Archive forJune, 2008

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

I am still extremely busy. I got home late from work (although much earlier than my close-to-midnight arrival last night) tonight, so something fast was in order. I’d bought a couple of bunches of basil a few days ago, thinking I would make pesto, and at some point between then and now, I’d thought it would be fun to use sun-dried tomatoes in the pesto, which is exactly what I did. I’m skeptical about calling this “my” recipe because it’s a pretty standard pesto and adding sun-dried tomatoes is certainly not novel, but I’m suffering from lack of posts lately, so I’m putting it up anyway! Toss this with pasta and you can have a meal ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted in hot water (if using oil-packed, cut back on the olive oil a bit)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt

Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in hot water until soft (5 minutes or so):

Place all ingredients in a blender.

Blend until smooth.

To serve with pasta as I did, place pasta into a bowl, put a heaping tablespoon-sized dollop of pesto upon it, and dribble a little of the pasta-cooking water over it (I scooped some out with a Pyrex measuring cup before dumping into the colander), then stir everything together.

With a glass of much-deserved wine, this was a very fast but elegant way to wind down. I encountered a lot of interference on the way, though, I must confess. See, Tigger LOVES nutritional yeast; if I so much as go near it, he sinks his claws into my arm and drags me closer to him, head-butting me and meowing. So when I wanted to take a picture of it, he, of course, had to involve himself.

Look at his tongue!

And do you think I learned my lesson the first time and gave him some when he demanded it?

No, I did not.

Yes, I finally caved in and gave the poor, neglected cat what he so badly desired:

Then, while setting up the shot of the plated meal, the mischievous tomato-loving Mark seemed determined to ruin my decorative garnish:

Finally I sat down to eat with my book (the new Salman Rushdie, if you’re curious) and was immediately bombarded with Brachtune’s face directly in mine.

You can actually see my bowl of pasta reflected in her eyes!

But I don’t know, there are worse ways to end a day than in the company of Rushdie, Brachtune, and a big glass of wine, so I won’t complain.

And the pesto must have been good because I caught Mark dipping the extra tomato wedges into the leftover pesto after cleaning his bowl!

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I’ve been busy

Ugh, I’ve been so busy this week, particularly this weekend. I’ve barely been in the kitchen at all. Late tonight I did start making something I’ll be sharing with you later this week, but it takes several days to make. It involves this:

More later.

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Tempeh Reubens

Back when we lived in Baltimore, our favorite bar was Club Charles (affectionately known as Club Chuck), the world’s best dive bar, frequented by John Waters and quintessentially Baltimore. When the owner of Club Chuck bought the building next to Club Chuck and turned it into a vegan-friendly restaurant called the Zodiac, I was deliriously happy. The Zodiac used to have really cheap, really good food, including a tempeh reuben that I loved. Then a new chef came in and suddenly the reuben was gone from the menu, never to return, and the prices about doubled on everything else. We still go to the Zodiac when we need something late at night and are planning to hit the Chuck anyway, but I usually grumble about missing the good old cheap tempeh reuben days.

Fortunately I then discovered the vegan reubens at Liquid Earth, a cute little juice bar and restaurant in Fells Point. I generally scarf down two entire reubens whenever I’m in the city. I think the reuben on the menu is not vegan, but you can ask for a vegan version. I’ve heard the Liquid Earth vegan reuben even made an appearance on Homicide once, but I never saw the show. The Liquid Earth vegan reuben, although absolutely delicious, is not a tempeh reuben. When I haven’t been to Baltimore in a while and am in need of a reuben, however, I make tempeh reubens at home.

I should confess I’ve never actually eaten a “real” reuben, so I can’t compare the taste. But I don’t know what’s not to love about rye bread, sauerkraut, and tempeh. And today when I was wondering how to showcase my first successful batch of homemade tempeh, either Mark or my visiting best friend, Fortinbras, suggested reubens. Because they are yummy!

First, make the Thousand Island Dressing, because it needs time to chill.

Thousand Island Dressing

1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Vegenaise
2 Tbsp minced shallot or onion
1 Tbsp sweet relish
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/8 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp Indian black salt (optional) – I added this because Thousand Island Dressing traditionally contains hard boiled eggs

Mix all of the ingredients together and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Tempeh Reubens

For two sandwiches,

4 slices rye bread
1/2 package tempeh, sliced in half
1 cup sauerkraut
1/4 cup Thousand Island dressing
2 slices vegan cheese – honestly, the “cheese” is the least interesting part to me and if you can’t find a good brand, you might as well just omit it

By the way, do YOUR cats love to eat plastic? Mine do and it drives me crazy!

