gourmet, homemade desserts, non-gluten, pudding, Uncategorized, vegan, vegetarian

St. Patrick’s Day 2012!

I am sure anyone that knows me, knows that my mother was born in Ireland and moved to the States when she and my father were about to be married.  When I think about it now, it was quite the intrepid adventure she set out on.  At the time, 1965 she was very young in only 19, and people didn’t travel back and forth overseas as easily as we do these days, it was prohibitively expensive, not to mention the cost of overseas phone calls!  So this very young woman moved to America, married my Dad and started a family!  No family around to watch the baby, and a husband who worked all day.  It was a different time all together!  My Mom did instill a very strong sense of our Irish heritage in us kids, and we are all still very close to our Irish family.  And so, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal for us, and not in the drink green beer until you can’t possibly drink any more sense.  For our family it’s a day that we really are proud to be Irish!  This year, one of my nieces is even doing her first public Irish dancing recital… big news in the Hennessey family!!

In creating my own little family in Detroit, I do try really hard to honor both of our heritages.  As I have mentioned here before, Tim is half Hungarian, so all the food I can possibly make from there, I do.  And my paternal grandmother’s Belgian roots are honored all the time!  And on St. Patrick’s Day, I go all out… even thought Tim won’t eat the corned beef, I cook it for me, and some years, for friends and family here.  This year, one of my cousins posted a photo on her Facebook page of the “green and gold jellies” that they were having for dessert today (lime and orange “jello” with lots of cream to go over) and I thought, jeez, I should make that for us too!  Alas, Jello, and gelatin products are decidedly NOT vegetarian.  I have experimented a few times with making vegan versions of things like marshmallow, and the pudding I have posted here.  I have had success with all of them, except the marshmallows, and I was dying to figure out what was wrong.  And then, low and behold, I read many, many recipes with something called agar agar, also called agar flakes, or powder.  But, agar is a fickle mistress… and so the great vegetarian dessert caper of St. Patrick’s 2012 was afoot!

I got two pots out and used 2 cups of liquid, in this case, orange juice and limeade, with some white wine thrown in for the grown up in me.  I didn’t add any sugar, but I did add a drop of green food coloring to the lime version, to up the color.  The recipe I found online called for one teaspoon of agar and very little cooking time.  From experience I know now, that it usually takes double that amount to really work, so I used 2 teaspoons in each pot.  I brought them both to the boil, took them off the heat, added in the agar, stirred well, then put them back on the heat and let them simmer for a good 30 min, stirring occasionally.  Then, everything was allowed to cool and the mixture was poured into a lightly greased aluminum loaf pan.  It looked promising when I started:

I put both pans carefully into a Ziplock bag when they were completely cool and set them in the middle shelf of the fridge.  I was told it could take up to 4 hours, so I just walked away and made the soda bread, put the corned beef on to boil and forgot about them.  About 3 hours in, I checked them… I couldn’t resist.  The orange one was completely jelled and looked pretty good.  The lime one on the other hand, seemed fine until I wobbled the pan a bit, and it exploded into a liquid, although slightly thickened, mess.  Uh oh!  I uncovered both and put them back into a cooler part of the fridge and vowed to just leave them!

About 3 hours later, the orange was still gorgeous, the lime still a bit too liquid for me, so I popped it in the freezer, and served dinner.  When we were able to think about dessert, I grabbed both pans and whipped the cream and this is what we had!

The orange, although jell like, was a soft jell, so I am adjusting the agar amounts to account for that.  Here’s the recipe and a few more photos of the day!

Vegetarian Jellies

1 ½ c fruit juice (apple, orange, cherry, slightly sweetened)

½ c white wine or just use fruit juice

2 ½ teaspoons agar flakes or powder

½  teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cold water

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water and mix well until smooth and set aside. Bring the fruit juice and wine to boil in a small heavy bottomed pot.   Take the pot off the heat and sprinkle the agar flakes over the hot juice and stir to  combine well.  Place the pot back on a low flame and simmer to allow the agar to soften and melt totally, about 15 minutes.  Under no circumstances should you boil the agar, it will lose it’s effectiveness.  Take the hot juice off the heat again and lightly whisk in the cornstarch and water, making sure no lumps form, and continue to stir until the mixture become clear.  At this point, it should be slightly thick, not very just enough that it isn’t the same consistency as juice or water.  Set the pot off the heat to cool.  When it has cooled about 10 – 15 minutes, pour it into the container you will chill it in.  You may want to put a very thin layer of light corn oil on the pan, so the jelly will come away from the pan when it’s done.  Allow the mixture to cool completely, and then cover in plastic wrap and put in the coolest part of your refrigerator.  The time to jell will vary but after 3 hours you should be able to nudge the pan and see that it is fairly solid.

