Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye to the Aughties!

I can't believe calling this past decade that Aughties never caught on, even if it made it to Urban Dictionary. Here's to not poking our eyes out when we hear people say Oh-Ten.

Honestly, I can't say that the New Year means much to me. Usually I'm more inclined to make resolutions on my birthday, as I enter a new year of life. Yes, it's all about me. As I've gotten older, time does seem to pass more quickly, just like my daddy told me it would, and I missed Thanksgiving. So today, right in the middle of Thanksgiving (a month ago), New Year (tomorrow), and my birthday (in a month), I'd like to mention a few food-related things I'm glad to have. Give thanks!

1. Finding someone to cook and eat with who is amenable to my vegetarianism and keeping meat out of the house. I'm also thankful he will at least try anything I put in front of him. Faithful readers have seen we've had our share of recipes flops and near-fails. Full disclosure: we almost always have a California Pizza Kitchen frozen marghertia pizza in the freezer.

2. Having a large enough kitchen to play in, even if the stove is a little tilted (I bet I could fix that if I tried). I'm not prepared to say I love my kitchen, but as we consider moving to a new place, we do have higher standards than we would have previously held.

3. Getting together with some good women each month to cook for the Ronald McDonald House. Even if the residents prefer their cheese and meat to whatever I cook, it's a good time -- not just fellowship over a meal, but over the preparation as well. That's a special feeling of teamwork and togetherness.

4. Being able to walk to two grocery stores. Right now, I am thankful for this. When I move, I will try harder to plan ahead and not drive to the store too often, which I hope will help my pocketbook. These days I drop almost as much as (an inexpensive) dinner out each trip I make, and I limit myself mostly by what I am willing to carry. If I drive for food shopping, I'll also try to shop locally -- Kroger doesn't count -- to balance the environmental detriment. That's something I want to do anyway, but those resolutions are for another post...

5. Not to get sappy here, but another (and different) thanks to my partner Alex. He helps me cook and stays out of my way when I want to do it myself. He's diligent in cleaning vegetables, browning tofu, and he loves to help, especially if it means using the broiler. He's come a long way from not really knowing how to mash potatoes to being able to pull his weight in the kitchen. That's what it's all about for us -- not making something spectacular or fancy or selling what we do, but just making good, healthy food. Food that we know what is in it, and that meets our ethical standards. Plus, he makes it fun. Take a peek at this photo of him kneading seitan, our third attempt -- post on that coming later.

Runners up: DVR, which allowed me to watch Top Chef at my leisure; new gadgets and new cookbooks; taking that cooking class at Park + Vine, which although I complain about it, I sure talk about it a lot and learned two important things; using Twitter more and connecting to more blogs; and, finally, reluctantly, I'll admit to thanking Weddingbee for reminding me that blogs aren't just online journals, but can provide ways to connect and learn

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Italian Chickpea Soup, with Sweet Potatoes and Dijon Mustard

For the longest time, I was never a soup fan. Might have something do with mild Southern winters, or the abundance of chicken broth in many soups, or even mediocre canned soups that turned me off. Lately, though, I've been hungry for soup.

I found this recipe in a copy of Vegetarian Times I picked up before Thanksgiving. This is one of the all-time reader favorites, and I really agree. I think I'll be having some more of this for lunch today.

Start with the usual celery, onion, and broth, along with some dried spices, and cook with a can of chickpeas*, a diced sweet potato, and -- the kicker -- some Dijon mustard. After the vegetables have softened, mash everything together, leaving some chunks of sweet potato and chickpeas. I'm marking this as easy, too, because the ingredients are readily available and besides a little chopping, it comes together quickly.

I could not have imagined ahead of time how yummy this would be. Try it, you'll like it.

* I did use canned beans, but one of my forthcoming goals is to move away from those kinds of things.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slow Cooking Corn Chowder

I have recently been gifted a few new cookbooks, one of which is Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker. It's chock-full of crock pot recipes that are surprisingly fresh, focusing on grains, beans, soups, and stews, with an intriguing dessert chapter. In other words, the recipes are all made with ingredients that are meant to cook slowly. Of course there are more foods that do well cooking slowly than big hunks of meat -- she has a recipe for "Not Your Mama's Pot Roast" (sorry, Mama!).

