Archive forApril, 2009

How (not) to make a burrito, by Mark

Tonight when I asked Mark what he wanted for dinner, he replied, “nothing,” and proceeded to help himself to a large pile of saltines. “You are not eating saltines for dinner,” I informed him. “Why not?” “Because you need nutrients. I’m making burritos, will you eat one?”

We went back and forth about the burritos, with Mark being rather picky about what he would accept in his burrito (including, oddly, cucumbers), until I finally said, “why don’t you make your own damn burrito?”

So he did. And he suggested that I share the wonder of his burrito making “skill” with you. So I did.

First you need to gather the ingredients. These include canned pinto beans, Ro-Tel tomatoes, chopped onions, hot sauce, salt, and (oddly) a cucumber.

Oh, and tortillas.

Open the cans using a can opener.

Mark is unsure about canned goods. He thinks they all smell bad. This is because he’s in charge of feeding Brachtune her tuna and that really does smell bad.

Get over your disgust and plow on through with the burrito-making process.

Pour the beans into a strainer …

… and rinse.

Look how Mark balanced the strainer on the sink! How talented he is in the kitchen!

What step is next, I wonder?

Oh yes, the chopping!

First, murder your wife.

Then go to business on that cucumber.


(This is about when I told Mark he was finished with the cucumber.)

Remove a tortilla from the package.

Tortillas can serve many purposes. For one, they help prevent the spread of swine flu.

They can also be large yarmulkes.

If, instead, you’d like to eat the tortilla, place it on a work surface. Arrange your chopped cucumbers in the middle.

Add some of the beans. No need to cook them!

Instead, just smash them down.

Choose only the finest tomatoes from the tin. The only way to know which are best is to taste them.

Put them on the tortilla as well and smash.

Get some onions. The onions are a very important part of the burrito.

Add them to the pile on the tortilla.

Generously sprinkle some hot sauce over the tortilla.

Your tortilla should now look like this:

But we’ve forgotten the most important ingredient!

Now fold the tortilla up:

Your meal-in-a-hand is done!

Enjoy!

Mmmmm!

Wait a minute …

… this is a little disgusting.

And also messy.

The final product:

And that was Mark’s dinner tonight.

Warning: Mark’s burritos may cause insanity.

As delicious as Mark’s burrito looked, I chose not to follow his recipe. I made my own burrito, which consisted of pinto beans that I cooked, with vegan nacho cheese, tomatoes, onions, taco sauce, vegan sour cream, and a distinct lack of cucumbers.

Not too pretty, but very tasty and very satisfying!

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Okara Tempeh: don’t try this at home

Those of you who have been here a while may be aware of my ongoing battle with okara. I make tofu just about every week and have tried – really tried! – to put the leftover okara to use, but nearly everything I do with it fails. When I had The Book of Tempeh out of the library, I learned you can make tempeh from okara, and as my tempeh-making skills have become full-fledged, I thought that sounded like the perfect idea. So this weekend I did just that. If you’re the impatient type, I’ll save you the suspense: I won’t be doing it again.

I wouldn’t say it was a complete failure. If I had used the resulting tempeh in some recipe in which it needed to be ground or crumbled, it may have been fine. But, having read that okara tempeh is common in Indonesia, the birthplace of tempeh, I figured I’d make some sort of Indonesian dish with it. That all went pears. But I’ll share it with you nonetheless, if for no other reason than there is very little about okara tempeh on the internet – and not one picture that I could find.

After straining my soy milk to make tofu, I spread the leftover pulp – the okara – onto a baking tray.

Because I know that tempeh will fail if the soy beans are too wet, I decided I’d better dry the okara out a bit, so I baked it at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour.

Then I let it cool to room temperature and mixed it with a tablespoon of vinegar and 1/2 tsp powdered tempeh starter, just as I would whole-bean tempeh.

I put it in a perforated baggie and then in the same contraption I always use for incubating tempeh: a yogurt maker fitted with a steaming rack.

It was hard to tell when this tempeh was done because you’re looking for mostly-white mold to form on it, and okara is white, whereas it’s easy to tell when whole-bean tempeh is done. After 30 hours or so, I figured it was as done as it was going to get and put it in the refrigerator. It smelled like it should (a bit mushroomy) and it had a few black spots (which is normal for tempeh), but it seemed more fragile than normal tempeh. I was skeptical already.

The next day I decided to use it in a meal. I removed it from the baggie, finding it flimsier than my tempeh usually is. I cut it in half so I could see the interior. It looked…crumbly.

Nothing about it suggested there was anything wrong with it, however, so I proceeded. And honestly this is pretty much what I expected okara tempeh to look like. I chopped it up into bite-sized pieces.

A lot of traditional Indonesian recipes call for deep frying the tempeh. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve deep fried something at home, however, and not only would Mark not eat anything I deep fried, I don’t want to eat it either. So I decided to brown the okara tempeh by pan-frying it in a moderate amount of oil. I used a couple tablespoons of coconut oil.

The tempeh cubes sucked all the oil up, leaving a completely dry wok, after about a minute. My wok is well-seasoned and the tempeh wasn’t sticky, so dry-frying was no big deal….until the tempeh began crumbling like mad and the crumbs started burning. It got smokier and smokier in the kitchen (and the whole house) and the tempeh cubes got smaller and smaller. They looked like croutons. Or what I could see of them behind the increasing wall of smoke.

Though shrinking, the tempeh cubes weren’t really getting all that crispy, but I eventually couldn’t take the smoke any longer and dumped them out into a colander …

… which I then shook vigorously, knocking the burnt crumbs off and through the holes.

The cubes look brown, but they are spongy, not crispy!

Then I had to get all the remaining crumbs out of my wok so I could make the main dish. I use a bamboo brush.

One thing I can say is even after soaking up all oil almost immediately, the tempeh did not stick at all, and the crumbs brushed right out. However, I don’t think I would ever make okara tempeh again unless I was planning to deep fry it. It may well have turned out well if I had deep fried it….

