Archive forMay, 2010

Curry Laksa

Let me first say how much I and Mark both appreciate all of the comments we received on my last post about losing Brachtune. It’s been hard for us – the house seems so empty without any animals – but your kind thoughts have been a big comfort. I never really thought anyone would read this blog when I first started it, but having the support of people from around the world when I’m feeling this down is really incredible. Thank you.

Mark’s been battling quite a chest cold for several days now, and I’m hoping this tickle in my throat isn’t going to turn into anything worse. But I happen to think that spicy soups are just the thing at the beginning or end of a cold (or the middle, or, well, any other day, quite frankly), and I had most of a can of coconut milk left from another recipe that I wanted to use up, which got me thinking about laksa. I don’t see laksa much on menus in this area for some reason, although maybe it’s just never found under the vegetarian section so I miss it. So the first time I ever had laksa was actually in Sydney (where it was found under the vegetarian section of a menu). I’d therefore be hard pressed to call myself a laksa expert so the recipe I present here may have little in common with a genuine laksa, but it was spicy and good so I’m presenting it anyway. I used this recipe as a reference for the spices.

Curry Laksa

8 oz rice noodles (either wide or vermicelli)
4 shallots, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2″ piece ginger, roughly chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground dried lemongrass (I bought this at Penzeys for those times I don’t have lemongrass on hand, obviously you can substitute fresh lemongrass)
2 Tbsp sambel olek
peanut oil
3 cubes frozen cilantro (or a handful fresh, chopped)
1 cube frozen basil (or a few leaves fresh)
2 tsp curry powder
4 cups vegan broth
1 1/4 cup coconut milk (this is what I had leftover; I’d just dump an entire can in if I were making this again)
1 carrot, cut into squat matchsticks
1 can young green jackfruit (in brine), shredded
1/4 cup chopped bamboo shoots
1/4 cup water chestnuts
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup frozen asparagus stalks, chopped
tofu puffs or frozen fried tofu, chopped
limes, to garnish

I didn’t have a lot of fresh veggies and didn’t want to make a trip to the grocery store, which is why my veggies are pretty weird. I’d really have liked to have had bean sprouts, so much so that I almost did make that trip to the store. If I had, I’d have gotten some fresh cilantro and maybe basil (Thai or holy basil if they had it), and some green vegetables of some sort.

Place the shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, and sambel olek into a small food processor or chopper.

Process until smooth.

Pour some peanut oil into a soup pot over medium heat, then dump the paste from above in and fry until it darkens somewhat (but do not let it burn).

Meanwhile, prepare the rice noodles. I soak them in boiling water until they are done.

Drain the jackfruit. I’m using it as a sort of seafood alternative here, by the way.

Shred it with your fingers.

Add the broth, coconut milk, curry powder, the jackfruit, and any non-frozen veggies that are relatively hard (like the carrots).

Cook until the veggies are almost soft, then add the herbs, frozen veggies, and any other items (except the tofu puffs and bean sprouts, which I’d just top on the soup raw later).

To serve, place some noodles in a large bowl, then ladle the soup over them. Top with the tofu puffs and bean sprouts if you have them. Squeeze the lime over the soup before eating.

I am supposed to tell you that Mark recommends seasoning this with sriracha. Mark, of course, recommends seasoning everything with sriracha.

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Brachtune, a love letter

In the wee hours before dawn, many, many, many years ago, friends and I were sitting in the courtyard of their apartment building, quietly talking. Across the way, a single light was on in a building that backed to my friends’. The walls of the lighted room were painted red and there was an American flag and a Nine Inch Nails poster hanging on the wall. On the window sill there sat a cat. It was too far and too dark for me to make out anything but a cat-shaped silhouette, but I felt comforted someone else was up as late as us and that they had a cat, and I wondered aloud what the “flag people” were like.

About a year after that night, my roommate, Lisa, and I moved into the apartment complex across the street from my other friends. Tigger, still a kitten, moved with us. As we were moving things in, some guys came around and invited us to a party later that night across the way. So we went to the party, happy to already be making friend with our neighbors. As I was standing around the dining room, marveling that all four walls were lined with beer cans, floor to ceiling, Lisa came racing up to me from a hallway and told me I had to go into one of the bedrooms, where the “most beautiful cat” was hiding from the party. So I followed Lisa to the bedroom and you guessed it: red walls, a flag, and a NIN poster. And the most beautiful cat in the world sitting in the middle of the bed, seeming a little put out by the party but accepting pets from me and Lisa.

