Beefy Stew Paprika

Last night’s dinner was very much a clean-out-the-fridge affair. I had a couple servings of leftover rice, some chard I needed to use, vegan beefy crumbles that were just past their expiration, some limp celery, a bell pepper that was just beginning to look past its prime, green beans from last week, and about a million onions from Mariquita. So I put it all together and did this:

Beefy Stew Paprika

1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium Anaheim pepper or other mild pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 package vegan beefy crumbles (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup green beans, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
4-5 small or 1-2 medium new potatoes, chopped
16 ounces canned whole tomatoes
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup vegan “chicken” broth
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp paprika (sweet, hot, or even smoked depending on your taste)
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
salt to taste

In a food processor or blender, blend together the whole tomatoes and the tomato paste. Set aside. Saute the onion, celery, and peppers in some olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and saute a few more minutes, then add the beefy crumbles and break them up. Add the wine to deglaze. Add the tomato mixture and broth, then the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft; salt as desired.

The chard was simply chopped, sauteed, and simmered briefly in some broth. Served with a glass of wine on my balcony, of course!

In cat news, Gomez has been dealing with some medical issues, which have been temporarily mediated by a cortisone shot. I’ve spent many hours worrying about him lately, but the shot is helping for now. He’s been extremely good-natured, loving, and wonderful during this entire ordeal. Yesterday I was trying to take a picture of him for a friend and ended up with this:

A slightly less intimidating shot. He’s a very beautiful and lovely boy.

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Roasted Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous

If you live in the Bay Area and enjoy eating produce but don’t want to commit to a CSA, you should check out Mariquita Farms. Years ago, I read an article about them, probably on The Kitchn, (actually, it was, I just found it: https://www.thekitchn.com/weekend-meditation-the-mystery-46087), and living in Northern Virginia I was jealous I didn’t have access to what sounded like a cool concept: periodic deliveries of “mystery boxes” of produce on a pay-as-you-want-to-receive-it basis, instead of locking yourself into an entire season of weekly CSA boxes you might not be able to consume all of. I never forgot about that article but I may have forgotten where the farm even was. But then I moved to the Bay Area years later and someone told me about Mariquita Farms, and I realized it was the place from that article, so I immediately signed up for their mailing list. I don’t order from them every time they do an East Bay drop-off (though I sometimes do a peninsula order as well), but when it does fit into my schedule, I’m never disappointed. In addition to the “mystery box” (which isn’t entirely a mystery as they’ll give you a pretty good idea of what to expect based on which crops are ready), they usually have additional items you can order in bulk. Last year instead of doing the pick-your-own tomatoes I had done the prior two years when it was tomato canning time, I just ordered 60 pounds of Romas through Mariquita and picked them up in Palo Alto.

This week’s mystery box was probably my favorite so far. It included:

  • Several red onions
  • Some new potatoes
  • A huge bunch of chard
  • Two different types of basil
  • Lots of jalapenos
  • Another kind of chili pepper
  • 4 eggplants
  • A bunch of beets
  • Four different kinds of tomatoes!

I think that’s it? I might be forgetting something. In addition to all that, I ordered a bunch of extras:

  • Two 5-pound bags of tomatillos so I can make and can salsa verde this weekend
  • One 5-pound bag of lemons
  • One 5-pound bag of cured red onions
  • One 5-pound bag of avocados

I should have taken photos of everything before I put it all away, but here are some of the tomatoes:

The lemons I bought so I could make some preserved lemons, which I am out of. To make preserved lemons, you cut a few lemons into quarters (traditionally, you don’t cut them all the way so the lemon opens like a flower, but I never use more than a quarter at a time and they fit in the jar better separated so I cut them into actual quarters), toss them very generously with salt, optionally add some spices (I used peppercorns and bay leaves this time), then juice enough additional lemons that the juice covers all the lemons, put a lid on the jar, and shake it every day for a month or so until the rind has softened enough that it’s edible. Then to use, you pull out what you need, rinse the extra salt off, and chop it up.

I frequently use preserved lemons in Moroccan tagines, so I got the idea to make a Moroccan-inspired meal last night, even though my lemons are a month from being preserved. But I also had picked up some Hodo Soy Moroccan Tofu Cubes the other day I wanted to try. I don’t tend to buy a lot of pre-flavored items like this because I prefer making my own sauces, and they tend to be expensive, but I love Hodo Soy (especially since they are based in Oakland, so they are local!). Here’s what I did:

Roasted Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous
1 eggplant, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large, mild chili pepper, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cup vegan “chicken” or vegetable broth, divided
1 Tbsp Instant Gel
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s harissa sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 package Hodo Soy Hodo Soy Moroccan Tofu Cubes
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place chopped veggies on a baking tray and toss with olive oil. Roast about half an hour.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup of the broth to a boil. Put the couscous in a bowl, pour in the boiling broth and stir, then cover and set aside for 15 minutes. When the time is up, fluff with a fork.

Whisk together the remaining broth and the harissa sauce and cumin. Slowly whisk in the Instant Gel to thicken it a little.

