San Francisco – Gracias Madre

I decided that I’d had about enough of Austin and headed out to California to spend some quality time with my mom this week. It’s been gorgeous. Yesterday we went to San Francisco to visit some friends and stop at one of my all time favorite restaurants Gracias Madre which I hadn’t been to in a few years. I saw that they opened up a beautiful location in LA and I sure hope Austin is next. California Mexican food is so different from in Texas. I love it. We started with the potato and masa gorditas.

They were fried perfectly crisp and soft inside and served with a cashew cream and the ubiquitous avocado. We also got the mole empanada. The last time I was here I wasn’t a fan of their mole but with the sweetness of the fried plantain in the empanada it was more balanced and delicious.

For my entrée I chose the pozole because I’d heard it was delicious and also I had in my mind all day that it would be cold and foggy in SF. It was sunny and warm but, whatever, I was set for some soup.

It was yummy and chock-full of avocado but it wasn’t as good as the recipe make at home all the time. I was hoping after this to try the flan but by the time our waitress came back all that food had hit my belly and there was no way. For dinner we went to Dosa on FIlmore and I’m still recovering from all the delicious cocktails, Uttapam, potato and basil spicy dosa and every kind of chutney. If you go, and you should, make sure you ask for the vegan menu because it’s very clear and even mentions if cashews are used which I know many are allergic too. It was magical, highly recommended. Now I’m going to lie down.

Ahhh, vacation.

Secret Ingredients: Miso

I don’t know what I would do without miso. It’s a key element to almost everything I make. I read that in Japan miso is as important as cheese is in France and you can go to specialty stores and seek out whatever miso you like from hundreds of different kinds. There are similarities to the two victuals. Both are craft foods that have been around for hundreds of years and, since they are fermented, vary greatly depending on the ingredients used, the weather, and even the processing. According to Japanese mythology, miso itself is a gift to mankind from the gods to assure lasting health, longevity, and happiness. Basically, it is made by cooking soy beans, mixing them with salt and a culturing agent called koji which is a fermented grain and then it’s aged in wooden vats. I became very interested in making my own after reading Wild Fermentation years back but, with the intense heat in Texas, I’m always a bit leery of trying my luck at fermenting. I’m excited, because later this year in November the author of that book Sandor Ellix Katz is coming to Austin for the fermentation festival so I really want to go and learn more about our unique issues.

As it is now, I buy all kinds of miso and usually have a couple of different ones in the fridge. For a while I was hooked on the Dandelion Leek one from South River pictured above but I always have a white on hand and keep trying different kinds. Anywhere where mustard is called for I sub in miso. I love love love simple creamy tahini miso dressing on roasted vegetables, bowls, or even salads. I think miso gravy is amazing. To make any sort of cheesy vegan recipe miso is a must. Of course, most people think of miso soup when they think of miso and I do enjoy the simple Japanese version in the winter but I’ve also learned you can add miso to just about any soup and it will improve it. It’s basically salty fermented goodness packed with protein and probiotics which makes it a perfect vegan food.

Miso Glazed Brussels Sprouts

Secret Ingredients: Coconut Butter

Windy-City-Organics-Dastony-Coconut-Butter-608819794600I think I first became aware of Coconut Butter years ago when I decided to go on a raw foods diet. One of my favorite recipes from that time was from Raw Food/Real World’s Macaroons which are basically coconut butter and almond flour dehydrated. During this experiment with raw food I learned a lot about myself, mainly that I prefer cooked food. I did continue to make the macaroons for Christmas and occasionally used the coconut butter when called for in recipes for other desserts.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when I learned to saute savory foods in coconut butter that I started to realize it makes almost everything taste good. I am not really a fan of quinoa, for example, but if I wash it and then saute the seeds for a minute in coconut butter before adding the water they become both aromatic and buttery rich. It works even better with rice. I love re-frying beans in a bit of the coconut butter or starting curry in the oil, or even finishing some off with a dollop if it’s missing that something.

Coconuts are one of the oldest foods in recorded history. There are all sorts of uses beyond making coconut cream pie and coconut radios. The butter itself is a great moisturizer and you can even remove eye make-up with it. If you were ever trapped on a tropical island they would be the first thing you’d probably start eating since they are delicious and full of fat. Don’t fall asleep under the coconut tree though, I learned on a trip to Costa Rica that more people die from getting whacked on the head from a falling coconut then by shark attacks. It’s made me wary of the beach ever since.

