Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beer and Baseball

I kicked off my vacation week with one of my favorite activities that I would do every day if it weren’t so bad for me: happy hour.


We occasionally go to a neighborhood place simply called The Pub that claims to be an English pub, but they have all sorts of beers including Alex’s local favorite, the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. This sweet beer is served in a 10-ounce snifter and is pretty good when it’s on tap. The beer is aged in, well, bourbon barrels, and it takes on slight bourbon scent and flavor. More and more local places are carrying this beer.

I chose a Bass. Previously, my favorite beer in this situation would be a Smithwicks, but after discovering the knowledge available to me through Barnivore I can’t really stomach it anymore.

This place has half-price half-sized appetizers during happy hour, so although you’re not exactly saving money you do save calories unless you have a group to share the food. We usually get the fried pickles, and they’re just the right blend of spicy, crunchy, vinegary and battery and hot from the fryer.


Then we headed out to the baseball game. The Phillies were in town to play the Reds. Our loyalties are split between our current hometown and our previous hometown, so I cheered for both teams. Maybe that’s the beer talking. But here’s what makes Cincinnati better than Philly, at least to me: we drove downtown in 10 minutes, parked on the street for free, and got $5 tickets and had a great view. We sat on both sides of the stadium throughout the game.


So far, the Reds won last night and put up a good fight tonight, only to lose in extra innings after a huge come-from-behind tie. I’d say that’s a pretty good showing for a team that recently was made fun of on Glee. I only searched for a minute and couldn't find the quote, but there was an episode when Kurt’s dad took Finn to a baseball game, but it was hardly a major league game because they were headed to Cincinnati. Eh, I don’t think I can argue against that they way a local would.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes


I’m on vacation this week. The first part of this week I’m staying at home, and then I’m headed to Memphis, my hometown, to visit my family for the holiday weekend. I’m trying to think of foods I can make that we can all enjoy. Any suggestions? I think I’ll make a stir-fry and focus on dips and snacks for the holiday.

To kick off my week with no work, I made blueberry pancakes using the Arrowhead Mills buckwheat pancake mix. Except I didn’t read the directions and just added water instead of the ingredients it actually called for. I ended up with tasty, thin pancakes. My blueberries sat right on top and burst open when the hit the hot skillet. The pancake was just enough to hold them together. I liked the buckwheat and blueberry, though.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Curried Cauliflower and Lentils

I had an impulse buy: a head of cauliflower. Then I couldn’t decide what to do with it when I didn’t want either of my two favorite ways to cook it (oven roasted or soup – it’s too hot for that!). Instead, I decided to cook it on the stovetop with some curry spices. Alongside, I had some lentils and leftover eggplant from my pasta dish.


I used this recipe, plus onions and minus cilantro. I appreciated how easy it was to cook the cauliflower in the skillet and how well it accepted all the flavors. I used prepared lentils from Trader Joe’s with a similar spice blend, some finely diced onion, and crushed tomatoes. Although these dishes simmered for half an hour, this was a quick and easy supper. Next time, though, it might not be so quick and easy if I try to make some flatbread to go with it.

Seems like a good start to the weekend. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I saw it on TV: Homemade tomato sauce

Do you watch cooking shows filled with foods you wouldn’t eat? I do. I love Top Chef and have been watching the new Cooking channel from time to time. I’m still waiting to see a vegetarian cooking show on mainstream television. For now, though, blogs are treating me just fine.

I watched a show called Ask Aida the other day and she made a pasta sauce with eggplant and basil. She sautéed cubed eggplant and made a creamy tomato sauce with canned tomatoes and fresh basil, then tossed in rigatoni and mozzarella. My recipe turned out much different than hers, but it was tasty nonetheless. I’m not going to say it was better, but I left out everything I didn’t want in her recipe and added everything I did want in mine.

022 Steamy pasta with mushrooms, eggplant, and homemade tomato basil sauce

I started the same way she did, by cubing an eggplant and cooking it in a skillet with a little olive oil. I did the same thing with some quartered mushrooms. I set these aside until the end. Then I combined the ingredients for the tomato sauce:

  • A few cloves of fresh garlic
  • Small diced onion (both a small onion and a small dice)
  • Can of crushed tomatoes, or whole plum tomatoes crushed by hand
  • Fresh basil, cut into ribbons (reserve some for garnish and to enjoy fresh)
  • Salt, pepper, and dried oregano

I simmered the sauce for a while. A while – as specific of a measurement as my ingredient list.

