Oh hello! Thanksgiving, pressure canning, etc.

Hi! It’s me, Renae! I am still alive, still in California, still vegan, still cooking, still obsessed with wildlife. The only thing that’s really new is the pervasive feeling of being traumatized that I’ve felt since the election. I keep reading about these “fake news articles” that are apparently running rampant on the internet. Apparently it’s mostly a Facebook thing and I use Facebook so infrequently that I actually have no idea how to even SEE news articles in Facebook, but I keep hoping that maybe all news articles about Trump winning the election are fake news. Please tell me that is the case: please, please, please. But enough about that because I just can’t deal with it.

I’ve decided to write a post here today mostly because it’s raining today here in the Bay Area and I’m therefore not out hiking as I usually would be, plus I took a few pictures of my Thanksgiving table. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner here for our friends Brad and April, who moved to the area about the same time we did last year. I made:

seitan “turkey”
stuffing
mashed potatoes
gravy
green bean casserole
macaroni & “cheese”
cranberry relish
sauerkraut
bread

Here are some pics:

And Brad brought a really delicious sweet potato pie and brownies for dessert.

The “turkey”, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole I pretty much made up as I went along. The cranberry relish was from Brooklyn Supper and was really good. The bread was the poolish-version ciabatta from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The sauce for the mac & cheese was from Avocados and Ales. The “turkey” was pretty similar to the recipe for breasts of unchicken from The Homemade Vegan Pantry (which I love), but I pressure cooked it as a large loaf on Wednesday, then used Miyoko’s recipe for the yuba “skin” and baked it again Thursday afternoon.

The mashed potatoes were really random (well, as random as mashed potatoes can be anyway); Brad asked me if they had red pepper flakes in them, while saying they were really good. One of the random ingredients was a garlic-based spice mix that I bought from Garlic World while stopping in Gilroy one afternoon trying to avoid heavy Highway 1 traffic on the way home from Monterey, and which apparently contained red pepper flakes. And here’s a rough recipe for the green bean casserole for others like me who hate mushrooms:

Green Bean Casserole
2 lbs green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-3″ lengths
1 small onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup vegan chicken or veggie broth
3 Tbsp Ultra Gel
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 avocado
3 oz canned fried onions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until al dente, then drain and shock in cold water to stop cooking. Saute the onion and celery in some vegan butter or margarine until onions are translucent; set aside. Whisk together the broth, Ultra gel, onion powder, and garlic powder until the broth thickens. Mash up the avocado and add to the broth mixture and mix well. Stir in the green beans, onion/celery mixture, and half of the fried onions. Place in an oven-safe dish, cover, and bake at 375 for half an hour. Uncover and top with remaining fried onions, then continue to bake for 15-20 more minutes. I baked mine, covered, for half an hour, then cooled and put it in the fridge overnight so it only needed 15-20 minutes on Thanksgiving day.

Oh, and the stuffing was really easy:

Stuffing

1/2 loaf sliced whole wheat bread (about 10 slices)
1 large white onion, diced
4-5 stalks celery, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp vegan butter (I used the vegan butter from The Homemade Vegan Pantry) or margarine
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cup vegan “chicken” broth + 1 tsp poultry seasoning whisked in

Chop the bread slices into cubes and spread out on a sheet pan. Bake in a 240-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 45 minutes or until dried out, stirring occasionally. Melt the butter or margarine over medium heat, then saute the onion, celery, and garlic until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the sage, thyme, and rosemary and cook another minute or so. Stir in the bread cubes, then add as much of the broth as necessary to soak the bread. Place in an oven-safe dish and bake, covered, at 375 degrees for half an hour. Uncover and bake another 20-30 minutes or until slightly crispy on top. Again, I baked mine, covered, for half an hour Wednesday night, then uncovered for half an hour Thursday afternoon.

I was so organized with my cooking and planning that I was able to go for a short hike Wednesday afternoon before it got dark, and on Thursday morning had a couple hours to just read and be by myself without running around like crazy. 🙂 Really all I needed to do Thursday was bake the bread (I had made the poolish the night before), set out all the appetizers, and re-heat everything. I am good at holidays!

