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Hijiki Caviar

July 17, 2011

Honestly, before taking a class on sea vegetables, I never really gave them much thought.  The flattened nori sheets, packaged for sushi, was the extent of my knowledge and my taste.  Today, I made one of my new favorite varieties.

Hijiki (or Hiziki) is a strong flavored seaweed that grows along the rocky coastlines of Japan and China.  It’s credited for being extremely high in calcium (over 10 times the amount in cow’s milk) and fiber.  It also contains iron, potassium and other healthy trace elements.

Once hijiki is gathered, it is dried for at least 24 hours and then packaged.  Prior to consumption it needs to be rehydrated in water, where is balloons to about 5 times it’s size!  So a little can go a long way.

This appetizer comes from my culinary instructor, Chef Melanie Ferreira.   In addition to teaching at the Natural Gourmet Institute, she teaches at the Academy of Healing Nutrition. The seaweed caviar was such a hit in class, we doubled the recipe and still didn’t have leftovers to share!

Hiziki Caviar
Recipe by Chef Melanie Ferreira
Serves 16

1/2 cup hiziki
water for soaking
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2-3 Tablespoons shoyu or low-sodium soy sauce
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
sea salt
juice of 1-2 lemons
2 Tablespoons grated ginger, squeezed to make juice
1/2 baguette, toasted and thinly sliced (1/4-inch), pita chips or crackers

1: Place hiziki in a medium bowl and cover (about 1-inch over) with water.  Soak for 15 minutes.
2: Remove hiziki from water and squeeze access liquid.  In a large sauté pan, sauté hiziki in sesame oil about 5 minutes.  Add soaking water and bring to a boil. Add shoyu and continue cooking until all liquid evaporates. Remove from heat.
3: In a medium sauté pan, sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil until softened and aromatic, about 5 minutes.
4: Finely chop hiziki.  Add shallots and garlic, then season to taste with salt, lemon juice and ginger juice.  Serve on toasted bread with tofu sour cream. (recipe below)


Tofu Sour Cream
Makes about 2 cups

12 ounces soft tofu
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons water
1/4-1/2 bunch chives or dill

1: Bring about one quart of water to boil.  In a medium bowl, prepare an ice bath.  Wrap tofu in a cheese cloth or place it in a small, mesh strainer.  Submerge tofu for about 3-4 minutes.  Remove, then place in ice bath until cool.
2: Place tofu, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and water in a blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth and creamy.  Add dill or chives, to taste, and puree until well incorporated.

Things I Eat: Homemade Pasta

July 12, 2011

Things I Eat

… my way of giving credit to my culinary caretakers, aka the people and places that make my foodie heart skip a beat.  They may not be extravagant.  Sometimes, they may be very simple.  It’s just the food that makes me joyful.

The Natural Gourmet Institute Chef Training Program Pasta Day

Pasta-making day at culinary class has been one of my favorites so far.  In anticipation of the geometric designs  I brought my camera.

We made a variety of doughs; from egg and all-purpose flour to whole wheat and vegan.  Some of my peers added color and flavor with spices or spinach.  Others added flair with a topping, like the butter and poppyseed sauce below, garnished with sage.  The stuffings included olive tapenade, sautéed butternut squash, goat cheese, tofu “ricotta” and mushroom redux.

What do you think?

Strawberry Polenta Tallcake

July 10, 2011

I’ve been looking forward to this post since last January when I purchased a kitchy 1980s strawberry cake stand!  Since the purchase, I’ve been yearning to make a replica of the stand and now, voila, here it is.  Right at the peak of strawberry season!

Of all of the desserts I’ve made, egg and dairy-free cakes are probably the trickiest.  Without a tested recipe comes various challenges.  Throw in a somewhat unusual ingredient, like polenta, and the cakes come out too starchy, too tough, or completely crumbly.  Perfecting the cake took an extra week, but was well worth it.  Instead of sticking to a classical shortcake (or tallcake) recipe, I added polenta for a texture with a little bite.  The cake is almost like a sweet cornbread, only lighter and softer. For a deep, country flavor, substitute the granulated cane sugar with maple sugar.  Maple sugar is a natural sweetener created during the process of making maple syrup.  It can be a bit expensive, but easy to find online and much less processed than conventional sugar.

