Archive forCookbooks

Cooking at Home with Pedatha

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is how I push pleasure off. I save “good” things for a special day, but no day ever seems special enough. For example, I was given a bottle of champagne as a wedding gift 14 years ago, but never found an occasion to drink it. Currently I’m saving it to drink the day my divorce is final – maybe that day will be special enough! I’ll often purposely not wear my favorite clothes because today isn’t going to be “good” enough. I think maybe I need to start seeing every day as special instead of as something to just get through. One weird exception, though, is I tend to think nearly every single day is special enough for a grand meal and I have no trouble at all spending an hour or more in the kitchen on a weeknight. I pretty much refuse to serve myself (or certainly anyone else!) bad food.

In fact, I was seeing a therapist earlier in the year and one week I told her I thought maybe I had a bad – or really an overly good – relationship with food, because I eat too much of it and it’s too important to me. “You see,” I told her, “I’m a really good cook and I eat too much because I make too much and it tastes too good.” Now this is a true story: the following week, I went to a session directly following an incident where I made a mistake working with an education owl in training, and the owl got me in the face with a talon and I had to file an accident report even though it was really very minor, and I was SERIOUSLY upset. Like really, really, really upset that I had made the mistake and not forgiving myself about it and devastated about the whole thing. I spent the whole session talking about it and feeling awful. Then the very next week after THAT, I went to my session directly following a FAR more successful session with the owl – I pranced into the office announcing the owl and I had made up and showing the therapist this picture of us:

So at the end of that session, I told the therapist that if my two biggest problems in life were I’m too good a cook and I got into a fight with an owl, then I really didn’t need to be seeing her. And I was serious; that was the last time I went. Of course, I am still struggling with despair and depression, but what sane person isn’t right now? I am very deeply suspicious of anyone in this country who is NOT depressed and despairing right now. The people that need psychological help are anyone who works for, voted for, or defends that evil sham of a president.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I tend to start my days assuming they won’t be anything special, but I end them really well. All of which was a really long introduction to show you what I made for dinner last night. I had the rest of a bunch of purple amaranth leftover, and since I had mentioned it in my previous post about my new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, I decided to make one of the recipes in Cooking at Home with Pedatha that calls for amaranth. Actually the one I chose calls for spinach but says you can substitute amaranth. The reason I ended up on the tangent above was to explain how although that recipe wasn’t a particularly time consuming one, I ended up spending two hours in the kitchen (all of which I enjoyed). The authors suggested you serve the dal I made with one of the spicy chutneys in the book. So I chose a chutney, but the chutney then called for a podi in the book that I ALSO had to make. (And I was also making one of my huge batches of yogurt at the same time.) This sounds like a lot of work to make dinner just for myself, but honestly I think I’d go insane if I didn’t cook. It’s how I decompress. On the extremely rare days I don’t cook, something feels amiss. I need to cook. I might never drink that bottle of wedding champagne, but every day is special enough for good food! Having too much good food is a good problem to have. (Fighting with owls isn’t even always a bad problem to have: it’s not good to fight with education owls, but when I have rehab owls and they fight me, I know they are feeling better and I’ve done good work.)

Cooking at Home with Pedatha is kind of a weird book. I don’t even know if I recommend it because it’s not for everyone. It’s small, and it sometimes calls for ingredients that *I* can’t even identify and I have no problem buying and identifying weird ingredients (I thrive on it, even), and some ingredients are referred to by names other than what I’m used to in American English (like brinjal for eggplant). Many of the recipes require you to make another recipe first (there are several “podi” or “powdered seasoning” recipes that are used in other recipes). It’s not vegan (though it is vegetarian). I love it nonetheless. I’ve probably made relatively few recipes from it, but every time I do, I’m happy with the results, and some of them are things I never would have come up with on my own. With some cookbooks, particularly “American” vegan cookbooks, I find the recipes aren’t that different than what I would have just done on my own. And because I have absolutely no need, or even desire most of the time, to follow a recipe, what’s the point? But the chutney I made from Pedatha last night? I NEVER would have come up with anything like that. So do I suggest you buy this cookbook? If you love Indian food and don’t already have a cookbook you really like and aren’t looking for something big and comprehensive and don’t mind doing some translating and can get to an Indian grocery store, sure!

Moving on, here’s what I did last night:

First I made the Sambar Podi, which I didn’t take a picture of because it’s just a powdered seasoning. It involved roasting coriander and fenugreek seeds, along with dried coconut and red chilis, then grinding them all up.

