Archive forDecember, 2008

Quick and Easy Ginger Ale

I hope everyone has had a great holiday season, regardless of the holiday you choose to celebrate. Myself, I have been sick since Christmas evening, when the “too much sugar” diagnosis I gave myself in the car on the way home from the parental homestead turned out to be wrong, or more likely, not the full story, and now I have a full-blown something-or-other that is not going away. I haven’t been sick in years, so I was a little surprised by this. For nearly a week, I’ve been lying around the house doing nothing but reading. Fortunately, my aunt gave me a bunch of books for Christmas that have kept me busy, including two cookbooks (Vegan Planet, which I feel like I should have had for years and Real Food Daily), although it has been frustrating to lack the energy or the appetite to make any of the 40 or so things I’ve marked in both of the cookbooks. (I have managed to make the mac and cheese and the veggie quinoa soup from RFD, both of which were good; Mark really liked the mac and cheese.)

One of the few times I crave soda is when I am sick. I usually like either water or wine with my meals, and water throughout the day. Most soda disgusts me. I used to like Coke as much as the next person, but now I really only like ginger ale (and birch beer, which is very hard to find for some reason). And it has to be real ginger ale, with actual ginger in it. And it can’t be overly sweet. Mark got me this Grown-Up Soda ginger ale, which I like, to help me feel better, and that was great while the 4-pack lasted. But since I was feeling well enough yesterday to finally make it to the grocery store and pick up some seltzer water, I decided I’d make my own ginger ale, which I like even better, today.

I’ve been making this for a while and I think it is the perfect soda. Others seem to like it as well, although it’s definitely tailored to my tastes and is not nearly as sweet as people may be expecting when I offer them a “soda”. But this is only a basic formula: you can certainly add more sweetener if you prefer. The only downside to it, that I can see, is that currently I still have to buy seltzer in bottles because the antique seltzer bottle I found still doesn’t work, even after I got the missing part. I think I need to replace a gasket or something. It’s on my list of things to do. I once tried carbonating on my own with yeast and that was…bad. So bottled seltzer it is for now.

I’ve made the vanilla optional because you should only use it if you have access to Trader Joe’s brand vanilla, which is alcohol-free. You may be able to substitute vanilla paste or whole vanilla beans, although I don’t know the quantities you’d use for either. What you don’t want to do is use an alcohol-based vanilla extract. I tried it once and it was NASTY, and it wasn’t because I have anything against alcohol, because trust me, I don’t.

Quick and Easy Ginger Ale

3 cups water
1 piece of fresh ginger, about 4.5 – 5 ounces
1 cup agave nectar
2 1/2 Tbsp non-alcohol based vanilla flavoring (such as Trader Joe’s) (optional)

Roughly chop the ginger. You don’t have to peel it.

Place in a pot with the water. Begin heating over medium-high heat.

Measure the agave nectar …

… and add to the pot, as well as the vanilla flavoring if using.

Bring to a fairly rapid boil.

Reduce heat somewhat so the boiling doesn’t get out of control and let cook at a steady simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes or until reduced by about one third.

Get a strainer and a receptacle ready …

… and strain the contents of the pot into the receptacle.

Don’t throw away the leftover ginger; you can use it again – more on that in a bit.

You should have about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of ginger syrup.

Transfer to a refrigerator-friendly container. I don’t like plastic, but it’s all I had and was the perfect size…

Store the syrup in the refrigerator until you are ready to make a glass of ginger ale. To prepare a glass of ginger ale, place some ice cubes in a glass. I used a lot here because the syrup was still warm.

Add 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the ginger syrup.

Top off with seltzer water.


Garnish with a lime round if you’d like. I only had lemons. Limes are much more picturesque.

And enjoy! As for the leftover ginger pieces, as I mentioned you can re-use them. What I will do with them today is make ginger tea, which I like all of the time, but particularly when I’m not feeling well. I’ll just simmer the ginger pieces in about a cup and a half of water, with some agave nectar to taste, for about 15 minutes, then strain and drink as a tea, perhaps with some lemon.

