Archive forMay, 2009

Vegan Spicy Stewed Fish

I’ll warn you up front: this recipe will annoy most of the vegans among you. It’d annoy me a little bit if I came across it in a vegan blog. That’s because it calls for two ingredients most people probably can’t find. It may also annoy the non-vegans among you as well, because I’ve found that many non-vegans are annoyed by things that pretend to be meat. I’m going to post it anyway because I do sometimes find myself in possession of some realistic fake meat that I have no idea what to do with and it turned out really well. In fact, it turned out so well that I might try to replicate it with tofu – making it much more accessible – in the future. If you try it with something easier to find, like tofu, let me know the results!

Vegan Spicy Stewed Fish

8 oz vegan “fish” slices
1 lime
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1″ piece ginger, grated
1/4 cup vegan “fish” sauce (you can try 2 Tbsp soy sauce + 2 Tbsp water if you can’t find this)
1/4 large red onion, or 2-3 shallots, small dice
1 jalepeno
1/2 tsp coarse red salt
1/2 tsp coriander, ground or crushed
7 oz diced tomatoes (half a can)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Here’s another frozen vegan “meat” I found in the Vietnamese grocery store after Mark and I went bowling: “codfish slices”. Like the cocktail weiners, they contain absolutely NO BORAX!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Zest and juice the lime and add the results to a large, shallow dish along with the garlic, ginger, and “fish” sauce. Whisk.

Marinate the “fish” slices in this mixture for anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours, turning occasionally.

Slice the jalepeno …

… and dice the onion or shallots in a small dice.

Chop the cilantro:

Heat a small skillet over medium heat with a little oil. Add the onion and saute a few minutes.

Add the jalepeno and continue sauteing …

… until both are soft.

Smear a thin layer of the tomatoes into a baking dish.

Add the “fish” slices, sprinkle with salt and coriander, and then evenly pour the marinade over the slices.

Add the sauted onions and jalepenos in a layer.

Add the rest of the tomatoes in a layer then sprinkle with the coriander and press the leaves down into the sauce so they don’t burn.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. While the “fish” was baking, I sauteed up some more of those French beans I made the other night, this time tossing with garlic, shallot salt, and half of the rest of the tomatoes.

I also made some couscous, using broth instead of water and stirring in the remaining quarter can of tomatoes as well as some more of the shallot salt, with which I seem to be pretty heavy-handed lately.

Remove “fish” from oven.


This was really good! I asked Mark what he thought and he said, “I pretended it wasn’t fish and found that I really liked it!” (I don’t think that pretending it wasn’t fish required a large stretch of the imagination considering it wasn’t fish.) He also really liked the couscous and he ate more than a half a skillet of the beans, so for someone who claimed he wasn’t hungry, I’d say this meal turned out pretty well.

Here’s the whole meal:

I liked the texture of the “fish”, which I think will be hard to replicate without commercial products, but I do think tofu would adapt easily to this combination of flavors, so I think I’ll definitely try it again with tofu. Oooh, and I just realized that jackfruit would work really well here too! I think I’ll try that next now that I think of it!

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Lemony French dinner is mine

Dinner preparations were a bit haphazard tonight as I got home late and encountered some issues that needed to be dealt with when I finally arrived. Likewise my photos are haphazard. Nonetheless, I worked out a theme for the meal and it turned out pretty awesome. The theme was French. That’s because yesterday I found some French beans at Wegmans and revolved the meal around them. What I did was basically throw things together and ask myself what flavors seemed French to me, which isn’t easy because I’m not well versed in French cuisine as it’s not known for being particularly vegan-friendly. I’d also bought a bag of lemons yesterday because, well, I love lemons. They’re on my list of Things About Which I Freak Out if I’m Not Well-Stocked With. Garlic’s number one and onions are a close number two, but I think lemons may be number three. Anyway, right now I have PLENTY of garlic, onions, and lemons, so I found myself wondering what sorts of things seemed French and lemony. And here’s what I came up with:

Lemon-Dijon Roasted Potatoes

2 lbs red potatoes, chopped into even but chunky pieces
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves pressed garlic
1 tsp flaked sea salt, like Maldon
freshly ground pepper to taste
fresh herbs, to taste (I used rosemary and thyme)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash and chop the potatoes. How large you chop them will determine how quickly they bake.

Place the mustard, oil, lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper into a small bowl.

Whisk together.

Place the potatoes on a baking tray or dish on which they will fit in one layer. Pour the sauce over them.

Coat the potatoes with the sauce by tossing them around in your (clean!) hands. Place in the oven and cook for half and hour. Remove and add the fresh herbs:

Herbs from my indoor herb garden that I haven’t yet killed!

Return to oven and roast and additional 10 minutes or until done.


Lemony Garlic French Beans

1/2 lb French beans, trimmed
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
zest of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp shallot salt

Blanch the beans in salted, boiling water for 3 minutes.

Brush or spray a large skillet with olive oil. Add garlic and lemon zest, stir for 20 seconds. Add the beans and stir.

Pour 1/4 cup water into the skillet, as well as the lemon juice and shallot salt; stir to mix. Cover, reduce heat, and steam for 5 minutes.


