Archive forJanuary, 2009

Chinese New Year

By now most of you have probably heard about Monday being the Chinese New Year, this year being the year of the ox. I wanted to celebrate but had something to do Monday night so I had to postpone my celebration. Yesterday may have been ideal for implementing my celebratory plans, as the weather was all sorts of snowy and icy and I worked from home, meaning I should have had plenty of time to make dinner, however, I wasn’t hungry at dinner time because I ate lunch too late. So tonight it is Chinese New Year at Mark and Renae’s! The holiday is traditionally celebrated over 15 days anyway, so I don’t feel too bad about being a couple of days late.

I just wanted something light for dinner tonight so this is not an elaborate feast, but I did do something special and that is I made pot sticker wrappers from scratch for the first time. I usually buy pre-made wrappers from Super H, and frankly, although they consist of no more than flour and water, making my own never even occurred to me. I’m not really good with things that need to be rolled out evenly. It seemed like an unfathomable amount of work. As I mentioned earlier, though, the weather is being stupid here and I didn’t have any wrappers in the house. And I’d seen Jes’s pot stickers on Cupcake Punk the other day, which inspired me. So, home early tonight, I embarked on my first pot sticker wrapper journey. The journey wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!

These recipes were adapted from Bryanna Clark Grogan’s Authentic Chinese Cuisine.

Pot Stickers

1 1/2 cups vegan ground beef substitute, either a commercial product (which I used because I had leftovers) or TVP reconstituted in water or vegan “beef” stock
1 carrot, minced
1 parsnip, minced – this is a weird addition and very optional; I only included it because I have parsnips I have to use up
1/2 onion, minced – I’d have used a bunch of scallions instead of the onion if I’d had any
2″ piece of ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp soy sauce

I used a chopper to mince the veggies:

Mix with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.

Next up, the wrappers! Feel free to buy them pre-made, though. I won’t think any less of you! (Do check that they are vegan, I’ve seen egg in them on rare occasion.)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp very hot water

Mix the flour and water together, either with a wooden spoon (or your hands) in a bowl, or in a food processer.

If using a food processor to knead, pulse for about 30 seconds. If kneading by hand, knead for about 5 minutes.

Roll dough out into a long “rope”.

Cut off a piece about 1″ long and flatten a bit. As you are working, keep the unused dough covered with a wet tea towel to prevent it from drying out.

Using a rolling pin, roll the lump of dough out into a thin circle about 3 1/2″ in diameter.

I rolled out about 5 wrappers, then filled and sealed them, then rolled out 5 more wrappers, etc. For sealing the filled wrappers, you have two choices: you can either use a pot sticker press or you can pleat them by hand. Until tonight, I have always used a press because I figured it was really hard to do by hand. I was wrong; it’s really pretty simple and nearly as fast as using the press once you do it once or twice. I had to do about half of my dumplings by hand tonight whether I wanted to or not because my wrappers were too small for the press. In either case, have a small bowl of water handy.

To use the press, lay the wrapper on the open press:

Place a scant tablespoon of the filling in the center:

Dip a finger in the bowl of water and rub it along the outer edge of half of the dumpling. Then close the press and squeeze lightly.

Open the press and remove the dumpling.

To pleat by hand, place a wrapper in your palm and then place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center.

Lightly wet half of the outer edge with your finger as described above, then fold the dumpling in half, squeezing the edges together to seal.

Starting on one side of the folded dumpling, make a pleat like this:

Continue pleating the entire semi-circle:

Here is a dumpling made using a press (on the left) next to one hand-pleated (on the right):

Continue until either all the dough or all the filling is gone – hopefully they are about even – placing the filled dumplings on a cookie sheet and covering with a towel so they don’t dry out.

To pan fry, heat a large skillet until hot. Add a tablespoon of oil (I used peanut oil with a bit of sesame oil mixed in, as Bryanna suggested) and tilt the skillet until it is coated evenly. Place as many dumplings as you can fit into the skillet without overlapping, pleated side up.

After two minutes, pour 1/3 cup water into the pan and immediately cover.

Cook until water is evaporated (about 5 minutes). Remove lid and if necessary, continue cooking until bottoms are brown and crispy:

The dumplings will have puffed up a bit.