Then I made the Cucumber Sweet and Sour Chutney, which was quite interesting. I didn’t like it quite as much as the Smacked Cucumber I made earlier in the week from Every Grain of Rice, but whereas the smacked cucumber was pretty similar to something I would have made up on my own, this was definitely something I’d never have dreamed up.

Then I made the Red Gram with Spinach, only I substituted amaranth for the spinach (which was a suggestion in the book).

A nice meal:

On a nice balcony. 🙂

And this post was way more than I intended it to be!

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Every Grain of Rice

So, uh, got really busy there, including a 2.5-week stint with constant visitors staying with me, during which time I should probably have continued doing posts – I quite regret not taking a single picture of the spread I put out for a party I hosted during that time – but what’s done is done.

I did a somewhat bad thing a few days ago, and spent money I don’t really have on something I don’t really need: a cookbook. I have quite a few cookbooks and I love reading cookbooks, but I very rarely cook from cookbooks. So at this financial juncture in my life – one of the very lowest – buying a cookbook was a dubious decision. But somehow I was reading something last week, I have no idea what, and someone made a comment about Every Grain of Rice by Fucshia Dunlop, so I ended up on Amazon reading its reviews and samples, and I quickly became convinced I needed this book. It’s not a vegan cookbook, or even vegetarian, but as the description says, it captures “the vibrant everyday cooking of southern China, in which vegetables play the starring role, with small portions of meat and fish”. It’s easy to simply ignore the relatively small meat chapters, although I read them and plan to convert some of those recipes. Anyway, I thought it over for a day or two and eventually bought the book as a treat for surviving the last few months, because I felt by looking at the sample recipes this would be a cookbook I would really connect with and actually use. My favorite cuisine is Ethiopian, followed closely by “Asian” which I realize is way too broad to lump together into one, but I love it all. Although I barely consider most American Chinese take-out food to be actual food, I love “real” Chinese food and cook it often, but I feel like I could really expand my repertoire in that regard and I feel like this book will help me enormously. The last few cookbooks I’ve bought – mostly all canning cookbooks – I’ve bought electronic versions of so I could easily reference them on my tablet in the kitchen, but I intuited this was something I needed a real copy of, which I’m sure was the right decision. As soon as it arrived, I sat down and read it cover to cover (and it’s huge!), skimming only the meat sections, and yesterday I went to an Asian grocery store and got a few supplies to round out my already-pretty-well-stocked pantry. I marked a ton of recipes I want to make and I’m excited to try all of them – I don’t regret the purchase at all, even if I shouldn’t be buying myself things right now.

SO, unfortunately I don’t have recipes for you today BUT I have some pictures of the first things I made, all of which were delicious. I made:

  • Smacked Cucumber in Garlicky Sauce
  • Bear’s Paw Tofu
  • Purple Amaranth with Garlic

I don’t know why I’ve never purchased amaranth before – I come across it all the time in recipes (including another one of my favorite cookbooks, another rare one which I actually cook from, Cooking at Home with Pedatha) – and I love buying exotic veggies and greens when I come across them, but somehow I’d managed to never buy amaranth. So when I saw huge bundles of purple amaranth at the Asian grocery store yesterday and I remembered seeing a recipe for it in Every Grain of Rice, which I was planning to cook from that night, I grabbed one. It’s so pretty!

Some Asian grocery stores, especially Chinese ones, I’ve found, sell “bulk” fresh tofu. The store I went to yesterday – one I hadn’t yet been to – was pretty small but had fresh tofu, 99 cents for a pound, so I bought a pound. I very, very, very, very, very rarely deep fry anything – mostly because it’s so messy – but I had bookmarked the Bear’s Paw Tofu recipe when I first read the book last week, and the fresh tofu comes in squares that are PERFECT for that recipe, so I decided to forge ahead with it last night. I still don’t love deep frying but let me just say that my induction burner, which I DO love, is GREAT for deep frying! You are supposed to heat the oil to between 350 and 375 degrees so I just set the burner for 375 degrees, SO easy! And I’m sure my wok loved it – deep frying is good for the seasoning. This was a fun dish to make, even with the deep frying. 🙂

Here’s the tofu after being deep fried and while the sauce is simmering:

And nearly finished:

The tofu and amaranth, along with some rice, would have been a complete meal, but I couldn’t resist making the Smacked Cucumber, which is literally the first recipe in the book, because it really seemed like a Renae-type recipe and also I really felt like smacking a cucumber. It was SO fast and easy and I think might actually have been my favorite thing, although all three recipes were really great.

