Monday, May 31, 2010

Still cooking through Veganomicon and a Sunshine Award

First off, I must give a very big THANKS!! to two very awesome fellow bloggers for the Sunshine Award they both gave me. Thank you VivaciousVegan, who writes Adventures of Veganism in Midwestern America and Chandra, whose blog is called Vegetarian Cyclist. If you haven't already done so, take a look at their blogs. They are most definitely worthwhile reading! And take a look at the nice things Brandi and Chandra had to say about me. Thanks guys, you made my day! I have to pass on the award to others and I promise to do that this week sometime.

Things have been super-crazy around here and I am really crunched for time lately. Less than a month ago I was given a promotion at work and will be moving into our accounting department. I now have my own office with a window. Go me. I have been working on studying Microsoft programs, researching colleges to finish my degree (which I started 20 years ago!! I opted for marriage and babies and never bothered to finish - I wasn't the smartest 20 year old at the time.) and I was waiting to hear about the jobs I had applied for within my agency. I was awarded the great news while my husband was overseas, literally on the other side of the world, in Japan. With only my daughter to celebrate with me, I've been making only simple meals. One night we actually had chocolate cake for dinner! Not a nutrient-perfect meal, but it was fun and we laughed and carried on and had a great time making it and then eating it.

The garden has also been a top priority for me.This past weekend was spent tilling, planting and mulching in 89 degree weather. Hot and humid. Lots of water flowing and sunscreen being slathered on. And my husband came home from his 3 week business trip on Saturday. Picture perfect weekend. Now what do we do with a such a perfect weekend? Not only did we work outside, we opened the pool and I prepared some awesome food for grilling. Marinated tempeh, apricot bbq sauce for grilled tofu, sweet potato fries, salad, iced tea and martinis. The perfect weekend! I love my life.Remember the review of Veganomicon I co-wrote with my friend Claire whose beautiful blog is Chez Cayenne? Do you also remember that although I didn't hate the book it also wasn't my favorite? I've been cooking my way through it lately. Sort of. I've been opening it up more often and making things out of it. And loving it. That's right. I said it. I've been loving the book I really didn't like. I still have issues with the wordy recipe titles, which has kept me from trying many of the recipes. Honestly, I have been choosing recipes with short recipe titles. I can't help it. If it sounds complicated, I don't want any part of it.

What have I tried lately? The Lower-Fat Deep Chocolate Bundt Cake for starters. This is the cake my daughter and I made for dinner one night and I made it based on a recommendation by a fellow VegPeople member. The recipe for this cake includes applesauce. I didn't have any. But I did have leftover okara in the fridge from when I made soy/rice/oat milk and that is what I used. I use that in place of oil and applesauce in any cake or muffin recipe with tremendous success and this time was no different. The cake was fabulous. And gone in three days. I wish I had taken a picture.

A new favorite is the Silken Mayo Dressing. It really is terrific. I have used it plain, added Dijon mustard to it and even added chipotle's to it to make it smoky and spicy. I used it to make a dip for steamed artichokes recently. I added Dijon mustard, lemon juice, chives and chopped pickles. Perfect.

Next, I made the Smoky Grilled Tempeh and Apricot BBQ Sauce. The BBQ sauce I used on grilled tofu. I also made a change to it by adding 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes to spice it up. We love sweet-spicy sauces. This is a bbq sauce I'll be making again. And the smoky grilled tempeh? Well, can you say YUM?!?!?!

The Wheat-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies have been the biggest hit yet.I made ice cream sandwiches using them and my favorite Vanilla IceCream from this book.Those chocolate chip cookies are the best ever. A secret I learned recently for keeping your homemade ice creams from turning to stone in the freezer is to put a tablespoon or two of vodka in it. It keeps it nice and workable after going into the freezer. Works like a charm.

I also made the Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls. The spicy tempeh filling was the bombdiggity. So, so good. My sister-in-law loved it. I have made it multiple times now. It's great plain. It sometimes amazes me that something so simple with so few ingredients tastes so wonderful. It shouldn't, but it does. This recipe was a definite winner. I didn't follow the instructions on the sushi rice or the rest of the fillings for the rolls because I make my own all the time and I don't need a recipe for that.

