the shallots are soft and beginning to turn transluscent. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the milk or water to the pot, season with a dash of salt and raise the heat to medium high. Once the liquid has boiled, add the oat bran to the pot, stir to combine, and lower the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook the oat bran for 3-5 minutes, until the desired consistency is achieved, stirring often so as not to burn and adding additional milk or water as needed to achieve your desired texture. In the last minute of cooking, add the blue cheese, reserving some if desired to top the dish with the the end. Stir to combine, allowing the cheese to melt into the oatmeal. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the arugula to the pot and cover to allow the steam to wilt the arugula. Give it frequent stirs to help the arugula along. Remove from the heat and transfer the oat bran to a serving bowl.

In the meantime, add a splash of vinegar to the now-barely-simmering water in the skillet. Carefully slide the egg into the skillet, either directly or by first cracking the egg into a ramekin or teacup and then sliding it gently into the water, using a slotted spoon to gather the whites together if necessary. Allow to cook until your desired doneness, about three minutes or so for a nicely runny yolk. Lift the egg from the skillet with a slotted spoon and blot dry with a paper towel, and place it in the bowl over the oat bran. Finish with any reserved blue cheese, a final sprinkle of salt and pepper, crack that yolk and enjoy!