So far, I've only made one soup, and I'm worried it looks a little gray in the photograph, at least against my bright yellow place mat -- oops! Too bad you can't smell this; the chowder smelled amazing while it was cooking, and it tasted pretty fresh. Green Giant commercials have informed me that my frozen vegetables are frozen within 8 hours of being harvested, so I wouldn't expect less.

This is Winter Corn Chowder, and I made it because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand: yellow bell pepper, potato, frozen corn, celery, vegetable stock, onion. I also gave a generous splash of Pickapeppa Sauce.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holiday Eats, for Two

Although this wasn't technically the first Christmas Alex and I have spent together, it is the first year we've spend the entire day together, and to add to that, it's the first (and hopefully the last, at least for a while) that we spend alone, together. We spent a good bit of time trying to figure out what would be important for us to do to make the day feel special. Okay, I spent a while trying to think about what I wanted to do and trying to get Alex to tell me what he wanted. We ate, played video games, went to the movies, and ate some more.

I knew I wanted to have a special breakfast or brunch. As a kid, we always had French toast and a sausage and egg casserole my grandmother would make. I toyed with the idea of making something similar with vegetarians soysage, but simply ran out of time to plan after a busy week. As it was, I was at the grocery store on Christmas Eve during the single available hour between when I finished work and the store closed.

We had red & green (red bell pepper and broccoli) frittata for breakfast, along with some garlic cheddar biscuits.

For Christmas dinner, we snacked on mushroom bruschetta: chopped cremini and shiitake mushrooms, red onion, garlic, and thyme piled on pan-toasted baguette slices, rubbed with a bit of olive oil. Some we tried with a smear of goat cheese, others just the mushroom mix and bread.

We also ate a spring mix salad topped with pistachios, dried cranberries, goat cheese, red onion, and balsamic vinaigrette. I've said before I don't like to eat right off the stove -- I prefer to relax for a few minutes before eating -- so it was nice to have these appetizers with some Pere Jacques while our oven roasted potatoes, well, roasted in the oven.

I prepared blackened tofu from the recipe in a new cookbook, The Vegan Soul Kitchen, along with some sautéed kale and those oven roasted potato slices. I know I'll be looking at some of Bryant Terry's black-eyed pea recipes for New Year's Day.

This meal was certainly a success. and although I can't say this will become a Christmas tradition for us, it was certainly a very nice meal for our first Christmas alone together. At least Alex liked the meal better than the movie I wanted to watch (Mixed Nuts).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From Santa's Toyshop

Fun find at the York St. Cafe Mercantile last night:

These are stretchable, bendable action figures. A must buy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Company's Coming!

I did a quick search at Amazon for the cookbook I remember called Company's Coming. Couldn't find it. No biggie.

Tomorrow, my parents are visiting. They haven't been here since last February. I need to get them into town when it's not winter, but I guess this year between my wedding and my brother's wedding, this is the best we can do. At least there's snow in the forecast, which somehow makes the cold more tolerable. They rarely see snow in their part of Tennessee, and my father gets excited like a little boy about snow.

I've been trying to decide for a while what to cook for them. Tomorrow, I'll work a regular day, and they'll be in late afternoon. I was thinking we'd eat something at home, but what? I'm seriously leaning toward lasagne with mushrooms and spinach. I don't know how they'd handle tofu or seitan. Tuesday night we have firm supper plans, but we have one more supper and two lunches to plan. We'll see how it goes, I'm going to try to relax the planner and food-lover in me and just go with the flow.

Where do you take your company to show off the best of your city?

More Holiday Treats

Would you like to see what I've been up to this weekend?

Fudge, with walnuts, from The Joy of Vegan Baking.

I also made a tasty vegan fruitcake. I searched online for a good recipe, reviewed a few, and found a gem of a website with complete and well-written recipes. This is Bryanna's Low-Fat Vegan Carrot Fruitcake. I've never made fruitcake before, but this was really tasty. I used those super-sticky-sweet store bought candied fruits (high fructose corn syrup, I know) and both walnuts and pecans because I love them both.

I'm cutting all my holiday treat recipes in half so I can enjoy a variety, but I'm almost ready for another batch of oatmeal cookies. I think I'll make this this time with nuts and dried cranberries.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Seriously yummy.

