Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Back in the Game: Vegan Manicotti



It's been quite awhile. I've been busy.

That's a bit of a loaded statement. Let me explain:
I became pregnant in May and about a month later became unable to eat anything interesting. For once, I am not exaggerating. Nothing with any flavor, taste, odor, fragrance, aroma, color etc. could come within a 5 ft. radius of me. It was white food: white bread, saltines, plain potatoes, cheerios and fruit. For nearly 4 months, I was unable to stomach almost anything from my 'normal' diet. Even the white food ended up not staying in my stomach for very long. Let's just leave it at that.

On top of that, I few weeks ago, we moved 2600 miles away to the west coast of our fair country and though I've been able to return to 'normal' food, I've been too busy with the move to even think about cooking.

So now I've returned, starting my 3rd trimester of pregnancy, in a new state and in a new kitchen. On top of all that, I'm unemployed and find myself filling the role of 'housewife' or 'homemaker'.

Needless to say, there's going to be a long, somewhat rocky adjustment period. And what do I do under stress?

I cook.

So here we go...

This isn't the first dinner I've prepared in our new home, but it's fresh in my mind, so I'm going to go with it before the baby brain takes over and I lose another 50 IQ points.

One of my many TV pleasures is watching America's Test Kitchen. I love the idea of using scientific methods to narrow down the best ingredients/techniques for a given dish. I'm not saying that anyone has to agree with what these chefs consider 'the best' in the end, but the fact that they use experimentation (the controlled and systematic variation of the different variables in the cooking process) and sampling (the taste-testers) to improve something as important as brownies or garlic bread brings a proud tear to my eye. In light of the rampant ignorance of science and its usefulness in this country, at least one PBS show gets it.

So I caught an episode the other day where they tried to take the mystique out of manicotti. Any vegans who might be reading this might say "Hey, wait a minute, they NEVER have vegan recipes on that show." Well, you're right, they don't (though they did publish the BEST veggie burger recipe a few years ago in their magazine). That's where I come in. Duh.

Back to manicotti. I wasn't so interested in the ingredients as I was in the technique. I have avoided manicotti/cannelloni because they're difficult to handle. I mean that literally. If you stuff them when they're dry and uncooked and try to make up for it with a watery sauce, you end up with watery sauce and only partially-cooked pasta. If you boil the noodles first, you end up hucking half the batch because they tear so easily when boiling or trying to stuff them.

The ATK crew came up with a great solution: use no-boil lasagna noodles (read:cooked, then dehydrated in the factory). This is a brilliant idea in that it removes the whole tearing issue. The noodle sheets are immersed in boiling water for a few minutes to make them pliable. They can then be filled and rolled while they're still relatively strong and tear-proof.

Now I've read some explanations as to the difference between cannelloni and manicotti. I think it was Wikipedia that said that manicotti are the pre-formed tubes while cannelloni are sheets that are rolled. I don't really care what you call them.

So here's my attempt.

Tofu-Broccoli-Herb Manicotti/Cannelloni.

4 no-boil lasagna noodles
Boiling water
Fillings:
3/4 brick of extra-firm tofu
1 c cashews (I had roasted, salted on hand)
1 tbsp. Italian herbs (dried)
2 cups broccoli florets
handful of fresh spinach
handful of fresh parsley
small handful of fresh basil
salt to taste
Sauce:
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. mixed, dried Italian herbs (rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme)
2 tsp. sugar

Methods:

1. In a food processor, grind the cashews until they're a fine powder.
2. Add the tofu and dried herbs and pulse until it becomes a loose paste (salt to taste, it may be salty from the cashews). Set this aside in a separate bowl.
3. Steam the broccoli (I cook it in the microwave for 2 minutes) until slightly tender.
4. Place broccoli, fresh herbs and spinach in the food processor and pulse until very finely minced (nearly pesto-like). Set this in another bowl.
Sauce:
5. In a large skillet or saute pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic for a few minutes.
6. Add the can of tomatoes, the dried herbs and the sugar and let simmer while you prepare the noodles.
Noodles: (at this point, pre-heat the oven to 370F)
7. Place the noodle sheets in a shallow dish and cover them with boiling water. Leave them for 2-3 minutes, or until they are pliable.
8. Carefully remove each noodle to a clean, dry dishtowel spread out on the counter (don't use paper towels or the noodles with stick to them and it will be gross).
9. Spread some of the tofu filling on 3/4ths of the noodle, then top this filling with as much of the broccoli/herb filling.
10. Roll the noodle up like a rug. The filling-less end will stick to the outside of the roll to hold it all together.
11. Repeat with the other 4 noodles.
12. Once the sauce has cooked for roughly 10-15 minutes (adding salt and pepper to taste), spread half of the sauce in the bottom of your baking dish.
12. Add the pasta rolls and cover with the remaining sauce.
13. Bake COVERED for 30 minutes.
14. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Verdict: Incredibly yummy. Surprisingly so. I'm rarely impressed with what I cook, but for something that I concocted on the spur of the moment, I have to say that I'm very proud. We had this with some quick garlic bread. I was too exhausted to make a salad. How sad is that?

So there it is. My first post of a new era.

(Photos will follow soon)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Yet more beet love...saag cheelas


My last post dealt with the noble beet and I haven't been able to get beets out of my mind since. Is it because my favorite color is red? Is it something about the swirly, hypnotic pattern you see in the flesh when you cut it into diagonal slices. I'm not sure, but I tend to just humor my food obsessions until they lose their own momentum, so let's just go with it for now.

Having juiced several beets, I was left with a healthy bunch of lovely dark green and deep magenta beet greens. Never again will I toss out these lovelies, nor will I bother buying beets that have been ashamedly decapitated by some unwitting tool of a produce clerk. I've been trying to eat more green leafy vegetables as of late (recall the green-shake obsession not too long ago) and I had a hankering for Indian food today.

Occasionally, on my 'day off', my red-haired vegan comes home for lunch. Today was such a day, so I needed a meal that could be multi-tasked, since I had a reasonably full to-do list. So this involves soaking lentils, mixing batter and letting it sit, soaking very sandy and gritty beet greens in vinegar water and chopping vegetables between trips down to the basement.

So this is a 'puttering around the house' recipe.

As noted in an early post, I'm also obsessed with pancakes. I adore Indian pancakes (dosa, or dosai), but I haven't much success with making them at home. I set out today to make some baked pakoras (vegetable fritters), but decided mid-way to morph my recipe into a pourable batter instead and make a pancake-ish thing.

Beware: This recipe uses fussy ingredients probably only found in an Indian grocery store or a fiendishly well-stocked supermarket.

The whole meal consisted of daal (lentils), the veg. pancakes, a bell-pepper and radish salad and some parathas (indian flatbreads) from my freezer.

Saag Cheela

I only found out that my new creation might already have a name. After lunch, I got a hold of my friend Aishwarya and described them to her. She thought the best match was 'cheela'. These are chickpea-flour based pancakes that are often mixed with minced vegetables. So there you have it. I made mini beet-green cheelas and I didn't even know it!