I feel like every time I get around to making a new post I have a new culinary gadget to rave about. Last time it was my Instant Pot. This time it’s my pressure canner! A couple months ago I had 60 pounds of tomatoes I needed to can in one weekend, plus 10 pounds of beets, half of which I was planning to pickle. I’ve done 60 pounds of tomatoes in one weekend in a water bath canner before, but for some reason it was feeling really overwhelming that day and I made the somewhat impulsive decision to buy a pressure canner. It was enough of an impulse decision that I didn’t have time to Amazon Prime it, so I had to find one locally. The only Ace Hardware that had it listed in stock was in Oakland, so I drove out there and went looking for it in that store, but was unable to find it. I asked for help and was told they’d have to special order it for me. I was pretty annoyed I had driven out there for no reason AND I REALLY wanted the canner at this point so I sat in my car and tried to think who else might carry it. I thought of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and went to their website on my phone and was delighted to find that there was a BB&B TWO BLOCKS from where I was that had the same canner in stock! So I went over there and looked around for it. I didn’t see it there either and was feeling a little frantic, until I looked way UP and saw it all the way up by the ceiling. So I had to find someone to get a ladder and get it down for me, but I finally got what I wanted!

I don’t know that pressure canning tomatoes really saves time in itself: the processing time is much shorter than a water bath, but once you add in the time spent venting steam before you start, then getting up to pressure, and then coming back down from pressure (which you must do naturally), really you spend the same amount of time working overall. BUT I can fit a whopping 22 pints into my canner! So basically I can do the equivalent 3 loads at one time, which IS a huge timesaver. I’d have bought the pressure canner for that reason only. But what I’m really loving about it is all the stuff I can now can that I never could before: basically, non-pickled vegetables, beans, and soups. The same weekend I had 60 pounds of tomatoes, I also had 10 pounds of beets, which is a surprising amount of beets. I pickled 6 or 7 pounds (I love pickled beets!) and used a water bath to can them, but then I pressure canned the rest. (By the way, I used my Instant Pot to cook the beets before doing either – the beets are what’s in the Instant Pot in the picture above!) So far I’ve used some of the non-pickled beets to make an impromptu borscht.

As I mentioned on Twitter the day I canned the tomatoes and beets, the “problem” with pressure canning is there is all this time waiting for the canner to come up to pressure that ends up being devoted to drinking and taking pictures of cats, who think they are canning helpers.

So anyway, now I’m on a big pressure canning kick with the goal of canning a bunch of things I can later turn into dinner on very short order – such as during the summer when they days are so long I often don’t come home from hiking until 10 p.m. and I’m starving. I’ve been soaking dried beans and pressure canning them, which I love because it’s so much cheaper than buying canned beans AND contains no sodium or other additives. For some reason I find it immensely satisfying. Last weekend I bought 40 more pounds of tomatoes (which were somehow still in season where I live) in order to make tomato soup. I used this recipe from Common Sense Home, which said I’d get 4 pints out of 8 pounds of tomatoes, so I made 5x the recipe, expecting to yield 20 pints. I somehow ended up with 35 pints! I basically have a TON of tomato soup!

But it tastes great and is really versatile: in addition to serving as regular old tomato soup (usually with grilled “cheese”, of course), it makes a good base for a ton of other soups, and regular readers of this blog may remember how much I love soup.

I used a Victorio strainer to strain the tomato soup and ended up with a large amount of a really dry tomato peel/tomato seeds/celery/onion/parsley pulp/waste, so I spread it out on my dehydrator’s shelves (I used 8 of the 9 shelves) and dehydrated the “waste” overnight. When it was totally dry, I ground it up in batches in a coffee/spice grinder, and I ended up with a whole quart of what I called “tomato soup powder”, which will be excellent to add to soups, etc. (I had previously made a pure tomato powder doing the same thing with the peels and cores from tomatoes I had canned.)

Since I knew it was going to be rainy all day today, I had decided to dedicate today to making Vegan Dad’s pressure canner chili, although I ended up with 9 1/2 quarts instead of the perfect canner load of 7 quarts that Vegan Dad promised (probably because I was overly generous when measuring pretty much everything). (Because you can do two layers of pint jars in my canner, but only one layer of quarts, the maximum number of pint jars I can can at one time is 22, but only 7 quart jars.) No problem: while canning the first 7 quarts, I soaked some of the tons of dried beans I have waiting to can, and I’ll be doing a second canner load of the remaining chili, plus a bunch of jars of beans.