I’ve mentioned before that my favorite meals include a pause between the cooking and the eating. I added some almond milk (because the recipe I followed used cream) and threw back in my veggies to warm them through. Meanwhile, I cooked my pasta. I enjoyed this with some brown rice fusilli from Trader Joe’s, a side salad, and a glass of wine.

Somehow this felt more wholesome and not too much more difficult than using jarred pasta sauce. I think this one is a keeper.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tempeh not-chicken salad

We’ve been eating a lot of sandwiches lately. Typically we’ll reheat some leftovers for lunch, but now that summer has arrived in full force, I don’t always want something warm in the middle of the day. I also think warm weather encourages lighter eating anyway.

Enter tempeh salad, in the style of chicken salad. There are recipes for this all over the web, but it’s also easy to just throw together whatever you like. What are your top toss-ins for a salad like this?


Start by crumbling or cutting the tempeh. I left mine large, but next time I’ll make it smaller for easier chomping in the sandwiches. Although you can eat tempeh straight from the package, if you steam it will become a little more tender and lose some of the bitter bite. It’ll still be chewy and firm. You can either use a steamer basket for about 15-20 minutes, or do it right in a pan. I put mine in my trusty pan you’ll see in many stovetop photos, put in some water, covered it and let it boil and steam for 5 minutes, then removed the lid and continued to boil until the water all evaporates.

Important step: let the tempeh cool! I made this on Sunday afternoon and had no problem just letting it sit while I did other things. I love cooking that has true downtime when you don’t have to worry about anything possibly burning.

Prepare your dressing and any goodies you want in your salad. Then toss it together and have it on hand to eat cold, whenever you’re ready. I used carrot, celery, green onions, walnuts, and dried cranberries. I made the dressing with prepared Vegenaise and added a kick of red wine vinegar and some cayenne pepper. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, I only used the carrot because I had one in the fridge that needed to get eaten.

It’s been so warm recently that my cat has taken to sleeping in the bathroom where the AC vent for the small room and the tile keep things cool. I hope summer is treating you well, wherever you are!

039 This is my kitty Little Fuzz, or Fuzziweena*, sniffing at the vent blowing cool air.

*spelling of the cat's name is yet to be determined

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sandwiches and Basil Spread

Last summer, I grew basil. Though I’ve never been a gardener and it’s not something my immediate family does, I find myself around more and more gardeners. This year, I’m trying to expand. Peer pressure! So far, besides my cilantro (which died when I went out of town for three hot, rainless days), basil has been my biggest success.

005After I snipped off a bunch of basil

What to do with so much basil? Of course I have a few standby recipes that use it – otherwise I wouldn’t bother growing my own – but I looked through my cookbooks to find an interesting recipe for my basil. Maybe a pesto or something. Ah-ha, I made the Sweet Basil Pesto Tapenade from Venganomicon.

This is basil, garlic, walnuts, maple syrup, olive oil, and a little lemon zest all whipped together in the food processor.


I’ve been eating it on toast, or in sandwiches. It’s sweet and packs a flavor punch with all that basil. My favorite way to enjoy it, though, has been in a sandwich stuffed with other things too. Here’s a pocket with a leftover piece of broiled tofu and a slice of roasted eggplant along with the basil spread.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Easy meal: Tofu, saffron rice, and asparagus

After a night eating out and a quick supper of black beans and rice before a meeting, I was eager to stay home and relax. I wanted to eat good home-cooked food, but I needed something quick and simple (and yet more involved than black beans and rice). Enter broiled tofu and saffron white rice.


I’ve made saffron rice many, many times. Lately, though, I always have a little giggle when I do because Alex’s mom gave me two jars of saffron strands and told me that she always puts a few in her rice. She came just short of saying that it’s how Alex likes it. Well, he does, but I do too, and this took it up a notch.

I used white jasmine rice cooked with garlic and saffron, then topped with almonds. Unfortunately I made the mistake of following the package directions rather than my favorite foolproof rice recipe, and these grains of rice were too mushy for my taste after being cooked 20 minutes. I’m glad I had the almonds to add a nice extra crunch.