Separately, heat the tofu cubes – I just used the microwave.

To serve, spoon some of the sauce over the roasted veggies, and serve over the couscous with the tofu cubes. Drizzle with fresh-squeezed lemon.

In other news, yeah, I was kinda on a roll with posting there for a short while then stopped when I went from my typical insanely busy to EXTRA insanely busy with dollops of both very expensive cat AND car problems. Cats and cars are all back home and in working order for the moment, so maybe my life will return to what passes for normal. I also have an owl in the house at the moment! Something that I’ve been doing for the last few months that has made a big difference in my life – and something that I NEVER thought I’d be into doing – is going to the gym for classes at 5:30 a.m. several days a week. I feel SO much better, physically and emotionally, on gym days, and I actually enjoy being there and enjoy the company of the others in my class, and our trainer is completely awesome. I work better on gym days, too. This morning as I was driving back home after class, the sun was just barely trying to rise and peek out from the morning fog that is typical to this area (but which hasn’t been around much the last few weeks), and I noticed the light off in the distance looked really, really cool. When I got home I found the light off my balcony (still my favorite spot in my place!!) was extra beautiful. The photos I took don’t really capture it at all, but this is an approximation (you can click for a bigger version). My life has been somewhat troubled this month, but in the grand scheme of things, I am a very, very fortunate person.

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Pasta Primavera

This meal was the result of having some English peas from the farmers market that I needed to use ASAP, and wanting something relatively light.

Pasta Primavera
8 oz dried pasta
1 1/2 cups fresh English peas, shelled
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 bell pepper, cut into strips
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 tsp dried Italian-y herbs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp vegan cream cheese (optional)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the carrot, onion, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes with some olive oil and dried herbs. (I keep a mixture of dried herbs that I use to make quick Italian vinaigrettes, and I used that.) Roast for 20-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add some salt and the peas and pasta. Cook until the pasta is done and drain. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and cream cheese, if using (the only reason I used it is I found some while foraging in the fridge and figured I’d try to get rid of it). Toss everything together and season with flaky salt if desired. Top with vegan parmesan if you’d like.

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Roasted Veggies, Kale, and Mixed Grains

This isn’t really a recipe but more of a description of what I had for dinner last night. There were three components:

  • Roasted vegetables: one beet (peeled and chopped), two large carrots (peeled and chopped), one medium potato (chopped; I don’t peel potatoes), and one onion (peeled and chopped), tossed lightly with olive oil, baked at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about half an hour, then tossed with some pesto.
  • Dinosaur kale: Chop the kale and mince or press a few cloves of garlic. Saute the garlic in some olive oil, then add the kale and saute until starting to wilt. Add 1/4 cup veggie or vegan chicken broth, cover, reduce heat, and cook until done to your liking. After the kale was cooked, I coated it with a tahini-nutritional yeast-lemon juice sauce that I can’t give you an exact recipe for because it started off as leftovers from another sauce that I added things to. I was sort of cleaning out the refrigerator. I also tossed in the remainder of a home-canned jar of chickpeas for a little additional protein.
  • Quinoa/millet mix: 1/2 cup quinoa + 1/2 cup millet + 1 1/2 cups water or broth. Bring to a boil in a small/medium heavy pot, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook about 25 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, covered, then fluff. (This makes enough for several meals.)

I recently did something I never do, which is purchase salad dressings (I vastly prefer homemade), but Trader Joe’s has these refrigerated Green Goddess and Carrot Ginger Miso dressings which are vegan and looked really good, so I couldn’t resist trying them, even though I could probably have easily made both of them at home. They are in fact really good and although I probably won’t use them on my regular tossed salads, I really enjoyed them mixed in with this meal. I realize that between the pesto on the roasted veggies and the tahini thing on the kale, this is a lot of different sauces in one bowl, but what can I say: I’m a sucker for sauces.

And for today’s bonus, here are some photos I took on a kayaking trip in Elkhorn Slough near Monterey on Sunday, which was absolutely delightful. Elkhorn Slough has the highest concentration of sea otters and I’ve been dying to go there for a long time. It was great!

There are also sea lions and harbor seals:

And lots of pelicans:

I love where I live!

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Tomato Farro

Last night I made Smitten Kitchen’s One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes. I won’t post the recipe as the only change I made was replacing the fresh basil with a dollop of pesto, as earlier in the week I’d transformed all my basil into pesto. I also halved the recipe since it was just me, and I still have half of it leftover. It was really good – I’ll make this again.

I served this with a salad. Because I love salad!

I’m not going to be able to do long posts all the time, and if start expecting to, I’ll never keep up with this, but I was thinking this was going to be really short since I wasn’t actually posting a recipe, so who wants to see some cats???