1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
3/4 c water
greens from 1 lb of beets (greens from about 5-6 beets)
small onion
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ajwain seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Method:

1. Soak the greens in a large bowl or a clean sink for several minutes, agitating a bit. This will get rid of all the sand/grit that comes along with root greens. I usually pour in a splash of regular (white, distilled) vinegar when soaking vegetables. Rinse the greens a few times to make sure all the grit is gone.
2. While the greens are soaking, find another medium-sized bowl and add the besan, water and seasonings. Stir this well with a whisk to break up all clumps. Let this sit for 20 minutes or so.
3. Mince the greens and the onion in a food processor until very fine (or by hand).
4. Add the vegetables to the besan batter and mix thoroughly. The batter should have thickened a bit after sitting.
5. Heat a non-stick frying pan to medium-high and use a paper-towel to apply a thin coating of oil.
6. Drop large spoonfuls of batter onto the frying pan and cook like pancakes. I made mine roughly 2 1/2-3 inches in diameter.

I served these with some yellow daal (mushy lentil puree) and a little salad.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beet Love


After my exploration of spinach in a shake, I was in a bit of a juice mood after dinner. What I really wanted was chocolate and lots of it. I was hoping that a reasonable glass of fresh juice would silence the addiction for the evening.

It's been quite a while since I've had any quality time with my Jack LaLanne juicer. It can rip through pretty much anything, and it's relatively easy to clean. I've tried to make muffins from the left-over pulp with very mediocre results. I didn't bother messing with the pulp today.

I had two small raw beets left over from my latest bout with pickling some turnips (which I blog about later). Now while I'm the kind of girl who likes to eat raw beets, I know that it might not be for everyone. However, mixed with other stuff, it's not that weird.

Beet Love Potion

2 mall raw beets
2 white grapefruits
4 small granny smith apples


1. Peel the beets and grapefruit and wash the apples.
2. Juice 'em.

Magenta yum

Green Shakes


No, I'm not talking about the sudden chill some of us feel each time a new strip mall is erected over a once-living patch of earth. I'm talking about the kind of shakes you drink. Most people call them smoothies. I don't like that word. I associate it with my time spent living in Berkeley and working in San Francisco when my co-workers would all go grab a 'juice' or 'smoothie' for lunch and talk about how healthy they were.

Newsflash: 32 oz of fruit juice once a day as your main calorie source might not be the best nutritional plan.

These co-workers would all complain half an hour later of being so exhausted and twitchy. Hmmm. Wonder why?

Of course, that was many years ago, when smoothies were just emerging and Jamba Juice was in its infancy. Things seem to have gotten a little more well-rounded lately.

My typical breakfast is a shake. I like the word 'shake' because I like to imagine that it's really a milkshake. I have a vivid imagination and the idea of eating ice-cream for breakfast helps me keep the rage at bay. I've found a combination of ingredients that, while fussy, works for me.

This morning was a little different. To my standard mix, I decided to add some raw baby spinach.

Now don't make a face. I was shocked to find that I couldn't taste the spinach at all. Not that I'd mind. I've been known to drink cabbage/beet/celery juice. However, the red-haired vegan has a less encompassing palate. He hates cooked greens, but will eat them raw. You can only eat so many salads, so adding some to breakfast seemed like a good idea. Even he could sense no spinach.

We could all stand to eat more leafy greens. Try incorporating them in odd ways and it may surprise you.

Green Shake

I'm warning you that these ingredients may not be easy to find, so experiment with what you can easily find around you. This recipe makes 2 tall glasses for 2 people or more of less.

4 tbsp Nutiva Hemp Shake (berry something or other)
4 tbsp Brown rice protein powder (made by MLO)
4 tbsp soy milk powder (Better than Milk brand)
1 banana
2 c blue berries
1 tbsp flax oil
2 c water
1 bag of washed baby spinach (6 oz)
2 strawberries for garnish

Note: I use a Cuisinart hand-blender that can chop through almost anything. If you have just a regular blender, try processing the spinach first in a food processor (which I did anyway).

1. Blend it all until it's smooth and green. I blend it with my hand-blender in a big pitcher then pour.
2. It's best to drink these right away. They don't really keep all that well.

So there it is. I might even be able to convince myself that it's a mint-ice-cream shake if I weren't too lazy to go get some spearmint from my garden. Maybe the spinach will give me the energy to do that tomorrow.

"Beans don't burn on the grill..."


Ah beans and rice: the musical fruit of the vegan/vegetarian life.
Black beans are likely my favorite bean. They have their own distinct flavor that goes well with many types of seasoning. They're also easy to find canned, which makes supper-time prep a breeze. I'm all about dried beans and pulses, but we don't hall have hours to spend dealing with bean issues. Even my beloved pressure-cooker just doesn't speed things up quite enough for most week day meals.

Of course, it's still grill season, so most of this meal is done on the grill. I have a lovely little cast-iron pot with a tight-fitting lid that works very well for beans. For the rice, we employed the trusty rice-cooker, which doesn't really heat up the kitchen at all.

Black Beans on the Grill

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (or 3 cups cooked from dry)
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
juice from 1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 to 1 c water

1. Heat the grill to 4ooF with a cast-iron pot inside.
2. Make a paste from the garlic, cumin, pepper, salt and lime juice
3. In the pot, saute the paste in the olive oil for just a few minutes until you can really smell the garlic.
4. Add the black beans and water (only 1/2 c at first, more later if the beans are too dry) and cover. Let cook until the grill reaches 400F again, then stir.
5. Cook, stirring every 5-7 minutes, until they reach a nice, thick consistency (about 15-20 minutes on a hot grill).

We had this we our standard grilled veggies: peppers and onions.

Standard Grilled Peppers and Onions

1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 medium onion

Dressing:

1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
black pepper and salt to taste

As is our standard method: grill the peppers and onions in an oiled perforated grill pan. When they are cooked to your preference, toss in a bowl with the dressing.

As mentioned above, we had this all with some rice from the good ole rice cooker. The red-haired vegan and I compromised and had a mix of brown short-grain and white sushi rice (I'm not a big fan of white rice, but I was feeling collaborative).

There's something intrinsically homey and earthy about cooking beans in a cast-iron pot over flames. I think it was the cook in "City Slickers" that succinctly stated the cowboy/rancher view of beans: "hot, brown and plenty of it". Beans are cheap, easy to cook, very nutritious and very filling.

As for the musical properties...never be ashamed of your fiber intake. While the steak and burger eaters battle with their high cholesterol and slow digestive tracts, we bean eaters will raise our bean pots high and celebrate our polyp-free colons. And, with the right equipment, we can celebrate all summer by the grill.

And let us not overlook the benefits of eating outside in the fresh air by an open flame...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Desperate Enough for Ramen


It's just so shocking to have hot weather all of a sudden. I just commented to my little red-haired vegan that it was only two weeks ago that it wasn't warm enough to clean out the car.

In light of the high 80s temps, we've had to turn on the AC since our apartment is a little sweat box that remains 88F well past 11pm. (88 at 11 = no sleep for me) So in light of our new spike in energy consumption, I will do almost anything to keep my kitchen cool. As noted in the last post, my lovely grill is the main solution to that. Today, however, I wanted noodles and, while it would be easy enough to boil water on the grill's side-burner, I wanted to use another low-energy solution. I apologize that I can't remember the name of this gimmick, but it's a tall, clear plastic tube that supposedly allows you to cook pasta by just pouring boiling water into it.