To freeze leftover (un-fried) dumplings, place the dumplings in a single layer on a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn.

When they are frozen, remove from the cookie sheet and place in a freezer bag. Cook them exactly as you would fresh dumplings: no need to thaw.

Serve pan-fried dumplings with a dipping sauce. I usually just throw together a couple tablespoons of soy sauce, shaoxing wine (substitute dry sherry), vinegar, hot chili oil, and garlic. Your dipping sauce could be as simple as soy sauce and vinegar or soy sauce and sesame oil.

Although I wasn’t hungry for an elaborate meal, eating nothing but pot stickers for dinner seemed a little wrong, so I also threw together a very fast soup. I just flipped through the same cookbook to find a soup that was very quick to make and called for only ingredients I had on hand. This one fit the bill perfectly (though I had to use frozen instead of fresh spinach).

Tofu and Spinach Soup

2 1/2 cups vegan broth or stock, any flavor
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1 ounce bean thread noodles
1/2 cup tofu, cubed
1 1/2 Tbsp shaoxing wine
1 Tbsp soy sauce
Sichuan pepper, to taste (optional)

Place all ingredients into a small pot. Season with sichuan pepper if you’d like.

Cook for 5 minutes. Eat.

And that was my little Chinese New Year celebration! Happy Year of the Ox everyone!

Comments (8)

Robbie Burns Night

My first mistake was informing Mark it is Robbie Burns Night. My second mistake was reminding him, as I do every year, what Robbie Burns Night is. My third and final, fatal, mistake was admitting that yes, I’m making vegan haggis.

Although I’ve been vegetarian for five times longer than Mark, and although I swear it does not resemble nor taste a thing like real haggis (which I assume is true although I have no idea what real haggis looks or tastes like), Mark absolutely refuses to so much as try a bite of anything I refer to as “haggis”. What I should have done is told him it was “meatloaf” (though we just had meatloaf on Friday, which was poor meal planning on my part), or anything but haggis. I made it once before, the first Burns Night after we were married. It seemed appropriate: we were married in Scotland, so the country holds a special place in my heart. Mark, however, ate nary a bite. So for subsequent Burns Nights, I’ve not bothered with the trouble of making a haggis no one is going to be eating but me. This year, however, I am the proud author of a food blog, so I felt somewhat obligated to celebrate. Even if haggis is really, really disgusting.

The first time I made vegan haggis, I used this recipe or something very like it (sans mushrooms, of course). I tried telling Mark – truthfully – that it tasted like stuffing, which he loves, but he wasn’t having it. This year I did my typical glance-at-a-few-differentrecipes-then-make-something-up routine. This is what I did:

Vegan Haggis

2 Tbsp barley
2 Tbsp green lentils
1/4 cup steel cut oats (I used Irish oats, sue me)
1/2 cup vegan “beef” broth
1 Tbsp Marmite
1/2 large onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 parsnip, minced
3/4 package vegan “ground round”
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Note: I used commercial “ground round” because I had a package that was set to expire. Next time I might try bulgur or something more natural.

In a small pot, cook the barley in 1/2 cup water for half an hour.

In another small pot, cook the lentils in 1/2 cup water for half an hour.

Toast the oatmeal briefly in a frying pan over medium heat.

Mix the broth and Marmite together, then add the oatmeal. Cover and set aside.

(I added the seasonings in this step, but I’ll instruct you to do it later because I realized it dumb to do it at this step.)

Mince the onion, celery, and parsnip. I used a chopper.

Heat a small amount of oil in a medium frying pan. Add the minced veggies and saute until soft.

Add the “ground round” and seasonings; saute for 3 minutes.

When the lentils are done …

… drain them …

and add to the “ground round” mixture. When the barley is done …

… drain it …

… and also add to the “ground round” mixture.

Drain the oatmeal, reserving the broth.

Add it also to the “ground round” mixture.

Dump the mixture into the center of a large piece of muslin or heavy cheesecloth.

Mold it into a lump with your hands.

Wrap it up as tightly as you can, securing with kitchen string.