Mark and I have a long-standing tradition in which one of us is always sick on New Year’s Eve. In our early years together, it was always me, because my body would revolt at the end of a semester of working full-time, going to school nearly full-time, and commuting a few hours a day. Once I graduated, I never got sick again (until now), so in the following years it was Mark’s turn to end up sick for New Year’s for one reason or another. This year, I guess because I’ve been thinking about, and preparing for, going back to school, the illness pendulum has swung back towards me. I bought a bottle of champagne in case I made a miraculous recovery today, but since Mark doesn’t like champagne and I’ve been too sick to make plans with anyone else to share it with and I don’t think people who desperately want to stop being sick should necessarily drink an entire bottle of champagne by themselves, it looks like I may be having ginger ale at midnight. It’s better than water anyway!

And on that note, I’d like to wish everyone a very merry new year! I have some plans for revamping this site in the new year – at a minimum finding or creating a theme that displays all the tags I’ve been meticulously applying to each post and which you can’t see. I hope 2009 finds you all happy and well-fed!

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Meet Hieronymus the Bosch and look at some pizza

Ugh, I’ve been so busy lately. I haven’t had time to be very creative in the kitchen, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce you to my early Christmas present from Smark: Hieronymus!

Hieronymus is an 800-watt Bosch Universal Plus Kitchen Machine. I asked for Hieronymus after killing two Kitchen Aid mixers in four years. When I first started getting into bread baking a few years ago, I came across recipes that called for 20 minutes of kneading and said, “no way!” I did a minimal amount of research and concluded everyone’s favorite Kitchen Aid would be good enough for my “kneads” (haha, you wouldn’t believe the mileage I’m getting out of that one lately), asked for one for Christmas and received it from my parents. And it did serve my needs for a while. I wish I had researched better or foreseen that I’d be making bigger, heavier batches of dough, because three years later the KA was dead, but as I told my mom (feeling pretty guilty that I’d killed my present in only 3 years when many people keep KA mixers for 20 years), I used it almost constantly in that time and I really solidified my seriousness about bread baking.

In a strange stroke of fate, the very day my original KA mixer gave up the ghost, my friend Lanet asked me if I knew anyone who needed a Kitchen Aid because she’d just upgraded hers although her old one was in perfect working order.

It took me only a year to kill Lanet’s mixer.

Kitchen Aids are simply not cut out for whole grain doughs or even large batches of white dough. What is cut out for whole grain and large batches of dough is the Bosch Universal Plus. Mark let me open the mixer as soon as it arrived even though it’s a Christmas present, because I was sad without a mixer. Plus Peter Reinhart is counting on me to test stuff! I immediately made two heavy loaves of whole grain bread and a dozen bagels. You may recall that in my bagel tutorial I said I had to knead the bagel dough in halves to avoid stressing out my mixer. Bagels are probably one of the #1 things that contributed to my mixer demise; they are a very stiff dough. My new best friend Hieronymus, however, kneaded the full batch with nary a complaint, in fact, I’m pretty sure he could have handled a double batch!

Hieronymus may look a little different than you are used to mixers looking. The drive shaft is located in the middle of the mixing bowl – which looks therefore a bit like a bundt pan – instead of separately, above it. This is the dough hook, which it comes with:

This gives the mixer a lower profile (fits better under counters) and means you can keep the ingredients completely contained during mixing (goodbye flour-covered counter tops!!), although it does make it a little awkward when removing sticky doughs after kneading. The pros outweigh the cons on that issue though.

It’s also not as noisy as my old mixer. I don’t have to pre-mix dough ingredients, I just weigh them, dump them in, and let the mixer bring them together into a ball. It’s SERIOUS about kneading and didn’t strain at all, no matter what I threw at it. Like six 12-ounce whole wheat pizza crusts. At once. Man, I love Hieronymus!! I’m completely enamored of this mixer.

Not only that, but the blender attachment came free with the package Mark got me. In fact, that’s what convinced me to switch from the DLX to the Bosch at the last minute and I do not regret the decision for a minute.

