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from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

Salad
1/4 lb green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 radishes, finely diced
Agave nectar
1/4 English cucumber, finely diced
12 red and yellow cherry tomatoes, quartered
Kernels from 2 ears raw sweet corn
1 avocado, diced
1 c baby arugula
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp minced fresh basil
1 tsp minced fresh oregano
Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for 30 seconds, then chill in an ice bath. In the same boiling water, blanch the radishes for 20 seconds, then chill in an ice bath sweetened with a touch of agave nectar.

Place all of the ingredients except for the Vinaigrette and lemon juice in a large bowl. Drizzle with the Vinaigrette and toss to coat. Sprinkle the lemon juice on top just before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Vinaigrette
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp agave nectar
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the vinegar and agave nectar in a small bowl, then, whisking constantly, slowly pour in the oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I love a hearty salad, and this cookbook really delivers when that’s what I call for. The recipe is prefaced with a note- that the salad can get soggy if it sits for a bit; but I did prepare it ahead of time, but waited until I was ready to serve it before I added the arugula, avocado and lemon juice. It traveled well, and our extended family loved it! The sweet corn is such a treat, and it’s so good this time of year, especially if you can get local veggies. I could see how kids would really enjoy this dish, but mine is still at the tender age where she’s skeptical of anything that is combined, mixed, or tossed. She might love each ingredient, but won’t trust me when I tell her she’ll LOVE this. Oh well, more for us.
I didn’t have white wine vinegar, so I used apple cider vinegar. Perfect! Other than that, I stuck to the recipe. I’ll have to make this salad at least once more before the corn disappears from the farm we like to go to.
Here’s Cleo helping to harvest some oregano. Hopefully her thumb is greener than mine:

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from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

1/4 plain focaccia, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp capers, drained
1 c vegan mayonnaise
1 tbsp white miso paste
2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tbsp light agave nectar
1 c olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 small heads romaine lettuce, shredded
caperberries

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread the focaccia cubes on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

In a food processor, mince the garlic and capers. Add the mayonnaise, miso paste, nutritional yeast, agave nectar, and 1/2 cup water and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a thin stream. Continue to blend until emulsified, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the lettuce and croutons in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the top and toss well to coat. Garnish with caperberries and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

…or two really big servings. Mercy! This one is dangerous. Because it comes across as healthy, being in the salad department and all, but then there’s all that dressing with the olive oil and the vegan mayo… and BAM! You find yourself with a belly full of garlicky yummy richness, unable to sleep. Take it easy with this one. There were no cheese-free focaccia loaves available at the store, so I bought a ciabatta loaf and brushed the cubes with some melted Earth Balance vegan margarine and minced garlic. Then, toasted according to the recipe. They were fixin’ to become a meal in themselves, but luckily this dressing was really easy and quick to make. The capers stand in for the traditional Caesar anchovies, and do so brilliantly. The only thing I’d change- I would double the lettuce. I like it thick, but my tummy does not. Next time I might try adding some lemon juice to that dressing too.

from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

This is a several part recipe. Don’t be scared! Just be sure that you start the night before; the cashews need to soak overnight!

For the Panna Cotta:
1 1/2 tsp agar-agar flakes
1/3 c boiling water
1 1/2 c thick Cashew Cream, thinned with water to the consistency of whole milk (about 3/4 c thick cream and 3/4 c water)
1 c plain unsweetened almond milk
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped, or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
For the Orange Sauce:
1 c freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange zest
3 tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
4 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

Make the Panna Cotta: Put the agar-agar in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them; let soak for 5 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine the Cashew Cream, almond milk, sugar, salt, and soaked agar-agar. If using the vanilla bean, add it now, with the scraped seeds. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly and watching to make sure it doesn’t boil over. As soon as a foam starts to rise up in the pan, reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. If using vanilla bean paste, add it now.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into 6 (1-cup) ramekins. Let cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, until set.

Make the orange sauce: In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice and zest, brown sugar, Earth Balance, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened slightly and reduced by half, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat, stir in the liqueur, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof container or squeeze bottle. If not using right away, let the sauce cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat by placing the container in a pan of hot water.

To serve: Run a thin knife or offset spatula around the edges of the ramekins to loosen the Panna Cotta. Place a serving plate over the top of each ramekin and turn over. Gently tap the ramekin; the Panna Cotta should slide out easily. Drizzle or squeeze some of the orange sauce over the Panna Cotta and top with a few pieces of the nut brittle. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Rosemary Pine Nut Brittle (see note below on Pine Mouth!)

1 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 tbsp light agave nectar
1 tsp sea salt
1 c pine nuts, toasted
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan, gently stir together the sugar and 1/4 cup water.

Add the Earth Balance and agave nectar to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to combine. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, and do not stir once the mixture is boiling.

Increase the heat slightly and cook until the mixture is a golden caramel color and the thermometer reads 350F. Remove from the heat and, using a nonstick heat-resistant spatula, immediately stir in the salt, pine nuts, and rosemary. Quickly but carefully, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading so that the nuts are in a single layer.

Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, and break into chunks and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Do not refrigerate, as this will cause the sugar to melt. Makes about 2 cups.

