Thursday, November 6, 2008

Comforting Onion Soup

Mosquitos don't bite me.

It's true. I live in an area where we are invaded by mosquitos in the spring and summer, but I've never been bit by one. Actually, I haven't been bitten by anything. Well, okay, I've been bit by a spider, but that doesn't count! What does this have to do with food you ask?

Well, I tend to joke that bugs stay away from me because I eat so many onions (and lots of garlic). Seriously. I eat onion in some form every single day. And while I don't know if there is any real connection between onions and mosquitos, I do know that onions possess some amazing health benefits. Onion and other Allium vegetables (garlic, leeks, chives, etc.) are characterized by their rich content of thiosulfinates, sulfides, sulfoxides, and other odoriferous sulfur compounds, which have been shown to be beneficial to your health when eaten over time. They may be a useful herb for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, especially since they diminish the risk of blood clots. It also protects against stomach and other cancers, as well as protecting against certain infections. The sulfur compounds found in the onion are also anti-microbial, so they help prevent you from getting sick. If you're feeling a little under the weather, this soup is the way to go!

Oh, and a word of note: the more pungent varieties of onion appear to possess the greatest concentration of health-promoting phytochemicals. That means a few tears are, in the words of Martha Stewart, a good thing.

This soup is warm and comforting, especially now since the weather is growing colder. To serve this soup, bake a slice of the Homemade Brown Bread with some vegan mozzarella on top until browned and (about as...) melted ( it's gonna get). Place on top of the soup and you're ready to go!

Comforting Onion Soup:
2 Tb. olive oil
4 lg. yellow onions, sliced thin
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. good beer (I use "Shiner Bock", but a dark "Bock" beer is good. Keep it vegan!)
1 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1/2 c. water
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 Tb. dijon mustard

Heat oil over medium heat while you slice the onions. Add all the onions and the salt, give it a good stir, and cover. Cook over medium-low until the onions are nice and soft, about 20-30 minutes. Slowly add the beer, vegetable broth, water, thyme, and mustard, and simmer another 30 minutes or so, until the soup has reduced a little and it's nice and thick. Top with hot "cheesy" bread (as mentioned above).

Note: This is based on a recipe I found in Vegetarian Times, Nov./Dec. 2008 issue. It was supposed to be an appetizer or a spread of sorts, but I made it soup!

Old-Fashioned Brown Bread

Absolutely nothing is better than homemade bread! This recipe is delicious and good for you too. It's a nice, moist bread that absolutely deserves a second slice! It makes two loaves, so cut it in half if you'd like. This particular bread goes exceptionally well with my Onion-Beer Soup.

Or with peanut butter! 

Old-Fashioned Brown Bread
1 1/2 c. boiling water
1 c. old-fashioned oats
2 Tb. vegetable shortening
2 tsp. salt
1 pkg. active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp.)
3/4 c. warm water (110-115F, like a really hot bath. A hot tub is 90F, so keep that in mind...)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. blackstrap (dark) molasses
1/2 c. toasted wheat germ

1 Tb. vital wheat gluten
4 3/4 - 5 1/4 c. unbleached flour (if you wish to use whole wheat flour, go with half white, half wheat. Never use all whole wheat flour because your bread won't turn out)

In a bowl, combine the water, oats, shortening, and salt. Cool to 110-115F (or easy to stick your finger in and keep in there). In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, sprinkle with sugar and let rest about 5-10 minutes. Add oat mixture, brown sugar, molasses, wheat germ, and 3 c. of flour to the yeast mixture. Mix well. Add enough of the remaining flour (1 3/4 to 2 1/4 c.) to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 6-8 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl. Turn once to grease top. Cover, place in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled, about an hour. Punch dough down, divide in half. Shaped into loaves and place in two greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled again, about 45 minutes. Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes or until golden. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

To make cloverleaf rolls: 

After the initial rising, punch the dough down. Then, roll the dough into even sized balls, about the size of a tablespoon or so. Place three balls in the cup of a sprayed muffin tin. Repeat for each of the cups in the tin. Allow to rise, covered, a second time for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake at 375F for about 20-25 minutes. Oven times will vary. 

