Archive forApril, 2008

Pad Thai

You wouldn’t know it from the posts so far – you probably think I only eat pizza – but my favorite food is Asian. I can’t narrow it down any more than that because I love all types of Asian food, which is good new for me because many Asian recipes are naturally vegan or very easy to veganize. I made Pad Thai for lunch today. Good news for you: Pad Thai is very quick and easy to make! The only thing that takes any time is soaking the noodles. But you can even cheat at that and cook them, in which case preparing the entire meal takes maybe 20 minutes.

When making a veggie Pad Thai, you can throw whatever veggies you want in. Unlike pizza, which I like simple, I like to put a lot of veggies in my noodles, which makes them more interesting and nutritious.

Pad Thai

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

1/2 package ban pho (rice noodles; available at any Asian grocer)

Sauce ingredients

These amounts are all approximations; mix to your own taste.

1/3 cup soy sauce or vegan “fish” sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1/4 – 1 tsp red pepper flakes

Other ingredients

Other than the shallots, all of the veggies are optional and/or can be substituted with other veggies of your liking.

2 shallots, chopped
1 carrot, julienned
1/4 cup cubed tofu (you can use fresh extra-firm tofu, pre-fried tofu, or the kind that comes pressed)
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp garlic chives (I used regular chives today because that’s what I had)
1 cup bean sprouts


crushed peanuts
quartered limes (I didn’t have any today and used a lemon instead)
chopped cilantro
additional red pepper flakes

First, soak your rice noodles in some water; the warmer the water, the faster they will soften. You want them to soften to just barely al dente, which will probably take 30-45 minutes. I got tired of waiting after half an hour (I was starving) and turned the burner on for about 5 minutes. The water never made it to a boil, but the noodles softened quickly. Do NOT overcook them. Drain them when they are ready.

This is what they look like as they are soaking:

While the noodles are soaking, prepare the sauce. I put some soy sauce in the photograph (Vietnamese soy sauce is all I had; I guess Thai soy sauce would have been better), but I actually used some mock fish sauce I made from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, because I had it leftover from an earlier experiment. Bittman’s recipe isn’t bad, but I’ve always just used soy sauce in the past, so don’t feel like you need to go out of your way to make fake fish sauce. Soy sauce is the normal vegetarian sub. Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together. I’m heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes because my husband and I both like everything super spicy, but since you can garnish with extra later, it’s much better to use too little in the sauce.

Next prep all your veggies. You may have noticed the humongous carrot I have in the photo. I buy these huge carrots at the Asian grocery store because they are excellent for using on my mandolin, but if you don’t have a mandolin and/or don’t have bizzarely huge carrots, just chop it up into matchsticks with a knife.

Here are all of my veggies, prepped and ready to go. It is essential that you completely prep everything before you start cooking because the cooking goes extremely quickly.

Prepare your garnishes before you do the cooking as well. Crush or chop the peanuts. I just stick them in a mortar and pestle (I’m using a molcajete here because they don’t jump out of it.)

As previously discussed, I kill cilantro plants and didn’t have any fresh on hand. If you do, chop it up now. I used the frozen cilantro I got at Trader Joe’s, which I actually threw in the wok. But usually you would just toss the fresh leaves with the noodles.

Heat your wok up pretty hot. Now, I try to be conscious of the fact that not everyone has as many kitchen toys as I do and suggest alternatives where I can, but I’m not sure you can substitute anything for a wok when making Pad Thai. An ordinary frying pan is probably just not large enough. If it’s all you have, you may have to make one serving at a time. Even if you have a wok, you are only supposed to make two servings of Pad Thai at a time, although I got away with doing all four servings at once. The good news is woks are one of the few things that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on to get a higher quality. I authorize you to buy the cheapest wok you can find. Do NOT buy a non-stick wok. I don’t even know why such a thing exists. Not only are well-seasoned woks naturally non-stick, but woks are made for very fast cooking at very high temperatures – much higher than you can safely heat any non-stick coating. Non-stick woks are completely useless and in fact, dangerous. Non-stick woks sort of make me angry.

OK, enough lecturing. When your wok is hot, add some peanut oil. Pad Thai is generally fairly greasy, but I use only enough oil to get by. Add the shallots and stir-fry for a minute or two.

Add the remaining veggies (except the bean sprouts), one by one, beginning with those that take the longest to cook and finishing with the ones that take the least time, stir-frying for 30 seconds to a minute between additions. The reason for staggering the addition of veggies to a wok is not just because some take longer than others, but because every time you add something to the wok, it brings the temperature of the wok down, and you want the wok to remain very hot. So you are just adding a little bit at a time to allow the wok to recover temperature-wise. Don’t be tempted to dump a bunch of stuff in at once. I ordered my veggies like this: carrots, tofu, peppers, chives.