You may be skeptical, and for good reason: it doesn't really work. You stick your dried pasta in the tube, fill it with boiling water and close it with a cheap plastic lid. Then, some magic is supposed to happen to 'cook' the pasta. Essentially, you're just sticking pasta in hot water and waiting until it gets soft enough to chew. Sounds simple enough. However, the texture of the end product is less than ideal. This thing was on a shelf in the basement for a reason. Though perhaps achieving al dente in the middle, the noodles are generally mushy on the outside giving a weird chewy texture to the whole thing.

Today I was desperate. I had left-over grilled peppers and onions, two big cubes of dried/baked tofu and I had a hankering for noodles. I bought some Chinese-style curly noodles at the store the other day. These look like the cheaper, fattier ramen you buy for a few cents per case, but they're not fried and they're a little thinner. So I broke them up into pieces and stuck them in pasta tube with boiling water. 7 minutes later, I had al dente/mushy ramen. Insult was added to injury when I opened the fridge to discover that we were out of soy sauce.

WHAT? How the &#@! could we be out of soy sauce?

After several harsh words to myself and anyone within a 4 mile radius, I realized that improvising ramen without soy sauce was going to be painful. Luckily, I remembered that our old Singaporean flat-mate, Dot, used to add curry powder to her ramen for a cheap and tasty snack. So I cobbled together a mixture of generic curry powder, salt, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and a big dash of seasoned rice vinegar and tossed it with the noodles.

It was ok. Not great.

The lack of soy sauce, while annoying in light of the already impaired noodles, was a major obstacle for the tofu. To say that tofu is bland is like saying Scooter Libby is 'morally flexible' (for any right-wingers out there, it's an understatement). Baked tofu is like a concentrated form of bland, if you can wrap your mind around that. So I made another little batch of the same noodle seasoning for the tofu and tossed it in. This I took to the grill with my left-over peppers and onions.

Sad Curry Dressing
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp garlic (minced)
1 tsp ginger (minced or 1/2 tsp powder)
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Method:

1. Today I used a nice cast-iron wok. I stuck it on the grill and closed the lid while it was heating up to make sure it got hot (about 350F).
2. I added a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the hot wok and added the tofu. I let this cook, grill covered for 5 minutes or so, the stirred and let it cook another 5 minutes.
3. I then tossed in the peppers and onions and let this all cook for another 5 minutes.
4. I added all this to the cooked noodles and served it with roasted cashews.

This goes to show any people who've eaten my cooking, and who've like it, that sometimes things don't work. I just usually don't serve the failures to company.

Well I wouldn't serve it to company I like, anyway.

Scooter can have it.

On second thought, no. No he can't. It's still too good for him.

Friday, June 6, 2008

In the world and of the world


Summer is finally edging into our dank little burg and its arrival sparks the re-kindling of my annual love affair. Forever faithful to my beloved red-haired vegan, the object of my affection is not built of flesh and bone, casting longing glances and whispering whimsy and intrigue. The object of my summer lust is forged from gleaming steel and iron. From its dark places comes not the emotional baggage of a tender yet tortured soul, but the blue-orange fire of creation and destruction, and it is not a deep-seated love for me that fuels this fire: it's liquid propane.

I have a very serious relationship with my grill. I'm not ashamed to say it and I resent the American cultural assumption that grilling is for men. Cooking out in the world is human event, taking us back to where we belong: in the world. While I love cooking in a well-equipped kitchen, the convenience and luxury of a modern kitchen sometimes feels overly-fussy and divorced from our station as another animal (an often clever animal) on this earth. Then summer comes around and, not wanting to heat up the sweat-box that is my tiny, counter-space-less kitchen, I venture outside, to eat what is of the world, in the world.

I purchased my beloved grill as a gift to myself when I obtained my PhD. It was a big step. A grill isn't like my yogurt-maker: something that you can ignore for a few months until you feel guilty for buying it in the first place and start using it again. A grill is major appliance and it means business. It's expensive, big, heavy, requires regular maintenance and could potentially explode. It needs to be taken seriously and if it is, it will bring joy and tastiness for years to come.

Many meat-eaters we know ask "Why do you have a grill?" The assumption is that the only thing a grill is good for is charring huge chunks of meat. I hope to eliminate that silly notion from all 5 of my readers over the next few months. I estimate that I can cook 90% of what I cook in my kitchen on my grill. Now, it helps that I have a 3-burner grill with 500 square inches of cooking surface and a side-burner that actually works. It is also noteworthy that my mom and my friend Blanche outfitted me with a handy collection of cast-iron cookware that allows for all sorts of pot and pan meals, using the grill as I would a gas range.

For this first grill post, I'm starting with our standard summer meal. Anyone who's had it loves it and it has endless room for variety: the vegetable sandwich. It incorporates two of my favorite foods: bread and peppers.

Bread
The selection of bread is important because this is essentially a garlic-bread vegetable sandwich. So, any bread that serves to make tasty, crusty garlic bread is what you want to choose for the sandwich. Our local grocery store just started making white-whole-wheat focaccia that is perfect. Another good choice is ciabatta, though it can get a little too crunchy on the grill.
Veggies
The vegetable selection is up to you. We always go for peppers (red and green) and onions. I also love mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant and so on. We've even used asparagus that I've steamed in foil on the grill and it was great.
Protein
If you want a little more protein (keep in mind there's quite a bit in whole-wheat), there are several choices: grilled slabs of tofu, seitan (cooked wheat gluten), hummus, or even the barely palatable vegan cheeses out there. Lots of people like grilled tempeh, but I can't stomach tempeh in any form, so you're on your own there. There also lots of processed meat alternatives alongside the ever-dull veggie burgers. Last night I picked up some pre-cooked slabs of tofu and heated them on the grill, but for lunch today, we had Yves Turkey deli slices (the red-haired man likes them but I find them foul in every way).

So there isn't really a 'recipe' per se. I guess it's all technique, but here goes:

Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches

Equipment
grill basket, perforated grill pan or cast-iron skillet
long tongs
vegetable oil (or other oil with a high smoke point)

Ingredients
2 bell peppers of any color
1 medium onion
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp minced garlic (powder is ok)
1 tsp minced ginger (1/2 tsp powder is ok)
1/2 tsp black pepper

bread for garlic bread
vegan margarine or olive oil
garlic powder
1 ripe avocado mashed with 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

Methods:
1. Heat the grill to at least 350.
2. Oil the grill pan and space on the grill itself big enough to fit the garlic bread. To oil a grill, first fold a paper towel into a 3-inch square, dip it in vegetable oil then with tongs, oil the surface you'll use for cooking.

I usually grill peppers and onions in an oiled perforated grill pan. It takes about 10-15 minutes at 400F with tossing every few minutes. I'm weird in that I prefer to toss the veggies with a little dressing once they're cooked instead of marinating them. Most of the marinade is lost to the depths of the grill and causes a lot of flare-ups that lead to scorching and uneven cooking. I'm sure someone will disagree with me about this.

Throw together the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and pepper and set aside. When the veggies are done, I toss them in a bowl with the sauce and coat everything.

Butter the bread with either margarine or olive oil and douse with garlic powder (more is better). When the veggies are about 2/3 done (isn't it terrible to have something like that in a recipe, I mean what is 2/3 done?), place the bread, fat-side down on the grill and lower the heat.

Watch the bread. Charred bread is not fun.

When the bread is done and the veggies are tossed with the dressing, assemble sandwiches at will. Oh yes, I did heat up the pre-cooked tofu on the grill right before I started the bread.

