Friday, August 29, 2014

Facon It: What to do with meatless bacon

Fake bacon comes in a wide variety of styles and textures. Once you try them and find the one you love, you need to know how to use them best. Though my personal favorite is the Morning star farms fake bacon, I choose to use Upton’s seitan bacon  (my second favorite) because it is GMO free and it's a local Chicago based company as well. Here are some great ways to use your fake bacon.

Looks different than real bacon, but makes a great BLT!

1.     1. Eat the fake bacon along with some eggs (or scrambled tofu), potatoes and toast for breakfast. Or chopped up and added into an omelet.

2.     2. Put cooked fake bacon into a BLT or better yet a FBLT (Fake Bacon Lettuce Tomato).

3.     3. Add crumbled fake bacon into a quiche along with Swiss cheese and fresh ground nutmeg. This dish is called Quiche Lorraine a very traditional North Eastern French baked egg pie.

4.     4. Add chopped fake bacon onto baked potato skins with cheddar cheese, sour cream and scallions for vegetarian version of this popular tailgating food.

5.     5. Chopped fake bacon can be added to any salad for a crispy, salty kick.

6.     6. Add cooked fake bacon to a grilled cheese sandwich.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A new take on a classic chilled soup: White Gazpacho

I know most of you are probably familiar with the traditional red gazpacho, made with tomatoes. But have you ever tried a white gazpacho? If not, then you're in for a great treat. Like the red gazpacho, it is served chilled. It makes a great first course for a dinner party or as a soup shooter appetizer for a cocktail party.

The base ingredients for this white gazpacho are cucumbers, green grapes, almonds and bread. For this version I have made it both vegan and gluten-free and it turned out fabulously. This soup is so refreshing and clean tasting. Try it today for a unique twist on a classic chilled soup.

White Gazpacho

5 cups English (seedless) cucumbers, peeled and cubed
2 ½ cups seedless green grapes
1 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1 ¾ cups gluten free white bread, cubed and crusts removed
1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped

1 cup vegan creamer (I used So Delicious Dairy Free coconut milk creamer)
¼ cup sherry vinegar (white vinegar is fine too)
¼- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
½- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons walnut oil (optional)

Toasted almonds
Sliced green grapes
Chopped fresh chives

Put cucumbers, grapes, almonds, bread and garlic into Vita-Mix or other high-powered blender and blend ingredients till well combined. Blend from slowly from low to high till nice and creamy.

Then add the vegan creamer, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, honey and oils. Blend till creamy; adjust seasonings to your taste. Chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. Serve chilled in bowls topped with toasted almonds, sliced green grapes and chopped fresh chives.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A peach a day keeps the doctor away........

I think it’s cocktail time. Summertime is still upon us and peaches are ripe and in season. It’s a perfect time to both eat a deliciously ripe peach and to make a refreshing peach cocktail. 

Peaches have vitamin c and are a great natural source of the minerals potassium, fluoride and iron. And why not drink in all that!

 I love this cocktail because it’s full of the real peach goodness and not just a peach-flavored alcohol. The mint and lemon give it the perfect kick in flavor. You can use either a whiskey or bourbon for this recipe. So mix up one of these Sassy Peach Cocktails today and sit back, relax and ENJOY!

Sassy Peach Cocktail

½ peach, cut into slices
3-4 mint leaves
1 lemon wedge
1 oz. water
½ oz agave syrup
2 oz whiskey or bourbon
dash bitters

Combine and muddle peach, mint, lemon, water, and agave in shaker. Add whiskey and ice and shake. Pour cocktail into old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a peach slice and a mint spring.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An exploration in faux meat part deux: Bacon edition

People love bacon. Here in America especially. Heck, I think they give pigs varsity letterman jackets in Texas, don’t they? From burgers, to breakfast, chocolate dipped and an accompaniment to almost any sammy, the average person in the US eats about eighteen pounds a year. I think I just heard my heart let out a groan. So, how should we trim the fat?

There are meat-free alternatives to bacon out there. My friends and I sampled three different products last night while sipping on rosé wine (It does pair quite nicely with salty soy strips, oddly enough) and out of the three there was definitely a clear winner and loser.

So, if you are a bacon enthusiast  looking for a healthy change, someone who abides by the vege-code or have a religion that doesn’t allow you to partake, you can put bacon back on the menu. Ok, the hoof stops here. Let’s begin the exploration:

Lightlife Smart Bacon - First off, how dare you? Secondly, how dare you!? This was not great. “A hippies, unshaved armpit,” are the eloquent words my friend used to describe. I’m well aware that none of these are going to taste like the real thing but this was borderline inedible. It was visually unappealing, mealy and dry. It does get points for color, though. Small victory. There is nothing smart about eating this bacon.

Upton’s Naturals Bacon Seitan - This product wasn’t too shabby, actually. I was slightly deterred when I took it out of the packaging, but the finished product was nice. The texture was satisfying and it has a good taste to it. Unfortunately, the taste, although meaty, didn’t resemble bacon flavor. Still enjoyable. My friends and I dubbed this product the, “Uppity Whole Foods Mom.” I’m not sure if it’s because that’s where I bought it or if we were making our way through that rosé bottle. I would for sure by this product again.

MorningStar Bacon Strips - Hot dog, we have a weiner! Hmmm, I guess it would be a soy weiner . . .  Anywho, this was the clear gold medalist. It tasted like bacon, and had a texture and shape that had some semblance of the real thing. Only one disparaging comment is the color, which was very much pink. It looked like candy. Taffy to be specific. Once you get past the color, you can visualize throwing it into an omelette and some of your other favorite recipes. The good news? I discovered this is also Chef Simone’s favorite bacon alternative as well!