If your tempeh is uncooked, steam it for 20 minutes. I do this in a wok:

After steaming the tempeh, heat a skillet or cast iron frying pan up, add a little bit of oil, then fry the tempeh on both sides until slightly brown and crispy:

While the tempeh is frying, set up your sandwiches. Swipe one side of each piece of bread with the dressing, then top one slice with the sliced “cheese” if using and the other with some sauerkraut:

The tempeh will look something like this when ready:

Place on one of the bread slices …

… then grill. I used my George Foreman, but you can also grill them in a pan or under the broiler.

They’re ready when they are golden brown on both sides:

Serve with a pickle on the side and enjoy:

In other news, Fortinbras won Tigger a Scooby Doo doll at the fair last night because he loves Tigger.

That’s as much of that story as you’re getting, I’m afraid. I can tell you, however, that Joan Jett does not give a damn about her bad reputation.

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Making tempeh

When I first started making tofu last year, I included a tempeh starter with my first order of tofu coagulants. Unfortunately, although making tofu came naturally to me and I considered the result perfect on the first attempt, I had a lot of trouble when I tried to make tempeh. The first problem is you have to crack and hull the soy beans, a process I found tedious and annoying. Most instructions I’ve found say that after soaking the soy beans for 8 hours, you should rub them, squeezing each one between your thumb and forefinger in order to remove the skin and break the soybean in half. If you do this under water, the skins should float to the top of the container and you can just push them out. Not only did I have problems with the skins magically floating away on their own, but my hand ached after nearly an hour of soybean rubbing. I attempted to incubate the tempeh using a food dehydrator, but despite my best efforts to keep the temperature as close to 88 degrees Fahrenheit as possible, I think it got too hot and the tempeh didn’t look right. I threw it away.

The horrible process of dealing with the soybeans made me shy away from further tempeh attempts, until last weekend when I was looking at my favorite kitchen appliance and I realized I could use the mixie to crack the soy beans when dry. If I didn’t have to rub every individual soy bean, I was willing to try to deal with the hulls again.

So I fitted the mixie with the dry grinder attachment (which is not the attachment shown in the photo) and put some dry soy beans in it …

… and pulsed it several times until most of the soy beans had been cracked.

I was then very happy to find that the hulls actually floated better this time around and I was able to simply float most of them off this time:

After removing as many of the hulls as I could (but not driving myself crazy over removing every last one of them), I drained the water …

… then soaked them overnight. In the morning, I rubbed them a little bit to force any remaining hulls to float up, and skimmed off the few that I found.

Then I drained them again, put them into a pot, covered them with water and a tablespoon of vinegar and cooked them for half an hour. While they were cooking, I prepared a ziploc bag by piercing it all over with a thick needle at 1/2″ intervals, which is probably next to impossible to see in the photo.

After cooking, I drained them a final time and returned them to the pot, where I put them over medium-low heat and stirred for about 5 minutes, to thoroughly dry them. It seems that trying to incubate wet beans is a recipe for disaster. I’ve also seen it suggested to dry them in a towel. Heating in the pot seemed a lot easier.

Next I mixed in the tempeh starter. Tempeh starter is a mold called Rhizopus oligosporus. I purchased it from GEM Cultures, the same people I recommended for tofu coagulants. (And yes, I’ve been eyeing up those miso and soy sauce starters because I’m just crazy enough to make my own miso and soy sauce.) If you are interested in making tempeh, I don’t think there are any easy-to-find substitutes for the tempeh starter, like Epsom salts and vinegar for tofu coagulants. Here’s what the starter looks like:

The amount to use is one teaspoon per pound of dry soybeans. Because I failed the first few times I tried to make tempeh, I started using only 4 ounces of soy beans per attempt, so I used 1/4 teaspoon. This resulted in about the same amount of tempeh found in a commercial package (12 ounces), which is a good amount for Mark and me. I’ll probably use 8 ounces next time and freeze half after it’s made. Anyway, stir the starter in very well to ensure it is equally distributed.

Place the soy beans into the prepared Ziploc bag. You can fit 8 ounces of dry soy beans (after cooking) into each standard-sized Ziploc bag. Lay the bag flat and make sure the soy beans are equally distributed, and that the layer is not thicker than 3/4″.