We humans get our revenge of coconuts though. In order to make the butter one must first create an emulsion of the raw coconut meat and water. “Modern techniques use centrifuges and pre-treatments including cold, heat, acids, salts, enzymes, electrolysis, shock waves, or some combination of them.” YIKES!

I think in most of the raw coconut butters you find at the co-op are just ground up, perhaps using elephant labor as is depicted on the jar above. BUT if elephants are laboring over our coconut butter aren’t we exploiting them and therefore making the product less vegan? I am hoping it’s just a cute picture but it really raises some questions that we, as a community, will have to someday face.

Secret Ingredients: Aji Amarillo

Yesterday, I did a post about how much the use of Mojo de Ajo has improved my cooking and so I thought I would talk about some other “secret ingredients” that have improved my cooking over the years.

In Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Viva Vegan I learned about Aji Amarillo peppers, I soon found it at Fiesta and it’s been a staple ever since. Fiesta has both the paste and the peppers but I have stuck with the paste because it’s just so dang easy to use. Aji amarillo is a pepper that is mostly used in Peruvian food where, as I understand, they use it in just about everything. It’s from the family Capsicum baccatum which is full of peppers we don’t use a lot here in the states. The only one I’m familiar with is the Peppadew. I have heard that this family is easier to grow here because we don’t have the same pests, ours go after bell peppers and jalapeno, but I didn’t have much luck this summer. Actually, none of my peppers grew so it probably had something to do with me and my inherent laziness.

The pepper paste is good in all sorts of things, one of my early favorites was coating tempeh in it and then grilling with it as I learned in Viva Vegan. But, adding a bit to anything that could use a bit of fruity, delicious, spiciness like corn chowder and salsas is great too. I learned that in Peru they use it in cheesy sauce and, truly, that is where it really shines. One of my all time favorite recipes is the Mac Daddy from Veganomicon and when I added some Aji to the sauce it really took the dish to the next level. Like, best thing I ever had level. Like, I can hardly even look at this picture because I can’t stand to remember how good it was. Other changes we made to the Mac Daddy is using miso instead of mustard, a bit of lime instead of lemon, adding more flour, and using panko on top in the final baking. In the picture below I actually used some old flour tortillas and it was just wonderful. 

So if you see some around grab it and start experimenting. I bet it would be just wonderful in homemade queso.

Secret Ingredients: Mojo de Ajo

Roasted garlic, fruity olive oil, salt, and a bit of acid are the most important and simplest ways to add tons of flavor to any recipe. I learned about Mojo de Ajo in the new book Vegan Tacos and it has quickly become my secret ingredient superstar.

Basically, you roast a cup and a half of peeled garlic cloves in 2 cups of oil in the oven with some salt for almost an hour. Then, you add half a cup of lime juice and roast for another 20 minutes and the “gravy” turns golden. After that you let it cool, pour it into a jar, and use it in every single thing you make. Add some on roasted potatoes! Cook your fat-free refried beans in it and laugh at the fat-free label! Start your tofu scramble with some mojo! Add some of the garlic to your pizza! Here is the recipe from Rick Bayless.

It’s the most wonderful short cut ever and I wish someone had told me about it years ago. The hardest part was finding already peeled garlic cloves but they were in a back refrigerator at Sam’s Club which means Walmart and Costco probably have them too. Of course, you could peel the heads yourself too but for me it made more sense to drive around to every store in town. I also got some fancy tequilla at the Spec’s next door after talking to a wonderful sales associate from Guadalajara for quite some time so it was actually a very fruitful trip to the strip mall center of South Austin. Maybe I should do a post on tequilla before I forget everything he told me.

In my travels I also learned that while mojo means “sauce” in Spanish (pronounced Mo Ho) when we are talking about “working that mojo” (pronounced Mo Jo like the helper monkey in that episode of the Simpson’s) we are actually referring to a magical charm bag used in hoodoo. I had no idea. That’s three kinds of mojo! 

Super Natural Foods – a new raw vegan meal delivery service in Austin

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Super Natural Foods to let you all know about their new meal delivery service here in Austin. Normally, I wouldn’t be too excited about another raw cleanse program but this one really caught my eye because they are using local, organic, vegan products, they deliver, and along with some raw food experts, the executive chef from Beets is involved. I thought Beets had really delicious raw foods and I was sorry to see them close down. Also, I’ve been eating tons of tacos and ice cream lately (but not yet ice cream tacos) so I thought it would be a good idea to get some raw veggies into my diet. They deliver a big bag of all the food that you will need for the next day at around 7pm, right after they make it, so that you will be all ready for the next day. When I got my bag I couldn’t believe how much food was in it. 