Since I was using frozen cilantro, I threw it in with the last of the veggies. After the last addition of veggies, dump the noodles in. As I said before, you shouldn’t put more than two servings of noodles in the wok at a time, so ideally you would only have been putting half the veggies in, and now adding half the noodles. Don’t crowd the wok. Mix everything up.

Now add the sauce and mix well. Finally add the bean sprouts and toss.

To serve, place a serving of noodles on a plate with a lime (or lemon if you must) wedge. Top with cilantro leaves and crushed peanuts. Pass additional chili flakes and peanuts around the table so others can spice to their tastes.

Enjoy! Pad Thai is actually a very quick meal once you know how to do it; it’s all prep time. If you buy pre-prepped veggies, or if you chopped extra veggies for a meal earlier in the week, and if you cook instead of soaking the noodles, you could have this ready in ten minutes!

By the way, Chez Pim has a very thorough tutorial on making Pad Thai, which I definitely recommend for further reading.

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Brussels Sprouts Roasted in Balsamic Vinegar

I am the luckiest girl in the world. Is it because I have the prettiest cat in the world?

No, although that is certainly one of the perks of being me. (Okay, I admit that is a completely gratuitous picture of my cat, but being better behaved than Tigger – and therefore not always jumping on the counter – Brachtune felt left out of the blog.) The reason I am the luckiest girl in the world is my husband actually requests Brussels sprouts for dinner! Often! This is good news for me because I love Brussels sprouts; I may have been the only child in America to like them as a kid. Mark likes Brussels sprouts so much that if he gets a hankering for them, he will drive to the store and buy them – and he’s not a fan of going to the grocery store.

On a recent visit to our hometown of Baltimore, a friend took us to his neighborhood bar, which was not only a really cool place, but apparently has the surprising reputation of making amazing Brussels sprouts, of all things. Mark ordered the Brussels sprouts, of course, and boy, they were good! Soon afterward – I believe it was the next night, in fact – Mark wanted some more of the balsamic sprouts, so I set about recreating the recipe. Tonight I shall share it with you, although it’s so simple I barely consider it a recipe. Here’s all you need:

That’s Brussels sprouts, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt. About the balsamic vinegar: if you don’t wince at the price tag, you probably aren’t buying real balsamic vinegar. When I first cooked with balsamic vinegar, I couldn’t figure out why the results were so…not good. It turns out the stuff I had purchased in the grocery store for three or four dollars doesn’t even approach being real balsamic vinegar. Real balsamic vinegar will usually put you back at least $100. This Fini stuff, which I got at Whole Foods, for I think about $12, has only been aged for 12 months, which is a few years short of the really good stuff, but it’s pretty good. Mark would probably hesitate to request Brussels sprouts as often as he does if he knew I was coating them in $$$, so I’m happy with the Fini, although I WILL buy a good balsamic vinegar when I have the chance. But to your recipe:

Brussels Sprouts Roasted in Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil

1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
finishing salt, to taste (I use Maldon and love it.)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Wash your Brussels sprouts, trim the ends if necessary (or remove from the stalk if you were lucky enough to buy them that way), remove any unsightly layers, and then cut in half lengthwise. If the sprouts are flatter in one direction than the other, cut so they are wide, not tall, as shown:

Place the oil and vinegar in a small bowl:

(This photo is here just because I think it’s neat.)

Then emulsify by whisking:

Put some of the Brussels sprouts in the bowl and use your hands to mix them up with the oil and vinegar, thoroughly coating each sprout half:

If you are fortunate to have a Brussels sprouts fiend for a husband, as I am, watch out, as he may try to eat the bowl:

Arrange in a single layer, cut side down, on a baking sheet or pan:

Sprinkle with the salt:

Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes. You want them to be dark, almost black in places, but you also don’t want to cook them until the point of mushiness.

Tonight I served them with the Risotto with Broccoli Rabe and White Beans from Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, although I used asparagus instead of broccoli rabe.

These Brussels sprouts are so good your spouse or kids will be piling their plates high!

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Soy Milk

I make my own soy milk and tofu, the former because commercial brands are too sweet and the latter just because it’s fun. When I tell people I make my own soy milk and tofu, I often get strange looks as if it had never even occurred to the person that tofu can come from any source other than a plastic tub in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Some people aren’t even sure what tofu is made of. Tofu is made from soy beans! The only ingredients in tofu are soy beans, water, and a small amount of coagulant, which I’ll get into later.

Before I start my tutorials on making soy milk and tofu, I’d like to say that much of what I know about making these items comes from Maki’s tutorial on Just Hungry, which is pretty much the definitive article on the subject, and this post on Bryanna Clark Grogan’s (one of my favorite cookbook authors) site. I can’t hope to improve on either of these tutorials, and I recommend you read both of them thoroughly because I’m pretty lazy about it and you’re going to get much better information from them. But this is something I do every week and I thought I’d share it with you in the hopes of making you realize neither process is nearly as complicated as I bet you think it is.