Other notes: 

To make whipped coconut cream, purchase full-fat coconut milk from cans and refrigerate them overnight.  The fat (or cream) separates from the water, rises to the top of the can and solidifies. Low-fat coconut milks will not separate as easily and may not whip at all.  Use chilled bowls and utensils when whipping the coconut, so that it won’t fall flat or melt as easily, especially in warm kitchens.

The recipe is for one 9-inch cake, not three, like the photographs.  Either triple the recipe for three full-sized cakes or make one and cut in half horizontally once its cooled. Layering one cake will make a shortcake or layering a doubled recipe can give you four layers.  If you cut more layers than featured in the photo, just remember to make more whipped coconut cream.  My photo was made of a double batch of whipped coconut cream (5 cups).


Triple Cake Recipe/ Doubled Whipped Coconut Cream Recipe

Strawberry Polenta Tallcake with Whipped Coconut Cream
Makes 1, 9-inch cake & about 2 1/2 cups whipped cream

1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup medium ground polenta
1/2 cup coconut or almond milk
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted or canola oil
3/4 cup organic granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons arrowroot powder, dissolved in 3 Tablespoons warm water
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 (14.5 ounce) cans coconut milk, classical or whole-fat
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 pint strawberries, hulled

1: Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly oil and flour 3, 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom of tins with parchment paper. Put a medium metal bowl in the refrigerator to chill (for whipped coconut cream).
2: In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3: In a small saucepan add polenta and coconut milk.  Cook on medium heat, whisking consistently, until milk just incorporates and the mixture begins to thicken.  Pull from heat.
4: In another large bowl, beat coconut oil and sugar. Add polenta mixture, vanilla and arrowroot slurry, just until incorporated.  Slowly stir in flour mixture, until smooth and creamy.  Fold in lemon zest.
5: Pour batter equally among the three cake pans.  Bake 30-40 minutes, until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.
6: Pull chilled cans of coconut milk from refrigerator. Pierce the bottom of each can with a can opener and drain the clear coconut liquid.  Open the cans and transfer the remaining coconut cream into the chilled metal bowl.
7: With an electric or standing mixer, beat coconut cream until consistency becomes somewhat airy, about 2-3 minutes.  Begin on a low speed and increase as the texture changes.  Slowly add sugar and continue to beat 1 minute more, or just until sugar is incorporated.  Coconut whipped cream may be chilled for up to an hour, but is best served immediately or chilled for 10-15 minutes.
8: Evenly spread coconut whipped cream between each cake layer, then top with whole or cut strawberries.

Fruit in Need of a Hair Cut

June 30, 2011

Things I Eat

… my way of giving credit to my culinary caretakers, aka the people and places that make my foodie heart skip a beat.  They may not be extravagant.  Sometimes, they may be very simple.  It’s just the food that makes me joyful.

Whole Rambutan

In Malaysia rambutan (rhom-boo-ton) literally means hairy.  These sweet tropical fruits are native to Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia.

While I studied in Thailand, my Thai teacher used to provide snacks for her bright-eyed, foreign students.  Each day, after learning another list of vocabulary and playing language games, the class was rewarded with a Thai treat. Slightly smaller than kiwi, these funny-looking fruits appeared one day.  After asking what they are called, ajan (teacher) replied with ngoh.  I originally thought she misheard my question, so I mistook her answer to mean “No, Lauren, you cannot eat those now.”   After the mix-up, I never forgot the Thai word, but unfortunately never learned how to translate it to English…until last weekend.

I had a nostalgic moment after finding these lychee-like fruits on the streets of Chinatown.  Turns out that in the United States, they are referred to by their Malay name, rambutan.   The fruits definitely appear quite odd, somewhat reminiscent of the aliens from the movie, Critters.   That visual aside, these are super-sweet and delicious!  Their leathery skin can easily be cut or peeled to reveal a juicy, white flesh.  There is a pit, but it’s easy to remove.