Place the reserved broth and enough water to make 4 cups of liquid into a medium pot, then add the haggis.

Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour or longer. Remove from broth and allow to cool until you can touch it. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can without smashing the haggis. Unwrap.

(I boiled it because it seemed like what you do with haggis, however, I think next time I might bake it like a meatloaf.)

Serve with gravy.

Apparently you pretty much have to serve haggis with “neeps and tatties”, or mashed turnips and potatoes. I assume most of you know how to make mashed potatoes so I’ll skip that. I took a hint from Bryanna and roasted the neeps first. They got very small in the oven; six turnips barely made two servings.

Mashed Roasted “Neeps”

6 – 8 turnips
olive oil

Trim, peel, and chop the turnips into evenly sized pieces. Place on a baking sheet. Pour a small amount of olive oil into your palms, then rub the turnips with it.

Roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until done. They will have shrunk!


This year I tried something new and also made cock-a-leekie soup, the traditional Burns Night starter course. How could I resist making something with that name?! I’m not sure if barley is normal in this soup, but I saw it called for in this recipe and thought it sounded like a good idea.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

1/2 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
3 leeks, chopped (white and light green parts only)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4-6 cups vegan “chicken” stock
1/3 cup barley
1 cup Soy Curls
2 large or 4 small potatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp thyme

Chop the leeks.

Chop the parnsip.

Chop the celery.

Heat some oil in a soup pot, then add the onions. Saute for 3 minutes.

Add the leeks. Saute for 5 minutes.

Add the celery, parsnips, and garlic. Saute another 3 minutes.

Add the broth.

Add the potatoes, Soy Curls, and barley.

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until barley is cooked.


And here is the entire meal. I had leftover gravy from Friday’s meatloaf; you can make your favorite recipe.

I drank wine with mine instead of Scotch, firstly because I don’t generally drink hard liquor, especially on work nights, and secondly because all I have is Irish whiskey (from a Bloomsday celebration, which honestly I take a little more seriously). I might get away with using Irish oats, but surely I’d be in trouble for drinking Irish whiskey on Robbie Burns Night! I also failed to pipe the haggis to the serving table, mostly because I don’t have bagpipes nor know how to play them. To make up for that, though, here is a picture of Ian, the piper from our wedding. Yes, that’s Pig.

Here’s one reason I don’t play the bagpipes:

Nor did I recite any of Robbie’s poetry, for which I have absolutely no excuse other than my Scottish accent is awful.

I’d have made Mark wear the kilt he wore to our wedding, but it’s at his mother’s house (she made it for him!) and every time she tries to get him to take it home with us, he “forgets” it. Sigh. So maybe I failed being very Scottish today. But don’t get me wrong: I love Scotland.

Comments (8)


I decided to take my love of fermenting things to a new level and make miso. Because I’m insane. Really, though, it’s pretty easy if you can find koji, which is rice that has been steamed and mixed with a certain kind of mold spore. The hardest part about it is you have to wait up to a year to eat it. This will be by far the longest I’ve ever fermented anything.

You can make your own koji if you can get the mold spores. I have some and I’ll probably try it at some point, but I decided to use pre-made koji the first time around. As with most of the cultures I use, I purchased it from GEM Cultures.

The next thing I needed was a crock to make the miso in. The directions that came with my koji instructed me to use a 1 1/2 quart straight-sided crock. All I really have are jars, so I had to find something else with a mouth as wide as the sides. Off to the thrift store with me, again! I found this crock, which was perfect:

Then I was on my way to making miso!


2 cups dried soybeans
1 cup soybean cooking water
1/2 cup sea salt
2 1/2 cups koji (available from GEM Cultures)
1 Tbsp unpasteurized miso (If you can’t find this in stores, GEM Cultures sells it. You can also omit it if you have to, but apparently it really helps your miso along.)

Soak the soybeans in plenty of water overnight. The next day, boil them for 4 to 5 hours or until quite soft, being sure to add water as necessary.

When the soybeans are done …

… drain them, reserving the cooking liquid.

Add one cup of the soybean cooking liquid to the soybeans and mash. I used a blender but I think potato mashers are pretty common.

Here are the mashed soybeans in a bowl.

