23 November 2008

Milk That Cashew and Let's Make Cheese

Ok, I was wrong. The next blog isn't butternut-jicama enchiladas. But that WILL be next after this one. They are worth the wait, I promise...

You can't have Mexican food, especially enchiladas, without cheese. If you aren't vegan, this is not a problem, of course, but vegan cheese is an interesting challenge.

Early in 2008, my mostly-vegetarian daughter, Tae, and I, did 'Vegan Month' where we went for 4 weeks totally vegan. This was, amazingly to both of us, incredibly easy to do. A copy of 'Veganomicon', 'Vegan with a Vengeance', and 'Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World', and you can eat very well as a vegan for a month.

The biggest problem with being a vegan for a month was the cheese. We tried a number of vegan cheeses available in our market and were less than impressed. Most had strange textures and often stuck to your teeth. And you really had to convince yourself that this was cheese. We did find some that were edible, but they were few and far between. And VERY expensive.

As capitalism would have it, sometime during this period where we came up with this grand plan, the Dish Network decided to temporarily give me some free channels as a promotion. One of those channels was Veria TV (Veria.com) and one of the shows on there was called 'Naturally Delicious' with Ann Gentry, a vegan chef.

Well, the first episode I watched was on grains. And, Ms Gentry annoyed me right off the bat by referring to either couscous or quinoa as a grain - I forget which because people do it all the time. But a famous vegan chef clearly knows that quinoa is a seed and couscous is a pasta. They might be treated as a grain and cooked like a grain, but neither IS a grain. So there.

But, Ms Gentry also made some cheese and cheese sauce out of raw cashews. This caught my eye, so I downloaded the recipe and made it, after a difficult local search for agar agar. This recipe made a 'cheese' that let you use it as a solid (sort of) and as a liquid cheese sauce. Interesting...

However, Tae wouldn't eat it. She thought is tasted bad and I found it not cheesy enough (how often do you get to say THAT?) So, I made my own version. My version uses less oil, more miso, less onion powder, less lemon juice, and almond milk instead of soy milk. To me, this is a much tastier recipe, still easy to make, doesn't stick to your teeth like the commercial ones did, and keeps for a while.

So, here we go with my version of what Ms Gentry called 'Cashew Cheddar'. Calling this cheese or 'cheddar' is a stretch, but this is a very useful recipe and I keep it around all the time. We will use this in the enchiladas, even in the non-vegan version.

Richard's Fake Cheese

Makes about 4 cups, keeps at least a week - 10 days

1 1/4 c raw cashews
1/2 c nutritional yeast
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garlic powder
3 1/2 c plain almond milk
3 Tbs agar agar powder
1/3 c canola oil
1/3 c yellow miso paste
1 Tbs bottled lemon juice

Finely grind the cashews in a food processor. This can take a while and you need to scrape the fine powder from around the edges back into the mix now and then. Add the next 4 ingredients and process to blend it together.

Put the almond milk, agar and oil in a 2 or 3 qt saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. NOTE- This WILL boil over if you don't stop at simmer instead of boiling, or if you turn your attention away for even a second. The pot KNOWS you aren't looking, and there will be bubbles all over your stove! Watch this!

Lower heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every minute or two to help the agar dissolve. When it is all incorporated, run the food processor and slowly pour the almond-agar mixture into the cashew mixture. Let it run for a minute or two to make sure everything is creamy smooth. Then add the lemon juice and miso, process it again for 30 seconds or so.

Take your liquid 'cheese' and dump it into a container with a tightly fitting lid. I use Glad containers, 8 cup rectangular ones so I end up with a block of 'cheese'. If you wanted a sauce, obviously, you would just use the cheese in its current liquid state.

The cheese will set up in the fridge into a solid but slightly soft block. You can use this as slices, grate it on a box grater (large holes), or you can melt it again by using a saucepan with a little almond milk and reheating a minute.

If you need firmer cheese, you can add more agar, but increase it a little each time. Too much can become noticeable.

Let me know what you think of it.

18 November 2008

Eating Your Trees

If you've ever driven through the American southwest and seen mesquite trees, you certainly wouldn't plan on eating them. The wood makes a fine smoking chip, but the pods are also edible. The pods are ground into a very fine powder, called mesquite meal or mesquite flour.