I think we all have those treats that we crave year to year. I can't quite explain why I love oatmeal cookies, but they are my favorite treat. I love how chewy they are, I love how well they accept raisins and walnuts or pecans, and I love the way they smell -- oats and cinnamon and brown sugar.

One thing I'm consciously trying to eat less is eggs. Honestly, I don't really care for eggs, save the occasional frittata loaded with veggies and cooked well done, but I use them for baking and binding ingredients. For these cookies, I left out the eggs. I used the recipe on Quaker Oatmeal canister and substituted Ener-G mixed with water for the egg, and also using the much-lauded Earth Balance in place of butter or regular margarine.

Ener-G egg replacer is made of potato starch, tapioca starch, and other leavening ingredients and mimics what eggs do in recipes. It's a powder that I mixed with a bit of water and added to the cookie dough in place of eggs. I think it did the trick -- cookies spread out a little more than I'm used to, but there was nothing at all wrong with this batch.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Millet with Brussels Sprouts, Creamed Mushrooms, and Sage

I saved this recipe from the October-November "Whole Deal" I picked up at Whole Foods. I have never cooked millet or fresh Brussels sprouts, so I wanted to make this easy-looking recipe to give it a try.

Alex told me ahead of time that he wouldn't like it, but he also wouldn't dislike it. He gave me permission to quote him on that. As it turns out, when he saw the sprouts, he didn't know what they were and had them confused with asparagus.

He ate two helpings.

Start this recipe by cooking the millet and preparing the vegetables, cooking both at the same time. I replaced the half-and-half with cashew milk and added more than was called for, and also cooked all the vegetables together rather than cooking the mushrooms separately and adding the cream only to them.

1 cup millet
2 cups water
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
3/4 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (or roughly chopped)
1/2 onion, sliced
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup cashew milk
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

To cook the millet, toast it in a medium pot for 4-5 minutes until it's fragrant. This is what the recipe says -- and you'll know when it's fragrant. The millet has a delightful nutty smell. Add 2 cups salted water, bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes. Mine took closer to 25 minutes. Let sit covered an additional 5 minutes, off the heat, then uncover and fluff with a fork.

To cook the veggies, heat the oil in large skillet and add the onions and Brussels sprouts, cooking until almost tender. Add the mushrooms and cook those to your liking, adding salt and pepper at the end. Then add the cashew milk and sage, cooking until thickened, and mix with the millet and lemon juice.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Product: Mycoprotien, or Quorn

I was feeling a little lazy and decided to throw together a stir fry with some fresh fun veggies I got at the international market. I bought a bag of Quorn tenders in chunks, which I'd never had before, because they were 80 cents off and I was a sucker for a bargain. Can you believe I've never tried Quorn before? I have a vegetarian friend at work who's always telling me how great it is, and I finally made the orange purchase.

I did take a look at the ingredients, and of course I immediately wondered what mycoprotein is. I checked out the website but I'm still not sure. Some kind of fungus? What can I say? It was easier and quicker than tofu, and Alex really liked the chicken-y texture. I'd buy it again. Maybe I'll ask him to buy it.

Quorn, broccoli, baby corn, onion, snow peas, red, green, & yellow bell peppers, mushrooms, onion.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Experimentation Sunday: Soul Sushi

Tonight, I made Soul Sushi from The Ethnic Vegetarian. Sounds good, and this recipe caught my eye early on. The first time I took Alex out for sushi, we went to a place in Philadelphia -- I can't remember where -- and they had all kinds of vegetarian options, including a sweet potato tempura. It was good. Here, the veggie rolls are simple: avocado, "veggie", and tamago (ick). Some places have an asparagus roll. If you know of any better selection around, do let me know!

I don't think I'd make soul sushi again, but we ate it. I didn't dislike it. I do need to practice rolling.

I think I'd be more inclined to try a different roll next time.

Sweet potatoes blended with cilantro and soy sauce; celery and cucumber marinated in rice wine vinegar and sesame oil; nori; sushi rice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This is about food, not cooking. And me.

Sometimes, mostly when I'm not at home cooking for myself, I am torn between loving food and being afraid of it. Especially this time of year. With holiday parties, get togethers with friends and family, and mystery treats tempting me, it's easy for me to get lost and overwhelmed and want to step back, out of sight. I'm quick to shy away from my love of food and instead suggestthat food doesn't show love or tradition, and that eating is a necessity of life that could just as well be done in private, like bathing or sleeping.