Enjoyed on my beautiful balcony with a glass of wine, of course:

In wildlife news, I can’t usually post photos of the animals I rehab, but as the releases are done in the public, those photos are fair game. This time of year – late summer – is full of releases as all the orphaned babies we’ve raised come to age. I released four young songbirds on Saturday! But what I really love are raptor releases, especially the ones I’ve rehabbed at home. The week before last I released an adult (yes, that’s an adult!) Western screech owl that had been attacked by some other animal and required sutures on its wing. When I brought her home, she was so down she was completely docile: I could pick her up bare-handed and she had no reaction. As she healed, she got angrier and angrier. When she was trying to murder me and I needed gloves to handle her, I knew she was ready to move to an outdoor aviary for a few days of test flight. After a week outside, I was asked to release her back to where she was found. Here are a couple pictures:

Best part of rehab!!

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Teff Love!

I sure keep bombarding you with pictures of myself after swearing I wouldn’t subject you to the products of my Photo365 portrait project in order to not gross you out with my unphotogenic-ness. But I can’t resist sharing today’s portrait!

That’s right, Kittee’s completely awesome vegan Ethiopian cookbook Teff Love arrived in the mail today! Mine’s extra-awesome because it’s autographed, being as I was a tester. I will at some point soon do an actual review of it, but I can give you a mini-review now: IT’S TOTALLY GREAT, BUY IT NOW AND MAKE EVERYTHING IN IT. I’ve been making Kittee’s Ethiopian recipes for about a decade now; believe me, she knows what she’s doing. And Ethiopian food is the best food ever!

And yes, I’ve been remiss in making my Zanzibar post, and my Tanzanian food post, and actual recipe posts, but that’s because my life hasn’t slowed down very much for winter as I expected it to. In fact, there are possible life-changing things going on (no, I’m not pregnant; I feel like women my age can’t ever say their life is changing without people thinking they are pregnant). We’ve been traveling a bit.

Do you know where that was taken? Does this help?

Does THIS help?

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Rasam from Cooking at Home with Pedatha

I’m pretty sure I’ve raved about Cooking at Home with Pedatha before. I can’t share today’s recipe because it was a faithful following of the rasam recipe in that book, but I do want to urge you to consider buying this book if you are at all interested in Indian food. Although it’s very pretty (there are pictures of all the dishes, and even a picture glossary), there are a few factors that would ordinarily prevent it from being one of my favorite cookbooks: it’s quite short, it calls for some ingredients that I have difficulty obtaining (and I live in an extremely ethnic food-friendly area), and the authors use unfamiliar names for even those ingredients I can get, requiring me to have to translate many of the recipes. Several of the recipes call for other recipes, increasing production time.

But don’t let those things scare you away! Where this book excels, other than its inherent charm (it’s a loving tribute to a grandmother compiled by two family members), is the podis and all the dishes that call for them. A podi is a “powder”, or spice combination, usually calling for various whole spices to be roasted then ground together, which is then used to flavor dals, rice, and soups. Every podi-related dish I have made from this book has been magical. When I commented above that some recipes call for other recipes, I was referring mostly to the use of these podis. It’s unfair, however, to ding the book for this because the podi recipes make about a cup and the recipes calling for it use about a tablespoon each, so once you make a podi, you won’t have to go through that process the next several times you make the recipe. And believe me, you’ll want to make these recipes again and again.

Friday night I made up a batch of the rasam podi and made Pedatha’s rasam. Rasam is one of my favorite soups. I did a post on it a long time ago, and I posted a picture of some homemade rasam a co-worker sent me home with when once I proclaimed my love of it. Pedatha’s rasam is, of course, AWESOME. Mark and I ate the entire batch in one sitting. And the great thing is, now that I have the podi prepared, I can whip some more up from some late summer tomatoes in mere minutes!