And because I detest store bought salad dressings, I always make my own. So, I decided to try the Mediterranean Olive Oil and Lemon Vinaigrette. They could've just called it Herby Lemon Vinaigrette and I would have made it a whole lot sooner than now. It's good. I did cut down on the garlic, though. Three cloves is a bit much, so I used only one. I also used my new-found novelty item, pink Himalayan salt.I bought it because it's pink. Pink, afterall, is the best color in the world. The shirt I am wearing today is pink so why shouldn't my salt be pink? You should have some in your kitchen.

I've been having fun with this book now. It's taken me a really long time, but I think I actually like it now. The recipes I have made lately have come out great. I like cooking my way through a book that I thought started out as having little purpose in my kitchen. It's turned out to be a great resource. Now, if you'll excuse me, the grill is calling my name. I have some cooking to do.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Leftover Potpie

Every now and then I have gravy leftover so I freeze it. There's never much more than about 1-2 cups, but it's enough worth saving for things like Seitan Stew and my Leftover Potpie. And more oftentimes than not I have various leftover cooked veggies in the fridge at the end of the week. And when it's the beginning of the week and I'm starting from the top, I pull the frozen veggies out the freezer.

My Leftover Potpie is never the same. Ever. I don't think I could possibly duplicate it unless I used a recipe. And that's not something I do for this. Ever. But I do have a basic guideline. Here it is.

Leftover Potpie: The Basics

1. Use 1 1/2 - 2 cups gravy of your choice. Whether you use a premade gravy from the store, a package mix or you make your own, it doesn't matter. This is potpie your way.

2. Use aromatics like onions or leeks and bell pepper for flavor. Saute them.

3. Add a protein to your potpie (not because I think we need such an abundance of protein - that's not why - it's because I like a main filler in it, that's just me), like cooked lentils, beans or seitan chunks, about 1 - 1 1/2 cups. Tonight I used seitan chunks and lentils because I wanted to.

4. If using seitan chunks, saute them in a bit of red wine for flavor. This is my personal preference. It is certainly not a must. I use about 1/2 cup.

5. Use whatever leftover or frozen veggies you want, only about 1/2 cup each. If you use potato and carrots, make sure they're cooked. My personal favorites: potato, carrots, peas and corn. Other options I have used: parsnips, lima beans, mushrooms and sweet potato. My rule of thumb on the number of veggies used: no more than four. But that's only *my* rule. Do whatever you want. Remember? It's potpie your way.

6. The crust is easy. I use 1 cup of flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt (mix these two) and a few tablespoons of Earth Balance. Cut the EB into the flour and salt until it's crumbly. Then stir in a couple tablespoons of non-dairy milk until it holds together. Roll it out, place it over top of your casserole dish, letting it overlap the side. Cut three steam vents. OR - you could make a biscuit topping instead.

7. Bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes.

Have it with a salad and a lovely homemade vinaigrette. Dinner doesn't have to be difficult and it isn't rocket science. Just follow the basics and your creativity knows no bounds.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Update! Onigiri! Daiya Cheese!

Where the hell have I been? Funny you should ask. I have been here. All along. I've just been pre-occupied. Cooking is never far from the horizon. In fact, it is always in my kitchen, morning and night (I'm not here at noon Monday thru Friday). I just have a few other things in the oven, so to speak. I will continue to be cryptic because I have no idea where I will be venturing to next, if anywhere. I will say no more. It may jinx me. I'm superstitious that way.Yesterday I finally experienced the wonder that is Daiya vegan cheese. I found it at my local Whole Foods store, was disappointed in the price but purchased it anyway and took it home where I learned it was the tastiest treat ever and totally worth what I paid for it. I took a baguette, cut it in half lenghtwise, slathered both halves with Earth Balance (another miracle of vegan foodie-ism), sprinkled with garlic powder and salt and then covered it with Daiya cheese. I then baked it in the oven until the Daiya cheese melted. The next step was to eat it. All of it. Neither Kelsey nor I spoke a single word while we scarfed this down. And Kelsey absolutely hates vegan cheese. It. Was. That. Good. Here's the proof:Even Tiny wanted in on the action, too. Who can blame him? Here, he is saying "Give me some of that, dammit!"I've been working on preparing my garden, too. Last year I was physically incapable of having my garden. It broke my heart. I live to play in the dirt. My doctor thought making some changes to my rheumatoid medications would be to my benefit. These changes didn't help. In fact, it made things much, much worse and I went downhill from there. Nearly a year later I am on Remicade and a mild dose of prednisone. I'm not sure what this will do for me and my desire to be med-free at some point in my life, but I will settle for feeling good enough to work in the garden, practice yoga for fun and not just for pain relief, and being able to workout at 4:30 am (I know, I am the only person who actually thrives on that!).Today I transplanted my seedlings into larger pots and sometime this week I will start the hardening off process so they can be planted in the garden in two weeks. My husband really doesn't like seed-starting season because for three months or more I have a mess of greenhouses, seed packets, heating pads, watering cans and dirt in the dining room. It smells earthy and like tomato plants.The grow light is on all night, illuminating the entire living space of the upper floor all night long. This is the start of a fruitful spring, summer and fall. This is the start of a winter filled with the harvest I put by from my garden. Harvesting. Canning. Freezing. Dehydrating. Cooking. Harvesting. Canning. Freezing. Dehydrating. Cooking. This is what I thrive on. And I am capable this year. Oh, what a feeling!