Well, first you’ll have to read about something seemingly unrelated. Or “seamingly” unrelated, hahaha. When I started looking for places to live this last time around, I knew I was going to have to get rid of a lot of stuff, and honestly, I love getting rid of stuff, especially at this juncture in my life, but there is some stuff that would be a struggle to live without, like, oh, most of my immense amount of kitchen stuff. (But as mentioned in a previous post, I really lucked out as far as my kitchen is concerned!) One thing I was a little nervous about possibly having to get rid of was my sewing machine. I’m not a huge sewer, because I’m not good at anything that requires complicated patterns (or any patterns, really) or more than the very basic straight stitching, but as you can see from the several sewing tutorials I have on here, I do occasionally sew simple things. If I were a normal person and just had a modern sewing machine I could stash in a closet when I wasn’t using it, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but after destroying about 5 such sewing machines in a lifetime, I bought an antique 1949 Singer a while back, which totally changed what happens when I sew (soooooo much less cussing and anger!). In addition to actually WORKING, unlike all the machines I’ve broken in the past, it’s a showpiece because it’s so beautiful, and it sits in a special table and all that jazz. Which is great and all but that means it takes up space that I was sure was going to be at a premium. I was stressing out about this a bit, even though I’ve really only used the sewing machine maybe 6 or 7 times since I got to California three years ago.

As it turns out, I have plenty of space for the sewing machine. I still didn’t expect to be inspired to USE it any time soon, though, because I am ridiculously busy. But I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the bag I was using at the wildlife hospitals. A couple years ago I made myself a handbag to use on “normal” days, and a separate bag to carry on “wildlife” days, stashing in the latter things I only need at the hospitals, like my set of hospital keys, a notebook, name tags, raptor gloves, training whistle, etc. I just transfer my wallet from bag to bag depending on the day. But I was starting to find the wildlife bag too small, the more involved I get and the more things I’m doing, and things weren’t as organized as I’d like, so I decided to make myself a new, improved bag this week. Since it had been a while since I’ve sewn anything, I had forgotten how SUPER INVOLVED Gomez gets when I sew!

Like, he’s got to roll around on the fabric while I’m trying to cut it. Super unsafe! So annoying! But also adorable! HE IS VERY HANDSOME.

He also enjoys sitting on my lap – or on my shoulders – when I’m at the sewing machine. Anyway, as soon as I managed to clear Mezzie off the cutting mat, THIS one showed up in his place:

I swear, that bag took twice as long to make as it should have! If you are curious, here’s the final product:

I pinned one of my nametags onto it because it was always stabbing me when I had it tossed into the bottom of the old bag, but I just realized I pinned it right over the peacock’s eyes. Oops!

My other bag was made using an owl print, quilting weight fabric, and since I wanted something heavier this time, I tried to find owl upholstery fabric that wasn’t overly cutesy, but didn’t find anything I liked, so I went with this peacock fabric. It’s not as heavy as I was hoping either, though, so I’ll use this for a little while and see whether or not I like it or if I need to try again. I did put owls on the inside though!

I’ll be headed to one of the hospitals this afternoon (well, actually I’ll be at both of them at one point today, god I’m busy), so we’ll see how it does when put to the test!

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Chili-Soy Tofu, Stir-fried Baby Bok Choy, Daikon Salad and Miso Soup

Last night’s dinner was kind of “Asian fusion” I guess, although I was thinking about it in a Japanese-inspired frame of mind. The goal was to use the daikon and baby bok choy I got at the farmers market, so here’s what I did:

Daikon Salad

1 medium daikon, spiralized, julienned, or shredded
1 medium carrot, spiralized, julienned, or shredded
1-2 scallions, cut thinly on a bias
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp vegan fish sauce, if you have it (omit if not)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of salt if needed

Whisk together the sauce ingredients, toss with the vegetables, and chill for at least half an hour.

The last time I was in Sacramento, I ordered take-out from Andy Nguyen’s Vegetarian Restaurant (the food was excellent, by the way). While I waited to pick up my order, I spied some vegan fish sauce they were selling, the proceeds for which went to fund a temple, and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle. Unlike every vegan fish sauce I’ve purchased in the past (admittedly, not many), this stuff was really good! It’s made with pineapple juice so since I’m not in Sacramento that frequently I’ve been trying to develop my own go-to recipe that’s similar. Maybe soon I’ll have a finished recipe to share! That’s the story with my fish sauce.

Miso Soup

I’m sure I have a recipe for this on here somewhere already, but basically:

1 piece kombu
4 cups water
a few pieces of dried wakame
1 small carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tofu, small dice
splash of rice vinegar
3 Tbsp miso
1 scallion, sliced

Steep the kombu in the water (you can boil or warm the water first for faster results) for 1-24 hours, then remove. Bring the water to a boil along with the wakame, carrot, and tofu; boil for about 5 minutes. Remove a few tablespoons of the water to a cup and whisk the miso into the cup, then pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot. Season with a little rice vinegar to taste and add the scallions.

Garlic Ginger Baby Bok Choy

a few heads of baby bok choy, chopped with white and green parts separated
1/4 cup vegan chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbsp minced or pressed garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger

Stir the garlic and ginger into the broth and set aside. Heat some oil in a medium pan or wok and stir fry the white parts of the bok choy until soft. Add the green leaves and fry until limp. Pour the sauce in, stir, and let it reduce. Serve.