Add the salt …

… and stir it in thoroughly.

When the soybeans are cool enough to touch, add the koji and the unpasteurized “seed” miso. If you’ve made miso before, you probably didn’t pasteurize it, so you can use it as the seed miso. I ordered some from GEM Cultures in lieu of searching for it in stores because most of the writing on the miso I buy is in Japanese.

Stir very thoroughly again.

Next prepare your crock. I got the idea to rub the sides down with salt from Wild Fermentation, which I read about on Cyn’s blog and realized I needed to own. So what I did was bring water to a boil in the kettle, pour it into the crock to sanitize it, then pour it out without drying. Then I set it on its side and sprinkled the sides with salt while rolling it. It wasn’t the most even of jobs, but I figured it was better than nothing (which is what the other instructions I had indicated for the sides of the crock).

Press the miso firmly into the crock, making sure there are no air bubbles. My knuckles got tired so I used a potato masher for a bit.

Tigger then appeared on the scene to investigate.

Smooth and level the miso.

Sprinkle the top fairly generously with salt. You’ll be removing this layer before eating so don’t worry about it being too salty. Particularly concentrate the salt around the edges.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the miso and up the sides of the crock.

Find a plate that fits just inside the crock. This plate is particularly appropriate for this application because not only does it fit the crock perfectly, but I acquired it from a Japanese restaurant.

Place a heavy weight (at least a pound) on the plate. I forgot to go out rock-hunting today so I used my small molcajete. (I’ll probably go find a rock and retrieve my molcajete!)

Cover the crock, with a lid if it has one, or with a heavy piece of fabric tightly tied around the top.

Label the crock! This seems like a step I’d skip, convinced I would magically remember the date, and then later kick myself about for being so stupid.

Place somewhere out of the way. Here it sits next to my fancy new sauerkraut crock (that I got for Christmas), in which is brewing a new batch of sauerkraut, in a spare bedroom that is inexplicably but handily very cold.

Soon I’ll have a whole row of crocks with things bubbling inside them. I am the mad fermenter!

Check back in 6 months when I try it the first time, and then in a year when it’s fully matured!

Update, July 26, 2009: See results of the six-month check-in.

By the way, Tigger says hi.

Comments (4)

Skincare Products

I make most of my own skincare products, out of food-quality ingredients – well, out of food, really! Which makes this post somewhat food related! I needed to mix up fresh batches of a few items today so I figured I’d share my “recipes” with you.


I put it in quotes because it’s not technically a lotion, but I use it all over my body as a lotion alternative after stepping out of the shower. I make this one differently in the winter than in the summer because it’s mostly just coconut oil, which solidifies at around 70 degrees or cooler. So during the winter months, I add some almond oil to keep it soft. During the summer, it stays soft on its own.

Coconut and almond oils are both very inexpensive in Indian and Asian grocery stores.

coconut oil
almond oil (during cooler months)
vitamin E (optional)
essential oils or other fragrance

If your coconut oil is at all solid, use a spoon to scoop out some into a glass jar.

Then microwave it for about 20-25 seconds to liquefy (or use a hot water bath).

If using, add some almond oil (I use about 2 Tbsp for the size jar shown) and vitamin E. Also add some fragrance if you’d like. Sometimes I use sandalwood, but today I wanted to smell like the baby Jesus, so I used frankincense and myrrh.

Stir. I like to use a tiny whisk, which I bought at an Asian grocery store and which Fortinbras is always trying to steal.

Depending on the ambient temperature, it will take a day or two for the oil to solidify again. It will turn whiter and look more like coconut oil again when that happens.

To use, simply emulsify in your palms (if necessary; generally it’s not) and apply to your entire body.

Sugar Scrub

sugar (white or brown is okay)
sweet almond oil
fragrance (optional)

Fill a glass jar nearly to the top with sugar.

Add just enough sweet almond oil to saturate it. Add fragrance if desired. I use bergamot for a citrus-but-a-little-different scent.

Use a chopstick to encourage the oils to completely saturate the sugar.

To use, simply scoop a little bit into your hand and apply to your face, scrub, and rinse off. I use it maybe once a week or so.