Baking bread takes practice, so don't get discouraged if it doesn't turn out right your first time. Here's a few hints to help you out:

1. If the yeast is not foamy after about 5 minutes, when it comes time to add it, DON'T ADD IT. Throw it out and start over. The yeast has to be foamy, otherwise your bread won't rise.

2. Don't over knead. Some people get knead-happy (because it's kind of fun), but you only knead to do it (hehe) a few minutes, just until it's smooth. If it's still sticky, add some flour a little bit at a time until it isn't anymore.

3. Place in a warm place to rise. I usually put the oven on warm and set it right on top to rise. I've found this to be the best method. If you set it on the oven, it should just be warm to the touch. If it's hot, it'll kill your yeast.

4. Don't forget to oil the bowl and the pans.

5. Bread is done when the outside is hard and crusty, and it will soun
d hollow when you knock on the top of it.

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

Here's those pancakes I promised you. They're delicious! I'm going to be making these all the time!

1/2 c. unbleached flour
1/2 c. graham flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 Tb. brown sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin puree (I use Libby's canned)
1 c. soymilk

1 Tb. oil
1/2 c. pecans, chopped (optional)

Mix unbleached flour, graham flour, baking powder, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and brown sugar. Add the soymilk and pumpkin puree. Mix well. Add pecans, if desired, and stir well. Cook over a medium, oiled skillet until the edges are dry and bubbles have formed in the middle of the pancake. Flip and cook about 2-3 minutes or until cooked through. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil to the skillet if necessary. Serve hot with real maple syrup.

Note: The pancakes may look "doughy", but that's due to the consistency of the pumpkin (like pumpkin pie filling).

UPDATE: I posted this recipe on VegWeb a long time ago. There's a review of this recipe here.

Whole-Wheat Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread men are a type of cookie that, to me, are the epitome of both Christmas and cookie traditions. That means I like my gingerbread pretty traditional: kind of crisp, heavy of the molasses, and full of good spices. I actually saw a recipe for gingerbread just the other day and was a little sad that they left the molasses out! That's a key ingredient for me!

I like to make these cookies kind of crisp because I like to dip them in my coffee (what don't I like to dip in coffee?). I'm also not an icing person. Since gingerbread men are traditionally decorated with Royal Icing (made with egg whites) I would suggest maybe making a glaze out of some non-dairy milk, powdered sugar, and a little vanilla to decorate. If you like your cookies a little softer, then roll them a little thicker and take them out of the oven while they're still a little soft. They'll stay that way!

Another thing I do with my gingerbread is make them with whole wheat flour. Seriously. 100%. I think that the flavor of the whole wheat is divine with the spices and molasses! I think I would also like to smear some of these with some coconut butter (so much for tradition!).

Whole-Wheat Gingerbread Cookies:
3 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. sea salt

2/3 c. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
1/2 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. blackstrap molasses (unsulfured)
8 1/2 Tb. hot water
1 tsp. vanilla

0-2 Tb. almond milk (or "milk" of choice)

In a medium bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar. Stir in the molasses, hot water, and vanilla. When mixed, stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt. Cover and chill 2-4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F and remove the dough from the fridge. Allow it to set on the table for about 10-15 minutes to warm up slightly. If the dough is crumbly, add 1 Tb. of almond milk. You want the dough to stick together, but not be sticky. You also may not need any at all. Roll it out on lightly floured surface (rolling it out on floured wax paper is also a good idea) to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters of choice. Repeat the re-rolling and cutting for the rest of the dough. Decorate with nuts, red hots, etc. if desired, before baking. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool before removing from the sheet.

Note: Be sure to stick the dough back in the refrigerator between the baking of the batches for the best results!