Too late for deep frying. I soldiered on. I ground up some shallots, garlic, soy sauce, and sambel olek:

Then I heated a small amount of coconut oil in the wok and briefly fried the tempeh cubes again with some minced ginger. Again, the tempeh almost immediately soaked up the oil.

I added some chopped carrots and bell pepper.

Then I mixed in the shallot mixture, followed by a cup of coconut milk.

As I heated the mixture through, most of the tempeh cubes simply dissolved, making a grainy rather than smooth, milky sauce, with few distinct pieces of tempeh.

It was edible, but overall pretty dumb. I won’t be making okara tempeh again and I recommend you not bother.

Okara remains my nemesis. So here is a lilac from our backyard.

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On Food and Cooking, and procrastination

I fully intended, I swear, to do a post on caring for cast iron for you this weekend. However, not only did we have company most of Saturday, it was – and still is – over ninety degrees here in Virginia! Which I’m loving: although I dress in black and to me every day is Halloween, I’m all about moving to the tropics. However, even the climate-control-loving Smark hasn’t been able to muster up the wherewithal to turn on the A/C in April, and it’s positively sweltering in the house. So slaving over a hot stove wasn’t something I was really looking forward to. Another cast iron post is forthcoming, but probably not until later in the week when the temperature cools down to a more seasonable – and reasonable – 65 or so.

In fact, I don’t have a recipe to share with you today. Did I even cook this weekend?! I don’t remember. It was hot, I know that. What I would like to share with you, though, is a recommendation for On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Now, I read a lot; usually two or three books a week, but almost entirely fiction. I do tend to read cookbooks cover to cover as well, and I read a disproportionately large number of books about physics, but other than that I rarely read any non-fiction. I have been looking for years, however, for a book about the science of cooking. And have I ever found it! I can’t remember what brought it to my attention, probably a mention on a food blog somewhere, but I checked it out of the library and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. It’s fascinating! It’s huge! I’ve mostly been skipping around reading a section here, a section there, instead of reading it straight through, as it’s enormous and very textbook-like, but I’ve been marking many pages that contain topics I want to more fully explore or that have given me ideas for experiments I can try. It’s not a cookbook; the only recipes it contains are a few fairly incomprehensible Medieval and other old recipes in sidebars that illustrate the history of an ingredient or technique. What it is is an encyclopedia of what seems like everything there is to know about food and cooking. The history of all types of food. How nutrients are absorbed in our system. The hows and whys of all cooking techniques. How yeast works…. I’m flipping through it now to glean more examples of the range of information this book contains and it’s just impossible to narrow it down. I just opened to a cut-out diagram of the molecular structure of a plant leaf. Now I’ve just flipped to a page containing the heading “Unusual Fermentations,” which leaves me in danger of abandoning this post to go read it, given my love of fermentation. (They don’t call me Renae Fermenté for nothing. Okay, no one calls me Renae Fermenté. But they should.)

When I ordered the book from the library, I figured I’d end up just skipping over the meat and dairy chapters. However, I actually found the dairy section fascinating. (I haven’t read any meat chapters.) Although McGee does not advocate the avoidance of dairy, he points out that it is unnatural for humans to consume the milk of other animals, and that relatively few people on the planet do or even can. He also says that the recommendation by the US government that adults consume a quart of milk a day in order to fulfill their calcium needs is foolhardy and the product of the US dairy council’s funding. He points out that consumption of animal protein increases the need for calcium (meaning vegans actually need less calcium than omnivores), and that although milk is a “valuable” source of calcium, it is “unnatural” and not necessarily the best source and that the best way to prevent osteoporosis is to exercise, eat a well-balanced diet low in animal protein, and to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods including dried beans, nuts, tofu, and various greens. The point I’m trying to get across here is that this book is a great resource for completely unbiased information about why a vegan diet can be healthier than others, and even provides support on the moral issues behind it (by stating that it is unnatural for humans to consume dairy products). Often the most easily-accessible sources of data backing up a vegan diet are pro-vegan websites, which detractors won’t accept as a source because they have an “agenda”. So if you are at all interested in backing up your claims that your vegan diet is sound from a completely unbiased source, try On Food and Cooking.

But that’s not why I sought out this book. I very rarely bring up vegan “issues” because my goal is to present delicious and nutritious food that just happens to be vegan in an effort to show it’s not weird. I’m mostly loving this book for all the chapters about foods I do eat…which is most of the book, because even if you are omnivore, most of your food intake should be grains and vegetables. Did you know that cashews are related to poison ivy and that’s why you never see them in their shells? Their shell contains an irritating oil and must be removed without contaminating the seed. This book is going on my wish list: it’s the type of reference you need to keep in the house; borrowing from the library isn’t going to cut it!

That’s really all I have to say. It’s still hot so I don’t know if I’ll do any real cooking tonight, so no recipes right now. But here are some pictures of Brachtune to tide you over. She spent hours outside this weekend, in the morning and evenings when it wasn’t quite as hot. She used to be very nervous outside and only make short excursions totally inspired by jealousy that Tigger (who LOVED going for walks) was out and she wasn’t. Lately it’s like she’s been possessed by the spirit of Tigger and is doing all sort of Tiggerish things.

I love watching her walk at eye level. She just has the cutest paws in the world.

I also love those dark rings around her eyes. She’s like Cleopatra.

Sunday I planted some herbs: spearmint (I got a big plant of this, which I’m calling the mojito bush), regular and Vietnamese coriander (cilantro), thyme, tarragon, mizuna, rosemary, and sage. The bay leaf plant is the only one I have left over from my previous herb pot that I didn’t kill.

I also got a rainbow chard plant, because apparently it’s easy to grow and it’s “cut-and-regrow”. For $1.29, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. The leaf in the picture is just 2 1/2″ long right now: so cute!