I guess I'm still trying to figure out how to handle myself as an adult and deal with these basic human interactions. I recently read an article in the Vegetarian Times about how to deal with mixed lifestyles, and it advises to alert the host ahead of time and offer to bring a dish.

Seems simple enough, but when your host already knows that you are vegetarian and insists there will be plenty of food, what do you do when there's not? How do you enjoy yourself at a dinner party when your choices are one scoop of greasy macaroni and cheese, half a turkey carcass, and dessert? (I can tell you what not to do.) You can't fault the host, but maybe it would have been best to eat ahead of time. Certainly better than leaving early to grab food or getting tipsy from wine on an empty stomach. Yes, eat before the dinner party.

How about just meeting up with friends? So-and-so friend of a friend is going to choose a restaurant. You tell your friend that anything is okay as long as they have vegetarian options. No, actually, you tell your husband to ask his friend for the name of the restaurant so you can examine the menu ahead of time. Maybe even call them. Instead, he says not to worry about it (a line he uses on me multiple times a day). He tells me we can all discuss our options when we get there. We drive two hours to meet for dinner. Not only was everyone we were meeting still full from lunch, but the person choosing the restaurant didn't know -- hadn't been told -- that we needed a vegetarian option. And didn't give us a choice; we all went blindly along to the selected eatery. Thanks to cheese, the great meat substitute, I didn't go hungry, but that's the kind of thing I like to avoid whenever possible. Hey, if I'd followed the advice I'd learned the week before, I'd have eaten ahead of time and we could skipped the meal altogether.

Back to speaking of cheese, tonight I'm meeting some friends for dinner at a family-style Italian restaurant. I'm nervous. I have visions of cheese mountains (this is Cincinnati, after all) or fried eggplant. Am I being silly? I guess so. I just want to develop a way to deal with this so I can relax. When I read other vegan and vegetarian blogs, they seem to talk a lot about potlucks. Maybe that's the best direction for me, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kale Chips: Fab, or Flop?

The recipe for kale chips has been floating around the web for a while and has been something I wanted to try. I compared a few recipes and decided to go for it.

I washed and dried my kale.

I cut it into pieces, tossed in a small amount of olive oil and salt, and spread it on a cookie sheet. As you can see, I didn't cut away the stems. Seemed wasteful.

I baked at 400F for about 10 minutes, tossing it partway through. I would have baked it longer, but I thought it was done enough. Some of the pieces were dried and crisp, although they were so thin they had a papery quality. Others were nice and juicy, especially those with a piece of crunchy stem in them. I liked those the best, and I thoroughly enjoyed the simple flavor of kale and salt and a little olive oil.

What does this tell me? I need to find a better way to cook the kale, and I certainly need to throw it into the rotation!

On a sidenote, I was listening to a piece on The Splendid Table with some guy talking about how search engines put the relevant recipe sites further down the page and favor giving you recipes from sites like, where people post recipes that haven't been tested or carefully written. He used the example of someone getting a "tummy ache" (his words, seriously) from a recipe that wasn't clear on whether to use raw or cooked chicken in a casserole. I think that this kind of insults us in two ways: first, our ability to cook and see a good recipe; second, our ability to use the internet and find a recipe worth trying.

Oh well. Maybe I'll take that advice and try this recipe, tried and true from The Peppertree, which tells me to remove the kale stems and cook them longer in a cooler oven. I'm not going to say it won't work, but I did like to crunch on those stems. And I did polish off my baked kale.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Experimentation Sunday: Sweet Potato Fries and White Barbecue Sauce

This supper worried me a little, or a lot -- in the "we might have to make a frozen pizza if we can't stomach it" kind of way. It's one of those suppers that sounds good in theory, and then at each step got worse and worse. The sweet potato fries were a hit, and Alex says to quote him saying they're the best he's ever had, but next time I'll want to find a better sauce for them.

Ever heard of white barbecue sauce? Evidently it's popular in northern Alabama. I've never had it, but as a fan of mayo I was eager to try it. (I know it's disgusting; it's my guilty pleasure.) Now, you may not want to take my word for it because I can't be absolutely sure that what I made actually is Alabama white. Then again, maybe I just don't care for it. But I consulted several recipes and found that they all had nearly equal parts mayo and vinegar, a little lemon juice, some salt, pepper, sugar, and cayenne. I used cider vinegar and made a small batch. Alex said he enjoyed it, but I'm not sure if he just likes more vinegar tang than I do, or if he was just being nice.

