Wednesday, January 18, 2017

15 Minute Black Bean Soup


On busy weeknights, it's often really tempting to pop a frozen pizza into the oven and chow down. Easy, yes. Healthy? Sure, if you only eat one portion. Self-control, I do not have.

There are tons of nourishing meals that require minimal prep and that can be made just as quickly as frozen food. My weeknight bff? Canned goods. This particular pantry-meal is the lovechild of a can of beans and a can of tomato juice.

Minimal prep. Minimal mess. Maximal flavour.

This beauty in a bowl was inspired by Trois Fois Par Jour, where I came across Marilou's idea for black bean soup. I didn't have many of the listed ingredients on hand, so I did what chefs do best - I improvised! Similar to chilli, with a nice little kick, this 15 minute meal will have you wishing that you'd made more.

15 Minute Spicy Black Bean Soup
vegan, gluten-free, super delicious

ingredients
2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
3 small white onions, chopped
1 can (540ml) tomato juice
1 can (540ml) black beans, rinsed and drained (I use low-sodium, PC Brand)
1 adobo chili pepper
2 tsp coriander seed (ground)
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin (ground)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
pinch salt

instructions
In dutch oven or large deep saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add onions (they should sizzle when they hit the pan.) Stir immediately and reduce heat to medium. Cook until slightly browned. Slowly add tomato juice and stir. Bring to a boil. Add beans, adobo pepper, coriander, paprika & cumin. Cover & simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and pulse several times with a hand blender (also known as my pshhht pshhht machine!) Stir in chopped cilantro and lime juice. Serve hot, with pita slices or tortilla chips.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

3-Ingredient Smashed Potatoes


Are you ready for a super simple three-ingredient recipe that will change your potato game? Boil some water and fire up your oven. These roasted smashed potatoes are everything you've ever wanted. Crispy on the outside. Tender on the inside. And of course, just the right amount of salt. This recipe works best with baby potatoes that are cut in half, so that each and every one can have that delicious crispy potato skin, but larger potatoes that are cut in discs will work well too!


Beware: these are addictive. You may just find yourself making them all the time. And I mean ALL. THE. TIME. Because of this, you may get an inkling to change it up one night - feel free to add your favourite herbs and spices in the last 10 minutes of cooking, and take these babies to an otherworldly level.

BONUS POINTS: You can turn this into a make-ahead recipe by placing the par-boiled potatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and keeping them in the fridge a few hours before. They make a great side-dish to literally anything.

3-Ingredient Oven-Roasted Smashed Potatoes
recipe by allison sklar

600g (approx. 3 cups) potatoes (preferably baby red or fingerling potatoes)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp sea salt

Wash and dry your potatoes. Remove eyes or funny looking spots, but don't peel.
If using baby or fingerling potatoes, cut in half.
If using "regular" potatoes, cut in 1" thick discs or wedges.
Place potatoes inside a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil.
Boil for about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender, easily pierced with a fork.
Drain.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place potatoes on baking sheet. Allow to cool to room temperature.

NOTE: If you are preparing this ahead to be cooked later, cover loosely with plastic and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat oven to 450F.
Using the palm of your hand or a large spoon, push gently in the middle of each potato, slightly flattening it.
Pour oil over potatoes and sprinkle with salt.
Mix around with your hands, ensuring they are relatively evenly covered.
Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes, until potatoes are crispy and golden.

Serve hot.
If fully prepared ahead, reheats very well at 400F for about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Make Your Own Sourdough - Step by Step


How to make your own sourdough from scratch
a.k.a. Allison's Adventures in Sourdough Land

Today, I'm going to show you how to make an easy, no fuss, (almost) no knead sourdough that'll knock your socks off.

A few weeks ago, I decided to embark on a quest to make my own sourdough bread. Inspired by Michael Pollan's latest book (a MUST-read for food lovers) Bread - something that was once undeniably basic - has become incredibly artisanal in the past few years, and there is a reason why - it truly is an art. There is a certain pride in cooking from scratch, even more so when you've cultivated your own ingredients. While I don't have the means to grow and mill my own wheat, I've done the next best thing: cultivated wild yeast.