I have to wait a week or two to get the tomatoes, basil, and shiso, and for Mark to get his peppers. I’m accepting bets on how long it takes me to kill these plants. Mark’s giving me six weeks, which is generous of him. I really wish I were better with plants. I try every year and every year it’s just a slow decline towards a painful plant death. Oh well. I generally get at least enough use out of them before they die that they pay for themselves by costing less than I’d have paid for a bundle of the same thing in the grocery store…if you don’t factor in the $37 I spent on dirt.

So other than spending time outside with The Toonse and planting my doomed herbs, I mostly spent the weekend when not courting guests melting in my chair reading. Here was my view:

Or, another view:

(I still have tan lines on my foot from the sandals I wore in Australia.)

Oh, that’s right. I did cook up some frozen tofu for dinner last night. Except I’m one of those people who cleans up as she goes along when making meals and I kept grabbing the tofu instead of the sponge. I think you understand why:

Which is edible?! It’s hard to tell; I’m generally not a big fan of frozen tofu. I only freeze it when I have it and it’s about to go bad. And I only break it out on days when it’s ninety-two degrees out and there’s nothing else in the house to eat.

Right, well, another cast iron tutorial coming your way very soon – I promise.

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Garlicky Chipotle Lima Beans with Smoky Seitan

I love lima beans! Mom, are you reading this?!

Lima beans are the only food I can think of that I didn’t like when I was little. My family never had much to do with mushrooms, so I didn’t realize until I was older that my real hatred is mushrooms. I expend so much energy hating mushrooms that I often forget to hate lima beans because although people are always trying to shove mushrooms down the throats of vegetarians like they are some mystical, meaty non-meat product that I must be lusting for, but no one ever tries to make you eat lima beans once you move out of your parents’ house. So the only time I ever remember that I hate lima beans is on Thanksgiving when my mom makes succotash with corn and frozen limas. And honestly, I can eat them that way, I’d just rather not because they are nasty.

I did learn a couple of years ago that I don’t hate large lima beans; it’s only baby limas I don’t like. But then I decided to test this thing out a little more and bought dried baby lima beans. I had no idea what to do with them – honestly the only thing I’ve ever seen a lima bean in is my mom’s succotash – so I did some googling today and found the promising Baby Lima Bean Soup with Chipotle Broth on 101 Cookbooks. Here is my variation; instead of a soup, I made them a lot thicker, as well as I think spicier and garlickier. I also made use of a product that is new to me that was recommended by a commenter: Goya Ham-flavored concentrate. Lucy at Vegan Del Ray recommended it for obtaining that elusive ham flavor in my seitan ham, and when I spied it at Wegmans I decided to check it out. If you can’t find this stuff, try substituting some liquid smoke or vegan “bacon” bits, or smoked paprika, and add some salt.

Garlicky Chipotle Lima Beans

8 oz dried baby lima beans (large limas would probably work fine too)
1-3 dried chipotle peppers (depending on how much heat you like)
1 small or 1/2 large head garlic, cloves removed and peeled but left whole
3 large shallots or 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 packet Goya ham-flavored concentrate

Soak the beans overnight, or speed soak by bring to a boil in 4 cups of water, simmering for two minutes, then removing from heat and letting sit for an hour. Drain. Place the soaked beans, 4 cups fresh water, the chipotles, and the concentrate in a pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Meanwhile, sauté the shallots or onions in a small amount of oil …

… until beginning to caramelize. (I wouldn’t ordinarily have used such a small skillet – I was breaking in my recently seasoned little skillets and actually did half the shallots in each.)

Add the shallots or onions to the bean pot …

… reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for one to one and a half hours, or until beans are soft.

Meanwhile, I wanted a sort of “meaty” accompaniment to the beans, so I removed some seitan I had frozen from the freezer. To quickly defrost it, I merely sat it on top of the stove while I was seasoning my skillets at 500 degrees. Then I chopped it into bite-sized pieces and made a marinade using 1/2 cup soy sauce, 4 cloves pressed garlic, some fresh pepper, another packet of “ham” concentrate, and a cup of water, which I whisked together in the awesome wide vintage Pyrex bowl I scored for $10 at the antique mall yesterday when skillet shopping because I have the best luck ever:

Then I added the chopped seitan and let it marinate while the limas cooked.

When the limas were about done, I heated my new skillets: again, I’m using very small ones here, one serving in each, when usually I’d use one big skillet, just because I was breaking in my seasoning. I sautéed a chopped scallion and a chopped bell pepper for a minute …

… then added the drained seitan and cooked until it was beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, the lima beans were done:

Then I served it, with some peas because I need green on my plate:

To my immense surprise, this was absolutely delicious! I apparently love lima beans! They just need to be dried, not frozen. And cooked in a smoky, spicy, garlicky wonderfulness! Another note: some say there are two types of people in the world: those who go to great lengths to keep different foods from so much as touching each other on their plates, and those who like to mix all their food together and eat it at once. I’m definitely of the latter variety. And I don’t know why, but the lima beans were very tasty on their own, and the seitan was tasty on its own, but when I combined some lima beans and some seitan on my fork and ate them in one bite, it was a taste sensation! So feel free to try dumping both these dishes into one pot and making a lima-y, seitan-y stew out of them! That’s what I plan to do for lunch tomorrow!

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Seasoning cast iron – without lard

As I said before, I am sorry I don’t have more skillets to give away because I wish I could give skillets to everyone who wanted them. As it turns out, Poopiebitch won the drawing for the skillets, and Lisa of Cravin’ Veggies won the bread pan. But as a consolation prize for everyone else, I decided to write up a tutorial on seasoning cast iron. Why? Because cast iron is very cheap and completely awesome and I want those of you who need skillets but are low on funds to consider it.