I was actually feeling really ill the next day so it couldn’t have come at a better time, although my pictures did suffer from my lack of attention to detail! I assure you that all the food was amazingly fresh and vibrant. In fact, that is what I was most impressed with overall, everything from the vegetables to the containers, to the details of the diet seemed very high quality.

The day started with Strawberry Banana Malt Smoothie which I really adored. I usually don’t like smoothies that aren’t fresh out of the blender but this one was still delicious even though it was made the day before. Maybe it’s a high-powered blender thing? Their Signature Green Juice was still fantastic too, I was worried from looking at it that it might be to grassy but it was really tasty with a nice mix of greens and other vegetables like cucumber. Included with the food is a days worth of supplements including a pro-biotic,  a blood purifying herb called manjistha, and a colon cleansing herb called triphala. They also packed in some shots made with lemon juice, ginger juice and cayenne pepper and are meant to optimize your digestion. 

For lunch a beautiful Eggless Egg Salad Bagel with crudite was included. As a flour bagel lover I was a bit wary of this but it was tasty and healthy and the portion was quite large. In fact I wasn’t even hungry for dinner!

Don’t worry, I still ate the snack which was Maca Energy Nuggets. They didn’t sound too enticing but I absolutely loved them. I wouldn’t even let Dan try them (Shh it’s a good thing he just looks at the pictures). I ate them with the zucchini soup  which I wasn’t a big fan of but I think they are going to work on.

This was served with a salad of petite Greens with shaved root vegetables, sweet 100 tomatoes and fennel vinaigrette. which was still beautiful by the time I got to it the next day. 

It’s a lot of food for one person! I think this would be a great option for someone with a healthy appetite that wants to get more healthy things into their body. Since it’s delivered and all the meals are ready to go it would be great for anyone that doesn’t have time or interest in dealing with preparing raw food. It would be perfect, too, for somebody who is dealing with an illness. I know from experiance that it can be impossible to aquire healthy food like this when you are too sick to drive anywhere. It’s much easier to do a taco cleanse :)

Good luck to Super Natural Food, I hope that you all are super succesful.

 

GIVEAWAY and Review of Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick

If you follow my Instagram than you’ve seen that the last few weeks I’ve been pretty consumed with making vegan tacos. It isn’t the first time I’ve dedicated my life to tacos and, I can tell you, it won’t be the last. I’ve had so much fun and I’ve learned a ton from Jason’s wonderful book Vegan Tacos. I love his infectious enthusiasm for tacos. In fact, when I read the way that he described eating a fresh tortilla for the first time I kind of fell in love with him. He’s a kindred spirit. The book is filled with pictures of him making tacos for his friends and family in his lovely backyard kitchen and you can really see that he wants to spread the gospel that tacos are life, or the best parts anyway.

Vegan Tacos starts with a history of the tacos, including Jason’s own family’s brushes with Mexican culinary legends. He then goes into all the different special ingredients so you can tell your cascabel chile from a habenero and then talks about tools that you might invest in like a comal or a molcajete. Won’t someone out there please get me a molcajete? I have to make my guacamole with a potato masher like some sort of philistine! It then gets into the most important chapter, the tortilla. I’ve long been a tortilla snob at restaurants but for my own taco making my tortilla press was stored on top of the refrigerator and neglected to very special occasion status. I was perfectly happy to get tortillas, still warm mind you, from Fiesta or Central Market. But, with Jason’s encouragement, I’ve gotten into the habit of pressing out tortillas every day. I even broke my old aluminum tortilla press and sprung for the cast iron version. It’s true what he says, the cast iron one presses out much thinner tortillas. Now that it’s habit and I’ve gotten good I can make quite a few in no time. Making your own tortillas makes all the difference in the world and is the only way you will ever get to the perfect taco.

Purple Potato Tacos with roasted Hatch Peppers, Queso Fresco, and Salsa Verde on homemade Corn Tortillas

The next chapter has other essential skills and recipes to elevate your taco making. Jason uses mojo de ajo in most of his recipes and though I had never heard of it before I knew I’d have to make up a batch to fully enjoy the book and I’m glad I did. This garlic and citrus infused oil has made all the difference in sauteing. I love it and it will become a kitchen staple. There are also recipes for pressed seitan, achiote paste, chorizo, and techniques like pan roasting vegetables. Not in this chapter but towards the end of the book with the condiments are some recipes for vegan cheese, a fermented Mexican Crema, Queso Fresco from homemade tofu, and Queso Oaxaca which is a melting cheese based on a Miyoko recipe. Having all of these base recipes and techniques has definitely elevated my taco making and having all these components on hand makes dinner tacos a snap to prepare after work.