Chili-Soy Tofu

1/2 lb extra firm tofu, cubed
4 Tbsp sweet chili sauce (similar to what you’d dip spring rolls into)
1 Tbsp soy sauce

Heat some oil over medium heat in a pan or wok and fry the tofu until it’s lightly browned. Add the sauce, stir, and cook until caramelized. Serve.

I used the chili sauce recipe in Not Your Mama’s Canning Book, which I really like.

This was all served with sushi rice. Every time I took a bite of the tofu I thought it was my favorite part of the meal, until I took a bite of the bok choy and thought it was my favorite part of the meal, and then I realized there are two types of people: those that mix their food and those that don’t. I’m firmly in the mixing camp and don’t understand people who can’t let different parts of their meal even touch other parts. So the best parts of this meal where the ones where the sauces for the tofu and the boy choy mingled all over each other. 🙂

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Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

Hello, is anyone out there? After a lengthy absence I am back with some recipes! I doubt anyone will see this after so long, but I’ve been cooking up a storm lately and decided to post if for no other reason to give myself ideas at some future date when I’m not feeling as creative.

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve spent the time since my last post, which I see was just after “the election”, in a state of deep depression, stress, and anxiety. Much of it was directly related to the election and continues to this day, and will undoubtedly continue through 2020, although some of it was due to personal reasons. The good news is I’m feeling better personally. (Though still feel increasingly terrible as an American.) Dark as my days may have been, I never stopped wanting to cook, and I frequently made really good stuff, but I wouldn’t say I was being particularly explorative when cooking over the last couple of years. Occasionally a friend would tell me I should post something here, but I either didn’t agree the meal warranted a post or just didn’t have the wherewithal to get around to it.

I moved into my third new place in three years in California a few weeks ago. I’m sill in the Bay Area (I’ve barely moved a mile each time), but have downsized to a slightly more affordable condo as opposed to the single family houses Mark and I shared. I wasn’t sure how the transition to a multi-family building would be for me, and there are still some things I’m getting used to, but I wasn’t expecting to get as extra-excited about cooking as I have! Especially since although I REALLY lucked out regarding the size of my kitchen, the electric stove top is vintage to the 1983 building construction and it’s a freakin’ mess! (The double oven, though, is brand new!) Ironically, the stove is probably partially responsible for my recent cooking zeal because it “forced” me to buy an induction burner, which I’ve wanted for years, and use it for most of my cooking, AND I LOVE IT. I should have bought one a long time ago: if nothing else it would have saved me from the ten times I’ve let my homemade soy milk boil over when making yogurt!

I’ve been more consistently going to farmers markets lately, and being at farmers markets makes me intensely happy. I come home with a basket full of produce, eager to turn it into delicious meals. My meals have become a little more imaginative and healthy than they were. I’ve never actually eaten badly, by any means, and maybe it’s just the summer season with all its bounty, but I feel like I’m just eating fresher and healthier than ever before. I’m actually overwhelmed with ideas and meals I want to make! As I said, I thought maybe I’d try to document some of them here, because I know these things come and go in phases and in a few months I might not be feeling quite as imaginative or excited. So to that end, here is last night’s…

Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

One trend in my meals of late has been roasting vegetables, making some sort of whole grain or grains, concocting some new sauce, grabbing handfuls of fresh herbs, and serving a one-bowl meal of it. I scored a huge bunch of basil for $1.50 at the market yesterday, so I made pesto. Although I have been doing a lot of experimenting lately, I actually made a very traditional pesto, although for me THAT was experimental because as a vegan, I’ve never actually made pesto exactly as you’re supposed to, since obviously I don’t eat cheese. I really like Follow Your Heart’s vegan parmesan, though, so I used that.

1 cup whole grain polenta-ground corn
4 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 zuchinni or summer squash, sliced
1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/4 cup pesto (homemade is best, but Trader Joe’s sells a vegan version)
3 Tbsp corn relish
vegan parmesan (optional)

I made the polenta in my Instant Pot using these directions, but basically to make it, you put the water in a pot (Instant or otherwise), then slowly whisk in the polenta meal. Then you add salt and cook it until it’s done, stirring often if you are making it on the stove, or on the Porridge –> More setting on the Instant Pot. Both methods probably take the same amount of time when it’s all said and done, but with the Instant Pot method I just walked away from it for half an hour, so that’s easier.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil and sprinkle with some salt. Roast them until they are tender, about 25 minutes.

To serve, scoop some prepared polenta into a shallow bowl. Dollop half the pesto on top. Add the roasted vegetables and dollop the remaining pesto on top of them. Finally top with the corn relish, and if desired garnish with vegan parm. The corn relish I used was my home-canned relish using a recipe from the excellent Saving the Season by Kevin West. If you don’t have corn relish, find some other pickled item to add a “zing” – otherwise maybe just try a little lemon juice. I liked the contrast between the sweet polenta corn and the zip of the corn relish.

