Friday, February 26, 2010

Carrot flan

I got Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen as a wedding shower present, and it seems to be full of really inventive recipes. This is the first one I tried, and while it didn't come out exactly the way I expected, it tasted really good. The thyme and sage flavors are present and harmonize beautifully with the carrot flavor. This was also my first flan attempt, and I'm pretty pleased with how well they set. And I didn't spill boiling water on myself or an innocent bystander. Victory!
The description of the dish in the book is as follows: As these fragrant custards bake, they turn a creamy shade of yellow on the outside and a beautiful deep rust color on the inside. It's like magic. As you can see, that didn't happen to me at all. I don't know if the carrot juice I used was too pulpy or something, but instead of that color explosion, the solids in the carrot juice, along with most of the color, aggregated, and the rest of the flan was beige. The taste was fine, and the texture of the carrot solids was not objectionable in the least, but I was kind of looking forward to the rich orange inside I was promised. I did, however, get a bonus color explosion during baking: the blue dish towel I used under the ramekins leached dye into the water. I found that disconcerting until I realized that towels aren't meant to be color-fast at 350 F.

The carrots I am growing in my garden have been a great success, despite my wimpy thinning. It's hard to tell how big they are from above, but I picked a few nice ones for the garnish for this dish. They're a nice special treat. I eat them with the greens still attached, although at this point the greens are getting a little fibrous.
Carrot flan

Nonstick spray for the ramekins
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups minced onion
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp dried rubbed sage
4 cups fresh carrot juice
6 large eggs
1 cup milk, any fat content, non-dairy OK
Homegrown baby carrots, greens still attached, for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place a folded kitchen towel neatly in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan. Spray 4 12-oz, 5 10-oz, or 6 8-oz ramekins with nonstick cooking spray and place them on top of the towel. (The towel will help distribute moist heat during baking.)

Melt the butter in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and saute for 8-10 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and herbs and saute for about 2 more minutes. Add the carrot juice, bring to a boil, then turn the heat way down. Simmer uncovered until the carrot juice is reduced by about half, 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine the eggs and milk in a medium-large bowl, and beat slowly with a fork. Place a strainer over the bowl and strain the carrot juice mixture into the eggs and milk, pressing out as much liquid as you can. Discard the solids. Gently stir until thoroughly blended. Immediately ladle into prepared ramekins. Pour hot water into the baking pan until it reaches halfway up the sides. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the custards are just set.

Serve straight from ramekins or invert onto plates. To invert, let cool for five minutes, loosed sides with a knife, put a plate on top of the ramekin, say a little prayer, and turn over. Garnish with baby carrots if desired.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I made sushi for the first time on Saturday for an Olympics-watching party. Everyone picked a country and made a dish from that country's cuisine. I chose Japan because I've been wanting to give sushi-making a whirl and figured this would be an incentive to try it. I had so much fun that I made another batch of sushi rice yesterday and had sushi for lunch and dinner. Sushi is my one vegetarian "cheat," so I was planning on getting some high-quality tuna, but I decided that it would be easier and safer just to go veggie with it. I think if you don't mind messes, this would be a really fun build-your-own dinner with your kids. They can choose their favorite fillings and go nuts.
I won't give a recipe here for making sushi rice because I followed a very complicated recipe and while it worked well, it's also a little confusing. So use whatever guide you have for making sushi rice dressed with a sweet vinegar sauce. Then get out your nori sheets* and a bamboo sushi-rolling mat. I got a little creative with the fillings, and they all turned out pretty tasty. I had some trouble at first getting the rolls to seal up, and I'm still not great at cutting them without losing the contents, but it was actually way easier that I thought it would be, and the results are certainly worth it. I might update periodically with new sushi filling combos. I might not even bother with fish. These were all made with white sushi rice, but I'm going to buy some brown sushi rice and try that too. I also want to make rolls with avocado and/or cucumber on the outside. Those are always pretty when I get them at sushi restaurants.
Small rolls:
Cucumber and pea shoots

Large rolls:
Asian pear, avocado, and pea shoots
Sauteed spinach, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms
Avocado, carrot, cucumber, shiso (Japanese herb) leaves
Carrot, daikon, and pea shoots

Tower of sushi
*Funny nori story: I bought nori sheets over a year ago and never got around to making sushi until Saturday. When I opened the package, the dessicant packet in there was way swollen up. Ah, the joys of living in the moist air of Houston!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two coconut vinegar recipes

A Chinese grocery store opened up near where Ev tutors and I have reaped the benefits,
namely coconut vinegar. Below are two dishes I made with it (the sauce is basically the
same). The cabbage bowl was colorful and fun, but the wraps are the star.
Cabbage salad bowl:

Coconut vinegar
Soy sauce
Minced fresh ginger
Minced garlic

Rice noodles
Tofu skins

Red cabbage, thinly sliced
Bean sprouts
Carrots, julienned
Snow peas
Pea shoots or other green sprouts

Combine dressing ingredients to taste. Cook rice noodles as per package directions. Cook tofu skins in a pan with some oil. Add some soy sauce and cook for 1 more minute. Combine all ingredients and dress.

Lettuce Wraps:

Coconut vinegar
Soy sauce
Minced fresh ginger
Minced garlic
Sriracha sauce

Vegetable oil for sauteeing
½ onion, thinly sliced
1/3 eggplant, julienned
3 oz shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 0z tofu skin, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 cucumber, sliced
Several cherry tomatoes, sliced
Snow peas

Romaine lettuce leaves

Combine dressing ingredients to taste.
Slice everything but the lettuce thinly like match sticks. Saute the onion and eggplant until eggplant is tender. Add the shiitakes and tofu skins and saute another five minutes or so. Add the pepper and saute for about three more minutes. Dress with sauce. To eat, put a little bit of everything in a lettuce leaf and wrap it up as neatly as you can. (Good luck!)

Sweet and sour cabbage salad

When Jon said he was making sweet and sour cabbage for dinner one night, I naturally thought Asia and suggested we serve it with sesame oil-seasoned rice noodles and bok choy. It turns out this cabbage recipe is much more German than Asian, so that was kind of a weird meal. Contemplating the cabbage during dinner, I came up with this rice salad recipe with a hard-boiled egg. It's a good simple lunch. We used this recipe from Bon Appetit for the cabbage, modifying it slightly to be vegetarian and subsituting cider vinegar for balsamic because we thought it made more sense. To have a vegan lunch salad, you might try substituting some tempeh for the egg. I wouldn't recommend just the rice and cabbage unless you want to be hungry 45 minutes later. FYI, one red cabbage made at least four batches of sweet and sour cabbage, and it also lasted in the fridge for a couple weeks, even after being cut.

Sweet and sour cabbage salad

Sweet and sour cabbage (see next recipe)
Cooked brown rice or bulgur
One hard-boiled egg

Put some rice in a bowl. Put some cabbage on top of it. Heat for about 45 seconds in the microwave so it's warm. Cut hard-boiled egg in eighths and arrange artfully on top of cabbage. Warning: the cabbage will discolor the eggs somewhat, so be prepared for some unnatural-looking blue egg whites.
Isn't it beautiful?

Sweet and sour cabbage

Vegetable oil for sauteeing
3 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1/3 cup thinly sliced onion
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar

Heat oil over medium in a large saute pan. Add everything else. Cook until cabbage is the texture you want and sauce is slightly reduced, about 10 minutes.