The Bosch was cheaper and I think probably easier to use (based on what I’ve read in many forums), and the blender is AWESOME! I’ve never used a Vita-Mix, but I’m willing to bet the blender on Hieronymus would give it a run for its money. My old favorite kitchen appliance was the mixie, but I’m afraid the Bosch is outdoing the faithful old mixie. I needed almond meal the other night. The dry grinder attachment on the mixie choked with just half a cup of almonds in it. I put two cups of almonds in the Bosch blender and in two seconds had perfectly ground almond meal. The blender can crack twice as many soy beans at a time as the mixie can, and it cracks them nicely. I haven’t tried making peanut butter in it yet, but if I can do that, I’m not sure what charm the mixie will have over me any more…. Poor mixie.

I REALLY researched the mixer I wanted this time. I’m on a lot of bread baking forums and mailing lists these days and the topic comes up often. Pleasant Hill Grain came up nearly as often as a great place to buy from, and if I’ve convinced you that you also need a more powerful mixer, I definitely recommend them. I was shocked to see the package arrive two days after Mark ordered it and that was with free shipping!

Do I sound like a commercial yet? I hate sounding like a commercial. But I really love my Christmas present and wanted to share!

And just so this isn’t a foodless post, here are some pictures of the pizza I made for dinner last night. I’m usually a very minimalist pizza topping person: I just like “cheese” pizzas, light on the cheese at that. But I had some rapini I needed to use up, so I sauteed it with some onions and garlic …

… added some red pepper strips for color and sweetness …

… and topped one of the whole wheat crusts I was telling you about:

I think vegan sausage would have been good on this particular pizza, too:


Homemade Sauerkraut

I’ve been wanting to make my own sauerkraut for quite some time now. It’s the perfect project for me: I love fermenting things, I love sauerkraut, Mark loves sauerkraut…really the question is why I haven’t been making sauerkraut for years. The following procedure makes about a gallon of sauerkraut and costs next to nothing.

How to Make Sauerkraut

2 heads of green cabbage, about 5 pounds total
kosher or other non-iodized salt

Can’t get simpler than that, no? You’ll also need a large (at least a gallon) jar or jug, which you’ll probably want to sanitize by running through the dishwasher just prior to using, or filling with boiling water for a few minutes.

Take each head of cabbage, wash it, and remove any yukky outer leaves.

Cut each cabbage into quarters.

Cut the core out of each quarter.

Grate each quarter. I found that a mandoline vastly expedited the grating process. Some of you may have grandparents with “kraut cutters”. It seems like a very grandparent thing to have. These are large mandoline-like apparatuses for grating cabbage for sauerkraut. Or you could try the far more modern approach of a food processor; I don’t have one so I can’t tell you how well they may grate cabbage.

Here is my grated cabbage:

You want to add non-iodized salt at the rate of 2% of the total cabbage weight. I was feeling rather metric the night I was making my sauerkraut – maybe I was feeling German – so you can see that I’ve measured 22 grams for half of my my 2,200 grams of cabbage (I only had a mixing bowl large enough to measure one head of the cabbage at a time). 2,200 grams of cabbage is just about 5 pounds for you Americans, and 22 grams of salt is about 3/4 of an ounce (so you’ll need 1.5 ounces of salt total). A lot of recipes I’ve seen online have called for between 2 and 4 Tbsp of salt for 5 pounds of cabbage, if you don’t have a scale. I’m so used to bread baking that I felt more comfortable weighing it. Salt is one of those things that varies drastically in weight from type to type and brand to brand.

Now in your clean jug or jar, add a layer of cabbage, then sprinkle some of the salt on it:

Continue adding layers in this manner:

Periodically tamp the cabbage down with a potato masher or similar implement.