Instead of expensive moisturizers, I just use oil. I use jojoba because it is the closest to human skin oil. I mix in a tiny bit of tea tree oil because it is antiseptic, it’s good for your skin, and because I like the smell (not everyone does, however). It is drying, so I don’t use much.

jojoba oil
tea tree oil

Mix a few drops of tea tree oil into the jojoba. Place in a pump-type container.

To use, pump out just a FEW drops and apply to your face. A little goes a long way.


Instead of soap, I use the oil cleansing method. I won’t give you a recipe because everyone finds different combinations of oils that work for them. (I use half caster oil and half sweet almond.) I store it in a pump like this:

I’m not going to say that using oils instead of soap and moisturizers will solve any skincare woes, however, I will tell you that I developed rosacea about five years ago. My face was a total mess and I went to a dermatologist who prescribed about four different medicines, none of which worked and one of which reacted weirdly with alcohol and gave me bright (and burning) pink rings about my eyes whenever I had a glass of wine. Needless to say, that didn’t last long with me. I stopped using all medicines and switched from cleansing with soap to oil, and I haven’t experienced a trace of the rosacea since. I must stress that part of me believes this is just a coincidence! Although I do believe oils are better for your skin, I do not believe they work miracles!

Also, I have naturally oily skin. You may be adverse to slathering yourself with oils if you share this characteristic with me, but actually it’s good for this skin type. When you wash with something drying, your oil glands react by generating a lot of oil to counter the dryness. If you instead apply oils, your glands don’t end up overreacting. Just use them sparingly. A little really does go a long way.

Hair Gel

aloe vera
rosemary essential oil (optional)
peppermint essential oil (optional)

In a measuring cup, stir together equal parts water and aloe vera, as well as a few drops of the essential oil(s) if using.

Decant into a spray bottle.

I use this both to encourage my natural waves to come out with scrunching, or to smooth fly-away and otherwise misbehaving hairs.

Hair Oil

I use this occasionally to combat dryness.

coconut oil
neem oil (available at Indian groceries) (optional)
rosemary oil (optional)

Place the coconut oil and neem oil in a small glass jar.

Warm in a microwave (or hot water bath) until stir-able, then add rosemary oil if using, and stir.

Allow to solidify again. To use, emulsify between your palms and apply to your hair, concentrating on the ends. Comb through if you can. Leave on for a few hours, then shampoo out thoroughly.

And that’s about it for skincare products for me! They’re cheap, they’re edible, and they work great! And if you use them you can be as beautiful as me!

Since I was playing with oils, I filled these pretty little perfume bottles I scored at the thrift store for $2 yesterday, with various scents I like to wear, including amber and sandalwood. Aren’t they cute?

Finally, Mark said I should show you this item I made for him. I told him it wasn’t food and he said I’ve posted crafts before, which is true. Not only that, but this entire post has not been about food, so it’s the perfect opportunity to show off my (lack of) sewing skills. The story behind this item is: one day a few years ago, Mark, who in the winter perpetually has cold feet, complained to me, “They need to invent a blanket for feet”. I immediately responded, “They did: they are called socks. Try them.” Although I like to kid Mark about this, I later decided I was going to get into quilting and decided that my first project would be a “blanket for feet” for Mark.

Now, I have explained here that I am REALLY bad at sewing. I have NO idea why I thought I was going to “get into” quilting. It was a huge mistake. It caused me a lot of headaches. I later decided it was among my dumber ideas. Not before I DID manage to make a quilt top of sorts for Mark, though. It was simple: merely squares of different plaid flannels, but I did sew it together. When it came time to actually quilt it, though, I realized that either my sewing machine or I personally – or likely both of us – are not made for quilting. I shoved the flannel, the batting, and the fleece I’d gotten for the quilt bottom into a closet and promptly forgot about them.

Last weekend I got around to cleaning out that closet (I’m in an organizing frenzy around here lately!) and found the quilt parts. It’s freezing here. Mark’s feet are cold. Heck, MY feet are cold. I decided to assemble the blanket without actually quilting it. So I just sewed the batting to the flannel, then sewed the flannel to the fleece.

Then I added a pocket on the underside at one end.