Sweet Poached Pear with Cinnamon Syrup

June 28, 2011

What’s with all the poached pears, it’s not even pear season?

It’s not, but I just made it through midterm season.  Part of my cook technique test was to poach a pear and reduce the liquid to a syrup.  The syrup is the tricky part.  It takes a while to boil it down, but once it begins to thicken, it’s easy to pull from the heat too soon or over-cook it.

The sauce needs that happy medium.  It needs to be removed from the heat just before it reaches the right consistency for serving, which, after cooling for about thirty seconds, should be something between agave nectar and maple syrup.   There is really no way to explain the correct procedure.  It just takes time, practice and a good eye.

Sweet Poached Pear with Cinnamon Syrup
Makes 4 Pears

4 firm Bartlett or Bosc pears
3 cups white wine, such as Riesling or Chablis
6 cups unsweetened apple cider
2-3 sticks cinnamon
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1: Carefully peel and halve pears, keeping stems intact.  Use a mellon baller or small spoon to remove seeds.
2: In a medium saucepan or large sauté pan, mix together wine, cider, cinnamon and vanilla.  Place pears in the liquid, so that all of the halves appear to be floating.  Liquid does not need to submerge pears, but they should be nearly covered.  Partially cover pan with a clear lid or entirely with a cartouche, cut to size. (Directions)
3: Heat on medium, until liquid begins to simmer.  Adjust heat if needed to keep pears on a gentle simmer for 20-30 minutes, until tender.
4: Remove pears with a slotted spoon.  Either refrigerate or set aside at room temperature until sauce is reduced.
5: Increase heat and bring sauce to boil. Reduce liquid to a nectar-like consistency. Remove from heat, then take out cinnamon sticks.  (Optional: Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove small cinnamon and pulp particles)
Spoon out reduction onto a shallow bowl. Place two halves of a pear over syrup.  Drizzle additional syrup over pears if desired.

Note: When plating, place the inside of the pear downward. The opposite of my photo (above) is not only more attractive for serving, but easier to cut and eat.  Pears may also be poached whole.  Simply skin, then core from the bottom. Extend cooking time until they are tender. 

Honey Hibiscus Poached Pears

June 26, 2011

Hibiscus flowers are somewhat large, very vibrant and tough to miss. They stand out among the crowd.  Aside from ornamental beauty, parts of the plant (sepals, right behind the petals) can be cut, dried and used to make medicinal beverages or add flavor to cultural dishes.  It’s well-loved all over the world, from the Caribbean to Africa, Europe to Southeast Asia.

In our home, we recently used its cranberry-like flavor with honey to create a sophisticated syrup for poached pears.  Dried hibiscus can be found in health food stores or tea shops.  Feel free to substitute a hibiscus tea bag for the loose-leaf, just be sure there are no additive teas that might alter the flavor.

Dried Hibiscus Petals

Pear Halves in Hibiscus Honey Liquid

Honey Hibiscus Poached Pears
Makes 4 pears

4 firm Bartlett or Bosc pears
6 Tablespoons raw honey
3 cups white wine, such as Riesling or Chablis
4 cups water
4 teaspoon dried hibiscus petals

1: Carefully peel and halve pears, keeping stems intact.  Use a mellon baller or small spoon to remove seeds.
2: In a medium saucepan or large sauté pan dissolve honey with wine and water. Toss in 2 teaspoon hibiscus flowers.
3: Place pears in the liquid, so that all of the halves appear to be floating.  Liquid does not need to submerge pears, but they should be nearly covered.  Partially cover pan with a clear lid or entirely with a cartouche, cut to size. (Directions below)
4: Heat on medium, until liquid begins to simmer.  Adjust heat if needed to keep pears on a gentle simmer for 20-30 minutes, until tender.
5: Remove pears.  Either refrigerate or set aside at room temperature until sauce is reduced.
6: Add remaining hibiscus petals. Increase heat and bring sauce to boil. Reduce liquid to a nectar-like consistency. Remove from heat, then take out hibiscus petals. 
Spoon out reduction onto a shallow bowl. Place two halves of a pear over syrup.  Drizzle additional syrup over pears if desired.