I put the sauce over sweet potato fries, made in the oven. These were a hit! Again I consulted several recipes; I cut a sweet potato into fry-style strips, tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and cumin, and baked at 400F for about half an hour, flipping halfway through.

We also had barbecue-spice rubbed tofu (from a packet) and broccoli.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pantry Vegetable Soup

After a week of meals high in calories and eating out multiple times, I was ready for something healthy, homemade, and cheap earlier this week. I made some pretty good vegetable soup with Thanksgiving leftovers and frozen vegetables I had on hand. To make this even easier, I used the Crock Pot and it cooked while I was working.

Not the prettiest dish, but comforting and delicious.

I used a large can of crushed tomatoes, filtered water, and nutritional yeast for broth. I seasoned this only with sea salt and bay leaf. I diced up a yellow onion, some celery, and a few small potatoes (all left over from Thanksgiving recipes) and cooked them in the Crock Pot for a couple of hours on high. Once those were pretty soft, I added frozen lima beans and frozen green beans. That's it! Normally some corn or okra is a tasty addition, but I didn't have any. I think Alex is happy that I omitted the okra.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Restaurant: Creperie Beau Monde

The second of my two dinners in Philadelphia was again a return to a place I've been on more than one occasion: Beau Monde. I can't say that this would have been my top choice, but in the spirit of getting along, we went to the creperie and had a good time, only sullied by an awkward waiter and the stink of beef soup. One of my goals before my next trip to Philly is to research some new restaurants, as my trips back are becoming increasingly frequent -- I'm taking suggestions!

Enter Beau Monde through a heavy gold-colored curtain sectioning off the entryway and you find yourself in a large room that is warm and inviting, with a fireplace ahead and a bar lit with twinkle lights to your right. We sat along the windows facing Bainbridge Street; it wasn't very crowded on our Tuesday night visit and the hostess was careful to separate all the diners so as not to be bothered by other tables.

We started with a shared grilled pear salad, which has endive, spiced pecans, roqufort, and a delicious and delicate pear vinaigrette.

The savory entree crepes are made with buckwheat flour and have your choice of fillings: meats, vegetables, cheeses, nuts. You can choose your combination or take the suggestions from the menu.

I typically go wrong choosing my filling because I like certain things that don't really go well together. I ordered broccoli, mushrooms, and olives, and got funny looks both from my dining partners and the waiter who nearly insisted I add a cream sauce or cheese, although he finally allowed me to order as I wished. I'm still trying to figure out why he insisted I need this when the mushrooms on the menu are listed as a saute of mushrooms and sauce, but he certianly ensured mine arrived to the table as dry as can be. Even so, I very much enjoyed my crepe and the broccoli was cooked perfectly.

They fold the stuffings in the crepe and fold it into a square, then place a few pieces of filling on top to indicate what's inside.

Even after the salad and crepe, we are usually nippish and want dessert. There are sweet crepes, made with wheat flour, and again you can choose your fillings or take a suggestion. They offer ice creams, fruit and berries, and sweet sauces. Alex and I split a crepe with bananas and dulce de leche.

They divided the crepe onto two plates for us, and this was heavenly, even with the overly generous dumping of powdered sugar (a major ick factor for me). I love warmed bananas.

Beau Monde on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Restaurant: Vietnam

Last week in Philadelphia, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Vietnam. For me, it's that place that I go almost every time I'm back in town. Although they violate several of the 100 things restaurant staffers should never do, including not taking reservations and not seating you until your entire party has arrived, they serve some of my favorite food and I like being there. A few times I've been lucky enough to sit by the windows on the second floor, away from the bustling and often crowded dining room.

Because I only eat at Vietnam once or twice a year, I usually get the same thing. We'll start off with a shared plate of veggie spring rolls, served crispy and cut into big bites. They come with lettuce, mint leaves, carrots, cucumbers, and a side of their house sauce, sweet nuoc mam. The serving is heaping; we split it three ways and all had more than enough.