Some months later, the owner of the cat announced he was getting rid of her. I couldn’t figure out why, but begged him not to take her to the pound and instead took her myself, planning to find her a home. I quickly realized part of the reason he didn’t want her was probably because she was in heat, which was really pretty annoying. I also quickly found her to be very aggressive: she tried to kill our senior citizen cat, Eishel, and sparred with Tigger. This also made it hard to find someone to take her in, so I called some no-kill shelters, but I have this condition where it’s near impossible for me to tell a lie, and when I admitted she was aggressive, the no-kill shelters refused to take her. Eventually, although we didn’t want three cats, especially three that couldn’t get along, it became clear we were stuck with this beautiful but somewhat annoying cat, and I made an appointment to get her spayed.

I’ve often joked that the animal hospital got it mixed up and gave her a lobotomy when she went in for her spay, because Brachtune (by the way, the origin of her name is in this post) returned home a completely different cat. She was sweet and loving and not aggressive at all. Eishel was sort of ousted by Tigger and Brachtune and went to live with my parents, and I went on to spend 15 more years with Tigger and 16 with Brachtune, convinced I had the two most perfect cats in the world.

Regular readers know Brachtune’s been sick for a while. Like many cats, her kidneys started to fail, and she was hyperthyroid and anemic on top of it. She hadn’t been herself for a week or so and had stopped eating, so I took her in to the vet on Wednesday. After simply examining her, the doctor gave her only a couple of days to live, and after doing some bloodwork, urged me to delay no more than a day or two putting an end to her suffering, warning me her body was going to start to drastically fail very soon. So I took off work today and am spending all day with her, and am indeed watching her body shut down. She and Mark and I have to go to animal hospital at 7. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Part of the reason I loved Tigger so much was probably because I identified with him. Of the two cats I’ve had in my adult life, I think I am most like Tigger; our personalities were similar: independent, feisty, suspicious of strangers but fiercely loyal to loved ones, loud and gregarious at times but introspective at others. Convinced we’re always right. Proud, perhaps to a fault. Uncaring and largely unaware what other people think of us. A bit dual natured. Adventurous. Risk taking. Brachtune, on the other hand, is who I strive to be. It sounds corny, but I learned a lot from Brachtune, and it was mostly this: calm down and enjoy yourself. Love everyone. Tigger had a hard time making friends outside me and Mark, but everyone that met Brachtune loved her. She is just sweetness personified. Friendly, laid back, loving, affectionate, warm, caring…if everyone were like Brachtune, or even half as sweet as her, we’d have no wars. Tigger judged you. Brachtune only judges you on your propensity for petting her.

I just keep thinking a single thought: She’s too nice to die. I need her, true, but the world needs her. The world is a better place with her in it and will be missing something without her. She may have been small – by the end, tiny – but her value as a living being is so much bigger than her physical size. Sometimes it’s hard to see the good in the world around you, but Brachtune radiates goodness. I think it’s so hard for me to deal with because she was so happy, all the time, to be alive. I hate seeing life extinguished from someone who just enjoyed it so much.

Mark and I would constantly joke with Brachtune as she wedged herself between the two of us while we were watching TV or something: “Brachtune, cheer up. Why are you so depressed all the time? Why must you hold all your emotions in?” As she sat there purring like a machine and pawing at us if we stopped petting her for a single moment. Brachtune always seemed ecstactic. I think she may have had an MDMA problem. Except Brachtune didn’t need chemical bliss. It is just her nature to eminate – and soak up – love.

I have a favorite reading chair – regular readers have seen it in numerous photographs because Brachtune liked to share it with me – and I can be found in it almost every evening. When entering the sunroom where my chair is located, from the doorway at the opposite end of the room, Brachtune would saunter into the room, make eye contact with me, and start walking towards me, then start trotting, finally racing toward me at full gallop, holding my gaze the entire time, until she reached my chair and leapt onto my lap. I’ve tried and I can not think of a single more endearing thing in the world than the thought of Brachtune picking up speed as she got closer and closer to me. Every time.

A few years ago, Brachtune got underfoot and I stepped on her, breaking her leg. I felt terrible. The day I brought her home following her surgery, she was hopped up on painkillers and had to learn to walk with a pin in her leg, which had to hurt. I had to take her kitty carrier apart and lift her out of it because she couldn’t walk out of it. I did so and sat on the floor a few feet from her, feeling upset and hideously guilty. Brachtune looked me in the eye and dragged herself over to me, unable to use her hind legs, until she got to my lap, which she collapsed in, purring. I’ll never forget that. It’s rare you feel that loved.