Regardless of what you call it, this is one potent ingredient! It has a taste somewhere around cinnamon and chocolate and is fairly intense, so you want to use it sparingly.

Mesquite flour supposedly has health benefits as well as a unique and interesting taste. The large amount of fiber in the product, and the fact that the sugars are fructose, means it is easier for the body to handle and has a low glycemic index. If you have a health issue, you may want to look into that further. But today, we are using this for flavor.

Try this flour tortilla recipe with a little butter, and see what the clan has to say about it. This recipe was adapted from a recipe by some Tuscon based localvores .

We will use these tortillas in our next recipe as well. And, we'll tell you where we get the ingredients after the recipe.

Mesquite & Kamut Tortillas

1 3/4 c kamut(r) flour
1/4 c mesquite flour
1 t salt (optional)
2 T canola oil
3/4 c warm water

First, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the oil and mix loosely with a wooden spoon. You may not need all of the water. Add it slowly, stirring with the spoon, until you get a nice ball that is pulling away from the sides. The dough should clean the sides. Add a little more kamut if it is too wet. Knead for a minute or two, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 15-30 minutes.

Heat up a flat griddle or a comal on medium low heat. We prefer a cast iron comal, which you can buy online at many Mexican grocery suppliers. A 10-12 inch cast iron skillet can also serve for this.

Divide the dough into 6 roughly equal pieces. Take a quart sized ziptop type bag and cut the side edges open and remove the zip part, leaving only the bottom fold and a folded piece of heavy plastic. Put the plastic open in your tortilla press, put one of the balls of dough in, cover with the other piece of plastic, and press out the tortilla. Take the tortilla to the hot comal and cook about 30 seconds per side. You want it to have a few brown spots but not to burn.

Serve hot with butter or wrap around some fresh roasted chiles and cheese.
Makes 6

If you don't have a tortilla press, you can certainly use a rolling pin to roll out the tortillas, but that seems too much like work. Tortilla presses are readily available online and their is no substitute for fresh tortillas. Most tortilla presses will press out a 6-7 inch tortilla. Many of us are used to much larger tortillas from the store, so expect these differences before deciding if your first efforts have succeeded or not.

Most people new to tortillas don't realize that home made tortillas are generally thicker than the ones you get at the store. So, if you need thin ones, you might roll the tortillas out a little more even after pressing. Experiment and see what your family prefers.

We got our mesquite flour from Barry Farms . You'll see this name pop up a lot in our ingredient lists, along with Purcell Mountain Farms and The Spice House. We have found them to have an interesting selection of ingredients to explore, decent prices, and are pleasant to deal with.

Kamut is a registered trademark name for a special strain of wheat. It is always whole grain and always grown organically. It has a wonderful buttery flavor. We get our Kamut flour from Purcell Mountain Farms but will discuss this terrific ingredient in more detail later with more buying options.

Our next recipe up will be butternut jicama enchiladas with heirloom beans and mesquite tortillas. They will make you see Mexican style food in a whole new way!

Drop us a line if you have any questions or comments.

16 November 2008

Welcome To Thunder Bay Cafe!

Welcome to Thunder Bay Cafe!

Not only will we give you healthy and fun ideas, we will tell you what we are eating, how to fix it, where to get the ingredients, what equipment we use and even what we are drinking with it. We'll show you how to make things you never thought you could make.

Many recipes will be vegetarian and even vegan. BUT, before you click away, try us out. My current interest is making meat free food that even a carnivore can love. You know that vegetarian cooking is healthy for you, and we make it delicious AND no one will be complaining that there is no meat in it. Yes, these recipes can be THAT good!

Our recipes are meant to be fun and help you achieve success even as you explore new ingredients, cuisines and techniques. And if you have a problem, leave a comment-question and we'll see if we can help.

We live in the Midwest US in a small town. We do not have access to well stocked mega-marts and giant whole food or organic supermarkets. But access to the internet can make most any ingredient available to you as well as to us, and we try to make full use of that. Plus, we'll even tell you where we get it. During the summer, we have local produce auctions in the Amish communities as well as a weekly farmer's market. You don't have to have a mega-mart to eat well and learn new foods and techniques.

Thanks for stopping by and we hope to see you soon for our first blogs.