You really want to press hard on the cabbage to it becomes quite compact …

… and begins to exude water:

Continue adding layers and periodically tamping until the cabbage and salt are all gone. Ideally you want the cabbage to be covered in its exuded water at the top. Place a plastic bag or other piece of plastic into the jar, entirely covering the cabbage (if you are using a wide-mouthed jug, you can use a plate or something instead). Then place a weight on top of the plastic. It’s not obvious from the photo, but on top of the plastic bag, there is a smaller, water-filled jar acting as my weight.

Place in a cool place for 3 weeks, checking periodically for any white scum that may form on the top and removing it if you see it. Apparently the white scum is harmless (just gross) and extremely common, however, I never saw any on my cabbage. I had made sure the cabbage was submerged in water and then completely covered by the plastic.

After three weeks, taste it. If it taste good and sour, it’s done. If not, let it sit a few more days and taste it again.

Here’s what it looked like when I opened it up:

Now a bonus recipe. This is how my mom prepares sauerkraut for holidays: To one pound of sauerkraut, add celery seed, butter, salt & pepper, and 2 slices of bacon cut into small pieces; cook for at least 30 minutes. I threw a very small dish of this together for tasting tonight, using Earth Balance and some vegan “bacon” bits (and microwaving for one minute).

Honestly, though, I didn’t like the bacon bits at all. Maybe it’s simply been too long since I’ve had it that way: at least 20 years now. And I don’t see any need for the Earth Balance. So I think I’ll just stick to the celery seed and salt & pepper. I also want to play around with other additions to the sauerkraut, both during the fermentation and afterwards. Stay tuned!

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Reusable Fabric Christmas Gift Bags

I swore last Christmas would be the last Christmas I used traditional wrapping paper for my holiday gifts and true to my word, I came up with a much better idea this year. I hate wrapping Christmas presents. I always think it’s only going to take me an hour or so and it ends up taking eight. Eight labor-intensive, boring, back-breaking hours I’d much rather spend cooking or reading, as much as I may love the recipients of those presents. Heck, I could be cooking them something instead. And although when we were kids my mom used to meticulously save wrapping paper to use year after year, we’ve gotten lazy about it in recent years and I hate seeing all that paper go to waste. So this year I decided to make fabric gift bags instead. They are just as pretty as gifts wrapped in paper and didn’t take any more time. And the best part is it will take substantially less time in subsequent years as I have to make fewer and fewer bags as I am able to reuse bags from prior years! I figure in two or three years it’ll take me about ten minutes to wrap all my gifts! Then I’ll kick back with some soy nog and listen to Christmas Wrapping 18,000 times in a row and be very happy.

The first step of making the gift bags was by far the hardest. I went to Jo-Anne Fabrics. Due to childhood trauma, I hate Jo-Anne’s. My mother made all of our clothes when we were kids and we were always being dragged to stupid Jo-Anne’s. It was awful and boring. Mark actually had the exact same trauma, so we commiserate about this. We both agree the only things to do at Jo-Anne’s were 1) hide in the middle of the circular fabric racks and 2) look at the Halloween costume pattern books, but neither of these things were interesting for more than five minutes, and if you’ve ever lived with a serious sewer, you know trips to the fabric store take closer to five hours. Mark’s mom bribed him with trips to the toy store after Jo-Anne’s. I was bribed with trips to the library. You’d think a kid could go the library without having to be tortured first. Anyway, I hate Jo-Anne’s to this day.

I didn’t inherit any of my mother’s sewing skills, unfortunately. Although I hated all the trying on of clothes I had to do as a kid (“walk away from me”, “now turn around and walk towards me”, “turn sideways”, “do a pirouette and then a handstand”), suffering through a thousand pins pricking me at the hemline, much later in life I realized I hate pretty much all manufactured clothing (and I’m small enough that frustratingly little of it fits me) and I wish I could make my own clothes. From time to time I attempt to do so. It generally goes badly very quickly. I have vague plans of either invading my mother’s house one week and forcing her to teach me how to sew (again – she did try when I was younger) or kidnapping my mother-in-law and making her do the same. Most of the times the sewing machine gets lugged out from its storage place, I end up whining to Mark that I hate sewing and that the only thing I’m good at is cooking so I’m going back to that and I stuff the sewing machine back in the closet and console myself with an elaborate feast.