The broiled tofu also had garlic, along with a thin marinade of soy sauce and lemon juice. I dipped the spongy tofu, after being pressed nearly dry, into the thin sauce and broiled it for about ten minutes. You see here the broiled garlic sitting on top of my tofu slices. Broiling the tofu makes it a little chewy, and by using a thin liquid marinade it doesn’t get sticky like a barbecue sauce would.

Finish off with some pan-cooked onions and thawed asparagus (frozen after being blanched when so much was in season). Perfect, wholesome, and pretty easy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Kale

Cincinnati has a large city market open all year, Findlay Market. But yesterday I decided to stop by my neighborhood’s farmer’s market instead of heading downtown. I’m glad I checked it out, but there were only a few booths and the most popular ones were the meat and gelato booths.

I picked up some organic kale, sweet potato gnocchi, and a few other fresh goodies.


I knew I wanted to put the kale with the sweet potatoes, but I didn't quite know how to sauce them. I read several recipes for and decided to go with a variation of a cider vinegar sauce.

I started by cooking some sliced sweet onions low and slow, letting them brown in a bit of olive oil. Meanwhile, I cooked the kale down in a separate pot. And in yes, a third pot, I boiled the gnocchi according to the instructions until they floated.

I added some Earth Balance, walnuts, and apple cider vinegar to the onions, then tossed in the gnocchi along with a ladleful of their boiling water. I love the vinegar on the greens, and the walnuts added a nice little crunch. I’m not one to enjoy a plate of mushy pasta as the only thing I eat, so this combination was perfect and pretty easy at that, thanks to the prepared gnocchi available from a cooler in a parking lot yesterday. I think I'll be ready to make my own gnocchi, one day.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cake & Ice Cream

There’s something really special about cake and ice cream. A real treat for special occasions, like birthdays. Or an anniversary.

In case you haven’t figured it out, we’re not very fancy here. So for our first wedding anniversary a few weeks ago, we made a half a cake, and baked it together after supper. We served it up hot with a scoop of Tofutti Chocolate Cookie ice cream. Perfect.

This cake is actually a recipe from an old boss of mine, who made black bottom cupcakes. I know I’m behind the times, but I’d never heard of black bottom cupcakes before hers. It’s a chocolate cupcake with a dollop of cream cheese filling. The cake part was so light, fluffy, and moist that I had to try it by itself. As a bonus, minus the cream cheese mix, this recipe was already vegan! Just don’t laugh at me too loudly when I tell you that the first time I made it I couldn’t figure out if the vinegar it calls for was a typo.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar

Mix it all together and bake at 350F until done. I made half this recipe and it was perfect for about 6 generous slices.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Double-Baked Eggplant Rollatini

I’ve seen rollatini in the deli case at my super-grocery store, but I’ve never had it, much less made it for myself. When I found a recipe for fried-then-rolled eggplant in Veganomicon, I figured it was worth a try. Eggplant is one of those divisive foods in my house: I love it, he doesn’t. But once it’s been breaded and stuffed, it’s okay, right? Right. This was a definitive success.


Excuse my awful flash photo here. I was halfway through rolling my ‘tini and decided I should capture the moment. Why? It was easier than I thought it would be. First, I sliced the eggplant, then breaded it and baked it. Finally, I filled the slightly-cooled eggplant cutlets with baby spinach and tofu ricotta and threw in a few pine nuts for good measure. Get it? Two steps, first and finally. Each one rolled perfectly and held my generous dollops of seasoned, crumbled, ricotta-style tofu.


Top these beauties with tomato sauce and bake again until the filling is cooked. Finish with some Almesan – a grind of almonds and sesame seeds that’s a good substitute for Parmesan. For me, the Almesan was a nice, nutty touch that was one of those rare foods with a smell distinctly different from its taste. The smell of this was like a delicious nutty cookie, but it had a savory flavor that was indeed good in place of Parmesan. I served the rollatini with some brown rice rotini and a side of sautéed mushrooms.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pancakes, pancakes everywhere

I took a little break from cooking for myself to cook a big batch of pancakes for breakfast for dinner night at Ronald McDonald House. I made about twelve cups of pancake batter and cooked little pancakes and big pancakes for a very long time. That's a whole lotta pancakes.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Braised Doozer Sticks


Radishes. These guys looked so good, all bright red and leafy, with little roots reaching out. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an affinity for radishes as a part of the generation that grew up watching Fraggle Rock.