I also like the tofu rolls, which are very different from the crispy spring rolls: translucent rice paper wraps rice noodles, a slice of tofu, lettuce, bean sprouts, and basil. My photo of these turned out completely blurry. I was slightly self-conscious about snapping photos in the restaurant, even though the family at the next table over was taking camera phone shots of their giggly toddler gnawing on his spoon. The darker the restaurant, the more obtrusive the flash, even when our friendly waiter saw me with the camera out and smiled (or laughed to himself at me!).

For entrees, I usually stick to the vermicelli noodle bowl, known as bun. Alex got the crispy spring roll vermicelli and I got the tofu vermicelli, having already eaten my fill of spring rolls. Both of these bowls have soft rice noodles, lettuce, sprouts, cucumbers and carrots and a little hot sauce. The noodles and vegetables are cool, and the tofu or rolls on top are warm. I pour on some of the sauce and scoop it up -- it's delightful and unlike anything else. I actually prefer the tofu because it's not as crunchy as the spring rolls and the soft tofu really soaks up the sauce. I'm getting hungry again looking at these photos.

One last thing. I very rarely order dessert, although I had dessert both nights in Philly. I was immediately attracted to the black eyed pea pudding when I first saw it, and now I get it nearly every visit. I had no idea until I researched black eyed peas that they are native to India and are grown throughout Asia. So this dessert isn't special to Vietnam Restaurant, and it's even mentioned in Wikipedia -- che dau. It's warm, sweet sticky rice with black eyed peas and coconut milk. And it's seriously good, and almost a surprise as it's so different from the usual way I think of eating black eyed peas and rice.

Excuse the blurry photo. It's not much to look at, but this is a tasty dessert, probably one headed toward being recreated at home.

Vietnam on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Vegan Mashed Potatoes, or Cashew Milk

I think I'll save the details of my Thanksgiving dishes for next year, assuming I'm still keeping up my little blog. If you're just dying to hear about something in particular, let me know, but as most of these dishes are the kinds of things I make once a year, I'm going to save it.

The exception? Mashed potatoes. I love me some potato in pretty much any form. Of course we eat mashed potatoes even when it's not Thanksgiving.

One of the (only) things I learned in my recent cooking class was how to make cashew milk or other nut milks and what they can be used for. Clearly, it seems easy enough to turn mashed potatoes vegan; typically I'll just smash them with a little margarine and not and any milk product or whip them at all, but rather leave little chunks of potato and enjoy the texture. Other times I'll buy a small container of cow's milk to use, a product I don't typically keep in the house. I've tried the soy milk we use on cereal, but it's too sweet. In my class, though, I learned a trick and it was a success!

Take 1 part raw cashews to 4 parts water and blend until it's smooth. Voila!

You can make this better by soaking the cashews overnight, but that's not necessary. This has the texture of whole milk and was frothy and slightly sweet, but it still went really well with the potatoes. I used it just like milk and whipped my potatoes with some cashew milk, Earth Balance, salt and pepper.

For the record, raw cashews aren't really raw. Cashews are seeds that have a double shell surrounding them, which has urushiol, similar to poison ivy. So "raw" cashews are typically steamed to remove the toxic casing. These are called raw because they are not roasted.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving, a day late

I cooked for Thanksgiving today. Yesterday, I got my fill on the road: breakfast at Dunkin Donuts (bagel and cream cheese); lunch at Chili's Too (black bean burger); snack at McDonalds (fruit & walnut salad); supper at home - Bertolli ravioli and leftover pasta sauce.

Today's meal, however, was the highlight of my Thanksgiving cooking on my own. With the exception of the gravy, everything was really good. I'll work on that before I serve it to anyone else.

Menu (from 1 o'clock going clockwise): green bean casserole with mushrooms; mashed pototoes and gravy; tofu cutlets with the same gravy and mushrooms; apple cider cranberries; cornbread dressing; corn casserole; maple roasted sweet potatoes with pecans.

The opposite side of my plate, to highlight my personal favorite -- the sweet potatoes. I've normally eaten them creamed with a topping made from pecans and brown sugar, but these sticky sweet roasted potatoes were delicious.

I didn't make a dessert, but I did get a store-bought chess pie to share with Alex as he's never had (or heard of) chess pie. This morning we were just about the only shoppers in the grocery store, go figure.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will be spending this week out of town and may not be able to post. I'll be back later, with some updates on yummy restaurants I intend to visit and other food-related news, but in the meantime I'd like to wish you all Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy some tasty treats and some time with your loved ones.