Mark can slip his feet into the pocket and voila! – a blanket for feet!

Although it wasn’t quilted and the three layers therefore aren’t sewn together (other than at the seams), it is actually extremely soft and comfortable. And warm! I might have to steal it from Mark!

Comments (8)

A Not-Very-Good Attempt at Seitan Ham

I know I haven’t been posting much and the reason is I haven’t been feeling very creative. Between worrying about the declining health of my two aging cats, preparing for my trip to Australia next month (and the nerve-wracking coincidence of these situations), and various other issues, I’ve been resorting to time-honored recipes I’ve already featured here or working directly from cookbooks. When Wegmans had 2-pound bags of green beans on sale this week, I thought of the time I made Smoked Seitan Butt and Green Beans, which was surprisingly good but in which I had wished for more green beans. So tonight, in my newly reorganized kitchen, I decided it was time to revisit the making of ham- (or pork-) flavored seitan. I had originally tried a Simply Heavenly pork recipe when I made Barbecued UnPork Chops, which was good, but didn’t taste anything like I remember ham tasting like.

I based the recipe on Bryanna Clark Grogan’s soy and seitan ham recipe (which I’ve made before and which is good, but doesn’t taste much like ham to me) and the Christmas seitan-ham on Vegan Fitness, as well as getting the Szechuan peppercorn idea from this recipe. It didn’t turn out all that well, so I DON’T suggest you follow this recipe. Basically I’m putting it up because 1) I took all the pictures and wrote the recipe up anyway (before tasting it) and 2) to remind me what not to do next time!

Seitan “Ham”

2 cups vital wheat gluten
2/3 cup soy flour
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
scant 1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
12 ounces firm tofu
11 ounces tomato juice
1 Tbsp beet powder

For the broth:
2 quarts water
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke

Combine the dry ingredients, except the beet powder, in a large bowl …

… and whisk together. Combine the remaining ingredients in a blender.

Blend until smooth.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry.

Mix until they come together, then knead for a few minutes until fully combined.

Shape into a log and place on a large piece of cheesecloth.

Roll up and tie the ends of the cheesecloth off, like a Tootsie Roll.

Put the broth ingredients in a pressure cooker or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Add the seitan log.

Cook under pressure for 45 minutes, or without pressure for two hours. Remove from the broth …

… and remove from the cheesecloth. This was the first indicator something had gone awry. The seitan was no longer pink! (The lighting is bad in this picture; it was a tan color; normal seitan color, actually.)

Although upon slicing, the center was slightly pinkish, which was a sort of gross likeness to meat that I could do without. You can’t really see that here either, but trust me, it was weird.

I tasted a bit of it and was very surprised to find that it had absolutely no taste! I can’t figure it out! With all of those ingredients, you’d think it would taste like something! Possibly something bad, but I expected a flavor! I decided to fry slices up in hopes that would add some flavor. (You can sort of see the pink middles here if you look.)

This did help somewhat, although not enough that I’d recommend using this recipe. I’ll work on improving it. Now it feels like a quest. The quest for vegan ham.

I made the broth for the smoked seitan butt extra smoky to make up for the fact that I couldn’t taste ANY smoke in the seitan. (Note to self: add liquid smoke to grocery list.) Remember I said I had wished for more green beans last time? I think I overdid it! (The seitan, potatoes, onions, and broth are under there somewhere!

In the end it turned out well, though. (This is before it was finished cooking.)

I also mentioned above that my kitchen is reorganized. I gave myself the task this weekend of procuring a bookshelf that would fit in my kitchen, moving my cookbooks in there, moving some other stuff around, and then using the freed-up space in my library bookshelves to shift and fix the order of my other books, which have been piling up and getting out of order.