You can buy new cast iron pots and pans just about anywhere. Fortinbras wanted to pass on a tip for you: he suggests buying them in a camping store, where you can find the same pieces you’ll find in the fancy, expensive cooking stores for much cheaper. I bought a large Martha Stewart raw cast iron skillet at K-Mart for ten or fifteen dollars. “Raw” means the skillet is un-enameled and completely unseasoned. (Martha Stewart also sells reasonably-priced enameled cast iron pots.) Lodge is the most popular modern-day maker of cast iron in the United States and often what you will find in camping stores. Lodge also sells “pre-seasoned” cast iron. I have a pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven. Buying pre-seasoned cast iron saves you the step of cleaning the pot or pan and gives you a head start on seasoning, but it also costs more money and in my opinion isn’t worth it. Lodge pieces are nice as far as modern cast iron goes and the pre-seasoned stuff isn’t bad, it’s just misleading because you still have to season it, and if you’re seasoning anyway, you might as well save your money and do it all yourself.

My favorite way to buy cast iron is to find the vintage stuff. Griswold is the most collectible and therefore the most expensive. Griswold stopped producing cast iron in 1957, so any Griswold pan is at least that old. My large skillet is a Griswold No. 9 from the 1930s. I LOVE it. Remember my omelette from a few nights ago?

The only oil I used in that pan is a very light spritzing of olive oil from my mister and that omelette didn’t stick one bit. People aren’t lying when they say properly seasoned cast iron is “practically non-stick”. I lucked out when I found that skillet; I think I only paid $50 or $60 for it and it barely needed to be cleaned; I just seasoned with one coat of shortening and began using it heavily and it’s now perfect. Griswold pans often go for more than a hundred dollars. But the point of this tutorial is helping you find cheap pans. So forget Griswold, unless you find it in a thrift store or yard sale where the owner doesn’t know what they are giving away (and in that case, grab it). There are reasons the quality of a Griswold pan is higher than others, but those reasons are very negligible.

The reason to buy vintage over modern is nearly all cast iron made before the 1950s is alleged to be of a higher quality than what they sell today. The main reason is the surface of modern cast iron is not entirely smooth; it is slightly bumpy. Run your fingers over the surface of a Lodge piece and you’ll see what I mean. The surface of my Griswold, on the other hand, is very smooth – often referred to as “glass-like”. The other reason to buy vintage is I just like old stuff. I prefer owning stuff that has a history. But that’s just me. If it’s easier for you or cheaper for you or if you simply prefer to find modern cast iron, go for it. You won’t have to work as hard to clean it at any rate. If you do buy vintage, don’t worry about superficial rust. In fact, you can often find amazing deals on rusty cast iron because the seller doesn’t realize how easy it is to remove and clean. The only thing you need to worry about when buying old cast iron is cracks or warping. The piece should sit level, and also not be cracked. Cracked cast iron pretty much can’t be repaired, at least not cost-effectively.

When I gave away my Calphalon skillets, the only real sacrifice I was making was the small skillet, which I sometimes used for toasting seeds and the like. I wanted to keep the set together, though, and also welcomed the opportunity to buy a small cast iron skillet. So yesterday I went to my favorite antique mall, where I got the Griswold, and found two No. 3 skillets. I couldn’t decide which I wanted. One was a Wagner, which is another really good brand, but it was rusty, and one was unmarked with a logo, but because it has what’s called a heat ring, is probably the older piece, and was also in slightly better condition. As they were only $7 each, I just got them both!

Now I’m going to show you how to clean and season these pans, but I want to make it known that I am NOT an expert at this. I’ve seasoned my cast iron wok, and I lightly re-seasoned my Griswold skillet, and I continued-seasoning my pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven, and I didn’t run into any problems with any of them, so I think my method works, but I don’t have years of experience or anything.

A lot of people recommend seasoning cast iron with bacon fat or lard. And I have no doubt they are both excellent ways to season, and definitely the most time-honored. This would be how all vintage cast iron was originally seasoned. But obviously I don’t use animal products so neither is an option for me. Also, don’t think it’s out of the ordinary to not use animal fats because many people recommend using things like palm oil. If you research cast iron seasoning on the internet, you’ll find all kinds of conflicting advice. People advising vegetable oil; people saying vegetable oil makes cast iron sticky. People saying use 250 degree Fahrenheit ovens; people saying use 550 degrees – and anything in between. I’m not a scientist so I can’t tell you scientifically which methods are best. What you essentially want to do is oil the cast iron and then heat it up hot enough and long enough that the oil carbonizes, permanently adhering to the iron and creating the “non-stick” patina. I have found that using Earth Balance shortening and a 500-degree oven has worked perfectly. If you can’t get or don’t want to use Earth Balance, I would try palm oil, which the primary oil in EB shortening. You can pretty much season with any oil, but your results may be different than mine.

If you have a brand new or a dirty old pan (the non-pre-seasoned new ones come with a waxy covering that needs to be removed), you need to scrub them completely clean. The very fortunate of you who can find a vintage piece that is clean and has a nice, smooth surface, as I was when I found my Griswold, can skip this step. You can use a steel wool pad to remove the rust:

Just start scrubbing away!

I got rid of most of the rust in just a few minutes:

But then I scrubbed some more:

I got off all of the rust – that’s the most important thing – but I didn’t remove all of the old seasoning. I could have, and I’d have ended up with a smoother surface, but I was tired of scrubbing, and eventually after use, the seasoning will even out.

Next, get your oven ready. Place one rack in the upper half of the oven, with the second rack immediately below it. Place a large cookie sheet or piece of foil on the lower rack. This will catch any dripping oil. Heat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Yes, my oven needs to be cleaned.)

Heat the pan over medium-low heat and place a small pat of shortening (or a small amount, depending on the pan size, of oil) in it:

Allow it to melt as the pan gets warm. When it’s completely melted, take a paper towel and completely rub all surfaces of the pan, coating them in a THIN layer of oil. I didn’t bother with the handles of my vintage pieces, so I could grip them with my oven mitts (they were seasoned already anyway), but all other surfaces, including the bottom, should be covered:

Place the pan(s) in the oven, upside down, directly over the baking sheet/foil. It doesn’t matter if the oven is not entirely pre-heated yet.

Close the oven door, and optionally open any nearby windows. It may get a little smoky, in fact, you want a bit of smoke; it means the process is proceeding properly. It may also smell a little funky.