Anyway, the point of all of this is, it is DEAD EASY to make these gift bags, and trust me, you don’t need any sewing skills other than knowing how to thread your sewing machine. I even imagine this would be a really good project for any child that is old enough to use a sewing machine. I, in fact, found myself wishing I had a kid I could task with it!

As I was saying, the worst part about this project is Jo-Anne’s. On those rare occasions I get the misguided notion in my head that I am going to sew something, I usually go to G Street Fabrics which is huge and there are always a myriad of people wanting to measure and cut my fabric for me. However, G Street is more expensive, further away, and closes earlier, so I went to Jo-Anne’s this time. And Jo-Anne’s did have some great deals on holiday fabrics, like 2 yards for $5. Of course there was only one person cutting fabric and despite the fact that I was the second person in line and the one person in front of me only had one fabric, it still took 15 minutes. I had anticipated this and taken a book in, though. Seriously. I really did stand in line and read my book. Jo-Anne’s is dumb.

So anyway, step one: get a bunch of cheap, garish fabric. I bet it will be even cheaper in January. Cotton is definitely best and easiest to work with. Also make sure you have a lot of thread. And some grosgrain ribbon to match the fabric.

Step two is to cut the fabric into rectangles large enough to cover your gift. I find it infinitely easier to use a rotary cutter for this type of project, mostly because I can’t cut in a straight line. What I did was fold the fabric in half, place it on my cutting mat, place a gift on it …

… then cut around it, leaving a few inches on the sides and bottom and a bit more on the top:

Note: At Swim Two-Birds is a decoy gift! Many of my gift recipients read this blog and I can hear them all now thinking, “man, I hope I’m not the poor sap getting that gift”. Their loss, though, it’s a great book.

For many of my bags, including the one I will be depicting here, the fourth side was on the fold of the fabric. This meant I only had to sew up two sides instead of three. If you included the fold in your cut, unfold the fabric and hem the entire top side. If you have two separate pieces, hem the top of each. I just estimated an inch or so, folded it down and started pinning. My mother will surely be appalled by this when she reads this and realizes I didn’t measure and make sure it was uniform. Sorry, Mom. It’s just a gift bag.

After pinning, sew the hem, close to the raw edge. I imagine my mother would instruct you to do a lot of folding the raw edge under, pressing, folding again, pressing again, ad nauseum, but you’re in luck because I hate irons. Also, it’s just a gift bag.

Here is the finished seam. Remember, if you have two halves instead of one folded piece, you will do this for each half.

If you have one piece, fold it in half, right sides together, hemmed seam at the top. If you have two pieces, place right sides together, hemmed seams together at the top.

Pin the two raw sides together for folded bags, or three for two-pieced bags.

Sew the seams. Use whatever you feel comfortable with as a seam allowance. Heck, I can’t even sew in a straight line. It’s just a gift bag. (My mother is probably rolling her eyes at my incompetence and laissez faire attitude by this point.)

Here’s the bag all sewn up:

Turn it right side out.

Slide the gift inside.

Tie the bag closed at the top with a length of ribbon. Ta-da!

As for gift tags, Jo-Anne’s had these wooden ornaments for 49 cents each:

I figured they’d make good reusable gift tags I can save from year to year, although for people outside the family from whom I couldn’t reasonably demand my tags back, they could then double as an ornament after being used as a tag.

Here’s the tag on the bag:

(Would you believe I also made those stripy pillows?! I’m a sewing genius!)

I only bought a limited number of the wooden ornaments, so for other gifts, I’ll use cut-up bits of old Christmas cards or printed photos, or something like that.

As for the bags themselves, if the recipients want to keep them, of course they can, and I hope they’ll use them next year. Then I’ll get some back and use them following year, etc. I figure they’ll just circulate through the family, and I’ll make more each year until we have enough to cover just about every size and shape of gift.