I served this with field green salad tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic, Dijon, and salt):

As I’ve eaten ALL my meals lately, I ate this on my balcony, and it felt like being in a particularly cozy restaurant.

Another unexpected thing about my new place is that my favorite “room” is the balcony! (Well, one of the two balconies!) I absolutely love it out here (I’m composing this post from it!). The weather is (almost) always perfect here, so it’s always pleasant to be outside. Here’s a picture taken of my lunch (gumbo!) earlier yesterday: on the table you can see the basil that would shortly become pesto:

I don’t know what it is about this balcony, but I honestly feel like I’m on vacation every time I’m out here. It puts me in a very relaxed state. Since I work from home, I’m able to eat all three meals outside and mentally it’s extremely good for me. I usually read while I eat, or if I want to watch TV or a movie while I eat dinner, I use my tablet. It’s sooo much nicer than what I’ve done for years, which is eat dinner on the sofa (unless we had guests). The only downside to the balcony is I miss the cats, who used to sit on my lap while I ate, but now have to sit by the door and look forlornly out at me since they can’t come out here. But having such a wonderful place to eat is probably another part of the reason I’ve been so into cooking.

I’ve also been canning a lot since I moved. A friend, who had helped me pack my jars last time, came to visit the new place and commented that it looked like I had fewer jars this year than I did last year. So I promptly canned two different kinds of pickles, 40 pints of different soups, chili sauce, and ginger syrup – I must have added at least 75 jars to the shelf since I got here. I should do a post soon on the beautiful jar shelf Fortinbras built me and all the stuff I’ve been canning. I’m currently developing a “gumbo starter” recipe I want to pressure can. (Hence yesterday’s gumbo lunch!)

And in other news, I’m only even more involved in wildlife rehab than I was the last time you heard from me. Because it’s the busy season, I’m working a ton of hours on wildlife-related stuff, several days a week. I’ve also started doing at-home rehab: some baby mammals (I’m actually picking up a batch of 30-gram opossums tonight), but mostly, and my favorite – OWLS! That’s right: I keep owls in my house. It’s amazing. Once the animals I’ve raised and/or healed are ready to go, I usually get to release them myself, so in addition to all the rehab, I’ve been doing a lot of wildlife releases. I’m not allowed to share pictures from inside the hospitals or of rehab patients in my home on social media, so sorry, I can’t post tons of adorable owl pictures, but here is a video of me releasing a white-tailed kite last week:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQWRS8PtU3I

And finally, I’m still trying to hike a few times a week, although I’ve added kayaking and biking to my activities as well. I’m still seeing all kinds of amazing animals when I go out! A friend and I came across this Great Horned owl fledgling in Redwood Regional Park last week.

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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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Zucchini Gratin, Lemon-Basil Seitan

Hello, I’ve missed you! I have recipes! With really, really, really bad photos!! In fact, the photos are so bad I’m ashamed of them, especially as someone who has urged you to keep up on my life if you’d like to by going to my photo blog, though I tell you the photos there are of a little higher quality. I’ve been doing a lot of things, and even posting regularly (though perhaps not as personally) on my photo blog, but I sure haven’t been posting here, have I? I’m not going to make any promises that I’ll be posting regularly now, but I did make a dish or two last night I liked enough to want to record, so here I am.

And what have I been doing with my time instead of cooking magnificent, blog-worthy food? A lot of wildlife volunteering, of course. I have regular shifts at two different wildlife hospitals here, which I absolutely love. It’s very interesting working in two very different places, and it’s going to be REALLY interesting in the next month or so when baby wildlife season starts. I have so much to learn, especially about all the non-raccoon and non-raptor species as well as the differences between Virginia and California species. I’m interested in caring for all animals, although both hospitals are aware of my special interest in both raptors and rabies-vector species and I’ve have started working with the education raptors (and other species) at one of the hospitals and have been handling rehab raptors at the other. California seems to be a lot more rehab-friendly than Virginia was and my volunteer work here has been my favorite thing about California. It’s really great.

My next favorite thing about California is NATURE. It took me a while to get used to the parks here as they are very different than Virginia’s parks, and arriving during the middle of summer AND a drought was probably not an ideal introduction. All the parks were dry, brown, hot, hilly, open, and apparently devoid of wildlife when I first got here. As it turns out, though, winter in California is a magical time. I despised winter in Virginia, but in California, everything turns green – and not just an ordinary green, but a GLOWING green – and thousands and thousands of raptors migrate through here: the parks have become extremely beautiful and I don’t know if there is just more wildlife this time of year or if I’ve gotten luckier, but I’ve started to see so many more animals that it may be even better than Virginia. Plus the weather is amazing: comfortable temperatures and NO SNOW. The San Francisco Bay area is a very populous, congested area, yet there are so many parks and open spaces, it’s pretty amazing. I typically go hiking several times a week and don’t repeat many parks all that often, and I have a thick folder full of used park maps, and there are still many I haven’t yet been to. Also, I stare at Google Maps a lot looking for green areas to explore, and yet, nearly every week I talk to someone who mentions some park I’ve never even heard of. It’s really pretty incredible. I LOVE it.