A cartouche (kar-toosh) is a cover made of parchment paper.  For this cooking method, they allow you to easily monitor the  activity, so to prevent boiling.  A clear lid would work just as well, but here is how to make a cartouche if you don’t have one.

1: Begin with a square sheet of parchment paper. Fold in half to create a triangle.
2: Fold in half again for a 90° triangle.
3-5: Following the center of the triangle, fold three times.
6: Measure the radius of the pan to the parchment paper.  Cut according to size and cut the point of the triangle so that additional steam can easily escape while poaching.

Blooming Botanical Adventure

June 21, 2011

I’ve decided to create a new weekly post entitled, Things I Eat.  It’s my way of giving credit to my culinary caretakers, aka the people and places that make my foodie heart skip a beat.  They may not be extravagant.  Sometimes, they may be very simple.  It’s just the food that makes me joyful.


Jonathan and I visited the Brooklyn Botanical Garden last weekend.  After a little stroll through the garden, rain pushed us toward the Terrace Café (also outdoors, but under patio umbrellas).  We expected a simple order of green beans with our sandwich, but were pleasantly surprised by the added touch of pansies on the plate.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Terrace Café

Green Bean Salad with fresh mint and edible pansies

Arugula and Goat Cheese Sandwich on whole wheat bread

Mediterranean Rice Salad

June 19, 2011

In an effort to practice for my first exam at school, I made several cups of fluffy long-grain rice last week.  Jonathan and I are not avid rice eaters, but we learned to be after eating about a cup a day, four days in a row!  Practice after practice, the rice came out just right for our salads at home and then at school, the rice refused to cook.  Such is life right?

Usually I cheat and use a fancy rice cooker to do my work, but do to my exam I conquered stove-top rice.  It’s actually relatively easy.  Just remember to taste, taste, taste before letting it sit to steam!  The size of the pot and the heat will determine how slowly or quickly the rice will cook.  Be careful not to let it overcook, because the texture may become sticky.  Perfect for sushi, but fluffy rice is better for side salads.

Mediterranean Rice Salad
Serves 4-6 (Makes 4-5 cups)

2 cups water or mild, unsalted vegetable broth
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
2 roma tomates, seeded and diced small (1/4-inch)
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear, cut)
6 large scallions, thinly sliced (I used purple scallions, featured in the photo)
1/4 pound kalamata olives, pitted and halved
juice of 1 or 2 lemon(s)
salt and pepper to taste

1: In a small saucepan, bring water or broth to a boil.
2: In a medium bowl, wash rice in cold water.  Drain and repeat until wash water is clear.
3: Meanwhile, in a another small saucepan, dry-roast the rice until dry and emits a nutty aroma.  Add 1 3/4 cups of the boiling water (or broth) to rice with salt, to taste. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until rice is cooked to a light texture.  Texture should not be crunchy or sticky. Allow 10-15 minutes for covered rice to steam. Fluff with a fork.
4: In a large bowl, toss rice, kale, tomatoes, corn, scallions, olives with the juice of 1 lemon.  Add pepper and additional salt if needed.  Drizzle additional lemon juice over the salad if desired.

Rhubarb Spritzers

June 15, 2011

The Tony Awards Ceremony took place on Sunday and what better way to celebrate an award show than with a group of friends and champagne?  Not just any champagne, but fruit-infused spritzers!  It’s what I brought to the party and I’m ready to make more for future backyard get-togethers.

This delicious recipe comes from Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food; Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life.  The cover of her cookbook features a gorgeous photograph of rhubarb, which caught my eye immediately.  The rouge-blushed, celery-looking vegetable that poses as a fruit, intrigues me to no end!  Every morning last week, I revisited the book for summer recipe ideas and, by almost a random act of events, I happened to meet the author at the end of the week!  Louisa is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, which I currently attend.  She was teaching an evening public class at the school on veggie burgers.  I was stoked!  Talk about good timing right?