But as much as she loves me, no matter how comfortable she was on my lap, or how fast asleep she was, or how long or short a time she’d been cuddled up with me, the second Mark walked into the room and sat on the floor, she’d bound up off my lap and race to him. Brachtune liked everyone, but she loved us, so much my heart bursts thinking of it.

Brachtune. Brachtunavitch. B-tune. The Toonse. Toonsie. Sweetheart. Sugarplum. Sweetpea. Dollface. Sweetness and Light. Lovebug. Purrbot. I love you and I miss you.

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Mexican Rice Bowl

Like, I’m guessing, many people, I go through phases of fall-back meal types. I’ve been in a “rice bowl” phase for a few months now. If I can’t think of anything else to make, I think of a cuisine, get some appropriate rice cooking in the rice cooker, put the cooked rice in a bowl, and top with various veggies, protein, and sauce. Rice bowls are great because they are extremely versatile, quick and easy, cheap, and good for using up leftovers. Tonight we had Mexican rice bowls, which is a first. I’m so fond of tortillas I’m generally very eager to wrap anything I can find into them, but tonight we had no tortillas and I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. So Mexican rice bowl it was.

Although it may look like it, this isn’t really a recipe; it’s a list of suggestions. I’m just recording what I did for inspiration; a lot of it was stuff I used because I had it on hand and needed to use it, like the half can of tomatoes.

Mexican Rice Bowl

2 – 3 servings cooked rice
1 1/2 cups salsa (see below for a recipe or use your favorite)
1 can pinto beans
1 cup cooked corn
vegan “chicken” broth
1 packet Goya Sazon Azafran seasoning
1/2 small onion, diced (separated)
1 jalapeno, minced (separated)
vegan cheddar cheese, like Daiya

1/2 can diced tomatoes
1 large tomato, chopped
2 Tbsp minced onion
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 cube Trader Joe’s frozen cilantro, or fresh cilantro to taste
salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To make the salsa, place all ingredients in a bowl and combine well. Set aside to allow the flavors to meld.

Drain the pinto beans and put in a small saucepan with half the diced onions, half the minced jalapeno, and the packet of seasoning. Add vegan broth to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened. I added a little too much broth and got sick of waiting for it to thicken enough, so eventually I added a little bit of xantham gum, which thickened it right up and made it gloriously saucy.

Because I wanted to finish the rice bowls off in the oven so I could have melty “cheese” on top, I used individual cast iron bowls. I sprayed them with olive oil then added a layer of rice. I then topped them with the beans, the corn, some salsa, the rest of the diced onions, the “cheese’, and finally the rest of the minced jalapeno. Then I popped them in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the cheese had melted. This was very tasty and I’ll definitely make it again some night I’m lacking in fresh vegetables (as I was tonight).

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VeganDad’s Meatloaf

I’m definitely through with that pesky nausea. I’ve been eating like a champ. In fact, I seem to be eating even more than usual, possibly to make up for all the calories I missed when I was ill. Also, the Mid-Atlantic is currently suffering wild weather fluctuations, which is fairly typical for May but still annoying. This pattern has been on repeat for a couple of weeks: Saturday it was in the 80s and sunny – I got sunburned driving around in my convertible – then Sunday was mild and cloudy, Monday was cool and rainy, and today it is DOWNRIGHT FREEZING. So between my recently ravenous state, an invigorating swim this afternoon, and an unseasonably cold and rainy day today, this evening’s stroll through my starred Google Reader posts for dinner ideas ended with VeganDad’s Cajun Meatloaf: hearty comfort food fits the bill.

VeganDad’s recipe calls for 2 packages of tempeh and I only had one. I did have, however, leftover grated Tofurkey Italian sausage links, which I’d used in lasagne on Sunday and really wanted to use up. So after looking over VeganDad’s recipe, I went into the kitchen and figured I’d just throw together what I had in a dish “inspired by” VeganDad. Later when I went back to look at his original, I realized I’d actually followed it pretty faithfully, so I’m not taking any credit for this. But believe me, I’d like to: the texture was perfect. This was probably the most successful “meatloaf” I’ve ever made. Not that I’m surprised – VeganDad’s recipes are always a guaranteed success, aren’t they?

Here’s what I used:
1 package tempeh
about 2 links Tofurkey Italian sausage links
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup whole wheat panko
about 1 cup marinara sauce (also left over from the lasagne and needing to be used up)
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
several strong shakes Tabasco (to appeal to Mark, who has been drinking eating about a bottle of this stuff every other day lately)

For the glaze:
3/4 cup ketchup
6 Tbsp brown sugar
several more strong shakes Tabasco
pinch salt

I used a mini-chopper to grate the sausage, tempeh, garlic, and onion, and I just whisked the glaze together without cooking and glazed the unbaked loaves. I baked them covered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about half an hour, then uncovered for another 20 minutes or so. I wasn’t really keeping track.

