I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Sunday, July 31, 2011

In praise of nibbles

It is so infrequent that I make an actual 'meal' at mealtime, I thought it appropriate to declare that henceforth, appetizers (aka nibbles) will be placed in the meal category here at WTM.

Look, often multi-course nonsense is just that. Ain't none of us out workin' the back forty anymore (well at least not most of us). Most of the time we should be eating smaller meals, to match our smaller calorie expenditures, and hopefully realizing smaller waistlines as a result.

Not that nibbling has made my waistline any smaller as of this post. But the trend towards at least giving lip service to small meals eaten more frequently is a good thing, and if I finally work the 'push-away-from-the-table' exercise into my daily routine maybe the inches will be pushed away too.

So especially in a summer when the temps in the Mid-A have been kissing 100°F on far too many occasions, I confess that meals have most frequently been nibbles of late. One bake, many takes. But they don't have to be limited to junky fat-salt-sugar bombs, although those have crept in too, mostly during on-the-road eating (need a twelve step program for french fries dipped in ketchup- halp!)

Plus this week somehow I came down with a sinus infection and have Exploding Head, so there is no desire to cook. How in the world do you get a sinus infection in July?

Here follows my take on Baba Ganoush, one of the most fabulous nibble type meals on the planet, and probably included in every food blog on the planet, as well. The recipe was adapted from one in Paula Wolfert's undeniable bible on The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. My copy is unfortunately packed in my brother's garage at the moment, so I can't check the original ingredients against what I am currently using. However the original recipe is on ze interwebz (just do a search for "Paula Wolfert"+"Baba Ganoush") if the reader would like to check it out.

David Lebovitz posted his version a couple of years ago and likes it smoky. I haven't tried it his way, but I do a 'cheater' take here by adding smoked paprika. Smoky is good but I am probably not in the same league as the hard-core smoke aficionados, so this is likely quite a bit tamer than David's. He also advises that you can cheat by using a bit of smoked salt. I didn't try it in the current batch, but having recently acquired a supply of the alderwood variety online, I will add it to the next batch of Baba and do an update to this post if it is a keeper.

One other thing. I have no idea what the correct spelling in English is for Baba Ganoush. There are so many spellings I gave up, so here I use the simplest one I have come across.

Baba Ganoush

1 medium-largish eggplant (about 1-1¼ pounds)
¼ cup tahini
1 medium-large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 lemon, juiced (about 3 Tbs.)
1 tsp. salt (use a bit of smoked salt if desired)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. smoked paprika (or half smoked and half sweet paprika, or all sweet if you don't like smoky)

chopped parsley
ground paprika or Aleppo pepper
drizzle of olive oil (I leave this out, but a little tiny drizzle makes a nice presentation at parties)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pierce eggplant all over with a fork.

Place eggplant in a shallow baking pan and roast until collapsing, about 45-50 minutes. You may turn over halfway through roasting, but I didn't and it collapsed just fine.

Remove eggplant from oven and allow to cool until it is easy to handle. Remove peel, placing pulp in a colander. Rinse pulp lightly and press to remove any bitter juices.

Add eggplant pulp and remaining ingredients to a food processor and puree. Adjust seasonings to taste. If time allows, refrigerate for a couple of hours so flavors may blend.

Spread in a shallow dish and garnish as desired. Serve at room temperature with pita chips (toasted is best!), cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and other crudites.

Alternatively, serve as a sandwich in a split pita with accompaniments such as crisp torn lettuce, shredded carrot, diced tomato and cucumber, and slivered radish.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Food in jars

No, not the kind that you might find at the wonderful blog of the same name. Here there be jars of a different stripe.

My recently purchased new kitchen essential was silent for a couple of weeks while other stuff was going on (and I am missing the smoothie love as a result). Tonight, however, it had to earn its keep because I needed a fast dinner. I think I'm in love. Tonight I had Alfredo sauce from a jar, except for it came from a blender jar. This was so easy and so good it should be illegal.

The BlendTec has a soup making setting (the VitaMix does too I think) where you pulverize everything and heat it up in the process. What other kind of cooking is this easy? That is the setting I ended up using while trying to get this recipe right. It gives a nice long blending period, which you need for smoothly blended mixtures that include nuts. Plus the sauce was already warmed up! No turning on another burner!

Semi-related side note: another monster thunder storm just blew through tonight, knocking over all the plants on the patio, but did it do a freakin bit of good blowing out the heat and humidity too? Not. A. Bit. So one fewer burner going in the kitchen is a good thing.

I ended up with a much bigger batch of sauce than I had intended, because I had to keep adding here and there to get the proportions right. The recipe could easily be cut in half or in thirds if you want, but I think since there is a quart of sauce left from tonight's activity, this would be splendid in a scalloped potato casserole tomorrow. Even though it's the middle of despicable summer and I'd much rather have scalloped potatoes in February.

This recipe was inspired by the "Cashew Cheez Sauce" in Jo Stepaniak's "The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook", as well as by several other non-dairy Alfredo sauce recipes that have been making the rounds on the internet the past couple of years.

If you don't have a high-powered blender, don't fret, just blend for several minutes in a regular blender and check from time to time to see if it's there yet.

Big Batch Blender Alfredo Sauce

3 cups soy milk, or other unsweetened non-dairy milk
6 Tbs. cashew pieces
6 Tbs. nutritional yeast
3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice or 3/4 tsp. citric acid or vegan lactic acid powder
1 Tbs. white miso (it is actually yellow-ish)
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1½ tsp. onion granules
1½ tsp. garlic granules
3/4 tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until sauce is creamy and cashews are thoroughly blended. In a Blendtec, use the 'Sauce' setting. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a saucepan to heat through before serving, if necessary.

Serve over pasta of choice (a tri-colored pasta like I used here is especially fun, if pasta can be fun), or use for a baked pasta or potato casserole. Top with paprika, freshly grated pepper, and/or an herb seasoning blend if you are feeling adventurous.