Basic Lentils

I know I was going for a vaguely French theme here and I do in fact have French lentils, but honestly, I love your plain ole, every day brown lentils more than any other and that’s what I’ve used here. I could eat them every day.

4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups dry green or brown lentils
4 cups vegan stock
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp shallot salt

In a heavy-bottomed pot, bring some oil (you need very little) up to temperature, then add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add the lentils and stock; bring to a boil. Add the thyme and shallot salt, adjusting the amounts to suit your tastes. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

To serve, dress the lentils generously with fresh-squeezed lemon (I used 1/2 a lemon on my portion alone).

To be enjoyed with red wine and followed with dark chocolate. Trés français! If only I’d managed to incorporate a grapefruit so I could throw around my favorite French word. (Though I’m also fond of bibliothèque.)

Now for an explanation of tonight’s post’s title. If you’ve read my about page, you’ll know that part of the reason for the name of this blog comes from Invader Zim. I don’t remember the episode, but in one of them, Zim shrieks, “sweet, lemony-fresh victory is mine!”, which is something I have taken to shouting when things go my way. Dinner tonight did go my way, and it was lemony fresh. I have no idea how French it actually was.

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Vegan Cocktail Weiners

The weekend before last, Mark and I went bowling. Bowling isn’t something we ordinarily do, but we thought it’d be fun. I kicked Mark’s butt!

Mark claims it was because I was “trained” in bowling, but the fact of the matter is that although I did in fact take both Bowling and Billiards as my gym credits in college, I had to cheat to pass bowling class. I suck at bowling. Also, bowling class was at 8:30 a.m., which is simply outrageous. At least Billiards was at 4:30, when the bar was open and I could drink beer during class.

Anyway, we went bowling, and we didn’t take any skinheads. After bowling, we wandered into a nearby Vietnamese grocery store because I had never been there. I was surprised to find a lot of frozen vegan “meat” there, some of which I purchased just for the novelty of it. One of the items I found was vegan cocktail weiners:

What’s more, vegan cocktail weiners are entirely borax-free!!

I know it may seem extreme to some, but Mark and I are both committed to a borax-free diet. So into my shopping basket this rare find went!

Apparently what you are supposed to do with cocktail weiners is mix together a jar of grape jelly and a jar of barbecue or chili sauce and throw in the tiny weiners, then cook, generally in a crockpot. I can’t stand bottled barbecue sauces to begin with because they are too sweet, so I can’t even imagine to what levels of disgust grape jelly would elevate it. Therefore I made up my own weiner sauce. (Apparently cocktail weiners are also sometimes called “little smokies” and though that nomenclature has its appeal, I’m sticking to weiner.)

I bought a pineapple (it’s my favorite fruit!) for our weekend-long party, but never got around to serving it. Oops. So I incorporated it into tonight’s dinner as the “sweet” flavor. If you don’t have a pineapple lying around, try agave nectar or brown sugar to taste for the sweetness.

Vegan Cocktail Weiners in a Spicy-Sweet Weineralicious Sauce

1/3 cup chili sauce
2 Tbsp prepared yellow mustard
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 slices pineapple (fresh, frozen, or canned), chopped finely
sriracha, to taste
8 oz vegan cocktail weiners (try cutting up regular-sized vegan hot dogs if you can’t find these, maybe adding a little liquid smoke to the sauce)

Defrost the weiners if necessary. I put them in a pot of hot water and put a weight on them to submerge them. Within 10 minutes they were defrosted.

If necessary, core and slice the pineapple. I set it in a bowl so I can collect any juice that escapes; I poured this juice into the sauce pot.

Chop the pineapple finely; you should have about 1/3 cup.

Mark’s been complaining for a few years that we never have “normal” mustard. By this he means French’s yellow mustard. I love mustard and prefer a high class product. I recently caved in and bought him some French’s as a treat. Cocktail weiner sauce seemed like something that would call for French’s. Use whatever mustard strikes your fancy, and add it with all the other ingredients except the weiners to a small pot.

To my surprise, the cocktail weiners were individually wrapped like tiny little sausages; I had to pop them each out of their casing.

Add the weiners to the sauce:

Simmer over medium-low heat until the weiners are warmed through and the sauce is thickened.


Mark pronounced the cocktail weiners “strangely good”. I’d buy them again.

In other news, since I sometimes talk about books here despite the fact they are rarely considered food (except in Firmin, which, by the way, is a very cute book), I would like to announce that it is my opinion that Pride and Prejudice is improved greatly by the addition of zombies. Fortinbras brought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies down for me this weekend and I’ve been reading it along side the original, which I hadn’t read for many years. As far as I remember I was pretty ambivalent about P&P when I read it, which must have been in college because it has a price tag from my university on it. Reading the zombified version, however, I find myself constantly going back to the original to see if the non-zombie parts are really quite as ridiculous in the original and they are! The zombie version, which uses the original text for at least half of the wording, is actually much easier to read as they’ve tightened up the prose in order to fit the zombies in. Maybe it’s sacrilegious for an English major to prefer zombies to pure Pride, but it’s a lot more lively. Which is a funny assessment to make of the living dead, I guess.