In other food-related news, I bought a dehydrator last week and am currently going crazy dehydrating everything possible. I’ve literally had the dehydrator going non-stop since it arrived. Skeptical Mark has pointed out that I tend to enthusiastically start projects and then quickly lose interest in them and he seems to think dehydrating will be another such fad. I don’t think so. Dehydrating is so easy that I don’t think it will take up much time I could later decide I’d rather be spending doing other things. Really the only time investment is chopping and I enjoy chopping. And buying dehydrated fruits and vegetables in incredibly expensive, so I’m very excited about the money I’ll save, for example on my trail mix. Plus, I can use the dehydrator for making tempeh and yogurt, both of which I’ve been meaning to get back into doing and now I have a great reason. I can also raise dough in it. I’ve never had a problem raising dough in the house, but if I want to time it a bit more precisely, the dehydrator’s temperature regulation will allow that. Also, although there are a couple of months left before I’ll need to come to terms with it, at some point the farmers market is going to close for the season and I’m going to freak out. So I’ve been trying to capture an essence of it by dehydrating what I can so I can use it over the winter.

Here’s what I’ve dried so far: tomatoes (there a another huge batch of tomatoes nearly ready to leave the dehydrator tonight), bananas, strawberries, (I have another quart and two huge bunches of bananas to get to this week), onion powder, carrots, and bell peppers. The latter two I may combine along with some potatoes, onions, and celery into a “soup mix”. When I’m desperate for a lunch to take into work, I’ll sometimes whip up a super-quick soup from a can of tomatoes, some bouillon, some dehydrated veggies, and orzo. I used some of my dried tomatoes on pizza last night and they were quite good.

I have also dried some garlic and am drying a whole bunch more right now, which I’ll grind into garlic powder. The dehydrator will also save me money at my notorious Penzeys binges! I’m also planning to make tofu jerky as a treat for Mark. I’ve made it before but it’s been a long time – anyone have a favorite tofu jerky recipe? What are your other favorite things to dehydrate? Any other creative uses for the dehydrator?

Not much else food-related has been going on. I’ve been super busy lately; annoyingly so. I can’t even remember what I’ve been cooking, I’ve been so busy. Lots of stuff involving farmers market fare, but I guess nothing earth-shattering enough that I’ve felt compelled to make a post, or maybe I just haven’t had time. I’m enjoying blackberry season; my current favorite snack is Daiya jack on crackers topped with blackberry:

As for animal news, I transported a baby chimney swift the other day and he was by far the cutest baby bird I’ve ever seen. This is a bad picture, but it’s all I have:

Today as I pulled into the raccoon sanctuary, there was a family of deer standing about five feet from my parking spot, so I wasn’t able to drive down the driveway. Instead I slowly got out of my car and started snapping pictures.

They eventually got tired of that and ran off, so I was able to park. Today was a big day for the last six raccoons in the nursery, who graduated to the big outdoor enclosures! I coined a new saying to replace one I hate, “curiosity killed the cat”: “curiosity captured the raccoon”. Unfortunately, out of context it sounds like a saying I would dislike just as much as the original because in general capturing raccoons is a bad thing. But raccoons who want to leave their baby cages in the nursery and move to their big-boy (and girl) enclosures outside need to be temporarily captured in a carrier in order to be transported. Many of you with cats may be familiar with the difficulty of putting an unwilling cat into a carrier. It CAN be the same, possibly even worse due to their super-dexterous fingers and toes, with raccoons, however, we were lucky with these six. We put some pork rinds (a raccoon favorite) in some carriers and simply waited for their curiosity to prevail and soon enough all six had climbed into a carrier and were briskly locked in and carried out to their new home. Raccoons are so curious we probably didn’t even need the pork rind incentive, but it sure didn’t hurt. I was so into this task I forgot to take pictures, but here is a picture from last week that I love, which incidentally is of a raccoon eating a pork rind…and smiling about it!

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Sicilian Baked Tomatoes and Onions

Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen is probably my favorite cookbook to turn to when I want something simple but amazing, when I have fresh produce that I want to showcase. I love tofu and seitan as much as the next vegan – don’t get me wrong – but there is something very refreshing about a vegan cookbook with not a single mention of either one: it’s all “naturally vegan” recipes from the Mediterranean. When I needed to use up two tomatoes I got at the farmers market on Saturday, I thought immediately of the baked tomato recipes from this book. There are two baked tomato recipes; I made the Sicilian. I was in a quandary because I wanted to share the recipe, but didn’t want to alter its simplicity to make it enough my own. But then I found that it’s on food.com, so I guess I’ll go ahead and post it. But not without urging you strongly to check out this cookbook. It’s really good. As the author suggests in the book, I made the baked onions at the same time. The two recipes are nearly identical, so I’ve just combined them.