Back in November I spent some time in Japan. Not my first time and certainly not my last. I am in love with that country. The culture, the people, the smells, the sounds. I love Japan. And I love the food. What little of it I can eat, that is. The sake makes up for what I can't eat there! I bought some onigiri shapers when I was there last and I only began using them a week ago. What fun I had in the kitchen! Take a look a the mess I created:Your onigiri can have any number of different fillings, from pickled daikon to sauteed greens to my favorite filling - rehydrated dried shiitakes sauteed in soy sauce and mirin. Yum! I made this for lunches this week..:This is how:

Soak 4 dried shiitakes in boiling water for 20-30 minutes.

Cut the tough stem piece from the centers of the mushrooms.

Slice the mushrooms.

Saute in pan with a teaspoon of olive oil. Add about 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce and about a tablespoon of mirin and saute until the mushrooms are no longer exuding the soaking liquid and the soy sauce mixture has reduced to nothing. You want to smell the salty goodness of the soy sauce. This is how you will know it is ready.

Chop the mushrooms into small pieces..I cook up 1 cup of Japanese sweet rice and shape the rice using the shapers. Make an indentation in the middle and then cover with a bit of rice.Then I pour black sesame seeds on a plate. I also pull out some nori strips. My favorite are these spicy teriyaki nori strips.Some of the onigiri get dressed in the sesame seeds and some of them are dressed up in the nori strips. Some of them get a special coating of my favorite rice seasoning, or furikake (which my juvenile mind finds hilariously funny). And speaking of funny, the Japanese put some really strange phrases in English on stuff. This is what is on one of my onigiri shapers:Soon I hope to be posting a couple of book reviews. I also hope to feel like blogging more often. I have a lot to talk about, just no motivation. I have a stressful job and I am beat by the end of the day, but I have the best family in the world to come home to and a lovely home with a roof over our heads. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Say your prayers. Send some good vibes out into the universe. Whatever it is that you do, please do it. Right now I need it. And right now I am going to finish off the night with a lovely glass of wine whilest listening to Bob Seger singing Night Moves.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In the kitchen: cooking as stress relief

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch got me thinking about why I enjoy spending weekends cooking away in my kitchen. The article starts off with this sentence:
Step away from stress and start cooking.
This is probably the main reason I love cooking so much - I am stepping away from the stresses of the day and stepping into a world filled with smells and sounds that have the ability to transport me to a much better place. To handle the soft and tender dough that will soon be bread . . .In the kitchen, I can create. In the kitchen, no one can tell me what to do. In the kitchen, I can pretend like I know what I'm doing even when I don't and no one cares. In the kitchen, I can experiment and everyone wants to be a part of the trials. The kitchen is my escape from the outside world, the world that only wants one hundred and ten percent and gets upset when you are unable to provide it. When people come over, this is where we spend our time. Friends and family watch me cook and help me cook and then reap the rewards. The kitchen is where I make fabulous artisan breads the most awesome black bean burgers, bodacious cheeze sauces, fantastic flatbreads that are the vehicle for delectable bean spreads
and nori rolls encasing only the freshest vegetables and Asian marinated tofu that was made using soymilk made from scratch just that morning.My grandma thinks it's too much of a hassle to have me "bother" with cooking food for our get togethers and always insists that I "not do too much". My husband tries on occassion to tell me "not to worry about dinner" because he doesn't want me to have to work more (after a long, stressful day at work). These two people, who I love with all of my heart and soul, do not get it. As stated in the article:
Some fear the kitchen; others find it a stressful place. And for some generations, Alton Brown said, it represents a duty.

