Friday, December 1, 2017

Geography Lesson Through Food: Where is Uzbekistan?

The cool lights at Nargis

Quick, can you locate Uzbekistan on a map? And did you know that the Central Asian country has food that closely resembles Mediterranean?
Have you traveled to Uzbekistan? Take a trip via Brooklyn

Nargis Bar & Grill, a new restaurant in Park Slope (there's another Brooklyn location in Sheepshead Bay) was my introduction to Uzbek cuisine. Though it specializes in meat kebabs, there were enough vegetarian choices.

Sadly, we couldn't sample the pumpkin samosas; the dough is made with lard. But we had a huge appetizer plate, the assorted mixed spread, with four different dips and three kinds of pickled vegetables. The spread included hummus and baba ganoush and pickled cabbage.
Two kinds of bread and fresh salad

There was no bread, but we had two kinds; non-toki, a flat cracker that looked like matzo and non, a warm puffy bread.
Pumpkin dumplings

Steamed dumplings came in a vegetarian version, with pumpkin and sour cream. They are served in a steamer basket like one you see in a Chinese restaurant. When I opened the basket, we were enveloped in a cloud of spiced mist. The dumplings were delicious.
My camera lens steamed by the dumplings

We had a big fresh salad with feta cheese and a skewers of salmon. There was also a yummy side dish of potatoes with mushrooms.

Nargis has interesting cocktails. My fig and bourbon came with a fig ice cube.

The restaurant has very fast service, but we weren't rushed. After we paid, we sat for awhile, listening to music and enjoying the atmosphere.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies: Using Up Homemade Applesauce

Vegan chocolate chip cookies

Raw dough
Although a bit of high fat butter can be exquisite on just baked bread, I don't really like butter. So the admonitions to avoid raw dough when I was a kid (raw eggs) and now (raw flour) didn't really affect me. I was unlikely to snag a glob of buttery raw dough. Once baked into chocolate chips, all bets were off.

Ready for the oven

Why not make vegan cookies?

But with a glut of homemade applesauce in my refrigerator (so many upstate New York hiking trips) I needed to bake. I figured the applesauce could substitute for eggs. So I decided to go whole hog, as it were, and eliminate the butter, too. I used coconut oil and made vegan chocolate chip cookies that were every bit as decadent as a butter and egg version.

As a bonus, I cleared up some room in the freezer.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 C coconut oil
1 C sugar
1 C unsweetened applesauce, preferably homemade
2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt
1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375ยบ F and line baking sheets with silpat.

Cream coconut oil and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the applesauce and mix to incorporate.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to the mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonfuls about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: 2 dozen

Monday, November 27, 2017

Holiday Gifts: Homemade Vegan Truffles

Treat a friend - or yourself - with these homemade chocolate truffles

Holiday gifts can easily break your budget. Making a treat is a low cost way to show your love to a friend.
Going to a holiday party? Make these vegan chocolate truffles

If you are lucky enough to be invited to multiple holiday parties, you need to bring a gift. Break out of your grab a bottle of wine rut with these easy to make vegan (and gluten free) chocolate truffles. There is no cooking or baking involved! Just get out your Cuisinart!

Vegan Chocolate Truffles

1 1/2 cups dates
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup vegan bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate*
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Inexpensive candy liner cups make your homemade truffles look professional
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes. Drain.

Put everything except the cocoa power in a Cuisinart and blend until oats are chopped.

Form into balls about 3/4 inch in in diameter. Roll in cocoa powder.  Refrigerate.

To gift, put in candy liners and pack in an airtight container.

* I used Raaka coconut milk chocolate

Yield: about 2 dozen

Monday, November 20, 2017

Holiday Cocktails: Thanksgiving Recipe

Cranberries aren't just for sauce

We used to enliven our Thanksgiving meal with a special dessert, or kid friendly decoration. But as our children grew, I started to add a specialty cocktail to the mix.

Brandied cranberries
This year, I brandied some cranberries and created a riff on a Cape Codder. This is a vodka drink with cranberry juice and lime. But the brandied cranberries and bitters transformed it to another realm.

Brandied Cranberries

1/2 cup sugar 
1/2 cup cranberry juice or water
1 stick cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt

1 cup brandy
12 ounces cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In medium saucepan, combine sugar, cranberry juice or water, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Bring to a low simmer. Simmer, stirring until sugar is fully dissolved.

4. Remove saucepan from heat. Discard cinnamon stick. Add brandy and stir to combine.

4. Add cherries and stir until coated with syrup. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in oven for 25 minutes.

Thanksgiving cocktail recipe
5. Pour in a glass jar, with all the liquid.

Best Thanksgiving cocktail

2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce cranberry juice
1 T liquid from brandied cranberries
2 drops orange bitters
2 brandied cranberries

Note: Use 100% cranberry juice, not cranberry juice cocktail

Fill a shaker with ice.  Add all the liquid and shake till cold

Strain into a martini glass. Spear cranberries with a fancy toothpick and garnish.

Serves one.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Holiday Entertaining on a Budget

Inexpensive crackers don't have to be boring

Thanksgiving and other holidays can be a time to shine, whipping out traditional recipes and grandma's silver. But you don't have to spend a ton.

At the Momtrends Holiday Soiree, I picked up some entertaining tips that can keep you on a budget.