Sicilian Baked Tomatoes and Onions
slightly adapted from Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen

2 large tomatoes
2 medium yellow onions, peeled
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp smoked salt, or other flaked, kosher, or sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the onions.

Place onions in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes, then drain and set aside until cool enough to touch.

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, and use your finger to poke all the seeds out. Drain them as well as possible.

I also cored mine.

When the onions are cool enough to touch, cut them in half.

In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Put the tomatoes and onions into a baking dish into which they just fit.

Fill the holes of the tomatoes up with the bread crumb mixture and sprinkle some more on top. Also sprinkle the onions with the bread crumb mixture.

Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes and onions.

Bake for an hour and a half (yes, really!). Let sit for a few minutes, or allow to come to room temperature, before eating.

Donna Klein suggest serving both of them together over rice or couscous (quinoa would also be good), which I’ve done before and it’s great. Tonight, though I was also having white beans and a salad, so I just served them on their own. The beans are pressure-cooked Great Northern beans, with sauted spring onions, a lot of garlic, imitation bacon bits, and sage, and a generous addition of Bryanna’s bacon salt.

This is the sort of thing I like eating when I want to feel particularly healthy! I served it all with Italian wine, and while it was cooking read some of a funny and very enjoyable Italian book.

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Mexican Pizza; Lentil Orzo Soup

I’m just going to skip having a Thanksgiving post, because my Thanksgiving was nearly identical to last year, and although Mark has been happily gorging himself on leftovers, I didn’t do anything particularly creative or unusual. I hope everyone – even you non-Americans – had a great Thanksgiving, however!

As per my usual routine, I moved two pizza doughs from the freezer to the refrigerator before the weekend. We usually end up having pizza at some point during the weekend, but what with the Thanksgiving leftovers and various social obligations, it didn’t happen this weekend. Which left me with pizza dough that I needed to use tonight. But I wanted to try a different approach from my usual, pretty traditional pizza, so tonight I made Mexican pizza:

Here’s what I did:

Mexican Pizza

up to 4 batches individual-sized pizza doughs
12-16 oz vegan ground “beef” (“mince” for you non-Americans)
1 packet taco seasoning (I found some taco seasoning for yuppies packet at Wegmans)
8 oz tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Mexican oregano
canned or fresh jalapeno, sliced
vegan mozzarella, grated (I used Cheezley)
vegan cheddar, grated (I used Daiya)

Preheat the oven and a pizza stone to 550 Fahrenheit (or as high as it will go).

In a heavy sauce pot, heat some olive oil, then add the ground “beef”, saute the ground beef, add the taco seasoning, and saute another minute. Add the tomato sauce, water, tomato paste, and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Shape the pizza dough for each pizza and place on a peel. Spread the sauce mixture evenly on each pizza, then top with jalapeno slices and mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Bake until done, about 5 minutes.

Next up is just a quick soup I threw together last week when I wasn’t feeling that great. I didn’t take pictures of the process or write it up earlier, because at the time I just wanted something soothing in my belly, but I did snap a photo of the finished product and it was very simple and really tasty, so, if I remember correctly, here’s what I did:

Lentil Orzo Soup

2-4 shallots (depending on size), or 1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
red pepper flakes, if you are so inclined (to taste)
4 cups vegan stock or broth
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup orzo (or other small pasta)
2 cups baby spinach
salt, to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

Bring some olive oil up to temperature in a heavy soup pot, then add the onions, carrots, and celery. Saute for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes. Add the stock or broth, tomato paste, lentils, and red pepper flakes if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the orzo and simmer another 15 minutes. Add the spinach and taste for salt, then simmer two or three more minutes. Add the lemon juice, then serve.

In not-at-all-food-related news, I went to see Jeff Vandermeer read in Baltimore last night. I’ve been a fan of his since I read City of Saints and Madmen, and I’m currently reading his latest, Finch (which he signed for me). In fact, I have only a few more pages left and as soon as I finish this post, I’ll finish it up.