I don’t usually publish unaltered recipes, but Louisa gave me permission.  The method is in my own words, but the recipe needed no change.  It’s simple, fruity and refreshing!  Enjoy!


Rhubarb Spritzers
Recipe from Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, by Louisa Shafia
Makes 8 cups

10 stalks fresh rhubarb
2 cinnamon sticks
honey, to taste
champagne or seltzer water
4 strawberries, thinly sliced
1 spring mint

1: Trim off and discard leaves of rhubarb.  Cut stalks into 2-inch pieces. Place rhubarb and cinnamon sticks into a medium or large pot and fill with water, just until the fruit is covered. Cover with a lid and bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
2: Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Use the back of a spoon to press out all liquid from the pulp.  (Pulp may be saved for a filler in another dessert recipe or discarded.) Whisk in honey, then allow liquid to cool before serving.
3: To serve- pour mixture into glasses, then finish with champagne or seltzer water.  Garnish with a strawberry and a mint leaf.

Note: Though rhubarb is quite tart, don’t go overboard on the sweetener. Simmering the fruit with water dilutes some of the sour flavor, so it surprisingly doesn’t require much honey. 

The Raw: Creamy Pear Tart with Apricot Almond Crust

June 10, 2011

It’s entirely too hot to bake and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m already tired of sorbet!  Not to knock it, but my favorite desserts are ones with a bit more sustenance.  Something creamy, chocolate-y or flavored with bourbon.  To tackle my sweet tooth simply, and without additional heat, I made this creamy pear tart.  It’s a no-bake dessert, using entirely raw ingredients.

The crust is created with blended almonds and apricots, flavored with lemon juice to give it a little tangy kick.  The cashew cream filling is exactly how it sounds, creamy! Yay! It’s also quite sweet with only a slight nutty flavor.  The topping is made of sliced anjou pears, because their great to eat raw and they looked just too beautiful at the market to pass.

I had never (consciously) made a completely raw tart before, but was surprised by how easy it is.  I own an upright blender, so making the cashew cream was a little tricky at first.  I initially didn’t have enough water in the mixture.  If you don’t own a vita-mix, just be patient, keep adding water little by little and blend until smooth.  If your blender does not cooperate, follow the directions below about straining the mixture before adding to the tart. This dessert is perfect when chilled right before serving.  I keep the tart in the refrigerator, but freeze each piece about five to ten minutes before serving.


Raw Creamy Pear Tart
Makes one, 9-inch pie

1 Apricot Almond Crust, recipe below
3 – 3 1/2 cups, Raw Cashew Cream, recipe below
2-3 small anjou pears, halved, seeded and sliced crosswise
1-3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1: Pour cashew cream into pie crust and smooth the top.
2: Place pear slices over the top of the tart; begin at the outside of the tart, overlap pears and work toward the middle. Sprinkle with lemon juice, then serve.  May chill before serving.

Apricot Almond Crust
Makes one, 9-inch crust

2 cups raw almonds, soaked 2 hours or overnight
1/2 cup packed dried apricots, unsulphered
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons lemon zest

1: In a food processor or standing blender, chop almonds into an almost fine texture. Add apricots and pulse until apricots are chopped and mixture sticks together.  Mix in lemon juice and zest.
2: Transfer mixture into a springform pan or pie pan. Press mixture into bottom and sides of pan. (The sides do not need to be fully covered.)

Raw Cashew Cream 
Makes about 3- 3 1/2 cups

2 cups raw cashews, soaked  2 hours or overnight
1/2 – 3/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons raw honey
2 Cups raw cashews, soaked 2 hours or overnight
1/2- 3/4 cup fresh pear or apple juice

1: In an upright blender or a vita-mix, blend all ingredients until smooth.  In the upright blender, if the cashews will not become creamy, press the mixture through a fine strainer.  Discard what doesn’t go through the strainer.)