A quick word about electric soy milk makers: if you have a decent blender, you don’t need one. I have to admit that after the first couple of times I made soy milk, I managed to squirt okara all over my face, body, and kitchen, and – looking like an actress in a really bad porno – plaintively informed my husband I needed a soy milk maker. But then I figured out how to keep the okara in the bag and off my face, and I now think soy milk makers are ridiculous. And this from someone with a serious kitchen appliance addiction.

A little terminology for you: okara is the word for the mashed up soy beans that remain after you have squeezed out all the “milk”.

In this post, I’ll show you how to make soy milk, which is the first step in making tofu. I’ll save the tofu part for a later post so I don’t overwhelm you. To make soy milk, you need dried soy beans, a large pot, another large pot or a large bowl, a colander or large strainer, and an “okara bag”. An “okara bag” is just a piece of muslin folded in half and stitched on two sides, leaving one side open and forming a bag. You want to make it large enough that you can fold the edges over your pot or bowl; see the photos below. You can get muslin at any fabric store and it is very cheap. Some people use cheesecloth instead of muslin, but I don’t recommend this because it’s too easy for the okara squirt out when you are pressing it later, and although there are heavy kinds of cheesecloth they say are re-usable, it just seems very messy to me.

You can make as much or as little soy milk as you like at a time. I’ll assume here that you want to make about 2 quarts, because that’s how much I make to make tofu. But for drinking purposes, I halve this recipe and just make one quart because that’s all I need. If you make double this recipe, though, you’ll need to use a large stock pot to cook the soy milk: it expands a lot, so you need extra room.

So to make about 2 quarts of soy milk, put 8 ounces of dried soy beans into a bowl and cover with a lot of water. The soy beans will double in size, so put them in a big enough bowl and use enough water. Let them soak for about 8 hours. Here are my soaked soy beans:

The first few times you make soy milk, you will want to follow the directions precisely, what with the weighing and the measuring. Later, you may find shortcuts, as I have. For example, I noticed that my little fist grabs almost exactly one ounce of soy beans, and I often just grab 8 fistfuls of soy beans and call it a day. See, I’m a very imprecise cook. I have no right to be explaining how to do things to other people!

After soaking, drain the soy beans and put half of them into a blender. Measure 8 cups of water and put into a large pot over medium heat. When changing the yield on this recipe, this is easy to remember: one cup of water for every ounce of dried soy beans. That’s all you need to know! Allow the water to come up to temperature as you blend the soy beans. Add enough water to the blender to cover the soy beans by about an inch or two. The more water, the easier time your blender will have, so be generous:

Now blend, blend, blend! And blend some more. You want to make a very smooth mixture, that looks like this (or a little thicker, I don’t know why that looks so thin):

Pour the mixture into your large pot, and repeat with the remaining soy beans. You should have enough room in the pot for the contents to double, as it may swell up quite a bit. Simmer this mixture over medium heat for about 20 minutes. When it begins to swell, it’s ready, and you want to be watching it because when it starts to swell, it will very quickly swell higher than you expect, quite possibly over the sides of the pot if you aren’t careful. Ask me how I know this.

While the mixture is simmering, get another pot or a large bowl ready. Place your strainer or colander into it, and then line the colander with your “okara bag”, like this, except don’t pull up the one side as I did here so you could see the arrangement:

Carefully (because it’s hot), pour the soy bean mixture into the lined colander, and let it sit for a moment or two as the liquid slowly drains down into the pot or bowl:

Now here’s the part that caused me so many problems in the beginning. You want to squeeze all of the liquid out of the bag, making the contents – the okara – as dry as possible. At least that’s what I read, and for some reason I got it in my head that I had to REALLY squeeze on that bag so incredibly tightly that the okara came shooting through the weave of the fabric…and onto my face. What I would do is pick the bag up out of the colander, spin it around to seal it at the top, and, wearing gloves because it was hot, squeeze and twist as if my life depended on it, bent on draining every last drop of milk out of that bag. It’s a good thing I milk soy beans and not cows. But then I decided to just relax and MOSTLY get the liquid out of the bag by just pressing it with a potato masher against the colander and if the okara didn’t end up quite as dry, well, too bad. And what do you know, I no longer ended up with white stuff all over myself and I got just as much milk out of the bag anyway. The lesson here is to NOT take all your frustrations out on the okara bag and squeeze or press it just enough.

And now guess what! You’re done! Woo! Lift the colander out of the bowl or pot and YOU HAVE SOY MILK! If you are making tofu, you are ready to move on to the next step (coming soon). If you plan to drink this soy milk, or use it on cereal, you have the option of adding sugar and/or flavoring. I just add a bit of sugar, maybe 2 Tbsp per quart (which would be 1/4 cup if you used the measurements I’ve used here), but I don’t like it very sweet and if you are used to commercial soy milk, you may find you need to wean yourself from their excessive use of sugar. As I read somewhere, don’t be afraid to add sugar in any amount, because chances are you still aren’t adding as much as the commercial brands do!