I liked this picture because from reading his blog I feel as if he and I have a similar sense of humour, so I like that I caught him laughing:

In other book news, but more food-related, I forgot to urge you all earlier to buy Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day! I was a tester for this book (my name is in it! Mark’s so impressed!) – if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve seen photos of some of the breads – and I can assure you that even the non-vegan breads veganized beautifully. I tested all but just one or two recipes from the book; Peter was gracious enough to at least pretend he cared about my vegan input even on non-vegan-sounding breads like Crusty Cheese Bread. They were all amazing, even the Crusty (Non-Dairy) Cheese Bread and the Babka. It’s a great book for novice bread bakers as well as the more experienced. My favourite thing about it was how easy it makes it to create a bread-baking schedule that works for people who work late hours but want fresh bread during the week. Most of the recipes are scaled for two loaves of bread, so I’d mix it up and bake one loaf during the weekend, then bake the second mid-week. The recipes and techniques are clear, the bread is great, and if any of you buy it (or any of his other books) and have any questions about veganizing the recipes, I’d be happy to help you. The recipes actually call for “any kind” of milk, which he makes clear includes non-dairy milks, so mostly it’s just eggs you need to substitute. Of course, many of the recipes are vegan as written. I know I don’t do many bread recipes on this blog, although bread baking is a particular passion of mine, but the reason is I pretty much just slavishly follow Peter Reinhart’s (and Jeffrey Hamelman’s) recipes. Although I do my own thing when cooking, I’m more shy about making things up when it comes to baking, and between Reinhart and Hamelman, I figure my bases are covered. If you are at all interested in baking your own bread, Artisan Breads Every Day is a great place to start. No, I’m not making commission on the book even though I was a tester – I just think Peter Reinhart’s books are really, really good!

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Red Gram with Spinach

Sorry, but this post is just a teaser. I think I first read about Cooking at Home with Pedatha on Tigers & Strawberries, or maybe it was Mahanandi, but in either case I’ve had it on my wish list forever. I recently decided I was going to start making more Indian food – whether Mark likes it or not! – and immediately ordered this very nice cookbook with so many rave reviews. I received it yesterday and as Mark is out of town again, tonight was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

I made Red Gram with Spinach, or Palakooora Pappu. It was REALLY good!

The book is really nice – almost too nice. As in, it’s so nice I’m afraid to get it dirty and all my favorite cookbooks are filthy. It’s very pretty to look at, has full-colour photos of every dish, contains a pictorial glossary of just about every ingredient so you can find it in your Indian grocery store, and makes the dishes seem a lot simpler to pull together than it sometimes seems Indian recipes are. In fact, this meal took me less than half an hour to make and 15 minutes of that was pressure cooking the dhal (gram), which required no supervision.

Want to see it closer up?

I can’t wait to make more recipes from this book, and maybe I’ll adapt a few to put up here. All I need to do is convince Mark he’s going to like these recipes as much as I do…

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Spicy Peanut Eggplant

Apart from boxed macaroni & cheese and other “foods” of that nature, before I went vegan I knew how to cook exactly one dish: eggplant parmesan. I don’t even remember what inspired me to learn how to cook that, but it was my big speciality. Of course, it went by the wayside when I went vegan, and for some reason I never showed any further interest in eggplant. I think I over-eggplanted on the eggplant parmesan. It’s ridiculous to continue to avoid eggplant as it’s been 11 years now, although I don’t actually avoid eggplant, it just never occurs to me to buy it. That is, until I saw the adorable “purple pixie” eggplants at Wegmans last night. I should have taken a picture. They’re tiny and so cute!

I don’t know why, but I had decided I wanted to make something with the eggplants involving peanut sauce. Maybe because that’s the furthest thing I could think of from parmesan? At any rate, I got home quite late tonight and had a hunch that Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian would contain what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. It had exactly what I was looking for and what’s more, it was nearly instant: Cold Eggplants in a Spicy Peanut Sauce.

Spicy Peanut Eggplant
(lightly) adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

10 oz small or baby eggplants, quartered or halved then cut into 2″ pieces
4 tsp natural peanut butter
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp vinegar
2 tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice) wine (or try sake)
4 drops stevia (or 2 tsp sugar or agave nectar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili garlic paste
thumb-size piece garlic, grated
1 cube frozen cilantro (or a handful fresh, chopped)

Steam the eggplant pieces until tender. Jaffrey suggests 10-15 minutes, however, I checked after 9 minutes and mine were very over-done, so for particularly delicate eggplants, check after 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss with the eggplant and serve cold or at room temperature.

I realized I was going to have much more sauce than I needed, so I cooked a bundle of soba noodles to toss the leftover sauce with:

In cat news, Brachtune likes to sleep in my reading chair:

You are probably wondering why I never take any photos of Brachtune that don’t involve her lounging around in that chair. Well, the fact of the matter is, Brachtune spends a good 95% of her time there.