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Pizza Pasta

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s mostly because my dear friend V is in town from San Francisco celebrating her birthday. I’ve simply been too busy hanging out with her and several of our friends to do anything creative in the kitchen or to update the ole blog. Many of our meals have been random events, however, Saturday night we hosted people here at the house – it was basically a big slumber party, minus the slumber – and I decided to serve individual pizzas. I made a huge batch of pizza dough, rolled out personal sized crusts, and let everyone add their own toppings. For some reason there are no pictures, but I did have leftover sauce and toppings, so for a low-key, detoxifying dinner tonight V suggested I toss some pasta in the leftover sauce. I did one better and dumped all the leftover toppings into skillet with the sauce and some pasta. I now have more than a square inch to spare in the refrigerator and dinner was surprisingly tasty. I didn’t take pictures during the preparation, and I don’t even have a real recipe, but since I took a picture of the resulting meal, here’s approximately what I did.

Pizza Pasta
Made with leftover pizza toppings. Serves 3.

8 oz whole wheat small shell pasta
1/4 red onion, diced
1/4 cup slivered vegan pepperoni
6-8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 heirloom tomato, sliced thinly
1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
3 Tbsp sun-dried tomato tapenade (or chopped sun-dried tomatoes)
1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
2 Tbsp capers
1/2 cup caramelized onions
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
red chili flakes, to taste
3/4 cup pizza sauce, preferably home-made

Cook the pasta until al dente and drain. Toss with a small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.

Heat some olive oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the diced onions and pepperoni and cook for two minutes, then add the bell pepper, tomatoes and garlic; cook for another three minutes. Add the tapenade and mix thoroughly. Add the capers and olives; cook for a minute or two. Add the caramelized onions, salt, pepper, and chili flakes; stir well. Add the pizza sauce and heat thoroughly. Toss with the pasta, garnish with fresh basil, and serve.

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This post is little more than a pathetic excuse to play with my new laptop

I rushed through the making of dinner tonight because my new laptop unexpectedly appeared on my doorstep this morning and I wanted to go play with it. Since I also wanted to make sure it recognized my camera, I snapped a few pictures before eating, but I can’t say this post is up to my usual standards of bombarding you with a million photographs. But doing things I often do on the laptop will tell me what all I settings I need to set and what I need to download and stuff, so here’s a boring post for you!

Cabbage and Seitan “Ham” Skillet Dinner

1 onion, sliced
1/4 pound seitan ham
1/2 jalapeno, chopped
1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped
1 cup water
1 vegan “beef” bouillon cube
1/2 cup Dutch Apple Catsup
freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

Heat some olive oil up in a large skillet. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add the “ham” and jalapeno; sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the cabbage, water, bouillon cube and salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until cabbage is soft; about 15 minutes. Stir in the catsup.

That was my own recipe, thrown together with little thought. I also made a tossed salad. I enjoy making up my own salad dressings, but tonight I adapted a dressing I found in one of those “old time” cookbooks I borrowed from the library. Only this book claims to contain recipes from “historic” Alexandria, Virginia, but the only thing historic about it is the fact that all the contributors were female and all used their husbands’ names instead of their own first names. It seems to be from the 1970s or thereabouts. A time when a can of soup was considered something to base a recipe around. In fact, the recipe for this dressing does just that. It was called Tomato Salad Dressing and instead of the can of tomato soup it dictated, I used tomato sauce. I decided it tasted more like Bloody Mary Salad Dressing. I’d share the recipe with you, but I’ve decided I don’t think Bloody Marys should dress salads. The original recipe noted that the dressing was good on “cold cuts of beef”, so maybe it’d be better on some seitan. OR WITH VODKA.

Here’s my new laptop, which I got after arguing with Mark for about a year. But because it’s me and Mark it was a backwards argument: he arguing that I needed a new laptop and me insisting I didn’t. I finally gave in when it became impossible to boot my old one. By the time I got home from work today, Mark had removed that bloody awful Vista and installed the latest version of Ubuntu for me, and I have to say that after 8 years of using Linux on my personal computers, it is really nice to be able to plug stuff in and have it magically work. Like my camera. And (cross your fingers!) maybe my iPod! And I’d set aside the evening to download and install all the apps I’ll need, but the only thing I could think of that wasn’t already installed was Picasa. I just needed that and a picture of The Toonse for the desktop and I was set!

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Colonial Apple Catsup and Baked Seitan Ham

Wandering the library the other day, I for some reason decided it would be a hoot to look for really old recipes, particularly from this area, that I could veganize, so I trotted on over to the cookbooks. I expected to find just a couple of books, but my arms were full after looking over just a shelf and a half of about six shelves of cookbooks. I checked out books containing recipes from colonial Williamsburg, the Civil War, and our “founding fathers”.

Flipping through them a bit more intensively at home later, though, I started having second thoughts. I don’t know that I really want to veganize anything called “Sheep’s Head Stew,” which yes, really is what it sounds like. I couldn’t even read some of the recipes they were so disturbing. One of the books used the old-style “s” that looks like “f”, though, which made the chapter called “Flesh and Fish” look like “Flefh and Fifh”, which I kept reading as “Flesh and Filth,” which was sort of amusing…and accurately conveys how appetizing I found most of its contents.

I did eventually mark a few recipes, though. One of the more interesting was Dutch Apple Catsup. The modern intro says,

Just as catsup is very American, so is the idea of making it from apples instead of tomatoes.