Last, but not least, is friends. I don’t have that many here, but some of my very old friends are coming to me. 🙂 Our good friends Brad and April moved to the Bay Area a few months after we did, which was SO GREAT. And at long, long last, Fortinbras has FINALLY made it back to California. He moved to LA just a couple of weeks ago. I wish he was closer, but LA is way better than Baltimore, and we are driving distance from each other, if not pop-by-on-a-whim close. He drove up here the week before last, which was the first time I’d seen him since I left Virginia in July. He’s actually the reason for my first recipe today because he bought a bunch of zucchini and yellow squash while he was here and we didn’t eat all of it, so a few were languishing in my fridge and needed to be used up. I’ll typically just lightly saute zucchini and top with a flavored salt, but though he’ll eat that, Mark tends to take only a few slices and I’m always harping on him about eating more nutrients, so last night I had a little more time for dinner preparations than I usually have and I tried to think of something different to do with the zucchini and squash that might appeal to Mark. I decided to make a gratin.

I’ve made gratins in the past, often relying on the gruyere recipe in Artisan Vegan Cheese, but I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t made fermented cheese since I moved. I keep wanting to and not finding the time. What I have been making a lot of, though, is various cheese recipes by Lacey at Avocado and Ales. Lacey left me a lovely comment on my last post so I checked out her blog and found she’s pretty amazing. (Lacey, if you are reading this, I tried to leave you a comment telling you that but I had issues doing so and I don’t know if you ever saw it.) So when I googled around for gruyere ideas and found a recipe (that I think was adapted from the original vegan cheese bible, The Uncheese Cookbook, which you would THINK a vegan of as many years as me would own but I for some reason do not), I took a tip from Lacey and replaced the acid with vegan lactic acid powder. I don’t think I’ve ever actually had real gruyere cheese if you want the truth, but I thought the resulting sauce was pretty tasty. Also, she didn’t write this particular recipe, but you should really check out Lacey’s recipes – I’ve quit buying Daiya mozzarella and just make her mozzarella, which I prefer, on pizza, and her vegan cheddar sauce is really great.

Anyway, on with the recipe:

Zucchini Gratin
Cheese sauce adapted from a recipe in the comments on this page, with inspiration from Lacey at Avocado and Ales

4 small or 3 large zucchini and/or yellow squash, evenly sliced
1 small yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
1 recipe vegan gruyere sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup bread crumbs
vegan parmesan, optional

Vegan Gruyere Sauce:
1 cup water
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp flour
4 tsp arrowroot
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp vegan lactic acid
1/4 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. If you don’t have pre-made bread crumbs, make some first so you can work with a dry blender or food processor: toast about 3 slices of white or whole wheat bread until they are quite dry, then roughly crumble into a dry blender or food processor. If you’d like, add some seasonings: I added a little vegan chicken broth powder, salt, and dried parsley. Process until you are left with small crumbs and set aside. Next make the gruyere sauce by placing all ingredients in a blender or food processor and processing until smooth. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring until sauce is smooth and thickened. Set aside. Slice the zucchini or squash and the onion, then heat a little oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, then add the zucchini and squash until they are lightly cooked. Pour the gruyere sauce into pan and mix everything up, then pour the mixture into a medium baking dish.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.

If using, top with vegan parmesan. I just happened to have seen Follow Your Heart’s shaved parmesan for the first time the other day and bought it out of curiosity, so I used that, but I don’t generally buy or make vegan parm and if I hadn’t had it, I would likely have generously sprinkled Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese, which I always have on hand and use for all my powdered or sprinkly cheese needs, on top.

Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

BAD, CURIOUS CATS!

They are so cute and SO annoying when I’m cooking.

Mark’s thoughts on the gratin? He liked it a lot. He declared himself a “foodie”, closed his eyes and said he tasted hints of “berry”. I said that was absurd, to which he commanded, “Silence! Do not contradict the foodie!” In a slightly less silly assessment, he said it was both creamy and crunchy and he enjoyed that dichotomy. He also ate all of what was on his plate and didn’t make a single complaint about the fact it was squash, which he ordinarily has very mixed feelings about. Success!