I also loved VeganDad’s “individual meatloaf” idea, which makes for easy serving. I made 8 fist-sized, egg-shaped individual loaves and put four into each of two small glass loaf pans (see first photo). I served with roasted potatoes, peas, and some kale chips. Tonight was the first time I’ve ever made kale chips, which is weird (why haven’t I made them before today?) but true. I was surprised that I didn’t love them – I found them bitter – although I compulsively ate them despite not really liking them, which is strange.

Last night I got to attend an artisan bread baking class with Peter Reinhart.

I tend to get so caught up in the picture-taking process that I don’t pay real attention to what’s going on in front of the camera, and I didn’t want to miss anything Peter said, and I didn’t want to be obnoxious, so I didn’t take my “real” camera. All I got, therefore, was this iPhone picture, which I had to crop.

I wish I had a better picture or two, but I’m actually glad I didn’t take my camera because I know myself and I know I would have missed a lot of what he said if I’d been messing with it. If you ever have a chance to attend one of Peter’s classes, I strongly urge you to do so. He’s full of knowledge, he’s so enthusiastic about bread, he’s funny, he’s nice, and he just genuinely wants to teach others everything he knows. Very inspirational. What I liked and disliked about the class is probably completely backwards from everyone else in the class though! The one bad thing about the class? The bread! I knew this going in, of course, so I wasn’t surprised, but most of the loaves he made were from enriched dough, which means milk, butter, and/or eggs. I’ve mentioned that I was a tester for his new book, Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, so I have made just about all the loaves he made in the class (the only one I didn’t test was the challah, which I felt had too many eggs to warrant a vegan’s perspective on testing), and I know they are all DELICIOUS. But of course, although he says in his books you can use non-dairy milk, etc., he wasn’t using it in the class, so I had to pass on all the samples except the French bread. This was heartbreaking because they smelled and looked soooo good. I was especially drooling over that babka that he’s glazing in the photo, because my vegan rendition of it was amazing (use silken tofu for the eggs). In fact, I’m going to have to make it this weekend.

What I liked most about the class was all the things that went wrong. Which may sound weird, but hear me out. I’m a fairly experienced baker, and I’ve made most of Peter’s breads, and often everything goes exactly as it should. But it’s not unusual for something to go wrong. So what I got the most out of during the class was watching Peter adapt to problems that arose. I think you learn much more from mistakes than you do perfection. The ovens in the classroom were terrible: they baked unevenly and not at the temperature on their knobs. Undaunted, Peter showed us how to deal with that: by rotating the loaves, covering them with aluminum foil, telling us at what point in the baking process it was safe to lower the temperature of the oven. That’s the sort of thing it’s hard to learn from books, which tend to assume perfect conditions. The doughs were mixed the day before by the store’s staff, and the first batch of lean dough (which is what I could eat) didn’t rise well and didn’t spring much in the oven, and basically came out dense and not what Peter was going for. Which was too bad because I was really hungry for that sample after jealously having to pass on the thumbprint rolls and sticky buns. But that gave Peter the opportunity to discuss what might be wrong with it and how we would avoid or deal with it. (After trying a single bite of the finished loaf, he realized the problem was too much salt. I scarfed down my sample anyway.)

And I know I’m really going to seem perverse, but my favorite moment was when he broke the Kitchen Aid mixer. Okay, it very well may have been having problems before he used it (I’m sure it wasn’t really his fault), and I’m sure he uses Kitchen Aids in just about all of his classes without incident, but I’ve mentioned a few times how many problems I have had trying to mix dough in a Kitchen Aid mixer (as I mentioned in just my last post, I destroyed two of them in a year), so I felt vindicated seeing Peter struggle with one as well. My reaction to my final broken Kitchen Aid was to (make Mark) buy Hieronymous, the trusty Bosch Universal Mixer, but I really liked having the opportunity to see Peter react to a broken mixer. Which was basically to not react: he happily mixed the dough by hand. What’s great about the recipes in Artisan Breads Every Day is, with the refrigerated fermentation method, you barely need to knead, so a mixer isn’t really saving you that much time or effort anyway. Peter removed all of the fear of hand mixing that I somewhat irrationally have by showing how easy it really is. So I’m glad the mixer broke. For those recipes, it’s probably not even worth dirtying Hieronymous.