When you gently press with your finger on the top of the jelly and it is firm and solid, you can either serve with a spoon, or cut into slices.  I used lightly whipped cream with a spoonful of sugar, but you can serve it to taste.

And here is my soda bread, along with the flowers my mom and dad sent us.  But, I can’t give you that recipe, it’s a family recipe and I would have to kill you…!!

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Happy March everyone!  You’ll notice that I have moved the blog to WordPress.  I heard it was an easier site to work with, and so I am trying it!  Let me know what your thoughts are on the new format and ease of use.

Although this has been the mildest winter I can ever remember, the sun hasn’t been out much here in Michigan, so the dismal look and feel of the winter is still around.  It makes me cook comforting, cold weather food and lentils really fit the bill here. I can honestly say, other than heavy, gloopy canned soup; I haven’t really eaten much in the way of lentils for most of my life.  When I started cooking for a vegetarian, I discovered the ease and variability of cooking with beans and legumes.  Then one day we were exploring around a natural gourmet food store, and I came upon a bin of these beautiful slate green lentils that were so eye-catching to me! I had to have them, so bought 2 pounds and took them home immediately!

If you follow Nigella, as you know I do, you have probably heard of Puy lentils but I had never really researched or experimented with them.  My memories were always the little cylindrical plastic sleeves you see in the supermarkets for “soup mix”.  They always have a solid chunk of lentils in them, right next to the spice that mix that you can never really put your finger on. The Puy lentils are different from them and are actually famed for being “the best”.  Typically, you see them called French green lentils.  They hold up very well to cooking and they don’t go all to mush unless you crush them when you’re cooking them.  Puy’s have a distinctive flavor, very earthy and hardy, with a bit of crunch to them, and I have grown to love them.

There are many other types of lentils, red, yellow and orange which you typically see in Indian foods and are called dal.  All of those types tend to be more tender when you cook them.  In general, lentils are very high in fiber and protein, are very easy to cook and flavor, and even these special “Puy’s” are definitely very inexpensive to buy.  So you get great bang for your buck with them.

Now, this recipe has a great deal of red wine in it, so if you’re cooking for kids, you may want to substitute the wine for some good quality, low salt vegetable broth.  And remember, if you won’t drink it don’t cook with it!  Also, when you start cooking, the liquid seems to be way too much.  It’s exactly the right amount so trust me here.  I typically start checking them at about 35 minutes, because each batch of dried lentils you get is different, so if the liquid is still covering the lentils, continue cooking for another 10 – 15 minutes.  But, once you hit the 40-minute mark, start listening for a dry pan and check every few minutes although you should resist the urge to stir them much. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and let the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually no liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Puy Lentils in Red Wine

1 cup green French green Puy lentils (or any lentil, except red or yellow)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 shallots, finely chopped*

2 garlic cloves, sliced finely

2 bay leaves (optional)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (1 teaspoon fresh)

2 cups good red wine (Spanish wine is great here, maybe a nice Tempranillo)

1 ½ cups water

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or apple cider, red wine, balsamic vinegar, anything with nice flavor)

Before you start cooking, rinse the lentils well, pick through them and remove any stones, leaves or stems, then place them in a bowl and cover them by about an inch with hot water and let them soak for about 20 minutes.  Once they’re soaked and slightly soft, drain them, rinse with cold water and set them aside to drain in a colander.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy pot with a tight fitting cover.  Once it’s melted add the shallots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently until the shallots turn golden brown.  Be careful not to burn them, or you will have to start over.  Lower the heat to medium and add in the wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add the drained lentils and then the water, stir well. Allow the pot to come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 40 – 45 minutes. There will be little to no liquid in the pot, and the lentils will easily mash when you press them with a fork.  If you find there is still a lot of liquid, take the lid off, and raise the heat up to medium, and the the extra liquid boil away.  When there is virtually not liquid left, take the pot off the heat and stir in the vinegar, then taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

As always, comments are welcome and variations are encouraged!

*Note: If you don’t have shallots, you can use more garlic (2 more cloves) or add a small finely chopped yellow union.

Julia Child, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson, slow cooking, vegan, vegetarian, winter

Lentils are good for you, but they actually taste good too!

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