I spend a lot of my time there as well, such as right now. Since we are competing for the spot, Brachtune is currently standing on me and kneading at my stomach, which is cute but also annoying because she’s always messing with my belly button ring. This is what Brachtune looks like when she wakes up and realizes I intend to claim my chair:

And this is what she does to make herself as super-adorable as possible in hopes that I will change my mind:

It never works. I just scoop her up and put her on my lap and then she sits there purring and drooling all over me. And sitting on my arm when I’m trying to type…

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Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh

It’s been a rough day. I went to bed late last night suffering from a lot of back pain, inflicted upon myself either from rigorously brushing the pool (which doesn’t make sense because I’ve been brushing it non-stop all “summer” thanks to the rotten weather-induced algae) or from kayaking (which also doesn’t make sense because after 3 minutes of rowing on my part my back was already starting to hurt and Mark took over all rowing). I woke up several hours before my usual hour, startled by a very loud bang followed by the sound of broken glass. For a split second, I thought it was Tigger, because every other time I’ve ever woken up to the sound of broken glass, Tigger was to blame. Alas, no Tigger, though if he were still here, he could break a glass a day for all I care. With much sleepiness and trepidation I slunk into the kitchen. One of the bottles of root beer I’d bottled on Friday night had exploded. All over my kitchen. Root beer and broken glass EVERYWHERE. I sighed and grabbed the sponge, thinking that, well, at least I’d be early for work for once in my life since I certainly wasn’t going back to bed. I started scrubbing, trying to do so without moving my shoulders, which by the way, is not very easy.

Half an hour later, with root beer still all over the place, I wandered out into the dining room, where I discovered that a bottle of Mark’s ink had also exploded, all over the hardwood floors. Now, I understand why the root beer exploded (though I left plenty of room in the bottle for the carbonation), but I have NO idea why the ink exploded. It’s really very strange. So then I cleaned that up as well, which was not fun and involved, of all things, a dough scraper.

Two hours later, I had cleaned the entire kitchen and everything in it and got all the ink off the dining room floor. I was sticky and blackened and gratefully hopped in the shower, no longer early for work. After showering I was starving and went into the kitchen to grab breakfast. I removed the orange juice and shook it….and as the cap wasn’t on tightly, orange juice went everywhere! All over my newly cleaned kitchen, all over my newly cleaned self. Arrgh! What a morning!

I managed to make it through the day without anything else exploding, but my back was still sore when I got home and I was dismayed the find the kitchen floor still very sticky. Fortunately for me, Mark offered to scrub it again and he did a good job. While he was doing so, I went to my laptop in search of dinner ideas. You’ll forgive me if tonight I wanted something very quick and easy. I googled “cabbage jalapeno tempeh”: three ingredients I have and want to use up. I was a bit surprised to find something that contained all three ingredients, but I did: Mark Bittmans’ Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which I actually own (but couldn’t immediately get to as Mark was still scrubbing). My friends, I was too exhausted to try to improve upon this dish, although I take most of the recipes in that book as nothing more than starting points.

Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh

8 oz tempeh, crumbled
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp ginger, minced or grated
1-2 jalapenos, minced
3 1/2 cups vegan broth or stock (any flavor)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar or 6 drops stevia
3 cups chopped cabbage
4 oz bean threads or thin pasta
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (I used 2 cubes frozen cilantro from Trader Joes)
2 scallions, chopped

Prep all the ingredients. While I was mincing the jalapeno, it exploded and I got jalapeno juice in my eye. No lie. Today’s been an amazing day of explosions.

Bring some oil up to temperature in a Dutch oven or other pot, then add the crumbled tempeh and fry until golden.

Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno; saute for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the broth, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar or stevia. Bring to a rapid boil.

Cook at a fairly decent boil for about ten minutes or until broth is somewhat reduced. Add cabbage and boil for another minute.

Add the bean threads, cilantro, and scallions …

… and stir until bean threads are soft.

Serve immediately.

This was okay; a filling meal in about 15 minutes, but I probably won’t be rushing to make it again, at least not without playing with the recipe a bit to make it my own. I usually only make my own tempeh on weekends I will be home on both Saturday and Sunday because I usually cook the soybeans around noon and I like to be sure I’ll be home 24 hours later to remove the tempeh from the incubator. It’s been several weeks since we’ve been home on both weekend days, including last weekend. So I picked up some store-bought tempeh. Since I started making my own, though, store-bought has seemed really bland and doesn’t even look right to me any more. So I suspect I’ve have liked this meal a lot better if I’d used my own tempeh.