Which I thought was funny given the name of the recipe is Dutch Apple Catsup. The recipe is in the chapter on New York recipes, though, where there were a lot of Dutch settlers – it was called New Amsterdam when this recipe was in favor – and in fact, most of the recipes in the chapter are Dutch this or that. I just thought it was linguistically humorous.

The intro also goes on to say,

This recipe looks strange, but if you prepare it, you will be surprised at what a great relish is it with roast pork, baked ham, and many other main course dishes.

The recipe is entirely vegan as written, though I have halved all the amounts (and still made more than I can probably use). I didn’t find it strange at all!

Dutch Apple Catsup
an old New Amsterdam recipe from the 18th century

6 large or 8 medium apples (or 1 pint prepared applesauce)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 medium white onion, diced
1 cup white vinegar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup prepared horseradish

Pare and core the apples …

… then quarter.

Place in a pot and cover with water.

Simmer without a lid until the apples are very soft and the water has almost completely evaporated.

Puree the apples. You can either push them through a sieve (the colonial method), run them through a food mill, beat them with a spoon, or put them in a blender. I did the least colonial thing:

At this point I realized I’d spent an hour and a half making apple sauce. You can easily skip all of the above steps and buy non-sweetened, all-natural apple sauce.

Place the remaining ingredients in a pot.

Stir in the apple sauce:

Simmer slowly for one hour.

As the recipe had said to serve with roast pork or baked ham, I figured I’d finalize my “ham” recipe. So here goes; it’s nearly identical to my last attempt.

Seitan Ham

2 1/3 cups vital wheat gluten (one box)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 cup beet juice (or just use water; the resulting “ham” simply won’t be pink)
1 cup ketchup

For the simmering broth
7 cups water
1 cup soy sauce
3 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp sage
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Bring the simmering broth ingredients to a boil in a large pot:

Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl:

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.

Pour the liquid into the dry and mix with your hands. Pardon me, but I forgot how to focus at this point. I’d have trashed the photo, but I wanted you to see the fuschia color.

Form into a log and place on a large piece of cheesecloth. I wash and reuse cheesecloth, which is why it looks dingy.

Roll up then tie of the ends like a Tootsie roll:

Place the seitan log in the simmering broth.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for an hour and 15 minutes (or pressure cook for 45 minutes).

Remove log from the broth.

When cool enough to handle, unwrap it. It’s much less pink, though the interior was pinkish when sliced.

It’s best if you bake it. Slice it up:

Baste it with something. The recipe I gave here is really tasty, but of course tonight I used the apple catsup, which was also tasty.

Bake at 400 degrees for half an hour.

Serve, with additional catsup.

Mark stole one of my slices off my plate, so it seemed to go over well with him. I have a ton of apple catsup left over. Now I’m wondering what else to do with it!

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My new skillet

When I did my first cast iron post, my mom commented that she had an old cast iron skillet that she got from her mother and offered it to me. I was very excited about this because I didn’t know she had any cast iron (she didn’t use it much when I was growing up) and I love old stuff like that. I picked it up last weekend when we were there for Mother’s Day.

Although it was in great shape and probably at least 40 years old and I was very happy to have it, I was a little disappointed to find that it had no maker’s mark on the bottom. That’s not unusual and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the piece, but it meant it would be next to impossible for me to date it or really learn any more about it. Still, it had been my grandmother’s and that was pretty cool.

One thing that was curious, though, was the seasoning was completely gone from the cooking surface (but not the rest of it), yet there was no rust at all:

The lighting is a little warm, but that’s just the color of the iron; it’s definitely not at all rusty.

Because it seemed so unusual that it would not be seasoned yet not rusty, I asked my mother how she had taken care of it and whether she had purposely removed the seasoning or if it had just flaked off over time, and she responded that she “didn’t know nothing about no seasoning” and had never done anything with it, either giving it special care or purposefully removing the seasoning. She just used Crisco or oil to cook in it, though she didn’t use it much. So really it’s pretty amazing it was in this condition.

The inside was beautiful, but the underside was less pretty; the old seasoning was intact and sort of messy:

Something made me stare at the bottom of it when we got home Sunday night, though. For some reason, I thought possibly I could make out lettering in the gunked-up seasoning on the bottom. But I kept telling myself my eyes were playing tricks on me.

This is where I thought I saw letters, right above the rust.

I wanted to see letters real bad, and I looked at the bottom of that skillet harder than I’ve ever looked at anything in my life (except maybe that one old photograph of Broadway in New York – Mom will know what I’m talking about!). I shoved the skillet in Mark’s face and asked him if he saw letters. To my surprise, he said he did! He did a rubbing for me, which did seem to show something was there, but we couldn’t make it out much better than we could looking at the skillet itself. I stared and stared and stared at that skillet.

I didn’t photograph the skillet that night, but here’s a photo from later, which I have lightened a bit; you can see better where I was seeing the phantom letters:

It came to me abruptly. I was staring as hard as I possibly could at that skillet when suddenly I knew it said WAPAK. It was weird, really. I didn’t know what WAPAK meant, but Google quickly informed me…it was a cast iron company! Honestly, I thought I was going to be googling 5-letter words that looked like – – PA – all night long, because I was still sure my eyes were tricking me and those were the only two letters I was nearly certain about. It was very hard to see it. What’s even more exciting, though, I learned the Wapak company was only in business from 1903 to 1926. This skillet couldn’t have been new to my grandmother – and is definitely older than my beloved Griswold. I don’t know for sure (and my grandmother didn’t confirm or deny when I asked her), but I am pretty sure my grandmother got it from her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother, knowing what I do about my family history. My mom agrees with me. So I suddenly have my great-grandmother’s skillet!