Mark suggested that I also post the recipe for the seitan I served, which I agreed to do because it gives me a chance to talk about my brand new Instant Pot, which I’m excited about. I’m a little late to the Instant Pot game, which is surprising because I love kitchen gadgets, but with my move last year to California, I spent the first half of 2015 purging as many material items as I could from my life and not buying anything. And the second half of 2015 found me needing to be extremely frugal because CALIFORNIA IS EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE. I’ve had my eye on an Instant Pot for a while, though, because although I managed to cram all my appliances into a kitchen that is much smaller than my previous one, several of them, such as my dough mixer and slow cooker, were inconvenient to use, and I had dreams of replacing the slow cooker and rice cooker with the Instant Pot to free up some space and make all of the appliances easier to reach and use. And then my stovetop pressure cooker stopped working properly – it would maintain pressure, but release a lot of steam while doing so. Now, I won’t lie to you: I probably just needed to replace the gasket, which would have been the cheapest solution, but I instead decided to take that as a sign it was time to indulge in the Instant Pot. And I’m really glad I did because I know it’s going to get a lot of use and now my dough mixer is going to be a lot easier to use from its new location on the counter. I had started getting back into baking a little bit when we first moved and I had some time (before I was able to start volunteering again), but I’d gotten pretty lazy about it partially because the mixer was just inconvenient to use. And another thing I’d been lazy about was buying and stashing a bunch of Gardein products in the freezer, which is NOT a frugal move. I should have been making my own seitan more regularly, but my preferred method for that was steam-then-bake and my slow cooker/steamer was also inconvenient to get to so I tended not to do it. Then I thought about returning to my previous favorite method of seitan making, which was pressure cooking, but my pressure cooker was getting on my nerves. ENTER THE INSTANT POT, in which I can steam OR pressure cook the seitan – though I’ll tell you now I’m pretty much always going to pressure cook it.

For pressure cooking, the Instant Pot is far superior to a stovetop pressure cooker, because you can set the timer and just walk away – in fact, I could leave the house if I wanted to. (And the weather in California is generally so glorious I USUALLY want to leave the house.) PLUS there is none of the really annoying “run cold water over the pressure cooker to bring the pressure down” nonsense I was always doing with the stovetop cooker. I’m not yet sure about making rice; I doubt it’s going to be easier or better than my high-end fuzzy logic rice cooker, whose place its taken on the counter, but I also didn’t get rid of the rice cooker and I intend to bring it out of the cupboard when I want to cook something in the Instant Pot AND have rice, which I think might be rather often.

Basically, though, I convinced myself I’m going to save tons of money on bread and fake meat by investing in the Instant Pot. Hopefully that’s true. I’ve already baked a couple loaves of bread – the bread crumbs in the recipe above? Made from homemade bread. I will also hopefully use the slow cooker feature much more often than I was slow cooking before because I am very often not home during dinner-making hours, usually coming home starving and throwing something sub-par together as fast as I can.

So that’s my Instant Pot story. If you have favorite Instant Pot tips and recipes, please share!

As for the seitan recipe, generally when I want to make seitan of any type, I’ll google Vegan Dad’s lunch meat recipe to get the basic ratios of beans/liquid/vital wheat gluten (though you’d think I’d have it memorized by now), then I season it however I’m in the mood for. Previously I would steam and bake as Vegan Dad instructs, but now that I again have a reliable pressure cooker, I’ll be doing that as it takes half the time and is in my opinion easier. Something that I’ve been doing for a long time is cooking large batches of dried beans and freezing them in 1-cup portions to be used for seitan down the road. I’ll be able to either slow cook or pressure cook these beans in the Instant Pot from now on.

Enough blather, here’s the actual recipe:

Lemon-Basil Seitan
Seitan adapted from Vegan Dad’s lunch meat; sauce lightly adapted from Epicurious

For the seitan:
2 cups water
1 cup cooked or canned beans (I usually use some sort of white beans but used canned Lebanese fava beans this time)
1/4 cup neutral oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegan chicken broth powder
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
2 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten

For the sauce:
1 cup vegan chicken broth
zest and juice of one lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup (lightly packed) basil, chiffonaded

To make the seitan, add all ingredients except the vital wheat gluten to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Measure the vital wheat gluten into a large bowl, then pour in the liquid and stir with a wooden spoon, or just mix with your hands. Lightly knead until entirely mixed. Form the mixture into a log shape. Take a large piece of clean cheesecloth or muslin and roll the seitan up like a tootsie roll, tying the ends with kitchen string. Place in a pressure cooker and cover with water or vegan broth. (I used plain water but salted it generously.) After bringing up to pressure, cook for 50 minutes to one hour then release the pressure naturally. (I kept my Instant Pot in “Keep Warm” for 10 or 12 minutes, then moved the valve to “Venting” to release the remaining pressure.) After removing it from the pot, you can unwrap the seitan at this point, but let it completely cool before slicing or using. In fact, the seitan is best used the next day after firming in the refrigerator overnight, though you can use it as soon as it is cool.

For the Lemon-Basil sauce, slice as many pieces of seitan as you want and pan fry them in a pan large enough to accommodate them, then remove from the pan. In the same pan, pour a little olive oil, add the garlic, and stir a couple of times, then pour in the broth and lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced to one half or one third of original volume. Add the basil and stir, then return the cooked seitan to the pan, coat with the sauce, and re-warm. Serve. I served mine with the gratin above and rice made with vegan chicken broth in the Instant Pot.

Boy, is this picture bad:

So there you have two recipes and an update on my life. If you are interested in seeing some GOOD photos, again, I refer you to renae.org, where you can also find my photo blog. I have a lot of super-exciting photos like this one:

and this one:

there. That’s all for now – I’ll try not to be a stranger. Leave me Instant Pot recipes. 🙂

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“Chicken” Pot Pie

I live!!! Were you wondering? The only difference is where I live. Can you guess where?

