Monday, April 21, 2014

Polish Easter Butter Lamb

The butter lamb is a Polish Easter tradition which my family carried out each year growing up in Western New York. The carved butter is used on the Easter dinner table, and is meant to symbolize Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, as a reminder of His sacrifice.  

Buffalo, NY and the south towns still have large, active Polish communities that have preserved this tradition, among many others. Although pretty much any grocery store in the area stocks pre-made lambs, everyone knows that the best place to buy one is the Broadway Market, and this is exactly where my mother, sister and I would shop the week of Easter. As a child, I remember the great excitement with which I unwrapped the butter lamb, set it on the table, and graciously offered to decapitate it with my knife so others would feel like they could dig in.

A lot has changed in the last 10 or so years. Moving to Raleigh, NC, where Polish Easter traditions are not so mainstream, for one. No longer eating butter would be the other.

But I miss my family's traditions all the same. So this year, I decided to try my hand at carving an Earth Balance Easter Butter Lamb. And for a first-time butter carver, I think I was pretty successful. 

No matter what beliefs you hold, if you have an Easter dinner, this is just a neat tradition to start with your family. Very kid-friendly, simple and takes about 15-20 minutes from start to finish.

You will need
1 15-oz. tub of Earth Balance
A butter knife
Parchment Paper
2 Whole peppercorns
Frosting Piping bag 
Frosting star tip (I used a #16)
5-6 inches of thin red ribbon
Tiny Pennant Flag (optional)

I started by lining my counter with about a square foot of parchment paper. I overturned the Earth Balance tub onto the paper and cut it into two pieces with about a 2:1 size ratio. I used the smaller piece as the initial shape for the body, and cut a smaller rectangle shape and small square shape from the remaining Earth Balance to make the head. Assembly looks as such:
Using the heat from my fingers, I adhered one piece to another. This part is very simple - butter just seems to want to stick to itself. At that point, I used the butter knife to start carefully carving it into a lamb shape, and discarded the excess back into the Earth Balance tub for later use.
Once the body is the right shape, put the lamb in the fridge to chill while you fill the frosting bag with the excess butter. Test for temperature. If it's too runny, pop the bag into the fridge or freezer for a few seconds. I did a few practice squirts on the parchment to make sure it was ready. I drew a messy rope style line around the body of the lamb, and piped on ears as well as tail. Messy is good because it makes the lamb look more fleecy. One nice thing to note: this is a very forgiving medium. If you screw something up, wipe it off and start over, or use the heat of your fingers to re-shape.

The last step is simply to decorate! Choose a couple of nice looking peppercorns for this eyes. Then add the ribbon (no need to glue the ribbon as it sticks to the Earth Balance and stays put) and the little banner in the lamb's rear. Typically the butter lambs you see at the stores have a banner that says "alleluia" on them, but in my case, I made one out of what I had on hand, which happened to be a wooden skewer and some craft paper.

Carrying on the tradition in North Carolina! Mother is so proud. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Vegan Bratwurst, Beer-braised Cabbage and the World's Greatest Mustard...

I love making my own "meat" at home now that I actually have a few successful recipes. Sausage, hot dogs and other tubed meat weren't something I really enjoyed as an omnivore, at least not in large quantities. But for some reason when veganized, they are one of my favorite treats. Using a pretty standard bean and vital wheat gluten base, I've made brats, italian sausage, chorizo, apple-sage sausage and andouille. All have had great results. I'm sure given some research you could do just about anything with this basic recipe.

Here is my latest night of vegan bratwurst-making, laid out step-by-step.

Before you dive in and start the bratwurst, get the cabbage on the stove.

Red cabbage & carrot, stewing
1 large head red cabbage, cut into quarters
4-5 carrots, cut into large pieces on a bias
4-6 cups "beef" stock
2 bay leaves
8-10 whole black peppercorn
1 bottle dark beer
Salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot. Cover and heat on high until boiling, then reduce to a very low simmer and continue to cook for about 30-40 minutes, until vegetables are extremely tender. Remove bay leaves and peppercorns before serving. Adjust vegetables to suit your taste, using  cabbage as the main ingredient. You could add onion, garlic, mushrooms, etc.

Steaming setup
I'm sure we all have seen the bean/vital wheat gluten meat recipes and actually, that's all I'm using here. I've copied this recipe for vegan sausages found on Vegan Dad's blog, which is actually from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's blog. So if you're making my variation, have a look at Vegan Dad's since that's what I'm directly referring to. 

Step 1: Get the steaming setup ready. If you don't have anything specifically designed for steaming, just do what I've done here. Place a colander in the bottom of the largest pot you have, making sure the lid will close entirely. Fill the bottom of the pot with about 2 cups of water and start on medium-low heat. Cover.
Step 2: While the steamer heats up, you can begin assembling the brats. The spices for the brats can be ground up in a coffee grinder or food processor, then set aside. My combination included: 

1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. black peppercorn
1/4 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. dried coriander
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry garlic
1/2 tsp. dry onion

Other things you could use: nutmeg, white pepper, dry mustard, rosemary, mace, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, etc. It's up to you to adjust as you like - or just do what I did. :)

Kidney bean puree
Step 3: Puree your beans. I use kidney beans because they have a harder outer-shell and seem to provide the meatiest texture and flavor of all the beans. This is strictly opinion; if you want pinto, white or black beans, by all means. Do what you like!