In food news, I’ve been on Fortinbras to get cracking on his holiday baking post. He says he’s started writing it, which means it’ll be done sometime in March. Of 2012. In the meantime, since it probably won’t dawn on Fort to include pictures of the cats, I’ll give you this photo of Tigger, which Fort exclaimed “looks like a heart”. And which therefore sums up my feelings for Tigger.

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Harissa-Flavored “Chicken” with Couscous

I’m sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been working late nearly every night (I haven’t been working more than usual, I’ve just been too lazy to get out of bed at a decent hour!), I’ve been buying and “wrapping” Christmas gifts, and I’ve been thinking about going back to school and consequently studying for the GRE. I haven’t been spending as much time as I like in the kitchen, I’m afraid. I did spend all day on Saturday in the kitchen, helping my best friend Fortinbras bake cookies and focaccia for his family and I took a million pictures, but Fortinbras is actually going to write up a guest post for that entry – and share his delicious peanut butter cookie recipe – so we need to wait until he’s sufficiently motivated to do it. I’m sure it will be hilarious – he is an extremely entertaining individual – and worth the wait.

As I was driving home from work tonight, among a million other things I had to think about, I was pondering what very quick meal I could make, preferably one that would yield leftovers for lunch tomorrow and decided that couscous was in order. With just that to go on, I ended up whipping up something that was very fast, quite delicious, and dead easy. Once again, I hadn’t intended to post it because I was starving and just wanted to get it made and in my stomach, but then I got the camera out to shoot my first taste of my homemade sauerkraut (it’s been three weeks today!) and realized it would only take a couple of minutes to photograph what I was making for dinner and then I could put the recipe up if it turned out. Which it did, so I will. (The sauerkraut was fine, but that’s a post for tomorrow or Wednesday.)

Harissa-Flavored “Chicken” with Couscous

2 cups Soy Curls
1 1/2 cups vegan “chicken” stock”
1 small or 1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 red chili pepper, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas
1 1/2 Tbsp harissa seasoning (I have a dry harissa seasoning that I thought I got at Penzey’s but now I don’t see it on their website so maybe I got it elsewhere, or just use the more common harissa paste or sauce, to taste)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the “chicken” broth to nearly boiling, add the Soy Curls, and cover for 5 minutes or until Soy Curls are soft. Drain, reserving the broth.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and fry for 5 minutes or until beginning to take on a golden color.

Add the garlic and chili pepper. Fry for another minute.

Add the bell pepper and fry for two minutes. (This step is not pictured because the bell pepper I used was already sauteed by Fortinbras on Saturday for focaccia and leftover in my refrigerator, so I added it later.) Add the Soy Curls and fry for a few minutes.

Add the chickpeas and reserved broth.

Stir in the harissa, cumin, and cinnamon. I also added my pre-sauteed bell peppers at this point.

Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5-10 minutes or until broth is almost completely reduced. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with couscous. For the couscous, I used Isreali, which is much larger than ordinary couscous. I basically followed the cooking instructions in Veganomicon, but instead of the apricots and pistachios (neither of which I had on hand), I mixed in some tomatoes that I had leftover and needed to use up and some green bell pepper pieces, as well as salt and pepper. It was very Christmasy.

This was really good and done within half an hour, which by my standards is pretty fast. I was also doing a bunch of other things at the same time, like feeding the cats, tasting my sauerkraut, etc., so the half hour cooking time seemed like nothing. I will definitely make this again when I need a very fast, easy, filling meal. Mark was on a call for work when I served it, so I didn’t get a statement from him about the taste, however, he did gesture his approval and got seconds when no one on the call was talking to him. Brachtune filled in for him while he was away from the phone. (Brachtune enjoys talking to people on speaker phone. Our cuckoo clock also likes to go off at inopportune times when we are on work calls. It’s like a circus over here sometimes.) I also have plenty for a tasty lunch tomorrow!