Fraggle Rock was a children’s television show during the mid-1980s with lots of singing, dancing, and Muppets. All the characters ate radishes, and the littlest characters made them into sweet sticks that were good for building structures that would later be eaten. I actually searched for a recipe for Doozer sticks and found a neat compilation of dishes by the Fraggle cook, Boober.

Short of eating a slice or two raw at a salad bar, or in the guacamole along with a piece of jicama at Nada, or, the worst example, getting a dried out piece of radish in a bagged salad, I didn’t know what to do with these beauties. I did slice one up to enjoy on its own, but I wanted to play with the rest. I probably should have exampled more cookbooks, because I only found a few recipes I was willing to try when searching the web for people-recipes, not Fraggle-recipes.

Enter Rachael Ray. She has a recipe for braised radishes that looked like it was worth a shot. Of course I made substitutions for the chicken stock and butter, but I also couldn’t find shallots at my inconsistent neighborhood grocery store, so I bought a bag of pearl onions.

I blanched the onions in their skins, then chopped off the tops and bottoms to procure teeny sweet pearl onions. I set these aside because I figured they’d cook more quickly than the radishes.

I prepared the radishes by chopping off their tops and roots. (Actually, the whole radish a root. Radish comes from the Latin radix, which means root. I should go thank my high school etymology teacher). I put the radishes in some stock along with a bit of salt, sugar, and red wine vinegar, then boiled away. I guessed when to add in the onions so they’d cook just a little more.


I didn’t know how the radishes would taste or what to serve with them, so I played it safe with some mashed potatoes (always a favorite) and leftover peas from my stir-fry. The radishes were good, they had a firm texture like other root vegetables, and the flavor was very mild compared to the bite they give when raw. I’m not sold on doing this again, though, as it was labor intensive and underwhelming. I was also a little naively surprised that they didn’t stain everything reddish purple the way beets do; in fact, I’d say the pinkish hue in my dish comes from the red wine vinegar. But that’s just me making a false association between two things with a similar shape.

Am I missing out on radishes here? Or should I head directly for the daikon?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pineapple Fried Rice

Here’s a simple lesson: check your cabinets before you assume you have something.

Ingredients: red bell pepper, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, pineapple, cashews, corn, green onions, brown jasmine rice. Yeah, the pineapple was crushed, not chunks, but whatever. It had been in the cabinet for so long (ever since I discovered fresh pineapples!) that I just wanted to use it.


I imagined myself making pineapple fried rice that was better than the restaurant we usually patronize. I was going to guarantee it to be egg and fish sauce free, use brown rice, include all my favorite vegetables, and throw in extra cashews. Well, it was pretty good – for a first try. The only thing “off,” for me, was the texture, since the pineapple got lost in the rice. I seasoned this with garam masala, cumin, and soy sauce. This is something I’ll be making again, that much is certain.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cucumber Salad, twelve years in the making


Do you know what that is? Friends, this is chilled bowl of vinegary cucumbery goodness.

Confession: when I first decided to be vegetarian, I didn’t know what to eat. I ate Thomas wheat bagels and cucumbers. Every day. I don’t know how I held out, or why I didn’t look for anything better. For years after, I stayed away from the cucumber aside from a slice or two in the occasional sandwich. People who knew me back when I ate them all the time couldn’t believe that I didn’t like cucumbers, as all evidence pointed to them being a favorite food.

Second story: I was a waitress for precisely three days. I quit, or was fired, but in any event it was a mutual agreement. The boss was a jerk, the restaurant was a mess, and the place closed soon after. It was one of those meat-and-three kind of places you find all over the South where you can get a quick lunch because most items are prepared ahead of time. What does this have to do with cucumbers, you ask? One of the duties of the waitresses was to make the tomato and cucumber salad, which was one of the side item choices at the restaurant. Like I said, the place was a mess – literally dirty – and I lost my desire to eat the cucumber and tomato salad.

Now, though, it’s been a dozen years since any of that happened, and I was ready to try again. Well, that and I had two cucumbers I didn’t know what to do with. So I made a cucumber salad, but just with cucumber, a spoonful of sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Let the vinegar work its pickley magic on the cucumber and chill the whole thing. Tomatoes and onions are optional but make a great addition to this salad.