In the meantime, I’ve had a long day, I’m sore, I’ve been reading 2666 for a week, which is a long time for me to be reading a book, even if it is 900 pages long, Smucky’s arriving on Wednesday and I’m having a party for him on Saturday, so what I want more than anything else this evening is to sit here, Brachtune purring on my lap, and read until I fall asleep. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. I will not be making myself a pot of tea because I’m pretty sure the kettle would explode and scald me with 3rd degree burns. I don’t think, however, I will need any help falling asleep tonight.

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Rainy Day Vegetable Cobbler

First of all: it’s my father’s birthday. So, Happy Birthday, Dad!!! If we lived closer, I’d have made you something nice to eat for your birthday!

Second of all: IT WON’T STOP RAINING. It’s relentless. And really annoying because we have a pool and I spend a lot of time and money on its upkeep SO I EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO SWIM. No such luck so far. We don’t have a heater, either, so I’m very sensitive to the ambient temperature. I’m not sure it made it above sixty degrees today. I get several alerts from NOAA about storms in our county every day. Yesterday afternoon I was warned simultaneously to expect: severe thunderstorms, hail the size of pennies, gusting wind, flash floods, AND tornadoes. When I told Mark of this he asked what they’d be warning me of next: a plague of locusts? I wouldn’t have been surprised. This has been the lousiest start to summer I’ve ever seen!

Flipping through the cookbooks I checked out of the library for dinner tonight, though, I found the perfect meal: Rainy Day Vegetable Cobbler, in Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham. Guaranteed to cure my rainy day blues, it said. Since I have those blues big time, I made the cobbler. And I share with you. It was vegan as written other than the chicken stock and butter, neither of which I even read as non-vegan because they are so easy to sub for. I did, however, healthify it for you. The original called for what seemed to be a ton of butter.

When in the World is it Going to Stop Raining So I Can Finally Go Swimming Vegetable Cobbler

1 turnip, peeled and chopped
1 large or 3 small potatoes, chopped
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and chopped (the original called for celery root, which I didn’t have, so I subbed cabbage, which I did)
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped, or 1 cup baby carrots, cut in half
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 cups vegan ‘chicken’ broth
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 3/4 cups flour (I used 1 cup all-purpose plus 3/4 cup white whole wheat; original calls for all all-purpose)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp vegan margarine
3/4 cup vegan cream (like MimicCreme)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare all of the vegetables and place in a large baking dish or casserole.

Whisk the cornstarch into the stock. Don’t be confused that I am only showing one cup of stock here; you really want three. The original recipe called for one cup, but after getting off the phone with my father and checking the casserole’s progress, I realized it contained far too little liquid and was drying out, so I added more. Don’t make my mistake. I make all the mistakes for you!

Pour the stock/cornstarch mixture evenly the vegetables and toss with the salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour(s) and baking powder.

Add the margarine in pieces …

… and whisk or stir with a fork until crumbly.

Add the cream and combine until a messy but cohesive ball. It’s easiest to use your hands.

Roll the dough out to roughly the size and shape of the baking pan and about 1/4 inch thick.

Place on top of the vegetables.

Bake for an hour.

Serve hot.

My thoughts on this are it didn’t thicken up enough. I’d have used a roux instead of cornstarch. I wouldn’t have felt guilty either, considering I cut the margarine down by 80%. (I can’t even IMAGINE eating it with all the fat it called for! It’d have been incredibly greasy and rich!) It really should have been more pot pie-y and less soupy. When asked for his opinion, Mark said it was really good. When I countered that it was awfully soupy, he responded that the soupiness gave it a “what do you call it, a je ne sais pas”. Which I think was him being kind. Later he said he loved the crust best and the vegetables second. I’d make it again: it was quick and easy and although I don’t like making pie crust, this cobbler crust was easy, but I’d definitely make a much thicker gravy. The original did call for 1/2 stick of butter to be dotted onto the vegetables before adding the crust (which itself called for 3/4 stick of butter), but I don’t think adding all that butter would have thickened it up. It definitely needs a roux. Nonetheless, it was tasty and although it didn’t actually cure my rainy day blues (nothing but sunshine and 90 degree temperatures is going to do that), it was a filling meal.

Maybe the soupiness of this cobbler represents the soupiness of my muddy yard. Or my non-swum-in pool.

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