Your next challenge is to keep the soy beans at about 88 degrees Fahrenheit for about 24 hours. This was something else I struggled with. I thought about leaving them outside yesterday but at 100 degrees, it may actually have been too hot! Plus I wanted to come up with a method I can use no matter the weather. What finally worked for me was putting the soy beans on a wok steamer nestled into a yogurt maker, the lid of which I kept partially on for the first 12 hours then removed. After 12 hours, the tempeh will begin generating its own heat, which you’ll want to compensate for. Here’s my contraption:

When the tempeh is done, it will have congealed together and somewhat disconcertingly be covered in white and black mold:

Here’s a cutaway picture:

My next goal is to think of an alternative to the Ziploc bag. I had to cut it away in order to remove the tempeh without breaking it, so I won’t be able to re-use it as I’d hoped. Although it’s still less packaging than buying tempeh, I’d really like to devise a more Earth-friendly method. I believe banana leaves were traditionally used in Indonesia, from whence tempeh originates, so I may see what kind of leaves I can find at the Asian market.

Incidentally, I read somewhere that although Indonesian tempeh contains the elusive vitamin B-12, pre-packaged Western-made tempeh is too “pure” to contain it (unless it is artificially added). However, the article further stated that people who make homemade tempeh probably end up “contaminating” it enough that it will contain B-12. I’ll have to see if I can back that up, although even if it’s true, you’ll never be able to control the amount of B-12 and should not consider homemade tempeh a reliable source of B-12. You can, however, consider it delicious.

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Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce

It’s nearly 100 degrees here today and I decided to make something a little more weather-appropriate than a creamy soup in a bread bowl. It may not technically be summer quite yet, but it sure feels like it, so I made summer rolls. I just used ingredients I had around the house; in addition to the rice vermicelli, you can really use any veggie that you can julienne or shred. If I’d had any, I’d also have included shredded daikon. The essential part is the rice paper wrappers. I seem to always throw at least one esoteric ingredient at you, don’t I? They are easily available in Asian groceries. They are clear, brittle, and about the size of a small dinner or a dessert plate. The quantities called for below made 8 rolls.

Summer Rolls

4 oz rice vermicelli
1 large carrot, shredded or julienned
1/2 red pepper, julienned
1/4 cucumber, peeled and julienned
2 leaves Savoy or Napa cabbage, shredded
fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, and mint (I used Thai basil, Vietnamese cilantro, and mint, because that’s what I haven’t yet killed in my herb garden)
rice paper wrappers
peanut sauce for dipping (recipe follows)

Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the rice vermicelli for about 3 minutes or until soft. Drain and run under cold water. Using kitchen shears, snip into smaller lengths. Prepare all other ingredients by shredding or julienning. Create an assembly line of sorts by arranging a large bowl of warm water, all of the ingredients in individual bowls, and a plate on which to place finished rolls.

Remove one rice paper wrapper from the package and place in the bowl of warm water. It will soften after about a minute, at which time you should remove it and place it on your work surface. Place a second wrapper in the bowl of water so it will be soft after you’ve finished rolling the first roll. Mound some rice vermicelli in a pile on the lower third of the wrapper, as shown in the photo. Because the wrappers are clear, they are kind of hard to see in the picture, but it should be visible in the photo above.

Add each of the other ingredients, except the herbs, one by one. Try to lay julienned pieces in the direction of the “mound”, otherwise they will try to poke through the wrapper, which is a bit fragile, when rolling.

Rolling the summer roll is a bit like preparing a burrito. Fold the bottom edge up over the mound of ingredients:

Then fold each of the sides inwards:

Then start rolling upwards, trying to push the ingredients in tightly as you go along. After rolling the roll over on itself once, tuck some of the herbs in:

Then continue rolling up until finished. The idea is for the herbs to show through like this:

Here is the other side:

Serve with peanut sauce:

Peanut Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1/2 – 1 tsp sriracha sauce (to taste)
10 drops stevia or 1 Tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 1″ piece ginger, grated or minced

Whisk everything together.

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Broccoli “Cheez” Soup

My mother reminded me a couple of years ago that in college I was a big fan of broccoli cheese soup. I recalled that I’d order it for lunch from a restaurant near the record store I worked in and my mother would put cans of the Campbells variety in the care packages she made for me, but my favorite way to enjoy it was in bread bowls at the Renaissance Festival. So I decided to veganize this old favorite, which turned out to be very easy to do and very tasty!