I also often use maple syrup instead of sugar. You can add a pinch of salt if you like. If you like vanilla flavored, add that, or cocoa for chocolate milk.

The finished product (in a lovely glass pitcher I got from King Arthur Flour…have I mentioned my problem with that place? But seriously, it tastes better stored in glass than in plastic.):

I know I’ve been very wordy here, but once you do this a couple of times, it takes next to no effort. If I use the last of my soy milk on my cereal in the morning, I throw my four fistfuls of soy beans into a bowl, cover with water, and head out to work. When I get home, I just whip up the soy milk at the same time I’m making dinner. The only part that requires any thinking is making sure the pot it’s in doesn’t boil over, and since I’m right there working on dinner, that’s no problem.

And a final word about okara: don’t throw it away! You are supposed to eat that too! You’re supposed to be able to add it to all sorts of baked goods, although honestly, I haven’t had much success doing so. It seems to make baked goods leaden. I’m probably doing something wrong though. The best thing to do with okara is make Susan V’s Okara “Crab” Cakes. (By the way, Susan’s Fat-Free Vegan blog is one of the best food blogs out there and one of the inspirations for this blog.) The truth of the matter is I usually throw my okara away…and feel really guilty about it. I end up with a lot of it though. If nothing else, I should be composting it, but I haven’t started composting yet. So I challenge you to outdo me and use your okara more wisely. I really should be getting twice as much use out of my soy beans and saving even more money. If you know of any great uses for okara, please share!

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Earlier I explained how to make great pizza dough, that freezes exceptionally well and is perfect to have on hand for whenever you may need a pizza, which if you are anything like me is about once a week. Pizza has a bit of a bad reputation for being bad for you, but my homemade version, particularly when I use a whole wheat crust, is actually not bad at all.

In general, I’ve found the best thing you can do regarding cheese when going vegan is to forget it exists. I don’t usually try fake cheesy things, with the exception of a very yummy nacho cheese dip I make (which I will have to post sometime) and pizza. With pizza though, please keep in mind that cheese is totally optional. In fact, if you made the whole wheat crust that I suggest and top it with a homemade sauce (to avoid junk like high fructose corn syrup) and a thoughtful – but small – selection of fresh herbs and vegetables, such as sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions, and hot or sweet peppers, you won’t even miss the cheese and you’ll be eating a healthy meal! In fact, since I’m vegan I can’t advocate that you use real cheese on your pizza, but nor can I advocate you use vegan cheese if you aren’t vegan because you will hate it, so I encourage you to try it cheeseless! I like a very simple pizza, however, and since I’ve gone ten years without tasting real cheese, I’m very happy with using a bit of Cheezly or Teese.

Anyway, you need to decide at least 8-12 hours before that you want to make a pizza. Either remove the dough from the freezer and place in the refrigerator if you’ve frozen some (where it can remain for up to three days), or prepare it as I detailed earlier and let it rest overnight. Then, one hour before you want to bake the pizza do the following:

  1. Heat your oven, with a pizza stone in it, as hot as you possibly can. I’m afraid I consider a pizza stone essential. You can substitute inexpensive unglazed quarry tiles, available at places like Home Depot and Lowes, if you don’t want to fork out the money for a stone. If you decide to spring for the stone, get the thickest one you can find and ALWAYS pre-heat it with the oven and NEVER remove it from the oven while hot. (For this reason you will also be needing a pizza peel.) My stone simply stays in my oven at all times.
  2. Remove the dough from refrigerator. Liberally flour a workspace and place each piece of dough on it, turning to coat all sides with flour. Then flatten each ball into a circle about 1/2″ thick.
  3. Cover the dough circles with a clean towel and let them rest somewhere out of the reach of your cat. (I can’t tell you how many pizza crusts have ended up with little paw prints in them…)
  4. Make your sauce.
  5. Pizza sauce is super easy to make at home. It’s ridiculous to buy it. Here’s all you need:

    Pizza Sauce

    Makes enough for four personal-sized pizzas. (I halve this recipe for just my husband and myself.)

    1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
    2-4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

    In a small saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and allow to come up to temperature for a minute or two. Add garlic and stir for one minute.

    Stir in tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes, until tomatoes have broken down a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (I buy tomatoes with no salt added because I love using my salt grinder and salt pigs, and I figure, why should the tomato tinner have all the fun?)

    After the tomatoes are broken down a bit, remove sauce from the heat and allow it to cool a bit. When it’s cool, blend it until it is as smooth as you like. An immersion blender is easiest here, but you can also use a regular blender, a food mill, or if you like it chunky, you can just mash the tomatoes up with the back of a spoon or a potato masher.

    That’s it! You can also add spices like oregano and crushed red peppers, but I just sprinkle those on the pizza later. The reason I do that is because I can control the amount on each pizza to adjust for personal preference, and also if I have leftover pizza sauce, the less seasoned it is, the easier it is to throw into another dish later in the week. And taste the sauce before you add anything to it – it is really good without anything else added in!