Let the pan bake for about an hour, then remove it and let it cool on top the stove for about 10 minutes. It should look darker than it did when you began, though it may still be gray:

Repeat the process, beginning at melting the small pat of shortening in the warm pans …

… and smearing on all surfaces. Note that after use, the paper towel is essentially still white. If after wiping with the shortening, the paper towel becomes dirty, one of two things probably went wrong: 1) you didn’t thoroughly clean the piece or 2) you didn’t bake it hot or long enough.

Repeat the oiling / baking process three or four times, depending on how much time you have and how thoroughly it was originally seasoned. As I said, I only baked my Griswold once, but I did these skillets three times. Here’s the end result:

When they are thoroughly seasoned, they will be completely black and their surface should be relatively smooth. You don’t have to complete all of your baking cycles in one day, though I find it relaxing to dedicate an afternoon to it; it gives me an excuse not to leave the house and I just spent the whole day reading and drinking tea.

It’s best to cook something pretty greasy the first few times you use the pan, I’m told, to help break it in and finish curing it. I sauteed some shallots in each of mine for dinner tonight and they performed marvelously. This post is getting long, so I’ll save cooking in cast iron, and taking care of cast iron, for one or two later posts if you guys are interested. I really do recommend that those of you who feel you can’t afford nice cookware consider cast iron. It’s one of the few instances in life where the best quality you can buy is some of the cheapest! It just takes a little start-up effort and a little consideration when cleaning, but the rewards are huge. Most non-stick cookware is pretty much disposable. It doesn’t last long, can’t be heated very hot, requires special utensils, often contains a known carcinogen, and has to be thrown out the moment the surface is scratched. Invest in cast iron and you’ll have an heirloom you can hand down to generation after generation of your children, and actually contains nutrients instead of carcinogens! That’s right – cooking in cast iron imparts nutritional iron – which vegans can be low on – to your food! It’s practically impossible to destroy cast iron: no matter what you do to it, the worst case scenario is you have to repeat this tutorial. Furthermore, after a few months of use, my cast iron skillet is more non-stick than the one Calphalon non-stick pan I have (most of mine are not non-stick because I don’t like or trust it)!

That wraps up the tutorial, but here are a couple of related photos for you. First, I mentioned I spent the day reading and drinking tea. I make most of my tea in a cast iron tea pot! (Man, I love cast iron!) Here’s my tetsubin, which I got in San Francisco’s Japantown, with one of the Chinese tea cups my mom gave me:

Next up is a pic that might make a lot of other cast iron aficionados shudder. I mentioned above I once bought a Martha Stewart brand cast iron skillet for next to nothing, despite the fact I said I prefer to use old items. The reason I bought this one new was it was cheap and I wasn’t planning to season it or cook in it. It lives in my oven as a steam pan for bread baking. I wanted cast iron because although it will rust, it will not warp, and it stays hot, producing the amount of steam I want. Here is what happens when you allow cast iron to remain in contact with water!

As bad as that pan looks, though, if I wanted to, I could clean it up with no problem.

I’ve mentioned before that I essentially have just one baking rack in my oven, because I keep a huge stone and the afore-pictured steam pan in there. I removed the stone today for my seasoning:

All that stuff is just baked on; the black splotches are pizza sauce. The stone is actually becoming seasoned itself this way. The only maintenance it requires is brushing crumbs out. If you are at all into making pizza or hearth breads, FibraMent baking stones are expensive but worth the investment. Yesterday I baked these two sourdough loaves at the same time on one baking stone:

Alright, more cast iron information coming up if there is interest, and I’ve got to get around to making dinner – using those skillets – now!

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More Super-Fast Soups

Here’s an incredibly easy soup I made as a late afternoon snack at work today. Before leaving the house, I broke off a 3″ piece of dried kombu to take with me and put a tablespoon of miso (use white or red), 1/2 teaspoon of wakame, and 1/4 cup julienned chard in a small Tupperware container. (If I’d had any, I’d have taken 1/4 cup diced tofu and/or a tablespoon of chopped scallions.) When I got into work, I put the kombu in a microwave-safe bowl and filled with about a cup of water, maybe a little more. Then I let the kombu soak while I went about my job:

This made a kombu dashi. When I was ready to make the soup, I removed the kombu (you could also snip it into bite-sized pieces with scissors and return it to the soup to eat, but I don’t like the texture). I stirred in the miso, wakame, and chard.

Then I heated it in the microwave for a minute and a half – you don’t want it to come to a boil.

And that was it: miso soup with no effort. Satisfying on a dreary, rainy, cold day.

I also got home pretty late tonight and wanted something very quick and easy for dinner. More soup, of course. It’s really a soup kind of day here. (I think every day is a soup kind of day.) I bought a huge bag of these frozen “kimchee vegetable dumplings” at the new Lotte Plaza the other weekend. I just threw about ten dumplings (for me and Mark) into a pot of simmering veggie broth (any flavor; I used “chicken” tonight), added some julienned carrots, the currently ubiquitous rainbow chard, and a splash of sesame chili oil, and heated the dumplings through, which takes about 5 minutes.

Notice the pretty bowl I also got at Lotte! And, uh, the chopsticks I also got at Lotte. I have a compulsion to buy housewares in Asian markets. I can’t stop myself. I really have more chopsticks than a person needs to own in a lifetime. In my defense, I prefer them to forks, even for non-Asian foods. Also, they cost a whopping dollar a set. Cut me some slack!

Anyway, the dumplings are pretty good. The first time I had them, I thought I had misread the ingredients label because I thought they might have pork or something in them, but I have checked it carefully and it’s all soy: “soybean curd” and “soybean protein”.

Then I had a run-in with a carrotsquid:

(Mark and I actually keep a huge stash of googly eyes in the kitchen for just such emergencies as this one. Is that weird?)