Vampire Tacos with Queso Oaxaca

After that we get into the main part of the book, the taco filling recipes starting with Tacos de Asador or “Tacos with fillings charred over an open flame.” I sadly don’t have a grill anymore so I couldn’t fully utilize these but Jason does give directions for cooking them on the stove top or in the oven. You can see my Vampire Tacos above didn’t quite curl up like bat wings without the heat of the grill. I really want to try the Tacos with Smoked Mushrooms, Jalapeño, and Lime from this chapter and the Yucatecan-Style Barbecue so maybe I will just bite the bullet and get a grill.

The next chapter is Tacos de Guisados “Tacos made with stewed fillings” and these tacos made good use of vegetables in recipes like Tacos with Sweet Potato & Chard or Mole Tacos with Seared Zucchini, Wilted Chard, and Pepitas Chard but there are also “meat” heavy recipes like Tacos with Vegan Sausage, Seitan, and Chorizo or the Tacos with Hot Dogs in Tomato Salsa. I made the Tacos with Pintos Borrachos, Poblano Strips, and Queso Fresco except I was out of peppers and I added avocado and green chile peanuts and they were so so easy and delicious. Jason always gives tips to make short cuts in recipes or tips to make them more healthy too.

Next is Tacos de Comal “Tacos made with sautéed fillings.” which are probably the tacos that most non-Mexicans are most familiar with except with vegan spins like Baja-Style Tacos with Lobster Mushrooms and Ten-Minute Seitan Carnitas it also has traditionally vegan tacos made from Cactus (nopales) or Potato and Peppers (rajas) which is what I usually get a Mexican taco stands around Austin that use lard in the beans. I’ve never gotten one with purple potatoes though! It’s pictured up top. Tonight I am going to make Tacos with Huitlacoche and Fresh Corn from this chapter. Jason gives plenty of tips throughout all the sections like how to remove cactus needles or make sure you wash your huitlacoche from its canning liquid if it isn’t fresh. This kind of stuff is so helpful for a newbie and so often left out of cookbooks.

Tacos Dorados “Rolled tacos, fried golden and crisp.” which are more like flautas or taquitos are in the next chapter and I do want to try both the Tacos Dorados with Plantains, Black Beans, and Roasted Garlic and the Tacos Dorados with Squash Blossoms and Potato. The former is one of my favorite non-fried tacos so I can’t imagine how good it will be in dorado form! The latter will have to wait for next spring when squash blossoms are in season. Or maybe I could plant some right now…I could probably harvest the blossoms before the winter.

Then next is Los Otros Tacos “Other tacos in a class by themselves” which include the vegan mainstay they Guacamole taco and a recipe for Michoacan-Style Carnitas which I plan to make this weekend. There is a discussion for the latter of whether seitan or jackfruit make for better vegan carnitas so you can decide which is best for you.

Chapter 10 is Tacos de Canasta “Classic breakfast ‘basket’ tacos, sauced and steamed.” which I had never heard of but sounds super interesting. Basically you dip tortillas in a sauce, stuff them up with the different fillings, fold them, add them into a cooler or crockpot and then layer with caramelized onions and then parchment paper and keep alternating layers until you are all loaded up and can “sweat” the tacos. Whoa! I have to try these the next time I have overnight guests cause what a brunch would those make!

Chile Rellano Tacos

Next Chapter is the kind of breakfast tacos I’m used to, Tacos Mañaneros “Breakfast tacos from both sides of the border.” I tried the Chile Rellano with Hatch Peppers above. They are stuffed with a cream made from toasted pepitas, roasted tomatillos, and garlic but the recipe doesn’t call for the deep fry that I am accustomed too. Somehow they reminded me of the tacos I first had as a young’un at my beloved Jolly Tamale. Next time I’ll deep-fry them though using his tempura batter as suggested.

I also tried the Hash Brown and Black Bean Tacos with Tomatillo Avocado Salsa which were easy peasy since my salsa was already made.

He does have a recipes for tofu scramble too in the Breakfast Tacos with Poblano Strips, Mojo Scramble, and Pinto Beans which sounds delicious and I will surely try that soon.