    When your hour of pre-heating the oven and letting your crusts rest is up, prepare your peels, one for each pizza (if you are making more than two pizzas, or if you have a smaller stone, you will have to bake them in shifts). If you don’t have a peel, you can use the back of a baking sheet. To prepare the peel, sprinkle it with semolina or cornmeal:

    Next, remove any rings you may be wearing. I should have gotten a photo of this step for you, but I can’t shape a pizza and take a picture at the same time and considering my husband was (and is) busy ripping about 300 CDs for me today, I didn’t want to ask him to come do it. What you want to do, though, is make a fist with one of your hands, and drape the dough over it so your firt is in the middle. Then go around the edges with your other hand and gently pull. You can sort of bounce your fist a little and turn the dough, although I usually end up just grabbing the dough with two hands and pulling it into shape. Place on the prepared peel.

    Now, using the back of a spoon, smear the sauce over each crust. You don’t want too much sauce or the pizza will be soggy.

    If you’d like, sprinkle with dried herbs, I suggest oregano and crushed red pepper. (If you’d like to use fresh herbs – basil is fantastic – add them after the pizza has been baked, otherwise they will burn.)

    I was so excited about the imminent pizza I forgot to take a picture of them after adding the “cheese”, although you can see a similar picture in my earlier Teese post. I sometimes sprinkle finishing salt on top of the “cheese” because it makes it “sparkle”. Go easy on the “cheese” in any case. Add other toppings if you like; I love sliced tomatoes, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives.

    I realized as soon as I put them in that I forgot the picture, so I snapped one just after putting it in the oven.

    They need to bake for about 5 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is. Keep an eye on them. In the meantime, figure out how you are going to remove them. I use a stainless steel peel like the one of the right:

    If you make a lot of pizzas, you should definitely invest in one. It’s also good for removing hearth breads. If you refuse to buy such a thing, I have successfully used a large stainless steel wok shovel to remove a personal-sized pizza before. If all else fails, I suppose you can hold a large plate under the oven rack and use an oven mitt to push the pizza onto it, although that may lead to a dirty oven mitt.

    Here’s the pizza when it’s about done:

    And the finished product:

    Let the pizzas cool a few minutes before slicing. As for slicing, I recommend using kitchen shears.



Mark’s Soy Nuggets Tutorial

As I mentioned in my earlier post, we’re having an unusual dinner night here this evening, resulting in my husband, Mark, having Trader Joe’s frozen soy nuggets for dinner. He wanted to put together a tutorial for you here on the blog, although his idea of putting together a tutorial was making me photograph and write it up. He did dictate the steps for me, though, so I will try to remember what he said via the photos. I’ll mostly let the photographs speak for themselves, however.

First, wash your hands.

Dry your hands.

Remove nuggets from freezer.

Open nugget box.

Open inner nugget bag.

Remove cat from work area.

Remove nuggets from box.

Place nuggets in microwave.

Close nugget box.

Interlude: Things to Do While Waiting for Nuggets to Cook

Admire your spotted dick.

Love your cat.

Back to Nuggets

Test nuggets for warmness.

Shake nuggets to see if they wiggle.

Remove melty things (ie, chocolate) from top of toaster oven.

Arrange nuggets in toaster oven.

Turn up heat as high as it will go.

Interlude: Waiting for Nuggets to Get Crispy

Make your cat drink.

Wear colander on your head. (Bonus: also keeps aliens at bay.)

Wear sticky rice steaming basket on head.

Wear sticky rice steaming pot on head.

Pretend you have lemons for eyes.

Locate guillotine.

Play with knives.

Brush your hair.

Brush your teeth.

Back to Nuggets

Check for crispiness.

Interlude: Still Waiting for Nuggets

Photograph cat.

Eat a wooden apple.

Regret eating wooden apple.

Back to Nuggets

Nuggets are done.

Use whatever implement you can find to open hot toaster oven door (in this case, a potato masher).

Remove nuggets by flipping from oven to plate with one finger.

Close toaster oven door with your implement.

You certainly don’t want to touch the dials with your hands.

Mark’s secret! Cut each nugget in half so it seems like you have twice as many!

This step is very important, according to Mark. GROSSLY over-salt your probably already-salty nuggets.

Apply ketchup to plate.

Add hot sauce to ketchup.

Mix ketchup and hot sauce with finger.



Wash down.