We like to smear the bread with avocado and I often like to use pureed artichoke hearts as well.

Pickles, slaw and a regular salad are good sides.

Upon opening the garden-shed last week, I found myself in a very Sex in the City moment. However, instead of being mesmerized by a pair of ridiculous shoes in a department store window, I found myself staring at my grill for the first time all season and saying "Hello, lover".
Let the affair begin!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TVP Spring Rolls, Cabbage Slaw and Tofu with Baby Bok Choi




Who can honestly resist anything fried? Of course, many of us do, for fear of not fitting into our new fuel-efficient compact cars, but deep down, if given free reign over the universe, wouldn't we all gorge on deep-fried everything?

I had a serious craving for Vietnamese spring rolls today, but I'm struggling to shed some winter fat and just couldn't bear to ruin my calorie balance for the day. So, I stopped by our local Chinese/pan-Asian grocery store and tried to find something to satisfy my fried, salted, starchy yen.

This meal was a challenge because I had grand plans for the evening: delicate and crispy baked spring rolls, a light, slightly tangy cabbage salad and some fried tofu tossed with bok choi and garlic. Then, as I was about to conquer one of Brian Kest's workouts, my little red-haired man called, asking if I wanted to go out and grab something quick because he had a meeting this evening.

Out? But the plans: the rolling and stuffing and sauteeing!! "Why no!" I declared. "I'm making spring rolls!" (Say that to yourselves in a booming voice, filled with the hope for a better life.)

Some people might panic in these scenarios. I thrive. You need three dishes of obscure and somewhat experimental origins in 45 minutes? I'm your girl. Keep in mind that my little red-haired man in no way pressures me to cook for him, myself or anyone. He's happy that I do and sometimes worried that I get a little caught up in it, but he respects my need to create things and reaps the rewards of his patience and my persistence (at least when the results don't go directly in the trash).

Back to the thriving...

Oh yes. So spring rolls seem a bit dodgy at first. Thin noodle sheets are like my nephew near nap time. Make one wrong move, and it's the rest of the day with the screaming and tears. Plus, I'm always wary of making vegan fillings for anything from Asia. The fatty pork and/or shrimp of most dumplings and egg rolls adds a lot of flavor and trying to make a vegan filling as full and complex is difficult.

But I laugh in the face of a challenge. Just try to tell me that I can't do something. Go ahead. I dare you.

The filling uses TVP. For the uninitiated, this is textured vegetable protein. It's essentially de-fatted soy flour, so it's used as a protein. It comes in little grains about the size of panko crumbs that you soak in hot water. It's utterly tasteless and even if you douse it with what you think is an obscene amount of seasoning, it often remains as bland as Al Gore on xanax. So don't fear it.

Baked Spring Rolls

2 cups of TVP soaked in 1 3/4 c of boiling water
3 oz bean thread noodles
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 c soy sauce
3/8 c pickle juice *This is weird, I know but it's from my home-fermented pickles so it's salty and a bit sour (not as sour as vinegar).
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
3 tbsp dried onion
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper

Spring roll prep:
1. Take out the stack of spring roll wrappers and carefully peel them apart, one by one into a new stack onto a damp kitchen towel. This may seem odd, but it helps the whole process along. Most packages will have 20-30 wrappers. With this recipe I made 28 rolls.
2. While you're waiting or preparing the filling etc., cover the peeled wrappers with the damp towel and wrap up the rest and put them in the fridge. Like any thin pastry these dry out very quickly and then crack.

Filling:
1. The TVP package should tell you how to reconstitute it. In a large bowl, just pour the boiling water over the TVP and stir. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so until it's soft.
2. Cover the bean thread noodles with hot water as well, and let sit until they're soft (5-10 minutes).
3. After the noodles are soft, drain them and chop into 1-2 inch lengths (this can be pretty rough. Just get out your rage on it for a minute.
4. When the TVP is soft, add all the other ingredients, mixing well.
**Now I was pretty stupid about this filling and I should have substituted the soy sauce/pickle juice, sesame oil etc. for some of the soaking water. That way, the TVP might have absorbed more of the flavor directly.
5. Taste it. It probably needs more seasoning. I think I ended up adding more garlic, white pepper and soy sauce. You really have to figure it out for yourself.

It is at this point that I start the tofu, since it takes quite a long time to cook.

Tofu and Baby Bok Choi

3/4 brick of tofu, cut into 1/4 by 1/2 inch strips
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
soy sauce to taste
1/4 tsp white pepper
3 handfuls of baby bok choi, ends trimmed so the leaves are separated

1. In a heavy non-stick pan, heat 2 tbsp oil and fry the tofu strips on medium heat. Turn every 10 minutes or so. This could take some time. I like a little crust on my tofu.

Back to the rolls:

Have ready some egg replacer (ener-g or Bob's Red Mill work well) mixed with a little water to work as a sealant for the edge of the rolls.

1. Take one wrapper from the stack and lay it on a clean cutting board as a diamond.
2. Drop about 2 tbsp of filling near the bottom corner and roll up, pulling the wrapper snugly around the filling until you reach the middle of the diamond.
3. Fold over the side corners (it will look like an envelope of sorts).
4. Roll up to the end, dabbing a little fake-egg around the edge of the final corner to seal it.
5. Keep the finished rolls under a damp towel until they're ready to bake.
6. Before placing on a baking sheet, brush them with a little vegetable oil.
7. I baked 6 of them at 450F in my convection toaster oven for 12 minutes. I left the rest until after dinner and baked them in batches.

Check on the tofu!

Once the tofu is cooked to your liking, throw in the garlic, ginger, pepper, soy sauce and bok choi and stir fry for a few minutes.

Cabbage Slaw

1/4 of a red cabbage shredded
2 carrots cut into matchsticks
3" chunk of daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
a handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ginger paste

Toss this all together.
Oh yes, and make it the night before. That will save time.

Don't you hate it when recipes tell you to do things the day before?

In hindsight, I wish I had some fungus (black rubbery stuff in a lot of spring/egg rolls) or other mushrooms and maybe I should have used some shredded green cabbage to replace some of the TVP. There was just something lacking in the filling and I'm not sure exactly what it was...

Oh yes. LOTS OF OIL.

Oh well. My blood lipids will thank me in the morning.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tofu Burji, Pohay and Raisin Scones


Be forewarned: This is a long one.

My friend Hide (Hee-day) recently flew in from Japan to defend his dissertation (congrats, Dr. Miura). He had to fly back to Japan yesterday, and I wanted to send him off with a nice breakfast for his horribly long journey. Hide is always open to trying new things, so I thought I'd make a seemingly odd combination of some Indian dishes and some good, old scones.

Yes, that sounds like a weird breakfast. I never said I wasn't weird.

The two hot dishes, tofu burji and pohay, are some good examples of Indian home-cooking that were taught to me by my dear friend Aishwarya. While visiting Aishwarya and her husband Ashwin in L.A., we did a fair amount of breakfast cooking and I've been hooked on Indian breakfasts ever since.

Tofu burji is my own version of the typical egg burji, which is kind of a tangy egg curry. Ok, so I'm not that original. I just did a web search and lots of people make tofu burji. Well, the three people who have read this blog will still think I'm cool...RIGHT???

Ahem.

