Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Plant-based Meal

My friend, Chris started a plant-based diet on January 1st for reasons she'll have to explain.  I can only say that she's sticking to it.  While being a vegetarian is somewhat challenging - plant-based only is downright demanding.   It's not just fish and meat that must be eliminated from your diet - but also anything that is produced by an animal.  That means honey is out too.   However,  I like a bit of a culinary puzzle.  I invited Chris and her husband, Bert to come over for Sunday lunch.  Now, may I say, parenthetically, that Sunday lunch is a tradition that needs to be revived.  I mean, Sunday at about 3pm so that you have all the rest of the day to digest and really don't have to eat an evening meal.  Except for a little snack while watching  Downton Abbey - for example.

I cheated a bit while putting together the meal - with Chris' permission, of course.  I included the butternut squash spread  (which contains the slightest bit of sheep's milk yogurt); a version of the New Year's Eve salad - this time with - beets and celery root very thinly sliced on a mandolin then finely julienned, tossed together with fresh lemon juice, pomegranate seeds, extra virgin olive oil and salt.  The salad was served, garnished with thinly sliced fried shallots - which get very crispy and flavor-filled, and chopped fresh mint; and blood orange and rosemary focaccia.   I subscribe to a food newsletter that recently included a recipe for Meyer lemon focaccia.  However that recipe included sugar sprinkled on top and I wanted a savory flat bread.  So, I did a riff on the recipe and used my dough recipe and in-season blood oranges  for which I have a particular passion.  One of my madeleines is Sicily.  In February, the whole island is dizzily fragrant with orange blossoms most of which will become blood oranges.

I made the dough for this batch with organic all-purpose flour from Wild Hive Farm.  It was the first time I used their flour for this application.  I used my standard focaccia/schiacciata (very thin focaccia) recipe but found the dough to be very sticky and wet so I added some all-purpose white flour to pull it together.

Makes 4 focaccie

For the dough
one 1 1/4- ounce package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
3 cups organic all-purpose whole wheat flour
1/2 cup organic all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the topping
4 blood oranges, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon
4 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1.   Make the dough:  Combine the yeast, sugar, and water (I use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup).  Let stand until foamy, about 15 minutes.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture, then add the yeast mixture to the flour.  Mix well.  Turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead until soft and elastic, 3 to 4 minutes.
2.   Swish a few tablespoons of the olive oil in a large bowl and place the dough in it.  Turn the dough so it's thoroughly covered in oil.  Cover and place in a warm draft-free environment to rise.   It should double in size in 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Punch down.  Cut into 4 pieces and return to the bowl.  Re-cover.
3.   Heat the oven to 450 - 500 degrees F. ( you know what your oven can do - it needs to be very hot) Have ready 2 baking sheets or jelly roll pans.   Stretch each piece of dough into a log that measures about 3 inches by 12 inches.  Pat down in place on the sheets or pans.   Place the orange slices over the dough.  Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle the salt and rosemary over each schiacciata.  Bake until the crust is golden - 12 - 15 minutes.   { this was the first time that I used my oven for schiacciata and they over-cooked a tad - still very tasty}.  Slice and serve immediately - or even at room temperature.     It would be spectacular with gorgonzola - when you go off the plant-based only diet!

The main course was polenta - moistened with garlic and a tiny bit of hot pepper sauteed in olive oil instead of butter and cheese.  It worked.  The polenta was topped with a stew made with chick peas - soaked overnight and cooked with a piece of onion and bay leaf drained -  added to tomato sauce made with last summer's paste tomatoes that had been frozen and thawed for just an occasion like this one, chard leaves and  ribs separately chopped, and thinly sliced fennel that was first sauteed 'til deep gold in fennel seed-scented olive oil.

The meal was was bright and tasty, flying right in the face of the notion that winter food is dull and monochromatic.   To ensure that our Sunday lunch would be a true respite from the grey, gelid, upstate New York day I set the table with spring colors, and picked up a tussie mussie made with  sweetly fragrant, little yellow puffballs on a stem =  mimosa (another madeleine - February in Genoa), shocking pink tea roses and tulips at Lick the Market ( subscribe to their newsletter - info@lickhudson.com ) where I purchased just about everything else that I used to make the meal.

The food was delicious and very digestible and none of us noticed the absence of meat or dairy.  Can I make a strictly plant-based diet a way of life?  I don't think so.  I like to believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that meat should be a condiment to your vegetables.  Yes, and a little cheese too!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY  245th ROBBIE BURNS.   Scotland's cherished poet and lyricist - Auld Lang Syne  
It's a tradition among many of his fans, Scots and admirers of everything Scottish to celebrate his birthday with a "Burns Supper"  which has its own particular parameters.   I was fortunate to be an included guest at a Burns supper for his January 25th birthday.   The hostess loosely followed the Supper script.  She served haggis - the loved or hated savory pudding that is traditionally made with minced sheep's heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onion, suet and spices stuffed into sheep's lung but NOT made exactly that way in the USA where sheeps' lung is not permitted - stuffed into a chicken breast then wrapped in prosciutto and baked, neeps (mashed turnips), tatties (mashed potatoes) and potatoes Dauphinois in recognition of Mary Queen of Scots', very short-lived  marriage to the Dauphin, the king of France.  Dessert was a chocolate Guiness cake.  If  the Scottish Burns could ever have  tasted the dense, damp, kind of smoky chocolate cake made with Irish (!) stout I'm sure he would have approved.  The cake was iced with a frosting made with cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and heavy cream whipped and applied to the cake so it resembled the head on a pint of Guiness.  All of this meal, which started with Scottish smoked salmon and was accompanied by single malt whisky - a downright genius addition- throughout was delicious and festive, and the company was exactly the same.   Compliments to Morag and Michael.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   HOT OFF THE PRESS -  a little cookbook that I just made to accompany the goods at LICK the Market.   The more I shopped there the more I realized that I could get just about everything I needed to put meals together.  So, with Michael's  (the proprietor of LICK) OK I put together some recipes using ingredients from LICK's shelves.     You can pick up a copy of  "Cooking from the Market: make good food with ingredients from LICK the market"  at the 253 Warren Street shop.


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