Perfect Black Beans

I'm usually fine using beans out of a can. But every now and then, I get the urge to actually use the dried kind. It does take much longer, and is sometimes disappointing, but this recipe makes the wait worth it. With a little advanced planning, it's actually very easy and the consistency and flavor are far superior to anything you can do with canned beans.

We had them with fajitas, which were, umm, kind of disappointing. We undercooked Jon's flank steak so it was a bit chewy, and I decided I'm not a fan of "chicken" flavored seitan. Oh well, atleast the beans and the salsas were yummy.

Black Beans
Serves 4-6

1 cup dried black beans
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 serrano pepper, finely diced
1 tsp olive oil
salt to taste

Soak beans over night at room temperature. Drain and rinse beans. Heat olive oil in a 2qt saucepan over medium heat, add onion, garlic, pepper, and bay leaf, and stir until fragrant. Add drained beans and add water to cover the beans by about an inch. Bring to a simmer and cover, continue to simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours. Half way through cooking, add salt and stir. Check for consistency and seasoning at 1 hour. When beans are softened, remove lid and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes allowing excess water to evaporate.


Tofu Cream

For a light and quick dessert, this couldn't get any easier. I came across a recipe from Martha Stewart for a lemon cream served with blackberries, but after adding the lemon it tasted a lot like, well, tofu. So I added a bit of spice that nicely covers the soy flavor and pairs perfectly with the honey and maple syrup for a delicate chai like combination.

Tofu Cream
Serves 4

1 block silken tofu
1/3-1/2 cup honey or real maple syrup (or a combination of both)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender, puree until smooth and well blended. Serve immediately or chill for upto 4 days.

Served topped with toasted coconut*, diced mango, crumbled chocolate wafers, apricot jam, or layered with applesauce.

*To toast coconut, place large flaked coconut on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place under the broiler on low for about 1-2 minutes, until fragrant and lightly brown on the edges. But be careful, it burns very quickly.


Enough Sunshine to Grill

Last week we were lucky enough to enjoy a good 5 days of warmth and sunshine - highly unusual for Seattle! Which inspired me to use our grill and make a trip to the Ballard Farmers Market where I picked up some sunchokes, a beautiful mix of new potatoes, and some adorable little cabbages - red and green. I picked up a few more things at the store and our friend brought some homemade venison sausage, which Jon informed me would go well with some coleslaw involving dried cranberries. Which led me to the following menu -

Apple Fennel Slaw
Serves 4-6

1 large or 2 small heads of cabbage, finely sliced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 red apple, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp anise seed
1 tbsp honey
salt to taste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lowfat mayonnaise
2 tbsp lowfat sour cream

Combine all ingredients atleast 30 minutes before serving, mix to coat thoroughly. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Grilled Asparagus
Serves 2-4

Wash and remove tough ends from 1/2 bunch asparagus, toss lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, skewer through top and bottom. Grill until slightly charred and tender.

Grilled Tofu
Serves 2-4

Combine 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1-2 cloves garlic, and 2 tbsp chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, or chives work well). Pour over 1 block of tofu, sliced to about 1/4" thick slabs. Turn to coat evenly. Allow to marinate, turning about every 10 minutes, at room temperature for atleast 30 minutes.

When grill is hot, place slices in a single layer over medium hot flame. Save marinade. Grill tofu flipping once until tofu is somewhat firm and crisp on the edges. Toss with remaining marinade before serving.

Grilled Potatoes and Sunchokes

Scrub sunchokes and potatoes thoroughly. Slice to about 1/4" thickness. Parboil or microwave until slightly softened. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and skewer. Grill over high heat until crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. Remove from skewers, toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat the surface along with some freshly chopped herbs - I used parsely. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as needed.

Note: Sunchokes are not the easist thing to skewer, you might want to skewer then through the center - not side to side like the potatoes - to prevent them from cracking.

What to do with leftovers . . .

I had a few leftover potaotes & sunchokes, along with a good portion of the tofu (actually I intentionally made extra). And the next night for dinner made a very quick salad, adding some mixed lettuces, olives, grape tomatoes, chopped bell pepper, english cucumber, and wanuts to the diced tofu, potatoes, and sunchokes and a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Along with some crusty bread it made a perfect dinner for one.

Vegan Soul

I read about the new Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook on 101 Cookbooks and was really excited to try a few recipes. Primarily because I've been wanting to attempt some seitan recipes. It's something I've always been a bit scared of, but I've had some really delicious preparations both here in Seattle and in New York. But when I mentioned it to Jon, he was somewhat suspicious that soul food could be vegan, or that vegan food could be all that good. So, without warning him, I tried a few recipes anyway, and to surprisingly good results. I made these the evening I got the book in the mail, so I didn't have all of the ingredients on hand, but made a few swap outs to adapt. And since it was a work night, I went for simplicity. My menu - Sauteed Jalapeno Corn, Chilled Citrus Broccoli Salad, Whole Grain Mustard and Cornmeal Crusted Seitan, and Apple-Fennel Slaw (leftover, not from the book). Strangely enough, Jon brought some barbecued ribs home from work which paired perfectly (he's lucky enough to work for a tech company that provides free catered meals).