I cleaned it up last night. I took sand paper to the bottom of it. And lo…

There was such a build-up of seasoning on the bottom of the skillet that when I was trying to date it, before I had my revelation, I thought it didn’t have a heat ring. It turns out it does: the seasoning was hiding it.

I got off all the seasoning I was will to exert the energy on with sand paper and took it inside to clean up with steel wool before seasoning.

Then I seasoned it four times. Here it is subsequently looking extremely shiny. There’s no oil in it.

And it’s like a dream! Oh my gosh, it is soooo nice! I was afraid when I got it that I wouldn’t love it as much as my Griswold and I’d feel bad liking the non-family-heirloom skillet better. But it is BETTER! It truly is as smooth as glass and the very first thing I cooked in it was sliding around ridiculously! These Brussels sprouts were chasing each other around like race cars before I completely packed them in!

Because Mark can eat much more than half a skillet of Brussels sprouts, I made two skillets-full of them and had a cook-off between the Griswold and the Wapak:

I don’t know what my life has come to that I spend my Saturday nights pitting two 80-year old skillets against each other in weird Brussels sprouts contests.

Instantly this skillet has become the one thing in my kitchen I will never part with.

Oh, and speaking of cast iron. After mentioning that my parents got a glass top electric stove when they remodeled their kitchen, because they can’t get gas and apparently it’s hard to find non-glass top electric stoves these days, I did some research on ranges. Since we are renting and I can’t very well build the kitchen of my dreams in a rental home, I’ve never looked into them much. It seems glass tops really are prevalent, which is horribly annoying since there is no way in hell I’d ever buy one. I learned about something called induction ranges, though. Apparently they are even better than gas. They cook using a magnetic field. They are instantly responsive to changes in the heat setting and they have a high output. They are also safer than both gas and regular electric stoves. I’m very interested. One of the major disadvantages is you must cook in ferrous (magnetic) cookware. Guess what is extremely ferrous? Cast iron. In fact, cast iron is just about the only thing you can cook in. Which is a-okay with me! I’d miss my Calphalon pots, but if it comes down to me ever having to choose between glass top – giving up my cast iron – and induction – giving up my Calphalon, trust me, great-grandmother’s skillet ain’t going nowhere. And my wok is cast iron, which means basically I’m all set.

Too bad induction ranges cost $3,000 or I’d go break my electric coil stove and make the landlord buy me one! Seriously, though, does anyone have any experience with these?

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Ramp Gratin

I have a nice tale for you. About this time of year, I start reading a lot about ramps on many the food blogs. Ramps are leeks that grow wild in the American Northeast, down at least as far as Virginia, yet I’ve never had them. I’ve never even seen them in person. But as they are touted as tasting like a mild cross between onion and garlic, both of which I adore, and as I live in Virginia, where they are native, I’ve always wanted to find and consume ramps. I knew my best bet was the farmer’s market, and I love farmer’s markets, I really, truly do but they all occur at some ungodly hour of the morning on weekends. Some of them actually close before what I deem an acceptable waking hour. I may, after weeks of feeling guilty, manage to drag myself out of bed early enough to hit up the farmer’s market mid-summer, but ramp season is very early and very short and ends before I’ve reached that point. This year more than any other, though, I’ve been wanting to try ramps.

So I did some research yesterday and learned there are FOUR farmer’s markets in my immediate area on four different days of the week. If I can’t make it to at least one of them, there’s simply something wrong with me. Furthermore, one of them takes place on Wednesday mornings directly on one of the two possible routes I can take to work. Wednesday – today – was the very next day. I had no excuse. Not only that but this morning the clouds parted and the rain relented and that glowing, glorious orb I think we used to call the sun shone down upon Northern Virginia, greeting us with its warm embrace after 40 days and nights of our soggy misery. I put the top down on my convertible and drove merrily off to the market.

There were only a few stalls today’s market, probably because it is so early in the season. I did, though, manage to snag some utterly gorgeous strawberries, and some fabulous asparagus, and some nice lettuce, and some plump tomatoes. I even got some lovely spring onions. What I did not get were ramps. There was a distinct lack of ramps at this market. Foiled! Nonetheless, I was pleased with my purchases and motored on into work in the bright sunshine.

After work, I had to go to the grocery store, for I had a shopping list a mile long. I puttered around the produce department at Wegmans, picking up items for my latest project (you’ll be hearing more about this shortly), when what to my wondering eyes should appear but ramps!!! At the grocery store!! My grocery store!! It’s difficult for me to put into words how much I love Wegmans. Anyway, I gathered as many ramps as I could stuff into a bag and finished my shopping with a beatific smile that didn’t leave my face even when it took three cashiers 20 minutes to find the code for ramps so I could be greatly over-charged for something that grows wild upon our land.