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Using-Up-Leftover-Pasta Salad

It’s late. I just spent in inordinate amount of time writing up the pizza dough post below, in fact, I worked right through “making dinner” time. This is highly unusual: I’ve been known to spend three hours making dinner on a week night. 11:30 is too late to embark on a 3-hour culinary journey, even for me, and even on a Friday night. My husband, Mark, said he’d happily eat the frozen vegan “nuggets” I picked up at Trader Joe’s tonight for just such an emergency. I buy as little processed and frozen food as I possibly can, so I wasn’t necessarily expecting the nuggets to be gone in a matter of hours; usually that type of stuff sits in the freezer for months. I’m also embarrassed to admit to eating such a thing on my second day of having a food blog. Trust me, this is NOT a normal dinner night here! If I’m too tired to cook, I either cook something super easy (usually noodles) or we go out to eat. But I’m barely hungry at all tonight for some reason AND it is nearly midnight, so frozen nuggets it is for Mark.

What I DID do, however, is whip up a quick pasta salad to accompany the nuggets, using some leftover pasta from the other night. And I figured, what the heck, I’d photograph it and post an honest-to-god recipe for y’all so I don’t look like such a food blogger poseur!

I have to alert you that I can probably count the number of times I’ve eaten pasta salad on my fingers and toes. It’s not something I often make, or have ever made. So I’m no critic of a good pasta salad. But it ended up being a nice, light dinner or side dish.

Also, I don’t measure when I cook, so all measurements I post in original recipes are wild approximations of what I think I may have thrown in. Please adjust to your own taste. In fact, this is the other reason I’ve been reluctant to start a food blog. I cook a lot, often without a recipe, but I’m very imprecise, and half the time I don’t remember what I did. Hopefully taking pictures as I go along will help me as much as it helps you!

Using-Up-Leftover-Pasta Salad

2 cups cooked pasta, such as penne
1/2 can (or about 6 frozen) artichoke hearts in water (if using marinated, omit or cut back on the olive oil), chopped
1/2 can diced tomatoes (or 1 large tomato, chopped)
2 Tbsp Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix
1 Tbsp olive oil
basil, either several leaves, shredded, or 1 tsp dry, or 2 small cubes frozen
1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
capers, optional

Mix all ingredients together. Chill for a little while to allow flavors to meld.

It’s not pretty, but here’s the finished product:

minus about 1 1/2 tsp capers I mixed in after opening the refrigerator and seeing the capers.

An outtake from the photo shoot (I told you you’d be seeing a lot of Tigger):

Those two handsome fellas between the vinegar and the olive oil are my Peugeot salt and pepper grinders, which my cats (with my husband’s help, apparently) bought me. They are electric. They symbolize the depths to which I am a total kitchen appliance junkie. I love them so much.

The strange object Tigger is checking out is a cube of frozen basil that I got at Trader Joe’s. I’ve killed another basil plant. Killing plants is a hobby of mine. I don’t always have fresh basil on hand, as much as I loooooooove it, so when I saw these frozen cubes I snapped them up, figuring it had to be better than dried. They’re pretty nice. No substitute for fresh, but they have decent flavor. They also have cilantro, which is another herb I always wish I had on hand but manage to kill on a regular basis.

There’s a lemon in the photo because I thought I might use it when I was assembling potential ingredients, but then I decided the vinegar made it tangy enough.

Oh, and as for that “Uncheese Mix”? AWESOME on popcorn. That’s pretty much why I keep it on hand!


Pizza Dough

In my previous post I discussed a new vegan cheese that is good for everyone’s favorite meal: pizza! Since I had to mix up some pizza dough tonight, I figured I would photograph it as I went along to share with you here. This led my husband to ask if this was going to turn into a pizza blog. That’s not really my intent, although I sure love pizza. I’ve been threatening to get the How to Make Soy Milk and Tofu posts up soon, so if you are really strange and hate pizza, don’t go away! In the meantime, though, let’s talk pizza.

First of all, I have to apologize for the fact that I can’t post my pizza dough recipe, which I realize is really lame. I feel like I’m off to a weird start; I was thinking that people who came across the blog yesterday and didn’t read my Teese post carefully might think I work for Teese and just slapped this together to advertise for them, which is another reason I thought I’d better get some more posts up. I promise I will have recipes for you very soon, but I only want to post original recipes unless I am sure the author of the recipe I am posting is okay with it being shared. The pizza dough I make is from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and I have to tell you, I am a total fangirl of Peter Reinhart and I don’t want to piss him off. I think he’s actually an extremely nice individual, but nonetheless I’m not taking any chances on making him sad. But if you have ANY interest in bread baking, please, please, please buy this book. And then buy his new Whole Grains book. Even if you are too scared to bake your own bread (although you shouldn’t be; if I can do it, you can too!), the pizza dough is really, really easy if you have a stand mixer and is worth the cost of the book alone. Any one of the recipes in it is worth the cost of the book (although as a vegan there are some I’ve never tried).