Chilled Citrus Broccoli Salad
Adapted from Vegan Soul Kitchen

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan, salt water when boiling. Add trimmed broccoli pieces from 2 medium heads, including peeled and chopped stems. Cook fir approximately 1 minute until bright green and crisp tender, drain well. Vigorously whisk 2 tsp each Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, and Orange Juice with 1 tsp honey, 1 tbsp chopped tarragon, and 4 tbsp olive oil, and salt to taste. Toss broccoli in dressing, turn several times, cover and refrigerate for atleast 30 minutes tossing occasionally.

Sauteed Jalapeno Corn
Adapted from Vegan Soul Kitchen

Note: The original recipe calls for fresh summer corn, which would be really delightful, but since it's not summer, I used frozen sweet corn to make a quick everyday side dish that was still pretty yummy. I also added some chives and sweet 100 tomatoes, cause I had them on hand.

Mince 1 garlic clove and 1 seeded jalapeno. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet, add minced garlic and 1 tsp ground cumin, saute on medium heat until fragrant. Add 1 1/2 cups defrosted corn kernels and minced jalapeno. Saute until warmed through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving toss in 1/4 cup halved grape tomatoes and 1 tbsp chopped chives.

Whole Grain Mustard and Cornmeal Crusted Seitan
Adapted from Vegan Soul Kitchen

Slice 8 ounces seitan pieces in half to form 1/2" tick medallions. Coat liberally with whole grain mustard. Season 1/2 cup cornmeal with salt and pepper. Toss mustardy medallions in cornmeal to coat. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook medallions about 2 minuted on each side, until toasted light brown and crisp.


Kitchen Planning

I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about our kitchen and how it came to be, or well, how it's coming along. On our first date Jon and I talked a lot about 2 things - food and home improvements. He talked up all the work he'd been doing and the plans he had for renovating his condo and hesitantly a week or so later invited me over to see the place. Apparently, this had not gone over so well with previous dates - they saw the holes in the walls, the piles of tools, the dust everywhere, and thought dealbreaker. But being a young architect who doesn't always get her way at work, it was like winning the lottery. Sure it's messy and kinda gross and I sure as hell am not taking a shower in that bathroom (his place was a true fixer upper). But there's so much potential! And unlike at work, I only have to convince one person that my ideas worth carrying out, one person who happens to really like me - score! Well, it's not quite that easy, Jon's very opinionated, but luckily we do agree on a lot of stuff, and we share a similar sense of style.

We also started planning long before we were ready to actually carry out our plans. Which has meant we've had plenty of time to second guess ourselves and change our plans. Originally we wanted whitewashed cabinets with dark granite counters and glass mosacis as a backsplash. But when we saw the mockup at the cabinetry design center with ebony cabinets in rift cut oak, we fell in love. Which then meant we wanted bright white counters. But we didn't fall in love with our orginial choice of cabinetry suppliers, and after much shopping around - everything from Home Depot to local craftsmen to European imports that started at 40,000 for the cabinets alone, we decided to just do it ourselves and go with ikea cabinets and the final bi colored cabinet scheme.

And the layout has changed a lot too. The kitchen, being in an urban condo, is well, kinda tight. And we soon discovered there actually wasn't all that much room to move things around. So we spent months thinking we were basically stuck with small variations on the original. But we hated how the upper cabinets over the peninsula blocked the awesome view (of lake union, the hills of queen anne and fremont, and the olympics in the distance - great for sunsets too) we have out past the dining room. Well, ok, being 5' tall, it didn't actually bother me, but for taller folks, the cabinets blocked the view and were a dangerous place to bump your head. So from the start, these would be scrapped. And we wanted to shorten the peninsula to open things up a bit and allow for a full height pantry wall that would make up for our loss of storage. But at that point, why even have the peninsula. It's small for a buffet or a bar area, it didn't really define the limits of the room anymore, it was just hanging out down there - a relic of the old design. So, we scrapped it, and thought, hmm, maybe we do have more flexibility than we thought. What if instead of the thin 12" deep pantry wall, we bump it out and put in a larger fridge on that wall, along with a pantry cabinet. We could get a more attractive fridge (it's hard to find a 30" fridge that stands out) and have more elbow room around the stove for food prep. So, that was our exciting new plan, that is, until the fridge came. We'd been a little concerned about the aisle room between the counter and the pantry wall, we'd even considered buying the pricier "counter depth" fridge, but that would only save a couple inches.

So we decided to change a few things around moving the fridge to the corner and decreasing the depth of the pantry wall to about 15". This opened up the floor space and gave us a great pantry wall with room for a small buffet in the middle. But it also meant the dishwasher we'd already purchased would no longer fit, and some of the lighting and electrical would have to be moved. It set us back about a week, but we're both really happy with the results.