The next couple of chapters are dessert tacos, think Spicy Cinnamon Tacos with Salted Coconut Cajeta Apples and Agave Crema and then Fusion Tacos but I haven’t tried any from either chapter yet. I don’t think I’m ready for Kimchee tacos YET!

The next section is “Toppings, Sides, and Drinks” which starts with traditional toppings like Taquería-Style Carrots Escabeche and Pickled Red Onions, moves into a whole chapter of salsas, hot sauces, and guacamoles like Toasted Pepita Sun-Dried Tomato Guacamole, and then continues with rice and bean recipes and other sides like Fruit with Chile, Lime, and Salt. And, then ends with a chapter on drinks that includes tons of aqua frescas, a discussion on pairing beer, tequilla, and mezcal, a recipe for a Grilled Lime Margarita with Mesquite Smoked Salt and even ends with a port. I am going to make the Watermelon Cactus Fruit Agua Fresca with Tequila Añejo Shots as soon as I can.

So you can see it’s very comprehensive. I think people who are willing to dive in and take on all the projects are going to get a lot out of this book. I also think that people who haven’t ever had a good taco could really get into this although it might seem a bit overwhelming. I think if they take advantage of the shortcuts and see the substitutions it should be pretty easy to follow though. Jason’s friendly approach and love of tacos really comes across so that should help quite a bit. This book seems terrific for folks on specialty diets as well. It would be easy to omit all the soy out of the recipes, Jason even gives directions for using peanut milk in the homemade tofu for the queso fresco recipe. Omitting gluten should be easy too, all you have to do is use beans for seitan or any of the other ingredients he always recommends like eggplant, mushrooms or sweet potatoes depending on the recipe.  This goes for people following a whole foods based diet or an E2 diet as well. Since Jason started his road to veganism eating a health food diet and co-authored the book 21 Day Weightloss Kickstart with Neal Barnard, MD he has a lot of experience in that area. The only people who might struggle with this book are those unfortunate to not have a well stocked Mexican Market in town. Although there are plenty of substitutions offered I fear it might be really frustrating to not be able to use basic authentic ingredients like poblanos and masa.

So have I sold you yet? Are you worried I’m a shill? I’m not although they did give me a free review copy I am just an extreme lover of tacos! If you aren’t so sure yet here is the recipe for Hominy and Seitan Tacos 
in Roasted Garlic Cascabel Sauce which I made last night.

Hominy and Seitan Tacos 
in Roasted Garlic Cascabel Sauce from Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick

Tacos de Pozole y Seitan en Salsa de Chile Cascabel y Ajo Asado

I love using cascabel chiles in this taco for their pure red chile flavor. They are a nice looking chile, so I always put a few on the plate for presentation. The contrasting flavor of the hominy (aka pozole), with the chewier seitan, all work together to make a very rustic-flavored taco. This is one of my favorite taco creations. Make them low-fat by simmering the seitan and hominy in the sauce instead of sautéing in oil. If you don’t want to use seitan, substitute potatoes, zucchini, chayote, mushrooms, or any vegetables that will provide a substantial texture. Just sauté the vegetables at a medium heat long enough to brown them before adding the sauce. You can even use pinto beans (but don’t sauté them).

REGION: CASA DE JASON | HEAT LEVEL: 3 | MAKES 8 TACOS

The Filling (choose either seitan strips or portobellos)

10 cascabel chiles or 4 guajillo chiles

1/2 cup rehydrating liquid (after rehydrating the chiles)

10 cloves garlic, pan-roasted

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups seitan strips or 2 portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips

1 cup cooked, rinsed hominy

8 thick (5 to 6-inch) corn tortillas

Rough Salted Chile Powder

A sprinkle of chopped roasted and salted peanuts per taco

1. Bring a small pot of water to a simmer, add the cascabels, and simmer until soft, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the simmering liquid and remove the stems from the chiles. In a blender or food processor, puree the chiles, roasted garlic, reserved simmering liquid, oregano, and salt. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the seitan and sauté until lightly browned, about5 minutes. Add the reserved sauce and hominy and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

3. Warm the tortillas. Fill them with the seitan hominy mixture and finish them off with a rough salted chile powder to taste and a sprinkle of chopped roasted salted peanuts.

 


THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

If you got to the end of what is probably the longest review I’ve ever written than surely you are interested in winning a copy of Vegan Tacos please have a US address and a valid email that you check and comment below with an answer to this question: An extraterrestrial lands in your backyard and says, “take me to your taco”, what do you do?