Now, that said, I’ll be hypocritical and alert you that you CAN find the same recipe I use here. But I’m telling you the book is worth it! What I will share with you, though, is my thoughts on keeping your household in homemade pizza. Peter’s recipe makes 6 individual-sized pizzas and it freezes wonderfully. So what I do is mix up two batches – one using high gluten white flour and one using white whole wheat flour – at a time. The dough has to rest at least overnight, so I usually do this on a Friday night, like tonight, and then pop one serving of white dough and one serving of whole wheat dough in the refrigerator for use at some point during the weekend and then freeze the rest. Then on subsequent Friday nights I take one of each type out of the freezer and put them in the refrigerator to thaw. That way they are ready at any point for a (relatively) quick meal. I bake both up, cut each in half and my husband and I get half of each; that way we each get the wholesomeness of the whole wheat and the decadence of the white. I’ll talk more about that later. For now, here are some photos!

Gathering the Ingredients

I’m a big fan of mise en place, although with so few ingredients, it’s not a big deal here. It’s just flour, salt, yeast, water, and optionally olive oil. The problem with mise en place at my house is it often attracts my cat. Meet Tigger. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, I’m sure.

Note the scale. Peter gives his recipes in volume and weight. If you’re a casual baker or not sure if you are really going to make your own pizza dough or bread more than once, go ahead and use the volume measurements, but if you are at all interested in baking more often, please get a scale. It’s faster and far more accurate.

Mixing the Ingredients

You’ll be stirring together the dry ingredients, then the olive oil if you are using it. The water goes in last. Although I fill my measuring cup to a little above the proper line, I weigh my water on the scale as well because I’ve found the lines on the cup are pretty inaccurate, and the amount of water in bread and pizza dough is crucial. After adding the water, you want to mix just to bring it all together. That funny looking thing is a dough whisk which I use in lieu of the mixer’s paddle attachment suggested by Peter (yes, we’re on a first name basis), because I find it annoying to switch attachments. And also because I have a serious problem when it comes to King Arthur Flour’s store. A sturdy spoon will work just as well though.

Mixing the Dough

One of the goals I have for this blog is improving my food photography skills. I read a lot of great food blogs with incredible pictures, and although I’ve long been interested in photography, I’m horrible at photographing food. This is actually a reason it’s taken this long for my husband to convince me to get this blog going. So, um, apologies for the photography but it is NOT easy to photograph the interior of the mixer bowl while it’s mixing! The reason I couldn’t stop the mixer to take the picture is the dough would look a lot different if the mixer wasn’t working. The dough should be so wet that if the mixer stops, it looks like a sloppy mess, but as the mixer is working, it should come together on the hook, clearing the sides of the bowl but sticking to the bottom. Unfortunately I couldn’t angle the camera well enough to show you the bottom of the bowl. I am kind of short.

Note: if you are making two batches of dough as I did, mix up the second batch while the mixer is kneading the first!

The Mixed Dough

When the dough is clearing the sides of the bowl and is silky and smooth, dust your work surface liberally with flour and dump the dough out onto the flour. You may need to scrape it out with a dough scraper (if you have a baking tool obsession) or spatula (if you don’t). If it is too sticky to work with, roll it around lightly in the flour. Now it looks like this:

Dividing the Dough

Peter’s recipe makes six individual-sized pizzas, so use a bench scraper (or a knife) to cut it into six equal pieces. When I make rolls, I weigh each piece on the scale to ensure they are all exactly the same size, but with pizza crusts, I just eyeball it.

Rounding the Pieces

Next, take each divided piece and round it into a ball. To do this, cup your hands over it and sort of push down and under, while turning the dough around in a circle. You just want to form a ball with a little bit of surface tension.

Storing the Dough

Now here’s the part I DON’T want you to follow me on. I store my dough in recycled plastic containers, Tofutti cream cheese (because I also love the bagel recipe in Peter’s book!) and sour cream containers to be exact. They are the perfect size for this, however, I do NOT advocate storing food, especially long term, in plastic containers, especially the type of plastic meant for “single use”, and also I don’t like plastic at all in the first place. In fact, I’m open to any suggestions readers might have, although I will probably end up buying some Pyrex bowls, which I already use to store my homemade ice cream, for this purpose. So pretend you don’t see the Tofutti logo on my containers and use your imagination to come up with something better to store your dough in. But for the sake of honesty and so you can see the size container you should be looking for, here is what my dough looks like when ready for the freezer or refrigerator:

Now, I mentioned that I make a second batch of the dough using white whole wheat flour. Whole wheat pizza dough is a bit of a holy grail among whole wheat aficionados. I know I sound like I’m in love with Peter Reinhart, but if you are one of those people who has tried making whole wheat pizza crusts and gotten really depressed about how cardboard-y and un-pizza-y they turned out, well, Peter Reinhart HAS SOLVED ALL YOUR PROBLEMS. Both his whole wheat and multi-grain crusts, from his Whole Grains book, are AMAZING! The only problem is they do not freeze nearly as well as the dough made from white flour. I have frozen the whole grain versions and while the thawed dough made a delicious pizza, the dough will never be nearly as supple and nice as it was before freezing…and his whole grain doughs are amazingly supple when not being abused by freezing them. So what I do instead is sub white whole wheat flour for the white flour in the Napoletana recipe, which makes a really nice dough and crust, and freezes better. The white dough does freeze nicer than the wheat, but I honestly sometimes can’t tell the difference between the two after taking them out of the oven. So here is the white whole wheat dough after mixing:

And here it is shaped:

So that’s my guide to pizza dough. I’ll have a post up soon about baking the pizza, and I’ll give you my (extremely easy and simple) pizza sauce recipe (please don’t buy prepared pizza sauce). You’ll have to wait because pizza crusts can’t be made in a day! (Well, they can, but they aren’t nearly as good.)