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Rainbow Chard Omelette

Yesterday I bought some pretty rainbow chard at Wegmans, and I also had the rest of a box of silken tofu leftover from the substitution I did for egg yolks in the babka recipe I tested for Peter Reinhart, so for dinner tonight I googled “chard silken tofu recipe” for ideas on how to use these two items for dinner. And guess what I found? Chard-Filled “Omelette” on Cupcake Punk! So that is indeed what I made for dinner tonight.

The only problem was I’d used a quarter of the box of silken tofu already and although I have another box, opening it would leave me in the exact same position I was already in: three quarters of a box of leftover silken tofu I have no idea what to do with. So I pondered this predicament for a few minutes and then realized I had some leftover cheeze sauce that was sort of the same consistency as mushed up silken tofu. So I substituted the same weight in cheeze sauce as I was missing from the tofu box. At first I also omitted the nutritional yeast and salt, both of which are in the cheeze sauce, but when I tasted it, it was too tahini-y so I added them in their full amounts anyway and liked it better. I won’t bother writing up the recipe, but here are some pics:

Pouring the “batter” into the frying pan:

Toping with the chard:

Folding the omelette:

Serving:

I don’t know that tsukemono is a traditional accompaniment to omelette, at least outside Japan, but I’m obsessed with the “sweet cucumber” tsukemono I made last week and am eating them with everything. I plan on making them again as soon as they are all gone and this time I’ll document it for you. It’s actually very much like an American pickle, and isn’t very sweet. It IS yummy.

Anyway, that worked out perfectly – thanks, Jes!

Last night I made a caramelized onion, sun-dried tomato, and soy pepperoni pizza for dinner:

Yum!

Today my 00-style flour was delivered. I’ve been using various Peter Reinhart recipes for pizza dough for ages now but I think I’m going to try to make up my own pizza dough recipe. It’s not that I don’t love his recipes, it’s just he never uses Italian flour and I wanted to play around with it. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’ve gotten a few requests for the skillets and a couple for the bread pan, so I’ll do a random drawing for each Friday evening. I wish I had skillets to give to everyone – now I feel bad I don’t have more to offer!

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Baked Easter “Ham”

As I predicted, I baked some of the ham I made last night for Easter dinner tonight, and I have to say, it was definitely the “hammiest” thing I’ve eaten in 20 years, so I’m getting very close!

I took three of the “cutlets” I boiled last night, scored them, brushed them with a mixture of about 2 tablespoons agave nectar and 2 tablespoons of the balsamic mustard I mentioned in this post (that I got from this post on Cupcake Punk), and studded them with cloves, then baked at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes.

I deplore having nothing green with my dinner, but I’m pretty much out of veggies and I don’t think Wegmans was open today. So homemade sauerkraut and more frozen corn it was.

I’m a little hammed out having had it two nights in a row now (and there are still more leftovers!), but I think in a few weeks when I get the urge to make it again, I’ll have a perfected recipe for you!

I also tested the babka recipe for Peter Reinhart’s upcoming cookbook, appropriately enough as it’s Easter. I wasn’t expecting it to turn out that well because it calls for a lot of egg yolks. But I substituted an equal weight of silken tofu and it turned out AWESOME!

I did some more organizing in my kitchen this weekend. What’s interesting about that is I was just looking at my first seitan “ham” post and realized that I made that attempt the same weekend I completely reorganized my kitchen the first time. Weird. Anyway, in the course of cleaning out my cupboards, I found a few things that I’m simply never going to use and I’d like to offer them to any of you who could use them.

First, I bought this set of Calphalon Hard Anodized cookware a few years ago. I use the pots all the time, but I never use the skillets, because as you know, I am extremely attached to my cast iron skillet. These are really, really nice skillets, though. I may have used the larger two once or twice, although I’m not sure I ever used them at all. They are pretty much brand new. I have used the smaller skillet a bit more often, though only for toasting things like seeds, so I therefore never use oil on it and it’s completely clean. I thought about keeping the small skillet, but then I figured I’d keep the set together and get myself one of the small cast iron skillets I’m always eyeing up and talking myself out of because I have a small skillet. If you are interested, leave a comment and I’ll email you for your address so I can send you the set; shipping is on me anywhere in the US. Internationally, let me know your country and postcode and I’ll figure out what shipping will be and if it’s a lot, we can talk. Together the set weighs just under ten pounds.

Secondly, this Italian bread pan. I used it a few times after buying it and it’s great, but I then got a huge baking stone that I now bake directly on. Same deal as above: if you want it, leave a comment.

These are both really nice items that I simply haven’t given the attention they deserve. I also don’t have room for them in my kitchen. I’d love to see them go to someone who will use them. I bought these items specifically because I like the brand name: most of my non-cast iron cookware is Calphalon hard anodized, and most of my bakeware is Chicago Metallic. I just don’t use these particular items. If you want, I can post pictures of them.

I guess if more than one person is interested in one or both of the items, I’ll pick winners at random on Friday, April 17 at 8 p.m. (Eastern time). If no one responds by then, I’ll either give them to the first person to comment after that time, or I may find something else to do with them. I’d just like them to have a good home.

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Easter “ham”

I foodically (what? it’s a perfectly cromulent word!) celebrated two holidays today! I made matzo ball soup for Passover lunch. I should have taken a photo, but I made it exactly as Isa directs in Vegan with a Vengeance. I’d never had it before, but it was good.

Then I was a day early, but I found myself in the mood to experiment with making seitan ham again, so I tried to make an Easter ham. It was a last-minute, throw-it-together sort of thing and I didn’t take photos, didn’t write it down, and didn’t think it would turn out well. However, it ended up being the closest I’ve gotten to a hammy taste, so I’m going to record approximately what I did. I’ll try to tighten the recipe up later and report back to you. Oddly, I think the breakthrough thing was an accident. When I went to add the liquid smoke to the pot, I thought for some reason it had the sort of cap on it that limits you to a few drops at a time and I rather rambunctiously dumped it in before realizing it had no such thing, and I added much more than I would ever have thought of using. I thought at first I had probably ruined the broth but I tasted it and it wasn’t bad, so I figured I’d try it. I think the smoky flavor is what made it taste more like ham to me. I have no idea how much I ended up pouring in there but I guessed two tablespoons below. It could well have been three or even four, though.