Thanks for reading my story. Who would have thought I’d have so much history with a cucumber? Has anyone else had a personal aversion to a food? How did you get over it?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Restaurant: The Chicago Diner

I spent this weekend in Chicago to watch the Chicago Cubs play their biggest rival, and one of my favorite teams, the Saint Louis Cardinals.

The clever billboard references the Saint Louis Arch both for the Cardinals and Budweiser. Although I don’t care for either beer, I like this better than suggesting you have to take off your skirt to enjoy a good beer. After the game, we headed across the street for a really good beer at Goose Island and tried a few varieties not available from our local grocer.

Before the game, we ate at The Chicago Diner, just a short walk from Wrigley. This restaurant was a top hit when I was searching for vegetarian food in Chicago. It’s popular and honored with many awards. I think the main reason we went was because Alex spotted their Reuben featured on the website. I just found out that he loves Reubens when he couldn’t get over the one he ate last weekend.

When we walked in late Sunday morning the place was packed with brunchers and lunchers. We stood by the door, awkwardly hovering over a table, trying not to be obtrusive, waiting to be seated, following the instructions on the sign. Reading reviews now, it sounds like others have commented on this as well, but there’s just no room to stand. It was a tight fit, but we were seated pretty quickly in a large booth with a view of the bar where they were making both milkshakes and cocktails. The whole place kept with the diner feel, both in appearance and menu, and I really dug it.

No surprise here: Alex ordered the Radical Reuben. This one is made with seitan sliced thin and made to look like corned beef. The diner says “while we don’t believe in serving meat, we do believe in great tasting food. The quoted words are a quick way to describe flavors & textures like mom used to make. There’s plenty of protein in grains/beans, even if described like ‘meat’ … it’s still veggie love.” They go on to define tofu and seitan.

Although they don’t say “corned beef” and I didn’t even know that’s what’s in a Reuben until Alex informed me, this sandwich has it piled high. It’s topped with sauerkraut, onions, peppers, and swiss cheeze, served on marbled rye bread with a side of vegan thousand island dressing. The seitan really made this special. There might have been a little too much of it for my taste (or more appropriately, for how wide I can open my mouth), but that’s not something worth complaining about when you can just take some off and enjoy it by the forkful.

The Radical Reuben, with a side of sweet potato fries.

When I look back over the menu now, there’s a dozen dishes I want to try, but when I was there I had my eye on the sweet potato quesadilla. This was good and was just what I wanted that morning, but it’s much more like something I can make at home. I had my choice, though, to get something more exciting… I guess I’ll have to go back. Either that, or try to mock up some of their dishes at home through nothing but the menu description!

My spinach tortilla was stuffed with mashed sweet potatoes, fresh spinach, seasoned black beans, marinated seitan, and vegan cheeze. It came with a side cup of salsa, and I opted to upgrade and get an additional cup of guacamole.

I’ve looked to see if I can find comments on their guacamole because it was really strange. At first I thought I got a bad batch, but it seems like they include a flavor I’ve never had in guacamole before. It was almost chemical, but Alex assured me he didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. After I ate more, I pinned this as a licorice flavor. I found other recipes for tarragon guacamole described as having a hint of licorice. That could be it – has anyone ever had anything like this? I should have asked about it.

Otherwise, my quesadilla was both humongous and delicious. I was hungry and I couldn’t finish it. The seitan was spongy like when I make it at home, but it was still well seasoned and very tasty. I think this dish would have been just as good without it, though. For all my talk of the guacamole, I should tell you that I ate most of it and nearly all my salsa. The salsa was especially good.

Although my photo doesn’t show it, I liked the colors in this dish: the orange sweet potato, the almost purple black beans, and the bright green spinach. This dish was a winner, and I can’t dismiss it just because I feel like I could make it at home. Maybe I should take that as a challenge!

Chicago Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Taking it easy for a four-day week

Did everyone have a good Memorial Day?

I went to Chicago and ate (a lot) and quite enjoyed myself. I’ll tell you about it, but now I’m still recovering from staying up late in a different time zone. I’m taking it easy tonight with something like breakfast for supper with my second tofu scramble (just as good as the first!), some pan-grilled sweet onions, red bell peppers, and portabella mushrooms, and fruit.


Isn't it nice to come home from eating out several meals a day and have a good, fresh meal that’s quick and easy? I love adding more and more of these kinds of meals to the rotation.