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Teese – the melting vegan cheese!

Vegan “cheese” has long been the bane of vegans everywhere. It’s generally nasty, tasteless, non-melting garbage. Considering that statistics show* that pizza is the #1 food that vegans miss from their omnivore or lacto-ovo days, this state of affairs is a sorry mess.

The first problem with vegan cheese is that much of what appears to be vegan cheese is not, in fact, vegan. Most of your “soy cheeses” contain the dreaded casein, a milk protein. This is unfortunate because well-meaning friends and relatives often purchase these soy cheeses thinking they are vegan, and grocery stores stock it, mistakenly believing they are serving the vegan community. The great thing about casein in regards to soy cheese appears to be that casein makes soy cheese melt. Sort of, anyway. I don’t know as I don’t eat casein or casein-containing soy cheeses, but that’s what I’ve heard.

A few years ago, Follow Your Heart came out with their Vegan Gourmet cheese, which for a while was the best we had. It was soft and kinda sorta melted. You could make a “cheese” pizza with it that wouldn’t make you gag, but it wasn’t earth-shattering. Another brand, Vegan Rella, grated well and even melted somewhat well on pizza, but stuck to the roof of your mouth.

Then last year on a trip to London (from our home in the US), my husband and I got to try the much-hyped Cheezly, which I picked up for a couple of pounds at the UK version of Whole Foods, which I call Fresh & Fancy although that isn’t really its name. Cheezly is AMAZING. We ate the mature white cheddar flavor straight up on crackers! No one eats vegan cheese plain like that, because it’s usually disgusting! When we returned home, I immediately began begging all of the Whole Foods in my area to carry Cheezly, but so far I don’t believe they have a regular distributor in the US. The only place to get it that I know of is Vegan Essentials, where it not only costs an arm and a leg, but for best results, you really need to buy a cold pack shipper and pay for 2nd day air (at least if you live on the opposite coast, as I do). I will say, however, that Cheezly is worth all that. The mozzarella makes a perfect vegan cheese pizza, and the cheddar is still good on crackers, and also on pizza. It’s sort of outrageously expensive, but then I saw the price of some real mozzarella, the good stuff, at Wegman’s and realized I’m such a food snob I’d probably be spending the same amount on real cheese if I weren’t vegan.

This post isn’t about the amazing Cheezly, however. (Although maybe I will write one of those later.) This is about a new American vegan cheese that is almost as good: Teese! Teese is brand new and I ordered a sample of it from their website a couple of weeks ago. It arrived last Saturday and I tested it the only proper way I know on Sunday: on pizza. In the very short time since I ordered mine, it seems they’ve stopped processing orders through their website and Teese is now available from the aforementioned Vegan Essentials and Pangea (which is awesome for me because Pangea is driving distance from my home).

Teese has a somewhat different consistency than any other vegan cheese I’ve encountered, in fact, it seems to be a lot like real mozzarella:

Please bear in mind, however, that I have never purchased high quality dairy mozzarella since I’ve been vegan for much longer than I’ve been more affluent than “dirt poor”, so I’m not a good judge of how mozzarella-y this stuff really is.

But therefore, unlike other “cheeses” that I’ve grated, Teese I just sort of crumbled onto my pizza:

I bake my pizzas as hot as my oven will go, 550 F, which means they are only in for about 5 minutes. Some vegan cheeses, if they melt at all, take a lot longer than that to do so. Not Teese! After about 2 minutes, it was clear Teese was very comfortable with high temperatures and fast baking times:

Out of the oven, my Teese pizza looked amazing!

If anything, my husband said it melted too much:

And most importantly, how did it taste? Quite good! The husband and I agreed it was not quite as good as our beloved Cheezly, but if we hadn’t been spoiled by Cheezly, I’d have been doing cartwheels! I don’t know exactly how much the the packages of Teese will weigh when Vegan Essentials gets them in, so I can’t compare it to directly Cheezly, but I usually make about four personal sized pizzas with each $8.49 package of Cheezly, and I’d expect I could make at least twice that with the size package of Teese I got for $7.49. My Teese package wasn’t marked in any way (being a “demo” version) and I didn’t weigh it. But it’s probably a much better buy. Teese only makes a mozzarella-type version right now, but I think they are working on a cheddar variety. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for that, and possibly begging my local health food stores to jump on the Teese bandwagon.

* In a survey I conducted in my head.

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