Well that’s my probably-overlong review of the class. Peter’s touring around the States a bit right now; if he shows up in or near your town and you like bread at all, I definitely recommend you go.

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New York-style Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, and finished pizzas

One of the first posts I made on this blog was for pizza dough, which is appropriate because I love pizza more than just about any food. I’ve been using a different crust than that of my original post lately, though, although it’s still one from my bread-baking hero Peter Reinhart (who is teaching a class I’m attending next week and I’m very excited!), so when I made a new batch this week, I thought I’d write it up for the ole blog.

This recipe is from Peter’s pizza book, American Pie, which, like all of his books, is amazing and I urge you to buy it if you are anywhere near as obsessed with pizza as I am. One of the reasons I wanted to make this post, though, is this is the only one of Peter’s books I have that does not list weights for all ingredients, and I only bake by weight, so I wanted to finally permanently convert it to weight measurements and write it down. It’s the New York-style crust from that book, although instead of bread flour, I use white whole wheat. Which means I’m eating healthy when I eat an entire pizza every weekend, right?

Because I really want you to buy Peter’s books and because I have a lot of respect for him (and most cookbook authors), I am reluctant to post his recipes, but since it is available here, I’ve decided it’s okay in this case. I’ve tried most of the doughs in this book and they are all good, but this one is probably my favorite because he says it’s the crust you find all college towns across the US, and who doesn’t think pizza never tasted better than it did at 3 am in college? Well, I’m convinced that my pizza does actually beat that of Pizza Palace (my local pizza joint during college) and you don’t need 13 beers to think so.

Whole Wheat New York-style Pizza Dough

Okay, I confess. Another reason I’m making this post is to show off the might of my mixer, Hieronymous. Hieronymous is a Bosch Universal Mixer (and by the way, if this post convinces you you need one, Pleasant Hill Grain, to whom I’ve linked, are terrific people to buy from). After destroying two Kitchen Aid mixers within the course of a single year by overworking them, I made Mark give me Hieronymous for Christmas a couple of years ago. I like to make a triple – yes, triple – batch of pizza dough at a time, which means I only have to make it every couple of months. I’m including the tripled weights for my own reference. Don’t try making that amount in a Kitchen Aid, unless you are looking for an excuse to buy a Bosch. I’ve included the volume and weight measurements for a single batch, but please do yourself a favor and buy a scale if you have any interest in bread baking.

Single Batch, Volume Single Batch, Weight Triple Batch, Weight Ingredient
5 1/2 cups 22.5 oz 60 oz white whole wheat flour (or bread flour)
2 tsp .5 oz 1.5 oz salt
1 1/2 tsp .2 oz .6 oz yeast*
3 Tbsp .8 oz 2.5 oz olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp .7 oz 2 oz sugar or honey (read: agave nectar)
1 3/4 cup (or a little more) 14 oz 42 oz water**

* I replace the yeast for a single batch with the discard from my sourdough starter. I do this more so as not to waste the starter (which would otherwise be thrown away) than for the flavor, although I’ll take sourdough flavor any way I can get it. So for my tripled batch, I used .4 oz. yeast + about 1/2 cup sourdough starter discard.

** Whole wheat flour (red more so than white) absorbs more water than white flour, so you may end up needing to use more than what Peter calls for. I’ve compensated above by using slightly less flour instead of more water in the tripled batch; you may need to adjust the water or flour slightly in the single batch.

Weigh or measure the flour into the mixer bowl. Here’s Hieronymous (or his bowl, anyway)!

Weigh or measure the salt; add to the flour.

Weigh or measure the yeast; add to the flour. Salt kills yeast, so try to add it to the bowl somewhere the salt is not.

Weigh or measure the olive oil; add to the flour.

Weigh or measure the agave nectar or sugar; add to the flour. (Tip: weighing or measuring the olive oil before the agave nectar makes the agave nectar easier to transfer to the mixing bowl.)

Hieronymous’s mixing bowl with the ingredients so far (including my sourdough starter for some of the yeast):

Weigh or measure the water then add to the mixing bowl. Here is Hieronymous heroically handling ingredients nearly to the rim of his bowl, and no, my friends, he will not struggle!

Hieronymous is now ready to go!

Mix on low speed for about two minutes, until the dough starts to form a rough ball.

Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, find storage containers for the dough and spray each with olive oil. You are not supposed to reuse and freeze containers like these Earth Balance containers, but they happen to be the perfect size for my pizza doughs. Peter suggests making three 12-ounce crusts from a single batch of this dough (which will make three 12″ pizzas), but instead I make five crusts per single batch (they end up being between 7 and 8 ounces each) for individually sized pizzas. So I had to find 15 containers. When selecting containers, keep in mind that the dough will probably double in the refrigerator, however, it won’t grow in the freezer, so to save freezer space, you could freeze them in small containers and transfer them to larger ones when you move them to the refrigerator the night before baking. That’s too much effort for me.

Resume mixing on medium-low or medium speed for 5 minutes, adding flour or water by the tablespoon if necessary to obtain a tacky but not sticky dough.

Sprinkle some flour on a workspace and dump the dough onto it, coating in just enough of the flour to keep it from sticking.

Divide the dough into equal parts.

Here are all my individual dough pieces waiting to be shaped:

Round each piece, pinching the dough together at the bottom to create surface tension, as if you were making a roll.

Pop the rounded dough into an individual container and roll it around in the olive oil to coat.

Close each container and immediately place the number of crusts you want to make in the next three days in the refrigerator. Promptly freeze the rest.

The dough will stay good in the refrigerator for 3 days, so move as many as you need from the freezer sometime between the night before up to three days before you plan to use it. I assume that most weekends we will end up having pizza, but it could end up being for lunch or dinner on any day, so I just move two containers to the fridge on Friday night. And if we haven’t eaten them by Monday, we have pizza for dinner on Monday night.

My mother-in-law and her sister are visiting us this weekend. When they were here earlier in the week, I promised them pizza this weekend, so after whipping up the dough as documented above on Wednesday night, I had a little pizza party tonight. An hour before you’d like to serve the pizza, turn your oven up as high as it will go; mine goes to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone (which I strongly recommend), preheat it as well. Remove the dough containers from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. This picture shows how much the dough has risen; sometimes it rises so much it pushes out of the container, but this batch has restrained itself a bit. Keep the containers covered while they sit.

Meanwhile, prepare the pizza sauce. Heat some olive oil in a small saucepan, then add a few cloves minced or pressed garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add some crushed or diced tomatoes (I like Muir Gardens fire-roasted crushed tomatoes) and some freshly ground salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, them remove from the heat. You can puree it if you’d like; I always do when I used diced tomatoes and only sometimes do when I used crushed tomatoes.

The toppings I prepared were: Daiya mozzarella, caramelized onions, sliced heirloom tomatoes, vegan pepperoni, ground vegan Italian sausage, sliced jalapenos, and various herbs and spices. Usually when we have company, I do a prepare-your-own-pie thing, so here I’ve made a little assembly line of the various toppings.

After the oven has been heating and the crusts have been resting for an hour, dust a pizza peel with semolina or cornmeal. If you don’t have a pizza peel, you can use the back of a cookie sheet. I once read somewhere that cornmeal acts like little casters, rolling your pizza off the peel and into your oven, which was an image I liked. You can’t actually see the semolina I used in this picture, but believe me, it’s there. Don’t use too much because it’ll just end up burning in the oven, but use enough to keep the dough from sticking to the peel or cookie sheet.

Sprinkle a moderate amount of flour on a work surface. Remove a single pizza dough from its container, flatten into a small circle, and place in the sprinkled dough. Flip it over to coat both sides in flour, but try to only use as much flour as you need to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface or your hands. If the dough springs back after you roll it out, let it rest for 5 minutes then try again.

Use a rolling pin to roll out a pizza crust to your desired thickness and width, flipping the dough several times and rubbing it in the dough to prevent sticking on both sides.

Transfer the rolled-out dough to your prepared peel or cookie sheet; you can pick it up and place it there or just sort of drag it onto the peel.

Top with some sauce, leaving room at the edges for holding. My sauce was pretty thick tonight for some reason; often it is much thinner than this. Don’t worry about thinnish sauce – it will thicken as it cooks. You may need less sauce than you think, as well. Don’t add so much it makes the dough soggy. This is really almost too much sauce.

Sprinkle with herbs like oregano, red chili flakes, dried basil, etc.

I like to bury my toppings under the “cheese” because they tend to burn if you put them on top of the cheese. I’m usually a minimalist when it comes to pizza. Even before I was vegan, I preferred a simple cheese pizza, light on the cheese. As I was entertaining tonight and had prepared several different toppings, I ended up piling some of all of them on my pizza, but I don’t really recommend this as it makes the pizza too heavy.

Transfer to the oven. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can bake the pizza on a pizza pan or the back of a cookie sheet – the same one on which you built the pizza if you don’t have a peel. I’m a snob and don’t think I could ever go back to baking pizza on anything other than my Fibrament baking stone. I use it for bread as well, and in fact, it never leaves my oven. It does take a long time to heat up (45 minutes, at least), but it makes for a perfect crust.