Returning home, I started some brown rice cooking in the rice cooker and contemplated what the heck to do with these elusive ramps. After a bit of googling, I realized most vegetarian ramp dishes involve either pasta, which I didn’t want for dinner and anyway I’d already started cooking rice, or potatoes, and for some reason none of the 80 pounds of produce I purchased today included potatoes. Then I found this recipe for ramp gratin, which I adapted for vegan tastes and served with that lovely asparagus and the aforementioned rice. And I share with you!

Ramp Gratin

1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
10-12 oz ramps
2 slices bread (I used one large chunk of homemade sourdough French bread)
1/4 cup Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix, or your favorite vegan cheese
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 cup vegan sour cream
6 Tbsp water
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tear the bread into chunks then put in a food processor or blender and pulse until it’s in crumbs.

Place the bread crumbs in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring or tossing frequently, for about 3 minutes or until beginning to brown.

Wash the ramps.

Trim the bottoms off.

Chop them up, both the onion-y bulb and the green tops.

Zest the lemon, then juice.

Heat the skillet over medium heat, add some olive oil, then the garlic.

After a minute, add the ramps.

Sauté until the ramp greens are wilted.

Stir in the bread crumbs, uncheese, and lemon zest.

Add the sour cream and water.

Add the salt and pepper and let it thicken for a few seconds.

Move the skillet to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes.

For the asparagus, I mixed together about a tablespoon of olive oil, some of the lemon zest (before I added it to the ramps), 2 pressed cloves of garlic, some salt, and one or two tablespoons lemon juice.

Then I rubbed my hands in the mixture, then rubbed each stalk of asparagus with the vinaigrette before placing on the George Foreman grill.

Serve with a grain.

So, were ramps worth the wait? I’d say so. Let’s put it this way: if you like onions, you’ll like ramps. I’m looking forward to trying them in other variations.

In other news, Mark and I visited the parental homestead on Sunday, both for Mother’s Day and to see my parent’s brand-spanking-new renovated kitchen, which I found very exciting. I was the first person to cook in the kitchen! Neither of my parents enjoy cooking, so it was fitting that someone who does was on hand to inaugurate it. My mom requested I make spaghetti, which I think is sort of an amateur dish, but a safe one (my parents aren’t very adventurous eaters) and because it’s so easy, one that allowed me to relax and just have fun in the new kitchen. I put Mark in charge of photography, which was a bit of a mistake because he takes extremely unflattering pictures of me. And we somehow managed to not take any that really show off the beautiful new kitchen, but never fear, my aunt and I plan to do a post from the new kitchen soon so you can see it then.

As Mom is still in the process of unpacking all the items she’d packed away before the old kitchen was torn out, we spent a lot of time looking for stuff, like this:

Behind Mum’s head you can see the large built-in bread box, which I envy so badly. But she’s not even using it for bread! It’s stuffed with tea supplies!

Here I am looking for more stuff. All the lower cabinets have pull-out drawers, which is handy.

To my surprise, I found a cast iron bacon press!

“Hey, can I have this?!” I asked, having recently put a grill press on my wish list.

“No!” Mum retorted, “You don’t eat bacon!” But she doesn’t use it for bacon either!

I had brought with two bags of foodstuffs, which I spread out on the island. “What is all of this…what do you call this stuff?” my father asked. “Um, ingredients?” I said. “Yes, that’s the word: ingredients. I’ve never seen so many ingredients before.” “What do you people eat?!” I exclaimed. I still don’t know, but apparently it doesn’t involve ingredients.

I also brought my own knife, as well as several other utensils. My mother did have much better knives than Smucky did, but I learned my lesson in Australia and I now travel with my trusty chef’s knife.

While I prepared dinner, Mom continued to unpack stuff and Dad stood around holding dogs. The white blob in this picture is one such dog.

Although I LOVED my parents’ new kitchen, the one thing I didn’t love was the stove, which is a glass-top electric stove. I don’t like electric stoves to begin with, but I really dislike glass tops because they seem very fragile. I’m sure I would break the glass in about a day, and I don’t know that cast iron is good for them. Not only that, but a little bit of water boiled over when I was cooking the pasta and when the stove top cooled down, we realized it wasn’t coming off. WATER wasn’t coming off the stove top. Mom tried to wipe it off and it wasn’t budging. Dad said they’d have to use the special cleaner. What? Special cleaner to get WATER off? The only reason they got a glass top stove was because they said nearly all models of electric stoves sold today are glass top; it’s hard to find non-glass top electric stoves. So of course I’m convinced this is all a marketing ploy. The manufacturers are only selling glass top stoves because it costs so much money to replace the glass and it’s a GIVEN you’re going to break the glass. Not to mention the ridiculous cleaning products you’re supposed to buy. Lame, lame, lame. I guess I’d better be careful not to break my electric stove if the only thing the landlord will be able to replace it with is a glass top! I rather doubt he’s going to follow up on my request to have a gas line laid so I can go back to having a gas stove, which I much prefer.

How Mark got himself kicked out of the kitchen:

And here’s Sophie being incredibly cute. She doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about the new kitchen.

Finally, how awesome is my new logo?! My friend Travis made it for me! Coming soon: my mom gives me an awesome and timely family heirloom, and I cook Colonial.