That’s most of the food news here, I suppose. In non-food news, the wildlife rehab gigs I have going on here are going really, really great. One of the two wildlife hospitals I volunteer at has actually hired me as a paid staff member! It’s just an occasional substitute animal caretaker position, so I’m not raking in big bucks or anything, but I was extremely flattered to be asked to do it and I’m extremely excited about the educational opportunities it affords. And I was just made a shift leader at the other hospital, which doesn’t involve a paycheck but will hopefully give me the opportunity to work even more closely with the technicians there and learn even more. I’m also working with many of the education animals at the smaller hospital, particularly with the raptors. This is one of my favorite pictures from 2016, not because I look good (I wish I knew how to use Photoshop and could Photoshop my hair into not looking stupid), but because my buddy Elvis, the peregrine, is in it. Mark, who took the photo at our fundraiser event, says you can tell from the picture how much Elvis loves me. I don’t know if “love” is the right word to describe Elvis’s feelings for me, but I hand-feed Elvis on a regular basis and we do have a special bond, one that I had to build with him. And let me tell you, it is REALLY cool to bond with a raptor, especially a more “difficult” species like most of the falcons. AND LOOK HOW HANDSOME ELVIS IS!!

I think I’m all typed out! If you want to know more regularly than once very six months if I’m alive and well, you can visit my photo blog, which I update daily.

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Boxing Day Nut Loaf

Regardless of the holiday(s) you celebrate this time of year, I hope you’re having a wonderful season. My Christmas was cold, windy, foggy, and rainy, but the rain melted all the snow and I can see our lawn again! Euge! My family eats baked ham for Christmas dinner, so I made baked “hammy” seitan, only instead of the mustard/agave glaze I used for Easter, I used my grandmother’s recipe for pineapple baked ham. I’ll do a post on it sometime. Today Boxing Day was celebrated in many parts of the world, but not America, where most people have no idea if it is some sort of pugilist holiday or what. I got some new kitchen items for Christmas I wanted to break in, and decided we’d celebrate the mysterious Boxing Day the way I’ve decided thousands of European and Australian vegetarians do: with a nut loaf. I’ve never made a nut loaf before, but it seems very British to me for some reason and I wanted to have a very British Boxing Day.

In looking for nut loaf recipes, I found that many of them call for an unfortunate ratio of mushrooms. I finally found this promising-looking recipe that requires no mushrooms (and is accompanied by a video narrated by a lady with a most delightful accent). My recipe is heavily influenced by this recipe, but instead of bread crumbs, I used some leftover couscous I wanted to get rid of. The result was husband-approved…little surprise considering my husband would live off nuts alone if I’d let him.

Boxing Day Nut Loaf

8 oz mixed nuts (I used equal proportions hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp each: thyme, rosemary, basil, tarragon (or some other combination of dried herbs to your liking, although you have to pronounce the “h” even if you’re American and it sounds weird because it’s Boxing Day and everyone is British on Boxing Day)
1 tsp dried parsley
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup vegan stock
2 tsp Marmite
1 cup mixed frozen vegetables (I used corn, peas, and spinach)
5 oz cooked couscous
1/2 cup whole wheat panko (or other breadcrumbs) + additional for topping

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius or gas mark 6, which is 400 degrees Fahrenheit if your oven is American even if you’re not, which you’re not because it’s Boxing Day.

Place some olive oil in a small pot over medium heat and then add the onions. This is my new orange Le Creuset sauce pot, which my parents gave me for Christmas! I LOVE it!

While the onions are cooking, grind the nuts in a food processor or blender, but call it a “liquidizer” because you’re British today. Set aside in a bowl with the nutritional yeast and dried herbs (pronounce that h!).

Whisk the Marmite (it’s British!) into the stock. It’s not pictured, but another of my presents was an electric kettle (oooh, so British!). I had requested one, although with a few reservations, wondering if I would really use it often enough to make it worthwhile. Well, aside from tea, I used it no less than five times today, so the answer is yes, I WILL use it and it’s great! I brought a cup of water to a boil in less than a minute, then whisked in the bouillon and Marmite. Yes, I could have used the microwave, but for some reason I felt a LOT better about using the kettle.

I also used the electric kettle to defrost the frozen veggies. I put them in a bowl and poured boiling water over them to cover, let sit for a few minutes, then drained.

When the onions are soft, add the carrots, cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Here I’m weighing my leftover couscous so I can record how much I used.

In a large bowl, combine the mixed dry ingredients, the thawed frozen veggies, the onions and carrots, and 1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs.

Add the liquid ingredients and stir to combine.

Spread into a greased loaf pan or baking dish. I used a shallow baking dish anticipating the same problem I had with my lentil loaf, in which it stayed so moist it never held together. Smooth the top of the loaf. (This baking dish was actually a previous Christmas present from my aunt, so it’s extra appropriate for this post.)