Now I’m off to go harass Fortinbras about making his post…

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Quick & Easy Udon in a Ginger-Peanut Sauce

Udon is a frequent meal when I’ve been working late. Not only is it very quick and easy, but in a lot of incarnations it is served at room temperature, which means I can run around feeding the cats and taking care of other chores while I’m making dinner, without worrying too much about timing. By the time I sit down to dinner, I like to be done with everything I have to do for the day and simply relax. This meal was very much improvised, so the measurements given are even more “suggestions only” than usual.

Easy Udon in a Ginger-Peanut Sauce

Those little round things are dried chickpeas but you are to pretend they are peanuts, okay? I’d already ground all the peanuts I had in the house when I decided to take this photo, so they are stand-ins.

2 bundles of udon (2 servings)
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp chili garlic paste
1 2″ knob of fresh ginger, grated
1 small clove garlic minced or pressed, or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
water to thin as necessary

For garnish
1/2 half cucumber, julienned
black or white sesame seeds or lightly crushed peanuts
additional ginger
red chili flakes
chopped scallions
crispy fried onions

Prepare the udon as directed on the package. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Place the remaining ingredients (other than the garnish suggestions) into a food processor and process until smooth.

The garnishes are all optional, but if you have a cucumber, cut it in half, then cut one of the halves lengthwise.

Scoop out the seeds with a small spoon.

Cut the halves lengthwise again.

Chop into sticks.

Cut the sticks in half.

Mix some of the sauce with the noodles. You will probably have more sauce than you need; you just want a nice coating on the noodles.

Toss with the sesame seeds or crushed peanuts if using.

Top with cucumbers, extra ginger, and/or chili pepper flakes if using.

I remembered I had leftover fried onions from Thanksgiving and decided they’d be an interesting garnish as well.

Total time from beginning to boil the water to sitting down with a glass of wine and a book? 15 minutes, and that included making a batch of soy milk at the same time, dealing with the cats, raking in Christmas packages left by UPS, taking all those pictures, talking to Smucky via AIM, and being extremely tired.

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Oyster (Plant) Chowder

I’m accustomed to going to Super H and finding unidentifiable vegetables, but generally I can identify everything at Whole Foods and Wegmans. (I’m constantly being asked by other customers to identify vegetables at Whole Foods, in fact, for some reason. I guess I look like a vegetable expert?) Wegmans actually stumped me a while ago with salsify though: a name that sounds like “salsa” and a note on its price tag that it tastes like oysters. I’ve been meaning to buy some and experiment with it for a while and tonight I finally got around to it.

First of all I should confess I’ve never had an oyster. I have no idea what they taste like. I suspect they taste of the sea, but that’s all I know. I think they might be slimy. Honestly I don’t think I’d particularly like oysters. So I had no idea what to do with a vegetable purported to taste like oysters and there aren’t many recipes on the internet. The best-sounding recipe I found was Light and Creamy Oyster Chowder with Salsify, which recommends substituting potatoes for the salsify if you can’t find it. Clever Renae decided to substitute potatoes for the salsify and salsify for the oysters. Ha hah! I looked at a bunch of other oyster chowder recipes, as I am wont to do when trying to replicate something I’ve never had, and they are all very similar: oysters, clam juice, white wine, cream, bacon, and some veggies. I’ve never had clams either, so I don’t know what clam juice tastes like, but again, I figured it tastes like the sea and therefore just dumped some kelp powder into the pot. I thought it smelled of the sea anyway. I doubt it tasted anything at all like either oysters or clams. Nonetheless, it was a fun recipe.

Salsify (Oyster Plant) Chowder

1 onion, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced (white parts only)
1 stalk celery, diced
2 medium carrots, cut into small rounds
1 cup white wine
2 cups veggie stock
1 lb salsify, peeled and chopped
1 lb potatoes, diced
1/2 cup corn
3 Tbsp vegan “bacon” bits
1 Tbsp kelp powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 cup vegan unsweetened cream (such as MimicCreme) *
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

When prepping the veggies, place the chopped salsify and potatoes in a bowl of water into which a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar has been stirred to prevent discoloring. I found it tricky to get all of the “bark” off the salsify; some roots were more rough and therefore more difficult to peel than others. Some bits of the peel came off when dunked in the water; you can see them floating in the bowl.