Fermenting foods is not new to me. I had a brief love-hate relationship with a Kombucha scoby a few years back, and I've brewed my own ale & lemon wine (though, the latter may have had a taste similar to prison hooch.) This sourdough starter method is a piece of cake -- err, bread -- compared to all of that.

This magical starter is comprised of three ingredients: flour, water, and time.

Time is possibly the most crucial of all when making your actual bread. I do admit, I had three failed attempts before I finally found success. The problem? My starter was much too young. Many websites and blogs will tell you that 5 days is enough to get it well and going.

5 days is a gigantic lie.

Maybe if you're using magical flour and you live in San Francisco that'll work for you, but in my reality, my starter needed a good three weeks before it was ready to produce it's first loaf. You can do this with any type of flour (rye has been highly recommended to me) but I decided to use regular ol' AP white flour. It's what I have an abundance of, and it's relatively cheap, so if this experiment failed, at least I wouldn't have spent too much on it.


Making your sourdough starter
You will need :
  • large glass (or ceramic) bowl OR a large, wide-mouthed jar (do not use metal)
  • spoon or spatula
  • kitchen scale
  • cheesecloth
  • an elastic 
  • filtered or purified water
  • flour
Place 50g flour and 50g water in your dish. Gently stir until well combined. Cover with cheesecloth and let sit for 24 hours. The next day, add another 50g flour and 50g water. Stir again. Wait another 24 hours, repeat, repeat, repeat. 

You will do this for 3 full weeks, leaving your jar in the same place, at room temperature. Your starter will begin to get bubbly and active around day 3 (see photo just below) and start smelling slightly sour around day 5. This is good! Keep going! Check for signs of mould (pink, green or black). Any signs of mould and you must throw your starter away and begin again.

If your starter is becoming too big for your bowl or jar, discard all but 100g, and continue feeding daily.


Maintaining Your Starter

You'll keep your starter in the fridge while she's not in use. Feed her about once a week (mark it on your calendar to remind yourself!) If you don't end up using her for a while, give some away to friends and family so that they can partake in this sourdough magic themselves! When you're ready to bake, make sure to take your starter out and feed it about 8 hours before you mix your dough.

Baking your sourdough bread

You'll find a lot of articles and websites telling you that you have to make a starter, take it's temperature, make a levain, then an autolyse... the whole process might seem a bit daunting, or even very intimidating. This is the most basic, no-knead, long-rise method that works for me every single time. I am no expert in sourdough, but I know what works, and I know what tastes good, and this, my friends, is it.



No Knead Basic Sourdough Bread Recipe
easy to make - great for beginners - no levain required - no knead

The word "basic" may be in the title, but this loaf is anything but. It's complex flavour and aroma will take your sandwich game to the next level.

TIMING IS IMPORTANT! This dough takes 12 hours to rise, and then another 2 hours after the punch down before baking. That means that it will only go into the oven 14 hours after you mix it together. I like to make it right before bed, and bake it in the morning. Alternatively, if you're an early riser, make the dough in the morning and bake it in the late evening.

Ingredients

1/4 cup active starter (see above)
1 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Combine the starter and the water in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Mix until mostly dissolved. Add half the flour and mix with a bench scraper, spatula, or your hands. Add the other half of the flour and the salt. Mix together until fully combined. Make a ball with the dough, cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm (room temperature) place for 12 hours.

Notes: your dough will be a bit sticky, and quite shaggy in texture. This is normal.
If it is too dry and not holding together, add a tbsp or two of water at a time until it's all together.
Do not add too much water. The dough will soften overnight!

12 Hours Later: flour a work surface and your hands, and scrape the dough out of the bowl onto it. Make a smooth ball by pulling/stretching (not kneading) the dough, as if you were folding it onto itself. Don't play with it too much as it will start to stick to your hands.