I used to have a bunch of things on the floor between the kitchen island and the wall: the ice cream maker, yogurt maker, a cake stand, a basket for root vegetables, a stock pot, a tray, and a large container of soybeans. It was a mess. Additionally, I’d been storing one of my woks on one of the two stools that go with the island. I was always hitting my head on the island when leaning down to retrieve something and basically, as I crave order, the whole thing was driving me crazy. So I went to some thrift stores yesterday in search of a bookshelf. I finally came across one that I thought was ugly at first, but found that the color grew on me as I thought about it. (Mark finds it hideous, but I figured I could always paint it.) I moved all of the aforementioned stuff out of the area they were in and placed the shelf in their stead. Then I put all of my cookbooks on it. (I can’t actually acquire any more cookbooks as they fit perfectly!) The stock pot and the wok went on top. Here it is:

I moved the appliances out into a hutch in dining room, where they are much easier to get to and will stay dust-free. Next, I don’t know if you’ve seen it in any of the hundreds of photos I post, but I had about 20 bottles of various oils, vinegars, wines, and other cooking liquids sitting out on one of my counters. In one of our closets I found an unused wire rack on wheels. I loaded it up with all the bottles and wheeled it into the small space between the island and the wall, declaring myself an organizational genius:

Although they are out of sight when not in use, it’s actually now much easier to find what I want. I also had room there for the jars of dried beans that I’d been piling on my baker’s rack. So now the baker’s rack is cleaner too!

But wait, there’s more! I moved the mixie, which had been behind my chopping block and which was therefore a pain in the butt to use (because the chopping block had to be free of any ingredients and then the mixie lifted up onto it) to the empty space created by the moved bottles. I also moved the George Foreman grill, which had been in a very awkward corner. I installed a 6-outlet adapter and now I have a nice, neat “appliance” counter, where everything is easy to use! (The yogurt maker is currently out incubating tempeh, but ordinarily is stored away.)

This made room on my “chopping” counter for my ulu and a “bread station”.

I was damn proud of myself at the end of all of this! The kitchen is MUCH more inviting and easy to use. The only thing left over without a home is the container of soybeans:

Mark suggested some sort of hanging dispenser for them, but I’m still working it out. Considering how small my kitchen is and the enormous number of things I own, I’m shocked that the soybeans are the only thing left over!

I won’t bore you with the details of my library makeover, but suffice it to say that went swimmingly as well.

Comments (11)

Faux Pho

Many of my commutes home from work – which despite living a mere ten miles from my office take up to an hour – are spent contemplating what to make for dinner. Tonight on my way home (via Trader Joe’s), I was thinking that I’ve been so wrapped up in my nerdy database project (now I’m inputting years of records from book journals to track my reading habits) that I’ve been really slacking off in the cooking department, which was fine because I was sick anyway, but bad as far as maintaining a food blog is concerned. It dawned on me suddenly in the midst of my musing that what I wanted for dinner was pho. I think I saw a post about it on another, non-vegan, blog today, or maybe I was just driving by one of the many pho places around here. Pho – perfect! It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s healthy…and I’ve never featured it here! So I grabbed a few things I needed from Trader Joe’s (namely, bean sprouts which I never just “have on hand” and fresh basil) and, feeling very pleased with myself, came up with a probably-extremely-unoriginal title, and here we are.

Faux Pho

8 oz wide rice noodles
6 cups vegan “beef” broth
2 Tbsp Maggi seasoning or soy sauce
2 star anise
1 stick cinnamon
2″ piece of ginger, grated
1 chili, sliced
1 carrot, julienned or grated
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
6-8 oz seitan, shredded or very thinly sliced
several fist-fulls bean sprouts
something green, such as pea shoots (which I grabbed at Trader Joe’s because they looked good) or spinach, etc.
2 fist-fulls basil
1 fist-full cilantro (I couldn’t find any fresh so I used 2 frozen cubes from Trader Joe’s)
3 scallions, chopped

Soak the noodles in very hot water. I like to bring a pot of water to a boil, remove it from the heat, add the noodles, cover, and let them soak for about half an hour. If I need to speed the process up, I turn the heat back on for a couple of minutes.

Grate the ginger. There is no need to peel!

You should end up with, I don’t know, a tablespoon or two?

Gather the star anise and cinnamon stick. I’m fascinated with star anise. I don’t know what to use it in other than pho, so I get really excited every time I make pho and get to break out the star anise.

Meanwhile, bring the broth to a boil, add the ginger, star anise, cinnamon stick, and Maggi seasoning or soy sauce, and simmer for about 20 minutes so the flavors blend.