So Tofu Burji: It's a bit fussy if you don't have Indian spices in your kitchen already. I guess you could make it with packaged curry powder, but I haven't tried that. So if you ever want to make this you'll need the following:
ground: cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili, asofeotida
whole: brown mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves

You should be able to find the ground spices and whole cumin seeds in a regular grocery store, but you may have to go to an Indian market to get the mustard seed and curry leaves. In fact, the Indian store I go to often doesn't even have dried curry leaves so...good luck with that. Asafoetida (aptly name because it has a very pungent odor and smells like foetid a.. well, you get the picture) should be available in any Indian grocery store.

Techniques:
Indian cooking (at least the way I learned it from Aishwarya and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Shah) uses a specific sequence of roasting spices that is easily repeated for different dishes. Once you have it down, it's easy to prepare a lot of different vegetables or grains this way.

Tofu Burji

1/2 brick of extra-firm tofu, mashed well with a fork
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 inch of ginger, minced
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 lemon
one handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), washed and chopped
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil

Spices (that's my Indian spice box on the side there):
1 1/2 tsp. whole brown mustard seeds
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chili (or however much you prefer)
a pinch of dried curry leaves (about 4-5 dried leaves)
salt

Method:
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on med-high heat.
2. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.
3. When the mustard seeds sputter and begin to pop, turn the heat down to medium and add the cumin seeds.
4. Once the cumin seeds brown slightly, add the asafoetida and curry leaves and fry for a minute.
5. Add the onion and cover to let the onion cook. Once the onion is transparent (not browned), add the garlic, ginger, other spices and tomato and cover again.
6. Once the oil begins to separate out from the onion/tomato/spice mixture (about a minute), add the tofu and mix well. Cover and cook until the tofu firms up and absorbs a lot of the spices.
7. Salt to taste and add the coriander.
8. When you serve it, have a lemon available. It's very nice with fresh-squeezed lemon juice sprinkled over the top.

Now, for the pohay (poe-hay).
This is a miraculous thing. I'm told by Aishwarya and Ashwin that this dish is/was used as the test of a young woman's cooking ability. She would prepare this dish for her potential future in-laws and husband to show that she could cook. Take that as you will. If my little red-haired man doesn't like my pohay, tough biscuit.

Pohay is made from what's called 'parched rice'. As rolled oats are to regular oats, parched rice is to rice. It's flattened. No, seriously, it's paper-thin and flat as a dirty joke at a tent revival. I think it's also pre-cooked or par-boiled in some way because it cooks very quickly. You can only find it in an Indian grocery story. Sorry.

You need to get the pohay damp. That's right, damp. Not soaked, because then it becomes mushy and unpleasant. You really want to strive for 'damp'. So I typically take two and a half handfuls and throw it into a mesh colander. I then spray it with my faucet while tossing it with my free hand, to make sure all of it gets a little wet. Then leave it to sit in the colander in the sink for about half an hour. I usually have pohay with tofu burji, so I'll prep the pohay and while it's doing its damp thing, I'll make the tofu.

After half an hour, play around with it and see if there are any dry bits. If so, spritz it with a little more water.

The preparation is essentially the same as for the tofu burji. I use the same spices in the same sequence with one exception. I don't add the tomatoes until it's nearly cooked. I like the contrast of the fresh-tasting tomatoes with the drier pohay.

So I'm going to cheat a bit on the recipe by saying:

Pohay

Same ingredients as the above tofu burji, but replace the tofu with 1-2 cups of pohay.

Repeat steps 1-6 (but not adding the tomato just yet)
7. Add the dampened pohay and make sure to mix well with the onions and spices.
8. Cover and cook on medium-low until the pohay is tender. If it seems too dry, add a little water, stir and cover again. My friend Aishwarya never added water and it was great. Mine is always on the verge of becoming crispy confetti, so I usually add 1/4 c of water after it's been cooking a bit (5 minutes or so). Go figure.
9. Add the coriander, tomatoes and salt and let it cook a little longer.
10 Serve with lemon.

I'm sure there are lots of things you could do with this. I even mixed in a little regular basmati rice we had left in the fridge from some take-out. You could add dried fruit and ground nuts and make a nice pilau. I have a feeling that pohay would make a great stuffing, though I haven't figured out what to stuff with it yet.

So there, two somewhat fussy dishes (for us American girls, anyway) that really bring joy into my Sunday mornings. I'm even starting to feel that pohay/tofu burji might be neck-and-neck with pancakes...

Scones

I have always been disappointed by the leaden fat-sugar doorstops that are sold as scones around here. I think I even ranted about it in my biscuit post. By 'around here' I mean in the U.S.. You know those 3-lbs triangles at Starbucks that are 460 calories, have 18 grams of fat (7 of which are saturated) and 20 grams of sugar? (If you're skeptical (and if so, good for you), look it up on their website, I just did.)

That's a whole meal, folks, and once you look at the ingredient list, you should feel a bit queasy.

So I make my own scones. I'm cheap and they're easy. I only spent a brief time in Scotland, but I had many baked goods there (made by very friendly women in hairnets who called me 'hen'), and none of them tasted like fat-sugar doorstops.

Plus, scones are essentially sweet biscuits (the American sense, not the British, for those caught up in the Scotland thing above), so if you've read an earlier entry on this blog, you should no longer fear biscuits.

I'll admit now that I prefer dates over raisins, but raisins are cheap and they were in my cupboard.

Raisin Scones

2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp vegan margarine (Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
1/2 c raisins, chopped into tiny bits with a sharp knifes
2/3 c soy milk (Silk Original Creamer)
extra soy milk and sugar for dusting

1. I'm going to be extra-lazy and just tell you to follow the directions for biscuits that I posted earlier in this blog. The methods are the same except that between steps 3 and 4, do the following:
3.5. Add the raisins, mashing them into the flour mix with your fingers to separate them and coat them each with flower.
You can now continue with steps 4-12. I use a larger cutter for scones so I end up with 7.
12.5. For scones, I take a little soy milk on my fingers and brush the tops, then sprinkle sugar over each one.
Ok, go back to step 13 and please don't do step 14. Garlic raisin scones? Eew.

So these scones aren't exactly health food either, but they're a better choice: 238 calories, 8 g of fat, (2 saturated), and 11 g of sugar. It's about half of one of the gourmet coffee-shop scones. So maybe if you could just buy half a scone at Starbucks...bah. Just make some...and put down that $6 cup of coffee!!! Shouldn't you be using that money to fuel your SUV?

So I guess the combo of Indian food and scones makes this an oddly British meal, eh? Which made it a perfect choice for my Japanese friend's going-away breakfast...

??

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chickpea Noodle Soup


My little vegan red-haired man had the flu a few days ago, so in a desperate attempt to keep myself from catching it, I wanted to make some garlicky, gingery, noodlely soup.

Ok, that's only half the story. The other half is that I was grading papers and I desperately needed some kitchen time or I was going to lose my mind.

People shouldn't be afraid of homemade noodles/pasta. It's easy and you don't end up with cardboard boxes to recycle. I'll apologize ahead of time for the vagueness of this recipe. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing a few days ago and I didn't write anything down...

Homemade Soup Noodles

1/2 c flour
2 tbsp soy flour
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten
3 tbsp powdered vegetable soup base/bouillon
pinch of salt
water

1. In a largish bowl, mix the flours, wheat gluten, veggie base and salt.
2. Begin adding water a tablespoon at a time while mixing until the dough forms and hold together.
3. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding little bits of water if needed to make a smooth ball.
4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or an upturned bowl and let it sit for 1/2 an hour.
5. This gives time to start the soup.