Cheese plate: from the Supermarket

Add a drizzle of honey and aspire of rosemary to enliven supermarket cheese
I love cheese, and there's nothing like bit of artisan goat cheese, made from a flock of happy goats frolicking in the Vermont countryside. But some of those cheeses can cost upwards of $30 a pound, and when you are making a platter for entertaining, that can be too expensive.

Likewise, the crackers. Some crackers at my hipster local Brooklyn food boutique cost $10 a package.

At the holiday soiree, we created our own cheese platters, using supermarket cheese and cracker from Jarlsberg. The cheese crips made with chipotle provided nice crunch and just enough spice to transform ordinary cheese.

But the Jarlsberg cheese was also not ordinary. We had a smoked cheese that was a nice counterpart to sliced apples and the Norwegian skiqueen, a brown cheese made with cow and goat milk.

Holiday entertaining on a budget
Another bonus: Jarlsberg cheese are lactose free. One of my daughters is lactose intolerant, so we save on her lactaid pills with a cheese platter built on Jarlsberg.

Good, cheap wine: not an oxymoron

Fashionable jeans, under $20 
Another supermarket find was the Noble Vines wine. The 337 Cabernet Sauvignon and 667 Pinot Noir are only about $9-11 a bottle and are perfect for that 'house wine,' - the wine that you buy by the case and keep on hand for when guests unexpectedly drop by.

Staying on Trend

Since this was Momtrends, there had to be a fashion element, and we got to style our own looks with Riders by Lee. Fashionable skinny jeans for under $20? Yes, you can.

Make your own hostess gifts
Of course, if you eat too much of that cheese, skinny jeans might not be your best bet. But there were boot cut jeans and cute tops, all at attractive prices.

Hostess Gifts for Less

If you are lucky enough to be going to a holiday arty, you don't have to spring for an expensive hostess gift. D-I-Y is thoughtful and keeps you on a budget.

But that doesn't mean your gift has to look sad. Name Bubbles has labels that can perk up a homemade gift.

These labels are also great for leftovers. My freezer is filled with what we call UFO's - unidentified frozen objects. The Name Bubbles labels stick on plastic and stay on in the freezer.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Carbo Shedding: Preparing for Thanksgiving

Skinny Pasta salad with 'crack' dressing

Instead of carbo loading for a marathon, I've been carbo shedding, prepping my body for the Thanksgiving fest and the holiday season.

The holidays are a nonstop bacchanal of eating and drinking, so Skinny Pasta offers an alternative.

Skinny Pasta - easy to prepare
These Konjac noodles are just 10 calories a serving and are gluten free. They are also fiber rich and low in sodium.

But most important, they taste like, well, pasta. I love to have a big salad for lunch or dinner, but sometimes that isn't filling enough. With some pasta heaped on, the meal is complete. There is a rice or couscous shape if you prefer that with your salad, and if you want a more traditional pasta dish, there are spaghetti, lasagna and fettuccine shapes.

Skinny Pasta

Nutritional yeast
Skinny Pasta is also incredibly convenient and quick to prepare. It comes in a bag, and you have to drain and rinse it, then microwave it for two minutes. You can also heat it on the stove, perfect if you have are having spaghetti and meatballs (vegetarian, of course!).

For a hearty salad, I make a bed of greens - often baby spinach or baby arugula. Then I add some roasted vegetables, a few nuts, and either cheese, avocado or a poached egg. Then I dump the noodles on top. If you use cheese, the warm pasta melts the cheese a bit. With the egg, put the noodles on first, then add the egg, and when you pierce it, the egg drips into the noodles.
Vegan & gluten free pasta with crack dressing

But no salad is complete without a good dressing, and this dressing, which my family calls crack dressing because it is so addictive, fits the bill. Nutritional yeast is used to make cheese substitutes. Find it at a health food store.

"Crack" dressing

3/4 C olive oil
3 T apple cider vinegar
3 T tamari
3 T water
1/4 C nutritional yeast
2 T tahini

Whisk this all together.

I tend to make a double recipe of this. It keeps well and I could it eat it every day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Restaurant Blooms in Brooklyn: Yellow Magnolia Cafe

Fall at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Museums have long been savvy about keeping their visitors for the day: high quality restaurants and gift shops keep peckish guests from leaving in search of sustenance.

House tacos with mushrooms
It has taken the Brooklyn Botanic Garden awhile to get up to speed. The seasonal cafe had some decent fare, but in cold weather there was nowhere to eat, so you had to leave the premises. Now, the Yellow Magnolia Cafe nourishes visitors with a sit-down, vegetable focuses menu.

Yellow Magnolia even takes reservations. The outdoor canteen, open in warm weather has some of the same food, and both places have a children's menu.

Eggs with a hot sauce dropper
At a recent brunch, I had the house tacos, which came with either fish or hen of the woods mushrooms. The mushrooms were a great option, served on homemade charred blue corn tortillas with shredded vegetables.

Everyone else at the table had the scrambled eggs, served with greens, potatoes and either avocado, sausage or bacon. These are no bargain, at $17, but they were delicious and it was nice that vegetarians could have something instead of just paying for meat and no having it. [Members get 10% off at the cafe]

I should note that our guests, both of them meat eaters, opted for the avocado.

The eggs came with individual dropper bottles of hot sauce. My tacos, oddly, didn't come with hot sauce, though I didn't need it; there was a flavorful cilantro sauce.

For brunch, note that there are no Bloody Mary's. Our out of town guests made do with mimosas, and the coffee is excellent.

Also, the kitchen ran out of biscuits. Be sure to go early, and order biscuits as soon as you sit down.