I hope you enjoyed this edition of my faux meat exploration. It isn’t impossible to enjoy some of your favorite foods guilt-free, you just have to know where to look. Do you hear that sizzle? That’s the sound of you bringing home fake bacon! Enjoy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Today is August 15th and it’s Lemon Meringue Pie day. What a glorious day. My favorite pie has always been Lemon Meringue. My grandmother always made it and it was amazing. I love the sweet and tart combination of flavors of the lemon curd and meringue. Citrus desserts have always been my favorites.

I also love the idea of tiny desserts. So I transformed my favorite pie into a bite-sized dessert--lemon meringue tartlets. It has three parts to it. You can make your own lemon curd, or just buy it at the store. Then you make the dough and finally the meringue topping.

For the Lemon curd, here is the recipe that I feel works best. Also if you want to make the lemon curd dairy free, feel free to substitute in a vegan butter instead of real butter. The lemon curd placed in jars is also great as little gifts.

Lemon Curd Recipe
  • 3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer; about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. It should nicely coat the spoon. Don't let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

Once you have this made, set it aside till the tart shells are backed.

Pie dough recipe
  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup cold water (you can just do ½ cup cold water if you don’t want to use vodka)
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Once you have the dough, you can roll it out and use a round cookie cutter to cut out the little shells. You place them into a mini muffin tin, press to the sides and bake for about 10-15 minutes at 375 till they are lightly golden. Let them cool. Take them out and place onto a baking sheet.

Meringue recipe
·       4 egg whites
·       6-7 tablespoons sugar

In a mixer bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.

Once the shells have cooled, fill them with the lemon curd. I like to use a piping bag with a plain tip to fill them evenly and quickly. Then top each filled shell with the meringue in a nice decorative pattern. I recommend using a pastry bag with the star tip for the meringue.

Once they are all filled, place them back into a 350 oven for 3-5 minutes, just till the peaks of the meringue are slightly browned.

These are some of my favorite little bite-sized desserts that are good for a cocktail party or even a children’s birthday party. Everyone will love these cute mini lemon meringue tartlets.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Masked Gourmand: Dangers of Gourmet Camping

You might not think of this as being ideal camping fare but I rarely go camping without including this on my menu. The dish I am speaking of is risotto.

The first time I remember making it when I went camping was with my mother a few years back.  We had set up camp and had done what we thought was an admirable job of setting up our kitchen. Well, it wasn't as good as the set up I have now, Cabela's camp kitchen, but it was okay. 

The first night I made risotto.  And oh, it was good. Very good. But we weren't hungry enough to finish it all so I packaged it up and put it in one of the coolers, along with the rest of the hunk of Parmesan cheese I hadn’t used.

We were awakened in the middle of the night with a clatter. No it wasn’t Santa on the rooftop. But you guessed it. We were being visited by raccoons.
By Darkone (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
For those of you who haven’t camped, you may not know that raccoons are nature’s garbage disposal service.  They raid campsites nightly, looking for any available food items to scavenge.

Well, I knew that, and believed that I had safely secured my food.  Packing it away in coolers with tops well closed.  I also put garbage in bags in the trunk of the car.

But the middle of the night clatter proved my wrong. 

We rushed out of the tent, flashlights blazing, and chased the varmints off.  They left so quickly they had to leave behind their haul.

We assessed the damage. They had broken into my plastic container of herbs and spices.  No damage. Nothing taken.  They had also managed to open a cooler and guess what they took?  The leftover risotto. And, on top of that, they had grabbed the extra Parmesan cheese. 

We dubbed these coons as gourmands, for sure.  And the rest of the camping trip we put many weighted things on top of the coolers so they COULD NOT get in.

So, that’s my risotto camping story and this is how I make it.  This is where the cast iron skillet is essential.  You can make this over a camp stove or a campfire.

What you’ll need for a basic risotto recipe:
Arborio rice
Vegetable or chicken stock (or bouillon cubes)
Onion or shallots
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Optional: fresh chopped herbs to throw in at end

To start, heat olive oil and butter in the skillet and saute chopped onions (actually I prefer shallots) until softened, 2-3 minutes. DON'T let them get too dark. (You can add minced garlic here as well).  Season with salt and pepper. The saute 1 cup of arborio rice for a 1-2 minutes, stirring often.) Then de-glaze the pan with a cup of dry white wine.  Cook off for a minute or two. As that cooks down, make sure you have the stock nearby. I prefer to have it heated up a little.

Add stock after the wine cooks down and continue simmering the dish over medium heat, stirring often.  Add half cup to cup at a time.  You will probably use 3-5 cups of stock.  This simmering process should take 20-25 minutes.

When it's soft enough, and I like a softer risotto, add a half stick of butter a cup of grated Parmesan and mix in.  Whip up so it's nice and creamy. Add fresh herbs if desired, such as basil, thyme, oregano. This brightens up the dish.

Then serve.  And eat it all down or the coons will get it!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fish are Jumpin'

Gershwin said it well.
            Summertime and the livin' is easy
            Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high

And since this month celebrates catfish, in our national food holiday index, I thought it might be good to revisit one of my favorite catfish recipes. 

Yes, it’s the Blackened Catfish episode from FOODGASM.

So, maybe you don’t have time to check out whether the fish are jumpin’, but you can shuffle down to your fish market or even your local supermarket, and put some catfish in your basket for a lovely meal this weekend.

Mangoes are nicely in season, so pick up a couple as well, and make my mango salsa.

You can find the recipe in an earlier post.

Yes. Now that’s good eatin’.  Go catch some fish, and have a Foodgasm this weekend.