Chickpea Soup
2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin slices
3 big cloves of garlic, sliced into slivers
1 large carrot, shredded or in matchsticks
3 cups shredded savoy cabbage
1 Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon (sea salt and herbs) (mashed/broken up)
1 Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon (low salt)(mashed/broken up)
1/2 can of chickpeas
water

1. In a large stockpot, I heated the garlic and ginger a bit before adding about 6-8 cups of water and the vegetable bouillon cubes.
2. I let the garlic and ginger boil for a few minutes (maybe 5).
3. Add the veggies and the chickpeas, cover and turn the heat down to simmer.
NOW FOR THE NOODLES

4. Take your ball of fully-rested dough and begin to roll it into a rectangle.
once it's quite thin (less than 1/4 inch, maybe 1/8), fold it into thirds, turn it 90 degrees and roll it again into a rectangle.
5. Repeat this folding and rolling 4 times. This develops the gluten and makes the dough nice and stretchy, which is what you want for noodles.
6. After the 4th fold/roll, let the dough rest for a minute or two while you stir the soup.
7. Now roll out the dough very very thin. You can make long noodles by cutting strips, or, if you have a cute little cutter or some kind, you can cut out shapes just as you would with cookie dough. I have a cute little flower-shaped cutter that works very well for this.
8. Make sure the soup is actively simmering and toss the noodles in as you cut them out. They're cooked when they float to the surface.

Some people might not like the big pieces of ginger, or might think that they're just for flavoring. When trying to fight off the flu, just eat them. Don't be a sissy.

Puy Lentils and Tofu


This is now my second lentil post. You should be getting the picture that I have many food-related obsessions. While my pancake fetish stems from my pancake-filled youth, my deep yearning for lentils was acquired in my early 20s, living in Glasgow, Scotland and having to spend very little money on food.

Ah, those were the days: Rain, porridge, lentils, rain, amazing Indian food, rain, beer you could eat with a fork, rain, Red Dwarf and some rain.

My lentil horizons have widened since those musty days and a few nights ago, I decided to cook the Puy lentils that my dear friend Yuki brought to me. The photo doesn't do them justice. They're really pretty lentils- a kind of blue-green with grey mottled bits.

I'd read online that this type of lentil is best served as a 'salad' as opposed to a mushy or pureed glop. I'm a fan of lentil glop, but I'm always open to new things.

So I decided to combine the lentils with tiny little bits of fried tofu. My mom bought me a vegetable chopping gizmo where you shove your chunk of veggie through a grid-blade and it comes out in tiny cubes. So I sliced half a brick of tofu in wide, 1/4 inch slices and shoved it through the gizmo (maybe I'll post a photo later). I was left with tiny 1/4 inch bits of tofu that were nearly as small as the lentils.

Puy Lentils and Tofu

1 cup Puy lentils (washed, rinsed and picked over for little stones)
1/2 brick of tofu, diced into tiny bits
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp. dried minced onion
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp dried tarragon
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper

1. I typically like to soak lentils in hot water for an hour before I cook them, but I didn't want these to get mushy, so I just stuck the lentils in a little pot with 1 tsp of the garlic powder, the minced dried onion and enough water to cover everything by half an inch. I then cooked them, covered, on medium heat until tender (not mushy).
2. Meanwhile, I sauteed the tofu in 2 tbsps of the3. olive oil with 1 tsp of the garlic powder and a good bit of black pepper and salt. I wanted them to be quite cooked and chewy, bordering on tough. This was to have a difference in texture between the tofu and the lentils.
3. When the lentils were almost done, I added the tarragon, lemon juice and 1 tbsp of olive oil. I then added the tofu and added salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with some mixed whole-grain rice, pickled turnips and a green salad. The lentils kept their shape, and were a nice contrast to the chewier tofu bits.

Puy lentils are supposed to so great because they only grow in this one region of France blah blah blah. They're good, but I honestly doubt that I could pick them out of a lentil line-up if they were standing next to brown or green lentils. I'm not disparaging anyone who feels differently, but for me, I will probably still buy the $0.69 lentils at the supermarket.

Of course, I will always accept gifts of interesting pulses, legumes and grains, so thanks, Yuki!

If I can help just one more person develop his or her lentil obsession, it'll all be worth it...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bachelorette Pasta


A few weekends ago, I was a bachelorette while my little vegan red-haired man was out of town. When he's away, at least 3 things happen: I get sad (awwwww), I get an overwhelming urge to clean the house, and I cook things that only I like.

I bought a package of pre-prepared 'harvest vegetables' at the local Wegman's. It's a reasonable blend of lightly cooked green beans, peppers and yellow and green squash. I can't tell exactly how they're cooked. The beans seem only steamed but there's a little bit of olive oil, so maybe they're just sauteed quickly.

I don't generally like pasta sauce. When I say pasta sauce, I mean red sauce. When I say red sauce, I mean tomato-based pasta sauce that comes in a jar. My little red-haired vegan, however, loves jarred red sauce. So when we have pasta, we rarely eat the same version since he's completely happy to drown his noodles in red glop.

So, with the cat away, I made my kind of pasta lunch. I don't think this lunch even needs a recipe, but ok...

Bachelorette Pasta Non-Recipe

1 cup cooked spaghetti
1 1/2 cups slightly cooked veggies
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots
small handful of green olives
1/4 cup chickpeas (cooked/canned), drained and rinsed
vegan margarine
salt and pepper


1. Slice the shallots very thinly in rounds and saute in the oil over medium heat until caramelized.
2. Toss vegetables and chickpeas into the pan with the shallots and cook until they're just tender.
3. Toss in the cooked pasta and olives and heat through.
4. I added a reasonable dollop of vegan margarine along with some salt and pepper while it was in the pan, then dumped it in a bowl and inhaled it in front of the TV.

Then there was cleaning. Crazed, frenetic cleaning. Some might say that he should go out of town more often....

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Biscuit Love




Is there anyone who does not like biscuits? I suppose I can understand how someone might not have the nearly fiendish and certainly unholy weakness that I have for biscuits, but at the worst, I've only ever met those who don't have a strong opinion about them. I'm giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they've only interacted with biscuits at KFC or Red Lobster and only know them as greasy, smushable lumps.

Those of us who had the benefit of growing up with biscuits made at home know better.

I have to say that part of my fever for biscuits rests on the moment I first made a really good batch. I loved biscuits, but didn't like all the processed stuff in the boxed biscuit mixes (and I have that whole "I have to know how things work" problem with my brain). So I'd tried several batches over a period of a few months and finally, on one magical Saturday afternoon (when I should have been writing a syntax paper, no doubt) everything worked and I was filled with a kind of satisfaction that I'd never felt before.

All my other accomplishments (getting my driver's license, graduating from college, making my first quilt, writing a novel in 30 days, getting a PhD) seemed pale and frivolous compared to making a perfect batch of biscuits. The moment when I was able to transform a bowl of flour, fat, salt, liquid and baking powder into puffy circles of flaky heaven, I felt like I'd arrived. I could do anything.

If the grid went down, and the ragged war-torn remnants of humanity stood in front of a post-apocalyptic pantry gasping "There's nothing to eat! We're only left with flour, salt, baking powder, oil and water!", I could step forward and push their fears aside.