Sprinkle the additional panko or breadcrumbs atop the loaf. I forgot to take a picture before loading it into the oven, so here it is in the oven.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

While the nut loaf was baking, I tossed some baby potatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary and spread them out in another baking dish, which I slid in next to the nut loaf.

Then I halved some Brussels sprouts – which I think the British love during Christmas and I’m assuming Boxing Day – and placed them cut side down in some olive oil in my OTHER new Le Creuset pot, a gorgeous kiwi Dutch oven (which I’ve been lusting after for a while) from Mark.

I let them cook for a few minutes, covered, then took the lid off, stirred them and cooked a few more minutes before seasoning with salt and pepper. I didn’t take any pictures, but in the orange Le Creuset, I made some Fiery Red Wine Gravy – I was pretty true to that recipe, though without the mint.

The finished nut loaf:

And here was our meal, served on a new stoneware plate from my parents, although you can’t see the pattern, which is red boxes (it’s Boxing Day after all!) for the food. Mark and I ate it while watching Whale Wars. The crew only eats vegan meals, which I liked to hear while eating my vegan meal, although I had a hard time with some of the scenes of whales being hurt.

I love my new pots so much I’m storing them on the stove. Well, I love them and also I don’t have anywhere else to store them. So it’s especially good I got the electric kettle since this means the tea kettle got kicked off the stove.

And in other news, Mark and I made gingerbread cookies, using my mother’s recipe, on Christmas Eve. I decorated mine pretty traditionally:

I don’t even know what to tell you about Mark’s:

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Baked Easter "Ham"

As I predicted, I baked some of the ham I made last night for Easter dinner tonight, and I have to say, it was definitely the “hammiest” thing I’ve eaten in 20 years, so I’m getting very close!

I took three of the “cutlets” I boiled last night, scored them, brushed them with a mixture of about 2 tablespoons agave nectar and 2 tablespoons of the balsamic mustard I mentioned in this post (that I got from this post on Cupcake Punk), and studded them with cloves, then baked at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes.

I deplore having nothing green with my dinner, but I’m pretty much out of veggies and I don’t think Wegmans was open today. So homemade sauerkraut and more frozen corn it was.

I’m a little hammed out having had it two nights in a row now (and there are still more leftovers!), but I think in a few weeks when I get the urge to make it again, I’ll have a perfected recipe for you!

I also tested the babka recipe for Peter Reinhart’s upcoming cookbook, appropriately enough as it’s Easter. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out that well because it calls for a lot of egg yolks. But I substituted an equal weight of silken tofu and it turned out AWESOME!

I did some more organizing in my kitchen this weekend. What’s interesting about that is I was just looking at my first seitan “ham” post and realized that I made that attempt the same weekend I completely reorganized my kitchen the first time. Weird. Anyway, in the course of cleaning out my cupboards, I found a few things that I’m simply never going to use and I’d like to offer them to any of you who could use them.

First, I bought this set of Calphalon Hard Anodized cookware a few years ago. I use the pots all the time, but I never use the skillets, because as you know, I am extremely attached to my cast iron skillet. These are really, really nice skillets, though. I may have used the larger two once or twice, although I’m not sure I ever used them at all. They are pretty much brand new. I have used the smaller skillet a bit more often, though only for toasting things like seeds, so I therefore never use oil on it and it’s completely clean. I thought about keeping the small skillet, but then I figured I’d keep the set together and get myself one of the small cast iron skillets I’m always eyeing up and talking myself out of because I have a small skillet. If you are interested, leave a comment and I’ll email you for your address so I can send you the set; shipping is on me anywhere in the US. Internationally, let me know your country and postcode and I’ll figure out what shipping will be and if it’s a lot, we can talk. Together the set weighs just under ten pounds.

Secondly, this Italian bread pan. I used it a few times after buying it and it’s great, but I then got a huge baking stone that I now bake directly on. Same deal as above: if you want it, leave a comment.

These are both really nice items that I simply haven’t given the attention they deserve. I also don’t have room for them in my kitchen. I’d love to see them go to someone who will use them. I bought these items specifically because I like the brand name: most of my non-cast iron cookware is Calphalon hard anodized, and most of my bakeware is Chicago Metallic. I just don’t use these particular items. If you want, I can post pictures of them.

I guess if more than one person is interested in one or both of the items, I’ll pick winners at random on Friday, April 17 at 8 p.m. (Eastern time). If no one responds by then, I’ll either give them to the first person to comment after that time, or I may find something else to do with them. I’d just like them to have a good home.

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