Seitan Ham

Simmering broth
7 cups water
1 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried sage
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Seitan
1/3 cup soy flour
2 1/3 cups vital wheat gluten
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika (use sweet paprika or omit if you don’t have smoked)
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup ketchup

Bring all of the broth ingredients to a boil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. In a large bowl, mix together the soy flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the water and ketchup. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and knead with your hands until all of ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Cut the resulting seitan mass into 6 pieces; shape each into a ball then flatten with your palm and place in the simmering broth. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for an hour. Remove with a slotted spoon and pan fry or bake. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days in some of the broth.

I did manage to get a picture of the ham floating in the broth:

I don’t know that ham is often pan fried. I think it is ordinarily baked. But I was anxious to get the meal on the table so I just browned it a bit in my cast iron skillet.

I served it with some broccoli and cheeze sauce, corn, and some yeasted bread, because for me, Passover was over.

Tomorrow I may bake the leftovers for my “real” Easter dinner. If I do, I’ll let you know the results.

Mark really liked the ham. Although I asked him if he thought it tasted at all hammy and he said it tasted more like horse. I asked him when he’d ever eaten horse meat and he said once when he was young he said he was hungry enough to eat a horse and a genie appeared and granted him his wish and a horse appeared so he cooked it and ate it. And I said I didn’t believe that story because he doesn’t know how to cook. And so he said he microwaved it. And I asked how did he have a microwave big enough to fit a horse and he said it was a tiny show pony. I still think he might be lying though.

And another thing. When Peter Reinhart’s new cookbook comes out, don’t be afraid to make the cheese bread! I can’t share the recipe, but I made it using a mixture Follow Your Heart nacho and Cheezly mozzarella and it was AWESOME!

Also, my mom reminded me to tell you how Brachtune got her name. I know you’re probably sitting up at nights wondering. I didn’t name her. When I was in college, I rescued her from some neighbors who had her for a while, and because they were irresponsible college boys, no longer wanted her and were going to take her to the pound. They informed me her name was “Brocktoon” and said that it had something to do with Mr Belvedere, which I never fully understood. Although it was not my initial plan – I already had two cats – I ended up keeping her and as I had never seen her nonsensical name in writing, I had to make up a spelling, so I made the spelling Brachtune, figuring it looked vaguely German. People would often ask me what it meant and I’d have to say vaguely, “uh, Mr Belvedere?” One night, however, I had a party which an old friend of mine from high school I hadn’t seen in a long time attended. He asked the name of my cat and when I told him, he laughed and said, “oh from the Saturday Night Live skit with Tom Hanks! That’s hilarious!” Not only did he know what Brachtune was, he had a video tape of the very episode! Two nights later I was at his house watching The Guy Who Plays Mr. Belvedere Fan Club! And it all suddenly made sense.

It’s on the Best of Tom Hanks SNL DVD, by the way, if you ever have a chance to watch it. It IS funny.

Also, since it is Easter, I will share with you a strange factor about my life. PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS MAKING ME DRESS UP LIKE A BUNNY. I DON’T KNOW WHY.

It started when I was very young. This is me and my godmother. I’m what, a month old?

Late-breaking addition from my mom:
I was then a bunny on what my mother said was my first Halloween, but as I was born on October 19, this was either technically my second Halloween or I was a very early walker:

I guess she meant my first Halloween dressing up. I guess I went as an infant for my first Halloween.

Then when I worked in the grocery store in high school, THEY made me dress up like the Easter bunny and walk around terrorizing small children. (There’s a sign for ham behind me, ugh!)

After a time, I just gave in. When a friend of mine asked me to be a bridesmaid, I insisted on hopping down the aisle wearing bunny ears. She vetoed that idea but I did get away with wearing them at the reception.

And this…I can’t even explain this. (Yes, that’s Fortinbras.)

Speaking of Fortinbras, wow, I had no idea you guys were going to want to start a Fort Fan Club! I shouldn’t be surprised as he is pretty awesome. He’s excited to make another post, possibly even next weekend, so keep your fingers crossed. We may have to nag him about it, though. You saw how long it took him to make his Christmas post. In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite pictures of us. We’re in New Orleans for Halloween:

I’m also fond of this one …

… though this one is a bit more typical:

Man, you want more pictures of Fortinbras? That’s a dangerous request. I have more pictures of him than I do of Tigger. I have more pictures of Fortinbras than I do all other subjects put together! But I think instead of digging up old photos, we should just implore ole Fort to make more guest appearances! He’s not vegan, but he’s always been extremely supportive of me, and in fact, he veganized ALL of the holiday foods he made to give away to friends and family just because he was baking them at my house.

And now I’m going to go celebrate my third holiday of the day: it’s Godless Saturday. I figure, since Jesus died yesterday and he’s not to be resurrected until tomorrow, we can all sin with impunity today! And with that, I’m going to go get another beer.

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Guest Post by Fortinbras! Peanut Butter Salvation Cookies

Note from Renae: I’ve been promising you Fortinbras’ Christmas post forever, and he decided Easter was as good a time as any to get around to it. (He exists! He exists! I didn’t make him up!) So with no further ado…

heeeeeere’s Fort!

…and just in time for Easter, I Eat Food Presents:
Peanut Butter Salvation Cookies (a delicious story of addiction, decadence, and ultimately redemption)

WET INGREDIENTS:
6 bottles of champagne
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of light brown sugar
2 sticks of margarine (slightly cool and softened)
The equivalent of 2 eggs using egg substitute (we used egg replacer)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of unsweetened, salted all natural crunchy peanut butter (Crunchy is what the recipe calls for, but smooth can be used instead, really the decision is left to the discretion of the baker. Remember: Life is short, as Jesus has taught us, so you use the type of peanut butter that you desire because, who knows? Tomorrow somebody may want to crucify you and you don’t want to be hanging there wishing you had used the kind of peanut butter that you prefer. Amen)

DRY INGREDIENTS:
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of soy milk chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 and get ready to make the most delicious cookies you have ever eaten in your entire life. Seriously, they are life altering good.