"Fear not, my friends. I can make biscuits."

Dramatic? Perhaps. But such is my love of making biscuits.

So here's the thing: it's not rocket science. It's just a little chemistry. A little chemistry never hurt any... Ok. Forget that. It's not that hard, though and I think everyone should try it.

I like to make 'rolled' biscuits as opposed to 'drop' biscuits. 'Rolled' just means that you flatten the dough and cut out shapes with a biscuit cutter. 'Drop' biscuits have a little more liquid and are dropped by big spoonfuls onto the baking sheet. Drop biscuits are faster and are lighter since you really don't handle the dough much at all. I like them for soupy things that you pour over biscuits (like my mom's creamed chicken etc.)

I like rolled biscuits because I like to split them open and put a little smear of margarine in the middle. They're a little sturdier so you can pull them apart without them crumbling. This is good if you make scones (essentially biscuits with sugar in the dough) and want to open them to spread on some jam etc.

No offense to the biscuit droppers out there. We can peacefully co-exist and all still live in biscuit heaven.

An aside:
So let's talk about scones for a moment. I'm talking about English scones, not those things they sell at Starbuck's that are a half-pound of butter and sugar. I'm talking about calm, tame, non-gluttonous-sized, round, open them up and nicely spread on some butter and jam kind of scones. They're the same as what we Yanks call biscuits except that you can add 1/4 cup of sugar and some dried fruit (or fresh berries). My favorites to make are date scones with brown sugar...mmm. That will have to wait for another post.

The biscuits in the photo above (oh my gosh aren't they so freaking pretty?) are 75% white, unbleached flour, 25% whole wheat pastry flour, soy creamer, vegan margarine, salt and baking powder. That might be a bit fussy for most people, so I'm going to give two versions of the recipe. One is the fussy version I made for dinner last night (which isn't fussy by preparation, only by the specific versions of the ingredients) and the other is the generic template.

Generic Biscuit Template Recipe

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tbsp. fat (shortening, oil, butter, margarine, etc.)
2/3 cup liquid (typically some kind of milk, be it cow or soy, though any liquid will work depending on how you want it to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 400F
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, salt and baking powder.
3. 'Cut in' the fat. That means use a pastry cutter or two butter knives held together to chop the fat into little bits that are coated in the flour mix. You can do this with your fingers, but you don't want the fat to melt (if it's a solid fat). So I'd recommend using a utensil for solid fats, but you can just rub oil into the flour with your fingers, if you prefer oil. You want the fat bits to be about half the size of a pea.
4. Pour the liquid in all at once.
5. With a large spoon, slightly mix the mixture until it just comes together. That means once it starts to clump together in a big mass, stop mixing.
Note: unlike bread dough, biscuit dough should NEVER stretch. You want to handle it as little as possible. You never knead biscuit dough because you do not want to develop the gluten (the stretchy protein in the wheat that gives bread it's nice texture). If the dough gets stretchy, it will become hard and tough in the oven and be very unpleasant. If you find that your dough feels stretchy or springy and it bounces back when you poke it, you might as well huck it in the trash and start over.
So as in the photo on the right, once you can smush it into a big lump and it mostly holds together, stop mixing. Even if there are lots of crumbs in the bottom of the bowl, it's ok. You do not want the dough to be smooth or even uniform. It will have flaky, chunky bits and that's good.
6. Dump everything out onto a clean surface and gently mash it into one mass that's roughly rectangular.
7. Gently press this rectangle so that it's 1/2 inch thick.
8. Fold it in half, as shown on the right. Turn the folded dough 90 degrees.
9. Again, gently press it down to 1/2 inch, then turn it another 90 degrees.
10 Press it down again, the let it sit for a few minutes while you find a baking sheet.
11. Cut out shapes with a cutter (I use round, but I sometimes use a heart when the mood strikes). You can just cut into triangles or squares, but make sure your implement is sharp. Some people might want to use a glass (like you would cutting pierogi dough) if that's the only round thing you have, but you really need a sharp edge on the biscuits to make sure they get tall and flaky.
12. Put them on your baking sheet. I included the photo of them on the pan to show how they began rising from the minute it took me to get the pan and take them off the cutting board! (I'm sorry, I'm just so happy with them.)
13. Stick them in the oven for about 12 minutes. You should probably start peeking at them after 10 minutes. You want the tops and bottoms to be lightly browned. They should almost double in height and start to split apart at the sides.
14. If you want them extra-tasty, brush some melted margarine on the tops right after they come out of the oven.


Garlic-Butter Biscuits

1 1/2 c. white flour
1/2 c. whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp garlic powder
4 tbsp vegan margarine (Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
2/3 c soy creamer (Silk Soy Creamer - original)
2 tbsps extra margarine
2 tsps garlic powder

1. Repeat as for the recipe above, adding the garlic powder to the flour mixture.
2. Melt the 2 tbsps extra margarine and add it with the other 2 tsps garlic powder. Brush this over the biscuits after you take them out of the oven.


Ah, there they are under the magical glow of the quartz element of my toaster oven.

I could really go on for hours talking about biscuits, but since the two other people that read this probably have better things to do, I'll save the rest of my insanity for another day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bean Brownies??



Yes. That's right. Bean brownies.
I was looking on 101cookbooks (which is a really great food blog) and Heidi had a black bean brownie recipe. It intrigued me except that it called for a whole stick of butter and 4 eggs. Then in the comments submitted by her readers, I found reference to an old Weight Watchers trick of adding a can of pureed black beans to a boxed brownie mix (instead of the eggs/oil/butter).

I was even more intrigued. I have a thing about beans.

So what the heck. I have a pantry filled with black beans and one sad brownie mix that's been in my cupboard a little too long. I had a minor need to create something tonight, but I wasn't all that energetic, so this half-boxed thing seemed to be a good compromise between creativity and convenience. An added bonus is that it's moron/sloth-proof.

No-Fuss Black Bean Brownies

1 Box Brownie Mix (vegan)
1 can of unseasoned black beans (I use Goya 'cause they're cheap and so am I)

1. Grease and flour a 8x8 brownie pan.
2. Drain the beans (save the can) and rinse them well. Most canned beans are canned in a very salty, gloppy goo that needs to be rinsed off.
3. Stick the beans back in the can and fill with just enough water to just cover the beans.
4. Puree the beans and water in a blender or food processor until smooth.
5. In a big bowl, empty the contents of the brownie mix and add the bean puree. Stir well to combine.
6. Dump into the pan and stick in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes.
7. Let cool completely.

I found that these tasted a bit beany when they were warm. So I'd say let them cool completely before you try them. And maybe eat them with some ice cream (soy or cow)...and maybe some whipped topping or perhaps raspberry puree.

Ok. I'll be honest. They taste a little beany, but it might just be because I was looking for it. They're certainly serviceable. Throw chocolate and sugar at pretty much anything and it will probably be ok.

Oh come on. You know you want to try it.

All the cool people are eating black bean brownies...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Don't Just Make These Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies


I have this odd way of dealing with stress.
I cook.
I guess it doesn't come as such an oddity since I'm writing this in a cooking blog, but it always seemed odd to me. I've had friends who have what I would consider the more typical ways of dealing with stress: meditation, yoga, running, martial arts, smoking, drinking etc. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of yoga and other exercises as stress-management techniques, but there's something a little more cathartic about cooking. It's creative in the literal sense.