I love, love, love Thanksgiving. This holiday -- I guess like all holidays -- exacerbate family differences. It's been quite a while since I've had the family Thanksgiving fantasy I hold so dear. I have fond memories of being a child and seeing my mother organize the menu so carefully, timing out the dishes on a white-erase board on the refrigerator. We'd even make homemade potato rolls.

I love Thanksgiving food, even all the recipes using condensed cream of mushroom soup, as well as seeing family and friends. As soon as you spend a holiday with another family, though, you realize that not everyone does everything the same way. Even having a vegetarian Thanksgiving can't replace those fond family memories. Last Saturday, I went to a cooking class, A Traditional Vegan Thanksgiving. I was super-excited to take a vegan cooking class, and I dreamed of learning how to cook kale or Swiss chard, figuring out what to do with flaxseed and quinoa. Instead, I wasted my $36 going over everyday substitutions, like how to make vegan mashed potatoes and stuffing. Really. I did learn how to use nutritional yeast (for gravy and broth), and although I fully intend to use that in the near future, my entire plate was yellowish-white-and-gray at the end of the class when we sat down to eat.

Even before that class, though, my Thanksgiving has been more of a fond memory, as the actual day hasn't brought me those family favorites. Last Thanksgiving Alex and I were vacationing out west and ate two meals at Jack in the Box -- the only restaurant we could find open. Another year was the first Thanksgiving I spent with his family, eating pink mashed potatoes, avoiding the turkey, and missing all my favorite dishes. I wish I'd brought one my family favorites-turned-vegetarian to share, even at my now mother in law's insistence that I should just be their guest. Before that, I remember a Thanksgiving dinner with a variety of "holiday orphaned" and international graduate students, drinking wine and eating a wilted spinach salad with pomegranate seeds. I think that was the year I realized that dressing and stuffing weren't two names for the same thing.

This year, I'll be spending Thanksgiving on the road, driving back home. Sometime this weekend, we'll make a festive dinner will all the fixin's. I'll be sure to tell you about it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homemade Snack: Sesame Sticks

Last weekend we bought some sesame sticks at the local market, and after reading the ingredient list I figured that I had everything it called for and could make this myself. I still can't believe they don't admit to adding any fat or frying them. If a food is fried, like potato chips, do they have to list oil as an ingredient?

Is Walnut Creek Foods exempt from admitting its sesame sticks have oil or butter in them?

After searching the web for a recipe, I decided to wing it. I didn't measure anything. More than half the dry mix was wheat flour, and I threw in some sesame seeds and bulgur. For seasoning, I used some sea salt, garlic powder, and a sprinkle of chile powder.

I mixed all that with a few teaspoons of melted margarine and water. I added the water slowly so that the dough was stiff and not too wet.

Then I pressed it out and cut it into sticks with a butter knife. I baked at 325F for 10 minutes, then flipped and baked another 5 minutes. These sticks aren't really anything like the store bought ones, but they're pretty good. I think next time I'll have to use less sesame or less bulgur; they seeds make it pretty tough to chew. I wouldn't call this a complete failure, though -- I'm keeping them ,after all, and I fully intend to eat them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Semi-Homemade, or a Product Review: Pacific Onion Soup

I have some definite favorite ready-made, pre-packaged foods. Most of my favorites come from Trader Joe's. Other things I've bought have been real flops -- including some things from TJ's! I had no idea how this was going to turn out, but Alex loved it. He has a greater love for French Onion Soup than I do. I thought it was pretty good, and certainly easy.

I picked up this Pacific Natural Foods Organic French Onion Soup when I saw that it was beef-free. The carton had been waiting in the cabinet for the perfect moment for soup, and the time had finally come. With the leftover Gruyere from the mushroom tart and the leftover bread from the briami, I could make a crouton and have cheesy French Onion Soup.

This is the never-ending bag of cheese, which I find fitting since it was so expensive!

I dolled this up by caramelizing some thinly sliced onions in the soup pot, then warming the pre-made soup in the same pot.

I had already left two slices of bread in the oven after it was turned off from something else I'd been cooking, so the bread was toasted. Alex piled cheese on the toast slices and broiled them. We popped the toast on top of the soup and enjoyed an easy tweaked soup supper.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Attempt at Homemade Seitan

I made a second batch of homemade seitan, this time following the recipe I found in The Ethnic Vegetarian, which I've previously mentioned is becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. I know my aunt who gave me the book reads the blog -- so thanks!