For me, there is no fear. There is no stress. And it is not a duty. It is a way to escape from the garbage, the stress, the bullshit of everyday life that sometimes doesn't include peace or harmony or kindness.

Another quote from the article:
"We've made an idol of the food," Alton Brown said. "And we have fixated on the object of the food, not the cooking of the food."

People have forgotten how to cook. This is not to say that we are unable to provide sustenance for ourselves, although I do know some people who are so completely inept in the kitchen that they really should be grateful that grocery stores have several frozen food aisles. We have forgotten how to turn something as simple as an onion, garlic, tomatoes and basil into a lovely sauce to be served over pasta (something I frequently make myself rather than purchasing from a package). We have forgotten that dinner can be as easy as a lovely salad comprised of fresh greens, herbs, roasted baby beets, kidney beans, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds with a simple vinaigrette made with olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, shallots and salt and pepper. How simple! How beautiful! How healthy!

This is not to say that I haven't had my share of disasters in the kitchen. Take these cookies, for instance. I was trying out a cookie recipe from Clean Food. The cookies looked fantastic. I am taking them out of the oven . . . .
See? Half of the frigging cookies ended up on the bottom of the oven. Of course I was upset. I said a few choice words (I have always said that there really are times when a colorful expletive is necessary - clearly, this was one of those times!) After the momentary lapse of all reasoning, I turned the frown upside down with a delicious dessert idea. I took the crumbled cookies that stayed on the cookie sheet and pressed them into a baking dish. Then I baked it for a few minutes to firm it up and when it was cooled, I topped it with chocolate pudding that I whipped up in mere minutes. If my family hadn't been home when said disaster occurred, they would have believed that I intensionally had created a masterpiece.For me, cooking isn't stressful. It is only challenging when I want to create something new and unique an delicious. But the challenge is what gets my mind off the daily grind. Cooking forces us to get physical with our food - we cut, dice, chop, knead, rub, stir, smell, taste.

I'll leave you with the last sentence of the article:
So put down your cell phone. Move away from your laptop. And cook.
for dinner: Pad Thai from Clean Food

Three Sisters Stew

The Three Sisters method of planting: squash, beans, corn all interplanted in the same mounds, a Native American tradition. These crops grow harmoniously together, providing support, nutrients and shade where needed. This method of gardening has long since withstood the test of time both in the Native American gardens and in mine. Learn more about the Three Sisters method of planting here. If you have a garden give the Three Sisters method a try.

In celebration of the Three Sisters is a wonderful stew created by Mary McDougall. I use her recipe as a base for my own ideas. Her recipe is found in the October 2009 McDougall Newsletter. A recipe such as this is versatile. You can use whatever squash you want (or use sweet potatoes), whatever beans you want, you can make it spicy or not, you can use hominy instead of regular corn, you can use plain canned tomatoes rather than fire roasted. That's the great thing about stew. You can do whatever you want.Three Sisters Stew simmering away on the stove

A few notes: Mary's recipe calls for pinto beans. I do not find this aesthetically pleasing at all. I use black beans or green beans. They add a nice color contrast to the stew. Green beans are especially nice in this dish.
If you do not like the smokiness of the fire roasted tomatoes (I cannot understand why you wouldn't!), then use plain tomatoes. It's good, but I don't think it's as good. And if you don't like (or cannot find) chipotle chili powder, try smoked paprika or plain chili powder. These work just as well. And you can certainly leave out the minced chipotles and use the canned chopped chilis that Mary suggests.

This is my version of Mary's recipe. It makes a lot!

Three Sisters Stew

1 1/4 cups water or vegetable stock
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15 oz. cans fire roasted chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans or 10 oz. bag frozen green beans
1 10 oz. bag frozen corn kernels
4 cups peeled, chunked, butternut squash
2 chipotle chilis, minced
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Saute the onion, bell pepper and garlic in 1/4 cup water or stock until softened, about 5 minutes. I like to put the lid on to keep the liquid from evaporating too quickly because you don't want to brown the vegetables - only soften them. Add the rest of the water and the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 35 minutes or until the squash is done.