Flour a tea towel. Place dough ball on tea towel, sprinkle with more flour. Use towel to cover the dough. Place in a clean bowl and let rise another 2 hours.

1 1/2 hours later: Place your dutch oven in your cold oven. Heat to 450F. Allow dutch oven to warm up along with your oven and let it stay in there about 30 minutes.

1/2 hour later: You've reached the 14 hour mark, hurray! Remove hot pan from oven (be careful if using silicone oven mitts as they may melt - I speak from experience. Wrap them with a towel first!)

Gently turn dough out into the hot pan. Use a sharp knife to cut three slits on top. Cover and return to oven for 25 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking another 30 minutes, or until top is dark and gold. Remove, cool for about 15 minutes in the pot, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Exercise self-control: do not slice until bread has cooled!

Enjoy!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Mini Vegan Mushroom Pot Pies


Single-serving meals always make me happy: they make plating a breeze, they freeze well, they are darling to photograph - and, most excitingly, they give me a reason to use my favourite Le Creuset ceramic dishes.

I've always had a soft spot for pretty dining accessories, even more so now that I'm upping my food photography game. I've recently been coveting the Corningware Meal Mugs. I first saw these gorgeous cobalt babies on my friend Ksenia's recent post over at The Immigrant's Table, and I instantly fell in love. I'll be posting about more of my favorite kitchen tools and accessories in the coming months, as I begin to expand this blog to include more than just recipes - so, be excited! 


For now though, let's get straight down to the best part about this post - the food! I bought a gigantic container of assorted dried wild mushrooms (similar mix here) a couple of months back, and I've been finding ways to add them into everything. The meaty texture and the complex flavours ensure that meat-loving friends & family will be more than satisfied. Tossed with fresh mushrooms and the french holy trinity (onions, celery and carrot) and seasoned with fresh earthy herbs, these hearty individual-serving pies will keep you warm on chilly evenings. These simple plant-based pot pies are a great weeknight meal that you can easily prepare ahead, and the leftovers keep quite well for up to 5 days in the fridge - so you can enjoy this again and again!


- - - PREPARATION TIPS - - - 
  • Rehydrate your dried mushrooms ahead of time by pouring one cup of boiling water over mushrooms. Allow to soak for at least 15 minutes. Allow to cool, and slice into pieces. 
  • Make sure that you use a blend of fresh and dried mushrooms - rehydrated mushrooms bring about a beautiful complexity, but if you add too many, your filling well get a little too chewy.
  • Make sure to thaw your frozen puff pastry a couple of hours before you begin!

Mini Vegan Pot Pies
recipe by allison sklar 

ingredients
2 tbsp cooking oil (grapeseed, vegetable, corn, or canola)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (recipe for vegan broth here)

3 carrots, diced
2 celery sicks, diced
1 large onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3 cups fresh white or cremini mushrooms, roughly diced
1 oz dried assorted mushrooms, rehydrated & chopped (see note above)
1/4 cup flour

1 cup cooked or canned lentils (drained)
1 cup frozen green peas
4 tbsp assorted chopped fresh herbs: I used a blend of sage, rosemary, thyme & oregano
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed (vegans: read labels to ensure that it is vegetable-based oil!)

method
In a large mixing bowl, toss mushrooms with flour and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add carrots, celery and onions. 
Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften and slightly brown. 
Add mushrooms and stir. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. 
Use a wooden spoon or flat wooden spatula to scrape the pan. 
Once mushrooms begin to shrink, add broth, lentils, peas, herbs & nutmeg.
Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.

While your filling is simmering, lightly grease ramekins, Corningware mugs, or oven-proof stoneware dishes of your choice. Roll out your puff pastry dough on a lightly floured work surface. 
Cut the pastry using square or round cookie cutters, large enough to drape slightly over the edge of your dishes. The pastry will shrink slightly when cooked.

Uncover filling and check for consistency. It should be stew-like, not soupy. If the filling seems to dry or thick, add a few tbsp of broth to make it flow. If it's too watery, cook uncovered until some liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens.