Yes, Mark and the cats and I have moved from one coast to the other. So I’ve been busy with THAT. I work remotely now (at the same job I had before), which is really cool. From my home office I have a view of the bay and San Francisco. I’ve started volunteering at not one but two wildlife hospitals, which I absolutely love, and I’ve been exploring a lot of the parks around here, usually in a rather fruitless search for wildlife, though I’m getting better at finding it. You can read – and SEE – more about my nature and wildlife adventures at my photo blog, which I’ve been a LITTLE better at updating than this one.

Now with food! The other day I went shopping at Trader Joe’s and decided to put together an easy pot pie for dinner, using TJ’s chicken-less strips, some frozen veggies, and TJ’s crescent roll dough (which I was pleased to find was vegan since they didn’t have any vegan pie crusts and I wasn’t feeling like making one). Well, Mark scarfed that dinner down and then tried to eat the half of my pie that I didn’t eat, although I said I was saving it for lunch the next day. Then we had friends over for dinner two days later that weekend for Mark’s birthday so I asked Mark what he wanted for his birthday dinner and he said, “MORE OF THOSE POT PIES!!!” So I doubled the recipe, swapped in fresh veggies for frozen, and made it again, and guess what else I did? I TOOK PICTURES SO I COULD DO A BLOG POST! Yeee-haw!!

This is a meal you can make as simple or as complicated as you have the time and patience for. You could make it entirely from convenience foods: store-bought vegan “chicken”, frozen veggies, and pie crust, or entirely from scratch: your own chicken-style seitan, all fresh veggies, and if you are a better person than I, a homemade crust. The pot pies I made for Mark’s birthday dinner were a hybrid. The quantities below make two 2-serving pot pies, although it’s easy to vary the size of the pot pies by choosing whatever baking dishes you have on hand. I made double this for Mark’s birthday dinner, which served four of us and left us with a couple extra pies for lunch the next day.

“Chicken” Pot Pie
adapted from Allrecipes.com

1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup green beans, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1-3 Yukon gold potatoes (depending on size), chopped
12 oz vegan “chicken” strips (or reconstituted Soy Curls, or chicken-style seitan), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 3/4 cup vegan “chicken” broth
1/3 cup unsweetened, plain soy or almond milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp vegan margarine
leaves from a few springs fresh thyme, or about 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh or dried rosemary
black or white ground pepper, to taste
1 package vegan crescent roll dough (like Trader Joe’s brand)

I did a lot of the prep work for this the day before, chopping everything and storing it in the refrigerator. Here are the “chicken” strips and veggies, chopped:

I also pre-chopped the onions:

I used Trader Joe’s “chicken-less strips”. In fact, I think almost every single ingredient except the herbs (which I am amazingly growing) and the “chicken” broth came from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s is the closest grocery store to our house, which is convenient because we are on an extremely strict budget these days.

Peas from Trader Joe’s!

The next day when I was ready to prepare the pot pies I did the following:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put the celery, carrots, green beans, peas, and potatoes into a large pot and cover well with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Put the olive oil and margarine in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the margarine has melted, add the onions and saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic and saute until the onions are soft.

Add the thyme, rosemary, and pepper.

Incorporate the flour to make a thick roux. Cook for a minute or two to take the raw edge off the flour.

Start slowly adding the “chicken” broth, stirring thoroughly after each addition of 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

Stir in the soy or almond milk. Here is the gravy after all the broth and the milk have been added. Remove this pot from the heat.

Brown the “chicken” in a large skillet. This step may be optional for some types of “chicken” and is personal preference, but at least for the TJ’s “chicken-less” strips, I preferred to do this. Note, though, that I skipped it the first time I made these pot pies and I got no complaints from Mark. Or myself.

Stir the drained veggies and the “chicken” into the gravy.

Find some oven-safe dishes that are a good size to bake the pot pies. I like making individual pot pies, although most of the pictured dishes are a tad large for a single serving. Divide the pie contents between your dishes. Remember that for the dishes pictured here, I had doubled this recipe.

Pop open the crescent roll dough package and use the pieces to form a top crust over each dish. Use a knife to create a few vent holes in each crust.

Arrange the pot pies on a large baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes. When I doubled the recipe and baked all these dishes at once, I found I had to bake them a little longer. You want the crusts to be golden brown – probably even a little darker than they are pictured here.

I served this with homemade bread (I’ve been baking more than I was in Virginia!) and a fresh tossed salad.

This has been the first post I’ve made in months, and the first picture-heavy recipe post I’ve made in FOREVER, so that’s probably all the pictures I’ll bombard you with, but as I mentioned before, I have been sharing a few of my nature and wildlife photos over at blog.renae.org, so if you are interested in following my quest to find wildlife in the Bay Area, check it out over there. And hopefully I will be back here soon with more food. My current kitchen is small and features a stupid glass-top stove I don’t get along with, but working from home has provided me a little more leisure for cooking as I no longer have a commute, and we have to be very frugal to live here, so I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen. Mark’s been urging me to start posting here again, so perhaps this will be my comeback!

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