Make sure you check out the McDougall Newsletter for valuable health information and tons of fantastic recipes. They even have all of their newsletters archived.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A look at Veganomicon

Spicy Tempeh and Broccoli Rabe with Rotelle (in my case, penne)

This is a book I have had ever since the day it was released. Only recently have I started really cooking out of it. Soooo, it took me how long to do this?? Uh, three years. Wow. Well, in all fairness my reasons for not wanting to cook everything out of this book in the first month are valid. Most of the recipes have long names like Eggplant-Potato Moussaka with Pine Nut Cream, and Cauliflower and Mushroom Potpie with Black Olive Crust, and Caramelized Onion-Butternut Roast with Chestnuts, and Pear and Endive Salad with Maple Candied Pecans, and Green Pea and Lemon Risotto with Roasted Red Peppers . . . . I am a simple woman with very little time on my hands and these all sounded potentially complicated and time consuming. I am put off by wordy recipe titles.

Last month my friend Claire who writes a great blog called Chez Cayenne did a mini review of Veganomicon. After reading her review, I knew it would be perfect to do a full review of it for VegPeople, the vegan and vegetarian website/discussion board we both help to moderate. We worked on this review together, making it conversation-style, sharing our thoughts and talking about the recipes we made from the book. We even ended up convincing each other to make recipes from the book that we loved and hadn't tried! Take a look at our review.

This book review ended up being a lot of fun to work on. It forced me to open the book and go through it, from the beginning to the end, and to try the recipes I have been meaning to make since I bought the book. It's not my favorite book. I did have a couple of recipes that just didn't work out well for me, but out of the 12 or so recipes I have made out of it in addition to the ones I have made since the review, most of them were successes and turned out terrific.

Some things I find important in a cookbook that claims to be "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook" are really quite simple: the basics. Veganomicon does have that. In the front of the book you will find information on what you should be stocking your pantry with, what kitchen equipment you should have in your possession, what important cooking and prepping terms you need to understand, information on lower fat cooking (information that I disagree with - they don't like low-fat cooking and I think it's essential to good health) and how to cook vegetables, grains and beans properly. This basic information is what is necessary to really understand the foundations of cooking. I am pleased to see that in this book.

While I do not give this book the highest rating possible, I do feel it is a book worth recommending to people who are creative, motivated and want to cook really good food. And if you have had this book just sitting on your shelf getting dusty, well, then you need to grab it right now, dust it off and start cooking. I think you'll have some fun.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hot chocolate with Dandies

What are Dandies, anyway? Dandies are these very yummy, very expensive vegan marshmallows that I had to try made by Chicago Soydairy. I found them at Whole Foods yesterday and bought them on a whim. These things are ridiculously expensive; I paid $5.19 for a 10 oz. package. Definitely something I will not be purchasing often (I see this as a once a year thing, to be quite honest - probably only during the holidays).I think they are better than I remember non-vegan marshmallows to be. I always hated the commercial non-vegan variety. I hated the texture, I hated the taste. Before becoming veg, I got away from the commercial marshmallows and began making my own, which were far superior. It's been many, many years since I've had a marshmallow and I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm glad I was able to try them, but I just cannot justify paying $5 for a small bag of something I would rarely use anyway. Although, it is good to know they are accessible to me if the need ever arises. Even though I have not really had a need for them over the past eight or so years . . . .

This hot chocolate recipe is from a book I've had for nearly 25 years. It's called From Amish and Mennonite Kitchens and is not a vegetarian, let alone vegan, cookbook. Unbelievable that I had any interest at all in buying a cookbook when I was 13 and that I would actually still have it today, but it contains some recipes that I have made dozens of times over the years. This hot chocolate recipe is one I have adapted to be vegan.Hot Chocolate

4 heaping teaspoons cocoa powder
8 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup hot water
3 1/4 cups non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine cocoa, sugar, salt and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir. Do this two more times. This process kind of reduces it, making it syrupy. Be careful not to scorch it. Add the non-dairy milk and the vanilla and heat through.

I have been known to add a bit of Frangelico to my hot chocolate for a nice hazelnutty kick.