Comments (7)

How to make a heavy-duty, steel tofu press

I am often asked where to find non-plastic tofu presses. There are a couple of places you can get wooden ones online, but the really nice ones are stainless steel and seem only available in Japan. I have a wooden one that I got in Japantown in San Francisco, but I’m not even 100% happy with that one because I use such heavy weights I’m afraid it’s going to fall apart. It’s a bit wobbly. So I thought I’d make myself a heavy duty tofu press and show you how to do it at the same time.

Here’s what you need:

2 medium (about 8.5″ x 4.5″) loaf pans: the cheapest you can find; they need to be able to nest
a drill, with 1/8″ and 7/32″ bits (or thereabouts) that are good drilling for metal (the ones I bought said “soft metals” and worked fine)
sand paper

Unless you plan to make more than a pound of tofu at a time, don’t buy large loaf pans. Your tofu curds won’t fill it deeply and you’ll end up with very flat tofu. I usually start with 8 to 10 ounces of soy beans (ending up with about 12 to 14 ounces of tofu) and the medium pans I bought are the perfect size.

I had a helper, by the way:

Optional materials:

that little pointy thing you tap to make indents so you can center the drill; I don’t know what it’s called

Finding cheap loaf pans was the hardest part of this project, oddly enough. It’s easy to find inexpensive pans – these were $4.99 each at K-Mart – but they are much thicker, heavier, and nicer than the old, cheap tin pans I was trying to find. You can try scouting out thrift stores for old, thinner pans that may be easier to perforate. These worked fine, though, so don’t go nuts looking for something lighter. You also need a matching set so they nest, which may be harder to find in thrift stores.

While I was at K-Mart, I called up ole Fortinbras to confirm with him that drill bits that said good for “soft metals” would work on fairly heavy loaf pans. Fortinbras is in Florida and did not answer the phone. He’s supposed to be my handyman, at my beck and call, ready to answer all of my tool questions at any time. Damn him! I took a chance and bought the bits without his counsel. They were fine.

How awesome is my drill, by the way? It’s older than I am!

It was my grandfather’s. He died when I was very young but I remember him and he was the greatest. I’m very attached to his drill. Even if you can see sparks inside it while you’re operating it and it has big vents my hair could get caught in, getting tangled around the motor and catching fire on those sparks. So I get excited when I have projects that involve drilling. I tried to think of a way to do this without a drill in case some of you don’t have one, but drilling seems to be the fastest, easiest way. Hopefully most of you at least know someone who has a drill you can borrow.

Prepare the drill by inserting the smaller bit. The picture depicts the larger bit. Pretend it’s the smaller one.

I marked where I wanted to put the holes by tapping indents with this doohickey using a hammer. That’s optional, and you could also use a marker of some sort.

Hullo, Brachtune. This was just before I turned the drill on and she ran away, though when Mark came home and flopped down next to me, she decided she loves Mark more than she is scared of the drill.

VERY IMPORTANT! WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES! Or failing that, onion goggles, as I did:

Not only should you wear goggles any time you operate a drill because bits can break during use- it’s happened to me – but drilling metal will cause a lot of metal shavings to fly around and you do NOT want that in your eye.

Drill holes with the smaller bit, using the indents as your guide if you made them …

… then re-drill the holes with the larger bit:

Here I’ve marked all the holes I want to make on the bottom of the pan:

Then I drilled all the small holes …

… including a row around the bottom of the sides of the pan:

Then I drilled my big holes:

At this point in time Fortinbras returned my phone call and upon hearing I was playing with power tools advised me to drink a beer. According to Fortinbras, the operation of any power tool is enhanced by the consumption of beer. Fortinbras knows much more about power tools than I do, so I take his word on these things. I retrieved a beer.

When the holes are all drilled, the next thing to do is sand them smooth, on both sides.

Now, Fortinbras was on the phone with me when I began this step and he started saying something about how I wanted Raymond Burr to clean up the holes but I don’t know what he was talking about. I think it involved me buying some sort of additional power tool. In my opinion, if my grandfather’s drill didn’t come with a Raymond Burr attachment, it can’t be necessary. And sand paper worked just fine. In fact, sanding the holes was much easier than I expected, because the drill removed most of the metal from the hole instead of just pushing it aside. See, here’s the first tofu press I made, a long time ago, before I had the wooden press:

(Wow, it looks so primitive!)

I didn’t use the drill because I was a sissy back then. It’s hard to see, but what I did was hammer nails through the pan, which caused very sharp edges inside the holes. That was annoying. You probably need Raymond Burr to clean those holes up.

Anyway, the drilled holes were pretty smooth to begin with and a brief session with the sandpaper finished them right up in no time. I did start turning into the tin man in the hand area though:

Do any of you watch Black Books? It’s the best show ever so you should. Looking at my hands after sanding my holes, the only thing I could hear in my head was the Cleaner saying, “dirty, dirty. Everything is very dirty.”

Since everything is so dirty, wash the pan (and your hands!) and dry it.

Then vacuum or sweep up all those metal shavings. They’d be no fun to step on barefoot!

And that’s it! The press is done. I’ll show you how to use it in a little bit. Next, if you don’t have one, you’ll want to make a lining for the press. Use a lightweight, cotton or nylon, very porous fabric. Probably not dyed. I like muslin or chiffon. Muslin is easier to finish the edges of. To figure out how large you want the lining to be, measure the length, width, and depth of the pan.