Bake until done. That’s pretty nebulous, I suppose, but how long it takes will depend on the size and thickness of your pizza, the type and amount of toppings, how hot your oven gets, and probably a host of other factors. It’s a quick process, though, possibly a lot quicker than you think. Mine usually take 5 minutes.

Commercial vegan cheese probably isn’t the healthiest thing in the world for you, but other than that, if you use whole wheat flour for the crust, this not the diet nightmare that most pizzas are, so feel free to indulge every weekend!

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Ramp Pasta

More apologies for my lack of posting. I fought my way out of my cooking funk only to find myself facing an unprecedented week-long bout of nausea. I ate practically nothing. Highly unusual. I was actually considering changing the name of my blog from I Eat Food to I Hate Food. Ugh. This continued until yesterday around lunch time when I realized I was experiencing a strange sensation that I soon identified as hunger. I’ve never been so glad to be hungry. So I slowly introduced bland foods and…oh, who am I kidding. I promptly ate some drunken noodles, went home, downed a large glass of wine, ate another meal, went out to the bar, drank some beer, and called myself cured. And just because I know what conclusion people leap to about women of child bearing age experiencing unexplained bouts of nausea, I’ll have to disappoint my mother by assuring you there are no little Smarks or Smarkettes on the horizon. A review of my symptoms (which also included headaches and vertigo) seems to indicate “blow to the head” as the cause. I don’t remember any blows to the head, but apparently another symptom of “blow to the head” is not remembering the blow to the head. My in-laws, on the other hand, seem to think it was a migraine, although I’m skeptical about that because the nausea was much worse than the headache and I’ve never gotten migraines before.

Anyway, you don’t come here for a medical review of my physical health, I just offer it as an explanation for my absence. I generally have an iron stomach and I love to eat, so I was starting to get a bit upset about my inability to eat. It’s over now, I hope, so to celebrate I experimented with a seasonal, local vegetable for dinner tonight: ramps.

I first tried ramps last year and was happy to find them in Whole Foods the other day. I’ve upped my swim days from two a week to “every single day I possibly can”, so dinners, even post-nausea, have been and will probably continue to be a little simpler than usual. A quick rampy google returned me several different pasta with ramps dishes that looked very similar, and it fit the bill for tonight.

Ramp Pasta

8 oz pasta (penne, spaghetti, or whatever you prefer)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch ramps (I forgot to weigh mine, but you can see the amount in the photo; it was 12-15 ramps)
high quality salt, like Maldon (my favorite)
red pepper flakes, or crushed dried red peppers
1/4 cup Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix
1/4 cup pasta cooking water

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt (use regular or kosher salt here instead of the fancy salt I call for above), then add the pasta and cook until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, trim the ends off the ramps. You’ll find they are a lot like sturdier scallions.

Cut the green parts off and reserve, then chop the red and white parts.

Roughly chop the green parts; I just cut them into three pieces.

Crush the dried red peppers between your fingers if using. I used tabasco peppers I got at the farmers market last summer and dried.

Remove about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve, then drain the pasta when it is done.

To make this a one-pot meal, rinse out the pasta cooking pot and heat the olive oil in it, then add the white and red ramp pieces and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. It was hard for me to take pictures because my pasta pot is tall and I am short, so I didn’t bother taking a picture of the following step which is add the salt and red pepper and cook for another minute.

Add the ramp leaves …

… and cook until they are wilted, about a minute or two.

Add the “uncheese” and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, adding more water if necessary.

Toss in the pasta.

I recently found some fried onions on my cupboard that I’d bought for Thanksgiving and never used, so I topped my serving with a sprinkling of them, which added a pleasant crunch.

Here is a picture of a lunch I made myself earlier this week when I was starting to feel a bit better; it was good although I only managed to eat a third of it. It’s udon noodles in a veggie broth/kombu dashi mixture with a bit of miso, with wakame and spinach, topped with shredded nori.

Hopefully I’ll be posting more frequently now that I like food again. In fact, I already have half a post that I intend to finish this weekend, so I’m already ahead of the game.