I’ve been making this meal for a couple of years now, but why I chose one of the first days it feels as hot as summer – and Mark’s whining about the heat hasn’t yet turned so insistent that I agree to turn the air conditioning on – to make what is usually cold-weather comfort food, I do not know. But we ate it both Saturday and Sunday for dinner and Mark was disappointed when there were no seconds available on Sunday, so even if you live in a climate that’s currently turning to summer, don’t be disinclined to try it. Even if you want to serve it in bread bowls as I did and baking bread heats up your kitchen to some hellish temperature.

Broccoli Cheez Soup

1 large onion, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock or vegan “chicken” broth (I’ve used the “chicken” stock here despite the fact that it used to really piss me off when restaurants would use chicken stock in an otherwise vegetarian soup)
2 small or 1 large head of broccoli
1/2 recipe pimiento cheez

Chop the broccoli, including the stems. You don’t need to be neat about separating the florets because most of them will be pureed. Heat a large pot on medium heat, then warm a little bit of oil and add the onions.

Saute the onions until begining to turn brown.

(Mine look extra brown in places because it was at this time when I discovered I couldn’t reach my server and I was away from the kitchen for longer than I’d anticipated.)

Add the broccoli and the broth or stock.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until broccoli is very soft. Add the cheez.

Heat for 5 more minutes or until cheez is melted.

Puree, making it as smooth or chunky as you like.

As I’ve mentioned before, an immersion blender is great for this type of thing, however, if you are considering buying one, do NOT under any circumstances buy the Cuisinart CSB-77 Smart Stick Hand Blender. I have gone through TWO of them. They both worked for about 3 uses, then the blade stopped turning (the motor sounds fine). I can see what the problem is (two pieces of metal are not making contact as they should), but both of them had the same problem and neither one lasted a month. (If anyone wants to recommend another brand, please do so!)

If you don’t have an immersion blender, like me, suddenly, let the soup cool down before pureeing in batches in a blender or food processor. I know I stress this repeatedly, but do not put hot liquids into a blender, and even when blending warm liquids, fill the blender only half full. I pureed three batches and left a fourth un-pureed so I’d have some bits of broccoli floating around.

Serve in bread bowls.

Note: if you make a full batch of the pimiento cheez, one suggestion I have for the leftover cheez is to use it in a burrito, as I did for lunch today. I mashed up a can of pinto beans, added some of the leftover pimiento cheez and some salsa, and microwaved it for about 3 minutes. Roll up in a tortilla with chopped onions, leftover rice if you have any, and some hot sauce. Super-fast burrito!

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Bread Bowls – for soup or dips

Bread Bowls

I often use any bread recipe I’m into at the moment shaped into smaller loaves, but this time I made a bread bowl-specific recipe, which I found on The Fresh Loaf. The person who made the post says the recipe was “originally from KA”, which to bakers means King Arthur Flour. I substituted a cup of white whole wheat flour for one of the cups of all-purpose flour, which you don’t have to do.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups all-purpose and 1 cup white whole wheat)
1 cup semolina
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (this is the amount contained in one packet, if you buy your yeast that way)
1 Tbsp non-diastatic malt OR 2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water

Mix together all of the ingredients except the water, then add the water and mix until it forms a ball.

You can knead this by hand if you like, although I use a stand mixer. It will start off looking shaggy, then start to look smooth and supple:

When you have a nice, smooth ball like this:

… lightly mist a bowl with oil and put the dough into it:

Then put it somewhere warm to rise. I don’t get too worked up about the temperature when I’m letting dough rise, although I do put it in the warmest place in the house, which in this case was a sunny window:

Let the dough rise until it is doubled. How long this will take will depend on the temperature of the room; it will usually take 1 to 1 1/2 hours. It will then look like this:

The original recipe said to divide the dough into 5 pieces to make 5 “large” bread bowls, but not only is 5 an uneven number for my household of two, I was damn sure that wasn’t going to make 5 “large” bread bowls. I therefore weighed it …

… divided the weight by four, and then created four small rounds of equal weight. Place the four balls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment (I re-use parchment, which is why it looks dirty), or lightly oiled.