For my 8.5″x4.5″x3″ pan, I multiplied 4.5 by 2 (once for the top and once for the bottom), then multiplied 3 by 2 (once for each side), then added that plus 2 inches for overlap, which gave me 17 inches for the width. For the length, I took 8.5 once (because the width is wide enough to cover the top, this dimension doesn’t need to be doubled), but rounded it up to 9, then added 3 x 2 (for the depth of the top and bottom) and added 2 inches, which also gave me 17 inches. So I made a 17″ x 17″ square. You don’t have to be quite so fancy with your calculations. Just make it large enough that it can wrap the pan neatly without a lot of excess fabric.

It fits in the pan and would completely cover the contents, without too much left over to bunch up:

Then I just zig-zagged the edges to help prevent unraveling.

The finished lining:

Now to use it. You can read my tutorial on making tofu for the details, and I’ll just show you the new press in action with photos.

I set the perforated pan in the sink to drain the whey.

Then I line it; I think it’s easier to wet the fabric so it stays put.

Then fill with the curds:

Fold the fabric up:

Place the non-perforated loaf pan on top:

Then add weights. I use a couple of cans, then my steam pan (the cast iron skillet I didn’t season and use for steaming bread) and a molcajete. I like very firm tofu. For a less firm tofu, just use less weight.

After half an hour or so, remove the weights. You can see how far the top pan has sunk:

The flattened tofu:

I use the edges of the liner to lift the tofu out:

The finished tofu. There are ridges where the curds seeped up into the folds of the liner.

I trim them off and reserve them in case I want to throw them into something.

This vintage glass loaf pan/refrigerator dish is the perfect size and shape for storing the tofu. Just cover the tofu with water:

Place the lid on, and refrigerate!

This tofu turned out better than my tofu has been lately, and is so firm I’ll be able to stir fry it without it falling apart. My tofu press was a success! Total cost: $9.98 for the loaf pans and about $2.50 for the drill bits, which I bought just because I wasn’t sure any of the ones I already had were good for drilling metal. That’s a lot less than I spent on my “real” tofu press and this one will take a lot more abuse. It’s also much easier to apply the weights. This project has saved me a trip to Japan to buy a stainless steel tofu press! Er, wait…that sort of backfired, didn’t it?

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Soups from leftovers

Hello. I’m just checking in with the ole blog. I haven’t cooked anything all that blog-worthy this week. What I’ve been doing, in fact, is making soup from random things I find in the refrigerator all week because I haven’t felt like going to the grocery store or having a big to-do in the kitchen. Tonight I used up the rest of a batch of kimchi and some tofu I made that ended up (somewhat curiously) much softer than usual by making soon tubu jjiggae.

I didn’t follow my recipe from last time. I put 4 cups of water on to boil with a piece of kombu. After letting that simmer for 5 minutes or so, I added 1/4 cup vegetarian fish sauce (just omit if you don’t have it) and 2 vegan “beef” bouillon cubes, as well as some shredded dulse, what was probably about a cup of kimchi, 3 big spoonfuls of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and my too-soft tofu, chunked, and let it all heat up. Then I removed the kombu and topped with scallions. REALLY fast and easy. Almost ridiculously so.

The whole spread; I also made some rice and I’d stopped and picked up a couple of items for banchan:

I didn’t take a photo, mostly because it didn’t look very pretty, but last night I cleaned out half the refrigerator by making soup. I had most of an onion in the fridge that had been peeled and needed to be used, so I chopped that up and sautéed it with a couple of carrots that were getting old, adding in a bunch of halved grape tomatoes near the end. What I didn’t have, *gasp*, was garlic, so I added a bunch of garlic powder (I shudder at the thought, but fortunately Penzeys’ stuff is good) and also some asafoetida just to be on the safe side. Then I added 6 cups stock and what was probably about 3/4 cup leftover homemade pizza sauce, some red pepper flakes, thyme, and parsley and brought to a boil. Then I dumped in maybe 1/2 cup lentils de Puy. and the rest of some savoy cabbage I had to get rid of, maybe a cup or so, chopped. At this point the soup actually looked fairly decent. However, after putting a lid on it and simmering for 20 minutes, the lentils made it all muddy and it didn’t look as pretty. Then I added 1/2 cup alphabet pasta and a chopped zucchini that was about to see better days and simmered until the pasta was done. I tore up some stale sourdough bread left over from the weekend’s baking, put it in a bowl, and ladled the soup over it. It wasn’t pretty, but damn did it taste good. Sort of shockingly good considering practically all of it was leftovers. It was so good I ate three bowlfuls and then could barely move the rest of the night: it was that filling. I polished the rest off for lunch today.

And that is my pretty boring post. Have you noticed a trend here? When I don’t know what to make, I throw things into a pot with some stock and call it soup. Bizarrely, it almost always tastes amazing. I don’t know why. Luck, I guess.

I’m about to build an ark here in Northern Virginia. How I miss that 90-degree weather from a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to believe I’m having the pool opened in a week. I’m going to be out there cleaning the pool while wearing a winter jacket if the weather doesn’t start cooperating. I’m wondering if I should invest in a wetsuit.

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