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Mark’s Picks: Jerk “Chicken” and “Beef” Stroganoff

Often when I ask Mark what he wants for dinner, he answers, “I don’t care.” Then I’ll usually whine and say, “well I don’t care either, so think of something,” and we go ’round and ’round in that fashion for an hour. Lately, though, Mark’s been actually firing back requests when I ask him what he wants. Sort of without thinking, though, I believe. Saturday night I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he immediately responded, “jerk chicken.” “Wow, really? Where did that come from?” I asked. “I don’t know, I don’t even know what jerk chicken is,” he answered. Jerk chicken, though, was the perfect answer because I’d earlier in the day commented that I had a couple of habaneros I needed to use up. So I made him jerk “chicken”. Then tonight I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he said, “Beef stroganoff. I don’t know what it is, but that’s what I want.” Always happy for requests, I made him “beef stroganoff”.

Both of these meals used commercial vegan “meat”, so I didn’t mean to write either of them up as recipes for the blog, because I feel as if I’ve cheated somehow. But Mark urged me to photograph the meals anyway and also really liked them, so since I don’t have any more original posts for you, here are some examples of what we’ve eaten over the last few days….I’m still not back to cooking as much as I usually do, so I’ve been lazy.

For the Jerk “Chicken”, I pretty much followed this recipe almost exactly, substituting Gardein Chick’n Scallopini for the chicken breasts. I let them marinate while we went to the gym, then grilled them on the George Foreman when we got home. I served it with Jamaican-style “rice and beans”, which was long grain rice cooked in a can of coconut milk + enough water to make up the liquid called for by the rice, seasoned with some minced onion, a habanero that I stabbed a few times, some salt, and a can of red kidney beans.

Mark loved this – after eating two “breasts”, he ladled some of the extra marinade onto his plate and sopped it up with some stale bread he found in the kitchen. He also praised the rice, which I’ll admit I tasted a few million times as it was cooking (although next time I’m making it in the rice cooker because my stove is horrible at cooking rice). The greens, by the way, are callaloo, a can of which I rather bizarrely found in my cupboard. Which was perfect, but it just goes to show that you never know what you might find in my cupboard. Mark refused to eat the callaloo.

I had the leftovers from this for lunch today, prompting several people at the office to tell me my meal smelled wonderful.

If you examine it, Mark’s random request of beef stroganoff tonight should have been even more difficult for me to pull off, considering beef stroganoff consists of the following unvegan things:

  • beef
  • beef “juice” (broth, stock, consomm√©, etc.)
  • sour cream
  • egg noodles

…usually lavishly garnished with mushrooms, which both Mark and I despise. Really the only vegan and non-gross thing about beef stroganoff is onions. But Mark requested beef stroganoff and 20 minutes later, he got “beef” stroganoff.

I cooked 8 oz of bowtie (because that’s what I had) pasta. Meanwhile, I thinly sliced half an onion (that I wanted to use up) and a couple of shallots and sauteed them in olive oil in a Dutch oven. To the sauteed onions, I added a few cloves of pressed garlic and a couple of tablespoons of flour and made a roux, then I added about half a cup of red wine – what was left in a bottle I wanted to finish so I could open a new one to drink with dinner – using it to deglaze the pot. Then I added maybe a cup of vegan “beef” broth, some salt, dried tarragon, and lots of freshly ground pepper. As this was simmering, I added some Gardein Beef Tips and a spoonful of Better Than Sour Cream. When that was all warmed through, I served over the pasta. Mark said it was “really good”.

I’m sort of embarrassed about sharing those meals with you lest you think we’ve been surviving off nothing but processed food lately – actually we’ve been eating a lot of salads, too, or were until the weekend, anyway, although yeah, I do seem to have plowed through all the Gardein stuff I found at Wegmans and wanted to experiment with a lot faster than I anticipated. Speaking of Wegmans, the one near our house is now selling Daiya, and since this has been a rather pro-processed food post I might as well tell you that the minute I saw that, I decided the struggle is over: veganism is now mainstream. I can buy a tasty, melty, high quality vegan cheese at my regular, local grocery store: it’s all vegan cake from now on. I know Wegmans is sort of an upscale grocery store and that I’m very lucky to live in the part of the country and world that I do, and that my friends in the Midwest and in other countries are probably much less impressed with the selection in their local grocery stores, but finding Daiya at Wegmans was the day I’ve been waiting for for the twelve years I’ve been vegan. For me, it’s officially no longer more difficult to be vegan than it is to not be. Wooo!

In technical news, Mark and I (mostly Mark) have been migrating to a new server and even regular commenters may find their first comment held for moderation. Don’t be alarmed. Hopefully the new site will be a bit faster, though. And I’ve just remembered I need to re-do the blogroll because it disappeared…

In the process of moving all our stuff to the new server, I have been looking at old pictures. Let me tell you who I miss more than you can imagine:

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