Prepare everything else while the noodles are softening and the broth is simmering. Julienne or grate the carrot, …

… thinly slice the chili, …

… and thinly slice the onion.

Shred or thinly slice the seitan.

Add the chili pepper to the broth …

… and the onion, carrot, and seitan. Continue simmering for the remainder of the 20 minutes (or longer).

Check the noodles – the best way to to taste one. They should be soft, but not too soft.

When they are done, drain.

When the broth is ready, remove the star anise and the cinnamon stick.

To assemble your bowl of pho, place some of the noodles in a bowl.

Top with the green stuff …

… and the bean sprouts and basil.

Ladle the broth over the noodles and veggies and top with scallions. Garnish with a lime half. (And when I say “garnish”, I intend for you to actually USE the lime! Squirt it over everything to taste – it really boosts the flavor!)

This was really, really good, I thought. It tastes so fresh, it’s so quick and easy, and it was a great way to use up some leftover seitan I had that wasn’t enough to be the basis of an entire meal. I wish I’d thought to make pho when I was sick: it’d have been perfect.

And here is a James Joyce finger pupper/magnet that Mark gave me today!

Isn’t it adorable? James Joyce plays an amusing role in the Story of How Mark and Renae Met, so I find it especially cute.

Comments (12)

Dinner Goes Awry

This is really just a post to let you know I’m still around. I had a lingering cold that was keeping me from eating or cooking much, and also I’ve been letting this other, slightly nerdy, completely non-food-related project I’ve been working on take over my life. I created a database and wrote a web-based data entry system to input all of the definitions I’ve been looking up in the OED for words that I’ve been marking as I read various novels. It’s also acting as a book journal and I’ve been transferring years of written (albeit somewhat spotty) documentation of the (apparently hundreds) of books I’ve read. But enough about that. (Unless you really want to know things like the average length of a word I look up in the OED is 8.2 letters. Or that 35% of the books I’ve read since August were American. Or that 68% of the times I’ve come across the word “ineluctable” it’s been in a British book.)

Anyway, food. I’m not doing well with it right now, hence my lack of posts. I’ve been testing recipes for Peter Reinhart, but other than that, I haven’t even been eating much, which is unusual for the perpetually hungry Renae. I thought my cold was on the wane today and decided to try a recipe in one of my new cookbooks, Vegan Planet. Three-Way Sesame Tofu with Spicy Broccoli sounded perfect, considering I had all the ingredients and it looked fast and easy to make. Sadly, it all went pears. (That’s strange Aussie slang for “bad”, according to my Aussie friend, who I will be visiting in a few weeks!) I don’t think it was the recipe, though, I think it was me. First of all, I think I have weird taste buds. I find sesame seeds bitter. Does anyone else? I like them in small quantities, but en masse they are no good. And tahini by itself is disgusting for the same reason. So why I thought the idea of dredging tofu in tahini and then encrusting it in a cup of sesame seeds was a good idea is beyond me. And it was very messy. The sesame seeds got all wet and sticky and clumped together. Then I pan-fried them and that was also a mess. Then I tasted a piece and found it bitter and awful (and that’s despite the fact that I added uncalled-for agave nectar to the tahini sauce!). Not wanting to waste tofu (you get a bit attached to it when you’ve made it from scratch), I then rubbed most of the sesame seeds off each piece of tofu, dumped it all back in the frying pan with the already-steamed broccoli, inexplicably poured a little orange juice over it all and fried it with some hot pepper flakes. It was somewhat tolerable in this form, but I wasn’t happy with it. Mark surfaced and said he’d eat all of it, however, and since I hadn’t made a grain or any other accompaniment (too busy with another Peter Reinhart test recipe), it really only was enough for one person anyway.

So here was Mark’s dinner tonight:

He added hot sauce and salt and said it was great.

And here was my dinner:

(Here is the recipe for my dinner.)

Not a very helpful post, I’m afraid, but I figured I’d better post something before you forgot about me! Not all of my meals are successes, you see. I’m feeling better now, though, so hopefully I’ll have some new – and good – recipes up soon!

Comments (9)

Happy New Year!

Comments (4)