Heat a soup pot over medium heat, then bring some olive oil up to temperature in it. Then add the onions, leeks, carrots, and celery.

Saute until soft and onions are translucent, deglazing the pot with a little of the wine if necessary.

Add the wine, broth, kelp, thyme, and bacon bits.

Add the salsify, potatoes, corn, and cream.

I forgot that MimicCreme sometimes separates when mixed with a hot liquid (it does that in coffee). Had I remembered, I’d probably have added the MimicCreme after the soup was cooked, and just gently heated it. It didn’t separate too badly, though, and mixed right back together when I stirred.

Cover and cook for 40 minutes or until salsify is soft and oystery. Okay, I have no idea what “oystery” means. Season with salt and pepper.

* To make without the cream, substitute one cup non-dairy milk. After cooking, puree about 1/4 of the soup and return to the pot.

Serve with oyster crackers or crusty bread. I made biscuits but it’s a test recipe for Peter Reinhart’s new book so I can’t share. (Mark’s response to the biscuits was, “Peter Reinhart is a genius,” so you might want to pick up the book when it comes out!) Garnish with additional bacon bits.

So how was it, you ask? I thought the chowder was pretty good, albeit a little sweet for my taste until I salted it a little heavier than I usually do. I simply don’t usually cook with cream. (I have the MimicCreme for making ice cream, for which, by the way, it is fantastic.) Next time I’ll probably use soy milk instead (or just more broth) and just puree a bit to thicken it instead of using the cream. I’m not sure salsify really tastes like oysters, or really much of anything, quite frankly. I didn’t enjoy peeling it (the non-knobby roots were fine, but the knobby ones were a pain), so I don’t know that I’d bother buying it again. And I think I still don’t know what oysters taste like, but I also think I’m glad.

Since I always get comments about missing the cats when they don’t help with the meal, I went looking for them before transferring the photos off my camera.

Ever wanted to know what a cat doing a line of coke looks like?

Kidding! It’s FLOUR! From the biscuits! Tigger most certainly does NOT weigh his Columbian contraband on my food scale!

See, he likes to stick his face in flour. He’s very odd.

Have I ever mentioned that I love this guy?

Ms Brachtune has been dividing her time between the pseudo-laptop I made for her in this post and the little nest she’s made for herself by the heater a few feet across the room.

That fluffy thing to the left of her is a pillow I made her out of this faux fur that I bought specifically because it looked like her fur. I had grand plans of using it to made a huge faux bearskin rug…that looks like Brachtune. Yeah, I don’t know where I come up with these insane ideas either. There is something wrong with me. Particularly considering my sewing skills pretty much start and end at snot rags. Needless to say I have a lot of faux Brachtune fur. (I have a lot of real Brachtune fur for that matter.)

As usual, as soon as I snapped the shutter, she was up and heading over to me for some loving.

And one final note: I don’t usually endorse stuff, but sometimes a product that I just love comes along and I want to share. I used to be a major lip balm fiend when I was younger. I don’t know that I bought so much as one tube of real lipstick between the ages of 18 and 25, but boy did I have a plethora of lip balm in every flavor imaginable. I was really addicted to the stuff. I fell on hard times when I went vegan, though, because it is very hard to find lip balm without beeswax. My life became complete once again when I discovered Crazy Rumors last year. This is by far the best of any vegan – or non-vegan – lip balm I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried them all. I just got a shipment with a bunch of their brand-new flavors – trying out Pear & Peppermint now: yum! – and they all smell amazing. They’re moisturizing, feel great (not heavy) on your lips, last a long time between applications, and again, smell incredible. I’m not being paid to say that – I just figure that they are a small company so I’d do my part in spreading the word so they don’t disappear and leave me without my lip balm fix. I actually make the rest of my skincare products, but I was no good at making lip balm. Thank goodness Crazy Rumors is.

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