Fill your dishes about 3/4 full with the prepared filling. (Do not overfill as the filling will bubble over in the oven!) Top with pastry. 
Cut a few small slits in the top of each one to allow for ventilation. 

Bake in a preheated 400F oven for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 8 to 12 minutes, or until crusts are golden brown. 

Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving - filling will be extremely hot!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Homemade Soft Pretzels


Soft pretzels bring back memories of childhood. In the early 90's, I loved going to see the Expos play - not because I loved baseball - but because I knew that it meant that I'd get to drink orange soda and share a soft pretzel with my dad. When the Expos decided to pack up and leave the city, I knew that my soft-pretzel eating days were over. Sure, they sometimes had them at the Hockey games, but they just weren't the same.


Unlike in the States, good soft pretzels are hard to come by up here in Canada, and each one that I've had has only been mediocre. I was originally going to say that my recipe will help you re-create the kind of soft pretzels that you get at the mall - but that would be a lie. It would be a lie because these pretzels are SO much better than mall pretzels. The melt-in your mouth fluffy goodness combined with the satisfaction of knowing that you made them yourself may just create the perfect pretzel.


Now, you're likely visiting my blog today because you're wondering: how do I make soft pretzels?! The method is indeed quite simple, an easy task even for novice bakers.
  • First, you proof your yeast (let it sit for 10 mins in lukewarm liquid). 
  • Then, you stir in the flour, a bit at a time, until it forms a shaggy dough. 
  • Third, you knead for a few minutes, until it all comes together and looks relatively smooth. 
  • Let it sit for a bit to rise, and then onto the shaping and baking! 
There are more details in the recipe down below as I walk you through each step.

One last question: should you make your pretzels salty or sweet? It's entirely up to you! I personally prefer the salted variety with a generous serving of hot mustard for dipping. However, feel free to sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on yours, if you swing with the sweeter crowd. (Same baking time, same basic instructions!)

This recipe is relatively quick - in that it only takes one hour to rise, a few minutes to shape, and 10 minutes to bake! Hands on, you're probably looking at no more than 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your level of dough kneading experience.

Homemade Soft Pretzels
(a.k.a. Mall Style Soft Pretzels a.k.a. Copycat Mall Pretzels)

ingredients
1 cup milk
1 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp sugar
4 tsp dry active yeast
4 tbsp butter, softened
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt


baking soda bath
1 cup water
1 1/2 Tbsp baking soda


topping
2 tbsp (approx.) coarse salt
6 tbsp (approx.) butter, melted 

Mix the salt with the flour and set aside. Heat milk to body temperature (no more than 100F, you should be able to stick your finger comfortably inside) and pour into a large glass or ceramic bowl (avoid metal, as it is reactive with yeast.) Add sugar and yeast and mix lightly with a fork or whisk.  Add softened butter and half of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add in remaining flour and mix by hand until a shaggy dough forms. Knead in the bowl or on your counter for about 5 minutes, until dough is relatively smooth. (See photos above!) Note: do not add too much extra flour when kneading - it will make your pretzels tough and chewy, and you don't want that! Put the round dough into bowl that's lightly been brushed with oil. Cover with a tea towel or wet paper towels, let rise for 1 hour.

While you're waiting, combine baking soda into a cup of boiling water and let it sit until cooled. 

Once dough has doubled in size, preheat your oven to 450F.

Turn dough out onto your work surface and cut 12 to 18 equal pieces. 
Roll each into a long rope, approximately 30cm. 
Shape into pretzels (see photos below). 

Dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution and immediately transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving enough space between each one. 
Sprinkle with coarse salt. Sesame seeds or dehydrated onion also work well here!

Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with remaining melted butter. Delicious straight out of the oven, or allow to cool and store in an airtight container for future consumption. Note: these also freeze quite well, and are a great after-school or after-work snack that you can pop from the freezer to the oven to heat up and eat! 


Serve with copious amounts of spicy mustard.