Wow. This is a recipe that really had me on my toes. I started the night before I planned to serve it, making the brittle and orange sauce, and of course, soaking the cashews for the cashew cream. The intro to the brittle recipe says to use a candy thermometer, and to keep a close eye on it while you’re cooking, but my thermometer never got to the 350 point! I used a smaller pan too, as the other pan option I had was too big, and I figured that having more depth for the thermometer to read would be better than having it be too shallow. So it started to boil and I refrained from stirring, and it boiled, and boiled… and finally I decided I’d rather have it be underdone than burnt. So that’s what we have. A less-than-brittle-brittle. But it’s still really super tasty! The saltiness and savory really offsets the sweetness of the dessert. And the rosemary compliments the orange really nicely. The orange sauce was pretty straightforward, though it made a LOT more than I ended up using; so you might consider having some Coconut Bliss on hand to use up the leftovers on. The Panna Cotta. Don’t even get me started. Rich, creamy, perfect. The vanilla bean! A must have. Look at all those beautiful little speckles. The texture was great. Making the panna cotta was also pretty easy… but don’t let yourself get distracted. I will definitely make the Panna Cotta again, but mix it up with sauces depending on the season.
On Pine Mouth: The day after eating this, things were tasting a little bitter. Being a mom to an active little 9 month old, I tend to shovel small amounts of food into my mouth throughout the day, and didn’t really notice it, until the next day. BAM, all of a sudden, my warm rice cereal is super bitter. The banana I ate while running errands tasted disgusting. The dinner I made that night also tasted bitter, but in all of these cases, I thought maybe I’d gotten a bad batch of something; maybe I overdid it with the cinnamon? The next day everything was worse. AWFUL. To the point of us not wanting to eat, knowing that anything we ate was going to be absolutely nasty. Sweet and starchy foods were the worst! I did a quick Google search from my phone and found mostly stomach issues that might cause a bitter taste, and figured that maybe I just needed to give the coffeemaker a good cleaning with vinegar and a new filter. Then, my friend emailed me, the one I made this dessert for, asking if we’d been experiencing Pine Mouth as well, with a brief description of it. I felt so awful that I’d ruined my friends’ tastebuds for a spell! Here is an interesting article I found about it. Please note that I did not get our pine nuts from Trader Joe’s. Here’s the package (one of three that we bought for the brittle but didn’t need), that I’ll be returning to the grocery store today:
Many of the references to Pine Mouth blame Trader Joe’s… but I read that it seems to be an issue more with pine nuts that have come out of China (and in some cases Korea or Russia), and they seem to affect certain people. However, everybody I fed the brittle to is suffering! I feel awful about it. Granted, usually one doesn’t eat so many pine nuts in one sitting… I’m hoping that our dinner guests we had over a few nights after this aren’t coming down with Pine Mouth as I type.
Another thing I noticed while skimming articles on this dreaded affliction is that people have noticed that the pine nut culprits tend to be smaller than the pine nuts they normally eat and aren’t affected by, and that was the case here:

The ones on the left are from an old container of pine nuts I had in the fridge, that never caused a problem. The ones on the right are the culprits. Look how much smaller they are! They are also a little bit darker.
Pine Mouth was first documented in 2001, and so far there seems to be no cure but time.  Cruel, cruel nut.

from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

2 c whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry), rinsed very well under cold water

Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place in a blender with enough fresh cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Blend on high for several minutes until very smooth. (If you’re not using a professional high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix, which creates an ultra-smooth cream, strain the cashew cream through a fine-mesh sieve.)

To make thick cashew cream, which some recipes in this book call for, simply reduce the amount of water in the blender, so that the water just covers the cashews. Makes about 2 1/2 cups thick cream or 3 1/2 cups regular cream.

Pictured above is the thick cashew cream. It’s amazing! I can’t believe I’ve never made this before… and I’m so excited about all of the possibilities! Whipped cream, cream sauces, sour cream, pancake and waffle toppings… all vegan! The texture is so good- like fatty yogurt. The flavor isn’t too nutty, so it’s a great canvas for other flavors. I don’t have a Vita-Mix; I have a KitchenAid. And it worked very well… I can’t imagine putting this stuff through a fine-mesh sieve! If anybody does it, let me know, would you? I’m curious.

from The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen

2 tbsp yellow miso paste (I used white, because it’s what I already had)
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp light agave nectar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced (you know I used 2…)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup safflower oil (I used a combo of canola and grapeseed oil)
1 tbsp minced fresh chives
1 1/2 c baby arugula
8 oz fingerling potatoes, boiled for 15 minutes, then sliced into 1/4″ thick rounds
8 oz green beans, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute

Place the miso paste, vinegar, agave nectar, salt, pepper, shallot, garlic, mustard, lemon juice and 1 tbsp water in a food processor and pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a thin stream until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Fold in the chives.

Place the arugula, potatoes, and beans in a large bowl, drizzle with the vinaigrette, and toss to coat. Makes 4 servings.

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. I was intimidated by this book, which Shutterbean sent to me for my birthday, because so many of the recipes have so many new ingredients and so many steps. So, I found a simple one that had ingredients that I was familiar with and didn’t have too many steps, and voila! Tastiness abound. I now have the guts to try something else. The dressing was so very delicious and the extra garlic made it a little zingy; I found myself wishing that I’d doubled the recipe to have more leftovers! We both had seconds, and found ourselves completely stuffed. I can’t wait to share this dish with family this summer!