Combine all of the wet ingredients with the nutritional yeast, beans, etc. in a large bowl. The spices you've already taken care of, so don't add any extra that might be listed in his recipe - just add what you've ground. And remember - you have all of that amazing beer broth stewing on the stove with your cabbage - use THAT goodness instead of making up new broth! It's divine! Mix well before adding the vital wheat gluten. It will setup and start feeling a bit gooey very quickly. At this point you know it's ready. The only thing I might do is adjust it for saltiness, but between the broth and spices, you may find it already has plenty.

Note: I made one change that I believe to be for the better. I increased the ratio of bean to vital wheat gluten in this recipe. I used about 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten to 1-1/2 cup bean puree. I think it gives the sausage a much better texture and flavor.
Step 4: Wrap the brats! You will get about 6 large or 8 medium-sized brats from the batch. Tear foil sheets off and lightly spray one side with oil. Separate the batter into 6 or 8 equal balls and form each one into a sausage shape. Place on foil, roll to cover and tightly wrap the ends by twisting. It should look almost like one of those holiday crackers that has toys in it.
One down...
Ready to be steamed
Step 5: Place your wrapped brats into the steamer. You may want to check the water level at this point because they will be steaming for at least 40 minutes and you don't want it to go dry and burn! Cover, set and walk away. This would be a good time to open one of those dark beers.
Ready to steam
Step 5: Remove the brats from the steamer. Use gloves while unwrapping or wait until they have cooled somewhat. You could eat them now if you'd like. 
The finished brats!
Perfect texture
They taste amazing. They look convincing... let's not stop there.
Throw a few on the grill. They take very well to grilling and will form a nice crust on the outside. Just be sure to spray a little oil on them.
Grilled bratwurst, Weber's mustard, beer-stewed cabbage and carrots. (from Instagram)
Of course, there is only one mustard I would serve such a delicious brat with. Weber's horseradish mustard is by far the best. It is incredibly smooth at first, but will kick you swiftly in the nostril and make you say "do that to me again." Sadly, I can only acquire it by ordering online or stealing several jars from my parents' pantry when visiting home. Hopefully one day its Buffalo, NY makers will start stocking it in North Carolina. Wishful thinking...
Barry Carotene will share his mustard with you

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tiny Sandwiches? Just Eat More Sandwiches!

I appreciate America's new obsession with tiny foods, I really do. It's a wanted departure from the super-sizing phenomenon. However, I'm fascinated by sliders. It's junk food, made tiny. Also, somehow it seems when you order a slider, you don't get less sandwich, you actually get more. Instead of one giant burger, you get 3 small-ish ones. 

I'm not going to dwell on this, because I think I know where America is going and I like it. Moral of the story: If given a tiny sandwich, you may eat multiple sandwiches. No one is counting.

Am I right?

I really hope so because I made an embarrassing number of sliders the other night and ate most of them. They were so cute and tiny! Only three bites a piece! First up was a Grilled Peach, Arugula, Cashew Cheese Spread & Balsamic Syrup Slider. That's a big name for a tiny sandwich.

Grilled Peach, Arugula, Cashew Cheese & Balsamic Syrup Slider
"Hi. This crazy girl put me on a tiny bun..."

Overall, delicious. I love these flavors, but I think I may have gotten "Slider Fever." These items definitely work better as a salad. At times it also seemed as though I was eating a trick sandwich. The peach kept slipping out of the back just as I would go to take a bite in a most dramatic fashion. 

The second of the two was my favorite: Korean BBQ & Kim Chi Slider (a la Chubby Vegetarian).  

Korean Mushroom BBQ, Kim Chi and Cucumber Slider
Even if it does burn my taste buds off and even if I'm still not quite sure of its correct spelling, Kim Chi is just an indescribably good condiment. It can punch anything up to the next level: soups, salads, burgers, stir fry, even pastas...

The kim chi recipe on the CV's site calls for 1/2 cup of Korean Chili Powder, which seemed like an awful lot to me. I tasted the chili powder and it was blazing hot. I seriously just stood there with the mixing cup in my hand shaking for a moment. It all felt too risky. I added 1/4 cup to start and that felt like enough. As the chili paste was blending, the white noise of the food processor triggered some sort of outburst of my innermost bully: "Add it all, you pansy," said the voice in my head.

I've learned not to question the voices in my head.

This Kim Chi is so hot, your face will melt...
Except for the mayo, I arranged these exactly as the Chubby Vegetarian did. Cucumber was a very necessary addition because of the hotness level of the Kim Chi. After eating 2 or 3 sliders, I found myself just chomping into the remains of the peeled English cucumber to cool my mouth off.

The Korean BBQ is made from portobello mushrooms, sliced thinly and sauteed with green onions in  soy, rice vinegar and agave nectar. I added white button mushrooms and shitake mushrooms because I didn't have enough portobello to go around. It tasted great and was a sweet contrast to the kim chi.

The mouth pain was totally worth it. I would make these again in a heartbeat.