LETS GET STARTED:
Go on ahead and pop open that first bottle of champagne.

Pamper yourself and pour a nice healthy glass and take a big ol’ swig from the bottle, as if you could be, if given the proper circumstances, a rock star or a naughty politician.

Now that we all feel better about life let’s begin to mix together the essential wet ingredients. Mix the sugars, the egg substitute, the vanilla, the margarine and lastly the peanut butter together in a large bowl.

When incorporating the margarine it is very important that it be soft and slightly cool. If the margarine is melted or room temperature your cookies are still going to taste good, but they will be more thin and crisp after baking. Also, the cookies tend to come out better if the peanut butter is added last, I have no idea why this is but I do know it has something to do with physics and viscosity, parallel dimensions and the letter W. VERY SCIENTIFIC COOKIE STUFF, Y’ALL.

By now you should have finished, at the very least, one of your bottles of champagne. So lets open another, shant we? Why yes, yes we shall.

Now, children of the New Testament Era, it is time to sift the flour and the salt and the baking soda together in a bowl of your choosing. So take a few sips, refill that glass and hop to it.

After sifting the dry thangs together, you should be tired, so reward yourself for all of your hard work by taking a long smooth drink of your cool bubbling champagne. Feel free to laugh as the bubbles tickle the back of your tongue and throat, knowing in your heart of hearts that you deserve this moment. Lucky, lucky you.

NOW FOR THE DEAL, THE OPUS, THE SHOW! Grab your wet ingredients and your dry ingredients and get thee to a mixing station! If you are using a hand mixer I am gonna tell you now, there comes a point with this dough, that you will have to get in there with your hands and mix it using the raw power of all ten digits. Don’t be afraid, it will be okay, take a sip of your fourth bottle of champagne and get in there and make that magic happen! Humph! For those of you who own a professional mixer you may want to forgo allowing those ingredients to fornicate together in the relative privacy of the mixing bowl and just pretend that you own a hand mixer and get in there as well. Let’s keep it clean, but let’s not forget to keep it sexy as well. Everyone begin to add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until they form a firm dough.

And for the love of God do not forget to take that fifth bottle of champagne out of the freezer!

Now, at this point you should have a good buzz and a stiff cookie dough going. Form the dough into a ball

And, if you were raised in the circus as I was, feel free to toss it about as if it were a bowling pin or a baby.

But remember, accidents can happen.

So if you are not circusy you should probably just take that ball of dough and put it in a bowl and chill it in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes. Use this time to prep your cookie sheets with parchment paper or tin foil, again, remember the cross, and do what you prefer. LET THERE BE NO REGRETS DURING YOUR CRUCIFIXION!

15 minutes and one bottle of champagne later:

IT IS TIME TO GET TO SMOOSHIN’!

By now you should have lost the pretense of the glass and you should be drinking long and deep directly from the bottle, you should also be removing the ball of dough from the fridge and getting out a tablespoon sized scooping apparatus from your drawer of apparati. Now get your cookie sheet in front of you and get that scoop in your hand and I want you to take a very healthy tablespoon sized scoop from your ball of dough using your scooping apparatus of choice and then I want you to roll that scoop of dough between your palms until it is in the shape of a ball.

I suggest that you start with eight scoops on your first tray, spacing them evenly until you gage how much your dough will spread during baking.

Now that you have your dough balls spaced evenly on your baking sheet I want you to smoosh them down slightly, giving each potential cookie a little smack down.

Next place 1 to 3 soy milk chocolate chips in the center of each of the smooshed down dough balls.

Now it is time to raise your bottle and your adorned cookie sheet in celebration of the fact that you have come this far. You are very intelligent and gifted, by this point in the recipe you should already be aware of this.

NOW, very carefully, (because by now if you have been following this recipe to a tee, you are drunk) place the baking sheet with your unbaked smooshed down cookie dough upon it onto the middle rack of your oven and remember to close the door .

You are going to want to bake these cookies for 13 to 16 minutes depending upon your oven, if you have a slow oven you may need to bake them even longer. After you get a feel for how the dough bakes you can increase or decrease the temperature of your oven if you feel that it is necessary. Baking times are so inconsistent between ovens that I refuse to draw a hard line where time and temperature are concerned. Just know this: These cookies aren’t going to be golden brown; at the golden brown stage after they have cooled they tend to be a little over done, still more delicious than any other cookie on the planet, but a little over done. Instead, I recommend that all bakers everywhere should shoot for finding that point where they are simply cooked thoroughly. I find that tasting the first tray of cookies, even if it means that you have to eat them all, can reveal the subtleties of the cooking process that will give you the information necessary to bake these Peanut Butter Salvation Cookies to perfection, just the way Jesus would.

HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!

Fort out – it’s Renae again. I CAN’T BELIEVE OF ALL THE PICTURES OF ME FROM THAT DAY I SUPPLIED HIM WITH, HE CHOSE THE ONE CALLED “VERY UGLY RENAE.JPG”. Why is he my best friend again? Oh yeah, because he’s hilarious. And also he thinks it’s okay for us to drink six bottles of champagne while doing all of his holiday baking. And also “very ugly Renae.jpg” was probably one of the least horrible looking photos of me in the batch. (I’ll never let very ugly Renae-2.jpg get out to the public, boy.) Yes, I love Fortinbras. But since he didn’t include any of the nice pictures of the ole Tiggster from that day, I shall:

Tigger used to always hang out with us during parties, no matter how raucous we got. Brachtune, on the other hand, doesn’t know what to make of us when we get rowdy and tends to hole up in a safe place:

And with that, I wish you all a happy Easter as well!

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