Cover lightly with a clean towel and place in a warm place to proof. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. I usually proof my dough on top of the stove when I’m preheating the oven; it gets really warm there (sometimes too warm, in which case I put it next to the stovetop instead of on it). Allow the rounds to almost double, then remove the towel and let them finish their proof out in the open for the last 10-15 minutes, which toughens the surface of the dough.

Spray the rounds heavily with water and bake for 18-22 minutes. (If you are doing 4 instead of 5, you’ll probably be at the longer side of this time.) Turn the oven off and prop the door open a bit and let the loaves sit for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and cool thoroughly on a rack before serving.

To serve, cut a cone shape out of the top, …

… then hollow out the insides (reserving the carved-out parts for dipping, or for another use such as croutons).

I need to remember to put bread items on something more contrasty before taking pictures.

Next up is something to put in the bread bowls!

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Pimiento Cheez

Being vegan is much easier now than it was just ten years ago. Ten years ago I barely knew how to cook, didn’t know any other vegans, and although I lived near a health food store in Baltimore, I didn’t really know what to do with the stuff I found there. I don’t think food blogs even existed. The internet has been a boon to vegans since then, though: not only are the online resources for vegans themselves immense, but a lot of people who might otherwise never have come across the concept of veganism are exposed to it online, which helps greatly when I, as a vegan, am later exposed to those people. Ten years ago when I told people I was vegan, the response I most often received was, “What’s a vegan?” (followed by an astonished, “But what DO you eat?”) Now I can go into a restaurant and ask if a particular dish is vegan and get an answer – without a puzzled look. A lot of restaurants use the term “vegan” right on their menus these days!

Back in the dark days of my early veganism, the first cookbook I bought was Simply Heavenly!.

As you can see, my copy of this book has been seriously abused. Entire sections of it have come unattached from the spine and there are food and water stains throughout. In particular, the “Dairy Substitutes” chapter is completely removable from the rest of the book due to being opened to that part so frequently, and is also caked in lord only knows what. Although I’ve gone on to purchase countless other vegan cookbooks, I don’t know what my life would have been like if Abbott Burke hadn’t told me early on how to make several varieties of “cheez”, seitan to taste like every meat imaginable, and everything else you can imagine – 1,400 recipes in all. Along the way, I learned to cook. I still consider myself a novice cook, but I’ve certainly progressed from the Spaghetti-Os and cheese sandwiches of my pre-vegan days.

Unfortunately Simply Heavenly! is long out of print – and used copies go for a pretty penny – which is why I will be sharing the following recipe with you. This “cheez” will be used in another recipe I will be providing later today or tomorrow, but I’ll give it its own post. The text below is from the cookbook.

Pimiento Cheez 2

This Cheez should not be grainy from the ground (blended) cashews. If this happens to yours, then you did not blend long enough or your blender lacks the power to do the job. We use a Vita-Mix, and it works perfectly. (Renae’s note: I use a Sumeet Asia Kitchen Machine, my undying love for which I’ll be discussing at some point.)

1/4 cup agar
1 cup water
3/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup pimientos
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
dash garlic powder
dash dill seed
1/2 tsp corn oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice

Soak the agar in water about 5 minutes …

… and boil gently until clear.

Not yet clear


Place the other ingredients, except the oil and lemon juice, in a blender …

… with the agar and whirl. Slowly add the oil. Add the lemon juice last.

Pour immediately into a mold and set in the refrigerator to cool.

The cookbook doesn’t provide an estimate of how long it will take to firm up, but it doesn’t take long, perhaps as little as 15 minutes. Mine doesn’t look too pretty unmolded because I was planning to just shred it up anyway, so I wasn’t too careful about smoothing it out.

You know it’s good because Tigger only sits on cookbooks of which he approves!

(That’s a total lie. Tigger is completely non-discerning about he sits on.)

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back in business

If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to access I Eat Food the last couple of days, it’s because my server hosting company experienced an explosion and a fire this weekend that brought down three walls of one of their data centers. I’m sure they are consequently dealing with a huge mess. According to their most recent update, some customers may experience further downtime this coming weekend as they install new equipment, and I’m not yet sure whether or not I am one of those affected. The good news is I’m told no one was injured in the fire, and for now, at least, we’re back in business.

The other good news is that the server being down didn’t prevent me from writing up a couple of new posts this weekend, which I will have up later tonight. In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for pictures of the cats.

Tigger plays with a toy sent to him by his grandmother (my mother).

Brachtune is ethereally beautiful, as always.


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