This recipe has you mix the gluten with flavoring and water, and then it stops. There's no boiling or baking as part of the seitan recipe like in my first attempt. Instead, you cook it in whatever recipe you choose. I made this a week or so ago and kept it in the freezer waiting for the perfect time to use it.

Seitan recipe:
2 cups whole wheat gluten flour
1 teaspoon each: salt, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper
1 cup water
1 cup soymilk

Combine the dry ingredients, then add the water and soymilk to form a thick dough. Knead 10-15 times by hand, then let rest 5 minutes. Knead again 6-8 times, then place in a bowl, cover with a towel, and let rest in a warm spot for 15 minutes. The seitan is now ready to be cooked. At this point, I put it in the freezer in a zipper bag.

When I thawed it, it was still doughy and springy. I pounded it out, then sliced it into thin pieces. I fried them in a small amount of canola oil and crisped each side.

Then I placed the whole skillet in the oven and turned it off. (The oven had been on, baking my cauliflower -- I served these dishes together along with some Amy's Mac and Cheeze.) When I went to retrieve the seitan, it was all puffed up.

I returned the skillet to the stovetop and placed a potholder over the handle so as not to burn myself on it, after I made that mistake once. Then I poured on this sauce, the recipe for which I found in the Horizons cookbook. I was initially worried that I wouldn't have enough sauce, but these little pieces soaked up the sauce and it was really good. This reminded me of the fake chicken found in Chinese restuarants.

1/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon molasses
2 tablespoons agave syrup
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons Caribbean or Jerk seasoning (I used a storebought mix)
freshly grated ginger

I mixed all that together and tasted it, then I decided to add a little sriracha, which almost surprises me because I typically don't like heat. I added a very, very little of this. Then I put it directly over the seitan in the skillet. It doesn't take long to cook this with the seitan because all the sugar will burn, you're basically just heating it against the seitan.

I think this is a recipe is a winner, at least for the texture of the seitan. I'm still working on how to properly flavor it, but I have some new ideas I'd like to try next time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vegetable Highligt: Cauliflower

One of things I want to do more as I cook more at home is to try new ingredients. So far, I've been doing that to an extent, but there's so much farther to go. I've never used bulgur before, or really done tofu well, or even attempted any stir-fry at all. I want to learn how to use more grains, greens, and other ingredients I haven't typically included in my diet.

I have been familiar with cauliflower in two forms: first, raw on a veggie and dip tray; second, pickled in giardiniera. Recently I had a cauliflower cheese dish, and I decided to try oven roasting it without cheese to eat as a healthy side dish. From what I can tell with quick web search, cauliflower is high in fiber, has Vitamin C and some compounds that are thought to be anti-cancer. Way to go!

I just cut a whole head into florets, tossed in my casserole dish with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, and baked at 375F for about 15 minutes. The florets became tender and slightly browned. Yum, yum, yum.

I ate this as a side with barbecue seitan and frozen Mac and Cheez. What a good lunch, and a healthy take on some comfort food.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Briami, My Way

Briami is a Greek dish of roasted vegetables. I start some on the stove, bake it all up with some garlic, and then add some crushed tomatoes near the end. Serve with feta and bread.

I've made briami a few times and I think it's one of those things like lasagne, or chili, or anything else that you can adapt to your taste within a certain framework. So I'm not saying this is authentic briami, but it sure is good. Especially in the cooler months, I love a dish you can put together and then relax while it bakes. I have a hard time eating a dish immediately after I've cooked it if I haven't had a few minutes to sit down first.

The only tough part of this dish is cutting all the veggies. First, I cut the potatoes pretty small and cook in a skillet with canola oil. The other veggies can go right into the oven: zucchini, eggplant, carrots, onion, mushrooms, and smashed garlic. My carrots were still a little firm, but I like them that way. If you prefer them tender, you can skillet them as well.

I baked at 350F for an hour, stirring partway through and with about 20 minutes left I added some salt and the canned tomatoes. I think I mistakenly bought crushed tomatoes when I should have bought diced tomatoes, but this was delicious nonetheless. My tomatoes had some seasoning in them already; otherwise I would have added some oregano.