You start with piles of stuff, you put them together, sometimes chemistry happens and then it becomes this other stuff. I suppose it's a metaphor for wanting to change the crap of my life into something different, better, less crappy. Since I can't change most of the crap, I cook. I can do that.

My dear friend Kristin sometimes gets exasperated with me because I say I want something, but I don't just go and get it. For example, a few weeks ago, I mentioned to her that I really wanted to make brownies. She assumed that I meant that I was craving brownies and just wanted to eat some. So when I came to her with a failed attempt at whole-grain, flax and fiber-infused brownies that came out more like fudge frosting with a hard crust, her reply was "Why don't you just go get a mix and just have brownies?" A reasonable question that pinpoints the ambiguity in what is meant when I say "I want to make X."

When I want to make cookies, I don't just want to eat a cookie. If I get a craving, I can just go out and buy any generic store-bought cookie and satisfy my craving. However, if I want to make cookies, the product is really only 1/2 of the result, and is, in some ways, secondary to the process. I suppose you could say that the process of making cookies is my small, desperate way of trying to force my will on the world: taking the stuff of the universe and forging it into something by my own impetus.

I digress.

I've had too many chocolate chips. It sometimes makes me philosophical and self-reflective.

So tonight, a stress ball formed in the pit of my psyche, and the creative juices were specific. Tonight the juices said "Make chocolate chip cookies, NOW!" So I complied and adapted a great recipe I found on Dreena's Vegan Recipes. The key here is 'adapted'. It's hard for me to just follow a recipe. I can't just let it be. I have to put my 2 cents into it to satisfy the creative compulsion. So most of the credit for the recipe should go to Dreena. Any crazy talk can be attributed to me.

Grainy Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe generally follows Dreena's except for the use of whole wheat pastry flour, leaving out the 1/4 cup of sugar and the addition of wheat germ and flax seed meal.

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (I like Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 cup wheat germ
3 tbsp. flax meal (ground flax seeds)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. blackstrap molasses
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup of vegan chocolate chips (many store brands are actually vegan!)

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Line cookie sheet with parchment or silpat
3. Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
4. Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
5. Add wet to dry and mix until incorporated.
6. Add in chips (I do this with a spoon so as to not kill my mixer)
7. Drop by spoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheet 2 inches apart.
8. Bake for 11 minutes (9 minutes in my convection toaster oven)
9. Cool in pan for 1 minute then transfer to wire racks to cool.
10. Try to convince red-headed vegan husbands not to eat them all tonight.

You might question the title of today's blog. The point is: recipes are for cravings. If you really need to make cookies, make your own damn cookies.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not-So-Dull Tomato Soup



I've never been a big tomato soup fan. I generally can't handle such acidic food, so I've never spent much time experimenting with it. However, tonight was one of those blah nights where I didn't have a good idea for dinner and I didn't want to spend too much time cooking because I had lots more computer work to finish.

I bought some really nice onion-potato bread at Wegman's the other day and needed to use it up, so the thought hit me: tomato soup. My little red-haired man is a big tomato fan, and he very patiently tries my more experimental dishes, so I thought I'd throw him a bone.

This was a quick dinner that incorporated pantry items like canned tomatoes and chickpeas as well as some frozen vegetables (always a quick fix for soup).

Not-So-Dull Tomato Soup

1 20-oz can of diced tomatoes (pureed in a food processor)
1/2 can of chickpeas (pureed in a food processor)
1/2 bag frozen onion/mixed peppers blend
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
vegetable bouillon ( I use 2 cubes of Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with herbs and sea salt)
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsps garlic powder
1 cup fresh cilantro, washed, stems removed and chopped.

1. Heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot to medium heat and add olive oil.
2. Saute peppers/onions in the olive oil until cooked through.
3. Crumble bouillon cubes and add to peppers with 2 cups of water and pureed chickpeas. Cook for 3 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, cumin and garlic.
5. Add enough water to reach desired consistency.
6. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
7. Turn off the heat and add fresh cilantro.

For those of you who don't like cilantro, I imagine fresh parsley or basil would be good as well.

Pita Pizza and Salad



One of my secret pleasures is figuring out what to do with the odds and ends left in my fridge from various, more focused meals. Today, I'm writing a final exam (my poor students) and didn't want to spend much time cooking lunch, so I opted for one of the best creations of the modern world: the pita pizza.

For those uninitiated into the realm of the pita pizza, you're missing out on some major time-saving nutrition. A whole wheat pita typically has at least 6 grams of fiber (1/4 of our daily goal) and it gets a nice chewy-crispy texture in the oven (with no half-baked goo underneath the sauce-a major downfall of many pizza deliveries). For what it is, delivery pizza is very over-priced: white bread dough (bleached, vitamin-less), gobs and gobs of low-quality cheese (though if you like cheese, that can be seen as a plus every once in awhile) and hardly any selection of vegetables. If you're vegan, getting a delivery pizza often results in some baked white bread with a thin smear of sauce topped with a loose smattering of veggies. That is not worth $12 (or even $10 or $5 in my book).

So the pita pizza satisfies two of my major personality traits: my need for control and my cheapness. I like what I like and I can usually make it at home better, for less money. So there.

Prep:
I keep at least one package of whole-wheat pitas in my freezer at all times. My cupboard is also always armed with Don Pepino's Pizza Sauce. Today, my fridge contained an interesting mix of vegetables, pickles, some left-over artichoke spread (recipe below), a 1/4 cup of chickpeas, and at least 3 varieties of olives. So from that I created some rather nice exam-writing fuel.

I've only recently come to truly appreciate artichoke hearts. I'm not yet certain if I appreciate the whole vegetable. Give it time. I've discovered that a puree of artichoke hearts (not marinated, just in brine) some garlic powder and a little olive oil can be a nice spread for various occasions.

Basic Artichoke Spread:

1 can of artichoke hearts in brine
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

1. Drain the artichoke hearts.
2. Pop them in a food processor with the oil and garlic powder and puree until spreadable.
3. Doesn't get much easier than that.

Mushroom-olive-artichoke-chickpea Pita Pizza

1 Whole-wheat pita
Pizza sauce (my favorite is Don Pepino's)
1/4 cup of artichoke spread
1/4 cup of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and mashed with a fork
1/2 cup of white mushrooms chopped
5 or 6 kalamata olives


1. Thaw the pita, if frozen (I often put it in the toaster oven for a few minutes at 350F).
2. Put as much sauce as you like. I generally only like a 1/4 inch slather or less.
3. Top first with mashed chickpeas.
4. Top next with artichoke spread.
5. Cram on as many mushroom/olive bits as possible
6. Stick in a toaster oven at 425F for 12 minutes. I have a convection toaster oven, so times may vary with different equipment.



Salad

Today I had some left over greens from a bag-o-salad that I mixed with some more chopped mushroom, a few chickpeas, the chopped butt-end of a red bell pepper and some of my homemade pickled purple cabbage. I threw this together while the pizza was baking.

So it only took 15 minutes for a very healthy and satisfying meal. If you calculate how much time it would take to find the take-out menu, figure out what you want, and explain at least 4 times that you really want NO cheese and possibly have to send the kid back with the pizza because his colleagues think "Hey, it's just got Romano", I've saved a lot of time and money for something I actually like.